Sam was already up, staring into space with Dad's journal in his lap, when Dean woke the next morning. Dean rubbed his eyes and sat up. “Did you get any rest?”
Sam looked up at him, then closed the journal. “Yeah. But I got up early and did some discreet questioning.”
“Really?” Dean pulled his toothbrush out of his bag. The cell had a small sink. Although the water didn't run, someone had left a pitcher for them to use. He splashed his face, gesturing for Sammy to go on.
Dean could hear the hum of life around them. Everyone else was awake and going about their duties for the day. He could hear the low thread of conversations, cell doors creaking and banging shut, pleasant murmurs of “Morning!” as people passed each other on the nearby stairs. It was unnerving. They hadn't been around so many people in nearly a year, and the last time hadn't ended well. Thankfully, Sam pitched his voice low as he spoke. Dean smiled, thinking to himself how much he missed the days of vibrating hotel beds and pay-per-view.
“So this guy,” Sam said quietly, “Rick...from what I can gather, he's the only one who's seen the ghost. Not even the kid, Carl, has seen her. Sasha tells me that the first time she ever came to the prison, Rick just started up and yelling at something or someone on the balcony. No one else in the room saw anyone. Sasha just thought he'd gone off the rails, but Daryl seems to think it's something more.”
“You do a lot of talking with Sasha last night, hm?” Dean asked, his mouth full of toothbrush.
“It's not like that,” Sam said, but he had a smug grin that he was trying to hide. “She seemed pretty no-nonsense. I figured she'd give the facts.”
Dean spit and rinsed his mouth out. “And did she, Sammy? Give the facts, I mean?”
Sam half-heartedly punched him as he walked back to his bag. “She was very helpful, actually. Look, so the way it happened, Rick did go a little crazy after his wife died. But they were feuding with this guy called the Governor, who ran the nearby town of Woodbury and was way crazier than Rick. Apparently he tried to keep it together to fight off this Governor guy, and seems he did a passable job of it, because now the Governor's disappeared and most of the folks living here are from Woodbury. When Rick brought them back, he stepped down and the council was created.”
“Okay. And what does Rick do now?”
“Well, seems he farms...and occasionally runs around in the woods looking for his dead wife.”
“Right.” Dean paced the small cell, eager to go find breakfast. “And they just let him run off in the woods crazy and all alone? He's gonna lead every creepy crawly in Georgia back to this place.”
“Well, seems like it's something everybody kind of knows, but nobody really talks about. Especially to him. Sasha and the folks he knew before figure he needs the break, and being out in nature helps him. The Woodbury folks, well, nobody knows him that well because he's always out.”
“I see. Okay, so sounds like he may actually just be crazy. Not our kind of job.”
“Maybe. But we can at least help them work on their defenses in case the vampires come looking. We can keep an eye out while we do, listen for anything, see if we need to do any hunting while we're here.” Sammy leaned against the wall. “Daryl's so concerned about how to protect these people. I really do think he'd make a good hunter, and, think about it, we need to up our numbers these days. The monsters are.”
“Yeah. We'll see. But just a couple days, got it? I need to get back to Ben.”
“I know. C'mon. Beth said she'd save us some breakfast.”
They had their choice of stale cereal with powdered milk or cream of wheat with powdered milk. Dean went with cream of wheat just to have something warm. They did have cinnamon, which was a real treat.
“Is it really true that Daryl got turned into a vampire?” Beth asked them. Although she whispered, Dean noticed nearby tables stop their conversation and watch from the corner of their eyes.
“Yeah, it's true,” Sam answered as Dean dove into his food. “But as long as he didn't feed, we were able to take him to someone who knew a spell to reverse it.”
Beth bit her lip, and Dean remembered that she was the daughter of the bible-toting guy who was so shook up about angels. Hershel. “Nothing to worry about,” Sam reassured her. “The world's always been like this. It's just that now everybody knows it.”
Dean reached over and stomped Sammy's foot, but he merely shrugged as the girl ran off. Dean stared at him. “Dude, we really need to do something about your little soul problem.”
“What? Dean, it's the freaking zombie apocalypse. Her friend is fine. She's got way better things to be scared of than him.”
“We're guests. Try to have a little tact,” Dean said, relieved to see that the peanut gallery was turning back to their stale cereal. “Hey, have you noticed that 'zombie' is like a foreign word around here?”
“Mornin',” Daryl said, plopping down in a seat next to him. “You getting on all right?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Daryl. You got a nice place here.”
“You think that alpha's dead?”
Dean looked at his brother. “Honestly? Probably not yet. Crowley wants something. But if the alpha doesn't give him what he wants, my guess is he'll kill him once Samuel brings him a new alpha.”
“There's more than one alpha?”
“Alpha Vamp, no,” Sam said, looking pointedly at Dean. Sam really seemed to want to make this Daryl – hunter thing happen. Daryl did seemed interested - and competent - enough, Dean had to admit. Dean didn't necessarily disagree with the idea, but it surprised him that Sam was pushing it so hard. “Nearly every type of creature has an alpha, the first one from which all the others originate. Remember what the Alpha Vamp said back at the warehouse?”
“Not really. A lot of that is kind of blurry.”
“Crowley wants to find Purgatory. That's why they're going after alphas. Because that's where the monsters go when they're killed,” Sam explained.
“Yeah, but what Samuel's doing is like kicking at wasp nests. The world has been taken over by the Croatoan virus, and the monsters who were here before all this have had free run of the joint since it happened,” Dean said. “He lost like a dozen people on that Alpha hunt. What, three of them were family? You don't really think he's going after more, do you?”
Sam shook his head. “Do you think Crowley's gonna let him stop until they find it?”
Dean scraped his bowl clean. “Well, I know one thing. Gwen's tough, but he's going to need more than just her if he goes after another alpha. And there aren't a whole lot of hunters left.”
“So how many of these other alphas are around here? Like, in Georgia?” Daryl asked.
“No clue. We came across vamp sign when we found our new safe house. Stories of people being taken. We were hunting them down, making sure it was safe. And now we're a long ways off from where we've holed up.”
“You said you got a boy? Y'all would be more than welcome here.”
“I really appreciate that, Daryl. Nature of our job though, we're usually loners. Things have a tendency to come after us.”
Daryl nodded. “Offer's there, though. All right, we got a group that wants to hear all about protection from vampires versus walkers. And I didn't really say anything about the, you know, demons. But, uh, some of the kids were asking that Cas guy a lot of questions that he was pretty blunt about answering, so some of the parents are kinda pissed.”
“Just great.” Dean really had hoped to leave Cas with the people at the prison. Cas was sure that Kali was going to try to hurt him through Dean, and Dean couldn't seem to get rid of him no matter what he did. “All right. Let's get this show on the road. Sam, could y-- You know what? Never mind. I'll deal with the parents. You talk to Cas – and get rid of him if you can,” he added again as he tossed Sammy the keys. “And then get Baby ready for show and tell. Awesome. Daryl, you've got everybody? I only want to do this once.”
“Everybody but the kids,” Daryl said, nodding to two elderly ladies as they passed by. “And a few of the older folks. Ms. McLeod there has arthritis, and Mrs. Coleman, well, she doesn't want anything to do with this 'devil-worshipping nonsense'.”
Once Dean had calmed down the irate parents, he did a very similar spiel as with the council the day before. Yes, vampires and werewolves are real. Yes, angels and demons. Yes, ghosts and zombies. Maybe to God, mermaids, and aliens. No to Big Foot, unicorns, and superheroes, although Dean personally keeps hoping to meet a superhero one day and refuses to accept no as an answer.
It was obvious that they all wanted to play twenty questions, but Dean didn't want to do a whole lot of talking. “Look, we can do a Q and A at the end if you really think you need one, but how about you let us show you the ropes and then take a look around this prison? I think you'll find we cover plenty of ground as we go along.”
Dean led them all down the small lot to where Sam stood waiting with the Impala and, to Dean's great disappointment, Cas. He turned his back on Cas, suddenly more than happy to give his full attention to the group of prison residents. He saw one noticeable absence. Rick, the ex-cop, was nowhere to be seen. His kid, Carl, was there though, trying to hide in the back.
“Okay, before we get to the big guns. You! Hey, kid. Yeah, you. You got permission from your dad to be here? I notice he ain't here, and I don't want to step on any toes.”
“I don't need permission.”
“Gotta be this tall to ride, kiddo, or accompanied by an adult.” Dean held a hand up by his shoulder.
To his surprise, the kid laughed at him. “Look, I don't wear a gun anymore because my dad doesn't like it. He's my dad, and I do what he asks. But I have one that's mine, not his, and I've used it to save this place more than once. It's my job to keep my family safe. To keep this place safe. So don't you worry about me or what permissions I need. I know what I need to do.”
Dean couldn't help but laugh, but he quickly realized that no one else was really laughing. Dean raised his eyes at Daryl as if to say, Really? Daryl held his gaze but said nothing. Dean looked at the kid appreciatively. He supposed if dad fell off the rails, the kid really was the one keeping him and his baby sister safe. Dean knew how that was. “All right then. You can learn, but no weapons unless your dad says it's okay.”
He saw that most of them had brought weapons. “Let's see what you guys normally have,” Dean said, waving a man forward.
“Well,” the guy said, “we don't usually go around armed. Those who can shoot take turns on watch in the towers. Those who can't usually take turns killing them on the fence. I got a pocket knife I carry with me.” He held up a large blade he carried. “I started working on this last night, after I talked to Daryl.”
“You made this?” Dean examined the blade, which was nearly the length of his forearm. The edge was a bit uneven, but it was sharp, with a grip that looked like plastic wrapped in leather. “Is this a lawnmower blade?”
“Yeah. I've been trying to figure out how to make tools and weapons. We have some machetes, but not enough for everyone. That's my first try.”
“Not bad...” Dean looked at him questioningly.
Dean handed the blade back. “Not bad, Henry. Okay, you! Show me what you've got.” As Henry had said, those who had blades mostly had machetes or long bowies. The one badass chick had a sword, which she allowed Dean to have a look at. She handed it over as if bestowing a great honor, so Dean treated it as such. It was a nice piece. Sharp. Obviously well-tended.
Many of them didn't have weapons at all. Or they only had guns they wore while outside. “Guns won't work against a vampire,” Dean explained. “They might slow 'em down a bit if you shoot out their kneecaps, but it won't do any real damage. Neither will a stake to the heart. They're sensitive to the sun, but it won't kill them. To kill 'em, you've got to cut the heads off.”
“You might want to stab the brain after,” Sam added. “They never seem to turn while – well, not alive. Undead. But once you really kill them, the Croatoan virus gets them too. The head'll start gnashing at you and stuff. Better to kill it all the way.”
“Guns can be helpful with other things though. Anybody here got shotguns?” Dean opened up the false bottom of the Impala's trunk and started pulling out all of his different guns. “Rocksalt shells hurt all manner of supernatural critters. Ghosts, demons, even hellhounds, though it won't hold them off for long. Salt keeps a lot of them at bay and can hurt a good many of them, though it likely won't kill them. Still, grab up some salt and make salt rounds whenever you get the chance. Now, silver in blade or bullet form...”
It felt a bit weird doing it on such a large scale, but he and Sammy spent the morning doing a Hunting 101 training for nearly thirty people. When he thought about it, Dean didn't even think he'd seen thirty different people since the gang that ran them out of their very first safe house. That was so different. Those people had been ruthless, and Dean and his small group had barely gotten away with their lives. It had seemed like a mob. Waves of fighters. Now thirty looked paltry. These folks weren't fighters. They were barely armed. Honestly, they were probably only alive by some fluke or another. Did any of these folks even have a chance?
Dean tried to shake away such morbid thoughts. He and Sam would do everything they could to give these people the best chance they had at survival. Then they'd wish them well and move on. Some part of him knew that there was nothing he could do to protect them – or anybody – from Celestial War One. He was probably only buying them a bit of time until they all fried in the inevitable end of the world. He and Sammy might put it off even a few times, but he knew deep down that no matter what, it would always amount to some kind of fiery end.
“Here. Souvenir,” Sam said, tossing an extra rosary to Hershel. “Now you can make holy water.”
“Oh, I'm not a priest.”
“Close enough. Doesn't matter; I'll teach you how.”
“Okay,” Dean said, feeling antsy. The fact that Cas was still lurking beyond his shoulder only kept him sulking and itching for some space. “Daryl, why don't you show us around this prison of yours? Everybody try looking at it with hunter eyes, and we'll decide together how to best batten down the hatches.”
They had done a pretty good job of securing the prison. But on one side, the whole wall had fallen in. It looked like a job that needed some heavy machinery to clean up, but they had repaired and reinforced the fencing and looked to be clearing out bricks. “We're gonna try to build a wall where it's all torn in. Stop walkers from coming in through the boiler room,” Daryl explained.
“A wall will stop the croats, but not necessarily other things. Now, we can paint some devil's traps and maybe booby trap the areas leading inside, but we don't want your own people getting hurt too. If you build a wall, like a little courtyard or something, you may want to roof it up and lock it eventually. Maybe even keep a guard on this side. This is a huge weakness right here.”
“We're spread so thin already,” Carol said. “We keep our cell blocks locked up at night. So far we've not had any problems.”
“Now bright lights, while they don't kill, can bother and disorient vampires. Do the lights on the prison walls still work?”
“Some of them do when we run the generator. It takes a lot of gas though. We usually only do it for laundry or movie nights when we have enough gas to splurge.”
“Outside lights attract the walkers,” a big guy said. He only walked around with a hammer stuck through his belt. Dean recognized him from the vamp fight, and he suspected that the guy was Sasha's brother.
“There's probably not a lot of vamps left in the area,” Sam pointed out. “All the ones relatively close by came when the alpha called them. There was a lot - a whole lot - that Cas obliterated.”
Dean turned and kept walking, continuing along the perimeter of the fence. “Hey!” he called back to the others. “We've got a pretty bad build-up over here!”
The croats had been following along on the other side of the fence as the group made their way around the prison. They'd been trailing the whole time, but now others began pouring out from the nearby woods. On this side of the prison, the fence had come down once already and was weaker than the others. It was beginning to bow in, and though it was still a crisp, early spring day, Dean suddenly felt sweat pouring down his neck.
“I'll get more guns!” Carl shouted, scrambling through the ruins of the wall to get inside. Daryl began shooting his crossbow through the fence, doing a surprisingly good job of avoiding the chain link, while the others ran up ahead to push against the croats who were bowing it in.
“Come on!” one of the women yelled, trying to lure some of the croats up the fence. A group of several others joined her, the big guy playing his hammer across the metal like a xylophone. A few fell for the ploy and were quickly dispatched.
Dean ran into the fray, scrambling with the others to hold up the fence. Those with guns were shooting into the huge pile of croats, and others with knives or crowbars were stabbing heads all around them. One fell dead against the fence right on top of Dean's right hand, and he kept glancing worriedly at it as he pushed, afraid that it would turn its head and bite his fingers off at any moment.
He heard some kind of automatic rifle being fired. It was either that kid, Carl, or he'd brought reinforcements. A large caliber rifle came from the left somewhere, probably from the nearest tower. Dean didn't think they had a very clear shot from there, but he figured they were picking off extra croats who were being drawn in by all the gun fire.
Then an engine was revving nearby. He couldn't see it, but Dean could tell that a team was fighting off the croats from the other side of the fence. It came closer and closer, getting louder and louder, and then there was a release on the fence and Dean slipped, groaning as at least three people landed on top of him. He pushed them off and soldier crawled through people's legs until he broke free.
A large bread truck, it looked like, was plowing through the mob of croats. It circled around the yard and did it a second, and then a third time. Sam was one of the shooters, standing to the side and timing his shots to avoid the bread truck. Carl had brought guns for some of the others and had taken a place pushing up against the fence. Dean rushed in to take his place, though the boy refused to budge. Dean pulled his pistol and moved to the side, trying to shoot croats without getting any of the people. Finally, after probably ten or fifteen minutes fighting the sudden throng against the fence, though it seemed much longer, all of the croats were dead and it was peaceful again.
“Wow,” Dean said after water had been passed around, “does that happen often?”
“Not really,” Daryl said. “More and more lately, though.”
“Yeah, we've battled a couple bad herds,” Sam said.
Not since they'd found the new safe house, Dean thought. Not a really bad one since Lisa. They were probably due for one. It made him want to get home to Ben as soon as possible. They'd taken too long already.
“All right,” he called out, getting everyone's attention. “This has been very educational all around. Why don't we break for lunch, and then Sammy can show you how to make up syringes of dead man's blood. Even the kids can use those against vamps. But it's tricky to gather anymore since the Croatoan virus hit. You only have so long before it's walker blood, which I suspect still might hurt a vampire, but you don't want to take the chance trying to harvest it.”
“Stinks,” Daryl added.
“Carl, Henry, you guys see me after class, okay? You, Hermione,” he said, pointing to Sasha, who had been taking notes the whole time, “I'm guessing you'd know where the syringes are kept?”
“It's Sasha,” she said, settling one hand on her hip. “And yes, I do.”
Dean eyed her appreciatively. She was sweating and breathing hard, splattered with blood where she'd jumped right in to fight. I'd stay up all night with her, too. He turned back to Sam with a wide grin and a wink, as if to say, 'Well done', then turned back to Sasha. “Well, Sasha, if you could gather any extra, that'd be great. I'd like everyone to have a turn making one, and then they should keep some on them for the next few weeks until we see if there's any retaliation against Daryl. If you've got a way to refrigerate and swap out, they'll last longer.”
Sasha gave a short nod and headed back inside with most of the others. A small group had gone with Rick, the crazy sheriff guy who'd gone plowing through the zombies in the bread truck, and came back with a load of poles to lean up against the fence as reinforcement. Sam and Cas soon made it around the fence and were pulling croat bodies off of it, piling them up in the yard to make a burn pile. Dean frowned to see Cas working alongside everyone like that. Why hadn't he just saved them as he'd done with the vamps?
Probably because you told him that you didn't need him to save you. You've done nothing but yell at him about it since, his mind taunted. Dean shook his head and turned back to Henry and Carl, who had stayed behind to see what he wanted.
“Henry, you did a pretty good job on that homemade machete. There are some more supplies I think you guys could have, if you think you can do some real metal work.”
Henry smiled shyly. “I don't know anything about it, really. This was mostly trial and error.”
“Do you have a workshop set up?”
“Not really. I came out here so I could work without disturbing everyone and getting metal shavings strewn about...” Henry shrugged and looked down at his feet. “I think maybe banging on all that metal out here might have called in all those walkers.”
Dean looked out over the scene. “Maybe. Or maybe not. You worked on it last night, right? They'd have probably hit us sooner. They didn't hit us in the night. That's a damned good thing. Still, yeah, you don't want to be calling 'em out here. I want you to find a place to make you a workshop. Do a little forge, collect as much scrap metal as you can. Fast as you can. I'd like to show you some of my other weapons, a few chains and talismans, and we'll see if you can't make some of 'em, all right?”
Henry nodded. “That sounds fun. I'll see what I can do.”
Carl had his thumbs through his belt loop and was nervously rocking back and forth as he waited. Dean could tell that he was itching to get moving and wanted to help the others move the bodies. Dean clapped his arm. “So, you tell me you're familiar with weapons?”
Carl looked at him warily. “Yeah.”
“I've got a Beretta that I use most of the time, or used to, and a Browning BDA. A pocket knife. Sometimes I take a turn on the fence with a crowbar. ” He cocked his head, looking up at Dean. “And sometimes my dad'll even let me cut my own steak.”
“Oh, you've got steak, do you, smartass?” Dean laughed despite himself. “Look, I don't mean any offense. Believe me. I know how it is to be in your position.”
“Oh yeah, probably way more than you realize. How old are you, anyway?”
“Just turned fourteen.”
“Ah, good age, fourteen is.”
“Was probably better with video games.”
“Yeah, but there's still girls, eh?”
“Yeah, there's that.” Carl smiled. “So what did you mean when you said you know what it's like?”
“Just that. C'mon, let's go grab some grub.” As they made their way around the brick piles and back inside the prison, Dean looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “I got my first gun when I was seven.”
“Yeah. There were...things...that were far too interested in my little brother.”
“Where were your parents?”
“Dad was out hunting monsters.” Dean swallowed. “Mom died when Sammy was just a baby.”
“My mom died when she had Judith. My sister.”
“I figured. Sorry to hear it.”
“So you and me, we're kind of the same. You go through life watching out for your little sister. Even your dad. I get it, man, I do. It's a hard road though.”
Carl finally met his eyes. “Yeah. Can be.”
“This hunting crap, killing croats – walkers – it's no life for a kid. I'm sorry that's the hand you been dealt. But, honestly? It'll make you tough. Hell, you're pretty badass already. You and your baby sister, you'll both do fine if you watch out for each other. Just don't go looking for trouble is all. Trust me. Ain't hard to find. It'll come to you. You know, it took me twenty-odd years to learn the whole 'wisdom is the better part of valor' thing. Don't make that mistake.”
The way the kid looked at him, Dean didn't know if he wanted to ask more questions about the monster thing or punch Dean in the face. Dean realized he kinda liked the kid, and he'd probably only like him more if he took a swing. But Carl just nodded and said, “All right. Thanks.”
After talking to Carl, he didn't feel quite so put-out about coming to check the place out. These people were the closest thing to civilization that he had seen since the whole thing started. It was those kinds of places that need to make it. For all his talk about surviving it together, and for all the times the Winchesters had managed to die and still come back fighting, Dean still knew deep down that when it finally ended once and for all, it was going to be bloody. After his time in Hell, Dean could only do his best to ensure that he and Sammy went elsewhere after. Crowley, Lucifer, every thing they'd sent down there over the years, they didn't need to get stuck with them for eternity. And he hadn't even considered Purgatory. A place where all the freaky monsters go? No, thank you.
Dean had always privately hoped that all the saving and apocalypse averting and whatnot might secure their seats in Heaven. But if Heaven had been taken over by a bunch of pissed off deities, then there was truly no place on or out of this earth that was safe for the two of them.
They reached the cafeteria, and Carl ran off to join some other kids. Dean asked for a place to wash up, and he was relieved to find Sammy already there, scrubbing croat juice off his arms. “Full day's work already, huh? How about we hurry with this ghost thing and get back? I don't want to die here, man. It's herding up pretty bad in this area.”
“Yeah. Michonne and that Rick guy are going out to check the area and clear it if need be.”
Dean grabbed the soap from him. “That doesn't sound too crazy.”
“No. Daryl said he was a pretty good leader, before.”
“His kid seems pretty competent,” Dean said.
Sam snorted. “Oh, yeah.” He lowered his voice. “Found out how the mom died.”
“Kid said she died in childbirth.”
“Yeah, some problem with the baby, but it was during a croat hit after everybody got scattered. The one girl, Maggie – one with the riot gear? Had to cut her open. Carl put her down before she turned.”
Dean shook his head and toweled off on his shirt. “Hell, then I don't blame the guy for stepping down. Be a farmer, give the kid a chance at normalcy. Sounds smart.”
“Yeah, but chasing around in these woods for a dead wife isn't. It's herding up worse here than anywhere we saw on the roads coming in. This guy's kicking at wasp nests just as much as Samuel. I figure it's a ghost, or maybe a psychic projection if the guy's gone too far off the deep end. Sasha thinks he carries a lot of guilt about his wife's death.”
Dean considered it. “Could be. You see what you can find out about the wife. I'll see if I can find Rick and feel him out. But after lunch. I heard it's rice and beans again, but this time there's cornbread. I could use some cornbread.” Dean laughed as he realized how ridiculous he sounded. “Man, what I wouldn't give for a freaking cheeseburger.”
Dean thought he did a great job of being gracious, and he truly was sincere in his enthusiasm for cornbread, but his stomach kept growling angrily as he ate it. Daryl sat his plate across from him. “Needs meat, right?”
“Little bit,” Dean admitted.
“Hey, man, get to bed early tonight, and we'll see how you do real hunting. I'll take you guys out with me in the morning. 'Bout time the deer are fattening up again. Might even find us a decent buck, if the walkers didn't scare 'em all off. I want to check a place a little ways from here. It's far off the roads, so it shouldn't get a lot of traffic, even from walkers.”
Dean looked for Sam, then saw he was busy chatting with Carol. Dean shrugged. “Sure, we could give it a try. Check out the area outside the prison a bit more. We go on foot? Might be best to hear Rick and Michonne's report when they get back.”
“Aw, if we don't get another pile up tonight, then we're probably good for another week or two. We killed a lot this morning. They seem to come in waves lately.”
Dean leaned over and whispered, “You didn't tell us everything about the lady's death.”
“Huh?” Daryl glanced around, but no one was close enough to pay any attention this time. “You mean Lori?”
“Yes. Why didn't you tell us about the boy?”
Daryl shifted back in his seat and toyed with his pile of rice and beans. “Well, it's not really my story to tell.”
“If you've got...something...in here, then, yeah, it's worth mentioning.” Dean raised his voice just a bit. “Sam thinks it could be a psychic projection. If the guy feels some guilt or something over her death. But what if it's the kid?”
“Nah...nuh uh. Not Carl.” Daryl leaned forward. “Look, he's not Beaver Cleaver or nothing, but he wouldn't torture his own dad. And Carl doesn't see her. Just Rick.”
“Okay, fair enough. But what if he has a lock of her hair or something, and Carl is tying her here. Or Judith. Hell, did Rick keep the umbilical cord? Do people do baby books now?”
“No, I don't think they've got anything of her left. I told you, we couldn't bury her 'cause a walker ate her.”
“All of her? Bones and all?”
“That seems weird,” Dean said, then resumed shoveling cornbread into his mouth.
“Yeah, it kinda does. Rick said he found the thing all bloated up, and he killed it and then some. Hell, he cleared the whole damned prison out, just about, then burned all the bodies himself. Wouldn't let no one help.”
“You sure he killed and burned the one that ate her?”
“Yeah. He was pissed, man. Seemed pretty sure.”
Dean considered it as he ate his rice. If one of the kids was what was holding her back, then Dean didn't really know how to get rid of her outside of offing the rugrats. They sure as hell weren't going to do that. Well, Dean sure as hell wasn't. He wouldn't put it past Sammy to try it if that was the only way. He really wished he could call Bobby. Bobby would probably know what to do about both problems.
After lunch, they all headed back outside. Daryl and Carol left to relieve the group burning walker bodies. They and the old man, Hershel, watched the fire so the others could go wash up and eat lunch. Sammy took most of the group back out front to teach them about dead man's blood. They still had a little bit taken from Samuel when they left. It was fairly well insulated, but it needed to be used up soon one way or the other.
Dean followed Carl down to the main gate when they saw Rick and Michonne returning. He helped Carl get them in, and offed two croats who got too close, then waited to hear their report. Unfortunately, neither seemed too keen on reporting to Dean. Luckily, Carl spoke up and asked what they found.
Rick smiled, but Dean noticed how his eyes slid over to the stranger before coming to meet his boy's. “Well...nothing too bad. Heavier traffic up on the main road, but we took care of 'em. Left 'em. Michonne thinks the smell will help mask some of the human smell we're sending off.”
Dean raised his brows appreciatively. Michonne smirked, and he could have sworn she rolled her eyes as she turned away and headed off through the second gate.
“Want a ride up?” Rick asked his son. “Hop in. Could you grab the gate for us...Dean, is it?”
“Yeah. Sure, no problem.” Dean pulled the second gate closed as Rick drove the truck – a Ford this time, not a bread truck – back up to the prison. Dean waved at the back of the truck as he latched the gate. “No, I'm good. No, really. I'll walk, thanks,” he said to no one in particular, then took off up the hill at a jog.
Unwilling to let him go that easily, Dean cut across the yard as he saw Rick head over toward the garden. They had a couple of nice little buildings set up. There was a pig sty and a small stable for a pretty looking horse. Rick pulled a pair of leather gloves from his pocket and plucked a hoe from the side of the stable wall. “What can I do for you, Dean?” he asked without turning around.
“How about a proper introduction first? Rick, is it?” Dean held his hand out as Rick finally turned around. The man gazed at it a moment before taking it and giving a small but firm shake.
“Yeah, it is.”
“You're the only one who doesn't seem interested in the fact that your buddy there got turned into a vampire.”
Rick rested the hoe on the ground, clasped his hands together over the end of the handle, and cocked his head as he stared at Dean. “Well, to be perfectly honest, I just don't believe in vampires.”
“Oh. Well, you ought to talk to Daryl then.”
“I have. And, see, I'm not altogether certain that you didn't do something to him. Dose him, maybe.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I know there's no vampires. So the way I figure, y'all are some type of con men. I just don't know what game you're playing.” He turned and walked away, heading down into rows of sprouting something-or-others. “I just know I ain't interested in playing.”
Dean watched him for a moment. “Okay, I get it. You're wrong, but I get it. I promise, we're not out to con you or your people. We just want to help keep you safe.”
Rick didn't answer, though Dean thought he might have heard a grunted 'uh huh' as the man dug the hoe between rows.
Dean sauntered down toward him. “So, what, you believe in zombies but not vampires? Or ghosts, maybe?”
Rick glared at him, and Dean wondered if he had pushed too far. There was still a pretty decent chance that this guy was just crazy. “No. No, I don't.”
“'Cause I heard---”
Rick threw the tool down – thank God – and crossed to Dean, grabbing his shirt and getting his stale breath all up in Dean's face. “What? What did you hear?”
Dean pushed him off. “Look, I'm trying to keep you guys alive. You got a good thing going here. Hell, best I've seen in a long while. You can't hide your head in the sand. There's a lot more out there than just the croats, and without billions of humans to keep them all underground and mostly in line, this is quickly becoming the dark side's playground, you feel me? Now you can work to keep your people safe or you can keep convincing yourself that the worst you need to worry about is mindless croats or the neighborhood crazy, but your man Daryl got into some serious shit. You need to step up and be there for him.”
“Don't you tell me what I need to do.”
“I ain't the bad guy, man,” Dean shrugged and began walking away. “Time to wake up, though. Shit's gonna keep going down with you or without you. With us or without us here. That's just how it is anymore.”
“So Rick's a douchebag,” Dean said to Sam later in the privacy of their room. Their cell, rather.
“Seems to be the general consensus,” Sam agreed, not looking up from the journal he was perusing. “That all you found out?”
“Pretty much. He didn't seem inclined to talk about his wife's ghost, that's for sure. Or vamps. He thinks we're con men.”
“I miss the days when we were.”
“Really? You, Sammy?”
Sam closed the journal and crossed his arms and legs defensively. “Well, I mean I didn't like lying to people, of course, but things were sure a lot easier when we could charge a bed to a fake card and hustle pool for a few cold beers and a warm meal.”
“Yeah, you got a point there. Say, Daryl wants to take us hunting in the morning. Like, real hunting. For a deer. Deer's red meat, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Right. So I'm half-tempted to take him up on it.” Dean grinned. “I could eat a deerburger.”
“Seriously, dude? You could eat Bambi?”
“How long has it been since we had meat? Real meat, not stale gas station jerky. I could eat Bambi's little skunk friend right now.”
Sam laughed. “Okay, let's try it then. But what about the ghost?”
“No ghost. I think the guy's just a nutjob. No cold spots, no bones, no one else has seen her.” Dean shrugged. “Maybe you can get Rick to talk to you about what he sees. I don't think he's sharing with anyone, though.”
Sam sat up, suddenly excited. “No, he might be. He's a loner, he's grieving, but surely he'd reach out to somebody here. Not the boy; he wouldn't want to burden him. Not Daryl, or he would have told us more. We may not have to talk to Rick, just whoever Rick talks to.”
“Maybe. He and Carl both seemed pretty comfortable with that Michonne. She's not the talkative type though. Wouldn't succumb to my charms even a little.”
“Losing your touch, Dean?”
“Absolutely not.” She was cute enough. Sexily badass. Just his type, really, but Dean was a grieving widower-ish type person. He sobered at the reminder. “Anyway, you seem to be doing extra well with the ladies. You should try. I can sound out the council members. If he felt comfortable enough handing the reins over to them, maybe they know more about this whole dead wife thing than they shared at first.”
“Yeah, maybe now that they're less awestruck by Cas, they'll be able to help us out.”
Dean abruptly stood. He wanted to pace, but there wasn't really any room, so he settled on climbing up to the top bunk.
“You're going to have to acknowledge his existence, Dean. Looks like we're stuck with him, at least for a little while.”
Dean shoved his head under a flat pillow. “Can you hurry up with that light? Gotta get some sleep here if I'm going hunting in the morning.”
“Sure. I'll take this out to the living room, or whatever you'd call it. I'm going to scour this and then that other hunter's journal that we found. See if I can find anymore info on boneless ghosts or psychic projections.”
“Okay, but get some sleep. We need meat in the morning.”
Dean dreamed of meat all night and was covered in slobber when Sam shook him awake. He smacked his lips, wishing that his mouth tasted considerably better. At least it motivated him to roll out of bed and find Daryl.
“What time is it?”
Sam looked at the wind-up pocket watch he had picked up somewhere. Probably stole it. “Just after four.”
“Seriously? Don't you ever sleep? Put the damned candle out.”
“I thought we were going hunting. You've got to be out before the sun.”
Daryl hadn't mentioned that. Well, he was up, so might as well splash his face and get motivated. “What are you so excited about at four in the morning?”
“I learned a little bit more about Lori. Do you know...” Sam dropped his voice to a hushed whisper, “certain people question whether Judith is really Rick's kid?”
“Since when do you watch soaps?”
“No, Dean, I'm serious. This isn't really idle gossip, either. That Glenn guy? He's been with them almost from the start. And he's pretty worried about Rick. Seems like he was originally presumed dead. Found his family later, traveling with his best friend. Glenn reluctantly admitted that the baby could very well be the best friend's.”
“So who's this supposed friend?”
“Well, he's dead. So it's not him, if that's what you're thinking. But what if she could be, like, a woman in white? Only instead of the husband cheating, it was her?”
“Has she killed anyone this whole time?”
“What we need to do is find this chick, if she's real, and see exactly what we're dealing with. Maybe...maybe we shouldn't go hunting.”
Sam looked at his brother with sympathy. “I tell you what, you go hunt with Daryl, and I'll stay on the case.”
“No, Sammy, you don't have to do that.”
“I want to. I'm serious! You're right; we could definitely use some meat. A bit of good protein would help our brains work. Three guys traipsing through the woods will just scare them off or attract croats. You go, bring home bacon, and I'll stay here and see what I can find. Cas can help me.”
“Stop bringing him up. I'm not gonna talk to him.”
“Fine, but we should at least put him to use. Make him pull his weight. Maybe he can find out something we've missed. I'm going to talk to him about it, anyway.”
“Guy's got no tact. Make sure he doesn't start trouble while I'm gone.”
“We've got it all under control.”