Chapter 20

Dean surfaced out of a very bad dream to a dull ache that throbbed behind his eyes with every beat of his heart.

Someone moaned. The thought sluggishly crossed his mind that it was probably him.

Ugly grating voices synchronized to the throbbing in his head. Dean shrank from them. A sudden, sharp pain that rent a strangled curse from his lips.

His eyes flew open. The ceiling writhed and twitched. It took him several seconds to force the living walls to become shadows cast by firelight. Pain lanced up his arms. He rolled his head to the side to find himself nose to nose with a priest. There was a distinct crook to that nose that Dean sincerely hoped he'd put there.

It fixed its filmy, yellow eyes on his, stretched its lips in a sorry excuse for a grin. It lifted a dull metal bowl, sides smeared with blood, wasn't hard to guess whose. Dean felt it dripping off the tips of his fingers.

Rough stone pressed into his bare back. The altar was no wider than his shoulders; his arms hung down either side, tied to the floor somehow. He felt his ankles secured too. He still had on his jeans. They hadn't stripped him bare. Dean let out a shuddering breath absurdly relieved.

He gritted his teeth, lifted his head. A bonfire burned on a raised platform of stone. The source of the writhing walls. Black smoke billowed and pooled on the ceiling before escaping through a jagged hole. Snowflakes kamikazeed into the low, dancing flames. Through the hole, part of the caved-in roof and a wooden cross hung inverted over the flames. The snow that blanketed it melted, dripping into the fire as if the cross were bleeding.

He watched, horrified, fascinated as tendrils of black smoke coiled down from the base of the fire. It settled on the floor in a dark, oily parody of the snow outside.

Oh my God. Faces bobbed up from the stuff like drowning swimmers. Six of them, gaping mouths vomiting out the chant. Their sunken eyes were all fixed on him sparkling darkly in the firelight.

The coven.

Dean jerked as the tendrils of black smoke snaked quickly up the altar to lick at the soles of his boots. He strained against the ropes.

What's the good news, Dean? Gotta be an up side here. Don't panic. I'm still alive. I'm warm. He swallowed a semi-hysterical laugh at that.

And I'm tied to this slab, instead of Sam.

Dean felt his pulse slow. Abby and Sam were alive. Their original plan could still work; the roles just had to shift a bit. They'd be coming for him. All he had to do was buy them time.

The demon's gurgling laugh came from behind Dean's head. It sent a shiver down his back that totally screwed his newly won calm.

"Please don't struggle. You'll only damage the vessel."

"This vessel is sailin' with me in it, you son of a bitch."

He jerked, startled when Vetis’s rough fingers caressed his shoulder - intimate, possessive. They ran across his bare chest, down his side. A vicious jab when the hand reached the bite mark at Dean's waist forced a yelp past his lips.

"Unfortunate," the demon murmured sounding more like he meant, delightful, or goody. "This always goes so much more smoothly when the chosen one submits of his own free will."

"Don't count on it," Dean growled.

Vetis ignored the comment, his eyes drinking in Dean's body. "Ah, Guardian," he sighed, "It has been too long since I rode a body at its peak." He shifted his gaze to Dean's face. "And this one comes with so many entertaining fringe benefits." The demon went back to examining him, squeezing his calf, testing its firmness through his jeans.

"What's with the guardian crap?" Dean barked out. He had to get the demon talking to stop his touching.

Vetis looked up, brows raised. "Your father kept you completely in the dark." He shook his head. "Had he informed you of your destiny, you might have been better prepared. You might not have left your…" Vetis paused as his lip curled, "… angel-touched brother alone and vulnerable."

"What are you talking about?" Dean tried to clear his head, but his attention kept snagging on the blood still dripping off his fingers, the coven still grumbling the chant. "What destiny? What hasn't my father told me?"

Vetis responded with a smug smile. "Suffice it to say, my father has big plans for your little brother and I have big plans for you."

"Me? You never wanted Sam?" Relief and dread tangled in his mind. He clung to the relief. Not Sam.

Vetis lifted his lips off yellowing teeth. "I would not take your brother and deprive my father of his prize. I interfered once, long ago." His face soured at the memory, then his eyes lit. "But my father will welcome me back riding thisssss..." Vetis ran a twisted fingernail down the side of Dean's face, along his throat then leaned close to whisper, "Your father will not be so pleased with you after tonight." His chuckle dissolved into a gurgling cough.

When Vetis recovered he said, "I'll show you a little of your squandered potential." He reached for the pendant, miraculously still around Dean's neck. "Your talisman. A powerful defense. If only you knew how to use it." He brought his wrinkled lips down to the angel and blew.

Dean hissed in a breath. A wave of aching cold rushed through him. "What the hell was that!" he gasped. Dean expected him to rip the angel off his neck, but Vetis suddenly dropped it and spun away.

"Time grows short!" The demon's voice cracked like a whip. The chant ratcheted up, the cadence quickening with Dean's pulse. The priests materialized at the demon's sides. "You will submit to me of your own free will!"

"Fat chance, old man."

The demon's answering laugh grated like broken glass. The crook-nosed priest drew out a knife, pulled up Vetis's belled sleeve, sliced the demon's skin. Dean's stomach churned as black ichor oozed from the cut. The second priest caught the flow in two bowls, one already half full of Dean's blood. The other he held under the cascade of melting snow coming off the bleeding cross. The bowl filled in seconds. He set it on the ground at Dean's right shoulder.

Vetis began a slow counter-clockwise circle around the altar.

Crook-nose picked up a burning stick by the fire. Tendrils of the unnatural, black smoke leapt to cling to it. He set it down at the corner of the altar at Dean's feet.

This was beginning to look familiar; a twisted parody of Abby's circle around Sam, a Wiccan black mass. Dean remembered Abby's call to Water, Fire, Earth and Air; the beauty and power of it. He felt with uneasy certainty that the demon's version would have far more power and none of the beauty. He shifted on the stone, still finding no play in the ropes that bound him to it.

The priests set a large, flat stone by Dean's left shoulder, a smoldering lump of rank brimstone at his feet. The demon knelt beside the bite mark on Dean's side, took up the bowl of bloody water. "Last chance, Guardian," Vetis said. "Submit to me of your own free will."

"Fu…" Dean began. Hard hands pressed his shoulders down. A vice-like grip forced his jaws open. Vetis raised the bloody bowl and began to mutter a spell.

Dean had only a split second to realize what was about to happen. His eyes flew wide. Vetis tipped the bowl's sickening contents into his open mouth. Dean struggled, choked as his throat filled. When the liquid spilled over his cheeks, down his neck, the priests released him.

Dean turned his head and spat. His mouth immediately filled again. The iron taste of blood, stagnant water, putrid meat rushed down his throat almost before he could clamp off access to his lungs. He spat again.

His mouth filled again.

A choking cough forced the stuff out his nose, sprayed his chest. He struggled, desperate, lungs burning. Black spots danced in his vision. He was drowning.

With his mouth still brimming, reflex forced him to heave in a breath. Pollution flooded his lungs, sent him into coughing spasms.

Dean felt himself dying.

Vetis stopped muttering the spell.

It was over. The fluid in his mouth, filling his lungs, vanished.

When Dean had breath to speak, he lifted his head. "That…all you got?"

Vetis pressed his lips into a thin line. He jerked his head to Crook Nose.

The damaged priest handed Vetis a burning stick from the East corner of the altar. He raised it up, grated out the ugly words of new spell. A black slug of smoke glistened and twisted from the end of the fire brand. The demon dangled it over Dean's calf. With a flick of the wrist, he dropped it.

Dean flinched, cursed. The thing was hot, getting hotter. It writhed up his leg. His jeans smoldered in its wake. Pain stretched him to the point of screaming, but he set his jaws, sucked in gasps through his teeth.

It reached the top of his thigh, red hot cracks opened in its black surface like cooling lava. At his hip, the pain demanded sound. Dean let out a stream of vicious threats.

When the lava slug finally reached the waistband of his jeans, touched bare flesh, Dean flung his head back.

Words dissolved.

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