"How are they doing this?" Hermione breathed as she and Castiel walked briskly, hand in hand, down a crowded street. Less than a block behind them, two crisply dressed strangers followed them. Hermione could practically feel their eyes boring into the back of her skull. Since they were angels, she wasn't entirely sure there wouldn't be burn marks there when she checked later.
"I'm not sure. Without being in heaven, I don't know how they're tracking us. Maybe some spell that I am not familiar with," he murmured, pulling Hermione around yet another corner, trying to shake their trackers. Three more steps and Hermione pulled him into an alley off the busy street. Men and women bustled by too busy to notice the loud crack that left the little alleyway empty once more.
Turning the corner and scanning the street, the two pursuers grimaced in frustration. Pressing his fingertips to the bit of plastic in his ear, one of them spoke.
"They've apparated again."
The night leaked passed as they sat, waiting for Candy to reach across from the void. Ron was turning and twisting the dials on the radio, trying to catch any sign of their ghost.
"You feel that? I think I felt a chill," Sam said, shifting where he sat. Ron looked around but didn't say anything.
Suddenly the radio in his hand blared a woman's panicked voice.
"Hello? Where am I? I don't know where I am?" Ron froze, holding the radio very still.
"Candy? Are - are you there? Is that you, Candy?" Ron shouted at the old radio.
"Hello? Hello?" her voice came in stronger and more clear as Ron fiddled with the dials just a bit more.
"There. There. There. Stop. Stop. Stop. Candy?" Sam shouted when her voice was crystal clear.
"...in the box. They put me in the box. All of us in boxes, side by side. Me, Jerome, Linda," she was sobbing as she talked. They kept their questions short and specific. Her voice faded in and out but they pieced together that the three captives were most likely being held in a storage facility by Crowley and a few of his cronies. But Crowley had stopped showing up and they'd been left to the flunkies. Finally, Candy's voice gave out and nothing but static came from the radio. They quickly packed up the gear and headed toward the car.
Once they were on the road, Ron behind the wheel, Sam pulled out his laptop to do some research.
"Okay, there are three storage facilities nearby. The closest one is about a mile up the road. Oh, and I, uh - I dug up some stuff on Candy. Turns out she was the kept woman of a powerful Congressman. Gossip blog said he worshiped the ground she walked on, literally. He, uh - had a foot fetish," Sam said chuckling.
"So, Crowley was holding the beloved tootsies of a powerful politician and the beloved mother of a powerful Prophet," Ron summarized.
"Human leverage. But why kill Candy?" Sam scrunched his eyebrows.
"Well, you heard her. She tried to make a break for it. Maybe Crowley wanted to make an example?" Ron suggested.
"No. No. The guy left in charge. Crowley wanted the victims alive," Sam corrected.
"But Crowley's the one who put them in the cells in the first place," Ron added.
Despite the early hour, Ron and Sam threw on their fed suits and started working their way through the three 24 hour storage facilities not far from where they'd made contact with Candy.
They'd struck out at the first two and were beginning to have doubts about their theory as they entered the third and a clerk comically similar to the clerks at the last two places came into the room at the ding of the door bell.
"Can I help you?" he squeaked.
"Yeah, hi. Agents Nicks and McVie. Need to take a look at your, uh, rental records," Sam started, flipping his fake badge open as Ron followed suit, a little less smooth.
"Uh, my manager's not here. I really don't think I should -" and his voice cracked as he finished, eyes shifting about.
"Just get the records please," Sam cut over sternly. The clerk, whose name tag read Del, looked nervous and sweaty.
"Barry! Bring out the rental binder!" he hollered over his shoulder. Another man that again looked strikingly similar to the pale, short, bespectacled men they'd been dealing with all morning appeared holding a large inder in his hands. He clunked it down on counter and Ron pulled it towards them. He started flipping through the pages while Sam studied a map on the wall.
"Hey. Okay, check it out. Corridor "Q." Three adjacent units separate from the others. I mean, Candy said there were three hostages, right?" Sam muttered as Ron ambled over, trying to look casual, while still cradling the binder.
"Yeah," he murmured as he thumbed through the pages until he found the record for those units. "Okay. It's all leased by the same guy - a D. Webster."
"You guys say "D. Webster"?" Dell chirped.
"Yeah. Yeah, you - you seen him?" Ron said, twisting around to look at the speaker.
"Uh, no, just... I know his name from the records. He's leasing another unit on the other side of the facility. I could show you," he offered.
"Yeah. That'd be great," Sam said, and he whispered to Ron. "You head with Del and I will check out this corridor." Ron nodded in understanding, set the binder down and made to follow the young man.
The other clerk quietly disappeared into the back room as soon as he was left alone with Sam. Quickly scanning for any cameras, Sam made his way through the doorway leading towards the corridor in question.
He soon came upon three storage units positioned away from the others, set in the cold cinder block walls. Deciding to start with the unit furthest from the office, he deftly popped the small lock on the last storage unit in the trio.
The door rattled its way up, spilling weak light into the completely dark, empty little room. At least, Sam thought it was empty until he saw a huddle, shrinking mass on the floor. The trim black hair and small, strong hands quickly affirmed Sam's suspicions.
"Ms. Tran! Ms. Tran! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey, it's me. It's Sam. It's Sam," he muttered softly as he quickly made his way towards her and set about working to open the manacles fastened around her wrists and ankles.
"Sam?" she stared at him like he was a ghost of dreams she'd forgotten amidst the nightmares she couldn't escape. The look in her eyes silenced him as he continued to release her.
"Sam? We have to get out of here before it comes back. Is Kevin with you?" she asked, the hope thick in her voice. Sam felt like he couldn't breath; he couldn't explain what had happened to Kevin right now - he needed to get her out of here. As he came to the last cuff around her ankle, the metal door behind them quickly shuttered down, trapping them in the darkness.
Meanwhile, Ron was on edge as he entered the other storage unit that was supposedly rented by Crowley. Upon first entering, it looked far too typical to be the stash of the King of Hell.
Maybe that was the best way to hide something, Ron thought. So he continued to look through the shelves and papers around him. However, he continued to find nothing more than outdated paperwork belonging to a Bob Gunderson and odds and ends that might be the debris of a middle aged mans' life.
"This isn't Crowley's unit," Ron finally muttered, turning back towards his guide. He met eyes with Del just in time to see him swing the heavy end of a knife at Ron's head. It was the last thing he saw before everything faded to black.
"Okay, I don't see anything here," Hermione said quickly, eyeing the busy department store they were standing in. For the last few hours they'd apparated across 5 states trying to shake the angelic trail that seemed to be following them. Always opting for the safety of large crowds, nevertheless, they'd been found each time. The last time, they'd only spotted the angel a few dozen feet away and had made a hasty apparation from the shoe department.
Hermione was starting to tire from the constant magical drain. Her hand shook as it gripped her wand so hard that the small leaf reliefs across the shaft imprinted into her skin. They couldn't figure out how they were tracking them. Too afraid to return to the bunker and lead their enemies straight there, they'd continue to bounce from place to place. At this point, they weren't sure if the angels were working for Bartholomew, a faction leader that Castiel knew had gained a massive following or for Metatron.
But that didn't matter because they knew regardless of who they worked for, they weren't here to catch up on the weather. Several times, they'd caught the shimmering glint of celestial steel before they'd made their getaway.
Too busy still trying to work out all the missing details, neither of them noticed the little girl make her way to the display of purses behind Hermione. They didn't notice her turn towards them and twist her wrist in that painfully familiar way. It wasn't until Hermione felt the cold pressure of the angel blade pressed into her lower back that they realized they'd been caught.
"Gotcha," the little girl said in a sickly sweet voice that remind Hermione darkly of pink sweaters and kitten plates.
As Ron came to, he realized that his hands were bound. Struggling to sit up quickly, his left foot slipped in something slick. Gathering his bearings, he looked down and saw the other clerk, Barry, lying prone on the floor, thick red blood dribbling from a deep gash in his throat.
After mastering his own bodily reactions to the sight, Ron realized that he heard someone talking. Del stepped into his line of vision and he realized the small little man was muttering to himself.
"Trust me," he says. "You definitely want to be a part of this - "a chance to get in on the ground floor of my operation, "a real learning experience. Consider it a stepping stone, my lad - like an internship." Should've known. Internships suck." Del noticed that Ron had regained consciousness but continued to muddle about with the bowl that he was holding which seemed to be nearly filled with what Ron could only assume was his poor coworkers blood.
Looking for a way to work his hands free of the binding behind him, Ron started talking.
"So, you're the one. You're the one who Crowley left in charge?" Ron ventured.
Del stopped what he was doing with the bowl and seemed to take a moment to collect his thoughts before speaking. His voice was dripping with sarcasm when he did.
"Yeah. What a privilege. Feeding the apes, hosing the floors, washing out the honey buckets, and for zero credit. The boss, M.I.A. Too important to show for work, to even return my calls. And you know the worst part? I wasn't even allowed to kill anyone. I was told to protect them. I mean, how sick is that? Am I not a young, vital demon with basic demon needs and rights? And when I call Crowley to inform him that I've single-handedly caught Sam Winchester and one of the witches that he has been cavorting with, if he even answers my call, think I'll get a thank you? Ha!"
Stalling for time until he could work the small blade in the back of his shirt loose, Ron groped for anything to keep the demon babbling.
"Yeah, you're right. He won't give you credit. If anything, he'll be pissed."
"What?" Dell snapped at him, still mixing the bowl full of blood.
"Crowley and the Winchesters - they've been thick as thieves lately. Spent time working together over the last few months quite a bit."
So, that's where he's been. Out partying with humans, with hunters?! While I languish here in this go-nowhere, no-kill joke of a job," Del said, mostly to himself.
"Partying" is a bit of an exaggeration," Ron mumbled loud enough for Del to hear.
"This job blows!" he shouted and before Ron realized it, the little demon had whipped the sinister looking blade he had used to deck Ron out from behind his back. In a flash, he was crouched on the ground, inches from his face, twisting the tip of the knife towards his throat, muttering curses and threats. The demon pressed the knife just below Ron's ear slowly, clearly enjoying himself. Finally the steel broke the skin and warm blood trickled down Ron's throat and the demon giggled like a child as he drug the blade through the soft flesh, leave a slit a few inches long in its wake.
Eyes lit with fire, Del raised the arm back, grinning manically and prepared to sink it hilt deep into Ron. Trying frantically to get to something that would loose his hands, Ron stared up, feeling the last few seconds of his life slip through his hands.
And it was in that moment that the door behind them crashed open loudly. Barely pausing to take in the scene, Sam sprang across the room, tackling Del who had turned to see who was coming to ruin his fun. With a sickening crunch, the demon's head collide with the metal shelf behind him and his body went limp as he passed out.
"Are you alright?" Sam asked, coming to kneel beside Ron, eyeing the blood running freely into his collar. Despite the fact that there were two demons on the floor, one of them still alive, and a very bedraggled woman standing in the door, Ron reached up and pulled Sam into a rough hug.
He had had his fair share of near death experiences but the fact that Sam hadn't hesitated and now looked after him with genuine concern was better than anything Sam could have said; they were going to be alright.
Sam chuckled, understanding. He patted Ron on the shoulder a couple times and they broke apart, Ron scrabbling to his feet, pulling his wand from his pocket to seal up the gash in his neck.
Seeing that Ron was alright, Sam spun around and fastened the demons hands and feet with zip ties before he could come to. Grimacing, he smeared his fingers through the blood puddling on the floor and etched a hasty Devil's trap around Del as his eyes started to flutter. Slowly he pulled himself to his knees and took in his situation with resignation.
"You're going to kill me?" he stated matter of factly.
"No - we're saving you for someone," Sam said smiling darkly.
"Crowley?" Del said with a mixture of relief and fear. Continuing to smile, Sam turned slowly and extended the hilt of Ruby's demon-killing dagger towards the shadowed doorway. Like mist gathering on a cold window, Mrs. Tran floated into the room, rage and revenge practically crackling in the air around her.
"Do the honors, Ms. Tran," Sam muttered.
"With pleasure," she glowered before she thrust the knife so deep into the demon the hilt was splashed with blood.
"Take me to my son," she said firmly, wiping the blade on the dead demons shirt.
Cold wind whipped past Hermione's face and she and Cas walked, surrounded by a group of angels, through an empty backlot behind the department store they'd just left. Hermione could still feel the pressure of the angel blade over her spine and the hand around her elbow gripped painfully tight.
Two other angels were flanking Castiel, clearly considering him more of a threat than a young witch. They were however, wise enough to put several lengths between the two of them, prevent Hermione from apparting them away.
"You've been hard to pin down," the angel behind Castiel muttered. Hermione noticed that aside from holding his arms, there was nothing restraining Castiel. Apparently they knew enough about them to know that the knife to her back was enough to hold him back.
"What do you want Nehelm?" Cas ground out between gritted teeth.
"Me? Nothing. But the boss just wants to… talk," the last word fell too slowly from the angels lips and it made the acid in Hermione's stomach roll. Slowly, a sleek black car came around the corner, approaching them and Hermione began to think furiously, looking for a way out.
As they halted to wait for the car, the angel just behind Hermione and the little girl prodding her along came to stand beside her. In a motion as fluid as wind, his blade was in his hand and his arm flew up across Hermione's brow, bringing the hilt of weapon across her temple. She crumbled in his arms.
"NO!" Castiel roared, surging towards them. Instantly, the tip of the blade pressed dangerously hard against Hermione's neck and he froze.
"Just a little insurance, to make sure you listen carefully," the burly angel holding his beloved spat. "Do what you're told and she'll be fine," he growled and the other angels around Castiel shoved him into the back of the sedan. The car peeled away quickly, carrying Castiel off to the headquarters of Bartholomew. It had disappeared down the road and out of sight just before Hermione started to rouse.
The angel holding her tightened his grip as she stiffened and jerked, looking around frantically.
"Where's Castiel?" she cried, panic making her vision pop and crack.
"Calm down!" the angel yelled as she struggled hard enough to pull him back and forth several inches. Hermione ignored him and fought to free her arms and get her wand from the angel holding it. She was so focused on wrenching her pinned wrists free that she didn't notice the white light spiral under her skin.
"What the…" the angel holding her started, seeing the spiraling light and the soft glow shining just beneath the curtain of hair covering her face. A deep growl started to build in her throat and she heaved against him with enough force to flip him onto the ground. Her vision continued to sparkle with rage and she spun on the spot and snatched her wand from the dumbfounded angel a few feet from her.
Her brain seemed to hit pause; every part of her heart wanted to pursue Castiel. But her arms and mouth seemed to move on their own.
Raising her wand rigidly, she leveled it with the heart of the angel that had knocked her out. Words she didn't recognize flowed from her lips in a buzz of power, feeling hot and sticky. Power blasted from the skin of her fingers into the wand which acted as a conduit for the raw energy exploding from her.
Before her eyes, the angel froze, wreathed in white-hot light before his inner Grace flared and burst from behind his eyes. The light faded and his vessel slumped onto the concrete, burnt out.
The angels surrounding her began to flee, terrified of the power pulsing for this human. Her rage wasn't quenched and almost like a marionette, she pivoted from angel to angel, blasting them apart from the inside.
Seconds later she was alone, panting heavily in the alley way behind the stores, with half a dozen bodies scattered around her, spirals of smoke curling from their charred eye sockets.
Her breath continued to come in ragged sheets as the light dimmed in her eyes. She'd seen it all happen; she'd done it. But it had felt like she was watching an animal in a cage from the other side of the bars.
How had she'd done that? Where had the power come from?
Almost like the sinister knock of a hitman come to collect bounty, she felt the pressure of the angel tablet, far heavier than it had been moments ago, press on her hip from inside the duffle bag she had against her body under her jacket.
Violent tremors started in her hands and she squeezed her wand painfully to keep from dropping it. Tears bubbled in the corners of her eyes and leaked unbidden down her face as she turned and magiced a giant hole into the soil behind the parked cars. It took more work than it should have to levitate the bodies into the pit and cover them over with the dirt.
Once finished, she sent about following the trail left behind by Castiel's captors; still shaking and cheeks stained with dirt and tear tracks.