Midnight; and a grey moonlit pall had spread across the dusty bedroom.
On top of one of the beds lay Bobby, fighting a losing battle against worry-fuelled insomnia as he catnapped uncomfortably, trying and failing to ease a degree of the crushing weariness that the ordeals of the last few days had brought upon him. Fully clothed, he hadn't even noticed he'd left his cap and boots on when he'd slumped dejectedly down onto the threadbare blue comforter.
As he drowsed fitfully, he guessed he might be dreaming. His distracted mind raced with random images; images of the boys, Dean's abandoned flashlight, the emperor, and that damn stone back at the museum.
In his sleep-addled state, he imagined the tones of Sam's voice and Dean's tuneless and obnoxiously loud singing. He sighed as the comforting sounds melted into a much more disturbing noise; the clash of swords, and the jeering of a bloodthirsty mob.
Over it all, there was one other sound; a voice. A voice he couldn't place whispering something he couldn't hear or understand.
His head rocked from side to side as the sounds and images whirled through his tormented, restless mind.
Suddenly, his nose wrinkled in disgust as a sickly odour, reminiscent of poor personal hygiene inadequately masked by a faintly musky fragrance drifted onto his radar. It was deeply unpleasant although, at the same time, unsettlingly familiar.
What the hell?
That smell; was it coming from him? He sure hoped not. Bobby would concede to anyone that he wasn't at his best right now but even if he looked like shit, he was pretty damned sure he didn't smell like it too.
With a deep sigh, he gave up on the attractive but ultimately pointless idea of getting any rest, and rolled over slowly to sit on the side of the bed. His heavy eyelids drifted open and he blinked back a stinging haze of inadequate sleep.
His head dropped wearily into his hands, but almost immediately lifted again as a tiny, barely perceptible glint from the floor caught his eye. He squinted, trying to focus his still-hazy vision as he looked down at the bare floorboards between his feet and sure enough, there it was. Something small and shiny lying discarded on the floor, glittering faintly in the moonlight.
Picking it up, he examined it closely. Gold and round like a coin, it was embossed with inscriptions that were way too small for Bobby to read.
He idly turned it over in his palm and his blood ran cold when he recognised the deeply unattractive profile embossed on the other side.
Now the realisation flooded over him; that smell … old, musty, unwashed clothes, scented unguent and halitosis. Those whispered words, it wasn't a dream – it was a visitor.
That could only mean one thing ...
His heart pounded in his chest as he looked up from the tiny coin in his hand and noticed two words scratched into the wall across from him:
'domus antiquitatum …'
Breathless with excitement, he did a rapid translation in his head; "house of antiquities".
Bobby leapt up off the bed, energised with a new sense of purpose. His fatigue became a distant memory; suddenly he knew exactly where he had to be.
Sam feebly tried to pull away from his guards as he watched Dean slump limply between the arms of the praetorians who held him, but he simply didn't have the strength.
He felt utterly empty. He guessed that the crowd would be expecting the brothers to be basking in their glory but there was no glory to be had in pandering to the whims of a madman; no glory in watching a friend - a good, harmless man - die, no glory in battering your brother to a bloody pulp.
His boneless legs trembled from the sheer effort of holding himself upright, even though the emperor's praetorians were hanging onto him with grim determination and doing most of the work in keeping him vertical. He knew it was a matter of moments before he followed Dean into oblivion. Bring it on, he thought.
A trickle of hot blood ran along the curve of his jaw, but he didn't care. The numbness of beaten and bruised muscles, the burning throb of his wounds, his rapidly closing eye, his ringing ears and spinning head were all irrelevant, he didn't care about any of it.
All that he cared about was the broken man next to him. Dean's bruised face was hidden in shadow, slumped against his bloodied, sand-caked chest; a thin ribbon of foamy blood hung from his lip. If this was the price of their freedom, it was far too goddamned high.
As Sam's focus drifted, he was vaguely aware of the walls around him, the faces of the crowd, the bloated figure of the emperor all slowly fading and distorting, the shapes and colours running like water down wet paint. The sound of the crowd's cheering and excitement became muffled; a stifled, thrumming mumble that surrounded him like a heavy blanket.
The whole world around him was gradually evaporating into nothing more than a dream, even the strong hands that held him felt less real, fluttering around his arms like cobwebs rather than the iron grip of a trained soldier.
In the blurring, dissolving turmoil, the only thing that remained real and solid was Dean, sinking lower and lower into the ground.
Sam swallowed back a giddy nausea and closed his eyes, willing himself to join Dean and let unconsciousness take him.
Sam's eyes eventually fluttered open and were immediately assaulted by a hazy sunlight. He groaned miserably, wiping away tears and squinting against the searing ache that gripped his head. He expected to be lying back in his cell on one of those stinking, flea-infested horsehair mattresses alongside Dean, but instead he was in a bed, a clean, comfortable bed. The stink of the camp; a pungent cocktail of blood, sweat, mud and horses was somehow replaced by a faint and altogether less offensive odour of coffee and old books.
His entire body was immersed in a sea of pain; strained aching muscles, bruised bones, deep bloody cuts and torn, stinging grazes, but for the first time in longer than he could remember, he felt clean. He could feel his movement restricted by heavy layers of bandages which had been expertly wrapped around most parts of him that could be bandaged, and taking everything into account, he was as comfortable as could be expected.
Beside him, he could see Dean, his deeply bruised face half buried in the comforting warmth of a fat, white pillow, and hear him snuffling sleepily through a congested and bloody nose. Despite Dean's extensive injuries, heavily bandaged just like Sam's, he looked completely at peace.
The best thing of all, however, was the face that stared down on him. It wasn't the emperor's; It wasn't a guard's, or the sneering mask of a bloodthirsty roman arena-goer. It was something far more welcome.
He looked up, his mind struggling to process what he was seeing and blinked blearily through his one good eye that wasn't swollen shut. Eventually he smiled.
There came a sigh of deep relief, and a familiar and deeply comforting voice responded; "hey son, it's darn good to see ya at last."