The boys run into some unexpected roadblocks, not only on their mission their get their bodies back, but in their case as well.
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
A/N: Over the next few chapters, there will be appearances from Season Seven characters because I really liked them and decided I could use them despite the travesty that was Season Seven. Whedon fans will completely understand.
This chapter also refers to Korean mythologies and some of the beliefs of Mugyo/Shingyo. While I have endeavored to be as accurate as possible, I may have had to Kripke some stuff for the plot to flow. Apologies if you follow this belief system, I mean no disrespect.
New York City, New York
Monday June 7 2010
"This object is cumbersome," Castiel remarked, glowering down at the sling that immobilized his arm.
It was a complaint he had voiced more than once over the past two days, and Sam wasn't looking forward to another week of it. Even after the sling came off, Cas was looking at a minimum of four weeks before his shoulder fully recovered.
"Yeah, well, that's what you get for not falling the way I showed you," Dean replied as he pulled the Charger over on the side of the road and parked.
"There were many overturned bookcases in the way. I did not have much of a choice," Castiel returned, almost petulantly. There was a beat, and then he said in a voice that mixed complaint with hopefulness, "I believe the painkillers are wearing off again."
"Nice try, buddy, you've got another hour before you're getting any more drugs," Dean retorted easily, sending Castiel a significant glance in the rear-view mirror. "Until then, let's go do something distracting." The driver's side door creaked open as he got out, but Sam thought he heard him mumble, "Like get our livers carved out so we can be real boys again."
Sam shot Castiel a sympathetic, 'yeah, he's a jerk' look, as he too got out of the car. He frowned at Dean over the roof of the car.
"I'm kind of with Cas on this one. It's the first time he's really felt a dislocation," he argued. "Maybe something a little stronger than ibuprofen might not be a bad idea this time?"
"Not happening, Sam," Dean answered, turning away to focus on the familiar old building across the street. In daylight, the former fire station's pink hue stuck out even more than it did at night.
"Yeah, well, you haven't really explained why not."
"Because I said so."
"One addict in the family is enough, Sam. Now drop it." He glanced both ways and then started across the street, while Sam watched him with a hard look.
Sam was all for defending himself against that dig, except there was an intense quality in his older brother's tone that brooked no argument on this. Under normal circumstances, that would have goaded Sam into a snapping rejoinder, but Dean had been really edgy for two days now, and Sam wasn't really in the mood for a huge blow-out.
Castiel got out of the car as well, wincing as the movement jostled his arm.
"I dislike your brother's patronizing attitude," he grumbled mutinously.
"Yeah, well, welcome to the past twenty-seven years of my life," Sam sighed. "Acting like an overprotective prick is how Dean shows he cares."
Castiel's silence as he followed Sam across the street was contemplative, his mind apparently off his injury for the moment. Sam was glad for that, at least, because even if Dean wasn't as adamant about the ex-angel toughing this out right now, it wasn't as though they could just drag him to a hospital on a whim and have him looked at. Not after what had happened in Decatur.
They had had to leave the town in a bit of a hurry – and none too soon if the report on the car radio had been anything to go by. The discovery of Nicki Tobin's body and her ransacked house had sped through the community the ways news usually travelled in small towns. If Sam was right, investigators would be finding a few new sets of DNA between both scenes.
For now, he and Dean were still safe, as according to Aggie their blood signature had been altered enough that they couldn't be linked to any of their crimes on file. That in and of itself was great, because when they go their bodies back, neither of them wanted to be looking over their shoulders because some of their blood had allowed the feds to declare the Winchester file open again.
Their legal deaths had been the only good thing to come of Henricksen's sacrifice in Colorado.
Still, the problem they now faced was that the feds could probably tie the very mortal Castiel to the crimes – or at least Jimmy Novak. Once the law checked out Jimmy's information, and then heard about the two women breaking him out of Sinai Grace, it wouldn't be too hard to put two and two together. When that happened, it wasn't likely they would be able to remain under the radar much longer.
Dean had been bitching for days about how Castiel was going to spend the rest of his mortal life with a criminal record, while the former angel had simply watched him pace around their motel room, calmly spouting platitudes about free will. Sam had always thought that he was the only one able to rile Dean into a fury, but apparently the fallen warrior of God had learned those ropes really well.
The one upside to the snafu in Decatur, according to Dean, was that with the possibility of the police looking for them, they had an excuse to get their bodies back. He seemed more than happy to rely on hex bags and angel sigils for protection, and while Sam was doubtful of the effectiveness of that strategy in the long-term (due to previous experience), he wouldn't lie and say he didn't want his own body back.
Being a woman was interesting, of course, and there were advantages, but he really, really wanted to be himself again before certain disadvantages arose. It was one of the reasons why when Dean insisted on heading to New York to find Aggie, Sam had only put up a token of resistance.
The only address they had for Aggie was her club, which wasn't open yet, but Sam figured if it was being run like a normal club, the day staff would already be inside preparing for the night's activities.
Dean prodded the buzzer a few times, and they could hear a distant ringing beyond the solid door. They waited several minutes before the sound of a lock opening confirmed that there was someone around.
When they saw who it was, Sam winced in dislike.
"Yes?" Ethon drawled, looking as bored and unfriendly as he had the night they met him.
"Where's Aggie?" Dean asked without prelude.
Ethon wrinkled his nose as recognition alit in his eyes. "She's not available."
"What do you mean, she isn't available?" Dean spat.
"Exactly what it sounds like," Ethon replied, sounding bored. "She's not here. But if you wish me to pass on a message or perhaps another vital organ, I'll be sure she gets right back to you."
This wasn't the response Dean wanted, Sam knew, and his brother's mood was not improving his reaction to Ethon's attitude. Dean clenched his fists and looked for all intents and purposes like he was about to dive forward and lay into the balding pagan.
"Dean," Sam reached forward in an attempt to calm his brother, but Dean shrugged him off roughly. Sam held back a sigh and glanced at Castiel, who was hanging back a foot or so behind them. He was watching Ethon with an expression of distrust and repugnance.
'I guess even if he's not an angel anymore, he's still not too keen on pagan gods,' Sam thought, although he wasn't exactly sure if Ethon could be considered a pagan god, exactly; maybe some kind of primordial nature spirit? He hadn't yet narrowed down Ethon's exact identity, but he had a suspicion the guy hailed from a time when the Greek gods had been big.
"Where the hell is she then?" Dean demanded, jarring Sam from his thoughts.
"Turkey – not that it's any of your business," Ethon replied silkily. "A former client was in a spot of trouble and needed her help."
"We need her help!"
Ethon observed Dean like he was an interesting yet disgusting insect. "Do you really think she caters only to charity cases like yourselves? Lady Agdistis's services have been sought by the most powerful families in the world since bull-leaping was in fashion."
"I don't give a shit – get her back here!"
"I hardly think your little foray into gender dysphoria is going to give her much incentive to return before she's ready," Ethon sniffed. "Not unless you can top the seven figure sum she was offered and the private jet that flew her out."
Which, of course, they couldn't, and even Dean had to know that trying to scam an ancient deity with fake credit cards was a bad idea. Just like he should know that full-on attacking one without a weapon was an even worse one, but from the gleam in his brother's eyes, he was actually entertaining that thought.
Castiel moved before he did.
"Dean," he implored, reaching forward and placing his hand on the hunter's left shoulder.
Sam fully expected his brother to shake the ex-angel's hand free as well, but for some reason Dean's entire frame instead went still. He spared a long-suffering glance at the former angel, and then exhaled an exasperated sigh before taking a step back. Castiel's hand lingered barely a second longer before he remembered himself and increased his distance as well.
"I require a moment," Castiel said to Ethon, though his eyes remained on Dean.
"My dear, you can have as many moments as you want," Ethon said, and then – and Sam shuddered at the sight – all but leered at Castiel.
Dean noticed it as well.
"Hey!" he bit out, planting himself back next to Castiel, fists clenching and unclenching. From the way his eyes snapped, Sam knew he was imagining going for Ethon's throat again, but instead he simply jutted his chin out and growled, "Keep it for the health club, pal."
Sam's eyebrows shot up, and he took a second to look from Castiel's placid expression to Dean's livid one. He'd seen that exact look before, but never on his own brother's face. It looked remarkably like…
'Nah,' he told himself, immediately stopping that thought process. 'Not possible.'
In the meantime, Castiel was ignoring Dean's over-protective routine and met Ethon's gaze.
"Akoús, kaukásios aetós," he began, and the rest was lost in a sea of syllables and words that Sam's rudimentary understanding of ancient Greek couldn't help him with. Judging from the way Ethon went steadily paler, though, and replied quickly and fearfully, Sam had a feeling Ethon knew exactly what Castiel was saying. He also suspected that Castiel had literally just put the fear of God into him. "Are we clear?"
"Of course," Ethon said nervously.
"Very well," Castiel said, and turned to Sam and Dean. "I believe we are finished here. I would like to go eat something now."
He started back to the car, leaving Dean and Sam looking at each other questioningly. Only the sound of Ethon slamming the door hastily as he returned to the club shook them from their disbelief, and then both of them hurried across the street after Castiel.
"What was that all about?" Sam asked breathlessly, while Dean broke in, "Dude, that was badass!"
"It was nothing," Castiel lied unconvincingly.
"It didn't sound like nothing," Sam pressed.
Castiel frowned, thoughtful, and then with an air of finality stated, "We had a brief exchange of philosophical differences."
Sam stared. "Seriously? That's what you're going with?"
"The pagan assured me that as soon as Agdistis returns she will get in contact with you and reverse her magic," Castiel, pointedly ignoring Sam's question. "Until that point, it might be advisable to do something else with our time."
He didn't seem keen on sharing exactly what he had said to Ethon, and while Sam was all for figuring out that mystery, he figured they had more important priorities at the moment. Like –
"Goddamnit," Dean cursed, the impressed look on his face fading with realization. "That means were stuck in these bodies until that friggen bitch gets back here, doesn't it?"
"Looks like," Sam agreed. "But hey, how long can it take? I mean, she did us in a night. So she flies overseas, deals with whatever she got called to do, and comes back. It can't be more than a few days, right?" They climbed back into the car. "We survived two weeks, a few more days won't kill us."
"Won't kill you, maybe," Dean grumbled. "Pretty sure you're in your element right now, Samantha. I feel like jumping out of my skin."
"That would be inadvisable," Castiel remarked seriously.
Dean groaned and leaned back in the driver's seat for a moment. "Christ, I need a drink."
"It's eleven-thirty," Sam pointed out chidingly.
"Yeah, well, it's five o'clock in Barcelona."
"Hey, how about we get some work done before Happy Hour?" Sam deadpanned. "We still have a lead to check up on while we're here."
The day they had left Decatur Sam had spent the evening in their latest motel going through all of Nicki Tobin's emails and browser history, looking for a clue as to whoever she had gotten the demon blood from. After several hours of work while Dean had tried to introduce Castiel to the wonders ofmotel television, Sam had discovered several interesting conversations between Nicki and someone with the username QueenBeeStark, as well as online records of money transfers.
Curiously, there were never any descriptions of what was being bought or paid for, but he had tracked the email and IP address to an art gallery in New York. Considering it was always the same IP address, it was obviously not someone used to hiding their tracks. So he had suggested checking into the rather spurious lead while they were in the city.
"We might as well see if it pans out," Sam went on. "And I think we should check in on Professor Yong. See if we can wheedle a bit more info on this so called way into Hell. It would suck to go through all this trouble just to find a witch and have it turn out the ritual's a fluke."
"There'd still be a witch dead at the end of it," Dean pointed out. "That's an upside in my book."
"Do you want to check out the gallery or should I?" Sam asked, already knowing the answer.
"You kidding? I want to see Yong crap his pants when Cas pulls his 'Angel of the Lord' thing."
"I am not an angel anymore," Castiel reminded them both, sounding half-exasperated.
"Yeah, but he doesn't know that. Just spout some biblical crap and give him that freaky stare of yours, and he's a goner," Dean said in satisfaction. When Castiel pinned him with an unimpressed, intense gaze, Dean shifted his shoulders uncomfortably and turned the car key in the ignition. "Yeah, that's the one."
A half hour later they pulled off in front of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Dean practically jumped out of the car, waiting impatiently for Cas to follow him as Sam got into the driver's seat.
"Don't know how long this'll take, so we'll meet you back at the motel," he told his brother.
"Right. Call me if there's anything. And Cas? Try not to let him terrorize the guy too much," Sam instructed dryly.
"I will do my best, however even I can't work miracles," Cas answered in a similar tone.
Dean bristled. "This teaming up thing? So not cute."
"Yeah, well, neither are your mood swings," Sam retorted, and he pulled away from them.
Dean flipped the finger after the disappearing Charger, and huffed in annoyance as he gestured for Cas to follow him into the nondescript building.
He didn't know why he was feeling so edgy of late, but he was. Cas's injury had a lot to do with it, he figured; for two nights now, he had been treated to nightmarish memories of the drugged out version of his friend from 2014. But there was something else that was making him uncomfortable and restless. It felt like there was something he needed, or wanted, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what it was.
Whatever was putting him on edge was making him more abrasive and impatient than he normally was, and things which he would usually just shrug off irritated the hell out of him.
'This sucks,' he thought to himself sourly. It was probably stress over the mess they had found themselves in. especially now that he knew he was going to be stuck as a woman for even longer than he had anticipated. He hated that he was being such a, well, a bitch, lately, but he couldn't control it. 'Add that to the list of shit I can't control in this body.'
"You believe this man truly knows a way into Hell?" Cas asked as they climbed the spiral staircase to the floor where Yong's office was located.
"I wouldn't call it believing, but until we got you back, it wasn't exactly like we had any other leads to follow," Dean pointed out, half-defensive. "The only other idea we sort of discussed was using the Horsemen's rings, but there was a slight hitch in that idea, if you know what I mean."
"Yes," Cas said, nodding thoughtfully. "Did this Yong person give you any idea of what was needed?"
"Other than the spell that's supposed to jumpstart the whole process? Not a whole lot, which is why we've been on this witch-shtick the last week or so. He also said something about a key and a guide and the 'protection of Death', but that was as much as he would give us. The little worm decided to get us to do his dirty work for him." Cas was quiet for a spell, and when Dean chanced a glimpse at him, he noticed the calculating frown. "What is it?"
"Those components sound legitimate, but I cannot be sure," Cas told him. "Not until I know what the rest of the requirements are."
"Well, great, that's why you're here," Dean stated cheerfully. "Just scare the pants off him with some intense angel staring and –"
"I will not impersonate an angel."
Dean stared, and then slowly said, "Dude…you're not impersonating an angel. You are an angel."
"Without grace, I am mortal," Cas said, speaking to Dean like he didn't understand a very simple concept.
"Okay, maybe you're not all full of grace right now, but you've been an angel for like a million years," Dean rolled his eyes. "Just because you got your club membership revoked for a bit doesn't change who you are."
Cas stilled, and then his expression softened. "Thank you, Dean."
"Don't thank me for something that's true," Dean replied, gruff. "Just go in there and work your angel mojo. Or, you know, lack thereof."
"I still will not lie about my abilities," Cas insisted.
"Why the hell not?"
"Because we want this man to help us, and deceiving him will only make him less likely to do so."
"Who said anything about deceiving him? I just want to freak him out enough to show us the damn ritual." Cas pinned Dean with one of his intense stares, and Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, fine, we'll do it your way – Jesus, you're worse than Sammy – but if Yong still doesn't budge, you're buying me lunch."
Cas blinked. "I do not have any money."
"I'll lend you some, and when you can hustle pool on your own, you'll pay me back," Dean declared, going to clap Cas on the back and only just reigning in the impulse when he remembered his friend's injury. Instead, he settled on lightly tapping Cas's right shoulder and stalking off before he could see whatever face the ex-angel was giving him now.
Yong wasn't at his desk when they got there, and according to the guy in the cubicle a few feet away, he wouldn't be back until his noon class ended in half an hour. Dean elected to wait around, playing idly with the professor's mini collection of HotWheels while Cas examined the postcards that were pinned to Yong's wall. They must have been extremely interesting, because for thirty-seven minutes his thoughtful expression didn't let up.
Yong arrived then, flustered, with an overflowing briefcase and his bow-tie askew. "I apologize for making you wait, I wasn't expecting – oh. It's you."
"Try not to sound so enthusiastic," Dean said, leaning back in Yong's chair with no intention of getting up any time soon.
"Did you find the witch, then?" Yong asked, lowering his voice as he put down his briefcase.
"Not exactly. Maybe," Dean shrugged. "Not why we're here though. This is Castiel. He wants to take a gander at that ritual of yours."
"I see," Yong frowned, looking incredulously at Cas; his eyes lingered on the sling. "And why do you think I'm going to let him see it when I wouldn't let you?"
Dean smirked. "He's an Angel of the Lord."
"Does anyone ever believe that even when it is true?" Dean asked Cas conversationally.
"Not yet, it would seem," Cas returned.
"Okay, he was an Angel of the Lord," Dean amended. "He's actually the one that hauled me out of Hell."
Yong crossed his arms. "If you think you're being funny –"
"It's not a joke – in fact, I'd give you the whole story, but the more time we waste the longer my brother's in Hell, so the teaser's gonna have to cut it," Dean stated decisively, while Cas poked at the Blanka figurine on Yong's desk. "Angels really exist, just not in the diaper and harp variety." He remembered the Cupid he had run into in Sioux Falls. "Usually."
Yong didn't appear convinced. "Prove it."
"What part of 'he was' are you not understanding?" Dean deadpanned.
"You're going to have to do better than a fake angel to change the terms of our agreement," Yong said dryly. "We don't have anything else to talk about, unless he's about to sprout wings."
"Gamureo," Cas said quietly, and Yong suddenly froze. Cas then continued into a flowing, smooth language with a few harsh syllables that had Yong's eyes widening with every word. Even Dean blinked in surprise, although it wasn't the first time that day that Cas had hauled his language skills out of retirement.
More surprising was when Yong replied in the same language, albeit more haltingly. He switched back to English in a moment. "How did you…?"
"You have several depictions of the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall and other locations on Jeju Island," Cas said, gesturing at the postcards and photographs. "Some with family members. It was not a stretch to infer you spoke the language."
Dean raised his eyebrows, and glanced closer to the postcards and photos Cas had been studying before. In one of them, a more youthful Yong was portrayed with his arms around an old Asian woman who shared his features.
"Despite becoming mortal, I still retain a small percentage of my former knowledge," Cas explained. "Languages are apparently part of that."
Yong's mouth was agape, and when he realized it, he shut it with an audible snap. Shaking, but clearly trying to recover himself, he bit out, "That doesn't prove you're an angel. For all I know, this is just a really good con. You're hunters, I wouldn't put it past you."
"I am not a hunter," Cas said quietly, taking a step closer and immobilizing Yong with nothing but the intensity of his gaze. If nothing of his angel mojo had remained, that at least hadn't changed. "I am what you have been told I am. I can stand here and describe to you the beauty of the Library of Alexandria or the carnage of the Battle of Canae, but at the end of the day you will believe what you wish and we will simply have wasted time. The choice is yours."
Dean couldn't help the smirk on his face at Yong's absolute shock as he tried to process this. He glanced nervously at Dean. "You're serious? He's really…?"
"Told you. Angel of the Lord.
"Oh," Yong appeared suddenly nervous. He ran a hand through his hair, then stared at his hand like he had just done something impolite, and gave Cas a pained look. "I…sorry, I didn't…"
"Cas doesn't really care about the formalities," Dean remarked.
"Our continued association has almost entirely removed any expectations I ever harboured of being shown a fitting degree of respect," Cas told him dryly, "at least from you."
Yong suddenly looked knowing, eyeing Cas and then Dean with realization. "Oh…wait…is this a City of Angels deal?"
"I do not understand that reference," Cas said, curiosity in his tone.
Dean, however, did.
"Never mind," he told Cas quickly, and then pointed a finger at Yong. "And dude, just…no. Not least because Nick Cage is on my extreme douche list and Meg Ryan couldn't act her way out of a paper bag."
Yong opened his mouth to speak, maybe to protest, but was interrupted.
"Show me what information you have gathered," Cas ordered, with the same conviction of someone who was used to his orders being obeyed. It the type of conviction that always tempted Dean to do the exact opposite.
Unlike Dean, though, Yong immediately reached into one of the drawers of his desk, removing the false bottom with no more than a cursory glance around, and then passed the former angel a silk and leather-bound book that was as thick as Dad's journal.
Cas stared down at the book for almost ten minutes, ignoring Dean's attempts to get him to talk, or Yong's anxious, curious stares. When Dean was sure he couldn't take the silence any longer, Cas finally did glance up. There was a confident glint in his eyes.
"This is genuine," he said, the words a breath of near reverence.
"How do you know?" Dean asked, noticing Yong's expression flicker away from awe at Cas into momentary smug validation.
"Each of these components, and the directions…they are too specific for it not to be authentic," Castiel explained, dragging a finger down the wrinkled page. "The elements themselves are powerful individually, but together…together they just might work."
"Of course it works," Yong insisted. "I told you it did, I saw it work."
Cas opened his mouth to ask a question, but Dean cut him off before he could.
"Why didn't you know about this ritual before?" he demanded of Cas. "And don't pull the 'above my paygrade' line, because if you were a freakin' archangel long enough to clue into Daddy's secret key, you could have known about this."
Yong did a silent double-take at the word 'archangel'.
"No, I couldn't."
"Bullshit! You could have saved us a lot of trouble, man, not least of all you having to give up your grace just to free –"
"I didn't know about it because its existence was hidden from me!" Cas snapped testily, and Dean blinked at the sudden loss of contractions. Cas was actually glaring at him with real frustration…and anger. "Whatever you may believe, I don't have all of the answers. I have even fewer now that I'm mortal."
He didn't voice it, but Dean could almost hear 'because of you' tacked on to the end of that sentence. They scowled at each other for another second, before Dean looked away. "Fine, okay, whatever. So you didn't know about this ritual."
"None of God's angels knew about it, because he didn't create it. I imagine it was created recently, and at someone's behest. " Cas explained stiffly. He seemed to notice Dean's discomfort despite the attempts to hide it, and his tone gentled somewhat. "Even if I had known about it, you would still be exactly where you are now, only without Sam by your side."
Dean felt his stomach clench at the thought, and even his current angry anxiety couldn't keep him from admitting that Cas was right.
"Sam?" Dean and Cas tuned to Yong, who they had momentarily forgotten. "Who's Sam?"
"My sister," Dean replied easily, shooting Cas an annoyed glower for letting that slip.
"I thought your sister was Jane?"
"She is. Samantha Jane," Dean lied. "She prefers Jane – you know, it's more feminine. I've always called her 'Sam' to piss her off." Yong gave Dean a stare that a lifetime of hunting had taught him meant his con was falling apart, and so he cleared his throat and nodded to the book in Cas's hands. "So, you're saying someone asked for a custom made gate to Hell?"
"Yes," Cas nodded, finally returning his own attention to Yong. "You intimated that it was your father who left this to you?"
"Yeah," Yong said, attention lingering on Dean for a moment before it shifted to Cas. "Like I told them, I walked in on my father just as the portal was closing. All that was left of him were all his notes."
"But no ritual items? No clues?"
"Nothing outside of what's in the book," Yong nodded to the journal. "I figured it was all one-time use stuff that got burned up when the portal closed. Besides, most of it is stuff I never would have…" He trailed off, looking angry and regretful for a moment. "I'm not a hunter. I don't have the guts to go out into the field. The one time I tried…I nearly got killed by a ghost. It was an accident that I lived. I've never been able to help my Dad because I'm a coward. It sucks, but I've accepted that." He gave Dean a repentant look. "It's why I asked you and your sister to do it. I figured you'd have experience."
"You could have just said that instead of sending us on a wild goose chase," Dean pointed out roughly. "If you showed us some of the shit we needed for the ritual, we could have started with something else. Getting a witch to help might not be the easiest thing to start with."
"It is one of the easier components," Castiel said absently, without looking up from the journal that he was flipping through.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Jesus, who even came up with this, anyway?"
"A god," Cas explained unconcernedly. To Yong, he said, "Your father must have petitioned a specific deity to receive these directions. It was likely a god of travel, or perhaps the afterlife." He went quiet again, thoughtful. He gazed at Yong's pictures again, and then nodded in resolution. "Bari-degi."
Dean made a face. "Who?"
"In Korean mythology, she was a human who became a goddess," Yong explained, not taking his eyes off of Cas. "My grandmother used to tell me stories about her." When Dean made an impatient noise, he hurriedly went on, "The story goes that she journeyed to the afterlife to save her ailing parents. She was hindered by many ghosts along her way. When she finally made it to the Water of Life, its guardian wouldn't agree to help her unless she married him. Which she did, and then she was able to save her family. After she died, she became the goddess of guiding the dead to the afterlife."
"Okay, that's a nice bedtime story, but it doesn't mean it's her. There are hundreds of gods it could be."
Castiel pointed to the picture of Yong and the old woman. "Your grandmother was a mudang."
It wasn't a question.
"Yeah," Yong nodded.
"Meaning what, for those of us who don't speak Korean?" Dean snapped, his temper rising up again.
"An intermediary between the spirits and gods and humans," Cas explained. "If she told him myths when he was younger, chances are she did the same with her own son. He would likely have sought help from a pantheon of deities he was familiar with."
"Wait a sec – you mean all that was real?" Yong gaped.
"You know angels and demons and ghosts are real but you don't think gods are?" Dean asked in disbelief.
"I had always assumed…" Yong trailed off, shook his head and then peered at Cas, as though seeing him for the first time. "You know, for a Judeo-Christian being, you seem to know an awful lot about pagan mythologies."
"I have been a soldier since before mankind existed. I have become adept at studying my enemies," Castiel returned.
He paused to let that sink in.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Dean demanded. "There's got to be a way of summoning this goddess here."
"Why would we do that?" Yong asked tightly.
"So that we could see if there's a way to get into Hell without the whole ritual?" Dean suggested impatiently. "Maybe whatever gave your dad the directions can be convinced to help us out."
"It is not a good idea," Cas contended. "We have nothing to offer this deity as incentive to appear in a summoning, let alone to trade for ideas about how to travel into Hell."
Dean shrugged, and then grinned winningly. "Doesn't mean it's not worth a shot."
Sam hadn't been to an art gallery in years.
The closest he had come since getting back on the road with Dean was the auction house in New Paltz, but even that didn't really count because he and Dean had been working a job at the time. Before that, he had tried going with Jess, but she had been a lot like Dean in that she wasn't fascinated by modern art so much as partying with friends.
The last time he had been to an art gallery was his first semester in college; in his recently emancipated glory, he had taken an art history with the sole intention of trying to meet girls. Instead, he had discovered a genuine interest in impressionist art.
'None of which will be seen here,' he thought, glancing around the open space at the various examples of modern art. He'd really never gotten the allure of the stuff, and even pop art pushed the limits of what he could call tasteful.
The Margaret Stark Art Gallery was a privately owned studio located in a rather large loft deep in the city center. According to the website Sam had checked that morning, it was owned by the wife of a property developer in Prosperity, Indiana. Mrs. Stark flipped houses for a living and was very active in charity work in her spare time. According to the society notes on the web and in the online newspapers, she divided her time between Indiana and New York throughout the year.
'Apparently, though, she's spent the past six months here in the city,' he remembered as he circulated through the gallery, stopping every now and then to pretend to look at the art while in reality searching the crowd for Mrs. Stark. The event that Sam was gatecrashing that day was actually one of her bi-monthly charity auctions.
It hadn't taken a great leap to focus on Mrs. Stark as the prime suspect in the case. The online moniker QueenBeeStark and the IP address leading to the gallery provided a strong case for her being Nicki's demon blood supplier. The only problem was, on paper, Margaret Stark was more vanilla than those bored book club witches he and Dean had encountered the year before Dean's deal came due.
At this point, Sam wasn't even sure that the woman was even going to be present at the auction, but he might at least be able to find out where she was staying while in New York. The internet hadn't turned up a permanent residence, which could either mean her address was unlisted or she was living in a hotel suite somewhere.
He began to make another round of the gallery, listening carefully around the stodgy art speak and inane chatter of art aficionados chattering around the paintings. His best bet would be someone who worked at the gallery – better still, someone who was affiliated with the Margaret Stark Charity Foundation.
There were several people dressed in similar black professional ware circulating the event with appetizers and papers for buyers interested in participating in the silent auction going on, but he wouldn't be able to tell who worked with the foundation without interviewing each and every one of them.
'Which I can't do in one day,' he thought with a frown. He glanced down at his watch, noting that it had been two hours since he dropped off Castiel and Dean and then hightailed it to a nearby mall to buy some more formal clothing. (He'd allowed the salesgirl to choose the black blouse and pencil skirt, not trusting his own judgement in the matter). He was just hoping they were having better luck than he was when he changed to look up across the room. 'Then again, maybe I just got lucky.'
A beautiful woman in chique clothing had wandered into the room, followed by one slightly diminished looking but no less coifed. Her assistant, Sam supposed absently, as he studied Margaret Stark. She was olive skinned and leggy, with dark eyes and a flirtatious smile which she seemed to be turning on everyone she came in contact with.
'Best to get the basic tests out of the way,' Sam decided, fingering the holy water in the pocket of his skirt. There was a small chance that whoever supplied Nicki with the demon blood had actually been the demon itself, and if that was the case, Sam and Dean would have to be careful.
He strode forward, intent on getting to Mrs. Stark quickly through the throng of people.
He obviously wasn't paying attention to where he was going, because in his haste to maneuver around the guests that packed the gallery, he ran headlong into a dark-haired woman who was gliding in the opposite direction.
There was a moment of impact where the clipboard and pens which she had been carrying flew out of her hands, and Sam automatically reached out to steady the woman before she could fall down.
"Sorry," he said, face flushing when the people around them looked over and inwardly cursing the attention now focussed on them. Without looking at her, he let go of her and knelt down to pick up her things, cursing his wasted chance at getting to his target.
"Oh – no, you don't have to – it was my fault," the woman said. Her voice was familiar. "I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off all morning."
Sam straightened up, pen in hand, ready to fake a laugh at their little gaffe, but he froze before he could.
Disbelief flitted through him.