|Badlands V: Death Watch
Author: Guede Mazaka
Sam took the Impala around the corner so it was shaded by another building, then let Luther out and into the front seat. The way he figured, twenty minutes would be enough time to convince his father that he’d actually gone somewhere.
The sunlight wasn’t directly hitting them, but nevertheless Luther was squinting and keeping himself as far back as he could. It was a little weird to see; Dean disliked walking in direct light, but he seemed to be okay when he was behind glass. He also didn’t get any kind of rash, like the long angular strip that decorated Luther’s left arm, which had swung a little too far out when he’d been trying to regain his balance.
He was…less sick-looking than before, but his stumbling and general fatigue seemed to be genuine enough. “You fed on someone, too,” Sam realized. “There’s no way Dean could’ve drained you so much otherwise.”
“I didn’t really feed. She basically volunteered herself. I didn’t even bite—it was her time of the month.” Luther’s gaze slid up and down the machete leaning besides Sam. He kept rubbing at his blistered arm, and hard enough so that he was pulling up some of it. When he got enough, he stuck his thumbnail beneath the edge and started slicing it off.
Sam suppressed his disgust and stared out through the windshield. “I can’t believe Dean would let you do that.”
“He didn’t. She came up and I got outside before he could do anything, and then he had to wait till I was finished so he wouldn’t scare her. But by then, he was all worked up and he grabbed me. Can I roll down the window?”
The last one threw Sam for a second. He glanced back at Luther, but the request seemed to be serious enough, so he nodded. “And you had nothing to do with that either.”
“Considering I didn’t know vampires could feed like that…” After flicking his fingers clean outside, Luther quickly pulled in his hand. He examined it—slight pink flush, but not quite a rash—then probed at the raw scrapes he’d made on his arm. A few drops of blood came up and he licked them off to reveal new skin. “What is he?”
Only five minutes had passed and Sam was already eying the key in the ignition. He wasn’t an idiot. Usually Dean got sent to run the errands, if only one of them had to go, but this time it’d been him. He didn’t think it’d been because Dad was going to kill or otherwise do something to Dean—he could barely believe that thought had crossed his mind in the first place now—but he could believe that Dean and Dad were discussing what they thought was his problem.
He wished he’d seen exactly what he’d done to Dad. Dean had said he’d lifted John off the ground, but…there must have been something else, too. The way Dean had told him to stop had been too panicked for just that.
“Do I get to know why we’re sitting out here?” Luther asked.
“Dad’s getting ready to talk to you. We’re going back in a few minutes.” It was a vague explanation, and obviously Luther wasn’t buying all of it, but Sam didn’t really care. He did have a problem. He’d been ready to do something to Dad, and even if it’d been in defense of Dean, it’d seemed…way too easy. Just like shoving the cabinet away from the door at Max’s house had been easy while he’d been doing it.
The other seat creaked so Sam clasped his fingers around the machete handle, but it turned out to just be Luther stretching out his legs. “Can I know his name?”
And Max had turned against his own family, though they’d given him plenty of cause and Dad, however frustrating he was, had never, ever been that bad. But Sam had reacted as if…that was because he didn’t have a real handle on these damn powers, no matter what he’d said to Dean. It wasn’t any good to just try and not use them, because they seemed to just pop up—whenever he was near something connected to the demon. Who were they up against now, and where were they?
After a moment, Sam remembered what was going on and frowned. “John Winchester. Why?”
“Wondering if I’ve heard of him before,” Luther said. He was staring hard at Sam, but not with any of that—not in the way Dean had been thinking. He just looked like someone trying to play for slack.
“If you’re thinking of ways to get around him, you’re wasting your time. Just like with Dean,” Sam replied. He nearly rolled his eyes at Luther’s raised eyebrow. “I’ve seen him hold back when he’s been even hungrier. You did something to set him off, and if you do it again—”
Luther restlessly moved around in the seat, sliding his hands up and down his exposed forearms. He transferred his gaze to outside, and appeared to be having a hard time not snapping at Sam. “I’m asking questions because I don’t really know what’s going on and I’ve been around a while. I’m confused and worried—you know what that’s like, don’t you?”
“Oh, don’t—” Sam almost lifted his hand to thump against the wheel before he remembered the machete “—look. Luther. I’m not kidding when I say you’ll answer for anything that happens to Dean. Because I could look at you and I’d know how you work and I could take you apart and put you back together if I wanted.”
Then Sam stilled and stared at the faint reflection of himself in the windshield. It was still him, but that—that hadn’t really sounded like him. And he’d just spit out a bunch of bullshit, because when he looked at Luther, he saw a broad-shouldered, extremely pale man…bullshit except that deep down, something whispered to Sam that he hadn’t tried to do it yet and he didn’t really know till he did try.
Luther was staring back again, and he wasn’t saying what he saw, but for a moment he almost looked terrified. Then he grimaced and whipped around. A second later, he had both hands on the door and was pushing his head out of the window so that Sam actually started to lift the sword.
A sudden, vicious pain slashed across the backs of Sam’s eyes, then drove down into his sinuses. He winced, tightened his grip on the machete. Then he forced himself to pay attention to Luther.
Who thankfully had not been trying to dive out of the car and had just jerked back in, scrubbing hard at the side of his face. Sam glimpsed some raw red patches, looking exactly like a two-alarm sunburn, beneath Luther’s fingers. “He was somewhere out there,” Luther rasped. “I could smell Kate on him.”
“Him?” Sam asked. Then he jumped as his cell rang. He pulled it out and flipped it open. “Hello?”
*Sam? Where the hell are you?* Dean asked. *It shouldn’t take this long.*
A check at the clock told Sam it’d been closer to forty minutes than twenty. Shit. “Sorry. He’s heavy—I had to practically carry him to the car.”
Luther had his head down and his hands pressed to the sides of his face, mostly obscuring it, but his mouth was still visible. His lips curled slightly upwards, then parted in a dry, ironic chuckle. “Your whole family’s not too good with telling the—never mind. He’s gone. But the bastard was watching us.”
“We’ll be there in a couple of minutes,” Sam told Dean.
* * *
As soon as they showed up, Sam mentioned the weird incident to John and Dean. Much to his surprise, John hadn’t immediately jumped up to go track down the bastard, but instead had had them chain up Luther. Then he’d told Dean to go take a look and see if a trail could be picked up. He’d finally gotten startled out of his mental one-track when Sam had also stood up.
“Dean gets sleepy during the daytime. It’s nothing he can help,” Sam awkwardly said. “I think I’d better go with him.”
There probably would’ve been an objection from Dean if he hadn’t been so busy muffling a yawn in his arm. He coughed on the end of it, then muttered nastily under his breath and stalked out. After a moment, John nodded.
The area around the motel was mostly clear, consisting of roads and clusters of other motels, bars and 7-11-type stores, so looking didn’t take long. “And here I thought you were all protective of Lestat back there,” Dean said, sniffing deeply. He prodded aside the grass at the base of a road sign, then irritably jerked his shoulders as he walked on: nothing. “Don’t care so much if Dad kills him now?”
“Yeah, well, surprisingly enough, I’m more worried about you.” It’d been a taunt, Sam decided. He wasn’t picking up anything either, and as strong as the earlier feeling had been, they should’ve found something if it’d been simple spying. They’d just been mocking Sam and his family. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Aside from worrying about my brother jacking my dad a good fifteen feet into the air because he thought Dad was going to kill me—I’m good. Real good.” Dean turned around. They were standing on top of a shallow hillock, which nevertheless was tall enough for them to see to where the woods started again. It was pretty obvious by now that they weren’t going to find a trail unless they went in there, and Dean seemed about as interested in doing that without Dad as Sam did.
Sam stared at their motel, at the rough logs that made up the “rustic” walls, at the tacky neon sign that was only half-working. He’d been in so many other places like it that he’d basically stopped noticing the details, but now he saw them all again, as if he were that scared, confused, lonely kid trying to distract himself again. “I didn’t—Dean, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was scared for you.”
“Scared that Dad was going to kill me,” Dean muttered.
“What? You wanted me to kill you—and who taught us that monsters are that evil? Don’t tell me that that thought never crossed your mind. Dean, I love the man, but I’m not going to pretend he’s perfectly understanding of everything, and especially not of anything to do with monsters.” For a moment, Sam thought about law school. When he understood—completely—why, he had to bite on his lip to keep from letting out a hysterical laugh. “I wasn’t thinking about killing Dad. I was just thinking he had to get away from you.”
Dean sighed and rubbed at the side of his mouth a few times. Then he shrugged hard, pushing his coat-collar higher up, and stepped into the shade of a large shrub. “I know you wouldn’t think about that. But if things are as out of control as you say, then you might do it by accident. Just like if I go too long without feeding, or if you don’t have that angelica at the right moment—”
“Is that why I got sent out of the room? Were you filling Dad in on why I need to get a lobotomy done on the mutant part of my brain?” Sam snapped.
He winced as soon as he’d said it. That had been going a little too far. He’d been doing that often enough lately for it to qualify as a bad habit.
“We already cleaned out the asylum, didn’t we?” Dean replied in a tense rasp.
Sam turned so he could gaze towards the town. His head wasn’t exactly hurting, but it was on the verge of it and he thought it was the strength of the sunlight hitting his head on top of his tiredness, so he stepped back into the shadow with Dean. “Listen, when you fed on Luther—”
“There was this drunken girl and she had her period, and I didn’t take enough from you before. She got worked up and I—Jesus, I don’t know how I drove out of town. It was so damned strong.” Dean stared at the ground, remembering and looking sick about the memory. Once in a while his voice drifted off, as if he were savoring, but then he’d rein himself in with a visible jerk. He briefly smiled. “Luther messed up there. I think he was counting on it to throw me off so he could steal the car or whatever, but I got him off-guard and drained him first.”
So Luther had lied—he’d told a skewed version, anyway. Irritation momentarily flared up in Sam, but then he dismissed it. He’d pretty much expected that anyway, and it wasn’t the most important matter on hand. “Dean…when you fed…did it feel different?”
“Different?” Dean asked. He blinked once in confusion, then a couple more times in exhaustion. “Well, it wasn’t you. Look, Sam. I’m a goddamn vampire. Vampires like to eat. So yeah, I liked it. I liked it and now I would like to rip out the part of me that liked it.”
“That wasn’t what I meant. He’s not—he can’t do this telekinetic and precog crap. He doesn’t have whatever makes me look so good to demons, apparently. I was wondering if that affected the—the taste, or whatever.” Sam started out snapping, but quickly ended up talking in a low, uncomfortable whisper, even though no one else was remotely near them. Well, it was definitely an uncomfortable subject. “Vampires and sorcerers are connected in a lot of the old central European folklore—sometimes it’s hard to tell which a story is about.”
He didn’t want to say much else, both because the rest was more him guessing in the dark than any solid research and because he didn’t want to scare Dean into refusing to feed off him again. It had crossed Sam’s mind to suggest Dean feed off Luther, but that didn’t even have practicality going for it since Luther would have to keep eating to maintain himself, and he couldn’t be counted on to not kill people in doing it.
It was a while before Dean answered, and not because he was stalling, but because he seemed to be taking Sam seriously and thinking hard about it first. Then he abruptly pulled up his coat-collar and started down the hillock. “Come on. We aren’t going to find anything—we’re probably just going to have to wait for them to come to us.”
Sam opened his mouth, then closed it. He wasn’t going to let the point drop, but he could wait a few hours before he brought it up again. So much had gone on in the past couple hours that even he was ready to let the tension slack off some.
“You were harder to leave off of,” Dean abruptly said. He didn’t look at Sam. His shoulders hunched up as if he were cold and he dropped his head, making his shadow shrink from the sun.
* * *
When they got back to the motel room, Luther was still in one piece, more or less. He had a fresh cut on the left side of his jaw, but otherwise he and John apparently had had a pretty calm conversation. And a pretty useless one, if the frustrated expression on Dad’s face was anything to go by.
Dean sat down on the free bed and made a valiant effort to stay awake for about five seconds before he finally laid back. The second his head hit the mattress, he was out.
“Does he always do that?” John asked, regarding Dean with a strange mixture of parental affection and discomfort. “Since—”
Since he got turned into a vampire and the world flipped on its head. Sam poured himself a glass of water and started to reach for their medicine bag before he remembered. He glanced at his comatose brother, then gave up on the idea of aspirin. It wasn’t likely that Dean had remembered to get any more. “He’s okay before noon. Sleepy, but fine. After that, I have to drive.”
“Hmm.” John picked up one of his bags, dug out a plastic bottle and tossed it to Sam. Then he turned to Luther.
The bottle was so old it was closer to the color of sand than its original white—still visible in the screws of the top—and had long since lost its label. Inside it was a jumble of pills and gel caps and capsules, which made Sam stop for a second and wonder how many times his dad might’ve poured out a couple in the dark, tired and in pain, and maybe swallowed the wrong ones. Then he shook his head and dug out the aspirin while John hauled Luther into the bathroom.
“Thanks for the pills. I guess Dean told you about the headaches,” Sam said, setting down his glass. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
“Sam, I don’t hunt monsters because I think I’m going to get every last one. I’m not going after this demon because I heard some call from God.” Usually John just stuck to the curt orders, but once in a while he went into defensive dogmatic mode. This sounded like another one of those times. But then Sam turned around, and he didn’t see a drill sergeant or a lecturer. He saw a haggard, worried man who was pulling the sheets up over Dean. “I hunt them because they hurt my family, and I never want that to happen to another family if I can help it. And more importantly, because I’m terrified they’ll come back to finish the job on us.”
John paused, then twitched the blankets down and stuck his hand under Dean. He pulled at something that didn’t want to come, and finally ended up lifting Dean a few inches with his other hand. After tossing the sheathed hunting knife onto the side-table, he folded the sheets back over Dean, who muttered and sprawled more comfortably.
“Still hogs the mattress,” John snorted, looking down. Then he returned his gaze to Sam. “I never told you this, but the day Dean was born, I opened up a bank account and I put a hundred dollars in it. Did that every month afterward. And I started one for you, too. It was supposed to be a college fund. I never, ever wanted you two to have this kind of life, but…that demon changed everything. And what matters more to me now is that you two don’t get hurt.”
“I know. I—I’m sorry I lifted you up, or whatever I did.” Sam sat down in one of the chairs. He must’ve moved too quickly, or something like that, because his head briefly spun and a roaring deafened his ears. But the dizzy spell soon passed, and he chalked it up to not having the time to eat yet. “But everything you told me about vampires made it sound like they turn into somebody else, like they’re not that person anymore. And that’s not true.”
“Everything I ever told you about vampires I heard secondhand, and I told you that, too. I never had run into a vampire myself till now.” Those words bit, but John made a visible effort to ease off before he continued. “You two are my sons—all I’ve got left. I’m always going to do everything I can to help you, no matter what the situation.”
Sam glanced up at his father.
“I thought the demon would stick with me, since I was the one tracking it. And I know how dangerous our work is, but I thought—I still do think—that the demon is the biggest evil in it. I try to make the best decision I can, Sam, but sometimes you’ve got two bad choices and you have to figure out which one’ll bleed you less,” John said. He sat down on the edge of the bed Dean was on and folded his hands between his knees, looking first at them and then at the window. This place had blinds, not curtains, and though Sam had pulled them as tightly shut as possible, some light still came through.
Dean hissed in his sleep and flopped around so his arm fell in a thin beam of light. His fingers instantly curled up into a tight fist and he kept moving, but he wasn’t aware enough to know what was bothering him. For a long second, John watched that; Sam was on the point of getting up when John hesitantly poked Dean’s arm out of the way.
“Tell me about this spell you have that’ll cure Dean,” John finally continued.
“It’s pretty complicated—I had to edit a couple spells together to come up with it. And you can’t have just anybody do it. I could do it—I was going to do it, but we told you what happened then. Dean won’t let me try again.” Well, they’d told him about Meg. Even Dean hadn’t been able to go anywhere near talking about the…the sex, Sam snarled at himself…and Sam certainly wasn’t going to if he didn’t have to. Things were bad enough, and adding that to Dad’s plate would just be gratuitous. “Look, these—these things I can do. I could really mess up with them. I agree with Dean there. But I don’t think just pretending I don’t have them is going to work, either. I keep doing that and they might pop out again and next time I might not—”
John held up his hand. “Did you know what you were doing? Back in the field.”
All the confusion and strangeness and terror of that moment came back to Sam; he sucked in his breath. It came out raggedly a few seconds later. “No. Not until afterward. Dad—I can’t make it go away. I can’t even always tell when it’s coming. And I don’t want to hurt anyone with it. Not Dean, not you—not anyone.”
The silence stretched out in the room, long and thin and humming so Sam wanted to press his hands over his ears. The aspirin was finally beginning to unwind the painfully knotted tension inside of his head, and he didn’t want to waste its effects.
“One thing at a time,” John finally said. “Dean says you only do it when you’re extremely upset. So we’ll plan carefully, and get that gun back so we don’t have to worry so much about the demon. Then I’ll start calling around. Someone’s got to know something that’ll help you and Dean.”
“Yeah,” Sam muttered. He suddenly felt very, very tired himself, and he would’ve taken a nap himself if one last thing hadn’t occurred to him. “Dad? What happened to those bank accounts?”
John had been standing up, but now he paused to look at Sam with one hand still on the bed. A slight smile quirked his mouth: it wasn’t entirely joking, grim or helplessly ironic. “Cashed them out to buy my first set of silver bullets. Figured those would be a better way to protect your future.”
After a moment, Sam did laugh. It just was a perfect symbol of how their lives had gotten skewed by monsters.
* * *
Nine at night. Dean had woken up around seven, just when a fresh local murder involving a bloodless corpse had popped up on the laptop. After dropping off Sam’s share of dinner, he and John had gone to check out the crime scene, leaving Sam on vampire-watching duty.
Luther was chained to the toilet, so in the end, Sam set himself up in the bathroom doorway with his laptop, notes on vampirism folklore, machete, and leftovers. He was beginning to think the drama was finally over for the day when Luther spoke up. “What’s the verdict on our opponents?”
“‘Our’?” For once, both Sam and Sam’s inner Dean-voice were in accord. “Hey, you haven’t exactly offered any concrete help yet that I know of.”
Metal clanked so Sam reached for the machete, but it was just Luther trying to get comfortable. He couldn’t lean back unless he wanted to cut off the circulation to his arms, which were manacled behind him, and he didn’t have enough slack to really lean forward, so he was constantly shifting. It was plainly wearing him out. “I guess your dad and Dean didn’t mention it.”
“Dean mentioned something about you coming up against the demon before, but since the demon was still around to kill my mom and girlfriend, you clearly didn’t hurt it much,” Sam mumbled through a half-mouthful of food. Then he startled up and caught a bit of guacamole just before it would’ve hit the keyboard.
“Girlfriend? It came after you when you were older?” Luther sounded a bit surprised at that, which was odd for him.
Sam wiped off his hands and mouth on a napkin, then clicked shut one window. He pulled up another that had looked useful and squinted at the image of a badly-decayed parchment, trying to read the Latin. “Almost a year ago.”
A couple minutes went by without anything else from Luther. It was an obvious tactic—hell, it was one Sam regularly used to get Dean to listen to him—but it worked. After realizing he’d been trying to translate the same sentence for the whole time, Sam gave up on that and closed the laptop.
“It always sticks to babies. Six-month-olds, or around that. We thought it was because they were easier to take,” Luther said.
“‘We’?” Yeah, it was conversational bait, but Sam was taking it. There was another interesting detail he’d noticed that he didn’t think was entirely intentional on Luther’s part: the guy was getting a faint accent. Normally he sounded like an ironed-out, homogenized Midwesterner, but now he was drawling a little.
He also didn’t usually look like he was reluctant to talk about something. That could be a fake-out as well, but it wasn’t one he’d tried before so either he knew something about breaking pattern or it was genuine. The odds for either were pretty good. “Before I was turned, I hunted for a while, like you and your family. A friend of mine went after this demon—that’s how I happened to see the Colt pistol before.”
Sam raised his eyebrows and picked up his carton of food so he could scoop up some refried beans. “And the irony of that didn’t kill you.”
“Well, I had a couple kids who were years away from being grown, and there was so much fighting going on in the eighteen-thirties that hiding the bodies wasn’t a problem,” Luther coolly retorted. He glanced down to move his feet in an effort to stretch his muscles, but the chains didn’t let him go too far. “Look, Sam. I do have a personal agenda—I want Kate back. And the longer she’s with whatever bastard the demon’s got doing the work around here, the worse she’s going to come out of it. Can you blame me for being antsy?”
“Does the demon have a name? It just—gets so awkward calling it ‘the demon’ all the time.” The beans had congealed into a mushy, clammy mess and seriously tempted Sam into throwing them back up. Instead he moved onto the enchilada remains, which had survived better.
Luther paused in his link-rattling, then looked at Sam the way Dean or Dad did whenever he was questioning one of their monster-killing methods. All right, Sam did believe the bit about Luther being a hunter, because that look was hard to fake if one hadn’t ever been in the field. “You don’t go around saying a demon’s name. Sometimes that’s all it takes to call the damn thing up.”
“Sorry,” Sam said, barely keeping himself civil. He wiped off his hands again, then flipped up his laptop to go back to work. “So why is it hanging around? If I were it and I had just gotten hold of the one thing that could stop me, I’d be out of town the same day.”
“I’m not a demon, so I couldn’t be sure—” Luther was showing he could flash some sarcasm, too “—but maybe it’s staying to see if it could pick up a bonus. Demons aren’t ideal beings. They’ve got drawbacks, the biggest one being the lack of a body while they’re on earth. They can cover that with possession, but people do die, so they have to keep finding new ones.”
It took a moment for Sam to get where Luther was going with that one, and when he got it, he felt a strange stab of surprise that it’d taken him so long. He’d been guessing at something near that, but hadn’t wanted to consciously, seriously think about it. “You’re not a demon?”
Luther started, then exhaled in irritation. “I’m the same man I was before I just happened to swallow some backsplash in the middle of killing a vampire.”
“Except you kill people. You tried to get Dean too hungry to think, and then you tried to kill him,” Sam pointedly remarked. He tapped his fingers on the edge of the computer as he waited for it to come out of sleep-mode.
“I tried—” For a couple seconds, it seemed like Luther was going to try and excuse himself. But then he sighed and nodded. “I try to survive. Maybe you think I should’ve killed myself…well, have you ever tried that? Looked at a big long blade and thought about it? Suicide’s not like switching to a new weapon. It’s not easy.”
Sam stopped tapping his fingers and pressed them hard against the laptop casing till he could faintly feel the whirring of the fan inside. “You had cages back there.”
“I used to pen up cattle and hens for the lean winters, back when I had to live on them. I had cages because I’m careful and I don’t want to kill every day, stir up that many missing persons reports. If you let me go right now, or if I got out, I wouldn’t kill you, and you know why? Because I don’t want your father and your brother having that much more reason to come hunt me down. That’s why I’m almost two hundred years old,” Luther snapped. He jerked so hard at the chains that the toilet actually creaked and pieces of porcelain chipped off.
He stopped once Sam had a machete pricking his Adam’s apple. Luther looked down at the blade, then up at Sam. His shoulders had been pulled up with the effort of wrenching the chains, but now they slumped as he sighed. The undertone of his skin was a sick grey.
Once he was sure Luther wasn’t going to try anything else, Sam lowered the blade and sat back on his heels. He turned the laptop around to make sure he hadn’t broken anything by getting up so quickly. “Why make more vampires? You have to get them fed, and that’s going to attract more attention.”
“For the company,” Luther tiredly said in a low tone. He half-closed his eyes and leaned back as much as he could. “I don’t know about you, but having someone with you gets you through a lot more than you would by yourself.”
Sam wasn’t going to dispute that point, especially after the events of the last year. If he hadn’t been around, Dean would have been dead a month ago, and if Dean hadn’t been around, Sam’s powers might have gotten someone killed by now.
The phone suddenly rang, startling Sam so his arm bumped Luther’s leg. He shifted back and kept a tight grip on the machete as he dug out the phone. Luther noticed and looked grimly amused. “I don’t have that much slack,” he said.
They were close enough so that Sam felt the faintest trace of Luther’s breath. He put the phone to his ear as he started to move back to safer ground. “Hello?”
*Hi, Sam,* said a smoky female voice.