Also: Half Past (Sam POV to Thirteen)
Rating: R - Outside POV - Gen - hurt!Dean - abducted!Dean
Spoilers: General to all aired ep in USA
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: An unnatural kind of serial killer decides to make Hunters its victim of choice...
After living past the allotment of two natural lifespans, his existence had left very little to look forward to.
While happiness depended on the steady flow of his anticipation, he couldn’t help feeling a certain gloom whenever he approached the end. He worked for no higher power and what he culled had no selling price to the common man. The essence of others did not nourish his flesh nor did it enhance to it. The prolonged arc of descent had begun long before he'd learned the consummate art of possession. Although the pinnacle of his labors would produce a thirteenth addition to be secreted away inside his chest, it would also bring the hunt back to its start. There was a gnawing anxiety that the next acquisition would not be as appealing. There was the giddy optimism that the next find would be something wholly different; something he’d never known even to hope for.
He frowned and turned his attention to the body that lay covered under the stained sheet.
Every good collector knew you never broke up a set.
It had been a very long time since the phone call. While he had not cared for the high-pitched ringing, he nervously expected to hear the noise rip through the peaceful calm again and again. Curious at the silence, he'd retrieved it from the pile of the boy’s clothes and placed it on the desk where he could watch it. When the device remained quiet he imagined the other hunter on the line’s opposite end. He could picture the man advancing closer to his location as inexplicably and stealthily as the signal that had found the telephone. He had spent the hours of the between walking through the rainy woods that surrounded the forgotten shambles of the house. Standing as still as the black shapes of the trees he watched the nearest mountain pass and saw nothing but the occasional rumbling passage of logging trucks. There was no sign of any vehicle slowing to search for the unmarked dirt roads that lead into the forest. Leaving the wind of asphalt behind, he observed his own home for a great while, hearing nothing but the frigid rain drip through the leaves.
He looked grimly out the darkening window.
Hunters did not have need of an address to find what they wanted. The invitation he’d extended by allowing the brothers to speak had appeared to have been discarded. Now with the twilight deepening behind the clouds, there was no evidence that the sibling would arrive to be obtained. He would have to be content with what was already on the table.
Nevertheless, he found himself extraordinarily irked by this particular specimen. It behaved nothing like the rest of the collection had before removing what he wished to keep. Dean did not sleep when demanded unless large hands squeezed over his mouth and eyes so hard that knuckles ached. He’d had to apply the method so often that it on longer refreshed him in turn, but instead began to weigh his limbs heavy with fatigue. Despite all his efforts, the incapacitation never seemed to last as long as he was accustomed to. Several applications of ink had been smeared by an unexpected lurch of a meddlesome hand, causing the fine hone of his concentration to be infuriatingly broken. What was to be an already arduous undertaking turned into an even more tedious chore.
His disposition had dampened like the sputtering flames in the dim hearth. He’d let the fire dwindle as his mood spiraled downwards. The cold crept up through the walls and across the floor as surely as his foul temper spread through his veins.
The room brightened gradually as he relit the candles one by one.
The hunter’s eyes were open when he pulled back the sheet from his face. He wondered if the boy had slept at all while he had been away. More likely he’d denied himself the bliss of the void in favor of staring into the dark. The blue ink that decorated his flesh appeared black with the lack of firelight. The pallor of his skin was stark white against the intricate weave of designs, his breathing a labored wheeze as he forced his sluggish lungs to keep drawing in air. The network of lines and circles strayed and flowed down over his hips and legs. The drawings wound up the belly and chest, uncoiling over the collar bone and stopping to curl like unchecked ivy around his throat.
There was still work left to be done.
Muscles stiffened as his arm was lifted. Dean tried to stifle a groan when the knife slit his wounded wrist again to bring another gush of fresh blood. The recent damage had not had time to begin healing, drying and filling the room with its heavy scent. He dragged a chair closer so he could rest his sore back while the jar slowly filled. Admiring the artwork crusting on the hunter’s forearm, he positioned the wrist firmly so no drop would be wasted on the floor. Dean dully watched the blood run down the sides of the glass like rivets of water. His breath stuttered in his throat as the sheet was peeled away from the wounds that marked his body. Consulting the open books, he propped the diagrams up against the boy’s thigh. Holding an unpainted hand in his own, he turned it over to study the callused palm.
He applied the razor edge of the blade first. Delicate cuts as shallow as carving paper had to be precisely placed. The trembling hand stilled as he began, his own fingers laced between the hunters to prevent the interference of a fist.
The sound of the husky voice surprised him. Although Dean’s energy was vanquished, his mind seemed to be present enough for speech. The others usually were lost in sleep by now. By the time they allowed themselves to shut their eyes, they rarely ever opened them again.
“H-Hands,” Dean's tongue worked to moisten cracked lips. “Always hurt the worst.”
Pride brushed his lingering irritation away, and he smiled gently as he made the next small incision.
Of all flesh with unlimited capacity for pain, the hands were strangely the most susceptible. Man’s sensitivity to the touch of silk was as keen as to the bite of metal. It seemed fitting that this hunter chose to voice his pain for this final detail. Among the many arts of fortunetelling he’d come across, Chiromancy was the one that intrigued him the most. The grooves worn into the palm supposedly foretold destiny. The folds that stretched down the center and eventually broke off to either direction towards the wrist were sign posts of doom and salvation. This hunter’s lines were broken over and over again.
The physicians and poets of the ages always proclaimed the human nucleus to be in many places. The third invisible eye at the center of the forehead. The core of the beating heart. The phallus. The womb. However, his books revealed that a man could only give something away in the same manner in which it was received.
The hands were always done last.
When the final brush of dye had been applied over the wounds, he rearranged the hands to rest palms up at the boy’s sides. After making sure each was positioned flawlessly, he withdrew with a quavering exhale of triumph.
"Good." Was all he could say.
“Am I dead yet?”
“No,” he answered. “Not yet.”
His smile grew wider at the perfection of his renderings.
The brush strokes had begun to draw his prize to the surface, like condensation appearing on a water glass. It glowed under the skin, faintly igniting the patterns he’d carefully placed over the shoulders and arms. The soft luminescence trailed in the twisting paths down the hips and legs, flowing back upwards under his jaw and spreading over his face.
“What...,” the hunter could barely breathe. “What-what the hell did you do—“
“It’s very beautiful isn’t it?”
By this phase the flesh was already settled far into agony. The hunter's natural tolerance for suffering had waxed and waned in the time it took for his ministrations to end. He had seen men like this cry like children when the separation began to take them. Elaborate pleading or no, the torment of the impending change was evident. He’d always envisioned their abdomens pulled wide open-- insides gaping while the mind’s fluids still circulated, forcing the senses to take in every detail.
It wasn’t time yet, but he wanted to examine what would be his.
The shimmer of lines were easily disturbed across the skin, brushed into each other like strands of gossamer thread. He swirled them until they moved under his fingers, pulling them like twine, twisting them until they began to rise off the breathing canvas and glisten in the air. Using his forefinger like a spindle he wound the threads up slowly, gathering up the design. The pattern on the hunter’s body constricted as it was pulled taut, eagerness shifting the gentle tug into a savage pull. With a ragged cry, the painted palms twitched into closed fists. He wanted to hold one small piece of it before he owned it completely. He wanted to taste its burn.
As soon as he yanked upwards he knew something was wrong.
The invisible filaments stretched too tightly and arched the boy’s back off the table. Staring down at the glimmering mass in his hands, he blinked in baffled confusion. It roiled and dripped through his fingers as he floundered to maintain his grip. He felt the prize draw back from where it had been wrenched and about to unravel. With a pant of confusion, he hopelessly tried to keep it from disappearing back into the hunter, but it wouldn’t break free.
It was maddeningly close.
He could feel it as he had every other. The radiance of it seared into his hands and flooded the room with a dull smolder like a sun just set. Dread momentarily surged and surpassed all of his simmering ecstasy.
He faltered back one step and attempted to gather his wits.
Difficulties like this had been encountered before. Each being that had been laid out on his table had been different and more than a few had exhibited disquieting discrepancies. Being an expert in the quality of his finds, he immediately recognized an abnormality when he found one.
His aggravation with this hunter rose moderately.
As intelligent as hunters were, they were often very stupid. While they comprehended that there was no such thing as the impossible, they weren’t always smart enough to find themselves a way out. More than once, his efforts had been hindered by claims staked by some other party. It was galling to find someone else’s signature on something that now rightfully belonged to him.
However, he was a professional.
He’d seen mutations of certain varieties housed within the shells of human beings and more besides. He’d had women venomously swear to him that they had no soul to take. He’d listened to men tearfully regale how their soul had been sold already. These pathetic people might as well have declared that they walked with no heart to churn their blood, or spoke with no brain to direct their tongues. No sale was final until the body had been abandoned to rot. His prey’s desperation made them into poor liars, but even if there was some truth to the question of propriety, it was never much of a problem.
A promise made to a devil or a saint made no difference to him.
The hunter shifted under him, throat working in disgust as large shriveled hands lifted a knee to trace the path of the meandering ink. The extraction for what lay shimmering inside the hunter’s vessel required one finishing specification. That last step was the simplest. It didn’t entail much sweat on his part other than torturous wait through the hours of darkness for another dawn to break. Much of his daylight had been already spent watching the road for the other to arrive.
The rest he'd spent digging.
With a stifled grunt, he lifted the hunter off the table. Age had diminished his lumbering frame but it still held most of his strength. The front door swung open noisily on its hinges, and clattered closed behind him. The thin sheet he had draped over the boy’s body didn’t do much against the chill of the early morning dark. Walking through the wet weeds he stopped before he reached the neat rectangular hole he’d cut into the ground.
It had been difficult with the rain and rocky nature of the soil but he had dug a space with enough width to contain a sturdy pine box. He had excavated deep enough that the box would sit safely underground where the taking could carry on uninterrupted. It was possible to rip it free without the messy business of all the digging, but he preferred the ease in which bringing a body near death lent his task. A slow demise was always ideal despite his impatience. Much as he would like to end this boy's tenacious life and be done, outright murder would send that which he craved too far out of his grasp. The soul was at its most vulnerable when it hovered suspended between the realms of heaven and hell. Unanchored, the prize was up for grabs for anyone waiting in ready to take it. The state of half death was also where contracts could be broken as easily as they had been formed.
He had considered many options in the past but live burial was by far the most logical and efficient means. All it required was more strenuous work that made his back twinge, and his shoulders throb.
It was awkward to climb down into the hole with the body, so he laid the hunter on its edge before he got in himself. The sheet was quickly soaked with the fall of rain, the fabric turning translucent and baring the severe relief of the indigo ink underneath. It was a marvel that no dampness could ruin the marks now. The blood and dye that should have colored the sheet with its pigment stayed fast where it has been applied. The hunter was no longer attempting to rein in his fear when he was lowered into the pit. Realization brought his breath to short gasps, his body jerking uncooperatively into the wooden box cradled on the uneven bottom. When his head hit the split planks, he did something none of them had ever done before. Not one of them had ever remained awake this long, but certainly not one of the prior finds had managed to achieve significant motion.
The boy was half way to sitting up, his hands gripping each side of the tight confines. His face was drawn into a weak rage, his fight becoming more desperate as he realized it was useless. It was an easy gesture to smooth the hair back from the sweating forehead and force him backwards. His frantic eyes became duller and the steadfast flicker of his will faded as the consuming touch ate at him. He wanted to tell Dean that no agony could last longer than it could be conceived, but that was an untruth he had no desire to tell. He also wanted to assure the hunter that that sort of cruelty held no interest for a true collector.
Feeling the eyes moving under the closed eyelids, he brushed a fingertip across a swollen lower lip that had been bitten bright red. Whipping the sopping sheet free, he shoved the arms down into the scarce space at the body’s sides. The hammer and nails were sitting next to the dirt caked shovel.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Dean.”
Even after dropping the heavy slat of sealing wood into place, the hunter did not give up on the attempt to free himself. With no room to raise a fist, the body writhed in the limits of its internment. The weak thuds continued even after the hammering had stopped. It went on even as each sopping pile of wet earth was heaped onto its lid. It was a profound satisfaction when the muted sounds were finally obscured.
After he’d packed the mud smooth with the flat of the shovel, he righted himself and took a deep breath. The forest was oddly hushed around him as he trudged back through the tangle of vines and bushes. The cloudy sky above seemed to hold back the drizzle of rain until just an icy mist fell. The dark interior of the house turned his concerns towards rekindling the dying fire. As he fractured branches across a knee, he felt all his worries dissipate with the growing warmth of the crackling flames.
The brief contact with the hunter’s misshapen soul would not leave the circle of his thoughts.
Pushing the troublesome issue of possible hindrances aside, he decided to enjoy his evening. Once he’d completed every word of the rites he would be rewarded as he had every other time. One day from now, he was sure he’d even smile nostalgically about this outlandish addition and the trails he had endured to obtain it. The tribulations would be an entertaining story he could retell himself when the memory of the nuisance had passed.
Soon none of the nonsense of binding contracts would matter anymore. He settled back into a chair and closed his eyes to the chaotic conflagration dancing in the hearth.
At dawn he would cheat them all.
There was no memory of agreeable dreams or sense of rejuvenation when his eyes opened once again.
The familiar disarray of the living space was exactly as he had left it. The act of slumber provided nothing but a lag in time and a vague discomfort when feeling gradually returned to his bent skeleton. He sometimes used a mattress that had been left behind somewhere on the second floor of the house, but the putrefying box springs had long ago become unnecessary in favor of the seat by the fire.
Before he had drifted off to the sound of the sap hissing and popping in the hearth, he’d taken time to celebrate his approaching triumph. He’d taken a large joy in laying the hunter’s personal belongings out. The items he’d chosen not to toss away were the most excellent of what little there was to be had. The leather jacket was interesting but not as extraordinary as the amulet. A wallet of paper money wasn’t of any consequence compared to the scratched zippo with the blackened wick and worn thumbwheel. It would be a far greater pleasure to designate places to fit the objects in with the others that sat arranged on the floors and walls.
He was nauseous with excitement when he opened his door.
The path through the woods seemed clear and vivid despite the gloom of the gentle gray storm that billowed overhead. His gaze fell onto the litter of rusty junk that sat scattered amongst the undergrowth. There was debris left over from the area that had once been used for farmland. The tipped wheels of an antiquated tractor stuck out of the tall weeds out in the midst of other decayed equipment. There was even an old open well sitting somewhere in the withered wild flowers for any passerby to stumble into its rocky depths. The previous owners of the derelict farm had also left several cars to corrode between the trees.
One of them had a license plate still attached by one bolt to its dented fender. The numbers and letters on it were still visible through a thick layer of green mold.
If they couldn’t find a way out of the mazes of their own making, they were always looking for a trail of crumbs no matter who left it behind. He wondered how Dean had had time to notice the old set of plates, let alone memorize its information in the dark trip from the pickup to his threshold. Parting the dripping branches, he shook his head in a begrudging fondness for the boy’s fortitude.
The sight of the muddy clearing gave him pause.
The level pile of dirt he’d left the previous night had been disturbed.
Walking closer he found that the surface soil wasn’t just removed. The shallow grave he’d created had been completely unearthed. The pine box on its bottom that he’d left nailed shut was still there. The rain pooled on its sides as if the box had been exposed all morning long. There were sharp gauges across the lid from a tool that had struck across its surface. One side was splintered in pieces from something wedged under to pry it open.
Tossing the lid back, he felt his vision dull and redden in horror.
It was empty.
When he heard the crack of a branch behind him he felt elation despite the dread his intellectual mind rationally provided. He turned slowly to savor the sight he knew he would not have long to absorb.
Another hunter was there standing at the forest edge.
Dirt streaked the broad span of his cheekbones and rain drenched clothes. His gaze locked on his target with the professional candor missing. It was purpose that had driven this hunter out into another predator’s territory, a passion he once might have found enticing, but there was nothing but the keen edge of fear that filled him now. The tall hunter did not speak, only breathed in and out. He could hear the waver of his exhale containing the fury that burned behind his steady gaze.
There would be no demands. Not even a chance to flee. The child before him was shrewd and cunning. The forest floor had been marked, beset with the scrawling shapes of runes that made him gasp and choke as he struggled to lunge forward. The deafening repeat blasts of the shotgun were like powerful blows of a fist. He blindly charged forward, his own ferocity at being denied his prize igniting his wrath. His clumsy gait hurled their bodies through the acrid smoke. Eye to eye, the hunter stared back with gritted teeth as they shook in deadlock. He could feel the heat of blood pounding through feverish skin, the light smoldering inside the boy making his grip harden on the straining arms.
He growled in outrage as his feet slid backwards in the muck.
The crushing grip was too strong. The effects of the wards were too potent and strange. With a cry he was flung backwards onto the ground, his brittle spine and skull cracking against upturned stones and jagged rock. The inconceivable pain silenced his mad shouts, his vision clouded by rainwater as he peered up at the looming figure above him. The promise that blazed behind the hunter’s eyes made even the cold flesh on his bones shudder. There would be no compromises or concessions. Like any prey, you did not attempt to address with what you were about to destroy.
Sam Winchester hefted a rusted bucket from the ground at his side.
He lurched backwards as the deluge hit, the overwhelming reek of gasoline searing his eyes and running into his nose and mouth. He smiled as another wash of liquid splattered against his face. Blinded he felt the edge of the grave behind him crumble as he fell heavily down onto the shattered remains of the box.
The scratch and hiss of the match made him still.
As the exquisite heat rapidly engulfed him, he felt the pleasant warmth of it saturating his skin. Slowly, he crossed his arms over his chest, over what was completely and utterly his. Nothing in the world could part him now from the treasures he loved; what he'd fought so hard to keep. In whatever plain awaited, they would be his comfort. Let the vengeance of the Almighty take him and the entire host of Lucifer feast on his flesh for all time.
As the smoke rose higher, he hoped that the boy could hear his laughter. He knew as his skin blistered and split that what lay within would never wither in any flame no matter how bright or hot it burned. As his phantom shifted sideways into the ether, he hoped the afterlife would not lack what he cherished. While his body crumbled to ashes, he wished for endless horizons in which he was free to reap all the glittering light he wanted.
It would be a very shiny place.
He was sure of it.
Also: Half Past (Sam POV to Thirteen)