Author's Note: Well, here we are finally at the end of the story. It got a LOT longer than I had ever intended. I can never thank you all enough for following and favoriting my story and for your kind reviews! I've left it open for a sequel, which will undoubtedly be AU for, probably, both series. I'll try to keep the characters as true as I can, but at this point I have absolutely no idea where either of these shows is headed in the next season so . . . . It'll be a little while, not sure how long, before I start another epic of this sort. I really do have a lot of other things I've been putting off (like painting my house and trying to find my yard and I'm supposed to be working on a novel right now shhh! Don't tell!) It's been so much fun playing with these characters, though, and having so many people joining in the game just made it that much more irresistible. A special thanks to everyone who's been following this from the beginning and thank you to SkyHighFan for checking over this chapter before I posted it. All errors are mine alone.
Disclaimer: I did NOT throw the baby kittens outside and abandon them! I let them go out to play because they wanted to and I counted to make sure they all came back in. Now will someone PLEASE make the mother cat stop looking at me like that?
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Chapter 21: There'll Be Peace When You Are Done
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"I believe," Jeremy Brightwell said, "that what we need to do is to develop a protocol for handling possibly supernatural crises that develop in situations involving the government or the armed forces. We've made a start today by learning exactly what is out there. However, I expect it will take months, if not years, to hammer out the details."
"You're not planning to keep us prisoner all that time?" Dean asked, alarmed by the idea and ready to have Cas angel-air them all out of there.
"No, of course not, though I do believe it would be in the government's interest for us to maintain contact and for you to be involved in the process. I believe we can make it in your best interest as well. Sort of like a supernatural think tank?"
"That'd be Sam's department," Dean said immediately. "He's the brains of the operation." He turned to his brother. "Whaddya think, Sasquatch? You wanna help 'em work out a protocol for weird?"
"I'm sure we could come up with something," Sam said. "For starters, I'd suggest warding all federal buildings against the most credible threats - demons being top of the list."
"You don't think that'll tip people off that we're up to something?" one of the suits asked dubiously. "Painting weird symbols all over the White House and the Treasury building and such?"
"Actually," it was Brightwell who answered, "actually the White House is already heavily warded, and has been ever since it was first built. The sigils are hidden in among the carvings and there are charms and gris-gris bags tucked away inside pillars and in other odd corners. Most of the other older buildings in Washington were originally warded as well, but over time a lot of the protections have broken down due to weather, vandalism, building repairs and renovations. Anything that can disrupt the lines of the protection sigils. There used to be a highly-secretive organization that took care of such things. Something happened to them in the mid-1950's sometime, though, so any building that went up since then is completely unprotected. I agree that renovating and expanding those protections is paramount."
"Even Congress?" one of the attendants asked, voice skeptical.
"Is there a reason we shouldn't ward Congress?" Sam asked.
"Well, that would mean that demons didn't have access anymore, right?"
"Yeah. And . . . ?"
"I don't know. It just seems wrong to deny anyone access to Congress. I mean, evil constituents are still constituents, you know? Especially if they're registered voters."
"Christo!" Dean said. The man didn't react. "Huh. Politics is screwy!"
The discussion was interrupted by a pounding on the door. At a nod from Brightwell, one of the guards opened it, letting in a barrage of noise and a wind that carried rainwater halfway across the bunker. Ziva David stood on the other side, dripping wet, grim and determined.
"We've killed two men who attacked the bunker. Agent DiNozzo is injured and we are now taking the full brunt of the storm. I'm sorry, but we need to come inside now and take shelter. If necessary, you can continue your meeting when DiNozzo has been taken care of and the storm is past."
Dean glanced at Cas. The angel nodded almost imperceptibly and was gone. Dean moved towards the door, where some of the guards were helping the bedraggled NCIS agents into the building. Gibbs and McGee were carrying Tony, neither willing to relinquish their hold on their fellow agent. They lowered him gently to the floor by the wall as someone slammed the heavy door, shutting out the storm again.
"What happened to Tony?" Dean demanded, dropping to one knee next to the wounded agent.
"Broken arm. Possible concussion. Shock." Gibbs' eyes caught the elder Winchester's. With their bodies shielding their hands from the rest of the room, he slipped the demon knife, handle first, back to its rightful owner. "Good knife," he said softly.
Dean took it with a nod and tucked it away.
"Someone attacked us?" one of the officials asked. "Where did they come from? How did they get here? How did they get past the SEALS?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, you know SEALS," he said. "Toss 'em a bucket of fish and a beach ball and they're distracted for hours."
"Huh?" The guy's own eyes crossed, then his expression suddenly cleared as he caught up with things. "Oh!"
Sam tapped his brother on the arm and edged into the conversation. "This guy," he indicated the guard behind him, "is a former Army ranger. He's got a basic first aid kit and some medical training."
Gibbs and McGee reluctantly released their hold on Tony and some of the other guards stepped in to move the crowd back and give the medic room to work. As they stepped away, Gibbs caught Dean's arm and led him aside. Sam followed.
"Can I ask you a question?" Gibbs said, voice soft. "Just hypothetically speaking?"
"Okay, so, when you kill a bad person they go to hell and become a demon. But what happens when you kill a demon?"
"I don't think anybody really knows," Dean said. "Some people think they're just gone, into oblivion. Same with angels. And monsters in Purgatory. Mostly, when you kill a monster in Purgatory, they just come back to life a little while later. But not always." He turned to find Benny beside him. "Remember that one Vetala? Every time we'd gank her, she'd just turn up again a few days later, meaner than she was before. Then, after we'd killed her a couple dozen times or so, she was just gone. We'd gotten so used to her attacking us, Cas even went looking for her. Couldn't find any trace of her anywhere."
"There is one theory," Sam offered. "I came across it in an old journal I was reading a couple of weeks before all this started. It was, um, somebody who studies things like that. It was written in the late 1940's. They were concerned with what had become of Adolf Hitler. They'd gathered some intel that, once he was dead, his transformation into a demon took a very short time. Because of his natural charisma and his leadership skills, though, as soon as he was a full demon the demons who were running hell at the time had him immediately killed."
"They were afraid he'd take over," Dean nodded.
"And the theory?" Gibbs prompted.
"The theory was that, when a demon is killed, they're released back into the cycle of reincarnation to start working off their karma. The author of the journal I was reading reckoned that Hitler, at that time, was most likely a gastro-intestinal parasite trying to work his way up to an infectious bacteria."
"So, say, for instance, a murdering drug lord-turned-demon gets killed . . . ?"
"I wouldn't really know," Sam said apologetically.
"Yeah," Dean chimed in, "but, you know how dogs get worms sometimes? Those worms gotta come from somewhere."
Gibbs considered it, then nodded, satisfied. "That works for me."
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Tony blinked and the room spun around him. He was in an airplane, he realized. It's a Gulfstream, he thought, and a pain deeper than physical ran through him as he remembered another time, on another aircraft, saying that to Paula Cassidy; pretending not to hear Gibbs scolding Kate for playing matchmaker.
His body was heavy, his right arm like lead inside a mass of bandages. A sprint, he thought. Or a squint. Or something like that. The air seemed thick around him and his thoughts were as slow and as meandering as syrup. Musta been good drugs. There was a buzzing in his ears that sounded oddly like Led Zeppelin. He turned his head to the right and found Dean Winchester in the seat next to him.
Dean sat straight up, staring forward intensely. His face was white, his hands held the armrests in a death grip and he was humming Ramble On as if his life depended on it.
"Dean dislikes flying intensely. He only agreed to get on the plane to look after you until you're safely back in Washington."
Tony turned his head to the left and Jimmy Novak was standing there in his rumpled trench coat and backwards tie.
Why do I need to be looked after? he thought and Novak answered him, even though he hadn't voiced the question.
"You do not. Your arm is going to heal well and quickly, with no lasting damage. However, it was necessary to provide Dean with an incentive to board one of the aircraft. Otherwise, he was determined to attempt to swim back to the mainland."
Dean paused in his humming just long enough to say, "Shaddup!"
How can you be here? he wondered. I thought you escaped from Kort. You can't be here. Are you really here?
"No, of course not. I'm just a product of your drugged imagination. You're hallucinating."
"But Dean was talking to you too." Tony managed to get that out as actual words.
"I'm hallucinating too," Dean told him.
"Why are you ha- ha- hacullitaining? Ing? Thing?"
"Dude. The drugs you're on are just that good."
"I'm glad you think so. Man." Dean's fingers clinched even tighter on the armrests. His hands were white and had to be cramping. "I hate airplanes!"
Tony gave him a loopy grin. "It's a Gulfstream!"
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"I'm going to need to scruff you both up for your evil alter-egos' ID photos," Abby said.
It was the morning after the Winchester's meeting with the government. Gibbs was in a meeting in Vance's office and Ziva had gone to Bethesda to pick up Tony, who had once again spent a night there for observation. Abby and McGee were working on the cover story they were going to use to clear the Winchesters' name.
Dean gave her a seductive leer. "Darlin', you can scruff me up any time!"
Benny, standing behind Abby and out of her line of sight, bared his fangs. Dean surreptitiously flipped him off. Sam sighed.
"So how are you figuring on this working, anyway," Sam asked, determined to ignore his brother and Dean's monster friend.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you've created these fictional characters to pin the murders on, and I get that. But I don't see how you're going to pull it off. Hunters do this kind of thing all the time and it only works, when it does work, because we go with stories that aren't going to get a lot of scrutiny. For example, we go into some small town claiming to be FBI and the local cops are going to be too busy resenting us to question our authenticity. But the serial-killer Winchester brothers was big news. The Winchester brothers not being serial killers is going to be even bigger news. Reporters and cops and true-crime buffs are going to be looking at this seven ways from Sunday. What conclusions are they going to come to when they can't find any historical trace of the wicked Campbells?"
"They will find historical traces."
McGee had been sitting at a computer with his back to the room. He spun around now and joined the conversation, looking pleased with himself.
"Official records are easy. Birth records, social security numbers, school records -"
"School records!" Sam said. "Okay, consider those. You say, 'the real killers were the Campbell brothers, who attended Skyline Elementary in Springfield, Missouri during the 1987 school year.' Other people who attended Skyline Elementary go, 'hey! I was there that year! I wonder if I knew them?' Then they get out their yearbooks to look and . . . no Campbell brothers!"
"They don't appear in any yearbooks," McGee acknowledged. "Their father was a paranoid, anti-government anarchist who insisted that his sons not be photographed or listed in any kind of yearbook or school publication. There are letters in their files to that effect at each school they attended. But there are also teachers - mostly retired now - who remember them. There will be students who come forward to say that they remembered them too."
Sam frowned. "Government agents?"
"Power of suggestion," Dean countered. "You've chosen big schools with crowded classes and high turnover in enrollments, right? And had them move around a lot, like we did."
"So people will remember them because they think they should remember them. They'll remember them because they want to - it's exciting, having gone to school with a serial killer. And they'll confuse them with other kids who passed through and were gone."
"Yeah, that's right. We've also 'unsealed' their juvenile records. All the crimes we've attributed to them were real crimes, reported in the local papers. None were memorable enough that they would have stood out in the minds of the local authorities or lawyers or judges involved and the real juveniles in each case are now dead."
Abby, using stage makeup, finished 'scruffing them up' and took a number of pictures of each of them.
"You know," she said, "you're right about being big news. You're going to be celebrities now, and not in a 'wanted dead or alive' kind of way. What are you going to do about that?"
"Yeesh!" Dean grimaced. "Hide out, I guess, until it dies down."
"You could probably sell your life story. They'd make a book or a movie out of it and you'd be rich and famous. You could be the next Kardashians."
Sam just chuckled and shook his head.
"You know," Dean said, "I'm pretty sure the Kardashians are something supernaturally gankable. I just haven't figured out what yet."
"You know what you could do, though?" McGee asked. "You could sell magazine articles about true ghosts and write your monster hunts up as fiction and sell them to horror magazines. Also," he stopped and looked a little bashful, "you know I went through your computer and the notebooks in your car after we arrested you, right?"
They both nodded.
"Well, you have mountains and mountains of historical and genealogical research about obscure places around the country. Like, every stone in every graveyard in Clinton County, Georgia. With just a little effort, you could compile that into research manuals for genealogists. There are specialized publishers who handle that sort of thing, or you could sell them online as print-on-demand books. You'd be surprised at how many people buy those sorts of things, and they pay good money for them, too."
"You know, I'd never thought of that." Sam squinted and pursed his lips, considering. "It might be worth looking into. Thanks for the suggestion."
The door to Abby's lab slid open and Gibbs strolled in carrying a CaffPow! "How's it going?" he asked.
"Good. I'll have the last of the paperwork on the wicked Campbell brothers finished within the hour and McGee has been seeding the Internet with old web trails for them, giving them all online presences."
"Vance and the director of the FBI have called a joint news conference for tomorrow afternoon at one. Are we going to be ready to roll by then?"
"Ready and anxious." Abby turned her mega-watt smile on Dean and Sam. "By tomorrow night, you'll be free and completely exonerated! Isn't that exciting?"
"Gonna be weird," Dean said with a wry grin, and Sam nodded his agreement.
"Well, for right now," Gibbs said, "you're still our guests."
"That the PC term for 'prisoner'?" Dean asked.
Gibbs grinned. "Something like that. Brightwell wants an inventory of what's in your trunk and an explanation of what each item is used for. Do you have a problem with that?"
The brothers exchanged a look, then Dean shrugged. "I guess not. You're not planning on confiscating anything?"
"As I understand it, once we spread the word that you're no longer wanted, you're free to leave with all your possessions and we're not even to question whether those possessions are legal or not."
"Sounds good to me. You wanna do this now?"
"Yeah, let's get it out of the way. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day and tonight we're all invited to a dinner up in Director Vance's office. Tobias and his director from the FBI are going to be there too. One last chance, I think, to rub their noses in the fact that we caught you and they didn't."
Calling McGee to join them, Gibbs left with the Winchesters and Abby and Benny were alone. Benny stood for a long while, just watching her work at the computer, basking in the warmth whenever she turned to shoot him a smile. Finally he wandered over and stood close above her.
"You say you like vampires, cherie," he said finally. "You know, funny thing about vampires? Vampires, they got really keen senses. A vampire can hear a woman's heart beat, smell a woman's own, special scent, pick up the changes in her body chemistry that mean a woman's in love."
Abby shot him a sideways glance, puzzled and amused and disbelieving. "Are you saying you think I'm in love?" she asked skeptically.
Benny grinned. "Oh, I know you're in love," he said. "But," wistfully, "not with me."
She glanced, almost without realizing it, towards the doorway. "You think -? Oh, no! We're just . . . ."
"Can I tell you a secret, Abby?"
". . . okay?"
"When you love somebody, it don't matter how long you got with 'em. You can be together a thousand years and, when it's over, the one thing you realize is, it wasn't nearly long enough. Seize what you have while you have a chance. Don't let life pass you by, pretty lady."
She looked at him now with moist eyes. "What was her name?" she asked.
"Andrea," he said with a flash of sorrow, a depth of grief that he rarely let show.
Without a word, Abby stood and wrapped him in a warm, gentle hug.
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"So, I can't tell you why," Dean said to Tony, "but, if you ever really want to get to Kort, just make a kissy face at him."
"A kissy face?"
"Trust me. It's hilarious!"
"The news is going to be on in MTAC in less than ten minutes," Ziva said, hurrying by them with her arms loaded. "Can one of you help me carry this popcorn?" She handed two big bags off to Sam, who had chivalrously volunteered, and harried the rest of them along. "Come on. Come on! We're going to miss it. Are you . . . what are you doing, McGee?"
They turned to look at the resident computer geek. He was pouring a thick line of white crystals out of a canister, surrounding his desk.
"You're warding your computer against ghosts?" Dean asked.
"No," McGee said, sounding smug. "I'm warding my computer against Abby."
"Hate to tell you this, McSaline," Tony said, "but Abby can actually step over salt."
"Abby can, sure. But Abby wants me to think that my computer is being messed with by ghosts, who can't! So, if I ward it against ghosts, I ward it against Abby. And, with this case over, it's only a matter of time until she forgets the whole thing and moves on and then I won't have to worry about it any more."
"Either way, it works," Sam said. "As long as no one breaks your salt line."
"Why would anyone break my salt line?"
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"Dean and Sam Winchester. In the past eight years they've topped the FBI's Most Wanted list three times. They've been accused of unspeakable crimes, evaded dozens of local and federal law enforcement agencies and were reportedly killed twice by gunfire and once in an explosion. Today, the Winchesters' bizarre story takes yet another, completely unexpected twist. My name is Sonia Sutherland and this is ZNN Headline News."
"Man, are those the suckiest mug shots they could find?" Dean bitched from his seat in the front row in MTAC.
Tony threw a piece of popcorn at him. "They're mug shots. They're supposed to be sucky. Shut up."
The news' opening graphics ended and the picture shifted from the anchor, sitting in front of Dean and Sam's mugshots, to Vance and the FBI director at their press conference earlier that day. The Director of the FBI was reading from a prepared statement.
". . . to announce that our agency, in a joint investigation with NCIS, has completely exonerated the Winchester brothers of the crimes of which they stand accused."
The press conference erupted into a shouting match, rival reporters trying to make their questions heard, and the screen cut back to the news anchor.
"It is a tale worthy of Hollywood: The story of two sets of brothers. On the one hand, Dean and Sam Winchester, motherless sons of an often-absent father, growing up with only each other to depend on, raised in an obscure religious tradition to believe completely in the reality of ghosts and monsters and demons and in the need for heroes to combat them in the defense of innocent humanity. On the other hand, the Campbell brothers, cousins the Winchesters did not even know existed. They, too, were raised with a set of obscure beliefs. They believed in violence, and greed, and murder."
The group gathered in MTAC watched in rapt silence as the story unfolded on the movie-sized screen. The Winchesters were the top story of the hour, and the anchor took her time as she explained the criminal history involved, re-drawn to lay everything at the feet of the fictional Campbells. They put up the Campbells' mug shots side-by-side with the Winchesters', showing off the almost but not complete resemblance. Visiting experts discussed the evidence that had come up, clearing the Winchesters, and a pop psychologist psychoanalyzed all five of the young men in question.
"How was that, Duck?" Gibbs asked.
Ducky, who had done the psychological profile on the imaginary killers, nodded, satisfied. "Yes, he made all the assumptions that I intended for him to."
They ended the segment by interviewing an elderly lady who was, they said, Jason Campbell's kindergarten teacher. "I hate to say it," she tutted, shaking her head, "but even at the age of five, I could just tell that there was something not right with that child!"
The screen went dark and everyone rose and stretched. Vance turned to the Winchester brothers.
"Congratulations. You're free men. What will you do now?"
"We're leaving for Kansas in the morning," Sam told him. "We'll probably just lay low for a while and wait for all the publicity to die down. If we can, you know. Barring another apocalypse or such."
"Tonight," Tony said, "we're going to celebrate. Pizza and old horror movies at my place. But first, we're all going to get our anti-possession tattoos made permanent."
"We are?" McGee asked, dismayed.
"Yes, Timmy!" Abby sang. "We are! Ducky and Jimmy, too! And then we'll all have matching tattoos and it'll be cool!"
"I don't know," he waffled, torn between the scientist he'd been all his life, who didn't want anything to do with superstitions, and the scared little boy who was sitting with his eyes closed and his fingers in his ears, pretending that nothing he'd seen on Johnston Atoll was really real. "Anti-possession tattoos? Really? I mean, don't you think that's a little Dark Ages?"
"It'll be like Lord of the Rings," Tony said. "The Fellowship of the Nine, remember?"
"What are you talking about?"
"The movie, Elf Lord! The movie! Remember? After they finished filming, the actors who played the members of the Fellowship all got the Elvish rune for 9 tattooed on them. To commemorate the fact that they played those parts."
"So . . . we're not getting the anti-possession tattoos to protect us from being possessed," McGee reasoned. "We're getting them to commemorate the fact that . . . uh . . . ."
"That we caught the Winchesters when no one else could!"
"Right. Okay. Yeah, okay. I guess I could live with that."
"Would you like to join us, Director?" Ziva asked.
He smiled. "Thank you, but no. You go ahead. I had a dream about my wife last night and she told me I should be spending more time with my kids."
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"I'll take you down to the garage to get your car," McGee offered as they passed through the bullpen, empty in the early evening with no hot cases going on.
Dean jingled the keys to his beloved Impala and grinned eagerly. "I gotta look her over before I drive her anywhere. I'm telling you, DiNozzo, broken arm or no broken arm, I'm gonna kick your ass if you messed her up when you towed her!"
"I'll meet you all in the parking lot," Abby said. "I want to go by my lab."
"I will go with you," Ziva offered, and the two women turned towards the stairs.
"Thanks! I just want to get my Kindle. Remember I told you about those pulp horror novels I found with an angel character named Castiel? I thought it might be fun to read them, so I've been downloading them all day. I figure I'll start them tomorrow, since we're off. After I sleep late."
"Tell me if they're good and maybe I'll read them too!"
When the others had left, Tony hung back. "You coming boss?"
The lead agent gave his second-in-command a faint but warm smile. "Yeah, I'll be along in just a few minutes. Just got a couple things I want to finish up first. You go ahead and I'll catch up."
Tony nodded and caught the next elevator and Gibbs was alone in the big room. He walked over to his team's area and looked down at the thick, white ring on the floor.
"Haven't you messed with McGee enough?" he asked.
He listened. He stuck his hands in his pockets and gazed up through the skylight, tipped his head from side to side and made a show of considering, as if his capitulation was not a foregone conclusion.
"Oh, all right," he said finally. "Just don't break anything. I'm going to need him on my next case, you know."
He reached out one foot and drew a line through the salt circle.
"You spoil her, you know," a gentle, amused voice spoke from behind him.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs turned to the warm and well-loved presence that he had thought for so long was simply a product of his desperate imagination. "Well, yeah," he said with a crooked grin. "That's what daddies do."
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Final Author's Note: So . . . Gibbs is psychic. And he's now spent two entire episodes talking to Mike Franks' ghost PLUS the whole "Life Before His Eyes" episode, so I'm calling it canon! Thank you all again, so much, for joining this story and I hope to see you on the flip side!