In which there are a lot of hats.
Kansas - Carry on my wayward son
When Sam walks out of the shower that evening, a skeleton thin bone-bag of a person, Dean sees the scratches on the left side of his neck and shoulder. He decides that Dobby the House Elf or whatever the fuck it was died too damn quickly. He's not sure what the fuck it was, other than it a creepy little son of a bitch and he was the only one who could see it. What the hell was up with that?
Bobby had scraped up the abomination with a shovel and taken it out back to burn it. Izzy told them to make sure they stood upwind of it because the fumes were nasty, and it gave off this greasy black smoke that managed to get in their hair and clothes regardless of where they stood.
Even pressed Izzy wouldn't say what it is, just that it was trapped in the house and the same protection spells that keep her out kept it in.
Sam goes to bed early, still pissy, spread out on a couch in one of the back rooms. Dean, finding a grape popsicle in Bobby's freezer that's probably been there since the eighties, goes looking for Izzy.
She's huddled in a purple and red hoodie with her hair up in a loose braid, and kicking the dirt with her white deck shoes. Dean takes off his own coat on seeing her and wraps it around her small shoulders. It's January and the kid- no, angel - is barely dressed. He knows, intellectually that she doesn't feel the cold, but in his head she's ten and it's freezing.
Lacey lopes over, like a big cat on a hunt, and drops down at Izzy's feet.
Dean snaps the popsicle in two and gives her one of the sticks.
Izzy looks at him like it's a truly magnificent gift rather than some frozen juice on a stick, covered in ice crystals and burns from being in the bottom of the freezer for twenty years. She thanks him in a small tight voice like she might cry.
"What was that thing?" He knows enough about the workings of Heaven that you get nothing for nothing, and wonders what half of a grape popsicle is worth.
"A Yattering," she answers, "they whisper," she sucks on the popsicle thoughtfully, "they say things in your ear, evil things, and make you believe that you're thinking them." She looks at him and in the lamplight he can see the freckles across her nose. "They're not dangerous," she adds as a coda, "They just whisper."
And then he asks, because he has to, "If Cas saw it would he have let it be?"
"It's not very powerful," she says, licking the sticky juice from the side of her hand, "it would probably die from being in the same room as him."
It reassures him somewhat, but he's got her here, and she's not as unintentionally cryptic as Castiel so he might as well ask. "Why me?" He lowers his eyes to look at his own, barely touched popsicle, "I mean Cas went into Hell to get me back, why?"
"Because you're our brother," she says as if it answers all the questions he might ever ask, "we didn't know about you until you went to Hell and then we felt it as if we were in Hell with you. So Castiel went to get you." It's amazing to Dean how reverent she sounds when she says it. "Zophael wanted to go, but Castiel said no, he'd do it, because Destiny said it would be better. Zophael is," she stops for a moment, "Zophael doesn't choose sides." It sounds like she's repeating something she heard someone else say.
Dean has a moment where he wonders what it would have been like if someone other than Cas had plucked him out of Hell, but the thought doesn't want to stick. He wonders if . . . if this Zophael had done it, he would feel that same hunger that he does for Castiel? Even now, pissed at him, Dean wants him here, which is such a chick reaction he doesn't even want to admit it to himself.
"Zophael doesn't even fight in the war." Her voice is so small when she says it, like she's tattling on her elders, that Dean is surprised that he even heard her.
"The war against Lucifer?" He's not so disingenuous that he can't take advantage of her. Izzy has answers and he wants them.
"No, that's just," she goes quiet. "The power struggles of Perdition are the business of the Pit." It's a rote answer, and Castiel has said the same thing before. "Every prophet in his house." She adds.
"It's all this," she says spreading her hands, "we've fought for so long, so hard, not against the demons, against ourselves." She lowers her eyes and drops the melted popsicle to the stoop where Lacey finishes it off quickly. "We were loved best!" She says as if it answers anything at all. She's crying again, "we were loved best." She repeats through the tears.
In his head he hears Reigert talk about maintaining the status quo.
He hears Uriel calling him a monkey.
He sees the scratches on Sam's shoulders from the Devil that literally perched there.
He knows that he's on the verge of a revelation, that he's a second away from understanding everything but it's just out of his grasp.
"We were loved best," she repeats as if it's all she knows how to say.
He's almost there, it's on the tip of his tongue, and he knows that he knows it the same way he knows how to breathe. Another second, another heartbeat and he'll understand. "You coming in or what?" Bobby asks from the door, "I'm locking the door with or without you."
Dean curses under his breath because it's gone, the revelation he almost had has been chased away. He's not angry though, a little frustrated but he knows it'll come to him.
He stands up to follow Bobby and looks at Izzy. "Sure you're not coming too?" He asks the angel. If Bobby questions him, he says nothing.
"I'm good," she says, "Really." But even if Dean doesn't believe her he doesn't push it.
"She's an angel," he tells Bobby as the door locks behind them. "Maybe bad-ass but . . ." he forgets where he's going, "she's a kid."
"Still say I should call social services," Bobby grouses.
"I asked, well Cas asked, if she'd watch over Sammy while I was gone." He goes into the kitchen and sits at the small table there.
"You boys are like an old married couple," Bobby says and pulls two beers from the icebox and sets them down on the table before sitting down himself. "Not one of you with the sense God gave a drowning rat that was stupid enough to fall in the water in the first place."
Dean laughs because it's Bobby's way of sharing and caring and he can appreciate that. "Mom made a deal," the words slip out of him, "and she knew it was fucked up so she made a second deal which was just worse."
Bobby just takes a mouthful of his beer before he shrugs, "You all make deals, you Winchesters. Hell the only one who hasn't is Sam because no demon will make one with him. You're all as thick as pigshit when it comes each other."
"Dad died, once, before you knew him," Dean continues in a low voice, surprised that he's telling this at all, "Yellow Eyes killed everyone in front of Mom, her Mother, her Father, Dad, and he said he'd give her Dad back, no questions asked, and in return he'd come by in ten years to pick up something." He has to pause and gather himself before he continues, "So she took the deal and I don't blame her," Dean adds quickly, "I woulda too."
Bobby quirks an eyebrow as if to suggest that Dean would probably do it for less, Hell, he has done it for less.
"But then she realised that she'd been played, that Yellow Eyes had a plan and she was born to it. Yanno, Bobby, her parents were hunters, her grandparents, their parents back as far as anyone could remember." He is picking at the label of his beer bottle with his fingernail, trying to avoid looking at anything, trying to avoid reacting.
He's half convinced that if Bobby sees the fire before he can explain it that Bobby will put him down, because he knows that in Bobby's place he would.
"She spent years trying to find a loophole, five years." Dean's done the math, he knows how long it took.
He's had time to think on it, and he can hear Patsy Cline singing in the back of his head.
"She," he stops, "she made a deal with the Archon, I have no fucking clue what that is so don't ask," he quickly adds, "but she had sex with him so I'd be born, that's why the angels all crowd around me, because I'm some sort of holy half breed that will fight in their war."
"Nephalim," Bobby says without batting an eye. "There are books on them." Maybe Bobby only knows from the books but he doesn't seem surprised. Nothing about the Winchesters surprises Bobby any more. "And the Archon isn't a who, boy, it's a what, it's a title, idjut, didn't you ever pay attention to anything we tried to teach you?"
Dean's pretty sure he would have remembered that, but unless it involved killing and burning things Dean always had a short attention span. "Then . . ." he leaves it open.
"The Archon's supposed to be Lucifer's twin, the angel that didn't fall." Bobby empties his beer with a hearty swallow and gets himself another, popping open the lid before he sits down. "He probably possessed your Dad for the deal." He shrugs his shoulders like this kind of thing happens every day and the Winchester's don't live in some kind of fucked up supernatural soap opera.
"I don't get why, though. The angels keep to themselves. Why now? Because the Apocalypse is coming?"
Dean's laugh is dry and joyless as he explains what he has learned. "Yellow Eyes stirred up enough shit to attract Lilith, she wants to use the colt to kill Lucifer so she can take his armies to war against God."
"Makes sense," Bobby agrees. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." His voice is gruff.
Dean has picked the label of the beer down to the glass. "The angels, they're here just in case, they're pretty sure it's nothing to worry about but, you know, shit happens."
"Especially where you're around." Bobby tells him. "Look, Dean, you got a get out of jail free card dealt to you by your Mom, you've got some Heavenly heavy weights dancing to your tune, and some weird ass spindly thing stalking your brother that only you can see."
Dean shifts in his uncomfortable kitchen chair.
"There's a not-a-dog asleep in front of the fireplace, and you're wearing the kind of jewellery that hunters do their best to lock away or destroy."
Dean's eyes go to the bracelet he didn't think to try to hide. He should have known that Bobby would recognise it.
"And something tells me that aint the half of it, you vanish for two months and come back looking healthier than I've ever seen you, telling stories that are just plain fucked up, and yet you're coping better than you have in years. The question that strikes me is what the hell are you complaining about?"
Dean looks at Bobby for long moments. "I'm a puppet on a string."
Bobby scratches his beard with his palm, then knuckles the side of his nose, they're all familiar gestures that suggest Bobby is thinking. "Seems to me that maybe it's the other way around and that's what scares you."
"Now you get on to bed, I've laid out a sleeping bag in the back room, and don't go using all the hot water." Dean finishes his beer in long greedy swallows. "I've had your brother fussing like a mother hen, and now you complaining," he shakes his head. "I dun someone wrong in a past life," he mutters to himself, "something real wrong."
Dean smiles at Bobby's bitching because it's the only way he shows affection. Bobby's a hunter after all, he doesn't do chick flick moments either. He listens to Bobby stomping up the stairs, muttering to himself about idjut hunters and what did he do to inherit them before he decides to call it a night himself.
First Dean looks out the window to make sure Izzy's all right. He can't see her or the dogs so he carries on to bed.
Bobby's sleeping bags have seen better days, well better years really, but he's slept on worse so he doesn't really care. He strips down to his briefs and climbs in, the nylon is silky and kinda nice against his skin, cool and light.
His feet are cold though and he's just contemplating finding his socks when New Sammy lopes in and plops down beside him, licks his neck, yawns and goes straight back to sleep, with his head across Dean's chest meaning that Dean's not going anywhere any time soon.
He's asleep before he really knows what's hit him.
Dean wakes up with a weight on his chest, it's so familiar, so pressing-the terror- that at first he doesn't think to struggle. It's the dog, he reassures himself, then he opens his eyes.
Izzy is straddling his chest, in her hands she has a wicked looking knife. "I'm sorry," she says again then she slits his throat.
Dean expects to wake up because that's what happens when people kill you in dreams. What he doesn't expect is the girl in black tights sitting cross-legged on the mat. "Hey," she says.
He knows her, not just a nagging familiarity, but actually knows her from Wayne's kitchen in Chicago. Sitting there looking totally innocuous and completely at home is Death.
"So," Dean says, finding himself sat next to her in jeans and Magda's ugly sweater. "I'm dead."
"Not exactly." Death answers.
"So this is where you offer me a deal?" Dean asks, "Or we play cards or something?"
"Not exactly," she repeats.
"So," Dean asks, "where do we go from here?"
"That's up to you." Death's tone is measured and patient.
"I gotta stay and help Sammy, I gotta watch out for him." Dean isn't above begging. "And Bobby, and Ellen and Jo, and all those people who look out for me and need me to look out for them. I can't be dead."
"You're not," Death repeats, "well not exactly."
"Well pardon me for thinking Death might be sitting next to me because, well, I'm dead!" Dean's pretty sure he's allowed a freak out.
"Mostly dead." She agrees with a smile. "But you don't have to worry any more, you get what you want now." She tells him and it sounds practised.
"Someone's gotta look after Sammy, he'd die tripping over his own laces without me."
"You will," She tells him.
"What?" Dean is shook out of what was shaping up to be a good rant.
"You'll look after Sam." Death says it like it's the most obvious thing in the world.
"You're not taking him too, I'll salt and burn the angelic bitch if she thinks she's going anywhere near Sammy." He frowns, "I'll think of a way, Hell, I'm tenacious when I put my mind to it."
"Dean, you're only mostly dead." She continues, "you will look after Sammy."
"So you haven't come for me?" He sounds sceptical. Death doesn't just show up for kicks, and he hasn't got coffee on.
"Oh, I have," she says. "You know what you are now, right? A Nephal." Dean nods slowly, "So you know you've got angelic super powers right?" He nods again, "and angels don't have souls." She's explaining it to him like he's an idiot. But he's had a hard two months, he appreciates it.
"No," she smiles and she has the most amazing smile, "they have grace." Dean accepts that. "And the two can't co-exist, there's no room. You'd go mad, with all the powers of Heaven."
"They managed just fine for thirty years." Dean tells her.
"They didn't. Your grace only came to be when you died, Dean, the first time." She's sure to add that, "well the," she counts it off on her fingers, "the time you went to Hell, and it's been ripping you apart, most of what you can't understand is those two different pieces fighting for dominance of your meat, your flesh."
"But Cas brought me back," he protests.
"Yes, he did, but you sold your soul which meant the Grace was trapped, so he freed your human soul to free your grace and you had both. It was tearing you apart. One of them had to go."
"So, I'm dead?" He asks.
"Only your mortal half," she answers quietly, "your angelic half is still alive and well and it'll look after Sammy, and he'll never know, no one but you and Castiel will ever know."
"Then," he stops himself, "I'm confused."
"It's simple," she tells him with a smile, "your angel side gets to save the day and look after Sammy and have lots of copious angel sex with Castiel, and fight on whatever side of the war in Heaven you choose to and it will be to everyone else like nothing's changed, because you're still you, just with new improved angelic super powers." She smiles prettily again and catches his gaze, "And you get to take it from here."
Dean thinks that the skinny fit tee with the skull design she's wearing with a black kilt is just cute and not what he'd expect Death to wear.
"You don't have to worry about Sammy, or hunting, or anything, because it's all taken care of. You're still you, and you'll look out for him, just with new super powers, and . . ." She throws her hands up, "I hate dealing with these," she admits, "double souls are a pain in my ass. It's like this, you're dead but you're not dead, because the part of you here with me is dead, but there's part of you that's fine and not dead yet, savvy? Like you were twins and the not necessarily evil twin got killed." She's grasping for an explanation, "you seen the Prestige?"
"Well how about you and I blow this popsicle stand and get some coffee and you can explain it better to me there?" He asks with his best shit eating grin. Sure she's Death and she's a goth chick, but she's hot.
"Dean Winchester, are you hitting on me?" She asks and her tone is amused rather than arch.
"Maybe. If you want me to."
Her laughter is a warm ringing. "It's been a long time since someone tried to pick me up," she admits, her black eyes are sparkling with mischief "but you really aren't scared of me at all, are you?"
Dean shakes his head, "What's that old prayer? Death be above me, Death be beside me, Death be my lover," he waggles his eyebrows and leers suggestively, "Death be my yadda yadda yadda." He can't remember the rest. He can't even remember why they don't pray to Death any more.
She loops her arm through his as they stand up. "Coffee," she agrees, "would be great."
"So where do we go from here?" He asks.
Her grin is brilliant, as shit eating as his own, as she answers, "Well. That, Dean, is entirely up to you."