The Game of God: Day 157 - part 11
Be at peace.
Your email client will most likely clip this message because of its length. If so, please read this in your browser.
— Day 157, continued —
When Alicia arrived at Chitaqua, she gave Dean a tattered brown envelope with three pieces of identification: a driver’s license, a birth certificate, and a social security card. Chuck and Castiel traced the number to Texas and two separate cases: one recent, coded TP-40, the earlier one, TP-90.
As he discovered during their research, Medicaid is divided into many dozens of programs, each assigned a program code (also referred to as Type Program or TP) and arranged in a baffling but rigid hierarchy. Those codes differentiate between different Medicaid programs, each with different eligibility requirements for approval. Medicaid, type program 90 was one of four codes associated with children in foster care.
Five years before Alicia came to Chitaqua, the archived TP-90 Medicaid case for Bethany Anne Smith—denied unable to locate—was imported into the new TIERS system by a state employee associated with Data Integrity, a unit with full read-write access to the entire massive HHSC database. Two weeks later, a woman using that name filed a petition for a change of name in Dallas, Texas; when it was approved, Alicia Matthews applied for a driver’s license in Corpus Christi with a listed address of a newly rented efficiency apartment.
Over the next three months, Alicia Matthews completed a GED, enrolled in the local community college, used something called CLEP and AP to gain credit for twenty-four hours of classwork, and took six online classes during two summer sessions (Philosophy 101, Introduction to Speech, Introduction to Psychology, French III, and World Literature I and II). During the fall semester, she completed twenty hours more, received an associate degree in nursing with a 4.0 GPA, was admitted to Phi Theta Kappa (whatever that is), and gained certification as an LVN.
(At the time, Castiel was impressed with her ability to create such excellent forgeries; now, knowing Alicia better, he suspects the only thing she needed to forge was the name she used to do it.)
A month later after graduation, Alicia became a self-employed home health care worker that specialized in the care of the elderly, and for over three years, she regularly paid income tax for non-existent income gained from not actual employment with a variety of actual elderly residents—all dead well before they acquired her services—on the Gulf coast.
(Chuck said, incredulous: “She paid taxes on her fake income early, itemized everything, and didn’t even use an accountant? Who does that?”
Now Castiel knows: someone who needed not only an identity, but a thorough paper trail should anyone investigate it.)
Alicia had a library card for two local libraries with a regular checkout history and no fines and an active Amazon account with a purchase history almost entirely ebooks (Regency and paranormal romance novels (for irony is apparently not dead), a massive collection of mysteries (Agatha Christie was a favorite), a variety of self-help books, and every book on the New York Times bestseller list), a variety of PC games, Android apps for a T-Mobile phone with a Texas prefix, H&R Block tax software, and roughly six thousand mp3s in a variety of genres (including a large selection of French pop).
She had one credit card and one debit card associated with a small local credit union with an excellent online user interface, and there were regular weekly deposits that matched her self-employment records and IRS tax returns showing an eight and a half percent increase every year up to the last. All bills were auto-deducted—rent, utilities, cell phone, and interestingly, a monthly tithe of one-tenth of her net income to the local Catholic Church and another tenth split between three women’s shelters—and she never missed a payment or overdrew her account. Her credit rating was excellent, her practice seemed to be increasing (all elderly, but more importantly, all several years beyond simply dead), she had a 401K that received one-tenth of her gross income, and a self-managed stock portfolio that Castiel—as a former stockbroker—was very aware was doing incredibly, one might say even eerily, well.
Eleven months before Alicia arrived at Chitaqua, she was approved for a second Medicaid case, coded TP-40. This was followed by a twenty-percent increase in her weekly deposit, one that was repeated weekly in slowly increasing amounts for the next seven months.
Nine months before Alicia arrived at Chitaqua, she applied for a mortgage and her weekly deposit doubled; one month later, she was pre-approved for a mortgage on a two bedroom, two bathroom property with a view of the bay, and she renewed the lease on her apartment for only six months. That was when other responsibilities interfered with further research; Dean didn’t care, training was about to begin, and Castiel set it aside and never thought of it again, or of that second, later case and its associated TP code.
Not until today.
Alicia said she was on leave from work; her supervisor saw her coming from a check-up and told her—no, warned her about the new alarm. The first time she heard the alarm, she was at the state hospital in the maternity ward; an hour earlier, she watched a woman put Croatoan in the last newborn baby’s eyes.
In Corpus Christi, Texas, eleven months before she came to Chitaqua, one month before the first change in her income, two months before she applied for a mortgage, and three before she was approved and renewed her lease for six months instead of a year as she had every year before, Alicia turned in an online application for Medicaid, and after a telephone interview using her Texas cell phone and verification sent by fax, she was approved.
The code was TP-40: Medicaid for pregnant women.
Alicia’s lips part, but no sound emerges.
“You still don’t remember what you told me that night?” Erica asks in elaborately manufactured surprise. “Let me refresh your memory. You were still five weeks off, Micah was out of state for a big case, and you had a plan. You packed your bags, cut your hair, and stopped at the store on your way out of town to grab a few things for the road trip to your new home.” Erica cocks her head. “You ever wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t stopped for snacks? Might have made it to the next town before you went into labor.”
After a long moment, Alicia shakes herself. “Fuck you.”
“You ever think of him at all?” Erica asks solicitously. “Your dead son, I mean.”
“Every day.” She wets her lips. “You done yet?”
“That night, I told you how my baby died,” Erica says, now close enough to Alicia to touch. “But you—you lied to me about yours. You said he died of Croat at that hospital.”
Alicia stiffens. “What? You told me—”
“I told you that I knew what you’d done and showed you the warrant for your arrest,” Erica answers. “I never said you were the one that told me about it.”
Dean remembers: Alicia said that ten babies were born that day. But when she broke the lock on the nursery, there were only nine. “Christ.”
“Shh,” Crowley chides him, watching Erica with a pleased smile. “It’s just getting interesting.”
Dean told him that nine newborn children were in that nursery, but Alicia said she killed ten.
“Shut up!” Micah shouts, starting toward Alicia, expression pleading. “Steph, listen to me—”
Micah freezes as a throwing knife slides over Alicia’s palm, tip pressed between her thumb and middle finger. “My range with this is twenty-six feet and I don’t miss.”
Micah shows unexpected wisdom and stays put. “I never would have told her, I swear, but she made me—”
“Please,” Erica interrupts. “He volunteered the information of his own free will. Come on, Steph, why are you surprised he betrayed you in this, too? Is there any way that he hasn’t?”
“You were going to kill her!” Micah says desperately. “Steph,” he breathes, “baby, she said she’d kill you if you didn’t say yes. I was trying to protect you!”
“He told me all about coming home to an empty house, a bloody nursery, and what he found buried in the west corner of the yard,” Erica continues. “Did you see him and your parents on the news, asking for your safe return? For you were the victim of postpartum psychosis, you were a danger to yourself and others, but you knew not what you did. They weren’t sure exactly what you did, either, or at least, what you used. Blunt force trauma—”
“Croat was just a story,” Alicia says tonelessly. “Epidemic just a word: I didn’t know shit. What it looked like, how it was spread, that it was one hundred percent communicable, how long it took to manifest…” Her voice breaks. “And how hard they are to kill.”
Those missing hours: that’s what she was doing.
“I didn’t know—” Micah breaks off, focusing on Alicia again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—for fuck’s sake, how was I supposed to know what happened? When I saw it—”
“Him,” Alicia interrupts. “His name is—was Max.”
“Max,” he says eagerly, nodding. “I didn’t know, Steph, not about Croat or—or any of it. The hospital burned down, they said—”
“You didn’t know then,” Erica says generously. “But when you got to Chitaqua, you did. She told you what really happened, and remind me, what happened then?”
“I told her if anyone found out—”
“You’d make sure no one would,” Erica says. “Provided you got to keep her, of course. Sound familiar, Steph?”
“I was protecting her!” Micah exclaims. “You think she’d be okay alone in that camp? Who the fuck knows would have happened if I hadn’t—she was naïve, I had to do something—”
“Bullshit; you didn’t fuck her up enough not to know what blackmail looked like,” Erica retorts, and for a moment, Castiel glimpses a very human anger.
“You—” Micah starts.
“If I’d known before the contract…” Erica says softly, eyes black. “But I didn’t, because she was protecting you. From me. And after, I couldn’t touch him.” She looks at Alicia. “And he sold you out. Told me every detail so I could get your yes.”
“You still used it,” Alicia whispers.
“Twelve days later,” Erica answers. “When I ran out of time.”
“But giving him carte blanche to beat me for almost two weeks for my yes, that was…” Erica cocks her head, looking amused, and slowly, Alicia turns to look at Micah. “Before the contract—what does that mean, that after, you couldn’t touch him?”
“I made two mistakes when I took him to the Crossroad,” Erica says. “I gave him the script before we went, and I forgot he was a lawyer.”
Micah said: Erica wasn’t big on chatting, and if I didn’t follow the script, she’d kill me. Literally, right there, she would have shot me in the head.
Dean doesn’t have Erica’s excuse; he knew perfectly well he was talking to a lawyer and believed him anyway.
“What was your price?”
“She told me I had to go or she’d kill me. I—” He yelps at a flash of metal, stumbling backward and sprawling into a heavy drift, just missing the splintered remains of a tree. Following his gaze, Castiel sees the thin throwing knife that landed between his feet.
“The next one goes in your left thigh, one inch above the knee,” Alicia says, palming a second knife. “Then your right. Then, who knows: could be anywhere. What was your price, Micah?”
“I was trying to protect you,” Micah pleads. “From her.”
“He followed the script,” Erica says. “Right up until the end. Next thing I knew, he threw in a couple more. Once negotiations started, I couldn’t do a thing until they were done. And after that…”
“What were his terms?”
“You were right; he really was a good lawyer,” Erica answers. “Everything that didn’t straight up violate free will, he got; none of us could so much as touch him. Including me.”
“She’s lying!” Micah struggles in the snow for purchase before finally getting to his feet and starting toward her, but the sight of Alicia’s knife stops him short. “That’s not what I—Steph, I love you. I didn’t want to lose you, and she—it was the only way I could keep you from her! She set me up! She was going to kill you if I didn’t get you to say yes!”
Erica’s been waiting for this for a long time, he suspects; there’s almost a rote quality, as if even before her death, she imagined this conversation, every revelation, every defense, every counter; now, she finally gets to use it.
“I wasn’t going to kill you,” Erica says, and once again, that flash of someone else, Erica as she was then. If he ever doubted Dean’s certainty regarding Erica’s feelings for Alicia then, he wouldn’t now. “I couldn’t—I wouldn’t have killed you no matter how you answered. My first mistake wasn’t taking Micah to the Crossroads; it was asking you to go to the cabin in the first place. I knew it was too soon, that you—that you weren’t ready. I regretted it from the moment I asked until the day I died, you have to believe me.”
“She’s a liar and would say anything to get you!” Micah snarls. “For fuck’s sake, Steph, she tried to kill you two days ago!”
Alicia doesn’t look away from Erica. “I was actually there for that,” she says. “Well?”
“I didn’t expect—” She hesitates. “Until I saw you, I didn’t know that—that I…”
“When I first saw you outside the walls, I was so angry—I didn’t understand what was happening to me.” Reaching out, she cups Alicia’s face. “Now I do.”
“I didn’t leave everything on the rack after all,” Erica says quietly. “I kept you.”
For an endless moment, there’s nothing but silence.
“I’ll let them go,” Erica says, nodding toward Carol, Cathy, and Kat. “If they want to deal, they’ll have to work for it, and it won’t be with me or mine. Jeremy and the girl, too: in fact, everything that happened today, I’ll undo it all. It’ll be like it didn’t happen.”
“Like I give that much of a shit about them,” she answers, but the flicker of her gaze over them gives a lie to the words. “What else do you have?”
Alicia stiffens. “What?”
“Before you passed out from whiskey overkill, you gave me a name: Andrea,” Erica answers. “I told you I’d find her. I know where she is.”
Everyone has a price.
Dean hits the ground so hard he bites his tongue, blinking vaguely at the empty air. “What—”
“Hush,” Crowley says with a glittering smile, eyes on Erica as a raised hand locks Dean against the ground. “I want to see if she can do it.”
Alicia meets Erica’s eyes. “Where?”
“She’s safe and sound in a Luciferite compound, destroying the world one Croat infection at a time. And I know something else: five months ago, she had a baby. For Lucifer’s greater glory, you believe that bullshit?”
Alicia sucks in a breath.
“I know the entire compound to the last sub-basement, the passcodes, but what I can’t do is pass the salt lines or the warding; only a human can do that and I can teach you how to break them. We’ll take them all out, every fucking one of them. She’ll be last, though; she’s yours. You want her dead,” Erica adds. “But not as much as you want her to hurt, right? We can do that; I can teach you—Steph, I can teach you so much, you have no idea, and that’s just on earth. Once she’s dead…” Erica grins. “You can have her kid.”
Alicia flinches, and Erica shakes her head. “I don’t mean kill him. What kind of life would he have with a mother like that? She took yours, so it’s only fair you have hers.”
“And abandon him in ten years when I go to Hell?”
“Of course not,” Erica breathes. “Once you’re mine, I can wait. The length of your natural life, that’s nothing, not if I have you for all of it and forever after. I’ll keep you both safe, Alicia; you’ll never want for a single thing, and I can be anything you want.” Her voice softens. “Or anyone. Don’t like this meatsuit? You can pick the next one.”
“No!” Micah shouts.
Erica gestures, and Micah’s slammed back into the ground. “When everyone finds out you were at the cabin—and we both know that’s one secret Dean isn’t going to keep any longer than he has to—they’ll all know who you really are. You know who you are, Steph—and so do I.”
“You’re mine,” Micah says unexpectedly, sitting up, and Alicia turns around just as the safety clicks off his gun, snow still clinging to the barrel. “She can’t have you.”
The sound of a gunshot echoes through the clearing, and Alicia stumbles backward into Erica’s arms, and Castiel catches a glint of metal just as Micah collapses back onto the ground with a grunt. Much like outside Ichabod’s walls, with the break in Erica’s concentration, so does her control: everyone drops to the snow.
Including Castiel: he catches himself on one hand, shattering relief washing through him even as vertigo sets the world in a violently nauseating spin. Reaching back, he pauses to orient himself before closing his hand on the butt of his other gun.
“No,” he hears Erica saying, and blinking, the clearing comes into something like focus as Erica lowers Alicia to the road. “No, not like this. Not like this, Steph.” Blinking again, he just glimpses the dark stain spreading across Alicia’s shirt under Erica’s hand. “You can’t do this, not yet.”
Alicia’s fingers dig into the snow helplessly. “Can’t do—much—about bullets.”
“I can.” Black film spills across her eyes. “I can fix this; same terms and your life, here and now. Say yes.”
Raising her hand, Alicia feels over her chest, expression more bewildered than anything. “It. It should. Hurt more.” Castiel can see blood on her lips. “Weird.”
“Steph,” Erica says urgently. “Say yes.”
Grimacing, she licks her lips, leaving traces of blood as she looks up at Erica. “Alicia.”
“It’s Alicia. And the answer. Is.” The blue eyes open, and her left hand comes up, thin blade slicing across Erica’s face. With a shout, she jerks back, and Alicia draws up her legs for a two footed kick that sends Erica sprawling feet away with the sound of shattered ribs. “No.“
Sudden movement from the other side of the field catches his attention; forcing himself to focus, he sees that Erica’s compatriots have fully emerged from the brush and are far, far too close to Jeremy and Joelle. Swallowing, Castiel tightens his hold on his gun; he can’t stand, but he’s fairly certain he can still shoot.
Looking dazed, Jeremy pushes himself up, and Castiel sees him exchange a look with Joelle; as he assists her to her knees, she reaches up as if to check her scarf, smoothing it back behind her ear. All at once, she jerks something free that gleams dully, and as the closest demon turns at the motion, she lunges forward, burying it in the groin of the demon and slashes down savagely.
The high, horrified scream echoes through the clearing as he pitches forward, and Joelle drops flat for Jeremy to swivel around for a hard kick to the head that sends the demon sprawling into its nearest companion with what is most likely a cracked skull. Which doubtless he hasn’t noticed yet or will for some time; demons in male bodies still react like any being in a male body when effectively castrated.
Leaping to their feet, they run for the jeep, and with the attention of four demons on them both, Castiel stops caring about vertigo.
Bracing a hand against the ground, he narrows his focus and four precise shots send them to the ground, screaming; the sciatic nerve is preferable, of course, but from the sound of their screams, any nerve center will do quite well.
“Thank you,” he says softly, shaking off the remaining dizziness as he climbs to his feet; the others immediately freeze in place. “I’ve waited two and a half years for that.”
Checking to assure Jeremy and Joelle are clear, he focuses on Erica and takes aim; he loaded this gun just for her. “You heard her answer,” he says. “Now, as is traditional, get you gone. Before I rip out your throat.”
Frozen, Erica doesn’t respond at first, but as Castiel advances, she scrambles to her feet, absently wiping the blood from her face as she backs away, eyes searching the clearing blindly. Ignoring her, he kneels by Alicia, and she tries to smile, then turns her head, spitting out a mouthful of blood. “So—Cas, look. I—”
“Conserve your strength,” he whispers, trying to breathe through the tightness in his chest. “It might not be as bad as it seems.” It’s as bad, he knows on a single glance. From the corner of his eye, he detects motion, and sees Carol jogging awkwardly on two working legs, but her goal is clear when she stumbles to her knees by Micah, and he dismisses her for the moment.
“Shut. Up.” She grimaces again. “I tried to survive. Promise. Just. Not like that.”
Abruptly, Joelle drops on Alicia’s other side, reaching for the end of her scarf. Before he can react, it neatly unravels with a single pull, a second stiletto falling into her waiting hand from among the tightly wound braids.
“Hold still,” she commands with exactly Dolores’ inflection of medical supremacy, and Alicia responds unthinkingly. Reaching for Alicia’s shirt, she bites her lip, confirming everything he already knew. “Give me a minute,” she whispers, cutting the scarf in half and making a pad of one part before pressing it on the welling blood. “Just breathe, slow, while I check you out. Dolores taught me how to do a field assessment, so don’t forget to tell her I was amazing, okay?”
Alicia smiles faintly and nods. “Prodigy.”
Jeremy crouches beside him, a gun from the jeep in one hand, dirty face nearly grey with fear and fatigue, the dried tracks of tears leaving pale lines in the dirt. “I should have been ready,” he says hoarsely. “I’m sorry—”
“You were perfect,” he says roughly, unable to stop himself from half turning and pulling Jeremy into his arms. Tightening his hold, he’s not sure which of them is shaking harder. “You remained calm, you did what was required without taking foolish risks, and most importantly, you survived, and your partner survived as well; that was exactly what you were supposed to do.” When Jeremy looks at him uncertainly, he cups his face firmly, feeling the first faint growth of adolescent stubble. “I’m so proud of you.”
Jeremy smiles weakly, wiping his eyes, and Castiel glimpses an edge of darkening plum on his forehead and a greater darkness on his left cheekbone reminiscent of the barrel of a gun. Ghosting a finger just over it, he takes a very careful breath.
“Who did this?” Jeremy licks his lips, and the memory of shock and betrayal on his face narrows it down considerably. “Kat or Kyle?”
“Kat,” he whispers. “I—I wasn’t moving fast enough. Joelle tried to get between us,” he adds, voice strengthening, and Castiel studies Joelle as she works, marking the greater fullness of her left cheek—a backhand, if he’s not mistaken—and a suspicious puffiness on the left side of her lower lip.
“Do either of you have any other injuries?” he asks; they seemed to have no trouble running, but a hunter runs until they’re deprived of legs (and sometimes even then), so that means nothing.
“We’re fine,” Jeremy assures him, eyes flickering over the too-quiet glade, broken only by Carol’s stifled sobbing over Micah’s immobile form. Castiel focuses on her for a long, thoughtful moment, her fragile throat, her temple, her chest, her belly: his left hand—stained with Alicia’s blood—tightens around his gun, thumb pressed against the safety.
“Cas? You okay?”
Tearing his gaze away, he looks at the young, worried face, and deliberately removes his thumb from the safety. “Just distracted for a moment,” he says reassuringly, and Jeremy nods, relaxing. “Joelle, are you finished?”
She looks up as she presses the second pad of her scarf and nods in resignation. “Just about.” Despite everything—despite seeing the wound—he somehow still hoped, and losing that is like someone ripped off a limb.
It’s an effort to let Jeremy go, but needs must. “Both of you, go to our jeep and lock yourself inside—”
“No,” Jeremy says flatly, wiping his eyes as Joelle places the second pad, the first already soaked through. “Someone’s gotta watch your back, and that’s us.”
“That is exactly what I need you to do,” he answers. “Secure the jeep and keep watch for me. Alicia and I are well within your range.” He holds Jeremy’s eyes, understanding far better why Dean wished him to remain at Headquarters; it’s not rational, no, there’s nothing here that can threaten them now before he can kill it, but after the last few hours, any risk is too much to bear. He’d do anything to have them both safe in Headquarters under Kamal’s eye. In a well-fortified room with all the weapons available and perhaps a very large, very hungry dragon guarding the door; the Appalachians or Rockies should have at least one colony established by now and probably two.
“Watch the road from Ichabod as well,” he adds in a moment of inspiration. “And inform me if anyone else arrives.”
Joelle opens her mouth to argue. “That is an order,” he tells her, not at all surprised; no hunter is happy when forced to leave combat before all the enemy are dead. “I need someone I trust to watch my back, and you are the only ones I can trust to do so. Go.” Then, belatedly, “Very well done with the demon. Your mother will be very pleased.”
Her mouth quirks in suppressed pleasure in a job well done. “Thanks.” She waits for him to replace her hand on the makeshift bandage with his own, then gets up, and Jeremy automatically moves to cover her retreat. When they’re safely locked inside the jeep, he turns his full attention to Alicia. Joelle’s efforts slowed the bleeding considerably, but only that.
“Conserve your strength,” he says again when Alicia’s lips part. Even if she could survive long enough to get back to Ichabod and the infirmary—and that’s doubtful—there’s nothing they can do for her. He doubts a fully staffed operating room with several experienced surgeons appearing around them could do much more.
“It wasn’t. Deathbed,” she whispers, blood bubbling up between her lips. “Thought about it. On the way here. I was going to survive. And prove it. That I was sorry.”
“You didn’t need to prove it!” Taking the frighteningly cold hand in his own, he laces their fingers together. “You didn’t need to do anything but be yourself. Did you think I wouldn’t forgive you? How could you be so stupid? It would have just been a matter of time; I was halfway there already.”
She laughs, a mistake; he turns her head so she can spit out more blood, but that much exertion has stolen more of her time. “Liar,” she whispers, barely more than a movement of her lips. “But thanks.” She pauses for a horrible, wet sound as she tries to breathe. “Just—don’t hate me forever, okay?”
Blinking back the blurring of his eyes, he shakes his head. “I could never hate you.”
She grimaces, fingers curling around his trustingly. “Maximus. My son.” She stops for a shallow breath. “I don’t regret him. Those hours. With him. Best of my whole life. He was worth it.”
“Maximus,” he says softly, and she tries to smile. “Best and Greatest. If you’re any indication, he must have been an exceedingly attractive child.”
“Winston Churchill,” she whispers, love rippling through her voice. “He was perfect.”
“Alicia?” She tries to smile, but the blue eyes are glazing, lids heavy, and all at once, a strange quiet descends, a soft, warm breeze sliding over his skin, chasing away the freezing cold. Even Alicia seems to feel it, tight mouth softening, relaxing as it eases between her and her pain. “Not yet,” he says, fighting the urge to shake her. “I never taught you to use a sword, and I should have. I—I couldn’t bear to touch one, but that’s not an excuse. I could do it now—I will—but not… not if you aren’t here.”
He wants to clutch her closer, as if by sheer will he can hold off the inevitable; this is the fate of all those born mortal, and he doesn’t care. Stroking her hair back with a shaking hand, he scrubs a hand across his face and calms himself, for her sake if not his own.
“Alicia,” he whispers, stroking her cheek and waiting for her to look at him. “Listen to me. Be not afraid, for my Father’s fields are vast, and a place has been prepared for you since the moment of your birth.” His voice cracks on the last word, eyes blurring again, and he wipes them angrily. “You don’t remember now, you can’t, but you will. Your work here is done; go there so you can rest. The Host lays claim to every soul on earth without exception, and we will not be denied our right to even one. Your soul is safe, I promise you.”
Weakly, her fingers brush his. “Cas, it’s okay. I know. Where I’m going.”
“You know nothing,” he says fiercely. “We are the last of the Host on all Creation and this is our will. The path is long and not well-lit, but you will follow it because we order it; you will walk it to the end. Don’t be afraid, for it will lead you home.”
The air smells of fresh, clean earth and spring, fields newly sown, dew-heavy under the warm sun. “Or perhaps you will have guidance after all.”
Her expression changes, eyes widening as they fix on something beyond him. “What,” she whispers, fingers squeezing his with unexpected strength. “Cas. The girl…”
“With her sheep.” Alicia nods incredulously. He wonders if he’s imagining the brush of wool against his back as Alicia’s fading gaze, fixed above his shoulder, travels to rest on the empty air beside her. “Her name is Amieyl. My first student, as it were.”
Alicia’s lips part in a faint smile. “Not. Just. A story.”
“She was a shepherdess,” he whispers, barely able to see through the tears. “Then she became a hunter, like you. She’s here to take you—to count sheep, which makes sense, now that I think about it.”
Alicia’s eyes fall closed; her next words are barely a breath. “They aren’t sheep.”
“No, they aren’t,” he agrees, lowering his forehead to hers and closing his eyes; the next words squeeze themselves out from a throat closed over. He squeezes her hand one last time: it’s the fate of all those born mortal to let go as well. What he hasn’t learned yet is how to bear it. “Stand up and go with Amieyl now,” he whispers brokenly. “And be at peace.”
Faintly, he feels the squeeze of her fingers, or perhaps he imagined it; it goes limp and the last, shuddering breath isn’t followed by another.
“Take care of her,” he whispers into the fading warmth. “And give her peace.”
A touch that feels like fingers brushes against his neck as he begins to cry.
There’s a sense of growing inevitability, like something written long ago, that was, is, and will always be.
Dean watches as Carol turns to look at Erica. “Bring him back,” she begs. “I’ll do anything else you want, just—”
“You have nothing else I want,” Erica interrupts, her gaze landing on Micah’s body, and Dean shivers at the glimpse of something so far beyond hatred he’s not sure what to call it. “Would you like me to give him your regards?”
“What?” Carol struggles up on her feet. “I fulfilled the deal! Thirty souls or Alicia—!”
“Alicia is dead, and Cathy’s still uncontracted,” Erica says indifferently. “At Micah’s death, the contract was incomplete at twenty-nine; I dissolve it without prejudice. All the individual contracts stand.”
“Well done,” Crowley says softly, satisfaction rippling through his voice. “You must admit, Dean, she does get the job done.”
You send Erica when you want to win and you don’t care how. “Yeah,” he agrees. “She does.”
Understanding belatedly dawns across Carol’s face. “You set me up!”
The gleaming black eyes rest on Carol in outright malice. “Of course I did,” she answers. “Did you think I was here to help?” Turning away, she adds, “I’ll see you soon.”
“You can’t—” Carol starts angrily, and Erica gestures carelessly, throwing her into Micah’s body. Then her step slows, and following her gaze, Dean sees Kyle, crying helplessly a few feet away.
“You can, actually, stop this now,” Crowley says, giving him a curious look, like maybe Dean didn’t notice he wasn’t restrained anymore. “Just walk out, bring them to heel with the wonder of being Dean Winchester. Your predecessor got them to sell their souls for him and didn’t even have to try. Surely you can—” He pauses for a pregnant moment. “You don’t want to.”
Cas hasn’t moved, still bent over Alicia’s body, but Dean can feel his shoulders shaking, the tearing pain in his chest from every sobbing breath like it’s happening to him. Twenty feet away, Kyle wipes his eyes and looks up, and there’s an almost audible click when he meets Erica’s gaze that seems to ripple through the clearing.
“I see what you mean,” Crowley remarks as Kyle starts toward her. “Humans really will do anything for love.”
Dean thinks of Andy and Gary, of Mark and Phil and Drew, Haruhi and Rosario; of whoever died at the North Gate and whoever’s in the infirmary now. “That’s not love.”
“I almost want to keep her, just to see what she’s capable of in a century or two.” Dean almost laughs at the sincerity in Crowley’s voice. “Everyone has a price, Dean; you can’t judge them for what you did yourself once upon a time.”
“I can judge them for anything I want.” Erica tips her head back triumphantly, and Kyle squeezes his eyes shut and nods blindly; that would be it, then.
He can feel Crowley looking at him. “You realize what they’ve bought—”
“I know exactly what they bought,” he interrupts. “They should get what they paid for.”
Crowley smiles, watching Kyle step forward for a luxuriant kiss that makes him shudder. “The best part of any contract,” he adds softly as Cathy approaches Erica, “is when they realize it really was exactly what they asked for. I do so enjoy that.” He gives Dean a sideways glance and smiles. “And so do you.”
Crowley cocks his head as if he’s listening for something, and as Cathy steps back, hand reaching for her mouth, he nods in satisfaction. “She’s done. Go gather them up now. This has been a very long day for all of them.” His gaze rests on Erica and her buddies in anticipation. “Their day, however, isn’t quite over, I think.”
Cas straightens, shoulders slumped despairingly; it hurts just to look at him. Starts with birth, ends with death: a lifetime lived between, and the memory you leave behind. Starting toward them, he adds, “They think you’re weak. So does their master.”
“I do realize that,” Crowley tells him. “I plan to enjoy correcting that very much.”
And that reminds him. “You got a traitor.”
He gets ten feet when Crowley says, in a pretty impressive attempt at boredom. “Who?”
“Jeffrey’s got a new master. Take care of it. And Crowley?” He waits for Crowley to look at him, bored. “Touch Cas again, you’ll find out exactly what can be done on earth as it is in the Pit.” He holds Crowley’s eyes. “I invented all of it.”
The flicker of raw fear’s almost enough for a down payment; he’s got time to collect the rest. Turning, he starts toward Cas.
Castiel is unpleasantly startled by the appearance of Kyle, who drops down on the other side of Alicia’s body. “Why isn’t she… Alicia, wake up!”
Wiping his eyes, he looks from Kyle to Erica, watching from only a few feet away. “You didn’t…”
Alicia’s body convulses, arching from the ground with a gasp, eyes opening wide and staring up at the sky. Kyle’s frantic expression melts into incredulous joy, but before his grasping hands reach her, Castiel sends him sprawling on the asphalt.
“What the hell—”
“Shut up.” The second convulsion is more violent, and dragging off his coat, he folds it quickly and shoves it beneath her head to give it some protection from the road, then concentrates and feels something fall into place. His vision doubles; with every convulsion, the temporal history of Alicia’s body reverses itself second by second, not healing but undoing: lungs and heart undamaged, bones unbroken, chest unbreached, while Alicia relives her own moment of death and every second of dying until the moment of impact. As she comes to a shuddering rest, the intact bullet falls into the snow, unmarked, as if it had never been shot. The tear in her shirt remains, blood still caking the fabric as well as her unmarked skin, and the pallor of blood loss is unchanged, but for all intents and purposes, it’s as if it never happened.
Belatedly, Castiel suppresses the sense of time displacement again, but he can already feel the beginnings of what will be a truly annoying headache very soon. As she starts to stir, he checks her pulse as her chest rises and falls frantically, drawing in great gulps of air as if she’s forgotten how to breathe and is only just now remembering how.
Bewildered, she scrabbles at the linen padding and clumsily knocks it aside. “What—”
“Breathe,” he tells him firmly, easing her away from Kyle’s belated reach and helping her sit up, bracing her against his chest when she begins to sag and checking the back of her head for any injury from the road. He wants to pick her up, carry her to the jeep, and drive back to Ichabod. There, he can take her to Headquarters, place her in a defensible room with Jeremy and Joelle (he’ll ask Dean how to fortify it), and watch her breathe until he believes she won’t stop again. However, the undeniable fact that his legs won’t hold him at this moment is an inhibiting factor. “Just remain calm.”
Looking over her head, he sees Erica raise a hand, stopping her other followers in their less than stealthy advance. The black-slick eyes shift from Alicia to him, and he just catches a glimpse of overwhelming relief before she looks away.
“I don’t…” He turns his attention back to Alicia as she pats weakly at the tear in her shirt, looking down as she feels around the bloody edges, fingers sliding incredulously over the whole skin in dawning horror. “I said no, Cas. I said—”
“You did,” he whispers against her hair. “I knew you would.”
Startled, Castiel turns to see Dean jogging toward them and feels a burst of relief so sharp it’s painful. “Dean.”
Crouching beside him, Dean’s hand comes to rest on his shoulder, squeezing. “Won’t be long now,” he says enigmatically, then reaches for Alicia’s chin with his other hand. “You okay? Name, location, and last answer I’ll tell you; end of the world. Cas won’t ask, but it makes him feel better if you say it all, no idea why.”
“Yeah, I…” She takes a deep breath, hand trembling against her chest, pulling back her fingers to stare at the blood before realizing that Dean’s waiting. “Alicia, Ichabod, end of the world.”
“That’s who you are,” he tells her, catching her bloody hand and squeezing it. “Nothing’s changed. You understand me?”
“No. What…” She looks at their hands for a long moment, then turns her head to look at Kyle, and he can see the moment she understands, a new wave of horror washing over her. “Oh God.”
“Alicia,” he breathes like a prayer, smiling at her as he wipes his eyes. “Hey, baby, how you feeling?”
Castiel feels her begin to shake. “What did you do?”
“It’s okay,” Kyle tells her eagerly, reaching for her free hand and somehow missing her flinch. “It was worth it, I promise. I’m sorry about—I’m nothing like him, Alicia, I’d never hurt you. I tried to protect you, but—”
“Stop it.” Alicia’s lips move soundlessly, shrinking more with every word, like each one is leaving a bruise that won’t ever heal. “Stop talking—”
“I love you,” Kyle says urgently, the hectic smile beginning to fade and uncertainty taking its place, the beginnings of bewilderment. “I’d do anything for you.”
Alicia stares at him before her eyes travel over the road, passing over Carol by Micah’s body, to Kat and Cathy, and finally to Erica.
“You know what they say,” Erica says. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try aga—”
Alicia jerks her hand free of Kyle’s, a knife appearing between her fingers for a blurred second before it slashes the air and lodges in Erica’s chest, knocking her a few stumbling steps. Before Castiel realizes what she means to do, her hand snaps to his hip, jerking Ruby’s knife free, and lunging with a burst of energy, she tackles Erica to the ground, knife pressed to her throat.
Erica gasps but doesn’t move.
“Take it back!” Alicia snarls.
“No.” She laughs outright, and Castiel wonders if he’s the only one that hears the relief in it. “You think there’s anything I wouldn’t do for you? Kill me; I’ll let you, if that’s what it takes to prove it.”
“You had me pushed down that hill; you ordered Darryl to lie; don’t tell me it was Micah that trapped me in that cabin, that was you, too!” Alicia says savagely. “You think it didn’t count because you didn’t do it yourself? Do I look that stupid?”
“Do I look stupid enough to lie to you when I’m trying to make contract?” Erica retorts. “Especially with an angel around? Come on, baby—”
“Don’t call me that,” Alicia breathes, and Castiel sees the tears in her eyes. “Don’t pretend you ever gave a shit—”
“I wasn’t pretending then, and I’m not now,” Erica answers. “You think I went through this much trouble for him? All I had to do was wait until Dean threw him across the Kansas border, and ten minutes later, he’d be hound shit. His soul, I’d give it back as filthy as he gave it up, but I’d do it; all of it, everything, was for you.”
The blade against Erica’s throat begins to tremble.
“I never betrayed you,” Erica says, holding Alicia’s eyes as she eases upright, Alicia’s knife in measured retreat. “Which is more than you can say for your friends, Alicia; Kat sold you out, Dean sent you here himself, and Cas drove you right into my arms; baby, it’s not like they didn’t know what was going to happen. Nice solution to getting rid of you and keeping their hands clean, don’t you think? And Kyle…” She shrugs, wrapping a gentle hand around Alicia’s wrist. “Not too bad for a date rapist and stalker if you’re into Micah Mark II, I guess. Trust me, he’ll fit in just fine where I’ll be seeing him.”
Alicia doesn’t answer even as Erica eases her hand down to her lap.
“There we go,” Erica whispers. “Now, I have things to do, so…” There’s a faint blur, and then Erica’s standing by Alicia’s kneeling figure. “Don’t worry about Micah,” she says to Alicia’s bent head, pulling the throwing knife free of her chest and dropping it into the snow. “I’m going to invent new ways for him to pay for what he did to you. Later.” Turning with a flicker of red, she vanishes into the brush.
“Alicia,” Dean starts, but Castiel stops him with a hand on his arm as Alicia gets unsteadily to her feet, hooking Ruby’s knife in her belt, and rises as well, slowly pacing her to Micah’s body.
Carol glares at her from red-rimmed eyes. “You—” And stops at whatever she sees on Alicia’s face.
Stepping past her, Alicia looks down at Micah’s body, and following her gaze, Castiel remembers that blur after Alicia was shot. One of her throwing knives is buried in his throat to the hilt, breaching the trachea and embedding itself in the spine; slowly, alone and unnoticed, he choked to death on his own blood.
Crouching, she jerks her knife free, checking it carefully for damage. Her strict training holds true even now; in lieu of her cleaning supplies, she wipes the blade fastidiously clean on the edge of her shirt, then shoves up her sleeve and slides it into place with the others against her inner arm. For a moment longer, she looks down at him, expressionless, and then her lips curve; as she looked at the monster that tried to kill her that long ago day, she gazes on one that chased her for so long and now never will again: I win.
Pushing herself up, she steps over Micah’s body with the same interest she’d step over a rock in her path and takes three more steps before she pauses, looking startled, and Castiel moves, catching her before she hits the ground.
Dean’s beside him in an instant, gun raised. He feels the others watching him hungrily, impotent hatred and rage written into every line of their bodies. The agony of the rack stripped them of their humanity, not their memories; when they rose, they kept their fear of him in full measure. Even if they’d forgotten, however, Dean will kill them if they so much as move, so he’s comfortable ignoring them.
“Alicia?” Castiel asks, and she frowns at him in confusion. “You… stumbled.”
“Yeah,” she agrees threadily, trying to sit up and sinking back down immediately. “Death. Really takes it out of you.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Alive,” she says flatly, and he helps her upright, bending to protect her from the eyes that watch them. Head falling onto his shoulder, she sucks in a breath, and he feels the uneven rhythm of her breathing against his neck, the fast beat of her heart, the faint tremor of her body, and tightens his arms in reassurance. Stroking her loosened hair forward to give her better protection, he follows Dean’s gaze to see something not-quite fog drifting across the road and through the brush. Thickening, it spins into narrow ribbons, circling through the clearing and winding around the demons still present in sickly tentacles that tighten more at each revolution. “Dean?”
“Just a minute.” He focuses on the closest of the visible demons, whose growing fear as the ribbons draw closer melts into something else when he sees Dean watching him. “Luke, right?”
Luke bares his teeth in a soundless snarl that changes into shock when he realizes he can’t make a sound.
“Just wanted to be sure,” Dean tells him. “Remember the rack?”
Luke licks his lips, mouth opening and closing uselessly.
“Next time I see you,” he continues softly, right hand clenching around something Castiel can’t quite see, “you’re going to wish you were still on it.”
Castiel tries to speak, but the words die on his lips; reaching out, he rests a hand against Dean’s thigh.
“But what’s coming up now—not a bad second choice,” he adds with a slow smile. “Give Crowley my regards, right about—”
Abruptly, grey smoke pours out from a dozen locations in the quiet woods, forming a thick, greasy cloud, and the ribbons hungrily curl through them, twining against each other and through it with lazy pleasure, widening by degrees, before they begin to fold the cloud into themselves like paper origami, razor angles and agonized screaming tucked into each progressively smaller fold until it vanishes from sight.
“—now.” Dean holsters his gun and when he looks down, Castiel sees only tired green eyes and a relieved smile. Crouching, he catches Castiel’s hand before he can withdraw it, brushing an absent kiss against the dirty knuckles. “Good job, and next time, I’m locking you in our room, free will is bullshit.”
Castiel is surprised into a laugh. “However will you keep me there with nothing but a lock?”
“I have a few ideas,” he says softly, and Castiel tips his head back at the brush of knuckles against his cheek. “So—”
“Really?” Alicia whispers. “I’m right here. Literally between you.” Her expression turns to horror. “It’s not even kinky, just… uncomfortable and weird.”
Dean looks from her to Micah, cocking his head in a fast, professional assessment, approving, before telling her, “Nice distraction.”
“Thanks,” she says faintly. “I had a plan.”
“Good to know. Next time, how about using it?” Dean asks. “We’re gonna talk about stabbing the asshole before getting shot, how does that sound? Less stressful, no one dies.”
“Oh.” She nods at him blearily. “He kept—getting out of range.”
“Next time, don’t tell him your goddamn range, then.” Dropping a hand to her shoulder, he squeezes gently. “Who are you?”
She swallows. “Alicia of Chitaqua. Who survived after all.”
“We’ll work on meaning it,” Dean says, squeezing her shoulder again before letting go and jerking his head toward their jeep. “You ready to get out of here?”
As Castiel nods—yes, please—something occurs to him. “Where are Amanda and Joseph?” A quick survey shows no sign of an additional jeep, which leads to wondering how Dean arrived here.
“By now, probably walking back from the other gate and pissed as hell,” he answers. “Long story, tell you all about it when we get back. Now, can we go?”
Alicia nods before she makes a tremendous effort and starts to move. “Sounds good. Just need to get up.” Then, in blatant denial of reality when her head drops back on his shoulder after getting an entire two inches, “Just. Give me a minute.”
“As long as you need,” Dean assures her. “But—don’t tell anyone—Chuck has pictures of Cas carrying me because they’re both dicks.”
She stills; when he glances down, she’s looking at Dean in bafflement laced with what is definitely the beginnings of a plan to get those pictures as soon as possible.
“I tried to make Chitaqua’s entire perimeter in one go a couple of months ago,” he explains. “I was fine, but Chuck panicked, and Cas was almost crying when he got there—”
“I was not crying.”
“—so I figured he’d feel better if I let him take me back,” Dean finishes smugly.
“You fainted,” Castiel says flatly. “You stayed unconscious through Chuck’s horrified screams for help and entreaties I not kill him when I got there—”
“Wait, I remember that,” Alicia interrupts, making a faint movement like she wants to straighten. “Thought Chuck was being eaten by a were-bear or something but later saw him whole and alive, so there goes a couple of hours I’ll never get back assembling a were-bear trap and avenging his death with were-bear-murder, stew, and moisturizer.”
Dean stares at her, mouth half-open as if undecided on which part of that to address first or even wants to.
“We were running super-low on meat then, and bear fat is excellent for moisturizer as well as chilblains,” she explains. “And lube, for future reference. I had several volunteers lined up to try it out. There was a sign-up sheet.”
“Christ,” Dean breathes, covering his face, and Castiel watches him silently decide on a course of pretending this conversation didn’t happen. Far better than the alternative, such as the moment you realize you’re not sure if a were-bear counts as human (cannibalism) and also, you’re actually asking yourself that very question, and far worse, want an answer. Mortality contains many of those moments, he reflects; he’s still trying to decide how often a sheepapus goes into heat (sex is so enjoyable, only once a year seems cruel).
“I didn’t faint,” Dean says firmly, glaring at Castiel as if he was the one who brought up were-bear stew and were-bear-fat lubrication. “Mostly. Anyway, sometimes—when you’re mostly conscious and your boyfriend is sobbing—shut up, Cas—and your legs won’t move anymore—it’s okay to, you know…” Dean trails off, looking pained. “You know?”
“Let other people help you?” Alicia says faintly and seeing his enthusiastic nod, looks at Castiel incredulously. “So this is what a life lesson from Dean Winchester feels like.”
“What does it feel like?” he asks curiously.
“Weird,” she says, starting to laugh but it almost immediately changes to a sob before she stops it against his shoulder. “Okay, onward and—and upward maybe?”
“You got it,” Dean tells her before saying, in a very different voice, “Everyone who wants inside the gate better be there before I am.”
Kyle is still kneeling where they left him, looking bewildered, but as if waiting for Dean’s order, Kat and Cathy obediently start toward the other jeep. Carol, red-eyed and shaken, gives Micah one last glance before getting to her feet and following more slowly.
“Kyle,” Dean says quietly, but it gets Kyle’s attention. “Get up and get in the jeep with them or you’re staying here.”
Clumsily finding his feet, his eyes focus on Alicia. “Alicia,” he says, starting toward them before stopping short when he realizes Dean’s in his way and there’s a gun pointed at his head. “What—”
“Go,” Dean says calmly followed by the unmistakable click of the safety. “Now.”
Kyle’s mouth works soundlessly, staring down the barrel of Dean’s gun but even that’s not enough to keep him from focusing on Alicia in betrayal and growing anger. Castiel tightens his arms as Alicia starts to shake again, trying to offer reassurance she can feel and would be able to trust instead of the words that right now, she wouldn’t be able to hear, much less understand. “I saved your life!”
“Or I shoot you,” Dean adds without changing expression, but Castiel can sense a dangerous stillness beneath his calm, watchful and waiting for nothing more than a single misstep. “Ten years or now: this story ends the same either way, and you’re the only one who cares how long it takes to get there.”
Kyle isn’t completely stupid; staring at Dean fixedly, he starts to tremble, bewilderment and terror fighting for supremacy before human instinct takes the decision from his hands. He starts to back away, turning toward the jeep but is unable to stop himself from glancing back and trips over Micah’s body. Landing in a messy sprawl, he sits up and stares at the ruins of Micah’s throat before scrabbling desperately backward and finding his feet, makes for the other jeep at something just short of a run.
Dean watches him expressionlessly, fingers flexing on the hilt of his gun until he holsters it when Kyle’s inside. Resting a hand on Castiel’s back, he urges them into a slow walk. “Jeremy, start it up,” he yells.
“Can I drive?” Jeremy calls back, and while still pale, he seems well; Castiel makes a note to speak to him later, perhaps over a meal. That works very well with Dean, he’s discovered, and it would also assure Jeremy remains in his line of sight for the foreseeable future.
Dean looks at Castiel suspiciously. “Who taught him to drive?”
“I did.” For some reason, Dean looks alarmed. “He’s very good.”
“I’m driving,” Dean decides, eyes going to Alicia, frighteningly still in his arms. “It’ll be okay, promise.”
Alicia’s fingers tighten on Castiel’s shoulder. “How would you know,” is muffled but audible against his coat.
“Sam told me.” He nods to Joelle as she opens the back door and Castiel eases inside with Alicia in his arms, and she gets in behind them, shutting the door. “You got shotgun,” he tells Jeremy, who sighs and moves to the passenger side as Dean climbs in. Getting out the hand unit, he slides the earpiece into place. “This is Dean of Chitaqua; who is this?” He pauses, mouth tightening. “Got it. Meet us at the West Gate; any of them try to run, shoot ‘em. And get me Manuel.” Looking at Alicia in the rearview mirror, he says, “We’ll drop you off at Headquarters with—”
“I’m okay,” she says tiredly, lifting her head. “Mortuary, right?”
At the buzz from the hand unit, he starts to answer, then hesitates. “You don’t have to—”
“I do,” she says. “For Andy.” Then, with a catch in her voice, “And for Cathy.”
Dean isn’t surprised that after a murmured word to Alicia, Cas is the first out of the jeep, nearly vibrating with restrained paranoia as he escorts Jeremy and Joelle into Headquarters and (on a guess) directly into Kamal’s startled custody with what is probably a honest to God frightening order to not let them out of his sight.
When he returns, Dean checks his expression in the rearview mirror and can’t stop himself from asking, “So what did Kamal say?”
“He’ll throw himself physically upon them if they should try to move more than three feet away from him,” Cas says absently. “Kara is seeing to their injuries and will send to the infirmary if further medical attention is needed.”
Assuming anyone’s available, that is.
When they reach the mortuary, Joe and Manuel are waiting outside, Joe adding an accusing glare Dean can feel as he parks on the opposite side of the street and gets out. Opening the back door, he hesitates. “Alicia…” He’s not sure what to add after that. “Stay behind Cas, okay?”
She nods, and if she’s not entirely steady on her feet, she’s walking at least. It feels like miles to cross the street, going between the two parked jeeps, each with two members of the Souls For Sale club bent over the hood, disarmed and surrounded by grim teams who didn’t bother pretending to play nice: Lee’s got Kat and Cathy, while Anyi’s keeps close watch on Carol and Kyle. Cathy’s crying, while Carol and Kyle have the good sense to keep their mouths shut (though Kyle’s expression says he’s starting to work out how much he’s fucked up), but Kat makes up for it, alternating between demands and pleading, and the fact Jane’s hovering right behind her tells him Kat’s not being gracious here.
Manuel extends a hand and pulls him into a surprising hug. “I heard about Gary,” he says quietly. “After this morning, we should have put a watch on Cathy—”
“Dude, plenty to go around,” Dean says hoarsely, stepping back. “More ours than yours. North Gate?”
“Volunteers from six towns, no Alliance members,” Manuel answers. “Their families—and a couple of the mayors—are at the infirmary with Alison. If it helps, we’re all in this together, literally; the Alliance is being informed now.”
“Anyone from Carol’s town?” Manuel shrugs; yeah, he wouldn’t want to claim her either. Glancing at the closed mortuary doors, currently guarded by two of Ichabod’s patrol, he asks, “How long?”
“Callisto sent word about forty-five minutes ago,” he says. “Amanda, Sarah, and Mel’s team arrived just after I did. We’re running short, so Kamal sent Ana’s team to help; I sent them to secure the room and keep the staff calm while we checked the building. Callisto was the only one in the room when—” He stumbles over the lack of word for it. “When it happened. She left, locked the door, and ordered the staff upstairs before she called us. She’s still down there,” he adds. “She won’t leave until she’s sure.”
“Any word from the infirmary?” Dean asks Joe, eyes flickering to the mortuary doors and back to Jane shoving Kat flat on the jeep, leaning down to say something that makes her go still.
“Just came back,” Joe answers soberly. “Phil’s still out, but Dolores said his vitals are good, and Valli’s hopeful; she’s on observation. Drew’s leg should be okay, needed blood and will definitely need some rehab, but he’s stoned as fuck right now and gives no shits about anything. Vera’s got Mark in surgery, no word yet, but she wasn’t the calm of imminent death, so I figure he’s got a good shot. Haruhi and Rosario are still groggy, but they’ll be fine; they both got the charcoal treatment, but that was precautionary. Karl and Dolores are working on those from the North Gate: one died on the way here, but the others—not sure yet.”
“Your call,” Dean murmurs to Manuel.
“Let’s get this over with,” Manuel says flatly, nodding at Lee. “Lee, let’s take them down.”
The mortuary is one of the few buildings that started life before the Zone as a mortuary; the combination of charming small-town storefront with its function is something he tries not to think about too hard. The front room—a cross between reception and waiting—is where the staff is gathered under Ana’s team’s protective eye and keeping them from the door to the basement where the bodies are stored.
“This everyone?” Manuel asks Ana, who nods sharply. “Clear them out.”
“Yes, sir,” she answers, and signals her team to start herding the frightened staff toward the front door as they continue down a narrow hall and past a grim looking Lalitha and Cliff through the door and down the basement stairs. Manuel leads the way, with Cas and Alicia bringing up the tail, so Dean’s in the perfect position to see Kat and Cathy sandwiched between her and Lee; their eager expressions are obscene.
Reaching the basement floor, two more of Naresh’s people wait outside the door and reluctantly leave at Manuel’s dismissal. Manuel waits until the sound of their feet on the stairs ends with a locked door, then opens the door, and Dean takes in the scene at a glance; Callisto is standing in front of the locked door to the room they keep the bodies with Amanda and Sarah on either side, talking to her quietly while Mel and her team are placed at key points, rifles pointed at the door behind Callisto.
Dean thinks of what Callisto must have seen in there and gives her credit for more guts than he thinks any civilian—even in the infected zone—should ever have to have. Just then, almost on cue, Dean hears a baby start to wail, and Christ. Christ, this is really happening.
“Del,” Cathy whispers, starting to the door and only stopped by Manuel’s grip on her arm.
“Hey Dean,” Amanda says, but her attention is focused on Kat. Even disarmed, Kat’s dangerously unpredictable, and he doesn’t put using Cathy as a human shield past her right now. “Manuel, Cas. All status quo—” Another wail, and Amanda’s jaw sets briefly. “Ante.”
“Let me go,” Cathy says as she tries to pull free. “That’s Del, Manuel!”
“Andy!” Kat shouts, looking startled when Amanda shoves her back. “What are you doing? Andy’s in there. Andy! I’m coming!”
“Dean?” Amanda asks, staying between Kat and the door.
“Dean,” Kat says desperately, spinning to look at him like she just realized he was there, oblivious to Cas and Manuel both drawing on her, and it’s almost like a play. He knows his lines to the letter, could recite this beginning to end, but it’s not like she’s gonna hear a thing. “Tell them to open the door! It’s Andy! He’s going to be wondering what’s going on!”
“Callisto, report,” Manuel says calmly.
“There are two individuals inside,” Callisto says calmly. “I was alone when the—the infant appeared on the table, and I heard a voice coming from the unit.” She pauses for a horrible moment. “From what I heard, the—other individual is probably out now. They haven’t said anything, however.”
“Good job,” Manuel says, voice gentle. “Give the key to Amanda and come here.”
Amanda’s mouth drops open. “What—”
“You have your orders,” Dean tells her, and she shuts her mouth. “Callisto, give Sarah the key. It’ll be okay.”
He sees Callisto’s eyes dart to Cas and, wetting her lips, she tries to say something. Before Dean can stop him—or realize there’s something to stop—Cas crosses the room and effortlessly eases between Callisto and the door, hand resting lightly on her back. Taking a deep breath, Callisto gives the key to Sarah before taking Cas’s offered arm with a slight stumble.
As they pass, he hears Callisto murmuring, “…couldn’t make my legs move. I don’t know what happened there. The sound he made when—in the drawer…”
“I’m impressed you’re not catatonic,” Cas answers before nodding at Lee and Jane. “Please escort Callisto upstairs and see to her comfort. We shouldn’t be long.”
When they’re gone, Dean looks at Amanda, and reluctantly, she steps aside, and Sarah unlocks the door. “Mel,” he says, and when they’re inside, Manuel lets go of Cathy and steps back. Kat and Cathy seem too surprised to move, then they dart to the door and go inside.
He waits long enough for Cas to reach him before following Manuel, relieved that Cas has Alicia to worry about right now and won’t argue that Dean’s keeping himself between him and what’s waiting in that room.
When he reaches the doorway, it’s all he can do not to run right back out.
Cathy’s sitting on one of the dissection tables, crying with a huge smile, a naked baby in her lap; on the other side of the room, Kat has a confused Andy in her arms. Mel and Daniel have taken positions diagonal of Andy, rifles raised and ready, while Daniel and Lyz keep to the center of the room between him and Dean. Dean glances at Cas and sees his expression change, automatically pushing Alicia behind him and reaching for Dean.
It’s not like he thought it could happen any other way. “How long?”
“Minutes,” he says, then his gaze passes Cathy to Del, resting on her with terrible pity. “Longer.”
Eventually, Kat draws back in belated awareness of Andy’s lack of enthusiasm. “Andy?” she asks, cupping his face and frowning when he tries to step back, confusion slowly turning into dawning understanding. “I fixed it,” she says eagerly. “Now we’ll be together.”
Andy blinks at her then looks up, searching the room—Daniel’s face is streaked with tears, and Lyz is barely holding it together, Mel, David, and Amanda intent, Sarah impassive—and becoming more frantic. “Alicia?” he asks, voice shaking. “Where’s Alicia?”
“No—” Kat says as Alicia steps out from behind Cas, saying, “Right here, Andy.”
Andy breathes out in relief. “What’s going on?” His voice breaks on the last word. “What happened? We got back inside, right?”
“Andy,” she whispers, and jerks a little; glancing down, Dean sees Cas’s hand locked around her arm. “We did, yeah. Just stay calm, okay? It’s—”
“Shut up,” Kat says venomously, tightening her hold on Andy. “Don’t listen to her, Andy, she killed you! I saved you, I fixed everything, it’s fine.”
“What?” Andy looks down at her, then at the dingy bandage still covering his forearm. “Wait, I—I remember…”
“I fixed it!” Kat insists. “You’re fine!”
Andy’s eyes snap to Alicia. “I was in Headquarters,” he says, holding her eyes. “I remember—”
“It doesn’t matter!” Kat snaps, trying to make him look at her. “It’s not important. We’ll leave, okay? Go—”
“Don’t listen to her!” Kat says, jerking Andy’s face down. “She killed babies, Andy! She killed her own baby, she’s crazy! I love you,” she says, smiling tremulously. “Now, let’s—”
Andy grabs Kat’s wrists, pulling them away from his face as he focuses on Alicia. “How long?”
“Minutes,” she answers. “I’m so sorry, Andy.”
“Oh God.” Grabbing Kat’s shoulders, he shoves her away, looking frantically around the room. “What are you waiting for? Shoot me!”
“No!” Kat throws herself at him, clinging desperately. “No, you don’t understand, it’s fine! It’s fixed, there’s nothing—”
“Dean?” Mel asks quietly, Andy sighted in her rifle.
Gary, Mark, Drew, Phil, Haruhi, Rosario…
“Andy, listen to me!” Kat begs, and Andy staggers back into the other table, trying frantically to push her away. “It’s fine, what are you doing—” Staring up into Andy’s face, she frowns as it goes blank, a shudder rippling through his body as his hands close over the edge of the table, knuckles white. “Andy? What’s wrong?”
…four dead and four injured from the North Gate…
“Dean?” Mel asks again, finger resting just short of the trigger.
“On my mark.”
Kat looks at Andy in bewilderment. “Andy?”
…Alicia, and now, again, Andy.
The blank look vanishes; lips curling in a snarl, Andy jerks forward, grabbing Kat, and Dean sees her reflexively drop. Good enough. “Mark.”
They take out his head in three shots, and Kat scrambles backward, sprinkled in blood and brain. Eyes wide, she watches Andy’s body topple over and hit the floor before she starts to scream.
“Twelve hours in isolation under guard,” Dean says. “At least one person in the room at all times.”
“Same,” Manuel says flatly, looking at Cathy, who’s absorbed in counting Del’s toes over and over, oblivious to the blood splatter that sprinkles her jeans.
“I’ll take Cathy,” Alicia says tonelessly. “If that’s okay, Manuel.”
Manuel nods agreement. “Anyi’s team can stay with you after Naresh picks up the other two.”
“We’ll take Kat,” Mel says, not quite lowering her rifle, eyes following Kat’s every move while David keeps most of his attention on the remains of Andy: just in case.
Sarah takes a breath. “I should—”
“No,” Mel says gently. “Nothing worth your time here. Drew and Phil need you; keep us updated, okay?”
Kat twists around desperately. “Sarah,” she says in relief, and Dean watches numbly as she gets to her feet. “Sarah, please, you have to—Andy—”
Sarah looks at Dean. “Go,” he says quietly. “Joe said Drew’s pretty stoned; make sure he doesn’t hit on too many of the nurses.”
“Sarah?” Kat says frantically, starting toward her, boots sliding out beneath her on the blood-slick floor and landing on her knees. “Sarah, wait—Sarah…!” Dean automatically blocks Sarah’s exit and then hears the click of a safety followed by a strangled gasp before silence descends. Kat’s frozen, half on her knees, bloodshot eyes huge in her blood-streaked face, and the hardest thing Dean’s ever done is keep his finger off the trigger. Move, he tells her silently; one finger, that’s all I need.
“Cas,” he says instead, “restrain little Miss Fixit, would you?”
He keeps his gaze on Kat’s shocked face as Cas wraps an arm around her waist and lifts her bodily from the floor, legs dangling uselessly beneath her. That actually isn’t better, he realizes belatedly; now she’s right by Cas and he’s really not okay with that.
“Lyz,” Cas says calmly, “find a source of water and something clean for the prisoners to wear, scrubs are acceptable; Daniel, find three rooms upstairs with adequate locks; Amanda, please inform the infirmary that we require a sedative for two people.” Without hesitation, all three nod, and if they don’t hurry to the door, it’s only professional pride. “Dean, due to the risk of contagion, it would be prudent for you and Manuel to leave this building until decontamination has been completed and the prisoners secured. Joseph, please escort them, if you would.”
“Tony’s sending two teams for clean-up,” Manuel says mildly, wrapping a hand around Dean’s wrist and easing it down; by habit, he flicks off the safety and manages to unlock his fingers enough to let Manuel take it. If he works at it, he can almost pretend he doesn’t hear multiple sighs of relief. “Cas, would you mind supervising until the prisoners are in quarantine? Anyi can take it from there.”
“Of course,” he agrees, indifferent to the Croat blood from Kat on his clothes and arms, a smear on his chin.
“Mel, David,” Dean says, and both straighten. “Stay with Cas until both of them are locked up.”
“Yes, sir,” Mel says soberly.
“She tries to touch anyone before the twelve hours are up—”
“If either of them does anything I judge objectionable, I’ll shoot them,” Cas says. “I’ll report when they’re secured.”
As Joseph herds him and Manuel out the door, he glances back to see Cas lowering Kat to the floor, where she slumps into a pathetic ball, sobbing like she’ll never stop.
Cathy never looks up, not once.
Naresh arrives only a few minutes after Joe herds him and Manuel outside and onto the deserted road, expressionless and radiating a deadly calm that manages to cow even Kyle into silence. Or maybe Naresh ordering them taken into custody finally penetrates whatever the fuck made Kyle think anything that happened today was going to end well for him. As Kyle’s herded away, he looks desperately at Dean, but whatever he was going to say is left unspoken when Dean turns away.
It seems like days but is probably only a few minutes before Anyi comes out. “Cathy’s infected.”
Manuel pales. “What? How? It was only splatter—”
“Alicia was supervising her in the shower—outside the door,” she says quickly when Dean steps forward. “She saw blood, and Cas went to check. There’s a fresh cut on her inner arm and I verified one on Del’s left foot. I found a broken scalpel in her jeans; she probably picked it up in the morgue when we weren’t looking.”
Looking between them, Dean realizes neither are surprised. And come to think, neither is he.
“I should have warned Cas—”
“Warned him to let her do it?” Anyi asks softly, and Manuel stiffens. “Don’t tell me you’re not thinking it. If we’d let her do what she wanted to when Del died the first time—”
“We wouldn’t be in the middle of a redux,” Anyi continues hotly. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
“Anyi, it wasn’t just Cathy,” Dean offers into the charged silence. “Even if she hadn’t been part of it, Kat and Carol would have found another way.”
“No one else,” she says, still looking at Manuel, “had infirmary and drug cabinet privileges that would have gone along with this. Sure, they might have pulled off something, but without Cathy—”
“That’s enough.” Anyi shuts her mouth, jaw tight. “We’ll talk about this later.”
“Much later,” Cas says, joining them, and Dean blesses Cas’s ability to just not give a shit about tension. “I confirmed Cathy is in first stage as of three minutes ago.”
“That fast?” Manuel asks.
“It’s been almost an hour since speculated exposure,” Cas answers. “Direct blood transfer to an open wound tends to show more quickly.”
Manuel nods tightly.
“Callisto is not infected—which considering she had no direct or even indirect exposure is not a surprise—but she has requested she wait out the remaining three hours it can take first stage to manifest and I confirm she’s not infected,” Cas continues. “I asked Ana to keep her company and sent Evelyn to inform Callisto’s charges that she’s working late and will be home before dawn.”
Dean remembers the kids with Callisto at the fire and what Cas told him about who died outside the walls: yeah, they don’t need to know about this.
“Thanks, Cas,” Manuel says heavily. “I should have—”
“All of us are stretched thin at the moment,” Cas says. “Evelyn offered to stay with them for the rest of the night, as the other adults who would usually be available are on duty at this time or otherwise occupied. She’ll reassure them and keep them distracted until Callisto comes home.” Cas hesitates. “I thought it would also reassure Callisto to know the children are safe and occupied.”
Despite everything, Dean smiles at that. “Good job.” He clears his throat, wondering where the roughness came from and why. “So what next?”
“I verified that Manuel’s building is currently unoccupied, so you both will spend the next three hours there, which will put you well past the last possible time for first stage to manifest,” Cas says. “There’s almost no chance of infection, but you were both in the mortuary when a Croatoan manifested and were exposed to blood splatter. On your boots,” he adds.
Dean looks down when Manuel does: yeah, that.
“Joseph will oversee your decontamination before escorting you there,” Cas continues. “I sent for a change of clothing for you both already. Alison is being informed now, but I understand that quarantine can be carried out anywhere. She approved the choice of location.”
“Why not here?” Dean asks; he’s gonna say this isn’t just about the chances of infection.
“For one, I do not think it would be in anyone’s interest for it to be discovered Chitaqua’s leader and one of the co-leaders of Ichabod’s patrol were directly exposed to Croatoan at manifestation, almost non-existent the chances of infection might be. However, on the off-chance it gets out, we can confirm you both were isolated after.”
“He’s right,” Joe says from behind them. “There are going to be enough rumors going around about tonight; adding panic to the mix isn’t going to help.”
To Dean’s relief, Manuel doesn’t argue. “I’d like to see Cathy—”
“No,” Cas says flatly, and Manuel gets a stubborn look that Dean recognizes from his own face. “Cathy already deliberately infected one person with Croatoan—”
“Herself!” Manuel interrupts. “What do you think she’s going to do, go after me? She wouldn’t do that!”
“Haruhi and Rosario have been moved to our headquarters and are under observation there, due to the infirmary being rather overburdened with the other survivors of those she didn’t go after today,” Cas says evenly. “Which would be my second reason for you to wait out quarantine in another building; I don’t want either of you in the same building—or even street—as any of the surviving perpetrators. While I may not technically have any authority over you, I hope you’ll see the logic because you aren’t going in there until quarantine is ended.”
“I do,” Anyi says while Dean firmly doesn’t admit Cas kind of does have that authority over him. “Over Manuel, at least. You know the rules as well as I do; you’ve been compromised and as third ranking officer in patrol, in the absence of your co-commander, I’m taking command now. And if you think Teresa would disagree, I’ll go get her right now.”
“Cathy didn’t know what she was doing.”
“Sure she did,” Anyi answers. “She was getting her daughter back; everything and everyone else was details. Now, you want to brief me before you go?”
After a moment, Manuel nods shortly, and Dean takes Cas aside. “What’s going on with Anyi?” Cas gives him a querying look. “Dude, she’s taking this personally: why?”
“She just received custody of her daughter, Sera,” he answers, adding, “She adopted one of the orphans left behind by the infiltrators.”
Huh. “She sees herself in Cathy’s place and doesn’t like it.”
“No,” Cas says slowly, frowning. “She sees the infiltrators in Cathy and the reason they did what they did to this town. And why Sera—and those other children—are orphans.”
Love, power, jealousy, grief, ambition, revenge, it’s always personal, but it’s always about you; you don’t sell your soul for anyone or anything but yourself.
“Alicia still with Cathy?”
“Yes,” he answers, an edge in his voice. “Technically speaking, she is under quarantine as well due to proximity and the possibility of microscopic blood splatter—”
“She actually said that.”
“Yes, but with more words. I confirmed she wasn’t infected, but…” Cas trails off, looking uncertain.
“She wants to see this through.” Why is the question, but even Alicia may not have an answer for that one. All his instincts scream to order her out of there—he gets what Cas meant about him and Manuel being in the same building as Cathy or Kat—but something stops him. “Is Cathy a danger to her?” Would Alicia let her be, is what he means; if she hasn’t hit threshold on dealing, she’s damn close to it, and accidents happen, especially if you’re wanting one.
“I talked to Anyi, privately,” Cas says, answering both questions. “Her team has orders to shoot on suspicion. I doubt there’s any physical danger, however. All Cathy’s attention is focused on her daughter.”
“You can’t think this is a good idea.”
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Cas answers. “But I think it would be a much worse idea to make Alicia leave.”
Alicia’s had enough of her choices taken away today (and during her whole goddamn life); short of suicide by Cathy, she gets to have this one, even if its shitty. From the corner of his eye, he sees Manuel and Anyi waiting and moves to his least favorite subject. “Kat?”
“Crying.” Yeah, no surprise there. “Daniel or Liz report to me every thirty minutes, but they’ve assured me that David and Mel are taking turns holding a gun on her at all times and time their blinks.”
“Good.” If they get lucky, she’ll do something stupid; they aren’t, so on a guess, Kat’s gonna be just fine come morning. “Keep me updated, okay?”
“Joseph will run relay between here, the infirmary, and Naresh,” Cas confirms. “He’ll report to you hourly.”
Dean wants to do something, but he settles for squeezing Cas’s shoulder before letting Joe herd them toward their three hour fate.