Dean sighed and tossed his magazine aside. What the hell did he care about American Idol, anyway? Sam and Jayme were still out getting lunch and there was nothing to do. His gaze fell on her bag, which was half-open on the bed. Maybe her sword—their blades needed sharpening, right?
He got up, reaching for the handle. His fingers brushed something else and he lifted the flap, staring at the ornate copper pendant on its corded string. In the center of the twisting design was a small, flat green jewel. He lifted it for a closer look, his fingertip touching its surface, which wasn’t shiny, but smooth and almost soft to the touch.
He could swear he’d seen it before. It was familiar, like a well-worn jacket.
All at once a memory came back; sitting on a soft lap, a gentle voice telling him the story of the pendant but all he could do was stare at it and stroke that gem, watching the pale green shimmer under his touch . . .
“Holy shit!” he cried just as the door opened, admitting Sam, Jayme, and several large bags of food.
“What’s that?” Sam asked as he set down his burden.
Dean turned to face his brother. “I think . . . we met Jayme’s mom before. Like way before.”
“What are you talking about?” Jayme asked.
Dean held up Delphinar’s pendant. “I remember this.”
“Dean, were you going through her stuff?” Sam said, glaring at his brother.
Dean blinked, then looked at Jayme. “No! I mean yeah. I mean I was just—”
“It’s okay, Dean,” she said. “I’ll just remember to put a live rat trap in there from now on.”
Sam couldn’t help smiling at that.
“I was just—”
“Dean, it’s okay,” Jayme said, touching his arm.
Sam nodded. “I bet he was looking for something to sharpen.”
Jayme picked up the nahya sticking halfway out. “Right in one.”
“Yeah, this just kinda came out,” Dean said, handing it back.
“Dean, maybe you knew someone with the same pendant,” Sam said, pulling the food out.
“I did. She babysat us.”
Sam looked at Jayme, who was standing rooted to the spot, staring at them. “Jayme? What’s wrong?”
Dean looked up, eyes huge in concern.
“Sam, this was made on Katarin. There aren’t any like it on Earth. The stone is a sannasahra—they only come from the riverbeds on the southern continent.”
“So . . . ” Dean said.
“That explains how he knew about us.”
“But I didn’t know about her being a neromancer.”
“Dean, how old were you? Five? Six?” Sam said.
“Six . . . I think?”
“And you never realized it the whole time we were with her?”
“No. I mean, there was something familiar about her and all, and I was gonna ask, but then Rolan was trying to wishbone me and it kinda got pushed aside.”
“She never told me she knew any humans that closely. Your father would never have left you with her if he didn’t trust her.”
“And Dad doesn’t trust anyone very easily,” Sam mused.
Jayme looked at them. “This changes everything.”
“It does?” they chorused.
“If your father and Ahma knew each other . . . then what else don’t we know?”
“How would we find out?” Sam asked.
“Dad,” Dean said.
Sam nodded. “Again—how would we find out?”
Jayme pulled out a small device from her pocket, one they had learned was only disguised to look like a cell phone. She opened it, holding it to her mouth and speaking in her native tongue for a few moments.
“They’re pulling it up,” she said once she’d gotten a response.
“Pulling what up?” Dean asked.
“Ahma’s reports from 1985,” she said. “Any references to human children and or your names.”
The device beeped a few minutes later. “That’s all of them. Looks like there are a few entries that mention you specifically,” she said, smiling.
Sam and Dean exchanged incredulous looks. “What do they say?” Dean asked.
I realize that this report was supposed to be a continuation of my prior narrative regarding the unusual reading habits of humans, but something has occurred in the interim that has placed the conclusion on hold.
A year or so ago I met a human named John Winchester. I was working in a different library then, and he came in asking for some obscure books on the town's history, relating in large part to werewolves; creatures of human mythology, many of whose characteristics come from one of our few failures at keeping our other forms secret. I helped him find the materials he sought, keeping close to him, since werewolf sightings usually signal Dominator activity. After a time I began to believe that his interest was not just academic, but that he believed in the creatures he wanted information on—not that they are neromancers, but that these creatures do exist apart from us. That intrigued me even more—humans are beings who are both highly superstitious, willing often to believe in the mystical and supernatural before rational explanations, and highly, overwhelmingly imaginative. That is when he learned the truth about me, the details of which I have laid out before. Despite his admission of his line of work—hunting not just werewolves but creatures who pose a threat to humans—it did not require much effort to convince him of my benign intentions.
Which leads me to last night. He called late in the evening, apologizing for the short notice but that he required a rather large favor. I said that if it were in my power to grant, I would.
“Would you watch my boys for a few days?”
At first I was surprised that he had children. Then I remembered when we first met in the library, and a small, sad-looking young boy, but I hadn’t been aware that there was more than one. “Ordinarily I’d never ask,” he said, “but I don’t have time to get them to anyone else I trust and they’re still too young to leave alone.”
“How old are they?”
“Six and two,” he said.
I gave him my address. “Bring them. Just one thing—why me? You are hardly the most trusting person I’ve ever met.”
He was silent for a long while. “Because you’re a parent, and they’re safer with you than almost anyone else.”
This at least was the truth.
He arrived well after dark, coming to the door with the air of someone deeply distracted by important matters.
In tow were two little boys—the larger carrying the smaller on his back.
“Come in, come in,” Delphinar said, moving aside.
The pair walked in and the elder boy looked around with sharp eyes.
Delphinar was surprised that John wasn’t carrying the smaller of the two, but from the look on the elder boy’s face, he would have protested the move had his father made it.
“Where can we sleep?” the boy asked.
“There’s a spare room upstairs. My daughter uses it when she visits. Have any of you eaten supper yet?”
The boys shook their heads.
“Something light, then, before bed.” She looked at John. “You’re welcome too, if you have a minute.”
“I don’t,” he sighed. He crouched in front of his elder son. “Dean, I want you to be good, okay? She’ll look after you and Sammy until I get back.”
“I’m sure they’ll be wonderful,” Del said. “And if not I’m sure I can keep them in line.” Her warm smile was enough to indicate that her words were without teeth, but the boy seemed to take it as a threat.
“It’s okay, Dean,” John said. “You’re safe here.”
“Of course. I know you’ll make sure of that.” He glanced at his watch. “I have to be off.” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Delphinar. “This is Bobby Singer’s phone number, and Pastor Jim’s. If anything happens, call them. I trust them both.” And with that, he was gone.
Delphinar took the boys over to the table, sitting Sam (who was too little for the chair) on the table, his brother right next to him on a phone book to give him enough height.
Dean looked skeptically at her. Sam was looking around with huge eyes, his brother’s presence enough to make the experience interesting rather than frightening.
“Well, it seems we’ll be together for a short while. My name is Delphinar, but you may both call me Del.” She addressed Dean not as a child, but as an equal.
“Dean. This is Sam.”
Sam looked at Dean and giggled on hearing his name. He reached for a hug, affectionate boy that he was. Eyes still on Del, Dean hugged him, patting his back until the boy pulled away, thumb going into his mouth as he looked around again.
“Well, let’s get you two fed and off to bed.” She went to the fridge, pulling food out. “Best to have something light right before sleep.”
“I’ll feed Sammy.”
“All right.” A few minutes later she brought over a few plates. “I wasn’t sure what you both normally eat, but I think this should be okay.” On one plate was a sandwich different than Dean had ever seen, with flat bread and what looked like roast beef inside that smelled wonderful. On the other were some crackers and pieces of cheese.
He cut the sandwich in half and slowly fed it to Sam.
Delphinar said nothing, watching them.
When Sam was done, he fed him half the crackers and cheese.
“Make sure you eat some too, Dean,” she said gently. “There’s plenty for you both.”
He glared at her. “Sam first.”
“You take very good care of him,” she said, surprised to see such fierce protectiveness in a human so young. “I meant no insult.”
Sam just grinned at her, picking up one of the pieces of cheese with fingers that were still baby-chubby.
“Course I do. It’s my job.”
“Really?” she said, sitting across from him. “And who takes care of you?”
Dean went silent and wouldn’t look at her. “I take care of Sam.”
She nodded slowly, deciding that ten o’clock at night was no time to start an argument. “Then I will leave you to it. But for now, while you’re in my house, you’re both under my protection.”
He looked startled at that.
“It’s all right, Dean. There’s nothing special about this house, but it is a place of safety.”
He looked down at his food. Picked at it, but ate.
In the meantime Delphinar picked up the bag John had left, looking inside. Clothes and diapers for Sam, but little else.
Sam finished and watched Dean for a moment, thumb back in his mouth.
It registered that Sam was finished and Dean abandoned his food, scrambling down from his chair. “I need the bag.”
“Very well.” She handed it to Dean, swiftly picking Sam up.
“Give him back!”
“Young man,” Delphinar said, her voice firm and commanding. “You cannot carry that and your brother at the same time, and I would rather he not fall down my stairs. You will have to allow me to help you, and on this I will not argue.”
His eyes were huge and nearly liquid, though they blazed with anger. He fell aside, letting her lead, but keeping his brother full in his sight.
They went upstairs, around a corner to a small room. It was mostly empty save for the bed, but there were a few pictures on the wall of a young woman with dark red hair, huge green eyes, and a wide, teasing smile.
“Who’s that?” Dean asked.
Del turned slightly. “That’s my younger daughter, Jhamera.”
“Is she here?”
“No, Dean. She’s in England right now.”
Dean looked at her, puzzled. Del smiled, going over to a small desk under the pictures. “Come here,” she said.
“Why?” he asked.
“I want to show you something.”
He came over, slowly. Suspiciously.
Sam was by then sitting on her knee, his fingers in his mouth as he stared up at her. Del smiled at him, tickling his chin until he grinned.
That made Dean smile.
She pulled over a small globe, turning it so Dean could see. “We’re here, and Jhamera is here.” She turned it, pointing to the small island over Europe. “This is England.”
“Ingland,” Sam said, reaching out to touch the globe.
“Very good, Sam.” Del turned the globe, pointing out each of the continents to Sam, who was able to pronounce most of them with reasonable accuracy, though “Antarctica” was a little beyond him. By the end Sam was yawning, his head drooping. “Time for bed, my little ones.”
“I’ll put him.” Dean reached.
Del handed him over, making sure Dean had him securely before she let go. She turned down the covers on the bed, then went to the closet and pulled out several longer pillows, placing them on one side.
Dean tucked Sam in, then put himself on the other side, bracketing his brother in.
Del tucked Dean in, straightening the covers. She resisted the urge to stroke his hair—he was clearly not a child who wanted mothering. “Sleep well. If you need anything, just call me.”
He nodded and closed his eyes.
“I can’t believe it. Your mom actually watched us? For how long?” Sam asked, wiping up his plate.
Jayme scanned ahead. “Looks like more than a week. Almost two.”
“And you didn’t remember it?” Sam asked, looking pointedly at Dean.
“Dude, I was six. And I don’t know if you noticed, but we moved around a lot our whole lives. Sorry if I didn’t remember a few days out of twenty-some-odd years.”
Sam just stared at Dean; there was something his brother wasn’t telling him. His eyes wouldn’t focus on either of them, instead moving around the room, trying to concentrate on anything but.
Dean awoke early the next morning, starting for a moment until he remembered where he was. He instinctively turned to check on Sam, only letting out his breath when his found his toddler sibling still sleeping peacefully, his thumb in his mouth.
He smiled and ran a finger along the boy’s diaper, frowning when he noticed it was wet.
He crawled out of bed, going to the bag and rooting around. Diaper, check. Wipes . . . he looked around, digginging into the corners, but there were none to be found. What was he going to do now?
“Looking for these?” He turned and saw her by the door, holding out a box of wipes. “I noticed there weren’t any in there last night so this morning I had a friend bring some by.”
He sighed. “Thank you.” It felt forced.
“You are a model of self-sufficiency, young master,” she said, making no attempt to help him.
“Yes, ma’am.” He didn’t bother to tell her that he had no idea what she’d just said to him. But it didn’t sound bad, whatever it was. In fact, it made him feel very good.
He went back over to the bed, where Sam was awake and watching him. He tried to pick his brother up, but the angle was awkward and he didn’t dare risk having him fall. He could feel Del behind him, hear her moving, but he tried to ignore her. He could do it himself.
“I’ve often heard that real strength is knowing when to ask for help,” she said. “I won’t force you, of course. That isn’t my way.”
He looked at her and tried again, then he settled back and thought for a moment. He turned to her. “Help me?”
She smiled. “I would be happy to.” She carefully lifted Sam into her arms and carried him to the trunk at the foot of the bed, where she had put down several folded towels. “There we are. Well within your reach.”
“Thank you,” Dean said softly.
“You’re very welcome,” she said, touching his hair. “When you’re done you both should come down to breakfast.”
Dean nodded and set to his task.
Sam giggled and grinned up at him, hooting “D! D!” at his big brother. Dean laughed with him.
He finished changing Sam and dressing him, then got clothes out for himself. He noticed Sam staring intently up at the wall, following his gaze to the pictures. “You like those, Sammy?”
“Yeah,” he purred, pointing.
Dean picked Sam up, pulling him up piggyback. He headed out of the room, pausing to take another look at the girl with the huge green eyes. Then he headed down, lured by the scents of food—eggs and sausage and biscuits that had his mouth watering.
“Well, come on! Don’t just stand there! Food’s ready!”
Dean needed no further encouragement. He went over to the table, staring at the cushions that had been piled up on one of the chairs. He carefully set Sam on top of them, then crawled onto the chair next to him.
“There is one condition this morning,” she said, bringing over plates.
“What’s that?” Dean asked warily.
“You and your brother eat at the same time. You are my guests, and it is I who should be serving you.”
Dean stared at her. That didn’t make any sense.
She smiled, waving her spatula. “Yes, I’m old fashioned that way, but still. You boys had a late night last night and both deserve a rest. So.” She brought over two plates, both of them neatly arranged. “If Sam needs help, I would be happy to assist. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a little one around.”
“He’s my job.”
“And you don’t like to share your job, do you?”
“He’s my job.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. Your father entrusted you with this job, yes?”
She leaned on the table, closing one eye and aiming her spatula at him. “Gotcha. Because your father entrusted me with you, so I have a job too. See?” When Dean’s stubborn glare didn’t fade, she straightened. “Dean, I’m not your enemy. I don’t want to fight with you. I just want you to be happy while you’re both here with me.”
Sam, meanwhile, had discovered a piece of sausage and was eagerly chewing, watching the showdown.
Dean turned to him and sighed. “Aw, Sammy.” He wiped the boy’s face.
“Let him eat, Dean. He seems to have mastered the basics.”
Sam picked up a piece of egg and put it on Dean’s plate. “For Dean,” he said, taking a piece of Dean’s sausage and eating it, giving his brother a proud grin.
Dean just blinked.
Del laughed, sitting down on Sam’s other side. “You are a bright one, my boy. You both are.” She took the piece of sausage Sam offered her. “Thank you, dear. Don’t mind if I do.” She ate it, tweaking his nose as she stood, going back over to the stove.
Dean followed her with his eyes. “You like her, Sammy?”
Sammy grinned, nodding. “Nice lady!” he said.
“Wonder what she wants,” Dean muttered.
“I don’t want anything, young master,” Del said, moving the last of the skillets from the stove and ignoring Dean’s start as he realized she’d heard him. “Other than for you and your brother to have fun while you’re here.”
Dean still didn’t look convinced, but for Sammy’s sake he decided to give it a shot.
Sam was eating and looking around, his eyes taking everything in now that it was light outside. The house was not cluttered, but there were books and knick-knacks everywhere, things that Dean knew would attract Sam’s attention. And that was more than fine with him. The busier Sammy was in the day, the better he’d sleep at night.
As he looked around, he realized something was missing. Something vital. Something so obvious he was amazed he’d missed it. “Where’s your TV?”
“I don’t have one.”
Dean literally recoiled. “You don’t have one?”
“No, I don’t. I prefer books; so much more interesting. And I’m usually not home enough to bother with a television.”
“Books over a TV?” He could not believe his ears.
“Oh yes. TV cannot compete with books. Books will win every time.”
Dean snorted. “Right.”
Del smiled, a warm, rich, laughing smile with just a hint of danger. “Would you care to bet on that?”
“I bet you that I can make a story from a book more entertaining for you and Sam than any television show.”
“What shall we wager?”
“Wager means bet. Let’s see. If I win, you will owe me one full minute of pure, genuine laughter. If I lose . . . what will you want?”
Dean looked at Sam, then back at her. “You leave Sammy alone for the night.”
She held out her hand. “We have a deal.”
“No TV? How did you survive, Dean?”
“Well, I must have, since I’m sitting here,” Dean growled.
Sam blinked at the bitter edge to Dean’s voice; Dean wasn’t always the best sport when it came to teasing (which in truth made it more fun), but this was clearly hitting a sore spot.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. Keep reading, Jayme.”
Dad had told him they were going to a house, but it turned out that the house was really a continent. Del, the strange women with her long hair and skirts and bracelets and sandals that made her look like a fluffy housecat, was just some strange lady until he realized her power, her ability to take a few throws and make caves in the living room, to cover the windows in the stairway to make a treacherous mountain-climb, to transform her cellar into what she called Khazad-dûm.
They started in the living room, Dean sitting on the arm of a large chair as Del held Sam on her lap, reading to them from the biggest book Dean had ever seen. She didn’t read straight through—it would have taken days and days—but read parts, skipping others while continuing the story. Dean’s initial skepticism faded as he got caught up in the story, a grand adventure and quest with great danger, heralded when Del suddenly stopped, cocking her head. “What’s that?”
Dean frowned. “What’s what?”
“Do you hear that? Hoofbeats, over there.” She pointed to the windows. Dean looked but saw nothing but sunshine streaming in.
“I don’t hear anything,” he said.
“Very faint. They’ve found us, found the ring. We need to go, now!”
Dean immediately reached for Sam, who put his arms around his big brother’s neck as he was boosted up piggyback. Dean didn’t know what was going on, but he could tell there wasn’t any real danger; Del wasn’t really afraid, she was just playing.
Even so, as she herded them around the house, narrating the whole way, he could almost see the white-capped mountains and pitch-black caves, could almost hear the hiss of Gollum’s voice, the strong, wise voices of Aragorn and Gandalf, the lighthearted voices of the hobbits.
Sam clung to Dean’s back, finally wiggling down in the cellar, his eyes bright as he hung on Del’s every word. Dean asked questions, amused when Del would answer not as herself, but as whatever character she was playing at the moment—sometimes Gimli the dwarf would come growling out of her chest, sometimes the lighter, soft voice of Legolas the elf.
By the time they reached Edoras, the city at the center of the kingdom of Rohan, he was enthralled, so much that he protested breaking for lunch.
“Even the bravest warriors need to eat,” she pointed out, promising that they would continue as soon as they were done. Dean wolfed his food down, so eager to finish the story that he even let Del help Sam, who didn’t seem to mind a bit.
After lunch they went outside, going around the side of the house to the fence that blocked the view to the garage. At first Dean just saw a wooden fence, but as Del resumed the story it changed to a huge gate of metal and stone, guarded by orcs and other creatures. Sam, in usual Sam fashion, ignored the masses of guards and went up, banging on it with one chubby fist.
“Open! Open! Youse open us!”
Dean and Del both laughed, even more when Sam turned around frowning in their direction with his lower lip jutting out. “Open!” he pointed, stamping his foot.
“What’s behind it?” Dean asked, listening as Del described a barren, arid wasteland of smoke and fire, with a tower next to a burning mountain, surmounted by a flaming eye. When she opened the gate, for just a moment he saw it all, felt the Eye on him, before he blinked and saw that it was just the sun coming through one of the trees in the backyard, which was so big that its shadow cast most of the ground in darkness.
Sam tugged on his sleeve.
He looked down. “What is it, Sammy?”
“Wing.” He held out his hand, giving Dean the plastic golden shower curtain ring Del had told them was The One Ring.
“Thanks,” he said, looking over his shoulder at Del. “What do we do?”
“It’s up to you now,” she said. “The ring must be destroyed, or all is lost.” She nodded to the far side of the yard, where in the corner of the fence stood a many-tiered quarter-ring of stones obviously meant to hold flowers, but which was currently bare. Dean could smell the smoke from the lava bubbling inside it.
Sam nodded, little face solemn. “All los’.”
“Not yet it isn’t,” Dean said, closing his fist over the ring. “C’mon, Sammy.” He started forward, turning around when Del didn’t follow. “Aren’t you coming?”
“This is your fight,” she said. “After all, someone has to stay here and keep the orcs busy, right?”
“Me go?” Sam asked seriously.
“Of course. This story has two heroes, after all.”
Sam squeezed Del’s hand and then toddled after Dean. His eyes were determined, even if his thumb had migrated into his mouth. The boy was getting tired.
“It’s just a little further, Sammy,” Dean said, waiting for him. His desire to take care of his little brother warred with his desire to finish the story. Together they crossed the lawn, the sky darkening as clouds rolled in, almost as if summoned. By the time they reached the mountain Sam was clearly ready to go in, but there was a hard look in his eyes, a stubbornness that reminded him of Dad.
“Together?” he asked his little brother.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “What we do?”
“We have to put the ring in up there,” Dean said, pointing to the top. “To stop the bad guy.”
Sam nodded and stood on his tiptoes.
“Come on,” Dean said, helping Sam climb up on the first step. As they climbed, it became clear that Sam’s legs were too short; boosting his brother up on his back, Dean carried him, mounting each level with a determined scowl on his face until they stood at the top, looking into the dark, hollow hole in the middle of the very last ring of small stones. “We did it,” he whispered.
“Me frow ring?”
Dean let Sam down. “Yeah Sammy—you do it.”
Sam threw it in, very nearly following it. “DEEEEEEE!”
“We did it! You did it, Sammy!” Dean shouted, raising his arms in triumph.
Sam laughed, clinging to him.
Del applauded as she came across the yard. “Bravo! Magnificent job!”
“We did it,” Dean grinned.
“Yes you did. I’m so proud of you both. So,” she said, sliding her hands into the pockets of her sweater, “was that better than TV?”
Dean’s eyes widened as he remembered. He sighed. “Yeah.”
“Don’t look so sad, Dean. All you have to do is laugh for a minute. Which I won’t hold you to if you don’t want to do it. You two had a good time and that’s good enough for me.”
He smiled. “We did. That was fun!”
“It looks like someone is ready for bed soon,” she said, nodding at Sam, who was yawning hugely. “Let’s head in before the rain comes.”
Dean lifted Sam and followed her.
The combination of Sam’s weight and a loose stone came together perfectly; Dean slipped, finding himself with nothing to grab onto, and letting go of Sam was out of the question. The sharp edges of the lower tiers loomed in front of him as he fell, the hard edge of a brick scraping his leg. Then arms were under him, under them both, stopping his fall with as much strength and finality as if it had been his father.
She lowered them both to the grass, Sam immediately letting go of Dean’s neck. “Hurt!” he said, pointing to Dean’s leg.
“Dean, are you all right?” Del asked. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“No . . . j-just my leg . . . ”
Sam looked about to cry, looking from Dean to Del and back again.
“It’s all right,” she said, her voice smooth and steady. “We’ll go inside and clean this up. Not to worry.”
Dean nodded and held Sam close.
He stared in shock as Sam hugged him, then went over to Del, holding his arms out to be picked up. His shock turned to bewilderment as she picked Sam up, then slid an arm under his legs and picked him up as well, carrying them both. “Do you work out?” he asked.
“I come from a long line of Amazons,” she replied, bumping the door open with her foot.
“A tribe of women who are stronger than men,” she said.
She took them into the bathroom, setting Dean down on the closed toilet lid, Sam next to him on the floor. He sucked his thumb, watching closely as Del cleaned the scrape on the inside of Dean’s leg; once done it looked less nasty, but still clearly hurt.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“I’m just glad you’re all right. I’d have never forgiven myself otherwise.”
“Wasn’t your fault.”
“No, but your father is trusting me to keep you safe, and I don’t want to let him down.” She stood up, washing her hands in the sink. “I’ve a wonderful idea. Dean, if you’re able to bathe yourself and your brother, I’ll get dinner started. It’ll be ready by the time you’re done.”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “Sammy’s really good about taking baths.”
“I’ll get towels down for you. Why don’t you go ahead and get your pajamas?”
“Okay.” Dean slid down; he was getting to like her despite himself. She didn’t give orders the way Dad did—she commanded by suggestion, always with the implication that he was free to refuse, but with a way that hinted that she didn’t expect him to. “Wait a minute—what pajamas?”
“Just go and fetch your clothes,” she said, laughing and tickling Sam’s sides as she took off his shirt. “I’ll get this little one started.”
Confused, Dean headed around the corner and down the hall to their room, frowning when he saw what was on the bed.
“Where did these come from?” When he came back in Del was sitting on the edge of the tub, entertaining Sam by counting his fingers. Dean held up the pajamas he’d found. “They aren’t ours.”
“They’re yours for now. As I said; children of all kinds are welcome in my house, and I aim to be a good hostess. They’re clean, I promise.”
Dean looked down at them, at the horses galloping across one pair, and the lions on the other. He and Sam had never had anything like them. “I . . . don’t know what to say.”
“How about that you’ll take this young man here and get him washed up while I fix dinner?”
He felt a genuine smile appear on his face. “I can do that.”
“Then hop to it, young squire!” she said, getting up, her fingertips lightly playing over Sam’s head as she did.
It took a few minutes to get used to Del’s bathroom, which had a a lot more things in it than motels or Uncle Bobby’s. But the tub was the same as anywhere, and he’d mastered the notion of turning on the water until it was hot enough to get clean but not enough to hurt. He boosted Sam into the tub, laughing as his brother rolled, lying on his back and laughing. “Get up, Sammy, or I’ll pour the water on your head!”
Sam just giggled harder, sliding up until he could grab the edge of the tub. “Big boat!” he said, touching the outline of a tugboat on the shower curtain.
Dean turned on the water, climbing in with his brother. “I’m the captain of the ship!” he said, striking a pose as if he intended to sail the tub out of the room. “Full speed ahead!”
“D, nowhere’s to steer!” Sam said.
“No, it’s right here!” Dean said, swiping his fist over the faucet as if it would turn the tub. Water splashed onto the floor. “Man the porpedoes!”
Sam handed a scrub brush to Dean. “Porp!”
Sam’s cheeks flared at Jayme laughed at the description, cooing and reaching out to pinch his cheeks. Dean looked grudgingly amused, his smile directed more at Jayme’s joyful laughter than any recollection of a good time.
“Sounds like you two settled in pretty nice,” Jayme said. “I’m not surprised; Ahma was so good with kids.”
“I held out for a while,” Dean said.
“Yeah, how come?” Sam asked. “I mean, you were only six—that’s hardly enough time to be a cynical jerk.”
Dean gave him a bitchface. “I had no reason to trust her. She was just some strange lady Dad dumped us with, so why should I have cuddled up to her as if she were M—” He stopped, getting up. “I need a beer. All this cute stuff is making me nauseous.”
Downstairs, Del listened to the boys’ laughter and shouting. Thanks to her unearthly origins, she could follow their movements as if they were playing nearby. Moreover, despite being very young himself, Dean was responsible beyond his years, and she trusted him to be able to take care of himself and his brother with her just a few steps away.
Human children were very much like her own had been; rambunctious, loud, playful, but with a fragility that sometimes took her breath away, at equal moments so vulnerable and yet so strong.
John had told her nothing of their mother. The fact that she was gone was clear, and what her own instincts told her was that Dean could remember her, but Sam could not. John’s cues, his behaviors and hints that went beyond human detection, his job, his obsession, the things he’d asked her about, everything that had passed by her eyes all led to the same place. Something had killed his wife, their mother, and he was hunting it.
She focused on her work, trying to keep the emotions at bay. Rolan, her contact, would often tease her about being overly susceptible to human emotions, the “petty nattering of lesser beings,” but the truth was that these “lesser beings” could hurt and grieve and feel pain as deeply as a neromancer, perhaps more. The gutted look in John Winchester’s eyes had been apparent from the start, but there was also a deeper determination, a strength and power that she had sensed from the moment she met him.
A strength that she saw in Dean’s eyes as well.
Another howl and a thump indicated that the boys were quite finished. She moved the plates to the table, wiping her hands on a towel as she headed up the stairs to the bathroom. Dean was drying Sam off with a towel, trying to hold the giggling toddler still. There was water and soap all over the floor and judging from the condition of the shower curtain—
“I take it the shelling of Vicksburg was a success?”
“We won!” Sam said, raising his arms in victory.
“You’re both Union, then.”
Dean blinked up at her. “Huh?”
“A long story which you will no doubt learn about in history classes.” She looked around at the destruction. “Jolly well played.”
“Sorry about the mess,” Dean said.
“A bit of water, pff. I’ve made bigger messes going to my car in the morning.” She waited while Dean got Sam into his pajamas, stopping him when he moved to do the same for himself. “Just a moment, young master. There is still the matter of your battle wound.”
“My—oh.” Dean looked down at his leg; the scrape was still there, but it looked a little better after it had been washed off. “It doesn’t hurt.”
“Good to know, but still; best to cover it up so it doesn’t get infected, at which point it would begin to hurt.” Reaching under the sink, she pulled out a first aid kit, opening it and taking out a large Band-Aid. Holding Dean’s leg up, she placed it carefully over the wound, making sure only the pad was touching it. Part of the scrape extended out, so Del took out another, smaller one. Unlike the plain brown of the larger, this one was blue with red circles; when it got close enough he could see—
She smiled, nodding. “I have a few coworkers and friends with young children who come over, so I try to make sure I have some things that are better than the boring things adults are supposed to have.”
“Wow,” Dean said, staring at it.
Sam watched all of it in silence. Then he took his thumb out of his mouth. “Me have one too.”
“Wan’ one too.”
“Looks like your brother wants to emulate you, Dean,” Del said, taking out another Band-Aid and putting it on Sam’s arm.
“It means he wants to be like you.”
“Why?” Dean asked.
“Because you take care of him. And because most of the time, if you're lucky, your elder brother or sister is someone you can admire.”
Dean thought about that, looking at the matching one on Sam. Sam did seem to follow him, listen to him even when he wasn’t listening to Dad. “I carried him out,” he said softly, not even aware he’d spoken aloud.
“Out of where?”
“The fire,” he said, feeling the familiar sting of tears, the way his nose burned first.
Del asked no questions, her warm hand rubbing his back. “It sounds like you were very brave. Rare in someone so young.”
Dean sniffed, looking down. He felt her hands touch his arms, helping him slip on the pajama top. “I can do the rest,” he said.
“Very well. Just spread the towels on the floor when you’re done; they’ll take care of the water.” She looked at Sam. “Care to escort me to dinner?”
Sam clearly didn’t understand what she said, but grinned nevertheless. “Dean, come too.”
“I’ll be right there, Sammy,” Dean said. “Okay?”
Sam was stunned. Dean never talked about that night and had always reacted strongly—even violently—when Sam brought either it or their mother up. “And you just . . . told her?”
“What? I was six. Little kids do stupid things.”
“It sounds like you trusted her. Like maybe you needed to tell someone and she was there,” Jayme said.
“Listen, I didn’t do any kind of touchy-feely crap, okay? I blurted something out that I didn’t mean to and it didn’t mean anything!”
“Dean, it’s okay,” Sam said. “We’re not accusing you of anything, all right?”
“Except being a human being with feelings, maybe,” Jayme said, matching Dean’s glare as she pulled up the next report.
The storms promised by that afternoon’s clouds passed by with nary a thunderclap to disturb her young guests, the night settling around the house with just the gentle whisper of rain on the roof, a sound that was almost lulling Delphinar to sleep when her keen ears heard the nearly-inaudible sound of bare human feet on the stairs. She turned, the light catching her glasses and making them glow for a moment like cat’s eyes.
“Dean? What is it?”
“I was just . . . looking for some water and there was no cup in the bathroom. Can’t sleep.”
She stood up, her long skirt flowing around her. “If you’re unable to sleep, some warm milk is the best thing for that.”
“I don’t like warm milk.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“Then how do you know you don’t like it?”
Dean sighed. “Okay.”
He watched her place a pan of milk on the stove, stirring it for a few minutes. It certainly smelled nice, especially when she put a little cinnamon into it, pouring it into a cup. “Here you go, Dean. Drink it slowly, and it should help settle you.” She went back over to the couch, sitting down at the end. “In the meantime, you’re welcome to sit with me. It can get lonely at night when I’m all by myself.”
Dean went over to the couch, looking up at her for a moment before crawling up beside her, holding the cup steady. “What do you do?”
“What do I do?”
Dean nodded. “For work.”
“I’m a librarian. At the moment I’m between jobs, but thankfully I was smart with my money and I have some saved up. But it’s not easy having nothing to do all day. Reading is wonderful, but I prefer to share things with other people.”
“How did it end?”
She smiled down at him. “How did what end?”
“The story we played today. Was it just, you know, happy ever after?”
Her smile faded a litle. “Not exactly, no.”
She studied the intense green eyes that bored into hers without flinching. He was a young child, but the fierceness belonged to someone much older. “All right.” She picked up the book, one of the single-editions with a leather cover, worn by much reading but still in good shape. Casting aside his intitial wariness, he sat leaning against her, looking as she opened the book. Unlike most of the books his father read, this one had designs around the edges and illustrations, some of which were very close to the mental pictures Del had put into his head through her storytelling.
“After they destroyed the Ring, Sauron was defeated, totally. Aragorn took his rightful place on the throne of Gondor, and was reunited with his love, Arwen. And the hobbits went home. But they found that the Shire was ruined, and they had to fight to save it.”
“After beating all those bad guys, that must have been easy,” Dean said.
“I suppose, though it was still a fight. But they won in the end.”
“And then it was happy ever after?”
“For some,” she said, turning the page. “You see, after everything that happened, Frodo couldn’t go back to his old life. He’d seen too much, suffered too much, and when he went home, he was surrounded by people who had no idea what he’d done for them, what he went through so that they could keep on living their innocent lives.”
“So what happened to him?” Dean asked, his voice barely a whisper.
She rubbed his shoulder. “That’s where the happy ever after sort of comes in. Because of his bravery and sacrifice, he was permitted to travel to Valinor—a beautiful land beyond the sea where his hurts could be healed and he could find peace. It was sad for his friends to see him go, but it was really the only choice for him.”
“And they just let him go?”
“Let me ask you something. If Sam were hurting, and the only thing that would help him would be to leave you forever, would you let him go, or keep him with you, knowing he was suffering?”
“I’d go with him,” Dean said without hesitation.
“But what if you couldn’t?”
“I’d find a way,” Dean said. “But . . . if I really couldn’t, and he wouldn’t be in danger, I . . . I’d want him to be happy.”
Del tilted her head, looking at the small boy nestled at her side. “Dean, if you were a pie I’d eat you.”
Dean’s nose wrinkled. “Why?”
She was quiet for a moment, thinking. Her eyes seemed to look past him, past everything, away into a distance he couldn’t even imagine. “I’m not your mother, Dean, and I’m not a relative, so my words may not mean much. But you are a special child, and you have qualities that I admire greatly. I like you very much.”
He thought for a moment. “You’re not bad yourself.”
“Then we’re friends?”
Dean yawned. “Yeah. Friends.”
By nature and design we are born blind, deaf, and toothless, but our eyes and ears open quickly, our fangs grow in, and in far less time than humans we are on our feet, able even as infants to inflict pain with tooth or claw.
Humans are so fragile. I hold this one in my arms. He is no newborn, but he is small and utterly at my mercy, and yet he is the elder of the two in my care. The gentleness and care we have to show to human adults must be multiplied tenfold when dealing with their young.
As I set him next to his brother a feeling of fear washes over me, not for myself, but for them. For reasons I can’t explain I see a great deal of darkness in their future, of pain and loss. Even now I feel would do anything to prevent it.
“Wow,” Sam said when Jayme finished. “I had no idea she felt like that.”
“That last one was marked private, her boss’ eyes only. Apparently she didn’t want anyone else to read it.”
“Then how did you get it?”
“I’m her daughter. Ahma didn’t keep secrets from me. At least I didn’t think she did.”
“Why wouldn’t she have told you any of this?” Dean said. “Why all the secrecy?”
Sam gave Dean a look. “You grew up with Dad and you can still ask that?”
Several days passed, Dean and Sam falling into Del’s routine, which consisted of regular meals and bedtimes, and little else. Even Dean adjusted to the idea of no television, Del’s games and stories more than enough to make up for the lack of cartoons (though he’d never have admitted it to anyone).
Sam took to it easily, following her around the house and tugging on her skirts and yelling “L! L!” until she turned her attention to him. Normally it would have filled Dean with jealousy, but Sam clearly hadn’t forgotten him, and he had to admit it did feel good not to have to worry about him every second.
She would read to them in the evenings from various books, big ones with lots of small print, big words, and no pictures. But that was okay; she was able to make the stories come alive with her descriptions and voices.
Sometimes they would play games, ones that were simple enough for Sam to understand but exciting enough to keep and hold Dean’s attention. Other times he and Sam would chase each other around after learning that Del rarely discouraged them and never yelled for them to stop.
For the first time since the fire Dean didn’t have any nightmares, didn’t wake up at night grabbing for Sam, and except for the first night was able to sleep right through. Del kept them well-fed and entertained, and Dean found himself not wishing that Dad would hurry up.
For the first time in his life, he wasn’t thinking about Dad at all.
After a day and half of steady rain, the sun finally came out, and Del announced after lunch that they would be going to the park that afternoon. Dean smiled at the thought of getting to run around after being cooped up inside. Dad hardly ever took them anywhere like a park.
“Well, I’m not your father,” she’d replied as Dean helped Sam tie his shoes.
The park was small, with a jungle gym and swings. Unlike most of the other grownups Dean knew, Del played with them, apparently not content to just watch. They were walking back from the park, Sam on her shoulders, Dean running just in front of her.
Dean was the one who saw it—the dark car parked in front of Delphinar’s house. “Dad!” he gasped.
If she were upset or anxious by John’s unannounced arrival, she didn’t show it; her hands staying on Sam’s legs, holding him firmly enough to keep him balanced as he shouted and waved at his father.
John frowned, though he returned the wave.
“He’s mad,” Dean said, falling back beside her.
“That’s his problem,” she said, her normally warm voice cold and firm.
John walked over to them.
“I take it your business is concluded?” she asked.
“It is. Earlier than planned.”
“So I see. I apologize for not being here to receive you, but I wasn’t aware you were coming.”
“I trusted you to stay put.”
“We didn’t go far. It was such a lovely day and these two have been so well-behaved I couldn’t possibly deny them a trip to the park. It’s not even two hundred yards away.”
He looked at her and then he looked at the boys. She could see that he was trying mightily not to yell. She could also see how badly he wanted to scream at her.
Smiling ever so slightly, Del crouched, gently letting Sam off her shoulders. “Dean, if you would please go inside with your brother, I think your father and I need to have a word.”
He looked worriedly from one to the other, obeying when John nodded.
Del waited until the boys were inside. “Well, if you’re going to attack, now’s a good a time as any.”
“You know what’s out there. You know what kind of things are around, how could you expose them to—”
“To what? Having a good time? Being children for a few days? With, I might add, a neromancer watching over them? I realize that I live in secret as much as you, but I would never let any harm come to either of them.”
She could see the pain in his eyes.
“You don’t have an easy life, John. No one does, and yours is harder than most. But you have two young ones who depend on you and you have to put them first.”
“I am . . . I’m working on it. As soon as I get this creature killed, they can grow up safe!”
“With what you know, is that likely? There will always be something else out there.”
He looked away and then took a deep breath. “Thank you for taking care of them.”
“It was my pleasure. You have two truly wonderful boys, John. Especially Dean. He is a most extraordinary young man.”
An eyebrow rose. He looked up at the sky. “I need to go find us a motel.”
“You could always stay here. I have more than enough room and nothing else to do with my time.”
“I’ve put you out enough.”
“I don’t think you have. I would like to help, John. If not for you, for Dean and Sam.”
John looked at her and sighed. “I appreciate it, Del. But we have to go.”
“All right. Let me go get them ready.”
“I can get them ready.”
“I know you can, but they’re still under my care for the moment.” She headed into the house and up to the bedroom, where Dean was already packing up their bag.
Sam was sitting on the bed, sucking his thumb and looking at her with those liquid eyes that only very small children could produce.
“Dad said we have to go, didn’t he?” Dean said.
“I’m afraid so,” Del said. “I offered for all of you to stay, but he turned me down.”
“We’re just gonna stay in a dumb motel room,” Dean groused.
“I know it’s hard, Dean. But your father needs you too.”
“Here’s these,” he said, handing her their pajamas.
“Keep them,” she said. “They’re yours now.”
Dean held them, feeling the tears welling up.
“What’s wrong, Dean?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t . . . I don’t want to go.”
“I don’ wanna go eidah,” Sam said around his thumb.
Del smiled, feeling a warm rush at the thought. “I will take that as a compliment. I don’t want you to go, but it’s not my choice.”
“You could tell Dad! He’d listen to you!” Dean said. Sam just looked at her hopefully.
“Perhaps, but it might just make him angry, and then he would be unlikely to ever let you stay here again. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want.”
“It’s not fair!” Sam wailed. But around his thumb it came out “ees nuh fay-uw!”
“No, it isn’t. But the good part is is that sometimes you can do things to make things fair.”
She had their attention now.
“Just remember that there is always laughter and life, even in darkness. And if you stay together and rely on each other, you’ll never be alone.” She smiled, reaching for both their hands. “After all, you two did save Middle Earth.”
Sam went into her arms. She hugged him, reaching out to pull Dean into the embrace. Dean went willingly.
She hugged them close. “Now then. No tears, no regrets. Your father’s waiting.” Her voice was quieter and less steady then they’d heard it.
Dean nodded. “Take Sammy out. I’ll finish packing.”
“All right.” She stood, balancing Sam on her hip, and went downstairs and out where John was waiting. “Dean will be along momentarily.”
“Hey, champ,” John said, reaching for his youngest.
For a moment Sam seemed to cling to Del, then he reached for his father. He cuddled the two year old close and then looked to see Dean coming out. The door seemed to give him some trouble as he struggled to get himself and the bag out. Del went over and held the door, taking the bag for him as he came out. To John’s surprise Dean didn’t insist on doing it himself. He just walked over to his father.
“Ready to go, Dean?”
“Just a minute,” Del said. “One more thing before you go.” She lifted her skirts and hurried back into the house.
Both boys looked after her.
John set Sam in the back seat, making sure he was secure, tucking the bag in the floor under his feet. When he straightened Del was coming back out, a paper bag in one hand, a book in the other. “This is for all of you,” she said, handing him the bag. “Fixings for supper and breakfast tomorrow. So you don’t have to eat out.”
“Thanks,” he said.
Del went over to Dean. “This is for you.” She handed him the big leather book. “Something to remember me by.”
Dean took it, looking from it to her with big eyes. “But this is yours.”
“But I . . . I can’t read it,” he said, his voice reduced to a whisper by shame.
“You’ll learn. You’ll grow into it. I promise.”
He looked up at her—with that serious face she had seen so often when she entrusted him with a responsibility—and nodded.
Her hand gently ran down his hair to his cheek, then she drew him close and gently kissed his forehead. “Thank you for being so good.”
He nodded again and whispered, “Bye-bye.”
“Goodbye for now,” she said, straightening as he got into the back seat. “Perhaps we’ll meet again. If not here, in Valinor.” She went over to the driver’s side, meeting John Winchester’s gaze, which was not as cold and angry as it had been before. “Take care of yourselves, and if you ever need anything, just call me.” She handed him a piece of paper. “If I move, the person at that number can find me, wherever I might be.”
He took it and put it into his pocket.
She watched them pull out, giving the sad face peering out from the back seat a smile and wave, waiting until they were out of sight to let the tears fall.
“That’s it,” Jayme said. “Her next one was three weeks later and doesn’t mention either of you.”
“So that’s it, I guess,” Sam said, leaning back in his chair. “Dad never took us back.”
“Not that we know of,” Jayme said. She scanned further a little more. “Apparently she did keep track of you two through the years, though.”
Both Winchesters looked at her. “She did?”
Jayme nodded slowly. “Probably you two left a couple hairs behind, and she would have been able to run your DNA and find you wherever you were. No indication that she ever did anything more than that. Just kept a long-distance eye on you.”
“Do you think she knew us? When we were in North Carolina?”
“She would have known you both the moment she smelled you. I don’t think she’d have forgotten either of you, even after twenty years.”
Sam glanced over at Dean, waiting for him to explode, but he said nothing, staring down at the floor as he had the whole time Jayme had been reading. It was a look he knew all too well; Dean was struggling with feelings he’d never express in words without a tow truck chain—and maybe not even then.
“That changes a lot,” Sam said.
“Doesn’t change anything,” Dean said, getting up. “We stayed with her a couple days and that was it.” He went outside, not slamming the door behind him as Sam was expecting.
Sam waited until Jayme had gone in to shower, then went outside. He found Dean sitting on the edge of the Impala’s hood, one bootheel resting on the fender as he stared into space. He said nothing, moving to sit next to him.
“Hell of a night, huh?” Dean said.
“Yeah. I had no idea about any of it.”
“Me neither, Sammy.”
“Really?” Sam said. “You got awful touchy in there.”
“I did not.”
“Dean, you can talk to me, okay? It’s just you and me. Jayme’s in the shower and not even she can hear us out here.”
Dean was silent for several minutes. “I tried so hard to forget it. Nearly managed it, too.”
“But why? I don’t understand.”
“Sam, it was the first time in my whole life I felt normal, okay? Like I could just be a kid and have fun and not have to worry about Dad and his orders and looking after you—” He snapped his mouth closed.
“Dean, I understand. And it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not okay! I forgot everything Dad taught me just because someone came along who—”
“Who kept you safe and protected you and let you be a kid for once in your life, and you liked it,” Sam said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that, no matter what you say.” He waited; Dean wasn’t saying anything, but he wasn’t protesting either. “So did you keep it?”
“The book she gave you.”
“Nah, that got lost years ago.”
He waited until Sam had gone back in with his promise that he’d be right behind. Then he went over to the trunk, unlocking it and lifting the false bottom, his fingers finding the soft leather binding tucked into its spot safely at the side. It was true that his jacket and music and car might have once belonged to Dad, but not everything he had came from him.
When he finally went back in Jayme was out of the shower and Sam was handing her her computer pad. She sat down, looking at it with a puzzled frown.
Sam glanced at him. “It beeped a few minutes ago.”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing. Just a notification from the Titan processing station following up my request with a confirmation that no further entries were found.”
Touching the screen, she deleted the message as soon as it confirmed that nearly a dozen additional files—all marked for her eyes only—had been saved, giving neither Sam nor Dean any hint at the cold shiver that ran down her spine at the simple one line that had come not from her people, but from Delphinar:
There is more. Much more.