“How are you walking around with no soul?” Jody asked Sam.
Sam shrugged and rubbed his neck, looking decidedly uncomfortable to be put on the spot. “I don't know. But I've been...different...since I came back. And when we saw the Alpha vamp, he said I was soulless.”
“Yeah, but you're gonna believe the Alpha Vamp?” Bobby asked.
“I can check if you like,” Cas said, “but I don't really need to. I know. I'm the one who resurrected Sam. I was able to free him from Lucifer's cage, but I was forced to leave his soul behind.”
“What?” Dean gaped at him, and he saw Sam doing the same. “Cas, why didn't you say something?”
“Well, you were so mad at me. And then there was the whole mess with the vampires and the ghost. We didn't really have a good chance to speak alone. Once you were speaking to me again...well, I didn't want to risk messing that up by telling you.”
“You need to tell me everything! The both of you! Jeez, I'm trying to keep everyone safe here. I need to be able to trust the people I surround myself with. If you can't handle that, then you need to just go.” Dean shook his head. He couldn't believe that he had to have the same damned talk with both Sam and Cas. They were the people he should have been able to trust the most. “No more secrets, dammit!”[...] “Well, why the hell didn't you bring him back with his soul?”
“I did what I could. It was hard breaking him out of there. They had a strong hold over his soul. I had to act quickly, while Lucifer and Michael were disoriented. I was able to return your brother to you! But now, with Kali's people looking for me and Crowley showing far too much interest, I don't dare show my face in Hell. You try to open that cage now, there's a chance you could set Lucifer free.” Cas shook his head. “I have no allies above or below. It's an impossible mission.”
“Look,” the demon gasped, after she stopped screaming and choking on holy water, “his real name is Fergus MacLeod! He's from Scotland somewhere. That's all I know. I swear it!”
He tried to get the location of Crowley's bones out of her, but it seemed as if she truly didn't know anything else. Cas placed his hand on her head, killing her. He turned away, gazing into the distance. “MacLeod,” he repeated. “That name seems familiar.”
“Think you can find his grave?” Sam asked. “If we find his bones, I bet he'd be a lot more receptive to dealing.”
“If I search all of Scotland,” Cas said. “It would take some time. And with many of the pagan gods allied with Kali, it would be fairly dangerous. I might not return.”
Dean sighed. “Yeah, and if he was as big a douchebag in life as after, he very well could have found himself on the south side of an unmarked grave.”[…]
Sam was watching Cas with interest. “Cas is right. That name is very familiar. MacLeod? There was a Ms. McLeod at that prison...It sounds silly, but I swear I saw her wearing a triple spiral. I saw her grab it while she was praying, some foreign prayer I didn't understand. Could have maybe been a warding spell, now that I think about it.”
The woman sighed. “I knew you were going to be trouble. Okay, look. Yes, I know him. He's – he was my father. [...] I really hope that you'll be the one to bring him down. Just don't be bringing that here. I'm not hurting anybody. I don't want anything to do with this. He was bad enough as a sadistic drunk. I don't want anything to do with him as King of Hell.”
“Can't say I blame you there. But still, witchcraft?”
“Family business has a strong call.”
“You swear you're not going to hurt these people?”
Ms. McLeod frowned at him. “Of course not! These people are my family. I'm just trying to stay alive. Just like everyone else.”
“All right. Look, normally, as you can probably guess, I'm not fond of witches. But I'll keep your little secret and let you carry on here. Just tell us where he's buried. Please. He's got some things of ours that we really need to get back.”
Ms. McLeod – he still didn't know her given (or chosen) name – stared at him. “Swear you won't let him know where I am. You'll never bring him here.”
“I swear it.”
“Maggie? Jesus, you scared me, slinking up like that,” he admitted as he holstered his weapon.
“Bela?” he heard Bobby ask as the girl came into clear view.
Dean peered at Maggie in the dim light of the moon, then snapped his fingers. “Ooooh! That's who she reminded me of!”
“Reminded, hell! That's who she is!” Bobby cried.
“Bobby, Bela Talbot's dead. This is Maggie Greene, Hershel's daughter.”
“Oh, like you ain't never been dead before!” Bobby scoffed, his eyes never leaving Maggie. She stood there, saying nothing, as the two argued.
“It can't be...” Sam said.
“It sure as hell is! And if Dean hadn't been so horribly off his game this past year and a half and you hadn't been so soulless and clueless – he's right, kid; you got no instinct – then you guys would have noticed it the first time you came here.” Bobby placed his hands on his hips. “Right, Bela?”
“Probably,” Maggie answered, looking almost apologetic.
“But if you're honestly not playing us, then you'll have to prove yourself.”
Maggie nodded. “Of course. I am being honest. Anything I can do to help.”
“We need to get both Bobby and Sammy's souls back from Crowley.”
Her shoulders slumped. “I've managed to stay off his radar since you guys killed Lilith. I'd just as soon keep it that way.”
“You sure about that, Maggie? Put up or shut up.”
“Fine! What do we need to do?”
“Well, I have a plan that I'm nearly certain will work. But first we need to find a crossroads demon's bones and find out whether it's true or not that burning them can destroy a demon.”
“It's Jophiel's Flaming Sword.”
“A flaming sword?” Maggie asked. At the same time, Sam said, “Wait, the flaming sword? The one that's supposed to be guarding the Tree of Life?”
“Yes, it is. I don't know what it's doing in Westminster,” Castiel said. “Well, I mean, I do. It's guarding survivors from croats, demons, and villains. I just don't know why it would be there.” […] “It's Balthazar.” He frowned and gazed off into the distance. “But I thought he was killed in the war. He must still be living, if his mark remains on this soul. We have to find him. He was a friend, once. I think it would be safe.” […]
“We were looking for the demon who cut Be—Maggie's deal,” Dean explained.
“A female,” Cas said, “who likes to wear children. I suspect it's one of Lilith's daughters. She works around London. I know you're fond of the place. Can you help us?”
“Well, you came to the right place. It's probably Jade. That's her demon name, anyway. I can't be one hundred percent certain, but she's rumored to have been one of Jack the Ripper's victims. Kate something-or-other. Lilith recruited her after her death, and she specializes in bringing Hell's special brand of justice to very bad men.”
“That fits well enough,” Maggie murmured.
“You're sure?” Cas asked him.
“Not definitively. I'd say 80-20. Good luck, though.” He raised his glass.
Cas stared at him, then blinked in resignation. “I do hope to see you again, Balthazar. I hope you'll reconsider and join me.”
“I tell you what – if things die down, I'll give it some thought. Now, I've a tattoo to get,” Balthazar said, and then he was gone.
“How would you feel about visiting old Yellow Eyes, hm? Yeah, I know about him and all his freaky little 'Special Children'.” She glared at Sam, who seemed to have developed a permanent case of doucheface. “You're telling me that you two, of all people, don't understand what an awkward reunion this might make for?”
“Yeah, I get it. But you know what? When the time came, we sacked up and did it!”
Maggie shook her head sadly. “I never wanted to be a hunter, Dean.”
After quickly scoping the area, Cas zapped Bobby, Sam, and Dean to the Scottish cemetery where Crowley was buried. It was gorgeous country, far from any city, and seemingly uninhabited by people or croats. There was an old castle on a nearby hillside, which Dean figured local survivors might hole up in if they were smart, but it was too far to detect any activity. Hopefully they'd remain equally unnoticed.
Cas paced nervously while the boys dug and Bobby set up the summoning spell. They needed to get in and out quickly, since apparently the majority of Scottish deities had allied with Kali, but, mindful of his oath, Dean wanted to be far, far away from the prison when they summoned the new King of Hell.
Crowley appeared in the circle, his eyes falling upon the bag holding his remains. “Come now, gentlemen. You threw the party. I should be the one bringing gifts.”
“You can,” Bobby said. “We want our souls back.”
“We'll burn them, Crowley,” Sam warned, holding the bag high.
“That would be unwise, Moose,” Crowley said. He tried to sound bored, but Dean caught the strain in his voice, and he saw how Crowley's eyes never left the bag. “I'm trying to do you a solid, actually. You don't want that thing back. Michael and Lucifer have had nothing to do for a year and a half besides play with that thing. It could kill you. Or worse.”
“No, it won't,” Dean said, shooting a reassuring look at his brother. “It won't. Look, the man needs his soul! You said you're the big-shot 'King of Hell'. Hand it over, or I'm sensing a regime change on the horizon.” He squeezed lighter fluid all over the bag of bones.
Crowley shook his head. “You see - and it pains me to say this aloud - I can't. I dare not open Lucifer's cage. I have a tenuous enough hold on the reins. I can't let that bastard out, let alone him and Michael both. None of us want that. It's locked, and it's staying locked.”
“Come on, Crowley!” Dean yelled.
“I can't.” Crowley shrugged. “God's, or whomever's, honest truth.”
“You'd better give us something!” Dean flicked open his Zippo, itching to do away with Crowley once and for all.
“All right, look.” Crowley took a step forward, but he couldn't come any closer. “There are only two things I can think of which are stronger than me, stronger than Lucifer, and stronger than Michael. Two things that could do whatever they want regardless of us, even if we were to all band together. God...and Death. Those are the only beings in existence who could simply waltz into Lucifer's cage and take Sam's soul.”
Dean flicked his lighter closed. “Good. Now we're getting somewhere. How do we find Death?”
“You die, you sodding imbecile!” Crowley yelled, and Dean finally saw a handful of Scottish croats burst free from the tree line. With the fog hanging low over the cemetery, and it looked like a freaking Thriller video.
“Keep your voice down,” Sam warned.
Cas laid a hand on the arm holding Crowley's bones. “He's telling the truth.”
“I say we burn him anyway.”
“You backstabbing behemoth!”
“Seriously, dude, inside voice,” Dean said. “What about Bobby? I know you can do something about that.”
Crowley's mouth pinched tight as he considered it. He looked back towards the croats, apparently hoping that the lot of them would get eaten, but the croats were too slow and too few to be any real danger. Crowley choked in disgust. “Fine. One dank, fetid old hillbilly soul, coming right up.”
“You can leave in the part about my legs,” Bobby told him.
Crowley glared but did as he was told. Sam jiggled the bag. “I still say we burn him.”
“A deal's a deal.” Dean took the bones away from Sam. With the toe of his boot, he broke the devil's trap and handed Crowley the sack.
“Always a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Wish I could say the same,” Dean grumbled. Crowley blew him a kiss and disappeared, taking his remains with him.
Bobby gave an audible sigh of relief. “Thanks, fellas. I'm sorry we didn't get yours, Sam, but we will. This ain't over.”
“Maybe we shouldn't,” Sam said. “If what he said is true...Maybe it's better this way.”
“No. No, we're getting your soul back. You're strong, Sammy. It may not even be a problem. And if it is, we'll find a way to fix it. Trust me.” The croats crossed the distance faster than Dean expected, apparently energized by the sight of fresh meat. “Let's grab Glenn and YoSaffBridge and get our asses back to the prison,” Dean said, finding himself back on Bela's roof before he'd even finished the sentence.
“Guess you two had luck,” Bobby said, impressed by the haul they had loaded in the back of the truck.
“A lot of it's stuff I already had in storage,” Bela explained, “but we found a lot of books and comics next door. The kids'll love that. There's some canned food and a big box of ammo, too, but not the weapons it went with.”
“I'm sure that you guys can use what we can't,” Glenn said. “I just wish we'd found more toilet paper.”
Dean snickered. “My friend, you have hit the TP-lotto. Assuming Cas can swing us by Kansas on the way home?” He looked to Cas, who nodded. “Thanks to a little insider tip, I have a whole storage unit full of toilet paper, ammo, and booze.”
“I'm surprised you haven't gone for that already,” Sam said.
He'd actually started that way a few times, but something – usually croats – always came up. I hated that zapping around before, but it's pretty nice having Cas back, Dean thought. Then he realized what he'd just thought. His grin faltered and he shut down, huffing as he crossed the distance to the truck. It'd be even better to have Lisa. Or Sammy's soul. He's the dumbass who left it in the cage with Lucifer to begin with. With a disgusted look at Cas, he hopped into the back, kicking a duffel bag out of his way. “Well? Let's go already.”
Keeping in mind Bela's insistence that they keep London a secret, Cas dropped them back on the prison road as if they were returning from a local run. It was disconcerting going from afternoon in Europe back to early morning in the States, and Dean suddenly realized how very tired he was. He'd been going full throttle for a while now, but he wasn't about to hit the bed until after he'd seen the prison's doctor.
Once again, Michonne was the only one manning the gates, the yard deserted. “You're just in time,” she cried, quickly pulling the gates closed behind them. “Walkers in D!” She hopped in the back of the truck with the brothers, pounding on the back glass as she urged Glenn to hurry.
“Don't know.” She shook her head. “Been stuck at the gate.”
Dean was torn between following everyone else into D block and running for C, where Ben should have been sleeping while he was gone. While he hesitated, the sound of gunfire echoed from the building, and Dean jumped out and ran for D.
Rick and his crew had apparently handled the issue by the time they made their way in, and now they were walking the second level of the cell block, spiking any of the dead who hadn't yet turned. “What happened?” Dean cried up at them. “Where's Ben?”
Rick nodded to Daryl, who continued down the block, and jogged down the stairs to meet them. “Don't worry. Ben's fine. He was outside with me and Carl, and they went to C to find Beth and Judith.” Dean gave a shaky sigh, rubbing his hands over his face. Rick continued, “It's some kind of illness. Noticed it in the pig and a couple walkers on the fence. Looks like Patrick and Charlie both died from it in the night. There were no wounds on them, and Carol said Patrick wasn't feeling well last night. Charlie locks himself in, since he sleepwalks.” Rick turned and gazed at the carnage. “Patrick doesn't.”
“How many lost?” Bobby asked.
Dean shook his head. “Rick, I'm so sorry, man. We should have been here.”
“You were on a run. That's just as important. And you came rushing in to help anyway. That means a lot.” He looked at each of them, his eyes landing on Sam. “I really appreciate the medicines you gave us when Judith got sick. I don't think I ever said, but you probably saved my girl. Thank you. May save a lot of others, too.” Sam nodded, and Rick turned to Bela. “Maggie, do you mind checking to see if anyone else has symptoms, anything at all, and if they do, take 'em over to A block to see Dr. S?”
Her eyes flicked to Dean, and he reassured her with a 'we're good' nod. “Sure thing,” she said. “I'll double-check on Carl and Ben while I'm at it.”
Dean took an early shift digging graves, something he was much faster at than the prison residents. Once he knocked a couple of graves out and gave Dr. S time to tend the wounded, he washed up and headed inside. “Bet you're about ready to crash,” he said once he found the doctor.
“Not really,” the man said. “There was not much saving to do this morning, I'm sad to say. We gave antibiotics to those feeling even a little bit under the weather. Hopefully it helps.”
“Yeah, hope so. Well, hey, do you have a little time? I need a huge favor.” Dean pulled out an extra med kit and a bottle of vodka. “I'll pay you for it.”
“Sure, Dean. No need to pay. You've done so much for us already.”
Dean gave his most charming smile. “Now, this may sound odd, but it's important. I know you've had enough death to deal with today, but I really, really need you to kill me.”
“I beg your pardon?” Dr. S shrank back in his cell, shaking his head. “Absolutely not!”
“Okay, look, I've also got a bottle of rum and some oxy I took off a dead cousin, but that's as high as I can go right now. We brought a dozen ultra-mega packs of Charmin, though, and that's gotta count for like a hundred bucks a roll for sure.”
“Dean, I can't kill you! That would be a violation of my doctor's oath and against everything I stand for.”
“It's not for good! Just for a little while. I know some of those meds we got at that vet school should work.”
Dr. S sat down, patting his cot beside him. “Look, I understand the pressures of this world. I was out there, practically alone, for over a year. I know what it's like. I'm not a psychologist by any means, but you can talk to me. I can help you through this.”
Dean gave an empty laugh, sat down, and looked the doctor square in the eye. “I appreciate that, doc. Truly. But, look, I've died before and came back. Sam died not long ago and came back. We do that sometimes. Only problem? This time he came back without his soul. And I can't have that.” He watched as various emotions flit across the young doc's face: skepticism, concern, fear, a tinge of curiosity... “Hard to believe, I know, but I don't care whether you believe me. I've just gotta get it back. The sooner, the better. There's one entity in all the world who can help me with that, and that's Death. Either way, I'm gonna hunt the guy down. I'd rather do it with your help and expertise, but I'll do it alone if that's the way it's got to be.”
Dr. S gazed at him for a very, very long moment. Dean nodded and started to stand when the doc wordlessly took the med kit and vodka, stashing it under his cot. “Don't forget the rum and oxycontin,” he finally said. “I'm going to need an assistant, and this isn't something I can ask Hershel.”
“Try Be—Maggie. I'll get Maggie. She owes me a solid.”
Dr. S nodded. “Meet me in the infirmary.”
Dean headed to C block, wincing inwardly as Ben ran to him with open arms and pure joy on his face. The last thing Dean wanted was to leave Ben again. Dean was pretty sure he could make it back in time if he didn't piss Death off too much, but it was always a gamble. “Hey, bud. Glad you're okay.”
“You too! I hate when you're gone at night.”
Dean nodded. “I know. I'm sorry. But it's safe here.” He glanced back over his shoulder, thinking of D cell. “Well, relatively safe. Just lock yourself in the cell when you go to sleep, okay? I'll be able to get in when I need to.”
“Are you leaving again already?”
“No, I'll be around. There's just a whole lot I gotta take care of before we're good to go. Me and Sammy outta help them get things cleaned up over there. It's just a mess. I'll find you later, but for now, I want you to stick with Jody. Anything she says, you don't hesitate. And you watch her back, 'kay?”
Ben nodded, face grave. Dean pulled him close, hugging just a little too tightly. “Sorry.” He gave an empty smile. “I'll find you later.”
After a quick chat with Bobby, Dean found 'Maggie', as he was trying to remember to call her, unloading the haul from their earlier run. Everyone had forgotten about it already. It pleased him to see that she was splitting the goods into two piles, one at the trunk of the Impala. “Come with me,” he told her. “I need your help with something.”
The doc was already in the apparently seldom-used infirmary, straightening up and laying things out. He was sweating nervously, and Dean did his best to put him at ease. “It's your lucky day, doc. I threw in a valium Bobby's been holding back on us. Maybe you outta take it for them shakes.”
“I'm fine,” Dr. S said, washing in actual hot water at the sink. “Unbutton.” He crossed the room and began attaching electrodes to Dean's chest. “You're lucky that they're running the generator while they clean up D block. I'll monitor you as best as I can. I'll give you three minutes, but we can't risk anymore than that. You could wake up with brain damage. Or you might wake up a walker.”
“What's going on?” Maggie asked, her voice low and frightened.
“Nothing you'd mind either way,” Dean said, turning his attention to the monitor as the doc flipped it on. The blips were a little fast, but surprisingly steady. “You just help out the doc as needed. Let's do this quick-like.”
“I'll need these items, in this exact order,” Dr. S told Maggie, wiping Dean's vein with an antiseptic wipe. “Let's hope we don't need that last one.” Dean peered around the doc and saw that the last item was a bowie knife. Dr. S's hands were still shaking as Maggie handed him a syringe, and Dean heard him quietly murmur, “Please...”
“Hey!” Dean interrupted, sitting up fast. Dr. S jumped back, startled, and nearly dropped the needle. “What's the S stand for?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Dr. S. What's the S for?”
The doctor blinked, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. “Subramanian. Caleb Subramanian.”
“Well, look – and I don't mean this offensively or anything – it's just that I'm currently on the wrong side of a certain Hindu goddess. And a couple of Norse ones, actually. And most of the archangels. So, uh, no praying, please.” Dean sat back again. “Gotta fly under the radar.”
Caleb blinked at him. “I'm an atheist.” He shrugged. “Or perhaps I'm just currently on the wrong side of the gods, too.”
“It's easy to do.”
“Okay, no praying. Just...don't stay dead. I've still never killed anyone.”
Lucky you, Dean thought, then closed his eyes and prepared to meet Death.
When he opened them, he was standing behind Maggie, watching them both freak over his now-dead body. Dr. S took a second needle and anxiously watched his watch, while Maggie picked up the knife and moved to stand at Dean's head. He quickly headed out into the hall, looking for a more private place to summon Tessa.
“What the hell, Dean?” Tessa cried, looking his spirit up and down. “You just can't resist picking at things, can you? In case you haven't noticed, we reapers are keeping pretty busy these days.”
“I need to see your boss.”
“That's not how it works.”
“Get his ass down here.”
“When will you realize, Dean, that nobody makes 'my ass' do anything?” Dean whirled around, face to face with Death once again.
The guy had a way of making a pit drop in Dean's stomach. Dean swallowed, then squared his shoulders and let it fly. “I have something of yours. And if you--”
“Yes, yes,” Death interrupted. “My ring, which I recall loaning to you so that you could lock Lucifer back in his cage and save the world. Bang-up job with that, by the way.”
“Hey, we tried!” Dean stepped back and started to pace. “Sam said yes and rode Lucifer straight to Hell. The apocalypse, the whole stupid showdown, was averted. We did what we were supposed to. And we fought Pestilence and won, so I don't know what happened.”
“You obviously didn't win enough, Dean. I'm very busy thanks to your little screw up. Now get to the point. And,” Death held up one skinny finger, “do it without the blackmail and bravado if you want me to be receptive. It's not like I don't know where you put the ring. My time is precious. What is it?”
Dean cursed, then held his hands up. “Look, I'm sorry. I have literally tried everything else. Survey says you're the only one who can jailbreak Lucifer's cage.”
Death considered this. “Interesting.”
“Sam's soul is stuck in there with Michael and Lucifer both. So's our brother, Adam. I need you to break them out.”
“I'll give you one, not both, and you're lucky I'm considering that much.”
“Sam,” Dean said without hesitation. There was a twinge of guilt, but not nearly as much as he expected. “Sam's soul. But...I hear it's in rough shape. Can you fix it?”
“Can I fix an agonizing era of torture under two of the most powerful archangels? I'm Death, Dean. Healing's not really my thing. And I can't very well just trim away the flayed bits.” Death raised his brows pointedly. “There'd be nothing left.”
“There's got to be something we can do.”
“I could try putting up a wall. Something to keep those dangerous Hell memories locked away, but it wouldn't hold forever. A while, maybe even a lifetime, but not forever. Still, it'll buy you time.” Dean's shoulders relaxed as a huge weight was lifted off of them, but Death wasn't finished. “You'll have to do something for me, though.”
“When you fetch my ring, put it on. I want you to be me for one day.”
Dean frowned. “That doesn't sound like the best idea, to be real honest with you.”
“It wasn't a suggestion, Dean. You'll get my ring, put it on, and then not remove it for twenty-four hours. That's the deal. You break it, and no soul for Sam.”
“Fine, but--” Dean gasped and sat up, staring into the startled face of Dr. S. Dean sighed in relief. “Too good to shake on it?” he grumbled, then felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Dean shivered. “Sorry!”
“Dean, are you okay?” Maggie asked him, slowly lowering the bowie.
“Yeah. Right as rain.” He realized that his heart was racing, and he suddenly seemed full of energy. He figured the doc must have had some adrenaline. He smiled at the both of them and clapped the doctor on the back. “I told you there was nothing to it.”
“You were gone for over five minutes,” Dr. S told him. “I was just about to give up.”
“Glad you didn't.”
“Well, we were going to tether you and wait until you turned before knifing you.”
“I appreciate that.”
Back in C block, Sam and Ben both seemed to want to stay up his ass. He still felt hopped up, but he tried to hide it. “Hey, Ben, they're moving all the kids to the office building, and I think it's probably a good idea for you to go along.”
“Maybe we should all just leave,” Sam said. “This illness? I don't like it. Didn't you want to find a new place?”
“Yes, Sam, but we're kind of in the middle of something here.”
“I think that can wait,” Sam said, and Dean frowned at him. He could tell that Sam was feeling – or whatever it was he did now – nervous after talking to Crowley, but Dean wasn't going to let him chicken out of getting his soul back.
“I've got everything under control,” he promised both of them. “You go help that Carl kid protect the little ones. We'll get this mess straightened out, get with Daryl and maybe that Lisha chick, and find out if there are any good safe houses in the area.”
“We could just stay here,” Ben said.
“I just don't know if that's a good idea, kiddo. I was thinking about it, I'm not gonna lie, but this sickness and croat outbreak has me itching to get back on the road.”
“We're always on the road,” Ben grumbled, and it was like a knife in Dean's heart.
“I'm gonna try to put an end to that. I promise. I thought we had it at the island, but Garth had dibs, and we just don't have enough hunters left to fight amongst ourselves. We can find another place just as good,” Dean assured him. “We'll try to stay close by, since you've made friends. We'll stay at least another day or two. We'll help our friends clean up this mess and get ourselves a concrete plan in place. Do it right.”
With Ben safely in quarantine, Dean just had to shake Sammy, but his brother seemed to know he was up to something. “Dean, we need to go. You know we shouldn't be here right now. What gives?”
Dean continued walking, trying to find Bobby. “Nothing I ain't got under control.”
“You need to let it be.”
“Not likely.” He caught a glimpse of Bobby washing up in the bathroom. “Hey, there's something I need to do. You guys see if you can find any leads on a new safe house, and I'll be back tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Bobby asked. “You can't go off by yourself. Especially not after hunting all night long.”
“Got to. Just watch out for each other,” he said, giving Bobby a meaningful look.
“Dean, I know you're up to something. I need you to drop it,” Sam warned again.
“Look, it's done. Okay? Death is gonna help us, and he's going to put up a...like a wall to lock away all the Hell stuff.”
“You really think that's going to work?”
“Yes.” Dean didn't flinch. “I told you, I've got it covered. Find us some new digs. Bobby?” Dean held out his hand, waiting for the ring he had given Bobby for safe keeping while he went to meet Death. “Keep an eye on him,” Dean whispered.
He slipped the ring on his finger and found himself standing in a deserted Big Spot. Tessa appeared at his side. “You were right, Dean. This is a bad, bad idea. Do not screw this up.”
“Wasn't planning on it.”
“Here's how this works: when someone's time comes, you touch them. They die, and then I reap them. They'll probably have some questions. 'Why?' is popular. So is 'What does it all mean?'”
“Well...what do I tell them?”
Tessa shrugged. “That's on you. But like I said, do not screw this up.”
“Right. Let's do this.”
Dean heard a bottle break, followed by a woman's scream. He took off through the aisles. Tessa was already there when he came upon the scene. It was a woman with a young kid. They had bags, obviously raiding the store for supplies, but they'd been interrupted by a thug with a sawed-off shotgun. “Hey!” Dean yelled.
“Let this play out,” Tessa told him. “They can't hear or see you, anyway.”
“Nice and slow,” the thug was saying. “Hand them over.”
“Please,” the woman pleaded. “My son hasn't eaten for days. There's more than enough here for all of us.”
“Have you seen this world? There isn't enough for any of us. Now hand over your bags.”
The woman, crying now, did as she was told. Dean's fists opened and closed of their own accord. Not the kid, he thought over and over. Not the kid.
The kid tried to toss his duffel bag, but it landed just a foot or two in front of him. The thug rolled his eyes in disgust, then rushed forward to retrieve the bag. As he bent down, the kid, who couldn't have been more than seven or eight, pulled a pistol from the back of his waistband and shot the guy in the head.
The lady pulled her kid back as blood pooled at his feet, and the thug screamed, rolling around on the floor, hands scrambling at the top of his head. “So he can't die 'til I touch him?” Dean asked.
Tessa's jaw dropped. “Dean...”
“Just a sec,” Dean said, enjoying watching the guy squirm. Then he saw the kid's frightened eyes, and Dean reached down to put an end to it just as the mom shot a second round into his brain.
The thug looked similarly slack-jawed as he gazed at his corpse. He looked up at Dean and Tessa. “Why?”
“Because you're a fucking dick,” Dean said, ignoring Tessa's look. “Enjoy the ride down.”
After the reaper had ushered the thug to Hell, Dean found himself standing above a pit full of croats. “Well, that's cute. These ones are dead already. Or something like it.”
Tessa pointed toward a nearby RV, where Dean looked up and saw a couple of guys kicking back some beers and knocking golf balls around. “Let me guess...drunken fall?”
“What, you don't think you can keep this place safe?” one of the men, a big guy with an eye patch, was asking.
“Well, I mean, I try,” the other dude, Mexican from the look of him, was saying. “Hopefully we can be ready for whatever comes at us.” He grabbed another ball and turned around, setting up his shot. “Now that you're here, maybe we can share the crown...”
Even at a distance, Dean could see the mad look in the dude's one good eye. He quietly slid a club from the bag and took a step forward. The other dude swung, and Dean reflexively ducked as the ball came straight at his head. The Mexican's eyes followed it, and he was staring directly at Dean when the club came down on his head.
“Jesus!” Dean cried, whirling on Tessa. “What is this?”
“It's his time,” Tessa said as Eyepatch kicked his buddy off the side of the RV.
The dude jumped down, grabbed his golf buddy, and started dragging him across the grass. Dean gaped in horror as he realized what the guy was about to do. “No. Dude, that's not right.”
Eyepatch started yelling as he pushed the guy's head into the croat pit. “I don't want it, dammit! I don't want it!”
The guy was still stunned, but he reached up and tried to shove a thumb through his killer's eye patch. Eyepatch groaned and pulled his head back, pushing the guy's head further down into the croat pit. “Can't I kill that one?” Dean asked. “Please?”
“It's not his time.”
The poor golf dude could only scream as croats started gnawing his head and face. Dean hurried over and touched his victim, putting an end to the man's screams. “Jesus,” the guy said, echoing Dean's sentiments, as he watched his body get devoured. “He's gonna just let me turn? Damn.” Suddenly, the dude seemed to notice Dean and Tessa. “Why? I was doing good here!”
Dean gave him a sympathetic look. “Sorry, man. You have shit taste in friends.”
“Tell me about it.”
Tessa took him off (up or down, Dean had no clue), and Dean watched Eyepatch sit and stammer, “I don't want it.”
“Then put your own damned head in there,” Dean suggested, turning away as the croats pulled out the dead dude's intestines.
The next one was even harder. Dean found himself looking at another mom and kid, this one a daughter who looked to be maybe twelve. They were struggling to climb up a pretty steep hill, and suddenly the girl fell, gasping. She reached in her pocket, then tried to stand, frantically patting herself all over.
“Oh, no,” Dean said. “I'm not killing a little girl.”
“You have to. It's her time.”
The girl started panicking, and her mom tried to soothe her. “I...forgot,” the kid gasped, “inhaler...at camp.”
“She's only been slowing them down, anyway,” Tessa said. “This is just the end of her road.”
“The hell it is!” Dean said, his jaw clenching.
“You have to.”
“If I'm Death, then I say not this time.”
“Everything has consequences, Dean. You said you wouldn't screw this up.”
“There aren't enough kids in the world anymore,” Dean said quietly. “I'm not doing it.”
The woman was talking in soothing tones. “That's it, honey. Seven...eight...nine...ten. Good job. Relax. Don't panic. Just stay here and keep counting. I'll run back for it. I'll be so fast. Just keep breathing nice and slowly.” Whether from her coaching or Dean's refusal, he wasn't sure, but the girl started getting herself together. The mom rose, squeezed her daughter's hand, and took off down the hill. She passed through Tessa, stumbling and shivering as she did.
Dean's eyes narrowed. “Come on,” Tessa said, following the woman.
“What? Why?” He jogged to catch up with them – and, boy, she was moving fast. So fast, in fact, that the racket she made attracted the attention of half a dozen men hunting nearby. Dean winced and picked up his pace as he watched them appear out of the bushes, following the woman's path.
They got to the camp at the same time, but there was nothing Dean could do to stop them. They crouched behind trees, counted the armed campers, and quickly started taking them out one by one. Soon the whole damned camp was lying there, everyone shot or stabbed. Dean went amongst them as quickly as he could, putting an end to their misery one at a time while the murderers bagged up most of their supplies.
“How could this happen?” a big guy, probably the leader, asked. The spirits of his campmates all huddled with him, clinging to each other. There were eleven of them altogether.
“It wasn't supposed to happen,” Tessa said. “Not today. You were on tomorrow's list,” she reluctantly admitted to the leader and some folks on either side of him. Then she turned to the asthmatic girl's mother, who was now clutching a toddler. “But you and your son were supposed to have good, long lives. You,” she turned to another couple, “were supposed to have that baby you wanted, and you guys,” she turned to the last family, “were six months away from a safe haven that would have housed you into old age.”
“He messed up,” Tessa said, looking at Dean.
Dean swallowed back tears. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”
While Tessa ferried all of them to wherever they were supposed to go (and Dean fervently hoped that they all got a free pass upstairs due to technical difficulties), Dean walked his way back to the little girl. He could have teleported there, he was sure, but he needed the time to get his head straight. He found her where he left her, breathing free and easy. Smiling, even.
Dean steeled himself and placed a hand on her brown head. “Hi there,” he said to the girl when she noticed him.
The little girl looked down at her body. “Did I have to die already?” she asked him.
Dean nodded. “I'm afraid so.”
“There's...a natural order to things. It can't be broken.” Dean shrugged and gestured at a handful of croats stumbling through the woods. They had been the girl's relatives and friends not even an hour before. “Look at this world, anyway. It's not what it used to be. Heaven's much better,” he assured her, hoping that was still true.
“That still sucks,” the girl said.
“Yeah. I know.”
Tessa reappeared, taking the girl by the shoulders. Dean killed far too many people that night. They were mostly due to nighttime croat attacks, but one was a little old lady who just went to sleep and never woke up. That was the only one Dean didn't feel bad about, mainly because her son found her and spiked her before she ate the grandbabies. Still, Dean stuck to the plan, determined not to make anymore waves.
“Man, this is the longest twenty-four hours of my life, and that includes time spent in Hell,” Dean said as he found himself in the midst of yet another camp in the early morning hours. “Oh, come on!” Dean yelled as Eyepatch walked up to knock on the door of the camper next to them. “This guy again? Please tell me I'm here to kill him.”
“Not him,” Tessa said, nodding as the door was opened by a young dude who looked like he hadn't gotten much sleep.
“How many people can this guy kill in one twenty-four hour period?”
“You'd be surprised,” Tessa murmured.
Death's ring was weighing heavy as they followed Eyepatch into the camper. The bastard, coward that he was, knifed the guy right in the kidney. That's two people who apparently trusted him, taken unawares as their backs were turned. Dean shook his head, hurrying to get it over with.
“What's it all mean?” the guy asked Dean.
“Doesn't mean jack,” Dean answered.
“You're almost done,” Tessa assured him once she returned. “Last stop.”
Dean found himself in the boiler room of the prison, looking upon a scene that would probably have killed him if he didn't happen to be in control of death at that moment. Bobby was tied to a chair, and Sammy was drawing back a machete, looking for all the world like he was ready to strike. “Oh, hell fucking no,” Dean said, crossing the room. “NO!”
“I'm sorry, Bobby. It's nothing personal.”
Dean slipped off the ring and grabbed Sam's wrist. “Hiya, Sam,” he said as he closed his free hand around the ring and swung.
Sam fell, and Dean was pretty sure that Bobby nearly pissed himself. He cut Bobby loose and used the rope to tie Sam, making the knots extra-tight. “What the hell is going on?”
“I don't know,” Bobby said, helping him roll Sam over. “A couple hours ago, I caught him torturing Ms. McLeod. He's been trying to kill me ever since.”
“I don't know. He left when you did.”
“He did what?” Dean stared down at Sam, thinking. “Help me get him to D block.”
“Everyone who was in D block started showing symptoms. We don't want to go in there.”
“They cleaned it, right? Hot water and bleach and everything. Everyone in there's been quarantined. It's the only place we can put him where there's no risk of people coming to poke around.”
As distasteful as Dean found witches, he was pissed to hear about Ms. McLeod. She'd cut a deal to help them and had expected the prison to stay a safe place. Nobody wanted a pissed off witch on their tail, least of all the Winchesters. But besides her, how could Sammy have gone for Bobby like that? Bobby had been like a father to them. Dean could only hope he wasn't too far gone.
Heavy as his gigantor ass was, they put Sam in the cell farthest from the door. Bobby said that Rick had gotten his shit together a lot more since everyone started getting sick. He and his kid were both carrying guns again, and he was keeping a steady patrol of the prison. Apparently Bobby and Sam had had a hell of a time pin-balling around the prison, Rick, and each other all night. Rick had picked the worst time to go back on sheriff duty.
“I don't know what to do, Bobby. I messed up.”
“I took off the ring. I was supposed to take you, and I took the ring off instead.”
Bobby was silent as he took that in. “Thanks for that.”
“Yeah, well, let's hope Death doesn't come for you anyway. I...I gotta give him his ring. You keep an eye on Sam,” he said, pointing to where Sam laid unconscious inside the cell. “Don't open this cell door. No matter what.”
Dean headed back through the cell block, but a voice called out as he passed a cell near the middle. “Dean!” Death sat, patting the cot beside him much like Dr. S had done. “Have a seat. I brought you a bacon cheeseburger.”
Dean wiped his sweaty palms on the front of his jeans and entered the cell. He sat down, but he didn't touch the foil-wrapped burger.
“I never figured you for a man who'd turn down a cheeseburger, especially in the midst of the zombie apocalypse,” Death said as he took another bite of his own. He reached for a large to-go cup, tilting it questioningly at Dean before taking a sip. Death then set it carefully back down on the floor and wiped his lips with a handkerchief. “The job kind of turns the stomach, doesn't it? Were I mortal, I'm sure I'd have ulcers.”
“Look,” Dean said, “it's not that I don't appreciate you being nice and all, but we both know I failed. A pity-burger can't take the sting out of that.”
Death sniffed and sat tall, looking down his nose at Dean. “You know, when you went back and killed that girl, I thought you had learned a lesson.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Did you?” Death balled up the handkerchief and crossed his arms. “Then why didn't you kill Bobby Singer?”
Dean thought about how to best word his answer. “It's like I told the girl: there's a natural order to things. But what Sam was doing...that's not natural. That's not him. Sammy'd never hurt Bobby. And if I hadn't stopped that and he had gotten his soul back, he'd never be able to live with himself. He wouldn't have come back from that, wall or no. I had to save the both of them.” He held out the ring, which Death accepted with a grave bow of his head. Dean looked him in the eye as he rose. “Bobby's never gonna die on my watch.”
Death chuckled. “Everybody has their time, Dean.” He stood, and Dean finally dropped his head, staring at his toes in defeat. Death didn't leave, though, and Dean looked up at him. “Well? Let's go fix your brother.”
“But I lost.”
“In the letter, but not the spirit, of our bet. You learned one important lesson, Dean, but I know how you get where Sam's concerned. You'd just keep digging and digging away at that cage until you managed to weaken it somehow. So, I'll do this anyway, and then you'll leave it alone.”
“Yes, of course.” Dean nodded, not sure if he wanted to laugh or cry.
“If you want to dig at something, keep digging into the souls. Don't stop just because you get Sam's back.”
“What do you mean?”
“It's about the souls. Remember that, and keep your little friends away from Purgatory, okay? Those aren't the kind of souls you want to bust out.”
Dean nodded, and Death put the ring on, disappearing. Dean hurried back down the block, grabbing the bars to help stop his momentum.
Sam was awake now. He saw Dean's face and knew. “No!” Death reappeared, and Sam really started yelling. “No, please, don't do this!”
Death sat gingerly on the cot beside him, opening a carrying case. A blue glow enveloped the room. “I'm going to put up a wall, something like a dam, in your mind. You may feel some itchiness. Listen to me carefully, Sam: whatever you do, don't scratch.” He reached one hand into the case.
Sam struggled to loose his bonds. “Don't! I'm begging you!” His eyes moved past Death, flicking between Bobby and Dean. “Please, guys, don't do this!”
Very carefully, Death pulled forth Sammy's soul and transferred it to his body. Sam's screams got louder and louder, and still Death did not release his grip. He closed his eyes in concentration, and Dean had to force himself not to look away. He'd done this to Sam, and he made himself watch.
At last, Death pulled his arm back out of Sam's torso, and his brother fell silent, head lolling as he lost consciousness. Death stood and turned to Dean.
“Thank you,” Dean said, and Death disappeared. Dean continued to stare into the cell.
“C'mon, son. He'll probably sleep a good long while after that,” Bobby said.
Dean let himself be pulled away. “You okay, Bobby?”
“Yeah. Think some punk kid's gonna get the best of me?”
“I'm sorry,” Dean said, meaning for everything. As he passed by the cell, Dean ducked in and grabbed his burger, slowly unwrapping it. “Guess I'd better try to smooth things over with Ms. McLeod.”
“I'd steer clear a while longer.”
Dean stopped, considering. He lifted the bacony, cheesy goodness to his nose and took a long whiff. “Like, torture-torture?”
Dean sighed and re-wrapped the burger, feeling fully broken when he offered it to the witch as a gesture of apology and goodwill.