Cas’ attempt to cure Dean seems successful but comes with a price; he and Sam can’t tell Dean what they did for fear of causing a relapse. Dean discovers the deception, but comes to realize that just as he lied to Sam to protect his life, his brother and Cas are doing the same thing for the same reasons. While Cas returns to heaven and Sam rests, Dean finds out where Rowena might be hiding and calls in the help of Sherriff Jody Mills.
The Long and Winding Road
The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day …
He walked by a flaming red bush that turned into to a long hedge of neatly trimmed boxwoods that ran the length of a patch of grass. Tiny white flowers dotted the way and at first, Sam didn’t want to walk on them, thinking they were part of the garden he found himself in. There were ornamental trees and bushes with bursting white flowers and a myriad of other plants, and this path of green grass before him. He turned in a circle, unsure where he was. The sky above was an odd, filtered shade of grey and he couldn’t tell the direction of the sun.
He shrugged and wandered along the path, trying not to step on the flowers until he noticed wherever he stepped, the flowers seemed to magically vanish, except they came right back up behind him. He stooped to examine them, but heard a voice calling his name as though from a great distance.
“It’s this way, Sam,” a distinctly female voice said and he thought he recognized her. “You can find it.”
He stood at an intersection of paths and heard another voice, this one male. “Come on, Sammy.”
Down a long row of towering boxwoods, John Winchester stood, smiling back at him and nodding. “Dad?”
“You need to hurry, son.”
Sam hesitated, at a loss as to how this was happening, or even where he was. It didn’t feel like a dream, but it didn’t feel real at the same time. Curiosity overcame fear and he followed.
The moment he started down the tunnel of bushes, John disappeared around the far corner to the left. Sam started hurrying, all his senses aware, looking around for danger. Except he didn’t feel there was anything here to be worried about. There was a sense of peace that filled the air. The hedge tunnel ended in a wall of greenery, as if he’d stepped inside an English garden maze.
He reached the corner, pausing to glance cautiously around the edge. His mother stood at another intersection, this one much closer. A brilliant light emanated from the right side, bathing her in a soft, ethereal glow. “This way, Sam. It’s right here.”
He reached her and she didn’t disappear, holding her hand out to him. Sam stared at her. She felt real when he took her hand, her fingers warm. Alive. She wore a plain white sundress, not the nightgown he’d seen her in, knew that she’d died in, like all the other times he’d seen her. She smiled up at him, her eyes alight, and nodded him toward the blaze.
He couldn’t look at it and couldn’t see beyond it, holding a hand up to shield his eyes. “What is it?”
“The key,” John said behind him and Sam whirled around. John put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s there.”
“What key? I don’t understand.”
“You will,” Mary said, tugging on his hand. “But you have to hurry. You have to find it.”
“Don’t give up, Sam,” John said and let him go. He moved around to Mary’s side and started to pull her away, backing down the other path. “It’s important.”
Mary turned back to him as she let John lead her down the path from him, and she nodded to the brilliant light. “Hurry Sammy.”
He turned because she told him too, trying to see beyond the glare. An oddly shaped difference in the light imprinted on his retinas, like an after image. It had horns and maybe the shape of a face but he couldn’t tell. He took a step closer, squinting against the blaze to try and see.
“Find it, Sam,” a voice from everywhere said and the light swallowed him.
He sat up gasping for breath back in his room, and as his heart stopped pounding in his ears, he realized he’d been dreaming, although it really didn’t feel like any dream he’d ever had before. The details were distinct. He even remembered the smell of the garden.
He’d dreamed about his mother and father before, but never like that. Never together, because he’d never seen them together, except once when they’d gone back in time to try and stop Anna from killing them. These weren’t the younger versions of John and Mary though. More than anything, they seemed real, like they’d really been there, reaching out to him from beyond the grave, in the flesh and without any ghostly characterizations.
Still it was just a dream and he didn’t have any idea what he was supposed to find, or what that might even mean on a subconscious level since the list of things he was searching for at the moment was pretty damn long.
After a few more minutes of trying to sort it out, he let it go, and after checking his phone, discovered he’d slept the whole night and well into the day. It was nearly 10. He got up and got dressed, wondering what Dean would have to say about the whole dream thing when Sam suddenly remembered the night before.
He knew. Dean knew that they’d done something to save him. A spike of fear crashed down his spine as Sam stood half dressed, shirt in hand. He remembered the whole conversation ending with Dean saying he trusted him, but Cas’ warning was too loud in his mind. It wouldn’t take much for Dean to figure it out. As he’d said, he wasn’t stupid. The next thought had Sam yanking the shirt on over his head and rushing from his room.
What if he’d found out?
Running down the hall, down the other hall, down the next hall where Dean’s room was in a rush, Sam skidded to a halt in the open doorway. The room was empty and the bed made up like it hadn’t been slept in.
What if he was now lying slumped somewhere, dead?
About halfway through the search of the Bunker; it was too quiet, Sam realized, he pulled out his phone and started calling his brother. It went straight to voice mail. He raced from one end to the other, looking in each room and behind each door until he reached the garage where he discovered the Impala wasn’t there.
He checked outside the entry door too, but the car and his brother were gone.
Sam tried Dean’s phone again and got the same message. It really wasn’t like him to turn his phone off and if it was off, or maybe broken, that meant, nine times out of ten, that something bad had happened.
Was he taken? Had the Darkness gotten inside somehow? A whole list of worst case scenarios raced through Sam’s mind making it really hard not to panic.
“Cas,” he said, praying. “Castiel. Dean’s gone. I can’t find him. I need your help. Cas? You hearing me?”
Nothing happened. The angel didn’t appear.
He tried calling him next. It rang and rang, and then the operator came on. “The caller you are trying to reach is outside your coverage area at this time. Please try your call again later.”
Sam swore under his breath and started another search of the Bunker, looking under things this time, in every corner. Maybe he’d missed him somehow. He couldn’t think. He almost called Crowley to see if he knew, but Sam couldn’t bring himself to do it. First, he knew it would give Crowley no end of satisfaction to find out Sam had lost Dean again, and he didn’t want the King of Hell to know that something had happened to him. For all he knew, it was his fault. Again.
The second search produced the same results. Sam raced back to his room and yanked out his laptop. He typed in their phone service web address, thinking he’d check the GPS on Dean’s phone, except the GPS was off. He tried a couple online apps to find the phone with no luck, but that wasn’t too surprising since Dean had gone to some lengths not long ago to make sure he couldn’t be tracked.
Sam had found him anyway but that was only because he’d tracked a couple of dead bodies, one really terrified girl and a very pissed off set of parents with a dead daughter.
He turned to the local news feed for Lebanon and found nothing, or at least not recently. As of a few days ago, it’d been a different story. A broader, though still local search produced over 50 results. The number of dead was climbing. His email inbox had over 500 hits.
He had no idea where to even begin or what could have happened. There was only one constant, too familiar emotion. He knew it like a second skin and it made his hands shake. Pacing the confines of his room, trying to think past fear, he checked his watch again. A whole hour had elapsed since he woke.
“Come on Cas. I really need you here.”
Echoing down the hallway, Sam heard the entry door open and close. He left his room at a run, reaching for his gun tucked in his pants and … was that whistling? He barreled around the corner into the library, ready to kill the intruder, and nearly ran into Dean as he trotted up the steps.
“Whoa!” Dean cringed away, putting his hands up and automatically turning to be less of a target.
Sam pulled up at the last second, overwhelming relief lasting only a few seconds before it was drowned out by anger born of fear. “Where the hell have you been?” he bellowed.
Dean’s eyebrows shot up. “Uh … I went out, Sam.”
He knew he was over-reacting, just like Cas warned him not to. Dean was thoroughly confused by it since once upon a time it wasn’t like they didn’t go out without telling each other what they were doing, on occasion at least. A quick run to the store, except Dean didn’t have any groceries.
“You turned your damn phone off,” Sam said, still yelling but trying to get himself under control.
“I did, because that’s what I always do when I’m ‘out’ and don’t want it going off at just the wrong moment.”
It was then Sam realized Dean was in the same clothes he had on last night. He figured it out then. “You were on a date?”
“Well, not really a date. I went to the bar. You were asleep. I thought I’d be back before you woke up, but I ran into Beth, and well, she missed me.” Dean laughed; it was closer to a giggle of glee under his breath and Sam could only roll his eyes. Beth Winslow, if anyone could be considered a steady girl for Dean, was it; the kind without strings attached. She was probably the third, no fourth, of a long line of girls in the general vicinity of the Bunker who, when Dean showed up, they said yes and he kept them unlonely until they moved on; either out of the area or found an actual boyfriend and in two cases a husband. “Were you worried?”
Sam pulled in a steadying breath. “Yes, as a matter of fact I was. I thought you were—” He stopped himself from saying it, Cas’ warning ringing in his head. “I thought—”
“I’m sorry,” Dean said, seeing right through him and making him scared again. Sam didn’t want to talk about it, more than they already had. That was bad enough. “It won’t happen again, Sammy. I thought I left you a note, but I guess I forgot.”
“Yeah. I did. Again, I’m sorry.” He pulled out his phone and turned it on, wagging it at him. “Listen, I got a line on Rowena, so we need to roll.”
Sam stuffed down the fear and panic. It took a minute. “Really?”
“Outside Denver. It’s about a 5-6 hour drive, so pack up and let’s go.”
“Okay. And how did you find her?”
Dean shot a look to the ceiling and Sam knew before he said it. “I asked Crowley. Before you go off, I get it. You want him dead. So do I—”
“Yes, Sam, I do, but right now we need him.”
“Don’t we?” Dean flipped it right back at him.
Sam couldn’t say no and it pissed him off, but all he could do was shoot his brother the patented Sam Winchester glare. Dean only smiled at him because he knew he was right.
“You gotta rein it in with him, man. I know. It sucks. Especially for me when I have to get between the two of you. We need him to get through Hell – if we actually decide to go through with this crazy plan of yours. It would suck worse if Crowley decides, because you keep trying to off him – to strand us down there in the bowels. What did he call it? The seventh level? Since we don’t want that to happen, you gotta back off.”
“There’s no guarantee he won’t double-cross us either way. Besides, we’ll have Cas with us. He’ll get us out.”
“What if Cas can’t get us both out together?” Dean asked. That was a real possibility. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do; airlifting a soul out of the hot box, much less the whole body to go with it.
“Then he’ll take us out one at a time.”
“Right. And you’ll have to go first, because I’m not leaving you there by yourself. I can’t do it, so you can’t ask me. No, Sam. It’s not an option. So if you want to avoid that worst case scenario where you’re the one leaving me in there, you have to play nice with the King of Hell.”
Sam recognized a line Dean would not back down from. He also understood the reasons behind it. Dean had watched him jump in the cage once before and then spent three years trying to make it all right again, living in his own kind of hell out in the light of day. He also saw the sense in staying on Crowley’s less than bad side to avoid all that to begin with, so he nodded, though he couldn’t disguise his contempt or reluctance to go along with it.
“Good. Glad that’s settled.” Dean shot him a look at that. “Let’s get moving.”
Fifteen minutes later, with the green cooler packed with the essentials, they pulled out of Lebanon headed west on Hwy 36. It was an old road, parts of which went back to the days of the Pony Express, and ran from Ohio all the way to the Rocky Mountains, some 1400 miles long. It was a road they’d been on, one end to the other, more than once so they knew it, particularly this stretch of it, pretty well. They knew how long it took to get from one Podunk town to the next, important considering the gas-guzzler they drove, and they knew where the speed traps were, which thankfully, were mostly rare except at the end of the month when the local badges needed to make up any budgetary shortfalls.
Sam wasn’t paying much attention to the road, trying to read through the backlog of emails with the radio blaring. Dean had already settled into long-haul driver mode, which meant the chances of Sam getting him to turn the music down even a little were slim to none. He glanced at the radio in annoyance, blinking at the black wire trailing out of the cassette deck down to Dean’s phone, which he had tried to hide under the half folded map on the seat between them. Dean noticed him staring.
“What? Okay yes, I got an adapter. My Zeppelin tape broke—”
“I wonder why.”
“Shut up. I just haven’t gotten around to ordering a replacement.”
Sam fished out the phone and started paging through the playlist, eyeing Dean because there was way more than just Physical Graffiti there. Dean grabbed it away from him.
“Same rules, Sammy,” he said. “They haven’t changed in all these years and they aren’t going to now. So whatever crap music you have stored up on your phone, ain’t happening.”
“Not until I’m the one driving.”
Dean looked over at him. “Then I won’t let you drive.”
“Can you at least turn it down? I can’t hear myself think.”
Of course that prompted him to turn it up, almost to the point of popping the speakers – they were already on the 5th or 6th set – and he started air drumming along with the music.
Sam gave up but couldn’t help laughing. Maybe this is what Cas meant when he said Dean might be emotional. He was happy, gleefully, annoyingly happy, and it had been a really long time since Sam had seen him like this, when it was normal and not Mark induced manic-happy. Sam almost didn’t remember this guy, singing very out of key as they flew along.
“Feels good doesn’t it,” Dean said, grinning over at him.
Sam agreed that it did. He closed his laptop, giving up on the emails and sat back, letting the wind blow over him with the window all the way down. The miles flew by, the Kansas landscape, flat with a few trees, spreading out as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, as if the world hadn’t been consumed by anything, much less anything dark or foreboding.
That reminded Sam that the world had been consumed, despite not being readily apparent at the moment. They were well outside that 10 miles of consecrated ground. Still, it was hard to tell, but he kept a sharper lookout while Dean zoned out to the blaring music. Sam was content to let him.
He got his laptop out again, pulled up Google maps and started researching the little towns they had to drive through or by. They’d already blown through Smith Center, which was right outside Lebanon and where they went when they wanted decent Mexican food and a grocery store with more than three aisles. They passed Athol, Kensington, and Agra, the next three dots on the road without a problem or even any signs of possible trouble. Next up was Phillipsburg, a city of about 2600 souls. A much bigger place than any of these other tiny towns.
Sam glanced back toward Agra with the realization that they hadn’t passed another car or seen another human being after 30 minutes on the road. Traveling at nearly 80 mph the way Dean was, put Phillipsburg barely ten minutes away. Sam started searching the news. The search list scrolled past a hundred. People dead. Homes torched. Rioting. One word stood out in the midst of it all. Roadblock.
“Crap. Slow down.”
“Take a left! Here! Just do it!”
The brakes squealed and the Impala fishtailed, but Dean made the turn onto a dustbowl of a dirt road. “What’s going on Sam?”
He grabbed up the binoculars they always kept on hand from under the seat. Over the field of soybeans, he saw them – a group of guys, not a uniform among them, infected, Sam was certain, standing out on the road in front of a couple of pickup trucks. Two of the men held rifles and binoculars of their own. “Crap.”
“We got trouble,” he said, looking ahead and at the map at the same time. “Uh, take a right. On Union. The town is road-blocked. The interstate too. Probably every main road between here and anywhere we want to go.”
“I got a dead end here.”
“Take a left and then the next right. And slow down!” They were behind a massive field of corn, that wasn’t quite tall enough but fortunately rolled over one of the very few hills in this part of Kansas. It was enough to hide them, but barely. “We don’t want to leave a smoke trail and they’re coming for us.”
Dean followed those directions, slowing them down so the car didn’t throw up a visible trail of dust. It was excruciating, knowing they were being hunted and not being able to floor it the hell out of there. They crept forward while Sam kept an eye behind and all around them.
“What’s this next road?”
“183. Just cross over it and you know, try not to be seen.”
“Right. Like that’ll happen,” Dean said and leaned forward to peer around the corn. Sam bobbed forward a second later to take a look himself.
Tearing down the road toward them was a whole caravan that would cut them off in another second or so. The Impala’s tires threw up gravel when Dean mashed the pedal down. The wheels caught and they flew across the narrow line of pavement perilously close to being rammed. Sam cringed away from the coming impact but Dean managed swerve and swing the ass end of the Impala around. The truck about to hit them swerved too and the bonus, he lost control and few off into the field because the other truck behind him, a blue Ford, got too close and rear-ended him. He too lost control, but there was a third truck, fire engine red, that remained and managed to make the turn.
“What now?” Dean asked. A soy field opened on their right, revealing a lot of dirt plumes headed their way, coming in from the north.
“Stay on this road,” Sam said tersely, checking the map and hoping he was right. He noticed the name of the road was Victory and took that as a good sign. They still had to shake big red behind them and miss the others coming up fast on their right from the next road over. “Except now you have to go faster.”
The gas pedal was nearly on the floor already and the engine was making that same sound Sam had heard chasing the Darkness out of Nebraska. They were also about to be rammed by the red truck, a Ford, one of those new, massive cab size kind that would do some real damage if it hit them and probably knock them off the road.
“Come on Baby,” Dean said to the car which he did when he was really worried about getting them all killed. “You gotta do something about Ford tough back there, Sam.”
“They’re just people, Dean.”
“They’re infected people, Sam. Go for the tires. Anything.”
That of course was an all but impossible shot, left-handed, and Sam knew he’d probably miss. “Uh…”
“Take the wheel,” Dean commanded and Sam did as he was told, swearing and sweating. Fence posts, poles, even the brush and low trees along the side of the road made the strangest rapid-fire whipping sound when passed at such speeds. Sam kept a hand clamped uncomfortably tight on the wheel while Dean snatched out his pistol, chambered a round and cocked it.
He swiveled around, keeping one foot firmly pressed on the gas, he bumped the wheel and made them swerve before Sam got it back. Then Dean was leaning out the window as far as he could, completely focused and taking deadly aim. Three shots.
Two tires blew out and the truck swerved madly. Dean jumped back around, took the wheel again and blew through another intersection just barely ahead of their pursuit. Sam dove into the back seat, guessing he should have done that earlier, and over to the driver’s side, knowing there’d be more trucks to make that turn they just passed. He took aim and didn’t have to wait. Three shots, two tires and one to the engine block did the trick and blocked the road. It was strange; one of the drivers lurched from the truck and started running after them. An indication of the mindless will behind the Darkness.
Sam clambered back into the front seat. They had a minute to breathe, which didn’t involve slowing down and wasn’t enough time to let down their guard. For one thing, they had to navigate the patchwork of roads that followed property lines and didn’t always match up one road to the next. Sometimes, because of taller crops or a dip in the roadbed, they couldn’t tell what might be coming at them. It was exhausting and hard on the car. Some of the gravel roads they took were nothing but one long pothole.
“Well this is gonna be a lot longer than we want to, getting there. How did they even know what direction we’d take?” Dean wondered as he took the next turn, this time aiming them back toward 36 on the far side of Prairie View where they thought they could take the highway at least until Norton.
“Maybe they’ve been covering them all. It’s not like they didn’t know where we were.”
“Right.” Dean ran a hand down his face. “This back-roads crap is all well and good, except in another hour or two we have to stop for gas. If every damn town is held against us between here and there, the ones that even have a gas station, I’m not sure how we get around that.”
Sam nodded, trying to think it through as the fields flew by. Every now and then, they’d pass a farmhouse, or a group of silos, and even the occasional tractor left out in the field.
Sam turned and looked back at it. Most, if not all the tractors out here would be diesel engines, but the farms they belonged to would have, maybe, regular gas for their cars. He knew a lot of farmers had their fuel delivered in bulk. Maybe they’d find one with a regular gas pump.
Dean nodded to the idea. “It’ll be easier getting to it than in a town full of hostiles. Not like we’ve never siphoned gas before either. There may still be unfriendlies though.”
“And we need to do everything we can to avoid killing them,” Sam said and hesitated before he went on because Dean was already half shaking his head. “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do here? I mean, we’re already responsible for a whole lot of people dying, Dean. I just … I don’t want to do this if it means we kill everyone in our way.”
“I hear you, Sam. But if we have a mob coming at us, what are we supposed to do?”
“Sticking to farms and back-roads will help avoid any mobs, and we try and get them uninfected is what. That’s our job, isn’t it?”
Dean paused to think it over, not that he didn’t know what their job was, it was the how to manage it and still reach their objective in one piece that was the hard part. “Okay. Salt rounds to stun them, or at least slow them down a little, and then what?”
Sam reached in his computer case and pulled out a sharpie. “And then this.”
“The pen being mightier than the sword?” Dean said and smirked. “Will that even work? If they’re already infected, won’t that just lock it in?”
“You’re right. So forced ejection and then we write on them.”
“Waterboarding. Great. That’ll go over well.”
“Better than dying.”
“Pretty close second. Okay Jiminy Cricket. That’s what we’ll do.” When Sam shot him a look, Dean only smiled and then softened. “And thanks for the reminder. I guess lately I’ve gotten used to doing things a little differently.”
“We both have,” Sam said, thinking of Charlie. If he’d followed his instincts on that one, instead of charging blindly ahead with the one-track mind of saving Dean, she wouldn’t be dead right now. “I’d like to stop making those same mistakes.”
“And I’m with you 100% on that. You’re right.” He nodded to the road. “Here we are, coming up on Highway 36, the long way around. See anything?”
Sam took the binoculars and looked back toward Prairie View and didn’t see anything. No roadblock at least, and no one obviously out looking for them. “Looks clear. Doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. We only have about ten minutes before Norton. This time, head north.” He turned the laptop so Dean could see. “There are a couple of isolated farms.”
“Zoom in on that one on that corner. Yeah, there.” Dean pointed, glancing from the road to the screen. “See that? Looks like a concrete pad and those round things?”
“Gas tanks. And it’s a smaller farm than the other two. Fewer people maybe.”
“Yahtzee.” Dean nodded to the duffle. “Get us all loaded up there and grab me a water, would ya.”
“Sure. So what’s the plan? You want me to drive us in?”
“I drive. You pump. We’ll have to use the car as cover and you’ll have to get the holy water out at the same time, if I’m fending off bullets. By the time we get there, we’ll only need a little more than half a tank, so not much. It’s going to be a crank handle to pump though, so leave the doors open and stay down.” He patted the car’s dash. “Sorry Baby. You’re taking one for the team.”
“We promise we’ll fix you,” Sam said, going along with talking to the car like she could hear them. Maybe she could, but it made Dean smile, which was what Sam wanted.
“Damn straight,” he said. “Although, it has occurred to me that we might be better off stashing her for this trip.”
Sam couldn’t believe he was hearing that from Dean, especially since he’d already thought of it and knew how his brother would react to the suggestion. He shook his head though. “Wouldn’t matter what we’re driving. They’re stopping everyone, all along I70 and I76 too.”
“That means getting into Denver won’t be so easy.”
“We’ll just have to find our way along roads like these.” Sam nodded ahead. “Turn here. E3 will take us up to H and we follow that all the way over.”
With Dean muttering about the unimaginative road names, he turned off the highway of doom and onto another dirt road, grimacing at the sound of rock hitting the car. A long trail of dust rose behind them.