There is whiskey in the water
And there is death upon the vine
There is fear in the eyes of your father
And there is yours and there is mine
-Death Cab for Cutie, Black Sun
- - -
Dean has never hated the sight of the Lisirran coast more than he does in this moment.
With the city on the horizon and the sun setting the desert to sparkling it should be beautiful, but all Dean can see is the end of the road. The ship he's spent his entire life on will be sailing away momentarily, never to be seen again.
He understands why his father is doing it, of course. Can't have someone in as deep shit as he is on board, it endangers the whole crew. Not like he was ever that much use anyway. He's no real loss.
A big hand claps down on his shoulder, disrupting his musings. "You understand, right kid?" asks his father gruffly. "Wouldn't do this if I didn't have to."
Dean swallows the lump in his throat. "Yeah."
"Good." John drops a small bag into his hand. "That should last you a while. Don't be stupid, kid."
The hand leaves his shoulder, and he turns to watch his father retreat and climb back into the rowboat. The Impala floats behind it, just out of reach. Like she's mocking him.
He looks away before he can see his father disappear without a backward glance.
The bag his father left him has enough pressed copper in it to buy him a week of cheap meals and two or three nights in a room in the pleasure district. He needs a plan. Before that, though, he needs to reach the actual city before the sun sets. If he's in trouble now, it'll be ten times worse when he can't see to defend himself.
He starts walking, focusing just on each step. He can't let himself panic. He'll be fine; all he needs to do is get to the city, get some cash, and avoid being murdered for the rest of his life. Shouldn't be too hard.
The sun is hanging low in the sky when he sets foot into the city, the desert finally giving way to people hustling around him and dry coastal plants on street corners. He's been here before, but never alone. The last time was years ago, when Sammy was still with them. They ran around the night market, dodging between stalls and nicking food from vendors.
Dean shakes the memory out of his head.
He winds his way through the twisting roads until he finds his way to the pleasure district. It's the same as it always is, barely clothed women swaying their hips and men hustling through with their heads down. He finds the motel his family always stayed at, already knowing it's the cheapest in the city. He pulls on his hood and walks through the doors.
The hunched over old man behind the counter barely says a word to him, just hands over a key and takes his money. Dean walks down the shadowy hallway to his room. He doesn't realize just how tired he is until he sees the lumpy mattress waiting there for him, and collapses on it before he can worry about any dubious stains on the blanket.
- - -
Dean wakes up to the hot Lisirran sun shining in his eyes, reminding him too readily of his problems. He needs to come up with a plan, fast. He can’t stay here long.
He gets up to close the curtains but stops, looking out the window. Among the bustle of the district there’s a figure standing perfectly still. Clad in a black robe, they’re in the middle of the path. Pedestrians flow around the figure as if they don’t notice the disturbance.
Dean tugs the curtains shut.
He quickly gathers up his remaining copper pieces and leaves the room. By the time he makes it to the road outside, the hooded figure is gone. The thought that it could have been an assassin comes to Dean’s mind, but he figures that if it was they’d have killed him already. It probably doesn’t even have anything to do with him.
He wanders to the day market and buys his breakfast and some fresh water, not wanting to steal anything that he can get on the up and up. Dad always said it’s better to do things legit if you can. Don't want to get caught for something stupid. He tries and fails to put the hooded figure out of his mind.
If it had been an assassin, that would've been it. Dead. Everything a waste. He needs to find a way to hide. He and every other Federation kid grew up hearing stories about them- how they were no longer human, how they could track their targets to the end of the world and back. How they used blood magic and left no survivors. (Dean always wondered where the stories came from if there were no survivors, but the point remained.)
But of course those were just children's stories, right? The assassins might be real, but they're still just people. People using old, old magic, but still just people.
People can be evaded. Even old magic can be evaded.
Dean finds himself in an open garden, giving a brief thought as to how it's watered before sitting beneath a tree. He scrubs his face with his hands, trying to clear his thoughts.
The hooded figure is there when he looks up.
Dean lets out a yelp, and then scrambles to his feet and unsheathes his knife. "Who are you and what do you want?" He says, surprising himself with how little his voice shakes.
"Calm down, kid, you'll hurt yourself," the figure says, and pushes back its hood. It's a woman not much older than himself that stands there. Her hair is dark and her eyes are black. "My name's Ruby, I'm a friend of Sam's."
"Sam?" Dean repeats dumbly. "Why are you here, then?"
"Little Sammy thought you were in trouble, so he asked me to check in on you. And may I say, holy shit it is a deep hole you've dug yourself into."
"Gee, thanks, I hadn't noticed. Why does Sam care? We haven't spoken in years."
"Well, astoundingly, he still cares about his idiot brother after all this time. Congratulations," she says, looking bored out of her mind. "Unfortunately, he also asked me to help you if I could. I don't particularly care what happens to you, but he'll be sad if I let you die."
"Thanks for the encouragement, but I have a few questions first."
"How do I know you're really a friend of Sam's?"
Ruby sighs and reaches behind her neck, pulling off a necklace. "He told me this was yours," she says, and hands it to him. "Said it'd be enough to convince you to accept my help."
Dean takes it and cups the charm in the palm of his hand. Swallows hard. "Yeah, it is."
"Great. What else do you need?"
Tying the amulet around his neck, he says, "How do you even know Sam? I still don't know who you are."
"I told you, I'm Ruby. Me and Sam met at the university in Arkuz. He trusts me enough to keep you alive, which should tell you enough."
"How did you find me?"
"That's helpful. What kind of magic?"
"A tracking spell."
"Fine. Thanks for all the help, Ruby, but if you can't even tell me anything then I guess I'll be on my way." He brushes past her and heads for the gates.
"Wait!" She yells after him. "I used a blood spell, alright? Me and Sam used a blood spell to find you."
"Holy shit, you what? Where'd you get my blood?"
"We didn't, dingus, we used his. Since you and John are the only other Winchesters currently in existence, we just used a spell that would tell us where his family was. Considering you were a week away from Lisirra, I figured I'd intercept you before you got yourself killed."
Dean can't get over the blood magic part. His stupid kid brother is friends with a blood witch. The idiot, what's he been doing for the last four years? He can yell at him later, probably. He has to survive first. "How can you help me, then?"
"The amulet, first thing. It's a powerful earth protection charm. I don't know where you two picked it up, but there it is. Second, I have connections here. If you'll come with me, I'll help you."
There's no way this will end well.
- - -
Dean follows Ruby through the twisting roads of the city into a district he's never seen before. Booths and shacks line the square, merchants yelling out promises of this herb and that gem that can't possibly be true. The sun is bright in the mid-afternoon sky, beating down on the city. Dean's glad he has a scarf to wrap around his head. Ruby, apparently immune to heat, does no such thing and continues to strut purposefully in her black cloak toward some unknown location.
When she stops suddenly, Dean almost runs into her. Before he can comment she says, "We're here."
They stand in front of a glorified shack, a structure that looks as if it would crumble if the wind hit it right. Jewel-toned curtains hang from the entrance in lieu of a door, with dim candlelight spilling underneath. It smells like the humid air of the jungle.
Ruby parts the curtains and enters without knocking or announcing herself, and Dean follows. He feels it the moment he passes through the ward on the entrance. The air is heavy with both humidity and smoke, and Dean spots incense burning on a side table. Piles of gems and rocks and dried plants are strewn about haphazardly on every available surface. He notices all of these things before the woman seated at the low table in the center of the room.
The woman is kneeling, her blonde hair cascading like water down her shoulders. She wears white from head to toe. When she opens her eyes, they are a shining, bright, otherworldly blue.
"Lilith," Ruby says, and Dean realizes it's the woman's name. "I'm here to call in that favor."
She turns and looks straight at Dean. Her gaze makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
"Dean," she says. Her voice sounds like a trickling brook. "I had a feeling you would end up here."
He shifts his weight back and forth. "No kidding."
"It's a good thing you came when you did. If you had waited until tomorrow, you'd be dead."
Shivers run down his spine. He can't think of a witty retort.
Lilith smiles, all teeth, and laughs. It sounds like little bells, or maybe tinkling jewelry. "What a waste all my hard work would have been then!"
Dean smiles a very stiff smile.
Lilith stands and walks over to a table covered with plants and retrieves several small vials. "Each of these will open a door." She places one in his hand and gestures at an empty stretch of wall. "Throw it."
He throws it.
A blinding flash of light, a horrid screeching inside his head, and then silence.
"That will take care of your assassin."
So they are after him. "Where does it go?" he asks when he can gather the words.
"Does it matter?"
No, Dean supposes, it does not.
"Thanks, Lilith. We're even," says Ruby. Dean had forgotten she was there; she hadn't spoken since they walked in, simply observing his and Lilith's interactions.
"Consider it a gift, no charge. I'll still owe you a favor."
"Whatever you say," Ruby says, and grabs Dean's hand. She drags him out without another word.
Ruby mutters something about stupid Sam and fucking Lilith under her breath as they go, not stopping until they hit the edge of the district. "I fucking hate working with her, you never know what you're gonna get. But you tested it, yeah? Good to go?"
"I guess. What'll you do?"
"I'll go back to tell Sam I did what I could. The rest is on you, kid. Come visit if you survive, Sam misses you."
With that, she turns and walks away.
Dean's life is getting very strange, he thinks before he starts the trek back to his hotel. He should probably get used to it.
- - -
By the time the sun sets, Dean has a plan.
He will wander around town, make a ruckus if he can. Make himself known. Eventually he will steal away to the desert, and the assassin will follow him. When he’s attacked, he’ll throw Lilith’s potion and make his getaway while the assassin gets sucked into the “door”.
As plans go, it’s a shitty one that will probably get him killed. But it’s something.
- - -
Dean wakes at dawn the next morning.
The thought crosses his mind that it may be the last morning of his life, but he dismisses it as depressing. Instead of ruminating on his imminent mortality he quickly dresses and leaves the hotel.
He then realizes that he has no way of actually knowing if the assassin will be tracking him. Lilith said it would be too late if he had come today; He’s just going to have to assume he's being followed. It’s a plan that wouldn’t be good enough in literally any other situation, but he doesn’t exactly have much room for changing it.
Dean wanders the city, stopping a few times to buy snacks from vendors. He really doesn't know what to do to set his plan into motion. Fortunately, he doesn't have to.
He feels it the moment the assassin's eyes are on him. There’s no noticeable change in his environment, but it’s like something clicks into place. He just knows that the assassin is on his heels.
Heart pounding out of his chest, Dean changes his direction towards the edge of the city. He tries and fails not to think of what will happen if his plan doesn’t work (what if the assassin strikes before he’s ready and he doesn’t have time to throw the potion? What if the potion doesn’t work for some reason?), and balls his hands into fists to keep them from shaking. He can feel the sweat rolling down his back by the time the city starts to thin, less people milling about in the heat.
The feeling vanishes.
Fuck. Did he do something wrong? Did he let the assassin know he felt them? Did something-
Maybe something interfered with the assassin. Oh, gods, what if they’re dead? What if he’s in the clear?
There is a figure standing behind him.
All of Dean’s hope melts away. He takes a deep breath and tries to prepare for death, to brace himself for the end, before turning around.
If it is possible to be completely and entirely underwhelmed by a figure one knows to represent inescapable death, this is what Dean experiences.
The figure he now faces is several inches shorter than him, for one, and has a rather terrible bedhead. His hood is down, revealing a face not much older than his own, looking quite uncomfortable at that. His cloak is a horrid tan color that couldn’t be more bland if it were literally made of dirt.
They make eye contact for a beat, still several feet away. Dean is simply shocked, and the assassin is… evaluating him? Staring at him for some reason or another.
Dean quickly shakes off his first impression and fumbles in his bag for the potion. As he grasps hold of it, the assassin raises his sword- a short, straight blade- and points it toward Dean's throat.
"This will be much easier for you if you give up now," the assassin says in a startlingly deep voice, sounding almost bored. Resigned.
"Like hell!" spits Dean, and chucks the potion straight at the assassin's head.
The bottle shatters on the ground into a thousand pieces and... does nothing. The assassin gives Dean a look, while Dean stares in shock. "That BITCH!" he yells when he can gather his voice. "She fucking set me up!"
The assassin appears to be concerned about Dean's sanity at this point. "I'm sorry?"
"That lying blood witch set me up with a fake spell!"
"Oh. Well, I'm very sorry about that, but I'm still going to have to kill you."
That snaps Dean out of it. He grabs his knife from its sheath and holds it out in front of him like a lifeline.
“If it’s any consolation, it’s not personal,” the assassin just keeps going, running through the speech he probably gives all his targets for some reason. Dean’s not really sure how to react. The guy still doesn’t really look like he’s gonna attack with much gusto.
He sees something twitch in the shadow of the assassin. Before rational thought can tell him not to, he hurls his knife at it.
It strikes home, pinning the scorpion to the ground. It twitches a little before it goes still.
The assassin's eyes suddenly go wide and surprised as he notices the scorpion, looking almost scared. "That was going to kill me."
Dean quickly runs through a mental list of all the curses he knows as he realizes what he just did. That scorpion would have taken out the fucking guy! He could have escaped with his life, and he threw it away on instinct. Fucking idiot! Dean keeps mentally kicking himself as the assassin continues to stare at the dead scorpion.
"That was going to kill me," he repeats, as if to cement the idea in his head. "You just saved my life."
That seems like a bit of a stretch. "Don't mention it. How about you don't murder me and we call it even?" Dean says, trying to at least put off the inevitable at this point.
"I suppose that's the only real course of action now," the assassin replies, almost to himself. He looks about as remorseful as Dean.
"What? Care to explain yourself?"
"I sort of... got cursed a while back."
"And?" Holy gods, Dean just does not know when to stop pushing his luck.
"And, I was cursed to protect anyone who saves my life. That's you."
"Thanks for the clarification. What the hell does it mean?"
"It means I have to stick around and protect you!"
"Fuck. That's it, I'm out. Thanks for not disemboweling me and all, but I sort of have to be on my way."
"I don't think you understand. I have to protect you. If you die, I'll die too."
"No offense or anything, but why should I care?"
"Because no matter what you say or do, I'm going to follow you, and it will be much easier for you to cooperate. The faster you agree, the faster we can break the curse and you can be rid of me."
Fuck, he's gonna regret this. "Fine."