Rating: PG-13; some strong language
Spoilers: Up to the end of season 3.
Summary: Time causes decay and desperation for even the oldest soul. Nothing stays human after too long; demons and monsters know this, but then, sometimes, they remember.
A/N: This fic is a one-shot; no sequels or following chapters are planned. The story is based on an idea by Famira Damaris and Arcanewinter provided extensive input. They both get beta credit. Much love!
The demon had only been sitting there for a few minutes, but in a human's body, it felt like hours. He cricked his neck and looked at the area: around, down, and then up at the Devil's Trap painted on the ceiling. He smirked wryly, knowing he was the kind of creature who had to be caught before he was caged. He was too old to fall for something like that.
The door opposite from the demon opened and he winced at the sudden light.
"You're awake," said a voice, low and hoarse.
The demon looked up but wasn't able to make out much; just a tall man silhouetted by the light bulb behind him. The demon sneered.
"Sure am." He cocked his head, staring his captor in what he imagined to be his face. "Question is: what're you gonna do about it?"
The man didn't answer. Instead, he began walking in, slowly, towards a table that the demon now saw was covered in books and medical instruments.
"What?" The demon chuckled. "You gonna try to save this body once you kick me out? Fat chance."
"I'll try, but I know I'll fail," the man said. A gloved hand rummaged through the table's mess and the demon craned his neck to try to see. All he made out was a nanotrans and a couple of beer bottles.
The man paused, as if thoughtful. The demon got the feeling he was smiling.
"I've been around the block a few times. I know what you things do to humans, and that's okay. Makes my job easier."
He turned around and the demon could catch a glimpse of his face in the light from the hallway. There was something wrong with it, like the skin hadn't been stretched right and parts of it had been fused together by one of those surgical lasers. There were visible stitches between the cheek and the ear.
"Woo," the demon whistled, arching a brow. "Who did your facelift--Marilyn Manson?"
The man glanced up at the demon. His visible eye gazed at him levelly, intensely, as if he was trying to see something he wasn't sure was there. But all he said was:
"That guy died a long time ago."
"Yeah, I know." The demon smirked. "Just testin' ya."
The man was silent for a long second before he shook his head and looked back to the table.
"Yeah, that's what you demons do, isn't it?" He started rummaging again, though this time it was a little rougher than before, more agitated. "Test people, push them to their limits, take away their options and then exploit them..."
"Geez." The demon shrugged. "Just come out and say you got a grudge if you got a grudge."
"It's not a grudge," the man said, picking up a scalpel and holding it to the light.
"It's a cause."
The demon didn't respond because he was too busy staring at the man's now-illuminated face. He'd seen a hell of a lot of horrible things in his time, but always on the other side or by the work of his own hands. This was different and it wasn't horrible so much as it was weird; the guy looked like a zombie who'd been patched together by a quilt maker in the surgery business, and though that quilt maker might've tried hard to put everything in the right place, the results still looked pretty damn grotesque in the end.
"Dude, seriously." The demon shifted a little in his chair. "You Frankenstein or something?"
"Frankenstein was the doctor," the man immediately countered. He added with a grumble: "And yeah, I get that a lot."
"I see that," the demon replied dryly. He watched as the man opened an old leatherbound notebook and flipped through a few pages. He was starting to get the feeling that this guy was old--real old, like maybe demon old. Now that he thought of it, he remembered someone talking about him a long, long time ago--the patchwork hunter, the man from whom no demon returned. He hadn't thought much of it at the time, hadn't known what it meant. He knew his master killed anyone who mentioned the rumor, but then again, she killed everyone. Except him.
"You got a name, demon?"
The demon looked up, realizing he'd lost the cocky face for a second. He put it right back on and smirked.
"Call me Steve. That's this guy's name, right? Steve?"
"Steve Johnson," the man said, stopping at a page. "Astronaut, early thirties. Has a wife and a daughter. You killed them."
"Astronaut, huh?" The demon glanced down at his chest. "Explains the hot bod."
"Doesn't explain why he'd empty a clip in his daughter," said the man, reading the journal as he put it down. "Or why he'd sic hellhounds on his wife."
"Hey, what can I say?" The demon looked up and grinned at the man, knowing the teeth he flashed were pearly white. "More people around these days. More people want more things more badly, so we gotta raise the prices."
The demon felt his face explode in pain before he even knew what was happening. It was only a second later that he realized the man had hit him, and it took another second for him to realize that the man had hit him.
"I'm sure," the man said through a ragged breath as he looked down at his hand and slowly flexed his fingers, "that Lilith's army is benefitting from that."
The demon frowned, trying to read the guy's face and finding it impossible through the distortion.
"You know about Lilith?"
"Oh yeah. We're old friends." The man was the one to smirk this time, and when he looked back at the demon, there was a satisfied gleam in his discolored eyes. "And you're her personal dog, right? Her trophy soldier?"
The demon tensed. He was beginning to think those rumors hadn't been bullshit, though instead of anger or fear, he found himself feeling a strange sort of relief. He didn't understand it, and when he didn't understand things, he tended to block them out.
"How about 'second-in-command'?" he grumbled. He began pulling against the restraints around his hands. He couldn't remember the last time he'd needed to do that.
"Nah, that'd imply that she'd trust you to lead her army," the man said, opening a bag and pulling some jars out from it. He glanced at a label. "But all you do is special errands, right? Hellhound on steroids?"
The demon curled his lip, his voice a low growl.
"How... how the hell do you know all this?"
"I know a lot of things," the man said, looking back at the demon. "I know that Steve Johnson wished he could be the head of Martian transports ten years ago. I know that she wanted you in that position instead. I know she's trying to expand the empire before the air here gets too toxic and she loses her clientele."
"Well, aren't you smart," the demon said through a wince.
The man smiled as he opened one of the jars and shook its contents around. He turned and began heading towards the demon.
"You're right. I am smart, and that's why I'm not like other hunters."
The demon watched as the man began walking circles around him, spreading some kind of dust in a line on the ground. Whatever it was, it was making the demon feel agitated, and he twisted in his chair as he grit his teeth.
"I mean, sure," the man continued, finished with the dust line and now tossing handfuls of the stuff in the air, "you can exorcise demons and throw holy water on them, but that doesn't really kill you guys, does it?"
"No, it--" The demon cut himself off with a gasp of pain; the dust that fell on his skin felt like lye, burning and itching worse than the usual water. When he glared at the man, he knew his eyes were black.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
"See, I know what can kill you," the man said, shaking out the last bit of the dust and then tossing the jar away. He pulled out a box of matches and lit one, the dim glow highlighting portions of his deformed features. "There's a gun and there's knives, but Lilith collected all of those a long time ago, didn't she?"
The demon grinned, even through the pain. "Thorough bitch, ain't she?"
The man reached under his coat with his free hand. The demon watched as he pulled his hand back and a handle appeared, then a long, rune-covered blade.
"Fuckin' hell." The demon rolled his eyes, genuinely feeling detached even though he knew the end was near. He wondered if it was normal not to care.
"There's something I need you to tell me," the man said, kneeling down and holding the match over a chalice filled with herbs. "I know a hell of a lot of things, but there's something I don't know, something I've wanted to figure out for a very, very long time..."
"What?" The demon shot back. "Where to get a good facial?"
"Hah," the man said, though in the silence after the response, his eyes began to wander over the demon's body the way someone might inspect a package of meat. The demon was about to reply with something along the lines of 'dude, I don't swing that way, and especially not for freaks' when a thought occurred to him. His eyes met the man's and he smirked grimly.
"So that's how you do it. Stay alive, stay Frankenstein, and still play hero. Nice gig you got goin' there."
"Not as nice as you guys," the man replied, seemingly unfazed. He smiled a little as he began to twirl the handle of the knife in his hand. "Real shame I got better plans for you. Could get some good stuff outta that body."
"What kind of plans?" the demon muttered. The man flashed weirdly even teeth and then dropped the match into the chalice.
It flared up like a miniature bonfire. Lines on the ground, previously invisible to the demon's eye, suddenly alighted to take the shape of a symbol of such intricacy he had never seen. The pain hit a second later, all-consuming and crippling, and the demon doubled over and tried not to scream from the unfamiliar agony. He saw movement out of the corner of his vision and raised his eyes haggardly; he saw the man advance towards him, though he wasn't sure if it was reality or a hallucination. The man's eyes burned yellow and his face, illuminated by the growing flames beneath him, looked like a canvas of thick, contrasting brush strokes, sharpened by the severity of his expression. His voice was low in tone but so loud in volume that it seemed to saturate the air and press in on the demon from all sides.
"TELL ME ABOUT DEAN WINCHESTER."
"I... who?" The demon gasped, watching the man with eyes narrowed in pain.
"Two hundred years ago," the man said as he slowly traversed the distance between them, "he made a deal with Lilith. He died and she took his soul. I WANT TO KNOW WHERE HE IS."
The demon yelled and threw his head back at the new wave of pain that flooded his system. He went slack for a second and gasped for breath.
"Listen, man, I... I don't know what the hell you're talking about, so could you--"
"DON'T LIE TO ME!" The man roared, the force of his voice throwing the demon off the chair and onto the ground. A new layer of dust burned his skin and the demon cried out from the pain, feeling weak, pathetic. Lilith was the only one who could humiliate him like this and that was because he was valuable enough to keep close. She knew he was her personal project, that she'd made him part of the top tier of demons, so how the hell could this be possible?
The demon felt the tip of a blade against his throat.
"Talk," the man said.
The demon slowly looked up at the man, eyes narrowed, full of rage. He suddenly remembered when he was young, when he'd first become what he was, when Lilith had chosen him from all the fresh-turned souls in Hell and had tortured him over and over until he submitted. The experience had trained him to be quiet in the face of pain and loud in the face of fear, but more than anything, it had taught him he was important. He was extraordinary in some way and he had proved it over the years, taking on the jobs no one else could, taking down the rivals no other demon would dare. He didn't know how Lilith had chosen him, but he'd become an attack dog of the highest caliber, and when people spread rumors of the other aspects of his servitude, he told them he'd rather be a bitch than dead. And then he killed them.
He'd like to kill this monster, the man with the yellow eyes.
The demon's hand shot out, breaking through the rope that restrained him, and he grabbed the man's collar and pulled him down. The man went along with it, going down on one knee next to him as if it was all part of the plan. It pissed the demon off.
"Listen," the demon growled into the bastard's face, "I don't know any Dean Winchester--"
"You don't?" The man shot back, pressing the blade against the demon's neck. The demon tried to pull his head back, but he couldn't; he was flush against the floor. "You know, that's funny, because all of your friends I've dealt with said they knew exactly where he was but that they'd rather die than talk."
"That's bullshit," the demon said, and it was true. He knew about every selfish son of a bitch who got thrown down the pit: the millionaires, the politicians, the priests. Dean Winchester wasn't one of them.
"You're Lilith's confidant," the man persisted, his voice dangerous. He dug the tip of his blade into the demon's neck and twisted it slowly, back and forth. The demon bit his lip so hard that it began to bleed. "I'm told you know everything she knows and do everything she tells you, but you still act like you're such a badass, don't you? "
"What do you care?" The demon snarled. He was getting sick of this game of cat and mouse, this prolonging of his fate. He sneered at the man, dealing with the pain in his neck as he raised his head and stared at him with big, black eyes. He cocked his head with unnatural movement, the way that demons do. "She lets me out of Hell so I can kill you humans and watch you die. It's worth every minute so long as I can hear you people scream."
The demon felt himself jerk onto his back, his arms spread out from his body. He was pinned to the ground the way that he'd done to so many, paralyzed and helpless as the man stood up and looked down at him like he was the biggest parasite on God's not-so-green Earth. The man turned the handle of the knife over in his hand, shifting it so he was holding it blade-down. The demon barked out a laugh, feeling weirdly apathetic towards his own demise. All he wanted to do was hurt this man, stab him deep. He'd lived to make others suffer the way he had and now he'd die the same way.
"You gonna make a threat?" he asked, blood from his broken lip staining his teeth as he grinned. "It ain't gonna help. I don't know a goddamn thing about your buddy, but I do know that besides you and your little freakshow? No one goes that long dead without becoming one of US."
The demon felt the back of his head slam against the concrete beneath him, and the next thing he felt was a gash of sharp pain on his chest. He struggled to open his eyes and he saw the man kneeling down next to him, drawing lines into his chest with the tip of his knife.
"You know," the man said, yellow eyes burning bright as he dug the blade in and brought a grunt of pain from the demon's throat, "no one becomes a demon before being something else, either. No one."
"What--" The demon growled before his throat seemed to close. The man smirked and it was wide, sadistic.
"Listen close," he said. "I made this one myself."
He pulled up his knife and waved his free hand over the wound, speaking in a Latin chant the demon had never heard.
"Give unto this man that which dark providence hath given me: An infant soul tainted, a deadened soul forgiven..."
The air itself seemed to close in around the demon, hot and suffocating and numbing his mind. He found that he couldn't move his eyes off the man as he spoke, and everything suddenly seemed muffled, quieted in the face of the man's words.
"Grace of God, come forth and tame this beast..."
Vision was the next to go. Things seemed blurry and bright, and the only thing the demon could make out was the necklace around the man's neck, swinging back and forth with the movement of his hand. The demon wondered why he hadn't noticed it before.
"And bring him thus into the flock..."
The words seemed to fade away with each new syllable, but he could still hear the man's voice clearly. It was throaty and harsh, but somehow, it didn't feel suffocating like it had before. There was something about it that felt warm, familiar. The demon wondered why that was, but it wasn't like it mattered anyway. He could feel he was dying.
Things stilled. The demon couldn't move his eyes from the man. He was finally getting a look of just how ugly the bastard was: the yellow eyes and the lopsided expression, the broken nose and the ragged hair. Slowly, the demon's disgust turned to pity, and then pain. It hurt to look at his face, so the demon's eyes wandered down to the the necklace and the gold ornament that hung from it.
His vision narrowed. It widened. He was suddenly watching an old movie reel spinning out of sync, flashing clips of roads and words and faces. He was holding a steering wheel and then he was holding a gun, and then he was aiming it and he was firing it. Then he was cleaning it again. He was sitting on a motel bed from two hundred years ago and his hands were shaking because he was going to die. An old movie was on and Sam was sitting with his laptop, and Sam was laughing in the car, and Sam was struggling with some monster, and Sam was telling him he was stupid, that he could save him. Then Sam was crying, and Sam was screaming because the hour had come, and the hellhound tore and shred and tore.
Things went dark and he was yelling for help. He thought he was braced for it, but no one could handle this, handle blood and pain and words that ripped through his skin as easily as the hooks. He hadn't meant what he'd said that last night, and Sam knew it. Sam would come; Sam would find a way. But then the days grew long and the years passed by and he realized Lilith was right: Sam wouldn't come because Sam didn't care. He'd never cared, never been grateful for the attention Dad gave him, the concern he showed. Sam had abandoned his family for a normal life, and when he came back, it was out of vengeance, not love. When he sacrificed for Sam, he got insults instead of thanks. Sam didn't care. He'd abandoned him. He didn't care.
He wasn't worth remembering, and then he was gone.
Dean felt tears on his cheeks and a lump in his throat, though he couldn't remember when he'd started crying. He looked up and realized the man was still watching, and it was because of the blurry vision that softened the man's face that his stomach clenched and his breath caught in his throat when he figured it out, when the truth hit him like a buckshot to the heart.
"No..." he gasped out through pain and memory, through a voice he didn't know. "No... no... you weren't supposed to..."
A cold smirk crossed the horrible, familiar face. He didn't know. He couldn't see him. He must have done this a thousand times to have become so numb; he must have done this to every demon he came across, opened the doors for every damned soul to see if it was the one he could set free. He must have used so much hope that he didn't have it anymore. He was going through the motions and all he had was his hate.
"Wasn't supposed to give you a glimpse?" The crooked mouth widened into a sneer. "Too bad. Too late."
Dean's lips felt heavy, his thoughts unwieldy. He saw the blade flash as it came down towards him and his hand shot out to catch the wrist that held it. He breathed hard and he stared into that twisted face, into the yellow eyes that wanted him dead.
"Sam..." he said, and he choked. "Sammy, it's me..."
A slow second passed. It was like seeing an actor drop his role, seeing an arm weaken and eyes lose color, a mouth go slack from shock. A brow creased along its stitches and his body shook.
Dean saw movement and then he felt arms around him, big arms, uneven arms. He felt Sam's face in his shoulder and he felt him sobbing.