Flesh Masks

Master of Puppets

Master of Puppets, I'm pulling your strings,

Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams.

Blinded by me, you can't see a thing…


Harry came to with a groan, propped up against the wall, his legs splayed out across the floor in front of him. He tried to touch his aching head, but any motion was prevented by the multiple bungee cords that were wound around his wrists, effectively pinning his arms behind his back. He was willing to bet that, given the warm, sticky sensation that streaked the side of his face, he was bleeding, or had been at some point. His shoulders shook with silent, mirthless laughter.

So much for missing all the action.

Slowly, ever so gently, he rotated his head, peering around the dim room. Even that slight motion had his head throbbing with dull nausea. Gritting his teeth against the faint seasick feeling, Harry continued to survey his surroundings as best he could. Both Winchesters were slumped on the floor next to him, just as banged up as he assumed he was, and just as tied up. A faint orange light dribbled in through a single high window – almost night. In the far corner of the room was a single twin mattress with a thick blanket and a plush pillow. Next to it were a simple wooden desk and a chair, above which swung a bare light bulb.

A faint rustle on the other side of him prompted him to roll his head in its direction. Dean had opened his eyes and was trying to maneuver himself into a sitting position. He hissed as he jostled his head and glared sourly as he finished righting himself.

"Son of a bitch, that hurts," he growled, leaning his head against the wall. Squinting in Harry's direction, he smirked. "That's one hell of an egg you're sporting there, Dresden."

"Look in the mirror, Hot Shot," Harry fired back, relieved that the hunter had enough of his wits about him to be mouthy.

Sam moaned as he regained consciousness. He tried to sit up, but ended up flat on his back, eyes pressed shut in pain. He bared his teeth and concentrated on breathing for a second.

"Easy, Sammy," Dean's back was to his brother, so Harry could see the anguished concern that flashed across his face. It was quickly replaced by grim determination as he slowly turned so that his back was against the wall. "Any idea what got us? From the headache, I'll put money on a witch with a crowbar."

Sam huffed out a pained laugh.

"Somehow, I doubt it'll be that easy."

Harry's shoulders slumped. The younger Winchester was right. Nothing was ever that easy.

"Where were you anyways?" Sam leaned forward to peer at Harry. "We got here, saw your car, and… that's about the last thing I remember."

"I think I know what I got us, 'cause Murph wasn't here when I showed up either." One side of Harry's mouth pulled back and he blew a breath out through his nose. "You're not gonna be happy about it."

Dean opened his mouth to reply, annoyance written clearly across his face, when a muffled thud from the next room signaled that whoever was holding them had returned. Light footsteps crossed the floor and the door swung open. A tall figure was silhouetted in the rectangle of yellow light. Its eyes seemed to catch the light in an eerie way as it reached into the room and flicked a switch.

The bare bulb flared, flooding the room with light and causing all three men to jerk back, accustomed as they had become to the dim room, squeezing their eyes shut against such a simple assault.

Their assailant laughed, stepping into the room. Sam took one look at his face and frowned.

"Hey, I know you. You're that guy. The guy from the elevator."

The man stroked his brown beard and chuckled as he pulled the chair right up to where they were piled against the wall and took a seat.

"Always nice to make an impression, though, in this particular case, I do believe I would've been better off if I hadn't." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "You three have really caused me a lot of trouble, you know. I'm tempted to take it personally."

"Don't flatter yourself," Dean snarled, sneering up at him. "Taking out psychos and their pet monsters is what we do. In the end, you all start to blur together. Not sure we even remember your name."

At the mention of a name, both Harry and Sam stiffened. Sam's brows knit in concentration. He was sure that this guy had told them his name – if he could just remember.

The man very casually backhanded Dean across the face, splitting his stitches and knocking the hunter's head back against the wall. Reaching out, the man grabbed a fistful of Dean's hair and yanked him forward. A smear of blood colored the wall where his head had made contact.

"You're being rude," the man told the dazed hunter. "Anyways, I'm no mere psycho and David wasn't my pet monster." He released Dean's hair and leaned back, letting the hunter flop to the ground. "Honestly, he was starting to become a liability. I don't know whether to hurt you a little extra for killing him or thank you."

Sam had started writhing in his bonds the instant his brother's head cracked against the wall. Abruptly, he noticed that there was more give to the cords than there should be. He stilled and began quietly and methodically rotating his wrists to get free.

Oblivious to his brother's motions, Dean rasped out a rough laugh.

"You gotta know, with him gone, the wizard, my brother, and I are gonna burn your coven to the ground."

The man began to chuckle, shaking his head and looking pityingly at Dean.

"Coven? Is that your working theory?"

He took a breath to continue gloating, but Harry cut him off, ignoring him to talk to the hunter.

"Hate to break it to you, Dean, but all the covens left in this town are clean. This one," he jerked his head at the bearded man sitting in the chair, "is our only guy. And he's a Skinwalker too."

Their captor arched an eyebrow and turned its gaze on the wizard. Slowly, it leaned forward until they were nose to nose.

"Impressive. It seems you're the brains of this scruffy trio."

Harry drew his knees up to his chest and slowly began to push himself up the wall. The Skinwalker merely watched him, smirking slightly.

"Who you callin' scruffy?" the wizard drawled, ignoring the ensuing dizziness, "I do have to do this sort of thing for a living. Besides, once you lured me here using Murph's voice, it wasn't too difficult to figure out. Kinda revealed your hand there. Not too bright, if you ask me. You gave up the element of surprise."

The Skinwalker's mouth twitched. Without taking its eyes off of Harry's face, it lifted one leg and slammed its heel down on top of the wizard's bent knee. They all heard the pop as he collapsed in a heap on the floor. Fighting not to throw up, Harry kept his jaw clamped shut and tried to pretend that he didn't hear the pained sounds that were erupting from his own throat.

Beside him, Dean struggled to sit up, blood oozing thickly down the side of his face. Sam continued to work on loosening the bungee cords that held him, ignoring the scrape of fibers against his chafed skin. The feeling of sticky resistance let him know that he had broken skin. Flaring his nostrils, he kept half an eye on the Skinwalker and kept working. If only he could remember that name.

"It's a funny thing to be called stupid by the men who fell for the most basic of my tricks," the Skinwalker bared its teeth in a not-smile, but Harry cut it off again, glaring up from the floor and panting slightly.

"The hex bags were a pretty good ruse, I'll give you that. But we found you out in the end, didn't we? I'm betting you were a pretty small wizard before you decided to become a full-fledged monster if that's all you could cook up to distract us."

Grasping Harry by the throat, the Skinwalker slowly lifted the wizard off the ground, its eyes taking on their own reddish glow as it smiled that not-smile again. Harry gurgled slightly as it tightened its grip.

"Oh, but it worked, didn't it? You all took a single look at that one bag and made a whole bunch of assumptions – so many that you didn't even notice my little spell sneak its way in there. 'Don't see me'. That was all I had to say and none of you could even hope to find me until I let you."

"You can't take all the credit," Sam called, hoping to goad the Skinwalker into dropping Harry before it crushed his windpipe. "David drew us away from you more than the hex bags. With him gone, it was only a matter of time before we found you, spell or no spell."

Casually, the Skinwalker tossed Harry aside and advanced on Sam, ignoring the wizard's coughing and gasping. Seeing their assailant approach, Sam stopped wiggling his wrists and sat very still. It crouched down so that it was eye level with the tall hunter.

"Poor David. He had a weak mind-"

"Yeah." Sam interrupted, noting the flash of anger in its eyes, "He didn't even bother trying to look human when we killed him. He was so far gone that I'm not even sure he remembered how to talk. How long do you think it'll take before you get to that point?"

"You misjudge me," the Skinwalker laughed, resting clawed fingertips against Sam's chest. The hunter grunted in pain as the monster steadily applied pressure. Five splotches of red blossomed over his shirt as the claws dug in a little further, embedded now up to the first knuckle. "You see, David got caught up in the joy of it all, the rush of power as you pull someone out of their own shell and add them to yourself. You'll find that I'm much more cold-blooded about the whole thing."

Satisfied that its claws were sunk in deep enough, the Skinwalker started to slowly twist. Sam screamed through clenched teeth. The creature just laughed as the sound mixed with Dean's outraged shout.

"Oh yeah?" Sam rasped, coughing. "You're telling me you didn't get off killing your brother and sister?"

"A means to an end. Killing my brother was part of the ritual. Absorbing my sister gave me access to her creative mind. She was always good at strategy."

"Yeah, well," Harry gasped from where the Skinwalker had thrown him, "You're still just a cheap imitation. A real Skinwalker – one of the originals – would have wiped us off of the face of the map by now. You're just a tiny man living off stolen power."

Eyes narrowing, the Skinwalker withdrew its claws from Sam's chest and idly wiped them off on his shirt as it stood. Dean shook his head as he continued his attempt to sit up and hissed at Harry.

"Dude, you got a death wish? Shut up and stay down!"

Giving Sam a vicious kick in the stomach, it crossed over to Harry and kicked him as well, lifting the wizard a few inches off the ground. Harry landed with a wheeze.

"I'll just have to rectify that, now won't I," the creature snarled nastily as it kicked the wizard again. "We felt it, David and I, the night before last. The answer to all our problems. David couldn't handle it, but I-"

"Yeah, yeah," Harry coughed, curled around his stomach. "I'm betting you figured out that what you two felt was the Wild Hunt so now you wanna summon the Erlking and eat him. Haven't you heard the saying, 'Never absorb an energy field bigger than your head'?"

The Skinwalker went absolutely still. Its eyes shone a hectic red as it stared down at the wizard. Still panting in pain behind it, Sam resumed working free of his bonds. Finally upright again, Dean leaned his head back against the wall.

"You really are good at what you do," it said quietly. "But, you know, it's a funny thing. Here I have you, tied up – literally a captive audience – I've beaten all of you to various stages of bloody, and you still have the gall to interrupt me, as if I'm not the one in control here."

"Well, what can I say?" Dean grunted, glaring up at the monster, "You just don't have what it takes. Doesn't matter what you do, what you take, you'll never have that thing that makes people respect you."

The Skinwalker's fist slammed into Dean's face with enough force to knock him back to the floor. Crouching over him, it continued to pound his face and shoulders, breaking skin and raising welts with each strike. The monster made no sound as it beat the hunter, its calm face an unsettling contrast to the frenzied viciousness of its assault.

Finally, with Dean on the cusp of consciousness, the Skinwalker lifted him by his shirt so they were eye to eye. The hunter hung limply in its grip, one eye swollen completely shut. His head lolled to one side as he coughed and blood dribbled from his nose and lips. The Skinwalker pulled him closer.

"You mock, you sneer," it snarled softly, "but I've been inside your head. I've seen your little faerie girl, your fragile 'Lree'. She's the the last piece, you see – the bait. I'll drain her dry while her father watches and then I'll get him too. Think of all that power locked away – and you gave me the key."

"Go to Hell," Dean slurred, mumbling through a mouth sloppy with blood.

The Skinwalker hurled him against the far wall. He bounced and hit the mattress, completely unconscious. It turned towards Harry and casually kicked him in the already injured knee before cutting off his shout of pain by slamming his forehead into the ground. Sam rotated his wrists frantically as the monster turned towards him. One hand was almost free.

The creature planted one booted foot against Sam's chest, causing the hunter to gasp as it applied pressure to the gashes caused by its claws. It pushed him backwards before heading towards the door. It paused and looked back, smirking as it turned out the light.

"Don't go anywhere. I'm bound to be hungry when I get back."

Sam just groaned as he tried to breathe through the burning in his chest. Slumping to the ground, he just barely registered the click of the outside lock before he passed out.

An increasingly familiar shiver twitched down Kess's spine as she searched for the folder full of this month's receipts. She froze and shuddered, rolling her neck before stooping to finish rummaging through her desk. That hunter must have said her Name again, wherever he was.

She really wished he would stop doing that.


She grinned as she pulled out the correct manila folder and nudged the drawer shut with her hip. Turning towards the door, she hesitated. Finally, she blew out a breath and squared her shoulders and headed down the stairs to go over the expenses logbook with her mother.

The room was nearly pitch black when Sam regained consciousness. He winced as he sat up, squinting up at the window. The sunset's light had faded, leaving only the faint glow of outside streetlights to coat the room a dingy yellow. The dark lump on the floor that had to be Harry stirred slightly, but didn't fully regain consciousness. His brother still lay where he had landed on the mattress, a dried bloodstain under his cheek and mouth.

His chest and wrists throbbed but Sam set to work freeing his right hand. Hissing as the thick cord rasped against raw skin, he slipped his hand free and shook off the rest of the bindings. Crawling over to Harry, he untied the wizard and carefully sat him up. Harry groaned and coughed as he lifted a hand to gingerly prod the myriad of bruises on his face. Sam gave him a gentle slap on the back before slowly standing up and shuffling over to check on Dean.

His brother was still breathing, much to Sam's relief, but appeared to be out cold. Frowning in the darkness, he made his way to the doorway and fumbled along the wall until he found the light switch.

"Light incoming," he said as he scrunched his eyes shut.

The bulb snapped to life and Harry grunted, putting his arm up to shadow his face. He blinked as he adjusted to the light and lowered his arm.

Sam's eyes widened and he let out a low whistle. In the illuminated room, he could see that the wizard's throat was swollen and had already started to turn purple with bruising. Dried blood crusted around his nose and mouth and streaked his forehead and neck. Harry's battered lips cracked as he let out a rasping laugh.

"That bad, huh?" he croaked.

Sam shook his head and raised his eyebrows.


Folder tucked under her arm, Kess saw that her mother was waiting for her as she approached. Jenny had the logbook open on the main desk, but seemed distracted as she looked anywhere but at her daughter. Kess sighed and plunked the folder on the desk and flipped it open. As she rustled through receipts, she felt her mother's furtive glances. Kess gritted her teeth.

"Ready, Ma?" She tried to keep her voice even and pleasant.

The two women bent to their task, Jenny speaking low and quickly while Kess kept her replies clipped and efficient. Finally, Jenny looked up.

"I'm sorry, Kess."

"I know," Kess sighed, leaning on the desk. "You said so that night, and yesterday, and this morning."

"Well, I don't know what more you want me to do," Jenny's tone shifted from regretful to annoyed. "How long are you going to try to punish me?

"There's no point in trying to punish anyone," Kess's mouth thinned as she glared at her mother. "I'm just processing everything. That's all."

"And that's why I didn't want you to find out. I wanted to spare you- "

"You wanted to spare yourself, Ma." Kess's voice was hard as she straightened up. "Don't try to fool yourself or me with that excuse. It won't work anymore."

Jenny's shoulder slumped as she looked at her adult daughter. She straightened and re-straightened the papers on the desk, looking absolutely miserable. Kess's eyes softened and she reached across the desk to pat her mother's arm.

"You're still my mom. I'm never going to try and change that," she said gently. "But I do need to work through this in my own head, in my own time. And once I have," her voice grew firm, "I'll have some more hard questions for you."

Jenny gave her daughter a wobbly smile and nodded and the two women returned to balancing accounts.

When Dean finally woke up, every part of him hurt. The room rocked and tilted as he sat up. Everything was blurry and he could only see out of one eye. Heaving himself off the mattress, he lurched across the room and made it to the doorway. Holding himself up against it, he saw Harry slumped in a chair by the kitchen table, one leg propped up while Sam leaned against the kitchen sink, wringing out a bloody dishtowel. In the middle of the table lay their guns, knives, and Harry's blasting rod and bracelet. The overconfident bastard hadn't even bothered to hide their weapons properly.

"Remember what I said earlier about things hurting?" Dean trudged across the room and dropped into a chair. "Scratch that. This hurts."

Sam tossed him the damp towel.

"Here, clean yourself up." His brisk tone masked his relief. "Then we gotta get out of here. We'll have to carry Dresden – That knee isn't going to hold his weight."

"You do look like hell," Dean cheerfully told the wizard as he dabbed at the blood on his face.

"Not nearly as pretty as you, Sunshine," Harry rasped as he wearily refastened the clasp on his shield bracelet. Bruises coated the hunter's face under the blood and one eye was swollen completely shut. His bottom lip was split and swollen too.

Chucking the stained cloth into the sink, Dean's face turned grim.

"Let's get going, Sammy. You heard the creep – Kess is his target. No time to waste hanging out here."

Keeping Dresden between them, the men trooped down to the Impala. Sam continued to wrack his brain. He knew the Skinwalker had told him its Name - Justin, Jared, Jason, J-something.

James. That was it.

Sam smiled an unfriendly smile as they got in the car. Hopefully, he could pull this off.

Kess and Jenny were just closing the logbook when a knocking at the front door caused them to look up. Kess went over to unlock the door and saw a young man with a brown beard on the porch.

"Can I help you?" She asked, opening the door, "I'm afraid we're closed for the night."

"I'm sorry, I know it's late," the man replied. "But Harry Dresden told me that this was a safe place to stay for… people like us." He shot Kess a winsome smile.

Kess glanced back at her mother. Jenny nodded slightly and pulled out the guest log.

"The inn is always open to Harry's friends," Jenny said firmly. "Come in and we'll get you settled."

The man stepped over the threshold and smiled.

"Why, thank you. That is very kind of you."

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