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07 October 2011 @ 07:10 pm
Chapter 11--Better Off Dead  



Two men dragged Sam across the room, neither of whom should’ve been strong enough to haul him any notable distance. His boots scraped along the floor, down the steps and bounced off sharp corners. He felt removed from the whole affair, a curious observer in his own body, numbed nearly insensible by whatever the demoness, Naamah, had done to him. His brain buzzed as though triple dosed on cold medicine, the disjointed sensation of his skull hovering like a balloon, tenuously tethered to his neck by the most slender of strings.

They were descending a long, steep staircase, but he noted it only vaguely. The light was too dim, his awareness too addled, to discern landmarks. He was, however, keenly aware of Naamah. She lead the parade and periodically tossed a Mona Lisa smile behind her, to Sam. He didn’t want to feel brightened by those moments, but he did. He found himself pinning his meager hopes on the creature; if survival was still a possibility, it rested in her elegant hands.

Sam couldn’t be certain how far they’d traveled and surely every inch of his lower half would be bruised before long. If he played the demons’ game, however—let Naamah believe he would ride on her Crazy Train and whoop “All aboard!”—maybe someone would get cocky, let his guard down, let slip a germ of information Sam could use to turn the tables. Or, better yet, help insinuate him further into Naamah’s favor. The woman held all the cards. She decided who lived and died. And Sam very much wanted to live; this he knew despite the way his reality shimmered like August heat off the hood of the Impala.

The Impala. Dean. He’d called, didn’t he? Didn’t my phone ring? Sam vaguely recollected such an event and he could only hope it wasn’t wishful thinking or a replay of many past phone-calls from Winchester to Winchester.

His hearing, of all things, seemed the least effected by Naamah’s touch. Too bad, since no one was saying much of anything. Occasionally, one of the henchmen would crack a dirty joke at Sam’s expense or mention some other Sam. That confused him at first but gradually he realized they were saying Sammael, not Samuel. But wasn’t Sammael an angel? Sam wasn’t sure he could trust his brain to sort out memory from mumbo-jumbo.

It was increasingly frustrating and exhausting to clutch at thoughts that kept escaping, greasy and squirming. So when a sound erupted to his immediate left, Sam almost blessed the distraction. The men lugged him past an open door—hell, the only door he’d noticed since they’d hit the bottom of the stairs. The sound from within snagged his unsteady mind and gathered scattered thoughts into one steaming pile of fear. A moan. No, a wail. One that quickly climbed into wild shrieking. Definitely female. Followed by other sounds Sam couldn’t identify and wasn’t sure he ever wanted to. The demons appeared completely unruffled by the din. Of course.

They rounded a corner. Sam’s head lolled on his shoulders despite every effort to apply some control. A massive room opened before them, a cavernous space that bore no resemblance to modern construction. There was no door, or a least Sam hadn’t noticed one. Then again in his current condition, Sam might’ve missed tap-dancing frogs wearing top hats and singing show tunes.

Naamah gestured at an enormous, roughly carved chair. “Put him there.”

The lackeys hauled Sam into it like a sack of feed. The seat was uncushioned and slippery, and they had to resituate him three times before all his limbs were angled properly to support the dead weight.

A light was burning somewhere, albeit a faint one. Sam’s hair had fallen over his eyes and he could see only blurry slices of the room. Lots of dark and red and it smelled funny. Not funny ha-ha but funny wrong, like metal and rotten eggs and the same overly sweet scent from upstairs. Sam’s finger twitched. Hot damn, he was getting some control back, if only at the very tips of his extremities.

Naamah noticed. “Quickly! Jack, Cameron, light the candles, draw the circle.” Sam heard the clicking of her heels as she moved about the room, fabric shushing, the tinny sound of unknowable items being gathered. The atmosphere lightened by small degrees as Sam struggled to lift his head. The effort did little but trigger a migraine and strain a muscle in his neck. “Has the Feaster hatched? Sammael will be pleased to see them breeding again…”

One of the men answered; Sam wasn’t sure which. “I just checked. Not yet. Any moment, though; it’s moving.”

Feaster?! Oh that could not be good. Not even a little. Sam shifted his legs and felt his body begin a slow slide out of the chair. A fresh throb of pain was starting to pound an Ian Paice drum solo in his gunshot arm. It was going to hurt like a bitch very, very soon. He knew because he’d been shot before, multiple times in fact. The bullet hadn’t nicked a major blood vessel though, or there would be more blood. He wouldn’t die—at least, not from the bullet hole.

He slid another few inches, biting his lip to hold back a groan, but that’s as far as he got before his lovely hostess returned her attention to him. She caught Sam under his armpits and propped him upright with alarming ease, taking a moment to tidy his shirt.

“Ah ah ah, Sam. The party hasn’t started yet, and you’ll miss the guest of honor. Oh, wait, you are the guest of honor. Sort of.” The demoness reached down and picked up an enormous chalice—a ridiculously ornate goblet that looked like a prop. Ah, but Sam knew better. As a rule of thumb, demons did nothing halfway. Go big or go to Hell. The cup had heft, and the gems attached to its sides were massive rough-cut hunks of semi-precious stones, interspersed between intricately engraved hieroglyphs. Sam didn’t recognize the language.

She wafted it under his nose and he winced. The contents smelled intensely of wine, blood, and antiquity. Something old and lost to human memory. How he knew that, he couldn’t begin to guess. He just did. Naamah leaned forward, pressing her forehead to his, and spit into the liquid. Spit in it. She nudged the cold metal rim to Sam’s mouth. God, he did not want the foul stuff to pass his lips! He gagged and turned away and his heels scrapping the floor. One hand—one small strong hand—caught Sam’s bicep where the bullet had passed. And squeezed.

His mouth popped opened like a baby bird’s, a squeak of pain escaping. The demoness poured the concoction past his gasping lips. Sam refused to swallow. The liquid dribbled down his chin and neck but the woman was determined. She released his arm to pinch his nose tight. The wine, far too fruity with an after bite of copper, hung thickly in Sam’s throat like strep. He gulped instinctively, clawed at Naamah with his good hand.

The rebellion didn’t last long.

Almost immediately, what remained of his numbness vanished, replaced by the warm lush feeling of…velvet. That’s the best way he could describe it. Velvet. Soft and rich and thick she was beautiful and why was he fighting her? What a futile thing to do because she wanted him, needed him, and this was all preordained, wasn’t it? Isn’t this exactly what Sam’s vision predicted?

He relaxed. Naamah set the goblet aside, stroked a hand through his hair. Sam smiled.

*

Breaching the tattoos’ borders seemed to do the trick; Dean’s motley crew had no trouble entering Chinatown and locating Hang Ah Alley. But that’s where things stalled out. It wasn’t even a big alley; so how the hell was he not finding someplace called The Black Lotus? Sounded like a massage parlor to Dean, and he approved of that notion completely.

Danny paced, Julian fretted, and Simon buzzed around with boatloads of nervous energy. At least thrice, Dean threatened to tie the kid to a lamppost just to get him to hold still for five bloody minutes. Benecio had sat his ass down on a curb and was firing up a smoke, no help whatsoever.

“Well, son of a bitch,” Dean said under his breath, squinting up at buildings, shading his eyes from the high California sun with one hand. He thought about trying to activate the GPS in Sam’s phone but Simon insisted it wouldn’t work, that somehow the device had gotten all fucked up.

Eddie sidled up to Dean, bumped his shoulder. “I have an idea. Dunno if it’ll fly but we really don’t have time to piddle, so…”

Dean shrugged but didn’t comment. Eddie took his silence to mean consent and strode purposefully over to Julian, pulled him aside, began talking to him in low, logical tones. Dean watched, brows rutted, as Julian’s expression segued from questioning to doubtful to something that looked an awful lot like dread. But Eddie was placating; she squeezed his arm, her eyes as undeniable as a whole wicker baskets full of kittens. Damn, she was good. A few moments more and Julian was nodding—though he clearly didn’t like what was being asked of him. He walked away from the group maybe ten feet, staring at the ground, hands stuffed into his coat pockets, shoulders taut. Then he started talking to himself. Eddie watched him keenly and Dean’s curiosity got the better of him. He joined her.

“What’s up?”

“He’s going to listen to the ghosts. Hopefully, they’re discussing possible weird shit going on here. In the alley.”

“Okay, but why doesn’t he just ask them? Or isn’t it a two-way street like that? You scratch my ectoplasm, I’ll scratch yours?”

Eddie gave Dean the stink-eye. “If they realize he can see them, talk to them, they won’t shut up. It’s like having the undivided attention of a whole class of needy kindergartners, except these kids can be violent or vindictive or mourful or just plain insane. You want that in your face all the time?”

Dean waved his hands in the visual equivalent of “Well excuuuuse me!” then turned his attention back to Julian. The man was now gesturing to thin air, eyes flaring with an unnerving gleam. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-caliber crazy. Benecio had seen fit to move over to him, hovering like a mother hen. At one point, Benecio had his arm slung across Julian’s shoulders, speaking intently, grounding him to reality. Or at least that’s how it looked to Dean, which instilled absolutely no confidence in this rescue at all.

Finally, Julian slipped away from Benecio and stared at a wall. He lifted a hand, gestured vaguely before leveling a single finger. Dean had to close in on where Julian was pointing but now that he was focusing his attention, he saw it. Tucked back into shadow, a red door.

“Now we’re talkin’…” Dean grinned, making a beeline for the door, waving for the others to get with the program.

Cautiously, he tried the knob and found it unlocked. This could’ve meant Sam had already picked the thing, or someone was expecting them. Either way, it wasn’t slowing him down; he couldn’t pause to ponder such yakkity-smack.

The room was dark, silent, and yes, reminded Dean of a massage parlor, an upscale one. He hugged the wall, gun brought to the ready, cringing when clumsy footfalls crowded into the room behind him. Man, Sam was gawky but at least he could tiptoe when necessary. Dean hissed for quiet before moving farther into the room.

Danny flanked Dean, watching his back, clearly at ease with the scenario—something for which Dean was thankful. Simon accidentally let the door slam, a second something for which Dean was not. Everyone froze, awaiting detection that never came. Dean started breathing again and continued forward.

Julian was still twitching at things unseen, mumbling wordlessly to himself, Benecio right on his heels. Eddie clutched her shoulder bag to her chest, stilling the rattle of metal flasks as best she could.

“Th-there…” Julian said the single word aloud, eyes glaring down the sole hallway leading out of the room. A door stood open, lit faintly from within. Didn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure that’s where Julian meant. Dean gave a nod to Danny, his temporary Sam, and the pair blazed the trail down the hall.

As they neared, Dean could see the room was empty, its only living inhabitant an impressive potted palm that took up the better part of a corner. Eddie stood in the doorway, one eye on the lookout for unexpected guests. Simon found Sam’s coat on the floor and pawed through the folds. He pulled out a Moto Q that had clearly been crushed under someone’s heel. The kid’s mouth was pulled in a forlorn frown.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Dean whispered tersely, eyes scanning the room. His gaze landed on the desk where he recognized a pile of junk. Sam’s junk. Before long, Benecio caught sight of Sam’s gun under the corner of a chair. Okay, great, now that meant something; it meant Sam was virtually unarmed, save his boot knife. At least he couldn’t lose his big damned brain.

As if he’d started talking to plants as well as phantoms, Julian twitched his way to the tree in the corner, lips working. Hhe moved aside a particularly large frond, revealing a slice in the paneling, a thin line where it didn’t belong. A secret door. “They say here. HERE.”

Benecio shushed Julian quickly but kindly, and guided the Brit aside to make room for Dean, who was not wasting a second. Shoot first, ask questions never.

He pushed the nigh-invisible door gently and it snicked open, freeing a blast of weird, cold air into the room. It smelled distinctly different, in the way Dean knew the things he hunted did. Stale and archaic and faintly brimstone-scented. He felt the magi gather behind him like cats at a fishbowl and had to jerk his shoulder to dislodge Simon before he could advance. A staircase unfurled downward from the door. Wooden steps groaned under his weight. Dean winced, willing them to shut the hell up. There was no hand railing and the treads seemed short; Dean had to not only step lightly but carefully, or his big boots would overshot a riser and he’d wind up tits over tail. Exotic designs papered the wall, vaguely oriental or Asian or whatever the pc terminology was—Sam would know. The odd thing was, well odder thing anyway, was that the designs seemed to be moving. For a moment he thought it was a trick of the nearly nonexistent light, but then Eddie validated the optical illusion with a whisper in Dean’s ear.

“It’s Dark Path magic, Dean. Judah told me it warps the things around it, gives itself away.” Somehow she knew he was seeing the worming shapes, and for once he was glad she was with him. If anything, she was a fountain of magical knowledge. Between her and Danny, they made up a complete Sam. She was about to say something else when Dean heard a rustle from the end of the stairs. Or a hiss. Whatever the case, he lifted his hand for silence and stood frozen. The magi bumbled into each other before finally following suit and there was a sharp inhale as Benecio almost lost his footing.

There it was again, the rasping sound, but now it more closely resembled a voice. A dry, pained whimper, to Dean’s ears. He hit the bottom of the staircase and flattened against a wall, slipping along with practiced stealth, forgetting for a heartbeat that he had the entire cast of “Charmed” clodding along behind him. Halfway down this second hall a door stood ajar, seemingly carved from an enormous knotty slab of wood, its knob a wrought iron latch, probably older than the building itself. Dean palmed the door, pushed it open slowly. It took a fair amount of force; the thing weighed a ton.

More dim lighting. What was it with evil? Did it always require darkness to thrive, like mold or fungus? The hallway was marginally brighter, illuminated by gas-lit sconces as there didn’t seem to be electricity in this part of the building. Dean opened the door wider, sending a sheet of illumination into the room and revealing plain wooden floors, quite unlike the opulence of the rest of the place. Then, as he peered deeper into the gloom, a human leg. Shit.

Dean entered with a fresh sense of urgency, scrambling the penlight from his jacket pocket with his off hand. A tight beam of bluish light speared the dark, leveling across bare walls, dirty floors, until it flashed upon a person, a girl. He rushed forward and dropped to a crouch, finding the girl’s face with illumination. And he knew that face from a photograph in the newspaper.

“Janey!” Eddie gasped, landing in a flash on her knees beside Dean.

Ah, the barista who read palms or tarot or tealeaves, Dean recalled. He snapped out an arm to restrain Eddie, in case this Jane had become something other than human, or just as bad, something very, very dead. Slipping two fingers under the curve of the girl’s throat, Dean found a thin, thready pulse and exhaled with relief. “Help her. I’m gonna see if there’re more people in here.” Eddie gave a quick nod and began murmuring soothing words as Dean moved off.

“I found Felicity,” Danny said from the east corner of the room.

Dean heard tentative indications of activity as the magi fanned out, What he didn’t hear was Sam, and he wished he’d thought to bring more flashlights. Maybe Sam’s was still in his coat upstairs—

“Is…who’s here?” The voice was weak and uncertain, groggy as though still half-shrouded in sleep. Sweetly familiar. Dean nearly tripped over someone, something, getting to it. And so did Julian, apparently.

“Sylvie!” both said, in unison—which was more than a little awkward as they bumped shoulders and scrambled to her aid. Dean had half a mind to shove Julian onto his pasty British ass but, in the interest of cooperation, generously curbed the urge.

Sylvie dragged herself up on elbows, squinting in the vestigial glow of Dean’s light, which he’d aimed away so as not to blind her. She looked woozy but remarkably with-it, eyes smudged with dark bruises that could just as easily been mascara just as weariness. Her eyes scanned from Julian to Dean, blinking, and she said each name in turn. Julian was the first to act, grabbing her into an embrace that felt, to Dean, far too desperate for anything platonic. He smiled wanly.

“Oh god, Sylvie, are you okay? Are you okay?” Julian was running his hands over her face, fingers smoothing shorn dark locks, almost tearing up. “Your hair…”

“Did it myself, you like?” She coughed a weak laugh and tried to sit up with Julian’s help. Her fingers quivered as she pulled at his sleeve and she winced, dropping a hand to a dark patch on her side. Looked rusty and stiff. Old blood. “Dean, wow. I owe Bobby a big kiss for finding you guys. Is…is Sam here too?”

“Somewhere,” Dean said, chucking her chin gently with a knuckle. Again, he inwardly wished Julian would make like horseshit and hit the trail. “How you feelin’? You hurt? What’re we dealing with here?”

Sylvie scrubbed at her eyes, settled as comfortably as she could. She lifted up the corner of her shirt and Dean spotlighted a wound, well-scabbed. He’d seen worse. Sylvie dropped her shirttail; so had she. “Been better. Demons, Dean. Of the highest order, I’m thinkin’. Don’t let her touch you, the Chinese bitch. Numb you clean out of your senses. That’s what she’s been doing to us.”

“Us? How many others are there?”

“Dunno. Haven’t had the chance to do much research, being paralyzed and all. But…” Her eyes widened as something seemed to occur to her, and she used Julian to stumble to her feet, Dean reaching out a hand. “Shit. There might be – ”

Noise crashed through the room in overlapping waves, sudden as a car wreck: first a teasing, tremulous moan, then a wet rending sound, and finally an ear-splitting shriek. Horrified peals. Dean’s first impression was of a cat in a meat grinder, but then he recognized the timber of the voice. Simon. A warm sluice of liquid struck his cheek. And then another. Then the screaming stopped. There was a frantic gnashing of teeth, slurping, swallowing. The beam of Dean’s light caught bright flares of red and the glisten of dripping teeth—so many, he couldn’t begin to count.

“KILL IT!” Sylvie screamed, and she didn’t need to scream twice.

Dean had armed himself with a sawed-off and he dropped the penlight to blast at the horror with both hands, the explosion booming off the hard surfaces of the empty room. If the group had had a single hope of surprise, it was shot to hell now. Salt rounds pinged off of walls and floor and bodies but, judging from the fleshy shrapnel, it did the trick. Blew the demonling to Kingdom Come, or more likely, back to its infernal hometown.

Julian let go of Sylvie and clamped palms over his ears, left them there long after the sound of Dean’s blast stopped echoing. He was rocking himself and mumbling, his face the unpleasant color of fish belly. All things considered, he looked worse than Sylvie but Dean’s immediate concern was what the fuck was that?!

He retrieved his light and carefully stepped to the mess, wary not to slip in gore. No one else had the presence of mind to move except Sylvie, who was following.

“Awesome.” Dean growled, looking down at what once had been a girl, her middle flayed open in a tangle of innards. Not a foot from her, sat Simon. Or rather Simon’s head. The rest of him was...elsewhere.

“Aw, Simon.” Sylvie’s voice whispered soft and sad at Dean’s elbow.

Dean got urgent, fast. They didn’t have the luxury of examination or even heavy strategy. “All right, listen up! We’ve gotta get outta here. Anyone find more girls? And for god’s sake, are they empty?!”

“I’ve got Felicity and Jane over here,” Danny said, and Dean confirmed with a quick scan of the penlight that they all seemed disoriented and Feaster-less.

“I’ve got Sprite.” That was Benecio, and again Dean flicked the light to the sound of the stoner’s voice, satisfied by what he saw.

Jane had fumbled her way to Sylvie and Dean, cheeks wet with fresh tears and a few errant splatters of red. “And that was Hannah.”

Dean turned to her, no nonsense. “You and Sylvie, take the girls and go back exactly the way we came and do not stop until you get to your house, you got that?”

But Eddie shook her head, smearing salty water and blood with a sleeve. “No. I won’t leave. I have to see this through. I feel responsible.”

And Sylvie punched Dean’s arm, narrowing her eyes into stubborn slits. “You cannot make me go, Dean Winchester. Don’t be a dick.”

“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Dean suppressed an off-color comment about women’s lib and scrubbed a sticky hand over his face.

“He’s not doing so well though,” Eddie said with a nod towards Julian, her voice still thick with tears. “The ghosts, they don’t care if we’re in the middle of a crisis.”

“Fine.” Dean found Julian’s machete on the floor at his feet and gave it to Sylvie. With a rough shove that felt good, Dean had to admit, he corralled Julian and the remaining three girls and ushered them out the door with specific directions to get their asses to safety. The girls, like Sylvie, seemed unsteady but coming ‘round, none the worse for wear. If Julian insisted upon having a string of ‘I see dead people’ moments, Jane the fortune-telling barista could run the show.

“So you said Sammy was here somewhere?” The machete flashed in Sylvie’s fist as she measured its weight and balance.

Dean worked very hard at keeping the worry off his face. “Yeah, about that…”

*

Sam tried to make sense of it all. Of the soft and the red and the warm scent of candles and how the light guttered as it reached the corners of this big room and why he just did not care. Not care about leaving. Not care about the chanting from two simple men—he could see the pair of them, their lips moving in unison—as it filled his ears with unfamiliar music that made his belly flutter, stage-fright anxious and Christmas morning happy. Except there had never been a happy Christmas morning for Sam. This might’ve been what it felt like, though. The knowledge that there were presents waiting, secrets to be revealed and they were rich and beautiful and everything his heart had ever wanted. That they were selected especially for him, no one else, and everything was perfectly placed.

But that never happened to him before, not Sam Winchester. He didn’t get Christmas, or to finish college or to marry the indescribably wonderful girl of his dreams. It was all dangled in front of him, carrot before the horse, just so some cruel fate could take it all away in one spark, one bead of blood dripped from one ceiling. And then another. Reminding him in premonitions then dreams then reality then memories that he would never have good things, he had no reason to wish for good things. They would all be taken away because that was Sam’s life. Indelibly fucked up.

Then there was Dean. Big, heroic Dean. So cocksure of himself, all black and white and right and wrong and smart enough to keep his desires simple and straightforward. Straight-as-the-crow-flew Dean, without hesitation or optimism, just the steadfast belief in forward motion. Nothing a shot of whiskey and a give ‘em hell attitude couldn’t tackle. It wasn’t that Sam wanted to be Dean or follow in his footsteps. Sam always had an extraordinary sense of self, to the point of single-mindedness, from a very young age. He just wanted to be Dean’s equal. Not a burden. Not a responsibility. But then maybe that was one of those things Sam had no business wanting. One of those good things.

So in that moment after Naamah had delicately chalked a complicated design onto the surface of a stone slab, her herbs and spices scenting the air with mystery, Sam made a decision. This. This was what his premonition had foretold. In making it real, in letting his vision play out as predicted, Sam was creating prophecy. The worm was turning. When Naamah asked for his hand, some twisted mockery of marriage, Sam offered it. She cradled his long fingers in her tiny palm and slipped an ancient blade across his lifeline, smiling softly as the blood welled dark and absolute. Sam’s heart stuttered, his puppet heart, strings pulled this way and that under the will of the Queen of the Succubi. Blood pooled from his palm into a rough-hewn bowl and drizzled over a nest of carefully chosen dried things.

Naamah cast a sideward glance to her altar boys and they quieted. Then, she struck a wooden match.

*

The cellar, even from where Dean stood thirty feet down the hall, wore all the earmarks of a ritual chamber, right down to the sulfurous stink, ominous chanting and flickering candles throwing shadows into chaos. Nothing good ever came from chanting, as far as Dean was concerned. Not even the Gregorian variety. That shit just made his ears bleed. And this shit right here? It made Dean thunder down the hallway, stealth be damned, and want to unleash a world of salt-soaked hurt on the first black-eyed douchebag that crossed his path.

Sylvie hustled right behind, humming to herself. Made Dean smile; she always hummed when she hunted. Said it calmed her nerves. Like whistling while you worked. Whatever the case, it succeeded because they hit the archway at the same time, Dean pausing to let her pass and Sylvie dropping low so Dean could fire a round over her head without interruption. Perfect form. If any creeper was hanging out by the open doorway, Sylvie could cut it but good.

Salt blew through the chamber like toxic snow, slamming into the back of one of two men who had the misfortune to be standing closest to the hunters. If he was human, well, Dean would apologize later. And if he wasn’t? Dean just won the prize.

The tall, thin scarecrow of a man snarled and whirled on the intruders, eyes like pooled ink and movements stutter-start fast. His heavy gray coat had armored him against most of the salt but he was smoldering in small wisps at the back of head, his clenched hands.

Fuck me, that’s the homeless guy, Dean recognized him now, and it all fell into place, where his phone went. He’d been trailing Dean all over the God damned city. Dean pumped another round into the chamber and leveled it at Scarecrow’s chest.

“You’re kinda starting to piss me off,” he said, almost conversationally.

The demon shrugged, flashed a grin full of crooked teeth. “Sorry, Dean, just doing my job, man. You get that, right?”

“Right, I get that.”

The shotgun reported, propelling the man backwards. Sylvie fell on him fast, the machete a blur. But she wasn’t humming; she had murder in her eyes and Dean left her to her work.

The room was basic, and for that Dean thanked his lucky stars. Few blind corners and hiding spots, except within the shadows themselves. Cellar-dank and cold as a cave, the air and adrenaline made him shudder and he pushed forward, gaze scanning for an exceptionally tall, exceptionally shaggy head. The second man had slipped out of sight. Dean saw Benicio’s gun flare and a bullet pinged off the floor.

“Dude!” Dean flinched, darting a scowl at Benecio, who was silhouetted by candlelight.

“Sorry – ” Benecio might’ve said more but the words were squeezed behind a grunt and he dropped like a rock, dragged into a dark corner. Dull thuds, fists beating muscle and bone, but Dean didn’t dare fire into the black. A face full of rock salt wouldn’t kill a man but it’d blind him and Dean couldn’t risk that.

Eddie was moving fast, though, rummaging in her shoulder bag and fishing out a silver flask. She uncorked the container and flung holy water where Benecio went down. Over and over, she threw glimmering, blessed streams until the flask ran dry. Then she opened a second, began again. The corner hissed like a sauna, rotten-egg steam rolling across the floor on a flood of expletives. Until silence. She readied a third flask.

Benecio threw himself away from the stink and into the light, soaking wet and bloodied, one eye already puffy and fixing to swell shut. “Shoot it!” he yelled. “It’s got my gun!”

Eddie stammered. “But—but I don’t h-have a gun!”

Danny did, took a wide step beside her, and emptied bullets into the dark corner. The steam was replaced by a thick, viscous roll of black smoke that tore across the floor like a living thing, roiling and screaming and looking for escape. It banked off walls until breaking for the doorway, disappearing down the hall, leaving soot in its wake.

The magi all gawked, in unison.

“Amateurs…” Dean grunted, heading for the far side of the long, windowless room. The candles had been extinguished and he was forced to depend upon his penlight again, which sucked because it made it harder to shoot. “Sam! Sam, if you’re in here – ”

“I’m here, Dean.”

Dean froze, on the spot. Sam’s voice was dripping with wrongness, too smooth, too casual. He caught his breath and just listened.

“Dean? Are you coming?”

He took a careful step forward, cheek twitching as a rivulet of sweat trickled from his temple. The penlight’s beam made a slow arc, passing over furniture, if one could call an occult altar furniture. The surface had clearly been prepared for a ritual or rite of some sort, replete with unholy markings and all the fixings of a summoner’s picnic. As he drew the beam beyond that, Dean saw a flash of red satin and above that yet, the milk-white swell of a bosom. And it wasn’t Sam’s.

“Where’s my brother?” Dean demanded, narrowing eyes and advancing another step.

“He’s here, Dean. But you need to take your little friends and go. He’s bored with you; I’m so much more interesting than an overbearing bully.”

The woman moved forward into Dean’s light more directly, slipping around a weighty wooden chair as a boa might slip around a rabbit. Sam was sitting in the chair and he looked peaceful.

Peaceful?! Dean swore under his breath and lowered the shotgun because not only did he want to avoid blasting Sam, the woman had a rather impressive knife to his throat. Sam’s own boot knife. He was already bloodied, a wound to the upper arm, but his famously broad forehead was unworried. He might even have been wearing a vague smile.

“Sam? Sammy? You need to leave with me, man.”

“I don’t think so, Dean. This is where I’m meant to be. Naamah, she needs me.” He canted his head and leaned into the knife’s edge and Dean saw a thin line of red race from the blade’s tip to Sam’s collar. “And it’s Sam.”

There was a flurry of motion to Dean’s left. Apparently, Danny was sick of all the chit-chat; his gun-hand appeared in Dean’s peripheral vision, all silver and dangerous and far too near Dean’s ear. Before Dean could so much as say “What the fuck are you crazy?!” the demoness flicked a finger and Danny’s head did a 180 degree spin. Eddie gasped, and Danny hit the floor. Preternatural toughness or no, a snapped neck was pretty much a deal breaker.

When Naamah spoke again, she didn’t sound amused, not in the least. “Now why don’t you stop being rude and enjoy your ringside seat to my husband’s arrival, hmm? It’s not every day you get to witness the resurrection of a Sammael, the Angel of Death.”

“Name dropper,” Dean sneered.

God help him, Sam was smiling in earnest this time. But Dean would never leave. Not in a googolplex of years. No amount of supernatural pheromones or psychosis would force Dean’s retreat, unless Sam agreed to come with.

Dean cut a glance to Sylvie, who had moved up on his right to stare, incredulous, at the proceedings.

“Dean,” she murmured, shoulders held tense but with a glimmer in her eye. “This is Funkytown, man…”

Weird thing to say, yeah, but Dean knew what she was thinking. It was a code word she and Sam and Dean made up one summer on a skinwalker hunt in Vermillion, South Dakota. It meant they were all in trouble, big fat trouble, and if they didn’t act fast the shit was gonna hit the ol’ fan. Sylvie was no better than Dean with exorcisms so they’d best just shut up and do something. Desperate times and all.

Dean winked an eye. “On three…one, two – ”

Neither of them waited for three. Sylvie had gotten her hands on Benecio’s lost gun and quick as a whip, she began shooting high to cover for Dean. Dean got off one blast of the sawed-off, slamming into the demoness and unfortunately, Sam, before the shotgun was ripped from his grip by unseen forces, nearly taking his thumb with it. Sylvie threw herself in front of the stone altar, out of Naamah sights. And for a heartbeat, Dean felt a flush of panic.

He had no gun. Sam was snarling, palms pressed to his face where the salt must be burning like a bitch, and Naamah’s eyes had gone as red and bright as radioactive raw meat.

Dean plunged his hands into his pockets, looking for a miracle. Instead he found a vial. Smooth and fragile and unremarkable.

“Here goes nuthin’…” Dean grabbed the relic with thumb and forefinger by either end and bent it ‘til it broke.

And then the world bled white.



Chapter 12
 
 
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