|Demons IV: Malleus Maleficarum
Author: Guede Mazaka
Sam woke up when somebody dropped a pan in the kitchen. He jerked and the sheets behind him started to rise, but he caught himself before the stupid wings flailed out. His elbows and back and hips were still sore as hell from his drop the other night and he had to muffle a hiss in the mattress.
“Oops. Sorry about that, man,” Dean said. “Is this one your flour?”
“No. Don’t touch—oh, good. Your reflexes aren’t bad.” Click of a lighter. Maybe they’d only met a day ago, but Sam had the feeling that if John had to go without a cigarette for more than a couple minutes, he’d implode. “I hate starting off the day with sucking naga-poison out of somebody.”
A bunch of plates and silverware clattered. Nervously. Rolling his eyes, Sam turned over and curled down in the warm spot that Dean had left behind. Dean hadn’t acted all that weirded out when they’d been mistaken for a gay couple, but it figured he would get a little twitchy over the mistake with John. And John probably was taking full advantage of it.
“Where’s Balthazar?” Dean’s voice was partially drowned out by the sound of an opened fridge door. He shut it and walked whatever he’d taken out of it back to where John was rattling glass.
John laughed under his breath. “Waiting for me to kick his ass out of bed. Princess would sleep till Judgment Day if he could.” Pouring sounds, and then the smell of batter. “So he’s not around. Why are you sucking up to me?”
“Me?” The sheer amount of sugary innocence in Dean’s tone made Sam wince.
Apparently it hurt John too, because when the other man spoke again, he sounded about as patient as a guy with a handgun and a serious case of road-rage. “Jesus Christ, it’s too early in the morning for this…what?”
Nobody talked for a couple minutes. Somebody turned on the stove, which was gas, and from the consequent noises, Sam figured that they were making pancakes. They smelled pretty good; the food was the only part of this trip that was even close to okay. Everything else was just plain fucked, and excuse his language but he was really pissed off. Great. He’d gotten confirmation that God was around just in time to ask Him why the hell all this kept happening to him.
Not that Sam wanted any of it to happen to Dean. He didn’t want it to happen, period. But things just kept hitting him like dominos, and he never managed to get back up to where he’d been, never mind recover all the way. Sometimes he felt like he was up to his neck, and it’d only take a couple more for his nose and mouth to be covered.
Of course, that’d been before last night. Now he was lying in bed and wondering how he could possibly still be breathing.
“Is Sam going to be all right? Seriously. If he’s not and he’s going to be…be stuck with these wings and a whole bunch of other crap, I want to know now,” Dean abruptly said.
Sam lay still for another second, then slowly lifted himself up on one arm. He froze when the mattress springs creaked softly beneath him, but the noises in the kitchen didn’t change, so he guessed they hadn’t heard him. A little more cautiously, he poked his head over the top of the couch.
Dean and John were standing on either side of the stove, with John holding a bowl and Dean pointing a batter-coated spoon at John. The combination of the spoon and Dean’s stiff-jawed expression was less funny than it should have been. The fact that ash occasionally drifted from John’s cigarette to very near the bowl made Sam’s already weakened appetite roll over and go determinedly back into hibernation.
“You really want to know?” John took out his butt and laid it on the edge of the counter. He put down the bowl. Then, of all things, he took off his tie and started to unbutton his shirt. “Then you should’ve stayed out of L. A., and you would’ve known for sure. This is magic, Dean. Nothing around here comes with guarantees unless it’s dead and you buried the body yourself.”
“But wouldn’t you have some idea…and what the hell are you doing?” Dean asked, quickly turning around. He grabbed a spatula and started to lower it to the pan, but then froze. Checked it over and then used it to flip the pancake out onto a plate.
Shirt off, John pivoted to face the table. He must’ve had a bag on one of the chairs, because a moment later he straightened up with a…bra in his hand. As casually as if he’d been changing his shoes, he changed his body; Sam shut his eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again. When he did, John had on the bra and was buttoning up a shirt.
“I was going to do this after we hit Midnite’s, but I had a thought. You still have that map Midnite gave you?” John said. The shirt he wore now wasn’t the same one, because this one was tailored and…well, did a lot for his figure, which didn’t need much doing to begin with. He tucked in the tails, then retrieved his cigarette. “Let me take a look for a second. I have this wild guess about where he might be sending you.”
Dean was mechanically pouring pancake batter into the pan. Hopefully his hands knew what they were doing, because his wide eyes had been fixed on John’s back for the last couple of minutes. “It’s…uh, in my bag. Front pocket there.”
John nodded his thanks and walked over. After a couple seconds, Dean came back to himself and stopped staring at John’s ass. He closed his eyes, ducked a little and shook his head hard, then opened his eyes and flipped out a pancake.
“Did you have to do that out here?” Dean plaintively asked.
It was pretty obvious that John didn’t know what Dean meant. The other man had squatted down to get at Dean’s bag; when he looked up, he was turned away from Sam so his expression wasn’t visible, but he didn’t comment right away and that was unusual for him. Then John’s shoulders moved in a way that said he was very amused. “What, put on breasts? You’ve seen those before, haven’t you?”
“Yeah. Of course.” Dean’s voice rose on a sharp scale of defensiveness. “But…they…you…hell.” He flipped out pancakes with increasing speed. “You might look like one, but you definitely don’t act like a woman,” he muttered.
That elicited a low chuckle from John just before he snapped open the atlas. “Thanks.”
The next couple of minutes were so uncomfortable that Sam could practically reach out and feel them jiggling their feet. Every couple of seconds, Dean would glance over his shoulder with a look of persistent disbelief, and every two seconds after that, John’s mouth would twitch.
Finally John put down the atlas and looked up at Dean in time to catch the other man at it; Dean started to jerk around, but in the end, he held fast. John stopped looking so amused and looked slightly irritated instead. “Dean. See me? I’m a woman right now. And I know I’m a good-looking one, so it’s perfectly normal to be thinking about fucking me.”
“I’m not thinking about that.” The pancakes were coming out so fast that one missed the plate and soared off onto the floor. Dean’s cheeks were red and Sam didn’t think it was from the effort Dean exerted to bend down and pick up the lost pancake. “Sorry, but you’re not my type.”
“Sure.” Clearly John didn’t believe him. Much as Sam loved Dean, he had to admit that a day-old kitten wouldn’t have believed Dean right then.
John dropped the atlas on top of Dean’s bag and stood up, then got his coat and headed for the door. He waved Dean back when Dean started after him. “I’ll catch up with you at Midnite’s. Balthazar’ll take you over.”
“You sure he’s not going to detour and sell us to a bunch of his man-eater friends instead?” Dean skeptically said. “Come to think of it, you aren’t going out to—”
“You’re not all that trusting, are you?” A ghost of a smile that wasn’t entirely mocking whisked over John’s face. “Good. And look at it this way—Midnite wants you two to show up today, so you’re guaranteed to live till then. I don’t feel like arguing with him at this hour.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “And Balthazar?”
“Balthazar’ll do it because he wants to be around to yell at me and get fucked into a wall,” John muttered, rolling his eyes. He grinned at Dean’s expression. “Having him around can be useful as long as he’s properly motivated. And he doesn’t have a good side, so what else do you expect me to appeal to?”
With that, John left and Dean turned to mumble darkly at the pancakes. He startled a little when Sam pushed himself over the sofa, then turned around and startled a lot. “Jesus! Sam—Sam, how long have you been eavesdropping?”
“Long enough. Dean, I just want to say that I fully support your decision to explore alternative sexualities.” The really ideal thing would’ve been to slap Dean on the shoulder right afterward, but Dean still had that spoon. Sam dodged his brother’s lunge and beat a quick escape to go wake Balthazar.
* * *
“He walked out of here with a bra on? That miserable excuse for a…” Balthazar abruptly cut himself off and stalked to the cabinets to rummage in them. After some banging around, he pulled out a jar of little dried things and began to sprinkle them over his pancakes.
Well, that answered whether or not Balthazar knew about John’s other secret talent. Sam finished swallowing his food and leaned over to Dean. “Guess it must be some kind of private signal?”
“Like what? ‘Hey, honey, I’m going out as a girl. Let’s meet up and fight on Jerry Springer later’?” Dean snorted.
“You watch that and Oprah? Dean, we really have to do something about your taste in shows.” Banter was good. Banter kept Sam’s mind busy and made it look like they weren’t completely floundering around and depending on a genderbending exorcist and his pet demon for pointers.
One little dried thing fell from Balthazar’s fork back to his plate. It looked suspiciously like a tiny paw, which was a damned good reason for Sam to concentrate on something else. Unfortunately, he had questions for Balthazar.
“Did he take anything with—never mind. It probably wouldn’t be relevant.” Though Balthazar was a scrupulously neat eater, the little dried things were very crunchy. The noises he ended up making as he ate kind of undermined the whole seething rage he was trying to get going.
Dean coughed. “So…he does this a lot?”
“Going out without mentioning where or going out as a woman?” And that answered the question of whether Balthazar had noticed the weird vibes every time Sam or Dean had to mention ‘John’ and ‘breasts’ in the same sentence. Unlike John, he wasn’t so laidback about his humor. “If he ever said where he was going, he’d have invented a new way to bring about the end of the world. He goes out as a woman whenever he needs to wheedle information from someone he’s pissed off while a man, or whenever he gets the urge to go trawling in the gutter. I would have thought you’d already be familiar with the second choice.”
The last time Sam had seen Dean blush at all, let alone this frequently, they’d been too young to ride full-size bikes. “What the hell is your problem? We’re just as eager to get out of here as you are to have us out, and neither of us is—is—” Dean heatedly began.
“Constantly staring at Johnny’s ass?” Balthazar snorted and stirred around the food on his plate with his fork. More little dried paws banged up against the rim, each little plink making Sam’s stomach go another queasy twist. “And of course he hasn’t noticed the least little bit. He always did have appalling taste when it came to distractions.”
Dean obviously didn’t get what Balthazar’s cryptic comments meant. Sam had a little bit of an idea, but as funny as the idea of an insecure and jealous ex-demon was, he wasn’t all that interested. He pushed his plate from him and started to scoot out from under the table. “Can we go now? John said he’d meet us there.”
The look Balthazar gave Sam was a little weird, in the same way that Balthazar’s negative answer about knowing what hellish thing was after Sam had been. But he refrained from saying anything, and instead deliberately put another forkful of food in his mouth.
Sam refused to sit back down. He started tapping his foot, which clearly annoyed Balthazar. It annoyed Dean as well, but that couldn’t be helped. If Balthazar was going to be a bastard like that, then Sam was going to show him he wasn’t the only one that could do that.
Dean rubbed at the side of his nose. “Sam…”
“You want to go that badly? You realize that even if John’s being generous, Midnite won’t be. He’ll charge you for whatever services he provides,” Balthazar said in an abrupt tone. He stabbed so hard at the last piece of pancake on his plate that his fork screeched over the porcelain; his shoulders jumped very slightly and his eyes flicked down. That hadn’t been on purpose.
Maybe Sam wasn’t a psych major, but he could tell when somebody was laying down a thick piece of bullshit. “Why don’t you want to go?” he snapped.
Something else snapped, too. Cursing, Sam slapped at the feathers that suddenly obscured his sight. That didn’t help make them go away, which annoyed him, and of course realizing that his state of mind was responsible for the appearance of the damned things only made his temper even worse. It was a goddamned vicious cycle and he had no idea how he finally managed to break it, except that once he had, he discovered his teeth were hurting. It took another significant effort of will-power to get them to unclench.
He blew out his breath and kicked at one of the feathers now skittering about the floor, not wanting to look up at whatever shade of mocking that currently sat on Balthazar’s face. Then he noticed something. “Dean?”
“Behind you.” His brother was just getting up from where he’d apparently ducked and rolled to, wearing a beleaguered expression that wasn’t entirely facetious. He shot Sam a sideways look. “Note to self—when upsetting Sam, be sure to stand in front from now on.”
Banter had been a good thing, but Sam couldn’t find a particle of amusement about that subject. Actually, he had a hard time not letting the wings explode out again. He started to say something, decided it wasn’t worth the delay, and just sighed instead. Funnily enough, this caused a flash of irritation to pass over Dean’s face.
“Fine, we’ll go. But when you’re moaning and whining among yourselves, never say that I didn’t warn you,” Balthazar said. He set his plate in the sink, though not before snagging one last crunchy bit and sneaking it into his mouth.
Dean grimaced. “Ew. What was that?”
“Baby hands.” It was impossible to tell whether Balthazar was trying to irritate them, telling the truth, or some combination of the two. “One last suggestion, which you two will probably ignore in your naïve stupidity: Sam should sit in back.”
“And have you riding shotgun?” Dean snorted. “Not a chance in hell. You’d mojo us into a fifty-car pile-up before we got out of the neighborhood.”
* * *
Maybe Balthazar had been right about the seating arrangements—Sam discovered that his lack of control over his wings and Dean’s wild driving definitely weren’t compatible—but that still didn’t make him any easier to take. Also, Sam’s wings were pretty flexible, but being compressed and kinked by the car walls and roof meant his shoulders ached even when his wings were…wherever they went when they weren’t out flapping around and screwing with his life.
Midnite was waiting for them at the front door; he and Balthazar exchanged evil eyes while Sam belatedly remembered John implying that Midnite had messed with Balthazar somehow. Which he could believe, because the cool, judging way Midnite looked over Sam and Dean reminded Sam of how people inspected farm animals before buying them.
“Did anything happen last night?” Midnite politely inquired.
Dean produced a pretty good evil eye himself. “What do you think?”
“Where’s John?” This time, Midnite betrayed a little bit of…well, worry plus a something else. Expectation, but the kind people got when they were hoping it wasn’t what they knew it was going to be.
“Went off as a girl to go work the dimestore fortune-tellers would be my guess,” Balthazar drawled. If he’d been a cat, he would have been sunning himself on a ledge and conspicuously kneading his paws with claws out. “You wouldn’t happen to have any idea, would you?”
Sam was about to jump in himself, but then he felt a hand grab him by the arm. Irked, he roughly brushed it off; Dean was the one who tended to get physical, so Sam didn’t see why his brother was always tugging him back. “Get off, Dean…”
“Huh?” Dean looked blankly at Sam. For a good reason, given that he was standing on Sam’s other side.
But—that had definitely been a hand. It’d squeezed Sam’s arm in exactly the same way that Dean always did…Sam whirled around and stared about, but Midnite and Balthazar were both too far away and there was no one behind him. A nasty chill ran up his spine, and he was reminded of the way he’d mistaken that thing for John standing in a shadow.
“Sam? You all right?” When Dean touched Sam’s shoulder, he nearly got slapped into the wall by a bunch of feathers. He dodged, then came back up looking flat-out worried instead of just confused. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“I think we’d better step inside,” Midnite interrupted. He wasn’t looking at any of them, but instead was checking out the roofs. His fingers were pressed together almost like he was praying, but between them was a rope of strange-looking beads that rhythmically passed through his hands.
Balthazar also seemed uneasy, glancing at either side of the street. He spat out a couple words at Midnite that weren’t in English and that sounded like they were a curse—the real thing, not the expletive—before starting to go down the steps. Then he paused and turned around. “Johnny.”
“Princess,” John cheerfully returned. He’d shifted back to his regular male form somewhere along the line, and now came strolling along the sidewalk like Balthazar wasn’t trying to glare him into the Biblical pillar of salt. Once he’d gotten to them, he smacked a sarcastic kiss on Balthazar’s cheek, then slung his arm around the other man so instead of hitting John like he’d aimed to, Balthazar ended up pinned to John’s side. John hauled them inside before Sam could see whether Balthazar would manage to claw out John’s eyes.
Midnite was still looking up, but now it was out of exasperation. Interestingly enough, Dean was staring after John and Balthazar, and with such concentration that he almost fell off the steps when Sam elbowed him.
“Stop staring. Honestly, it’s like you want them to ask you to join in,” Sam hissed, following Midnite.
Dean looked incredulously at Sam, glanced away, and then looked at Sam a second time. He made little ‘are you serious’ motions with his hands. “I am not! I like girls!”
“Well, keep doing that and everyone’s going to think you’re having a horizon-opening experience,” Sam replied.
The bar looked a lot different without people—demons—filling it up and with the lights on. Less intimidating. They were in the middle of cleaning it, so all the tables and chairs had been shoved to the sides. Which was good, because right now Sam wanted lots of empty space so it’d be easy to see anything coming at him.
Balthazar had pushed free of John and was now straightening clothes and hair at a pace slightly less than frantic. Unconcerned, John took a seat on a barstool and faced them all. “Nephilim,” he announced, like it was the answer to the universe.
At any rate, it made Balthazar and Midnite freeze. Disbelief, then irritation at himself crossed Balthazar’s face. “But they’re from nowhere…I’ve never heard of their family,” he slowly said.
“Well, I hear in the early days, everyone was so busy fucking around that they didn’t keep track of everything. Lou didn’t get real nit-picky till later.” John triumphantly flicked out a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth. He kept talking so it bobbed rapidly up and down, but that didn’t slow him down when it came to lighting up. “And it fits. This far down the road, it could go generations between appearances, and it’d attract demons like steak in a dog-pit.”
“Nephilim?” Sam repeated. On second thought, he needed a chair. He got one and spun it around so he could rest his arms on the back. “Nephilim. Offspring of angels and men.”
“Genesis: ‘The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were good, and they took themselves wives from whomever they chose.’” Dean recited a little too calmly. “Are you saying Sam’s…that?”
John shot him a contemptuous look. “I’m saying you both are. It’s just that whatever hit us last night jump-started Sam in the wings-direction. But you come off the same way—maybe you won’t end up fluffy-feathered, but you’re going to get something.”
“Jump-started me? Wait, start at the beginning. I want to know exactly what’s going on with me, and how we can make it stop. Now, please.” The other advantage to sitting down was that Sam could take out his rising anger on the chair. The wood creaked so Midnite gave him a warning look, but frankly, Sam couldn’t have cared less.
“I would also appreciate knowing what occurred last night,” Midnite said.
“Really.” John slewed around on the stool and gazed steadily at Midnite. Midnite stared back.
Balthazar sighed to show how incredibly boring he found it all, but got onto the seat next to John anyway and added his stare to the mix. Dean blinked a lot.
“Wait here,” Midnite finally said. “John, I have something you should look at.”
* * *
Even if Sam and Dean couldn’t read the stupid paper, they wanted to see it, so they all ended up moving into Midnite’s office. The paper, or rather the book, was big enough for them to all crowd around its wrinkled yellow pages. John was the only one in a position to look at it in the right direction; Balthazar had briefly draped himself over John’s shoulder, glanced over the page and then retreated to the couch to snicker to himself.
“…worldwide disasters, et cetera…shall come innocents, like there’s ever anyone else in these damn things…oh, here we go. Page of…page of that goddamned grimoire? Midnite, I should fucking—wait…okay, okay…oh. Well, that’s nice.” Lip curled, John pushed himself off the book and flopped against the wall. He smoked the last quarter of his cigarette in sullen silence. “Right. Well, it is a prophecy.”
Dean drummed his fingers on the edge of the desk and impatiently cocked his head. “Saying…”
“Solomon had a grimoire, a book of incredibly powerful spells. Now, a couple months ago it was rediscovered and for some stupid reason it blew itself apart so its pages went all over the earth,” John said.
Sam was about to ask what that had to do with anything, but then he noticed that Balthazar had stopped snickering. Instead the other man was glaring Midnite with enough venom to have poisoned an ocean.
“Midnite here’s made it his business to track down these pages and destroy them. He found one a week ago—your map, Dean—and it’s one that contains a spell that can summon the Anti-Christ to earth. Obviously, this is a bad idea for some people and a good one for others.” John flicked his fingers at the book. “This says that the page is destined to be retrieved only by one of the two of you. If you really want to know how we know it’s you it’s talking about, I can tell you later, but it’s not really important.”
“So what is?” Sam sarcastically asked.
Balthazar answered that one. “Dean has to go. Someone’s put you out of the running, Sam.”
“Thing is, you guys can go either way really easily because of what you are—you can go to Heaven’s side or Hell’s side. Somebody’s been trying to hijack you—” John pointed at Sam “—on Lucifer’s behalf, because whether or not this page works depends on who gets hold of it. If they’re still relatively ‘innocent,’ then it’s fine. If they’ve been…touched by evil, they might accidentally set it off.”
Dean immediately put up his hands. “Wait a second. First of all, stop talking about my brother like he’s some moldy piece of food—”
He looked surprised when Sam waved his hand in the air. He started to ask what Sam was doing, but Sam spoke loud and quickly over him so he had to shut up and listen. “No. It’s fine, Dean. It’s not like I want starting Armageddon on my conscience.” He tried to smile and the corners of his mouth stiffly ached. “Besides, I’ve got things to do here.”
Midnite was a smart man. When Sam said that, the other man turned around and paid attention to what was coming next.
“You go do that, because in exchange I’m staying here and somebody is helping me track down this bastard once and for all. He’s been after me my whole life, hasn’t he?” Sam said.
For once, John looked a little sympathetic. Of course, it was exactly when Sam didn’t feel like dealing with it, but there it was. “Angels and demons both tend to work decades ahead. At the least.”
Well, that made Sam feel loads better. Even as a newborn, it’d been obvious to someone that he was the easier target. It was about time he proved them wrong. He’d sworn on Jessica’s grave that he was going to stop running from what he’d been and instead use it to avenge her, and that was exactly what he was going to do.
“I think that is a fair trade,” Midnite said, gaze steady on Sam. John started to speak and Midnite’s eyes flashed up. “You and Balthazar should go with Dean.”
Balthazar coughed. “Excuse me? Where does it say I have to do anything?”
“Right where it says that Dean is a sitting duck for everyone that wants this ridiculous shit to happen and has to stay a sitting duck in order to make sure it doesn’t,” John snarled. Oddly enough, he didn’t look any happier about things when it all sounded like it’d be right up his alley. “Goddamn it, I hate babysitting.”
“Yeah? Well, I hate being ‘learned up’ by full-of-themselves teachers.” Dean snarled right back, and for a moment, he and John had their own little glowering contest. Then he jerked his head at Sam. “Can I see you outside for a moment?”
Sure, but Sam wasn’t going to change his mind. He’d let Dean try all he wanted, but everything had already been decided.