“We have to go,” Nora said, holding her head as she paced the length of the prison block that they supposedly had to themselves.
Supposedly, Aidan thought, because he knew for a fact that someone stayed just outside the door at all times; he could hear them talking in low tones every now and then. “We can't leave,” he told her. “You said yourself that the last fight took too much out of us. I know one meal wasn't enough to do much of anything for you guys, and I'm still barely feeding.”
Nora held her forehead as if in pain. After a moment, she said with a wince, “You remember what Blake said...”
Aidan's jaw clenched. “I will not feed on a baby, safe or not! I'd drink from you two before I ever did that, and I hope to never have an experience like wolf's blood again.”
“Not just the baby. If some of the kids can see Sally, maybe they're special ones Blake mentioned? They're the right age.”
“There's no way to tell without dying if we're wrong.”
Nora cursed and resumed pacing. After a moment, she stopped and looked at Josh. “Did you recognize him? Tell me you remember.” When Josh frowned and shook his head, Nora sighed. “The tall guy? The really, really tall guy? I know this isn't his place, because I saw him being introduced to people, but if he's here, we need to be elsewhere.”
Josh's eyes flashed, and Aidan swiftly threw a calming hand on his arm. He could tell it helped, but when Josh spoke, there was still a growl in his voice. “Why? What did that man do?”
“Not him. Me!” Nora winced and covered her face with her hands. “I may have kidnapped him and left him tied up – but loosely, you know, because zombies – in Rhode Island.”
“You did what?”
“I had to! It was the only thing I could think of. He would have killed Josh, or Josh would have killed him.” Her eyes darted around the room as she thought. After a moment, she pointed a shaky finger at her husband. “Um, you've got the big backpack stashed, right? Go see Carol; I got a good feeling off her, and I think she'd be open for a fair trade. Take her that small box of tampons and the green nyquil. See if they'll give us a gas can. Five gallons at least. Tell them that you and I are going to go back for our car and the rest of our supplies. We'll just be slow, take a couple days, and then you guys be ready to leave as soon as we get back.”
Josh stepped back, wide-eyed. “I'll, um, we'll get you out of here, but you don't want me trying to haggle with people.”
“C'mon. I'll help you.” Aidan steered Josh towards his cell and turned a questioning look at Nora, who mouthed Sorry.
At that moment, Sally reappeared. “Guys, this is great. Not only can I talk to a couple of the kids, but the cook? Get this, she's a witch!” She looked at Nora and Aidan's dumbfounded faces. “I know, right? She says she can teach me how to...you know, like wield...all this magic without hopping back in time whenever I do. And she's way nicer than Donna. Oh, Aidan, you weren't here for that, but –”
“She brought you back from the dead and tried to eat your soul. Battling her is what messed up Josh when he re-wolfed. I know all about it.” If it wasn't one thing, it was another. Aidan gave a weary smile. “Don't get too comfy. Apparently we have to go ASAP, so you've got a few days at most.”
When Sam awoke, everything was quiet and dark. Eerily quiet and dark. He still didn't know what had caused his amnesia, but over a year and a half was lost to him. Somehow the Croatoan virus had gotten out despite everything they had gone through to stop it, and there was a full-scale zombie apocalypse in progress. There were no streetlights shining in the windows, no refrigerators or air conditioners humming quietly in the background, no cell phones chiming, no trying to ignore Dean's late-night movies.
As he threw on his jacket, Sam realized that he'd picked up a pocket watch somewhere. He'd forgotten to wind it, and as he stepped out of the cell and caught a bit of moonlight, he saw that it had stopped at two-fourteen. He felt well-rested; hell, he felt like he'd been sleeping for ages. He was antsy. Since he also found a pistol in one pocket and a knife in the other, he decided to head outside and investigate.
He'd seen it earlier, but it still took his breath away. The dead, half-rotting, were slowly gathering at the fences that surrounded the prison. Sam took in a shaky breath and headed down for a closer look. A glance at the moon made him guess that it was around three-thirty, maybe four o'clock in the morning. He wondered what time the prison residents started rousing. Sam was pretty sure that a guard was on watch in one of the towers, or perhaps doing a perimeter sweep. From what little Dean had actually filled in, Sam knew that he was somewhere in western Georgia, and it was late April.
The low growling of the croats grew louder as he approached, and the stragglers began to cluster on the fence just ahead of him. Sam pulled his pocket knife, pleased to see that it was a decent-sized switchblade. As he watched the faces gather and gnash in front of him, some deep anger welled up from within. He glanced around, finally noticing where the inner fence was clipped together some distance away from the gate. He jogged to it and let himself through, then popped the blade and fell upon the croats through the outer fence.
The first few were old and pretty rotten, barely resembling the humans they used to be. But then there was a young woman who still had most of her face, an old woman with dirt and cobwebs in her half-fallen grey bun, and a man whose faded name tag said he was Mac.
After, Sam wiped sweat and croat blood off his face and knife with his jacket sleeve. He was careful to latch the inner gate securely when he came back through. He saw the shadow approaching before he heard footsteps, and he whirled, his knife up but the blade not out. The moon hit the figure from behind, and Sam recognized the outline of a trench coat. He relaxed his arm. “Cas. Morning.”
“Good morning, Sam. You shouldn't be out by yourself.”
Sam gave a tight smile and headed back up the yard. “I think I handle myself okay.”
“Dean will be angry, is all.”
“I'm a big boy, and I couldn't care less what Dean thinks. He literally wants to lock me in a cell all day. I'm not having it.”
“To be fair, you have experienced trauma...”
Sam stopped and turned towards the angel. “Yeah. What happened, Cas? Dean keeps looking at me like I'm going to break, and Bobby acts like he's afraid to even be in the same room with me! My head feels just fine. You want to be fair? Why can't I remember the last nineteen months?”
“That's just a byproduct of the wall. Inconvenient, but it's for the best.”
“Inconvenient.” Sam shook his head. “Why'd you put a wall in my head to begin with?”
“Not me. Death put it there to lock away your soul's memory of Hell once he returned it to you. See?” Cas gave a patronizing smile. “It's for the best.”
Sam took that in, trying not to betray any emotion. “Right. Of course.” He swallowed, then nearly jumped when he heard his name called.
“Sam! Wait up a minute!”
The Southern drawl was strong with that one, so he was doubly surprised to see what looked like Bela Talbot jogging across the drive. “Bela?” he asked, disbelief writ across his face.
She came to a stop some distance away and rolled her eyes. “That's exactly why I hoped to catch you alone, so thanks for that.” Her accent didn't waver. “Look, we've actually been through this once before. Yes, I was 'Bela' for a bit, but I'm Maggie Greene by birth. I'm here with my dad and his family, or what's left of it, and they don't know anything about my...past. You agreed to keep it that way.”
“I did?” Sam shook his head with a scoff. “I doubt that.”
“You did,” Cas agreed. “She helped us get your soul back.”
“Oh.” Sam turned to her. “Wait, did you really?”
“Yes. Everything's water under the bridge, I promise. And don't worry, I haven't told anyone that it wasn't a 'head wound'. Your business is your business,” she pointedly added.
Sam believed he was starting to piece together what may have happened, and it didn't sound good. Dean must have done something to free him from Hell, but it brought him back without his soul. They'd found a way to get it back, but doing so was dangerous. Or was it? Dean had been to Hell. Did he just think that Sam wasn't strong enough to live with the memory? He frowned, then remembered the woman standing expectantly before him. “I got it, Bela. Or, what, 'Maggie'? Fine.”
“And in fact,” she continued, tilting her head at him, “I hope we can be friends. Bobby's angry about the whole shooting thing, but if you don't remember me saying so, I am sincerely sorry about it. My hand was forced. We're all just trying to survive here. I truly appreciate everything you guys have done for us, and if you need any help, I'm here for you.”
“Thanks.” Sam tried not to cringe at the thought. “Maggie.”
“The council really appreciated you boys' suggestions to have multiple rendezvous points in case of attack. We have fresh provisions on the bus thanks to you, and they're mapping out three stages of fall-back routes. Y'all have helped us a lot, and, well, I really do appreciate it.”
Once she was gone, Sam asked Cas if she was serious. “Yes, I believe so. The world has changed a lot, Sam. Maggie's just the tip of it.”
As they headed back into D-block, Sam could hear Dean and Bobby talking quietly in their cell. “We'll just give it a day or two,” Dean was saying, “see how Sammy holds up, and then get the hell out of dodge. We come here to teach these guys how to batten their hatches and protect themselves, and then they just throw open the gates for any old group that comes knocking! I want to check out these new folks today. Do you mind taking the kid case?”
“There's a case?” Sam asked, leaning in through the open cell door. “I could use a case.”
“Well, uh, that's okay,” Bobby said quickly, giving Dean a look. Sam frowned.
“You're recuperating,” Dean said. “Look, Sammy, no offense, but I've got enough to worry about right now. You just take it easy so you're ready to roll once we swing out of here.”
“Dean. There's no internet, no tv, and hardly any books. I'm bored, and it's only been, what, sixteen hours? Bobby, let me help you on your case. Something's up with one of the kids?”
Bobby stood, jutting his hands into his pants pockets awkwardly when Sam didn't move from the doorway. “You know what? Neither one of us heard any of Carl or the one-armed guy's testimonies. Dean, you two should actually take the kid case. I'll check out the visitors and see if we're dealing with a werewolf, wraith, skinwalker, whatever.”
Sam looked between Dean and Bobby. Bobby obviously wanted nothing to do with Sam, and he wasn't sure why. Dean was treating him like a child. A broken child. “Actually, I can handle that one.” Sam nodded and stepped out of the way. “I've dealt with werewolves, wraiths, and skinwalkers before, and I remember it. You guys know all of the people here and whatever's going on with their kids. So you take care of that, and I'll investigate the others.” Dean started to protest, but Sam interrupted him. “Oh, Maggie said thanks for the emergency suggestions and that a bus is packed and loaded should something happen.”
As he'd intended, it derailed Dean's train of thought. “Good. They were making my mistake and getting a little too complacent here behind their fences. I'm glad they're tending to back-up plans. And I insisted they keep a full-time watch on that boiler room breach, too.”
Bobby hurried out, not even looking at Sam as he passed, and Dean reluctantly stood to follow him. “If you're insistent on working a case, I want you to keep Cas with you. Hear that, Cas? You take care of him. I mean it.”
Once they were gone, Sam asked Cas, “Who are the new people?”
“A group of four staying in B-block. Five if you count the ghost.”
“They have a ghost?”
“Yes, but Carl says she's nice. I've not spoken to her.”
Carl was one of the kids, Sam remembered, the one with the sheriff's hat. The one whom Bobby had mentioned as 'giving testimony' about whatever the kid case was. “So he can see her then?” Sam asked nonchalantly.
“Yes. He talked with her. She just follows her humans around, it seems.”
Like you, then? Sam thought, then swallowed down a snort. Aloud he said, “So that's why they're looking into the kid?”
“I think Lizzie's their main concern, actually,” Cas said, turning and heading for the door. “She and Carl have both been experiencing strange abilities lately. You'll find this interesting – the mothers of both children won a million dollars on scratch-off tickets when the children were babies. Now, both on the cusp of puberty, they're exhibiting supernatural powers. Bobby thinks it's a deal, or maybe even some kind of Azazel thing.”
That made Sam stop in his tracks. “Azazel? Really?”
Cas turned back to him, and a look of concern came over his face. “Well, not Azazel himself, I'm sure. Perhaps a protégé or some other demon who got wind of his plan. In fact, I need to meet with Meg after we finish up here. I'll see what she knows. So if we could hurry?”
“Of course. I don't want to inconvenience you. I can check out – whoever reacted to silver, I take it? – easily enough.”
“No, I promised Dean.”
“Why are we working with Meg?”
“Well, 'we' aren't. Dean's pretty mad about it, to be honest, but Meg is giving me intel on Crowley and Heaven both. See, Kali and her minions have taken over Heaven.” Cas sighed. “Everything's a mess, Sam.”
“Apparently.” They stepped outside, and Sam saw that the sun had still not risen. “You don't happen to know what time it is, do you?”
“Four fifty-seven a.m., Eastern Daylight Time.”
“Thanks.” Sam reset his watch. “So we're still doing Daylight Savings?”
“Are we not? Perhaps it's three fifty-seven.”
“It's fine,” Sam said. “If there's a government somewhere, it's probably still keeping on as always. The real question is, what are everyone's bodies on? How early is too early to make a visit? Well, let's go to the breakfast hall for now. You point out the newcomers whenever they come in.”
“I can do that.”
They – or rather, Sam – ate a slow breakfast, but the new arrivals didn't make an appearance in the dining hall. It was just after six (or maybe five) when Sam decided that they should offer to carry breakfast over to them. The cook, a solid woman with a suspicious eye, crossed her hands over her chest. “What are you up to, Sam Winchester?”
Sam gave her a look of surprise. “Just being neighborly.”
“My ass. You be nice to those people. I like them.”
After she pushed a basket into his arms and sent him on his way, Sam whispered to Cas, “Who was that?”
“Mrs. McLeod. She's Crowley's daughter, if you can believe that.” When Sam stopped and turned back for a closer look, he added, “She helped with your soul situation as well.”
Things just keep getting weirder and weirder, Sam thought.
As they headed up the steps to B-block, the guard on the landing crossed her arms and a storm of emotions flitted across her face. “Oh, no,” she said, her voice low and angry. “This is my case.”
Sam looked down at her, trying to glean what he could from her body language. “You're a hunter?”
The woman looked at him in disbelief, then snorted. “Yeah. I'm a hunter.”
Cas tried to turn around and move past him down the stairs, but Sam and the basket took up too much room. He ended up spinning in a circle on the landing, avoiding Sasha's gaze. “I'm just going anywhere but here,” Cas said before disappearing in a flutter of wind.
“Look, Sam,” Sasha continued, her voice getting eerily quieter instead of louder. “It wasn't like I was angling for a ring or your jacket or anything. Honestly, I didn't expect to ever see you again after you took off the first time. It's the end of the world, and a girl wants to have some fun with a tall, brooding stranger every now and then. If you're done, fine,” she said, smiling, and then her voice turned hard, “but don't you dare look me in the face and act like you don't know my name.”
Sam's eyes went wide. “Oh. Look, Sasha, I can tell that we...ah...must have grown close,” he stammered, “but I'm honestly not trying to be a dick. I really do have amnesia. I hate it! It seriously, seriously sucks, but I swear to you, I'm not faking. And I'm so terribly sorry for anything I've done that might have hurt you. Truly.”
Sasha looked away for a long moment before finally meeting his gaze again. “Well, I appreciate that. You didn't hurt me any, I guess, so long as you're not trying to play me for a fool.”
“Well, like I said, it was fun.” She gave a little grin as she looked him up and down. “You just let me know if you ever feel up for a refresher. In the meantime, this is still my case.”
Sam looked around, but Cas was nowhere to be seen. “Do you want any help? Bobby keeps running away from me, and Dean's getting on my nerves.”
“He's good at that.”
“Yeah. So someone reacted to silver?”
Sasha sighed. She considered him for a moment, then grudgingly answered, “Yeah. The shorter guy, Josh, did. But, you know, I saw a Star of David around his neck. If he's religious, he's probably not a monster then, right? He jerked away in pain, but maybe it was an actual allergy.”
A new hunter then, Sam thought, and he began to get a better inkling of their previous relationship. “You'd be surprised. Monsters sneak in everywhere. He's the only one who reacted?”
“That I noticed.” She held up her hand and wiggled her fingers, showing off a chunky silver band. “The other guy, Aidan, didn't flinch, but I didn't get a chance to touch either of the women. They were a bit hover-y over Josh after I 'shocked' him.”
“So there's been a lot of supernatural activity around here lately?”
Sasha gazed down towards the fence line. “You mean besides the usual? Since you guys showed up, yes.”
“You're sure your ring wasn't just cold or something?”
“Oh, I'm sorry, I should have said, 'Hello, I'm Sasha. Not an idiot.'”
“You're right. Sorry. Stupid question.” He raised the basket. “Well, I really did bring breakfast. Care to introduce me?”
“Fine. But I'm lead.”
“I wouldn't dream of stepping on your toes.”
She led him inside B-block, which looked very similar to every other block he'd been in. They heard voices and shuffling as they headed down the hall, so they knew someone was awake. There were only three people in the block when they entered. Sam frowned, suddenly overcome with a dizzying sense of deja vu. He cried out and stumbled as a stabbing pain shot through his head. He grabbed it as flashes of...memory?...flooded him.
A sense of nausea and of the world spinning as he fell. A whirlpool of dark tree branches looming high overhead. Darkness, thick darkness, with a woman's voice screaming, “No! Back! Back, dammit!” following closely on its heels.
“Sam? Are you okay?”
Sasha was pulling him up by the arm, and he was ashamed to see that he'd dropped the food basket. Apples rolled across the floor, as did a few jars. Luckily the jars of cereal and powdered milk were unbroken. “I'm sorry. I had a weird pain, but it's gone.” He laughed self-consciously as she led him to the nearest cell. “I'm fine, really.”
“Doc says you took a head injury, Sam. That's not fine. You sit here while I go get him.”
“No! Really, Sasha, I'm fine. Right as rain.” He looked past her and waved to the people staring at him. “I'll wash those apples for you.”
“No need,” one of them said, the man who, from descriptions, Sam knew was not Josh. “We have water bottles. Are you okay? I was a nurse before all this, actually. I can take a look.”
“No, really. I'm good.” He smiled and forced himself up. The guy certainly didn't look like a nurse. “I appreciate it though. What an entrance, huh?” He laughed self-consciously. “I'm Sam,” he said, offering a hand to shake. Before coming in, he'd slipped a silver ring of his own on.
“Aidan. And this is Emily and Josh. You just missed his wife. Showers.”
Sam exited the cell to shake their hands. Josh kept his distance across the room and just gave a curt wave, so Sam turned his attention back to Aidan and Emily. “Are you two married as well?”
They looked at each other and laughed. “Hell no!” Emily said, adding a quick “no offense” for Aidan's benefit. “I'm a lady's lady, if you know what I mean.”
“Ah.” Neither one flinched at the handshake.
Sam saw Sasha collect the apples and give a quick pour of water from a flask – a flask Sam recognized as one of their own, one which held holy water. He was beginning to see why he'd liked her. She handed the apples around with a friendly smile. “They're small, but they're local. Maybe even organic by now,” she said with a laugh.
“Thanks,” Emily said, happily munching away on hers. Aidan gave a wan smile as Sasha watched him expectantly, then finally took a bite and added a rather unconvincing “Mmmm. Good.”
Josh seemed hyper-aware of Sam's eyes on him, as Sam was of him. Sam wasn't sure what was going on, but there was definitely something off about the guy. Josh had been leaning against the wall, kicking it with his heel as he chewed his nails. When Sasha's attention also finally turned to him, he kicked off the wall and came to join the group. He looked Sam up and down as he passed by and took the apple Sasha offered. “Thanks. It's been a while since we had any fresh fruit.”
None of them reacted to the holy water, and it seemed like the space between he and Josh seemed to grow almost electric with tension. Josh was paying him no more attention at that point, rifling through the food they had brought, but Sam definitely felt a weird energy from the guy.
“So, I hope this isn't rude,” Sam started, “but my brother and I are probably going to be heading out soon. I heard you guys had some kind of run-in with cannibals? Is that true?”
The three looked between each other, their faces suddenly somber. They had the look of soldiers fresh from battle, and Sam knew that not only was it true, it had legitimately horrified these people. People? he wondered. Is that really what they are? He watched closely as Josh turned away and busied himself with prepping the powdered milk for everyone. After Sasha's trick with the holy water, he wished he'd stopped to throw some salt into the powder or something. He decided that once he left, he'd make a small salt line under the door and see if that affected any of them.
Aidan turned and tossed his apple onto the bed in the next cell over. “Unfortunately,” he said as he turned back, crossing his arms protectively over his chest, “it is true. If you see any signs for 'Terminus', take them down or mark as unsafe. We think we, ah, took out most of those...people...as we were freeing their prisoners, but you never know if there's enough left to regroup.”
Josh brought a bowl of cereal to Emily and ran into one of the cells, quickly returning with a folded map. “So, Hershel, I think it was?” At Sasha's nod, he opened the map and continued, “Hershel gave us some maps to look over and try to figure out where exactly Terminus was. As best we can figure, it's about here,” he said, pointing to a spot near Macon.
“That's only eighty or ninety miles from here.”
“Well, the roads are all clogged on this side, so it takes a lot longer than it probably used to,” Josh said. “Then again, we circled wide trying to avoid any chase. They'd cleared out about a ten mile radius around their train depot.” He was the kind of guy who gestured a lot as he spoke. In fact, it almost seemed like he could barely stand still, since he was always rocking on his heels or bouncing on the balls of his feet. Sam tried to surreptitiously watch him, but he didn't seem particularly monstrous to him. Weird, awkward, and hyper, yes. Dangerous or evil? As he watched the guy move away to take a rag and start vigorously scrubbing the area where Sasha had spilled holy water onto the concrete, Sam just couldn't see it.
Still, there was definitely a thickness in the air between he and Sam, and since Sasha seemed to be focused more on getting a read off of Aidan and Emily, he guessed that she didn't feel the same thing. And, too, there was just this overwhelming sense of...something. The smell of crisp autumn air and fallen leaves. Sam felt like there was some important memory just within reach, like a shadow in the periphery of his mind. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and set his heart to beating a little faster than it should.
Josh washed his hands after cleaning the floor, then wolfed down a bowl of cereal faster than Sam would have thought possible. He was going for seconds when Sasha smiled and clapped Sam on the back. “I'm going to go check on Nora, let her know we brought breakfast. There won't be any left if she doesn't hurry. We don't really have that much hot water anyway.”
“Oh,” Josh said with a high chuckle, “she's probably just psyching herself up. We're going back for our car today. Gotta get all that bathroom, showering, and meditating stuff done while we're in a safe place. It's been a while.”
“You're leaving so soon?” Sasha asked, although she did not sound broken up about it.
“Just Nora and me. We really appreciate you guys helping Aidan and Emily recuperate, but we don't want to use up all your resources. We have more supplies in our trunk, if we can get to them before anyone else does.”
“It's not safe for two people to go out on a long trek alone,” Sasha said, eyes narrowing. “Especially if you've both been shot!”
“It's just a flesh wound!” Josh cried in a high-pitched faux-British accent. Emily rolled her eyes.
“We're coming with you,” Sasha said, and Sam raised his brows at her.
“Um,” Josh was back to rocking on his heels again, cereal bowl seemingly forgotten. “To be honest, we were kind of hoping for some alone time. It's been a long, long while.”
Josh's eyes went wide with rage, and Aidan stepped between them with a wide smile. “I know it's a prison, but I didn't think we were actually prisoners.”
“You're not. But you come in here with wild tales, grievous wounds, and we give you our food, medicines, shelter, all without hesitation. Now you're splitting up? How are we to know that this isn't some kind of trap? That you're not going back for reinforcements to hit us from inside and out? Nuh-uh. We're going with you.”
Sasha gave Sam another look, so he quickly added, “We really feel this is for the best.”
Josh's face still held quite a fury, which only made Sam realize that Sasha had the right idea. Dean wouldn't like him leaving, but he wasn't about to let Sasha go off alone with this guy. The quick switch from awkward goof to dangerous predator was both surprising and disturbing, and it suddenly didn't seem that far out to think he wasn't completely human. Sam was really afraid they'd have to fight right then and there, but a voice from behind them instantly settled Josh.
“They're right. You know we'd feel the same way.”
Sam turned around, finding himself face to face with an unassuming blonde woman. She was toweling wet hair, and her eyes locked with his. After a moment, she smiled. "Hi. I'm Nora.”
His eyes subconsciously narrowed just a bit. She almost reminded him of someone. He struggled to remember who, like some annoying tune he couldn't put a name to. But whatever wall was in his head made his mind start flitting between totally unrelated things.
Sam woke as the sun was just starting to rise. His head was laid against the van window, and as everything gradually lightened, he slowly realized that the 'tree line' to his right was actually a loose wall of croats. He should have been terrified, but honestly, it was exhilarating. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them stumbled across the fields, but they were aimless and unsteady. They were barely running on echoes of instinct. Sam easily recognized that he was better than them in every way, and as he watched them plod along, he began to think that it might even be fun taking them all out.
“Easy, boy,” a voice said to his left. His grandfather, Samuel Campbell, gave an empty laugh. “And we thought it was weird for us coming back from the dead. At least we're not like that, huh? No stopping to piss here, I'm afraid. Too many of 'em. There's a jug in the back if you need it, but we're only about forty minutes from the compound. You're 'bout to meet a whole lotta family you didn't even know you had.”
“Look at this pattern,” Sam said, pointing to red circles on a map. Several people leaned in for a better look. There were about a dozen hunters in all, and all of them Campbell family or married into it. “It's zig-zagging and round-about, but I'm certain he's heading for Boston.”
Samuel thrust a small shaving case into his chest. Sam grabbed it, unzipped, and counted a dozen syringes of dead man's blood. “Pack up, son. Better hurry. The Alpha Vamp must be gathering his minions as he travels. He knows we're onto him. But so long as he keeps a-zig-zagging, we should be able to beat him there.”
The woods were eerily quiet. Sam glanced around and slowly, as quietly as he could, pulled the bolt back and popped in a round. He heard nothing. Saw nothing. Smelled nothing. Something was terribly wrong here.
He walked as quietly as he could through the fallen leaves, wincing every time a crinkle echoed through the forest. It only served to prove how eerily empty it was. There were always – always! – croats stumbling around anymore. At least until the snows hit, and they hadn't yet even this far north, though he knew winter was coming fast. Still, and especially if croats weren't around, you always found survivor groups or, at the very least, wildlife taking sanctuary where they could. But there was literally nothing here.
No, not nothing. Sam peered into the bare branches of a large bush up ahead, where a spot of black caught his eye. He hurried to it and pulled out a tuft of coarse fur.
Sam blinked, his eyes finally focusing upon Aidan's worried face. “You're in no condition to go traipsing out amongst zombies.”
Sam pulled his arm free from Aidan's grasp. “First off, I don't traipse. Second, I'm fine. I just got a little dizzy there for a moment.”
“That's twice in twenty minutes. If you took a head injury, this could be a sign of serious trouble.” From the note of concern in his voice, Sam knew that Aidan was honestly concerned and not just trying to talk him out of following Josh.
“What?” Nora said, hurrying forward. “A head wound?”
Sam pulled his head back, uncomfortable with everyone suddenly in his face. Nora continued, “It's all right. I'm a nurse. Tell me, have you had any problems with double vision or...or memory loss?”
Sam sighed. He couldn't exactly tell these people that he hadn't really taken a head wound. “Look, I appreciate everyone's concern, but I'm fine. I'm a big boy. I've already been confined to bed for a week.” Sasha looked like she was going to interrupt, then thought better of it. “Honestly, I'd asked Sasha to let me go on the next run anyway. I think the fresh air and sunshine will help a lot.”
They all looked skeptical, but they finally backed away. Nora flashed a tight smile. “Well, it's a good thing you're coming along with us, then. At least we both have medical training.”
“Right. I'll just see if Mrs. McLeod has any food to spare. How far away is your car?”
“We were in no condition to fight, so the zombies kind of herded us through a lot of backroads,” Josh said, coming to put a protective arm around his wife. “Maybe thirty miles, if we figured the map out right.”
Sam saw Aidan move to bend low into Sasha's ear. He murmured something, and she gave an imperceptible shake of her head. Sam felt his heart begin to beat fast again. Was it some odd jealousy? He didn't even remember his time with her.
Sasha snapped him out of his reverie as she took his arm. “Pack up. We'll leave in an hour,” she said, and Sam did not miss Aidan's little warning shake. His mind was suddenly clear, and he knew without doubt what had been whispered. His suspicions were confirmed when they stepped outside, for he'd barely started patting himself down in search of salt before Sasha whirled on him. “Sam, you can't come.”
“I'm getting really tired of everyone telling me what I can and can't do.”
“Sam.” She searched his eyes. “I'm sorry, but you know it as well as I do. You're not up for a thirty mile trip even without walkers and unidentified monsters.”
He sighed, and he wanted to argue, but he did know she was right. These flashes were painful, and he lost sight of everything around him when they hit. Sasha saw the disappointment in his face and softened a bit. “It's okay. I'll take Tyreese. Nothing's getting me with Tyreese around.” She smiled as she handed him a small canister of sea salt from her own pocket, nodded toward the door, and took out a radio from her other. “Tyreese,” she called into it, “are you with Karen right now?”
Tyreese's voice was groggy when it came over the line. “It's early as hell, girl. Anyway, I told you we were taking it slow.”
She grinned up at Sam. “Hey, get her double-time and ask her to take over my B shift. You get our go-bags. We gotta run.”
He grumbled, but said he was on it. While they waited, Sasha attempted to make awkward small-talk.
“How many walkers have you killed?”
“Walkers? You mean the croats?” He laughed. “I'm not lying about the amnesia. How should I know?”
Sasha gave him a smile much sweeter than he would have expected. “Humor me. What would you guess?”
Sam gave an apologetic shrug. “I wouldn't even know. I can't remember the start of all this. I assume a whole lot. But as far as what I could swear to, I took out seven or eight on the fence this morning.”
“How many people have you killed?”
He tensed at that one. He didn't want to answer, but something in Sasha's eyes told him that it was very important to her. He lowered his eyes and thought. “I guess I can't know that either. I know I've killed a lot, far too many, people before all this,” he admitted, “and likely some after.”
“A lot of them were possessed, and there was no way to exorcise without killing them. There were times, before I knew how to avoid it, when I myself was possessed. There were bad people who tried to kill me or my family, and there were good people who ended up casualties of war. I know of some times, probably way more than I realize, when I was indirectly responsible for people's deaths. A lot of them were beings who were human once and then they weren't anymore, but that doesn't make the loss any less real.”
Sasha was quiet for a moment, lost in thought. Finally, she said, “That's a tough road you've walked.”
Sam blinked at her. “Yeah. It is.”
“Thank you for being honest,” Sasha said. “Look, there's Karen. Go see Dr. S., please. Take care of yourself. I'll be back in a day or two.”
Cas was waiting for him when he rounded the corner. “Where've you been?” Sam asked him.
“Is everything okay with your case?”
“Yeah, I guess. Though even Sasha agrees I'm a liability,” he grumbled.
Cas laid a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe it's best we don't tell Dean that I left you alone.”
Sam shrugged him off and rolled his eyes. “I won't get you in trouble.” He started to walk off, then realized Cas had avoided his question. “Went to see Meg, did you?”
“I'm surprised you're so chummy lately.”
“We share some common interests,” Cas said, “and she's very well informed. She passed along a message from Balthazar. Gabriel paid him a visit shortly after we did.”
“We saw Balthazar?”
Cas looked at him blankly, then sighed. “When we went to the UK in search of Crowley...remember I said Maggie helped us? We went with her. It's a long story, but Balthazar was buying souls in London.”
“What? Why would an angel buy souls?”
“They are...” He seemed to struggle with the phrasing but finally settled on “Valuable. Balthazar was grabbing whatever power he could as the war broke out. I asked him to ally with me, but he wanted to stay off the radar.” Cas frowned. “I inadvertently put him back on. Gabriel found him quickly after we did. He expressed pleasure at learning I was alive and wanted to know where to find me. Balthazar told him that I had taken his advice and was staying as far from you two as possible, so likely the Ukraine or Papua New Guinea. Now Kali's forces are seen checking hot spots outward from London, and Balthazar's in the wind again.”
“You think Gabriel would sacrifice you to Kali?”
“I don't know what game he plays. Either he would trade me in an effort to get Heaven back, or he's just trying to draw some of them from Heaven to even things so the angels can strike.” Cas looked thoughtful. “It's possible that he actually loved Kali once, but I can't believe that Gabriel would ever turn against Heaven itself.”
Sam looked at him with compassion. “I know he's your brother and all, but he's been known to play both sides before. I think his main concern is keeping himself alive.”
“Hey!” A voice cried as a figure rounded the corner. As he picked up speed, Sam saw that it was Carl. He saw no sign of Dean or Bobby. Carl jogged the last few yards and frowned up at Cas. “Aren't you supposed to be on boiler room duty?”
Sam bit back a smirk to see the kid address Cas that way. Cas frowned down at him. “No, I've been with Sam all morning. Haven't I, Sam?”
“Oh, yeah. All morning.”
Carl looked between them, his eyes wide as he thought. “You haven't been down in the boiler room?”
“No. Carl, what's wrong?”
He glanced nervously at Sam. “Remember our talk?” he asked Cas. When Cas nodded, he continued, “Well, I felt, you know, angel static. Whatever you'd call it. Bright ringing that drowns other stuff out. I was looking for my dad, but when I felt all that, I figured it was you and Dean on guard so I left.”
“When was this?” Cas demanded.
Cas disappeared in an instant. Without thinking, Sam pushed the kid. “Where's the boiler room? Now!”
Sam kept an eye out as he followed Carl, but he didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Once they reached the boiler room, he saw why Dean had insisted on having a watch down there. The wall was completely blasted in, although there were signs that people had been clearing it out and starting to build a wall around the breach. They found Carol there, working away at it.
“What's going on down here?” Sam asked.
Carol turned and frowned, and Sam noticed her hand tense ever so slightly on the trowel she was holding. “Not much. I just relieved Henry and thought I'd be useful. What's wrong?”
He belatedly saw the little girl piling bricks up behind her. She eyed Sam nervously, and he wondered if that was the girl Dean and Bobby had been worried about. “Carl heard something. Have you seen anyone come through here?”
Sam looked beyond her. “What about you...Lizzie, is it?”
The girl smiled. “No, we're sisters. I'm Mika.”
“Well, Mika, have you seen anything strange down here?”
“Besides you?” Her eyes flicked toward the door. “Nooooo,” she said, drawing the word out slowly.
“Mika...” Carl warned.
The girl shook her head and smiled sadly. “Just Lizzie. You know. She sent me in here because she doesn't like me around when she talks to her imaginary friend. She says he tells her secret stuff, but it's just a stupid game she plays when she doesn't want me around.”
Sam was about to ask where Lizzie was when he heard Cas call for him. He followed the voice down the hall, and he noticed that Carol followed without hesitation. Cas was alone in an empty brick room with a girl just a bit younger than Carl. Sam didn't need to ask; he could tell this was Lizzie. Besides the unsettling look in her eye, she was clutching a dresser drawer that looked suspiciously like a spell box. “What's all this?”
“It's my treasure box,” she said, “and you shouldn't be here.”
Sam knelt down on her level. “Can I see your treasures?”
She frowned at him and tipped the drawer up against her chest. “No. Go away.”
“What were you doing, little girl?” Cas asked, his voice harsh.
“I was just playing.”
While she was looking at Cas, Sam snatched the drawer from her hands. “Hey!” Carol yelled, moving forward to guard Lizzie, trowel up and ready to fight.
Sam fingered the contents. He held up first a rabbit skull, then a rat skull and what looked like part of an arm. There were a couple of teeth that looked human, some yarn bits, and one of those little plastic bubbles with silly putty that you used to get from quarter machines. “Is this a spell box?”
“Of course not!” Carol cried. She looked at Lizzie, and Sam could see the flicker of doubt in her face. “Is it?”
“No! Give it back. It just holds my treasures.”
“Who gave you this stuff?” Sam pushed a crumpled flier aside and felt an unmistakable plastic case. He pulled out a DVD, then spun it around to show Cas and Carol. “Casa Erotica: Undead Co-ed? Aren't you a bit young for this?”
“Sam.” Cas's voice was surprisingly excited. “Do you still have a laptop computer?”
“You know, I'm honestly not sure what I have anymore. We can check my bag.” He handed the drawer to Carol. “It could be she's just a pack rat, but this is a drawer full of body parts. Somebody needs to have a talk with dad at best and the council at worst. You might show Mrs. McLeod and ask her which.” He turned to leave.
“You boys are awfully eager with that,” Carol spat, herding Mika and Lizzie together. “Have some decorum!”
At that moment, Dean rounded the corner. “Sam! What are you doing down here?” He saw Lizzie beyond and pointed a finger at her. “You're a squirrelly little thing, aren't you?”
Carol put a protective arm around her, but Sam was already pushing Dean out of the room. Dean noticed the DVD and plucked it from his hand. “Hey, this is a collector's item! Kind of ironic though, don't you think? Undead Co-ed?” He laughed, but neither Sam nor Cas joined him. “You know, only this version's better, because the one thing these co-eds need to eat to survive is –”
“Dean!” Sam was acutely aware of Carl still following behind them.
“Yeah, I know. It skirts a little too close to the whole necro thing for me, and it was only out for a few weeks before the Croatoan virus unleashed. And then it was recalled,” he explained. “That's why it's a collector's edition.”
“Who collects porn during a zombie apocalypse?” Cas asked, sounding legitimately curious.
“Anyone with either head still working!”
“Okay,” Sam butted in, pushing Dean rather forcefully out into the prison yard. "Little pitchers have big ears.”
Sam nodded toward Carl, and Dean made an 'ah ha' face. “Hey, buddy, why don't you – ”
“Go find my dad?” Carl sighed. “Have fun.”
They hurried back to their cell, filling each other in on the cases. “Where'd Bobby go?” Sam asked.
“Well, we questioned that Mika kid, who had quite a lot of interesting things to say about her sister. Bobby went to talk to the dad again, and I was supposed to tail the squirrelly one, but I lost her in the cafeteria.”
“I bet you did. Did Mika tell you about Lizzie's imaginary friend?”
“Nick? Yeah. Crazy-ass kid plays with croats, man. It's not hard to believe she's got more than a drop of demon blood in her.”
“What? Not that,” Sam dropped his voice as they entered D-block, where they were staying. “Lizzie kicks Mika out when she talks to her imaginary friend. Carl said he felt angel vibes coming from down there, while Mika said Lizzie was talking to her imaginary friend. Maybe it wasn't imaginary.”
Dean thought about that a moment, then asked Cas, “You can't tell if another angel's been around?”
“Not if they're shielded from me as I am from them.”
“We need to find out if they're still here!”
“You can't know that, Cas.”
“We're still alive, and we've not been abducted.”
“Besides...” Cas held up the DVD. “I may know who it was.”
“Oh!” He pulled the privacy sheet across the cell door and pulled out a portable DVD player. When Sam looked surprised, he said, “You're damn right I stocked up at Radio Shack. In fact, I made sure to get –”
“Okay, okay.” Sam waved him off, and all three of them crowded on the bottom bunk to watch.
Int. College Classroom, Open Stage – Evening
A large college classroom with rows of seats rising on three sides. A clock sits over the whiteboard.
THE TIME -
ALICE, a svelt and sexy co-ed with a strawberry-blonde bob and an asymmetrical red dress, angrily packs up her books. She and classmate SHAUN, a scared-looking nerd in shirt and tie, have been told to stay after class.
PROFESSOR ROMERO, back turned, is wiping down the board at the end of the day.
The doors CLANG open. CLOSE UP: BARBRA, a buxom blonde with a smudge of blood on her face. She sees a CRICKET BAT lying near the door and shoves it through the door's metal handles.
(hysterical as she runs down the steps)
Professor Romero! Help! The students have gone mad!
Professor Romero turns, raising one dark brow. His hair and mustaches are slicked to perfection. His eyes narrow as Barbra nears, and he takes his RULER from the desk, SLAPPING it menacingly in his hand. CLOSE-UP on Romero's face.
'Professor Romero' snapped his fingers, and Gabriel stood before them in the cell. Sam closed the player and jumped up with the others.
“Sit, sit,” Gabriel said, motioning them back down.
“You would lead her to me!” Cas growled, reaching out to grab the archangel's arm. His hand went straight through, and he looked up in surprise.
Gabriel smirked. “No, I would not, as a matter of fact, and that's why I've Obi-Wanned myself here.” He winked. “Or Princess Leia-ed. I could go either way, really.”
“I bet you could,” Dean grumbled.
Gabriel's smile dropped, and he looked surprisingly serious. “Listen, brother. You slipped up in London. Kali was too close. I've got her looking in the other direction, but you need to make yourself scarce before she figures out she's on a wild goose chase.”
Cas looked at Dean. “We were planning on leaving soon anyway.”
“Soon's not good enough. You need to skedaddle now, and you need to keep away from these two goons. It's like you're trying to die.” That line almost sounded familiar to Sam.
“You're the one making porn deliveries. Coming straight to me and Balthazar. Your concern is insincere.”
Gabriel looked hurt. “I've stayed away from you just like I urge you to stay away from Dick and Dicker here. Don't worry about that. I'm tight with the weird kid. I don't have to be anywhere close to infiltrate that swirly twirly timebomb of hers.”
“Still, you're the only one who knows where I am. I must stay with the Winchesters. I know she'll eventually strike.” He looked deeply in Gabriel's eyes. “I will be ready.” Something unspoken passed between them. “So you did go to Balthazar?” Cas asked.
“I did.” Gabriel wrinkled his nose. “Sent him on the run again, and he's pissed, but it couldn't be helped. Kali's not after him anyway.” He looked as if he wanted to say more, then glanced at Sam and Dean and thought better of it.
“Balthazar is very powerful right now.”
“Yes,” Gabriel agreed, his attention back on Cas. “You're doing much better yourself, Castiel.”
Cas smiled. “Gabriel, if the three of us worked together...”
Gabriel held up a hand. “I do too much already. It's my real death if I openly defy her.”
“We're close,” Cas said, his voice thick with emotion. Sam shot a questioning look at Dean, who shook his head. “If we would all three just ally together, they could not stand in our way!”
“We'll talk again,” Gabriel promised. “I'll send word when I can.”
“No!” Dean said. He looked at Gabriel, or Gabriel's 'hologram'. “Whatever backstabbing shit you're messed up in, it needs to stay far away from here.” Then he looked at Cas. “You'd better tell me what you're up to.”
Before he could, Gabriel pushed an irate-but-useless hand through Dean's chest. His eyes flared. “You should treat me with more respect. I'm the unsung hero of your messy little screw up here – which you were warned about, no less! I've saved more lives than you could possibly imagine.”
“Yeah? Being Kali's little bitch?”
Not just his eyes but Gabriel's entire being flared, and he began to force-choke Dean. Sam grabbed Dean as he dropped and screamed uselessly at the angels until Cas managed to talk Gabriel down. Gabriel disappeared exactly as he'd come, with a snap of his fingers.
Their discussion was on hold until Dean managed to drink some water and start breathing again. He rubbed his weary eyes and laid back on the bed, where Sam sat anxiously beside him. “What are you up to, Cas?”
“Trying to figure out what Gabriel's up to.”
“No, I mean what were you two talking-without-talking about?”
Cas gazed at the wall across from the bunks. “Balthazar has the weapons of Heaven. We're close to discovering the entrance to Purgatory. If Gabriel has full access of – ”
“What?” Dean stood and looked at Cas in disbelief. “We said no on the Purgatory thing. You weren't supposed to be poking at that!”
“No, you said not to ally with Crowley,” Cas finally looked up at him. “Meg is the one helping me. She doesn't want Crowley getting those souls any more than I do.” Dean made a strangled noise, and he continued, “She was helping us already, and she doesn't have designs on Heaven or Hell.”
“Oh, she's just doing it out of the goodness of her heart, is she?”
Cas thought about it. “It's probably not goodness. Maybe convenience.”
“She's a demon, Cas,” Sam backed his brother up. “If she's wanting to find the door to Purgatory, it's not going to be a good thing.”
“She doesn't want any of the souls!” Cas implored. “I'd get to use them all to save Heaven.”
“Dammit, Cas!” Dean grabbed him by the coat. “Death himself said to stay away from it, and since he's got rank with God gone, you're going to listen.”
Cas swallowed and said nothing until Dean tightened his grip. “All right! I'll think about it. But we have to do something to get Heaven back. I won't ever give up.”
Finally, Bobby showed back up. He looked at their faces and frowned. “Well, I had some news, but it looks like you boys do, too. Everything okay?”
“No,” Dean said, a disgusted look on his face. They filled Bobby in on all that had happened, then listened as Bobby did the same.
“You keep your fluttery ass away from Purgatory, you hear?” he started. “Now, I don't know how much Dean told you boys...”
“Nothing,” Sam spat. “What else is new?” Dean gave him a dirty look, which he ignored.
“Well,” Bobby said, ignoring him, “that little Mika girl was very helpful. Seems Lizzie's powers started cropping up after her mom died, but it was all really subtle until recently. She's having dreams or nightmares, or sometimes just scary feelings. Nothin' all of us haven't had since the damned croats started, but hers hit jackpot more than statistically likely. Then once they came here, they had a bit more free time for her to practice talking to croats and pied pipering rats or whatever. Hell, Carl never had nothing before he vanquished his mom. Maybe the prison is a hot spot or something. Anyway, both of them have seen an increase in power since moving here. Though Lizzie appears to be more powerful than Carl.”
“It's not the croats. Apparently Gabriel's been poking around,” Cas told him.
Sam sat up too quickly, hitting his head on the top bunk. His hair caught in one of the bedsprings, and he angrily pulled it loose. “Gabriel admitted that he's been talking to her in her head. You don't think...?”
Cas smiled at him. “It's heartening that the thought appalls you now that your soul is back, but Gabriel using a child's mind to pass messages to me is mild for an archangel and downright benevolent for Gabriel.”
“Yes, it is. But supernatural things were happening to that girl before she ever got here. Carl swore he felt a strong angel presence himself, even though Gabriel swears he wasn't here physically.” Sam's words came faster as he spoke. “What if it's not an Azazel thing as in demon blood? What if it's an Azazel thing only with angel blood?”
Dean tried to say something and only started coughing again. Cas spoke over top of him. “An angel would never!”
“They'd never buy souls before, either,” Sam said. “Gabriel called himself the unsung hero of the zombie apocalypse. Like he said, Zachariah brought Dean here firsthand to see it! You guys all knew this was going to happen years ago.”
“It's not the same,” Dean said. “You were Lucifer then. And Baby was a wreck! That's how I knew it was one of Zachariah's tricks.”
“We made different choices and fought against it. We were able to change some things. What if Gabriel did too? If any angel is crazy enough to borrow Azazel's M.O., it would be Gabriel.”
Cas had nothing to say to that, and from the rapidly shifting eyes, Sam could tell he found it entirely possible. “Is there any way you could test the kids to see if there's angel blood in them?” Sam asked.
“I don't know,” Cas admitted. “Unless Lizzie starts smiting or something, I'm not sure I could tell you.”
“We need to watch both of them more closely,” Dean said roughly. “If an angel's screwing with the prison's kids, we can't just bail. Or is it worse for them if we stick around?”
Cas frowned and said nothing. Sam shook his head. “Sasha seems awfully green as a hunter. I know Maggie and Crowley's daughter are here, but is that enough?”
“Hell, that could be worse,” Dean said.
“You need to put up angel wardings immediately,” Cas said. “I think I can find a tome with a cloaking spell for dieties, but someone will have to be ready to let me back in and reset the warding.”
“Won't you go impotent?”
“Yes. Make it easy to break from inside in case we find ourselves under attack.”
Dean sighed, then looked at Bobby and Sam. “Well, get to warding. I don't think we should say anything about the Gabriel theory until we know for sure. In the meantime, I'll tell Jodi and Ben to unpack. Maybe even ask him if he's having any weird dreams lately.”