Hearts and Flowers
"Love is the thing that makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place."
-Zora Neale Hurston
Caleb Reaves was too tired to remove his muddied boots as he entered the apartment he shared with his college suitemate Oliver Havers, affectionately and aptly known as Moose . Of the two, Caleb cared more about the state of their abode, and then only enough to tidy up for the occasional visit by his father or grandfather. Mac nor Cullen were due for a visit any time soon.
The sulfur smell of eggs greeted him as he made his way into the common area, which included kitchen and living quarters. The sun was barely up, forcing its way through the drawn blinds over the windows. Caleb usually missed Moose's mega-breakfasts, finding the dirty skillet, smoothie maker and waffle iron as evidence of the feast. He'd learned quickly after his freshman year to never schedule a class before noon. Between the bountiful, willing co-eds at Auburn, keeping up with his studies, and hunting, late nights were a given.
"Look what the cat dragged in." Moose flipped a pancake, his voice booming and way too cheerful. Caleb knew the football player had been up since five, making sure to get in his carb-protein fix before heading to the weight room or practice field. "Or should I say horse? Looks like a wild bronc road you home, instead of you riding it."
"Funny." Caleb dropped his duffel in the corner, sliding out of his wet, dirt covered coat, which he tossed on one of the bar stools. Air hit his bare arms and he shivered. His body was still cold even after the hour long cab ride. The icy rain seemed to have seeped into his skin, a condition Caleb hoped a nice, long, hot shower would remedy.
"Seriously, Skid." Moose held up the spatula. "Are most rodeos an interactive all night venue?"
"Not typically." Caleb knew the rodeo was a lame ass cover story, but it was the first thing that sprung to his mind when Ian and Fisher showed up early at their door the night before, ignoring his request to meet outside. He'd been able to keep the most recent gig with the two older hunters via the phone up until that point. Fisher's typical cowboy get up and southern twang lent inspiration, and it was the one place Caleb hoped Moose, being the consummate city boy, wouldn't ask to tag along. Ian's redneck personality lent credibility to the story and curbed any desire Moose might have had to come watch a fictitious rodeo in Buford, Alabama.
"Mind you, I've never been to a rodeo, but I imagine people in the stands wouldn't get quite as dirty as you." Moose set his heaping plate of eggs, pancakes and bacon on the table, his gaze roving over Caleb again. "Maybe you should try bowling the next time your old school pals are in."
Caleb shrugged, muscles in his shoulders and upper back protesting the action. Ian, Fisher and he might have studied the art and science of hunting together, but they were never pals. "We had a few beers on the way there. The guys talked me into entering a contest." By talking, Caleb meant Ian had ordered him to do the grunt work of the gig while he and Fisher provided a distraction for their query. Digging up a grave, alone, in the middle of a torrential downpour was not what Caleb had planned when he signed on for the hunt. He shouldn't have been surprised. Hastings was a bastard and enjoyed pulling rank any chance he got.
"Like calf roping?" Moose studied him carefully, a hint of doubt and incredulity in his blue eyes. He shook his head. "I'm just not seeing that."
"Greased pig contest." Caleb felt a twinge of guilt. He started for the counter, avoiding eye contact with his friend. He had gone into college vowing not to make any personal connections, to avoid getting too entangled in the normal life Mac insisted he carry on. Moose ruined that plan. He was like a big goofy Golden Retriever.
"No way." Moose folded his massive arms over his chest. "A hot chick covered in oil, maybe, but you chasing a pig?"
"I made fifty bucks." Caleb reached in his pocket pulling out a couple of folded, slightly damp bills, which he slapped on the counter top hoping to stop the twenty questions. One of Moose's downfalls was money. It made him an easy target in poker, and a sucker in most betting situation. "Half of which I will gladly give to you for a cup of coffee."
"Your wish is my command." Moose hit the timer on the coffee maker, taking the money. He grabbed a mug from the counter, tossing the previous contents in the sink before handing it to Caleb without as much as a rinse. "Even if a protein shake would probably do your sorry ass a lot better than that caffeine sludge."
Caleb sniffed the cup, deciding whatever it had held before hadn't curdled or soured. "Says the guy who's having a heart attack on a plate for breakfast."
"Dude, I'm an athlete."
"An athlete who eats the rations of a small third world country on a weekly basis." Caleb suspected most of Moose's cash went to groceries. He hovered over the coffee pot, willing it to work faster. The glorious aroma and promise of warmth tempted him to remove the glass carafe and hold his cup directly under the stream of hot brew.
"You're just jealous of my amazing physique." Moose flexed one of his arms, the material of his t-shirt bulging across his enormous girth. "Envious of my way with all the lovely ladies on campus."
"Keep on telling yourself that, Oliver." Caleb decided there was enough coffee for one cup. He snatched the pot, holding his cup under the stream while he filled it with the liquid in the carafe. "We know who sees the most action in this dynamic duo."
"Of course we do, and so does your nephew, Deuce."
"Deuce?" Caleb took a drink of the coffee, relishing in the bitter taste and warmth. He wondered if his sluggish brain had missed a crucial segue in their conversation. Moose had formed an instant kinship with Dean last year when the kid showed up unexpectedly at Auburn. He'd met Sammy the following spring at one of Dean's ballgames, and got just a big of kick out of the youngest Winchester, but as far as Caleb could remember he had not mentioned either boy lately.
"Little Dude called me last night needing some advice in the amore department." Moose grabbed a jug of orange juice from the refrigerator and took a seat at the table.
"Dean called you?" Caleb put down the mug. Dean didn't talk to many people, especially about something as personal as his newly discovered interest in the opposite sex. He especially didn't elicit interest from anyone outside their small circle of family. "For advice about girls?"
"Well, he was looking for you, but I was able to help him out." Moose picked up a dishtowel, stuffing it in the front of his shirt like a giant bib.
"Please tell me you did not share your theories about oysters and green M&M's." Caleb leaned against the other chair, torn between taking a seat to listen to his roommate's explanation and the siren call of the hot shower.
"No way. I stuck to the basics, beginner level stuff." Moose picked up his fork and spoon, preparing for breakfast as he did for every meal, like he was about to begin an eating contest with a hefty monetary prize on the line. "The way I figure it, the kid's probably still got his training wheels on. I didn't do the deed until I was like thirteen and I consider myself exceptional."
Caleb groaned, deciding he better sit down. Dean must have been desperate to open up to Moose. "Why didn't you just have him call my cell phone?" John would kill him if Dean got any crazy ideas from his overzealous college buddies. He already had a hard enough time convincing his mentor the boys had a place in his life away from hunting.
"I did, the first two times he called. The third time I figured it must be important so, I asked if there was something I could help with. He beat around the bush for a while, but you know how charming I am." Moose bobbed his eyebrows up and down. He shoveled some eggs in his mouth, washing them down with a big gulp of OJ straight from the carton.
"You're a prince alright." There was a reason Caleb bought his own food and insisted Moose label all of his. He had not missed any calls on the gig, proving his hunch about non-existent phone service in the area he'd been working.
"It's a gift." Moose continued eating.
"So what was the problem?" Caleb took consolation in the fact if Dean was willing to share an issue with Moose, it couldn't have been life and death or hunting related.
"Flowers or candy."
"Excuse me." Caleb stifled a yawn. His lack of sleep over the last week was beginning to take a toll, especially in light of the all-nighter.
"The kid wanted to know if he should go with flowers or candy for the girl he wants to impress."
"And you're sure Deuce wasn't trying to phone prank you? Did he ask if your refrigerator was running or if you had Prince Albert in a can?" It was easier to think of Dean as a little kid than some heart-struck adolescent.
"I'm not an idiot." Moose used his fork to gesture to the wall above Caleb's head. "The question wasn't random. Check out the date, Skid."
Caleb frowned, turning to look at the calendar. Miss February was draped across the hood of a red Lamborghini wearing a white lace bra and thong. She was holding a heart shape box of spark plugs and a six pack of beer. He should have remembered considering the connection to the case he had just finished. "Valentine's Day is next week."
"Yep." Moose pointed his pancake laden fork at him. "I figured a guy with as many irons in the fire as you would have that marked as a red-letter day. You better have a direct line to Hallmark and a good florist on standby."
"Shit." Caleb rubbed his eyes. He'd forgotten about the upcoming holiday and subsequent mid-winter break from school in the wake of his latest line of nightmares and visions, which led to the hunt with Ian and Fisher. The last time he'd talked to Dean he'd mentioned a girl in his class and the party Sam's second grade class was having. "I was supposed to pick up Sammy some stuff for school."
"Tiny Dude told me to remind you of Cupid duty. He said to tell you he needs the valentines by Monday. Spiderman is his number one choice. Rugrats or Jetsons will work. Absolutely no puppies or kittens unless you wanted him to get beat up, and that some kid in his class named Roger was bragging about his cards coming with suckers. Tiny Dude expects you to rise to the challenge. He suggested Yo-yos." Moose shook his head with a grin. "That kid kills me."
"Yeah, he's hilarious." Caleb knew John was on a hunt with Mac, which left Uncle Caleb to pick up the slack. He rested his aching head on the table. "So much for sleeping the whole weekend."
Moose swallowed the syrupy bite on his fork whole. "Don't forget the tulips."
"Tulips?" Caleb lifted his head. "What tulips?"
"That's the flower I told Dean to go with. Cheaper than roses and not as cliché. I explained the candy would be a waste of money, definitely the wrong way to go. I mean, hot girls don't eat that shit. And if they do, they're likely to throw it up five minutes later."
"You do realize, Dean's dealing with twelve year old girls, not the college bulimics you tend to date."
Moose looked offended. "When do you think the bad habits begin? I was trying to be helpful."
"I get that, Moose, but next time, just let the machine pick up." Caleb glanced at his watch. He had time to hit the shower, grab some Z's and still make it to Fairfax before the boys got out of school.
"Speaking of which, there were a few messages from your uncle when I got up this morning. Not Little Dude's dad, but the old, crusty guy you call Sanford." Moose nodded to the bar. "I wrote them down verbatim. His dialogue makes Coach's halftime rants sound like a pep talk from Mr. Rogers."
"Bobby." Caleb glanced at the phone. The mechanic had helped Caleb with the research for the gig, reluctantly sending Ian and Fisher for the leg work, due to having so many hunters in the field depending on him to cover the phones. The Geek Squad couldn't keep up with everyone and Bobby also worked with hunters who didn't wear rings. "What now?"
He didn't realize he'd spoken out loud until Moose responded. "Whatever it was, he sounded pissed. He wanted you to call him back ASAP."
Caleb frowned at the football player, who was scraping his plate for any last morsels. He had seen Moose lick a bowl clean. "Yet you started with Dean's Valentine's Day dilemma?"
"What can I say, Skid? I'm the kind of guy who likes to give the good news first." Moose stood, dumping his plate in the sink. He patted his flat stomach. "I'm going to hit the shower before I head to the gym."
Caleb waited until Moose was down the hall, taking Caleb's hopes of a long hot shower with him. He tipped his chair back on two legs, putting him in reach of the phone. He dialed Bobby's number, letting the chair come to rest on all four legs once more.
Bobby answered on the first ring, surprising Caleb that he was up at the early hour. "No Special Agent Wilcox or Detective Morley?"
"Where the hell have you been, Junior?"
"At a midnight rodeo in Buford, Alabama." Caleb took another drink of coffee, smirking to himself when Bobby let loose with his favorite four letter word. "Took first prize in a greased pig contest."
"I've been trying to reach you for hours."
"Sorry, that postage stamp sized graveyard you sent me to was on the far side of civilization." Caleb kept his voice low. "I did the work of three hunters, by the way, just in case you want to put in a good word with The Knight. I'm in line for a promotion, you know."
"Why haven't you checked in?"
"Because Ian was hunter in charge and it was his job to report." Caleb felt irritation worming its way through his exhaustion. He wasn't about to whine to Bobby about Ian and Fisher stranding him in Mobile after the gig. Caleb was a big boy and didn't need the older hunters running interference for him. He had managed to find his own way back to Auburn. "I just got home, man."
"Hastings called. He said he and Fisher handled the enchantress and you had the heart."
Caleb gritted his teeth. Of course Ian would make it sound like he and Fisher had done the hard part. Keeping the enchantress entertained was as simple as buying a beautiful woman a drink. "I kept the heart with me because you said it should go to Pastor Jim- he would have to destroy it."
"Where's the heart now?"
"In my duffel." Caleb glanced to where he had left his bag. If Oliver only knew that the real prize of the night had not been fifty dollars but a hundred-year-old human heart, he might not have found Caleb's life so amusing. "I placed it in the blessed box made of cocobolo wood, just like you said, which by the way was a bitch to find and…"
"Caleb, did you take the heart from her grave?"
"Yes. Why the hell are you yelling at me?"
Caleb leaned forward when the mechanic let out a heavy sigh. "Bobby?"
"That's what I was afraid of."
"You told me to take the heart and toast whatever was left." Caleb had followed Bobby's instructions by the letter. "It was just run of the mill remains and the glass jar with the creepy well-preserved heart. I put it in the box and booked the hell out of there in case she felt what was happening and linked it to Ian and Fisher."
"Ian said she abruptly excused herself to the ladies room. When she didn't come out, they went in after her, but she was already gone. We figured toasting her bones and putting the heart in the box took care of her." From what Caleb had read, an enchantress drew all her power from the heart of her first victim. The heart she took to the grave with her to be reborn into something much more.
"It's not like putting a genie back in the bottle, Kid."
"You said capturing her heart would stop the enchantress, stop the killings." Caleb hadn't had another vision. Considering he'd had one almost every night for the last week, that was saying something.
"That's what my preliminary research eluded."
"Preliminary research?" Caleb leaned forward, his heart picking up a notch. "I thought you were sure about this case, Bobby."
"This ain't an exact science, Genius. There was more than one lore to wade through when dealing with an obscure entity like an enchantress. Not exactly as run of the mill as a spirit, or demon even. It's why I thought I better double check things with Rufus."
"And?" Caleb could feel the knot of dread constrict his chest as he picked up the surge of emotion from the older hunter.
"Turns out I was right about most of the things. The cocobolo wood secures the heart, blocks the magic from the original spell she cast. As long as it's locked up tight, she can't enchant anymore men, she can't change form, and she'll begin to lose her beauty, her youth."
"Okay, now tell me the rest." It seemed Moose wasn't the only guy who liked to lead with the good news.
"She has a loop hole-a way to save herself. The enchantress has twenty four hours to get her heart back-more precisely for the person who stole it to return it to her."
"That's what's got your boxers in a bunch?" Caleb let out a breath of relief. "I'm sure as hell not going to give it back to her."
"They don't call her an enchantress for nothing, Kid. She understands a man's weaknesses."
"Again, not a problem." Caleb laughed. "I think I can keep my guard up for twenty-four hours, Bobby. I'm not some naïve, unsuspecting, horn dog. I don't have time for beautiful women this weekend, so there's no chance of her catching my eye and stealing my affections. Besides, I'm not exactly her type." The enchantress went after married men, or those in a committed relationship. Caleb was on the other end of the spectrum.
"I don't think she'll capture your heart so literally."
"What's that mean?" Caleb had been the unwilling witness to the Enchantress's work in visions. She didn't only manage to steal the men's hearts that fell for her, she tore them still beating from their chests once they proved their undying love. It didn't get much more literal than that.
"It means she doesn't have to remove an organ to steal your heart. Think more metaphorically."
"You're not making any sense."
"Killing those men isn't what gives the enchantress her power, kid. It's destroying love that gives the bitch her jollies. Seduction and killing is only the opening act of her crime. She might take hearts for a hobby, but crushing them is her real aim."
"Oh God." Caleb's pulse kicked up, his heart racing. "You don't think…"
"Should I start tracking down Mac?"
"No, damn it." Caleb loved his adopted father, more than he could put into words. Mackland Ames had saved his life, literally. But like Bobby had pointed out, they weren't dealing with the concrete. Mac might have rescued him from the psychiatric hospital, kept him from the clutches of Daniel Elkins, but it had been someone else who had given him that metaphorical resuscitation, restored his will to live. "We have to find the boys. We need to get to Deuce."