The bartender smiled as she passed across his drink. "There you go, sugar."
Dean nodded and took his glass over to the table in the corner next to the window. He scanned the bar under guise of taking a long swallow, satisfying himself that no one but the bartender was paying him any real attention. He was pretty sure she wasn't a potential threat, though he'd been wrong before.
He kept a small part of his attention on the door - a lesson learned the hard way three weeks earlier, and the new scar on the back of his neck burned a reminder - but angled his head so that he could look out of the window.
The bar across the street seemed very brightly lit against the darkness outside. It looked classier than the one Dean was in: bigger, airier, more modern music. Bigger windows. It made spying on his brother much easier.
Sam was hanging out on the edge of a larger crowd of other college students. They were laughing and talking, clearly enjoying their Friday night. Sam wasn't laughing, but he was smiling.
Dean took a long drink and glanced around his own bar again before returning his attention to Sam. His brother looked like he was doing okay: if not necessarily happy, then at least content. Looked like he was settling in just fine. Looked like he hadn't given his family a second thought.
Dean downed the rest of his drink and stared at his glass. Having a second sounded downright tempting, but it would blunt his reflexes. It was too risky when he didn't have anyone to watch his back. Then again, he was rapidly reaching the point of not giving a damn.
A quiet beep from his cell phone caught him off-guard, and he snapped his head up to look at his brother again, half-expecting Sam to be looking straight at him, phone in hand, having spotted him at last. But Sam was evidently still oblivious to his presence, grinning at some guy who appeared to be telling him a joke.
Dean flipped open his cell and stared.
1 new message. From Dad.
He clicked the button to read the message, and found himself staring at a set of coordinates.
Dean told himself that what he was feeling was relief. His father was working a pretty long-term undercover job, and Dean hadn't heard anything from him in over a month. The fact that his father felt secure enough now to send a text message had to be a good sign. Maybe the cult was getting less suspicious of him. Maybe he'd be able to get in touch more often now. Maybe he'd come back soon.
Maybe he just hadn't been able to risk anything longer than coordinates. Hey son, hope you're still in one piece, that kind of thing was probably just too risky right now.
Dean slid his cell phone back into his pocket, then stared longingly at his empty glass. He sighed and glanced back out of the window one last time. Sam was now chatting animatedly with a couple of other students, gesturing with one hand as he explained something. Dean swallowed and stood up.
Sam was fine. Dean wasn't needed here.
And he had a job to do.
Figuring out where the coordinates pointed to didn't take long, but it was far enough away and the hour was late enough that Dean decided against setting off that night. Instead he plugged his laptop into the phone outlet and searched for local websites about Coeur d'Alene. He got lucky - one of the local newspapers had a website, and Dean scoured it, looking for whatever had attracted his father's attention.
It didn't take him too long. Several people had gone missing in recent months, it seemed, vanished in the woods. The details online were pretty sketchy, though.
"Probably worried about scaring off the tourists," Dean muttered under his breath, and powered down the laptop. The rest could wait until he got there.
For now, he tossed the laptop onto the spare bed - Sam's bed, his traitorous brain persisted in calling it - and checked that his knife, gun and salt were all within easy reach before he climbed into his own bed. He settled down and thought about the distance he had to cover. Sixteen, seventeen hours, easy. The sensible option would probably be to split it across two days.
But for his father to have contacted him... it had to be urgent. And even if it wasn't... well, it wasn't exactly like Dean had any reason to hang around here.
He closed his eyes and waited for sleep to take him.
It was late evening and Dean was exhausted by the time he arrived in Coeur d'Alene. He found a motel room first thing, and didn't bother going any further than the vending machine for something to eat. By the time he settled down in a nearby diner the next morning, armed with copies of the local newspapers and a stack of pancakes brought by a waitress with a tired but genuine smile, he was feeling much better.
The newspapers here had far more information than he'd been able to find online. There was a front-page article about the most recent disappearances; it seemed four people from the surrounding area had vanished in the last month alone. The more in-depth feature a few pages further in had several other details Dean found interesting. Another three people had been found dead during the past month in the woods near Fernan Lake. There was no obvious connection, apparently, except the lack of any clear cause of death in each of the three cases. The medical examiner had ruled them to be heart failure.
"Refill?" the waitress offered, appearing at his booth again.
"That'd be great... Peggy," Dean said, reading her name-tag and shooting her a grin. "Say, don't suppose you could join me for a few minutes, tell me a bit about this place? I just got into town."
Peggy cast an uncertain glance at the counter, but weakened under his smile and slipped into the booth opposite him. "Well, we're not too busy yet, I guess I could take a break for a few minutes. You here on vacation?"
"Something like that," Dean said, wrapping his hands around his coffee cup. "Thought I might do some hiking out in the woods near one of the lakes. I, uh - trees, you know, they're awesome."
"Hiking isn't so much my thing, I'll be honest with you," Peggy said. "But there sure are some beautiful lakes near here. Lake Coeur d'Alene, of course, and Fernan Lake. Then there's Hayden Lake, up to the north - plenty more up that way."
"I was thinking of heading out to Fernan Lake, actually," Dean said. "But then I read this article in the paper, and it sounds like it might be kind of a dangerous area to go hiking. People dying, people going missing..."
"Oh lord, yes," Peggy said. "It's so strange. I mean, well, accidents do happen, and sometimes tourists can get lost in the woods and run into problems, but these were local folks, lived here for years. And - oh, I don't know."
"What?" Dean prompted.
"Well, they're saying the people who died all had heart attacks," Peggy said. "But one of them was a college student - she was only twenty-one. And with three deaths in a month... people talk. There've been rumors about those woods for years." She flushed and looked down at the table. "Silly local superstitions, you might say."
"I don't know about that," Dean said, trying to keep his interest subtle. "Seems to me there's always some reason for local superstitions. What are the rumors about?"
"People say they see lights out there, sometimes," Peggy admitted. "They say there're places in the woods where compasses don't work properly, just lead you off in the wrong direction or spin round and round. Every so often someone'll come out of the woods and not remember a thing that happened since they went in."
"Wow," Dean said. "Anything like that ever happen to you?"
"Like I say, hiking isn't my thing," Peggy said with a smile. "I stay out of the woods." Her smile faded slightly. "But my brother-in-law, he went hiking out there once, not long after he moved here. He was gone a whole weekend, my sister was near out of her mind with worry. When he came back... he couldn't remember a thing. Doctors said he must have hit his head: they called it amnesia, said that was why he was so confused, but there wasn't a mark on him. He won't set foot in those woods these days."
"It really does sound like a dangerous place to go hiking," Dean said slowly.
"People dying is new," Peggy said. "We never had that before - oh, a couple of deaths, maybe, years and years back, but nothing like this. People getting lost, getting confused, sure, but not dying. It never seemed all that serious until now." She lowered her voice, leaning forward. "There's some that say the government's up to something out there - experiments or something - and that's what's causing it all." She straightened again, glancing over at the counter, where a customer was now waiting to be served. "At any rate, you might be better off sticking to the woods near one of the other lakes. And now I'd better be getting back to work." She slid back out of the booth.
"Thanks, Peggy, I appreciate your help," Dean said warmly.
He sipped his coffee and read through the articles again, more slowly this time. Lights in the woods sounded like will-o'-the-wisps, maybe; that might also explain the confusion Peggy had referred to. But something about that theory just didn't sit right.
He left Peggy a large tip and headed out to find the local library.
The library turned out to be well-stocked with newspaper archives and Dean spent the morning ploughing through them. He didn't much enjoy this part of the job without Sam or Dad. They both liked research, could happily spend hours on it. Having to do it all himself - he was capable enough, but hell, Dean considered himself a man of action. And short of luring the cute reference librarian into a dark corner of the stacks, Dean didn't think he was going to find much action here.
Dull or not, by the time lunchtime rolled around, Dean was feeling fairly satisfied with the information he'd found. He'd learned that, in addition to the college student, the other two people to die in the woods recently had been a thirty-year-old jogger and a local businessman. There was no obvious connection between them, except for the way they'd died. He'd also been interested to learn that the college student's boyfriend was one of the missing people. They'd been out in the woods together.
His research had also confirmed most of what Peggy had told him. There were several articles dealing with the strange rumors about the woods near Fernan Lake - strange flashes of light, compasses not working properly. He'd dismissed the government conspiracy theory immediately: people tended to find it easier to believe in that kind of thing than in the supernatural - too much time spent watching The X-Files, maybe. But the more he'd read, the more he'd come to the conclusion that whatever was going on didn't sound like will-o'-the-wisps. The descriptions given by people in interviews weren't like those he'd seen on other jobs.
He'd even managed to track down the deaths from 'years and years back' that Peggy had referred to in passing. A few people had died in the woods over the years, but in most cases there had been a clear cause of death. Back in 1979, though, there had been five mysterious deaths - two of them, like the current cases, with no obvious cause of death. The other three bodies had been badly mutilated, with fevered speculation in the local newspaper about whether a dangerous animal was on the prowl in the woods, or whether there might be a more human predator out there. No explanation had ever been found, but after that spate of deaths, the woods had been quiet again.
Dean shot one last appreciative grin at the reference librarian and gathered up his research.
If his dad had been there, he'd have insisted on tracking down the families of some of the victims and trying to get more information from them. If Sam had been there, he'd have insisted they needed more of an idea about what they were dealing with before they went plunging into anything.
But Dean was alone. And as far as he was concerned, it was time to go to the source.
He left the car parked off the side of the road, far enough out of town that no one was likely to come across it. He double-checked his pockets - cell phone, compass, map, gun, salt, holy water, drinking water, M&Ms... all the essentials - and set off into the woods.
He'd researched the exact locations where the bodies had been found and now he headed in that direction, keeping a sharp eye on his compass as well as the woods around him.
What he'd told Peggy about liking trees had been bullshit, of course. Dean preferred towns, for the simple reason that they tended to offer more in the way of coffee and alcohol and cute reference librarians with dark hair and bright eyes. But there were things he liked about being outside of civilization, like the way the fake veneer of normality fell away. People spent their lives turning on the lights to keep from being afraid of the dark, and Dean always took a savage sort of satisfaction in the way that all disappeared out in the woods. It might not be safe, but at least it was honest, and Dean would take facing up to the reality of the way the world was ahead of running off to college and pretending to be normal any day.
"Not naming any names, of course, Sam," he muttered under his breath, taking an obscure comfort in the childishness of it, as if Sam were there to bitch at him for being a jerk.
It was only mid-afternoon and the woods weren't as dark as he'd expected, sunlight filtering down among the leaves and tinting the world green. Dean hummed Blue Oyster Cult songs as he walked along, trying not to wish that Sam or his dad were there to talk to. Trees were goddamn boring.
He'd been walking for just over an hour when the compass needle suddenly spun through three hundred and sixty degrees. Dean stopped and stared at it, then looked around warily. Trees and more trees: there didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary about this spot. He eyed the compass again. The needle had stopped spinning now, but it was pointing in a completely different direction than it had before.
"Well, shit," Dean muttered, and stowed the compass back in his pocket, figuring it was more likely to be a hindrance than help in finding his way at this stage. It was just as well he'd found out about that phenomenon before heading out. He imagined someone not watching their compass so intently and being led in completely the wrong direction. The number of people who'd gotten lost out in these woods no longer seemed so surprising.
The weird deaths, though, and the lights. It didn't explain that. Or why the compass was acting screwy in the first place.
Dean continued in the direction it had been pointing before it began spinning. He wasn't planning on going too far, not when he couldn't count on finding his way back, and especially not when it was likely to start getting dark soon, but he wasn't ready to give up quite yet.
Ten minutes later, he stopped again and stared around. He figured it would probably be a bad idea to keep going at this point: there was still no sign of anything weird, apart from the compass, and he thought he'd be better off coming back out again the next morning - this time maybe with a ball of twine, like some kid going into a labyrinth, so he could find his way back.
He was turning to head back, orienting himself carefully, when he saw the lights.
They were over to his left, only partially visible through the trees: brilliant flashes of red and blue and a sickly shade of green. Dean stared at them. Okay, definitely not will-o'-the-wisps. The way these lights moved... He chewed on his lip, thinking. On the one hand, he really wanted to get a closer look at them and try to figure out what they were. On the other hand, there was a damn good chance that something was trying to lure him off course and get him hopelessly lost.
Then someone started screaming.
Dean swore and started running in the direction of the lights, gun in hand. The screaming didn't stop. It might be a trap, but Dean couldn't take the risk, not if someone really might be enduring that much pain.
It had cut out by the time he drew closer, close enough to see the dark figures who were shooting the jets of light at each other. For a moment, Dean wondered if they were shades of some kind, before one of them turned and he got a clearer view.
They were human.
Dean dropped to the ground, staying behind cover as best he could while trying to get a good enough view to figure out what was going on. He peered from behind a bush, parting the leaves to see better.
They were definitely human, dressed in weird black robes and wearing creepy-ass masks that hid their faces. The robes reminded Dean horribly of the necromancer he'd run into three weeks earlier, but he forced himself to stay calm and recognize the differences. Necromancers didn't go in for masks like that, and they weren't exactly the kind to work together, either.
Because now that he was closer, it was clear that these figures weren't attacking each other - they were working together to attack something or someone else out of Dean's view. The jets of light were coming from something in their hands, like short st-
Oh, you gotta be kidding me. What the hell?
Dean kept low against the ground but crept forward, trying to get a better look at what was going on and what the jets of light coming from the 'wands' - he had to be wrong, he couldn't even think the word with a straight face - were being aimed at. It was hard to stay out of sight with the masked figures moving around, but he didn't want to go charging in without a better idea of what they were doing. Especially considering the screaming he'd heard before. Then again, the screaming was the reason he had to see what was happening.
His breath caught as he finally spotted the target: there were two girls on the other side of the clearing, his age or slightly younger, also wearing dark robes but unmasked. One was lying sprawled on the forest floor, unconscious or dead, her red hair stained darker with the blood that was slipping across her face. The other was crouching over her, wild blonde hair hiding her face as she fumbled with something around the other girl's neck.
One of the masked figures yelled something that sounded like Latin, and a jet of purple light shot from its wand and hit the blonde girl. She cried out as it knocked her backwards, away from her friend, and Dean could see blood dripping from a deep cut in one of her arms.
That was enough for Dean. He had a pretty good idea now who was responsible for the deaths and disappearances in these woods, and he wasn't about to stand back and let them kill another two people.
He brought his gun up, but before he could shoot, one of the dark figures yelled something that sounded freakily like 'Abracadabra' and sent sickly green light shooting towards the unmoving red-haired girl.
The blonde had ripped something from around her own neck, however - a chain or a necklace, maybe, from the glimpse Dean got - and she threw it at her friend, a moment faster. Her aim was good: it landed on the other girl's chest.
And the red-head vanished, the green light smashing into the ground where she'd been lying instead.
The blonde had managed to get to her knees now, and Dean saw that she was holding a wand of her own in her uninjured hand. He hesitated. If she was one of them too, should he really intervene?
She made a swift, complicated gesture with her wand, her lips shaping something Dean couldn't hear, and silver light flooded from her wand, engulfing one of the masked figures, who shrieked and vanished. The three remaining figures snarled and raised their own wands, and Dean saw the girl take a deep breath, lifting her head with a dignified calm that surprised him. Her eyes seemed very large in her pale face.
She's a witch or something, Dean told himself. For all you know, she's as bad as the rest of them. For all you know, she deserves it. Stay out of it.
That calm expression, though...
His first shot took one of the masked figures through the shoulder, knocking them to the ground, and he caught sight of the girl rolling clear of another flash of green light and then pushing herself up, staring in his direction. He didn't let himself get distracted, however - he shot the second masked figure in the arm. It was fucking annoying that they were human, because shots like that were stupid. Dean knew how good he was with a gun, but he also knew how risky it was, shooting to not kill. Humans were an all-around pain in the ass when it came to hunting. Give him a poltergeist any day of the week.
The third figure disappeared with a panicked cry as he turned his gun on it, before he could even shoot, and Dean blinked, staring at the empty space where it had been standing. He recognized his mistake immediately, seeing the second figure he'd taken out raising its wand again out of the corner of his eye, but he was turning too slowly to shoot it first -
A wave of red light struck the masked figure and it collapsed, the wand slipping out of its fingers and rolling across the forest floor. Dean snapped his head round and stared at the girl, who had turned her attention to the remaining masked figure, slumped on the ground. She raised her wand, opening her mouth, but the figure disappeared before she could say anything.
Dean stared around for a moment, and then pointed his gun at the girl.
She was watching him now, her wand aimed at him, and ridiculous though it was to feel threatened by a piece of wood, Dean had seen what she could do with it and he really didn't like it. She might have saved his life by taking out the masked figure that had been about to attack him, but that didn't mean much.
The girl frowned at him slightly, as if he'd said something that had confused her, and lowered her wand. "Are you Martin?"
Dean stared at her, not lowering his gun yet. Her accent was weird... British, maybe? "What?"
"Martin," the girl said patiently, as if they were having the conversation over coffee in a diner. "Are you Martin Miggs?"
"...No," Dean said, and finally lowered his gun. She seemed far too calm to be about to try to kill him. "Is that who you were looking for? Who are you?"
"Oh no, I wasn't looking for Martin," the girl said serenely. "I just thought, with the gun, you might be him. It's still nice to meet you, though." She frowned down at her injured arm as if wondering what had happened to it.
"Who are you?" Dean demanded again, trying not to get side-tracked. He started walking cautiously across the clearing towards her. "What are you doing out here? What the hell's going on?"
The girl looked up at him again, unblinking. "I'm Luna. Luna Lovegood. And I think... I think a Wrackspurt may have caught me."
Before Dean could even try to make any sense out of that, her eyes rolled back and she collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
The cut on her arm looked nasty, particularly since he didn't have a first-aid kit with him. He wasn't sure whether it was what had made her pass out or not, though. It was bleeding pretty heavily, but hardly 'spurting'. Assuming that was even what she'd been talking about.
Then again, people said some pretty weird things when they were on the verge of passing out. Sam had once sworn blind, past the point of all reason, that Dean had dyed his hair blond while they'd been separated - for five minutes, and in a haunted house without working plumbing, so when and where Dean was meant to have done it only Sam knew - and Dean had been on the point of demanding to know whether his brother needed his eyes tested when Sam had taken a swandive, which had at least cleared up that mystery. So maybe the girl had just been talking nonsense.
He ripped off the tattered sleeve of her robe and used it to bandage the wound, the best he could do until they got back to the Impala. Assuming they made it back. Dean no longer knew which direction he'd come running from when he'd seen the lights, and he couldn't trust his compass. On the other hand, he didn't want to just hang around when there was a chance the masked figures might come back. And the one still lying there wasn't dead and might wake up from whatever the girl had done to him at any moment.
He swore and levered the girl to her feet, then gave up and hauled her up into his arms. Hopefully she would wake up soon, because he didn't think he could carry her the whole way back to the car, even if he did somehow manage to find the way. He hesitated, then tentatively reached down for her wand, bracing himself, half-expecting it to give him an electric shock. But he felt nothing when he touched it. Oddly, that seemed even less reassuring. He slid it into his pocket anyway, readjusted his grip on the girl, and set off, judging the direction as best he could.
By the time she sighed a little and opened her eyes ten minutes later, Dean had long since reached the conclusion that he was hopelessly lost, and it was a relief to have a distraction. He lowered her to the ground and fished out his bottle of drinking water.
"Hey. You awake?"
She looked at him with a vagueness that made him worry she might be worse injured than he'd thought. "Oh. Martin."
"Not Martin," Dean said. "Dean. Here, have some water."
She took a sip and blinked at him. "You don't look like Dean. Do you draw, too?"
"...No," Dean said. "I'm - another Dean, I guess."
"Oh. What do you do, then?" the girl asked conversationally.
Man, shouldn't she be making more sense now she's awake? "I - I hunt. Look, who are you?"
"I told you, I'm Luna," she said. "You got rid of the Wrackspurt, didn't you? Thank you, Dean."
Deciding that debating that issue was only going to derail the conversation further, Dean said, "You're welcome. So what are you, Luna? A witch, or something?"
"Yes, I'm a witch," Luna said. She was watching him with an uncomfortably direct gaze now. "And you're a Muggle, aren't you? I wasn't very good at Muggle Studies, I'm afraid."
God, I hate witches. Though since when do witches really wave goddamn wands about? His train of thought was interrupted again, though. "Muggle?"
"A non-wizard," Luna said. "Is there a reason we're sitting in the middle of the woods? I'm sure they're nice woods, but the Death Eaters will probably come back."
Death Eaters? "I - we're lost. My compass won't show the right way out here -" Dean paused. "Which, I'm guessing, is down to something you lot have done, yeah? Any chance you could sort that out, sweetheart? Because we could be sitting out in these woods for a good long while, otherwise."
He took satisfaction in seeing Luna blink in confusion for once. "There..." She hesitated, frowning, before suddenly nodding as if she'd figured something out. "There's a house near here - hidden from Muggles. There are protections against Muggle devices. Do you have my wand?"
Dean eyed her. "In my pocket. But why should I give it to you?"
"People have been known to lose body parts, carrying wands in their pockets," Luna said dreamily. "Sometimes quite important body parts."
Dean pulled out the wand hastily. Luna smiled at him, and he honestly couldn't tell whether she was laughing at him or not.
"I can find the way, if you give it to me," she said. "Or we could sit here a while longer. These really are nice woods." She looked around with apparently genuine interest.
Dean shook his head and passed her the wand. They were going to wander around forever if they couldn't find a way out, and he didn't think he'd be able to handle her weird style of conversation for that long.
Luna balanced the wand carefully on her palm and whispered, "Point me."
Dean watched skeptically, then felt his mouth drop open as the wand spun of its own accord to point in a different direction. He shut his mouth again immediately - it was stupid, after the fight he'd just seen, to be weirded out by sight of something as minor as that, but there was something creepier about it than the jets of light they'd all been shooting around the place.
"That's north," Luna said brightly. "Which way do we have to go?"
It took more than two hours in the dark to reach the Impala, and by the time they got there Luna was almost out again, stumbling along. Dean had been forced to wrap his arm around her to support her, against his better judgment. It saved on time wasted when she stopped to apologize to the trees she bumped into, though.
Yeah, Dean wasn't even going to think about that one.
He opened the back door of the car and lowered her onto the bench seat, returning a few moments later with the first-aid kit. He unwrapped the robe from around her arm and examined the wound. It could probably use a few stitches, but it could wait until -
...Was he seriously planning to take her back to the motel to patch her up? Dean bit his lip and stared at the girl slumped in the back seat. Disturbing though the idea was, he could only imagine the havoc Luna would manage to cause at a hospital. He might be able to explain away her strange clothes and accent, but not so much her... general weirdness. Besides, he still didn't really know what was going on in the woods. From what she'd said, those masked figures might come back any time, and he still didn't know who they were or what they wanted.
...Son of a bitch.
Dean pushed the girl properly into the car and closed the door, then climbed in the front. It was going to be a long night.
Cleaning the wound took him a while: traipsing through the woods hadn't done it any good, despite his makeshift bandage.
"Shouldn't it be healing by now?"
Dean looked up, startled; he hadn't realized she was conscious. Luna was watching him with mild interest.
"I'm just cleaning it," Dean said, clearing his throat. "I think it may need stitches."
"I've seen stitches before," Luna said gravely. "But I still have my wand. I'm sure I'll be strong enough to heal it in the morning."
Dean stared at her. "What, just like that? A wave of the wand, and that's it?"
"Normally we use potions," Luna said. "But there's a lot you can do with a wand. Of course, you can only heal yourself up to a certain point. Then you're in too much pain to concentrate properly, and it can get a bit counterproductive. But once I've had some sleep I'm sure I'll manage."
Dean gave up. Potions? Wands? Magical healing? He wasn't going to deal with any of that shit tonight. "Fine, whatever." He slapped a clean bandage on her arm; let her worry about it in the morning with her hocus pocus.
"Is this your home?" Luna asked, glancing around.
"No," Dean said. "It's a motel." At her frown, he added, "Like... a place where you rent a room."
"Oh, I see," Luna said, her frown evaporating. "We have them too, we just don't call them that. Do you mind if I stay here tonight?"
Dean looked at her arm. "You can stay." He looked up sharply at her face. "You can stay because I've got a lot of questions I want answered, sweetheart. And in the morning you're going to answer them. Got that?"
"Yes," Luna agreed calmly. "Thank you." She reached down and began to maneuver the weird black robe she was wearing carefully over her arm and head. Dean shut his mouth with a snap and turned away quickly, caught off-guard. Then glanced over his shoulder, sneaking a peek at pale skin marred by an occasional bruise and a long, thin scar down her back. He made himself look away again.
Once she was safely - albeit nakedly, Jesus, though he should have been expecting it, since she hadn't exactly had a suitcase of clothes with her - beneath the covers, Dean snapped off the lights and quickly stripped down to his shorts, feeling oddly exposed even though there was no way Luna could see anything. He wasn't really planning to sleep, not with some crazy chick in the room with him and no one there to watch his back, but if he pretended, he stood a better chance of avoiding any more weird conversations with her.
"Don't go trying any hocus pocus on me in the middle of the night," he warned her gruffly, sliding into his own bed.
"I won't," she said seriously.
It shouldn't have reassured him, but it did. Dean lay there and listened to her breathing as it smoothed out. It was weird, having someone sleeping in the same room as him again. He'd picked up a few chicks since... well, since, but he'd taken very few of them back to his room, and none had stayed the night.
Would it be so bad if he closed his eyes? She'd saved his life back in those woods, probably, even if he had returned the favour. If she'd been going to abracadabra him, she could have done it back there.
Anyway. Even if she did, would it really matter?
It was the whisper that woke him the next morning - words that his half-asleep mind didn't understand, but he knew there shouldn't be any words being whispered in his motel room. He jolted to a sitting position, knife already in his hand.
The girl was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the other bed, holding her wand against the arm that had been injured. Even as Dean watched, though, she lowered the wand again, her arm unmarked as if nothing had ever happened. She looked up at Dean and smiled.
"Good morning. That's an interesting knife."
Dean reluctantly stuck it back under his pillow. Luna smiled wider and tucked her wand behind her ear. Dean narrowed his eyes - it wasn't coincidence that she'd put her weapon away as soon as he had his. He was quickly coming to the conclusion that, weird or not, this girl wasn't half as oblivious to what was going on around her as she seemed.
"How's your arm?" he asked, after an awkward moment's silence.
"Oh, it's fine now, thanks," Luna said, glancing down at it.
"Useful trick," Dean observed, thinking back to a dozen times when he or his father had been injured and he would have killed for that ability.
"I'm no Healer," Luna confessed. "All I really know is basic first-aid and few tricks I've picked up. But it's a handy skill to have, especially these days."
"About that," Dean started, then stopped. There was no way he could handle all of this without something to eat. "On second thought, you hungry?"
"A bit, yes," she said. "We didn't have much chance to eat, the last few days."
"Okay." Dean eyed her. "Can I trust you to stay here and not cause any trouble while I grab a shower? And then we can go find somewhere to eat, and you can fill me in on what the hell is going on here."
Luna smiled again. "I'll be good."
Well, she hadn't killed him in his sleep, so it was probably safe enough. Dean slid out of bed and headed for the bathroom, only to stutter to a halt halfway there, suddenly realizing - at the feeling of her eyes on him - that he was only wearing his shorts. He hastily grabbed a change of clothes from his bag and shut the bathroom door behind him, all without looking back.
The diner was almost deserted, much to Dean's relief: Luna was taking everything in with an undisguised curiosity that was bound to attract attention. And that wasn't even taking into account what she was wearing. Dean had finally made her put his leather jacket on over her robes, in the hope of passing them off as a dress or something. With that and the wand - now stuck in her hair, which she'd put up in some weird knot - Dean was just relieved that there weren't more people around to stare at them.
"So," Dean said, to take his mind off the way she looked with his jacket almost swallowing her up. "You owe me a lot of answers, sweetheart."
Luna nodded and took a sip of orange juice. "I suppose so. Where do you want me to start?"
"How about you tell me what you were doing out in those woods, and who the guys in black were?" Dean suggested.
"They were Death Eaters," Luna said.
Dean raised his eyebrows expectantly. "I'm guessing you don't mean cannibals."
Luna looked thoughtful. "Not that I'm aware of. Although with some of them it might explain a thing or two. No, the Death Eaters are the followers of the Dark Lord..."
The explanation was long and complicated, even without taking into account Luna's habit of going off on strange tangents. Finally Dean held up a hand to stop her. "Okay, hold up. Let me see if I've got this straight. So there's, like, a whole wizarding world out there and right now it's at war because some asshole with a thing for melodramatic titles wants to take over?"
"I can't tell you his name," Luna said. "They put a curse on it, so they would know every time someone said it. Though it wasn't his real name anyway. It seems silly to go to all the trouble of changing your name if you're not going to let anyone use the new one afterwards. He could have just stuck with his real name. But the Dark Lord can be a bit stupid sometimes."
"...Right," Dean said. "So this 'Dark Lord' decides it would be great if nobody could kill him, and basically chops up bits of his soul?" It sounded weird, but Dean had seen too many fucked-up things over the years to disbelieve her because of that alone.
"They get stored in objects," Luna said gravely. "He can't be killed unless we find and destroy all of them. Some of them we've already dealt with - an old diary and a ring. Some of them haven't been found, but we know what they are, or think we do. Harry -"
"That's your friend, the kid you said he didn't manage to kill," Dean interrupted, double-checking he was still following her wandering explanation.
"Yes, that's right," Luna said. "Harry Potter. Harry can't leave the country at the moment - he and his friends have been in hiding for almost five years now, trying to avoid being captured and to find the other Horcruxes. He's the only one who can kill the Dark Lord. So we came to -"
"Whoa, hold it," Dean interrupted again, his attention still caught by what she'd just said. "They're trying to find what?"
"The Horcruxes," Luna repeated. "That's what the objects bound to the bits of soul are called."
Dean stared at her. "A whore-crux? You've gotta be kidding me."
Luna blinked at him serenely, just the faintest upturn at the corner of her mouth to hint that she might understand his reaction. "Harry and his friends have found and destroyed a few of them already," she went on. "But there are a few we haven't found yet. We think the Dark Lord gave one to Bellatrix Lestrange for safe-keeping - she's one of his most loyal followers, a very powerful witch. And a bit crazy."
"And you think she brought it here? Why here?" Dean demanded, regretfully tabling his Horcrux jokes for the time being.
"We think she kept whatever it is in her bank vault to begin with," Luna said. "But when she realized Harry knew about it, she escaped with it. We don't know for certain whether she brought it here, but she and her husband have three houses in your country. It's... difficult to get in and out of Britain at the moment, so we think she decided that taking it out of the country was the safest way to keep it away from us."
"And one of these houses is out in the woods near here," Dean said. "So you and your friend -" He noticed the flicker of pain that passed over Luna's face, but kept going. "- You were checking out the house. Did you find the... the whore - Did you find it?"
"No," Luna said quietly, looking down at her glass. "We were still searching when the Death Eaters - the Dark Lord's followers - found us. We tried to get away - we wanted to go back later, try again - but there were too many of them, and one of them managed to hit Ginny with an Unforgivable Curse."
Dean couldn't help but feel sorry at the look on Luna's face. "She gonna be okay?"
Luna turned her glass around and around. "I don't know. I activated my Portkey - it's a magical object which transports you over long distances. It should have taken her back to Britain, to a safe place. They'll do what they can to help her."
"Hey, you healed your cut like it was nothing," Dean reminded her, wondering why he was trying to cheer her up. "I bet she'll be fine."
Luna shook her head slowly. "The curse they used on her... it causes pain. Imagine the most pain you've ever felt in your entire life, and then multiply it by... a lot."
Dean couldn't help but remember the necromancer he'd run into three weeks ago. The scar on the back of his neck seemed to burn again as he thought about it.
"Concentrated pain," Luna said, barely above a whisper. "It drives the victim mad, sooner or later. The Death Eaters held it on her for... a minute or two, I don't know how long exactly. She was screaming." She lifted her glass and took another sip of her juice. "So I don't know if she'll be okay. I hope so. Ginny's a good friend. But I've no way to get in touch with anyone to find out."
Dean took a swallow of his coffee. It wasn't like there was anything he could say to make it better.
"So," he said after a moment. "What's your plan now? Head back home?"
"No," Luna said. "I have to go back to the house and look again."
Dean frowned at her. "How do you know the guys in the masks won't come back again?"
"I don't," Luna said. "But I need to find out whether the Horcrux is there or not."
Dean thought about it, then shrugged. Wasn't like it was any of his business, whether she wanted to get herself killed or not. On the other hand, he was there to stop any more innocent people from getting murdered by witches and evil wizards and whatever the fuck else.
"Fine," he said shortly, setting his cup down on the table with a hard clack. "We'll both go."
Luna met his eyes, looking surprised for the first time since he'd met her. "Why?"
"People have been dying in those woods," Dean reminded her. "I want it stopped. You're a witch, right? There's got to be something you can do."
Luna looked thoughtful. "I might be able to tamper with the protections on the house..."
"Right," Dean said, and got to his feet. "So let's go."
The walk through the woods took a while, and the way Luna kept her wand in her hand made Dean even more nervous, even if she just seemed to be using it to figure out what direction they should be going.
Dean didn't break the silence between them, busy thinking about what she'd told him. Crazy though it was, he believed her. He'd seen too many fucked-up things to discount it just because of how weird it was. And the fight he'd witnessed did a lot to sell her story. Fine. It didn't mean he was about to start trusting her. Even if she was on the 'good' side of whatever crazy war was going on in her world, it didn't change the fact that she was a witch. And Dean wasn't about to start trusting goddamn witches any time soon.
Luna paused and Dean eyed her edgily. "What?"
"The clearing where we fought the Death Eaters should be just up ahead," Luna said. "It would be safer to circle round it, but I'd like to check whether our things are still there."
"Things?" Dean asked warily.
"Belongings," Luna said vaguely. "Supplies." She started moving again, wand still in her hand.
Dean muttered a curse under his breath and went with her, pulling out his gun.
The clearing was deserted, but Luna didn't appear to relax, and Dean couldn't either, not with the memory of the way the masked figures had just vanished the day before. He figured he couldn't count on seeing or hearing them approaching through the woods.
Damn, but he hated magic.
Luna was looking around, her expression distracted. She moved to the side of the clearing where she'd fought the day before, and he saw her eyes land on the bloodstained ground where her friend had been lying. She didn't say anything, however, just continued on, studying the ground now. Dean followed, splitting his attention between keeping an eye on her and watching out for evil magicians teleporting in.
Luna paused at the far edge of the clearing, crouching down and parting the bushes, standing up again a moment later with two small bags in her hand. Her attention was on the ground again, and she walked slowly around the edge of the clearing.
"What are you looking for?" Dean asked finally.
"Ginny's wand," Luna replied. "It might not be here any more, if the Death Eaters came back and found it, but..." She paused, then flourished her own wand. "Accio, Ginny's wand!"
Dean took an involuntary step back as a wand flew out of a crack between two tree roots and into Luna's hand.
"That must come in handy when you lose your keys," he said, trying not to let it unsettle him too much.
"You Muggles use keys more than we do," Luna said. "We usually stick to locking charms." She smiled at him, slipping the wand into one of the bags, then one bag inside the other. The remaining bag she slung over her shoulder and onto her back. "The house is this way."
It was hard to follow her now, somehow. It wasn't like he couldn't see where she was going, but there was no path, and the trees and bushes seemed to be doing their best to thwart him. He kept going off-track.
"Oh," Luna said suddenly, coming back to his side. "Is it hard for you to find your way?"
"No," Dean said defiantly. Damned if he was going to let her show him up. "It's just a bit tricky to see the wood for the trees out here."
Luna blinked at him, but before he could properly savor the triumph of confusing her for once, she said, "You should hold my hand."
Dean stared at her. "Um, not that I'm complaining, sweetheart, but we only just met."
"Don't worry, you don't need to be shy," Luna said, catching hold of his hand and interlacing her fingers with his. "You're not a wizard, so the protections on the house are trying to turn you away. If we hold hands, the house knows you're with me and leaves you in peace."
She started walking again and Dean went with her, trying not to think about the cool hand in his.
"Thought there'd be more hocus-pocus involved," he muttered. "Not just holding hands."
"Holding hands can be very powerful," Luna said dreamily. "Like the old handfasting ceremonies when people got married..."
Dean only just stopped himself from yanking his hand away. "What?"
"Besides, just casting a spell wouldn't have been nearly as much fun," Luna said.
Dean looked at her suspiciously, but her serene expression gave nothing away.