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The first time Dean saw him, it was a blustery September day.

Dean was wearing his dad’s old leather jacket, which he hunched into when the wind picked up. The sidewalks were fairly empty for midday, and he could imagine why – fall had only just settled, but here in Sioux Falls, it got cold fast.

For a second, Dean almost considered one of his other forms, knowing feathers or fur would be warmer than this, but he quickly dispelled the thought.

First, there were far too many humans around, and he couldn’t risk being seen.

Second, his magic had dwindled so much that he wouldn’t be able to manage a whole transformation anyways.

And half-transformations were painful. Dean had learned that the hard way, when he hit 20 and his Unbound status really sunk in. It appeared that even though he could survive just fine without a Witch, his magic had other ideas.

Sighing, Dean pushed forward, his eyes catching on a bus pulling up at the curb just ahead. A single occupant stepped off onto the sidewalk, a bedraggled man with mussed brown hair, dirty pants, and a red hoodie poking out from a threadbare jean jacket. He had no bags whatsoever, and Dean watched him shiver as he gazed around.

The bus pulled away with a hiss, and the man’s gaze fell on Dean, who froze about ten steps from him. He was scruffy, and his eyes were sunken into a tired, craggy face, yet for some reason Dean couldn’t explain, there was something about him that tugged at his gut, like radar going ping!

Apparently the man didn’t feel the same way, though, because he immediately tore his eyes away and took off in the opposite direction. Dean stood there and gaped after him. His gut lurched, but Dean shook his head and continued to his destination, forgetting all about his strange encounter.

At The Roadhouse, Dean was greeted inside by its owner, Ellen, a matronly woman with dirty-blond hair. She stood behind the bar, a clipboard in her hands as she took inventory. She glanced away from it to give him a shrewd look.

“Boy, you look like you just saw a ghost,” she said, and Dean snorted.

“Nah. Not seen one of those in a while.”

Ellen harrumphed, but her eyes were still critical. Dean sighed dramatically, knowing what was coming.

“I’m fine. And no, it’s not my magic, so you don’t need to ask.”

Ellen’s voice was serious. “Alright. Well, you let me know—.”

“I know. I will,” Dean navigated around the bar stools to the gate leading to the back. “Benny in yet?” he called over his shoulder.

“He’s prepping for dinner now. You better get your ass in gear.”

“I’m going, I’m going!” Dean said. He rolled his eyes and tied on an apron. Washing his hands, he quickly joined Benny in the kitchen, who was elbows deep in a pile of mushrooms.

“Need some help?”

The beefy man nodded, pulling a bare arm back to wipe at the sweat already beading his brow. He grinned, his lips tugging at his beard, and Dean saw a flash of his vampire fangs. 

“Feel free to step in anytime, brother,” he said in a Cajun accent.

Dean grinned. “Sure thing, dude.”

Now this, this he could do. Cooking was one of his greatest joys, ever since he was a kid. He remembered his mom making a pleased sound when she tried his first homemade omelet, and then a time later when his dad and brother wolfed down his entire lasagna in one hour.

Sometimes, Dean felt like cooking was the only thing he could do right.

“Sam’s back at school now, huh?” Benny asked, passing Dean a knife to chop the mound of fungi. He moved on to start peeling onions.

“Yeah. His last year, at least at Stanford.”

“Oh? He looking at grad school?”

“Law school, actually,” Dean said, smiling down at his hands. Sam, his brother, was the smart one in the family. Dean knew he’d go far, especially since he had been Bound at the appropriate age.

Their childhood neighbor, Sarah, had always had magical talent. At 16, she painstakingly crafted a talisman that resonated with Sam, who was just a year her senior (which made sense, seeing as most Bonded pairs were around the same age). The two were Bound, and Sam waited for her to graduate before they both headed to California for school. They were academics at heart, and while Sam concentrated on law, wanting to help keep the Witch population legally under wraps, Sarah went for art, her specialty. She was gifted at sigils, runes, and syllabaries, which was helpful when decoding ancient spells or tomes. It was all par for the course for Witches, so, unlike Dean, she was actually useful.

Not that Dean was a Witch, but being a Familiar made him feel like he should be doing something…more. He had looked into police work once, actual police work instead of the illegal hunting he sometimes did with his dad. After all, when his parents married, they united powerful Familiar clans, and the result was that Dean possessed the rare gift of transforming into more than one designation – he could become both canines and birds, which was awesome for tracking down baddies.

Baddies who were supernatural, of course, since normal cops didn’t know this brand of evil. Dean had enjoyed the thought of protecting innocent people by taking down criminals outside the law, but he couldn’t do much anymore, not with his magic the way it was.

“You still in there?”

“Huh?” Dean shook his head.

Benny frowned at him. “I just asked how it was visiting home. Cause you saw Sam off before he left for school, right?” He paused, adding more softly, “You okay?”

“I’m fine. Geez. Do I look like I’m about to drop dead?”

Benny just shook his head.

Dean let a few minutes pass before he answered. “Visiting home was fine. Lawrence was how it always was. And so were my parents.”

“They still getting talismans in the mail for ya?”

Dean stiffened, remembering the desperate look in his mom’s eyes when she passed him his packages. Somehow, she still had hope that he would be Bound after all these years.

Honestly, Dean wished she would just give up.

Dean scoffed. “Yep. No dice. Too bad for them that I’m broken.” His chuckle fell flat when Benny leveled him a serious look. “What? It’s true.”

“That’s so far from the truth, brother,” Benny said. Dean was quiet, letting the subject drop, at least out loud. In his head, he cursed the system yet again.

Dean hated that Familiars were dependent on Witches. It had to do with magic currents or grounding energies or something like that.

Sam could probably explain it in better detail, but the way Dean saw it, Familiars were basically rechargeable batteries. A Witch filled their Familiars with raw magic, which allowed them to transform.

In turn, a Familiar stored a Witch’s power and gave it back when the Witch needed a boost, or was running low.

Witches and Familiars both had inherent magic, but their stores weren’t unlimited, which was why the Witch-Familiar Bond was necessary.

That Dean had gone Unbound for so long was, therefore, troubling. The only other recorded case of an Unbound Familiar had ended in death due to total magical depletion at the ripe old age of 26. Incidentally, Dean was going to be turning that exact age in January.

The best part was that magic had a way of just leaking out of you, even if you didn’t use it. So really, Dean was screwed no matter what. He figured that, at this point, his best bet was to do things that made him happy with the little time he had left. After all, he could keel over at any moment.

Wasn’t that a comforting thought?

“Mom asked me to move back home again,” Dean spoke up suddenly, moving on to the potatoes.

Benny was pounding chicken cutlets for the night’s chicken marsala special, and when he didn’t say anything, Dean continued.

“Told her no. Again.”

“You know she’s just worried.”

“Yeah, but I don’t need her hovering around waiting for my heart to give out. I moved here for a reason.”

The reason being that he couldn’t stand everyone in town gazing at him with pity, most of all his parents. His mom’s smothering was one thing, but when his dad worried, he barked at anything that moved…in his human or canine form. Dean’s presence was agitating, and he preferred it here in Sioux Falls, where he could live near his uncle Bobby, work at Ellen’s bar and restaurant, hang out with human and supernatural friends, and forget that he was a fuck-up most of the time.

But as Ellen and Bobby were friends of his parents, there was some unspoken agreement that they had to provide weekly progress reports, hence Ellen’s interrogation. It was pointless, though. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to change his fate. Sam and Sarah had once spent an entire summer researching their guts out to come up with a solution, but to no avail.

Dean’s case was unprecedented.  There was no cure. He was going to die, sooner rather than later. He wished people would just accept that.

After all, he had.