Characters: Sam, Dean, Bobby, Hallucifer
Genre: Gen, Angst
Length: 5,321 words
Disclaimer: If I owned SPN, I'd hold a big party and let y'all come. As long as you brought beer. Thank you, Eric, for creating these lovelies.
Summary: Sam is still seeing the Devil, but he's dealing. Dealing in ways he could never predict. A simple morning jog takes a wrong turn that just may put him in the right place after all.
Warnings: Spoilers for Season 7. A few 4-letter words. Graphic animal deaths, and I'm serious, it ain't cute!
Notes: Extra-special thanks go out to tesserae_ who beta'd this grim little ditty and has been an incredible source of guidance and wisdom. She is golden and skilled beyond words.
Notes, Part Deux: This is a sort-of sequel to As Many Times As It Took but it's not necessary to have read it first. Might help a little, but not required reading.
Notes, Part Last: Concrit is thoroughly welcomed! How else am I gonna get better with this harr writing thang? Please persevere through the grisly parts; it ends well. I promise. ;)
It's a tad long, so if you want to download it, I crossposted over at AO3: HERE.
The maple trees had turned the hue of raw steak against the dead, colorless sky. Sunlight was a bleached smear barely burning through the clouds. Great arrows of Canadian geese cut v’s across the heavens, and it felt like snow in the offing.
To call it ‘jogging’ would be like calling Stephen Hawking ‘a bright guy.’ This was not jogging at an agreeable pace where two steps covered the inhale, two steps upon exhaling, something high-energy and mindlessly pop on the ol’ iPod. Sam, he ran. He ran like the devil was on his tail. Funny, that.
New cross-trainers, courtesy of Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply in Kalispell, pounded the earth. His breath dragged dry and difficult from his throat, heart ricocheting off his ribs like a bullet in a bucket. Sam ran until he soaked through his sweatshirt, hair plastered wet to his forehead and pulse jack-hammering. The air was crisp with wood smoke; it bit cold at his nose and earlobes and fingertips, and the scenery raced by, zoetrope-fast, because if it didn’t Sam would see him.
Today, the running came easier—muscle memory—though he could hardly pretend he was back at Stanford, doing loops around the track on a well-groomed man-made surface. The mud and gravel that passed for a road up the mountain frequently sent him skidding, tits over tail. Monday’s shin splints were nearly gone, stretched out and dulled by a fistful of aspirin. Tuesday’s blisters wore Neosporin and Band-aids. And here it was, Thursday. Sam hoped to make it down to the lake before he had to break for recovery time or put his head between his knees when the world swam black.
At least Sam didn’t have to stop anymore because his skull felt like it was full of poison. Regardless, he was still along for the ride. He was behind every tree, lurking at the corner of Sam’s vision like the glint of sun off a blade. Even on cloudy days, like today, there were telltale flickers of color—almost always shades of red—and the silhouette of a human figure that was so familiar, so intimate, Sam knew he was being watched. Always watched and never alone. But if he ran hard enough, he could pretend he just didn’t see the Devil. Call it culpable deniability.
So today, Thursday, there he was, in surreal Technicolor, sitting on the massive granite boulder that marked three miles. It wasn’t that Sam was surprised but he flinched anyway, because he always did.
“Hey, Sammy, got a little piece of trivia for you…”
Sam didn’t stop running, his glance slicing away from the illusion and back to the stony road. He didn’t even slow down. Sweat stung at a nasty abrasion on his cheekbone, the result of a spill from yesterday. “That son of a bitch only exists in your melon; you’ve got to remember that, Sammy,” Dean had told him sternly as he was picking grit from the shredded skin with a pair of tweezers. Two inches to the left and Sam might’ve been wearing a rakish patch to disguise the pulp that had once been an eyeball. Sam had nodded at the time but none of that mattered one iota. Sam’s perceived reality included, with no uncertainty, the anarchistic post-celestial rage of God’s once-favorite, the Morningstar. And despite Dean’s best assurances, Lucifer was as real to Sam as fear, doubt, betrayal, or love, as gnawing as hunger. The Devil’s actual form may not have been corporeal but when the mirage sprung into sight from thin air, Sam had every right to startle. Or space out. Or crash and burn, or stab the tender spot on his palm where stitches had once been. If that’s what it took to make the fucker go away.
Sam kept moving, blinked, swiped at his eyes. He willed his lungs to loosen; stress was pinching his breath into tight pockets and Sam didn’t need his chest aching any more than it already did. He could see the lake through a split in the maples, a mirror of brackish glass amongst the scarlet. The lake became his finish line; if he could make it there, he’d cut himself some slack instead of cutting himself a new scar.
“Oh now don’t be a little bitch, Sammy. Play the game.”
The Devil’s voice was sudden, barked right in his ear. Sam careened away from the words, a wild stumble-step into the weedy gutter. Wings, a dozen of them, exploded from the thicket in a riot of squawks, chunky hen-like birds startled by Sam’s sudden detour. Sam covered his head with his arms, ignoring the thorns snagging his sweatpants but not the panicked birds bludgeoning around his shoulders. He froze, protecting his face, until the prairie-chicken or grouse or whatever the hell these things were dissipated into the surrounding woods. Their cries settled into echoes.
“Jesus Christ…” Sam muttered a hand pressed to his chest in some small hope the pressure would stop his heart from machine-gunning. Didn’t work.
“Nope. Our Lord and Savior has left the building, Sammy.” The chipper voice called out to him from across the road. Lucifer, in his Nick vessel—poor hapless Nick who’d lost his family and succumbed to sorrow and let the Devil in—waved to Sam with one hand, something snared and squirming in the other. Wasn’t one of the birds, too big for that. Sam caught sight of long ears and a snowy fluff of tail.
When Sam didn’t say a word, when he simply stared at the thing twisting in Lucifer’s grip, the Devil huffed with thin patience.
“Aren’t you the least bit curious? Sam? Cat got your tongue?”
Sam barely swallowed, his throat working painfully because every bit of spit had left his mouth. In the Cage, the Devil had been especially brilliant with torment born of idioms. ‘Cat got your tongue’ meant something entirely different to Sam, now.
“You know, rabbits actually can scream, Sammy. Old wives’ tale that they can’t.”
Sam began to back out of the brush, thimbleberry thorns stinging through the flimsy sweatpants. As he moved, Sam was certain the brambles left paper-thin lines of red on his skin. The pain was hot and bright as sweat hit the cuts, and Lucifer’s form rippled around the edges like heat off the hood of the Impala in August.
But it wasn’t enough. It barely fazed the Devil. If anything, it might’ve forced him to put on some speed in irritation. Lucifer shook off the vapors, wagged a finger at Sam. He rattled the rabbit and made it twitch. With a showy purse of lips, the Devil feigned pity for the creature. He clucked his tongue, which Sam shouldn’t have been able to hear from across the road but somehow, he could. Lucifer stroked the animal’s tawny, pre-winter fur, wrapped his fist around one of the spindly front legs, and pulled. The limb resisted at first, Lucifer tugged more insistently until the joint popped, and the leg pulled free of the shoulder. Yes, rabbits could scream.
this isn’t real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not real
Lucifer carelessly flicked the rabbit’s foot aside and Sam had the ridiculous flash-thought of all the bad luck that the gesture would bring. Blood squirted from the creature and the poor thing kept squealing as the Devil pinched a velvety ear between thumb and forefinger. With a tug, the creature shrieked louder still.
Sam tried to throw himself out of the brush but his sneaker was caught in a snarl of barbed vine and he fell forward, face-first. He squeezed his eyes shut just in the nick of time. Thorns bit his lips, dragged across his cheeks.
not real not real
The animal’s screams were almost lost to Sam’s own rough panting, his own crazy pulse in his ears. He shoved a fist through the bramble’s tough runners to grab a boot knife from his sock. The sheath chafed and annoyed, but Dean had made Sam take the knife with him everywhere, despite how much Dean hated Sam having blades within arm’s reach these days. The knife scored through the overgrowth and Sam tore recklessly from the briars, shredding his hands and re-opening the scabs on his palms. It was good, sweet, cleansing pain, a fortune of hurt that overrode the squealing of the rabbit until all Sam heard, lying on the muddy berm alongside the road, was the wind and his own breath.
The landscape spun for a moment before it settled into queasy stillness. Sam opened his eyes and saw the vapor from his mouth and the endless gray of the sky. He shuddered. There might’ve been the flutter of wings and for one delusional second Sam imagined angels. But it was just leaves, bits of autumn that drifted to the ground in crisp, papery rustles.
Slowly, Sam turned his head and let his body keep shivering, leeching off the adrenaline before he could even hope to stand.
The Devil was gone.
Sam rolled onto his side and retched.
“Y’all right there?” Bobby asked.
“Yeah, yeah. Peachy,” Dean groused.
Dean angled his plastered leg under the dash of the truck, almost stretched into Bobby’s pedals. The cab was plenty big under most circumstances, but Dean was plenty tall and despite the fact he had his back pressed against the passenger-side door, there just wasn’t adequate room for the stupid cast. He shifted to get the window handle out of his lower back, where it smashed against the gun hidden there. Wouldn’t do at all to accidentally shoot himself in the ass. Dean scratched at the cast in some vain attempt to get at an itch. In a rare moment of mischief, Sam had taken a black Sharpie and written “Satan was here” across Dean’s knee. Ha ha. Dean suffered the ungainly travel arrangements because it was better than being stuck in the cabin for one more day. He was this close to pulling out Keith Moon’s faux Master Card and racking up a killing on the Home Shopping Network, even though the post probably didn’t deliver to Middle of Bumfucking Nowhere, Montana.
At least the truck’s heater had the good graces to blow directly onto his bare toes. Dean was too cool to put a stretched-out sock over his foot.
“You remember the list?” Bobby downshifted as they rumbled along the steep road, gravel kicking up under the tires and into the wheel wells. A paperboard evergreen swung from the mirror, yellowed with age and long since depleted of any pine scent.
Dean patted his breast pocket with a nod and fixed his gaze to the shoulder of the road. He must’ve been scowling something fierce because Bobby slapped Dean’s arm with the back of one hand and jerked a chin towards the radio.
“Find us a station before your face freezes that way. It ain’t pretty.”
“Whadya mean it ain’t pretty? I am so pretty.”
Bobby flicked Dean a patient look even as his calloused fingers fiddled over the steering wheel. “Dean, he’s fine. Or at least fine-ish. Hasn’t been gone that long; you know he feels better once he’s worked out some of that mondo bizarro. Or somethin’.”
Dean unknotted his brow but out of sheer petulance, didn’t immediately oblige Bobby. Instead, he kept shooting the near treeline a penetrating glare. Nothing but lodgepole pines and bright crimson maples and already bare branches. Sometimes a flicker of birdwing.
“All right, all right. Keep your pants on.” He bent leftwards and played with the knobs on the stereo, uncovering a bounty of static and crackling snippets of distant song interspersed with a radio preacher proclaiming “Jesus loves a righteous man.” Dean fell back to scowling and kept finessing the dials. The faster he could get this evangelical bullshit out of his earspace, the better he’d like it. The sermonizing left a sudden and sour taste in Dean’s mouth; it killed the half-assed buzz he’d had going in anticipation of a trip out of the cabin. 98.5 eventually produced clear music between the interference, Joni Mitchell lamenting the paving of paradise.
“Leave it,” Bobby said a little too quickly. He glanced sidelong, one brow twitching beneath a green John Deere ballcap, daring Dean to say word one about the choice of listening material. Dean bit back a grin and raised his hands in concession.
The truck’s shocks bumped and rattled down the rutted road.
Winter would be upon them before they knew it. None of them anticipated being on the mountain when it snowed, socked in, dependent upon little more than an old pot-bellied stove for heat. But for now, Dean had to admit it was kinda pretty. Quiet and rustic and colored in hues of gold and brown and orange…the colors of yesteryear, if you didn’t add in all the fire and fangs and family lost. Dean brushed fingers across the cool flask in his coat and slipped it free, unscrewing the lid and taking a swallow; it was noon somewhere in the world. Bobby didn’t look over but Dean felt his eyes anyway.
Joni Mitchell’s fluttery voice cruised into “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones as the truck rounded a bend. And there was Sam.
He was traipsing back up the mountain against traffic, head down, not that there’d be anyone other than Bobby and Dean on the road in this desolate spot. He had the defeated posture of an old scarecrow, half-empty of straw but stubbornly held together by bent twigs and old habits. Sam looked up when he finally heard the truck’s engine; the vehicle was hardly quiet but Hell only knew what or whom he’d been listening to, whose voices were hollering through his iffy reality.
Dean’s jaw dropped, picked back up, and clamped into an unhappy grind.
Sam was sweat-stained at the collar, under his armpits, and notched with little red scratches from his forehead to the backs of his hands. Mud smudged his knees and elbows, and his sweatpants looked like they’d been set upon by feral cats. Blood dripped from the fingertips of one hand; Dean figured Sam’d re-opened that damned cut again. Dean’s nose was practically kissing the glass, fogging the surface and after several swipes with his palm, he surrendered and rolled down the window. Icy air hit his cheeks and Bobby turned off the radio as they pulled up alongside, the truck at a noisy idle.
A dozen different and horrible scenarios competed for Dean’s attention. “Shit, Sam, I’d hate to see the other guy!”
“Dean, it’s okay.” Sam lifted his hands in what was certainly intended as a reassuring gesture but it only served to put his palms on grim display. He realized his mistake immediately and stuffed his hands in his pockets and dodged away from Dean’s stare. “No big. I tripped.”
“You…tripped. Well gosh, Sam, got any swamp land you wanna sell me while you’re at it?”
“I was running, minding my own business. A flock of something spooked me and I wiped out into a briar patch. That’s it. I swear.”
“Okay, Br’er Rabbit; whatever you say.”
A look beggaring description flickered across Sam’s face, might’ve been a whiff of fear or revelation or perhaps he was seeing His Satanic Badness again over Dean’s shoulder. “Hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” He tried to shift to a grin but Dean wasn’t buying.
“Who said anything about cigars?”
“Freud,” Bobby said unhelpfully.
Dean shot a stare from Sam to Bobby to Sam again. “Of course it is.”
Huffing in obvious exasperation, Sam approached the truck and bent forward, squinting into the cab. Dean counted at least a dozen fresh nicks, the longest of which drew from Sam’s lip down his chin. “Don’t worry. I’m heading back to the cabin right –”
“Do not pass Go; do not collect $200, Sammy,” Dean snapped, his concern teetering on the edge of bossiness. And he knew it, too. Wasn’t the least bit surprised when Sam gave him the stinkeye.
“Dean. You can’t watch me 24/7. I get that you think I’m a crazy grenade, and someone’s gonna pull my pin at any second. But you can’t do a damned thing about that. I’ve gotta be able to cope. ‘Cause if I can’t? You’ll need to put a bullet in my brain.”
That shut Dean up authoritatively. He opened his mouth to say something but decided there really wasn’t any good rebuttal. Except that he’d never, ever resort to fratricide. That little germ of knowledge stayed tucked neatly into Dean Winchester’s Book of Ethics, Such as They Were. Fourth Edition.
Sam continued. “I need to work this out. Me. Myself. Alright?” He waited until he got a nod from Dean before he finished. “I have every intention of going straight back to the cabin. That’s the best promise I can make you. Okay, Dean?”
Dean scrubbed at his nose, which was starting to drip in the cold. “Fair enough. You want anything from the store? Like new pants?” He arched a disapproving brow at Sam’s ruined sweats.
Sam started to speak, eyes tilting in stiff humor and the beginnings of something smartass on his lips, when he caught himself before the words slipped out and his gaze shifted over the roof of the truck. Dean knew that look. He knew if he craned his neck around, peered past Bobby out the driver’s side window, across the road and into the trees and valley and beyond, he wouldn’t see what Sam was seeing. Shit, he couldn’t even begin to imagine. There’s Hell. And then there’s Hell. The flame and flesh-threaded hooks and torture of Dean’s damnation were what demons knew. And demons had their particular methodologies, their own brand of lawfulness. When they made promises, they kept them. What imprisoned angelic douchbags knew? Only Sam and Adam were privy to that information and Adam was still gone. It didn’t pay to be a Winchester, not even a little.
Sam straightened and a muscle twitched in his jaw. He pulled his hands from his pockets and kneaded them together, the knuckles chapped and sharp and stained pink. The far-away, tightly held look in his eye made Dean drop his own gaze to some middle ground between truck and road’s edge. For some stupid reason it felt fair to give Sam a few seconds of Lucifer, if only to see if he could wrestle out of the delusion and rise to the surface on his own brain power. But a few seconds was all Dean had the heart to spare.
“Sam. Sammy. Ground control to Major Tom.” Dean rapped the outside of the door with his fist and Sam swallowed, took a quick draw of air. Dean suspected Sam hadn’t even been breathing. Fan-damn-tastic.
“Good. I’m good, Dean.” Sam’s voice had the liquid, shivery quality of ice water and Dean didn’t believe him for one red second.
“Mmm-hmm. How ‘bout we give you a ride back to the cabin, there, sport. Humor me.”
Sam shook his head. He slowly unclenched his hands and looked down at them, vaguely puzzled as though he couldn’t quite remember how they got so chewed up. “No, but thanks. I need to, um, I need more time. But I promise, right back to the cabin.”
Dean rocked his head back against the seat and was fixing to launch into a good rant when Bobby leaned over, just enough to see Sam.
“You got your house key on you, kid? We locked up.”
Sam fished a weathered brass key on a chain from around his neck, showed it to Bobby.
“Good. Straight home.”
Dean managed a tight, dissatisfied grimace, hoping it resembled agreement but sincerely doubted it. The truck coughed, eased away from the shoulder and began its slow meander down the mountain, leaving Sam staring after it. Dean squirmed and stuck his head out the window until Bobby crabbed at him to “Stop being such a God damned golden retriever - it’s getting cold in here so roll up your window, you idjit.” Dean wished he had as much faith in Sam as Bobby did.
Sam watched the truck until it escaped around a dogleg bend.
His unwanted jogging companion watched too, arms folded over Nick’s desk-job paunch. “Nice guys, those two. I’ll have to send a fruit basket. Or maybe a stripper; you know Dean hasn’t had any –”
“Fuck off.” Sam spun on his heel and started back up the mountain. The road slipped under his tread and his eyes drilled down as though he could scowl the ground into becoming less difficult. Fatigue burned his calves. His thigh muscles twitched. Despite all efforts, Sam stumbled and nearly twisted an ankle in a rut. He stayed upright, if only just, and resorted to hiking in the middle of the road where the earth was less of a hostile territory. He was cold and bone-worn and stretched as thin as tripwire. Maybe he should’ve taken Bobby’s offer of a lift after all.
“What did you say to me?” Lucifer appeared barely ten feet in front of Sam who, predictably, startled but kept struggling up the steep incline. Sam passed clean through the figure and though it might’ve been psychosomatic, the act of breeching the Devil’s projection sent chills down his spine, made the tender hairs on his nape prickle and his belly coil. Sam had been cut loose from his body before—astral projection—and it felt just like that but on meth.
“Oh, no, sunshine, you’re not brushing me off that easily. Running yourself into stringy little bits isn’t fitting the bill. I’m bored, Sammy. This is boring.”
Sam shook his head, could almost hear bits of sanity jumble loose in the far-away spilling of marbles onto a linoleum floor, a soft scattering drone.
“You made me a promise, Sam. You said you’d figure it out. What, are you lying to me now? I never lied to you, so you’d better fucking not lie to me now you little shit because it’s just lying to yourself and that leads to lying to Dean. Oh, how you love to lie to Dean, don’t you? You hold your tiny untruths tight, like precious treasures –”
Sam heard his own voice echo into the foggy forest, over his panting, over the malevolent throb of something he couldn’t place, a sound like the world was growling. Fuck it, but Lucifer was right about this one thing: Sam was lying to Dean. He promised Dean he wouldn’t hurt himself anymore, that he’d find a way to thwart the Devil without bloodshed. Still trudging, Sam looked down at his palms; they were slick and dark with red, scabbing in places, trying desperately to heal. His brain was betraying his body again. Sam had to begin to fix this, really and truly. No more bruises or cuts or blisters. No. More.
Besides, the pain was too manageable. It was there and then gone. A lifetime of injury had steeled Sam’s threshold to an absurd high. He couldn’t count, on both hands, how many times he’d gotten stitches without the luxury of Novocain or subsequent happy pills. A swig of whiskey and off you go, kid. But if there was a silver lining inside Sam’s grapefruit, this was it: Lucifer could lie. Just like rabbits could scream. It was all one big, ludicrous myth. Or maybe it wasn’t anything at all but Samuel Winchester, KingGod of Lies. The trick was to know the lie when you told it to yourself.
When Lucifer tried to whisper in Sam’s ear again, purr insidious tales of betrayal and rescue, Sam threw his head back and laughed. He barely had breath to lift to the hoary skies, but he forced it. It wasn’t funny; none of it was funny. Yet Sam laughed. He laughed out loud until his eyes watered and he had to stop in the middle of the road, hands on his knees, white spots popping behind his lids. He laughed even as the air split through with thunder. It was too cold to rain though, and the sound felt peculiar, so real. Sam reigned in to a chortle and turned around, peering through his lank hair. The area blazed with lightning from the road behind, illuminating the scrub and rock slabs and trees.
A big-ass, beaten-up Ford truck—bigger than Bobby’s and eaten with rust—careened to and fro up the road, a drunken beast that gave no indication of care or slowing. One headlight cut a beam through the gloom. Debris spat helter-skelter behind the rear wheels and empty cans flung high and wide from the open bed. Sam froze, caught in the headlight, stuck trying to parse fact from fiction. He barely had time to blink.
Brown flashed, a body breaking from the forest on Sam’s left, and a doe made to dart across the road. Her dark eyes were blown wide in panic. Sam threw himself backwards to the ground and the truck’s brakes crushed gravel, spraying a pelt of rocks in a great arc, like shrapnel. The vehicle fishtailed. It lurched sideways, the backend a broad barrier of decayed metal and Sam clenched in on himself, his breath stolen. There was a thud and the rush of wind. Then a second thud as a body landed behind Sam. The truck choked and pinged and he felt the heat of the engine on his shoulder.
For a long minute, Sam laid where he fell. The truck breathed down on him, Hell-hound hot and stinking of oil and exhaust. His shoulder throbbed but moved, the joint still intact. A door creaked open, but no one spoke. Sam cautiously unfurled.
The truck’s enormous grill was all Sam could see until he rocked back on his elbows, blew hair from his eyes. The driver was a kid, just a kid. Not more than seventeen on the far side, staring at Sam with bloodshot eyes and an opened maw. The boy’s face was fish-belly white except for his nose and a smattering of pimples. Sam suspected he’d probably wet himself.
Sam stood up slowly, dragging a palm across his chest where it left a dirty, bloody trail. The boy followed Sam all the way up; Sam probably bested him by a foot or better.
A can rattled down the road.
They stared at each other, both breathing heavily, incredulously. Seconds ticked by.
The kid suddenly leapt back into the truck like a firecracker had gone off under his ass, and slammed the door. He’d apparently decided Sam would live and because of that, might well beat the living shit out of him. Wasn’t far off the mark.
The motor gunned and the clutch complained as gears were forced, the truck dropping back down the road from whence it came. The front bumper dangled, hanging on by a sliver, and it grated against one of the tires with a metallic groan. The hood sported a few new frowns. Looping wide and careless, the truck nearly backed over an embankment. There wasn’t even a God damned license plate to note, just a stupid window decal of a cartoon kid, peeing. The Ford peeled out, spewing exhaust, forcing Sam to tuck his face into his shoulder. It tore off around the bend, leaving nothing behind but pollution. And empty beer cans.
Sam blinked. “The fuck…”
His fingers trembled as he knuckled his eyes, swallowing the bilious taste of panic which gave way to grateful, weak-kneed relief. The red glow of tail-lights vanished into the hazy valley. Good riddance.
But Sam couldn’t breathe easy yet; he wasn’t alone, not by a long shot.
The deer had been hit hard but not hard enough. She flopped about, tautly jerking as though shot through with high voltage. Bright blood covered her jaw and ran from one ear, and at least two legs had been snapped. The limbs flailed with sickening imprecision, and had Sam anything in his stomach it would’ve upended eagerly. Lucifer looked on dispassionately, hands in a tidy clasp. Watching.
Many a summer, when the Winchester boys were little more than rug-rats and dumped at Bobby Singer’s house for extended babysitting stays, he’d taken them hunting. Taught them how to track better than John Winchester could ever manage. But neither boy could bring himself to shoot a deer or rabbit or hell, even a squirrel. Wendigo, rugaru, anything deemed monstrous…no problem. But game prey? No dice. Not even when Bobby made it clear if they didn’t bring home dinner, there’d be none. Monsters weren’t innocents; they were aberrations, not part of the natural order. Well, that was the belief in those days. But even now, knowing what he knew and living the life he’d lived, Sam gawked as the doe suffered and pawed the mud in blind confusion. His throat was knotted tight and he couldn’t get his legs to move.
“A thing of beauty…” Lucifer whispered, slowly unclasping his hands. He bent at the waist, reached out to the creature.
Sam scrambled. In one fluid motion, he drew his boot knife and slid to his knees. He trapped her, tucking the deer’s head in the crook of one arm, exposing her throat all downy and soft and still unsoiled. She made odd, frog-like noises; Sam had never heard a deer bray before. It distressed him long enough to catch a hoof across the nose and he saw stars through watering eyes, felt a bright blast of pain. She was powerful in her dying throes. Sam blinked through tears, drove the short, sharp knife into her neck and pulled it hard and deep, side to side. Red rushed onto white fur from the gory grin. Sam held her tight, murmuring soft shushing sounds through gritted teeth until eventually, her legs stilled. The breath that came in terse puffs stuttered out and her fat, pink tongue lolled. The doe’s eyes were still wide and terrified and fixed not on Sam, but the Devil.
Finally, there was quiet. Lucifer’s hand hovered inches from Sam’s filthy hair, but never touched. He shifted his gaze to the widening pool of red soaking the road, the deer, Sam, and murmured: “Crafty boy.”
Sam sagged, his head swimming.
And the Devil smiled. Wryly, almost impressed.
The hallucination flickered out.
Around Sam, the air sat heavy. It stunk of the deer, of musk and urine and coppery blood. It reminded him of the aftermath of nearly every monster they’d killed, the ones that’d had a heartbeat anyway. But this was just a deer, a simple animal that unfortunately crossed the road in front of a Ford truck. Sam’s breath escaped in a tired wheeze.
Cold soaked up through the ground and he slipped out from under the carcass. He couldn’t leave her in the middle of the road to be hit again, or make a target of whatever decided to pick at the body. Sam lumbered to his feet and grabbed both of the doe’s rear legs, one of which flailed at a wrong angle, and dragged her off. She was heavier than he imagined, or maybe he was just that beat. When he left her in the dry brown weeds, she all but vanished. Except for the blood.
Sam took his time returning to the cabin. Not only was he beyond falling-down exhausted, he was solitary. He felt it deep in his brain, the unaccustomed aloneness. When he unlocked the front door no one was there to greet him, Satanic or otherwise. When Sam washed the last of the red from his hands, his own haggard expression was the only one in the mirror frowning back. It was a good three days before Lucifer showed his face again, and even then, the Morningstar did so from a distance.
Sam very nearly didn’t notice him. At all.