Herewith the conclusion. Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, alerted and fav'd.
Dean mumbled something when Sam pulled him away from the passenger door and helped him lie down on the front seat, but he didn't wake up, even when Sam closed the door with its inevitable creak and thunk.
He took one last look as he left the car. Dean had turned onto his uninjured side and curled one arm under his head. Sam'd rolled the windows halfway down, not wanting to roast Dean alive when the sun came up, set Dean's cell phone alarm to ring at nine, protected the car, and left a note. Check, check, and check.
The ashram was less than a mile away, and the night was cool and crisp. Sam knew what he had to do, when he had to do it, and how. He couldn't be more prepared unless he'd rolled his brother up and stuck him in the duffel for backup.
And there was a large part of him that wanted to do just that. Maybe he should wait until Dean was recovered enough to come with him. He stood for a moment, reconsidering his decision to do this tonight, but finally starting walking. It needed to be done before Nāga Panchamī, and before anyone else, including his brother, died.
Heaving the duffel over the property fence, he followed it easily to drop silently on the grounds. The next half-hour was spent investigating the ashram to find a suitable site for the ceremony. The huge mandala near the main entrance was stunning, even when lit by the weak light of the quarter moon, and would be an excellent setting. He unpacked the duffel and began setting up the wards and the ceremony to summon Garuda, the half-man, half-eagle warrior demigod of the Mahabharata.
Sam concentrated and chanted slowly, staring unblinking at the moon until his eyes watered. Bending down, he lit beeswax candles and started the ceremony, chanting constantly. Closing his eyes, he pictured eagles, eagles flying with snakes writhing ineffectually in huge talons. Pictured the mile-wide wings of a demigod, banking and breaking, and coming to rest in a swirl of wind and sand. Pictured Garuda landing on the mandala.
Thought about his brother, back in the car. Damn it. He opened his eyes in frustration at the break in his concentration.
And discovered the mandala was covered in snakes. None too close—his wards were holding—but they were everywhere: native rattlesnakes, Nāga Devatas in the shape ofcobras, and other nāgas in serpent shapes he couldn't identify. Atavistic fear sent a prickle up his spine. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes again.
He found the pace and rhythm, found the words, and chanted. He chanted for the lives of the victims, for John Smith, carrying snake bones and an infinitesimal ruby to his death, and he chanted for Dean, wide-eyed, watching golden eagles wheel over the road more closely than he watched the road itself. He chanted to bring Garuda to Arizona, to subdue and defeat the nāgas and the people who used them.
The first blow didn't register. The second made him crack his eyes and chant louder.
A man and a woman stood in front of him, chanting in a staccato counterpoint to his own voice. The woman's arms were raised over her head, but the man held a long pole. When the man swung the pole again, Sam brought his arms up and blocked it, but it felt like he was underwater, heavy and uncoordinated. He chanted, wishing Dean would magically appear out of the duffel and stand between him and the pole when it connected with his biceps again.
Raising his voice, Sam called Garuda down to feast on his enemies. To take the snakes in his immense talons and eviscerate them. Behead them. Skin them. Sam chanted, waiting for the sound of wings from above.
Suddenly, the world went white. The tiny quarter moon flared brighter than the sun, bleaching color out of the landscape and buildings, and leaving a stark black and white snapshot of the scene seared into his eyes.
The swami of the ashram was on the mandala—wide eyes, flying white hair, white robes swirling around him—gesturing with arms like snakes, boneless and supple. There were snakes at his feet, coiling and swaying, following the motion of his arms with their bodies, The man, pole forgotten, and the woman were moving as if entranced, following the swami's gestures with intent eyes.
It was something Sam was sure he would never forget as long as he lived. He just hoped that would be more than the next few minutes.
Dean woke up slowly. There was an alarm going off. He dragged his tongue across his teeth and yawned.
"Sam, turn that off." His eyes felt gummy when he cracked them open. Not in the motel in bed. It was the front seat of the Impala. The alarm was his phone. Groaning, he brought it up to his face and jammed at buttons until the noise stopped. At least he could see a little better than last night. The sun was well up in the sky, the light just starting to creep past the dash and into his face. He knuckled his eyes and squinted at the phone to read the alarm message.
COME FIND ME. S.
Now why would Sam need finding? Dean groaned again. Sam must have snuck off to the ashram without backup, the little shit, leaving his brother behind like a snoring sack of potatoes. And he wasn't back. Dean blinked a couple of times but he still couldn't read the time on the phone. After he dragged his left arm up and hit his bandaged hand against the steering wheel, he found he could read his watch just fine. It was nine. He'd been asleep for hours while Sam was fighting giant snakes. Crap. Dean thumbed speed dial one and got Sam's voice mail. Double crap.
Sitting up, he spotted a bottle of water on the floor in front of the passenger seat and drained it before he realized how much pressure was already on his bladder. He had to pee even before he went to collect his brother.
Getting out the car was a bitch, his left hand useless, and it left him clinging to the door until the vertigo passed. When he felt steady, he shook his right leg experimentally, and it moved. The left leg moved, too. Not as fast as he would like, but enough to get him far enough away from the car, and the road Sam had parked on, to take a leak in relative privacy behind a cactus.
On his way back to the car, he glanced around for a street sign or landmark. He stopped when he noticed a neat ring on the ground, made up of some kind of powder, or pellets maybe, circling the car. It took a few seconds to spot a stack of empty snake repellent boxes. Laughing, he climbed back into the car, reaching for the keys hanging in the ignition. The Impala came alive with a rumble.
There was a piece of paper tented on the dash. On the front, in Sam's handwriting, he read, TO FIND ME. Flipping the paper open, he squinted and read, END OF THE BLOCK, TAKE A RIGHT. TWO BLOCKS, LEFT. ASHRAM ON RIGHT. Sam wasn't anything if not obsessively thorough. He must have figured he had this in the bag. So why wasn't he answering his phone? Dean gunned the engine as his anxiety started to mount, and he almost missed the stop sign at the end of the block.
The ashram's gate was wide open, when before he'd had to enter through a door inset in the fence a few yards down. Skidding through the gate and onto the grounds, he slewed to a stop on top of a large expanse of tile. He pulled himself from the car, and walked a little unsteadily until he could lean back against the wall of the closest building.
The place was a disaster. Smoke was rising from somewhere farther back on the property and paper and litter were scattered all over the grounds. He blinked and squinted. There were some clothes, a sandal here and there, and near his feet were trampled flowers and beads. Triple crap. His little brother may have bitten off more than he could chew.
Leaning his head back, he shouted, "Sam!" Dean launched toward the next structure, steadying himself along a railing until he reached another wall. He inspected the new vista. More of the same Sam-free landscape. He called again, louder this time, and heard something to his right. There was an open area and a fountain back that way, if he remembered correctly. Shouting, "Sam, I'm coming," he started forward, feeling pretty steady on his feet by the time he came through a vine-covered arch and entered the fountain square.
There was a white-haired man in front of the fountain, sitting cross-legged with his back to Dean. Squinting, he looked around the courtyard until he finally saw a large, very familiar shape over against the far wall.
Dean sighed in relief and angled in that direction. As he passed the fountain, he was able to see the seated guy up close, and stumbled a few steps to the side.
It was the maharaja guy—the swami from the flyers. His eyes were closed, he was smiling beatifically, and in each outstretched hand, he was holding a bowl of milk. And he was covered in snakes. They were wrapped around his hands and arms, drinking the milk, coiling in his lap, threading through his loose hair, and moving in and out of his clothing. Dean watched as more and more of the creatures appeared to be paying attention to him rather than to the milk. In fact, when he lifted a foot to take a step, a couple of serpents slithered up to his boot. He froze in place, looking a little desperately toward his brother. He finally saw Sam move. "You okay?"
Sam waved at him.
The swami's eyes opened and he looked up at Dean. "All is fine here now." He held out one of the bowls of milk. "Make an offering."
"What?" Keeping his eyes on a healthy looking coral snake winding around his ankle, he shook his head. "I need to get to my brother."
"There is time. Your brother is fine. He, too, made an offering, but for you," his eyes seemed to pierce right through Dean's skull, "for you, it is vital. They must all know you."
"You're sure they aren't mad about the," he made a sweeping gesture with both arms, "the big one?"
The swami only closed his eyes and pushed a bowl closer to him. "It is Nāga Panchamī. You offer milk."
Dean took the bowl slowly, then walked carefully to the fountain and sat on the rim. He held it several inches away from his leg and waited. The snakes responded almost immediately. To his intense relief, none of them tried climbing his leg, but instead scaled the side of the fountain to reach the bowl. He touched one or two as they slithered near him, fascinated at how smooth and warm they were.
After a few minutes, most of the animals had returned to the swami. Dean quietly set the bowl down, and began threading his way past another dozen serpents sunning in the courtyard. Reaching the far wall, he put his back against it, and slid down to sit next to Sam, elbowing his brother's ribs. "Came. Found you. Hell of a lot of snakes." Sam nodded but didn't speak. Dean's heart rate suddenly increased. "Are you all right?" He leaned forward to check, but instead ended up closing his eyes and grunting when pain from the wound in his side sliced through him front to back. He put a hand over the bandage and pushed. He was better, damn it. He opened his eyes to see Sam right in his face.
"Dean, what? Is the bite bleeding again?"
He leaned back with a sigh of relief. "Are you okay? Why were you just sitting here?"
Sam rubbed his head and looked at Dean kind of sheepishly. "I'm fine. Only been sitting down for a few minutes. And it was almost nine. I figured I'd wait for you." He pulled Dean's hand away from his side and lifted his shirt.
"Dude. We're in public."
Sam smiled a little. "Just us and the swami. Everyone else ran. I need to clean and bandage this again."
"Was there a bad guy? A bad chick? A big bad snake? A giant bird-man?"
Sam hesitated. "Bad guy and chick. One of the nāgas was as big as the one at WalMart." He shook his head slowly. "I never did see Garuda. Once the swami found out what was happening, he helped me. When we broke the spell, the nāgas doled out their own kind of punishment. The bad guys are very dead." Sam waved toward an arch inset in a wall a few feet away. "Through there. I wouldn't look if I were you."
"We should probably get out of here."
"Yeah, but we're okay. The swami will vouch for us." Despite what he said, Sam clambered to his feet, stretched, and took a step forward. "Come on." When Dean didn't move, Sam looked back.
Dean had to crane his neck to look up into his face. "I could use some help."
Sam grasped his forearm and leaned back, bringing Dean up off the ground. "How are you?"
"How much better?"
"Not very. But hey, I got here without hitting anything."
"Vision blurry? Dizzy?"
"Not enough to bother me." He took a step and had to grab Sam's arm to keep upright. "Just get me out of here."
Sam stopped to talk to the swami, bowing slightly. Dean watched and did his best not to lean against him, or fall over. When Sam was done, Dean thanked the man for saving his brother's life. The swami waved as they left the courtyard, trailing snakes in the air around his arm.
When they reached the car, Sam made a tsking noise. "You drove on the grass? And parked on the big meaningful expensive mandala?" He bent down and collected his duffel.
Dean laughed. "Told you we needed to go."
When he headed for the driver's door, Sam redirected him to the back passenger door and held out his hand for the keys. "Don't argue about this. Get in."
Dean hesitated a moment, but grudgingly sat in the back. He heard Sam open the trunk, then he reappeared with the cooler.
"Hold out your left arm."
Dean stared at bag of saline. "You didn't. I'm better."
"You're better but not well. And I'm sure you'll be fine, but just in case, I want you to have the full dose of CroFab. That's two vials now, and maybe more later."
Sam set up the IV faster than Dean believed possible, hooking the bag on a clothes hanger, then setting the hanger on the clothes hook over the back door.
Once he'd retrieved the first-aid kit from the front seat, Sam tapped the inside of Dean's elbow to bring up a vein. Satisfied, he swabbed Dean's elbow with alcohol.
"Couldn't you put it in my hand?" Dean heard himself whining and blushed. "Doesn't hurt as much."
"Yeah, if I were a nurse or a doctor. I learned elbow, from you I might add, and that's what you get." He looked back and tapped the arm again, re-swabbed it, and slid the needle in before Dean could twitch. Once everything was taped down, Sam packed up the supplies. Before he returned the cooler to the trunk, he dropped a couple of bottles of water on the front seat. This time, he closed the trunk and came back with a pillow and threw it in Dean's lap. "Put your feet up and lay back on this."
Sam closed the door, and Dean leaned back as instructed, closing his eyes. He heard another door open and felt his legs being lifted and put on the seat. He muttered a thanks. When he heard Sam get in behind the wheel, he cracked his eyes open. "Anything else, Boss Sam?"
"Not from you."
Dean watched him fiddle with some bottles. "That the Crow stuff?"
"Yeah, I'll put it in your IV in a minute. It'll be finished by the time we get to the motel." Sam opened a bottle of water and handed it to him along with a pair of sunglasses from the glove compartment. "You'll probably need these."
Dean put on the shades and closed his eyes again, drifting for a few minutes. Once the car was on the road, he pulled himself awake and craned to look out the window. "Hey, Sam." His voice still wasn't loud enough. He cleared his throat and tried again, this time thumping the back of the front seat with his hand. His left hand… "Ow. Fuck that hurt. Sam!"
"Dean? What? Are you okay?" Sam pulled to the side of the road, moving his head back and forth so quickly, it almost made Dean feel dizzy. The car stopped, and Sam was around and heaving the door open.
Sam was checking the IV. "Is it the bite? Do you need more pain meds for that?" He reached for Dean's forehead. "Do you have a fever? Feel nauseated?"
Dean waved him off. "Sam, I'm really okay. Just wanted to ask a question."
Sam leaned back and sat on the door frame as best he could. "Sure, Dean, what?"
"Can we stop at the rockslide place on the way back?"
"No, we cannot stop at the park." Sam stood and slammed the door behind him. He walked around and got back in the car. "I thought something was wrong, and you want to go on a water ride." Sam huffed and got the car back on the road. He looked back, smiling a little. "What are you? Seven?"
"There's a big apple orchard." Dean couldn't help yawning. "Maybe they have pie."
"Yeah, and there could be scarecrows, too. I'm still not stopping. We'll get pie in Winslow. You'll be asleep in five minutes, Dean, and you'll forget this conversation ever took place."
Dean let all his muscles relax and took a deep breath. Sam was wrong about one thing: he was going to be asleep in about thirty seconds. If Sam said anything else, he didn't hear him.