|Badlands V: The Quick and the Dead
Author: Guede Mazaka
For one long, horrible moment, Sam thought it was Meg. Then his mind re-engaged and he realized the voice was too low, too laidback. “Who is this?”
Sam instantly looked at Luther, who was already sitting straight up with eyes fixed on the phone. The chains hadn’t made any noise because they were all stretched out as far as they’d go. The links almost looked as if they were vibrating under the strain; just in case, Sam held onto the machete. “Who?”
*Oh, that’s right.* Coy laugh. There was another noise in the background, some kind of low grating sound. *We haven’t met yet. I’m Luther’s girl. I believe I’ve got something you want, and you’ve got something I want.*
“Yeah?” To Sam’s ear, her taunting tone was a little off. The skin on the back of his neck was prickling to the point where he desperately wanted to peek out the bathroom window, but he wasn’t going to risk crossing in front of Luther. It didn’t help when the wind picked up outside, making tree branches rattle and whistling through the cracks. “Don’t you mean something that you and the guy holding a gun to your head want?”
Another giggle, but beneath that was a low hiss that Sam almost heard as words. *Guns don’t work on vampires, Sam. We’re the biggest, baddest things out there—you don’t think I was going to sit on my ass and watch some desperado torch my family while you hunters took my mate, did you?*
Someone else was there and feeding her the lines, Sam thought. He glanced at Luther again, but Luther hadn’t moved, his face a mask of concentration. If Kate really had been free, Luther might’ve been able to keep his deadpan going, but he wouldn’t have looked so tense.
Dad and Dean were still out. If they had gotten into trouble, that would’ve come up by now, so they had to be fine. But if Sam showed that he knew it was a trick, then the demon or whoever was acting for the demon might be frustrated enough to go out looking and stumble across them. Not to mention there was the possibility of more than one trick being pulled here: it might be natural for Kate to be asking for Luther back, but he couldn’t be what the demon really wanted. Maybe.
“My mistake,” Sam finally said in a tense voice. “So what are you suggesting?”
*A trade. Tomorrow night, midnight. By my old home. Only one of you show up with Luther.*
The wind outside abruptly dropped. After a second, Sam…tried to feel if there was anyone nearby, but no headache sprang up. “And if I think this is a bad idea?”
*Well, I never liked fire before, but now it makes me…crazy. Makes me want to throw something on it, something like an old fancy pistol. I think it’d melt down into some nice silver jewelry for me,* Kate said.
The line went dead after that. Sam took the cell down and stared at it, then thumbed for the number, but all he got was a “(no number)” message. Clever. Frustrating.
“He’s still got her. She doesn’t sound exactly right,” Luther said in an urgent tone. He finally shifted around, letting the chains slacken. A wince crossed his face and his arms started moving slowly up and down: he was rubbing at his wrists.
“But why’s the demon going through all this trouble for you? If it—if it really was to get at me, then why not say I have to be the one to bring you?” In any case, Dad would say they’d have to check it out. Sam started flipping through his contacts list, but paused before he hit the ‘Call’ button. Then he snorted and pressed it; yeah, he could try Dad’s number now and have a good chance that Dad would pick up, but he was used to calling Dean. And he knew Dean would pick up, no matter what was going on.
Luther shrugged. “That’d pretty much give things away. And it doesn’t matter which of you went—if it was you, that makes it easy. If it was your father or your brother, then that just turns it into a two-step trap.”
He had a good point there. Meg had already tried to get at Sam through Dean…but Sam was somehow disinclined to completely trust Luther. “You really were a hunter,” Sam said as he dialed. He put the cell back up to his ear, then frowned as he thought of something. “What happened to your kids?”
For a second, Sam wasn’t sure if Luther was going to try and wrench up the toilet or tell Sam to get the hell out. Then Luther got hold of himself and slumped back to stare at the blinds over the window. “My wife was already dead, so I talked some relatives into moving out and taking over things. Took them a year to get out to the ranch. I have no idea what happened to my sons after that; I left.”
“Weren’t so okay with the vampire life-style back then, huh.” After six rings, Dean’s voicemail message kicked in and Sam ended the call. He sighed and counted to fifteen, then tried again. He might’ve caught Dean inside a building or in one of the many cellular blind spots out here.
“They were children. They weren’t old enough to make the kind of decisions they’d have had to if I stayed. And then afterward…no father wants their kids to have to deal with this sort of thing,” Luther said, voice getting more and more full of anger. By the time he was done, his words were practically singing in rage. He abruptly jerked at his feet, then flinched and settled just as Sam was raising the machete. “I haven’t thought about them in years.”
Sam stared, then suppressed a curse as Dean finally picked up, only to have the call cut off before he’d even said anything. “Why not?”
“Because I like my sanity. Look, I get why you’d call me a monster. But hunters like you, and like I was, are monsters to the monsters. And you think about that stuff too hard and your mind gets tied up and the next thing you know, something’s got you down and gutted.” Luther shut his mouth so hard on the last word that his teeth clicked. He didn’t look like he was planning on continuing.
Just when Sam was dialing for the third time, Dean called back. After filling him and then Dad in, Sam started tidying up the food cartons and notes. He picked up one sheet on which he’d sketched a couple different magic circles, then paused. “I could turn you back,” he said slowly, in a very low voice. “Back into a human.”
It took a moment for Luther to answer, and when he did, his voice was just as soft and deliberate as Sam’s was. “I’m sure you could. But I’ve been a vampire for much longer than I was a person, and I’ve done things I can tolerate in a vampire but not in a person. There’s no such thing as a clean slate, no matter how many magic spells you pull out of your hat.”
“I—” Sam started. Then he stopped himself and worked on clearing out the doorway. He didn’t know why he was still arguing anyway. If it had been an actual discussion, he’d have to bring up walking out on Dad and Dean for college, and he was tired of having to explain himself over that.
Of course, it wasn’t a real discussion. It was him being baited by a very intelligent and quick-witted vampire, and it was about time he stopped. He picked up his laptop and carried it out into the next room to put it away.
Sam absently glanced back into the bathroom and saw Luther staring back in an odd way, like he wanted to say something, only he couldn’t choose the right tone for it. At any rate, it never happened; Luther leaned out of direct sight wearing an expression that was changing to uneasy consideration, and Sam shrugged it off.
* * *
Dean hadn’t really been thrilled at the idea of leaving Sam to pull the first guarding shift, but he hadn’t been able to think of a way to explain why to Dad, and since he wasn’t Sam, he couldn’t question Dad’s calls without giving a damn good reason for it.
Actually, he could think of ways to explain it, but none that didn’t involve talking about how vampirism changed sex and sexual attraction. Neither vampirism nor sex was a subject Dean wanted to discuss in great detail with his father unless he absolutely had to, and the two of them combined…
Anyway, he was feeling a little more sure that Sam’s sympathetic tendencies wouldn’t lead him into dropping his guard around Luther. He hadn’t even mentioned exactly how he and Luther had ended up in a feeding-friendly situation, but Sam had guessed most of it and had looked ready to rip out Luther’s spine for it.
Even so, Dean had his machete close at hand when he walked into the motel room. “Sam?”
“Hey, Dean.” Sam materialized out from the blind spot behind the door and thus nearly got his head chopped off. He startled back, then gave Dean a strange look. “Something happen? Why are you so jumpy?”
“Not from anything we found. It’s dead quiet out there,” Dad said, coming in after Dean. He dropped their bags in the corner, then glanced towards the bathroom.
Following that look, Sam shrugged. “Quiet there, too. He got a little upset when we figured out it was a bluff, but now he’s not saying anything.”
“Well, he’s going to see his girlfriend again any way he looks at it, so he’d better be happy.” Dean watched Sam very carefully, especially when he was moving around Dad, picking up sheets of notes from here and there, but the two of them looked all right.
Relatively speaking. If one defined ‘all right’ as slightly edgy and awkward, with the occasional glance of suppressed confused frustration, then they were fine. Sam and Dad were at least back to the usual state of things between each other, and not apt to snap each other’s heads off. Whatever they’d said while Dean had been sleeping seemed to have cleared things up.
“I thought things over on the way back,” Dad abruptly started. “The plan’s still the same, but now I don’t think it’d be a good idea for Dean to be the one meeting them. He’s got triggers he can’t help, like that deal with falling asleep every afternoon. I’ll do it.”
Sam stopped where he was, hunched over the laptop taking down some more notes. A long, tense silence wound up between him and Dad; Dean silently moaned to himself. Then Sam turned around. “Dad. It’ll be at night, and Dean’s going to eat first. He’ll be fine—anyway, he’s a lot faster and stronger, and since we can’t get any closer than a hundred yards—”
“If what you two say is true, they’re responsible for making Dean a vampire. And they aren’t dumb. They’ll be planning ways to use that against him, and since none of us know much about vampires, then we can’t possibly guess all the ways—”
“They know how to push your buttons, too. Or don’t you remember how they got you to leave us again so they could come attack us later—”
“Hey!” Dean shouted, throwing up his arms. He brought them down almost immediately to press against his temples. If this was the kind of headache Sam kept getting, then Dean was taking back all his teasing about crankiness to remold it into bitching about Sam and Dad’s goddamn headbutting. “Do I get a say in this? Or are we even going to ask the other, I’m-old-and-I-know-everything vampire around here?”
Sam and Dad turned to look at Dean with the same barely-restrained expression of enraged annoyance at the interruption. Struggling beneath that were their senses of practicality. Those eventually won out, but not before they both snorted and made a point of stalking over to the bathroom. Dean didn’t know whether to roll his eyes or just scream. Honestly, when he had to start being the voice-of-reason referee…he just wanted to videotape them sometime and show Sam, at least, that there were some family traditions that just didn’t get shaken off.
In the end, Dean followed after, arriving just in time for Luther to flash him a sarcastic half-smile. “I like how you made your point.”
“Shut up.” Wait, that wouldn’t work; Dean pressed his forehead against the door-frame. “On second thought, talk. But say something useful.”
“Your dad’s right,” Luther said.
Sam’s eyes narrowed, then widened. His mouth opened a little, though he managed to keep from outright gaping. Dad was more stone-faced, but he was surprised as well, and he patently didn’t like it.
“It can’t be Sam, since he’s who the demon is trying to get at. And it can’t be Dean, since if he got into trouble, Sam might lose control of himself and make things worse in trying to help.” Luther twisted his arms so his hands were turned as far out as they could go, then untwisted him with a grimace. He probably had some wicked cramps built up in his muscles. Good, since that’d keep him from trying anything at the last moment. “Your dad might have his own flaws,” he said, looking up at Sam, “But they’re not quite as dramatic. And if they’re you and Dean, then having you cover him is a reasonably good way of dealing with that.”
Dad pointedly cleared his throat. Throughout Luther’s whole analysis, Dad’s face had been getting stormier and stormier, and now…it was a wonder Luther wasn’t self-incinerating. Maybe the Winchesters didn’t always agree among themselves, but that didn’t mean they were going to take criticism from smug outsiders. “The question was whether they’d be able to manipulate Dean’s reactions.”
The trace of amusement still remaining on Luther’s face completely disappeared. He gazed thoughtfully—working hard at that, Dean thought—at Dad for a long couple of seconds before he finally answered in a flat tone. “I love Kate, but she’s no actress. And your son can tell you they made her sound pretty convincing. There’s your answer.”
Luther was just trying to cover up his frustration and worry again, Dean decided. He got that same expression every time Kate came up.
Dad grunted to himself and turned around to look meaningfully at Sam, who glowered back but didn’t say a word. Eventually Sam glanced away, at which point Dad stomped off, probably to get all his weapons cleaned and prepped.
That was what Dean should’ve been doing as well, considering they didn’t know if whoever they were meeting was what Meg had been, and if they could therefore be killed in the same way. Anyway, Dean didn’t even know how Sam had killed Meg. Sam didn’t know how Sam had killed Meg—he didn’t remember anything except he’d pulled some spell out of his ass, then had shoved a crowbar through her heart.
Dean was babbling to himself, and about really morbid subjects to boot, just to have an excuse for not moving without actually tackling the problem. He gave himself a mental kick in the head. “Sam?”
“I still don’t like it,” Sam said.
“Because you think it won’t work or because you’re worried about your dad getting that close?” Luther asked. He bore up pretty well beneath two glares. Way too well—for someone whose true bloodsucking love was in mortal danger and who was about to get played as a pawn in a two-sided bluff that didn’t guarantee any happy reunion, he was—he was always too goddamn calm. “You could think about what’s best for your dad: risking his life, or risking yours or Dean’s and worrying to death about it.”
Sam settled back on his heels, looking a little surprised. He actually mulled that over before answering. “Yeah, I could. Since I’m old enough and my father’s still around.”
That was a weird thing to say, but it obviously meant something to Luther: his face tightened and his lips flattened into a thin line. He started to reply, but Dean got in first, grabbing Sam by the arm. “And you could think about keeping out of it, since it’s not your family. Sam. We have work to do.”
Dean yanked the bathroom door shut behind them, then winced at the ear-splitting bang. A few seconds later, someone in the room to the left loudly banged back. They were probably cursing too, but since Dean couldn’t hear them, they couldn’t hear what was going on in and that wasn’t a problem. At least.
“I just think—” Sam glanced at Dean, then at the open front door through which Dad had just walked. “Yeah, I’m worried about Dad. But I was worried about you and I was…well, as okay as anyone can be about having you do it. I have this bad feeling…”
“It’s not exactly an ideal situation. Look, Sam, I’d rather be the one doing it, too. But Dad’s been hunting this thing longer, so maybe he knows something we don’t about it.” Of course, Sam started to say something about how would they know since Dad never got them up-to-date and Dean had to jerk his hand through the air to get Sam’s attention again. He picked up a bag and rummaged around till he came up with a cleaning brush. “And Luther actually agrees with Dad. What does that tell you?”
Sam sighed and sat down on one of the beds, holding out his hand. He took the rock salt and tools Dean gave him and started making up cartridges. “That he also knows something we don’t, and he’s trying to turn this into a Mexican standoff?” he whispered.
“Probably. But he’s mostly thinking about getting to his girlfriend, and for that, he needs for the trade to not get messed up in the first couple of seconds.” Dean took a seat and broke out his shotgun for cleaning. “Anyway, I think he talks bigger than he knows. I mean, he ran from this thing. He would’ve run from Elkins, who might’ve taught Dad but who had to be feeling the arthritis by now. He does nothing but run—what the hell does he really know?”
A moment later, Dean lifted his head and frowned. He could have sworn Sam had said something in reply, but Sam was busy working. When he noticed Dean staring and looked up, he seemed puzzled. So Dean let it go.
* * *
“Nothing and no one’s around yet,” Dean said, pushing through the brush. The thin branches crackled and snapped like a bunch of miniature firecrackers. “Goddamn it. Well, I didn’t hear anything moving nearby either, so I guess we know for sure.”
Sam and Dad stood in front of the truck’s armory chest, doing some last-minute weaponry shuffling. To the left, Luther was leaning against the truck’s side; his wrists were still manacled, and a rope looped around them kept him tethered to the truck’s rails. He was having a hard time not checking out Dad’s arsenal, which almost gave Dean something to smile about.
“No, we don’t. You can never know when it’s watching and when it’s not,” Dad replied in a short tone. He dug around some more, then swore beneath his breath. “Damn it. I could’ve sworn I had replacement strings in here.”
“For the crossbow? We’ve got some.” Dean tossed Dad the keys, then wandered up by Sam to poke at the crossbow bolts dipped in corpse-blood that they were going to use. He picked one up and sniffed at the tip: it wasn’t edible, but inhaling it didn’t seem to do anything to him. Apparently that was just him being special, since when he waved it towards Luther, he got a recoil. “Incidentally, if Dad didn’t mention this—you try anything and I will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.”
Luther was unimpressed. He wasn’t even paying attention, having turned to stare anxiously at the surrounding woods. “I already got it from Sam.”
“Well, it’s the kind of thing that bears repeating,” Sam muttered. He finished winding up his crossbow with an angry flick of the wrist and set it aside to reach for Dad’s. He looked pretty pissed at the smack Dean gave him.
Not that Dean cared much; he reached over and locked the safety on the first crossbow. “That thing’s prone to go off at the slightest jolt and you know it. Believe me, getting shot by one of these is a bitch.”
Dad seemed to be having problems finding the strings, which gave Dean the perfect excuse for walking off before Sam started up again. Maybe that was unsympathetic of him, but honestly, it wasn’t like Sam had a monopoly on tense worry. Everything had to go off without a hitch for this to work, and if Sam shot himself, that would definitely qualify as a hitch.
“…brother’s protective of you,” came from Luther’s direction. Low murmur.
“Why’d you say that? And none of the lying this time,” Sam hissed back.
Dean glanced up from the trunk, keeping his head down so he wasn’t noticed. They were talking too low to catch Dad’s hear.
“I wasn’t lying. I don’t give a shit about your father and I’ve got no reason to, but I do have one for keeping you as far from that demon as possible.” It was all in a whisper, even with the better hearing Dean had now, but Luther put some odd inflections on his words. The truck kept Dean from seeing his face as he looked at Sam, but Dean could see Sam’s face—could see him stare hard at something troubling and thus crack a little. “Just let your brother take care of you.”
“There they are,” Dad suddenly said, grabbing for a box.
The conversation by the truck instantly stopped; Dean started so violently he nearly brought down the trunk top when his head banged into it. He winced and bent back over, rubbing at the sore spot.
Dad gave him an odd look. “You all right?” When Dean nodded, he got handed the string. “All right, then. Let’s do this.”
* * *
One hundred yards. They stretched like a gulf between the last dwindling of forest into grassy clearing, where Sam and Dean crouched, and the remains of the barn, where their father stood with his side to them. Luther was kneeling on the ground beside him, head slightly tilted to get as far from the machete edge touching his neck as he could.
A woman was—scratch that; a whiff of breeze told Dean vampire--sauntering across the field towards the pair, dangling a long-barreled handgun from her hand. The full moon was shining brightly over the place, letting everyone know she was brunette and, Dean grudgingly admitted, very nice-looking for a monster. Apparently Luther did have good taste in girls.
“That her?” Sam softly called out.
Still too loud for Dean’s taste, though he bit down on telling Sam that. He lifted himself just enough for Sam to see him and nodded.
The vampire—vampiress? whatever—stopped about six feet away. She smiled widely enough for Dean to be able to see the flash of her teeth and she made a lot of theatrical gesturing, but her eyes kept darting to Luther. However convincing she’d been on the phone, she’d since lost it. Dean slowly pushed forward and got ready to run; the crossbows wouldn’t cover the distance, so Sam would stall with the rifle till Dean could run up.
Dad said something and Dean strained his hearing as far as it’d go, but the wind carried the words away. But he did hear Sam hiccup.
Dean glanced over, then looked again, because that was not Sam slowly rising into plain sight without even his rifle leveled at anything. He opened his mouth to yell just as he got around to seeing how wide and horrified Sam’s eyes were; Dean immediately whipped around.
But it all seemed to be going to plan in the field: Kate was just getting up from putting down the pistol, while Dad was wrapping the extra rope around his hand, getting ready to drag up Luther. Kate and Luther were staring hard at each other, so hard that Dean saw the pull between them a split second before Luther suddenly twisted, falling to one side and taking Dad nearly down to the ground with him.
“Dad!” Dean was up and running, snapping off the crossbow’s safety as he went. No time to worry about that now, because while Dad had managed to catch himself and stay up right, he was too slow.
That vampire bitch was diving for the pistol again. It was still too long of a shot, but Dean took it anyway, and somehow got the bolt to just graze Kate’s shoulder. Luther shouted about dead blood and she threw herself down, the pistol flying out from her hand towards the barn. Her head came up so Dean could see the fury in her eyes.
Then she was busy getting hauled away by Luther, who really hadn’t been lying when he said he’d get the hell out first and kill later, and Dean was struggling to reload even as he kept running so they broke eye-contact. He was close enough to hear the stuttering inhale Luther took on seeing him come up—Dean skidded, then dropped to his knee and aimed.
“Dad!” screamed someone else—Sam.
Dean reflexively glanced around. Then a gunshot cracked the air and he snapped to face the direction from which it’d come.
Another man had appeared—from the barn; there was nowhere else he could’ve hidden—and he had the pistol in his hand and he was aiming it straight at Dad, who’d dropped the machete but had his gun only half-drawn. Dad was facing him, blocking Dean’s view, and wasn’t moving.
“Bastard!” Kate furiously hissed. She took a step towards the stranger, but Luther grabbed her waist and dragged her back; he looked terrified. But his footing wasn’t sound and he went down.
He took Kate down as well, but not before the strange man had pivoted and shot her in the shoulder. That put his face where Dean could see it, and a stirring in the air brought his scent to Dean: sharp, acrid, painful to inhale.
Kate screamed and something seemed to wriggle violently beneath the sleeve of her injured arm. She staggered, then stumbled back over Luther so he couldn’t get up right away. Hideous black tendrils suddenly splayed over the skin of her neck, and she clawed and scratched at them, but they only pulsed, getting stronger as she seemed to weaken.
“So both gun and bullets are necessary,” the man said. He was surprised, but surprised the way a robot might be programmed to be. “You aren’t leaving till you tell me where.”
He seemed to be talking to Luther, having totally forgotten everyone else. Bad move—Dad shot him only a fraction of a section before Dean did. The bullet took him in the forehead, while the bolt ripped through his left pectoral. The twin impacts rocked him back a few steps.
Then he straightened up, and suddenly a whirl of steel was flying at Dean: the machete.
Dean shoved up the crossbow, barely parrying. He heard the chunk of the blade getting stuck halfway or more in the handle and let go of the crossbow to drop and roll. The wrong goddamn way, he realized when Dad shouted and Dad sounded farther and here was his foot getting stuck in some gopher hole. He looked up to see nothing but silver, then frantically twisted till his foot came loose barely in time; the wind of the machete flying by scorched the side of his neck. Fucking demon—figured they’d be telekinetics, too.
Something in his ankle snapped hard, and maybe vampires were stronger and healed faster, but the pain sure as hell didn’t ease up. Hissing, Dean forced himself over again, towards the sound of shooting, and came upright just as the blade came around again.
He ducked, and it flew on to neatly cleave off Kate’s head just as Luther had gotten a good enough hold on her knees to keep him from blindly stumbling around anymore. The blood splattered before Dean got more than a glimpse of Luther’s face, but what he did see was ferociously and terribly grief-stricken.
Then he was rolling over, only realizing the machete was flying the same way when it was too late to scramble out of its path. Dean went stiff—
--watched it sweep over him and move on…towards Dad, who was shooting at it and whose gun had just clicked on empty. “Da-”
“Dad!” Sam screamed again, and everything blew over in a scorching power-wind.
It whipped Dean around to the side, and when he struggled against it, the roaring air slammed him face-first into the ground. He forced his head up out of sheer cussedness, then watched as a wave of fire took the barn broadside, sweeping the stranger back into it. A second later, the whole thing went up in one huge blue flame.
Fire. Oh, God. Words just died in Dean’s throat, where everything now tasted like ashes.
No. “Sam? Sam!”
And a long, long time later, after it seemed like Dean’s nerves were finally going to break for good: “…Dean.”
“Sam. Sam, it’s okay. It’s okay. We’re okay. You just got the ones that needed it.” Dean painfully turned himself over to see Sam—that was his goddamned brother in those eyes—walking unsteadily over the field.
A nearby sound startled Dean and he turned back just as a hand grabbed his arm and swung it up over a broad pair of shoulders. Dad pressed something hard with a narrow long warm part—the pistol—into Dean’s hand, then heaved him onto his feet. “It’s not dead. We’ve got to go. Can you walk?”
“Yes, sir,” Dean muttered.
“We’ve got to go,” Dad repeated more loudly. To Sam, who jerked to attention and stared wildly at them before finally nodding. He’d been looking past them, towards the barn.
Dean glanced over his shoulder. There was no barn now, and no ruins—nothing but a huge charred patch of ground. And…and there was no Kate’s head or body, or Luther.
“Come on.” Dad started walking Dean forward.
A second later, Sam came up and took Dean’s other side. They hurried away as quickly as they could, none of them saying a single word.