Summary: Sam and Dean have been lurching from show to show for days. They've been injured, humiliated, screwed with, and forced to live really bad writing. When they're finally plunked down in something a little calmer, if a little odd, they dare to hope they're being allowed a breather episode. After all, it seems to be a show about an expedition poking around some completely non-ominous ruins- like a fantasy version of a history channel special, the boys are sure it's bound to be nice and boring.
Word Count: ~34,000
Spoilers: "Changing Channels" (5x08) for Supernatural; Early season 7 (at least past Fragile Balance) for SG:1.
Characters/Parings: the Winchesters, SG-1. Appearances from Castiel, Gabriel, Jacob Carter, General Hammond, Janet Fraiser. No pairings.
Warnings: Bad language
The narrator was doing it again. Dean wasn't sure he could take any more.
"What does it mean when our destiny becomes the destination? Is it in our blood, the very air we breathe, permeating every last facet of our existence? Or is it something more ephemeral, the meaning forever altered by the breaking of each new dawn?"
Just as Dean was ready to try shooting himself to escape, the lights grew blinding for a second and it all dissolved into something new. Thank God, he thought, before giving their new surroundings a cursory glance- trees, trees, more trees with a few people milling around- and then he turned back to the matter at hand. Namely laying blame where blame was due.
"If we ever get out of this, I'm going to kick your ass," Dean said to his brother.
Sam scowled at him. "My ass? What crawled up yours, Dean? You're not the one who keeps getting it in the-"
Dean didn't let him finish. "Fifteen goddamn hours of Heroes, Sam, what do you think?"
"What, you think it was my idea? You at least got to beat the crap out of that one guy."
Dean glowered at him, refusing to be reasonable about this. Sam glared right back. "Whatever. I'm going to take a look around." He walked away, his shoulders definitely being of the brooding sort.
Goddamn him and his bright ideas. Sam may have suffered more – technically- over the last few shows, but it was no more than he deserved. Sam was officially a danger to himself and others, and more importantly, to Dean in particular. And that just wasn't kosher. Their lives were fucked up to such a degree anymore that he could hardly believe they'd ever done anything as vanilla as dabbling in the occasional grave desecration to pass the time while looking for Dad. Hell, even this getting stuck in TVland thing barely pinged the weirdness radar, relatively speaking. Truth was, sanity was a ledge he was hanging on to by his fingernails. Maybe he'd one day just give in to the urge to laugh himself to death over the cosmic joke that was their lives. It wouldn't take much more, especially after having spent the last fifteen hours watching Sam try to be both emo and evil. So yeah- next time Sam came up with something like, "Hey, why don't we have a little parley with the Trickster," Dean was going to pop him one and drag his ass to the nearest asylum. That shit was certifiable. Maybe they could get adjacent rooms.
"Winchester! You got a problem?" A wiry and heavily armed soldier with a receding hairline had broken away from the rest of the group and was striding over, stiff-legged and pissed. Dean sneaked a quick look down at his own uniform. Heavily armed, too. Definitely a plus. He looked back up.
"Uh, no- " Dean took in the man's stance and tone of voice- "Sir." It didn't sit well with him, and it showed in his tone. The officer gave him a sharp look.
"Good. Then you won't mind me asking why you let a civilian wander off, where he's probably breaking his damn fool leg or getting kidnapped or blasted into an alternate reality or brainwashed or eaten by carnivorous plants?"
"Well- uh, sir- thing is-"
"For god's sake, Captain. I know he's your brother, but he's still a damned academic."
The officer said 'academic' like Bobby said 'demon'.
"This is the exactly why I recommended he not be placed on SG-15 with you. Can you even give me one good reason you're standing around here with your thumb up your ass and not keeping an eye on him?"
Well, this was sounding familiar, but there were limits to how far Dean was willing to play along.
"With all due respect, Sam isn't exactly a helpless civilian. He can take care of himself."
The man harrumphed, not quite conceding the point, but not exactly tearing him a new one, either.
He gave Dean a far too calculating look, as if trying to decide on some appropriately awful duty to stick him with. A woman who had been futzing with a industrial sized mars-rover looking thing over by the big stone circle came to Dean's rescue. She was wearing the same military outfit, but carried no weapon Dean could see.
"Major Pierce! We've got something," she shouted, and damn if she didn't sound just like a kid who'd discovered Santa Claus had come in July: ecstatic and incredulous and impatient all in one. "It looks like there may still be something active here- We're picking up some weak fluctuations from just over the ridge." She sounded ready to charge down it right that second.
"Alright, Dr. Colma. We'll go check it out." The major suppressed a sigh. He turned to Dean. "For god's sake, go find your brother before he accidentally activates some ancient doodad and gets us all blown to kingdom come. Rendezvous at the Gate in an hour "
The Major stomped his way back to the others, muttering darkly about babysitting to himself. Dean shrugged and leisurely strolled down the path he'd last seen his brother stomping down. Despite the obvious military focus, the show seemed pretty laid back and peaceful. Dean was determined to enjoy it while it lasted. The sun was casting bright spears of sunshine down through the trees, and the gun- though not one he'd used before- was a comforting weight. It was a warm day, but the trees cast deep and cool shadows. The only unusual thing had been the major's weirdly specific doomsday scenarios...which, now that he was thinking about it, had sounded like they were coming from experience. Crap. He picked up his pace. He cast one backwards glance at the little group before they were lost to the forest and then ventured on, following the trail around a bend.
He hurried around it, wondering how far his brother could have gotten...
...and came to an immediate halt. The woods had come to a sudden end, as if someone had decreed that the trees and ferns could grown this far but no farther, and maybe someone had. He stood at the very edge of the forest, still in the shade of the great trees. But beyond there lay an ocean of tall green grasses swaying in the breeze: a massive plain that went rolling on and on into the distance. The forest had reminded him vaguely of the cool and misty wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, in look if not in climate, but this...this was the Great Plains as they might have been hundreds of years ago, sans buffalo- if someone had plunked the remains of a massive stone skyscraper in the middle of it. He spotted a small figure wandering around the base.
He adjusted his pack to ride more comfortably on his back, and set off down the hill.
Sam didn't seem to notice his approach; he was too engrossed in brushing away clumps of dirt from and engraved stone wall. Granted, Dean had done his best to walk silently as he'd gotten nearer, but Sam was usually better about paying attention to these things.
Dean paused, then darted forward in one fluid movement, intending to knock his brother on his ass. Instead, he found himself sprawling forward as Sam flew upright, blocked his lunge, and swept his feet from under him. Dean tumbled straight into his brother, pinning him to the earth and knocking the wind out of him.
"Ouch," Dean complained, rolling free.
"Can't...believe....you....fell...for...that." Sam gasped, still breathless.
"Can't believe you screwed up the leg sweep."
"What the hell do you have in your pack, anvils?" Sam wheezed.
Dean struggled free of the pack and sat up.
"Might as well be. Damn." He checked his gun and leaned back against the stone slab. He glanced over at his brother, who had sat up and whose wheezing had begun to trail off. He was nearly as unarmed as the woman earlier, with a knife strapped to his arm and some strange snake-looking weapon in a holster at his side. Wordlessly, Dean unstrapped his thigh holster and handed it over. Sam took it, checked the gun, and put it on.
Dean shrugged, then nodded towards the ruins. "Any idea where we are this time? I don't know this one."
Sam shook his head. "I don't know. Some syndicated thing, maybe, like Xena, or that show Wormhole X-treme? Seems pretty straightforward- archaeologists exploring....this." He flicked a pebble at the wall. "Whatever this is."
"I don't know, man. No one goes this heavily armed if they aren't expecting trouble." He tapped the boxy gun hanging over his vest for emphasis.
"Eh, maybe." Sam's face was a picture of doubt. "Too many civilians, not enough soldiers."
Dean conceded the point with a shrug. "Where in the hell is this supposed to be, anyway? What's a coastal rainforest doing next to a Midwestern prairie?"
Sam shrugged. "It's television. I was looking at the wall-" he reached back and grabbed a notebook, brushing stray blades of grass off the pages- " According to this, it's just a simple direct transliteration from the English alphabet, even w, u, v, which is...." he stopped and shook his head. "Well, anyway. It's nonsense in made-up quasi-Latin. They didn't even bother to change the syntax- it's basically still English."
"So, their production design was sloppy."
"Or the Trickster is."
"Yeah, yeah. So what does it say?"
"Something about the halls of Janus – you know, the Roman god of gates-"
Dean rolled his eyes. "I'm not an idiot, Sam. Spare me the lecture. It's a temple?"
"No- I don't think so. There's some history, and some mysticism- the standard prophecy bullshit- but also some sort of great experiment. Maybe that's what we're supposed to be looking for."
"Maybe we're supposed to go hang out with the rest of the group."
"That seems to be the plan. Join up and then...I dunno. Whatever. But I'd rather that then get shot again." He frowned for a second. "Or blown up. Or eaten by a bunch of freakin' daisies," he continued.
Dean twisted his mouth into a hard and wry smile. "I've got no idea." He shook his head. "Something the CO said. He seemed to think you were getting in trouble." He shrugged, as if agreeing with the officer's assessment. "He wanted us to stay with the group."
"Huh." Sam looked off into the middle distance. After a minute he murmured, "Do you think it was him?"
Dean made a face. "Honestly? I don't know." He cast a suspicious gaze heavenward and pursed his lips. "If it was, he was playing subtle for once." He shook his head. "Can't we get a break?"
"Like that'll happen." Sam tossed another pebble at the wall, a little more forcefully than last time. It ricocheted with a ping and flew off into the grass.
"Maybe Cas'll show up for more than three damn seconds this time." Dean didn't sound particularly convinced. He pushed himself up off the ground, stretched, grimaced, and offered a hand up to his brother. "C'mon, we're supposed to be back in-" he looked at his watch, "15 minutes."
As Sam stood, an odd whine rising steadily in pitch and volume reached them. They turned in slow circles, looking for the source of the noise, which was soon joined by even stranger b-movie death-laser noises. Dean, seeing nothing, frowned at his brother. "What in the hell-"
But Sam wasn't listening. He pointed behind Dean, who turned.
Tiny pebble-looking things darted around the sky like humming birds. Dean realized his mistake as one broke off from the others and drew closer. It was all wrong, like a giant flying metal beetle. A huge gout of fire suddenly exploded only a few yards away, sending dirt and singed grass flying. Sam grabbed his brother and dragged him behind the wall as the strange looking ship fired again.
Dirt and small rocks rained down, stinging just enough to be annoyingly distracting. Dean raised his head and peaked over the wall just in time to see the ship break off and fly back towards the forest. "Well, shit." Dean said.
Sam dragged one hand over his face and sighed.
Before the dust had even settled, Dean had scrambled back over the wall and was rummaging around for the abandoned pack with a startling alacrity. Uncovering it, he brusquely tore it open and dumped its contents on the ground. He spared an MRE a scant glance before tossing it over his shoulder. Sam dodged to the side, glaring at the package as it sailed past.
Dean paid him no mind. "Duck," he said absently.
Sam narrowly avoided a second MRE. Tired of being in the line of fire, Sam vaulted over the wall and crouched down near his brother, who was still sorting through the contents of his kit with business-like efficiency. Only the MREs were flung away; everything else was sorted into piles- notebooks, weather gear, miscellaneous survival supplies, candy bars- a machete – it was the kind of gear you had when you were expecting anything and everything.
Having emptied the pack, Dean next started dumping out the contents of his many, many pockets. A pile of spare clips and assorted knives joined a radio, a couple of stun and smoke grenades, and a flashlight. Sam sorted through the knives, looking for one with the right weight and balance when Dean, who hadn't made so much as a sarcastic comment, let out a half-curse, half-reverent exhalation.
"What? What is it?" The knives were forgotten; curiosity carried a far sharper edge.
Dean held up a half-brick of clay. No; not clay-
"C-4." Dean swallowed. His face was impassive, but Sam knew his brother well enough to tell that he was suppressing the urge to grin like a maniac.
"These guys really take 'be prepared' to a whole new level." Sam remarked wryly, looking askance at the unassuming-looking brick.
"They're definitely not Boy Scouts," Dean grinned, and the smile- as quick and bright as a slice of lightning – subtly rearranged his features into something unfamiliar. "Guess it's up to us to save the day, huh?"
"Aren't you a little short for a storm-trooper?" Sam responded half a second later.
"Oh, fuck you very much," Dean grumbled, turning his attention back to the supplies strewn on the ground, but Sam felt himself relaxing, just a little.
Dean refilled the pack with the kind of swift efficiency that would make a drill sergeant proud, then thrust it at his brother. "Here. Be useful."
"Heroes, Sam. Heroes. I don't wanna hear it." And he kicked his way through the tall grass, obviously pleased with himself, leaving Sam to trail behind. Sam rolled his eyes and swallowed his complaints, shouldering the pack. The bickering was safe and familiar ground, at least.
Even with the spaceships trying to blow everything to hell and back, he felt oddly optimistic. He frowned and gave his head a little shake. They were stuck in a TV show by an extremely capricious deity with a cruel sense of humor. They didn't know where they were, didn't know what they were going up against, and were seriously outgunned...by spaceships. There was nothing in that that implied good times. And then there was the little matter of the apocalypse waiting for them if they did manage to survive.
"Have fun storming the castle," he muttered to himself.
He picked up his feet and jogged after his brother. The pack jolted into his kidneys with every stride, but he didn't pause. He didn't want to get caught out in the open if one of the ships came back. Dean had apparently had similar thoughts; Sam found him waiting just inside the line of trees bordering the forest.
"How do you want to play this?" Sam swung the pack off and thrust it at his brother. Dean took it with a barely audible grunt and threw it over one shoulder with a shrug.
"Head back to the rendezvous site, hope that the others are there, and play it by ear?" he offered.
"Eh." It was something. Sam pursed his lips and shrugged with his eyebrows. There was some annoying thing, some half-forgotten thought that suddenly seemed important. He frowned for a second and then said slowly," What about your radio?"
Dean's puzzlement quickly gave way to comprehension. "Oh- right." He flailed around for a second like a man fighting off a cloud of bees as he patted his way through his billion and one pockets, finding the right one only after he'd hit all the rest. He fumbled the radio out, and looked down at it. The volume was down to nearly nothing; a crackle of static leaked out, almost too faint to be heard.
Dean spun the volume wheel with his thumb. A voice wavered in and out of the static:
Dean directed an uneasy and sideways glance at his brother.
"Answer it?" Sam suggested.
"...goo-ld...attack! Re-... Ches...Affa!" crackled the radio.
"And say what, exactly?" Dean asked, the question low in his throat.
Sam shrugged. It was Dean's radio, after all.
Dean stared at the radio for a moment, his thumb hovering over the talk button.
"Uh. Winchester, over."
Sam rolled his eyes, and started to say something but stopped. The voice on the radio was getting harder to hear over the static.
"Jaffa... cap-...shit-" The signal died.
And then they were running.
Dean started in the lead, but Sam passed him as the trail narrowed, his longer stride giving him the advantage. The forest was alive with the scream of outraged birds, and a thin haze of smoke drifted through the branches. They darted through the trees, flying over rocks and downed branches and instinctively sticking to the deeper pools of shadow. The soft earth muffled their passage. As they rounded the last turn, they slowed and broke off from the path, weaving their way through the branches and ferns, silently easing their way closer to the clearing.
Dean leaned against a tree and peeked around it. He signaled to his brother, who slid around the tree, crouched low to the ground. Sam crawled forward through the ferns until he reached the rise overlooking the clearing. Sam startled, and then caught himself. Dean hurried to join him, creeping as quickly as he could along the forest floor. He looked up briefly, expecting mayhem and murder, because anything that startled Sam at this point would have to be pretty damn epic. But there was nothing spectacular...except- damn-
The stone ring was filled with water. It shone like it had every searchlight in Hollywood trained on its depths. Ripples occasionally cascaded across its surface, as if it caught in an unseen breeze.
And the entire thing was horizontal.
Dean was distracted by another crackle from the radio. Sam gave him a look that clearly said Dean was an idiot. Dean slapped uselessly at the pocket the thing was in.
"...SGC...repea-...Come in, SG-15." Now the useless piece of crap was broadcasting loud enough to wake the dead. Or get them killed. Cursing, Dean grabbed the damn thing and shut it off. He looked down at the clearing, but the figures below had apparently not noticed. They stood in a circle around the giant mars-rover thing, preoccupied with the arm that cranked a camera up and around to face them.
It focused on a man wearing some weird dress and a bunch of kinky looking jewelry. He was not tall, at least not in comparison to the soldiers standing on either side of him. He had the lithe build of the athlete and Mediterranean coloring. Kinky Weirdo, as Dean dubbed him, gestured imperiously to the man standing at his right...who looked like a football player with some weird fetishes. The guy had a gold tattoo on his forehead and was wearing a medieval robot suit. Gold-tat brought up another one of those weird snake whatevers and zapped the hell out of the rover. Dean made a mental note: Not useless. Not judging by the curl of smoke rising from the now-still machine, anyway.
"Tauri," spat the kinky weirdo.
The...magic puddle- or whatever it was- vanished like a popped soap bubble. The men in the ridiculous armor relaxed subtly, their formation breaking enough to let the brothers see behind them.
The rest of the expedition stood huddled in a miserable-looking clump in the middle with several of the armored men pointing their oversized staffs at them. Major Pierce was broadcasting defiance with his hard eyes and stiff stance. Several of the civilians looked like they were one hard look away from major breakdowns, but that was par for the course in Dean's experience. On the other hand, Dr. Colma looked like she was ready to tear out some vital organs with her bare hands. Dean got the feeling she didn't appreciate her geekgasms being interrupted by something as petty as warfare. He was familiar enough with that particular scowl, though on a far less attractive face.
Kinky Weirdo barked an order out a the man to his right, who Dean mentally dubbed "Sergeant Kiss-Ass". The man stepped forward and demanded something of Major Pierce, who cocked his head to the side and growled, "Go to hell!" ...Or something along those lines, anyway. It was hard to tell from the distance. Sergeant Kiss-Ass apparently didn't take well to this, and kicked the man's legs out from under him while shoving him to the ground. "Kneel before your GOD!" he shouted. That carried loud and clear.
The major glowered up at him, then cut a hard glare at Kinky Weirdo, who murmured something and smirked down at Pierce like a gloating comic book villain. Sergeant Kiss-Ass wheeled around and shot Dr. Colma with his snake ray gun. She cried out and fell to the ground, convulsing. And then she was still, either unconscious or dead.
Dean ground his teeth. Sergeant Kiss-Ass gestured towards the woman again with the weapon, and Pierce paled, but remained steadfast. His stern defiance was undercut, however, by the sounds of one of the civvies messily losing his lunch.
Dean sneaked a glance at his brother, who hadn't so much as twitched. But his eyes had gone flinty and his mouth had set into a line that was entirely their father's. Dean glanced back down at the meadow in time to see Kinky Weirdo and Sergeant Kiss-Ass standing stock still off to the side. Kinky Weirdo hit something on his golden wristband, and then half a dozen rings appeared out of nowhere and collapsed down on them. But instead of ending up a squished pile of blood and guts, they disappeared in a flash of light, along with the rings.
While Dean attempted to process this, a few of Sergeant Kiss-Ass' comrades marched the others over to where Kinky Weirdo had been so recently standing. Dean got to see a repeat of the disappearing ring trick, which still just didn't compute. That left only a few soldiers...or what Dean assumed were soldiers. Unlike the others, he could not see their faces. He guessed they could also be robots or golems or who the hell knows what.
They wore some sort of bull-head as part of their armor. There were only nine of these tin soldiers- and soldiers he was sure they were, at least judging by their relatively imperfect coordination and different gaits. Two took position by the stone ring. The rest loosely lined up in two rows of three, lead by a single man without a bull-head. At his signal, they started clanking their way up the hill. To Dean's practiced eye, they were obviously the raw recruits. They did not move well together, their metal-clad arms occasionally clanging together as elbows knocked into each other and strides faltered.
Dean tapped Sam on the shoulder. He gestured back at the forest behind them. Sam nodded and obligingly crept backwards far enough sit up without giving his position away. Dean did the same, and they crouched in the shade of an especially expansive tree, hidden from sight by the thick tangle of ferns and brush.
They waited there until the group clanked their way past them and down the path a ways before rising and shadowing after them. When they reached the great plains, they hung back, following them only with their eyes.
"What do you think?" Dean asked. "Die Hard?"
"We don't know where they took everyone. I'm thinking more like the bank."
"Could be tricky. We don't even know who the hell they're supposed to be. These guys aren't exactly SWAT."
"Exactly, Dean- look at them."
Down the hill, one of the tin men startled when a bird erupted from the brush. He swung his big staff around, nearly tripping the man next to him.
"Huh." Dean considered it. "This could work. We'll need to split them up."
"Set up a couple of the smoke grenades?" Sam offered.
"Too obvious-" Dean retorted.
"-not at the same time, obviously."
"You just want to blow something up."
Dean's cheek twitched. It may have been closer to the truth than he was ever going to admit.
"I'm just saying, let's make it look serious," he said at last. "We could rig something up with one of the spare clips and some tinder- it'd sound like someone was going friggin' postal. Set one of the smoke grenades to go off first, then....catch their attention somehow- jump out and say boo, I don't know- hightail it outta there, and have the clip go off to lead 'em off our trail."
"Great, except for the part where we accidentally set the forest on fire."
"That's a risk with the smoke grenades anyway, genius," Dean said stubbornly.
Sam breathed out forcefully through his nose, his nostrils flaring. "Yeah, well- not as much of one."
"Dude- I don't know if you noticed, but it's not like we have all day here, Sam. They're gonna come back. Fuck the forest anyway. It's not real."
Sam opened his mouth, but instead of the expected comeback, he just...stopped, his mouth still hanging open. Then he said, "We could, you know."
"Set the forest on fire. Or- you know- a tree. Something. They're searching for something, right?"
Dean shrugged indifferently. "Probably. So now you're not going all Smokey the Bear?"
"We're usually in populated areas," he said defensively. "But here? Who cares. But they're looking for something- they're not going to let it go unchecked."
Dean nodded along, looking a little lost in thought himself. He looked up. "They've got spaceships," he said finally.
"They're still doing the searching on foot."
Dean shook his head. "Not what I meant. You're right. Thing is, we're not going to be hanging around, though burning down the forest around our ears is still probably a bad idea. We've got damsels to save. And a hard-assed SOB. And a couple of geeks." He blinked and, after a second, remembered his original point. "And as far as I can tell we're not going to find them- or the bad guy- here."
"What was the deal with that guy anyway?"
"Hell if I know. He's like a Rocky Horror Picture Show reject or something."
Sam raised his eyebrows at the comparison, and then shrugged.
The little figures down the hill had managed to complete a circuit of the remains of the tower and now were awkwardly getting back into formation for the walk back.
"I think we need to keep this simple," Dean said, his eyes fixed on the soldiers below.
Sam pinched his nose. "You had a flare gun somewhere in there, didn't you?"
"Uh, yeah-" Dean patted his pockets again.
"What if we go back to the clearing, set off the flare, and wait for them to come to us?"
Dean stared off vaguely into the distance. "Just ambush them?"
"We can be creative."
"Oh, no doubt about that, Sam, but I'm getting really tired of getting my ass shot off. One surgery was enough. The last three were just excessive."
"They'll probably have lousy aim."
Dean gave him an even look. "Awesome. When I get hit, it'll be a comfort to know it was an accident. I've got a better idea."