Retrieval


© 2010 gekizetsu

I’ve got an ache like a cat thief’s got an alarm
It’s got a sound like a gunshot over and over
Got a voice so lost off back in my head
It takes the heart rate up, then down even lower
Got my friends face down like a kid in the dark
They’ve got the same fear built up more, even more
Lit my eyes right up like a predator shark
To let my mind close down every hour by hour…

-- Angels and Airwaves, The Flight of Apollo


_______________

SPN/NCIS xover, sequel to Volatile Compounds. help_haiti fic for baileytc that takes place early in season 5 for SPN. Her prompt was for case related gen and she was ok with another NCIS xover. The rest is not her fault. Warning: If you have a higher level of discomfort reading about babies being eaten by monsters off screen, beware. They dealt with it a little in the show in season 4, but not to this extent. Additional warning: bonus shark jumping!

Gibbs warned Sam and Dean not to use their NCIS badges again unless they checked with him first. They didn’t realize that in Gibbs-speak it meant he would be contracting work out to them whenever something came along that couldn’t be killed with government-issued firepower.

14,500 words, PG-13.

_______________

-|-

Elkins, West Virginia

Sam gazed impassively into the rain as they checked into a motel room just off the 219, listening to Dean check his phone for messages. Dean had been lax about it recently, since Bobby and Castiel had their own ringtones (Bruce Dickinson’s Hell On Wheels for the former and Meatloaf’s Heaven Can Wait for the latter) and anything else was either a wrong number or yet another hunter calling to threaten them over supposedly causing the Apocalypse. They checked every few days all the same to make sure there wasn’t at least something interesting.

It was damn late and they were both damn tired.

Dean made an impatient sound behind him that came too close to sounding like a disgruntled teenage girl, then tossed his phone onto the middle of the bed closest to the door. Sam turned to glance at him.

“Who the fuck does this guy think he is? I don’t jump just because he snaps his fingers.”

He waved his hand toward the discarded phone when Sam raised his eyebrows, then shrugged into his jacket and went out into the rain.

Sam retrieved Dean’s phone and listened to the lone message.

Winchester. This is Gibbs. Get your asses to DC. Now.

Sam raised his eyebrows again in genuine surprise, checking the timestamp. The call had come in earlier that night, around eleven. He remembered Gibbs all too well, and Dean’s reaction was no surprise. Neither of them were going to want much to do with law enforcement in any capacity, especially when they already had their hands full dealing with another level of authority that was just as troublesome. No telling what NCIS wanted with them again. No way was Gibbs summoning them as if they were tardy employees just so they could chat.

Sam opened the door and glanced around. Dean was nowhere in sight and the Impala was still parked where they’d left it the night before. That told Sam enough. Dean was too pissed to sit still. There weren’t many people - or entities, for that matter - that could still rattle his brother.

He went out to the car and checked through their current IDs. The NCIS badges were still there.

Didn’t matter. It wasn’t like they were going to come when called.

Dean returned a half hour later with a plastic bag from some mini-mart down the road, soaking wet, hair plastered to his head in a way that took about ten years off his face but not out of his eyes. He had obviously cooled down by several degrees, enough to be reasonable. He shrugged out of his jacket and put the bag on the floor, openly scoffing at the sight of his phone, which was back on his bed.

“Think it’s a trap?” Sam said. “Or a case?”

“Don’t care,” Dean said. “Guy is way off his rocker, to give us orders. We don’t work for anybody, much less him, especially when he doesn’t even know what the fuck we’re up against out here.”

Sam eyed him from his own bed where he’d been watching a rerun of Lost. Dean’s shoulders were too stiff, jaw still set with obstinance. That kind of display meant Dean was a little…uncertain. Add in the need to be verbally defiant, and --

“Holy shit, you’re thinking of going,” Sam said, unable to keep a note of surprise out of his tone.

What? No.” Dean was careful not to look at him.

Sam sat up straight and draped his forearms over his knees, watching Dean closely. “You wanna know what he wants with us, and whether he needs us. He went to the trouble to search our phones and get our numbers, or at least yours, and he dropped that comment about not using the badges unless he gave an okay. You knew he wasn’t done with us yet.”

“Oh, he’s done,” Dean said, kicking his wet boots into a corner. “This isn’t like the last season of the A-Team where that asshole general with the big glasses made them run around on missions for the government.”

Sam shook his head. “He’s not gonna call at eleven at night because he wants to turn us over to someone, not even if a demon or six got hold of him.”

“If a demon had one of his team, yeah, he would,” Dean said.

Sam began to wonder at the level of agitation Dean was displaying over a call he could simply ignore. “Wow. You went there quick.”

“He’s got no other use for us,” Dean said shortly. “Screw them, we don’t owe them anything. Whatever it is, they’ll figure it out.”

He paced in a snit for a minute or so before disappearing into the bathroom for a towel. He scrubbed it roughly through his hair before settling it around his neck and stalking over to grab a beer out of the bag he’d brought in.

“I don’t care what it is, nobody tells us where to go,” he muttered.

-|-

Two hours later they were asleep when their door was kicked in, and before either of them could get to a weapon, someone had stormed into the room and was leveling a glare on them that seemed worse than a gun.

“I thought I told you to get your asses to DC,” Gibbs said through his teeth.

“Sonofabitch,” Dean said.

-|-

The drive to DC was even more uncomfortable than the one they’d suffered with Jo and Ellen after Jo had taken off to hunt with them and Ellen had tracked them down. There was still an element of scorned parent to the whole thing, though, which was weird.

That was the nicest invitation I’ve given anyone in a long time, Gibbs had said. I was fresh out of stamps and fancy note cards.

No, no one on the team was dead or dying or possessed or missing, which was their first assumption, with Gibbs behaving the way he was.

It should have occurred to one or both that Gibbs could very, very easily track the GPS on their phones any time he wanted to. They’d thought to check the car for bugs and hadn’t found anything, so the phones seemed too simple in comparison. Too easy when NCIS had McGee.

“I’m going to get some shut-eye back here,” Gibbs said. “I shouldn’t have had to waste a lot of time coming to get you two, so you get to make up for it. Abby’s going to be calling you when she has more info, but for now you figure out what the hell can steal a pregnant woman’s infant and half her organs without leaving an incision or a goddamn trace behind. And figure it out fast.”

Sam and Dean shared a glance in the front as Gibbs stretched out in the back.

“Lots of things will eat babies and steal organs, but not usually at the same time,” Sam murmured.

“Our good buddy Lilith was a baby-eater, but she waited until they were born,” Dean said, voice just as low. “Grabbing a baby in utero is…”

“Usually messy and really hard to do when the mother isn’t cooperating,” Sam said. “We don’t have enough to go on.”

“I’m not gonna start asking him questions right now,” Dean said, jerking his head toward the backseat. “Are you?”

Sam shrugged and kept facing forward. They kept their voices low.

“Maybe newborns aren’t fresh enough for it,” Dean said.

“Please don’t talk about babies like they’re seafood,” Sam said.

Dean shrugged. “Catch of the day is catch of the day. We need to find out which organs it’s targeting at the same time. And there’s no way it’s teleporting things out, I’ve never heard of anything that can do that, so we have to figure out how it’s…harvesting.”

“One of the victims will have been on leave from the military or the wife of someone who’s serving, to get the attention of NCIS,” Sam said. “We’ll have to call Bobby and see if he’s heard anything, so we can see if this is a rogue or something that’s finally getting its chance now that the Horsemen are up.”

“We’ve made pretty short work of the Horsemen so far,” Dean said. “Kinda disappointing, actually.”

Sam hummed. “Not all of them.”

They fell into a discontented silence for several long minutes while Dean pushed the speed limit without concern. He was pretty sure any cop who stopped them would get a face full of Gibbs.

“Lilith was the most famous baby-eater, but not the only one,” Sam said finally. “She had followers. If it’s that careful about how it does it, that it’s not leaving a trace, then we’re dealing with something intelligent and most likely demonic. All it really has to do is rip someone open and take what it wants, but it’s being careful. It has rules.”

“It’s as much about scaring the shit out of us hairless apes as it is about getting a fix, then,” Dean said. “Any asshole serial killer can rip someone open, but if news about something like this gets out, there’s panic.”

Sam dug his phone out and dialed Bobby. There was no answer at first, so he waited several minutes, knowing the wheelchair made everything take a little longer. He didn’t just want to leave a message for once.

Sometimes Sam wondered why a demon or three didn’t burn Bobby’s house down, with all the lore and books and talismans involved. They knew where he was and had hassled him before, but they hadn’t gotten around to eliminating one of the hunting communities’ biggest repositories of knowledge. Not even all the warding he’d done was going to prevent a good firebombing, if something was of the mind. Bobby had taken to storing the more important things down in the Panic Room, true, but not everything.

“Lots of theorizing and no data,” Sam said. “We’re last resort, here. You know that, right? If Abby and McGee weren’t able to pin anything down --”

“I know, I know. They can’t just get this kind of info through normal channels,” Dean said. “They’ll have tried, and failed, before getting us involved.”

Sam tilted his head to give Dean a closer look. “What happened to ‘screw them’?”

They both paused to glance in the rearview mirror. Gibbs didn’t stir. He slept in a kind of pissed off way, though.

“Got nothing better to do right now anyway,” Dean said with a carefully blank expression.

Sam tried Bobby again. Still no answer.

“We got nothing to tell him yet,” Dean said. “Might as well hold off.”

“Be nice to have a head start.”

They lost themselves in their own thoughts for awhile, and twenty minutes later, Dean’s phone buzzed. He didn’t recognize the number, but the area code rang a bell. “Dominoes’ Pizza and House Of Ill Repute; pepperoni master Ron Jeremy speaking.”

“Deeeeeeeeeean,” Abby said with audible excitement. “I’ve missed you!”

Coming from nearly anyone else, Dean wouldn’t have believed it, but Abby was one of the least fake people he’d ever run into, so he had no problem taking the statement at face value. “Well, we’re on the way, so that’s one thing I can solve.”

“I guess Gibbs found you already, huh,” she said. He could hear a grin.

Dean glanced in the rearview again. “With extreme prejudice.”

“He’s a big teddy bear,” she said. “You should see him when he’s really mad.”

“Next time I’ll just answer the phone,” he said lightly. “Got anything for us?”

“A lot and almost nothing all at once,” she said, her tone falling into her own patented excited professionalism. “It’s awful, really awful, but at the same time I want to figure it out, which means I can’t stop looking at everything, you know? Did Gibbs tell you?”

“We got mostly a one-sentence wrap up, so if you could narrow things down, that would be awesome.”

“There are three women we know about so far, all killed three days apart, and we got involved because one is a Lieutenant on maternity leave,” Abby said. “Was, I mean. Their babies, their livers and one lung were missing but there’s no obvious exit point. No incisions, no punctures, not even bruising. But Ducky says there’s internal tearing where the organs were just ripped out. There should be blood all over and broken bones or something, but there’s nothing on the outside to show what went on inside. So Gibbs came right out and said nothing human does things like that and you should have seen Leon’s face! I thought he was going to have a transient ischemic attack.”

“Leon?”

“Director Vance,” Abby said. “Mainly he thought Gibbs was messing with him but now he’s been looking for him for hours and I think he’s ready to start chewing on his own desk.”

“Nothing on the bodies,” Dean said. “Nothing? No scratches, no weird marks on the floor around them --”

“Tony and McGee didn’t find anything,” Abby said. “They even went back to double check, and Ziva even went, and there’s nothing that looks like this was any kind of ritual. I even called some people who know some weird occult things, without really telling them anything since it’s an active case, but they don’t have any ideas. The women didn’t have anything in common except they were alone before they were found and they were all pregnant.”

“Any similarity in how pregnant?” Dean said. Sam was staring at him hard, waiting for any bit of info he could latch onto from that side of the conversation.

“Oooh, good question. Twelve weeks, sixteen weeks, and twenty weeks.”

“A slightly bigger mouthful each time,” Dean said.

What?”

“Nothing,” Dean said quickly. “Nothing. Did the victims even look alike?”

“Nope. Blonde, brunette, redhead. All were first time moms, though. That’s all we’ve got so far. Come on in and get good and briefed and we can all put our heads together.”

Dean tucked his phone away and looked at Sam. “All first time moms.”

“That,” Sam said, “…is just ugly. They’ll have already looked at husbands or boyfriends, and not found a suspect, if they’re involving us.”

“They’re at the end of their damn rope if they’re admitting again that it’s something that’s not human. And they’ve probably all agreed it’s not human.” Dean gripped the steering wheel like he wished it was someone’s throat. “What’re we trusting these guys for? They turned us over to the FBI last time.”

“For a reason,” Sam said. “And then they let us go. And we’re not going to turn our backs on something like this. Don’t even act like you could.” He paused and glanced in the rearview again, lowering his voice even further. “Plus, I think he’d follow us around and maybe even shoot us if we tried to take off. It’s not like he’s got a lot of hunters on speed dial.”

“Not anybody he can trust,” Dean said. “Shit, he can’t even trust us, but here we are. This is the last time, Sam, I mean it.”

Sam rubbed at an eye. “I’m not trying to talk you into anything. I’m just giving you the facts, man.”

Dean made a sound in the back of his throat that suggested he wasn’t interested in the facts.

They were quiet for a long time after that, lost in their own thoughts. Sam dozed off.

When they stopped for coffee at an all night place an hour later, Sam woke and shared a glance with Dean that he understood meant he should stay put.

Sam stretched his legs as much as he could while still sitting. Dean had parked slightly away from anyone else to leave them a little room in case someone or something approached the car. It had become standard procedure. Anything they wouldn’t see coming would just pop in or out and would be angelic or demonic and they just had to deal with that as it came. Nothing had happened that had caused them to ward more than the trunk. Yet.

“Hear from Bobby yet?”

Sam started a little at the voice in the backseat and hoped it hadn’t been visible. Then he realized what Gibbs had said, and he froze.

“I know a lot more than you want me to,” Gibbs said without sitting up. “Get over it.”

“Not yet,” Sam said. “We didn’t leave him a message. He’s out pretty late sometimes. We’ll give him a call when we get closer to DC. Should be close to dawn by then.”

“Dean leave you to guard me?”

Sam blinked at him for a moment, then decided to answer. “Sort of. Never know what’s going to…uh, stop by. Plus, if we both went in, you’d think we were making a break for it.”

“Dean would never leave his car behind to make a break for it,” Gibbs said.

Sam smirked to himself.

Dean came back with a cup carrier and a bag of cookies. He opened the door and peered in at Gibbs. “It’s not the fancy shit, but it’s strong enough,” he said. “I remember how you take your coffee.”

Gibbs sat up and took a cup, nodding at Dean. “That almost makes up for not answering your damn phone. Almost.”

Dean gave him a mildly jeering mock-smile and got in, handing Sam his coffee. “We’re about forty-five minutes out, if traffic holds. I almost forgot how much I love driving anywhere near a city this size.”

“It missed you too, Winchester,” Gibbs intoned.

-|-

Bobby called when they were about twenty minutes from the Naval Yard.

“Why do you idjits call a hundred times and not leave a message? It makes me think you’ve been kidnapped and you’re trying to dial with a pencil in your teeth or something.”

“Figured you were out, or asleep, or getting lucky,” Dean said.

“Very funny. What’s got you dialing me in the middle of the damn night?”

Dean filled him in on the basics.

“You thinkin’ Lilith‘s castoffs, like I am?“ Bobby said.

“Yup. And we‘ve got company in the car. NCIS company.”

“End of the world makes strange bedfellows. Give me a bit, and I’ll see what I can dig up. Handy, already having all the good apocalypse stuff within reach.”

It was quiet while they waited. No one felt like speaking, least of all Dean.

Bobby called back ten minutes later.

Dean put him on speaker.

“First Demons,” Bobby said. “The first generation after the first Fall, and by that I mean Lilith, like we were thinking. Lilith was a generation of one, but she began creating more demons in the first days. The lilin. They were pretty much her court. No telling how many there really were, or how many are still around. Story goes that a hundred of her children would die for every day that she didn’t return to God. You may have more than one running around, and more than one type. They’re active again now that they’re on their own without Lilith. There’s nothing to keep them in line and no reason for them to stay hidden, so they might be feeding openly.”

Sam was cringing and trying not to show it externally. He remembered too well the baby he and Ruby had saved one night in their quest to find Lilith, and the fate of the minion who’d been trying to take him. There had been so much blood. “How do we tell them apart?” Sam said.

“The texts I’ve found make it seem like they’ll stick out like sore thumbs,” Bobby said. “I doubt they’re being that obvious here, though. Anybody seen any scary old ladies with red faces and big, clay-like noses?”

Dean sighed. “Right. Okay, I guess we’re just looking for demons in general. Like usual.”

“There’ll be a tell or two,” Bobby said. “They like familiar places, and easy pickings. Sounds to me like it could be random if it wanted to, but with the care it’s showing, no reason to believe it’s random. It’s targeting and researching rather than jumping in. You boys get started in that direction, and I’ll chime in if I find anything else before you do.”

-|-

Gibbs got them visitor badges. Dean was mildly disappointed they wouldn’t be using the official thing, but, there was no point. They weren’t undercover for anyone who counted, and for anyone who did, Gibbs would just deflect them.

Dean had an uncomfortable moment of finding that kind of cool. Having someone else do the fast talking, so they could just get to business for once. Then he remembered that he wasn’t a team player.

They got to keep their guns this time, though.

Tony and Ziva stood as they walked in; Tony was already smirking.

“Galloway,” Dean said to Tony with a mocking nod. Ziva he winked at.

Sam took the high road and nodded to each with a smile. The smile he got in return from Ziva was a lot more genuine than the one Dean got.

“It’s good to see you again, Sam,” Ziva said.

Dean didn’t miss the fact that he was excluded.

“I want my stapler back,” Tony said.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Dean said. “Can’t the government afford office supplies now, either?”

“If you kids are done scuffing dirt on each other’s shoes, we can get down to Abby’s lab before someone else dies,” Gibbs said, already heading for the elevator.

Even Dean had to join in on the guilty looks everyone shot each other, at that.

Most awkward elevator ride, ever.

Abby actually squealed when she saw them, and threw her arms around first Dean and then Sam. “You guys, it sucks that you’re here because of stuff like this, but it’s so great that you’re here! You should just come visit some time, and we could give you the actual tour, and I could show you how great nuns are at bowling, and --”

“Abs,” Gibbs said.

McGee came out of Abby’s office to see what the commotion was, and offered a brief wave to the brothers.

“-- might be haunted, not like Amityville or anything if that was ever even real, but more like wispy figures and disembodied voices, so maybe take me along because I’d really love to see something in person and I think I’d be pretty mean with some holy water and --”

“Abby,” Gibbs said a little more deliberately.

“I’m just saying,” Abby said, picking up on Gibbs’ mood and finally taking a breath.

“Can we put our heads together and get this thing killed, please?” Gibbs said.

“We are, after all, still considering this a ‘thing’,” Ziva said.

“Everybody suspend your disbelief,” Dean said gruffly. “If you can imagine it, it exists, and I mean a hell of a lot more than the one-ghost tantrum you guys saw last time.”

“You’re gonna have to excuse us for still thinking like and in terms of humans,” Tony said.

“You guys are going to find yourselves missing the days when it was just people ganking other people,” Dean said. “Everything else still has rules, but their own rules, and you’ll see more and more things like this. Better decide whether you want to hunker down somewhere and see how it goes, or jump in and fight.”

Abby raised her hand. Dean pointed at her as if that was perfectly normal.

“I vote for guerrilla warfare,” she said brightly.

“I’m sure McGee already has a few scenarios played out online that will help, too,” Tony said. “Does Armani have a camo line?”

Dean nodded to himself. “I keep wanting to hate you people, and you keep screwing it up.”

Sam pulled up an empty chair and said, “Maybe if you guys give us all the info you have so far, and we tell you what we’ve found out, we can match a few things up. What do you have on the victims?”

Everyone but Gibbs and Abby found somewhere to sit.

“One in Palisades, one in Mayfair, one in Riverdale Park. They didn’t share an OB-GYN,” Tony said. “No known acquaintances in common, no docs in common, no gym or workplace or even restaurant frequented. No body type or ethnicity in common, and hell, they weren’t all even the same religion.”

“It’s not working from a database,” Dean said. “It doesn’t need to. One question: did any of them know the sex of the babies?”

“Two did,” McGee said.

“Boys, right?” Dean said.

There was a notable, sudden silence while everyone paused to look pointedly at Dean.

“The one who didn’t know yet - you guys have any magical forensic way of finding out if it was a boy?”

Abby nodded slowly when he glanced at her. She looked ready to cry.

“I have a feeling it won’t go after the girls,” he said, focusing on no one in particular. “The moms, yeah, but not if they’re carrying a girl. That tells us something.”

“It tells us we still have no way of figuring out where it’ll strike next,” Gibbs snapped.

“It tells us we’re dealing with one of Lilith’s brand of demons, like we talked about in the car,” Sam said.

He paused to fill the others in on the info Bobby had given them earlier that morning.

“Probably one of hers, directly,” he added. “She favored boys, and most baby-eaters do. Probably not only for the reason Biblical myth follows, which is because she was supposedly cast out of Eden after God decided she wasn’t the right mate for Adam.”

“Can’t go wrong with the Biblical stuff,” Tony said, still looking a little wary. “How the hell do you guys know so much about…baby-eaters?”

“Occupational hazard,” Sam said.

Tony balked a little at how straight Sam’s face was when he said it.

“How’re they picking victims?” McGee asked. “We’re always one step behind until we know that.”

He and Tony watched Gibbs pace with just the right amount of wariness, because Gibbs was in a mood that meant things might go flying at any moment.

Sam squirmed for a moment, then said, “Well, something that can steal organs without tearing somebody open can probably…”

“Smell out the right victim,” Dean said shortly.

“Hormones,” Abby said. “Okay, you guys, but that still doesn’t give us a way of catching them in the act.”

“We’ve got a basic area to work from,” Dean said. “It’s operating here for now, and it’s escalating. There’ll be something about the area that’s appealing to it, that lets it hide when it needs to. What time of night is it attacking?”

“Day and night,” McGee said. “Time of death was placed in daylight hours for two of the cases.”

Both Sam and Dean had identical looks of consternation on their faces. “Shit,” Dean said.

“It’s gotta hole up somewhere,” Sam said. “It’s got to be looking fairly human, if it hasn’t been noticed in daylight. So it’s smart enough to look average or even harmless, and conceal itself and what it’s hauling off with when it needs to.”

“Even if the babies are tiny, the livers aren’t,” Abby said, twisting her fingers around one another and squinting like she was afraid to say the words aloud. “So it’s got…maybe a shopping bag or something.”

“There was no evidence that it was disposing of the remains anywhere at or near a crime scene,” Tony said. “No damn evidence of anything.”

“You said ‘something appealing about the area’,” Ziva said to Dean. “What would it need?”

Dean shook his head, scratching at his jaw and trying to think. “What’s around here? What was close by each victim?”

“You mean…topography?” Tony said, leaning forward in interest. “Hills, bodies of water, type of business, type of construction, what?”

“All of the above,” Dean said. “There’s something in common here, but not something humans would normally consider.”

Gibbs pointed at Tony. “McGee, you and Sam get on it.”

Sam and McGee headed for the elevator. Dean’s eyebrows shot up as he glanced at Gibbs.

Gibbs stared at him. “That’s your ‘trusty geek sidekick’, if I remember correctly.”

Dean smirked.

“Keep brainstorming, people,” Gibbs said, and continued pacing. “I want this damn thing dead yesterday.”

“Back to the same basic questions we asked on day one: why here, why now?” Tony said.

“The now is easy,” Dean said. “You guys have seen the news. The weird weather, the disasters, the unexplained phenomena? C’mon.”

Abby and Ziva stared at him. Tony watched his team to see how they were each reacting. Gibbs kept pacing like he knew what was coming.

“Oh, no problem,” Dean said. “Just another sign of the end of days. Move along kids, nothing to see here.”

“You do not really believe these are signs of the apocalypse,” Ziva said tersely.

“Not the way anybody’s book touts it,” Dean said softly, bracing his elbows on his knees. “Not gonna happen exactly like that. Close, maybe, depending on who gets their way. There’s stuff going on a lot bigger than this. You guys pulled us here to kill off a symptom of the bigger problem. There are much bigger monsters out there playing the biggest chess game ever, and they’re cheating. Baby eaters are gonna be the least of your problems, so you guys might wanna think about broadening your idea of evil and, hell, stocking up on the basics just in case. I hear TP is going to be a big commodity.”

He never realized Gibbs had moved around behind him until a rough hand slapped him in the back of the head. “Hey!

Gibbs was suddenly an inch from his ear. “There’s a time and a place,” he said. “You think there’s something better you could be doing? I don’t. No matter what happens, you better not ever think baby eaters are the least of anyone’s problems.”

Dean held still until Gibbs moved away, then found himself looking at Abby. “’Teddy bear‘?”

Abby shrugged and looked worried and kept twisting her fingers, but she was obviously thinking hard about something. Tony’s expression said ooh, you are in so much trouble.

Gibbs kept pacing. “Once we find out what the location of each crime scene has in common, assuming we’re dealing with one or more demons, then how are we going to stop it?”

“We cannot assign protection to every pregnant woman in the area,” Ziva said. “So we will have to use what we know so far to narrow it down. How is it getting in?”

“At night, it can just break in,” Dean said. “It’s got to be in a physical form to attack, so it’s wearing someone, and for the daylight attacks…” He trailed off. “It’s someone they’re not thinking of as a threat. It’s not using force to get what it wants, since you guys said there was no evidence of struggle, no marks on the victims.” He rubbed at an eye. “I’ve been assuming they were naked. Were they?”

“No,” Gibbs said. “They were all fully dressed, including the woman killed at night.”

“Is it getting close, then?” Ziva said. “Getting in the home and making some sort of contact? We canvassed the Lieutenant’s neighbors, and the local officers did the same for the two others, and no one saw anyone in particular come or go from any home.”

Dean shot upright, slamming his feet on the floor, startling everyone but Gibbs. “Old woman,” he said. “Holy shit, old woman.” He started to get up and run for the elevator, but then he balked like he wasn’t sure what to do, and flipped his phone out instead. “Sam. Bobby said something like that used to walk around in the form of an old lady with a big nose…like clay. That’s gotta mean something. At least the old lady part. We need more on the MO of this thing besides what it eats. It’s not eating at the scene, so it’s got a standard way of taking carryout. Figure that out.”

He snapped his phone shut and pointed at Abby. “Shopping bag, like you said. And, anybody will let an old lady in. ‘Here, sweetie, I heard you were pregnant, here are some brownies’, then boom…” He held one hand up with his thumb caught between his first and second fingers. “Got your liver.”

“So we need to canvass again,” Ziva said.

“Get going,” Gibbs said.

“Whoa, with a little more info.” Dean said. “Let Sam narrow some things down, or we’re just spinning our wheels.”

“And someone else is gonna die in the meantime!” Gibbs shouted.

“You listen to me, you crazy bastard,” Dean said, lowering his voice into a growl.

Tony stood.

Ziva continued to look serene.

Abby immediately slid around so that the mass spec was between her and anyone with elevated testosterone.

“You pulled us into this, you let us handle it,” Dean said. “We’re likely not gonna get more than one chance at this thing, and I’m in no mood for surprises, so we need more info and a plan before we start running around getting emotional and blowing our cover. If it catches on and runs, we have to start all over somewhere else.”

“Then get up there and move things along,” Gibbs said, pointing.

Tony and Ziva followed Dean into the elevator.

Tony barely waited for the doors to close. “Grew a real pair in front of the old man, huh?”

“Too many cooks, and too much soup,” Dean said. “I’ve been doing this all my life, so if you guys are gonna contract out by force you’re gonna have to step off and let me and Sam tell you how it goes. Last time we had our nuts in the fire for getting caught. This time, you guys are on our turf.”

The doors opened. Tony and Ziva shared a speculative look behind Dean.

Dean turned. “Anyway…he always get like that?”

“Oh, no,” Tony said. “You should have seen the time a terrorist got in here and took a few of us hostage. And then got away. This isn‘t half as obsessed as that.”

“Shit. No thanks.”

Sam was waving Dean over to McGee’s desk.

“We’ve been narrowing down types of lilin,” Sam said. “Incubi, succubi, and something called an ‘al‘. It’s a class of demon that’s all over folklore in Iran, central Asia, and parts of Russia.”

“And now here, I bet,” Dean said. “Small world.”

“They’re demons of childbirth,” McGee said. “They steal the lungs, livers and hearts of pregnant women or women in childbirth, they have clay noses and ‘fiery eyes, sharp fangs, disheveled hair, copper claws, iron teeth’ --”

“Okay, okay,” Tony said. “I’m pretty sure that would be memorable. Anything else more…typical?”

“It can appear as a bony, thin old woman, or a crone,” McGee finished. “Often seen with a straw or reed basket or handbag in which it carries the organs.”

“No problem,” Tony sighed. “We’re looking for a little old lady with a straw bag. Can’t be more than ten thousand of those around here. Put out a BOLO.”

“Not done yet,” Sam said. “After stealing the organs, the al attempts to ‘escape and cross the first source of water, after which the woman cannot be saved’.”

“Wait,” Dean said. “Wait, wait, ‘after which’? That sounds like there’s a grace period for saving someone this thing preys on.”

“Get it before it crosses water, and the victim lives.”

Tony was incredulous. “With a lot of surgery!”

“Not necessarily,” Ziva said. “If it is taking the child and organs so cleanly, then presumably they can be put back the same way.”

Dean looked at her and wondered what else she’d seen, or knew, offhand. Of any of them, she seemed to take the weirdness in stride the best, or at least had better practice in covering her thoughts. “I hope that’s right,” he said. “So it’s gonna hunt near the water, and --”

“It already has,” McGee said. “Each victim lived very close to a bridge crossing either the Potomac or the Anacostia rivers. Lieutenant Lori Manning lived in the Palisades neighborhood, close to the Chain Bridge, which crosses both the canal and the Potomac. Theresa Ammons lived in Mayfair, right by the Benning Road bridge. And Maria Santiez lived north of there, near Riverdale Park, close to the Anacostia.”

“All narrower sections of waterway,” Sam said. “No major roads or highways, just bridges that are quick to cross. It’s thinking carefully before choosing an area, and the areas are all well-populated and close to water.”

“That’s still many miles of riverbank,” Ziva said.

“Progress,” Dean said. “One thing at a time. If it’s smart enough to pick areas and stay under the radar and space things out, it may also realize that it’s got attention by now, but not how much. It may stick to the three day rule and might not be done with the waterways around here. When’s the next day three?”

“Tomorrow,” Ziva said.

Sam and Dean shared a glance. “It’s been moving east,” Sam said. “East, and north. Is it smart enough to throw us off by backtracking?”

“Let’s assume it’s moving along constantly smelling out the next available soon-to-be mom,” Tony said. “Pretending to be an old lady. Where does it hang out where it won‘t stick out?”

“OB-GYN offices,” McGee said.

They all looked at him oddly.

“Women are having babies into their sixties, now,” McGee said defensively. “Plus, she could look like someone’s mom or grandma is waiting for them.”

“Lamaze classes,” Ziva said

“Baby clothing or furniture stores,” Sam said. “Exercise classes, places that sell neonatal vitamins --”

“How close was each dead woman to any of the above?” Dean said. “How soon before death did she visit any of those?”

“There’s no way we have time to --” Sam started.

“Cross checking their financial records again,” McGee cut in, fingers flying.

Tony looked smug. “We can do stuff like that. Anytime we want.”

Dean rolled his eyes and looked at Sam. “Tell me how we kill it.”

“Choose one,” Sam said. “Any old Apotropaic method. Amulets, prayers, exorcism. Nothing specific. It mentions that you can drown it, though. Hebrew tradition states three angels were sent to bring Lilith back, and when she refused, they were going to drown her in the sea. All the lilin can be drowned.”

“Just so long as she doesn’t make it across water,” Dean said. “Who were the angels?”

“Senoy, Sansenoy, and…uh, Semangelof,” Sam said. “Amulets engraved with their names can be placed around the necks of male infants to protect them from the lilin.”

“Know what worries me?” Dean said. “Sometimes I’m convinced it’s the monsters themselves that are putting these articles on the internet. They could throw us off.”

Sam shrugged. “It’s worked before. Lucifer’s greatest feat was convincing everyone he doesn’t exist.”

Tony shifted. “So is there really a --”

Sam and Dean answered at once. “Don’t ask.”

Dean gestured to Sam, then pulled him aside and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“There are cupids, and Horsemen, and archangels running around lately, so it’s not too much to ask whether there’s a Senoy or a Sassafrass or whatever. Cas could probably find them.”

“Cas isn’t really in with everyone right now,” Sam said. “Don’t bring any more attention to him by getting him to spy around and see if any particular angel is hanging out just hoping for a certain type of demon to come along.”

“Stranger shit has happened, Sam.”

“I shouldn’t have to ask you not to risk Cas,” Sam said.

Dean gave him a deeply disgruntled look. “I shouldn’t have to ask you to quit ignoring our available resources when we have so fucking few of them.”

Tony cleared his throat behind them.

Dean waved him off without looking away from Sam. “He at least knows them.”

Sam let his exasperation bleed through all the way. “They didn’t kill Lilith off or bring her back like they were supposed to, according to the story, so I don’t know what good they would be now. Any angel would do, if you want to get technical. And Cas is not going to know every angel.”

“If a certain name is placed on amulets against something, that name has a goddamn personal vendetta and power over that something,” Dean hissed. “We don’t have that many leads, and I want that damn thing dead so we can get out of here.”

“If you involve Cas in this, I’ll tell Tony you’re afraid of cats,” Sam said.

Dean widened his eyes in outrage. “That was a curse!”

“But all he’ll think about is how you screamed like a little girl at the sight of one, and the explanation won’t really matter after that.”

Dean clenched his teeth. “Bitch.”

“Jerk.”

“Hey, I got it!” McGee yelled with a note of triumph. “You guys. They were all at maternity stores that were within two miles of their homes within a day of being killed.”

Sam and Dean turned at once in a strangely synchronized motion.

“Here’s what we do,” Dean said.

-|-

“I hate this plan,” Tony said. “This is not a good plan.”

The next well-populated area on a northeast course, with a mall with kids’ stores close by and a good leap at the water, was Berwyn Heights. It was within easy reach of Beltway Plaza Mall shopping center. Three choices: Target, Kids Go Round, and Rainbow. No store was in sight of the other two. The mall opened at ten.

“It’s been following them home,” Dean said. “This is the best spot for it to hunt next. You got anything better?”

“Almost everything hinges on a batch of assumptions,” Tony said. “Sue me for wanting something a little more concrete.”

Sam and McGee continued to ink in routes on a street map that was spread out on McGee’s desk. The closest water crossings from there were Berwyn road, Branchville road, and the 193 - Greenbelt road.

“This is a hell of a lot more than we usually get,” Dean said. “Everything we deal with is lore and guesswork. This goddamn thing is practically waving a flag in comparison.”

They were keeping their voices as low as possible in an attempt not to be overheard by anyone else on the floor.

“In small places, it’ll be able to smell victims better,” Sam said. “I say it’s going straight for the two smaller stores. That’s all it’s been doing so far, and it hasn’t wasted any time. We should cross off the Target.”

“No one crosses anything off,” Gibbs said from directly behind Tony before passing him, headed for his own desk. “The bridge at Branchville road is closed for maintenance, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be watching it if we need to.”

Sam and Dean shared a look. Gibbs had been off somewhere coming up with the same plan. And he had hearing like a bat.

Gibbs looked at Dean expectantly.

Dean cleared his throat. “Yeah?”

“We’re waiting on you to tell us how this plays out, Winchester,” he said.

Ziva, Tony and McGee froze with similar expressions of surprise.

“Uh, Boss,” Tony said. “Is that really --”

“We made it his lead,” Gibbs said with a lot more restraint than he’d shown since chasing Sam and Dean down. He continued to stare at Dean.

“Okay, well,” Dean said, glancing sidelong at Sam. “First, we need…uh…”

“Weather report,” Sam said. “Phase one depends on whether it’ll rain in the next 24 hours.”

McGee tapped a few keys in rapid succession. “It’s supposed to stay dry.”

“Then we need a crapload of rock salt,” Dean said. “To be safe, we’ll also need a hell of a lot of a flexible, mostly waterproof material that won’t stand out. And we need to know how those stores are placed in the mall, and where it can run to from each. We‘ll have to stake it out the moment the mall opens tomorrow.”

“Tony,” Gibbs said. “You’re with me for the rock salt. McGee, Dean, either hit the evidence locker or get out there and scare up the material. Ziva, Sam, go scope out that mall and see where the best lookout spots are going to be, plus any exits we’ll need to cover.”

“Sammy,” Dean said as everyone started to move, “…figure out the width on the bridges, too. The stats are probably out on the ‘net somewhere, but if not --”

Sam nodded.

“’Sammy‘?” Ziva said with a teasing tilt to her head and a small smile as they walked away.

Sam smiled in return.

-|-

The evidence locker didn’t offer up anything helpful, so Dean and McGee hit a local Home Depot and perused their options. A tight weave burlap ended up being the best bet, so they took off with a whole roll of it.

“You know, if we don’t get it here, there are still plenty of tributaries to cross, but the major population centers are close to the major bodies of water,” McGee said. “No reason to think it won’t keep doing that, but if it jumps states --”

“We’re getting it here,” Dean said with finality.

-|-

Tony complained loud and long about what 50lb bags of rock salt could do to a guy’s back. Gibbs smiled and kept loading the truck without seeming to break a sweat.

-|-

Sam thought Ziva’s approach to the mall was the same that an assassin might make, and was a little weirded out by it when he wasn’t actually admiring it. Then he remembered her dad was head of Mossad, and just took her advice. It would take all of them to do it, but they’d be able to cover the majority of the target area without being noticed and without missing anyone who came and went through the entrances and near any of the three stores.

“And then perhaps I should twist its head off,” Ziva said matter-of-factly. “Regardless of what it is, it will not get far without a head.”

“After we make sure it’s not just a regular old lady,” Sam said, nearly choking on the mental image.

She smiled. “Of course, Sammy.”

-|-

Details finalized, they ordered in Chinese and proceeded to spend the evening and a good part of the night down in the evidence area surrounded with rock salt, burlap and staple guns. Abby included.

Sam and Dean had their heads together briefly around midnight.

“So,” Dean said softly. “Gibbs is weird.”

Sam glanced at him. “So are we.”

“No,” Dean said. “This guy knows more than he lets on. Not surprised at all about how we might be looking down the business end of the end of the world, already knew about afrits and shit, sneaks up on people without being heard. He’s either Batman, or he’s not completely letting on about who or what he really is.”

“C’mon,” Sam said. “You used to say the same stuff about Dad, without suggesting he was completely superhuman.”

“Dad was a hunter,” Dean said. “This is…” He waved his hands ineffectually, looking for phrasing that would prove his point.

“A Marine,” Sam said. “Who’s seen combat and deals with all kinds of governmental undercover clandestine shit, etc.”

Dean shrugged.

“We’re beginning to suspect everyone and everything,” Sam said. “It’s just paranoia, and that’s as normal as we’re gonna get, Dean.”

“Fine, whatever,” Dean said. “There’s still something going on that we’re not getting.”

-|-

Each bridge was visited in the full dark; the one that was closed was easiest. The other two still had a fair amount of traffic that Gibbs, Sam, Dean and Tony had to work around.

Close to dawn, everyone crashed for a couple of hours. The NCIS team had been running on fumes for days.

Everyone was comm linked to each other with an earpiece except for Dean. They’d check in with him by cell.

By 9am, they were all at the mall and had their orders.

-|-

Ten minutes after the mall opened, Sam was outside the mall entrance of the Target with a magazine, looking like a weary young husband waiting for an errant shopper. McGee was on a bench outside the Rainbow pulling the same act. General consensus was that the innocent looking, baby-faced people should be watching the outsides of stores. Both Sam and McGee grimaced.

Ziva was in the Kids Go Round trying to look engaged in shopping.

Of the three stores, only the Target had a street entrance, and Tony watched it from a distance.

Abby was outside, circling around and watching the mall entrances one by one, and therefore was least likely to have to engage the demon.

Gibbs stayed in his car in the mall parking lot, ready to tail or chase whoever and whatever he had to.

Dean watched the mall side of the closest bridge - Branchville road. He’d move on to whatever bridge he had to.

He was the last resort.

-|-

By noon, per previous agreement, Ziva moved over to Rainbow to ‘shop’ and McGee planted himself outside the Kids Go Round with a McDonald’s bag and proceeded to look desperately bored. It wasn’t much of a stretch by then. Sam lingered just inside the Target entrance periodically when he wasn’t on the bench.

At 1pm, McGee broke radio silence while pretending to still a coughing fit into his elbow. “Guys, I’ve gotta…I’m gonna have to run to the bathroom real quick.”

Hold it, McGee,” Gibbs said sternly.

“Gibbs, that is so mean,” Abby said.

Tony snorted. “McGoo, is your bladder the size of a quarter? Maybe you should have your prostate checked.”

“When on mission, Mossad agents are trained to limit liquids and refrain from needing to void their bladders for days, if needed.” Ziva’s voice was very low, but amused.

“McGee’s the one who’s supposed to be a master at only pretending to drink the coffee while on stakeout,” Tony added.

“That’s all really funny, you guys,” McGee said, “…but --”

“Tony, take McGee’s place for a few minutes,” Gibbs said, sounding resigned.

Sam was very carefully quiet. He was discovering that there were people who ribbed each other worse than Dean ribbed him.

The afternoon remained uneventful after that except for one moment of worry over an elderly lady with a cane who lingered too long outside the Rainbow. She was only resting, though, and wasn’t carrying a bag. Just a small purse.

By 3pm, everyone was hungry, restless and annoyed. Ziva and McGee traded places again.

Gibbs asked everyone to check in, which they did in low, careful voices.

He called Dean, who was still on point.

At ten after, a small, shuffling and sweet faced figure caught McGee’s attention. With silver hair pulled back into a bun, the slender little elderly woman was dressed in a navy blue pantsuit with a flowered cardigan. She moved slowly and deliberately, a generically pleasant look on her face as rheumy blue eyes surveyed everything around her.

Her nose was a little too red. And she had a large straw bag hanging from one shoulder. Based on the shape and the way it hung, it was empty.

“Guys, I think we’re a go,” he said softly.

“Report,” Gibbs said immediately.

McGee described her carefully while pretending to stretch and yawn. “She’s gone into the Rainbow. She’s…not even looking at stuff, she is actually sniffing people as she goes past. Holy shit.”

“Hold your position,” Gibbs said. “Sam, start heading in that direction but stay low. There are two mall entrances on opposite sides of the part of the mall she’s in. Tony, pull in toward the north entrance; that’s closest.”

“On it, Boss.”

After a tense five or so minutes, the old lady returned to the store’s entrance and looked around, frowning slightly. She was not following anyone. She turned to her left and continued on.

“She didn’t seem to find anyone,” McGee said. “She’s headed your way, Ziva.”

“Hold positions,” Gibbs said.

Ziva kept an eye out, grateful that the store’s clerks had finally decided to leave her alone and had stopped trying to help her find something. Roughly ten minutes later, she spotted her mark.

“McGee, your old woman has entered the store.”

“She’s not mine,” McGee said. “Really.”

“She…you are correct, she is…sniffing around.”

Gibbs could tell by the tone of her voice that she was disconcerted but not surprised, and that she would be happy to do something about it.

“Don’t engage her in any way, shape or form,” Gibbs said. “Don’t even make eye contact. We need her out of the mall and to be very sure of what we’ve got before we - what’s the word Dean uses?”

“Gank,” Sam offered.

“See if she picks a target,” Gibbs said.

It was quiet but still tense while they waited. Ziva kept the woman in sight while slowly flipping through a large number of tiny hanging shirts. She watched as the woman paused by another woman that was facing away, with short curly blond hair. The latter was talking animatedly with a clerk and had several small outfits tucked over one forearm. They were what Ziva recognized as something Americans generally considered ‘gender neutral’ colors.

She knew for certain that the little old woman was not human the moment it grinned out of sight of the blond haired woman. The teeth were small and sharp and the color of iron.

Sharp fangs, copper claws, iron teeth -

With every hair on her neck and forearms raised, Ziva eased further out of sight and moved toward the far wall of the store. “She has chosen a target,” she said softly. “And she is most certainly not human. I promise you.”

She glanced back. The curly haired young mother had turned to reveal a thrilled smile and a pert, upturned nose. She was just beginning to show. The old woman stood off to one side, openly staring at her with what Ziva could only describe as hunger. No one was paying any attention to her.

She described the possible victim. “I can attempt to get a name,” she said.

“Don’t do anything,” Gibbs said. “When she leaves the mall, we can run her plates.”

“Gibbs --”

“Ziva, stand down.”

“It is a monster,” Ziva whispered angrily. “An abomination.”

“We’re going to take care of this, Ziva,” Sam broke in softly. “I promise. I know every instinct you have wants to just grab it right now and hit it until there’s nothing left, but we’ve got to do this the right way. Dean’s plan will work.”

Ziva was quiet. She took several deep breaths and tried to center herself. There was something about Sam’s earnest gentleness that was easy to believe.

No one spoke.

A few minutes later, the young woman paid for her purchases and left the store. The old woman trailed behind immediately, at a sure pace that belied her apparent age.

“She is moving,” Ziva said. “McGee, they are headed your way.”

“Copy,” McGee said.

McGee watched them pass. The younger woman veered off and headed to a kiosk that sold fresh squeezed lemonade, then headed for the nearest exit.

“Southwest exit,” McGee said.

“Got it,” Gibbs said. He circled around and waited, parking at the curb just down from the entrance. “Everybody meet Tony outside the Target. Tony, get the truck and grab the others. McGee, be ready for that plate number.”

Everybody chimed in with their agreement.

A few minutes later, he watch a bright-haired, smiling young mother-to-be exit the mall with a brisk step and head across the parking lot. Three rows down, she paused at a newer model silver Toyota Highlander and disengaged the alarm.

The elderly woman followed soon after and passed him without a glance. Gibbs pulled away from the curb and swung around, creeping into the same aisle the Highlander would soon be leaving, making it look as if he meant to take her spot.

He spoke her plate number aloud, then repeated it.

“Got it, Boss,” McGee said.

She pulled out and headed away, and Gibbs took her spot.

The old woman was gone. Gibbs stepped out of his car and openly looked around, but there was no sign of her at all.

She would have had to sprint to get out of so much open space so quickly.

He caught a flash of movement far to his right and looked in time to watch the old woman disappear over the top of a retaining wall at the very edge of the mall property.

“McGee,” he said.

“Her name is Michelle Garib, 5732 Cunningham Drive. She lives in the Berwyn Heights area like we figured.”

“That’s not far,” Tony chimed in.

“Fits with the two-mile rule the al’s been following,” Sam said.

“It’s got two choices from there, Boss,” McGee said. “Berwyn Road, or a foot crossing off Vassar Drive that belongs to the Indian Creek trail.”

“Get to the address and watch,” Gibbs said. He picked up his phone to call Dean.

In the truck, Ziva looked at Sam. “If it’s on foot, how is it going to know where the victim lives?”

“Scent trail,” Sam said. “Like a bloodhound, probably. It caught her scent in the mall.”

Tony grimaced behind the wheel and navigated out of the mall parking lot.

-|-

Dean headed south based on what Gibbs told him. Of the nearby crossings, the Berwyn bridge and the more distant footbridge they were thinking of were the best possible spots for the goddamn thing to get away, and the worst for the hunters. Lots of good open space with trees and brush to hide in between the neighborhoods and the tributary, leading out from there into a commercial area.

Still, they’d see it in that open space if it wasn’t too dark when it moved. It was fast, per what Gibbs had described when it vaulted the wall at the mall, but -

Gibbs had said he had a sniper rifle with him, and that might at least slow it down until they could catch up, if it came to that.

Guy gets scarier by the minute, Dean thought. Now, if I was our little monster, what would I do?

Go for the closest water. But, cut through the yards, watch for dogs, and lose any pursuers through the neighborhood, maybe stay low and hide somewhere until it got darker, then move through the yards and work up to the Berwyn bridge to the north under all that cover. A dash across the open would be only out of desperation no matter how fast it was. It wanted to eat in peace while everything was still fresh - otherwise, why bother? It could just haunt morgues and cemeteries like a ghoul if it didn’t care about the quality. It might not eat and then run, since a full monster wasn’t as fast as one just carrying a bag.

Dean pressed the heel of own hand against his forehead and tried not to gag. “Dean Winchester, supernatural profiler,” he said aloud. “Great.”

The whole point was to get the damn thing before it did anything, before it grabbed baby and organs and ran off.

He called Sam.

“We’re staking out the house,” Sam said. “From three sides. The backyard is fenced, and leads right into a maze of other fenced yards from there. My bet is it crosses as many fences as it can if it makes it here. The next road after that is a cul-de-sac that’s tucked right into the middle of the neighborhood, and Ziva’s back there just in case. There’s no sign of it yet, but I don’t know if we’ll know it when we see it. Maybe it changes form.”

Dean heard McGee say something in the background.

“She’s married,” Sam told Dean. “So if it wants to get her alone, it’ll need to do it before her husband gets home. It’s almost four, now, and if he’s a regular nine to fiver…”

“Okay,” Dean said. “I’m going to stay near Berwyn Road and wait to hear from you guys, because I can’t get the car onto the trails between here and the footbridge. Ziva knows she can’t shoot some old woman in the middle of a neighborhood, right?”

“Um,” Sam said. “No, I really don’t think she’s going to care.”

“Screw it,” Dean said. “If anyone can make it cry, it’ll be her. Let her have it.”

-|-

Twenty minutes later, without any warning, Tony heard the scream before anyone else did. He went in the front, gun out, and found the door unlocked.

Michelle Garib lay in the middle of her kitchen, near her open back door. She was choking and shaking with the last of her breath, eyes wide with shock and fear as Tony knelt by her.

“Guys,” Tony yelled, “…it’s been here. It went out the back!”

He heard Ziva confirm that she’d heard and would be waiting.

Gibbs burst in the front door, gun leveled just in case.

Knowing there wasn’t much he could really do for the woman then, Tony ran into the backyard, clearing it for any sign of something unusual. “It jumped the fence, but I don’t know in which direction. It got out right under our noses.”

He went back into the house and met Gibbs’ eyes briefly, knowing the look on his own face had to match the older man’s.

Sad. Pissed.

They both knelt by the al’s latest victim, each holding a hand as she fought a moment longer for life.

And then she lost.

Sam and McGee were out of the truck and circling, watching for anything. Sam called Dean immediately. “It’s been in the house, and it got away from us,” he said. “Watch out.”

“Did it get her?” Dean said.

“Yeah. Yeah…it did.”

Dean wanted to launch into a diatribe about how many NCIS agents it took to screw up catching one stupid monster in broad daylight, but realized there was no point being pissed at anyone. Sam sounded unhappy enough as it was.

Only a few minutes later, he caught movement out of the corner of one eye and watched as the little old lady that had been described to him came barreling out of the bushes, headed straight for the bridge. Dean got out of the Impala and watched as a car turned out of the closest neighborhood and passed her without even showing interest in the fact that someone who looked that elderly was sprinting along.

“I got her,” Dean said, ducking down a little and keeping his shotgun out of sight. “She’s headed straight for me. Hold on.”

The car cleared the bridge entrance without slowing. Dean racked up a salt round on the shotgun and ran into the open, hoping no one else on the civilian side would come along to watch him get extreme on a little old lady. He tucked his phone into his jacket, leaving the line open.

It cleared the last of the road and ran onto the bridge, then nearly bounced away after three feet, stepping back and freezing as if it couldn’t move further.

Out of sight under the bridge snaked a thick length of rolled and stapled burlap that was stuffed with rock salt, placed there the night before. Had that failed, Dean had hastily spray painted several devil’s traps between girders and struts on the underside of the bridge.

“That’s right, sweetcheeks!” Dean shouted, tucking the shotgun against one shoulder and sighting on her. “Do not pass go.”

When it turned to look at him, he aimed high for its head, up away from the straw bag, and unloaded both barrels at it.

It shrieked, arms waving to try and protect itself, then started toward him. It paused when another car approached. Dean lowered the gun but didn’t turn.

Luckily, it was Gibbs, Ziva and Tony that slid to a tire-burning stop alongside him. Three more guns joined his in pointing at the al’s face.

To its credit, it knew enough to cut its losses. It turned immediately to the south, running openly for the trails and trees along the water line, inhumanly swift and graceful. It was one hell of a bizarre sight, and none of its pursuers was unaffected.

Gibbs made a few pointing motions to his team, finger stabbing into the trees. Tony motioned Dean along with him in direct pursuit as Gibbs and Ziva split off in separate directions that looked like they intended to try and cut it off.

“Sam,” Dean yelled as he and Tony chased straight after the thing. “Get down to whatever part of the neighborhood is closest to that footbridge in case it tries to go back that way.”

Sam and McGee took off in separate vehicles. Vassar Drive was closest to the footbridge to the east if it got there and realized it was screwed. After that it could disappear back into the network of neighborhoods. They’d be starting all over, and they’d have a permanently dead mother and child.

Dean and Tony kept it in sight, but they weren’t able to gain on it even though it paused jerkily every so often to check something. If Dean had to guess, then he’d have said it was looking for a narrower or shallower place to try and make it across without a bridge. It should have done that straight away, but the fact that it was actively looking for another bridge told him it was trying to avoid the water unless there was no other choice. Their assumption about drowning it seemed to be holding true.

As it neared the small clearing that held the footbridge further down the trail, Dean heard gunfire and watched Gibbs come out of the trees about fifty yards past the monster’s last choice of crossing.

“How did he get so far ahead of us?” Dean said, out of breath.

“He does stuff like that all the time,” Tony gasped. “He’s Gibbs.”

Ziva caught up on their right through the trees, close along the water, gun held out in two hands, face deadly serious.

The al slowed and pulled up, then veered further toward the water, trying to stay low.

Hair disheveled and floating eerily around its face, it made a last sprint for the bridge.

It skidded to a halt on the aged wood, scrambling back as it tried to regain its balance, heavily laden bag swinging.

A heavy line of rock salt, applied by Dean earlier, cut across the width of the footbridge.

“That’s right, bitch,” Dean shouted as he and Tony ran to catch up. “No getting past this one, either.”

The four humans pulled closer into a half-circle around it.

It turned on them, shrieking. “Worms! Crawling, worthless fodder!

“Suck it, grandma,” Dean said.

Everyone stood their ground when its face contorted into deep wrinkles of rage, and the eyes started to blaze, flashing a dark red. It showed them a row of the sharp, dark teeth that Ziva had seen earlier in a gaping mouth. Fingers sharpened and elongated, tips glinting copper-bright in the fading sun.

A set of firearms were set against shoulders or pointed two-handed at it as the humans fanned out.

“Watch the bag,” Dean shouted. “Now, Tony!”

Dean and Tony opened fire on it with salt rounds, careful to take higher body shots to keep from hitting the bag. Ziva flanked out to the right, Gibbs to the left while it was distracted, cutting it off from anywhere but the water.

It writhed under the assault, stopping and starting between the bridge and the humans, and the noise it made reached a pitch that sounded like it might have been able to break glass or cause small animals to explode.

Dean wasn’t sure what the hell he was feeling, but it was bad, and he flashed back for just a moment to the cabin Azazel had trapped them in so many years earlier, twisting Dean’s insides just by looking at him, killing him with his own father’s face. He was shredding, breath torn away and then something worse. He didn’t mean to drop his gun any more than he meant to find himself on his knees, gasping, breath whistling into an emptiness in his chest.

There was a lot of shouting he was no longer able to make sense of, but Ziva was furious and he thought dimly that maybe they should all run, in that case. Tony was in the grass beside him, eyes open and sightless, and Dean realized what was happening, but the al had taken more from Tony off the bat because the agent was stone dead.

It was better to lie down a little, then. He wasn’t far behind Tony. One lung was gone, definitely, liver, maybe; who knew what else. Damn thing didn’t even have to touch people to take things.

He watched the al charge Ziva, and Gibbs threw his gun down and was hard on its heels. Ziva shouted something at it that sounded like Hebrew and brandished a necklace at it, and it veered from her and Gibbs and into the water.

Gibbs went straight after it without hesitation.

Dean figured if it made it across the water and got to keep his liver, it would be sorry, because he’d been pickling it for some time, and hoped that toughened it up and made it taste worse. The edges of his vision darkened but he kept staring, not wanting to miss watching Gibbs at least get a few licks in before it took his organs, too.

Whatever it tried to do, it didn’t work.

He watched Gibbs drop down off the bank and right into the water, hands out, and there was nothing but predatory precision in him when he caught the lesser swimmer’s throat in both hands and dragged it under.

It thrashed so violently that it looked as if the water boiled with more than one angry creature; it looked like any Discovery Channel piranha attack.

No one person should have been able to hold it down.

Ziva came close and was kneeling by Tony, eyes wide with fear for the first time since Dean had met her, and he knew for sure Tony was dead, then, and that it mattered a hell of a lot to her. He watched the Star of David she was wearing catch the light as it swung loose.

His vision began to dim. He could live awhile with one lung, but a liver was kind of important for keeping anything more going longer than a few minutes, and the shock alone was going to kill him soon. No angels were going to swoop in and fix this, and that was fine, because maybe this once he’d get out of the whole thing and it really would be over; he’d sneak out and they wouldn’t resurrect him again.

Gibbs’ silver head popped above the water again and he seemed to gain his feet in a shallower spot, using all his strength and leverage to hold the thing underwater. He tossed the straw bag onto the bank, and it was still full.

The world seemed to close in against him, and Dean sputtered out like a doused flame.

-|-

250 yards away, where homes suddenly gave way to greenery all the way to the water, Sam stood and had no immediate explanation for the sudden, twisting sense of loss he felt.

-|-

Dean opened his eyes when the world rushed back open again, and he had no sense of how much time had passed since his last thought. He kept still for a long moment, grateful just to breathe. He had a view of the grassy bank and the water, which was no longer agitated.

Close by, he heard Gibbs say, “I gave you a standing order, DiNozzo. What was it?”

“Not to die,” Tony said. There was no sarcasm or irony in his tone. “Sorry, Boss.”

Dean blinked. It figured that Gibbs was the kind of guy who would order people not to die and then expect that to be followed no matter what.

A rough hand drew itself over the back of Dean’s head, and then he was rolled onto his back to stare first at the sky, and then into Gibbs’ amused blue stare. Water dripped out of the older man’s hair.

“How’s that, Winchester?” he said. “All your parts back in place?”

“What the hell are you?” Dean said hoarsely.

Gibbs smirked and patted him on the chest, then pulled away to sit between him and Tony in the grass. He didn’t shiver even though the water had likely been cold as hell.

Dean sat up slowly and glanced around. Ziva was back by the treeline watching like she thought there might be something else for them to contend with, and Tony was sitting the opposite way looking like he had the worst hangover ever. He didn’t feel so hot himself.

The straw bag the al had been carrying was nearby, soaking and ripped down one side. It was empty.

“Waiting for Sam and McGee to check in and let us know how things have turned out with the Garibs,” Gibbs said, looking out toward the water.

“What’d you do with it?” Dean said, following Gibbs’ gaze.

“Oh, she dissolved,” Gibbs said.

Dean nodded to himself. Of course she did. “This doesn’t add to the water supply, right?”

“Don’t drink the water,” Gibbs said.

Dean’s phone went off. It had disconnected at some point in the chase. Zeppelin’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine wailed out of his pocket. “Hey Sam,” Dean answered. “How’d it go?”

“She’s fine,” Sam said. “We…I mean, it’s obvious she knows something happened, but she’s okay now. Her husband just got home. What happened to you?”

“Nothing,” Dean said. “All good here. Ding dong, bitch is dead, bag is empty.”

There was a beat of silence from Sam. “Something happened on your end. I know it did. You tell me when you guys get back.”

-|-

“Too bad we don’t have neuralizers like they did in Men In Black,” Tony said. “1997, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. One flash of light, and we’d wipe that poor girl’s mind of the whole thing. Mine too, actually. That would be good.”

“Our memories make us who we are, Tony,” McGee said. “Can’t learn unless you hold on to the bad things as well as the good.”

“Sounding pretty tough there, McGrr,” Tony said.

The ride back to the Naval yard wasn’t fun for anyone. It had been a couple of very long days.

Both Sam and Dean entertained the idea of splitting off and vanishing right there. The job was over, and hanging around any longer was only going to invite trouble. Finally, it was Dean who decided he had one more thing to do.

-|-

Abby seemed a little let down when she got back to her lab.

“Forensics can’t track magic,” she said. She looked slightly mournful.

Gibbs made a noncommittal motion with his head. “You sure?”

Abby looked at him with wide, interested eyes.

Gibbs smiled and walked away.

-|-

Finding Gibbs’ house was easy.

Deciding to walk in without knocking on the unlocked door didn’t seem to be Dean’s idea, though. He just felt like he was supposed to do it.

The house was silent. Dean rested a hand on his gun but didn’t pull it.

Sam didn’t like it that he was hassling Gibbs, and had said so, but in the end, he didn’t put up that much of a fight. He knew how it was when Dean had his head wrapped around something. Sam himself was even worse.

Sam had ended the discussion with then you deserve whatever you get from that guy.

Dean wondered if he should call out.

Somewhere below him, he heard a raised but muffled voice say down here.

He glanced down, looking for tripwires or sensors or something that had let Gibbs know someone was in the house. He hadn’t heard any of the floor joists squeak. He shrugged, found the basement stairs, and descended.

The basement was wide and fairly clean and dimly lit except for the work lights closest to the…what was that, a boat? It took up the whole center of the floor space.

He let that command his attention for a moment. “Who are you -- Noah?” he said. “If so, you’ve got your cubits wrong.”

Gibbs straightened from behind the boat and eyed him steadily over the top of it. After a moment, there was a smirk, and he began sanding. Or that’s what Dean figured he was doing, by the sound of it.

There was a long moment without comment from either of them, and it should have been awkward. Dean found he was content to stand there without making small talk. There was a warm, fresh-wood smell to the place and it was hard to be tense.

“So how come it didn’t take your heart?” Gibbs said. “Took Tony’s.”

“Probably doesn’t like too many hearts,” Dean said. “Kind of tough to chew if you’re used to lungs and livers. Plus, mine isn’t mine.”

Gibbs paused and raised an eyebrow.

“No,” Dean said. “I’m not being romantic. It doesn’t ‘belong to someone else‘. It actually belonged to someone else. Maybe I don‘t have ownership.”

Gibbs went on sanding without comment.

“So I’ll ask again. What are you, really?” Dean said. It was the low, gruff tone he used with anyone or anything he was deeply suspicious of.

“Took you long enough,” Gibbs said, and continued to sand.

Dean began to circle him and the boat slowly. “That’s not exactly an answer.”

“Kind of is,” Gibbs said evenly.

Dean waited. He felt a mixture of hope and dread.

Gibbs went on working. There was no trace of concern on his face, and he didn’t look at Dean.

Dean, for once, didn’t start pelting him with questions and didn’t lose his temper. He didn’t draw a weapon and try to force the issue.

He had learned a few things. One of them was patience.

He felt much older than he had any right to.

“There’s bourbon on the shelf, over there,” Gibbs said evenly.

Dean decided not to read more into that than there was to read. He sat down at the workbench on the near side of the basement, close to the stairs.

“Here to knock me off if I’m not human?” Gibbs said, sounding mildly amused.

Dean ignored him and looked around, looking for any sign, any hint of something that could tell him what kind of creature he was dealing with. Everything in the basement was almost painfully human. Nothing in Gibbs’ current actions or the wood he worked on spoke of anything but a decent, hardworking, mortal, human.

But Dean could feel something was off.

Christo,” he said softly.

Gibbs sighed and stopped working. “Wrong side, Dean,” he said wearily.

Dean snarled at him, scrambling to his feet. “You sonofabitch.”

“I don’t have my grace,” Gibbs said. “That’s why you didn’t know.”

He said it as if it barely meant anything. Dean wanted to hit him. “How many of you guys are there, falling and then running around down here? Not that I blame you, since damn near every one of you I’ve run into is either a dick or on your way to being one. Can’t be more restricting up there than being in the military.”

“You’d be surprised,” Gibbs said.

“You had to know that if we ran across each other more than once, that me and Sam would figure you out,” Dean said, hurling the words like an accusation.

“Getting that thing to stop killing new mothers was more important,” Gibbs said. “Risk worth taking.”

Dean looked like he wanted to keep asking questions, but Gibbs shut him down. “Castiel knows, by the way. He’s the only one of his kind left that knows, and it’ll stay that way as long as he doesn’t pass the information along.”

Dean wasn’t sure whether the mild statement was a thinly veiled threat to Cas or not, and was too angry in any case to really pursue it. He didn’t even question himself about the sudden rage that descended on him; he simply acted on it. Even he was amazed at what surfaced first.

“Couldn’t humans be that good, once?” he shouted. “Just once!

He turned and headed for the stairs.

Gibbs caught up, reached out, caught the collar of his jacket. Dean spun and jerked out of his grip, looking ready to fight.

Hey!” Gibbs shouted, short and sharp.

Dean paused, the tone and volume more of a shock than the contact. He nearly stood at attention.

“You’re that good,” Gibbs said softly, but with steel. “You are. Understood?”

After a moment, Dean’s mouth twisted bitterly. “Good enough to be the first broken seal, and to let the last one break. That good.”

“Good enough to be a seal in the first place,” Gibbs said.

“Way I hear it, it’s all been set up that way, starting with my parents,” Dean said. “Pressed into a mold, huh? Nobody gets a prize for that.”

“No,” Gibbs said. “There’s no prize. But don’t you say yes to Michael, all the same.”

Dean closed his eyes and let his shoulders slump. “That’s not the message I usually get from you dicks,” he said. The rage hadn’t completely drained, but he was no longer willing to fight.

“I don’t play their games,” Gibbs said. “I don’t have the luxury of being neutral, but so far the whole thing has been bullshit. God may have decided to sit this one out, or not, but I don’t think this big pissing contest is the way to go.”

“I thought angels didn’t think,” Dean said wearily. “I thought you didn’t have free will.”

“I’m no longer an angel,” Gibbs said. “And tell me, Dean, how different is Castiel, now, from the soldier you first met?”

Dean kept his eyes down and refused to respond.

“I don’t know him; we were never in the same garrison, but it’s apparent that he cares about you and Sam. Take good care of that angel.”

Dean glanced up at Gibbs, startled. He barely restrained himself from making some comment about how it needed to be the other way around. Nothing like Castiel really ever needed his help.

Gibbs repeated himself slowly and deliberately. “I said…take good care of that angel, Winchester.”

Dean gave in slightly. “He gets beat up pretty good,” he said. “And, he’s…looking for God.”

Gibbs raised his eyebrows.

“Never mind,” Dean snapped suddenly. “I shouldn’t be telling you anything. You apparently already know enough about what’s out there, so you don’t need me and Sam for this stuff. Lose our numbers.

Gibbs shook his head. “I’m no hunter. You have to admit this worked out better than it would have, and faster, with the two of you here.”

“I’m serious, Gibbsiel or whatever your name really is,” Dean said, beginning to climb the stairs, “…leave me and Sam out of stuff from now on. Next time, you and the Justice League take what you’ve learned and figure it out. Me and Sam have bigger fish. Me and Sam have whales to deal with.”

“Ever occur to you that there was something bigger here?” Gibbs said. “Sometimes the smaller things snowball.”

Dean paused halfway up. “What really went on here?” he said despite his urge to storm out.

Gibbs looked up at him, hands resting at his hips.

Dean held the stare long enough to know that he wasn’t going to get an answer, and he was never going to win a staredown with Gibbs.

He cleared the rest of the stairs and left the house without looking back.

-|-

He and Sam tossed their phones and started over with new. New everything. Dean didn’t really think it would do them much good, in the end. They gave their numbers to Bobby and Castiel, and no one else.

-|-

There were no goodbyes, that time. As much as they liked the team overall, it was time to get out before anything else happened…or any other angels popped up.

-|-

Bobby didn’t have much to add except to shake his head, when they got to his place a couple of days later.

“He’s right out in plain sight,” Bobby said. “Pretty ballsy, for an angel. Or former angel. Not the wisest choice, for him. He’s not doing himself any favors.”

“Not doing us any, either,” Dean said. “Just a head’s up that he knows about you. And we’re not working for him anymore. Or anybody.”

Bobby shrugged. “List of enemies gets longer every day,” he said. “Be nice to keep someone on Santa’s good list, for once. It’s up to you boys.”

He looked at Sam first, and Sam was carefully blank.

Bobby kept shaking his head.

-|-

An hour later, Castiel sat across Bobby’s table from them, looking wearier and more concerned than usual. “I would not have known, had it not been for his capture of you,” Castiel said. “I had to look closer. He was not…enthused about my knowing.”

“You couldn’t have told us?” Dean said. He tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice for once, but failed. It was harder every day to be annoyed with Castiel, over anything, but he still slipped occasionally.

“It is never wise to give away the location of an angel who has chosen to move on,” Castiel said darkly. “Look what happened with Anna. Plus, he would not have done you any harm. He had many chances. He never took them.”

“He’s still playing some kind of game with us, though,” Dean said. “Or he was. Next time, at least tell us what’s going on. No one’s asking you to call the heavenly fugitive hotline, or narc on anyone. We have to know, Cas. I hate surprises. I don’t even like chicks popping out of cakes, that’s how much I hate surprises.”

“I was watching out for you,” Castiel said.

Dean nodded. “I just need a little more warning when you’re doing it.”

The way Castiel looked at him told Dean he understood, and more. No one and nothing looked at him like Castiel did.

He was, hands down, the only angel worth trusting.

-|- -|- -|-