You find your way to it. Every time.
Mercy Thompson lay on her back under an '86 Volkswagon Golf using every mechanic's power word she ever knew trying to get the transmission apart. The biggest problem being plain old lack of muscle being applied, when someone knocked at the entryway to her garage front office. A man stood there, late thirties and handsome, unwilling to violate her space before he was invited. His scent was a little hard to pin down, probably due to the soap he used, but she would guess he was human. Even if most humans didn't appreciate territorial boundaries.
"Can I help you?" she asked after rolling out from under the car.
The man smiled at her, polite and charming, and eased himself in the door. "Hey. I'm new to town and looking for work. I've got a lot of experience with engines, especially older models. Would you be hiring?"
"Go through all the want ads already?" Mercy's lips twisted in commiseration. She remembered all too well how hard it was to find a job worth having after college.
The man's smile thinned a little. "Yeah, uh.. Help wanted ads usually want little things like social security numbers to go with your name. I prefer to keep things under the table."
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. In Mercy's experience, only illegals and teenage werewolf runaways wanted work like that. This guy looked and sounded pure white-bread American. So why was he…? Unless, "Cops looking for you?" Surreptitiously, she eased herself into a fighting stance in case he took offense to the question.
He must have noticed, because he held his hands to show his harmlessness. "I'm not saying I've never been in trouble. I was kind of a hell raiser in my day, but as far as I know there are no warrants out for me."
"Then why under the table?" Mercy demanded. When he hesitated, she added, "I'm not opposed to cash, and I was thinking of getting some part-time help, but I gotta know what kind of trouble I'm bringing to my door."
"No trouble," he denied. "My dad was a war vet who raised his family completely off grid. I don't think there's a single piece of paper anywhere with my real name on it. Makes honest work a little hard to find."
Mercy's nose couldn't smell a lie on him, though somehow, she still though he was still lying the way the fae do: with half truths and misdirection. Well, great. Now she was curious. Curiosity had gotten her into trouble before and probably would again.
Turns out, the man calling himself Dean Sharp, was a really good mechanic. He was better with American models, which actually complimented her own skills nicely, and was especially good with restoring antiques. Happily for her, he also liked things clean and orderly; he arranged her office and spare parts shelves so that she could actually find things. Then he took over maintaining the security feeds, proving he wasn't nearly as bad with computers as her. He worked hard, complained little, and was generally fun to be around.
After a month of working for her, she still didn't know anything about his past except his dad was a war vet. Mercy has more or less decided he was human: he wasn't superhumanly strong, his barked up knuckles didn't heal any faster than hers. If he had a superpower it was the ability to deflect questions and charm customers. She liked him.
Tony Montenegro liked him, too. The detective even invited the man to have some beers with him and some other cop buddies down at their favorite watering hole. So when Tony showed up at the garage a file folder in one hand, Dean wandered over to greet him.
Montenegro didn't smile back. "Actually, I'm here on business."
"What kind of business?" Mercy asked.
"There was a murder last night. Guy got torn to pieces in his own house. ME says it looks like canine claws did it. I brought crime scene photos, if you want to see 'em. K-9 units were brought in, but they could isolate anything." Tony sighed. "Can't blame the dogs. The place reeked."
Before she could answer, Dean took the photos and laid them out. Mercy's stomach rolled. The man was pretty torn up, alright. Her other form might enjoys raw meat but this… She swallowed. "This wasn't a wild animal looking for food. The bite and claw marks are all wrong."
Dean gave her a sharp look, but didn't ask how she knew that. Instead, he studied the photos. "You said the place reeked. Smell like rotting eggs, by any chance?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
Dean tapped the bottom corner of one photo. "See the yellow powder? I'm betting that's sulfur."
"That means something to you, doesn't it?" Tony asked.
"If you're the superstitious type, dog mauling plus sulfur residue equals Hellhound."
"Like… a black dog? I've heard of those." Mercy ventured.
But Dean shook his head. "According to lore, a Black Dog is a flesh and blood critter. A Hellhound is a demonic pit-bull, they say its invisible, unless its come to harvest your soul after you've made a deal."
"A deal? Like a deal with the devil? Like a Faustian bargain?" Mercy spluttered.
"A demon deal, yeah. Grant a wish, get ten years to enjoy it, then boom. Dog chow."
"Wait, how do you know all this?" Tony demanded.
Dean gave them both a guarded look, then pulled up the bottom of his t-shirt. Ropey scars wrapped around his rib cage and dangerously close to his belly. Any longer or deeper and the man's intestines would have been on the floor. "Would you believe me if I said monsters were real?"
Mercy and Tony exchanged a look.
Tony took the lead. "Say that I do. What can you tell me about Hellhounds?"
"They only go after people who have made a deal. Unless you're me. They only way to stop one is to convince the boss demon holding the contract to call it off. And it'll only call it off if you have something it wants more than your shiny new soul. So, good luck with that. Typically, you're screwed." Dean finished.
"I refuse to accept that." Tony declared.
Dean studied the cop. Mercy assumed he saw what she saw: a man ready to do battle with whatever to protect. Then Dean sighed, world-weary. He scooped up a pencil and began to write on a notepad. "If you have to try, you'll want this. Because if you get in its way it'll kill you, too. Just because. A hellhound can't cross a circle made with this."
"Gooffer dust?" Tony read. "Do I need to be a witch to make this, or anything?"
"It's Hoo-Doo. Not magic." Dean explained. "All you need is the right ingredients for it to work."
Mercy was intrigued. "What's the difference between magic and Voo-Doo?"
"Hoo-Doo. Not Voo-Doo." Dean corrected. "Think of it as the homeopathic remedy of the supernatural world; its not as powerfully effective, but no nasty side-effects, either. So, good luck, Detective, good hunting." The mechanic nodded to them both and went back to the Ford he'd been working on.
"What is he, Mercy?" Tony pitched his voice so it wouldn't carry. "A witch?"
"I don't know. I don't think so." Mercy answered. "I'm beginning to think I need to find out."
"Meanwhile, I have a… Hellhound on the loose." Tony ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I miss the days when drug dealers were our biggest problem."
The rest of the week passed quietly. Mostly because Dean didn't seem to want to talk much and stayed focused on his work. Meanwhile, Mercy was getting uneasy. Bran and his sons had a tendency to rattle off random but important facts like the recipe for monster repellent and the different kinds of magic, but the Cornicks were all old. Centuries old, which gave them time to pick up these tid-bits
How old was Dean, really? He looked not quite forty. But then, Adam and the Wolves look thirty and weren't while Zee looked sixty and definitely wasn't. Being born before Social Security would explain why he didn't have a number. And Dean never actually said what war his father was a veteran of…
Two weeks after his first visit, Tony Montenegro returned with Clay Willis in tow. Turns out, two more people died. Two people who ten years ago seemed to have been granted their wish. (Thankfully, Tony never had the chance to try out the goofer dust.) The detectives wanted to talk to her assistant.
Dean looked…alert. Limbs loose and ready. Mercy never really noticed before, but his body language screamed "fighter" if not "predator."
"Montenegro tells me we have you to thank for the background on the recent killings." Willis began, his voice challenging and hostile. "But he didn't say how you knew."
"That's because I didn't tell him." Dean told him with a smirk, one that said he knew he was annoying and loved to annoy.
"Cut the crap. How'd you know?" Willis growled.
"'Cuz me and the King of Hell used to go bar crawling." Dean answered levelly.
And Mercy's breath froze in her lungs. Because her nose said that was pure truth.
But Willis couldn't smell what she could. And Dean had a helluva poker face. "Is that supposed to make any kind of sense?" he growled.
"What do you want?" Dean asked instead of answering.
"How does a mechanic know so much about the habits and handicaps of hellhounds?" Willis demanded. "What kind of man knows that?"
Dean shrugged. "Here's something you cop types seem to forget: monsters have always been around, hiding in the dark corners, living in the silences. Me? I'm a drifter. Wandered all over this country's darkest corners and run into all the nastiest bottom-feeders. A lot of drifters have. We just don't talk about it because none of us like the 72 hour required observation at the psychiatric facility of the state's choice."
"But you've seen a lot of… bottom-feeders." Tony distilled. "You know what they look like, what they do. Maybe even how to stop them?"
"What are you getting at, Montenegro?"
"Have you ever worked with the police, before?" Willis countered. "Mouth like yours, I bet you've been arrested once or twice, but have you ever helped the police out on a case before?"
Dean smirked. "I was a sheriff in Wyoming for like a day back in 1861." And again, Mercy's nose could tell he wasn't joking. The man was alive back in 1861. "But I only got the gig 'cuz a gunslinger back from the dead shot the last sheriff."
"Papi, seriously." Tony chided.
"Dude, seriously, what does it matter?"
"Because we've got another weird one, and we'd kind of like you to take a look. You and Mercy." Tony nodded at her, who nodded her agreement back.
"Weird keeps happening." Willis grumbled. "More and more. And no one covered this kind of crap at the academy. I don't like it, but I know when I am out of my depth."
"Fine. I'll take a look if it means so much to you. But whether I'm helpful or not, you fellas will owe me a couple beers. Deal?"
"Deal." Willis accepted. "But you might not be hungry after this one."
Probably because Willis made the comment about loosing his appetite, Dean walked into the crime scene munching on cheetos. Mercy was glad she hadn't eaten, though. The detectives lead them down an alley where uniforms had chased a bank robber. But when the officers ran in after him, they slipped in the mess the two 'consultants' were looking at now.
Mercy's stomach roiled as she stared at what looked like someone's skin.
And not a little pile of sunburn peelings. It looked like someone had peeled another person's skin completely off, like you would a catfish. That thought was a little much for Mercy. She turned a little green and had to step back in to more mundane smells. Like rotting garbage.
Dean, however, seemed completely unfazed. He strolled in like he was officer in charge of the scene, and even handed his cheetos off to a uniform telling him to hold the bag while walking past. Mercy went ahead and started retching when the man reached down in a squat and scooped up a handful of skin. The stuff squelched when he touched it. She ran out of bile after he ran the stuff through his fingers and gave it a sniff.
He dropped the skin, wiped his hands on his jeans, and reclaimed his cheetos. Then he noticed his employers. "Boss, you okay?"
She gave him a disbelieving stare.
Before she could answer, Willis snapped. "Please tell me you got something from that show and you weren't just dicking around."
"Skin-shifter." Dean answered promptly and easily. He pointed to the mess. "That is not a murder victim. Think of it as an empty snakeskin. Every time this thing wants to look like a brand new person, it rips off the old skin and grows a new one. They always look human, but you twenty something white male bank robber can now look like a ninety year old black woman. So. Good luck with that APB."
Willis and Montenegro gaped as the information set in.
"Skin-shifters love framing innocent people.'' Dean continued. "So check alibis for the phrase 'two places at once' and you're getting closer."
Willis swore. "How do we catch something like that?"
"Your phone take videos?" Dean asked. "When a skin shifter looks at a video camera, its eyes show up distorted; a little like flat silver discs, y'know, like a nocturnal animal's eyes in low light. Use your camera phone to check the eyes of your suspect."
"Okay. We can do that." Tony nodded to himself. "Anything else we should know about this… skin-shifter?"
"Uhh…yeah. They have a small psychic link to whoever they look like. Helps them be convincing. But it takes time to download everything, so when you catch it chances are there is a person hog-tied in a basement or sewer someone that needs rescuing. Go look for him."
"Will the DNA match the skin-shifter's body double?" Willis asked.
Dean shrugged. "How the hell should I know?"
Willis glared. "How the hell do you know any of this?"
"Got beaned over the head, woke up tied to a sewer pipe staring at my evil twin. He was chatty."
A week and a half later, Mercy invited Dean along with her family and a few members of the pack to a community outreach put on by her church. It was a hotdog roast with a pot-luck dessert table. The idea was to get the community and the church members to interact socially without the intimidation factor of a formal Sunday service.
As far as Mercy could tell, Dean only agreed to come when she said there would be free homemade pie. Which is more or less what he told the pastor when the subject of coming back for a Sunday morning came up.
"I'm not much of a church-goer." Dean explained.
"Not a believer, then?" Pastor Oscar Ruiz smiled.
"Oh, I believe, Padre." Dean corrected. "But even worse, I know. Makes the whole trust-in-Him thing a bit complicated."
"How can you believe in God but not worship Him?" Alma Ruiz, the pastor's wife, asked.
"Demons believe. Doesn't make them part of the God-Squad Bandwagon." Dean answered seriously. "I know He is real, but Him and me? Not on speaking terms just now."
"You've clearly given the matter a lot of thought. I get the feeling there is a doozy of a story to go with that opinion." Ruiz observed mildly.
"Story? There is a book series on the subject." Dean chuckled.
"Really?" Oscar laughed with him. "Well, maybe I should read that series. Or maybe, you could come over for dinner and pie with me and Alma and tell us a few of those stories." The pastor's eyes glinted. "Did I use the right bait for a Dean-trap?"
"That's playing dirty, Padre." Dean complained. "How about dinner and pie on Tuesday night, after I've spent the afternoon rewiring that microphone system everyone's been complaining about? Maybe Alma could make a pie or two to-go."
Oscar cocked an eyebrow. "I thought you were a mechanic?"
"Mechanic, electrician, construction, pest control, farm hand, short order cook, substitute high school gym teacher… Done it all."
"If you're not a worshipper, why help the local parish?" Oscar wanted to know.
"You're good people." Dean said simply, as though that explained everything.
And perhaps it did.
Pastor Ruiz had been praying for a solution to the speaker system. Perhaps God was laying that burden on this Dean's heart, as an answer to prayer. And perhaps their time together could help Oscar learn how to help Dean heal. For, despite the easy-going manner, Oscar discerned that there had never been a more thoroughly broken and re-broken man than Dean.
Tuesday came, and Dean came to work at the church as promised. He brought a bucket full of tools and took everything apart, ripped out every wire, and even opened up the wall and flooring. By ten o'clock that night, all new wire was laid, a new fuse box and junction box installed, the carpet tacked back down, and the mud on the drywall was drying.
Dean had eaten three pies instead of dinner food.
Ten minutes after ten, the detectives were back with another weird one.
"I know its late, but do you mind taking a look?" Tony asked.
"Will consult for food." Dean stretched the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. "I should have a cardboard sign. Or maybe a t-shirt."
Willis took in the work done on the sanctuary. "The church pay in beers, too?"
"Pie." Alma gestured at the three empty pie plates.
"Good pie?" Willis asked Dean.
Who grinned. "The best."
"Hope it stays down like cheetos."
"Whew. What a mess," were that first words out of Dean's mouth when they arrived. And they were an understatement and an under-reaction to the scene in front of them. Strewn across the reception hall was dead bodies.
Some had been dead for hours, the apparent victims of a bar brawl gone massively out of control. Broken glass bottles protruded from vital parts of anatomy. Heads had been bashed in by blunt objects. One corpse looked like in had a broken stirring spoon in its belly. The rest were police officers. In the hour Willis and Montenegro had been gone to collect their consultant, every cop at the scene had drawn their weapon and shot each other. Everyone had a frozen expression on rage.
His next words were sharp and full of command. "We have half and hour. If we can't find anything to explain this, we clear out. Don't want anyone else whammied and going bug-nuts homicidal. Walk the room, look for anything out of place."
Both detectives nodded and spread out. As they moved, Willis took out his phone and began to report the scene to the precinct and request a rotation of guards.
Dean was hard at it, poking at the bodies and searching under furniture. He read bottle labels and moved dishes around. Once, he yanked the tablecloth from under the dishes without knocking anything over. Grinning, he looked to the others in the room; who glared at him for his humor in the middle of the carnage. He replaced the grin with an apology.
Then something caught his eye: a small pile of white dust on the floor by the wall. He squatted down next to it and stirred the pile with a finger. "Plaster," he murmured.
Dean punched through the wall.
"What the-?" Willis barked.
Dean held up his prize. "Freaking witches! I hate witches. Always with body fluids and leaving trash everywhere." As he grumbled, he opened up a small leather bag, laying everything out so he could take pictures.
"That caused this?" Tony demanded.
Dean agreed and with out ceremony set his lighter to the bag. Both detectives squawked a protest at the destruction of critical evidence, but only Willis drew his sidearm and jammed the barrel in the consultant's face. The bag gave an odd little pop and the tension deflated somewhat.
"Easy there, hoss." Dean kept his voice smooth and low, like a cowboy trying to sooth a spooked horse. "That was called a hex bag. Witches like to leave 'em lying behind to cause problems when they're not around. This sucker ramps up anger and aggression would be my guess. Don't you feel more pissed than normal?"
"You destroyed the spell, but I still want to pull this trigger." Willis grated.
Still speaking in the spooked horse voice Dean continued his tutorial. "Usually its one bag, one person. If this witch took the whole room, there's more. Probably four more, spread around the room. So we need to find the rest before we kill each other. Clay, man, I know you want to kill me right now, but that's the hex talking. You gotta fight this. C'mon, I know you can."
Slowly, shakily, Willis lower the gun, breathing like he'd come to the end of a marathon. "I'm going to punch through the other walls." He panted through the strain.
In short order, now that they knew what they were looking for, all four remaining hex bags lay in ashes on the center table. When the last bag gave its last pop, Clay Willis all but fell sideways into a chair; the sudden release left him weak and rubber-legged. Tony Montenegro stayed standing, barely, supported by a pillar and breathing deeply trying to recover his equilibrium.
"How come it didn't affect you?" Tony huffed.
Dean rubbed his left arm absently. "Oh it affected me, too. But I've been whammied by rage curses before a helluva lot stronger than this amateur hour crap."
"Me nearly making you eat a bullet is amateur hour?" Clay ground out.
"All the bags were identical. Means you're looking for just one witch. Someone with enough access to the room to plant all the hex bags, and someone with an axe to grind against one of your victims."
"Wonderful." Tony groused. "How do you pick a witch out of a line-up?"
Dean shrugged. "Witches are people. Run background checks on the victims, see who had enemies. Match it against the people with access. Get warrants search their house for black altars, occult books, ingredients matching the pictures we took."
"That sounds depressingly mundane." Willis sighed.
"You pay me in beer. Now, go do your jobs, protect and serve and all that crap. Let me get a few hours of sleep before the shop opens tomorrow."
Wednesday morning came and went like any other morning. Cops ran backgrounds. Mechanics fixed cars. The local pastor showed off the new sound system to the church board. Come Sunday morning, the congregation enjoyed the new sound quality (especially one sharp eared coyote). And cops had tracked down one pissed of witch who'd caught her boyfriend cheating.
Mercedes Thompson-Hauptman returned from church with her assistant mechanic heavy on her mind. Just who was he, really?
"Satisfaction brought it back." A familiar voice told her from behind.
Turning, Mercy found her half-brother sitting in her kitchen. "What?"
"People like to quote 'curiosity killed the cat' to Coyote's children. Funny how they never remember the second half of that saying. 'Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back.' I could sense your curiosity from two states away, little sister. Have you ever considered, just once, dropping the matter and keeping your own tail safe?"
Mercy gave Gary a penetrating look. "Have you had another vision, Laughing Dog? See something I should know about?"
"I don't know what I Saw." Gary's eyes looked troubled and far away. "All I know is that trouble is headed this way, and if I didn't come it would flatten you and your whole pack."
To pass the time, Mercy told Gary about her newest employee; about the little things he let slip and what a puzzle he had become. There was no way he was just another joe-average drifter. Proving that Coyote's older child was not immune to curiosity, Gary followed Mercy to work to meet the man. His nose twitched as he took in an old but familiar scent.
"Wolfsbane, witch hazel, vervain, and distilled skunk oil. That's an Old World recipe for hunters and trappers to keep from scaring off the game. Why would a modern man bath in Hunter's soap?" Gary wondered out loud.
Dean froze momentarily as soon as the question left his lips. It was a fraction of a second, but Mercy saw it before he recovered. What about that question would cause a moment of fear in a man?
"I'm allergic to perfume," he lied with a straight face.
Both coyotes gave him the same disbelieving stare.
"Because I once pissed off the Alpha Vampire and I don't want any of his minions catching a whiff of me and running back to daddy?" He tried.
"Vampires don't have Alphas," Mercy objected. "They have Masters."
"Someone has been reading too much Anne Rice." Dean shook his head. "Not some random fang who likes to lord it over minions. The Alpha Vamp, the first of the species."
Mercy's mind boggled at the age and power that such a creature represented.
"And you decided to piss him off." Gary groaned. "He fits right in around here. Picking fights with creatures you have no business being around. Is this thing looking for you. Like, right now?"
Dean waved a dismissive hand, like the whole discussion was one big joke of a LARPing section, not realizing they knew truth from lies. But he told the truth anyway. After all, its not like they would believe the truth until it bit them in the ass. "Haven't talked to the bastard in years, not since I saved his creepy ungrateful ass. He probably thinks I'm dead. I'd like to keep it that way. Can we please go fix some cars now?"
"Who's creepy, ungrateful ass did you save?" Tony asked from the doorway. "And why would he think you're dead?" Then he shook his head. "You know what? Never mind. I don't want to know. Forget that I asked."
"Thank you." Dean threw a mock glare at his employer. "Consider taking tips from this guy."
"You need me to loan you my assistant, again, Tony?" Mercy redirected.
Tony nodded. "Believe it or not, we got another weird one."
"Dude, you're killing me here." Dean groaned. "I'm usually happy to help a man out, but I gotta earn a living these days. Which means I gotta make my hours."
"You didn't have to earn a living before? Nice." Gary grinned. "What changed?"
Dean rolled his eyes, but otherwise ignored Gary.
"I actually brought that up to the captain." Tony surprised them by saying. "I explained how helpful you've been in exchange for beer. But I didn't want to abuse the friendship much more. You've put in a lot of hours for the department. So I started the paperwork to put you on the paid confidential informant rolls. Hopefully you'll get reimbursed…" Tony trailed off as a strange look came over his friend's face. "You okay?"
Both coyotes caught a whiff of emotions too tangled to parse out.
"I didn't think you knew me well enough to call me a friend." Dean's voice sounded thick.
"You saved my life last week, Papi." Tony reminded him.
"We're drinking buddies." Dean said, voice still off. "I'm not about to let some witchy PMS ruin a good group at the bar."
"We are friends." Tony corrected firmly.
Dean began to look profoundly uncomfortable. "I don't know about all that," he answered at last. "But if the boss-lady doesn't mind, I'll come have a look."
Mercy urged, "Go ahead. I'm sure I can blackmail Gary into helping around the shop today."
"Did I say something wrong?" Tony whispered while the consultant left to change out of the coveralls.
"Maybe." Mercy wrestled with herself for a moment before saying carefully. "I don't know him that well. He works here, but it's a job-by-job basis for cash at the end of the day."
Montenegro, familiar with the plight of illegal immigration, caught what she was really saying. "Why doesn't the white-boy have ID? Fugitive?"
Tony stood back and watched the consultant work. He flashed his laminate ID like it was a badge as he waltzed in, pausing only long enough to slip on a pair of CSI booties. Without being told. Like he had done this a thousand times before, like he was used to being the lead on a murder investigation. He used to be an investigator, he realized.
Dean strolled over to the body. Squatting, he turned the man's head sideways, exposing a small mark be hind his ear. He swiped a long-handled swab from the coronor and gently pushed the cotton-tip into the wound. And kept pushing until it was a good seven inches in the man's neck. "Lemme guess: Last couple a days, the guy started getting weirder and weirder. Coworkers and neighbors say he suddenly got a little paranoid, then a lot paranoid. Probably reacting to crap no one saw."
Another detective, one Dean didn't know, blinked in surprise. "Yeah, actually. That pretty much sums up what we got from the super."
"What are we dealing with?" Tony asked.
"Wraith." Dean stood. "Human-looking critter with a spike-straw that comes out of its wrist. When you do an autopsy, you'll find the braisin."
"Braisin?" the coroner stuttered.
"Brain raisin." Dean explained. "This thing drinks brain juice with the spike-straw. Okay, Wraith 101." Tony pulled out his notepad. "Before they suck you dry, they shoot you up with crazy juice - makes your brain produce all kinds of chemicals I can't pronounce - and lets you marinate for a few days."
"Marinate?" the other detective repeated.
"Yeah, crazy-brain chemistry tastes better than normal brain chemistry. Some time in the past few days your monster had significant physical contact with your boy here. Could be a doctor who gave him a physical or a hooker. Follow his life, get a good look at everyone in a mirror. The wraith's reflection will show up distorted. And silver burns it."
"And kills it, I'm guessing." Tony scribbled.
Dean clicked his tongue in confirmation.
"Is there a story behind this one?" Tony asked.
"Remember I told you about that 72 hour required observation at the state facility of their choice?" Tony nodded., "Well, the intake nurse who does the body cavity search doped me up with crazy juice and tried to eat me. And not the fun way."
"Where'd you get a silver knife in a locked ward?" Tony wondered, correctly assuming the wraith was no longer among the living.
"Head doc's private office. Silver plated letter opener." Dean smirked. "I'd gone crazy not stupid. And I knew I wasn't actually crazy; not talking to my imaginary therapist crazy, anyway. Although, she did help me work through a few things."
"She did? The imaginary therapist?" Tony laughed.
"Sure. Who knows you better than a figment of your own imagination?"
Tony drove them back to Mercy's shop, but Dean sensed that he had something on his mind and waited before he got out.
"Papi… You don't act like a drifter/mechanic who stumbled onto this monster stuff on accident." He said finally. "You act like a twenty-years man on the force who's seen too much dirt and dark. Who were you?"
"My father's son. My brother's big brother." Dean replied absently, staring out the windshield at memories only he could see. Rubbing his forearm. "And now I'm not."
The rest of the day a lot of people did a lot of pondering.
Tony Montenegro pondered the self-identifiers Dean had given him and wondered at the life the man had lead until now. He asked himself what had happened to make a man burn out the way Dean obviously had. A cop could always recognize the look. It was a fine line a lot of cops stumbled across and not all of them made it back.
Gary Laughing Dog pondered at the nature of his visions, and wondered (not for the first time) where they came from. He'd bemoaned "Why me?" but had always assumed they came from Coyote, to annoy Gary and amuse Coyote. But this last Seeing seemed…bigger, somehow.
Adam Hauptman pondered the ramifications of his brother-in-law's latest Seeing. His Wolf growled. Their mate, their Mercy, always ended up hurt. Even when they won. Not this time. The Wolf snarled. They say forewarned is forearmed. And on that thought, Adam picked up the phone.
Pastor Oscar Ruiz pondered human nature, one human's nature in particular. Hw knew Dean to have a kind and giving heart, or else a good meal and pie would not have been enough to inspire the effort expended on the parish. Even after all the man had been through to make him run, even after all the hurt he must have endured, he still gave. And not entirely from guilt, but from an honest desire to help people. Oscar's heart wept for the man, even if his head didn't entirely know why.
Clay Willis pondered the nature of the world around him and wondered how police in years not so far past could have missed all the signs of the supernatural all around them. But then, maybe they didn't. Dean had said something about drifters sharing the same shadowy corners as the monsters. Surely the same could be said for the police who tried to shine a flashlight into those corners?
Mercy pondered the puzzle that was her part-time mechanic. And wondered why her half-brother was having visions about her, now. Was just a coincidence that the one came soon after the arrival of the other? For all that she liked Dean, maybe, just maybe, she should tell him she didn't need anymore help around the shop and send him on his way.
Then man known to the Tri-Cities area as Dean Sharp pondered the contents of his refrigerator, trying to figure out what dinner he was in the mood for. The Chinese leftovers were getting old and needed to be eaten, but he wasn't really in the mood. For anything in the fridge. He wondered if it was time to find another source of income to supplement his grocery bill. A stacked cheeseburger sounded really good.
Not far from any of them, an old enemy of Mercy's pondered the nature of the flow of time. It wondered how, with as old as it was, the last week had been so incredibly long. And how much longer the next few days would be…
Adam Hauptman had made a phone call to arrange a simple yet expensive request. Elizaveta Arkadyevna, having a soft spot for the Wolf and a particular appreciation for easy money, was all too happy to comply.
No one had bothered to warn the garage owner that a coven of witches would be coming over. The only reason she didn't snarl when a cargo van reversed into her garage at the end of her workday was because her husband had been directing the driver in.
"Adam?" Mercy demanded/questioned/threatened when she saw the van was filled with the witch clan.
Adam helped Elizaveta to her feet from the passenger seat. "Madame Arkadyevna and her family are here to put up an all-purpose protection spell of the garage."
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that." Dean drawled from the spare parts shelving. "There's always a price for any magic strong enough to do a damn bit of good."
Elizaveta regarded the big man. "If its not you paying the price, do you care?"
Dean held her gaze steadily. "Depends on the price. If you're a demon's puppet, hell yes I care. If people died for the ingredients, hell yes I care."
The grandmother witch drew herself up, insulted. "I am a natural-born magic, trained by my mother before me. I would never stoop so low as to deal with the demonic and damn myself. And only a fool deals in death magic; it always corrupts."
"Glad to hear it." Dean drawled. "I haven't met very many nice witches. Mostly its been Rowena, the Grand Coven, and an honest-to-god man-sized oven."
Elizaveta stared at the younger man. "You survived the Grand Coven? And escaped to tell the tale?"
Dean laughed. "Shoved the bitch witch in her own oven."
"What's the Grand Coven?" Mercy asked.
He answered. "Exactly what is sounds like, boss. The most powerful witches out there. They used to be scarier, but the Men of Letters kicked their asses."
"Men of Letters?" Mercy parroted.
Elizaveta spat on the ground in disgust. "Preceptors, beholders, chroniclers of all that screws our kind. A century ago they cost my ancestors all of their grimoires and our family's more powerful workings, including the mix for extending life."
"Extending life?" Mercy echoed.
"Sure, I've met more than one seven hundred year old." Dean shrugged. "And, boss, if you keep repeating what everyone else is saying, people are going to get the wrong idea about your IQ points."
Mercy scowled at her employee.
Who smirked back. "By the way, the witch-mobile is dripping differential fluid all over my nice clean floor. The one I just finished sweeping up."
Mercy sighed. "Madame Arkadyevna, after the spell work, why don't you leave the van here and I'll fix it up. As a tip for your service."
The old woman regally agreed.
"Okay, then, boos-lady. I'm gonna head home and catch up on Dr. Sexy M.D." Dean decamped after sliding an oil pan under the cargo van.
"Who was that?" the witch demanded, watching his retreating back.
"A puzzle." Adam rumbled. "One my mate is determined to solve."
"Little coyote, always swimming in the deep pools." The old woman shook her head. "That one… Mercy-Girl, and old witch can look behind a man's eyes. She can learn to See what kind of a man or beast she is dealing with. Understand?"
"Not exactly, but go ahead."
"That one…" Elizaveta drew a deep breath, considering her words. "Behind his eyes is a mess of rage and open wounds and violence. He is cursed, that one, and broken and not healing well. And yet, still…powerful. And dangerous. Take care, Trickster's Daughter, not to push him further than he can stretch. You will not like the result."
Mercy's mouth ran dry. Chilled, she stepped sideways into Adam's arm, who wrapped it around her and pulled her close. "We'll keep that in mind."
True to his declaration, Dean had gone back to his apartment to watch daytime soap opera and eat the Chinese leftovers he hadn't eaten while pondering. He was getting restless, and it wasn't just his left arm bothering him.
Dean had been in the Tri-Cities area for two months now. Part of him knew he should pack his crap and go. Find a new city and a new job. Leave the people who were beginning to know too much about him like Mercy and Tony.
He knew it.
Growing up, they never stayed in one place for more than two months at a time. It wasn't safe. 'We chase the evil in front of us, so the evil behind us can't catch up,' his dad had told him once.
Dean had taken those words to heart and lived by them.
Now, though. Now he didn't know what he was doing.
A pounding on the door interrupted his thoughts. He was so grateful for the distraction, he almost didn't take a gun with him when he answered it.
Gary Laughing Dog all but fell through the doorway. Dean caught the Indian instinctively and hauled him over to sit on the couch. If he was bothered at all that his unexpected guest was bleeding all over the upholstery, he didn't show it. Instead, he began to triage the injuries as he demanded to know what was going on.
"It has Mercy." Gary panted through swollen lips. "And Adam, most of the pack, Tony, Clay, Oscar…"
Dean's hands never stopped binding the wounds. "Pack?" Then he sighed. "Wolves, naturally. I shoulda noticed they skipped movie night on full moons; shoulda caught that. Damn, I'm getting sloppy. At least they're the kind of Pack that doesn't go around eatin' folk. Even retired I would have noticed that. What has them?"
"A demon." Gary hissed through the pain. "Mercy beat it before. It came back."
"They do that." Dean agreed, tying off the gauze.
"It brought help." Gary's words were getting harder to get out, to say what Dean should know. "Thirteen witches… full coven. Five vampires. Three rouge Wolves…killers. Two fae." He sucked in a deep breath. "It happened so fast. I ran."
"Not much one- whatever you are- could do against that line up." Dean observed. "And you didn't run away. You ran to get help. Effective help. Bit of a difference."
"Cold comfort." Gary murmured.
"Survivor's guilt." Dean retorted. "Look it up later when we have time to deal with your crap. Any idea where they are?"
"Had a vision." Gary's voice weakened even more. "Knew I had to tell you: 1-4-5-2-7-9. Dunno why."
"Co-ordinates. North of town, warehouse district." Dean put a hand on Gary's shoulder. "You're beat up and a bloody mess, but you haven't lost enough blood to be life threatening. Stay here, get some rest."
"What…will…you…do?" Gary was fighting unconsciousness.
Gary wasn't sure but he thought he saw a light glow on the man's forearm,
"Coming out of retirement. For one night."
Mercy knew her half-brother got away. For that she was glad. That made one person who wouldn't watch her die. Because everyone chained or caged in that dungeon of a warehouse knew that was how this would end. No one who really understood the situation held out much hope for rescue, either. It would take an army to over-power the group assembled against them; assuming the demon wouldn't kill them all outright as soon as it realized there was an army at the door.
Some small part of her brain hoped Coyote would come up with a rescue plan…but she doubted it would work. The demon hated her with too much passion. Still she kept telling herself to hold on to some hope; that losing hope was the first step to defeat. But as the demon stripped her bare, strapped her to a table, and held the sharp blade over her; hope was hard to hold onto.
Mercy was so focused on the unholy glee on the demon's face, she almost missed the rest.
But only a blind, deaf, and dumb man would miss Dean's entrance to the party.
Booms, bangs, and concussive force buffeted Mercy's sensitive ears. Doors, walls, windows and pieces of the roof exploded inward almost simultaneously sending rubble, shrapnel and glass flying. Everyone, captive or captor, sat stunned for a precious few seconds.
Dean stepped through the one door he had picked the lock on instead of exploding, giving him a few more seconds of surprise. Ears ringing, no one heard what he said, but when he finished saying it he set a white-hot flare to a metal bowl full of herbal ingredients. The herbs and whatever else flared in a puff of smoke and all thirteen witches screamed and collapsed dead on the ground.
Without pausing, he dropped the flare and flipped the bowl over the flame. Dimly, Mercy realized that the bowl had some sort of design punched through the metal. It glowed like a lantern, casting shadows and light on the ceiling.
But Dean wasn't done, hadn't even slowed down. Jamming both hands into his jacket pockets, he came up with a gun and what looked like a homemade bomb. He yanked a pin with his teeth, and lobbed the oversized explosive underhanded into the cluster of vampires. Which made no sense to her. Gunpowder would never hurt a vampire, wouldn't even slow one down. Even as she formed her doubts, the gun started barking. Three shots and three rogue Wolves died with the chests cracked open and their hearts shredded by silver hollow-point slugs.
The now empty grenade hand fell to the second gun tucked in the front of his jeans. This gun barrel tracked the fae, barking six times in rapid succession hitting each fae twice in the chest and once in the head.
Twenty bodies on the floor in less than two minutes and Dean still wasn't done.
Guns were tucked back into belt and pocket. Then their rescuer drew two blades from under his jacket at his back. One was some kind of roman short-sword. The other was a machete. Swords at the ready, Dean let loose a primal roar and charged the vampires.
It shouldn't have worked. Mercy knew vampires were fast and strong and this bunch was combat trained. One human at human speeds shouldn't have been enough. But the vamps couldn't seem to get themselves together. Their movements were a little sluggish and oddly uncoordinated. Swords flashed and heads rolled. Literally.
The last body fell and Dean wasn't even sweating yet. She'd swear his heavy breathing was more from adrenaline than exertion.
"Why can't I move?" The demon snarled, bringing attention back to Mercy's corner of the room.
Wordlessly, Dean looked at the over-turned bowl and flare and then at the walls and ceiling. Mercy didn't recognize the symbols thrown into relief by the light and shadow.
Clearly, though, the demon knew what it was looking at. "So exorcise me already." It sneered at the man. "I'll be back."
Dean, incredibly, laughed. "Say that again, only this time put a little more Schwarzenegger in it. I'll be back," he repeated with a heavy fake austrian accent. Then he stowed the swords and drew a platinum silver stiletto. Showing the demon the weapon, he told the demon, "And no, you won't."
The demon's eyes flew wide in shock. "Dean Win-!" it stuttered.
Without another word, Dean slid the blade into the demon's ribcage through its heart. Orange and red light crackled through the monster's body before it collapsed and slid off Dean's arm. "Did I miss anyone?" Dean asked the silent room.
Shocky with surprise at the sudden turn of events, no one answered.
"I'm gonna take that as a no." Dean announced. In short order, Dean had the human's unchained first. All of them battered, but no one was hurt so badly that they wouldn't heal. The Pack was unchained only after Adam guaranteed their good behavior. Supernaturally strong, the Wolves shifted rubble off of Zee, the only one in their group who got caught in the blast.
Ben and Warren tended a vampire, Stephan they called him, and each man donated a little blood to get their friend back on his feet. Dean shook hid head at the sight, but didn't comment.
Adam and Mercy stood by the table she had been strapped to. Each had their arms wrapped around the other and stayed that way for several minutes content to have each other alive.
Dean plopped down by Oscar Ruiz and reached into his Mary Poppins of a jacket to produce a flask. He unscrewed it and took a swig. "Freakin' demons."
Oscar reached over and took the flask and a swig without asking. "I believed demons were real but…"
"Now you know. I told you there was a difference believing and knowing and which one was worse."
"Yes, you did." Oscar murmured taking one more swig and handing it back. "So you know God and His angels are real, too?"
"Yep." Dean answered, but didn't elaborate.
Mercy, now dressed in her husband's shirt wondered over. "I'm still not sure I understand what just happened."
Perhaps sensing an explanation, the rest of the room gathered.
"What's to understand? Gary told me you all needed rescuing." Dean eyed the pastor next to him. "Couldn't let Alma down. She'd never make me another pie."
Oscar managed a weak smile at the joke.
"But…how? I mean… What killed the witches?" Mercy demanded.
"Spell." Dean told her. "Secret herbs and spices, dead chicken parts, lots of bad smells. Roast well and say the magic words…poof. Every witch in the room gets the gank. That Elvira witch is probably gonna be pissed I raided her van for ingredients."
Adam snorted. "We will reimburse Elizaveta."
"What did you do to the vampires?" Warren asked. "They looked drunk."
"My do-it-yourself grenade was loaded with wooden splinters soaked in dead man's blood. Fang's can only feed off the living; dead blood is poisonous. Soak a crossbow quarrel in the stuff, vamp's out for hours. Hit 'em with a dozen toothpicks, and they're drowsy, dopey, weak and easy pickings."
"I didn't know that." Mercy looked at Stephan.
"We don't advertise." Stephan muttered. "And you still have to catch us."
"Damn, Papi." Tony swore, staring at the bodies. "Twenty-four dead in one night."
"Twenty-five." Dean corrected with a sigh.
"I count twenty-four as well." Adam said.
"Demon counts as two. I killed the demon and the poor slob the demon was wearing. Twenty-four bodies. Twenty-five kills." Dean explained.
"Nein, You killed only the host." Zee denied. "You cannot kill a devil."
"I can." Dean told him. And every supernatural creature there knew the truth.
"It knew you." Zee observed carefully. "Called you by name."
Dean made a noise that neither confirmed nor denied the old fae.
Zee nodded his understanding. "Fae and older vampires do not use names. Real names, true names, have power over us. We do not give them out lightly either. I cannot speak for anyone else, but for saving my life I owe you my thanks. The least I can do to pay towards that debt is to leave you your secrets and offer you my silence for what passed this night. I assume that word of your feats would also give you away."
Adam, Alpha of the Colombia Basin Pack, stepped forward. "We owe you our lives as well. We will not forget our debt to you."
"You may add my thanks as well." Stephan still leaned on Ben, but he was plenty alert. "And I, too, am in your debt."
As much as Adam and Mercy wanted to go home and crash, sleep off the last few hours of horrors, they went with Dean to pick up Gary from Dean's apartment. They rode in exhausted silence until Adam finally broke it with a question.
"God is real. You're sure?"
Dean roused himself a bit from his reclining position in the backseat. "Yep."
"This morning I considered myself an atheist." Adam told the car.
"Sorry," Dean apologized, though he didn't say what he was sorry for.
Adam sighed deeply, knowing that this revelation was his to work through. Then he studied the man in the rearview mirror. "You look like a man ready to run."
"Yeah, its probably best if I moved on."
"Why?" Mercy asked. "The excitement is over, and you have friends here."
"Yeah, you're demon problem is over." Dean agreed. "But word will get around, about me, about what I did for you. And certain people who don't know where I am will come looking. 'Cuz there are only so many people in the world who can do what I did."
"You blew your cover to rescue us," Mercy realized.
"I shoulda left weeks ago, when Tony asked me to consult." Dean admitted. "I know better, but I liked what I had here."
"Wolves need pack." Adam declared, watching the road, carefully not looking at his passenger. "Somewhere to belong, someone to watch out for them, someone to watch out for. Not many do well alone."
"I hear you." Dean sighed. "I hear you. But…I have no right to bring my crap down on anyone else. Especially people I like. The word 'baggage' doesn't begin to describe it."
"Maybe some would be willing to risk it." Adam mused, still watching the road.
Dean snorted. "Don't take this the wrong way, Hauptman, but you and yours could barely handle one punk-ass demon. When the black-eyed bastards come for me, they come in groups, three, seven. I have seen a cloud of black smoke, an entire legion, filling the sky headed straight for me and mine."
"My God," Mercy breathed in earnest prayer.
"I won't ask anybody to stand with me." Dean finished.
Before Mercy could find a retort, the car's engine made an odd noise before clanking and dying. Adam wrestled the steering wheel, but the car seemed to have a mind of its own and drifted to a stop right in the middle if a intersection where three roads crossed.
Warning bells were going off in Mercy's head before the sharp scent of sulfur-based magic washed over them. Power rolled over the car and its passengers. For a moment, Mercy felt like she was falling in al directions at once and her very molecules would fly apart. Then they landed with a thud that shattered the car windows.
At first, Mercy thought they had landed in some sort of cavern. It was dark and the air was so still, but when she looked up she saw deep purple sky void of stars or moon. Thunder rolled and lightning crackled but she could see no clouds. The land was rough, twisted rock face hugged by a dark grey mist. She didn't know why, but the mist felt threatening and…hungry.
Before she recovered her wits enough to ask what happened, she felt herself flying through the air until she slammed into the unforgiving rock. Both men heard bones crack. Snarling, Adam launched himself out of the car but he was thrown sideways in mid-air and pinned him to the ground. Neither Hauptman could move.
A voice laughed and a woman stepped out of the mists. "You puppies actually managed to kill my partner. Bravo. Really. That couldn't have been easy. And you there, in the car, you might as well come on out. Its not like you are hiding or anything."
Dean's voice answered from the car. "Isn't this Alastair's old workshop?"
The demon stilled, the way only a predator on a scent can.
"It is, isn't it? Looked better with the hooks and chains. More creepy surreal. Lemme guess, Crowley redecorated?"
"Who are you?" the demon demanded.
"Dicto Parere!" Dean bellowed in latin and pointed at the stranger. "Prensare!" The demon froze, unnaturally still as her muscles locked and she couldn't even scream her rage. Dean pelted from the car and drove a blade through her heart.
Adam peeled himself from the ground to rush to his mate's side. "Mercy? Mercy, baby, talk to me."
Mercy stifled a whimper. "My legs…"
Dean ambled over, and promptly pricked Mercy's ankle with the tip of the blade. Adam growled, but Mercy didn't twitch; didn't feel a thing. "Broken spine," Dean diagnosed. Adam couldn't argue. Dean looked over at the demon's corpse. "Well, as long as we're still here…" he muttered to himself. Gently. He lay two fingers on Mercy's forehead. "Dicto Parere. Sanescere."
Adam's sensitive ears heard bones grind and pop in his wife's body as they slid back into place and watched in amazement as the gashes in her skin knit themselves closed without even a scar. Hoping that meant what he thought it did, he pulled her to her feet.
And she stood on her own power. "How-?"
But Dean was already moving, collecting what gear and supplies he could from the car. "Alastair was Hell's torture master and he hated it when his projects took too long to recover before he could move on to the next round. So he designed a workshop that healed his victims on command. Wash, rinse, repeat." He slung a bag over his shoulder. "We should get moving."
"Wait, how do you know all this?" Adam demanded.
"We don't have time." Dean started walking, knowing they would follow. "Get this through your heads: we are living breathing souls in hell; the longer we are here, the more we hold still, the more our very natures will call out to every demon anywhere to come and kill us. Understand? We need to move now."
"Hell?" Mercy spluttered. "The hell? Like…"
"Yeah, like opposite of heaven. Where the damned get tortured for eternity." "Is there a plan for where we are running to?" Adam asked, pacing Dean.
"A half-assed one." Dean admitted.
"Explanations would help." Adam growled, upset over his wife's terror and his own helplessness. "Start with how you know where we are going."
Dean didn't answered out loud, but they saw his jaw clench.
"Please." Mercy whispered. Adam had never heard that voice from her before. His Mercy was all fight and snarls; and he loved that about her. This Mercy was scared and small, and all wrong. The wrongness caused his Wolf to snarl inside.
Dean wrestled with himself but didn't break stride. Finally, he stated, "If you had to get dragged kicking and screaming into the pit, I am probably the best guy you could have hoped for to have standing next to you."
"You've been here before." Adam didn't ask.
"As far as I know, I am the world's only ex-demon."
Mercy paled and would have stopped dead in her tracks if her husband hadn't kept her moving. "You're a demon too?!"
"I was a demon. A Knight of Hell. Now I'm not."
"A knight." Mercy repeated, then snarked to cover some of her shockiness. "Did the job come with a suit of armor?"
The apparently ex-demon rubbed his left arm. "It came with a blade. But I lost it. Probably for the best. Only Lucifer would think giving an unkillable demon of rage and murder a weapon that can kill anything on earth was a good idea."
"Rage and murder." Adam repeated, surprised. Yeah, Dean could growl back to match any Wolf, but he was such an easy going fella until you pushed him too far. He didn't think he was lying, but Adam just couldn't see it in the man.
"What happened?" Mercy wondered.
"I killed all the other Knights. I killed a lot of people just for the hell of it. I even killed a few angels. I got so out of control that Heaven, Hell, and Hunters got together to stop me. The best they could do was restore my humanity. The curse is still on my arm. If…When I flatline again, its starts all over."
"The first time I was here, there was a different King of the Hill, named Azazel." Dean continued, not looking at them to see their reactions to his confession. "After I blew him away, Crowley took over."
"Your old drinking buddy?" Mercy hazarded.
"The same," Dean agreed. "When he took the throne, he did some housekeeping down here; things look a little different. But once I get my bearings, I can get us out of here. But only if we stay on the move."
"You assassinated the reigning monarch of hell." Adam repeated, awestruck.
"Yeah, but I did that back when I was still completely human."
"Who ARE you?" Adam demanded.
In answer, Dean merely grinned.
The next several days were a blur to Mercy and something of a war flashback to Adam. The three of them moved more or less in the same direction through alien landscapes, dark tunnels, torture chambers, and lines of dungeon cells. They hid as much as possible, trying to avoid attention, and fought hard and left no survivors when they couldn't. It was guerilla warfare behind enemy lines twenty-four hours a day. The Hauptman saw sights that they knew they would never forget, no matter how hard they tried.
And all the while Dean kept pushing them, keeping the forward momentum. Until, finally, he closed a door behind them and announced, "Here we are. Records Room. Stop number one on your safari through Downtown."
"Records Room," Mercy repeated, incredulous. "We have been on the run in hell. We haven't stopped to eat or sleep for three days. How could the Records Room possibly help us?"
"Okay, Sweetheart, one, if you've never heard the phrase 'knowledge is power' then you need to watch more Batman movies. Two, escape hatches out of hell are not easy to find. Both times I got out before, I had a freakin' angel of the lord helping me out. Without angel mojo, and with demons hot on our ass, the more we know the better. Three, this is a metaphysical dimension. Are either you actually hungry or tired?"
Adam blinked. "No. I should be. Werewolves use a lot of calories, we have more dense mass to move around. And even with adrenaline, I should be fatigued."
"Metaphysics," Dean shrugged. "Don't ask me to explain how or why, but in the afterlife you don't need food or sleep, even when you're in a living body."
"Can this get weirder?" Mercy shook her head in wonder.
Dean laughed. "Heaven's the weird one, what with the interstate in the china cabinet and the Macho Libre wrestler." Adam raised an eyebrow. "Not important. We are looking for the name Robert 'Bobby' Singer, 1950 to 2012. We need to know where he was being held before he got busted outta here."
So they started looking. The search was a nightmare. Millions of paper files, in thousands of different formats, in stacks so haphazard it was dangerous to touch. Everything was covered in dust and dust mites. (Because of course Hell had billions of the little irritants.) All three sneezed and scratched their way through the records.
"I thought Mercy's handwriting was indecipherable." Adam groaned, flipping through a yellow legal pad.
"Love you too," Mercy snorted. "At least its all in English."
"Actually, its not." Dean corrected, sifting through his box. "Its in Hellion. The language is like the universal translator from Star Trek. A Chinese guy could read the same files." Mercy stared at the spiral notebook in her hands in shock. Dean shrugged. "I don't know how they do it; never picked up that trick."
"Its not soul damaging, or anything, is it?" Mercy asked.
Dean pursed his lips. "Dunno. Never seen anything but demons and damned souls read it."
"That's not comforting, Sharp." Mercy snapped, but she continued to read through files After all, forward was the only way out.
After a few minutes, Dean broke the silence. "Winchester."
Both Hauptmans looked up, the same question on their face. "Huh?"
"M'name. Anyone who's gone to hell with me should know my real name. Its Winchester. Dean Winchester."
Mercy repeated the name. "It suits you."
Not long after that, Adam found the file they were looking for. Dean started reading, his face hardened as he read."
"What now?" Mercy did not whine. She was not a whiner.
"Its doable." Dean pronounced. "I know where this is. But we'll have to take the long way around on foot to get there without getting caught. That could- will take months."
Mercy drew a deep breath and set her shoulders. "We've gone from eternal damnation, to Hail Mary hopes, and now a plan with an end goal and a timeline. Things are getting better all the time. We can do this."
Hope was a dangerous thing. And it's a fragile thing. Three months of hellish landscapes, of listening to constant agonized screaming. Three months of constant movement and combat intensity alertness. Three months of all that had not killed the Hauptman's hope. But it was a weak and battered thing. Escape and a return to their old life seemed almost a dream; a lie people tell themselves because the alternative was much worse. Even Vietnam at its bloody worst could not prepare Adam for the trials of hell. And they weren't even on the rack. That's what hell did to you.
Yet, even as the Hauptmans clutched at their wounded hopes, Dean's optimism was on the rise. Yes, it had been a miserable three months. But he'd served his time on the rack; the ambiance alone couldn't touch him. True, he and the Hauptmans had gotten leaner and more feral as the stress of constant vigilance wore on them. But Dean was no stranger to that, either. What's more, Dean knew where they were going; he knew how close they were to the exit door. Hope grew in him as they got closer.
"Here we are. Stop number two on your guided tour of Downtown." Dean announced. "The former holding cell of Bobby Singer."
"Who was this Bobby Singer, anyway?" Mercy asked, staring at the holding cell that looked unremarkably like every other holding cell in the hallway.
"My surrogate father." Dean answered. "And a Hunter so good at his job that the King of Hell bribed a rouge Reaper to drag him down here to make him pay for all the good he'd done in the world."
"Your drinking buddy Crowley King of Hell?" Mercy wanted clarification. "Damned your surrogate father?"
"Yeah, wall, we alternate between trying to kill each other and saving each other. At least I'm not surprised anymore when he tries to stab me in the back."
Adam dragged them back to point. "How does his old cell help us?"
"Somewhere nearby is a back door out of hell, one the demons don't know about." Dean explained. "It looks like any other solid brick wall; no knob, no hinges. And here's the tricky bit, I don't know where it is exactly. I wasn't here for last breakout, I was watching a different door, so I don't know which wall."
"Naturally." Adam grumbled. "You were out getting beers with Crowley."
"I was killing one of my two best friends." Dean's voice rumbled; not quite growling. Adam found he didn't quite know how to answer that. "Moving on. I need you two to put your super sniffers to work."
"Super-sniffers." Mercy repeated, laughing. "What are we sniffing for?"
"Old forest." Dean answered. "Wet, dead plant rot. Damp air, but clean; no chemicals. The smell will make you think of when the world was primal, somehow."
Obligingly, both shifters stuck their noses in the air. They turned in small circles, testing the air, looking for direction. When they didn't get much to go on, they began to cast out down hallways. For awhile, all they found was old stone, brimstone and sulfur, and human misery. Then Adam caught the barest hint of something different, something…primordial, like Dean said.
Even as he let his nose led his mate and his friend to the scent's source, the smell made his Wolf stir uneasily. Sure it had been on edge since their arrival Downstairs, but this was something else, something instinctive and basic. Adam worried.
After a few false bunny trails, the spore tracking lead right where Dean had said it would: into a solid brick wall.
Dean stared at it for a moment. "Well, Sammy, I hope this is the right one," he murmured, then walked right through the wall like it wasn't there. After half a surprised second, the Hauptmans followed.
The three emerged into a forest, but the forest was every bit as alien and oppressive as the hallways and byways of hell. The world was not green and full of life the way a wood should be. The plants were grey, the ground was grey, the sky was murky yellow. The smells were wild, primal, covered in death and fear.
"What in God's name?!" Mercy cried, hopes for home dashed.
"Hauptman, help me with this." Dean ordered Adam. The two men hauled a boulder over the gap between dimensions, blocking off any chance of pursuit. They stepped back and the woods fell silent around them; no bird calls, no insect chirping, no rustling of small creatures.
"Where are we?" Adam whispered, eyes darting everywhere.
"Welcome to Purgatory." Dean announced. "Step three in our going home plan."
"Purgatory. Naturally." Mercy grumbled.
"Purgatory is Hell adjacent. On its other side is Earth." Dean told them, looking around himself. He saw a land formation he recognized and smiled. "And I know exactly where we are. Okay, a couple things you need to know about this place. This is where non-human souls go after they die. So every creepy crawly you've ever worried about being under your bed is here somewhere. I am the only human soul and most likely everything we meet will try to kill me first. That's what happened last time. I don't really know if the locals try to kill each other as much as they were after my ass. But its my luck, so expect something with fangs and claws to ambush me pretty much every second of every day and night. Yes, there are days and nights here. No, we still don't need to eat or sleep. Any questions?"
"You know where we are going, for sure this time?" Adam demanded.
"Absolutely. It'll take a week. Tops."
"This is where we go when we die?" Mercy asked in a small voice. She was a woman of faith and lived her life so she would go to heaven.
"Not forever." Dean assured her, taking her hands and looking her in the eye. "I asked a Reaper about it, about where monster souls go when you kill them in Purgatory. She said after they die here, they get schlepped to heaven or hell, depending on what kind of human you were."
Mercy relaxed some, hope animating her face again. "Really?"
"You want me to pull some strings with the Reapers and put you two on the express Upstairs? They are bribable."
"Umm…" Mercy looked sideways at her husband to see if he had anything helpful to say. When he didn't say or do anything, she finished, "No offense, but I think I will let the natural order of things take its course."
"Fair enough." Dean nodded. "Remember, we could get attacked anytime from above, below, behind, or by the nearly invisible Rakshassa right beside you." Dean swung a foot-long blade hard, stirring Mercy's hair. A suddenly visible body collapsed to the ground next to her. "We should move. Lopping off the Rakshassa's head with steel won't kill it; you need bronze for that."
And Dean moved. He set a ground-eating pace and neither Hauptman had any doubt that he knew where he was going. Over the next couple of days, Mercy saw creatures she couldn't name and several more she'd heard of but never seen. They all attacked Dean without warning, barely noticing the Wolf or the coyote shifter beside him.
She also saw Dean fight. Not the choreographed battle plan of the warehouse invasion, but the bloody kill-or-be-killed kind of fighting. Adam had so much martial arts training that, even when he lost it to his Wolf's bloodlust, muscle memory made him look coordinated; like a dancer who happened to be killing his attackers. When Dean let himself go, let himself flip the bloodlust switch… He let out a basso profundo roar that barely sounded human. There was no artistry to his movements, none of her mate's dancer's grace. There was a brutal economy to the man, an efficiency of death-dealing blows.
In those moments, she could believe that once upon a time he had been that demon of rage and murder. That angels and demons feared him.
Bodies on the ground, Dean kept walking.
It didn't take a week to cross Purgatory like he said. It took five days. They knew they arrived at the right place when a tear in the fabric of reality ripped open in front of them in a windy gust.
"Go on." Dean urged. "The other side is the 100 mile wilderness in Maine. You can find your way home from there."
"Wait, you're not coming?" Mercy stopped dead in her tracks.
Dean rolled op his left sleeve, showing them some sort of brand on his forearm. "I told you, sooner or later, I turn into a demon. And when I do, a lot of people die. Friends. Family. Innocent people will die. When you have a bomb you can't de-fuse, you let it go off where it can't hurt anyone. Somewhere like…here."
"Dean, no." Mercy denied. "We can't leave you here."
"I'm good." Dean told them. "Really."
"You can't really expect me to leave a man behind." Adam said it quietly, just loud enough to be heard over the wind, but there was steel in his voice. This wasn't just the voice of an Alpha Wolf who had come to think of Dean as his, as pack, though there was that. This was older. This was a military man who was mentally incapable of abandoning a teammate; who had 'no man left behind' drilled into him to his core.
Dean saw it, saw the steel in Adam, but still argued. "I'm too dangerous."
"I don't care." Adam replied solidly.
The two men stared, seeming to argue their points with only their eyes.
It was shouldn't have been a surprise to Mercy, at this point, that Dean Winchester could stare down an Alpha Wolf as powerful as Adam. It did surprise her that Adam's Wolf would allow the eye contact as though they were equals, neither submissive nor dominating. She'd never heard of that happening before…
Finally Dean nodded sharply. "Fine. Let's go home."
Together, they stepped through.