|The Road Less Traveled IV: Pitfall
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Now you’ll go with the false gas alarm,” Dean muttered, eying Sunrise. The complex was a lot bigger than he’d been hoping for, and in a part of town where the number of bars and nightclubs meant not many of those lighted windows were going to go out soon. “Except how the hell is that supposed to work? We can’t call all the apartments individually, and if we call the building manager, he’ll just check the meter.”
Sam stopped stuffing folded-up notes into his pockets long enough to give Dean a weird look. “Huh? Since when—oh, my God, you’re still on about that bug infestation case?”
Luther, leaning against the nearby chain-link fence so it wasn’t totally obvious how crapped-out he still was, let out a little frustrated noise. “What’s wrong with pulling the fire alarm?”
“That won’t give us a lot of time between the fire department and the demon,” Sam said. He squinted up at the apartments, nervously tapping his fingers on the door-handle. “Then again, not like anything we could do would. I guess we’ll just have to check the rooms fast.”
Dean reluctantly found himself agreeing. Even besides the demon, there was the exorcism to consider—nobody was sure how long or well tranquilizers would work on a possessed person, so from the moment they had Dad back, they’d have to move fast. “Well, you can at least pull one in the back,” he said to Luther. “We’ll go in the front, and then if you actually stick around, we all meet back at the car.”
That resulted in another sharp look from Sam; Luther just exhaled irritably again and pushed off the fence. He wavered a second before getting his balance, then walked off around the corner.
“Once we’ve got Dad back, we’re talking about that,” Sam muttered. He grabbed the sides of his jacket and jerked at it to resettle it on his shoulders, uneasily watching the apartments.
“Whatever the hell ‘that’ is supposed to be.” It seemed clear enough to Dean: vampire was a monster, vampire needed blood to live, therefore vampire getting blood was a bad idea. And even besides the vampire thing—oh, look, he could “distance himself from the situation” too—who in their right mind wanted to owe that much to Luther? The guy had a bloated sense of what he was worth and a long memory. “Think we should just stand around here, or—”
Sam frowned, then reached out and flipped Dean’s coat away from his side. Instant bulging eyes. “Dean, are you kidding me? You can’t take the pistol in there—we can’t do the exorcism here, and we can’t waste the bullets.”
“We’ve got four left. That’s plenty, since I know I’m not a crappy shot,” Dean retorted, yanking his coat close to him. He ground his heel into the ground for another second, checking out the neighborhood, then started off across the parking lot.
The crunching of the gravel got on Dean’s nerves, but not for long: Sam must have hop-skipped his way after Dean to catch up so fast. “Yeah? What would Dad say? You know he’d be pissed off.”
“Well, maybe I don’t give a shit. We’re gonna go in there and face a bunch of demons who hurt Dad and don’t like us much, and this gun can kill them. Seems logical enough to me.” A newspaper rack was conveniently positioned right inside of the first set of doors, which allowed for loitering without attracting the attentions of the lobby guard. When Dean flipped open the paper, the first thing he saw was a headline on a mysterious massacre of a local family. He snapped it shut again, barely keeping himself from just ripping it into confetti.
“Well, you’re not exactly known for your appeals to logic,” Sam hissed, snatching at Dean’s arm.
Just then, the alarm went off, and Dean swore to himself that that would be the only time he ever felt grateful towards Luther. He spun around and yanked open the second door; his foot caught the newspaper rack and he heard Sam yelp, but kept on going. No thump followed, so Sam had managed to dodge.
The guard shouted after them, but was way too slow. By the time he’d gotten around the desk, Sam had just slid through the door to the stairwell and Dean was kicking the door shut after him. “Our friend’s on fifth!” Dean yelled. “Got the flu! Gotta check on him!”
Sam just pounded up the stairs. “Split up?” he shouted back down.
Dean grabbed the railing and launched himself after Sam, only marginally aware of the edges of steps scraping the soles of his feet. He was opening his mouth to answer when a wave of acrid, ashy stink whooshed down over him, like he’d just stepped into some kind of demonic slipstream.
At the same time, a silver, sharp-looking crescent suddenly smashed its way through the door towards which Sam was approaching. It withdrew and Sam threw himself backwards at the same time; Dean brushed past and gave Sam a smack as he did to keep his brother from breaking his neck on the stairs. Then he got a good grip on the railings and kicked in the door just as he figured whoever was on the other side had to be in the middle of swinging again.
The door rammed back about six inches, hit something and came to a quivering stall. Both Dean and Sam waited for the second thump before Dean shoved the door open. A guy with a bloody nose, dressed like a businessman caught in the middle of breaking down his suit, was lying in the hallway, with the ax he’d been using to go all The Shining on them next to him. He blocked the door so Dean had to squeeze and then hop, kicking the ax out into the stairwell as he did.
“Try not to touch him,” Sam hissed. “You can transfer demons that way.”
“Sounds like the chickenpox.” Dean was already four feet past the poor son of a bitch and moving quickly now that he had the scent. It really was an unmistakable smell…he briefly thought about the fact that the trail was too damned easy, then remembered both sides were counting on that and kept on going.
His feet skidded to a stop in the middle of the hallway, just before a nondescript door whose only distinguishing characteristic was that it was still closed when all the other doors were flung open or at least ajar from the hasty departure of their apartments’ inhabitants. Sam had started to slow before Dean had, but he kept on going till he was flanking the door. He glanced at Dean; his hand dropped a little from beneath his coat, showing the dull gleam of a gun in it. Nodding, Dean moved so he was presenting his side to the door and cupped his hand around his mouth.
He carefully tapped his foot against the door. “Hello? Uh, this is security. There’s been a fire alarm and everyone needs to evacuate the building.”
No answer. No verbal answer, anyway. Someone got up inside and walked towards the door, so softly that at first Dean wasn’t sure exactly what he was hearing. He still wasn’t by the time they reached the door, but he jerked his chin at Sam and braced himself. His fingers went at first to the Colt, but Dean pulled them further back to grab his knife just as the door slammed open.
No ax this time, but the woman swung a butcher’s knife at Dean hard enough so that when he ducked, it chipped a hunk from the door-frame. He let momentum carry him into her knees and shoved her back into the room; she let out a soft, snarling kind of gasp, but that was it.
Dean stood up, caught the hasty blur and hastily ducked down again. His hand hit the floor just in time to keep him from falling on his ass. “Man, warn a guy, would you?” he muttered, shoving his knife back in its sheath.
“Sorry.” Sam flipped the butcher’s knife around so he was holding it with a proper grip and stepped into the room. He paused to bend over the woman, which gave Dean a chance to get in front again.
One sniff and Dean was up against the bedroom door, ripping it open so hard he felt the knob screws start to pry out of the wood. The door hit the wall with a bang loud enough to be heard over the fire alarm’s wailing, but Dean barely paid it any attention. His eyes were frozen to the figure sprawled over the bed.
It was Dad. He knew that much, but…God, those goddamn sons of bitches. They’d bloodied up his face so that was nearly unrecognizable, and so much more blood was crusted around his wrists that the ropes holding them to the headboard were only identifiable by shape. And the way he was lying down…people could lie limp because they were tired, because they were relaxed, or because they’d had every bone twisted and every muscle wrung till their bodies couldn’t take it anymore. One guess what it smelled and looked like.
“Dean?” Sam called.
It snapped Dean out of his shock. He scrambled over and got on the bed, moving as fast as he could with as little jarring of the mattress as possible. He gave Dad’s chest a cursory check for injuries, did a more thorough one on Dad’s legs, and all through that, thanked God he could still hear a heartbeat, thready though it was.
“Jesus Christ. Is he—”
“He’s alive,” Dean said curtly. All right, he was grateful for being a vampire right now. If it weren’t for the better hearing, he probably would’ve been flipping out even worse.
Sam stayed by the door, oddly enough. He let out a weird cough. “Dean. Is he—”
Shit. Right, demon possession. But the stench of blood—of Dad’s blood--was so overpowering that Dean couldn’t smell anything else. Couldn’t even tell if something was wrong with it, because having that smell in the air was wrong to begin with.
Dean got his hands under Dad’s head with some vague thought about checking on his skull and maybe trying to sniff through the thick reek, but then Dad’s eyelashes fluttered. Struggled against the dried clots sticking them together…after a moment, Dad’s right eye slowly pried itself open. The left followed more slowly so Dean had to reach out with a trembling finger and carefully, very carefully scrape some of the bloody crusts from there.
“Dad?” he whispered.
They had to go through the same painful, painfully slow process when Dad’s mouth futilely tried to twitch into a smile. “Dean…”
“Dad.” Sam put enough weight in that one word so that he had to be practically floating to the ceiling in relief. But it only lasted for a second; he went on in a deadly serious voice. “We’ve got to go, Dean. I can hear them getting up in the hallway.”
Dean pressed his tongue against the back of his teeth, staring down at his father. And Dad stared back, expression slowly turning puzzled beneath the dazedness.
When Dad had spoken, Dean hadn’t heard any demon in the undertones. But…
“Can you walk?” Dean urgently asked. He pushed the thought of the tranquilizer in his pocket to the back of his mind and reached for the ropes holding Dad down.
“If not, carry him.” Something slammed; when Dean turned around, he saw Sam dragging a chair over to block the door. The other side was getting the hell pounded out of it, and one blow was particularly brutal, smashing all the way through the wood. Sam barely got out of the way in time to avoid the splinters. He had one hand pressed to the side of his head and was grimacing. “Fire escape. I can’t—what the hell…it’s not coming…I can’t hold them…”
“Got it,” Dean grunted, getting one arm under his father.
* * *
By the time they got down to the ground floor, the sirens of the fire trucks were deafening the air. Surprisingly enough, the firefighters didn’t seem to have made their way to the back yet, though the way was clear enough.
Dean had just gotten Dad and himself across the back-alley. The moment the wall was near enough, Dad made a grab for it and clung to the bricks like a baby to its mother. A swell of bitterness slicked over Dean’s tongue and he swallowed hard, turning away.
Lucky that he did after all. Sam had been following them, but not that closely: he kept stopping to squint at the clatter on the steps above them. He’d apparently been doing that again when some demon-possessed guy had had come barreling out of a ground-floor door into him, taking him straight to the pavement. Of course Sam was fighting back, but the guy had already gotten his hands around Sam’s neck. Silver also glinted there.
Nerves jumped Dean forward, but then his mind managed to catch up and he froze, Colt drawn and aimed at the wrestling pair. He couldn’t get a clear shot—
--a backwards glance said Dad was fine—
--looked forward again in time to see a heavy trashcan lid go spinning into the guy, knocking him up and off of Sam. The second Sam’s flailing arm fell out of the way, Dean shot the bastard in the temple.
Hot, caustic air blasted outwards from the man as he toppled backward, landing partly across Sam’s legs. The blood that dribbled from his head was black at first, but went red as his body jerked and twitched, then fell still. And the smell changed, too. The man was…was a man again.
“Dean!” Sam hissed. It was a tough call whether he was relieved and thankful, pissed off at the waste of a bullet, or just plain shocked. He elbowed himself up, paused to kick out from under the dead man, and then turned over.
Something silver fell from his shoulder as he did. Sam grabbed it and it swung in the air: jewelry?
“Get in the damn car already!” Luther. Luther?
Dean glanced up to see him stumbling across the lot, new bruises on his jaw and ash smeared over his hands. When Dean kept moving his gaze up, he saw an oily ripple against the dark sky, which had to be smoke. Fucking bastard had actually gone and started a fire, so that’d been why the firefighters were hanging back.
Luther went down to one knee about a foot from Sam, and Sam automatically reached out to grab him. It occurred to Dean that the trashcan lid had come from the same direction as Luther, too. He gritted his teeth, then jerked slightly left as movement attracted his attention. A second later, the number of monster-killing bullets went down to two, and Dean was watching a woman collapse along the building wall, leaving behind a wide red swath. The knife she’d been in the act of throwing rattled a few inches across the pavement before coming to rest near Sam’s right foot.
A harsh gasp behind Dean made him spin around. He barely caught Dad before the other man completely hit the ground, eyes rolling back into his head.
“Come on, Dean,” Sam said, pushing up next to them. He had Dad in the backseat and was shoving Luther in shotgun almost before Dean could blink. Sam acknowledged Dean’s discomfort with a curt twitch of his shoulders. “Hey, presto—I can lift things with my mind again. Now let’s go already.”
* * *
Dad still hadn’t pulled back to consciousness yet, so they’d arranged him as comfortably as possible on the bed. Under the devil’s trap Sam had drawn on the ceiling, though Dean wasn’t all that sure they needed it now. But it wasn’t like they had the time to wipe it off, and if that really wasn’t something they had to worry about, it wasn’t like it was going to hurt Dad.
Luther went in the bathroom. He opted for lying in the tub and slumping over the side as he poked around the silver charm Sam had brought back. Some of his wounds from before had reopened and were sluggishly oozing a thin, reddish fluid, but Dean had gotten himself seated between him and Sam before that suggestion could even raise its ugly head. Everything else—and God, was there a lot—aside, even Sam had to understand he couldn’t donate that much blood twice in as many days.
“It’s got to be what was keeping me from just slamming those guys through the wall,” Sam was saying. Scratching at his head, he leaned slightly back to check on things in the next room.
“Then why isn’t it working now? How’s Dad?” Actually, Dean could smell how Dad was, and it wasn’t good. They needed to get out of here…maybe back to Bobby’s, where they could get their hands on medical equipment better than the rudimentary stuff in their trunk kit. They needed to get out just because this was too close to where Dad had—had failed--and that fact was making Dean’s bad nerves worse.
He wanted to just get up already and look for himself, but he wasn’t going to leave Sam and Luther alone again. Fucking vampire son of a bitch.
With a jerky shrug, Sam turned back. He was worried and chewing on his lip, rippling his fingers over the doorframe. “He’s still out. He should be coming round by now—did you give him the right dose?”
“You measured it into the syringe, so you tell me,” Dean muttered. He pushed down the pang of guilt he felt at that lie, but it mounted a surprisingly stiff resistance. Then there was a clang behind him and he nearly fell off the toilet when he spun around.
It was just Luther collapsing back into the tub; the only signs he was there now were the bloody hand hanging limp over the rim and the heavy, staggered breathing. An odd wave of…not really concern, but maybe pity…went over Dean. Two hundred years old, but the last few weeks of that had been pretty shitty for him, and it wasn’t like he was going to see much return on all that effort. For a moment, Dean spared a thought to wonder why Luther kept trying.
“He didn’t look that bad before,” Sam said, looking white around the mouth. The circles beneath his eyes had gotten a hell of a lot worse, Dean suddenly noticed.
Which reminded Dean that pity still wasn’t the right feeling for the opportunistic bastard who’d given Sam that pallor in the first place. And probably had had a big part in Sam’s weird no-powers moment earlier. “Well, he knew what he was doing.”
Dean leaned over to pick up the necklace from the floor, but paused when a shadow fell over him. He looked up into Sam’s furrowed brow and narrowed eyes. “Jesus, Dean. Look, maybe you can’t ever believe anything he says, but could you just trust me for once to know what I’m doing? It’s not like he was in any shape to make me.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Dean incredulously said. He glanced at the floor, as if the chipped and soiled tile was going to help things make any more sense to him. Then again, it was so bad even that had been worth a try. “Yeah, now I’m really going to go along with this—have you looked at Dad? If you even think, for one goddamned second, that he could take an exorcism with the way he is—”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Sam backed off, but only to get his unprotected back up against the doorframe. Then he stared hard at Dean, at first disbelieving and then furiously pleading. “Oh, my God, Dean. Dean. Tell me you did tranq Dad. Tell me you didn’t just—”
“—he doesn’t smell like it! He doesn’t sound like he’s possessed—” Dean shoved himself to his feet and swept out an arm towards Luther “—and didn’t he say I’d be able to tell? Well, if that’s not me listening to him, then I don’t know what the hell is—”
“We talked about this!” Sam snarled back. His hand went out, then whipped back to glue itself to the frame like he’d gotten scalded. “How sure are—”
It was only a soft, low creaking, but it cut through their rising voices like a knife through water. They both froze. Sam stopped with his lips still curled back from his teeth, which through the distorted view of adrenaline too long in Dean’s system were freakish big, broad white squares.
Then Sam shut his mouth, joint almost audibly snapping. He moved forward a fraction, exhaling, then abruptly twisted on his heel and went into the next room. “Dad?”
“…Sam?” came the shaky reply.
“Dad,” Dean breathed.
He started to follow, but a couple muffled thuds from the bathtub stopped Dean. Luther had pulled himself together enough to hook one arm over the rim and get his head over it, though his muscles were shivering from the effort. His skin was bloodless and his lips were the same, so much so that they were nearly indistinguishable from his teeth. “Don’t be so quick,” Luther hissed. “That thing hasn’t lasted so long without learning something about fooling people.”
“Guess you’re speaking from experience,” Dean drawled. In the next room, he could hear Sam warily asking Dad how he was feeling; Sam still was keeping his distance and that annoyed Dean.
A couple strands of hair twisted before Luther’s face. They got stuck to his clammy-looking cheek when he jerked, obviously stung. And still stung, he snorted contemptuously. “What else would I be speaking from?”
“You know, I’ve had way more than enough of you—” Dean had his fingers around Luther’s throat before he really knew what he was doing. If he’d had a moment to think about it, he would’ve remembered he needed to grab a knife first.
Luther had enough kick left in him to wrap his hands around Dean’s wrists, but he was so weak Dean could barely feel the yank. Another second and they would’ve gotten to see what a broken neck would do for a vampire.
Except Dad spoke again, more loudly so the intensity of his concern completely overrode the quavers in his voice. “Where’s Dean? Did it—”
“No!” was Sam’s violent reply. A beat later, Sam continued in a more collected tone. “No, he’s all right. He’s in the bathroom. We got you out…but Dad…we…we used up two the bullets doing it. But Dean’s fine, and you’re going to be fine.”
It sounded like Sam was relaxing, maybe finally coming round to the idea that Dad wasn’t the one from which they were in danger. Dean felt himself sag a little, too, though he made sure it wasn’t enough to let Luther get away.
“Well…that’s fine. That’s fine. I just want to know you’re both all right…” The bed creaked some more as Dad moved. Rolled off, since a few moments later Dean heard someone’s feet hit the ground, and then Sam hastily lunging towards Dad. To help him stand, Dean decided.
“We’re fine,” Dean called over his shoulder. He let out a long breath as he turned back to face forwards, and then he paused, blinking. He’d actually forgotten he’d been in the middle of strangling somebody.
And Luther was staring hard at him in a weird—kind of like Lassie trying to tell—Dean stiffened. His fingers convulsively tightened, but Luther didn’t so much as twitch. He just stared and stared at Dean, and in that stare was pure fear.
“Oh, shit—” Dean threw Luther from him and was leaping for the bathroom door in the same movement, but he’d barely skidded before it when a gust of sulfurous, bitter air blew him backwards.
He flailed and his nails scratched over porcelain, slowing him enough so that he could seize the towel-bar and try to sling himself away from the far wall. He still hit it hard enough to stun, and he was scrambling to recover when some force just…snatched him out of the bathroom. The ugly wood paneling on the wall—the far wall of the bedroom—rushed up at him. And then it was painful. All over, and Dean heard crunching sounds and he couldn’t be sure whether they were his knees getting dislocated, or maybe his chin and right cheekbone, or maybe his ribs.
“Dean!” Sam screamed.
All of a sudden, the pressure dropped. Dean promptly hit the floor, and it was only because he happened to hit at the right angle that he rolled over and got to see Sam try to slam some kind of air-wall at Dad; it sure as hell wasn’t because he had enough strength left to flip himself over.
The thickened air hit Dad and rocked him back so far Dean almost thought it was going to—but then an absolutely sickening, smug smile spread over his father’s face. And the air went still, and Sam choked, grabbed at his throat and fell to his knees. Fell further than that.
“Way to catch on, Dean,” the thing in his father’s body chuckled. Shaking his head, he walked over to the bathroom doorway and stooped to pick something up from the ground: the necklace, which Dean had dropped in his hurry. “For a second there, I thought I might just get away with it—you wouldn’t believe how much your Daddy’s screaming at that. But you just had to remember your Dad’s a vengeful, narrow-minded son of a bitch when it comes to me. Of course he wouldn’t forgive you for wasting those bullets.”
His voice was deeper, rougher, but lighter at the same time. The bastard was laughing at them, relishing every goddamn word. It was in the jaunty tilt of his head, the loose, nonchalant way he moved as he walked over to Sam, who was still curled up choking.
“And he’s never, ever gonna forgive you for letting me get to Sam here. You know what he was like after the mess with the shtriga? Well, multiply that by a couple thousand times and you might have a fraction of an idea of what he’s like now.” The demon squatted down and ran his fingers through Sam’s hair, still grinning. He snorted when Sam flinched and leaned back, watching with cold eyes as Sam went that much whiter in the face, scrabbling at his throat. “I’m debating how much to tell him about you two and that vampire. Man, this is fun.”
Slight noise from the bathroom. Dean raised his head, then winced and jerked it back to the floor when the door slammed itself shut. He stared as long as he could at Sam, but Sam was too busy struggling to breathe to look back, and so he had to bring his gaze back to his father’s eyes.
They were very cold and dark, and they were happy as well. “Going to enjoy dealing with him, too—nothing like closing old accounts. But first things first,” the demon said. It flipped the necklace so the charm landed in its palm, then pressed it up against the underside of Sam’s chin. “You got a lot farther than I was expecting, but you’ve still got a while to go, Sammy. What? You don’t agree? Then come on, psychic wonder. Show me what you can do. Come on.”
Fucker. Fucking bastard…the veins in Sam’s face were popping out from sheer raging will, because there definitely wasn’t enough blood getting through to them to be from that. But he was fighting, and keeping the demon’s attention on him, and the Colt was right on the table, less than six feet from Dean. Six feet.