Flesh Masks

Gimme Shelter

Yeah, a storm is threatening

My very life today

If I don't get some shelter

Lord, I'm gonna fade away

~Rolling Stones

It was odd living in one of the places where the magical world mixed freely with the mundane. It was enough to drive anyone mad – well, anyone from the mundane side; the magical beings took it all in stride.

Gingerly balancing a mound of dirty sheets and linens, Kess made her way down the stairs and into the "laundry room" – once a covered back porch, now walled in and put to better use.

She and her mother ran a small inn called "Wren's Nest", a remodeled Victorian-style house huddled amidst its taller, more modern neighbors. Not entirely by coincidence, it was just a few blocks east of McAnally's Pub. Both establishments catered to the Arcane and Otherworldly, though the occasional lost tourist would turn up now and then, looking for a bed and a hot meal.

Because of the 'mixed' clientele, almost all modern technological appliances broke within the month they were bought. Finally, in frustration, Kess's mother had decided to do the laundry by hand. Thus, the renovated back porch, complete with a large copper tub, numerous clotheslines, and an old-fashioned ironing board with the kind of iron that had to be filled with hot coals.

Bustling throughout the room were three old Dwarven women – friends of her mother's from the Nevernever. No longer able to endure the harsh life of their mining towns, Tila, Rosie, and Brenna lived in the inn's basement – now refurbished into a cozy set of rooms with a private entryway. From there, they took care of the inn's washing in exchange for room and board, clothes, and food.

"I'll trade you," Kess smiled at them as she placed the pile of dirty laundry next to a neatly folded stack of fresh sheets.

One of the women cocked her head up as she returned the grin.

"With pleasure, Lass. Busy day today?"

"The last of the guests from the shapeshifter contingent just checked out," she sighed with a tired smile, "so I can finally finish remaking the rooms. I feel like I've been making beds and scrubbing bathrooms all day."

Baba Tila chuckled sympathetically as Kess bundled the clean linens into a basket and headed back into the inn. Quietly closing the door behind her, she made her way back upstairs, pausing only once to set the load down and catch her breath. As she was making the last of the beds, smoothing the thick homemade quilts over the crisp cotton sheets, she heard the inn's door slam and felt her mother's wards tingle slightly.

Someone magical who wasn't already a guest had just come in.

Another shiver passed through the inn. Two non-magical people had entered as well.

Thoroughly curious now, Kess hurried through the hall and paused just out of sight at the top of the landing. She could hear her mother talking to the strangers and she didn't sound pleased. After a few seconds, a familiar voice cut smoothly across her mother's growing tirade, causing Kess to grin and hurry down the stairs, hurriedly covering her ears with her hair.

Dean shifted his weight over to his right leg, scanning the room as he did so. According to Dresden, this inn was one of the few that catered to the supernatural, and was probably one of the safest places to stay undiscovered and undisturbed while he and Sammy cased Chicago.

The woman who ran the place seemed awfully wary of them. While both men had loosened their ties and Dean had taken off his jacket entirely, it wasn't like they were in their usual scuffed up jeans and plaid. They looked far more respectable than they usually did.

When they had first come in, she had been perfectly friendly, until Dresden explained what they were and why they were in Chicago. With that new information in hand, she had started the argument that they were currently in. Dean glanced over at his brother. Sammy was shifting from side to side, looking uncomfortable and giving the woman his best kicked puppy expression while Dresden tried to sort out the mess he'd made.

"We have customers from the Nevernever all the time! What happens if these two see something that they feel obligated to kill? Think of what it would do to business! We can't afford that kind of trouble," she scowled quite fiercely, "again."

"Jenny," The faintest hint of exasperation tinged Harry's tone as he ran his hand through his dark hair. "They need a place to stay. They're working with me, and I need to know that they'll be safe. This place is one of the few protected by the Accords."

"But that could change if they start trouble! Remember last time we put a hunter up? One werewolf dead and three of his pack wounded. We nearly lost our neutral ground status."

"Look, Ma'am?" Sam hesitantly moved forwards. "My brother and I just need a place to sleep. We don't want any trouble while we're here."

The woman, Jenny, still looked unconvinced. She opened her mouth to say something when the sound of light footsteps through the next room interrupted her.

"Harry! You came to visit!"

Dean looked up to see a petite young woman in faded jeans and a fitted blue t-shirt bound through the door and give Dresden an enthusiastic hug. The wizard lifted her a few inches off the ground as he returned the greeting and grinned at her.

"That I did, Sprite. How've you been?"

Dean really didn't really listen to what her reply was. He was too busy admiring her long legs and slim figure. Dark curls wisped about her face, covering her ears, while the rest of it was pulled back into a thick braid that ended right above some very attractive hips. Raising an eyebrow in appreciation, he glanced towards Sammy. His baby brother's face and neck had gone a dull shade of red and Dean could barely suppress a wicked chuckle.

The woman whirled to face the brothers and Dean just barely registered that she had brilliant blue eyes before she lowered her gaze. She smiled in their general direction before turning to Dresden.

"Who are your friends, Harry?"

"These two are the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean. They're hunters-"

The girl's eyes widened slightly and she drew back a little.

"Hunters! They won't cause trouble, will they? Remember what happened last time?"

Dean rolled his eyes skyward.

"Geez, no amount of safety is worth this hassle. We shoulda just stayed camped out at that motel."

"Jenny, Kess, I need you two to trust me," Dresden looked pleadingly at both of them. "I know your wards are strong enough to handle any trouble that these two might bring because I helped you set them up. The Accords should keep anything hostile from coming here anyway, at least, anything intelligent

Both women looked skeptical, but after a few moments, Jenny nodded.

"Kess, make sure the upstairs room is ready," she said briskly as she bustled over to an antique desk and flipped open a slim book. "Gentleman, if you'll sign a few papers for me, you can have your room key. I'm afraid you'll have to park your car a little ways down the street. All the magic in this place will mess with your engine."

"I think his car is old enough that he could park here," Harry began, but Dean shouldered him out of the way to stand in front of the desk.

"Nothing messes with Baby. Where's the safest spot to leave her?"

Jenny scribbled some directions and a map on a scrap of paper and handed it to the hunter before turning to a file cabinet behind her and pulling out a sheaf of papers.

Leaving Sam to deal with the paperwork, Dean headed outside to park the Impala. When he returned with their duffels, he found that Dresden had left and his brother and Kess were waiting at the foot of the stairs. Without saying a word, she heaved one of the bags over her shoulder and headed up the stairs, jerking her head to indicate they should follow.

As they headed down the hall, Sam cleared his throat and reached for the duffel that the girl had taken. Her gait had become uneven and she was clearly struggling with the weight of the bag.

"Umm, Kess, was it?"

She turned around to glare suspiciously at his chin.

"My family calls me Kess. My name is Kestrel."

"Ah. Right. Um, well, you don't have to carry that. I'll take it."

Before she could reply, he gently took the duffel and slung it across his back, giving her one of his best smiles. She gave a small smile in return and hurried on, reaching up to brush a lock of hair behind her ears, only to stop the gesture halfway and drop her hand back to her side.

The two brothers exchanged glances at the odd behavior, but said nothing. Soon, Kess stopped in front of one of the doors and handed Dean a key.

"This is your room. My mother already gave the first key to your brother, but here's the spare just in case."

Dean nodded his head as he opened the door and pocketed the key. As they filed in, Kess tapped Sam on the shoulder.

"Breakfast is at seven, downstairs. If you want clean sheets, you have to clear out around ten so I can take them down to the laundry and get clean ones for you."

With that, she vanished down the hall, leaving the boys alone in their room. Sam shut the door and looked around. The room was small and clean, with two freshly made beds that smelled faintly of jasmine. The plaster walls were neatly whitewashed with a few framed paintings hung at various spots. All the furniture was intricately carved and fashioned out of a dark mahogany wood and polished to a glassy shine. There was no carpet, but thick rugs covered much of the bare wood floor.

Dean dropped his duffle at the foot of the bed closest to the window with a low grunt. He checked the head and side of the bed and then growled.

"What - No Magic Fingers?"

"Must be part of what they mentioned earlier about magic interfering with technology. Look, no outlets anywhere, and the lamps are the old gas kind." Sam stepped into the bathroom to change out of his suit and came out grinning. "But they have running water – hot and cold."

"Huh," grunted his brother, unbuttoning his shirt, "It's like living in the freakin' 1800s…" his voice trailed off as he glared at one of the rugs in the middle of the room. "Sammy, check this out."

Sam wandered over to his brother and knelt down by the spot Dean pointed at. A quick flash of silver caught his eye. He frowned and flipped back the corner of the carpet. Inlaid into the floor itself was a silver Devil's Trap. Sam let out a low whistle and covered it again.

As he stood, he glanced up at the ceiling and choked. Coughing, he jabbed a finger upwards. Painted across the ceiling was a Seal of Solomon. To the average person, it would appear to be some sort of decorative mural, but every hunter knew what it meant.

"Well, they either want to keep demons out entirely…"

"Or keep them in after calling them." Dean plunked his gun on the nightstand that stood in between the two beds.

"I dunno, do they seem like the types to summon demons to you?" asked Sam.

"For all that he could, I don't get the feeling that Dresden would." Dean's voice was muffled as he pulled on a loose t-shirt.

"And I don't think Jenny or her daughter have that kind of power."

"Yeah. Though, did you notice that the daughter-"

"Kestrel," Sam interjected, sitting on his bed.

"Yeah, her. Did you notice that she never looked us in the eyes?" Toeing off his socks, Dean flopped backwards onto his bed. "Huh. Pretty comfy." Seeing his brother's exasperated look, Dean rolled his eyes and continued. "There's not much we can do just yet. We'll keep an eye on the girl, though."

Mollified, Sam grunted in agreement and swung his legs onto the mattress. After setting the alarm on the wind-up clock (the round kind with the two domed bells on the top - he had to chuckle) by his bedside, he flipped onto his side and turned out the light.

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