Mink (minkmix) wrote,
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minkmix

SPN Fic: Indoctrination 10/11

Title: Indoctrination: part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4 - part 5 - part 6 - part 7 - part 8 - part 9 - part 10 - part 11A & 11B: Epilogue *Completed*
Sequel to Removed
Author: Mink & Jink
Rating: R - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.




Dean stared at the water bottle.

Hard.

For almost 48 hours he’d tried his best to do what Bobby had told him out on that road. It hadn’t been exactly easy. This morning for some reason was spectacularly worse than the first one. The phrase 'pretty fucking horrible' came to mind.

His muscles were cramping like he had just spent an hour straight running as hard as he could then stopped cold. His T-shirt clung to him like he’d been doused with water. He ran a shaking hand over his face, disturbed at how hot his face burned when all he felt was a frosty chill so deep and bad his bones hurt. Bobby had said to cut back, not to stop drinking what they gave him all together. He started to see the finer wisdom in that bit of advice. By the time he decided to either give up and drink the stuff or just get rid of it so they didn’t see it sitting there full the next morning, Dean found he couldn’t even sit up.

Flashes of dizziness hit him so bad, he had to brace his hands on the floor to keep himself still. His heart was fluctuating in his chest, his stomach twisting into knots and purging itself over and over again until he had nothing left.

The container of water sat by itself across the room on the windowsill.

“There was a reason we asked you to drink it every day at the same time Dean.”

Dean did all he could. He rolled painfully to his side, away from the door and Yueller who was watching him with something like vague sympathy in his eyes.

“I don’t know if a man like you has ever experienced anything like withdrawal.”

He curled in further on himself. He didn’t have withdrawal. That shit was for junkies and those homeless guys he saw screaming to themselves out on street corners. This was just some pain was all. An agony that made his heart feel like it was wearing out right under his own skin. Making him sweat when he was staying still. Creating some mindless urgency that was so dire and desperate he couldn't breathe but didn’t even know would be required to stop it.

“Come on.” Yueller’s hands were hooked under his arms, forcing him up onto his feet whether he was completely capable of staying up there or not. “It’s time to go.”

Dean used the doorframe to keep himself upright as he watched the man slowly take in the empty sparse layout of his quarters. The inspection lingered on the window and the bottle that sat untouched on it. With a smile, he picked it up and made sure Dean saw him slip it into his back pocket.

“For later.”

Dean let his arm be slung over one shoulder, willing the cramps that knotted his legs to ease and move enough to get him down the stairs without falling. Yueller took it surprisingly slow however, waiting for Dean to get to each creaking plank before moving on down to the next one. Looking sideways at the Captain, he wondered just exactly how much longer his service to the man would last.

It also made him wonder just exactly how it would end.



















The coolness left by morning was many miles behind them.

The inside of the van was sweltering despite the constant too-loud whir of the electric fans. All the world’s sounds that had become painfully amplified since he'd awakened before dawn, were now on constant replay in his head. Dean looked at the bottle in the door holder. His lips felt dry and numb, the stifling confined space stretching him thin, changing him into a mad wanting echo of himself that thought too slow and heard too much. His hands would not stop shaking, fine tremors making him clench his teeth to try and still them. His body had become governed by an engineered agony that would all stop with just a few swallows of a slow spiked death.

He let his head thunk down heavily against the glass window so that he could feel the dull pain of it, remember again that it was his. He felt every dip and plunge of the rough road, tires plowing over sharp stones and uneven soil. He only vaguely remembered what direction they were headed. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he lurched forward, trembling hands reaching out to find the floor. The simple act of staying upright in the bolted seat wedged among the supplies was too much strain on his system. All he wanted was to be still and lay down. Cover his head with his arms and wait for all of this to pass. It always passed. It had to eventually, right?

The ache had become a part of him, protesting every moment, every shift until he eventually learned to stop trying to accommodate it and just ride through each surge of its worst as best he could. His clothing stuck against him like unwanted skin, soaked through with sweat. Something fluttered against his face.

Again and again.

Unwilling to move he did anyway, his hand running up against his face absently. He felt one square shape laid to rest on his sticky cheek. It was smooth and thin, the smell of it chemical and familiar. A few others had fallen down onto the floor before him. With fingertips that would barely obey his commands, he lifted one to see what was on its surface.

It was a photo. A photo of him. For some reason he remembered the room he had been kept in far more than what he had actually felt like. The cool polished clean floors. The pitted heavy metal meat locker door up behind him. If he had forgotten just what he had felt like over a year ago, the pictures brought it all back with a clarity he didn’t even know he was possible of possessing. His eye was swelled shut, a broad strip of silvery duct tape was fastened neatly over his mouth. Shackled hands were raised slightly in a startled gesture. Probably the instinctive reaction to the surprise of the flash. It didn’t make any of it any less sickening to look at.

Dean remembered what Edwards had said then, even if at the time he hadn’t even been aware of his keeper’s name.

I like to archive the process Dean.

The lost horrible look in his own eyes made the illness in Dean’s throat rise back up again. A few more photographs fluttered down around him. They were all almost the same. Different angles. Varying qualities of the lights. All of them of a man defeated, subdued, his anger dulled under so much blood that all was left was wary raw fear.

One day you’ll look at them and you’ll laugh. I promise.

He remembered old Edward's smile and the shake of his head as he snapped his pictures and checked each time that the image he wanted took. For no reason at all, he thought of where Edward’s ashes were scattered, out there in the silent forest on the fringe of that run down ranch. The man’s duty was long over, his debt to the desert God in double forfeit.

“Back then...” Keens laughed a little bit to himself, turned around in his seat and leaning his elbows down on his knees. “Back then, we couldn’t even let you go to the can by yourself.”

The thin square he had been holding fell away, slipping amongst the others gathered by his face. He shut his eyes and tried not to think about just what exactly film managed to capture. He knew there was a good reason he had always hated having his picture taken. The brutality of its nature. Unforgiving as any spoken truth you never wanted to hear.

“But look at you now.” Keens said.

Dean opened his eyes to look up at the man, a smile coming to his own face whether he wanted it there or not. He sure had come along nicely hadn’t he? They should put him on a poster. Or maybe one of those recruitment commercials. He could paint on one of those self effacing solemn looks of duty while he held up a confident thumbs up.

“I need you to drink a little bit of this water now Dean.” The rosy nostalgia for Dean’s indenture had faded to faint annoyance. “When we arrive tomorrow, you’re gonna have a lot of work to do.”

“My-my brother…” His throat was dry, his tongue swollen but he managed to sound something close to coherent anyway. “S-Sam… he’s not going to, you won’t—“

“I think he’ll surprise us both at just how close to the pit he’s willing to go.”

Dean thought about the long wind of road that they traveled. The roar and rumble of the semi-trucks, the bouncing creak of the loaded produce pallets coming up from the stretch of the southern border and everything else in between. Somewhere amongst the families fighting in the SUVs and the lone drivers fighting back sleep with the radio was the man Keens knew was following along as diligently as any armed escort.

Sam was trailing them carefully to Window Rock just as sure as the sun was setting scarlet and searing in the sliver of the rearview.

“I think we’re way past using the plastic tube Dean.” Keens chided as he held up the water bottle. “But I’ll do whatever you need me to do to help you out.”

With the sight of all the old pictures and all, Dean was feeling a little bit nostalgic himself. He rolled over onto his back with a groan and shifted his shoulders in the crowded space that made up the studded metal van floor. He knew as well as they did that this new mission they were about to embark him on wasn’t something he might necessarily walk back from. In a way, he thought maybe he should be kind of honored. They were in fact, trusting him with saving their lives. Their existences were lost in a wager, hanging in limbo in a cheat that they had never really gotten away with. These men were depending on whether or not their newest solider would be able to do whatever it was they wanted him to do way out there where some holy man had discerned was the Center of the Earth.

The water draining over his face ran off to either side of his cheeks. He weakly but satisfyingly had turned his head at the very last moment so the liquid wouldn’t go anywhere but all over the gritty floor.

Keens sighed.

The hand that had propped his head up let him drop down loudly against the hard thrum of the bottom of the van. Dean felt himself smile again. He wondered if that tube might not hurt just quite as bad as he remembered. But when the hissing length of it was pulled free of a bag, the smile faltered and vanished. Like Dad had always said, memory always did its best to make the heart grow fonder no matter how unbearable the shit of it actually ever was.

Watching the bottle be carefully squeezed into the tubing, Dean knew he wouldn’t have to wait long to see how wrong those bullshit sayings had the potential to be. He tried not to fight it too hard when the fist gripped his jaw and shoved him backwards so he was forced to look at the back double doors.

He didn’t have much of a wait at all.






















When the door slid open the empty stretch of desert road looked just about like every other Dean had ever seen.

Dry hot wind. Brown razor barbed cacti. The rusted collapsed wire fence for some left over cattle country this might have once been. Not another car or bullet marked highway sign for any mile in any direction. His bag landed by his feet, a decent cloud of dust rising at its impact with the ground up red powder that packed up along the margin of bleached gray asphalt.

“You can stand around here or get walking.” Yueller used a hand to shield the glare off the horizon from his face. “Either way the bastard is to going to catch up with you sooner or later.”

Dean resisted the urge to ask if the Captain meant Noqoìlpi or Sam.

"Now I want you to understand something." Yueller continued. “Once that horizon swallows us there'll be nothing. Out there there ain't nothing but all the time in the world."

He swallowed involuntarily at the promise of the depth of isolation behind the words. The wind gusted feeling like each individual breath was a physical touch across his sweaty exposed skin. All his senses seemed tripled almost to the point of bursting into an odd overload. Whatever had been in the last bottle had a little something extra in it. Dean guessed cleansing properties. Summoning herbs. Detox for the holy. Like making yourself a cosmic welcome mat. But the plan still just didn’t seem to jibe with all the scenarios of logic that played out over and over in his brain.

“But-but why,” Dean stuttered around his voice that seemed too loud on the empty roadside. “Why w-would He bother to gut me first if you got His toy?”

Ironing out that quandary easily enough, Keens causally tossed the stone in question to him, like it was a baseball instead of the extension of the living energy of an enraged demigod. Dean held it without closing his fist around it this time. It was alive and humming on his skin. Eager to find the larger sum of what it was a part of. Maybe even aware somehow that it was close to the land it had emerged from.

"How will I find it?"

"Oh, He’ll find you. It's got a claim on your blood. Might even skin ya slow and alive like it did our man if you aren’t as careful as you should be." Keens assured him with a look down at the talisman. “When you get closer to Window Rock, it’ll be just like knocking right on His door.”

“I could give it right back.” Dean half smiled. He wasn’t completely unsure that that wasn’t exactly what he was planning on doing anyway. “I could blow this entire thing outta the water."

“You could.” Keens nodded, seating himself down on the edge of the open van door. “But the instant that stone leaves your hand? You can kiss your ass goodbye, you'll be like a worm on a hook. No protection. No collateral. Nada."

He remembered the feel of the God pulling him inside out well enough. It had been about as close to anything he’d experienced that could honestly be described as unbearable. But it wouldn’t last forever. Even being skinned alive. Death would come after some amount of time no matter how long the thing wanted to play with his life. He had never been particularly afraid of blinking away into whatever it was that came next. But he had to do this smart. Sammy was going to be out there too. Dean already had a pretty good idea of just who and what was getting the pale blue talisman. If anyone was walking out of this forsaken place it was going to be his brother.

“Doesn’t sound so bad.” Dean muttered, leaning down with a swing of unexpected dizziness when he picked up his satchel. “I’ve always liked giving more than getting anyway.”

“So then He gets your soul.” Yueller spoke up having been quiet throughout the exchange. “You know what can be done to a soul that knows no death Dean?”

Dean actually knew more than his share about it but he didn’t feel like dwelling on it right at the moment.

“When He finds your brother, when you are out there by the Window…” Yueller nodded out towards the slant of the sun slipping down as the planet slowly rotated towards the dark. “You’ll have a chance then. You can kill it.”

Keens straightened from his seat, brushing off a film of desert dust from his arms and thighs that settled on in a fine powder no matter how hard you tried to stay clean. Yueller was already back in the driver’s seat and rolling the engine over.

“It’s that way.” Keens pointed in the vague direction of a distant outcrop of rocks that had lost all their color to the black shadows they assumed for the coming night. “You’ll know when to stop.”

Hefting his bag, Dean turned to study the far off landmark and then looked up and down the narrow strip of road. Right out into the middle of no where was a pretty good direction. The farther from the pavement he got, the harder the time Sam would have finding him out there in the vast big nothing. Dean wasn’t sure why he was still letting him fool himself that Sam had been able to follow them on something as base as sight alone. He knew it had a hell of a lot more to do with it than that.

He looked down at the smooth rock that burned in his hand.

Dean could move fast. He could make it hard for Sam to rush into something that could kill him without much of a second thought.

“Dean?” Keens called out from behind him.

He turned to see the window rolled down, and the man leaning out on one elbow, his face thoughtful and with an expression that was almost gracious.

“Sir?”

“Good luck.”

Dean nodded back at him. “Think I got all I can carry.”























After a while Dean lost sight of the rocks Keens had told him to head for.

When he turned around in the quickly chilling night, there wasn’t even the bob and flash of passing headlights to mark that there had been a road out there somewhere behind him at all. Zipping up his nylon jacket, he listened to his boots crunch rhythmically into the gravel under his feet as he steadily made his way to who knew where.

Keens might have seemed pretty sure he would know the magical ring of toad stools or whatever shit he assumed was out here to locate the mystic X marks the spot, but all Dean could see was another steady repeat of a hundred identical yards out ahead that weren’t going to run out soon. He also saw plenty of dry brush that would make a perfect fire now that the desert had almost finished its polar temperate flip down into the frigid side. He knew the light would broadcast his whereabouts for about as many miles as he could envision in every direction. Using a little of what he was taught and knowing it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference he built up his firewood under the low over hang of a rock shelf anyway. There were marks he knew how to trace into the earth that would also help him. Walking the tight circle of his own perimeter, he leant down occasionally to push his fingertip in and around the designs that made earth and air into wards.

Dean wondered, as Keens had mentioned, that if being this close to Window Rock might make some things useless as defense. With a small sigh, he figured he’d find out soon enough.

The bag that had been packed for him had plenty of water. He’d felt the weight of that well enough as he’d made the aching hike. Besides some other gear, it also had a few dried herbs twined tightly together. They were ceremonial. As useful for summoning as the chemical equivalent that they had made sure he’d swallowed. They weren’t taking many chances. The knowledge that they had as little interest in dying as most tended to, made him look up warily in the black shadows made even darker by the hectic flash of the orange flames that crackled and hissed in front of him. The lit rock face behind him stuttered and flickered with ancient graffiti. Strange line figures of men and beasts. Outlines of a long dead hand in uneven ochre pigments. For no reason at all he thought of all those miles blanketed by the nightfall. Abandoned like an old house, all the lights extinguished and all the closets closed but maybe not empty.

Dean lay down on his side, using the bulky weight of the bag under his head, and drawing up his knees as he found the fire didn’t quite ward off the cold as much as he’d have liked. Without thinking much more about it, he rolled the dried grasses wrapped in string in his hands a few times before tossing them onto the flames. With another look at a tightly capped bottle of water, he unscrewed it, forgoing the disgust when he tasted what had been bypassed undetected down his throat with plastic hours before. Squeezing his eyes shut, he gulped it down, choking and not stopping until there wasn’t a drop left. So much for trying to follow Bobby's advice.

Tossing it aside angrily into the dark, he settled back down against his bag, panting slightly and suddenly having the urge to scream as loud as he could in all the deafening quiet.

Dean watched the fragrant smoke waft up as the bunched herbs crumbled bright red, their thin brittle branches igniting like wicks. Even as he observed, he felt the water work into his system, the strange rush of the psychotropic magic hidden in the plants and flowers was already making the fire seem distant in sound and feel. The smells of the burning dried plants were heady and strong. When he looked up, the stars seemed to have lowered far enough for him to stand up and touch. They were so close he was sure they would shimmer and waver as if he’d disturbed the surface of a lake on a clear midnight.

Taking a deep breath, he slipped a hand into the inside pocket of his jacket and lay his fingers over the smooth surface of the stone. With his other hand he checked for the totem that would ward away the menace of the Skin Walkers in case they decided to join the party. Satisfied both were in place, he then gripped a long curved blade that rested concealed but ready just inside his sleeve.

“Ready or not,” He whispered. “Here you come.”



















The glare of piercing white made him bring his hand to his face.

Throngs of people with spangles on their clothes swarmed around him, the blur of movement whirling and gushing like a warm current in the sea. The noise was unbelievable. Lulling and running like some musical refrain that had no end in sight. Under and over it was the crush of a thousand voices, laughing, talking, despairing and celebrating. He could catch their shadows as they pushed past him, smell their cheap perfume and thick cigars, but he couldn’t see any of them.

He clutched his knife and thrust it outwards in front of his body. The talisman, roiling with a magnetic intensity felt cold and heavy inside his jacket. He was thinking in time to his pulse, breathing slowly and trying to dissect what his head was broadcasting all on its own and what actually might be right there in front of his face. The stale sweat of strangers, the sharp flashing of neon numbers and the endless clinking of coins. Sepia washed and faded, he watched men behind tables pick cards from the air.

Dean clutched at his head for moment, trying to ground himself on one thing. The weight of the blade. The sound of his steady exhale. The tight laces of his boots. A voice wove into his brain like warm fingers, cleaving his thoughts apart from themselves like they had been iced together. The sensation made him stagger backwards, shaking his head even though it was all so deep inside he couldn’t force it back if he wanted to.

You've come.

Dean turned his head and saw nothing but the rush of faces, indistinct features lost in watered down glamour. He jumped at the sudden shrill ringing of a slot machine paying off, the crash and clatter of coins filling plastic cups. The packed carpet under his boots reeked just beyond a few decades of cigarette smoke. Under it was the fine dense acrid scent of the dry dirt of rock and sand. The stale air shifted with the smell of sun baked red stone. The rattle of the giant inverted Big Six Wheel hissed through the spin of its spokes like the rattle of a snake’s tail.

“Yeah.” Dean ventured. “I’m here all right.”

Doing a full circle he couldn’t see much of anything outside the steady onslaught of lights and nonsensical noise.

“W-Where are you?”

The response was nothing but a gentle unfurl of smoke, rising slowly up to the pattern of ancient nicotine stains on the ceiling filled with yellowed crystal of faux chandeliers. There was no one to meet his eyes. Unanswered and suddenly angry, Dean braced himself again where he stood in the middle of the floor.

"Where are you!" Dean exploded furiously, heart thumping in his chest. All sounds were deafening, confusing him. Colors blending and colliding, the motion of the shadow crowd making him dizzy and sick.

Down here.

A musky stink filled his nostrils. A sandy haggard form moving low to the ground loped across the filthy royal red carpet, dodging the rush of phantom shoes stomping down around it. Its ribs jutted out from its heaving sides. The body was too long, its claws elongated and black, a red tongue flashing between its teeth. It came to a stop at Dean's feet and waited, tail lashing impatiently. Dean hunched down on his knees, bothered by the heavy bodies veering aimlessly into him, catching him about the shoulders and head.

This place startles you. The creature said without making any motion of speaking. But it is yours.

"Heh." Dean noted the long legs of a passing insubstantial apparition of a cigarette girl with a raised eyebrow. "Not bad."

He kept his face hard and serious. So this was his own playground? Of all the meeting places of the between he could configure this was it? It would figure that of all places, this would end up in a casino.

"I’m not here to play any games.”

You are already a fool that has played too many games.

“Hey, I’m just trying to make things right.” Dean tried to explain. “Those other men, they ordered me to end you.”

The bedraggled animal considered him with no expression Dean was capable of deciphering.

Dean held up the blue stone with a half grin.

"Fetch?"

Watch yourself. It snapped. You must be more pedantic when dealing with me.

Dean released the breath he'd been holding and realized his hands were trembling.

"Fine."

Gingerly, Dean lowered himself to a crouch and set the heavy piece of turquoise down on the carpet. A low terrible growl rose from deep in the animal's throat.

My talisman. Black lips drew back to show rows of jagged yellow teeth. A killer sent to destroy a God willfully brings back what should never have been taken?

"You have what's yours." Dean said evenly. "And revenge too if that’s the way you see it."

I shall have them that provoked me. But you... It was panting, thick ropes of saliva running down its jowls. ...what will you give me?

Dean was visibly unprepared for the question but answered truthfully.

"Penance."

If a coyote could sneer, it plainly had.

You stink of them. The animal growled. You serve them. Why should I exempt you?

"Please." Dean could think of nothing else to say.

It could do what ever the hell it wanted as long as it was all done and gone with the sunrise before his brother showed up somehow in this place. Dean knew he was out of options but he could speed things along a little to make sure Sammy didn’t find anything but a burnt out fire and a duffel filled with water bottles.

My wrath incurs a price. The beast licked its chops.

"Whatever you want." Dean told it quietly. “Just make it quick.”

Dean didn’t have to sit around to wait for very long. Faster than sight, it seized his exposed wrist in its jaws. Clamping down with enough strength to snap his bones into neat halves, he faltered further down onto his knees, clutching his hand and staring back into the smooth marble black eyes.

The pain was exquisite, trapped in the clenched rows of teeth, he felt the warmth of blood seep through the layers of his clothes. The sharp points shredding muscle and scraping bone. His heart was beating in surges as he tried not to struggle, not to pull away as the jaws gnawed deeper. His vision was wavering and he tried to focus on the faces rushing by, delirious visions of them floating and falling.

The tearing feel he had felt out there in the night of the ranch started once again. That agony of having some extra skin he didn’t know he owned, slowly peeled back away from his body, ripping loose and yanking away from his very bones. The height of the torment was so dizzyingly out of any frame of reference he’d ever had, it was almost not like any kind of pain at all. His mind flashed to that night so long ago when Edwards had hung him up on a meat hook with a shattered broken arm. There was a time when your body let go of what its nerves were frantically telling it. There was a limit when everything began to shut down to spare the brain any further damage of having to experience its inevitable destruction.

And Yueller had been right, this pain might end but Dean had no idea what this desert God did with the lives it had won. He guessed he’d soon find out. There was nothing left to do now but lay down and take what came around. He took a moment to revel in the fine detail of his casino fabrication when his cheek pressed hot and sticky with blood against the itchy carpet under his face.

“Wait! Please, wait!”

Dean rolled his head to turn in the direction of the only voice that sounded like it had come from a human mouth. It hadn’t been some meaningless blurred mumble of the ghosts his mind had populated this no where place with. It sounded solid and real instead of the constant stream of half heard gibberish that flowed around him like the tepid air.

Wait!!

It was him. It was his brother moving steadily towards him, pushing through the hindering translucent crowd. Dean pulled at his mauled arm in panic, he hadn’t been fast enough, it wasn’t over yet. Now the demigod was going to finish them both despite what Dean had offered up without a fight.

"Sam..." Dean moaned, eyes closed.

He never felt the crushing jaws release. Lashes fluttering open, he smelled the burn of wood smoke. The carpet was gone, replaced with the sharp stones of the desert floor, his heart thudded slowly with his weakened body. His brother was there, sitting a few feet away, his features set and hard, eye to eye with another man. Light from the fire danced across their faces.

“I’d like to place a bet.” Sam said evenly.

The dark skinned man with darker long smooth hair said nothing. Black paint banded across the eyes made it appear as if there weren’t any eyes at all. Dean stared at the blood that dripped slowly from the strange open maw that made the unnatural wideness of a mouth. With a nod, the man that wasn’t a man sat crossed legged and silent. But He was listening.

“I’d like to make a wager for my brother’s life.”




















A circle in the sand and three pale identical shells.

The pit of Dean's stomach had lapsed long ago, gone out into absolute vacancy. Things around began to move lethargically; the fire's glow at his left took a hazy step or two toward the solemn formation of the rocks, which lurched forward to meet it; the stars could not keep still, rushing in tiny explosions of light. He, too, was detached and moved as the world did. A pale flesh-color had soaked behind his closed eyes, changing slowly from gold to white. It didn't hurt where he'd been bitten. He felt neither the chill from the air or the fire's warmth.

The wind was blowing rapidly above him, arrogance threaded through it like a thin gold wire, sharp and impossible to miss.

Do not hope for anything with nothing in your hands even now.

Sam was silent. Sweat glistened on his forehead.

Was this the gap between dreams? Dean had no idea. The carpeted, smoky glitz of his id was gone, leaving him somewhere between his last memory and waking. He wanted to struggle against the absurd world around him, come back to himself. But he was too tired.

He turned his head, trying to shift his gaze towards the shells in the circle. Only they were not there anymore. With large dark hands the god struck the sand, creating a small vortex. With a whistle, the cold pale sun peeked from the blackened horizon as a dog obeying its master. The air continued to soar and laugh around them like a flock of birds.

Dean had one word for it all--psychedelic.

Your brother's life lies with one of my servants. The voice of the god churned through the air. Choose wrongly and the sand will take his mouth, leak from his eyes and clot his brain. Or the sun here may shift its gaze, and glare down only upon him. Or he will dissolve and become absorbed into the wind.

"How many chances do I have?" Sam asked.

One. The god replied.

The release of air from his brother's lungs sounded like a wave hissing on a shore.

"Alright." Sam said.

He extended both hands and laid one over the hovering vortex, raised the other in the direction of the sun's face. The deep flesh color pierced Dean's eyes like a spotlight then and he blinked hard with a faint gasp. Near the fire, two pale shells rotated the earth beneath his brother's palms, moving in a careful, deliberate shuffle around the third. The god's glittering eyes remained locked on the circle.

Somewhere else the sand shuddered and rippled like the belly of a great cat and the sun peeked in and out of its space, night and dawn shifting in a blink. It was chaos meant to addle and when it finally calmed, there would come the choice.

Dean's heart thundered in his chest. He could not speak. He could see the movement of the shells behind his closed eyes, phasing in and out of the vision beyond his control. The sun's movement was bizarre, the undulating sand like a nightmare. When it finally stopped, the land seemed to sigh. He watched his brother very closely and waited for whatever creative death awaited him.

Sam's hands were large but they were not slow. His fingers were too long and ideal for card games. A deck moved lightening-fast almost like liquid in his palms. Blink and you'd miss the slip of an Ace into a sleeve or miss the twitch of the little finger as it slid something out of place. Deceptions had worked on this God before.

Dean saw the faint twitch to his brothers lips as he stared at the three shells before him and knew.

Sam was every bit their father's son. A lying, cheating, dirty con.

Lying in the sand on the brink of death, Dean had to smile.

What is your choice? The god demanded.

Sam withdrew the talisman from his pocket.

"You lose."



to be concluded…

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