"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
Hollett Motor Lodge
Jersey City, New Jersey
Friday 28 May 2010
"Damn it, Dean! Would you cover those up?!"
Sam froze on his way out of the bathroom, clapping his hands over his eyes with the same force as he might have if an angel was about to go supernova in front of him. He tried desperately to purge the image of shapely breasts and narrow hips from his mind by telling himself over and over that they belonged to his brother.
"Take a chill-pill, Sammy, I forgot," Dean's voice said from several feet away, his tone laced with irritation.
Sam could hear him moving around, and then the sound of fabric being pulled taught over skin. Peeking out cautiously with one eye, he saw that Dean was at least wearing a bra now.
Sam glared. "You're always 'forgetting'. You totally do it on purpose."
"Right, because I want my little brother ogling my tits," Dean deadpanned, and then made a face. "Jesus, that sounds so freakin' wrong."
"Exactly!" Sam agreed vehemently. "So cover up!"
"Hey, give me a break – living as a dude all my life don't make me a modest person," Dean shot back as he pulled on a long sleeved shirt. "And let's not pretend you're all innocent in this – we both know how much time you spend in the shower lately. I haven't had any hot water in a week."
"It's – it's not like that!" Sam objected defensively, even though he knew his protests were probably futile. "It takes longer to wash all this hair – and people would start giving us funny looks if I smelled like a guy, okay?"
"And that's why I know you were always meant to be a girl," Dean rolled his eyes and slipped his .45 and the demon killing knife into loose-fitting jeans. "I'm gonna go check out. Meet you by the Plasticar in ten, 'sis'."
The motel door closed behind him, while Sam grumbled out an annoyed, "Dick" and began to check around the room to make sure they hadn't left any traces of themselves behind.
It was going on a week since they had woken up to their transformed bodies, and coping with the change was turning out to be a lot harder than Sam had thought it would be.
Once he had made a grudging peace with what had happened to them, Sam had expected certain differences – especially when it came to the physical. Although the brothers were still relatively strong for women their height and build, there was a significant difference to how they had been before. Sam was sure he had the same proportional muscle mass as he had had before the change, but he was over half a foot shorter now. He didn't relish the idea of going toe-to-toe with an angry vampire in this body.
Since prying the information about Dean's near assault back in Elwood, Sam had been reading up on a few different martial arts styles geared towards female fighters. He was particularly interested in the aspects of KravMaga and Aikido which seemed more defensive in nature and less reliant on the brute force the brothers had been building up since Dad started putting them through his own brand of Marine training as kids.
'Of course, convincing Dean when I finally get around to it is going to be a party,' Sam thought, taking a wet towel to mop up the salt lines he had laid down the night before. 'Anything to do with our spontaneous genderswap is guaranteed to get his hackles up.'
Privately, Sam understood. Their lives had been monumentally screwed up in so many different ways since childhood that Dean naturally clung to the few constants: his bond with Sam, the Impala and hunting were some of the first to come to mind. But on a more basic level, Dean – and even Sam – had always been able to rely on their bodies to do exactly what was expected.
Suddenly their strength was curtailed and even their behaviour was being affected. Sam had noticed in the past week that he didn't have the same endurance in some areas. Whereas before going an entire day without food was just something to be waited out, now Sam found himself becoming snappish and angry if he didn't eat something every three hours. And as much as his brother needled him for being a wuss, Dean was even worse.
On top of the bad mood that resulted from craving food at inopportune times, Dean's bad humour was magnified by the need for frequent stops along the way, usually to find a bathroom. Apparently the change had shrunk their bladders, which was, in and of itself, awkward as hell. Apparently television didn't lie about women liking to carry on conversations in the washroom, whether it was a truck stop in Iowa or in a mall.
Although, granted, Dean's expression of horror at some of the things women did talk about was kind of comical.
But it wasn't just the physical changes. There were emotional differences as well. Sam had noticed that Dean's already short temper had become more volatile, as though he was unable to tamp down what he was feeling the way he usually did. Sam himself was having problems keeping his feelings in check. All his life he had been expected to keep things bottled up, either by Dad telling him to 'man up' or Dean teasing him about being a 'sissy'. He'd gotten better at it over the years – maybe not to the same militant emotional repression that Dean tried for, but enough that his feelings didn't show on his face.
Suddenly, something which had been a minor annoyance in the past seemed insurmountably difficult.
It wasn't all bad, he was forced to admit. Sam found he was better able to focus on more than one thing at a time; he had always been mentally flexible, but he felt like the change had given him some kind of different dimension of thinking. Aggie hadn't lied when she said that she would change the way his brain operated. He found himself thinking about things from different angles or in more abstract ways. It was weirdly fascinating.
Of course, the flipside to that was that Sam felt like he could never "turn off" his brain. Whereas before, his thoughts of guilt and resentment had eventually lulled him into fitful sleep, now he couldn't escape the constant machinations of his mind.
'Which now include Hell, apparently,' Sam thought, making a face.
In addition to Sam and Dean's newfound 'girl trouble', there was the aftermath of their run-in with the faeries to contend with. Beyond Sam's confession to Dean that he now remembered Hell – and exactly what he and Adam had experienced – the brothers hadn't spoken about it. Part of Sam was glad for that, as he didn't particularly want to relive those memories more than he had to, but the other part wished for some kind of reassurance.
Dean had been to Hell. If anyone could understand what that was like, it was him.
But Dean had been more closed-lipped than usual since they left Elwood. He refused to go into details about why he had managed to escape the faerie realm. Sam had even tried to get the story out of him by jokingly asking if Dean had "serviced Oberon, King of the Faeries", but Dean remained steadfast in his silence. It made Sam sure that something had happened there that Dean knew he wasn't going to like if he found out.
"Dude, when has keeping secrets ever worked out? For either of us?" he had tried to argue during a quick stop at a gas station in Akron.
"It's not a secret, Sammy, I just don't want to talk about it," Dean retorted. "It doesn't have anything to do with us right now anyway. We've got people to find."
And that right there was the crux of it. Dean's determination to find Castiel had doubled since the run in with the faeries. He'd even raised the possibility of finding a witch who could scry for him or create a locator spell of some sort. Considering Dean's hatred for witches, the whole situation was troubling. For the first time, Sam was starting to wonder exactly what the nature of Dean and Castiel's relationship had been.
He'd always known there was a dimension to their friendship that he would never understand – Castiel had personally hauled his brother out of Hell, after all – but the rest of the relationship made perfect sense to Sam. Dean had never had a friend in his life, and Castiel's appearance on the scene had been unexpected yet welcome.
Somewhere along the line, Castiel had joined Sam and Bobby in the category of people Dean cared about. It was a good thing, because it sort of weaned Dean away from directing all of his affection and protectiveness toward Sam. But there was still this nagging suspicion that Sam had been nursing since Dean told him he knew Castiel was alive. He had said it with the same adamant certainty he had always maintained when they were searching the country for Dad, like if it wasn't true he might just break.
There was a suspicion trying to work itself out in his head, but Sam wasn't sure if he was ready to sit down and actually think it through.
He shook his head, hoping to derail those thoughts before he started to get too involved in it. 'Maybe Dean's right. This girl-brain is doing weird things to me. I'm never this interested in Dean's social life…or lack thereof.'
He left the motel room and crossed the mostly empty parking lot to where Dean was leaning against the car with a long-suffering expression. He had his arms crossed angrily over his chest and was scowling.
At Sam's raised eyebrow, he growled, "If one more person asks me if I'm cold, I'm gonna full-on Hulk out."
Sam couldn't help grinning. "You could just wear a hoodie in the mornings."
"Do I look like a little emo bitch?" Sam opened his mouth and Dean warningly shoved a finger in his direction. "Don't."
Sam shrugged and heaved himself into the passenger seat.
Dean had been raring to go all morning, intent on tearing Aggie a new one over practically giving them to the faeries. They had been trying to reach her by phone since Elwood, but apparently she wasn't listed and Bobby hadn't provided a number.
Sam was wary of the whole thing. He had read up on Agdistis – the androgynous Phrygian goddess that even Greek and Roman gods had feared due to her wild and uncontrolled nature. Considering her specific brand of magic, he didn't really want to piss her off or give her reason to keep them in their new bodies. Not to mention, she was the only pagan god he'd ever met who hadn't tried to kill or eat them; or, well, all of them.
When you were being hunted by the combined forces of Heaven, Hell and hunters, it didn't pay to alienate potential allies.
Instead of pointing this out to Dean, who was less than logical on his best day, Sam had made a case for checking up on Bobby's latest tip before going after Aggie. At least the guy might give them enough of a lead to distract Dean.
The drive from their motel to NYU should have taken them ten minutes, but there was an accident just after the Holland Tunnel that had them snarled in traffic for at least forty-five. During that time, Dean gravitated between swearing up a storm and trying to contact Bobby, who wasn't answering his phone for some reason.
"You shouldn't be on your cellphone while you're driving," Sam pointed out the third time that Dean hung up in frustration.
Dean shot him a dirty look. "Yes, mother."
"Just saying – besides, Bobby's probably busy. Seeing as how he's still trying to get his soul back and all."
Dean shifted uncomfortably, and Sam could sympathize.
Neither of them mentioned the fact that if they hadn't been looking for a potentially dead angel and trying to free the last of their family from Hell, they would be hunkered down at Bobby's place looking for a way to find his soul.
Dean coughed, trying to cover up that awkward, guilty moment. "So who is this guy we're going to see, anyway?"
"Braddock Yong – Professor of Ancient Languages," Sam read the information off of the browser on his phone. He had looked it up the day before, but kept the data stored because Dean had the memory retention of a goldfish unless it was something he was interest in. "He mostly teaches Latin and Ancient Greek, but he also runs a few courses about ancient mythologies. It says here, he focuses on monomythology."
"Which means what, for those of us who don't have a degree in 'Nerd'?" Dean deadpanned, and then before Sam could reply, suddenly yelled, "Christ, move it! He's letting you go, moron!" He glowered over at Sam. "Would it have killed them to have built this damn thing wider?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Right, because obviously when they built this tunnel, they should have been thinking about your busy schedule…"
"It's all I'm sayin'…"
"Hey, I told you the last time we were here that you should avoid the tunnels at all costs –"
"Well, excuse me for thinking we might luck out for once," Dean snapped, pounding the steering wheel.
"Anyway," Sam trailed off, returning his attention to his phone. "Monomythology is a theme in literature. It has to do with the hero's journey."
Dean snorted. "What, like Batman?"
"Well…" Sam trailed off, wondering if he should go into the many ways in which the study of monomythology actually could apply to Batman. He decided against it, knowing Dean's patience was already being tested by the traffic. "Sort of. There was this guy in the late 1940's, Joseph Campbell –"
" – any relation to us?"
"At this point? I wouldn't be surprised," Sam mused. "Anyhow, he wrote this book about how every major story from around the world follows a specific pattern. It basically argued that every hero-story has certain stages or structures that it shares with every other hero story across the world."
Dean sent him a bemused look. "Which has what to do with us trying to jailbreak Hell?"
"Well, I'm not the expert, but a lot of hero myths have to do with the protagonist travelling to the underworld," Sam said, frowning in thought. "I figure that's the angle this Yong guy would be working. I was actually thinking of sitting down with a few of the more famous examples of stories about the underworld, in case there are any clues – but it'd take a lot of time. There are at least thirty I can think of off the top of my head. Hopefully this guy will be able to give me a clue about where to start."
"Well, that's something at least," Dean grunted after a second. "I still think we should take a look at the Horsemen's rings again. We know for sure that they open the Cage."
"Yeah, but they also have the side effect of letting out Lucifer and Michael and starting everything up again," Sam reminded him. "And Michael might just be enough of a dick to use Adam as leverage to get you to say 'yes' this time around."
"Yeah, screw that," Dean muttered, his fingers gripping the steering wheel a little tighter.
The Charger crawled slowly out of the tunnel, and at the first burst of light as they emerged, Sam had to blink a few times for his eyes to adjust. The sun had risen higher in the time that they had been underground.
The lane beside them was moving faster, and Dean inched into it, following the now steadily moving traffic into the close, congested area of the city. It didn't have the same claustrophobic quality of the downtown core, but it was still crowded enough that they knew they had entered urban New York City.
'The Apocalypse has come and gone, and I still never got around to seeing much of this city,' Sam thought regretfully.
He'd never gotten to explore any of the other places he'd travelled while he'd been on the road, either. Despite having seen all the continental US states before the age of twelve, he'd never been given the opportunity to go sightseeing or enjoy anything that made those states famous. At least, not until that terrible year before Dean's deal had come due; he and Dean had made a painstaking effort to see at least some of the wonders of the country, but all Sam remembered from that trip was how his every waking moment had been filled with trying to keep Dean from dying.
'It'd be nice to one day actually take a real vacation,' he thought as Dean took the turn off towards East 84th Street. 'Always wanted to go to Hawaii…'
Hell, even Alaska might be interesting, or Canada, if it didn't involve passports and forging documents. He'd always heard that the people up north were decent folk, and –
'– Sam…please…help – '
He could see Adam on his knees, skin shining with blood and eyes gouged out, lips cracked and bleeding as he pleaded, while Lucifer whispered soothing words in his ear and made him raise the bone-hewn knife above his brother –
Sam shuddered, inhaling sharply as he tried to fight off the barrage of memories. In the reflection of the passenger window, he saw Dean glance over to him in concern, his female face a lot more expressive than he usually was.
Thankfully, he didn't ask if Sam was alright. The question had long since become nothing but rhetorical.
'No point in fantasizing about what will never be,' Sam told himself forcefully. He had no right to it, after everything he had done; and while Adam was still downstairs, suffering the torture of two frustrated archangels, he was even less deserving of any kind of peace.
Besides, getting invested in a future he wasn't even sure he was going to survive to see was stupid. After all, they were trying to break into Hell. Making plans beyond that was counterproductive.
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World was located separately from the other faculty buildings of New York University; it was a nondescript five story building that Dean would have mistaken for an apartment complex if Sam hadn't pointed it out to them. Thin trees lined the sidewalks outside, their leafless branches brushing against the façade in a strangely depressing manner.
'Reasons why people don't pursue higher education,' Dean thought to himself as he and Sam pushed through the arched doors of the entrance. 'I've seen morgues with more life than this place…'
The interior was not much better in terms of personality. A spiral staircase stretched upward, supported by a wrought-iron railing, and the hardwood floor had been so painstakingly polished that even Dean felt somewhat guilty walking on it. Along the walls, containers and displays with ancient looking pottery and sculptures lined the area.
Sam glanced at them with interest, but thankfully didn't linger behind to study them. Dean sensed that his resolve was more severely tested when they passed the institute's library on the way up. The room was large and wood-panelled, with doorways reaching high above them to meet the ceiling. Leather upholstered furniture and glass end-tables took up space in a few corners of the room, while other wooden tables were occupied by students and teachers alike. But it was the books that had his brother hesitating before they continued on their way – uncountable volumes, likely in their first editions, leather-bound and musty-smelling, taking up space in bookshelves that had actually been built into the walls of the room.
"Down, boy," Dean teased at the longing interest in Sam's eyes. Despite the gentle malice in his tone, he was glad that Sam's nerdiness had been unaffected by his stay in Hell. "We're here for a reason, remember?"
Dean had gotten Sam to check the university contact page on his phone earlier that morning, and they had set up an appointment with the professor through the department secretary. She had given them his office number and directions to get there, and Dean was fully expecting Braddock Yong to be a stodgy old British dude with a monocle and a Stalin moustache.
What Dean hadn't expected was to meet a guy about his age, of slight build and with distinctly Asian features despite his dark blue eyes. His hair had the peroxide hue of someone that had fallen into a vat of bleach, and he had it slicked and gelled upwards like that douche that married Posh Spice. If Dean had been his normal self, he would have had at least three inches on the guy, but as was, he felt dwarfed. Yong had a permanent grin etched into his features and wore an honest to god sweater vest and bow tie.
His workspace was another surprise, looking nothing like Dean's concept of what a professor's office should look like. He had expected a desk with piles of dusty old tomes and stacks of papers marked up in red pen. There were some papers, of course, and a computer – but that was where the teacher-vibe ended.
A collection of Hotwheels were parked atop the computer monitor, the most prominent being a miniature model of a golden 2003 Nissan Fairlady 350Z, while a broken iPod and a figurine of Blanka from Street Fighter were perched beside the works George R. R. Martin. A tan toque and a handheld copy of Dragon's Lair were stuffed into a corner next to a bag of chips. Postcards from various locations around the world were pinned to the walls.
"Erica and Jane, right?" the guy said, thrusting his hand out for them to shake. Dean almost wanted to refuse based on the overt friendliness of the guy, which reminded him too much of the Carrigans from Ypsilanti, Michigan. At Sam's significant stare, he bit the bullet and forced a smile to his face. Yong raised an eyebrow as he released his hand. "Wow, you have an amazing grip. Rock-climbing?"
"Grave digging," Dean replied bluntly, earning an annoyed groan from Sam.
"Hunh," Yong remarked, giving them the same onceover they had been getting for a week now. Except the way he did it, there was clearly no interest in them besides the polite kind. "You two aren't the usual type that Bobby sends my way."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I was expecting baseball hats, Metallica shirts and a lot of flannel," Yong said with a warm grin. "Not the Gilmore Girls."
Dean didn't know what Yong was talking about, but considering the bodily wince from Sam beside him, Dean figured he'd somehow been insulted.
"Well, you're not exactly Professor Plum, either," Dean pointed out nonchalantly.
"Just because I study ancient history doesn't mean I like to look like it," Yong said good-naturedly. "Besides, you should see me on Steampunk Saturdays." At Dean's clueless expression, he cleared his throat and went on. "So, what can I do for you today? Bobby didn't give me the specifics."
Sam and Dean exchanged glances, and Dean nodded at Sam. Probably best if his younger brother did the explaining, he was better with people.
"You specialize in monomythology, right?" Sam began carefully. "Do you have any insight into heroic journeys to the underworld?"
"Ah, katabasis," Yong nodded.
"What-a-whata?" Dean asked immediately, earning yet another expression of exasperation from his brother.
"Katabasis is a Greek word describing a type of descent – usually to do with moving downhill, but in terms of literature, is taken to allude to a trip to the underworld," Yong explained to Dean in what he recognized as the 'teacher voice'. "Descent into the underworld is a theme common in most mythologies – in Sumerian mythology, Inanna passed through the seven gates of the Underworld for the sake of her lover – the same holds true for Orpheus and Psyche in Greek mythology. The Greek heroes, Herakles, Odysseus and Aeneas all made journeys to the underworld. It's not just Antiquity, either – trips to the land of the dead occur in New World mythology as well, such as the story of the Mayan Hero Twins."
"So there are many different hells," Sam suggested.
'Which fits right into what he said that asshole leprechaun told him,' Dean thought to himself.
"Yes, and no," Yong said. "All of this is speculation, of course, but my theory is that the Underworld – or rather, the Otherworld, which would be a more accurate term – is one huge singular dimension, but with different divisions within it. Kind of like a museum with many different wings – all are connected in some way, but are specific to their purpose."
"So, one place could be the Greek Hades, but another wing could be the Norse Hel?" Sam mused.
"Exactly," Yong nodded.
"So, in effect, you could travel to one hell by going through another, or going around it or something?" Dean asked. "How exactly would you do that?"
Yong studied Dean, his smile fading slightly.
"What exactly is your interest? Considering you're Bobby's friends, I'm going to assume you're more aware of the…supernatural side of life. But most of the others he's sent my way weren't so much interested in other realms so much as the creatures that come from how to kill them."
The brothers looked at each other again, and Dean nodded incrementally.
Sam took a breath, and then finally said, "We need to find a way into Hell."
"Hell," Yong repeated, glancing from Sam to Dean. "You mean…?"
"Fire-and-brimstone-eternal-suffering-Hell," Dean said resignedly, echoing Lisa's words from two weeks before.
"That's a Christian concept, not really my speciality," Yong said, offering them an uncomfortable smile. His entire easy-going demeanor shifted and he looked away from them. "You should go speak to Professor Fleming over at Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I can set you up with an appointment with him – Arch owes me a favor, anyway –"
"But most religious and cultural concepts from the Middle Ages couldn't have emerged without classical foundations, right?" Sam pressed before Yong could reach for his phone. "Like, Dante's Inferno couldn't have been written without extensive study of ancient mythological interpretations of life after death, right?"
"True, but I get the sense you're looking for a roadmap into Hell, and that's definitely not my area," Yong replied neutrally. "Which is why I suggest Fleming. He's one of those conspiracy theorists – ahem, I mean, hard-core Dante enthusiasts – who believes the Divine Comedy can be used as a kind of instruction book to travel to Hell."
"I take it you disagree," Dean commented.
"Considering no one's ever come back and called the media about their little pilgrimage, I'm going to say it's a bunch of bull," Yong said firmly. "I mean, I've made my career in studying myths about the underworld, but let's be frank. There's no proof that such a thing exists, or if there is a way there, and even if there was, no one would come back from that."
His tone became more strained as it went along, and Sam and Dean exchanged knowing glances. Yong was bitter about something, and he was also lying.
"You sound pretty sure about that," Sam said lightly. "You're rather passionate about something that's supposedly not your area of expertise."
"Also kind of defensive," Dean continued, stepping forward and trying to seem intimidating despite his smaller stature. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you sound a little disappointed that Dante's so-called roadmap doesn't work."
"Which makes me wonder, why were you trying to get to Hell, Professor?" Sam finished, crossing his arms.
Yong's friendly smile faded, and a hard look appeared in his eyes. Dean suddenly realized that the cheery, good-natured professor act was just that – an act. "Because I watched my mother being torn apart by Hellhounds when I was ten. Except I didn't know that's what it was until eight years ago, when my father discovered a way to get her back."
"Where is he now?" Sam asked, sounding breathless.
"Probably still there," Yong said stiffly. "I went to see him after he told me about his discovery. I walked into his house just as the portal was closing."
"Wait, portal?" Dean repeated, memories of the gaping black abyss at Stull coming to the forefront of his mind. His heart beat faster at the possibility that they had stumbled upon their first real lead in weeks. "He actually managed to open a portal? How?"
Yong narrowed his eyes at the brothers. "I have no idea. Why the interest? Bobby didn't say…"
"That's 'cause it's none of your –" Dean began, but Sam cut him off with a clipped, "Our brother's stuck down there."
The professor's eyes softened incrementally. "He make a deal?"
"No, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Sam told him, clenching his fists. "We tried to save him, but we were too late."
Sam's tone was wracked with guilt, and Yong paused to study him. He must have seen the haunted gleam in Sam's eyes, because he relaxed back to the way he had been before they broached the topic of Hell.
"How long has he been down there?" Yong asked, weary.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Yong sighed, sliding into his chair and peering up at them. He suddenly looked a lot older and a lot more tired than he had seemed in the beginning of their interview. "I figure the longer you're down there, the less likely you are to come back. Right now, I'd say your chances are between slim to none – erring on the side of none. Even if you could make it to Hell, there's no coming back from that. Otherwise, my father would have done it. He was a stubborn son of a bitch, but you don't get out of Hell. That's why it's Hell."
"And that'd be where you're wrong, buddy," Dean spoke up, growing tired of this guy's jaded sounding voice. "We know for a fact it is possible."
"Oh, really?" Yong raised an eyebrow. "You going to tell me you know someone who's been the Hell and back? So to speak?"
Dean leaned forward, meeting and holding the professor's gaze. He didn't say anything, but something of the animal that he had been down in Hell must have shown through, because Yong blanched.
"Bullshit," he murmured, although his tone was uncertain.
"Ever seen the movie Hellraiser?" Dean inquired rhetorically.
Yong's eyes widened, and he shook his head in disbelief. "If you've been there, why do you need my help?"
"'Cause the last time I was there, I was dead – and neither of us got back here on our own, either," Dean replied coldly. "We were pulled out."
"'Pulled out'? By what?"
"It doesn't matter – that option's off the table, so we're looking for a different one," Dean said tightly. "And if what you say is true, your old man found a way to Hell without having to die first – which means he probably knew a way back before he left."
They were all silent at the implications of why Yong's father had yet to return.
"Even if I wanted to give you the information, it wouldn't help you," Yong said after a long while. "As near as I can tell, the whole thing only works under specific circumstances. I've spent eight years trying to interpret my father's research and replicate his results, but I just don't have the resources. No human does, I think."
"Maybe you're interpreting things wrong?" Sam offered. "If your father's writing is as cryptic as some of the stuff our father wrote down..."
"It's not that," Yong sighed. "There are a lot of things he mentioned in his notes that I was never able to track down – I could never tell if he was being literal or metaphorical," Yong sighed. "He talked about gaining the "protection of death" and finding a guide who knew the area. He also talked about a key, or maybe the key, to open up an entrance to Hell."
Dean blinked. "What, are you saying it's kind of like a Ninth Gate deal?"
"Maybe, but without the hot book-dealer and the immolation," Yong answered.
"You hope," Sam added.
Yong made a gesture of assent before continuing. "He also mentioned needing a strong…I don't know, battery or supernatural jumpstart, to make that key work. I assume that's a spell of some sort, but it would mean tracking down some very powerful witches. And I don't know about you, but I like to avoid them at all costs."
"You and me both," Dean agreed. "But if that's the only way this thing works, you're going to have to suck it up."
Yong looked at him for a long time, his brow furrowed as though he was trying to figure Dean out. Then, as though making a conclusive decision, he nodded. "I'll tell you what. If you girls can manage to get a spell that opens up a hellgate, then I'll share the specifics of my father's research with you."
"Really? You're going to go the deal-route?" Dean asked, incredulous and obviously pissed at being called 'girl'.
"If you've really done what you say you've done, then it shouldn't be a problem – and you'll be able to help me find a way to get my father back. Think of it as a means of establishing trust so we can work together," Yong said, and then his grin abruptly returned. "Or you could consider it to be part of your own heroic journey. 'The Road of Trials'."
He laughed to himself, obviously having made one of those jokes only academic people got. Sam probably would have laughed too, but he was looking at Yong with an expression of annoyance.
"You remind me of a Trickster we once knew," Sam said darkly. "It didn't turn out very well for him."
"And that's why I'm not getting my hands dirty in this," Yong said. "I want my father back, make no mistake – but I can't help him if I'm dead, which is what would happen if I tried to convince a witch to open a gate to hell for me." He held out his hand to them again. "So what do you say?"
"I say this sounds a little too much like a deal," Dean pointed out.
"Oh," Yong said, and made a gesture to show them to wait. Quickly, he undid the buttons of his shirt collar, but before Dean could object to the sudden striptease, he caught sight of a design on his skin: a pristinely drawn anti-possession tattoo. "See? Not a demon." He began to button his collar again. "I got the idea from this book series…it's completely unrealistic, but there's actually some pretty useful information in it."
"Let me guess," Sam sighed, weary. "Supernatural?"
"You know it?" Yong asked eagerly.
The conversation went downhill from there, and it was all Sam could to usher Dean out before he gave into his temptation to punch the guy.
"Oh, yeah, right, we're big damn heroes," Dean deadpanned as they stalked out of the building and dodged the traffic heading down the one way street. "I tortured millions of souls in Hell and you spread your legs for the Devil."
"I'm more concerned with the fact that this guy thinks we're going to just go out and find a witch willing to help us," Sam said in frustration as Dean's phone began to ring. "Barring the whole 'evil' thing, it takes long enough to even confirm if a coven of witches is getting up to trouble, let alone track them down."
"I'm thinking Poindexter needs to get out in the field more often," Dean said darkly, digging into his pocket for the phone and pressing it to his ear. "Hello?"
"…" There was defeated sounding exhalation on the other end of the phone. Before Dean could repeat himself, a jarringly familiar voice rasped, "Who am I speaking to?"
Dean froze, his entire body locking up. "Cas?"
Sam stopped walking as well, head jerked to the side as he stared at Dean in shock.
On the other end of the phone, there was a sharp intake of breath, and then the voice growled warily, "How do you know my name? Who is this? Where is Dean?"
With every question, Dean detected a growing note of anxiety.
"Cas, whoa, slow down – it's me," Dean assured, wincing as he remembered that his girl's voice was significantly different than Cas was used to. Still, there was ridiculous sense of relief that rose within him at the sound of the angel's voice – at least until he next spoke.
"I don't know who you are or why you are answering to this number – just connect me to Dean Winchester immediately," Cas ordered. Even over the phone line, Dean could hear his friend's breathing increase –
Since when did angels breathe?
"Dude, are you okay?" Dean demanded. "Fuck, Cas, where are you – ?"
"Enough with your questions! Where is Dean?" Cas snapped, sounding more frazzled than Dean had ever heard him.
"It's me, you moron, just trust me and tell me where you –" Dean's frustrated outburst petered out as he heard the sudden sound of a struggle on the other end, a clicking sound and a static snarl that suggested the phone was being moved around. "Cas?"
He could hear voices on the other end.
" – Mr. Novak, you're not supposed to be here –"
" – Escort him back to his room –"
" – Unhand me, I must reach Dean– !"
"Cas!" Dean cried out, trying to get the angel back on the phone. "Castiel!"
"What's going on?" Sam asked, but Dean shook his head 'no' as he listened to the commotion across the line, which sounded like a physical struggle. Someone yelped in the distance.
" – someone, get a sedative – !"
"CAS!" Dean yelled, but there was no answer between more sounds of struggle – and then the dial tone that told him he had been hung up on.
Without waiting, Dean hit the redial and jammed the phone up to his ear, ignoring the painful pressure of metal and plastic digging into his face. An automated female voice came on the line, the words making Dean's stomach twist into knots.
"Sinai-Grace Hospital. If you know the extension of the person or department you are trying to reach, enter it now. Otherwise, please hold or press zero."
Dean glanced up at Sam as he waited on the line. "Where's Sinai-Grace Hospital?"
Sam's Blackberry was already out and his thumbs flew over the keyboard. A second later, his jaw tightened and he offered Dean a grim look. "Detroit."
Dean ignored the chill that crept up his spine at the name, and nodded. "Better gas up the car."