In A Foreign Tongue

(c)2008 gekizetsu

_____________


A what-if insert to Unspoken. Happens the same night the boys get back from decimating the maneating Tailypo family. Fluff. 6100 words, PG-13 for language.

 

-|-


They’d both been asleep for about an hour when it started.


Sam had gone first - pain meds, mostly - and was asleep on his back. He’d have to sleep that way for at least a couple of months, or he’d aggravate his jaw.


Dean had taken longer. He’d turned the lights off to give Sam a chance to rest, but had stared at the ceiling for a long while, thinking about what had made him hesitate and what it had nearly cost them. He thought about how the legends weren’t always accurate. He thought about assumptions and how much they relied on lore.


They would be a good deal warier from then on.


It had likely started long before, but by the time it woke them, it sounded like there was a small dog out there yowling, high and thin, wanting attention.


Dean turned over and waited until Sam turned his head to confirm awareness. Then he said, “Someone left their fuckin’ dog in their car. Douchebag.”


Sam made a noncommittal sound and sighed. When the sound continued and grew steadily louder and sadder, Sam got up without turning the light on and padded across to part the blinds with two fingers. It sounded like it was coming from the parking lot. Left in a car, then. No one would be getting any more sleep until the owner snuck it inside.


“Sounds like one of those little dogs all the celebrities like to carry around under one arm,” Dean said, sitting up. “They’re not even really dogs, anymore. They’re mutants, but not in the awesome X-Men way.”


Sam kept looking. No one had come out to calm the dog, even though there was no way they hadn’t heard it by then. He had a thought about why, and the moment he had it, Dean voiced it.


“Somebody probably died in one of the rooms a couple of days ago or something, left the dog.”


They both naturally went for the most macabre possibility.


A door opened further down and a sleepy, annoyed male voice shouted that someone had better do something about that dog.


Silence. The door closed again. Twenty seconds passed, and the wailing began again.


“Dean,” Sam said through wire-clenched teeth, “It’s coming from the Impala.”


“What?” Dean said. “Bullshit. It’s the car next to it, or something.” But he got out of bed and came to stand next to Sam, squinting out into the dim fluorescent-washed lot.


The Impala was parked off to the right, in the top corner of the lot instead of right in front of the room for once. The front spots had all been full when they’d checked in. There were no cars immediately around it.


They looked at each other.


Dean cursed, too soft for even Sam to catch it. Then he went for his duffel. Went for a gun.


“You can’t just – “


“You wanna explain to me how one of the goddamn things got in the car?” Dean said. “This is great.”


“It might not be in the car,” Sam said. “But, what’re you gonna do, go out there and shoot it?”


“What the hell else is it, then?” Dean snapped. “You gonna tell me that after what we spent the night being hunted by, it’s just a coincidence and some stray dog is out there? And what’m I supposed to do, leave it out there to start eating its way through the place?”


“It wouldn’t be yelling its head off if it was hunting,” Sam said. “Whatever it is, it’s out there crying for help. You can’t go out and open fire on it in the parking lot anyway.”


Dean shot a new magazine into his sidearm by feel alone, then tossed it on the bed while he tugged his jeans back on. “Fine. What’s your plan?”


Sam sighed and began to dress, then got into his own duffle for a flashlight. “Let’s go look at it. If we have to, we...disable it, then take it out of here and figure out what to do with it.”


The sound outside began to take on a human tone.


He could see Dean’s shoulders slump, even as low as the light was. Then Dean picked up his gun and tucked it away before he headed for the door, poking his head out for a moment before venturing into the lot. Sam followed, leaving the door open.


As they approached the car from an angle in a half-crouch on quiet feet, the sound stopped again. There was a long held-breath moment while each creature waited to see what the others would do, and Sam crouched further and clicked his flashlight on to check under the car.


Tucked up against the right rear tire was a small pitch-black huddle of fur no larger than a Yorkie. Huge, orange lamplike eyes turned into the light, reflecting it back off the retinas and leaving an impression of a glow.


A small long-haired tail began to thump against the asphalt.


Dean mumbled a string of obscenities just under his breath, leaving his gun trained on the Tailypo even though they’d have to stuff the damn thing down their pants in order for it to be dangerous to them. He glanced around quickly, around the rest of the underside of the car and immediately around. Nothing bigger was waiting for a chance to pounce.


“Must have crawled up under the car while the shooting was going on,” Sam said. “Hung on all the way.”


“That’s great,” Dean said. “But now here it is, and...” He trailed off. He thought about how he couldn’t shoot it; not there, but not anywhere else, either. He hadn’t been able to shoot the other juvenile when he’d needed to, not even to save himself. There was still one left, and its family was gone, and it would be a mercy to put it down. “It...we have to do something with it.”


Sam angled the flashlight a little closer, and said, “Dean.”


Dean looked, and there was no mistaking or passing off what they were looking at; the eyes in that strangely humanoid face were damp, and the fur below was soaked in streaks. It could have been just that it had managed to get too much dust in its eyes while clinging to the underside of the car, but that wasn’t what it looked like.


It had been...crying.


Sam put one hand out toward it. It flashed its teeth at him for a moment, then put them away again when he didn’t come any closer. Sam rubbed his fingers together and said, “C’mere, little guy.”


It scraped its claws along the asphalt and the tail began to thump again.


“You have to be kidding,” Dean said.


“Go see if you can find something to give it,” Sam said without taking his eyes off it. “Go put some of the baby food on a jar cap or something and bring it out.”


“You have to be kidding,” Dean said again.


“It can’t stay under the car,” Sam said, and even had his jaw not been wired shut, his teeth would still have been clenched by then, by his tone. “And I’m pretty sure I can handle all five pounds of it if it tries to attack.”


Dean hesitated, then left his gun close to Sam’s free hand on the pavement and headed back for the room.


He made it as far as spooning about a tablespoon of turkey-vegetable baby-dinner onto the lid of a jar as Sam had suggested before the door opened again and Sam walked in. He turned and opened his mouth to say good, you came to your senses but Sam was shutting the door again as fast as he could and then cupping his hands around something tucked into his hoodie.


Dean froze. He could tell, by the slightly guilty look on Sam’s face, what the hell that was.


“Put it back outside,” Dean said. “Sam, what the f–“


“I couldn’t leave it out there to scream,” Sam said in a stage whisper. “Look, it’s just a baby, okay? It’s not gonna hurt anything.”


“It could be...rabid or something,” Dean said, matching the same whisper but with an extra dose of annoyed incredulity. “Like we don’t have enough trouble, Sam.”


“What else are we gonna do?” Sam hissed. “You wanna kill it here? Maybe hit it with something, suffocate it? Is that okay with you?”


“It’s not a fuckin’ bunny we’re rescuing off the side of the road, Sam!” Dean said. He waved at the lump in Sam’s sweatshirt with the spoon he was holding. “We’re gonna take it back up into the woods, and let nature take its course on something totally unnatural.”


“That’s it,” Sam said flatly. “That’s the big plan. Take a baby out into the woods and let something get it.”


“You know what it is,” Dean said. “It already understands what’s good to eat, and that’s us. There’s only one cure for that.” He cocked his thumb and forefinger into a parody of a gun.


“You’re just pissed because they broke my jaw,” Sam said.


Dean opened his mouth to retort, but a small furry face peeked out of Sam’s sweatshirt, then, large ears pinned back, large orange eyes blinking at Dean and then up at Sam. It held small front feet tipped with wicked claws up to Sam, trying to tuck its face in harder against his chest.


Sam watched Dean’s shoulders slump again in defeat.


“You better not have left my gun out there,” Dean said. “And I’m not warming up the goddamn baby food.”


-|- 


It liked TV and baby food. It preferred to get the food out of the jar by itself, so Dean gave up and just handed the jars over, then watched it use its creepy clawed fingers to dig the food out. It watched their faces constantly, glancing between them over and over, staring. Its moods were apparent in its ears, by the way they cocked towards the sound of Sam’s voice, perked up at the TV, laid back along its skull if one of them moved too quickly. The rest of its moods were in its tail, wagging or curled up over its back or tucked between its legs.


Sam filled the vanity sink with cool water and didn’t have to point it out; the Tailypo came immediately and looked for a way up, then held its front feet up to Sam. The demand was plain.


Sam bent down without hesitation and offered his hands, and the Tailypo climbed into his arms and jumped onto the counter when he straightened. Sam glanced at Dean, whose expression said such a bad idea.


“It’s got a full set of teeth,” Sam said, watching it dip its front paws into the water. “It can probably eat anything.”


“Starting with the first one of us who falls asleep in front of it,” Dean said. His arms were folded and he was on the bed closest to the door, keeping a dark and disapproving gaze on the thing on the sink.


“C’mon,” Sam said. “If it’s not hungry, there’s no reason for it to go after us. And, if you didn’t notice? Pretty damn small. You can’t tell me you’re afraid of this.”


“Not afraid,” Dean snapped. “It doesn’t know anything about humans except that they’re slow and delicious.”


“It’s not treating us like food,” Sam said. “It came to me for protection. It obviously recognizes that we’re at least equals, if not in charge. We’re giving it food, and it’s old enough to recognize hierarchy.”


“Anything with claws like that can do damage,” Dean said. “Suit yourself. I’ll stitch you up when it tries to slash your throat open.” He drew a finger across his own throat and narrowed his eyes at the Tailypo.


The little creature was lifting water out of the sink in cupped paws to drink, and its ears were laid back hard against its skull as if reacting to the tension in the room. It was darting glances up at Sam between sips of water.


“Looks like Gollum, a Poke’mon and a black lab had a threesome,” Dean said. “We need to get the goddamn thing out of here.”


“I agree, okay?” Sam said. “I’m pretty sure dropping it at an animal shelter won’t do it, and we’re still not just tossing it into the woods.”


“There’s probably a whole litter of the damn things out there,” Dean said, sitting up and putting his feet back on the floor. His tone softened, though, and he rolled his eyes. It was a dead giveaway to Sam.


“You wanna go check?” Sam said.


No. There was probably just the one family anyway. Two adults, big brother...little brother.” His mouth twisted a little, then thinned out into a resolute line. “Baby monsters are still monsters.”


The Tailypo used one back foot to scratch behind an ear.


“And it has bugs,” Dean said. “Great.”


“I’m gonna go get it something real to eat,” Sam said. “Give me the keys.”


Dean widened his eyes. “Dude...it doesn’t need any more food!”


“You’re afraid to be left alone with it,” Sam said. “Fine, I’ll stay. You need something solid to eat, too. You go grab something.”

 

Dean stood. “I’m not...goddamnit, just shut up, and no way are you staying here alone with that.”


Sam spread his arms and drew his brows together. “Dean, the only other option is to get a pet carrier and take him with us. Maybe a baby sling, right across the chest? How about that?”


Dean gave him the keys. “Get some rat poison.”


Sam rolled his eyes and left Dean with the Tailypo.


When the door closed, the Tailypo’s eyes grew wide and centered on Dean as it crouched along the counter. It reached a hand-paw toward the door and made a low, sad keening noise.


“Yeah, I don’t like it when he leaves, either,” Dean mumbled. He narrowed his eyes. “You stay over there with your big head and be quiet, and this’ll be fine.”


They stared at each other.


Dean shook his head and kept his gun within reach.


He hated it that Sam was right; he was just pissed because the damn things had nearly broken Sam’s head open.


-|-


When Sam returned half an hour later with a small variety of solid food of the plain type (packaged lunchmeat, crackers, various fruits and vegetables) and of the Dean-approved type (fast food nachos and tacos), he opened the door to the sight of Dean lying face up on one of the beds, hands folded behind his head, watching TV.


He put the bags on the table by the window and glanced around, surprised to see Dean looking so relaxed after the state he’d left him in. He immediately felt a slight sinking feeling. “Where is it?”


His tone said what did you do with it?


At the sound of his voice, a small head with perked ears popped up from the safe, warm crook between Dean’s neck and shoulder, large orange eyes centering on Sam. A tail waved happily just above Dean’s head.


Sam stared.


“Shut up,” Dean said without taking his eyes off the TV. “We came to an understanding.”


“Uh...”


“And he’s not an ‘it’,” Dean said. “His name is Tucker.”


Sam kept staring. He was at a loss. “Uh...”


“He likes to tuck his face into things to hide, ‘cause he thinks if he can’t see you, you can’t see him,” Dean said. “And it rhymes with the other thing I was calling him. So...shut up.”


Sam rolled his head back to look at the ceiling. He decided that Dean could still surprise him occasionally. “Want something to eat?”


Dean shrugged a little. “I could eat.”


“You wanna feed Tucker, then?” Sam said.


“He can feed himself,” Dean said. “What’ve you got?”


Sam would have thrown the bag of tacos at Dean if it wouldn’t have likely caused the little Tailypo to panic. He set the food down on the table by the window instead, and patted his own chest, making eye contact with...Tucker. “C’mere, little guy.”


The tail waved more energetically but the Tailypo didn’t come toward him until Dean sat up. Then he clung to Dean’s shoulder and reached toward Sam with a front foot.


Sam held his hands out and let Tucker come to him, depositing him on the table and slowly opening the bags. He rolled up a piece of bologna and held it out, letting Tucker sniff it and then take it from him. The meat was shredded between small claws and bolted into a sharp-toothed mouth with alarming speed. If the equipment wasn’t reminder enough, then the use of it was; there was a true predator in the room.


Knowing better than to keep his fingers in harm’s way, Sam tore the bags open and let the creature pick among what was there. Tucker finished off the lunchmeat, licked the salt off the crackers but left them scattered around the table, gagged at the tangerine, then held an apple in one clawed paw and gnawed on it.


They both watched the display with close attention. The last part with the apple was too close to human behavior for their comfort.


Dean looked at his tacos. Tucker turned to stare at him, sharp teeth still digging into the apple.


“Mine,” Dean said.


He ended up eating in the parking lot. He still had a problem eating solid food in front of Sam, and he didn’t need any creepy critters giving him a guilty stare.


While he was out there, he called Bobby, still uncertain about what he was really going to say. Anything sounded nuts, and he could admit that to himself. He had actually let the damn thing cuddle with him, and he felt perfectly sane. It hadn’t put a spell on him or poisoned him by breathing on him, because he would know. There was just something about the weird-looking furry thing, and how sad its eyes were, and the fact that it was just a baby. And it liked him. A lot.


He got Bobby’s voicemail, and after clearing his throat, he asked Bobby to call him about anything he might have heard about what one might do if one should run across an orphaned baby monster. Then he snapped his phone shut as fast as he could and ate his tacos.


Couldn’t shoot it, couldn’t just drop it off in the woods, couldn’t carry it around and raise it. There had to be another option. No way they were the first people to ever run into this problem, right?


He paused. Oh, they could totally be the first suckers stuck with this kind of thing. It would be so normal for them.


He double checked the car to make sure there wasn’t anything else under there that Sam might not have noticed while he was out.


The first thing he saw when he opened the door was Sam batting at a lump under the blankets of the bed closest to the door, laughing. Or, laughing the best he could through his teeth. The lump jerked spastically, zigzagging from side to side before latching on to Sam’s hand. Sam shook it, fingers poking at what had to be a very ticklish tummy, because there was a high-pitched, annoyed growl and the attack intensified.


“You two make me sick,” Dean said.


The lump made its way to the edge of the bed and slid down onto the floor, wiggling on arched back with ears pinned flat to its skull, jaws gaping. It looked like a deformed kitten trying to challenge him, tail lashing as it struggled.


“Can’t believe you’re not extinct,” Dean said. Sam kept snickering.


Tucker wiggled back to his feet and scaled the side of the bed in hitches and starts, panting. When he reached the top, he took an alarmingly long and accurate leap off the corner, straight for Dean’s face.


Dean knew the alarm on his face was visible just before he flinched and turned a shoulder. Tucker landed in a flurry of claws on his jacket and clung there, sinking teeth into leather.


“Whoa, whoa,” Sam said, reaching for the Tailypo. He got him by the scruff and gently shook him free of Dean. Tucker wiggled and snapped, not realizing that the humans weren’t playing anymore.


Sam reached over and grabbed another apple from the table, and waved it at Tucker. Once the creature’s attention was centered on it, Sam leaned down and rolled the apple across the floor before letting Tucker go, watching as he attacked it instead.


“Don’t get it all crazy,” Dean said, straightening. He tried not to sound out of breath. 


They glanced at each other. Small and silly looking and hilarious, but still a dangerous, wild animal. Or something.


Sam shrugged, looking mildly apologetic. “Call Bobby?”


“No answer,” Dean said. “I dunno, he has a life besides us.”


-|-

 

“Could lock it in the bathroom,” Sam said.

 

“And he’ll yell the way he did out by the car,” Dean said.

 

“It has to sleep somewhere,” Sam said. “For the record, I don’t think it’s gonna get aggressive if it’s not all wound up.”

 

It was past midnight, and the Tailypo was in the bathtub. They could hear the sound of claws on porcelain as it chased a rolled-up sock and the cap from Sam’s shaving cream.

 

You let him sleep the rest of the day,” Dean said. “And, you know, he’s nocturnal, based on the way we found his family. So he’ll be wandering around the room all night, wanting to play.” 

Just after dark, they had taken it out behind the building to see if it would crap out there instead of under Sam’s bed, which it had already demonstrated a penchant for. It didn’t run away.

 

“Michael Jackson,” Dean said. “Jacko will take it. Make it part of his zoo.”

 

Something fell into the tub. The sound of echoing growls and scrabbling claws issued from the bathroom.

 

“Too big to flush,” Dean said. “Could leave ‘im in there with the lid down, though, give housekeeping a tip they’d never forget.”

 

“He’s not gonna attack,” Sam sighed. He was under the covers, staring at the ceiling. “Just go to sleep.”

 

Dean snorted. “Already been to the ER once over this kind of critter. Not thrilled about learning the lesson twice.”

 

“Then you keep watch, because I’m gonna sleep,” Sam said.

 

-|-

 

When it took the blinds down during a fit of unspent energy, Sam gave up on the idea of sleeping.

 

-|-

 

“It’s...you what?

 

Bobby wasn’t laughing yet, but the possibility was there.

 

Dean told him the entire story. He didn’t bother skating over details to make himself look better in the whole thing, either, just laid it all out.

 

“Where is it now?”

 

“It’s, uh...” Dean cleared his throat. “Well, it sleeps during the day. It’s nocturnal.”

 

It also preferred contact while it was sleeping. So it was snugged against his chest, mostly under his overshirt, head against his shoulder.

 

He heard Bobby sigh on the other end of the line. Dean didn’t leap in to fill the silence.

 

“There’s someone who used to take in a variety of...unusual pets. I’m not sure she’s still around, so, let me make a call. Can you deal, for a while?”

 

“Oh, hey, nothin’ to it,” Dean said.

 

He glanced at Sam. Poor kid was out like a light, after the night they’d had.

 

He turned his head and pressed a kiss to the sleeping Tailypo’s warm, furry tummy, then rolled his eyes at himself.

 

-|-

 

Maine?” Sam said.

 

Dean shrugged.

 

“Maine.”

 

“It’s the only place he knows about,” Dean said. “Some crazy old lady’s been taking care of the weird and unusual for the last few decades. She even has a couple of Tailypo, already, so, Tucker’ll probably love it.”

 

“That’s a long car ride with El Destructo, here,” Sam said, jerking his chin at Tucker. The Tailypo was sitting close by, leaning in, waiting for Sam to offer him some of his Jello. “If we only drive during the day, we can count on not sleeping for a few days.”

 

“So we drive at night and sleep during the day,” Dean said. “We keep him occupied.”

 

“You mean we feed him nonstop,” Sam said.

 

“He won’t argue with that,” Dean said. “Bobby already told her what we’re bringing. When he could quit laughing, I mean. So pack it up.”

 

-|-

 

Sam parceled out grapes, gummy bears, corn nuts, Cheetos, beef jerky, crackers, Cheerios and cashews one by one to keep Tucker busy in the back seat. He also had chew toys, a plush ball with a bell, and a blanket to tussle with.

 

“I’m never having kids,” Dean said.

 

-|-

 

Sleeping all day was easier than they’d thought it would be. Dean decided he could get used to it.

 

He looked over at Sam. Tucker was sprawled across Sam’s chest, wickedly clawed toes flexing in a luxurious stretch.

 

“It’s my turn, so never mind,” Sam said without opening his eyes. He scratched behind one of the Tailypo’s ears. Tucker made a soft burbling noise.

 

“Sick of both of you,” Dean said, and turned over.

 

-|-

 

“He won’t get back in the car,” Sam said.

 

“You have to be shitting me,” Dean said.

 

They were on the side of a backroad in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, to let everybody piss. In the dark. And it was beginning to rain.

 

“Use some of that weird thing you have going with animals and everything to get him to do what you want,” Dean said.

 

Tucker was halfway up a tree, tail lashing, teeth bared. He was looking up into the branches.

 

“Tucker,” Dean said. “Get your ass in the car!”

 

“He doesn’t actually know his name,” Sam said.

 

“Get a treat, or something,” Dean said. “Can’t chase him through the woods all night.”

 

Sam noticed that Dean didn’t even suggest leaving him there.

 

Tucker laid his ears back and hissed, still looking up into the branches. The hiss became a high-pitched shriek. Something jostled the branches higher up.

 

“He’s choosing a bird over Cheetos,” Dean said, hands on hips. “Gonna disown him.”

 

When an adult bobcat came headfirst down the tree, three times the size of the Tailypo and spitting up a storm, Dean had his gun out and thumbed the safety off from one breath to the next. The first shot purposely took a chunk out of the tree inches from the cat, which only retreated a little.

 

Tucker went up after it.

 

“Goddamnit,” Dean said, and the cat was swinging hard and caught its claws in Tucker’s raised hackles when he shot it between the shoulders.

 

-|-

 

Tucker sat in the backseat, grooming blood off his fur, tail wagging.

 

“Don’t say it,” Dean said.

 

“You chose a ‘monster’ over perfectly regular wildlife,” Sam said.

 

I said don’t say it.

 

-|-

 

“Face hurt?”

 

Sam sighed. Two long nights in the car were taking a toll, even though it was second nature to him. “It’ll get better.”

 

“Dude, we don’t have to tear ass up there,” Dean said. “We can hang out a few days.”

 

Sam gave him a sidelong glance. Yep; he still felt guilty. “Dean – “

 

“Dean.”

 

He felt his own eyes widen as far as Dean’s did as he froze. The second voice was small and scratchy and came from the back seat. They turned their heads as one to look at Tucker.

 

The Tailypo wiggled a little under the attention, tail slapping against the seat. Then he rolled over and showed them his tummy.

 

“No, we really can’t,” Sam said softly.

 

-|-

 

Tucker pushed the side of his face along the comforter on one of the beds, using his back legs to shove himself along. He snorted, tail waving happily.

 

“That’s encouraging,” Dean said. “Gotta wonder what the hell’s all over that. You take this bed.”

 

“No way,” Sam said. “All yours.”

 

Tucker came to the corner of the bed and stood up on his hind legs, tracking Dean.

 

No,” Dean said sharply, pointing a finger.

 

Tucker flattened himself along the side of the bed, ears pinned back, eyes squinting and blinking. Then he crawled to Dean on his belly, tail low and wagging just a little.

 

Dean tilted his head in exasperation.

 

“What’s the matter, Tuck?” Sam said. “Is your daddy mean? Won’t he hold you?”

 

Dean shot him a dirty look, but it was tinged with defeat. He put his hands out and let Tucker crawl into them. Safe in one arm, Tucker tucked his face into Dean’s shirt and wagged his tail.

 

Sam laughed close-mouthed, deep in his chest.

 

Tucker slept curled close along the space between Dean’s shoulder and neck that day, feet, face and tail tucked so tightly that he looked like a fuzzy ball of black.

 

-|-

 

“It’s here somewhere,” Sam said.

 

It was about an hour past dawn, and they were all tired as hell. But they were essentially there.

 

“Where is this?”

 

“Dean,” Sam said, “I’m not gonna say it again.”

 

“C’mon. It’s hilarious.”

 

Sam sighed. “Mooselookmeguntic Lake. She lives way off Birches Beach Road on Mooselookmeguntic Lake.”

 

Dean laughed. “That is some crazy shit. I’ll make this up to you, I swear. We’ll settle down for like a week or something, until you feel better.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Lying bitch.”

 

“The turnoff’s supposed to be on the right,” Sam said, ignoring him. “It’s easy to miss, because she lets it get overgrown this time of year, but there’s a windsock...there. Right there.”

 

A mile off the road along a rutted dirt drive was a cleared space that passed for a yard, then an old yellowed mobile home with additional living space and a covered porch built on. Trees crowded in close after that, but it was obvious that there was more to the property.

 

Dean turned the car off and let out a slow breath.

 

Sam glanced in the back seat. Tucker was asleep.

 

-|-

 

He was still asleep when Sam slowly peeled his jacket open to show him to the woman that invited them onto her porch a few minutes later.

 

Nora Greenwood peered closely with watery gray eyes and tucked graying hair behind one ear. Then she straightened and said, “That’s not a Tailypo.”

 

Sam blinked, then glanced at Dean, who looked ready to challenge her. “Are you...sure?”

 

“Ayuh,” she said. “Seen ‘em, got two out back. Got the tail, for once, never seen a live one with a tail, got the feet, got the ears. Face is all wrong, though. Whole family looked like this?”

 

Sam nodded, uncertain of what else to do.

 

“Not Tailypo,” she said again. “Part, likely. But mixed with something else. Something a little ways back, that gave it that face. Something with no right to go about it.”

 

The boys looked at each other in confusion.

 

“C’mere, I’ll show you a Taily,” she said, then shuffled off toward the other side of the porch, into shadows.

 

There was a tall wire fence at the edge of a narrow dirt path, bordered heavily by brush. Nora came to the edge of the fence and knocked at a rotting wooden post. “Tailys!” she yelled. “Mornin’, Tailys. Who’s out there?”

 

Tucker awoke and stared at her from the safety of Sam’s jacket.

 

Something dark and roughly four feet tall moved several yards away in the morning light, remaining partially hidden. They saw dark fur and large luminous eyes – something that bore a resemblance to what they’d battled a week earlier. The overall shape was the same, but the face they could see...longer, pointed, more jackal than humanoid.

 

They glanced at each other again.

 

“Got a couple of Bunyips in their own area ‘round the other side,” she said. “A Teggie and a few kappas in the pond, a liderc, a cockatrice, an axehandle hound. Some, people run over in the road, or hunters find them. Not often a hunter will bring ‘em here, though. Most just shoot ‘em.” She shook her head. “Not all that friendly, most, and who can blame? Still, be nice to have something in the house, once.” She looked at Tucker again. “Dunno what he is, this. Is he good?”

 

“He likes Cheerios,” Dean said, then looked surprised. “Um, I mean...he’ll eat anything. He likes to be held when he sleeps, and he plays kind of rough but he’ll back down if you tell him to.”

 

She smiled at him, and her face was suddenly kind. “Bobby said you were good boys,” she said. “Happened to your face, kid?” She gestured at Sam.

 

“A much bigger one of these,” Sam said, patting his jacket. Tucker yawned, tongue curling.

 

“And that’s how you came by this,” she said. “I suppose the rest are gone?”

 

Sam nodded.

 

“Couldn’t kill the baby,” she said. “No, can’t go killing the baby, no matter what it is.” She gestured them along. “C’mon, in the house. Feed the baby, feed you. He’s not really wild anymore, so, he won’t be going out in the woods.”

 

-|-

 

The house was surprisingly clean and orderly for what Dean had initially thought was some crazy old lady keeping weird pets. It was warm and the furniture was modest and carefully kept. The bookshelves had a few telltale titles about monsters and unusual animals, veterinary medicine, nutrition.

 

“What made you start taking everything in, Nora?” Sam said when she sat him down in the dinette and offered him ice for his face.

 

She looked thoughtful as she steeped tea. Tucker roamed around under the table near Sam’s legs, getting a little more adventurous by the minute but keeping within reach of safety.

 

“About twenty years or so ago, just after my husband died, I started going on hikes around Bald Mountain. Found the damndest looking cat one day, caught in a bear trap up there. Half dead. Six legs, and the pelt of a wolf. Took a while to get it to trust me, but, it came around. Hung around outside. Good security. Finally left for good one day, but I like to think I did a good thing.” She turned and offered Tucker a piece of cheese. “Go on, you’ll answer to food, I think.”

 

Tucker glanced up at Sam, then wagged his way over to Nora, eyes fixed to her face. He took the cheese gingerly with one paw, then sat up and ate it.

 

“How big were the biggest of his?” she said, gesturing at him.

 

“About the same size as the Tailypo out back,” Dean said. “He’s, uh...I don’t know, really friendly, though.”

 

“I suspect we’ll get along just fine,” Nora said. “Might need to trim his claws occasionally to save the furniture, and me.”

 

Tucker sat near Nora’s feet and wiggled when she smiled down on him. He held his paws up, begging.

 

-|-

 

Dean brought in the blanket and toys and snacks from the car. He was surprised to discover that he was hesitating.

 

-|-

 

Tucker fell asleep in a chair by the woodstove and didn’t so much as twitch when they quietly left.

 

-|-

 

“He’ll be fine,” Sam said.

 

Dean nodded. “Sure, right.”

 

“He’ll be really happy,” Sam said. “She gets him. She’s taken care of stranger things. And he liked her.”

 

“He likes anybody who gives him food,” Dean growled.

 

Sam smiled a little. “We can call in a few days, see how it’s going.”

 

Dean made a face at him that said fine, whatever.

 

-|-

 

They settled a day’s drive away to the south to give Sam a chance to rest up. They rented movies, and made bizarre combinations in a blender Dean picked up at a Target. Sam decided a cheeseburger in a blender wasn’t as gross as it looked. Better yet, Dean refused to even try it.

 

They went back to sleeping at night.

 

Dean tossed and turned and blamed it on the weird sleeping hours.

 

A very sleepy Sam sat up and said, “Dude, I’ll get you a teddy bear.”

 

“Shut up, Sam.”

 

“You can’t cuddle with me, I don’t have a tail.”

 

Dean rolled over and frowned. “How many painkillers did you take?”

 

“Teddy bears don’t have tails either,” Sam mused, and slid down under the covers again.

 

“Go to sleep, Sammy.”

 

-|-

 

Nora was laughing when Dean called two days later as they were packing up.

 

“Bless you,” she said. “He’s the most fun I’ve had in years.”

 

-|-

 

“Wonder what he really was,” Sam said.

 

Dean didn’t answer, just kept his eyes on the road.

 

“Sometimes, doing the right thing feels like shit,” Sam said.

 

Dean shrugged.

 

“I miss him, too,” Sam said.

 

“He was a pain in the ass,” Dean said. But he said it with an affection Sam recognized.

 

 

-|- -|- -|-