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Master Post


Part One – Of All the Gin Joints in All the Towns in All the World

The bright prairie sun glared down from a merciless sky. Victor Henricksen shielded his eyes against the light as he stared over the rural airstrip to the cracked, brown grass that stretched endlessly beyond it.

He wiped a hand over his forehead and grimaced at the thick layer of sweat came off, the cracked asphalt directing all of the summer heat straight at him. It just figured that he’d look like hell on the day that someone might finally show up to get him out of the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, Nebraska.

His sour mood deepened and he turned to pace along the concrete curb that was the only barrier between the runway and the one-story box that served as the airstrip’s terminal. A year ago he wouldn’t have worried about what some Grand High Asshole from D.C. thought of his appearance. A year ago he would’ve told the ASAC that he was too busy tracking down psychopaths to play nanny to the Director’s latest pet, but that was a year ago. Now he was willing to kneel down and pucker up for whatever ass presented itself just so long as it got him out of here and back to where the real action was. There was nothing worse than cooling your heels at the rear while your nation was under attack.

The squeak of a hinge and a blast of cold air announced that he wasn’t alone on the tarmac. Victor stopped pacing but didn’t turn towards the newcomer. “Any news?” he asked, his gaze still lost somewhere over the prairie.

“The flight controller just got off the line with our plane. It should be here in a couple minutes.” Reid’s voice was level and dispassionate. Cal’s unruffled professionalism was one of the things Victor admired most about him. He’d seen his partner’s unflappable stare unnerve the craziest sociopaths and it had the added bonus of doing the same to any other law enforcement that got in their path. It had also kept Victor from nuking his career when he started going stir-crazy a week into their present assignment, which was definitely a bonus.

Victor grunted in acknowledgement and shielded his eyes to look up at the sky. Towards the southeast a different shade of bright slowly resolved into a small plane. He and Reid waited in silence as it grew larger and eventually touched down on the far end of the field. It taxied up to their position draped in the smell of jet fuel and the high-pitched whine of the slowing engine.

By the time the stairway was in place by the plane’s side the hatch was already open. A woman stepped out, her features washed out by the midday shine. She took a moment at the top of the stairs, either surveying her new location or letting her eyes adjust to the sun, before making her way down with sure, easy steps.

Henricksen and Reid stood shoulder to shoulder as their Very Important Babysitting Job made her way across the tarmac. She was smaller than he’d expected, her peroxide-blonde hair cut short. Her suit was standard government attire and she wore it with the kind of ball-busting attitude that he recognized from some of the best, and worst, agents he’d ever worked with.

He pasted a smile on his face and stepped forward. She could stick one of those pointy high-heeled shoes right up his ass and he’d thank her for the privilege so long as it got him out of the damn cornfield.
“Ms. Masters,” he said in the voice he reserved for victims and his mama. “Welcome to Nebraska.” He held out his hand and she grabbed it in a firm, satisfying handshake.

“Agents Henricksen and Reid,” Masters replied. Her tone was professional but there was a glint in her eye that made it seem like she was laughing at a private joke, and the joke was on them. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both. It’s always nice to meet agents about whom the Director only has good things to say.”

“That’s nice to hear,” Reid commented as he stepped forward to shake her hand. The casual observer would’ve only heard respectful courtesy in his tone but Victor knew him well enough to catch the wariness underneath. Yeah, they’d have to be on their toes around this one.

“The car is this way.” Victor gestured towards the terminal and then led the way out to the parking lot. They walked through the dim building, a whiff of cool, recycled air, and then back out into the sun. Reid grabbed their visitor’s bag and headed towards the trunk while Victor unlocked the car. He slid behind the wheel, momentarily grateful for the shady spot they’d parked in because for once the seat wasn’t hot enough to fuse flesh to vinyl. He started the car as his passengers slid into their respective places, Masters sitting up front as if it were her rightful spot.

The car staggered as he pulled it out onto the pothole that used to be a highway. He knew, from the bitching he overheard down at the bar, that most of the money that had once gone to prosaic things like road repair and municipal improvement was being funneled to first responders and anti-terrorist programs. Victor could overlook a couple potholes if it meant that those terrorist sons of bitches who’d caused all of those deaths in Tulsa, Arlington, and Eugene were brought to justice, not that any of the locals would listen if he said anything. Anyway, making the point would only get him kicked out of yet another bar in the area, and that would suck worse than losing his favorite watering hole to his goddamn temper ever had.

Reid said he was learning wisdom and forbearance in his old age. Victor just thought he was learning how to give up.

Masters stared out the window at the empty farmland that ranged beyond them. Acres that should have been chock full of healthy crops were brown and dead, testament to a drought that was starting to make the Dustbowl look bountiful by comparison. Her lips curved slightly as they flew by the shell of one particularly forsaken farmhouse.

“Are you enjoying the Heartland?” The gentle mocking in Masters’ voice easily carried over the rushing noise of wheels running over pavement.

“It’s a blast,” Henricksen replied, deadpan. He didn’t know what the woman across from him wanted. His inability to get a read on her put his teeth on edge.

“How are things in North Platte, Agent?” Masters’ smile morphed and for a second the image of a kid poking at an animal in a zoo flashed through Victor’s mind.

“Things have been fairly status quo,” Reid replied, his voice level. Victor caught Reid’s gaze in the rearview mirror and tried hard not to roll his eyes at the message he received. He knew that calm, cool, and collected was the way to play the game.

“Crime’s at an average level,” Reid continued. “Though there’s been a lot more transient activity in the past few months. People seem to be on the move and they’re all traveling through Nebraska.”

Masters’ teeth flashed in response to the droll amusement that Reid had layered into the end of his report. “And you boys thought you’d been sent here for nothing.” Her grin sharpened into something sharp and predatory. “Tell me about the transients.”

Reid’s voice droned over an explanation of statistics and Nebraska population averages. Victor’s mouth flattened into a hard, stiff line as his old friend, the sick bile of betrayal, bubbled in his chest. He’d been working his ass off, bringing in the bad guys and doing it all by the book, when he’d been punted off to kick his heels while other, inferior agents made their careers tracking down terrorist shitheads. He’d given the Bureau everything he had, including three marriages, and this was how they repaid him. And cute comments wouldn’t change any of it, didn’t matter how intriguingly they hinted at some kind of redemption.

Victor pulled the car up into the gravel lot that provided parking for the lopsided cinderblock building that was what passed for a federal building in the boondocks. He stood still beside the car for a second, letting the others precede him inside. He needed a second to breathe, to remember that he couldn’t afford to burn any bridges. And he could trust Cal not to steal the investigation away from him while he was pulling his shit together.

Stepping into the building was like stepping from a sun room into a sauna; the air was still and oppressive and smelled vaguely like paint thinner with a mold chaser. He’d spent too many hours sitting in his cluttered office with nothing but the whir of the fan and the clattering rhythm of Reid’s typing for company, praying for release or, at the very least, a goddamn air conditioner. He had a hard time believing that Super Max was worse than this.

Reid and Masters were in what passed for their conference room. A medium-sized rectangular table was jammed against one wall and a whiteboard hung on the opposite wall. It was all painted a bland shade of government beige without even a window to break up the monotony. The room was crowded even when no one was in it.

The harsh bulb from the fluorescent on the ceiling washed Reid out, dulling hair, skin, and suit into grayish blur, even as it accentuated Masters’ sharp angles. Though they seemed deep in conversation, Victor was hardly in the room when Masters grabbed her bag and started unzipping it. Victor raised his eyebrow in Reid’s direction but Reid only flattened his mouth and shook his head minutely in response. At least she hadn’t let anything important slip while Victor was pulling himself together.

“And now for the main event,” Masters said as she pulled a folder out with a showy flick of her wrist. Victor and Reid stepped up to the table as she began laying the folder’s contents out for them to see.

Her fingers drummed on the top page that was lined with tiny type interspersed with hazy pictures and handwritten notes. “We recently received urgent intel about a big player in the terrorist underground.” She pulled a few sheets out of the pile, duplicates of the same page, and handed one each to the agents that flanked her. “This is Sam Winchester, and from what we can tell he’s right up at the top of the organization.”

Victor carefully studied the individual pictured on the page. The man had a vaguely uncomfortable smile plastered on his face that was standard on drivers’ licenses and other photo I.D.s. He looked like any number of other young white men: longish brown hair framed an unguarded face. But Victor well knew how deeply ordinary faces could conceal monsters.

“A year and a half ago Winchester was an honor’s student at Stanford when his girlfriend died in a fire and he fell of the map. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that full-scale attacks started a mere six months later.”

“How do you go from Stanford to mass murder?” Victor mused, trying to organize the logistics in his mind.

“Oh, Winchester wasn’t your normal Stanford student.” Masters handed over another page. This one contained a grainy picture snagged from a security camera; you could barely make out an imposing figure with dark hair and a patchy beard that was more of a result of days on the run than it was a fashion statement. “This is John Winchester, Sam’s father. He’s spent the better part of Sam’s life involved with one paramilitary group or another. He raised his boys on the run, dragging them from one part of the country to another while he chased down one nutjob crusade after another.”

She passed around a third print-out, this one displaying an antique revolver, a Colt if Victor wasn’t mistaken. “They’ve been remarkably good at staying one step in front of us but we have reason to believe that they’ll come out of the woodwork for this.” Masters grinned at him over the top of the paper, an off-putting, sharklike twist to her lips. “The Winchesters are professionals but they’re also certifiable. A large portion of their shared psychosis revolves around an irrational belief in the supernatural. They believe they’re fighting evil and that this gun will supposedly kill anything. They’d do anything to get they’re hands on it.”

“And they think this gun is in North Platte,” Reid plainly stated.

Masters winked at him. “Got it in one. A very reliable source has informed us that Sam will be coming into town today to negotiate for it. Now it’s up to you to figure out where he might be heading.”

Victor’s mouth tightened in annoyance. Sometimes he thought it would be awfully nice to tell the Bureau to go fuck itself but he’d never been stupid enough to actually say it, even when they expected him to perform a goddamn miracle. He started sifting through the papers on the table while Reid asked Masters questions about the Winchesters’ activities, a background hum he could ignore.

His fingers uncovered a page buried toward the bottom of the stack and he froze. He knew that face. He pulled the paper out and read it over, rage solidifying in his stomach with every word.

That son of a bitch. Victor remembered the first time he’d walked into Harvelle’s, beat-down and ornery from yet another day kicking his heels on the periphery while his colleagues, friends and enemies both, were on the frontlines of his country’s war on domestic terrorism. The guy behind the bar had looked like any of the other rednecks who’d sneered at Victor, but he only nodded his head and handed over drinks without any commentary. By the end of the night they’d both been yelling insults at the idiot umpire on the television. It was the first time in North Platte that Victor hadn’t felt the need to prove himself to a roomful of strangers.

Over the next couple of months Dean had shared car tips and Victor had demonstrated how to patch some troublesome plumbing. And then there’d been that time when they’d stood up against a bunch of drunk truckers who’d gotten out of control. He could still feel Dean’s sure presence at his back and see his grinning face as they’d kicked those assholes to the curb. It had been righteous.

Seeing that same smile, that damn cocky smirk, radiating out at him in black and white hit him straight in the solar plexus. Brittle anger sparked like a taser pulse down his nerves. He’d trusted him.

He shoved the paper at Masters, interrupting her in the middle of a word. “If Sam’s coming to town he’ll probably want to visit his brother. And I know where to find him.”

Masters smiled at him, sharp and bright. Victor grinned back, brittle and tight. He was going to get Dean Winchester, and when he did he’d make it hurt.

~~~

Jo slammed the door of her dusty blue truck. Stupid piece of shit. The one day she absolutely could not afford to waste time dealing with some dumbass mechanical problem and it goes ahead and stalls out on the side of the road.

She growled and shoved the hood open. The engine clicked slowly as it cooled and sputtered a little, almost like a dying gasp. She started poking around, pulling at wires and examining connections with a practiced eye. Her mom had helped her rustle up the cash buy the truck when she’d been in high school; it had been a kind of bribe, something her mom had hoped would get her mind off of hunting and onto more acceptable teenager things. Not that Jo was ever going to let herself be cajoled into anything like that. Normal and acceptable had never been her thing.

The truck hadn’t been new when she bought it and she was only holding it together now with duct tape and a prayer. She pulled gently on one of the coolant lines and hissed in exasperation when liquid trickled out through a crack. Damn it, Dean had promised that he’d take care of that. He’d probably lost track of time mopping up the bar like the good little boy he was.

Her passenger, the reason she’d been clattering down a backcountry road in the first place, came up beside her, leaned down and peered under the hood. She glanced at him, trying to gauge how the unexpected stop may have affected his mood, but a hunk of his longish hair hung down like a curtain between them. He’d been quiet for the whole ride, the only bead she’d been able to draw on him was that he was intense and focused on something else entirely. She had a feeling that her presence hardly even registered.

“Is there someone you need to call?” His voice didn’t fit her expectations, too calm and quiet. She’d been prepared for thunder, and here he sounded like just some other guy.

“Nah,” she drawled, tucking a strand of hair back behind her ear. “I’ve got some stuff in the back that should fix it up long enough to get us where we’re going. It’ll just take a second.”

And it was a good thing she didn’t have to go whining to her mother. She could only imagine what that phone call would be like, especially after her mom’d told her in no uncertain words that she didn’t want her getting mixed up in hunting and she especially didn’t want her so much as glancing in the general direction of that group of hunters that some called government conspiracy nutjobs but others, Jo included, thought of as the Resistance.

There was something seriously wrong going on in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and Jo didn’t have to live in a big city or have a friend get carted off to a detention center, never to be seen again, to know that someone had to do something. And she was ready to take a stand, no matter what, even if it meant chauffeuring Sam Winchester around behind her mother’s back and against all common sense. She’d never put much stock in prudence, anyway.

She slammed the back gate of her trunk shut, duct tape in one hand and a gallon of water in the other. Sam was still standing in front of the truck but now he was peering off down the road, his hand over his eyes to shield them from the setting sun. He turned at the sound of her feet on the gravel, a strange, almost melancholy look slipping over his face.

“Here.” Jo handed him the water jug. “Hold this while I patch up that hose.”

A quick grin lit up his face. “That I can do.”

She shook her head in confusion and turned back to the engine. One second he’d be withdrawn and serious and the next he’d act like any other guy her age. She ripped off a piece of duct tape and carefully started winding it around the worn rubber. She just didn’t know what to make of him.

He’d never once asked about his brother.

She poured water into the radiator, twirled the cap back on, and slammed the hood shut. There was enough water in there now to make it back to the Roadhouse, at least. She swung up into the cab, keeping the gallon jug with her up front, just in case. She looked out and caught Sam staring at the horizon again, his mouth pinched tight.

Jo opened her mouth to ask him what was wrong but the words wouldn’t come out. For all of her bravado she felt a sudden, deep certainty that there were some things she shouldn’t know, even if he would share them.

“You ready to go?” she finally asked.

Sam turned back to the car. He took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah,” he said, his voice strained, and climbed in.

The engine turned over with a cough and she shifted into gear. They would get where they were going soon enough.

~~~

A look of disgust flashed over Bela’s face as she walked into Harvelle’s Roadhouse. She was not terribly fond of any part of the States that wasn’t situated on one coast or the other. There was something so uncouth and grubby about the Heartland and the placid, unimaginative creatures that inhabited it. Unfortunately, the unpleasant reality of her occupation frequently required her to make the excursion.

At least this time the compensation would be worth the discomfort. She could feel the reassuring weight of the Colt where it rested safely in a concealed inner pocket. It had been a fortuitous day indeed when that little pistol had found its way into her possession. It was amazing the kinds of people who would come sniffing after such a treasure.

She blinked and her eyes adjusted to the dimness inside the bar. Surprisingly enough, Harvelle wasn’t behind the bar and neither was her intolerable daughter. The absence of both was a relief; Bela simply was not in the mood to handle either Ellen’s silent air of folksy superiority or Jo’s prickly attitude. She might have been compelled to shoot them both, but that would most certainly cause difficulties with her buyer.

The head of a man in a ragged, sleeveless flannel shirt jerked up off a nearby table at the sound of her heels clicking on the floor. He jumped out of his seat, the matting on his head that she could only assume was his hair bouncing as he did so.

He grinned at her, wide and lecherous. “You’ve gotta be Bela.” He walked over to her, stumbling only slightly over the chair in front of him. “You look just like they said you would. All class.” He held out his hand. “I’m Ash.”

She let herself take it and was rewarded with a sweaty handshake. “Charmed,” she replied, her tone brisk and curt. “I was led to understand that there was a demon-proof safebox somewhere on the premises. I would like to hire it, for an appropriate fee, of course.”

“Sure,” Ash drawled. “It’s in the back.”

He led her past the bar, through a dingy kitchen and into a cramped hallway. He crouched down and pried up bit of paneling near the back, she caught a quick glimpse of the Devil’s trap burnt onto the back of the wood before he set it aside. He pulled out a battered cashier’s box and handed it to her. “Just go ahead and put your stuff in here. It has all of the hocus pocus stuff inscribed in the metal, plus it’s pure iron, which is always a bonus. Also—” he pushed on a hidden button and a keyboard slid out of the top. “I’ve modified it so that you can punch in any security code you want. That way you can be extra sure that no one but you can get in it.”

She raised an eyebrow, impressed in spite of herself. “Indeed,” she said and accepted the box.

He preened under her gaze; she must have put more approval in her tone than she thought. “Service is our number one priority,” he joked, his smile only dimming slightly when she refused to indulge him.

“If you would please turn around.” She gestured with her hand as if speaking to a child. “I do require privacy.”

He frowned but complied. When his back was turned Bela carefully removed the Colt from her pocket and slid it into the box. With a click she turned the lock and then input her code. The only person who knew the significance of that date would be incapable of opening the box.

“This should do for now.” She held the box out and Ash turned around to take it.

“Since nobody’s in right now, you can hang out with me and watch some boob tube, if you want,” Ash said as he affixed the panel seamlessly back into the wall. “I’ve got a set in my room.” He gestured at a door closer to the bar with a sign that read “Doctor Baddass is: Out” dangling from a nail. “And I’ve got a stash of primo weed in there just waiting to be smoked.”

“As intriguing as that sounds, I think it would be best if I waited out front.” The last thing she wanted to do was get high with a redneck.

“Suit yourself.” Ash shrugged amiably.

Bela resisted the sudden, overwhelming urge to find a bathroom and scrub her skin raw. Instead she made her way back to the main room and settled into a propitious corner. Now all she had to do was wait. Her contact would be here soon.

~~~

Dean absently tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the light to turn green. The sun was shining, Master of Puppets was blasting out of the stereo and a light breeze was blowing in through the window, drying the sweat on the back of his neck; things could definitely be worse.

At the first flash of green he eased his baby through the intersection and into the Super Foods’ parking lot, her engine purring especially for him. He had a bunch of stuff to pick up for the Roadhouse, all sorts of shit that Ellen assured him they couldn’t do without, not even for one night. And he wasn’t about to contradict her—better to run the errands than have to handle even a mildly pissed-off Ellen Harvelle. He’d known from the moment he met her that she could kick his ass without even batting an eye.

He levered himself out of the car, his back still stiff from the job he’d picked up over the weekend. Goddamn ghost just had to go and throw him down the stairs. He stretched and slammed his door, his eyes casually casing the parking lot as he did so. In the next row over a shiny green Impala, one of the newer generation, rolled into his line of sight. The driver was hunched over the wheel and had a head of long, shaggy hair.

Dean froze, eyes wide, futile hope lurching in his chest.

The car drifted by on a wave of screaming baby and tinkly kiddie pop, the harassed parent inside a total stranger.

His held breath burst out of him as if he’d been kicked in the chest. He swallowed and felt his throat tighten under another wave of intense emotion, this time anger. Damn it, he’d thought he was over this, done with jumping at shadows and looking for Sam and Dad in the faces of strangers.

His fists clenched, fingernails digging into his palms. Dean was sick and tired of that gut deep, kneejerk reaction that kept him from giving up on them the way they’d given up on him. They’d made their dismissal perfectly fucking clear and he was the sad sack who still let phantasms string him along.

He took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders. Whatever. Fuck ‘em. He could do this without them.

He turned towards the grocery store. Ellen’s shopping list ran through his head, its mundane stability better than Latin when it came to exorcising his own personal demons. He needed to get back in the game.

Dean started across the parking lot and didn’t look back.


~~~

Part Two

Master Post

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