|The Road Less Traveled II: Crossroads Night
Author: Guede Mazaka
Dean flipped the gun around, then held it up to the light. Where his skin touched the metal, he felt a slight frisson, but nothing like the harsh prickling he got when he held the Colt. “I don’t know, Dad. I’m still not getting a good feeling about this.”
“Nobody’s seen this gun that’s still alive except us. Sam killed the demon that had it before it could report back,” Dad said, taking back the pistol. He snapped out the bullet chamber and peered through the holes, then spun the rotor with his thumb. It whirred with surprisingly little grating, considering its age. “And we know that they haven’t seen the real bullets yet. I’ve got some silver ones made from melted-down Vatican silverware that should fool them for long enough.”
“We don’t know that for sure. Anyway, what if the demon--the big one—already saw it way back when?” Sam started to get up from where he was kneeling on the floor, then winced and paused. He put one hand back down and pressed his other hand against the small of his back, twisting slightly at the waist. He’d been marking up the floor for the better part of an hour, so hopefully he was nearly done. “You said people have taken this gun up against it before, didn’t you?”
That was to Luther, who’d gotten let out of the bathroom over Dean’s objections. Maybe it’d sound suspicious if they had to yell their questions at him, but he still thought better that than have the bastard out where he could needle at them. Things were already shitty enough.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Luther replied in a patient tone. He’d settled down on the floor across from Sam to help draw out the circle from Sam’s notes. He wasn’t making anyone really happy with that—especially Sam, who seemed more miffed that Luther had been able to make that much sense out of his research than because his reluctant act had fooled Dad into accepting an idea suggested by a vampire—but they had so little time that they couldn’t say no. “Something went wrong, obviously—there were supposed to be thirteen bullets made for the gun, and Elkins only had five with him. But I wasn’t there myself. What worries me more is whether or not Sam really killed the demon back at the barn.”
Dean sat down on the bed behind Luther hard enough to make the mattress creak. “Excuse me? You couldn’t have mentioned this before? Then how do we know it’s not spying on us right now?”
“Because they’re weak without a body to possess.” The ‘I already told you’ in Luther’s tone came through loud and clear, for all that he was still talking at the same low volume. “And it didn’t come after you or me right away, so it probably was hurt, at least.”
“I killed it,” Sam snapped. He drew the last line with a savage slashing motion, then sat back on his heels to study the circle.
After a long, uncomfortable moment, he finally looked up at them. His shoulders hunched back and he nervously flicked the chalk between his fingers, but his expression was good old-fashioned stone wall. The only harder, blanker thing around was Dad’s face, though his eyes as he studied Sam were worried enough for Dean to see it.
Sam shrugged. “I just…it’s like the visions, all right? I just know it’s dead. And you know, that’s a really good reason why I should—”
“We went over this, Sam. If you don’t know how you did something, then I’m not going to risk having you there and having it not work a second time.” Dad turned away to the dresser and began lighting candles. He paused to glance upwards, but Dean caught his attention and signaled: smoke alarm was already disabled. “And you will use the gun when you and Dean see it coming.”
God, Luther must be having a goddamn field day with this. Dean didn’t even want to look in that direction and see that son of a bitch’s smug face. Just thinking about it made things rotten.
Wait. That actually was something burning that Dean was smelling.
“But—” Sam started in a heated tone. Then he stopped and blew out the rest of his breath in one short, vicious burst. He was still twiddling his fingers, and a thin trail of smoke was issuing from the chalk he had. No one—scratch that, Luther had noticed and he was staring fixedly at Sam’s hand, so it didn’t look like help was coming from his corner any time soon. “Fine.”
“So why don’t we get started now?” Dean said. His voice was way too high and insistent, but frankly, he really didn’t care. He just wanted Sam to stop that right now. He also wanted them to come up with a better solution, but at this point, pushing Dad more was just going to get him going off on his own when they weren’t looking. Better to keep him working with them, even if it wasn’t the best plan possible.
Sam and Dad turned to glare at him when he hadn’t even done a damn thing. Then Sam grunted to himself and started shuffling papers, while Dad went back to lighting candles. They’d actually listened to him, but it figured that when that had finally happened, Dean wouldn’t be in the slightest position to enjoy it.
* * *
Sam squinted at the sheets in his hand, mumbling to himself. “Okay, we didn’t have mandrake root, so Luther’s cover is only going to last till about an hour after they get there. Hopefully Dad works fast.”
The sun was nearly all the way down and the light was coming straight through the windshield, messing up Dean’s sight and making his skin crawl so badly he couldn’t even attempt to sit still. He wished he could repark the car, but thanks to the neighbors’ big hedges, this spot and direction was the only one with a good line of sight to the baby’s bedroom. “Am I the only one who’s disturbed about how casual you are about being Mr. Wicked Witch of the West?”
The sheets finally stopped rustling, but that wasn’t as much of a relief as Dean had been expecting. “I’m not casual about it,” Sam eventually said, teeth gritted. “I’m trying to deal. And don’t goddamn start—just ignoring it’s not even remotely on the table anymore. I need to get control of it or I’m going to hurt someone I don’t want to and I don’t want that to happen again.”
Dean had a feeling they weren’t just talking about the moment when Sam had had Dad ten or twelve feet above the ground, and that both saddened and frustrated him. And mostly it made him even more pissed off than he already was. He’d always hated stakeouts, hated the waiting around while his nerves twanged, and this one had the highest stakes ever.
His hand was halfway to his cell before he even realized, and then it was only because he saw Sam’s eyes moving down. He slid his fingers out of his pocket and stuffed them beneath his thigh; a tired, knowing half-smile came and went on Sam’s face and for a moment, things were about as normal as they ever got. But then Sam turned away and stared up at the dark house. “Besides, I can use this to help us. Better than letting it help them.”
“We did okay before you went all Swiss Army knife,” Dean muttered.
“Yeah. Sure. Mom and Jess die, Dad spends his whole life on this demon, and we basically do the same thing.” That came out bitter and angry, but in the next second, Sam’s shoulders heaved up in a long, slow exhale as he turned away. He stared up at the house, his fingers occasionally drumming on the side of the window. “Hey, Dean? I’m sorry.”
After several moments, Dean decided he had no idea what Sam could possibly be talking about. Well, no—he had a lot of good ideas about what Sam’s apology could be for, but that was just in his opinion. Repentant Sam wasn’t something that anything in the last couple hours had pointed to, and no matter how Dean tried, he just couldn’t get into his brother’s head for this one. “About what?”
“About…about getting you into this mess,” Sam said.
Dean blinked. Then he leaned forward and grabbed Sam’s shoulder so Sam had to look at him. “Sammy, I know you didn’t just say sorry for everything that’s happened to me, up to and including this vampirism bullshit. Because who the hell died and made you the demon?”
Bad choice of wording. Wincing, Sam jerked his shoulder free and slid closer to the window a couple inches. “I didn’t mean it that way. But I—”
“Have been a real pain in the ass sometimes over the last year, so if you’re apologizing for that, I’ll definitely take it, and about damn time. But if it’s for the vampirism, or—or for Mom, God help us, or anything like that, then I don’t care if the demon shows up right now. We’re stepping out of this car and I am beating some sense into your head,” Dean hissed. He’d started to bark it, but a late-night jogger suddenly rounded the corner and led to them both hurriedly squishing down in the seats. “You didn’t do any of that. I should’ve known better than to check out the stupid graveyard by myself, and—and hell, this demon’s been around at least two hundred years. You gonna say you’re responsible for all that?”
“No. That’s not what I meant.” Sam obviously was going to continue, but cut himself off. His breath grated through his teeth, and he did his whole glare-in-the-other-direction routine again, as if intimidating nothing was going to make him more convincing. “I—Dean?”
A second away from shoving his mouth up to Sam’s neck vein, Dean jerked himself away. He hit the door on his side, flinched, and sank down into the seat cushions. After a moment, he ground his heel into the floor as hard as he could since he couldn’t risk enough noise to kick anything. “Don’t ask me if I need to eat. I ate, goddamn it. I’m just a little edgy.”
Sam didn’t say anything. The jogger, whoever they were, apparently kept on going because nobody came tapping on the window with questions, and the lights in the house gradually blinked off, one by one. Now it looked like things were down to somebody in the living room, and somebody in the upstairs.
“I wish we were backing up Dad,” Dean muttered.
What little light there was glinted off the teeth in Sam’s wry half-smile, making it look artificially less dark. “I wish he was here backing us up.”
Yeah. Yeah to both.
* * *
The thing dissolved and Dean saw a hole splinter into life in the far wall, and a great, violently bitter snarl of disappointment surged up in him. It was all instinct, though—with the fire roaring up around them and the high screaming of the overheated air, he couldn’t stop to think on it. He just grabbed Sam and dragged his idiot brother out of the room and down the stairs and out onto the lawn. And then he turned around, and then they both saw that shadowy, taunting figure rise up again.
“No!” Sam shouted. He lunged forward, and the sheer stupidity of it almost froze Dean in place.
Luckily, it was ‘almost’ and he managed to tackle Sam to the ground before his brother had gotten more than a foot away. The gun skidded away on the damp grass as Sam’s hip smashed into Dean’s belly; Dean let his grip slip down from Sam’s shoulder to arm and yanked hard. A little too hard—he felt Sam’s muscles seize up and hastily loosened his hold before he popped out the joint. “Sor—”
Sam gasped in pain and twisted at the same time, nearly throwing Dean off. “Let me go! I’ve got to kill it! Dean, let me go!”
“You’ll die if you go back in there!” Well, to hell with apologies. Right now, Dean’s major concern was making Sam stay where he was by any means necessary. Injuries would heal. “You can’t—you already tried once!”
“Maybe I missed!” An elbow came flying at Dean’s nose and barely missed it. It was shortly followed by Sam’s snarling face as he wrestled himself around, trying to get purchase to shove at Dean’s chest. When Dean let body weight and gravity do their thing, Sam produced the kind of animalistic sound that should’ve went out with the Stone Age. His hands clawed at Dean’s back, and one abruptly went up to jerk back Dean by the hair. “Goddamn you, Dean, I can get through that.”
The look on Sam’s face right then made Dean’s mouth dry out, because it was much, much too cold.
Then Sam jerked up his head to stare—a fiery bit of wood landed nearby so yellow light skidded over his eyes—and he went abruptly slack beneath Dean. A quick glance upwards showed Dean an empty window, and as bad a setback as that was, he was actually glad towards the demon for it. It meant Sam would stop fighting him, at least right now. “Come on, Sam,” Dean urgently said, pulling at Sam’s shoulder. “Come on. We’ve got to go. Dad—Dad, remember?”
“Dad,” Sam repeated, sounding as if he wasn’t quite sure of the meaning of the word. He shook himself, then looked back at Dean. “Dad. Right.”
* * *
One concession Dad had allowed: he’d let them check out of the motel and pack up so as soon as they were done in Salvation, they could hit the road on his trail. Dean had hit the accelerator big-time the moment they’d gotten on the highway and hadn’t let up since.
“You should’ve let me go in there and end it,” Sam suddenly said. First thing he’d said for the past hour, and it figured it’d be getting up in Dean’s face.
“All right, you’ve got to use your—these powers of yours a little bit. But forgive me if I’m not that enthusiastic about letting you experiment by walking into a burning house!” Well, so much for keeping his temper. Dean made himself take a deep breath and sit back in his seat. “You know, you know…how much do you really know? God—Sam, at least tell me it’s mostly coming from your research, and you’re not just pulling it out of your ass.”
Sam slouched with a moody expression on his face. He worked his hands around each other, staring at his twisting fingers.
Dean tried to not think about thumping his head against the steering wheel. After all, it wasn’t his brain that needed it. “How do you know it’s not the demon making you think that stuff? If it is targeting you, then wouldn’t it be just great if you came running at it?”
“It’s not making me do things,” Sam muttered. “Not yet, anyway. Actually, it’d be so much better if you could just blame the demon for everything, wouldn’t it?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Dean snapped, glancing over. Then he looked again.
Sam stared back. After a long second, he shifted so he was more turned towards Dean and lifted his hands, cupping one around the other’s fingers. He tipped his head and flicked his index finger so the flame on its tip went out, then flicked it again. Nothing happened. Frowning, Sam stared at his finger till the vein in his temple started to pop, and a sluggish, smaller flame came back.
“That fire started from the baby’s crib.” He told it to the night outside in a dull, disturbingly lifeless voice. But before Dean could reach over and hit him, a confused light came into Sam’s eyes. Better than none, anyway. “But—with Jessica, it started with her.”
“For the last time, you didn’t kill anyone. And don’t do that when I’m driving. Jesus.” Dean turned his attention back to driving just in time to pull the car back into the proper lane. It was a good thing they were the only people on this damn road.
“No, I have. I just realized, you know…if the demons work by possessing people, then I did kill Meg. And the demon in her.” The flame went out, hopefully for good, and Sam moved around again so he could tap his fingers against the window. He unthinkingly bit his lip, and deep enough for the smell of blood to get to Dean, but Dean couldn’t bring himself to call Sam on that. “The scary thing is, I’m not sure I care. And we don’t know if Meg asked for it, or if it just happened to her.”
The scary thing was, Dean wasn’t sure anymore which would be better: if Sam cared or if he didn’t. He didn’t know which would make for a better hunter to kill that goddamned demon, or which would make for a Sam where he wasn’t scared shitless that his brother wouldn’t lose it before it all ended.
He did know one thing: this demon never had been worth Sam, or Dad. And now he was beginning to see that a dead demon and a living family might not necessarily go hand-in-hand when it came to possible solutions of their situation. It was funny—funny and galling and pretty sick to boot, but Dean was starting to see the virtue of Luther’s run-and-hide philosophy. “You know what I don’t care about? I don’t care if the demon dies if you or Dad die too. Where’s the victory in that?”
That sure as hell got Sam’s attention. He glanced sharply at Dean. “But—”
“I’m calling Dad—”
The cell phone rang just as Dean’s fingers touched it. His blood went icy and he locked eyes with Sam, who’d gone just as stiff as he had. He slowly took the phone out, noted that it was Dad’s number and flipped it open so fast he clipped his ear. “Dad?”
*Hello, Dean.* Male voice. Slightly different than the ones he’d heard before, but Luther had been telling the truth about that: they did all have the same unsettling undertone. *You’re never going to see your father again.*
“You goddamn—” But they hung up, and Dean was still driving so he couldn’t do anything but sit on his fear and fury. Sit and seethe while his insides churned and floor the damn accelerator. “They’ve got him.”
Sam grabbed the handle above the door as much so he could slew himself around as so he could keep from slamming into the dashboard. “What? How—”
The phone rang. They stared at each other through its second ring, and then Sam scrambled to get his cell phone out. “Hello? Who the hell is this?” he said harshly.
“How’d you get my number?” Sam asked, blinking rapidly.
Luther’s irritated sigh was interrupted by a short, nasty-sounding bout of coughing. *Sam, this is a pay-phone and I have three minutes. Maybe. Your spell held up and if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to run from these things, but that’s if I don’t stay still. Do you want to save your father or not?*
“What happened?” Sam and Dean said at the same time.
*It’s got him.* Another cough got hold of Luther, and this one sounded wet, like he was near to choking on liquid. He spat out an address and then hung up, though Sam yelled at the phone for a couple more seconds.
Sam finally put away the phone and threw himself back in his seat. He stared outside, then twisted around to face Dean. Then he twisted back, looking as if he wished he could punch the dashboard.
“I’ll kill him if it turns out he got Dad caught,” Dean finally growled.
“Got to get there first and find him.” After some more restless turning about, Sam reached into the backseat and came up with a fistful of papers, some of which flopped over to show strange squiggly symbols and sketches of monsters. He shot a look at Dean that was half-challenging, half-pleading, but Dean wasn’t about to say anything. There wasn’t time for it. “Can you go any faster?”
Dean pressed his teeth together, pushing back some thoughts and pulling forward others. He went back and forth on a few, then made up his mind. First and foremost was making sure everyone lived. “There anything in there about keeping cops from spotting us?”
Sam frowned and rapidly flipped through his notes. Dean went faster.
* * *
The address Luther had given them belonged to a crappy shack of a church on the outskirts of town, but the ground around it gave Dean a funny vibe. He didn’t normally get anything off most “holy” places, so he asked Sam and got a mutter about a crawling feeling, so it wasn’t just nerves. Not that it, or the fact that the sun was an hour over the horizon, really mattered.
There was no sign of Luther inside the church, and the old man inside who apparently kept up the place seemed so eager to chat them up that Dean doubted if anyone had been around for decades. They moved out from it in a spiral pattern and soon came across an abandoned car with Luther’s smell on it. It looked pretty nice, but when Dean checked, the ignition had been hotwired. He swiped a hand over the black leather and it came away with streaks of dried blood.
“Dean.” Sam had wandered away to a small dirt lot behind the place, which probably had been the parking lot. It now appeared to be the neighborhood junkyard, but a few patches of clear dirt still remained. He was standing at the edge of one of them, staring down at the ground.
When Dean came over, he noted that it looked as if someone had been doing some digging. Not a lot—on the level of a big dog, but Luther’s smell was thick over the area, and when Dean looked for it, he found more bloodstains on nearby piles of trash. He came back over to the dirt patch and squatted down at the edge of it, sniffing. “He didn’t leave here, I don’t think.”
“No…” Sam slowly knelt down beside Dean and poked around at the dirt. His fingers easily penetrated the loose, softened earth. He abruptly sucked in his breath and put one hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I’m going to—try something. Been trying to work on this the most…”
He glanced at Dean as if he were expecting an objection, and one did rise in Dean’s throat, but he swallowed it and nodded. After another moment, Sam turned back to the ground. He resettled himself, staring hard at the dirt. His hand slowly tightened on Dean and sweat started to drip down the side of his face, which was going pale. Once or twice he winced and his other hand jerked towards his head, but he always made it go back down. Then he suddenly jerked forward; Dean grabbed him back, afraid Sam was having another attack, and thus narrowly saved them from getting facefuls of soil. It still smacked into their chests and got in their hair.
When it all settled down again, they were looking down into a shallow trench, which had a body curled in it in fetal position. It was so crusted with dirt that sight-wise, it was impossible to identify who it was. “Well, it smells like him,” Dean uncertainly said. “So I guess he takes the whole go-to-ground thing seriously?”
“You think we can move him?” Moving slowly, Sam pushed himself back up. He grimaced and pressed his hand to the side of his head. “Just you, that is…that wiped me out.”
Dean braced himself and leaned down into the hole. He put out a hand and carefully prodded one of the thicker clumps of earth stuck to Luther. Part of it fell away to reveal raw red flesh, and Luther moved a fraction of an inch. Away from Dean. “Well, we’ll have to. Can’t exactly question him like this, can we?”
* * *
A motel seemed out of the question, both because of what they might end up having to do and because the demon would probably be looking there first. It stuck in Dean’s craw to waste even more time, but the safe choice seemed to be knocking on the door of a friend of Dad’s who lived in a neighboring town. At least, Bobby used to be a friend of Dad’s.
Bobby let them in. Came pretty close to beheading Luther when Sam was halfway through explaining things, but in the end, just left them to it in the garage, mumbling something about going to restock while he had the chance.
Sam dosed himself up with aspirin while Dean washed Luther down with a garden hose and figured out what they were dealing with. Luther’s injuries seemed to argue against him working with the demon—they were almost as bad as when Dean and Sam had first met him—but Dean chained up Luther’s feet just in case.
Dean was starting to lose his fight against the midday sleepiness by the time Sam came back in, which was good timing on Sam’s part since Luther had just woken up.
“They built the church over Indian holy ground. Doesn’t do a damn thing to stop a demon as big-league as this one, but the different consecrations on the place can confuse it sometimes.” Luther painfully rolled over. He paused to stare down at his rattling ankles, shot a tired look at Dean, and kept on going till he’d gotten onto his back. “Works better than the trick your father tried to pull. They caught on faster than he was expecting.”
“Where is he?” Dean demanded. He glanced over his shoulder long enough to see Sam leaning against a table behind and to the left, then turned back to bend down to Luther. “Why didn’t the demon get you?”
The effort of turning over left Luther breathing hard for nearly a minute. He stared up at the ceiling, but it was obvious he wasn’t really seeing it. He probably was a hair away from passing out again, but Dean couldn’t work up any sympathy. “I think they took him to an apartment complex. Sunrise Apartments…they looked like they were pulling in there.”
“Looked like?” Sam pushed off the table and came forward till he was abreast of Dean.
When he came up, Luther turned his head to look at him. “I had to run again at that point,” he said. Put a hell of a lot of acid into his voice. “And it did get me—it just happened that it could either get your dad or me at that point, and when it figured out that your dad didn’t have a problem leaving me, it dropped me and went after him instead. By the time it came back for me, I’d left.”
“So much for sucking up to us. Didn’t want to try being a hero?” Dean snorted.
Luther’s eyes flicked over, and his lip faintly curled. “No, Dean. I didn’t. The moment I could, I got out of the way and I watched it grab your dad and rip him up. Given a…given a choice, he’d kill me too, so why should I get into that?”
“You goddamn son of a—” Dean bolted up and was about two inches from figuring out if he could decapitate Luther with his bare hands when Sam pulled him back. And even then, it was a close call for a few seconds. “You bastard. So why’d you call? Huh? Because the demon made you an offer?”
“Right, it told me I’d get off if I contacted you and talked you into going after your dad right into what anyone could tell you is a trap. Sit down and don’t be stupid, damn it. It’s older than you or me, and it’s been watching you for your whole life,” Luther snapped. “It knows you don’t care. You’ll walk in anyway as long as your dad’s still alive, and so he is. And so it’d be pointless to use me like that.”
The fucking son of a bitch. But he was right. He was right, and Dean sat back down and stared at his hands. “But we have to,” he finally said. “We have to get Dad back.”