CHAPTER NINETEEN

The Florida Everglades--once a swamp, always a swamp. The smell of stagnant water fills the nostrils, the mud clings to every uncovered body part (and even manages to slip into some that are), low hanging branches clawed and the hair and face, and the mosquitoes waged war on the skin. A pleasure cruise it was not. Dean, Sam, and Des were now trudging through knee deep sludge while Des tried to find their way to the "Door to the World"--as Dean dubbed it.

The mud they could deal with, even the branches that scratched the face (especially Sam's) were bearable, it was the mosquitoes that were the problem. They had been walking through the swamp for hours now, carrying their gear on their back. They had to ditch the truck a long time ago so the rest of the trek was on foot. Sam and Dean followed Des's lead but the deeper and deeper they got into the everglade, the more and more they wondered if she knew where she was going. Should it take this long?

"Des, how much longer?" Dean asked just before crushing a mosquito that decided to make his neck it next meal--and its last.

"Um, I dunno." Des answered honestly while looking around a clearing they had just come to.

"Don't you remember?" Sam asked, bringing up the rear.

"Well, it's been a few years." She replied absently. "And Kimmie had a map at the time."

"A map?"

"Yeah, God only knows what happened to it." she mumbled and halted her forward motion. Dean and Sam stopped just behind her, out of breath and filthy. Des wandered to the nearest tree and inspected the trunk, running her lithe fingers along the bark.

Dean leaned in close to his brother so only he could hear, "I think the mosquitoes have finally made her snap."

Des smiled, obviously having heard him. "These Mosquitoes aren't so bad. You ever been bitten by a black-fly? A swarm of those things can carry a person off."

"Des, you scare me sometimes."

"Only sometimes?" She retorted with a chuckle.

Dean shrugged. "What are you looking at anyway? New interest in horticulture?"

"Last time we were here, there was a password carved into the bark." Then her hand stilled and she squinted her eyes and leaned in closer to the tree. "And I think I just found it."

Sam and Dean came up behind her to get a look at this password. It didn't seem like much, a few squiggles carved in a line. "Is that even a language?" Dean muttered behind Des's left shoulder.

"That's the Angelic Alphabet!" Sam blurted out. "I've only ever seen bits and pieces of it. I didn't even know it was translated."

"Well, Kimmie could read it." Des said. "Good thing that little brainiac wrote it down for us." Des reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small slip of paper. She read the script aloud and immediately behind them a simple wooden door appeared extremely out of place in the marsh.

Dean and Sam stared open mouthed at the freestanding door before them, just a plain wooden door attached to nothing. "Well, that's different." Dean mumbled as Sam nodded absently.

"Lets go." Des said pushing past the brothers to the door. She reached for the knob and turned. "Lets hope we didn't leave it to banged up. We did exit in style." She laughed.

The door swung open revealing a long gothic hallway that looked as if it had seen better days. Pieces of charred rubble lined the floor while broken glass and unhinged doors lay strewn about the dark hall.

"You did this?" Sam asked while stepping precariously into the hallway and clicking on his flashlight.

"Actually, ninety percent of this was Kimmie. I killed a minion here or there." Des answered, following suit. "She…kind of blew up the place."

"I guess we underestimate her." Dean said.

"Yeah, and we shouldn't." she replied. "That girl has a badass streak that would scare you, rare as it may be."

"Come on." Sam said, taking the lead. Des and Dean followed. They made their way further into the hall until on both sides of them were simply a line of doors stretching as far as the eye could see. Above the doors were place names; some recognizable, some not. Some doors were missing, some were charred beyond recognition, and some were being blocked by fallen rubble. One door stood out from the rest--and was also the most significantly destroyed. A large gothic structure towered high above them. Its door, once probably ornate and beautiful, lay half on its hinges making entrance almost impossible. The damage visible when they shined their flashlights inside was impressive.

"Leo's office." Des said with a sigh and a grin. "Good times."

"Are you sure Kimmie did this?" Sam asked skeptically. "For as long as I've known her, never once did she come across as one who would blow up an evil demons underground lair."

"Yeah." She answered. "But I guess that's neither here nor there right now."

A commotion a little ways down the corridor broke through the heavy silence. Sam and Des quickly went into hunter mode, their highly tuned senses poised and ready. Just because the former hellish inhabitants were long gone, that didn't mean new ones hadn't sprung up in its place. Demons were like weeds, you sometimes couldn't pull one out without more growing back.

Yet, they didn't find a demon ready to strike. What they found was Dean removing heavy rubble out of the way of one particular door and dumping it unceremoniously aside.

"What are you doing?" Sam asked him. Dean looked back just as Sam shined his flashlight on him, blinding him momentarily.

"What do you think I'm doing?"

"You found it?" Sam said skeptically. Dean's obvious 'Duh' Face was enough of an answer and he and Des immediately went to help clear a healthy path. The door they reached was as uniformed, non-descript and ordinary as all the others lining the corridors for as far as the eye could see. The only marker was the ornate lettering emblazoned on the wood that read ROME, ITALY.

They looked at each other as if wary of what lay beyond the threshold once they opened this door. Sam's vision said they would find help, but what? From experience, Dean at least knew his brothers visions were very rarely wrong. There was a sense of foreboding and anticipation that lay heavy among the three friends. Everything was about to change once they turned that knob.

With a heavy sigh, Sam reached out and grabbed the handle. The door swung open easily.

-----

Back in Kansas City, all was quiet. People went about their business and there were no pressing matters that needed addressing so life became pretty boring for those hunters who did not go on the great quest to Rome; especially one very depressed Kimmie. It's not that she didn't understand why she had to stay behind. In fact, she was silently grateful for it. It was just that she wanted to help, wanted to play a part. Was that so much to ask? She had resigned herself to sitting quietly in one of the lobbies armchairs with her feet propped up against a coffee table and her hands resting on her pregnant stomach. Sure she was sulking, but she was entitled. She'd get over it eventually. She just hated feeling helpless and in her current state, that's exactly what she was. And Gabriel, who was usually sitting next to her if not very close by, wasn't helping. It was as if he expected her to pack up and follow her friends as soon as they walked out that door a week ago.

"You're quiet." he said as he played with one of the curls on the back of her head. "Are you alright?"

"Gabriel," she replied, her tone rising slightly. "If you ask me that again, I'm going to hurt you."

"Well, it's just that I hate to see you like this because you can't do what you want." he bit back.

"That, though somewhat true, is not the point."

"Then what is?"

"I'm useless! That's the point." she cried, "For as long as I can remember it's always been us four, fighting the good fight. But now…"

Gabriel was taken aback and didn't try to hide the hurt look on his face. "Now you feel tied down because you're having my child? Because you can't go gallivanting about killing demons like you used to? Kim, I love you more then anything but you have to realize, things will never be like they were."

She sighed heavily and leaned into that crook right between his shoulder and chest that seemed to be made just for her. "I'm sorry."

He ran his fingers through her hair and kissed her lightly. "Yeah, I know. You know what, I'm going to get you some tea, maybe you'll feel better."

He left the lobby and was out of sight within moments. Whenever he left her, she felt like something was missing, but knowing he would be back was comforting and so she settled back into her lounger.

Little did she know that she was being watched very closely. Deanna stayed a safe distance away. Though she knew she would probably be chewed out for letting three of the four hunters out of her sight, all was not lost. She could use Kimmie to further her own needs. She had to get to Rome and the only one who knew how was sitting twenty feet away. She begged Dean to take her with him but he had insisted she stay behind. Whatever hold she thought she had on him, she was nothing compared to his brother.

That left her with the pregnant huntress, a smattering of other hunters, an ex-angel and a bunch of whining refugees. Though the stakes were against her, she didn't panic. She was well aware that there was only one she needed to convince.

She smiled. Now was the time to make her move while the angel was nowhere in sight. "Hey Kim." she said.

Kim looked up and smiled halfheartedly, "Oh. Hey Deanna."

"Mind if I sit?"

Kim shook her head and motioned to an empty seat. Deanna took it gratefully. "So, how are things going with the baby and such?"

Kimmie smiled weakly again and made it a point to break eye contact. Deanna picked up on it immediately. "What?"

Kimmie looked back up, "The babies fine, it's the 'and such' that's the problem."

Deanna tilted her head to the side in mock concern. "Really?"

"You'll think I'm being stupid. Hell, I think I'm being stupid." Kim replied with a nervous laugh.

"Try me. I'm a good listener."

Kim eyed her skeptically and Deanna could practically see the wheels turning. She didn't know whether to trust her or not, that was obvious. Maybe if she smiled reassuringly she could lull her into feeling comfortable. So she did and it appeared to be working by the softening of Kimmie's eyes.

With a deep breath, Kim spilled it all. How she felt, what was going through her mind, her fears, why the others had gone without her, how she felt useless. Deanna soaked it all up as ammo to set aside for later.

"You know what you should do?" Deanna remarked after Kim had finished. "Follow them."

Kim crinkled her brow, "Follow them? I can't do that."

"Why not? You think they'll last long without you? I've seen how much they rely on you and trust me, it's obvious."

"Really?" Kim muttered in disbelief but Deanna knew that Kim was playing into her hands. Maybe this wouldn't be as difficult as she had originally anticipated.

"Oh absolutely!" She replied with a big smile. "Hell, I'll even go with you, for company. I've always wanted to see Rome."

"As tempting as that is," Kim finally said after a moment of silence. "I just don't think it would be wise. I mean, I'm pregnant for God sakes. If child endangerment laws were still around, I'm fairly sure they would arrest me for it."

"Ok, I'm just throwing it out there." Deanna replied with a wave of her hand. Though Kimmie had turned her down, she could still see that something had changed in the huntress. She had planted the seeds and it appeared as if they were taking root. Now, she just had to wait for them to bloom. Deanna saw this as a good time to take her leave. She said her goodbye and stood to leave. She even passed Gabriel with a smile on her way out. Maybe she was better at this spy thing then she had thought.

-----

Dean, Sam, and Des had made it unscathed to Rome. The door had led them to a plaza just outside Vatican City and, after the initial shock of it all, they were able to make their way on foot into the former hub of religion. Europe seemed to have faired just as badly as the United States, if not worse.

By the time they actually made it to the Vatican, where help would supposedly be found, they had thoroughly wiped themselves out. They were tired and dirty and had had enough of it. Dean was the first to be fed up. He plopped himself down on a small, still standing bench and let out a long sigh. "Man, it feels good to sit."

"Agreed." Sam said as he took a seat next to his brother.

Des stayed standing, always alert. "We should keep going."

Dean and Sam groaned. "C'mon Des." Dean whined. "We've been walking forever."

"Yeah, and?"

"And I guess I have no point. But, man, what I wouldn't give for a car right now."

Des allowed her mouth to turn up into a smile as her eyes darted this way and that in the new environment they were now navigating. After a few minutes of complaints from Dean and heavy sighs from Sam, they moved on. They figured they were only a few hours outside Vatican City, their journey hopefully coming to a close. They paused on a hill to scope the terrain and marvel in the view over this still beautiful country. They could just make out Saint Peters Cathedral from their vantage point, the highlight of Vatican tourism. Des turned to her companions with a grin. "Seems we're almost there boys- And with no trouble!"

She should not have opened her mouth so soon. From behind them came the familiar click-click of a gun hammer being pulled back. The three hunters froze as what sounded like more weaponry was pointed in their direction and probably ready to fire at a moments notice. Des sighed and cast her eyes skyward, "Why can't you just give us a break?"

Dean, Sam and Des turned slowly and cautiously to face what was behind them. They were now staring eye to eye with a band of six or so humans pointing a very impressive arsenal at them and looking none to happy. One stepped forward, a woman who was tall, lean and strong with strong Italian features, dark eyes, and wavy chocolate hair pulled into a low ponytail. She eyed them up before demanding something in Italian. Des, having extensive linguistic training, recognized it as "Who are you?!"

She answered in English, hoping the Italian would get the hint that not all of them spoke the language, "Hunters."

"Americans?" she questioned in pristine English with a slight tilt of her head. "Why are you here?"

"Ummm," Sam began, knowing he couldn't give their actual mission. They could trust no one. "We're…On a scouting mission."

Something in her eyes said she didn't buy it. She had no reason to, Geek-Boy was not the best liar under pressure. Dean made a motion to fix the situation, but was stopped when she lifted a hand and turned to her group, spouting something hastily in Italian. Dean and Sam turned to Des for translation. "Well, apparently they think we're demon spies." she said a bit to calmly for comfort.

The Italian woman turned back to them and requested none to politely for them to relinquish their weapons. Dean and Sam did as instructed, dropping them to the ground. Des, however, was not losing her Katana. "They'll have to pry it from my cold, dead, and bloody fingers." She said, staring down the group before her.

"Des," Dean pressed "I have no desire to be Swiss cheese. Just do it."

She hesitated for several long moments, as if daring someone to try and take it. She did eventually give it up with assurances from Sam that they would calmly explain the situation and all would be fine. Sam didn't see the glance shared between Des and his brother as they were led at gunpoint to destination unknown.