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Fic: Mirrors (11)

He observed Dean closely on the drive back to the docks, his skin which had a greenish grey tinge that might've been the evening shadow of the forest, his hands which were tight on the wheel, the tensing muscles in his throat as he swallowed. Dean should be feeling weak, after what had happened. He should have at least some niggling suspicion at the back of his mind that he was missing time. How much was Dean aware of? He wouldn't get a straight answer if he asked him outright how he was feeling. He had to try a more subtle, sidelong technique.

"It's been a long day," Sam said. "Frustrating. Covering the exact same ground again, just another bust."

"Yeah," Dean said and turned the radio up. It was 90s grunge, Alice In Chains, belting out grim defiance No, no, no, ya know he ain't gonna die

"I just need it to be over soon. Time seems to be draggin' on and on, y'know?"

He felt Dean's eyes looking askance at him and then Dean looked back at the road and ignored him.

He needed a new plan.

o

Sam tightened his grip on the railing as the ferry roared lowly beneath him. Ahead, the fog was solid, occluding the shoreline and the late evening blue. Under what rising moonlight could filter through the fog, the ocean glinted black as an oil slick. The ferry's lights reflected in needles of fiery orange; the waves breaking against the hull looked like they were crested in snow. He closed his eyes and tried to retreat to the quiet blank place in his mind where he could start drawing his plan on the metaphorical walls.

"If you're gonna hurl, you should probably get closer to the edge," Dean said. Sam opened his eyes, his teeth set on edge by Dean's sudden proximity even though he'd known that Dean had followed him up here. He looked over his shoulder. Dean was standing at his back with his hands shoved into his pockets, the night breeze already stinging his face red, like a slap. He didn't look so good, aside from that. Dark shadows under hollow eyes, tension in the set of his jaw and his mouth pale and tight. He looked sickly, soul sick, literally. "And if you're not, you should wait inside like everybody else instead of freezing your ass off out here."

Sam could feel the cold, same as ever. The briny cut of wind was slipping through the cheap suit and beneath his jacket, through the undershirts he'd layered against the Pacific climate. He shivered slightly.

"I'm not seasick, I'm just takin' in the view."

"You can't see a goddamn thing out here. We're blanketed in fog."

"I like the fog and I like being near the engine. It's relaxing."

"Great, if it's so relaxing why don't you get back in the car and finally take a nap?"

"What?"

"You haven't slept in the past what--twenty-four? thirty-six hours? You thought I wasn't paying any attention? What's going on?"

Sam sighed, the sound a weary admission. He'd been caught out, that was fine. He could work with it. Insomnia was a common symptom of many mental ailments that he'd suffered from at one time or another.

"Seriously, you have to ask?" he said with wounded petulance. "With...everything that's happened lately."

Dean looked at him, forehead furrowed faintly with worry, and then leaned against the railing, his casual posture a lie that couldn't broadcast any louder. Sam swallowed and tried to keep his face little brother sensitive and brooding. He glanced at the seething spitting rumbling dark water below, then back at Dean, keeping his head ducked so that he would be looking up at him.

"With everything that's happened, you were still squeezing in some shut eye at the start of the week. And even with...how I've been acting lately" (slight grimace, apologetic) "you weren't walkin' around on eggshells like you are right now."

Sam pressed his eyes shut, squeezed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. He wiped his hand down his face.

"I'm not-"

"Okay, just for the hell of it, let's pretend we just went through the whole routine where you make up some bullshit excuse, and I see right through it and you say 'seriously, Dean, I'm fine,' and I say 'okay' and don't mention the fact that you're a fuckin' hypocrite about all this talking-out-our-feelings crap, and now we're at the part where you tell me what the hell's going on." Dean paused for breath, which he drew in raggedly, his grimace telling of physical discomfort.

He was feeling weak and he was trying to not let it get to him, trying to cover it over by making a big show of his concern for Sam's well being.

"How am I the hypocrite in this conversation? Look in the mirror, dude. I missed one good night's sleep. You're a wreck."

"Yeah, but I've gotten real good at plowing ahead anyway, so what? We can both be hypocrites." Dean was blithely steamrolling over his defenses and it was starting to raise the hairs on the back of Sam's neck. This wasn't like Dean. Maybe he was starting to suspect something."This about whatever Jack's been callin' you about?"

He'd called the kid by name, which for Dean was an example of trying to tread carefully.

"No, it's nothin' that important. S'just--this case is starting to get under my skin a bit, I guess."

"Okay," Dean said. "You don't have to try and hide it. I'm not gonna blow a fuse at you or ...whatever."

"I'm not worried about that."

"Yeah, if you did a few more push ups every morning, I'm pretty sure you'd've broken the railing in half by now," Dean said. Sam looked down and deliberately loosened his grasp on the metal.

"Thanks for the insight," Sam said. "You're right. I'm gonna go wait in the car." His heart rate was slightly accelerated. That hadn't gone well.

Dean let him walk away.

o

It was nightfall by the time the ferry docked and the vehicles onboard were allowed to drive two by two down the ramp. As the Impala inched out into fresh air, Sam glanced out of the window; the neon shine of the storefronts and the streetlights were tinting the dark fog yellow.

"You wanna get something to eat?" Dean asked. An offer of food to smooth things over. Or a test of some sort. The heaters rattled, pushing warm air out at them, thawing them out and as the mist evaporated off them the smell of salt and brine filled the car.

"I'm good. Unless you're hungry."

"Chowder," Dean said. "You wanna get chowder at the nearest fish fry place? Something warm?"

He rubbed his eyes. "Sure," he said. "Whatever you want."

"C'mon, man, don't do that."

"What are you looking for from me? I'm tired, okay? I'm having a hard time sleeping, I'm barely making any headway on this case, it's been a rough couple of days. Sorry if I'm not articulating my needs clearly enough for you."

"Okay," Dean said. Out of the corner of his eye Sam watched his expression harden almost imperceptibly, turn a shade more remote. He drove them to another fish fry place on the waterfront, the interior decor aping the deck of an old fishing boat with vintage photos and other memorabilia mounted on the walls, hemp fish nets draped from the ceiling, and the tables varnished like sea-weathered wood, faux rustic and tourist-y; the prices weren't cheap. They got chowder. Sam was starting to feel cornered. Before, he'd had the option to kill his brother when it came down to it. But now, with the Furies out for new blood, he was stuck between the frying pan and the fire; between running from Dean or running from a new and largely unknown enemy.

And then there was Notaras, who was both a threat and a possible resource; he had positioned himself so perfectly with his knowledge and his power, manipulating time and memory, which might be exactly what Sam needed. Even without Dean, there was Jody and her girls and there was Jack and all the variables to do with him and there were acquaintances and enemies all across America and beyond, in high and low places, and nowhere he could run to where he wouldn't always be looking over his shoulder.

How many times had he thought this? There is no out.

"You wanna know what's been keeping me up at night? It's you." Sam said it with a weariness intended to convey that he was only being so blunt because he'd been pushed past his limits. "You, running on fumes. It's exhausting to me too."

"You looking for an apology?" Dean said with little emotion in his voice. His face looked drained, sickly, white as the sailcloth curtaining the windows.

"I'm not blaming you. I'm saying if you want to look out for me you should start taking better care of yourself. Please."

He looked at a painting on the wall. The cove, rocky shores drowned in white foam, stormheads piling up stark against the blue still remaining in the sky. In the left top corner, a fishing boat riding the waves off keel. He swallowed, tensing the muscles in his throat, so that it would almost look like he was struggling not to cry.

"Sammy, I--"

The waitress was hovering over their table, having popped out from behind the netting that half-concealed their corner of the restaurant. Her eyes were downcast and her cheeks faintly pink, like she knew she'd interrupted something. Her uniform was made out of a material that resembled a fisherman's weatherproof canvas, ugly, but not a bad body underneath it. Not that he had a shot in hell at getting her out of those clothes anytime soon.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up," Sam said, hoping his sudden reversal would throw Dean even more off kilter. "It's been a long day."

"Yeah, you keep on sayin' that," Dean said, flat.

"Sorry, I'll just--" the waitress was saying and Dean cut her off.

"Thanks, we'll have the check."

She'd just been about to top off their glasses; their bowls weren't empty and there was still bread stacked on the plate between them. Sam couldn't remember the last time Dean had voluntarily left a meal half eaten. Loss of appetite was a common symptom of a major depressive episode, he reminded himself. And Dean was probably feeling nauseated, sea sick or soul sick or whatever. No reason to let it unsettle him.

o

That night, Sam spent a long time cleaning and polishing and whetting their weapons, putting on a show of compulsive dedication, while Dean was drinking and watching TV and surfing the web and obviously observing Sam. Sam, who had laid down the salt lines and was now handling iron and silver and holy water, obviously not possessed or any kind of shifter. Dean offered intermittent snarky comments on the local news reports and game shows and detective shows that he was watching, breaking up the silence but not making another effort to engage Sam in conversation. He hoped that what he'd said had been enough to make Dean feel guilty, to turn his scrutiny inward. He took some Advil and feigned a few hours of restless sleep. It wasn't so bad; it gave him some much needed quiet time to think about his next step.

In the pre-dawn hours, the police scanner he'd set up crackled to life. In the woods not far from the shore, the body of a young woman had been found by a forest ranger who had at first called it in as a cougar or black bear attack, though he'd been shaken up enough that it had been a little hard at first to tell exactly what he was describing. The only sure thing was that the killing had been savage and strange.

Sam made coffee and smeared cream cheese on cold bagels and woke Dean up. He made sure that his face was dressed in dismay that the killings had continued and in sympathy with Dean's groggy state.

Driving to the scene, in the early morning fog, Sam could only see the outlines of trees and, sometimes, a snatch of the dark hole of the sea, splintered by yellow lamps in the distance--fishing boats and the ferry--and flashes of white foam against the shoreline when Dean took the road parallel to the coast. He and Dean spoke only in clipped professional phrases about where they were going and what they were going to look for when they got there. The silence that settled in between them was placid on the surface and murky in color; Sam couldn't be certain what lurked underneath it.

The forest was little lighter after daybreak, thick fog and dense underbrush filling up the gaps between the spruce and pine trees, knitting the trees together so that the woods might as well be walls, a labyrinth. The smell of salt still covered everything and he could hear the ocean over the bubble of a brook flowing down to the shore. They were on a slope where a stream was overflowing with spring melt. It ran fast, dark gray like the fog and the sky and the sea. It wheezed and foamed against the rocks, carried debris--branches, leaves, blood--all of it swirling fast in the current. Tumbled and tumbled toward the cliff's edge. Right on the bank of the stream, there was a tree and thirty feet up in the branches was a corpse. She had been identified from a student ID card taken from the wallet that had fallen from her pocket. Ellie Brewster. She was draped on her back across the thick branches, her skin torn to ribbons and chunks of flesh carved out, her ribcage cracked open and her abdomen flayed, her intestines spooling out, pieces of her, splashes of blood and chunks of hair and strips of skin, scattered across the forest floor. Removing her from the tree had proved a logistical challenge. The forest rangers had had to bring in a ladder and an electric saw. The branches cradling the body were knotty and dense.

Dean was staring up, his profile pale and tense, while the corpse was being lowered from the tree. Then Dean swallowed thickly, scrubbed a hand down his face and looked away. He wandered a few steps away from Sam, shoulders rounding in what could be reaction to the cold or could be a defensive hunch, retreating into himself. Sam wondered what that was about, as it couldn't be something so routine as the gore or the loss of a young life. Maybe it was her long blond hair and the wide gash across her abdomen, reminding him of their mother.

There was a low roar of background conversation in his ears. There were a lot of people around, a couple of cops and the coroner and forest rangers and firemen and dogs, but everyone who wasn't him or Dean felt insubstantial as a shadow. It was the loss of his soul, of course; if ever he'd felt like a stranger to the rest of humanity before it was nothing like this. It wasn't him, it was them, the sense of their separateness and insubstantiality. How little they mattered.

Dean still felt real, an unpleasant but unavoidable fact of Sam's existence, as real as gravity or inertia or a bad habit he just couldn't kick.

Dean pulled himself together and started walking around, pulling out a flashlight and searching the forest floor for tracks like so many others were doing. Sam got stuck with a forest ranger and a cop both trying to talk to him, both asking questions about why the FBI had been so quick to report to the scene of a rabid animal attack. They shouldn't have come here, they were too conspicuous. Sam put them off, with a blunt disdain that would've been unwise if he had to deal with them again, which he assumed he wouldn't.

Dean circled around him before looking him in the face again, eyes flicking up and down, scanning him like he'd scanned the crime scene. His expression was blank, the kind of blank that could be bored or tired or trying to conceal something without giving away the act of concealing.

"No tracks and a lot of fresh broken branches. Whatever it is, it really has got wings," he said. "So that's...awesome."

Sam shivered and he shoved his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders. "Could be a harpy, I guess."

"Let's go," Dean said.

o

They interviewed Ellie's aunt, her father's sister, Amanda Brewster, that very afternoon. Her sitting room with its white carpet and white upholstered furniture and white fireplace was one long rectangle of light, too pale and too bright after the dark day outside. She reclined on her white leather sofa with one leg crossed over the other and a glass of sherry in her hand, the red alcohol and her plum dark nails a splash of color. Her lipstick was clumsily slashed across her mouth and her eyes were tightly strained but other than that you wouldn't know she was recently bereaved.

Ellie was an orphan: her mother had committed suicide when she was fourteen and her father had died in a car crash on New Years Eve her senior year of high school..

Amanda was happy to tell them about her suspicions of foul play where her brother was concerned. He was so brilliant and so successful and so many people were just looking for an opportunity to tear him down. A business rival must've cut his break line, she said, and it could've been proven had his Porsche not gotten crushed like a soda can when he'd gone over the cliffside. They said he'd been drinking but he'd only had a couple glasses of wine at dinner and he'd always been an excellent driver. He was a wonderful man. Poor Ellie. A troubled girl. She seemed to have inherited her mother's instability.

Amanda seemed more torn up over her brother's death three years prior than her niece's savage killing in the last twenty-four hours. A bear must've done it, she said. Dragged her up a tree, did it? She'd warned her about hiking in those woods but that was all the girl wanted to do when she was back in town. She blamed her entirely for the tensions with her father in the year before he died. The girl made up all kinds of terrible things for attention.

Sam didn't have to ask what things. He shared a look with Dean and this time he knew they'd both reached the same conclusion.

They were done with her quickly.

They got back in the car in the grey daylight that was so much more solid than the artificial brightness of the house and for a long moment Dean did nothing but stare straight ahead, unnaturally still.

"MO hasn't changed," Dean said. "It's going after anybody who hurt family."

"That's kind of a leap," Sam said. "What do we really know about the Huntsmans? About these people? Besides a creepy house and what a fake priest told us and now this...awful woman (he shouldn't say bitch, should he?). Besides, even if you're right, it'd mean one guy summoned them to go after his abusive relatives and after they were done with them they went after a girl who might've murdered her scumbag dad."

"Yeah, well, that's revenge for you. Everybody's out for their own pound of flesh for their own reasons and it all makes perfect sense to them somehow."

"So you think it's some kind of vengeance demon?"

"You remember those Greek harpies? The ones that were in those comics--oh, I'm sorry, graphic novels--that you were obsessed with?"

"Pretty sure you read the The Sandman more times than I did."

"You cried at the ending."

"No, that was also you."

"The Fur-"

"Don't say it. Just in case. I mean. If there's a chance in hell that you're right, you shouldn't say their names. The lore says that's the way to draw their eye to you. It's a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named kind of thing."

He expected Dean to say something even more spectacularly hypocritical about Sam being a nerd, but Dean only shifted the Impala into drive and pulled away from the curb. He switched the radio on and it was Nirvana this time, come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be..

"So you think we got a reason to worry?" Dean said.

"Maybe. But there've been no confirmed sightings of them in centuries, maybe millennia. And they were a big deal, from what little's come down to us. Even the gods were scared to get on the wrong side of them. You really think one psychic boy could summon them out of whatever hole had been holding them for that long and put them on a leash?"

"He had some kind of super special magic knife, didn't he? And he might've had help from whatever serious mojo our fake priest is working."

Sam watched Dean's face closely to see if he could detect any increased repulsion when he mentioned Notaras. He noticed nothing.

"Fine," Sam said. "Guess that's where we're gonna get started on the research."

o

Late that afternoon and it was dark, under heavy clouds that were finally threatening rain and Dean was searching the Men of Letters archives on the laptop, lying on his stomach on the bed, and his expression said he was absorbed in what he was reading if not exactly riveted. Not complaining about doing the reading, even for appearance's sake. His back exposed, vulnerable and unsuspecting. Or he was putting on an act to draw Sam out and Sam was the unsuspecting one--but no, that wasn't so likely, with how raw and volatile Dean's emotional state had been lately. If he suspected that he'd lost Sam on top of everyone else, that he was truly alone, it was difficult to believe that he'd be able to bottle up his reaction so well. Maybe he was just slipping into sullen silence because Sam had hurt his feelings and because he still wasn't feeling well and because he hated being weak.

Sam told him that he was going to the library to look through the microfiche copies of the local paper and search for other suspicious deaths or altercations or contested wills or whatever might count as a blood betrayal to a classical vengeance deity, to see if he could predict who the next victim was likely to be if Dean's theory panned out.

"Yeah, knock yourself out," Dean said in his vaguely half-listening voice, without looking up from the screen. "Pick us up a sixpack and something to microwave on your way back."

He drove to Notaras' cabin. Knocked on the door.

"Please, don't hesitate, it's open." Notaras' high soft professorial voice carried clear as a bell through the door, over the sound of the wind and the sea and the first drops of rain.

Notaras was waiting for him, sitting in an armchair. He was wearing an elegantly tailored double-breasted suit with a royal blue pocket handkerchief, attire that reminded Sam of a Man of Letters. Other users of soul magic, capable of manipulating time with it, and he tucked that thought away for later. He looked younger. His jawline wasn't sagging nearly so much. His hair was thicker, a glossier silver. His eyes were bright under their heavy lids. The living room was the same, dim and dusty and stuffed with books and instruments and cobwebs, the swarm of spiders busy at their work, the lamplight not reaching the corners or the gaps between bookshelves. The wind whooshing against the siding, whistling between the cracks; the rain speckling the window panes. He'd put a jazz record on the turntable and the plinking notes harmonized with the plinking raindrops. On a coffee table, an uncorked bottle of Mandilaria and a wine glass with a few dark red drops clinging to the rim.

"Getting ready to go out?" Sam asked him.

"In a manner of speaking. I can't let Father John Notaras live much longer. I've already laid a trail of heart ailments so that no one will be too shocked when I slip quietly away after I doze off reading The Brothers Karamazov--or perhaps writing my next mystery, to forever go unsolved. A lovely death. More people should be so lucky."

"So you're making a run for it?"

"Oh, no. Not yet, not until I've cleaned up this mess. I know about that poor girl, Ellie. She won't be the last."

"This town must be pretty damned murderous already, if it's gonna keep the kindly ones satisfied."

"The sisters won't limit themselves to one town once they get the scent of juicier meat elsewhere. That's why we've got a ticking clock."

"Gettin' a little ahead of yourself, if you think there's a 'we'-"

"Why else would you be here? You don't know how to kill me, even if one of those cursed bullets would do the trick, and you're not going to risk it. You're scared of me and you're desperate enough to come to me for help because there's something else that scares you more."

"I can't feel fear."

"I don't think that's true. I've dealt with your kind before and you're hardly above such a base animal instinct. It's all fear drive, hunger drive, sex drive; whatever you've been repressing the most, that's the first to boil over."

"I'm not like the others."

"You mean because you can keep a leash on your id? I've met others like that too. A fascinating phenomena, soullessness."

Sam nodded, taking that in a moment. Notaras knew too much about him and that gave him the upper hand, even more than the magical power that he wielded.

"It would only make sense to be afraid of you. I've met others who could tap their own souls for power, but nothing less than an angel that could do what you did to my brother. It was amazing. Did anyone teach you? Were you ever involved with the Men of Letters?"

"I've been a lot of things. Holy man, witch, philosopher, botanist, composer, collector, author, etcetera. Yes, I've been a Man of Letters. The first time was in the mid-seventeenth century, Prague--it was a newly established chapter, charmingly naive; we did little besides imbibe hashish and wine and argue about the cosmic order and our place in it--but we did perform a few successful experiments using the new astrological discoveries. They set their sights so high. I admired that. The whole order--I was around for its founding and I didn't think much of it at the time. Silly little men stumbling across things not dreampt of by their small-minded philosophies and carrying on like they had proprietary rights to the discovery. Typical Western arrogance. But they grew on me, because I've always had a liking for hubris. They had Promethean daring, you know? I'm almost sad to see what's become of them." Notaras arched an eyebrow, his smile quizzical. "Why do you want to know? It's really not anything you could learn, the way you are now. Under different circumstances, I might've been delighted to teach you. You have power in your blood, I can feel it. But it's a base, borrowed thing that can't make up for what you've lost."

"With all your power, you still need me."

"You and your brother." Notaras rose from his chair and ambled a few steps towards Sam. "So what will it take?"

"I need you to do something for me. I need to get out--not just pack up and leave, but erase myself completely--from my old life. That's what you do right? Live a few decades as one person, then you shed that skin and invent a new life, a new identity. It's quite the Houdini act and it's just what I need. If I handle the kindly ones for you, will you help me disappear?"

"This really wasn't what I had in mind," Notaras said, looking pensive and almost downcast. "I was hoping you'd help me out of the goodness of your heart and I wouldn't have to meddle further. But that ship has sailed now, hasn't it?"

"Yeah, it has," Sam said. "So what can my brother and I do that an ancient witch chasing the soul-power dragon can't?"

"That's for you to decide, but I do have a suggestion for you."

Notaras turned on his heel, walked down the short hallway and into the kitchen. Sam followed. Notaras switched on the light. He had a woman tied to a chair, inside a devil's trap drawn in red marker on the linoleum. A demon, black eyed and seething in her bonds, spitting around her gag. Dark hair and nails and heavy eyeliner and leather jacket, reminding him enough of Ruby that he wondered if Notaras had done it deliberately. Panicked, she jerked her head towards Sam and then back towards Notaras as he circled around behind her. Notaras picked up a paring knife from the cutting board where he'd been coring an apple, wrapped the length of her hair around his fist, yanked her head back and pressed the blade to her jugular. Her beautiful throat gleamed white under the fluorescent light. Blood throbbed in her carotid artery.

"How would you like to do this?" Notaras asked, his tone light and eager and curious. "It's been a while since I exsanguinated a human. I would prefer to make as little mess as possible--well, damn, now I'm wishing I'd put down a tarp. How long will it take you to drain her?"

Sam hadn't been expecting this, exactly, but it didn't throw him either. This was how Notaras thought he could get a hook into him now that he couldn't appeal to the usual emotional weaknesses. Notaras was again looking at him like he was a rodent in a cage, a lab experiment being made to choose between the food and the pleasure buttons.

It did surprise him just how little tempted he was.

"Don't bother," Sam said. "I'm not gonna do it."

"Really?" Notaras said, crooking one side of his mouth and tilting his head. "I know you are an unusual specimen, but are you really still trying to cling to some ethical code? Don't worry, this poor woman has been possessed since at least a few apocalypses back and the demon riding her is a real piece of work--one of Azazel's old guard, you know--she's taken a lot of internal damage and wouldn't survive an exorcism."

"It's not that. I don't see why it would even work against the kindly ones. I used my powers, back when I had them, to fight demons. The kindly ones aren't really demons, are they?"

"Little is known about their true natures. They were trapped in a pocket of Hell not unlike Lucifer's Cage, as I understand it. Are they demigoddesses or monsters or damned, demented human souls? I've always suspected it might be the last. In any case, it wouldn't hurt for you to try."

"You're wrong," Sam said. "It might hurt a lot. I'm not letting that...thing take me over. I don't want to be dependent on it. I don't want to be dependent on anything or anyone ever again."

"It's hard to gain power without becoming dependent on anything or anyone."

"I'm not interested in power."

"Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power," he quoted Seneca, smile widening with only a slight curl of mockery. "Very well, if you won't be moved." He set the knife down and Sam reached inside his own jacket on instinct for Ruby's knife so he could kill the demon, but Notaras started reciting the Rituale Romanum and Sam found he didn't have it on him anyway. Dean had it. That wasn't cause for panic, but he didn't like it much. It occurred to him that he still had Psyche's knife and that it meant something that Notaras hadn't made a grab for it yet. He really wanted Sam's cooperation to be at least pseudo-willing.

The demon smoked out around the gag. The body gave a few convulsions and fell limp. Notaras murmured an incantation and the corpse caught fire, was swallowed within seconds by dragonishly long tongues of flame, a bright orange and red glow and a plume of oily dark smoke carving out the sharp planes and deep hollows of Notaras' face, his eyes reflecting the fire. He walked around the flames carelessly, close enough to brush them with his sleeve. The smell of smoke and fresh meat getting flash-charred was filling the kitchen. Sam retreated with Notaras back to the living room where the smoke couldn't seem to penetrate. There must be some kind of containment enchantment on the kitchen where Notaras practiced his magic. Notaras brushed his hand down his sleeve.

"You seem to be pretty up on the stuff me and my brother have gotten mixed up in," Sam said. "Kind of hard to reconcile with this quiet retiring life you've been living."

"I've done my reading on you. Like I said, I'm a witness. You can't live as long as I have without realizing how important it is to be a witness to history--and you, my boy, are a most notable part of history."

"Demonblood wasn't in the books." Or that's what Chuck had told him, I was afraid it would make you look unsympathetic, but then again Chuck had been even less upfront about his nature and his intentions than Notaras was being right now.

"Who said anything about books? I prefer entrails. Messier than tea leaves or the Tarot, but I'm old fashioned like that."

"So what next?" Sam asked, watching the rain now furiously lashing the windowpanes. The wind whistled keenly; the next jazz riff was dominated by a bass saxophone. "Was getting me hopped up on demon blood your only plan?"

Notaras took a moment to answer, refilling his wineglass to the brim, wordlessly offering to pour a glass for Sam, which he again declined.

"Of course not. It was a gamble, an experiment. The plan is to summon a god. The god who banished the sisters in the first place." With one long swallow that made his Adam's apple bob, he drained his glass by a third.

"This god scares you," Sam said. "That's why you want us to do it."

"Even without empathy, you're remarkably astute."

"Do you have history with this god? He pissed at you or something?"

"Or something."

"So which one is it?" He consulted his foggy memories of the Oresteia."Apollo, Athena?"

"Apollo. He's the more...susceptible. He's not impossible to negotiate with. He has wants and weaknesses and he has been known to become attached to humans."

"Like he was attached to you?" A slight flicker of Notaras' eyes told Sam that he'd guessed right.

"We have history."

Sam stared at him for a few more seconds of mute frustration. He still didn't have enough intel to make up for even half the advantage that Notaras had on him.

"What did you do that drove Thomas Huntsman away? That made him finally crack?"

"I would never hurt him."

"But you're blaming yourself for it--or why are you so desperate to clean up your mess and to put everything to do with it in the rearview? So what did you do? It had to have been you. Thomas didn't just put all that pain in a box and carry on with his life for years only to go postal one day out of the blue. Something had to have finally pushed him past the brink and it sounds like you were the only one in his life who had that kind of power. You found him when he was at his lowest, you gave him a place to belong, you were the first person to really care for him, you told him he could do some good with the powers he was so scared of, and you were even masquerading as a friggin' priest--you had God on your side. So how'd you fuck it all up?"

Notaras' eyes hardened and his smile thinned, edges sharpening. "I never would have encouraged him to go chasing revenge, not at the cost of his life, his soul. If I had known he'd needed it so badly I would've given it to him, but not like this."

"So you did all the surrogate daddying right and your protege still rebelled against you, Anakin Skywalker style?"

"What do you care?"

"I want to know who I'm dealing with. The last person you let get close to you, you must've done something to really screw him up while convincing him--and maybe yourself--that you just wanted to help him. I'm soulless, not crazy, and I'd be insane not to have reservations about you."

"Let's have it then." Notaras had drained his glass again but he didn't set it down. He was holding it tightly enough that Sam saw a pale gleam of knucklebone. The glass must be sturdier than it looked. "Who do you think I am? Not what--you'll get no further on that tonight. Who am I, as one person to another?"

Sam only had to pause a few seconds to consult the profile he'd been splitting his focus to put together. "You're intelligent, hyper-focused, moderately compulsive; an addiction-prone escapist who's always running from the past. Like most people who've reached your age and skill-level, you can display narcissistic tendencies. You don't bother with eternal youth because you consider yourself superior for more profound reasons and you like using your age to patronize people. Your ability to care for others is almost as stunted as mine is, but for some reason you insist on clinging to the few attachments you think you still have."

Notaras smiled and ducked his head slightly in what looked like rueful acknowledgement. "Are you certain none of that was projection?"

"Maybe, maybe not. But when you tapped my brother's soul, I saw your true face-"

"There's no such thing."

"And I'm used to monsters who feel the need to hide what they are under bespoke suits and polite diction and some imaginary code of conduct."

Notaras' smile vanished in a blink and his quiet voice was full of ice and vinegar. "If you think I'm a monster and if you still have the sensibility to be scared of me, then maybe you should watch your godsdamned mouth."

Sam smiled, buoyed by a small bubble of triumph, better than he'd felt since those first dizzying moments of relief after his soul had departed. "Let's leave it there tonight, then. My brother will be wondering where I am. He's not at the top of his game after that number you did on him, but I think he's starting to suspect something. I can't do much about that without getting into hot water with the kindly ones, but maybe you--"

"You had better be on your way," Notaras said. Sam must've struck a real nerve. How interesting. "The clock is ticking. You need your brother's willing cooperation, so go get it."

Sam retreated to the door, gave Notaras a last look, saw that his smile had returned but it was crooked and tight, his eyes like ice, his mask patchily painted on.

He went out into the rain.
Tags: fanfiction, tv: supernatural
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