For somebody who didn't want to bring all that back to his doorstep, Daryl was fighting pretty hard to get them to follow him back to the prison. His tune changed once he realized how eager they were – or at least how eager Dean was – to split from Samuel. Dean had to hand it to the guy; Daryl seemed to have good instincts. He wanted to protect his people. But so did Dean, and they'd been gone too long as it was.
“We don't have enough gas,” Dean said, though he sympathized with the guy. “I'll teach you everything I know about ghosts. You'll be fine.”
“Come on, man. That alpha vamp was in my head. He might go after the prison. Or the ones who didn't make it to the fight might go after the prison. We're kind of defenseless right now. We need you guys.”
“How can you be defenseless at a freaking prison?”
Daryl frowned at him. “Okay, not defenseless, but we can't face all this crazy stuff without a strong leader.”
“So you lead.”
“That ain't me. And the alpha might come for me or Zach out of spite, anyway. We need our leader back. And our leader is haunted, which is right up your alley.” The two men stared at each other. Daryl looked him up and down. “Man, I helped you guys with all this! Come on. Do me a solid.”
“He has a point,” Sam said, and Dean glared at him.
“Have you forgotten that you have no soul, Sammy? We need to get back to Bobby ASAP and figure out what to do about this.”
Sam leaned forward. “Look, this is the biggest safe house we've heard of yet. We need to check it out.”
Dean looked between the two, then sighed. “Only if Samuel gives us enough gas to get us there and back home.”
“Fine. I'm sure he will.”
“Yeah, he'd better. He's lucky I don't kill his two-timing ass.” Dean crossed his arms. “All right. We'll check it out. How far is it?”
“I'm not a hundred percent sure how far we came to Samuel's place here,” Daryl admitted, having slept through most of the drive, “but we're probably about a hundred miles or so. Two hundred max.”
“Oh, two hundred max?”
“I'm guessing one twenty, actually. Assuming we don't hit traffic.”
“Cute.” Dean glanced at Sammy, who nodded encouragingly. He really wanted to get back to this little matter about Sam's soul, but Sam seemed more than happy to put it off. Sam tried to talk Dean into asking Cas about it, but he still wasn't speaking to Cas. They'd secured the safe house, and then he'd slept for twelve hours straight. Daryl had slept for twenty. “Look, Daryl, if what you tell us about this chick is true, then she doesn't have any bones left to burn. She may not even be a ghost.”
“You guys are our best shot.”
“All right. We'll come for a few days. But we gotta get back on the road in three or four days max. We got no cell phones anymore, and I have a kid that worries about me now.”
“Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Dean.”
“Angel rides bitch. He ain't riding with me.”
“You really need to talk to Cas,” Sammy started as soon as they got in the car.
“I'm telling you, you need to talk to him. Do you really want Kali after your ass?”
“Just one more reason why I don't want anything to do with that douchebag.” That douchebag looked pretty comical riding behind Daryl, his coat flapping in the breeze. “I don't see why we need to keep him with us if he's just putting us in danger anyway.”
Cas had tried explaining himself, but Dean didn't want to hear a word of it. He knew that a war with deities was a big deal, but that shouldn't matter. Lisa was bigger. If Cas were a real friend, he'd have taken just a split second from his infinitely grandiose cosmic existence, but he hadn't. That said everything.
“I was mid-battle, Dean. I lost a brother. And Kali took Heaven.”
Dean shook Cas from his thoughts. “I don't want to talk about Cas.” He gestured through the windshield. “Look how cute they are together. That Daryl guy seems real taken with the idea of angels. I say we leave him at the prison.”
“You don't mean that.”
“I'm sure as hell not taking him home to Ben!” Dean rummaged around for a tape and turned up the volume to drown out any further conversation. It was his great luck to pull Styx, but he gripped the wheel and rocked out to Suite Madame Blue while Sam rolled his eyes. It did the trick though. There was no more talk about Cas - or anything - until they rolled up the drive to the prison.
Michonne, the hot chick with the sword, pulled on a rope to open large metal doors. They had two fences encircling the whole place, and they'd reinforced it with heavy gates and old vehicles they could use for both cover and watch. Not that they really needed those with four giant guard towers. Dean whistled as they pulled it. “Pretty nice set-up.”
A kid in a sheriff's hat, probably the crazy guy's son, opened the wire gate within. Michonne hugged Daryl warmly, but Dean noticed how the boy kept his eye on Cas and a hand twitching by his belt though he didn't wear a gun. “Pile out,” Dean said, turning to look at Zach. “You first.”
As he hoped, Michonne and the boy softened a little once they saw Zach alive and healthy. Dean and Sam climbed out after, and he caught the frown as Michonne leaned in to whisper to Daryl. “They're fine,” he assured her. “It's a long story. Maybe I ought to tell it to the council.”
“Maybe. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I am.”
“Good.” She stepped back and nodded to the kid. She treated him like an equal, Dean noticed, filing that information away. “Head on up. To the yard,” she clarified for Sam and Dean. “They'll want to talk to you first.”
As they drove up to the yard, a pretty little blonde was already running out. Zach tumbled out of the car before Sam even made it out of his seat, throwing himself into her arms. Dean grinned appreciatively at Sam and gestured out at Daryl. “I would have thought he'd be the one to have the pretty little girl waiting and worrying at home.”
“Hey, check it out.” Sam pointed out his open door and leaned back so that Dean could get a good look. A guy was putting away gardening tools, hanging them on the outer wall of a little pig sty they had built in the middle of the prison's large front yard. There was a good-sized garden, though it only had the first small peekings of shoots reaching out from the ground. “Think that's our guy? The sheriff?”
“Hm. Probably,” he said as the kid ran off to meet him. “Let's say hello.”
A large group was beginning to gather before they could even step out of the car. They'd obviously posted lookouts for Daryl long before. Many ran forward to hug him or clap his back to see his safe return. Daryl looked almost overwhelmed, then ran off with obvious relief once an older white haired man came limping down the steps.
From Daryl's descriptions of the prison and its inhabitants, Dean expected Rick, the crazy guy, to come question them immediately. He didn't, though. He merely glanced at them as he walked by to join the crowd around Daryl. Only Michonne hung behind, keeping a subtle-but-not-subtle-enough watch on the brothers. “We're not here to cause trouble,” Dean assured her, flashing his most winning smile.
“A woman of few words,” Dean said, nodding appreciatively. “My favorite kind.”
Michonne gave a faint smile. “I bet.”
“You must be the Winchester brothers,” the older fellow said as he came toward them. “Thanks so much for bringing them home to us. You must be tired from your travails.”
Dean turned to Sam and mouthed, 'Travails?'
“I'm Hershel Greene. If you'll follow my daughter Beth here, she'll see you to a room. We've got showers, and we'll get you a nice warm meal. Might be a bit bland, but we got plenty.”
“Why, thank you, Mr. Greene,” Dean said, deferring to the man since everyone else around there seemed to.
“You can call me Hershel.”
“Dean. And this is my brother, Sam.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Hershel said, then looked over at Cas.
Dean smiled tightly at Beth, who was Zach's little blonde girlfriend. “I'd love a nice shower,” he said, walking pointedly away as Cas spoke behind him.
“I am Castiel.”
Dean struggled not to glower as he walked past the inhabitants of the prison. Sam followed, waving at Daryl as they passed by. He was surrounded by a smaller group of people, and Dean recognized three of the people from the fight where Daryl had been turned. Dean nodded at them as he followed Beth into the prison.
It took a minute for his eyes to adjust, but he paid attention as she led them down the halls. It really was a nice set-up they had. Apparently they had enough people living at the prison to use two cell blocks, and Sam and Dean were given the honor of a spare room in the one with Daryl and his friends. Dean was already getting a sense of the ranking among these people. To his disgust, Castiel had followed them in. “Thanks, Beth. Do me a favor, huh? Make sure that one keeps his distance.”
“The showers are back that way.” Beth gave a wan smile before closing the door of the empty cell across from them, which she had obviously intended for Cas. She smiled at Cas and led him back down the block.
“You shouldn't be so hard on him.”
“Not a word, Sammy.” Dean threw his bag down on a small table. They had taken his knife and gun at the door. Dean allowed it, since that wasn't all he had. He rummaged in his bag for some soap and clean underwear. “Watch my stuff, okay? I mean it. I'll be quick.”
Sam sighed and threw his bag on the top bunk. Dean smiled as he headed out of the cell, adding, “Dibs on top bunk.”
The shower wasn't really hot, but it felt good to get clean, anyway. He scrubbed hair to feet with the bar of soap, relieved to see that someone had left a pile of fresh towels out. It felt really good to shower and dry off with a nice, clean towel. Dean never thought he'd feel quite so pleased to be locked up in a prison.
“Your turn,” he said, gloating inwardly as he noticed Sammy sprawled out on the bottom bunk.
“I think I'll wait for the food.”
“This council is going to want to talk to us.”
“I know.” Sam looked up from the map he was studying. “I'm going to give them five minutes, and then I'm gonna take them up on that offer of food. They'll come to talk to us before we start talking to everyone else.”
“Smart. But kinda cold for you.” Dean's voice hardened. “Isn't that what the alpha said? You're cold?”
“Shut up, Dean.”
Dean shrugged and climbed up onto the top bunk. In a moment, Sammy was shaking him awake. “Food? You coming with me?”
Dean sighed, not realizing how weary he felt until he had enjoyed a few minutes' sleep. “Yeah. Let's get this over with.” He hopped down and pulled a knife and two more pistols out of his bag. He shoved one in his ankle holster and slid the other into his waistband at his back. “You lead the way, bad cop.”
They ran into Beth, who led them to a table just outside the cell block. He smelled the food before he saw Cas. He knew Cas didn't need food, but the angel was picking at his bowl just to be polite. Dean swiped up one of the other bowls and walked across the room, leaning against the wall to eat it. It was piping hot and delicious. Dean had never been so grateful for rice and beans in his life. It even had some corn and what looked like canned chicken. They'd gone all out for their guests.
“Man, this is great. Thanks a lot,” Sam said, sounding almost sincere. Not sincere enough though. Truth be told, Dean realized, I don't trust him very much either. Sam looked his way, as if reading his thoughts, and Dean raised his bowl and gave a small grin.
“There you boys are,” Hershel said, coming in just as they finished up on seconds. Dean had wanted to ask for thirds, but it appeared to be time. “Are y'all finding everything okay?”
“Yeah. Just great. Thanks for the food,” Dean said.
“It's the least we could do for everything you did for poor Daryl. Speaking of which, if you're up for it, the council would like to hear about that.”
“Sure thing. Lead the way.” He left his bowl on the table, walking away with a last, longing glance backward. Then his eyes fell on Cas, still following them like a lost puppy, and he snapped his head back around. He instead turned his attention to Hershel, who was limping down the hallway, candlelight bobbing with each step he took. “What happened to the leg?” Dean asked, making awkward conversation.
“Got bit,” the old man said. “Had to chop it off.”
“Really?” Dean looked at him with new appreciation.
“You're a lot tougher than you look.”
“Yup.” He turned and gazed up at Dean. “Most of us are, if we made it this long.”
Dean squared his shoulders, doing his best not to think of Lisa. “Guess so.”
With all of the people who had gathered outside when they'd arrived, Dean expected a huge council. A real formal gig. He'd privately envisioned something like the Jedi High Council, or perhaps a parole board, so it was a bit anticlimactic to walk in and see Hershel gesture for them to have a seat as he offered them some kind of tea. At the table was Daryl, who introduced them properly to Glenn and Sasha, who had both been in the vamp fight, and to a short-haired lady named Carol.
“Uh, thanks,” Dean said as he took a seat.
Hershel poured a tea for himself, then got right to it. “Daryl's told us a little about what happened to him,” he said, apparently the mouthpiece of the group. He turned his gaze to Cas. “He tells us you claim to be an angel of the Lord. Is this true?”
The group murmured amongst themselves. The Asian kid, Glenn, seemed more skeptical than anything else. Sasha and the other woman, Carol, argued in quiet, clipped tones.
“Look, it's true,” Dean said, not deigning to look in Cas's direction. “And you can have him if you want. Don't even have to feed him.”
“Nobody's talking to you.”
Hershel narrowed his eyes. “If what you say is true – and I say if only because I trust Daryl's judgment implicitly.” Dean noticed Daryl flush and shift in his seat. “Then how could you speak to an angel that way?”
“Because he's also a dick,” Dean said, pushing his tea away and glaring at the group. “Look, what do you need to know? Yes, angels are real. Yes, vampires are real. Yes, ghosts and werewolves and djinn and freaking rugaru are all real, okay? Lucifer? Yes. We've tangled with him more than once. Don't worry; he's contained for now. Supposedly. God? Nobody knows. Hell, nobody's seen God in forever. Whether He's real or not, He sure as hell ain't here. That's about it in a nutshell.”
“Well, nobody's seen our God, anyway,” Cas said to Hershel. “But a Hindu goddess and several other deities have taken over Heaven. I have seen it.”
“Well, you were telling them everything...”
“You don't tell a Southern bible-thumping dude that the Hindu goddess Kali is ruling Heaven,” Dean said quietly. “Just sit quiet, if you have to be here at all, okay?”
“She's not exactly ruling it,” he said, turning to Hershel with an earnest look. “I did not mean to cause an existential crisis. There is a resistance. We're going to get it back.”
The poor old guy looked like he was about to have a heart attack. Thankfully, Daryl interrupted Cas. “Look, back up,” he said, rocking back in his chair. “Y'all said you knew what started all this, right? I think we'd all like to hear about that.”
Dean looked at Sam, who shrugged and have a nod. “Yeah. We do. It was the swine flu vaccine released a month or so before all this started. It wasn't really a vaccine. It contained something called the Croatoan virus. We tried to stop it. We thought we did stop it. Somehow it got out anyway.”
“If it's a virus, then maybe we can find a cure,” Sasha said hopefully.
“Yeah, good luck. It's a demonic virus.”
“A demonic virus? You gotta be kidding me.”
“Wish I was.”
“You're saying demons put this out there?” Hershel asked.
“Kind of. They developed it. Lucifer put it out there.”
“Technically he's a fallen angel,” Cas said.
“Look, Lucifer is locked up, with Michael. And our brother. It was very nearly me and Sam. We deflected the war that would obliterate the world. But somehow his little virus still got out there, and now we've got the croats in addition to the regular bunch of monsters we need to worry about, including a possible ghost in your prison, right?” Dean looked around, seeing a look pass between them. “So there is?”
“Yeah,” Daryl said, while Sasha said, “I don't believe in ghosts.” She looked at Daryl and then looked away. “But, yeah, okay. Something's wrong with Rick.”
“This is what you guys do for a living?” Glenn asked.
Sam smiled. “Yeah. Been doing it our whole lives.”
“Even before all this?”
“Damn. And I thought our lives sucked.”
Dean raised his brows, then shrugged. “Fair enough. Well, welcome to the real world. You've got an Alpha vamp who now knows all about you, though he was taken off by a pack of demons. One of your guys spent a night as a vamp, a herd of croats is heading this way, and you're bunking with a ghost, or a woman in white, succubus...something. We'll take it slow, walk you guys through monster bootcamp 101, and then we need to get on the road. Okay?”
“Sounds fair enough to me,” Carol said, reaching out to squeeze Daryl's hand.
“Do you have prisoners here?” Cas asked. Dean swallowed down the urge to jump back on him and resume pummeling. Cas only unbloodied himself the moment Dean took a breather, anyway. It wasn't satisfying.
“Not really anymore left living,” Hershel said. “Why?”
“I need a tattoo.”
“Are we really to believe this guy is an angel?” Sasha asked, throwing her hands up.
“Yeah, he is,” Sam said.
“His all-powerful presence burned me when I was all...vampy, and it nearly blinded me,” Daryl said quietly. “Then, later, he healed me with a touch.”
“Kali put a bounty on my head after I killed Baldur,” Cas resumed. “It's in everyone's best interest if I get some sort of permanent warding. Soon.”
“If we find enough pens and a needle, I could probably do you one,” Daryl said.
“I can procure a tattoo gun and ink, if you'd prefer.”
Daryl sat up in his chair. “Really? Yeah, go for it.”
Cas disappeared, and Sasha loosed a strangled sob. After a moment, she said, “So that really is one-hundred-percent an angel?”
“Yes,” Cas said as he reappeared back in his seat, his arms full of tattoo equipment.
Hershel blinked at him. “All right then. Come with me, and I'll get you some alcohol and towels.”
It seemed that was the official end of the council meeting. Dean left the prison folks arguing about religion and made his way back to their cell. “I just need like five or six hours, then we can jump on the case,” he promised Sam. “We can take turns on watch if you want.”
“No,” Sam said, “you go ahead and sleep. I thought I might talk to Sasha and see what I can learn about Rick.”
“All right, but get some rest soon. I worry about you, Sammy.”
“I will. Promise.” Sam smiled. “Don't worry about me.”