They wait for hours. Bobby tries to talk, but doesn’t know what to say. Dean doesn’t try to fill in the gaps. He watches his own hands, unblemished. He watches his skin fail to crack open. He tosses a sawed-off back and forth between his palms.
The quality of light changes with time. Night happens through the slats in the walls. Crickets and distant traffic along the highway.
Bobby says, “Maybe it ain’t coming.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Dean says. “But I gotta know.”
So while Bobby sits back down and thinks on Pamela, on the first time he met her when she was so excited, so scared of the things she could do, Dean trades the shotgun for Ruby’s knife and knocks it against his knee. Dean catalogues the list of faces he expects to see. None of them had called themselves Castiel, but demons collect names, they collect faces. It could be anyone.
There is Barbariccia, that self-important bumbler, captain of skewers and hooks. The first face Dean remembers, jutting neckless from a vast, skittering arachnid. Barbariccia danced around him for days, shuddering his chains and parroting his bellows. Youuu sonofabitch. Yooou blackeyed motherfucker. Sam. Sam. Sammy.
There’s boar-faced Cirriato the comedian, her belt strung with starveling infants, tar clinging to her tusky mouth. Cagnazzo the gambler, Farfarello and his donkey’s ears, Malacoda with her kind smile. Jacopo, Alistair’s first apprentice, who wept as he sliced off Dean’s face. It could be Libicocco who keened like a dog while Dean took his time wiggling loose her toenails, her fingernails, while he chewed on them like the salty shells of sunflower seeds.
Across the room, Bobby sighs. Dean asks, “You sure you did the ritual right?” And then the wind kicks up a ruckus all along the thin sheeting of the roof.
And all at once it is--
The barn doors crack open while the lights are shattering, raining starfall. The night outside is present, is dark. The sky is a big nothing with noise.
There is a shape that walks in slowly. Long, elegant flanks that steam in the cold. Staccato hooves and sharp, tall antlers. Guileless animal eyes that see him, watch him. That know what he’s thinking. It walks; it brings a fog in with it.
When Dean was 8 years old, his dad pointed at a figure through the trees. Shoot, he said. Shoot the deer, son. The logic was that he’d shot all sorts of things. Soda cans, fence posts, spray paint targets on the walls of empty houses. Even from far away, Dean could see the buck’s breath misting in the air. It turned its head to look at him. He missed.
Dean would swear this is the same buck. Time is different here, he has to remember. Things die and they don’t all come back. But it sees him, and he can’t be sure. He shoots. Bobby shoots. They hit it again and again.
And then again--
The barn doors crack open while the lights are shattering. The night outside is present, is dark. The big nothing, a noise.
It stalks, its saunters, it sidles on in. The jut of its shoulder blades jump with every step. Its tail swings slow. It zags to the side and approaches with patience. It dips its head low, feminine. Its ears lean towards him. There is a purpose in this thing. There is a purpose in the line of its body. It’s hunting.
It’s swaying, it’s purring. But Dean can’t quite track it, there’s something in his eyes. There’s a hot wind at his back.
The barn doors crack, the lights crack. The night outside is present. The nothing, the noise.
It flutters in, swoops right up onto the table, innocuous as you please. It ruffles its wings around and folds them. It snaps its head to a tilt, staring at Bobby, then a slow slide to look over at Dean.
Caw, it says. K-kk-caw.
There were no animals in the pit. Dean reaches further back and he remembers auguries, supposed portents. And spells, feathers burning to send a message with their smoke. The smell of a wing on fire.
Caw, it says, and the message is cold. It reshuffles its wings. There’s a hot wind at his back. Its wings are on fire. Dean picks up the knife.
And the barn doors, then the lights. The night, the noise.
A man walks in slowly. Click-clack, and sauntering. Purposeful; a portent. Dean raises his gun and shoots it.