Flesh Masks

Won't Get Fooled Again

Then I'll get on my knees and pray

We don't get fooled again,

Don't get fooled again! No, no!

Won't be fooled again!

~ The Who

Morning came far sooner than anyone wanted. Bleary-eyed, Sam rolled over and checked the clock by the bed. The display read 7:03am. With a groan, he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. His brother lay sprawled on his stomach across the other bed, snoring slightly. Shooting a disgruntled glance his way, Sam hauled himself into a standing position and went into the bathroom to take a shower.

By the time he came out, he felt much more awake. Slipping into jeans and a plaid shirt, he tugged on his shoes as he rifled through their luggage for his backpack and his laptop. The noise caused Dean to stir slightly.

"Mrmph? Wassup?" His brother slurred sleepily. "What time s'it?"

"7:20 in the morning. I'm going to get some breakfast and then to the library to get some research done. See if we can't get some leads on this thing. I'll be back in a few."

"M'kay," Dean yawned and rolled back over, muttering, "Bring back some pie."

Sam sighed and shook his head, hefting his backpack over his shoulder. Shutting the door behind him with a soft click, he made his way down the stairs. The inn was quiet, though a few shadows under doors indicated that some other patrons were up and about.

Unmoved by his brother's semi-conscious demand for pie, but wanting some actual breakfast of his own, Sam headed towards the dining room. A few other people browsed menus and several crumb-covered plates adorned empty tables.

Muffled voices came from the kitchen. Recognizing those voices as belonging to Jenny and Dresden, Sam chose the small table closest to the doors and pretended to browse the list of breakfast edibles while he strained to hear what they were saying.

"I'm not going to tell her, Harry, so you can quit bringing it up." Jenny sounded irritated.

"Look, she knows just enough to get into trouble, but not nearly enough to know how to handle things like whatever got her last night."

"We don't know if that has anything to do with it; besides, we've had this discussion before. I don't want her poking around in places that will draw attention to us. Telling her will just bring up too many questions that can't be answered."

"Because you don't want to answer them." The accusation in Harry's tone was clear.

"Because answering them won't change anything. I'm not going to tell her, Harry, and that's final."

With the harried look of someone who has been doing far too many things at once, Jenny hurried out of the kitchen, balancing several trays. Slouching out behind her came a sulky Harry, his dark brows knit in a scowl, hands stuffed deep in his duster pockets.

"Dude, do you sleep in that thing?" Sam blurted the question.

Looking entirely un-amused, the wizard swung towards him.

"I like my duster. It gives me a feeling of comfort," snipped Harry as he plunked himself down across from Sam. "What's your agenda for today?"

"Research and, if Dean has his way, pie."

"Library won't have much that'll be of use to you, but there are a couple of underground bookshops that cater to our kind in this neighborhood." Harry pulled a pen out of his pocket and scribbled a couple of addresses down on one of the napkins. The corners of his mouth quirked up as he handed it to Sam. "Can't really help you with the pie."

Sam nodded his thanks as the wizard got up.

"Got some digging of my own to do," Harry said as he sauntered out the door.

Once he had left, Jenny came by the table.

"'Morning, Sam. Do you want anything?"

"Just a bran muffin and some coffee. How's Kestrel?"

"Harry's potions helped with closing the wound and replenishing a lot of the blood she lost, so she'll recover fairly quickly, but she'll have to take it easy for the next few days."

"At least she'll be all right," Sam said. "That's good to hear."

"Thanks for asking." She flashed him a tired smile before heading off to get his food.

Sam made short work of his meal and headed outside. The previous night's activities had caused him to oversleep and miss his morning run, so he decided to walk to the various addresses instead of trying to get a cab or go steal the keys to the Impala from Dean.

Since one of the little bookshops was only a few blocks away, he made that his first destination.

When Dean woke up, the clock showed it to be just past eleven.

"Damn, Sammy. Why'd you let me sleep so late?" he mumbled as he sat up.

Silence greeted his query. Muttering, he shuffled to the bathroom. When he came back out, marginally more awake, he surveyed the empty room, noting his brother's missing backpack and rumpled bed. Sammy must have headed out early. With a shrug, Dean got dressed, grabbed his coat, and headed downstairs with the plan of calling his brother once he got a safe distance from Wren's Nest.

He saw Jenny and Kess as he went down the stairs. He was surprised the woman was standing after the night she'd had. Despite her upright position, her eyes were dull and she leaned against the wall for support, try as she might to make it look casual. Neither arm was bandaged, but Dean noted the dark red slashes across the one forearm. They were newly healed, but farther along than he thought they'd be.

Jenny stood between her daughter and the door, arms crossed.

"Absolutely not," she said in exasperation. "You should be resting upstairs as it is."

"For goodness' sake, Ma, I am twenty-one. I'm too old for naps," Kess protested. "Besides that, I slept for an extra five hours. Tillie changed all the beds so I wouldn't over-work myself-"

Jenny raised a hand to stop her daughter's tirade from gaining too much momentum.

"I know what you're going to say, and the funny thing about boredom is that it goes away when you're asleep – which is what you need after last night. Harry's potion doesn't just erase the damage. You still need to recover."

Dean decided it was time to make his presence known. Stepping forward, he smiled at the two of them.

"Morning." He turned to Kess. "How's the arm?"

"It's not bleeding anymore," she replied, exasperation coloring her tone.

"A fact for which we are all grateful, but you still need to rest," Jenny replied.

Kess crossed her arms stubbornly, mindful of jostling the healing one. "I'll take a cab, that way I'm sitting still most of the way and I'll have one of the clerks help me take the groceries out to the bus stop. The fresh air will do me good."

Since the women seemed to have forgotten him, Dean decided it was time to leave before he got sucked into their argument somehow. But, as he eased his way past, Jenny grabbed his arm. His shoulders slumped – too late.

"Since it appears I am not going to win this argument, will you take my daughter to get groceries?" Kess and Dean opened their mouths to protest, but Jenny didn't give either of them the chance to say anything. "After last night, I'd feel much better if she had a hunter to watch her back while she was out."

Dean sighed. The woman did have a point. It was safer for him to go with Kess and it would give him an opportunity to observe and possibly question the girl. At least she was easy on the eyes and there were worse things in life than taking a drive with a hot chick. Besides, it wasn't like Sammy needed any help on the research front.

And, most importantly, the grocery store would have pie.

"All right," he still couldn't quite keep from sighing. "I'll keep an eye on your daughter."

"Thank you," Jenny replied before turning to Kess, who was already pulling on her coat, even as she shook her head over her mother's attitude. "But when you get home, you are laying down to rest, do you hear me?"

"Sure, Ma," Kess sighed as she kissed her mother on the cheek and trotted out the door.

Dean followed her to the car, the faintest hint of a grin playing about his face as he listened to her mutter. His eyes slid downward and lingered. He had to admit, the view from behind was excellent and went a long way towards banishing any annoyance he felt at using the Impala for a taxi.

The drive to the grocery store was quick and uneventful, with Dean maintaining his rule of minimal conversation and full radio control. Kess didn't seem to mind the quiet and rested her chin on her hand as she stared out the window, breaking the silence occasionally to point him down the correct street.

When they reached the store, Kess grabbed a cart, pulled a rather long grocery list out of her pocket, and headed down the nearest aisle. Grocery shopping, it turned out, was much more involved than Dean had thought.

"We tend to buy in bulk," Kess cheerfully informed him as they wrestled an oversized bundle of paper towel rolls into the bottom rack of the cart.

"No kidding," he grunted, giving the parcel one last shove before he straightened up.

"Normally, we have our supplies delivered, but we had a convention of sorts last week – ate us out of house and home. This is just to tide us over until pick-up day next week."

Aside from the mind-boggling quantities that Kess stuffed into that single shopping cart, things were fairly routine. All the foodstuffs were recognizable – not a single ingredient that indicated spellwork went into the mix. As Kess balanced an eighth loaf of sandwich bread on the pile, Dean snagged a cherry pie and tucked it in amidst the shrink-wrapped value packs of chicken and steak.

"Payment," he said at her inquiring look, "for gas."

She shrugged and pushed the cart into the shortest checkout line. Once it was their turn, she gave the cashier and bagger an apologetic look as she began unloading the cart onto the conveyer belt. Seeing the size of her purchase, the man sighed as he rang up her items one by one. Despite his efficiency and that of the teen boy cramming the items into bags, it was still quite an undertaking.

Bored, Dean stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels as he looked around. The video display of their lane's security camera caught his attention. He idly rotated his neck and watched the little black and white image of himself do the same.

His amused grin died a quick death when he glanced up a second time.

Across the picture was a line of static. That wasn't entirely unusual, but that line went through Kess's face and moved as she did.

Waiting for the cashier to tell her the total so she could pay, Kess glanced up at the camera. Dean hissed softly.

Through the line of static, two glowing dots showed where Kess's eyes should be. They vanished when she looked down to pull a few more bills out of her wallet, but the fuzzy line remained.

"Need help out to your car, miss?" the boy asked.

"I got it, buster," Dean said sharply, jerking the cart out of his hands and wheeling it out of the store. Startled by his sharpness, Kess whispered an apology to the boy and hurried after him.

The ride back to Wren's Nest was just as quiet as the ride to the grocery store was, but the silence was thicker somehow. At one point, Kess worked up the courage to ask Dean if anything was amiss, but the hunter's terse reply caused her to draw back and lapse into silence.

Dean parked the Impala a few blocks from the inn and carried the majority of the bags for Kess. She trailed behind him, lugging the remaining lighter items.

When they got inside, Dean rang the bell at the front desk and plunked the groceries on the counter. Kess followed suit and began rummaging through them. Jenny came out and thanked Dean profusely. He acknowledged her with a nod and headed back up the stairs, digging in his pocket for the room key.


He turned to see Kess hurrying up the stairs after him.

"You forgot your pie." She held it out to him.

"Thanks." He took the proffered pastry box.

"Thanks for taking me. It was good to get out of the house, and I know it made my mother feel much better about the whole thing."

"Forget about it," Dean grunted.

Kess recoiled slightly and warily edged past him to continue down the hall. Dean watched her go with narrowed eyes before approaching his room and unlocking the door.

When Sam got back to their room, he found his brother brooding in a corner chair with a box of half-eaten pie on his lap.

"Where have you been?" Dean growled.

"Out. Doing research." Sam lifted an eyebrow at his brother's surly tone and glanced down at his lap. "Really, Dean?"

"Wasn't like you were gonna bring me any." Dean took a defiant bite.

Plopping his backpack on his bed, Sam rifled through it and pulled out a wad of photocopied pages. Dean tossed the pie onto the table next to his chair and pushed himself to his feet.

"Well, while you were buried in books, I got to take Kess shopping."

"Goody," Sam returned sarcastically. "Did you find some pretty shoes to match that jacket?"

"Grocery shopping, asshole. And you'll never guess what I saw."

Sam sat on the bed and listened intently as his brother described the shopping trip, the line of static in the security camera, and the ride home. When Dean had finished, Sam stood up and ran his hands through his hair. Abruptly, he turned back to his sibling.

"You know, I heard Jenny and Harry arguing when I went down for breakfast this morning. Something about her not telling Kess something important. Jenny seemed pretty convinced that it would be a bad idea to tell her."

"So, Kess has some funky mojo going on, Jenny knows more than she's telling, and Harry wants to come clean?"

"Seems like it. We don't know if Kess's thing is of the fangy variety though. Besides, seems unlikely that she'd rip up her own arm."

"True. And you can't fake the kind of fear we saw last night."

"What do we do then?"

"Run the usual gambit of tests, I guess. Figure out what kind of nasty she is, then move from there."

"You think Kess ripped up Allison and the first set of corpses?"

"Won't rule it out."

The boys spent the next few hours going through the pages that Sam had photocopied and poring over their father's journal. It was just after dinnertime when they heard a knock on the door.

Glancing at Dean, who was idly cleaning his gun, Sam got up and crossed over to the door. Opening it revealed Kess, who took a hesitant step into the room as Sam stepped back. She looked pale and exhausted as she leaned herself against the wall.

"Harry's in," she said, looking at the floor. "He asked me to come tell you that he wanted to talk to you in the dining hall."

"Sure," Sam said, gesturing for her to come further into the room. "Before we head down, we have a couple of questions about last night, if you're feeling up to answering them."

"I guess," Kess watched as he poured himself a glass of water from a flask marked with a cross on the dresser.

As he walked back to her, Sam stumbled slightly, sloshing the water over the rim of the cup. Several droplets splattered against her bare arm. Chuckling ruefully, she wiped them off.

"Careful. My mother thinks the rugs give the rooms a homey look, but I swear, more guests trip over them 'cuz they're used to carpet."

Sam forced a smile and set the cup down, glancing at Dean and almost imperceptibly shaking his head. Gently taking her uninjured arm, he maneuvered her towards the table by Dean's bed and gestured to the corner chair. She sat and he took the seat across the table.

"So we were wondering if you remembered anything more about last night. I mean, we covered smell and claws, but can you think of anything else?"

"Well, um, I heard heavy breathing behind me right before it clawed me. And, based on its arms, I'd bet it was taller than me, not that that narrows the field much." Her mouth twisted into a wry grin as she shrugged.

"Huh," Sam couldn't help but chuckle along with her, but he frowned as he considered the possibilities.

"Well, that means Hellhounds are out, eh Sammy?" Dean interjected from the bed. He put down the sawed-off shotgun he was cleaning and picked up an old-fashioned handgun. Carefully, he opened its chamber and began taking bullets out.

Sam nodded and excused himself to the bathroom briefly. Kess looked around the room idly while she waited. After a few moments of silence, Dean glanced up from his gun and placed a hand on her arm. The silver ring on his middle finger sparkled in the light.

"Hey. Sorry about being short earlier. Tired, y'know? Long night last night."

"Yeah," Kess smiled slightly and nodded her head. "Lack of sleep will get to the best of us. And despite how much I got today, it would seem I need more."

Sam came back and sat down. Dean glanced up at him and just barely shook his head. With a sigh, the eldest Winchester dumped the bullets he had taken out of his gun into a small box and tossed it onto the table. A few bounced out of the box and rolled across the tabletop to brush up against Kess' bare forearm.

She hissed quietly in pain and drew away abruptly, clapping her other hand against the spot they had touched. The Winchester boys frowned. She stood hurriedly and headed to the door.

"Well, Harry's waiting for you two. If I think of anything else, I'll tell you."

With that, she jerked the door open and hurried out. When she reached for the doorknob, she let go of her newly injured arm and both boys noticed several welts and a trail of burned, reddish skin where the bullets had grazed her. As the door shut behind her, Sam picked up one of the bullets and twirled it between his thumb and forefinger.

"What are these made of again?"

Dean narrowed his eyes as he stared at the closed door.

"Cold Iron."

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