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Title: O Drom si Baro (The Road is Long)
Characters: Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, original character
Rating: PG
Thanks to: My betas, annieb1955 and panther_kitten
Length: 1,600 words
Spoilers: 2x01, 'In My Time of Dying'
Challenge: Written for Dark Agenda's Racebending Revenge challenge. In this AU, Dean and Sam Winchester are 3rd generation American Romani.
Warnings: Off-screen canonical major character death.
Summary: Their father's been laid to rest, but Dean and Sam's road has just begun.
Author's Notes: Please note that the term 'Gypsy', while wide-spread, is considered pejorative by most Romani.

Gadje is the Romani word for people who are not Romani. A glossary of other Romani terms and a brief discussion of Romani history, culture, and traditions is included at the end of the story.

Gypsy funeral draws dozens of mourners

Police chief warns residents to keep their doors locked

John Winchester, aged 52, died this week of complications from a collision with a semi-truck. He is survived by his two sons, Dean and Sam, who were in the car at the time of the wreck but were released from the hospital to attend the funeral.

The Winchester clan owns several small businesses in Lawrence, including Gary’s Auto Repair, the Better Than New used car lot, and El Divino fortune-telling.

Gypsies from around the country have flooded into the town for tomorrow’s funeral. Some are being housed with relatives, but others have set up a tent city in the old Walsh field out in Haleyville. Police Chief Kennedy has reassured residents that no laws have been broken, but that it would be sensible to keep doors locked and family pets safe inside until the strangers have left town.

John Winchester will be buried at 9am Saturday in the Oak Hill Cemetery, in a plot beside his late wife, Mary. The family insists that the funeral will be a private affair, but that anyone wishing to pay their respects may attend a memorial dinner to be held 2pm at Mala Winchester’s home, 1142 West 8th Street.

Dean went back for a third helping of Mala’s stew. It tasted of beef and garlic, of safety and home. Everyone else had finished eating and moved out of the dining room. The women were washing up in the kitchen. The men were watching TV. Sam had taken the little ones outside to play.

Mala came in and sat down beside him with a little huff of pain. Her joints must’ve been acting up, but she looked better now than she had a week ago in the hospital, eyes bruised with lack of sleep as she prayed and burned candles for him. Of all the family that had come to stand by Dean in the hospital, hers were the only eyes that had watched his pacing spirit rather than the still body in the bed.

She looked him over carefully and sighed. “Too old,” she said. “You should be married.”

Dean shrugged. It was a familiar argument. “I know. But it’s not safe. The beng, Yellow-Eyes, it’s still out there. It killed Day, it killed Sam’s girl up at Kansas State – I won’t put another woman in danger that way.”

“And the Colt is gone,” Mala said, her lips twisting sourly. Dean wasn’t sure if that was about the Colt, or just the mention of the raklì Sam had shacked up with.

“Yeah. It disappeared. At the hospital,” Dean agreed wearily. He woke up back in his body, Dad died of a mysterious heart attack, and the Colt disappeared. Mala knew what Dad’d done. They all did. But no one had said a word about it.

“Have you, uh, seen anything that might help us find Yellow-Eyes? Some other way to kill it?” Dean asked her.

“Nothing. It’s all wound up with your Sam now, and he’s always been hard to see. All I get is flashes, and those flashes, they’re very bad.” She reached out, grabbed his hand, and squeezed it hard. “You watch out for Sam, you hear me?” she said urgently.

Dean gave her hand a gentle squeeze back. “Always have, always will, Mamì. You’re … you’re really scared for him, huh?”

She stared down at their entwined hands and whispered. “For him. About him. Of him.”

Dean pulled his hand away. Sam wasn’t … he just wasn’t. “Well, Sam’s got this idea, thinks we can maybe track Yellow-Eyes using old newspapers. Look for reports of mothers with young children who died in fires, you know? Like that kid who could move stuff with his mind we found last year.”

She snorted, seemed to relax. “That Sam, always reading and writing. No wonder he’s so dili. He should have pulled Sam out of that gadje school when the boy hit puberty, like you were.”

Dean was surprised that Mala would skirt the taboo like that. Talking about the dead invited their muló back for a haunting. But he wasn’t gonna let his Dad go undefended. “Well, he had his reasons. And it’d be good, having a big-name dukàto in the family, right? Law wouldn’t dare mess with us then. And Sam knows just how to talk to gadje, can get us in and out of places like you wouldn’t believe.”

Sam had managed to get the hospital to agree to a payment plan for the bills; couple hundred a month, not too bad, and just on the two of them, so the family credit and businesses weren’t at risk.

Mala nodded. “Always had a sweet tongue, that one. You two going to stay in town for a while, or back to the drom?”

“We’ll hit the road as soon as me and Gary finish fixing up the Impala. Another two, three days probably.”

Mala stood up, collecting Dean’s bowl, spoon, and glass. “Right then. You’ll keep wudjo, yes?”

Dean nodded, wide-eyed and innocent.

She rearranged the dishes into one hand and smacked the back of his head with the other. “None of that, I know you,” Mala said. “Motel sheets, diner food … gadje don’t care if they’re living in filth, but you were raised better.”

“Yes, Mamì, we’ll try,” Dean said meekly, trying not to think about the girls, in case she pulled the thought right out of his head.

Mala paused at the door to the kitchen and turned back. “Tell Sam to give me a call, if he wants to talk,” she said softly, and then left the room.

Dean walked outside and found Sam pushing Dika on the swing. Sam could’ve had a little girl Dika’s age by now. Would’ve, if it wasn’t for the beng. Dean stood for a minute, watching. The rest of the kids swirled around the yard in some kind of free-form game of tag with Sam as home base. “Time for your baro much to get going,” Dean eventually announced.

Four year-old Stefan immediately launched himself at Sam’s leg and grabbed hold.

Sam laughed, big and loud, the first time Dean had heard him really laugh since the hospital. “Nice try, Stefan, but Gary’s poor wife already has ten of us sleeping on her floor. You stick here with your mom and dad. I’ll be back in the morning, okay?”

Sam pried Stefan off his leg and cured everyone’s tears with fuzzy gummy bears from his shirt pocket. With a final warning for the kids to stay in the yard, they started walking back to Gary’s.

The funeral had helped, everything vòrta Romanì fòrma, surrounded on all sides by his people. Wailing and crying, screaming out their grief the way you couldn’t with gadje around. Afterwards Dean had floated through the funeral feast, feeling a little bit better for the taste of peace and home. But Dean still missed his Dad with a physical ache. Last year, even when Dad dropped out of touch in his hunt for Yellow-Eyes, Dean had known he was out there, somewhere. Now he was gone, a wound where the family’s heart should be. So as good as it was to be back in Lawrence, Dean felt raw and out of balance in a way only drom could cure.

“Mala says you should call her, if you want to,” Dean mentioned.

“You, uh, you didn’t tell her, did you?” Sam asked.

“About your visions? Nah.” Dean had pushed Sam to talk to Mala about his visions from the beginning. But after that line today, about her being scared of Sam? Maybe Sam had been right all along. “But, seriously, man, why am I busting my hump hustling gadje at pool when you could just put on a long skirt, get ‘em to cross your palm with silver for a reading, huh?”

“Jerk,” Sam said, a little laugh catching in his voice.

Dean grinned and led Sam around the back of Gary’s to the auto shop. The Impala sat there gleaming in the sunlight, already wearing three of her four coats of paint. Gary had done a great job rebuilding his baby.

It’d been such a relief, when Sam told him Gary had been looking after her while they were in the hospital. Dean couldn’t stand the thought of police, strangers, touching her while she was hurting. ’67 Impala parts weren’t easy to come by, but Gary had put out word to the family. Everyone who came to visit Dean in the hospital had brought whatever they could find at their local scrap yards. They did it because Sam and Mala and Dad swore he’d wake up, no matter what the doctors said. They did it despite the fact that, if Dad hadn’t done whatever he did, it would’ve been his baby instead of Dad’s truck they were towing out to the field tomorrow to be smashed and burned with the rest of his possessions, to show his muló there was no place for it here.

Dean shivered and zipped up his jacket. A little more work on the transmission and brake system, that final coat of paint and a baxt ritual, and she’d be ready to go.

Sam ran a gentle hand along her roof. “Be glad when we’re back on the road,” he said, so quiet Dean barely heard him.

“You know it,” Dean agreed. “Give me a hand with the transmission?”

Sam nodded, stripping off the fancy white shirt he’d borrowed for the funeral, and they got to work.

Romani Glossary
There are several different dialects of Romani spoken in America. Also, since Romani is more often spoken than written, the spelling isn’t highly standardized. I’ve done my best with it here.

baro – big, long
baxt – good luck
beng — devil
dad – father
day - mother
dili - crazy
drom – way, road
dukàto — lawyer
gadje – non-Romani
mamì – grandmother
marimè — term meaning ritually defiled or polluted, from the Greek meaning “to make dirty.”
much - friend
muló – spirits of the dead
raklì — non-Romani girl
vòrta Romanì fòrma — The correct observance of Romani behavior and ritual necessary to maintain spiritual cleanliness and balance, and to avoid marimè. lit. “right Romani way.”
wudjo – pure

Rambling Notes on American Romani History, Culture, and Traditions

Somewhere between 100,000 and 1 million people of Romani descent currently live in the United States. It’s difficult to get an accurate count because they are not included as a racial or ethnic category on the US Census, and because many American Romani prefer to identify themselves as Mexican or Native American because of on-going negative stereotypes and discrimination. There were still laws on the books in some states targeting Gypsies as of the late 1980’s. In 2008, the Italian government declared that their own rising Romani population was a national crisis responsible for urban crime rates. And President Obama stated in a public speech in December 2009 that the American public was being ‘gypped’ by the insurance industry.

The American Romani come from many different tribes and nations. Some have been here for hundreds of years, some came to work in the steel mills, and others immigrated in the past decade. In general, the Romani population is less assimilated than most other immigrant groups. This may be partly due to pollution taboos which reinforce group norms and discourage intermarriage. Negative stereotypes probably play a role. Also, it is common among some groups of Romani to remove children from the public school system at the age of puberty and apprentice them into the family business. Because of this, and a cultural emphasis on oral traditions over the written word, functional illiteracy rates are relatively high. Of course there are many American Romani with advanced degrees, working in every imaginable profession.

Roles in traditional Romani culture are defined by gender, and it is distinctly patriarchal system. However, the eldest woman in a family controls her household, and acts as a spiritual advisor. Boys become men in Romani culture when they marry – in that sense, Dean and Sam are still boys to her. And with Mala’s husband and son both dead, she is certainly in a position to offer some guidance to them.

The nomadic lifestyle that the Winchester’s live in Supernatural canon does exist, to some extent, in Romani culture. In Western Europe, Romani were not allowed to permanently settle anywhere, and they developed occupations (farrier, knife-sharpener, horse-trader, boiler-repair, and of course fortune-telling) and traditions to cope with this. The traditions relating to horses and caravans have been updated to encompass cars. In Europe, many groups of Romani still hold that life on the road is the way to spiritual balance and health. American Romani tend to be more sedentary, and home-ownership is wide-spread. However, there are still groups of American Romani who try to stay ‘off the grid’ as much as possible.

Finally, a note on names. It’s been common over the centuries for Romani to adopt the Christian names of the surrounding community for their children. Surnames weren’t a part of most Romani sub-groups’ culture until they needed them for government documents and papers. If Mala’s family, like many others, picked a surname for themselves on Ellis Island, Winchester would have been as good as any other. ‘Mala’ is a traditional Romani name, as are ‘Dika’ and ‘Stefan’, the names of the children Sam and Dean interact with. My own family shows a generational shift towards and then away from Americanized names, and in this story I’m having the Winchesters follow the same pattern. It also makes the reader’s identification of the key characters much easier, and I won’t pretend that didn’t play a role in my decision to leave John, Sam, and Dean with their canonical names.

For readers with an interest in learning more about the American Romani, I recommend articles by Anne Sutherland and Ian Hancock, as well as the Patrin website.


( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 3rd, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
Sam and Dean as Rom. Genius! This was amazing, the detail, the language. I loved it.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you, tifaching! Canon actually fits quite nicely with Romani culture and traditions. But they can't get away with the stuff they pulled as white boys.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
This is brilliant! A completely different AU than I've ever seen before. Will there be more? I'd love to see more.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it, sandandglass! I may circle back to this later. The AU arc for season 1 and 2 is quite similar, in my mind, but it goes off in a very different direction for seasons 3,4, and 5.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. This is absolutely fascinating! I really love what you did with this adaptation, and all the detail you put into it. There's a good mix of how they're changed for being of this other race and culture, but yet at the same time still so Dean and Sam, and so *Winchesters*. I found myself especially intrigued at how a large family/clan network could influence what Sam and Dean would be like. Very cool stuff.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Dean is certainly more, well, sane, for living in a large, loving family. I'm glad it worked for you, whitereflection!
Jul. 3rd, 2010 05:37 am (UTC)
This is really fascinating, seeing Dean and Sam as part of that huge family network, and the different ways they choose to share and hide secrets. The contrast between Dean and Sam's education (and the pressure on Sam to be part of the family tradition in a very different way); John having a huge funeral; a head of the family they can actually approach - along with Sam's ability to talk to outsiders, this is an AU of which I'd love to see more.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
the pressure on Sam to be part of the family tradition in a very different way
I'm glad you noticed that! Sam is very much an outsider here, caught somewhere between his family and the gadje world. There's reasons why he'd rather play with the kids outside than watch TV with the rest of the men. But at least he does have a place, a home.

John's funeral was the image that brought me into this story. What if, instead of Sam and Dean standing silently in front of a funeral pyre, there was a large group of people mourning John's passing?

Thank you so much for the detailed feedback!
Jul. 3rd, 2010 07:39 am (UTC)
This opens up a whole cloaked and mysterious culture, and is a very unusual POV for our familiar Winchesters. I'd be interested in reading more.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks, arliss!
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
This is wonderful and fascinating. It fits so well with them!
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
I find it intriguing how well it really does fit them. The road. The isolation from 'normal' society. The cultural focus on the dangers of ghosts and demonic possession. I actually started laughing out loud when I read, in one paragraph of research on young American Romani men, how very proud they tend to be of their automobiles and of their ability to earn money from gadje at the billiards table. I was all DEAN!!!!!!!
Jul. 3rd, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
I was really taken with this! It was fascinating, colorful, and went beyond a surface gloss, to really make a difference. That was an inspired choice, to slide the Winchesters into that particular culture!

The newspaper coverage made me cringe - as it was expected to. Nice way to open the story! And the rest kept me hooked. I loved the story, and appreciated the reference materials in the notes at the end, too.

Thanks for sharing!
Jul. 3rd, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks for mentioning your reaction to the newspaper story, harrigan. I wanted that slap of outsider-POV before delving into Dean's world. Sam, being balanced in-between, is very aware of both. Thank you for the comment!
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:25 am (UTC)
Thank you, atana, I'm honored to have drawn your interest back to fanfic! There might well be more - I need to sit with the characters for a time, really get to know them. The Dean and Sam Winchester that grew up Romani are significantly different than in canon, and I need to feel my way through how that plays out in their lives.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:18 pm (UTC)
I really love how you tied it all to canon, and yet brought a profoundly different cultural heritage to the Winchesters and showed how that would alter things. It's both obvious and subtle changes from the characters we know and you did a great job with knotting that altogether to make it familiar, even when launched into a completely different context.

Kudos on all the research and and I, for one, really enjoyed the author's notes at the end. My knowledge of Romani history is piecemeal at best, and so the notes helped put a lot into context for me, especially regarding Mala.

Wonderful story that definitely stands on its own in several different ways. Thank you!
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:48 am (UTC)
Thanks so much Mikes_grrl! I went back and forth about how much to include in the Author's Notes. I usually believe that a story should stand on it's own. But the cultural context for this story might be new to many readers, and so I wanted to offer a little more. So I'm especially glad to hear that the notes at the end were useful to you!
Jul. 4th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
this is brilliant- I'm still goggling over all the ways their lives translate to Romani ways-saving the Impala, omg! and giggling over the fact Sam and Dean would be marhime 24/7
Jul. 8th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
Sam and Dean would be marhime 24/7
Oh, they so would. I think that they'd at least try - avoid chicken eggs, wash their top and bottom clothes separate - but it's difficult to stay wudjo on the road unless your essentially bringing your home with you, preparing your own food, etc.

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, randomstasis!
(no subject) - randomstasis - Jul. 8th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - keerawa - Jul. 8th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 5th, 2010 10:15 am (UTC)
A wonderful glimpse of an amazing AU.

But, seriously, man, why am I busting my hump hustling gadje at pool when you could just put on a long skirt, get ‘em to cross your palm with silver for a reading, huh?

Still vintage Dean Winchester.

Jul. 8th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
Heh. Dean is still Dean, no doubt. Thanks, labseraph!
Jul. 5th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
I particularly liked how everyone contributed to rebuilding the Impala. Quite moving.
Jul. 8th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
That's one of my favorite parts, and is entirely due to my wonderful beta panther_kitten. Dean was so ALONE when he rebuilt the Impala in canon. To have that be something his family all contributed to demonstrates how different this Dean's life is. Thank you, reading_is_in!
Jul. 7th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
Congrats! ☆ Your fic is recced here at sawedoff_recs.
Jul. 8th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
Ooooh! I'm honored, thank you!
Sep. 13th, 2010 09:31 am (UTC)
This is awesome!

Sep. 13th, 2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you, venilia, I'm glad you liked it!
May. 22nd, 2014 12:11 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this story! I’ve recced it here at rocksalt-recs.
May. 23rd, 2014 02:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Zara! I'm still very pleased with how this one works with canon.
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )