Took a while but here it is...
Dean's eyes moved to the street signs as they drove through town, Sam looking over the small notebook in his hands.
He was beginning to notice a pattern the more he and Sam moved through town. Maybe it was just him, some side effect of being on the road too long, but all the streets looked the same. No matter what cozy little name they got, it was just one mirror image street after another. The houses may have been different from the next but it was the same damn landscape over and over again.
“So what, if anything, did you find out about his Kim lady?” Dean questioned, watching the signs pass.
Sam shook his head, closing the notebook. “Not much outside of a Pine St. address.”
“Bet Urd loved that one,” the older man muttered.
“She didn't tag along, Dean.” Sam looked toward his brother with a heavy sigh and an annoyed look. “Give her a little credit.”
Dean let out a disbelieving huff. “That's gotta be a first. A goddess taking orders from a hunter.”
“Just like a goddess asking a hunter for help,” Sam commented, looking down at the notebook. “Firsts all around.”
The conversation paused as they stopped at the light to turn, Dean's fingers tapping against the steering wheel. “So nothing but an address?”
“Not really. I can do a better search when we get back to the motel,” Sam answered.
Dean's fingers continued the random tapping as the light changed and they turned left, brow knitting. “Any ideas on how to get the three out of town?”
“Without being able to see what kind of spell brought them here, I have no idea where to even start.” Sam looked out the front window as he spoke, watching the houses move into view. “And with what we saw in that field, I wouldn't want to risk guessing.”
Dean thought back to the crater in the middle of nowhere. He still couldn't help cringing inwardly when he began to equate Urd's slender body, times three, with that hole in the ground. If he thought about it long enough it would probably make him subconsciously hurt.
“I'd rather know what we're dealing with spell-wise than put the Fates through needless and possibly painful breaking attempts,” Sam continued.
The Impala slowed as Dean made a right onto Pine, both men looking at the houses.
“Should we be looking for a house surrounded by dead trees with lightning crashing around it?” Dean questioned.
Sam rolled his eyes, reading the house numbers. “4615.”
Dean shrugged as he scanned the opposite side of the street. “Just a suggestion.”
Halfway down the street they spotted the house, Dean bringing the car to a stop two driveways down.
“Doesn't exactly scream epicenter of evil.” Dean let his eyes move down the road to the neatly kept homes as they stepped from the car. “Maybe Urd was wrong about the whole Pine St. thing.”
Sam tucked the notebook into his jacket pocket and double checked his badge before he looked toward his brother. “Maybe not.”
Dean turned his head to look back the way they came as Sam spoke.
“I mean think about it, Dean. Who would suspect someone living on a street like this to be controlling the goddesses of Fate and having them kill?” He walked around the trunk to join Dean as he straightened his jacket. “They're hiding in plain sight.”
Dean gave a small shrug, adjusting his tie. “Doesn't explain how Susie Homemaker can drag a trio of Pagan gods here though.”
The comment got little more than a shrug from Sam as they crossed the street.
“You have got to be seriously screwed up to use gods as a personal kill squad,” Dean mumbled. He paused as they stepped onto the sidewalk, looking toward Sam. “I know I shouldn't ask but how are we going to rule her out as their Kim?”
Sam slipped a hand into the pocket of his jacket, pulling out his cellphone. “I told Urd I'd get a picture of her.”
Dean nodded and continued down the sidewalk. “Good idea.”
Their pace slowed as they neared the house, each one taking a long look.
It wasn't too out of the ordinary. No internal alarms sounded on seeing it, no fight or flight response was triggered by it. It was just a house on a quiet street.
The slate blue with white trim two-story sat in the middle of a well-kept yard, the shade of a large oak tree spreading across the grass. It looked to be one of the older homes on the block by its architecture but well cared for so its age didn't really show. Flower beds of marigolds, iris and violets stretched along the walkway and followed the wrap around porch toward the driveway. Two wicker chairs and a small side table sat in front of a large bay window as the folk-art image of a cat greeted them at the door and ordered that they “wipe your paws.”
Dean raised an eyebrow at the wooden sign, cocking his head slightly. “Did we step into an episode of Leave It to Beaver?”
Sam glowered at Dean before he knocked on the door, shaking his head.
“Oh come on, Sammy.” Dean straightened his jacket as he slipped into FBI mode. “Not like you weren't thinking it too.”
The front door clicked and slowly opened as a woman came into view, the none to friendly face giving them a once over. “Can I help you?”
Manly in appearance, right down to the slightly receding hairline, Kimberly Martin-Lund was far from attractive. She had rough-hewn features and darkly sunken eyes, her thinning red hair pulled haphazardly into a ponytail. Her complexion was blotchy and the lines around her mouth hinted at the fact that she probably didn't understand the concept of a smile. Her medium build, which seemed to be edging more toward over-weight when paired with her height, made her clothes seem rather frumpy than fashionable.
Dean couldn't help but think she was the kind of ugly that not even copious amounts of alcohol could fix, cringing inwardly as Sam made the introductions.
“I'm Agent May, this is Agent Mercury. FBI.” Sam pulled his badge out of his jacket, showing it to the woman as Dean flashed his own briefly. “We'd like to ask you some questions about an acquaintance of yours, a Mr. Marcus Ballard. May we come in?”
Kim examined both I.D.'s closely before giving them a nod and stepping aside. “Of course. Any way I can help.”
The two entered the house, the door shutting behind them as a pair of blue eyes watched from the tree's branches.
Urd watched the front door from her perch, ruffling her golden feathers.
As soon as the boys had left the room and the rumble of the Impala had faded from the parking lot, she had taken off after them. She kept a good distance above them so they wouldn't spot her in the mirrors and far enough away so that if they did manage to notice her she'd be little more than a dark shape; just one more bird in the sky. She had followed them carefully through town, turn for turn, finally landing in the highest branches of the oak tree when they stopped.
Up until now it had been easy enough to keep an eye on the two discreetly but this was a new problem.
She glared at the door they had entered as she thought of her next step. Goddess or not, she couldn't see through walls. She doubted showing up at the door as an old woman or a child would have any outcome besides outing herself to the boys. The more she thought, the more annoying all this was.
Her eyes moved from the door to the many windows as the small body hopped along the branch.
'Please have a window open,' she thought. 'Nice warm day is a good time to air out stuffy old houses.'
A quick scan brought no sign of an entrance as she jumped from her perch to land on the yard.
'Oh come on!' Her eyes moved from the window as she let out an exasperated huff, her feather's ruffling. 'Who the hell doesn't air out their house?'
Her head cocked as she walked as best she could toward the foundation, her walk becoming more of an awkward half-strut half-waddle. What windows she saw at the foundation were just as secure as the others. It was beginning to feel like staring up at Fort Knox.
Urd let a frustrated growl that sounded more like an odd coo in her present form, the tiny avian body once more taking up the undignified strut/waddle the little legs could offer.
'Maybe I can break a window,' she mused, waddling toward the rear of the house. 'I could find a rock somewhere.'
The tiny golden body paused as she reached the corner of the house, peering around the foundation toward the few windows present.
'With my luck, they're closed to.' Urd blinked, her eyes moving around the backyard. 'This is not my day.'
The backyard gave little help to her ideas. The flower beds, though nicely kept, were annoyingly free of rocks. The birdbath that stood nearby was both tacky and useless in any function. The expanse of green grass shaded by a lone maple and the ground level patio had nothing but potted plants and wicker furniture that, given her current form, provided nothing more than potential perches. And then there was the lawn gnome.
Urd stared at the damned thing that stood to her left, repressing a shiver. Normally they wouldn't be a problem but she was eye level with it. The beady eyes that followed her, the bulbous nose and freaky grin like nothing was wrong in the world, even that stupid pointy hat was creepy. It was just wrong on so many levels.
Her head pulled back as she stared at the ceramic monstrosity with wide eyes. 'Creepy fucking thing.'
“So how well did you know Mr. Ballard?”
The sound of Dean's voice nearby pulled her attention toward a small window just above her head. A quick beat of her wings brought her to the sill of a kitchen window. There was a screen inside but it was open enough to hear what was said as well as see inside.
Sam and Dean stood beside one of the counters as the woman in question kept her back to the window. “It's a small town. I had seen him around here and there but really didn't know him that well.”
'Turn around,' Urd thought, watching the woman. 'Let me see your face.'
“Did you know him in school?” Sam questioned.
Turn around had become a chant in Urd's head as she looked in on the three, her eyes narrowing.
The Kim woman shook her head, turning ever so slightly. “Not really. Just in passing.”
'Just turn around, woman!' Urd glared as she stood on the sill. 'Turn the hell around!'
“So you wouldn't have any ideas on who would want him dead?” Dean asked.
Urd watched the woman silently as she shook her head and finally turned. “Sorry, no.”
The goddess's eyes went wide as Kim began to walk her way, jumping from the sill and gliding toward the yard's lone tree. Her talons dug into the branch she landed on, turning with a hop to face the house.
'Gotta tell 'em. Now how?' Urd hopped sideways on the branch, keeping an eye on the patio window. 'Can't call. Can't show up at the door.' She watched the house for a moment, huffing as an idea came to her. 'Oh this is gonna suck.'
As questionings went this one was seeming to go nowhere fast.
Each question the two asked for the same basic response from Kim; she didn't know anything. It wasn't as if they expected to go in, ask some questions and know every answer to what was going on but they weren't getting much at all. The only answer they really got was that Kim had been at the bar the night Ballard had vanished; not that her being there really raised any suspicions.
Following her into the kitchen to continue the questions had gotten more of the same. She didn't know Ballard very well, she didn't know who would want to kill him, she didn't know much of anything. Her answers were making the trip to see her seem more pointless by the second.
The pair stood beside the kitchen table as Kim got herself a glass of water, exchanging an unamused glance as Dean let out a bored little huff, Sam clearing his throat.
To Dean, this was a waste of time. The more they asked, the less she seemed to know. It was amazing she even knew her own name. And, judging from the expression on his brother's face, Sam was feeling the same way.
“In the past couple months have you noticed anyone out of the ordinary in town?” Sam questioned.
Both men waited for the now customary 'no' as the woman turned around to face them.
The reply hadn't even left her lips when a bang that made each of them jump filled the air.
The patio door had been the source, the handful of sun catchers hanging from it still shaking from what had sounded like a strike of some sort. The glass was cracked about three quarters of the way up and would no doubt need to be replaced the way the jagged little breaks fanned out across the door. With as bad as the initial noise had been it was a wonder the glass was still intact.
“What in the world was that?”
Both men stepped forward to get a look as Kim moved in from the side, Dean's jaw setting as he saw the answer.
The little gold body sat on the patio at the base of the door, swaying as the blue eyes blinked dazedly. On unsteady legs it got up and looked at the three inside. A small stagger backward and a quick cry that made the men's blood chill was all the bird did before it flew off.
“You know, I think we've taken up enough of your time.” Sam looked at the window with a small cringe before turning to Kim. “We should go.”
Dean cleared his throat and gave Kim a nod before he moved for the kitchen door. “Thank you for your time.”
They said nothing a Kim saw them to the door, Sam loosening his tie as the front door shut behind them and they headed for the sidewalk.
“I'm gonna kill her,” Dean hissed as he stalked down the street.
“No matter how many times you say that, Dean, it’s not going to happen, “ Sam commented, tucking his hands in his pockets. “You can't kill Fate.”
Dean practically growled as they neared the Impala. “So much for her listening. And where the hell did she go anyway?”
Sam slid into the passenger seat as Dean continued to grumble. “She didn't look too steady when she got up. She couldn't have gotten too far.”
“We get nowhere with that Kim lady and now we have to track down a goddess.” Dean glared out the windshield as he slid behind the wheel. “Where do we even start looking?”
A small moan from the backseat and the appearance of slender fingers on the seat's back was all the greeting Urd could muster as she sat up. “I think I have a concussion.”
Sam turned to look at the woman as Dean's hands gripped the steering wheel. “Are you okay?”
“Aside from the headache and the whole world spinning, I'm perfectly fine.” Urd motioned down the street, her voice a little rough. “I suggest we leave. Now.”
Dean took a deep breath and continued to stare out the windshield. “Why are we suddenly listening to you?”
“Because she can put you on a hit list,” Urd muttered, bringing a hand to her head. “Now if you drive, I won't throw up in your backseat.”
Dean finally turned as Urd sank down to lay on the seat. “What?”
“I'll explain at the motel. Just drive,” she replied.
The Impala rumbled to life and pulled away from the curb, heading down the street and away from the watchful eyes inside the blue house.
Urd sat quietly at the motel room's table, her head cocked to the side as Sam examined the collar closely. “Is this punishment for me leaving the motel?”
Sam's gaze moved to the goddess as he shook his head. “Well, not when it comes to me.” He straightened as he heard the Impala's trunk close. “I can't really speak for Dean though.”
“Somehow, I don't find that comment too comforting,” Urd mumbled.
Ever since they returned to the motel there had been a palpable tension in the air, especially when it came to Dean. It had been present from the moment she sat up in the car and had eased very little by the time they set foot in the room. It was made even worse by the glares and unintelligible mumbles that came from the man.
“I know my brother is a bit of a jerk sometimes but he does want to help you,” Sam said.
Urd let out a resigned sigh as the motel door opened to Dean on the other side, a green duffle bag clanking behind him.
“Got a couple things from the trunk to try on that collar.” The bag let out a loud thud as Dean set it on the table, Sam cringing at the heavy metallic sound it made. “But first, you have a little explaining to do.”
The blonde gave a small nod as Sam stepped away, popping her neck with a roll of her head. “Fair enough.”
Dean's hand came to rest on the duffle as Sam stood beside the table. “You wanna explain your cutting our interview short by giving yourself a concussion?”
“What did you want me to do, Dean? Morse code on the window with my beak? It wouldn't exactly be normal bird behavior,” Urd answered.
“But why did you do it?” Sam questioned as he studied her. “Why crash into a window like that?”
Urd took an even breath, glancing between the two men. “To get you two out of there. She's the one who put the collars on us.”
“That was her?” The surprise in Dean's voice was unmistakable. “You're sure?”
“If she wasn't the bitch, I wouldn't have given myself a concussion.” Urd paused as she brought a hand to her still throbbing head with a heavy sigh. “And given what she's made my sisters and I do, I figured it would be safer to just get you out of there than let you stay.”
Sam's eyes moved to Dean as the young woman spoke, letting out a small huff. His assumption on who could be behind it all had been just that; an assumption. His comment about hiding in plain sight had been an innocent remark, a simple example to drive home a point to his brother. He hadn't actually thought he'd be right about it.
“So the woman who pretty much knows nothing about anything is responsible for your choke chain.” Dean muttered as he shut his eyes. “That's just awesome.”
Sam crossed his arms over his chest, shaking his head. “Well, she obviously knows a lot about something if she brought them here.”
Dean took a deep breath as his eyes moved to the collar around Urd's neck. “And as long as they have those on, she can call 'em whenever she wants.”
“And add to her hit list when someone pisses her off,” Urd added softly.
The older man turned his attention to the duffle bag and pulled at the zipper as Sam and Urd watched, checking over the contents. “So we try removing it.”
Urd cast a confused gaze toward Sam, the metallic rattle of the bag drawing her attention back to Dean. She wasn't sure if she really wanted to know what was in the bag, especially given the on again – off again animosity between them. And while Sam was probably right about Dean wanting to help, she still had a little difficulty looking past the young man's thinly veiled threats.
“How do you propose we get the collar off, Dean?” Sam questioned, watching his brother search through the bag. “It was probably part of a spell we have no idea about.”
Dean grinned as he pulled a set of bolt cutters out, giving the pair a glimpse of his idea with the red metal monster. “We try a couple things.”
The young woman's jaw dropped and her gaze locked on the metal nightmare.
“You can't use that around her neck.” Sam's voice was just as shocked as the look on his face. “What are you thinking?”
Dean rested the bolt cutters on his shoulder, an honest expression of confusion on his face. “Why not?”
Sam's answer was an incredulous stare as Urd protectively grabbed at her throat.
“There's enough room to fit this behind the collar and try cutting the ring. Once its cut, we can try bending it enough to slip it off,” Dean explained as he hooked his elbow over the cutter's arm. “The blades won't get near her neck if we pull it out a little more.”
The expression on Urd's face was less than reassured at the words. Her eyes moved from Dean to the cutters and back as she listened to his plan. “Okay, um, does the person wearing the collar get a say in this?”
“Not really after that window thing,” Dean mumbled.
“But it’s my neck!” Urd glared at the man as she got to her feet. “And since it’s my neck, I get a say.”
“You want that stupid thing off or not?” Dean hissed.
Her eyes narrowed and locked with his, a dangerous gleam in them. “Not at the expense of my neck, boy.”
Sam's hand came down on Dean's free shoulder quickly as his brother took a step toward the woman. “That's enough.”
Urd slowly took her seat once more but kept a close eye on the older hunter.
“She has a point. It is her neck and honestly, I'd be leery about something like that around mine if I was her,” Sam stated as he motioned to the cutters.
“Then we'll put a towel or something against her neck to protect it.” Dean's gaze moved between the pair, an annoyed tone to his voice. “If we can get that collar off, Kim can't call her anymore and people stop dying.”
Urd let her eyes travel to Sam before she put her head down on the table.
“A couple scratches is a hell of a lot better than another person being blown up,” Dean added.
The muffled sounds of the parking lot worked into the room as Dean's words hung heavy in the air. As unlikely of a solution as bolt cutters were, getting the collar off was a good idea. If Kim couldn't call all three sisters, no one would die.
“Can you cut it quick?” Urd questioned in a small voice.
Both men turned at the question as Urd sat up and took a deep breath.
“It’s not that thick so it wouldn't take that long,” Dean answered.
Urd gave a small nod and turned calm eyes to the pair. “Then do it. Put one of the hand towels from the bathroom against my neck or whatever and cut the damn thing off.”
Dean set the bolt cutters down, giving the young woman a sidelong glance as he headed for the bathroom.
“You sure about this?” Sam asked as Dean stepped from the room.
Urd nodded and ran her thumb against the oddly chilled metal. “It's worth a shot.”
It hadn't been more than a minute before Dean returned with a towel in his hands, moving for the seated woman. He examined the collar and carefully tucked the thin terry cloth behind the metal ring. A gentle tug at the collar and a quick readjustment to the towel was all it took before he was reaching for the cutters.
“Sam, stand on her left and push the collar toward me,” the older man ordered as he picked up the heavy tool. His hand came down on the top of Urd's head and cocked it far to the left, eying the ring. “And you keep your head right there. Don't move.”
Sam stepped around Urd's side and lifted the collar up, gently pushing its inner arc against her neck. “Okay.”
There was a slight pressure on Urd's right shoulder as Dean brought the cutters up to the collar. She could make out the sound of jaws opening and finally latching onto the offending collar with a soft click. The pressure returned for a moment as Dean shifted his grip on the handles over her shoulder.
“Ready?” Dean questioned, eyes moving between Sam and Urd.
“Do it,” Urd replied as Sam nodded.
His grip tightened on the handles and he pushed the cutter arms together hard. For a brief moment Dean felt the give of metal before the arms locked in place. A determined expression crossed his face and he pressed against the cutter arms harder.
The muscles in his arms began to tremble with strain as Dean pushed the bolt cutter arms together. His look of determination began to waver and his face reddened as he struggled to cut the metal ring, letting out a frustrated groan. A quick repositioning of the handles to get better leverage and Dean tried again.
Between the strained groans and murmured vulgarity, there was another more subtle sound. Urd could make it out but couldn't place the noise even when it grew in volume. It was an insistent popping sound that turned into a protesting creak the more Dean forced the bolt cutters. And strangely, though she couldn't identify the steadily growing noise, it was familiar.
“Dean?” Urd's voice was a little unsure as the creak grew louder. “Maybe this isn't a good idea.”
“Almost got it,” Dean groaned against the cutters.
Sam's expression darkened with concern at the growing noises, his eyes locking on Dean's red face. “Dean.”
“A little more,” Dean growled.
Urd closed her eyes and pushed back the urge to cringe. That almost shrill sound of protest rang in her ears and twisted her face into something bordering on pain. She shuddered involuntarily and felt the collar press into her neck as the staccato popping assaulted her ears and stark realization dawned on her: that sound was straining steel.
Her eyes snapped open and her lips parted to give warning but it was too late. The air split with a metallic crack and a loud thud as Dean lurched forward; nearly face planting on the tacky carpet. The broken head of the bolt cutters lay in pieces on the floor near Urd's feet as the collar continued to hang unblemished around her neck.
“Son of a bitch.” Dean let his eyes move to the broken pieces of steel laying on the carpet and the unscathed collar at her throat. “You've got to be kidding me.”
Urd grabbed the hand towel and pulled it from her neck, sighing heavily as Sam released the metal ring. “It was a good try.”
“Any more bright ideas, Dean?” Sam questioned.
Dean picked up a piece of the broken bolt cutter, turning it over in his hand. “Acetylene torch comes to mind.”
The look Urd gave Dean put Sam's bitch face to shame, slowly rising from her chair with a chillingly even voice. “Come near me with one of those and no one will ever find your body.”
“Dean.” Sam glared at his brother, shaking his head. “You're not going to use an acetylene torch on her neck.”
Dean shrugged and tossed the broken chunk of steel aside. “It's an idea.”
An unamused glare from Urd's direction made Dean fall silent.
“Cutting it off doesn't seem like it’s going to work, “Sam started, crossing his arms over his chest. “If a spell put it on her neck then that spell has to be broken. Nothing you think up is going to work.”
Dean nodded slowly and took a last look at the collar as he considered their next step. “So we find a spell.”
“I was trying to when you shot me,” Urd muttered. She gave a small shrug, resting her hands on her hips. “I couldn't find anything.”
Dean's eyes moved to the broken steel on the floor then to Sam. “Then we work this just like other jobs. Urd can help cut down the research time.”
The young woman's lips curved into a smile at the words. “You're going to let me help? I feel special.”
Dean huffed softly and shrugged the comment off before he turned to Sam. His jaw clenched and he took an even breath, collecting his thoughts. “Why don't you two see what you can find on that Lund woman.”
“What are you gonna do?” Urd questioned as she walked up beside Sam.
Dean snatched the keys from the table, nudging a broken chunk of bolt cutter with his foot. “First, I'm going to go get a new pair of bolt cutters. Then I'm gonna see what I can dig up on the property you three woke up on.”