Marked

(c)2006 gekizetsu

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a/n: For Mel, who asked for a tattoo and a mystery girl. Most of the Maori info is based in some fact, although I'm inventing the symbol and its origin.

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Arizona, July, 2003

It wasn't like he was doing it on a whim. He'd had it planned for years and just never got around to it, never happened to be passing through the right place at the right time. He had a couple of days while his dad wrapped up a few loose ends one town over, and there'd be no better time.

It wasn't that big of a deal, not complicated or anything, but it had to be done a certain way or it was pointless.

He'd heard of this tattoo artist - Alan - through a contact of his dad's. He was apparently used to getting requests for tattoos that were out of the ordinary and had to be done with a particular order in mind, using specific inks, and often while specified incantations were spoken. Guy didn't bat an eye. He was a peripheral part of the network, not an active hunter, just kind of there to lend an occasional helping hand. He kept stuff stocked in the back that a hunter of the paranormal might need. Nothing illegal, of course. Just the stuff that was...hard to get hold of.

So there he was in Asscrack, Arizona on a day that had to be hotter than hell, parking in the shade around the side of a low cinderblock building and bitching internally about the dust. It didn't even look like a business, really, no neon sign in the front windows, just an old plastic placard with hours listed in black pen. Lots of bells on the door, though. Not regular bells, either. Bells that couldn't be heard with a human ear, bells that only certain things could get past.

He'd be washing the car before he met up with his dad again, because Jesus, it was a whole different color with a layer of the local pseudo-topsoil on it.

There was nothing obvious painted on the windows or door, either, because that would just ask for trouble sooner or later. Sometimes all that protection stuff just waved a red flag in front of the darker side of the world, which was plain stupid. Better to keep out of sight, Dean figured. Better to go to it rather than waiting for it to find you. Better to just go to war.

He looked at the slip of paper in his hand again, the color of it almost preternaturally white in the sun, making the symbol in the center stand out. A warrior's symbol, the bold, repetitive lines typical of the Maori. Curvilinear, based on the spiral, and very specific to a family group, also known as iwi . It was usually forbidden for a non-Maori like himself, or Pakeha , to wear anything like it; but the iwi it had belonged to was no longer in existence and he doubted they'd care much. They had been the most powerful warriors in existence for a time, long before the Maori people had even taken the name; feared across New Zealand and to anyone setting foot there from the sea. According to the texts he'd found, they had vanished to a man (woman, child) one day and never been seen again, leaving nothing behind but the descriptions and drawings of other iwi and a handful of explorers. They hadn't left a trace otherwise, and it didn't spell doom from what Dean could tell; they'd kicked ass, taken names, and blown that pop stand for better climes. Dean was all for mysterious and fierce.

Yeah. A warrior's sign. He didn't approach his father as far as skill yet, maybe he never would, but he had a lifetime of battle ahead of him, he meant to make a life of it, and he'd known when he saw the symbol that it was meant for him, somehow. Knew it inasmuch as he believed in fate or destiny or that what is for us does not pass by us. He didn't expect it to make him faster or braver, he didn't need the equivalent of Dumbo's feather to keep going. He just wanted a reminder, a visual one he chose, one that wasn't a scar. Scars meant warrior but they also often meant ‘not quite fast enough to get out of the way'.

As he approached the metal and glass swinging door, it swung outward on soundless bells, and a short, scraggly guy came out, mouse-brown frizz of hair caught back in a bit of green elastic. He nodded to Dean while fishing a beaten pack of Camels out of the front pocket of a red flannel shirt that it was too hot to be wearing.

“Yo,” the guy said.

Dean nodded in return and moved to pass. He had a vague recollection of him - Alan's assistant. Dean had seen him once before, in Tampa, before something had burned their old shop.

“John Winchester's boy, aren't you?”

Dean paused. “One of them,” he said evenly.

“Here for a little extra insurance?”

Dean smirked. “Every little bit helps.”

The guy held a hand out toward him. “Mind?”

Dean shrugged and handed the slip of paper over. It was turned over in callused hands until it was facing the right way; then came a low whistle. “Never seen this one before, then I'm seein' it twice in one day. Go figure.”

Dean found himself narrowing his eyes a little for something besides the glare of the day. “Someone else asking for this?”

The guy jerked his head back toward the building. “Alan's got her in there now, almost done. Strange piece of work - this, and her.” He paused to light a cigarette.

“Her,” Dean said, then felt like an idiot for just echoing. In all their traveling and keeping track of the loose network of hunters, none of them were female and Dean had always felt ripped off. Who the hell else was he going to hook up with that realized how important this all was?

“Pretty thing. Kind of quiet, kind of...” The guy trailed off and smoked for a moment as if he'd lost his train of thought. “Somethin' about her. Somethin' that makes you think you should recognize her."

Dean stared at him, more curious than he wanted to be. “She tell you anything about this?” he said, gesturing to the symbol.

The guy seemed to snap out of it, and handed the paper back. “Said it was overdue. Not sure what that means. Said she'd been waiting a long time to do it.”

“But you've never seen her before,” Dean said, making it a statement.

“Nah. Seems like I have, though, you know. I dunno. I'll tell Alan you're here, you wanna fry inside or fry out here?”

Dean knew damn well the place didn't have air conditioning. Out there he at least had a chance at a breeze. Plus, he could watch who came and went. “I'll take my chances out here, man,” he said.

The guy nodded, took another drag, then flicked the butt off his fingers into the dirt before disappearing back inside.

Dean went back to the Impala and leaned on the front of the hood, watching the building. He didn't bother running over all of the possibilities of who she might be or what he was going to do when she came out. Hit on her, first thing, that went without saying, and if he was lucky then they could spend the night comparing tattoos. It just happened to be one of the most interesting coincidences he'd run across recently. If that's all it was. He wasn't the only one getting hooked on obscure symbolism, that was all. It wasn't like they were soulmates or anything.

He snorted aloud at the idea.

He didn't have that long to wait. Fifteen minutes later, the door swung open and a tall, shapely girl in a blue midriff-baring tank and denim cutoffs came out, swinging mid-back length auburn curls away from her neck. Without so much as a pause, she came right for him, dark eyes centering on him with purpose. He straightened when she got within a couple of feet - pretty much in his personal space, really - and stared at him with a small, gently amused smirk.

“Dean Winchester,” she said flatly in a soft alto.

He stared at her for a moment, because, wow, amazing to look at, but he knew there was no way Alan or the other guy had said his name in front of someone they didn't know. She said his name like she was just confirming it for herself, like she was saying Oh, you again .

“Do I know you?” he said, holding her gaze. Her eyes were so dark that only a slant of sun could spark any color off them, an incredible bolt of honey.

“You mean a formal introduction?” she said. “Well. We run in the same...circles.” She didn't offer a hand. The symbol Dean had brought with him was visible on her right shoulder, and the skin around it wasn't red. The tattoo looked as if it'd been there for weeks, not minutes, colors bright and standing off her skin as if hovering above. And he got it.

She wasn't human.

He went for his gun.

“Dean Winchester,” she said without a change in expression, and he paused without knowing why, breath caught. “If I was on the other team, you'd already be dead. Later on you'll remember not to just assume evil.”

“So what the hell are you, then?” Dean said with more aggression than he'd intended to give away. He was letting her know he was shaken. He kept a hand on the gun at his belt and stared, eyes wide, ready to move when, not if, he had to.

She smiled then, and he dropped his hand.

“C'mon,” he said. He hated the way it sounded, startled and almost desperate. “What do you want?”

“When you're upset,” she said, “Your script is more visible. Did you know that?”

Shit.

Her again.

“You can't show up in the same form twice?” he said. “I don't need any fuckin' reminders about the script. What are you, following me now? God's got nothing better for -“

She jerked him off the hood of the car (sad, really, chicks were usually trying to get him on it) and backed him over to the side of the building, slamming him into it before he could even flinch. He'd forgotten how strong she was.

“Don't talk about God ,” she said.

Dean grinned at her. “Hit a nerve?”

“This,” she said, “...is what happens when the ancient words are spoken by children. Don't complain about what you've brought on yourself.”

“I know who you think you are,” Dean said. “I mean, if you're gonna convince yourself of something, pretending to be a Watcher is good. If you've got delusions of grandeur or whatever, babe. Which one do you think you are? Danel? Armers? Semya - “

His taunting trailed off into a grunt of surprise when the hand on his chest slid down his abdomen, fingers sliding under the waistband of his jeans.

“Watch your mouth, Dean Winchester,” she said softly.

He felt a mild burning across his shoulders and knew it was the tattoo that no one else could see but her and probably others like her, whatever the hell she really was. He'd seen it only once, when it had been applied to Sam's back years earlier. Angelic script in gold and black that the creature before him had branded them with.

Well. You practice enough exorcisms, toss around enough of the old words, and sooner or later somebody hears you doing it and comes to look.

Sam's Latin had never been the same since, but nothing had quite been able to get in since that night either. Things had tried . It was like he and Sam were immune to possession.

Dean would wonder in later years whether it would have made a difference had their father been there, if he'd been branded too. Things would have been very, very different had all three Winchesters been immune.

She'd never made it clear, when she'd come out of the dark and touched them and everything had gone white, whether she was protecting them or trying to claim some sort of ownership. Sam hadn't remembered any of it and Dean had never pressed the issue.

“What the hell do you want from us?” Dean said finally.

“You're already doing it,” she said. “Sam doesn't believe now, but he will again.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Dean said, sliding away along the wall and away from her touch. “Don't you mess with Sam, bitch, or you'll be finding out how many ancient words I know. You can be banished just like anything else.”

“Again, assuming evil,” she said.

“What the fuck do you think this looks like?” Dean said, realizing he was raising his voice and not caring.

"Demons don't have pitchforks or horns," she said. "Still, they're all over and it's not until they do something that you even notice or recognize them. You're a naive little bastard, Dean Winchester. Why did you think anything else would have wings and a halo?"

"Why did you think I'd even bother believing there'd be anything left walking around that would play polar opposite to a demon?" Dean snapped. "You aren't it. Sure as hell haven't seen anything jump out of the woodwork ahead of us ."

“Maybe there's no need for it,” she said, and her face was too placid for him to make out whether she was serious or not. “Maybe that's why there are Winchesters.”

He stared at her, shocked into silence. She was crazy.

“Who do you think some of these symbols came from?” she said, pointing to her shoulder. “Did you think the peoples who have carried these for millennia just made them up and that alone gave them some kind of power? I'm beginning to worry that you may not be what I'd hoped, Dean Winchester.”

Before he realized he was going to, Dean laughed. “Oh, fuck you,” he said.

“Not today,” she said. “Maybe next time. You are lovely, for a mortal and a human.”

That shut him up again.

“I'm not going to interfere in anything that happens,” she said. “It's all up to you. All you need to remember is that you'll need Sam again one day. You'll know it, when it comes. And from then on in this life, every time you walk away from him for any reason, make sure you go back. Then you'll be fine.”

He kept staring at her. Calling her crazy again wouldn't do any good, so he tried to process the words and find the threat in them, because sooner or later she was going to want something. He knew it. They'd called some kind of weird bullshit down on themselves and he just didn't know what yet.

He looked out across the scrub-littered turnaround that passed for a driveway to that place, then to the road beyond, watching the heat ripple off it. He heard the door open back around the corner, heard the bells, and jerked his head back around to look at her, because he wasn't supposed to be able to -

She was gone.

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