Dean tossed his pen aside with a huff, running a hand over his face.
He had been staring at who knew how many web pages in an effort to track down a spell powerful enough to break the collars with no luck. The longer he looked, the more the words began running into one another. He was beginning to wonder how Bobby managed researching anything without pulling his hair out.
He looked across the room to the figure camped out on the couch.
Urd was curled up with a legal pad and pen at the end of the tacky looking sofa scribbling down any spell idea she could come up with to help. She looked just as frustrated as he was, rolling her pen cap between her teeth. Even the sigh she let out as she flipped to a clean page sounded annoyed.
“How's the brainstorming going?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Annoyingly slow.” Urd looked from her paper, rolling her head against her shoulders with a pop. “I know too many spells that can qualify as binding spells.”
Dean closed the laptop in front of him, resting his elbows on the table. “I don't get this.”
“Get what?” the young woman questioned.
“How does a Fate goddess know so much about spells?” He gave a shrug, motioning to the legal pad in her lap. “All those rattling around in your head like that.”
Urd got up and walked over to him, tossing the pad of paper down. “When you've been around as long as we have, you learn a few things.”
Dean looked over the pages as she took a seat across from him. “Looks like you learned a lot.”
“We get a lot of free-time on occasion. So I read and I study and some of it happens to be about what your kind dabbles with.” Urd folded her hands on the table in front of her as he read. “It pays to know what others have up their sleeves. Granted I don't know everything you humans come up with but still.”
He flipped through the pages, raising an eyebrow. “All these work?”
“Mostly against lesser beings but yeah. Banshee, ghosts, nature spirits and the like.” Her eyes locked on Dean's face and the amazed expression painted on it. “You've never even heard of those, have you?”
“No. I don't even think Bobby's heard of these,” Dean answered, shaking his head.
Urd put her chin on her interlaced fingers with a sigh. “Most of them have been “lost” over time. At least lost to humans at any rate.”
Dean flipped back to the first page, turning his attention to the woman across from him.
This had to be a first for them. Since Urd had been with them, the pair had been at each other. It was a not so subtle battle of the personalities from the start and he figured it would stay that way. But here they were in a civil moment with not one sarcastic comment from either of them. He felt like he could ask her anything.
He shook his head at the thought and pushed the papers back across the table, grabbing for the laptop once more.
Urd watched the young man seated across from her quietly. Dean had been the least approachable of the pair from the start in her mind. At least, that was how he had come off. He had done his damnedest to keep a distance from her; the little clashes of personality between them and handing her off to Sam becoming almost common place. In fact, she had written it all off as a hunter trait with him.
But sitting here now, something was different. He wasn't just the sarcastic do-the-job hunter from the bookstore alley. Sitting across from him now was like sitting across from any other person just finding out about them. There was a curiosity just below the surface that he seemed to be fighting against, the slight shift of emotion in his eyes a telltale sign. She wasn't sure what he was wrestling with but she knew it was something he'd probably end up burying if it wasn't touched on.
“Something on your mind, Dean?” Urd asked softly.
Something was a bit of an understatement. Dean had more on his mind than he'd admit to anyone, even Sam. It was a growing pressure that needed to be released; the nagging thoughts about his father and those last words said to him in the hospital weighing heavy on him. The feeling of not knowing anything had been eating at him until he couldn't take it anymore. At least until this job. Coming face to face with Fate, the living breathing goddesses themselves, had made that weight seem to ease. If anyone had the answers, even if he didn't like them, it would be those women. It hadn't been until now that he actually got the chance to ask.
Dean took an even breath and let it out in a sigh. “Where would I even start?”
Urd smiled and sat up, waiting patiently.
“How much of a role do you play in people's lives?” He paused for a moment as he considered his wording. “How does it work?”
Her smile softened as she looked across the table. “Are you asking about individual lives?”
Dean answered with a nod, a sudden heavy feeling pressing down on him.
Urd sat forward, catching the subtle way he straightened as if he were bracing for some bad news. “It’s not exactly easy to explain. And I'm sorry if my answers sound callous.”
There was genuine sincerity in her voice as she spoke, something that surprised the young man.
“My sisters and I very seldom play a role in an individual life, contrary to what some believe. We come into play when history changes. Sometimes it’s the death of one person, sometimes its many more.” She brought a hand up to the side of her neck, resting her jaw against her palm. “Honestly, we have a habit of not caring until your number is up.”
Dean could feel a little of the pressure ease from his shoulders with her answer.
“Somewhere down the line you humans took us to be the controllers of everything that each one of you does. Maybe it was because someone saw us at an accident or something. But we aren't. You control your own actions and choices until our paths cross,” she explained, giving a tiny shrug. “That's how free will works.”
Dean gave her an odd look, his head cocking slightly. “Free will, huh? This from the woman who referred to us as puppets on strings.”
“Like I said, it’s not easy to explain.” Urd raised her right hand, Dean's eyes catching the telltale glimmer of his thread dancing around her fingers. “Yes, I can use this thread to move you. I can do it with any thread but I'd rather not. That's not to say I haven't done it before but in most cases I'd rather just watch where you move yourself.”
A quick wave of her hand and the thread vanished. She sat back in her chair as Dean rubbed at his breastbone, sighing softly. She sat quietly for a moment, carefully choosing her words in the silence before continuing the explanation.
“We've always liked the fact your kind has strong wills. You do what you want, when you want and damn what others say. For some of you, it comes out terrible sometimes but that's to be expected. We don't mess with your free will the way others try,” she stated. “Or try not to at least.”
“What about the people you hook up with? Or the ones you become friends with?” he questioned.
“Our favorites.” Urd laughed softly, shaking her head. “Those ones we do treat differently. We give them warnings about things if they're in the wrong place. There are some I've had to throw or pull to safety. Those are the few individuals we've played a role with.”
Dean listened quietly to her answer, relaxing against the chair back. “You ever throw Bobby?”
Urd shook her head. “No. But he has held a gun on me before. And he got punched for it.”
Dean couldn't help but laugh at the mental image of Bobby being hit by the woman seated across from him. He wasn't sure how hard the young woman could hit or for that matter what form she had been in but he was pretty sure it would have hurt. That and picturing Bobby being wailed on by a goddess was amusing.
“If need be though, I would end up either warning him or moving him,” she added. “If it came down to it.”
He pushed the mental image aside with a grin and a clearing of his throat, leveling his gaze on Urd. “I'm sure he'd appreciate the save.”
“But until that time comes, I let him do as he pleases.” Urd watched Dean nod, running her fingers over the table's top. “And be his historical go to for things when the need arises.”
“You help Bobby and he helps other hunters,” Dean muttered.
“Believe me, it makes for some interesting phone calls,” Urd stated calmly.
Dean got up and headed toward the small kitchen counter, putting some distance between the two of them. He was still rolling the woman's answers around in his head. Even though he had brought the topic up, it was making him a little uncomfortable.
“So how does it work?” He turned at the counter, leaning against the sink as he spoke. “You three go around the planet acting human until some voice pops into your head telling you to kill?”
Urd's expression became somber as she looked at Dean, biting her lower lip. “Not exactly.”
“Then how?” Dean pressed.
“Instinct and will, Dean. Instinct tells us where to be but it’s our will that makes things happen. If I feel like pulling someone's thread, that's up to me. The same thing with my sisters,” she replied, watching him from the table. “Gods and men bow to our will, no exceptions.”
“Instinct?” Dean's expression was confused as his voice took a hard edge.
Urd sighed, pushing herself up from the table. “Your kind doesn't understand instinct anymore. You've lost it so long ago it’s an alien term to you now.
Dean found himself holding on to the counter's edge as she stood. “So someone dies while the next guy lives is based on if you feel like it?”
“Pretty much,” she answered.
“That how it was with my dad?” he asked, the edge still in his voice.
Urd's brow knit at the question as her expression darkened. “What?”
“Is that what happened with my dad?” He crossed his arms over his chest with a small shrug, trying to keep the harshness out of his words. “You just felt like pulling his thread that day?”
Urd's eyes softened, shaking her head slowly.
She had been here before, Dean's question bringing up a topic she had come across once. Last time it had been a phone call from Bobby that prompted the talk but this was far from a cross country call. Dean was face to face with her instead of a voice over a phone line. Seeing the hints of emotion flash in his eyes while his face showed nothing was far different than simply listening for a hint of a vocal cue.
“You think we were behind your father's death?” She kept the table between them as she tried to read him. “That somehow we were behind it?”
He swallowed back the lump in his throat, feeling slightly uneasy under her gaze.
“Dean, your father was not one of ours. I only met John once and that was it. He wasn't one of ours at all,” she answered.
Though his face remained unreadable, the subtle flash in his eyes showed her answer was less than comforting.
“What we do isn't exactly an easy job, especially when we're blamed for things we don't have a hand in. And it’s hard to explain that to a species who, overtime, made us the rulers of even the most mundane aspects of your lives,” Urd added. Her hands fell down to her sides with a sigh and a shake of her head. “No matter how many times we explain it to humans, we can't erase countless centuries of myth your kind considers truth about us.”
Dean was silent for a moment, his gaze moving to the kitchen's tacky yellow linoleum. “You said you don't mess with our free will.”
“We try not. That's why hearing you humans say that someone avoided dying in an accident because they stopped for coffee was “fate” is so ridiculous to us. We don't tell you where to be. That's how free will works. A step to the right here or stay at this place instead of that and you change how things end up for you. Free will can trump us sometimes. “She leaned forward, resting her hands on the table's top. “That's why we get a laugh out of people who claim to know the future as if it’s written in stone. There are only three people who know what's going to happen and we rarely talk to anyone about it.”
Dean straightened at her comment, his eyes quickly moving to her face. “What happens?”
“You really want to know?” Urd cocked her head as he gave a small nod. “Everything dies and my sisters and I get to watch.”
The air felt heavy between them, Dean pushing away from the counter. He suddenly felt the need to put some more distance between himself and the young woman at the table. The way her blue eyes almost seemed to stare through him made him even more uneasy.
“Gotta hit the head,” he mumbled, running a hand through his hair. He passed the table and gave her a dismissive nod. “Help yourself to the computer.”
She listened quietly to his retreating footsteps and the closing of the bathroom door before returning to her seat.
A deep sigh made her shoulders sink; her fingertips pushing the spell covered legal pad out of the way as she sat back. “Well, that went well.”
The sound of running water in the bathroom met her ears and she could only imagine what was going through the young man's mind. She knew their conversation had worn down Dean's defensive walls; she had seen it in his eyes as they spoke. He was probably splashing some water on his face trying to compose himself.
She let her head fall back against the chair as she slumped down in her seat.
Researching more spells wasn't high on her “to do” list anymore and she doubted it was on Dean's either. The pages of scribbled spells that had been rattling around in her head hadn't been much help, Dean's computer search ending on the same note. It was depressing to see all this work they were doing amount to nothing.
Her head rolled to the side as she heard the motel door open, a rather unamused look on her face.
Sam was across the threshold and about to shut the door when he paused, brow knitting as he noticed the young woman's expression. “Um...hi?”
“Hi, Sam.” Urd let out a heavy sigh, leaning back in her chair. “How was the library?”
The door closed with a soft click, Sam looking around as he walked toward the table. “Quiet. Where's Dean?”
“Bathroom,” Urd mumbled, letting her gaze move to her feet.
Sam gave a slow nod and stopped beside the table, tossing his notebook near the laptop. “How's the spell research going?”
“Stopped it,” she answered flatly.
He said nothing as she kicked her feet absently beneath the table. His talk with Skuld was still fresh in his mind as he watched the young woman for a moment before shaking his head. He let out a small huff and moved to the kitchen for a drink.
The water in the bathroom shut off, Dean returning looking more like the hunter Urd was used to. A quick glance toward the young woman and a small clearing of his throat and he was back to business as usual. He didn't even look as if anything had happened at all.
“Did you find anything, Sam?”
The question made Urd glance up from her feet toward the younger man before she put her head on the table.
Sam shut the kitchen faucet off and swirled the cold water around in his glass before taking a drink. “Too much and not enough.”
“Great,” Dean sighed, crossing his arms over his chest.
Urd's eyes moved to the pair as they spoke, keeping her head on the table.
“I dug up all I could on each victim and the only common connection they had was that they ended up dead by the Fates.” Sam looked toward Urd, nodding her way. “You and Kim's list seem to be the only connections.”
“Not exactly helpful,” Urd muttered.
“No its not.” Dean was silent for a moment as a thoughtful expression crossed his face. “What about jobs or something?”
Sam shook his head, setting his glass on the counter. “The victims read like a cross section of town. Everyone from a lawyer to two unemployed women drawing state aid.”
Dean moved back to the table, taking his seat once more. “Doesn't exactly scream motive.”
“Maybe we're looking too deep into all this,” Sam offered. He closed the distance to the table, looking at the pair. “Maybe we're looking for a motive when there really isn't one. Maybe this Kim woman is just crazy.”
“I vote for the whole crazy thing,” Urd chimed in. Her tone was sincere as she sat up, looking at the men. “I mean who in their right mind has a lawn gnome. Seriously.”
Both men shot her an odd look at the comment as she gave a questioning shrug and reached for Sam's notebook.
“So crazy lady manages to trap the Fates and proceeds to wipe out the town just because she can,” Dean mused. He rolled his eyes, resting his arms on the tabletop. “That sounds completely sane to me.”
Sam let out a huff and shrugged, looking down at his brother. “You have any better ideas, I'm all ears.”
Urd flipped through Sam's notes, chewing at her cheek. “What about Kim's job?”
Both men paused, watching her skim over the pages of victim notes. Dean looked almost shocked at the serious question while Sam seemed to be mulling it over in his head. It wasn't until Urd glanced up from the pages that one of them said something.
“What do you mean?” Dean questioned.
“She works at an insurance agency, right?” Urd picked up one of the victims Sam researched, reading over the packet. “Maybe she had dealings with the victims that way.”
Sam walked toward Urd as she looked through the victim files. “I've been going through so many names it never dawned on me to check her job for a connection.”
“Twenty-five names are enough to make anyone overlook something. “ Urd sat back with a sigh, motioning toward the papers. “And it’s not like all this is easy to sort through.”
Sam pulled up a chair and began skimming through the collection of research as Urd looked across the table toward Dean.
“You sound like you've dealt with crazy humans before,” she said evenly.
Dean's lips pulled into an almost cocky grin as he gave a shrug. “A couple. Capturing a handful of pagan goddesses is a new one though.”
The young woman's arms crossed over her chest, her lips pursing thoughtfully. “I'm sure all this is very educational for you two.”
The shuffling of papers stopped, Sam straightening slightly as he read beside her.
“I myself find this highly educational,” she said calmly. She thumbed at the iron ring around her throat, an unamused expression on her face. “I've learned some of you humans are batshit crazy with major death wishes.”
“I think I found something,” Sam informed.
Dean and Urd's attention turned to the younger man as he set the paper down. After their uneventful morning the even remote chance for some type of lead was promising. It made the hours in front of a computer and scribbling random spells seem less pointless.
“The first “victim” in town was a man named Phillip Byron. By all accounts he was a good guy, well-liked by everyone.” Sam pulled out an obituary, letting the pair get a look at the accompanying photo. “He was jogging when he died. His accident scene was the first photo that the Fates showed up in.”
Urd nodded slowly, sighing heavily as she looked at the black and white picture. “Tripped over the laces of his running shoe and fell in front of a uniform truck. They had to scrape him off the pavement after that.”
Dean winced at the mental image of the man in the newspaper photo being reduced to a smear on the asphalt. “So what's the connection to crazy Kim?”
“Byron was a partner at Byron and Rogers Insurance.” Sam flipped to his earlier research on Kim, turning the notebook around for Dean to read. “The same company Kim works at.”
Urd raised an eyebrow as she glanced toward Sam. “She had us kill one of her bosses?”
“With a uniform truck,” Dean muttered evenly as he read.
“Not my first choice.” Urd brought a hand up to comb through her hair with an uneasy sigh. “That was Verdandi.”
Dean pushed the notebook away and looked across the table at his brother. “Well, that's more than we had a minute ago.”
“Byron and Rogers is the only insurance agency in town. How much you want to bet they've got the Ballard’s as clients,” Sam informed.
Dean looked over the mess of papers laying across the table. “Worth looking into.”
“So you two are gonna just show up at her office? I'm sure she's gonna love that.” Urd gave a small shrug as she looked from Dean to Sam. “That sounds oh so safe.”
“Ballard's death is still being investigated so a couple FBI agents showing up shouldn't raise any red flags,” Sam informed.
“And that's the best lead we have so far.” Dean pushed away from the table as Sam began to gather up everything. “Maybe we can find something there.”
Urd let out a heavy sigh as she shook her head, watching the older man walk toward the bedroom. “For the record, I feel this is a bad idea.”
“Duly noted,” Dean shot back, waving the young woman off.
Her gaze shifted to Sam as he gathered up the papers. “How do you manage not to hit him on a daily basis?”
“Years of practice.” Sam put the notebook and research pages aside, giving the goddess a reassuring smile. “We've done this before, Urd. We'll be fine.”
Urd remained seated as Sam left to get changed, letting out an even breath. “Famous last words.”