At about 2:15 in the afternoon, a mousy American woman of forty… something, dressed in the latest old-hippie chic, walked into the Boston University Library of Theology with wide eyes and an amazed grin on her face. The quintessential Country Mouse.
“Oh, excuse me,” she said earnestly to the very beautiful young lady manning the reference desk. “I was told you have one of the largest antique occult book collections in the Northeast.” She smiled disarmingly. “I’m visiting my cousin here—from Iowa—and he said I should come and see it. Said it would expand my mind.”
The librarian’s eyes went involuntarily toward the rooms in the northwest corner of the large open space. “The Occult Collection is available for viewing by appointment only, on Thursdays and Fridays from noon to three,” she said, as if she’d said the same a thousand times. And yet there was an edge about her that hinted maybe she was more than she seemed. Wonderful.
“Oh no,” the hippie sighed, dejected. “I’ll be on my way home to Des Moines by then.” She gave a half-hearted but polite grin. “Thank you anyway.”
The lovely woman nodded—bored to tears by the look of her—and with luck, promptly forgot the entire run-in.
Bela Talbot, on the other hand, went back to her hotel, changed out of the mousy Midwestern persona, and had a drink. Of course a witch was working the reference desk at a theological library. Why not? Well, hopefully she’d be the usual 9-to-5er and wouldn’t interfere when Bela came calling tonight. She sat down and rang her client.
“Do you have it?” Jerome Barrington demanded. He was always demanding something. If he didn’t pay so well, she’d refuse to work with the rude old codger.
“I’ll have it by midnight,” she assured him. “I expect payment in full upon delivery.”
Barrington snorted. “You’ll have to deliver first,” he replied, hanging up.
Bela sighed, wondering what she’d spend her day doing…
Seven hours later, the theology library closed and Bela had had a lovely massage and a mani-pedi, followed by a fabulous lobster dinner. She was ready for work. A small window in the basement of the library building opened just before the alarm system was armed for the night and a black-clad figure slipped in and made her way to the first floor.
“Bollocks,” she whispered, looking at the row of non-descript rooms, unlabeled and locked. With a sigh, Bela pulled out an intricately carved amulet with a pink gemstone at its center. “I do hate this spell.”
She slipped the chain for the amulet around her neck and held it in both hands. “Videam virtute,” she muttered. A wash of power flooded through and around her and she fought down the urge to vomit. Such a useful spell, but the instant and lasting migraine laid her low for nearly a day, every time. She reminded herself that Barrington’s finder’s fee was well worth a little pain and suffering.
With the seeing spell enacted, she could clearly pick out the softly glowing power of the occult room and jimmied the lock quickly. Inside was a musty, windowless space with bookshelves lining two sides. The majority of the works were nothing but superstitious drivel that looked flat and dull to her augmented sight, but a tantalizing array of volumes scattered throughout shone with a profitable intensity that made her head hurt and her hands yearn to seek them out.
It took a few moments to find the Codex, and she was just lifting it off the shelf when a loud beep from somewhere nearby had her on alert. She clearly heard an outside door open, followed by another series of beeps as someone disarmed the system.
“Have you ever done it in a library?” The words floated down the hallway outside the room and Bela rolled her eyes.
Seriously? She was going to be thwarted by that little librarian (who granted, was almost certainly a witch) interrupting so she could have a little nookie?
“I’ve done a lot of things in libraries.”
Bela’s head thumped silently against the wall. What the hell were the odds that he’d show up. Damn it! She looked back at the bookshelves, wondering which of the tomes Dean Winchester was after.
“We have this room,” the librarian said coyly. “It’s full of energies and… well—“ and here she giggled like a schoolgirl—“they, like, heighten the experience.”
“Baby,” Dean purred. “I don’t think anything could heighten the experience more than just being with you.”
Bela gagged and disgustedly looked for an escape, the magicks in the room making her eyes and brain ache. If he was after the same thing she was, he could damn well get in line!
A feeling of power washed into her from the direction of the voices, and Bela knew she was in trouble.
“What the hell?!” the librarian hissed. High heels clipped toward the room.
“What’s wrong?” Dean asked. There was that genuine concern in his voice that always puzzled and amused her so. Except for right now, when she really just wanted to smack the daylights out of him for ruining this. She put a hand over the amulet, intent on quashing the spell so she would be free to deal with—
Literally blinded by the power of the witch’s spell, Bela felt every inch of her body freeze solid.
“What the—“ She heard Dean call out and her vision cleared enough to see him lowering his gun and staring at her in shock. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“I could ask you the same question,” she replied through gritted, frozen teeth. Good Lord, this hurt!
“You!” the witch yelled, pointing a finger at Bela, who was trying to ignore the fire running up and down her limbs from the combination of spells. “I knew you were going to be trouble!” She put her hands on her hips and looked between them. “What the hell are you two after, huh? What? You thought you’d keep me busy so she could sneak in here and swipe my books?” she accused Dean.
He held up his hands, finger off the trigger of his gun. “Hey, I was just looking for—“
“A little fun?” the witch asked, clearly disbelieving. She had one of those evil, vengeful looks on her face that boded absolutely no good for anyone. “Well, we’ll see what I can do for you there, lover boy.” She lifted a hand and Bela barely heard the incantation as the power behind it slammed her mind into blackness.
“Bela, wake up.” Dean Winchester, sounding peeved.
Well, she very much didn’t want to do that, thank you. Her head was going to split open soon, and she was fairly certain her ears were bleeding from that damn witch.
“Bela, come on, here. Wake up.”
Now he was sounding concerned, and that was somehow worse than the initial irritation. Bela opened her eyes and shut them again immediately. The walls of the room were glowing with power now. A sealing spell, no doubt. She raised a hand to her head and something else came with it.
“About time you woke up,” Dean said quietly, as she opened her eyes again and squinted at the handcuffs connecting her wrist to his. Fabulous. “Are you okay?”
She snorted. “Oh yes, Dean. Wonderful.” She squinted up at the clock on the wall, surprised to see that only an hour had passed. It felt like she’d been asleep much longer than that. “You’ve ruined a perfectly good transaction and now I’m handcuffed to you.” She reached up a hand to cancel the seeing spell, and found the amulet gone. Perfect. “Things couldn’t be better.” Or much worse.
He shook his head in response. “Hey, how was I supposed to know you’d be here?” He looked down at the handcuffs in annoyance. “I’ve been trying to unlock these things ever since I woke up, but I haven’t had any luck.”
Bela pulled herself together and snatched the wire pick from his hand. “And here I thought you were the consummate juvenile delinquent.” She went to work on the lock, trying to hold back the nausea. The seeing spell alone was strain enough, but coupled with the power locking them in and the tomes of the shelves...
“I had a better night planned that sitting here handcuffed to you,” he groused.
She thought of Barrington and his money. “So did I, believe me.”
"Just one damn day," he growled. "One... damn... day..."
"Oh, do quit your whining," Bela huffed. She gave up on the lock for the moment and gave the handcuff another experimental tug, jolting Dean's wrist in the adjoining one. "And try to figure out why neither of us can pick this lock."
“There’s a spell on it, probably,” he grunted. “Damn witch.” He sounded all of eight years old.
Bela sighed in response and tried to be patient. It wasn’t as if he could see what was really going on. “The spell isn’t on the handcuffs,” she told him, cringing at the magical glow to the space around them. “It’s on the room. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to pick the lock and give ourselves some space.”
“Space would be nice,” Dean growled at her in clear accusation.
She glared. “Oh, this is not my fault, Dean!” Damn it! She brandished the pick. “Look, you’re welcome to have another go at it, seeing that you did so well the first time.”
Dean took the pick and went back to trying again. “How do you even know where the spell is?” he asked her. Bela tried not to react—she did. But the seeing spell was taking an enormous amount of concentration and the room was completely brutal with its power and she flinched. He jumped on it, of course. “What did you do?”
“I may have used a spell of my own,” she explained, hoping not to have to give everything away and announce her own vulnerability. “It enables the caster to see where magicks are being done.” She sighed as she looked down at where the amulet should be hanging around her neck. “Very useful for quickly determining which books are important and which aren’t.” She rubbed her temples, ignoring his hiss of annoyance as his hand came with hers. “I would never have cast it if I’d known I was entering into the sanctum of a witch.”
“So you knew Rebecca was a witch?”
She sat shocked at the question. “You didn’t?” Bela couldn’t help it, she laughed. He’d really gone into this thinking the girl was just some co-ed he could romance? “Oh good Lord, Dean, what did you think? She was some mild-mannered librarian who happened to have a rare copy of the Farian Codex lying about?”
“What the hell is the Farian Codex?” he replied, flummoxed. And then a might embarrassed. “I met her at one of the bars just off campus. She seemed harmless—“
“Yes, well, most of them do, don’t they? Right up until the point where they lock you in an enchanted room so they can turn your brain to so much strawberry jam.” She watched him fiddle with the lock. He wasn’t getting anywhere with it but the action was vaguely soothing. “You weren’t even looking for the Codex, then—just a little…?”
He was silent for far too long and the look on his face would have had a blush attached had he been a less well-traveled man.
“You certainly can pick them, can’t you?” she asked, trying not to laugh at him again. Not trying very hard, mind you. Lord, her head really was killing her. Literally, she feared.
“I’m stuck with you, aren’t I?” he growled, tipping his head back to smack it lightly on the wall behind them. “Hell of a birthday.”
She perked up, though her eyes were starting to go a bit wonky on her now. “It’s your birthday? Well, happy birthday, then.”
He glared and she was vaguely glad the Good Witch Rebecca had confiscated his weapons. Bela only wished she hadn’t confiscated that damn amulet…
“Look, I’m only trying to be nice,” she huffed in response. “It could be worse. She could have eaten your entrails by now.” He’d stopped playing with the lock and she reached unsteadily for the pick to try her own hand again.
“Can we just stop fiddling with that thing!?” He yanked his hand toward his chest, throwing her off balance and sending the wire skittering across the floor.
“Oh, thank you very much.” She blinked a few times to focus her eyes and perused the room carefully, pushing against the confinement spell and the various magic books, looking for something, anything…. “I’d’ve been long gone with the Codex if you hadn’t needed to creep into the special collections for a bit of nookie, you know?”
Wait, what was that glow…?
“All right!” Dean bitched, his dander well up. “That’s enough—“
“Shut up and come over here with me,” she said, standing and yanking on his arm.
“Why?” he asked petulantly. Oh for God’s sake!
“Because there is still something magical here, and I’m hoping it will allow me to detach myself and send you on your way to find some other girl to while away your birthday with—preferably one who is not capable of turning you into a newt.”
He rose and followed her, thank goodness. “Well it ain’t gonna be you,” he averred.
Bela didn’t feel the least bit of jealousy and disappointment in that. Honestly she didn’t. “Well, no, because I can in fact do that, too. Now where was that glow?” she muttered to herself, dragging him along in her wake.
The glow was separate from the enchantment that locked this room away from prying eyes and prevented their escape, and it didn’t seem to be connected to any of the books, either. It came from a piece of wood wedged between two nonmagical volumes on one of the high shelves. She reached up with her free hand and pulled it down, the power of it burning her fingers straight up to her neck.
“Well isn’t that interesting?” she asked herself, delighted despite the pain. Things were definitely looking up, weren’t they?
“What is it?” Dean asked, getting a bit closer than Bella would normally have liked. “Is that the symbol for time?”
“Clever boy,” she praised him absently. “It’s a Chronos key. She’s frozen the room, but is letting us stew in our own juices nonetheless. That’s why we can’t pick the lock.”
“What does time have to do with that?” He was adorably confused. He really did just go out and kill things without understanding them, didn’t he?
“Time is passing for us, Dean,” she explained, as if to a simpleton. “It isn’t passing for the room or the books or the handcuffs.” Still not a flicker of understanding. Oh dear. “If time isn’t passing for them—” she led, rolling her hand to get him thinking.
“Then the tumblers can’t move because they’re stuck in one moment,” he finished for her. He tried to pull a book off the shelf and it stayed exactly where it was. “God damned magic.”
“He did try, actually,” she said glibly. “I expect that’s what that casting Adam and Eve out of Eden business was all about.”
He ignored her, which she supposed was better than him turning on her and whining a bit more. “So how do we get out?”
She considered that. “We could probably break the Chronos key and unlock the handcuffs—“ She pulled the key away from him and held it protectively against her chest. Lord, it hurt to touch the damn thing! “But it won’t get us out of the room.” And it would be a shame to destroy something so very, very useful. Her head was spinning now. Damn it.
“You can’t just use the key to make time go again?” he asked derisively.
She hadn’t wanted to reveal this, but it was clearly too late now. The pain was getting worse and she could feel the power in the room bearing down on her more and more. Of all the times to be magically impotent. “It seemed like such a good idea at the time,” she mumbled, swaying slightly.
“What did?” As if he’d only just noticed how poorly she must be feeling—God willing he really had just noticed, because surely she hadn’t lost all ability to present herself to the world—he reached out very warm hands to her arms and she felt herself being moved to one of the chairs and made to sit down. “Bela, what’s going on?”
“Magic’s a funny little thing, Dean,” she explained dully, trying to pull herself back together. “It’s all very tit-for-tat, you see. And one of the tats of my magic-seeing spell is that I can’t actually do any other magic while it’s in force.”
He gave that a moment to sink into his pretty brain. “So what else is going on? You didn’t look this bad when she locked us in here.”
Bela sighed. “Another lovely tat. The magicks on the room are extremely powerful, and because I can see them, I can also feel them.”
“And they’re going kill you, is that it?” he asked, annoyed. “Damn it, Bela! So break the seeing spell.”
She smiled through what was becoming a truly spectacular migraine. Dean was ruggedly smudgy in her wavering sight. “You might remember the lovely pink amulet I was wearing before Rebecca took it with her…?”
Dean growled and stood, his handcuffed hand lifting her adjoining one. “See this is why I hate magic!” He plucked the Chronos key away from her and Bela had a moment of utter panic. He couldn’t honestly think to just destroy it! It was worth thousands to the right person! “So explain to me how to shut off the key and we’ll at least have that going for us.”
They would. Or rather, he would. She was a bit afraid that shutting down the key might hasten her own breakdown. But it wasn’t as if they had a choice.
“All right, then,” she agreed, the plan hatching full-grown in her seared and throbbing brain. “Let me have a look and I’ll see if there’s a way to shut it off.” She examined the intricately carved wood and smiled, doing a bit of math in her head. Oh, this would be perfect. Honestly, like a gift, it was. “When I tell you to, grip the wood at that lower left corner—where the Kraken is.” She rolled her eyes when it was clear he hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. “The octopus there,” she explained, not wanting to touch the key again herself just yet.
“Got it, Kraken.” He nodded his understanding. “Then what?”
Lord it was hard to think through the magic. She looked at the clock to find it still sat at twenty after ten. “Touch the first, third, and fourth scarabs, right to left, one after the other.” She took a deep breath and sagged back, trying for a more pathetic-looking and yet more comfortable position. “Then touch the right edge and run your forefinger over the serpent.”
“And that’ll shut off the key?” he asked dubiously.
She was suddenly so very glad of his ignorance. “It should solve some of our dilemma, yes.” She didn’t fake the groan that came forth as she blinked and the world swam around her. “If you could hurry up a bit, please?” She couldn’t pass out before they got this done. It would ruin everything.
He gave her one last adorably concerned look and manipulated the key. She slumped back, playing at passing out—or at least swooning—and watched the magicks change in the room. The key was incredibly painful as it did its work, but she breathed a sigh of relief as the confinement spell winked out of existence around them, the seeing spell dissolved soon after, and the world slowly settled into a normal rhythm.
Eight hours earlier if she’d calculated it correctly.
Dean had been far too wrapped up in the key’s power to notice the clock on the wall, thankfully. It still stood at the same time, as did the room itself. Outside that door, however, the day was only half gone. And, better, though the after effect of her seeing spell was still clinging to her faintly, she was feeling more herself already.
But she groaned again, artistically, and slumped back, nearly falling before he caught her. Nearly. Because of course the gallant Dean Winchester would never let her fall.
“Bela!” He laid her on the floor, which felt nice given the hangover she now had, and hovered.
“Handcuffs,” she whispered breathily. She had to get them separated and soon. There was a lot of work to do in the next eight hours, and she needed to be back in the real world before she would have gone in and tipped Rebecca off to her existence.
He grunted at his own inattention and hunted around for the wire for a moment, before grasping it from the floor and getting to work. He had the lock picked in less time than she would have thought he’d take, though certainly not as little time as she would have. Once he eased the cuffs off, she swooned.
Predictable as air, Dean patted her face lightly. “Bela?” he called, all the worry in the world in his tone. “Bela? Damn it!”
“Montri al mi la monon,” she sighed convincingly. “Say it, Dean. Montri al mi la monon. It should…” She didn’t laugh as she pretended to lose consciousness.
“Montri al mi la monon.” Oh, he sounded so convincing! It was a good thing Esperanto wasn’t actually a magical language, since he’d just demanded that the room show him the money.
She heard him rise and waited for him to walk out the door. She heard it open, but had to school herself not to react when he scooped her off the ground.
“Hang on, Bela,” he whispered close to her ear, a note of tender caring in his tone that surprised her. “You’re not dying on me on my birthday, you got that?!”
How absolutely sweet of him—and entirely unexpected. Well, perhaps not entirely, but she certainly wouldn’t have picked him up and spirited him to safety.
Bela allowed herself to revel, just a bit, in the comfort as he carried her gently to the doorway, wishing it would last more than a few short steps. She tensed slightly as they crossed the threshold—
—And found herself dressed in hippie clothes and standing by a bush outside the library as the clock in the Commons rang two in the afternoon. Perfect. Just as she’d suspected, the Chronos key had dumped them both back where they’d been at the time she’d had him set it to. Hopefully Dean had no memory of the time shift at all. She was assuming the seeing spell’s after effects enabled her to remember everything, but she wasn’t entirely sure that was how it worked.
Now that she knew where the Codex was, it would be a simple matter to retrieve it once the library was closed and she’d never have to encounter Rebecca the Witch at all. As long as a certain randy git didn’t barge in again.
She’d have to do something about that…
Five hours later, after a nap, a lovely massage, and a mani-pedi, Bela sauntered into a bar just off campus and stepped up to the row of stools, beside a certain birthday boy.
“What’s a nice hunter like you doing in a place like this?” she asked, laughter rich in her voice. All she needed to do was keep him busy enough not to meet up with the Good Witch and she could sneak off to the library a bit later. And better armed. Barrington could wait a day for his prize and she’d see what else she could liberate in the process.
“Bela?” he asked, turning toward her with such surprise and consternation that she feared he actually remembered the evening that didn’t happen. Instead he sipped at his whiskey contemplatively. “Funny,” he murmured. “I was just thinking about you this afternoon.”
Bela’s mind replayed the memory of him holding her in his arms, promising to save her. She let a warm feeling settle over her as she signaled to the bartender to get her a drink and slipped onto the stool beside his.
“Really?” she purred delightedly. “You must tell me everything.”