The underworld landscape mutates around him:
one step in fire and the next into shadow, neck-deep water one moment,
dark forest the next. The nameless dead are shadows as well,
ice-cold breath on his neck, burning fingers on his arm.
Sark's feet carry him forward, though he could wander here a hundred
years, life in a vial around his neck, and never know it, never find
He closes his eyes and lets the eerie tides of the place draw him out, lets its gravity guide him to a patch of solid ground. Such things exist, even here: his sources assured him of it. His eyes open on flame and darkness: the forest again, a small fire, a man seated on the other side of it, the glow casting shadows on his face. No one he knows, Sark thinks, but dark hair and dark eyes and a watchfulness he recognizes nonetheless. The man stares with disinterest as Sark crouches beside the fire and reaches out to warm his hands. Outside the circle of firelight, the shadows are watching them both: it's the man keeping them back, not the fire. Sark shudders at that, despite the warmth.
"You're alive," the man says.
Sark's head snaps up: the dead don't speak first. "I'm looking for a woman," he says. He would describe her, but he has no idea how she might appear here. He would give her name, but the dead have no names. He's amazed at his own foolish devotion.
"Your wife?" the man asks. His voice is rough and low, as if he has had little use for it.
Sark smiles. "When she died, she would have been your own age."
His smile fades. "Not in any way that matters."
The fire's snuffed out. "You can't lie here," the man says.
Now they're standing in a desert, red sun above them and dusty sand blowing around their legs. "I need to find her," Sark says. He starts walking, and the dead man follows him.
"If you spill your blood, she'll be drawn to it," the man says.
"Not to my blood." His feet are slipping a little in the sand; the dead man trudges on as if on solid ground.
"You walked into hell to find a woman who feels no tie to you?"
"At the time, it seemed like an excellent plan."
The dead man's grin is a wolfish expression, more hunger than humor. "Do you know your own name?"
"Julian," Sark says. Anything beyond that is conjecture.
"John Winchester," the dead man says.
Sark stops, and the world shifts around them: warm darkness, jungle noises, moonlight. They're standing in a river. The dead man lays a hand on Sark's arm and is still, listening. A gesture with his head and a little pressure from his hand, and they back up onto the shore. A bird calls, and despite the perfect darkness Sark can see fire reflected in the dead man's eyes.
"The dead don't know their own names, John Winchester," he says.
Teeth flash in another predatory grin. "Tell me your secrets and I'll tell you mine."
Sark's heart is beating fast: the dead drink forgetfulness, and though his sources all told him that there is memory here too, none of them knew where. "Tell me where the spring is," he demands.
"Give me what you have in the vial around your neck."
Sark takes a step back. "No."
"It's not your life," he says.
"It's mine to give," Sark answers. "It's for her; it was her life's work." Rambaldi's ambrosial drink: immortality even for the dead. It's taken him years to discover the source, to dig into what he'd thought was Sloane's tomb.
"She doesn't know that now. It's a simple trade; life for memory," he says. "There are two springs. You'll need me to tell you which to take the water from, if you want her to remember you."
"On second thought," Sark says, "perhaps I'd rather she didn't remember how little she cares for me." The world doesn't shift around him. His mouth is dry.
This time Winchester's smile is a little gentler. "I had to try it," he says. They're standing in dry grass now, snowflakes whirled around them by a sharp wind. "When you get back, talk to my boys. Sam and Dean." He lingers on the names, his voice low and soft. "There's more of that, of what you're carrying?"
"Some," Sark admits. "Enough for one, at least."
"Give it to them, and I'll tell you where the spring is, how to get the water. I'll guide you there." Snow in his hair, gray in his beard; he meets Sark's eyes. "You know it will work."
"You're very sure that they'll find you."
"If you knew my boys," he says, and there it is, that same note of pride; Sark shivers, and it's not from the cold. "If you knew my boys, you'd understand why."
"What makes you think I'll keep my word?"
Winchester smiles at him. "You walked into hell to bring back a woman who won't acknowledge you. You'll keep a promise." He turns and starts walking: as Sark follows, snow gives way to hot mud raining down on them, to the damp chill of a forest before down, to a rocky slope and a row of cypress trees in the valley below. They head downhill, and the world changes again, flickering to black earth and white trees. Winchester stops and takes hold of Sark's arm, turning toward him. "Swear to me," he says. "Swear that you'll give my sons that ambrosia."
"I swear it," Sark says.
There's nothing gentle in Winchester's kiss. He smells of earth and charcoal and Sark chokes on the taste of it, ash on his tongue. The world flickers from positive to negative and back again; he closes his eyes against the vertigo, presses back against Winchester's body, the vial crushed between them, Winchester's stubble rough against his face. He needs to know that he's alive right now, he needs to be reminded that his body is solid.
That he can feel: but what he feels is cold. Winchester steps back, the knife in his hand red. Sark looks down at his own blood, up at the dead man's face. Winchester stands, grim and silent, as Sark's legs weaken and he lowers himself to the ground, leaning on his one free hand. The other, pressed against his side, is doing nothing to stop the blood.
The dead don't remember their names, and the dead don't carry weapons, and it seems that John Winchester is an exception to both rules.
* * *
He doesn't know what will happen to a living man who dies down
wasn't sure it could be done until he needed to do it.
Perhaps the boy will wake up as a shade, perhaps he'll return to
life. John doesn't really care. When he thinks it's
safe, when he knows the blue eyes can't see it any more, he reaches
down with his free hand to take the vial on its cord from around the
boy's neck, and hangs it around his own. He won't drink from
it, not yet. He can't be living for what he intends to
do. But once it's over... Once it's over.
The boy's blood is soaking into the ground, and there are spirits gathering: they cluster around the body, all but one, a woman who stands and watches John go back up the hillside. He nods as he passes her and speaks her name. He'll remember her. He'll bring her chill water, when this is done; he owes the boy that much.
Thanks to Rez
for hand-holding, and for not having me committed.
All recognizable characters and elements are the property of their respective creators. I make no claim to ownership of or profit from previously copyrighted materials. Original elements are my own.
Author's note: I could not find my copy of the B-series "Orphic" texts, and am using Janko's 1984 reconstruction as a basis.