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When You're a Stranger

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It doesn't take them long to get in over their heads, which is something Damien thinks, in retrospect, that he should have seen coming. And he'd love to blame it on Barnes, except for the fact that it was kind of both their idea and Barnes is the one laying in a hospital bed babbling in a language that Damien doesn't recognize.

"Ancient Greek," says the dark, curly-haired nurse. Her badge identifies her as Stella Mavroukis, and she has a wide, white, sympathetic smile. "I don't speak it, but I know enough to recognize it. Is he a classics scholar?"

"He fixes printers," Damien says blankly. "It did something to him. The thing."

She nods like he's making sense, although he's pretty sure she'd do the same thing if he said Klingons had done this. Which might actually be less weird than the truth. "Does he have any family we can call?"

Barnes has a brother in high school and parents he hasn't talked to since he came out in college. "Just me," Damien says.

"And you're his...?"

"Boyfriend," he says defiantly. He doesn't quite have the courage to add, you have a problem with that?, but he wants to.

Her eyebrows go up, but she doesn't say anything else. And that's just as well, because Damien's freaked enough that he doesn't really know what he'll do if someone pushes him.

A witch did it, he imagines telling her. We were investigating a haunted house--yeah, we do that ever since we found out that ghosts are real at a fantasy convention a few months back--anyway, it turned out that it wasn't a ghost, it was a witch and she threw something at Barnes and he's been like this ever since.

Yeah, not such a good plan.

He's read the books, and if even half of what Carver Edlund wrote about is real, he knows that it could have been a lot worse. But it's Barnes, and if he doesn't get back to normal sometime soon they're going to shut him up in a psych ward. And there's only one person Damien can think of who'd have a clue what to do.

***

Sweet-talking people turns out to be a lot harder than Sam and Dean made it sound in the books.

Must be nice to be a fictional character, Damien thinks sourly when the publisher hangs up on him for the third time that day. "I think that woman has it in for me," he says aloud.

Barnes mumbles something that probably would make perfect sense if he lived in Sparta or something in 300 AD, but the way he's reaching out doesn't require a translation. Damien takes his hand, squeezes it, sighs. Barnes is too pale under his olive complexion, and there are dark circles under his eyes, but other than the fact that he seems to have forgotten how to speak English, there's nothing really wrong with him. That's what everyone's been telling Damien, anyway. It doesn't really help.

"I'm gonna fix this," Damien says, because he's not sure how much Barnes can understand. "I promise."

***

Four days in, the publisher finally takes pity on him and gives him Carver Edlund's phone number. "You'd better not stalk him," she says sternly. Her voice makes him picture a kindergarten teacher, the kind that yells at kids for coloring outside the lines. That's probably not fair. He doesn't really care.

"I'm not going to stalk him," Damien tells her. "Thank you."

When the guy picks up, Damien's sure for a minute that the woman gave him the wrong number. "This is Chuck." He sounds a little drunk.

"Uh," Damien says. "I'm looking for Mr. Edlund."

"I'm going to fire that woman," mumbles the guy. Chuck. "What do you want?"

"It's kind of..." Damien trails off. "Uh, it's hard to explain. Is Mr. Edlund there?"

"Carver Edlund is a pen name," the guy says wearily. "I wrote the books. What do you want?"

"I'm--" Damien breathes out a long sigh. "I really hope you can help me. See, I was at the convention, my boyfriend and I and we--uh--we got tangled in something. And now he keeps babbling in another language and nobody knows what's going on and I just. I don't know who else to call. Who else knows about this stuff."

"I knew I should have gone to dental school," says Chuck nonsensically. There's a slightly hysterical note in his voice that Damien can sympathize with. "Mom told me, but no, I had to be an artist, and look where that got me. Angels exploding in my living room. Ghosts haunting my conventions. Demon hunters crashing on my couch. I'm just a writer, okay?"

"Okay," Damien says in a small voice. His heart feels like it might have bypassed his stomach and sunk all the way down to his feet, and he feels painfully exposed in this sterile hospital hallway outside Barnes' room. "So you can't help?"

"No," Chuck says irritably. "But I can tell you who can. He's gonna kill me," he adds in an unhappy undertone.

Then he rattles off a number, so fast that Damien barely catches it, instructs Damien never to contact him again, and hangs up.

For such a great writer, he's kind of an asshole. But now Damien's got a number, which is better than nothing.

***

"Singer Salvage, this is Bobby."

"What?" Damien yelps into the mouthpiece.

"Help you with something?" It's the twangy kind of drawl that half the people around here have; the ones that have roots centuries deep in this soil, not transplants like him and Barnes.

"You're really Bobby Singer?"

"You deaf, boy?"

"No, I'm just, I--" Damien stops, swallows hard. Okay, so apparently there was a little more reality in those books than he realized. This is still so not the time to deal with it. "Carv--Chuck gave me your number," he says finally. "He said you could help with a problem I have."

"Like I don't have anything better to do," Bobby growls. "Interfering little prick. Well, spit it out."

As briefly as he can, Damien outlines the situation. It seemed like a good idea at the time, which is something he thinks he needs to get emblazoned on a t-shirt, or something. They've gone after a couple of hauntings since the convention--it's not like they're hunters or anything, but now that they know this stuff is real, what they hell are they supposed to do, ignore it? Anyway, so there was this house down the road from Damien's sister's place where people kept disappearing and...

Okay, in retrospect, they were probably a little overconfident from the two salt-and-burns that went off more or less without a hitch, unless you counted Damien's near-heart attack when the cops showed up the second time. They definitely weren't expecting the tiny, wizened woman hiding in the basement of the house, and then Barnes stepped forward to try to talk to her and she threw a handful of powder in his face and then just disappeared. And Barnes hasn't said a word in English since. They got a translator in, finally. He's been quoting Aristophanes.

There's a long silence when he finishes, then an unmistakable snort. "When you said you got in over your head, you weren't kidding, were you?" Bobby Singer says at last.

"No, sir," Damien says meekly. Meek doesn't really come naturally to him, but if it'll get Barnes back to normal he'll kiss as much ass as he has to.

"Alright, well, haul him on over here and I'll see what I can do."

Damien lets out a relieved breath, then immediately tenses up again. "We're in the hospital. Queen of Mercy. I can't--I mean, couldn't you--"

"I don't make house calls," Bobby Singer says in a voice that isn't even trying to be patient. "You want my help, you bring him here. I'm twenty miles up the highway from the hospital, address is in the phone book."

He hangs up. It's kind of rude, but Damien's been getting used to that.

***

The address is in the phone book. Yellow Pages, even. Singer Salvage is a reputable business in this area, apparently. If he'd ever been the kind of person who fixes his own car with secondhand parts, he'd know that.

Damien's pretty sure this is what it feels like to go insane.

***

It's not easy sneaking Barnes out of the hospital, and the fact that he won't stop talking doesn't help.

At least he can walk, so Damien doesn't have to steal a wheelchair on top of all the other probably-illegal stuff he's already doing. He doesn't know if it's actually illegal to sneak somebody out of the hospital, but it's almost definitely something he could get sued for by--somebody.

Whatever. He slides a hand over Barnes' mouth as yet another nurse passes by their hiding spot near the elevator. Barnes doesn't struggle, but he's still trying to talk, breath warm against the palm of Damien's hand.

"Stop that," Damien whispers. "I'm trying to get you better, okay, you need to cooperate."

Barnes mumbles something against his hand, but since it doesn't sound like English, Damien ignores him. Coast is clear, finally, and he hurries his boyfriend into the elevator and punches the button for the ground floor. His sister's truck is waiting out front, and when he sails out of the parking lot and onto the highway in the hot dusk, it's with a feeling that's half-terror, half giddy accomplishment.

This is definitely what it feels like to go insane.