Chapter 1: Reunion
It’d been easier this time, Erik thought, looking down at the body. Schmidt’s imagined mockery had sounded a little less loudly in his ears, and he’d been able to focus more clearly on the mechanics of the thing—finding the bullet in the man’s leg, extracting it, driving it inexorably towards his heart.
“That was neatly done,” she said, materializing at his elbow so suddenly that he wondered, as he often did, whether she had some secret power of her own.
He tore his gaze away from the man’s livid face and looked down at her—eyes so brown they were almost black, smooth pale skin, dark hair sweeping away from her face like wings. She’d painted her lips crimson, and she looked like something from a fairy tale, a queen. He felt again as he had when she found him, under a bridge, near starving, huddled over the metal bar he’d used the last of his strength to heat. He hadn’t spoken to anyone for days—perhaps weeks—and her rich, Russian-accented voice had warmed him as much as the hot meal she’d bought him.
“Just a boy,” she’d said then. “Just a poor, hungry boy.”
Now, looking at her beautiful, heart-shaped face, framed by the high fur collar of her coat, he thought he might kiss her, show her he was more than a boy. But he didn’t.
“Another war criminal brought to justice,” she said, gazing at the corpse with satisfaction.
He wished he could believe her.
Sam had moved around enough when he was a kid that he could make friends anywhere, and Berlin was no exception. He had the face for it, and had been well-trained in the Winchester school of charm; give nothing away and leave them wanting more. The boys at the DOD office had been prepared to hate him, but once they realized that for all intents and purposes he was a regular guy from the Midwest, instead of a Yankee blue blood like most spooks, they warmed up to him okay, stopping by his desk to chat, sometimes bringing him along when they went to the new coffee houses and bars emerging out of the city’s ruins.
And that was how Sam found himself, just past noon, at a coffee house on the Ku'damm. It was a weekday and the boulevard was busy, full of smartly dressed people, all in that slight rush that seemed so much a part of post-war Europe.
“Come on, Dutch, I need a cup of joe.” Sully said, nudging him in the ribs. Sam’s cover name at the DOD was Charlie Swenson, but for no good reason he could discern, Sully always called him Dutch.
“Yeah, alright.” He made a subtle show of grudgingly acceding, to throw off any suspicion. He’d been looking for a way to pump Sully for information, and this was a perfect opportunity.
Sully—Sullivan Behr—had grown up poor and mean in Lubbock. He’d gone to college on a football scholarship, but he still liked to think of himself as a tough kid, and he got a kick out of regaling Sam with stories of his misbegotten youth—fights he’d won, crimes he’d committed, girls he’d seduced. He assumed, maybe because of the Yale thing, or maybe just because of what Dean called Sam’s puppy dog eyes, that Sam was much more innocent and inexperienced in these things than he was. Sam had never seen any reason to disabuse him.
He always listened to Sully’s stories with an expertly feigned mix of shock and fascination, even though he’d spent most of his youth in even less savory establishments, playing a similarly “innocent” part in Dean’s hustling scams; that is, when they weren’t out hunting down the kind of monsters Sully had never even dreamed of. Sully’s seduction technique was as blunt as the rest of him—his stories didn’t hold a candle to Dean’s more subtle and entertaining conquests. Sam resolutely turned his thoughts away from his brother, whom he’d last seen over a year ago.
Sully smiled, slowing as he threaded his way through a gaggle of kids milling around by the coffee house door—the oldest no more than ten, and the youngest barely about seven. Too young to be hanging out on the streets—and Sam knew about that, all too well.
“Cigarette, mister?” One of the older ones asked. Sam nodded, even though he didn’t need one: selling single cigarettes in the street was a sign of the worst hardship, his father had always said, and try as he might, he’d never been able to steel himself against these Berlin street kids. He shelled out the money, and took the light the kid offered.
Like usual, there was a noticeable lull in conversation as he and Sully came through the door. Sully was a huge blond guy, as tall as Sam, but broader, with a face that looked liked it’d been hewn by Paul Bunyan’s hatchet. The two of them together, two undeniably strapping Americans in uniform, always produced a little ripple, and Sam was pretty sure that was the major reason Sully liked to bring him along.
Sam sighed as he lowered himself onto the delicate wrought-iron-backed chair at the round marble table—these things were always made for compact European bodies, not Kansans who’d put six feet in the rearview mirror years ago. Sully perched across from him with similar awkwardness and snapped his fingers at the lone waitress in the place.
Sam glanced around. People were either still staring or obviously trying not to--he and Sully were real Gullivers in Lilliput in this place. Only one dark head in the back seemed oblivious to their presence. He kept his eyes on that head for a moment; close-cropped hair over broad shoulders, something familiar in the way it was cocked to one side. He turned away—he saw shadows everywhere these days.
“Bitte?” said the waitress. She was pretty, even if she was as thin and lined as most of the city’s inhabitants still were, years after the war had ended. She looked thirty-five, but she was probably ten years younger.
“Kaffe,” Dutch told her. “Zwie.”“ Loudly, as if that would make up for his piss-poor German. Sam smiled as ingratiatingly as he could to make up for it, but she gave him back dead eyes.
The coffee came in fine china cups—miraculous survivors of the war, perhaps, or bought for a pittance off a desperate refugee—but it tasted awful—probably only one part coffee to three parts God-knew-what. Sam wondered why Sully had wanted to stop here; they could have gotten better stuff back at the office canteen. Still, Sully was always one for local scenery, as he called it, always thinking they’d see something interesting. Sam thought that the things they saw were more often plain old sad, but today he wasn’t complaining—he’d been wanting to talk to Sully for days.
“So, you had another one, huh?” Sam tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, puckering his mouth around the bitter brew.
“Hmm?” Most of Sully’s attention was fixed on the waitress’s bony backside. “Another one of what?”
“Another murder you can’t explain.”
Sully was their liaison with the Military Police, and he clearly considered Sam’s description laughable. “Dutch,” he said, eyes still on the waitress, “this is Berlin—we get three or four murders like that every day.”
“The one on Leibnizstrasse,” Sam prompted.
That brought Sully’s eyes back to him. “Son,” he said, with mocking avuncularity, “I’ve been here longer than you, so let me tell you a little something about this town: there are murders you can’t explain, and there are murders you can’t be bothered to explain. The reasons these people have to kill each other—don’t get me started. And that guy? He was a prize shit—people were lining up around the block to do him in. The MPs can’t be wasting their time on people who deserved what they got.
“Yeah,” Sam nodded to show he was absorbing Sully’s advice. “But I heard this one was a real Agatha Christie: locked room, no fingerprints.”
“Uh-huh.” Sully made a kind of woo-woo noise and wiggled his fingers. “My money’s on Caspar.”
Sully laughed at his own joke, and Sam did too, even though Caspar wasn’t too far from his own theories. Though a skin walker also seemed a possibility.
“So, do the MPs have anything?”
“Nah.” Sully’s focus drifted back to the waitress. “I told you, Dutch, no one’s shedding tears over this guy—pimping was his most respectable occupation. What do you think about her, eh? Worth a go?”
Sam shrugged, and half-listened to Sully’s characteristically offensive opinions about what the girl would be like in the sack. He was watching the dark-haired man in the corner again. If the guy would just turn his head, even a little to the left, Sam would be able to tell for sure--
Abruptly, the man stood up and pushed his chair away from the table. Sam’s breath caught in his throat. Only years of training—the CIA a hard veneer over the deeper Winchester foundation—prevented him from calling Dean’s name aloud.
He hadn’t seen his brother since his Yale graduation over a year ago. Hadn’t really expected to see him then, either. He’d sent an invitation to Bobby, but known he’d never be able to afford to come to New Haven from South Dakota. Done it more because he’d thought Bobby would pass word on to his dad. And he’d sent one to the Army P.O. box that was only way to get in touch with Dean these days. But he’d figured Dean would be too busy protecting democracy in the ass-end of nowhere to actually come. So when Sam had crossed the stage to get his diploma, looked out into the audience, and seen his brother sitting in an aisle seat near the front, all decked out in his dress uniform, a huge grin splitting his face, he’d been genuinely surprised.
Dean had come up afterwards, punched Sam hard on the shoulder, and said, “a Winchester with a college degree, who’d a thunk it?” He’d looked the same as ever, except for the new captain’s bars pinned to his jacket. “Uh, Dad says congratulations,” Dean had mumbled, “got caught up in a hunt, though…” But Sam had just shaken his head; he’d known Dean was lying, but he’d been unwilling to stir all that up again, reluctant to spoil the moment.
Dean had bought Sam and his roommates and his roommates’ girls round after round of drinks. A few of them had met Dean on his brief, infrequent visits to Sam at Yale—visits whose dual purpose, Sam thought, was to ascertain whether Sam was still alive and then press money on him: money Sam was sure came from hustling pool or cards, even though he supposed Dean got a salary from the army these days. His friends had usually been somewhat suspicious of Sam’s big brother; he might be wearing a uniform, but the respectability had never seemed to take. They were enthralled by him that night, though, as he unreeled stories of evading German troops behind enemy lines during the war, rescuing this or that important P.O.W, getting vital information about troop positions and armament dumps.
The tales were all thrilling and vaguely slapstick, and none of them touched on the darker things Sam knew Dean had seen in occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia. Things he would only tell Sam about in the wee hours if they’d both had enough to drink, eyes hard, face hard, but his hand shaking a little on the whiskey bottle. Mass graves, emaciated prisoners, the architecture of death.
“Demons I get,” he’d say, “but people…”
“How do you know demons weren’t involved,” Sam had ventured once.
“Naw…nothing supernatural about that kind of evil, kid, more’s the pity. No exorcism ritual for that…”
His brother had left New Haven by the time Sam had woken up the next morning massively hung over. Sam had taken Angleton up on his offer of a commission in the CIA that same day.
And now? Now, as Sam tried to take stock of him out of the corner of his eye, Dean looked sleek, and poised, as at home in the Ku’damm coffee house as he had in that New Haven bar. He didn’t come off as military; Sam would hardly have pegged him as an American if his rocking, slightly bow-legged gait hadn’t given it away.
He was dressed in civilian clothes, a dark suit under a well-cut gray overcoat, all hanging in perfect folds. His hair was slicked back close to his skull, and looked darker than usual. The muted light of the coffee house carved out the contours of his face, bringing out the strong lines of cheekbones and nose. He looked polished, glowing. This must be how strangers see him, Sam thought, suddenly realizing why the Army almost always used Dean for covert operations rather than in-place spying. Once you saw a face like that, you wouldn’t soon forget it.
Dean wasn’t alone. The man and woman with him were almost as beautiful as he was—the woman petite and black-haired, her surprisingly lush curves accented by the sharp lines of her crimson suit, gold jewelry glinting on her wrists and ears. Sam caught a glimpse of her full lips, painted the same color as her suit, and slightly slanted dark eyes. The man was shorter and slighter than Dean, older too, with narrow, elegant features, blond hair flopping down over a high forehead. They were in the midst of a rapid-fire, conversation as they passed the table where Sam and Sully were sitting, passed close enough that Sam could hear Dean reply to something the woman had said in fluid, easy German.
That shocked Sam as much as anything; he’d never heard Dean speak the language, though he’d known he must be able to get by in it well enough, as Sam did himself. But his training held and he was pretty sure no sign of recognition crossed his face. Dean, likewise, didn’t give anything away, though Sam was absolutely certain he had seen him.
“Take a look at that broad Dutch.” Sully whistled under his breath, “Smooth as silk on the outside, bet she’s a wildcat in bed.”
Sam nodded absently, most of his mind on trying to stop himself from running after his brother. He thought he saw Dean look back as he pulled the door open and shake his head minutely, but he couldn’t be sure.
Sam hated Berlin. It was too cold and too damp. And on the few occasions that the sun did come out, you could barely see it between the hulking ruined buildings of the city. Six years since the war had ended, and it was still mostly a pile of rubble. And it was noisy. Four occupying armies and something was going on every hour of the day and night, mostly things involving sirens.
He never slept well, but tonight, he was wakeful in anticipation. He lay in the dark, fully dressed, listening until he heard it. Though hearing wasn’t really the word. It was.more a feeling, a disturbance in the cold air of the tiny third-floor flat where he’d been quartered. Heart thudding against his ribs, he lowered his feet onto to the frigid floor, and padded out towards the front room.
He passed the door frame of the bedroom and was caught suddenly in a flurry of flying limbs and punches, solid taps that hurt some. He fought back, got a few good ones in, and one nice kick, but still ended up pinned to the floor by a dark figure, wool cap pulled tight over its head, teeth gleaming in the darkness.
He’d forgotten that his brother’s idea of a joyous family reunion often involved a little violence.
“Desk job making you soft, Tiger?” Sam’s heart jumped a little at the familiar rough glee in Dean’s voice.
“Shit, Dean,” Sam said, propping himself on his elbows as his brother loosened his hold, stood up, “I should’ve known you’d end up in Berlin sooner or later.”
Dean rocked back on his heels, taking off his cap, “You know me, where there’s trouble….”
“More like a bad penny,” Sam groused good-naturedly, taking the hand Dean offered and pulling himself up. If he gave his brother’s shoulder a quick, hard squeeze on the way, they both pretended not to notice.
“Aw, don’t be like that, Sammy.”
“It’s Sam. No, make that Special Agent Winchester, to you.”
“Oh, excuse me, sir,” Dean taunted, miming an exaggerated salute. “Two officers in the family—if the boys back home could see us now. Anyway, you don’t need to worry—I’m not really here; and even if I were, I wouldn’t be Dean Winchester while I was.”
“Hence the covert attempt to beat me up? Or was that just ‘cause you know sneaking up on me in the dark is the only way you’re going to get the upper hand these days?”
“Dream on, beanpole.” Dean dropped his hand, gave him a broad smirk. ”Got a drink for your top-secret hotshot of a brother?”
Sam tried to get in one more punch in as he went for the whiskey, but Dean deflected it easily, his smirk widening.
By the time Sam brought the bottle and two glasses back out into the sitting room, Dean had made himself comfortable on the threadbare sofa, and he surveyed Sam.
“Looking good, kid.” It was as close as he was going to get to saying “I missed you.”
“You too.” And it was true. Dean was his usual cocky, glossy self, though on closer inspection he seemed pulled a little tight around the edges. He’d changed out of the suit he’d had on that afternoon and was wearing a thick, black turtleneck, black trousers and boots. His hair was cut very short, and his eyes looked huge over cheekbones that stood out a little sharper than usual. Sam poured them each a couple of fingers of whiskey, and they nursed their drinks silently for a few minutes.
“Dean,” Sam started, “when I saw you this afternoon, I—“
“So, how’s the CIA treating you?” Dean ignored him, talking over him. “Hear they have girls in those offices. You spreading the ‘ol Winchester charm around? In between the strenuous secret information gathering, that is.”
“Dean!” Sam realized he sounded like he was twelve, and consciously lowered his voice, attempting to regain his dignity. “I can’t talk to you about what I’m doing, you know that. And I certainly can’t talk to you about who I’m working with.” Now he just sounded prissy. He shut up.
Dean laughed. “Alright, alright, relax. You know that I know exactly what you’re up to, and not because I’m a Captain in Army Intelligence, either. Big brothers always know.” He tapped the side of his nose, grinned.
“Especially the modest ones,” said Sam, grinning back. Then he dropped his eyes and twisted his fingers on his glass. “So, what brings to you to Berlin?”
“Just the usual, Sammy.” Dean’s voice was neutral, cool. “And since we ran into each other like that, I thought I might as well check in.”
It was on the tip of Sam’s tongue to ask whether Dean would have bothered checking in if they hadn’t run into each other, but he wasn’t sure he’d like the answer he got. So instead he asked, “It’s not—not our kind business, is it?”
Dean’s glass stopped halfway to his mouth. “What? Like werewolves or shifters or something?”
Sam nodded, feeling foolish.
“Nah,” Dean shook his head. “Just the same old boring arms race crap. Who’s developing what secret weapon—how can we get one of our own—you know the drill.”
Dean seemed to sense Sam’s disappointment. “It could have been a vamp nest, I’ll grant you that. God knows those fuckers are all over the Eastern Bloc. Cut off so many heads I’ve lost count. Gotten to be Uncle Sam’s go-to man for vamps, as if I didn’t have enough problems…”
Dean leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “You got something?”
“No. Yeah. Maybe.”
“Spit it out, buddy, you know you wanna.”
“Okay.” Sam leaned forward too, suddenly eager. “So, part of my job is to go over the death reports for the city—morgue files, you know. Not sure why—I think they want to keep an eye out for political assassinations, that kind of thing. I’m supposed to report anything suspicious.”
“Sounds like fun.”
Sam snorted. “Well, there sure are a lot of interesting ways to die in this city, I can tell you that. But recently, there’ve been a bunch of unexplained deaths. Well, several. Three.”
“And how unusual can that be, Sam?” Dean unwittingly echoed Sully. “This is Berlin we’re talking about, right?”
“Yeah.” Sam heard the urgency in his own voice. “But usually it’s the ‘who’ or the ‘why’ that can’t be explained, not the ‘how.’ These ones are all about the ‘how’.”
Dean’s eyes narrowed, just a fraction, but Sam’s heart clenched foolishly—how many times had he seen that look? How much had he missed it the past few years?
But all Dean said was, “Yeah?”
Sam took it as enough of a sign to keep going. “Yeah. First there was this guy--Stutz. Real creep—made a lot of money during the war on real estate—buying apartments cheap from Jews about to be deported, people said. He’s driving his Rolls down Hardenbergstrasse a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly he loses control—drops the steering wheel, starts twisting around in his seat like he’s gone nuts. Car plows into a pole and that’s it for Mr. Stutz. And the people who saw—
Dean cocked his head.
“They said it was like the car was possessed or something.”
“Huh. Probably Mr. Stutz was just stewed on good Kraut beer.”
“Nope. Police investigated enough to rule that out.”
“What else they find?”
“Nothing. Not much of an investigation, really. Guess they figured Mr. Stutz had it coming.”
“Okay, that is a little weird, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything supernatural involved. What else you got?”
“About a week after that, Reinhardt Bosch, he’s up on the top floor balcony of this sleazy club on the Leibnizstrasse that he manages, just him and a couple of his favorite girls. And the thing you gotta know about Reinhardt is that he’s a pimp and his girls are just that, girls—not one of them over sixteen. Anyway, he’s up there relaxing, counting his money, whatever, and he falls off. Three flights down, good-night Reinhardt. The girls, who weren’t very coherent, granted, said it was like the railing just suddenly opened up, and he fell through.”
“Sound like shoddy workmanship, Sam, not murder. And nothing like the first one.”
“Maybe. It’s just the same kind of thing: easy to say who wanted him gone; not so easy to say how he went.”
“Hmmm. Not much investigation of that one, I’m guessing.”
Sam shook his head. “And then, a couple of days ago, this one was the strangest yet. Samuel Thiessen: middle-aged, law-abiding citizen, kept to himself. But the word with the neighbors was that he’d been a guard at one of the camps. In Poland—under a different name, of course. Found dead in his flat—all the doors and windows locked from the inside.”
“Heart attack?” Dean ventured.
“Bullet wound. ‘Cuz this guy they did do an autopsy on: bullet to the heart—with no entry or exit wound.”
Dean whistled, low and impressed. “How’d you see the autopsy reports, Sammy? That part of your job too?”
Sam shrugged, feeling sheepish and proud at the same time. “Well, there might have been a little lock-picking involved in that.”
“Atta boy.” Dean reached over the coffee table and clapped him on the shoulder. “So, what’re you thinking? Vengeful spirit? There must be a shit load of those in this town—surprised we don’t see more of them, tell the truth.”
“Maybe. They’re a little spread out for a spirit—ghost don’t usually roam that far, though maybe this one had a ghostly motorcycle or something…”
But Dean had stopped listening. He was swirling the whiskey in his glass, staring into it. “What was the balcony made out of?” he asked abruptly.
Sam pursed his lips. “Dunno. Wrought iron, probably—they mostly are here—no wooden verandas or anything.”
“So: a steering wheel, a iron railing, a bullet. All metal.”
“Yeah.” Sam had no idea where Dean was going with this. “So, not a ghost, you’re saying? They don’t like iron.”
“Listen, Sammy, I shouldn’t be telling you this. But. Well, I don’t think this is our kind of thing after all. See, the thing I’m here for. There’re rumors that the Russians have a new weapon—one that can—I dunno—manipulate metal from a distance. Nobody knows anything about it—how it works, what kind of technology it uses. I’m supposed to be here canvassing my sources, seeing if I can find out anything more about it—see if I can bring it over to our side.”
Sam stared. “What?” he said. “Like a metal ray gun or something? That’s sounds like something out of a comic book, Dean.”
“Oh, and your motorcycle riding ghost doesn’t?”
Sam rolled his eyes, but Dean reached across the table again, trapped Sam’s hand under his.
“Look, it’s not supernatural, okay? So I want you to back off. All the big guns are after this one, and they’re not the types to play nice. Give me a vamp any day, they’d be gentler than these guys. I don’t want you getting caught up in something that could turn really ugly.”
Sam jerked his hand away. “Shit, Dean—some things never change, huh?. Not a word in months, don’t even know if you’re alive or dead. Then you waltz in here, treating me like I’m some kid who can’t tie his shoes, telling me what to do, you know best. But you know what? I’m a big boy now—“
Sam took a breath, bit down on his anger—he wasn’t sure where it had come from, so fierce and sudden it threatened to overwhelm him. Dean didn’t seem to know either. He had both hands half-raised in a gesture of appeasement, and a look on his face that might’ve been genuine hurt.
“Hey, Sam,” he said. “Sammy.”
“And you?” Sam quieted some. “What about you? Who’s gonna watch your back when things get ugly?”
Dean shrugged, gave him a cocky half smile. “You know me. I got ways. I got guys.”
“Ways? Guys? Fuck you, Dean. It’s not the same.”
Sam didn’t say the same as what, but Dean seemed to know what he was talking about. He looked at Sam like he was really seeing him for the first time all evening.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. Guess I know I can’t keep you out of something once you’re onto it. You were always a dog with a bone like that, even when you were a baby, always after me to take you with me, even if it was just down to the soup kitchen or the tire yard. Tenacious little sonofabitch.” Dean scowled, but something around his eyes told Sam the memory wasn’t all bad.
“And since I can’t stop you looking,” Dean went on, “you might as well let me in on what you find. Honestly, what you just told me, that’s the first bit of good Intel I’ve gotten on this thing. My usual sources are coming up empty. Or stonewalling me, can’t tell.”
He dug something out of the pocket of his trousers, handed it to Sam: a stubby bit of yellow chalk. “Here’s how we’re going to play it. Won’t do either of us any good if people find out we’re brothers, but if something new comes up, you let me know. There’s a defunct electronics factory at the west end of the Vollmarestrasse. A single line on the doorframe near the northeast wall means get in touch; two lines means trouble, stay away. If you say meet, I’ll find you at the new biergarten by the U.S.Ber, 9 pm; I don’t show, fallback meeting at the greenmarket just of Clayallee at 9am; If I don’t show after five days—. Well, if I don’t show after five days, you better just tell Bobby to tell Dad. Got it?”
“Got it.” It wasn’t Dean letting him in on anything, but Sam figured it was the best he would get right now. Sam fingered the chalk, worn and pitted in his hand. “Don’t leave town without telling me, huh?” Sam wished he didn’t sound so young, so needy, but there it was.
“Nah.” Dean stood, dug his fingers into Sam’s hair, ruffled it. There wasn’t as much hair to ruffle these days, D.O.D. regulations being what they were, but Sam still shivered at the familiar gesture. “I’ll get word to you if I need to blow town. Gonna let you get your beauty sleep now, though.”
“You could—um—well, you could stay here. If you want.” Sam knew what the answer would be, but it still seemed too soon to let his brother go.
Dean shook his head. “They’ve got a safe house for me, outside of town. Better I should use it—got a cover needs to be maintained.”
They were at the door of the flat now and Sam had no idea how to say goodbye--for a few days? Another whole year? He shifted awkwardly.
“Don’t take any wooden nickels,” Dean said, punching his shoulder.
Sam grinned at the old catch phrase—who’d started it? Dean? Dad?—and rocked exaggeratedly with the blow.
“You either,” he said.
And then Dean was through the door, disappearing into the darkened stairwell.
Sam closed the door, leaned against it, tried to remember what it had been like when they’d all been together. Tried to remember why he’d hated it so much.
They’d been on the road a lot, sure, after mom died, but so had a lot of families during those years. And since Dad, and soon enough Dean too, had been able to fix anything that moved, from a Rolls Royce to a twenty-year-old tractor, they’d never gone hungry the way so many had. Even if sometimes all they’d gotten was a can of beans or a loaf of bread in trade for an engine mended or an angry spirit dispelled.
And if sometimes they’d spent the night in the truck, or under a tarp by the side of the road, well, they weren’t alone in that either.
Of course Dad had left them for days, sometimes weeks, on their own—chasing demons—the ones that came out of Hell as well as the ones that came out of a bottle. Had that been what he’d hated? But there’d been plenty of kids shifting for themselves in the thirties, and Sam was pretty sure he’d been better taken care of than most.
Dean had seen to that, even if it had been mostly by hustling pool and cards. And if a couple of times they’d ended up staying with some girl, Sam devouring the meals she’d bring home from the diner or cafeteria where she’d worked, looking on incuriously while Dean put his arms around her waist and teased open the buttons of her blouse, well, he’d never thought too much about it.
He wondered now. Wondered what else Dean had done to keep him fed. Wondered where it had all gone wrong.
The war, he thought. The war that had signaled the return of prosperity to so many Americans. That had been the beginning of the end for the Winchesters.
Chapter 2: Two
Erik didn’t notice she’d entered the room until lamplight fell over the book on his knees. Her usual, mysterious stealth.
“You’ll hurt your eyes, liebling, reading in the dark,” she said, perching on the arm of his chair and dropping a soft hand on his head.
Erik closed the book and unfolded his legs, stiff from having sat still so long. He wanted to improve his English, and Conrad had seemed a good place to start, a writer who’d also left his mother tongue behind. He’d picked up Heart of Darkness after lunch—and now the early November dusk was already gathering.
“Where have you been?” he asked, stretching, trying to pretend he wasn’t arching into her hand like a cat. “It’s late.”
“Just catching up with old friends.” She moved to where her cigarette case lay on the mantel, graceful as a dancer. “One can’t let all one’s contacts wither away, can one ?”
She lit a cigarette and took a long drag, bright lips puckering, while she undid the buttons of her jacket one-handed. The crimson wool fell away to reveal the delicate lace of her blouse, the pale lines of her throat.
He ignored the display. “Schmidt?” he asked, joining her at the fireplace. “Did you find out anything about Schmidt, where he is—“
“Still so thin, darling.” She slipped a hand under his sweater, running it over the hipbone that still jutted too sharply under his skin. “Shall I take you out tonight? Let’s do that. There’s stil real meat in this town if you know where to look. “
He pulled away, stalked to the window, back to her. He hated it when she treated him this way, like a child who could be distracted by treats and outings.
“After the last--” Erik dug his fingers into his palm, lowered his voice and was determinedly not petulant. “After the last job, you said we were close--just a few days and we’d have him in our sights--”
It was the reason he was here, Erik reminded himself, the only reason: her promise that she would bring him to Schmidt, that these other jobs--other deaths, he forced himself to think the word--were necessary stepping stones to the real prize. A prize she wanted as much as he did.
“Steak and potatoes,” she murmured. She was beside him now, not touching, just looking out the window, savoring the smoke of her cigarette. “Chocolate gateaux for afters.”
“Why? We’ve got nothing to celebrate.”
“So impatient, darling.” She sounded more disappointed than disapproving. “You’ll learn. We’re almost there. Just one more.”
“No.” Erik shook his head, not looking at her. “No more. Only Schmidt.”
“Ah.” She nudged his hip with hers. “This one I think you’re going to enjoy.”
Sam sipped his beer and took a surreptitious look around the Biergarten Rita. It was filled to bursting, even on a Tuesday night, a thorough mix of servicemen and locals, all talking loud over the music. Dean had chosen well; no one would give Sam a second glance here.
He’d felt self-conscious making the yellow chalk mark in the abandoned factory. He’d been trained in all the basics of trade craft, of course, but his D.O.D. posting had given him very few opportunities to make use of them. He hoped he’d done it right, and that he wasn’t looking suspicious now.
It had been three days since his brother’s midnight visit to his flat, and not one of those days had gone by without Sam thinking he’d seen Dean a dozen times—a dark-haired reflection in a window, the gruff rumble of a half-heard laugh. And every time he’d turned out to be mistaken, the memory of Dean leaving, really leaving them, for the first time—enlisting the day of his eighteenth birthday, just a month after Pearl Harbor—had stabbed through him, as if it had happened yesterday instead of over nine years ago.
But he’d held the course they’d set—hadn’t tried to contact his brother, hadn’t asked around about the arms race in Berlin.
Until that morning.
This time, Sully had actually come to him.
“You’re gonna love this one, Dutch,” he’d said, tossing a slim file onto Sam’s untidy desk. “Casper strikes again, and this time he’s really pissed.
Sam had shot him a puzzled look as he opened the file. One glance at the “cause of death” line on the report, though, and he’d whistled, long and low.
“Impalement? What the hell, Sully?”
“Read on, my friend, read on.” Sully had crossed his arms and watched smugly, as if he’d written the fantastic tale himself.
Sam had, trying to take in the pertinent details as quickly as he could. Location: Tiergarten time of death: midnight. Victim: Tomas Gruesz, Polish national, importer /exporter.
He had slowed a bit when he came to the description of the crime scene. The park’s iron perimeter fence had been damaged in the war, and was now finally being taken down to make way for a new one. Such work proceeded slowly in Berlin, and for weeks, a pile of six-foot-long metal fence poles had lain untended in the park’s northeast corner. These poles were pointed at both ends—decorative stances at the top, tapered at the bottom. Early that morning, Gruesz had been found at the base of the pile, one such spike through his heart, pinning him to the ground.
“Why do you think it’s Casper?” Sam had asked, looking up at Sully. “Couldn’t someone have just grabbed one of the poles to fight with, got in a lucky throw?”
Sully had shrugged, his usual air of amused cynicism slipping just a bit. “Maybe. Have to be pretty goddamn strong though. Have you seen those things? They’re about this big around.” He made a six-inch circle with his thumbs and forefingers. “Have to be seventy-five pounds if they’re an ounce. Unwieldy, too. If you were going after someone with one, why not just hit them over the head? Why go to the trouble of impalement? It’s—showy, y’know? Like someone had something to prove.”
Sam had nodded. Sully, for all his crudeness, could be pretty canny sometimes.
Then something about the description of the victim had caught his eye: late thirties, slight build, blue eyes, blond hair.
It sounded like—but it couldn’t be—that would have been too much of a coincidence.
Sam gestured at the bartender for another beer, and when he looked down again, Dean was at his elbow. Dean was wearing drab army fatigues now, a cap pulled low over his eyes. The name sewn into the breast pocket wasn’t Winchester.
“And one for my buddy here,” Sam said when the beer appeared in front of him.
They stood together at the bar for a moment, hunched over the frosted glasses, shoulders touching, not looking at each other.
“There’s been another one,” Sam said finally.
“I know.” Dean sounded on edge, and something else besides—tired, maybe even sad.
“You know?” With a sinking feeling, Sam realized his hunch must have been right. “Then that was Gruesz you were with the other night.”
“Gruesz?” Dean looked at him then, quizzical. “That what they’re calling him? Haven’t heard that one for a while. But yeah. He’s—was--my agent. I’ve been handling that network for eighteen months now. But I’ve known him and Irina since ’44, maybe longer.” Something had crept back into Dean’s voice, hollowing it out, slowing it down. He paused, took a long swallow of beer. “Stefan—Gruesz—contacted me yesterday, told me he had something for me, it couldn’t wait. But he didn’t make the meet. Checked around this morning, found out why.”
“You know how he died, then?”
“Yeah.” Dean blew out a long breath. “Damnit.”
“I’m sorry.” Sam wanted badly to put an arm around Dean’s shoulders, to say something more. But he restrained himself. “That fence pole through the heart?” he said instead. “You think it was that metal ray gun of yours?”
Dean shrugged. “What else heaves a giant iron rod through the air, makes a bulls-eye in some guy’s body?” He winced, pain clouding his face for a moment. Then he was back to business. “Sammy—I need you to get me into the D.O.D. morgue—or the police station. Or wherever the body and his personal effects are being kept.”
“’Because if Stefan said he had something for me, he meant something concrete, tangible—a note, a picture, something—that was the way he worked. And if he’d been running things the way he was supposed to, he would have hidden it in something small, innocuous, something he could throw away as soon as he knew he was in trouble. First thing this morning, I was all over that crime scene—and nothing, nada, bupkis. So either the people who killed him have it—whatever it is—or it’s still on him somewhere.”
“Okay, I get that.” Sam nodded. “But what I meant was, why do you need me to get you in there? Don’t you have the clearance for that kind of thing? Can’t you just walk in—Captain in Army Intelligence and all that?”
Dean looked at him, green eyes dark. “Here’s the thing. First thing I find out this morning—my agent’s dead. The second thing? That my superiors want me to clear out of Dodge, roll up the operation, head back to HQ.”
“Huh?” Then it hit Sam like a blow to the stomach. This, oh fuck, this is what he’d hated so much about Winchester family life. “Right. Because they think whoever killed Gruesz might come after you next—might think you already know what he knew.” .
Dean looked at him for a moment, then nodded, staring into his beer.
“So maybe you should listen to them, Dean. Clear out, lie low. You were the one who told me this was gonna get ugly—time to heed your own advice.” Sam kept his voice low, but he knew Dean would hear the anger in it anyway, that old fury at the Winchester compulsion to get in harm’s way.
“Soon, Sammy, soon.” Dean sounded almost beseeching. “But I have to warn Irina first, make sure she has a safe route of out here.”
“Won’t your people, your bosses, take care of that?”
“Maybe. But I—let’s just say I gotta make sure it happens—I owe her that much. Stefan, too. After—well, you can’t really understand how crazy things were here in ’44—and he--- Sam, you’re just gonna have to take my word for it that I can’t leave ‘til I know who did this to him—”
Sam stared at him. Some things never changed, indeed, and that was Dean—crazy and loyal long past the point where loyalty was a virtue . But there was nothing to be done about it now.
“So, you need to see the body without people knowing you’ve seen it, huh?”
Dean nodded again.
“I’ll see what I can do. Meet me tomorrow, here, I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks, Sam.” Dean started to push away from the bar.
“You going there now, to find Irina?”
“I’m coming with you. And don’t bother telling me not to. If you’re trying to evade your own people, someone’s gotta watch your back.”
Sam expected Dean to protest more, but instead he nodded, and paid for their drinks. As soon as they stepped out into the chilly night, the casual nonchalance Dean had shown in the bar vanished. His brother became alert, tense, moving with a quick, purposeful stride. The moon was almost full, making it easy for Sam to follow in his brother's footsteps--which he became grateful for , because Dean wasn't making it easy for anybody to follow.
He kept doubling back, taking side streets and alleyways, until Sam wasn't quite sure where they were. Dean never hesitated, never slowed, and Sam found himself wondering. Dean had talked as if he'd just arrived in Berlin, but he clearly knew his way around the city . The wind picked up, and Sam shoved cold hands in his pockets, his mind worrying at this proof of Dean’s other life. Dean had always remained fairly tight-lipped about what he'd done during the war, aside from the occasional exciting story or horrifying detail, and Sam had only a vague idea what his brother had been doing since then.
They'd skirted around a pile of construction equipment, and started to cut down an alley, when Dean stopped abruptly, motioned Sam toward a pool of shadows cast by a large crane. Sam hesitated for a second, confused, then followed Dean's direction. He watched as his brother continued down the alley, not sure what was going on.
Two men suddenly blocked Dean's path.
Dean slowed, said something. Sam recognized it as Russian, recognized the cockiness in his brother's voice, too.
Both men growled something back, and immediately jumped Dean.
Oh, hell. His dumb brother was still picking fights. Sam took one step, meaning to help, but caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He changed tactics, edging along the crane, until he could pick out the outline of a coat and a hat. There was a third person, hugging the shadows along the alley wall.
He moved in low, snapping out with one boot. He’d assumed he’d have the element of surprise, but his opponent spun around, lightening fast, dodging the kick. A fist came at him and he ducked, whirled, countered with a swing of his own. The man was well trained in hand-to-hand, better trained than Sam, in fact. He continued to swing and feint, but he was definitely out-matched.
The man managed to land a blow, and then two more, hard punches that hurt. He could feel himself getting rattled, and he re-focused, relying less on trying to get past the man’s quick blocks, and relying more on his longer reach, and the dirty street fighting tricks his father had taught him. He managed to grab the man’s coat, but he tore away from Sam with unexpected strength, and out of his reach again.
Damnit, the guy was fast.
He parried again, swung, missed, inched back. Wait--maybe? He left his side exposed, and as he expected, his opponent made a feint, testing to see if was a trick. He edged a little more to his right, almost--there!
He stepped onto the end of a long piece of lumber, spun, catching the other end as it came off the ground. He swung hard, putting his shoulder and back into it, caught the guy hard in the ribs. Fought the recoil, and shoved upward, slamming the end of the 2x6 against his assailant's jaw.
There was a satisfying crack, and the guy dropped like a sack of potatoes. As he landed, face up, his hat came off, and dark blond curls spilled out.
Sam sucked in air, staring down at his opponent in shock.
“Sam, come on!” Dean’s voice, low and urgent.
He gave the unconscious woman one more quick look, then followed. Instead of using the streets, Dean went up. Went around to the next building, then hauled down an old fire escape, his movements slow, but deliberate, easing it down, the old metal giving only a slight groan. Sam scrambled up first, and then Dean. He raised the fire escape, motioned towards the roof.
Once they were at the top, Dean hunched against an old brick chimney, trying to block some of the bite of the cold winter wind, whispered, “KGB. I’ve dealt with Ivan and his buddies before. Ivan’s boss is a real pain in the ass--he's always got a contingency plan. So it’s either keep walking and find ourselves stuck with some new dance partners or--”
“Do this the hard way?” Sam whispered back, shaking a little as the adrenaline rush faded.
“Bingo.” Dean’s eyes narrowed, as he looked across rooftops, obviously mapping their route, “Question is, why? Gotta be onto something if the KGB is willing to send their goons after us.”
“Goons?” Sammy grinned. Only his brother would write off KGB agents so dismissively.
“Yeah, goons, Sammy. “ Dean grinned back, mock-punched Sam's shoulder, “OK, follow me--and try to remember what I taught you.”
Dean took off across the rooftops; Sam followed. It was an odd way to see Berlin, although the night was dark enough that he couldn’t see much. He was also freezing, the bitter wind cutting through his coat. Fortunately, it turned out that their destination wasn’t far, and eventually Dean stopped at another fire escape, disappeared down it. He stopped two flights down, rapped softly on a window. A moment later, the sash opened, and he shot Sam a grin over his shoulder, clambered over the sill.
Sam was very much aware of his size as he managed, barely, to squeeze through. He closed the window, and turned. The room must've once been a library, but it was now sparsely furnished. A desk and a chair, a couple of thin rugs, a row of empty bookcases, and a radio on the mantle. A small, lushly-built woman, with black hair, and a beautiful heart-shaped face, was standing by the fireplace. She was wearing a dark, plain dress now and very little makeup, but she was still instantly recognizable as the woman from the coffee shop. She glanced at Sam, sharply, as if his face rang a bell too, and then back to Dean, silently asking.
"It’s all right, Irina." Dean sat down on the corner of desk, fingers unconsciously hitching his fatigues up like he was more used to wearing slacks. The quiet, intense Dean who'd just led Sam across Berlin was gone, as if he'd never existed. This Dean was cool and sophisticated, and talked with a trace of an upper-class British accent, "I’ve had occasion to work with this gentleman before."
Had occasion? Gentleman? How many personas did his brother have?
"My name's Sam. Sam Carpenter." His alias rolled off his tongue easily these days.
"Pleasure to meet you, Sam. I’m Irina." She inclined her head, speaking with an accent Sam couldn't quite place, then arched an eyebrow as she looked back at Dean, her tone becoming gently chiding. "I was told you were being reassigned."
"Stefan is dead." Dean was good. He spoke of his friend's death with a certain aloofness that was a sharp contrast to the emotion he'd shown at the bar.
"He is?!" Irina's eyes widened in shock and her hand flew to her mouth.
"I’m afraid so." Dean's tone never changed, "Someone put a metal pole through his chest." Irina's eyes flicked to Sam, and he added, "Sam’s aware of the existence of the weapon. He came to me with certain significant new details about the matter."
"We need to find this weapon, now--stop what’s happened to Stefan from happening to others--to us."
"No, Irina, it’s not safe." Dean shook his head, got to his feet. He unconsciously tugged his collar, straightened his cap, "You must leave Berlin--tonight if possible."
"No. Whoever has this weapon, they must know we’re close." He took a couple of steps toward her and put a hand on her shoulder. Something passed between them that Sam couldn’t quite understand, but whatever it was made Irina cover Dean’s hand with her own. "Please, Irina, listen to me for once. Get out. Now. As for whoever is staying here with you--use your best judgment. But please, do not leave any loose ends. I cannot protect you now. Sam?"
He went back through the window, and once again Sam followed. Dean took the fire escape to the roof, then crouched, motioned Sam to do the same.
Something was wrong; Dean was worried. He squatted, hunching against the wind as he whispered, "What is it?"
"I need to see the body tonight." Dean whispered back, "Do you think you can get me in?"
"Sure. But why?"
Dean's voice turned rough, thick with emotion, "Because Stefan's dead and Irina's lying."