Life Behind The Masque

Title: Life Behind The Masque
Fandom: Supernatural & Leverage
Genre: Slash; Het; Threesome
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Dean Winchester, Parker/Alec Hardison, Nathan Ford/Sophie Devereaux, Sam Winchester/Demon Ruby
Word Count: 16,134
Rating: R – for implied sexual situations
Summary: Sometimes those closest to us are the furthest away. Sam learns things about his brother that shake his worldview.
Author’s Notes: Spoilers for SPN Season 4; Leverage Season 2
LocknKey’s Master Art Post

 

SpnLeverageDeanEliotlong2

Nursing a beer and enjoying the thrum of Black Sabbath in his bones, Dean Winchester waited patiently. The blonde that slipped onto the stool beside him looked barely old enough to drink though the hunter knew her to be just a few months younger than himself.

“Where’s Eliot?”

“How’d you …?” The blonde looked affronted.

Green eyes flicked upward to where his spirit animal perched on the rail above the bar.

“How’s he put up with you?” She smirked.

When Dean and Eliot had told her about the spirit birds it made a funny feeling in her chest. They gave her their secrets. Sophie said that made them friends.

“You’ll have to ask him.” Dean signaled the bartender for two more beers.

The ‘him’ they referred to, made a chittering noise only Dean and the long-haired man that settled on his opposite side heard. The men heard an answering chirrup from the falcon that landed next to the owl.

Finishing their drinks in silence, they stood as one and headed out the door. Outside the bar, the blonde threw herself so hard at Dean, it knocked him back against the shorter man who collided with the wall.

“Dammit, Parker!” They shouted in unison.

“What?” She rewarded Dean with a kiss that had his nerves tingling and his hands tightening on her hips as arms wrapped around him from behind.

“Cameras, Parker.” A growl came from behind Dean.

“Hardison won’t care since it’s Dean.” The thief argued.

“Where are Larry, Moe and Curly?” Dean sighed as Parker slid down his body.

He reluctantly moved out of Eliot’s grip.

Before he let go, Eliot nipped the nape of his neck. “Easy, Lio.” Dean rasped. “Cameras.”

“Don’t call me Lio.” Eliot growled as he released the taller man.

He never did understand the fascination with his hair.

“We’re stayin’ at the place with all the fake Egyptian stuff.” Parker informed him as she pulled them toward the Impala. “Can I drive?”

“Not in this lifetime, sweetheart.” He looked at Eliot.

“The Luxor.”

“Sophie?”

“Yeah.”

“Figures.”

“Sam?”

Dean sighed as his hands white knuckled on the wheel.

“He doesn’t know.”

“What about his …?”

“Trying to get him to quit using them, but there’s this demon bitch that seems to have more pull with him than I do.” He rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. “Even after all I went through…” He trailed off.

Eliot and Parker looked at the hunter expectantly. They only knew the sketchiest details about Hell and the apocalypse, and Dean really didn’t want to explain being number one on heaven and hell’s hit parade.

“Dean …?” Eliot started.

“Just typical little brother crap. Nothing you wanna hear about.” He shrugged.

Eliot’s expression let Dean know he was calling bullshit, and that they would talk. Dean smirked. The two of them together didn’t do a lot of talking…not the verbal kind anyway.

~*~*~*~

As the trio climbed into the Impala, Dean’s mind drifted.

He’d always ‘known’ when things were ‘wrong’, but when puberty hit, he developed the ability to ‘read’ things, which he never told … Anyone, especially the way his father felt about anything supernatural. Missouri would sometimes watch him out of the corner of her eye, but she never gave him away. He’d known Sam was different since the night their mother died. That something happened that awful night that made part of Sam ‘wrong’.

When he got older, he made it a point to work his way into the ‘psychic’ community of whatever town John had dumped them during his headlong rush for revenge. Real psychics taught him to control his gift, while the con artists taught him how to survive. It was safer than hustling pool and kept him from selling his ass on street corners.

When they’d get low on funds, Dean would pack Sam in the Impala and head to the biggest local swap meet. He would read for people and make enough money to take care of groceries and rent until John returned. He’d find a shady spot where he removed the two camp chairs he carried over his shoulder. He would get Sam settled with a cold drink and a book, set up a folding table he brought from the motel room, and a small sign proclaiming he was doing readings. Then he settled down to wait for customers.

Madame Natasha stifled a yawn. Things usually weren’t this slow on the weekend. She didn’t often run the psychic con, but she needed some additional cash to keep her latest mark on the hook. She stepped out of her rented space to see a line of people waiting to be read by a pretty teenage boy sitting at a rickety table covered by a tacky cloth. She started forward when someone stepped in her path. Hazel eyes looked up at her from under shaggy brown hair. She started to bend down toward the little boy, when the teen snapped.

“Sam!”

The boy turned and with a shrug moved to his elder’s side. Green eyes glared at her suspiciously as he handed the little boy a book and shooed him back to his chair. He never missed a beat reading his client. He was either the real thing or most talented grifter she’d ever met.

By the end of the day she was irritated that the boy had diverted most of her clients. When he walked by she grabbed his arm.

“Maybe you should find someplace else to be tomorrow.” She made her voice menacing.

He looked at her hand then green eyes met brown.

“Maybe you should be more careful Madame Natasha … Or should I say, Ms. Devereaux.” The teen snarled.

Sophie dropped his arm as though burned.

~*~*~*~

John never asked and Dean never told how he made money. His abilities and quick wits kept him out of many situations caused by his pretty face. He had enough control that he could touch or be touched, but chose to isolate himself both mentally and physically from strangers. All he needed was his family. When Sam left for Stanford, it was no surprise to Dean … John banishing Sam from the family did surprise him … John had always been more emotionally connected to Sam than to Dean.

Using the excuse of a hunt, Dean separated from his father. Taking a chance, he went to visit Bobby Singer. They often stayed with the older hunter until he and John had argued, and Bobby had run him off at the end of a shotgun. Hopefully the same didn’t happen since Dean was alone. Bobby gave him a warm welcome and a place to stay. After supper, they sat in the library with a beer. After some prodding, Dean finally shared his secret.

“Your daddy know ‘bout this?”

“What do you think?” Dean snarked.

“I’ll keep an ear out for anything requiring your talent. Be a way to keep ya in cash.”

“What I thought. I’ll give you a finder’s fee.”

Bobby nodded his agreement, and the men drank a silent toast to their new venture.

~*~*~*~

After a salt and burn that didn’t take long, and left him with only a few bumps and bruises for his trouble. He’d walked out the door of the local diner trying to decide whether he wanted to spend another night in town when his phone rang. By the time he hung up, he had a paying job at a museum in Washington, D.C. A moue of distress caught his attention as he unlocked the Impala. A middle-aged black woman and a teenage boy stood looking under the hood of an old sedan.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Something wrong?” Dean asked politely.

The woman gave him a glare as she sized him up in a glance. The teen shifted from foot to foot, uncertain, while three younger children sat wide-eyed in the backseat.

“The car won’t start, and I’ve got a dozen things need doin’ before I can get this brood home and start supper.”

“I know a little about cars. I could take a look.” Dean stood back so as to not seem threatening.

“I’d appreciate that, young, man.” She took a step back from the car.

“Dean.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’m Dean.” He held out his hand.

Looking at the hand then at the man, she took it in a firm grip.

“Vivien Williams, but everyone calls me Nana ‘cause of my brood.” She waved toward the backseat.

Dean fought to keep his expression smooth as the tumor hidden in her breast revealed itself.

“Let me take a look … See what’s going on with your girl here.” Dean covered quickly.

Scanning the engine, he quickly found the wire that had corroded and snapped off the starter. Pulling out his pocket knife, he made quick work of the problem.

“Try it now.”

Vivien nodded to the lanky teenager who slipped behind the wheel. The sedan grumbled to life. Dean closed the hood and turned to find Vivien in his space, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

“She should run fine, now, ma’am … Ms. Williams.” Dean stuttered as he tried to back up.

“What’d you see?” Her voice was low, but powerful.

“I … What … Uh …” Dean stammered.

“My mama was the midwife and healer ‘round these parts even after the doctor came to town, so I know a thing or two ‘bout folks with the ‘sight’ and such. Now. What’d you see that’s got you all pie-eyed?”

The woman’s voice sounded so much like Missouri’s he couldn’t resist.

“A tumor. In your left breast. I’m sorry.”

“Is it gonna kill me?”

“It’s small, barely there.”

“Then ya got nothing to be sorry for, now do you, boy?”

“Uh … No ma’am.”

“What’s your name, son?” Her voice softened.

“Dean … Winchester.”

She scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to him.

“You be here at six o’clock, sharp. Supper waits for no man in my house.” She quipped.

“But …”

“You gonna sass me?”

“No ma’am.” Dean rewarded her with a shy smile that only his mother had ever seen.

“Good. Traveling man like you needs a home cooked meal once in a while.”

“Is there pie?” He asked shyly.

“Flirt.” She swatted his arm as she climbed behind the wheel of her car.

After supper, he noticed the oldest boy, Alec, tinkering with a computer.

“You know a lot about these things?” Dean watched the nimble fingers fly over the keyboard.

Think you could set me up a website? Nothing fancy. Where folks can get a hold of me?”

“Sure man.”

“I can pay. Uh … Do you have to use my real name? I don’t want my old man finding out I do this.”

“You can be anybody you want online. I can even match whatever name you pick with an ID and bank accounts nobody can touch.” He preened.

By the time he left, he had three new IDs with bright shiny back stories and ways for him to keep in touch with the young hacker.

Nana insisted Dean stretch out on the couch after she shooed Alec off to bed. “That boy would never sleep if I don’t watch him like a hawk.”

With a smile on his face, Dean drifted off to sleep.

A hot shower, hearty breakfast, thermos of coffee, and the chaos of a house full of kids got Dean on his way to DC with a hard hug from Nana.

~*~*~*~

Once he got to D.C., Dean parked at the National Museum of the American Indian, where the son of one of Bobby’s friends was Associate Curator. Emil Her Many Horses greeted Dean with a warm smile, a reservation at a nearby hotel, and questions about Bobby while they headed to the basement of the museum.

“This is it.” Emil waved his arm wide.

“You want me to authenticate all these?” Dean swallowed hard.

Emil chuckled. “No, man just these crates. They’re from people whose families collected Native artifacts over the last century. They’re easing their ‘our parents had too much money and we want to be politically correct’ white man guilt over stealing our heritage.”

“Dude. I thought I was the cynic in the room.” Dean teased.

“We just need to know if they’re the real thing or just everyday items passed off as the real thing.”

Dean rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get to it.” He picked up the first piece.

Exhaustion started to set in after a long day of reading various artifacts when Emil handed Dean a coup stick.

“Last one. It supposedly belonged to Sitting Bull.”

Before he could say anything else, the vision that hit Dean was so powerful he fell to his hands and knees. A splinter from the coup stick pierced the heel of his hand. As his blood soaked into the wood, he found himself in the middle of a battle between Indians and the Calvary. He watched the bodies fall as men and horses alike are killed.

The smoke hung heavy across the valley as the braves encircle the remaining group of soldiers. He can finally make out the words … As the warriors taunt the yellow haired man in the buckskin coat.

When he comes back to himself, Emil and his colleagues are sitting around him with a video camera and computers running translation programs. Pulling on his customary smirk, he pulled himself to his feet and handed Emil the stick.

“It’s real.” He rubs the splinter still embedded in his hand. “I hope I’m not gonna be seeing any of this on YouTube.” He scowled at Emil.

“Of course not, but we could not pass up the opportunity to record your eyewitness account of the Battle of Little Big Horn.” The scientist in Emil was unapologetic though he did shuffle his feet at Dean’s predatory glare.

Placing the envelope containing his fee inside his jacket, he turned when he felt the air move. Perched on a high shelf was a Great Grey Owl.

“What do you see, Dean?” Emil asked as he followed where Dean looks.

“Owl … Grey owl” He huffs out.

Emil nodded and smiled. “A powerful spirit guide … He can teach you much about your gifts.”

“Great.” Dean’s tone was dry as he stalked from the building, the owl traveling silently overhead.

That night, the owl visited Dean in his dreams, turning into Sitting Bull, the owner of the coup stick. He would teach Dean to use the abilities the splinter from the stick bestowed. Top of the list seemed to be breaking curses on people and objects. Dean sighed … Just what he needed.

He’d stopped at Bobby’s to tell him about the museum, and work on the Impala. Wiping down the last of the tools, he looked up as Grey began to mantle, then Rumsfeld’s rumbling bark sounded from where he stood on the hood of Bobby’s tow truck. Conscious of the pistol tucked at the small of his back, and checking bits of scrap and iron that could be used as weapons, he finished wiping the cleaner off his hands as he moved toward the house.

A man with long dark hair, a few inches shorter, broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip stood beside a primer grey ’49 Ford pickup. He stood square and balanced, military branded on every movement.

“RUMSFELD, PLACIDUS! Help you?” Dean asked

Removing his aviator sunglasses revealed pale eyes that reminded Dean of a winter sky. Sometimes grey, sometimes bright blue, but what really grabbed Dean’s attention aside from the handsome face and great body was the falcon floating lazily behind the man. Grey settled on his shoulder. Pale eyes widened then narrowed.

“You Bobby Singer?”

“He’s running some parts. Something I can help you with?” Dean drawled.

“Man said he had some parts I needed.”

Dean nodded to the box on the porch. “You Spencer?”

“Yeah.” He moved toward the house.

The Rottweiler came off the truck to where his chain ended in Spencer’s path.

“Iacio!” Dean motioned sending the dog back on the truck to lie down.

“He train all his dogs in Latin?” Spencer asked as he examined the parts.

“He’s quirky like that.” Dean quipped still standing out of reach.

Grey riffled his hair trying to relax the hunter.

*Would you stop with the hair!* His thoughts were irritated with the owl as he waved him off his shoulder.

Spencer’s next words stopped Dean cold.

“Yours got a thing for the hair, too?” His chuckle sounded rusty.

“What!?”

“Your spirit guide.” Spencer indicated the porch rail where both birds sat preening each other. Grey flashing him pictures of Dean with his hands tangled in Spencer’s dark hair.

“Just shoot me now.” Dean rubbed the back of his neck.

“Don’t like guns.” Spencer quipped as he reached in his pocket while stepping toward Dean.

Dean forced himself to stay still, but his eyes narrowed and muscles tensed as he watched for any threatening moves.

The other man slowed his movements.

“Easy, Hoss.” He opened his hands to show his money clip.

Dean relaxed slightly until Rumsfeld stood and gave a grumble deep in his chest.

“Bobby’s home.”

Moving to the old station wagon, he gave the older man a curt ‘Spencer’s here’ before starting to unload the car.

“Eliot.” Bobby nodded. “Didn’t expect you ‘til tomorrow.”

“Job didn’t take as long as I thought.”

The kid’s quick exit when Bobby arrived had Eliot taking a second look. The boy’s pretty face and the appearance of a spirit guide had distracted the retrieval specialist. Taking second look at the man, he saw that he was only a few years younger than himself. The pale lines of scars across the backs of his hand spoke of battles won and lost. The shape of the pistol stuck in the back of his pants shouted ‘hunter’ at Eliot.

“You two in the same business?” Eliot prodded.

“Naw, Dean just stops by to work on his classic once in a while.”

“I don’t mean the salvage business.” Eliot cocked his head and looked at Bobby from the corner of his eye.

“Whatta you fishin’ for Spencer?” Bobby growled.

“A mutual friend told me about a man who has a talent in psychometry along with a little extra mojo he got from a coup stick, travels with a grey owl.”

“Dammit Emil.” Bobby cursed under his breath.

“Dammit, Bobby!” Dean’s hand slapped the table. “Thought you said Emil would keep his mouth shut.” He stalked to the edge of the room never looking at Eliot. “This is exactly what I was afraid would happen. Every Tom, Dick and Jane showin’ up on your doorstep. Next thing you know Dad finds out and I shoot to number two on his hit parade behind …”

Both hands ran over the short cropped hair in aggravation.

“Dean. Settle down. It’s just Eliot. He and Emil have history.” Bobby soothed. “I’ll talk to Emil. I’ll put out feelers in the community about who knows what.”

Dean’s glare turned on Eliot.

“And what about the next person Emil has a ‘history’ with?” He threw his hands in the air and reached for the whiskey bottle, which was snatched out of his hand.

“I need you sober.” Eliot growled.

“You think I give a fuck what you need.” Dean growled back.

Aggravated chittering from the spirit birds in the room had both men swiveling their heads at the same time.

“SHUT UP!” They growled in unison.

The birds mantled, then settled.

“I hate when you idjits do that.” Bobby grumbled into his own glass.

“Look. After Emil told me about you, we had a little discussion about his lack of discretion when he gets excited about something. It won’t happen again.” Eliot’s tone was solemn.

“He has it on video.” Dean slumped in a chair at the table.

“Not anymore.” Eliot gave him a wolf’s smile.

“Why do you want me?” Dean asked head down on his arms.

“’Cause yer pretty and got a tight ass.” Eliot quipped.

Blushing hotly, Dean slanted a look at Bobby, who shrugged.

“Least he’s honest about wantin’ in your pants.”

“Besides wanting me to fuck you?” Dean turned the tables on the retrieval specialist.

“I retrieved something that rumors say is cursed … Or some shit. Bitch that hired me won’t pay until it ain’t.” He reached in his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a velvet bag.

He started to open the bag when Dean snatched it from his hand.

“Hey!”

“If it’s cursed you don’t want to open it in Bobby’s house.” He carried the bag outside, heading to one of the out buildings.

“What …?”

“We set up a place for him to work.”

“What if he’s not here?”

“He improvises.” Bobby shrugged and went back in the house.

“Now what?”

“We wait.” Bobby pulled a couple beers out of the refrigerator and tossed one to Eliot.

Two hours later, Dean returned to the house, tossed the bag at Eliot. The retrieval specialist stared at the bag then at the drawn and pinched look on Dean’s face. The hunter hardly slowed down as he continued up the stairs. The slamming of a door brought Bobby and Eliot back to life.

“What the …?”

“Leave it.” Bobby encouraged.

“But …”

“Look, the boy ‘sees’ the history of the piece. Sees who cursed it, why, and how to break it. Takes a bit for him to shake it off.”

When Dean noticed Eliot at the door he wiped his hand down his face to dispel the cobwebs left over from the necklace.

“It’s pre-Civil War, made in New Orleans … The stones and setting are all original and the curse is broken.” Dean fired off hoping the shorter man would leave.

“Good to know, but not why I’m here.” Eliot lifted his eyebrows in a query.

“I’m fine. Just takes a minute to shake off the memories.”

Giving a nod Eliot left him alone.

Dean disappeared again soon after an excellent dinner made when Eliot shooed the two hunters out of the kitchen. He went on his own hunt after Bobby offered to clean up since the retrieval specialist cooked.

Locking up for the night, he smiled when he found Eliot curled around Dean. Bright blue eyes glared in the half light at the sound of Bobby’s soft chuckle.

*Good.* The older hunter thought. Dean needed someone who puts him first besides one old man, and Eliot needed someone to protect. He chuckled all the way to his room thinking of the merry chase Dean would give Eliot. He never saw the smug spirit guides sitting outside the window.

~*~*~*~

Parker eyed the ornate gold chalice just sitting unattended … Waiting for her to take it home. Hanging from the ceiling in a bizarre parody of a spider, the chalice was almost within her grasp when …

“You should wait ‘til I finish breaking the curse on that before you steal it, sweetheart.” A gravel voice came from the shadows.

The thief gave a squeak of surprise when she saw nothing but green eyes coming out of the shadows. Momentary panic caused her to tangle in her line. Struggling only seemed to entangle her more.

“STOP!” The voice commanded and she did.

“Will you let me help you?” The voice asked.

She opened her eyes to see the green eyes filled with concern looking back.

“You’re pretty.” She reached out to run gloved fingers over his face.

A blush spread across his cheeks.

“Uh … Yeah … Need a hand?” He smiled shyly.

“I got it.” She adeptly untangled from her line.

She looked down and saw the chalice sitting in the middle of some weird symbol.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Breaking a curse on the chalice.”

“Why?”

“’Cause I’m getting paid.”

“What’s the curse do?” She was intrigued.

“Catches thieves.”

“So I shouldn’t steal it right now?”

The green eyes looked serious.

“You should wait until you see a black Impala leave the house.”

Her face lit up. “Okay.”

She pulled her remote out of her pocket. Pausing she turned back to the pretty man. Grabbing the front of his shirt she pulled him into a heated kiss.

“Hi! I’m Parker.”

Green eyes blinked as the surprise started to wear off.

“Dean Winchester.”

The line pulled the blonde thief toward the sky light.

Dean stared after her for several minutes before getting back to work.

~*~*~*~

Louisiana in the Impala’s rear view mirror, Dean hit the speed dial for his father. The call went straight to voicemail. Expecting the usual message, Dean was surprised at the new message. “If you need assistance, call my son, Dean at …” Dean hung up without leaving a message. He turned the Impala toward Stanford and Sam.

He was filling filling the Impala’s tank at the Love’s Travel Stop in El Paso when his phone buzzed an email notification. The website had forwarded an email from Nathan Ford requesting Dean Winston contact IYS Insurance for a consultation. With a shrug, he decided another day or two to get to Palo Alto was no big deal, not like Same was expecting him. He had to go through Los Angeles anyway so he might as well make it profitable.

Two days later, he was standing in the lobby of IYS being introduced to Nathan Ford and James Sterling. He watched Sterling while Ford started to brief him as they headed for the elevators. There was something about the shorter man that rubbed him the wrong way and had Grey pressed tight against his head. They both relaxed when the man left to get the piece they wanted Dean to authenticate from the vault.

The body of James Sterling walked sedately to the vault while the hitchhiker in his head practically danced with glee. Crowley loved Jim Sterling. The man had the scruples of a feral cat and was the perfect host for King of The Crossroads.

Crowley had been hanging around in Sterling’s meat suit waiting for Nathan Ford to crack over his son’s illness. He was sure he’d be offering up his soul any day. Seeing Dean Winchester was just icing on his cake. All that power … All that pain. Simply delicious. He dropped the piece off at Nate’s office before making himself scarce. He knew Dean would eventually figure out Sterling wasn’t Sterling anymore, and he couldn’t take that chance if he wanted to be around when Nate wanted to make a deal for his son’s life.

~*~*~*~

Dean’s mind snapped back to the present as he pulled to a stop in front of the Luxor. Glares from the three people that climbed out of the American beauty had the valet carefully pulling her into the closest parking space.

The warm greeting he received from the rest of the Leverage team loosened the knot of tension he’d been carrying in his chest since he’d found Sam with Ruby, his pants around his ankles his mouth latched on her arm like a calf at the teat.

The three younger members of the team piled on the couch around Dean, Hardison nattering on about Nana while Parker and Eliot crowded into his personal space. Nate and Sophie gave them indulgent smiles as their minds raced at what would bring the Winchesters to Vegas.

“Not to rain on everyone’s parade, but why are you in town, Dean?” Nate sipped his coffee.

“Always the buzzkill, Nate.” Dean grinned fondly. He handed Alec a thumb drive.

“All these people attended a private poker game with this guy.” The hacker flashed a picture on the TV screen.

“Hey!” Parker squealed.

Everyone turned to look at the thief.

“He looks like that guy in the movie we watched last night … Jonah Something.” She murmured trying to remember.

“Jonah Hex.” Hardison prompted. “He does sorta look like Josh Brolin.”

“Hardison.” Nate prompted.

“Oh, right. The guy’s real name is James Butler Hickok, supposedly descended from the original. Matter of fact … He’s our mark.”

Dean looked at Nate, eyes wide. “Whatever you’re after is probably cursed.”

“You’re probably right. Is your brother going to be on board with what we’re doing?”

“I’ll handle Sam. What are you after?”

Hardison spoke up. “Janet Nuttal is a great something granddaughter of THE Nuttal, who was a partner in the Saloon No. 10 where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed. Their family became the caretakers for the cards and poker chips that were used in the poker game. Her father sold them to Hickok the younger.”

“Is Vegas the only city Hickok’s been holding games?” Dean asked. “We didn’t look for any other cases like these.” He pointed to the coma victims.

Alec ran a quick search. “Looks like he left a trail from South Dakota to Vegas. Janet said she found the journal of the original Nuttal’s wife, Gizla. She was a Russian mail order bride, except, she wasn’t Russian, she was Romany.”

Parker looked confused.

“Gypsy.” Dean offered.

“Her tribe was killed by the Cossacks because they thought her tribe had stolen their horses. She expected to be living some place like San Francisco not Deadwood, South Dakota, and she wanted Hickok to take her with him when he left. He refused. She cursed the cards and chips. I don’t know what this says.” The hacker put a new page on the screen.

Eliot and Dean moved closer to the screen. Between the two they managed to translate.

“It’s the curse. Since Hickok thought the game was more important than what she wanted, she made it so he plays forever in limbo. Anyone not of her blood that plays with the cards is destined to be trapped in limbo, too.”

“Can you break it so we can steal the cards and chips back for Janet?” Parker turned big eyes on Dean.

“Won’t know ‘til I get hold of ‘em.”

“How come Hickok 2.0 doesn’t get stuck in limbo?” Hardison asked.

Dean studied the journal pages again.

“Because he carries the blood of both lines. Gizla must have thought seducing Hickok would convince him to take her outta Deadwood. Instead she had to pass off Hickok’s son as Nuttal’s.” He flipped through the book skimming the pages quickly. “Gizla left Nuttal and their kids when the boy was five, the two of them going to Denver.”

Nate watched Eliot, Parker and Hardison huddled around Dean, the hacker going to the computer as Dean or Eliot pointed out different things in the journal. Parker’s occasional off the wall question or comment would spark another flurry of activity, making the blonde grin like she’d found a pile of money. He knew the hunter had a history with all of them, but their younger members seemed to have formed an odd sort of family around Dean.

Nate smiled over the rim of his cup as Sophie kept her distance from Dean. His ability to read her scared her witless. Dean would often look at Nate, green eyes narrowed, as though he knew the mastermind would do anything, sacrifice anyone to win during a con. His guilt always bit him in the ass driving him to find absolution in a bottle instead of his family. He fought that impulse every minute. As he watched their interaction the analytical part of his brain was listening and watching the information flashing on the screen and being thrown out to the whole.

“What about Sam?” Nate asked.

“I’m palming his geek ass off on Alec.” Dean smirked.

“What … Why!? What’d I ever do to you?” The hacker whined.

Dean’s face turned serious. “He doesn’t know.”

Hardison’s mouth closed with a snap. “Got your back, man.”

Dean nodded. His abilities and Grey had been the one secret he’d been able to keep from heaven and hell alike. He didn’t know how or why, but intended to do whatever he could to keep them under wraps.

“I think I know how we can get next to this guy.” Nate interjected.

All eyes turned his direction. He looked at Dean.

“How do you feel about being bait?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Dean shrugged.

The spirit birds in the room screeched causing their charges to cringe.

“Problem?” Parker grinned.

“Babysitters aren’t happy.” Eliot grumped.

“What’s the plan?” Dean sighed.

“We put your pretty face to work as an actor/high stakes poker player. Parker as your model girlfriend, Eliot, your bodyguard … Throw in Sam as a bodyguard if we can’t convince him to hang back Hardison. Sophie and I can come in as husband and wife hi-rollers.”

“Could work.” Dean blushed.

“Sophie,” he looked at the brunette, “we’re going shopping.”

The grifter’s face lit up as everyone but Hardison tried to sneak out of the suite.

“Where are you all going?” Sophie asked innocently.

“I gotta get us moved over here if this is gonna work.” Dean reasoned.

“Sophie nodded. “Sam can have the extra room in Eliot and Hardison’s suite.” She gave them a sly look.

Dean and Eliot blushed furiously though Eliot managed to give her a satisfied smirk.

“Then everyone else, come along. Eliot I assume you know Dean’s sizes?”

Eliot ran his eyes up and down the length of the hunter’s body. “Oh yeah.”

Blushing, Dean scurried out the door before she changed her mind.

~*~*~*~

The closer he got to their motel, the more he tensed up. He was not looking forward to the coming confrontation with Sam. He knew it was only a matter of time before his brother got curious, or maybe not given Sam’s preoccupation with other things.

Finding their room empty, Dean breathed a sigh of relief. He began gathering clothes, toiletries and the odds and ends that get scattered over a couple days. He was loading the last bag in the trunk when Sam put in an appearance.

“What’s up?”

“We’re moving downtown.” Dean started around the car.

“What about the case?”

“The case is why we’re moving downtown. Now get in the car. I’ll explain when we get there.”

“So what’d you find out?” Sam queried. “The only thing the victims had in common was they all played poker.”

Much as he didn’t want to start this conversation, there was no way around it.

“Ran into some friends who’re working the same case.” He gave Sam a quick glance. “We’re looking for a deck of cards and set of poker chips used by Wild Bill Hickok the day he was killed.”

Hazel eyes narrowed. “What’s a set of antique cards got to do with coma patients?”

“They were cursed by a Gypsy to create some sort of limbo where the players get trapped.”

“Then what?”

“Don’t know. This is the first time the cards and chips have been away from their caretakers since they were originally cursed. Only blood relations to the parties involved are immune.”

Sam gaped at his brother. “Who are these ‘friends’ that they know all this?”

“People I’ve known awhile. Despite what you and Dad thought, I do have friends.” Dean snapped.

“Dean I never …” Sam was cut off when Dean pulled to a stop in front of the Luxor.

Dean was out of the car and at the trunk before Sam could form a thought. Rolling his eyes, Sam followed. He never meant to imply that Dean didn’t have friends … He’d just never given it any serious thought. That thought caused him to pause. He never gave a thought to Dean’s life when he wasn’t in it. He really needed to start paying attention.

Pulled out of his musings, he lengthened his stride to catch up with his fast moving brother. It was like the parting of the Red Sea to see people scamper out of the angry Winchester’s way.

“You got a key for Winston?” He barked at the clerk.

“Here you are, sir.” The clerk’s calm voice seemed to calm Dean.

“Thanks, dude.” Dean handed Sam one of the key cards.

Sam watched closely as they stepped through the door and a willowy blonde approached Dean with a wide smile, while a short, long-haired man with his arms crossed over his chest, and a grinning black man approached the brothers.

“You should see what Sophie bought for you.” The blonde’s grin never faded as she sing-songed the words.

“Yeah.” The black man laughed. “Eliot will have to beat the women off you with a club.”

This elicited a growl from the long haired man, which set Dean to blushing and the others to laughing.

Dean set his duffle to the side and turned to his brother.

“Sam. This is Parker,” he pointed to the bouncing blonde, “Eliot,” he indicated the long hair man, “Hardison,” he pointed to the black man, “and Nate and Sophie.” He indicated the couple across the room. “Everyone, this is Sam. He can be a bitch, but he’s still my brother.”

Parker grabbed Dean’s bag. “I’ll put this in Eliot’s room. Come on, Sam, I’ll show you where you’ll sleep.”

Sam was too shocked to object. He followed the bouncing ponytail across the suite to the adjoining door. Finally his stupor broke.

“Dean sleeps with Eliot?” He nearly choked.

“Always, but sometimes with me and Hardison, too.”

“The four of you together?” Sam choked out.

“We always have really big beds. Besides he’s pretty. Who wouldn’t want to have sex with him? Your room’s over there.”

Sam was still standing there when she came out of Eliot’s room.

“Hurry up. We haven’t got all day.” Parker scolded.

A subdued Sam rejoined the others. He watched how Dean interacted with the others. He was relaxed and smiling as he sat leaning against Eliot.

“Okay boys and girls. We’ve got at least an hour until room service arrives, so let’s get started.” Nate pointed at the TV screen. “Hardison, run it.”

“James Butler Hickok, 42, fancies himself a professional gambler, no wife, girlfriend or boyfriend … No emotional ties of any kind.”

“Is he?” Eliot asked.

“According to his accounts, he does alright. No big money. He gives lessons to people with more money than brains and hosts private high stakes games. Likes pretty things.” He smirked at Dean, and tossed him a wallet. “Dean Holden, up and coming pretty face on the LA scene, Katherine Beaumont,” he grinned over at Sophie, “significant other of Tom Baker, both professional gamblers. Parker you’ll be Alyce White, model and arm candy, Sam Jones and Chris Johnson, personal security.”

“What about the coma victims?” Sam’s tone was curt.

“I’m getting’ there, man. I only had a couple hours.” Hardison snapped.

“Sam …” Dean’s voice carried a warning.

“What? I just want to make sure we keep an eye on what’s important … Not get caught up in this fairy tale you got going here.”

Eliot moved getting in Sam’s face.

“Look here, boy, ain’t no one forgetting nothing here, and until you get the whole picture you need to sit down and shut up.”

Sam started to bristle up, the fresh demon blood coursing through his veins, whispering in his mind until he met Eliot’s eyes. He heard the rustle of wings and saw something moving behind the shorter man’s eyes that made him back down. He looked around expecting to see Castiel, and while he could sense something in the room, it wasn’t the angel.

The smirk on the blonde’s face irritated him as she was practically sitting in Dean’s lap. That nearly had him on his feet again. *Who are these people and what claim did they have on his brother?* He wondered what else Dean was hiding besides what had happened to him in hell and the fact that he had a male lover … Or two … Or however many.

“Where’s this guy troll for his players?” Dean asked hoping to break up the pissing contest between Eliot and Sam.

“He picked up victims one and three at the MGM Grand. Two, four and five he snagged at The Bellagio.”

“Sophie and I’ll take the MGM. Dean, you, Parker, Sam and Eliot have the Bellagio.”

The hacker grinned at Eliot and Parker’s antics. “Ain’t they just the cutest things?” He commented to the room at large.

“That’ll give us a starting point. Where are the clothes, Sophie? I might as well find out why Eliot and Parker were all girly eyed over them.” Dean tiredly rubbed the back of his neck.

“I assure you, darling, I have excellent taste.” Sophie purred as she walked past.

Dean frowned after the grifter. After all these years she was still careful about touching him. He was broken out of his thoughts by Eliot.

“Don’t sweat it, man. ‘Least she won’t be pickin’ your pockets like some others.” The hitter glared toward Parker.

“There is that.” He said as Eliot’s hand came to rest on the small of his back when they followed Sophie.

Sam frowned. He felt like he was watching a foreign film with no subtitles. If someone had asked he would have said there wasn’t anything he didn’t know about his brother, but was he wrong. He watched as Nate refilled his cup then moved towards him.

“I take it Dean never told you about us?”

“No. Never even a hint these past four years. I’d never even seen him with anyone except Anna and those twins before he went …” Sam closed his mouth.

Why was he telling this stranger all this stuff?

“Don’t know ‘bout Anna,” Nate took a drink, “but the twins were actually an unrelated trio.” He glanced over at Hardison. “Did you ever ask Dean if there was someone?”

Shock filled Sam’s face. “How did … Only a few knew … Why would … He never said … Anything.”

“If it’s any consolation, Dean doesn’t usually tell anyone anything, but Eliot can be a very persuasive man. It’s not often someone says no to him. I imagine there’s some shared background there somewhere, and I know Eliot and Dean worked together occasionally.” Nate held up his hand to keep Sam from interrupting. “What I need to know from you is if you can get over this ‘Dean is mine’ thing you seem to have going and work the job?”

Sam rolled his shoulders as though settling what Nate was saying. Considering the things he’d hidden from Dean since his return from the Pit, Sam really wasn’t in a position to bitch. On a day when he was honest with himself he could understand Dean’s reluctance to talk to him. Many were the times when Dean exposed his soft underbelly to Sam only for Sam to turn around and use it as a weapon later.

“Yeah.” Was all he said to Nate, but after this case was over he intended to get answers from Dean.

*Even if he had to use …* Sam nearly doubled over at that thought. He was acting like the selfish brat Dean had often accused him of being. He should be glad there was someone there for his brother, someone that cared as much as this crew.

~*~*~*~

Sam entered the other room as Sophie was putting the finishing touches on Dean Holden. Eliot and Parker had already changed, Parker was applying the final touches to her make-up. Sophie pointed to the remaining bags in the room. He stood dumbfounded for several minutes at his transformed brother.

“Clean up pretty good, don’t I, Sammy?” Dean grinned like a kid.

“There’s gonna be no living with you now.” Sam tried to get in the mood with the others.

They were in the poker room at the Bellagio when Hickok made his appearance. Dean was having a winning night, and the way his brother literally glowed drew every eye in the room. Once or twice he thought he heard Eliot growl when someone crowded too close.

He smiled at the dealer. “Ya gotta a rack I put all these in to git ‘em to the cashier, sweetheart?” He drawled.

“Yes sir.”

Settling the chips he tossed a black one to the dealer. “Thanks, sweetheart.” He gave her a dazzling smile that had her blushing.

“Thank you, sir.”

He handed Sam the chips with a short, “Cash ‘em in,” wrapping an arm around Parker’s waist as they meandered through the casino.

Playing the girlfriend to the hilt, Parker pouted prettily when they got to the craps table, Dean handed her a fistful of chips.

Eliot grumped. “You know we’re gonna be here all night?”

“Naw. Just long enough for Hickok to make his move.” Dean assured.

After ten minutes Dean and Eliot exchanged a look when Hickok appeared on the main floor. Wanting to intercept the man as casually as possible, Dean admonished Parker it was time to leave.

“But I was just getting hot. Can’t we stay a little longer?” She gave a little whine.

“You’re always hot, baby, but we both have early calls in the morning. Don’t want the make-up crew bitching about dark circles.”

With a moue of disappointment, Parker gathered her chips.

Dean acted like his attention was on Parker while changing his path to cross Hickok’s. When they collided, Sam stepped forward and grabbed the smaller man and gave him a shake.

“Easy on the threads, Godzilla. Man, you wanna call off King Kong here?”

“Cool your jets, dude. He’s just doing his job.” He nodded to Sam who shoved Hickok back a few paces.

“Was there something you wanted?” Dean acted suspicious. “I’ve had a couple nasty stalkers, and they get kinda nervous when people act all stalkerish.”

“Wasn’t stalking you, though I wouldn’t mind … James Hickok,” He leered at Dean then Parker. “Just wanted to congratulate you on your win in the card room.”

“That wasn’t poker …” Dean sneered. “That was a warm-up, but I haven’t been able to find any real games. Dean Holden.” He offered his hand.

Hickok’s smile turned calculating. “By real games you mean what exactly?”

“No limit. What else.”

“I may have just what you’re looking for. Let me do some checking. Can I call you?” He ran his eyes up and down Dean’s leather and jean clad body.

“Sure.” He handed the gambler a business card. “If you check out … I might agree to play with you.” Dean’s tone was condescending.

Hickok handed a similar card to Sam. “I’m sure you’ll be satisfied with what I can provide.” Hickok’s tone was oily instead of the seductive.

“Like I haven’t heard that line before.” He pulled Parker close and headed for the doors.

Sam slid behind the wheel of the Town car while Parker and Eliot sandwiched Dean in the back seat.

“I need a shower. That guy makes even me feel slimy.” He joked.

Parker glared and Eliot growled. “Don’t talk like that. Not your fault.”

Rubbing a hand over his face, “Yeah well I have some new information on that. Just sometimes … Damn I’m tired.”

Not wanting to talk anymore, Parker curled into his side as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes as Eliot kept watch over them both.

It was close to 2 am when they returned to the suite, but Sam intercepted Dean on his way to Eliot’s room.

“Dean, we need to talk.”

Eliot opened his mouth to protest, but Dean shook his head.

“Let’s get it over with.”

Five sets of worried eyes followed the brothers.

“Who are these people, and why do you trust them so much.”

“These people are my friends. Some of them have been my friends since you and dad broke up the happy Winchester home.” Dean’s tone was sarcastic.

“How come you never told me about them? Are they hunters. Do they know about what we do?” Sam’s questions were rapid fire.

“One. It was none of your business. Two. The only one that ever hunted was Eliot. Three. Yes they know about what lives in the closet, and the three that drag me into their bed sometimes know about Hell. Happy now? Is it alright if I get some sleep?”

“No … Yes … Wait.” Sam prowled the room.

“What, Sam?” Dean asked tiredly as he sat on the bed.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me you were bi-sexual? I wouldn’t have been upset.” His voice was quiet as he sat next to his brother.

Dean turned to stare at Sam.

“Do you think I really care about your opinion of my love life? You’ve made it perfectly clear you think I’ll fuck anything that moves, and that I’m not too bright to boot.” It was Dean’s turn to pace. “You’re jealous. You’re jealous that I’ve found people that accept me for who I am, no matter what I’ve done. I know we’ve got some weird co-dependent vibe going because of the way we were raised, but Sam we aren’t joined at the hip, and we ain’t never gonna have apple pie and picket fences. So, if I get a few moments peace in a bed full of thieves and hackers … It beats fucking a demon any day.”

“Dean! Dean, wait!” Sam started after his fast moving brother until Eliot blocked the door. “Move!”

“He won’t hear you now.”

“I SAID move.” Sam tried to intimidate Eliot with this size.

Eliot just smiled.

“Ya feeling froggy, boy?” Eliot squared himself.

Sam backed down.

“Maybe you should put what you think you know aside and get to know the man that happens to be your brother.” Eliot’s words were soft as he turned toward his room.

It was a subdued Sam that appeared in the living room the next morning. Heading for the coffee pot, the only person he saw was the hacker, Hardison.

“Where is everyone?”

“Sophie and Nate’s schmoozing Hickok at breakfast, seeing if they can get any more info ‘bout our vics, and checking the place for anything that might mess with the ear buds. Everyone else went for a run.” Alec barely looked up from his screen.

“I’m pretty fair with a computer, anything I can do to help?” Sam sat at the table with Hardison.

“Dean said you could geek speak with the best of them.” The hacker shoved a laptop towards him. “I’m finishing everyone’s back story, but I still need to find Hickok’s other victims…Dean suggested we look for any profiles that fits our victims here.”

Sam’s stomach started to grumble, about the time Dean, Parker and Eliot arrived back in the suite with bags of food. As Eliot set things out Sam noticed there was plenty of variety even for him.

Dean pulled out his ear bud and headed toward the other suite to get ready. Giving them all a sly look Eliot followed. Sam blushed then looked away.

“They think they’re being discrete.” Parker quipped as she checked the tools in her pouch. The boys would be dropping her at Hickok’s place so she could check his house for any other nasty surprises.

Dean and Eliot reappeared two hours later, dressed for next stage of the con. Sam saw how relaxed Dean was so kept his comments to himself as he went to shower and change.

After dropping Parker, Dean made a call to let Hickok know they were close by. The gambler met them at the door. Eliot was watching the men Hickok had placed around the building.

~*~*~*~

“Welcome … Welcome … Right this way.” As they approached another door, the gambler turned to Eliot and Sam. “Sorry boys.” He pointed to the other side of the room where several other people sat. “No bodyguards past here I’m afraid. If you need anything one of my men will be happy to assist you.”

Sam started to protest, but Eliot saw the spirit birds in the rafters and grabbed Sam’s arm.

“It’ll be fine.” He watched Grey settle on Dean’s shoulder.

Then Sam remembered the ear buds they were all wearing and stalked over to the chairs.

Dean was glad for Grey’s reassuring presence as he entered the room with Nate, Sophie and a couple others.

“If I’m the last to arrive, guess it’s time to get down to business.” He quipped.

The game started with Dean having the first deal. He was surprised when nothing seemed to be happening. He could feel the curse on both the cards and chips, but he wasn’t able to hold the cards long enough to ‘see’ what he needed to do to break the curse. Grey never left his shoulder and was oddly restless.

They’d been playing for two hours, the players settling into serious play as the two strangers fell out. Now it was just Sophie, Nate, Dean and Hickok. Sam had slipped into the room when Eliot went outside to talk to Parker and Hardison. Dean looked down at his cards. He was holding the infamous ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ of aces and eights. Grey screeched as the room started wavering then disappeared. When things settled Dean was sitting at table with the same players, minus Hickok, but with Sam’s fingers digging into his right shoulder, and Grey’s talons digging into Castiel’s scarred hand print.

The clothing and weapons suggested they were somewhere in the late 1800’s. He looked across the table and recognized the men at the bar as those that had been playing poker with Wild Bill Hickok the night he died.

“Where are we?” Sophie immediately began taking in her surroundings.

“I think we’re in Deadwood, South Dakota, around the time Wild Bill Hickok was killed.” Dean’s voice was shaky as he tried to clear his head.

“How do we get home?” Nate asked.

“Give me a minute to get my bearings, Nate.” He folded his hand and headed for the bar, Sam close behind.

“Wow. He looks like Bobby.” Sam hissed in Dean’s ear.

At Dean’s shrug, Sam got irritated.

“What’s going on, Dean? Why aren’t you more freaked?” Sam demanded.

The barkeep didn’t say a word about the money Dean handed him for the bottle of whisky, so they must be in Gizla’s version of limbo and not actually in Deadwood. Carrying the bottle back to the table, Dean sat next to Nate while glaring at Sam to sit.

“Whatcha got?” He asked Nate and Sophie.

“It’s the night before Hickok’s game that got him killed.” Nate answered.

“The people sitting huddled together over there,” Sophie pointed at the table by the door, “look like our coma victims, and they’re not looking so good.”

“Yeah, well, we’re not supposed to be separated from our bodies this long. We don’t get them back soon, their bodies will die, and there’ll be nowhere for their souls to go.” Dean took comfort from Grey’s presence, but could feel Sam’s irritation.

“What triggered the curse?” Nate looked longingly at the bottle then back at Dean.

“I drew aces and eights.” Dean tossed his shot back. “Damn that’s supposed to the good stuff?” He grimaced.

“Curse, nobody said anything about a curse beyond speculation.” Sam’s look at Dean was accusatory.

“I figured Hardison would have said something when you guys were getting’ your geek on.” Dean fired back. “We need to find out if the Gizla here has cursed the cards yet. If she has I need to get a hold of them, find out how to break the curse.”

Nate looked from Dean to Sam. “Did he …” Nate fluttered his fingers. “Make the trip?”

“Yeah.”

“Can he…?”

Dean held up a hand. A few minutes passed. “Yeah. It’s hard … Let’s just say Eliot is not a happy camper, he’s taking it out on Hickok and his goon squad.”

Nate’s grin was nasty. “Good for him. Parker find anything?”

There was another pause. Dean was starting to sweat.

“Looks like Hickok takes his victims’ keys, credit and ATM cards and empties their houses and accounts. The stuff’s still at his house.”

“Good, when we call the cops they won’t have any trouble finding the evidence. If we can get these people back in their bodies, the cops’ll figure Hickok drugged them so he could steal their stuff using the poker games as a front.” Nate speculated.

Dean put his head down on his arms.

“Dean what’s going on? Who are you talking to?” Sam demanded.

Dean cracked an eye to look at his brother. *Fuck. Sammy’s wearing his bitch face.* He so did not want to have this conversation, especially right now. “Eliot and I have spirit guides. Apparently they can communicate with each other even though we’re in limbo.”

“Spirit guides?! How’d that happen? Why didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have felt like such a freak all the time.”

“Sam! This ain’t the time or place for this. Since it’s the day before Hickok gets killed, maybe we can stop Gizla from cursing the cards and chips.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “We need to find out if she’s placed the curse yet.”

Nate seeing Dean’s exhaustion took over. “Sophie that’s your cue. I’ll stay with you in case she’s here. Nobody’ll bother you if they see you’re attached to someone. Sam, take Dean to the hotel, see if they have a suite or two rooms. Get him to rest or at least eat.”

Sam started to argue until he saw the pallor and exhaustion on Dean’s face. “Fine.”

“Think he’ll lose Sam over this?” Sophie asked watching the two men walk away.

“Think it’ll be giant pothole in their road full of potholes.” Nate pushed away from the table. “Now, let’s go steal a Gypsy.”

~*~*~*~

The brothers settled into the dining room after getting the key for the only suite in the hotel. Dean watched Sam throughout the meal. His bitch face remained in place. The door no sooner closed behind them then Sam was firing questions.

“I do psychometry. Been doing it since I was a kid. Where do you think the money came from when dad would leave us alone for weeks at a time? It’s how I met Sophie the first time. She thought I was horning in on her territory.”

“Is she a talent?” Sam asked.

“Naw. She’s a grifter. She tried making nice with you to get to me.”

Sam was thoughtful for a minute. “I think I remember her. Called herself Madame Natasha or something like that.”

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“Oh that would have gone over well.”

“You could have told me when you came to Stanford or after dad died.”

“Yeah just after I told you Dad said if I couldn’t save you I had to kill you.”

“Is that why you won’t touch me?” Sam’s tone was plaintive.

“I touch you all time.” Dean insisted.

“You don’t touch bare skin.”

“I already know you’re fucking Ruby among other things. I don’t need to see it in real time.”

Sam blushed deeply. “Oh.”

“I’m gonna catch some Z’s, so when Sophie and Nate get back we can figure out our next step.”

Sam walked out on the suite’s balcony overlooking main street. He sprawled in one of the chairs trying to come to grips with what Dean had told him. The sunset was beautiful as it disappeared behind the Black Hills, and by the time it was full dark, Sam felt more settled about the things that Dean had told him. He wasn’t happy that Dean felt the need to hide behind a mask with him, and it saddened him to think that Dean would never again touch him because of the things he was doing. Maybe it was time stop, but if he stopped his powers wouldn’t be strong enough to stop Lilith, and stopping her was all he had besides Dean.

Sam was still wrestling with those thoughts when he heard a key in the door. Dean wondered out of the bedroom, hair tousled from sleep.

“Find anything?” Dean yawned behind his hand.

“Gizla’s waxing poetic about leaving town. Obviously Hickok hasn’t turned her down … Yet.” Sophie offered.

I’ll get with Grey. I have a feeling for this to work it’ll have to be coordinated on both sides. Wonder if Deadwood’s big enough to have an apothecary?” He said more to himself than the people in the room.

“There’s one two doors up from the hotel.” Sam volunteered. “I saw it on the way over here.”

“Good. I’ll go first thing in the morning, pick up a few things.”

~*~*~*~

Eliot returned to the warehouse after talking to Parker and Hardison. He was enjoying being outside when Ka-na-tee screamed. Hickok’s band of merry men tried to stop him from going back in until Eliot showed them why that wasn’t a good idea. What he saw inside made him furious. The door to the poker room was open, Sam was missing, Hickok was trying to get an unconscious Dean’s pants down, but when he saw Eliot he tried to scramble away like a cockroach in the light.

Complaining and trying to wriggle free of the zip cuffs binding his hands, Eliot’s grip on his nape tightened, as Hickok noticed his men trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys. He gave up and hung limply in the hitter’s hold.

“Where are they?” Eliot growled through gritted teeth, giving the bigger man a shake for emphasis.

“I don’t know.” Eliot shook him again, banging him against a support column. “I don’t KNOW!” He whined. Eliot threw him into a chair, flipping open a wicked looking knife. He pulled off Hickok’s tie and bound his ankles tightly to the chair. “Hey, that’s a silk tie!” The gambler complained.

“Now it’s two silk ties. I’ve been nice so far. Tell me where they are or I’ll teach you all the things I know about knives.”

“They’re right there in their chairs at the table.” He screeched trying to make himself as small as possible.

Eliot was getting ready to make the first cut when the door banged open and Hardison and Parker tumbled through the door.

“Don’t kill him yet.” Alec admonished. “We may need him to break the curse.”

“We don’t need him … Just his blood.” Parker’s eyes were narrowed as she regarded Hickok.

“Works for me.” Eliot moved forward with the knife again.

“I didn’t do anything. It was the curse.” The gambler whined.

“You knew the cards and chips were cursed when you bought them from old man Nuttal.”

“Yeah, then you used the curse to rob people. Who does that?” Parker asked.

“People are going to die because you sent their souls to limbo. I’m not going to let that happen to my friends, so you better start talking or I’m going to continue the lesson that was interrupted.”

The knife had started to break the thin skin on Hickok’s neck when Ka-na-tee screeched for his attention.

“Always with the interruptions. What!?”

The falcon projected the images Grey had sent. Eliot started listing herbs and some other things that made Hardison glad they were in Las Vegas and not some one horse town as he typed the ingredients onto the computer. The next image was of him and Dean mixing and using the ingredients at the exact same time then pouring the concoction over the cards and chips.

*How’s Dean?* He asked the falcon.

Ka-na-tee sent him a picture of Dean collapsing and being caught by Sam. *He has been pushing hard. It takes a toll to send such a distance.*

*Rest old friend. I have a feeling we’re all going to need it.*

Admonishing her to wear gloves, Eliot had Parker collect the cards and chips. They carried their friends’ bodies to the van and laid them carefully on the padded floor. Hickok, he tossed onto the bare metal before slamming the door shut. Eliot drove the Impala back to the hotel. The retrieval specialist sent Parker off to collect what they needed in Nate’s rental.

Loading everyone into the freight elevator at the hotel, they made short work of settling Sam, Dean, Nate and Sophie on the plush carpet. Eliot wanted them where he could watch for reactions to what they would be doing. Hickok was tossed unceremoniously onto a chair. Looking around the suite, he saw his peaked looking spirit guide sitting on the back of one of the chairs. Now all they could do was wait, until Dean contacted him.

~*~*~*~

After breakfast, Dean grabbed Sam and went to the apothecary. He didn’t need his brother pumping Nate and Sophie for information. He suggested they go to the mercantile. It was where rumors and information was found in a small town, they might even find a newspaper.

Finding everything they needed, the brothers walked around town before heading back to the hotel. Nate and Sophie sat on the balcony, the hotel’s roof providing shade from the August sun. Sam joined them after being chased out of the room by Dean. As the silence stretched, it was Sam that finally broke.

“I remember you.” He said to Sophie.

“And I you. You were such a darling little boy. Easily entertained with a book while your big brother stole my customers.” She joked softly.

“Sorry about that. Dad wasn’t always the best provider, so I guess Dean learned early how to hustle a buck.”

“What else did Dean do to hustle a buck?” Nate asked offhandedly folding his paper.

“Pool and card games when he could get someone to believe his ID. Took part-time jobs. Did the psychic thing. I really don’t know. We always had a roof, food and clothes …” He shrugged. “I never paid much attention other than when we didn’t have something I really wanted.”

“Did you get those things you REALLY wanted?” Nate’s tone was sly.

“Most of the time.”

“What about Dean?” Sophie’s tone was soft.

“He only ever wanted to hunt, and to keep me and dad from killing each other.”

“You seem awful sure of that.”

“He never talked about anything else.” Sam insisted.

They were interrupted by Dean’s hard edged baritone.

“That concludes this week’s segment of ‘This Is Your Life, Sam Winchester’. They don’t need to hear how dysfunctional our family was … Is.” He threw a hard look at Nate and Sophie. “Don’t pet the sharks Sammy, you’ll lose a hand.” Dean turned on his heel and went back inside.

He looked sheepishly at the thieves. “Sorry about that.”

“No worries, Sam. One of the reasons he gets along with Eliot is their snarky sense of humor.” Sophie offered.

“Eliot has a sense of humor?” Nate snorted into his coffee cup.

“He sorta did until we had to blow up the office and he went to Pakistan.” Sophie’s voice got quiet.

Silence fell between them as they were each lost in their memories. The grumbling from Sam’s stomach reminded them that lunch had passed by and it was now time for supper. They found Dean sitting at the suite’s desk a wooden bowl with a pestle sitting before him, sight turned inward. Sam started forward only to be stopped by Nate.

“You can’t touch him.”

Sam tried to jerk away from the mastermind’s hold. “Why not?”

“He’s talking to Eliot.”

“How … When … What…?”

“Shhh.” Sophie admonished. “We mustn’t disturb him.”

They watched as Dean added herbs to the bowl along with holy water from his ever present flask. He paused and added something else. The expression on his face looked like he was arguing with someone, but he remained silent. The expression on his face softened in a way that Sam only saw when Dean talked about their mother. Finally, he seemed to come back with them. Nate released his arm.

“Dean?” He moved to his brother’s side.

Dean rubbed his hands over his face to clear the last of his contact with Eliot from his brain.

“Yeah.”

“What’s going on?”

“I’m working on a way to get us out of here.”

“Just us or everyone?”

Seeing the stricken look on his brother’s face made Sam stop and think about the words he’d uttered. He turned to express his regret only to see Dean’s back as he stumbled out the door. Glares from Nate and Sophie made him feel like the six and half foot tall idiot he sometimes was around Dean. Before he could move, Sophie was already trailing after him. She found him in the dining room nursing a cup of coffee looking washed out and exhausted.

“How are the others?” Sophie asked softly.

“Worried, pissed, but Eliot’s holding them together.” Dean raised his head as Sophie sat down. “You didn’t have to chase after me. I learned a long time ago to not pay any attention to Sam.” Tired green eyes watched the grifter. “Considering the way you feel about me I figured you’d be siding with Sam.”

“Dean it’s nothing personal …” Sophie started.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re so used to hiding behind your masks you can’t stand when someone can read you with a mere touch.” He paused as the waitress sat down his plate of food. “I’ve been through the same scene with Eliot. I don’t go out of my way to read people, Sophie … Eliot obviously got over it, why can’t you?” He didn’t wait for answer, but continued as though she wasn’t there. “We’re the same … All professional liars. The ones that profess to care don’t even know the real us, only the masks we wear.” Realizing he was rambling Dean stuck a bite of meat in his mouth.

“Dean …”

Dean waved off her concern. “Go back to Nate and Sam. I’m fine.” He turned his attention to his food, effectively shutting her out.

Sam practically pounced on her when she came back in the suite.

“Where’s Dean?”

“Eating. What he does requires a great deal of energy. We need him at his best if we have any chance of getting home.”

“What does he do?” Sam stood between them and the door. “I have yet to hear what it is Dean is doing. Psychometry doesn’t have anything to do with inter-dimensional communication.”

“Your friend, Bobby and Eliot know more about Dean than we do.” Nate started to explain.

“Bobby Singer? … Bobby never said anything.” The wheels started to turn in Sam’s brain.

“Apparently Dean became quite close with this Bobby fellow after you went to college.” Sophie added.

“I can see Dean not wanting dad to find out about his abilities. People with talents weren’t very high on dad’s tolerance list. Plus dad wouldn’t contact Bobby unless it was something huge. Last time he was there Bobby run him off with a shotgun over the way he treated Dean. He’s always had a soft spot for him.” Sam sighed.

“Sounds like someone needed to. Dean somehow acquired a spirit guide, an owl if I remember right. The best we can figure is Eliot has always had one, a falcon. They communicate with the birds and the birds pass the messages.” Nate kept his voice low in case Dean was in the hall.

Before Sam could respond Dean came back in the room. He poured the contents of the bowl into a pouch that he tucked in his jacket pocket.

“We need to get to the saloon, gather up the others and get ready to move when it’s time.” Dean barked.

They headed downstairs.

~*~*~*~

Hardison and Parker stared at the amount of food they’d just watch Eliot eat. Normally the hitter was a finicky eater, but after four hours of contact with Dean mixing some kind of Gypsy hoodoo powder that was supposed to help everyone get home after they broke the curse, Eliot wasn’t complaining.

Hickok sat in the corner where Parker had left him since allowing him to eat and go to the bathroom. After running through threats, bribes and finally whining, Parker had gagged the gambler when Eliot threatened to cut out his tongue. They tried to get Eliot to rest, but with nothing or anyone to vent his anger on … He prowled the suite like the lion Dean often teased him of being when he called him Lio.

Parker double checked that Hickok couldn’t so much as wiggle before whispering in Hardison’s ear. A wide grin broke over the hacker’s face before nodding his agreement. Parker placed herself in Eliot’s path. Three steps before collision, he stopped.

His ‘Dammit Parker!’ was suddenly cut off when he looked at the thief.

Grinning, Parker stood within reach dressed in nothing but her porcelain skin. Behind her a shirtless Alec stood grinning just as wide. Knowing nothing would move Eliot if he didn’t want to be moved, Parker wrapped arms and legs around the muscular body, and while Eliot was off balance, Hardison pushed them through the bedroom door.

Dark hair spread across the white pillowcase as the retrieval specialist finally succumbed to his exhaustion. Silently dressing, so as to not wake the boys, Parker went to check on Hickok. The smile she gave the man was so vicious, Hickok turned two shades paler.

His body ached from the beating the one they called Eliot had given him when he found him in the poker room trying to get the pants off the pretty boy actor. He didn’t usually indulge himself, but after losing his stake to the man, he couldn’t help but want a little revenge on the comatose body. He’d been so excited he’d forgotten about the second bodyguard.

He’d thought the long-haired man was going to kill him, but the precision with which the bodyguard had hit him was for maximum pain, minimum physical damage. By the time he could think a coherent thought, he was trussed up like a calf at a rodeo, bouncing on the metal floor of a van. He just knew that Nuttal bitch was behind his problems, and when he got loose he was going to make sure to extract payment slowly and painfully from her.

“I can’t wait to see what happens to you when Dean breaks the curse.” Her eyes narrowed.

Hickok’s instinct to move away from the blonde women was hampered by his bonds. He prayed fervently for one of the men to come out of the bedroom. Even the man that had beat him and threatened to cut out his tongue was better than the blonde psycho.

The bedroom door opened and both men sauntered out, blue/grey eyes making sure they were still secure before letting the tall black man leave the safety of the bedroom.

Ka-na-tee chirruped happily, glad to see his human had rested. Landing on Eliot’s shoulder he began preening the still damp hair. Seeing the long hair move by itself started Parker giggling as the hitter’s forehead pulled down into a frown. Before he could admonish the thief his internal clock sent a warning along his nerves.

“We need to get ready.”

Hickok panicked when they moved his chair and a table onto a sheet of plastic, but when they sat a bowl of something on the table, he calmed down. Until Eliot’s eyes glassed over and he picked up the bowl and knife and started toward him.

He was blind with fear by the time he felt the knife slice his palm. He shook his head to clear his vision and saw his blood dripping onto the herbs in the bowl. That was when the world turned white.

~*~*~*~

Nate and Sophie went straight to the saloon while Sam stayed with Dean. Dean had insisted that he was only going to take a walk around town … Make sure all the souls that played poker with 21st century Hickok were in the saloon. When Nate and Sophie had given a minute shake of their heads, Sam had hesitated.

“Dean can take care of himself.” Sam insisted.

“His body is going to be walking in the physical world while he uses Grey’s eyes to find our spirits.” Nate informed him.

“Usually he’s someplace safe, with Bobby, or Eliot when he goes in deep. Otherwise he only dips below the surface, just enough to get the information he needs.” Sophie finished.

Sam’s thoughts raced alongside his long legs as he hurried to catch his brother. These strangers … These thieves knew Dean … The real Dean. He began going back over the times when Dean seemed distracted, or was gone longer then he should have been on some errand. He couldn’t think of any particular cases other than the times that he had left Dean in a fit of pique. He thought Dean’s bouts of insomnia were from his time in hell or some of their cases, but maybe that was when Dean had been out doing his psychic thing.

Had he and dad been so utterly blind that they never saw the mask Dean lived behind? Was Dean the womanizing, shoot first tomcat he’d always thought? How could he hide himself for so many years and no one see the real Dean? He wondered if dad knew. He couldn’t recall any mention in his journal, but John Winchester kept his secrets close to the vest, as the brothers had found out after his death. Sam shook the thoughts from his head and picked up speed.

When he caught up to Dean, the green eyes had taken on a glassy sheen of someone with their thoughts turned inward. So he placed his large body between his brother and the rest of this world. He hoped it would make up for the blind spots he had toward the one person that had given him everything.

Dean stopped in front of the saloon. Still using Grey’s eyes to find ‘their’ spirits, he was almost overwhelmed by the number. *Damn Gizla, Hickok, and anyone else who’d had a hand in these cards getting out in the open.* If he survived this, he hoped Eliot had left enough of Hickok to kick his ass before they turned him over to the cops.

Grey pressed closer when he heard Dean’s thoughts. His human was stronger than he knew. There were reserves to Dean’s spirit that his time in hell had tempered into a weapon of incredible strength. Castiel had chosen well, but if he thought Grey was going to let heaven have Dean for Michael, well … Weren’t they going to be in for a big surprise. He grumbled soothingly into Dean’s ear and settled deeper into his mind.

The reassurances Grey left rattling around his head drew Dean back from his fear of failure. He would do this. Sam, Nate and Sophie’s lives plus the lives of almost a hundred other people depended on it.

No one knew he’d left the hotel the night before and come to the saloon. He’d been studying Gnostic magick since the whole fallen angel thing with Anna. If he was going to be a point of contention between heaven and hell he wanted to be able to protect his family from the fallout. He had prepared the saloon for breaking the curse, and if that didn’t get them home, he still had an ace up his sleeve.

Entering the saloon, the brothers stopped to let their eyes adjust to the low light. Dean had the advantage of using his owl’s excellent night vision in the smoky oil lamp lighting of the saloon. Their spirits hovered around the table where Wild Bill and his cronies played cards with some local cowhands. Wild Bill threw down his cards and stepped to the bar to speak with the barkeep, who happened to be Nuttal. He caught a flash of Gizla standing in the doorway of the office, watching.

He saw Nate sitting at the table, Sophie practically plastered to his back, a sizable stack of chips and money sitting before him. *Damn the man for putting himself and Sophie in the line of fire*.

With a wide smile, Wild Bill sat down at the table and dealt the cards. Sam and Dean moved away from the bat wing doors in time to see a man dressed in a buffalo hide coat slip through the doors unnoticed by the crowd.

He felt the connection between Grey and Ka-na-tee come to life.

“Dean! That’s …” Sam whispered harshly.

“Broken Nose Jack McCall. Get ready. It’s going down.” He shoved Sam against Sophie as McCall pulled his pistol.

~*~*~*~

Eliot, Hardison and Parker shielded their eyes as light filled the room. The spirits came slowly. Ka-na-tee’s connection to Grey was shaky, for the spirit birds and their humans were exhausted. The spirits started to come faster, each darting around and through the gambler still tied to the chair.

The light started to dim as the spirits came ever faster. The connection between Grey and Ka-na-tee was almost gone. Eliot and Ka-na-tee poured all their energy toward Dean and Grey. The light got brighter. Finally, Sophie then Sam came through portal. Nate started through, but the portal was almost closed. Before Eliot or Hardison could grab him, the portal went dark.

“NATE!” Sophie, Parker and Hardison yelled as they rushed forward, but the portal was gone.

Three heads swiveled as they heard the sound of a body hitting the floor.

“HARDISON!” Parker snapped. “We need candy, juice, something high in sugar.

The hacker found a bag of gummi frogs in the pocket of his cargo pants and an orange juice from the mini-bar.

He sat on the floor, his legs on either side of Eliot’s, and pulled the hitter back against his chest to make it easier for Parker. The thief got most of the juice in Eliot and not down his shirt front. Next she shoved a gummi frog between the full lips, which actually prompted a response.

“Dammit Parker!” The voice was weak, but it made the three thieves smile in relief.

“What happened, man?” Alec asked as he gave Eliot a squeeze before moving to help him sit on the couch.

We’ve exhausted our energy.”

“Is there any other way to get Nate and Dean back?” Sophie asked softly.

“I don’t know, Sophie. Dean might know way, but that’s beyond my knowledge.” Eliot answered softly.

With Eliot settled, the others turned their attention to Hickok the younger. He was pale and sweating from whatever the spirits had done to him before returning to their bodies.

~*~*~*~

Hardison and Sam started researching ways to reopen the portal while Eliot had Parker get his phone out of the bedroom. He was just getting ready to dial Bobby when white light engulfed the room once more.

Nate stepped through, none the worse for wear. The portal started to dim. Sam saw Dean holding a bloody hand over a sigil on the saloon door. Sam quickly sliced his palm and slapped it next to Dean’s. The light sputtered then blazed briefly. Dean took one step into the room and started to go down only to be caught by Sam before he hit the floor. He eased his brother’s weight onto the couch next to Eliot.

Parker moved to give Dean the same treatment she’d given Eliot. Eliot pulled the unconscious hunter against his chest.

“Don’t drown him like you did me, Parker.” Eliot growled.

“You woke up didn’t you?” Parker snipped.

But Dean didn’t.

Nate had Hardison checked on all the coma patients that played poker with Hickok. All regained consciousness and most would be released from the hospital in a few days. Sam and Eliot had put Dean to bed while Sophie ordered room service for everyone else.

Sam and Hardison took Hickok back to his apartment where they set things up for the cops. He hadn’t said a word or offered any resistance since the first spirit came back through the portal.

Dean was still unconscious the second day and Sam was beginning to feel the cravings low in his belly. It’d been almost a week since he’d seen Ruby. He didn’t want to leave Dean, but his addiction was riding him hard. A quick phone call and he was slipping out of the suite, leaving Dean alone.

Coming from the penthouse through the ventilation shaft, Parker saw Sam leave. Confused as to why he would leave his brother unprotected, Parker thought maybe Dean was awake.

It took her close to half an hour to get out of the ductwork without being seen. When she got to Eliot and Dean’s bedroom, Dean was still asleep, but there was a man in a trench coat standing over Dean.

“HEY! Get away from him!” Parker demanded.

“I mean him no harm.” Castiel’s hand moved toward the sleeping man. “But he needs to wake up now. There is work for him.”

“Yeah, well find someone else. He just saved a bunch of people, and almost died, and he needs his sleep.” Parker was running different scenarios of her chances of getting the man away from Dean. “You need help … Go find Sam. He’s left with some brown haired bimbo a while ago. He should be done having sex with her by now.”

Movement from the bed caused them to stop their confrontation. Something in Parker’s tone must have gotten through to Dean’s subconscious. He was trying to wake himself to protect Parker.

“Now look, you woke him up. It wasn’t time yet.” Parker chided.

Hearing the flutter of wings, Castiel looked around expecting to see Anna or maybe even Zachariah. All he saw when he looked up was two sets of talons aimed at his face.

~*~*~*~

The other members of the Leverage crew were relaxing after an excellent lunch in the Luxor dining room. They were discussing plans for the afternoon and a possible time table for returning to Boston. Hardison was checking flight schedules when Eliot’s snapped to attention, senses alert as Ka-na-tee screamed in anger and disappeared. The retrievalist stood so fast his chair fell over with a crash.

“Dean.” Was all he said as he ran for the elevators.

Shock had frozen the others until Alec slammed the lid on his notebook and took off after Eliot.

Eliot barreled through the bedroom door to see the two spirit guides harassing a small dark headed man in a trench coat. Parker stood between the man and the bed where Dean struggled to wake up. With Eliot’s entrance the spirit birds settled on the head of the bed.

When he felt the birds leave off their attack, Castiel raised his head. He turned around intent on waking Dean only to come face to face with a vessel. He nearly prostrated himself to the man with long dark hair and stormy eyes. Things must be dire indeed for there had not been a vessel born for the ‘Prince of the Countenance’ for over a millennium. Just as Castiel was about to protest all the interruptions of his mission, three more people entered the room.

“Eliot?” Nate looked to his hitter.

“No clue, Nate. The birds don’t like him.” The vessel answered.

A voice rusty from disuse came from behind Eliot and Parker.

“Would somebody tell me what the hell is going on or do y’all wanna get out of my bedroom?”

“You’re awake!” Parker squealed then pounced.

Dean’s breath went out with an oof as he wrapped his arms around the blonde. He could feel Grey and Ka-na-tee’s aggravation, Eliot was vibrating with anticipation, Nate, Sophie and Hardison were merely curious about the man in the center of the room except it wasn’t a man.

“Cas?”

“We need to go. There is a seal that in danger of being broken.”

Dean sat on the edge of the bed, running hands through his hair.

“Where’s Sam?”

“Oh!” Parker bounced. “I know the answer to that one.” All eyes turned toward the bed. “Brown hair, this tall,” she held out her hand, “big ti…Eliot’s type.”

“Parker!” Eliot hissed.

“Well she is.” She huffed.

“Ruby.” Dean voice was tired.

“He has been warned.” The one Dean called Cas insisted.

“Give it a rest, Cas.” Dean glared. “Everyone else out. I need a shower before I think about anything else.”

“Dean.” Castiel was sounding insistent. “Time is of the essence.”

“Why don’t you go find Sam and get his giant ass back here while I haul my exhausted ass out of bed?”

“Dean, you keep your ass sitting on that bed before you fall on your pretty face.” Eliot ordered.

Surprised at the tone, Dean looked up. Ka-na-tee sat on Eliot’s shoulder still as a statue, and Eliot … Eliot wasn’t quite himself. Eyes glowing like molten silver, the retrieval specialist exuded an aura of such power that Dean felt humble he would speak up for one such as he.

Eliot lifted Dean’s chin so green eyes met silver. “Always remember little warrior that you are loved … By many.” His gaze swept the room.

Castiel pulled himself straight and was about to confront the arrogant human when the one they called Eliot turned, and Castiel kneeled in fealty.

“Tell me little brother why you have come to ask the aid of an injured human in a matter that is for our brethren?” Eliot’s voice sounded like the richest velvet, lush and smooth.

A shudder passed through everyone in the room. Parker buried her face in Dean’s neck, hiding.

“Have you lost your faith, little angel.”

“No … I …” The dark head bowed lower.

“I do not know who to trust … So many have fallen … Ensnared by Lucifer’s words.”

“So you turn to these humans … These vessels of our brothers, and expect them do to what an angel will not?”

“Yes.” Castiel sounded small.

‘You trust in them where you do not trust your own kin?”

“Yes.”

“Why is that, Castiel?”

Castiel raised his head his blue eyes locked on Dean’s green. “Because no matter the odds they will try to do what is necessary.”

“Do you give thanks and praise for their good works, little brother?”

“They are doing God’s work. It should be enough.”

“So you know God’s mind … Do you?”

Castiel paled.

“I … No … But the seals …”

“Will do as they will.”

“Come, little brother, let us see to heaven’s work, and let these people rest from their labors, for they also do heaven’s work.” Eliot touched the angel’s shoulder in blessing.

Castiel stood and in a rustle of feathers disappeared.

~*~*~*~

The connection lost, Eliot began to crumble to the floor, then paused in mid-air, only to fall once more. Dean, slid out from under Parker, and moved to catch him before his head could hit the floor.

Still in shock, no one else moved.

Eliot’s head in his lap, Parker plastered to his back Dean looked up when he heard the suite door open, praying it wasn’t something bad.

Sam skidded to a halt when he saw all the people in the bedroom.

“What happened?”

Dean growled low as the spirit guides glared.

“Dean … I …” Sam started.

“Save it. Parker saw you with Ruby. “Now help me get him up.” Dean snapped.

Alec and Sam rushed forward to get Eliot on the bed. Parker glared at Sam as she helped Dean pull himself off the floor.

“Everyone out! Find some room service or something useful.” His snaps and snarls sent everyone from the room.

He pulled clean clothes from his duffel, and if his legs weren’t quite steady on the way the bathroom, Parker didn’t offer her help and he didn’t ask.

By the time room service arrived, Eliot had regained consciousness though he was surly and short-tempered. After everyone ate it was Nate that started the questions.

“Now that we’re all here would someone please explain what the hell happened?”

Sighing heavily, Dean began talking.

“The guy in the trench coat was Castiel, he’s an angel. He pulled me out of hell, but not before I broke the first seal.” He looked at the floor so he didn’t have to see their expressions. “Now we’re in a race against Lilith to keep her from breaking sixty-six of umpteen thousand seals that hold Lucifer in hell.”

“You know how that sounds?” Hardison’s fingers flew over his keyboard. He gasped at what he found.

“Yeah, we know it sounds nuts.” Sam continued. “If you think that’s nuts, here’s the kicker. Dean is a human vessel for the archangel Michael and I’m Lucifer’s.”

“Eliot’s been thrown in the mix as a vessel, too. Which one of heaven’s dicks borrowed your meat suit?” Dean’s voice was tired and he never looked up.

“Some big shot archangel, Metatron.” Eliot rolled his shoulders. He pulled Dean’s head up. “He meant what he said little warrior.” The retrieval specialist’s voice rolled soothingly over Dean’s frayed nerves, and the warmth in his smile loosened the knot in his chest.

“What happens when the sixty-sixth seal is broken?” Sophie asked.

“Lucifer climbs out of Hell and the apocalypse begins.” Sam answered when Dean remained silent.

“Will they come after us since Eliot’s a vessel?” Parker sounded very small.

“Probably not. From that little stutter step Eliot did in his nose dive to floor, I think it’s a safe bet Metatron did a little angel mojo to hide the fact he’s a vessel. Angels are dicks, but they can be handy to have around on occasion.”

Dean stood tiredly and reached for his jacket.

“Get the bags, Sam, we need to get going.”

“Dean, you’re no shape to go anywhere. Let’s wait ‘til tomorrow.” Sam looked to the others to help him.

“He’s right, man.” Eliot kept his voice level. Arguing would only make Dean stubborn.

Dean looked around the suite. He saw the fear and uncertainty on all their faces. Only Eliot stood close, and seeing how they were positioned it made sense. They kept Eliot for his fighting abilities more than his retrieval skills … Their first line of defense.

He closed his eyes and shook his head. *More friends gone. Sometimes he thinks it’d have been less torturous to have stayed in Hell.*

He heard a collective gasp. *Sonofabitch. He must have said that out loud.*

“Come on, Sam.” He started toward the bedroom for their gear.

“No.”

Parker had watched them all. They were scared. They just found out the monster in the closet was real, and they didn’t have a con for that category. Eliot did. He was already working with Dean. She and Eliot were the ones that knew about the dark side, it was probably the reason they understood each other for all his growling about her insanity. She rolled her shoulders, took a deep breath, and took a step off the edge.

She plowed into Dean forcing him to twist to keep them from landing on the coffee table. They landed on the floor in a heap, Dean on the bottom trying to draw air into his lungs.

“You can’t go. I haven’t stolen anything so you can tell me a story.” She pouted.

“Parker …” Dean was able to get out in gasp.

“Please …” She bounced on his ribs sending what little air he’d been able to pull in back out.

“Okay, but only if you stop doing that.”

He tried to sound harsh, but Parker only giggled and jumped up. She grabbed Eliot and Hardison and yanked them toward Hardison’s computer.

“Find me something good to steal. I want a really good story.” Parker poked at Alec’s shoulder.

Sophie and Nate followed to see what kind of trouble the youngsters were planning. Sophie was already getting excited, her fear draining away in the wake of Parker actually reaching out to comfort Dean the only way she knew.

Sam offered Dean a hand to help him up, but Dean shied away from his touch. Hurt by the rejection, he looked down and saw the apology in Dean’s eyes as he climbed to his feet. He gave himself a mental slap. That’s why Dean never touched him anymore, and why he could never get away with anything as a kid. Every time they touched Dean ‘read’ everything Sam had done. The thought of Dean witnessing his weakness … His addiction to Ruby’s demon blood made him nauseous. A touch to his cloth covered arm brought him out of his thoughts.

“You okay, Sammy. You went a little pale on me there.” Green eyes showed only concern.

“I’m good.” Sam covered quickly. “Maybe we should go see how fast we might have to leave town after you tell Parker a story.” He forced a smile.

“Sounds like a plan, and I could do with another night in that bed.” Dean smirked before moving into the group around the computer.

They say admitting to an addiction is the first step. Could he really be strong enough to protect Dean without the boost to his powers that the blood gave him? He thought Hell had made Dean weak, but what if it taught him to be strong in a different way?

The chittering in the corner pulled Eliot’s attention away from the group around the computer. The birds had settled, but were watching Sam. Eliot caught his attention and arched an eyebrow in question. Sam took a deep breath, and then nodded as he moved to join the rest of them.

Maybe he could give Dean something he really wanted for a change.

~ Fini ~

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