“So now we're hunting with random, vampiric strangers?” Dean asked the moment Daryl took off.
Sam sighed. “We were hunting the vamps anyway. You want to find Samuel and the Alpha, right? Daryl can lead us straight to them.”
“Or eat us!” Dean looked at his brother, then gestured toward the guy on the bike riding ahead of them. “Or he could eat us, Sammy.”
“I doubt that.”
“Oh yeah? Why? You've only just met him. We don't know anything about him.”
Sam gave a small smile. “He reminds me of someone. I think he'll do fine.” The Impala turned, following Daryl as he headed down the south road. They could see Daryl sniffing when he turned his head. Sam nodded. “You see? He'll save us lots of time. And he seems highly motivated.”
“Highly motivated? Really?” Dean rolled his eyes. “What, are you recruiting right now?”
“No. I mean, maybe.” Sam glanced out the window. “If you're right about the Alpha raising a food harem, then we need more hunters out there. Right? Hell, damn near everyone we know is de--”
“Shit!” Dean slammed on the brakes as they watched Daryl's bike wobble and crumple under him. The Triumph's brake lights hadn't flashed at all, so Dean knew Daryl hadn't even tried to slow. He simply went down, sliding across the pavement as his bike bounced into the ditch and catapulted off the road. “Shit!”
Dean swerved left, doing his best to avoid both the bike and Daryl's rolling form, and the Impala careened across the road. The car spun, coming to a stop facing the opposite direction. He could see Daryl lying on the side of the road, his bike in the distance, the headlight shining into the air like a spotlight. They quickly jumped out and ran to Daryl, surprised to find him bloody but seemingly intact.
“He had to have been going close to fifty,” Sam said, rolling Daryl onto his back and checking him over. “How is he not broken to bits?”
“Chock full of vamproids,” Dean said, kneeling down to get a better look. The guy had a pretty nasty bit of road rash down his right arm and cheek, but otherwise he was mostly just dirty and bruised. “He's got some road rash, but I bet that clears up easy enough.”
“Don't you think he'd have to feed?”
“How the hell should I know?” Dean jutted his chin. “Croat, six o'clock.”
Sam stood and turned, taking out the croat with his bowie knife. They were better used for cutting vamp heads, really, but at least he had something. “Hope dude's crossbow isn't broken. I'm taking that, if he doesn't wake up.”
“Watch him will ya? I'll check the bike,” Dean called as he headed back down the road. “Daryl was pretty pissed when it flooded. He's not gonna be happy to see it now.”
Like its owner, it wasn't in nearly as bad of shape as Dean feared. He stood it up and gave it a slightly better look over than he had Daryl. The gas tank was warped on one side where it had hit as it fell, but it didn't seem punctured. A few dents and scrapes, but it looked mostly intact. “Good,” Dean said, frowning as another handful of croats came into view farther up the road. “Why don't you see if we've got any water we can splash on him? Otherwise, we load him up. Can't stick around here.”
“Don't touch the bike,” Daryl slurred as he began to rouse.
“I was just checking it for you,” Dean said.
Dean shrugged and headed back toward him while Sam killed another croat coming out of the woods. Dean held out a hand to Daryl, who grabbed hold with his good arm. “You okay, man?”
“I'm fine.” Daryl stood, unsteady on his feet. “Mostly, anyway.”
“Mind telling us what that was about?” Dean asked. “You're lucky to be alive! Or undead. Whatever you are.”
Daryl rubbed his head, giving a small wince. “He was...talking to me. Kind of.”
“Who?” Sam asked, joining them.
“The Alpha. I guess. Whatever you call him. Everyone else called him Father.”
“Everyone who?” Dean asked. “What, vamps have some kind of psychic telephone?”
“Yeah. You could say that. It was mostly images.” Daryl shook his head. “We're heading the wrong way. I recognized one of the houses. Bastards are leading us away from the Alpha. Doesn't matter though. It's too late. Guess your boy caught him.”
“Our boy? You mean Samuel?”
“Yeah, I guess. Bald dude? Kinda old?”
Sam smirked. “That would be Samuel.”
“Wait a minute,” Dean said. “What do you mean 'caught'? You mean killed, right?”
“No, I mean caught. They're taking him someplace. And boy is he pissed about it.” Daryl slowly walked to his bike, anxiously looking it over. “Aw, hell,” he said as he saw the dents in the gas can.
“It's not leaking,” Sam added helpfully.
“Yeah, but it's beat all to hell.” He tried to start her, to no avail.
“Throttle cable's pinched,” Dean offered.
“You're mighty interested in my bike,” Daryl observed, rummaging in his saddlebag. He pulled out a screwdriver. “Why don't you be useful and cover me while I fix it?”
Dean turned his attentions to the croats who had been called by the noise of the crash. He took out three, then frowned as he saw more coming out of the woods. Sam dispatched the four who had come down the road, but they could see even more in the distance. “Leave it.”
“You're seriously lucky you're even alive, anyway,” Sam said. “That was a pretty rough crash. Don't you have any gear? I mean, your friends were in full blown riot gear, and you're in a vest.”
“A helmet blocks my vision. Gotta watch for walkers in every direction these days. Cars, not so much. Figure if I wreck, I want to go quick, not lay around all broken, waiting for the walkers to get me.” Daryl said, pointedly eying the dozens of croats now coming out of the tree line.
“Wait a minute,” Dean interrupted, interrogating Daryl even as he stalked from croat to croat. “Where are they taking him? Why are they taking him?”
“I don't know, man. I saw a house I recognize from earlier runs. It's northeast of here. They grabbed him and put him in a van. Two cars with them. No clue where they'd be taking him.” Daryl pulled the throttle housing back on the handlebar and unkinked the line, fumbling as his hands started to shake. He looked up at Sam with gratitude as he kicked a croat away before stabbing it in the head. “Guess my weird healing powers were only temporary.”
“No,” Dean said. “You'll still heal faster. Not as fast as if you feed though.” He shot a look down at Daryl. “But you won't, right?”
“'Course not.” Daryl cracked his fingers before putting the throttle housing back together. “Look, I can take you to where the Alpha was, but I know he ain't there now. I also know that he—like, he called them. Us. Vampires. They know he was taken. And, well...” He threw the screwdriver back in his bag and checked out his crossbow. After a quick appraisal, he shrugged and aimed at an incoming croat, smiling when it shot properly. He continued as he retrieved the bolt, “Well, he seems to be recruiting. They're not catching them all for food. They're turning a lot of them. And he called for reinforcements.”
The brothers shared a look. “You're sure about this?” Sam asked.
“You still want that cure?”
“Then take us to the house. That's our only lead. I can find Samuel's trail from there.”
“What about Zach? They're going the other way.”
Sam shook his head. “I'm sorry, man. You seem to be a pretty determined guy, but we're probably looking at a pretty small window before the blood thirst eventually overpowers you.”
Daryl's nostrils flared. “Yeah, I suppose you might be right.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Well, all right. I guess I'll take you to that house.”
Dean was already climbing into the car, impatiently drumming on the dash as he waited for Sammy to get his ass in gear. Once they were back on the road, Dean took a deep breath. Without even looking at Sam, he asked, “How much of this did you know already?”
“What do you mean?”
Dean finally looked at him, his eyes blazing. “How much of this did you know?” he asked quietly.
“Look, Dean,” Sam said, frowning. “I knew he was after the Alpha. He once mentioned having a cure. That's it.”
“I just can't help but feel like you've been lying to me this whole time, Sammy.”
“I never lied to you.”
“Playing me, then!” His knuckles turned white as he gripped the wheel. “I mean, I think about how long we played house at that stupid farm. How safe I thought we were, while you knew – you knew, Sam – that we were right smack dab in the middle of the Alpha vamp's trail, with vampires multiplying as they swept through. And you didn't say a thing!”
“Lisa wasn't killed by vamps, Dean.”
“You shut your hole! You don't get to talk to me about that.”
“I just meant--”
“I mean it! Shut up! I know what got Lisa killed, believe me.” Dean took another deep breath, trying to swallow down the urge to pummel Sam's face in. “Fucking complacency!” Dean yelled, causing Sam to jump. “Complacency is what got her killed! You knew this was going on. We're all distracted with the zombie apocalypse, and you knew the vamps were growing and just plucking the last of us off one by one. The Alpha, the recruitment...You should have said something, Sammy.”
“And drag you back into it? No. I left Samuel so that I could find you. When I found you with Lisa, with Ben...” Sam shook his head. “I didn't come to bring hunter news, Dean. I came to find my brother.”
“News like that is pretty freaking important, Sammy.” Dean shook his head. “You should have told me. And you should have told me about Samuel.”
“I told you about Samuel!”
“You told me he was back. Nothing else. And you sure as hell didn't mention any Alpha 'questioning', or I would have made a point to start looking for his ass a lot sooner. Tell me, were you in on these torture sessions?”
“No.” Dean stared at him and raised his brows questioningly, and Sam shook his head and threw up his hands. “No, Dean, I haven't tortured anyone!”
“What is Samuel after?”
“I don't know.” Sam's eyes shifted from side to side as he thought, and it looked for all the world like it was the first time he'd considered it at all.
“Wow, you are not right.”
Sam glared at him. “Dean, I just...”
“No, man, you are not right. You've been off this whole time.”
“No, you're not! I've been there, man. I know what Hell is like. And you don't just pop out fine.”
“Maybe you don't. But I'm fine. Really. I mean, it sucks what happened. Hell sucks. Coming back to this sucks. But I'm still me. I'm still doing what I've always done, maybe even better.”
“Not better. And, honestly, we need to figure this out, because I'm not sure how safe this is.”
“So now I'm not safe?”
“You've got no instinct, dude. This thing with Samuel? That's some really sketchy business. They way you're out to just eat, sleep, and breathe hunting...I'm as driven as the next guy, especially these days, but you're not thinking clearly, Sammy. You're taking stupid risks, you're putting our lives in the hands of people we don't even know,” he gestured out the windshield towards Daryl, “you're keeping secrets, you're lying...”
“Oh yeah? Where'd you get those beers then, huh? The gas station we hit didn't have any. I don't believe for a second that you just found a cooler of beer with fresh ice.”
Sam clenched his teeth and looked away. “Okay, I may have taken it off some campers, but they were passed out anyway. They'd had plenty. And, I should add, no foresight to post a look-out, so they're lucky that's all that happened.”
Dean nodded. “So you left me sleeping when I did have the foresight to post a look-out.” It was more a statement than a question. “You see what I mean?”
“I saw a fire and checked it out. That's what look-outs do.”
“Whatever, man. Look, from now on, you tell me everything. I'm not going to keep hunting with you if you're going to be acting weird and keeping secrets, okay?”
“Fine. I'm sorry.”
“Yeah, well. Let's just focus on the task at hand.” Dean's jaw twitched. “Of course, now we have an army of angry vamps to watch out for. If we'd started hunting them about six months earlier, there would be a lot less of 'em, but whatever. Too late for that now. We'll deal with it as it comes. Maybe Ben and Bobby, at least, might survive. ” After a few tense minutes of silence, he finally added, “You know, I only went to her because I made that promise to you.”
“I'm glad you did.”
“I should have been hunting. Maybe we could have stopped all this.”
“We tried, Dean. We've won a lot. Hell, just me being here is proof of that. But, you know, sometimes you don't win.” Sam said. “It's a bitch, but it's true. Sometimes you lose, and you just make the best of what you've got.”
“Yeah. Sure. We've got a steaming pile of violent death every which way we turn.”
“Isn't that what you and I always had?”
“Yeah, but not Ben. Not Lisa.”
“Lisa lived a much longer, happier life with you there to see her through this,” Sam said, gazing at his brother though Dean wouldn't meet his eyes.
“I said shut your hole. Just...no more talking about Lisa. Ever.”
They rode in silence for the next thirty miles.