|Moebius Time II: Down-Home Week
Author: Guede Mazaka
In the end, nobody slept in the bed. Dean and Luther hauled it into the corner, and after Luther went down to get things settled with the madam, he came back up with a couple of thick, bug-free blankets that they spread out on the floor. “Jane sends her apologies about the bed. Business has been so good they can’t keep up.”
“Eighteen-fifty-five,” Sam muttered. He’d picked out a corner and planted himself in it, and he’d been hunched over his notes ever since, reading and rereading them. “Shit. What month is it? When is it going to end up the capitol?”
Luther blinked, then dug into his pockets. He came up with that piece of newspaper again and checked the date. His eyebrows rose. “It’s sometime in March.”
“March? It was late September back when we…back where we’re from,” Dean said. His shock was rapidly turning into irritation at everything from the damn flea-infested mattress to how the English language completely wasn’t equipped for time travel. Which just proved that that crap wasn’t right in the first place.
“They chose Pawnee in…May. The legislature didn’t move down till July. We’ve got time. Anyway, it’ll help since there’s so many new folks flooding in, building up the place,” Luther muttered, going over to the window. He prodded the frame a few times, then started working his way around the walls.
Dean watched him for a while, trying to figure out what the hell the guy was on about now, but finally just gave up. He glanced at Sam only to find his bro still in the corner, so he went over and started forcibly shifting Sam’s notes onto the blankets.
“Hey!” Sam made a grab for one, then was all pissed off when Dean slapped a hand over his mouth. He jerked away, then huffily got himself up and moved everything over. Then he started reorganizing.
Luther had jerked around at the noise, but since it was Sam, he let it go with just a glower and not one of his smart-ass comments. He went back to tapping at the walls.
“Folks? Jesus, do we really have to talk like that?” Dean asked. He yanked at his collar again as he watched Luther. “What are you looking for?”
“Well, you could just shut up. Probably save us a lot of other trouble that way, too. I’m checking to make sure the house is a straight one—sometimes they put in trap-doors so they can rob you when you’re sleeping. Or busy. Seems okay.” Done checking out the architecture, Luther swung back to the window and fidgeted with the sash for a couple seconds. He finally just jerked it open and stuck out his head.
At first Dean figured Luther was trying to smell for something, but then the crazy son of a bitch bent over, like he was going to hurl, and started to take long, slow breaths. Right about then, Dean realized Luther was trying to work himself through some kind of panic attack. That didn’t make him feel as smug as he really should’ve, given how much Luther’s unflappability got on his nerves.
Dean looked over his shoulder and saw Sam staring at Luther. Then Sam started to get up, but stopped when Dean waved him down. He raised an eyebrow. “What’s with him?”
“He’s just freaking. And he was on my case earlier,” Dean snorted, getting down on the floor. He flopped over in front of Sam so if his bro wanted to go poke at the vampire, he’d have to go over Dean first. “No, really, that’s all I’m smelling off him.”
“You sure? Doppelgangers usually aren’t a good thing, and yeah, this is time travel and not the same thing, but…” Sam gave Dean a funny irritated look, then went back to his notes. “Well, fine, if you’re going to be that way about it.”
He didn’t seem inclined to explain what the hell that had meant, and since Dean had a few guesses about it, he wasn’t real eager to get into another fight about it. He just laid down on his back and stared at the ceiling, trying not to listen to the three other couples having sex on their floor. One of them had two girls in there, and they had the shrillest damn voices—and somewhere on the ground floor, there was a woman who was having her period. Goddamn it.
“I feel like an idiot,” Sam suddenly muttered. He screwed up his face and angrily poked at his handful of sheets. “All right, come on. Say it. Tell me I should’ve listened to you about the place. Come on, Dean. You know you want to.”
Yeah, but not when Sam was asking for it with that kind of savage hurt in his voice. Dean rolled half-over, then stopped to pull at his damn collar again. The only real wardrobe choices had been fucking cowboy gear or scratchy bank teller suits, and since Dean wasn’t interested in a hoe-down…he’d gone with the suit.
So had Sam; the shirts and coat hadn’t been too bad, but they’d had a hell of a time finding pants that would fit him. Their own jeans had looked fine from where Dean was—didn’t Levi’s claim something about having dressed the Gold Rush or whatever?—but Luther had sworn up and down that the cut wouldn’t work. Too baggy, and baggy meant…stuff Dean hadn’t quite caught due to the way Luther’s accent had been randomly thickening and disappearing at that point. At any rate, that meant Sam had to dress like an undertaker—literally, since apparently the town’s last funeral director had been a six-six scarecrow.
“Okay,” Dean said, glancing up at him. “You look like a runaway from the Addams Family.”
For a moment, Sam stared. Then he shook his head and pushed at Dean’s shoulder with his free hand. A small, bitter half-smile briefly turned up his mouth. “Yeah, right.”
“Sammy, just—go to sleep, okay? We’ll get back.” Dean pulled the notes out of Sam’s hand and folded them up. He yanked up his elbow to block Sam’s grab for them, then rolled over so he could stuff them into his inside coat pocket before Sam could get at them.
Sam rolled his eyes and held out his hand. Which Dean looked curiously at while he rolled over on his belly, since he couldn’t exactly do anything with—well, one idea wormed itself into him, like a red-hot strand threaded through his gut, but he slammed it down before it got any farther. He anxiously checked Sam’s face, but it didn’t seem as if the other man had picked up on it.
“Hmm?” Dean blinked innocently up at Sam.
After another second, Sam threw up his hand in exasperation. He roughly pushed his feet past Dean’s knees as he laid down, grumbling about idiot overprotective older brothers. Dust flew up and spangled in the dim light, then gently began to float down.
Some of it got thrown back up a few moments later, when Sam realized sleeping would be more comfortable without a tie on, and maybe without the coat, too. After he wrestled that off, he bundled it under his head; Dean wordlessly offered his own, which was a little too tight across the shoulders anyway. Then Sam got down again and turned so his back was to Dean: one last little spurt of annoyance. Goddamn brat sometimes.
Dean could still see the pale curve of Sam’s cheek, and then the dip of Sam’s neck. He leaned towards them, then pulled back when he realized he was going a little too far to just be checking on whether Sam really was sleeping. The blankets were pretty thick, but if he dug his nails down hard enough, he could feel the wood grain of the floor planks.
Naturally, when Dean looked over at the third in the room, Luther was watching them, half-wary and half-jealous. The window was still open behind him, letting in a stiff breeze and a hell of a stink. Luther glanced at it, then pushed down the sash and looked at Dean as if to say, ‘Happy now?’ Not likely. Then he looked at Sam, tilting his head.
“I’m not going to,” Dean snarled, real low beneath his breath. He knew Luther could still hear him and he didn’t want to disturb Sam, whose breathing was starting to slow into real slumber. “Don’t fucking look at me like that, like you’re any better.”
“When he wakes up, mind asking him to make up a list of the supplies he’d need for the blood spell?” Luther asked, all nice and calm. He latched the window, then padded silently across the room to the door. He honestly didn’t look too different from before, except for the boots and the wide-brimmed hat he had in one hand. “There are two other saloons in town. I’m going out to work on a bankroll.”
Dean moved so he could still meet Luther’s eyes, but kept himself curled close to Sam. “And some necks?”
“I can make do with steers if I have to. I’d worry about you with your finicky stomach,” Luther snorted. His eyes flicked over Sam again. “Should you be doing that?”
He put his hand on the doorknob, but just then somebody went by in the hall and they both froze. Then Luther opened the door, swinging himself around so anybody in the hall wouldn’t be able to see Sam and Dean’s feet.
It’d be one or two days before Dean got hungry enough for it to be a real problem, but even without the hard ache of an empty stomach, he was still feeling an urge to get closer to Sam. Low, insistent, but getting stronger all the time, and it was seriously starting to worry him. He hadn’t been sure whether it was a passing phase or not so he hadn’t mentioned it yet, but it was starting to sound like Luther had guessed. “Why don’t you just live off animals anyway?”
“They taste horrible. And if you want a decent drink—well, you’ve never tried to chase down a goddamn deer, have you?” Rhetorical question, apparently, since Luther walked out without waiting for an answer from Dean. He closed the door and locked it from the outside, which amused Dean a little. Then his footsteps thudded down the hall, paused—cute little girly giggle—and continued down the staircase.
Dean laid back down and put his arms under his head. He closed his eyes and tried to think about all the crap that’d be coming up—stuff they had to get, possible problems—but he couldn’t concentrate. When he opened his eyes, he found that he’d twisted around so he was facing the back of Sam’s neck, and at that point he said to hell with it and got up.
After getting a new seat across the room, Dean started trying to figure out if they could do anything about the demon while they were around. And what would happen in the future—in their real time—but still, there was—he jerked himself to his feet so hard that his heel thumped against the floor. Sam’s breath hitched and he moved around, but after a moment he settled down again. Dean dropped into the one chair of the room and took out his gun, then realized about all he could do was unload and reload, then shine it up with his shirt-tail.
He shrugged and pulled up his shirt. The damn tails were ridiculously long, hanging almost to his knees, so he might as well use them.
* * *
Sam woke up to the sound of the door-lock rattling. He glanced around and found Dean slumped in the chair, head thrown back and mouth wide open and well into the coma-stage of his day-sleeping. It’d be too hard to wake him up in time, so Sam twisted around to face the door. He’d just gotten his gun out when the door opened and barely shoved it beneath his coat in time.
A wide brown eye peered at him. Then a push sent the door open a few more inches and a woman was leaning into the room, smiling so he could see lots of creamy white teeth. Her front teeth were crooked and her nose was too long, but she was still very pretty…and her dress definitely wasn’t shy.
“Hello,” she cooed. “You one of the boys we were supposed to be expecting? My, did you ride in early. You didn’t even stop in the front to say hi to us lonely little prairie doves.”
Well…okay, they did actually say that kind of stuff. Weird. “Sorry,” Sam said. “We—”
“Aw, I forgive you already, you look so…sweet.” Something about the woman was off, niggling at the back of Sam’s mind even while he kept staring at her—he frowned and really tried to look away, only to find that he couldn’t. At the same time, the woman suddenly straightened up, her teasing mood quickly vanishing. “What the—”
She jerked around to glare at somebody, pulling her arms in; a big hand was wrapped around her left upper arm. She started to speak again, but the same person roughly pushed her out of view. “No,” Luther said.
Sam had started to get up, but now he sat back down and watched. He still kept his fingers wrapped around his gun.
“Holy Mary taking a shit,” the woman snarled. She’d sounded pretty middle-class and like Sam or Dean before, but now her voice had deepened and she had a twang that could’ve slung an arrow a couple hundred yards. “Get your goddamn hands off me. You could’ve just said—”
“Then I’m sayin’, and thank you kindly, ma’am,” Luther sarcastically replied. He backed into the room, then spun on his heel to push the door shut. It looked like he’d rather have slammed it and only remembered they were trying to stay lowkey at the last moment.
Over in the chair, Dean abruptly twisted, then slowly sat up, blearily blinking around. Then he stiffened in the middle of a yawn; his mouth snapped shut and he jerked himself about just as Luther turned towards him. “What—”
“She’s gone off to bed now. But that fucking low-country whore’s gonna—” Luther cut himself off, putting one hand up on the door. He leaned forward, head down, then pushed himself back and shook his head. When he spoke again, his accent had gone back to vague. “Damn. I’d forgotten about that, too.”
Sam looked back and forth between the other two, then took a wild guess. “Vampires haven’t been hunted out of existence yet.”
“Nope. Shit. Like the state politics weren’t bad enough,” Luther growled to himself. “She’s about a year old, so her maker’ll still be around with the rest of his nest.”
Once it was clear things were cool, Dean had gone back to rubbing at his eyes. He struggled hard against his yawn, but could only manage to sluggishly cover his mouth. “So…fine…slasher party. Make me feel better, anyway.”
“Right up until we mess something up for later and we go home to the wrong present. Besides, vampires aren’t just around—they’re thick as locusts here with all the unrest. You start cutting and you’ll end up with a war, and we don’t exactly have the time for it.” Luther slid in front of the dresser and started pulling handfuls of something out of his pockets. When he dropped them on top of the dresser, it was to the accompaniment of clinks and clatters, so Sam assumed he’d been out hustling card games. “She smelled familiar. If I know her maker, then I can—”
“Uh, no? Do we look stupid?” Though Dean definitely looked half-asleep, despite the clear fury he was working up in himself. “I can so see where this is going. We get stuck in Wild West Kansas where everybody you know isn’t dead yet, so you think you can—”
“Pretty much everybody I know here is dead, too,” Luther snapped. After a moment, he took a long breath and put his hands on the dresser, pressing down till the wood creaked. “All right. Look. It’s eighteen-fifty-five. I’ve only been a vampire for about twenty years, and right before that, most of the people I knew as a human had all gotten themselves killed off going after the demon. When I say I might know the vampires around here, I mean I will know them.”
That…was pretty confusing, and Sam wasn’t even living it. He briefly felt some sympathy for Luther. But that didn’t change the fact that the guy did have a history of following his own agenda, and of not telling them about it till after the fact. “So where are you right now?”
“California. I passed through Kansas on my way west in the twenties, and I didn’t get back to the place till next year.” Luther turned around in time for Sam and Dean to see him make a face at the weird way that sounded. His fingers pushed things around on the dresser; they shoved out a bunch of coins piled on paper bills at one point. “My land was in Oklahoma. I stayed there till a cousin could come out and take care of it and my sons, and then I started trying to find out what’d happened to Ivan.”
“The guy who had the Colt first—shit! I left that in the car!” Dean managed to get himself out of the chair on the energy of that panic attack, but it abandoned him soon after so he sat down hard on the floor. He put a hand to his mouth and bit at his knuckles, trying to stay awake.
Sam crawled over and pulled Dean’s wrist down. “Look, time-warps usually take you right back to the same day and time as when you left.”
“How much about time-warps do you really know about?” Dean snapped.
A lot less than Sam had been trying to make the other two think, but if he started freaking out, then they were going to be in real trouble. As it was, even when everything else was going right, Dean and Luther were still a pin-drop away from ripping at each other’s throats. “Besides, we can’t do anything about it now.”
Hopefully they’d take that as just him talking over Dean, trying to hammer the commonsense into Dean’s head. It looked like Dean might be too aggravated to pay attention right now—or at least to argue—but Luther wasn’t buying it. He wasn’t going to prod either, from the way he glanced away from Sam. “Anyway, back to my point. Ivan died somewhere in the Sierras. I got out there, and then it took me fifteen years to get back as far east as Kansas. You know why?”
“Can we all please cut the dramatics?” Sam sighed.
“Because there are enough vampires so that they’ve marked out territories, and they don’t like loners.” Luther cocked his head, looking thoughtful. “Actually, for that matter, we never did figure out if some of them were working with the demon…”
Great, like they needed more to worry about. Sam started to ask for more detail about that, but then noticed Dean trying not to slump to the floor. The tendons were literally popping in Dean’s neck from the effort, and that…that just wasn’t going to help.
“God, just lie down,” Sam said, reaching over again. The first time he tried to get Dean’s arm, the other man jerked away, but the second time Dean couldn’t even lift his head to look at Sam. “Come on. It’s not like you’re any good like this, so you might as well rest up.”
“Way to flatter me, Sammy.” But Dean fell over pretty easily, then didn’t put up any resistance when Sam started rearranging his arms and legs.
No, he actually was clever this time and waited till Sam brushed up against his hand. Then his fingers clamped down on Sam’s sleeve, and he wouldn’t let go till Sam finally leaned down. “What?”
“Don’t do anything before I wake up.” Dean’s grip momentarily loosened. Then it tightened, and he pulled Sam down with a surprisingly strong effort. “I mean it, Sammy.”
“We don’t exactly know enough for me to do anything anyway. I won’t. Really.” Sam twisted his arm around till his sleeve slipped loose. He began to push himself up, but Dean was still looking at him like an exasperated, pleading puppy—honestly, his so-called puppy-face was nothing in comparison—so Sam awkwardly squeezed Dean’s shoulder. “I swear.”
Dean stared up at him for a little longer, then finally closed his eyes. Barely a second later, he’d gone so slack that Sam could push a finger nearly an inch into his forearm and just watch the flesh give; the sound of his breath abruptly stopped, and the patch of blanket in front of his mouth and nose ceased fluttering.
“The lock’s not that great,” Luther said.
“I’ve still got chalk with me. I’ll just do a half-circle in front of that and the window.” Sam crawled backwards, then remembered his coat. He dug it out from behind Dean and shook it out. The wrinkles were pretty bad, but whatever; he swung it on, then turned around to see Luther giving him one of those looks. “What? At the least, we’re gonna need to hit the drugstore or whatever the equivalent is. I need stuff so I can make blood for Dean. Which we definitely can’t do in here.”
After a long moment, Luther turned away to make a wide circle around Sam. The top of the dresser was clear, but he’d picked up several small leather bags, one of which he dropped by Dean while Sam chalked a barrier spell across the door.
“We can’t stay here for much longer either. That girl’ll have her maker on us by tonight. There are a couple abandoned homesteads nearby that I heard about,” Luther said, tone carefully neutral. “It’s cloudy out, so I was planning to look at them anyway. You could give me a list and I could stop at the store on the way back.”
“And why are you starting on me? I thought you would’ve been happy about not putting up with Dean?” Emotions could seriously screw up a spell, even when it was just a chalking like this and didn’t involve any speech, so Sam tried to keep his temper under control. But Jesus Christ, what made Luther think he had the fucking right—like he was their father, and when his kind of interest had nothing to do with anything like that.
He flinched, which made a black, deeply-buried part of Sam feel a lot better. Then he shrugged it off and walked towards the window; the other little bags had gone into his pockets. “Everything else aside, Sam, you’re over six feet tall. You stand out.”
“You’re almost as tall as me,” Sam pointed out. Not to mention broader in the shoulders, and having that vampiric magnetism to boot.
“Yeah, but I have a really strong Texas accent. Everybody knows they breed ‘em big down thataway. You sound too Eastern.” Like he said, the accent could really come out when Luther wanted it to, apparently. He seemed to be getting a better handle on it. “You look fresh, too. Like you just came in on the day coach.”
Sam finished the chalking, then crossed the window and squatted down next to Luther. He banged an elbow into Luther’s leg; after a second, Luther moved and Sam started on the second chalking. “Now who’s pushing it? Flirting the moment Dean’s out?”
A sharply-drawn breath right above Sam’s head. The boot by Sam briefly ground down its heel so the planking groaned, then slowly started to drag itself away. The chalking was only half-done, but Sam took the risk and grabbed Luther’s ankle without pausing in drawing. He heard a strange grinding noise, then realized it was Luther’s teeth. But by then, Sam had tranced a little, like he usually did when doing magic, and wasn’t really bothered by it. He just finished up the second spell. Then he let go of Luther and stood up.
The pupils of Luther’s eyes were spasming, flicking from pinpoints to black holes rimmed with the thinnest edge of green in no particular pattern. They tracked Sam on his way up, then stayed fixed on Sam’s face till he casually rubbed at his neck, and then they shot there. Luther sucked part of his lower lip into his mouth and bit hard into it—hard enough to make him wince.
“Dean’ll be okay here?” Sam asked.
“Should be. She doesn’t seem that stupid—she can’t be; she’s the only one working this house, so the madam’s not in on it. She’ll wait for her nest-mates to come help, and they won’t till sundown. In the meantime, he could probably take anything that came after him.” When Luther had flinched, he’d jerked his head sideways and now he had his eyes glued to the window. His drawl was thick as molasses now, but not nearly as smooth. It sounded more like somebody had gotten a good grip on his throat. “Except finding you gone.”
Sam rolled his eyes at the lame attempt. Usually Luther did a better guilt-trip than that. “Well, we’re gonna be back before then, right? I just need to buy things, and then you can go look at the farms. Hey, can you get a deer or something while you’re out there? I’m guessing it’d be hard to find a butcher’s that sells cow blood around here.”
“This is a shitty idea.” Each word came reluctantly from Luther. He turned his head farther away from Sam, eyes dropping to the sill.
He jerked when Sam touched his cheek. His eyes squeezed shut and his lips dropped open a little so Sam could hear the air popping as Luther tried to take a breath. Sam pulled his fingertip down Luther’s cheek to the middle of his throat, then lightly slashed it across before he pulled away. He didn’t like resorting to this—didn’t like how it felt, how his gut got all knotted up and the blood in his neck and jaw warmed—but if he had to, he had to. Dean was going to need the blood, and Sam wasn’t going to take a chance that Luther might sneak something into the spell that’d screw it up. There were already so many ways that something Sam did would end up in poisoning Dean.
“I’m going. Either you come or you don’t, but I’m going,” Sam softly told Luther.
Who still wasn’t looking at him. After a moment, Luther swallowed so Sam could see the gorge in his throat fall and then slowly rise again. He turned stiffly around and leaned forward to open the window without scuffing the chalking on the floor. “You know, in the beginning I liked you,” Luther muttered, sounding like he was talking more to himself.
“And what, you don’t now? That’ll make Dean feel better.” Sam pulled at his coat a few times, then decided there wasn’t any real way he could bundle it up and climb through the window at the same time. Once Luther was out, he just did the best he could and hoped he didn’t rip anything. At least the window opened out onto part of the roof so it wasn’t a sheer drop.
It was close, but Luther reached back and unhooked whatever Sam had snagged. Then he helped Sam the rest of the way through in an amazing display of limited contact, then closed the window. He did something with a knife and string that got the latch to shut. “I hope it does.”
That didn’t make any sense, but Luther was stalking over to the edge of the roof before Sam could ask. Sam just filed it for later, if they ever did have spare time for that kind of crap, and hurried after.
* * *
Even the backstreets were filled with a steady traffic of people despite the early hour, and Sam got enough blatant stares to make him feel like apologizing for Luther about ignoring him about that. But Pawnee was pretty small, so Sam just gritted his teeth and hunched over as best he could for the walk. That part actually wasn’t that hard, since it was damn cold and Sam’s suit wasn’t keeping out the wind very well. By the time they stepped into the ‘medecin store,’ he had his teeth clamped together to keep them from chattering.
The store had a roaring blaze in its fireplace, so it was amazingly warm. And it was amazingly well-stocked compared to a modern-day drug-mart—at least for what Sam needed. Convenient that they sold stuff like mercury powders over the counter.
He dealt with the whole accent thing by muttering to Luther, who stood at the counter and did the actual ordering. Sam poked around in each jar or paper twist before he okayed it. It got them more weird looks from the counter-guy.
“Planning on starting your own shop?” the druggist asked Luther. He added a little laugh to make it into a joke, but he wasn’t.
Luther snorted and shook his head. “Hell, no. I got my hands full enough with the business I already got—that’s arranging wagon trains. My cousin here’s a vet, just grad-yu-ated from Harvard. Got a lamed horse, he says he needs all this to fix it.”
The counter-guy visibly relaxed, and while he rang them up, he advised them on some remedy involving oil-paper and camphor. Luther nodded, smiled, drawled like he was getting paid for every inch further he stretched a vowel, and then stuffed their packages under his arm after he’d paid.
“Vet? Harvard? I don’t think Harvard ever had a vet school,” Sam muttered as they walked out.
“Believe me, they’ll never bother to find out.” Exit the drawl. The constant shifting between the two accents was really starting to get on Sam’s nerves; it seemed to bother Luther, too, since he kept giving himself a shake every time he did it. He led them around the side of the store and into an alley running parallel to the street, occasionally glancing up at the roofs. “Are you going back now?”
Something made the back of Sam’s neck prickle. He casually started checking out the roofs as well, then took a quick glance behind them. “Yeah, I think so…”
It wasn’t anybody or anything on the street, so Sam started looking at windows. Most of them were heavily curtained, but he caught enough fabric fluttering to be suspicious.
“Good.” Luther pulled his hat down to shade more of his face, then tugged his sleeves over his hands. He sniffed the air a few times, then grimaced. “You don’t object if I hurt them, do you?”
“I thought you said that was a bad idea.” The sky was patched over with clouds, looking like a ragged quilt, and more heavy-bellied storm-heads were rapidly billowing up from the north. In a couple hours, it’d probably be as dark as late evening again.
“I said trying to kill them all would be a bad idea. How long before you can take us back?” Something fluttered up on one of the roofs and Luther slowly spun to look at it, then continued turning around till he was facing forward again. He cracked a couple knuckles, but kept on walking.
Sam hid his wince as best he could and pretended to think. In all honesty, he really wasn’t sure. It’d already gone on pretty long for just a common—well, the most common—kind of time-slip, so there had to be other factors involved. He hadn’t picked up anything before they’d started the spell, so most magic was out.
God, he missed his laptop. That and modern university libraries, and…damn it, they didn’t even have Dad’s notebook with them.
“I was meaning to ask you something about that—well, sort of. You said when you were—you’re going to be in Lawrence in a year, and it’s going to be ‘complicated.’ Like how?” They passed what looked like a couple houses hastily thrown up against the backs of pre-existing stores. Some of them had sagged away from the other buildings so there were narrow gaps in between them, and through one of them Sam glimpsed a strange pair of eyes, dark but glowing.
The glow was the reflection of a match-flame, which the man was using to light a cigar. He finished and raised his head while shaking out the match; his and Sam’s eyes briefly met. It was Richard Brown, the hanged silversmith.
“I don’t know. Yet. I think I’m probably going to find out in a couple days,” Luther was saying. “Sam?”
“Huh—yeah, okay, which means what?” Sam looked at Luther, then glanced back through the crack. Nothing. Plus something about Brown, something hazy about the edges of him, suggested an incorporeal form, so okay, they probably had a ghost. Maybe the spell had taken Sam too damn literally.
Luther didn’t answer for a couple of steps; Sam turned back to him, then lifted a hand towards Luther’s elbow. He shot a harsh, angry look at Sam and sharply twisted away so Sam missed. “Means I’m beginning to think that something we did here caught up with me there, only of course I couldn’t have known back then. You don’t have to do that.”
“Not if you keep playing nice.” They were back at the hotel. Sam could reach up and touch the gutter without having to even get up on his toes, but the crude curved strip of iron didn’t look like it’d been nailed down too tightly. He glanced around, but didn’t really see anything he could put his foot on. Nobody was around this spot right now, but it was too accessible for him to just lift himself up.
“Give me your foot,” Luther finally muttered, bending down. He hoisted Sam up onto the roof without even needing an extra breath, then backed off to dust himself down.
Sometimes it was hard to remember exactly what Luther was, when he was letting a fingertip on his cheek, or a couple of drops of blood smeared over his mouth, get to him so easily. But when he was fed, he probably could match Dean for strength and speed, and he definitely had more experience and knowledge on his side. He wasn’t tame by a long-shot; he still was a vampire, and he still had a vampire’s basic drives.
“You’d better be back before it even looks like sundown,” Sam said. He gingerly leaned back over the edge to look Luther in the eyes. “Dean needs to eat tonight.”
Luther shortly nodded. He started to say something, then thought better of it and slipped back into the alley, soaking into the shadows like he was one.
* * *
The house Luther was offering up as home base hadn’t been occupied in a couple months, as far as Dean could tell, but the bare essentials, like walls and roof, hadn’t started to break down yet. It was about motel-room-sized, which apparently was ‘large’ for the time period, and there was space in the back to shelter the two horses Luther had gotten out of nowhere. God knew why, since they didn’t seem to like either him or Dean much, and Sam sure as hell wouldn’t know what to do with them.
“You can train them to get used to it,” Luther said. “And no, I don’t think we’re going to be around that long, but at the very least you can jump on one and get it running if you have to. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the mood to jog everywhere.”
“Well, you’re touchy. Sleep-deprivation?” Dean actually felt pretty good in that department, despite a crick in his neck and a serious new hatred for perfume. The stuff the bordello girls used was raw, like it was meant more to take off layers of skin.
Luther snorted and nodded outside. “No, dealing with idiot yearlings. You still want a fight tonight?”
He wasn’t talking about horses anymore. The whole time they’d been in town, Dean had felt eyes on him, and he was pretty sure it hadn’t been due to how stupid he looked in his damn clothes. “What, you changed your mind? The head honcho swipe a meal from you or something?”
“I have no idea who he is. But I figure hanging around town and making a commotion’s as good as any way to flush him out, and you’re pretty good at that,” Luther sarcastically said. The skin over his jaw and the backs of his hands was a little reddened, but otherwise he didn’t seem any worse for spending the whole day out and about.
Which Dean hadn’t been happy about when he’d found out, but Sam was in a mood, too. Every time Dean tried to talk to him, even just about little details like “the water-pump still works, so I thought I’d get you a bucketful,” he just gave Dean a cold brush-off. He was currently holed up in the room they were calling a bedroom, sketching out pentagrams and stuff like that on the floor with the burned tip of a stick. And now Luther was being all weird, too. “Uh, thanks, but I think I’ll pass on the suicide mission. Anyway, aren’t we supposed to be getting a cow or whatever? You know, for eating purposes?”
“Then we still have to go back to town.” One of the horses skittered in its stall again, banging up against the side. Luther glanced at it, then moved downwind. He started picking at the flaking skin on the back of his right hand.
“When we passed at least one ranch on the way out?” Dean asked. He was trying to keep his head here till he figured out what had gone down while he’d been asleep, but God, was everybody making it difficult.
And if Luther gave him one more look like he was a goddamn moron, he was going to start a commotion right here. Fine, he didn’t know shit about freaking old-time Kansas—well, it wasn’t like he ever thought that would be a survival skill he’d need.
“Dean. They hang people for stealing livestock,” Luther not-so-patiently informed him. “And when you don’t die? Then they’re going to try burning and staking and all the rest—it’s not that hard to convince people right now that superstitions are real.”
“Dracula hasn’t been written yet, has it?” If they were going into town, then they probably should get a move on. The sun was more or less down now.
Luther rolled his eyes and put his hand on the nearest stall door to swing it open. “One of the two barbers in town is central Europe something. I think he said Hungarian.”
They hadn’t even untacked the horses yet, since they’d just wanted to see if the stables would work; the stalls were on the small side. There was some scuffling and one sharp whinny, but after a second, Luther had the larger of the horses out and had managed to get himself in the saddle without any major mishaps. Though the thing kept shaking its head and stamping at the ground like it wanted him off it, and Dean could totally sympathize.
“Anyway, I already won a couple of steers last night. I’m supposed to come round and collect them,” Luther said.
“Well, thank you for finally bringing that up. And you wonder why we don’t like you.” Dean stared at the second horse. It was a guy, he guessed—it swung around and yeah, it definitely was male; no way that could be missed—and okay, saddle. Reins. It was totally glaring at him.
Luther coughed under his breath. His horse didn’t like him, but he looked ridiculously comfortable sitting on it; he wasn’t even doing anything with the reins, but seemed to just be using his knees and feet. “Need a hand?”
“Shut up, John Wayne,” Dean muttered. He took a deep breath, then pulled open the door and went into the stall. Hell, it wasn’t like the horse could kill him. He’d heal.
* * *
Long before they got to Pawnee’s main street, Dean was biting his lip to keep from groaning at how sore he was. God. No wonder they’d invented cars.
“You still have grass in your hair,” Luther noted.
Dean started to reach up, but he felt his balance shift and instead made a grab for the saddle-horn. For no good reason, the damn horse suddenly started to turn left and he had to jerk up the reins, hoping to God that something would work. The horse snorted, did a little dance and then came to a complete stop. “The hell…”
Straight-faced, Luther reached over and grabbed the left rein. He pulled and the horse started up again.
“I hate you, and I hate horses, and I hate the nineteenth century,” Dean muttered. He gingerly lifted the reins again, trying not to let them move or anything so the horse wouldn’t stop again. “How much longer?”
“Right there,” Luther nodded.
The town was mostly ringed in with a complicated system of corrals and fences, some of which had horses and some of which had cows. Luther had pointed to one of the smaller side-enclosures, where a couple of guys that Dean could already smell were leaning against the fence. Once in a while, one of them would lean over to spit at the grass. If he had to take a rough guess, he would’ve said they hadn’t showered since maybe the day they’d been born.
“You just pull straight back to get the horse to stop. And when you’re getting off—”
Dean tried really hard not to make a face. Stopping he could probably handle, but getting off? And then getting back on…he just knew that Luther had enjoyed watching that fifteen-minute debacle. “You know what? You go and you talk to them, and I’ll be on point and keep an eye on the road.”
The corners of Luther’s mouth twitched. He didn’t say anything, just shrugged like ‘your loss’ and touched his heels to his horse’s sides so it sped up. As he approached, the men at the fence lifted their heads and pushed back their long coats to show grimy pistols. One of them had a rifle, which made Dean’s hand ache for his own for a couple of seconds.
He let his horse meander for a couple more yards before he tentatively tugged at the reins. It slowed down, but didn’t stop till he gave the reins a harder jerk, and then it did so suddenly that his ass slid forward and painfully crushed his groin against the front of the saddle. Dean grabbed the saddle horn and bent over a little till he wasn’t biting his lip quite so hard, then sat back. Thankfully, the stupid animal didn’t move through all of that.
The clouds from earlier had hung around so it was a muddy-black sky, with only the moon occasionally making it through. It wasn’t all that warm either, to the point where Dean wished he’d gotten a long duster and something to block the wind from his ears, too. Mostly the breezes came in from the prairie, but sometimes they’d shift to come from the town and then he’d smell manure, sweat, sawdust. And blood: fresh and human.
Dean straightened up and looked around. After a couple seconds, a silhouette eeled out from behind a post and turned into a curvy, pretty girl with flaming-red hair. She had on a shawl over her shoulders, but that didn’t keep a generous amount of cream-white breast from showing. When she smiled, her teeth were just as pale. “Hello. You’re new here, aren’t you?”
“Just passing through,” Dean said, turning on the charm. He knew for sure when she didn’t blush and go all soft-eyed at his smile. He pricked up his ears, but Luther was still talking over by the other paddock, and it didn’t seem like anyone else was around. “We don’t want any trouble.”
“We. Just how many are there with you?” Little miss vampire wasn’t bothering to seem hospitable anymore. “Look, there’s lots coming through since this place got put up for state capitol, but it still ain’t no free table. Who you with, anyway?”
Well…great. Dean didn’t even know how to bullshit anymore. “Uh—well—look, we brought our own supplies, so we aren’t going to leech off you.”
She snorted and came closer; the horse tossed its head and nervously backtracked a few steps so Dean had to catch himself on the saddle-horn again. “No, you’re gonna get us run out of town instead. Look, we got a good thing here, and I—”
“Hi.” Luther slowly came up from behind, accompanied by two cows. They seemed pretty cranky and stopped every few feet so he had to chivvy them along; Dean thought he saw Luther kicking at least one of them on the rump.
The girl snapped her mouth shut and backed up a little, which…kind of annoyed Dean, to be honest. Okay, he was shorter and he didn’t know how to ride a goddamn horse and he was dressed like a priss while Luther looked like the Black Hat Cowboy, but he knew he didn’t come off as some wimpy yearling.
“You twisted Annie’s arm around,” she sullenly said. She got up against the post, eyes flicking between Luther and Dean, and then suddenly fled to a passing group of horsemen on the main road. One of them pulled up short, leaned down to talk to her; she was all tossing her hair and laughing now. The others started giving Dean and Luther dirty looks.
“Well, that was real productive. Come morning, the funeral home’s going to be busy.”
“Like hell. There’s not enough people here for bunches of deaths like that to not be noticed. Those boys’ll be kinda pale for a while, but they’ll probably think it’s nothing more than too much womanizing.” The horsemen went on into town, one of them hiking the girl up in front of him in the saddle, and Luther watched them go with narrowed eyes. Then he booted the cows again, and they reluctantly got a move on. “Anyway, she was just trying to stall you.”
Dean stared at the reins in his hand for a moment, then up front, but Luther and the cows were already ahead. If he called for help…God, this was so annoying. He glanced around, then hunkered down and snarled, too low for human hearing.
Not too low for horse hearing; the damn thing screeched and leaped forward, and only some panicked yanking managed to get it under control. By then they’d ended up about fifty yards down the road, so Dean had to stop again for Luther and the cows to catch up. Luther had his hand pressed really hard to his mouth for a while, though when he finally took it down, his face was completely devoid of emotion.
“You nudge ‘em with your heels to signal ‘start,’” he laconically said.
“Whatever.” Horses were evil.
It was maybe another ten minutes before they were moving along steadily enough for Dean to remember what their conversation had been about before, and that was just about when he started feeling eyes on him. The strength of the smell said four or five, and when he looked long enough, he could pick out where the grass wasn’t moving exactly in the same direction as the wind.
“You couldn’t win us a pair of rifles while you were at it?” he muttered out of the side of his mouth.
“You want to bring people running to see what’s going on? Besides, you know bullets wouldn’t slow them down enough. Break their necks.” Luther dropped the reins to adjust his shirt-cuffs, or something. Hell of a time for him to be getting an interest in fashion.
The cow nearest Dean abruptly stamped its feet into the ground and lowered its head, letting out a bizarre, moaning bellow. It refused to move no matter what Dean did, and then whatever was bothering it spread to the other one. Well, maybe the cows wouldn’t be such a problem after all. “Don’t I have to get down to do that?”
“You could just sit there and hold the horses if you’d be more comfortable that way,” Luther said. He suddenly tossed his reins over, then had swung out of the saddle and was down on the ground before Dean could object.
Luther’s horse abruptly started forward, so Dean had no choice but to snatch the reins out of the air and pull the damn thing back. He stayed leaning over, since now it smelled like the other vampires were coming from that direction. “What the hell’s your hurry? Anyway, breaking their neck isn’t going to kill them—”
The grass about three feet to Luther’s left suddenly erupted and a dark blur launched itself out of the middle. And it kept on going—Dean hastily ducked and glimpsed a face twisted with pain—to fall on the other side of the road. A sickening snap accompanied the thrashing rustle of the grass. The cows jerked up their heads and bellowed, the horses whinnied and skittered in a zillion directions at once, and Dean wondered what the fuck he was supposed to do if they started to run: Luther didn’t expect him to do any lassoing, did he?
Luther had plunged straight into the grass. It was about waist-high overall, but Dean guessed some wrestling was going on since all he could see was Luther’s coat flying up, and sometimes a sliver of Luther’s back. Then the nutcase crashed back out, breathing a bit hard and pulling yellowed blades out of his hair. He got back on his horse, shoved the cows’ asses a couple times with his foot, and then they were calmly going along again, as if nothing had ever happened.
Dean leaned as far over as he dared and peered at the side of the road. He spotted a boot, and then followed that up to the rest of the body. He couldn’t see the right side, but he could see enough of the head and neck to know that had been snapped, all right. It was a man, a pretty short guy with brown hair and blue eyes, and as Dean watched, one eye rolled to glower rage and agony at him.
They were vampires, but Dean still felt a little nauseated. “Okay…what the fuck was that? Your idea of letting off a little steam?”
“What, I can’t even kill other monsters now?” Whatever had been eating at Luther earlier had come back and brought a party. He held his elbows stiffly at his side and worked his jaw, and as if in sympathy, his horse was starting to stiff-leg it, dancing sideways whenever it got the chance. He turned them off the road and started pushing through the fields, which Dean guessed was some kind of attempt to throw off trackers.
Though honestly, that didn’t seem to be worth the effort. When Dean took a look behind them, the smashed-down grass in their wake wasn’t exactly hard to miss. “That wasn’t killing.”
“No.” Luther took a couple deep breaths. “No, that was warning them off. They’ll be able to get up in a couple of hours, but they won’t be able to do much but run home. Four of them, so that’s probably most of the nest. The idea is, they’re too weak to risk coming after us for a few days, and by then we’ll be gone anyway.”
“And…that still wasn’t…what’s with you?” Dean asked. He glanced behind them again, hesitating, and then turned forward. Well, it wasn’t like going back to help the vamps was an option. They didn’t seem to get the hang of basic social rules like ‘do unto others’ and ‘don’t be a sadist,’ like Luther was proving right now. “By the way, I’d really, really appreciate it if you laid out your big plan before you actually do it.”
“I’m not going to get you or your brother killed, so that should about cover everything you’re interested in,” Luther snapped. Then he swung out and dropped back behind the cows, keeping far enough away so that Dean would have to either raise his voice or figure out how to make a horse go backwards in order to keep up the conversation.
Since Dean didn’t feel like wasting enough effort for either option, he let it go. He just made a note to keep a little nearer to Sam tonight, just in case Luther decided to completely lose his mind.
* * *
Sam stared at the cow. It stared back with big, soft eyes that made him feel oddly ashamed of what they were about to do. “Okay, everything’s mixed up. Um…whenever you’re ready, I guess.”
They’d taken the other cow back to the farmhouse, but tied this one out here by looping a rope around its neck, and then another one around its horns and under its jaw. The second rope went through a iron stake bent into a ‘u’ that’d been driven into the ground, so when Dean hauled on it, the cow was forced to bend its head. Dean caught Sam’s eye and made a grossed-out face, then looked away as Luther walked up.
Luther had an odd-looking metal rod that was hollow and shaped into a sharp point at one end, which they’d dug up in the stable. He’d taken off his coat and thrown that aside, and now kind of sidled up to the cow. It jerked sideways and Dean grunted, digging his feet into the ground in order to hold it in place. He glanced back at the cow, then stared hard into its eyes; Sam felt a tingle on the side of his face that was nearest to Dean.
The cow settled into a stupor, so apparently the whole vampiric mesmerism thing worked on animals, too. Before it wore off, Luther put the sharp end of the rod against the cow’s neck and smacked it into the flesh with his hand; blood instantly began to spurt out of the other end and Sam had to rush to get the bowl under it in time. It didn’t even take a minute to fill that up.
“That’s plenty,” Sam said. He backed off while Luther did whatever the hell to get the bleeding to stop, then bent down to get the transmuting agent he’d just brewed up. Thirteen drops of that, one drop from his fingertip and the blood in the bowl turned black, then slowly red again.
Dean wandered over and whiffed at the blood, then nodded. He took the bowl and tipped it up for a loud slurp, which made Sam wince: being undead hadn’t changed Dean’s table manners any.
Sam turned around to ask how much Luther wanted, only to catch him licking blood from his fingers. He looked up a second later, then turned away, shaking the rod out onto the grass. “I’m fine,” he said in a short tone, bending down to untie the cow.
“He’s in a shit mood tonight,” Dean muttered. “Any idea why?”
He didn’t like not being the one doing the manipulating, Sam was tempted to say. “The other vampires?”
“Yeah, I guess. Sociopaths don’t flock together, huh…and what the…” Dean slowly backed off, but the cow just mooed and obligingly trotted after him. He stopped and it stopped, gazing deeply into his eyes. Took a step and it took a step. “Luther, what the fuck—”
“You did it too strong,” Luther commented, sounding amused. He stopped coiling up the rope to watch. “At least this’ll make it easy to get it back to the stable.”
“Ha ha,” Dean snorted. He drained off the rest of his blood, then turned around. Then he stopped, because the cow had plodded around to keep looking at him. He irritably dragged the back of his hand over his mouth and went off a few steps, then threw up his hands and stalked towards the house. “God, this better wear off.”
After collecting his things, Sam started to follow. He noted that Luther continued to keep about three yards in between them all the way back.
Once they were back, Luther made some excuse about the cow and went into the stable for another good half-hour before coming inside. By then Dean had told Sam all about the ambush, managing to go from revolted to knee-jerk warning Sam about Luther’s temper to reluctantly admiring in about two minutes. He’d finished up by flopping into one of the two pieces of furniture left in the place—a three-legged chair—and promptly falling on his ass on the floor.
“Anyway, I think it’s a bad idea for you and him to be out at the same time if you don’t know where he’s at,” Dean said, brushing off his pants.
Sam paused at that, then remembered he’d kind of implied that while he’d gone out when Dean was sleeping, he’d gone alone. “So I should follow him around?”
“No, of course not. I’d kind of like him to not go out at all, but that’s not realistic, unfortunately.” Still flipping his hands around, Dean started poking at the pot they’d set by the fireplace. The light from the flames played gently over him, giving him back his tan. “Hey, I think your dinner’s done.”
“Great.” They’d settled for some pretty dodgy meals, but getting stew out of a Western bordello’s kitchen had to be one of the shadiest.
Dean carried the pot over and they both looked inside. The stew was brownish and had half-recognizable lumps in it—carrots, potatos—and it smelled pretty good. But…spoon. Damn. There was no way Sam was eating with his hands, since for one thing, he’d burn himself. He patted himself down, then grinned as Dean presented himself with a spoon.
“Good thing I remembered,” Dean said in a lofty tone. They shared a grin. But then Dean sobered again, clearly thinking about all their problems. “I’m just not sure what he’s up to here. Anyway, any luck with getting us back?”
“I’m thinking it has something to do with Brown. I wrote that spell to bring his ghost to us…well, maybe he got exorcised or something between his death and our time. So we might accidentally have come back so we could talk to him.” Sam gingerly tried a spoonful of the soup, then got himself another one with considerably more enthusiasm. It was good. “We talk to him, the spell’s purpose is fulfilled, and we go back.”
Surprisingly enough, Dean didn’t look too happy. “So…we have to go back into town and get into his old store or find his grave. That’s not going to make the other vampires, whoever they are, all that happy.”
“Yeah, since Luther went all berserker on them. I’ll tell him to knock it off,” Sam said.
Long, uncomfortable pause from Dean. When Sam looked up, Dean only met his eyes for a moment before glancing away, rubbing nervously at the side of his nose. “Be careful with that, okay?”
“Believe me, I am. I’m nothing but careful,” Sam replied. He looked back at the soup. “This isn’t too bad, actually. At least I’m not going to starve.”