The Game of God: Day 158 - part 5
— Day 158, continued —
It’s not bullshit. Not even a little.
“So you’re saying,” Dean says, now armed with more (fresh) coffee, “I—did that—and don’t remember because I agreed to not remember any of it?”
“That’s the shortest version that approaches accuracy,” Cas agrees.
“And you knew—okay, I get it wasn’t relevant until we met Teresa, fine, but—you knew and didn’t say anything? All this time?”
Cas nods. “Even putting aside ethical concerns—and I do so with almost frightening ease these days—you were the one that made the promise to Constanza and the other members of the coven as well as the earth. The one to the earth I would have discarded if there was a need—you are my charge and I can do that—but the one to Constanza…” Cas pauses, and Dean finds himself remembering how Cas had consulted Amanda about what happened to Dean at the preschool, the reasons he’d decided that Dean didn’t (yet) need to know. It occurs to him this isn’t just Cas navigating human; this is Cas following that inner sense of justice as applied to human at the most basic, and to an angel, to Cas, promises aren’t the kind of thing you make and forget. They mean something, maybe everything. “Fully informed consent was satisfied by Constanza and other members of the coven. You were in your right mind before, during, and after; there was no duress exerted on you other than your own fear of what would happen to the people in Laredo. I knew you meant to respect that promise to Constanza and the other witches until the day you died. Unless keeping it would be to your detriment or a situation occurred where this information needed to be revealed, it seemed—best.” For the first time, Cas looks uncertain, watching Dean warily.
The thing is, he’s right; promises aren’t something you just make and forget, not to either of them. “You’re right,” he says finally. “So I did—that—to help at the border?”
“Yes,” Teresa agrees. “Except you weren’t supposed to, not exactly. That part—well, no one saw it coming.”
Of course not. “But it did,” Dean says grimly. “Why? And in case anyone’s curious, I still can’t remember anything. Will I?”
“It’s no longer hidden,” she says, and he can tell she’s genuinely trying to be reassuring. “Don’t worry, it probably won’t be a big dramatic reveal, just—small shifts as you remember more. The design does privilege sanity over disclosure; it works with the natural functions of the human brain. Your brain has to integrate everything back into your memory’s linear timeline and reform the connections with your other memories individually, which takes time.” She sits back. “You told Mama about what you’d usually be doing on a hunt and afterward, and how you decided on the next one to make sure everything was consistent with what you’d expect to remember. Before Mama actually did it, however, when the design was finalized, she told you exactly what was going to happen and why. The parameters of what parts of your memory would be affected were clearly delineated and the agreement was witnessed by the earth, and got your final consent. For us, outside very specific and clear circumstances, we can’t do anything at all involving human will—especially in regard to memory—that isn’t explicitly agreed to, in detail.”
“Look, I believe you,” he says, because he does. “Just—what was I doing? Why did they need me? I remember what Constanza said; it wasn’t about amount of power, they had that to spare.” He pauses, wondering if he did remember that before now, then decides not to think about that too hard.
“Power isn’t everything,” Teresa answers. “Sometimes, what we need are people to bear the weight of it.”
Dean looks at her blankly.
“Okay, you’re having a party,” she starts, thinking. “Thirty people. Would you just have one giant glass for everyone to drink out of one at a time, even if it held enough for everyone?”
“No, that’s gross.” But he does kind of think he knows where this is going. “Okay, so wait; it’s not the amount of power, it’s—” One person drinking at a time or several all at once. “One person, no matter how powerful, can only use—release?—so much right at that moment.”
“I know my metaphors,” she says with a shaky smile. “Exactly, at least when it comes to humans and most beings that can take a humanoid form; Mama thinks it may be physics as they apply to this universe, actually. What happened in Laredo was the unexpected side effect of so many people coming back all at once; some were well into their apprenticeship who should have been extremely supervised or even rejected if we’d had more instructors and more oversight. The apprentice in question was my first cousin, Mariana, one of those who came back in her late twenties.”
“Not just an apprentice. Family.” Yeah, he can see that.
“Family,” Teresa agrees. “I don’t think anyone wanted to believe she wasn’t fit. When I caught her in an act meriting execution—manipulation of human will using compulsions for personal gain—I bound her with a full block and sent her home for judgment instead. And I’ll never forgive myself for it.”
“She was family,” Dean says quietly.
“And other people’s families died for mine,” she answers flatly, then shakes her head. “In any case, like I said, she was powerful, but she didn’t just fail dramatically in character, but in common sense; she tried to summon something—we think she was trying for an Elemental, but no way to be sure after the fact. That would have been bad enough, but as she didn’t know what she was doing, she made a mess of it and called—something else.”
So, worse than an Elemental: great. “I don’t remember—yet—what it was. What was it?”
“You’ll never remember because no one ever knew, including us. From what I worked out from a lot of research, it wasn’t native to this plane and possibly not even this universe,” Teresa says. “Until we learned about the Misborn, that was best guess, but now—Cas, could it have been an Old One or one of their hybrids?”
“I’d need some time to search my memory, but it’s possible, and if that is what it was, I should be able to identify it,” Cas says. “As you’ve studied it and I haven’t, I’ll assume you’ve eliminated all the other candidates, which leaves us with that or something else entirely. If it was an Old One or one of their far too numerous hybrid offspring, it would have to have been either a very degraded form or very, very young and not terribly powerful. Truthfully, I want it to be an Old One variation; if not, it’s going to be extremely surprising and I hate surprises like that.”
“So Mariana not only released something that was too powerful for her to control,” Teresa continues, “which was bad enough, but something no one could identify, so we had no idea the full range of what it could do, it’s vulnerabilities, how to control it, where to send it back to, or if we even could. That left killing it, and that—that really didn’t work. We damaged it, yes, but it was like the walking dead or something; it kept on keeping on before it vanished to destroy somewhere else another day. Mama said it was down to thirty-six hours between attacks near the end.”
That explains a lot. “I remember…” Dean pauses, thinking hard and hey, that actually works. “I remember that nothing I tried worked the one and only time I managed to get there before it vanished. Like it didn’t even notice me.”
“You were creative, too,” she says. “You impressed Mama, by the way. The only thing we thought would work—and thought being the key word here—was to burn out its power all at once.”
“If it wasn’t from this plane, that would effectively kill it, at least so far as its existence on this plane would be concerned,” Cas tells the table, probably for his (and from the way her expression clears, Alison’s) benefit. “It takes a great deal of power to move between planes of reality, much less retain any kind of workable form in one that isn’t native to the entity; it would be eons before it could hope to gain enough power to return, and something in its native habitat would surely kill it before that.”
Teresa nods. “That was the idea. From everything we tried and after running a few tests, we worked out that we’d have about a minute and change to burn it out before it could get away or kill us. Power wasn’t a problem—Mama could have done it herself—but like I said, there are limits on how much one witch can channel, much less release, and no one could channel that much at once but maybe a god. So using basic division, they worked out that would take at least five full witches in physical proximity to it all working together and that was bare bones.”
Dean nods; this almost sounds familiar. “And there weren’t enough.”
“There were four available; my mother, my aunt Juana, and two of my cousins, Luisa and Veronica,” Teresa says. “At the time, we were spread out, which was also part of the reason that Mariana hadn’t been judged, burned out, and executed immediately; a couple were checking disturbances on the Nevada border, a third of us were on assignment in central and southern Mexico, a few more were traveling in Central America doing research, and me and Manuel were both training new hunters from among the apprentices far enough along to start them on the basics. While Manuel was giving them a survival course, I went on a job involving fae, which is generally the purview of witches of pretty much any tradition, not regular hunters.” She makes a face. “God, I hate jobs involving the fae.”
“Tell me about it,” Dean mutters, trying not to think of what Cas said about the fae courts, and meets Teresa’s eyes in a moment of shared sympathy. “So they needed another full witch or two. On a guess, not something the apprentices can do.”
“No, never. And none of the apprentices were anywhere near ready to make the offering. Zena was strong and was finishing her third year work while on leave from Legal Aid, but even if she’d been farther along, no one wanted any of the apprentices to risk an offering before their thirtieth birthday if there was any other choice,” Teresa answers. “Then you showed up, and Zena—after confirming with commendable thoroughness your intentions and what you were—thought we should consult with a friendly hunter.”
He’s not flushing; it’s kind of hot in here, though. “Not something you would risk normally.” Even then, he appreciated how much trust they were offering him just by talking to him.
“Especially not someone with the name ‘Winchester’,” Teresa adds unexpectedly, which depressingly doesn’t surprise him at all; he can imagine Dad’s reputation with good witches (he didn’t believe in them). “But your name wasn’t ‘John,’ and considering you were the best hunter in memory—it was worth trying.”
Christ, they really need to turn down that heater or something. “Right,” he says quickly, wondering who their source was and how drunk the guy was. “Then—you found out I couldn’t help and…what?”
“That’s where this gets complicated.” Teresa taps lightly on the table, thinking. “The earth wanted to meet you. That part isn’t unusual, actually,” she adds quickly, seeing Dean’s expression. “We don’t get a lot of outsiders, so she was interested in a friendly human among us that she didn’t know. Generally, we say no unless there’s a very good reason to allow it; for one, the earth is the earth and no one is really ready for that, and two, secrecy was something of a habit and ‘talking to the earth’ is generally something people talk about. Sure, not a lot of people would believe them, but the ones who would were also the most likely to be those we’d prefer couldn’t find us. In this case, however, the second wouldn’t be a problem; you were a hunter and understood why even remembering that much could be dangerous, for us and for you, and therefore could give us full and knowing consent to make changes to your memory afterward. Altering memory is something we’re trained to do, but generally, anything that has to do with the fundamentals of identity—memory, will, emotion—we do through the earth if at all possible. Like Cas, the earth—well, it can’t make mistakes, at least when it comes to anything in relation to work on her behalf.”
So far so good. “Okay.”
“For the first: Mama didn’t say as much, but I think—you told her you wanted to talk to it, which I assume means Zena told you it had made the request.” He doesn’t need to remember (yet) to have the definite impression of, probably, yeah. “It was remote but possible either you’d try on your own—which probably wouldn’t work but stranger things had happened—or that Zena would take you herself.”
Okay, no. “I wouldn’t have made her—”
“Dean, she’s my cousin; you aren’t the problem in this scenario,” Teresa says wryly. “We’re all lucky she didn’t drag you into the garden the second you said you wanted to do it; she does shit like that. So, better to have a full witch do the introductions; while it’s doubtful anything would occur that Zena couldn’t handle, there was no reason to take the risk. Of course, your full consent was required first, after an explanation of the benefits and especially the risks,” she adds. “But when Mama was done, you said yes. No hesitation. She had to go on faith you actually listened to a word she said.”
Twenty-three is always immortal. On a guess, he didn’t hear a word; it’s just stupid enough that he knows that’s exactly how it happened, no memory required. His twenties had a lot of that shit. “I paid attention,” he lies with no faith anyone will believe it, but Teresa has the decency to hide her grin behind a businesslike nod. “Then what happened?”
“When she took you out that night, she’d already explained to the earth who you were and why you were here and that when you’d helped us finish handling the problem we were having on the border, you’d be leaving,” she continues. “It wasn’t the first time we’d introduced an outsider, as I said, just rare. And almost always, those were people planning to stay, either as apprentices or marrying into the family.”
“She was worried, though,” he says, remembering the dream. “I remember that. I mean, I think I do.”
“Dealing with the earth personally is always dangerous,” Teresa says soberly. “The risk was low, but there was still a risk. The earth wouldn’t deliberately hurt someone other than in its own defense, but it’s…”
“The earth,” he says in resignation. “Which is old, powerful, and understands only earth.”
“Exactly. We’re strict traditionalists and that means formalists; a formal circle and ritual bloodshed are always a thing when making a formal petition, from apprentices to those who already made the offering,” she continues. “Mama drew the circle, blooded the knife and—woke up to you passed out beside her four hours later. She thought you were dead at first—and took five years off her life, she always claimed—but then you woke up and…” She trails off with a complicated expression
“The earth said it had accepted your offering,” Teresa says in a strange voice before she starts to grin. “Which was something of a shock, but at least somewhat explained why you were a living, breathing Babel tower of every language we spoke when you opened your mouth.”
He has so many questions but only one manages to make it out. “The earth can do that?”
“It retains the knowledge of everyone who’s offered to it,” Teresa says. “That’s how we retain fluency in languages no one’s spoken in millennia and other things that can’t easily be passed down without corruption, especially anything related to strict ritual magic. Generally, we’re instructed in the basics of each language so the language centers of our brain are developed and we’re ready, more or less. You, not so much,” She sits back. “Mama thought she didn’t explain correctly, mostly from the sheer lack of any reasonable explanation, but—seriously, it knew you weren’t there for that, come on.” Teresa pauses, gaze distant, before she rolls her eyes. “And the earth remains silent on the subject. What a goddamn surprise.”
Yeah, that’s not even in the weird zone anymore, fuck his life. “So why do you think it—did that?”
“I had two questions when Mama told me what went down, and that was the first,” Teresa answers. “My second was why you willingly agreed to conditions no one—and I do mean no one—would agree to without a lot more thought just to stop that thing on the border. When I met you, I found out those two questions were related, and that they may have the same answer.”
“Uh.” Yeah, he’s got nothing. “What?”
“Why did you agree to help us, Dean?” she asks. “Everything you knew about witches had a start value of bad and only got worse from there. You’re John Winchester’s son, and he taught you the supernatural was for killing, and that included humans who didn’t conform to the norm. You voluntarily met with a coven of witches—Latina witches, one of whom deceived you for several days, though from what I heard she went above and beyond making it up to you—”
“Oh God,” Dean breathes in horror; no malfunctioning heater could explain how he feels right now.
“—and you didn’t just agree to help; you volunteered well before you were actually reassured of what we were. Why?”
Because he saw the places that thing went, the people it killed—and worse, the people that survived for longer than they should have had to. “It had to be stopped.”
“And you were willing to do anything to make that happen,” Teresa says knowingly.
“Like you wouldn’t have done the same damn thing,” he retorts. “If you had to, you’d have dealt with Dad to stop something like that when you were on the migrant circuit. Trust me, Constanza and the others could have been evil, and I still would have gotten the better deal there.”
Teresa stares at him challengingly, then sits back, a smile playing around her mouth. “That’s why I know what happened in the garden that night,” she says. “You wanted to stop that thing so much that I think the earth took it as terms: yourself, whole and entire, for the ability to do that.”
“And I agreed to do that?” he asks, trying for incredulous, but he was exactly that stupid at twenty-three.
“Dean,” Teresa says slowly, “that is literally the least surprising part of anything that happened. I worked out that much the first time we met. You’re right, I would have done the same thing—or rather, walked up to John Winchester and offered my services, no fucks given.” Dean glares at her, but it doesn’t last much past the sheer horror of what never happened, thank God. “What I wasn’t sure of was why the earth went with it. You weren’t an apprentice, it met you that day, and the earth isn’t stupid, it knew what was going on. No, it did it on purpose, and Mama must have felt—something—when you completed the circle and it knocked her out before she could break it. Generally, we also don’t fall unconscious during ritual magic. That’s really a big no.”
Right. “No idea why?”
“Many, but…” She shakes her head. “I don’t think it originally meant anything but get to know you a little more thoroughly than Mama would ever have allowed. It was curious, so instead of trying to get Mama to agree—or more importantly, not break the circle—she put Mama to sleep to give herself some time to work out what you were and why you were there. It’s fascinated by people—new apprentices always get a great deal of attention at first, it can be disconcerting until you get used to it—and you were very new.” She pauses, thinking for a moment. “The earth is the earth everywhere, but where I’m from, it’s aware to all of us; it feels our birth, it’s beneath our feet when we take our first steps and play outside, it’s there to observe puberty, our first love, our marriages, childbirth, our joys and our griefs, and it’s there when we die. Even those who don’t apprentice or make the offering, it knows them and they sense it. You, though—you were born and took your first steps and lived your life outside its awareness; you were new, and it wanted to know you. I don’t think it occurred to Mama or anyone else the earth would react like that, which I assume meant at that point, they’d forgotten that you being with us at all was actually pretty weird. Like I said, outsiders are almost always apprentices or about to marry into the family.”
“Probably because he was babysitting baby witches,” Alison says in malicious satisfaction. “You were, weren’t you? Were you hunting them down five minutes after you arrived?”
“It was summer,” Dean answers defensively. “No school to distract ‘em, and most of their parents were working on important shit like killing the monster. Not much I could help with, so Zena and I took them to the park for a couple of hours.”
“Made them lunch, got them to nap, and apparently oversaw epic Chutes and Ladders tournaments in the afternoon,” Teresa says, which really wasn’t necessary here, then Dean sees that distant look return. “The earth asked to see you, Dean; you gave it everything you were. You didn’t know how to do less.” She shakes herself, blinking at Dean. “That’s—in essence, the offering.”
“It didn’t,” Cas says flatly, “have to take it.”
“It did if it worked out the other reason Dean was motivated to talk to the earth. The danger on the border was a big part, but there was something way more immediate, probably right on top of his mind; Zena was going to try to make the offering, possibly that night,” Teresa says, and Dean stills. “That was it, wasn’t it?”
His expression probably says it all. He can’t remember it, exactly, but—. “There had to be five witches,” he says slowly. “That was the one part everyone agreed on. Or—maybe four and someone—anyone—the earth could use in place of the fifth to channel power.” He feels himself flush under Teresa’s gaze. “The earth would know, right? No way to know unless I asked.”
“Yeah,” she says softly. “Your Spanish for tourists was better than Zena thought; how did you find out she was at risk if she tried? They wouldn’t have talked about it in front of you. And for that matter, how’d you figure out she planned to make the offering?”
“She got really quiet, and Zena—you know her, she’s never quiet,” Dean says automatically; it’s not quite a memory yet, just feelings: fear and dread, yeah, but more immediately, the bone-deep worry. “Everyone was worried, yeah, but when they looked at her—they watched her, especially when she wasn’t with me.” In retrospect, it’s not unlikely they might have also kept him around because he was distracting Zena, which is weird enough to be sort of flattering. The families of the few girlfriends he had when he was growing up had been very obviously polite to the definitely bad influence in their daughter’s life at best; Zena’s family, on the other hand, may have thought how awesome it was he was keeping her out of trouble with (really good) sex and babysitting in the park. “I didn’t get what the offering was—not really—but whatever it was, it had something to do with her talking to the earth, and they really didn’t want her to do it.” There’d also been the spectacular sex the night before, like it was the last night of her life, and he could recognize that from a mile away; that, he always remembered, but now he’s got context.
He remembers how bright she was, way too smart to be wasting time with him, but he wasn’t stupid enough to argue the point. She was ready to take on the world, a brand new lawyer who’d just passed the bar and was on leave from her first job at Legal Aid to learn another way to save the world. Her family had been huge—parents, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, only some by blood, but no one really remembered or cared, and so many kids even he (almost) lost count. Sure, they were witches—or related to them, whatever—but by then, he couldn’t really remember why it mattered. They weren’t like any hunters he’d ever met, sure, but they were still hunters (and possibly better at it than most he’d met), just with a few extras thrown in for the hell of it. He’d known just looking at her that she was going to do something stupid and dangerous to stop that thing; it was like looking at himself. And from experience, there aren’t a lot of ways to stop someone like that. Doing whatever it was Constanza was talking about with the earth—that he wasn’t sure he even believed in—would have been an automatic ‘yes’ on concept if there was any chance it wasn’t bullshit. They’d lost so many on the border to that thing, family and friends and neighbors, and Constanza and the others took that as personally as he did on a job; he didn’t want them to lose any more, lose Zena, not if there was any way to avoid it. He couldn’t let her take that risk—and her family take it along with her—when he was right there and could do it; the only risk would be to himself.
“Okay, so got that,” he says quickly, not seeing any reason to linger on reasons—he was young and really stupid, they’re all agreed there, “but—how did I survive? I had no idea what I was doing!”
“The same reason Teresa did despite her extreme youth,” Cas answers. “The same reason anyone survives the offering; you offered it everything without hesitation, without exception, for something you considered so much greater than yourself that the price was nothing in comparison. Training does help one to do that, yes, but in its absence, there are other forms of motivation that will do very well, and both of you were very motivated indeed.”
Teresa grins suddenly. “And Dean became the one hundred and ninety-eighth youngest to survive the offering in our history,” she says. “Good job.” Dean’s still absorbing that when she adds, “A couple of days for you to recover and adjust—no attacks on people, according to Mama, just some empty buildings—and some instruction on what to do—short version, do exactly what Mama said—and Mama’s plan worked.
“With this development, one—very big—problem was solved, but it gave us another, which turned out to be surprisingly easy to deal with,” she continues, playing with her cup. “The earth couldn’t, or wouldn’t, reject you—and to be fair, I’m not sure there even is a way short of a violation meriting death—but as it turns out, the removal of your memories would do something similar. While the binding would remain unchanged, the active connection would be severed when those memories were removed from your linear memory. You’d forget, and it would ignore you unless and until you were brought to its attention. For you, it would effectively be the same as if it hadn’t happened. Even better, the binding meant that altering your memory would be much easier, quicker, and not nearly as invasive or extensive; what didn’t absolutely need to be removed was—smudged. For the rest: a simple time-limited compulsion could make it so you simply didn’t think about what happened in Laredo too much, and by the time it wore off, the brain itself would continue doing it from sheer habit.” She pauses, searching his face, then says, way too quickly, “What you learned about us—how we do our work—it wasn’t taken because we didn’t trust you or because you were an outsider—”
“No, that part, I get,” he interrupts. “Knowledge is power, and just knowing some of it—if I got desperate, I could fuck shit up badly.” It’s not like he hasn’t done that pretty thoroughly without access to way too much power.
“That, yes,” she agrees. “But not really. Mostly—you’re a hunter, like us. Mama and the others could guess what it would do to you to know you could do something and—didn’t.” Surprised, Dean looks at her. “How could we give you an arsenal, half the knowledge on how to use it, and then make you promise to pretend it wasn’t there? No one could do that and remain sane.; I know I couldn’t do it. We never doubted you’d keep your promise, Dean; what we doubted was that you wouldn’t be destroyed in the keeping of it.”
Dean swallows; she has more faith in him than he’s ever had in himself. “For the record, I’d do the same thing now.” Then he pauses, abruptly wary. “Uh, the earth—it released me from my promise? It’s—giving my memories back?” She nods, watching him. “Which memories?”
“Yours, everything that you—oh. You mean what you learned to do?” She sits back, thoughtful. “What Mama or any of the others taught you directly, yes, but most of it, if I remember correctly, was learning how to be a passive vessel, which believe it or not is actually much harder than anything active. The rest that came from the earth—probably to give you context on what Mama was telling you—wasn’t learned, so I doubt it.” He almost has time to be relieved when she asks, “Speaking of, how often have you spoken Spanish since you were in Laredo?”
“Uh, never? Maybe in Mexican restaurants or you know, maybe a couple of jobs in the southwest when…” He pauses at her amused expression. “Five jobs I can remember right now: three in Arizona, one in southern California with some day laborers that no one would listen to, one in New Mexico. And conversational Spanish with Kamal, yeah. So he could practice the border dialect with someone… I told him I didn’t know anything but still did it, wow.” Alison giggles, but Teresa thankfully restrains herself, though her mouth is twitching suspiciously. “How the hell did I miss that?”
“Language acquisition is different; unlike magic, we all have brain real estate that is devoted exclusively to nothing but learning, retaining, and using language,” she says, still fighting back a grin. “Even Alison, though accessing it requires non-standard techniques,” she adds with innocent malice, and Alison starts to open her mouth before closing it with a finality that means she’s willing to wait. “When we met in Ichabod, your Spanish was pretty fluent but also very Midwestern: normal for someone speaking a second language that they know but don’t get to use very often. Though really, oreo?” Dean ignores that because seriously, everyone move on already. “Last time I heard you speak it, however, it was colloquial; some Valley-specific grammar and syntax quirks, complex vocabulary with context-appropriate slang…you sounded like you grew up bilingual in the Valley, likely Laredo, probably next door.” She suddenly looks mischievous. “I also may have spoken to you in Spanish a few times, just to check.”
“How many times?”
“Constantly when Cas wasn’t around,” she says, darting a glance at Cas. “Sorry. I was curious and didn’t want to explain why or risk you might tell him.”
“I have no objections,” Cas says, straight faced, because he’s like this. “There’s no other way you could test his language retention and use that as a baseline for what else he may unknowingly still know how to do without contaminating the experiment.”
After attempting (and failing) to glare at them both, he gives up; it’s just way too rare that the side effects from shit he thought was a good idea to do in his twenties isn’t horrifying that he’s not wasting the opportunity to relax. “So, that’s all?” Teresa nods, mouth softening like she knows what he’s thinking, probably because her twenties has a few of those, too. “Not a problem.” Really useful, even, especially in Ichabod.
“It’s pretty useful with the three most common languages here being English, Spanish, and Hindi,” she agrees. “Since acquiring Spanish was both earth-assisted and the natural result of living on the border with bilingual native speakers, if you keep using it regularly now, you should become mother-tongue fluent. And a request: keep your current accent, please God. The Midwest does things to vowels that should be illegal. Thinking about it,” she adds thoughtfully, “it’s not really surprising you kept so much, even if you didn’t notice. The entire time you were on the border, you used it constantly, and my family generally speaks both at home. It might have been more trouble than it was worth trying to make your brain ignore an active language that at that point, you were using more frequently than English.”
“I agree,” Cas says. “When he arrived on the border and began actively attempting to communicate with others in their tongue, he would have acquired the beginnings of a working structure; the earth only expanded what was already there, granted exponentially, and due to the means by which he acquired it, there was no potential for any significant degradation. From what I understand, your mother—and the earth—only did the minimum required to achieve their goal with Dean’s memory; why bother removing an entire language? Spanish is an extremely common second language for someone to have in the United States, so no one would question it if he spoke it. Even if Dean noticed or thought to question his fluency —and noticeably, he did neither at any point in his life, even while speaking it with you and Kamal for several hours on multiple days—he would put up to ‘learned for a job on the border,’ and for that matter, a job he was in the habit of not thinking about.”
Everyone looks satisfied by that explanation, and he can’t actually argue it’s entirely—or in any way—wrong. Time to move the fuck on. Though that thing with Kamal and Teresa is gonna haunt him. “So—what it did tonight…” He has no idea how to ask this.
“Honestly? I’m not sure what’s up with that.” Teresa frowns, eyes distant for a moment. “If you were a full witch, an offering—especially two apprentices doing it at the same time—would definitely have gotten your attention, but otherwise…” She shakes her head ruefully. “No idea. The binding’s not active, in any case.”
“The feeling—of being encased in earth and all that? That’s the earth?” Teresa nods, and okay, that explains something else. “Yeah. It—I think it happened before.”
Teresa nods. “Yes, during your offering—”
“Three days ago.” He doesn’t need to look at Cas to feel the abrupt focus as Teresa straightens, and great, now he’s sitting at a table with a living, breathing natural disaster (all of them) and a pissed off cosmic force of divine justice who is way too armed for this early in the morning. Even Alison’s glaring at him, what the hell? “I mean,” he tries, even though with these odds, he’s pretty much doomed to failure, “something happened and it was—kind of like…that.”
“Three days ago, you had contact with the earth,” Cas says calmly while somewhere, a red giant just went supernova with prejudice. “I don’t remember you informing me of that. Doubtless such a minor event simply slipped your mind.”
Okay, no. “I didn’t—I mean, I thought—” In retrospect, the only honest way to finish that is ‘—I would pretend it didn’t happen and forget about it’ which actually, until now, had actually been working pretty well. On a guess, that won’t help even a little. “The day the Croats attacked.” He closes his eyes—totally not to avoid looking at Cas (or Teresa. Or Alison, fuck it)—and thinks. “Alicia had just come back from checking Alpha, I told everyone to get behind the ward line, and when they were all across—when I crossed it, I—felt something. Like what I felt before I woke up.”
When the silence goes too long, he makes himself open his eyes and yeah, they’re all still staring at him, like he did it deliberately just to fuck with them.
“Look, a lot happened,” he starts defensively into a silence where ‘ominous’ would be an improvement. “Croats, Erica, A—you know, almost dying! Shit happened, okay! It wasn’t—didn’t seem,” he corrects himself when Cas’s eyebrow twitches, just a little, “important. Compared to everything else.”
After the equivalent of the Jurassic era passes, Cas says, “And this—comparatively unimportant event—felt like being buried alive.” Dean makes himself nod. “Nothing else?”
“No,” he starts, then stops, because actually… “Maybe. It was like something—something really, really big—was…there. With me, I mean. It—it felt like it knew me or something.”
“Knew you,” Cas repeats flatly, then focuses on Teresa. “The day of the Croatoan attack: that was the first test of the new wards you anchored to the wall.”
“Wait, are you trying to say this is my fault?” Teresa asks, straightening, and Dean lets himself relax, just a little. “Because I added new wards to the walls?”
“I didn’t say it was your fault,” Cas answers, which was true, since he’d only been totally fucking implying that. “I simply cannot help but marvel at the coincidence.”
“Do you?” Teresa asks sweetly, and Dean tosses a wary glance at Alison and sees her struggling not to smile. Meeting his eyes, she slips into a grin before catching herself, and Dean suddenly remembers the night when they came to Ichabod after visiting the church and their so-reasonable significant others tossed them under the bus when he and Alison were just having a little disagreement, no biggie.
“Surely an acolyte of your presumed skill—” Oh, presumed skill, those are fighting words, “—would have some basic awareness of the earth’s intentions. It’s not as if it’s difficult.”
“You think that I—” Teresa starts, then Alison makes a choking sound, and Teresa and Cas both stare at her as she very deliberately and maliciously starts to laugh. Dean doesn’t bother to muffle his snicker, taking another drink from his cup. “What?”
“You two need a few minutes?” Dean asks curiously, starting to enjoy himself; it’s not been a great deal so far, and he’ll take what he can get. “Me and Alison can go get some breakfast—mess should be open. Chitaqua’s, anyway. We could bring you back some tea.”
“Why not?” Alison asks, enjoying herself just as much as Dean is. “Not like anything important is happening today.”
Teresa and Cas look at each other, and no, he doesn’t miss the way Cas rolls his eyes and Teresa’s answering slight nod. “Perhaps,” he says (to Teresa, very obviously), “the earth simply hadn’t actively noticed him before then; his offering wasn’t done here, after all, and without a formal introduction, she would have no reason to pay him specific attention. There are so many people in Ichabod, and the sheer number entering—not to mention Sudha’s labor and your efforts to protect the town—
“And the walls appearing out of nowhere,” Dean hears himself say, knowing better and still regretting nothing, “No way she could miss that shit.”
“—would have taken a great deal of her attention,” Cas continues in the same voice without so much as a change in expression because he spent two years at Chitaqua learning every possible way to be as fucking annoying as possible in any kind of meeting or gathering of greater than two people where sex wasn’t involved (and probably sometimes even when it was). “The wards were new, and when they activated during the Croatoan attack, there were very few outside the walls native to Ichabod, but Dean, she’d recognize at least as a familiar presence. Once he had her attention, she’d be able to sense the former binding fairly easily and access the memory of the events that led to it in Laredo.” Cas tilts his head. “That’s far more proactive than the earth usually is, but I’ve noticed she’s somewhat different here. Under the circumstances, she may have simply considered it polite.”
“What does that mean?” Dean demands. “Why did it matter—” He stops short as Cas looks at him, mouth twitching, and even weirder, Teresa sits back, looking surprised and if he’s right, amused. “What?”
“Seriously,” Alison says. “What the hell?”
“Just say it,” Dean starts, then Cas meets his eyes, and all at once, he remembers that night at Chitaqua’s walls and standing in a pool of living light: oh. “You’re fucking with me.” Alison looks close to giving up on verbal encouragement and he makes himself say it. “Uh. This may sound crazy, but I think—I think maybe it was saying hi.”