Title:Team Rolling Naked in Money
Genre: slice-of-life (provided that life is strange, criminal, scandalously wealthy, and scorched at the edges by Hell)
Word Count: ~6000
Notes: Written for justcalledkate's brilliant, original artwork, as part of spn_reversebang 2013. S6's B-side.
Yorkshire, or somewhere south of there, give or take several hundred kilometers. Not Russia, in any case; never Russia. Heavens no. It's simply not a climate he'd subject himself to, not willingly. England is already pushing it. It knew temperatures God never intended.
But really it's an aesthetic preference, warmth. A palette, a sartorial decision more than a sensation, because the man who is not in Russia is not a man. He just doesn't understand why anyone would want to wear a trenchcoat. (Trenchcoats are, of late, a rather specific galling presence in his life. But let's not get distracted; it's unbecoming.)
He slips through security without fingerprints. The gallery is small, crooked, deeply English, and there are very many artifacts to choose from. But Balthazar, as God named him (as He would also name, irritatingly, several million mortals as the years frolicked forward--but again, distraction)--Balthazar is here for only one.
It's not that he's habitually unfocused. His usual fare these days has been of a somewhat higher order, so it seems a waste--the care he's bothered to take thus far. It is clear from his gait he would flaunt his carelessness had he any audience to see it. Balthazar is a shadow that requires a standing ovation.
Always has. And when a voice behind him, lisp-smothered and frighteningly Scouse, asks him what he's up to now, it is neither a true surprise nor much of an inconvenience.
"You people have such short memories," he says. "I'll never get over that. Endlessly fascinating, evolution. So many of you seem to slip through anyway."
"Oy--" The boy probably realizes he's on top te fuck, because he lowers his baton and doesn't make another sound. Balthazar feels the boy's hitched breaths break against his chest and looks down. He wipes the boy's bangs out of his eyes, and the boy takes this with a servile obeisance that suggests his hair is something his ma's been on about. Then Balthazar puts a hand to the boy's head and learns his neurons like an electrical system; it's a hereditary savagery, this trick. A birthright, some might ay.
Before Balthazar untwines this English boy's nervous system, he takes a moment to admire God's handiwork.
Balthazar is not a cruel man; that is to say, he is neither cruel, nor a man. He just can't be arsed. If he wore a trenchcoat (honestly, it's ghastly), he'd have bothered to make friends here. Limited, mortal, simpering, special needs friends. He'd wipe the boy's memory with a wave of his hand, replace it with an evening spent jacking off in the annex john. He'd spare the rod and spoil the child, for in the end, they are all God's favorites. But to be frank, human memory is not his best talent--so short, so little to work with, such a delicate art--and the intricacies involved do not comprise any of his more refined palates. There are so many more important things in the world.
And memory is so delicate.
It is so delicate.
"I've heard Heaven is lovely this time of year," he assures the boy, and he drops his hand briefly to pinch affectionately at the boy's chin.
Then there's an insectile buzz, and the boy trickles sideways. The boy slumps, and his blood trickles sideways again, a serpent wriggling from his left temporal lobe. The bullet cuts a nick in the brick at the other end of the room.
(Not an insect then; a silenced gun. Louder than an insect, a swarm of insects. But sometimes it's difficult to tell. For Balthazar, everything on Earth happens at a whisper.)
Balthazar doesn't move. She's barefoot, which explains her silence, but he can tell from the vibrations in the air around her she's used to wearing heels. She has bare feet but is well armed. She is always well armed.
"I didn't realize Rasputin's dick was worth so much bloodshed," he says, because that is what he's after here, isn't it. Child's play. A dick joke with a literal dick. And now he'll need to kill her, too.
"You should flatter yourself more," says the woman charitably. Posh. Self-congratulatory. "I'm here for you."
Balthazar hears the swish of leather against her trigger, and the insects, again the insects, but he doesn't move. If she thinks he'll be threatened by a bullet, then she's not really here for him, flattering as that may be.
And it is flattering. Worthy, even, of a second volley of waggish parley.
Then his shoulder catches fire.
There is visible light.
There is grace, crackling.
There are many things that shouldn't be. He staggers backward, into a table holding jars of aborted dolphins, two-headed human children. He wasn't aware Heaven had started handing out angelsword to any smith who'd ask; and he wonders, briefly, what the point of a Heavenly weapons store had even been if it didn't stock what she's got. It's all antiquated, really. Lot's salt. The scepter of Moses. Barbarism in the face of her--he winces--very unusual gun.
'Lightheaded' is the medical term for these un-thoughts. "Where did you get that?" is the question he'd like to ask. He'll need forceps to dig the bullet out. He lets his shoulder bleed, and lets fragments of grace inflame the muscle tissue.
Where did she get that, and are there more?
She tells him information is heavier than gold.
"So it's your secret, then?"
(Does it die with you?)
She tells him she is in the market for the highest bidder.
He looks at the woman, finally, and sighs. Always with the trenchoats. She's not an angel; she should know better. If humans ought to excel at one thing, it's dressing themselves; sartorial invention was something God had saved for them, after all. Other than that, she is empty. Arcane. Balthazar has no idea what she is.
It's then he realizes who she then must be.
"You've found your bidder," he says, and smiles. Rubs his shoulder. The blood won't stop. (The boy, finally, has slowed again to a trickle. Head wounds are such messy things. Balthazar imagines in his boy's bright blood the pitter of small feet on some Yorkshire abbey road, the rattling expiration of a life ignited a paltry several decades prior.)
"You've found your bidder," he repeats, when the pitter stops.
She is doubtful, but then, she should be. She should remember him--she should remember that Balthazar never bids. He simply attains. They have this in common.
(And when did he last see her? It's been some time. But then he'd spent several centuries in Corsica in the interim, and she's lived centuries in Hell--it makes one prone to disidentification, the slippage of signs. He'll forgive his lapse of recognition.)
He did wonder where she'd got to, though.
"Darling," he assures her, "I'm the greatest thief in the world. After all, I stole you."
Why the hell would he want an old pickled dick? is the first thing Adam asks when Bela and Balthazar come home. He doesn't wonder why there's a gun pointed at his angel, and he doesn't wonder about the blood. Occupational hazard; ER rotation makes these kinds of things wholly undramatic. So he says.
But he hasn't done geriatric yet. He doesn't need a pickled dick. He will, in fact, probably never need a pickled dick.
"For science, if you must have a reason to want," Balthazar says sweepingly. "That's what all the kids are saying these days, isn't it? For science. I'm sure your brothers would have been endlessly--"
Adam's expression darkens.
"Half brothers, sorry. I'm sure they would have been endlessly fascinated by this. It was a slip of the tongue. I'm sorry."
Balthazar is not terribly sorry.
"No one believes that strait-laced face of yours, Adam." Balthazar trots past him and starts shuffling through their kitchen knives. He offers Adam some bland explanation, something about digging a bullet out, because suffice it to say, Balthazar is somewhat endeared to the boy's surly deadpan; it's angelic. Reminds him of home.
"Some people do that for a living, you know," says Adam. Ever willing to be helpful--no. Ever willing to prove his worth. "During last week's rotation--"
"Some people not you," says Balthazar, without looking up. "Dear boy, you weren't born to be a surgeon. That you're a half-credentialed medical sort, you have societal pressure to thank. But believe me when I tell you this: You were not born to be a surgeon."
Bela doesn't lower her gun and doesn't move from the doorway. Her stillness lends the scene a depth of space, she holding to the room's horizon, Adam perfectly centered, perfectly framed (the rule of thirds). Balthazar imagines himself in soft focus, the crown of his head bobbing in an out of frame. He becomes the clatter of kitchen business, knives and the garbage disposal and small-caliber bullets.
Then Bela sees Aaron Birch's soul in a box on the coffee table. Rather, she sees a rather arcane box. By the new gleam to her complexion Balthazar guesses she can guess what's inside.
Satisfied, she lowers her weapon and invites herself in. She locks the door behind her.
She will stay for months.
They slip into each other's lives like fire into bullet casings. It's not that they belong together so much as there is plenty of room. And motive--motive, mostly. Today, they dine on beignets at the Cafe du Monde. Tomorrow, they will head north again. Or tonight. It depends on what New Orleans has to offer. Or what it has worth taking.
Bela and Balthazar are masterminding a conversation in valley French. Adam isn't sure who picked the accent, but he knows it from his French exam cassettes. (Advanced placement 4; independent study. He and a kid named Tianxiong huddled in a closet with a tape deck, trying to drown out the French 3 teacher, who used volume to impress language on her students. She was convinced nothing else would work. Slowly, loudly, as though being monolingual were akin to being deaf and dumb. And maybe it is.)
Adam eats a beignet. He licks the powdered sugar from his fingers with suggestive pops.
By grace of his very human memory he manages to parse a single sentence. As he imagined, their gabbing was neither relevant, nor elegant. Balthazar thought Bela was underdressed. It was, after all, the Cafe du Monde. To Balthazar, it did not seem to matter that they weren't in France, were seated outside in Louisiana July, eating fried dough next to a family of sandals, tank tops and drawstring gym bags.
But to his Balthazar's credit, Adam mused, Bela dressed like she'd been orphaned at twelve and basically just kept wearing variants on outfits she'd remembered Barbie wearing. Like she had a taste only for things that could be sold away, magicked across international borders, held in secret. Like fashion was dull and obvious.
But maybe in Britain they just dressed that way.
Adam remembers his mother, exceptionally far from being British but very close to being quintessentially Wisconsin. He'd rarely seen her out of scrubs. His memories of her are dimmer than they should be, dim in ways that that moment in his irrelevant French class was irritatingly bright, but he's fairly certain she'd had a similar relationship to clothing.
Even at church, she'd worn her scrubs. Theirs was a very informal congregation. He'd worn jeans.
He'd worn jeans and memorized the names and lives of all his saints, in the order that someone had decided they should be venerated.
Life with Balthazar--and now, apparently, Bela--was different. Because when you knew an angel, saints were different. Their numbers blossomed, and their rankings shifted. Several of Adam's newly anointed: Louis Féraud. Inès Marie Lætitia Églantine Isabelle de Seignard de La Fressange. Louis Vuitton. Countless other Louis.
So he's a bit of a clotheshorse. Designer casual, semi-formal, it doesn't matter. He loves a good cologne and he won't wear anything he's worn in public once before. Part of him thinks he was raised better than this--his mother, he thinks, his mother--and part of him doesn't give a shit.
It's the dawn of a new era, because he's been born again. This is his turned leaf.
He's wearing a Louis now, low-karat diamond cufflinks and a tidy silk tie. A suit he'd had fitted in New York when last they'd gone, deep black in a way that smelled like wealth. He pretends to excuse himself from his companions, who were pretending to be French, and finds the man in sandals, and a tanktop, and a drawstring bag: Adam knows a CEO when he sees one, whatever the costume. He is, after all, the last person who needs to be told that you are not what you wear.
Adam explains to this CEO, whose sticky children are hanging from him, sliding over is body like the humidity, that he is a movie star. In this movie, he plays the Son of God. When he's not at a med school that doesn't exist (because it doesn't, does it, he realizes; sometimes he forgets. Memory is delicate), he's a nonexistent actor in a film that does not exist. Adam is a busy man.
A busy man with a cheeky grin. With the insatiable confidence of a confidence man. The savvy to expound florid endorsements of this CEO's Twitter campaign, his new crowdsourcing platform--whatever makes him happy. Several beignets, on the house.
They part mutually enriched, the CEO with delusions of standing and Adam with the private contacts of several religious collectors in the mid-Atlantic. They may have pieces they would be willing to lend to Adam's movie for the sake of authenticity--historical, artistic, and of course, spiritual. God bless.
"Exquisite work," says Balthazar, who is generous with his praise but less so with his sincerity. "The first two collectors we'll need to give our most flattering regards. The final one, we'll skip."
"Why?" Adam asks. A side effect of his role in their operation is this fetish for bland-ish conversation he's begun to develop.
"The final one is me," says Bela. "Or one of me. She died years ago. Ripped to shreds. I'm sure her associates were only too happy to liquidate her assets in her absence."
"Do you ever feel like a dragon?" Adam asks. "Hoarding treasure and all. I'm trying to imagine you with wings."
"Make me magpie, if you must," Bela replies, first in French, forgetting; then she translates. "It's a mere matter of knowing what's important to me, and making it mine."
"It's quite a pious notion, really," agrees Balthazar. "If you're the only being that could truly appreciate something, then it should be yours. That's how you all ended up with this rock."
Balthazar's is a very loose reading of the lapsarian present, but what does Adam know. He is not that Adam, not the Adam, and he's been told that Eve--'his' Eve, real Eve--is a mother to monsters, not to man. So what the fuck does the Bible know.
"You had wings," Adam says of Bela, insistent. "I remember. You had wings." Wings and a red face, carved out of a scream. A sound so heavy it turned to stone. Hell was synaesthetic like that.
Hell, thinks Adam.
Balthazar puts a cool hand to Adam's forehead. Regards him (--apologetically?): "Clever boy, you are mistaken."
A property recently purchased, by someone not them. Rumor has it there are secrets under the floorboards, skeletons in the walls, priceless artifacts stowed in its custodial closets--that sort of thing. It had been a BigGerson's once, but the manager learned the hard way that you don't put a chain like that in a building like this (old downtown, ornate, the world gentrifying around it). The clientele doesn't mix; it gives the impression that your business is nothing but a front, like a nail salon in the auto mall, or a dry cleaners miles away from any high-rise apartments, and neighborhoods from any need for a suit.
And then, of course, your only recourse is to become a front. You have to save the family business somehow.
Bela sees buildings primarily as repositories as it is, and for her this is nothing special. Adam standing watch (ostensibly standing watch) has no opinion of buildings, apart from their ability to sliver wind tunnels, keep him warm as he puffs moist air into cupped hands and boxes his feet to keep the blood flowing.
"Front," Balthazar pronounces, when he and Bela slip inside and are greeted by a line of corroded bodies, skin sunk to bones and blackened by time and dust and fire. Surely some authority must have seen them--perhaps even shortly after some neighbor reported them gone. Some samaritan phoned in the gunshots, or the blaze. But selective blindness is one of God's most necessary talents; and in some fit of generosity, it's one he makes sure no child of his lacks.
"It's different for him," says Bela, as they sift through the rubble. One of the dead is a lesser saint, and his bones are free for the taking. The wall Bela fondles has coins stuffed in all its crevices--coins for the Ferryman in Hell.
"It's different for everyone," says Balthazar, brusque.
"I don't like that."
"You can't possibly be jealous."
"I'm not fond of relativism."
"Hell is. Well, after a fashion. Their relativism is often fairly arbitrary."
"He's a child."
"So were you."
"Did he truly--"
Balthazar stops. "Sentimentality, Bela?"
Bela holds her ground as he advances. Back to the wall. The blinds, their window boarded up and lightness, crunch behind her, leave clear dusty tracks in stripes across her coat. Her fingers laced with coins.
"Magpie," she says. A purveyor needs treasure. She needs fences. She needs to know how the world works, and ever since the Winchesters, the world order's been on something of a tailspin.
Bela's Hell, as near as Balthazar can recall, had been long--a river. He'd found her on a boat, her pockets full of coins, and her Ferryman unmindful of that wealth. Her pockets full of coins, and Him unmindful of her inveiglements. Her pockets, unminded. A long, long river.
Balthazar grips her tight and raises her from the floor's shattered tiles, BigGerson's arterial red. He wheedles his tongue between her lips and she presses her thighs around his hips like a clamshell. Her dress, a dark-hued knit, rides up.
"Christo," Balthazar whispers, but there's nothing. No shadows. No dilation. No evil shocked to the surface. Bela remains empty, unreadable.
"What are you?" he asks aloud for the first time.
She rests her chin on his breast and smiles. He feels her skin tighten against him, her facial musculature pulling taut.
"Don't steal what you can't name."
Adam does accents. Only American ones, or the transnational implausibility of cartoon voices, but he does them, and does them well. His wife is on that plane, he tells the cabbie. They're waiting in the cell phone lot watching an Arab Emirates plane touch down, and the meter isn't even ticking because Adam's wife is on that plane, see. His wife is coming home from the war.
He repeats this several times for effect, because he's always admired his Brooklyn. He is also impossibly good at appearing brain damaged. She's coming home from the warzone, you know.
Adam hailed this cab in a small town nowhere near the airport, and nowhere near home. The cabbie is new, Adam can smell it on him, but even if he wasn't, he serviced a town that had no need of him. God created an abundance of Man and the President proved his faith by creating more jobs than necessary but fewer than were needed. (If the President had faith sufficient to accommodate God's excess, then he'd have joined the clergy. It's not his fault. He wasn't born for that.)
Adam's wife, wrapped head to toe in black and wearing a headscarf, is not the Marine the cabbie thought she'd be. He relaxes, and offers her his kind regards.
Adam plunges himself into her arms and loves her dearly, in a way only his Brooklyn accent can.
Bela and the cabbie converse in Arabic all the way home (now many miles from the cabbie's small town. But he's forgotten to turn the meter back on. Sirens, he'll claim later. They were sirens. Sirens from the motherland).
At a cross-street in Chinatown, the shadow of Death sweeps over them. He's on his way to see Dean Winchester about his brother's soul.
In her hands, Bela has a soul in a box.
"Making off with your own dowry?" says Balthazar, from the shadows.
It's always been a favorite game of Adam's, this idea that he and Bela are husband and wife. It's a ruse they play often, and well. Which is an endless amusement to Balthazar, given who they are and what they do, and what they've done--and likely most important--who once they were.
(It's not love that holds them to one another. Histrionics, maybe. But not love.
Their capacity for love is limited by their weakness for playing more than one game at a time: We are husband and wife. We are strangers. We are humans, demons, angels. Fragments.
"You'll lose all your friends that way, lovey." In her hands, Bela has a soul in a box. Several souls, to be technical; but when stored in close quarters they amalgamate readily--mutate, conjoin--so it's difficult to tell.
Bela has no friends to speak of, Balthazar and Adam notwithstanding. No buyers, either.
"You once were in bed with Crowley. You're thinking about the Winchesters now. But there's someone else, isn't there." Bela means to take those souls, and deliver them. Deliver them to someone she does not love. But who?
"Yet still, you remember--I saved you. I stole you from Hell."
Of course this is, perhaps, an overstatement. It happens more like this: Balthazar is tailing Castiel when Castiel finds Sam Winchester in a cage. And Lucifer, one surmises, or what's left of him. And Michael. Balthazar raises Adam on a whim. And with Bela, he simply fails to close the door behind him.
Accordingly, Bela capitalizes. Balthazar allows this, because he's a magpie, too.
And Bela glitters like no other soul in hell.
"Lovey, give me back my box."
They live in the hotel's penthouse now. The bar and restaurant on the first floor--which had been BigGerson's, a front, a storeroom, and a graveyard--has been themed to a television show no one has heard of. The original decor, circa 2005: The booths are refurbished leather, not vinyl. The floors are checkered, not red like before. The floors are snake eyes black and domino white. There is salt on the table, and a dark substance that is not pepper. Bela knows that it is goofer dust, and says so. Adam remarks upon the promise of homemade pie, and toe-taps a devil's trap with his sneaker. (He's feeling guilty these days. About his mother, and his fading memory of her. About his Armani, his Louis, various. He wears what he wore the last time he saw her. Jeans, a green T-shirt from Aunt Sandy. He clothes himself in memory. Whenever he's not looking, somehow he always ends up naked. Like in a dream.)
The bar, too, is a dream. Or so the paper menus said: During the golden years of chain-gang diners, BigGerson's had built the bar in anticipation of a TV program's dedicated cult following. It was supposed to be a sure thing, with anticipation drummed up by a slate of popular guest stars from antiquated genre television produced by the same network many bygone years ago. The press was certain. But the cult never took, and to everyone, the bar was just an ugly bar.
It had been a poor investment. Balthazar enjoyed the notion, however. Apparently the new owner (a B. Rosen?) did too.
Now, it was a bar reanimated. Any other rumors about its sordid past were wildly exaggerated.
"Imagine," breathed Balthazar, the residue of oily garlic fries rolling from his tongue. "A world where this show meant something--anything at all. Imagine all the fuss."
He puts these musings to use, they all know. One day soon, he expects Bela will discover how to use this to her advantage, but she hasn't yet. Still, he can tell this does not seem like one of his more useful exploits.
"Imagine how upset poor Raffi would be," he continues, "if I threw him a red herring the size of an entire universe."
"Do angels always overcompensate?" Adam asks at a deadpan.
"But imagine the look on his face!"
Sometimes, Balthazar is thoughtlessly indulgent of his flatmates, pets, cohort, cadre, whatever it is they are. Frequently watered, regularly fed, and more often lavished upon, Adam is almost certain he is a pet. When he's not a medical student. Or a confidence man. Or a Brooklyn sweetheart. He is a man of many talents, and the recipient of more gifts.
Bela's clothing, Balthazar cannot abide. But Bela never changes; that first week, as far as Adam can tell, Bela amassed a fortune and filled her wardrobe. Clothing of all kinds, representing innumerable unfashionable inconsistent sartorial quirks, but nothing very lovely. It's been months now, and her closet outclasses even Adam's in size; yet still, there is nothing to wear.
"Cognitive dissonance," Bela explains, once. No one remembers the woman in the wide-brimmed hat and the long red coat. She is an impossibility, and so she is invisible.
In any given season, and in various timezones, across various hemispheres, Bela entertains any number of multiple identities. She seems equally happy becoming any one of them, and Adam suspects that it is only for the convenience of character-building she keeps coming back Bela. It is not her true self but her most developed one; not to rag on her. This is something Adam can appreciate. It is something he's considered emulating. He has enough voices in his head to fashion several for himself. One of them is named Michael.
The other, he calls Morningstar.
They argue about this sometimes. Whether it's healthy--his Michael and his Morningstar. They argue about it the way other people argue about smoking. It's nothing personal; it's just principle. On odd full moons, and on days too indeterminate to merit more accurate description, they're at each other's teeth on behalf of estranged and strangers' principles. And perhaps boredom. A little boredom, maybe.
Teeth on teeth, their wordplay mounts and builds and screams to heady climax, responses always in English but always wittier than the one that preceded it. They are all too clever to be scathing, and their cultural repertoire to broad to escape descent into increasing orbits of obscurity. (I take your Oscar Wilde and raise it to Jaswinder Bolina.) They are, importantly, at each other's teeth, and the rules are simple. Do not attack anything you stand to injure--only what may pose a threat to you. Teeth on teeth.
No teeth will find arteries. There are to be, importantly, no fatalities.
Adam twitches away from a tugging feeling at his neck, the itchiness of bleeding out. The memory of a dream he had, once, of a woman lapping at his neck like a breast.
Balthazar is spectacle, all mirrored facets of different times and guises. Bela, a master of disguise. Adam does accents because, he thinks, he is shattered too. There are traces and afterimages inside him that threaten to break out of his skin. (The skin at his scalp is thin, he thinks. He suggests they gnaw their way out of his skull. They are squirrels hiding foreign memories inside his temporal lobe.) He suggests this once, in a witty quote spoken by someone referencing a television show that existed only in the world of his own fiction.
That day, no one argues otherwise.
Adam knows that Bela has been watching him closer than he'd previously thought, because one night at the TV diner, she introduces Balthazar to the concept of infinite loop. She begins obliquely at first, though the concept is too abstract, too much under the purview of fringe physics to remain catty for long. In a nutshell, Bela wants to sell a buyer an item. Then she wants to steal it back, and sell it to him again. And again, and again, and again. The easiest crime of the century, on infinite loop. "Millennia of the freedom to time travel, and this honestly never occurred to you?" she says, like she can't possibly believe that.
Adam doesn't either; he'd been with Michael long enough to know that these assholes thought of everything.
"Haven't you learned your lesson?" Balthazar asks. Languid, relaxed. It's warm April now, they'll have an early summer, and his loose V-neck ripples in the thwacking breeze of the ceiling fan. "Trying to sell things to people who already own them. You saw how well that worked out for the motherland; it's not an imperial birthright, last I checked."
"Crowley was a mistake," she admits. "But he also wasn't Lilith. Not then. Crowley never owned me."
"Did Lilith?" asks Adam. He's incredulous. That's what he finds hard to believe.
Balthazar's thinking about something. He's thinking about Bela. It's then Adam knows that something happened, and he missed it. It's irritating, their secrecy.
"You don't do that with time, lovey," Balthazar says finally. "You don't do that to time."
But he's still thinking.
It has to be tempting, Adam thinks. Hell, Adam's tempted. If he were to travel back in time he'd revisit his own life. It's water-damaged, warped; dimming, disappearing.
Balthazar stands. He's got a little meet and greet with everyone's favorite angel, Castiel.
Several hours later, it is still April. It is April fourteenth. It is April 14, 1912, he and Balthazar and Bela are on a boat, and they are dressed accordingly. For once in her life, Bela looks the part; there are pearls sown into her train, delicate strings of them making a bouquet of her bosom. Adam is quietly awestruck.
"Here is your time travel," says Balthazar. "Here are your riches. I've an iceberg to street clear of, so take pleasure enough for the both of us."
A quick peck on the cheek for them both.
He looks Bela in her eyes. "It was very prescient of you," he says. "Knowing what Castiel's after like that."
Then he's gone.
Adam remembers dancing. He danced up something scandalous, spinning and lifting women he didn't know and never would--chief among them Bela. At the end of the night they close the final song together, and when Adam lifts her, her dress fanning out like a blue wing, she is noticeably heavier than before.
"Nice necklace," he says.
Bela presses her legs together and pats her breasts. "You should really see the rest."
"Eve is dead," Balthazar tells Adam over coffee. It's the same diner.
Bela is gone; she's taken her gun and one suitcase of her wardrobe with her (red sunhat, red trenchcoat included).
And Eve means nothing to the boy, being Adam Milligan and not Adam Adam, but sometimes Balthazar forgets; humanity and its ever revolving door of supporting actors, after all.
"So what's next?" Adam asks. "Oh, and the Denny's is closing."
"Raphael, I suppose." Balthazar dribbles a bit of water onto his scrunched straw paper and watches it writhe. "Or Cas."
Things were coming to an end, that much was certain. Balthazar's always been the sort to step out before the encore, leave before the credits, fail to see the final scenes. Part of him can't stand the applause, not if it's not his stage--it's true. And part of him wants to live to see another showing. Suddenly he's got the itch to travel.
"Have you ever been to Belize, Adam? Belize before the British?"
"We all have."
And of course, it's Bela. Bela, newly returned--and something must be wrong, because it hasn't been nearly long enough. She's been gone at most a week--two weeks. Balthazar looks up at her, up under the brim of her utterly ridiculous hat, and wonders again, again, again, what she is.
"I'm done," she says. "I'm free."
"From who?" asks Adam.
"From whom?" asks Balthazar, though by this time he knows. He can't not.
"I recruited souls in Hell," says Bela. "I promised them knighthoods in Purgatory."
"Does Castiel know what will happen when they find he's lied?"
"He'll be a god," says Bela.
"And what will you be?" asks Balthazar. "Where do you plan to hide?"
Because this is bigger than Castiel; it will overflow him. It will overflow him and Bela and and Balthazar and Adam (always Adam) are first in line as collateral.
"Remember the world where..." But he trails off. He hadn't taken them; neither had he gone. They'd never been to the world where the Apocalypse only spanned Sweeps. All they had was this little dinner, its leather and napkins and crooked, tangled blinds.
(He remembers their print on Bela's back, one night long ago. They could go on a trip again, the three of them. Leave the Apocalypse behind and dine on beignets in France this time. They could love each other this time. They--)
Then he hears someone chanting Enochian--badly, hardly coherent. Their intonation were wrong, rhythm worse. Winchesters, obviously. The Winchesters, and a summoning spell.
The diner bleeds at the edges, goes gray and dark, like there's groundwater bubbling up from beneath it and saturating from the edges in. The world below it is dank and frigid, which, it seems, is the Winchesters' natural habitat. Balthazar rolls his eyes at Adam, as he feels the cells of this body dissipate, ionize, reform elsewhere.
"Your family's sense of entitlement," he says, and then is gone.
He does not return.
Adam, in his absence, loses the dimness to his memories. At first it is beautiful, scintillant; then it's hell. Hell unadorned.
Bela tells him she is no doctor; and Adam burns, with his losses thus delineated.
Bela lies in silk sheets, and she rolls naked in money. And one day, when Adam is asleep, she leaves.
This time, she leaves a note: Three kisses, xxx, and a dry cleaning bill.
Memory is so delicate. So very delicate.
ATTN: Adam Milligan, DO NOT BEND, postmarked internationally. Inside, a photograph of a woman in jijab. She has three strings of pearls threaded between her fingers, and a card. No, a photograph. Adam--Adam in Armani again--holds the photograph and looks at the photograph inside of it. He makes out gray cement made white by floodlights, and the scorched shadow of wings.
The smile of Bela's collarbones, sultry beneath her scarf and dress, says: Join me?
Adam, Adam from Brooklyn, calls a cab. He needs a ride to the airport, pronto. He's going to see his wife. He walks through a skein of Michael's laughter, a hard sound turned solid, and dares Hell to follow him.
They have work to do.