|Badlands I: Dead Man Meeting
Author: Guede Mazaka
Something jostled up against the table, rattling the notebook that lay in front of Sam and nearly knocking his beer over it. He absently grabbed the bottle, then reached out and smacked. Dean’s shoulder was right where he thought it’d be. “Watch it. Man, it’s a wonder Dad’s notebook ever survived this long.”
“Excuse me? You were the one that almost dropped it in the toilet this morning.” Dean slid into the other side of the booth, his boots kicking up against Sam’s legs. He let his head fall back against the seat and sighed, stretching. “You sure about this? We could keep going back east, maybe even to New York…you could see Sarah. You really gave her a cold shoulder when we left—”
“Dean. Stop.” Sam tightened his fingers around his bottle, pretending he was wringing a certain neck. Then he said to hell with it and just took a swig.
He was sorry for that a few minutes later when he felt the full buzz coming on. The local beer out here packed a hell of a wallop, and he needed to be sober for the meeting with Elkins later. It was bad enough that Elkins had ranted and raved like his and Dad’s parting had been a bad high-school break-up before he’d agreed to it—he was going to be in a shitty mood, and Sam would have to be extra-careful about explaining the situation in a way that didn’t give away the fact that Dean happened to be the vampire under discussion.
“Sorry.” And Dean did sound sorry. Enough so that Sam looked up to catch his brother with a pensive expression on his face. A second later, it began to change, but Dean glanced away before Sam could feel more than a hint of strange, magnetic warmth. “It’s just…you really did like her, didn’t you?”
“She was…nice. But with our lifestyle, and your problem…” Shaking his head, Sam pushed his beer over and took another bite of his sandwich. He hadn’t eaten in nearly seven hours and he really needed to since Dean was due to feed tonight. “Why the hell are you pushing it, anyway? You know that till we get it fixed, I’ve got to stay with you. I can’t go off with Sarah.”
* * *
Sam had a point there, but Dean’s point—and God, did he wish Sam would just get it and not force him to explain it—was that Sam needed something besides Dean to occupy his mind. The “problem” was a big, godawful mess and incredibly unhealthy. Never mind Dean, because if Sam wanted to get out of this with his mind in one piece—and still thinking the right kinds of thoughts—then he needed some more grounding influences in his life.
Sometimes when the curl of hunger was tight in his belly and he couldn’t even look at Sam without wanting that hot sweet pulse in his mouth, Dean almost wished he’d just left Sam a phone message or something. Or not even that. Maybe he just should’ve left Sam at college and gone after Dad by himself.
“Caleb couldn’t tell me too much about this Elkins guy except that he’s an expert on vampires. He only met him once, and only for a couple minutes. Are you sure Dad didn’t ever mention him?” Sam was asking.
Dean blinked, then jerked to attention. He’d drifted off right there, and oddly enough, it hadn’t had anything to do with wanting to shove Sam up against a wall and hating himself for it. Something else was nagging at him. “Nope. But nobody that wasn’t important ever got their number in Dad’s notebook.”
They’d done enough jobs since Dean’s…accident…so that he had to admit he picked up more as a vampire than he ever had as a human. He hated it, but he knew better than to reject a useful advantage just on principle. As much as Sam wanted to think otherwise, principle didn’t keep them alive.
“Nothing at all? This isn’t like with the shtriga, where you—”
“No, Sam, I’m really telling the truth. Dad never said a damned thing,” Dean snapped. He irritably knocked back a good long pull of beer, then put the bottle down on the table hard enough to get a weird look from Sam. Well, Sam could look all he wanted since he’d been the one to remind Dean about the other major mistake he’d made concerning his brother’s well-being. “I still think we should have texted Dad back. Left him some kind of explanation. What if Elkins mentions we’re up here and Dad shows?”
Speaking of looking, Dean did some of that both because that nagging feeling was getting worse and because he didn’t want to look at Sam’s face right now. He scanned the room once and was on his way back when he paused. In the backroom, a guy that looked as if he’d just rolled out of a Harley-Davidson convention was leaning over a pool table. The pile of cash by his elbow was pretty damn big, but he wasn’t looking at it. He was looking at—
“Pinging? Man, did Dad get the part about vampires wrong,” Sam said in a low voice. He had out his phone and was flipping numbers or something. Playing tetris for all Dean knew.
“That’s going to be the first thing out of your mouth whenever we do see him again, isn’t it?” Dean picked up his bottle and gave it a shake, estimating the remaining volume. He casually slung his arm over the back of his seat and put the bottle to his mouth, then slowly tipped it back. There was just enough beer left for one long swallow, which should’ve flashed lots of throat.
That got him eyes narrowed at the side of his neck, so yeah, monster. Then the man--vampire--gave them a crooked smile and lazily took his shot. Last one of the night, to judge by the way the men around him were groaning and the blonde girl Dean would’ve been eying if it’d been a few months ago was simpering at him. Great.
“Well, Elkins is supposed to be a vampire hunter. Guess it’s only natural that they’d be where he is. You want to take care of him before we go?” Sam flipped his phone shut, then cracked his wrist. He closed up Dad’s notebook and slid it into his bag, letting Dean get a glint of steel along the way.
“‘We come bearing gifts’? I guess that’s one way to get a cranky old man on your side.” Dean carefully set his bottle on the table so the neck was caged within his fingers. He gave it a quick flick with the side of his thumb and watched it spin. “He doesn’t smell like the other one—the one that did this to me. It’s a little off.”
A couple bites of sandwich were still left on Sam’s plate. He glanced at it, then began to shove away the plate. He stopped at Dean’s look, started to get annoyed, and then gave up and ate it. Good boy; he’d need the extra nutrition for all the blood Dean would have to take later…God, Dean hoped Elkins would have something helpful. He and Sam had an arrangement worked out, but worked out sure as hell didn’t mean that Dean wasn’t waking up with a sick feeling every mor-evening.
“He’s not the same. Maybe that’s what Dad meant—all the vampires of one kind are extinct. But there’s more than one kind. Even the shtriga’s considered a vampire by some authorities.” Sam ran a napkin over his hands, turning his wrists this way and that. The blue veins in their undersides throbbed out at Dean, only to be replaced with a scabby bite as Sam’s sleeve pulled back.
The sick feeling never actually went away. It was just that Dean had to get used to it over the course of the day in order to get anything done, and then every time he woke up, it hit him like it was the first time. He turned around and glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the vamp giving the blonde a smack on the mouth, rubbing his wad of cash against her cheek. Behind him, a group of bad sports were all whispering to each other. They cleared up when he turned around, but death-glared his back all the way to the back-door.
The vamp slid a look to the side that had Dean raising his eyebrows. Then the door shut on him—he’d probably excused himself to take a piss. In another couple of minutes, those idiot drunks were going to stop thumping their pool sticks against their palms and go out to do something and end up dead.
“So were you just teasing him for the hell of it, or are we going?” Sam said, giving a slight cough.
Dean transferred his raised eyebrows to him. “Got a cold, Sam?”
“No, I’m good. I’m…” Sam frowned and suddenly glanced at the front door. “…we’d better hurry up. Elkins said not to be late, and I’ve got a feeling he would time us down to the second.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Dean muttered, watching the men pile out of the backdoor. He rustled up a few dollars for the tip and threw it on the table. “Bring the car around. You can hop in on whatever I’ve got going, and then we don’t have to worry about running back through the parking lot lights before we can hit the road.”
* * *
When Dean slipped out the back-door, the first thing he heard was some aging lumberjack slurring, “You goddamn no good cheatin’—”
The second thing he heard was a sickening pop and a loud rattle of wood. The garbage was piled up beside the door so he couldn’t see what was going on. That wasn’t exactly a great position to get in on a fight, so Dean reached up and grabbed the gutter. A second later, he was up on the roof and looking down on one vamp amusedly trashing five men. “Hey!”
The vamp lowered his hand, which was clamped onto the neck of one whimpering man, and looked up. He wasn’t so amused now as…puzzled and intensely interested. “Hey yourself.”
“So is this what you do out here? Get drunk, piss off the locals…leave a mass slaughter scene in the morning?” Dean settled himself in a squat on the edge of the roof with his hands hooked into his belt-loops. When he was sure the vamp was paying attention to him, he started moving his left back towards his gun.
“Only the young and stupid would leave that kind of trail,” the vamp said. He tilted his head, then slowly opened his hand so the man dropped. Cracked his skull so hard that Dean almost…but then the man moved. “Where are you from? How old are you?”
The guy nearest the door was crawling away and the vamp definitely noticed, but didn’t seem to care too much. Some of the others were getting towards mobile as well, but Dean didn’t consider them home free yet. He could lunge ten yards easy in one second, and he wasn’t getting the impression that this vamp could be safely underestimated. “First you insult me and then you grill me. I have to say, I don’t think much of the hospitality in this area.”
“Well, it’s a tough place to make a living. And I don’t know you.” Now the vamp was getting edgy about something…maybe there was some secret handshake that Dean didn’t know about. He kept staring at Dean like Dean was some kind of sideshow exhibit.
Actually, that was true, and that pissed Dean off. His fingers touched the butt of his gun. He looked around—the last man was dragging himself, moaning and whining, through the bar’s back-door. “I don’t know you either. Guess that makes us even.”
Right then, an engine roared up and the Impala whipped around the corner, then screeched to a stop. Dean winced; perfect timing, but he was going to have to talk to Sam about treating the transmission more nicely.
The vamp spun around, but he must’ve noticed something because he’d turned back and was a good way across the alley when Dean fired the first shot. It rocked him back a step and Dean just kept firing, unloading the whole clip into him. Chest, shoulder, shoulder, thigh, thigh. He wasn’t sure if bullets were fatal, but at the very least, they should shatter enough parts to put the bastard down.
Yeah, that would be commonsense. Incredibly enough, the vamp threw himself sideways, then staggered at a near run out of the alley. He stumbled, then whirled about to throw himself against the front of the Impala.
“Get the hell away from there!” Dean shouted, scrambling down. He flipped the gun around and had it up and ready to smash into the son of a bitch’s face when he got faked out. Something slammed hard into his gut, then barreled him over.
Instinct made Dean jerk his head aside. He felt hot breath breeze past his neck and heard teeth sharply clack right next to his ear. His gun-arm was twisted back to the pavement, but he still could move his legs pretty well and he got his feet braced, then shoved up. As soon as some space opened up, he got his hands under the vamp and pushed hard; warm wet stuff slicked over his fingers.
A fist clipped the side of his shoulder, sending him off-balance just enough to knock him back on his elbows. He immediately slammed himself upwards, but the vamp had had too much time and knocked him back, snarling open-mouthed. Way more fangs than Dean had, Dean absently noticed. He jerked up one knee, hit something that really hit the bastard, and flung himself out, rolling as he went.
His feet rammed up against something just as a gun was cocked. Dean rolled back—he’d hit Sam in the legs—and saw the vamp freeze, eyes fixed at a point somewhere above Dean. Blood was all over him, turning his jeans black in dim light, and more was turning sticky on Dean’s hands and chest.
Sam fired. The rifle-shot hit the vamp in mid-turn so it went through his shoulder instead of his neck, but he only staggered a little bit before he kept on running. “Shit!”
“Come on, get in the—” The rest of Dean’s words were cut off by the leaping growl of an engine. He grabbed the side of the Impala and yanked himself up so hard he nearly hurled himself over the car. It didn’t do any good anyway—all he saw was the taillights fishtailing onto the main road. “Fuck. Some of those were silver, too. Didn’t slow him down at all.”
“Get in the car,” Sam hissed, grabbing Dean by the arm. “Come on!”
Sounds of panicked shouting from the bar began to filter into Dean’s consciousness. He cursed again and pushed Sam into the car, then slammed the door shut and jerked the key around in the ignition.
* * *
They lost the vampire on the backroads, which left Dean in a hell of a temper by the time he finally agreed to just head for Elkins’ place. “Jesus Christ. I still have that son of a bitch’s blood all over me. How the hell am I going to explain that?”
“I thought you were waiting in the car anyway, since we don’t know if Elkins has some way to detect vampires on sight,” Sam said. He seemed somewhat less worried about the fact that they’d let a monster get away. “Hey—so is vampire blood—”
“You’d better not be asking me if I could’ve snacked on him. It wouldn’t be his blood anyway. It’d belong to some person he killed,” Dean snapped. A lumpy tree trunk reared up out of nowhere and he swung the Impala hard around to avoid it, then had to swing back almost immediately to avoid a half-rotten stump. Elkins had one bitch of a driveway.
Sam lifted his hand, then abruptly dropped it and leaned his head against the window. He exhaled loudly, irritably. “I’m just trying to find some way around this so it’s easier for you.”
Yeah. And deep down, Dean did appreciate the effort, but that effort was so bound up in what they had to do to survive, and how goddamn wrong and twisted that was, that his appreciation just tasted like shit in his mouth. He swallowed hard and eased the car around the last turn.
“We’ll pick him up later. Or he’ll come to us—I don’t think he’d let that kind of thing go,” Sam muttered. He leaned forward as the house came into view, frowning. “No lights.”
Dean snapped off the headlights. The dark fell around them like a weighted net, all rasping branches and angular, flittering shadows. Up ahead, the house slumped on the edge of a ravine like a beast run to ground. That metaphor didn’t entirely make sense till Dean stuffed down his anger and actually looked at the place. The front door was slightly open and all the windows were dark. It was also snowing lightly, and at one spot of the roof, the white flakes weren’t building up as they should have, but instead appeared to be falling straight through.
He cracked open his window and sniffed. “No one’s alive in there. But…”
“The other old way to kill a vampire’s to cut off its head. Did you sharpen the machetes?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, Mom.” The trace Dean could pick up wasn’t nearly strong enough for a solid identification, and it was already annoying him. He reached under the seat, pulled the lever for the trunk, and then got out. “I’m going in first.”
Sam got out as well and almost slammed the door before his brains caught up with him. Instead he settled for glowering at Dean over the car.
Dean let him get the machetes while he locked up. “Don’t do that, Sam. I see better in the dark than you. If things are fucked up in there, I can move around without stepping on any clues.”
“Like I’ve ever stepped on any clues,” Sam snarled beneath his breath. “You’re just hoping that vampire’s up there waiting for us.”
To be honest—yeah, part of Dean was, because he hadn’t been done when that son of a bitch had run off. But another part was hoping he was just smelling Elkins’ work, because the last thing they needed was another set-back. The last one was still eating at Sam, giving him nightmares again.
By the time they were at the front door, Dean couldn’t pretend to be optimistic anymore. “It’s not him, but they smell like him.”
“They?” Sam whispered.
Nodding, Dean poked open the door with the tip of the machete. He didn’t see or hear anything, and his gut was telling him that nobody period was home. Then Sam nudged him on the arm and pointed towards a cluster of jagged light patches: glass reflecting what little light there was. It was spilling out of a room pretty far in the back, so Dean motioned with his head to signal that they should go in through that side of the house.
Elkins, or what was left of him, wasn’t pretty. Sam needed a couple seconds to go back outside and get some fresh air; Dean carefully averted his eyes and checked out the rest of the room. He found an old notebook bound in cracked leather that reminded him a lot of Dad’s. It’d somehow missed getting splattered, so he folded it up and stuck it under his arm. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit.”
“Dean.” Sam had come back in and picked up some wooden box. He was turning it around and around in his hands, his fingers moving oddly slow over its grain. The expression on his face was intrigued in a way that slightly raised Dean’s hackles.
“What’s that?” Dean took the box a little roughly from Sam, which got him a weird look, but he couldn’t have cared less. The last time Sam had started getting that way, it’d been when they’d tried the spell to reverse Dean’s vampirism and instead had—“I didn’t see any kind of gun anywhere.”
“Maybe they took it,” Sam said. He was still staring into the box, brow furrowed. After a moment, he absently lifted his hand to rub at his temple. A slight wince crossed his face.
Time to shut the box. The hinges were stiff and Dean had to put some real force into it, but then the two parts abruptly snapped together, nearly catching his finger. He tucked that under his arm as well and took a long, deep breath. Then he stepped out onto the back porch and smelled again. “I think we might be able to follow them. They weren’t all that concerned about keeping their trail cold.”
“Huh?” Sam came out of the doorway, then carefully pulled the door with his foot till it was about at the same angle at which it’d been when they’d entered. He wandered over so that Dean could feel the heat coming off his arm. He still couldn’t remember not to stand so close. “Why would they take a gun? If they’re like the other one, then those don’t work on them.”
“Well, let’s ask them,” Dean muttered, stalking off. He stopped once to kick the hell out of a tree stump. He didn’t get any weird looks from Sam on that one, probably because Sam was busy trying not to look completely frustrated and pissed off. So much for hoping Elkins had a solution.
Those goddamn vampires had better last longer than five minutes, was all Dean was hoping now.
* * *
The trail was fairly straightforward once it hit the road, but it was long and they ended up arriving just at the break of dawn. They would’ve shown up sooner if Sam hadn’t insisted on taking the wheel the first time Dean yawned. All right, he got really sleepy during the day now, but that didn’t mean he was going to drop off any moment. He did have some say in that, at least.
The road curved sharply around a steep hill, but the trail went up, so they parked the car and started hiking. They hadn’t gone more than a few steps when the wind changed and Dean got a good whiff. He stopped, then grabbed Sam by the sleeve. “Something’s burning.”
“Burning…oh. Oh, yeah, I smell it now…” Sam stared up the hillside, uneasily shifting his weight from foot to foot. He winced and pinched the bridge of his nose, then turned aside. “Oh, God. What is that?”
“It’s like when you torched Meg’s body,” Dean muttered. He let go of Sam and started walking again, glad that he’d ended up taking both his gun and a machete. The smell of the vampires was here, and strong—they’d been in the area awhile—but overlaid with that was something that set his teeth on edge.
By the time they crested the hill, both of them had one sleeve pulled over their noses. They still were being cautious at that point, on the off-chance that the vampires had any kind of border alarms, but nothing was triggered. And when they looked down, it was pretty clear that the bloodsucking sons of bitches had their hands way too full to be worrying about anyone else.
It’d been a barn once, maybe. Enough of the walls and roof were left to give the size and the general shape of it, but all the wood was charred black, and there were huge splintered holes in the sides as if something had exploded outwards. Some charred hulks humped up at one end proved upon second look to be cars. Curiously enough, nothing was actually on fire.
“You smelled something when Meg died?” Sam abruptly said, his voice low and tight. He was staring straight ahead, occasionally working his jaw, but he wasn’t looking at some vamp’s nest getting its comeuppance.
“You were pretty out of it then, but yeah. I did. It’s all over here.” Dean hefted his machete and got hold of a tree trunk, then started easing his way down the slope. “You think—”
Sam startled out of his reverie, then shrugged. His mouth twisted in a grimace of a smile. “Well, if it is her again, then I have to admit I’m impressed. Decapitation and cremation, and she’s still going.”
“No, it’s not her. It’s not identical. I was going to ask if these vamps are working for the demon, too,” Dean said. He hopped the last few feet, then scanned the surrounding area. Nothing he could see, hear, smell or otherwise sense, so he figured it was okay to check out the barn.
“How would I be able to tell that?” Sam snapped. He drifted off a few feet from Dean and poked at the grass with his foot, then turned around to look at the car wrecks. A puzzled look went over his face. “One’s missing. It came in, and stopped…here, and then…”
Dean was already inside. The ground was covered in splinters of charcoal and crunched wherever he stepped, so he didn’t make any attempt at covering up his approach. He just held his machete out to the side and wished somebody would oblige him.
Nobody did, though. He worked his way through most of the main living area and found nothing but charred corpses, all smelling like vampire. They didn’t even hold up to a good kick, but instead disintegrated at the slightest touch. The whole place stank of spilled blood and fear and rage, which helped fight off his sleepiness, but sure as hell didn’t help his temper.
Then he found the cages, and he really wanted to kill something. “Goddamn fucking son of a bitch.”
“Dean?” Sam walked up. He glanced inside, went pale, and walked back a few feet so he could lean against the remains of a support. He didn’t throw up, but he made a couple tries at it. “They…burned them alive. Christ.”
“No, not the vamps, though God, do I wish I could blame it on them,” Dean muttered. He stepped back and looked down, shuffling around the dirt to stir up the smell. Lots of urine, blood, and he really wanted to just rip down the bars, but it was too late for that. “Whoever it was stood here. Then they…went this way.”
He followed the trace out through the living area and into the back portion of the barn, which apparently had been divided up into individual sleeping areas. Right then someone screamed, hoarse and high; Dean froze in place.
“Oh, my God—” Sam started, lunging forward.
Dean yanked him back and shoved his hand down on the machete hooked in his belt. “No. There’s no one human back there.”
“But then who…”
“Our friend from the bar,” Dean hissed. He dropped Sam’s hand and raised his own machete, cautiously easing forward. It sounded like the bastard wasn’t in any condition to fight back, but Dean wasn’t about to trust a monster. Anyway, God knew what else could be around.
He slowly rounded the corner, then quickly turned his back to the wall—what was left of it—and looked around.
Dried blood rusted the walls and floors. Pieces of a mattress had been piled up against the far wall to clear out a space for a circle, on which edge Dean was nearly stepping. He backed up a little and ended up looking straight into the eyes of the man in the circle.
Vampire. The vampire was lying half-curled in it, stripped down to ragged and stained jeans. He still had one bullet hole in his shoulder, but that wasn’t what was making him scream. Huge patches of him had had the skin taken off in some way—they looked like a half-done steak. Though as Dean watched, the skin sluggishly began to come back.
“You.” The vampire struggled to sit up. He got onto his elbows before he ran out of steam. “You distracted me. You kept me busy so they could come and kill my entire family and take Kate—”
“Excuse me? I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you deserve it for killing Daniel Elkins. He looked like someone had taken a chainsaw to him,” Dean snapped. Finally, something he could chop.
Except Sam was grabbing his arm and yanking it back. “Wait. Don’t get into that circle yet.”
“Why the hell not?” Dean snarled.
Sam wasn’t listening, because Sam was now on his hands and knees and staring at the circle. It actually was two circles nested within each other, with a whole bunch of weird symbols written between them. The last time they’d messed with that kind of deal, Sam had nearly pulled a Darth Vader.
“Elkins?” the vamp said, frowning. Then he figured it out—whatever the hell ‘it’ was—and swore violently.
At the same time, Sam did some kind of twist with his fingers and suddenly the whole inside of the circle flamed up ten feet. It came damn close to setting Dean’s face on fire; he scrambled back to the sound of horrific screaming.
The fire went down as abruptly as it’d come, and in the center was…Dean closed his eyes, slow-counted to ten, and tried not to think about this being the explanation for the smell. He glanced over at Sam, who was looking ill again. Then he checked on the vampire: enough skin was back for Dean to be able to look at him without thinking slaughterhouse, but it still looked bad. And if he wasn’t mistaken, the skin was coming back slower this time.
“Sorry,” Sam muttered. He edged forward again, eying the symbols. “These feel…familiar.”
“Sam, get away from those. And don’t apologize to the son of a bitch,” Dean muttered.
“Luther,” the vampire said. He coughed hard. His shoulders jerked up and down as he spat out a crispy piece of something. “My name. So you aren’t with the others?”
Dean stared hard at…at Luther, who looked remarkably together for somebody that’d apparently been barbecued multiple times in the past few hours. That meant he had some kind of agenda coming together in his head, and he was about to lay it on them. “Others?”
“I was away for a few days, and they made some kind of deal with my family, something to do with Elkins. I came back just as Kate was giving them what they wanted, and then they…” Luther glanced meaningfully around, his jaw clenching. He did a pretty damn good job of looking vengeful. “Are you looking for them?”
“What difference does it make to you?” Dean asked. He slipped a glance at Sam, who shrugged. Yeah, it sounded like the gun might be a little more important than they’d thought, but that did not mean they had to put up with any more darkness than they already had.
“Kate is my—my mate. They took her with them. I can find her a lot faster than you could by just tracking their smell,” Luther said. He looked at Sam, smoothing his face into harmless and pleading. “And I know what they took and why they want it. Let me out and I can help you.”