The atmosphere on the bus after what had gone down in California was awkward, to say the least. Discovering that yet another of their teammates wasn’t human - was, in fact, not even part human, was just a tethered spirit-thing - was disconcerting. John was, irrationally, hurt that Evan hadn’t told him. Sure, Evan had figured out on his own that John was half-fae, and he’d been kind enough to keep it a secret till John chose to tell the team, but John felt like if Evan had known about him, it would have been fair that John know about Evan.
Obviously Dean had known about Evan. How long, though? John remembered that conversation he’d overheard before thanksgiving last year.
I warned you, Evan had said. When you tamed me, I warned you.
What did that mean?
Still, Dean and Evan took their driving and navigating turns in the appropriate order, and Evan cooked, and Dean joked with Sam, and everything seemed normal. But for the way everyone turned to look at Evan when even the slightest breeze stirred the air around them.
John was driving and Evan was navigating - Evan had Johnny Cash’s American IV playing quietly for John’s driving enjoyment - when Rodney poked his head between the front seats.
“Hey. Just got a call from General O’Neill. Detour toward the nearest Air Force Base.” He flashed John a brief smile, didn’t quite look at Evan.
Evan began tapping at his phone. “Nearest base from here is - Hill, in northern Utah.”
“Why do we need to go to an air base?” John asked.
“Orders,” Rodney said, mouth twisting in distaste. As a civilian, he didn’t much enjoy obeying orders.
John didn’t enjoy obeying orders, but he understood their utility. War was not a place for democracy. He just wasn’t quite sure if in this posting he was actually at war. He felt more like they were on a quest.
The little polite British woman’s voice on Evan’s phone informed John that she was recalculating the route.
“Anything further to those orders?” John asked.
“We’re shipping out,” Rodney said.
Shipping out. John knew the routine too well.
Utah drivers were officially insane, speeding down icy and slushy roads with little regard for their own safety, let alone the safety of others, and Dean, who had been driving, still had white-knuckled hands when he turned off the engine. He’d been less than amused when Sam had had to half-sprawl across his lap to show his Air Force ID to the guards at the gate, but once they were on the base, it was Evan who knew where to go.
As it turned out, they were going to England. Team Carter had shipped out to Hong Kong to get some weather wind from a living Torch Dragon as a back-up even though they’d managed to convince a wind spirit in Minnesota to give them some measure of air. General O’Neill insisted they have at least two of every element so they could make multiple attempts to open the Rionnag Geata when the time came.
There was a certain familiar comfort in packing a duffel bag to ship out. John wasn’t the only one who felt it. He, Sam, Dean, and Evan were all standing in a row, folding their clothes precisely one foot square, and packing their duffel bags. Uniforms. Civvies. Some personal items. Weapons. Basic hunting kits. (Blades in silver, consecrated iron, brass, gold. Vials of holy water, holy oil, salt, lamb’s blood. Stakes made of olive, lignum vitae, and palo santo. Buddhist and Catholic rosaries. A tiny Bible, a tiny Qu’ran. Matches and lighters.)
Evan still had his Air Force-issue duffel bag, Lorne E A stenciled on the side of it.
Sam cleared his throat. “What does A stand for?”
“Alexander,” Evan said. “After my father.”
“Your father?” John echoed.
“Alexander Evan Lorne. Served in Vietnam. Came home. Married my mom. Shot himself a couple of weeks before I was born.” Evan finished packing first - of course - and secured his bag shut with a couple efficient twists of his wrists.
“Born,” Sam said slowly.
Evan bit his lip. “It’s complicated.”
“I’ll bet,” John muttered.
Dean cut his brother a sharp look, and Sam fell silent, kept on packing.
The awkward mood was shattered when Vala came leaping onto the bus, carrying an overstuffed suitcase with her.
“I’m so excited. I’ve never been to England before!” She beamed and dropped her suitcase onto the couch in the spot where Evan’s duffel bag had been.
Evan sighed, unzipped it, began re-folding the contents.
Vala seemed perfectly unruffled that Evan was handling her delicates. “I want to see all of the important things - Big Ben, the Tower, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards, Stonehenge, the super giant ferris wheel.”
For one moment, John was confused, because Vala was British. How could she have never been to England before? And then he remembered. Her British accent was - something. An affectation. Some kind of remnant of whatever language she’d spoken before she’d been taken prisoner as Qetesh’s host.
“If we’re flying out of a base on a military transport,” Sam said, “we’ll be flying to another base and then probably driving directly to wherever the mission coordinates are.”
Vala’s expression fell.
Evan said, “Besides, being English isn’t about the touristy sites. It’s about the small things, the things only the locals know.”
Vala perked up. “True! But - none of you are locals.”
“I was stationed over there, for a bit,” Evan said. “I can show you some.”
Vala pressed a kiss to his cheek. “You really are a darling.” Of the entire team, she seemed the least bothered by Evan’s inhumanness. John suspected most days she didn’t quite feel human herself.
Once Sam was finished packing, he moved to help Evan re-pack Vala’s suitcase. Miko, who was perfectly competent at packing for herself, thanks, dragged Dean into helping her do a final sweep of the bus so they could park it in long storage and lock it up.
Once it was parked in long-term storage and locked up tight, Miko pocketed the keys, and they set off across the base, luggage in hand, to meet up with Rodney, who was talking to the base commander.
Dean, Sam, and John had changed back into their uniforms. There was a certain comfort to wearing the uniform, especially on a military base. Evan, however, looked strange and out of place, in one of his snappy three-piece suits, standing at attention, duffel bag over his shoulder, his posture the same as John and Sam’s.
Dean, Sam, John, Vala, Evan, and Miko stood in the reception area outside the commander’s office, watching Rodney shout and gesticulate while the commander stood ramrod straight behind his desk, a muscle in his jaw twitching. No one could hear what they were saying through the privacy glass, but John knew Rodney well enough to be able to guess. The commander was a full-bird colonel, graying at the temples. His staff were keeping their heads down and working, pretending they weren’t terribly curious about the strangers in their midst and the drama in the commander’s office.
Rodney threw his hands up, shook his head, and yanked open the door.
“Evan, you can still fly a C-130, can’t you?”
Evan nodded hesitantly. “I’m still capable, yes.”
The commander - Colonel Kimball - looked startled when he took in Evan’s appearance. “I’m not going to let a civilian -”
“Civilian now, pilot then, still at least as well-trained as any other flying monkey on this base,” Rodney snapped. “Our mission is vital to national security.”
Colonel Kimball was unimpressed. “Everything we do is vital to national security. We defend this country.”
John cleared his throat. “Colonel Kimball, sir - Major John Sheppard.”
Kimball eyed him. “You in charge of this outfit, son? Get your civilians under control.”
“Dr. McKay is the civilian commander of my team,” John explained. He reached out, put a warning hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “He’s still learning the ropes when it comes to military command structure. We received orders from General O’Neill to report here for immediate transport to Lakenheath. Given that General O’Neill personally relayed those orders to Dr. McKay over the phone, written orders may not have processed through. General O’Neill’s orders to Dr. McKay were quite urgent, but we understand the need to adhere to protocol. If there’s anything I or my team can do to expedite transport, we stand ready to assist.”
How long had it been since John had had to schmooze a superior officer like this? It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Colonel Kimball eyed Rodney with newfound respect. If a general was calling Rodney personally to relay orders, Rodney was more important than the colonel had given him credit for.
“I can’t just give you an entire C-130 to yourselves to take a jaunt to Lakenheath,” Colonel Kimball said gruffly. He had to maintain authority in front of his staff.
John inclined his head deferentially. “Of course.”
“But I do have a C-130 shipping out to Rammstein. I could reroute it to drop you and your team in Lakenheath first. It’ll take a bit of maneuvering.”
“Thank you, sir,” John said. He snapped to attention with a crisp, textbook salute, so Dean and Sam did the same. Colonel Kimball returned the salute, dismissed them, and John towed Rodney away from the base commander’s office before he said something they’d all regret.
Colonel Kimball retreated into his office, closed his door loudly behind him.
Dean attempted to smile at one of the pretty receptionists and charm her into telling him where the Hercules destined for Rammstein was in prep, but she was unimpressed by his Marine uniform, and it fell to Sam to get the information instead, all wide earnest eyes and a shy smile.
Miko had accessed the base’s plans on her tablet, so they gathered up their gear and headed for the hangar where the C-130 was loading up.
Rodney walked along beside John. “What was that back there?”
John glanced at him. “That was me getting us what we wanted.”
“Who are you and what have you done with John Sheppard?”
John looked at Rodney sidelong. He couldn’t tell if Rodney was amused or upset. “I’m an officer. I’m used to dealing with other officers in the chain of command.”
Rodney’s mouth quirked, and John wanted to lean in, kiss him. He wouldn’t be able to kiss or even touch Rodney for a long time, not if they were about to spend ten hours on a roaring C-130 transport to Lakenheath, jammed into the back with cargo and other airmen.
“It’s just - your hair, and your attitude, and - you were charming and manipulative.”
“I was doing my job,” John said quietly.
“Yes, obviously, and I’m grateful, but - you were good at it.”
“Thanks. I think.”
Rodney flicked him a glance from beneath his lashes, blue eyes bright. “Well - thank you. Dealing with soldiers can be irritating.”
“That we can,” John drawled.
At the hangar, John and the rest hung back while Sam - who was being coached over bluetooth by Evan - sidled up to the logistics officer who was reviewing the supply and personnel manifest and asked some questions, made some observations and casual suggestions about how best to rearrange the gear to accommodate the additional passengers.
It had been a while since John had ridden in a C-130. He made sure Miko and Vala were settled in before he went to strap himself in. Rodney had obviously done this enough times that he knew how to strap in. He was sitting beside John. Dean and Evan were on the other side of him. Opposite them were the other airmen who’d been previously scheduled for transport to Rammstein. They eyed John and his team with undisguised interest, but when they took in the bronze oak leaves on John’s uniform, they said nothing. He was the ranking officer onboard.
“I hate flying,” Dean muttered, tugging desultorily at his straps.
“Dramamine, ibuprofen, or valium?” Sam asked, digging in his pockets.
John raised his eyebrows. “Really?” He hadn’t realized flying made Dean that anxious.
“Really.” Dean avoided his gaze. He cleared his throat and said to Sam, “Valium. Booze, if you’ve got any.” Then he darted a glance at John and added, “Just kidding, sir.”
“Of course,” John said. He was a little disconcerted that Dean had called him sir, but of course, he was the ranking officer on his team, and they were surrounded by people who thought that the most dangerous thing to their existence was hiding in caves and desert sands with pilfered Russian RPGs.
The most dangerous thing in their midst was Evan. Who knew what he was capable of when unbound.
Dean leaned closer to John, lowered his voice. “Is there some reason we can’t just use a portal to get where we’re going? Evan could whip one up, no sweat.”
“I’m sure Evan could,” Rodney said from John’s other side, “but as much as we operate on a covert basis, we still belong to the US Air Force, and we still have to abide by international treaties, and that means entering and exiting countries legally and appropriately.”
Dean made a face but nodded in acceptance, sat back. Sam handed him a little pill. Dean went to swallow it dry, but Evan put a hand on his arm.
“When was the last time you flew?”
“It’s been years.”
Evan held his gaze very pointedly. “You might find that, with things as they are for you now, you won’t mind flying so much.”
Dean frowned. “A phobia doesn’t just magically go away - oh.” He tucked the pill into a pocket. “Fine. I’ll give it a shot.”
John tipped his head back, listened to the whine of the engines change pitch. They were getting ready to take off.
“Can you fly one of these?” Rodney asked.
“Technically, yes. Learned in school. Got my F-16 wings, same as Evan. But I was strictly rotor,” John said.
Rodney’s elbow brushed his. “Does it make you crazy? Having to sit back while someone else flies?”
“Little bit,” John admitted. He glanced at Evan. Flying one of these had been his bread and butter before taking up with Project Orion. If John didn’t like not being behind the flight controls, Evan had to hate it.
But that sylph had said you can’t fly anymore and Evan’s I know in response had been - dead. Hollow.
Evan, though, had his eyes closed, head tipped back, appeared asleep. Sam was asleep, too. The airmen across from John were all falling asleep. John remembered the admonition from basic. Sleep when you can.
So John closed his eyes and drifted off as the plane took to the sky.
The last thing he heard was Vala’s delighted, “England, here we come!”
They arrived in England in the middle of the night. Whatever SNAFU with orders that had been going on stateside had cleared itself up by the time they landed at Lakenheath, so there was a blue passenger van waiting for them. They piled into it, yawning and disoriented and hungry.
Instead of the usual driving rotation, Evan took the wheel, because he was the only one of them who had any experience driving on the left side of the road, and Vala was given the honor of riding shotgun and navigating so she could see her country.
Before they left the base, they loaded up on coffee and food. John, Sam, and Dean changed out of their uniforms. John and Rodney were crammed into the second row, leaving Miko and Sam the middle row and Dean contorted into the back row, half of his bench taken up by luggage and gear.
Rodney and Miko had packed very basic gear - EMF meters, laptops, comm systems, and a containment box.
“What are the coordinates for our rendezvous point?” Vala asked.
Rodney consulted his phone. “Glastonbury.”
Vala typed it into her phone obediently. “All right. From here to Glastonbury is all major roads - M11, M40, M25, M4, M3. Ooh, look, the M40 and M25 go around London. Can we stop in London?”
“We cannot stop in London,” Rodney said firmly.
“What are we looking for in Glastonbury?” Sam poked his head up between the head rests.
“The element we’re focusing on for this mission is water,” Rodney said.
Evan nodded. “Makes sense.” He steered the van out the gate and onto a narrow road, cruised along till he reached a roundabout, and then merged onto a massive four-lane highway. Even late at night it was buzzing with traffic.
“Why does that make sense?” Vala peered at the map on her phone. “I’m not seeing any bodies of water or the like.”
“Cam never told you the legends of King Arthur?” Evan asked.
“Not that I recall.” Vala set her phone in the center console and clasped her hands on her knees, sat up straight. “Please, tell me.”
Sam said, “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a quintessential British myth - it forms a lot of the English national consciousness. You should definitely get to know it.”
“Right. Tea. King Arthur. So what does King Arthur have to do with water and this place called Glastonbury? Is he at all related to the Glastonbury festival?”
“No,” John said. “That’s a music festival. Like Woodstock. Only - shouldn’t you know way more history than the rest of us? I mean, you lived it.”
“Not really.” Vala tossed her head, and her pigtails bounced. “I mean, yes, back when I was first mortal it was customary to hunt my meals on a regular basis and I looked quite ravishing in leather and furs, but Qetesh wasn’t much interested in my company. She liked to let me watch when she was on a rampage, sometimes, torturing and murdering and the like, but she wasn’t really one for history lessons, if you know what I mean. I never did learn all she learned. I know lots of things she knew - how to speak infernal, ways of dealing with demons - but not even I know what henges were used for.”
Vala said it all so blithely, but John winced anyway.
“Sorry. I didn’t realize -”
“That’s all right. Most people don’t. And I hope none of them ever have to really understand what it’s like.” Vala fluttered her hand at Sam. “Please, continue.”
“Dean actually knows the myths better than I do,” Sam said. “He’d read them to me, when we were kids, rolling across the country in Dad’s old car.”
Vala craned her neck to peer at Dean.
He was sleeping. He hadn’t needed valium to get through the flight, and he’d been quiet and contemplative about it ever since.
“Yes, well, I don’t want to have to shout back and forth to Dean, so you tell it.”
Sam was a gifted storyteller. Given how detail-oriented he was and the amount of trivia he had in his head and the potential for him to go off on long tangents - which he was prone to doing, without Dean to rein him in - he told the story well. About Merlin the wizard, and King Uther who wanted the Lady Igraine, and how through deceptive magic Arthur was conceived.
“Pretty sure that’s called rape,” Miko said.
Vala frowned. “And these are children’s stories?”
Sam winced. “Most of the children’s versions are - edited.”
He continued with the legend - Arthur raised by foster parents, proven the one true king by drawing the sword from the stone. Sam skimmed over some of the grittier details - Arthur’s accidental incestuous encounter with his half-sister Morgana, Guinevere cheating on him with Lancelot, the Holy Grail - and went straight to the end, where Arthur’s body was sent to the Glass Isle, Avalon, across the Lake from whence the Lady of the Lake came, the Lady who had possession of the magical sword.
“Avalon,” Sam said, “is described by some as the realm of the fairies.”
“If we wanted to go to the fairy realm, we have John,” Vala pointed out, and it was John’s turn to wince.
“Others say Avalon is a land of immortality, and that Arthur is not dead but sleeping, and when England needs him, he will rise again.”
Vala nodded. “Okay, yes, that does make sense, water from a magical lake would be useful in opening a certain portal to the stars and Atlantis. But what does that have to do with Glastonbury?”
“Some legends have it that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury - Glastonbury, the Glass Isle,” Sam said.
Evan chimed in with, “Old names for the Glastonbury Tor - the big tower at the top of the hill - include Ynys Gutrin, or Isle of Glass, and also Ynys ar Afalon, or Isle of Avalon. At the base of the Tor is the Chalice Well.”
“Oh, so we’re going to steal some water from the well?” Vala asked.
John raised his eyebrows. “Wait, we’re going to what?”
Evan frowned. “Why would we steal any of the water? There’s a little fountain where people can fill their water bottles or just drink the well water.”
Rodney cleared his throat. “Yes, we are going to acquire some of the water from the Chalice Well in case it does, in fact, possess mystical properties. A sample for testing would be prudent in any case. No, we’re going to capture water from the Lake itself.”
“But I just looked at the map, and there is no lake there,” Vala protested.
“Anciently,” Miko said, “the plains below the Tor were flooded, so the Tor up on its hill did look like an island in the middle of a lake.” She cast Rodney a questioning look. “The plains are no longer flooded.”
“Sometimes,” Rodney said, “mist surrounds the hill just so, so it looks like an island.”
Vala sighed. “We’re going to be catching some mist, then?”
“Mist is a type of water,” Sam offered, though he, too, looked hesitant about the entire process.
“What’s the plan, then?” John asked.
“Roll into town, set up camp, play tourist during the day to get the water from the well, and then we’ll have to wait for the weather to turn just right, for there to be enough mist that we can set up a capture tank and distillation pipes and get some of the mist,” Rodney said.
“A capture tank?” Dean echoed.
Rodney nodded. “Of course. A one-way valve to let air in, an artificial cooling system, or -”
“Or we could, you know, just make some dew traps,” Dean said.
Rodney blinked at him. “Dew traps?”
“The kind a soldier makes when he’s out in the wild and needs water to survive,” Dean said.
“That’s a thing?” Rodney asked.
“It’s a thing,” John said. “We all learn how to make them in basic.”
“Oh. Well. That’s convenient. So, touristy during the day, soldiering at night, and we can be on our way.” Rodney nodded, satisfied.
Vala clapped her hands. “Ooh, tourists! What type of tourists shall we be?”
“Usually New Age hippy types and neopagans visit the Chalice Well,” Evan said. “Some say it’s a site sacred to the Goddess.”
“Which Goddess?” Vala asked.
“Not a specific goddess,” Sam said. “Just - the sort of proto-female Deity. You know, there is a God, so there is a Goddess.”
“Some Christians see the well as sacred, too,” Miko added diplomatically. “They call it the Chalice Well because they believe that’s where Joseph of Arimathea brought the chalice that caught Christ’s blood after the crucifixion.”
John stared at them. “I really don’t know how none of your heads have exploded before this point.”
“You think what we have in our heads is impressive?” Sam asked. “It doesn’t even hold a candle to what’s in Rodney’s. We don’t call him a genius lightly.”
Rodney looked startled and a little flattered by the praise. He ducked his head, blushing, and John reached out, curled his fingers through Rodney’s, squeezed. It was just them. Just their team - and their family.
“Don’t let it get to your head,” Miko added.
Rodney’s blush deepened. “Of course not.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, we’ll have to buy a lot of the distillation supplies once we get into town.”
“Where are we even staying?” John asked. “It’s January. In England. There’s snow on the ground. We’re not actually camping out, are we?”
“A motel, actually,” Evan said. “Thankfully it’s not tourist season, so we got rooms at really reasonable rates.”
England didn’t have roadside rest stops so much as ‘services’, which amounted to mini-malls with gas stations attached. Each had a convenience store that was closer to a small grocery store, really nice bathrooms - including showers, for which all of them were grateful - and also small food courts. Some of them even had little gambling establishments, and some also had clothing and media outlets.
Two hours into the drive, it was time to take a break, if not switch drivers and navigators.
John used the restroom, bought some snacks for the road - Evan warned him that sodas here didn’t taste like the ones back home - and went to head back out to the parking lot. The plan, as Rodney had decreed it, was not to dress up as hippies or new age gurus or neopagans on some kind of pilgrimage but to be as close to themselves as possible: scientists investigating paranormal phenomena.
“If we want to look like scientists, we ought to wear glasses,” Vala had said.
Miko blinked at her. “Why?”
“Not all scientists wear glasses,” Rodney said.
“But glasses will make us look more studious,” Vala insisted.
Dean rolled his eyes. “None of us besides Miko need glasses.”
“We ought to look the part,” Vala had said, and that was the end of that.
So when John stepped out of the automatic glass doors, diet coke in hand, he wasn’t altogether surprised when Vala pounced him and nearly poked him in the eye, trying to put glasses on his face. John brought one hand up to fend off imminent eye injury.
“Vala, what are you -?”
“Glasses! You’ll look distinguished in them.” Vala beamed up at him.
“Forget the glasses,” John began, and then he actually took in her outfit.
Somehow, in the time John had gotten out of the van, used the men’s room, and bought a soda, Vala had acquired some kind of blue-purple-white hippie get-up - a crop top with a deep v-neck and flowy bell-like sleeves and skin-tight bell bottoms that rode low on her hips, which she’d accented by some kind of belt made of circular silver links.
“What are you doing?”
“Obviously,” Vala said, “you are all distinguished American - and Canadian and Japanese - scientists and I am your lovely local tour guide.” She pushed the glasses up onto John’s nose and beamed at him again.
“Did Rodney say you could -?”
“You definitely look better without the pigtails,” Evan said. He was wearing glasses - and okay, he did actually look distinguished in glasses with his three-piece suit - and carrying a little brown paper bag. “This is a Cornish pasty. Not as good as you’d get down in Cornwall, but a local delicacy. I think you’ll like it.”
“Evan,” John said, a little helplessly, “are we going along with this?”
“With what?” Evan asked, and he looked completely unfazed by Vala’s attire.
Miko chose that moment to arrive. She handed Vala a rainbow-striped serape-looking thing. “You look great, but in this weather you won’t last long in that outfit.”
Because England was gray and cold and damp. There wasn’t as much snow down in the south, but it was definitely winter all the same. John missed California. He missed Kansas. He might have even missed Utah. At least it was dry there.
When Sam and Dean ambled out to the parking lot, Dean armed with several bags of potato chips (They call them crisps here, Vala had said wisely), Sam carrying a sleeve of Jaffa Cakes, both of them were also wearing glasses.
John hadn’t expected Rodney to have succumbed to Vala’s insane plan with the glasses. But he actually looked good with them. They made his eyes seem brighter, somehow.
Rodney was grumbling into a cardboard cup of coffee. “Are we ready to go or what?”
“Ready,” Vala said.
And they piled back into the van. Miko was banished into the very back seat, since she was the smallest and would fit the best, which left Sam and Dean in the middle row, heads bowed over Sam’s notebook, making a list of the supplies they’d need to build some dew traps. The trickier part, of course, would be deciding where to build the dew traps to get the most useful type of water. For that, Miko would have to connect to some weather satellites to see where fog tended to be thickest, and where it was most useful in relation to the Glastonbury Tor.
The teenage girl working the cash register when John had bought his soda had lit up when he spoke to her, curious that he was from America. It was a different kind of curiosity than the kind he’d encountered when he’d gone off-base in Afghanistan, when locals - usually kids - dared to talk to him. They assumed he was American, and they wanted to know if life in America was like it looked on television.
Here, the girl had latched onto his accent, asked where he was from - Virginia, originally - and if he was in England on holiday.
He said he was there on business, and she asked what kind, and he said Research, I’m a scientist, which had felt a little odd even though he’d lied about his name and occupation and purpose seemingly a hundred times since he’d joined Rodney’s team.
“Ooh, good luck to you, then. Enjoy your visit!” The girl had been very cheery even though it was the middle of the night.
By contrast, the pudgy teenage boy working the desk at the motel where they were staying was unimpressed with their presence.
“Americans, are you?”
Evan nodded politely. He, Sam, Dean, and John had kept their military-issue duffels low and out of sight. “Yes, please. Reservations under McKay, Meredith.”
The boy looked Evan up and down. “You don’t look like no Meredith.”
“Ah, no. I’m not Meredith. The reservations are just under his name.”
“I need to talk to Meredith,” the boy said.
Vala pushed past Evan and leaned up against the counter. “I realize it’s the middle of the night and we’re all tired. The rooms have been reserved and prepaid. Please just give us our keys and we’ll be out of your hair.”
The boy seemed to relax when she spoke. Even though her accent definitely wasn’t the same as his, he seemed less tense, and then he was clicking away with his mouse.
Vala and Miko, of course, were sharing a room. Sam and Dean were sharing a room. John and Rodney were sharing a room. Which left Evan, to sleep in someone’s room. There was an awkward pause in the hallway outside their rooms, which were up on the second floor and, thankfully, all right next to each other.
Miko patted Sam on the arm and said, “You can bunk with us. Less awkward for everyone.”
“Is it?” Sam asked faintly, but he allowed Miko and Vala to tow him away.
John unlocked the door to his and Rodney’s room, flipped on the light, did an automatic security sweep. Then he set his duffel bag within arm’s reach on the side of the bed closest to the door - the best tactical spot - and sank down, untied his boots.
Rodney set his suitcase on the dresser next to the television and sat down beside him.
“This is a double bed at best,” he said, frowning behind him. Back at the Bunker he had a prescription mattress because he had a bad back.
“Evan says beds run a bit smaller here, as a general rule,” John said.
At Evan’s name, Rodney sighed. “You don’t have any more life-shattering secrets, do you? Because I don’t think I can handle any others.”
“No,” John said. “You already know mine. I’m half-fae, and I’m sweet on you.”
At that, Rodney blushed. John leaned in and kissed him. “C’mon. Tomorrow will come too soon.”
The next morning, they assembled in the hallway to forage for breakfast together. Vala was still sporting her eyesore of a hippy outfit and the equally eyesore serape Miko had given her, but she looked bright and happy.
John wondered if she’d been this bright and happy before Qetesh, or if she even remembered who she’d been.
Breakfast was coffee and pastries at some kind of chain bakery that had pastries almost as good as Evan’s. Evan was on hand for Vala and Dean, suggesting things for them to try - the sausage rolls are delicious, but you can’t go wrong with the custard tarts.
“American, are you?” The girl standing in line in front of them was short, barely made it to Sam’s elbow, had dark skin and pigtails and glasses.
“Accent give it away?” Dean asked.
The girl nodded. “Military?”
John was immediately on alert.
“On leave,” Dean said easily.
“Haircut gave it away.”
“You from here?” Dean asked, tucking his hands into his pockets.
“My dad is, but we live in America now. I always come get sausage rolls first thing, because I can’t get them back home,” the girl said. “Sausage rolls and Irn Bru.” She held up a bottle of orange soda.
Dean blinked. “Does it actually taste like iron?”
The girl laughed. “Little bit. My dad let me try it when I was a kid. Dandelion and Burdock, and Irn Bru. D&B is supposedly the precursor to root beer, but don’t do it. Stuff tastes like rubber bands. Irn Bru’s the way to go.”
“Thanks for the pro tip.” Dean nodded at her, smiled.
The girl turned to the cashier, handed over some coins, and then waved before she left the shop.
Vala asked for a sausage roll and an Irn Bru out of the cooler behind the counter. Dean also ordered a sausage roll - and a couple of custard tarts to share.
Rodney quizzed the employees extensively about what items were citrus-free, and the rest of them ordered breakfast pastries. They ate as they shuffled down the sidewalk, coats and jackets fastened against the winter chill. Sam and Dean were both wearing military-issue beanies, and John was rather regretting not having brought his. Miko had bright pink furry ear-muffs. Apart from her serape, Vala seemed pretty much impervious to the cold. Evan was wearing what looked like a hand-knitted beanie, soft gray, that made his eyes look bluer. Something Mitchell had made? Was Dean okay with Evan wearing that kind of thing?
Once they’d had breakfast, their first order of business was to find supplies to make dew captures.
“The principle’s pretty simple,” Sam said. “Dew collects from the moisture in the plants. Any mist we see in the air will be the same stuff that ends up as dew on the ground in the morning.”
“It’s winter,” Miko said. “There are hardly any plants.”
“There are enough for fog - fog happens in winter,” Dean said.
“So we dig some holes, line them with plants, put captures in them - mugs or something cheap - cover them with plastic, weight the plastic toward the cups, and when the water from the plants condenses, into the cups it goes,” Sam said. “Easy as pie.”
Dean smiled. “Mmmm. Pie.”
“Basically, all we need is mugs, plastic wrap, shovels, and maybe some small weights. We could forage for rocks, but given how cold it is -” Sam shrugged.
“What’s the English equivalent of a Home Depot?” Rodney asked.
Miko held up her phone. “B&Q.”
“Where’s the nearest B&Q?”
Miko smiled. “Let’s get back to the van.”
In daylight, Glastonbury was a large and active town, full of people and modern conveniences. After all of that midnight talk about Arthur and Avalon and Morgan Le Fay, John had expected something more - rustic. Rural. Mystical.
The buildings were old, older than John usually saw when he was rolling around the Lower Forty-Eight on the bus, and the land was lush and green. The air was heavier, more humid than John was used to around the Bunker in Kansas. John had actually enjoyed traveling as a kid, and with the military. New places felt different, even if they looked familiar. But among the trees and old buildings were new buildings, modern storefronts and squat, blocky things like chain supermarkets.
The shopping trip was fast, since they only needed limited supplies - plastic wrap, like the kind used for wrapping equipment instead of food; shovels; and some camping mugs. They stashed the gear in the van and then trundled back into town.
The Chalice Well Garden was operating on winter hours, according to Miko’s research, so they had some time to kill before the gardens opened.
“While we’re here, and since we are who we are,” Vala said, “we ought to look around, take in some of the sights, don’t you think? Anything we can learn will be valuable.” Her expression was innocent, her tone reasonable, but her gaze hopeful.
“You mean you want to play tourist,” Rodney said.
Rodney frowned, but John nudged him.
“Okay, fine, we can play tourist,” Rodney said. “But we need a plan.”
“Well,” Evan said, “you have the right team for that.”
They had time to kill after they got the water from the well. For scientific completeness, they were going to get water from the White Spring also, and they would visit Glastonbury Abbey, take some readings around the alleged tomb of Arthur and Guinevere, and also make the hike up to the Tor. All of those tourist sites were operating on winter hours, so they would go to the Chalice Well first, and then since they would have to kill time till that evening, they could play tourist for the rest of the day.
Rodney looked pretty irritated at the notion of playing tourist, but Vala, Miko, and Sam were all eager to see new things and learn new things, so Rodney submitted to their enthusiasm.
“While we’re playing tourist, Carter’s team is probably well on their way to -”
“It’s not a race,” John said in a low voice. He nudged Rodney gently with his elbow. “Come on. How often do we get to enjoy down time like this?”
Rodney eyed him. “Okay. Fine. Playing tourist it is.”
Even though they all had smartphones and Miko had arranged it so they had mobile data even in another country, Vala insisted on acquiring a paper map of the town from the visitor’s center, and then she, Evan, Miko, and Sam stood over it, marking their tourist destinations and mapping the most efficient route.
First stop, of course, was the Chalice Well Garden.
Vala took the lead, purchasing them all tickets. She chatted brightly with the ticket cashier, a cheerful elderly woman with a round face and soft white hair. She explained that she was a tour guide and was accompanying these well-meaning scientists on their research journey. The guide wished them a good day and hoped they enjoyed the garden, and then in they went.
The only other person there was a young man wearing stonewashed black jeans straight out of the 1990’s, a leather jacket open over a faded t-shirt, and sturdy boots. He had ash-blond hair and was staring at the plants and seemed rather impervious to the cold, like Vala. His eyes were blue or green or gray or something in the weak winter sunlight. Like Sam’s.
Vala cleared her throat and clapped her hands. “All right, if you gather ’round, we can start the tour here.”
John and the others formed a semicircle around her obediently. They’d all donned their glasses, and Sam was carrying a containment case with three warded water bottles inside. Vala as a tour guide was - impressive. She told them the history of the well, from ancient to pre-Christian to Christian times, how long it had been in use, the various mythological properties of the water, and how it had become something of a neopagan temple, where modern witches could come worship The Goddess. She led them around the garden, showing off the various species of plants, describing the symbolic significance of the arrangement of the seven bowls emptying into the main pool, the interlocking circles on the well cover.
As the ‘tour’ progressed, Rodney looked less and less irritated and genuinely interested. And impressed.
“Pretty sure she didn’t know any of this last night,” Rodney whispered, as Vala explained to Sam and Miko about how the design on the well cover was a vesica piscis, and one of the lines through the circles represented King Arthur’s legendary sword Excalibur, but the leafy design on the other end of the line represented the Glastonbury thorn, allegedly the hawthorne that had flowered from the staff Joseph of Arimathea brought to England when he visited after the Crucifixion.
The young man who’d been in the garden when they got there had drifted closer and just sort of joined their little tour group, following them around and listening to Vala’s lecture with genuine interest. He looked to be in his early to mid-twenties and was handsome.
Vala was a good tour guide. Not only did she just know a whole bunch about the garden, but she gave them time to look around. After she explained something, she let them actually look at it, take it in. John had been on more than his unfair share of boring tours where the tour guides lectured endlessly and at the end of the tour John was exhausted from information overload.
The garden was peaceful, was beautiful even in winter.
Once Vala was finished playing tour guide, she led them over to the lion head fountain where they could fill one of their warded water bottles.
“That looks pretty high tech,” the young man said, peering over Sam’s shoulder.
“Need to keep the sample as pure as possible,” Sam said.
“We’re scientists,” Rodney said shortly.
Vala perked up when she noticed the young man. “You’re American as well, are you?”
“Yeah.” The guy scrubbed a hand through his hair, smiled, his eyes such a dark blue they were almost violet. Vala looked charmed. “Didn’t mean to crash your tour. I just - it was interesting.”
Vala preened. “Why thank you. I pride myself on giving informative and enjoyable tours.” She offered a hand. “I’m Vala.”
“Where in the States are you from?”
“Maine, mostly.” Ash jammed his hands into his pockets.
“I’ve been to Maine several times,” Vala said brightly. “We went camping in the Hundred Mile Wilderness last year.”
“In winter?” Ash raised his eyebrows.
“We take our science very seriously,” Sam said. He finished filling the water bottle and tucked it away into the carrying case.
“What kind of science?”
“Research into what is considered the supernatural,” Rodney said. “It’s a combination of physics, chemistry, and electrical engineering, mostly.”
Ash’s expression was understandably skeptical.
“Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.” Rodney clapped Sam on the shoulder. “On to the White Spring next.”
Ash eyed them, and with his head tilted like that, his eyes looked gray. “So you’re probably also looking into the vampire deaths that have been happening around here, right?”
John straightened up. “No. We hadn’t heard about those.”
“But you would look into them,” Ash said, more of a statement than a question.
“Maybe. If we have time. Once we’ve wrapped up our research here.” Rodney glanced at Miko, who nodded and began tapping away at her phone.
Dean eyed Ash with undisguised wariness. “You some kind of hunter?”
Ash laughed, startled. “What, me? No. Like - like some kind of dude Buffy the Vampire Slayer? No.”
“What are you doing here, playing tourist, and not during tourist season?” John asked.
Ash looked away. “I’m - kind of on the outs, with my girlfriend. And I wanted to do something nice. Gallant. For her.”
“And you think slaying a rogue vampire will get you back into her good graces?” Dean asked.
Ash winced. “When you put it like that -” And then he narrowed his eyes. “You talk like it’s a given, that vampires are real.”
“Never said they were,” Vala said calmly. “But - research. Have to keep an open mind.”
Ash nodded. “I get that.”
Sam looked concerned. “You’re not going to go after a vampire - or anything like it - on your own, are you?”
Ash drew himself up straighter. “I can hold my own, thanks.” His jacket gaped open, and John saw the design on his t-shirt properly. A black iris.
The others spotted it at the same time.
“A vampire who hunts vampires,” Dean said. “That’s a little ironic, don’t you think?”
Ash’s eyes blazed silver, his entire body going tense, but his expression turned amused. “What makes you think I’m a vampire?” He spread his arms wide, and the design on his t-shirt was definitely a black iris. “I’m out and about in daylight.”
“Because you Black Bouquet types can be.” Sam glanced at Dean, and instinctively they moved to form a defensive line for Miko and Rodney. Evan and Vala moved, and John moved with them.
Ash noticed the movement, understood it. “You’re hunters.”
“Not really, no,” Rodney said. “Like I said, we’re scientists. If you’re wearing a black iris, you’re lamia, right? An enforcer, then? Tracking one of your own kind gone rogue?”
Ash’s lips skinned back from his teeth, and holy frack but he had actual fangs, like the kind in movies, only they were longer and looked a whole lot sharper. John’s hand twitched for his gun, but of course he didn’t have his gun, because he was in a foreign country and this was not a hunt, this was supposed to be a simple grab-and-go.
“What do you know about the Night World?”
“A lot, but not everything,” Rodney said, and Ash looked more and more agitated.
“Who told you?”
“What, so you can kill them all? I don’t think so. You people have your own enforcement, and we respect that. So let us do our job, and you can go do yours, all right?” Rodney was smart enough to raise his hands in surrender.
Ash’s eyes blazed brighter, and Rodney’s gaze went slack. Ash beckoned, and Rodney started forward, but then Evan was between Ash and Rodney, one hand on Rodney’s chest to hold him back, one hand stretched out toward Ash, a tiny column of flame dancing on his palm.
“No. Stay out of his mind.”
Ash recoiled at the sight of fire. “You can’t kill me,” he said, voice low and dangerous, though his eyes were wide and pale blue with fear. “I’m a Redfern, from the ruling lamia clan -”
“I know your name and what it means,” Evan said. “Like Rodney explained, we’re not here to interfere with the Night World. We’re not looking to capture vampires and witches and shifters and experiment on them. We’re here to do our research and be on our way.”
Rodney jerked back, shook himself out like a dog shaking off water. “You!” He jabbed an angry finger at Ash. “You tried to mind-whammy me.”
Vala cleared her throat. “Why don’t we take this outside the garden? It is, after all, a peace garden.”
And some of the other visitors - more had arrived - were casting them strange looks.
Miko clutched the sample case, eyes wide behind her glasses.
Evan closed his hand, and the fire winked out.
“Fine,” Ash said. “Outside.”
John knew vampires had superior strength and speed, epic healing skills. If Ash took off running, none of them would be able to catch him. Ash was moving slowly, carefully, showing he wasn’t unarmed and wasn’t planning on making any aggressive moves. John never took his eyes off of Ash - but as Ash never took his eyes off of Evan. Ash had no guarantee that he could outrun Evan’s magic.
Once they were back in the parking lot, they formed an uneasy huddle, John and Evan half in front of Miko and Rodney while Dean and Evan stuck closest to Ash.
Ash was pale, upset. “No one’s supposed to know about the Night World. Disclosure is punishable by death.”
“Yeah, well, you Night Children aren’t the only game in town,” Dean said. “Since you guys keep to yourselves, we let you be, but other types of vampires aren’t so disciplined.”
Ash looked poleaxed. “Other types of vampires? Besides the Made?”
“He means the ones who wear black roses, because goth cliches had to come from somewhere,” Rodney muttered.
“Yes, other types.” Sam kept his tone gentle and calm.
Ash sank down on a nearby bench.
“Do you need a moment?” Vala asked, tone gentle and solicitous.
Miko cleared her throat. “I just checked with Central Command. There have been reports of attacks and fatalities symptomatic of rogue vampire activity.”
Ash lifted his head. “Central Command?”
“Never mind,” Rodney said. “Classified.” He reached into his pocket, drew out a business card. “Good luck with your vampire hunt. We need to continue our research, so -”
“What if it’s one of those vampires? Can they be killed the same as - as my kind?” Ash’s eyes were dark brown with fear.
Rodney hesitated. “Well, it depends on which kind, but -”
Ash rose up. “Help me hunt this rogue vampire. I’ll help you with whatever you’re doing, protect you if you ever run afoul of Night World Elders. But - please.”
John wondered it said about vampires, who were physically superior to humans in every way, that they could be afraid of another type of vampire. Fear of the unknown, then, wasn’t restricted to humans. “Let me confer with my team,” he said, and they withdrew a ways.
Since vampires had super hearing, John had Evan cast a bit of a muffling spell so Ash couldn’t eavesdrop on them.
“Look, if he is who he says he is, a full-on Redfern, he would be a very useful ally to have in case the Night World Elders ever decide to call us on the fact that we know about the Night World,” Sam said.
“He looks afraid,” Miko said. “I didn’t think vampires can be afraid.”
Vala said, “Everyone has something to fear, even monsters.”
“We don’t actually need his help,” Rodney pointed out.
Evan cleared his throat. “Think of this, though. We tell Ash Redfern what we know about other vampires, and maybe the Night World starts policing them for us. That’s one more thing off our plate. We can concentrate on Atlantis.”
John met Rodney’s gaze, and after a moment, Rodney nodded.
“Okay,” John said. “We collect our data, we help Ash hunt his rogue vampire. But we don’t tell him about Project Orion, and we don’t tell him about Atlantis or about any of us.”
“He’s a vampire. He can smell us. He knows some of us aren’t all human,” Miko said quietly.
They all darted glances at Ash, who had his hands jammed into his pockets and was staring into the distance, eyes so dark they were almost black.
“Fine,” Rodney said, raising his voice once Evan dissipated the muffling ward, “we’ll help you with your hunt. But we have things we need to do first.”
“I can help,” Ash said.
“We don’t need your help. Give your number to Miko, and we’ll call you when we’re ready to hunt. Don’t leave town,” Rodney said, but John put a hand on his arm.
“Might be better to keep him close,” John murmured.
Rodney eyed him, then sighed, expression very put-upon. “Fine. You can stay with us.”
As it turned out, having Ash along didn’t much change their plans. They visited the White Spring, where once again Vala played tour guide, and the team collected a sample of the water. They had lunch at a pub, where everyone ordered something different so they could all try everything, and Evan insisted they have scones and clotted cream for dessert.
After lunch they visited Glastonbury Abbey and took readings at Arthur and Guinevere’s grave site. Miko was the one who ended up hanging back with Ash, explaining about EMF meters and how they worked and why EMF readings were important. Now that he was over his initial shock that the Night World wasn’t the only supernatural game in town, he was asking thoughtful, intelligent questions. He’d heard of ghosts before - one of his cousins had accidentally summoned one with her grandmother’s book of shadows when they were in high school. Demons were a new concept for him, but he would definitely make sure to protect himself and his family against them.
After Glastonbury Abbey, they hiked up to the Tor, Vala continuing to play tour guide with Sam, Miko, and Ash as her rapt audience while Dean, Evan, John, and Rodney studied the terrain for possible dig sites for their mist collection project. Once they were done being tourists, they spread out to take EMF readings of the site.
Ash stuck with them for supper - he paid his own way into all of the tourist sites and at all of the meals and, for a kid who looked like a misplaced grunge rocker, seemingly had an endless supply of money - and listened while Miko outlined the intel she’d received from Central Command about possible vampire activity in the area. Half a dozen victims, only one fully drained, some half-drained, some with neat puncture marks, some with throats entirely ripped out. Different enough patterns of damage and death that no one had flagged it as a full-on vampire.
“Could be a rogue, a pack, a mixed pack - or maybe someone newly-changed and out of control,” Rodney said.
“How do you kill other types?” Ash asked.
Dean was happy to outline all the ways to take down a rogue bloodsucker, outline the different types.
Ash eyed him. “You enjoy hunting, don’t you?”
Dean shrugged, digging into his meat pie enthusiastically. “Saving people, hunting things, ’s the family business.”
“So anyone who’s not human is fair game?” Ash asked.
Dean slanted a look at Evan. “No. That’s not how it works. You color in the lines, you’re fine. You start turning humans into juice packs, that’s a different story.”
“Your Central Command - how would they feel about you telling me about all these other vampires?” Ash sneaked a glance at John, seemed to sense that for all that Miko, Rodney, and Vala did most of the talking, John was in charge in some way.
John shrugged, sipped at his ice water. “Who are you going to tell?”
Ash nodded ruefully. “Fair point.”
The plan after supper was pretty simple - they’d have to climb the hill toward the Tor once more, set two people to dig the hole and set up the mist capture system, set everyone else to guard the perimeter so they weren’t caught - or stopped.
As it turned out, having Ash along was super helpful, because he was pretty impervious to the cold, and also he could dig faster and longer than any of them. Dean and Evan stuck with him, using their military know-how to build the mist traps - and so Evan’s magic was on hand in case Ash did anything hinky.
Sam, John, and Vala were keeping watch while Rodney and Miko coordinated over their phones, trying to make a map of the possible vampire’s hunting grounds. It took them a few hours to get mist traps in place all around the hill, and then - then they had to guard them. As Dean and Evan had been doing the most activity, John dispatched them back to the motel to gather up some gear so they could camp out all night. John, Sam, Vala, and Miko each took watch on individual traps, leaving Dean and Rodney to the fifth and Ash and Evan to the sixth.
They checked in over the radios periodically, just to make sure everything was secure and also that everyone was awake. Once they had enough mist collected, they could go on back to the motel and sleep.
Miko and Rodney had mapped out what they figured was the rogue vampire’s hunting ground. John took a tally of supplies. They would need to secure some dead man’s blood, could use several silver blades to saw the vampire’s head off if it was that kind.
“Saw it off?” Ash asked, alarmed.
“Usually we have machetes and the like, but - foreign country. Different weapon laws,” Sam said.
Dean huffed. “You’re such a lawyer.”
“You say that like it’s an insult,” Sam drawled.
Rodney, John, Miko, Sam - and surprisingly, Ash - played a long game of Prime Not Prime to pass the time and keep themselves awake. After a couple of hours, John dispatched Dean into town for snacks and hot coffee. Between Miko and Sam’s calculations, they would probably have to wait all night to get enough mist to make things worthwhile.
Multiple trips down the hill for coffee and caffeinated soda and hot snacks kept them going. It had been a long time since John had had to keep a night watch after a day shift, but the cold and discomfort kept him awake, as did rotating their watch positions.
He supposed it was good karma, that no one stumbled across them or interrupted them or otherwise screwed up the mission. Last mission they’d had two plans and both of them had failed and their team had been - fractured, at the edges. This time around they’d been able to play tourist, make a new ally, and achieve their mission objective with little fuss.
Just after sunrise, they gathered up their mist traps and collected all of the water into the third of the warded bottles. Everyone worked to fill the holes in, remove as many traces of their presence as possible. Before they went back to their motel, they made arrangements to meet up with Ash that evening after supper, so they could patrol the possible vampire’s hunting grounds.
John tumbled into bed beside Rodney, slung an arm across him, and hoped they’d be able to go home soon.
A single rogue vampire. They could handle that.
They’d built up good karma, and they had a vampire on their side.
“What are you wearing?” Rodney asked.
“Vampire hunting gear,” Ash said. He looked himself up and down. He was wearing black jeans, a black turtleneck, a black beanie, and had a black bandana to cover his face. Then he looked John up and down.
John was wearing black BDU bottoms and a heavy jacket to stave off the chill. Sam and Dean were dressed as they always were, in lumberjack chic.
“We’re hunting a vampire, not stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre,” Dean said.
Ash blushed faintly. “My best friend’s soulmate is - was a vampire hunter, and she always dressed kinda like a ninja when she was out on hunts. I did the best I could.”
“Nice job, Buffy,” Dean muttered.
John cleared his throat. “Miko and Rodney have maps of the hunting area. Each of you have been assigned partners. Stay with your partner. Standard grid sweep. Check in every twenty.”
Ash was again paired with Evan, leaving Sam with Miko and Rodney with Dean and Vala with John, so they had even numbers.
Ash flipped John a sloppy salute. “Sir, yes, sir!”
John tensed, and the others looked at Ash askance.
“What?” Ash asked, shrugging. “It all just sounded so - military.” Then he narrowed his eyes at them. “Are you military? Does the military know about vampires?”
“Not all of the military,” Rodney said tightly, “and it’s classified.”
“Are you Marines?” Ash asked. “You’re Marines, aren’t you? Marines are the super badass ones.”
Dean patted Sam on the shoulder. “Hear that, Sammy? The Marines are super the badass ones.”
Sam shoved him, wearing a sour expression.
John barked, “Captain, Lieutenant!”
They both snapped to attention.
“We have a vampire to slay. Stay sharp. Now move out!”
The both nodded, and everyone scattered. John and Vala set out, Vala wielding her phone to use as a map. Both of them were armed with lighters, syringes of dead man’s blood, lignum vitae stakes, and silver blades.
While a vampire had superior strength and speed, it was still a hunter, and it would go for easy prey, like children and the elderly, which was reflected in the victimology so far. A smart hunter would keep to the shadows, take advantage of decreased visibility after dark. It was like flying patrol, or flying into a war zone, or flying toward enemy lines to rescue injured troops. John was tense, alert, scanning his surroundings.
The first check-ins trickled in, murmurs of clear and no sign of suspect here.
Ash sounded disturbingly giddy when he checked in, and it occurred to John that Ash was lamia, was born a vampire, and for all that he was inhuman, compared to the rest of them (except maybe Sam), he was a kid.
John and Vala walked their grid, through houses on the outskirts of town where street lights were fewer, where shadows were broader.
Ash and Evan checked in. Clear.
Dean and Rodney checked in. All clear.
Sam started to check in. All clear - Miko look out!
John froze, heart pounding. “Lieutenant Winchester, what are your coordinates?”
“Rodney, get me Miko and Sam’s coordinates, send them to everyone for rendezvous.”
Vala showed John her phone, the general direction of Sam and Miko’s assigned search sector in the grid. John nodded and they took off - toward another section on the outskirts of town, near some of the newer, nicer houses.
John’s phone pinged with coordinates, and he pressed a button to fire up the auto directions, had to push the button so the electronic voice would give him directions for traveling on foot instead of by car.
“Winchester, Kusanagi, sit rep!”
“Engaging enemy,” Sam reported. He sounded out of breath. “Enemy is - a zombie.”
“A zombie?” Ash echoed, startled.
“A zombie with vampire fangs,” Miko chimed in.
Ash swore in a language John had never heard. “A ghoul. Dammit.”
“Ghouls don’t drink blood,” Rodney protested.
“Maybe not the kind you deal with. But a vampire who doesn’t quite make the change is - dead as a human. Not quite alive as a vampire. Needs to be killed like a vampire. Stake through the heart. You’ve never encountered these before?” Ash didn’t sound even a bit winded.
“No, but you learn something new every day,” Dean said. “Sammy, on your six!”
“Miko, is that a sword?” Rodney cried.
“It’s a bokken, which is technically athletic equipment for practice and not a weapon, so - yes, it’s a wooden sword and no, it’s not illegal for me to have it,” Miko shot back. “This thing is damn fast.”
“Up the circle,” Sam shouted.
John switched off his radio, because he could hear Sam’s voice in real life.
Their quarry was playing cat and mouse with them in a parking lot that was still crowded with cars.
“Where’d it go?” Rodney asked. He had a flashlight in one hand and his stake in the other.
John heard a hiss like from a feral lion and saw Ash, eyes blazing silver, atop a car.
Ash spun, searching, sniffing the air.
John smelled it right before it hit him. Rot, the stench of death, and damp dirt. He was slammed up against a car, winded. Then the thing was gone before he could wing out with his stake. Vala cried out a warning, and John heard the crunch of metal and the ringing of shattered glass.
Chatter flew through the air. On your nine! Look out! Over there!
John staggered to his feet, shook himself out, tried to get his breath back. Saw movement in the shadows. Spun and lashed out with his stake.
He sliced at empty air.
There was another feral hiss, a snarl, and the sound of fists on flesh.
Finally it was Ash who said, “Got it.” He sounded out of breath. Softer, he said, “Oh, hell.”
John ducked and wove through the cars till he found Ash and the rest of his team.
Ash was standing over a young woman. She was definitely dead, with the gray pallor of a corpse that John knew all too well. Except she was also definitely animate and moving, struggling weakly even though there was a wooden stake through her chest. Not her heart. Were she alive, she’d have been drowning in her own blood.
“Do you know her?” Vala asked.
Ash shook his head. “No, but - look at her. Nice clothes. Real gold bracelet. Soft hands. Bite marks on her wrist, not her neck.”
“She’s so young,” Evan said grimly.
“No one over twenty survives the change - at least, not with my kind,” Ash said. “Whoever she was before, she had a good life. There’s probably someone who misses her.”
“Flashlight?” Miko said. She tucked her wooden sword into her belt, and for a second she looked a bit like a samurai, only her little knitted beanie had cat ears.
Sam flipped on his flashlight, shined it on the girl’s face.
Miko took a picture, tapped at her phone some more. “Rebecca Martin. She’s a nanny for a local family here in town. Reported missing two months ago.”
“Which family?” Ash asked.
“The Burdocks,” Miko said.
Ash closed his eyes, sighed. “Of course.”
“Of course?” John asked. “What does that mean?”
“They’re a lamia clan,” Ash said. “Do they have any children?”
Miko tapped her phone some more. “Just one. Ruby. She’s seven.”
Ash nodded. “It happened to my cousin one time. He had a human nanny. His parents thought he was getting too attached to her, so they starved him out, wanted him to feed on her and kill her so he’d understand humans were prey. Only he loved her, so after he fed on her, he tried to give her some of his blood, but it didn’t quite turn out, because he was so little, and she became a ghoul. Dead as a human, not quite alive as a vampire.”
What was left of Rebecca Martin was coughing up blood and trying to claw the stake out of her chest, but she was too weak. Her eyes were the only part of her that was alive, were wild with hunger.
“That’s horrifying,” Sam said softly. “So you think -?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Burdock were trying to teach little Ruby a lesson. Either they failed to put poor Rebecca all the way down or they left her loose, and carelessly.”
“We’re not just prey,” Dean spat.
Ash’s gaze was haunted, his eyes gray with sorrow. “I know. My soulmate - she’s human.”
“The help is expendable,” John said flatly. “A lot of rich families see nannies as tools, fungible and replaceable at will. It’s a lesson, for children in those families. Relationships are impermanent, no one is trustworthy, sentimentality is not an advantage, and people you can buy are people you can use and then cast aside when they’ve outlived their usefulness.”
“A lot of lamia families are very wealthy,” Ash admitted.
Vala blinked at John. “You sound like you speak from experience.”
“My mother was a good mother,” John said, “but we also had nannies.”
Sam swallowed hard. “We can’t just leave her like that.” He hefted his stake.
Ash said, “Let me.” He knelt, eased the stake out of Rebecca’s chest, and drove it through her heart.
There was no magical explosion of dust, no dramatic withering of a body into a mummy. Rebecca just finally stopped moving, and the hunger - the life - faded from her eyes.
“What now?” Miko asked.
Ash fumbled his cell phone out of his pocket. “Now I call some Elders and report a ghoul handled improperly. And you - you all should go.”
“We’ll have to notify our superiors,” John said.
Ash nodded. “You have my number. Thank you, for helping me.”
It was Vala who knelt, closed Rebecca’s eyes. “You’re welcome,” she said. “Being someone else’s slave and tool is no life for anyone.”
“Do you need us to help you move her or anything?” Evan asked.
Ash started to shake his head, paused. “We can’t just leave her here.”
“We have experience moving bodies,” Dean said quietly. “Sammy, get the tarp.”
“A sheet,” Evan said. “Use a sheet.”
Sam, Dean, Evan, and Vala managed to maneuver Rebecca Martin’s body onto a patch of winter-dead grass off to the side of the parking lot, and they covered her body respectfully with the sheet as best as they could. Then they bade Ash farewell and headed back to the van on foot.
Back at the motel, they exchanged their good nights and headed into their rooms.
“What will the brass think of us taking on an extra hunt like that?” John asked. He brushed his teeth, stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers.
“Sam was right. Having a Redfern will be helpful, when we tangle with Black Bouquet vampires in the future.” Rodney stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt as well, waited till John was in the bed before he crawled under the blankets and turned off the light. He cleared his throat. “That stuff you said about nannies -”
“Humans can be just as monstrous as non-humans, in their own way.” John closed his eyes.
Then he felt Rodney’s hand curl over his. “I don’t care that you’re half-fae, I promise.”
“You were pretty upset about Evan.”
“Upset at the dishonesty.”
John could understand that.
“And just - worried. You were born half-fae. Evan says he was tamed.”
“He says he gave some of his air to Dean, made it sound like he’d given part of himself to Dean.”
“Was that part of the soulbond Evan created when he tamed Dean, or something else?”
“I don’t know. Apparently Dean doesn’t mind flying anymore, though.” John squeezed Rodney’s hand. “But we got another possible ingredient for the spell to unlock the doorway to Atlantis, no one died, no one was even injured, and we gained a new ally. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts, all right?”
“All right.” Rodney pressed a soft kiss to John’s mouth, and then they both fell asleep, dreaming of fangs and ghouls and the way Ash Redfern’s eyes constantly changed colors.