The heat is like a blast furnace. Dean's skin is starting to blister. The back of his throat is scorched and raw. The roof groans overhead. The whole building shakes. A rafter shears off with a crack like lightning, crashing down near Dean's feet. Sparks catch in his hair and clothes. Ash billows in his face.
Everything is smoke. Dean crouches down, sucking in air with his face pressed to the dirty concrete. His lungs burn. His lips are bleeding. His dad shouts, but the thunder-roar of the fire drowns out the words. The roof groans again. Dean crawls forward a little. Gray spots shimmer at the edge of his vision, blurring the orange-red glare of the fire.
The air shifts beside his ear. Flutters. The searing heat ebbs slightly. A hand grips his shoulder. Someone whispers. Tugs him. He can't move. Sirens are blaring. The hand on his shoulder tightens. Tugs him again. His legs feel like lead. His nose and mouth are clogged with ash. He can't breathe.
Something slides over him. Soft. Soft. He hears a rustle. Something pulses and churns against his back. He feels a pull at the base of his spine. The screaming heat melts away. Everything is dark. A hand touches his face. Fingers brush through his hair. Something –
Dean wakes up curled against Castiel's chest. His bedroom is gray with stormy morning light. Castiel's arm is wrapped around his waist. Their legs are tangled, and Dean's head is tucked under Castiel's chin. The dream clings to him with claws like knives; he can almost taste and smell the ash. He breathes into Castiel's throat for a minute before leaning back and looking at Castiel's face.
"It was you, wasn't it?" Dean asks. His voice is thinner than a thread. "You – you pulled me outta that fire."
Castiel pauses for a beat. Then he nods and says, "Yes."
"So, uh." Dean clears his throat once. Twice. He can't stop shaking. "You were just in the neighborhood, or what?"
"Yes," Castiel says again. He slides his hand to the small of Dean's back and holds it there. "I went to Pontiac to find the Staff. I spent several days searching for it. Questioning people." His mouth brushes Dean's temple. "I probably arrived a full week before you and your father."
Dean closes his eyes. "Yeah. We, um. We'd only been in town a few hours." He takes a breath. And another. Then he continues, "We got in kinda late, so we figured we'd grab dinner and a motel and get started in the morning. But at the diner, Dad overheard a waitress talking about her date the night before. She said they busted into an empty warehouse to drink and got chased out by something with maggots for a face. Dad wanted to check it out, so we, uh. We – we."
"I interrogated a demon that night. She told me the Staff was being kept at a warehouse on the outskirts of town." Castiel runs his hand up Dean's back, palming the stretch between his shoulders and pulling him closer. "I flew there and found the adjacent building on fire. I heard screaming, and I – I forgot about the Staff. I went in."
"My dad... was he–? Did you –?"
"I found your father first, but he was beyond my reach. His soul had already ascended." Castiel kisses Dean's temple again. After a moment, he adds, "He died instantly. A fallen rafter struck him in the head and split his skull. He didn't suffer in the fire."
Dean hides a noise in the curve of Castiel's shoulder. They shouldn't be cuddling like this. Not if Castiel's fucking off to Heaven after they find the Staff. Not when Dean's already close to losing his head. But he hasn't talked about his dad's death in years – not since he called Sam and Bobby from Pontiac and told them what happened. The obituary Sam typed up said John Winchester died in a car accident and was cremated, and that's the story Dean sticks to when people ask. They usually don't.
Castiel skims his fingers over Dean's scar. Something flutters under Dean's ribs. He asks, "Is that – is that from you pulling me out?"
Castiel touches it again, fitting his hand into the shape of it. Then he says, "Yes. I was nearly too late. Your soul was leaving your body. Drawing it back – I expended a great deal of my grace at once. That much raw celestial power often leaves an imprint behind."
Dean shivers a little. Celestial power. Jesus fucking Christ. "Does it –? Is it, um."
"The night before last, when you were up at the Bel-Aire, it started burning. Like burning. Almost knocked me on my ass."
Castiel hums quietly and noses his way up Dean's jaw. When he gets to Dean's mouth, he kisses him soft and slow and sweet. He brings his hand up to the side of Dean's neck and strokes his thumb behind Dean's ear. He smells angel-bright and sleep-warm. His hair is a wreck. He has a pillow crease on his cheek, a thin pink line that runs from the corner of his eye to the dip of his chin.
When he pulls back to mouth at Dean's throat, Dean asks, "You don't think that's weird?"
"No," Castiel replies, the word taking shape against Dean's skin. "Like I said, it's an imprint of my grace. And I was in considerable distress during my fight with Alastair. He nearly forced me from my vessel." His teeth graze the cord of Dean's neck. "I can sense when you're distressed, as well."
"What?" Dean asks. His dick is perking up, and Castiel's hip is just asking to be rubbed against, but Dean makes himself lean back before his bigger brain shuts off entirely. "You can feel it when I'm –?" he trails off and waves his hand.
"That's why I checked your office for hex bags last night. Crowley almost killed you. I should've sensed it."
They listen to the rain compete with the bathroom sink for a few seconds. Then Castiel frowns and says, "I don't know if I can explain it. It's a sensation within my grace that I can't describe in human terms. A certain restlessness. Also heat and pressure and urgency. But none of that really comes close." He slides his hand down to the center of Dean's chest. "I've felt it several times since the fire. Once, I felt it so strongly and for such a length of time that I flew to you, although I doubt you remember it. You were asleep when I healed you."
Dean stares at him. He starts to ask, "When?" but then the answer hits him like a two-by-four to the back of the head. It's the only thing in his life besides the scar he's never been able to explain. "When I had that heart attack."
Dean rubs his face with a shaky hand. He and Sam had been hunting that rawhead for weeks. It had killed three children and kidnapped two more. Dean hadn't cared about anything but finding the sonofabitch and frying it like a chicken dinner. He doesn't remember much about being electrocuted. Just the corpse-stench of the rawhead's lair, and the brackish water seeping into the ass of his jeans as he slip-slid across the floor. The way his juiced-up taser had jumped in his hand before the lights went out in his head.
He woke up in a hospital two days later, weak and exhausted and unable to breathe. A doctor with a dull, patient voice had told him that there was nothing they could do. That the jolt had blown his ticker and that it was only a matter of time before it gave out for good. Sam had been frantic; he'd called every crackpot, soothsayer, and palm reader in their dad's weekend telephone book. Then he'd taken Dean to some faith healer preaching out of a tent in the boondocks of Nebraska.
The guy had said a prayer and put his clammy hand on Dean's forehead. Dean hadn't felt anything then, but the next night he'd dreamed of a blinding white light. He'd been in perfect health in the morning. After that, Sam had started talking like God might actually be a real thing. Dean had just told himself the doctor must've been wrong.
A door opens and closes downstairs – Kevin coming into work. Dean's got about an hour before he stomps upstairs and knocks. He looks at Castiel and asks, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Castiel hesitates. An uncomfortable look flits across his face. Then he says, "At first, I didn't see the point. You didn't know angels existed, and I – I assumed I'd never see you again after I killed Alastair and Ellsworth. And then –" he sighs. "I never wanted to involve you in this. It's too dangerous. I didn't want you to feel obligated to help me just because I saved your life once."
"Twice," Castiel agrees. He cradles Dean's jaw and presses his thumb to Dean's mouth. "I know humans can be... strange about that sort of thing. You don't owe me. Angels possess so much power. I helped you because I could."
Dean doesn't know what to say to that, so he cups his hand around the back of Castiel's neck and draws him in for a kiss. He nips at the swell of Castiel's lower lip. Sucks it a little. Then he pushes his hand into Castiel's hair and licks into his mouth. If this had been a dumb idea last night then it's an extra dumb idea right now, but Castiel is warm and naked and gorgeous. His fingers are brushing over Dean's scar again, and he's making soft, pleased noises right into Dean's mouth.
He worms his other arm out from under the pillow and wraps it around Dean's back. His nails bite into Dean's skin as he pulls Dean closer. The blanket is tangled between their feet. Dean kicks it out of the way and runs his hand down to the back Castiel's thigh. He palms the space just above Castiel's knee and tugs, urging Castiel's leg over his. His dick nudges into the crease of Castiel's hip, and he rubs it there, digging his fingers into Castiel's thigh and panting against Castiel's jaw. Castiel's dick is riding against Dean's belly, hard and already wet at the head. He drags a slow kiss up the side of Dean's neck and breathes out Dean's name like a prayer.
The headboard rattles against the wall. Dean's phone buzzes on the nightstand. Dean sucks a mark into the skin below Castiel's ear and shifts until Castiel's dick is lined up with his. They rock together, greedy and rhythmless and gasping. Castiel kisses Dean's temple and Dean's cheek. He slides another kiss down Dean's jaw, all stubble and wet heat. His fingers twist in Dean's hair. His tongue curls over the shell of Dean's ear.
Dean licks his palm a couple of times and wraps his hand around their dicks. The crush of their bodies makes the angle awkward and tight, but he can't stop rolling his hips long enough to give himself more space. He doesn't want more space. He wants Castiel as close as he can get him. He wants to spread Castiel out and tongue him loose and push inside him. He wants to pin Castiel to the bed and finger himself open in Castiel's lap and slowly sink down on Castiel's dick. He wants – fuck. He just wants.
Castiel rasps out a moan against Dean's throat. Dean murmurs, "Cas," and tightens his hand, twisting his wrist as much as he can and stroking them faster. Heat blooms in Dean's scar from the inside. He comes with a low, desperate noise, fisting his other hand in the sheet. Castiel follows him a heartbeat later. His back curves and his eyes glint silver. The lamp on the nightstand is off, but the bulb still gutters behind the paper-thin shade like a candle. Once he catches his breath, he kisses Dean's slack mouth.
Dean's phone buzzes again. It's already four minutes after nine. He lets himself kiss Castiel one more time. Then he sighs and climbs out of bed.
Sharing a shower is more pretend-house than Dean's willing to play with a guy who's leaving for another plane of existence in a couple of days, so he shuffles into the bathroom alone. The building's old pipes thump and clank when he turns on the water. As predicted, his knees have filed a complaint demanding half his assets and full custody of his feet. He spends about ten minutes rinsing off and trying not to think about the way Castiel looks when he comes. Then he cranks up the heat until it makes him wince. He balances his ass on the narrow tile lip meant for shampoo bottles and hopes the spray will beat the arthritis out of his knees.
He comes out of the bathroom in a towel because he figures Castiel doesn't count as company anymore. He isn't expecting to find Castiel drinking coffee in the kitchen with Kevin. The warm smell cuts through the hint of stale blood still lingering in the air. Castiel is using the cat mug again, and Kevin is using Dean's magnifying glass mug. A third mug is sitting on the counter. It's comic-book green and says, "Coffee First, Then Speak," in a white, jittery font. It was also a Christmas present from Bobby. Dean's pretty sure he subscribes to one those mail-order catalogs that sells useless tchotchkes to grandmothers.
When the linoleum whines under Dean's wet feet, Castiel looks up and smiles. He pours coffee into the extra mug and passes it over as Kevin says, "Okay. So what you're telling me is, the flood myth from the Bible and the flood myth from the Epic of Gilgamesh really are the same story."
Castiel shakes his head. "No. I said there was only one flood."
"I don't get you," Kevin says, leaning back against the counter.
"The stories refer to the same event. They're just told from different perspectives." After a pause, Castiel adds, "Noah wasn't the only person God warned about the flood. He also warned Utnapishtim and Deucalion. Manu, Bergelmir – there were a few others, but I don't remember their names."
"Are you serious?" Kevin asks. When Castiel just sips his coffee, Kevin frowns at Dean and points at Castiel with his mug. "Is he serious?"
Brakes squeal down on the street. Dean shrugs. He's making a puddle on the floor. "I guess."
"God." Kevin blinks up at the ceiling for a few seconds. "You can't tell me this kind of shit when I can't use it. I can't exactly put an angel of the lord told me in my sources."
"The angel Ezekiel wrote a true account of the flood that reconciled the different versions, but I doubt a copy has survived on earth. The Abba Garima monastery in Ethiopia might have one, or the Al-Zahiriyah library in Damascus." Castiel tips his head to the side and taps his thumb on the rim of his mug. "Ezekiel's original manuscript still exists in heaven, but it's not in a form humans can see or touch."
"I'm going to cry," Kevin says, rubbing his hand over his face. "I'm going to fucking cry."
Castiel drains his coffee mug and sets it on the counter. Then he turns to Dean and lightly touches his hip. He says, "Last night, Jody mentioned the police coming here today."
"What?" Dean shakes himself a little; his brain is still stuck in low gear. Once it shifts, he mutters, "Fuck. That's right. I – I don't know. Depends if the warrant goes through. Could be tomorrow."
"Sam would call, wouldn't he?" Kevin asks.
Dean scrubs at his hair. "Yeah, but they're keeping him outta the loop. He ain't gonna know 'til they're already on their way." The police don't really have anything on him yet. Chances are, the warrant will only cover the office. But he isn't feeling lucky. "Christ. Now I gotta move all my crap."
He sighs and scrubs his hair again. This time, it nearly costs him his towel. He'd wanted to do some digging at the Eldridge today, but hauling all his hunting shit out of the loft is going to take him all day. His closest lockup is forty minutes away when it isn't pouring rain, and he's got at least six carloads of stuff. Five, if he leaves some of the less freakier books behind. Renting a van would be quicker, but it would also look suspicious as hell.
"I can relocate it for you," Castiel offers.
"You sure? It's a lot of stuff."
"That isn't an issue," Castiel says, shrugging slightly. "Nor is distance."
Castiel touches Dean's hip again and heads into Sam's old room. As soon as he's gone, Kevin clears his throat like a pack-a-day smoker. Twice. Dean rolls his eyes and tightens the towel around his waist. He should put on some jeans. He's tired of people hassling him while he's practically naked.
Before he can escape, Kevin crosses his arms and asks, "So, what's for breakfast?"
Dean snorts. "I regret teaching you how to pick a lock."
"Hey, your boyfriend let me in."
"He's not my boyfriend."
Kevin gives Dean a very slow eyebrow. After letting it mock Dean for a few seconds, he says, "Really? Because you usually throw the tourists out before you hit the shower."
"I swear to God, if you don't shut up I'm gonna fire you."
"No, you won't," Kevin says brightly. "You're scared of my mother."
Dean can't really argue with that. And he knows Kevin's only up here because he's still freaked out about the text Dean sent him last night. He doesn't want to be in the office alone when there are demons running around. Dean sighs and chugs a good third of his coffee. As he's grabbing the pot to top himself off, he asks, "Did Cas tell you what happened?"
Kevin blinks. Heat prickles under Dean's jaw as soon as he realizes what he said. He's only called Castiel that a couple of times, and – yeah. They'd been in bed. Kevin's mouth twitches like he's going to let something fly, but then he swallows it and says, "Yeah. Well, kind of. I mean, he just –" he taps his temple "– he just kind of dumped it in my head. Which was weird." He chews his lip for a second. "You think that Crowley guy is coming back?"
"Nah," Dean says, shaking his head. "Our last meeting didn't really pan out the way he wanted. He almost got snuffed. And the Staff ain't here. He knows that by now, even if he still thinks Castiel's got it stashed somewhere."
"If you say so."
"You – hang on." Dean pokes around the kitchen drawers until he turns up a box of sidewalk chalk. The last stick is an obnoxious, toxic-waste shade of yellow, but he figures Kevin can deal. He tosses it over and says, "Just in case, draw a devil's trap on your side of the door. And salt the windows. Or – just go home. I don't really need you today. It's not like I can take a real case with all this angel bullshit going on."
"I can't write my thesis at home. One of my neighbors plays Guitar Hero like eighteen hours a day." Kevin rattles the box of chalk. Then he tucks it in his pocket and asks, "Where are you going to be?"
"Crowley's been staying at the Eldridge," Dean says. His stomach is growling; he pins his hip against the counter so his towel won't fall off while he puts some bread in the toaster. "The house dick over there is an old friend of my dad's. I'm gonna go talk to him, see if Crowley had any visitors, or if he stashed anything freaky in the hotel safe."
Castiel comes out of Sam's old room and asks, "Are you sure that's wise?" He's carrying a box bristling with guns and knives; they clink softly as he moves. "Crowley is dangerous."
"He's holed up somewhere else by now," Dean says, glancing at the toaster. It smells like crumbs are burning at the bottom of the slots. "I searched him when I had him trapped. He saw me looking at his keycard. 'Sides, I don't think he'd try anything funny in a lobby full of people."
Castiel makes a skeptical noise in the back of his throat. Then he nods at the box and asks, "Where should I take these?"
"Oh, uh. What – like the address?"
"StorageMart. Wornall Road, Kansas City. Unit twenty-four."
Castiel cocks his head to the side. A strange, middle-distance look creases his face. The air hums a little. After a moment, his eyes refocus. He must've been plugging himself into the matrix, because he says, "I found it. I'll return shortly," and then disappears with a quiet flutter.
Kevin just stares at the empty space. He looks like someone dumped ice down the front of his pants. Snorting, Dean says, "Yeah, that takes some getting used to." The toaster pops. Dean grabs both slices in one hand and hitches up his towel with the other. "Will you get outta here already?"
"Okay, okay. I'm gone. If a demon eats me, tell my mother I loved her."
There's only a tiny sliver of butter in the fridge, and both jars of jam are at least a year old. Maybe more. Colonies of greenish fuzz are growing on the glass. He chucks them in the trash and eats the toast dry. It's stale enough that it tastes like cardboard. Chewing it is a chore. He looks out the kitchen window as he's choking it down, chasing each bite with a mouthful of coffee. The rain has slipped into a half-hearted drizzle, but the sky is still heavy and colorless. The clouds seem to press down on the roof of the tattoo shop.
Once he's finished, he shakes the crumbs on his towel into the sink and heads into his bedroom. He considers the stuff in his closet for a minute. Eventually, he grabs the dark gray suit he wears when he's playing federal agent on monster gigs. It's a little tight across his shoulders, but he doesn't want to show up to the Eldridge looking too blue-collar. Martin won't give a shit, but the other lobby jockeys might remember a guy in ripped jeans and dirty boots.
Castiel sweeps into the room while Dean is fighting with his tie. The papers on Dean's dresser flutter to the floor. Dean threads the tail of his tie into the loop and coaxes it through. As he's smoothing out the knot, he asks, "You coming with me?"
"I should," Castiel grumbles. His trenchcoat is dry, but he smells like cold wind and wet weather. "I'm not convinced visiting Crowley's hotel is safe. But I need to search the warehouse where I fought Uriel."
"You think he ditched the Staff there?"
"He might have. I didn't have the chance to look the other night. I was in a rush to meet Alastair."
Castiel's collar is the perfect frame for the hollow of his throat. Dean wants to put his mouth there, so he does. He kisses it once. Twice. Then he noses at Castiel's jaw and says, "Be careful. That place is probably still crawling with cops."
"You be careful," Castiel counters. He palms the side of Dean's neck. "Crowley's a demon. A hotel full of people won't stop him from hurting you if he feels cornered."
"I'm telling you, he ain't gonna be there."
"If he is, I want you to call for me. We can fight him together."
Dean's face flushes. He looks away for a second and scratches the back of his neck. Then he clears his throat and asks, "How? You get yourself a phone while you were out?"
A smile tugs the corner of Castiel's mouth. "You can pray to me."
"What –? Pray –?" Dean doesn't think he's ever prayed in his life. He never saw the point. Even now – now that he knows Heaven is real – he's not convinced anyone would be listening. "How? Just –"
"Just think of me by name. I'll hear you."
Dean shuts his eyes. Okay, Castiel. He feels like an idiot. So – like this? Testing? Testing one-two-three?
"Yes, like that. And I don't mind you calling me Cas." His voice is threaded with something soft. "I – I like it."
"Yeah, okay. I – yeah." Christ, Dean's face is on fire. And it's almost ten o'clock; he needs to get moving. "I, um. I left my car at Biggerson's last night. Can I get a lift?"
"Of course," Cas says, pulling him close.
The Eldridge is a looming hunk of historic brickwork on the corner of Massachusetts and Seventh. The rain has rusted the building a dark brown and turned the neatly manicured lawn into a Louisiana swamp. The parking is valet, so Dean grabs a street spot and feeds the meter all the quarters in the Impala's ashtray. He hoofs it back up to the hotel hoping that the weather won't start having a tantrum while he's still halfway there. The puddles patching the sidewalk are flecked with grass and streaked with dirt. Dean comes in through the side because that door isn't manned. Doormen have memories like elephants, and they gossip more than bellhops.
Inside, the air tinkles with canned piano music. Dean's shoes squeak on the marble floor, and the sound echoes off the textured ceiling like a fork scraping an empty plate. The lobby is dotted with pairs of overstuffed couches staring at each other across patterned rugs. The closest set is already occupied; two men are reading newspapers at opposite ends of one couch, and a woman is clacking away on a laptop in the middle of the other. The set behind that has been commandeered by a family of six, including their luggage, two strollers, and a Pomeranian in a Moses basket. They're giving off an "airport shuttle purgatory" vibe.
Martin has an office in one of the Employee Only areas that's basically a storage closet with a desk crammed in one corner and a safe cemented to the floor. It's hotter than hell because it's right next to the laundry room. Dean doesn't want to ask for him at reception, but he probably won't have to. Martin usually cruises the lobby every twenty or thirty minutes to get some fresh air and to make it look like he's earning his paycheck. On paper, Martin is head of security, but the guards are outsourced rent-a-cops. Martin really just checks the crap in the safe three times a day and hassles people he thinks are loitering.
The bar is open. Dean decides to grab a table by the door and order something that'll keep his mouth busy while he waits. The only other early drinker is a woman facing the floor-to-ceiling windows and toying with a Bloody Mary the size of a vase. Dean checks the lobby for Martin one more time. As he's turning back toward the bar, his phone buzzes in his pocket. It's Kevin. Dean ducks behind one of the tacky Greek columns and sticks a finger in his other ear to mute the piano music.
"Well," Kevin says slowly. His voice could shear through a concrete slab. "The police are here. They got their warrant."
Dean huffs out a breath. "Christ." A guy with a briefcase and a Bluetooth walks by; once he's gone, Dean asks, "Is Jody there?"
"Okay." Jody won't let it get out of hand. Dean just hopes they're not authorized to search the loft. His hunting crap is in Kansas City and Cas got rid of the blood on the kitchen floor, but his living room still looks like the aftermath of a Top Notch bout. "Upstairs too or just the office?"
"Just –" Kevin cuts off. In the pause, Dean hears muffled voices and a few dull, heavy thumps. "Just the office."
"Okay," Dean says again. The only embarrassing thing downstairs is the bottle of Devil's Cut in his desk, but Dean isn't the first PI to drink on the clock and he won't be the last. "It's all right. Just let 'em do their thing. Don't argue with 'em – not unless they try to take your school stuff. That's personal. If they start rattling you, get Aaron on the horn."
After sighing in his ear, Kevin says, "Yeah," and hangs up.
Dean pockets his phone and heads into the bar. The floor is carpet, which saves him from listening to his shoes. When the bartender looks up, Dean gives him part of a smile and says, "Hey, there. Lemme get a whiskey. Neat."
"Do you have a preference, sir?"
"Whatever bottle's closest."
He puts his back to the bar while he waits. Aside from a few booths, the tables are black-painted high-tops ringed by the kind of chairs that need to be scaled with climbing equipment. The windows open to Seventh and provide a stunning view of the valet kiosk. Dean glances at the woman; she's typing out a text. Then he glances at her again, because – yeah. Her hair is darker than it was the last time he saw her. It's also longer. Out of the high ponytail, it would hit the middle of her back. Her sleek, beige pantsuit is hugging her body, so her gun is probably in her purse.
Dean lays some cash on the bar, grabs his whiskey, and helps himself to the chair on her left.
"That seat's taken," she snaps. She doesn't bother looking up.
"That's no way to talk to a friend, Bela."
That gets her attention. Her eyes widen slightly, but she has her game face on by her next breath. She says, "Winchester," in a tart voice and sneers at his glass. "A bit early for that, don't you think?"
Dean snorts. "You gonna tell me that's straight tomato juice?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I asked for Belvedere and I told him not to stint." Bela leans back in her chair and stirs her drink with its celery stalk. "That's a reasonably decent suit. Will you be pleading guilty or no contest?"
"You're hilarious," Dean says. He knocks back a mouthful of whiskey and lets his glass thunk down on the table. "What are you doing here? This place is at least two stars below your regular vacation digs."
"I had a taste for something rustic," she says airily. After a beat, her smile slips. She taps her dark pink nails on the table and asks, "What do you want?"
"Oh, I don't know," Dean says, giving her a lazy shrug. "I thought we could catch up. Talk about the good old days."
"I wasn't aware we'd had any good old days."
"How about that time you shot me?"
Bela sighs like she's disappointed. "That was years ago. And it was just a flesh wound. A big, strong man like you needn't be such a baby about it."
"And you stole my lottery tickets. After you shot me."
"Compensation for unpaid wages." Bela's phone buzzes. She glances at it, turns it face down, and pushes it away. "Losing that rabbit's foot cost me an absurd amount of money. Besides, I paid you nearly as much as those tickets were worth that time you were lucky enough to save my life."
Dean treats himself to another finger of whiskey. He fucking needs it. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and says, "Okay, fun's over. What the hell are you doing here?"
"I already told you," she complains, brushing a loose strand of hair away from her face. "New York was feeling claustrophobic. I thought I'd visit the provinces and see how the other half lives." She wrinkles her nose. "Mostly in double-wides, it seems."
"Well, we can't all fleece rich old ladies by pretending to be a cat medium."
That one rolls off her like water. Instead of firing something else across his bow, she checks her watch and says, "Listen, Winchester. This has been delightful, but I'm meeting someone in a few minutes, so –" She waves a hand at him. "Shoo."
"Not a chance."
"Will one hundred dollars get rid of you?" she asks. When Dean doesn't say anything, she sighs and winds up for another pitch. "How does two hundred sound? Three?" Dean shakes his head; she narrows her eyes and reaches for her purse. "I'd shoot you again but I'd hate to get blood in my drink."
Dean just stares at her. She'd probably let him pump her for at least a grand; that's pocket change compared to what she's getting paid. And she's used to dealing with people who can be bought. Turning, Dean catches the bartender's eye and gestures for another drink. Bela's phone buzzes again. She sips her Bloody Mary. The look on her face says she'd like him better if he was a sticky smear on the floor. Not that that's anything new.
Finally, she huffs and asks, "Shall I call security?"
Dean leans his elbow on the table and smiles. He says, "Go ahead. Try it." Lowering his voice, he adds, "This joint's house detective is an old friend of the family. He might just drop an eight-ball down your blouse and walk you outta here in handcuffs."
"It would never stick."
The bartender comes back with the whiskey as Dean says, "You're right. It wouldn't." Dean hands him some more cash and gives him a few seconds to leave before continuing, "But it would get you outta my hair for twenty-four hours. Maybe even forty-eight. And I could always tell 'em about that Prius you rented in a fake name."
Bela's hand tightens on her purse. Quietly, she says, "I have fifteen thousand on me right now. I'll give you all of it if you finish that kerosene you're drinking and walk out the door without looking back."
Dean chews his lip like he's thinking about it. Then he says, "Huh. Crowley must be shelling it out through the nose if you've got that much paper to burn."
"I'm not working for Crowley."
"So... what? You followed me all over town last night just for kicks?" Dean rolls his glass between his palms while he waits for her to answer. When she doesn't, he says, "A word of professional advice, from someone who does this shit for a living – hang back a little. You were so far up my ass I could smell your perfume."
That one rolls off her too. She smooths her lapel and insists, "I'm not working for Crowley."
"If you ain't working for Crowley, then you're working for the other guy. The religious nut." Dean lets that one simmer for a bit, but it doesn't boil over the way he wants. Bela just nurses her Bloody Mary and watches him over the rim of her glass. So he asks, "What's his name?"
She hesitates. Something Dean can't read flickers across her face. Her phone buzzes again as she says, "He calls himself Enoch. He's paying me to recover a stolen relic."
Dean lets "relic" slide for now – potato, potahto. He asks, "Did he tell you it was stolen by a demon?" Bela doesn't even blink; either she already knew or she's doing a damn good job of playing it cool. He swallows some more whiskey. Then he says, "Look, I know we ain't friends, and I know you can handle yourself. But trust me here: this is way outta your league."
"Your concern is touching, but I'm afraid I have to see this one through to the end."
"Why? You –" Dean cuts off and looks at her. Really looks at her. Her back is straight and her shoulders are set and every hair on her head is perfect. But her mouth is tight. She's white-knuckling her drink. The shadows under her eyes are so dark her makeup can't keep up with them. "You ain't in this for the money. This Enoch guy is squeezing you." She doesn't deny it, so he presses, "What's his deal?"
"Forget it," she says, shaking her head.
Dean grabs his drink but only brings it halfway to his mouth. His stomach doesn't want it. Not when there's nothing to cushion it but stale toast. He swirls the whiskey around and says, "If you tell me what his game is, I might be able to help you."
"You can't. No one can." Her voice is brittle around the edges. "You said this was out of my league, but you honestly have no idea."
"I have to go," she says, standing. She slips her phone into her purse and tucks it under her arm. "If he sees me with you, I'm dead. Quite literally."
"If you change your mind, you know where to find me."
"Yes. Any number of places with Coors Light on tap and sawdust on the floor."
She cuts behind him and heads for the bar's street exit. He'd been wrong about her gun. It's putting a wrinkle in her suit at the dip of her back. It's very small, probably a short-nosed twenty-two. A burst of city noise darts inside around her when she opens the door – car engines, footsteps, a bike bell, tired brakes. As it fades out, Dean grits his teeth through the dregs of his shot. He feels like he's doing a puzzle in the dark. The pieces are all there but he can't see the picture.
He doesn't know much about Bela. Just that she's a con artist. A thief who specializes in cursed and occult objects. And she's killed someone. That vengeful spirit up in Sea Pines had only dragged himself off his ghost ship for people who'd caused a death in their family, and she'd admitted to it when Dean and Sam had pointed that out. There's plenty there for a shakedown. Dean just can't figure out why Enoch would bother. Why he'd "hire" a human to duke it out with a bunch of demons.
That hexed rabbit foot they tangled with had granted unstoppable good luck to anyone who owned it and fatal bad luck to anyone who lost it. And it'd had a way of getting lost. "Absurd" amount of money or not, Bela had burned the thing quick enough once Dean had tricked her into touching it. She's the kind of rich that can take a little squeezing, and she's obviously not in a hurry to die. She wouldn't be wrapped up in something this heavy unless Enoch was laying it on thick. Whatever he's got, it's better than a few stolen talking boards. It might even be better than a murder.
"Another whiskey, sir?"
"No thanks," Dean says, holding up his hand. He stands and straightens his tie. "I gotta get some work done today."
The lobby's piano music is waiting for Dean at the door. So is the marble floor. As he's squeaking his way into the sitting area, he spots Martin's bald head and Sears suit coming out of the hotel's full-service restaurant. It's too late for breakfast and too early for lunch; he's probably just making his rounds. Dean catches his eye and waves him over. Martin nods and starts walking across the lobby, but he stops in front of the woman on her laptop. They talk for a minute. Then Martin points at the door. She closes her laptop and reaches for her bag. She gives Martin's back the finger after he turns around.
Once he's close enough, Dean asks, "College kids milking your WiFi again?"
"Every damn day," Martin mutters. He sticks out his hand. "Haven't seen you in awhile. You're looking good."
"So are you," Dean says. It's a lie; Martin looks like every other PI in the back nine of his career. He's worn thin and yellow around the eyes. His shoulders are hunched, and his nose is spiderwebbed with broken blood vessels. "You got a minute?"
"For one of John Winchester's kids? Always." He jerks his long chin toward reception. "You wanna grab a seat in my office?"
Dean shakes his head; the heat in there will put those two shots of whiskey on a slow boil. "I just got a coupla questions about a guest. Thomas Brighton. He spent the weekend in 206."
"Yeah," Martin says slowly. "Short guy in a black suit. Sounded British."
"Not on your end," Dean says. He leans his shoulder against the column behind him. "A guy came in yesterday wanting me to dig into a bad business deal, but it sounded fishy. I'm just looking at all the angles. Brighton still around?"
"Checked out this morning," Martin replies, scratching at his jaw. "He might be onto your guy – when he signed into the safe he said he'd be here about a week."
"What'd he drop?"
Dean's phone buzzes in his pocket. He ignores it and asks, "Traveler's checks?"
Dean whistles through his teeth. "Must be nice."
"Tell me about it," Martin says, shaking his head. "This place barely pays me enough to cover all the Wild Turkey I need to get through the day."
"I hear that." Dean's phone buzzes again. "Brighton have any visitors?"
Martin pauses for a second. Then he nods and says, "He did, yeah. Sunday afternoon. It was an older guy in a Nutty Professor sweater. Curly hair, kinda scruffy. I remember him 'cause one of the desk girls called me down. She thought he was a vagrant."
"Huh," Dean says. He should've asked Bela what Enoch looked like. "They go up to Brighton's room?"
"No. They had lunch at the restaurant. After –" Martin cuts off as the Pomeranian starts barking. When it just keeps at it, he shrugs and continues, "After that, Brighton went upstairs alone. His buddy asked about shuttle service to the Oread. The vans are for guests, so one of the girls called him a taxi."
"Huh." The Oread is Lawrence's other three-star. It's not much to go on, but it'll give Dean a place to start. His phone buzzes again. He grabs it from his pocket and tells Martin, "Thanks. I gotta get this; the office has been nuts since Alastair died."
Martin claps him on the shoulder. "I heard about that. Tough break."
"Yeah," Dean mutters. "It's been rough."
Wednesday, Part 2 »»»