Summary: Death is fond of those places she frequents.
Disclaimer: This Death and her family belong to Neil Gaiman, Supernatural characters property of Eric Kripke, et al.
Original story: That what you fear the most could meet you halfway, by musesfool
Death is fond of the places she frequents.
There is little of the universe - of any universe - which is unknown to her. There are pockets, here and there - most of them in the free-fall void of space, deep beneath the crust of planets or within the furnace hearts of young stars - that are ignorant of her presence. Some of them will remain so for the rest of eternity. But tenacious life sends out tendrils everywhere, over and over again, no matter how often it may fail.
And where there is life, there comes, eventually, Death.
I've been around, she might say, with a wicked grin and a wave of the hand, and from the tilt of her head, knows how a listener might take the phrase...and doesn't care. She is Death. She goes everywhere. And all come to her embrace.
She wanders down a hallway - old linoleum, buffed to a high gleam five hours ago, but now scuffed with the passage of a hundred feet. The walls are scarce better - painted-over wallpaper, yellowing light fixtures, gapes in the corner molding between the ceiling and the wall. She remembers the first time she came to this wing of the hospital - the nurses wore starched caps and Death took away an ashen-faced infant and a bitter young man, both with holes in their hearts.
The infant had been surrounded by parents, siblings, and a pair of great aunts. The young man, still in shock from the impact of the buckshot round, had died alone, in the midst of strangers struggling to stop the river of blood pouring from the wound.
Death's smile had been the first friendly glance he had seen in six months, and he was still staring at the dimple in her cheek and the light in her eyes when he took her hand.
Death is like that.
Now, years later, she is to meet another young man - another angry one, another wanderer, another outlaw. Death lets her hand trail along the corridor wall, and remembers when the wall on this side was not entirely white.
She is fond of the places she has been before, and, as familiarity brings comfort, greets with warm affection those she has seen many times before.
There was a hangman in a tiny town in Kansas, who set the rope around the necks of half a hundred men (and a few women), always with efficiency and professional competency, and when Death came for him, she hailed him like an old friend. In old Istanbul, the anatomist Yar Div al Mohammad succumbed to a fever, and Death took him up in her arms as though she were meeting a lost child. And on Delta Vestinia, where the selection of the bodyguard of the Empress is a competition that spans a full year and claims half of the participants, Death leans against Mara Lantis's shoulder like a lover, and takes the old trainer's hand with a smile.
There are few lives that are untouched by Death before their own ending, and so Death's memory is full of glimpses of countenance after countenance - some weeping, some shocked, some rejoicing, some resigned - as the living still about the dying brush against Death.
She has seen this young man before - more frequently than most. He has held the dead as they passed - but he is no healer, no priest. He has fought to save those past saving, and killed the things which have brought Death. A warrior, a soldier in a private, personal war...he is not afraid of Death - but he is afraid of dying.
This young man has ties binding him - great hawsers, forged of love and obligation and desperate need into a cable stronger than any steel. With such a line, Death could snare a star, and bind a nova to her bidding.
It is sufficient to keep the young man from following her to the sunless lands, and Death sighs, settling in to work a little harder, this time.
Every death is swift - the space between the last heartbeat and the one thereafter, the one that never comes. But every death exists outside of the boundaries of time, and so she has the time to wait, as the young man struggles against the flow of causation.
In this, as with all she does, she can not break the tie herself. As she sits with the young man, speaking not platitudes but truth, she feels his grip on the love-tie loosen. Fear is naked on the face he turns to her, but so is resolution. His hand has not risen to take hers, but she can see the shift in his shoulder, the way the muscles tense, and she relaxes in relief.
It is her undoing.
in which family comes to her aid
"Death?" A touch comes, light as a butterfly's kiss. "Sister? Are you well?" Another hand joins the first, more firmly. "Death, your hair's gone all strange. Why didn't you tell me you were making it white? I could have done it for you – made it all pretty, all sparkles –"
Delirium, Death thinks, and can not yet form the words. But her youngest sister – mad and broken and wise beyond all of the family – prattles on, and from her scattered ramblings, Death draws strength.
She tried to find her balance, struggling against the whirl of sensation. Power still flows out of her –
-a rat, between the walls, two days dead, now breathing again, its lungs filling with blood as the wayfarin breaks the microclots that keep its veins intact. Agonial, it thrashes, claws ripping at plasterboard –
- in the next room, a flat-lining patient jerks once before her heart collapses back into arrhythmia.
- across the hall, the jaundiced old man gasps and opens his eyes, just for a moment.
"Sister, it feels funny here. I don't think we need to be here."
But the humans are too dense, each too large a pool of life, too close to the epicenter. The rat, as well, is too much – it seizes, battering its head against the floor, and dies.
She can do nothing for it – she can only wait until the end. When the rat finally expires, Death puts her hands to her face and breathes in and out, in and out.
Delirium tugs at Death's shoulder. "Sister, come away with me, please, you're scaring me."
As she should be. Death feels frightening, she feels like a star, falling in on itself, like an earthquake that could fracture continents, as if she could take all of existence in her hand, and snuff out the light.
She is shaking when she stands. Sparks of power flicker from her skin, and Delirium protests. Death shakes her head, straining to hear her sister, over the tumult in her senses.
All about her, things are dying - grass and cut flowers and pillbugs behind the baseboards and the patients in the rooms up and down the hall. All about her - except within the sphere centered on Death herself.
Lives pass through her hands - every day, every hour, every instant. An endless dripping stream that, for one instant, reversed course, and became a torrent. Each life was a strand, a thread of spidersilk, and when the weft broke loose from her weaving, the cords twisted and ripped through her hands and her mind.
The young man is gone, back to the land of the living.
In the corner are two cockroaches. One waves shattered legs at the blank ceiling. The other, its abdomen spread over three inches of waxed floor, can only twitch its antenna. Both of them continue moving for nearly an hour.
By then, Death and Delirium are both long gone.
advice, unsolicited yet welcome enough
Death's brother invited her for tea.
They met in his realm - a piece of the Dreaming, woven from grains of sand and the indomitable will of the Lord of Dreams. For the occasion, he had created a sunny terrace, a clear sky above and a dark blue seashore below, complete with a scattering of overweight vacationers and panhandling turnwaters. Dream wore a long white robe, with the lay and hand of silk, and an over-robe of pale ash, with a hint of azure and turquoise woven into the grey to give it (he thought) a bit of levity.
Death, as her habit with her brother, wore black jeans and a matching thin-strapped underblouse, all fitting close around the body of a human girl with ice-pale skin and hair like a storm at midnight - dark and unruly.
"This is very nice," Death said as she leaned on the railing. "I like the sunbathers - they look like they're enjoying themselves."
"If it pleases you, sister, then it pleases me as well."
Finally, Dream turned away and said, "Will you sit? The water grows tepid." When Death had seated herself, the chair's metal frame sun-warm under her hands, he poured tea for them both. Death took two sugars and a warm molasses cookie from the tray.
Death added lemon, sipped it once, made a face at the taste, then set the cup down, turning the handle this way and that until his sister said, "Spill it."
Dream left off playing with his teacup. "I have heard that you have...set out on a course of retribution."
Death raised an eyebrow. "Heard? From who?"
"Delirium wandered through, some time back." At Death's amused snort, he sighed and went on. "I know, and I originally disregarded her ramblings." As one does, lay unspoken in his tone. "However, Destiny collaborated her account. I am...disquieted, by this."
Death set down her teacup, the porcelain touching the saucer with the softest of clicks. "You are."
"Sister. I - I humbly beg your pardon, again, for the distress I caused, when I failed to contact you - "
" - or anyone else in the family."
" - or any others of our brothers and sisters, during my prolonged entrapment. It was...self-centric of me."
"If you're trying to make me feel badly about -" she waved a hand, as if to indicate something behind her, something past - "those bindings, don't. Mortals - especially humans - try that all the time. They can't hold more than a handful of my shadow."
"What of...non-mortals?" Something must have changed on her countenance, for Dream hastened to add, "In the past, I have taken actions which have raised some...ire, amongst the denizens of Lucifer's domain. I would not rule out their ability to transfer their anger towards my sister, if she came into their reach." He interlaced his fingers, bracketing his teacup between his palms. "And I have grown intolerant of bondage, of any sort. Even the most minor. So my sympathies lie with you, even beyond the matter of family."
Death pursed her lips, considering this. "You're not convincing me, brother. Spit it out."
"In short - I advise against revenge."
"This is a bit rich, Dream, coming from you." There was fond amusement in her voice, and very little anger. "Is there a longer version?"
Her brother looked away from her eyes, and instead rested his gaze on the horizon.
"I have thought what advice I could give, and have found little of sufficient weight. But when I think of you, dear sister, and of what counsel you might lend..." He held out his hand, as if offering her the empty air it held.
Death smiled and put her chin into one hand. "Tell me. Tell me what I would tell you."
"Forgiveness. Leniency. Declining to meddle. And, above all, to avoid wrath." He took a deep breath. "There is much which could have been avoided, had I yielded to such recommendations."
For a long moment, while the wind from beyond the horizon blew elf-locks into Death's hair, and the turnwaters scolded the advancing waves, and the grumbles of sunburnt vacationers carried faintly up from the beach, Death only looked back at her brother.
He gazed back at her, but could not hold her eyes. Finally, he sighed. "I have given you the wisest words I could - those which I believe you would have granted, if the situation were put to you. Let me add to it these: In the pursuit of your path, so long as you make no material changes, and fracture nothing of the Dreaming...feel free to visit my realm, and pass through it to the waking world."
Shocked, she blurted, "You don't have to do that!"
Again, Dream held out his hand. "You are in need of assistance. I have been told, this is the purpose of family."
Death shook her head, and laughed. Rising, she set a hand on his cheek, and took her leave of the sunlight and her brother both.
foundations, preparations, and deep currents - and another setting for tea
Death, and Dream, and all of their siblings - they are Endless. Infinite, unceasing, eternal. The universes are more mortal than they - the universes, and any galaxies, monuments, or deities that are contained therein.
But the Endless may still die. Dream has died. (And yet Dream still lives.) Despair has been murdered. (But the Queen of the Grey Mist still reigns in the realm on the other side of the mirrors.)
Were Death to die, it would not render all of life immortal. But it is still not an event Death looks to encourage.
Death fashions her revenge with consummate care. Beyond the caution of self-preservation, two other factors remain. Firstly, to imprison one of the Endless is, while not without precedence, something of no small moment. The retribution for such an infraction demands a respectable degree of calculation.
Secondly, there is the matter of consequences. A demon might mis-step, and in error consume a world, a faith, or an age. Were any of the Endless dis-repair, in such a manner, were Death to misjudge the placement of the smallest of her fingers...whole parsecs could be wiped away.
Death lives with such memories. She treads carefully, biding her time until the moment when events reveal themselves. Months pass, as the mortals and their planet measure them. And when another year has come and gone, Death's patience is rewarded.
Another young man lies dying, and, like his brother before him, refuses to take her hand.
"I don't - I mean, I guess you get this all the time. But I don't think I'm supposed to die. Not yet."
Both of them, more trouble than they are worth, Death thinks, but shows none of it to the young man with her. He alternates between silence and aimless chatter, as those on life's crest often do, and has little of his brother's bluster.
"Well, not everyone says that. But yes, enough do. I hear it often." She holds out the tea pot. "More?"
The young man's name is Sam Winchester. His brother - who is better known to Death - is Dean. Sam holds out his cup for a refill.
They - Death and Sam - are in her antechamber, in the great hall that looks over the broad reach of the sunless lands, over the silver river and under the skies that never rain. Sometimes the sunless lands are windswept moors and sometimes they are fog-shrouded hillsides of loose shale, but at this moment they resemble the green tracks of Devonshire. Sometimes, Death's hall is black marble streaked with lapis lazuli, and the floor is slate flagstones, and stone columns bracket the balcony that overlooks the sunless lands.
Today, though, Death has painted the walls a pale green and resized the balcony into a picture frame, so that the view of the Devonshire hills rests in a plain white matting over the corner bookcase.
The effect on Sam Winchester is rather more depressing than Death had hoped. The teacup is dwarfed by his hands. It is red tea - hibiscus and raspberry, and he stares at it as though he could read his fortune in the scarlet liquid.
"Jess made tea."
"Mmmm?" Death said, inquiringly.
"Jess. My...girlfriend. She died."
"Of course you do." He looks up from the tea, searching her face for answers this time. "When she - when you -"
"I can't tell you that. That's her story, not yours." The grief on his face tears at her, as all human emotion does. At least she is not tempted to lie, and say, you'll get to meet her, if you come with me. A year before, Dean had asked after his mother, and Death can still remember the weight in his eyes.
His brother pushes himself to his feet, and Death watches him pace about the room, the cut in his shirt fluttering back and forth, one end still stuck to his back with dried blood.
There is a stain on the divan, and Death reaches out to tug the throw over the stain.
Oblivious, Sam stops to stare at the knickknacks in the shadowbox beside the kitchen door. "This is...this is nice," he says. "This place, I mean." He waves a hand, encompassing the shadowbox, the white lace curtains, the quilted thrown on the divan. "Jess would have liked this."
"I know." The decor is not an accident, after all.
"You know what was worst, when - when she died? Afterwards. How easy it was, to leave all of this. Everything that was Jess, everything she liked, everything of -" his voice broke -"everything of our life, and just - go back.
"Back to riding with Dean and his crappy two-cord headbanger noise, back to eating dinner food that tasted the same if you were in Detroit or Valdosta, back to flea bag motels and cheap beer.
"I left - I was done, I went to California and college and Jess. I wasn't going back, ever." One hand rubs over his face. "Now, look. I'm out on the road again, chasing ghosts, and, and demons." He stops, then, and there is something he does not say.
She bites her lip and turns away from the starlight in his eyes. When she looks back, he has crossed the room again, and stopped by the bookcase, staring at the picture of the countryside. One hand starts to lift to the frame.
Death says, "Why did you go back, then, to hunting, if you hated it so?"
A wry grin crosses his face. "My brother. He pulled another one of his crazy stunts, and pulled me out of the fire."
She smiles. "Brothers can be like that."
Sam crosses the room, and now she can see through the edges of his clothing. She's running out of time.
Sam says, "Why am I here?"
She raises her eyebrows at him. "Do you have someplace else to be?" She does not - and yet she does. While a mortal is here, on the edge of her kingdom, so must Death be. She is Endless, but she is not, entirely, limitless. She takes a sip of tea and says, "There will be cookies, in a mo. You like cookies?"
He laughed. "Get real. You make cookies?"
"The things I've seen, the things my family has hunted...you're worse than them all."
She set the teacup down. "Do you really think so?"
Sam turned in place, looking at the green walls, the eyelet curtains, the picture of the sunless lands and the shadowbox that had a silver fishhook and a gold heart and a tiny little sword, among other knickknacks. The wound on his back had opened up again.
"No," he said finally. "No, I don't think that. I just want to know why I'm here."
Death sat up and looked over her shoulder. As if from a great distance, she heard her sister Despair calling, in a grating, rumbling voice like boulders rushing down a mountainside. Sister, it is time. He has chosen. It is time.
Death turned back to Sam. "You're here, but not for much longer. Your brother is about to do something profoundly rash. Again." She stood and held out her hand. "Let's go. It's time you went back."
in which various types of communication are attempted, and not a one succeeds
Sam's dreams are closed to her - the same link that marks him as Morpheus's brings a sliver of the Dream King's power to the youngest Winchester. She can no more walk through his mind than she can through Dream's.
And it is not Sam that needs saving, now.
Dean's are more open, but no less fraught. She feels her way through the visions, slipping into his dreams as quietly as she can. In the shape of a harrier hawk, she perches on a fence post and watches as he roars past in his huge car.
The next night, Dean dreams of working as a transporter, and Death is a black dog, laying on the porch and watching as he drops a trio of cardboard boxes on the steps and leaves again.
The car is in many of his dreams, and at first Death thinks of it as a distraction - like the heavy bass throb that lies under the more mundane music of his life.
Night again, and in a narrow bed in a cheap motel, Dean dreams of a woman he bedded five months before - bottle-bright hair and smeared lipstick, whose kisses had tasted of salt and cigarettes. Death sits on the single chair and watches the black car under the streetlight outside. Trucks pass on the highway. Dean takes no notice of the traffic, or of her - in the dream, it is nearly dawn, and he is in the back seat of his car, entangled in the woman's plump arms.
Time for something else, Death thinks.
She tries to follow Dean into one of his other dreams - one without the car or one of a thousand different women. But without his transportation, Dean stumbles through the Dreaming, skittish and distracted.
Death follows him into a sprawling canyon land that transforms itself into a library - the rock walls become row after row of book stacks, and the lines of stratification are now shelves, heavy with volumes of unread books. The stacks stretch over Dean's head, and Death can feel his bright intelligence stutter and grow numb. In the dream, his thoughts are cold with fear. The books are shining - dust covers still gleaming, spines uncracked - but the titles are obscure and tell him nothing.
She recognizes the library as part of her brother's castle and Death marvels that Dean could have come so far into Dream's realm. But as Dean searches the empty aisles for something - or someone - the stacks grow ever taller, and darker, and more forbidding.
When he finally wakes from the nightmare, both she and Death are soaked with sweat.
This isn't working, she thinks. Perhaps something more direct.
The next night, he leans against his car, both dappled with shade. The day is bright, and he watches behind dark glasses as people pass on the sidewalk. No - not people - he watches the women pass.
Death walks up to him, black jeans, tight shirt, and sunglasses to match his own.
"Hey," she says, and smiles in smug satisfaction as he (finally) reacts.
"Hey," he says back, straightening where he stands. "Going some where?"
"Might be," Death says. "Can I get a ride?"
"Oh, baby, can you ever."
But what he means is not what she had expected - the car remains stationary, and it is they who move into the backseat. It is his dream, and she lets him guide it, as he draws off the black shirt and brackets her waist with his hands.
He leans over her, his own clothes now shed, and sweat gleams on his skin. She can feel a matching glow on her own.
"Dean," she says, "Listen to me, you need to remember this."
"Always, yes, oh yeah, baby, I gotcha, I gotcha..."
"Dean!" she snaps, just as he climaxes, his eyes tight shut. "Dean, you need to remember me." But the dream is already fading into dregs. Death runs a hand through her hair and lets him go.
The rest of her attempts end much the same - no matter if she greets him in a ruined house, in a bar, out walking on a field-side road. He seems to enjoy the dreams, well enough, and seems to take a large measure of pleasure from her enthusiastic responses, but nothing has meaning enough to last past the edge of sleep.
Another dream - this time, he lies in a real bed, in a house that gleams with the soft light of nostalgia. Death suspects the inspiration might not be as luxurious as the dream, but it has the feel of memory, not daydream. The dream is heavier, more personal - the brass bed frame, the thick quilt over the end of the bed.
He remembers this.
But when she slips into the bed, she can feel the dream casting shadows over her - her hair curls into ringlets, her skin darkens to mocha, the angles of her cheekbones change.
Dean takes her into his arms without hesitation. His hands tremble as they touch her - rather, as they touch the woman he sees, in place of Death. His fingers slide over her skin, from the join of their bodies up to cup her breasts, holding her steady as she moves over him.
"Dean," she says. "Dean, remember me."
He doesn't shut his eyes this time. Death looks down at him, and knows she is beautiful, knows she is everything he wants.
But the name he whispers is not hers.
Afterwards, he dreams that they lay together on the brass bed, and that he rests his head on her shoulder. She stares up at the molded ceiling and blows a strand of hair from her face. This isn't working, either.
In which family proves more of a burden than a blessing
The Endless are seven, from Destiny, the eldest, through Death, Dream, the prodigal Destruction, the twins Despair and Desire, and last and youngest, Delirium - who was once Delight.
Between Dream and Desire there lies a deep loathing, a chasm dug by unforgiving fury and fed by repeated betrayals.
Then, too, there is little love lost between Desire and Death.
They met in a motel room a class better than the Winchester's standards and economy generally allow. The walls are brightly painted, and the art on the walls draws the eyes. The sheets are clean - enough for Sam, who has pulled the covers over his head and is filling the room with his snores. Beside him, Despair rests her bulk on the covers. Her bare skin is grey and clammy, but she does not attempt to share the younger Winchester's bedclothes.
The room comes with cable tv, and Dean is sprawled on his own bed, oblivious to his visitors. Channels flicker past, soundless, as he thumbs through the offerings of the techno idol. From this angle, his face is reflected on the shining screen, half-a-heartbeat at a time, between presses of the channel button.
Death pays no heed to the surroundings. She folds her arms and frowns at her younger siblings.
"Desire. What do you want?"
Desire smiles, the androgynous planes of his/her face making the expression breath-takingly lovely.
"Visiting my sister. Why? Are you coming to join our game?"
Despair has the grace to look discomforted at this. "Sister, I meant no harm. This one...he has been in my realm, many times."
Seeing Dean now, as he is, Death can not doubt this. But that Despair means no harm is of little matter, for Death is certain that Desire does.
"Oh, he's not yours, dear Twin. He's Death's. Our older sister has a play toy." Desire stands and circles the room. "A very lovely toy. I can smell your touch on him - even with the Prodigals mark still on him. You've put some time into this one - I can see the marks of your fingers, all over him." Desire stops by Dean's bed and leans one shoulder against the wall, a hair's breath away from touching the human.
"Desire. Watch your step."
Desire lets flawless lids drop over violet eyes and goes on as though Death's words were unspoken. "He doesn't care for you, you know. Of course, that's nothing new, for humans. Poor old Death, you go through your days chipper and cheery, and most of them would turn and run screaming, if they had the chance. Small wonder, that."
One long hand gestures at Death.
"I do something for you, you know. A touch of paint, a bit of curl to your hair, change those staid old rags..."
"Stop it, Desire." Death is bound by the presence of the mortals, and by the presence of Despair. She can kill Desire, but not without shifting this planet from its rotation. And Desire knows it.
"Or...not. But it doesn't have to all about you, dear sister." One arm slides around Dean's shoulders, long fingers caressing the stubbled jaw. "There is so much to work with here. It would take so very little...you know he loves his family, don't you?"
That brings Despair off the other bed, her thick flesh quaking with the motion. "Twin..."
Ignoring her, Desire went on. "All of us love our family - don't we, dear sisters? Death loves Dream - more than the rest of us...don't you, sister?" Desire's teeth were very bright. The hand at Dean's throat took hold of his jaw, turning the head until the man looked across the room at the other bed, where his brother lay sleeping. "Death, of all of us, knows what it is like to love family."
Death takes two steps forward, but before she can lay a hand on Desire, Despair is already there.
"Twin, come with me." Desire tries to twist away, but Despair hangs on her arm like a leech on the leg of a heron. Death holds herself back, and lets Despair plead. "Twin, now." Death holds Desire's gaze, and puts as much of her anger as she dares into the glare.
Finally, the two begin to fade. When Death looks away, Dean has fallen asleep, his face turned away from his brother. Death leans closer and touches him, her fingers resting on the place where Desire's hand had lain. He is dreaming, and what he dreams of makes Death flinch away.
It is a long time before Death returns to her brother's keep at the heart of the Dreaming.
the dam breaks, and the water flows downhill
Eventually, Death returns to listening to Dean's dreams, staying only for those nights when his dreams include his car. He rests easier then, no matter what shape the car takes - an automobile, a black ship with tattered ebony sails, a snorting stallion that steps on the moon as he paws at the sky.
Dean rides the midnight horse across the plains of the dreaming. Death runs beside him as a black mare, striking fire from her hooves as she thunders along. Dean's face is a flash of white in the darkness, but she knows he is smiling at her. On the far side of Dean and his racing steed, she can see his brother and his father, riding horses of their own.
She leaves him then, running across the plains, still lost in the sound and the power of the dream.
The next night, when she returns, Dean is at work on his car.
The dusty junkyard surrounding them has the feel of familiarity - as had the bed of the girl with mocha skin and the name burnt on his heart. Death has wandered in Dean's dreams often enough - she knows the difference between memory and wish. The hood of the black car is propped open and a dizzying array of instruments and shining parts lies spread on the ground beside him. A mirror dangles from a hook under the hood. She watches him work and recognizes the mirror as a poor-man's flashlight, angled to cast a sunbeam into the depths of the engine.
Death, her hands tucked into her pockets, walks up to him, gravel crunching under her boots.
"Hey," she says.
Dean looks up and frowns. He straightens and wipes a wrench with a rag. "Hey."
"Do you know who I am?"
He stares at her. "You're a Reaper. Tess." He glances at the hanging mirror. Death wants to slap it away.
"Close enough - but that's not my name."
He shrugs. "Doesn't matter. You're not going to get me - I've got a hot date elsewhere." He grins, then, and despite herself, she smiles back at him.
"You're cute, you know that?"
"Yes, yes, I do," he intones, and - like he intended, she laughs.
It will hurt, to see this brightness brought down into Hell - to see his courage broken. She shakes her hair over her shoulders and peers at the engine. "What are you doing here?"
"Fixing the car."
"Planning on a road trip? You could come with me." She jerks a thumb over her shoulder, at the sleek lines of the racer parked at the edge of the lot.
He shakes his head. "Told you, Tess. I'm not going with you."
It's enough to make her scream - he's as stubborn as her favorite brother, and twice as thick-witted. But he's talking to her, and making jokes.
He has months left. Months.
"Well, if you won't come with me, I guess I'll have to make my own way. See you around, Dean." She pushes off from the car, and sways closer to him. A hand's breath away, she can smell the sweat and car oil. His eyes flicker and narrow, and she knows he remembers her then - remembers the night in the hospital and the sweat-soaked dreams both.
"You die, Sam gets your car." She steps back, cocks her head at him. "Just...think about it, 'k?"
And with that, she turns and walks away.
He'll be looking for her, the next time she visits. He won't remember - not yet - but she's in the door now. She's at the top of the slope, and it's all downhill from here.
a stroll through a garden, in the company of fate
"Hello, big brother."
Destiny winches at the casual address. "My sister. I see you retain your disdain for formal wear."
Death shrugs, both thumbs hung in her belt loops. "And you're as stuffy as ever, but that's okay." She tilts her head. "Aren't you going to ask why I'm visiting you?"
From beneath the hood of his cloak, Destiny regards her. "No."
"Sister, all that has occurred and all that shall come to pass is written within the covers of my book. I have no need to inquire -"
Death rolles her eyes. "I didn't mean because you had to, I meant because you wanted to."
Destiny sighs, mutters a phrase that Death didn't quite catch.
"I shall walk in the garden. You are welcome to join me." Destiny's cloak swirls as he turns and strides away.
Grinning broadly, Death follows.
Destiny's gardens are legion, and singular, both in the same breath. All pathways are part of the great puzzle that is the tangled web of the future, but even the most intricate of planted labyrinths is child's play, a kindergarten beside the wild forest of Destiny's estate. Today, Destiny leads Death through the twisting trail of a kaiyu-shiki, dotted with ponds and stone formations.
Death keeps pace with her brother, and obeys the silence he affects. A pair of butterflies wobble across the path before them - zebra-stripped jewel-jaws, flashing iridescence.
They pass a fountain, and Death stops, digging in her pockets. Pulling out a biscuit, she crumbles it into bits, scattering the crumbs over the surface. Koi rise, huge, great-scaled leviathans, rolling the water as they feed. Most of them are dark, only their scales rimmed with gold, but here there is a fish with a scarlet mark on its head. Death dusts her hands free of biscuit bits and turns away.
Destiny still waits, patiently. When Death rejoins him, Destiny speaks. "You have completed your recent activities, among the humans and the demons with whom they had entangled themselves."
"More or less, yes."
"Yet you remain concerned."
"Destiny! Is that actually a personal question about my emotional state?"
The bony hands tightened over the book Destiny carries. The chain between book and wrist rattles, then stills. "Yes. Will you answer it?"
Death opens her mouth to say, I thought you held all the answers on those pages, and shuts it again. When she does speak, she says, "Yes. Yes, I am still concerned."
Sam Winchester had spent a year steeling himself for his brother's death. Dean had spent a year expecting to die. It would take some time for that to resolve itself.
Destiny nods his cloaked head. "Family is the source of many conflicts. Desire, for instance, has much to say about your hypocritical and high-handed meddling in the affairs of others."
"That two-faced little -" Death's teeth meet with a snap. "She may say what she likes - I know her lies when I hear them."
"Do you." Destiny shifts the book in his arms. "The path ahead is not ever as smooth as it appears. Tread softly, sister."
Death turns her head to watch her brother. "Is that a warning?"
"There is no warning against what is yet to come." At the next curve, the garden walkway divides again. Destiny gestures at the left-hand path. "That way will take you to the edge of the garden, and past the goldfish fountain. My path leads elsewhere. Fare well, sister." He glides away, chain faintly chiming as he goes.
Death stares after him for a long moment, brow wrinkling. Then she puts a hand into the other pocket, retrieving a second biscuit.
"Mmm. Oatmeal." She took the path her brother had indicated, heading for the waiting koi.
and last, in which nothing ends
She went to see Dean again, once more before the last time.
"Hey," she said, leaning down so that she could see him, laying on his back beneath the frame of his black car. The car is mostly intact now, although its exact outlines tended to waver in and out of focus.
"Hey," he said back, and pushed himself out from the car on the slider. She rose with him, and smiled back when he grinned at her.
"I wondered if you'd come back."
"Not for long." His unbuttoned shirt hung loose over his hips, the open front revealing a slice of sweat-streaked skin. "Just...checking up on you." Her attention kept wavering towards his clavicle.
"Wondering if I'd remember you, next time?" The grin turned sly, and he reached for her, hands bracketing her waist and gently tugging her to him.
"Something like that." She turned her face up to his kiss and drank down all that he offered her - lust, affection, delight in being alive and whole and where he wanted to be.
If she turned her head, she could see the house behind them, and, through the bay window, a dark head bent over a thick tome.
She caught Dean's hand as it started to slide lower - caught it and laced her fingers into his. He raised his head, the wrinkles at the edges of his eyes hinting at a frown. She put a finger on his lips. "Hush." He blinked, leaned back against the car.
Death stepped back, and their joined hands rose between them, arms curved like a highwire under the weight of a tightrope walker. She took another step and tugged at his hand. "C'mon. I want to show you something."
For a long heartbeat, he did not move. His grip on her hand loosened. A flicker of concern crossed his face, and Death held her breath, recalling a dark hospital and a stubborn young man.
Then he grinned and pushed himself off the car with a rolling flex of his hips. "What? Is it high proof? Or...lacy and high-cut?"
She chuckled, good humor and relief bringing her head back and the laughter welling out. "No. Something better."
He followed her, around the corner and up the slope, to where a broad oak spread shade over the hillcrest. Dean turned and looked back at the house as they passed, but she said, "We won't go far."
They did not. At the top of the hill, she produced a basket and a plate, and a napkin-draped slice of -
"Pie." Dean said, beaming. He dropped to the ground, already reaching for the plate. "You really are a woman after my heart."
She only smiled and watched him eat. When he had scrapped the last crumb of crust from the plate, she asked, "Is it good?"
He belched. "Oh, God, yes. Best peach pie I ever had."
"Oh, it was peach, then?"
He stared at her, the frown sneaking back. "You didn't know?"
"It's your dream, Dean. I just set up the framework." To the west, the sun was setting, drowning the sky in rose and gold. "And now it's time for me to go. Take care, Dean. I'll be seeing you." She rose, picnic basket in one hand, and set the other on his head. Dropping a kiss on his forehead, she gave him one last smile, and turned to go.
He might have called after her, but she was already gone, and the house and the man and his book still remained.
Some say, Not all destinies end in Death..
You might say such a thing to Death - you could tell her, some say...
She would not take offense, only grin and hold out her hand. "Some do," she would say. And then, entranced by that grin, you would let her fingers close about your own, and go with her, to whatever lays beyond the sunless lands.