|The Road Less Traveled I: Stumble Stone
Author: Guede Mazaka
Dean bit down on his tongue till the blood welled up. It didn’t cut through the hot pounding in his head for very long, but any second was a relief. He didn’t have any other way to not hear the harsh breathing, the wet slaps and rasps of sweaty skin on skin. No other way to ignore the heavy sweet smell of sex that curled invitingly in the air, the taste of it coating his tongue every time he opened his mouth to hiss out a breath.
Luther had explained the possible alternative methods to feeding to Dad, and God, had Dean been happy to miss most of that conversation. He’d been less happy when Dad had asked why Dean couldn’t do the same, but Sam had managed that discussion, talking about the different types of vampires without ever mentioning that sex and blood were now the same to Dean, and if he had both at once he’d completely lose control of himself. So Dean supposed he could take a little chaperoning duty in return, but God. Would Luther hurry it up?
He gave the stall door he was holding shut a kick, just to remind the son of a bitch that they didn’t have all night. Instead he got a hand with inch-long hot pink nails flailing at his eyes and the kind of screeching he hadn’t heard since the thing in the cave in Montana.
Dean swore and backed off, only to make a wild grab for the stall door to keep it from swinging open. At the same time, someone tried to open the door to the bathroom. First they jiggled the handle, and then they unlocked it and jiggled the handle, but that didn’t do them any good due to the trashcan Dean had jammed up against the door. Still, the fact that they had a key was slightly worrying. “Luther?”
“Fucking great.” Dazed eyes, their mascara running rings around them, beamed up at Dean. The girl patted the door till Dean let her out, awkwardly pulling at her clothes. She had been wearing some fruity perfume when they’d picked her out, but now the smell had fermented, turned dark and rich and earthy so Dean’s nails were drawing blood from his palms before he realized. “Love your friend, hon. Sure you don’t want me to love you, too?”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Dean muttered, stepping back before her fingers could do more than graze his fly. The touch still woke a line of fire that snaked all the way up to the blood in his mouth. He’d bit his tongue. He ignored her and looked at Luther, who appeared to be listening to the angry shouting outside. “We need to go. Now.”
Luckily, the window in this place was of a decent size. Dean momentarily felt a little bad for leaving the girl to take the heat like that, but then he remembered she’d let herself get cornered in a bathroom with two men. And maybe it’d been dark in the club, but it’d still been pretty obvious that Luther wasn’t in peak condition. He’d been pale and unsteady on his feet, and so hungry he couldn’t keep his teeth rounded and blunt.
“Dean, they’re not following us,” Luther said. He looked better now, able to keep up through the trash in the alleyways, but he still wasn’t anything near how he’d been when they had met.
He was lucky he looked that well, all considering. Finding women at the right stage in their cycle who also wouldn’t think too closely about a guy wanting to eat them out with that going on wasn’t exactly easy. It also took up a hell of a lot of time that could be used on other—a hand touched Dean’s shoulder and he whirled around.
A second later, he blinked. Luther didn’t and instead stared back, his head jammed up against the wall’s drainpipe. “Hungry?”
“Shut up.” They were close enough so that Dean could smell the sex and blood on Luther’s breath. A little smear of red at the corner of Luther’s mouth kept drawing Dean’s eyes, though he tried to watch the rest of Luther’s face; son of a bitch was too clever for Dean to let anything go.
He was also too clever to be believed even when he was cooperating, like now with his silent gaze. He shifted once, trying to move his right hand, and Dean had the wrist pinned back before he knew what he was doing. The tendons flexed against Dean’s palm and he couldn’t help leaning in, taking deep breaths. Beneath his skin was an itch, a prickling susurration that was slowly spreading from their points of contact—hands and wrists, knees and knees—outward to stroke maddeningly over Dean’s body.
“You could ask,” Luther suddenly said, low and rough. He shrugged, scratching up against the wall, ripping the fibers in his shirt. Every single breaking thread was audible to Dean, thrown into feverishly sharp relief. “Want it?”
“Shut up.” Not again, damn it. Blood had done Dean fine over the past few days, and he had been feeling fine earlier. He’d even managed to not flinch when Sam had accidentally brushed against him while passing by him, so he wasn’t hungry, damn it. He’d told himself he wasn’t resorting to this again. “Stop sucking up to me. I know what you’re doing, you know. You get this and then you’ve got to eat again, and it’ll all start over.”
Oddly enough, Luther frowned at that. He started to move again, too fast and triggering things in Dean that snarled and stretched in the dark. The bricks behind them groaned when Dean slammed Luther back up, low beneath the threshold of regular hearing, sounding like the slow creaking of an especially cheap bed.
“I had two girls. I’m almost full,” Luther said, and they were so close together there was no way he was missing Dean’s confusion. “Don’t you remember?”
Girl…girls. Dean struggled with the memories of the past couple hours. Mostly they were of the bathroom, but were the walls blue or brown? Did he jam the door with a chair or a trashcan? Did he—
--Dean flinched and it went away. But when he didn’t move, Luther bent down again and traced Dean’s pulse, flattening his tongue against it again and again. And Dean couldn’t remember but he could feel, smell, taste. His stomach growled and curled close to the back of his spine, wrenching the bones so he slid forward.
There wasn’t a pulse in Luther’s neck. He could press his mouth as hard as he wanted, rub his teeth against it so Luther’s hips shifted jerky and hard, and still not feel a thing. He did press his mouth that hard, and then harder so at least he could taste the blood seeping up through the skin even if he couldn’t feel it. Luther hissed, moved his knees and Dean sank his fingers into Luther’s shoulders till he felt bone grate for that. He worked his mouth up, found a smear of blood on the underside of Luther’s jaw that he hadn’t seen before and the taste of it was a burst of fire in Dean’s mouth.
But too short, too cool still, and he knew it could go hotter than that. He dragged his hand down Luther’s chest, feeling it heave even if the breathing wasn’t exactly necessary, and his fingertips tingled. Made Dean briefly wonder if drinking this way was like some sponge thing and not so much a mosquito—but then his hand was inside Luther’s pants and Luther was making some strangled noise while his arousal just flooded Dean, filling his mouth with bittersweet dizziness like some strong smooth ale. Warming.
Maybe Luther didn’t have a pulse, but something was pounding in Dean’s head, pushing and twisting till his skin wasn’t prickling anymore but straining. Stretching and pulling in, out and in, sucking till suddenly the last bit came loose and snapped into him.
The world abruptly cleared up, leaving Dean with come drying in his jeans and more come sticking the cock in his hand to his fingers. He wanted to shove away and he wanted to collapse at the same time—in the end, he went for leaning for a second because he was so much more tired than he’d realized. At least he hadn’t kissed the son of a bitch this time.
Luther was back to chalky instead of plain pale, but he could walk fine. It apparently took a while for his mind to get back to speed, because he shot Dean a look like he was concerned. Which he wasn’t, and usually he didn’t bother since he knew damn well Dean wouldn’t buy it. “You can’t keep starving yourself like this. Does Sam know—”
“Don’t talk about Sam,” Dean said. He scrubbed at his hand some more as he turned away. “Come on already. Night’s half over and we still have two hospitals to break into.”
* * *
“All right, here’s the list so far.” Yawning, Sam handed over the sheets. He had a stack an inch thick in his lap, and when Dean leaned over to take his share of the list, he could see the other papers didn’t have anything to do with local babies. Sam saw and shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep. Trawled a couple online libraries on demons. I found some more stuff on magic circles that might be useful.”
Dean glanced around the room, but he knew it was pointless even as he did it. If Dad had been coming, he would’ve been able to hear the truck’s engine while Dad was still pulling off the highway.
Dad had taken the hospital on the other side of town, so that was to be expected. In fact, Dean had meant to take that into account, and that had been why he’d agreed to let Luther detour on a feeding trip. He hadn’t wanted them to get home before Dad did, but he’d sure fucked that up.
“You can use them to hold demons, too,” Sam was saying. He picked out one sheet and turned it around so Dean could see the ringed pentagram on it. Then his brow wrinkled and he slid his hands forward so he could hunch over the paper, trying read it upside-down. “Well. Theoretically. All the examples I can find online feel…wrong.”
“Maybe because you’re not supposed to be looking at them.” Dean was still of the mind that Sam needed to stay the hell the way from anything to do with magic. Preferably that would include anything to do with the demon as well, but as much as Dean worried, he couldn’t say that Sam had no right to come along on the hunt. “I thought we talked about this—”
Sam just looked at Dean for a long second, his eyes a pair of raw sores. Then he blinked and his whole face shuttered, the line of his jaw going tight and stubborn. “Sorry, I thought you wanted this demon dead.”
With that, Sam was up and stalking towards the bathroom before Dean could lunge over to grab him. He hadn’t bothered to take the papers off his lap before he’d gotten up, so a flurry of sheets kept Dean from going after him right away. So Dean started to call after him, but then remembered the other guy in the room.
Luther had been sitting next to Dean on the other bed, but now he was snatching papers out of the air, occasionally pausing to look more closely at one. He startled a little when Dean yanked the sheets out of his hands. “He’s got the right idea. Demons aren’t going to hold still for you to exorcise them, and ones at this level are going to need more than chains.”
“If I want your advice, I’ll ask for it,” Dean snapped. He glanced over his shoulder, saw that Sam hadn’t completely shut the bathroom door, and decided he had the time to deal with Luther first. “And stop staring.”
A few more papers were floating in the air and Luther wasted no time getting himself another one. He squinted at it, then turned it upside-down. Then turned it back, still looking confused. In spite of himself, Dean was a little amused; Sam’s handwriting turned into something more like hieroglyphics when he was tired enough.
“At you? You’re not my type, feeding aside. Are you sure you took enough earlier?” The first part had been flippant, but the second part sounded genuinely serious. It even came with another one of those concerned looks, though this one had a good-sized streak of assessment in it. “Being hungry shouldn’t—”
“Well, we kind of established that you and me aren’t the same kind of bloodsucker, didn’t we? And you know damned well I wasn’t talking about me. Stop eying my brother before I whack off your head and blame it on the demon.” The bathroom door slammed shut, drawing Dean’s attention back to Sam just in time for him to miss his chance. He momentarily thought about picking the lock and forcing his way in, but that’d just make things worse.
Besides, the entire point had been to keep Sam away from two things: magic and Luther. In that respect, things had worked out pretty well. Yeah. Real well.
Dean sat down on the bed, in the warm dip where Sam had been. He pressed the heels of his hands against his temples, wondering if aspirin still worked on him. They’d never really had the chance to see, since all he needed to heal from practically anything, apparently, was a little blood or a little…and Sam was always giving before Dean could stop him.
“You should stop looking at him. Your father’s no idiot—as soon as the demon’s off his mind, he’ll notice,” Luther said. Calm and slow and reasonable, like it was all normal to him. It probably was, sick and perverted and wrong as it was. He was a monster, and that was how monsters were.
“Don’t change the subject. You’re not getting to Sam. If you even think about it—” Leaving it there, Dean shuffled papers till he found the list of names and addresses. The demon mattered more than the annoying vampire, he reminded himself. They didn’t have that long and they’d yet to figure out which house it’d be.
Something white and thin moved at the edge of Dean’s vision, making him jerk his head up. He stared at the map Luther was holding out for several seconds before he actually realized what he was, and took it. Luther added on a bitter half-smile. “Then why don’t you just think of it as feeding, and get it over with? For survival’s sake? He’s not exactly easy to ignore when you’re right in front of me and pushing the subject at me.”
“What? You’re only human?” All right, it wasn’t the best comeback ever since it cut both ways, but Dean was…
Well, he was feeling great, thanks to the feed that they weren’t really talking about and were talking about in sharp detail that went beyond uncomfortable. His body felt great and if he didn’t remember the razor of terror that’d cut through him when Sam had blown fire into the world, he never would’ve thought he’d had a broken ankle only days ago. His mind was wonderfully clear and so he could think about all the thoughts and sensations and likings that twisted in the dark, slick and sweet and sick. Yeah. He was great. And that was why he felt like shit.
“If he’s in the room, then so are you or your father. Or I’m chained to something. I can’t get to him; he’d have to get at me. So I don’t see why I’m the one that you threaten,” Luther murmured. It seemed like he’d finally made sense of Sam’s notes and now he was reading. Slowly—sometimes he mouthed a word to himself.
“Why haven’t you mentioned anything about that to Dad? Are you waiting to blackmail us into letting you go at the end?” Dean looked back at the paper in his hand and tried to remember what it was for. It came to him after a moment, and he kicked himself for getting so distracted. But there was so much to keep up in the air, and none of it could break.
Luther’s fingers tightened very slightly on the paper so it fluttered. He casually looked over his shoulder at the window, at the steadily brightening light that was filtering through the drawn curtains. The skin under his eyes was sagging and the shade of a bruise, with little veins clearly visible beneath the shadows. “I just lost a family and a mate, Dean. I’m not interested in involving myself in another one this soon after.” He glanced back at Dean, knowledge a low crescent glow in the backs of his eyes. “I want to see you kill this demon. And if it’s easier for you, you can believe it’s because otherwise, it’ll be free to come after me. I did trick it, after all.”
The bathroom door opened just then and Sam stepped out. His face was damp and the high angry color had disappeared from his cheeks, but he still was wary as he moved to collect his notes. “Dad called. He said he’d just go ahead and start on his share. I’m going out to do mine, and I guess you two can do yours when you wake up.”
“Great,” Dean muttered. He eyed the list in his hands, turning over all the names in his head, then abruptly got up and followed Sam to the door.
Sam kept going and only turned around once he’d gotten outside. He shoved his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders against some blow he was expecting, but the look in his eyes delivered a pretty good slap itself. “Ignoring what I can do isn’t working, Dean. If I really want to learn how to stop it, then first I better figure out what it is and how I can control it.”
“It’s not your fault, Sam. Mom and Jessica—” Dean started.
And Sam closed up, right there. He always did, and that wasn’t normal because Sam didn’t lock down like that. What Sam did was seethe, grinding his teeth, and be increasingly irritating because of that and finally explode, and maybe that was painful but at least it got it all out in the open where they could talk about it.
“I’m not going to hurt people with it. I’m going to make sure you don’t have to worry about that,” Sam finally said. Then he got in the car and slammed the door before Dean could reply.
The sun was strong enough to give Dean the creeps, but he watched Sam drive off anyway.
“That’s what I’m worried about.” He said it loud enough, but Luther didn’t rise to the bait. With a kick at the threshold, Dean turned around and went to take his goddamned nap. They were on the verge of finally destroying the demon, with their jury-rigged lives damn near giving out, and he was back in kindergarten. Amazing.
* * *
Sam came running in bare minutes after Dad had got in, catching Dean as he’d been preparing to take Luther out and making that completely unnecessary. And also giving Dean a brief moment of panic till Dean realized Sam had already had the vision and wasn’t in the middle of having any kind of explosive fit.
“So it’s the one. She’s the baby,” Sam breathlessly finished. The moment the words were out, he flopped backwards on the bed as if they’d took the last of his strength. He reeked of sweat and fear, like he’d just run a mile out of hell.
Dean walked over to the window, only half-listening as Dad quizzed Sam for more details—Dad had a strange fascination with the idea of visions and always wanted to know everything, just to make sure they weren’t still nightmares. Something to do with half-recalled memories of Sammy being afraid of the dark when they were younger, and Dean would have to ask about that sometime. When they were less busy.
The truck was parked straight, but the Impala next to it was crooked and less than an inch from double-parking. Long, thick black tire marks arced away from the back wheels.
“She’s going to be six months old exactly tonight--”
Someone’s phone rang and a network of thin chills instantly spread from the back of Dean’s neck downwards. “Don’t answer that,” he snapped, turning back around.
Dad gave him a weird look. Once Sam had struggled upright again, he did the same thing. Then he took out his phone, which was still ringing, and flipped it open. “Hello?”
Luther rummaged around in the papers on the table till he found a map. He sat down and spread it out, then began marking off places. He didn’t seem to be paying attention, but his head was cocked slightly towards Sam and his shoulders were stiff.
Dean couldn’t hear what was being said, but he could hear a little of the person on the other end of the line. It was a guy, and despite the static of the phone, the threatening tone was unmistakable.
Even if it hadn’t been, Dean would’ve known something was wrong from the way Sam glanced at Dad, like he was thinking of just hanging up. Instead he held the phone up so it was a little short of being within Dad’s reach. “It’s for you.”
Frowning, Dad took the half-step forward needed to grab the phone and put it up to his ear. “Hello?”
That voice had been familiar, but right now Dean couldn’t quite remember from where. He let the curtains drop back and rounded the first bed.
“Caleb!” Dad barked, head jerking up. His eyes stared angrily but distantly past Dean’s right shoulder, and his free hand tightened into a fist against his hip. “Hurt him and I’ll—”
Dean was close enough now to hear the wet gurgle turn to a hard, chilling rattle. He and Sam met eyes, and then they both looked up at their father, whose face had gone cold and hard; Dad pursed his lips, eyes narrowed in thought, and then took a deep breath.
“What do you want?”
* * *
Sam and Dad were still arguing, toe-to-toe and any moment now it was going to turn physical so Dean would have to get in there. Problem was, it was still daylight and despite his worry about his family, his horror and rage at Caleb’s and Pastor Jim’s deaths, Dean was helplessly, unavoidably sleepy. The nap from earlier would keep him from passing out completely, but it hadn’t done much for his ability to keep everything straight.
He forced himself to concentrate on things. Run a thought into the ground if he had to. The laptop he had before him flickered as the page finally loaded and Dean squinted at the screen, having to individually focus on each word in order to read it. “Who the hell was that guy on the phone? Is he the same one that came after you for the bullets?”
“…probably meant to draw us off so we can’t get at the demon here!”
“I know that, Sammy! But what—”
“What?” Luther had offered some advice at the beginning, but he’d basically sided with Dad and that hadn’t made Sam happy. He’d withdrawn himself from the discussion the moment Sam had snapped at him and just curled up on the other bed like a gigantic hound. Of course he’d have no problem dozing off, since he didn’t really give a shit. “Were you talking to me?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Hey, Dad, I found a pistol listing that might work.”
Dad turned too fast and looked at Dean too hard while his comprehension caught up with him. Then he gave Dean a tight, pointed smile. “Good. Got an address?”
“Sending an email to the store, too,” Dean said. He tapped the keys under the increasing awareness that Sam was giving him one of those looks, and maybe getting Sam really angry wasn’t a great idea now, but Dean was getting tempted anyway. “Look, Sam, you have any brighter ideas? Because I don’t—hell, do I wish I did, but I don’t. We can’t let the demon go, and we can’t let it keep killing all our friends. Even Dracula here thinks it’s the best we can do.”
Sam’s breath came loud and harsh, like the snorting of a bull readying itself to charge. It made Dean tense and look up, one hand reaching to pull down the laptop screen just in case, but Sam held his ground. He stared back and forth, then abruptly flopped into the nearest chair. His jaw was still jutting, but the hard glint in his eyes was fading.
“Fine. I don’t like it, but—fine. But Dad, you should take someone with you. Someone that’ll watch your back,” Sam muttered. And from the way he raised his chin on that one, that was as much of a concession as he was going to make. “This isn’t about buying me and Dean time, all right? This is about getting you out of there, too.”
“Someone has to wait for the demon, and anyway, they’ll know if anyone else comes with me.” Dad had made a good point, in Dean’s opinion.
Sam, on the other hand, just had to disagree. “They don’t have to know. They—I could do something.”
Both Dad and Dean instinctively moved towards Sam; Dean was fully prepared to chain Sam to the goddamn toilet if he kept on like that. After the close calls they’d had so far, there was no way Dean was letting Sam go charging off half-cocked. Even if they were behind the Colt, he was barely all right with letting Sam get in the same room with the demon.
“No,” Dad succinctly said.
“No,” Luther said, sitting up. He raised his eyebrows at the looks he got, taking it all with that unbreakable composure of his. But when his gaze settled down, it was on Sam. “I didn’t agree to this. You have no idea what you’re doing and if you make a mistake, it’s my neck on the line.”
At first Dean didn’t understand at all—neither did Dad, and maybe not even Sam, because Sam’s eyes first widened in surprise, then narrowed. Then Sam sat up straight and leaned forward. “It’s already your neck on the line. You get to live in exchange for helping us out. If Dad gets killed, then why should we keep holding up our end of the bargain?”
Dad got it right about then, and after a moment he nodded. “Is it possible? Could he keep them from noticing you? And could he do that in time—I have to leave as soon as possible.”
Luther opened his mouth, then abruptly shut it, looking defensive. He rolled his shoulders a few times as he matched glowers with Dad, but eventually he cracked. “It’s possible. But he’s inexperienced and if it goes wrong--” he took a breath, let it out in a raspy, hollow chuckle “—never mind. You wouldn’t care too much in that case. Fine.”
“Glad that’s settled. Dean?” John said, holding out his hand. He transferred his stare to Dean’s face and for one wild, irrational moment Dean thought the gaze was peeling back everything. But no, that twitch in Dad’s face was just annoyance. “Dean? You have any more objections?”
Dean, are you going to waste even more time? Make me ask hard questions you don’t really want to answer now? Well, he didn’t want to but he didn’t want Sam to do this, either. And he didn’t want Dad to go in alone and it all warred in him for a second longer before Dean reluctantly slid a scrap of paper with the address of the gun-store in it. Dad glanced at it, then turned and made for the door.
Nobody talked till the sound of the truck’s engine had faded away into nothing, and even then, it seemed like nobody wanted to break the silence. In all that time, Sam hadn’t stopped staring at Luther, and while Luther had laid back down, he’d still kept his eyes on Sam. And Dean was watching both of them, his hand itching for a machete.
“It’s probably not the same man. We know what he looks like—the demon in him would’ve jumped to someone new by now,” Luther finally said. “But you can hear the demon in the undertone. Same voice—same smell, too.”
“So you and Dean can tell if someone’s possessed.” Sam drummed his fingers on the table. His Adam’s apple bobbed once and his nostrils briefly flared with a long, sharp exhale. “Why’d you do that? Why’d you just fake out my dad like that?”
Luther rolled over onto his side, finally breaking eye-contact. He sounded relaxed enough—he seemed sure enough of himself, showing his back to Dean like that—but his body was tense, muscles drawn tight beneath his shirt. “Because your father’s right. You’re better off facing the demon than its followers.”
“Stop bringing my father into this,” Sam snapped. He was still for one second. Then he was pawing through his notes, coming up with a crumpled sheet, and on his feet just as Dean was forcing his sluggish body to rise. “Dean, I’ve got to do some shopping. Hour, max. Then I’m back and we can take care of him.”
He jerked his head at Luther, but didn’t bother giving him a whole look. That got beneath Luther’s skin enough to spur an irritated jerk of the shoulders out of him. “You were faking him out right along with me,” he called after Sam.
The door slammed. Dean eyed the computer, watched his vision go blurry and then, after a sharp effort, clear again. He got up off the bed. “I’m taking a nap here. You—” fucking smartass monster “—can if you want, but you’re doing it in the bathroom.”
“Like I said, either I’m chaperoned or I’m chained up. I don’t know why you worry,” Luther said, and this time there was a definite trace of spite in his voice.
It made Dean feel absolutely fine about grabbing the bastard and dragging him over to the chains before he’d even gotten steady on his feet. At least he could do something about that.
But when Dean was back on the bed and stretched out with the monotonous ceiling and the sunlight outside to lull him to sleep, he…didn’t. He laid there and watched all his worries fly around him like circling vultures, and he never did close his eyes.