Dean’s head felt like a rotting pumpkin. A pumpkin that had been left out on a prairie and picked at by crows. Then kicked by a team of mules before finally splitting open and puking its brainseeds out into the universe, googolplexes of pumpkin bits, stoically carried off by karmic scavengers. Retaliation, perhaps, for being so glib about Sam’s bookish tendencies. Googolplex…he learned that one from Sam, lost a bet to him in fact, when Sam swore that’s where the term ‘google’ came from and Dean was damned certain Sam was just jerking his chain. Some absurdly large number, like a ‘gazillion’ but real. God, it made his brain thud to think that far back. A lifetime ago.
By sheer force of will, Dean dragged an eye open but only by a slit. Why did his lids weigh two-hundred pounds? Each? His mouth tasted like soured milk, a fitting accompaniment to the curds that passed as recent memory. Dubious images drifted to the surface of his thoughts, one stroke to each painful throb.
Redwoods. Barbie shoes. A single folded scrap of paper which, once opened, made the world go all pear-shaped. Working this hard to remember yielded nothing but gobbledygook. Wasn’t worth the pain and effort and brain-rending task of recollection.
Dean switched from murky memories to his current state of affairs. The surface under his cheek shifted, rubbery and sweaty and squishy, rustling oddly when he worked his jaw. And it occurred to Dean, crept into realization at the corner of his wakefulness, that he had been drooling in this forced sleep. Awesome.
He attempted to open a second eye as voices meandered into range, full of fuzz, flirting with clarity but not quit there.
“…one’s awake…pockets…pass the…and then he said…”
Dean swallowed though it took no small amount of difficulty, parched because all his spit had apparently leaked out onto whatever unrecognizable material pillowed his rotting melon.
Pale, amoeboid shapes coalesced in front of him until he recognized the Rorschach blotches as facial features. The void where a mouth must’ve been widened, rounded into an ‘oh’, and exhaled soft, pale vapors, obscuring Dean’s tenuous view of the world. Not that it mattered a damn; at present, he couldn’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground. The fog had a vaguely familiar pungency, warmth, laughter. Took him a moment to place the smell of weed. Not altogether unpleasant but given the circumstances, wholly inappropriate.
Dean screwed up the energy to loll his head away from the pot smoke, offering a wan cough to the heavens.
A second voice spoke from several feet away, this time more clearly. Reality was making a concentrated attempt to revisit Dean’s life. How kind of it.
“Poke him with a stick. See if he moves again.”
“Poke me and you’ll be missing fingers.” Dean expelled words, dry and groggy and not the least bit amused.
“Too late, asshole.”
He squinted up at the source of the second voice. Male, roughly his own age, raw-boned like a marathoner, holding up a hand to Dean and true to statement, missing digits. Two fingers gone at the second joint, ring finger and pinky. Dean groused and attempted to hoist up into something vertical but it just wasn’t happening. His legs were pumped full of lead.
A fresh jolt of adrenaline pushed away the weight and Dean managed to lurch sideways, heavy boots slamming a hardwood floor rolling off of—what the hell? A beanbag chair? Yes indeed, he’d been thrown onto a jumbo, black vinyl beanbag, and the thing got all tricksy and evasive when Dean tried to gather enough purchase to stand. Didn’t help that his wrists were confined at his navel by handcuffs. And not just your garden-variety cuffs either; these were mittened in hot pink faux fur. Could this kidnapping get any weirder?
The room settled into focus, if still nebulous around the edges. ‘Bout fucking time. Dean located Sam flopped unceremoniously on the floor not fifteen feet away. Belly-down. Hands bound behind his back by what looked like a length of rough rope, probably hemp considering these long-haired freaky-people. Outgrown bangs obscured Sam’s face but occasional tufts fluttered with each rhythmic breath. Sleeping like a big baby. Dean always marveled at how young Sam looked when he slept, all the sharp plains of his face relaxed and unlined. Snoring, but otherwise safe. Safe-ish. No spilt blood, yet.
He continued to survey his surroundings: coffee table, their guns and knives on said coffee table, clay-potted house plants, dust bunnies, sneakers and flip-flops and obnoxiously colored rubber clogs all piled in a corner. This was some sort of residential building, someone’s living room as opposed to a sewer or warehouse or dungeon. And Dean had been in more than a few dungeons, so he knew.
Apart from the brothers Winchester, four other men peopled the room. Ol’ Eight-Fingers. The guy with the joint, who was tanned and possessed massive quantities of ill-mannered black hair. Might’ve been Hispanic. A younger kid, frail-looking with locks dyed an unreal shade of violet, sitting cross-legged on a battered couch while his fingers flew over the keyboard of a laptop. And the last guy, serious blue eyes watching Dean with quiet but decided mistrust, arms folded over his chest, neatly groomed, closed up, tightly wound. Looked like he might explode if he got next to something sharp, like Dean.
“So. I think this is the part where you bark threats, act all super-evil and make like you’re the ones in charge?” Dean was still struggling to sit, his balance catawampus what with the beanbag shifting like quicksand. Eight Fingers reached over and hauled him upright by the scruff. “Hey, don’t bruise the peaches, man.”
“I’ll keep my hands off your fruit if you tell me why you were at the Red Vic,” Eight Fingers said, dropping his cargo into a seated position.
Dean blinked away a quick spin of vertigo, making quite certain Sam’s prone form was still in his peripheral vision. Dean also noted a slight limp to the guy, filed that away for future strategic purposes. Nothing like the swift kick to a trick knee to level the playing field. He might be able to best the guy, as long as Sam was up and moving. The others would be small potatoes pending no further ensorcelled Post-It notes. That was dirty pool, dammit.
Dean offered his best, “trust me” grin, even though the likelihood it would charm anyone in the room was slim to none. It never hurt. “Oh, you know, I wanted to get in touch with my inner flower child. Drop out, tune in, turn on. Do a little California dream – ”
Blue-eyed Mr. Serious interrupted, with a serious British accent. Which just sort of figured. “Simon. Go get Eddie.”
The computer nerd, Simon, darted a quick glance, “Why me?” written all over his face but he shut the laptop and padded out of the room, his movements terse as a bird’s.
So that’s how it is, Dean mused, mentally placing each man in this pack dynamic. The Brit was the brains of the operation, cucumber cool and possibly quite ruthless. The stoner, their crime specialist, underworld connections and dark diplomacy. Eight-Fingers was clearly the muscle and not afraid to get hurt. His skin bore a great many visible scars including but not limited to the lost fingery bits, disfigurements rivaling that of a hunter’s. And the purple-haired kid could likely crack any code, hack like an MIT graduate, kick World of Warcraft’s virtual ass. But all this begged the question: what the ever lovin’ fuck? Dean would bet ten dollars against a kick in the ass they’d magicked him and Sam unconscious. So if these were “witches”, what the hell sort of coven was this? Like none he’d ever seen before, that’s what.
Dean heard thin strains of music floating from a different room, a radio left playing. Something uncommon, with lots of jangling guitar and sinuous voice. The place reeked of pot burning and cookies baking, not an unusual combination all told. Just unusual in the context of Satanic worship and small animal sacrifice. It was dark beyond the thinly curtained windows, dark but cloudy with the ambient light of the city. Dean glanced at his watch; he’d been snoozing an hour and some change. And he had to piss like a race horse but that would have to wait.
The casual heel/toe report of boot steps entered the room behind Dean. He wasn’t going to look, wasn’t going to give his captors the honor of thinking he was ruffled or worried or even cared in the slightest. But he was sweating. And when the men straightened just perceptibly and the atmosphere changed timbre and The Brit unfolded his arms to stand at attention, Dean sweated a little harder. No doubt Boss Man had just arrived. Dean wriggled his right ankle but there was no telltale pressure of the knife usually concealed there. Crap, they got that too.
The boots circled around and stopped in front of Dean with his classy black beanbag and hot pink handcuffs. Battered cowboy boots, small for a dude…just the right size for a woman. That suspicion was confirmed by a stretch of smooth, tanned leg that ran from boot to short tattered denim skirt, the sort patchworked from an existing pair of jeans. She tapped her toe and looked down at Dean quizzically, Bambi-brown eyes narrowed and hair the color of butterscotch a jumble at her shoulders. Dean caught a whiff of cinnamon, not sulfur.
Regardless, he murmured “Christo,” almost conversationally, staring up at the girl and trying his damnedest not to look up her skirt.
She canted her head, planted hands on tilted hips. Blinked. Each finger wore a different ring and her nose was pierced by a tiny silver loop. “Nope, sorry. Eddie.”
“You’re Eddie?” Dean draped shackled arms across his knees. This was so much better than dealing with some Mafioso type or thug or wendigo or whatever. His smile turned to honey, eyes hooded, and he shifted his ass causing the beanbag to make a soft susurrus that was almost embarrassing. “You don’t look like an Eddie.”
“Huh, I don’t?” The blonde—blondes were a handful, Dean thought of Jess, of Meg, of Jo, of Marilyn Monroe—the blonde meandered to the coffee table that held all their weapons. Picked up Dean’s wallet and rifled through the contents, a handful of bills, too many plastic cards to count, each with a different name. “Well, to be fair, you don’t look like a…Ted Nugent. Or Sheriff Eric Cartman. And you certainly don’t look like Agent Robert Plant.” One by one she tossed the cards to the floor at Dean’s feet, useless, disregarded, little rectangles of fraud. “Better give me your name or I’ll think of something to call you. Like Justin Timberlake.”
Dean sighed slowly, gave her the facial equivalent of shrug. Futile to fabricate a story at this point, best to keep to simple truths and move the conversation in an ever-changing direction. “Touché. Dean. It’s Dean. Turn-about being fair play and all, everyone else got names?”
The blonde, Eddie, hummed. And the Brit might’ve lifted his chin a tad but no one else volunteered introductions. Figured.
Across the room, Sam took that pause as an opportunity to rustle in his sleep, mumbling, dreaming, fingers twitching. Chasing bunnies. Hair shifted from his forehead and Dean caught sight of an enormous purpling goose-egg, jaundiced at the very center, the point of impact. Without considering balance or company, immediately irked by Sam’s injury, Dean tried to stand up, thigh muscles rocketing and expletives hissing out on his breath. He needed to see Sam’s pupils, check for ear bleeding and blurred vision. No more Mr. Nice Victim.
“What did you do to my br—” He caught himself and bit off the word and almost the tip of his tongue. At the same moment Eight Fingers pressed a palm, flat and stern, to the top of Dean’s head, planting him firmly back on the beanbag. Without ceremony.
“Your girlfriend?” The wild-haired guy volunteered, exhaling another penlight stream of smoke.
Dean’s eyes thinned and got deadly mean. Fucking stoner, I’ll shove that joint so far up your asshole you’ll taste it in the back of your throat.
“No. Brother,” Eddie said, and Dean’s head snapped around, lips pressed. “Yeah, same jack-ass stubborn jaw. I noticed.”
“We didn’t do that!” Little Simon was quick to squeak, eyes wide and finger pointing at Sam’s contusion. He seemed to know to be wary of Dean’s temper and ability to wreak serious vengeance when incensed. Good call, kid. “Jolly Green did that to himself! When he fell on the bedpost. I swear!”
“How ‘bout waking him up, then?” Dean couldn’t keep the snarl out of his voice. He’d murder them all, human or no, if Sam had anything more than a migraine.
Eight Fingers stepped around, interjecting himself between Dean and Eddie. He was spoiling for a fight; it was all over his face. Nervous energy, coiled-spring muscles and knotted fists, a half-grin without humor but all kinds of eager. “Watch yourself, friend. You’re not in any position to be making demands.”
“I don’t care about positions, you shit bag,” Dean spit.
“WAIT.” The Brit approached what was quickly becoming a Bad Situation, palms out in a gesture of stiff calm, somehow managing to be authoritative and anxious all at once. “Wait, Danny. He might have a position if that one’s name is Sam.” A quirked nose to Jolly Green.
Much information to process, Dean furrowed. Eight Fingers was Danny. The Brit knew more than he was letting on, knew who they were, and as evidenced by Eddie’s sudden lifting of brows, she did not. Dean wasn’t quite certain where she fit into the hierarchy of this rabble anyhow. Now it was more confused than ever. And Sam might be bleeding into that big brain of his and here they were, bickering about who had the better position, for Christ’s sake.
“Yeah, dammit, that’s Sam. I’m Dean. Next time we’ll wear our name tags. Now wake him the fuck up already.”
Eddie gave The Brit a pointed glare, her dark eyes wounded, cheeks blooming roses. He lost a bit of his authority and dodged away, pulling back to let her pass on her way to Sam, who had rolled to an awkward balance on one hip, lips parted through which a whistle of breath sawed back and forth, back and forth, chest swelling in and out. His shoulders were taut from the pinned angle of his arms. Did not look comfortable yet still he slept. Never mind the noise and rock hard floor.
Crouching by Sam’s head, Eddie tipped forward and from Dean’s vantage point, he got a perfect shot of her perfect ass in perfectly translucent pink panties. He shouldn’t have gotten a rise out of this and yet, despite his simmering rage and fearful concern, he couldn’t help but secret that image away in his spank bank. Call it making lemonade out of life’s lemons.
Much to Dean’s continued chagrin, she set a lingering kiss on Sammy’s lips. At first Sam didn’t seem to notice, insensible and all. Then the jackass kissed her back. He wasn’t even conscious and he was responding, smile all dimpling up and kitteny growl deep in his throat. Incredible.
Dean blinked slowly. “Why didn’t I get that rise-n-shine treatment?”
“Hey, man, I kissed you…” This, coming from the guy with the crazy hair and marijuana cigarette.
And Dean nearly choked. “Great. I need to gargle now.”
Sam’s lashes flickered. Eddie lifted her mouth a few scant inches, whispering breath across Sam’s face, a gentle sigh full of life and body heat and sweet daydreams, Dean imagined. There was something bizarrely fairy-talesque about the ritual which did not mesh with his notion of what witches were or how they worked or even what they smelled like. He wanted to keep his anger well-stoked but it was intermittent like a guttering candle, quickly heading towards extinction. But that didn’t mean he trusted them any better.
“Are you Sam?” Eddie asked, a lock of blonde falling forward to brush Sam’s cheek.
Sam, never being one to do things halfway, was wide awake in a burst as his eyes snapped open, struggling to sit up so fast he pegged Eddie on the cheekbone with his substantial forehead, specifically the eggplant-colored knot on his substantial forehead. He went from out cold to livid to wailing in the course of thirty seconds.
“Sam!” Dean roared.
Danny stomped forward and caught Eddie before she fell, knocked off her balance and eyes blinking fast through watery tears. Had to hurt. Sam’s noggin was big, hard and stubborn.
Somehow, Sam had managed to lumber to his feet and was threatening to crash into walls, tables, people, whatever stood between him and his momentum, burdened by gravity and no arms to catch his fall. This was going to get dangerous fast, what with Sam careening through the room like a crazed bull cutting through the streets of Pamplona. His face was wild with pain, confusion, and a fair measure of lethal irritation. He rocked shoulders, tendons in his neck stretched to sharp cords as he pulled at the constraints. The ropes were more than likely designed to secure plants to garden lattice because they gave way with a snap.
Before he could be stopped, Dean backpedaled away from the action, into safety, until he hit a wall and used that to slide up to a stand. He wasted no time in grabbing a gun off the coffee table, released the safety. Yeah, so it was Sam’s gun but any port in a storm. Simon may have screamed. Danny had his hands full of blonde, and the stoner wore this blank look of dull surprise and hadn’t moved an inch throughout the whole fracas except to drop his joint. This is your brain on drugs, folks, Dean said to himself with some small crumb of pleasure.
“Sammy! Let’s go!” He boomed. They should never have handcuffed Dean in the front; now he had a warm gun and was happy to blow anyone’s brains out who didn’t wear the name Winchester. Pretty pink panties protected nobody, now.
“Oh, bloody hell, stop…stop!” So, one last party not heard from, The Brit. He ran to the center of the room and waved hands frantically, voice pitched easily an octave higher than it had been five minutes ago. His stiff upper lip was all but gone, brows angled in shock at this horrendous comedy of errors. “No one do anything rash – ” he sputtered “– I mean more rash. These are the Winchesters! Sylvie…Sylvie mentioned these two! Please, please…”
The room suddenly got very, very quiet. Except for Simon hyperventilating in the corner.
“Please,” The Brit continued, pleading towards Dean, “…hear us out.”