Description: Gen, PG-13, WIP, penultimate chapter. Okay, Little Red Riding Hood? Think about it, the story’s all about sex and violence, like most good fairy tales. Except with a whole lot more swearing.
Disclaimer: Blahblahblah, Kripke, blahblahblah.
Knock knock. Who’s there? Beta. Beta who? Beta thank lemmypie and jmm0001, because they do all the work.
Read Chapters 1-8
STF: In Washington State, Dean’s been eaten by a Big Bad Wolf (hey, it happens). Sam’s trying to figure out how to get him back. Oh, and ‘eaten by a Wolf’ really looks like sitting inside a Cadillac that holds a lot of dirty secrets. C’mon, you remember.
He’d told himself it was a good idea, taking the ride. After all, he had needed to get back down the mountain after collecting his stuff and dropping off the crew chief’s truck, and Goodenuff Dave and Brent had offered. They’d even said they’d go fast, which had seemed like an added bonus, an extra knock won from a vintage pinball machine.
The third time Sam’s head banged against the truck’s rear window, he questioned his sanity. He began to question a lot of things. Taking a ride with these guys was tantamount to bungee jumping with dental floss. The truck wouldn’t have passed a safety inspection anywhere in the continental United States – hell, maybe not even in Mexico – and the road was an unwinding roll of greased Saran Wrap, and Dave had already admitted that he needed a new prescription for his glasses, which he’d forgotten at the logging camp anyway.
The music was loud and sounded so much like something Dean would like, that Dean would love, that Sam bit the inside of his mouth just to keep from losing it, one way or another.
Obvious that Goodenuff knew these roads like the back of his hand. Equally obvious that both he and Brent had been drinking steadily this afternoon as logging ground to a halt and Dean failed to show up hour after long hour. As soon as Sam had jumped into the back of the cab, Brent had passed him a can of beer, and Sam had spilled lots of it already. And you know? I don’t give a shit.
The truck’s tape machine suddenly spoke an Inuit dialect unknown to Sam, and both loggers swore blue, Brent jabbing the eject button with an excited finger.
“Shit!” Brent spat, and the tape shot out the slot like a bunny at the dog track, trailing a ribbon of plastic. Brent yanked it roughly, snapping the tape, stared at it, then nonchalantly tossed the cassette out the window. Sam turned in his seat to watch it bounce away into the falling dark.
A little surreal, everything, Sam thought. Mostly because the homicide humming along his veins wasn’t allayed in the least by a little jolt of alcohol, and he recognized what he was gearing up for. A killing, taking something out. Behind this, beyond it, was worry for his brother, but he couldn’t give in, wouldn’t, because Sam knew worry like that turned into terror, would take over everything, and they couldn’t afford it right now.
Later. He would think about Dean being gone later, if it came to that.
At his feet, the same bundle of things that he’d brought up with him from Seattle: tent, tarp, sleeping bag, boots, a backpack full of clothes. In his pocket was an envelope containing several hundred dollars, his payout. One way or another, he’d planted his last tree. He had other work now.
The machete was in his daypack on the seat beside him, and that was all that mattered.
Brent found other music, worse than Sam could have imagined – More Than a Feeling blared out the speaker right next to him. The truck had a shockingly good sound system. Brent left his window open, the early evening air surprisingly temperate after the sunny day’s late-May warmth, and set his elbow on the ledge, fingers strumming an imaginary guitar. The smell of hops permeated the cab, more so than the sweat of work clothes discarded on the bench, or the cedar chips nestled between coils of oiled cable on the floor. The brewery reek might have been because Sam was wearing half his beer, of course.
“You okay back there, Winchester?” Goodenuff shouted over the wind and the cowbells.
They looked like some modern version of pirates, Sam had decided when the loggers had pulled into the treeplanter’s tent city. Most of the planters had still been in town, or heading back up, and Sam had been glad that introductions hadn’t been necessary. Acting as go-between had been tough enough with Dean and Ruby in the Aberdeen restaurant; he couldn’t imagine what idiocy someone like Brent Proctor would dream up when faced with a dozen fully tricked-out planters rolling in from a twenty-four hour bender.
“Fine,” he called out, not really looking for conversation.
Lukas hadn’t been at the planter’s camp; Sam hadn’t been expecting it, hadn’t anticipated his luck to run that hot twice in one day. Lukas was holed up somewhere. Not that it mattered, he reasoned, staring over Goodenuff’s shoulder at the wildly tilting landscape in the headlights. They were going too fast. I don’t care, step on it, Goodenuff.
It didn’t matter if Sam found Lukas because Sam couldn’t kill Lukas. He wanted to, everything in him, everything honed and trained, all his myriad places that felt love and loyalty, begged for it. Stopped only by his intellect, which warned caution. Monster that Lukas was, he hadn’t been lying. He had Dean, had him somewhere. Kill him and Dean’s gone. Think it through, Sammy. There’s a way.
“I’m fucking starving,” Brent said, popping open the glove box and rearranging some papers, an unspooled measuring tape and a bunch of empty cigarette packs. “Anyone got anything to eat?”
No one did, and Sam realized that he hadn’t eaten all day, that he’d filled himself with coffee and rage, leaving nothing to twist around his stomach except sulfurous bile. Then Brent found a candy bar under an axe head, something with a mashed gooey center and they split it three ways.
It left Sam sticky and when he looked at his hands, he realized that he’d left the blood from the stake on his fingers. Done that instinctively, because it was most certainly Dean’s and it was blood for the bloodhound. More than that, the blood contained trace elements that connected the brothers, somehow, as if it was a talisman ensuring Dean’s continued existence.
The undercarriage scraped against a smooth hump of glacial rock, and Sam bounced so hard his head thudded against the roof, proving once more that being tall was a mixed blessing at best. Brent looked back, chuckling. Dave’s attention was on the road.
“Why didn’t we get the cook to pack us a dinner?” Brent asked, crumpling the wrapper into a ball and throwing it out the window. “You know, I wouldn’t have turned my nose up at a coupla sandwiches.”
Goodenuff wasn’t listening. Sam could actually see him not listening.
“Even peanut butter,” Brent muttered, getting nowhere.
Then Goodenuff reached over, turned down the music, and Sam realized that his attention wasn’t on the road after all.
“Lori woulda done it. Remember how she always packed us those sandwiches with the toothpicks?” His tone that said he’d been holding it in, that he didn’t want to sound like a wuss.
Brent was silent for a minute, then scratched his sparse moustache, wincing. “Yeah.” He glanced back at Sam. “Looked after your brother, she did.”
Sam didn’t say anything. He knew this already. Not looking for conversation, but still: tell me something I don’t know. Shine a light on him, because I can’t see him.
“Sure as hell needed it, the way you treated him,” Dave muttered, not entirely with good humor.
“Ludovic scared her more, way he was,” Brent retaliated and Goodenuff’s shoulders straightened. Sam saw it, marked it. “Gave her the heebie jeebies, she told me once.”
“Hope a bear ate him,” Dave said with feeling.
Brent shook his head. “Nah, he had too much wood-sense. He’d fucking disappear for days on end, remember? Would just turn up when he felt like it.”
“What’d Dean make of him?” Sam leaned forward, one elbow on either seat.
Goodenuff looked uncomfortable; Sam could tell, because he kept his eyes on the road. Brent started playing with his beer can tab, wiggled it back and forth like Sam had with his dead toenail, until it snapped off.
“As far as I know, Dean kept clear of him, up until the accident, “ Dave finally said, voice low. “But Ludovic...he...” and though his glance flicked once to Sam in the rearview mirror, he continued to stare at the road. “He had a thing for your brother. Creepy as all fucking hell.”
In a place where he didn’t really acknowledge these things, Sam understood, had already created a hanging file full of Dean-related clippings.
Maybe Brent didn’t know this though, because he stared over at the boss in surprise. “What the fuck you talking about, Goodenuff?”
Goodenuff shrugged. “You were still in hospital, all strung out on morphine, Proctor. When we were searching for Lori...” and he stopped, swallowed. “I went down-river, where the old fish weir was?” He took his hands from the steering wheel to describe ‘round’, like ostrich eggs. “Where the native guys used to trap fish? The shallows and all the rocks?”
Brent nodded; he knew the place. Sam listened hard, hearing the creeping horror under Dave’s words.
The boss continued. “It’s where Ludovic must’ve made camp, a few of his things around, a shelter, some gear. I wasn’t looking to steal anything.” Like Brent or Sam was accusing him. Must be Catholic. “But I looked inside his stuff, just to see, right?” The truck labored a bit and Dave dropped it into a lower gear. “And he had...you know a bunch of Dino’s things, stuff that I knew was his. But weird shit.”
“Weird?” Sam repeated, testy. Fearful. This covetousness was a decade old, at least, older, and hadn’t changed. Had gotten stronger over the years, the feeling of rightful possession full-blown now.
Suddenly: A diner, slacker kids, free food, and Sam’s big brother in front of a tall man, not moving. Struck still as stone, unable to get out of his way. And the man looming over Dean, wanting him so badly even Sam knew it. Known it was wrong, bad and just wrong, even without knowing what it was.
It had started then. Sam didn’t remember his face, not exactly, but he knew it was Lukas, or Ludovic, or whatever he was, the Wolf, then and then and now.
Dave shrugged. “Half eaten things that I’d last seen Dino chewing on. A washcloth of his, his thermos lid. An old sock and some hair. His toothbrush.” Dave’s face was pale. “It was fucking strange shit, all put together like they were treasures or something. Like a rat’s nest.”
Fetishes, Sam thought. Trophies. He was going to kill this thing. He’d get Dean back and he’d ruin this creature beyond the ability of anything to fix, demon or necromancer or god almighty himself.
“Sorry,” Goodenuff murmured, glancing at Sam. “You probably didn’t need to hear that. God only knows your brother hated the SOB, wanted to kill him that last night, Lori told me.”
“Probably why,” Brent offered. “I’d want to kill any asshole who stole my toothbrush.”
And then they rounded a steep bend that dipped to the valley floor, and Sam could hear a liquid river hush out the driver’s side window. Lights ahead, the protest camp, where Sam had asked to be dropped off.
Something was happening.
Same lights as before, the bright ones ready for broadcast. More than that. Police lights, red and blue, flashing through the trees like a third kind of close encounter. Goodenuff and Brent fell into a loaded silence, and pulled up well short of the action, where there was still room to park the truck by the side of the road.
Sam pushed his way through the reporters, going toward the sound of shouting, leaving Goodenuff and Brent behind. His gear remained in the truck, but he brought the daypack. Until this was over, it stayed close.
The air was gentle and still, the rush of water near, the boom of wheels over the bridge as the protestors allowed a loaded logging truck to cross without hindrance. They were occupied by another problem, Sam found out. They were excited and fearful and angry.
Astrid told him, hard face plague-serious, eyes not calm at all.
“She’s gone,” were the first words out her mouth and the only ones needed.
Every so often, a wind picked up, the car leaned, and Dean would glance unhurriedly out the window. Usually it was nothing, but on three occasions, he’d seen a flash of retinal reflection, a distant animal catching headlights on an open highway. Checking him out.
In complete quiet, he’d slowly taken apart his watch using only his fingernails and the sharp edge of his pendant, put the springs and tiny screws back together, and wondered if it would still work in the real world. Sit-ups relieved some of the boredom, but he noticed a pulling sensation – not pain, precisely – in his side. He looked, and noticed bloodless tearing, felt ill. Push-ups were better, were all about upper arm strength, and he could manage those. No way to stand up, though, and he tried not to think about standing, because that made the Cadillac’s interior feel just a little smaller than before.
He had, of course, considered the obvious, the way all men and maybe all women relieved boredom when they were alone. Under really normal circumstances, he would have been hard-pressed not to engage in a little autoeroticism. He’d unbuttoned his fly more than once, in fact. But the thought of being watched, of sitting in this car like he was in a peepshow, and giving it away like that, of giving himself away like that, even for three minutes, killed any desire, squashed it flat. World’s coldest shower.
Every so often, there was a whimper outside and it was the sound that gave him the most satisfaction. Hope you choke on it, sucker, he thought with a thin smile. He took off his work shirt and ripped it into strips, braided them around the steering wheel. Undid his effort and retied it a different way.
No wonder crazy people do macramé, he thought, but didn’t let his laugh escape.
The growl was the worst, not because he was afraid of fighting the thing – it would have been a diverting piece of action, quite frankly – but because the barking growl was so sudden and so close it jump-started his heart like a defibrillator. The car rocked violently, throwing Dean to the side as something hard thumped against the driver’s side door, a sound loud enough to make Dean glad the car wasn’t equipped with side impact air bags.
Breath suddenly sharp and irregular, Dean sat up, looked outside.
Nothing. Gone, and with it, whatever the Wolf had been wanting at that point.
Wants me to talk. Wants my voice, my attention. My attention, he repeated to himself.
He couldn’t have said how much time passed between the angry Wolf growl and the white light.
Hours? Maybe, hard to tell. He hadn’t slept at all, hadn’t felt like it. Not even nodding off, or heavy eyes. Not so much as a yawn. Lots of lounging. He’d stretched out in the front seat again, somehow knowing this was his territory, had taken off his socks so he could press his warm feet against the cool glass of the passenger side window, liking the pattern he saw when he took his feet away quickly. A reminder that he had warm blood, that he was alive.
Without warning, the whole car filled with white light, source unknown, diffuse, blinding, so abrupt and soundless that Dean didn’t have time to react in any way. It came from inside the car, cast no shadows, washed the interior to a glowing indistinct box, painful in its intensity.
Oh, thank god, Dean thought. Something new.
As suddenly, the light vanished, and the car plunged into inky blackness, the empty soundless void replaced with a high-pitched, hysterical screaming that went on and on.
This time, Sam had his own calk boots, didn’t need to borrow Dave’s. No one was paying attention to the granny right now, the police had apparently already sent someone up to get her statement and now she was left like floating detritus at the site of a shipwreck.
Everyone was clustered around Ruby’s tree – the spruce, Sam corrected himself as he slid one hand around a high cedar branch and hauled himself up. The spruce where Ruby had chained herself only last night. Fewer than twenty-four hours ago. He tried not to think of it, of the swinging, empty chains, the lack of person.
The dull space within him that had contained only inarticulate rage and caffeine suddenly coalesced into an unmet need to hunt. He was all over the place, he knew that, was sliding around his own anger like Dave’s truck slewing down the mountainside. And he couldn’t help it; he had nothing, just need and rage. He’d confronted Lukas, for fuck’s sake and it had changed nothing.
Eileen had a view and everyone had forgotten about her in the mess of protestors and company media relations reps and cops and reporters. Two big local police were questioning Astrid, asking her about Ruby’s mental state, like she’d just forgotten where she was and had wandered off. Maybe that’s what it looked like to them. Missing protestors weren’t exactly a priority with the cops; the authorities were more concerned with the activists that stuck around.
Sam planned ahead three moves, which wasn’t at all easy in the dark, but he could see where he was going because Eileen had some sort of lamp on, an orange glow filtering down through the cedar fronds. Breathing hard, he turned his head to see across the river, already gaining a bit of a view from only being twenty feet up. A treeplanting truck wove and bobbed up the road toward the protest camp. It slowed as it came over the bridge, stopped on the far side. On any other night, it would have been difficult to see, but there was so much light from the news crews and cops that Sam could see Tommy and Theresa get out of the truck, Lorenzo following more slowly, none of them exactly walking in a straight line.
He glanced up, and realized it was harder climbing a tree in the dark, especially if he made a habit of staring straight into a network klieg light and got dazzled as a rabbit on a road.
“Who is it?” a sharp voice called from above.
“It’s Sam Winchester,” he called back. “I was up before.”
A pause, a scurry of movement. “Be careful,” Eileen advised and Sam took her seriously.
Five minutes, a scrape, one false hold that almost ended him, and Sam was standing on the same branch he had before; a camping lantern hung from a snapped twig and Eileen dropped her sewing on her lap and held out a half sandwich like she’d been expecting him. She had a jean jacket in her lap; she’d been embroidering a peace symbol and white dove on the back of it. In the warm light, the lines on her face seemed to have been applied with paint, her small eyes blinked round, gray hair sticking out in various directions from under her floral hat. Her mouth was clamped shut, worried.
“What are they doing down there?” she demanded. Sam wondered if she’d been a schoolteacher.
Sam grabbed a higher limb, tested it, and settled on the same branch as Eileen, distributed his weight across it and a slightly lower one. He took the sandwich in one hand, and she would see it in his eyes, he knew, how hungry he was and how grateful.
What the fuck were all those people doing down there? Running around scared, not believing what was in front of them, fabricating pat answers to impossible questions. A girl had vanished into thin air.
Dean was one thing, was a moving target always, was the fucking Trojan Horse of prey. But Ruby? Ruby was an innocent, and she had done nothing, had been chosen for malicious reasons only. Lukas knew she’d give him no sustenance whatsoever and he’d still done it. He takes the girls because he’s been denied. So Dean was somewhere, resisting. And that was good news. But it meant that Lukas had taken Ruby to punish Dean. Some weak-assed shit, Lukas. Taking away my sorta maybe coulda-been girlfriend because you know what hurts me hurts Dean. Why not go for me? Coward.
“I don’t know exactly,” Sam replied, stuffing a mix of alfalfa and nut butter and spelt bread into his mouth, talking around it. Manners didn’t seem to matter so much fifty feet up with a Wolf roaming around, culling the protest herd. “Asking a lot of the wrong people the wrong questions, I think. You saw it again, didn’t you? The same thing that took the other girl.”
Eileen was frightened, Sam knew that right away, could tell from the concentration she was putting into her embroidery, outlining the white dove with an olive branch in its mouth. Dove, Greek symbol of renewal, from the Ark, flood’s over, peace, Holy Spirit. He wondered if it continued to give her comfort now. Eileen paused between one stitch and the next, white thread wound round one finger, long sharp needle poised, perhaps judging him. “You’re open to all sorts of ideas, aren’t you?”
Not what he’d been expecting. He smiled a little, then nodded. “I’ve seen some strange things, ma’am.”
She kept his stare, matched it. “You believed me before, when Heather went missing. About the shadow and the rasping voice. You’re a logical boy, but without blinkers. I knew I liked you.” Back to the embroidery, the quicksilver flash of needle, the blur of hand and string.
He looked away, embarrassed. “Oh, I have blinkers,” he said softly. Paintball and free burgers and everything else that Sam had received as truth from Dean because it was easier to accept that than to look underneath. A moment, then he crammed the rest of the sandwich into his mouth, brushed crumbs from his chest, wished he didn’t smell so much of dying trees and beer.
“Ruby, she’s your girl, isn’t she?”
Put that way, it sounded strange. He smiled sadly. “No.” He looked away at the lights below. “She’s her own. But she’s gone and it’s my fault.” He hadn’t meant to say that, and all the anger, sloshing around like red wine in a perforated wineskin, drained from him. Suddenly, all that was left was worry and guilt and sadness. It tapped into a larger reservoir, the one that pooled the loss of beloved women on the ceiling, burning for his sake. He held still, alone and grasping these truths.
She put down her threadwork. Her eyes filled and they sat in silence for a long time. Finally, Eileen sighed and Sam met her owl gaze. “It was a man...” she struggled to explain and Sam could save her from that, at least.
“I know. The one I saw from here last time.”
Eileen’s hand shook as she reached out, fingers tough and calloused. They were hard, working hands but they enclosed Sam’s with care. Her grasp was warm and Sam squeezed back, suddenly overwhelmed. “It wasn’t a man.”
He nodded, voice thick. “I know that too.”
She released him and sat slowly back. He heard the breath she took. “I have sheep at home.”
Sam looked up, surprised again. Eileen was a surprising old lady. He must have had some expression on his face, warmed by the amber glow of the lantern, fifty feet up a tree in a valley where something evil walked among them. The night was full of danger and he couldn’t see much beyond their circle of light, and somewhere out there, in the dark... Dean, Sam thought, the word shafting through him, arrow-straight.
Eileen smiled grimly. “Bear with me,” she implored, but with steel; she knew what she had to say would do him some good. A mother with a spoonful of awful-tasting cough syrup. “I keep sixty acres on the north end of the peninsula. Some of it’s farmland, but most of it I keep wild, a salmon stream, some reclaimed wetland. You know.” Her eyes were penny bright. “I have about thirty sheep. Every so often we get a bear or a cougar. More often, it’s stray dogs, sometimes even my neighbor’s dogs, roaming around in a pack.”
Sam nodded, intent. A slight wind picked up and the branches moved. This time, Sam wasn’t alarmed. He had a good grip on his branch and his balance was solid. The treeclimber’s equivalent to sealegs.
“Dogs do that sometimes, have to follow their instincts. Doesn’t mean I like losing sheep to them.”
Sam cleared his throat. “So what do you do? To protect the sheep?”
Eileen nodded her head once; yes, he’d asked the right question, the smart question. “I have a donkey.”
Sam stared, nonplussed. Keep an open mind. Blinkers off. “A donkey?”
“Donkeys are powerful animals, Sam. They have sharp hooves and they’re brave and they have a protective streak in them like you wouldn’t believe. Protectors, not predators. All you have to do is introduce a donkey to a sheep herd when the donkey’s young. The sheep are too dumb; they think the donkey’s one of them. The donkey knows better, hangs out with the sheep, but is never a sheep. It protects them from all comers.”
Smart boy, always. “You’re saying that I’m a donkey?” And that earned him a deep smile. “Dean would think that’s funny.”
“He’s a worry, your brother.”
You’re telling me.
“Wolf’s got him as well, Eileen.” It squeaked out through a throat suddenly closed. Anger was better than this, more useful.
Eileen took his hand again. “The donkey guard is an old wives’ tale. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. Sometimes folk tales are all the guidance we need.” More than just stories, lessons hidden in the bottom like a prize in a cereal box. She patted his hand with both of hers and then let it go, laid it on his knee. Picked up her needlework again, waiting for him to catch up.
The wind shifted again and Sam sat for a moment, considering. Remembering fairy tales. He’d known it all along, just needed to believe. “Big Bad Wolf,” he whispered. Then he looked up at the granny, and she nodded encouragingly.
He thought of Ruby, how she hadn’t asked for this, had a whole life in front of her. Of her shining eyes, and the smell of her hair and her conviction.
Of Dean at thirteen, curled up in a ball in the Impala’s front seat. Bloody and beat and all used up. Sam coughing, feverish, imploring over and over, What’s wrong with him, Dad? What’s wrong? Their father’s sweaty face, pale green and voice shaking as he tried to get Dean to tell him what had happened, all of them in the car so fucked up.
The fucked up Winchester Army of three in yet another diner, Sam mad because he’d wanted that last week of school, and Dean with a cast, no right to look so morose because he’d been playing paintball, hadn’t he – and god, he had been doing so much more. Running silent and deep and alone, and he’d jumped up and their Dad had followed him with those angry dark eyes and Sam had just wanted to be anywhere that wasn’t there with either of them. Because he would never be as screwed up as they were, but maybe it was catching. Dean had made a phone call, had come back thinking they hadn’t noticed and maybe Sam hadn’t, not really, not then.
This had to end. He had to end it. Sam’s eyes were round and awestruck, and they were certain.
Eileen nodded. The nod released something in Sam, and all his anger flooded back into place, refreshed and clear. But also controlled, useful, and its own kind of sustaining.
When he dropped down to the forest floor from the last branch, he straightened to his full height with more than just the rage that had kept him going now for more than twenty-four hours. He had a plan. And when Sam Winchester had a plan, a purposeful rage, and a lethal sharp blade, there wasn’t much in the woods that was going to stop him.
As soon as Ruby realized it was Dean, she stopped screaming. Stopped screaming and started shouting. “Where the fuck am I? What the fuck have you done?”
If she hadn’t been in the back seat and Dean in the front, he was pretty sure she’d be punching him like a broken time clock. As it was, she sighed magnificently and slumped in the seat, arms crossed. She didn’t seem injured, not as far as he could see.
“That fucking Lukas absorbed me.” It didn’t seem reasonable, Dean would be the first to admit it. “Sucked me in. Fucking fucker Lukas.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’re in this together? The both of you? So what the fuck happens now? Where the fuck am I?”
Okay, back to that question. Dean waited for her to stop yelling. He licked his lips, turned around in the seat so he was on his knees, put his elbows on the seat back. His body blocked the dashboard light and he couldn’t see her expression, which was just as well. He wasn’t about to invite her into the front, not when it was obvious she’d just hit him.
“Listen,” he said, surprised at how scratchy his voice sounded. He swallowed, worked up a little spit. “You believe in supernatural shit?”
Silence. Their shared breathing the only sounds. Finally, “What? Like fairies?”
“Ghosts. Demons. Werewolves.”
He drew back a little as she came forward, mindful of where her hands were. She occupied the center, and he rested his ass against the steering wheel, considered her over the back of the seat. In the soft greenish glow, she looked terrified.
“A werewolf?” Spectacularly dubious, despite the white-rimmed eyes.
C’mon, not such a stretch. She’d just said she’d been absorbed, for crying out loud. How much weirder was a werewolf than that? He shrugged, just a little. Not a werewolf, but he didn’t want to waste breath explaining the difference when he himself was so unclear.
“Oh my god, what happened to you?” She’d spotted his blood-splattered shirt.
He examined the gory and torn shirt, wondered if he should show her the hole through his side. Maybe later, when we know each other a little better. Back up with a huge smile. He didn’t want to admit how great it was to see someone, anyone, even her. “Yeah. A few rules in here, okay?” He kept it short, aware of the wind picking up outside. You won’t bleed. You won’t be able to kill yourself. You won’t need to eat or otherwise process food or drink in any way.
“So,” Ruby said when he was done, voice low. “We’re in a...limbo? Stasis? Purgatory? Is that what you call this?”
“Kinda.” What was she, a Liberal Arts major? “We’re inside the Wolf. You know how Lukas just,” and Dean had no words for it, for that insane and horrible devouring, taking one breath whole and independent, and the next, tucked inside, kept close as a confessional. He gestured helplessly with his hands, nothing coming that could describe it.
It must have showed on his face, because something in hers gave. Softened, got teary. Until this moment, he hadn’t realized how truly fucked they were. Even if they just went slowly and silently crazy here, they weren’t getting out. He might be able to make Lukas rue the day he’d ever clapped eyes on Dean Winchester, might even be able to take the Wolf down with him, but that didn’t mean he was getting out.
Didn’t mean she was either. Dean could deny the Wolf all he liked, and another girl would still disappear forever.
“What kind of goddamn gas guzzler is this? Looks like a pimp’s car. Is it a Cadillac?” she went on, finding her equilibrium through disparagement, unaware what Dean had just figured out, had just internalized.
Fuck it, he didn’t like that word; it was too close to the truth. He started to laugh, thinking of internalizing the truth while the Wolf internalized him. One of those freak birds you could mail order at Christmas – the duck inside the chicken inside the turkey. A turducken.
He should mention it to Ruby, cheer her up.
“Yeah, it’s a Cadillac,” he said instead.
And there was no way he was going to answer that.
Okay, Sam wasn’t acting normal. He was acting incredibly freaky. In fact, he was acting like a fucking homicidal maniac, one of those commandos that had been trained to within an inch of sanity and then just snapped at some secret signal.
Tommy giggled, because the idea of Sam snapping was funny. He was so tall and thin that he’d probably make a really loud noise. Tommy waited for it, standing next to Sam, almost the same height. The snap. Maybe a crackle. A pop. Shit, that was funny, too.
Sam was glowering and there were cops everywhere, and Tommy had never seen so much light in the woods. The cops he actually didn’t mind, they were only really assholes if you got lippy with them, but they seemed to have bigger fish to fry than Tommy tonight, and if a cop really wanted to get serious with someone who had issues, man, all they’d have to do is take one look at Winchester and see that he was looking to fuck someone up.
The authorities were hot and bothered by something else: Ruby going AWOL. Maybe that’s why Sam was suddenly Mr. Walking Tall.
Somehow Ruby was gone, had taken off, but that’s a girl for you. Change their fucking minds all the time. Yeah, Tommy, you’re really cute, you know. Let’s share a tent this season, okay? And then all, hey, that new guy? I like how quiet he is. Not shy, though. Just quiet. Then, I think I’ll chain myself to a tree. And now? Hey, the Gap’s having a sale, let’s go.
But not-shy Sam was a big guy and he looked really pissed, which wasn’t exactly Tommy’s scene. A downer, that’s what the big dude was. Tommy told him that, explained it carefully so he’d understand. Used words like harsh and mellow and bummer. Words that Stanford Sam would understand.
“Tommy, I need your help,” Sam cut him off.
Dude, I’m not finished, right? I’m trying to tell you –
“You know where the fish weir is?”
What the fuck? Cool. A hike, perfect way to experience a mountain high.
“Sure,” Tommy said, squinting at Sam in the camp’s too-bright light. “But put on some hiking boots, dude, ‘cause the calk boots’ll just trip you up.”
The fish weir was a mile up-river, maybe more. Tommy knew the trail well, had been working the Quasilit for three years now. The fish weir was just below the potholes, the best swimming on the river, deep water, smooth stone perfect for laying naked in the sun. Below the potholes, the river widened over the shallow spawning grounds, and the stony bed was a good place for catching crayfish, stank like hell come October, after the salmon run. Dynamite place for bear-watching.
So, yeah, Tommy knew how to get there, even in the dark.
“Dude,” he said, maybe a half-hour in, Sam following behind him silently, a dark presence that Tommy hardly recognized. He offered a cube of chocolate, explained that they’d made it themselves, melted a bunch of Hershey’s kisses and poured them into ice cube trays, crushed some dried ‘shrooms into it, but Sam waved it away, way too serious. “Why the hell you want to go to the weir? Nothing fucking there.”
Sam didn’t answer, just adjusted the sit of his backpack and told Tommy to keep moving.
“He’s really cute and all, really. And those dimples?” She sighed, and Dean could see her bare feet as she waved them in the air, that was all he could see of her, but fuck it if she hadn’t talked non-stop for the last...jesus, he had no idea how long. An eternity.
Maybe this was Perdition, not Limbo.
“But sad, right? Just those big hands, you know what they say. But he didn’t want to fuck me, even though there I was-”
He’d promised himself he would keep it to a minimum. Wouldn’t open his mouth. But – “You know, Ruby, I really don’t...”
“So, what’s the story with him? I mean, both of you? You must have good genes, that’s all I’m saying. He said he’d lost someone, but he seems more together than you do. I mean, no offense or anything, but you seem to have a lot of problems with women who speak their minds. Actually, Sam’s a pretty together guy, isn’t he? Really. Even though his last girlfriend...she must have died, right?”
“Right,” Dean said to the ceiling, rubbing his face. He was laying across the front seat, ignoring her as best he could, but no matter what he did, she just kept talking. He hadn’t heard the Wolf in some time, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t listening to every word.
“So smart, too. And so fucking cute. I love a guy with really pronounced hipbones, how you can rest your hand on one and-”
“Enough!” And Dean sat up, looked into the back seat where Ruby lay on her back, feet in the air gently kicking the quilted interior, hair spread darkly on the velvet seats, big startled eyes. “Jesus H. Christ, Ruby.”
He slumped against the door.
“Wow, you’re kind of uptight, aren’t you? Like, for a logger. Why’d you do it, logging I mean? Just cutting and taking, raping the land, leaving nothing of value-”
He rested his forehead against the steering wheel and wished that stasis, or limbo, or wherever it was that they were, had some affect on Ruby’s mouth.
It wasn’t a tent so much as a spread tarp hung over a low riverside branch and roped to four trees, but it was all Sam needed to see. He’d found what he’d been looking for. From this distance, he couldn’t make out what else Lukas had there – a dark patch under the tarp might have been someone sleeping in the open air, or a pile of gear.
He knew better than to hope it was his brother and Ruby tied up in a neat salvageable bundle; letting himself even consider that would be to invite staggering disappointment. The Wolf didn’t work that way.
Sam tapped Tommy’s shoulder, motioned him back behind the screen of a big nurse log.
“Who the fuck-” Tommy started loudly, and Sam hushed him.
“Lukas.” A harsh whisper. The Wolf would have good hearing. But it had just eaten, and maybe it was sleeping. Digesting, Sam thought with a wince. They needed to be careful, though, because if Lukas escaped into the forest, there was no way Sam would find him again. The one thing in their favor was that Lukas was getting cocky, was enjoying his recent meals, and the Wolf was lazy, thought it had left Sam without options.
Sam had one option right now, and he and Tommy were going to take it.
He opened his daypack and took out the machete.
“Dude!” Tommy backed up against the log.
But they’d be out of options if Tommy ran screaming in terror. “It’s okay,” Sam whispered. “We’re just going to punk him, all right?”
The sky was clear, and the stars spectacular and there was only a faint sliver of moon. The river reflected all this and Sam could see every emotion that crossed Tommy’s guileless face, ending providentially at acceptance. “Cool.” Rubbed his hands together. “What do we do?”
“Rocks,” Sam said, opening his now-empty daypack and pointing inside. “Lots of rocks.”
“I am so bored.”
It was the first thing she’d said in some time, so Dean took notice. He hadn’t moved from his prone position in the front seat, had been poking around in his wound, wondered how far he could get his finger in before he hit something important. But even thinking that was just gross, so he stopped. He stared hard at his forearm, squinting. The light wasn’t really good enough for what he was attempting, but he tried anyway.
Her face suddenly appeared above him. “What are you doing?”
Dean dropped his arm. “Counting freckles,” he admitted.
She swung one leg over and he sat up, made room, fairly sure she wasn’t going to hit him. She’d believed what he’d told her, that he’d been eaten too. She sat with her back against the passenger door, facing him, one leg bent, the other dropped over the side of the seat. “I had to get stuck with Harpo fucking Marx. You sure don’t say much, do you?”
He sighed. Rubbed the spot between his eyes. It didn’t hurt, nothing hurt, but he imagined a headache all the same. “It’s what it wants from me.”
“What?” Ruby’s winged eyebrows drew together. She wasn’t being flippant, or provocative, or goading him into anything. Just needing to know. It seemed only fair.
Dean winced, looked out the window, saw his reflection, which was just as boring as the last time he’d seen it. Stared at his hands instead, turned his ring around. “It wants me to talk to it. It...gets turned on by it.” He glanced back to see Ruby’s wide grin, a beautiful smile right enough.
“So you shut up, trying to blue-ball it? You and Sam, you’re a lot alike in some ways. What a fucking tease.”
And how she cut to the chase so quickly astounded him. “I’m not a tease,” he protested.
“Yeah, you are.” And shifted a little closer, one foot resting on his thigh, but her eyes entirely on him.
“Not,” he replied, glancing down at her foot, which was now slipping to the inside slope of his thigh.
“Prove it.” And leaned into him.
That was enough. He put a hand on either shoulder, pushed her back, heart suddenly banging away like a loose shutter in a high wind. “Not here.”
Ruby was nothing if not persistent. “What? You have somewhere else in mind?” Inside, outside, everything was quiet, except for Dean’s heart. “It wants you? That’s what you’re saying? It doesn’t care about me, except as a snack, right? We’re stuck here until the new moon, you said. Fine. That’s a long time and I’m no wolf.” She stared at him, hard. “Fuck the Wolf.” And she was serious. And crazy mad, and angry mad. Looking for a way to fight back, and Dean had rarely seen anything as sexy.
“Wait a minute,” he said, holding up a hand. Wait a minute. Thought about it, thought about tease and block, and promises to keep and to break and getting what you paid for. “Just...one...” Deep breath. Sam’s girl, after all. But, still. “You want to fuck Lukas up? Really?”
Then he smiled long and dangerous, mirroring her exactly.
She nodded, and accepted his smile, his desire in all its forms. Sat back against the door, withdrew her foot until it almost didn’t touch him.
“You got it,” he promised. “But we have to get him where we’ll do the most damage. Set some bait.”
She half-shrugged, but didn’t give him pity, and he was grateful. “Seems to be your specialty.”
He leaned his head against the driver’s side window, looking out into the endless night of their prison, of their cache, breath steaming the glass to frost and he closed his eyes, conjured up something to talk about that meant enough. Something that would call the Wolf inside his reach.
“This Cadillac?” Dean blinked his eyes open, but kept his stare deliberately unfocused. He wasn’t talking to her, or to himself. “Not even close,” he started, voice dropping to a whisper, soft as lips against skin. “You hear that? Now, a real car, something that moves under you, that shivers when you touch her, a real car, it’s like a long slow fuck, isn’t it?”
It wasn’t sleeping. Sam didn’t know what it was doing, but sleeping didn’t describe it. He didn’t want to get too close, not yet, not till he was ready, so he couldn’t see what shape Lukas had to him. But he was there, under the tarp, rolling around and moaning. At first, he’d been quiet. Then, so suddenly Sam had frozen, had laid one hand on Tommy’s arm to warn him, Lukas had moaned.
It wasn’t a moan of pain.
Shit. And the moan came again and the dark form under the tarp shuddered and groaned, one arm reaching from the blankets, up, then dropping. A bark. Definitely a bark, but followed by the low moan a dog sometimes gave when it was sleeping, dreaming of rabbits. Of catching rabbits. Hell, who knew what dogs actually dreamt?
Releasing his hold on Tommy, Sam was satisfied that whatever was happening with Lukas, he was still asleep. Sam walked carefully along the riverbank, stopped about twenty feet away from the tarp, bent down and opened his daypack.
The river rocks were smooth as cannon balls. Sam picked up one the size of a pumpernickel loaf, dropped it into his pack, careful of the razor edged machete in his belt loop. With one hand he gestured to poor stoned-out-of-his-mind Tommy: go ahead, pick up a few. Tommy spread his big rugby shirt like a farmgirl collecting eggs and dumped some rocks in, happy enough. Just you wait, Sam thought.
Under the tarp, Lukas continued to groan, short grunts and the occasional humming song of pleasure. Oh, god, Sam didn’t like what he was hearing, it was unsettling and foul and just so disconcerting. Tommy actually giggled, came up beside Sam, shirt bulging with rocks. He bent to Sam’s ear. “Shit,” he whispered. “He’s really pulling the pud, isn’t he?”
Sam stared hard and Tommy smartened up, looked down to his rocks, but wasn’t able to keep the giddy grin off his face. “What next?” he asked.
Well, at least Lukas was distracted, which gave them chance enough to get close. Sam couldn’t decide if he wanted Lukas to be a fully-fledged monster when he pulled back the blankets. It would freak Tommy out, but also would make what he was planning to do completely legit.
But whatever Lukas looked like, whatever the Wolf was doing or changing into, that wasn’t up to Sam. The only thing Sam had in his control was his own actions. Was his plan. And that, he had the stomach for.
“I know I don’t always get enough time. I treat her rough. But when I have a few days, you know, between jobs, when it’s just me and her? I wash her slow and all over. Soap and a soft cloth, one of those chamois, skin of a baby mountain goat, whatever the fuck they are, wipe her down gentle, circle the wheel wells where the dirt shows the most. Hose her down, rub her with a clean towel, then wax.
“When we’re finished with that, I usually take a break, just like to watch her, all shiny and clean. Then I open her hood, settle in for a nice long look. Touch here and there, pull a few plugs. See what she needs, you know? Fill up all those empty places. Oil her down. And then? Slide underneath, make sure all the rough roads haven’t scraped her raw.”
The wind was really picking up now and the car rocked to the side, metal moaning and Dean wiped the sweating window with the tips of his fingers was unsurprised to see a blue eye there, and hair and suddenly the wipe of fleshy tongue. A hard tooth scraped the glass.
He left his hand there just a minute, exquisite held breath, waiting just this side of torture. Too long, and not long enough. His fingers lingered a second longer, and he heard Ruby’s soft exhalation, close to a sigh, and her hand was on his knee and he took it.
Turned, met her willing mouth with his, placed both hands on her hips, and only pulled away a fraction to whisper, “Now.”
Sam stood over Lukas, rocks at his feet, as the man, or what looked like a man in the dim starlight, thrashed around. One minute, moans of pleasure so thick it took all Sam’s fortitude not to lop off the freak’s head.
The next, a howl chilling and cold and needful.
“Shit!” Tommy cried, standing on the other side of the tarp, his rocks carefully deposited on the ground beside the writhing Lukas.
Howling, and not quite asleep, but attention not on them, attention all inward. Something that had been giving the Wolf pleasure, slaking thirst, had suddenly been taken away, and this was the howling of a bully torn from a fight, the cry of an infant taken abruptly from its mother’s breast, the sound of savage complaint a teenage boy made when the girl in the back of his car suddenly remembered the time.
Sam put one foot on Lukas’s bare chest, but the howling went on unabated. Hold still, motherfucker, he thought.
A protector above, a predator below and Sam shook the hair out of his eyes, preparing to hold back the darkness, stand between it and the ignorant world, and reclaim what was his. Okay, Dean, I hope you’re ready for this.
Clutching the machete’s hilt with both hands, Sam brought the blade down tip-first, shoving it with force right into the soft spot right between Lukas’s ribcage and navel. Lukas gasped, arms and legs suddenly in spasm. Sam pulled the blade sharply down, slicing the Wolf from sternum to crotch and damn if that didn’t feel right.
At first, all he had to think about was the Impala. Then wove in sex talk, which he was good at, had always been good at, let the Wolf feel it, hear it, and then reeled him in. Think of the Wolf, and talk.
And then, the tricky part, to turn away. And in that one action, to drop every awareness of the Wolf and think only of her.
Ruby’s hands went straight to his fly, which was fine, was so fine, and he realized that though he’d been talking to the Wolf, he’d aroused her just the same as though he’d been talking to her. He kissed her open-mouthed, not thinking of anything except the shudder that ran through her and what else he could do that would make her sigh and moan and scream. He had quite the bag of tricks, had collected sexual knowledge through trial and error, through a methodical, careful exploration that would have surprised and humbled every science teacher that had ever failed him.
This inadequate bucket of rust was so going to need detailing when he was done.
He touched Ruby gently and he touched her hard, with a spirit of discovery and a mandate to please. And she was pleased, she was so pleased. A huge pressure was building in him, recognizable, but he wanted this to last, just for themselves, just to lay claim to this awful place, to mark that they had been here and had not been beaten. He could do that, with her, they could recognize and honor each other in the most basic way possible.
So: hands and tongue and buttons undone.
Pressure. He drew away, hand on the side of her damp face, lock of red hair snaked across her forehead. Not pressure. Pain. Breath caught. Real, awful pain, and Ruby stared into his eyes, not understanding, pulling him to her and that was excruciating. With a cry, Dean collapsed into her, head resting on her shoulder for one moment, trying to collect himself, the pain suddenly huge, not normal, not right.
She looked up, eyes wide in the green light, face flushed and shining. Her hands, which had been around his waist, under his clothes, released him. “Dean?” she whispered and held up one small, callused hand, dripping with blood. His blood.
And the light was so fast and so white, neither had time to scream.
“Holy mother of god,” Tommy kept repeating, as the intestines slid out like fish released from a seiner’s net, slipping over the deck in a reeking mass of silver. Covering the blankets and Lukas still looked remarkably human. Sam had to remind himself what this thing was. Not human.
And what had he been expecting? Dean and Ruby to come out the belly of this beast, undisturbed? He peered at the carcass before him in the starlight. It twitched, one hand making circles, the eyes still closed. It whimpered, and it breathed. Still alive.
“Hold him down!” he shouted to Tommy, as Lukas started to thrash. “Tommy!”
Sam didn’t give a fuck how Tommy was making sense of this, but he needed an extra pair of hands, right now. With a lurch, Tommy bent down, pinned Lukas’s shoulders to the ground in what Sam recognized as a wrestling move. Fine, as long as it worked.
Sam grabbed one of the rocks from his bag, jammed it way into Lukas’s open cavity. Two, then three. Lukas stopped flopping around, started growling. Started moving in a way that wasn’t exactly reassuring, limbs a little longer than they had been only moments ago.
“Tommy, talk to him, try to calm him down.” In many ways, Sam was very lucky Tommy was high on magic mushrooms, because maybe some of this was looking not so out of the ordinary for him, just a bad trip. Tommy cleared his throat.
“Sam?” he asked once, but Sam was busy putting in rock after rock, shifting a pile of stone, ignoring the offal on the blankets, the smell of raw meat and blood. Finally, Sam heard Tommy start talking about something. Something to do with trees. And planting, and Sam didn’t give a shit, didn’t give a rat’s ass as long as Lukas stopped changing, stopped thrashing around.
Long enough for Sam to unzip one of his many outer pockets, to take out what Eileen had given him, already threaded with white silk last used to outline a dove of peace. A silver needle, because he needed to secure this thing long enough for the rocks to do their work. Once Lukas went quiet – not dead, not that, but in repose, asleep like a volcano slept – Sam was able to work quickly, punching the needle through skin, drawing the length of bloodied white silk behind like the contrail of a jet marking passage across the Wolf’s belly.
Sam knew how to throw thread; he’d had practice, after all, usually tried to make his stitches even and small, so as not to fuck up his brother’s beautiful skin. But this in front of him was butcher’s work and he didn’t much care how it looked. All it had to do was hold.
Lukas lay on his back, eyes closed, belly distended and lumpy, sewn up like a corpse after autopsy. Tommy got to his feet slowly and they both watched Lukas’s chest rise and fall, however improbable that was.
Sam looked at Tommy, not knowing what they’d just shared. Realized that tears ran down Tommy’s face and now, for the first time, Sam was scared, was scared shitless.
God, he hoped this had worked, because he was fresh out of ideas.
“What do we do now, man?” Tommy asked, party to a murder, to something worse than a murder, whatever the fuck this was that they’d done. Sam wished he could take it away from him. One more bit of innocence swallowed up by this night, by the Wolf. Sam hoped it was the last.
Sam picked up the machete again, scared but as sure as he’d been coming down Eileen’s tree.
“We wake him up.”
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