|Badlands II: Cross-Purposes
Author: Guede Mazaka
“He’s got something up his sleeve,” Dean hissed, glancing over his shoulder.
Nearly all of Luther’s skin had come back, which was making him edgy; the circle probably was timed to go just when he’d almost completely healed up. He moved restlessly around the circle, staring at the symbols…though that didn’t preoccupy him enough for him to not sneak a few looks Dean and Sam’s way. Considering everything on his plate, he was way too calm and collected for Dean.
“He wants to not get tortured to death and to get out so he can get his girlfriend back. Of course he’s got something up his sleeve. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be useful,” Sam hissed back. He looked away in irritation, then back at Dean. “I think I can open up that circle.”
“Okay, aside from the fact that every time you pull a stunt like that, you get damned close to turning into Meg, have you thought about the fact that this might be a trap? Why would they leave him alive, if they’d already gotten what they wanted? Maybe he’s supposed to lead us off on some false trail.” Dean caught himself tapping his machete against the ground and yanked it up before he blunted the tip. A small rattling above him made him look up, then jerk aside as part of the roof came down.
Sunlight hit his face before he could step back and an uncomfortable prickling crawled around beneath his skin. His jaw was dropping in a huge yawn before he could help it and he snapped his mouth shut, then moved back into the room. Luther had glanced up, eyes flicking towards the sunbeam, but when Dean fully turned around, he was looking steadily at Sam.
“Or maybe I’ve run into them before, and they didn’t like the kind of hospitality I gave them last time.” The expression on Luther’s face was so calculated to inspire trust that Dean nearly gagged. “Kate hadn’t been born then, so she didn’t know when they contacted her.”
“Aw. That story really hurts, man,” Dean muttered.
Sam suppressed some kind of annoyed noise and just yanked Dean back around the corner, to the side of the sunlight. “Dean, I know he’s a monster. But if you want to talk about not going down to their level—then he’s coming out of that circle one way or another. Even if it’s just so you can whack off his head right afterwards.”
For a couple of moments, Dean did his damnedest to come up with a good objection. Then his thinking was interrupted by about five seconds of hideous screaming; he jumped and knocked his elbow against the wall. He grabbed onto a plank and righted himself, then looked up to see all the blood draining from Sam’s face as Sam stared over Dean’s shoulder. The oily, rancid, burnt stench got exponentially worse.
All right, Sam had a point. But that didn’t mean Dean was ready to swallow it yet, and it wasn’t just because his hatred of monsters had gotten a lot stronger since he’d been forced to have the first-hand experience. If Sam broke that circle and it sent him into another tailspin, Dean didn’t know what he’d do.
“Please,” croaked a voice from behind Dean. “The pistol they took—”
“Pistol?” Dean turned around. He was tempted to turn right back, but forced himself to look. He did let himself glance at Sam, who choked down his revulsion long enough to shoot a ‘see-it’s-not-a-bad-idea’ look back at Dean.
Of course it wasn’t a bad idea. Which was why Luther was acting like he was too weak to finish his sentence and wasn’t adding anymore. Manipulative son of a bitch.
Dean stabbed the heel of his foot into the ground, scraping up a deep pit. A yawn, of all things, was creeping up on him and he bit his lip to keep it down. Then he snarled and took a step back, lifting the machete. “Sam. If this doesn’t go right, you know I’m never letting it go, right?”
If it didn’t go right, then who’d won the argument would be a moot point. But Sam obligingly made a face and pretended it was just another disagreement on attack plans. “It’ll just take a second. You see anything I can use for—never mind, stick should work…”
Luther might’ve been down, but he was far from unaware. He watched very closely as Sam got down on hands and knees and started poking at the outer circle with a piece of charcoal, occasionally making marks. Eventually his eyes drifted upward so Dean could meaningfully flip the machete around in his hand. The point hit home—Luther flinched a little—but it still seemed like he was anticipating everything. And that not only got on Dean’s nerves, but also on his fears.
“Count of three,” Sam suddenly said. He didn’t sound like he was all there, and when Dean checked on him, his eyes were a bit unfocused.
If something happened…Dean could easily knock Sam out from where he was standing. But what he’d do afterward—he didn’t think turnabout would work. Chains wouldn’t last long enough for Dean to figure out how to get Sam back from wherever he went when that…other thing was looking out from his eyes.
“Three.” Sam flicked his fingers over the ground so the stick he was holding whipped across both circles, cutting the chalk-dust lines.
A blue-white corona flared up around the circle. Dean instantly dropped and grabbed Sam, hauling him out of the way just as a full-on fire replaced the corona. The flames went out a second later, and something made Dean whip up the machete: no screaming.
After a couple blinks, Dean’s sight got rid of enough bright spots for him to see Luther frozen in a half-upright position. A little trickle of blood ran down his neck from where the blade tip was pressing into his skin—that was all pretty much back, though it was very white and papery-looking. If that meant the same thing with him as it did with Dean, then he wouldn’t be able to do much till he got the opportunity for a good feed.
Luther slowly raised his hands. “I help you, you help me. I give you my word.”
“No, you help us and we don’t chop you yet,” Dean said. He concentrated hard on not staring at the blood. Goddamn it—he did need to eat soon. “Right. Up. Nice and slow.”
* * *
Maybe it made practical sense, since none of their stuff would fit him and they were going to have enough of a problem hauling around a vampire without having him look like a refugee into the bargain, but it still ate at Dean’s sense of how the world should be. That sure as hell didn’t include having to shove his gear around to make room for Luther’s clothes. “We can’t leave him in the room.”
Sam was standing in the doorway to their motel room, keeping one eye on Luther and another out for the bags Dean was tossing him. “I think the cleaning staff might have something to say about the chains.”
“I’m not doing—that—to you in front of him,” Dean added. He pulled up a couple boxes of ammunition, then changed his mind and shoved them back. After closing the trunk, he stopped by the driver’s side to lock up. It took him thirty seconds longer to do that than usual, thanks to the hunger jitters.
“So then what? Because—” Something inside the room got Sam’s attention and he glanced inside. He took his time about turning back. “Dean. You have to sooner or later.”
“I know.” Much as Dean hated it, it’d be even less safe for Sam if they tried to let it go for another night. And since the chains were already occupied, that wasn’t an option either.
He tossed the keys to Sam as he walked into the room. The sleepiness was really starting to get to him, and not just because it was daylight, either. Actually, it was late afternoon and normally he’d be starting to get restless, but he’d been without sleep for the better part of two days now. Considering what he had to do to survive, he should’ve at least gotten some help with that, but didn’t it just figure.
Luther was sitting on the bed. The bathroom hadn’t had any useful exposed plumbing, and Dean wasn’t about to put much stock in the strength of motel furniture, so they’d just chained Luther’s ankles and wrists. The manacles were bothering Luther enough for him to be trying to rotate them every so often, but they weren’t leaving rashes or bruising—then again, Dean should’ve known steel or iron wasn’t a big deal from shooting the bastard earlier.
Sam rummaged around in one of the bags, then came up with the box they’d taken from Elkins’ home. It didn’t seem like a good idea to Dean to be giving away that much already, but he wasn’t able to get his say in before Sam opened his mouth. “So that pistol you were talking about. Was it in this?”
Dean closed the door, then moved so he was between Sam and the rest of the room. He took a seat in one of the two chairs and started checking the loading on their shotguns. “If his story is true, then he wasn’t there when Elkins bit it, so how would he know?”
“No, but can I see that for a second?” Luther said, holding out his hands.
At least Sam didn’t even start to move towards the son of a bitch. He hesitated, then tossed it to Luther, who cracked open the box and held it up to his nose for a deep whiff.
If Sam didn’t expect eye-rolling from Dean at that, then he clearly hadn’t been paying attention the last couple hundred miles. “Sense of smell can’t be that bad.”
“I’m not smelling for Elkins, or anyone that’s alive today.” Done with his dramatics, Luther set the box on the bed. He slid it a couple of feet away, then abruptly flipped it over. His eyes flicked up to Dean, who’d tensed up at the movement, and if that glint in his eye had lasted a little bit longer, Dean would’ve set about seeing if one could decapitate via multiple shotgun blasts. “See this on the bottom?”
That side of the box had a symbol roughly engraved into it; Dean had felt it when they’d first found the box, but hadn’t had time to look closely at it. Now that he was, he could see it was a star enclosed in a circle, like one of those old-fashioned sheriff’s badges out of a Wild West film.
“The pistol had the same thing on its handle. I didn’t remember when I saw it—it’s been so long,” Luther muttered. That obviously bothered him. If he had remembered earlier, maybe he could’ve told his girlfriend not to be such an idiot and invite in strangers when the man was away from home.
Not that Dean felt any sympathy. “And this is important because?”
Luther gave him a very level look that probably was hiding a deep urge to rip off Dean’s head. If he tried, then that would be a great opening for some slashing action…but sadly, he managed to control himself. “There’s an old legend about a gun fitting that description, a Colt .45. Samuel Colt made it himself, supposedly on the day that the Alamo fell, for a…a hunter of the supernatural. The gun can kill anything. According to the story.”
“Anything like…” Sam made gestures for more details.
“Like vampires—you must have noticed before that bullets don’t do too much to us normally. Or like other things. Some versions say Colt had a run-in with something big and evil, like a demon, and was paying this hunter to go after it.” The way Luther said that, with the short pause before ‘demon,’ just screamed that he was deliberately dribbling information. He’d made a big production out of ‘legend’ as well, and not like he didn’t quite believe the story. More like…well, fine, like how Dean and Sam had gotten about those nutty ghost-hunters out in Texas.
Now Sam was giving Dean the stare that was saying ‘See? See?’ and Dean really just wanted to point out that their chains were getting yanked. So he did. “You mean bigger and more evil than you, I take it?”
Ah, so there were things besides his girlfriend that got on Luther’s nerves. “I do what I have to do in order to survive. The way I heard it, this demon was more the take-over-the-world type.”
“Yeah, and all you wanted was your little piece of backwoods hunting ground. I really see the difference there,” Dean muttered.
Luther lifted one eyebrow. He didn’t seem to notice what he was doing, but he was wrapping the chain of his manacles around one hand like he was getting ready for a backalley beatdown. Too bad he wasn’t in any condition for that. “Well, eventually the people that feel obligated to donate blood to you die, or end up needing donations themselves,” he said, voice just this side of razor-cutting. “And some people just don’t feel like putting that kind of burden on their human family.”
Dean leaned back and flicked his wrist so the shotgun snapped together. It also ended up aimed directly at Luther’s face. If he even twitched in Sam’s direction, he was gone.
“So. Do you have any idea which way we should go in the morning?” Sam abruptly said. He was standing too far away to elbow Dean in the side, but his expression pretty much did that for him.
It took a moment for Luther to collect himself. The bastard shot Dean another one of his thoughtful looks, like he was saying they both knew something, only Dean had no goddamn idea what that might be. Then he turned a much more polite face on Sam. “East, but that’s as good as I can get while I’m in here. I need to get outside.”
“Would you like a snack with that?” Dean sarcastically asked.
The comment seemed to get more to Sam than it did to Luther, who shrugged it off. “It would help. That circle that I was in drained me—in another day I’m going to be comatose, and then you might as well kill me for all the use I’ll be.”
Sam abruptly turned on his heel and stalked into the bathroom, muttering something about not having the time for this. Dean glanced at him, then at Luther, then finally got up. He grabbed the two bags of weaponry and went after Sam. “Don’t tempt me,” he called over his shoulder.
As soon as he could, he dumped the bags and kicked them into the bathroom. He would’ve kicked the toilet as well, only Sam happened to be bent over the sink and splashing his face with water. Not to mention somebody needed to be watching Luther.
“You know, this is a shitty way of making sure he knows we’re going to stick together,” Dean started.
“Yeah, your crankiness is really convincing. Dean, half the time you’re staring at his throat and the other half you’re doing that pull on me.” After cranking the water up a notch, Sam pulled up his left sleeve. He turned his wrist over and held it out. “Eat already. You’re driving everyone nuts.”
“I’m not—” A series of loud clankings from outside made Dean whip around, but disappointingly, Luther had just crawled further onto the bed to lie down. He turned back to face Sam and Sam’s wrist was right there, inches from his mouth. The body heat coming off it was so strong Dean’s face felt like it was blistering a little, and suddenly he could hear nothing but Sam’s pulse.
He barely hung onto his sanity. Holding himself back till Sam got the message and lowered his wrist was the hardest thing Dean had ever had to do to date.
Sam started to say something, then cut himself off and glanced over Dean’s shoulder. He caught Dean’s eye again and shook his head—Luther hadn’t moved—before staring out into the other room. “He obviously already knows, Dean. Just take a little, take a nap, and we’ll get started when the sun goes down. I can’t keep my eye on both of you at once.”
He propped one arm up on the doorframe, then lifted his wrist again. After a moment, Dean reluctantly passed Sam the shotgun and leaned forward. A surge of nausea briefly gave Dean the ability to pause, but it went away too damn quick and then all Dean had in him was hunger.
When he bit down, he was dimly aware of Sam hissing out a breath. Sam’s fingers slid over Dean’s side, then fisted in it so Dean’s shirt rode up and something burning slightly grazed his skin: angelica. That knocked Dean out of his mindlessness enough to notice Sam was staring hard past him. The rich taste of blood soon dragged him back, but that little detail still bothered him.
It was hard to limit himself to a few swallows, but he managed to do that without Sam having to resort to the angelica. “You stay on the other bed.”
“What, are you sharing with him? The internet jack is closer to—” Sam’s eyebrows went up, then down. He turned away to run his scabbing wrist under the water. “All right.”
* * *
Stifling a yawn, Dean stretched out his arms till his hands dangled over the edge of the bed. Then he rolled over. The mattress creaked so loudly he almost missed the sudden absence of other noise.
Dean paused. In the end, he’d decided on taking the same bed Sam did and had claimed the side nearest the other bed. At least, that had been the arrangement when he’d fallen asleep. Now that he was up, his feet were bumping into someone sitting on the edge of the mattress.
“You up? Hey, I was pulling some of the local news just to see if anything else had happened, and—Dean?” Sam looked puzzled.
Well, Dean was pretty confused himself, what with how painfully clear it was that he’d just interrupted a conversation. He shoved himself up on his elbows, then into a sitting position. His coat started to slide down his legs at that point and he grabbed it before it hit the floor. “No kidding. Is Elkins on there yet?”
Luther apparently had woken up some time before Dean had, and was lying on his side. It didn’t seem as his nap had done him any good: the skin under his eyes was sagging so the red of the inside was showing, making him look like somebody had run a tube of lipstick around his eyes. But he was still watching them too closely.
“Yeah. He had a regular night out at the local bar, or something. The bartender noticed he didn’t show and mentioned it to some kids, who decided they’d go rustle up the neighborhood hermit. They called it in,” Sam said, looking back at the laptop screen. He clicked a few times, winced slightly for no reason that Dean could see, then scrolled on. But a couple seconds later, he had to stop and press his hand against his temple, grimacing. “There was this other death. Bloodless corpse.”
“So there’s more of you?” Dean reached behind him and groped around till he got hold of the machete, glaring at Luther.
Son of a bitch’s poker face was really, really getting on Dean’s nerves, and it didn’t have a goddamned thing to do with hunger pangs. “Not as far as I know. We’ve been hunted and hunted—when you showed up, I was as surprised as you were. I thought me and mine were all that was left.”
“Hey, do not talk about me like I’m—” Dean started.
At the same time, Sam said, “That’s why they’re all the way out here.”
For a moment, Dean just had to sit there and wait for the sour, hot gorge in his throat to go down enough for him to speak. Then he tilted his head and looked disbelievingly at Sam. “What, was he giving you his sob story? Man, even I could’ve done better than picking some barn only a couple of miles away from a big vampire-hunter.”
“I didn’t know Elkins was living in the area, otherwise I never would have settled my family here,” Luther snapped back. He got so worked up he actually started pushing himself up, not noticing how he was going even paler. Then it apparently all caught up with him at once and he slumped back down, muffling a hiss of pain.
“Anyway.” Sam tapped at the keyboard so hard that Dean was surprised none of the keys bounced off. “This bloodless corpse. Was of a man who apparently had car trouble and decided to walk it home, only somebody picked him up, tied him to a tree upside-down and cut his throat very carefully.”
Dean was still concentrating on Luther, who’d gotten way too mad at that comment without sufficient explanation. Well, that and if he had gotten a little madder, then he’d have provided an excuse for head-chopping, and maybe he still would. “Carefully? Getting a little morbid, aren’t we?”
“The article says ‘surgical precision’ and that the police are looking for a psychopath with either medical or serious game-hunting skills. And don’t bring up the Benders—the important part is that all the blood’s gone. It wasn’t pooled up beneath him or splattered around or anything,” Sam muttered. After pulling up something on the computer, he turned it so Dean could see: a map plotting three points. “Also, this happened during the day, about an hour after dawn, and outside. Vampires are out.”
One map-point was Elkins’ place, Dean realized after a bit of blank staring. The second one…probably was about right for the vampire nest, and the third presumably was the murder. The three stars were in a big loop that swung out east, then came back towards the town.
“It would’ve been for Kate. She was too badly injured and she would’ve needed to feed.” Luther pushed himself onto his elbows again. His hair fell in his face and he absently rubbed it out of the way with his shoulder.
“So they’re hanging around. Why? What are they coming back for?” If Dean was remembering the location of their motel correctly, the site of the second murder wasn’t too far away. There was a chance that the police hadn’t messed with it so badly that all the useful tracks and scents had been lost.
“It might have been the…circle.” Sam coughed into his hand, which didn’t really cover up his yawn. He actually wasn’t looking very well: his eyes were blood-shot and the color was gone from his face. Even though Dean had tried not to take too much, he apparently had messed that up, too. “I wasn’t checking—I was just trying to break it, but you can probably wire those things to tell you when the spell’s finished. Or if someone interrupts.”
That combined with the general timing made sense, Dean reluctantly decided. It’d explain why whoever they were hadn’t dumped this Kate as soon as they’d crossed the town’s boundaries…but then, that assumed that these demon-backed badasses thought of Luther as a serious threat. Or maybe it was some piece of information he wasn’t telling that Sam and Dean could really use. Neither scenario was really appealing.
Even less appealing, once Dean had backtracked the conversation, was Sam’s offhand comment about wiring magic circles.
“We need to go there and check it out,” Luther said. He slowly pulled himself up into a sitting position, wincing and grimacing.
Sam glanced at him, then started to look at Dean. Something caught him in the middle of doing that so he flinched and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Headache. But he’s right. We might be able to—”
“Knock it off with the ‘we,’ all right?” Dean muttered. While Sam was busy death-glaring him, he reached out and tapped the side of Sam’s head. It didn’t feel warm, so it wasn’t a fever, but Dean still wasn’t about to chance anything. “It’s your turn to sleep anyway.”
Luther got it before Sam did and lifted his head to stare oddly at Dean. Of course, Dean didn’t really care what he got and was perfectly happy to ignore it. He just wished he had a better alternative to that than the weird and annoyed look Sam was giving him.
“I’m fine. I’ll take him out for a look. If there’s anything, I’ll call. If not, we come back and go with the other plan.” No, there wasn’t really another plan, and if Sam kept looking at Dean like that, even a two-year-old could figure it out.
“You have to go through the middle of town to get to that area,” Luther dryly commented.
Dean bit down, then forced himself to unclench his jaw. He debated things in his head for a few seconds, then gave it up. Maybe that kind of thing worked for Sam, but pure argument wasn’t going to change circumstances for the better. One way or another, he had to cut down on the contact Luther had with Sam, and since they couldn’t leave Luther in the room unwatched…taking the son of a bitch out with him was the only option. “And I guess the chains would make it a little obvious that I have no problem killing you. By the way, that doesn’t change once they come off.”
“I figured.” Now that Luther had had a little bit to get used to the idea, he seemed fine with it. That hadn’t exactly been the reaction Dean had been hoping for.
“Excuse—Dean, can I see you for a second?” Without waiting for an answer, Sam got up and walked into the bathroom. The moment Dean was inside, Sam exploded. “What the hell are you doing? First you’re all about finding any excuse to whack off his head, and now you want to drive him through town? Without restraints? Or back-up?”
Every instinct Dean had was telling him to look back into the other room, catch Luther staring again, and just slice off his head right there, but he ignored them with an effort Sam never was going to appreciate. “Sam—first of all? Voice down. My hearing’s gotten better since it happened, and I’m guessing his is the same. Second—he’s been staring at you. He’s picking up something and—”
“Didn’t know this came with a marking-the-territory complex,” Sam snorted.
At least, that was what Dean thought he heard. He stopped and gaped at Sam.
“Fuck. Goddamn it, that wasn’t…forget I said that.” Sam put his hand up to his face and rubbed at the bridge of his nose again. He squeezed his eyes shut, his breath hissing a little between his teeth. “It’s not like that, I know. I know. I didn’t mean that, only…Dean, he’s not watching me. And if he is, it’s because he’s hungry and I’m a walking bloodbag.”
“It’s more than that. I think I’d know—a little more about his motivations than you at this point.” The words didn’t come easily to Dean. If they had, he would’ve gotten down on his knees and asked Sam to decapitate him right then and there. As it was, he’d really appreciate a couple monsters being sent his way during the night so he could work out some of it. There was always more waiting in the wings, but at least he’d get a break. Some kind of break, goddamn it.
Sam glanced up at Dean, still clearly not believing, but it looked like he was going to be accepting. Lately he did that a lot more, cut Dean much more slack than he previously would’ve. It was just another reminder of how off-kilter their world had gotten. If he’d kept arguing, it actually would have made Dean feel better. Annoyed, but better.
“Your phone’s charged up, right?” Sam finally said. He glanced out the doorway, then back at Dean.
“Yeah. I’ll call you when we get there. Anyway, it wasn’t me the last time,” Dean replied. He frowned as Sam grimaced again. “What kind of headaches are they?”
“Not that kind, I think. I just…we’re out of aspirin. Want to pick some up while you’re out?” Sam bent over to turn on the water again. After splashing his face, he slid his hands around to rub at his temples.
Dean lifted his hand, then tapped Sam on the back of one shoulder. “Sure. I should be back three hours or so before daybreak.”
“I?” Sam asked.
“Well, a man can dream, can’t he?” Yeah, but lately all Dean was coming up with was nightmares. He looked at Sam a last time, then stepped out into the other room to unchain Luther.