Her coffee's gone cold while she was on the phone with the Winchester boys. Missouri pours it down the drain, watching shadowy tree limbs through her kitchen window, branches reaching into the flat white sky as if in supplication. This January morning is bright as the one on which they laid her sister to rest, two years now. Still hard to believe Savannah is gone.
Missouri should have come back sooner; returning to the District was like letting out a breath she didn't know she was holding. More black faces every Sunday at Shiloh Baptist than she'd ever see in a lifetime in flyover country, and she'd be lying to herself if she said that weren't a comfort. But her sister, her community, they aren't why she finally came home. Not if she's being honest, and why be anything else in the sanctity of her own mind?
Creaking on the stairs rouses her from her reverie, banishing such thoughts to dark recesses, buried but not forgotten. She pours herself another mug of coffee and sits down like all's as it should be.
"Morning, Auntie Mo. Any coffee left?" Shenandoah fastens one earring, then another, before she retrieves her mother's chipped "I Heart DC" mug from the red dish drainer where it's taken up residence.
"And biscuits besides," Missouri says. "Can I fix you an egg?"
Her niece shakes her head. "Early meeting at the Air & Space. I've got time for a biscuit, though." She slathers one with a healthy serving of Missouri's homemade chokecherry preserves and gulps down the bit of coffee she's splashed in the mug.
Missouri weighs her words carefully. "Some friends of mine will be coming into town, Doe. From back in Kansas. Couple-three days; they'll be here and gone quick enough, I think."
Unconcerned, her niece reaches for her travel mug with the screw-top lid and overfills it to the threading. "That sounds nice, Auntie," she says, pressing a goodbye kiss on Missouri's forehead before shrugging into her leather jacket and out the door.
Calling in the Winchester brothers is a risk, but when Missouri woke last night in a tangle of sheets and sweat and unceasing dread, she knew this was a job for hunters. She couldn't stop the deaths when she was a girl, but she's got no excuse now. None but that she doesn't want any of this.
Missouri stands, stretches, and spins the lazy susan in the corner cupboard, replacing the canister of black-eye peas she pulled out in the wee hours. Between waking from that nightmare and making the phone call, she started the peas to soaking. Gotta get the smoked ham hock on the boil after lunch, too, if dinner's gonna be on the table when Doe gets home.
Few days later, the Winchesters roll into town in their daddy's old Chevy. They're arriving as Doe's heading out for the day, and Missouri's relief at their timing isn't only because Dean's eyes are wandering all over her niece. This isn't a conversation to be having in front of someone who knows just enough to try to put a stop to it.
Sam somehow gets online (though Missouri doesn't offer him the password Doe keeps on a post-it under an Air & Space Museum magnet on the fridge). While Missouri fills them in about her dream and how she's felt this particular evil before, Sam pulls up a report of a mysterious death last night; some poor homeless man was crushed with no sign of a car accident or any such thing.
It's all compassion and sharing until Missouri pats Sam's hand, which is the absolutely last thing on this earth she needed. The vibes off him are nothing she wants, now or ever; she was perfectly happy leaving all that behind her. And from the feel of it this boy's mixed up in somewhat -- a what she doesn't want to know. Not quite right, these white boys.
But she needs help if the gargoyles are awakening again, and the Winchesters are it, them and the grouchy angel in a dirty trenchcoat who pops out of nowhere just about then. (What kind of name is Cas for an angel, anyhow?) She'd make time to be more surprised if her head didn't hurt to high Heaven after seeing the Lord's glory here and gone in a flurry of wings.
The Winchesters drive her over to the National Cathedral to investigate, with Dean doing his best action hero impression and Sam folded into the back seat like an oversized puppy. Dean's driving reminds Missouri of when Savannah got her learner's permit, all jerky stops and too-fast starts. She missed that with Doe, being off in the Midwest like she was.
In daylight and with hunters at her side, the voices only Missouri can hear are blessedly silent, the cathedral's hundreds of stone eyes watching impassively. They slip inside with the visiting throngs, and before too long, the boys find something. From homemade gizmos that try to sense what she can't block out, to their keen eye for a symbol embedded in the architecture, perhaps as old as the structure itself, Sam and Dean bring the experience she's just as glad she doesn't have. Home that night, she prays that will be enough.
Next morning, Missouri sees Doe off with a heaping plate of eggs, but the day goes downhill from there. Hours go by in a blur of her pacing and calling the Winchesters on their mobile phone, much good that does; at first it's ringing to no avail, and by lunch it's just going to voicemail.
Safe in her cheery blue row house, the lime-yellow door shut against the world, Missouri could let the Winchesters take it from here (and oh, is she tempted). Pretty clear that's shaping up to be their plan, but she can't let it go that way. She knew death was calling, and she feels it looming still. She can't let John's boys go back to that church alone, not now, not when she can reach out with the senses she's been stifling these two and a half years.
The cab drops her off outside the rat-trap motel where the boys have set up camp, and she pays the driver carefully out of her purse. Cabs take cards these days, some sort of tourism-centric upgrade, but Missouri doesn't hold truck with money she can't fold. Isn't natural, and there's plenty unnatural she can't change. This, she can. Inside, wrinkling her nose at the state of the place, she quizzes them. Sure enough, they've found something. It was a glyph, and a deliberate one, an attempt to bring something through, something that shouldn't be there.
This air elemental has killed before. She remembers so clearly that night when she was twelve, that night she snuck off to the cathedral. She was drawn by an irresistible tug, walking under those cold stone figures, knowing that death was in the air. Not something her Nana wanted to hear anything of, no ma'am, and no excuses. Fifteen innocent lives snuffed out, and she couldn't help them then.
Winchester stubbornness can't stand against her will now, and she heads with them over to the cathedral to see what they can do with what they've found. The National Cathedral stands bright against the darkness. Though Christmas is past, the tree is still emblazoned with decorations and twinkling lights. Tourists mill about snapping pictures, and Missouri feels a tug that tells her going inside would help.
Missouri's drawn to the window that Dean's gadget said had something electro-magnetic to it, like it's got a pull on the iron in her blood. Once under its tongue of flame, she reaches out, her hand drawn to a spot in the wall where the mortar is the slightest bit darker.
Chill suffuses the air, rushes up her arm, and she's falling through glimpses of a life.
The train from Carrara to Genova is crowded and hot, and the week on the oceanliner isn't much better. But when Lia reaches her nineteenth birthday at sea, the other Italians on board pull sweets out of tins and celebrate with her and her new husband. When Lia finally sets foot on Ellis Island, she has new friends to go with this new life.
Instead of clear mountain air, she breathes in the fetid dankness of the tenements. Her shift sticks to her skin in the rising heat of midmorning. Back home she cared for the goats and the vegetables; here, there's a patchy bit of land at the edge of courtyard, with basil and parsley and tomatoes growing if she can keep the weeds and pests at bay this year better than the last five. News of the Great War is everywhere, and Lia tries not to speak Italian in the market. Better to grow what she can on her own, and use the harsh, guttural tones of English when she needs aught else.
The birds of passage, young men who dream of making a fortune and returning home, go and come so quickly they scarcely get to know anyone. After a decade here, Lia knows she and Giuseppe are staying, despite the ache of long days, the heartbreak of lost babies and hardscrabble existence. The pay for laborers working on this American cathedral is better than he could earn back home, but she still needs to take in piecework. She sits with their neighbors in the courtyard, shafts of sunlight bringing her tiny stitches into sharp relief.
Stone carvers breathe more dust than they rightly should, and they bring it home with them. A fine grit lies on their floors, settles in their bed, catches in Lia's teeth as she coughs into an embroidered handkerchief, a remnant of her dowry. Her wedding dress in dark aubergine, trimmed with glass beads, hangs next to the bed. She unwrapped it carefully from the paper that kept it unharmed these fifteen years and across an ocean; Giuseppe will want something nice to bury her in. Everyone said that he'd get consumption, as so many of the men did. Nobody thought it would be her.
Hot blast of air and burst of flame, then cold, so cold, as she slips in and out of awareness, as her ashes mix with the mortar. Giuseppe's hand is heavy and welcome on her, one last time. She wishes she could tell him that she's glad to rest in this place he loves so much. Above the stones she now binds, her favorite window burns, God speaking to Moses in a language all can understand.
Long years pass in a blur, one into another, and Lia knows one thing to be true: when the light aligns and the air elemental is called forth, she's the only one who can protect the cathedral's unsuspecting visitors. Weary, yes, as bespoken by her too-true name, her body is spun out into a web of atoms, bound to this place by inertia. The longer she stays, the more her patchwork memories of Giuseppe are all she can hold. As she's drained by decades of battling the elemental, any other existence seems impossible.
Missouri sways on her feet, Dean and Sam both reaching to steady her. She's fine, and she explains as much to these infernally worrisome boys. The basics of Lia's story, just what they need for this case, she shares. More, she holds her own counsel; some burdens are outside the ken of the Winchesters.
This unlikely ally can give them the privacy they'll need to combat the elemental. Lia helps them clear the place with a shower of sparks and then blackness; all the lights go out, and the masses scatter. Missouri mutters a prayer as Sam climbs outside the cathedral through an access hatch, out to the unforgiving cold stone façade. Their solution, such as it may be, seems to consist of gluing tinker-toys outside the window to modify the shadows cast. There's all manner and sorts of problems with this plan, but she's got none better.
Dean starts a chant to contain the air elemental, keep it away from Sam, but judging by the flapping pages of hymnals in the closest pews, there's not nearly enough oomph in this spell. And Sam up there, no anchor, no secure footholds, ice on slick stone... she doesn't need to be psychic to see that Dean needs to go to his brother. So she grabs the photocopy of who-knows-how-old-a-text and picks up with the Latin where Dean left off. She's never paid much heed to Rome, but she's educated enough, and she makes it a prayer.
The furious air seems to hold for a moment, before it whirls off in narrowing circles, then shoots directly up. "Dean!" she calls in warning, before a backdraft of frozen air throws her off her feet, sending her headfirst towards the marble floor, breath and sight narrowing, then gone.
Missouri blinks. She's lying on her Nana's comfortably sagging couch wrapped in the afghan Nana crocheted for her, cozy as you please. The explanation's standing by the fireplace, and since Doe's not yelling at Castiel to get out, Missouri guesses the four of them didn't materialize in front of her. Doe's seen enough since getting home from work to be suspicious, though, and clearly isn't best pleased by the obvious fact that Auntie Mo's visitors are hunters. Missouri shouldn't have told Doe what little she did about the happenings back west. No help for it now, unless...
That rakish grin has gotten Dean out of stickier spots than this, Missouri reckons. She's not much surprised when Doe suggests the two of them head out to get Dean's boat of a car, left behind at the cathedral, and some sort of drink besides. Missouri warns him to bring Doe straight home, but it's with a wink and a smile. Her Shenandoah's not a little girl anymore, even if Missouri did miss most of those days, and even if letting go's harder than holding tight.
Castiel fills Missouri and Sam in: the gargoyles are silenced, the air elemental banished, and a hardworking ghost is sent to her rest after helping them defeat the true haunting of the cathedral. His piece said, the angel of the Lord blessedly takes his leave. The whisper of wings crawls over the back of her neck, the muted sound unsettling. Some things folks aren't meant to hear.
Sam brings Missouri a steaming mug of tea and fumbles through an explanation of sorts for the darkness she feels in him. This, whatever has touched him with such horror, is all too familiar, this and Sam's steely determination too. The Devil's been on the prowl more than this last year, would that it weren't so. Sam says he wants to rest and stumbles upstairs, leaving Missouri with a chill that tea can't warm. Souls at risk mean stakes too high.
Three years this summer, it will be, since Missouri came back out east, driving her trusty Caddy behind the moving truck. The wide-open prairie of Kansas will always call to her, that vast land where her only child is buried with the pleasant memories of the smiling rogue she followed out there. But she doesn't need those plains any more than she needs a car here in the city. Tell herself the former enough, might come as true as the latter. The heart was ripped out of the heartland that beautiful June day Bobby Singer called her about Jim Murphy. When Bobby's the one delivering the bad news, it's a safe bet something straight from Hell did the killing.
Minnesota was too far a drive for her to see much of Jim once he took a call to Blue Earth, but they spent their share of time on the phone. Easy and slow Sunday afternoons, they talked about the day's sermons (his and the one at her church), the doings in their communities, the pies the ladies of his congregation would drop off (and never get quite right, since they insisted on Crisco instead of proper lard). No more between her and Jim than that, and never going to be more, neither. Not now and not ever.
When Savannah's health took a turn that self-same week, coming home made sense. Those last six months with her sister weren't what Missouri would call easy, but she wouldn't trade them. Doe would just keep washing the same fork and eating TV dinners without her auntie to make her a proper home, and throwing herself into that let Missouri forget that there's anything past this cozy domesticity they've built.
All that she's tried to have, all that she can't - seeing the life of that ghost Lia makes her realize that she's not the only one letting days past and dreams lost hold her in place. But Lia's gone to her rest now, and Missouri thinks that maybe, just maybe, it's time to stop standing still. The Winchesters say there's an apocalypse a-brewing. The bits of hard-won peace Missouri is trying to carve out of this life will go, and go bloody, if those boys are right.
No time like the present to open up to the Lord's will and use her gifts as He intends, as that burning bush in the cathedral's window might as well have been saying. She's joining the fight, whether or not Sam and Dean think she belongs in it. They don't know the whole story.