The Game of God: Day 158 - part 4
Twenty-three is always immortal.
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— Day 158, continued —
Dean abruptly awakens to what feels like the entire world tipping over. Sitting up, he draws a deep breath before shoving off the suddenly suffocating covers, breathing out in relief at the feel of chill air against his feet when they reach the floor.
Shaking himself, he gets up, making his way to the bathroom, aware of a vague sense of relief the bathroom is working again; there’s nothing like latrines being dug that makes you realize you’ll happily embrace the candle and cave lifestyle as long as indoor plumbing still exists. Washing his hands, he stares blearily into the mirror, but honestly, if something not him is looking back, it’s gonna have to wait; today’s booked when it comes to horror or bullshit, thanks.
The cold floor is a lot less pleasant on the way back, and it’s only due to the fact he doesn’t want to wake Cas that he doesn’t lunge for the bed, breathing out in relief as he snuggles beneath the body warm covers, breath catching when Cas curls closer, arm thrown with casual intimacy across his stomach as he tucks his face against Dean’s neck with a faint snort of satisfaction. Smiling helplessly, Dean tucks the masses of unruly hair more firmly beneath his chin and shuts his eyes.
Abruptly, the bed seems to drop from beneath them, but before he can fall, that earlier sense of pressure returns with interest, pinning him to a mattress that feels like solid stone beneath blankets as heavy as lead. Even the air seems to be getting thicker, heavier, coating him in a warm cocoon that smells like fresh earth.
This, he supposes, would be when he should start to panic, but the first adrenal spike is buried beneath an unending, unyielding calm; nothing is gonna get through that.
She pauses just before completing the circle in the dry dirt behind the house, sitting back on her heels.
“What?” Dean asks, trying not to move; the circle is only just big enough for him to kneel, and he doesn’t want to risk fucking it up. “I’m ready.”
“You don’t have to do this,” she says abruptly, which is news to him. “If I send another message to her now—”
“It’ll take at least two weeks for her to get back.”
“A week at most. She’ll finish quickly.”
“And that’s a week too long,” Dean argues. “You said it yourself, every day it’s getting stronger. It has to be now.”
“But it doesn’t have to be you.”
Oh. “Yeah, it does,” he answers. “I understand the risk, even if it works.” Maybe especially if it works. “This is just to talk, nothing else. I thought about this—”
“For five seconds after I finished explaining.” She cocks her head, incredulity crossing her face. “I assume the wait was to finish swallowing your tea.”
He can’t help smiling at that. “I came here to help,” he says. “Decision was made then. This isn’t on you, Constanza.”
She makes a face. “You don’t know a lot of witches, do you?”
“Oh, I do,” he answers, not really wanting to give context, which is generally ‘shitty’ at best. “Just none like you. This isn’t on you.”
“Oh, that helps.” Leaning forward, she cups his face, callused palm cradling his jaw as the clear eyes gaze into him like she can see straight down into his soul. Which as it turns out she sort of can, but she doesn’t flinch, so he assumes nothing too creepy is looking back. “The most important part—”
“Don’t freak out, I get it,” he assures her. “It’ll be fine, promise.”
She reluctantly laughs, patting his cheek before kneeling back. “Twenty-three is always immortal.”
“Got me this far,” he says, taking a quick, nervous breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“You’re not,” she says, and Dean nods tightly. “But you’re not special there. No one is, even if you’d been training for this half your life.”
He watches as she picks up the knife before she looks at him, and he quickly extends his arm. She makes a short cut mid-arm, just enough to blood both sides of the clean white blade. Turning the blade, she meets his eyes and all at once, the brown eyes change as the ground beneath him trembles.
He swallows, aware of the sudden silence around them. Not quiet: silence, like sound doesn’t even exist anymore, like the air’s too solid for anything to move it.
“You’re afraid,” she says dispassionately, and that—that is not Constanza.
He doesn’t bother trying to lie; that’s actually really understating the case. “Yeah.”
She nods like he said something really smart. “Fear is weight without limit; it grows and shrinks as it wills. You must carry that weight, no matter how great, or be crushed beneath it.” Her gaze fixes on him, and it’s like being pinned beneath a mountain. “How much can you carry?”
In the warm cocoon of (bed, blankets, room), Dean’s jerked awake like he just got a hit of speed straight to the vein; something’s wrong and he’s got to fix it, now.
A faint sound makes him look at Cas just as he sits up, gulping air like he’s been drowning. “Cas?” he says, sitting up and reaching for him, then stopping short when he realizes Cas is shaking. “What—” Stupid question: this time, he knows exactly what’s happening. “In the drawer?”
Without waiting for an answer, he vaults across the bed and kneels by the bedside table, pulling out the entire drawer and plucking out the bottle. Shaking out a pill, he gets one of Cas’s hands and places it in his palm, not sure if he’s tracking but he should feel that, at least. “Take it.”
Cas swallows it dry before Dean remembers water might have helped. Wrapping his arms around his upraised knees, Cas leans his forehead against them, shoulders hunched against an invisible blow. Even from here, Dean can hear him deliberately slow his breathing, and after a few seconds, Dean recognizes a pattern.
Standing up, he tries to work out what he should do to help—get water, get Vera, declare war, something—then shakes himself; what Cas needs right now is a partner who can deal. Circling the bed and crawling up on the mattress beside him, he looks at Cas helplessly, then sits carefully beside him, watching for Cas to flinch or move away, before—tentatively—resting a hand against the hunched back. After a moment, he starts to rub slow, light circles, not sure if that does shit but at least lets Cas know he’s here.
It feels like hours before the hunched tension eases, the shaking slowing to a faint tremble before it’s gone. “Want to go outside?” he murmurs, and Cas shakes his head sharply. “You sure? I can get the mattress out there, no problem.”
“I’m fine,” he answers huskily, leaning against Dean with a sigh. Wrapping an arm around Cas’s shoulders, Dean eases them down onto the mattress, rolling onto his side to get Cas closer. After who cares how long, Cas sighs again. “The effects of benzodiazepines are to be lauded—even blessed—for their speed in dissipating symptoms, but it takes a moment to adjust. It’s simply…” There’s a long pause. “Embarrassing.”
That is literally the last thing Dean expected to hear. “What?”
“It’s ridiculous,” he says resentfully against Dean’s t-shirt. “I understand better than any human the mechanisms that cause this reaction. I can name all the neurotransmitters involved and the proportions of each within the context of this body. I can even tell you why they caused the chain reaction leading to panic, but despite that, I still can’t stop it. I need artificial means to bring it to a halt. My Brethren would be appalled at my lack of control over a corporeal form.”
“Your asshole ex-Brothers wouldn’t last a day actually living in a human body,” Dean scoffs, and Cas lifts his head with a frown. “You told me yourself, most of the normal shit’s suppressed by Grace. You think if they turned everything on, they’d even know what was going on, much less what to do about it? Zachariah would shit his pants and only wonder what the hell that smell was and why his ass felt squishy!”
Cas’s mouth twitches. “Squishy.”
“Dude, half of them couldn’t even control themselves in a human body just visiting without fucking it up while in there,” Dean continues, ignoring ‘squishy’ because whatever, it’s true. “You get panic attacks; it’s not a big deal.” Wait, try that again. “I mean, it’s a big deal, yeah, but not—you know. Not anything you’re doing wrong here. You said you used to have them more often, before Vera helped you out.”
“Yes,” he answers reluctantly. “I took her advice and the number decreased. Which does make it ironic that despite the fact she was right about that, I still disbelieved her when she said it was rare that such things simply go away. Even if I controlled for all variables, as it’s impossible to control for variables I don’t actually know exist or rather, don’t exist yet.” Dean can almost see his eyes narrow: yeah, knowing all things really doesn’t cover as much as advertised.
“Like being in a town chock full of a geas that causes people to feel literal terror of insert whatever the fuck works?” Cas looks up so Dean can actually see his eyes narrow: thanks. “With actual monsters on the way? And a psychic about to have a sleep-deprivation breakdown of town-ending proportions? And—” Dean stops there; on second thought, do they really need to list every fucking way they could die today? No. They’ll find out which one soon enough. “Hey, future ref: is this how to handle these or should I do something else?”
Cas snorts. “It’s not your responsibility to care for my apparently fragile and overactive brain chemistry.”
“Yeah, it’s not,” Dean agrees. “You called it a right. Privilege, something like that. As your partner. Hand shit, fevers, and now this.”
Cas’s flat stare doesn’t change—like after five months of cohabitation, Dean can’t stand up to that shit before breakfast, bring it, buddy—and then he snorts, lowering his head again and tucking it back on Dean’s shoulder, which he interprets as ‘you are right, Dean, and I was definitely wrong.’ Dean’s tempted to help him out and say it, but the guy’s tired: nightmares, crazy-ass town, Erica. He can play nice.
“I’ll talk to Vera,” he adds, not smug or anything (he’s better than that), then remembers Vera’s not talking to him and yeah, that reminds him that Joe isn’t either with very low chances that’s ever going to change. It’s not that he didn’t remember or anything, but not thinking about it (per Cas) really does work, right up until you start thinking about it and there goes that.
“I apologize for waking you,” Cas starts, and Dean rolls his eyes. “I don’t know—it was strange.”
“Weird dream?” Cas nods. “Tell me about it. What time is it?”
“Two hours before dawn.”
“We could get a couple more hours,” Dean says, despite the fact sleep is a memory, and from Cas’s expression, he’s not feeling it either. Whatever, not like he has any objection to just lying here with Cas for a while. “Fake it for a while, might work.”
“I doubt it.” Cas sighs. “I am beginning to dislike dreaming.”
“Preach it.” He tries not to grin at Cas’s disgruntled snort. “What was it about, anyway? Was I—you know, the usual, murdering everyone and scheming to rule Hell? Wait, am I ruling Hell now and you dreamed the afterparty?” Considering what a day in the life apparently consisted of—well, it’s not like he can’t imagine. Probably a much bigger version of what he’d dreamed of doing to Alistair when he took over the Pit. With Cas involved, though—probably some interesting additions. Like mass performance art torture, even.
“No,” Cas answers before Dean can get far enough to wonder if it would be organized into acts or start to worry about why the hell he’s wondering at all. He’s hit his limit on worry for the next twenty-four hours; gotta save something for tomorrow. “Actually, I think it was pleasant, until—” He stops short, and Dean immediately comes on alert; he knows that kind of silence. “Buried alive.”
“Okay, that—” Might actually be worse than living it up in The Pit: Chitaqua Edition, and by that he means, worse as fuck. “Like—uh—in a coffin?” What the hell did he just say? “Or—hey, you don’t have to talk about—”
“Not that kind of buried alive,” Cas says in a completely different voice, which—wait, there are kinds? “Dean, what were you dreaming of? When I woke you up?”
He knew it. “I gave you freaky dreams, didn’t I?” Dean demands, sitting up. “I told you—”
“Stop there,” Cas says shortly, rolling onto his back and recovered enough to look really unimpressed with Dean’s completely justified horror at this obvious turn of events. Of course he’s giving his partner literal nightmares; he got him thrown out of Heaven, hunted by the Host and fighting fucking archangels once upon a time. “Skip the pointless recriminations and describe it to me.” Then, “I need the—distraction. From my fragile mental state, which as you stated, is your right to attempt to soothe. You were correct on all points: now soothe me.”
Despite everything, Dean takes a moment to wonder how it is he can lose arguments by winning. “You really want to hear about my dream that gave you—fine,” he adds when Cas rolls his eyes, “may have given you nightmares? To soothe you.”
“Yes.” Cas folds an arm under his head. “Let the soothing commence.”
Okay, so that’s—fuck his life. He tries to think, grasping at images hovering on the very edge of memory. “I was in a garden.” Wait. “I mean, a specific garden. It was Constanza’s.”
“In Laredo,” Cas says with a weird lack of surprise, and Dean nods warily. “You never told me about it, about what happened on the border.”
“You have most of my memories,” Dean argues, then remembers, right: infinite memory and no google. Cas can’t just pull up memories in an instant anymore unless they’re his own (or triggered, which isn’t better). “Right, okay. After I left La Cruces, I drove down the Rio Grande looking for signs of anything until I hit Laredo. I called Bobby before I got there, so by the time I arrived, I had a new ID and the basics on what a new border guard would have known. The area was ninety percent Latino, I didn’t speak any Spanish, and I sure as fuck didn’t sound like I came from anywhere in Texas, much less there; I wasn’t gonna pass for a resident of the state, much less someone from anywhere on the border. A couple of days after I arrived, there was another attack; I only caught the end of it, but it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen. I met Zena the next day at this little empanada place; that’s all they sold and they had every kind you can imagine. Pretty sure Constanza must have seen me and had Zena do follow up; there aren’t a lot of white guys wandering around the colonias, or at least, many with a good reason to be there. Good for the residents, I mean.”
Cas looks vaguely interested, which is the gold standard right now when it comes to food. “Empanadas? What kind?”
“Every kind,” Dean confirms, making a mental note to find every recipe involving empanadas (and jalapeños) that he can. “You could literally smell the chorizo cooking. Chorizo and potato with fresh cilantro, ham and cheese, fajita-seasoned chopped steak, mango-peach, apple…” Crap, now he’s getting hungry. “Anyway, Zena was behind me when I bought a couple of dozen, wondered what army I was feeding. We got to talking and—”
“Hooked up?” Cas says, mouth quirking, and Dean laughs.
“Yeah, but I took her to dinner first,” he answers. “Told her all about my fake job as a border guard. She was really interested, asked me all kinds of questions. Of course, she probably knew more about the job that I did, being a lawyer down there, so maybe she just liked storytime. Came back to the motel with me after, didn’t even pretend it was for drinks.” He feels himself smile. “Next morning, she asked me if I wanted her to show me around the town. Didn’t even seem surprised someone who was supposed to have a job hadn’t gotten an apartment already, which yeah in retrospect, I should have wondered about.” He laughs again. “I couldn’t believe my luck.”
“I assume she was surprisingly amenable no matter how strange the places were that you requested to see?”
“White border guard asking to look around the colonias? Even then, I didn’t think that would go over well. But some of our routes to her suggestions went through there,” he adds. “Back then, no google maps, so no idea if that was the regular route, but on a guess, she was just double checking her conclusions on me. Not that she even hinted she figured it out,” he adds. “She left that to Tía Constanza and three other women ages thirty-five to one hundred and two—not even fucking with you—to get my entire life story from my first memory to the last thing I said to Zena before she opened the door right after telling me how her aunt was dying to meet me.”
“What did you say?” Cas asks curiously.
“’Cool’.” Cas laughs, but the sharp gaze increases. “Anyway, I passed or whatever, and we talked, got rid of the thing, and I went to Iowa for a job. It was unreal, there was—”
“How on earth did you find out about a job in Iowa while in south Texas?”
“Not sure,” he admits. “Another hunter, I guess—” Dean stops short, thinking through the automatic answer; that can’t be right. “There weren’t any other hunters anywhere near the border,” he says slowly. “Hunters almost never go that far south, at least ones not native to the border states; until me, Constanza had only met three, all north of Austin. I was the first hunter in memory ever to step foot in Laredo and she’d know.” He looks at Cas. “I never talked to Constanza in the garden in the middle of the night. It was ninety fucking degrees even at midnight. Why would I—”
“You were talking to her,” Cas interrupts. “In chairs? Standing up?”
Dean stares at him for a long moment. “You know something.”
“The problem is what I don’t know and your answer will tell me,” Cas answers, sitting up as well. “Dean, this is important; what were you doing?”
Dean licks his lips and thinks. “I was—” She was talking. Twenty-three is always immortal. “Kneeling,” he whispers. “There was—a circle. It wasn’t complete.” He meets Cas’s eyes. “And it wasn’t just Constanza.” Then, “She said I was twenty-three, but I wasn’t. I was—”
“You were a few months past your twenty-third birthday.”
Dean searches his face. “That wasn’t just a dream.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Cas’s expression goes through a twenty-book series of expressions before settling on something he can only interpret very loosely as ‘aggravation.’ “Of all the times…” He shakes his head sharply. “We need to get dressed,” he says. “Teresa will have coffee ready by now, I hope.” Before Dean can even open his mouth, Cas shakes his head again. “I’m not being deliberately obtuse, just—careful. Even if I’m not bound by some parts of natural law any longer—and I do look forward to exploring that, in detail—this isn’t about that.”
Dean doesn’t move. “What aren’t you telling me?” This shit never ends well, and anything that Cas won’t talk about after all their Pit pillow talk…
Cas grimaces. “Dean, I—” He pauses. “You have always taken promises seriously. This is one that should not be broken.”
Oh God, he hates it when Cas is right. “Fine,” he says grudgingly. “You made a promise?”
“No,” Cas says as he gets out of bed. “You did.”
Teresa and Alison are both awake, and Alison only sighs when she opens the door, leading them to the kitchen, redolent with the smell of coffee and inhabited by a grim-looking Teresa in jeans and a flannel, dark hair half falling out of a messy knot, standing in front of the kitchen table looking at a map of Ichabod—one of Tony’s new ones by the existence of the wall on it.
Generally, Teresa projects the kind of effortless calm that can only be the result of years and years and years of work. Watching her, you think of still valleys, quiet forests, calm pools: the earth, you might say.
Here’s the thing: that’s not all the earth. It’s not even most of the earth. And even the parts that sometimes are, they’re not that even most of the time. Teresa’s still, sure, and the kitchen’s quiet, but it’s not the kind of quiet where you stretch out on the grass and take a nap. It’s the kind where you run for doorways or basements or make for your SUV and start driving fast, because something’s about to happen, something big, and you can’t stop it and you can’t hide from it and the best you can do is hope you survive it.
Dean smiles; when you’re sharing a room with a living, breathing fault line that could crack the earth, a tsunami about to hit the shore, or a volcano on the cusp of eruption, it’s not like anything is going to help you, so might as well meet your fate looking cool.
“Whoever it is, tell them I’m not available,” Teresa snaps, and Dean can almost hear the miniscule shift of earth in every syllable, like magnitude is still uncertain but definitely, definitely climbing. “Alison, you have to be able to sense one of them—”
“You truly believe the earth would not guard against a psychic?” Cas asks curiously, and Teresa spins around, looking at them in shock. “Especially one bonded to you? Good morning. I’m going to get some coffee. You should have some as well.”
“Uh.” She looks between them, rocking between anger and bafflement. “What did Zack tell you? Tell him I’ll apologize when I find them.”
“Zack,” Cas says, inexplicably pouring three cups of coffee and fixing each one, “did not.” Picking up the first one, he gives it to Teresa and then glances at Alison, who shifts a chair close enough to nudge Teresa in the back of the knees. “Sit down. You’ll accomplish nothing with hysterics.”
“Hysterics?” Teresa says dangerously—that, Dean reflects, is what a tornado hitting F-fucking-5 sounds like when you and your entire goddamn town are about to be sucked in—setting the coffee cup on the table, which was totally a mistake; Cas gives one gentle push and she’s in the chair that Alison ruthlessly pushes toward the table. “You don’t understand.” Then she pauses looking between them as Cas picks up Alison’s empty cup and returns to finish the other cups and refill Alison’s. “Then you’re not here because of Zack?”
“Uh, anyone want to tell me what’s happening?” Dean asks as Cas hands him his cup, because sure, it’s great to listen to inexplicable conversation—oh, right, it’s not. “What about Zack?”
“Apparently he drew the short straw and was the one left at the hospital in case anyone asked any questions,” Alison says with a sigh, sitting down to Teresa’s right and smiling gratefully as Cas hands her a cup. “Sit down, Dean; he’s fine. Just no one really expects to be cross-examined by an angry witch before dawn.”
Sitting across from Teresa, Dean starts to take a drink before what Alison said penetrates. “What? Why? Where’s James and the rest of the team?”
“From what I gathered when Teresa let Zack finish an answer,” she says deliberately, and Teresa makes a face, taking another drink of coffee, “they didn’t feel comfortable letting Neer and Sudha go alone, even with Rabin for protection, and of course there was the baby to consider. So they insisted on accompanying them.”
“James showed excellent judgement,” Cas interjects in approval, taking the chair between him and Teresa. “I’d expect no less of him.”
“Go James,” Dean agrees. “Now, any chance we find out where and hey, how about why? Sudha gave birth less than forty-eight hours ago; she shouldn’t be wandering around Ichabod.”
“Where—anywhere inside the walls,” Teresa says venomously. “The earth won’t tell me and Alison can’t find them. Why—only one reason.” She sets her cup down again, and Dean realizes her hands are shaking. “Sudha and Neeraja are making their offering to the earth.”
“Now?” Christ, no wonder Teresa’s worried. “Look, I get it, but trust me, James and Mira won’t let anything get near them, and Nate…” Fuck knows what he can do without drywall and paint (not useful in a field or valley, or so he assumes), but Dean is pretty sure that watching over two witches and a baby he helped deliver, he’ll be inspired to find out. Not that it’s likely there’s anything supernatural inside the Wall, in which case, he kind of pities any human who thinks they can take them.
(It’s not just Nate they have to worry about. James was into martial arts before Chitaqua and gives lessons, and Mira’s five-feet thee inches of gymnastics-conditioning-level murder. She was the one who taught Amanda and Alicia how to literally kick the head off of something (or somebody) with some move you learn in fucking ballet. He didn’t even know ballet had shit like that. He just can’t get over how awesome that is and doesn’t even think about how weird it is he finds that awesome anymore.)
“That’s not—” Teresa licks her lips. “They’re not ready.”
“Okay, but why? Not old enough, not enough training—”
“Once they’ve completed their apprenticeship, the offering can be made upon reaching age twenty-one, which is when you’re considered a full adult and can give consent,” Teresa answers tiredly. “But most wait until thirty at least. It’s safer.”
“The earth has very strict standards of consent,” Cas adds. “Possibly the strictest in Creation, and it takes them very seriously. While the human brain is still growing, twenty-one is when it displays full adult reason and understanding of consequences. The body is also almost fully mature; what is given during the offering cannot be contained in an immature body. For Sudha, I can’t think of anything better to assure her safety and that of Jaya. What are you worried about?”
“At least two or three more years of instruction and experience,” she answers rigidly, turning to look at Cas. “It’s a minimum of five years instruction for a reason.”
“From what I’ve observed, you had both on an accelerated schedule consummate with their age and abilities,” he answers. “Unlike younger apprentices, they were mature enough to understand the importance of their progress. I don’t doubt the quality of the education you provided, and they are certainly within the ideal age range: Sudha is thirty-five and Neeraja thirty-seven.”
“You know it’s more than age,” she argues, looking frustrated. “It’s—it’s the offering itself.”
“They’re tested,” Dean says, watching for Teresa’s nod. “You think they’ll fail?”
“It’s a test,” Teresa says. “That’s what it is to us. To the earth, it’s—something else. Maybe a lot of things, I’m not sure.”
“What does the earth think it is?”
“Taking what we’re offering,” she answers rigidly. “Our offering is ourselves, whole and entire, holding back nothing.” Dean catches his breath, getting it. “It’s not about wanting to do it or will power or whatever; it’s about overcoming our own self-preservation, our fear, our own instincts, and not just letting it happen, but keep letting it happen until it’s done. Part of our training is learning how to do that, and that’s not something you’re born able to do; it has to be learned and it’s the hardest lesson for a witch to learn. And even with that—even after you’re ready, even when you’re sure, it’s—”
“—a leap of faith,” Cas says softly. She nods. “You were twenty-one, the youngest to attempt it in all your history.”
“The youngest to succeed,” Teresa corrects him. “Even then, I knew it was dangerous. And stupid.”
Twenty-three is always immortal. “You still did it,” Dean says.
“On my twenty-first birthday,” she agrees. “Literally. I was born at 1:08 in the morning; I waited up and at 1:08 exactly, I made my offering. Mama was furious and you can imagine how well that went over when everyone came for my party and found out.” She swallows, looking at Cas defiantly. “It was reckless, even I knew that.”
“But it was necessary,” he says, and Teresa looks startled. “Dean, you’re aware of course why hunters rarely hunt on the border, but it has two sides. Between the imperialism that led to the Spanish conquest of the Americas and motivated the acquisition of the southern and western states from Mexico by the United States, and racism against both those of indigenous ancestry and those who lived or still live in Mexico, as well as general xenophobia, even on the rare occasions that American hunters hunted the border, they were often as destructive to those living there as the things they hunted.”
Dean nods shortly; he’d guessed something like that from what Constanza and the other witches said, not to mention having a working understanding of how history happened.
“For Texas, the solution began over two hundred years ago,” Teresa starts. “After the Spanish Conquest, some of us moved to settle north of the Rio Grande, and started to expand our protection to those living there, as we’d done in southern Mexico. After the Texas Revolution, we were still north of the Rio Grande, that now being the new southern border of Texas, but that didn’t change anything but our presumed citizenship. The problem, of course, was there weren’t that many of us—our numbers always grew or shrank with the population we needed to protect—and there were a lot of settlers coming in, more every day. Worse, many of them were coming from the north and had no idea what was waiting for them. And didn’t listen to the locals,” she adds, which doesn’t surprise Dean at all.
“The long-term plan was to spread slowly along the southern border using the Rio Grande as an anchor and extend our protections to both sides of the border; that had been the plan even before the Rio Grande was a political border since rivers are great natural barriers. Unfortunately, the population grew far more quickly than we anticipated, and all those new, unprotected settlements were attracting way too much attention. The border of Texas is roughly one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-four miles; divided into thirty mile increments with a bruja blanca in each would be ideal, but impossible; there’d never been more than thirty full witches at any given time in a general area, and we couldn’t possibly increase our number to sixty-five in just a few years, much less assume we could maintain that number into perpetuity.” She shrugs. “However, in all our history, there’s also never been less than thirteen. Sometimes all in the same family, but thirteen.”
“So you went with the possible,” Dean says “What was that?”
“There was nothing, so we made it up.” He nods again; he lives with someone who does that. “Or rather, many-greats-grandmother Maria Baptista did. The question was, what did we actually want? To homestead the entire border at thirty mile intervals—and for the record, no one wanted that at all, especially two hundred years ago—or just be there when there was something that needed our attention? All we actually needed was to know, and with thirteen witches? That we could do.”
“Sixty-five is also a multiple of thirteen, in case anyone was unaware of that,” Cas offers, because he does that.
Teresa’s mouth twitches. “Exactly. Each witch would make a claim encompassing thirty miles of the border, one hundred and fifty miles apart, then all thirteen witches would be formally joined together, which acted something like a multiplier, at least symbolically. When the ritual was complete, the entire border would be symbolically claimed, and we could listen—or the equivalent—along the entire border. It wasn’t nearly as powerful as a true claim would be, but for our purposes, it didn’t need to be. At first, it was just that—a sense of something wrong, and generally, something fairly big, not just a stray chupacabra or bored vampire here, so something we definitely needed to investigate. With time and each generation that passed, however, it got stronger. We individually weren’t any stronger—same variation in power each generation—but the power of those that went before us saturated the joining.”
That explains a lot about the border. “What about now?”
“Only God knows of the fall of every sparrow,” she answers solemnly. “But if the sparrow is possessed by a demon and crosses the border, we all know about it. There’s one drawback, though, and it’s similar to the one at the Kansas border.”
“I feel like I’m being tested,” Dean says, because this is his life, and Teresa smiles, not denying it. “So—if you drop under thirteen for some reason, and it falls, you can’t raise it—” No, that’s not right. “You lose all the generations of power. You’d be back to basics, when you get thirteen again and raise it, I mean. You’d lose all the generational build-up.”
“Got it in one,” she says, pleased. “As I said, having thirteen witches available had never been a problem. If there’s one thing witches can do and do well, it’s breed, and with this on the line, we made sure of it. We’d had a few intermarriages with the Spanish and French colonists who’d been sensitive enough to get our attention, but not many. Now we needed numbers and fast, so we got more direct about it. Anyone who showed a hint of the ability to feel the earth or any power was fair game, from white American colonists and free African American farmers to those escaping slavery who ended up on the border. A good thing, too: it stopped some seriously dangerous inbreeding because, not kidding, purity of bloodline was actually a thing for way too long.” She shudders. “Surprisingly, when you aren’t marrying your first cousin for the three generations straight—”
“And the occasional uncle or aunt,” Cas offers, probably because he feels it’s his job to do this. “Though to be fair, the last time was at least four hundred years ago.”
“Yeah, we don’t even look at that part of the family tree anymore,” Teresa says with another shudder. “Book’s made out of cowhide, too, so great excuse to ignore it. Healthy births went up, so genetic diversity for the win, and we also built a community to support us, which isn’t something we really had before, just fellow villagers of various types, sometimes hostile.
“Even more surprising—to us, though apparently not the earth—we discovered that the ability to hear the earth didn’t need to be inborn; it could be taught, and that alone tripled the numbers who could potentially make the offering. When my grandmother made the offering, there were fifty full witches, twice that many apprentices, and every child was born with at least a little inborn power, which isn’t necessary but is a nice bonus. We also knew by then that older was always better when it comes to making the offering; there’s no benefit in doing it younger and a lot of danger, and after thirty, the risk of mortality dropped to almost zero unless you had a weak heart, and yes, we started full physicals after that.” She shrugs. “For us, coming to it later in life is a big advantage; the older you are when you make the offering, the more you can do off the bat and the rest comes a lot faster. We generally don’t have access to the full power of the earth until our mid-fifties, or after menopause if you’re subject to it, which we’re guessing is probably used as an indicator that the body can now focus all its resources on channeling and controlling that much raw power. We kind of assume at this point the earth is using a general biological hormonal standard on when we’re done with futzing around with making or caring for young kids and can get down to business full time.” She takes a drink. “Not that a witch ever stops growing in power, especially when it’s inborn,” she adds. “But that’s more individual, and truthfully, there’s not much use for it. Outside battle or specific services to the earth, it’s practically useless once you reach a certain level; developing and keeping up your skills is far more important, and a witch never stops learning new skills. What we hunt is as smart or smarter than we are, and they’re just as quick to learn.”
Dean allows himself a second to take in the realization that Teresa is still at least a decade and change off her full power—Jesus Christ. And will keep getting stronger after. “But something happened,” he says, and her smile fades. “When you were twenty-one.”
“When I was twelve,” she answers. “Random, we never saw it coming: a flu epidemic hit the colonias.”
Dean lets out a breath. Everything he knows about the colonias he learned from Zena and Constanza and his own eyes, and while that doesn’t make him anything close to an expert, he knows enough to recognize disaster. “Jesus. How many?”
“Five hundred was what we were told, but that really is a guess; entire families were gone in days,” she answers tonelessly. “Not just Laredo: we’re talking Brownsville to El Paso, and a lot of towns on either side of the border, and no one has the number for the Mexico side, even us. No one really paid attention who didn’t live there; a lot of it happened on the wrong side of the border or in the wrong neighborhoods on this side. The living conditions in some areas were—” She swallows. “The landlords only do what they have to, and if they can get away with not doing it, they will, so when it hit, it was bad. Usually, the old and very young are the most vulnerable, but this strain…we lost twenty-five witches under fifty and all the older apprentices. There were four doctors, nine nurses, and several EMTs among them. The younger apprentices—like me—had been put in full isolation with Tia Esperanza when it started,” she adds. “Mama didn’t take any chances; she kept us there until a full month after the last case, no one in, no one out. When we got out and they told us…I was the oldest apprentice still alive. A generation and a half of witches, gone.”
She swallows, shaking herself, and silently, Dean gets her cup and refills it, trying to match what he saw Cas do before bringing it (and the sugar and cream) back to the table and giving her a spoon. Almost gratefully, she tests it, adding more sugar, probably more to give herself a moment.
“Then there was normal attrition, except it wasn’t normal; what you’d expect over three generations happened at once,” she continues, voice too-careful and Dean sees Cas watching her intently. “Three in their seventies and one in their eighties died of natural causes within a three month period, which may sound on the outside of normal, except that really doesn’t happen to us.”
He remembers the ages of the women he saw; Constanza was the youngest full witch in Laredo at the time. “You live a while.”
“Seventy is very young for an earth-bound witch,” Cas confirms, and Teresa nods in what Dean thinks might be relief, reaching for her cup again with hands way too steady not to be taking all her control.
Twelve years old, he thinks, trying to imagine it; she was the oldest. Months in isolation, and you come out to a new, smaller world than the one you left. All the older students are dead, and adult witches as well, girls and boys, men and women that were their classmates and teachers, friends and family; that’s trauma by any standard, and you may learn to live with it, but getting over it—never.
“As Teresa explained, age is an advantage when making the offering,” Cas continues. “That power keeps their bodies surprisingly healthy and active no matter how they may superficially appear to the untrained or particularly stupid eye. Witches generally die in battle or when their bodies simply can no longer handle the amount of power being channeled through them. Time is variable, but as of Constanza’s generation, they generally reach a century and a decade or two. With the advances in modern medicine and an excellent diet, Teresa could easily reach a hundred and thirty or even a century and a half with little if any physical impairment, though I wouldn’t recommend running a marathon. Then again, I wouldn’t recommend those now; how can anyone run for miles and not expire of boredom?” he wonders out of nowhere, and from the corner of his eye, he sees Teresa’s mouth twitch, color coming back to her cheeks. “No terrain is that interesting to observe.”
“You’re going to live to a hundred and fifty?” Alison bursts out, and Teresa fumbles her cup, startled, as Alison’s eyes widen and she drops back in her chair. “Oh my God, I’m going to live to a hundred and fifty? What the hell am I going to do when I’m a hundred and ten?”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” Teresa asks blankly.
“You being a super-active century-plus wandering around the towns doing witch-shit with nubile young octogenarians and me in a wheelchair at home looking like a century old apple with no teeth?” Alison asks incredulously. “Yeah, I kind of am!”
“As long as I’m active, you will be,” Teresa says slowly, staring at Alison as if she’s doubting her sanity. “Our lives are joined and all is shared, which is why your blood pressure now makes Dolores happy and not chew her lip. Though at this rate, I might put you in that wheelchair myself.”
Alison sits back, relieved. “Well, okay, then.”
They stare at each other and then Teresa’s mouth twitches into a faint smile. “Nubile octogenarians?”
“Not saying you couldn’t have your pick of the litter at any age,” Alison says smugly, “but you get impatient with the under-thirty crowd now and I anticipate your threshold will rise with age.”
“Point,” she agrees, relaxing. “Where were we before the love of my life had a crisis?”
“You’re gonna live a while,” Dean says, realizing that actually, there’s no way to know what Cas’s lifespan is going to be. His body was recreated by his Father when He resurrected him, and any natural aging wouldn’t have kicked in until he fully Fell. He doesn’t get sick, either.
“Right. Four deaths of old age, then one witch died in childbirth—” She sees Cas’s attention and nods. “That’s when we knew something was going on, even if we couldn’t work out what it was or find any cause. For reference: if I die in childbirth, it’s a curse, a hex, or something else, but whatever it is, it’s definitely murder. That doesn’t happen, not anymore. The earth made it extremely difficult before, but modern medicine and an increase in overall health and knowledge took care of the very rare exceptions. Around the same time, there were some apparently legitimate border fights, but too many; all full witches over sixty, all very strong, experienced, all now at their full potential. Take out some under forties—that happened too much, too, but they’re still young enough to be stupid—but over fifty? No, not unless they’re overmatched, and again, we’ve been doing this for more centuries than we have written records; to do that would take an epic event, not a border skirmish. That’s when we stopped caring what it was so we could stop it and moved straight to protecting everyone from it.”
“It wasn’t just really bad luck.” Dean looks at Cas and remembers when they talked about the camps, and attrition among hunters and specifically hunter families. “It was deliberate.”
“It was Lucifer, or rather, a pre-Luciferite—before they took that ridiculous name due to Satanists considering them utterly insane and also sadly lacking in a sense of irony—doing his work,” Cas says, and Teresa looks both alarmed and then relieved. “I’m assuming your mother and the other brujas blancas came to the same conclusion and then doubted themselves. No, you weren’t overestimating your importance; hunting families were having similar problems with high attrition as of five years ago, according to my research. However, I long suspected it started earlier, but no one had any reason to wonder. At least, not among hunters not affiliated with witches, which would be most of them.”
“You really think—that far back?” Teresa asks, startled. “How long?”
“A little over three decades,” Cas says more vaguely than he ever is, which Dean is going to assume means ‘from the literal moment of Dean Winchester’s birth but I really can’t say that for many reasons.’ “With hunters, natural causes and their lifestyle would give plausible deniability and allow a shorter time period, but with witches, especially brujas blancas of your tradition, he needed as much time as possible to hope to be unnoticed, and even so, you noticed. He’s not very good at this, no. Please continue; we’ll need to schedule a future time we can discuss your entire history, preferably as soon as feasible.”
Teresa smiles, relaxing for the first time since she started talking about the deaths. “I look forward to it. Anyway, I’d just turned fourteen when Mama and the others decided to shift everything to defense. The apprentices were moved out of the city and onto Tia Esperanza’s farm with her and two other teachers, and with the power of every living witch behind her, Mama raised a full ward over us on a six-month clock; no one in, no one out, and no one and nothing could find us, even another witch. There were only thirteen full witches left; they were all moved to Laredo—I mean literally, we rented out every moving van in a hundred miles—and put under every type of ward that would still let them work. While the youngest witch of the Thirteen—and at the time, the youngest still alive—was forty-one, the oldest was one hundred and ten and not in the best health. She did agree to leave field work and move to Laredo with the understanding that when the six month lockdown expired, if it was decided to raise it again, she’d join us as our teacher and pass on as much as she could to us.”
Dean almost says you had a hundred and ten year old woman out in the field except that’s what she just said so yeah, that apparently happened. On the other hand: Jesus, with that kind of working timespan, if Chitaqua could recruit some witches, those taught by Teresa anyway… “How long were you on that farm?”
“A year and a half,” Teresa answers ruefully. “Mama and the others gave out we were in boarding school or something, I don’t remember. Later, when I asked how they decided to let us out, she said—” She frowns, shaking her head. “The earth said it had solved the problem, but it wasn’t clear on what the problem was. It’s not like we hadn’t asked before, and it seemed as baffled as we were—” She stops, staring at Castiel. “Lucifer. Did he order her not to tell us what was happening?”
“No; if he had done something that incredibly stupid, it would have known he was doing something to you and stopped it earlier,” Castiel answers, sitting back. “He’s not—at least in this—a complete idiot; he couldn’t order the earth to do or not do anything that might harm its acolytes and hope to be obeyed no matter his rights to Creation’s obedience—and I would like to say I consider those rights rather questionable, as he’d been exiled to Hell for his crimes, but no one asked me.” Even Teresa bites her lip at that. “Losing that many of its witches and their offspring would have been very distracting and very distressing for the earth, however, so he probably assumed that would give him sufficient time to finish.”
“All of us,” Teresa says, then her eyes widen. “The apprentices.”
“An entire generation of potential witches,” Castiel agrees. “Combined with losing most of an earlier generation of full witches during the epidemic and the attrition after, by the time the Apocalypse started, there wouldn’t be enough of you alive to matter.” Unexpectedly, he starts to smile. “Lucifer must have been furious; he never considered you might save yourselves. Short of coming himself—which he couldn’t do—he was effectively helpless. No one and nothing else would be capable of breaking wards raised by thirteen full witches with the earth behind them. Doubtless, he still tried; that was very stupid of him. We can take as a given the minion assigned to the task was just as stupid to believe they could do it; he has a type.”
“Why?” Teresa lets out a breath. “That’s when the earth saw something?”
“The earth may be able to give an exact narration of the event, but as her perspective can be—odd—this is a very educated guess,” Cas answers, looking so maliciously pleased that Dean can feel himself smiling. “Think of it, if you will: he sends someone to test the extremely powerful wards set by bound acolytes of the earth to protect the remaining children that were training to be its next acolytes. All of the earth’s attention was on that farm, Teresa, and that is a very great deal; nothing within Creation could have hoped to remain unnoticed. Doubtless she only waited long enough to find out who sent them before she dealt with them. Knowing who the enemy was, she would have taken measures to discourage further attempts.”
“How could she stop Lucifer?”
“Within his cage, he was helpless; that’s why he recruited others to do his work on earth, and she could easily deal with them. His minions might be monsters, but they were still human, formed of earth’s ashes and her dust. Their service to Lucifer would have tainted them and she would have sensed it. If you’re curious about what happened to them, I’m not entirely certain, but if we’re fortunate enough to find out, I hope to hear that they were the first humans to ever see the earth’s core.”
Teresa bursts into laughter, then covers her mouth, looking like she wonders if she should feel guilty, but honestly, Dean can’t see why. Fuck with the earth, shit happens. In the molten core, even.
“I apologize for my interruption,” Cas says. “Please continue and also, accept my congratulations for so successfully thwarting Lucifer. I only wish I could have seen his expression when he realized how thoroughly he failed.”
“Thanks,” Teresa answers, relaxed in her chair now. “Once we’d done everything we could to limit the damage, we turned our attention to rebuilding as quickly as we could. That was easier than we expected; as I said, the inborn power was universal now, but more importantly, we had a large population to draw from. Many who originally decided against it or simply didn’t feel drawn returned to become apprentices. Like Zena,” she adds, giving Dean a glance, and he pretends he’s not flushing. “Apprenticing as an adult does have its advantages—training can be completed in five years, and those born into one of our families could do it in less, they’d absorbed most of it just growing up. It’s not just education in what we do and deciding if you’re fit for it—or even want to, though that’s a big part. It’s learning what it means to make the offering and how to do it. It took fifteen years to get back to full strength or better, but we didn’t have fifteen years when it came to the border protections.
“With a spell that strong, there was some leeway, though,” she adds. “You said the Kansas border is taking a week to collapse; with roughly two hundred years behind it, we had a year and a day from the death of one of the thirteen to replace them. And considering how many things we pissed off with our protections…”
“It would be ground zero for everything just from spite,” Dean finishes for her. Like Kansas right now. “What was the final deadline?”
“They minimized it around the apprentices—and especially me—but it’s not like I couldn’t do the math. When Tia Margarita died, the countdown began: ten days after my twenty-first birthday, the border would collapse. I had to be so careful,” she adds, mouth quirking. “They watched me, especially Mama. There was talk—not in my hearing, or so they thought—of sending me to Houston to tutor one of my cousins who was taking up her apprenticeship since her last kid started college. Why they thought that would stop me, no idea; I could make my offering there. I guess they thought out of sight, out of mind. Which really wasn’t going to work.”
“Which is probably why they didn’t send you,” Dean remarks. “Better to keep you close and watch you. So I gotta know—how’d you get out to do it?”
“Truthfully? Because while they suspected I’d try on my birthday or right after, they were thinking that night, as in, after the party. They didn’t see me using the technicality of time of birth to get in early,” she says. “Honestly, I only thought of it the week before, so they weren’t entirely wrong.”
Dean starts to laugh and hears Alison and Cas join in. Teresa laughs with them, then sighs.
“It was reckless,” she says. “But it had to be done; I wouldn’t leave the border at the mercy of a single monster. And it worked.”
“Did I ever tell you two how Neer and Sudha found out what Teresa was?” Alison says brightly, breaking the brief silence, and Teresa’s head comes up sharply. “You gotta hear this. It was right after Teresa and I moved in together—”
“I don’t think they’d be interested,” Teresa says in a voice that says she and Alison may not be living together much longer at this rate.
“I’m interested,” Cas says, because natural disasters in progress beside him—all of them—don’t even make the cut for ‘worrying.’
“So they were weird around Teresa—not for the gay thing, by the way, they’d been trying to set me up with Neer’s cousin Suba forever until she started dating this hot engineer from Tripoli—but I figured they were being protective, after my…thing with a really hot game designer while we were in Kolkata—long story,” she says, waving a hand, but there’s a suspicious redness to her face and Dean files that away for an extended storytime. “All’s well that ends well and they had my passport ready and no one was arrested but in case anyone’s curious, Sudha has one hell of a right hook.”
There’s no fucking way he’s going to die today; he’s getting this story from Sudha. Being uncle-in-law of her kid has got to mean something.
“Anyway, they’d disappear when she did, which, honestly, I didn’t really notice or care, since I was learning how to plow fields, shoot rifles, and eat animals I’d been petting four hours before,” she adds, looking briefly haunted. “So I don’t pet them anymore, obviously. Eventually, I found out what was going on; when Teresa was still out of practice doing shit in the fields—”
“Calling on the earth in the context of the planting and harvest, and again, I’d never been in practice; I learned it as part of my training.”
“Every time she went out to do it, there they were. Turns out, they weren’t stalking her worried this was Nyota Mark II: they just had a really, really strong urge to go hang out with her and stand there literally watching her do nothing,” Alison continues, grin widening as Teresa’s eyes narrow. “So yeah, they were wary; it was freaking them out. Eventually, Teresa noticed. Took a while,” she adds maliciously, and Teresa opens and shuts her mouth like she’s ripping living flesh from bone with it. “You’d think you’d notice two women standing ten feet away watching you and the dirt for no reason, but—”
“I was distracted relearning how to do—never mind.” She sighs heavily, then her mouth twitches as she meets Alison’s wide, innocent eyes. “Fine, I really should have noticed. That’s actually a really big sign—neon with fireworks—to sense the earth at that level, enough for the earth to make a clear connection without them even knowing it. It wanted them, and you can’t ignore that. My biggest problem then was that I didn’t know how compatible my tradition was with how they practiced Hinduism. I had to tell them, though; when the earth wants your attention, it gets it, and dragging them out to the fields was barely a nudge compared to some of its methods. So, I explained everything, what the training entailed, and told them to think it over, and they thought it over for a whole ten seconds and asked when we could start. So I took them to the fields and tested them. And understood exactly why the earth was calling them.”
“They were that strong?” Cas asks.
“They were that strong,” she confirms. “Latent, but exposure to the earth was bringing it out. Inborn power isn’t really all that important, however; once you’re bound to the earth, it’s like a sandbox to the Sahara no matter how strong you are, especially once you reach your full potential. Its major use is it gives you a lot more options when you can’t or shouldn’t use the earth’s power, especially if you’re a hunter. The ability to hear it can be taught—it’s one of our first lessons, actually—but some people, it just happens one day, like a switch flipping on. Most of my family can feel it from birth, but that’s determined breeding and training over generations in action. The desire to serve is the only thing that matters; you aren’t born with it and it can’t be taught, it’s a choice. “ She frowns, shaking herself. “From what they said, the first time they felt the earth was probably the first time I went into the fields. They said they started following me because well, that’s where they knew they were supposed to be.”
“Of course they did,” Cas says softly. “An acolyte of the earth woke the land here for the first time in what has probably been literal centuries. Everyone within thirty miles of you—your entire claim—who had any sensitivity at all would have felt it. For those with a latent calling toward service to the earth, it would be very much like flipping on a light switch. I assume you’re testing regularly in the town; people who are ready and willing to be called will continue to manifest with this kind of constant exposure. And you might consider the refugees: a week here will have awakened—and deeply confused—at least a few.”
“Wish we’d talked earlier; it sure surprised me when I realized what was going on,” Teresa says with a laugh. “They’re the ones volunteering for pretty much anything that takes them near the fields inside the walls, including watching the herds. For hours. We’ve been keeping track, and they’re among those who have come to Claudia or Alison or Dolores directly asking about our immigration policy.”
“What would it feel like?” Dean asks curiously. “I mean—when you don’t know?”
“Neer said it was like finding something you didn’t know you were missing. Sudha said it was like coming home. They were right,” Teresa murmurs softly, then her expression changes, lips tightening. “And now—because I didn’t take precautions, Neer and Sudha—”
“Sneaked out of the hospital to make the offering so their teacher wouldn’t have a chance to stop them,” Cas interrupts. “I wonder who else did that?”
“It’s not the same thing,” Teresa argues. “They—”
“They’re needed and they’re ready,” he says. “You know they are, Teresa. And just as importantly, the earth knows it, which we should probably consider a valid reason for them to do it.”
“The earth is the earth,” she answers. “You know she—”
“Apparently, it wasn’t satisfied with them, though I don’t know why,” Cas continues, a note of aggravation in his voice. “If it were, I’d still be asleep—or if awake, well on my way to at least one orgasm before dawn and hopefully two—and not instead had a secondhand dream of being pleasantly buried alive. The ‘pleasantly’,” he adds deliberately, “is sarcasm, in case that needs saying. Though I assume the earth believed it would be.”
“What? You felt…” She trails off, turning to look at Dean, then back at Cas. “Oh God. Tonight? Now?”
“Yes, tonight, as in roughly three quarters of an hour ago. Dean, tell her what you told me,” Cas says, leaning an elbow on the table. “Specifically, what you were dreaming about tonight.”
You know, weird thing; he kind of doesn’t really at all care (want to know). “Uh, shouldn’t we be concentrating on Neer and Sudha—”
“They’re probably the safest people in the world at this moment,” Cas says impatiently. “If the earth doesn’t take care of any potential problems, I pity anyone who does anything James or any of his team might decide could be interpreted as a threat. Back to your dream: you were kneeling in a circle of dirt in Teresa’s mother’s garden, that’s what you told me. Before we go any further, Teresa, ask the earth if it is releasing Dean Winchester of his promise.”
Teresa stares at him. “You don’t think—”
“Until the promise is released, I am ethically if not by natural law obligated to remain silent,” he answers. “However, my ethics are in constant flux, so if you would hurry up and ask—”
“Yes,” she says abruptly, blinking slowly. “I mean, he was already released. A while back, it seems.”
Cas gets an odd look on his face. “When?” Then he sighs. “Forgive me, I forgot the earth’s understanding of time is—”
“No, this one has a clear reference point; it’s my memory,” she interrupts, then looks at Alison. “You remember—that night. I mean, before you collapsed into a coma to up the drama in our lives.”
“I do,” Alison says softly. “I never asked; what was it like for you?”
“The last light was snuffed out,” she whispers. “The stars were burned to nothing and darkness began to spill over the earth, withering the crops in the fields and the ground grew cold as it died…then it stopped.” The dark eyes grow distant. “The entire sky was alight—everything was alight—and the light burned away the darkness and cold, leaving everything clean and new and bright, like the first dawn in all of time.” Teresa’s eyebrows rise more with every word before she looks at them helplessly. “She usually isn’t this…”
“Yes, that’s—surprisingly poetic,” Cas says softly.
“She does that sometimes,” Teresa says apologetically. “Probably my fault. I was into the Romantics hardcore during my tragic misunderstood adolescent phase aka ages sixteen through my junior year of college, so consider this a blanket apology for what might be coming. Really didn’t see that coming.”
“What do you mean?” Cas starts curiously, then frowns in annoyance. “Never mind. As Dean is formally released from his promise, I’m now free, morally, ethically, and by natural law—not that I care about the third—to tell Dean that what he experienced this morning did indeed happen.” Cas focuses on him. “That night in Laredo, along with several of the preceding days and most of the following three months, were either altered or removed from your linear memory with your full permission.”
It’s got to be a gift to combine ominous with completely uninformative. “What?” That’s way too broad, backtrack. “You mean in Constanza’s garden? Not just—wait, three months?” Cas crosses his arms and looks pointedly at Teresa. “What the hell is going on?”
“I’m guessing this is my responsibility,” Teresa says ruefully, giving Cas an amused glance before focusing on Dean. “First, however: Dean Winchester, it’s belated, but your service was invaluable and you have my thanks. To observe the formalities: on behalf of those who cannot be here today, you are released of your promise to us in its entirety; we do it willingly and with gratitude.” She folds her hands on the table. “Now, the important part: Dean, when you were in Laredo, you made the offering to the earth and it accepted you. Then you helped us kill a monster.”
Dean says, “Bullshit.”