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.
The house didn't look anything like what he'd expected. With all the talk of evil wizards and crazy witches, he'd been picturing... towers, maybe. Dungeons. Gargoyles. But it was just a house. Kind of a big one for the middle of a forest, but just a house.
Dean cleared his throat and looked at Luna. "What now?"
Luna's head was tilted to one side as she stared at the house. "We need to get inside."
Dean frowned and looked at the house more closely. "The door's right there. I can probably pick the lock if I have to." He paused, belatedly remembering what Luna had said about keys. "Except it's magic, right? So I guess you're on your own with that after all." Goddamn, he hated how useless he felt when it came to all this magical bullshit.
"I can't tell if the Death Eaters are inside," Luna said, tilting her head to the other side. "Or if they're somewhere nearby, waiting..."
Huh. Maybe he wasn't completely useless after all. Investigating hostile territory was something Dean did know a thing or two about.
"We should circle around once, check if we can see anything through the windows, or hear anything," Dean suggested. "Then if it seems clear we could go in the back way - check the place out fast to make sure it's clear before you start searching or whatever."
Luna nodded her head gravely and started moving.
They stuck close to the trees, keeping behind cover as best they could while retaining a decent view of the house. There were no lights visible through the window, which didn't particularly surprise Dean - it was still broad daylight, and though the woods probably cut off a fair bit of light to the house, he didn't think it was dark enough to make someone turn on a light. But there was no sign of movement, either. Unless there was some kind of magic illusion going on, Dean reckoned there was a fair chance the house was deserted.
Then again, Luna and her friend had presumably thought so the day before, too, and that hadn't turned out so well.
Luna looked at him, her gaze questioning, and Dean felt a shock of something in the pit of his stomach. She was asking his opinion. Trusting his judgment. She was acting like he was an ally.
He shut that away to think about later, and gave her a simple nod in response. Luna nodded back, her grip tightening on her wand. Dean checked his gun was loaded, and then they ran quietly across the clearing to the back door of the house.
Luna immediately turned her attention to the door, whispering under her breath and flicking her wand. Dean kept his focus on the woodland behind them, in case any of the Death Eaters decided to put in an appearance now they were in the open. But there was nothing.
A moment later, the door swung open. Luna whispered to him, "The locking spells haven't been changed at all. I don't think the Death Eaters have been inside."
"Safer to check it out anyway," Dean told her, taking a cautious step inside the house.
The interior was much closer to what Dean had subconsciously been expecting: cobwebs and drapes covering paintings, horrifying, heavy old furniture, creaky floorboards.
Luna closed the door carefully behind them. "Don't touch anything," she whispered. "There are traps."
Dean rolled his eyes. Yeah, of course there were.
They stuck together as they checked the rooms on the ground floor, making sure no nasty surprises were lying in wait. It would have been quicker to split up, but Dean figured that they were better prepared to deal with anything they ran across if they had both a gun and a wand on hand.
It didn't come to that, though. A quick check upstairs and down showed that, as far as they could tell without investigating every evil-looking wardrobe, the place was deserted. "So how are you meant to find your whore-thingy?" Dean asked, when he was finally satisfied they were alone.
"I searched downstairs yesterday," Luna said, looking around distractedly. "Ginny was looking upstairs, but I don't know if she finished before we were interrupted. I should check all the rooms up here again."
Dean nodded. He wasn't exactly happy about hanging around the creepy-ass house for that long, but what the hell, it wasn't like he hadn't been in worse. "Fine. What does it look like?"
"I don't know," Luna said.
Dean paused and turned to stare at her. "You've got to be kidding me. You're searching for something and you don't even know what it looks like?"
"You could say that," Luna said serenely. She looked up a moment later, as if his incredulous stare had finally penetrated whatever crazy daze she was in. "Harry and the others did have a few theories, though. It might be Helga Hufflepuff's cup - she was a very important witch, a long time ago. It would be made of gold... Or something that once belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw. But it could be something else entirely, we don't know for certain."
Dean rubbed his forehead. "So you want me to look around here for a gold cup, or hell, anything that looks like it might be full of dark magic, is that what you're saying?"
"Oh, no," Luna said, sounding surprised. "This house belongs to the Lestranges. Just about everything here will be full of dark magic."
"Great," Dean muttered, taking a wary step away from the shelf he'd been peering at. "How about I just keep watch for someone coming?"
"Thank you," Luna said warmly, as if he were being helpful instead of being out-maneuvered. "I wouldn't like to be surprised again."
Dean positioned himself next to the nearest window, careful to keep just enough to the side that he was less likely to be seen if someone was watching. He studied the treeline for a moment then, satisfied that no one seemed to be sneaking up on them just yet, angled himself to watch Luna work.
He'd expected her to search methodically, checking one shelf or cupboard before moving on to the next, but he guessed he ought to know better by now than to try to predict anything Luna would do. Her method of searching seemed almost scatter-brained: examining an item here, then one in another area of the room, waving her wand at nothing in particular every so often.
Then again, he'd been starting to suspect that Luna wasn't quite as crazy as she seemed. Or at least, not quite as stupid or unaware - she was still plenty weird. But he had a feeling there was method to her madness, even in this. She was picking objects to examine based on something; it wasn't random. He didn't bother to ask what her criteria were, though. No doubt some magical shit that he wouldn't understand.
He glanced out the window again, but there was still no sign of anyone. Maybe the Death Eaters didn't know they were there. Or maybe they'd been badly enough hurt that they weren't about to go hunting for Luna any more.
Luna lowered her wand, and he looked at her expectantly. She didn't answer his silent question, simply moved on to the next room. Dean sighed and followed.
It took her almost an hour to search the top level of the house using her own peculiar technique. Dean was almost relieved when she finally stopped and said, "It's not here."
Dean thought about asking how she could be so sure when she didn't even know what it looked like, but he didn't bother. Instead he said, "You were going to do something to stop people from getting killed in these woods."
"I can't stop that," Luna said, with unusual directness. She met his eyes gravely. "As long as the Death Eaters keep coming here, people will be in danger. I can't stop it. But I might be able to keep people from coming too close - that would at least reduce the danger."
Dean grimaced. He wasn't exactly happy about that, but the very directness of Luna's answer convinced him that she understood how important this was to him, and was telling the truth.
She waited for his nod before she led the way back down the stairs. "I'm not really an expert on wards, to be honest," she said conversationally.
That really wasn't what Dean wanted to hear at this point. "Are you saying you don't know how to do this?"
"The house will help me," Luna reassured him.
Before he could figure out what to make of that, she stopped in the middle of the hallway. "This is the center of the house, I think." Her eyes flickered up to his. "You might want to take a step back."
Dean did so, hastily, but it didn't make a difference. When Luna made a flickering movement with her wand and murmured something under her breath, strange strands of colored light began to shimmer into focus, spreading out from where she was standing and out to the edge of the house. Some bits almost looked like shining rope; other bits were knotted or twisted into strange shapes. There was a noose-shaped strand of red light running right past his left leg; Dean grimaced and took a step away.
"Yeah, that's not creepy at all," he observed under his breath.
"They're the various spells protecting the house and the surrounding area," Luna said, sounding more distracted than usual. "I don't recognize all of them - we learned the basics, and Hermione taught us all some more before we came out here, but the Lestranges are very powerful dark wizards..."
"So you're saying there's a chance you could accidentally blow us up or something?" Dean asked, only half-joking.
"Oh, no," Luna said. "I don't think the Lestranges would have anything that could kill someone outright."
"Awesome," Dean said.
"They'd probably want to torture any intruder first," Luna added absently. "That's far more likely."
Once again, Dean was left asking himself whether she did it on purpose. But her attention was now fully on the strands of light emanating from the ground where she was standing, and he shut his mouth.
"This one," Luna said after a moment, gesturing with her wand towards a thin, blue strand. "This is the one that confuses Muggles - sorry, I mean non-wizards - if they come too close to the house. It's what you were feeling out in the clearing before. I'll try to move the boundary further out, then people will wander back out of the woods without getting as close. Hopefully that should keep them out of the Death Eaters' way."
"They'll still get lost, though, won't they?" Dean asked. "That can kill people too."
"I know it's not perfect," Luna admitted, meeting his eyes. "But it's the best I can do. I'll try to set it so it pushes people out of the woods by the most direct route, so they're not left wandering around. But I can't promise anything."
Dean studied her face for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. "Okay. Better than nothing."
Luna closed her eyes for a second, then opened them again and crouched to press the tip of her wand to the strand of blue light, murmuring under her breath. Nothing happened that Dean could see, but after a minute Luna stood up again.
"That's it?" he asked, just a bit incredulous.
"Yes, I'm done," Luna agreed.
"Aren't you going to get rid of all that dark magic shit you were talking about?" Dean said. "You know, torturing people and so on?"
"Oh, no," Luna said, sounding surprised. "I don't know enough about the curses to disable them. Anything could happen. Well, unless you really want me to blow us up, of course. But there are easier ways of doing that."
Something in Dean's expression must have given away his feelings, because Luna suddenly looked more serious, adding, "The best I can do is keep the Muggles away so they won't make it here to be tortured in the first place. I swear, Dean. I've done all I can."
Dean looked at her for a moment, judging her sincerity. She was a witch and he had no real reason to trust her, but he believed her.
"Okay," he said, and saw something relax in her expression. "Can we get out of here, then?"
"Yes," Luna said, taking a step towards him. The strange lights faded and vanished as soon as she moved from where she'd been standing. "Let's go."
Outside the house, Dean looked around uneasily. It didn't feel any different than it had before. "Are you sure what you did worked? I don't feel like I'm being... pushed or anything."
Luna said, "Not yet." She smiled at him, and he knew what she was going to say before she opened her mouth. "Perhaps you should hold my hand ag-"
She cut off mid-word, her eyes widening. Her wand was suddenly in her hand again, and Dean didn't have a chance to do more than think Fuck before she said, "Get down!"
He hit the ground, trusting her in spite of himself, aware of a blue beam of magic shooting from her wand and over his head. He rolled over, pulling out his gun as he did so.
The dark-robed, masked figures he'd seen the day before were standing across the clearing. There were six of them this time, and Dean swore under his breath, firing even as he saw one collapse as the light of Luna's spell hit it.
"Come on," Luna said, sounding as frantic as she ever did. "We need to run for it."
A flash of green light shot towards him, and Dean reacted on instinct, rolling away just in time, watching it crash into the ground where he'd been lying.
"Dean!" Luna cried. "Come on!"
Dean got to his feet and Luna caught his wrist immediately, pulling him out of the clearing and into the woods. He turned and squeezed off two more shots quickly as they retreated, but he couldn't tell whether he'd hit any of the wizards. Then he concentrated on running, Luna's hand still clamped around his wrist.
"We could have taken them," he bit out as they ran, dodging between the trees.
"No," Luna said. She looked frightened for the first time since she'd bent over her friend's bleeding body. "Six is too many. They'd have killed us. Or worse."
"We handled them okay yesterday," Dean objected.
"They didn't see you until it was too late, yesterday," Luna told him. "A gun only helps while it's in your hand, not theirs. Or a wizard could enchant your bullets, if they were fast enough. We wouldn't have won, Dean."
Dean gritted his teeth at the thought of the wizards using magic on his gun. God, he hated magic. "Fine, whatever. How the hell did they get that close without us seeing them?"
"Apparation," Luna said distractedly. "We can use it to transport ourselves from one place to another."
Dean muttered a curse as a branch scratched his forehead, then he suddenly stopped running. "Wait. If you can do shit like that, what the hell are we doing running through the woods?"
Luna had stopped too, standing close enough to keep her grip on his wrist. "Because if I do that, they can track me. It wouldn't help, it would just lead them somewhere where there are other people - Dean, we need to keep moving."
Dean reluctantly started moving again. He couldn't hear anyone following them, but he guessed that didn't mean anything, not when the assholes had magic on their side.
He was proven right five minutes later when a blast of red light shot over his head, missing him by inches. Dean cursed as he ducked, and turned round, pulling free of Luna's grasp to try shooting back, but he couldn't see the wizards.
Luna whispered something he didn't understand, and purple light went sailing from her wand back in the direction the curse had come from. Dean couldn't see any effect, though considering he didn't know what it was meant to do in the first place, he guessed he couldn't judge.
"C'mon, quick," he told Luna. "Let's move."
Luna was back on her feet at once. "Okay." She hesitated for a moment, her eyes studying his face. "You lead the way."
Dean wasn't sure how the hell he was supposed to know which was the right way to go, because she was the one with the twirly wand trick, but he started moving anyway.
And was creeped out to discover that he did know which way to go.
He couldn't explain how he knew; it wasn't anything logical, because this wasn't the direction they'd come from, he knew that much. But his feet took him steadily in a specific direction, and Dean gave up on fighting it and concentrated on trying not to walk into trees and making sure the bad guys behind them weren't getting too close.
Luna followed him, silent and unquestioning as he led the way.
It was a tense while before Dean suddenly stumbled to a halt, the conviction that had guided him that far abruptly gone. "What the..."
Luna looked at him. "We're nearly there, then?"
"I don't know," Dean admitted slowly. "I don't know where the hell we are."
Luna glanced back the way they'd come once, and Dean followed her gaze, but there was no sign of pursuit yet. Then she reached down to take his hand, and led them on in the direction he'd been going. "Come on, then. It should only be another quarter mile."
"Quarter..." Dean trailed off, suddenly remembering what she'd said back in the creepy-ass house. I'll try to set it so it pushes people out of the woods by the most direct route. "You knew! You - you used magic on -"
"I needed to check if it had worked," Luna said serenely. "Didn't you want to be sure?"
Dean glared at her, because he had wanted to be sure, but even so.
"This probably won't bring us out where your car is, but it shouldn't be too far to walk," Luna added.
That made Dean pause. "What if they find my car?"
"We would have to wait until they gave up and left before we rescued it," Luna said.
Dean eyed her. "Rescued it? You think they'd do something to it?" He wasn't sure what the hell evil wizards could come up with to do to his car, but he was grimly certain they'd be able to think of something unpleasant. It never paid to underestimate just how fucked-up the minds of evil sorcerers were.
"A friend of mine enchanted a Muggle car to fly, once," Luna said dreamily, glancing up at the glimpses of sky that could be seen through the treetops.
It wasn't any kind of answer to his question, but Dean felt himself tense anyway. The thought of the bastards flying off in the Impala...
"But I don't think they'll do anything like that," Luna added, her voice comforting. "They're looking for me, and that wouldn't help them."
Dean glared at her. "I'm telling you now so there are no misunderstandings later on, okay? You do not ever work magic on my car. And definitely not to make it fly. Got that?"
Luna blinked at him. "Oh, I don't think I could make it fly. Mr. Weasley must have spent ages on that."
"Good," Dean said, still suspicious.
"Here we are," Luna said, as they emerged from the trees and onto the road. "Let's go and make sure your car hasn't flown off."
They were halfway back to the Impala by the time Dean realized Luna hadn't actually agreed not to perform any other magic on it, and by then there didn't seem to be much point in raising the subject again. He was already starting to learn that it didn't pay to give her any ideas.
Back at the motel, Luna sat down on the bed and started unpacking the contents of the two bags she'd collected out in the clearing, examining things and dividing them into piles. Dean couldn't help but stare, fascinated.
"Are those TARDIS bags, or what?"
Luna looked puzzled. "What?"
It never got old, managing to confuse her as much as she constantly baffled him. "I mean, they're bigger on the inside than the outside, right? You'll be pulling a kitchen sink out of there next."
"Oh no, the sink's inside the tent," Luna said, nodding absently to a small bundle of canvas that was one of the first things she'd pulled out.
Dean eyed it. "That's supposed to be a tent?" He wasn't going anywhere near the sink comment.
"Just a small one," Luna said. "It only has one bedroom. And the kitchen's open plan. It does have a sink, though."
"You're serious," Dean said.
"Well, you need somewhere to do the dishes," Luna said reasonably.
Dean gave up. "What else have you got in there? A cauldron? A broomstick? An orchestra?"
"Shrinking a broomstick's always a bit iffy," Luna said. "They've got so much magic bound up in them, you'd be amazed what can happen. I have some spare clothes, a couple of books, a few potions, some parchment - the essentials, you know."
"Oh, of course," Dean said, wondering what the hell kind of world she came from where parchment was considered an essential. Still, Dean couldn't help but grin slightly at the thought of his father's expression if he ever listed that kind of shit as his kit of essentials. It might almost be worth trying, one day.
Luna began carefully repacking things back into one of the bags. Dean watched her.
"What will you do now?" he asked suddenly. He hadn't realized he was going to ask the question until he heard himself do so.
"Get changed, now I have a change of clothes," Luna said lightly. "Perhaps you could show me how Muggle showers work -"
"You know what I mean," Dean interrupted.
Luna's hands slowed as she finished closing the bag, then she looked up at him, suddenly serious. "I gave Ginny my Portkey."
Dean remembered what she'd said in the diner. It should have taken her back to Britain. "That was your ticket home."
Luna nodded. "It was the only thing to do."
"So you're stuck," Dean said slowly. "I'm guessing you can't just make another one?"
"No," Luna said with a sigh. "Portkeys are very difficult to make, and there are all sorts of conditions about who can make a Portkey going where. It would have to be made by someone in Britain."
"But you can get hold of someone, right?" Dean asked. "Grab a crystal ball or whatever you witches use and get someone to bring one out for you?"
"We use owls, mostly," Luna said absently. Dean decided to assume that didn't mean what it sounded like, but Luna was still talking. "Or use the Floo system to make a firecall. But that's too risky. There's too great a chance my message would be intercepted - wizarding Britain is at war right now. And if the Death Eaters we ran into are tracking me..."
Dean straightened. "You think they are?"
"They'll try," Luna said calmly. "But I don't think they'll come here today. They're not very familiar with the Muggle world. The people here are safe for the moment."
"For the moment," Dean repeated.
Luna nodded, obviously conscious of his emphasis. "I'll leave - tonight or first thing tomorrow. The people here will be safe, don't worry."
"Where are you going to go?" Dean asked.
"There are wizarding communities here, too," Luna said. "I'm sure someone there will have contacts I can use to get a message back to Britain. I just need to reach them."
"And how are you planning on doing that?" Dean asked. "Since you can't carry a broomstick in your TARDIS bag."
"Muggles have buses, don't they?" Luna inquired innocently. "I don't suppose they're as fast as the Knight Bus, but they'd probably get me there eventually. I'll just have to watch out for Death Eaters, that's all."
Dean nodded slowly. That was it, then - the weirdo girl would officially be off his hands and out of his life by the morning. He could point her towards the right bus, wave goodbye, and...
His father hadn't got in touch again yet. Sammy was off living his dream of boring normality. It wasn't like Dean had any pressing engagements.
Besides, he could just imagine the kind of havoc Luna could cause, traveling across the country by bus, playing hide-and-seek with evil wizards.
"Got a better idea," Dean found himself saying. "I'll drive you to wherever these other wizards are. Safer than getting the bus, for you and everyone else. Particularly if the bastards from the woods might be after you."
Luna studied him for a long moment, her expression surprised but oddly open, her usual defenses of dreaminess and oddness fallen away. "You don't mind? I can look after myself, I promise. You don't need to worry about me."
Dean waved a hand dismissively. "Got nothing better to do right now."
Luna smiled, sudden and bright. "Well, I wouldn't want you to get bored."
Dean reflected sardonically that he doubted boredom was a problem for anyone while Luna was around.
"Thank you," she added, and smiled at him.
Dean cleared his throat. "So, you still want me to show you how to work the shower?"
It was weird, having someone sitting beside him in the Impala again.
Dean hadn't really thought it through when he'd offered to give her a ride; if he had, he might not have done it. It was so much Sam's place that it was hard to imagine himself not spending the entire journey thinking of Sam, wishing it was Sam, and generally moping like a fucking moron.
But in the end it wasn't like that at all. Dean guessed he should have known that Luna would confound all of his expectations. It seemed to be her thing. She was so utterly different from Sam that her presence wasn't a reminder at all, and her weirdness was compelling enough to distract him from his more depressing thoughts. It was a better journey than his trip up to Coeur d'Alene.
Of course, Luna's navigation skills left a lot to be desired.
"We need to bear south-west," she said, as the wand spun on her open palm.
Dean cursed and cut across three lanes to make the exit.
Several busy seconds later, Luna asked, "Is that the sound cars make when they talk to each other?" Her voice held the exact degree of innocence that kept Dean from figuring out whether it was genuine or she was laughing at him.
"No," Dean said through gritted teeth, "that was the sound of the drivers of a dozen cars warning us they nearly killed us. And probably want to kill us for pulling a stunt like that." He shot a baleful glare at her wand. "Can't you make that thing warn you about changes of direction sooner? Because if this car gets so much as a scratch on this trip, dying in a car crash will be the least of your worries."
"The spell wasn't really designed for such high-speed travel, I'm afraid," Luna said, unruffled. "Perhaps if you ask your car to slow down a little, there would be more time to react."
Dean decided to just pretend he hadn't heard that. He was prepared to put up with a lot of weird suggestions from the crazy girl, but driving slow wasn't one of them.
"So how do you get about, if you don't have cars?" he asked, just to make conversation. Because say one thing about Luna, she wasn't dull. "You fly everywhere on those broomsticks you mentioned?"
"Not usually, they're mostly for sport," Luna said. "Though sometimes they're useful. Usually people Apparate - you've seen that, now. Or there's the Floo network - you can travel between fireplaces, if they're connected up to the grid. But not everywhere's connected. There are Portkeys, you've seen them too, but they're rare. Oh, and sometimes we take the train."
Dean looked at her suspiciously. "Let me guess. The train's powered by pixies and runs along the clouds or something."
"Oh, no, there are tracks," Luna said. "It runs from King's Cross station in London to Hogwarts - that's the wizarding school in Britain."
"Just a normal train?" Dean said. "I'm almost disappointed."
"Though you might be right about the pixies," Luna added thoughtfully. "I've no idea how the train is really powered. I'll have to ask my -"
She cut off suddenly, looking away out of the window. Dean frowned. "Ask who?"
For a moment he thought Luna wasn't going to answer, but finally she said, "My father would know. He's a specialist in investigating conspiracies, and discovering species and magical creatures other people don't believe in."
"Huh," Dean said. Sounded like a man after his own heart. But there was something off about Luna's expression, the way her face somehow seemed carefully blank for once, rather than her usual absent-minded tranquility. He waited.
"I can't ask him, though, not right now," Luna added finally. "The Dark Lord had him imprisoned four years ago. I don't know..." She cut off, then forced a smile. "I'm sure he is well. Hermione said he's probably safer in prison than anywhere else right now." She paused. "Hermione's very clever, but she can sometimes be very stupid when it comes to people."
Dean didn't look at her, giving her the degree of privacy he'd have wanted for himself, under the circumstances. He didn't say 'I'm sorry', either. Sometimes words were worse than useless.
He didn't ask about her mother.
"D'you like music?" he asked, several miles later.
Luna looked at him. "Doesn't everyone?"
He put in a tape, feeling instantly better as the music kicked in.
Luna gasped. "She sings? Your car can sing?" Her eyes were wide and wondering as she reached out to stroke the side of the car.
Oh, hell, here we go again. "No, it's just a tape - " Dean stopped abruptly, eyeing her with sudden suspicion, and Luna dissolved into silvery laughter, tilting her head back.
"Your face," she said, still laughing. "Oh, Dean, you should have seen yourself."
Dean couldn't even muster any annoyance, feeling himself break into a grin despite himself as she smiled at him, her eyes bright with amusement.
"You got any idea how much further there is to go?" Dean asked her.
Luna shook her head. "No. I'm not familiar with your Muggle America. I don't know where we're going, I can only follow where the wand points."
"Awesome," Dean muttered sarcastically. Sometimes he had to wonder how he got into these kinds of situations. Even by the standards of the life he lived, things seemed to get fucking weird around him.
It was getting dark, and tiredness was setting in after he'd spent the whole day driving. Luna had been surprisingly good, albeit weird, company, but it was time to take a break. "We'll stop for the night in the next town. We could use some sleep."
Luna didn't answer immediately, and Dean glanced across at her. "Or do you think they're too close behind us?"
"No," Luna said slowly. "I think... I think so long as we continue to travel by Muggle means, we'll be safe. They don't understand Muggles - they hate Muggles. They'll try to track us by magical means, but I haven't been doing much magic. I don't think they'll be able to follow us, at least for now."
"Awesome," Dean said, with genuine feeling this time, and started looking out for a decent motel.
He insisted on Luna coming with him when he went to get a room, just to be on the safe side. And he'd seen enough waitresses and gas station attendants give Luna that slightly bemused look that day that it didn't bother him unduly any more. At least not until the guy at the desk tried to give them a double room.
"No!" Dean said, realizing his voice was slightly wilder than the situation justified. "No, no, this is my, um, cousin. Two queens, please."
Luna didn't appear to be paying any attention, busy studying a tacky landscape painting hung on the wall with apparent interest.
She was just as interested in their motel room once they got there. Dean had stayed in enough shitty motels that he barely noticed the weird wallpaper and strange furniture most of the time. Luna seemed fascinated by the weird swirly pattern on the walls, however.
"Are they Muggle runes? To ward off evil?"
Dean glanced at the wallpaper and snorted. "Sweetheart, anything that ugly classifies as a kind of evil in its own right."
Luna nodded thoughtfully. "So it doesn't serve a purpose, then?"
"Other than giving us nightmares? No," Dean told her. "You want the first shower?"
"No, thank you," Luna said absently, still leaning forward to examine the wallpaper.
When Dean emerged from the shower twenty minutes later, it took a moment before he realized what was different. But then -
"You... magicked the wallpaper?"
"The pattern was disturbing," Luna said serenely. She was sitting cross-legged in the middle of one of the beds.
Dean stared at her, then at the new pattern. It seemed to be a collection of small symbols, some of which he recognized, while others meant nothing to him.
"Protective runes," Luna explained. "They should help to keep the Death Eaters from finding us. And keep other things out, too."
Huh. That was actually pretty smart. Even if magical redecorating was kind of creepy.
"You might at least have changed it to a less fugly color," Dean said finally, stuffing his dirty clothes into a duffel bag.
"Colors are very important," Luna said. "I didn't want to pick one you don't like."
"So long as it's not pink," Dean said.
"Yellow?" Luna suggested. "It's the color of happiness and good fortune, people wear it at weddings. Traditionally, at least."
"No wedding here, no need for yellow," Dean said hastily. "Go for blue or, hell, even white, whatever."
"I like blue," Luna said, suddenly smiling, and she raised her wand.
Dean hated to admit it, but the walls looked a hell of a lot better by the time she was finished with them.
"Might cause a few problems when we check out," he said. "They're bound to notice the difference, it's not exactly subtle."
Luna blinked at him. "You think they're likely to believe we used magic to change the walls?"
Dean snorted. "No. They won't be able to figure out what the hell's happened." He pictured the look on the guy's face, and couldn't hold back a grin. "It'll be awesome."
Luna smiled back at him, then went to take her own shower.
The next morning, they made a point of hanging around long enough for the owner to check the room, and Dean almost bust a rib trying not to laugh out loud at the reaction.
Sometimes it felt like he'd been everywhere: passed through every city on the map, spent a few days in every town. He'd never been in Boise City for more than a few hours at a time, though.
"You're sure?" Dean asked.
"My wand is," Luna said serenely.
Dean snorted. "Yeah, and I bet all the guys tell you that, too."
The innuendo seemed to go right over Luna's head. "There's a wizarding community here. We just have to find it."
"Let the wand lead the way," Dean said, and manfully kept a straight face.
He was mildly disappointed when the street the wand led them to seemed perfectly normal, if a bit run-down. There were a few dull stores and a dingy-looking bar. Luna was the most outlandish thing in the neighborhood.
"This is the right place," Luna said, looking around. Her gaze settled on the bar. "Probably in there."
Dean followed her in with some trepidation. The idea of Luna in a bar was vaguely alarming: she seemed to be at right angles to reality most of the time anyway, without adding alcohol into the mix.
At first glance, the bar appeared just as nondescript inside as it had from the outside, but hunters didn't survive very long if they stopped at a first glance. When Dean looked more closely, the signs were there - a bundle of protective herbs hanging in one corner, the shape of runes in the carved edge of the bar. The bartender's reaction to Luna was the biggest giveaway, though - he took in her robes and her wand, currently tucked over one ear, and gave her a brief nod.
Luna smiled at him but kept going, through a door marked 'Staff Only'. Dean followed, trying to ignore the bartender's gaze on him.
"How d'you know where you're going?" Dean demanded under his breath once they were safely alone again. "I thought you needed to use your wand for that."
"There's an entrance to a wizarding street from Muggle London that's almost exactly the same," Luna said. "It's the same pattern in most cities, to make it easier for us to find our way to wizarding streets, no matter where we are." She paused halfway down the corridor and then tugged him through an unmarked door.
It seemed to be an office of some sort, but it was empty. Dean looked at Luna. "I think your witchy GPS just let you down. This doesn't look like a street to me."
"No, this is a room where you can get changed first," Luna said, smiling at him.
Dean stared at her. "What?"
Luna started looking through her TARDIS bag. "Let's see... ah, here we go." She pulled out something black. Something dress-like.
"No," Dean said with absolute conviction. "No way."
"They're clean, I promise," Luna said reassuringly.
"No," Dean said again. He was absolutely clear on this. "There's no way you're dressing me up in one of your... dresses."
"It's not one of mine, it's one of Ginny's," Luna said calmly, studying the dark fabric thoughtfully. "I should be able to magic it big enough to fit you, though."
Dean gaped at her. "What part of 'no fucking way' don't you understand?"
"Male wizards wear them too," Luna said soothingly. "I'm sure I can take it in at the chest."
Dean wasn't sure how, despite his loud and vehement protests, he ended up wearing the black robes over his shirt and jeans. But he suspected some kind of evil mind-control magic might have been involved. No wonder his father had always warned him about witches, he thought darkly, and shied away from the mental image of John Winchester wearing robes like these.
He stared at himself in the mirror Luna had produced, and tried to concentrate on being glad that she wasn't likely to pull out a camera and take a photo. Which Sam would most definitely have done if he'd been there.
"Very nice, dear," the mirror said approvingly. "You look very dashing."
Dean couldn't even bring himself to be surprised that Luna's mirror could apparently talk. But hey, on the plus side, if even inanimate objects found him hot - and when he was wearing a dress, no less - then he still had it.
"All that's missing is a hat," the mirror added.
"No," Dean said instantly, because there was no way that could be good, and there were lines, damnit.
"It's important to blend in, Dean," Luna said. "Here we go -"
He could hear the smile in her voice even before he turned around and saw -
"Hell no," Dean told her. "Not a goddamn chance in hell."
The hat was ridiculously tall and pointy, in addition to just being fucking ridiculous in general. It almost got knocked off his head when Dean followed Luna through the doorway and out onto the wizarding street. Luna caught his arm and pulled him swiftly away from the door, before they stopped in the shadow of a building to get their bearings.
Dean hadn't been sure what he was expecting, but it hadn't been this.
The buildings all appeared significantly older than anything in the neighborhood they'd found the bar. The street was full of stores and places to eat, not an empty building in sight. Something that had to be a pet store a few doors down had several owls in cages outside. Next to it was what seemed to be a wizarding clothes store, with alarmingly frilly robes modeled in the window. Across the street a store was selling things Dean didn't want to look at too closely.
The most startling thing was the people, though. The street was bustling - it was slightly terrifying to think how many witches and wizards there must be, Dean thought dazedly, if there were that many on this street alone. He stared at the swirl of brightly colored robes as the people walked past, and tried not to think about it too much.
A man walked by in a pointy purple hat, and Dean was abruptly distracted from his thoughts by the realization that of the several dozen people around him, only about five were wearing pointy hats, and that was including him and Luna. Which meant there was no way it was just to 'blend in'. Hell, some people were even wearing normal clothes, even jeans!
He pulled the hat off his head in one swift move and tried to fold it up, glaring at Luna.
Luna had been staring at the crowd, oddly solemn, but she smiled when he turned to her. "It made you look very dashing, you know."
"You're crazy," Dean told her, with absolute certainty.
"So they tell me," Luna said equably. "This way."
Dean followed her into the crowd, muttering under his breath, but then he had to laugh. It had been a good prank. Worthy of Sammy, even.
"So what are we looking for?" he asked her eventually.
"A post office," Luna said absently, looking around her.
Dean had a brief vision of Luna sending postcards, and tried to imagine what she'd write on them. Knowing Luna, she'd probably talk about his car and miss out minor details like the evil wizards on their tail.
"Won't sending things by mail be a bit slow?" he said.
"We send things by owl," Luna corrected him. "So not too slow, normally. But I -"
"Whoa, wait," Dean interrupted. "By owl? Like... an owl owl?"
"They fly quickly, and they're very reliable," Luna said, her tone matter-of-fact. "Lots of people have their own owls for sending messages. But no, I'm not going to try to send a message by owl - across continents it's too slow. Besides it's not really safe in Britain at the moment: owls are being intercepted, there's no guarantee the message would arrive."
Dean was still trying to get his mind around the idea of sending messages by owl, but he looked at her. "What's your plan, then?"
"We have other ways of communicating," Luna said a bit vaguely. "The post office should offer them. I'm hoping I'll be able to reach someone by firecall - that's not secure either, but even if we can only talk for a minute, it would help." She brightened and stopped walking, nodding towards a nearby building. "Here we go."
"Awesome," Dean said, then frowned. "Why have we stopped?"
"I need to ask a favor," Luna said.
Well, that couldn't be anything good. "What?"
"My accent," Luna said, with a vague gesture towards her mouth. "If I ask to make a firecall, they'll hear at once from my voice that I'm from Britain. And I would have to give my real name, they have spells to check you're not lying. With everything that's going on in Britain just now... the war is spreading, and the people here know it. I don't think they'd refuse to serve me, but it would be noticed."
"You want me to do it," Dean said.
Luna met his eyes steadily. "Arrange it. Yes, if you don't object. You don't have to, though - you've already helped me enough."
"You do realize I can't do any of your hocus pocus shit," Dean reminded her.
"You don't need to do magic," Luna reassured him. "You just ask to purchase private firecall time - they'll tell you how much it costs per minute, but you don't have to pay until afterwards. They'll record your name, and you need to answer that honestly. And then they'll show us to a private area with a fireplace."
Dean sighed. It sounded straightforward enough. "Fine, I'll do it. Let's go."
"Thank you," Luna said, and took his arm, walking up the steps with him.
"So what happens if I lie about my name?" Dean asked under his breath as they walked through the door.
"There are lots of different ways the spells can be set up," Luna said dreamily. "My favorite is when they make you dance. It depends on how much of a dancing lie you've told, you see? For a minor fib you might end up doing the hokey cokey, or for a more serious lie you could end up belly-dancing..."
Dean stared at her, and she smiled back in that way she had where he could never be completely certain whether she was yanking his chain.
Maybe it would be safer to give his real name, just in case.
The inside of the post office was weirdly ordinary, apart from the strangely dressed people. Dean and Luna joined a line, and Dean managed to remember what Luna had said about a 'firecall' without any mishaps. The witch behind the counter handed them a key with a number on it and pointed them in the right direction.
Once they were safely inside the tiny room with the door closed behind them, Dean turned to Luna. "Now what?" He looked around - the room was bare, other than a single bench and an old-fashioned fireplace. Dean paused. "Hey. When you said 'firecall', you really meant..."
"We can talk through the fire, yes," Luna said distractedly, already crouching on her knees in front of the fireplace. She gestured with her wand and a fire sprang into life, then she murmured something over the flames.
Dean sat down on the bench, out of the way, and watched.
It took several minutes and a lot of murmuring on Luna's part, but eventually a face slowly formed in the fire, shaped by the flames and the ash and cinders. It was, Dean thought, pretty damn creepy.
"Luna!" the face gasped. "Thank Merlin, you're alive!"
"Hi, Neville," Luna said. She was smiling, bright and genuine. "We don't have much time - is Ginny okay?"
The face had turned away for a second, as if to call over its non-existent shoulder, but now it turned back. "They say she should recover, she's being looked after."
"Good," Luna said softly. "And the others?"
Two cinders drew together to create the impression that the face was frowning. Dean couldn't take his eyes off it. "We haven't heard from any of the others. They should all have been back by now."
"We ran into Death Eaters," Luna said. "They might have had trouble too."
"I'll get the word out to the Order," Neville said, "and see if we can send anyone else out there to find them."
"Tell me the other locations," Luna said. "I'll go and see what I can find out."
"It's too dangerous by yourself," Neville said, and Dean could hear the concern in his voice.
"I'm not by myself," Luna said simply. "Anyway, I've no way to get home yet, Neville."
Dean could hear Neville's gusting sigh even from where he was sitting on the bench, and a few sparks were blown about. "Somewhere called Corvallis. And a location near San Francisco, I don't know exactly where."
"Thank you," Luna said. "I have to go before someone tracks this. Look after yourself, Neville. Keep the Wrackspurts away from Ginny for me."
"Be careful," Neville said, and his face disappeared, melting back into the flames before even they went out.
Luna got to her feet. She looked even more distant and oblivious to her surroundings than usual. Dean didn't like it.
"At least your friend's okay," he pointed out.
Luna turned her unblinking gaze on him for a moment before she gave a small smile. "Yes. And hopefully they'll keep the Wrackspurts away from her."
Dean still had no desire whatsoever to ask her what a Wrackspurt was. "Right. What now?"
"Now you pay for the firecall," Luna said.
"That's not what I meant," Dean said.
"I know," Luna said calmly. "Now, this coin is called a Galleon..."
When they left the wizarding street and stepped back into the bar they'd entered through, Luna seemed set to just walk straight back out into the bar itself. It was only at the last minute that Dean glanced down and realized he was still wearing the ridiculous robes, and he had to drag Luna back to the little room so he could change again.
"What now?" Dean asked, when they finally made it back to the car.
Luna seemed distracted and thoughtful. It was surprising how he could tell the difference between her current distractedness and her usual dreamy state.
"Where are Corvallis and San Francisco?" she asked finally.
"San Francisco's down in California," Dean said, trying not to think about Sam. "Corvallis is closer, if that's what you're asking."
"I need to go to Corvallis," Luna said.
Dean thought about it. He could take Luna to a bus station, help her buy a ticket. Find a proper hunt, kill a few evil sons of bitches. He didn't owe her anything.
He started the engine, and Luna looked at him curiously.
"Better get moving if we want to get there by nightfall," he said.
Luna looked at him, then leaned in and unexpectedly brushed her lips against his cheek. She had pulled back before he could react.
"Thank you, Dean," she said.
Dean cleared his throat, and hit the accelerator.
"So, have you got any idea at all what we're looking for?" Dean asked.
Their new motel room was marginally better than the last one. Or at least, Luna hadn't been moved to make any improvements to the wallpaper yet. Still, Dean was about ready to get out of it again.
Luna shook her head. "Not really."
"Oh, that's great," Dean muttered.
"We weren't given much information about where the other teams were going," Luna said. "In case we got caught. But it'll probably be an old building. And quite likely a rather unusual one." She waved one hand vaguely. "The Lestranges and the Blacks have always been a bit... odd."
"Really," Dean said, not letting himself smile to hear that coming from Luna.
"It'll probably be hard to find," Luna said. "I'd guess it won't be in the city itself - they've never been the kind of families who would want to mingle with Muggles."
"Can't you just wave your wand or click your heels together three times or something?" Dean asked.
Luna shook her head. "I can use my wand to find public wizarding locations - streets and villages and the like. But this will have wards and spells on it to keep people away, and they stop wizards from detecting it that way."
"So how did you find the house back in Coeur d'Alene?" Dean asked.
"Our Portkey took us right to the edge of the wards," Luna said. "Hannah and Ernie were probably taken very close to Bellatrix Lestrange's property here, too."
"You think they got caught?" Dean asked, as gently as he could. He didn't want to upset her, but they needed to be clear on what they were dealing with here.
Luna didn't answer for a moment, and then she said, "Maybe. Caught by Death Eaters, or trapped by the defenses on the property. We'd hoped there wouldn't be Death Eaters guarding the buildings over here, but we've already seen that that was wishful thinking. And if they've reported back to Bellatrix that we're trying to break into her properties, she'll step up security."
"So we need to move fast, before reinforcements get there," Dean summarized. "But first we need to figure out exactly where to look."
"A place outside the town where Muggles don't tend to go, or where they tend to have problems if they do," Luna said. "You said people had died, back in Coeur d'Alene - it could be the same here."
Dean sighed. "Library it is, then."
Luna seemed fascinated by the library, staring around with interest. Dean spoke to the librarian about where he could find newspaper clippings and the local history section, and turned around to find that Luna was gone.
He finally located her in the section filled with New Agey books on Wicca and witchcraft, and winced.
"This book says I shouldn't be wearing any clothes when I perform magic," Luna said as he came up behind her.
Dean grinned appreciatively at the image. "And here I thought all those books were full of rubbish."
If Luna picked up on the innuendo, she didn't react to it. "I think it would get a bit cold at this time of year," she said thoughtfully, and put the book back on the shelf. "Did the librarian tell you where to look?"
They were able to make better progress than Dean had expected. He made copies of a map of the city and the surrounding area, and he and Luna each worked their way through recent newspapers looking for suspicious deaths or disappearances and marking the relevant locations. He'd half-expected Luna to be distracted by other stories in the newspapers, remarking on things which seemed strange to her, but she was unusually focused.
He shouldn't really have been surprised, he realized. Her friends' lives might be at stake, and for all Luna's weirdness, she was far from stupid.
"Another death, a year ago," Luna said, and he focused on helping her add it to the map.
"How far back should we be looking?" he asked. "Back in Coeur d'Alene, there was a big gap when no one had died."
"The Dark Lord came back about five years ago," Luna said soberly. "Things were quiet for about a year before he stopped bothering to hide. He freed his most fervent followers, the Death Eaters who went to Azkaban for him - including Bellatrix Lestrange - about a year after that. So I'd say we should look for cases since then. Before that, it's only likely to be cases where people were confused by the wards, until you go back to the Dark Lord's first rising, in the seventies."
It took them a couple of hours, but a clear pattern emerged. Although there were various scattered 'possible' markings throughout the city, most of the 'probable' markings were in the hills to the west of the city. Dean drew careful lines, joining them up, leaving them with a rough, wide circle.
"So I'm guessing that's the outer limit of whatever wards are keeping people away," Dean observed.
Luna nodded, tracing it carefully with a finger. "The ones inside are where people got through anyway, somehow - maybe there are some people here with wizarding abilities who aren't identified and taught? I don't know how the system works across here."
"It's not like I've got a clue," Dean said. "So some people got through, or were lured in or whatever." He tapped a cluster of 'probables' outside the circle. "And here... someone coming outside of the wards to attack people?"
"Someone or something," Luna agreed absently.
Dean paused. "Or something?"
"Oh, I was just thinking that inside wards of that size... they cover a lot of ground. There could be magical creatures, too," Luna said off-handedly. "But you're right, Death Eaters are more likely."
"Awesome," Dean muttered darkly. He'd run into more than his own share of supernatural creatures over the years, so it wasn't anything new. That didn't make it any more pleasant a prospect. "In that case, I say we have lunch first."
"Can't you just... magic us up this hill or something?" Dean groused.
They'd been hiking for a few hours already, and still had a way to go before they reached the line they'd decided must be the outer wards. Dean wasn't tired, exactly, but the woods still weren't his favorite thing.
"Oh, I could," Luna said agreeably.
Dean stared at her. "Then why don't you?"
Luna met his eyes. "Do you really want me to?"
Dean was about to say yes when his mind caught up with him. Whatever magic it would take to move him across several miles of woodland, he wasn't sure he'd trust it to do so without ripping him to tiny shreds.
Luna smiled at him, obviously reading as much from his expression. "It wouldn't be a good idea here, anyway, not when I don't know exactly where we're going. And walking is probably the best way to avoid being detected."
It made sense, but Dean was now morbidly curious about the idea of magically teleporting places. "What's it like, zipping from place to place like that? What did you call it again?"
"Apparating," Luna said. "You get used to it."
"Isn't it dangerous? Doesn't it ever go wrong?" Dean asked.
"Oh, yes," Luna said, sounding strangely cheery about it. "There's a whole department at the Ministry of Magic to deal with Apparating incidents. We have to pass a test before we're allowed to Apparate, but even so, accidents happen. People leaving pieces of themselves behind is the most common problem - we call it 'splinching'."
Dean stared at her. "And you were seriously thinking of doing it to me? Forget it. No way. Never."
"Splinching can be quite nasty, it's true," Luna said peaceably. "But I'm good at Apparating. I'm almost sure I wouldn't leave any of you behind by mistake."
"No. Way," Dean repeated firmly.
Luna just smiled.
They knew the moment they hit the outer wards, of course, because Dean found himself confusedly trying to wander back the way he'd come until Luna took his hand.
"Fuck, that's weird," he said, standing still for a moment until his head stopped spinning.
Luna was looking at him in concern, her head tilted to the side. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Dean said, rubbing his forehead with his free hand. "Yeah." He set off walking in the right direction again, and Luna kept pace with him, her hand cool in his. "It should pass once we're through the wards, right? I mean, not that I don't enjoy holding hands with you, sweetheart. But I might need both hands free in there."
"Yes," Luna promised. "There's a spell I could use to make the wards not treat you like a Muggle, but I don't want to risk it here, there's too big a risk that it'll be detected."
Dean grinned. The strange, confused feeling had worn off again. "Yeah, that's what you say. I bet you just like holding my hand, really."
"That too," Luna said agreeably.
They walked for another ten minutes before Luna came to an abrupt stop.
"What is it?" Dean asked.
Luna was staring distractedly at the path ahead of them, her eyes distant. "There's something... I think we've reached the next set of wards."
"What do we need to do this time?" Dean asked.
Luna was still staring at thin air. "I think I need to risk a spell."
"So should I be expecting bad guys to attack us the second you do?" Dean asked conversationally.
"Quite possibly," Luna admitted, and waited until he'd taken out his gun before she raised her wand.
Strange, metallic colors appeared in the air across the path in front of them, reminding Dean a little of the wards he'd seen in the house outside Coeur d'Alene. He didn't waste his time staring at them, though, instead looking around warily for any sign of Death Eaters appearing.
"Can you get us through it?" he asked Luna. "What does it do?"
"It's to keep other wizards out," Luna said. "With some rather creative consequences if they try to pass through anyway."
"I'm guessing 'creative' in this case means 'causing death in horrible ways', right?" Dean said.
"More or less," Luna agreed. "You might be able to get through unharmed, actually, but I don't know how we can use that - it's not like you can turn the wards off from the other side."
"Would it help if I hold your hand when we try to go through?" Dean asked, half-joking.
Luna shook her head. "Not unless you think having all the blood in your veins turned to stone would be helpful."
"Sounds fun, but I'll pass," Dean said. "Fine, what do we do?"
Luna sighed. "I'll have to try to either break the wards entirely, or thin them out enough at one spot for us to slip through them. Not here, though - the sections on paths are bound to be strongest."
They walked through the woods, following a line Dean couldn't see, for ten minutes before Luna was satisfied they were far enough away from the path to risk it.
"This is like... magical skills for breaking and entering, isn't it?" Dean asked as she studied the shifting lights again. "Did they teach you this sort of thing at your magic school?"
Luna smiled despite the situation. "No, they didn't. But once the Dark Lord came back, we started learning other things. And after I left school I picked some things up, working with the resistance. Thinning wards at a specific point isn't actually difficult, just time-consuming - you have to do it slowly or it gets noticed."
"How slowly are we talking?" Dean wondered.
"I think half an hour," Luna said absently, her attention now fully on the wards in front of her. "Slower would be wiser, but we can't afford to wait too long, either. Any faster than that and it'll definitely be noticed, though."
Dean rolled his eyes and sat down, leaning back against a tree. He hated just waiting around while other people worked, but he might as well be semi-comfortable in the meantime.
He kept a sharp eye out for evil wizards or the magical creatures Luna had thought might be there, but so far, he and Luna seemed to have avoided detection.
He was surprised when Luna came and sat down next to him five minutes later. "You done already?"
"No, but you can't do it all at once, you have to do it in bursts - constant pressure on the wards is likely to trip them too," Luna said.
"Huh," Dean said. "I'll bear that in mind next time I'm trying to get through some evil magic wards."
Luna reached out and pressed one finger to the gun he was still cradling loosely in his hands. Dean tensed slightly, but she didn't try to take it or do anything more.
"You shot the Death Eaters," she said. "With this."
"I know," Dean said. "I was there."
"You didn't kill them, though," Luna said thoughtfully. "You didn't aim for the head or the heart."
Dean looked at the gun. "Or maybe I just have lousy aim."
"But you don't," Luna said confidently.
Dean cracked a smile. "No, I don't. I'm a fucking awesome shot."
"I thought so," Luna said with satisfaction. "You really are like Martin Miggs. Except he shoots to kill."
"Who the hell is that?" Dean asked, distracted from asking her why she'd brought the subject up. "You kept calling me that when we met."
Luna laughed quietly. "It's a comic series in the wizarding world, about a mad Muggle. He reminded me of you, at first."
Before Dean could decide whether that was an insult or not, she was back at the wards, wand raised again.
"Where is your family?" she asked when she returned ten minutes later.
Dean felt his jaw tighten. He really didn't like talking about his family. But he remembered her talking about her father while they'd been driving in the Impala - how hard it had obviously been for her, but she'd told him anyway.
"My dad's working a hunt right now," he said finally. "There's a cult that he thinks might be raising demons - he's infiltrating them to find out. I haven't heard much from him for a while."
Luna nodded. "You must worry about him."
Dean swallowed. He did, the same way he worried about Sammy when he couldn't be there to watch his brother's back. But at the same time - "Dad's the best hunter out there. He can handle himself."
"That doesn't mean you can't worry about him," Luna said softly. "What about your mother?"
Dean was silent. He wasn't - he couldn't -
"I'm sorry," Luna said, slipping her hand back into his. She seemed to sense that he wasn't ready to speak. "I was nine when mine died. She was a very gifted witch, and she loved experimenting with new spells. But one day one of them went wrong. I was the one who found her."
Her voice was still serene, but he could hear the grief there underneath. And there was understanding, too - she wasn't expecting him to say anything. Somehow that made it easier to tell her.
"I was four," Dean said. "Something killed her, something supernatural. We still don't know exactly what." He cleared his throat. "My dad's been hunting it ever since. Someday we'll get it."
Luna squeezed his hand, and didn't offer any platitudes.
"So it's just you and your dad?" Dean said. "You must be close."
Luna nodded. "We are." She looked down at the ground. "I hope he's okay."
Dean didn't know what to say to that - he'd no idea whether anyone locked away in a prison by an evil wizard dictator would be likely to be okay or not - so he just squeezed her hand back.
"I have a brother," he said, surprising himself, but wanting to distract Luna from the thought of her dad being locked away.
"That must be nice," Luna said wistfully. "What's he like?"
Dean was momentarily at a loss as to how to describe his brother. Sam was... Sam was Sam. He was everything. Dean didn't know how to even begin describing him in a way other people would understand.
"He's stubborn," he said finally. "And smart. He's a good kid." It was utterly hopeless, as descriptions went, but there was no way he could make Luna really understand anyway.
"He's important to you," Luna observed, though, so maybe she got it more than he'd expected. "Maybe I'll get to meet him someday."
Dean snorted a laugh at the thought of his brother trying to get his head round Luna's weirdness. It would probably be hilarious to see, Dean would give her that much.
Luna went to work on the wards again, and Dean watched her and tried not to think.
"Okay," Luna said finally, taking a step back and studying the wards, and Dean got to his feet and went to stand next to her. There was an area in the middle where the colors had turned pale, just a faint, misty suggestion of what they had been.
"So we just go through there?" Dean asked doubtfully. "As easy as that?"
Luna's smile was slanted. "I hope so."
Before he could ask her what that meant, she stepped forward and through the pale area in the wards -
- and promptly dropped to her knees on the other side.
Dean didn't think, just dove through the pale area himself. He felt nothing but a faint tingling as he passed through it. Then he was crouching in front of Luna, pressing a hand to her cheek to raise her head. "Luna? Hey, you with me?"
Luna opened her eyes, blinking at him dazedly. "Dean."
"Least you're not calling me Martin again," Dean joked, caught between concern and relief. "What happened?"
"The wards are still intact, just... considerably reduced," Luna explained slowly.
"You mean you just got a 'considerably reduced' dose of the magic that would have killed you?" Dean demanded.
Luna murmured in wordless assent and collapsed forward against him, her head resting on his shoulder. Dean put his arms around her awkwardly and let her get her breath back.
A few minutes later, she straightened up again. "We should move. I don't think they'll have been able to detect me passing through the wards, but I could be wrong."
"Right," Dean said, keeping a hold on her elbow as she got to her feet. "Can you walk?"
"Oh yes, since I was very young," Luna said distractedly. But she flashed him a smile and started moving, and Dean went with her.
"That was stupid," he told her, keeping his voice low now they were inside the inner wards: for some reason it felt like someone might find them at any moment, even though there was no one in sight. "What if they were still too strong? Do you have a death wish or something?"
Luna looked at him, her gray eyes oddly knowing as they lingered on his face. "No," she said equably. "The war has been going on for a long time now, and it can get... tiring. But I don't want to die yet. Do you?"
Dean was caught off-guard. "What?"
"Do you ever want to die?" Luna asked, as conversationally as if she were asking what his favorite color was.
Dean opened his mouth to snap the incredulous 'no' that the question deserved - but Luna's eyes were intent and serious and he couldn't give her the easy answer.
"Not really," he said finally, roughly. "Sometimes I get... reckless. But I don't want to die."
Luna just nodded, like she understood more than he'd said, and nodded ahead of them. "Look."
Dean looked up and stopped dead, staring. "What the fuck?"
There was a tower on the top of the hill, stark against the darkening sky, and Dean was pretty damn certain he'd have noticed it if it had been there five minutes ago.
"We couldn't see it until we got through the inner wards," Luna said, as if reading his mind (and Dean really hoped that wasn't some freaky ability she just hadn't mentioned yet).
"Fuck," Dean said again. He looked around, sizing up the situation. "We should stick to the treeline as long as we can, until we get to the whatever side of the tower the door's on." He paused. "I'm assuming there will be a door, right?"
Luna pushed her hair back out of her face. "I hope so."
"Very reassuring," Dean muttered. "You realize if there's anyone home, we're screwed, right?"
"Not screwed yet," Luna said calmly, and started walking again.
They hadn't gone much further when she suddenly stopped, frowning.
"What?" Dean demanded, looking around, but there was nothing to be seen.
Luna's expression was uneasy. "It... do you feel that?"
"Feel what?" Dean asked, but then he did: a sense of dread and despair, crawling up his spine. "Is that - what is that?"
Luna had turned pale. "There are Dementors here," she said, her voice sunk to a whisper. "They feed on all your good emotions. They're not too close yet, but that's what we're feeling. We need to hurry."
Hurrying was fine with Dean - anything that took him away from that horrible despairing feeling. "What do they look like?" he asked Luna as they moved.
"Non-wizards can't see them," Luna said. "To wizards, they look like - they're horrible, dark shapes. I don't think I can describe them. They used to guard Azkaban Prison, but they follow the Dark Lord now. I don't know whether Bellatrix somehow brought them over here, or whether they run loose in this country, but you really don't want to get caught by one."
Dean sighed. Well, it wouldn't be the first time he'd gone up against something he couldn't see, he guessed. He was relieved, though, that the feeling of dread seemed to be fading: hopefully that meant they were moving away from the Dementors.
"Hey," he said suddenly, lowering his voice and touching Luna's arm. "What's that?"
There was a strange, huddled shape on the forest floor, about twenty feet away. It looked almost like a person -
Luna was running before Dean had fully processed that thought, and he followed her, crouching down beside her when she dropped to her knees beside the huddled figure. It was a person, Dean could see now - a guy, maybe Luna's age, give or take a year. But he looked like he was in shock or something - he didn't respond when Luna touched his face, and his eyes were blank and unseeing.
"Ernie," Luna said, and Dean hadn't heard that much pain in her voice since right after he'd met her, when she'd talked about her injured friend. "Oh, Merlin, Ernie."
"I'm guessing he's one of the people who got sent out here?" Dean asked quietly. He checked the guy's pule - it was very slow, but seemed steady. The utter absence of any reaction was kind of freaky, though.
"Yes," Luna said, her voice choked. "Ernie Macmillan - he and Hannah were the second team."
"He needs a hospital," Dean said.
Luna shook her head, and when Dean looked at her, her eyes were brilliant with tears. "A hospital can't help him now. I've seen this before. The Dementors - if they get hold of you, they can take your soul and eat it. Ernie's gone."
"Eat your soul?" Dean repeated involuntarily. He stared at Ernie's blank face and felt even more creeped out than before.
Luna reached out and carefully pulled out the amulet that was around Ernie's neck. She pressed one hand gently to the guy's cheek, then twisted the amulet and let it drop to rest against Ernie's chest.
He vanished at once, and Luna took a choking breath and rubbed the tears from her eyes. Dean pressed a hand against her back, waiting for her to get it together. He wished there was something he could say, but Luna knew her world better than he did. If she said Ernie was gone, he couldn't argue or offer her any hope.
"We have to go," Luna said finally, and got back to her feet. Dean shook his head, but followed suit.
He stuck close to Luna as they made their way through the trees. She was very quiet, and he was relieved when he finally spotted a door at the bottom of the tower.
"It's not really going to be as easy as that, is it?" he said, nudging Luna.
"We'll never know until we try," Luna said, and cut straight out of the trees and across the open ground towards the door.
Dean swore and ran after her.
"Thought you said you didn't have a death wish," he hissed at her.
"I never claimed not to be reckless, though," Luna said, and reached out for the door handle.
Dean caught his breath, half-expecting her to vanish in a flash of light or collapse to the ground, but nothing seemed to happen, other than the door swinging open.
He'd been worried that the inside of the tower might be bigger than it appeared from the outside, like Luna's TARDIS bag, but thankfully not. It was still big enough - a stone spiral stairway leading up, and a door set into the wall on every level.
"I need to check all the rooms," Luna said as they started up the stairs.
"Looking for the whore-thing?" Dean asked.
"Yes," Luna said. Then added, "And Hannah, if there's a chance she could still be here somewhere."
"Right," Dean said, and hoped like hell there wouldn't be any Death Eaters there too.
Hannah turned out to be in the third room they checked, and Dean swore under his breath at the sight of the pretty blonde girl, frozen and unmoving in the center of the room. "Is she -?" he asked, looking around the room uneasily for whatever might have caused her condition.
"She's alive," Luna confirmed, her voice light with relief. "She's been Petrified or frozen or something - I'm not sure, there are too many options. But someone will be able to restore her." She twisted Hannah's amulet and released it, and Dean let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding as Hannah vanished.
"What could cause that? The Dementors?" he asked.
"No," Luna said. "It might have been a Death Eater who cast a spell on her, but that kind of magic normally wears off quite quickly, so it's unlikely. A cursed object would do it, maybe..."
"Don't touch anything in here, got it," Dean muttered to himself, looking around again.
"Or there could always be a basilisk," Luna said brightly.
Dean glared at her.
"The Dark Lord's very keen on basilisks," Luna told him, her grey eyes wide and full of fake innocence. "You might want to use a mirror to look round corners."
"Not if the mirror's giving me a running commentary, thanks," Dean said. He couldn't help but feel relief at Luna's teasing: finding Hannah still alive seemed to have restored her spirits. And he was starting to conclude that going along with her brand of crazy was probably a better plan than trying to resist. More fun, too.
"My mirror likes you," Luna said. "It thinks you're dashing. Though it might want you to put the hat back on." She raised her wand, murmuring a soft spell. Nothing seemed to happen.
"Will the hat somehow protect me from a basilisk?" Dean asked, watching her.
"Only if it slips down over your eyes," Luna admitted seriously, crossing the room to study the items lying on a dusty, carved monstrosity of a desk. Then she straightened. "Ready to brave the basilisk again?"
"Bring it on," Dean said. "An overgrown snake isn't anything to be scared of."
"After you, in that case," Luna said with a smile.
The fourth and fifth rooms didn't turn up anything interesting. The sixth room was stacked full of all kinds of random objects and other crap, and Luna spent almost ten minutes checking things and casting spells. Dean helped the best he could, but couldn't find any golden cups. And so many of the objects were clearly full of dark magic - the withered hand in a jar was his personal favorite: seriously, that was fucked up - that none of them really stood out as being potentially darker than the others.
Dean was jolted out of his morbid fascination with the withered hand when a shiver ran down his spine. For a moment he thought the hand had managed to creep him out more than he'd expected; then he realized that the air was getting colder, the cheerfulness he and Luna had barely recovered slipping away.
"Hey," he said to Luna. "You feel that?"
Luna raised her head from studying some strange, spherical object, the color draining from her face as she looked at him. "Yes. The Dementors are coming."
She grabbed his hand and pulled him back out of the room, running up the stairs ahead of him. Dean hung back for just a second to glance down. He couldn't see anything, but then again Luna had said he wouldn't.
His moment of hesitation was long enough for Luna to grab hold of his hand again and drag him along with her.
They reached the top of the stairway, the final floor, and Luna pulled him into the last room in the tower, closing it behind them.
"We should barricade it," Dean said, looking around the room for suitably heavy furniture. The room was almost empty, but the walls were lined with bookcases.
"It wouldn't help," Luna said absently, also looking around. "I think Dementors might be able to pass through walls. And floors, for that matter."
Dean shot an unnerved look down at his feet, but of course there was nothing unusual to be seen. "We need to get out of here. Can you tell if they're already in the tower, or whether we're just feeling them outside?"
"Both, I think," Luna said. "We can't go back down the stairs, they've cut us off."
Dean swore inventively, trying not to imagine Luna blank-eyed and unmoving like the guy they'd found in the woods. "Then we need to find another way out."
"Help me search this room," Luna said, peering at one of the bookcases.
Dean turned to one of the other bookcases. "What am I looking for?"
"The Horcrux," Luna said patiently. "If it's here, I need to find it before we can try to get out of here."
"You're a lunatic," Dean told her.
"So I've been told," Luna said agreeably. "But I really don't want to have to come back here, Dean. Please. We don't have much time."
Dean gritted his teeth and did as she asked, pulling books out to check behind them, glancing quickly over the titles. He tried not to think about the fact that he could now see his breath hanging in the cold air.
There was no hope, anyway. No way down the stairs, no other way out of the tower. The Dementors were waiting below even if they did find a way out.
No one would even notice that he was dead. Dad would figure it out eventually, when he finally resurfaced from his undercover job. Probably. Sam... maybe he'd realize in a year or two.
What was the point in trying to escape anyway?
"Expecto patronum!" Luna said, and Dean blinked at the sight of a silvery rabbit-shaped thing emerging from her wand. It lolloped over to the door and disappeared through it.
"The Dementors are close, Dean, that's what you're feeling," Luna said, her voice more urgent than usual. "My Patronus should hold them off for a minute. You're right, we need to get out of here. There's no sign of the Horcrux."
The feeling of dread and despair had lifted a bit. "How exactly are we meant to get out of here?" Dean demanded. "Far as I can see, we're cut off."
Luna was rummaging through her bag. "It's here somewhere... ah!" She pulled something tiny out and waved her wand at it, and while Dean stared, it expanded to become a broomstick.
He felt his eyes widen. "That..."
"Up," Luna ordered the broomstick, and it shot up from where she'd laid it to rest in her hand, hovering in mid-air.
"No way," Dean said. "You said you didn't - you said it was too dangerous, shrinking broomsticks and carrying them around in your bag! You said they might not work right, after!"
"It's very dangerous," Luna agreed. "Definitely something to save for the last resort." She swung a leg over the broomstick, slipping her bag onto her back. "Aren't you coming?"
Dean shot an alarmed look at the door, then at the broomstick. "Seriously? Can't we just... fight our way past them somehow? With your rabbit ghost thing?"
"It's a hare," Luna corrected him. "And no, that can only hold them off for a few minutes." She looked at the door too. "Not much longer."
Dean took a reluctant, despairing step towards the broomstick. He could think of few things more terrifying than jumping out of a tower with only cleaning equipment and magic that Luna had admitted was screwy to break his fall.
"Are you a good flier, at least?" he demanded, trying not to let his voice waver as he climbed on behind Luna, gingerly putting his hands on her waist.
"I was the commentator for a Quidditch match once," Luna said brightly. "Hold on tight!"
Dean didn't think his thought of Oh god, we're going to die was entirely due to Dementor-induced despair.
At a wave of Luna's wand, the window sprang open, and then the broomstick shot forward and down. Dean could barely hear Luna's silvery laughter over his own yelling, but he had time to think If I survive this I'm never leaving the ground again, I won't go near a goddamn plane, I'll even stay away from tall buildings, I swear to god before the broomstick pulled out of its dive and up to above tree level, rushing away from the tower.
The dread that had been caused by the Dementors fell away a moment later, leaving Dean only with his dread of falling off a magical broomstick. That was bad enough. He clutched Luna a little tighter.
"Do you like it?" Luna asked, turning her head as if to look at him.
"Watch where you're going!" Dean ordered her, unable to suppress the panic in his voice.
"Faster than walking," Luna said happily. "And the charms on the broomstick are holding up surprisingly well. I thought they might have given out by now."
If Dean had thought for a second that shutting his eyes would help, he'd have done so. Instead he just concentrated on trying to keep breathing.
"..." he said, and cleared his throat and tried again. "Maybe we should land now?"
"The faster we get away the better," Luna said. "And I bet you've never flown before, have you? You need to make the most of the experience!"
"No," Dean said and swallowed. "No, really, it's fine. Seriously."
"I'm not as good at flying as Harry, I'm afraid," Luna apologized. "He'd be able to show you some real tricks, but I can't do anything like a Wronski Feint."
"That's okay," Dean said, "really."
"I can take us higher up so you can see the view, though!" Luna added.
Before Dean knew what was happening, they were shooting upwards, and he clung to Luna's waist, her laughter echoing in his ears.
Dean downed three shots in a row to take the edge off, and tried to block out the memory of the ground falling away beneath him, only a broomstick - a screwy broomstick, at that - between him and splatitude.
There was not enough alcohol in the world to convince him to ever try that again.
He took a deep breath and tried to pull himself together. There was no way he'd manage to earn a decent amount at pool if he kept thinking about the whole flying thing. Steady hands were pretty much essential.
He downed another shot for luck before heading over to the pool tables.
When he finally emerged from the stuffy heat of the bar into the cool night air, Luna was lying stretched out on top of the Impala.
Dean had to stop and stare for a moment, because, okay, hot blonde chick spread out across his car? That ranked pretty high on his list of all-time-great fantasies. Admittedly, he'd never pictured the chick in question apparently whispering to the car, but this was Luna, after all. He shouldn't have expected anything else.
Luna looked up and smiled at him, and Dean found himself walking across the parking lot toward her without much in the way of conscious thought. The moonlight made her look paler than usual, but Dean had never been so aware that she was pretty, in her own way.
"I've been getting to know your car better," Luna informed him, running one hand across the hood in a way that would have had Dean snapping at her about fingerprint marks if it hadn't been so hot. He reminded himself that Luna was a couple of years younger than him, and didn't seem... Well, there was something innocent about her. He shouldn't be reading anything into the situation.
"I see that," he said finally. "I hope she didn't talk back, I'm not sure I've got enough holy water on hand for a full-on car exorcism."
Luna smiled at him. "There's more than one way to communicate." She shifted slightly to make room for him, and after a moment of hesitation Dean hopped up beside her, leaning back on his elbows.
"So what was she telling you?" he asked.
"Oh," Luna said dreamily, "mostly about what it's like, being a car. And about you."
Dean turned his head to look at her. "Yeah? What did she tell you about me?"
"That you take good care of her," Luna said. "She cares about you."
The conversation was completely ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as the flush of warmth that Dean felt when she said that. He knew better than to buy into Luna's craziness, but...
"And I was telling her about taking you flying," Luna added as an afterthought. "I think she found it interesting."
Dean choked at the memory and wished for more alcohol. "Don't go giving her any ideas," he said firmly.
Luna laughed, soft and delighted, and Dean found he was grinning despite himself.
"You care about her too," Luna said finally. She turned onto her side to face him, one hand propping up her head, the other stroking delicately over the hood between them.
"Yeah, well," Dean said. He felt a bit embarrassed, but Luna's gaze was warm and undemanding. "She's always been there. We moved around a lot while I was growing up; the car was the one thing that never changed."
Luna smiled at him. "She's beautiful."
"Damn right," Dean agreed, warming to the topic. "Do you know her engine's -"
He was cut off by Luna leaning over and pressing her lips to his.
It was a moment before he managed to change gear and catch up. He'd done a good enough job of convincing himself that she was sweet and innocent and, okay, slightly crazy, but probably all the more virginal for that, that it was a shock to find he'd misjudged.
If the way she was sliding across to lie on top of him was any indication, pressing him back against the hood, he'd misjudged badly.
Not that he was complaining.
He kissed her back, finally, reaching up to push her hair out of her face when it tumbled down around them, hiding the parking lot from view. Luna's lips were almost thoughtful against his, slow and unhurried and experimental, trying out different angles and changes in pressure, and it was good, better than Dean had let himself imagine.
"What were you drinking?" Luna asked, raising her head as if there was nothing at all unusual about the situation. "You don't taste like whiskey."
Dean couldn't help but laugh. "No, I did shots called Purple Nurples. No whiskey in them."
Luna studied him thoughtfully. "They were purple? Yes, that fits," she added, almost to herself. "You taste purple."
"Is that a good thing?" Dean asked, though the fact that Luna was still lying on top of him made him think it couldn't be too bad.
"I like purple," Luna said simply, and pressed her lips to his again.
Dean grinned into the kiss and pulled her closer, trailing a hand down her back to settle on her hip.
By the time they resurfaced from that kiss, Dean was nearly ready to ask her to use magic to teleport them back to the motel room, or at least make them invisible. He was saved from going down that route by Luna sliding off him - pressing against as much of his body as she could in the process - and down onto the ground.
"We should go back," she said. For a moment Dean wondered if he'd done something wrong, if he'd misread the situation, but then she added, "Sex outdoors isn't really all it's cracked up to be."
Dean was shocked into a laugh, and climbed off the car to pull her into a last kiss before he got behind the wheel.
It turned out Luna was full of slightly weird and crazy ideas in any situation. And for once, Dean really appreciated that.
Lying in bed with her afterwards, Dean decided that although he still found Luna Lovegood's last name hilarious, it was good to know that she'd at least come by it honestly.
"So, San Francisco's next on the list?" Dean asked the next morning as they climbed into the car.
Luna shrugged. "Neville said somewhere near there."
Dean frowned. "It's a big city. Isn't there any way to narrow it down? Somebody's got to know where whatever we're looking for is. Didn't one team go there already?"
"Yes," Luna said, "Zacharias and Parvati. But I don't know exactly where their Portkey took them. They must have run into something, though, or they would have checked in long before now."
"Right," Dean decided. "How about you track down whatever place is wizard central is San Francisco, and we double-check they still haven't been heard from. And if not, we can get someone to tell us exactly where they landed so we can go check it out. Sound like a plan?"
"It does sound like a plan," Luna agreed. "A good one, even." As Dean started the engine, she leaned forward and began rummaging through the box of tapes, a fascinated expression on her face.
"Do you have the same music as us?" Dean asked, suddenly curious. A world without Led Zeppelin was a truly terrifying concept.
"Not really," Luna said absently. "There are wizarding bands and singers. But there's some overlap - some of them make music in the Muggle world, too. And wizards who come from a Muggle background bring their music with them, of course, so we're not entirely unfamiliar with your bands."
"Huh," Dean said. The thought of some musicians and bands actually having magic powers was weird. He tried to think who might be candidates. Maybe that singer Sammy had been obsessed with a while back, claiming she'd been possessed by some kind of sex demon. (Personally, Dean had figured his kid brother was just starting to appreciate the wonders of the female body, but who knew?) Or more likely all those weirdo chicks Sammy used to listen to all the time, like -
"Can we listen to this?" Luna asked.
"Sure," Dean said, before realizing she was holding up one of the tapes Sammy had made way back. "Oh, wait, no -"
It was too late: Luna had already slipped it into the tape deck, and the sound of some chick playing piano filled the car. Dean gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to take the tape straight back out.
Having Luna around the past few days had been a good distraction. But the truth was, sometimes Dean missed his kid brother so much it hurt.
If Sam had been there, Dean would have been bitching about the music and how crazy the singer clearly was, going on about being a tree and having leaves and what the fuck ever. And Sam would have been bitching back about how Dean never let him enjoy his music in peace, and it was a metaphor, Dean, for what humanity was doing to the environment, and going on and on about how deep and meaningful it all was -
"It must have been interesting, turning into a tree," Luna observed dreamily. "No wonder she wrote a song about it."
Caught off-guard, Dean couldn't help but laugh, his darker thoughts giving way to amusement. "I have got to introduce you to my brother some day."
"Did he turn into a tree?" Luna inquired.
"Not that I know of," Dean said. "Then again, it might explain a thing or two - the kid just shot up one day, he's taller than me now. But yeah, I think listening to the two of you talking about music might be hilarious."
"It would be nice to meet him," Luna said, and added thoughtfully, "I think I'd like to turn into a weeping willow tree, personally. Though I imagine that's hard on your back."
Dean laughed again, and decided going back to California wasn't going to be as bad as he'd thought.
The wizarding community in San Francisco was apparently huge. Dean guessed he shouldn't really have been surprised. It seemed like the kind of place.
He'd put his foot down and refused to let Luna dress him up in robes this time; Luna had simply laughed and tried to convince him to wear a hat anyway. She could be damn convincing when she kissed him, but Dean had stood firm. There was no goddamn way he was going to put on a pointy hat again, and particularly not when he was in the same state as Sam.
Luna seemed subdued once they were on the main wizarding street, wandering along looking for the post office. Dean remembered now that she'd looked a little odd in Boise, too. He hadn't felt like he'd known her well enough to ask, back then.
Even though it had only been a day or two, though, they'd gotten to know each other better now: well enough for him to reach out and take her hand. "What's wrong?"
Luna blinked at him and opened her mouth, then closed it again when he gave her a look warning her not to try bullshitting him this time. Finally she said, "It's just odd, seeing this place. In Britain the war's been going on so long that our streets don't look like this anymore. Seeing all these people just going about their lives..."
Dean put an arm around her. "Let's find this place, then, and see if we can end it as soon as possible."
Luna gave him a grateful smile.
They found the post office eventually, and went through the same routine as before to get a private room with a fireplace.
"Luna!" the face that finally appeared in the embers exclaimed. "Hang on, Hermione's here, we've been waiting for you to get in touch again - just let me fetch her."
"Okay, Neville," Luna said, and settled into a more comfortable sitting position, holding out a hand for Dean to join her.
"Who's Hermione?" Dean asked her quietly, sitting down beside her.
"A friend," Luna said. "She's one of Harry's best friends - she went underground with him when the Dark Lord started taking over. She was involved in tracking down this Horcrux, so she should be able to tell us where the third team went."
"Luna, thank goodness you're okay," a new voice said, and Dean turned his attention to the woman's face taking shape in the flames. He could see Neville's head in the background, and wondered what his own face looked like to them. Sometimes the magic thing really was disturbing.
"Thank you, Hermione," Luna said. "How is Hannah? And - and Ernie?"
Hermione's mouth twisted. "Hannah's fine," she said reassuringly. "We were able to reverse it, she's recovering. Ernie... well, you know what happened to him. He's being cared for."
Luna sighed and nodded. "I'm glad Hannah's okay."
"And Ginny's doing better too," Hermione added. "She's been asking after you."
Luna smiled. "Please tell her to look after herself. And I'll bring her wand back with me."
"I will," Hermione promised. She turned her gaze on Dean, and he tried not to flinch at being stared at by two pieces of coal. "Who is this?"
"This is Dean," Luna said. "He saved my life when Ginny and I were attacked, and he's been helping me since then."
"You're an American wizard?" Hermione asked, sounding interested.
"American, yes, wizard, no," Dean told her, refusing to feel in any way defensive about it. "I save my magic for... other areas." He waggled his eyebrows at Luna, who laughed at him.
Hermione was frowning now. "Luna, I'm not sure it was wise to bring someone else into this. Let alone someone who can't protect himself -"
"Whoa there," Dean interrupted, suddenly annoyed. "You don't know a goddamn thing about me, sweetheart. Trust me, I can protect myself just fine -"
Luna touched his arm to quieten him. "Hermione, I trust Dean," she said calmly. "He can defend himself - he saved my life. He already knew about magic. He's helped me a great deal, and he understands the risks. It's our decision."
That seemed to stop Hermione; she blinked as if, Dean thought, she wasn't used to Luna speaking so plainly. "Okay," she said after a moment. "Just - be careful."
"Have you heard from Zacharias or Parvati?" Luna asked.
Hermione shook her head. "No. We have to assume they ran into trouble."
"Where exactly did you send them?" Dean put in.
Hermione looked at him warily, but answered the question. "We found out that the Lestranges have a house somewhere in the San Francisco area, but we couldn't pin down an exact location for it - the other two were easier to track. So the Portkeys were programed to take them to a position one hundred feet from the most powerful source of dark magic in the city: we hoped that would be the house, but far enough away that they wouldn't be discovered immediately." She looked weary and almost guilty. "We may have misjudged."
"We don't know that, Hermione," Luna said gently. "Dean and I will find them."
Hermione looked very much like she wanted to protest again, but after a moment she simply nodded. "I hope so. We'd like to send more people out to help you, but it's going to take a few more days for us to program new Portkeys. If it looks like there's going to be trouble, though, wait for us - don't go rushing into something you can't handle."
Dean would have been offended by her estimation of their abilities if it hadn't been for the genuine concern in her voice.
Luna simply smiled. "We'll be careful. And we should go, this isn't safe for you, either. Give Harry my love when you see him."
Hermione smiled back warmly. "I will, Luna. Contact us again soon."
"Take care, Luna!" Neville called from behind her, and then their faces faded away, leaving only the fire.
Dean stared at the house doubtfully. "What do you think?" he asked Luna, without looking away from it. From the outside, it looked like a normal house, but their research had shown that a suspicious number of people had disappeared nearby.
"There's dark magic there, I can feel it," Luna said slowly. "Strong enough that I can believe this is where the Portkey took them."
"But?" Dean prompted.
"But I would have expected it to be better hidden, particularly since it's in the middle of the Muggle city," Luna admitted. "Protected by a Secret Keeper, possibly, or at least with charms to keep Muggles from noticing it."
"Yeah," Dean agreed. He might not know anything about the magical mechanics involved, but he knew to be suspicious of anything that was that easy to find. "We're going to walk in there anyway, aren't we?"
"Unless you'd rather fly," Luna agreed innocently.
Dean shot her a dark look, and Luna smiled and took his hand, leading the way across the street. "It could be deliberate," she added thoughtfully. "Perhaps it gives them easy access to Muggles, for some reason."
"Like... torturing and killing them?" Dean asked.
"Something like that," Luna agreed, and pulled her wand out of her hair, turning her attention to the front door. "Shall we?
"That sounds promising," Dean said sarcastically, and took her hand. They stepped forward together, and Dean realized immediately that they'd made a mistake. Magic tugged at him sharply, and the world fell away around him -
- and reappeared, but different from before.
They were on their knees on a stone floor, and when Dean looked up, dizzily, the walls were stone too. Wherever they were, it was dimly lit. And ominously dungeon-like, judging by the heavy metal doors set into the walls.
"Take this," Luna hissed, pushing something into his hands.
Dean focused, and realized it was her wand. "What? No, you -"
"It's Ginny's," Luna explained, quiet and rushed. "Whatever you do, don't let them know you're not a wizard. Please, Dean."
Dean was still trying to catch up, but he took the wand obediently. "Where are we? The place we were really looking for, I guess?"
"I think so," Luna said, and got to her feet, her wand in her hand. "The house was a decoy, a trap to bring us here."
Dean forced himself to his feet too. "Awesome." He looked around warily, and wasn't surprised when two dark-robed figures came through the nearest door.
Luna didn't waste any time on talking, just cast a spell, red light flashing from her wand and speeding towards them. But the nearest of the two figures deflected it with apparent ease, and before Dean knew it, the wand was sailing out of Luna's hand. The one that she'd given him was jerked out of his hand by some invisible force a moment later, flying into the hands of one of the dark-robed wizards.
"They sent a little girl like you?" one of the figures sneered at Luna. He turned scornful eyes on Dean. "And you, you're a Mudblood, aren't you? Just look at the way you're dressed. I can always tell." He took a step forward, leaning in almost confidingly. "I could smell the stench of your blood from the other side of the room."
"Too bad I couldn't smell yours over the stench of your -" Dean began.
Luna took hold of his arm, squeezing to silence him. "He's not what you think - it's just that he's a Muggle lover." She darted a quick, warm glance at him, her eyes dancing at the pun despite the gravity of the situation, and Dean relaxed a little, thinking If they only knew.
"That won't save either of you," the other wizard said ominously, and opened a heavy metal door to one of the cells. "Get in, both of you."
Luna smiled at the wizard and led the way inside, looking around with interest, for all the world as if they'd invited her in for tea. Dean stayed close beside her, studying the thick stone walls, already pretty certain they wouldn't be able to get through them.
The door was closed behind them, and Dean heard one of the men murmur something - presumably a locking charm, since they hadn't bothered to use a key - before footsteps receded out of earshot.
"Well, that went well," Dean said sarcastically.
Luna sat down cross-legged on the stone floor. "I thought so," she agreed, sounding as if she meant it.
Since she didn't seem concerned, or indeed in any way unhappy about being magically locked in a cold, empty cell by evil wizards, Dean decided to take it easy for now. Luna had her weird side, but she was plenty smart; if she wasn't bothered, maybe it was because there was nothing to be worried about.
Personally, Dean was a bit worried about being locked in a cell by evil wizards, but what the hell did he know.
"Never thought I'd see the day a police cell would seem like luxury quarters," he said, sitting down and leaning against the wall.
"Police?" Luna asked.
"You don't have - wow," Dean said, struck by the possibilities. "They try to stop people from breaking the law, and catch people who do."
"Oh, yes," Luna said. "We have something similar, though with a different name. Have you spent much time in cells?"
Dean wondered if she was the only woman in the world who could ask that question with genuine interest and a complete lack of censure.
"A bit," he admitted. "Sometimes you have to break a few laws, in my job. And when you're constantly going places where people have died under mysterious circumstances... well, there are bound to be a few misunderstandings."
Luna nodded. "I was taken hostage and held in some dungeons once," she said matter-of-factly. "It wasn't so bad, though."
"Did you escape?" Dean asked.
"I was rescued," Luna said. "Harry and Hermione and Ron found me."
Dean looked at her. "Is that the plan here, too? Wait for someone to come rescue us?"
"Oh, no," Luna said in surprise. "I was planning to leave in a few minutes, once the Death Eaters are definitely out of hearing range. You can stay here and wait if you like, though, I don't mind."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, much as I'm enjoying the peace and quiet, I think I'll pass. How are you planning to get us out of here? You got another wand up your sleeve?"
Luna smiled at him. "You said you sometimes have to break the law, in your job. Doesn't that also include breaking into - or in this case out of - places that are locked?"
Dean stared at her. "You want me to pick the lock? But it - I mean, they put a spell on it!"
"Just a basic locking charm," Luna assured him. "It's like using a key. Whatever you normally do should work."
"...Huh," Dean said, and pulled out his lockpicks.
A few seconds later, the door swung open, and Dean grinned at Luna broadly, pulling her to her feet for a quick kiss. "That why you didn't want them to know I'm not a wizard?" he asked, leading the way back out into the corridor.
"Well, that and I didn't want them to torture and kill you," Luna said matter-of-factly.
"Good reason," Dean agreed.
"And they didn't bother to search you for another weapon," Luna added. "So at least one of us is armed."
Dean drew out his gun, appreciating that too. "Awesome. So, what, now we go kick their asses?"
"I'd like to check the rest of the cells first, in case Zacharias and Parvati are here," Luna said. "If you don't mind working your magic some more."
It didn't take a lot of trial and error: only one of the cells turned out to be locked, and Dean was pleased to find he could pick the lock just as quickly. It was good to know that ordinary means could trump magical in this case at least.
"Luna?" two shocked voices said from inside.
"Hello Parvati, hello Zacharias," Luna said. "We thought you might want to get out of there."
Parvati was a pretty but worn-looking girl, about the same age as Luna, or maybe a little older. Zacharias was around the same age, blond and angular, and staring at Luna with a near-offensive expression of incredulity as he levered himself to his feet.
"This is Dean," Luna added by way of explanation, holding the cell door open for them. "He's not an artist, but he's very good at sex."
Dean had almost been around Luna long enough now not to be surprised. "Hell yeah," he agreed simply, grinning as the other two choked. Parvati recovered quickly to give him an arch look and a suggestive smile, while Zacharias rolled his eyes in irritation.
"Where are the others?" he asked.
"It's just us," Luna said. "The others are back in Britain. They're going to make more Portkeys and come out, but it might take a day or two. We could hang around here until then if you really want, but I'm not sure it'll be that much fun."
"Just you?" Parvati said in surprise. "Ginny?"
"She was injured," Luna said. Her tone was light, but short. "Hermione and Neville tell me she's doing better."
"So this is it?" Zacharias said. "Oh, great. Do you still have your wands, at least?"
"The Death Eaters took them," Luna said unconcernedly.
"Then how did you open the cell door?" Parvati asked.
"Muggle magic," Luna said happily. "Dean did it."
"Picked the lock, it was easy," Dean agreed.
Parvati's eyes widened in sudden realization. "Oh. Oh, I see - you're a Muggle! Sorry, I just assumed you must be a wizard."
"A Muggle? Really?" Zacharias said in surprise, looking him over again. "How did you get mixed up in this, then?"
"I ran into Luna, what can I say," Dean said.
Parvati said, "Look, we should move before the Death Eaters come back down here. There'll be time to get to know Dean better later on." She smiled at him to show she meant no offense, and Dean nodded in understanding. "Do you know where we are?"
"The house we were Portkeyed to must have had a trap, when we tried to go inside we were Portkeyed straight into these dungeons," Zacharias said.
"It was the same for us," Luna said. "We could be anywhere."
"Great," Zacharias said again in disgust. "Nothing for it other than to get out of these dungeons and look around, then - try to find our wands and our Portkeys. Let's go."
Dean wasn't exactly keen on Zacharias issuing orders, but they made sense, so he went along for now, staying close to Luna and keeping his gun at the ready.
The doorway the Death Eaters had come through before led out onto a stone stairwell, stretching up. Zacharias led the way, looking around carefully. One flight up, they found a heavy wooden door, leading off onto what Dean guessed must be the first floor, before the stairs continued on up.
Dean craned his head back and studied the stairs. At least three floors, he was guessing. Why couldn't it ever be a goddamn bungalow he had to search?
"We should split up to cover the ground more quickly," Zacharias said.
"Dean is the only one who's armed," Luna pointed out absently, sounding as if she was only half-listening.
Parvati nodded in agreement. "She's right, Zach - it makes more sense for us to stick together."
"And you think there's any way the four of us blundering around here together is going to go unnoticed?" Zacharias said.
Dean was starting to wish he and Luna had left them locked up while they dealt with things. It was only now that he was fully appreciating how smoothly they'd managed to work together so far.
"Let's check out this floor together," he suggested. "It should give us a better idea of where we are and what the layout of this place is like. And then we can figure out if it makes sense to split up."
Zacharias gave him a somewhat disparaging look, but Luna smiled and said breezily, "That's settled, then," and pulled the door open, effectively cutting off the discussion by forcing them all to adopt defensive positions up against the walls.
Luna had stuck her head through the cracked door and reported softly, "It's another hallway, stone, four or five doors leading off it. One is open down on the left, I can see a little bit of what looks like a grand entry hall through it. Stairs leading up. I can't see anyone, but it doesn't feel empty."
They struck it lucky, in the end: the third room they checked turned out to have their wands stored in a magical safe. The lock was even easier for Dean to pick than those of the cell doors in the dungeons. Luna handed Ginny's wand back to him, and Dean accepted it, even though he couldn't use it, remembering what she'd told him about not letting the Death Eaters realize he wasn't a wizard.
"Right, we should split up," Zacharias said, looking far more confident now he had his wand back. "Search for the Horcrux, and our Portkeys. Shame they aren't here too."
"Things are never that easy," Parvati told him, her mouth quirking.
"Where would be the fun in that?" Luna asked dreamily, looking around in a way that suggested she was paying only a minimum of attention to the conversation.
Zacharias shot her an irritated look, and yeah, okay, Dean could totally see why Luna did it. Mostly it was just how she was - she seemed to come at reality from a different angle than anyone else he'd ever known - but at least a tiny part had to be to confound the people around her. And Dean knew all about that.
"Groups," Zacharias continued. "I think... Dean, isn't it? Dean should go with either Parvati or myself -"
"What?" Dean interrupted. "Why?"
"You can't do magic," Zacharias said reasonably. "And we're going up against Death Eaters, so you should be with someone who... well, you know."
"No, I really don't," Dean said without taking his eyes off him. "Why don't you just say whatever it is you're trying to say?"
"It doesn't matter, Dean," Luna said softly, touching his arm. Dean didn't shake her off, but he didn't look away from Zacharias, either.
"It's just that Luna has a somewhat... unusual approach to fighting, that's all," Zacharias said awkwardly. "I mean, obviously you've no way of knowing, as a Muggle, and especially she was your first introduction to the wizarding world, but we're not all like Luna -"
"Too bad," Dean said flatly, and took a step back before he could lose his temper and punch the bastard. "Take the next floor up, Luna and I'll take the one above."
"Come on, Zach," Parvati said hastily, pushing him towards the door. She hesitated in the doorway, turning back to say, "I'm sorry, Luna, he didn't mean that the way it sounded -"
"I understand what he meant," Luna said calmly.
Dean noticed that she didn't specify which interpretation, but Parvati didn't seem to. "Good," she said in relief, flashed them a smile and disappeared out the door.
"I'm going to end up shooting him before we get out of here," Dean muttered, deciding to stay where they were for a few minutes to let Zacharias and Parvati get out of range.
Luna gave him an odd smile. "You shouldn't take it to heart too much."
"The hell I shouldn't," Dean said, suddenly furious again. "What fucking right does he have to say something like that?"
Luna was wandering around the room, staring at the contents as if far more fascinated by the admittedly disturbing carvings on the desk than the conversation. "I've always been different. I believe in things the others don't, and they find that odd. When we started school, I was the only one who could see the thestrals that pulled our carriages - everyone else thought they powered themselves." She smiled. "People thought I was mad - Loony Luna, they called me. I never really minded."
Dean didn't know what to say. You should have done? You still should?
"My mother invented new spells, and my dad researched creatures no one else believed in, so I grew up knowing there was more out there than people knew," Luna said. "Most people only seem to believe the most obvious things in front of their eyes."
Dean knew all about that. He never failed to be amazed at the kinds of implausible explanations people could come up with if it meant not having to believe in the supernatural. From the outside, it was almost impressive. And he knew a thing or two about how that knowledge could separate you off, too.
"So what the hell was he talking about, about you fighting?" he asked finally. "You seemed to be handling the Death Eaters just fine when I first met you."
"With a little help from you," Luna said with a smile. "It's that I don't fight to kill, really." She stopped wandering and turned to look at him. "The Killing Curse is one of the Unforgivable Curses. When the war started, people started to learn it, and use it. But I haven't."
Dean nodded, slowly, thinking of his own determination not to shoot to kill, not when it came to people rather than supernatural creatures. "That's not something anyone should criticize you for."
Luna tilted her head to one side. "The war's been going on for a long time now. A lot of people are doing things they wouldn't have ever considered once. But there's a reason the Killing Curse is considered Unforgivable. And once you start, it becomes easier and easier to use it without ever considering the alternatives." She smiled again. "I have something of a reputation for using odd curses, sometimes even childish ones, rather than the ones people expect. I suppose I just think differently to other people. But it's possible to win a fight without killing your opponent. It makes other people nervous, though."
Dean didn't say anything, just crossed the room and kissed her, hard and determined, enjoying the way her breath caught before she kissed him back.
Her eyes were sparkling when they finally pulled back, and Dean wanted to tell her - that she was awesome, not to listen to anyone who told her otherwise. It seemed almost offensive, though. Luna was her own person, and didn't seem inclined to let anyone else's views influence hers. It wasn't his place to approve or disapprove of her attitudes.
Instead, he just said, "Maybe we should go now."
Luna laughed softly. "Probably." She turned and led the way to the door.
The floor they were checking out was high enough that Dean got a good view from the windows.
"I think we're on an island," he hissed to Luna. They were keeping their voices down because they'd spotted Death Eaters a few rooms back, and he wasn't in a hurry to run into them for real.
"I like islands," Luna said, standing beside him to look out the window. "This must be quite a large one, though."
Dean nodded, staring out at where the land gave way to the sea, and wondering with a growing sense of resignation how the hell they were going to get back off the island.
If Luna pulled out that damn broomstick again, he was going to hit her over the head with it.
They went back to searching the room, but Dean was already pretty sure they weren't going to find the Horcrux there, or the Portkey amulets that had been taken from Zacharias and Parvati.
Suddenly there was a rush of activity outside, footsteps moving past and towards the stairs. Dean and Luna both froze, listening, holding each other's gaze. "You think they found the others?" Dean asked quietly, when he was reasonably sure no one was about to overhear him.
Luna's eyes were distant as she thought. "I don't think so. We'd have heard shouting if they had, I think. This is something else."
"Do we check it out? Or take it as a chance to search the top floor?" Dean asked. "If they're not in trouble right now, searching might be good. Who knows if we'll get another opportunity like this."
"And we'll be able to search faster without Death Eaters around up there, and then go check out what's going on," Luna agreed. "Let's do it that way."
She was right that searching went much more quickly when they didn't have to worry about someone in the next room hearing them and coming in to find out what was going on. They rushed through several rooms in quick succession, and finally came across one that was different.
It was a bedroom, which was not in and of itself unusual - a lot of the rooms on this level were clearly sleeping quarters. But this one was both grander and more personal in a way the others hadn't been. There was a large, ornately carved four-poster bed, the kind of horrible wardrobe Dean was sure Sammy had had nightmares about when he was a kid, and various small items and belongings scattered about which made Dean think this room had been in use recently.
"Merlin," Luna whispered, staring around.
"What?" Dean asked, immediately nervous.
Luna looked around again, as if confirming her thoughts. "I think... I think this may be the room where Bellatrix Lestrange sleeps, when she's here."
Dean looked around again. "It looks like it's being used at the moment."
"Yes," Luna said. "I think - they must have realized by now that we're trying to reach the Horcrux. I think the Death Eaters must have sent word to her when they captured Zacharias and Parvati, and she came across to check up on things herself. Oh, Merlin."
"It's good news in a way, though," Dean pointed out. "The fact that she came here, and not to that tower or the first house? That must mean the Horcrux is actually here, right? Otherwise she wouldn't have bothered."
Luna looked at him, and nodded slowly. "You're right. So now we need to find it."
Dean nodded back and began looking around again. "What's she like?"
"Very powerful," Luna said. "Very cruel. Very devoted to the Dark Lord. She went to Azkaban prison for him, and it sent her a bit batty, if she wasn't already. But she's not stupid. She's dangerous."
"Hmm," Dean said thoughtfully. "How devoted are we talking? Let-me-offer-you-sexual-favors devoted?"
Luna gave a surprised laugh. "Fanatically devoted. I've no idea about the sexual favors, though."
"Still," Dean said. "Maybe devoted enough to want to keep this soul magic shit close to her?"
Luna took a moment to think about it. "Yes, perhaps. Though it would be too dangerous for her to carry it with her. She'd need to keep it in a very safe place."
"What room is safer than her own bedroom?" Dean said. "Particularly if she's as scary as you say. It doesn't sound like many of the other Death Eaters would dare to come in here."
Luna nodded, accepting the point. "I think you could be right."
They went back to searching, but a few moments later, Luna said, "Here."
Dean came across to look. Inside one of the rather terrifying dressers, there was what looked like a cube of golden light, shimmering around a golden goblet.
"Awesome," he said. "So, that's a trap, right?"
"It's a protective spell," Luna said. "It's usually tied to an object - a key, or something similar. I can't use an opening charm to get through it, and there's no lock for you to work your magic on." She met his eyes. "I'm not sure if it's also booby-trapped, but I wouldn't recommend touching it to see."
"So what you're saying is we need to find some other object?" Dean said, rubbing his forehead. It would be nice if once, just once, it could be easy.
"Yes," Luna said with a sigh. "I'm betting Bellatrix keeps it with her."
"Great," Dean said. "I guess we'd better go see what was going on with the Death Eaters, then."
They had to go down several levels, and then work their way along towards the hallway that ran along the top of the grand entrance hall, with stairs on either side leading down into the hall itself. They stayed as quiet as possible, though the murmur of the Death Eaters talking in the hall masked some sound.
Peering around the corner, Dean got his first look at Bellatrix Lestrange.
She was standing in the center of the hall below them, surrounded by Death Eaters, dressed in dark robes, a hideous-looking mask in her hands. She was tall, her face drawn into hard lines, and Dean thought she had probably been pretty once, before her life had taken its toll. It was hard to see that now, past the cold light of her eyes and sharp lines of her jaw.
"Hey," someone whispered softly behind him, and Dean whirled round and nearly shot Parvati before he recognized her.
"Sorry," she whispered, looking only slightly apologetic, as if she didn't quite realize how close he'd come to blowing her head off.
"Don't suppose you had any more luck than us?" Zacharias asked, pressing forward beside Dean to peer round the corner and into the hall.
"We found the Horcrux," Luna said, none of her usual dreaminess in her voice. "But it's protected - we think Bellatrix must have a key or something similar to break the enchantment."
Zacharias swore under his breath, but before he could say anything else, a woman's voice rang out, "Where are the Portkeys?"
Bellatrix, Dean knew at once, recognizing the tone of absolute command, even if he'd never heard her speak before.
The Death Eaters in the hall below - eight, by Dean's count - fell silent, and Dean winced. Bellatrix sounded like the kind of person who demanded immediate action, not just fearful, paralyzed silence.
At that moment, they caught sight of someone rushing towards them from the opposite end of the hallway, heading for the stairs at the far end of the entrance hall. Dean immediately flung himself back against the wall, pulling Zacharias back with him, his eyes on Luna, who had flattened herself with Parvati against the other side of the wall. If the Death Eater had so much as glanced in their direction, he would have seen them - he couldn't have been more than thirty feet away - but he seemed too caught up in his terror to look away from what he was holding in his hands.
He hurried down the stairs on the other side of the hall, and Dean leaned forward again in time to see the Death Eater hold out what he was carrying to Bellatrix.
Zacharias hissed at his shoulder. "Those are our Portkeys."
Sure enough, Dean could recognize them as amulets identical to the one Luna had given Ginny back when he'd first met her, and to the ones Ernie and Hannah had been wearing.
Bellatrix took one, pulling it over her head, and gestured to the Death Eater. He moved over to the others, who formed a circle around him, jostling slightly for position, reaching out to touch the amulet he was holding out in his hands.
"They're going to attack the Order base," Parvati said in low, panicked tones. "The Portkeys will take them right there. The Order won't have any warning."
"And she'll take the key to the protections on the Horcrux with her," Luna added, her voice distant and thoughtful.
Dean looked at her sharply, recognizing that tone of voice.
"On my count," Bellatrix said loudly.
And before Dean could reach out to grab Luna, she'd slipped past him, wandering calmly out into the open hallway above the entrance hall, for all the world as if she was sight-seeing.
"Hello," she said loudly. "Are you going somewhere?"
She had to duck down behind the ornate railings a second later, as three or four curses flashed in her direction. Dean swore and started to move forward, but Parvati and Zacharias caught hold of him.
"Wait a moment," Parvati hissed. "Trust her. We'll help her, don't worry."
"I must say, you have a very impressive house," Luna continued, standing up again, close enough to a pillar that she could probably duck behind it fast enough to avoid a curse. "I particularly like your bedroom, Bellatrix. You have some very interesting things in there."
Dean was watching Bellatrix, and he saw the movement Luna had been counting on, the swift flash of her hand to her throat to check the key was still there and safe.
Wearing it on a chain around her neck. Got it.
"Kill her," Bellatrix snapped, raising her own wand.
Luna ducked behind the pillar, and Dean moved out into the open, keeping low to take advantage of the slight protection offered by the ornate railings. He rushed as fast as he could to the shelter of the pillar where Luna was standing, pressing against her. He could hear the curses being flung as Parvati and Zacharias moved out into the open too, already throwing spells.
"I take it all back," he told Luna, leaning down to hiss in her ear. "You are a lunatic."
Luna laughed at him, and when he pulled back to see her face, she was smiling, fierce and beautiful. "It worked, though. The key's on a chain -"
"Around her neck, I saw," Dean agreed. "How the hell are we going to get it without getting killed?"
"Two more things to remember about Bellatrix," Luna said. Her tone was serious, but her eyes were dancing. "She's very proud - hates being made a fool of. And she loathes Muggles - she'll be more afraid of your gun than anything else. Be careful."
She pressed a lightning-fast kiss to his lips, and before he could react, she vanished. Not just slipped out from between him and the pillar, but disappeared. For a moment Dean thought she'd turned herself invisible, but then he heard her voice on other side of the room and realized she'd done the zappy teleportation thing she'd told him about.
He ducked back out from behind the pillar, and had a moment to see that Luna was on the ground level, next to the grand outer doors, the Death Eaters now between him and her, before he had to turn his attention to the Death Eaters coming up the stairs on his side.
He shot two, getting them in the shoulder, and was relieved when that took them down. They weren't dead - they were human, and he wasn't about to take a killing shot if he could avoid it - but they'd clearly never been shot before, and they showed no signs of getting up any time soon. He grabbed their wands anyway to be on the safe side, and had to count himself lucky when a Death Eater below who'd been taking aim at him suddenly collapsed to the ground in a flash of green light.
Zacharias nodded at him from the other set of stairs, and Dean nodded back in thanks.
He turned his attention to the situation below, just in time to see Luna casting a spell on Bellatrix. He didn't recognize the words, of course, and so he didn't exactly have any expectations of what it would do, but somehow he was still taken aback when a torrent of bats started flying out of Bellatrix's nose.
"People do say you're a bit batty, Bellatrix," Luna sang out.
Dean couldn't help laughing incredulously for a second at the way Bellatrix was staggering, flailing with her wand at the bats still pouring from her nose. He started down the stairs, keeping a sharp eye on the remaining Death Eaters. Most of them were being kept occupied by Parvati and Zacharias, but one woman was turning towards Luna and Bellatrix, and Dean took her down the same way he had the other two.
He didn't have a chance to go across and take away her wand, though, because Luna used the distraction of whatever insane curse it was she'd placed on Bellatrix to dart forward and make a grab for the chain around Bellatrix's neck - ignoring the amulet Bellatrix was also wearing in favor of grabbing the tiny gold key. Dean hurried forward, but at that moment Bellatrix finally managed to end the curse on her and grabbed Luna's wrist with one hand, raising her wand in the other.
Dean cocked his gun and pressed it against the back of Bellatrix's head. "Let her go."
"That's a gun," Luna pointed out helpfully. She looked entirely unafraid at having Bellatrix's wand at her throat, but Dean knew better. "You know, like the one Martin Miggs uses? Though maybe you don't like comics about Muggles."
"I can pull the trigger faster than you can say a spell," Dean said. "Let her go."
He wasn't sure he could, in reality. Despite what he'd heard about Bellatrix Lestrange being dangerous and cruel and an all-around bitch, she was alive and she was human, and he really didn't think he could blow her brains out in cold blood.
Hopefully she wouldn't realize that.
Luna pulled her wrist free, still clutching the key.
"Muggle," Bellatrix breathed, in disgust so strong it was close to horror. He could see her fingers twitching around her wand with her desire to curse him.
"I prefer Dean, actually," he told her.
"Dean, do it!" Zacharias yelled from behind them.
It was only a second of distraction, but it was enough. Enough for Bellatrix to reach up, twist the amulet she was still wearing around her neck, and disappear.
"Son of a bitch," Luna swore, and Dean did a double-take, realizing with something between pride and shock that she must have picked that up from him. "Zacharias!" She raised her wand and sent a jet of red light at one of the remaining Death Eaters, then another.
"You should have shot her," Zacharias told Dean when the remaining Death Eaters had either run for it, or were lying unconscious on the ground. "Damn it, you don't know the things she's done!"
"No," Dean said, not backing down an inch under his furious gaze. "It's more what I've done that I was thinking about."
"Here's the other amulet," Parvati said, picking it up from the floor where it had fallen amid the confusion of the fight. "We should go back, quick - they'll need help to deal with Bellatrix -"
"You two go," Luna said. "Dean and I will get the Horcrux."
"But then how will you get it back?" Zacharias demanded. "We need to take the Horcrux with us -"
"Right back into Bellatrix's hands?" Luna asked. "No. Let me worry about the Horcrux. Go, hurry."
"She's right, Zach," Parvati said urgently. "We can't take the Horcrux back into a battle with Bellatrix. Come on." She held the amulet out towards him.
Zacharias reached out to touch it, reluctantly. "Get it back to Britain somehow, fast," he told Luna.
"Be careful, Luna," Parvati said, and gave Dean a quick smile of farewell before she twisted the amulet and the two of them vanished.
Luna smiled at Dean and held up the little gold key. "Shall we?"
Dean grinned, and followed her as she ran up the stairs.
Retrieving the Horcrux was almost an anti-climax. The shimmering gold surrounding it fell away at the first touch of the key, and Luna wrapped her sleeve around her hand and carefully placed the Horcrux into a pocket of her TARDIS bag. Dean could understand her reluctance to touch it - now the golden barriers were gone, even he could sense the horrible feeling of dark magic emanating from the golden cup.
"Let's get out of here," Dean said, and paused. "How are we going to get out of here?"
Luna smiled in a way that told him he wasn't going to like the answer.
It was dark outside, when they finally made their way out of the house. Luna took his hand, pulling him away from the path that led down to the sea and instead heading over the rocks towards the far side of the island. Dean really hoped she had a plan, and that it didn't involve the word 'broomstick'.
"We should get further away, in case any Death Eaters come after us," Luna said.
Dean nodded. Some of the Death Eaters had vanished, presumably by the same zappy trick Luna had used herself in there, and there was no way of knowing whether they'd come back. A few others had only been knocked out rather than killed, and he and Luna had elected to make their escape as quickly as possible rather than wasting time on tying them up.
"Are you going to do your..." Dean waved his free hand meaningfully, "...teleportation thing?"
Luna laughed. "Not really a good idea when I don't know where we are. That's a good recipe for leaving half of us smeared all over the rocks."
Dean decided he was relieved. Teleportation had sounded only marginally more fun than having to get on that broomstick again.
It took almost quarter of an hour for them to reach the other side of the island, and Dean looked around blankly. He could see lights far off across the water, which he was hoping must be the mainland, but there was no boat or anything else that looked like a hope of avoiding the broomstick.
"I don't suppose you have an apple?" Luna asked.
Dean turned and stopped dead, staring. Luna was stroking the neck of some... creature. It looked a little bit like a winged horse, if you thought less Pegasus and more Ringwraith.
"What the fuck," he said.
Luna was beaming at the... thing. "This is a thestral. They're very strong, and very fast." She glanced up at him. "So no apple? I don't suppose you have any raw meat, either?"
"Not unless you count my body, and I'm kind of worried that thing might," Dean said. "A thestral?"
"Only those who've seen death can see them," Luna said. "They're the creatures I mentioned, the ones who pulled the carriages at school. I thought I saw a few earlier on when we were looking out the window."
"Huh," Dean said. "Well, it's been, uh, educational, but how are we going to -" He paused. "Oh, hell no, please tell me you're not actually thinking what I think you're thinking."
"We flew on thestrals all the way to London once," Luna said dreamily.
Suddenly, even the broomstick didn't sound like such an awful plan.
The thestral crouched down, and Luna climbed nimbly onto its back, leaning forward to stroke its neck again. She smiled up at Dean. "Are you coming?"
"For the record, after this I am never flying in any way, shape or form, ever again," Dean informed her, and climbed reluctantly on behind her.
The thestral sprang up and into the air before he even had a moment to get used to the idea, and Dean was forced to grab Luna's waist in a panic to avoid slipping off. Luna pulled his hands round to wrap around her, and he was close enough now to smell the faint scent of her hair. He relaxed, just a little, and tried not to look down.
Luna tilted her head back to press a quick kiss to his jaw, and Dean held on.
She'd been right about one thing - the thestral was fast. Too fast for Dean's comfort, though he reminded himself that at least the trip would end sooner that way. A few minutes later, the lights he'd seen before came into clearer view, and Dean realized he was looking at San Francisco.
He told Luna as much, glad of the distraction. "That must have been one of the little islands off the coast," he concluded.
"Oh good," Luna said. "That means the Impala will be waiting for us."
The motel room seemed incredibly welcoming after the day Dean had had. Even its weird ship theme couldn't disturb him.
He collapsed onto the bed and shut his eyes for a moment.
"You get rid of it?" he asked when he heard the door open a few minutes later.
"It flew off after it finished eating the apple," Luna said. He heard the sound of her putting down her bag and then the bed dipped as she slid onto it beside him.
They lay in silence for a while before Dean opened his eyes. Luna was staring up at the ceiling, apparently fascinated by the strangely knotted ropes strung across it. Dean couldn't entirely blame her.
"You did it," he said.
Luna smiled, still staring up at the ceiling. "We did it. Thank you, Dean, for everything."
"So how are you going to get it back to Britain?" Dean asked finally, like he hadn't been thinking about her leaving for hours.
Luna sighed. "I'm not sure yet. I don't think it would be a good idea to go back to the wizarding community here, there's too great a chance of Death Eaters tracking me down. And it'll be a while before a Portkey can be arranged, particularly if Bellatrix managed to get away from the Order. That location won't be secure any more, they'll need to set up a new one."
Dean nodded, and let himself imagine Luna hiding out with him for a while - redecorating crazy motel rooms together; Luna communing with his car; maybe taking on a few easy jobs together. Having someone to come back to.
That was it, though, wasn't it? Luna's father needed her. And Dean couldn't come between that.
He held the fantasy in his mind a moment longer, then let it go and said, "I did have one idea."
Luna turned her head to look at him, and now it was his turn to look up at the ceiling.
"You've dragged me onto enough flying things," he said. "But normal people fly too, you know. Ever heard of planes? You could fly back home the Muggle way. It doesn't sound like the Death Eaters would be able to track you."
Luna was silent for a moment, before she said, "That's a really good idea, Dean. I hadn't thought of that."
Dean nodded. "You could probably catch a flight from here, change somewhere - New York, maybe - and fly back to London from there."
Luna rolled on top of him, and the shock of her body settling against his made Dean look down to meet her gaze for the first time since he'd raised the topic.
"Are there any alternatives?" she asked. "I mean, maybe I could go to New York and get a plane there."
Dean felt a grin start to spread across his face. "You could do that. That would really make sure the Death Eaters lost your trail. It might be the safer plan."
Luna lowered her head until her lips were almost brushing his. "Any thoughts on how I could get to New York?" she asked, smiling at him.
"I guess I could drive you there," Dean said, trying to sound like it was a huge imposition, and pulled her down into a kiss.
"You sure that passport will work?" Dean asked worriedly. It was one of his fake ones, and he was pretty damn sure Luna couldn't pass herself off as him.
"I've put an illusion on it," Luna assured him. "It'll hold for long enough."
"And you remember what I told you about how the whole flying thing works," Dean said.
"Yes, Dean," Luna said, without a hint of impatience.
Her flight was called again, and Dean gritted his teeth.
Luna smiled in understanding, her eyes sad, and she stepped forward into his arms, hugging him. Dean wrapped his arms around her and held on.
He'd known all along that if Luna managed to survive the crazy situations she got herself into that she'd have to go back to her own country, her own world. She had family and friends who needed her, had a job to do, just like he did. And it wasn't like he was in love with her, not yet - he'd barely known her a few weeks.
But Luna had become important to him. He didn't really want to let her go.
"Come back someday," he said, clearing his throat. "When the war's over and things are okay again. Come back and visit. You can meet Sammy and put that Bat Bogey Hex on him."
Luna laughed. "I'll send you an owl when the war's over," she promised, and pulled back far enough to kiss him.
The flight was announced again, and Dean forced himself to let her go. "Take care of yourself, Luna," he said.
Luna smiled at him. "I'm glad I met you, Dean."
She pressed a last lightning-fast kiss to his lips, and then she was gone, walking towards security.
Dean watched her go, and heard a sudden, unexpected beep from his cell phone. He pulled it out and shot a quick glance at it.
1 new message. From Dad.
He raised his head again, and Luna looked back and gave him a little wave before she rounded the corner out of sight.
Dean sighed, and opened up the message. Time to get back to reality.
Somehow, though, reality didn't feel as resoundingly empty as it had a few weeks ago.
Chapter 5: Epilogue
Dean grabbed his winnings, winking at the bartender, and headed for the door, shrugging into his jacket as he went.
He was surprised to hear, as he emerged into the cold night air, Sam's voice pleading "- out of here, Dean will freak if he finds you here!"
Dean narrowed his eyes and rounded the corner to find...
Sam flapping his arms like a giant idiot at an owl. An owl perched awkwardly on the roof of the Impala.
"Oh fuck," Sam said resignedly, staring at his face. "Look, Dean, I couldn't get it to move, okay, but -"
Dean couldn't look away from the owl, remembering the last conversation he'd had with a girl he hadn't seen or heard from in the three years since he'd watched her walk through security at the airport in New York. He'd thought about her, though, wondering how she was doing, if she was even still alive.
"You son of a bitch," he told the owl. "I know damn well she would have told you not to scratch the car. She knows better than that."
The owl hooted once and flew off the car, which would have been an improvement if it hadn't settled on Dean's shoulder instead.
Sam made an abortive move like he was going to pull out a gun, his eyes wide, and Dean had to wave at him to calm down. "Chill, dude, it's not doing anything." Unless you counted the way its claws were digging into his shoulder, of course. Dean winced and was glad he'd put his coat back on before stepping outside.
The owls stuck out one of its legs, and Dean realized there was a rolled note attached to it. He carefully removed it.
"Dean?" Sam said. "What the fuck is going on?"
Dean ignored him. "Can you come back tomorrow for my reply?" he asked the owl, trying to ignore how stupid he felt talking to a goddamn bird.
The owl hooted once and took off, soaring into the air.
"And stay the fuck away from the car next time!" Dean yelled after it, and slid the note into his pocket to read when he was alone.
"Dude," Sam said. "Seriously, what the hell?"
"What?" Dean asked innocently, pulling out his keys and climbing into the car - not without a quick check for scratches to the paintwork.
"'What'?" Sam repeated incredulously. "That owl, Dean, what the hell?"
Dean grinned and started the engine, forcing Sam to climb hastily in the other side. "Jesus, Sam, anyone would think you'd never seen an owl before."
He pulled away from the bar, still grinning at the way Sam's huge-ass nostrils were flaring with irritation, and wondered whether he could convince Luna to cast her Bat Bogey Hex on his brother when she came to visit.