The unhurried steps of the camel’s hooves on the soft sand belayed the urgency of the journey. Pale yellow of the animal’s hair merges perfectly with the golden grains of the sand dunes like the two of them were made of the very same fabric.
At a distance, it is impossible to tell one from the other.
Behind them, what little trace the camel’s passage has left is quickly erased by the low blowing wind, moving like an invisible snake across the sand, leaving nothing but its own imprint instead. Always changing, the desert. Always staying the same.
The sun is already peeking over the dunes, stretching lazily like it is in no hurray to start the day. Its light, still soft enough to be welcoming, is already bright enough to make man and animals cast deep shadows in the ground, broken and inverted images that waver at the fancy of the sand ridges.
Soon, the sun will be high enough to restart its attempt to scorch man and land and the traveler will be forced to, once again, find shelter in the shade and stop for the day.
The path to Rhacotis, or rather Alexandria, as it is now called, is long and dangerous and the load he carries is a precious one.
Yet, the man travels alone.
It would not do to call attention to himself and his load with the presence of a large escort. Though the desert is filled with thieves and murderers, the man is not scared for his life. His cargo, however-- if it were to fall into the wrongs hands, all of Mankind would face its doom.
It was time to move it further away from the more populated areas, deeper into the heart of Africa and pray that it will be enough. The boat that awaits him in Alexandria’s port will not be safer than the desert, but on the sea at least there will be others to share the burden he was charged with. From there, it will be easier to reach the western shores of Africa.
The small oasis, devoid of people this early in the trading season, makes for the perfect stop when both man and animals become too weary to continue. It looks like a broken piece of jade in a sea of gold. Twice more precious than the shiniest of jewels.
The wind rustling through the scarce leaves up in the medjool trees is more noise than the man has heard in days, as even the animals, usually very vocal in their complaints, fall silent, as if they too understand the graveness of their journey.
A gentle nudge with the balls of his feet to his camel’s soft belly and the animal obediently begins to lean forward, folding its legs gently underneath, allowing his rider to reach the ground. The other animal, the one carrying something much heavier than the man, is exhausted beyond the point of recovery. He will not last much longer.
Carefully using the sturdy ropes around the animal’s torso to lower his cargo to the ground, the man releases both camels and watches them pace, in their gangly and ground eating steps, to the small pond of water under the shade of a cluster of tall trees.
The day is growing hotter by the minute and the man can’t do much but sit and wait until the sun starts to dip once again below the horizon of sand dunes. He can’t help but glance one more time at what is hidden beneath the sheets of cotton that cover the large box.
Lifting the edge of the simple, white fabric with a reverence reserved for kings and pharaohs, the man peels it away slowly, fearful of moving too far, of overstepping his boundaries. He uncovers just one of the sides, not daring to go any further.
The winged figure, kneeling on the lid, is an exact replica of the one kneeling on the other side, still hidden by the sheet.
The man can’t see its down turned face, but the statue’s expression is
easy to guess. Wonderment and fear.
The box itself is rectangular, made of acacia wood, each side covered with thick golden plaques, each panel engraved with detailed images and words, reflecting the sunlight like mirrors.
The words are unfamiliar to the man, but the depictions are very clear to anyone blessed and fortunate enough to ever gaze upon them. Scholars have been studding the meaning of those images for decades, committing them to memory and safeguarding them for eternity.
Beautiful as those images are, the man cannot help the chill that runs down his back. It is not the first time he has seen them, but they are terrifying as ever, foretelling terrible happenings to come.
The end of the world.
As always, the curiosity to lift the lid open and find out what is inside comes and is pushed away. It is not his place to open it. It is not written in his fate that he would ever be deemed righteous enough to ever lay eyes upon its contents. He is more than grateful for the small part fate has allowed him to play in this matter.
His part in this journey is to deliver it to safe port, just one of the many who were tasked with making sure that this object is kept hidden and safe until the time comes for it to be useful.
Despite the man’s care and devotion, some things are simply not meant to be and the greed of Man can often surpass the wisest predictions. Neither the man or his two camels ever arrive to their destination.
Chapter One: Wheel of Fire
Dean stares at the Colt like the weapon is his personal enemy. He’d been at it for most of the night, nursing the half empty beer bottle, precariously balanced in his hands.
The gun that could kill every evil thing on this Earth had failed to kill the most evil of them all. How was that for irony?
They paid their respects to Jo and Ellen, but the ashes of a burned picture are not nearly enough to help with the pain of losing them both. Not when the fingers of one hand are enough to count the friends they still have; not when it is all pointless like their deaths were.
“You should go to bed,” Sam whispers. For the past half an hour he has resorted to keeping his sentences short and to the point. Less liable to let his alcohol addled brain stumble on them. His beer bottle isn’t as far from empty as Dean’s but then again, neither of them is holding on to their first of the night. They could say that they’ve lost count after the first five, but it’s not like they bothered to count them in the first place.
It’s not even a matter of getting shit-faced. They’re just drinking until the numbness sets in, however many bottles that takes.
It would be easier on their stomachs if they were dealing with something more than alcohol, now corroding the lining until bile sets permanent residence; but not one of the three men inside that quiet house can bring himself to enter the kitchen and actually prepare something to eat.
It would be a waste of time, either way. There is no way any of them can swallow anything past the lumps in their throats.
Except for beer. That goes down smoothly.
Sam’s words didn’t seem to register on Dean’s perception. The silver ring in his finger is steadily beating a soft tempo on the brown glass of the beer bottle, a gentle melody that is playing nowhere else other than Dean’s head. It seems to be sound enough to drown out everything else.
It’s not the word, not really. Sam’s already aware that those aren’t getting through. It’s that little brother tone, that familiar call to attention, that comfortable sound of ‘listen to me’, ‘acknowledge my existence’ and ‘I need you’. The call deeper than sound that transcends language and time.
Dean looks up, bleary face and red eyes, not from crying because he stubbornly refuses to do that, but from the sheer exhaustion caused by keeping them open. He blinks, rolls his shoulders and stops the tip- tip-tapping sound of metal on glass as an afterthought. “Yeah,” he bends slightly, until the bottom of the bottle touches the boarded floor near the couch. “You too man... s’been a long day.”
Sam would’ve snorted, if he wasn’t sure that the sound would be enough to make bile sprout from his nose. But damn! if that wasn’t the understatement of the year.
They had traveled to a town filled with death and reapers; lost Jo and Ellen to a pack of hellhounds and a couple of bush league, home-made explosives; faced the devil; lost the battle and run away like scared children as Lucifer unleashed Death on Earth. And Sam had found out exactly where and when they were going to lose this war.
So, yeah... it had been a busy, long day.
“I’ll take the couch,” Sam says instead. There’s a bed upstairs, one that Sam hopes his brother will take without much fuss.
The crash into that tree had been hard enough to knock Dean out and keep him out for close to two minutes. This was not a consequence of a bang to the head that Sam was comfortable with, but there was no point in checking Dean for a concussion or trying to stop him from drinking alcohol if he found it.
They were long past those trifling, petty things. The chosen vessels for Lucifer and Michael would not be allowed to
shuffle off their mortal coils over mundane things like a swollen brain or a broken neck. Fat chance of that. And while many would consider that a blessing, Sam and Dean couldn’t help but see it as just one more confirmation of their curse.
All of that didn’t mean that Dean’s concussed head and bruised back shouldn’t be put to rest on a proper mattress and pillow. This was not a night for lumpy, too short sofas for his elder brother.
Dean’s looking at him like he’s actually considering the offer. Or maybe he’s just trying to decide if he can stay conscious long enough to climb all those stairs. “Night, Sam,” he ends up saying, body swinging to the left when he rises to his feet too quickly.
Sam leans forward in the hard chair where he sits, itching to catch his brother if Dean decides to disagree with gravity any further.
Dean holds out one hand, stopping Sam’s ideas before they turn into motion. His feet shuffle a bit, tip of left boot coming dangerously close to kicking the beer bottle, but Dean remains standing.
Sam smiles to himself, fingers playing with one of the bottle caps on Bobby’s desk, trying to not look too obvious as he watches Dean’s slow and careful progress across the room. This is their new balance, this carefully built respect of each other’s faults and limitations. Sam isn’t about to ruin it because of a drunken slightly misplaced step.
The thick blocks of wood in the fireplace are slowly turning from embers into dark and cold coals, the fading glow of fire reflecting on the beer cap and dancing on its metal edges.
Bobby is long gone. After fishing a bottle of scotch from the stash he hadn’t touched in months, he’d rolled away to hide in the room that both Sam and Dean helped him put together on the ground floor of the house a couple of months before.
The TV, stuck on mute by the corner of the room, is playing some generic documentary on ancient cultures, the kind of program that Sam knows Dean likes to fall asleep to, but will never admit to any living soul.
Upstairs, Sam can hear the planks shift and creak under Dean’s feet, marking his progress from stairs to bathroom, from bathroom to bed. The mattress springs’ soft moan signals the moment when Dean finally goes to bed and stops moving.
tosses the rest of his beer into the fire, watching the last of the
flames die in a sprinkle of beer and white smoke. There was no point
in drinking alone.
Dean had no intention of falling asleep. On any other day, he knew he was drunk enough to assure himself a nightmare-free sleep. But this hadn’t been an ordinary day.
He was too ashamed to admit it to anyone, but it wasn’t visions of Jo’s dying and ashen face that he feared would plague his sleep; it wasn’t the sight of her body being ripped to shreds by invisible claws that were meant for him. No... Dean knew exactly what he would be dreaming about as soon as he closed his eyes.
The thunderous sound of their bark, the scrape of their sharp claws against asphalt, the smell of their foul breaths... none of that had ever faded away. And it wasn’t just the one who had gutted him when Lilith had come to collect his soul. No... Dean had met the whole pack in Hell.
New souls were doggie food down there, and he had been no exception. And those puppies liked to play with their food.
When Meg had called his attention to the invisible beasts by her side, Dean had felt his stomach shrivel up and crawl into his throat. It was like their teeth had never really left his flesh.
When one of those beasts had pushed him to the ground, Dean couldn’t even tell if his flesh had already been ripped apart. Earth and Hell mixed in the same breathless gasp and the only thing Dean was sure of was that he was dead.
He could never thank Jo enough for coming back to save him from being chewed on once again. He couldn’t bear to feel like that again, to feel like less than a piece of meat, dangling from a hungry monster’s teeth.
If Dean dared to close his eyes that night, he knew that was exactly where he would be taken. Back into their mouths.
He’s wrong, though.
The feeling of dirt under his bare feet surprises him. Dean looks down, resisting the urge to kneel and grab a handful of the sandy gravel that covers the ground where he stands.
Up ahead, the still waters of a lake reflect the bright sunlight like a mirror, shiny and fluttering like mercury.
“Help me, Dean.”
Dean swirls around, small cloud of dust rising up from his toes. He’s not sure what looks more out of place in the sight that greets him: Castiel, standing under the hot sun wearing his usual trench coat, or the four giant statues of the Egyptian-looking guys sitting down, staring at the lake.
“Is this a dream?” Dean asks, palm of his hand shielding his eyes. Above, the sky was so blue that it hurts to look at it. It makes Castiel’s sad eyes look almost colorless.
“Help me, Dean... I can not escape.” “Cas? What’s wrong? Where are you?”
The angel blinks, the words affecting his eyes more than the glare of bright light. “I am here... you must come to me.”
“Here where, exactly?”
Unlike the dream when Castiel had come to him before, down by that small body of water near Bobby’s place, where he and Sam used to fish when they were kids, this lake, this whole place is unfamiliar to Dean. It’s clearly some region Dean has never been before; foreign looking, like something more likely to be found in a exotic travel show on TV than in his memory.
“Abu Simbel,” the angel says, looking at him in earnest. “Hurry.”
Dean takes a step forward, intend on physically grabbing the angel to get some more answers before Castiel decides that he’s said enough and disappears on him. He’s not fast enough.
His fingers reach out, about to touch the fabric of Castiel’s coat, when a ring of fire shoots up and surrounds the angel. Dean draws back, shielding his eyes from the flare of light that springs into existence. A perfect circle, like the one where they had trapped Raphael and
Dean can only stand and watch as the flames grow bigger and bigger while the ring grows smaller and smaller, closing in on the trapped angel, until it has nowhere else to move but onto his clothes. Castiel doesn’t scream, but Dean easily reads the pain in his face. The disappointment.
The fire climbs over Castiel’s wings and he disappears from sight, nothing but the sound of burning flesh and screaming and—
Dean gasps awake, a shout trapped inside his throat, heart hammering against his chest. Head swimming, he stares with wide eyes around the room, then down at himself. The shirt he’d fallen asleep in is drenched in sweat and the bed sheets are coiled around his feet like rope.
Dean pushes them away angrily, almost expecting to find his feet covered in dusty sand. They aren’t, but the dream, the vision, the whatever Castiel has sent him, had felt real enough. Dean can still taste the acrid smoke in his mouth.
He knows it wasn’t just a dream. Sensations were too strong, emotions felt too real and the pain Dean had felt inside his chest as he watched one more friend, one more ally die...
Dean’s sure that, somewhere in that place he saw, Cas is still alive, trapped inside that circle of holy oil. He might not be burning like Dean saw him, or so he hopes, but the sense of danger and the need to do something about it had both been very real.
The sky outside turns from indigo to pale blue, signaling the beginning of a new day and Dean trudges towards his duffle. Sam’s laptop is downstairs, but his is still inside the bag, left unpacked.
Wiping the crust from his eyes, Dean powers it up. He scratches his hair, waiting for the search engine to come online, typing the name of the place Castiel had mentioned even before the images finish loading up in the background.
000 results. Dean only needs one to know where Castiel is. “Fucking
Bobby’s up, half-heartedly making some coffee and cheese sandwiches. They’re not for himself, Sam is sure of that, but he appreciates the effort non-the-less. Makes them feel more like normal people rather than just ‘the ones who lived to fight another day’.
Other than a mumbled ‘mornin’ and a short worded querying of Dean’s whereabouts, the two men have barely opened their mouths to talk. There is a feeling of ‘morning after a drunken one-night-stand’ in the air, that same awkwardness of waking up facing a stranger, too drunk to remember, too hungover to care.
Except for the alcohol-induced sex, all the other symptoms are there: the inability to meet each other’s eyes; the tricky maneuvering of personal space; the delicate balance between self-consciousness and withdrawal.
Sam sits at the empty table, the shot glasses left behind by Jo and Ellen mercifully gone already –for good, he suspects- fingernail scraping at a stain that has been there forever and isn’t budging now.
He should get up and offer some help to the older man, but offering help to Bobby is trickier these days than it is with Dean most of the time and Sam’s too hungover to deal with that right now.
The stomping of Dean’s boots down the stairs is like a handful of ice cubes down their backs, jolting them both out of their zombie-like mood.
Bobby and Sam turn from their non-conversation and look up at the newcomer before reverting their gazes back to whatever they were doing before. Watching water boil and struggling with unwavering stains, respectively.
The older Winchester looks about as rested as they feel.
Dean sits on the other side of the table with a sound of scrapping chair legs and stiff back. The second time Sam looks up, he recognizes the glint of urgency in his brother’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Cas,” Dean pronounces straight-forwardly, his expression unreadable even to his brother. “He’s in trouble.”
“How—“ Sam finds himself starting, more in surprise at how fast something like that happens rather than the fact that Dean knows the
angel is in trouble. The connection between Dean and Castiel is something that Sam learned to leave unquestioned. However, it had been just a few hours since the angel had dropped them both at Bobby’s. What could’ve possibly gone wrong in such a short time?
The apocalypse, the sarcastic brain cells in Sam’s head, the ones that sound a lot like Dean, supply without prompting.
“I don’t know how...” Dean continues. “I just know that he needs our help and where we have to go.”
“And where is that?” Bobby asks. To the point, back in business. “Egypt... Castiel is being held in Egypt.
Chapter Two: Getting There
Sam’s very glad that he’s actually sitting down when Dean announces that. Of all the things and places that he could imagine coming out of his brother’s mouth... “Egypt, as in... Middle East, Egypt?”
“No, the deli on the street corn— of course it’s the one in the Middle East, Sam!”
The heat and sarcasm leave Dean’s form as soon as he speaks and he sags further down on the chair in front of Sam. The tension and anxiety radiates out from the older Winchester’s shoulders like heat- waves.
Dean’s perfectly aware that he sounds like a crazy person, and so are Sam and Bobby. For two guys that have spent their entire lives on the move, the farthest that they’ve ever been was the border of Mexico, and even that had been just that one time.
To come in and announce out of blue that they need to go to another country, half a world away? They’ve exorcised people for less.
But Sam knows Dean. Knows that his brother wouldn’t have even mentioned the whole thing if he wasn’t sure; if it wasn’t a matter of life and death. A matter of life or death of someone Dean cares about.
“Start from the beginning,” Bobby says, punctuating his command by setting a coffee pot and three empty cups in the middle of the table. He fetches a bottle of Jack before Dean can finish cleaning his ideas and start talking.
“It was a dream,” Dean starts, realizing midway that those would be the wrong words to convince anyone else. Sam and Bobby don’t even blink. Dean grabs his mug and takes a whiff of the acrid steam, enough alcohol in the black coffee to clean his sinuses for life. “We were standing in front of these big assed, Egyptian looking statues, and Cas... he’s trapped in one of those rings of holy fire, asking for my help.
And then the—“ Dean stops himself, watches the liquid slosh inside the cup, hoping its an earthquake but knowing it’s just his body reacting to a familiar vision, to a familiar pain.
He closes his eyes, wills the memories of burning alive to melt away from his mind and shoves them back into the big box labeled as ‘that other life I lived’. Here, in this existence Dean has never been burned. Here, it’s just the people around him that get eaten by the flames.
"Dean?" Sam's concerned tone filters through.
It's still a minute before Dean can talk, but he nods, fingers convulsing around the coffee cup, the grip tight enough to stop the liquid from moving inside; tight enough to make him wonder if the cup will crack under the pressure. “And then the ring around him grows smaller and smaller until it kills him.”
Sam exchanges a look with Bobby over Dean’s shoulders. They’re both thinking the same. The hits just keep on coming... it had been less than a day since they’d lost Ellen and Jo and now... this?
“How do you know he’s in Egypt? There’s big statues in awful lot of places, even replicas of the real stuff,” Bobby asks, gracefully covering the quiver in Dean’s voice with his own gruff tone.
“Cas told me.”
There’s a look in Sam’s eyes, a pregnant gaze that is filled with questions and doubts as he stares at the top of his brother’s bowed head and spiky hair. It’s a look that is charged with understanding and loss. Envy too, if he dares to admit it.
Sam spent a long time, more than he dare admit to himself, believing in what Ruby told him. Blindly following her advice in hopes of fulfilling the goals he’d set for himself. Kill Lilith. Save the world. Keep Dean safe.
Even though they’ve met a few heavenly beings by now, enough to have found that the line marking the difference between angel and demon can be so thin that it’s hardly existent, Sam knows that Castiel isn’t like Ruby. Dean’s angel is a true believer... even if the similarities between their actions are enough to make Sam squirm.
Like Castiel, Ruby was a supernatural being that, if he’d been honest with himself sooner, Sam would’ve conceded that he didn’t know enough about. He’d been in dark about Ruby’s motivation, he’d been
in the dark about her plans, he’d been in the dark about where she was leading him. And in the end, Lucifer had walked free and the whole world had joined Sam in the dark.
And yet... Sam had believed Ruby when she said that he was the only one who could kill Lilith, and he’d wanted to believe her when she said that he could save the world. In truth, a small part of him had even taken pride in being the one to do it.
Sam had believed her, because she’d proven herself trustworthy by helping him survive something that Sam never thought he could: Dean’s death.
All of that had happened with Ruby, a certified and card-carrying demon, someone Sam knew to be evil and deceiving.
What possible defense could they have if an angel, who according to all the lore and tales, was supposed to be the epitome of goodness, decided to deceive them too?
So, Castiel had turned his back on Heaven and his brethren and became a traitor to stand on their side; so he’d saved Dean’s and even Sam’s life so many times.
So had Ruby. For reasons that had favored her alone.
More than the demon-blood addiction, more than making a fool out of him, even more than pushing him into a position to betray his own brother, Sam hates Ruby for burning any possibility of trust in others out of his system.
But Dean still believes. Dean can still let himself trust. At least that part of Dean’s ever diminishing innocence, still remains intact.
“So... how do we pull this off?” Sam asks.
Taking the car all the way to Egypt was, of course, out of the question. And that is as far as they can all agree.
Dean wants to find a way to take, if not all, then most of their weapons with them, arguing that they have no idea what they’ll be going up against and that he isn’t about to set foot on a foreign country with nothing but the bare knuckles of his fingers. A ‘give’em hell attitude’ just won’t cut it.
Bobby and Sam quickly shoot him down, arguing about security rules so tight that even taking the smallest bottle of holy water with them would be hard enough, never mind weapons none of them had a single registration or permit for.
They know Dean is right though. It’s foolish to believe that they can help Castiel with nothing more than a handful of good intentions and their presence.
Given who he is and the choices he’s made, Castiel’s captivity is more than likely connected to either angels or demons. And even if they need nothing else but their own blood to send angels packing, using the sigils that Castiel himself has taught them, they still need at least the Colt or the knife to deal with the demons. Preferably both.
Given that the Colt is a certified antique and that Ruby’s knife has enough etchings and chicken-scratchings engraved in its blade to pass as one too, Bobby’s suggests putting them both in a sealed display box and just call them collectors items.
The solution is reasonable enough to muffle Sam’s doubts and cushy enough to calm Dean’s unease and they move on to the next pickle: the small matter of getting from point A to point B when point B is so far off the main highway that they didn’t even speak the same language over there.
Sam suggests alternative means of transportation but, with Castiel and his angel-beaming powers out of the equation, they’re pretty much bound to either air or sea like the rest of humankind.
To go by sea is quickly pushed aside. As much as Dean hates the prospect of flying, he hates even more the idea of spending over two weeks trapped inside a ship only to arrive at their destination too late. This is the one time that he’d rather fly.
They try getting Jerry on the phone, the guy working on air traffic that they helped a few years back when a demon was crashing the guy’s planes, only to discover that the man has been dead for over a year now.
Bobby has a couple of old contacts that happen to fly, but their wings are more of the light aircrafts variety, far from the tank capacity and engine-power necessary to get them across the ocean, not even by a long shot.
Which leaves them dependent of the really big birds... specifically those that fall under the TSA and the FAA regulations... the ones that will never allow for two surprisingly resurrected corpses to get past the first security checkpoint.
It’s not like they can’t forge the proper papers and get themselves to pass as someone else still breathing and not on the FBI previous shit list. It’s just that some places have gotten better at catching forgers. Even the damn good ones.
They’re good at forging whatever is needed, they truly are. But the thing is, as hunters, the papers and badges that they tend to fake, are usually good enough to get them past traumatized victims, grieving relatives and friends, and law enforcement agents that are so in over their heads that they can barely find their own asses using all of ten fingers.
Their fake papers are not meant to withstand the close scrutiny and electronic checks of an airport security post.
“Well, there’s always the cargo hold,” Sam huffs out, his hair tousled from all the times his fingers have traveled there. They’ve been at it for quite some time now and, twist it anyway they can think of, Egypt is just too frigging far outside their usual range of action.
Dean, whose face has been pale enough over the whole discussion on how to get them inside a fucking plane flying over the fucking Atlantic, goes a few shades whiter before flushing bright red at Sam’s suggestion.
Sam’s smirk fades from his lips when he watches the twirl of colors in his brother’s face. He’d completely forgotten about Dean’s issues with flying. So much had happened since that one time, over four years ago, when they’d faced that demon on the plane, that he’d simply forgotten.
How could Sam forget about that? The very first demon that they’d send packing back to Hell. God! How naive they’d been back then...
That whole case seems now like a landmark of sorts, a stepping-stone in their path.
First demon. First successful exorcism. First time they realized that their father wasn’t gone because
something was wrong, but because he wanted to be gone.
First time that Sam was made aware that Dean was human after all and that, like the rest of the planet’s inhabitants, he too was afraid of something. In his case, that ‘something’ being large flying metal deathtraps – Dean’s words, not his- that crossed the sky hanging on nothing but spit and prayers.
And Sam had just joked about them not only being seated in one, but traveling in the unventilated, un-pressurized cargo hold of one.
“Look, Dean, I was just kidd—“ Sam starts, back peddling his foot out of his mouth.
But Dean isn’t looking at him anymore, Dean’s looking at the glint in Bobby’s eyes.
“Bobby—“ Sam tries because he knows that look too and he can almost guess where this is going.
“What? Your idea, not mine... take credit for it boy,” Bobby says with an impish look in his grey eyes. “It’s actually a good one, for once.”
wipes a hand over his face. Dean is going to frigging murder him for
Of course that airplanes cargo holds are not meant to carry people. Airport security would make it very hard for them to sneak into one and the sheer laws of physics would make it very, very hard to survive inside it for any length of flying time. For one, there was no pressure there, which made it nearly impossible to breathe once the airplane reached certain altitudes. No heating either, but given that they wouldn’t be able to breathe in the first place, a few frozen extremities would be the least of their problems.
Cargo holds were for cargo. Non-living things.
Which was how the caskets arrived at the conversation. And the death-mimicking drugs. The drugs, actually, were the best part of it all, specially the ‘never tested before on humans’ part of the drugs.
Dean would be making some crude jokes about Romeo and Juliet, if he weren’t busy freaking out over the matter.
Bobby’s idea was insane. No, scratch that. Some of the ideas he and Sam had come up with in the past were insane. Bobby’s idea was lunatic, psychotic... completely bonkers.
And the scariest part isn’t even him and Sam, dosed up on some very unorthodox and most certainly not-FDA approved drugs, inside a fucking coffin, trapped inside a 747’s belly all the way to Egypt. No, crazy as that all sounds, the scariest part is that the whole thing depends on Bobby, going right along with them.
“No, Bobby. Just... no!” Dean lets out, failing to come up with a single reason to justify his denial. Not that he lacks them. Oh no! Dean has a whole frigging truck load of good reasons why Bobby shouldn’t follow them blindly into a foreign country and join what’s possibly a wild goose chase across the desert –yeah, Dean checked... of course the frigging place had to be in the middle of the frigging Sahara desert- to rescue Castiel and end up just risking everything on a single play.
Dean has loads of reasons. He just can’t pick one a single one that will change the stubborn set of Bobby’s eyes.
The older man is an image of patience and wisdom as he watches Dean walk circles over the already threadbare carpet in the middle of the library.
The pacing Winchester looks like a caged lion, fingers contorting by his sides like he’s afraid his hands might run off on him and squeeze something that he might regret later. Like Bobby’s neck.
Because Sam, instead of helping him make Bobby see reason, is trying to pass himself as a silent and inscrutable statue, unperturbed by the pissy waterfall of arguments that Dean’s raining down on the both of them. Sam just sits there, tossing a shiny red, anti-stress rubber ball – probably some lost piece of the physical therapy care-bag that had probably been ignored since Bobby’s release from the hospital- from one hand to the other, like he’s some sort of annoying metronome, marking the tempo of Dean’s strides.
“You two will be playing dead... who do you think is gonna get you inside the plane and out of Customs, you idjit?”
Dean turns to his brother, arms open by his side and eyes momentarily flaring in that silent expression of ‘say something!’.
“Bobby’s right,” Sam says, and from the way Dean looks at him before dropping his arms down and slapping the sides of his jeans with the palms of his hands, Sam’s pretty sure that it’s not what Dean was hoping he’d say. “We’ll need someone to bring us back, someone who knows what he’s doing or we’ll end up as permanent corpses instead of temporary ones.”
Dean glares, because there’s really nothing else he can say. This was a lost battle even before the beginning. But the idea of putting Bobby at risk, of loosing him too...
ana fahim Arabi” Bobby adds with a smirk that really needed no
Turns out, Bobby’s rat-pack tendencies went a lot further than his tower hills scrap-yard and cluttered house.
When it’s finally decided that Bobby would be traveling alone, chaperoning the bodies of a close friend’s sons to Egypt, and they are down to booking the flight and paying all the extras fees for the transport of ‘sensitive organic material’ over-seas, the reality of just how much cash it’s going to take to pull this off finally sets in.
In between the credit cards that Sam burned to ashes when he was away from Dean and the new ones that Dean forgot to fill in because his mind was otherwise occupied with thoughts of the end of the world, most of their fake accounts are maxed out and, no matter how many scams and hustles Sam and Dean manage to run at the poker and pool tables overnight, it just isn’t going to cut it.
Unless they go out and rob a bank in the next couple of hours, money- wise, they’re screwed.
It isn’t like living as a hunter came cheap. There’s the long list of motels, the always eating out, the frigging gas prices, not to mention all the weapons and munitions and general crap that they need to buy just to survive.
Some, like the Winchesters, had opted for the less-than-legal ways of
getting their funds. Others, like the Harvelles, back in the days when their road-side bar was still standing, and even Bobby, had actually legit businesses to bring their bacon home. Hell! They even paid taxes, like proper citizens and all.
Bobby assures them that they don’t need to worry about the cash or the tickets. He has a plan.
He also has a past. And in Bobby’s case, that past includes a dead wife whom he loved, but was forced to stab to death.
After Karen Singer had been missing for eight straight years, she'd been declared officially dead. All that the people who knew her could tell was that she’d been acting really strange for a few days, like she wasn’t herself anymore... and then no one had seen her ever since.
Bobby knew exactly where his Karen was, ashes scattered between the two orange trees in the back of the house, the ones that she doted upon and had planted herself.
The money Karen’s family had left her, passed on to him when her deceased estate was finally released by the state.
It had felt like the final twist of the knife inside Bobby’s gut, being ‘rewarded’ for killing the woman he wanted to grow old next to. And for close to twenty years, Bobby had shredded to ribbons any letter coming from the bank where Karen’s money was, focusing instead on hunting and killing anything remotely responsible for her death.
He guesses that, if there ever was a time when that money could be put to a good use, the end of the world was pretty much it.
leaves Sam and Dean asleep in the spare room, both exhausted enough
not to complain about having to share a bed, after spending the
previous day discussing all the fine details of their trip in the
next day. Bobby dresses well enough to look sharp, oils his chair
like he means business and goes to the bank for the first time in
decades with an ID that actually says ‘Robert Singer’ on it.
It’s cold, chilling cold in fact, and despite the fact that they’re in the middle of the winter anyway, Dean knows for sure that he’s not at
The temperature drop feels different, artificial in its never changing condition. Immutable. It’s not so much a cold that comes from a climatic response but more like the frigid touch of a cavern that has never been touched by the light of the sun.
There are more statues, flanking each side, figures standing so tall that Dean feels his hair brush against the back of his neck before he can see their faces. Statues of standing men with painted eyes and arms crossed over their chests like old movies’ vampires.
It’s not a cave, but it feels like one. All the walls are man-made, smooth and filled with pictures and strange markings. The pillars, supporting the high ceiling, are so thick that it would take as many as three grown men holding hands to surround them.
Despite the large size of everything in there, the feeling of the place is still oppressive, pressing against Dean’s chest like he’s trapped inside a shoebox.
There is a box, about the size of an apple crate, sitting at the end of the corridor of statues. It’s the soft glow emanating from it that draws Dean nearer. It looks like the only thing warm in that place and his arms are covered with goosebumps.
The two small figures kneeling on the lid of the box, have their heads bowed and their wings extended forward, tips touching one another. They look like harpies, or banshees or ang—
“Dean... I cannot hold out much longer... you must hurry!”
The sound of Castiel’s voice echoes across the large chamber and Dean turns his back on the box to look sharply behind. The weary angel is standing near a narrow door, the only door, sunlight surrounding his figure and turning his whole body into a deform shadow. The ring of fire at Castiel’s feet makes his figure shimmer and waver, like asphalt in the middle of the summer.
“Cas... wher-how- is this where they’re keeping you?” Dean asks, his words jumping one over the other. There are too many questions, too many answers that he desperately needs. The only thing that Dean knows for sure is that the angel’s time is running out. “Is it Lucifer?”
Castiel merely looks at him, the same air of disappointment as before. He reaches out his right hand, something shiny dangling from his
fingers, and opens his mouth to speak. Dean almost falters in his steps, eager to know, eager to find out more.
Before a single sound can exit the angel’s opened mouth, the sunlight, gentle and warm coming from outside, turns into a fiery blaze. Even though he knows this is just a dream, Dean throws an arm over his eyes and squirms away. It feels like the sun has dropped beyond the door and is trying to push inside that place.
When he dares to look up again, the angel is gone but whatever Castiel had been holding in his hand is still there, reflecting the gentler sunlight, glinting invitingly at Dean from the stone floor.
Dean knows it’s his amulet even before he kneels down to grab it. The golden metal feels warm against his palm. Beyond the door, Dean can feel the heat of the desert and beyond that, the shimmering of the lake’s water.
“Rise and shine, dude!”
Dean startles awake, his forearm covering his eyes from the light coming in from the window.
A Sam-shaped silhouette has replaced Castiel’s and the sun isn’t trying to fry him anymore. In fact, the faint light that manages to squeeze around Sam’s body looks anemic and half-hearted in its glow. Dean looks at the digital clock on the nightstand, unable to figure out if the sun’s anemia is due to a very early morning or one more rainy day.
It’s nine a.m. which... really doesn’t tell him much.
His tongue feels twice its size and no matter how hard he rolls it, there’s not much dampness that he can muster inside his mouth. It still feels like the fucking desert in there. “Bobby?” he rasps, words catching in his throat and making him cough.
Sam gives him a look, probably trying to decide who the ninety year old standing there is and what he’s done to his brother. “Not around... van’s gone too,” he says, fingers working to push the rest of the buttons on his shirt inside their proper holes. When he reaches the top, Sam swears and starts undoing the thing all over again because he’s run out of holes and there’s still two buttons to go. “He left a note... said he went to run some errands.”
“Okay,” Dean says, finally pushing aside the covers and deciding that given how crappy the day is promising to be, he might as well just start it and get it over with.
“Same dream?” Sam asks, still looking at his buttons, determined to get it right this time around. It’s not hard to guess that he’s still mostly asleep.
Dean looks up. The different angle makes the light seemed brighter. It hurts his eyes. “Different dream... same shit.”
There’s something inside his hand, pointy edges cutting into his palm, and Dean looks down. His fingers are stiff, like he’s been holding on to something too tightly for too long. When he finally manages to order his digits into submission, Dean opens his hand to find his amulet there. “Oh... fuck that!”
Sam looks up from tying his boots and sees the golden horned head, softly waving back and forth from the end of it’s black string in Dean’s hand. The same horned head that he’d given his big brother on a Christmas night, a million years ago.
“Where did you get that? I thought Cas—“ Sam stops himself. He already knows the answer to the unfinished question.
Castiel had demanded the amulet from Dean, claiming that it was some sort of homing device for the big Guy upstairs, and Dean had reluctantly given it away.
Sam has no idea how Dean dreaming of Castiel could connect the two of them enough physically for the angel to give the amulet back, but the fact remains that, if there were any questions in their minds of whether this was Castiel or not, those questions are now gone.
The message behind the return of the amulet to its proper owner is a more troubling one. Either Castiel’s quest to find his Father has failed or the angel has given up. Maybe, him going to all of this trouble to get it back to Dean means that the angel’s time is running out and that he doesn’t want the amulet to fall into the wrong hands. Anyone’s hands other than it’s rightful owner.
The implications make the air grow heavy around Sam and he has to take a deep breath just to prove to himself that he still can. The dust and slightly moldy smell of the rarely ever-used room fills up his nose and sends Sam into a coughing fit.
Dean can’t seem to take his eyes off the amulet. For something that he
hardly ever parted with, this is the second time in a year or so that he finds himself on the receiving end of the trinket. Like before, when he was fresh out of his own grave and Sam handed the thing back to him, Dean closes his eyes and slips the string over his head.
The familiar weight feels like a warm blanket, a bulletproof protection, covering his chest like armor. At least now Dean can feel a bit more like himself.
Dean stops in the middle of snagging his jeans from the foot of the bed and looks up again. He can almost guess from Sam’s tone of voice alone that he’s not going to like what comes after his name.
“You...” Sam starts, reluctance in his voice, “you sure you’re up to this?”
Right leg first, left leg next, button, zip up. The familiar gestures don’t even register in Dean’s mind. Anyone else might have been a little lost on the broad spectrum of things that Sam’s question might be about, feel a bit light-headed at the speed he changes tracks. Dean, though, knows exactly what his brother is asking about.
The return of the amulet to Dean’s neck doesn’t change much. They still have to get themselves to Egypt and they still have to face all the problems that arise from that.
Traveling as a corpse means playing the part to its full extent; means getting inside a casket; means waking up in one. And even though they’ll be out of commission for the duration of it, it also means being inside one for more time than any breathing and sane person would ever consider proper.
And for Dean, it’s not even the first casket he’s been in.
Given the place Dean was coming from when he first found himself inside one; given what he’d been doing prior to waking up in that casket, Dean had barely registered that first experience as unpleasant. Bizarre, frightening... but hardly something to write home about.
One minute he was up to his elbows in some poor schmuck’s guts, the next there was only peace, and light, and head-turning speed and the feeling of air back into his lungs. Or rather, lack of.
Waking up inside a buried coffin wasn’t even in the top ten of fucked
up things that Dean could recall ever happening to him. Which in itself was more disturbing than he would ever admit.
“Just another day at the office,” Dean finally says with a small shrug. He looks up, catches the tail end of Sam biting his bottom lip. “What about you... you okay with this?”
Sam avoids his eyes. That’s answer enough for Dean.
Because Sam was dead for three days and woke up with nothing more than a sore back, but Dean was the one who sat there, staring at his brother’ slowly rotting body. Dean had woken inside a coffin, but Sam was the one who put him in there.
“Let’s get some breakfast,” Sam offers instead. The way he says it, it sounds like their last meal.
as far as they knew, might not be all that far from the truth.
The bulging brown Kraft package lands on the tabletop with a solid thud as Bobby wheels by on his way to the kitchen.
Dean, sitting on the couch and holding the disassembled muzzle piece of the Colt and a cleaning rod, looks up. The package is unmarked and unremarkable in any way, but from the way Bobby drives straight to the fridge and pulls out a beer like a drowning man, one would think that the brown paper might bite if anyone gets close enough.
“You boys all set?” Bobby asks after he’s drained almost half the bottle. His bag has been packed since the day before, each item carefully weighed and pondered, taking in to account what they might or might not need, and of that, what they can take that will not arouse suspicion at the airport and what they simply cannot do without.
And it’s not like Sam or Dean can really do any packing of their own. Other than the clothes they’ll be dressed in for their own ‘funeral’, -the cheapest suits that either brother could find in his bag- both Winchesters will have to make do with whatever they can find to wear once they get to Luxor.
“Do we have a flight?” Sam asks, eyeing the brown package with the same curiosity that’s been playing across Dean’s face.
“Seven hours from now, in Minneapolis, so we better shag ass,” Bobby supplies, producing two more envelopes, thin and white this time, from his pocket. “You are now Jeff and Simon Wanneck, sons of my good –and long dead- friend Douglas and his Egyptian wife, Akana Umm Wanneck. Tragically killed on account of a gas leak in the apartment you two shared, I am taking your stinky corpses back to your grieving mother, who claims her sons should be buried in nearer to her,” Bobby says. He smiles, looking at the twin set of rising eyebrows that greet the sap story he’s invented to justify the transport of two caskets gets from the Winchesters.
Beside the fact that Bobby has devised the lamest excuse ever to get them overseas, there’s also the small point of neither Sam nor Dean look even remotely close to being half-Egyptian. Not even a quarter Egyptian.
Granted, Egyptian people have quite the genetic scope, going from the blue-eyed, darker skinned Nubians to the lighter tones of caramel and white skin of those of Mediterranean descendent. But with such wide range of looks, there is no hiding the fact that these two are American, born and bred.
Sam, with his Sasquatch height and multicolored eyes, finds it hard to pass inconspicuously in most crowds, never mind in the middle of an Egyptian one; his small saving grace is the color of his skin, which, although pretty freaking far from the dark caramel complexion of most of the Middle Eastern population, is, at least, tanned enough to not draw attention to himself.
Dean, with his freckles and even lighter skin, has no saving grace whatsoever. In fact, if it weren’t for the cleft in his chin, the boy wouldn’t even have anything in common with his brother. It’s pathetic, but Bobby knows for a fact that most of the time, they actually have trouble getting people to believe that they’re even related. Not that they bother with attempting to convince people of that fact, often because it actually helps the job when they pretend to be unrelated.
In this particular instance, though... Bobby wouldn’t mind one bit if Dean had taken more after his father than he had after his mother. But that is the one issue Bobby can’t do a thing about. He just hopes that no one at the airport looks close enough to catch the complete lack of Egyptian genes in their dead features. All it takes is one suspicion for their plan to fail before it even begins and all they would
to achieve is a one-way ticket to see the apocalypse from behind steel bars.
They leave the Impala under a green tarp, parked in front of Bobby’s house. It’s easier to just take one of the old junkers trucks he has sitting around the yard and leave it abandoned in the parking lot of St. Paul’s Airport. The Impala has a big trunk, bigger than most cars, but there is no way Dean would ever accept abandoning ‘her’ in some random park. Not that they could fit two-grownup size caskets in the Impala either way.
The two, brown pine with brass handles, caskets that Sam buys online, ‘delivery guaranteed in less than twenty four hours’, the ad says.
And that, right there, has got to be the oddest thing that Sam has ever found himself buying. While Bobby was away to sort out their plane tickets and the fake funeral home papers, Sam sets himself to take care of the more... peculiar arrangements of their trip.
Five large planks of wood. That’s all he had needed to bury Dean over a year ago. Just five straight and plain, flat pieces of cheap wood and a handful of nails. Sam had built that casket himself, the first one he’d ever made. Looking back now, the whole process is nothing but a foggy haze of tears and alcohol for him, but he figured there wasn’t much to it, really. Just little more than a long, wooden box. Built to be temporary.
Sam had sworn to himself that he would never touch anything like that ever again.
The two caskets he buys now are a couple of steps fancier than the simple wooden box he’d hammered into existence before; expensive, ready-to-use coffins that dry out the final drops of the last fake credit card.
The coffins are in the bed of the old rusted truck now, hovering over the three men up front with the weight of a collapsing mountain. Sam’s not the only one avoiding looking at the two brown monstrosities that they’re carrying.
Bobby’s focus is on the road, but his mind is already on what he has to do next. Sam and Dean might be the ones smack-dab in the center of
this whole apocalypse mess but, for the next twenty-four hours, their lives will be entirely in Bobby’s hands. The level of trust that they’re putting in him is, at the same time, overwhelming and terrifying.
If Bobby makes a slight miscalculation in the amount of drugs needed to keep Dean and Sam under all to way until they clear Customs in Luxor, if they by any chance wake up still in the cargo hold of that plane, they’re dead.
If he makes half a mistake in the mixture of drugs that he’ll be injecting in those two boys, they’re dead.
If Bobby’s fake death certificates and transportation papers don’t pass with flying colors at the airport, they’ll all be under the custody of National Security agents before any of them can say ‘fuck’.
Fuck! Even if the good folks at the airport don’t get a whiff of their bullshit storm and they do manage to board a plane, there’s always the chance of, like any other bag, the coffins carrying the not-so-dead Winchesters getting lost and ending up in Dubai or the frigging North Pole. In which case Bobby will never find them in time to get them what they need to come back and they’ll be dead for real.
Ifs, ifs, ifs. A whole damn army of them.
Bobby forces himself to ease the hold he’s been keeping on the steering wheel. His fingers have grown numb from the pressure of his grip and the older man doesn’t want to add ‘crash into a damn tree on the way to the airport’ to his list of things going wrong.
By his side, the boys are silent too. It’s a three-hour drive –well, it is at the speed they’re going- all the way to Minneapolis, but even so Dean doesn’t try to adjust the radio station, strangely content with the sound of the man’s bored-voice coming off from the truck’s dashboard. The farming report drones on and on about crops and seeds and how all is going to hell because of the way Nature can’t seem to decide if it wants to drown them or dry them to the bone. Seems like the man on the radio has a point, has they cross the fields and see nothing but burned out crops.
Sam seems more preoccupied with the pile of papers in his lap. It's everything he could to get his hands on before leaving the house and his printer behind. The younger Winchester flips through the black and white prints, brow furrowing in concentration as he reads quietly, trying to get as much information as he can on where they are going and what they can expect when they get there.
If it weren’t for the small fact that they were on their way to save a rogue angel of the Lord, they’d be like any other of the thousands of tourists heading to the ‘Land of the Pharaohs’.
“It’s time,” Bobby pulls on the breaks and parks when they’re close enough to see the planes taking off and landing at a distance.
The concoction that Bobby’s come up with is a mixture of some heavy duty sedatives that he had around, some herbs that he had to dig deep to find and a couple of other substances, illegal enough that they had to be bought from a dealer rather than a pharmacy.
It’s not like Bobby has a degree in chemistry or even the slightest illusion that he knows what he’s doing, but he knows more than half of what those snot-nosed brats he’s seen at the hospital will ever know and he’s versed in ‘alternative medicines’ in ways that would get a lot of people’s short and curlies even curlier.
In theory, the yellow goo that resulted from the mix should slow Sam and Dean’s metabolisms to the point of making their hearts seem still; their breathing almost non existent.
The flight to Egypt is a long one, almost a whole day and Sam has taken some precautions and drilled a couple of small holes in the sides of both coffins. Painted the same color as the outside, they’re almost invisible to the human eye, and they should be enough to keep the small amount of air that they’ll need circling around. In theory.
reality, none of it has been tested properly, and all of it can go
very, very wrong.
Dean watches closely as Bobby effortlessly maneuvers himself from the driver’s seat to his wheelchair, then around to park it near the bed of the truck before hoisting himself up. The whole thing takes no more than five minutes, but it feels like a punch in the teeth every single time Dean’s confronted with the new limitations that Bobby has to deal with everyday.
Because of him. Because Bobby was strong enough to stop a demon from stabbing Dean and made himself a cripple for life instead.
Sting as it does, Dean doesn’t offer help though. He and Sam have learned the hard way that offering a helping hand to replace Bobby’s useless legs comes across as offensive and annoying to the older man, so after a while, they stopped offering after a while. However, there is something that Dean can do for his old friend now. “Gimme that, Bobby... you don’t have to do it,” Dean offers, extending his open hand to the man sitting next to him. Dean’s already inside ‘his’ coffin, legs comfortably extended and cushioned by the fake satin that fills the casket’s interior. Now, all that’s missing is the drug that will pull him under.
Earlier, there had been a brief discussion on who would be injected first. And while Dean had little desire to force Sam and Bobby to see him in the position he’s in right now ever again, there is no way in hell that he’s going to stand by and watch his kid brother serve as guinea pig for an untested and highly dangerous drug. Dean trusts Bobby, he trusts him like a father, but to err is human and Bobby, until proven otherwise, is just as human as the rest of them.
Besides, Cheney, Bobby’s new mutt, looked fine when the older man tested the drug on him. Well, other than the puking and the loopy walk, that is.
So, Dean ignored Sam’s protests at the time, didn’t risk his chances in a game of ‘rock-paper-scissors’ and, instead, bullied his way into being the guinea pig himself.
Bobby knew his reasons, and Dean silently thanked the older man for not getting involved in the discussion at the time.
The fact that, doing it like this, makes it impossible for Dean to look at Sam’s slack features as he too mimics being dead, is just an added bonus. A selfish reward that Dean is not ashamed to claim for himself. Be that as it may, neither Winchester wants the weight of what might go wrong to rest on Bobby’s shoulders. The man’s already been through enough.
“Shuddup and tilt your head, ya idjit!” Bobby gruffs out. He’s touched by the offer, he truly is, but the hand pushing the barrel of that syringe means nothing. He came up with the concoction; he prepared it. Whether he pushes it in or not is beside the point if anything goes sideways. Either way it goes, it will still be on him.
Dean, obediently, bents his head to the left, exposing the right side of his neck. The drugs will work faster this way, entering the blood stream closer to the heart and quickly spreading. And the one
certainty that they have is that there’s no time to lose.
The point of the hypodermic needle presses ever so slightly against pale flesh and stops. “You sure about this, boy?” Bobby asks. He can easily see Dean’s pulse, beating wildly beneath his skin. The kid’s heart is racing under all that cool facade.
“It’s a small team, Bobby. We can’t afford to lose anyone else,” Dean says, green orbs steady and unwavering as they meet Bobby’s face. “... besides, Cas may have the sense of humor of a dry cucumber, but he’s a friend.” And we’ve buried enough of those already Dean stops himself short of saying, but it’s not like the other two men don’t know it.
Dean’s eyes settle on his brother. Sam’s standing outside the bed of the trunk, biting his nails as he watches the exchange closely.
“See ya on the other side,” Dean jokes lightly, a wink of the eye that promises that everything will be okay. It’s not much, it’s not perfect, but it’s all he can offer Sam to make his brother realize that despite what this all looks like, it isn’t real. This isn’t Dean, torn apart by Hellhounds and Hell-bound. This isn’t even real death. It’s a temporary condition and they will see each other again in a day or so.
Sam drops the hand from his mouth, squares his shoulders and nods. He’s not convinced, but he can put up a front too, even if it’s just for Dean’s sake.
“Alright then, on three,” Bobby warns. “One...”
The plastic syringe is empty before Bobby finishes saying ‘two’ and Dean gives the older man a pointed look.
The slight sting spreads like fire throughout his entire body in a matter of seconds. Hands clenched into fists, Dean presses his eyes shut, trying to escape the fast whirling that the world is doing around him. “I’m sending you back to school. You can’t count for shit, Bobbeewwmmh—”
Dean’s eyelids flutter and his tongue can’t quite work the rest of the words out. Sam reaches out when Dean’s body starts pitching backwards. One long arm circles around Dean’s back while the other rests possessively over his chest as Sam gently lowers his brother down.
By the time Dean’s head touches the white, satin pillow, he’s already as limp as a corpse and the heartbeat beneath Sam’s hand is all but
Sam looks grimly at his brother, lower lip disappearing behind his teeth. His fingers move to rest against Dean’s neck. He can’t feel a pulse, he can’t even see Dean’s chest moving in breathing. For all intents and purposes, Dean’s dead.
Sam has to bunch his hands into fists to stop himself from panicking and start CPR to bring his brother back to life. “How do we know this is working and he’s not really...” Sam starts, teeth digging into his lower lip and throat swallowing convulsively around bile, his eyes still watching his brother's too-still form. “Bobby, how can we tell?”
The expression, with the solemn eyes and biting lip is all Dean’s, something he used to do so many times when he was younger that Sam had ended up picking it up too. Bobby’s reminded all of a sudden of the three year-old version of Sam that he’d first met. Trusting and loving, but always curious, always asking about everything and every being in this blue and green Earth. Everything except about his mother.
Whenever Sam would dare to ask about Mary to either Bobby or his father or even Dean, Sam would have that expression on his face, that ‘I’m afraid of the answer because I know it will hurt too much, but I’m too curious not to ask’.
“Pull his eyelids back and check his pupil,” Bobby offers. “If I didn’t screw this up, by now it should be little more than a pinpoint in his eye.”
Sam wastes no time. He reaches out slowly, almost afraid to touch. Dean’s face is slack, lifeless; sagging in ways it never does when he’s asleep or even knocked unconscious.
There’s a heavy weight at the pit of Sam’s stomach and he can’t help but see a grey and rotting version of his brother, rather than the sickly pallor of now. Thumb above Dean’s left eye, Sam peels the eyelid back carefully, fearful of what he might find underneath.
The eye looks the same, other than the fact that Dean’s pupil is nothing but a black dot in a pool of green, almost like it would look if he was in a place with an overly bright light. Or drugged out of his gills. “Is that how it’s supposed to look? What does this mean? Is he okay?”
Bobby sighs in relief. Throughout his life, he’s seen enough dead
people to know how their eyes turned almost completely black shortly after passing away. Whatever color the eyes were before, is downright engulfed by a loosened pupil, like a broken dam of black ink. This is the complete opposite of that. It’s also exactly how Cheney’s eyes had reacted when Bobby had given the same drug to his dog. “He’s fine, Sam... he’s just fine.” Bobby reassures him. “You ready for this?”
Sam nods, even though his eyes are still glued to Dean’s still form. He arranges Dean’s arms comfortably, crossed over his chest, before climbing into his own casket.
“You don’t have to do this,” Bobby finds himself offering again. “He’d be pissed as hell, but you two would be safe back at the junkyard when he wakes up.”
Bobby knows how important the angel is for their fight and he knows that Dean would never forgive him if he turned his truck around and headed back home instead of getting inside that airplane. But dammit all to hell! These boys are all Bobby has left and he’ll be damned if he isn’t willing to risk Hell, Heaven and Dean’s wrath all at once, just to keep them safe.
Sam’s shakes his head, hair falling over his eyes. “We can’t Bobby... Dean couldn’t stand to be betrayed like that again... I would never—“
Bobby didn’t really expect any other answer. “I’ll see ya in a day then,” the older hunter says, because he knows. It kills him, but he understands, and he knows Sam's right. So, he empties the second syringe in Sam’s neck.
It takes longer for the drugs to pull Sam under, and for a second, Bobby’s afraid that he’s made some mistake or that Sam’s addiction to demon-blood has maybe made him resistant to them.
Before he can decide exactly in which way they’re screwed, Sam’s eyes start fluttering and he gasps, more out of surprise than pain, jerking back and letting himself fall back against the soft pillow.
a big plane jetting away above them, noise enough to shake the whole
car. The blue sky above and Bobby’s beard are the last things Sam
sees before everything fades away.
“Welcome to Air Aswan, Mr. Singer,” the woman at the desk, plastic smile on her face, greets as the bearded man in a wheelchair hands her his papers. She unfolds and reads each one carefully, before making notes in the computer in front of her.
After what feels like an eternity, she looks back to him and smiles again.
Bobby shifts uncomfortably in the unfamiliar wheelchair that the airport has provided so that he can check his into the cargo hold. He isn’t sure what he’ll do if she has any questions or doubts about any of the papers that he’s given her, but he isn’t above begging at this point.
Coming up with death certificates, and embalming certificates and doctor’s papers saying that he’s not carrying anything contagious inside those coffins, literally overnight, wasn’t easy. But Bobby needs to trust his contacts, so he smiles just as politely back and crosses invisible fingers inside his head.
“Company policy requires me to inform you that the delicate cargo you’re accompanying will be opened and submit to a standard security inspection... everything will be performed as expediently and with as much respect as is possible but, if you wish to do so, you may be present the moment that happens,” the woman offers.
If she catches the relief in Bobby’s face she doesn’t say a word. As it is, Bobby has to stop himself from snorting as soon as her words register.
If there was one adjective that no one would ever think of associating with any of the Winchester men, ‘delicate’ would be it. But then again, she could bet her ass that it was delicate cargo! If it weren’t for the fact that he was trying to raise as few suspicions as possible, Bobby would probably take advantage of her offer, just to be there and know for sure that the boys were okay and that everything went without a glitch. But be that as it was, he’ll just have to trust that everything will go as planned and no one decides to watch those two bodies too closely.
“That’s alright ma’am,” he says instead, allowing a degree of sadness into his eyes. “Those boys were like sons to me... s’too painful as it is.”
And damn him if that one doesn’t just hit so close to the truth that
Bobby actually feels himself tearing up.
“We’re deeply sorry for your loss, Mr. Singer,” the woman says, sounding almost sincere in her words. “Your boarding gate is B27. Air Aswan wishes you a pleasant journey,” she finishes, handing Bobby’s papers back to him.
Bobby grips the handles of the chair’s wheels and rolls himself away. ‘Pleasant journey’, he whispers as if it’s a curse. More like twenty four hours of chewing his own stomach into an early ulcer and sweating bullets until he finds himself a safe place in Luxor to bring those boys back from the ‘dead’.
And then they can really get themselves deeper into trouble.
Chapter Three: He-Man
There’s a shimmering light above his face. Sam can see it even though his eyes are still closed.
He’s lying on the floor, on top of something slightly softer than solid ground, warmer than stone. From the numb feeling in his back, Sam figures he’s been there for awhile.
The hush voices echoes in the space around him, fainter and sharper as the sound bounces around. The cadence is wrong for it to be English and even though he can’t recognize the language, Sam knows he’s hearing a middle-eastern dialect.
Bobby’s voice is easily recognizable, a voice that Sam has been hearing all of his life, as familiar to him as dad’s or Dean’s. Even if he can’t understand the words being said, the worried tone at least is easy to get. The man Bobby’s talking to, that one is a complete stranger.
Sam’s mind is foggy and his brain feels raw, like someone grabbed it and dragged it across a gravel road. He’s been under enough anesthetics to recognize the after effects of a drugged sleep. His tongue, like a dry piece of cotton, tickles inside his mouth and Sam runs it sluggishly over his fuzzy feeling teeth.
It takes him a couple of minutes, but Sam finally remembers why the hell he feels like death warmed over. He was dead... sort of.
When Sam does open his eyes, it feels like he’s still asleep, dreaming. Possibly hallucinating. Because, for someone who had figured he’d wake up inside a coffin or not at all, the sight that greats him is unbelievably better. Surreal, but better.
The air is filled with tiny lights. Floating candles that shimmer and swing gently like frozen stars. The effect is mesmerizing and it takes Sam a while to see beyond the multiple dots of orange glow and glinting glass to catch the almost invisible strings that connect the illuminated glass globes with the high ceiling.
The unfamiliar letters painted above, in circular forms that speak of tradition and veneration, are Sam’s first clue that he’s not, in fact, in Kansas anymore.
“Here, drink this,” the hand, holding a glass of water, materializes in front of Sam. Sam takes it out of habit of doing what Bobby asks him to do.
There’s another hand, one with calloused fingertips, touching the base of Sam’s neck, holding him up. Bobby’s hands are weathered, but it’s the wear and tear of a scholar and a hunter. Dean’s hands used to be hard-edged and thick with calluses from gun triggers and shovel handling; now, Dean’s fingers are smooth and gentle, erroneously the hands of someone who’s never done a hard day’s work his whole life.
The hand holding Sam up is neither of those; it can only belong to the stranger.
“Small sips, Sam... your throat hasn’t worked in a while,” Bobby instructs, still holding the glass to compensate for the trembling of Sam’s hands. It’s been a while since Sam has felt this way, like a newborn colt, barely able to keep his head up.
The feeling of fresh water going down his sandpaper covered throat is one of the most wondrous that Sam can remember feeling. It washes away the sense of dust inside him, smoothing everything from his mouth to his thoughts.
“We’re here?” Sam whispers, reluctantly returning the empty glass to Bobby. The last thing Sam can remember is blue sky and a silver plane, flying over them.
The place where they are now feels warmer than South Dakota. It smells differently too. Earthly and dry. There are no windows around, but still Sam can hear the sounds coming from outside. Chickens, a goat and children, laughing nearby. The engine of the car that drives by coughs dryly, like it an old man with dust in his lungs.
“We’re here,” Bobby confirms, sounding not too pleased with that fact. “Can you keep an eye on this one?”
Sam looks up, confused with Bobby’s request. Bobby, however, is looking over Sam’s head, towards the man, he realizes, who is holding him up. Receiving some kind of confirmation, Bobby grabs the wheel- handles of his chair and rolls away.
It finally sinks in for Sam that there is, in fact, a body connected to his neck, even if it’s one that weighs a ton and feels impossible to move at this point. He tries anyway, elbows pressing into the carpeted ground as he pulls himself up, fast enough to get himself somewhat dizzy from sitting. Sam’s hand flies to his mouth, trying to keep the bile at bay.
“Please... no getting sick on carpet... it is family heirloom,” the man instructs, a comforting hand patting Sam’s back.
A couple of deep breaths after, Sam figures it’s safe enough to open his eyes without losing his stomach in the process, and leans away from the stranger. There’s a rustle of clothes, as the man shuffles from behind him to Sam’s side.
Now that the stranger is finally in Sam’s line of sight, he can see that he’s wearing what looks like a long, blue dress and has a white scarf rolled up around his head. The straight nose and the tanned skin are almost expected after seeing the man’s outfit and knowing where he is; the olive eyes and wisps of blondish beard, however, look out of place from the rest. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes are deep and weathered and there’s wisps of white hair on the man’s sideburns. If Sam were to take a guess, he’d say that the man was around fifty.
“Who are you?” Sam asks, mainly to cover up for the fact that he’s been staring at the man for the past minute.
The man smiles, apparently unperturbed by the staring, and extends his right hand invitingly. “I am Emam-Ali Habib, a friend,” he introduces himself. “Robert and I have known each other for... many long years.”
Sam shakes the man’s hand, his eyes roaming around the dimly lit room. A small mosque, from what Sam remembers seeing in photos and TV. He’d never stepped foot inside one, but he can easily recognize the presence of a central dome and the absence of any furniture or religious figures. Instead, there is writing, Arabic letters he guesses, decorating the walls and ceiling.
The carpet under him is red, well worn but not threadbare and it too, bears Arabic motifs.
Bobby, metal chair reflecting the candlelight, is parked near the wall to the left of Sam. Beyond him, lying on the floor, Sam can see a pair of legs and Dean’s boots.
“Your brother, yes?” the man, Emam, asks as he follows Sam’s gaze. “Robert is worried about him... you two have taken too long to wake up.”
Sam is on his feet even before the man stops talking. He can see that Dean isn’t moving and as for the worry, he had noticed that long before in Bobby’s eyes and voice. He should’ve known that things wouldn’t go as smoothly as he had hoped for.
“What’s wrong, Bobby?” Sam asks as soon as he reaches them, legs steady enough to get him there in a more or less straight line. The second the words come out of his mouth, Sam sees that they are pointless. He can see perfectly well what’s wrong.
Dean’s face is blotchy looking, with dark bruises under his eyes. He looks exactly the same as he’s looked for far too long these past months, except for the fact that he’s not moving. “Why isn’t he waking up?”
Sam knows that the panic in his voice is doing nothing to help the older man, but he can’t help it. Bobby’s adjusting the bag with clear fluid that hangs above Sam’s brother, a long plastic tube connecting it to Dean’s arm. The vision awakes an annoying itch in Sam’s own arm and he looks down. There is a telltale band-aid in the crook of his arm too.
“Lets just give him some more time,” Bobby says reassuringly. Sam’s pretty sure the older man isn’t as much talking to him as he is trying to convince himself. “I used a smaller dose of the drugs on him... figured that with the difference in body surface and all that... guess I should’ve--”
The older man can’t bring himself to finish, guilt shadowing his eyes. Bobby looks wrecked, like he hasn’t slept in a week. Sam has no idea what day it is, but from the prickly feeling of sprouting beard in his jaw and neck, Sam can make a good guess that more than a day has gone by. He’s also sure that Bobby hasn’t shut his eyes for one minute since they left his house in South Dakota.
“How long has it been?” Sam asks, moving around Bobby’s chair to get a better look. Dean’s facial hair, which has always grown faster than Sam –much to the younger brother’s chagrin- and rumpled clothes make him look more like a drunk on a bender than a heavily drugged man passing for a corpse.
Bobby looks at his watch, crossing his eyes as he tries to focus on the
small numbers. “It’s around four a.m. for us which makes it... eleven a.m. here? Noon?” Bobby ventures, looking in the direction of the Egyptian man.
As if on cue, the chanting sounds of a man’s voice float through the walls, a litany of short sentences sang in a melodic tone, coming from the speakers outside.
“It is time of the Dhuhur. What you are hearing is the midday Adhan, the call to pray,” Emam explains, his head nodding towards the sound of the chanting man.
“Damn!” Bobby lets out, the confirmation of what time it is bringing home the evidence that, by all calculations, Dean should be alert by now. “Stubborn kid, always doing things the damn hard way...” the hunter mumbles to himself.
“What’s in the drip?” Sam asks. At first sight, it looks like nothing but tap water, but he knows better. He also has no idea where Bobby dug up all the medical stuff even though –given that the labels are all in Arabic- Sam can take a pretty good guess. But for now he just wants to know what they’re doing to get Dean awake.
“Just water and sugar, to flush out the rest of the drugs out of him,” Bobby explains. “That’s the second bag I put him on... he’s gonna be pissing like a horse when he wakes up.”
Now that Bobby mentions the fact, Sam realizes that the weight in his gut he’s been ignoring since he got vertical, might be his full bladder. Maybe he should—
“I think I’d prefer being... hung like a horse... instead of pissing like one,” Dean’s voice, more or less slurred, interrupts in a whisper.
“Dean!” Sam lets out, his bladder forgotten for now.
Bobby is quieter in his relief, but Sam can see some of the weight lifting from the older man’s shoulders. They all knew that there were risks to what they were trying to do, that the odds of something in Bobby’s mixture killing them for real, rather than have the desired effect, were small but not impossible. This... this had come too close for comfort.
Now that Dean is awake and already pulling wise assed remarks on them, it seems like those odds hadn’t been that bad after all.
two old ladies jabbering like a couple of parrots... it’s killing
my head,” Dean complains, hand free of IV reaching for his
forehead. His fingers linger above his eyes like a shield as he opens
them carefully, afraid of the intensity of light. “Are we there
Bobby allows for a smile to grace his lips as Sam sits back on the floor next to his brother.
Central pieces in the fight for the end of times or bickering kids... Bobby’s never really sure which one he’ll be dealing with next with the Winchesters. For now, he’s just happy that they’ve dodged yet another bullet.
Dean’s hand, the one closest to his brother, wanders aimlessly for a moment before finding Sam’s knee and connecting with it with a gentle pat. Bobby, who was about to wheel himself into some soft bed and finally sleep for a couple of hours, stops dead in his tracks. Dean’s eyes are open, and Bobby could swear that he’d been checking out the lay out of the room before...
“What’s with the light-saving fever, anyway? It’s dark as the other side of the moon in here... did we land directly inside one of the pyramids?” Dean asks with a chuckle.
He is the only one laughing.
Sam and Bobby exchange a worried look before looking back at the man lying on the floor. They can see in Dean’s face that already their silence is stretching for too long. “Let me get the lights on for you, princess” Bobby voices, his eyes finding Emam, the light-hearted and joking tone scratching the sides of his throat like barbed wire.
The Egyptian man wordlessly flicks on a switch and two more lamps, heavy and with elaborate metal frames hanging from the ceiling, add their light to the dozens of lit candles in the room.
“Better?” Sam asks, hopeful. They both can see in Dean’s face that there is no change at all.
Dean swallows, two fingers pressing against his eyes, rubbing. He can read perfectly fine the worry and anxiety in Sam’s voice, the same way
he could hear the lie in Bobby’s before. “The lights were already on, weren’t they?”
Sam nods, realizing the futility of the gesture even before its done. Somehow, that makes the reality of what’s going on hit all the harder. Dean can’t see. How the hell can Dean not be able to see? “Do you see anything at all?”
It’s a crass question, but panic is making Sam crass. The pointed look that Dean manages to send in the general direction of his voice doesn’t make Sam feel all that much better.
me up,” Dean says instead, hand free of IV line extended in the
direction of no one in particular, even though Sam knows that it’s
intended for him. Dean’s palm is sweaty where it touches Sam’s.
There is no way that Dean is going to discuss his freaking blindness while lying on his back. And the bed’s not even all that comfortable.
There is a dizzying moment when Dean, expecting the floor to be at least a couple of inches away, slams his feet on the carpet sooner than he was expecting. The impact jars his knees and makes his head pound even harder. He couldn’t even tell that he was on the floor instead of a bed...
The panic that menaces to take over him is nearly devastating and Dean squeezes his brother’s hand until he’s sure bone will crack. If Sam lets him go in that very moment, Dean is certain that he will be swallowed by the bottomless pit that he feels stretching below him.
“Slower Dean,” Sam’s voice fills the void of images. It takes Dean a moment to realize that his brother is talking about his breathing rather than his moving. They haven’t moved anywhere yet, just gone from sitting to standing and even that seems impossibly hard to repeat. Moving, as in taking actual steps and use his trembling legs... Dean is pretty sure he won’t be able to do that just yet.
“Slower, Dean. In... and out...” Sam’s steady voice coaches him. “You’re gonna pass out if you keep that up.”
Dean tries to comply, the fast breathing leaving him dizz–... dizzier already. But it’s hard to make himself relax when every turn of his
eyes is met with more darkness and sense of unfamiliar ground, with more reminders of feeling lost and left afloat in a sea of nothingness that leaves him more breathless than if he were standing at the bottom of the ocean.
“Try to calm down,” Sam calls out again, even as he lets go of his brother’s hand. The fingers on Dean’s face are familiar, touching his cheeks lightly until they stop near his left eye. “Lemme take a look.”
Dean forces himself to hold still, feeling Sam’s face draw near. The tips of his brother’s thumb and index finger press above and below his eye, keeping it open, Sam’s breathing sending small puffs of hot air against his skin. “Can you bring me one of those candles?”
Hands drawn into tight fists, Dean bites his lip, waiting for some sign that this isn’t happening, that everything is going to be okay. His eyes move from side to side, searching for the light of the candle that Sam asked for, but Dean can’t find it anywhere. The heat grows closer and flickers in front of Dean’s face, but that’s the only indication he has that there is a candle there.
The sigh that escapes Sam’s mouth is the most terrifying sound that Dean has ever heard. “So?” Dean forces himself to ask, even though he already knows the answer.
“I can’t see anything wrong with your eyes, Dean,” his brother says. “They react normally to the light and they look okay, but—“
But Dean can’t see a frigging thing in front of him. He runs a hand over his face, wanting nothing more than to grab the veil of darkness that surrounds him and peel it away. He settles for grabbing on to Sam’s wrists again, relying on that feeling to stop himself from slipping off the edge of sanity.
“Maybe you should lie back again,” Bobby’s voice suggests from the left. “Let the IV run for a couple more hours, try to flush the rest of the drugs out.”
Bobby sounds kind of broken to Dean’s ears. Has the older man always sounded like that or...
“You think this is because of the drugs?” Dean asks. It's not an accusation, but he knows that is how it will sound to Bobby’s ears.
“What else can it be, boy?” Bobby says, his words leaving him like air out off a spent balloon. “I’m--”
Bobby stops himself and the rest of the room is left guessing what he was about to say. He’s sorry... he can’t deal with this... he’s sure it’s temporary...
Odds are, not even Bobby knows.
sure this is some sort of weird temporary effect of the drugs,” Sam
jumps in, his tone lighter now that he has a theory and can see this
as something other than a dead end. “You were always kind of freaky
in your reactions to anesthetics... remember that time you got out of
the hospital room and walked the whole corridor before realizing that
the gown they’d put you in had a flapping backside?”
Sam laughs remembers the sad sight of his eighteen year-old, bare- assed brother, running down the hall of the hospital infirmary, yelling for all who wanted to hear, that the poodles had to be fluff, whatever that meant. He laughs now, but at the time he’d been scared shitless, not knowing if he’d ever see his brother breathing again. There’s something deeply disturbing and unforgettable about trying to stop an arterial bleed with nothing but your hands, specially if the one trying hard as hell to give you a blood bath is your own brother.
Now, under the yellow lights of candles and light bulbs, Dean’s grey and clammy face looks so similar to how he looked back then that Sam is almost tempted to look for a bleeding.
“We’ll just wait... I’m sure that in a couple of hours you’ll be as good as new,” Sam goes on. God! He wants to stop the shit that is coming out of his mouth, but it seems like fear has broken all the filters between his brain and his mouth and everything is coming through. Even the stuff that he knows for certain sounds stupid.
“Cas doesn’t have a couple of hours,” Dean offers back. His voice is calmer now, the past few minutes enough for him to get some sort of feeble hold on his emotions. “We need to get going now.”
Consciously, Dean lets go of Sam’s hand and tries to get a feel of the world on his own. It’s like being born all over again, specially in the sense that he feels as prepared to face the world as a newborn baby.
“It is the middle of the day... Abu Simbel will be crawling with
tourists,” a man’s voice, heavy accented, offers. “We must wait for nigh—“
“Who the hell is that?” Dean gasps, hand instinctively searching Sam’s anchoring touch again. All of his life, Dean has always prided himself for being attuned to his surroundings, for knowing things that others took longer to realize, to find the oddities where others saw only normal. The fact that, for all the time he’s been awake, he hadn’t even realize that there is a third man inside the room with them, drives home the point that Dean is, undoubtedly and undeniably, screwed.
“Forgive me, friend. That was inconsiderate of me,” the man says. The English words sound different in his tongue, like he is testing and experimenting most of them. “I am Emam-Ali Habib... the place you are now used to be a old mosque, even though it is no longer used for worship purposes. My family has been taking care of it for some time now.”
“Bobby?” Dean voices. The name is laden with everything Dean cannot risk to ask out loud. Is he trustworthy? Does he know what we do? Does he know what we came here to do?
“Emam works in the business... he has been a friend for a very long time, Dean” Bobby reassures him. He’s been around Dean long enough to know everything that he’s asking. “He wants to help.”
“Well... He-man,” Dean says, giving the unfamiliar name a try. In his head, he can’t help but to remember early morning cartoons about Barbarian warriors with bad haircuts. “I don’t know how much Bobby told you, but our friend’s time is running out and we can’t afford to be waiting on any tourists.”
There’s a rustle of fabric and then the added warmth of a third body near Dean. He recoils unconsciously, the unexpected movement too fast for him to track, the proximity too intimate for someone he can’t put a face to.
“I am sorry for your friend, but this is not a public garden where you can just march in,” the man says, his tone stern and yet understanding. “There is heavy military guard during the day, as well as numerous checkpoints that will be hard to bypass in broad day light. Trust me... we will not be wasting your friend’s time by being cautious about our actions.”
Dean stares daggers in the direction he assumes the man is. His arguments sound kind of solid and any other time, Dean would even
with him. But now, in that very instant, he needs to be moving, he
needs action and development. If he stops and sits long enough to
think about what’s happening, he might crumble irreversibly. And
that won’t help Castiel at all.
“Emam is right,” Bobby voices, recognizing the fire in Dean’s eyes. It feels like a stab in his heart to look into those green orbs and see nothing but a vacant gaze that isn’t really focused anywhere.
The mirrors that so often could be used to translate so much of Dean’s heart are obscured now, but the emotions remain as are still clear as ever. Maybe more so now, that Dean seems to have forgotten about how much his eyes usually betray. Bobby is the first to look away, a staring contest that doesn’t really work since Dean is not aware he’s in one. “We have some planning to do before we hit the road anyways.”
There is a silent beat, in which everyone waits for Dean’s sure protest. The anger has yet to leave his face and his free hand is clench into a fist by his side. When he remains silent, Sam moves his hand from Dean’s and places it across his shoulders instead, ready to steer him away from the room, like he is some sort of unsteady boat.
Dean wants nothing more than to shrug off the contact and do what his gut tells him to do. Just grab his shit and go find Castiel himself, before its too late. He can’t though. Neither one nor the other. Because he is in a country he where doesn’t understand the language and he can’t see. And the sense of lost independence hurts a lot more than the prospect of eternal darkness.
“Come... Ebé has prepared food and drinks for us... you must be very hungry.”
Chapter Four: Two Temples
When Emam-Ali had picked up the phone and Robert Singer’s voice had greeted him from the other end, he would have never guessed what the American man wanted with him.
It wasn’t so much what he asked that surprised Emam (although it wasn’t every day that one is asked to transport two coffins carrying the living from Luxor to his home in Daraw). No. What had surprised him and what would steal his sleep from that point on, was the realization that the time had finally come.
The signs had been gathering, making themselves noticeable for everyone in every corner of the world, and they were so clear that only the most blind of all - those who did not wish to see - would not understand them for what they were: the heralds of the end of times.
Floods, earthquakes, fires, storms, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, pandemics, mass murderers, genocide, bombs and massacres, all at the throw of a hat... they were like small appetizers before the main course was served.
And now the time had arrived for Emam to finish playing his part in the events that were to come.
When Emam had met Robert at the airport, his first surprise was to see his old friend in a wheel chair. True to his nature ever since they’d first met, when asked, Robert had talked about everything but himself, sharing tidbits of information and vague tales of what he’d been up to. The fact that he was now paralyzed from the waist down was never mentioned.
Luxor and its international airport where both far enough from Emam’s home and relatives for him to have no qualms about passing himself as a funeral director, in charge of receiving and transporting to their final resting place, the two bodies that one Mr. Singer would be transporting from the USA.
Carefully loaded on the back of his rusty Ford Transit and then
dumped in the middle of nowhere, after serving their purpose, the two cheap caskets never reached Daraw.
It wasn’t until he carefully transported the unconscious men from the van and into the abandoned mosque that stood right next to his home, that Emam finally had the chance to take a good look at the two of them.
Of anything that he might’ve been expecting, these two were far from it. Somehow, given what they were foretold to do, given what was expected of them, Emam had imagined that these would be larger than life men. Princely and terrifying.
The unconscious men had looked as young and innocent as his nephew, Benjhi, who had just entered Cairo’s University. Common men, with common fates. And yet, nothing could be further away from the truth.
Ebé would be asking questions later. His companion for close to two decades now, Ebé, a pediatrician nurse by vocation, was the sweetest of wives. But Emam knew that the sudden arrival of three Americans to their house, looking as grim and somber as those three looked, would pique her curiosity. He had told her that they were business associates, but he could see in her chocolate eyes that she did not believe him. Even without understanding a word of English, Ebé could tell that the giant man and the one in the wheel chair were concerned for the blind one and that, whatever business they had, it was not pleasant.
His wife had taken a special interest in the blind man, being extra careful in making sure that furniture was out of his way and that he was watched over at all times. Had Emam been a lesser man, he would have probably been jealous of all the attention being paid to a stranger. But Emam knew Ebé, knew of her sensitive ways and intuition, respected her knowledge of the things that couldn’t be seen but were, nevertheless, real.
She might not grasp the full meaning of the presence of these men in their home, or who the one they called Dean was, but she could certainly feel it.
“What’s the earliest we can leave?” Bobby, holding a steaming cup, asks. The coffee smells different than the watery stuff he usually drinks, earthier, stronger. Over the rim of the transparent cup, he looks at Dean, the same way he’s been doing every two minutes since they traded the empty mosque for Emam’s house.
The IV bag is strapped to one of the kitchen’s dishcloths hangers and Dean sits, fidgeting underneath it. There’s a cup of coffee in his hands too, serving more as a finger-warmer than a drink. The dry cake that Emam’s wife offered is sitting on the table to his left, but Dean hasn’t touched it yet. At this point, Bobby is sure that the kid doesn’t even know where the cake is anymore.
Bobby keeps glancing and hoping that, one of the times, he’ll catch Dean looking back at him and seeing him. Keeps hoping that he hasn’t screwed up bad enough to permanently steal Dean’s sight from him.
“It is a four hour drive to Abu Simbel,” Emam answers. He’s drinking tea instead, a dark, reddish liquid that smells sweetly. “If we wish to arrive there not long after midnight, we should leave at sunset.”
“Where are we, anyway?” Sam is standing by the window, watching as a couple of kids play outside with a dog. One of the kids tosses what looks like an old tennis shoe and the dog takes off running like crazy to fetch it. It could be anywhere in the world, except for the fact that, over their jeans, most of the kids are dressed in the same kind of long tunic that Emam has on.
The street is busy, mostly with people coming and going, carrying baskets of food or clothes, handcarts filled with vegetables and other groceries. Most of the women that walk by are dressed in black or somber colors, their heads covered with simple shawls of various and bright shades. Two women pass by wearing burkas and quietly chatting with one another, each holding a child by the hand.
Emam’s wife, Ebé, also has her hair covered, even though her clothes are of a light green and seem more festive than somber.
“South of Egypt, in a small town called Daraw,” Emam supplies. “We are near Kom Ombo and Aswan, the bigger cities around here... Robert mentioned that you needed to get to Abu Simbel quickly, so we made a direct journey from the airport to my home, before waking you.”
“You said the place was heavily guarded,” Sam asks, his mind on the task ahead. “Something strange going on in there, something that justifies that?”
Emam smiles, his lips curling around the edge of his cup as he takes a sip. “I heard on nothing strange going on in those parts, not the kind of strange you deal with, anyway. Abu Simbel is always heavily guarded... millions of foreigners visit there everyday. Our government is very careful with their security.”
Sam nods, looking less than pleased with the answer. Like any other hunter worth his salt, he had hoped that there had been some signs around the place that could clue them in on what they would be facing. Even in the middle of the desert, people would surely complain if animals started dropping dead or if weird storms were gathering around the place.
“So, the military aren’t there to guard the place? Just the people?”
“Once viewing hours are over, the temples will be mostly empty,” Emam says with a nod. “You are certain this is where they are keeping your friend?”
“Temples?” Dean, who has been mostly quiet so far, chimes in. “I though it was just the one.”
“It is a common mistake,” Emam agrees, before exchanging a couple of words with his wife. She gives him a long look, before nodding and turning her eyes to the two Winchesters. She takes her time staring at each of them from top to bottom, making short notes in a piece of paper as she goes.
Sam is about to ask what’s wrong when he realizes that she is literally measuring them up in terms of what clothe sizes they’ll fit in. He feels slightly uncomfortable under her judging gaze, shifting in his seat beside Dean.
“I’ll get you money for that, Emam,” Bobby says, wheeling out of the kitchen.
Dean, having missed both the woman’s gaze and the meaning of the foreign words, reaches out a hand to stop Bobby’s chair before he can drive away. “Money for what?”
will need clothes,” Emam offers, his hand pointing to the cheap
suits’ pants and dress shirts that both brothers are still wearing.
“Ebé’s cousin has shop... he will make you a very good price.”
Dean leans back on his chair, hand spread over the tabletop and tracing the floral pattern of the wood. “How did you two meet anyway?” he asks. He wants to trust the man, mainly because Bobby seems to trust him enough to ask for his help. But it’s not easy to trust someone he can’t look in the eyes and get a sense of his true intentions.
“Me and Ebé?” Emam asks, sounding surprised.
“You and Bobby,” Sam clarifies, instinctively knowing what Dean means.
“I buy and sell ancient artifacts, antiques... some years ago, Robert was looking for an important book, a very rare book written by king Solomon himself. I was one of the suppliers he contacted. Since then, we kept in touch. Sometimes, he buys things when he comes here, other times, he sells them to me,” the Egyptian man explains, his eyes locking with Dean’s chest. “If memory does not fail me, I believe that is one of mine,” he adds with a smile, pointing towards the amulet hanging from Dean’s neck.
“Dean’s pendant?” Sam asks, curious. He had no idea that the cheap trinket that Bobby had once given him to offer to his father had come from so far. Nor that it would be as important as Castiel had told them.
God’s EMF meter. Sam wonders if Emam ever knew the importance of that amulet or if he was just in the dark about it as the rest of them.
Dean’s hand curls around the golden pendant, unconsciously hiding the horned head from view. “You’re the one who found it? Where?” he asks.
Sam knows that ever since Castiel made his revelation about the amulet, Dean has been curious about the impossible odds of something like that ending up in the hands of Michael’s intended vessel. Neither of them really believes in coincidences.
Emam shrugs, scratches his short beard. “Flea market, I think... it was a long time ago. I remember that Robert was very kind enough to take a cursed Anubis statue out of my hands and in return, I gave him that pendant and a couple others that I had
collected over the years.”
“Emam likes to offer me junk,” Bobby cuts in, his chair sliding effortlessly across the stone floor of the kitchen. Stopping near Emam’s waiting wife, he hands her a wad of cash. “Shukran, madame Ebé.”
“Afwan, Roh’bert,” the woman offers with a smile that highlights her wrinkling eyes before leaving them alone.
“So, you were saying that there are two temples...” Bobby prods on, eyes focused as he searches his memory. “One for Ramses II and another for his favorite wife, right?”
“Yes. They are close enough that we can search both in the same night, but it would be better to know exactly which it is you need,” Emam explains. “You mentioned a call for help, yes? Did your friend give you any indication of where he was being held?”
Sam exchanges a look with Bobby. It is obvious that the older man has omitted important details of the reason why they are there and how they got that information. Friend or no friend, it would probably not go over well if they said that a rogue angel of the Lord has been dropping long distance calls in Dean’s dreams.
“He... he mentioned a tall room, with big statues, two columns of them, standing on each side of a corridor,” Dean supplies, easily catching on the ‘need to know’ basis that Bobby has kept his Egyptian buddy on.
“Standing statues inside—you are sure of this? Not columns with big figures of the goddess Hathor?”
Dean turns in the general direction of the Egyptian’s voice, head tilting slightly to the side from where the sound comes from. “Am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?”
“You are right,” Emam sighs, hands folding one over the other as he sets them on the tabletop. “I apologize. I am sure your friend was not at liberty to give you much detail—“
“Look, once we get there, I’ll know for sure when I se—“ Dean stops himself, realizing what he was about to say. For one moment there, he had been able to alienate his thoughts from the darkness around him and focus on the hunt instead. But unless he can see the place, he’ll never be able to tell for sure where Castiel is being kept.
The room has fallen silent around Dean, no one knowing exactly what the right words are to comfort the uneasiness that they can easily read in Dean’s face.
Emam nods, looking like he agrees with something that Dean doesn’t exactly say but he hears nevertheless. He gets up and opens one of the kitchen drawers, pulling out a yellowed road map. “Since you mentioned inside statues, more than likely it is the temple of Ramses that your friend was referring to and not small Abu, Hathor’s temple, so we’ll start there...”
“I don’t get one thing,” Sam interrupts, standing up to look at the map over Emam’s shoulder. “You said the place is always crawling with tourists and army soldiers, so—“
“How come they don’t see Cas?” Dean finishes. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking the same.”
“Perhaps I can explain that,” Emam offers. “Both places have been under many restoration work since the last earthquake in the area. There are areas still completely sealed from public view.”
“What about the restoration people? Wouldn’t they report finding something strange?” Sam asks.
“Yesterday was Friday, our holy day. The men will not work in this day or the weekend... if your friend was taken there Thursday, after the men left, no one will take notice until Monday.”
“Almost four days of no interference,” Bobby digests.
“Okay, then,” Dean says. His hand carefully feels for the edge of the table before he sets his coffee cup down. “How do we do this?” From the pregnant silence that follows, Dean knows that they are all staring at him. “What?”
“I think you should stay here,” Sam voices what is clearly on the others’ minds.
“Come again?” Dean asks, his words sharp and edgy like a blade.
“We have to be realistic here, Dean,” Sam goes on, his voice taking on a diplomatic tone that only serves to further aggravate the angry frown on Dean’s face. “You can’t see... you can’t fight. We don’t know who the hell has Cas or what their intentions are. For all we know, this could all be a trap to catch you—“
you, you asshat,” Dean cuts in, wishing that he could pinpoint
exactly where his brother is so that he can accompany the words with
a proper cuff to the head. “I’m coming... and that’s final! I
can still hear, still talk... and who the hell says I can’t fight?”
The words coming out of Dean’s mouth feel like a kick in the ‘nads, further deepening the pit of guilt that Bobby’s carrying inside his chest. In his mind, he keeps seeing Dean, trusting him with his life and obediently offering his neck for Bobby to inject him with the poison he’d created.
If Dean’s too stubborn to recognize his own limitations, Bobby’s more than willing to play the bad guy, if that at least keeps the boy from further harm. “Who do you think you are, Dare Devil?” he asks, all piss and vinegar. It’s bad enough that his actions have left Dean like this. Bobby won’t be able to deal with it if that boy puts himself at risk under these circumstances. “Sam is right... it’s best if you stay here.”
Dean raises an eyebrow and even though he’s not looking directly at him, Bobby knows that one is for him. “Is that so? What about you, Mr. Hot Wheels... you’ll be staying here too? ‘cause there’s an awful lot of sand out there and last time I checked your convertible over there doesn’t come with four-wheel traction...”
Bobby glares at the younger man before realizing that it’s a complete waste of perfectly good glare. “Sam will need an extra pair of eyes to watch out for him,” he points out, the words burning like acid in his mouth. Sam will need Bobby’s of eyes, because the ones he’s used to relying on are out of commission for the time being.
“Thank you for agreeing with me,” Dean says with a practiced smirk.
Bobby opens his mouth to point out that he said no such thing, but Dean beats him to the mark.
“You said it yourself... this,” he says, hand pointing in the vague direction of his face. “This might be just temporary... how can you know that I won’t be perfectly able to see your ugly mugs by the time
we get there?”
Neither Sam nor Bobby find the courage to point out that Dean might find himself getting to Abu Simbel just as blind as he is now. Besides, they know that Dean is perfectly aware of that argument. For all they know, the sly bastard is banking exactly on their inability to come out and just say that he might be staying like this forever. Dean’s dead right about that, and the smug smile on his lips says as much.
Sam sighs, sinking back on the chair that he’s vacated. Beside him, Dean is wearing an annoyingly victorious grin on his face. “This is gonna be great. Two cripples, a hunter and a salesman,” Sam says.
like the beginning of a very bad joke,” Bobby mumbles.
it is,” the younger Winchester agrees.
Emam had been right about the security measures. Dean had counts at least three trucks loaded with armed guards, driving in the opposite direction as they make their way to Abu Simbel.
The noise of those trucks is specific enough that it makes it easy to pinpoint them, after Sam identifies the first one for him. Old Ford trucks, with squeaking suspensions from too many bumpy roads and not enough alignment checks and flapping tarps covering the rear compartment. By the time the last one drives by them, Dean could already pick out the faint, clogged noises that the trucks’ escape valves cough out.
He falls asleep after a while. Or at least, Dean is pretty sure he does. Because in his dream, he’s already there. And he can see.
He’s inside the temple, the one with the big standing statues. Up close, they don’t seem like stone at all, more like compact sand, so porous and fragile that he is afraid to touch it, worried that it might all crumbled apart like sand castles.
The walls beyond the columns are covered in faint drawings, like an
old form of comic book, telling a story just the same. Dean doesn’t know the difference between hieroglyphs and pictograms, he’s even surprised that he remembers those names, but the story those drawings tell is easy enough to guess. It’s a tale about some dead guy being led by hand by a wolf-headed figure, straight in to the hands of a hawk-man figure. The scale, weighing a heart against a feather, is also fairly easy to understand. The man is being judged in his afterlife for his deeds while living. His sins measured against the weight of a feather, his worth valued in lightness.
It seems hardly fair to Dean, but then again, he figures his heart couldn’t stand to be weighed against even a block of cement. It would always weigh more; it would always weigh him down.
“Dean... you must hurry,” Castiel’s voice echoes in the otherwise silent temple.
Dean steps out of the shadows of the columns to see the angel, standing like before, in the middle of the circle of fire by the door.
“We’re coming, we’re almost there,” Dean assures him. “You have to tell me who is doing this... we need to know what to expect.”
The edge of Castiel’s trench coat touches the flame and the fire grabs on, hungrily licking its way up the angel’s clothes.
“Cas! Tell me who! Tell me why!”
“Asmodeus, one of Lucifer’s generals,” Castiel rasps out. Despite the flames that threaten to consume him, the angel seems to be shining, an intense glow that grows from within and contrasts with the thin fissures that start showing up on his face. “He lured me here under the false pretense that he had found it.”
The light is growing so bright that Dean feels the need to cover his eyes. He can see the cracks widening and opening on the surface of Castiel’s skin, all over him raw light peeking from the lean lines. “Found what?”
Castiel can do no more than point at something behind Dean before his skin breaks into a thousand pieces and the light, no longer contained inside, bursts out like an exploding star. Castiel opens his mouth to scream.
The pain filled shout Dean hears, however, doesn’t belong to the angel’s gravely tones. The voice is Sam’s.
Sam gasping for breath; Sam sobbing in pain.
Where Castiel was standing just seconds before, Sam has replaced him, face contorted in agony as the flames climb over his tall frame. Sam’s pleading eyes meet Dean’s for a fragment of a second before he too disappears, body consumed by the wall of fire.
shields his eyes away from the vision of his brother burning; a
silent scream trapped in his throat as the bright light hits him. The
last thing that he sees as he turns his head back, to protect his
burning eyes, is the same box as before, with the two winged figures
on the lid.
There’s a hole on the asphalt and the jeep they’re traveling in bounces up and down as Emam hits it dead on.
Dean comes awake with a gasp; he’s confused for a few seconds, not understanding why everything’s so dark, even though he knows for sure that his eyes are already open. The confusion quickly vanishes, replaced by the image of Sam, burning to death.
“Sam?” he whispers, hoping that the brokenness blatantly clear in his voice gets blamed on the recent slumber rather than his racing heart.
A warm hand finds his wrist and Dean feels himself automatically relaxing. Sam didn’t burn. Sam is right next to him. It was all a dream. Dean remembers it now.
Sam sat in the back with Dean, both of them relegated to the ‘kids’ seats’ in deference to the two older men at the front. The back seat is large enough for at least four people but even so, somehow, Sam has kept his leg pressed against Dean’s the entire journey.
Dean will never admit it out loud, not even in a million years, but the contact actually helps with the feeling of isolation that his blindness is forcing on him, a feeling that grows more crushing and sharp the longer his sight refuses to come back.
“How much further?” Dean asks, trying to sound casual. The sense of being lost in a deep abyss just grows deeper and deeper the farther he gets from a common ground and familiar place. It sits heavily on his chest, like an anvil that refuses to budge.
“Nearly there,” Emam answers from the driver’s seat.
It is getting progressively colder and Dean pulls the hooded jacket he’d been provided with closer to his neck. For some reason, Dean had been expecting some sort of local clothing, maybe the same kind of long tunic that he can hear whenever Emam moves.
The jeans, tee-shirt and denim jacket had surprised him a bit. The fact that the jacket that Ebé had brought him was at least one size too big, was actually welcomed now.
“How’re you feeling?” Sam asks softly.
the view,” Dean replies acerbically, pulling the sleeves of his
coat lower to cover his chilled fingers. It’s the fifth time Sam
has asked the same question and since the very first one, Dean knows
exactly what his brother is really asking. And the answer is still
one that neither of them is happy with.
“Well, you’re not missing much,” Sam lies. The view, actually, is breath taking. The sun has long set over the western horizon and the rocky landscape has gradually given way to sand. Above them, without the competition of city lights, pollution or even clouds, the sky is like an immense veil of black that sparkles intensely with the light of countless stars.
It’s easy to imagine that this place hasn’t changed all that much in the past two thousand years or more.
The moon, that had started to climb up in the sky even before it was completely dark, is almost full tonight. It lightens the desert like a powerful flood lamp, transforming the desert into a giant stadium where only the four of them have showed up for the big game.
‘This’, Sam finds himself thinking, ‘If nothing else, this is worth fighting for.’
“Was it... you know... another one?” Sam asks, voice hitting new record levels of low. He knows the two men up front heard Dean’s gasps and barely contained moans when the dream had started, but now, at least, he can give Dean some illusion of privacy by keeping his voice down to a whisper.
Dean nods, wondering if Emam can see them in the rear-view mirror, whispering secrets like high school girls in the back seat. At least this dream brought with it a little bit more than just the usual foreboding and sense of impending death that usually leaves Dean itching to move. This time they have a name.
Asmodeus doesn’t ring a bell in his knowledge of demon lore, but its good to finally know which side of the field they’ll be butting heads with.
“It’s demons,” Dean simply says, because for now, their choice is between the Colt and the knife or blood sigils and oily circles. He’s not sure which is best. But while the Egyptian man is in the car, that’s the most that Dean can tell either Sam or Bobby.
Sam nods, not asking for details. The time for research and knowing every detail about their enemy has come and gone. Now, there is only haste and make sure that they don’t lose anyone else that week.
In the front seat, Bobby meets Sam’s eyes through the rear-view mirror and narrows his eyes. Neither of them likes the sound of that or the implications it brings.
If Castiel had been in the hands of his fellow angels, the whole thing might’ve been a trap to get Dean and force him to say yes to Michael or just as easily a private squabble between Cas and his winged former-buddies. Not an ideal situation, but one where Dean wouldn’t be at risk of anyone trying to harm him. Not permanently, anyway.
Demons were a whole different ball game. If they were the ones setting this, more likely than not, it will be a trap to get Sam, so he can be persuaded to say yes to Lucifer. And demons will have no quarrels about killing Dean. As they were told before, the idea is actually encouraged.
Kill the vessel, spare Lucifer from the added trouble of facing big brother Michael.
The idea that they’re going straight towards the ones who want to see Dean dead, delivering a blind hunter right to their laps, feels slightly deranged.
Right now, though, the alternative is to turn back and leave Castiel to his fate. Neither Bobby nor Sam is prepared to make that call and they both know Dean would stumble his way ahead alone if they tried to anyway.
When Emam announces that they have arrived, Sam still can’t see anything even closely resembling the fifty-foot tall statues that Dean described. Or a plan in the immediate horizon.
They park the car near the lake, beneath the palm trees, heavily laden with juicy dates. There is a heavily sweet smell in the air from the ripe fruits that have fallen to the ground and got squished under the feet of hundreds of tourists and sellers during the day.
The shops along the shoreline have long since closed, business done for the day. Their cover story, in case the remaining guards come asking, is to say that they are unloading merchandise for the next day. They have the empty boxes to prove it and Emam works at laying them on the ground strategically while Sam makes short work of picking the lock on one of the green booths.
“We all set then?” Bobby asks, parking his wheelchair inside the small shop.
The small structure is less than eight feet wide and ten feet long, both sides with top to bottom shelves stock filled with several sizes and forms of replicas of everything and anything that reminds tourists of Egypt. There are Sphinx in all colors and materials, Great Pyramids sets, gods, goddesses, pharaohs, palm trees saying ‘Welcome to Egypt’, camels saying ‘Enjoy your stay’, musical instruments and elaborate glass bottles of sweet perfumes, all in the same row. Slotted between the half-counter and the far wall are two racks with hanging clothes, anything ranging from cheesy tee shirts to extravagant and shiny tunics and gowns.
It all screams cheap, mass production and there isn’t a single replica in sight that can be accused of being accurate, but all of them no doubt sell like hot cakes.
Sam checks the disposable cell phones that they’ve picked up on their way there and grabs a couple of flash lights from the store shelf.
The demon-killing knife is tucked away in the waist of his jeans and he hands the Colt to Bobby. “You should keep this with you.”
Bobby gives him a look, not voicing the idjit that’s clearly on his mind. “And why the heck would I do that?”
Sam gives him a look of his own, one that usually works on Dean but is completely wasted on the older man.
“Because,” Dean interjects, even though he can't possibly guess the look Sam is giving Bobby, “you’ll be staying here with no backup and nothing guarantees that those demonic bastards won’t back track and attack you.”
“I could stay with Bobby,” Emam offers, even as Bobby accepts the gun reluctantly. “But I believe my presence is best served if I go with you to the temple.”
“I don’t need no goddamn babysitter,” Bobby hisses quietly, venomously. His eyes are focused on the two brothers, the direction of his discontent unmistakable. “Emam knows the place, knows the language... if any of the guards catch up to you two dimwits, what the hell are you gonna say? ‘Howdy!’?”
“Dean’s staying too,” Sam says, trying the sentence out as an affirmation, seeing how far that kite flies.
It crashes miserably.
“The hell I am!” Dean blares as he takes a step in his brother’s direction.
The edge of Dean’s jacket catches the beak of a black, overgrown, falcon-head figure on the edge of the third shelf. The soapstone statue crashes to the ground with a muffled sound of broken clay.
Dean curses and turns, his hand colliding painfully with a row of plastic pyramids and knocking the whole thing sideways like a string of dominos. It takes the constricting feeling of Sam’s hands on both sides of his shoulders, centering him, for Dean to stop his bull-in-a- china-shop impersonation and freeze.
Sam breathes out after a heartbeat, “... I can see how insane it is
to suggest that you stay here.” The words sting even as he says
them, childish and uncalled for under the terrifying state Dean’s
in. But they still taste a lot better than ‘Dean’s dead’ any
day of the week. “What do you think you’ll be accomplishing by
going with me?”
Dean, trapped in his brother’s hold, looks straight ahead, fixing his unseeing eyes on Sam’s face. He’s been doing that his whole life and
even when Sam surpassed him in height, Dean could always find a way to look Sam straight in his eyes. Even in the dark. “I need to go, Sammy... I need to be there,” he simply says.
He knows that Sam will understand what he isn’t saying, what he can’t voice in the presence of others or even to himself, words about bad feelings and sense of protection and being with your family when everything else crumbles. He hopes Sam knows how hard it is for Dean to be asking to be a part of this at all, to admit that the decision is Sam’s to make and there is nothing Dean can do about it other than try to persuade him to see his point. He prays the Sam understands how unfamiliar this is for Dean and just meets him half way.
Sam is standing so close that Dean can feel the deep breath he takes, can hear Sam’s hair moving when his brother finally nods... or shakes his head. It’s hard to tell from sound alone and Dean resists the temptation to grab Sam’s head and figure out if it’s moving up and down or side to side.
“Okay... this is a terrible idea, but okay,” Sam says, making things easier for him.
Bobby clears his throat and for a second Dean thinks that he’ll have to fight the older man on this too.
“You sure you wanna do this, Emam?” Bobby asks instead.
From the stutter in the Egyptian man’s voice, Sam and Dean can tell that the question surprises him as much as it does them.
Hadn’t Bobby just argued that they were both screwed without someone who spoke the language?
“Ana mesh fahim...” Emam let out, shaking his head. “You said—“
“Yeah, I know what I said,” Bobby grumbles. “I also know that it ain’t easy going up against one of those sons of bitches again, specially after being possessed by one.”
It would be easy to assume that Bobby was talking about himself, but Sam realizes that he and Bobby are not the only ones in that small shop with a past that included being worn as a demon puppet.
Emam’s head is bent forward, like a penitent man, and his hands are worrying the sides of his tunic, the cotton fabric wrinkling under his fingers.
“It was many years ago, my friend,” the local man finally says, raising his eyes to met Bobby’s. “And you saved me then. It is a debt that I have taken too long to repay.”
Bobby huffs, in a way that speaks more of embarrassment than annoyance. “You don’t owe me anything... certainly not for that.”
“Wait... I thought you two had met on business,” Sam voices as he realizes that the story he heard before doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. But then again, as with most things relating to Bobby, he should’ve known that would be the case. The man was like the old cars in the his scrap metal yard: layers upon layers of paint coat, each a different color from the previous.
“We met on business, yes. We became friends when Robert saved my life,” Emam announces proudly.
“Sloppiest exorcism I ever did, if you ask me,” Bobby adds. “Emam’s was the first time I tried the ritual and to this day, in between the bastardized Latin and the awful long time I took, I still don’t get how it even worked.”
“Still, I got my life back.”
“Not before that bastard ruined any possibility of you ever returning to the States without being hunted down; not before he murdered that cop,” Bobby mumbles, obviously still beating himself up for something that, if any of them had to guess, was far from being his fault.
“So, you’re okay with facing a demon again?” It was Sam’s turn to ask. Odds were the older man wouldn’t even have to get involved, but Sam needed to be sure that, if push came to shove, he wouldn’t have to deal with a former possessed person freaking out on top of everything else. “Contrary to what Bobby believes, we can actually wipe our asses on our own... you don’t have to go.”
“I am going,” Emam repeats, resolute, his right hand reaching for the sky. “Insha’Allah.”
Chapter five: Abu Simbel
There is a world of difference between the way a person walks when they can see the ground in front of them and when they can’t.
Even led by Sam, Dean finds himself second-guessing every step that he takes, trying and failing over and over again to not tip toe his way around. He can’t help it though. If he sets the ball of his foot down first, like he has done he’s whole life, he feels like he’s about to fall into a endless hole in the half-moment that it takes for the rest of the foot to land. So he tiptoes. Like a fucking ballerina.
Of course, it’s doing nothing for Dean’s precarious sense of balance to walk on ground that keeps shifting with each foot he sets down.
Sam is literally leading him by the arm, which helps to keep him from face planting and eating dirt, but pisses Dean off to no end.
In all honesty, it scares him more than it angers him. He’s helpless, a dead weight that can’t even tell left from right properly and, despite all the crap that he fed his brother and Bobby, Dean knows that there is no way he’ll be able to hold his own if it ever comes to fighting their way in or out of that place.
But the vision of Sam, burning in Castiel’s place, is ingrained into Dean’s brain and more than anything, he wants Sam as far away from here as possible.
But that will never happen.
Even if Dean tells his brother the details about his last dream, he knows that there is no chance either of them could ever agree to just turn away now, to abandon Castiel to his fate and go home.
And blind as he is, Hell would freeze over twice before Sam would allow Dean to go anywhere without him, so Dean will just have to do his best to keep his brother safe.
Inside his head, in the privacy of his own thoughts, Dean is laughing really hard at that idea.
Keep Sam safe.
It’s been a while since Dean has been able to keep Sam safe. Not since he let himself slip up and allowed Sam to die.
After that fateful day where he could do nothing more than stand there, in the rain, screaming at Sam to be careful and watch that kid stab his brother in the back... it all became a competition as to who lost more. And they were both in the running for the first prize.
With the looming threat of Lucifer’s escape and the end of the world on his shoulders, Sam had started to listen to the wrong people, laying off and bending rules that should never be touched.
Distracted by sleepless nights and regular re-runs of his life in Hell inside his head, Dean had stood by and watched as Sam slowly slipped through his fingers and in to Ruby’s hands.
Dean hadn’t been able to protect Sam from her; hadn’t been able to protect his brother from becoming addicted to demon-blood to the point it almost killed him again; and he had been too late to stop Sam from making the biggest mistake of his life.
In the department of big brothers’ protection, that was some real stellar work right there.
And that had all been when Dean could actually see events unfold. Now... now Dean was working on a give-me-a-clue basis.
The ground beneath his feet goes from straight, firm and rough to inclined, crunchy and loose, so Dean figures they have left the parking lot and crossed over to some sort of gravel hill. It’s not very steep, but infinitely worse than straight ground. Each step that Dean takes makes his balance worse, feet uncertain of which angle to land, hesitant and searching for the ground.
Dean struggles forward, chewing the inside of his mouth to stop himself from screaming. He’s used to taking long steps, sure of himself and of where he’s going; this... this geisha-size, shy steps get on his nerves and make the trek seem eternal.
The air gets colder as they progress and there is a faint moist scent
about it, so Dean figures that there must be water nearby even though he can’t hear it. He knows there has to be some sort of lake nearby, he remembers it from the dreams, but it’s either the stillest water surface in the planet or still at some distance away.
When Sam’s grip on his arm grows tighter, Dean figures that either someone is coming and they’re screwed or they’ve arrive.
here,” Sam whispers.
There is a golden light that shines directly bellow the colossal statues of the four, seated pharaohs, that makes them look as if they are made of gold instead of stone. It is a vision that Sam has only seen before on the TV, some late night Discovery program or another that he can no longer recall. In the small screen, filmed in artistic angles and with over-dramatic background music, the statues had looked more fake than awe-inspiring.
Now, with the artificial lights mimicking sunlight and the way the pharaohs sit, as if patiently waiting for the sun-god’s return, Sam can understand all the fuss about this place. It is truly a wondrous sight, one that Sam fervently hopes will still be standing after the events of that night. Moreover, he hopes Dean's sight will return in time for him to see it before they leave...
Once they are in clear view of the two fake mountains housing the temples of Abu Simbel, there isn’t much room to hide. The two miles that separate the front of the temple from the fenced perimeter of the artificial lake are nothing but flat land, from which the wind rips occasional clouds of dust.
To the far right of the first temple, stands the second one at an angle, its façade hidden from view. It’s easily a half a mile away from where they stand and the only place where they can find some sort of feeble cover directly below them. Five rows of wooden chairs are set in lines, forming a perfect square that faces the temple, empty seats waiting for a show.
Sam, Dean and Emam lie still on the sand between those chairs, still warm from the heat of the day, and wait.
It takes them little more than an hour of observation to get the feel of
the routine of the guards; their shift changes and usual routes. From the way Dean is fidgeting more and more by his side, Sam is sure that it must feel like an eternity for him.
Most of the guards have gone home for the day. Not all, though. Two guards, armed with automatic machine guns and hip holsters containing what look like 9mms semi-automatics, pass through the entrance of each temple every hour. There is another guard, with a big black dog in tow, on top of the mountain, doing rounds every thirty minutes. Which gives them less than that to get in, search Castiel and get him out.
Inside the temples, not even a soul moves.
“Which one is the Ramses temple?” Sam asks, his voice barely carrying in the silent night.
Emam points to the bigger one, nearer to them and Sam is thankful for that. The guard on top has just finished his round and they can’t waste any amount of time.
“You ready?” Sam asks, his fingers curling around the fabric of Dean’s jacket.
It is one thing to be close to his brother and watch where he steps as they walk; it is another to run with someone holding on to you. And they both know that they’ll have to run. Fast.
“Let’s go,” Dean states, fingers curling around Sam’s wrists in turn.
Three pairs of feet, running over loose and dusty ground, would raise enough dirt to alert any experienced guard. Two of the men running across the empty plateau are hunters though, and they know how to move fast and undetected. They’ve been doing it almost since they learned how to walk. The third man moves as inconspicuously as them, having lived most of his life around that same dry and dusty soil. He might not be an experienced hunter, but he knows how to land his footfalls well enough to be stealthy.
As they reach the locked entrance, almost hidden between two of the gigantic statues, Sam looks back, pleased to see that their approach has, apparently, gone unnoticed. At least, the telling signs of shouting guards and blaring alarms are blissfully absent.
From up close, the statues look more regal, sitting there like judges, closely watching their every move. Sam bends his neck backwards in a
futile attempt to see their tops, struck by the bizarre notion that those are the biggest noses that he’s ever seen. His attention quickly turns to the metal grated door that bars the entry to the temple. The lock, hanging from heavy chains, is pathetically easy for Sam to pick.
“You better stay here,” Sam whispers, his hand on Dean’s shoulder, preventing him from going any further as soon as he hears the lock clicking open. “I’ll check it out with Emam, make sure that this is the right temple.”
Dean is shaking his head already. “That’s a bad idea Sam. I’m coming with,” he insists, trying to free himself from Sam’s hold. As soon as he’s successful in that endeavor, Dean manages to almost walk straight into a wall of stone. “Goddamit!” he hisses under his breath.
“Dean-” Sam’s voice is soft for reasons that have nothing to do with their need for stealth. Emam is considerate enough to turn his back even though Dean can’t see to appreciate the gesture. “I need my attention to be on this demon and whoever else it has in there guarding Cas, if Cas is even here. I can’t—“
“Be distracting yourself with me,” Dean finishes for him. “I get it... I really do. But Sam...” Dean’s hand fumbles around until he catches Sam’s arm. His fingers convulse around the fabric of his shirt and Sam hates the look he sees in his brother’s unveiled eyes. “You have to promise me that you’ll be very careful in there... any sign of trouble, just—“
Sam swallows his emotions, abstaining from mentioning that Dean is the one who’ll be left alone out there, unable to protect himself. “You should keep the knife.”
Dean lets go of Sam’s arm, eyebrows scowling in annoyance. “And what? Stick it in the first demon that considerately taps me on the shoulder?”
“I’ll be fine...” Dean interrupts. “Now, quit wasting time and get going. I’ll stay here... keep watch,” Dean finishes with an annoying smirk.
so not funny,” Sam warns him as he enters the dark temple. Emam
follows him in silence.
Dean leans back against the cold stone of the entryway. The door is narrow enough that, reaching one arm out, his fingertips brush against the other side. If he stays exactly in that spot, Dean knows that there is no way anyone will be able to go in or out with out without touching him.
It doesn’t take long for the adrenaline rush of actually being there, to wear off and for boredom to set in. For a second, Dean entertains the idea of humming a song. Metallica never failed to smooth his nerves, but he doesn't risk it now, even if the song’s length would help him to get a measure of how much time it had passed. In the dark, Dean has no way to tell but it certainly feels like hours since Sam and Emam went in. Try as he might, Dean can’t hear a thing from inside.
Dean’s not sure if that’s a good or a very bad sign.
Outside, everything sounds as quiet and empty as before. Without his eyes to tell him if their presence has been discovered or if they’re about to have company of the wrong sort, Dean’s other senses are on high alert. Every small rustle of wind sounds like a miniature dust storm to his ears; the old stone seems to grow warm under the touch of his fingers and even the dirt of the desert seems to have found a way into Dean’s mouth.
The flash of intense light comes without warning. A lightning bolt landing inches away.
Dean gasps, curls in on himself, hands thrown around his head. He’s not sure if the attack is coming from outside or from inside his own brain. It ends too quickly for Dean to find out which.
His immediate assessment is that the local authorities have discovered them. That the intense bright light is nothing but the blare of security lights and he’s most certainly now facing a large group of guards, all with their guns pointing at him.
But that would mean actually seeing the guards’ floodlights. That would mean having his eyesight back. Dean finds himself disappointed when he opens his eyes and finds the world just as dark as before.
No floodlights. No guards either, if the silence is anything to go by. No cocking of
guns, no angry shouting, no bark of dogs.
Which means that it was all inside his head. Some sort of electrical discharge. Maybe his vision saying its last bye-bye. Maybe fighting to return. Maybe some other aftereffect of the drug—
The feeling of a wet tongue licking his right hand is unexpected and disturbing enough to elicit a distressed yelp out of Dean.
Heart hammering against his ribcage, Dean bits his lip too late. The sound is already out and if those guards are anywhere nearby, they would’ve heard it for sure. ‘Rookie move Dean... real rookie move.’
Crouching down, Dean reaches out his wet hand until it meets fur and an equally wet and round nose. There’s some sniffing sound, short puffs of air and short whiskers tickling against the sensitive skin of Dean’s palm.
Dean can't help the curve of his mouth as he stoops slightly, allowing his fingers to trace the contours of the animal’s tilted head. The animal's side to side sway telltales a happily wagging tail. Locating the animal’s head, Dean offers his hand for the dog to smell, letting the animal know that he poses no threat. The dog puffs out a content breath and Dean takes a minute to trace the contours of the animal’s tilted head, taking in the long snout, the unblinking eyes and finally ending in it’s long pointy ears, standing up like antenna at the top of the head.
A fairly big dog, if the size of its head is anything to go by.
For a moment Dean worries that this is the guard’s dog that Sam had told him about before, that instead of warning Sam that they have company like he should, he’s entertaining himself petting the guard’s animal. But this animal is quiet, not making a sound since he’s neared Dean –which would make him the worst guard-dog ever. Besides, the dog that Sam had described sounded very different from the one currently sniffing happily at Dean’s chest, as if looking for treats.
The way his brother described the big black guard-dog, with a short snout, like a Rottweiler, had made Dean imagine something closer to a Hellhound than anything else.
Sliding his hand along the dog’s side, Dean can feel the soft, longish fur, smooth as cotton. The animal’s coat is too long for it to be a Doberman or a Labrador, but not long enough to be a Golden
Retriever. If Dean had to guess, he’d say it’s a German Sheppard. In his head, Dean is picturing Mile-Oh, Mr. Gusheim’s white dog.
Mile-Oh, or mile zero as the old man used to call him, had been named so because he’d been found on the side of the road, sitting near a milestone. He would’ve died there too, if the old man hadn’t stopped to pick him up, or so he used to tell them over and over again.
Dean had been close to seven when dad rented the house next to Mr. Gusheim’s. They stayed there for close to half a year and that white German Sheppard was as close to having a dog as Dean had ever come in his whole life.
The animal had been so big and docile that, at six, Dean could ride him like a horse and the dog wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. Mile-Oh was his white horse and on top of him, Dean was a valiant prince who fought dragons and monsters and killed all the evil things that stole mommies away from little kids.
“What you doing all the way here, buddy? Did you get lost?” Dean whispers softly. The dog's coat, from what Dean can feel, isn't matted, or full of burrs and bugs, in fact it's not only smooth but in good condition. This is no stray dog. They’d driven for miles to get there. He can’t possibly imagine from where a dog like that could’ve come from. Maybe he’s from one of the shop owners, left behind at the end of the day...
The dog’s wet tongue finds Dean’s nose, thoroughly slobbering his face as an answer.
that’s when the sounds of struggle inside the temple reaches Dean’s
Sam’ stomach is steadily working itself into tight knots. Circumstances keep forcing him in to a series of decisions that do not sit well with the younger Winchester. Decisions that spell trouble no matter how he looks at them.
There is no way Sam can ever say it to Bobby’s face and expect to survive, but the idea of leaving the older man alone in an unfamiliar place, with nothing else but the Colt and a car that was not adapted to Bobby’s condition, is crazy. Just about as crazy as thinking that the
older hunter would ever actually use that car to escape and leave them there, but Sam hates the fact that the choice is not even available just the same.
And then there is the small fact that Sam is currently exploring the inside of a potentially hostile place with a perfect stranger –something that again, fails to settle his churning guts- because Dean is blind.
It grates on Sam’s nerves to even try the word in the privacy of his own head. What the hell were they going to do if Dean’s vision never came back?
How would they possibly go on doing what they do if Dean can’t see? How can they have a fighting chance in those circumstances?
The argument that blind people live fulfilling lives just as much as everybody else pops in Sam’s head, unearthed from some seminar or lecture he must’ve sat through in Stanford, about the rights of the disabled and handicapped. And God, it actually hurt to think of Dean in those terms...
The politically correct speech that the visually impaired are just as valid and contributive to society as every other Joe rings true, but the thing that makes Sam despair is that ‘every other Joe’ isn’t trying to stop Lucifer from destroying the world; that ‘every other Joe’ doesn’t have half of Heaven and every demon in Hell on his tail, trying to force its agenda down his throat or simply kill him.
Even if they manage to save Castiel, Sam has nothing but realistic hopes about what the angel will be able to do for Dean. Castiel lost much of his power when he decided to stick with the Winchesters, a lousy trade in itself, if you ask anyone, up to and including Cas himself.
Cut off from Heaven, the angel hadn’t been able to fix Bobby’s spine... it was foolish to believe that he would be able to do anything about Dean’s eyes.
Inside the temple is so dark that Sam and Emam are almost as blind as Dean. Moonlight barely makes it a few feet into the main room, coming up shy of touching the feet of the first two statues. Beyond that, there is only darkness.
Neither man dares to use the flashlights. If this is indeed the right place, the intruding lights will surely alert others to their presence
and the element of surprise is about the only thing that they have going on for them right now.
They never got the time to really plan it that way, but the minute Sam and Emam step inside the temple, the Winchester goes right and the Egyptian man goes left. And that too disagrees with Sam’s stomach, partly because he’s pretty sure that the older man won’t be able to hold his own if this comes down to a fight, and partly because despite the trust Bobby has in the man, Sam would rather have him by his side than out of sight.
The place feels like a tall cave. Once his eyes adjust to the dim light, Sam can see the central, dual rows of standing statues in front of massive square columns, just like Dean had described them. On each side of the column, a long corridor stretches until it ends in the same back door. Beyond that, Sam can’t see anything else but plastic tarp. The construction work-place.
There is some sort of faint, shimmering blue light coming from the other side of the plastic tarp, so soft and muffled by it that it does little more than turn every shadow more sharp and menacing.
It’s cold inside the dense stone walls, but that doesn’t stop the sweat drops from sliding down the side of Sam’s face, tickling trails until it pools at the base of his throat. He grips the knife tighter, the smooth feeling of wood in his palm reassuring.
The ground under his feet is not stone or dust as Sam had expected. Instead, he finds himself walking on long boards of wood, cursing at himself whenever his foot lands wrong and produces a faint squeak.
From the other side, Sam can’t hear a thing; Emam is moving as silently as a wraith through the passageways.
There is no sulfur in the air. The fact registers immediately on Sam’s mind, more than used to pick out the small details that often alert to a demon’s presence. The oddity only makes Sam tense some more.
With his senses turn up high and his body tense and attuned to every change in the room, when Sam hears Dean’s surprised gasp outside, it feels like a bomb going off inside his chest. His heart jumps to his throat and only years of training engraved so deep that it has become a second skin, keep Sam from dropping everything and racing to his brother. He still turns towards the door though. He can’t help that.
Because Sam knows Dean. He knows that his brother would never
compromise their position. Even blind, Sam knows that if that sound was pushed out of Dean’s mouth, something big must’ve caused.
Before Sam can drive himself insane pondering all the possible scenarios that could’ve lead to that; before he can weigh all the reasons why he should have never left Dean alone and helpless, and how much guilt he will be feeling if he does nothing and his brother gets hurt, Sam freezes.
One of the shadows that he passed by and dismissed as being cast by the giant statues, moves. Sam moves with it.
There is a clatter of metal hitting stone right in the exact same spot that Sam had been just half a second before, and he recognizes the soft zzzzztatatatata noise of an active taser gun.
The demon-killing knife hits its target before the electric weapon finishes its discharge. There is a satisfying slash sound and the splatter of arterial blood hitting the wall, quickly followed by the heavy thud of a body hitting the ground.
What is painfully absent, as Sam notices, is the fire coming from the demon’s split throat.
Since the first time Sam witnessed that blade at work, back when they had been fighting – and losing - against the seven deadly sins and Ruby had showed up in her first incarnation to kill her fellow demons, Sam had noticed the presence of fire in all the slashes caused by that knife. Little cuts, long cuts, stabs, slashes, gashes... they all seemed to release that small piece of Hell that demons were made of and made them bleed more fire than blood when they were cut.
No fire this time. Just blood. Human. Some local man, from what Sam can dimly see in the almost darkness.
The fact washes over Sam like ice on a hot day. Dean had been so certain that demons were the ones responsible for Castiel’s imprisonment that the idea that humans might be involved hadn’t even crossed their minds. It wasn’t like demons liked to play in teams or anything...
Sam’s surprise costs him his alertness, something he deeply regrets when a second attacker gets a hold of him.
An arm made of pure muscle and killer instincts, wraps itself around Sam’s neck and he can feel the presence of a second tazer gun,
pressing hard against the small of his back.
Thrusting back blindly, Sam tries to get his knife to make contact with any part of his attacker.
This guy, however, has better reflexes than the first one. The arm around Sam’s throat tightens and the body behind him dodges enough for the hunter to know that his stabbing motion will hit nothing but air. The movement, however, cost proximity to Sam’s attacker. The gun is no longer in contact with Sam’s body.
Sam wastes no time in pressing his small advantage home. The man is shorter than him. That is a fact that has stopped surprising Sam some years ago. In this particular case, having a good couple of inches on his attacker means that the man holding Sam needs to sacrifice balance in order to have a better grasp on Sam’s neck.
This is a dance move that Sam knows well and has perfected in his sparring sessions with Dean over the years. Because complain as much as he does about the fact that his little brother is a freaking Sasquatch, Dean has never allowed for Sam’s advantage to be ignored in a fight.
Impossibly tall at six foot four, Sam stretches.
The man standing behind him foolishly follows Sam’s move, trying to compensate enough to keep the pressure on the neck, and promptly loses his balance. From there, Sam has no difficulty in using his weight advantage to drive the man ferociously against the wall.
Sam hears the unfamiliar language, which still sounds like cursing, seconds before the hard thud of a skull hitting unforgiving stone. A second hit strikes the man’s wrist ruthlessly against the wall, and the gun in his lax hand drops to the floor with a soft sound. A taser gun, just like the first one.
In seconds, Sam reverses their positions and when the attacker’s eyes regain their focus, the man finds himself with a hand around his throat and a furious Sam inches from his face.
“Who the hell are you people? Where’s Cas?”
The electric discharge hits Sam from behind, a lightning bolt of pain that starts somewhere in his right shoulder blade and travels everywhere. Hit by the painful contraction, Sam’s hand reacts around
the man’s throat. The last thing Sam hears before drowning in a deep well of torment, is the sound of the man’s neck breaking under his fingers and the surprise in the man’s dark, human eyes.
A hard, hollow thunk echoes in the room as Dean's boots hit the solid wood surface inside the temple. The air feels colder and the heat outside is swallowed in the chill of the room and it just... feels darker, even if he can't actually see the evidence. Visual perspective means very little when Dean knows, in perfect detail, what this place looks like, courtesy of Cas' treks in his dreams. Between those mental images and his own internal compass, he feels more oriented than he has anytime since he woke up sightless.
Going over it in his mind, Dean recalls the main corridor, lined with statues and columns on each side and the two smaller passages behind them, each leading to the small chambers at the back.
To walk down the main corridor would be like venturing into the desert without a compass or water. Dean would be utterly lost and most likely, dead before he could do anything.
Which leaves him the passageways in the right and left.
Inside the high ceiling building, all sound echoes, leaving him the sense of being inside a giant metal ball, where noise comes from everywhere, moving everyplace. It's disorienting.
Dean forces himself to stop and stand still for a second, head tilting to the side. Listening.
The sound of a body hitting a hard surface is unmistakable. Limbs collide like bags of bricks; a head clashes with a hollowed sound and air rushes out of the lungs in a moan.
Dean can perfectly imagine the way the body bounces once, like it’s made of rubber, before settling flat. There is a shuffling of feet and the sound of a falling body that never really reaches the ground. Even without the use if his eyes, it’s easy to imagine the body pressed against the wall, held fast by the adversary, advantage taken and used.
What Dean can’t tell from all these sounds is who is pressed against the wall and who is doing the pressing.
Direction is easy to ascertain; the scuffle noise is coming from the right. He is sure of that now.
Keeping his hand glued to the wall, Dean follows its path until he hits a 90-degree angle. The right corner of the temple. The sounds are coming from just ahead.
As he hurries along the wall, Dean can feel the markings and carved figures beneath his fingers, imprints of a different time, revered symbols that had once been sacred and now, serve only as indicators of Dean’s progress forward.
“Who are you people? Where’s Cas?”
Sam’s voice travels like thunder through the wall and even though his brother speaks softly, his words are the first distinct sound that Dean manages to hear.
The sound that follows is also unmistakably familiar.
Even years after the event – forty-five, a lifetime in fact - Dean will never forget how it felt like to have thousands of volts coursing through his body. The sound of electricity lighting up the air and the sight of actually seeing the energy as it traveled through the water and straight from that Rawhead and into him, are things that Dean will never forget.
Even hit only by the backlash of the 100,000 volts discharge, it had been enough to contract every muscle inside of him, enough to snap his body into such tension that Dean could swear every one of his bones would snap at the stress. He’d been sore for weeks, even after the reaper fixed his heart and the whole experience had made it up there to the top five of the most painful things Dean had ever been put through. And that was including his time in Hell.
So, to once again hear that sizzling sound of electricity running down a wire and punctuate it with Sam’s pain-filled grunt... it’s something Dean wishes he’d never hear.
Dean practically runs, hoping that there is nothing but clear ground ahead of him, praying that he won’t just step into some big, giant chasm and gets swallowed in before he can reach his brother.
More disturbing than Sam’s moans of pain or the sound of his body falling down, is the silence that follows.
With one hand on the wall and the other stretch in front of him, Dean moves with no idea what the hell he's going to do when he reaches the source of the noise but knowing he's got to try. He has no weapon on him, he can’t see his enemy and he has no idea what other weapons might be involved other than the tazer gun.
But Sam is in pain. In danger. And Dean doesn’t stop to rationalize or contemplate outcomes. He can only move forward.
It barely registers as surprise when Dean’s stretched out hand touches something soft. He reacts immediately.
Sam is down, which means that whoever’s vertical, is his attacker. Emam’s position doesn’t even track in Dean’s reasoning. He knows the older man wasn’t a fighter, so, if Sam is down, than Emam is either dead or gone.
Dean grabs on to the fabric under his fingers and throws a punch with his other hand. Under his knuckles, he can feel a shoulder blade and cotton. His mind distantly registers the end of the electric sound and Sam’s sigh of relief. Dean doesn’t let go of his prey.
He has lost contact with the wall, but that doesn’t matter now. Just as long as he knows where his opponent is, Dean can fight him.
Taking advantage of the man’s surprise at being hit from behind, Dean grabs hold of his clothes and shoves him in the general direction he remembers leaving the wall. There is a rewarding sound of a face hitting stone and Dean moves in for seconds. He has no way to tell if the first hit was enough to render the man unconscious, but he is determined to keep a hold on the guy until he's sure the threat's neutralized.
Working both hands up the man’s form, Dean quickly finds the back of his thick head of hair, twists for a secure hold and sends the man’s skull colliding with the wall a second time.
The body under Dean’s hands collapses on the floor with a whimper and he can hear the clatter of the plastic gun hitting the boarded ground before the man does.
Dean kneels beside him, one hand keeping contact in case the man decides to stir, the other groping around. He needs to find Sam, he needs to find that damn gun, but Dean’s fingers hit nothing but dust and wood.
“Sam... Sam, you okay?” Dean whispers, hoping that his brother is close enough and conscious enough to answer him. Nothing. “He- man?”
No one answers him and Dean resists the temptation to run his hands through his hair and pull at it. He wants to let go of this guy and search his brother instead; he wants to be sure that there aren’t anymore attackers lying in wait, biding their time to finish him off when he least expects; he wants to see and feel safe enough to tell his heart that it can stop beating like a maniac now.
Dean does the only thing that is in his power to do at the moment. “Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio, infernalis adversarii, omnis...”
The man beneath his grip moans and shudders and Dean knows that he’s running out of time to finish the exorcism before the demon starts lashing out again. There really is no way to rush Latin, but Dean tries anyway, the ancient words fluently pouring out of his lips like water. He is two lines away from finishing when the man finally stirs and wakes up.
Too late Dean tries to shift his hold from the man’s chest to his arms. The hard shove that sends Dean flying backwards steals the breath from his lungs in one fell swipe. For a fragment of time, Dean’s feet lose contact with the ground and he is lost in every sense of direction. It’s hard to even tell up from down.
Dean’s back collides painfully with a wall of stone and he slides to the ground in a haze of pain. In between his throbbing body and the darkness, Dean can’t tell where his attacker is anymore. He lost track of everything but the stone at his back and the wood beneath his legs.
He can’t hear the man moving anymore, but something tells Dean that his enemy didn’t just gave up and leave. He is in there somewhere, circling, silent as a ghost.
A hand waves in front of his face and Dean recoils as he feels the air move. The guy’s just there, right beside him one moment, gone the next. And now he knows that he has the advantage of sight over Dean.
A hunter, however, doesn’t need to see the demon to send it packing back to Hell.
Dean swallows down the panic, saves it for later. He uses the wall as a crutch, pushing his rubbery legs into cooperation, forcing his tongue back into the Latin. He is two sentences away and the last words of the exorcism filter through the air with a yelled ‘Gloria Patri’ that multiples and fades away in the deepest corners of the temple in search of a demon to expel back to Hell.
There is no scream coming from the possessed man, there is no rushing of wind as the demon leaves, there isn’t even a single hair rising on Dean’s forearms at the static release of evil.
There is a faint gush of air to Dean’s left and he jumps to his feet, turning that way. Silence follows and he can’t hear anything past the beating of his own heart against his eardrums.
A rustle of clothing to the right and Dean throws a punch in that direction. His shoulder hurts when he hits nothing but air. This guy was playing with him, like a lazy cat corralling a blind mouse and Dean’s mouth is as dry as the desert outside.
In the part of his brain that isn’t furiously trying to figure out where his attacker is, Dean is going over the exorcism. Maybe he’d skipped some important word in his rush, maybe he’d mispronounced a couple.
Ever since the fateful event of being trapped in a cellar with a demon and having to rely on a torn up and half buried in rubble book, Dean had taken upon himself to finally sit down and memorize those damn things.
He knew six different exorcisms now... all by heart.
Dean’s sure that he said the right words. He can’t figure where it actually went wrong, or if it even went wrong at all; maybe the reason why the exorcism didn’t work was because there was nothing there to be exorcised in the first place.
The violent jab to his throat comes from neither the left nor the right. It comes from straight ahead and hits Dean like a hammer made of pointy knuckles. For a couple of frightening seconds, Dean can’t breathe, he can’t swallow, he can’t do a damn thing but clasp at his own neck and futilely try to open his airway from the outside in.
Dean stumbles forward; his fall is cut short by the wall that hits him
square in the forehead. Throwing his hands front, tips of all digits scrapping raw against rugged stone, Dean allows for the solid construction to ground him against the spinning world.
There is a second punch to his left kidney, fast as lightning, hard as rock. This one brings tears to Dean’s eyes, but the pain is so sharp and overwhelming that his throat opens enough to let out a gasp and allows a breath in.
Dean’s hands reach out as he curls around himself, trying to make himself smaller; trying to stop whatever hit comes next with his stretched hands.
It doesn’t work.
When the fist finds his right kidney next, Dean knows he’ll be pissing blood for at least a week after this. Unable to hold himself up any longer, Dean falls to his knees and wonders why the man doesn’t just finish him off, delivers the final blow.
And that’s when he realizes that he knows exactly where is attacker will hit next.
The pattern isn’t exactly inventive, but it’s effective enough to be well known and used by most hand-to-hand fighters and soldiers around the world. Dean figures this guy must fit in one of those groups.
John taught him and Sam this pattern too, amongst others. Block airway; keep them gasping for air. Quick jabs to both kidneys; send them to their knees. And when they’re in position, single blow to the back of the head; render them unconscious.
Knowledge gives Dean power. He dodges to the left and grabs the wrist of the man who was just about to punch him in the base of the neck. The hunter takes no risks this time.
Dean twists the man’s arm until he hears a snap and when the man voices his pain and its easier to pinpoint where his mouth is, Dean thrusts his legs up, rises and lands an open handed blow on the man’s nose, one that is guaranteed to send bone straight in to brain.
When he lets go, Dean knows it’s a dead weight that hits the ground.
The hand that grabs his shoulder from behind is huge and, still riding the wave of adrenaline and pain, Dean quickly turns around and lets his fist fly aimlessly. There is a small moment of pure content when he
feels his knuckles make contact with someone’s face.
“Ow! Geesh, Dean... it’s me! Take it easy,” Sam breathes out, voice gruff and contained.
Dean recoils at the sound, flesh hitting flesh feeling like it’s his own that was hit. His body is humming, eager to dish out the rest of the fighting instinct that’s built up ever since he threw the first blind punch. His mind, however, pulls back with all the breaks on, warning him that the fight is over and he just threw one punch too many. The change from full speed ahead to a complete stop is dizzying.
“Whoa, there... easy,” Sam voices, sounding near and softer. The hand moves from Dean’s shoulder to his forearm, morphing from huge and menacing to warm and protective. “I got you... are you hurt?”
“Sammy? Oh, shit! I’m sorry... are you okay? Where did I hit you?” Dean starts, the words pouring out of his mouth at the same speed his heart is pumping inside his chest. “Who are these people? What the hell happened here?”
There is a click of a flashlight being turned on and for a second Dean wonders if it’s broken, because nothing happens.
Sam’s hand is patting him down as he speaks, as if Dean’s lack of sight translates in a lack of feeling as well. “I don’t know... they were just waiting for us,’ Sam says, two fingers pushing Dean’s hair out of the way. “You’re bleeding.”
Dean scrunches his eyebrows in confusion, the movement awakening the pain in the gash in his forehead. “I’m fine,” he presses on, fumbling to catch Sam’s prodding fingers and stop him. “Were they demons? Did you manage to exorcise any of them? I tried and-“
“They were just human, all of them,” Sam assures him, confirming what Dean already suspected.
Sam takes a couple of seconds to reply. Dean only fought one, but Sam has been talking plural all along, so he figures there’s more.
“Three,” Sam confirms. “I killed one with the knife. There’s another with his neck broke -I think that happened when I was zapped- and the third one... I think you smashed his nose half way into his brain,” Sam relates softly. “They’re all dead.”
Dean sighs, his stomach recoiling from the idea of more blood on his and Sam’s hands. It’s bad enough when they’re forced to kill the most of the humans that demons possess... “Cas said a demon had him... why are these people fighting for the demon side? It makes no sense,” Dean thinks out loud. Asmodeus, Cas had called him. Were demons recruiting humans from the fringes of society like Zachariah had started doing?
There’s a soft sound of heavy limbs being moved around and muffled noises as Sam shifts something around.
“They have a tattoo,” Sam whispers. Silence follows, more rustling of clothing. The metallic clink of the flashlight being set on the floor. “All three of them have the same tattoo on their wrist.”
“Like the brands on those ghosts that Lilith raised as witness?”
“No, regular tattoos... ink looks old too, like they were made a good few years ago.”
Another pause and Dean can easily imagine his tall brother crouching on the ground; head tilted to the side as he carefully studies the marks on the dead guys.
“What does it look like?”
“Circular... a serpent biting its own tail... and what looks like a pentagram inside,” Sam whispers, voice lost in thought as he tries to figure out the mark. “Some of the elements in it are pretty familiar, but I have no idea what they mean in this context—“
“Cas mentioned a demon named Asmodeus... think that could be his brand? That he somehow recruited these men to do his dirty work for him? Branded them?”
“I don’t know,” Sam says. He sounds as weary and tired as an eighty- year-old man. Dean knows exactly how that feels. “I saw something at the back of the temple... be right back, okay?”
Dean doesn’t bother to answer. Sam wasn’t really looking for approval, his footsteps hurrying away even before he finishes talking.
Reaching out his hand, Dean searches for something solid he can use to guide him to the floor. Now that the adrenaline has finally stopped pumping, his legs are as solid as jello and there’s cold sweat pooling at
the base of his neck.
Three men. Three more lives wasted because of a war that half of these people didn’t even know they were fighting. Why? Why were these guys waiting for him? Why hadn’t Cas warned them about this?
a distance, Dean can hear the sound of a plastic tarp being pushed
aside, crackling and crushing like dry leaves. He hopes that Sam
doesn’t find any more trouble in wherever he’s going, because
Dean really doubts he can move right now.
There’s no one else around. In the gloom of the temple, Sam’s flashlight beam cuts through the darkness like a hot knife through cold butter. Three dead guys, one pasty white brother and a lot of empty space.
Emam is no where to be found and Sam figures that, like he had feared, the older man turned tail and run as soon as he smelled trouble. He probably wasn’t even around long enough to see that these weren’t even demons at all. Just regular humans. Trying to kill them.
The younger Winchester can’t really bring himself to blame the Egyptian. It’s one thing to pay your debts, or at least the ones he thought he owed Bobby. It was another thing to pay them with your life.
But the fact of the matter is, the guys who attacked them, weren’t even trying to kill them. And that just doesn’t fit anywhere in Sam’s logic. Why would demons, lay a trap for him and Dean, as this one so obviously had been, and send humans to do their work?
And taser guns? Were Lucifer’s orders to not harm his vessel that specific that no lethal weapons were to be used against him? But on the other hand, there was no way these guys could’ve guessed that Dean would be staying outside, which meant that those tasers were meant for Dean as well. Was the plan to capture them both? What for?
Of course, there was another option that Sam’s brain kept pushing that he stubbornly kept refusing to acknowledge.
The only source of information that they have so far that this is the
work of demons, are Cas’s appearances in Dean’s dreams. Sam doubts very much that the angel would point his finger at demons unless he was sure of what he was saying and he doubts even more that humans would be able to confuse an angel into misinterpreting such a thing.
Which means that either there were no demons involved and Cas lied about it or there are demons involved and whoever had showed up in Dean’s dream wasn’t Cas at all.
The idea alone sends shivers up Sam’s back. It’s bad enough to have two powerful supernatural beings coveting for their bodies... but to also have their minds assaulted and invaded so callously?
The memory of Lucifer using his memories and Jessica’s image to woo him still left a bad taste in Sam’s mouth whenever his mind betrayed him into remembering that.
The memory, however, serves its purpose whenever it pops up. It reminds Sam why he is fighting, why he can’t stop and give up and just say ‘yes’. As far as he knows, Michael hasn’t used the same trick on Dean, but it’s impossible to be sure.
His hold on the bloody knife grows tighter as Sam moves to the end of the hall.
The faint blue glow that he’s notice before is still shimmering from behind the see-through plastic tarp. Sam’s fingers, coated with first man’s blood, leave a red trail behind when he pushes the tarp aside.
He has no illusions about whether or not he’ll find Cas in there. Demons or no demons, there is no way that they would leave an angel with just three guards. So, it comes as no surprise when the space behind the tarp reveals its emptiness. There’s a battery-operated lamp hanging from above, smashed to pieces, construction materials, some old shoes, a pair of short benches and one discarded work-glove. The blue glow that had attracted Sam there is coming from a small, silver cased laptop, sitting on top of one of the stools.
Sam blinks against the oddity of such a modern piece of technology lying in the middle of a place that was built centuries before. There is no active screensaver and the only thing on the screen is a grainy photo of Dean. Behind it, Sam can see the edges of another blown up picture. He clicks on it, nothing more than a faint desire to confirm what he already knows that picture will show. It still comes across as a surprise when Sam sees himself on the computer too.
Two badly shot pictures of them, blurry and hardly focused. But there
is no mistaking the faces or the place where they were taken.
Sam remembers sitting on that red-wine colored couch, thinking that he wanted nothing more than to sink into its comfortable stuffing and disappear from existence, if only for a little while. He had been waiting for Dean to change into his new clothes, biting on his nails to stop himself from charging into the room where Dean was and offer a helping hand. Apparently, he’d been so preoccupied with everything that was going on that he’d completely missed when someone had taken a photo of him.
Dean’s is slightly more disturbing. He is staring right at the camera, eyes impossibly large and lost. Sam’s sure that Dean had no clue that he was being photographed anymore than he did. Both of them blinded to the reality that someone had been spying on them.
Slapping the laptop closed and holding it under his arm, Sam glances at his watch. Twenty-five minutes have gone by since they came in. They needed to get out of there. Fast.
Sparing one last glance at the empty room and making sure that there is nothing of use left, Sam hurries back to his brother. If the guards were to arrive and find them with three dead bodies... there is not one reasonable explanation for it that Sam can think of, even if he spoke the language.
Dean looks ashen in the flashlight glow. He is sitting down, eyes closed and his back pressed against one of the pillars, neck extended so that his head can take advantage of the stone support. His right foot is barely an inch away from the face of the guy who’s throat Sam slashed and the blood pooling on the floor has already started to soak through Dean’s jeans.
“You okay?” Sam whispers, making sure to make some noise before touching his brother’s shoulder. His jaw is still smarting from the last time he forgot that, for now, Dean can’t see him coming.
Dean blinks sluggishly and looks around. The gash on his forehead has almost stopped bleeding completely, but the dirty red that trickled down his face makes for an ugly contrast in Dean’s skin. When his eyes settle, his brother misses Sam’s position for a whole foot.
“I’m good... what did ya find?” Dean asks the wall.
“Yeah, you look just fine,” Sam mumbles, tugging his brother’s arm up. “Found a computer, maybe we’ll be able to find something about these guys from here. Can you get up? We need to get out of here.”
Sam sighs. “I don’t think Cas was ever here,” he shares with Dean. “And Emam—“
“Cut tail and ran?” Dean guesses.
“Looks like it. That or—“ Sam stops himself. The clothes that Dean’s wearing now are exactly the same that he saw in the picture on the laptop. These are new clothes, bought only hours before. The only way anyone could have a picture of Dean that recent was if they’d been inside Emam’s house. Which gives them a really short list of suspects. “Dean, these guys were waiting specifically for us. They had a computer with our pictures, photos taken here, in Egypt,” Sam whispers, even though there is no one there but Dean to hear. “I think they were taken inside Emam’s house.”
“What are you saying? That He-man sold us out? Bobby’s friend?”
Sam runs a hand through his hair. “I don’t know... maybe? It certainly doesn’t look all that good for him--” Sam stops when he feels Dean’s hand on his arm, squeezing hard.
“Sam—Bobby! We left Bobby alone and if this guy is working for the other side...”
Sam swallows the bile that jumps to his mouth. Dean’s right. Bobby trusts this guy and if Emam isn’t with them, odds are he went back to the older hunter. “Come on! Let’s go!”
They don’t get far, though. The guard is already outside.
There is a beam of a flashlight dancing on the ground, beyond the entrance of the temple, and they can hear the bark of the guard’s dog from above.
Sam kills his own light, hoping that he isn’t too late, and grabs Dean, holding a hand over his brother’s mouth. There is no time to warn him about the why, but Sam knows his brother can guess what is happening when he relaxes under Sam’s touch and nods.
They press themselves against the thick walls of the doorway and wait.
For a couple of long minutes, there is no other sound other than their
soft breathing and the beating of their hearts as Sam and Dean wait for the guard to finish his round from above and go about his business.
With every second that trickles by, they know that Bobby is alone and might need them. If Emam was the one who betrayed them; if he went back to Bobby; if Bobby was a target just like them... the time that they are wasting, cowering against a doorway, might cost the older man his life.
One more minute goes by. Two. Sam keeps one hand on Dean’s arm, keeping his brother grounded, keeping him still. He can see by the way Dean’s fingers are nervously clenching at his clothes that he is eager to get moving, to race back to Bobby and make sure that everything is okay. Through Sam’s mind pass the most crazy ideas, as he pictures Dean escaping through his fingers and racing into to the open, only to be shot dead by an over zealous guard with an automatic weapon and a trigger happy finger.
When the powerful light beam disappears and the open space ahead of them is once again plunged back into darkness, Sam sighs in relief and squeezes Dean’s arm reassuringly. It’s time to go.
They have another thirty minutes until the guards on the ground make their rounds. They only need five to make their way back.
The parking lot is empty. The car they arrived in had been the only one there and now all that Sam can see is open ground and date trees. He says nothing as they make their way to the shop they broke into, already knowing what he’ll find there. Or rather, what he won’t.
“What? What is it? Is Bobby okay?” Dean whispers, his voice barely hiding the panic.
Panic. The feeling grows deep inside Sam’s chest before he can force himself to say the words. He knows the impact they will have on his brother and he can’t think of a single thing to say that will ease that pain.
“He’s gone,” Sam simply says. “They’re both gone.”
Chapter Six: Alone
The weight of responsibility on Sam’s shoulders is hard to bear.
Bobby’s gone. The lack of signs of a struggle inside the store only adds to Sam’s certainty that Emam is somehow involved, catching Bobby unaware.
Outside, the mess of tire tracks makes it impossible to figure out which direction they drove off. The old truck in which they arrived left nothing more than a faint oil stain on the ground and a set of wheel imprints that dissolve into the desert a couple of feet away from where it’d been parked.
The one distinct set of tracks that Sam can make out is the one he wishes was missing. But there is no ignoring the twin, thin indentations in the sand caused by the wheels of Bobby’s chair. One set going into the shop; one set coming out.
Sam leaves Dean standing by the shop’s entry and follows the parallel lines. His heart starts skipping beats when he realizes that the tracks don’t stop in the parking space. Instead, the lines go on forward, moving straight ahead until they disappear over the edge. Beyond that, there’s nothing but the quiet waters of the lake.
Racing the last few yards to the edge, Sam stops himself short of plunging in, in a desperate attempt to rescue Bobby. There is no point. Whatever events occurred there, they happened some time ago, long enough for Bobby to have drowned already.
Tears swimming in his eyes, Sam glances back at his brother, wondering how the hell he is going to tell Dean that Bobby is dead. Because of them. Just like Ellen and Jo. For a minute there, Sam wants nothing more than to step into those dark waters and disappear himself.
He can’t though. Dean, the one who has always been there for him, the one solid rock throughout their fucked up lives, needs him.
Doesn’t make it any easier to walk back to Dean though. Sam keeps his head down, telling himself that he’s looking for some clue to who these people might be, that he’s not doing it because he can’t face Dean’s blind gaze.
It surprises Sam when his avoidance techniques actually produce something useful. He finds out that the lines of Bobby’s chair, the ones that told him that their friend was now resting at the bottom of a lake, lied.
It’s faint and the lack of proper light doesn’t help, but Sam is sure that what he’s seeing isn’t just a product of a brain that wishes more than anything to make this right and say that Bobby’s still alive. The marks, however, are impossible to misread a second time. Beyond the point where the car used to be, in the direction of the shop, the tracks are almost three times deeper than the lines that lead from the car to the edge.
Sam sighs in relief, realizing what the shallower marks mean. The chair was empty when it made its final journey to the bottom of the lake. And even though that means that Bobby is probably now in the hands of the same people that tried to capture them at the temple, at least he’s still alive.
Now it’s just a matter of finding a way out of there that doesn’t involve the back of a police van, and figuring out a way to get Bobby and Cas back.
Sam rakes a hand through his hair. What they need now is a plan.
“They took Bobby,” Sam announces as soon as he is close enough to say it quietly. It sounds infinite times better than ‘Bobby is dead’, but Dean still responds with a slump of his shoulders. “They dumped his wheelchair in the lake. Emam’s car is gone.”
“Which means you were right... He-man sold us out,” Dean concludes, his hands closing in tight fists that leave his knuckles white and taunt. If he hadn’t memorized the proper way to say the man’s name before, now he doesn’t even bother. Not when the Egyptian has just lost all of Dean’s respect. There’s few things in Dean’s book that come in lower than betraying a friend’s trust. “The man knows what is like to be possessed... why the hell would he be helping a demon?”
“I don’t know,” Sam whispers. It tastes like a lie in his lips. He knows of plenty of reasons to side with a demon. He spent more than a year listing them and using them to convince himself that he was doing the
right thing by working with Ruby. Family. Love. Pride.
Take your pick and apply like smoothing salve over burning shame. Sam knows it works and he knows that, whatever reasons Emam has, it might be too late when he finally realizes that they are the wrong ones.
“Try Bobby’s cell phone,” Sam says. “I don’t see it anywhere... maybe it’s still with him,” he offers hopefully.
The phones had been bought in a street market, just hours before. Two cell phones, cheap and disposable. One for Sam and Dean, the other for Bobby. Each with only one number programmed into it, making it easier to maintain contact between the three of them. Glorified walkie-talkies, Bobby had called them.
watches as Dean uses his thumb to locate the cell phone screen and
hit ‘1’ on the speed dial, bottom lip disappearing under his
teeth as he bites down his anxiety.
The fact that the phone call actually connects only registers when Dean figures that he’s not imagining the ringing tone. In reality, he was half expecting to hear Bobby’s phone ringing from somewhere behind a shelf, still inside the shop or, more likely, to not ring at all, tossed into the water alongside the wheelchair.
For a fleeting moment, Dean fools himself into thinking that they are over-reacting and that Emam probably just panicked, grabbed Bobby and the two of them had run off to avoid being caught.
When the ringing tone stops Dean stops breathing. He can hear someone on the other side of the connection, puffs of air colliding with the receiver. “Bobby?” He ventures. “Bobby, you okay?”
“Winchester,” a man answers. The single word is laden with a thick accent and a faint note of satisfaction.
It’s definitely not Bobby.
“Who are you? Where’s Bobby?”
“The man in the wheelchair is well. He will continue to be well if you and your brother do exactly as you are told.”
The urge to squeeze the cell phone in his hand until there is nothing left of it but crumbled plastic is sudden and almost uncontrollable. Only the notion that this is their only link with Bobby stops Dean’s actions. The frustration, however, finds other escape routes.
“Fuck that shit, you fucker! I wanna talk to Bobby! Right the fuck now!”
The silence on the other side stretches for long enough that Dean wonders if his outburst has cost them Bobby. He bites on his lip and feels Sam, who has been quiet as mouse so far, stepping closer to him. Sam’s ear touches the fingers of the hand Dean is using to hold the phone up and his shoulder presses against Dean’s. The warmth is more than welcome.
There is a muffled, rapid fire of Arabic words on the other side of the connection, followed by a sound that is unmistakable in any language. The crack of a breaking bone.
Dean’s stomach clenches when he hears the sharp intake of breath and recognizes the voice behind the curse that follows. “So help me God... if you hurt him, I’ll—“ Dean hisses into the phone, the words half bitten against the anger in his tone.
In the background, Dean can still hear Bobby, swearing in Arabic now, making sure that these guys know exactly what he’s calling them and their mothers.
“The question is not ‘if I hurt him’, Winchester,” the same voice replies from the other side. “The question is how much more he hurts before you start to listen?”
“I’m listening,” Dean voices. The words taste like battery acid in his tongue.
”Good... there is a special item that I need you to find and give to me. If
you do, Singer will live.”
“What ‘special item’? Who are you people?”
“Who we are is no concern to you. Your concern is only to find the Tabut Al-‘ahd. You have two days. If you fail to—“
“I have to find the what?!” Dean cuts in, too lost in the nonsense of it all to even consider the consequences to his rash actions. But all of a sudden he is finding himself in the middle of a hostage negotiation with a Middle-Eastern hostile group, being blackmailed into doing something that, for all he knows, might be drugs or weapons smuggling or some other fucked up shit... that is a whole other kind of insane that neither he nor Sam are used to dealing with. It’s bad enough that they’ve helped Lucifer walk the Earth. They don’t need to get involved with terrorists to make it end faster. “Look, pal... if this is some sort of—“
“You know it as Ark of Covenant,” the man translates. “You have forty- eight hours. Use them wisely.”
“The— Are you fucking insane? How am I supposed to know where that is? No one has ever even—“ Dean stops when he realizes that he has been talking to dead air for the last couple of seconds. “Fuck!”
“Did he just say what I think he said?” Sam asks. Dean can hear the same disbelief in his voice that he himself feels. It’s easy to imagine the puzzled look in Sam’s face too. “They can’t possibly be serious, right?”
Dean seems to have forgotten the cell phone in his hand. Sam pries it off, the plastic warm from the grip his brother was keeping on it, and looks at the screen. The blank square offers no answers other than telling him that it is four in the morning. The sun will be up in an hour or so.
“The Ark...” Dean mutters. “They actually expect us to find the Ark of Covenant, just like that, with the snap of two fingers,” Dean mutters. He is shaking his head, a look of complete astonishment on his face. “That thing doesn’t even exist!”
Sam twists his nose.
“There’s lore enough about the actual Ark to make people wonder, Dean—“
“Wonder what? Whether the Nazis stole the Ark from Indiana Jones after all? Even if it does exist, people have been looking for it for centuries, Sam... how are we suppose to find it in two days?”
Sam let out a puff of air. He heard the man on the other side of the phone too. There had been a conviction in his voice that was scary. The man seemed to firmly believe that they could do the impossible in the amount of time they’d been given.
And when the deadline ended and they still couldn’t produce the Ark, the man would probably think that they were trying to fool him, rather than thinking the more logical explanation of it simply being impossible.
Either way, Bobby will be the one paying the consequences of their actions and neither he nor Dean can accept that.
“We need figure out who these people are. Maybe even try to find a replica of the Ark...” Sam offers. “If we show up empty handed, we won’t stand a chance of rescuing Bobby.”
Sam watches as Dean palms the shelves behind him and follows them until he can feel the fresh air from outside. The white light of the bright moon hits him as soon as Dean passes through the threshold and just as fast he looks as pale as a wax figure. The blood on the side of face seems black in the silver light and Sam reminds himself that he should get something to clean that.
There is no first aid kit that he can find. However, a miniature bottle of some booze that Sam can’t read the name of reveals itself to have, amongst other things, a lovely thirty percent of alcohol. It’s enough to get the job done.
He cracks it open and dumps some on a rolled up cotton shirt that bares a drawing of a camel with the familiar catch phrase of ‘Got Milk?’ under its white coated upper lip. “Hold still,” Sam says. It’s the only warning they need between one another for something painful.
Dean barely hisses when Sam presses the booze-covered shirt over the gash in his forehead.
“He didn’t say a thing about Cas,” Dean finally whispers. “I don’t get it... we come here because Cas is captive and in danger and these people don’t even open their mouths to mention him.”
“Maybe we’re dealing with two separate groups,” Sam volunteers. He can’t see how that can even be possible. How two separate and unrelated groups with different objectives would just happen to chose the same time and place to screw them over.
Then again... several entities trying to get a piece of them all at once has been pretty much their definition of life for the past year. “Maybe,” Sam continues, “whoever has Bobby doesn’t even know Castiel exists...”
Dean is shaking his head even before Sam stops talking. “No. It’s the same group,” he says with a certainty that tells Sam that he’s missing something.
“How can you be so sure?”
“The Ark... I hadn’t associated it before, but now,” Dean voices. His hand scratches absentmindedly at the blood congealing on the side of his face, red flakes collecting under Dean’s nails. “In the dreams I’ve been having, where Cas is... dying... the Ark is there.”
Sam walks to his brother, standing right in front of him. He can tell when Dean senses the proximity and half expects Dean’s eyes to shift up and focus on his face. Dean’s gaze, however, remains blank; staring right through him, like Sam doesn’t even exist.
“You never mentioned that part before,” Sam points out, curious.
“Well, I hadn’t thought much about it. I mean... it was just a wooden box with two angels on the lid...”
Sam has no idea why Castiel would show the Ark to his brother in a dream. He’s sure it hadn’t been inside the temple, so what was the point of leading them straight to this place when neither angel nor Ark were there?
“Well, first things first,” Sam said, a hand pushing his hair back. It falls right back to cover his eyes. “We need to find a way to get out of here. I bet the real owner of this shop will be showing up soon to open it for business, so it’s not like we can stay here much longer,” he goes on, voicing their non-options like it’s a helpful thing. “I didn’t see any cars outside that we can hotwire and walking is clearly out of the question—“
“Do you even know your way back?”
The question sounds like a challenge, until Sam realizes that his brother is posing a reasonable doubt. Dean has always been the one to know every route and path from here to nowhere in the States. Riding shotgun on their father’s multiple trips around the country through out their entire childhood had its advantages.
Sam has a good sense of direction, he knows that. He wouldn’t be much of a hunter if he didn’t. But there is no way he can retrace their way back to Emam’s town and their stuff.
They drove for hours and as far as Sam noticed, all the signs and directions had been in Arabic. Plus, he had trusted implicitly in Emam and Bobby’s direction, choosing to spend the trip worrying about his blind brother more than he had paid attention to which roads they were traveling.
“No... you’re right,” Sam confesses with a sigh. “We could wait for the morning and try our luck with one of the tourist buses, say we got lost, robbed, something...”
“You think the cops won’t be waiting for us as soon as we hit town? And when they clue in on the fact that we’re not even supposed to be on the country? Not to mention the three dead bodies we just left behind,” Dean adds with a tired sigh. “We might as well go to the guards right now and ask for a ride to prison with them.”
Sam closes his hands into fists, cracking every knuckle, one at a time. It’s an annoying sound, eerie, and something that Sam only does when he’s lost in thought and lacks a pen to play with. For a time, that’s the only sound that can be heard. The silence, in such a deserted place and with such weight pressing down on them, feels like the feet of an overweight elephant.
turns away from Sam, cocking his head to the side and facing the end
of the parking space. Sam’s first instinct is to look in that
direction, trying to see what caught his brother’s attention.
Beyond the last date tree, however, there is nothing but the desert.
The bark of a dog carries softly through the silence, a distant sound that seems to waver in and out of existence with the occasional breath of wind.
The first time Dean had heard it, he was still inside the shop, phone clenched in his palm and the man’s menacing words still ringing in his ears. He dismissed it then, thinking that perhaps it’s just the guard’s dog, barking at some desert rat.
As soon as he steps outside, though, the occasional single bark becomes more distinct and less random. A deep, growling sound that calls to attention. Dean shifts his head, the sound coming clearly from the left. He has no idea why the seemingly random dog barks grab his interest so fiercely, but Dean finds himself listening for the next bark. Maybe it’s the same dog from before, at the temple’s doorway, Mile- Oh’s look-alike.
It had to be a sign of some sort. Before, that dog had alerted him to what was happening inside the temple, making sure that Dean got there in time to help Sam. It was, more than likely, just a reaction to the sounds of struggle, that the animal would have probably heard a lot better than Dean, but the hunter in him couldn’t help but at least consider the animal’s presence as a good omen.
When the next bark fades away, it’s very faint sound of laughing voices and music that grabs Dean’s attention instead.
He searches around for Sam’s arm, knowing his brother is close enough to easily reach him. When his fingers brush against clothing, Dean grabs on tight. “Do you hear that?” he asks Sam. There’s a big chance that this is nothing more than the guards, chatting at a distance. Or even the first of the shop owners, coming to start business.
“Hear wha—“ Sam stops and Dean’s breath freezes in his chest. Sam’s arm under his touch isn’t tense, so Dean figures his silence is a good thing.
“Desert people. Bedouins, I think,” Sam whispers. “There’s a group of them camped just on the edge of the parking lot... how did you--?”
Dean shrugs. He has no idea how far the camp is, but Sam sounds impressed. Saying that a dog told him would just sound nutty, but right now, Dean wishes that Mile-Oh is near enough to be properly thanked with a good head rub.
“We could try get a ride from them,” Dean suggests instead.
“From Bedouins? How are we even gonna ask them?” Sam asks, puzzlement written all over his tone.
“Try the puppy dog eyes thingy... that hardly needs translation.”
Sam’s silent for a while, the sarcastic response absent. When his presence is gone from his side, Dean wonders what the hell he said wrong and what Sam’s off to do.
returns quickly though, a lighter step to his gait. “Let’s go...
I found a way to translate the puppy dog eyes thingy,” Sam says
lightly, a hint of playfulness in his voice.
The group of four men, excitably talking around the fire, grows silent as soon as Sam and Dean near them.
The camels form a near circle around the men, three animals sitting on their bony legs, long eyelashes closed over sleepy eyes. Two others are up, lazily chewing on something that makes their jaws work from side to side, like old typewriters.
The clothing that this group of Bedouins wears is a study in contradictions. They all have on long tunics, much like the one Sam saw Emam wearing before, but underneath, he catches a glimpse of jeans; the fabric of the tunics seems almost home made, crude, but sturdy and warm enough to protect them from the chill of the night, but under the hem of their sleeves, Sam can see a digital watch on at least two of the men.
Their ages are hard to gauge, the youngest looking about Dean’s age and the oldest about twice that. Family members, it looks like, from the resemblances Sam can catch in the shape of their eyes and noses.
One is wearing a fez, a dark, thin wool one; the others cover their heads with simple cloths of cotton fabric intricately wrapped around their skulls. Their skin, almost brown in the faint light of the pre- dawn, looks weatherworn and rugged, like well-tanned pieces of leather.
Two colorful hookahs, with twin tubes leading out of each one like limp limbs, stand in the middle of the group, bluish smoke rising in the air every time one of the men takes a leisurely smoke out of his own hose tip. There is a sweet, fruity smell filling the air. Strawberries. Sam realizes that the pipe smoke smells of strawberries.
Four pairs of dark eyes focus on the two non-Egyptian men, patiently waiting for them to state their business.
Sam fumbles with the dictionary. On the brisk walk there - the speed somewhat hindered by his need to guide Dean carefully over the rocky ground- he'd skimmed through the initial pages, finding at least a greeting phrase. When asking for favors, it always helped to come across as at least attempting to be polite.
Before opening his mouth, Sam clears his throat, wondering how the hell is he going to pull this off. “Salam,” he offers. To his ears, it sounds too close to Salem for it to be right, but the men, at least, don’t immediately start laughing in his face. That’s a good start. Instead, they nod and one offers a raspy ‘Shallam’ back at him.
Looking furiously through the small book, Sam tries to locate the other two words that he needs to get out. The name of the nearest city. And ‘Please’. “Aswan, mumken,” Sam struggles on, the words feeling wrong in his mouth. He just hopes that they sound right enough to get the message across to the men staring at them like they’re both insane.
The logs burning in the fire crackle and hiss and Sam repeats a heartfelt ‘please’ when the first one brings no results. The Bedouin men exchange a couple of words between them, but their faces are unreadable. Sam feels a small amount of success at the fact that they haven’t just shooed him and Dean out of their camp.
Dean is silent by his side, head cocked to the side as he too listens to the whispered conversation. They can’t understand a word of it, but the tone in which words are said is usually a good clue. And what the tone of that conversation is telling Sam and Dean is that these men don’t feel much inclined to help the two strangers, foreigners that came out of nowhere to disturb their beginning of day.
“Offer them something,” Dean whispers low enough that only Sam can hear him. “It’s not like they’re gonna fulfill your every whim and request just because you asked nicely.”
Sam has considered that, he honestly has. But they have no money on them, nothing of value. The watches on their wrists are so cheap that the men would probably get offended if Sam tried to offer them as payment and the cell phone is even crappier.
The laptop, hidden from view beneath his jacket, burns against Sam’s ribs. It’s the only thing of worth that they have, but right now, it’s too
valuable to be traded off for a simple ride. Right now, it’s almost as priceless as Bobby’s and Cas’s lives.
It takes Sam a second to realize that the mood of the conversation has changed since Dean spoke. Gone are the snickers and short, angry words. A feeling of curiosity and awe has entered the discussion and Sam feels the fine hairs at the back of his neck rising up. Dean's movement has shifted the interest of the small group of men from the two Winchesters to just Dean and they are all staring at him now with a kind of strange fascination that Sam does not like one bit.
These days, when Dean draws attention to himself, no matter how innocently, things always end up going badly. It makes Sam miss the times when the only heads Dean would turn with his presence were those of women –and on a couple of embarrassing occasions, men as well- at bars. Or gas stations. Or that one time at a police station.
One of the Bedouins, the older of the small group, seems to be taking a particularly keen interest in Dean, one eye fixed unwaveringly on the older Winchester. It's evident in how his thoughtful gaze never shifts, even as he talks with the others and nods his head. The man’s interest doesn’t feel hostile in any way, but Sam can’t help but see it as intrusive. Dean’s not even aware of how closely he’s being study and that, somehow, makes it all the more wrong.
Uncomfortable with where this whole situation seems to be heading, Sam is about to throw the group a heartfelt ‘never mind’ and get his brother away from there, when the one staring at Dean, gets up and speaks.
“You... American, yes?” he asks in a heavy accented voice.
Sam nods, waiting to see where this is headed. It can be something as harmless as wanting a pack of cigarettes or as outrageous as wanting to exchange his brother for a couple of camels. By his side, Sam can see Dean turning, adjusting his stance so that he’s facing the man who spoke.
Something about the Bedouin’s tone of voice, his body language, and Sam begins to see the cigarettes possibility moving further and further away.
“The blind one...” the man says, pointing to Dean. “Family?”
Sam can feel Dean tensing by his side, finally catching on to the unusual interest he's garnered.
“The blind one,” Dean almost spells, sarcasm on every single letter, “can hear just fine and the tall one is my brother.”
Even before Dean finishes his laden sentence, Sam is already figuring their odds in a fight against the four men, in case they decide to take offense over Dean’s tone. They look fit, and Sam will have to compensate for Dean’s lack of sight but—
The man, however, is smiling rather than looking ready to kick their asses. “Name is Azeem,” the Bedouin man says, right hand splayed over his chest. “My brothers: Hakim, Jarib and Fadil,” he goes on, eliciting a touch to the heart from each of the other men as he says their names. “Is custom for my people to give... help to who asks.”
The man sounds sincere enough, but if it wasn’t for the fact that they are in desperate need to get out of there, Sam would’ve still turned his back on the group of men. He hadn’t expected the interest that Dean had set off in the group of men. He didn’t like it one bit. The fact that they haven’t yet got around to act on it isn’t exactly a source of relief to Sam.
“We’d appreciate it,” Sam starts, words measured and carefully planned. “If you could take us as far as Aswan, I’m sure we can arrange for some sort of payment for your troub—“
Azeem’s extended finger stops Sam’s offer. “The amulet...” he points at Dean’s neck. “You find it?”
The question throws Sam completely off. Of all the things that he would expect the Egyptian man to be interested in...
Without his eyes to recognize how conspicuous his actions are, Dean grabs for the pendant hanging from his neck, hiding the golden, horned head from view. “It was a gift... and no, you can’t have it,” Dean informs, skipping ahead a few lines to make sure that the man doesn’t ask for the amulet as payment.
The man studies the way Dean’s fingers clench protectively around the pendant, his gaze long enough and hard enough that even Dean realizes that he is being watched. He shifts uncomfortably on his feet and Sam tries to resist the urge to just step in and hide Dean from the man’s eyes altogether.
Azeem’s face finally splits into another smile that manages to take ten
years from his age and a lot of points from his creep-factor. Sam’s not sure if that’s reassuring or even more disturbing.
“I would never part you from your gift. Our help... is free,” Azeem says.
Sam doesn’t know enough about desert people to know if the man is telling the truth or just luring them into some misguided sense of safety before turning on them. A ride for free certainly sounds too good to be true.
“Then why the interest?” Sam bluntly asks.
Azeem stops, the smile fading into something deeper, more serene and closer to content than joy. “Is beautiful piece... I am honored to lay my eyes on it.”
The man is lying. Sam knows it as well as he knows his shoe size, but the fact that he’s lying tells Sam that there’s information to be gathered there. Between Bobby’s contention that the amulet is nothing more than a shiny trinket and Castiel’s opposite revelation that it is a lightning-rod for God, Sam is sure that the truth must lie somewhere in between.
“Good,” Dean voices with a smile. “When can we leave?”
To anyone looking, Dean seems at ease and happy as a clam with the events unfolding around him. Sam, however, can see how fake and forced the smile is. Dean too has caught onto the man’s deceit, but either because they have no other choice or because he too is curious, Dean seems willing to play along and see where they get to.
“Ever been on a jamal?” Azeem asks, pointing at the dozing animals nearby.
Unlike Sam, who has the visual aid of Azeem’s finger to know what he’s talking about, Dean just lets his eyebrows talk for him.
“I’ve been on a Jasmine,” Dean offers with an annoyed leer. “Does that count?”
The look of confusion on Azeem’s face gets lost, because no one is paying attention to him.
Sam leans toward Dean and says quietly, “He means the camels...” Then to Azeem and the rest he adds, “And no... can’t say that I have. Neither of us has.”
Azeem nods and gestures for them to follow him as he turns. Sam grabs Dean’s forearm, gently urging his brother along as they move over to where one of the animals is standing. At six foot and four inches, Sam is the only one who can see eye to eye with the camel. The animal’s big brown eyes focus on him without much enthusiasm and, with a bat of ridiculously long lashes, quickly dismisses him as uninteresting.
The Bedouin grabs the burled rope around the camel’s neck and pulls his head down to whisper a couple of words on the animal’s dog-like ears. The camel’s nostrils flare up once and then he graciously folds on himself until he’s kneeling on the ground, cutting his height by half.
“Trust animal. He knows desert better,” the man advises, holding the camel still and waiting for one of them to climb on.
“Any chance you have a car hidden somewhere?” Dean ventures, his hand reaching out to touch the animal’s coarse and short hair.
No such luck, though.
“Hold on tight,” Sam advises, satisfied to see Dean’s grip on the handle tighten. He’s seen the sharp movements that the camel made to change positions and can only assume it will feel like a roller coaster ride to whoever sits atop as the animal gains its feet. Knowing that his brother doesn’t have that insight, Sam grabs Dean's hand to get his attention before the animal stands. "The camel’s gonna lean really sharply backwards when he gets up and then forward when he gets down. Remember that so that you can compensate."
The advice is meant as a precaution, but it only serves to steal the color from Dean’s face and place a poorly concealed terrified glaze over his eyes.
A short rod, sticking out from the front of the blanket-covered torso of the camel, provides for the only place Dean can hold on to, and he does so with a death-grip. Dean had never held much love for alternative transportation methods. Sam’s sure that a four legged animal that Dean’s had no contact with before falls perfectly in that category.
enough, when the camel straightens out his front legs, while the rear
ones are still bent, Dean, hands firmly grasped around the rod, yelps
and almost topples backwards.
Dean’s ridden a horse before. Once. When he was fifteen. Before a much awaited date with Rebecca Smith, a date where he was sure he’d be losing his virginity. He didn’t though.
His father, Travis and Bobby had gotten together to hunt a group of skin walkers, in the deep forests of Montana. John thought it was a good opportunity for Dean to develop his tracking skills. And, unfortunately for Dean’s dating plans, the only way to follow their prey’s tracks had been on horseback.
He’d been sore in new and embarrassing places for days, after spending a whole week on top of a hard saddle; walking in such a funny way afterwards that he’d been too embarrassed to go on his date at all.
Now, on top of another furry animal, with nothing between Dean’s crotch and the camel’s hard, dorsal hump but a flimsy piece of wool, he isn’t having that much more fun either.
Ridding the damn tall animal feels more like trying to stay on top of a mechanical rodeo bull than anything else. The camel’s long strides make him wobble from side to side, at the rhythm of his gangly pace. For the first time since this all started, Dean’s glad he can’t see a thing, because he’s sure that a glimpse of the madly wavering horizon would be enough to get him sea sick in the middle of the frigging desert.
Mile-Oh, from the sounds of it, is following them, for some reason that completely eludes Dean. He can hear him bark every now and then and even the dog’s barks sound like sighs of pure boredom.
Maybe that’s the reason the dog’s following him; the poor animal must’ve been bored stiff with nothing but statues to keep him company; or maybe he belongs to the Bedouin’s group; hell, he might even be a very depressed seeing-eye dog, in search of a new blind owner, after his last one dumped him in the desert.
Whichever the reason, the animal offers a comforting presence, a speck of normalcy in the middle of everything else. And from the way things are going, Dean figures he’ll end up needing a guiding-dog.
It’s not like he can keep on using Sam to fill that role for the rest of his
life. Even if ‘the rest of his life’ isn’t a concept that Dean wishes to spend much time wondering about.
Used to gauging distance by looking at the odometer of his car, Dean has no idea how long and how far they’ve traveled, but it feels like forever. He feels like he’s stuck in some endless loop where he never leaves the same place. It makes for a very slow passage of time and it gives him way too much free time to be alone with his thoughts.
Sam, on top of another camel a few feet from him, isn’t having that much more fun either. Dean can hear him trying to convince his camel to walk further away from the edge of the dunes, gasping in irregular intervals here and there when, Dean figures, the animal ignores Sam’s pleas and does whatever the hell it pleases.
the only one from the group that joined them, rides his camel in
peaceful silence, right beside Dean.
They stop when Azeem tells them to stop, they ride when he decides it time to go on.
The Bedouin man stays silent for most of the time, softly humming a tune every now and then, talking in his native tongue, to the camel, Dean suspects. The dry meat that he shares with the Winchester when they break for a meal tastes of sweet herbs and fireplace smoke. They drink tea, instead of water and all that Dean can dream about is a cold beer.
His skin feels like sand paper, after a whole day under the desert’s sun, and even with the long scarves that Azeem has given them both to roll up around their heads, Dean feels himself slowly turning into a dry papyrus... which is kind of fitting, he figures.
They stop for the night in the middle of nowhere. The only sound that Dean can hear is the animals, scuffing around in the sand and the wind, whistling as it circles around them.
The silence is overwhelming and Dean draws his folded knees closer to his chest. The night is chilly and, even once Azeem gets a fire going, Dean can’t seem to get warm.
He misses the sound of traffic; of rustling leaves in the trees that
surround the highway, the clatter of dishes that precedes a nice meal by the side of the road. He misses normal. Their kind of normal.
By his side, burning hot as a furnace, Sam is flipping through the pages of some book. The dictionary, Dean remembers, chuckling at the thought that, by morning, Sam will have probably mastered the language.
“So, hum... Azeem,” Dean starts tentatively when the silence stretches for longer than what he can bear, clearing his throat from the dust that has gathered, “know any good jokes?”
The man is silent for a while, either trying to translate what Dean has said and failing to do so, or ignoring his pathetic need to fill in the silence.
“You know of Solomon, the king?” The Bedouin finally replies, surprising Dean, who had figured that the man was simply going to ignore his request.
“Hum... no, I don’t think I’ve heard that one before...” “Solomon was great king of anci—“
Dean raises his hand, hopefully in the direction of the talking man. “I know who Solomon was... I thought you were going to tell a joke...”
“No joke... important story,” the man replies. His voice sounds an odd mix of offended and amused. “Listen.”
Dean absent-mindedly drops his hand to the sand and sinks his fingers into the still hot, grainy ground. “Sorry... go ahead. Guess we could use a good campfire story.”
“You know of king Solomon temple, yes? How it was built?”
“By workers?” Dean ventures, playing his part. He can tell by the way the other man asks the question that he is talking about the lore surrounding Solomon’s temple. The one that casual tourists don’t usually know about. So Dean acts like one.
There is a pause, in which Dean imagines the man watching him, studying his face, trying to determine if Dean is kidding or actually being serious. The notion feels like tiny ants crawling through Dean’s skin and he shifts his ass on the sand, creating a more comfortable seat for
himself. He can tell that this is going to take awhile.
“Shayatin,” Azeem finally says, whispering the word as if one will come if called too loudly. “Demons.”
“And how did he manage that?” Sam voices. It figures that he would be eavesdropping on their conversation even through his incessant flipping of pages.
Dean hopes that he’s managed to control the smirk on his face in time for the Bedouin man to have not noticed it. But it’s nearly impossibly to not chuckle, hearing Sam sounding so naïve and excited when talking about demons.
“Solomon very special man. Special blood ran in his veins. And he had ring. Magic ring that made king command all evil beings. So, he command ‘build me temple!’... and they did. It made him very powerful king. And when king died, sons all wanted ring.”
“Couldn’t he just a make a copy for each?” Dean asks. He knows some of the lore surrounding Solomon’s ring and the key. Both him and Sam know it, from sitting in Bobby’s library, going through his books as they searched for a way to trap demons. It seemed like a life time ago that that had happened, Meg hot on their heels, their dad taken by demons... not much had changed since then. And yet, everything was different now.
Again the silence answers him.
“Only Solomon could control ring. But sons did not believe that, they wanted power for themselves. It special ring. Gift from angel. So, Abijam and Rehobam, Solomon sons, fight for it, until king decides that there is only one solution,” Azeem tells, his words barely containing the enthusiasm he obviously feels with this particular story.
Besides the lore concerning demons, there aren’t that many stories about Solomon that Dean can recall. He remembers hearing Pastor Jim telling them about the one with the two mothers, fighting for possession of the same son, and how cleverly Solomon decided their conflict by offering to cut the kid in half. He figures it’s a nice enough guess. “Cut it in half?” Dean offers.
“Yes! You do know story,” the man yells excitedly. “Sad by sons bad behavior, Solomon ordered ring cut in two. To one son, he gives ring piece, with star. To the other, he gives golden head.”
Dean can feel every muscle in his body tense at the mention of that.
“What sort of golden head?” Sam asks. His eyes roam instantly to the pendent hanging from Dean’s neck.
“The head... is said it shows... image of angel that give ring to Solomon in first place. Tales of how talisman looks pass on from father to son since those days—“ the man stops himself and his eyes follow Sam’s gaze to land on Dean’s chest as well. “A long face with close eyes and circle above head. Like that,” he punctuates with a finger in Dean’s direction.
“And here comes the catch...” Dean lets out, not needing his eyes to know where everyone is looking at. “This is why you helped us, right? You think that this is that Solomon half-ring thing?”
The pendant is in Dean’s hand, the golden material catching the light of the fire. “In case you haven’t noticed, this head has horns. That angel of Solomon was a horny dude, is that it?” Dean points out, pushing the amulet as far as its string goes in the direction of the Bedouin man.
“That not horns,” the man replies, the condescendence in his voice too obvious. “That is hilt of flaming sword, symbol of angel’s power and position in Heaven.”
Sam’s sigh and Dean’s eye-roll are simultaneous. There is only one angel that’s famous for his flaming sword.
“Wait... don’t tell me—“ Dean lets out.
“Mikael... left ring on Earth for purpose. Important purpose. And you wear it.”
Dean sags against the sand, suddenly feeling the weight of the past days pushing him down impossibly hard. “I asked you not to tell me...”
“You make joke?” The man asks, his tone serious and offended. “Everything around us falls apart now... and you joke about this? No joke.”
“You sound like someone I know,” Dean says with a tense smile. In fact, the Bedouin has all but said the exact same words about responsibility that Zachariah is always trying to shove down his throat. For a moment, panic builds up inside Dean’s chest. He’s lost
track of where Sam is and has no idea how to tell his brother that they might be traveling with someone working for that dick of an angel. “Sam...”
The whispered name is enough, though. One second, there is nothing around Dean but empty air and doubts, the next he can feel Sam’s strong fingers wrapping around his right wrist.
“He’s not,” Sam says, sounding as certain that those are the right words as if he had read Dean’s mind. “He got a bit miffed by your tone and just scooted over to sleep... but I don’t think he’s working for Zach. I think he was just hoping that we would give more importance to his story.”
The camel ride has made the muscles at the bottom of Dean’s back ache like a mother, and he forces himself to relax while they still can. It’s embarrassing how comforting Sam’s nearness is, but he can’t allow himself to dwell on thoughts of dependence and screwed up chances now.
think there’s any truth to that tale?”
Sam doesn’t answer. He doesn’t sleep either. Curled next to Dean, he forces himself to not go over all that has been said and the possibilities that it raises, but his brain can’t seem to stop.
On the other side of the fire, Azeem is sound asleep, sitting comfortably with his back against one of his camels. He didn’t speak to them again, not after sharing his tale and Sam senses that they might’ve offended the man with their reaction.
But the truth is, they don’t want it to be true.
Looking up the story behind Dean's amulet was never something that had crossed Sam's mind. To him, the golden piece was and would always be a reminder of one more of dad's disappointments, at the same time that it marked the first time that he'd been able to do something for Dean instead of the other way around.
For most of his young life, Dean had been the one constant in Sam's existence. The one he could depend on, the one who, no matter what, always ended up telling him the truth. Just as it had happened that Christmas so very, very long ago.
And Sam had been able to show Dean how important he was to him by giving him that amulet.
These recent developments surrounding that particular gift all felt like a punch to Sam's stomach. One more tidbit of their lives where they'd been manipulated into playing their parts; one more piece of the big puzzle that he'd so readily put in place.
What would've happened if he'd given the amulet to John just like he’d intended to? Would it still have passed on to Dean when John died? Would they still end up in this place, having this conversation? Or would John do like he did with most of the things that they'd gotten him for birthdays and Christmas and Father's days and just stored it away or lost it? Would it still have found its way to Dean's hands, where it obviously belongs?
"I think that we know enough about Solomon and the lore surrounding him to give the story some credit," Sam continues. "I mean... who knows? The man devised a series of protections sigils to trap demons that are still the best way we know of to hold them. Someone must've told him how to do that... Michael’s just a good as bet as any other angel," Sam finally says.
The words are barely a whisper, but he knows Dean’s awake too, trying his best to look like he’s resting by his side. He shifts, doesn’t bother to open his eyes as he turns his head toward Sam. "Yeah... I guess so," Dean says. "But I tell you one thing,” his right hand is poised over his chest as Dean’s fingers lazily trace the contours of the amulet's face, “if this was Michael's face at the time, dude was seriously fugly."
“It does raise a couple of questions though,” Sam says, voice lost in thought. “If this is one part of the ring, where the hell is other and how effective are they apart when they’re supposed to work together?”
Dean chuckles, a dry sound that surprises even himself.
“What?” Sam asks, because at the moment, he’s failing to see any funny side to the whole thing.
“I was just thinking... it’s kind of funny, you know? With all this ring crap, I’m starting to feel like Frodo over here, but you... you don’t even have to change your name, do you Samwise?”
Chapter Seven: Backstabbing Stage
There are a few things that have surprised the crap out of Bobby Singer during his life. And given what he does for a living, a few tends to be a bit more unusual than your everyday surprises.
Still, those he can remember best are the ones that were... well, memorable.
Even though he has always been a curious bookworm about the occult, ancient cultures and folklore, it had been one hell of a wake up call to find out that the reason his sweet Karen murdered those two kids she gave piano lessons to was because a demon was possessing her at the time.
Opening his front door and seeing Dean, shy smile and dirty face, looking coyly at him, months after Bobby had seen Sam bury the kid’s mangled body in the middle of nowhere, would’ve made any other man crap his pants. Even Bobby will admit that he was caught off guard with that one.
Then there'd been the time he'd gotten jumped by a demon, possessed and end up nearly killing Dean Winchester. Even with all his knowledge of every spell, charm and protection there was to avoid being possessed, Bobby had still come dangerously close to killing the younger man whom he'd come to think of like a son. That had certainly been a nice slice of humble pie.
Waking up in a hospital with no idea how he’d gotten there and not being able to tell if he still had legs attached to him or not, on account of not being able to feel a damn thing below his navel... that had been the last surprise that Bobby thought he could bear.
Those, however, had been such out of ballpark experiences, that Bobby had figured that he was savvy enough to not be surprised and caught with his pants down on the average stuff. The human stuff. The things everyone else deals with on a regular basis.
Knowing that you can never truly know everything about a person, no
matter how well you think you know them, was a given fact. Bobby had no need for his knowledge of the supernatural to figure that one out. But being accustomed to having access to information that most people don’t have, to know that to every rule there is more than one exception, made the sight of Emam, holding a gun to Bobby’s face, pretty friggin’ surprising.
“What t’hell--- Emam, you lost your frigging mind?”
The weapon trembles in the Egyptian man’s hand, but his aim doesn’t waver. The Colt, resting peacefully on Bobby’s lap, is the first thing he demands.
“I am sorry, Robert,” Emam says as he takes the old revolver from Bobby’s stiff fingers and stores it in his pocket, “I assure you this is not personal--“
“Not personal my ass! That’s my face you’re aiming a gun at—“ Bobby explodes. He’s been keeping an eye out for the guards since the three of them left, watchful for any signs of the alarms being raised and their presence discovered. Beyond Emam and his nine-millimeter, the night is as uneventful as it was before, only now... the absence of the boys is painfully evident. “Where’re Sam and Dean?”
Emam gives him no answer, tossing a pair of cuffs into his lap instead. “This is just insurance... please, don’t make me hurt you.”
Bobby’s alarm bells are ringing. Good God, they’re playing a whole frigging tune. “Insurance for what?”
“So that everything happens as it should,” Emam tells him before pulling a black bag over Bobby’s head and pushing his chair out, towards the car they had arrived in.
only good thing about being forced into the back of a car, belly up
on the back seat like a stuffed fish and hearing what sounded like
his wheel chair disappearing into the dark waters of the lake, was
the realization that he was about to become either bait or leverage
for those boys. And blackmail is not something you can use on dead
If Bobby had thought that being carried to and from his wheelchair by a closet-size aide, back at the hospital, had been humiliating, the experience of being kept up by two thugs and the friend who betrayed
him, tastes a lot worse.
The place they drove to wasn’t all that far from Abu Simbel. It wasn’t Emam’s hometown, though. Bobby had been there a couple of times, he knew that the only road access to Daraw was through a small wooden bridge over an irrigation system pipe, an old, crinkling thing that always made one hell of a racket whether you walked or drove over it.
Wherever they are now, it’s no small village in the middle of nowhere.
This place sounds bigger, crowded with busy streets and vendors calling out their products and prices in the middle of the street. For a short span of road, Bobby can hear water slapping against a shore and the noise of boat engines. And then they pass through some metal doors and the sound of asphalt is replaced by gravel before the van finally stops.
When the bag is finally removed and Bobby has managed to blink his eyes into some measure of a working state, he can see that they are inside some sort of inner courtyard of a two-story house. The place looks degraded, unfinished, concrete and metal structures peeking out from under the walls and glassless windows.
The man in front of him, the one everyone else seems to keep a respectful distance from and defer to, is dressed in a silky blue tunic and has a white Kufi hat in his head. The only distinct feature about him is the black beard that is cut right in the middle by a stripe of white hairs. It makes him look like he has a raccoon’s tail on his face.
“Bobby Singer... it is pleasure to finally meet you,” he says, heavy accent accompanying his extended hand. “I am Obuham Jhiram Crowley, leader of the Ordo Templis Orientis.”
Bobby gives him a look that clarifies beyond any doubt just how much of an idiot he thinks the other man is and raises his bound hands to scratch his own beard. “Pleasure’s all yours.”
The man follows Bobby’s hands and flashes him a yellow version of a smile, discretely lowering his ignored hand. “Yes, you are right... these not the best circumstances, but I assure you that, had our initial plan worked, there would be no need for these... unpleasantries.”
“What you talking about, you dimwit?” Bobby barks back. He has a very, very bad feeling as to where this is all going and the heavily guilty looks that Emam keeps throwing his way are not helping. The
reason why he’s there at all becomes suddenly very clear to Bobby, making him grin with pride. “Boys gave you the slip, didn’t they?”
“Tell me, you familiar with the word to’m? Is very common, very trusty method of catching prey, specially elusive prey,” Obuham continues, ignoring Bobby’s satisfied smile at the notion of Sam and Dean having escaped their greasy clutches.
"Bait," Bobby spits back in both anger and disgust.
It's Obuham's turn to smile. “Right now, Mr. Singer, you are nothing more than to’m - bait, as you put it - and your life worth’s no more than what those ‘boys’ value it. So, in your place, I start praying to whatever god you believe in. Pray they do exactly as I tell them, so that you may live a little longer.”
Bobby can feel his teeth grinding, the urge to jump forward and wipe the smirk off that man’s face cramped only by the lack of a pair of working legs. He has no other choice but to focus his venom in his voice and hope the man just drops dead from hearing it. “Or else?”
“You see soon enough, not to worry.”
man’s knowing smile is almost as disturbing as the idea of being
used to lure Sam or Dean into this man’s plans.
Dean’s voice is easy enough to recognize, coming clear across the room from the cell phone that Obuham is holding to his ear, hand pushing it further away every time the young man gets more vocal.
Bobby can tell from the tone and volume alone that the kid is pissed as hell. The undercurrent of fear and uncertainty is also there, but is more subtle, discreet. Something that Bobby hopes he’s the only one able to notice because he’s dealt with Dean long enough to see right through his bravado.
When the Order’s leader turns back to look straight at him with something akin to fury and frustration in his face, Bobby can guess what’s about to happen even before Obuham barks the command to eksar edo.
Bobby cringes at the words, knowing fully well that there is no where he can run. He also knows that the intent of this isn’t about hurting
him, it’s about Dean hearing him being hurt.
Sitting on the hard chair where they’ve dumped him, Bobby tries to keep quiet as one of the Order members grabs him and starts twisting his left arm the wrong way, adding more and more pressure until he can feel bones grinding against each other and finally snapping.
There is no stopping the scream that escapes Bobby’s mouth then. Too late, he bites his tongue, preventing anymore more distressed sounds from escaping, but the damage is done. He barely tastes the blood coating his mouth over the disappointment of having failed. But damn! He hadn’t had a broken bone since the winter of ’97 when he’d slipped on a patch of ice. He’d forgotten how these mothers hurt like hell!
Through the cell phone, Bobby can hear Dean yelling his name in despair.
“Ibn el kalb!” Bobby calls Obuham and his men, starting with all the names in the book and moving on to some he makes up right there and then. He does it in Arabic too, to make sure that they all can understand every curse word that leaves his mouth.
There’s something to be said about the painkiller effects of cursing. It helps. It truly helps.
But it’s too late. Bobby knows that now, after the damage is done, anything that this bastard demands of Dean, both he and Sam will comply without any more questions. Because those boy are just dumb like that.
The red haze that starts descending over Bobby, fueled by concern and pain, lifts if only for a moment when he hears Obuham talk about an ark. Of all the things that he could expect...
Does he mean the ark, Ark? As in Moses’ Ark?
Brain working furiously to remember all he’s ever read about that particular artifact, all that Bobby can think of is the supposed connection between Ark and God and the fact that, any army carrying it around is, according to the lore, invincible.
Bobby can’t think of a single good reason for these people wanting to know the whereabouts an object that no one is even sure exists.
“Why? Why them?” Bobby spits out as soon as Obuham closes the phone on Dean’s shouting voice. “Why all this?”
“Why, why, why,” Obuham mimics Bobby’s voice, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Is that not Mankind’s greatest question? Always whining about whys, like pesky little children with nothing more to do than ask questions. Does it not bother you that the world is coming to an end and we still have no answers? Only questions?”
Bobby stares, trying to figure where this is going, but fearing that the sane cannot follow this man logic for long.
“Since the dawn of Men, we have lived in the dark. Clueless apes, searching for deeper meaning everywhere, higher purposes, connection to some all-powerful being. And now... now Lucifer walks free. The bringer of light walks among us. And he will bring the apocalypse on us!”
Obuham’s eyes are wide and blown, fevered words working as inspiration for himself and others. The few men around them look like they’re eating all that Obuham’s feeding them like it’s the tastiest nectar.
Emam is amongst them, eating this shit up just like the rest. Bobby can’t believe that this can be the same man that he’s traded with and been a friend to for over twenty years.
Stuck to the plastic chair, Bobby can only shake his head. “So, you know the devil is on the loose,” he checks, because the idea is so ridiculous that surely he’s missing the point here. “And you’re actually gonna help Lucifer with this? You’re actually looking forward to the end world?” Bobby spits out, doing his best to keep his broken arm close to his chest and immobile. If he doesn’t breath too hard, it doesn’t hurt as much. “Are you insane?”
Obuham walks closer, hand reaching out to pat Bobby’s shoulder condescendingly. If he were standing, instead of stuck to a chair, Bobby’s sure that the other man would be significantly shorter than him. As it is, Obuham gets to loom over Bobby.
“Apocalypse, unlike petty and ignorant minds believe, does not mean ‘end of the world’,” Obuham preaches. “It is a Greek word, meaning revelation. Enlightenment. Light to shine all over us.”
Bobby snorts. “The only light that’s gonna shine over your sorry ass is hell fire, you idjit! If Lucifer gets his way, he’s gonna torch us all in the same breath!”
“Not all of us,” Obuham says with all the conviction in the world. “The Order, his true followers, those who help him, we will be rewarded.”
“And this is you, helping? You’re nothing but little kids, playing with matches.”
“Is that what you believe?” Obuham asks darkly, eyes flashing alongside the snarl in his lips. “Asmodeus, a little demonstration.”
Bobby searches around, looking for anyone that would fit the name. He recognizes it. All the reading and research he’s been doing to help the boys made sure that Bobby became well familiar with all the players in the apocalypse lore. Asmodeus is one of the big ones, Lucifer’s prime general. It makes no sense for him to be here, obeying orders from a petty little man nonetheless.
No one steps forward, and for a second Bobby almost smiles, thinking that Obuham’s scam has just been blown. It’s only when the guy standing to Bobby’s right falls to his knees, hands grasping desperately to his neck and face slowly turning red, that the hunter realizes he is looking at the demonstration Obuham called for.
“You sick bastard,” Bobby lets out, not able to do much more as he watches the young man who minutes ago was his guard, flop dead to the ground. “You think this will get you anything? Assure you any reward?”
Obuham looks at his prisoner smugly. “This is me, guaranteeing our place by Lucifer’s side, proving we are worthy allies. The Ark, the Winchesters... it is nothing but the first step.”
“And the last one?” Bobby presses on, eager to know where this is all headed.
luck, you will still be alive to find out,” the Order’s leader
says with a flick of his hand. “Take him to the sacred well.”
A man raised in the quieter fields of civilization, Bobby likes to fall asleep under a veil of stars and the sounds of crickets a whole lot more than he enjoys the sight of skyline-eating buildings and the sound of heavy traffic.
A deep sky, sprinkled with thousands of shiny white dots and not one
cloud in sight, like the one Bobby currently has over his head, would be one that he would very much enjoy any other time in his life. Hell! One cool beer in his hand a comfortable chair to sink into and you might even call him a content man.
Currently, he’s none of those. Not comfortable, not enjoying himself and certainly not content.
The ‘sacred well’, as it had been called by the ones who stuck him there, comes with a set of stairs, fortunately.
They settle Bobby in the bottom of a round hole, five, maybe six-foot high, drag a heavy stone to close the set of stone stairs and just walk away.
The fact that, were he able to stand, all Bobby would need to do was grab the edge and walk away, pisses off the older hunter to no end. As it is, he can’t do much more than get his back against the cold wall as comfortable as he can, clutch his broken arm closely to his chest and bide his time.
Bobby knows the boys will come for him. Lord... he wished they were smarter than that, but he knows Sam and Dean too well to even consider otherwise. They’ll come, with some half-assed plan that will endanger them for certain and have, at most, a slim chance of working.
That’s the part of this whole mess that Bobby knows he can’t do a damn thing about.
He eyes the stone covering the access to the stairs, trying to figure his odds of moving the thing and crawling out of there. Taking a deep breath, Bobby buttons up his shirt and cradles his broken arm snugly in the space between two buttons.
Bobby’s upper body strength has built up since he lost the use of his legs. It wasn’t planned and he certainly didn’t devote any effort to it. It just happened, bit by bit everyday, as he was forced to adjust his everyday actions to the fact that he could no longer walk.
Still, pulling close to two hundred pounds with one arm alone, as Bobby crawls over to the stairs, has him trembling and sweating a months’ worth of spit in less than a couple of feet.
“Dammit!” Bobby swears, twisting his body around as his right arm
gives up, aiming to fall on his back rather than on his broken arm. “Goddamit all to hell!”
There’s no two ways about it. He can’t get out of that frigging hole and he can’t do anything to stop the boys from coming for him. Wiping the sweat out of his eyes, Bobby looks up at the stars. According to Castiel and the rest of the angels they’ve met so far, there should be someone up there, watching over them.
Bobby was never a religious man. He went to church with Karen, but mostly it was about the boat ride that they took on the lake afterward, than anything the minister said up in his pulpit. After she died... well, by then Bobby had already started to figure that the men with the white collars, for the most part, knew about as much about anything as five year olds.
Now... now Bobby wishes there’s someone up there listening when he asks to keep his boys safe.
He knows that is too much to expect, but when the noise comes, for just one second, Bobby wonders if his prayers are being answered after all. The contraption that rolls over the mouth of the hole looks too evil to be an answer to anyone’s prays.
that’s when the sand starts falling down.
A rope ladder is tossed on the side of the well and Emam comes down when the sun is already up in the sky. Bobby can’t tell what time it is, but enough time has passed for the damn sand, falling down from the bags above his head, to have reached high enough to cover half his legs.
At first, Bobby had even bothered moving around, trying to get himself to a higher spot, struggling to stop his useless legs from being buried under the falling sand. He gave up after a couple of hours. The damn floor was flat and, unless someone put a cork in those bags, there was no way to stop the sand from rising up.
“I brought you water,” Emam announces, not quite meeting Bobby’s eyes as the older man drinks avidly from the bottle. “They will not allow food, but I insisted on the water.”
“Well, good fer’ya” Bobby lets out, furious. He has too many problems
to worry about Emam’s guilty conscience. His supposed friend should feel guilty. He should feel downright miserable.
“Robert... if only you’ll allow me to explain—“
“I think I got a pretty good idea of what’s going on, don’t you worry,” Bobby replies acidly. “Shame on me, I suppose, for thinking that you were smarter than this, Emam.”
The Egyptian man looks at him fervently, guilt overshadowed by deep belief. “This is much more important than you and me, Robert. Bigger than those two boys you are trying to protect,” he starts. “The things I have witnessed, the power that Obuham can control,... he is a special man, Robert. A man who can control demons, that can bend evil to do good. He will guides us well through these dark times.”
“That’s bull crap, and you of all people should know that, Emam,” Bobby hisses out. His arm has grown numb, but pain flares up every time he raises his voice. “You were possessed. You know what those sons-of-bitches are like,” he goes on, voice lower and deep, trying to reach the man Bobby used to call friend. “This is the big boss we’re talking about, Lucifer himself... if having one of his pets almost killed you, what do you think will happen when the devil himself comes out to claim possession?”
“It would have not killed me,” Emam whispers. “Come again?”
“The demon I was carrying when we first met,” the Egyptian man repeats, voice fainter than before, “it was under orders not to harm me... when Obuham said he needed someone for a mission in America, I... I was just a boy, Robert, but I believed already. I—“
“You set me up,” Bobby concludes with a gasp. “The whole thing, bumping into me so shortly after I’d found out what had killed Karen, being possessed... Obuham’s put a demon in you... and you let him?!”
Emam looks down, grabbing the edge of the rope ladder. “We all must fight for what we believe is right. I regret only that you have been hurt in the process... that, I never meant to happen. I will try and bring more water later.”
It was more than a day later when Bobby saw anyone else again.
Chapter Eight: Two Angels
In true Bedouin tradition, Azeem leaves them in the outskirts of Aswan at dawn of the following morning. He gives them enough food and drink for the day, a requirement of their rule of hospitability that applied both to friends and enemies alike. After their conversation in the desert, Dean and Sam aren't really sure in which category they fall exactly, but the offer is welcomed anyway.
"It was good thing to cross paths with you, Mahdi," Azeem says as they part their ways. "I is sure whatever fate awaits you, you will honored it."
The soft sound of hoofs moving away muffles Dean's whispered words the first time he says them. "What?" Sam asks.
"I asked, who the hell was he talking to?"
"You, apparently," Sam answers, sounding as confused as Dean looks.
After the quiet solitude of the desert, the amalgam of heavy traffic noise, crowds gathering here and there and the different types of music coming from different places. sounds too intrusive and impossible to bear.
Dean, having grown accustom to relying on his hearing to compensate for what he can’t see, feels like he’s drowning under too many stimuli. It’s impossible to tell which sound belongs to the car driving away from him and which belongs to the one driving towards him; everyone is shouting something around him and in languages that Dean can’t understand. He can’t even tell them apart, all the words ending up jumbled together and meaning nothing but a giant headache that blooms into existence.
“We should find some place quiet. Figure out where to go from here,” Sam says, like he can guess everything that’s going through Dean’s head just from looking into his face.
Dean grabs on to that small piece of familiarity and sound that he can understand and nods, hand automatically reaching out to grab on to Sam’s arm. If the world felt big and empty in the silence of the desert, in here, the confusion of the city makes it feel impossibly large and frightening.
Sam finds himself in a long street that goes parallel to the river. He doesn’t know much about Egyptian geography, but he can guess pretty accurately that has to got be the Nile. The famous Nile, with all the history, legend and lore that surrounds it.
Parked alongside the shore, he can see several small cruise boats as far as his eyes can catch. The names, written both in Arabic and English, all seem to be variants of between ‘Something of the Nile’ and ‘Nile Something’.
In front of the boats, by the shoulder of the road, colorfully decorated carriages, pulled by one or two horses, depending on how big they are, stand parked under the sun. The men in charge of them offer Sam and Dean a ride through the city ‘Very cheap!’ and at a ‘Special price!”, specially for ‘German? American?’ Sam forces his mouth into a fake smile and shakes his head. They’d rather walk, especially because they have little to no idea where they’re headed.
There is a group of tourists coming out from one of the docked boats, happy and smiling people, digital cameras hanging from their necks, camcorders strapped around their shoulders, tour guides leaking out of their back pockets. Sam and Dean pass the group walking in the opposite direction. They’re all around their age, with a couple that looks slightly older. Three of the girls, all dressed in jeans and tank tops of bright colors, like it’s some sort of uniform, smile openly at them as they pass the two brothers.
“Bonjour!” One says animatedly, wide smile showing her teeth-brace decorated with tiny beads of bright red. She looks a lot like Jo.
Sam nods politely and draws closer to Dean. French tourists. It’s hard to miss the way his brother’s head turns in the direction of the new noise and smiles. Sam bets Dean has at least one fantasy about a French woman.
The buildings facing the river are mostly little coffee-shops and
souvenirs stands, a well planned and effective system of jumping the tourists and catching their wondering eyes as soon as they drop anchor in town.
Sam figures they’ll probably have more luck if he heads deeper into the town. He needs to find a place to sit down and take a proper look at the computer he picked up at the temple. If the place happens to have some sort of free Wi-Fi, all the better.
“This place smells like spicy food,” Dean says, breaking the silence he’d been keeping since they hit the more crowded places. “Like that deli place in Queens.”
Sam smiles. Under different circumstances he'd be enjoying himself, would love being here; wishes he and Dean both could take time to savor this visit to Egypt. And, now that the stress of the plane trip is behind them and they were actually in a foreign country, Sam is sure Dean would love it too.
“There’s a vendor up ahead, by the side of the road. He has these big vine baskets on the floor, each filled to the brim with a difference spice,” Sam describes. He wishes Dean was able to see all of this. So much color. So much life.
Two streets away from the river, Sam finally finds the perfect place. The hotel is called ‘The Golden Anubis’ and it announces free Internet and international service in the big banners outside.
“You ready for the life of the rich and cushy?” Sam whispers in a mischievous tone almost at the same time as the doorman holds the hotel door open for them and offers a polite ‘Welcome, Sirs!”
The blast of the powerful air conditioner in the lobby hits the Winchesters like an old and very much missed lover. Not even the AC’s in the motel rooms they usually stay can come close to the healthy and powerful hummm of cold air that the bigger units provide and in that lobby, for a couple of minutes, neither Winchester can do much but stand still, close his eyes and enjoy the bliss.
Sam is the first one to snap out of it, locating a couple of seats in a corner where they’ll be hidden enough from the watchful eyes of the people at the hotel’s reception and door.
A large fountain with a tall statue of a white crane-like bird, water tumbling down its long, golden beak, takes hold of the center lobby.
Colorful bundles of fresh flowers in several ornamented vases surround the fountain, giving it an almost natural look, like it’s a frozen scene captured directly from the river a couple of yards away.
Radiating from there, like carefully aligned islands, there are several agglomerates of sofas and short tables. In one of them, a group of ten or so people sits together, listening to a guy holding a German flag and a yellow umbrella. More tourists.
The good thing is, in the midst of them, Sam and Dean are just two more foreigners, bored stiff of their room and trying to get a feel for the place from the hotel’s lobby; waiting for the tourist bus that will take them to some other place with more history and picture-worthy images than the hotel; or more adventurous travelers, waiting to start their trek through the desert and spent some time in the arid landscape of the desert, experiencing the ‘true life’ of a Bedouin tribe.
Neither Winchester cares much on which slot they’re stuck in. Just as long as no one asks them any questions. Despite noticing the way Sam and Dean completely ignore the reception area and move towards the couches instead, no one calls them out on their reasons to be there. As Sam starts to realize, people let them get away with a lot more now that they see him lead around a blind person than they would ever before.
It’s not an advantage that he welcomes in any shape or form. The realization, in fact, only makes his stomach turn.
The minute they sit down, Sam has the laptop open and resting on the small glass table in front of him.
The operating system is Windows, but that’s as much as Sam recognizes. Everything else is, predictably, in Arabic. “Shit,” Sam murmurs.
“Guess it was too much to ask for the bad guys to have a computer with their files in English,” Sam complains.
Folders still look like folders though, even in Arabic, and there are a couple of them that pique Sam’s curiosity. One file, he already knows to contain his and Dean’s pictures. The others are just plain text.
Dean sinks back into the couch and waits. He knows that for anyone else, this sort of roadblock would signify the end of that piece of
technology’s usefulness. Sam, however, always has a couple of techno- tricks up his hacker sleeve.
It all depends on whether that particular laptop is recent enough to have its own internal modem. For a couple of minutes, Sam panics and sweats in silence, searching for that confirmation in a software of which he can’t understand a single word... or rather, not a single character. Fortunately for him, though, icons are universal and when he finally finds the one that assures him that a net connection is possible, he sighs in relief. After that, it’s a matter of minutes before he manages to hack the hotel’s wireless connection.
“Back when I was looking for a way to get you out of your deal,” Sam starts, his fingers typing familiar paths, “I found this amazing program online that could translate virtually any written language ever recorded.”
Sam stops and blinks. He can’t help but smile. He’s brother is such a trekkie dork. “Yeah... I believe even Klingon. Either way, there are a couple of Word files in here that this program shouldn’t take long to crack. Maybe then we’ll have a better clue on who these people are and what they want.”
“And that demon that Cas mentioned... Asmodeus,” Dean asks, sitting straighter like he’s trying to get a peak at the computer’s screen. His eyes, though, remain on the fountain, attracted by the soft, white noise rather than the view. “I don’t think I heard of him before.”
Sam bites his lip, glad that for once Dean can’t catch that dead give away that Sam is about to say something that he doesn’t like. “Not... not even when you were... you know... not even there?”
Not having to worry about Dean seeing his telltale signs of discomfort works as a sharp double edged sword. Dean can’t see Sam biting his lip just as much as he doesn’t seem to realize the haunted look that floods through his eyes every time Dean allows himself to even think about Hell.
“No... he wasn’t even mentioned. Well, at least not in the circles I use to... hang out.”
Sam nods more to himself than his sightless brother. Eyes trained again on the screen he opens a second page in the computer’s browser and tries to remember the address of the online encyclopedias and hunter’s hangouts that he usually uses to gather information. He
misses his own laptop, where everything is properly organized and filed away. It takes him twice as long in this one, especially because without access to a keyboard he can understand, Sam has to resort to copy-pasting the words he needs. As it turns out, Asmodeus isn’t as obscure a demon as he had imagined.
“’Asmodeus, or Abaddon, is also called The Destroyer in the Apocalypse,” Sam reads out loud for Dean’s sake. “He is seen as a mischievous demon that gathers its strength from sexual energy. Often depicted as a three headed demon – a man spitting fire, a sheep and a bull- and the body of a lion with dragon wings and a serpent’s tail, Asmodeus is believe to be Lucifer’s prime general, defeated in battle by the archangel Gabriel during the devil’s rebellion.”
“Oh... just our luck. Luci’s golden boy,” Dean lets out in a whiff of sarcasm.
“Solomon’s name pops in here again,” Sam adds, continuing to read the less important parts of the text to himself. “It says here that Asmodeus was one of the demons imprisoned by Solomon and forced to build his temple.”
“So, no reason to keep a grudge at all,” Dean concludes with a snort. If there is one thing that all demons seem to have in common it’s their belief that they’re superior to humans in all-possible and conceivable aspects, dismissing the fact that, they too, were once humans themselves. To be used as a construction worker by a human? That has to sting even for the lowest level of black-eyed skanks, never mind a high-ranking one.
a mark here,” Sam goes on. “Asmodeus’ sign...” “The tattoo
that guys at the temple had?”
Sam shakes his head. There isn’t even the slightest chance of confusing the circular symbols. The demon’s sigil bears Asmodeus name around a complicated brand. The other guys had a circular tattoo with no words at all. “It’s not the same,” he says to Dean. “Not even close.”
“So, it’s possible the guys at the temple aren’t even related to this Asmodeus douche, is that it?” Dean asks. “That’s... that’s just great,” he whispers in a tone that implies anything but great.
“I’m doing a secondary search on the tattoo I saw on the guys,” Sam informs. “It seemed pretty specific, so I’m betting it’s probably not as obscure as we might think.”
Sam can’t remember all the details of the circular symbol, but the Oroboros, most recognizable by the serpent biting its own tail, and the pentagram encircling an arrow pierced serpent, are all fairly easy to recall. Sam hopes it’s enough to make any sort of conclusions.
Sometimes, Sam actually hates being right.
“This... this doesn’t look good,” Sam says, looking at the yellow background webpage where the symbol’s depicted in a thick black drawing. Viewing it properly now, he sees, for the first time, some of the details that he missed before.
The four corners created by the pentagram and the Oroboros are decorated, above, with an angel and a dragon, and bellow, with a bull and a lion. The bull and the lion can mean a lot of things, possibly being even some sort of reference to Asmodeus. It’s the dragon and
the angel figures are what raise the fine hairs on the back of Sam’s neck.
The presence of an angel figure in something so obviously pagan, with the pentagram and the stars and the black sun, seem somewhat out of place.
As for the dragon... it’s not the first time Sam has seen that mythological animal in association with Lucifer.
“What? " Dean interjects into the silence, sensing that something's up. "What did you find?”
“The guys who—“ Sam starts, lowering his voice, “-who attacked us at Abu are apparently, part of some secret order.”
Dean snorts. “How secret can they be if you find them in less than five minutes?”
“Secret enough for everyone else to believe that they’re extinct. The symbol they had tattooed on them has references to Lucifer and Asmodeus and angels all over it,” Sam informs him, watching as Dean’s color leaches from his face even further. He winces in sympathy. “Does the name Aleister Crowley mean anything to you?”
“Aleister and Crowley... I take it you don’t mean the demons,” Dean confirms, dry swallowing the foul taste that both names leave in his mouth. “Then no, never heard of... dude... his parent’s must’ve really hated him.”
don’t think that was his real name... whatever his name was, this
guy was the founder of something called the Ordo Templis Orientis, a
satanic religious group that managed to gather quite the following
back in the beginning of the twentieth century. This,” Sam says,
pointing at the elaborate symbol on the computer screen, “... this
was their mark.”
“So, these are actually humans willingly working with demons?”
Sam shakes his head. There’s something in this whole thing that doesn’t add up. Demons aren’t usually the cooperative and team players’ type, so, if Asmodeus was pulling the strings in this, why weren’t those guys possessed?
“No idea,” Sam voices. “Far as we know, demons aren’t even part of this equation. Just a group of screwed in the head fanatic's, trying to get their hands on a myth.”
Dean sighs, his knees supporting his elbows as he uses both hands to rub the sides of his head.
Sam’s eyes go to the red gash on his brother’s forehead. It’s already starting to scab over, but he’s sure it still hurts like hell. “You alright?” he whispers.
There’s a soft ‘pling’ as the first phase of the translation program completes.
I’m fine. Do you see a restroom sign anywhere?” Dean asks, his
cheeks coloring slightly at the prospect of being led to the
Despite Dean’s insistence that he can use the damn bathroom on his own, Sam still insists on staying just outside the door, waiting to walk him back to the seats they’ve appropriated in the hotel’s lobby when he’s done.
While Sam had been busy getting the computer to work and find them some inkling of a clue as to where to go next, Dean had been listening.
The lobby of a hotel in a place like that was a busy, busy spot. There’s a constant coming and going of trolleys, the indistinct chatter of the working crew, hurried steps left and right, a nonstop of movement and chores. The phone at the reception rings with a raspy sound, low and deep. To their left, more or less in the opposite direction of the reception area, there’s a man who keeps on sneezing, a high pitch sound that ends in something that sounds surprisingly close to a hiccup.
Oddly enough, Dean finds himself being able to eaves-drop on a number of conversations being carried in English near their seats. At six o’clock, there’s a group of businessmen, discussing where they’re going to eat that night, in celebration for the deal they’ve just closed; at three o’clock, close to where the sneezer is, there’s the smoochy sound of sloppy traded kisses and the whispered words between newly weds, a ‘but Saaarah!’ trying to convince her ‘honey button’ that ‘no, they were not gonna spend their honeymoon in Egypt inside their room’.
The elevators, two it sounds like, make an over-excited ping! noise that gets annoyingly loud after listening to it for more than ten minutes, but it doesn’t manage to be as annoying as the constant sound of water falling that comes from somewhere in front of them, slightly to the right.
The restrooms stand right behind the honeymooners. Making plans for their future life. Making plans for tonight. Tomorrow.
These people have no idea.
Dean ignores the standing urinals and searches for the bathroom’s private compartments checking for locked doors. He feels like he might throw up his stomach lining and he really doesn’t want to do it over some stranger just because he couldn’t see him there.
All those people, all those lives... ruined. They don’t even know that the end of the world is knocking on their doorsteps. They don’t even know that they’re sitting this close to the ones responsible for it.
It’s easy to overlook, stuck in their little corner of the world, in the confines of the Impala and driving through familiar roads and places, that this is a global thing. Millions and millions of lives are at stake and the weight of the responsibility only gets heavier and heavier the more Dean is reminded of just how impossibly big this is.
Almost seven billion people. If they only knew...
Dean finally finds an open stall and locks himself in. There’s someone else in the restroom, washing his hands in the open area that Dean left behind. The sound of running water plots with Dean’s bladder against him and he’s forces the bile down in deference to his urgent need to pee.
Peeing without seeing is, as Dean finds out, much like peeing while drunk. Using the tip of his boot, Dean manages to pinpoint where the toilet is and after that is just a matter of trusting the same movements that he’s been doing his whole life. Only when the sound of liquid hitting a plastic surface reaches his ears does Dean realizes that the cover of the toilet seat is down instead of open.
Back at Emam’s place, this problem hadn’t even presented because, he realizes now, some considerate soul thought of clearing the way for the clumsy, newly blind.
A deep shame, the likes of which Dean has never felt in his life, rises up from his stomach and settles somewhere around his throat like a Boa Constrictor. Dick in his hand, forgotten in lieu of the surprising sound of the mess he was making, Dean has no idea how far off his aim was and how much of it ended up on his jeans and shoes. It’s like he’s six all over again, going through some late incontinence issue and peeing all over himself in school.
Teacher at the time said it was okay, just a delayed reaction to some childhood trauma, set off by the unfamiliar place. Now? Now it’s just a taste of what life has in store for him from here on.
Hand holding to cross the street. Being escorted to the bathroom door. Being a nuisance and a danger to those around him. Pissing himself because he forgot to check if the toilet seat was down.
The black world around Dean starts spinning out of control and he fumbles for the door’s lock, eager to get out of that smelly stall. Once outside, it gets only worse. He can’t remember where the sinks are, he can’t even remember which way the exit door is. He’s lost, inside a fucking hotel restroom and outside, there’s a whole world depending on him to stop the end of times.
The tears that threatened to fall earlier ask for no permission this time. They pour like raw sand out Dean’s eyes and all he wants to do is curl in on himself and hide his face from anyone who might be looking.
Dean’s pretty sure that there isn’t any one else inside the restroom beside him, but the sound of swinging front door alerts him that that is about to change. There’s a complete stranger, looking down at him and Dean can’t find the strength to get up or even call Sam.
“Dean...” a familiar voice fills the void and Dean swallows a sob. Sam is there, staring at his pathetic excuse of a big brother, standing brokenly in the middle of the bathroom and the notion of what he must look like only makes Dean want to cry harder.
“Come on man... lets get you out of here...I think the hotel manager is already on to us,” Sam says in a matter of fact way, bypassing the whole breakdown issue.
“Yeah... this place stinks,” Dean joins in, rubbing his sleeve across his cheeks and managing to not look like a toddler while doing it. He thinks. “Let’s get some fresh air.”
Sam’s hand on his shoulder stops him from moving any further and Dean figures he was heading in the wrong direction.
“You might want to zip up... there’s a group of nuns at the reception that might not recover from that particular sight any time soon,” Sam says, in just the right tone of voice.
Teasing him, just like Sam always does, just like he did before Dean
this... lesser person who makes a mess in public bathrooms and breaks
down over it. It’s a good reminder.
Tourists are careless animals. Easily distracted and, more often than not, not really cut out for travel very far from the security of their homes. The bigger the luggage, the closer to home some of them should stay. Because what is the point of traveling to the other side of the world if you end up carrying half your house with you?
In the time he spent waiting for Dean outside the hotel’s restroom, Sam had one ear listening out for his brother, one on the software running the documents’ translator, and two eyes on the middle aged couple checking in at the reception area.
Judging by the woman’s clothes and the size of the diamante bracelet that she keeps waving around her bony wrist, Sam would say that they have enough money to rent their own private jet to travel around. From their accent, he could guess they were British. And the reason why Sam can hear them, all the way from the reception to the where he is, some good twenty feet away, is because the man is yelling at the top of his lungs at the poor receptionist. Apparently, his travel agency had promised him a five star hotel and this one, as he put it ‘barely merited a single star’.
When Sam exits the restroom with Dean in tow, the couple and the receptionist were still going at it, one side trying to explain that it wasn’t really their fault that the travel agency had misled them, the other trying to force a four star hotel into a miraculous and instantaneous upgrade to five stars.
The couple’s luggage bags, piled bigger than Sam’s height, are parked near the wall, neglected and forgotten with everyone’s attention centered on the loud dispute.
Sam’s initial urge is to start screaming that the apocalypse is coming and that they shouldn’t really waste their time in such petty and pointless matters. Instead, he decides smoothly parting the obnoxious couple from a small bag that sits like a queen on top of their throne of bags will cause little affliction to his conscience. From the size and shape, Sam figures it to be their wallets and travel documents.
Two blocks away from the hotel, Sam can finally breath in relief. Like
he’d expected, no one even noticed.
Making sure that no one is paying attention to them, he finally opens the bag and looks inside, a smile spreading across his face as he catches the roll of bills with the Queen’s stern face looking back at him. Beneath it are two British passports, for a Mr. and Mrs. Dumont. “Guess they’ll be spending the next couple of days at their embassy’s hotel. Think that’s five stars?” Sam comments, waving the roll of cash under Dean’s nose.
“British pounds?” Dean asks, missing the impressed look in Sam’s face. “You robbed those pricks at the hotel?”
“They won’t need it,” the younger brother justifies. “And how the hell could you know what type of money this was?”
wiggles his brows, a genuine smirk gracing his lips. “It smelled
the fish and chips,” he says. After a silent beat, Dean’s smirk
dissolves into a short laugh. “I heard them talking too, asshat.”
Sam is looking for a place for them to go through the translated documents and, for the moment, Dean is content with just tagging along. If he forgets the fact that he is walking down the street with his arm laced around Sam’s, and that every steps he takes is preceded by a quick feel of the ground ahead of him with the tip of his foot, it’s almost a pleasant walk. For now, he’s just grateful that Sam hasn’t thought of getting Dean a white cane or something.
Despite the desperate situation they’re in, he can see some hope now. Half an hour ago they had no clues, no money and no idea on what to do next. Two out of three wasn’t that bad.
When they finally stop in what Sam announces to be a coffee shop that ‘almost looks like Starbucks’, Dean sits where Sam puts him and searches for the familiar sound that has been following him since Abu Simbel.
Mile-Oh must be exhausted. And pretty lonely, Dean figures, to have followed a perfect stranger this far.
Sure enough, within five minutes of them stopping and sitting in the patio of the coffee place, rich aromas of coffee beans and freshly baked
spicy bread filing the air, and Mile-Oh arrives to sniff Dean’s hand. If the furious typing of keyboard keys that comes from across the table is any indication, Dean knows that Sam is already busy, trying to decipher what those documents mean. Dean slides back in his chair and searches the dog’s fur for that particular spot behind his ears that Mile-Oh seems to love.
Their Cokes arrives in tall glasses, gas still sizzling from the recent pouring drink into the tall glasses. Dean’s fingers glide on the wet surface and inside, he can hear the soft tinkling of ice cubes.
The sound of two plates being set on the metal tabletop proceeds the sumptuous smell of grilled meat and freshly fried potatoes. If it weren’t for the occasional wisp of conversation in Arabic and the ever present unfamiliar and festive music, Dean can almost pretend that he’s in any other of the places he and Sam were used to stopping at to eat in their drives up and down the USA’s roads.
“You need to eat, Dean,” Sam’s voice breaks through Dean’s thoughts and he realizes that not even the rich scent of his favorite food has managed to trigger his stomach enough for him to lift a hand to reach for the burger.
The eyes eat too, they say. Dean starts to realize that, in his case, that’s truer than for most. He can’t bring himself to eat what he can’t see; or maybe he can’t eat because somewhere in that country, Cas and Bobby are being held hostages because of them; and somewhere across the ocean, Lucifer is still winning every battle and getting closer and closer to win the war.
Mile-Oh licks his hand and Dean breaks a bit of the burger to give the dog. At least the poor animal is bound to be hungry. The burger is so juicy that Dean ends up making a mess all over his fingers and, not in the mood to ask Sam for help or to wonder aimlessly through the table’s contents in search of a napkin, he just licks it clean.
The explosion of flavor inside his mouth feels like a supernova’s burst, awakening his taste buds and provoking Dean in such a manner that he fears he’s drooling more than the dog. Either way, Mile-Oh doesn’t seem all that interested in his food, wiggling his tail twice against Dean’s leg before scooting away.
Dean decides to give the burger an academic try. It’s the least he can do.
Sam is deep into his research, barely waiting for the translating program to finish before he opens the – now in English - documents. The first part of the text makes it easy to figure that the whole thing is a passage taken straight from the Qur’An. One word, which the translation program gives several interpretations to, catches Sam attention. The software can’t seem make up its mind, so it offers ‘savior’, ‘lamb’, ‘chosen’ and even ‘the guided one’ as options. The pattern is obvious enough and as Sam searches the original text for that particular passage, he finds a familiar word: Mahdi.
As Sam’s eyes race though the translated text, each line that he reads sinks like a sack of bricks to the bottom of his stomach. “A sign of his authority is that there shall come to you the ark (...) carried by angels and they shall point you the way.”
Sam can’t really imagine angels guiding Dean anywhere he wants to go, but the coincidences are too many to dismiss. Like Dean said from the start, there is no recollection or recording of any other person gathering this much attention from the heavenly beings, at least not since Man invented electric light. In fact, the angels had been so discreet and meager in their interactions with humans that it’d become more or less general belief that they didn’t even exist.
And when the angels finally decide to meddle in the humans affairs, is to take Dean out of Hell. Him. Specifically. Not some other random soul rotting in Hell. Just Dean.
And now the Ark showing up in his brother’s dreams? Sam couldn’t help but see the pattern there. What if this passage really was talking about his brother?
Sam looks at Dean, sitting across the table, and his heart aches. Face unguarded by the ignorance of being watched, Dean looks relaxed as he finally takes a bite out of his burger. For some reason, Dean had started by picking it up and tearing a small piece of meat out of the bun. Sam rarely sees his brother play with his food like that, but when he does, it’s a bottomless source of concern.
There is a soft glow of candlelight, flickering against the concrete walls and bringing to life the paintings hanging there. Old looking paintings, with old looking frames and cracked ink.
The stained glass on the windows is dulled out by a layer of dust and the faint gleam from outside barely manages to highlight the scene it depicts. But Dean knows it by heart. He remembers the fisherman pulling fish into his boat while Jesus and his apostles wait nearby, the Middle Eastern village in the back ground looking so distant and foreigner from everything else in Blue Earth... cut out pieces of old stories, painted in green and blue glass.
The smell of melted wax and wood polish is heavy in the air, mixed with something else, something comforting and cleansing. Something very specific and distinctively Jim Murphy.
Dean is sitting on one of the long, wooden benches. In front of him and behind, the row seems to stretch forever. On the other side, more seats, all empty.
Up ahead, at the end of the corridor of pew upon pew, there is an altar, neatly decorated with a white cloth where a fine line of dark-red embroidered cross stands out. Tall candle stands frame the altar on all four sides, melted wax dripping from them like frozen tears.
Dean almost expects Pastor Jim to be there as well, standing behind the altar, framed by the long pipes of the church’s organ, the big and sturdy Bible open in from of him while he recites passages that he already knows by heart.
Dean learned to play the piano on that organ, the echoing sounds of grave and ominous music notes, bouncing off the walls like merry kids on a summer afternoon. He loved to sit in front of the large contraption when the church was empty, his feet barely reaching the pedals, and pretend that he was playing it like a master, giving a concert for the biggest of crowds.
Dean forgot how to play a long time ago. And Jim is dead.
Without the familiar presence of the man who helped raise them, the place feels cold and unwelcoming. Jim isn’t there, but then again, neither is Dean.
He knows he is dreaming even before Castiel shows up. “Going old school on me?” Dean voices, looking at the crucifixion scenes hanging from the walls above the angel’s head.
“You must help me,” Castiel says in lieu of greeting. He’s standing in front of the altar and Dean doesn’t need to look down to know that the ever-present ring of fire is already lit at the angel’s feet.
“We went to Abu Simbel,” Dean says as he gets up from the pew and walks towards the unmoving angel. “You weren’t there... it was a trap.”
“And you escaped,” Castiel finishes for him, head tilting to the side as if that is a strange concept.
“Weren’t we supposed to?” Dean finds himself asking. He is near enough that he can feel the warmth of the flames, the light dancing off the grey walls turning the trapped angel’s eyes darker.
“No, you were not.”
Dean blinks, his steps faltering. The hues shift in front of his eyes, sapping the images around him of their color and life. Everything around him, in front of him, is... wrong. It must be wrong, because that is Castiel he is seeing, and that is definitely Castiel that he is hearing. But the words coming out of his mouth? Those are from a stranger.
Cas has been a presence in Dean’s life for long enough now that the human can safely claim to know the runaway angel to some extent. Long gone is the naïve and arrogant being that could not understand Dean’s lack of faith and would resort to issuing menaces to get his respect and obedience.
The Castiel that Dean knows now is one that has reached a semblance of balance in his position towards humans, towards Dean in particular. He isn’t exactly ‘the guy next door’ yet, but he no longer comes across like a tax accountant version of the Terminator.
Most of the initial arrogance is gone now, beaten out of the angel by his betraying brothers and the confusion and chaos that seems to reign in Heaven; what remains is the angel’s faith in God and, Dean wants to believe, his friendship with the Winchesters.
This... this version of Castiel, is one that Dean has never faced before. One that seems to be rejoicing in Dean’s confusion and shock. Waiting eagerly for it to morph into fear.
Dean stops a few feet from the angel, reluctant to close the distance between them. The distance grows shorter anyway because Cas does the impossible.
The angel calmly takes a step forward, right over the ring of fire, and Dean gasps in surprise. He flinches away, half expecting the angel to burst into flames like the previous times the fire has touched him, but nothing happens.
The look on Castiel’s face is one that the hunter never expected to see, not on this angel anyway. He has seen it in Zachariah’s face... he has seen it in Lucifer’s... he has even seen it in Gabriel and Raphael. But not Cas.
Castiel is... having fun with this, smiling gleefully as he screws with Dean’s head. From the way the angel is walking predatorily towards him, Dean wishes that he’d remained trapped. “How did you do that? I thought those things were like devil’s traps for your kind—“
“This is a dream... I can do whatever I like,” Castiel says, the smile on his face turning dark. Evil.
“This is my dream, not yours,” Dean points out.
Castiel draws nearer, head tilted to the side as he studies Dean closely, like he’s nothing but a bug. “True. Wanna see a neat trick though?”
For some reason, Dean is screaming ‘NO!’ inside his head, like he knows that whatever is going to come next, will be terrifying.
He isn’t mistaken.
The solid granite beneath his feet disappears and the world tilts fast and hard, enough to send Dean crashing to the ground on all fours. Beneath him, Dean can feel the cold touch of rock and wet dirt. His hands, outstretched on either side of his body to keep him from falling, are soaked in whatever is covering the ground. When he brings one up to see, Dean can only stare in horror at the realization of what the wetness truly is. His fingers are covered in blood.
A deep and disturbing feeling of recognition settles over Dean like a blanket of ice. Despite it being the last thing that he wants to do, Dean looks up. He needs to know, he needs to be sure.
There are corpses hanging from the earthly walls, displayed like
paintings in the goriest of galleries. Limbs and body parts, severed or still attached to their previous owners, are piled on the floor, like yesterday’s trash that someone’s forgot to pick up. Everywhere, the smell of blood floats around like a sentient being, looking for the next place to contaminate with its stench.
Screams sound like a broken record, interrupted and discontinuous, either muffled or loud to the point of paralyzing whoever hears them.
Hell. Dean is back in Hell. And Castiel is there in front of him. Laughing.
“Is this real? Am I dreaming?” Dean demands, eyes wide, sweat plastering his hair to his forehead. His voice, depleted of all strength, barely rises over the noise of his panicking heart. He can’t be back in this place. He won’t be able to stand it a second time.
“Told ya I’d toss you back in,” Castiel says with a leering smile. The fire from the pits of sulphur that surrounds the tight space reflects in Castiel’s clear eyes as he bends over to look closely at Dean’s face. They look like small snakes of lava, dancing in the deep blue. “And this time, I’m leaving you here.”
Dean falls back on his ass, scrambling away on all fours, trying to escape the angel's presence. Whoever that is, Dean is sure it’s not Castiel. And right now, his money is on Alastair. He recognizes this place. These are Alastair’s ‘private quarters’, the place where he took his ‘special charges’. The place where Dean finally broke and said ‘Yes’.
When his back hits a hard surface, Dean can’t retreat any more. Looking behind his shoulder, Dean’s met with a vision that has been haunting his dreams ever since he left Hell behind. His arms start shaking and he can’t seem to be able to draw a breath in.
The rack, a massive block of stone and metal, looms above him, standing like a giant anvil, looking down at the man cowering in its shade. Long, blackened shackles hang from its sides, starving mouths with sharp teeth just waiting for some flesh to sink their metal in.
Dean tries to turn and get up, escape the sight of the rack, escape that place of nightmares and endless torture. He fails. His hands slip on the wet floor and he ends up on the ground, splatted like a bug, chin scrapped raw against the uneven rocks.
Dean closes his eyes against the pain, but when he opens them again, the world has shifted again. He can’t see the rack anymore, but he can feel it, every inch of his body from head to heels making contact with the cold surface. He shivers at the same time he can feel his blood boiling underneath his skin and, even though no blade as yet touched him, Dean wants to scream already.
“Why are you doing this? Who are you?”
Castiel is standing above him, blue eyes traveling over the meat on display and Dean recoils from the hungry stare. Castiel has never looked at him like that and even though the angel is wearing a human as his vessel, Dean is pretty sure that Jimmy would ever be able to look at anyone like that either. There’s something primitive and feral in that gaze.
“Wake up... wake up... wake the fuck up, already!” Dean whispers to himself.
Nothing happens though. Castiel is still looking down at him, the same cruel look in his face and Dean is still strapped to the same slab of unforgiving stone that was his home and existence for thirty years of pain.
Struggling against his restraints is just as useless now as it was then. Dean tried that for decades and not once did those bounds break under his efforts. And even though this is his dream and he should be able to wish himself free, Dean has long realized that he is not in control of his own head.
In a way, it feels like the dream root incident all over again. His dream, his memories, his emotions and fears, but no control over what happens next. “Who the fuck are you?”
Castiel’s face is inches away from his and Dean can see his own reflection in the angel’s light eyes. He looks terrified. He feels terrified.
“I am Castiel,” the angel replies. There is a veil of sarcasm in his voice that Dean knows the real Castiel has yet been able to grasp. “I am an angel of the Lord, sent here to raise you from perdition... and you, Dean, are my bitch.”
Dean can’t shift his gaze away. Beads of sweat roll down the side of his face and splatter against the rack. He can hear the salty water sizzling as it hits stone and yet, Dean is freezing cold.
“You’re not Cas... he would never do this.”
The angel ignores his words, leans back and starts pacing around the rack. If his nearness was disturbing, Dean discovers that Castiel’s orbiting the rack, wandering around and away from his field of vision, is even more unsettling. He can’t trust this version of Castiel, can’t predict what he will do next. Dean needs to see him to feel any measure of control over what is happening.
“Why won’t you look for the Ark, Dean? Does Bobby’s life mean nothing to you?”
The question stops Dean’s struggles to see where Castiel is, what he is doing. “Wha—what?”
“Bobby. You remember him? Old guy in a wheel chair? Took care of you and your brother when your father couldn’t be bothered to give a damn about his own two brats?” Castiel says, his voice coming from somewhere behind Dean’s head. “Bobby... is not having a good time. And you and your brother decided to pay him back for all those nights taking care of your snotty little noses and pimpled cheeks, by not giving a crap about the search for the Ark. It’s sad, really.”
“What have you done to Bobby?” Dean hisses. He pushes against the chains that strap his wrists to the rack until he can feel blood lubricating the metal. It’s enough for him to slip one hand free.
The minute his hand slides from the initial chain, another one attaches itself to his limb, trapping him again. Just like before; just like he remembers.
“Me?” the angel asks, pointing theatrically to his own chest. “Not a thing. You, on the other hand...”
“Where is he?” Dean manages to squeeze between clench teeth. The chains feel like they weigh a ton and are slowly pulling him down, crushing his limbs against the rack. Dean’s feet and hands feel like they might fall off any minute, from the pressure alone.
“He’s not having fun, I’ll tell you that,” the angel finally whispers, his face back to where Dean can see it. “Not far from the place you are now, there is a hole in the ground. Six feet high, seven feet wide. Above that hole, there are two large bags, filled with sand, one and a half ton each. The bags have a tiny hole, and through that hole, about sixty pounds of sand escape every hour that goes by. Guess who’s
inside that hole, slowly being buried alive?”
“Motherfucker! I’m gonna kill you!” Dean screams, his head rising inches above the rack before it is slammed back down with enough strength to leave him dizzy.
“No... you’re gonna kill Bobby. In less than forty-eight hours, those two bags will be empty and your friend will be under three tons of sand. So, do you wanna wake up and do something about that or should we just stay right here and shoot the shit?” Castiel calls back at him, mouth near enough that Dean can feel every glob of spit that flies off him.
“Leave him be,” Cas’s voice echoes in the dark place.
For a minute, Dean is confused. Castiel is standing right above him, and yet his voice seems to come from further away. Plus, there is the fact that the Castiel staring daggers at him hasn’t opened his mouth to speak.
And then he sees the second Castiel.
They look identical in everything, from the rumpled dark hair to the crooked blue tie. Yet, one has nothing but contempt in his eyes while the other is filled with compassion. Dean has no doubts about who is the real one.
“Took you long enough,” the fake Castiel hisses, his smile just as crooked as his tie. “Wanna see the piggy scream?”
Dean has no time to even fear what comes next, much less expect it. The blade is long enough to pierce his chest all the way through to his back and still scrape against the rack. He opens his mouth to scream, but there is only the sound of gurgling blood, pooling between his lips.
Castiel is laughing right before he burst into flames. And then he’s grabbing Dean’s shoulders, talking urgently at him.
For the life of him, Dean can’t understand a word he’s saying, but the angel’s eyes tell him its something important.
“—am! Please, Dean! You must tell me where! I can not find you unless you tell m—“
Dean coughs, blood sprinkling up and falling all over his face as it falls
down. “Egypt,” he gasps between mouthfuls of blood. “Aswa—“
There’s an old wives tale that says you wake up before you die in your dreams. That the brain can’t mimic what it has never experienced.
Dean’s memories, however, are filled with countless deaths and the feeling of his heart beating sluggishly before his breath catches inside his chest and everything stops.
Dean dies in his dream. And then he wakes up.
“Dean! DEAN! For god sake, wake up!”
Dean flails awake and almost topples down from the chair where he’s precariously sitting. Awake, trying to catch his breath, Dean can feel Sam's concern, senses his hovering, hands clasped tight around his arms.
Even though they’re sitting in the shade, Dean’s forehead and upper lip are pooling with beads of sweat; the pleasant aftertaste that food had left in his mouth is replaced by a coppery flavor.
Before Sam can ask if he’s okay and what happened, a familiar shadow appears by his side and Sam almost jumps back as he sees Castiel, just... standing there.
“Where have you two been?” The angel asks, sounding like a disgruntled parent chastising his two kids. “I have looked everywhere, used the cellular telephone you gave me until the lady said I was out of minutes—“
Meeting Sam’s still surprised look and not getting an answer from Dean, despite his most menacing glare, Castiel looks around, taking in their surroundings. “Why are you here? This is very far from where Lucifer has chosen to base his operations—“
“We were trying to rescue you, you ingrate,” Dean finally says, wiping the sweat off his face with the back of his hand. His skin still smells of sulphur, like he rose straight from Hell into the coffee shop and he gags. “Do you wanna tell me what the hell was that all about?”
“Rescue me?" Castiel's brow furrows. “I was in need of no such thing—“ he stops himself, studying Dean for a minute. Head tilting to the side, he finally realizes why the human isn’t meeting his eyes when he talks to him, something Castiel has grown accustomed to appreciate when dealing with the Winchesters. “You’re blind,” he states. “How did that come to happen?”
Dean dismisses him with a wave of the hand. “Long story... we can save it for bed time. Why don’t you answer my question instead? What the hell happened inside my head just now? How come I’ve been dreaming of you for the last couple of days and you didn’t even know about it? And who the hell was that other Castiel?”
“Wait...” Sam blinks, not really understanding why man and angel are yelling at each other. The last part, though, catches his attention. “What?”
“It was Asmodeus,” Castiel supplies. “I don’t know how he managed to do that or what he has told you, but I have not been in contact with either of you since the day Lucifer released Death.”
“But Dean saw—“
“What he needed to see in order to get him to do exactly what Asmodeus wanted,” Cas finishes.
“It was a trap, Sam,” Dean sighs out, understanding now that this had all been an elaborate chunk of cheese to lure them both there like mice. “The demon made itself look like Cas... tricked me.”
Sam shakes his head. Even though the possibility had already crossed his mind, there is one thing that makes no sense to him. “How did he... he gave you the amulet. How could he give you the amulet if Cas had it?”
From the way Castiel lowers his head, Sam could almost assume that he’s embarrassed. “I don’t have Dean’s amulet. Not anymore,” the angel confesses. “When I was trapped in Carthage, Lucifer took it from me.”
“He... took it?” Dean lets out, rage building up inside his chest at the thought of that pompous prick touching something that is so personal and dear to him. “And it didn’t occurred to you to mention that small fact—“
“You were grieving... both of you were. Your friends’ death had just occurred and I believed that bearing more bad news would be ill timed,” Castiel voices calmly, like he’s explaining complicated things to simple children. “I am relieved that the amulet has found its way back to you.”
“Lucifer took it and gave it to his general,” Sam thinks out loud. “They needed to give us real proof that Cas was here, or else they knew you’d never come.”
“Yes,” Castiel agrees.
“Why?” Dean lets out. To think that this was all for nothing, that his mistake forced Bobby to leave the relative safety of his house and come all this way to risk his life for... “What’s so important that this demon felt the need to brings us here? Why here? Why us?”
“They want the Ark,” Castiel replies, the certainty in his tone leaving no room for doubts.
“Yeah, so he told us,” Dean admits. “But we don’t even know where it is!”
Castiel pauses, catching his vessel’s tie as a gust of wind sends it flapping sideways. “But I do,” he says softly.
Dean grabs the edge of the table to stop himself from making a grab for Cas’ neck. The inability to read his expression, to tell why the matter-of-fact way in which he says those words doesn’t add up with the sadness that he can hear in the angel’s voice, is driving Dean insane.
“You know? Just like that?” he asks, trying to pull more information out of the usually cryptic being. “So, was this something that came out in the Angel’s Digest or—“
“The Ark was built as a sign of faith, a contract between Heaven and Earth, intended to forever keep an open connection between the two worlds. Every being in Heaven knows its location,” Castiel explains.
“Every being?” Sam catches on. “So, wouldn’t Lucifer know where the Ark is? Why wouldn’t he tell his general that? Why go to all this
Castiel is already shaking his head before Sam finishes. “Because Lucifer was already cast from Heaven when the Ark came to be. He knows of its existence, yes, but we have kept its location hidden since its creation.”
“And he wants to destroy it,” Dean concludes.
“No... I believe Lucifer wants to use it for his own purposes,” Castiel corrects.
“Why? What for?”
Castiel takes the empty seat by the table. People around them are already starting to look and this is not a conversation that Castiel wishes for them to have in the middle of a crowd. Still, from the intense looks both brothers are giving him, the angel knows that he can delay it no more.
“Lucifer intends to destroy Michael and confront our Father. Demand retribution for what he sees as an unjust punishment.”
“Yeah... he tried peddling that crap to us too,” Dean says, resisting the shiver that threatens to race through his body as he remembers the trip to the future, courtesy of ‘Zachariah’s travel agency’. Thinking of that turd... “What about Zach? Wouldn’t it be easier to convince him, or any of the losers he persuaded to join his side, to give up the location of the Ark to Lucifer and let Daddy solve the mess they’ve made?”
Castiel shakes his head. “Zachariah would never give up the location of the Ark. To use the Ark would be tantamount to alerting our Father to Zachariah and the other archangels’ actions. Whatever power Zachariah has managed to procure for himself in Heaven, would be lost.”
“Okay... let’s say I buy that,” Dean goes on, his fingers drawing incomprehensible signs on the tabletop. “Why us? Why not just capture someone who actually knows the location of the thing and grab the information the gory old fashioned way?”
“No angel would ever give up its location, willingly or... unwillingly. And they specifically need the two of you—“ Castiel pauses, looks at the two of them, pondering how much more to say.
Dean’s hand suddenly sneaks forward until he finds and latches on to
Castiel’s wrist. “Don’t even think about zapping out of here without finishing that sentence,” Dean warns.
Castiel sighs, gaze lowering to see the white-knuckle death grip Dean has on his vessel’s trench coat. Three of those knuckles are scrapped raw and bloody from some recent fight. Castiel can’t remember a time when he’s seen Dean’s fingers without some sort of sign of his fighting spirit. The Winchesters are already closer to the Ark than they were ever supposed to be. There is no point in denying the situation any more.
“Only the two of you can open the Ark and make it work,” Castiel finishes.
Dean lets go of his coat and leans back on his chair. He runs a hand over his face, like he wants to clean the tiredness and pain away in one fell swoop.
“Wait! I know this one,” Dean says, an ugly smile on his face. “It has to be us, because we’re the motherfucking vessels of the hour... am I right?”
Castiel ignores the sarcasm and profanity pouring out from his human friend. He can feel the depth of Dean’s feelings on the matter, enough to know that his show of levity is nothing but that, a show. “No... it needs to be you because you two are of the correct blood line.”
The sighs are simultaneous as they exit both Sam and Dean’s mouths. So are the words. “Of course we are...”
Castiel sits quietly, waiting for some of the confusion to dissipate from Sam’s face, for some of the anger to melt from Dean’s brow. A group of men sit themselves down on the other side of the street; long tunics folded around their crossed legs as they take over the side walk and start playing cards.
“I don’t get it,” Sam finally says. “If you’ve always known where the Ark is and you know that it works—“
“Why take my amulet to search for Daddy?” Dean finishes, his mind in the same line of thought. “Why not just use the Ark and be done with it?”
Castiel picks a saltshaker from the table and studies its glass surface. The pattern design of the circular shaped container looks like row upon row of tiny bubbles. “I was... ambivalent about the use of the Ark this soon,” the angel
whispers, eyes focusing on some distant point that allows him to avoid both Sam’s intense gaze and Dean’s tense unseeing expression.
“This soon?” Dean explodes, coming close enough that Cas can see the anger in his eyes. “THIS SOON? What were you waiting for? Boiling oceans? The four horsemen? Because, dude, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention but—“
“It is not as simple as you may think,” Castiel interrupts, his tone still soft but commanding. “The use of the Ark is not cost free. There are certain... sacrifices pertaining to its deployment that must be weighed against... everything else.”
“What sacrifices? You’re talking about an actual ritual?” Sam asks.
Castiel stops and looks up, like he is searching for the answer somewhere near home. He sticks one hand inside his pocket and takes out the cell phone that Dean gave him. “The Ark is a lot like this phone,” the angel says, turning the black plastic casing in his fingers. “It’s needs the presence of certain key elements to be activated when first purchased. In this case, the end of times and the presence of two elements of the right blood line.”
“So... we’re like what... some sort of PIN code?”
“I have no idea what that is... but yes, I’m sure you have the right idea,” the angel says with a brief air of confusion. “And to make a call, you need to pay a certain charge. In the Ark’s case, a blood sacrifice. In distant times, the blood of a lamb was often used in the day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to make a connection between Men and Heaven...”
“And now?” Sam presses on.
“Now... there is need of—“ Castiel starts, looking almost nervous, a strange expression coming over his face.
“Now it needs a hell of a lot more than furry and cuddly things like lambs to bleed on it, right?” Dean finishes for him, guessing the source of the angel’s reluctance.
Sam’s face bleaches of all color and he sits back against his plastic chair, as if trying to set more space between himself and the idea that was just put on the table. “We can’t... we can’t do that.”
Dean’s lips are nothing more than a thin line on his face as he too sits back too, his position mimicking Sam’s even without realizing it. “Doesn’t matter,” he states. “Bobby’s life depends on us delivering this thing. So... where do we find it?”
“Church of Saint Mary of Zion.” “And that’s in--?” “Axum, in Ethiopia.”
Chapter Nine: Axum of Evil
The streets are empty. A desolate lack of life that comes from far deeper than the absence of people in sight. There are no lights on the windows, no smoke on the rooftops. The street lamps, oddly enough, are lit, even if it is the middle of the day.
A brownish, stray dog walks across the street, shyly, nervously, paws lifting small clouds of red dirt in his wake. He stops near a pile of trash, sniffing the contents of a greasy Tupperware before snorting his disapproval at the nasty smell of the rotten food inside and skittering away into the shadows of the alley.
The houses on either side of the street are mostly two, three story buildings, some of them with zinc roofs that act like grill ovens in the heat. Somewhere, in one of the long string of empty homes, a door keeps banging against its frame, wind-fueled knocks that no one answers. No one cares to stop.
Tied to a post near one of the houses, a brown cow stares at them, mouth moving around imaginary food and flanks so dry and emaciated that she looks like she’s already started to eat herself.
What few cars they pass by are missing most of their tires and rust has taken over their paint. From the look of it, they’ve been left to rot long before the town was emptied. Long enough for weeds to start growing up through their engines.
The whole place spells abandonment.
A rushed one, judging by the things left behind. There are torn clothes, torn furniture, torn toys left behind, scattered in the middle of the street, filling it up with the residual stink of panic.
Their out-of-no-where appearance, in between a doorless blue Pinto and a cracked wooden box with rotten figs that sits in the middle of the street, should’ve set off a new wave of panic. As it is, there is no one around to catch their arrival.
“What happened here?” Sam asks, stomach threatening to rebel
against the unsavory form of transportation they’ve just used. The sense of wrongness and danger, however, is stronger than the bile rising up his throat.
“Same thing that always happens. The leader of the military group with most weapons at the time, has decided to show his strength to his opponents by announcing an impending strike on some random village. This village,” Castiel explains, his tone pulling off ‘emotionless’ better than his sad eyes.
“Where is everyone?” the younger Winchester whispers.
“There,” the angel says, finger extended and pointed to the end of the street. There is a dirt road, flanked by bushes and flowers, that ends in a round building.
The short, white painted dome of the concrete and plaster construction with its blue-grayish tiles adorning the stained-glass windows like a frame of silver, calls attention to itself. Not because it is the only structure that looks to have been built in the last ten years, but because it’s the one speck of color in the whole brown and faded place.
Surrounding it, the luxurious treetops are so green that they look painted rather than real. It’s like life itself had chosen that one spot to flourish, instead of spreading evenly through the desert landscape.
Dean hasn’t opened his mouth once since they left Aswan, lips still set in the same frowning line of concern. Willingly, he allows Sam to grab his hand and place it across his arm, the message unspoken but clear as younger brother guides older across the empty street. One will not mention his resignation at being led around and the other doesn’t voice his offer for help. The closer they get to the round structure, the faster Dean walks, head cocked to the side.
Soon after, Sam too can hear what has been drawing his brother forward; the soft buzz of too many people speaking in hushed tones. The sounds rise from the place ahead of them like a heat wave, invisible and just as scorching.
Rounding the white church, they find what has to be the entire population of the little town, sitting outside. They are huddled in various groups, families, friends and neighbors. They all bear the same expressions of fear and despair in their dirt-covered faces.
The children are crying silently, weightless tears running down their
dark skinned faces and clearing paths of water through the dust. They don’t make much sound, just the occasional sniff and sob, like they fear they’ll be discovered if they cry too loudly.
Those closest to them turn their heads to look at the new comers. Their eyes, wide open and clouded with panic, travel from their faces down, searching the newcomers’ hands for guns. When they see none, they relax and ignore them.
The ground is covered in fresh grass and crawling weeds, looking almost like a lush carpet of deep and light greens rather than the patio of some building.
“Why are they here? Why not run away while there’s still time?” Sam asks. The expression in these people’s faces is similar to those of the inhabitants of River Pass, Colorado where they'd found Ellen; where she'd taken them to that church basement full of panic stricken souls, cornered like rats. Frightened, uncertain, with the same look of incredulity as to why this is happening to them. The same strength to survive to survive despite the odds and their fear.
The only difference is that these people aren’t afraid of demons. They’re afraid of regular, everyday humans.
“What is the point?” Castiel points out, sounding tired of the whole situation. “I’ve seen this happen millions of times, long before Lucifer walked the Earth. There is no place they’ll be safer, no place they can run to. At least here, they know where their loved ones are... right beside them. It makes it easier to endure.”
It is more compassion and sympathy for humans than a Castiel of one year ago would’ve shown for anyone. Dean smiles bitterly, knowing that, if on one hand, he and his brother have, at least, one small bit of responsibility on Castiel’s ‘corruption’ into being a more humane angel, but on the other the rebel angel was right about the evil and pain in the world that had always, and would always, be around.
“Easier?” Sam says with a gasp. All he can see are human beings waiting to be slaughtered, hugging each other in some delusional idea that that will keep them save when the guys with the machine guns arrive. The lucky ones will be killed right off the bat, downed by the first spray of bullets. The others... the others will be left to marinate in the blood of their loved ones as they wait for their turn. “How can it be easier to wait to be massacred?”
Castiel closes his eyes, his face relaxing like he’s sinking into a warm
bath. “Can’t you feel it?” “The Ark? It’s here?”
“Yes... they can sense its presence and have drifted closer to it. They feel it can protect them.”
“And can it?”
“All the other villages surrounding this one have been decimated countless times. This one prevails,” Castiel says like it’s just some standard statistic. It’s neither a yes nor a no.
Dean grabs on to the fabric of Castiel’s trench coat, the material far different from Sam’s soft cotton shirt. “We can’t take away the only thing protecting these people,” he whispers hurriedly. The whispering is mostly because he can’t bring himself to voice such a horrible thing. He doubts anyone in here understands a word he’s saying.
“Their faith is keeping them safe,” Castiel corrects, making no move to escape Dean’s trapping touch. ”Some of them will survive.”
“Some... sounds a lot less than all,” Dean presses on. “I love Bobby like a father and I would do anything for him, but... I can’t do this, Cas... I can’t put my needs above these people.”
“I’m afraid I’ve led you into error... it is not your needs that are being placed above these humans... it is the needs of the Ark itself. It cannot be allowed to fall into strangers’ hands, evil hands. That is the reason why its location changes every five years, no place used twice. Now it is here, and the chances of a demon riding amongst the soldiers that even now move to attack this place are... too high to ignore. The Ark’s guardian won’t be enough if Lucifer hears that the Ark is here, now.”
“Guardian? He one of you guys?” “No. He is a... devout man, but a man nonetheless.”
Sam takes a deep breath, realizing that this is happening. They’re really there to take the Ark away and let all those people die because... what? Because the locals aren’t part of some divine plan? How was that righteous? How was that even right? “Think he’ll just let us take it away?” he asks instead.
Castiel frowns, his blue eyes staring at the door of the circular building. His gaze climbs the white dome until it reaches the simple
cross shining on the top. “I doubt it.”
Inside, the small church is as packed as outside. There is no electricity and the light coming from the candles and the gasoline lamps, gives it a mixed feeling, part medieval convent and part turn of the century refugee camp.
The simple wooden chai