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Mail Order Familiar

Chapter Text

-Prologue-


Dean Winchester clutched the newspaper advertisement in his hand, staring across the cobbled street at the office of Balthazar Angelus, Esquire. Nervous sweat pooled at the base of his throat, and his chest felt tight. He uncrumpled the paper and looked down at it again.

 

WANTED: FAMILIAR
Witch seeks Familiar
To partner in the Western Frontier
Must have a shifter form suitable for
Untamed environment. Must be willing
To commit to Minimum One year
Partnership. Travel expenses paid by Witch.
For consideration, see Balthazar Angelus, Esquire
207 South Main Street, New Avalon

 

Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and crossed the street, weaving his way between the buggies, wagons, and carriages conducting their business in the city. He didn’t often come to the center of the city like this. The crush of people and animals tended to make him feel confined, and the horses spooked easily around him if he wasn’t careful.

He’d worn his best clothes, the good wool trousers and crisp cotton shirt with the dark brown broadcloth vest, the edges subtly embroidered with a simple leaf pattern, and his good boots. They’d started out polished, though by the time he’d walked through the muddy side streets after stabling his horse at the livery, they looked decidedly worse for wear.

The door to the law office was painted a rich black lacquer, shiny and smooth, with expensive brass fittings and stained glass inset. Well. If the lawyer was an Angelus, then he was associated with the premiere Witch family in all of the country. He could afford stained glass.

Dean opened the door firmly. He was the perfect candidate for this Witch. Whoever he was. Or she.

The woman behind the desk looked up, adjusting her spectacles as she looked him over. Her expression was smoothly neutral. “Good morning. How may I help you, sir?”

“Good morning, ma’am,” he said, removing his hat politely. He gave her his charming smile. She was probably close to his mother’s age, but that didn’t mean a bit of flirting would be amiss. “I’m here to inquire about the advertisement seeking a Familiar. It says to speak to Mr. Balthazar Angelus.”

Her gaze turned more assessing, then she nodded once, briskly, and stood up, her skirts rustling with the movement. “And your name?”

“Winchester. Dean Winchester, ma’am.”

“Have a seat, Mr. Winchester. I’ll go see if Mr. Angelus is available to speak with you.”

“Thank you.” He looked around, spotting a finely carved bench across from her desk, and seated himself. The office was paneled with dark wood wainscoting, and the windows draped with dark red velvet edged with gold fringe. He realized he was tapping his heel against the floor and forced himself to stop. It wouldn’t do to show how nervous he was. At least it wasn’t the kind of nervous that made him feel threatened, so he wasn’t fighting to control an instinctual need to shift.

It seemed like hours but was probably only a handful of minutes before the lady returned. “Mr. Angelus will see you now. Please follow me.”

She led him through the interior doorway to a short hallway to another door which opened into a handsomely appointed office.

“Mr. Winchester.” The gentleman behind the desk stood and extended his hand. His hands were smooth, clearly indicative of a life spent in intellectual rather than physical pursuits. He had an accent that suggested he’d either been born overseas in the old world or else thought it made him sound more cultured, and a thin, precisely groomed mustache. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. I understand you are inquiring about the advertisement for a Familiar in the frontier lands.”

“That’s right, sir. I am.”

The lawyer sat down and gestured to the horsehair-upholstered chair opposite his desk. Dean sat as well, keeping his posture upright, toying with his hat.

“Winchester. Any relation to Mary Campbell?”

Dean wasn’t exactly surprised by the question. Most of the Witch circles in New Avalon knew the story, if not the entire eastern seaboard. Not as many associated Mary Campbell with John Winchester. His father wasn’t from a well-known Witch lineage. The Angelus Witches didn’t have any reason to take note of him.

“Yes, sir. My mother.”

“So you’re a Campbell through the maternal line.”

“I am. We’re not particularly close to the Campbell side.”

“Indeed. But I trust the breeding is true. The Campbells are known to be strong Familiars, and thus highly desired. You could form a partnership with any Witch out there, wealth and influence at your fingertips. You could have a position in the very halls of government, or the centers of industry.”

“Politics and business don’t appeal to me any more than they did to my mother.” He failed to entirely suppress a shudder of distaste. “Look, Mr. Angelus, it seems it would be in both of our interests to cut through the posturing and get to the point. You’re right, I’m a Campbell through my mother, and my grandfather isn’t inclined to forget that. He’s been approached repeatedly by various Witches inquiring about the availability of Campbell Familiars for potential contracts or bonding, and he refuses to stop including my name when making partnership arrangements. He is becoming more and more insistent. The contractual terms on offer are quite lucrative.”

“And Samuel Campbell retains a portion of the contract fee, as the agent through which the contract is arranged. There have been… rumors.”

“Rumors that he sometimes skirts the laws regarding consent, claiming that as the patriarch of the family he has the right to make fortuitous arrangements for his descendants, yes.”

“And there have been other rumors that my own cousins are seeking powerful Familiars to partner with themselves and their adherents as they jostle amongst themselves for position.”

“Precisely. Given those rumors, it is in my best interests to absent myself from contention.” Despite what Grandfather Campbell might claim, an unwilling Familiar couldn’t be forced to honor even a contract, let alone a bonding. That didn’t mean that the pressure exerted would be easy to withstand, and Samuel Campbell was willing to deal with the less scrupulous Witches if the price was right.

“Hm,” Mr. Angelus said, considering.

“So now you know why I’m interested in this contract. What more can you tell me about the Witch I’d be partnering with?” Dean wasn’t entirely comfortable dealing with an Angelus lawyer. There were risks that he was representing himself dishonestly. Sam had warned him to be careful, that maybe this was some scheme to nab Dean and make him disappear under the guise of sending him to the frontier.

Dean thought the risk was worthwhile, though. He needed to get out of New Avalon.

“One more question before that, if I may,” Mr. Angelus deferred. “The advertisement specifies that the Familiar’s shifter form must be suitable for the frontier. There is little in the way of civilized amenities, and living conditions can be quite primitive and difficult. What is your other form?”

“Mountain lion. Big cat. Not exactly well suited to New Avalon society.”

“Mm.” The lawyer rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Frankly, the thought of being out in the wilds is exciting. And I don’t mind a rough lifestyle. My family has taken long hunting trips to the northern mountains a couple times a year. That life suits me far better than the city.”

“You are not alone, Mr. Winchester, in wishing to absent yourself from notice by either Michael or Lucifer. The Witch you would be working with is Castiel, another cousin of mine. I’ll not sugar coat it, Mr. Winchester. The frontier is dangerous. Cassie is in need of a new Familiar because his prior partner proved a touch too delicate for the life and lost her own. I will admit that ‘delicate’ is the last word I would use to describe you, however a few hunting trips a year does not prove over much to me.”

Dean felt a twinge of unease that this Witch was also an Angelus. Not all of the rumors surrounding the Angelus Witches were exactly benign. There were whispers among the Familiar community that some of their numbers had disappeared after partnering with an Angelus, but those rumors were unconfirmed. Still, any Witch on the frontier had to have an entirely different agenda than those who stalked the halls of power, gathering up wealth and influence.

“It’s dangerous, I get it. I do. I would rather live my life on my own terms out there than by Samuel Campbell’s terms here.”

“Let’s get down to the details then, shall we?” Mr. Angelus pulled a contract out of one of the drawers of his desk, and laid it between the two of them. “Article I: The party in the first part…”

-oOo-

The Winchester town home sat on a quiet street outside the central ring of high society yet still a comfortable distance from the busy docks of New Avalon. Dean had been known to spend a lot of time in the dockside taverns amongst less genteel company. These last few days, though, found him more often in the small back garden.

He sat there now, face tilted up towards the sun, eyes closed. “You really are a cat,” his younger brother Sam commented, as he sat down next to Dean.

“Not much sun to be had the middle of the city, Sammy. Taking advantage while I can.”

“Yeah, I know. Dean. I get it, I do. I’m not happy about this, but I’m not pissed like Dad is. I’m not going to ask you if you’re sure anymore, or tell you that you’re crazy. We both know you’re crazy, but we also both know that you’re sure. So. You sit here soaking up as much of home as you can while you can, and I’ll sit here, too, soaking up as much brother time as I can while I can.”

“Contract is only for a year,” Dean pointed out. Reminded them both. “I’ll come back then, either way.” Either for a visit, or returning home to stay.

“I am taking that as a promise. Who knows, maybe I’ll come see you.”

“I don’t think the wild frontier is ready for Sam and Jessica Winchester.” Dean knew he wasn’t ready for his brother and his bondmate to be anywhere near the dangers of the frontier.

“Sam?” Mary Sandra Campbell Winchester’s voice floated down to them from the back of the house, shortly followed by the woman herself. “Have you seen your brother? Oh, there you are. Dean. I’ve gone and negotiated space for one more trunk for you. You’ll want some luxuries on top of the necessities. If you don’t go off and choose your own soap I’m packing for you. Apple blossom would be lovely. Maybe some lavender.”

Dean groaned. “Mom.” Maybe he could get away with taking two trunks on the train, but what about after that? A wagon or coach might not be so willing to accommodate, and from what Mr. Angelus said, even the coach wouldn’t run all the way out to where he’d be living.

Still, if he couldn’t bring everything with him, he might at least be able to sell the extra for more cash. The Winchesters weren’t wealthy, but they weren’t destitute, either. John and Mary were a formidable Witch-Familiar pair even with their avoidance of all things political and their free-lance, temporary contract lifestyle.

“Don’t ‘Mom’ me. Just because you’re going to be out in the frontier doesn’t mean you can’t keep clean. And your cat tongue doesn’t get everything.”

“Do we have any of the sandalwood? I’m not going out there smelling like a flower.”

“If we don’t Sam will go to the Emporium and buy some for you.”

“Mom.” It was Sam’s turn to complain.

Dean grinned. “While you’re there you can buy some of that fancy-ass perfume for Jessica.”

Sam smacked him. Dean smacked him back, and soon they were rolling on the ground wrestling. Mary rolled her eyes and went back inside.

Eventually Dean got Sam in a headlock, holding it just long enough to confirm his victory before releasing him.

They both stood and brushed the dust and twigs off. “Gonna miss you,” Sam said.

Dean sighed with the change in mood and met his brother’s gaze. “Yeah, I know. Gonna miss you, too. I’ll write. Not sure how long it will take letters to get here, or how reliable they are, but I’ll write.”

“I will too. I suppose a year isn’t really that long.”

It was. They both knew it. But Dean still nodded in agreement, pushing down the sudden ache of homesickness. He hadn’t even left yet. He had no business being homesick.

-oOo-

Two days later, the five Winchesters stood together on the train platform in New Avalon, along with Dean’s two trunks and the satchel he wore over his shoulder. Most of the contents of the trunks were things that he hoped would be useful on the frontier, not just for himself but for the community he would be joining. There was a box that Mr. Angelus had asked him to bring to his cousins, and then there were the luxury items Mary had packed for him.

Most of the other people at the station left them a bubble of space, unconsciously responding to the aura of power surrounding two Witches and three Familiars--particularly with two sets of mated, bonded pairs. A pair bond wasn’t that unusual between Witches and Familiars, but combined with a mating? That was rare indeed.

Black puffs of smoke formed on the horizon, coupled with the dull roar of the approaching train. Jessica turned in to Sam’s shoulder, sniffling. He wrapped his arm around her in comfort.

Mary took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a long moment, centering herself. “You will do well,” she said. “As much as I will miss you, this is the right decision for you. You’re strong and well-trained as a Familiar, and your shift form is well-suited for the frontier. You have the skills, training, and instincts to not only survive, but to thrive. Just remember to be cautious, until you know the peculiarities of your new home. And remember that despite having signed a contract, if the Witch awaiting you is the wrong sort, you just turn yourself around and come back home, you hear?” She adjusted his collar, then patted his chest.

“Yes, Mama,” Dean replied, wrapping her in his arms and hugging her fiercely. He leaned close to her ear and whispered, “I love you.”

As soon as he released her, John pulled him into a tight hug. “I’m proud of you, son,” he said. “I’m still not anywhere near happy about this, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of you and what you’ve become. You keep that charm on you, no matter your form.” He touched the protection amulet suspended on a leather thong around Dean’s neck. He and Mary had worked the original protections, and then Sam and Jess had enhanced it with their own unique strengths.

“Thank you, sir,” Dean said, returning the embrace. “That means a lot to me.”

Activity at the platform picked up as the other people noticed the train arriving, a little after heightened Familiar senses had. Jess stepped away from Sam to take her turn hugging Dean and kissing him on the cheek.

Dean stroked her back, lightly tugging the long blonde braid. “You and Sammy take care of each other, yeah? And you watch out for him when I’m not around.”

“Always have,” she replied, her voice breaking. “I hope the Witch waiting for you is a good man. If he isn’t, we’ll hunt him down.”

Dean chuckled. “Always the fierce little hawk.”

And then it was Sam. He didn’t say anything, just hauled Dean into his arms, resting his head on his shoulder. It never failed to amaze Dean how his baby brother had ended up taller than him, and bigger. Damned gangly moose. Neither one of them really had to say anything. They’d already said everything there was to say, and the things unspoken were still understood. Sam’s fingers clutched at the fabric of Dean’s coat, unwilling to release him, until finally the train squealed to a stop. The porters started loading luggage, and the conductors called for passengers to board.

Dean couldn’t speak past the huge lump in his throat, so he settled for a brisk nod, drinking in the last sight of the people most dear to him in all the world, then he waved and stepped onto the train and into his new life.