|Moebius Time III: Exhuming the Past
Author: Guede Mazaka
When Dean was on the converted blood, he tended to start getting sleepy sooner in the day. He’d been on that for a few weeks now—he’d gotten torn up badly by a water serpent in Minnesota and he’d had to take so much from Sam then that Sam was still recovering from it—and in addition, something about the time dislocation itself seemed to be getting to him. The barest hint of dawn had touched the sky when he started stumbling and slurring his words, and by the time the top of the sun crested the horizon, he’d completely collapsed in one corner of the bedroom.
Sam tucked the blankets firmly around him, double-checked the wards he’d half-chalked, half-carved into the window-sills and door-frames, and then he went to go find Luther. That was a little harder than it really needed to be, thanks to the bastard sneaking out while Sam and Dean had been having a discussion about how to trap Brown’s ghost.
The morning was freezing. As soon as Sam stepped out onto the back porch, the wind blistered right up into his face and nearly chased him back inside. It cut right through his clothes so he could barely concentrate on anything but keeping his teeth from chattering till they snapped off. It…just made him more pissed off, to be honest.
He stalked around the back end of the house and into the stables. Like he’d guessed, Luther was leaning over a half-open stall door, softly talking to something, but he stopped the moment Sam walked in—damn it, if Sam had been a little quieter, he wouldn’t have been noticed at all. He’d been upwind, after all.
“Private meeting?” Sam asked, careful with intonation and tone.
“What, with a horse?” Luther answered, just as carefully. He backed off from the stall and turned so he was facing Sam head-on. “Don’t you need to sleep?”
He and Dean had come back from town more than a little scuffed up, but somewhere along the line, he’d gotten cleaned up. God knew how, since the whole time he’d been in the house, Dean had stalked around following his every move, and the water straight from the pump was too cold to do anything with: it numbed the fingers in less than a second.
Well, okay, Luther was undead and that wouldn’t bother him the same way, but he pulled his coat closer against a stray draft the same way Sam did. Speaking of that…Sam hooked the door with his foot and tried to pull it shut, but the force of the wind worked against him. He got it closed in the end, but only after giving it a good yank that sent the horses into an ear-piercing fit for a while.
“You’re incredibly smart sometimes, you know,” Sam snapped, rubbing his hands together. He moved further into the barn and was suddenly enveloped in a thick, comfy warmth that almost made him sigh in relief. It kind of smelled in here, but damn, did big animals like cows throw off a lot of heat. “I had a nap while you and Dean went and fucked with the local vamps. What the hell’s your problem? You can’t just fight with Dean, and now you’ve got to start a pissing contest with everyone else in the neighborhood? What happened to playing it low-key?”
Luther stared hard at Sam for a second, like he seriously couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Then he just shook his head and ducked around the corner to start messing with something on the far wall. “You can’t be this naïve. You know what you’re doing.”
Actually, not really, not most of the time—not since Dad had killed himself--and every single second of every day, Sam was achingly aware of that fact. It lurked at his feet with every step and scuttled his dreams and constricted his breath. And Luther, of all people, was accusing Sam of having some twisted second agenda?
“Since you weren’t around long enough to hear Dean and me talk about it,” he started to say, walking towards Luther, “I think that Brown’s ghost—”
“I’m a vampire. Sam. I could hear you two talk it over from the next room.” Each word was expelled on the tail-end of a sharp grunt. Whatever Luther was doing involved pulling hard and repeatedly at something about waist-height on the wall, which was accompanied by jerky tearing sounds.
Sam shut his mouth and stopped where he was, right in front of one of the horses. It let out a nervous little huff and cornered itself in the back of the stall, and when he glanced over to see what was going on, it jerked its head towards the wall. But not before he’d seen the whites of its eyes roll at him, and goddamn it, he was not a monst—he took a deep breath and rounded the corner. “Well, great. I don’t have to go over it again. And I’d like to think that I don’t have to explain why it’d be a bad idea to make it hard to go back to town, since the only way we’re getting home is by doing that.”
“It’s a very nice plan, Sam,” Luther muttered. It turned out that he was ripping apart some kind of harness, strip by strip. A buckle dropped to the floor and bounced off his foot while he was answering. “I’m happy knowing you still think you can explain away everything.”
The fucking son of a bitch. “And what the fuck is that—”
The pain rose, crested and seemed to stab its way out of Sam before he even realized what he was doing; Luther was snatched sideways and slammed up against the far wall, high enough so that his head banged the ceiling and his feet went off the ground. Then he went crashing to the dirt as shock and righteous satisfaction and ice-cold terror fought it out for the honor of being Sam’s reaction.
The terror won. Unsurprisingly, but that didn’t keep Sam from starting to shake. His hands and head felt like they’d been plunged in the freezing, slightly rot-smelling pump-water; the thoughts in his head were slow and leaden and unrelieved black.
He wrapped his arms around himself, but only shook harder. In the end, he had to lean against a nearby post for support.
Luther stayed down for a long, long moment. Then he slowly put out a hand and rolled himself off his stomach and up against the wall. He looked past Sam and straight into the empty stall across the aisle from him—Sam suddenly heard the horses and cows going completely ballistic, ramming into the walls and shrieking, though they had to be doing that for a while. He glanced over his shoulder, but no Dean came storming out.
“God, he can sleep deep. Lucky bastard,” Luther said under a pained breath. When Sam turned back to him, he had a hand inside his coat and was gingerly pressing around, his jaw going from clenched to steel-rigid every so often. He stopped when he got to his shoulder. “Look, vampires don’t like each other unless they’re blood-related—you know which way I mean that. I do have a damn hard time with Dean, and he’s your brother. With the others—actually, we don’t stand out as much if instead of hiding, we’re…”
Thinking about Dean was about the only thing that got Sam to focus nowadays. He shouldered himself off the post and took a few steps forward, then bent down to reach for Luther. His hand was still trembling pretty badly, so it wasn’t like he could’ve really done anything, but Luther jerked back anyway. Doing that obviously hurt his shoulder, but he kept pressing himself into the wall the closer Sam got.
“None of them are that strong, so I don’t think their leader has many years on them either,” Luther added, voice flat and low and running fast. He sounded increasingly rattled, and this was after he’d gotten thrown into a wall.
Sam pulled back his hand and squatted down in front of Luther. He needed a second to hike up his sleeves—his coat had been made for a bulkier guy and flapped a bit on him—then grabbed the side of Luther’s coat and pulled it out of the way. Luther hissed and hitched himself up the wall; he put out one hand like he was going to shove Sam away, but pulled it back as if it’d caught fire. “If your shoulder’s dislocated, you can’t put it in yourself,” Sam said.
“This is what’s bothering me.” Since Sam still was holding onto his coat, it wasn’t like Luther could go anywhere, but he was still thinking about it. He jerked his head sideways, and even started to move in that direction; he made the mistake of trying to slide his right knee between them. When Sam grabbed it and pushed it back, Luther threw up his head to stare half-wildly and half-fearfully at him. “Don’t—”
“Use you?” Sam said, just as harshly as the idea actually was. He shoved aside the arm Luther started to raise between them, then slid his hands inside Luther’s coat. It was a dislocated shoulder, and a little focus had it popped back into place. Yeah, stuff like this was a lot easier when you were a telekinetic freak. “Sorry, but if I have to, I have to.”
Luther spat out a curse when the bone snapped back into place, arching up so Sam could smell the blood on his breath. Then he fell back, shaking his head. “You aren’t, you know. If you really wanted to just use me, you’d have done that and have trashed me by now.” He saw that Sam didn’t believe him and pushed himself up the wall so he and Sam were level with each other. “You’d just torch me till I told you, or figure out how to crack open my mind.”
“You’d actually want me to do that instead? Come on.” Sam still had his palm lying over the front of Luther’s shoulder. He pushed it up till his fingertips climbed over Luther’s collar and were touching the bare skin of Luther’s throat. Like usual, Luther’s pupils dilated and he went stiff.
He softened up when Sam slid his hand higher, cupping his jaw and lifting it so Sam could use his other hand to scratch a thumbnail over the veins in Luther’s throat. It’d been too long since Luther’s last good meal for him to have a pulse; Sam pushed down on the spot where that would’ve been and Luther groaned, eyelashes fluttering down.
He’d always shut up at this point before, but just when Sam was beginning to think he was done here, Luther’s eyes abruptly snapped back open. Then his face twisted in what looked a lot like disgust and he tried to pull away, flailing with his hand. His nails came too close and Sam momentarily panicked, dropping his hand to squeeze Luther’s throat. Then he realized what he’d been doing and snatched his arm back, balling up his fist against his chest. “Shit. I didn’t—”
“You’re apologizing for the wrong damn thing,” Luther snapped. He stayed hunched up against the wall for another moment, then warily relaxed. “You hate monsters. You’re supposed to throw them into walls. But now you’re getting confused, and when you get that messed up, you can’t kill anything because you won’t be sure.”
“Well, excuse me if I’m not going to throw Dean into a fucking wall,” Sam flung back. He rocked forward again, almost ready to slug the fucking—the planks behind Luther clattered and they both froze.
After a second, Luther glanced behind himself. “I’m not Dean.”
“Thanks for letting me know.” Sam sat back on his heels and stared at Luther, and when Luther got done with looking at the wall, he turned around to stare back. The whole fucked-up thing went on for a while so Sam’s thoughts could twist themselves into knots so convoluted that they suddenly untied themselves, and then he had to pay attention to them. Which he didn’t want to do, given their conclusions. “Look, I can’t be a psychopath. You know, aside from the fact that I am not one—I’m fucking not, and to hell with everybody that wants to make me one—the moment I—”
“I’m not saying you have to be a psychopath. But every time you start working on me like that, like you think I’m human—”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to convince us to believe for months?”
Luther sat there and looked at Sam while his expression went from startled to self-condemning to slightly hysterical black humor. He finally just shrugged. “Sam, two hundred years ago I was a human. Right now I’m a vampire, I’ve been a vampire so long it’s actually giving me some kind of nervous breakdown to get reminded of me as a human being, and—and I kill people. Jesus Christ…” he briefly pressed his hand to the side of his face “…this is why I never made anybody a vampire who could argue back with me.”
Well, wasn’t that information overload. It took maybe a minute for Sam to even begin figuring out what Luther was saying, and then of course things were so complicated his mind went for the easy part. “But…Kate?”
“Kate.” A sad, wistful smile flitted over Luther’s face. “I loved her, all right, but she damn well wasn’t the brains of the group.” Then he grimaced and looked away. “She did get me into this mess, going after Elkins like that.”
If Luther’s point was that vampires weren’t human, but were like them, then little moments like that did a lousy job of making it for him. Whether or not only the idea that only people could have real, true emotions was true didn’t matter, because people were the only standard of comparison Sam had. He’d always refused to see Dean as anything but ‘human,’ and now Luther was starting to read the same way to him. “But so what? Demons don’t feel like people—a demon would never kill itself over something its kids did. It’d kill its kids. As long as I don’t get to be like that, I’m safe.”
Luther’s eyes came back to Sam, flicking sharply up and down. He straightened up, disagreement stormily clear in his face. “Demons go for your weaknesses. Yeah, they’re inhuman, but they get to you because you’re human.”
“Well, then there’s no fucking way I can win, is there? Either way, I end up on their side, so I could do whatever—” Sam reached over and grabbed Luther’s hurt shoulder, squeezing hard enough to strain the sore socket. The moment he got a wince, he immediately loosened up and bent forward so their noses were just touching, whispering his last couple words “—and it doesn’t fucking matter. I could fuck you and it’ll all end up the same way.”
“It just doesn’t matter,” Sam repeated. He sensed something come up and reach for his neck and intercepted it, pinning Luther’s wrist back against the wall as he leaned down. He smashed his mouth to Luther’s, then pulled back. “Doesn’t matter.”
Sam pressed his lips to Luther’s again, and this time he held them there. It was kind of like a dare with himself, the way little kids dared each other to hold their breath underwater. Or to do shit like pretend their most-loved lunchbox didn’t matter and lend it away for something and never get it back because it’d been used to choke a fucking werewolf or something. It was all stupid, but at least it did something with all that fucking energy or whatever it was that made Sam explode things and set them on fire.
Luther slammed at Sam’s shoulders a few times with his free hand, but his mouth was trying to give way. It opened up even while he was trying to shout protests into Sam’s tongue, and then he nicked Sam’s lower lip and that was it for him. Vampire, right. Vampiric and hopeless no matter what he said, his fingers now digging into Sam’s upper arm and his mouth warmly welcoming Sam’s tongue as he latched onto the little nick he’d made, and didn’t that make him a good match, after all. He started to sink down the wall; Sam was shoving him harder and harder and the pressure couldn’t go out, so it went down.
He pushed his hand off of Luther’s throat for a moment and snagged it on Luther’s ponytail, which momentarily frustrated Sam till a chance jerk while he was trying to free his fingers sent Luther’s head sideways, his throat arched towards Sam. And a mouth on the pulse-spot got an even stronger reaction than a fingertip; Luther stopped trying to pull free and instead twisted his fingers so they wrapped as best they could around the hand Sam was using to grind them into the dirt. He groaned and twisted further around so more of his throat was pressed into Sam’s mouth, forcing Sam’s teeth into the flesh till they were just about to break—
Sam jerked up, then around, and so fast he nearly tumbled himself over Luther in his hurry. At first he’d thought it was a gunshot, but he didn’t see, hear or feel anyone around. He got up on one knee and looked around again, and that was when he realized all the animals had gone silent.
A quick step into the aisle showed that they were still around, and alive. It also revealed that the stable door had somehow been thrown open, and now was rattling in the wind. A chill briefly went through Sam, but…no, Dean would’ve gotten in there and yanked them apart. He wouldn’t have stormed off.
Nothing was particularly pinging, so in the end, Sam figured it’d been the wind. The door had been seriously warped by neglect and had to be jammed in place, then tied down. And Sam hadn’t done the second part when he’d come in.
He heard a sound behind him and turned to see Luther staggering to his face, wide-eyed and breathing hard, with one hand clapped to his neck. After a long moment, Luther’s expression hardened. “Don’t ever goddamn bite me again,” he snarled. His anger was barely a veneer and cracked before he’d even gotten to the curse-word to show a deep, deep terror. “Ever.”
He swayed in place, waiting for a reaction. When Sam didn’t give him one, Luther whirled around and walked so fast outside that he was practically running.
Sam’s hands started to shake despite how warm the barn was. He shoved them under his arms, then forced his way through the blustering wind to the pump, where he scrubbed his face and mouth and hands till they felt raw. Then he went inside.
Dean was still sleeping, and from the looks of it, he could keep doing it till the world ended. Which might be something they could test soon, Sam grimly thought.
* * *
Some days, the whole daytime coma issue was almost worst than the blood issue, or the wanting Sam in not-kosher ways issue, and this was one of them. The first thing Dean had heard when he’d woken up was Luther saying “Well, yeah, every time that happens, I end up trying to piss off your brother. What else can I do?” and that was definitely not music to his ears.
And when he’d asked for an explanation, he’d gotten the stonewall. From Luther, that was a little weird, since the prick usually liked sarcastic explanations that made him look superior, but from Sam? He and his brother were having a long goddamn talk the moment they got some privacy.
Also, Dean still hated horses. And they reciprocated.
“It’s a really long walk back to Pawnee,” Sam said, all long-suffering and completely fixating on the most trivial part of what Dean had just said. He wasn’t looking all that comfortable in the saddle either, but he at least had telekinesis so he had managed to get up there without being thrown on his ass a half-dozen times. “And it’s really fucking cold.”
His cheeks and ears did look a bit raw and red, which didn’t dispose Dean towards Luther any better. That jerk had made them ditch their jackets since those were too modern-looking, but he’d kept his own long coat. “Make Luther buy you a new coat once we get there. Besides, we seem to be going pretty well right now.”
“That’s because we’re trying to match your walking speed. You’re really slow.” Sam shifted around, wincing and trying to get his ass off the saddle for a second. But standing in the stirrups took a lot more effort than it looked like, so he only managed it for about a minute before he settled back. He bounced when he came down and the horse started to go sideways so Dean had to push at its shoulder to get it going back the way it was supposed to.
They were off the road and cutting through the fields, since they had to be paranoid about the local vamps now. The grass was basically an endless sea of dead brown stalks that rasped against Dean’s calves and stabbed through his clothes and pretty much tried to give him the death of a thousand cuts every time he moved. All in all, he thought he was moving at a good pace. “Look, I’m practically being eaten by the prairie down here, but I can still see the town. Ten minutes, man.”
“I thought you wanted to go home,” Sam tersely said. He didn’t quite flick a glance towards the third one of their group.
Luther usually tried edging up on Sam, but right now he actually seemed to be trying to put as much distance between them as possible. He was riding on the other side of Dean, and his horse periodically lunged forward so he was a little ahead of them. He was still in hearing distance, but Dean decided he didn’t care.
“What’s up with you two? Did he try anything while I was asleep?” he asked, waving at Luther’s back.
Oddly enough, Sam’s face did that frozen thing that he usually saved for when he was feeling guilty about something Dean didn’t know about. Then he went blank. “No. Just the usual crap.”
“Okay…that’s bullshit if I ever heard it. What happened? Can I kill him yet?” Dean’s heel came down on dirt that suddenly gave way into some kind of hole and he stumbled. His hand caught Sam’s foot and he grabbed on, using that to pull himself back up.
Sam jerked in surprise and nearly kicked Dean before he figured out what had happened, and by then the horse had decided it was a great time for it to try and stamp on Dean. He scrambled to get out of the way, then whipped around because he was worried about Sam.
So far Sam seemed to be okay, but the horse was getting increasingly nasty about trying to throw him off, and Dean wasn’t that sure that Sam would be able to save himself in time. He started forward, but the horse quickly backed up, throwing its head around so something thin and brown flew violently around its neck: reins.
Okay. Jumping and grabbing stuff out of the air with great timing definitely was something Dean could do. As soon as he got hold of the reins, he yanked down so the horse either had to knock it off, or risk getting one hell of a wrenched neck. The horse knocked off the hysterics.
“Good choice,” Dean muttered, easing up to it. He stopped when it snorted and jerked away its head, then started again once it’d calmed a bit. “Sam? You okay?”
“Yeah—what’s going on?” Sam raised his voice and looked past Dean.
When Dean turned around, he saw that Luther had been ignoring the whole proceedings to watch something going on in town. Dean was too low to see himself, and the wind wasn’t blowing the right way for him to get any ideas about current events from the smell.
Luckily for him, Luther answered fast. “I think it’s a lynching party.”
“What? Jesus Christ, we have to—”
“No, not for us,” Luther snarled. God, like it was that illogical a jump for Dean to make. “They’ve already got whoever it is. They’re dragging him to a tree right—dragged. Never mind.”
“Jesus,” Sam said beneath his breath. He looked a bit sick when Dean checked on him. “How much of a chance that he did anything to deserve it?”
Luther looked sharply at him. “You’re not thinking of interrupting, are you?”
Sam dropped his eyes to his hands and swallowed hard, which meant yeah. And as revolted as Dean was himself, he had to tighten his grip on the reins. “Come on. Let’s deal with Brown.”
“Not part of our business, huh,” Sam muttered. “Whatever that is now.”
“I think he’s dead anyway. Whoever hanged him did a decent job—snapped his neck instead of leaving him to strangle.” If Luther was trying to make them feel better, he was doing a lousy job. And that probably wasn’t his aim, since he met Dean’s look with a casual shrug. “What? That’s mercy for you out here.”
Dean didn’t bother to dignify that with an answer. He started forward, then glanced over his shoulder at Sam when the horse didn’t move.
Sam was just turning around; he bonked his feet against the horse’s sides and it began moving forward with a snort. He’d been looking at Luther, and Luther had been carefully staring away, and it all just said ‘bad issues’ to Dean.
Ten minutes till they could stop.
* * *
It seemed like half the town was massed onto the main street, either in anxious, excitable groups or glowering from the porches with firearms prominently displayed. The lynching party was coming back in town, but slowly like they were on goddamn parade…which made the bitter taste in Sam’s mouth even stronger.
Well, everyone out there at least meant there was no one to notice them coming up the backside of the brothel. Lanterns and torches were blazing all over the place so Sam had no problem seeing his way around.
Luther stayed on his horse and hung back, apparently uninterested in watching Sam fumble around for five minutes before figuring out how to get off the damn horse. He kept heeling his horse around to stare behind them, and he glanced often at the rooftops, too.
“I don’t smell any vamps around,” Dean suddenly said. He arched his eyebrow at Sam, then nodded towards what was left of Brown’s silversmith shop, now the brothel’s storage room. “Come on. Whatever the hell’s bothering him, he can deal with it himself. Let’s go get Brown.”
Sam hesitated, and not because he was worried about Luther. He had a feeling that the moment they got into an enclosed space, Dean was going to jump on him, and they so didn’t have time for that right now. On the other hand, if Dean ever had had a good reason to jump on him, then this was probably it.
Dean glanced at him again, then stalked up to the back of the old silversmith’s shop. A door had used to be in that wall, and the cracks where it’d been hung were still visible, but it’d been planked up a while ago. So had the windows, but they looked slightly less formidable, so Dean naturally went for them. He poked around the edges before finding a loose plank and yanking on it.
The wood groaned, then suddenly cracked pretty damn loudly. Wincing, Dean whipped around; Luther glanced over, but then went right back to having his fit. Though at least he was quiet about it.
“Jesus,” Sam muttered, finally coming over. He left the second horse tied up to the side of the main house. “Could you be any more obvious?”
“Yeah, yeah, nobody’s coming, let’s go.” Dean dealt with the other two boards nailed over the window much more quickly and quietly, then hiked himself up on the sill and wriggled through, mumbling the whole way about how he wished he had his rifle. He landed inside with a soft thunk and did some rustling around before he reached back for Sam.
Squeezing through the window almost made it seem like just another job, but any chance of Sam using that to get through things was crushed when he knocked over a box on his way in. Luckily, it didn’t hit the ground, but it did tip out a few metal things that Dean just caught in time. He made a face at Sam that was way more about ‘stop criticizing me, see?’ than ‘be careful,’ then held up one of the tools. Which was clearly a pair of tongs with a crucible fixed to one end, and Brown clearly was giving them more trouble than any other ghost they’d ever had to handle.
Sam gave himself a shake and stood back to check out the space: more cramped than he remembered. Damn. “We need to move some of the boxes,” he whispered.
Dean had already blocked the door to the house. “Dude, there’s no room. Unless we put them outside.”
“Gee, I wonder how long it’ll take people to notice that. There’s no way the lynching is going to keep them occupied for that long, and I’m pretty sure this place does its best business at night.” They’d need space for the casting circle, and on top of that, enough room to make sure that Brown’s spirit couldn’t get too close to them. There had to be some way to do it.
And after Sam had prodded his way completely around the room, he had to conclude that Dean’s suggestion was the only one that’d work. He ignored Dean’s little told-you-so moment and went back over to the window to get Luther over. But halfway there, something thumped down on the roof.
Sam froze, staring up at the spot like he’d actually be able to see through the ceiling. After a long, tense second, he sensed Dean moving around; he didn’t hear Dean at all. His brother soundlessly slinked by him, all the irritation and nerves subsumed into pure focus, and smoothly bent down to scoop up something from the floor. When he passed through the little bit of light that was coming in through the window, Sam glimpsed a long, thin piece of metal. Some other old tool of Brown’s, maybe—apparently the…mistress or whatever never threw anything away.
Everything had gone relatively quiet—Sam could still hear noise from Main Street out front, but that was it—except for a low, uneven shuffling on the roof. It crossed over Sam’s head on its way to the gutter, then stopped about a yard left of the window. Dean silently tracked it with the tool, which looked like some kind of awl, raised over his head and pointed as if he was planning to stab the feet of whoever it was.
Where the hell was Luther? Frowning, Sam almost took a step back before he realized that he probably couldn’t do the whole no-creaking-boards thing and instead stayed where he was. But if he leaned very, very carefully, he found that he could see a sliver of the lot behind the house through the window. He should’ve been able to see Luther, but he didn’t.
He did see Luther’s horse, standing with its reins dragging in the dust as if it’d just been abandoned. It did occur to Sam that maybe Luther was the one on the roof, but—
--“You again.” That was Luther’s voice, and he’d moved but he definitely was still on the ground. “The hell are you doing up there, boy? Think you’re gonna fly down on me like some hawk?”
Luther was putting some kind of extra snarling rumble into his voice, something that slid uneasily around beneath Sam’s skin. He glanced over: Dean’s shoulders were hunched tightly up, and his upper lip was trying to curl. And his eyes were glowing just a little, like someone had put a few drops of foxfire in them.
The vampire on the roof didn’t answer. He moved around some more, always changing directions just when Dean had started to hunker down for a good try at shish-kabobing through wood planks. Which really wasn’t a good idea, come to think of it, but when Sam reached over, he hadn’t even touched Dean before the other man had jerked around to glower a warning.
Dean wasn’t exactly in there right now, Sam suddenly understood. It was more than a little frightening—and honestly, a part of Sam was also fucking pissed. Because Dean should know who he was, even in the grip of some crazy territorial rage—he should know. He should—
“Last time, I was warning you. I got no quarrel with you or your maker, but…” Thick drawl, really laying on the menace. It sounded like Luther was pacing back and forth, just out of view of the window. “In fact, if you’ve got any sense, you’ll call for him. Her,” he went on in a deceptively soft voice. “Let your elders talk it out—you little bitch!”
At first Sam was confused, since Luther had been talking like the vampire was a man, but then a violent scuffle broke out just as footsteps pounded across the roof. In the opposite direction. So more than one of them.
There were two boarded-up windows and an old doorway on that side, too. Sam threw himself to the ground just as something tried to smash its way through
“Sam!” Dean spun around and lunged forward, into the cloud of splintering wood and dust that billowed up. The awl flashed out, and then the dust blocked everything from view.
But Sam could still hear. And he heard the ragged crunch of flesh being stabbed to the bone, and the pained shout, and the wet, sucking pop of a weapon being yanked free of a body. He staggered backwards, then jerked and cursed when something clawed at his shoulder. He tried to pull himself away, but the other person was too quick and dragged him right up against the window, sharp nails ripping at his coat and then yanking up to score over his throat and jaw. Fuck, fucking bastards—
--a horrible, agonized scream rose up behind him just as a sudden heat slapped into his shoulder and down across his chest, following the arm that had been wrapped around him. Now it let go of him like he was—well, it was on fire. On fire and flailing, and when Sam looked at himself after stumbling free, he wasn’t even scorched.
He twisted around just in time to see a spray arc up over Dean as he hacked at a body on the ground. His vision jittered around, showing him snapshots of sprawled legs, blood coating Dean’s hand past the wrist, someone yelling through the broken window. Sam stared blindly at the angry mouth, watching it distort around words he didn’t hear, and he couldn’t understand…he could. That was a regular person. They wanted to know…
“…goddamn nigger-lovin’ Free-Staters? What’s goin’ on? Or maybe you’re—”
“What the hell does it look like?” Sam snapped. He had no idea what the right answer was, but he just wanted the idiots outside to get out of the way. Wanted it so much he could almost feel it pressing itself into the air.
The man outside went oddly slack, then gave himself a shake and nodded apologetically. “Sorry, you look like right good young men. Didn’t mean no…so damn hard to tell, these Northern asses comin’ in so thick…you just keep on teaching that godless sodomite his lesson, boy.”
That last one was to Dean, who stiffened. Then he straightened up enough to look that way, but by then the man had suddenly disappeared. Lucky for him, since then Dean turned to look at Sam, and even though the rage and sheer aggravation in Dean’s face had faded a little, it was still enough to put Sam on his guard. Blood was smeared all over Dean’s throat and downwards; his shirt had been ripped half-open and his fangs had dropped. His lower jaw hung in a feral wolf-grin that didn’t have a speck of good humor in it.
“Fire! Somebody’s set fire to the Methodist church!” came a shout from the street. It was soon echoed by many others.
Dean jerked around again, then stepped over the vampire he’d just messily decapitated and got over to the back window in two steps; he grabbed Sam’s arm along the way so Sam was dragged along. “Out.”
Sam yanked himself free and glared at Dean before he really knew what he was doing. “No. Wait—”
Something peculiar happened then. Dean’s eyes widened and he trembled a little. Then he suddenly dropped his head, breath hissing through his teeth.
A crash in the back distracted Sam and he glanced out the window, trying to figure out what was going on before he went that way. He saw a big dark thing fly towards him and ducked before the vampire slammed into the window, shaking out glass panes that shattered on the floor. Then he looked up just in time to see Luther slash out with a…a scythe? Luther stood back a second later so Sam could see the blade, and it was shaped the same, but the whole thing plus its short handle wasn’t much bigger than a steering wheel. He must’ve gotten it from one of the vampires.
After a moment, Luther absently wiped at his face and raised his head. He caught Sam’s eye, then backed up to show that it was safe.
Sam wasted no time getting through the window, which was a lot harder this time since the wood was bloody. He accidentally glimpsed the body beneath it a couple times, but otherwise determinedly ignored it. Once he was through, he took a leap and landed clear. He stayed facing forward.
Dean jumped a bare second later and messed up his landing, tripping so he landed heavily against Sam’s back; a nasty squishing sound came from the ground where Dean’s foot would’ve come down. He cursed and stumbled back upright, coming around Sam while disgustedly shaking his foot. “God, isn’t this great? This was a really great way to keep them from coming after—”
“They’re yelling about a fire. Did you do it?” Luther asked. The right sleeve of his coat had been slashed twice, the higher cut going almost all the way around his arm. He kept twisting around so the blood welling up in the tears made it look like his arm was about to fall off. “What the hell is that?”
“Is what? And no, I didn’t start that fire. I didn’t even know this place had a church.” Sam grabbed Dean’s elbow and began to straighten him out, then paused. An acrid stink filled up his nose so it felt like the cells on the inside were shriveling up and dying. He suddenly was very warm, almost as if he were surrounded by flames, and he was getting increasingly angry. Only it wasn’t…he wasn’t sure why he was angry; it was like he was separated from the whole thing.
Dean drew air in sharply through his nose. He’d twisted his hand around to hold onto Sam’s wrist so Sam could feel a nervous shaking start inside the other man. “Come on. Sam, come on, let’s go. We can try again tomorrow, but right now it’s not a good time.”
They backed up a few feet, but then Sam stopped when he heard something whoosh up behind him. He whipped around and ducked at the same time, then yanked down a strangely stupefied Dean just before the horse would’ve smashed in Dean’s skull with its fore-hooves. The animal was going nuts, worse than it ever had around Dean or Luther: it reared repeatedly, each time jerking itself higher and higher till finally it snapped the reins from the post to which it’d been tied.
The sound of the reins breaking was covered up not by the horse’s shrill scream, but by another sound that slowly but irresistibly wormed its way into Sam’s consciousness: the crackle-and-pop of burning wood.
“Jesus—Sam—knock it the fuck off—” Dean had gone after the panicking horse and now was bouncing from foot to foot in front of it, dangerously close. He alternated between trying to snatch at the flying reins and trying to yell over his shoulder at Sam. “Let’s go!”
“Get on.” Sam leaped back a few feet when the horse blundered his way, then urgently gestured at Dean. “Get on!” he barked.
A shout from the street out front made Sam spun around, terrified that the townspeople had noticed something unnatural was going on. When he turned back, Dean had somehow gotten onto the horse’s back—wild jump, from the way he was precariously crouched on the saddle like a racing jockey. A sudden gust of wind strengthened the sulfur stench by two or three times; it also blew fragments of wood past Sam.
He grabbed one, then flung it at the horse’s haunches before he could think twice. The horse bucked so Dean almost fell off, then took off like a shot. It looked like it was heading for the edge of town, so aside from cursing Sam out till his throat was raw, Dean would probably be okay.
“That’s not the demon.” It hadn’t been more than two minutes, tops. Luther was still in the same spot, clutching his bloody arm. He twisted on his heel to stare at the top of the building to their left and just behind him, Sam caught a glimpse of something charred black, with shockingly white bone-tips sticking out of it. “It’s not the same smell. Not exactly. But it’s of the demon, and it’s…”
“I didn’t burn the church,” Sam slowly said. He looked at the vampire he had burned—he guessed they could add that alongside beheading, since it didn’t look like that son of a bitch was going to revive—then at Luther. “I saw Brown—saw his ghost. Earlier. In town.”
“And you didn’t mention it to—of course you didn’t. You never goddamn talk about anything important until it…and you sent off Dean. Well…Jesus goddamn Christ. Great,” Luther snarled, turning around. Then he twisted back so he was facing away from Sam, but he didn’t seem to like not being able to watch Sam so he kept glancing over his shoulder. “What the hell are you trying to pull, Sam?”
It sounded like most of the people were way at the other end of the town, where if Sam squinted, he could see a turbid orange glow filtering up into the sky. He took two steps sideways so he was standing right next to Luther. “What if Brown wasn’t human when they hanged him?”
“He has a grave,” Luther said, but his voice was a little shaky.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t like we dug it up to see if there was a body in it.” And these vampires zeroing in on them at Brown’s old shop, and the well-timed distractions of the townspeople. But what Sam still couldn’t figure out was how Brown would’ve survived, because the thing Sam had seen had really felt like a ghost.
And when their dad had been possessed by the demon itself, Dean hadn’t been able to tell. There was no way Sam was letting Dean get possessed; he wasn’t losing the last member of his family that way. Not again. So yeah, he’d sent him off.
“All right. All right, I can see where you’re going.” Oddly enough, Luther seemed to be calming down. He’d finally picked a spot to watch and had stopped turning around and around. “But if you’re going to use me to stall it, why aren’t you running?”
“If I kill the demon now, then maybe we go back and my girlfriend and my parents are alive, and Dean’s not a vampire, and none of this ever happened,” Sam said. “Nobody gets hurt just because they knew me.”
Luther blinked a few times, thinking hard. Then his face smoothed and he slowly nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Good—” The warmth around Sam heated up in one direction and he was turning to face it when suddenly the back of his head exploded in pain. His knees went, and he swung out for a grip, a handhold, anything, only to feel his hand brush down Luther’s arm as the bastard stepped away. Blackness squeezed out the world from his vision.
* * *
The word was garbled, stretched out and inhumanly deep. It made the ache on the side of Sam’s head surge up so he groaned, trying to lift his hands so he could press it out of his skull. Only his wrists got grabbed instead. Somebody was leaning over him, shaking so hard that the tremors passed up Sam’s arms so grass rustled and rasped beneath him, their breath fervid and warm.
“Oh, my God, Sammy. You’re okay. You’re—God, I’m going to kill that bastard.”
Bas—Luther, Brown, the vampires, the demon. Everything slammed back into Sam’s head and built up into an incredible rage so intense it leaked acid into his mouth and ate white holes in his vision.
He laid where he was for a moment, thinking it all through, and then sat up. Dean tried to stop him, but Sam shrugged him off so he could look around.
They were way, way out of town. Pawnee looked like a collection of toy houses on the horizon, and in every other direction that Sam looked, he saw a desolate sea of brown. The moon had long since passed its zenith, but he thought it looked like they might still have a couple hours till dawn. “How the hell did I get out here?”
“Huh? Didn’t you—there’s a horse.” Dean pointed. “It’s…um…not one of the ones we had before.”
“Because…the other one must’ve run off. So he threw me on a different one.” Sam’s wrists felt chafed, and when he moved, thin loops of bruising around his chest revealed themselves. “Was I on the horse?”
“You were tied to it…what’s going on? What happened? Where’s Luther, and—and goddamn it, Sam, if you ever--”
Okay, Luther had knocked him out and then gotten him out of town. Brown hadn’t shown up out here, so apparently Luther had then stayed behind to delay him, and he’d done that because he didn’t think Sam should tackle the demon right now, thus saving them all a hell of a lot of trouble later. That fucking double-dealing bastard.
“—Sam, are you even listening to me—”
“No.” Sam started towards the horse. Then Dean grabbed his elbow and he was forced to turn back around, which was just slowing them down even more from finding out what was going on, and—
--and Sam’s hand ended up around Dean’s throat, and Dean was wide-eyed with shock and fear and something else, something that’d been coming up with increasing frequency lately and that’d also been in Luther’s eyes. It worried Sam. It really did, but they didn’t have time and the more they lingered, the less able he was going to be at keeping the demon from getting Dean, and would Dean just listen to him? “Brown didn’t die. He’s with the demon and he’s what’s been throwing us. I was going to take care of him, but Luther hit me before I could.”
“Okay. Okay…Jesus, we just can’t get away from this thing, can we?” Dean said after a moment. He spoke very slowly and gingerly, eyes nervously flicking over Sam’s face. His fingers unexpectedly bumped into the back of Sam’s hand.
Surprised, Sam tightened his grip a fraction. Dean’s eyes widened a little more and he dropped his hand. He stared at Sam for a few seconds longer, then suddenly lowered his gaze as well. And this made Sam relax, but only till he’d gotten his hand off Dean’s throat and his brain started to catch up with what he’d been doing. “Oh, fuck. Fuck. Dean—sorry—I just—we have to go. We have to go now, and we’ve got to kill Brown. No arguing.”
“Well, I’ve got no problem with that. If Brown survived a hanging, then he’s something we kill even without the demon connection,” Dean replied, hurried so his words tumbled over each other. He kept on looking at the ground while he rubbed his throat. “But Jesus, Sam. Something’s gotten into you and it’s not good, and I don’t think getting close to anything to do with the demon’s gonna help it. I don’t—”
“I’m not staying back here.” The anger simmered back to life, though Sam did his damnedest to at least keep it from boiling over again. “I’m not going to sit around so the demon can waltz around and get to me through everyone else. Dad was the absolute last one.”
Dean paused, then looked sharply up. “Sam, Dad killed himself to save us.”
“You think? He could’ve killed himself because it told him we’d fucked, and he thought he didn’t have a reason to stay alive. No—listen, he could’ve fought. Dad was the most goddamn stubborn man I’ve ever met—he could’ve fought for the ten goddamn minutes I needed to finish exorcising him, but he didn’t. He shot himself.” Sam had gone over those moments again and again in his head, trying to figure out where things had gone wrong, and that was the conclusion that kept popping out at him. Everything he and Dean and their dad had done, they’d done because they were trying to survive, to make the best of a situation till it could be fixed. They’d made the effort. If it hadn’t worked, it’d been because the demon had been working harder against them and they’d missed that.
“That’s not—you don’t know that. And even if that’s true—which it’s not--how is it going to help to march right up to the demon? It can still get to you,” Dean protested. He raised his hands as if he were going to grab Sam’s shoulders.
So Sam intercepted them and wrapped his fingers around Dean’s wrists. He ended up pulling his brother forward a few inches, but that was fine since maybe the closer they were, the better Dean would get what Sam meant. Feel the meaning, get it through the air or something because Sam was running out of words. “No—don’t you get it? If it could, it would’ve taken me by now. It wouldn’t have tried to take away my powers with some magic necklace. It can’t get to me with the direct route. We need to go, Dean.”
Dean opened his mouth.
“We can take care of it right here, right now,” Sam hurriedly added. He belatedly realized he was squeezing Dean’s wrists too hard when the other man winced and let go, but he just—he needed Dean to understand. He cupped his hands around Dean’s jaw and pulled Dean forward so they were touching foreheads. “We can change what’s going to happen. We can make it so Dad lives. But we have to go. I have to go. Please, Dean.”
The moment their heads had bumped into each other, Dean had hissed in a breath, as if he were in pain. His eyes squeezed shut so the flesh at the corners began to whiten; the pressure gradually lightened as he listened to Sam, but he still didn’t open his eyes. He lifted his hand and let it rest on Sam’s wrist, then slowly curled his fingers to press Sam’s hand harder into his cheek. His head slightly turned in that direction, too. His breath slowed.
“C’mon, Dean,” Sam whispered. Almost. They were almost there. Just a little further and Dean would say yes. “Do this for me.”
Dean shivered, then nodded.
Sam let out a long sigh of relief. Much longer than he’d expected, so he must have been holding his breath for the last part of it. He started to turn back to the horse, but then paused: Dean had opened his eyes, and his expression had been stricken. But when Sam looked again, Dean was facing the other way, and they were running out of time. He shook off the chill and walked towards the horse.
* * *
The whole town was still in an uproar, but mostly on the opposite side so Sam and Dean didn’t have much trouble sneaking back into town. They found the scene behind the bordello gruesome and awful and largely undisturbed, as if something was directing people around the spot so nobody had raised the alarm yet.
Dean picked up a trail pretty easily, which didn’t sit well with him. “He wants us to follow. And—Sam? They dragged Luther out of here alive. He bled all over the place, but…”
“Which way?” For some reason, Sam had sent the horse off as soon as they’d gotten down, so Dean hoped to God Brown wasn’t far away. If Sam was so concerned about time, then he really should’ve kept the horse.
And if Sam’s thinking really had anything to do with logic right now, then Dean’s stomach wouldn’t be wrapped several times around his spine, and said spine wouldn’t be all wrenched about so he couldn’t seem to come up with a decent objection. This wasn’t his brother he was talking to, pointing out the direction and the best way to get there. It wasn’t Sam, and…and yet it was, because Dean couldn’t just turn around real fast and knock him out till his sense came back. But it was all twisted backwards so it was a Sam Dean had never, ever wanted to see.
Luther had to have noticed. That was what all the business about knocking Sam out and roping him to a horse had been about. When they caught up, if the prick was still alive, Dean guessed he’d have to thank Luther for that instead of kill him.
“Let’s go,” Sam muttered, already taking off. He periodically cocked his head, as if he were listening to something Dean couldn’t hear. That wouldn’t be too surprising…actually, that’d be a relief if that were the explanation. Then it’d be an easy problem to fix, but somehow Dean doubted that.
The trail wound its way back out of town, then curved around to go parallel with the edge of Pawnee for a while. They’d walked maybe a third of the way around when it abruptly veered back into town…and took them up to the back of the only stone-built building in town.
“It’s gonna be the capitol, so they say,” muttered a bystander when asked. For some reason, there seemed to be a lot of people milling about the place. “You heard who they got locked in there?”
“Locked? I…uh, I just walked past the jail,” Dean said. They hadn’t, but he was pretty sure that they didn’t build cells into state capitol buildings. Not even in the Wild West.
The man looked oddly at him. “Yeah, but it’s so damn shoddy you couldn’t keep a rat in the place.” He suddenly grinned. “Didn’t you see ‘em take that goddamn Free-Stater out of there earlier and hang him?”
“We…missed the first part of that.” Sometimes, like now, Dean came very close to wishing they were allowed to kill psychopathic people. “What’s going on now?”
“They caught the bastard who set the Methodist church on fire. Some out-of-towner…heard he was a Texan. Reckon there’s going to be a second hanging soon, seeing as we’re all already worked up.” Then the guy had a thought and peered more closely at Dean. “Hey, where you from? I’ve been here six months and never seen you…never heard an accent like yours, either.”
Sam had been standing back and letting them talk, but now he shouldered forward. “Don’t worry about it.”
Then he walked on, aiming for a relatively unwatched side-door in the building. Dean hung back a second to stare at the man they’d been talking to; he looked vaguely puzzled for a second, then turned away as if the last couple minutes hadn’t happened. Maybe as if he wasn’t even seeing Dean.
So it wasn’t just Dean, and Sam really was putting something into his voice now, something that acted kind of like a hypnotic suggestion. If you were on guard, you could resist it…and if you were human, probably. It was pretty ironic, considering vampires were supposed to be the ones who could mesmerize things.
Dean quickly caught up with Sam and hooked his fingers around Sam’s elbow. He couldn’t quite bring himself to pull the other man to a stop, but he managed to get Sam paying attention to him. “There are a lot of people around. What—”
Sam grabbed the door handle and pulled. It wasn’t locked. He went inside without even pausing to acknowledge how weird that was, dragging Dean with him. “How many of them are inside the building?”
It took a moment to figure that out. The inside of the place had been freshly done with paint or plaster or something that screwed with Dean’s nose, so he had to go with hearing. “Maybe…no, they’re leaving. Two vamps, though. Besides Luther. They’re in the basement. And…and there’s somebody else, but I can barely hear him. Brown, I guess. Sam—”
“Not now, Dean. But thanks,” Sam said. His head was cocked again. “This shouldn’t take too long.”
Sam shrugged him off and turned into a narrow stairwell. The smell of fresh blood was so strong even Sam had to be picking up on it. And he was, his expression going coldly blank and the way he held his head changing, getting more aggressive. “They know we’re coming, so no point in trying to creep down.”
And that was when the stairwell burst into flames.