And in other writing news, I saw the cutest thing the other day, which is going to make it into that long childhood AU I mentioned earlier. Be on the lookout for Wee!Sammy and a hoodie.
Jo looks inquisitively at Rob, who nods back at her, and they're having a silent conversation made up entirely of gestures; Sam thinks that at least when he and Dean do this, it's not so painfully obvious, and he waits to see what the upshot of all of this pantomiming will be. He gets his answer soon enough. "I need to go back down; I shouldn't have left June to deal with the bar alone for this long," Jo says, squeezes past Rob - blocking most of the doorway, one forearm resting lightly against the jamb - and trips lightly down the stairs.
Sam gets to his feet and watches Rob drop his arm and move nonchalantly into the apartment. The guy is actually taller than he is, and thick with muscle all the way down; for the first time since Dean's stupid scheme got them thrown into different cells at the Green River County Detention Center, he's facing down a guy who makes him feel small. But he's already coming to this guy as a supplicant - no way he's going to do it while looking confused or frightened. He raises his head and meets Rob's gaze straight on, taking careful stock of the man in front of him, trying to decide if Jo's word is enough to trust him.
Rob's got black hair, slicked straight back from a long, pale face. There's something unnerving about him, even beyond the startlingly regular features; he's used to people finding beauty in Dean's familiar face and scarred body, but Rob's almost inhumanly perfect - no scars, no moles, no asymmetries that he can see. But there's something familiar about him too, and Sam wonders how exactly he became someone Jo could trust so implicitly. Is there a touch of Caleb in the way he moves, combining speed and strength? Or is that Jefferson he sees in those flat eyebrows that kick up at the ends?
"You're wondering why I seem so familiar." Rob's voice is a lot like Pastor Jim's voice, a light and melodious tenor. But the smirk on his face tosses that idea right out the door; Pastor Jim was never about playing games.
Sam doesn't bother dignifying that with an answer. "You've known Jo for a while now." That much is safe to make as a statement rather than a question; that silent conversation took a lot of practice and a lot of proximity.
"I danced at her wedding," Rob says, matter-of-fact and still not giving anything away.
Sam's patience for this game of alpha dogs runs out. "Long time then. Look, she thought you could help me out. My brother's gone missing, and all I know is that he was hunting some fae."
"Oh, I'm quite certain that's not all you know," Rob grins.
Sam's so used to using his size to intimidate the recalcitrant and the stubborn that his feet move him forward before he remembers that it won't work this time, not if getting closer to Rob means he has to tip his head back a little to meet the guy's eyes. He clenches his fists and counts to five, trying to keep his temper in check; this guy really doesn't owe him anything. "Dean is important to Jo," he says as calmly as he can. As if that is the best reason he can think of for why Dean is worthy of saving.
"And yet, there's nothing I can do tonight," Rob says, not a single note of apology in his voice. "She's closing up soon. Go find a place to stay, get some sleep, get your story straight. I'll still be here tomorrow."
Just hearing the word "sleep" makes him pretty much ready to drop; he's been milking that last drop of adrenaline for way too long. "I don't - I don't know where to go," he mumbles. Aside from Jo, there's no friendly face in this city, and unlike Sarah, she doesn't have room to spare; he actually has no idea how well or poorly the bar is doing or how that affects her salary.
Rob picks up his bag and hands it to him. "Make a right out of the bar, go six doors down. You'll see a building with a blue door. Kind of a youth hostel. Big Apple something or Riverside something."
Before he can even repeat the directions back, he's on the wrong side of Jo's door, his duffel still in his hands.
For twenty-five bucks a night, he thinks as he brushes his teeth at the cracked sink, towel and clean boxers gripped tightly between his knees, this place isn't all that bad. He got the last bed and the five guys he's sharing the room with all lit out early, jabbering excitedly to each other in German, holding maps and brochures, their faces going ruddy under childlike pompom hats in the overheated room. So he's got a little privacy too, some quiet time to think about what he knows and what he doesn't. He's going to get Dean back; he didn't free him from the deal only to lose him to something else.
He has to knock at the door of the bar; it's still before noon, and the place isn't technically open. Jo opens the door for him, her hair tied in a smooth little knot, wearing a dingy shirt and jeans with the knees just starting to fray. "He's back there," she says, hiking her thumb in the direction of the back left corner and reaching out for the mop she propped up against the side of the door.
Sam steps gingerly across the damp floor, making his way to the table where Rob is sitting with casual ownership, as if his wooden chair is a throne. Before Rob can invite him to do so, Sam sits across from him. Rob smiles and raises his beer stein. "So, what's the story, Saintly?"
"Saintly?" he asks, sure that it's a joke but not getting it; he hates that feeling, and his first few months at Stanford he felt like he was drowning in it.
"I asked Joanna all about you and this brother who's apparently so close to her heart. Funny how it seems to work out this way, isn't it? You and Dean, Sean and me - one good boy and one bad boy in each family -"
"Dean's not -"
"Dean's not who I meant was the bad one." Rob says it decisively, taking a long sip and then laying his stein down. His eyes are bright blue and merciless. "But you've got everyone else thinking he is. That's quite a trick, Saintly."
He's not responsible for other people's perceptions of them, or how completely Jo lost her heart to his brother. "Sean was your brother?"
"Close as," Rob says, defiant in a way that makes no sense. "Tell me, what did you figure out about Dean's disappearance?"
He still has no reason to trust this guy, but no other real options either. Sam takes a deep breath and just goes for it. "He was visiting a friend of his, Bobby, out in South Dakota. The fae were somewhere pretty close by. If they were fae." All the things he doesn't know seem to be piling up in front of him in a giant heap. "They didn't seem to be behaving like ordinary fae."
"What do you mean?"
"Bobby said Dean read all the lore, obeyed it to the letter; Dean wasn't about to mess with something like that. But there must have been something that wasn't in the books."
"And how long have these fae been in South Dakota?" It's clear from his voice that he can't even conceive of fae in South Dakota, and Sam suddenly realizes that part of the story never quite fit for him either.
"I don't know. Can't have been that long, or Bobby would've gotten rid of them himself or at least asked Dean to take care of it on one of his earlier visits," Sam muses, thinking it through as he speaks the words.
There's a gleam in Rob's eyes now, a look of definite interest. "Wanderers, then? Like a lost tribe?"
"Maybe?" What does it matter, as long as they can get Dean out?
"What else?" Rob finishes his beer in one long swallow.
"You need to call this Bobby and get the whole story."
"He won't talk to me." It costs him to say it, because he knows that he's blowing Dean's chances of getting out of this sooner rather than later.
Rob takes a long, careful look at him with those piercing eyes. "Will he talk to Joanna?"
Sam reads Bobby's number off his cellphone's "received calls" menu and Jo dials it with a finger still wet with Formula 409. She's sitting between him and Rob and she's got the handset cranked up so loud that Sam can hear each ring clearly.
"Bobby! It's - it's Annie," she says, her eyes darting between Rob's face and his before dropping as she says the name.
Bobby's voice gets noticeably warmer. "How you doing, kiddo?" he asks genially. "I got your mom's newest number around here somewhere -"
"No," she says. "That's not ... Sam Winchester just called me, said Dean went missing when he was off hunting fae with you." She lets sorrow creep into her voice; Sam doesn't think she's that good an actress - not everything is a put-on. "Is that true?"
Bobby sighs. "Yeah. Dean came out this way by himself, and we got to talking, and I told him that there was fae not far from here that I'd been meaning to do something about, and he offered to take care of it for me. Said he'd found a self-bored stone about a year back and he'd been wanting to get some use out of it."
"He just drove off and you didn't see him after that?" Jo asks.
"Hell, he walked off, didn't want to take his car. 'What if that fae bitch wants to turn it into her fuckin' chariot?' he said. 'You know what happens to pretty, shiny things out there.'"
Like Dean wasn't a bigger prize than any ten cars, even any ten Impalas. "It's that close? Walking distance from your place?" Jo presses.
"Yeah -" Bobby cuts himself off. "Joanna Beth Harvelle, don't you get involved in this. You stay away from Sam, you hear me?"
Jo dares a glance at him, and Sam's heart sinks; she'd gone along with the "tell Bobby I called you" story, but this is going to get her to think he can't be trusted, and Dean might not have that kind of time. "Why?" she whispers.
"Just please trust me on this one," Bobby pleads. "Sam did something not even Dean would have done, and that's saying something, when you think about how crazy that boy got for his family. What Sam did was dangerous and stupid, and he never once thought about the consequences."
Jo draws in a breath and Bobby jumps back in before she can ask. "Can't say more than that; I gave Dean my word."
Jo looks nearly sick with upset. "Bobby," she says, closing her eyes. "Can you get my mom's number for me?"
Sam needs to be doing something, anything, because trying to figure out how much of the intrigued gleam in Rob's eyes was for real, how many of the cogitation wrinkles on his forehead were genuine, was only making him antsy. He's only got Missouri's word, after all, that Dean is actually okay, and that was not exactly incontrovertible proof. Not when she'd sounded so confused just to hear his voice.
The Columbus branch of the New York Public Library is not going to cut it; they've got pretty much no texts on fae except for the bowdlerized versions of fairy tales and a couple of books on the trend of making fairy tales "feminist."
There's hardly anyone in there, though, so he gets a solid hour on one of the computers with no hassle. He can't seem to find anything that isn't just a repetition of what he remembers reading years ago. Time to find a different venue; Columbia University's just a subway ride away, and they're bound to have something better. He smudges just enough grime onto his Stanford ID to camouflage the year of expiration, sticks it in his pocket, and pulls out his Metrocard.
Turns out the smudging wasn't even necessary; all he needs to do to get into the undergrad library is to swipe his Stanford ID. There's pretty much no one else in the neighboring stacks when he finds the section he's looking for, so he hauls his take over to a nearby table, spreads the books out, and starts to read.
The only bit of information he comes across that nudges at his memory is the explanation for a self-bored stone's properties in a sort of homemade dictionary for hunters, painstakingly pieced together but without any citations or attributions. The text claims that by looking through a self-bored stone, a stone with a hole made only by the natural, unplanned force of moving water, the fae can clearly be seen, but only by the one who found the stone. And that explains why Bobby didn't take on the fae himself, if he didn't have one of his own; Bobby can be trusted that far at least.
Jo's eyes are red-rimmed when he walks back into Mary Kelly's, but she gives him a small smile and pours him a beer without making him ask, so he figures that her tears were more about her mother than him.
"Saintly!" he hears, and he curses himself for accepting the moniker so easily as his body swings automatically around to find Rob, over in the corner with his buddies, another game of poker in the works. Sam takes his beer over to their table, and hears Rob say, "Clear out, fellas." He looks on in disbelief when they go without a murmur, leaving their cards and chips just as they are, only taking their drinks with them as they crowd around the bar, laughing raucously to themselves, performing to get more booze out of Jo and maybe a smile out of June.
"I did a little research," Rob announces, eyes gleaming as if reading up on fae lore is his favorite pastime. "From what I can see, the fae - all fae, even this migrant band your brother got snatched by -" he holds up a hand before Sam can protest that description for making Dean sound totally incompetent "- follows a calendar that uses these four dates as pillars. The equinoxes and the solstices."
"Meaning?" Sam prompts impatiently, since Rob is acting like this is some amazing revelation.
"Meaning," Rob says, without apparent offense but with a touch of malice nonetheless, "that the vernal equinox is going to be our first chance to find your brother; that's when the fae are going to be out and about, carousing and hunting and ready to bargain." He makes a show of looking at his watch, gleaming silver on his wrist, polished to a nearly blinding brightness. "And Saintly? It's only the end of January. You've got quite a lot of waiting in your future."