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Blind Faith

By Adrenalishots

Adventure / Action

Chapter 1


328 B.C.

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

2009, A.D.

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.

Sam 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

Gabriel before.

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.

474 000 results. Dean only needs one to know where Castiel is. “Fucking hell.”

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.”

Sam wipes a hand over his face. Dean is going to frigging murder him for this.

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.

Or Sam’s.

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...

“Besides... ana fahim Arabi” Bobby adds with a smirk that really needed no translation.

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.

He 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

Bobby’s anymore.

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.

Which, 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

manage 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.

In 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.

There’s 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.

Delicate cargo.

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.

“You 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 yet?”

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.

“Help 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.

“I’m 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

agree 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.

She knew.

“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?”

“You 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—“

“Or 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.

“Sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke,” Bobby mumbles.

“I think 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.

Dean 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.

“Enjoying 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.

“Yeah,” 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.

“We’re 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.

“That’s 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.

A dog.

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.

And that’s when the sounds of struggle inside the temple reaches Dean’s ears.

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.

Nothing happens.

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.

“How many?”

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?

At 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.”

“Cas? He-man?”

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.

Sam 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.

Dean 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.

He 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.

Predictably 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.

Azeem, 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.

“You 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.

The 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 men.

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.”

The 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.

“With 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.

Forty-eight hours.

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.

And 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.”

“Even Klingon?”

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.

“There’s 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.”

“I 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.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Do you see a restroom sign anywhere?” Dean asks, his cheeks coloring slightly at the prospect of being led to the bathroom.

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

was 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?”

Dean 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

iron 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 chairs, which would usually be lining up facing the altar, are now piled against the windows, a meager protection from whatever will surely come flying in from outside. They won’t stop bullets and they won’t stop much else, except the sunlight from breaking the golden effect of the burning light inside.

At the back, where the altar was supposed to be, there is nothing but a two pilled up apple crates covered in a white cloth with a cigarette burn on the left side. On top of the makeshift table sits a molding piece of bread and a chipped glass filled with water.

Sam, Dean and Castiel try to move inconspicuously through the crowd, but it’s hardly possible to not notice the three tall, white men in a room full of people weathered by hunger and pain and whose skin tone varies from rich chocolate to soft cocoa. The people, however, pay them no attention. Their eyes are focused on the single man standing behind the improvised altar.

He looks about the same height as Castiel, dark curly hair and long beard, both peppered with white strands. He’s wrapped in a light- brown shawl, tied around the waist with what looks like a string of braided corn silk. On his head there is a black Kufi hat that almost reaches his eyes.

The man is sweating profusely under his cotton shawl, fat beads of water decorating his forehead like tiny diamonds that reflect the flickering light. Hanging from his neck is a wooden cross, crudely carved and chipped right across the middle.

As soon as he raises his arms, the silence inside the church is immediate and absolute. Even the little children grow quiet.

“What is it?” Dean murmurs. In the dead silence that has taken over the church, his whisper is the only sound in the air. “What just happened?”

“A monk.”

“The guardian will speak.”

Sam and Castiel’s replies are simultaneous, each standing on one side of Dean.

The monk in front of the altar clears his throat and begins speaking. The words roll off his mouth like soft pebbles at the bottom of a river. Sam and Dean are the only ones who can’t understand a word he’s saying.

Castiel moves without sound, going from Dean’s side to stand behind the two brothers. His voice is low and almost not there as he translates what the monk is telling the crowd.

“’Brothers... have no fear. Fear is for those who can be defeated and are frightened of the bitter taste of loss. I look around this room’--

Castiel stops talking and the brothers realize that the monk has grown quiet too. They’re staring at each other, a flicker of recognition in the monk’s dark eyes. The angel is just staring back at him, calmly awaiting the monk’s decision.

Whatever crosses between the two of them is too fast and too discrete for anyone else to catch on.

The monk's eyes glide away from the corner that Castiel and the Winchester's occupy, and he continues, “’... I look around, and I see no one with anything to fear. I look around this room and I see winners; blessed souls who have already won the biggest reward there can ever be. If the next hours find you alive and well, you will go to your homes, love your families, farm your fields and plow the fruits of your labor. And you will thank the Lord, for He is good and provides for you.

If, on the other hand, the next hours prove to be the last you spend in your mortal shells, you will all go home to our Father, to love and be loved by our family, plow the fruits of your labors on earth. And we will still thank the Lord, for He is good and will provide for us for eternity.

We are His chosen children and the Lord has granted us the honor of guarding the most precious thing on this land. And for being His loyal servants, we shall be welcomed in to His arms like a father welcomes his sons and daughters home.

And that, my brothers, my sisters... is the biggest victory any soul can

ever achieve.’

The words seem to hover above the people, slowly sinking down and smoothing their fears as they touch them. The slow murmur of too many private conversations resumes, but the tone is different now. Less panic, more at peace.

Seeing the monk occupied with the various people that have surrounded him, Castiel motions the Winchesters to follow him behind the shadows cast by the large entry pillars. Sam guides Dean and the three manage to move quietly and disappear out a side door at the back. Behind it, they find a set of steps curving downward.

Wordlessly, Castiel leads the way down, while Sam maneuvers Dean so that he can descend the stairs in the middle of them, moving Dean’s hand from his arm to the metal stair-rail that stands at about waist high. The spiral stairway turns to the right, down and down to the right and when they finally reach the last step, Sam can feel his body still turning. To walk straight once again feels like an awkward thing to do.

“We’re here,” Castiel announces.

Sam, finally able to focus on his surroundings, looks around. There are tapestries hanging from every wall but one, paintings made in cotton and wool depicting what, at first gaze, looks like selected passages from the Bible, describing the Ark’s journey through time.

The fourth wall isn’t a wall at all. It’s a red drape that hides the rest of the small room from view. Sam guesses that has to be where the Ark is, because he can’t see it anywhere else.

Dean lets go of the stair rail and reaches out until he touches the nearest tapestry on the wall. It’s almost shy and reverent the way his fingertips travel over the soft raised threads, a man on a camel, ridding through the desert, carrying the Ark on one of his camels. Dean’s digits skim across the picture with such gentleness that Sam wonders if he’s able to tell what is there just from touch.

Castiel whispers a few words, Enochian it sounds like. He looks like he is praying and for the first time, Sam wonders just how sure about all of this the angel is. He has no time to ask.

Castiel reaches out and pulls the curtain gently aside.

Sam holds his breath and realizes that he is waiting for some kind of bright light, or maybe a choir of angels, something to indicate that the simple wooden box on the other side is something more than a wooden box.

The only light comes from a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. And there is no choir. By now, Sam has met enough angels to know that they’re not usually the singing type.

The small chest is sitting on top of a block of cement and, from all the description and drawings he’s ever seen, only the lid matches what he was expecting. Every thing else is... underwhelming.

Sam searches the faces of the others, trying to see if there is any particular reaction there. Maybe it’s just him who can’t understand or be touched by the awe that something like this is supposed to inspire in others. Maybe all the evil that he has caused has made him impervious to feel touched by something good.

Castiel’s face is devoid of expression as he carefully studies the Ark, not in wonderment but more like an architect, looking for a flaw in the design, eyes traveling from it to the hanging tapestries. He looks like he just understood something, solved some deep mystery that he hasn’t even bothered to mention. He doesn’t touch the Ark, keeping what looks like a respectful distance.

Dean isn’t looking in the direction of the Ark at all. He’s tense and looking back, towards the stairs and Sam leaves him be. There is no point in rubbing in that they’re studying something that Dean can’t see.

The lid in itself is impressive; Sam has to admit that much. The two kneeling angels have a level of detail so fine that Sam half-expects them to raise their heads any minute now and stare at him, demand an explanation as to why he is there.

“What are you doing here?” A male voice asks.

Sam jumps. It takes him a moment to realize the question doesn't come from the sculptured angels, a fact made abundantly clearer with the cocking of a rifle that follows the deep voice.

Slowly, Sam spreads his arms out to the side and turns. Next to him,

he can see Cas doing the same. Dean just steps aside, putting more distance between himself and the others.

The voice belongs to the monk, the same one that was talking to the crowd above. He’s changed to English, something that strikes Sam as slightly odd.

“I am an ang—“ Castiel starts, only to be cut short by the monk’s repositioning of the gun’s sight on him.

“I know what you are... I asked, what do you think you are doing here?” the man demands. Even more odd than the language change, Sam notes, is the lack of deference for the angel.

People’s normal reaction to the heavenly beings usually varies from disbelief and drooling astonishment. Sam can easily remember the excitement and wonder he experienced when Dean had first mentioned the possibility of angels being real; his absolute euphoria when Dean introduced the two strangers in their room as angels.

It took a while and a lot of disappointments for Sam to go from his vision of angels as beings of light to agreeing with Dean that most of them were nothing but dicks with wings.

This man, however... this is a man of the cloth. Believing in angels is part of his job description. And yet here he is, contemptuously pointing a gun at one, claiming to be in full knowledge of what he’s pointing a gun at.

Sam has a very, very bad feeling about this.

“I know that voice...” Dean says, shifting in his position but otherwise unmoving. “Is that... is that the monk guy from upstairs?”

“Yes,” Castiel offers. “Hello, Haim.”

“Well, that must be one really awesome monastery you come from,” Dean says with an appreciative whistle. “Monks with guns... what next? Hot nuns? Don’t you guys swear to do no harm or something like that?”

The monk’s finger is poised on the trigger, steady, confident. Sam has no doubts that the man will shoot if they don’t manage to appease him. Or if Dean keeps egging him on. “Dean,” Sam hisses quietly. Warning. Begging.

“Shut up,” the monk says with a calm authority that sounds anything but reassuring.

The second time the monk speaks is enough for Dean to fine tune the monk’s location. He takes a step closer, all wisecrack and fun dropping from his face. “If you know what he is, then you know what we’re here for,” Dean says. He keeps his arms down, never bothering to raise them despite knowing the gun is pointed at them. His stand is non-threatening but far from surrender.

The monk shifts his gaze to Dean and the rifle’s muzzle travels with it. Sam really wants Dean to start listening to the pissed off monk and shut up.

Deep down, Sam knows exactly what Dean is doing. They’ve used the same trick too many times for him to not recognize the tactic. It’s not by chance that Dean’s careful steps are leading him farther and farther away from Sam and Castiel. It’s not by chance that he’s keeping an open path between the others and the man with the gun; and it’s definitely not by chance that Dean is drawing the man’s aim towards himself.

Dean knows that Sam has the knife hidden somewhere on him. Sam knows that this is their best chance of overpowering the pissed off monk and get what they are here for.

“Actually... I do know. I just didn’t want to believe it.” The monk’s face looks sad, disappointed. “Didn’t expect another angel to rebel against Heaven... not after Lucifer.”

Sam takes advantage of the fact that the monk’s attention is divided between the other two and ever so slightly lowers his arms an inch.

“You have spoken to Zachariah,” Castiel states. “I am sure he presented you with a vision of reality that you’ll find lacking... once you are made aware of all the facts--”

“Yeah... like the fact that he’s a dick,” Dean mutters.

“He said you might be coming to steal the Ark, use it for your own purposes--” the monk states, the strength of his belief clear and unwavering.

“To make sure the Ark serves its purpose,” Castiel cuts in.

“Its purpose is to saves us all... what would a fallen angel know about that?” the monk yells, his eyes glistening with fervor.

It is easy to see that the man’s wonderment for angels is there, untouched, still gilded in the romantic thread of them being pure and righteous beings. Unfortunately, though, his first acquaintance with an angel was with the wrong one.

Reluctant as Sam is to use the knife to kill yet another human caught in the crossfire of the mess they’ve created, he realizes that he might not have any other choice. Zachariah got to the monk first, convinced him that reason was on his side. He set the religious man on a crusade to stop them from getting the Ark. And if Sam has learned anything, it’s that a man on a crusade is an unstoppable force.

“Zachariah serves no one’s purposes but his own,” Castiel warns him. “To keep the Ark from us is not the task that you were entrusted with.”

Haim shakes his head, face morphing from disappointment to simple anger. “No. You know what the Ark is... you know its power. How can you be so foolish about its use?”

Judging by the set look that comes over Castiel's face, he too has reached the same conclusion as Sam. Reason will get them nowhere.

“We will take the Ark,” the angel says. It’s no longer a mere statement. It sounds like a threat and Sam tenses in preparation to make his move. He’s been around Castiel for long enough to be able to read the few tells he has. So, when he disappears from Sam’s side and reappears in front of the monk, practically within the man’s breathing space, the younger Winchester isn’t actually surprised.

The monk, however, is even less surprised. The sound of the rifle’s discharge in the small space is almost deafening.

Sam’s first instinct is to check Dean even though there is only one person that shot could’ve hit. While Dean recoils as if the sound of the gun going off has physically hit him, he looks otherwise unharmed, eyes turning wildly from side to side, alert and slightly panicked at the danger he cannot see.

Realizing that this is their chance, that Castiel created the necessary distraction they needed, Sam is on the move even before the echoes of the gun’s discharge clears the room.

The sight of Castiel turning around to face them, confusion and pain in his eyes, is unsettling on itself until Sam catches the blooming blood, soaking through the front of the angel’s ever-present white shirt.

Mouth open like a dazzled fish, Sam can’t move as Castiel slumps to the floor, legs folding underneath him like their strings have been suddenly cut.

That shouldn’t... be possible.

“Sam?” Dean asks, fear and frustration competing for supremacy in his voice. “Sam, you okay? What the fuck is happening?”

“I’m fine... Cas— I think he shot Cas,” Sam whispers, bewilderment written all over his face.

He takes one step to get nearer to the angel. Castiel’s face is contorted in pain and Sam is completely at loss as to why an angel was taken down.

“Keep away!” The monk yells. “Or you’re next.”

Sam holds completely still, eyeing the gun, smoke curling from the barrel wavering between Dean and him. A single red, empty casing is lying on the floor near the end of the staircase. Castiel’s blood... or rather, Jimmy’s blood, is a darker shade of red, pooling beneath him and racing to reach the empty shell. The clues are all there, but the end result doesn’t add up.

They’ve seen angels stabbed, shot, slapped and punched before. They hardly even blink. And Cas goes down with one bullet?

“He shot Ca--... Cas? How the hell does he shoot Cas?” Dean lets out in rapid succession, firing all the questions running through Sam’s mind, acting like the person with the rifle pointed at them isn’t even there at all.

Dean is moving even before Sam can answer anything, feet shuffling around until he stumbles on the angel’s body.

The next shot hits the floor, inches from Dean’s knee, but he doesn’t even flinch. Sam does, though.

“Don’t!” Sam and Castiel manage to shout at the same time, double dose of concern for the older Winchester.

“Where were you hit? How were you hurt?” Dean asks, paying no attention to the fact that he has been warned not to interfere. His hands are red already, even though he has yet to find the source of the bleed.

“Zachariah gave me the bullets. They’re dipped in holy oil. He knew you wouldn’t take no for an answer,“ the monk offers, making sure that they realize that he is not a threat to be ignored or disregarded. “I will not allow you to take the Ark... it is my duty to protect it from people like you,” Haim spits out venomously. The fire in his eyes makes them look more red than brown.

Sam watches as Castiel, face paler than he has ever seen him, grabs Dean’s wrist and stops him from fumbling around in search of the entry wound. “Haim... do you know who these two are?” the angel whispers. His voice hitches and he bits his lower lip to stop himself from crying out when Dean finally finds the bullet hole and applies pressure.

Sam is sure that this is probably the first time that the angel has ever experienced physical pain.

The monk’s gaze lingers on Sam and then on Dean, shrugs unimpressed. “Thieves? Murderers? Demons? Who knows whom an angel will work with once he’s fallen from grace?”

“Is that what Zachariah told you? That I would come here with demons?”

The monk moves around, motioning Sam to get closer to the other two. He stands between them and the stairway, always facing the Ark, taking no risks.

Sam eyes are on the end of the metal staircase. The handrail is behind the monk, restricting the man’s movements. If Sam can manage to get close enough to reach the monk, maybe he can act fast enough, distract the man, make him lose his balance...

“It is the end of days; every where you turn, you hear of bloodshed and violence and the very land beneath our feet rebels against us. Even now, we stand here, awaiting for Ubuku’s men to come and wipe this town from the map... and you want to take away these people’s last shred of hope?”

“Look—“ Castiel starts, trying to get himself up. He pauses to swallow convulsively, face going from white to gray before he manages to

control his gag. “Look around you and tell what me you see,” he finally says, questioning even though it sounds more like a command.

The monk stubbornly keeps his eyes on the three men. “I don’t need to. It was me who put those tapestries on the wall. They used to be golden panels, as you well know, decorating the sides of the Ark. The greed of Men made those tapestries the only thing that remains of the messages that were depicted there. Divine signs that forever should’ve accompanied the Ark and that are now reduced to... that.”

The sadness in the man’s voice is palpable, like a gardener that sees his favorite flower wither away despite his best care.

“Look," Castiel stops and coughs, face wincing in pain. Still, he continues, "... look at the one to your right, the one with the fires... do you know of what it tells?” Castiel goes on. The blood flow on his chest is slowly becoming nothing but a trickle even though Dean is pressuring a spot two inches off the place of the bullet wound. Sam isn’t sure if the angel’s chatter is mean to fool the man into giving him enough time to recover or if he’s actually going somewhere with this.

Reluctant but still curious, the monk’s eyes travel upward to the tapestry the angel is talking about. Sam is sure he knows them all by heart.

The picture is, like all of them, beautiful. The blue background accentuates the deep reds and yellows that surround the burning city set on the horizon. And at the center of that apocalyptic setting, a man, kneeling alone on the ground beside the Ark, his left arm reaching out, palm extending against the side of the wooden chest. Silver beams burst from the top of the sealed ark, shooting out toward the sky. Head bowed, his face is hidden from view but his chest and arms are bare, easy to see. The mark on the man's shoulder is unmistakable.

Sam is the only one gasping when he realizes what he’s looking at, his gaze traveling guiltily from the tapestry to his oblivious brother. “Is that... is that a handprint?” Sam asks, because surely he’s seeing it wrong.

Dean's head snaps up, his brow furrowing above his unseeing eyes. Sam can see the exact moment when realization dawns on his brother. Now they both know where Castiel is going with this and neither is happy with it.

Sam knows the brand embarrasses his brother somewhat. Since

returning from Hell, Dean, who has always been proud of his scars and marks, has been reluctant to show as much as his bare arms in the company of strangers. Even when it’s only Sam, Dean is now shyer about his nakedness than he was before. Sam has no illusions that that brand is one of the reasons for that.

It’s not an aesthetic thing. Sam knows better than that. For Dean, it’s more about what that mark implies than the way it looks. Dean’s scars, the ones he had before, were proof of the hard life he’d lead and the blood he’d shed for the job, for their family; Castiel’s handprint on his shoulder... is proof of something Dean believes he’s been given without deserving it, a reminder of reward granted in spite of his failure.

That tapestry though... it’s a bittersweet pill to swallow. Knowing that Dean’s apparent part to play runs deep enough to be linked to something as old as the Ark, that it just became that much harder to ignore the facts that seem to push them towards their ‘fate’ at every turn, that much harder to avoid the outcome that looks to have been decided for them even before they were born; and yet, realize that that same connection might be the deciding factor in turning the monk from Zachariah’s side to theirs.

“And in the days of Armageddon," Castiel continues, "when the Horsemen run free, the Ark shall make itself known to the guided one, and he shall gather the Lord’s people and lead them to safe haven’,” the angel’s voice echoes through the room with more strength and power than one would expect from a man lying on the floor. “The Horsemen ride the Earth, Haim. Lucifer has managed to raise all but one so far... has Zachariah told you that as well?”

The monk visibly pales, his head shaking in denial. “You are not him. You can’t be him,” Haim whispers, one finger pointing to the tapestry. “That is a man, a mortal... it is not an angel’s task.”

“You are right... angels can’t be that link. Man is. God’s favorite children,” Castiel says. Unlike the contempt and jealousy that they’ve seen in Lucifer’s eyes and voice when saying the same words, both Sam and Dean can recognize the difference in the way Castiel says it. There is no emotion behind it, neither good nor bad. He just states a fact, uncontested and simple as saying the sky is blue.

“So—who?” Haim asks, finally listening.

Castiel’s eyes turn to the Winchester crouching by his side, Sam and Haim’s gazes taking his cue. “Dean... I need you to show Haim your—“

Castiel stops himself because he can see Dean is one step ahead of him. The denim jacket he was wearing is already off and he is rolling up the sleeve of the tee shirt he wears underneath.

Ever since he was told that he was Michael’s vessel, Dean has felt like he’s nothing but a sock puppet, throwing a tantrum because he doesn’t want some dude sticking his hand up his behind and taking control of his life from him. And yet, everyone he meets, every event that occurs in his life, just keeps on reminding him that he is nothing but a sock puppet that needs to stop pretending to be a man. That having a hand up his ass is his destiny.

It sucks on so many levels that Dean has given up counting. So, when he hears the interest in the monk’s voice at what Castiel is saying, when he knows from Sam’s gasp that the damn things on the wall have just given yet more proof of just how very screwed he is, Dean just shrugs off his clothes and shows the mark on his shoulder to Haim.

The words the monk whispers are incomprehensible to him and Sam, but Castiel doesn’t bother to translate. Their meaning is simple to catch either way. The awe feels as intrusive and unwelcome a knife in the back.

He can hear the man moving, nearing him and drooping to his knees. The tip of the rifle’s muzzle touches the bone in Dean’s left knee. He knows what comes next but even so it is impossible not to flinch when the monk’s cold fingers touch his shoulder. Calloused fingertips trace the contours of the hand-shape burn and Dean flashes back to Anna, greedily claiming him by putting her smaller hand over Castiel’s brand.

He jerks away, unable to bear the touch any longer. The monk, fortunately, gets the hint and doesn’t follow.

“Happy now?” Dean mutters. Figuring his purpose in this charade is served, he drops the sleeve of his shirt and reaches for the jacket.

The clatter of the gun hitting the floor is, at least, a heart-warming sound.

“It is true then,” the monk whispers. “You carry the mark of our Lord. You truly are the one we’ve all been waiting for.”

“Actually, that’s not—“ Dean starts.

“Yes. Now..." Castiel cuts Dean’s words off before he can tell who exactly made that brand, “will you allow us to take the Ark?”

The monk is silent except for the rustle of clothes as he rises to his feet. Dean can sense Sam moving closer, tensing. Sam knows just as well as Dean that Cas is lying. The question is, why?

The monk seems like he is buying their story. Hell, even Dean would buy their story if he didn’t know better, and he couldn’t even see the image they’re talking about.

“Yes,” Haim finally says, his words releasing the building pressure and relaxing the very walls of the room. “You can take it... if you can take it.”

Dean frowns. He has seen the Ark in the dreams that Asmodeus invented for him; he has read descriptions of it. No where does it say that thorns surround the Ark, or that it has little legs to run away on its own.

“What does that mean, if we can take it?” Sam asks, mirroring Dean’s doubts.

“The Ark has been known to have an adverse effect on those of impure soul who dare to touch it,” Castiel clarifies.

In Dean’s mind’s eye, he’s picturing the Raiders movie, Nazis turning into skeletons and flesh melting from their bones before blowing up. Or was that in the one with the Holy Grail? “What sort of ‘adverse effect’?”

“Boils, sores..." Haim supplies, his voice solemn and full of warning,"... tumors so malignant that people die within hours. Horrible and painful deaths. I’ve seen it happen... it’s not a pretty sight.”

Suddenly, Dean is not so sure he wants to go ahead with this. He doesn’t want to touch the Ark and find out that his soul is as tarnished as it feels, as damaged as every demon is happy to throw in his face. And he loves Sam, more than anything he loves his brother... but there is no way he’s letting Sam touch something that might see his involvement with Ruby and his actions in the previous months as

something ‘boils-worthy’. They’re not evil, but they’re both far from being innocent.

“I cannot do it,” Castiel says, as if guessing the thoughts running through Dean’s mind. “I’ve fallen from grace. The Ark will see me in the same colors it sees Lucifer. It will erase me from existence without a moments hesitation.”

Dean bites his lip, fingers pressing against the wet floor. He knows what their doubts must look like to the monk and he knows that their window of opportunity is closing. He also knows that there is no way he’s going to let Sam test the adage that ‘it’s the thought that counts’... even when you start the apocalypse. His fingers brush against the discarded gun and Dean straightens up. “Okay then, I’ll do it,” he says.

Before Sam can protest, the rifle is in Dean’s hands, only one second wasted in figuring out which end was which. The index finger of his right hand closes around the familiar hold of the trigger and Dean points the gun in the general direction of where he believes the monk to be. He just hopes that the confusion lasts long enough for his brother to take the weapon from his hands and turn this into a real threat instead of a desperate move. “SAM!”

“It’s okay... I got it,” Sam’s voice comes from inches away, familiar fingers easing Dean’s hold on the gun.

“I knew it,” the monk spits out. “I knew you were not worthy... you will all burn in Hell!”

Dean can’t stop the dry laugh that cracks his lips. “Been there, done that. Now... how do we take this without... you know, turning to dust?”

Sam looks around, one eye keeping track of any sudden movements on the monk’s part. Leaning against the back wall, he spots two long wooden poles, looking thick enough to fit the hoops he can see on each side of the Ark and sturdy enough to hold its weight.

“Those poles... they’re meant to be used in the Ark’s transport, aren’t they?” Sam asks the monk. The other man, however, merely crosses his arms over his chest and stares daggers at him in silence. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Sam mutters. “Go put them in place,” he orders with a

wave of the gun.

The monk glares, looking like he’s trying to guess whether Sam will shoot him if he doesn’t obey. Sam chambers a bullet and shoulders the long gun to get his point across.

The gunshots that follow that action are not even close to the sound of a rifle’s discharge. The sound is muffled by the flights of stairs in between, but Sam easily recognizes the multiple reports of several machine guns.

Ubuku’s men have arrived.

“Move!” Sam yells, spurring the monk into action. He tells himself that there is nothing they can do, that this is not their fight. But it’s hard to ignore the screams coming from upstairs. It’s impossible not to picture all those men, women and children being murdered without a chance of defending themselves.

Sam can see in Dean’s face that his thoughts are running through the same paths, even as he helps Castiel up and gets them ready to go. Where or how, Sam has no idea.

“You have no idea what you are doing,” the monk whispers. There are tears running down his dark cheeks and Sam can’t help but wonder how many of those people inside the church were this man’s family and friends. Too many, he supposes.

The poles fit perfectly in the hoops and the monk steps aside, allowing them access. Sam lowers the rifle and extends it to the monk.

The man looks confused even as he grabs the weapon, more out of instinct than intent.

“Go. Help them,” Sam says.

For one moment, it looks like the monk will turn the rifle on him and finish what he started. But the screams upstairs are impossible to ignore and, with a nod, the monk races up the metal stairs.

“That was a risky choice,” Castiel voices.

Sam hangs his head, refusing to look up and meet the look on the angel’s face. “So was telling that man that the Ark was meant for us.”

“You can touch the Ark,” the angel insists. “Trust me.”

Sam meets Castiel’s intense eyes. He believes that the angel believes that is true. But it’s not a truth that he is prepared to believe just yet.

“Aren’t we gonna do anything?” Dean finally speaks. Since the guns started blaring above, he has barely moved from his spot. His hands are thrust deep inside the pockets of his jacket but even so, Sam can tell they’re both closed into fists. “We’re gonna just grab the Ark and run with our tails between our legs?”

If Sam didn’t knew better, he’d say that Dean was one breath away from running up those stairs in the monk’s wake. Sadly, this is the first time Sam is grateful that Dean is blind and can’t do just that.

“This is not our fight, Dean,” Castiel says. He’s slumped against Dean, smearing blood all over the human’s clothes. “There is nothing we can do here but prevent the Ark from falling into the wrong hands.”

Any further arguments that Dean might have are squashed under the sound of booted feet coming down the metal stairs. The gunfire from upstairs has died down to a few bursts of machine gun fire here and there and Sam shudders at the meaning of that. “We have to get out of here. Now,” Castiel says.

Before Sam can ask how, the angel grabs Dean’s hands and guides him to hold one end of the double poles. Dean seems startled at the contact, but otherwise okay.

Sam wants to ask how they’re going to get out of there when there is literally a war taking place above their heads, but as soon as Sam mirrors Dean’s position, the room filled with tapestries fades away in a swirl of shades and bright lights and he finds himself elsewhere.

Chapter Ten: The End

The sudden movement and the weight of the Ark send Dean crashing to his knees as soon as he touches solid ground. The Ark clatters to the earth with a heavy huff that almost sounds like a sigh. The floor beneath his knees has gone from hard cement to crusty dirt. Dean can hear it crumble and shift when he moves around.

“What the hell just happened?” Dean gasps, forcing his fingers to unclench from around the poles’ handholds. He groans as he gets up, shakily. “Sam? Cas?”

“We’re here,” Sam calls out, sounding out of breath. “You okay?”

Gone is the moldy smell of the place where they were before. Gone are the sounds of hundreds of people dying while they stood by and did nothing. ‘Okay’ is not a word Dean’s too fond of right now.

He almost jumps when the phone inside his pocket starts vibrating. There is only one person who would be calling them. Fumbling for the right button, Dean finally hits ‘receive’. On the other side of the connection is the same voice as before, talking before Dean can even open his mouth to say anything.

“Congratulations... I knew you and your brother would succeed getting the Ark” the man says as a greeting. His voice sounds disgustingly pleased. “You know... for a small moment, I feared you would abandon your good friend Bobby... I am... happy you found your senses.”

Dean grinds his teeth, barely feeling it when Sam touches his shoulder to let him know that he’s listening in too.

“Cut the crap... I wanna talk to Bobby,” Dean demands. “You won’t get squat unless I’m sure Bobby’s alive.”

The man on the other side laughs. Actually laughs at Dean’s words. Both he and Sam tense at the man’s reaction, remembering all too well what happened the last time that they provoked Bobby’s kidnapper’s anger.

The laughter dies as fast as it had begun, cut short by the man’s crispy words. “I am not some ‘bad guy’ in a movie story, Mr. Winchester. If anything, I am the ‘good guy’... and you have no stand to bargain with me.”

“I have the Ark, you motherfucker,” Dean hisses before he can control himself.

The silence on the other side is filled with possibilities and Dean shudders as a couple of them cross his mind. He bites his tongue, one step away from going against everything he believes in and offering an apology.

To the fucker who is holding Bobby in a hole slowly filling with sand.

To the lousy piece of dirt working with demons, bending over so that Lucifer can win.

“You come to me, with Ark, in exactly twenty minutes. You make yourself visible by performing summoning ritual and you not cause trouble to the beings that appear to transport you,” the man says, very calmly, quietly listing the set of instructions. “Understand?”

“Demons, you mean,” Dean clarifies. Might as well let the prick know that they aren’t as clueless as before.

“Associates,” the man corrects. “I suggest you hurry... Mr. Singer not very pleased with current... accommodations.”

The connection breaks with an ominous dial tone and Dean almost drops the phone.


The curse is ripped from deep inside. It’s pointless though. No amount of swearing will ever come close to what Dean really wants to do to the man on the other side of the phone.

Sam’s hand, squeezing his shoulder, is enough for Dean to know that the sentiment is mutual.

“How could he even know that we have the Ark already?” Sam points out. “We just got it like... five minutes ago.”

“Fucker probably has spies under every rock in this place,” Dean

guesses. “Where are we, by the way?”

“We’re--” Sam starts. He pauses, feet shifting around. “I have no idea where we are.”

“Cas?” Dean calls. The angel has been suspiciously quiet since they’ve arrived, but then again, Castiel is not one of the most talkative people Dean knows.

The lack of answer, however, is an answer in itself. Back in the basement of the church, as he held Castiel up, supporting most of his weight, Dean could feel the tremors running through the angel’s borrowed body. Whatever mixture Zachariah had come up with for those shells, it had done a number on the rebel angel.

“Can you see him?” Dean asks when Sam takes too long to speak. “Is he alright?”

A wet cough that Dean can’t recognize as being Sam’s answers him. Not caring how stupid it looks or the odds of planting his face on the floor, Dean holds his hands out, patting the empty air ahead of him, feet dragging through the ground as he moves forward, towards the noises of Sam’s hushed tones and Castiel’s gasps of pain.

“He doesn’t look good,” Sam finally says when Dean is close enough for him to grab an arm and pull him down, near to where Sam is crouching in front of the angel.

“Is he even conscious?”

When Sam first sees Castiel, slumped against a rock formation that sticks about twenty inches above the ground, he thought the angel was already gone. Or at least his vessel.

There was a string of bloody foam dripping from Castiel’s mouth and his chest didn’t look like it was moving at all. Of course, with an angel, that means very little.

When Sam lays a hand on the angel’s shoulder, pushing him into a more upright position, Castiel starts coughing, puffs of blood sprinkling all over Sam’s shirt.

“Hey... Cas... you okay?”

Castiel nods, but Sam figures it’s more like the weight of gravity pulling his head down and pure stubbornness pushing it up than an actual affirmative action.

The angel looks worse than after their little trip to the seventies, pale and sweaty under the setting sun.

“Is he conscious?” Dean asks, hands following the yellowish rock until he touches fabric.

Castiel swallows, turns his unfocused stare to Dean. “I’m... fine,” he whispers, looking anything but that. “The bullet... it’s inside me... I can feel it... it’s weakening me.”

“We need to take you to the nearest city... there’s nothing we can do here,” Sam says. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Castiel is shaking his head even before Sam stops talking.

“I don’t think I can move anywhere. The holy oil in the bullet... it’s trapping my powers. I’ve all but used up the last of them to get us here.”

“We need to take that out,” Dean voices.

Sam knows what they have to do. What he needs to do, since Dean can’t see and Cas has no idea how to do it. It’s not going to be pleasant.

“I’ll do it,” Dean goes on.

“Wha—what? But-” Sam stutters. The words ‘but you can’t see!’ almost escape his mouth.

“You don’t need to see to fish out a bullet, Sam,” Dean tells him, easily guessing what his brother was about to say. “And I’ve done this enough times to actually do it with my eyes closed.”

Sam nods. Dean does have a point. In their messed up family dynamics, Sam was always the one better at sewing. Dean, however, took the lead when it came to pulling stuff that shouldn’t have been there out of their bodies.

The fact that Dean lacks the pair of sterilized tweezers he would normally use to do it concerns Sam more than the fact that he’ll do it


Castiel, the one that should be worried about all of this, says nothing, patiently waiting for them to figure out who will stick his fingers inside that wound and pull the bullet out.

“Okay,” Sam says, even though he shouldn’t be the one giving the consent. “You want me to--?”

Dean nods almost imperceptibly and Sam swallows dryly before he takes Dean’s hand and guides him to the wound. It’s stopped bleeding, but the skin around it looks angry and slightly blackened.

“This is gonna hurt,” Dean warns just as his index finger disappears inside Castiel’s chest.

Sam tries holding the angel down as best as he can, but even so Castiel’s body arches in the air, teeth gritting against each other.

Any one else, any human else would’ve been unconscious by now.

Dean has his eyes closed, as if the movements of his eyelids help with finding the piece of metal sooner. The sweat gathering above his eyebrow tells Sam how hard Dean is concentrating to do this.

Finally, with a sickening ‘plop’ wet, sound, Dean removes his fingers, a small, round bullet between his bloody fingertips. “Got it!” he announces in triumph, relief.

Castiel slumps back in a boneless heap, breathing ragged and short. “That was... unpleasant,” he manages to say, hand moving to his own chest, fascination written all over his face.

“Is that better now?” Sam asks. Has to ask, because, if anything, the angel looks worse.

“Yes, I believe now I can—“

Castiel gets up, but the motion is short lived. He doubles over in pain and only Sam’s quick actions save him from doing a face plant to the ground. The sight of the angel gagging and throwing up what Sam can only define as blood is not what the younger Winchester considers a sign of ‘being better’.

“I think you should take it easy for awhile... then maybe we can go the nearest city and—“

“We are near Kom Ombo,” Castiel says, spitting more blood to the floor. “The city is just over that hill.”

Dean wipes his hand on his jeans, leaving one more bloody trail on them. He looks like he’s collecting the blood of everyone they encounter on those jeans. “Why here?” Dean asks. “Why did you bring us here specifically?”

Sam catches a glimpse of Castiel’s face before the angel turns his eyes away from Dean and towards the desert. He could swear that it’s guilt he sees in them. Still, Dean has a point and they do need answers. Weakened as he is, Castiel could’ve picked a much closer spot to drop them safely.

“Why here, Castiel?” Sam reinforces the question. If it’s bad enough for Castiel to hesitate— “This is where they are keeping Bobby,” Castiel finally whispers.

Dean jumps back, as if Cas’ words stung him. “You knew? You knew all this time where they were keeping Bobby and... and... You knew all along?”

“I did.”

“Then why the hell didn’t you say anything? Why make us chase the Ark and waste Bobby’s time if you knew?”

“Because you needed the Ark... you need to take it to them.”

“Why?” Sam asks, finally finding his voice. They’d been so close to Bobby when Castiel found them... why the detour? To put the Ark into the hands of demons?

“Because it is the only way to make God intervene,” Cas whispers, broken.

There is a moment of silence that not even the desert animals dare to break. The implications of what the angel is saying sinks like a sack of bricks in Sam’s stomach.

“So, what? We’re... we’re bait, is that it?” Dean asks, words heavily laced with the harsh tones of betrayal.

Sam knows that, of all the angels they’ve met, Castiel is the only one

who has managed to gain Dean’s trust. They had traveled half way across the Earth because of that trust, because Dean will do anything for a person, once he lets someone inside those walls of his.

Castiel was right to look guilty.

“I looked every where, above and below this reality. God is nowhere I can find Him... this is the only way to bring Him to us,” Castiel goes on, his blue eyes alight with the fervor of his belief. “He will never allow the Ark to fall into the wrong hands. My Father will manifest Himself before that comes to pass.”

Dean starts to walk away, stumbling on the uneven ground and Sam is divided between going after his brother and getting the rest of the answers out of Castiel. The angel is fading fast and Sam guesses that it won’t be talking for much longer before the human body Castiel is in demands some repairing rest.

“You must understand... you two are the only way to make the threat real, even if I was not the one placing you in this position in the first place,” the angel reminds them. Sam can see that he’s not trying to make excuses for his actions, just stating facts. “I am sorry that my... identity was used to lure you here to this place... but it would be foolish of us to not take advantage of this strategic opportunity.”

“So, the monk was right after all,” Dean says without turning to look at them. “We just stole the Ark to use it for our own purposes.”

“No,” Castiel corrects. “We took the Ark so that it may serve its own purpose, so that the end unfolds as it must.”

“I thought the end was supposed to happen in Detroit,” Sam offers. Castiel had already been there, listening in the shadows when Lucifer said it, and Sam had made sure that Dean knew what had transpired while he was unconscious. The certainty with which the first of the fallen angels had divulged this information made Sam believe beyond any doubt that he was right.

“It ends in Detroit if you say yes, if Lucifer wins... this is our best chance of stopping that.”

Sam finds himself nodding. The Colt had failed and Castiel looks like he’s lost all hope of finding God on his own. They can do this. They need to do this. “Cas is right,” Sam finally says, his words for Dean alone. “If we can make this work... if we bluff God into coming to play—“

The look in Dean’s eyes when he turns in their direction tells Sam exactly how much hope he’s putting in that plan.

“We need to get a move on then. Clock’s ticking... you’ll be okay on your own?” Dean asks, back to business.

The angel eyes him with a bit of sadness in his face. Nods. “Yes. I will join you two as soon as I can restore enough of my strength. They are holding Bobby in the temple, on the north side of the city,” the angel explains. “It is no more than two miles, maybe less.”

Dean shakes his head. “Don’t worry... we’re not walking.”

The only summoning ritual that they can perform in the middle of the nowhere is one that requires the use of their own blood.

It wasn’t a ritual that they were familiar with, one from Castiel’s ‘private stash’. It was the last thing the angel managed to tell them before finally passing out.

They leave him in the shade of a lonely looking Acacia heavy with thorns, feeling slightly guilty for being forced to abandon him there. But they can’t take the risk of the demon coming for them and the Ark and getting a whiff of the wounded angel.

“So,” Sam starts as his finger moves effortlessly, drawing the sigils on the yellowish dirt, just as Castiel instructed him before they left him. “Do we even have a plan?”

Dean opens his mouth. Closes it again without uttering a word.

“Dean... we can’t just march in there and hand over everything to this demon. We can’t give him both the Ark and the means to use it.”

“So, you believe Cas... you really think that we’re—that we can—“

Sam runs his hands through his hair, fingers getting tangled in the dust-covered strands. “I guess... I mean, after everything, do you think we can afford to risk it?”

Dean shakes his head. Despite what Castiel thinks, despite his plan of trying to force some kind of action from God, Dean knows that they can’t show all the cards. But, right now, his priority is Bobby. Everything else, is all a big bag of maybes... an Ark that might be all that was advertised; a God that might exist; a bluff that they might be able to pull off.

Dean plays one mean game of poker, but when the stakes are other people’s lives... he’d rather cover all his bets. “We could just try to open it now... see what’s what,” Dean ventures. “Cas did say that all it takes is the both of us to get it open, right?”

“What about the blood ritual?”

Dean scratches his head, sand falling off his hair. “Hell... I don’t want to ‘make a call’,” he says, fingers quoting the air, “I just... wanna see if this is the real thing or not before we go off risking everything on it.”

Sam’s silence stretches on for long enough that Dean wonders if his brother has fallen asleep or something. “Sam?” he pokes.

“Humm... yeah... about that,” Sam stammers, “I don’t really think I’ll be able to touch the Ark.”

Dean bites his lip, stopping himself from agreeing. “And why’s that?”

The movement of Sam’s arms through the air is harsh enough for Dean to hear it. “Come on, Dean! I started damned Armageddon! Don’t you think that’s the kind of thing that might just make me the sort of person that the Ark would see as unworthy?”

Dean pauses. Sam’s mouth asks one question, but Dean can easily hear all the others behind it. He knows Sam blames himself for freeing Lucifer, for being the one setting the clock ticking for the end. Sam thinks that his actions make him all the more flawed, make him a bad person. Evil.

What Sam fails to see is that he’s blaming himself for the wrong thing. Yes, he was at fault and played a part in freeing Lucifer. But that wasn’t the action that should fall on his conscience. That’s just the reaction. Sam’s true fault was to believe that he could do it alone.

Even if he agrees, on principle, that a 3000 years old artifact can tell good from bad, Dean is certain about one thing. Sam’s not evil.

“Sam... making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person,” Dean starts,

“it just makes you human—“


“No, hear me out,” Dean insists, raising one bloody hand to stop Sam’s words. He already knows what his brother is about to say anyway. It’s the same argument he’s heard ever since that day at St. Mary’s convent. “Bad people do the wrong thing because they want to, because they don’t give a damn about the consequences... Hell! The consequences are what gets their rocks off. But good people, Sam... good people will always do what they think it’s best, what they think is the right thing to do—even if sometimes the consequences come back to bite them in the ass.”

Sam sighs. Chuckles.

Dean would give anything to see his brother’s face right now and figure out how sincere those two sounds really are.

“So... you’re saying that the apocalypse is just something coming back to bite me in the ass?” Sam asks.

Dean smirks. “Hey, didn’t say it was a small bite. This is like, the most epic ass-chewing ever—but it’s not something some old wooden ark gets to judge you for, Sam.”

Dean feels Sam’s hand on his shoulder, fingers squeezing his skin in a gentle gesture. Their Braille for the regular ‘I hear you, brother’ expression that, any other time, Dean would easily read in Sam’s eyes.

“For the record, I don’t think I’ll be able to touch the thing either,” Dean confesses with a shrug.

“But you just said—“

“I said that a old-as-fuck wooden chest doesn’t get to judge you for your actions,” Dean cuts in, his voice softening, hoping that his brother understands what he’s saying. “But, Sam... you and I both know how supernatural things work. There’s no gray or attenuating circumstances. Just black and white.” He pauses, allows for Sam to draw his own conclusions, steeling himself to put to words what was still painful for him to even remember. “You broke the final seal that set Lucifer free... and I was there to break the first one, right before I spent ten years tort... torturing souls. As far as the Ark goes, we’re probably as black as coal,” Dean ends with a forced chuckle.

“Cas seemed to believe we could touch it,” Sam points out.

“Cas has been wrong before,” Dean adds dryly. “Either way, I’d feel more at ease if we just test the thing now, while we still can. I’ll do it.”

“No. I think we should keep it close,” Sam finally says, hand shooting out to grab Dean before he can move closer to the Ark. “If this is the real deal, it will come in handy when we’re near Asmodeus and his gang... but if it’s a bust, it will at least serve to get us close to Bobby and possibly get him free. Even if we can’t touch it, we can use it.”

Dean stops. Sam has a point there. Their main goal is to get Bobby out of there, alive and safe. If they get to gank a few evil sons of bitches along the way—all the better. There’s just one small glitch in Sam’s plan.

“No, we can’t,” Dean says, his face turning up. The sun is almost gone, its familiar warmth dissipating towards the west. “I’ll do the summoning ritual, take the Ark with me... give you a head start so that you can get to that temple, find out where they’re keeping Bobby and—“

“No,” Sam is quick to cut in. “No way in hell I’m letting you go off in some asinine, suicide mission. We’re doing this together, Dean!”

“No, Sam... we’re doing this smart. Doing this together is what got Jo and Ellen killed.”

And there it is again, the underlying guilt that Dean hasn’t been able to shake off and that Sam can no longer ignore. The fact that sticking together had ended disastrously last time, doesn’t make this alternative plan any better.

Sam just shakes his head. He wants to argue this from so many different angles that he feels at a loss as to which one to start with. Dean seems to guess that he is having doubts even without being able to see Sam’s shaking head.

“Sam... you know they won’t let us both show up there without the Ark, and if I’m the one staying behind, you know that there is no way I’ll be able to—“

“Yeah, I know,” Sam chimes in, hanging his head in defeat. “But for the record... this is a lousy plan. I don’t want you going there on your own.”

“I’m not going alone,” Dean points out. “You’re going too. Cas will be there too. We’re just... not going at the same time.”

“Bad pl—“

“—plan... yeah, I know,” Dean says with a sigh. “But it’s the only one we have.”

Sam leaves his belt on the ground. The extension of leather signals to Dean the place where he drew the sigils on the ground. Now, all that Dean needs to do is add a few drops of blood and the summoning ritual is complete.

Ruby’s knife, the only weapon between the two of them, and the only thing they have at hand sharp enough to make the necessary cut in Dean’s skin, is gone, alongside with Sam.

Dean insisted that his brother be the one to hang on to it. Sam, after all, was the one who’d be free enough to still use it.

So, the cut needed be made before Sam left.

It’s funny how fast blood clots when you’re trying to keep a wound bleeding. The heat helps the flow, to some extent, but still Dean needs to keep shoving a finger inside the gash in his palm to keep the blood flowing for long enough to give Sam a decent head start. He stopped feeling the pain in his hand a while ago. About the same time his thoughts started running off on him.

Dean feels like he’s about to jump off an airplane without a parachute, and for someone who hates getting inside planes, that’s saying a lot. The brave and determined face that he’d put up for Sam is slowly slipping away, replaced by all the doubts that Dean can’t shake off.

They’re banking all their bets on Cas’s plan, the word of a demon and a 3000 year old wooden box . The odds of that turning into anything but pain and bloodshed...

Dean pushes his right index finger into the palm of his left hand, feeling the nail slip on fresh blood and rub against raw skin.

The only thing about this plan that Dean still trusts are Cas’s motives. But Cas is cashing all his chips on a father that Dean can’t bring himself to believe in, much less put that amount of blind faith in.

And yet, here Dean is, banking Sam’s life, Bobby’s, his and lord knows how many more, on the odd chance that a promise made centuries ago to Moses still holds.

Blind faith.

Dean almost laughs out loud at that one. Sam had once told Dean that he couldn’t understand the Dean’s blind faith in their father. Sam was right then, even if it had taken John’s death and a trip to Hell for Dean to open his eyes and realize that. And now, here he was again. Different father, same shit.

There’s a joke somewhere in all of this, but Dean fails to see the humor in it right now. He’s sure that the people who died in Axum didn’t get the joke either.

Crouching down, Dean pokes around the floor carefully until his fingers brush against the edge of the belt. He figures Sam has had enough time to, at least be out of sight and he knows that they’ve left Cas far enough behind them to ensure that the demon won’t be able to sense the wounded, vulnerable angel. Bobby’s time is running out and so are the twenty minutes that the prick on the phone gave them. It’s time to get the show on the road.

Certain that he has the right spot, Dean extends his hand and makes a fist, squeezing the gash in his palm, feeling the blood drip through his fingers. Now, all he has to do is wait and keep himself alive for long enough for Sam to get Bobby out and Cas to come to the rescue.

The wait is short. The air changes around him and Dean knows that he’s no longer alone. The demon is silent is his motion, but the hunter can still feel it, circling him, studying him.

“Dean Winchester,” it finally whispers, words rolling off his tongue like honey. “Do you know how painful it is for me to not just kill you where you stand?”

Dean tries not to flinch. Truth is, if this demon's intent were to do just that, there wouldn’t be a whole hell much that Dean could do to stop him.

“Can’t though... boss’s orders,” it says with a sad sigh. “So, unclench, will ya?” the demon adds with a chuckle, smacking Dean’s behind with

the back of his hand to punctuate his words.

Dean turns sharply, not even bothering to hide the anger and contempt from his face. “You fuc—“

“Doesn’t mean I can’t have my fun, does it?” the demon goes on, ignoring Dean’s reaction. His voice already moved from the last place Dean heard him, making it impossible to track the demon’s position.

Dean tries though, arms extended, circling the air space around him.

“I mean... how many times,” he says, slapping the back of Dean’s exposed neck, “can one find himself,” flick to the ear, “face to face with Dean-fucking-Winchester,” slap in the ass, “blind as a bat?” he finishes with a kick to the back of Dean’s knees.

Dean’s sweating under the hot sun, muscles tense and senses painfully alert, as he tries to guess – and fails - where the demon will strike next.

Unlike the men at the temple, however, Dean finds it impossible to do anything as the demon moves like a ghost around him, teasing and hitting him. The last kick sends Dean crashing to his knees, palms scrapping against rubble as he tries to catch himself and avoid hitting his face on the ground.

“Though, I must say,” the demon goes on, “not the first time I’ve had the pleasure, you know.”

Dean tenses, fingers clawing at the gravel floor, small grains of sand finding their way under his fingernails, like tiny needles that ground him, give him something real to hold on to. He recognizes the feeling in the demon’s voice. The nostalgia. Like a speeding train heading for a broken bridge, Dean knows exactly where this is going and he can’t help but hold on for the ride.

“You don’t remember me, do you? Don’t worry, I’m not gonna take it personally... after all, there were a lot of us taking pieces out of you then,” it adds with a small laugh. “Funny how, even though you were nothing but a pathetic little soul in Hell, you still believed that you needed your eyes to see us then. You were clinging so pathetically hard to your humanity that you actually lost the ability to see when we pulled your eyes out,” the demon recalls, fondly. “Oh, the fun we had, making you run all over the place for close to a decade, searching a pair of eyeballs that existed nowhere but in your head!”

The kick to Dean’s stomach is as unnecessary as it is brutal, but it serves the purpose of snapping Dean out of his Hell-memories to the here and now. He remembers this demon now. Asmodeus had been there. One of the first in line, as Lucifer’s right hand man. He’d taken first blood.

“Pathetic,” the demon hisses in his ear. “And this is the great Michael’s vessel?” he laughs. “Might as well hand over the keys to the place now, because, pal... Lucifer’s got no competition on this one!”

“Really?” Dean coughs as he pushes to his feet slowly, expecting another blow at every step of the way. The demon, Dean figures, seems content with just watching him struggle to his feet. “Is that why you’re slobbering all over the Ark?” Dean growls, dusting his hands on dirty jeans, lungs scrapping for a breath as his stomach muscles spasm. “Because you’re all so... sure of winning?”

Dean doesn’t have to wait for an answer. The blow that sends him flying backwards until Dean’s back collides painfully with a sharp outcrop of rocks, is enough for him to know that he’s pissed the demon off.

“Lucifer couldn’t care less about some old Ark of tricks and treats,” the demon barks, his voice close, too close. Dean can feel fetid breath and spit hitting his cheek at every word out of the demon’s mouth. Trying to turn his face away only urges the demon closer, bruising fingers grabbing Dean’s chin and further trapping him into place. “There is, however, something inside that box that Lucifer is interested in,” the demon continues. “Something like poetic justice, you might say. And you’re gonna give it to him.”

Teeth on edge, Dean focuses his unseeing eyes on the demon in front of him. He can’t see the face of the poor bastard that Asmodeus is possessing, but he can see deeper than that without his eyes. He’s seen enough demons in their natural form to have a pretty good mental image as to what this one really looks like. In truth, he can probably see the bastard better blind than most sighted people looking at the demon right now. “What... what can Lucifer possibly want from this Ark?”

The demon’s laughter raises every hair on Dean’s arms.

“Funny you, of all people, should ask that,” the demon tells him. “I really can’t wait to see the faces on those prickly angels when you hand over the prize to Lucifer.”

“I’m not giving him squat,” Dean hisses, eyes centered in what he hopes is the demon’s face. “And your boss can bite my ass while he waits for me do anything for him.”

The invisible pressure that pushes Dean harder against the rock makes it impossible to breath, like a block of cement pressing harder and harder against his chest. It feels like his body and the rock are trying to fuse themselves into a single entity.

Dean can’t see the demon’s face, can’t read his expression. Usually, when he’s pissed off one of these black eyed, sons of bitches, he can tell how far to push, how far the demons are willing to go to show him his place. Dean knows that this demon needs him alive, but as he feels his ribs starting to give under the building pressure, Dean’s sure that this demon is not going to stop before he hears a crack.

Then, as suddenly as it started, the pressure is gone.

“You know... I can do you a huge favor,” the demon goes on, resuming the conversation despite the fact that Dean is gasping in front of him, barely paying attention to what he’s saying. “A sort of ‘I’ll scratch yours if you’ll scratch mine’ kind of deal”.

Dean coughs, the dry air rushing too fast into his chest, filling his lungs with dust. “Fuck you and –cough- your itch!”

The fingers that entwine themselves in Dean’s scalp are viperously cold and strong, giving his hair a hard pull that effectively jerks his head back to the point of bringing fresh tears to Dean’s eyes. “Now, now... don’t go pissing all over my itch before I tell you what I can do for you.”

Dean clenches his teeth, tamping down on his retort. There isn’t absolutely nothing this demon can say that will make Dean cooperate with him in any way, shape or form—

“I can give you your sight back.”

The air leaves Dean’s chest for entirely different reasons this time. No matter how fast he’s been running from one point to another, trying to get to Bobby in time, Dean’s new condition has never really left his conscious thought. Always there, like a shadow looming over all the other problems, making them bigger and all the more impossible to face.

Dean can’t fight Lucifer and help Sam without his eyes. He needs them

to look out for trouble, to look out for his brother, to have a frigging chance of doing something to stop this whole mess.

For a moment, Dean entertains the idea of taking the demon’s offer. Whatever is inside the Ark, if anything at all, Dean doubts it will be of use for them. The thing was built centuries before, when people still walked everywhere, when people still died for their beliefs.

Take the uncertainty of what might be inside the Ark for the certainty that Dean can do more if he can use his eyes.

“What do you say, hum Dean? Wouldn’t it be great to see them blue skies again?”

Dean steels his face, cleaning any emotion or doubt that might escape his control. Sweet as the demon’s offer sounds, Dean knows he can’t take it. If the contests of the Ark are important enough for Asmodeus going through all this trouble... as hard as he wants to regain his sight, Dean knows he can’t do that. He can’t take this offer and potentially risk something that might decide which way the war turns. “Like I said,” Dean says, steel determination shoring his decision, ”... bite me!”

The demon snorts, puffs of wet air hitting Dean’s cheek and mouth, making him wish he could use his hands to wipe it away.

The hand on Dean’s hair moves to the back of his neck, grabbing him in a tight vice grip. “Fine,” he snaps, shoving Dean forward. “Come on then, you sorry piece of dust. Time to go.”

A group of people that arrive moments later to collect the Ark, local habitants of the city near by, have no idea what took place on the small, desert hill just moments before, or who the two men who disappeared into thin air were.

They have their orders; grab the wooden box left in the desert and take it to the temple in the city. The first four who attempt to touch it don’t get very far, their bodies quickly turning into one continuous sore. Lesions eat quickly at their flesh, like locusts, spreading unstoppably until bone can see the sun. Five more die on the walk to Kom Ombo.

Despite the fear that makes their every step tremble, they do not stop,

they do not give up. Cruel and painful as those deaths have been, they are far more merciful than what awaits them in the city. And that is the one place they can’t run away from.

The donkey they’ve strapped the box to is the only one left unaffected by the object’s power.

Chapter Eleven: True Colors

The courtyard is lit up like a Christmas tree. Bright yellow lights splash against the ancient stone, turning the large columns and engraved walls into golden panels of history. Dean and Asmodeus land in the middle of it.

Thick columns stand to their right, each at least fifteen feet high, adorned on top with flower petal-shaped forms. Two statues of hawks sit like guards to their left, looking impossibly large and intimidating in their nine feet high, crowned by tall hats. The stone looks almost pink in the gloom. Above them, there is nothing but deep blue sky, growing darker as the day fades away. Beyond the tall walls, the soft murmur of a thousand people or more.

“Here he is, Obuham,” Asmodeus calls out as soon as they arrive. “Just as promised.”

Obuham, dressed in a simple back tunic, nears the new arrivals. His steps are carefully measured to look unimpressed and unhurried, but the gleam in his eyes as he sees Dean is impossible to hide. “Where is the other? And the Ark?” he asks regally.

“The humans I sent to fetch it should arrive within the hour. As for the brother... he wasn’t around, but I’m sure he won’t be far,” Asmodeus replies. He kicks viciously at the back of Dean’s legs, sending the man crashing to his knees with a surprise yell and a curse. “Little brother wouldn’t have left big brother alone to the wolves. He’s around here somewhere. I will find him soon enough.”

The hissing sound that Obuham makes is filled with displeasure. “Make sure that you do. It is pointless to try and open the Ark without both of them here.” Obuham says, turning his attention towards Dean.

The kneeling man keeps turning his head from side to side, like he’s trying to capture every sound, and even though Obuham is sure that the American can’t understand a word of what’s been said between himself and Asmodeus, he is intrigued. “What is wrong with him?”

“Blind as a bat,” Asmodeus supplies with a chuckle. “Wasn’t me though... the idiot was already like that when I found him.”

Obuham crouches down, face level with Dean’s eyes. The green orbs immediately focus on him even though the look isn’t quite center in Obuham’s face. He waves his hand in front of Dean’s face, just to make sure. “Interesting.”

Dean’s hand shoots out, lightning fast, trapping the waving hand in between his fingers. Obuham gasps in surprise and leans back too fast, landing on his ass.

“Who the fuck are you?” Dean calls out in English. “I know your voice... you’re the fucker on the phone!”

Obuham doesn’t answer him. His heart is still hammering against his chest and the last thing he wants is for his voice to come out in an indignant squeak. It is bad enough that the demon is doing nothing to hide the smirk in his face. “And the mark?” Obuham demands, reminding Asmodeus of who’s in charge. The requirements to open the Ark were very specific. He will take no chances with this.

The cheap material of Dean's shirt offers little resistance when Asmodeus gives the left sleeve a hard tug. It tears easily, revealing the raised, red skin of the handprint beneath.

“Watch the merchandise, you dick,” Dean spits out. It’s just for show, Obuham can see that. The man feels uncomfortable having his arm being displayed like that, but Obuham can hardly repress the exhilaration he feels inside. It is true then. The time has come and all that he’s ever needed is at hand.

Well, almost everything. “Brother was to come with,” Obuham says in English. “Where is he?”

The eyes of the man on his knees harden until they look like they’re made of steel and Obuham knows for certain that Dean won’t answer any of his questions.

He has met men like this Dean before. Obstinate, pig headed and determined to take their causes to the bloody end. Men like that are only useful when Obuham can bring them to his side. For most of them, though, there is only one solution.

“I am respectful man, Dean... I understand you need for silence,” he says, interrupting his speech momentarily to issue his orders in

Arabic, watching as a boy scurries off to fetch what he needs for this before turning his attention back to Dean. “In fact, I intent to honor it.”

Obuham has a position to maintain, a level of respect that he cannot let anyone challenge as they please. Already his cult members are whispering and making up their own theories about who this man is and what the consequences to them might be, if they go forward with the course that Obuham has set for them. Fools! All of them, ignorant fools, sitting in the shadows about the Mahdi’s purpose in all of this, fearful of the wrath of God when they should fear the Devil’s.

Obuham knows that Asmodeus will bring him Sam in time for the ritual. The demon has no other choice but to do as he is told. But Dean’s blatant insolence cannot be left unpunished, nor can his status as merely a man stand in question.

The boy runs back, a string of black sewing thread and a needle hanging from his hands. The nod that Obuham gives him is as regal as his position calls for.

The boy shivers under his stare but stands his ground. Can’t be more than sixteen that one, but Obuham knows who his father is. Loyal member of the group. He knows the kid will not disappoint.

“Hey... what the fuc—“

Dean resists then, yells and bucks like a colt, but it’s already too late. With one small signal from Obuham, Asmodeus has the kneeling man in a tight grip, holding him still for the boy.

The boy’s hands tremble like an old man’s as he grabs Dean’s mouth and punches in the first hole. Dean screams and curses, but he has no choice but to remain in the same spot as the boy finishes with all five stitches that it takes to sew the man’s mouth shut.

Once finished, the boy drops the bloody needle to the floor, fingers clumsy and unsteady. His face is devoid of all color, wet with tears as he apologizes and retrieves the sewing implements and disappears from sight.

The boy did a good job. Asmodeus releases Dean’s arms and he falls forward, chest heaving with deep breaths that he can only suck through his nose. Drops of blood fall to the white stone floor. When he looks back up, the hatred in the luminous green eyes contrasts heavily with the red stained lips.

“Blind and mute. Like a statue,” Obuham observes with satisfaction.

“Take him to be cleansed,” he demands, gaze meeting Asmodeus. “I want him presentable for this evening,” Obuham orders Asmodeus. He likes ordering the demon around like he is nothing but a kitchen helper. It serves well to remind the demon of his place.

Asmodeus doesn’t say a word. Picks Dean up like he is nothing but a paper toy, and pushes him in the direction of the pool.

Later, once Dean has learned his lesson, Obuham plans to free his mouth. Obuham needs him to speak, needs to hear the words from Dean’s mouth. Which is the only reason why he didn’t cut off the annoying man’s tongue instead of sewing his lips shut.

Obuham refuses to let himself feel excited at the presence of Michael’s vessel, but he can’t help the shiver that courses through his body as it had earlier, when the kneeling man had grabbed his hand. For years he’d heard of this day, about these events and now, finally, he is able to set them in motion.

Some people are born into great destinies. Some make their own, and Obuham has always known that he belonged to the second group rather than the first.

There is no envy in his heart for those born destined to great things, but it still fills him with great satisfaction when he hears Dean in the distance, muffled grunts and displeased sounds filling the air as the vessel's clothes are forcefully torn from his body and he is dumped in to the cold waters of the sacred pool with a loud splash.

Despite all he has seen so far, despite all the horrors and pain that he has experienced and caused, leaving Dean and Cas behind to make his way into town alone is one of the hardest things Sam has ever done.

The further he walks, the more the strings of his heart stretch to impossible lengths and leave him torn between going back and ease the pain or just rip his own heart out and be done with it. Out of sheer force of will, he manages to stay the current course.

The sight that greets him as Sam enters the city does not help matters.

It seems hard to believe that just half a day ago this place was probably bubbling with activity and color. That the streets were filled

with people going about their lives; that lovely French tourists were probably flirting with young men, just as they had with him and Dean in Aswan.

Kom Ombo is nothing but rubble and destruction now.

Some years ago, while studying World History in high school, Sam recalls seeing pictures of Pompeii, the Italian city nested at the base of Mount Vesuvius that had disappeared over night. The volcano’s eruption had been so sudden and violent that the remains of cities’ inhabitants had been found still sitting at their dinning tables, centuries later. Untouched. Unmoved. Like in between one bite and the next, their world had just blinked out of existence, buried under tons of ash and molten lava.

Kom Ombo looks like that too. The bodies that Sam finds in the street bear the same surprised expressions in their ash-covered faces, like they still can’t believe in what is happening.

The Nile’s water, by the shore side, is tinted a deep, dark red, like spilled wine; the boats docked by the shore are either sinking or burning.

Sam covers his mouth with the edge of his shirt, the wind bringing with it a cloud of ash and the smell of rotting eggs. Everywhere, rolling on the breeze and clouding his head, all Sam can smell in the air is sulphur.

Night has fallen, and even though the streetlights are as dead as everything else, Sam has no trouble watching where he’s going, the orange glow of burning buildings illuminate his path.

The car that drives by is the only thing moving. It comes at a slow pace, lazily strolling down the street and Sam realizes that there is no way anyone is driving it. The whole front seat is on fire, flames licking the rooftop through the front shield.

He steps aside, watches it go. The car only stops when it hits one of the horses on the sidewalk. The horse, already dead, barely moves with the impact.

The ear-piercing shriek and flapping of wings, flying over-head, sounds too big and ominous to be any sort of bird Sam has ever heard of.

The reference in John Winchester’s journal to Harpies and other flying

creatures, was little more than a side note: a mere comment on how often they were mistaken for vampires and shapeshifters. They are neither.

Sam has never seen one; he’s pretty sure that neither had his father or Dean, but from the quick glimpse that Sam gets, as he takes cover under a crumbling building, he is sure that the three black creatures flying in formation over the deserted streets of Kom Ombo are exactly that. Harpies.

And what really scares Sam is that he has no idea how to kill them.

The ground is covered in pieces of broken asphalt and large chunks of black stone with hot veins of red and yellow, as if fiery pieces of coal had rained down from the sky.

This is the end of times, after all. Sam would not be surprised if that’s exactly what happened here.

The temple at the end of the city looks... vindicated.

As if erasing all traces of modern world have finally restored it to its old glory. It stands out, in the top of the small elevation, with its long flight of stone stairs, side towers and columns that look more Roman than Egyptian. The whole place seems like an odd mixture of cultures, of times. Castles, temples, gods old and new.

It’s the only place free of debris and ash. And the source of the only sounds, beside the flying squadron, Sam can hear.


Sam can hear people singing in a low tone, hundreds of voices, rising and dipping to the rhythm of some ancient song.

Sam draws closer to the temple, trying to find a way around the main entry door at the top of the stairs. Maybe once inside, he can lose himself in the middle of the crowd and move more freely. But for now, he has to keep to the shadows and hope that Dean isn’t there yet.

His brother had promised him a fifteen minutes head start. It was only when he was two miles away that Sam remembered that Dean had no way to accurately tell the passage of time. Besides, knowing his brother’s usual impatient temper, Dean had probably started the summoning ritual the minute Sam’s footsteps could no longer be heard.

Circling around the stone temple with its gargantuan walls, Sam can tell that the gathering of people is concentrating somewhere to the south of the monument. The further north he moves, the fainter the voices grow.

Sam rubs his stinging eyes, everything blurring for a couple of seconds under the toxic fume-filled air.

Up ahead, he can finally see his way in. It’s nothing more than a breach in the wall, some crumbled stones that cut the thick wall in half and allow him to take a peek inside.

Two men, dressed in black and purple tunics, stand guard just on the other side of it. They’re facing inward, slack postures that tell Sam that they don’t expect anyone coming past them from outside. They don’t look like they are worried about anyone coming at all.

It makes it all too easy to sneak up behind them and render the first one unconscious. The other one, a man with a long, black beard and eyebrows so thick they look like a continuous line above his eyes, turns to face Sam with a satisfied grin on his face.

Sam has no time to wonder why the sleazy smile when he sees the man’s eyes turning as black as his beard. A demon. Standing guard with a human.

“Looky here... we got ourselves the complete package now,” it hisses, making a grab at Sam’s neck.

Shaken out of his initial dim surprise, Sam reacts fast enough, clasping one hand around the demon’s grinning mouth and drawing his knife to stick it in the demon’s throat.

The body sputters and twitches, and Sam holds it still and silent until the last vestiges of fire leave the poor, possessed man.

Looking around and making sure that his entry has gone unnoticed, Sam makes short work of tying the unconscious one with his own shoelaces, then quickly hiding both bodies from view.

He’s wiping the blood of the knife’s blade on his sleeve when he hears the change in pace of the distant chanting. Following the sounds, Sam goes deeper into the ruins, where he can see more and more people.

Those who weren’t caught in the first onslaught of the city’s

devastation seem to have regrouped here. They are all looking at the same spot, some point where all the lit torches and electric lamps converge, in the middle of the ruins. The center of the stage.

The placement of each individual... makes it look like a practice target. Sam can see a ring of women, all dressed in pale yellow, at the center; behind them, a second ring of men dressed in purple; and beyond them, everyone else.

Being taller than most people comes with as much advantages as disadvantages. Sam doesn’t have to get too close to realize that the spectacle that has everyone mesmerized and chanting is that of a couple, a naked man and a woman, in the middle of the half ruined circle of columns, their sweat covered bodies glinting in the orange light.

Drawn on the ground around the two of them is the same Oroboros figure that Sam saw before, the same tattoo that adorned their attackers’ wrists in Abu Simbel.

The couple inside the circle seem to be... rhythmically and with increasing enthusiasm, simulating the sexual act.

From what Sam read about the group who pompously called themselves the Ordo Templis Orientis, this has to be a part of their rituals. The gathering of energy and magic power by the harnessing sexual drive and force. From the sounds coming from the middle of the circle, they might be doing more than ‘merely’ simulating anything.

In front of the coupling pair, another man stands, dressed in a long black robe, arms extended and hands turned upwards, like a maestro conducting an orchestra that already knows all the moves. Sam figures that has to be the man in charge.

The painted circle, however, seems to be more than just part of their ritual. From where he stands, Sam can see it begin to shine, a glow that starts so faint and tenuous that Sam can’t really pinpoint where or how it began. It grows stronger by the minute, pulsating in time to the rhythm of the couple, a cloud of purple light that engulfs the Oroboros drawn on the ground until the giant snake itself appears to undulate and come to life.

Sam gulps. That is no illusion or trick of the light. Whatever spell the Order is using for this, it’s the real deal and Sam is sure that, whatever purpose that purple snake has, it can’t be good.

Suddenly, it clicks why Asmodeus is working with these people, why he has allowed humans to stay humans for this long. He needs their strength of belief; he needs these rituals to do whatever that glowing circle is for. And the Order is giving him all the power that he needs.

The thoughts running through Sam’s mind come to a sudden stop when his eyes search the rest of the place. At first, he couldn’t really tell that there was someone in there, because of the angle, but now that he turned his attention to the space in between two of the columns on the right, not only does he sees the man strapped there, but also recognizes who he is.


Sam changes position to get a better look at his brother. Dean’s standing, which is as much reassurance as Sam can take from the sight of his brother roped in between the two massive pillars. Thick rope coils around each of his wrists and spreads Dean’s arms to the side and up, an unmoving ‘Y’ shape, on display in front of the crowd.

They’ve dressed Dean in some white, ridiculous button up shirt that rides up across his navel to reveal the matching pair of pants, but otherwise, he’s too far away for Sam to be able to see if he’s okay.

The hairs at the back of Sam’s neck stand to attention. To late he realizes it has nothing to do with the vision of the weird snake or his bound brother.

Sam turns around in a swirl of movement, facing the smiling woman with amber eyes, soon engulfed in the complete blackness of the possessed.

“Didn’t think it’d be that easy, did ya, Sam?”

And then he’s flying through the air and Sam knows that, in that rock- filled place, no matter where he lands, it’s going to hurt.

Everything feels so soft and warm around him that Sam doesn’t want to move and break the illusion of comfort he’s experiencing right now.

Body exhausted from all the running back and forth, from being

zapped in Abu Simbel, for worrying his stomach into an early ulcer over his brother, Sam can’t remember feeling this good in the past two days. Hell... he doesn’t remember feeling this good in months.

“Sam... come on Sam – cough - snap out of it, boy!”

Even Bobby’s gruffy voice is a welcoming balm to the quiet and serenity Sam is feeling. The worry in the older man’s voice, however, is far from reassuring.

It shatters the illusion and Sam opens his eyes as he pulls a deep gulp of air into his lungs.

He breathes in what feels like half the desert. The coughing awakes everything else, especially what feels like an anvil, sitting on Sam’s chest. “Shit!”

Sam finally opens his eyes to the most frightening and bizarre image that he has ever seen.

Bobby’s head. Sticking out from the ground. Looking at him with furious eyes. “Bobby?”

Even more bizarre than having just his head visible, is the easiness with which Bobby manages to convey his urge to smack Sam right in the head. “No, a talking cactus,” Bobby hisses with a barely contained gasp. “What the hell are y-- cough - you doing here, you – cough - idjit?”

With a sinking feeling, Sam realizes that the reason why Bobby’s words keep getting cut off by gasps and coughs; the dirt surrounding Bobby’s head reaches about chin high and, with nothing more than four fingers that Sam can see sticking out from the sand to the man’s right side, too far to be of any use to his face, Bobby can’t even push the gravel away from his mouth.

Sam is lying sprawled on top of the dirt that already covers Bobby and he can feel more falling down, hitting the small of his back like a continuous stream of water. His hands, tied behind his back and growing increasingly numb from the forced strain, register the small grains, like a cloud of mosquitoes, biting into his skin. Forehead

pressing to the ground, Sam adjusts his shoulders to relieve some of the tension in his arms.

Twisting around to look up, Sam can see the two huge bags that hang above the hole they occupy together, both sacks are almost empty of their contents.

“Oh... fuck! Jesus, Bobby... lemme help you,” Sam trails off, already on the move.

Bobby’s widening eyes express his panic more clearly than the faint ‘Don’t move!’ that escapes his shafted lips.

Sam soon understands why. The simple motion of putting his knees beneath himself and pushing up to sit, are enough to shift the dirt around and cover half of Bobby’s face in one swift flow.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Sam is on the move instantly, big hands useless as they contort against the muscles of his back. The only thing he can use to push the sand away is his own face and shoulders, and Sam does just that. His movements turn frantic as Sam’s internal clock warns him that it’s taking too long, too long, too long , not really paying attention to the dirt falling inside his mouth and ears until all he can smell and see is sand and dust.

The continuous string of curses and swearing in his head as Sam works to dig out Bobby’s nose and mouth only stops when he can see the older man’s beard again. “Oh, thank God!” Sam whispers, out of breath, as Bobby finally takes in a cavernous deep gulp of air. “Sorry about that.”

Sam drops flat on the sand, barely daring to breath. “Maybe I could dig around—“

Bobby coughs and spits out the dirt in his mouth and lungs, each puff of air that comes out raising a small cloud dust in front of his face. “I asked –cough- what the hell are you doing here?”

Sam tries sliding sideways, so that he can at least look at Bobby. Not that the red and angry face is any less frightening to look at than the bare walls surrounding the well. The top of the hole they’re in is about two or three feet away, close enough that Sam can see the legs of the men guarding them above. So close, that all he had to do was stand up and get out. The amount of dirt that that would dislodge, however...

So close, and yet so far away.

“What does it look like I’m doing, Bobby?” Sam asks with a smirk of his own, stolen trademark from his brother. “I’m here to rescue you, princess.”

Bobby doesn’t even pretend to crack a smile at Sam’s poor effort at a Star Wars joke, even if Sam IS tall enough for a Stormtrooper. “Where’s Dean?”

“Close by,” Sam says, skating over it, hoping that the older man doesn’t ask him for details. “How’re you doing? We heard—“

Bobby dismisses Sam’s concerns with a roll of his eyes, something that Sam doesn’t recognize as usual for the older man, but that says a lot for his lack of options. “Left arm... I think it’s broken,” he says, shaking his head when he sees Sam shift around, worried that he’s putting more pressure on the broken limb. “Quit ya worrying. Damn sand castle here is making me itch like crazy, but at least is keeping the damn thing in one piece, trapped against my belly.”

The worry, however, doesn’t leave Sam’s face. He can see the pain in Bobby’s eyes and he knows that a broken bone hurts like a bitch. The sand IS probably keeping it immobilized as good as a cast, but it has gone too long without treatment. Bobby lost his legs because of them. The last thing Sam wants is for the older man to lose an arm too. Or worse.

“What do you mean, ‘Dean’s close’? Tell me he ain’t with that son of bitch Emam--”

Sam shakes his head, trying to fling a lock of sweat-laden hair out of his face. “We know Emam’s with them,” Sam tries to stall. “Did they tell you what they wanted?”

“No, but I overheard anyway... fools think that the Ark’s lying around, waiting for any idjit to pick it up in the nearest convenience store—“

“We found it,” Sam interrupts. Somehow, he figures that that should feel like good news, but both Bobby’s crestfallen face and the bubbling worry in Sam’s stomach tell him otherwise. “We found the Ark, Bobby.”

The older man’s grey eyes turn into slits, wrinkles deepening in the corners. Sam has known him for long enough to know that Bobby has already figured out the mess they’re in.

“Sam... where’s Dean?”

Sam can’t tell him about Cas’s plan, can’t tell him that this whole thing isn’t as foolish and crazy as it looks. The guards are too near, the chances of them understanding what he’s saying are too big. “Dean’s with them... the Ark’s with him—“ Sam mumbles the only piece of information that he can, cringing in anticipation of Bobby’s predictable reaction.

“You damn fools! Are you out of your dim witted minds?”

Sam rests his chin on the sand, neck spasming from keeping his head straining up for so long. “It was the only way-“

“Only way, my ass! You should’ve just grabbed that idjit brother of yours, found that damn angel of his and gotten the hell out of here!”

“We did find Cas,” Sam offers as a saving grace, even if, technically, Cas found them.

“Well, good for’ya! It fills me with nothing but relief to know that your blind brother and the fallen angel with next-to-no powers, are somewhere up there, playing those sons of bitches game. With the Ark, on top of everything. What kind of plan is that?”

Sam closes his eyes, resigned. “A bad one?”

“You bet your ass it’s a bad one! Whatever these people are after, it’s inside that Ark, and you brought it right in to their sleazy laps. As if it wasn’t bad enough falling for this whole damn trap like diapers-assed kindergart—“

“We know about Emam, about his involvement in setting the trap for us.“

Bobby shakes his head. “Oh, you don’t know half of it. This thing goes further back than any of that,” he says with a note of shame in his voice. “I should’ve been able to see this coming—“

“What are you talking about, Bobby?”

The older man sighs, inadvertently sending a mouth full of dusty air towards Sam’s eyes.

“I’ve had a long time in here to think and sort this mess out,” Bobby starts, “and I think I know why my Karen was possessed.”

Sam strains his neck, trying to get a better look at Bobby’s face. The death of Bobby’s wife is a subject that none of them easily approaches, but now, it seems out of place in the rest of Bobby’s conversation. “Karen?” Sam asks. “Your dead wife? What does she have to do with Emam and these guys?”

“Everything,” Bobby says with another deep cough. “Karen was possessed in 1979, on the twenty-fourth of Janua—“

“That’s—“ Sam points out, recognizing the day.

“Dean’s birthday, I know,” Bobby finishes for him. “When I met your father, I’d been hunting for over ten years, gathering all I could about demons and possessions. I was the go-to guy in those matters, so it was easy to guess that, as soon as John figured that what had killed your momma was a demon, someone would point him in my direction.”

“Why? Why go to all that trouble?” Sam asks, more to himself than Bobby. It had been hard enough to accept that the same plans that had culminated with him killing Lilith and freeing Lucifer from his cage, had started all those years ago, even before his parents were married, with all the deals that Azazel had been doing. Searching for his special kids. Looking for Sam.

This, in an odd way, smells exactly of the same long-range, devious plans. It reeks Azazel all over again.

“Asmodeus,” Bobby answers. “And that amulet that Emam gave me and that I gave you, as a gift to John. This is what this is all about.”

“Actually,” a male voice joins in from above, “the amulet does not matter. It was person who ended up with it that we were interested in.”

Sam twists his neck again, catching a glimpse of the man talking to them. It’s the same man he saw overseeing the... ‘procedures’ of the naked couple in the courtyard. Up close, the man looks short and round about the middle, wearing the same generous black tunic that does little to hide his chubby legs. Behind him, looking shyly at them, stands Emam.

“Obuham, the clown in front of the whole circus,” Bobby hisses between his teeth. “He’s the idiot working for Asmodeus.”

“Wrong again,” the man on top, corrects with a fake smile. “Asmodeus works for me. I control the demon,” Obuham adds, a flick of his hand showing off the elaborate ring that he wears in his middle finger.

“Solomon’s ring,” Sam says without enthusiasm. “Or, a least, part of it.”

Obuham crouches down, face closer to his prisoners. “Do not fool yourself thinking that you know more about this ring and it’s history than me. My family has been keeping this secret since the beginning, since Michael himself left it in Solomon’s hands. This ring, and all else the archangel left on Earth is my legacy, my family heirloom, and I am going to use them in the way I see fit.”

“That thing is useless without the other half, you moron,” Sam calls out, his words somewhat robbed of their impact by the position he’s in and the laugh that comes out of the Order’s leader mouth.

“My father was the one who gave Emam here the amulet, the other half,” he says, clapping the other man on the shoulder with enough force to make Emam flinch. “Do you really believe that he would done such a thing with out first testing if the ring’s power remained intact?”

Sam figures that there is little use in pointing out that the demon could’ve just as easily been fooling Obuham’s father, tricking him into believing that the ring still had the power to control demons. “Where is my brother? What have you done to him?” Sam demands instead. “We brought you what you wanted... why wasn’t he released?” he asks, eyes flickering in Bobby’s direction.

The older man is shaking his head, clearly thinking Sam is out of his mind if he thinks Bobby is going anywhere without them.

“I want the sword,” Obuham tells them earnestly, eyes filling with wonderment just at the mention of it. “Michael left his sword on Earth, as a part of his legacy, as a weapon to be used in the end of times. I want it so that I can present it to Lucifer himself, prove myself and mine as his loyal servants.”

Sam shares a look with Bobby. It’s easy to tell that this is the first time the other hunter is hearing this talk from Obuham, but Sam can tell that they’re probably thinking the same thing.

Zachariah had been the one referring to Dean as ‘the Michael sword’, fooling them into believing that the sword was an actual object until he had his paws all over Dean in their father’s storage place. As far as Sam and Bobby knew, demons still believed that the sword actually

exists, that it’s somewhere on Earth and they’re still looking for it. Inside the Ark seems like a good place like any other.

If that was the case, this guy already had what he was looking for, even if he wasn’t aware of that.

“And where is that sword suppose to be?” Sam asks, playing dumb. “Because if you’re looking for it here... I think I might’ve left it in my other pants.”

“You a funny man,” Obuham laughs without humor. “All that is needed is already at hand. And when Lucifer uses Michael’s own sword to kill him, I will stand proud, by his side,” the man adds. The devotion and... eagerness in his voice are disturbing to hear.

Sam shudders at the implication of what this man is saying. If there truly was a weapon like that, and if it were to fall into Lucifer’s hands...

“Come, your presence is needed elsewhere,” Obuham says politely, making it sound like Sam has any choice in the matter when two other man lean into the hole and fish him out.

The last glimpse Sam has of Bobby is the older man’s look of panic as Sam’s weight shifts the dirt around and starts covering up his face.


Then there’s a sharp pain in the back of his head and all the rest disappears in a lake of blackness.

The whole issue of whether or not Sam and Dean would be able to touch the Ark without turning into a couple of wanna-be lepers, becomes rather moot when Sam wakes up to find them both strapped to it.

Sam’s initial relief at looking up and seeing his brother, kneeling on the floor in front of him on the other side of the Ark, is very short lived when he realizes where they are and what is about to happen.

They are in the center court; the same place where Sam saw the sex- ritual earlier on. The painted snake on the floor is still there, the glow fainter but present. The crowd seems to have doubled in numbers and

he feels exposed, too many eyes focused on him and his brother.

Sam looks at the crowd and in those who dare to meet his searching gaze, it’s plain to see that they are scared to death. The black and purple tunics of the Order members make it easy to spot them in the midst of the rest. They’re spread out, through the perimeter of the courtyard, automatic weapons in their hands, keeping the not-so-willing flock gathered. Above them, perched on the top of the thick walls, there are about a dozen harpies standing guard with hungry red eyes.

In between the destruction of their city and all else that they’ve been forced to witness thus far, Sam’s pretty sure that these people want nothing more than for it to be all over, for someone to tell them it was just a bad dream.

What is worse, though, is Sam’s fear that, whatever they’ve been through so far might be nothing in comparison to whatever this demon has in store for them. Demons were never beings in need of an audience to witness their evil. They’re more the type of enjoying the show on their own and use the audience as main course.

If Asmodeus has convinced the cult leader to keep all these people here, Sam is sure he has some purpose for them.

Until then, though, Sam is more worried about the purpose they have for him and Dean.

The thought brings his gaze back over to his brother.

Dean looks relatively okay, other than the fact that he’s unconscious. He still wears the same ridiculous white tunic of before, more of a white pajama suite now that Sam can see it closer. Looking down, Sam finds himself wearing the same. His hair is damp and he can no longer feel the dust and grime that his skin had been accumulating for the past couple of days, which tells him that, somewhere in between gaining a new bump on his head and this clusterfuck, someone went to the trouble of cleaning him up.

The idea alone sits like acid in the pit of Sam’s gut.

Dean too seems cleaner, the top of his head, as far as Sam can see, free of the goopy hair gel that his brother usually wears.

Their hands are almost within touching distance, each bound by the elbows to one side of the Ark, arms extended alongside the angel

statues and thick rope making sure that they stay in that position. Sam’s stomach twists inside as he realizes that Dean and he are arranged in the exact same position as the angels’ statues on the lid, arms replacing wings, flesh replacing gold.

Sam grabs Dean’s right hand and squeezes. Dean’s head is resting on the angel’s wings, eyes closed, but as soon as he feels the touch, he jerks up like a Jack-in-a-box, wide awake. That’s when Sam realizes what they’ve done to his brother. “Oh... God.”

There are five crooked black lines crossing vertically over Dean’s lips, blood caked puncture wounds already starting to swell. The strings have already been cut, allowing Dean to open his mouth and curse a blue streak as he regains consciousness. Sam watches mesmerized as the uneven strings dangle limply from Dean’s lower and upper lip like black spaghetti.

Dean pushes against his bindings with such strength that, if it weren’t for Sam’s weight on the other end, he’s sure the whole thing would topple sideways. “Who the fu—“

“Dean... it’s me.”

“Sam?” Dean asks, his face zeroing in on the source of the new sound. There is a look of fear and disappointment in his face that Sam’s sure has nothing to do with their situation or position. “Sam... what happened to the plan?”

“Told you it was a bad one.”


Sam turns his head to the left, trying to catch a glimpse of the well where he left Bobby. All he can see is the outer wall and the empty bags, hanging above it. Sam dry swallows, takes a deep breath. He can’t think of what might be happening to the older man now. “Broken arm... pissed off as hell,” he resumes, “but otherwise okay.”

“You’re a shitty liar, you know that?”

Any answer Sam might have given is cut short by the beating of drums. They mark a slow cadence, like a sluggish heartbeat.

The cult’s leader makes his entrance, coming from a corridor of tall columns with no ceiling. Several lit fires cast an orange glow along the way, engulfing his tunic in shimmering shadows that float around him

like a living thing.

Asmodeus, still playing the part of the submissive demon, trails behind him, his expression unreadable. Closing the procession are what appears to be the rest of the other high member members of the Order, dressed in the same purple as their leader, but with a yellow strip down their right side.

They all make their way to the center of the crowd, arranging themselves around Sam, Dean and the Ark. Only when they are settled and the drums grow silent, does Sam notice the throng of children hidden behind the cult members. The kids, ages varying from pre-teens to toddlers, the later ones being carried in the arms of some of the older children, are all dressed in white. Somewhere, in the middle of all the children, one baby starts bawling.

Sam looks at his own and Dean’s white clothes, a very bad feeling starting to take hold of his gut.

There is a barely contained gasp when all the children make their way to stand in front of the Ark. The kids’ eyes search the crowd, looking for their parents, no doubt, but no one dares to move forward to claim them, even if the family members are easy to spot. Sam can see it in the silent way in which their eyes fill with tears, the only reaction that fear will allow.

Dean’s head angles from one side to another, trying to understand what the growing sound of hundreds of feet moving around him means. “What’s happening? What’s with the drum—is that a baby?!”

The leader of the cult starts chanting, words that neither of them can understand, and Sam figures the ceremony has begun. He looks around, trying to find any way to stop this, anyone who might stop that man from opening the Ark. But the only person on their side who’s still on the loose is the angel. Castiel should’ve been there already, but Sam can’t see him anywhere. And even if he’s there, Sam can’t stop wondering just how far the angel will let this go to get God to show His face.

The chanting is picking up its pace and two of the Order members break rank to come stand behind him and Dean. Sam knows the moment his brother senses the close proximity of the stranger nearest him; Dean’s hands close into fists, his jaw clenches. The need to punch someone is so easy to read is Dean’s posture that Sam almost grins.

“The time has come,” Obuham intones, voice low and theatrical, as if he were conducting some sort of Shakespearian play. The tone is so ridiculous that Sam almost misses the fact that the man has switched to English. “Present yourselves to the Ark as chosen ones!”

“Eat me,” Dean says with a loud snort.

The leader looks displeased. Even though their captive audience might not understand a word of what Dean said, the tone is impossible to dismiss as anything but disrespectful.

Sam gasps when he feels the sharp tip of some sort of weapon, flirting with the skin above his left kidney. It’s not a knife, the tip too thick to fit any sort of blade, and he’s sure no gun muzzle is shaped like that. From the way Dean’s smirk disappears and he tenses, Sam’s pretty sure that the goon behind him has pulled the same move on his brother.

“We don’t even know how to...” Sam starts before quickly adjusting his tactic. “Did it ever occur to you that you might have the wrong guys? That, perhaps, that demon standing beside you is only doing what demons do best and is LYING TO YOU?”

It’s a long shot, but maybe he can open this guy’s eyes before it’s too late. Deep inside, though, Sam knows his chances of succeeding are very slim. Dean spent months saying those exact same words to him, and still Sam wouldn’t listen. Why would this man listen to a stranger when Sam wouldn’t listen to his own brother?

It’s no surprise when Obuham laughs mockingly at Sam’s declaration. “You know what this is, yes?” he asks, extending his right ring finger to parade the ring on his finger. Sam has seen it before, in the well where they kept Bobby, but only now can he appreciate the elaborate pentagram that adorns Solomon’s ring. “You know its power,” Obuham continues, ”and yet you do not realize the nonsense of your words.”

Sam shakes his head. “You’re a fool if you think that anything on this earth can really control a demon.”

“And yet, I am obeyed,” the man smiles piously. “Always.” Dismissing the conversation as being over, he nods to the men standing behind the brothers, giving them the go-ahead.

The jolt of energy from the tazer gun is, by now, familiar to both now,

but still comes as a surprise when it hits. It’s on a lower voltage than what they were using before, in Abu Simbel, but the result is effective nevertheless.

Sam’s muscles spasm and escape his control, his hands clenching on the first thing he can grab; Dean’s hands.

On the other side of the Ark, Dean’s eyes are shut tight, teeth clenching against the pain. His fingers contort and grab onto Sam’s, unconsciously searching for an anchor in his haze of agony.

And then it all stops. The electricity cursing through their bodies. The muscle spasms. The presence of anyone else but them and the Ark.

The air around them seems to grow heavy and stifling, feeling more liquid than gas.

There’s a pop in their ears, like a supersonic plane breaking the barrier of sound and Sam can feel every hair in his body rise to attention, like he was being dunked in a tank of nothing but static.

Then he feels it. Beneath his chest, Sam can feel it... pulsing. Like a living thing that has awoken to existence.

Too late Sam realizes what was needed to turn the Ark ‘on’ and lets go of Dean’s hands. It’s of no use though. The angels on the lid are softly glowing, like the gold they’re made of is being lit from within. And the Ark itself seems to come to life.

The men behind him and Dean take a couple of steps back, mouths open in awe.

The crowd around them has grown silent. Sam doubts that they’re even breathing. Only the smirk on Asmodeus’ face breaks the charm that something amazing has just happened.

The leader of the cult starts talking again, addressing the crowd and pointing at the children. Whatever he’s telling them, it’s bad enough that one of the scared shitless parents actually takes one step forward, looking for all intents and purposes dead set on attacking the cult members.

The short report of a machine gun sounds brutally loud and intimidating. Effective on the rest of the crowd. Three men and a woman fall down, even before taking two steps forward. No one dares to repeat their courageous, and yet desperate, actions.

Distracted by the sight of such a pointless and empty death, the gag that is shoved down his mouth catches Sam by surprise. He mumbles, trying to call out to Dean, whom he can see has renewed his struggles against the rope, but it’s useless.

The cult members make short work of fastening the thick piece of cloth around Sam’s head, cotton pressing down on his tongue and almost choking him. He tenses when he sees the knife coming close to his wrists, body tensing as he prepares for pain...

... that never comes. The blade finds rope instead of flesh. In a few quick swipes, Sam’s bindings fall away.

Before he can fight them off, Sam feels himself being dragged away, despite his mumbled protests and dragging feet. Apparently his part in this is over but Sam does not want to leave Dean. On his way down the two steps that take him nearer to the cult leader Sam prepares to lunge at the psychopath.

His path is cut across by the two little girls being led towards the Ark, dragged against their will in pretty much the same manner as Sam.

All thoughts of lashing out flee away, swallowed by the bad feeling in Sam’s gut that twists and turns into a gaping hole of despair. Somehow, Sam knows exactly what Obuham intends to do with those kids.

Bobby was never one to just give up and take it. He hadn’t when Karen died, immersing himself in research until he found out what had provoked her actions in those last few days; he hadn’t sat back and taken it when John, after bringing two young boys into Bobby’s life, had proceeded to fuck up those kids’ lives; he hadn’t given up on John either, not even when the man succeeded in pissing Bobby off four and a half times out of five.

It had been a near thing when he’d woken up in that hospital bed, unable to walk. Dying to get out of there and find out what had happen to those boys after the demon inside him was killed and finding out that he couldn’t even get himself seated on his own.

Now though... there is a time to fight and there is a time to stop

deluding yourself and just face the fact that you’re screwed.

The dirt that Sam had been struggling to keep out of Bobby’s face had rushed back down as soon as the younger man’s weight was removed and shifted the balance of things. And Bobby should be worried that he is about two to three minutes away from literally eating dirt, but all he can think of is that those two boys, those two men that he saw grow up, are about as screwed as he is. And that doesn’t sit well at all with Bobby.

Days before, when Sam, Dean and that angel of theirs had appeared in his study, minus Ellen and Jo, Bobby wanted to hate them. He tried his best and failed spectacularly. One look at their shell-shocked faces, the look of devastation in Sam’s face and Dean’s red eyes and Bobby knew that this was it; the world was coming to an end and the only souls who knew enough to do something about it were a paraplegic, a fallen angel, an ex-demon blood addict and the poster-boy for post traumatic stress disorder.

And still Bobby refused to give up. Still he believed.

Now... now Bobby’s only regret has nothing to do with the world coming to an end, or that his existence is coming to an end even faster than that. His only regret is that Dean and Sam, perhaps the only two souls capable of stopping Lucifer, have zero chances of surviving the night.

More sand falls on his face and Bobby has no choice but to close his eyes and take his last breath, filled with dirt as it is. In this world of dust and sand that his has become, there is no chance that Bobby can tell the difference between the dirt that is falling from the nearly empty bags above him and the dirt that is coming from the loose stone to his left.

Only when Emam’s head pops out, wet soil clinging to his dark face like huge zits made of chocolate, does Bobby realize that something has changed.

“Hang on, Robert... I am here to help you,” he whispers, hands pushing the rest of the cover stone away.

The questions that Bobby wants to ask burn behind his closed lips, but he figures his eyes must be talking enough for him.

Emam has betrayed his trust in the worse possible manner, by using their friendship to get close to the Winchesters, and to place the amulet in the right hands. Now, he had put the final nail in that broken trust, by giving these people a bargaining chip against Sam and Dean. It was because of him that Obuham had Dean; because of him that Sam had been dragged away to suffer God knows what at the hands of these lunatics.

Even buried in sand, Bobby has his doubts about taking the helping hand that Emam is extending him.

Emam must sense it too.

“I know you have no good reason to believe me, Robert, not after all I’ve done,” the Egyptian whispers, his hands busily at work, disappearing under the sand on the far side of where Bobby is, looking for something. “And I will explain all to you... as soon as we are at a safe distance from here.”

With a small whoop! of victory, Emam pulls out another stone, smaller than the first. Bobby can only watch, a mixture of curiosity and anger on his face.

“In ancient times, this hole was used as a Nilometer. High priests would calculate the taxes for the year by measuring here the depth of the Nile,” Emam explains, watching as the sand starts to drain away from Bobby. “Water would enter through that high hole and, when the waters flow lower, it would be let out through this, second one.”

Bobby’s right hand, finally free from where it’d been left stuck in the air, bent upwards hours ago, finally falls down on Bobby’s lap in a cloud of pins and needles. The left one, bone bent out of shape, is numb of all feeling, hanging limply by his side.

The pain is agonizing and Bobby bits his lower lip to stop himself from screaming in pain. No one has noticed their movements yet, and the last thing Bobby wants is to catch their attention now.

“I know it is too much to ask, but I need you to trust me, so we can get out of here as fast as we can,” Emam begs him, the urgency clear in his words.

“Why?” Bobby manages to rasp out. “What’s going on?”

“Obuham has lost his mind... and I can now see how lost my own was for following him. What he plans to do is—“ the man shudders, can’t

bring himself to finish.

Bobby grabs the man’s arm with his last working limb. “What,” he starts, stopping to catch his breathe and cough more dirt out. “What is happening up there?”

Trapped as he was in that hole on the ground, Bobby could still hear. And the things he’s been hearing up there for close to an hour now...

“Obuham plans to open the Ark, use your friends to do it,” Emam tells him, eyes filling with shame. “He has all of the city’s children with him... plans to use them to force the Winchester boy to do as he says— I tried to talk him out of it, but—Asmodeus has him convinced that this is the best course of action,” he says, running a trembling hand over his beard. “But I fear the demon has plans of his own.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I saw him, by the inner sanctuary. The sigils he drew on the ground... they are not a tribute to Lucifer as he told Obuham. They are designed to open a passageway in between worlds. This one and the world below.”

“Hell?” Bobby coughs out, gasping when the word gets caught in his throat. “He’s trying to open a Hell’s gate, here?”

“The gate is already open, I fear,” Emam tells him, eyes watching the opening above for any stray Order member that hasn’t joined the ‘festivities’. “The only thing I do not understand is why none of demons have yet crossed over.”

“They’re waiting for the Ark to be opened,” Bobby realizes, the certainty of that falling like a brick wall on his stomach. “Obuham said he wanted something from inside the Ark and Asmodeus is probably bidding his time until he gets it.”

“Then that time will come soon,” Emam urges, reaching to take Bobby's uninjured arm. “Come, we must get you out of here.”

“No,” Bobby pulls away from where the Egyptian man. “Those boys up there are my only family, but more important than that, they’re our best hope of surviving this thing. I can’t leave them behind.”

“Robert...” Emam starts, eyes fixed on him, trying to make him see how pointless this was. “There is nothing we can do. Obuham has already taken them to the Ark, bound them to it, under the eyes of

every member of the Order, of every survivor in the city. It is impossible to get to them.”

Bobby returns his stare. He knows what is truly at stake here, and he needs Emam to realize that, no matter what it takes. “Those boys are here because of your actions too, Emam... what'll you tell your wife when you return to her and tell what you’ve done to end the world?”

Emam sags back against the wall, his eyes filling with unshed tears. Bobby knows that, if the man was completely without honor or shame, he wouldn’t have even bothered to return for him. But he has. And Bobby starts hoping again. “The gun,” Bobby continues. “The one you took from me... do you still have it?”

Emam nods. “It was too fine a piece to deliver to Obuham and his men. He would never truly appreciate ancient craftsmanship like that.”

“Emam,” Bobby presses on, “that gun is special, it can kill anything on this Earth. That gun can save those boys. You can save those boys and everyone here,” he says, hand grasping the other man’s tunic and twisting the fabric under his fingers. Emam needs to understand the importance of his decision right now.

The Egyptian takes a deep breath, eyes relaxing from the deep guilt that he carried with him when he arrived and dissolving in to some degree of redemption that can only come from the sense of setting right something that you did wrong.

“The gun is still in my car,” Emam says, resolution made. “I will take you there. And then you can tell me how to use it.”

Chapter Twelve: Michael’s Sword

There is a certain gravity that can be felt in the air when something big is about to happen. A prickle of flesh in the back of the head, a cold sliver of ice that traces the length of your spine. Dean felt it when he sealed the deal for Sam’s life; he felt it when Castiel introduced himself as an angel; and he felt it when Lucifer was freed from his prison.

The same gravity falls around them now, building tension that feels like a countdown for something horrible. The air feels charged around him, pressing harder against his skin, like an over-filled tire ready to pop.

Obuham’s voice is almost an anticlimactic sound when he announces that it is time to bring light into the world.

Dean shifts in his place, knees growing sore from the prolonged rubbing against stone. His lips feel like they’re on fire, pulsing at the same tempo as the Ark beneath his chest. The fact that the Ark has a pulse at all, is possibly the weirdest thing that Dean has ever experienced, but he tries not to dwell too hard on what that might imply.

Despite everything, God hasn’t shown up and, regardless of his misgivings about the possibility of Him putting on an appearance, Dean finds himself oddly disappointed. At some point, between hearing Cas’ crazy plan and waking bound to an Ark that should not even exist in the first place, Dean had actually started to believe in the angel’s gamble that Daddy would arrive and save the day.

God wasn’t showing up but Cas, on the other hand, had better be there already, wings ready to fly them the hell out of there. Or at least close enough to take advantage of the festivities to whisk Bobby away.

Dean hadn’t liked the hitch in Sam’s voice when he’d said that the older man was okay. Bobby was far from okay, that part was fairly easy to assume, but Dean needed to know that he was, at least, still


The leader of the Order keeps on talking, back to Arabic now, apparently enjoying the sound of his own voice. Dean really hates when he does that, not only because he can’t understand a word, but mainly because it means that whatever he’s saying, is part of the farce he’s been playing for the crowd. His audience. His flock.

The sound of a machine gun is both short and blunt, cutting above the tension that Dean can feel growing in the crowd.

Dean flinches, heart skipping beats as he realizes that both him and Sam are sitting ducks, out in the open and with no room to move. Trapped, with no place to hide from the path of those bullets. Dean doesn’t hear any hitting the ground near him, which means whoever is shooting, isn’t aiming in their direction.

For a moment, Dean entertains a small bubble of hope that the reason they’re shooting is because someone rebelled, because someone decided to fight.

That hope, however, dies as fast as the bullets find their intended target and the wet sound of flesh imploding under the piercing impact can be heard. Someone did rebel, Dean realizes. And the price was instantly paid.

The bodies that fall down are not mourned, just dull and flat noises that punctuate the silence of the guns. There is no cry of surprise or pain. But the crowd goes quiet then. Beaten down into submission.

There’s a bit of a scuffle from the other side of the Ark and when Dean extends his fingers to reassure himself that Sam’s still there, he encounters nothing but wood. “Sam?”

Only a muffled sound and the distinct noise of feet scuffing against the pebbles on the ground answer him. Sam... being dragged away. “SAM!”

Dean pulls against his bindings, trying uselessly to free himself as Sam’s presence fades away in the rest of the blackness. The ropes are sturdy and refuse to give him even an inch.

“The time for enlightenment has come,” the leader announces proudly. “As was before, so be now... bring forth the lamb.”

Dean stops his struggles, tenses. For one second, for one brief second of denial, Dean hopes that the next sound he hears will be a lamb’s

blaaa! of complaint as it gets dragged toward the Ark. For one faint moment, Dean hopes that the man is being literal and is about to recreate the ancient ritual as it was performed millenniums ago.

Instead, it’s the sniffling sounds of a child crying that Dean hears. The ugly picture that the sound paints is enough to freeze Dean’s blood inside his veins. “NO! You son of bitch! You can’t do that!”

“Who other than children can serve the purpose that is needed here?” Obuham asks him coyly. “These two girls serve goal much higher than anything they could hope for in their pathetic, little lives.”

Dean stares daggers in the direction of the voice; he might be blind but Dean can easily see what the man is doing. They both know all too well whose blood Obuham needs for that particular ritual.

Sam had described the panels to him in detail. The burning city, the man with the handprint on his shoulder kneeling beside the Ark. Bleeding.

It’s fair to assume that every other piece of scum that was ever after the Ark knows those drawings well enough too.

That is why Sam was taken away and he was left behind, Dean suddenly realizes. What he can’t figure out is why the elaborate farce? Why not just force him to—

“It needs to be given willingly, doesn’t it, you dick?” Dean asks with a snarl. “The blood... I need to offer it, or it won’t work, am I right? Well, fat chance of that happening,” Dean offers with sarcasm, calling Obuham’s bluff.

Dean’s aware of the dangerous game he’s playing. If this guy has even a quarter of brain, he’ll soon realize that the best bargaining chip to get what he wants from Dean is Sam. Dean’s prepared for that. He’d begun preparing himself for that long before Zachariah tried to force him to say ‘yes’ to Michael by torturing Sam. He had managed to hold his ground even has the bald angel broken Sam’s legs and stolen his lungs... Dean is sure that Obuham won’t be able to come up with anything even remotely that inventive.

In the mean time, Dean just wants to stall events as much as he can and try to figure a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve innocent people dying or giving the Ark to that asshole.

The ’asshole’ remains silent, seemingly unperturbed by Dean’s lack of cooperation. No one else dares make a sound. Only Dean's heart beat pulsing against his ears and the quiet sobs of the children fill the waiting silence.

A short sentence in Arabic breaks the pregnant stand off and Dean feels the building apprehension and tension in the air swell. Ready to blow. It’s just a matter of finding out in which direction the shit’s gonna fly.

“La! La! La, fadlak! La!”

The voice is young, too young, maybe five or six. It doesn’t matter though. It doesn’t even matter what the kid is saying. The panic is so clear and transparent that Dean doesn’t need the words. Doesn’t even need to see what’s happening to know that the leader has just ordered the kid to be cut open.

“You’re a sick fuck, you know that?” Dean explodes; sick to his stomach that his gamble has backfired. He can’t see the little girl, but Dean can easily imagine the panic and fear in her young eyes. Too young to be facing her death.

Her gasp of pain as the blade finds flesh feels like a stab in Dean’s heart.

After Dean's outburst, silence descends once more over the place. It is ominous, heavier this time around.

Next to Dean, too close to him, the kid’s protests have died down to a faint and continuous rumble of ‘la la la la’. It would almost sound like a song, if it weren’t for the pain in the little girl’s voice.

“You know this won’t work," Dean breaks the quiet. "But you still do it... for what? To get your rocks off? To prove everyone that you’re THA man?” Swallowing around a lump in his throat, he continues, “What is it? Got bullied at school by the bigger kids? Daddy didn’t hug you? Uncle touched you in the wrong place? WHAT, YOU FUCKER?!”

Obuham doesn’t answer him and the silence only serves to distill more of Dean’s anger.

Dean screams, frustration eating away his usual restraint. Where his hands rest upon the Ark’s lid, he can feel warm drops, falling on his fingers. Blood. Someone else’s blood. On his hands.

The kid stops talking, no sound coming from that side except for some short and gasping sounds, like a fish trying to breath outside water. Dying.

Taking her last, scared and pain filled gasps in front of the crowd, like it’s some kind of freak show. Obuham hasn’t even given her the decency of a little privacy in her final moments.

Somewhere at a distance, a pain filled wail rises in the air before being forcefully silenced. Probably the kid’s mother, helplessly watching as her child is taken away from this life.

Dean let’s his head fall to the lid, the unfairness of it all sapping all energy from his body. The feeling of being trapped goes deeper than the ropes around Dean’s arms. He’s cornered, helpless and hopeless, with no idea of where Sam was taken to, no inkling of when –if at all- Cas will show up and with a madman murdering children just to prove a point. To prove that Dean’s weak.

In the buzz that’s making his ears ring, he can hear the distant bark of a dog.

A dog.

In the middle of all this monstrosity, in the middle of the end, a dog is barking. It’s almost... normal.

“Bring out the other child,” the leader orders. “No.”

Dean barely recognizes his own voice, raspy and coming as if from the deep of a tomb, but he figures that’s him talking. After all, that is the word that he’s been screaming inside his head, over and over again. It’s funny how saying ‘no’ now feels so much as if he’s saying ‘yes’ to Michael. If this Ark is as powerful as Castiel believes it to be, there is a chance that the results will be the same.

But Dean can’t let a second, third - God knows how many more - children be murdered because of this. Cas had his play, had his bait. If Dean doesn’t put an end to this now it will be on his hands that this blood will fall. It’s on his hands already.

Certainties and maybes. It all amounts to that. Dean knows now that Obuham will kill as many as he needs to get what he wants; that is certain.

The Ark and its power, the consequences that may or may not result from Dean’s cooperation... those are maybes that Dean will have to deal with later. When they stop being mere conjectures.

For now, this is the only thing Dean can do. “No,” he says again, raising his head to ‘look’ at Obuham.

“You offer yourself as sacrifice?” the leader asks, sounding like he’s reciting lines from a script. Dean’s pretty sure that he probably is.

“I offer my blood. Use me. My blood.” Dean can practically hear the other man beaming.

“So be it then!” The leader shouts out. The sound of pounding drums chases after Obuham’s words and Dean can feel the feverish elation rise up in the air in tempo with their beat.

The ropes fall from his arms, finally freeing him from the Ark, cut away by the same anonymous person that presses a blade in to Dean’s hand.

Dean’s fingers close around the weapon by reflex, rough wooden handle solid and wet in his palm. He traces the length of the blade with his other hand, recoiling when his fingers touch the sticky wetness in there too. It’s the same knife, Dean realizes, the same knife they used to kill that kid.

It’s his turn now, Dean figures, as he sits back on his folded legs, finally giving his knees a rest.

For a moment, he entertains the thought of using the knife to kill Obuham. But he can’t see where the man is and the deafening sound of the beating drums drown all else, until the only thing Dean can be aware of is the hard stone under his legs and the blade in his hands.

He has no idea how he’s supposed to do this and Obuham doesn’t seem very inclined to give him any further instructions. He just needs to bleed over the Ark, Dean supposes. That part is easy. Dean’s been bleeding for one cause or another all of his life.

So, he plays it by logic. Presses the tip of the knife to the inside of his left wrist and lets the blade slide up his arm. “I’m sorry, Sam.”

There’s no pain, at first. Just the strange, cold feeling of wetness

spreading down his wrist, blood dropping to the floor, silently at first and then in increasing plops, as the crimson pool grows deeper.

“Good,” Obuham’s voice rises above the drums. “The other one too,” he instructs, like Dean’s baking a cake under his supervision and needs to add one more egg.

Dean shivers, numb fingers contorting around the handle of knife. He manages to make a smaller cut on his right arm before the blade slips from his fingers and lands with a clatter on the stone floor.

Darkness starts swirling around him, in ways like darkness should never be able to, and Dean tumbles forward, hands catching on the edge of the Ark. The coppery smell of blood clogs his nostrils, making him sick to his stomach, but all of Dean’s awareness is centered on the drums as they beat in tempo with his heart. As long as he can hear them, Dean knows he’s still alive.

The blackness he’s grown accustomed to now shimmers and flashes, like his brain is warning him that maybe he should be doing something about the blood that pouring out of him.

The sound of the drums and chants start to ebb away and even the silence begins growing fainter and fainter. Dean rests his forehead on the back of the angel statue, thinking that now would be a good time for Castiel to show up. God would be welcome too.

Somewhere at a distance, it’s the dog bark that Dean hears instead. Closer now. Close enough for him to turn his head and search for it.

The first thing that Dean sees is, in fact, a dog. A big, white, German Shepherd, standing just behind a hawk-like statue. “Mile-Oh,” Dean whispers, recognizing the same dog that has been following him around since Abu Simbel.

The dog is exactly as Dean had imagined him, which makes sense, because he figures that this is all a product of his blood-deprived brain.

His brain, however, could not produce the images Dean can see around him. The crowd of foreign looking people; the dark sky with the big and shiny moon, so large and close as Dean has never seen it before; the row of tall and ancient columns that stretches from behind the people towards the river...

Dean looks down, moving his bloody fingers across the Ark’s lid,

realizing that he’s actually seeing it. It’s not his imagination or a hallucinating; he’s not seeing his life flash before his eyes. He’s seeing the here and now.

Dean finds Sam in the middle of the crowd, on his knees, being held down by two men in ridiculous purple tunics with yellow stripes. Sam’s face is half covered by the black strip of fabric shoved inside his mouth, his cheeks red like he’s ready to blow a gasket. Dean would call it anger, if it weren’t for the tears rolling out of his brother’s eyes. Frustration. Worry. Those would be more appropriate words for that look.

Dean almost opens his mouth to asks why the hell is Sam crying when he just got his vision back, when he remembers where they are and what’s happening.

Dean lifts his head, the movement heavier and harder than it should ever be, and looks at the mess on the Ark’s lid. There’s a kid, slumped over the Ark, head full of dark curls hanging loosely and still. Dead. Because Dean took too long to say yes.

The unfairness and pointlessness of it all strikes Dean so deeply that the loud and maniacal laugh that fills the air could’ve come from his own mouth. Instead, Dean manages to trace its origin to the man standing behind Sam. The man with eyes completely white. The vision that Dean has just got back, starts to waver and fray around the edges even as he realizes who it is he’s looking at. Asmodeus.

Sam was certain that watching his brother being mauled alive by invisible Hellhounds was the hardest thing he’d ever had to witness. He was wrong.

Not being able to do a single thing while Dean was cornered in to offering himself up to be bleed out, all in the name of a barbarian ritual that proves nothing other than the fact that the cult’s leader is a sick bastard and that Dean has a weak spot for little kids... that topped pretty much everything else.

For every drop of dark red that falls, Sam hopes, prays that something might happen; that Cas might finally show up like he’d promised; that the whole crowd would rebel against what’s happening; that Sam gains superhuman strength and, somehow, manages to defeat all the

cult members and save Dean in time; that this madness actually does something to the Ark and God finally manifests Himself and stops Dean from dying.

None of that happens, of course. What does happen is what Sam feared would happen sooner or later. Asmodeus finally grows tired of playing his game.

The laugh the demon lets out feels like nails on chalkboard. Grating and jarring. Long and intrusive. It only makes Sam work faster on the sloppy knots the men roped around his wrists. This is going to turn ugly fast and Sam needs to take his brother out of this place. Needs to find a way to save as many people as possible.

“Ah... man... this is too much fun to watch with a straight face,” Asmodeus lets out with one last chuckle. “But, it’s time to get on with business. Time for the real fun to begin.”

The cult leader turns, facing the demon with a baffled expression of his face. “You forget who is in charge here, demon.”

The demon’s renewed giggles echoe off the stonewalls. Sensing the mounting power of the dark creature, the rest of the Order’s members, wisely enough, take a step back. The leader, however, takes one step forward, raising his ring finger to show the pentagram structure to the laughing Asmodeus.

The demon pushes Obuham’s hand aside like it is nothing, taking the ring off the man’s finger in one swift movement that sends him crashing to the ground. “You pathetic little man,” Asmodeus hisses. “Do you really think that this thing was ever worth anything? Do you really believe that, all this time, I was doing anything other than my true master’s bidding?” he says, tossing the ring to the ground like it’s nothing more than a piece of old junk.

“But... the power... Solomon—“

“Solomon was a man I could actually respect, a man powerful enough to make the ring work,” the demon looks slightly nostalgic at the mention of the ancient king. “Sure, he made me work my ass off in construction, like I was nothing but some grunt, but the man had style, I have to give him that. You and your pack of rat-followers, on the other hand...”

The two men guarding Sam have completely forgotten about their

charge. Sam can feel their legs shaking against his arms and they take no action when he climbs to his feet, rope all but hanging loosely from his hands. Their attention is solely on the conversation taking place between Obuham and the demon, faces devoid of color as they realize that their leader holds no power whatsoever.

To them, Sam realizes, it must be like finding out that all the lifeboats are made of paper as their ship sinks in shark infested waters. And he really couldn’t care less.

Two feet in front of him, Asmodeus has finally stopped gloating. He raises his arms above his head, words that sound like no language spoken on earth leaving his lips.

The Oroboros on the ground doubles its glowing light, but Sam ignores it as he takes advantage of the distraction and makes his way towards Dean.

Sam rips the cloth from his mouth as he walks, using his teeth and one sharp pull to rip it in two. Dean’s eyes are closed, but Sam can see his back slowly rising and falling. Still breathing. The blood is still slowly trickling from the double gashes in Dean’s arms and Sam wastes no time binding those tightly. The amount of blood already coating the floor and the Ark is troubling, but Sam has no way of knowing how much of it came from Dean and how much came from the dead little girl.

Behind him, a deep rumble shakes the ground. It sounds like a underground train, a speeding subway train, making its way through a tight tunnel. It makes the hairs on Sam’s arms stand to attention.

Slowly, he turns back, standing defensively in front of Dean. The silent crowd takes a collective step back, giving Sam a better field of vision. Some of them have taken advantage of the guards’ distraction and make a run for it. The rest are just too frozen in fear to do much more than to keep on breathing.

The center of the Oroboros is shimmering, like the stone has become water, or gray fire. As Sam watches, a large cloud of blackness rises at full speed, ripping from the ground and spreading above them.

Demons. Hundreds. Thousands.

More than what they released from the Devil’s Gate almost three years before.

Sam can only stand and watch as the single, ominous black cloud of smoke breaks into several individual columns of smoke, like black fireworks. Then it turns, diving back towards the terrified crowd.

It doesn’t stop at demons, Sam realizes. The hole in the ground keeps on spiting things out, like the end of a terror assembly line, intent on filling the land with every monster and beast ever imagined. A calling to arms, to join the ranks of the demons already topside and the harpies that Sam had seen flying around.

The flapping of long, shredded shrouds mixes with the flapping of bat wings and the screeches of crow-like creatures, wailing figures that drown the screams of the people below. In the crowd, the lucky ones get possessed, soul after soul invaded by demons until, slowly, the watching crowd of humans becomes a watching crowd of demons.

And commanding them all, Asmodeus laughs.

Once, driving through Kansas, Dean had come this close to being caught in a tornado. It wasn’t bad enough that he’d actually seen cows flying through the air, but he could see the twister in his rear view mirror, could feel the strong, speeding winds trying to steer the Impala out of his control. It had sounded just like what Dean was hearing now, like a giant vacuum cleaner working in reverse.

The roar is too loud for Dean to ignore. He wonders if he’s standing in the middle of a tornado again, even though he can’t feel any wind. He should be feeling wind.

Dean stirs, eyes blinking sluggishly and body tensing as he registers the shrilling sounds around him. The second he tried to use his hands to push himself up, Dean recoils in pain, looking in confusion at the black bandages around his wrists. Sam.

His head feels like it’s filled with stones, but even so Dean forces it up. He needs to see what’s going on. He needs to know.

His field of vision is filled with Sam – well, Sam’s butt, actually - which

is a good thing, because beyond that there are so many people, running around like headless chickens, that Dean’s sure he wouldn’t be able to find his brother otherwise. Sam is standing in front of him, like a guardian sentry, with absolutely nothing going for him other than sheer resolve and a pair of knuckles.

Dean would’ve laughed if he hadn’t catch a glimpse of what was going on beyond Sam’s legs.

It was Hell, just like he remembered it. On Earth, just like Lucifer had promised.

There’re demons everywhere he looks, almost one for every man, woman child. The few who aren’t possessed, are being slaughtered by those who are.

Asmodeus stands in front of them all, like a maestro conducting the bloodiest symphony ever written and Dean wonders how much of what he’s seeing is real and how much is his mind replaying what he saw in Hell.

Mile-Oh hasn’t moved from the place Dean had last seen him, his fur now stained with blood, sprinkles of red in the white coat that looks too superficial to have come from the dog itself. Dean has no idea why that detail catches his attention, but it just seems wrong. The animal, as if sensing Dean’s gaze on him, locks his deep brown eyes on him. The dog seems sad.

As he looks closer, Dean catches the glint of something shiny in the dog’s mouth. And then Mile-Oh is moving at a fast paced trot in Dean’s direction, like there is nothing around him but a field of daisies.

Dean is sure that the damn dog is gonna get himself killed, and that too will be on Dean’s hands, because, for some reason, that animal has been following him everywhere since he arrive to Egypt so, why wouldn’t he follow Dean into this bloody battle too?

Mile-Oh, however, has some moves in him. A possessed man picks up a large piece of stone, looking way too heavy for his skinny frame, and drops it on top of an older man cowering on the floor, just inches from where the dog passes by. Something large enough to cast an ominous shadow on the ground, flies over them. It spits a ball of fire that lands close enough to singe Mile-Oh's fur, but the dog never stops. Never flinches.

Somehow, in the middle of the confusion of bloodthirsty demons and

people running scared, the dog manages to make his way unscathed to Dean’s side. It takes only seconds, even if it feels to Dean like everything around him is moving in slow motion.

“Hey boy,” Dean whispers. It’s so faint not even he can hear his own voice above all the screaming. “You shouldn’t be here...”

Mile-Oh ignores him, opening his mouth to drop something in Dean’s lax hand before walking away.

Dean forces his eyes to focus on the piece of metal in his palm. A ring. A big ring with a pentagram in its center.

Solomon’s ring. The one that did nothing to control Asmodeus before.

Dean frowns. Usually when Lassie did something as purposeful and heroic as the stunt that Mile-Oh just pulled, was actually helpful for tiny Tim... or whatever the kid’s name was. Figures Dean’s ‘Lassie’ would bring him a piece of junk.

Sam's moving. Dean watches him bend down to retrieve a discarded gun from the floor and threaten to use it on anyone that comes too close. Dean knows it’s a desperate measure. Bullets have a tendency to run out and even if they didn’t, regular bullets will do nothing but slow the demons down. Surrounded as they are, it’s only a matter of time until the demons lose their shyness and fear of harming ‘the vessel’, and Sam and Dean get thoroughly and terminally fucked.

Dean wants to scream at Sam to go, to make a run for it, but he doesn’t even bother to waste his breath. Sam would just ignore him anyway. Head hung dejectedly, Dean jerks up when he feels his neck being pulled down by an unbelievable force.

Looking down, he can see both the ring and his amulet glowing, the golden head hanging in the air like it wants to break free from the string where Dean wears it and fly away. Towards the ring that Dean has in his hand.

On a hunch, Dean stops struggling and inches his hand closer.

As soon as the ring and amulet are within inches of each other, they’re pulled together, like magnets. The click is almost too loud in the madness around them, as the neck of the golden head that Dean has carried around his neck for most of his life, slides into the open space in the middle of the ring’s pentagon like it has never left that particular spot.

The feeling is instantaneous; a tingling sensation spreads from Dean’s hand, palm growing numb like he’s touched a live wire. He really has no idea how to use this ring, or whether of it will work, but Dean knows it’s a better chance than what they had five seconds ago.

Sam’s fighting, as are all the other remaining humans, but they're losing this battle. They have to risk it, even if the odds are overwhelmingly against them.

Dean would’ve kissed Mile-Oh if the dog had stuck around long enough for that. He has no idea if this will even work, but as far as his sluggish brain can figure, this is the first time in a very long time that the two halves of the ring were this close. The idea of attempting to use it himself doesn’t even cross Dean’s mind. He has no idea how it works, but he figures it will require some measure of focus and concentration. From the way things keep slowing down and blurring around the edges for him, Dean knows that he won’t be staying upright much longer.

“Sam,” Dean calls out, cursing when his voice fails to call his brother’s attention. “SAM!”

Nothing. Sam is completely focused on the menace from outside, punching and kicking every demon that dares come close to the small place where he’s decided to make a final stand.

Holding the glowing ring tight in his palm, Dean resorts to the only thing he can do to catch Sam’s attention. His fingers taste like cooper when he sticks them in his mouth and blows the shrillest, loudest whistle he can manage.

Sam, frozen in the middle of punching a possessed old woman half his size, drops her before turning sharply to look back at Dean.

“Hey, Sam,” Dean greets him weakly. “Little help here?”

Sam is too confused and surprised at first to realize what Dean’s asking. For one, there is the fact that Dean is actually looking at him, tracking Sam’s movements, using his eyes for something other than the blank staring of the last few days. Dean’s seeing him!

Dean’s hand is extended in his direction and it takes Sam a while to be

able to refocus his attention from his no-longer blind brother’s face to the thing he’s holding.

Solomon’s ring blinks back at him. It's shinning like it never had on Obuham’s hand and Sam realizes that he’s looking at the ring as it was first designed; the completed version. The version that Dean obviously believes Sam will be able to use to get them out of there in one piece.

Sam has no idea how Dean got the missing part of the ring. The last time Sam saw it, Asmodeus was tossing it out to some distant corner and, as far as Sam can see, Dean hasn’t moved from the same spot since the beginning.

It doesn’t matter now.

Sam’s moving even before he commands his feet to walk, both hands surround Dean’s and the ring. “Dean—” there is so much Sam wants to say that nothing actually comes out. Sam just sticks to the practical. “How? How does it work?

Dean dry swallows. Face too pasty and hands trembling, trapped as they are in Sam’s, he struggles to hold on, voice all but a whisper in Sam’s ear. “Just... click your ruby shoes, Dorot—” he manages even as he slumps back against the Ark.

The ring feels warm against his skin, but Sam has no idea if that is because of the tight grip Dean had kept on it, or if it’s the ring itself. He eases Dean’s fall to the floor, taking a second to tighten the bandages around his wrists. Sam hates that he has to turn his back on his brother. But the howling demons take no breaks and whatever space Sam had managed to gain for them near the Ark is almost completely gone now.

The image of the Order’s leader holding out the ring and Asmodeus’ laughing face pops into his mind and Sam can’t help but feel ridiculous as he does exactly the same to the two demons that advance towards him. The smirks on their faces and the blood that drips from their filthy hands are enough to send a chill up Sam’s spine, but he stands his ground.

The motion of extending his arm in front of him feels so familiar to Sam that he finds himself falling into old habits, invisible muscles that he developed under Ruby’s supervision and that, to his shame and sorrow, became like second nature to him. Sam can feel it now. Brain slipping into autopilot, heart beating faster

and faster, cheeks flushing with the blood rush and temperature rising, whole body tensing in anticipation for the moment in which Sam would unleash his powers.

There is no demon blood inside him now though; no blinding headache. Gone too is the feeling of guilt tethering the flow of power coursing through him. There is only relief and the continuous command that Sam sends, ordering every demon in that place to return to Hell.

For a moment, nothing happens, and Sam forces his eyes open to check what’s wrong, kicking himself for having them closed in the first place.

“You idiot... not since the days of Solomon has that ring obeyed any other man,” Asmodeus hisses. “You’re a worse fool that Obuham, trying to use that to control us. You’re stronger than that, Sam! Lucifer’s vessel doesn’t need shiny trinkets to make demons obey him.”

Sam keeps his focus on the ring’s power, ignoring the demon’s words. Asmodeus is too near and Sam knows that if he screws this up, this is the end. But there is something in the demon’s acerbic tone that gives Sam hope. Underneath the usual blabber about embracing the darkness within him, hidden by the usual contempt toward Sam’s lack of acceptance, Asmodeus sounds... strained.

“Lucifer will be very happy when I deliver you and your brother into his hands,” Asmodeus goes on. “If I know him well, and I do... first thing he’s gonna do as soon as he turns you into his puppet, is to break Dean’s pretty, pretty neck—“

Dean had always considered himself the better poker player, but Sam’s not without skills of his own. He can smell a bluff a mile away. Like now, in the way Asmodeus taunts him with words but doesn’t dare to come any closer; in the way he tries to divert Sam’s concentration from the ring to Dean.

Sam refuses to take the bait. He knows it’s working, even if the demons don’t feel it yet.

And then the first demon comes out screaming, nothing but black smoke exiting a tall woman, darkness swirling up in the sky and being sucked back into the hole in the ground from whence it came.

Asmodeus screams in anger, throwing himself at Sam in one final desperate act of rebellion. He doesn’t get far, though.

As soon as he comes close enough to touch Sam, Asmodeus bursts into flames that consume both possessed man and demon in seconds, until nothing but gray ashes are left.

A fail safe, Sam realizes, to stop the demons under the ring’s control from rebelling against whoever uses it.

The sight of their general being reduced to ashes at the snap of a finger spreads like a wave through the other demons. The smart ones try to escape as soon as they realize what’s happening. Too many turn to Sam in anger, ready to avenge Asmodeus’ defeat.

Unlike his demon-blood powers, Sam realizes that the ring works more on a one-on-one basis. Like a sniper’s riffle. Sam needs to get one particular demon in sight, command it to go back to Hell and move on to the next. Sam moves around a bit, aiming for the better angle to catch as many demons as he can; none dares to get near him, not after seeing the consequences of that, and Sam tries to touch as few as he can. These are real people in there, mothers, fathers, someone’s children being possessed. He wants to, he needs to save as many as he can, not simply turn them into ash.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what they had a couple of minutes before. But it’s laborious and already Sam can feel the sweat drenching his clothes and hair. However, for the first time since he woke up tied to the Ark, Sam starts to believe that they might actually make it out there alive.

Confident that Dean’s safe for the moment near the Ark, Sam advances into the crowd, looking for better access to the remaining demons.

It’s the human part of the equation that puts a damper on Sam’s plan. Distracted by the number of demons that he’s expelling, Sam completely forgets about Obuham and his Order members. When he can spare half a second to check if Dean’s still out, Sam finds Obuham and a few of his followers closer than what he’d hoped for. “Hey!”

The three men that surround Obuham are clearly intended to be his shields, whether they want it or not. Two are torn asunder by demons as they walk into the open area, while the third, pants shaded a darker purple between his legs where he’s pissed himself, cowers closer to the ground as a harpy makes a sharp turn and angles toward him. In a matter of seconds, he’s trapped in her talons, ten feet up in the air. A

terrified scream is the last sound that he makes as the harpy throws him unceremoniously down a rocky edge.

Obuham appears unaffected by his sacrifice, or by the deaths of the other people of his Order. Fearful only for himself, he moves determinately, not stopping until he reaches the center, where Dean lays barely conscious by the Ark.

Sam looks at the leader in confusion, then sees the look of determination in the cult leader's eyes.

On a mission, Obuham sees none of the danger around him, hears none of the people that are dying because of his actions. He has eyes only for the Ark. There is a bleeding gash on his neck and the man’s dark eyes are glassy, feverish as he lays his hands on the Ark’s lid. Obuham tosses the kid’s body aside like she’s nothing but a broken leaf on a street bench, and bents over to push the cover aside. Sam can only hope that what Cas has told them is true and the Ark itself deals with Obuham as he deserves.

Dean’s brain feels like it’s drowning in muck. Now that he finally can, Dean’s keeping an eye on his brother. Sam is standing to his left, hand extended in front of him, head turning like he’s watching some tennis match, switching in between the demons on the temple and stealing glances in Dean’s direction.

It’s not an image that sits well with Dean. For a second, in fact, his chest seizes, trapped in the memories of the last time Dean saw Sam use his powers.

But it’s not his powers that Sam is using now, Dean remembers. Sam is using Solomon’s ring like he’s been doing it all of his life. The air is filled with the swirling puffs of black smoke, each running without direction, before eventually disappearing back into the pit.

With his brother otherwise occupied, Dean turns his attention in to finding a way of getting them out of there. His eyes land on the cover of the Ark, poised behind him like an anchor in the middle of all the chaos. Obuham’s figure is bent over it, both hands pressed against the side as he struggles to push the cover aside.

The cult leader grunts and his face turns a deep shade of red at the

strength he's using to push that lid aside; still, it looks like it's hardly moving.

They’ve carried that Ark, him and Sam. Dean knows that it’s not heavy enough to cause the exertion and muscle that the man is using. He has no idea what will happen if Obuham manages to open it, but a part of him wants to find out.

Castiel’s tales that equated the Ark to a cell phone were, clearly, out date. Between Dean’s and the poor little girl that Obuham had murdered, there’s enough covering the Ark to make as many ‘long distant calls’ as they wanted. And yet, nothing had happened. No God, no shinning light, no gushes of Holy Spirit wind. Not even a soft breeze.

And yet, there was clearly something powerful there. Dean had felt it when he and Sam touched hands over the lid; he had felt it pulse beneath him.

Sweat is pouring down Obuham’s face, running down his nose in fat drops and still the cover has barely moved. Dean pushes against the ground, biting his lip against the pain, slowly getting to his feet. Sam’s too busy to do anything. It’s on him to stop Obuham, once and for all.

Even if he could, Dean realizes that there is no need for him to do a thing.

Red boils, like bubbling oatmeal, have already started to spread over Obuham’s hands and arms. They look small, at first, but even from a distance, Dean can see them proliferating and engorging, taking all shape and form out of the man’s arm, slowly turning him into a deformed blob.

When Cas and the monk mentioned the effect that the Ark was supposed to have on those unworthy, Dean hadn’t put much stock in their words. It was not so much that he didn’t believe them; it was more that he found the whole concept of a non-cursed object having any sort of effect on people, hard to buy.

This though... the word ‘biblical’ came to mind. The man was being consumed by the Ark’s touch, and still he would not stop.

The lid finally starts to slide over, a vacuum sound chasing the open gap. It falls on the ground with a sound of thunder. Dean shudders at the coldness that spreads through him.

Obuham opens the Ark and gazes inside. His face, bathed in wonderment up until that point, now crumples in disappointment.

The loss is so deep in the ambitious man’s eyes that, for one moment, Dean believes that the Ark is truly empty.

When the Order’s leader reaches inside with a decaying hand and pulls something out, Dean can’t help but hold his breath in eager anticipation.

“Khara! This? What is this?” he screams, throwing an accusing look in Dean’s direction. “You expect me to believe that this is all that remains of Michael’s sword? Of his power on earth?”

The angry shouting calls Sam’s attention back to what’s happening by the Ark. In Obuham’s hands, there is some sort of black stick; it looks like nothing more than a broken piece of charcoal. His words are little more than growls and shrieks, doing his best to compete with the rest of the screaming demons. Guttural sounds that have lost their meaning in any of the languages of the sane. Just madness and wrath, and Sam’s left to worry what the end result of all that anger and insanity will be.

The man is standing too close to Dean for comfort, Ruby’s knife suddenly materializing in his hands. And the look on his eyes... Sam finds himself frozen in dread.

This is a man who, all of his life, believed that he was bringing enlightenment to the world, that humanity's best chance at positive change would come through demons; Obuham had his followers, he had made promises, and he had just been mocked in front of them all by the very demon he had claimed to control.

Now, to open that Ark and find himself vindicated by producing the elusive sword he was looking for was Obuham’s last chance at finding some saving grace in the face of those who’d believed him. Of making sense of any of this. Of bringing meaning to his existence.

To say that he is a desperate man at the end of his tether would be putting it mildly.

Sam blinks, attention divided in between what’s happening behind him and the chaotic fight all over the rest of the temple. Too many demons continue to cause havoc on the ground and, try as he might, Sam can’t get the ring to have any sort of effect over the non-demonic, but equally evil, flying beasts. They shriek and raise clouds of dust every time they swoop down to pick some poor bastard from the ground and toss him up. The only thing Sam can do is watch.

The few times they’ve flown close enough, Sam was able to make out at least a group of furies, flying alongside with the harpies. What to call to whatever else hovers above is of no consequence, because he knows it’s only a matter of time before one of them gets close enough to wrestle Solomon’s ring out of his hand.

The thought is no sooner out, when black wings, dark as death and big as night, swirl around him. One of the furies flies dangerously close but Sam manages to side-step her, hiding behind a fallen stone. Still, the damage is done; the two seconds that Sam takes to run for cover are more than enough for the rest of the demons gain space and move closer to him.

There is no way he can keep this up for much longer, Sam knows it. And still, holding part of his attention, is Obuham’s incessant screaming at the skies, going on and on about the missing sword and being robbed of his inheritance.

When Obuham’s focus turns from the skies above to Dean, Sam can feel his heart stopping inside his chest before relocating to somewhere in the middle of his throat. He can see it in Obuham’s face, clearly as he can see the Hellhole on the ground: the Order’s leader has moved on from having a purpose to having his revenge and, somewhere inside his insane mind, he’s figured that Dean is the one responsible for the absence of Michael’s sword from inside the Ark.

“Wait!” Sam shouts. In sudden clarity he realizes the distance he’s put between himself and Dean and curses himself for it. Sam’s moving, even as he knows he’s too far away to get there in time. The world is speeding away extra fast and Sam stops breathing even as he keeps on moving through molasses. Too slow. Too damn slow. “DEAN!”

Dean turns and even that small movement accentuates the pallor of his face, the trembling of his legs when he tries to shift his weight around on them. The fabric that Sam tied around Dean’s wrists drags across the floor, leaving red lines on the stone. Dean’s looking right at Sam but, in a mockery of the real blindness of the past few days, he’s not really seeing him. For all intents and purposes, Dean’s already

unconscious from all the blood loss. It’s just his body that is too damn stubborn to realize that.

Sam manages to take a few desperate steps closer only to come to a sharp stop. Raining stones start falling from the sky, thrown by the flying critters, and Sam has no choice but to take cover once again.

Obuham still moves, like he’s immune to all the bedlam around him, knife gripped tight in his hand. Dean struggles to keep his legs locked in a standing position, determined to face his enemy, but it’s clear to anyone looking that he’s not steady or even conscious enough to battle a wad of cotton.

Sam shouts like a lunatic, yelling at the top of his lungs, but in the middle of the renewed chaos all around them, his voice has as much chance of being heard as a fart in the middle of a sand storm.

Sam can’t remember the last time he prayed. Too long ago, he figures, back when he still believed that someone was listening.

He prays now.

The sounds of Hell surrounding him, bleeding from the falling stones he’s been unable to dodge and struggling to control a power he can’t fully understand, it’s here, within the ravages of battle, that Sam prays one more time.

Not for salvation, because he figures that his has long been forfeit; he doesn’t pray for strength, because Sam knows that even when that fails him, he’ll still push onward.

No, Sam prays for a miracle. For a fighting chance. For Dean.

Amidst all the other noises, the sound of one particular gun going off breaks through Sam’s fevered thoughts. The blast is different from the machine guns and automatic weapons that Obuham’s men have been uselessly firing on the demons. It sounds older, more powerful. The Colt.

The familiar blast sets the world’s speed right again, suddenly, violently. Sam blinks hard, trying to dislodge the sweat and tears from his eyes as the battle slides forward in a mesh of movement and sound. Obuham has stopped moving and Sam can’t find any reason for his sudden silence and motionlessness. The man stands near Dean, looming precariously over the fallen Winchester with his hand raised high, ready to strike.

The motion seems to be in some kind of suspense. It goes uncompleted. Instead, Obuham’s attention is focused on the dark blooming stain growing bigger and bigger in his chest. The knife clatters to the ground as his lax fingers drop it, a metallic noise that no one hears.

It takes Sam a moment to realize that the fast spreading stain is actually blood and not his wild imagination.

The Order’s leader can’t seem to take his eyes off the coloring material, a look of surprise on his face as he sees the fast spreading stain of red in his purple tunic. In the orange, dim light, his blood looks as black as his soul.

Sam exhales and looks around, searching for the source of the blast, eager to know what possible ally they might have in the battle. Because Asmodeus and Obuham might be gone, but the damage that both caused is still all around them, killing people.

His eyes finally land on a familiar face holding the Colt. Sam can’t help but blink, eye’s wide in surprise.


The man who had betrayed them, who had taken Bobby from them, is standing near one of the largest columns to Sam’s left, Colt still smoking in his hands. He looks shell-shocked, like he can’t quite believe what he’d just done, even as he keeps on fighting. The gun in his hands discharges again and again, killing with a flash of lighting every demon that he can get in the Colt’s sight.

Whether the terror in Emam’s eyes is from his recent action at having just shot Obuham or from a sense of guilt over betraying his friend, is something that Sam neither knows nor cares. What matters the most is that the Egyptian changed sides and that his decision couldn’t have been timelier.

As welcome as the help is, Sam needs to return his attention to the ring. He can feel his focus and control over the demons wavering. It’s unlikely, he thinks, that the ring was ever meant to control that many anyway. His energy is being sapped away and, try as he might, Sam can’t see an alternative to just seeing it through and hoping that, when he finally falls down, he and Emam have taken enough of those bastards with them.

Somehow, Dean is still on his feet and Sam looks for Emam, trying to

convey from a distance his urgent need to get some assistance to his brother, to get him out of here before Dean decides that it’s a good idea to stand beside Sam fighting off demons. Emam meets his eyes and nods, fortunately realizing Sam’s plight.

So far, the demons have left Dean alone, possibly due to his proximity to the Ark. The few who have tried, were blown away as soon as they were near enough. But Sam can see their boldness growing; he can see them plotting a different strategy.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sam catches the stealthy movements of a group of harpies, huddled on the eastern top of the temple, claws digging into stone, red eyes fixed on Dean. They’re moving from side to side, as if caught in some sort of trance, dancing to some music that only they can hear.

Sam’s blood freezes in his veins when he realizes what’s happening.

Slowly but surely, the harpies’ movements start to break the top section of the stone. The piece looks massive, more than enough to squash him, Dean and the Ark into a very thin and flat pancake. Sam turns, ready to drop everything and just drag Dean away from the path of the giant stone, when he sees his brother pick up something from the floor near Obuham, and move away from the Ark.

Dean’s mostly standing, Sam notices, even if he’s walking in that half bent way of those not sure of which way the world is spinning, he’s still more vertical than Sam has seen him since he made those cuts.

The harpies see it too, and their shrieks of urgency are more hideous and frightening than their fighting calls. They converge on Dean, like a kamikaze flying squadron.

Time stops again. For a whole of two seconds, Sam’s entire existence is on hold; nothing around him moves, not the five demons ready to push him to the ground and hold him as a wrapped up gift for Lucifer, not the flock of harpies descending on his brother, not the furies and gargoyles, picking people from the ground and dropping them like puppets from above.

All Sam sees is Dean. The man he’s known his whole life; the family he’s tried to leave behind so many times; the only person on this earth that truly defined home for Sam. The one person that Sam couldn’t stand to disappoint, even if each day he got out of bed after one more night dreaming of Lucifer and saying yes, all that Sam feels like doing is ending it all and be done with it. Dean is the one person that Sam

trusts blindly.

Dean pushes himself upright, legs wobbly like he’s fighting the pull of gravity at every step. In his hand, Sam can now see the dark piece of charcoal that Obuham took from the Ark. Dean turns the black stick around until he can fit both hands around it. Like a handle. Like a hilt. Like an incomplete sword.

For all that he trusts Dean with his life, Sam is sure that Dean has finally lost his mind.

He can see Dean stop and take a stand, legs apart and slightly bent, like their father taught them when he figured that they should learn how to use a sword. Advance, retreat, lunge, parry, feint, extend. Repeat.

The movements are like a distant memory to Sam, drilled into their young minds as thoroughly and repeatedly as assembling and taking apart a gun, making their own bullets or finding shelter in every environment they found themselves in. It was one more skill, one more tool to make them ready, to make them better hunters.

Dean had always been better than Sam with the long blades, his arms never tiring of the swift movement of cutting through the wind with a swipe of a sword. Sam preferred the shorter blades, his longer arms making all else feel awkward and unpractical. He’d never quite grasped why the hell they would ever need such an out-dated skill.

Somehow Sam doubts that this was what his father had in mind when he’d spent all those sunny afternoons in the woods near Blue Earth, teaching fencing and sword-fighting to the both of them.

The only thing that is missing from Dean’s stance now, as far as Sam can see, is an actual sword. When Dean begins waving the stick around, Sam is sure that he’s watching his brother’s final moments, trying to swat furies and harpies away like they are nothing but flies.

A harpy swoops in, close, fast. Dean hacks through the air and Sam cringes...

The shrill scream of pain that the creature releases comes as a surprise to Sam and he blinks as the harpy falls to the ground. One of its wings is severed in half, black blood arcing through the air, spraying the ground and only when Dean moves to deliver the final blow, does Sam finally sees it.

Dean’s not insane; Sam simply could not see it before. The hilt his brother’s wielding has an impossibly long blade protruding from it, shimmering white despite the blood covering it.

Michael’s sword. Full and complete in Dean’s hands.

Sam can’t decide which is more unsettling: the fact that his brother is using a weapon that should not exist – never mind the fact that it wasn’t even there a couple of minutes before - or the strange way in which the sword itself seems to be fueling Dean with extra strength and endurance.

Weakened by blood loss, by any count, Sam knows that Dean shouldn’t be able to stand at all, much less lift up a sword as heavy as this one appears. And yet... Sam can’t stop watching as Dean cuts through the air in elegant and precise moves, unending rhythmic flow of impossible parries and strokes that Sam can’t even recall them ever learning.

The sword looks weightless in Dean’s hands and Dean... Dean looks like he’d been doing this his entire life, instead of just the same three or four lessons John gave them ages ago.

When the last of the flying beasts falls to the ground, head cut off with one clean and continuous swipe of the long blade, Sam has no idea of how much time has gone by, but he can sense the decrease in confusion around them. The last of the demons on the ground is finally cast out of a man with a protruding belly, blackness being sucked back into the closing hole in the middle of the Oroboros on the ground at the same time that Dean, body swinging to the side like a wet noodle, falls to the ground.

Sam feels his legs following the same movement, muscles suddenly devoid of all remaining strength and too weak to support his weight. His knees jar his bones all to way to his teeth as he lands on the hard ground. Sam doesn’t even register the pain.

After all is over, a shy, heavy silence settles over the temple, like the ugly girl who suddenly finds herself voted as prom queen. A turn so sharp and contrary to all the previous confusion that everyone stops for a minute, lost in what had happened, torn asunder by the void. The screams of the ones who died are still ringing in everyone’s ears.

When time resets itself, the whimpers of pain bring reality back. Now, those who find themselves free of possession are the same who face the horror of the consequences of their actions. Anguish mars their

faces at the pain of seeing their loved ones broken and bleeding by their hands.

And still, underlying the blood and the tears and the loss, there is a faint feeling of hope. They’ve won.

Sam and Dean feel it too. For the first time in what feels like forever, they are the last ones standing –figuratively speaking- while the demons have been chased away and are running with their demonic tales between their demonic asses.

The place around them hardly looks like a victory field, not with every surface covered in ash and sulfur and blood, not with the level of destruction and death that surrounds them, not with the climbing shouts of pain and loss. But there’s people starting to stand up, confusion and bafflement in their faces, surprise to find themselves alive and back in control of their bodies.

A second chance to do something with their lives.

After watching a whole town die, so far from this one and yet so similar; after watching Jo and Ellen sacrifice themselves over a hopeless battle... it felt good to rob Lucifer of this victory.

The Ark is still intact, Asmodeus is gone and Dean...

Dean’s out. He lies prone, crumbled next to the Ark, the long sword no longer a sword at all, returned to its former state; nothing but a dark piece of charcoal that has rolled away from his lax fingers.

“We need to take him out of here,” Emam’s voice surprises Sam, too near and too loud after the odd silence that has settled over the place. Even wild-eyed and pale as a sheet, Emam’s already on the move, pushing Dean up. “Come, hurry!”

Sam finally snaps out of his daze. He can see what Emam is talking about. The remaining crowd is slowly starting to come to its senses and those not consumed by grief and mourning, are looking at Sam and Dean.

They saw what the two of them did, they remember what Obuham said, and even though it’s mostly gratitude that Sam can see in their eyes, he also knows that he does not want to be around if that mood changes into something else.

“We need to take your brother and the Ark away from here,” Emam

calls again.

“And Bobby? God... we need to go get Bobby!” The last Sam saw of the older hunter, things weren’t looking too good for him. He fears they might be too late already...

“Robert is safe,” the Egyptian man reassures him, handing the Colt to Sam. “Trust me.”

Sam stops, fingers poised over Emam’s hand, studying his face, trying to decide how much of what he says Sam can bring himself to believe. “Why are you doing this? Why are you helping us?” Sam can’t help but ask. “A few hours ago, you were on their side.”

Emam’s eyes turn hard, the weight of the consequences of his actions clear in the slope of his shoulders. Sam can easily read the shame, guilt and pain reflected in those dark green orbs. “I thought I had good beliefs and a clean conscience,” the Egyptian man whispers. “But when I could no longer keep both, I realized that I had made a very serious mistake with one of them.”

“Well,” Sam huffs with a grin, helping Emam get Dean up, “I’m very glad you chose the right one. Hold him up for me a bit, will you?”

With Dean mostly standing, although not quite fully conscious, Sam leans over to pick up the piece of charcoal from the floor. For a second, he wonders if his touch will have the same effect as Dean’s and turn the charred remains into a bright sword.

It doesn’t surprise him when nothing happens. That part Sam can understand. That part makes sense to him.

Dean is, after all, the one chosen for Michael, and just like the sword, Sam knows that a part of his brother is linked to the archangel. What escapes his understanding is how Dean, being just a man, was able to get the sword to work.

“Grab the other side,” Sam instructs, pointing to the poles at the end of the Ark while he flings Dean’s arm over his shoulder. “And lets get out of here.”

Chapter Thirteen: god Is in the Little Things

They meet Bobby in a half collapsed building just at the edge of town. At some point, there seems to have been some kind of arcades there, probably a market of some kind, if the debris left behind are anything to go by.

The older hunter is lying on top of some ripped open beanbags, white stuffing spilled around him like fake snow.

Castiel is with him, eyes quietly following Dean around ever since they’ve come into view, watching his and Sam’s progress around the rubble. “Your vision... is back," he says quietly when they've come within hearing range. "How did this happen?”

Dean shrugs. His weight is being mostly carried by Sam but his vision, at least, has stopped spotting. He can see the angel’s inquisitive eyes, the red that still stains his clothes. Castiel looks paler than usual, a slight sheen of sweat covering his cheeks.

“Thanks for the help, by the way,” Dean’s hoarse voice whispers sarcastically as soon as the angel meets his eyes. “Get caught in traffic or something?”

Castiel looks lost, trying to figure out the literal meaning of the words for a minute before giving up. “Enochian sigils... the temple was surrounded by them. I could not get inside.”

Sam and Emam help Dean to sit by Bobby’s side. Both Winchesters breathe a sigh of relief at seeing the older hunter in one piece. Bobby looks worse for the wear, arm strapped to his chest with what looks like the scarf that Emam used to wear wrapped around his head. The rest of him looks washed out, colorless even under all the dirt and grime that covers every inch of visible flesh.

“I... there was a presence at the temple,” Castiel starts, looking strangely at a loss for words. He divides his attention between Dean and the Ark. The ancient artifact looks oddly at home in the middle of the remaining boxes and crates that the collapsing building has mashed together. “Did you see Him?”

“Yeah..." Dean begins tiredly. "Asmodeus decided to invite a couple of his buddies to the party. And his buddies brought buddies, who brought buddies,” he trails off, hands rubbing his tired eyes. They’re foggy with exhaustion and he can’t help but worry that the fog will close in on him and take his sight away again. “It turned into a real messy party.”

Sam’s quiet, lowering his tall frame slowly to the floor. He sits on top of a broken piece of clay, but doesn’t even notice it. His eyes are on the now closed Ark. There’s a large, rusty stain on the lid that runs down it’s side, and none of them can tell for sure if that’s Dean’s blood or the kid’s.

“No, not the demon,” Castiel insists, turning his back on the group and leaning against the larger bolder of concrete to look outside. Towards the temple. “This presence wasn’t neither evil nor good... it was— singular.”

Dean forces his eyes open again, not really sure when he’d closed them. Now that he is able to, he doesn’t want to waste time trying to guess what others aren’t saying when he can, once more, read it in their faces.

Along with his independence, this was a skill that Dean had sorely missed, a constant crutch that had been there all of his life without him even realizing it until he lost it.

With a father that kept every single thought close to his chest and a brother who often said what he didn’t meant and was silent about what he truly wanted, Dean would've been screwed long ago had he not learned to read the unspoken words visible only in their faces and eyes.

Castiel was no better; Dean had come to learn that too. The angel is looking the other way, far from them. Far from Earth, it seems. But still, Dean can see his confusion and loss.

The angel’s eyes flicker back to meet Dean’s, blue gazing deeply into green for so long and so intensely that Dean can’t help but shift uncomfortably under the inspection.

“Did you see Him?” Castiel asks again.

The hope written all over his face is, at once, painful and glorious to see. It’s clear now of whom he is asking about. “See who?” Dean asks, knowing the answer already but reluctant to

break the angel’s heart. Shatter what little faith he has left. “Our Father.”

Dean looks away. It’s too grim, like staring into a kid’s face and flat out telling him that there is no Santa Claus, right before ripping the last candy from the kid’s hands. How can he face Cas and tell him that, despite the Ark, despite the lure, despite the danger, God never showed up? That Raphael is the one who probably had it right all along; that God is truly dead?

“Cas... I’m sorry—“

But Cas is still smiling, shaking his head like Dean is the child in this, the one not comprehending what’s truly happening. “I was not asking whether or not God was here. I already have the answer to that question,” Cas says with a pointed look in Sam’s direction. “I am asking if you saw Him.”

Dean follows his gaze. Sam looks the same as he did inside the temple. Ruffled hair, dirty face, and ridiculous tunic, stained so badly with gore and blood that it can hardly be called white any longer. His hand, though... his right hand is glowing. “Sam—“

Sam looks down, realizing what they’re all staring at. He opens his hand to reveal the ring. He never put the thing on, afraid that the gesture would somehow change the balance of control and the ring would control him instead.

Solomon’s ring is glowing; a bright golden light that should feel as hot as fire but instead barely warms his palm. Now that Sam thinks about it, the ring has been glowing ever since Dean gave it to him.

“How—how long has it been like that?” Emam whispers, eyes wide as he realizes what it is that Sam is holding up. “What does that mean?”

Sam is staring at his own hand like he’s never seen it before. “It... it’s suppose to... to burn hot in the presence of G—“

Suddenly, like the idea occurs to them both at the same time, Sam and Dean look back, searching the crowd. The gesture is ridiculous, the song ‘What if God was one us’ coming to mind and, after a moment, Dean sinks back into his seat. It’s like searching for a needle in a stack of needles when you don’t even know what a needle looks like.

None of the shell shocked Egyptian men and women strikes them as particularly God-like. Thinking back, no one Dean saw or heard inside that temple came across to him as such a powerful being either.

“Maybe it’s broken,” he offers. “Maybe you just refuse to see,” Castiel points out.

Dean lets his head fall forward, the effort of holding it above his shoulders growing harder and harder. He can’t help but smirk at Cas’ words. After the past couple of days ‘refusing to see’ is not something he can easily be accused of. “No, Cas... I think we all would’ve noticed if God had popped in to do anything. We were getting creamed in there!” The image of that kid, dying... for nothing. No! Dean refuses to believe that God had just stood by and allow it to happen.

Sam is looking at him like Dean has just sprouted an extra head. “What?” Dean asks, confusion over the strange look. Did Sam see something that he missed? “I can see you now, you know? Quit looking at me like that.”

Dean had every intention of making that sound pissy and sarcastic, his patience for the whole thing more than done with. He knows it just ends up sounding pleading.

Sam remains quiet, averting his eyes to gaze at Emam instead. The guilty look that they both exchange doesn’t escape Dean either.

“What? Did you see something in there?” Dean asks, tone going from pleading to just plain desperate. Everything, since the moment he gave the ring to Sam up until now, is foggy and distant to Dean, like a dream that barely remains at the edge of consciousness after waking up. From the look Sam and Emam share, however, this is something important, something that Dean should be remembering. Something that has them more freaked than seeing half of Hell’s citizens roaming the streets. Something Dean is sure he’d figure out if he wasn’t feeling so damn spent and tired.

“I think we should get you and Bobby home,” Sam says instead.

Dean gives up on staring Sam down. Having dealt with this stare for decades now, Sam's grown immune to it. Emam, on the other hand, actually takes a step back when Dean focuses on him instead. Which does nothing to reassure Dean that he hasn’t, in fact, grown an extra head.

When Dean’s eyes fall on Bobby, however, he can’t help but agree with Sam. The man looks ashy white under the broken day light of the rising sun and whatever this is, Dean can squeeze it out of Sam later.

“What about the Ark,” he asks, turning to Castiel. “Do we take it back to the monk?”

Cas lowers his eyes, the reason clear no matter how much Dean wishes to deny it. “Haim is gone, as is the church,” the angel tells them. “And for now, we can’t trust Heaven to keep the Ark safe either.”

“So,” Sam looks at the innocent looking wooden box. “What... do we take it with us?

“No,” Castiel says with a shake of his head. “It would not be safe to keep it that close to you or Dean. We can not risk something like this happening again.” The angel turns to the silent Egyptian man. “Emam.”

Dean’s not sure if Emam actually knows ‘what’ Cas is, if anyone has bothered to tell him why this strange man is with them or why is he wearing a trench coat even though is over 87 degrees in there. But he can see in the local man’s glazed over eyes when the angel addresses him that he has a pretty good suspicion.

It’s almost funny to watch other peoples’ reaction to Cas. Watch the effect that an angel has on someone not jaded by all the flaws and mistakes that Dean knows Castiel and his kind are capable of. For the first time in a very long time, Dean wishes he could feel that trust, that faith... that touch of the unknown that actually elicits joy and hope rather than an adrenaline rush and a race to weapons.

That kind of wonderment and unending field of possibilities is now clear in Emam’s eyes when Castiel voices his name.


“It is hardly my place, but duty falls on those willing, not on those obligated... so, I ask you, Emam-Ali Habib, if you will accept the responsibility of guarding the Ark. Will you keep it safe until the end of your days?”

Emam blinks, torn between looking at the angel and the Ark. From the frown on his face, it’s easy to see that the man is unsure of what to do with himself, completely at a loss for words.

Dean can see in his tanned face the same doubts that plagued Sam about his worthiness to touch the Ark, and, like Sam, he can see that this man is well aware of the consequences of his actions, that he is

ashamed of them. And if Dean has learned anything about the Ark, is the fact that true repentance will be enough. “It’s okay, Emam,” Dean voices. “Not all of us can be certain of making the right choices all the time, but in the end, I think you proved to everyone your true colors.”

Emam does smile then, relief showing in the straightening of his shoulders and the way he finally meets Castiel’s stare head on. “It will be my honor,” he whispers.

Bobby wakes up in his own bed, watching the sun peek out from between the dirt in his stained glass windows.

“How’re you feeling?” Sam’s voice floats from the opposite side of the room.

Bobby turns his head, searching for the tall boy. In the second that it takes his stiff muscles to work their way through the motion, everything that has happened comes rushing back. The plane trip and Dean’s blindness; Emam’s betrayal and redemption; the feeling of being buried alive and the world coming to an end. And yet, somehow... there were actually birds, singing outside.

“Like overcooked dung,” Bobby finally answers, his voice raspy and rough. “What the hell happened? Did we... did we actually win?” he asks, not sure if that’s even a possibility to consider. Sam looks okay. Tanned, even. If it weren’t for the black smudges of tiredness under his eyes, Sam would look like he has just spent a couple of days laying back by the lake, doing nothing but catching some rays and downing a few cold ones. And De—“Where’s Dean? Ya brother okay?”

Sam’s gaze shifts to the freshly filled glass of water that sits by Bobby’s bed and Bobby follows his gaze. There are beads of wetness still clinging to its sides. From the intense way Sam is looking at that chipped glass, Bobby would think that Dean’s inside it.

“Dean’s fine. His eyesight came back,” the younger Winchester says with a forced smile. “Do you want some water?”

Bobby nods, studying the young man’s face. There’s something to be said for knowing someone for long enough that you can tell when he’s hiding something, even if that person doesn’t know it himself. Bobby pushes up against the stack of pillows that someone fluffed against his

back, taking a moment to notice the homemade plaster cast covering his arm. “It’s good to hear that,” Bobby eventually says, referring to Dean’s eyes. In fact, it’s a lot more than good; it’s a frigging ton off his chest, knowing that Dean was no longer blind. Sam, however, doesn’t seem to think it’s good enough news, along with the fact that they’re all still in one piece; at least not good enough to bring his face to this side of happy.

And Bobby knows that this sure as hell isn’t because Sam regrets his brother getting better or the fact that they made it out alive. Which means something else is going on. “Wanna fill me in on the rest?” he asks, going straight for the jugular instead of beating around the bush.

“I got something a lot better to do that filling,” Dean’s voice erupts from the door. In his hands there is a tray with scrambled eggs, strips of bacon, and judging by the aroma, a cup of strong coffee.

An honest to God breakfast in bed.

“Good grief... I died and gone to Hell,” Bobby lets out.

Dean’s eyebrows rise, looking at the soggy eggs and burned bacon. “It’s not that bad,” he huffs.

The silent stare that both Bobby and Sam give him is worth a thousand words about the valor of Dean’s cooking skills, each, on occasion having been exposed to Dean’s dubious idea of eatable food.

“Ingrates,” Dean mumbles, setting the tray on the bedside table.

“So, which one of you is gonna tell me what went on in that place?” Bobby demands again.

The final events in Kom Ombo are like a collage of misshapen images and out of place voices. The last thing Bobby can remember for sure is Emam showing up in that goddamn hole, drag him to his destroyed car, picking up the Colt and going off to help Sam and Dean. For all Bobby knew at that point in time, both boys and the Ark had been in the hands of Obuham and his pet demon.

From the amount of screaming that was going on, Bobby had figured that things hadn’t been going so well. And then he recalls Emam talking to him, saying everything was okay; and Castiel’s voice, murmuring in his ear words that Bobby couldn’t even understand but made him feel safe...

Dean looks a bit paler than usual, and the fact that he’s gotten himself seated as soon as he could did not escape Bobby’s observant eyes. The bandages on his arms didn’t either; white gauze peeks out from under the black long sleeve shirt that he’s wearing.

“Well, I didn’t see much,” Dean points out with a smirk. The joke never seems to get old for him, even if it turns everyone’s stomachs upside down.

Sam clears his throat, picking up the cue from his brother to take the lead in this one. He tells Bobby about the ceremony, and opening the Ark, about using Solomon’s ring to contain the demons and sending them all back.

Bobby doesn’t have to try that hard to figure out that there are parts of that tale being edited out. He just can’t figure if it’s for his, Dean’s or Sam’s benefit. “So, you were able to use to ring, hum?” Bobby asks with a frown in Sam’s direction. “Just like that?”

Sam looks at his shoes, suddenly very interested in the ragged leather. “I... I think it had something to do with the demon blood,” he finally voices, managing to sound more like a five year old confessing to have broken a window than an overgrown man talking about his past addiction. “I could feel the ring tapping into whatever that blood changed in me and... use it to control the demons.”

Bobby shifts in his bed. It’s never an easy topic, but he’s proud of Sam for coming out and just owning up to it. If the kid’s right, it’s actually a good thing that he was chugging the nasty stuff like it was going out of fashion.

Dean’s silent in his seat, looking at his brother as hard as Sam is avoiding looking at Dean and Bobby wonders if this is what was eating at the boy. Some sort of unspoken fear that his brother has fallen off the wagon.

“So, there was nothing inside the Ark, is that it? All this trouble, all these long term, elaborate-assed schemes... and the thing had nothing but dust bunnies in it?” Bobby asks. “And exactly how does the ring get from Asmodeus to Dean’s hands? Good luck?”

Dean chuckles dryly and for some reason, that seems to set Sam even more on the edge.

“There was this old piece of charcoal inside the Ark," Dean begins,

"probably the fossilized remains of someone’s sandwich, hundreds of years ago. And the ring... dude, that was Mile-Oh, this awesome dog that had been following us around.” A fond smile spreads across his lips. “Man... I completely forgot about Mile-Oh when we left. We could’ve brought him back, he would have made a kick ass watch—” Dean stops himself when he catches Sam’s face. “What?”

Sam looks at his brother like he’s trying to see inside his head, probably looking for something broken, judging from the expression on his face.

“What dog? I didn’t see any dog around you... ever,” Sam points out. “You sure about that?”

Dean frowns, raising one eyebrow. “How could you not see a big, white German Shepherd? Dude, he was right there, when Cas showed up in the middle of the street!”

“There was no one there but us and Cas, Dean. I didn’t see any dog,” Sam points out, certainty in every one of his words.

Dean runs a hand through his hair. “The dog showed at the temple, in Abu Simbel, when I was outside waiting for you and Emam... I named him Mile-Oh, because of that white Shepherd dog Mr. Gusheim had.” Looking at his brother, he wonders if Sam wasn't just too young to remember that detail. “Come on... don’t you remember Mr. Gusheim’s dog? We used to play all day long with—“ Dean swallows, takes a breath. The more he talks, the more he knows he sounds like a crazy man trying to prove his sanity and utterly failing. “The... the dog,” he stutters, “the dog... picked up the ring... brought it to me.”

Both Sam and Bobby are staring at Dean, but neither can really help it, not when Dean’s saying with a straight face that an imaginary dog helped them turn the battle in their favor.

“Dean, you sure of that? I mean... there was a lot of confusion in there... maybe—“ Sam starts, but it’s not like he can find another explanation for this. Dean was near the Ark, a good five feet from where Asmodeus had thrown the ring away. The only way the ring could’ve reached his hands was if someone brought it to him, a fact that Sam had questioned before. And Gusheim’s dog... Sam actually remembers that dog. Alongside with Bones, it was the only pet he’d ever had.

Dean's grown quiet. He's staring down at the floor, eyes moving like he’s going through his memories, rechecking facts that he was so certain about, and yet, seem so impossible now.

“And Mile-Oh? Mr. Gusheim’s dog was named Run-Over, not Mile-Oh, Dean.”

Dean’s face blanks, mouth opening to say something that he never gets to voice. It’s easy to see that he can’t understand it either.

Sam shifts again and Bobby wonders if this is what has been bothering him, or if whatever’s been eating at him is about to come out.

“And the sword?” Sam asks, not quite meeting Dean’s eyes, his voice small and shy. It’s hard to tell if it’s the question that is hard to ask, or the answer that he’s afraid to hear.

“You found the sword? There actually was one?” Bobby can’t help to cut in. They’d just said that—

“What sword?” Dean asks at the same time.

Sam shifts his gaze from one to the other and looks like he wants to disappear inside the chair he’s sitting on.

Dean’s head keeps bobbing from the hunter on the bed to the brother near the wall. “Sam?”

Sam sighs, apparently realizing that the cloak and dagger routine won’t take him far. “How much do you remember of the fight at the temple? After you gave me the ring,” he asks instead of answering Dean’s pending question.

Dean puffs and snorts, but it’s easy to see he’s uncomfortable with the question and that just piques Bobby’s interest tenfold. “I... Jesus, Sam!” Dean stumbles, looking at his brother for some sort of reprieve. “I wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders then... how the hell should I know? I gave the ring to you and kind of hoped for the best. The rest is nothing but an acid trip.”

Sam nods, like that was exactly what he was expecting to hear, as he takes something from his pocket. “You remember this?” he asks, showing Dean a black piece of charcoal. It looks about eight inches long and round at the edges, like the handle of a bike.

Recognition floods Dean’s green eyes, but that’s about the only outward reaction that he allows. From the way Sam holds the thing, Bobby had expected something more. Sam, apparently, did too.

“That the thing that the crazy guy pulled out of the Ark, right?” Dean asks, fingers reaching out to touch it, natural curiosity more than anything else.

“This is Michael’s sword,” Sam announces, not moving an inch, his eyes fixed on his brother.

Dean recoils, hand pulling back like proximity to the thing might actually burn him.

“Dean... you used it to kill all the flying beasts that I couldn’t command,” Sam finishes.

Bobby’s eyes grow large in his face, breath trapped in his lungs. He looks at Dean, trying to catch something different about the boy, trying to find an explanation in his face. But Dean only blinks, eyes fixed on Sam.

“That’s bull,” Dean calls out, daring, begging Sam to confess that he’s just pulling his leg. “That’s nothing but a piece of dead wood... there’s no way—“

The final chip falls and Bobby suddenly realizes why Sam was so twisted up about this, why he looked like they’d just lost some important battle. If that sword was meant for Michael alone, and if Dean had been able to use it—

“Damn it, boy!” Bobby blares, eyes cold as he looks at a startled Dean. “What the hell did you go and do?”

Dean just shakes his head, looking in confusion from Sam to Bobby. “I didn’t do anything! I don’t even know what the hell you two are talking about!” he yells, jumping from his seat to pace the room.

Bobby takes a deep breath. He can tell that the kid is being honest. But he also believes in what Sam saw. “Lemme see that,” Bobby asks, extending his hand to Sam.

Dean’s wrong. The thing looks like charcoal, but it feels like metal in his hands. Like burned metal, smooth and compact, long enough to wrap two hands around it. Like a handle. Or like the hilt of a broad sword.

“I tried everything,” Sam goes on, ignoring the fuming glances that Dean throws him. “Nothing happened. But I saw it at the temple. One minute it was that,” he says, pointing at the piece in Bobby’s hands, “and the next it was this long, shinning sword, white blade with inscriptions in it. It... it just vanished the minute Dean dropped it and... I... Bobby, only--”

Sam can’t voice it, but Bobby’s well aware of what his concerns are. Dean keeps silent, hearing his brother’s tale, biting the tip of his nail. They both know that Sam isn’t joking about this.

“Only an archangel can use it,” Bobby finishes for him. “I know. I was there too when that ass told us that.”

“What ass?” Dean asks.

“Obuham. He came by to gloat when me and Bobby were trapped together. Said that the thing inside the Ark would be a gift for Lucifer. For him to kill Michael with the same weapon that Michael had used on him.”

“Well,” Dean starts, relief starting to show in his face, “maybe the guy was lying, maybe he didn’t have his facts right—“

“Maybe you already said yes and we’re not even talking to the real Dean,” Sam finally accuses, the words looking as painful for him to say as they look for Dean to hear.

Dean stops in his tracks, his form against the morning sun coming from the window nothing but a shadow surrounded by the glowing light. He looks so ethereal in that single moment in time that Bobby tenses, knowing for sure that the ruse is up and that Michael is about to reveal himself to them, possibly smite them where they stand.

Instead of the explosion of light that he was bracing himself for, Bobby is met with an explosion of sound.

“COME ON! You guys can’t be serious!” Dean yells, face red and hands clenched into fists. “Do I look like a frigging archangel to you? Do I?”

Anger vented, Dean deflates in front of them, shoulders slopping and head hanging in exhaustion. When he lifts his head again, they can see the raw pain in his eyes, the need to be believed in. To be trusted. “I didn’t say yes to Michael... I would never do that to the two you,” he simply whispers.

The words are so simple and honest that Bobby can’t find in his heart the slightest doubt that this is the same Dean as always, the boy he grew to see as a son. “That’s okay, boy... I believe you.”

The sigh of relief that Dean exhales is a physical thing that lifts some of the tension inside the room.

“Sam?” Dean begs, eyes turning towards his brother.

The constipated look that Sam has been wearing ever since Bobby opened his eyes dissolves, a sly smile slowly replacing it. “I went in to the bathroom this morning after you used it,” he says, nose wrinkling in disgust at the memory. “Trust me... I have little doubt that you are anything but human,” he shamelessly lies.

Dean smirks, hands relaxing and dropping to his side. “Hey, man... I’m just happy that all this angel-airways traveling didn’t cramp me pipes all over again,” he adds with an awful fake Irish accent. “I think I’m getting used to the damn thing.”

“Well, that’s all very nice and informative,” Bobby cuts in, looking like, if anything, someone suffering from over-information. “But the question remains the same: how does a human manage to use a sword designed for archangels? More importantly, how do we use it to kill Lucifer?”

Sam and Dean instantly sober up at that. “Maybe it was just a fluke?” Dean offers, hope filling his words. “I mean, in between the Ark being there, and—“ he stumbles at the words, not yet quite knowing what to call a dog that no one else but him could see, “—and that dog, who could’ve been anything, and— well, I’m just saying... we should test it. See if it even happens again.”

“And if it does?” Bobby questions.

“Then we deal with it,” Sam offers without pause. “Maybe Dean’s right. Maybe Obuham lied to us—“

“Obuham didn’t lie,” Castiel’s voice breaks in. He enters the room coming from the direction of the window. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like he just used a window as a door. From the faint flapping sound of wings that surrounds him, he probably did. “You, on the other hand," Castiel looks from Dean to Sam and back again, face stern and reproachful. "Failed to point out that the Ark had been opened.” The implication that they, on the other hand, had lied to the angel, is painfully evident in Castiel’s disappointed words. “May I see it?”

Bobby exchanges a look with Dean, as if asking for his consent. The young man just shrugs.

Castiel picks up the charred piece with the same reverence that they’ve seen him reserve for the Ark alone, eyes softening as he recognizes it. “In the final battle for Heaven’s defense and our Father’s glory, Michael called out for his flaming sword and with it, pierced the dragon’s side,” Castiel starts, his voice distant and monotone, like he’s reciting some ancient text that he’s read over and over again. “Lucifer, robbed of his strength, was cast into the deepest pits of damnation, never to rise again until the end of times.”

It was impossible to tell if Cas had actually been there to see that happen, or if he was just telling them what he’d been told, but his voice spoke of loss and pain, hope and faith, that no borrowed tale could ever produce on its own.

“The sword became charred as the dragon was conquered and Michael never could bring himself to make it perfect again. He wanted to remember his brother’s demise every time he looked at it.”

“And when he could no longer do that, he put it on Earth, inside the Ark,” Sam finished for him, remembering what Obuham had said.

“Yes,” Castiel says, returning the sword to Bobby’s hands. “It would appear so.”

“So, this thing can really kill any archangel? We can kill Lucifer with it?” Dean asks.

“Michael’s sword is unique, made specifically for the leader of Heaven’s armies. If I hadn’t touched it myself, I never would have believed it actually existed.”

“Is that why Lucifer was after it?” Sam asks. “Because it’s the only thing that can kill Michael?” He’s unable to contain the look of concern he throws Dean. His brother will never say yes, he is sure of that now, but the only thing that Sam liked about the whole ‘being Michael’s vessel’ thing, was that, at least, Dean would be safe.

“This sword could never kill Michael,” Castiel tells them with a frown, like they’ve just suggested something deeply insane. “If Lucifer tried to use it against him, he would soon find out the same thing that you and I know,” he says, looking straight at Sam. “The sword obeys only

one being in this creation and Lucifer fears it because it is the only thing that can kill him.”

Dean dry swallows. Suddenly the idea of testing the sword and finding out if it will obey him doesn’t sound as appealing as before. A part of him wants nothing more than to kill Lucifer and hopes that what happened at the temple wasn’t a fluke, that he’ll grab the sword and make it work again; the other part of him, the one that is freaking out at Castiel’s talk, wants to grab that thing and bury it somewhere deep, where no one can ever find it again and just try to find something else to gank the devil.

In between those two thoughts, a small part of Dean wonders if, having being born twice, sent to Hell and pulled out by express orders from Heaven and now being able to do all this... makes him wonder just how human he still is, or if he’s become something else that Dean’s too disgusted to name.

“I think it’s time we stop wondering about the what-ifs and maybes and see what our options really are,” Bobby points out. His working hand extends the black piece in Dean’s direction, urging him to take it.

Dean takes two steps forward with a resolution that he really doesn’t feel inside. Truth is, he doesn’t want to do this. He doesn’t want to find out the answer to this question. He’s terrified of the answer.

All eyes are on him as he reaches for the thing in Bobby’s hand, fingers brushing against the black metal. The fine hairs on Dean’s arms stand to attention, like goosebumps that chill him all over and Dean almost backs away. Reassuring himself that, no matter what happens when he grabs that thing, he’s still Dean Winchester and not something else, Dean pushes his fears and self-doubt aside and just grabs it with his right hand.

He’s pretty sure that no one inside that room is breathing in that moment. Not even him.

His fingers close around the charred metal and Dean looks down slowly, half curious, half fearing what he will find in his hand.

Nothing has changed. The black piece of metal is still nothing more than a black piece of metal and Dean is still Dean.

It should make him feel bad that they can’t use the only weapon that they have against Lucifer, but Dean can’t help but sigh in relief. Whatever it was, isn’t any longer. Whatever made the sword come to life back in the temple is gone.

“I don’t get it,” Sam’s voice breaks the silence. “It worked before. I saw it work before.

Dean just shrugs, happy to drop the thing back on top of Bobby’s bed. “Beats me.”

Castiel, however, is still looking at him, still waiting for something to happen, it seems. Calculating something in his head. When Dean finally meets his gaze, the angel smiles, like he’s just figure something out and is happy with the results.

“I must go,” he simply announces.

Dean grabs his arm before the angel can disappear from the room. “Wait! Don’t you still need this?” he asks, holding the amulet that is back around his neck. “We can’t use the sword, so maybe you should... you know... try and find God.”

Castiel tilts his head, patting Dean’s shoulder in a strange and unfamiliar way. The gentle smile is still on his lips, an expression on his face like Dean has never seen before.

The angel looks... at peace.

“God is all around. There is no longer any need to go looking for Him,” he says, his hand covering Dean’s over the amulet. “You should keep the amulet with you. The sword too. They will both be needed soon enough.”

Before anyone can open their mouth to ask Cas what he meant by that, the angel is gone is a whirlwind of wings and flapping curtains.

“Typical,” Dean mumbles.

“He seemed... happy,” Sam points out, sounding almost frightened at the thought.

“Yeah... scary, innit?” “More like intriguing,” Bobby chimes in, before throwing his

bedcovers aside to uncover pale and thin legs.

“What do you think you’re doing?” both Winchesters jump at the same time.

Bobby raises one eyebrow that would put to shame any of Dean’s. “Research, ya idjits. We got ourselves a golden opportunity with this sword falling in our laps, and I ain’t gonna hang around in my breeches waiting for Michael to drop by and start picking up his possessions.”

The look that Bobby throws his way tells Dean in no uncertain terms that the older man is putting him right alongside with that list of the archangel’s ‘possessions’. It’s not a feeling he welcomes, even if Bobby is right.

“So, you two gonna stay there like two gaping gold fish, or are you gonna help me?”

Their research ends early, not because they find anything of worth, but because Bobby finally gives in and takes some painkillers for his arm. The drugs put him to sleep almost instantly.

Sam, in between celebrating the victory of getting the stubborn older man to do what he’s told and getting comfortable on the couch in Bobby’s study with a large book on his lap, finally succumbs to the exhaustion of the last couple of days.

The books that they’ve been searching through serve as his pillow, and that’s truly the best use they have for them right now, because on the matter of Michael and his famous sword, they’re pretty much worthless.

The references are many and detailed, talking about the last battle and describing the sword almost down to the last detail of its engraved blade. The books all say the same: the sword is Michael and Michael is the sword, and without one the other cannot defeat the devil.

The TV set in the corner, stuck on mute, is airing some old wildlife documentary on lions. Yellow images of dry land show a group of the animals, snoring under the sun. It’s an old program, one that Dean has already seen a thousand times, stuck in motel rooms with only one or two channels.

The last time he watched one of these informative shows it had been— Dean rubs his forehead, trying to remember what it had been about, if for no other reason than to keep his mind from replaying all the events of the past days.

It suddenly clicks, and when Dean realizes what the program had been about, he almost laughs at the absurdity of it all.

It had bugged him incessantly that he could see no good reason for his dreams of fake-Castiel to show him Egypt.

After all, the Ark had been in Ethiopia, and the lame assed ritual that Obuham had performed to open it could have been performed anywhere he wanted to.

Cas had said that Asmodeus had shown him what Dean needed to see in those dreams, that he had used what he could find in Dean’s mind.

And suddenly Dean could recall the last documentary he’d seen and what it had been about. The relocation and restoration of Abu Simbel’s temple in the 1960’s.

Dean shakes his head as he gets up to turn off the TV. It was a good thing that he hadn’t been watching a program about the Moon landing or something.

His eyes fall on the piece of paper that he’d been playing with under the cover of doing research. About Mile-Oh. Sam and Bobby had dropped the matter of the mysterious dog that no one other than Dean could see, choosing to leave it in some limbo in between the unexplainable and Dean being delirious. Then again, they weren’t the ones who’d touched the animal and fed him and felt how real he truly had been.

Dean knows it hadn’t been a Black Dog, or some other kind of death omen; there had been no glowing eyes and Mile-Oh mostly showed up by daytime, not at night. It certainly wasn’t like any Hellhound that Dean had ever seen. And animal shifters and skin walkers wouldn’t be as helpful and devoted as that dog had been towards him.

No, whatever Mile-Oh was, it was something that they had never encountered before.

So, Dean had grabbed on to the only clue he had. The name.

Anagrams had always been a geeky game that Dean liked to play. It also helped in keeping Sam busy for hours at end when they were stuck in the backseat of the car in between John’s hunts.

There isn’t much Dean can do with the letters in MILE-OH. From the couple of words that he’d been able to scribble down, only one really sounds like a real word to him.

Dean has a faint recollection of having heard the name 'Elohim' before. Pastor Jim had used the word, once or twice in the sermons that Dean and Sam had been forced to sit through when John had left them in the care of the gentle Pastor. Dean remembers it well, because at the time he’d found the name funny. Jim pronounced it ‘hello him’ and Dean had just giggled.

The Hebrew name for God, Jim had told him. One of His many names. And Dean had given a variation of it to a dog that no one could see. A dog that had helped him when he was blind.

The implications of that fact are too mind-boggling for Dean to dwell too hard on. It could all mean nothing, just a coincidence, a weird fact. It could mean everything.

It could mean that, as far as the big Guy is concerned, He’s helped all He intends to and it’s now up to them to do the rest. But that He cared enough to help them with this.

For a couple of dire moments, watching Sam and Bobby snore their way through the night, Dean entertains the idea of calling Michael and just saying ‘Yes’. Bend over and end all of this even before the sun rises the next day.

But he can’t.

Dean can’t trust Michael to do the right thing, can’t trust him to save as many as possible.

But most of all, Dean can’t bring himself to break the trust that those two snoring beasts, also known as Sam and Bobby, have placed in him. Against all evidence, against all logic, all they had needed was Dean saying that he was still himself for Sam and Bobby to believe. Just like that.

What would be very handy, though, was if they could still use the sword, Michael or no Michael.

Dean can’t really believe it when the thought enters his mind, but he figures that maybe it’s time for him too to believe blindly in things, even though all evidence and logic tell him that it’s impossible.

Sam swears that he saw Dean command that sword once. And above all else, Dean believes in Sam. Even if he failed to repeat the act before.

Dean picks up the black piece of charcoal more out of curiosity than anything else. Even incomplete, this is the weapon that beat the devil all those eons ago. He wonders if some of the power necessary to accomplish something of that magnitude lingers behind, like an imprint, a memory on steel.

The metal feels cold against his fingers, heavier than its size would indicate. Dean’s fingers brush against the engravings, feeling the

indentions of every feathery detail, every leaf and vine carved into the grip. They feel soft under his fingers, like velvet instead of steel.

For three days, Dean had nothing but his fingertips to see for him. It was the most frightening experience in his life, and yet, one of most enlightening. People let a lot go by when they’re distracted by what they see around them. These days, they hardly ever take the time to really see things.

It’s the tip of his right index finger that stumbles across the letters. They’re faint, disguised amongst the rest of the hilt’s design, part of the vines, but Dean is sure that there’s something there. A word. Maybe two.

The study is too dark for him too discern any of the fine details and Dean doesn’t really want to wake Sam or Bobby by turning on the light.

It’s bad enough that he can’t sleep. No point in disturbing them too, so Dean just takes the hilt with him and moves outside. Bobby’s front door is in desperate need of maintenance and it’s hinges screech like a wheezing mouse, but his exit goes unnoticed.

The night is cold enough that Dean can see his breath. On top of a green Ford that’s missing all of its doors, there’s a grey cat, leg extended as he licks his privates. The cat stops, looks at Dean, large green eyes that seem to glow in the moonlight, judging him before he quietly resumes his task, marking the human as of no-consequence.

The night falls back into silence and only the distance sound of a train gives away the fact that they’re anywhere near civilization. That out there, the world’s still spinning on its axis.

Under the light of the moon, the hilt of the sword shines with silver flecks and green tones. Dean turns it around in the palm of his hand, the engraved words harder to spot now that he’s looking for them. When he does find it, he’s surprised to see that the inscription is in Latin.

For some reason, he was expecting some language he wouldn’t understand, like the Enochian that the angels seem to favor.

Quis ut Deus?

‘Who is like God?’ Dean translates, lips moving silently.

The answer to that question comes too easily to Dean’s mind and he shakes his head. These days, not even God is like God. So, who was he to know?

Dean tries to picture the sword with a blade. Something long, judging by the length of the hilt. Probably over forty inches.

Dean chuckles to himself. Figures that Michael would want the biggest sword around... then again, when fighting a pissed off, fallen archangel who is often referred to as a ‘dragon’, Dean wouldn’t want a pig sticker either.

The blade itself must’ve weighted tons. Maybe something in iron... or silver. He has no idea what Castiel meant by ‘flaming’ or what materials angels use in their weaponry crafts, but he’s pretty sure ‘fire’ isn’t it.

John taught both him and Sam how to handle a sword; the same way that he’d taught them to use a bow and arrow, throw a knife and hand-to-hand combat. Everything was an added skill; everything might be of use one day.

Those were some of Dean’s favorite lessons, feeling his father’s arms around his, as John guided him through the necessary moves.

This hilt is long enough to fit both of his hands, and Dean does just that, left in front of right, fingers comfortably fitting in place. He swings it left, right, jabs front, imagines the impossibly long and sharp blade cutting through the air, catching the moon rays and chopping them in half.

Dean’s elbows tingles, like he’s hit his funny bone or something, and he stops moving, hissing at the sensation. It’s been a while since he practiced. Maybe he pulled something, cramped his muscle, which... would be just the perfect ending for the shitty week he’s had.

The tingling, however, spreads from his elbow down, consuming his hand and moving forward, crossing from skin to metal like the two are one and the same.

A blue flame suddenly bursts from the weapon. Startled, Dean nearly drops it but forces himself to hold tight, watching wide-eyed as the flame shoots into the dark, like a giant lighter.

The grey cat scrambles away with a shriek and the sound of claws scrapping against metal before getting lost in the world of junk Bobby has in that place.

Dean just blinks. Shakes his head. Stops short of pitching himself to find out if this is real. Because, where two seconds ago was absolutely nothing, is now a blue, flaming sword.

Michael’s sword. The one that shouldn’t obey anyone but the archangel himself. The sword that had defeated Lucifer.

The sword that was meant to defeat him again.

Dean smiles and closes his eyes, allowing his tense muscles to relax. He can sense the heat of the fire diminishing and shaping, cooling down to form a simple and elegant, double edged blade.

He was never one to believe in God. If he’s honest with himself, Dean’s still not sure if he’s ready to believe in the existence of a being so powerful and imposing that it escapes any form of definition.

But Mile-Oh was real to him, even if no one else was able to see him; and Dean knows that, whatever that dog was, his actions were real. It was real when Mile-Oh made him aware that Sam was in trouble inside the temple; it was real when he led them to those Bedouins and it was very real when he took that ring and gave it to Dean.

Someone up there had sent a white German Shepherd to guide him and Dean can’t help but chuckle at the idea.

God, it seems, has a sense of humor. And Dean thinks that now... now he might share in the joke.

The soft pellets of rain that starts falling on Dean make him turn his head up, welcoming the refreshing water.

It’s a liberating feeling, to finally have the means to do something about the apocalypse, something about his and Sam’s destiny.

Dean doesn’t know what this makes of him, or what the sword means, but at least now, he knows that he doesn’t have to say ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ to Michael without bringing the destruction of a whole planet with one word. Now he can say ‘Screw you!’ to all of them without it weighing down his conscience.

The rain keeps on falling down, washing away the weariness of the dusty world. Around his neck, the amulet glows softly, amber and wet, but Dean doesn’t see it. Eyes closed, he enjoys the soft, showering storm. No one else is there to notice it either. No one but the rain.

Epilogue 1: ...Or How It All Ends

13 April, 2010

It all started with a dream. It’s only fitting that it should end with one too.

Dean’s inside an old train, Janis Joplin’s ‘One good man’ playing in the background in a grainy version that bears too many scratches to be anything other than a vinyl disc Over her whiskey voice, Dean can hear the faint choochoo choochoo sound of the train’s side-rods, turning on steel wheels.

It’s an old train, wood benches, wooden frame and heavy drapes over the windows. The smells of mold is faint in the air, mixed with some kind of flowery scent.

Judging by how old the train looks, Dean feels the need to check his attire, half expecting to find himself dressed like a cowboy. He had a John Wayne phase growing up, so Dean figures that’s the reason behind this particular weird dream. Fortunately, his brain is sticking to the familiar comfort of jeans and cotton shirt.

His subconscious, however, isn’t very accurate with the details of whom it puts inside Dean’s dream. Because Dean’s not alone in the train. Unfamiliar faces share the ride, populating his dream with odd characters.

A woman in a black, Victorian dress with a white bonnet covering her hair holds a small boy in her lap. Eyes dull and bored, the kid sits, methodically picking his nose.

Behind her, sitting side by side on the bench, is an old couple, chatting quietly. He’s wearing a tall hat and she has thin, wire-framed glasses

poised on the tip of her nose.

On the other side of the aisle, what looks like a frontier man sits alone, pipe hanging from his lips. When he catches Dean looking, he nods in his direction, freeing the pipe from his mouth to offer a two golden- front-teeth smile.

The couple sitting in front of ‘gold teeth’ looks... out of place. Not only because they’re just teens, but also because she has a set of headphones hanging from her ears and he’s wearing a denim jacket with a Titans logo in it.

There are more people in the train, past the compartment doors, all the way as far as Dean can see into the next carriage. Old people, young people, seemingly from all periods and ages of this world.

As far as trippy dreams go, Dean’s sure this one is heading straight for the top ten. All he’s missing now is a couple of strippers, maybe putting to use those old benches to good use to the slow rhythms of Joe Cocker’s ‘You can leave your hat on’ and he’s golden.

No strippers though. And Aretha Franklin follows Joplin, not Cocker.

The drapes covering the train’s windows are of a deep wine-red color and Dean draws one back to gaze outside. The landscape blurs past his eyes, nothing but smudges of green and blue, cut on occasion by extensions of golden fields. He’s pretty sure that these sorts of trains aren’t supposed to travel at speeds capable of blurring the scenery like that, but then again, Dean doubts he’s in a real train to begin with. He gets to his feet, intent on finding out where the hell he is. Pleasant as it might be to dream about sitting on trains and listening to good music, as far as dreams go, this one is becoming kind of boring.

Dean doesn’t get very far, though. A pair of crossed legs, belonging to the man sitting in the seat facing Dean, bars his exit from the seat. He could swear that that man, newspaper unfolded in front of him and quietly ignoring Dean, wasn’t there five seconds ago.

Dean’s eyes travel automatically to the date on the newspaper. May 13, 2010. One month from now.

“Excuse me,” Dean calls out when it becomes apparent that the man has no intention of unfolding his legs to let him pass. “Those giant sticks of yours are in my way.”

The train takes a sharp curve and Dean reaches back, hand grabbing

the back of the seat he’s just left. In front of him, the man methodically folds the newspaper until there’s nothing but a thick rectangular of paper in his hands. When he finally looks up to face him, Dean finds himself looking into familiar green eyes.

It’s happened enough times now that Dean can almost suppress the gagging reaction that comes with staring into his own face like that. The shapeshifter in St. Louis, that demon version of him inside the dream-root world, and even his future version... none of them was easy to look at, both strangely similar and uncomfortably authentic. This version though... Dean can’t recall the last time he saw that expression in the mirror.


It’s the only word that comes to his mind that even comes close to reflecting the relaxed way his own face stares back at him. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” Dean asks.

The other sets the newspaper on the bench and leans back, elbows supported by the bench’s back. “If you mean that in the sense that you are asleep and experiencing something that only your mind can see and feel, then yes... I supposed you’re dreaming,” the man says in a matter of fact way. The train blows a gruff whistle and starts slowing down. “If, on the other hand, you’re asking me if all of this is a product of your brain going through the images and occurrences that you’ve experienced so far, then no, this is not a dream. Look outside.”

The train has almost come to a full stop and, on the other side of the window, Dean can finally get glimpses of clear images. The sun is setting, orange light painting everything in shades of gold. Dean can see the tall buildings lining the background, mirrored windows reflecting the yellow water of the river on the other side of the street, but no train. He sees a garden in the middle of an island, in the middle of a river, a green pearl of trees and flowers. And he sees his brother, standing face to face with Lucifer.

Heart in his throat, Dean turns away. Anger and panic push all his demands to the front of his mind, all pressing for attention. He wants off the train. He wants the image to stop. He wants to know what’s going on. He wants to help Sam.

“Keep watching,” the man sitting on the bench tells him when Dean looks back at him in anger.

Despite the overwhelming desire to just punch the annoying man

wearing his face, curiosity stays Dean’s hand. Instead, he looks back outside.

Sam and Lucifer are facing each other, talking. Lucifer doesn’t look all that pleased and that alone gives Dean enough confidence to keep on watching. A small grin creases his face as he thinks, ‘give' im hell, Sammy...’

The landscape blurs once more and when Dean can see clearly it again, there is something monstrous where Lucifer was once standing and Dean knows that he’s looking at the devil’s true face, facing his brother. The two of them are fighting. Fighting like equals and, strange as that looks, Dean instinctively knows who is going to win. Lucifer spits a ball of fire in Sam’s direction, but Sam doesn’t even flinch. Instead, he jumps forward, Michael’s sword firmly held in his hands.

He can see it in the power of Sam’s strokes, he can see it in the way Lucifer keeps giving ground, he can guess it in the desperation of the devil's moves that gain him nothing more than a graze to Sam’s arm.

The devil is losing.

Dean knows then, without a doubt that, when Lucifer roars in anger, face twisted venomously and his talon spiked wings risen above his head, ready to strike Sam with all of his might and strength, Sam will go to his knees in a seemingly defenseless position. Then, when Lucifer thinks he's won and closes in for a killing blow, Sam will strike; thrusting upward to impale him straight through the heart. As surely as if it were his own hands around the hilt of that sword, Dean feels it when the weapon cuts into the devil’s chest and all but disappears inside until only the hilt remains visible.

The train suddenly gains more speed and the only thing Dean can see is a blur of bright light and an eruption of hot fire. And he knows Lucifer is gone.

Dean sits back on the bench, trembling legs threatening to give out on him. The man in front of him is wearing a suit eerily similar to the one Lucifer was wearing in the future, when he was using Sam to parade his evilness around. This suit, however, is of a dark blue shade instead of white. It looks endless, like the midnight sky.

“Why are you showing me this? Who are you?” Dean whispers. None of possibilities that come to his mind fails to fill his mouth with bile and set his heart racing. “Lucifer? Another of his generals? One of Zach’s dick-wad lackies?”

The look of pity that the other man offers him is the most alien expression that Dean has ever seen in his own face. “It’s a shame that you can so easily group angels and demons in the same category of contempt,” the man says, finally unfolding his crossed legs and leaning forward to look closely at Dean. “I thought that it was high time you and I met, Dean. You have something that used to belong to me.”

Dean feels his heart freeze in his chest. “Michael,” he whispers, pulling back involuntarily. A pathetic attempt to widen the distance between himself and the archangel. Who highjacked Dean’s dreams. He stops short, chiding himself. He’s been fighting this same invisible foe since Lucifer was released from his cage. Dean’s not going to back away now that he can see Michael face to face for the first time. Instead, he pastes on one of his trademark grins. “Gotta say... you’re looking good.”

Michael looks down at himself, his nose twisted like he’s just noticing a piece of gum sticking to his shoe. “You’re still a long way from being able to see my true form, Dean,” he explains, sounding like he’s excusing himself for his appearance. “This... will have to do for the time being.”

Dean huffs, looks outside again, trying to catch one more glimpse of the blurry world. The train, however, is moving too fast and all he can see clearly is his own reflection in the glass. “I’m not saying yes, if that’s what you’re here to peddle.”

“The question has become irrelevant, Dean,” the archangel tells him. “You have the sword now. My sword.”

Dean looks away from the window. Even if the train slowed down, it’s too dark to see anything now. “Finders, keepers.”

The archangel raises one eyebrow and the uniqueness of the gesture annoys Dean more than the fact that the archangel chose to look like him in his dreams.

“I’m not here to get you... or the sword,” Michael assures him earnestly. “My brother,” the archangel goes on, “... Lucifer has heard of what happened in Egypt, of what you did there. He fears you now.”

Dean can’t help but chuckle at that. The idea is so unreal that it can only be a joke.

“You have the only weapon that can kill him and you have the ability to use it. Even if he believes you too weak to defeat him, Lucifer has spent too many millenniums inside his cage to take the risk. He won’t come within a thousand miles of you, and he will never allow you near enough to kill him.”

“So... why are you here?”

“To tell you that it’s okay... that I finally understand what my Father wants from me. What He wants from you and your brother. And I am here to tell you how you can do it.”

Dean looks long and hard at the powerful being sitting across from him. Michael looks as tired as Dean himself feels and he knows that, like him, the archangel just wants to see this over. “Why? Why the change of mind?”

“Because my Father has shown me the way.” “And how could God show you anything? I thought He was gone.”

Michael smiles and Dean can taste rain on his lips. Yes... he remembers too.

“God is missing from Heaven, but His actions are clear to us now more than ever,” the archangel tells him, for the first time sounding like the ageless being that he is. “My Father gave me that sword when Lucifer first rebelled against Him... it was more than a weapon, you see; it was more than a means to an end. It was the tool that would allow me to carry out His orders; it was a sign of His approval that stated beyond all doubt where reason was. And now, He has guided you to it, not me,” Michael says with a touch of sadness in his voice. “It became clear whose hands He wants on that hilt... this time, the responsibility falls onto you, Dean Winchester. You must finish what you started in Hell... you must finish what we foolishly allowed to start on Earth.”

Dean remains speechless, trying to gauge the sincerity of the archangel’s words. He’s been lied to and tricked by enough winged beings to be weary of their sincerity. But this time... he believes. This is why Michael is wearing his face, Dean realizes. So that Dean’s able to recognize the truth in his words, so that he sees the honesty in Michael’s claims. “So... you’re basically throwing in the towel?”

“No... I am officially handing over the responsibility to you and making sure you realize the importance of what you’re setting out to do. No

towels involved,” Michael says solemnly.

Dean rolls his eyes. Someone should really give these angels a crash course on human-speak. “I meant—“

“I know what you meant, Dean,” Michael stops him. “I’ve been watching you long enough to have become familiar with the... twists and turns of your language. What I’m saying is that I’m not giving up... I’m saying that I’m taking the bench for this one and letting you play in my position. But Lucifer must be stopped by any means necessary... and I WILL step in if you fail.”

Dean stares at the archangel, not sure if he’s more impressed with the onslaught of sports metaphors that he was just flooded with, or with the opportunity that Michael is giving him. “Sounds fair to me,” he finally says with a smile. “Only... Lucy won’t let me near enough to kill him. So, how do we fool the devil?”

The smile that spreads across Michael’s lips is one that Dean knows all too well. “We blindside him,” Michael says over the whistle of the train.

Dean wakes up with a piece of paper in his hands. He can still hear the fading whistle of the train and smell the burned coal of its furnace. There’s a single sigil burned into the yellowed paper. The key to making this whole thing work.

Sam is still asleep, head burrowed deep into the pillows, feet dangling from the end of Bobby’s too short couch, where he’d zonked out the night before.

They’ve been trying to keep on fighting, after Egypt. The world is ending inch by inch and there aren’t enough hunters in the world to mend the hole Lucifer’s actions are creating.

In between hunting demons and coming up with eleventh hour hail- Mary passes to put a damper on the four Horsemen’s plans, Sam and Dean practice. Sam can make the Solomon’s ring do pretty much everything that the demon blood had allowed him to do before; and Dean can control the ‘zip-unzip’ –as he calls it- of Michael’s sword with a blink of an eye these days.

The only thing they’ve yet to manage, is to corner Lucifer.

Dean knows that, once he tells Sam the idea, his brother will not think twice before standing by his side.

Dean can’t help but shake his head at the preposterous plan they're about to undertake. The pieces, however, are set and put into motion. Lucifer is already in check even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Two brothers, two tasks, two weapons. He won’t go as far as calling it fate, he refuses to call it destiny, but there is a word Dean can settle for.


Sam can control Solomon’s ring because of what Azazel did to him as a baby. He can use that ring to fight the thousands of demons that Lucifer will, no doubt, surround himself with. Sam is also the only one who has the devil at his beck and call. All he has to do is wave him over and Lucifer will come.

Dean can control the only weapon on Earth that can kill the devil. Which means that, even if Lucifer will not risk coming near him, he won’t waste a single chance to kill Dean, now more than ever.

In the end, Michael is actually right, proving to be the exception to the archangels they’ve met so far. It is surprisingly easy to fool the devil. All Lucifer had to do to guess their plan was look beyond Sam and Dean’s mortal shells, past their bodies. But humans have been nothing but mud to him for so long, that Lucifer has forgotten something very important.

He completely forgot about the human soul.

Sam’s standing in a garden, red roses in full bloom even though their season is long gone. There is ash falling from the sky, giving the landscape the impression of being covered in snow. But he knows better. This isn’t snow, and it certainly isn’t ash. Its just rain, turned into to dust, courtesy of Lucifer’s meanderings.

The devil is there as well. Nick, a threadbare walking corpse that has

started to decay long ago, is standing by a large water fountain, drinking a handful of clear water. He looks up when Sam arrives, a yellow smile cracking his chafed lips even further. Water dribbles down his chin and Lucifer licks at it with a sore-covered tongue. “Sam... It’s good to see you,” he says sweetly, like they’re meeting there by pure chance, like Sam didn’t call to him at all.

Sam advances, firm steps of someone who knows what comes next and isn’t afraid to face it. Lucifer watches him closely. His chosen vessel. Alone, unarmed. Ready to say ‘yes’.

“You have a question for me,” Sam tells him head on. “I finally have an answer that you’ll be happy to hear.”

Dean’s a mile away, on the other side of Belle Isle, when he feels the temperature plummet. All sound stops and the world goes deathly quiet. The birds in the trees take flight all at once, like they all heard some internal alarm and the setting sun is soon blocked by the mass, winged exodus.

He spots the first demon a couple of yards after that, knows that there are at least a hundred more hiding in the trees, waiting for him to fall in to their trap, circling around him and closing in.

Lucifer answered Sam’s call, but he brought a legion of his servants to protect his ass. Dean raises his hand and dispatches the first couple of demons without even breaking a sweat. On his finger, a large, golden ring seems to glow on its own and he can feel the demons around him recoiling in fear.

His other hand, hanging by his side and closed into a fist, still stings when he presses the sigil that Sam cut there a couple of hours before, to remind himself what’s at stake. Dean can’t help but smile as the demons decide to take their chances and charge all at once. That is good. Saves him time.

Lucifer’s grin at Sam’s announcement is the most ugly thing that the younger Winchester has ever seen. He stands his ground as the devil

circles around him from afar, sniffing the air around him like a shark out for blood.

“Dean’s fighting his way here as we speak,” Lucifer announces out of nowhere. “Are you here to stall for him... or is he running to stop you?”

“Does it matter to you?” Sam asks, meeting Lucifer’s inflamed eyes. “Lets just say that my brother has a problem with seeing things as I see them.”

“And how do you see them, Sammy?” Lucifer asks, not even bothering to look at the human in his presence.

Sam smiles, mouth twisted in mock sincerity. His hand is burning from the fresh cut the Dean made earlier, but he couldn’t be more pleased at how well this is working. He uses his other hand to pull a black piece of metal from his pocket. “I see how hard it is to go through life knowing that I will always be ugly, younger brother,” Sam says with a smirk.

Lucifer frowns, taken by surprise by Sam’s words and for the first time looks at his vessel. Truly looks. And only then does he see. “YOU!... but... how?” he asks, anger boiling under the surface at every word that he babbles.

“Long story,” ‘Sam’ says with a shrug. “Michael says hi, by the way.” The smile of before spreads wider and deepens his dimpled cheeks as ‘Sam’ grabs the metal with both hands and feels the blade of the sword glow into existence. “LIGHT IT UP, CAS!”

Lucifer’s head whips around, hand already extended towards where he guesses Castiel to be, ready to blow the angel out of existence. Castiel, however, needs only a split second to drop the lighter to the ground and bring to life the circle of burning holy oil that circles the man and the archangel inside. Once the circle is complete, Lucifer’s power is useless to reach Castiel on the outside.

Inside, however, the rules are different. The raw fury in Lucifer’s eyes as he turns towards the man trapped inside the circle with him, puts to shame the hottest fires in Hell. “This was the last stupid thing that you will do in your life, Dean Winchester!” Lucifer hisses, resolutely advancing towards his enemy. In a breath, the anger is gone from his red face and replaced by a knowing smile. “Nice trick though... really had me going there for a while, making me think that that was Sam in his own meat. Ha’fta to thank you, though,” he says, hands flanking his sides as he stops in

front of ‘Sam’, “because now, you’ve made it all the more easy for me to take Sam’s body. He’s already gone, the house is empty... it’s just a matter of kicking you out like the pesky infestation that you are.”

‘Sam’ doesn’t react, even though the words set his heart racing. “Well... easier said than done, Lucy... so, bring it on, bitch!”

When Sam first opened his eyelids and saw the world through Dean’s eyes, he fell on his ass. Or rather, Dean’s ass.

It took them both a while to get a sense of the different heights and muscles, like trying on new clothes that were just like the old ones but fit differently.

They really have no means of comparison, because as far as they know, no one was dumb enough to have tried this before, but Sam figures that, for what it’s worth, they actually manage to adapt fairly easily. For him, it’s actually weirder to see himself walking around than it is to be using Dean’s body.

For the sake of preservation of their future sanity, there are a few ground rules that both agree to before hand.

No baths.

No going to the bathroom with the lights on.

And absolutely no ‘funny businesses’.

The most important rule that they set, however, is the most simple and the most complicated to respect.

Whatever happens, happens.

Because if they stop to think about what they’re about to do, neither will be able to move. For all of their lives, Sam and Dean have looked out for each other, protected each other. Now, the responsibility they are shouldering is larger than ever. The ability to cause harm twice as lethal.

Sam wears Dean’s body to the fight against all of Lucifer’s demons and minions, using Solomon’s ring to send them all back to Hell in the

same manner that would take him gallons of blood to do before. Still, when the first demon reaches close enough to put a gash on Dean’s arm, Sam feels the pain twice: as his and as the damage that it is to a body that is not his own.

He fights harder after that, sweat running like rivers of salt down his forehead and neck, and one after the other, he sends to Hell everyone in between him and the fight that’s taking place further ahead.

By the river shore, with the city of Detroit filling the horizon, Dean is wearing Sam’s body to the final confrontation. And even though that is the most dangerous fight of Dean’s life, Sam’s not worried. He knows his body is in good hands. After all, it’s been Dean’s job to protect him his whole life.

Lucifer might be trapped inside the ring of Holy oil, but he’s far from helpless. Dean’s well aware of that.

This is the Morning Star, the original stain on God’s creation. And he has spent more than a millennium preparing for this.

Dean grabs the sword up high, taking advantage of Sam’s freakishly long arms.

Lucifer isn’t impressed by his stance, but Dean’s counting on that. He needs the devil to underestimate him, needs to catch him off guard.

“I’ll try not to harm your brother’s body too much, don’t worry,” Lucifer warns him with a sarcastic smile. “After all, I have plans for it later.”

A ripping sound fills the air, like old paper being tore apart. It takes Dean a second to realize that he’s hearing Nick’s skin tearing apart. Lucifer is changing in front of his eyes.

The face grows longer, teeth extending into sharp fangs, nose all but disappearing into slits that sit in the middle of his face like vents. Black wings unfold from his back, leathery and holey, bony structures ending in long talons.

Suddenly, Nick looks twice his size and barely human at all. If Dean didn’t know better, he’d say he looked like a two-legged dragon.

“Like it?” Lucifer asks, satisfaction in every word. “I thought that, since we’re doing this, I might as well... stretch my legs.” The laugh that leaves his mouth is a physical thing, turning into flame as soon as it hits the air.

Dean takes a step back, but can still feel the heat singeing Sam’s eyebrows.

‘What ever happens, happens.’ Dean reminds himself. And jumps forward.

Inside his head, Dean can see events unfolding from two different views; he’s seeing it from the window of a speeding train; and he’s seeing right in front of him. Near and far. All he has to do is play his part.

Lucifer blasts a ball of fire in his direction and Dean jumps forward with the determination of one who knows what they’re fighting for. And this battle... well, Dean already knows how it ends.

Lucifer lost this one the moment he chose to fight.

Epilogue 2: ...Or the Real Deal

When it’s all over, none of them knows what to do with themselves. So, they do the same they’ve always done.

Castiel doesn’t seem too eager to return to Heaven. He has no idea if he even can. But even if the gates of Paradise were to open to allow him passage, he’s not the same angel of before, emotionless and content to follow his orders blindly. He’s learned to think for himself, make his own decisions, to stand up for what he believes is right. He’d make a terrible soldier now.

Bobby’s legs have been feeling a little weird since he returned from Egypt. He doesn’t tell anyone about the tingling that starts just below his kneecaps and spreads all the way to his waist, but every day he stares at his toes and waits for one of them to do as they’re told. When it finally happens, he yelps so loudly that Sam and Dean run to his side, faces white with fear, looking like they were expecting to see him keel over dead.

Emam calls now and then. Tries to tell Bobby where the Ark is every single time. Bobby always stops him before he can say too much. Lucifer is gone for now, but it’s not like he dragged every spit of evil with him. There’s still plenty around, and Bobby doesn’t want to be responsible for letting those bastards know where to find the Ark.

Sam has found a new hobby: tease Dean mercilessly about his bowed legs. Now that he’s walked in them, he finally feels entitled to mock. Dean usually doesn’t react much to it, until the day he does and Sam finds himself waking up with one side of his head shaved closely. He has no choice but to get the other side equal. Dean’s still waiting for the payback on that one.

They still hunt. They have no other choice but to hunt, not with all the mess that was left behind by Lucifer and his plan to turn the world into blood and guts. They have no choice, but even if they did, they would still chose to drive around in the Impala, helping people.

Each of them has his own inner demons to deal with, hairier and more real than most people’s demons. Knowing that someone they’ve helped will now have a life thanks to them, helps to quiet those demons for a while.

They don’t use the sword or the ring for those hunts. Those two objects are safely guarded in some place that neither Winchester has ever told anyone but each other.

Bobby has his suspicions, though, when Sam, Dean and Castiel disappear for two whole weeks and Dean comes back with a healthy tan and gushing about ‘how awesome the great pyramids’ are.

They stored the ring and the sword for future use, not because the Winchesters are pessimists, but because they know for a fact that history... has a knack for repeating itself.


Ana fahim Arabi: I understand Arabic

Abu: father

Adhan: the 5 obligatory prays in Muslim religion

Afwan: You’re welcome

Ana mesh fahim: I don’t understand

Burka: traditional Islamic garment for women that covers them entirely from head to toe

Big Abu: Ramses II Temple at Abu Simbel

Little Abu: Nerfetari’s Temple at Abu Simbel

Duhur: midday pray

Eksar edo: Break (his) arm

Hookah/Shisha: Middle Eastern water-pipe with either a single or a double hose for smoking tobacco, often of a fruity variety.

Insha’Allah: God willing

Ibn el kalb: Son of a bitch

Khara: Shit

La: No

Mahdi: According to my meager Muslim knowledge (read Wikipedia, so, please forgive me if I’m wrong about this), the Mahdi is the ’guided one’ who will find the Ark near the end of the days and retrieve it from the lake Tiberias, in Israel.

Min Fadhlik: Please

Shukran: Thank you 

Sahlan: Welcome

Tabut Al-‘ahd: Ark of Covenant

To’m: Bait

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