|Badlands IV: Paterfamilias
Author: Guede Mazaka
Sam flipped shut his phone as he walked towards the door. Whoever was outside was really banging now. He had a knife nestling in his left hand as he used his right to swing open the door, and considering how the night had gone so far, he was hoping he might have a chance to use it. “I’m coming, I’m coming. Just hang on a second—”
John Winchester stared back at Sam. “Sorry, I can’t do that.”
The first thing that went through Sam’s mind was…absolutely nothing. He just blanked. The second thing, after he’d done some blinking and noticed that John was getting a little edgy about still standing on the porch, was that there was no way Dean could come back yet. “Dad?”
“Hi, Sam.” Tiny red veins formed a ramshackle cradle for his father’s pupils, barely holding them back from falling into the deep circles beneath each eye. The corner of John’s mouth pulled up in a half-hearted smile.
Still gaping, Sam backed up and motioned for him to come inside. At the same time, Sam swapped knife for phone. He kept his hand down and behind him, keying in a text message by memory of where the right keys should be. That was a lot harder than it sounded, and the first one got a little bit screwed up. “I…whoa. Where—what are you doing here?”
“Daniel Elkins. He was my mentor, back when I’d just started hunting. I haven’t spoken to the man in years, but he called me a few days ago from this area. So I came down and picked up the newspaper to find out something had killed him.” John walked slowly into the room, looking around. He seemed calm enough, but he was going to pull the interrogation routine on Sam in a second.
“What happened between you and him?” Sam asked, taking stock of the room as well. Weapons were on the table—nothing out of the ordinary. The chains—what had Sam done with the chains?
“We had a kind of falling-out,” John said. He glanced at the chairs, which were piled high with duffel bags. One of Luther’s shirts was visible inside one bag and Sam tensed up, but John didn’t seem to see it. “When did you get here?”
At least the chains weren’t on the bed, which would’ve been tough to explain…oh, right, Sam had shoved them underneath the bed closest to the door just in case he slept through the cleaning staff’s knock. As long as his dad didn’t go bouncing madly on the bed, they should stay hidden. “Just a couple days ago, but after Elkins died. Did you already go up there?”
“I did. What are you doing here?” John abruptly asked.
Sam closed the door behind himself, locked it, and leaned against it. He twisted slightly so he could see his phone, but John wouldn’t be able to. As quickly as he could, he messaged Dean with some vague thing about cops; hopefully, that’d be good enough to keep Dean away. “Caleb told us to see him when we called up for some help. We ran into some vampires, and you always told us those were extinct—”
“Because that’s what I thought. I thought hunters like Elkins had gotten them all…but that’s the likeliest thing to have killed him, to judge from what I saw. Where were these other vampires?” John sat down on the bed. The bed without the chains under it, which made Sam relax a little bit. Then he looked up at Sam, going from quiet to hard in a second. “Where’s Dean?”
“Oh, out with some girl he picked up. She waitresses at this…this bar, and he thinks she can tell him something about any strangers that have come through town,” Sam babbled. He thumbed off his phone and slid it into his pocket. “Why did Elkins call you?”
Oddly enough, that didn’t get him the pointed questioning that Sam had figured on, given that he’d called Elkins up for ways on reversing vampirism, not plain killing methods. Instead John gave him a strange probing look. “Not because of you, so you can imagine my surprise when I spotted the Impala in town earlier today. He didn’t mention you were here, or that you’d called him.”
Sam searched for something to say and his eyes landed on the ice bucket, which he’d just filled up a few hours ago. He walked over and spooned some of the watery mush that was in it now; a couple ice slivers squirted out of his shaky hands and jittered on the table. “Well, we called you first about the vampire, but you didn’t answer. Why didn’t you call when you first saw us? So where have you been? Have you found out anything else about the demon?”
“Elkins left me a letter—I still can’t believe that son of a bitch had it all along…” John’s voice drifted off as he pulled out a folded, spotted sheet of paper. The expression he wore when he unfolded it was a weird mixture of satisfaction and frustration, like he’d gotten one thing but had needed two. “Have you been up to his place yet?”
Thank God for ice. Sipping some of the melt-water gave Sam a couple seconds to think furiously about what to say. It was possible he and Dean had left tracks that they’d have to explain, and that might lead to talking about Dean’s problem before Sam had figured out how to. On the other hand, saying they hadn’t might result in more questions about what they were doing here, which could lead to the same thing.
In the end, Sam decided option two was more likely to keep his dad focused on whatever matter lay between him and Elkins, and less on why his sons were in town. “No. Haven’t had the time yet—we were going to go tonight? What was Elkins calling about? Is he helping you with the demon?”
“Then we have to find the vampires that killed Daniel. Call Dean and tell him to meet us,” John barked, getting back up. The letter went into a pocket inside his coat. He marched towards the door like he had an inner drum beating out time in his head.
He probably did, Sam sourly thought. Sam put down his glass and slid to the side so he blocked John’s path. For a couple moments, he seriously thought his father might run him over. When John did stop, he literally was toe-to-toe with Sam.
“Wait, Dad. Why am I calling Dean? What’s going on? What did Elkins have—what are we supposed to be looking for?” Sam said. He’d meant to be calm and mature about it, but the more he talked, the more his father’s face hardened. And the more that happened, the shorter Sam’s temper got. “Look, I’ll call him and go, but not before I know what this is about. It’s not going to make things faster to keep us in the dark.”
John pursed his lips. It wasn’t a signal that he was thinking things over, because a second later he just tried to swerve around.
Sam grabbed his arm and got a snarl for his effort. “Neither is standing around talking. I’ll tell you what you need to know on the way—”
“Really? Are you sure, Dad? Or are you just trying to get me out the door?” Sam snapped.
“Not now, Sam. We’re wasting time, and every second means those vampires could be getting farther away. Just do as I say.” One hard jerk and John was free of Sam’s grip, walking fast so Sam didn’t get a chance to grab him away. He unlocked the door and was standing in the doorway by the time Sam had gotten his coat.
Every single time. Every single damned time, he’d just brush them off like this, and after he’d spent Sam’s whole life drumming into them to always keep an eye out, do the research, make sure they were informed. “No. Sir.”
That made John turn and face him. “Sam—”
“Look, we call to visit Elkins and the day we show up, he gets killed! By vampires! If this is about the other vampire, then this is part of our job and I want to know what’s going on!” Sam threw up his hand as he spat out the last word and hit the wall. He winced, then took a step back, cradling his hand. He looked up at his dad’s stern face and kept watching it as he deliberately took another step back.
John clenched his jaw. His eyes flashed and he lifted his shoulders, resettling them in a obstinate slope, but then he drew back. “Elkins had this antique pistol, and it’s extremely important that we get it back from those vampires. It wasn’t at his house, so they must have it. I’ve checked local disappearances around here, and they all center around this one area. We’ll try it first, then look farther. Call Dean.”
With that, he spun on his heel and walked out the door. He didn’t look to see if Sam was following.
Sam was torn between gritting his teeth, yelling after his father, or grimacing at the cold knot that had formed in his stomach. It had to be the same gun, and it wasn’t hard to guess why his dad wanted it. If the legend Luther had mentioned was true, then it could kill the demon they’d been after. And whoever had killed all the vampires wasn’t just someone like Meg, but was probably someone that had worked with her, for that demon.
But if he talked about that, he’d have to get into Dean being a vampire, and John obviously wasn’t that fond of vamps right now. “Dad?”
“What, Sam?” John paused half-into the driver’s seat of his truck.
“Can I get some coordinates? So I can tell Dean where to meet us?” Sam asked, barely suppressing the sarcasm. He’d tell Dad about everything when they got there, after he’d had time to put together a game plan. And after he’d warned Dean.
Sighing, John reached into the car. A couple seconds later he held out a scrap of paper to Sam, which Sam took before walking around to get in the other side. His earlier headache had disappeared, but now it was coming back.
* * *
Up in the mountains, the cell phone coverage wasn’t that great. It took several tries for Sam to finally get Dean’s phone, and by that time, they were almost at the vampire nest. It also was getting near to morning, which meant Dean would be beginning to turn drowsy.
*Sam, I’m not doing this again,* Dean said as soon as he answered. *Next time, I’m waiting for you and then we’re all going out. I’m not putting up with him by myself—*
“Dean, Dad’s here. He just showed up…about forty minutes ago.” To Sam’s ears, his own voice sounded tense and odd. He glanced over, but John was intent on the road ahead of them.
It was a while before Dean said anything. He was still driving, because Sam could hear the low rumble of the engine. *How?*
“Elkins called him about this pistol he had, and Dad thinks vampires killed him for it. We’re heading for where he thinks the vampires are—” Sam limply read off the coordinates, knowing it was unnecessary “—and he wants you to meet us there. You and Jeannie done yet?”
*Jeannie? Who the hell is—oh. Fuck.* Luther said something in the background and Dean snapped at him to shut the hell up. *Fuck. All right. I’ll be there in another…twenty minutes—Sam. Did you tell him?*
Sam stared out at the dark woods, wondering how far it might go. Hoping to God or somebody that he didn’t find out. Dean wasn’t dying by anyone’s hands, he knew that, but he didn’t know what he’d do if that was what Dad wanted. He’d told Luther that nothing was going to divide his family, but he wasn’t so sure now. “He hasn’t told me anything else.”
*Shit, Sam. You didn’t tell him we’ve already—never mind. I’m coming.* The other end of the line went dead with a sharp click.
They drove the rest of the way in silence. By the time they arrived, the sky had lightened to a dark purple, though dawn was still a couple hours off. The Impala was already there, parked in the middle of the field, and Dean was leaning against one side. Luther wasn’t anywhere immediately in sight, though Sam looked hard and long for him. That was worrying—despite the nineties trash wardrobe, Luther was a lot smarter and more sophisticated than any of the other monsters they’d run across to date. While Dean had been asleep, he’d been asking questions about how they coped—questions that made it clear he’d already guessed what problems they had.
But Dean was merely standing there, hands shoved in his pockets, and not throwing a fit, so Sam grudgingly assumed that Luther was secured, wherever he was.
John stared grimly at the burnt barn as he climbed out of the cab, but once he was down on the ground, he smiled. “Dean.”
“Sir,” Dean replied in a constricted voice. He looked…maybe it was the low lighting, but he looked much, much better than when he’d left. He had his tan back and if someone didn’t know differently, they wouldn’t have any way of telling that he wasn’t quite human. “Listen, Dad—I need to tell you something. We were on this hunting trip and we ran into a vampire—”
“And you ended up calling Elkins. Sam already told me, and I’m not offended. Right now I’m just worried about finding that gun the vampires stole. What happened here? It looks like someone came after them.” A breeze whipped up and John pulled up his collar as he started across the field. “Did you look it over yet?”
Dean stared desperately at Sam, demanding that Sam do something without giving any clue as to what that was supposed to be. Sam helplessly spread his hands and Dean bit back a snarl, then spun on his heel. “Yeah. I did—there’s nobody alive left in there—vampires or people. But Dad—”
“Was there a pistol? An old-looking antique Colt?” John stopped where he was, then snapped the words over his shoulder.
Fierce disappointment twisted John’s face. For a moment, he looked at the barn. Then he abruptly turned, swearing under his breath, and headed back for the truck. “Come on. We’ve got no time to lose.”
When John turned back to stare at Dean, he was angry and surprised. With Sam he was usually just angry. “What, Dean?”
“I’m a—” Dean’s voice closed up and he had to swallow hard; his hands came out of his pockets to press hard against the car “—I’m a vampire. We weren’t up here to see Elkins about how to kill those—we were trying to see if he knew a way to reverse it.”
The moment Sam got where Dean was going, he stepped forward and tried to break in, but Dean had just kept talking louder and louder. Now that Dean had stopped, the world was abruptly, strangely silent; even the wind had died so the sound of leaves rustling had disappeared.
“It happened a couple of weeks ago,” Dean finally said, eyes fixed on John. However he’d gotten the color back in his skin, he wasn’t managing to hold onto it. He looked like every word had to be stabbed out of him. “I haven’t killed anyone yet. Sam—he found a spell that could change me back, but he couldn’t get it to work, and we were seeing Elkins to find out if he knew of anymore. And we—we’re already trying to track down the pistol. It hasn’t left town yet.”
John blinked once. His mouth opened slightly, then closed. He glanced from the barn to Dean, from Dean to Sam, from Sam to the barn to off into the woods, in the direction of Elkins’ house. His hand began to rise.
Sam swung away from the truck and took two long steps so he was triangulated between his father and Dean. His throat was clenched so tight it was nearly shut, and the delicate urgency of the situation was pounding in his head, needling into the backs of his eyes. “He hasn’t killed anyone, Dad. He’s still Dean—he’s not a monster. I’ve been making sure of that.”
“How?” John roughly demanded.
Dean started to answer and couldn’t finish, glancing away. So Sam took another step to get John’s eyes on him, which he met. The pounding in his head slowly ran together till it was a single excruciating outward pressure. “I’ve been feeding him. I figured out a way to do that and keep him from hurting me. And look, I know I can reverse the vampirism. I already have the spell to do it, but I can’t do it myself. So we’re—not good, but we’ve got options.”
Sam had been talking faster and faster, as if the more words he got out, the more John would believe him. But that was stupid; at first their father just looked stunned, but as he absorbed what they were saying, his temper clearly rose in his eyes. He pressed his lips together and started to look to the side. Then he turned back very quickly and lifted his foot to walk forward, towards Dean. His expression was borderline enraged. “Why didn’t you—”
“Dad, don’t!” Sam shouted, all his nerves snapping at once. His head blew up: the world exploded into brilliant, crazily dancing lights and one moment he was looking at the sky, the next at the ground. His fingers hit something that resisted, then gave so much that he was in it up to his knuckles before he could…stand? He’d fallen down?
“Dad—Sam! Jesus—Sam, stop! Put him down!” Hands grabbed Sam’s head, held it up so he at least had a sense of what was up and what was down. Dean’s white, scared face flitted in and out of the brightly colored dots. “Sam, stop. It’s Dad. It’s Dad. Sam. Listen to me.”
Whatever was happening was beyond Sam. He had no idea what was going on, or what he was supposedly doing, except that Dean told him to stop it and something twisted off in Sam’s head. Hopefully that was the right thing.
Something heavy thumped on the ground nearby, then groaned a little in their father’s voice. “He…you two actually thought I’d hurt you? You’re my sons. You’re all I’ve got. I just—why didn’t you call me? When did this start?”
“Well, it’s a little hard to tell sometimes,” Dean said in a shaky, unexpectedly bitter voice. “We did call you. We called you when we were in Lawrence, when this really got rolling. Sam called you when I was dying—and right after I’d gotten turned into a goddamn vampire. But you never called back and we just had to take care of things by ourselves.”
Things were starting to settle down. Sam could make out yellow stripes in the sky, and when he saw that they weren’t moving, he realized that it was dawn coming in. “Dean, we need to go. The time…”
“We’ll go back to the motel,” John slowly muttered. He sounded very old, so it was a minor shock to roll over and see that his hair was still mostly black. “And then you’re going to sit down and tell me everything. And Dean, Sam—I’m sorry. I should have been there. But I didn’t know—”
“Well, you will by the time I get done telling everything…I’m glad you are finally here, Dad. Come on, Sam. Can you stand up?” Dean asked.
* * *
Dizziness and nausea kept Sam from saying anything on the way back. Dean didn’t seem to be any more inclined to start a conversation. He would’ve followed Dad right into the motel room if Sam hadn’t caught him by the arm. “Where’s Luther?”
“Oh. Oh, right.” A nervous smile crossed Dean’s face. “Almost forgot. I stuck him in the trunk—figured we’d bring him up once we told Dad the other stuff. I didn’t want to give him too many shocks at once.”
“We have weapons in the trunk,” Sam disbelievingly said.
All traces of humor dropped from Dean’s face. “Well, it wasn’t like I could just drop him somewhere. Most of the weapons are in the room, and I did tie him up with some rope. Anyway, he’s not in any shape to bring his A-game.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” Sam waited for a reply to that, but Dean just made an uncomfortable shrug with his shoulders. “You fed off him, didn’t you? Blood? Or—or—”
Dean stared at Sam for a moment. Then he exhaled loudly and rocked back on his heels. “For God’s sake, can we not do this now? I’ll tell you later, but first I think we’d better tell Dad what’s going on.”
“Boys?” came a questioning call from the room.
“We’re coming. We just need to get something from the trunk,” Sam called back, never looking away from Dean. He stood back and waited.
After a long look, Dean opened the driver’s door again and took out his machete, which he handed to Sam. He paused till Sam was in place, then popped the trunk. “What do you want to do, warn him he’s going to be in there a while?” he said, coming around with gun in hand.
The trunk lid slowly lifted to reveal a pair of bound hands. They stayed up and visible so Luther had to have had to do some awkward twisting to get into a sitting position. He warily watched Sam. “The warning is appreciated, by the way.”
“Yeah? Well, how about this one: don’t mess with Dean again. Don’t try to trick him into anything, or you’re answering to me.” Sam reached out and slammed the trunk lid back down almost before Luther had a chance to get back into it.
“And you said I was being territorial,” Dean muttered. He was looking at Sam as cautiously as Luther had been. “Sam, you need to calm down. You lift Dad up in the air like that again and I’ll deck you.”
They walked into the motel room, but neither of them shut the door behind themselves. In Sam’s case, it was because he wasn’t quite sure which was going to be the biggest problem—the one outside or the one inside. He had a feeling Dean’s thoughts were running in parallel.
John was standing by the ice bucket, just finishing off a glass of some liquid that wasn’t the color of water; for once, Sam didn’t blame him for leaning on one of the alcoholic J’s. He looked up at them, then sighed and leaned against the dresser. “How did this happen?”
Sam glanced at Dean, who nodded. Dean cleared his throat. “We were—well, I should start with Sam. When we went back to Lawrence…”
* * *
Eventually they worked in the explanation about Luther, though Sam chose his words so that they gave the impression Luther had gotten locked up somewhere that wasn’t the car trunk. That didn’t make Dean so happy, but he didn’t contradict what Sam said. It didn’t make John happy either, but he didn’t seem angry about it. Probably because the other stuff was so much bigger in comparison.
“So have you found the gun, or figured out who has it?” John asked.
Or he was still fixated on the gun, and was willing to go much farther than Sam had figured on get it. “We were working on it,” Sam said. “Dean—”
“I took out Luther to a roadside murder they found yesterday morning that sounded related, and it was, but the tracks came back to town. Then Sam called, and that’s where we left off.” Dean got up and poked around the papers on the table, then frowned. He shuffled them around some more. “Damn it. I left the notes in the car.”
“I’ll get them.” Sam started to get up, but John lifted a hand.
“You should go get the vampire, too. I have some questions to ask him,” John said. He raised his eyebrows at whatever expression Sam currently had on his face. “You shouldn’t have left him alone anyway, no matter how secure he is.”
It was on the tip of Sam’s tongue to ask what the hell else they should have done, but he managed to hold it back. Something jingled to the right and he glanced over to see Dean holding out the keys, which he took. He still didn’t leave, though.
Irritation began to rise in John’s eyes—like usual, he didn’t understand and he didn’t try to. Surprisingly enough, Dean seemed to: he grabbed Sam by the wrist and yanked so Sam had to look at him. His face was angry undercut with a desperate plea. “Sam, Dad’s—he’s not going to whack off my head while you’re gone,” Dean told him, voice trying to be kidding about it and instead shaking with near-hysteria. “I think you’d notice when you came back.”
“I—Sam. I am not going to hurt your brother.” John sounded and looked stunned. And hurt too, which made Sam feel even worse than he’d already been feeling, but not regretful. “I can’t believe you’d think I could do something like that.”
For a moment, Sam couldn’t say anything because so many different replies were crowding into his head. He fingered the keys a few times, listening to their harsh jingle. Then he took a step back without turning around. “You shouldn’t have left, Dad. You shouldn’t have left us, and you should have called back those other times. If you really didn’t want us getting hurt—how am I supposed to believe that now? You knew the demon was coming after us--us, as a family, and you just split and left us on our own.”
“Sam—” Dean started.
“What? We’re stronger as a family—that’s what you’re always saying. And it’s true, but Dad here doesn’t seem to believe in it enough to rely on it.” Sam made a fist around the keys, watching his father. He could see the hurt grow and spread, and that pained him, but he could also see John’s impulsive first reply die right in his eyes. And that wouldn’t have happened if Dad wasn’t acknowledging some truth lay in what Sam had said, and that hurt more.
Dean sat up straight and opened his mouth, all ready to defend Dad, but then a yawn stretched his mouth even wider. He fought it, then let it happen with a bitterness that Sam almost could taste. Then Dean let out a black chuckle and dropped his head into his hand. He slanted a look at John. “He’s got a point, Dad. Sending us away can’t keep the demon from coming after us. If anything, it invites it because we’re weaker apart from each other.”
“I know he does,” John admitted, much to Sam and Dean’s surprise. He absently lifted his hand to rub at his mouth, then let it fall to rest on his knee. “We’ll talk about this later, Sam. We will. But right now you need to get that vampire somewhere where we can keep an eye on him, and we need to think of a plan for finding that pistol. That pistol’s the only way to stop the demon and get it out of our lives.”
Sam stared hard at his father, but couldn’t detect any insincerity. He finally turned around, jangling the keys. “Yes, sir.”