The brothers and Castiel find out that there might be more than one witch to worry about.
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
A/N: This chapter borrows characters and some dialogue from 7x05 "Shut up, Dr. Phil". It also refers to Korean mythologies and some of the beliefs of Mugyo/Shingyo. While I have endeavored to be as accurate as possible, I may have had to Kripke some stuff for the plot to flow. Apologies if you follow this belief system, I mean no disrespect.
Margaret Stark Art Gallery
New York City, New York
Monday June 7 2010
"Can I help you?" the woman who was most definitely Sarah Blake inquired, her polite smile not able to hide her confusion at how some stranger knew her name.
It was a measure of how caught off guard he was that Sam couldn't immediately think of anything to say to her. It should have been a simple, automatic matter for his brain to formulate some story, and it wasn't like he had said anything to her yet which would give her any kind of expectation. As far as she knew, this was a first meeting, an impromptu introduction following a rather amusing act of clumsiness.
Staring into Sarah's earnest hazel eyes and noting the curve of her smile, Sam felt like his tongue was made of lead. His only immediate thought was that the last four years had been very kind to her.
She had gained a little weight in all of the right places, which was immediately apparent in the short, wide necked black dress she wore and the way her body moved when she shifted away from him into what was a socially acceptable distance. Her hair was shorter now, cut into a professional looking bob whose long bangs framed her high cheekbones and she was watching him expectantly, the set of her shoulders suggesting the same confidence she had displayed the first time he met her.
Sudden realization flickered in her expression. "Oh! Did Derek send you?"
"…yes," Sam said, not sure what else he was supposed to say. His brain flicked back into gear and maneuvered the pens and papers he had just picked up into the crook of his left arm, offering her his hand. "I'm, uh, Jane. Campbell. I was told to speak to you? I mean, I guess it's you, because you're Sarah, right? Sarah Blake?"
And Christ, could he sound like any more of a complete moron? But she didn't seem to notice, only chuckling brightly and taking his offered hand. "That's me – and it's good you got here when you did. A lot more people showed up than we thought. I didn't think Derek would be able to find anyone for us on such short notice." Her eyes flicked up and down Sam's body searchingly. "Must have been really short notice, he didn't even send you with a uniform."
"I literally got the phone call fifteen minutes ago," Sam lied with ease. "I was at a funeral this morning."
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Sarah cried, looking disheartened. "If I had known the jerk was going to call you at a funeral –"
"It's no problem, it was just a cousin that everyone hated anyway," Sam said quickly, and gestured to his attire, deciding to go with the story she had provided him with, "So, this is okay, right?"
"It's going to have to be, we're on a tight schedule," Sarah sighed. She pointed across the gallery to a small alcove. "The backroom is that way; it's being used as a prep-room, so you can get a tray and everything back there. Just make sure the wine keeps flowing and the guests stay happy, and you're good." She raised her eyebrows when she noticed that he was still staring at her. "Are you okay?"
Sam shook himself.
"Yeah – I'm fine. It's just…you don't really strike me as the party-planner type," he commented, trying to gain a little more information about her without blurting out, 'hey, you and I had a thing a few years ago, except I was a guy then, I just wanted to know if you remembered me and hey, what have you been doing all this time?'. It wasn't the weirdest thing he'd ever said to her, but it still wasn't a great thing to lead with. "I thought you were…"
He trailed off meaningfully, as though he knew exactly what she was doing there, and as expected, Sarah laughed. "Yeah, I know. I thought I was going to be behind the scenes the whole time, but Maggie's really stressed right now, so she needed all hands on deck. Seriously, though, I'm getting off easy. Her PA, Marcie, hasn't slept in three days trying to make sure everything's perfect."
"Sounds like Maggie's kind of a slave driver," Sam offered with good-natured humor.
Sarah's eyes widened at that, a quirk to her lips, but before she could reply, a smooth voice behind him intoned, "Only during functions, I swear. I'm Mother Theresa the rest of the year, I promise."
Sam had to control himself not to whirl around to face the owner of the voice, and carefully schooled his expression when he came in contact with Margaret Stark. She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at him coyly, in an expression that was haughty and challenging.
"I don't know," Sarah put in jokingly before he could come up with some kind of apology, "I remember the silent auction at the Museum of Modern Art last winter, and 'slave driver' is putting it lightly."
The momentary tension dissipated immediately. Maggie laughed, a high sound which Sam expected to sound false but which was actually warm and honest. Beside her, the woman Sam had taken to be her assistant tittered nervously. She was waiflike and of average height, with dull brown eyes and hair, and seemed physically dwarfed by her boss, despite them being the same height.
"Sarah's been putting up with my Foundation's art auctions for the past three years, so she gets a pass," Maggie explained in a would-be conspiratorial voice. She suddenly snapped her fingers, and her assistant straightened up. "Marcie, can you go get us something to drink?"
"Champagne or wine?"
"Surprise me," Maggie purred, and when Marcie looked expectantly at Sam, Sam simply shook his head. He had yet to figure out if his alcohol tolerance was the same in this body, and he didn't intend to start today.
As Marcie hurried off, Maggie considered Sam. The action was more judgemental than the way Sarah had done it moments ago, but when she spoke her tone remained polite.
"Sarah's the best buyer I've ever had. Everything you see here –" she gestured to the paintings on the walls and several sculptures, " – is entirely due to her excellent taste." Maggie lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I prefer Renaissance art myself, but Sarah just has talent with the more recent stuff."
"You're not that bad!" Sarah protested.
"Please, honey, I pay you to do this for me because anything after Dali reminds me of cartoon drivel," Maggie made a dismissive motion as Marcie returned with two glasses of sparkling white wine, which Maggie and Sarah both took gingerly. "You sure we can't get you anything?"
"She's not actually here for the actual auction," Sarah said delicately as Maggie raised her glass to her lips. "This is Jane. Derek sent her over."
Maggie's entire demeanor shifted instantly, and she lowered the glass with a pleased smile. "He managed to find someone after all? That's great! I thought we were going to be so short-staffed that I'd have to start serving people."
Sarah and Marcie both rolled their eyes at that comment, but Sam could tell it was all in fun while he smiled hesitantly.
Maggie's friendly expression suddenly disappeared and an expression of annoyance over took it.
"Oh, no, they did not!" she hissed, practically shoving her glass into Marcie's hands and stalking away, bee lining for two men with cameras.
"Wasn't this supposed to be a press-free event?" Sarah asked Marcie.
"I bet they just heard that Don's in town for the divorce proceedings," Marcie sighed, rubbing her temple with her free hand.
Sarah made a noise of sympathy. "I don't know how she does it."
"She pawns it all off on me," Marcie grinned. She winked at Sam and raised Maggie's untouched wine to her lips. "Something tells me I'm gonna need this…better not let it go to waste."
"Better not, that stuff was expensive," Sarah joked as Marcie downed the stuff in one gulp.
There was a moment where time seemed to stop, and then suddenly Sam saw Marcie's eyes widen.
The glass fell to the floor, smoking and giving off a sharp smell. Marcie doubled over, clutching at her throat and making retching noises. Sarah gave a cry and jumped back, while Sam dove forward to catch Marcie before she hit the ground, getting a glob of blood spat in his face for his trouble. Smoke emanated from her throat as well, and her eyes were wide in pain and confusion.
"Call an ambulance!" Sam shouted, pleased to note that Sarah was already hauling her phone out. There were shouts of surprise and dismay all around as guests realized that something was going on.
As Sam tried to calm Marcie down and figure out how to help her, he caught sight of the twisted glass. It looked like someone had filled it with some kind of acid, because it was still smoking and the cup part was twisting in on itself. He could only imagine what Marcie's insides were looking like right now –
Something glinted at the base of the warped flute, and it took him a second to realize what he was seeing before he dove forward. He wrapped his fingers around the object, wincing as acid residue burned at his fingertips.
It was a coin, ancient, and exactly like the cursed ones he had seen used by the brother and sister witches that had summoned the demon Samhain the year before. It wasn't inside a hex bag, but it was clue enough to what was happening that Sam had to move quickly.
Behind him, Sarah was frantically giving directions to whoever was on the other end of line. Maggie had reappeared and she was immediately on her knees, her features twisted into disbelief and worry. "Marcie! Honey, can you hear me?"
Everyone was so focused on the twitching form of the personal assistant that they didn't see Sam set the coin on the ground and begin to grind it beneath his heel. It wouldn't have worked for a modern coin, but the oxidized silver of the ancient coin was weak enough that he soon felt it crumble. Marcie gave a final shuddering heave and went still.
"Is she okay?" he demanded, already reaching for her pulse, which was weak; by some miracle, she was still breathing.
"I don't know – what's happening?!" Maggie cried, tears smudging her mascara.
"They'll be here in five minutes!" Sarah was saying, and then she was moving around trying to get the guests to move away from Marcie's prone form. There were several bright flashes, and Sam heard her curse at the press, "Get the hell out of here! Don't you people have morals?"
Her voice retreated to the back of Sam's mind as he stared down at his fingers, stained from the blood on the coin. It was probably a binding agent to strengthen the curse.
Mildly, he brought it up to his nose and sniffed, tensing when the underlying scent of sulphur made its way up his nasal cavity and into his lungs.
It looked as though their lead had panned out; Nicki's mysterious supplier had to have some kind of affiliation with the gallery.
"Is there anyone who would want to hurt Marcie? Or you?" Sam asked as paramedics finally showed up.
"How should I know?" Maggie demanded, obviously distraught. A moment later, she stared at Sam with wide eyes. "You think someone did this on purpose?"
"I doubt someone accidentally laces a wine flute with acid," Sam pointed out.
To his surprise, instead of shock and fear at the suggestion, a knowing look flickered in Maggie's face. It was so brief that only someone trained to notice detail, like Sam, would have noticed, before her concern returned in full.
"I'm going to the hospital," Maggie said firmly, already starting after the paramedics.
"I'll stay here and hold down the fort," Sarah was saying as Maggie and Sam stood up.
"Thanks," Maggie said, reaching for Sarah's hand and squeezing it lightly. "You're a lifesaver."
"Let me know how she's doing!" Sarah called after her, and then turned to Sam with a tense expression. "My God…"
'I don't think God had anything to do with it,' Sam thought, but wisely kept it to himself as he tried to parse everything he had seen in the past hour.
"Poor Marcie," Sarah sighed as people began to mull about again, chattering excitedly over the last few minutes events. There was a hard, thoughtful look in her eyes. "Who would do something like that?"
"Good question," Sam murmured, watching as Maggie disappeared.
If they didn't arrive at Yong's apartment and get this stupid summoning ritual over with soon, Dean was going to shoot the guy.
It turned out that the goofy-looking professor was a fiend for questions, which he asked with the rapid-fire curiosity of a school child as they drove to his apartment in a crappy Honda Civic. When Cas had finally given in to Dean's suggestion to summon Bari, he had insinuated that a more private place would be advisable. The professor had immediately volunteered his apartment.
Right now, the air around Yong seemed to vibrate with nervous excitement as he posed every vapid, angel-fanboy question he could think of. The guy was putting even Sam's nerdiness to shame.
It had only been ten minutes but Dean already wanted to haul out his own stupidly long hair.
Even worse than the questions were the awed looks Yong was shooting at Cas. It happened so often that Dean was surprised the guy hadn't crashed the car yet. He looked at Cas like he was the number 42, which was ten times more disturbing than the way Sam had looked at Cas when they first met. Like he was about to go down on his knees in front of him.
Which was a really, really disturbing image and he hoped he never thought about it again.
The absolute kicker, though, was that Cas didn't even seem to notice the epic wretchedness that was Yong popping a nerd boner. He answered all of the questions with a patience he had never shown with the Winchesters. And okay, granted, Dean had always maintained that he didn't want to know anything about angels beyond how to avoid them and how to kill them, but back when Sam was still the proper little angel-lover, he'd have given anything to know some of the stuff Cas was explaining. Being the 'Boy with the Demon Blood', however, had completely alienated him from ever again asking Cas questions.
'And now bow-tie-boy is lucking out,' Dean thought sourly, glaring at the two men sitting up front. He'd been relegated to the backseat because of some stupid logic having to do with his diminished height, which he really didn't appreciate, because the last few times he had been sitting in a car's backseat he had been dying from blood loss or had just been arrested. There was just something fundamentally wrong about him being in the back while Cas was riding shotgun.
"You could clear up so many academic questions – and not just in the field of classics, but in science as well," Yong was saying excitedly. "The things you must have seen…you have a unique perspective –"
"I really doubt they're going to accept 'because I lived it' as actual evidence of anything besides Cas needing to be locked in an institution somewhere," Dean spoke up sourly, annoyed to find that his voice had taken on a rather catty tone.
Christ, he needed to be out of this body sooner rather than later.
Yong looked momentarily taken aback, but then shook his head. There was a hopeful look in his eyes. "Maybe…maybe if he offered proof about things, the locations of forgotten civilizations – what Jesus Christ was actually like –?"
"The knowledge is irrelevant to our mission, as well as my current purpose," Cas deflected disinterestedly.
"Which is?" Yong wanted to know.
Cas was the one to meet Dean's gaze in the rear-view mirror this time. "To ensure my charge doesn't do anything foolish like getting sent back to Hell."
The words 'my charge' sent something that was equal parts resentment and equal parts warmth cursing through his veins, and Dean had to remind himself to glare at Cas. "That'd work a lot better if you still had your wings, don't you think?"
Cas's response was cut off by Yong's breathless exclamation, "You had actual wings?"
Dean rolled his eyes. Honestly, the guy was turning out to be like a male Becky Rosen.
"Yes, but not in the sense that humans depict them," Cas answered after a moment's thought. "They are metaphysical manifestations of our grace and as such do not exist on this plane."
"Sure, Cas, give away all the trade secrets," Dean deadpanned.
Cas turned in his seat to stare at Dean. "You are always suggesting I be more personable. Am I doing it wrong?"
"Oh, no, bang up job," Dean replied sarcastically. "Just make sure he buys you dinner before you go all the way, okay?"
Cas's expression was utterly perplexed. "Go all the way where? We just had lunch not an hour ago."
And Dean really couldn't help the way his mouth quirked upward at that, because it was just such a Cas thing to say. It also helped that Yong's eyes, framed in the rear-view mirror, flashed with embarrassment and he quickly turned his attention back to the road. A sense of vindication flared within Dean for a moment, before he clued into just how many changes his mood had gone through within the past five minutes.
'Holy shit, I need a hit of testosterone before I completely cross over,' he thought with mounting horror.
He spent the remainder of the drive trying to remember when the next Stallone movie was coming out and making a mental note that they were going to a fucking steakhouse for dinner.
Yong's apartment was decently sized, and just as messy and ramshackle as his desk space at the university. Within minutes, Dean could see exactly why he and Bobby were friends, the way ancient books and odd relics cluttered up the space.
Something in him clenched up, because he hadn't spoken with Bobby in days – hadn't seen him in weeks. The only reassurance that the old hunter was alright was based on the word of a supposedly trusted dick angel that he'd never met.
'Can't think of that right now,' Dean told himself as he and Cas cleared as large a space as possible while Yong hovered around anxiously, getting in the way as he proposed different ways to make the space more protected or rushing around to get the materials that Cas said he needed. It was a measure of how much of a life the guy didn't have that he actually had every spell component needed.
They laid out a makeshift altar along the kitchen table, placing various bowls and containers in a specific pattern and filling them with offerings of fruit and wine. While Yong burned incense and Dean lit the candles, Cas took a paring knife and slit open the palm of his immobilized arm, using the blood to paint symbols in what looked like Korean across the top of the table.
"I could have done that, you know," Dean muttered as Cas grasped a napkin to stem the flow of blood.
"We've already discussed why that's a bad idea," Cas returned. "Now be quiet, I have to concentrate."
Dean's annoyed protest was cut off as the ex-angel began to chant something in the same, fluid language he had spoken with Yong in earlier. He made yet another mental note to complain that Cas was inheriting some of Sam's bitch tendencies, and tightened his grip on the wooden stake he had found in one of Yong's closets.
Just because they were asking this thing for information, didn't mean that he was stupid.
On the final syllable, the entire building shook, and then every candle in the apartment suddenly let off spurts of flame like they had morphed into fireworks.
Dean blinked when the lightshow stopped, realizing a moment later that they were no longer alone.
Bari, or whatever her name was, had taken the form of a pretty Korean woman of average height and with dark eyes that dominated her entire face. Eyes that were glaring out at them with such rage that Dean was surprised she didn't go for their throats right away.
Cas said something in Korean, and then bowed his head and finished in English, "Your presence is appreciated."
"That particular summoning hasn't been spoken in more than two thousand years. No one living should know of it," the goddess said, also in English. Her tone accusing as she stared Cas down. "You are no mere mortal, are you?"
"Not until recently," Cas replied, "but that has nothing to do with why we wish to speak to you."
"And you think three day old apples and melons are enough to warrant an audience with me?" she sniffed. "I have souls to guide and not enough time to deal with the likes of you."
"Then let's make this quick," Dean spoke up. He jerked his thumb in Yong's direction. "Did you give his old man a ritual to get into Hell?"
"How should I know?" she asked in annoyance.
"My father was named Hwan-Seung Yong," the professor spoke up, his wide in disbelief. For someone who supposedly knew so much about hunting, Dean was surprised at how new to the more practical side of things Yong was. Still, he was taking it rather well. "He was…he was a hunter."
"Hwan-Seung Yong," the goddess murmured, her eyes suddenly softening. "Yes, I knew him."
Yong looked hopeful.
"Hwan-Seung did contact me regarding a route to the Afterlife," Bari went on quietly, "but only when all other options exhausted themselves. When it turned out his wife's Savior God would not come through."
This was said with scorn, and the stare she leveled at Cas was unfriendly and judgemental in a way that made Dean sure she suspected what his friend had been.
"So, you helped him open a gate to Hell?" Dean prompted.
"I did no such thing," she replied coldly. "I merely showed him the way. The choice to travel that path was left to him. I knew what awaited him if he tried, and I attempted to warn him against the folly, but he would not listen."
"Then why give him a way in in the first place?" Dean wanted to know.
"Because I had no choice. I had a debt to repay, and that was what he asked for in return. A way to enter the Beyond to find his wife...that that path brought him to Hell…"
She trailed off, looking genuinely upset for something so inhuman.
Yong's voice was trembling, probably from disbelief over the entire ordeal. "What debt?"
Bari's expression softened as she looked at him. "Your father saved my life. The life of an immortal is precious, and I did not know how else to repay him but to promise him a favor. That was what he chose."
"So you did help him, then. Does that mean you can open the portal for us?" Dean wanted to know.
"I can. But I will not."
"What do you mean? Why not?" Dean demanded.
"Exactly as I say," Bari retorted. "Hwang-Seung's fate is already on my conscience, I will not condemn his son, or any other mortal, to the same one. Not before their time."
"Will you at least grant us your protection?" Cas asked. "The ritual you left suggests we require the 'protection of death'. You are considered an intermediary of Death, I would expect that would fulfil the requirements?"
"It would, but as I said, I will not," Bari answered. "Find some other being who will provide that to you, if you are so desperate to enter damnation. My work in this business is done." She glowered at all of them. "Do not summon me again."
Every candle in the apartment went out, leaving them in the semi-darkness of the afternoon.
"I suppose we should be lucky she wasn't hungry," Dean commented after a while.
"That was a terrible plan," Cas told him after a pause.
"Yeah, well, next one's yours," Dean shot back grouchily.
"Sarah?" Dean repeated incredulously as he leaned back on his motel bed, can of beer in hand while he stared up at his brother.
"New Paltz auction house 'Sarah'?"
"Like, helped us hunt down Little-Orphan-Sweeny-Todd 'Sarah'?"
"Okay, okay, relax, just making sure," Dean snorted, took a sip of beer, and then leered. "So, she still hot?" Sam made a face, and Dean whistled. "Hotter?"
"That's…not the point."
"The fact that you believe that is grounds for another check in the 'Sam was always a girl' column. Just so you know."
Sam rolled his eyes, not impressed. Dean had been testy since returning to the motel, probably because their latest attempt at supernatural help in saving Adam had been turned down by 'another bitchy pagan goddess'. Sam also suspected that Dean's initial dislike of Yong might have something to do with it, if his contemptuous snort when Sam had asked Castiel how he had managed with the professor was anything to go by.
'Looks like Cas made a friend and Dean's jealous,' Sam thought, eyeing Castiel, who was now hunched over Sam's laptop across the room, trying to look up the coin Sam had described to him from memory.
The ex-angel had a perplexed look on his face, like trying to navigate Google was as difficult as deciphering the Sumerian language. Granted, he probably spoke Sumerian, so maybe browsing the Net was a bit more difficult for him. Either way, Sam was going to take pity on the former angel in a few minutes and suggest a break.
For now, though, he refocused on his discussion with Dean. "Can we get back to the whole witch situation? A woman was attacked today."
"Yeah, I know. And it sucks, but it means we're on the right track. We've found ourselves a witch," Dean said in satisfaction. "And now that we know the ritual Yong gave us is the real deal, we're that much closer to getting Adam."
Which Sam couldn't really argue and it did make him feel a little better. But there was still one thing bothering. "I'm just…worried that maybe it's Sarah."
Dean stared, nonplussed. "Why would it be Sarah?"
"Because we don't randomly meet up with people from cases in the middle of another case. Not unless they're involved," Sam pointed out. "Remember Meg? And Gordon or Bela?"
"They were trying to kill us," Dean returned, and then after a thought, "Well, Gordon was trying to kill you."
"The point still stands."
"And I think you're being paranoid. We knew all those people were weird when we first met them."
"Meg was pretty normal the first time I met her."
"Yeah, well, speak for yourself. I knew she was trouble right away. No one ignores the Dean Winchester charm unless they're battin' for the other team or possessed by a demon."
"That why you kept trying to get me to sleep with her?" Sam deadpanned.
Dean shrugged. "Evil sex is better than no sex – and you had one hell of a dry spell going on." A look of dawning comprehension came over his face. "Holy shit."
"What?" Sam demanded.
"I haven't had sex in like a month," Dean said, eyes wide as though he was just become aware of the end of the world. Again.
Sam was not impressed. "Seriously? That's what you're focussing on now?"
"It all makes sense," Dean went on, like someone solving one of the world greatest problems. "That's why I feel like ripping my skin off lately."
"Aw, come on, Dean, TMI!"
"Guess this body just feels it differently and that's why I didn't notice," Dean continued. He suddenly looked at Sam. "And you! Sammy, it's been forever for you, how are you not spontaneously combusting right now?"
"I can't talk to you when you're like this," Sam groaned.
"According to this Google person, the coin Sam saw was a Sicilian aquile," Castiel announced, breaking up their little discussion. "They were used as currency as far back as the fifteenth century."
"Meaning we're not dealing with the garden variety witch," Dean groaned. "Great."
They spent the remainder of the afternoon in the motel. While Dean did some research on Marcie Ross and Maggie Stark and Castiel fell into an exhausted, cautious sleep, Sam called Sarah again under the pretense of having been given her number by whoever Derek was.
"I'm just calling to see how everything's going," he said, pacing absently back and forth in the room. "Today was really weird, and I wanted to see if you were okay."
"Oh – no, I'm fine," she assured him over the phone. "Trust me when I say it's not the freakiest thing I've ever seen." Sam couldn't help smile at that. "I should be asking about you – I mean, you weren't even supposed to be there today, right? Are you okay?"
"Also not the freakiest thing I've ever seen," Sam said, ignoring how Dean was glancing up from his research and giving him a thumbs-up. He flipped him the finger. "And Marcie's okay?"
"Maggie called to say she was out of surgery an hour ago, but that's the last I heard.
"Right…and how's Maggie?"
"Completely shook up."
"Understandable," Sam said, turning his back on Dean, who was making obnoxious kissing faces at him. "Man, who do you think would have done that to Marcie? Or why? Does Maggie have any enemies?"
"Not really, unless you count her soon-to-be-ex-husband," Sarah said. There was a sudden pause, like white noise, and then she said, "Listen, Jane, that's my other line. It might be Maggie, so I'll talk to you later. I'll be at the gallery tonight if you need to reach me."
"Okay. Great," Sam cleared his throat. "Bye."
She hung up, and Sam let out a sigh. Talking with Sarah again after so long felt strange, not least of all because she had no idea who he was.
When he turned back again, Dean was watching him with a filthy smirk.
"Shut up, jerk, I just got a lead we might want to check out," he said, cutting off the teasing he knew Dean was itching to break out. "Maggie's getting divorced – and at the party Marcie mentioned something about him being in town this week."
"The websites just say temporary separation, not divorce," Dean pointed out. "Isn't that what people say when they intend to get back together?"
"I guess it's being kept quiet," Sam shrugged. "Either way, it makes a case for the ex-husband being the witch. Give me a sec and I'll find out where he's staying." He reached for his laptop, which Dean made a half-hearted grab for. A split-second later, Sam saw why. "Oh, come on!"
Castiel jerked awake, making a surprised and annoyed sound at the fact his tenuous sleep had been interrupted by Sam's dismayed cry; meanwhile, Sam glared down at the unfortunately familiar homepage for Busty Asian Beauties Dot Com flashing up at him.
Dean just grinned. "What?"
"You're supposed to be researching, not…damn it Dean, we're sitting in the same room as an angel, don't you have any scruples?"
"Ex-angel," Dean reminded him shamelessly. "Besides, it's for everyone's own good. I need to get laid soon or I'm going to have a meltdown. This is…research."
"Why wasn't I born an only child?" Sam grumbled to himself as he closed down the porn site and opened up his anti-virus.
"Because Heaven ordained that you and Dean were meant to be born siblings," Castiel put in, earning a laugh from Dean and an annoyed grunt from Sam.
It wasn't hard to track down where Maggie's husband Donald was staying, and agreeing that Castiel wasn't up to active duty yet in case it turned out that Stark was their witch, Sam and Dean made the short drive across town to the Plaza Hotel.
The receptionist was accommodating enough when they flashed their fake NYPD badges and directed them to one of the larger suites on the eleventh floor.
When Sam knocked, the door to Mr. Stark's suite opened and a blond, blue eyed young woman, barely legal by the looks of it, dressed in a sharp looking pantsuit answered the door. "Yes?"
"I'm Detective Millington, this is Detective de Buhr," Dean said as he hand Sam flashed their badges. "We're with the New York City Police Department. Is Donald Stark here, miss?"
"Uh, one second," she said, eyes wide, and then called over her shoulder. "Don?"
Dean looked away from her, and then waggled his eyes meaningfully at Sam who shot him a disgusted look. Clearly Dean had porn on the brain again.
A man in his late forties appeared from one of the suites, tucking a cellphone into his pocket as he approached the door. He was tall and sharp featured, dressed just as smartly as the woman, like he was headed to a business meeting or something.
"Can I help you ladies?" Stark asked, his eyes performing the familiar appraising flick up and down.
"We're with the New York City Police Department," Sam said, flashing the badge again. "We have a few questions we need to ask you."
Stark's face was a picture of blank confusion. "Concerning what?"
"Are you aware there was an incident at your wife's charity auction this afternoon at twelve-thirty-five?" Sam asked. "A Marcie Ross was poisoned."
The woman's eyes widened, while Stark winced sympathetically. "Yes, I saw on the news." He turned to the girl. "Anne, I'm going to talk to these ladies for a moment. Would you do me a favor and grab me some of those onion blossom things from the restaurant? Been craving those things since I got here."
"Oh, of course," she beamed.
"And maybe a coconut muffin too?" he asked, hopeful like.
"Grab one for yourself, while you're at it. And hurry on back – you know how things fall apart without you," he told her earnestly. She giggled and left, pushing past Sam and Dean.
Dean sent Sam another meaningful look, which Sam resolutely ignored.
"Best assistant I've had in years," Stark told the brothers in a would-be confidential tone, motioning for them to come in. As he closed the door, he added, "Can we do this quickly? I've got a business dinner with Trump in an hour."
"There's a woman lying in the ICU with severe third degree burns down her esophagus, Mr. Stark," Sam said quietly. "This will take as long as it takes."
Stark's entire demeanor shifted into one of seriousness. "Right. About Marcie…poor girl. No one deserves that." He looked between Sam and Dean, and his expression hardened. "Have you found out anything about how that happened?"
"The crime scene was empty, and the catering company can't explain how a glass of sparkling wine got replaced with acid," Dean said meaningfully.
"Ah," Stark said, pursing his lips. "And if the NYPD is involved, I assume you think there's a would-be-murderer out there."
"It's looking that way, yes."
"And you're coming to me because…?"
"We believe the intended target was your wife," Sam said, carefully watching Stark's reaction.
Either he was really good at faking it, or the mixture of worry and anger were genuine. "What? Why?"
"A witness at the crime scene said the beverage was initially meant for her, and that her assistant drank it by accident," Sam said. "Mr. Stark, have you ever heard of anyone using the name QueenBeeStark? Perhaps through email or…?"
Stark shook his head. "Honestly, no. Although, Maggie could have changed her email address. She's changed a lot of things in the past year…and that sort of sounds like something she'd come up with."
Sam and Dean exchanged glances, before Sam continued, "Do you know of any enemies that your wife might have?"
"Enemies? No – well, other than me, at the moment," Stark offered a sheepish grin. "I don't know if you've heard, but we're in the midst of a rather…tense period." Dean raised an eyebrow, and Stark suddenly sobered again. "But I would never hurt Maggie. I love her. This separation…it's her idea, but I'm going through with it to make her happy. That's all I want."
"Sure," Dean said, not believing it.
"We are just going through a tough time," Stark maintained firmly. "It's temporary. Sometimes, you know, you grow apart. It's no one's fault."
"And how would you describe the, uh – the issues, between you and your wife?" Sam prompted.
"It's just one of those marital misunderstandings, you know," Stark looked exceedingly uncomfortable now.
"No, I'm sorry, I don't," Sam said, although he had a feeling he understood all-to-well.
Stark's discomfort increased. "It's one of those vague, hard-to-define passages."
Dean was practically grinning. "She caught you cheating, huh?" At Stark's defeated expression, he continued, "I couldn't help but notice, uh, things are kind of cordial between you and your assistant. Pretty good with the ladies there, Mr. Stark? It's a blessing and a curse, isn't it?"
"Ladies…I'm a people person," Stark defended himself, trying to keep his voice friendly despite obvious disquiet, "and I admire dynamic, confident women."
"Define 'admire'," Sam deadpanned.
"Okay, look – " Stark made a dismissive gesture. "It's true, I had a recent…little thing with a business associate, but that's all it was."
"A 'thing'," Dean repeated.
Stark flinched. "Yeah."
"Like a – like a shoe, or a golf club," Sam suggested.
"Right, like a waffle iron," Dean added.
Dean snorted. "Yeah – no, see, Don, uh, wives generally think of an affair as something more than a thing."
"Yes, and when Maggie found out about it, she needed some time off, temporarily," Stark stated stiffly, and then peered at them both again. "I'm sorry, but what does all of this have to do with what happened to Marcie Ross?"
"It's standard procedure, Mr. Stark. Everyone we've spoken to about Marcie said she didn't have any enemies, and if our suspicions about your wife being the target of the attack are true, the next course of action is to talk to anyone who might have cause to harm her – or who might have in the past."
"So I cheated on my wife and now you think I'm trying to kill her?" Don raised an eyebrow.
"Happens every day," Dean shrugged.
Stark's jaw clenched, and he stood up. "I think we're done here. If there's anything else you ladies would like to insinuate, have your department contact my lawyer. For now I think you should leave."
"Will do, sir," Dean said. "Just, uh, don't head back to Indiana any time soon."
Stark followed them to door, like he was seconds away from pushing them out himself. Dean jerked the door open and stopped dead, causing Sam to bump into him "What are you…?"
He went silent when he realized what had stopped his brother.
Anne was lying on the hotel carpet in a crumpled heap, blood congealed down her mouth and the front of her clothing, her eyes frozen wide in an expression of anguish and terror. By her feet, the Styrofoam container of food was also covered in blood, which spewed from the cupcake beside it.
"What is it?" Stark asked, pushing past Sam and Dean and stopping in his tracks. "Anne."
Dean was on his knees checking her vitals, barking out to Stark to call an ambulance. Trying to ignore the fact that this was the second Sam had been in this situation today, he reached down and gingerly picked up the cupcake. Whatever was spewing the blood from within looked eerily like a miniature human heart, and as he peeled away the soggy muffin paper he saw that there was a coin stuck to the bottom of the dessert.
"She's gone," Dean said heavily when Sam met his gaze, while Don looked completely distraught. "Whoever's doing this, they're going after people close to the Starks. Which means…"
It felt like the bottom had dropped out of Sam's stomach for a moment.
"Sarah!" he breathed.
They left Donald Stark with the assurance that their colleagues at the NYPD would take his statement and skipped out of the hotel before any of the real authorities could show up. There wasn't much else they could do, not with Sam looking like he might suddenly pull a runner.
As it was, he kept flipping his phone open and trying to call Sarah, only to be dissuaded when there was no one to take the call. The sixth time he did this as they got into the Charger, he glanced at Dean worriedly, "I keep getting her answering machine."
Dean tried to take the lighthearted approach to the situation, if anything to get his brother calmed down. "Should I be more amused by the fact that she didn't change her cell number in the past five years, or that after all that time you actually remember it off by heart?"
"Not funny, Dean," Sam scowled. "She could be hurt. Or dead, for all we know."
"She's probably fine," Dean said. "Didn't you tell me she's just a buyer? That doesn't necessarily mean that she and Maggie are close."
"They looked pretty friendly this morning," Sam grumbled. He groaned, running a hand through his hair in frustration, and then voiced something that had bothered him since running into her. "What's she even doing here? I mean, she sounded really happy with what she was doing in New Paltz –"
"Sam, it's been almost five years," Dean pointed out. "You really expect her to just freeze in time after meeting you? I mean, I know you're charming and all, but Sarah didn't strike me as the pining type."
"That's not – she's not – look, it's just messed up that she's here while we're trying to hunt out some sadistic demon worshipping witch," Sam finally bit out.
Dean nodded in silence, eying his brother knowingly. He hadn't seen Sam so upset about a girl since they had found out that chick he liked in San Francisco was a werewolf. When Sam tried to reach Sarah two more times, he eventually asked, "You gonna tell her?"
"Tell her what?"
"That you're you."
The statement encompassed quite a few things, but Sam still looked aghast. "Why the hell would I do that?"
"It's called being honest. I hear it's good for relationships."
"Ha-ha, like you would even know," Sam retorted. "And there's no relationship."
"I dunno, man, you said it yourself," Dean reminded him. "We never just randomly meet up with people we haven't seen in years, unless there's something going on. Maybe someone out in the universe is telling you to knock off the emo-crap and relax."
"Maybe you haven't noticed, Dean, but we're kind of in the middle of something," Sam retorted. "And in case spending all our time trying to jailbreak Hell isn't on your list of priorities, maybe you should check out the nearest mirror again. Unless you're warming up to your new cup size."
Dean whistled, actually sparing his feminine face a passing glance in the rear-view mirror. "Looks like I'm not the only one that needs to get laid."
Sam made a face and bit back a frustrated groan.
"Cas called while you were pretending to be a teenaged girl," Dean went on. "He says the coin we found by Anne is Romanian Cyrillic, and that it was only used in the mid-fifteenth to the nineteenth century. So, either our witch is a coin collector or –"
"Or there's more than one that we're dealing with," Sam finished. When they had dealt with witches that cursed coins in the past, they tended to use coins from a specific time period; it was almost like a calling card.
"And guess what else?"
"Cas also found out that the Starks originally came to the States ten years ago. Guess where from?"
"You're kidding," Sam sat back, trying to put together his thoughts. A moment later, he frowned at Dean. "Cas found all that himself?"
"Apparently 'tedium endured due to a handicap encourages the acquisition of other skills'," Dean said, lowering his voice into a mocking imitation of Cas's. It didn't sound remotely similar, not least of all because Dean's current voice was too high. He went back to his normal tone. "Dude should just learn to jerk off when he's bored."
Sam bitchfaced. "Gross, Dean."
They parked outside the building and took the stairs up, the elevator obviously being too slow for Sam's knight in shining armour routine. The doors to the gallery were locked, but Dean made quick work of them, before following his brother in as back-up.
They were both armed, on the off-chance they were about to come face to face with a witch. Despite what he had said to Sam about the matter, Dean fervently hoped for his brother's sake that Sarah wasn't actually their mark.
The lights were mostly out in the place, casting sinister shadows on paintings that Dean didn't even have to really look at to categorize as highly overpriced trash. There was one light across the open concept space, leading into some kind of alcove or other room.
Dean nodded at Sam and prepared to cover his brother, who slowly hid his gun and moved forward.
"Sarah?" he called, the female voice echoing with the room's acoustics. "You here? It's Jane. From this afternoon?"
There was a sound of movement from the alcove in the back, and then someone came out. Dean squinted slightly, recognizing the familiar face –
'Damn, she did get hotter,' he thought idly, in the part of his brain that wasn't focussed on the job, 'Go, Sammy.'
"Jane?" Sarah asked, sounding confused but pleased. "What are you doing here?"
"I came by to check on you," Sam said in the soothing voice he used to deal with spooked witnesses in order to gain their trust. "You said on the phone…?"
"Oh, right – sorry, slipped my mind," she shook her head, and her gaze landed on Dean. "Who's this?"
"My sister Erica," Sam told her. "I didn't want to walk here alone at night."
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Sarah said, smiling. "I hate having to come by at night, there're all these psychos around. It's why I always…lock…up." Her smile faded, and she was suddenly staring at Sam and Dean in apprehension. "How did you get in here?"
"Uh," Sam shot Dean a panicked look.
"Well –" Dean began, but stopped when Sarah's eyes suddenly went wide at something over Sam's shoulder. He whirled around instantly, a second sooner than his brother, only having time to catch sight of a gorgeous woman with blazing angry eyes stride through the door, before he found himself thrown backward.
"I take it that's Maggie, huh?" he grunted as he tried to get up. Sam raised his gun and took aim at the woman.
"No, don't!" Sarah cried, knocking the hand that held the gun; Sam's shot went wide.
"Look – Sarah, you don't understand – !" Sam was grunting, trying to shove her off without hurting her while Maggie sent Dean careening across the polished floor. "She's a witch –"
Maggie flicked her wrist, and Dean was once again flying across the room. He swore a he collided with Sam, the two of them went headlong into another horribly solid wall.
When he recovered his wits and looked up, he saw Sarah standing over them, now holding Sam's gun.
"Tell me something I don't know," Sarah panted, and the sound of the safety of the gun being unclicked echoed in the empty gallery. "Like who the hell you two are."