Sam froze, arms drifting upwards, left hand open wide and the right loosely palming his gun.
“Don’t…don’t shoot.” Seemed like the right thing to say at the time.
The woman looked up at him through cat-slanted eyes, black as pitch in the way of non-Caucasians. Her hair, equally dark, parted precisely in the very center of her scalp and drifted, silk-like, well beyond fragile shoulders. Sam could see little else from his bird’s eye view except her gun and the gentle curve of breasts where the dress was strategically tailored away. From this close proximity, Sam smelled her heady perfume: jasmine, cloves, something else vaguely incongruous that he couldn’t quite identify.
“Why have you broken into my business?” Her words were heavily colored with an accent. Mandarin, Sam supposed. Taking a small step back, she examined him head to toe, expression unreadable.
“If you’ll let me get into my coat pocket, I can show you identification—”
“NO.” The gun repositioned quickly to point at Sam’s nose.
“Okay, okay. This is me, not moving.” Despite summoning every ounce of sincerity and wearing it on his face, Sam was not swaying the woman. There was an equally strong possibility she would not appreciate his membership to any official organization like, oh, the police, FBI or Health Department anyway. This was probably not the sort of operation that ran aboveboard, just a guess. “I’m looking for someone.”
She arched one perfectly manicured brow. “I’m afraid this isn’t that sort of establishment, and you don’t look like the sort of man who pays for sex.”
Sam felt his cheeks heat up, sweat trickle down his spine. Shit, what would Dean do? This was not Sam’s bailiwick. “Maybe I’m having a bad string of luck in the relationship department.” He prayed that didn’t come off as totally pathetic as it sounded to his own ears, even though it might’ve been true.
“Or maybe you’re looking for something else. Put your gun on the floor. Slowly.”
Sam did as he was told, left hand still airborne, watching her in his periphery.
“Now step away from it. Towards me, please and thank you.”
And he did. She darted a shiny patent-leather pump to one side, and the gun was kicked beyond Sam’s reach. Small wonder, given how tight her skirt was. Tight and red, slick as a sports car.
“Take off your coat.”
She was leaving nothing to chance. Her gun maintained its single-eyed stare and Sam had no real recourse but to obey. He shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it to the floor. “I’m not here to rob you.”
“If you say so.” She looked a touch amused by this, eyes flashing in the dim light of a high-end office lamp, brass and crystal. “If you would be so kind as to turn out your pockets, put the contents on the desk…”
Sam took two careful steps towards the desk, fished hands into the pockets of his jeans. He had nothing useful remaining as a weapon except the boot knife at his ankle, and that wasn’t going to be an easy draw at the moment. There was, however, an ivory letter opener on the near side of the desk, and it had an edge and a point and would do in a pinch if the situation got dire.
An odd assortment of items tumbled onto the leather blotter from his opened fists: tiny skull-shaped beads on a cord, worry stones, coins, the Black Lotus business card, rubber bands collected in a neat loop, money clip with a few sad bills, the pentagram charm Bobby gave the boys to prevent possession, lint, and lastly a small pocketknife. She eyed the collection, pinching a narrow trough between those perfect brows in obvious dismay. Something had caught her attention and from all outward appearances, it did not make her happy. Made Sam happy though, because her distraction became his advantage.
He casually palmed the letter opener; this was where it paid to have big hands. Didn’t want to hurt her, not really, as there was nothing concrete to tie her to conspicuous wrong-doings, at least of the supernatural variety. He simply wanted a weapon at the ready. But she saw his slight-of-hand. The gun went off and a bullet seared into Sam’s left upper arm, spinning him around and down and slammed into the corner. The situation went south in a mad hurry.
His breath sucked inwards fast, comets of blazing white pain exploding behind tightly squeezed eyelids. Adrenaline, panic, the burn of metal cleaving muscle pulled a groan through Sam’s gritted teeth. His limbs got watery and useless and the woman swore at him, a string of words in her native tongue that required no translation. She was pissed, and seemed far less concerned about his injury than the junk from his pockets.
“Hunter?!” She shrieked in English, and gone was the demure hostess of dubious vocation. Teeth flashed and hair like a raven’s glossy wing turned wild with fury. “You think your stupid fucking little charm can protect you?!” A wicked grin split candy-apple red lips and eyes blazed scarlet as smoldering coals. Sam blinked, felt his blood run cold except where it leaked out his arm. There, it was on fire.
Before he could blink twice, she was on him, straddling one thigh, fingers snarled in his hair like vices, the pain forcing tears. Three, four times she slammed the back of his head into the front of the wall, denting the paneling and possibly his skull. Sam bucked but there was no where to go and she was frighteningly strong. “Christo,” he grit out. “CHRISTO.”
Her eyes strobed hot crimson again, leaving no doubt as to what lived inside this woman.
“Aw, come on, Dean. Slow down…”
He heard Eddie jogging to catch up but screw ‘er. She could run. It was her God damned fault Sam went off to Chinatown alone before Dean had the chance to warn him about the psychics’ 411. Or at least that’s what he told himself because it made him feel better even though he didn’t come close to believing it. He should never have left Sam alone. He’d fumbled the Prime fucking Directive.
“Dean!” She pulled at his sleeve to stop him, her breath tugging, but he jerked his arm away without so much as a sideways glance. “Would you stop, already?”
He ignored her. A flea to his raging hound of worry. Dean’s mind was clicking through all the possible wayward scenarios that could be transpiring in his absence, all the injuries and misadventures and references to past Sammy behavior that might happen simply because Dean wasn’t there with his heroic force of will to prevent them.
Suddenly, she wasn’t trying anymore. No pitter-patter of girly footfalls or labored breathing. No pot and perfume-scented aura, no warm body trailing in his wake. Dean swore under his breath and stopped, turning around as though it were the weightiest thing in the world he’d ever been asked to do.
“All right. ALL RIGHT. What?”
She was twenty paces back, looking winded and wounded and forlorn, blonde hair a crazy halo of fresh gold from having dried in the wind. Her hands hung at her sides, the palms facing Dean to lift briefly in a wan gesture of apology. Dean pressed a hiss through tight lips and walked back to Eddie.
“I had no idea Sam would go off by himself,” she said once he was within earshot. “But Dean, he’s a grown-up; he makes his own choices.”
Dean bit his cheek before responding, the pain dissolving a degree of rancor before it was spit in Eddie’s direction. “You don’t know anything about us. What we’ve been through. What kind of shit Sam can get into when left to his own devices. I made a promise to keep him safe. My whole fucking life has been about keeping him safe!”
“And that means you can’t take a moment to stop and smell the roses? Get stoned on a beautiful day and take a load off?”
“That’s right, sister. That’s exactly what it means.”
“Bullshit, Dean!” Eddie stepped up, almost into him, foolish and daring all in one fell swoop. “I get it, how you want to protect him; he’s your baby brother. I feel the same way about the other magi. They’re the closest thing to family I’ve ever had, and I’d do anything for them—”
“Including suckering me with sex appeal and wacky weed? God, I was stupid.” Dean wanted to punch something so badly he felt his hands, and his heart, ball into fists.
Eddie’s eyes flickered and took on a liquid sheen, some acknowledgement he’d hit the nail right on its manipulative little head. “Touché. But I needed your help, Dean. I needed you to want to help us, to look upon us kindly, which is something most people never ever do. I’m sorry. It…it wasn’t meant to be mean.”
“Jesus, Eddie, no one likes to feel duped! You didn’t think you could’ve just asked and that would’ve been enough?”
“Would it have been?!” She shot back, shouldering past when a single tear escaped the edge of her lashes. “Don’t tell me you never used your own pretty face and swagger to lean the odds in your favor.”
Dean was gobsmacked, but only for the amount of time it took to admit she was right on both counts. All of 2.5 seconds. He caught up with her at a quick jog, falling into step, and when he spoke again his voice was careful. “So. Now what?”
Eddie swiped at her cheek with one sleeve, sniffed, jaw edged forward stubbornly. “You borrow my phone again to call Sam, see where he’s at. Since you went and lost yours. Genius.”
The room was starting to wobble in front of Sam’s eyes and he knew it would disappear altogether if the bitch slammed his head one more time. He was fucked. Fucked hard. His lone hope was Simon, and wow, that was not optimistic. Please, Simon, decide to be disobedient and contact Eddie and Dean and call in the cavalry. Please. Sam wasn’t holding his breath, though. He struggled to keep the demoness in focus, maintain his slender hold on consciousness, steel himself for another bolt of pain…that never came.
She had paused, unmoving except perhaps for the slightest canting of her head, fingers loosening from his hair. Leaning closer, he felt a warm exhale at his temple.
“What are you?” Breathing deep, her voice whispered sultry, inquisitively, in Sam’s ear, began to weave itself into his throbbing brain.
He tried to turn away but she was having none of that. A palm, smooth and soft as kidskin, redirected his face forward. Almost immediately, the cheek under her hand tingled, thrummed, then faded to numb. The pain in his skull fled from her touch, like a topical anesthetic that somehow managed to breach the barrier of skin and work its way into muscle, hell, even bone. Logically, Sam knew this was wrong, all wrong, but then he hardly knew everything there was to know about demons. And his applicable knowledge seemed to be in short order, getting shorter with every passing second.
Again, she drew a great breath, dragged fingers through the blood that splattered the wall behind Sam’s head. Delicately, she lapped at her sticky thumb with her tongue, then each finger in turn, cleaning them of red. Sam managed a shudder.
“Oh, darling. You taste…like family. Just…delicious.”
He felt his stomach upend and fought to keep its contents in place. The deadening sensation was oozing down his neck and into his chest, his wounded arm, finally his belly. His eyelids began to flag and nothing hurt anymore. He couldn’t even twitch when the door slammed open and two figures shoved into the room.
“Naamah! Are you – ”
“Fine, no thanks to you two. This is going to come out of your pay.”
Naamah. He knew that name. Think, Sam, think. You just read it, dumbass. Wake the shit up. ‘Demons I Have Known.’ Oh. Naamah, queen of the succubi. Yeah, it’s official. This is bad.
Two men stood stock still just inside Sam’s ebbing field of vision, mouths gaping, the both of them. One loomed nearly as tall as Sam but absurdly thin, like a walking corpse with a shock of black hair, and the other more traditionally attractive, if not for a graphic scar that ran across his scalp and cut a slice through the dark brown curls.
The tall one unfroze and stepped forward and dropped into a crouch, all pointed knees and elbows, mouth twisting into one of the most lethal grins Sam had seen since that carnival rakshasa in…guh…where? Some Midwest town. It was becoming impossible to hold a thought.
“I know you,” the man fairly purred, an underfed alley cat in the presence of fresh food. “You’re the other Winchester. Sammy. Bet your brother is worried sick about you. No, wait, he’s not. He’s banging that blonde witch from the blue house. Some guys get all the luck, don’t they?” He slipped a hand into the pocket of his raggedy gray overcoat and produced a phone. Dean’s phone. “And he’s sloppy, your brother. Needs to be more careful with his stuff. This is just bursting with information about you two. And it was really kind of you to call, let us know you were coming.”
Sam moaned, rolled his eyes because he knew he should, even though the otherworldly anesthesia had worked its way right down to his toes, nestling into the crevasses of his brain, stealing reason and fight. All that remained was a vague gnawing curiosity, but even that was fading.
“H-howwww – ?”
The word slopped out like a slug on Quaaludes, but apparently that one word was enough.
The man’s eyes flickered black briefly, meanly, before settling back into their cold nondescript gray. “I took a spin inside your pretty little hunter girlfriend…Sophie? Sally?”
“Right. Sylvie. She likes you. And Dean. But mostly Dean, because he’s the fun one. Thinks you’ve got great abs, though, and if you’d just loosen up a little, you could make all the girls cry.” The man laughed and thumped Sam’s thigh before standing up.
The demoness chuckled, cupped Sam’s chin in her hand, lifted his face and brushed her lips to his. In a confusing flicker of sensation, he was reminded of red rose petals and warm summers and lying in bed next to Jess after a wine-soaked Saturday night...it felt so wide off the mark but he couldn’t screw up the willpower to object. “But don’t you worry, Sammy. Sam. I don’t need you to be fun. I just thought of a very, very special job for you. Interesting, that your name is Sam. Auspicious. Judah would’ve been a mistake, I see that now. But he’s dead. Poor madman. You’re prettier anyway. And tall. I like tall.”
She was sweeping the hair from Sam’s forehead when a ringtone went off from the pile of coat on the floor. Wasn’t Dean’s ring, he didn’t think, nor Billy’s. No, wait, not Billy…Bobby. Just the generic ring.
The curly haired man dug through the jacket and found Sam’s phone, hit the proper button, smiled as he answered.
“Hello? Oh, I’m sorry. Sam can’t come to the phone right now.” Pause. “I’m his…social secretary. Right. Uh-huh. I see.” Longer pause. “Yeah, I don’t think you’ll be shoving my tongue that far down my throat anytime soon. But you have a nice day, ‘kay? Buh-bye.”
The lackeys shared laughter like twins, like lovers. Beyond familiar. And the demoness gave Sam’s cheek one last pat. “Turn that thing off, Cameron. No distractions. We have work to do. Gentlemen, I think we’ve found our fancy new meat suit.”
Dean stared at Eddie’s phone. Stared at it hard and willed it to burst into flames, which it did not.
“What?” Eddie read the seriousness of the situation instantly, Dean’s face being the proverbial open book in that regard. His brows were angry bolts over eyes that bored furious green lasers, free hand raking over his scalp leaving the hair in haphazard tufts.
“Fuck. He’s in a shit-ton of trouble. A mother fucking shit-ton. How close are we to Chinatown?” He started pacing, heavy boots pounding the concrete.
“I dunno, three blocks maybe, due south?”
Dean tossed her the phone and started off at a jog. “Call your boys,” he hollered over his shoulder. “Have them get there, like, yesterday.”
After a couple long city blocks, Dean heard someone panting up behind him and he slowed. His heart was pounding out of his chest anyway so Eddie’s arrival was an excellent excuse to catch his breath, save himself the trouble of having a stroke.
“Stop stop stop…c’mere…” Dean turned around; Eddie waved him over before slapping palms on her thighs, breath coming in great drags. “Simon is this way, in the car.”
“Oh, shit, the car.” Now that the Impala was mentioned, Dean spun and saw his baby down a perpendicular street, not half a block away, gleaming like home. Had he kept running, he would have missed her completely.
Simon got out of the car when Dean and Eddie neared, the chords in his neck standing out in a blatant indication of his alarm. He looked completely wrung out and jittery as though he’d been mainlining coffee for a week. “What’s happening? Where’s Sam? I tried to call him a few minutes ago and it went to voicemail but I know that’s a lie and something’s wonky because I know my phones and – ”
Dean shoved him out of the way and paused behind the trunk, patting his pockets in a frantic flutter of hands. “KEYS.”
Simon’s eyes popped open wide and he hurried to Dean with a wad of keys, held in a fob the shape of a bullet. The trunk was flung open and Simon’s eyes got wider still. “Holy shit…”
“You know how to handle one of these?” Dean reached into the depths of the trunk, pushed aside exotic knives and silver flasks, and pulled out a small gun, pearl-handled and compact and beautiful. The air around the car smelled of gun oil and leather, exhaust, cold metal, incense. A snapshot of the Winchesters’ lives in hunting. The odor clung to the both of them, he and Sam, no matter how many showers they took. God damn Sam. Dean was gonna kill his brother if they made it out of this alive. “Can you shoot a gun?”
Simon tersely shook his head to the negative.
“I can.” A rough male voice spoke from the front of the car, and Dean poked his head around the raised trunk to see Danny, ol’ Eight Fingers, sauntering his way. Behind him, the other two magi, Benecio and Julian, followed as a taxi pulled off around the corner.
“Good. Here.” He gave the pearl handle to Danny without a second thought. Dean was certain the guy knew guns, as sure as he was that Sam knew the reproduction habits of the wendigo. Danny gave the weapon a quick once-over, checked the rounds with casual familiarity, and grinned his approval.
Benecio pulled up beside Danny, crazy mop of hair pulled off his face in a floral scarf, probably Eddie’s, that would’ve made Dean choke back a laugh if the situation hadn’t been so grim.
“I know guns, man. Lay it on me,” Benecio drawled. And Dean did, one of Sam’s spares. Julian, however, had a pinched expression that broadened into confusion when he saw the small arsenal in the Impala’s trunk. Dean assessed Julian’s potential and handed him a custom machete, the business edge partially serrated and blessed by a priest, a cross carved into the grip.
“Try not to cut off your own arm,” Dean said dourly.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Julian sniped back.
He had no real idea what they were up against and here he was, going in practically blind with a band of witches cum magi that had more in common with ‘The Pineapple Express’ than ‘Van Helsing’. In a last ditch effort to buy a clue, he used Eddie’s phone to call Bobby. The elder hunter picked up and was instantly livid when he heard Dean’s voice.
“Where you been, boy?! I’ve been calling you and your idjit brother for a half-hour now. You tryin’ to worry me into an early grave?”
Dean was so relieved to hear Bobby’s grumping the guy could’ve called him every name in the book and Dean would’ve thanked him for it and asked for more. “You heard from Sam, by any chance?”
Bobby’s crotchety voice got tight with apprehension. “Not lately. This morning, I did. He sent me photos from some nutcase’s notebook. Dean, do you have any idea what you’re messin’ with?”
“Not really; do you?”
“Do now. I won’t even try to pronounce the ancient Sumerian but ever heard of a ‘Feaster Within’?”
“Musta skipped that day in Monster Class. What the hell is it, Bobby?”
“A demonling. Like an underworld pit bull, a fleshbag full of nothin’ but mouths, designed to be guards for infernal sanctums. But here’s the really awesome part—” and from Bobby’s tone of voice, awesome meant God-damned disturbing “—these things incubate in the bodies of living women. Until they eat their way out.”
Dean felt a flutter in the pit of his stomach. “I hope that’s the bad news, Bobby.”
“Well, I s’pose it is. Rumor has it they aren’t hard to kill, all the normal stuff does ‘em in—salt, iron, holy water—but for God’s sake, son, don’t let them get their maws on ya. A single Feaster is as bad as a whole school of piranha.”
“Oh well that is good news, Bobby.”
“Want me to blow a little more sunshine up your skirt? I think you’ve got bigger troubles if someone’s summoning Feasters. That’s some hella ancient evil, Dean. Usually summoned by bigger badder demons so you’d better be ready for an exorcism. You ‘n Sam be careful. Real careful. Call me as soon as you can. Don’t make me come down there and save your sorry asses.”
“You got it, Bobby. Thanks.” Dean snapped shut Eddie’s phone and handed it to her as she stood beside him, staring worriedly. Exorcism. Great. Sam was the one who knew the Latin backwards and forwards. Dean had the incant written on a folded piece of notebook paper, shoved into the back of his wallet, but he couldn’t spew it out on command like Sammy could.
Eddie didn’t ask about the monster; maybe she didn’t really want to know the gory details but nor was she panicking. Dean dared to take that as a good sign. “How can I help?” she asked.
Dean looked at her. Hard. He honestly didn’t want her to come with them; as much as it satisfied him to hold her accountable for All The Awful Things, he couldn’t anymore. There just wasn’t room for it, and he knew from the steely set of her shoulders, the unblinking earnestness in her great brown eyes, she wouldn’t wait at the car. “Gimme your purse.” And she did.
Eddie carried one of those absurdly huge shoulder bags, big enough to smuggle babies. Dean walked to the side of the car, leaned in the open shotgun window, dumped the entire contents of Eddie’s bag onto the seat and returned to the trunk. He grabbed every silver flask he could find and stuffed them inside the purse, along with handfuls of wooden rosary beads, a blessed scapula he got from Father Jim over twenty years ago, and several big blue cardboard canisters of Morton’s Salt.
“Demons,” Eddie said matter-of-factly.
Dean was sifting through the weaponry, gingerly avoiding blades, points, other such sharp bits of dangerous things, mindful not to forget anything important. “Yep.”
She looked thoughtful for a moment then disappeared around the raised trunk. Dean heard her shuffling about the car and when she showed back up, she had something secured in her fist.
Hoisting the bag to assess its weight, he gave Eddie half a glance, moved on to checking his gun. “What is it?”
She opened her hand and in it sat a tiny glass vial. It looked hand-blown, imperfect and thick-sided, either end capped by ornate silver thimbles. Within the container rested a tiny sliver of white; the day was crisp, high noon, but Dean could’ve sworn the thing glowed. Just a vague issue of radiance, too bright in Eddie’s palm, a firefly under glass? Dean stopped what he was doing, leaning forward.
“It’s a holy relic,” Eddie said softly.
“A what? Where’d you get that?” Dean’s voice dripped with skepticism. Holy relic, his Aunt Fanny. He’d never seen an angel, a saint, a true miracle. In fact, he seriously doubted God even gave a rat’s ass if he existed at all. For all the otherworldly evil he’d witnessed, his experiences were sorely lacking in proof of the Divine.
“Crazy ex-boyfriend Judah? Awesome.” They’d talked about a great many things over a shared joint at Urban Oasis; old lovers was one of them. In cannabis veritas? Yeah, just a little.
“I know, I know. But he gave it to me before he went crackers. It’d been in his family for years. The Novaks have always been really devout people and they nearly disinherited him when he stopped going to church. So he stole it. Out of spite. And gave it to me because it’s supposed to keep you safe.” Eddie held it out to Dean and maybe, just maybe, it flickered more brightly for a second. If it wasn’t some sort of fan-damn-tastic holy relic, it had to be…something. “I was told to snap it open if I got into really dire straights.”
Dean snorted. “In case of emergency, break glass?”
“Something like that. Please, Dean, just…take it. What could it hurt?”
Simon’s voice, tremulous but determined, interrupted like a petulant four-year-old. “What could it hurt?! That just reminded me; we can’t go to Chinatown.”
Dean took the relic, squinted, held it up for inspection. “Oh yeah? Whatsa matter? Scared? Won’t your mommy let you do it?”
“No, brainiac, these tattoos?” Simon shook his arm, the tips of his bright purple hair quivering in exotic bird-like plumage. “Sam figured out they weren’t for anti-scrying; these are wards, keeping us away from Chinatown. Specifically, he thinks, The Black Lotus.”
“Is that where Sam went?” Dean grimaced, pocketing the vial.
Simon nodded. “Anyone with this tattoo won’t be able to get down the block without freaking. Kinda makes sense, now that I know. I mean, we thought it was just shitty psychic energy keeping us out but –
“Huh. Lemme see that.” Dean grabbed Simon’s arm and before the kid could refuse, Dean had a knife out of his pocket, flicked open the blade, and sliced a nick in the inkwork. Simon yelped his eyes instantly and totally wounded. His lower lip might even have begun quivering. “Problem solved,” Dean said with a measured scowl, passing the knife to Eddie. She nodded, scarred her own tattoo with a tiny twitch and moved off to tackle the others’ wards.
Dean pushed Simon away from the car and slammed the trunk. He stared over at his makeshift army, with their copious amounts of hair and worried frowns and their Pollyanna ideas about magic and life and the supernatural, and thought to himself Self? You are so fucking screwed…