They were thirty miles out of Santa Monica when Sam's cell rang. He flipped it open, still reading the grimoire in his lap, and glanced at the display. Blocked. "Hunh." He glanced at Dean in the driver's seat. "We expecting any calls from any paranoid people?"
"Maybe one of Bobby's contacts about another job?" Dean shrugged, hands tapping along to AC/DC on the wheel. "So answer it already, genius."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Hello? Sam Winchester."
Static, then a woman's voice. English accent; young. Intense. "Sam? Listen to me. You need two things to save Dean from the bargain he made in May."
Sam stiffened, fingers clutching around the phone as if he could reach in and grab the caller. "Who is this?"
"There's a book, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Harvard Square Library. Clavis Salomonis, in the Greek translation. Say it."
"Clavis Salomonis. That's one of the oldest books of demon-summoning, how the hell did you-"
"Your blood. That's part of the key. I wish I could tell you more, but-" Another breath taken, like someone poised to dive, and Sam was about to interrupt again when she abruptly said, "Got to go. Sorry. Good luck. And thanks, Sam. I hope it works."
She hung up, and Sam stared at the phone, stunned speechless.
Martha climbed the dunes, wind whipping tiny particles of sand into her face, feeling as if she couldn't walk another step. Ten miles yesterday. Fifteen today. And still far, so far away from the coast. She misjudged a step, and tripped over the only scrub brush for miles, tumbling downward, ass over teakettle, to land at the bottom of the slope. Too tired to sit up, she stared at the lowering sun, tears stinging her eyes. Almost six months of wandering with so many months ahead, and she'd give anything to just rest. To not have to think about the next step, and the one after that, and the one after that.
She got up finally, and started walking again, following the compass in her hand, and the dirt track toward the clouds on the horizon. Her contact had to be here somewhere.
"Think that's her?"
Dean gave Sam a dubious glance. "Dude, there can't be two girls wandering out in the middle of this stretch of desert on their own. Not being missed by the flying freaks, anyway."
"There could be." Sam studied the woman through his binoculars, and muttered, "Anything's possible."
"Yeah, but not likely. Bobby? We got confirmation on the Tick-tock location?" Dean said into his walkie-talkie.
"They're pacing the perimeter of the camp," Bobby said after a moment's check. "You got a clear window of twenty-some minutes, boys. Make it count."
Sam kicked the dune buggy into gear, and Dean hung onto the roll bar as they headed toward the stumbling figure. She turned as they came within shouting range, bracing herself warily, hand clenched around the canteen at her hip.
"Martha Jones?" Sam called over the engine. She nodded once, jaw set. She looked like the thin edge of the same kind of desperation he saw in the camps every day; alive on hope and water and denial. "We're your ride to Baja."
"Password?" She said, not moving. Sam wondered if even half the things they'd heard about her were true. Or if this was worth the trip out. She didn't look like any kind of Amazon assassin, or a militant crusader. Just another survivor, hiding and running.
"Who the hell thinks up this crap?" Dean muttered. He raised his voice. "Captain Jack Flash is a gas gas gas," he called.
"Somebody who never met you," Sam offered, trying to hide a smile.
"Right," the woman said, forcing herself to march toward them. "Thanks. Good timing. I was about ready to bury myself for the night."
"Yeah, you don't wanna be doin' that around here. The Tick-tocks do a regular flyover," Dean said as she swung herself into the seat behind Sam.
"Wouldn't bother me none." She flipped her ponytail back and eyed him coolly.
Dean was eyeing her right back, appreciatively on his part, and this small moment of normalcy was enough to have Sam smothering a smile. "Dean Winchester. And our chauffeur's my brother Sam." Dean handed over their spare goggles to her. "Hang on to your hairclip, we don't wanna get caught out here."
Conversation was put on hold as they sped over the dunes, kicking up sand as they approached the opening of the abandoned mine shaft where they were holed up. Bobby had rigged a garage-door opener onto the thing, and they'd camouflaged it with a bucket of sand. No one walking by (or flying over) would be able to spot it without the tinted goggles giving them a clue.
"Tick-tock, ten o'clock, sixty yards," Dean suddenly yelled over the roar of the buggy, leaning forward to pull the shotgun out of its mount. "Hit it, Sammy!"
Sam poured on speed as they headed for the mine's door, certain they weren't going to make it. But the Sphere just kept going in the other direction, probably being called to patrol the worker's camp. The doors opened up, sand pouring down the sides as they dived down into the darkness, the motor of the dune buggy echoing in the shaft as he slowed the engine to a halt. The entrance door ground down behind them, and he cut the engine once they were a hundred yards in, and took a breath. "Lucky thing we got to you before the Sphere did."
Martha Jones was already swinging herself out of the buggy, glancing up at the lanterns hung along the receding corridor of the mineshaft. "Wasn't luck." She rubbed the back of her wrist across her forehead, then gave them both a sharp nod. "But thanks. Can I get a drink of water and something to eat before I meet with everyone?"
"We can do you better than that, sweetheart." Dean had pulled himself out of the buggy with a hop, and was now leaning on the vehicle, eyebrows going up. "We've got a hot springs piped in down here. You can actually have a bath, if you want it."
The first smile Sam had seen on her broke across her face, and it was dazzling. "Not really?"
"Really." Dean swaggered around the buggy, and offered her an arm. "I'll even scrub your back, if you want. We're a full-service community here."
And that got something too thin to be a laugh, but real nonetheless. "So I'm at a luxury Mexican spa, then. Cheers."
They hadn't been kidding about the hot springs. Martha hadn't wanted to indulge too much; anything reminiscent of what life had been like Before took her out of the mindset she needed tonight. Or rather, brought her close to tears - first from relief, then from anger at feeling relief for something as simple as a bath, safety, food that wasn't canned. Which brought her right back into the headspace necessary in order to face the people she had to talk to soon. But she didn't need to ride that merry-go-round again, so, denial it was.
She'd told the story so many times now. Martha had sat down at one point, and worked out that it was just over twice a week so far, on average. Fifty-three times. Fifty-four tonight. She'd told... maybe five thousand people? Maybe seven thousand? Ten? So far. In person, anyway. It would be more, before she was done. Some meetings of people in the hundreds; a few that were only handful of key people, ones who could pass on the message.
Tonight's would be like that. Like a virus, her story would travel up and down the coast, and later there would be larger meetings, larger crowds. A boat down the coast from here, all along and winding through South America, then one to Australia. India from there, probably...
She almost fell asleep in the warm salty bath, trying to plan the next part of her itinerary, and the part beyond that. Europe done. Africa, the hardest parts, the worst corners, done. Asia ahead of her, and Australia.
Then home. And hope that it worked. That he'd still be alive to make it work.
Martha laid back in the water, floating a moment in the concrete basin, tasting sulfur and salt on her tongue, staring at the one bare electric light hovering from the ceiling far above.
"You gonna drown in there?"
She splashed in surprise, ducking under again as she flailed, then surfacing, and peeked her head over the rim of the basin, meeting Dean's eyes. He grinned, and rested his arms on the edge, eyes lazily drifting downward. Thought he was cute, she could tell. The water was cloudy with salt and sand; not much to be seen there. Still. After a week of no one looking at her directly, this was a bit much.
"You always sneak up on women whilst they're bathing?" She splashed at him, and hugged the edge of the basin, slicking water back from her hair. "Surprised you haven't been drowned yet."
Dean smirked, eyebrows waggling wickedly. "You're welcome to try. I get the feeling it might be worth it."
Martha found herself chuckling again for the second time in a day, shaking her head as she clutched the edge of the tub. Push aside the good looks, and there was something very up-front about his flirting, banter for banter's sake. She had a sudden flash of Jack, and stuffed the memory back down where it couldn't hurt her. For now.
"Don't have the energy. Got to be on top of my game for tonight's talk."
"Yeaaah." The teasing on Dean's face fell away to speculation, and he flicked his fingers in the water, studying her. "You got a way to off the psycho? Get the world back to the humans?"
"I know someone who does." She met his gaze steadily, thinking of the Doctor back on the Valiant. "But everyone has to do their part."
Dean's eyes narrowed. Martha bore his scrutiny with calm, if not exactly comfort. She'd seen it before, that look. 'Are you scamming us? Are you for real? What's in it for you?' Most of the time, people were familiar with her face from the last broadcast before it all went to pieces, and that got her in the door. After six months, the looks were less threatening than they'd been at the beginning, but more desperate.
"When's it going to happen?" Dean was trying for detached, and not quite making it.
"Not entirely sure. Whenever the Master gets his first launch ready. Still too early to say." She frowned a little at something she saw on his face. Too subtle to be pinned down, but it could've been fear. Not like there wasn't a lot of that to go around.
"It'll work." She reached out, despite the risk of exposure, and put her hand over his. "I swear. If everyone does this, he will fall."
He stared at her a long moment, then whispered, "Hope you're right."
A heartbeat later, he was back to the teasing. "So, Scheherazade. Ready to meet your adoring public? I'll hold your bath towel for you."
"Thank you, I can get it myself." And wonder of wonders, she was almost flirting with him. God, it'd been a long time since she'd even felt the urge. She rose a little in the water, barely preserving her modesty, and ordered him sweetly. "Turn around, Mr. Winchester. I've got to get myself decent for my press conference."
"Why are we here again?" Dean slouched against the Impala, giving his watch an impatient look. "And how long is it gonna take?"
"I need a few more research materials," Sam told him, keeping his head down as he fumbled for his laptop and fake student ID in the car. "For the job in Jersey. Shouldn't take more than two, three hours?"
"Fine. You geek out here. I'm gonna find a pool game. I'll be back for dinner." Dean slid his shades back on his face, and gave a how-you-doin' grin to a couple of passing co-eds. "Probably."
Sam couldn't resist rolling his eyes, but managed to disguise his relief that Dean didn't ask any further questions. "Yeah, good luck with that. I'll call when I'm done, okay?"
"Yup. Yo, ladies? Can you direct me to the nearest pool hall?"
Hurrying into the Harvard Square Library, Sam turned the mystery of the phone call over in his head again.
Bobby had had no idea who the woman might have been. Neither had Ellen. He'd thought for a moment that it was Tamara, because of the accent. Or someone she knew. Bobby had no idea where she was these days, or what she was doing, but discreet inquiries at their last couple contacts had lead to the news that she'd headed for Canada and hung up her knives. Which didn't make it impossible that it was her, just less likely; and Sam was pretty sure he would have recognized her voice. He knew it wasn't Bela, and so he was left with only the lead to check out, and the hope that it would take him to the identity of his informant as well as useful information.
Clavis Salomonis. And his blood. Let it work. Let there be a way to save Dean. Let this not be someone jerking him around. Or one of Ruby's compatriots, playing some other game.
"Hi, I'd like access to your Greek collections?" Sam flashed his faked ID, and the phony letter from the Harvard languages department. "Which way do I go?"
The library aide smiled, and chattered, and lead him to the Greek collection, leaving him there with a couple backward glances that had Sam smiling tightly, fingers digging into his dad's journal. Finally, he was alone with the books. He went straight to the newest acquisition, the one he'd ascertained had only been placed there in the last week.
Old. The love of books for their own sake overcame him for a moment, and he held the book, loath to open it and be disappointed. In the moment of possession, everything was possible. Dean was saved, the world made sense, everyone he loved was safe.
Taking a breath, Sam put on the gloves he'd brought, then opened the book.
Clavis Salomonis. The Key of Solomon. Usually regarded as a compendium of a slew of Middle Ages magic, demon summoning, and curses; probably not connected to King Solomon at all. Still, some of the rituals in it had become part of the mainstream hunter's lore; exorcisms that worked for minor imps, small mischiefs, ghosts in the night. Incomplete, always. There were multiple translations, going back over five hundred years. This version was supposed to be six hundred years old, and more complete than the others.
Quickly, Sam scanned through the first half, regarding curses and demon summonings, noting the changes, the differences from other editions; nothing major. Nothing that would inspire a mysterious phone call.
It was in reading the second half of the book that he found it; the one to do with protections before summoning demons. A ritual that wasn't in any version he'd read about, or researched, or seen.
Slowly, he read through it once. Twice.
Then put his head down on the table, and laughed. Mostly to keep from screaming in victory.
It wasn't certain. He might not be able to pull it off. It was the longest of long shots; a loophole in the universal laws, the equivalent of a codicil in a contract that would allow him to attempt to save Dean. But it was more than he'd found in the last month of looking and begging everyone he knew for information.
Sam took the book over to the copier, and leaned against the machine, knees weak, as the light of the scanner moved over the pages. He couldn't let Dean suspect what he'd found. He'd have to pretend to keep looking. He'd have to do it to fool Ruby, too. For the first time he contemplated being free of her interest, with a mix of hope and dread that told him it was already way past time for him to cut the cord with her.
But he had to be sure this still wasn't a trick, or a scam. Somehow he had to track down his benefactor, query her motives, and make sure it wasn't another power-play.
How the hell was he going to find her?