When it came to the question 'fight or flight,' Dean Winchester had always favored the former option. He was one of nature's fighters: took great pride in his own combat savvy, and viewed his protective instincts as one of his few personal virtues. In certain circumstances, however, he had to give due credit to the second choice.
He was currently in certain circumstances and dashing through the basement stacks of the Sterling Memorial Library as fast as his legs would take him.
"Another fucking tulpa," he shouted to his brother Sam, whose steps he could hear a few aisles over.
"Ya think?" came Sam's panted reply.
Snotty bitch would have seen it himself if he'd ever cut off his girly-ass bangs. "Symbol's on a ceiling tile."
"Fucking religious studies majors and their fucking graffiti!" They reached a wall, and they both crouched under a study nook. The tulpa ran past them and they held their breaths until after it had charged back into the stacks. "Don't you even think about burning this library down," said Sam in a harsh whisper.
Dean clasped his hand to his chest. "Who? Me?" His brother jutted his chin out. "Fine, although it's going to be a helluva lot of fun after this convincing the Yale student body that there isn't a giant three-headed dog in the library basement."
Sam shook his head. "Combine one kid in the classics department with peyote and a Tibetan sigil, add a Facebook group, and our weekend's shot to hell."
"Maybe we can convince them it's an obnoxious but otherwise friendly chihuahua."
Sam grinned. "We'll manage." His face fell and he tipped his head forward. "Your arm's bleeding."
The jagged gash ran crosswise a bit below his right wrist, missing the veins. "Must've caught a tooth when I smacked the left head." Dean winced as he put pressure on it with his left hand. "Doubt that thing's rabid and it's not too deep. Still, take my shotgun? Fucking thing's useless down here anyway."
Sam tucked Dean's shotgun into his rucksack, which he slung back over his shoulders. "We need to get out of here." A chorus of canine snorts reverberated through the shelves. "Split up, head back towards the front. Dodge through the stacks if you need to." Sam rose slowly to his feet.
Dean looked up at his brother, catching his breath. "Sure thing, long legs. You first." Direct eye contact, barely perceptible nods exchanged, see you on the other side didn't need to be said; both of them had read the floor plan, knew there was more than fifty yards of shelves and books and somewhere in there five-hundred pounds of vicious imaginary canine between them and the way out. Sam started running first, and Dean gave him a few seconds head start before heading down a parallel aisle a few stacks over, and after four strides, he stretched out his arms sending books tumbling noisily off the shelf. Dean had to be subtle here, couldn't cry out 'fresh meat' because then Sam would come back to get him, just had to make enough noise to get the tulpa's attention and make sure the stupid fucker was chasing him, not Sam. Why was it always dogs chasing Dean? Came to one of the cross-aisles and saw a flash of fur out of the corner of his left eye, which was incentive enough to shift a couple aisles to the right before taking off at high speed again. Another cross-aisle approached quickly enough and Dean sidestepped a few aisles back to the left, knocked down a shelf, one of the books fell hard onto his head, and maybe that's why the aisle seemed to waver in his vision - why the light seemed to dim - but no matter, Dean was running again, certain Sam had made it through by now.
Dean was running, but had lost track of where he was running to. The 'from' was a little clearer: the triplicated canine huffing still audible when the sounds of his brother had long since faded away. Dean had run rather further than fifty yards at this point, he thought, but at the next cross-aisle he still shifted a few aisles over this time back to the right. Had to keep running in roughly a straight line: back to the stairwell that would lead him up and out and the hell away from this thing, its snorts all too close to that of a hellhound's for Dean's taste.
The books looked older in this part of the library, he noticed as he shoved a group of them to the ground. They'd all just been colorful blurs while he'd been running, but now that he looked, these books were bound in real leather, not that plastic-coated cardboard shit. And Dean must have hit his head harder than he had thought because the light wasn't just dim anymore: it was barely there, and what was there flickered, not like a fluorescent light with a bad ballast, but like a flame. But then he could feel the heat of the breath of the three-headed dog coming at him from the other side of the shelf and it was time to take off running again.
It was sort of like the dreams he used to have, that year that was so many years ago now - for him at least: no place to run to, nowhere to hide, just running away from the hounds hot at his heels, knowing full well that eventually the dogs would win. Had won with him, had won with Jo and Ellen, and never fucking gave up. Dean swallowed the gorge back down, because the library was going on forever, and maybe this was just a nightmare flashback and he'd wake up in the motel room and then he and Sam would go and have breakfast. Or just coffee. Something wet for the back of his throat because it felt like he'd been running for hours now and he could still hear that damn tulpa behind him. Then there was a flash of something reddish-brown swooping past him from overhead that made new sounds - meat slamming into more meat and the whimper of a pack of dogs - but Dean wasn't looking back right now, the terror of the whole situation motivating some portion of the lizard brain which carried no truck with logic. No, he was hurtling on through the open space that had opened up at the end of the shelves, through the open doors visible not too far past that and out into the courtyard to collapse on his knees in the cool grass and take giant heaving breaths of chill night air.
A few seconds allowed fresh oxygen to circulate to Dean's brain, causing a neuron to fire off the thought that in all of that running, he hadn't climbed any stairs. In a nearby cortex, the recent memory of being in a basement drew attention to itself, while the visual processing centers of his brain were confirming that Dean was in fact outside at this very moment. A slightly older memory was then comparing evidence with the visual processing centers to draw the conclusion that the Yale campus didn't look anything like this, didn't have a stone tower stretching up forever like the one in front of him. But none of these processes were fast enough to stop Dean's instinctive first action, which was to call out, "Sam, you okay?"
Sam wasn't there, but there were a couple of men standing out there in the night, barely shadows in flickering torchlight – what was with the torchlight – and were they wearing dresses or something? Tall stone walls all around and it all seemed off and wrong. Where the hell was he and where the fucking hell was Sam? These guys in the dresses didn't look terribly friendly, and he wasn't going to go back into the library to face that dog alone, just needed to find someplace quiet to get his head straight, so Dean got back on his feet and, as nonchalantly as he could manage, scampered over to a low spot in the walls. Ten feet high, but the masonry had seen much better days, and it wasn't too hard to scramble up and over, drop onto the cobblestone street below on the other side.
Now that was weird.
Dean rubbed his jaw with his hand, a trickle of blood smearing on his chin. He was pretty sure he wasn't in New Haven anymore. That gave him two options about what had just happened - well, two options that he could think of - neither of which made him very happy. "Gabriel? Zachariah? Which one of you smug assholes is it this time?" called out Dean, his voice resonating down the narrow and abandoned streets. No response while Dean took in his surroundings, back pressed up against the wall. Damn, except for the crescent moon's light it was dark here; more like being in the woods than in the middle of a city, and from the glimpse he'd gotten when he'd climbed over the wall it seemed like this place went on for a ways. A soft breeze blew down the street, and Dean had to stop himself from gagging on the scent. It was like being next to an enormous open sewer: New York City subways didn't smell that vile.
Something about this street bothered Dean and so he opted for cautious exploration away from it. Sticking to the shadows of the wall, Dean turned around the corner and started walking away from the smell, the cobbles under his feet shiny and slick with damp. He checked his cell phone: no bars, but no real surprise there. Zachariah would have shown up by now to gloat, and he'd always kept Dean's fantastic journeys a little more restricted, closer to Dean's own lifetime. This wacky medieval bullshit definitely had more of Gabriel's signature to it. Dean shook his head, biting on his lip. Fucking angels, if it weren't for Castiel and Anna he'd say that they were worse than the demons, when it came down to it. Cas – he'd found Dean last time, when Gabriel had zapped him and Sam into TV Land. "Cas!" hissed Dean. "Are you there?" Nothing again, and Dean distracted himself from his own personal freak out by thinking about the freak out that Sam must be having right now. He'd have no trouble running down that tulpa himself, Dean thought, it was the sort of thing Sam was damn good at. But Sam had proven himself an unknown quantity if he didn't have Dean around to keep him in line, so Dean had to get back before Sam did something profoundly stupid. Again.
"C'mon, Gabriel, we've been through this shit before, and I really don't have the time for it right now."
This time there was a sound like someone clearing their throat and Dean whirled on it. There, standing in a threshold just out of the wind, was a short – make that very short – collection of limbs under what appeared to be medieval chain mail and armor, smoking a cigarette. Dean hesitated to think of it as a person, but it cleared its throat again before speaking. "Realize you're speaking to yourself there, eh, guv?"
Dean allowed a sheepish smile to creep across his face, remembering how very real things like gunshot wounds could be in these angelic power trips. "Yeah, I'm just supposed to meet someone and they're late, that's all." He took a few steps closer to the little person, noting the glint of a badge attached onto the dented and rusty chest plate. "Mind telling me where I am, so I can know if I'm in the right place for the meet-up?"
The little guy eyeballed Dean, as much as he could given the vast difference in their heights. "'s Peach Pie Street, by the University." Little guy pointed his cigarette towards a plaque on the wall beside him which indicated that this was indeed Peach Pie Street, wherever the hell that was, and which was sadly lacking in any actual pie. Dean must have come out of the University, which might as well be the Angelic University of Fucking-With-Dean-Winchester because this guy didn't bother to elaborate with a name. "If you're looking for a 'meet-up' this time of night, you'll have more luck up in Sator Square," and the cop gave him a wink while pointing a reassuringly opposable thumb behind them, "the Seamstresses tend to gather up there after three." The cigarette was dropped to the ground and another poorly-rolled cylinder retrieved from behind what basic anatomy insisted must be an ear. "Tell 'em Nobby Nobbs sent you. Welcome to Ankh-Morpork, guv."
Dean blinked. "Right. Thanks." Ankh-Morpork? Nobby Nobbs had what sounded like an English accent - not Bond-English, but Guy Ritchie-movie English - and Dean's geography outside of the U.S. was essentially non-existent, but that name didn't sound familiar at all. Dean gave Nobbs one last look. Gabriel as Trickster hadn't had the best taste in the world, but Dean just couldn't see him deigning to use Nobbs as his disguise. "You have a good night." Dean turned to head in the direction he'd been pointed in, hoping to find a quiet lonely corner to wait out the night. Give Zachariah the chance to appear and gloat just in case he was the one behind this latest trip down the rabbit hole: usually when these trips separated him from Sam, it was Zach, and Sammy didn't seem to be around this time.
Any such plans were interrupted as a monster rounded the corner. "Get back!" shouted Dean, pulling his pearl-handled automatic out of his belt and taking aim.
"Oh, hells," said Nobbs. Dean fired three shots at the monster that was lumbering its way towards him and Nobbs, but the bullets had little effect on what appeared to be a walking boulder carrying a siege weapon over its back, and now the boulder looked really angry and could move with remarkable speed for a rock monster of its size. One massive arm swung towards Dean and he flew across the street with the impact, slamming into the University wall. Dean forced his eyes open one last time and saw Nobbs and the rock monster looking down at him, a horrified look on Nobbs' already horrible face. "Vimes is gonna go spare." Not a word of that sentence made a lick of sense to Dean, but before he could figure that out, darkness turned to black.
Early morning sunlight made long shadows of the bars on the window. Bars. Shit.
Dean shot up into a sitting position and instantly regretted the move, clutching his head and leaning into the nice cold stone of the wall. It was already a bad day, and that was before he remembered that he was once again playing the 'stranger in a strange land' game. He peeked through his fingers. Was his jailer a midget? Dean didn't get a very good look at the shape that headed up the stairs as soon as he showed signs of consciousness, but he smirked for a second thinking of the reaction his brother would have had, had Sam been here in his place. The kid had never quite gotten used to his own height, and short people in general always made Sam more self-conscious, making him slouch even more than normal. Midgets drove him nuts. Just another reason to wish that Sam had joined him for this ride.
The cell itself was airy and clean, so far as jail cells went, with that vague scent of someone-had-vomited-here-sometime-recently but an effort had been made to clean it up. It was a little chilly, and Dean hugged his arms around his body, wondering where his jacket was. A quick inventory left him in jeans, t-shirt, skivvies, socks, belt, and boots, and bereft of every single weapon and tool he normally hid on his person. They'd even got the lock pick he'd sewn into the seam of his jeans. "They're good," Dean said to himself, under his breath. It nonetheless elicited a laugh from the guard who was just coming to the bottom of the stairs. This one had a differently-shaped breast plate indicating that real, quite possibly fantastic breasts were underneath. "Real good." Dean gave a passing thought to the dissonance of having a chick cop in what otherwise seemed like a renaissance festival on steroids, but his eyes were busy absorbing the rest of her: tall, blonde, gorgeous, and with a look on her face that made him feel damn near inadequate. He straightened up and managed a smile. "Boy, do I hope you were the one that frisked me."
A curt shake of her head and she didn't even arch her eyebrows. "That would have been Igor, while he was patching you up." Trace of a different accent in her voice, and between that and the name Igor, visions of Bela Lugosi and Marty Feldman flashed through Dean's mind, tempering his smile. He looked down, noticed that the deep cut he'd taken on his right arm last night was not merely patched up, but appeared to have never happened. Then he heard a dull clank and looked up: the guard was letting a pair of handcuffs – hell, they were practically irons – dangle from her hands and strike the bars of his cell. "You have an appointment."
Dean rose to his feet, approaching the door casually with his hands held loosely in front of his body. "I could use some coffee before we get to the fun and games," said Dean. The guard cracked the door open and had one cuff around his right wrist in seconds, and Dean was certain he was going to get away with having his hands cuffed in front of him, but then the woman spun him around and trapped both his wrists behind his back, the cuffs snapping together with a note of finality. One surprisingly strong hand continued to hold his wrists while the other took firm hold of the back of his neck, and Dean could feel her breath on his skin, swore that she actually sniffed him. "Fun and games first, then."
She pushed him along out of the cells. "I'll see what I can do about the coffee after the meeting," she said. Dean let himself be led through the police station, taking it all in. The place bustled: no computers, but plenty of desks weighted down with thick layers of paperwork, standard-looking cops except for the mismatched chain mail and armor, all of them looking at Dean like he was fresh meat; a bunch of bearded midgets with helmets and axes, and another one of those rock monsters, this one even bigger than the one Dean had shot at last night, but it just stood there drinking something out of a chipped mug and no one else paid it any attention. Dean realized then exactly why he'd woken up in a prison cell and counted himself lucky that he'd woken up at all. His shoulders slumped, but he kept an eye on the local footwear. The sooner Dean found Gabriel and could talk his way out of this nightmare trip, the better. Then there were more stairs and an open door that slammed shut behind them and Dean was pushed down into a rickety wooden chair. He looked back, and the chick guard was leaning back against the door. No way out.
Dean turned his attention to the man behind the desk, his appointment. A small plaque on the desk pronounced this to be the office of "Sir Samuel Vimes, Cmdr." Just behind the plaque was a man about Dean's father's age, craggy face freshly-shaven, with a hint of barely-contained violence in his eyes despite the neutral expression. "You're causing me a lot of paperwork, lad." Vimes looked down at his desk, scribbling something on a piece of paper, and Dean noticed that all of his missing possessions except for his jacket were littered over Vimes' desk. His jacket hung neatly from a hook by the door. "I can do you a receipt for the knives and the flasks. Seeing as you haven't got a Thieves' Guild license you might want to reconsider the lock picks, the guild tends to be a little less forgiving than I am. And you're going to need a new Dis-Organizer, I'm afraid." He pointed to Dean's cell phone with its newly cracked screen. Then Dean's wallet was held up. "Some interesting reading in here though, Mister Marsellus Wallace." Vimes looked up. "Or was that Mister Bon Scott?" Dean couldn't help the slight curl of his lip. "I'd wager it's not Mister L. Vargosian either. Had Moist Von Lipwig up here earlier this morning," and Dean had to snort at that name, " a real expert at these sorts of things, he couldn't even tell what sort of paper you'd used on half of these cards and bills, not to mention who'd engraved them or what most of them were supposed to do. Sends you his compliments on your work, though. I managed to get back all the items he'd pocketed - well, I'm pretty sure."
Vimes set down his pen, sat back in his chair, reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver cigar case. Dean looked around the room, refusing to let himself be intimidated while Vimes went through the slow ritual of lighting his cigar. "So what name should I call you by?" asked Vimes, twirling the cigar in his fingers.
Decisions, decisions: a little honesty here might pay off later, and what did Dean have to lose? It wasn't like these guys had access to the F.B.I. database or like Dean was going to stumble into any direct ancestors here. Winchesters had been French or something like that, he was pretty sure. "Name's Dean Winchester," he said, meeting the commander's eyes.
Vimes looked back down and added a note to the top of the file. "New to town then, Dean Winchester? All these beautifully engraved dollars in your wallet say 'United States of America' on them, not a place I'm familiar with, and I've developed a reputation as something of a diplomat lately." Vimes' smile indicated that he found that idea of himself as a diplomat about as ridiculous as Dean did, but if America wasn't around yet, it must be before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The angels had sent him way back. "I'll go out on a limb and say they don't have trolls there, and more specifically that they don't hire trolls for the Watch, because Sergeant Detritus isn't usually the officer involved in 'assaulting an officer of the Watch' charges, most criminals around here not being recklessly suicidal. So I'd be willing to forgive so much about what you did last night, cough it up to genuine stupidity, save for the fact that you brought pure evil into my city." Dean's breath caught for a moment, but Vimes didn't go on about three-headed dogs; instead, Vimes held up Dean's Colt 1911. "Where the hell did you get this thing?"
Dean wished he could see if this disturbingly intelligent and downright scary policeman was wearing white tennis shoes, because if this guy wasn't Gabriel then Dean had already made a formidable enemy, and Dean already had more than enough of those. He was tired of formidable enemies; he missed routine salt and burns and wendigos and even fucking racist trucks. This place was too damn weird by half and Dean was sick of these games and didn't give a shit about whatever angelic lesson it was supposed to teach him. He was done playing along. Dean leaned forward. "What if I told you that last night I was in a library a few hundred years in the future hunting an evil three-headed dog, until I took a wrong turn, and next thing I know Nobby Nobbs is giving me dating advice before I got knocked out by a rock monster? That you're all part of some scenario dreamed up by angels to convince me to do something that," Dean paused and looked straight up for a second, raising his voice, "I am still never going to fucking do," Dean returned his gaze to Vimes, "and it's a little hard for me to take you seriously?" Dean straightened out, leaned back in the chair as much as was comfortable with his hands cuffed. "As for the gun, my Dad gave it to me as an eighteenth birthday present and I'd like it back."
Dean braced himself for the worst, but was still riding high on the tide of righteous indignation. "Are you quite done?" asked Vimes, who puffed on his cigar, once, twice, then set it in the ashtray. "Frankly, if I were going to have delusions of being sent somewhere by angels, I'd have picked a place that smelled better. But to each his own." Vimes sighed, the expression on his face one Dean knew from countless times that his father had made a rash but insightful decision. "Running in a library in the future, you say?"
"That's right," said Dean, shifting his shoulders. This wasn't exactly the reaction he'd anticipated.
Vimes was looking past Dean, to the guard at the door. "What time does Carrot come on duty, Angua?"
"Ten in the morning today, sir."
Vimes stood. "Very good. Sergeant, could you unlock these cuffs?"
Dean's "What?" came out simultaneously with Angua's "Sir?"
"Young Mr. Winchester and I shall be taking a quick walk. Have Carrot read the file and tell him that I might have a special duty for him when I return." Angua had removed the cuffs and Dean was rubbing his wrists as Vimes hoisted him to his feet.
"Should I…?" and Angua let the question trail off. She was looking Dean up and down and Dean wasn't optimistic enough to hope that she was just undressing him with her eyes, sensing something predatory in her look. He then found himself wondering for a second why she wore her badge on a collar around her neck unlike her male counterparts who all wore them on their chests, something about it bugging him, but he decided it must be because those assets drew enough attention on their own.
"Nah," and here Vimes jostled Dean's elbow, "I'm certain Mr. Winchester here is aware that any attempt to flee at this point is an admission of guilt and that if he tries anything I will run him down like the lying scum that he is and send him directly to the Tanty." Dean had no idea what the Tanty might be, but he remembered the end of Braveheart and suspected he wouldn't like the Tanty very much, so he nodded in vigorous agreement with Vimes. With one last look at her commanding officer, Angua stood down. She retrieved Dean's jacket and handed it to him. Dean shrugged into it, the familiarity of his coat ever so welcome in a situation where he had no idea what was going on. Vimes led him back through the police station, and Dean felt the odd stares of the motley group of cops on him, but Vimes paid no mind, practically whistling around his cigar. Not wearing white tennis shoes after all, but what all with the heavy leather boots and exposed knee caps: that just wasn't angelic style.
Then they were outside - and it was bright, noisy, and crowded. Keeping in mind that he needed to stick close to Vimes, Dean hugged the walls as best he could. Cities had never really been Dean's thing, and the bigger they were the worse he felt. There wasn't any privacy and there were too many civilians wandering around: a guarantee that one of them would be there at the wrong place and the wrong time. Hell, the one time he'd gone to New York to get rid of those ghouls in the subway system, he'd found their lair in a spur that hadn't been used in over eighty years and an MTA engineer still walked into the middle of the carnage. Ankh-Morpork took all of the things that Dean hated about cities and made them smaller, closer, and more personal. He was also beginning to sympathize with Sam: not even including the midget guys, the people here were just a little bit shorter than the people back home. Dean had at least three or four inches on Vimes, who looked to be on the tall-ish side in this place. Dean hunched his shoulders and ducked his head, but kept his eyes open.
What Dean had mistaken for a massive open sewer in the dark last night turned out to be a large river that shared many characteristics with an open sewer. They'd crossed a bridge over it before Vimes turned to him. "You haven't asked where we're going."
Dean shrugged. "I don't know if you've noticed, but given that I have no idea where I am, finding out where we're going really isn't going to tell me much. It's just going to be a different place where I have no idea where I am."
Vimes' lips curled to one side. "The past really is another country, eh, son? If it's anything, time travel is disorienting, I'll give you that."
Something in the cop's voice gave Dean pause. "You speak like a man who knows."
Vimes got a distant look in his eye. "I may." He focused back on Dean. "Which is the only reason you're not already in the Tanty." The hand that wasn't occupied with the cigar caressed the handle of the baton which swung from Vimes' belt, conveying to Dean the commander's complete willingness to use the truncheon against him, and use it effectively at that. "There's some fellows in town who'll be able to tell me if you're pulling my leg on this, and if you're not, they might be able to get you home. Which will have the added bonus of getting you and your gonne," Vimes practically spat on the word, "out of my hair."
Dean nodded. "Right." They kept walking. If this was one of Gabriel's illusions, it was definitely the most detailed one so far. The sights, sounds, and smells, oh God, the smells of this place kept up a constant assault on Dean's senses. A man with a tray vending some brand of street meat passed by and Dean couldn't keep his head from turning or his mouth from watering.
Vimes noticed and barked out a laugh. "Makes you damn hungry too, as I recall. Fancy a taste of history? Dibbler's pies certainly qualify."
"Pie?" Dean could only nod. Vimes motioned for Dean to lean up against the wall while he obtained sustenance from the apparently very chatty Dibbler. Dean only caught a few words of the conversation, but heard enough to pique his curiosity. Vimes returned with two paper-wrapped pastries and offered one to Dean with all the slippery charm of a serpent in an apple tree.
Dean accepted the pie and sniffed. "Smells like meat."
Vimes shrugged. "It's a good sign, for Dibbler."
Vimes continued to look at Dean expectantly so Dean exhaled, brought the pastry to his lips and took a solid bite. He chewed, ignored something springy that he didn't really want to think about, and swallowed. "Pretty good." Kind of like an empanada, with more gravy. Dean took another bite and Vimes clapped him on the shoulder before they started walking again. Dean understood he'd passed some kind of test without even knowing it and was suddenly thankful not to have Sammy with him on this adventure, as baby brother would probably have been puking in the gutter by now.
"Ha! Dibbler's pies. Once tasted, never forgotten." Vimes grinned in the throes of some fond memory as they walked. When he saw that Dean had finished the first pie Vimes offered him the second, and Dean happily accepted it, which caused Vimes to stifle another laugh by chomping on his cigar. Dean didn't quite get it: if you ignored the springy bits and the occasional bristle, the pies weren't half bad.
But his tolerance for road food had put Vimes into a good mood, which gave Dean the courage to ask, "So, the rock monsters are trolls?"
Vimes looked around. "You really don't have them in the future? Yes, and don't call them rock monsters, lad. Detritus and Blue John do the job of ten men each."
"I guess that means the short guys with the beards are dwarfs," said Dean, hoping to high heavens that they weren't actually munchkins, because if they were, there was no way he was getting out of this town without one of those axes embedded in his knee.
Vimes nodded. "Very fine coppers, the dwarfs."
Dean let out a sigh of relief. Then a thought occurred to him. "What's Nobby?"
That earned a snort. "He's a Nobbs."
Dean figured he wasn't the first one to ask. Vimes was still smiling though, so Dean decided to press his luck. "That guy with the pies called you the Duke of Ankh."
Vimes rolled his eyes. "I've collected a few titles over the years."
Dean looked Vimes over. "You look like a beat-cop to me," said Dean after further review.
Vimes grunted. "Started on the streets, long time ago."
Dean finished the last of the second pie. "So how does a beat-cop become the Duke of Ankh?"
"Unintended consequence of doing my job. And I'm a damned fine copper." Vimes bit down on his cigar and Dean supposed that was the end of the subject. It was quite a long walk from the police station to wherever it was Vimes was taking him, the streets getting progressively narrower and poorer but paradoxically cleaner, before finally Vimes pulled Dean's arm and they entered a poorly lit shop. Well, everything in this city was poorly lit so far as Dean was concerned, but this particular shop was especially so, and the air inside had a peculiar musty quality to it. Dean looked around at the goods for sale and concluded that this must be the Ankh-Morpork equivalent of a Salvation Army shop, and one in a lousy neighborhood at that. Vimes strode through the clutter straight up to the Asian-looking man behind the counter. "Is the Sweeper around?"
The man behind the counter didn't say anything, just drew back the beaded curtain to invite Vimes into the back. Dean followed Vimes down the darkened corridor into a back alley where someone had taken time to rake the gravel into careful geometric patterns upon which litter had been liberally sprinkled. A wrinkled man in yellow robes was setting a tea tray down on a rock before straightening. The little old man walked straight up to Dean and pinched Dean's chin between his thumb and forefinger. "Ah, Sir Samuel, I see you've brought me a Destroyer of Worlds." Vimes' jaw dropped, but the old man just smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Dean stepped back. "What? I haven't destroyed any world, much less worlds plural."
The little old man kept smiling. "Perhaps you are a late-bloomer. You've certainly done a fine job of destroying a lot of sensitive equipment, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Please, sit. I've only just arrived myself and could use a bit of refreshment, and you've traveled much farther than I."
All of the confusion and anger that Dean was feeling had settled into an itchy feeling in his fists, and Dean knew just the outlet for it, but he doubted that Vimes would approve of Dean punching out a senior-citizen monk. Trapped in this walled alley, it seemed unwise to alienate the closest thing he had to an ally at the moment. Dean looked to the commander for a cue and when he saw Vimes take a seat by the tea tray, Dean followed his example.
To his surprise, small talk ensued. He learned Vimes was the father of a healthy toddler when the monk asked after a 'young Sam' while pouring out steaming mugs of tea. "Just fine, running all over the place, have to figure out some way to keep him out of the dragon pens. Sybil's looking at schools for him. She's thinking the Frout Academy," said Vimes, adjusting in his seat as he sipped from his cup.
The monk's eyes crinkled even further at the reply. His voice, however, came out evenly. "I think that would be a very wise choice, Sir Samuel. But we ignore our guest." The Sweeper sat down and a hand-rolled cigarette appeared in his fingers, and hell, did everyone smoke in this place? "I interrupted any proper introduction earlier, so allow me to begin. I am the sweeper Lu-Tze, of the Fighting Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised. You may think of us as the History Monks."
Dean straightened his shoulders. "Sounds like a fun bunch. I'm Dean Winchester, hunter and reluctant time-traveler."
"Is that what you think you are?" Lu-Tze lit his smoke and inhaled deeply. "Perhaps it's loosely true, but the question of time in such matters is difficult to define. Regardless, whether or not you've traveled in time has little to do with your presence here."
Both Dean and Vimes blinked. "If he didn't travel through time, where did he come from then?" asked Vimes.
"It's difficult to say exactly. He came from the library, we know that much," said Lu-Tze.
Dean pressed his lips together, fists twitching by his sides. "I could have told you that."
"You might have saved us a lot of time, back at the monastery. You see, Mister Winchester, we History Monks have long known that it is possible to travel between points in space and time using the principles of bibliodistortion. We just didn't realize the distances that L-space was capable of connecting."
Dean and Vimes shared a look. "Come again?" requested Dean.
Lu-Tze sighed. "It's very simple. Large collections of books can alter the fabric of the multiverse. You started in a library in one world, you ended in a library in a different world. This world. The Disc."
Dean shook his head, waving his hands. "No way. If I'm in another world, how come you're all speaking English?"
Vimes gave Dean a blank look. "We're speaking Morporkian," he said.
Lu-Tze tilted his head. "Very interesting. Your English and our Morporkian are the same? That's Just Plain Weird." Dean could hear the capital letters. Lu-Tze paused before ticking off other possibilities on his fingers. "Or it could be Historical Convergence, maybe Narrative Causality."
At that Dean covered his eyes with his fingers. "Oookay. It sounds like English, but when you speak it I can't understand a damn word."
Lu-Tze's smile was kinder now. "The Abbot will be intrigued. But as to your presence here, we're not entirely sure why you're here: when you came through, you crashed our mandalas by dumping the entire history of your world in them in a single instant. We're a little bit clearer on the how you got here-"
Dean snorted. "Yeah, yeah, it was the angels, I know."
But instead of nodding in confirmation, Lu-Tze had a confused look for a moment before shaking his head. "Angels? I don't think so. It wasn't caused by any external influence that we can tell. The Abbot thinks a soft place in the fabric of space-time broke under the stress of your extremely high levels of quantum potential. After we calculated that, I was sent down here to assess the possible damage."
"It's not an explanation if we don't know any of the words you say, Sweeper," said Vimes.
Dean nodded, feeling a little disoriented by the revelation that this whole experience wasn't another exercise in angelic manipulation. "What he said."
Finally Lu-Tze's grin faded as his brow furrowed. "How to explain this - there are those people whom history finds, and then there are those who find history. Quantum potential is a measurement of a person's probable influence on the lives of others. You, Sir Samuel, are a powerful figure in this city: you have stopped multiple wars, arrested heads of state, and have redefined the concept of rule of law throughout the world. Very high quantum potential, maybe fifteen or so people alive on the Disc today have more." The Sweeper's teeth gleamed as he smiled again. "If your potential could fill the cup in my hand, then by the same scale, the quantum potential of Mister Winchester would fill this entire garden, up to roughly a foot below the wall."
Vimes' eyes widened. "Huh." Dean could feel Vimes' gaze on him, re-evaluating him, and fought the urge to hunch his shoulders under the scrutiny. After all, having heard Lu-Tze's synopsis of Vimes' life, Dean was looking at the commander with new eyes as well. "What's that mean?"
Lu-Tze took another long drag from his cigarette. "The boys back at the monastery are still trying to process all of the information, so we have only the vaguest ideas, but in general terms, it means he'll have the opportunity to save or destroy an entire world. As I said, Destroyer of Worlds."
Dean leaned forward. "But you said I could save it instead. Why call me Destroyer?"
"Yes, well, I needed to find out if you were a threat to this world. Saying it like that, I wanted to see if it would start you telling me all of your evil plans. Destroyers of worlds tend to be big on that sort of thing. You didn't."
"And if I were a threat?" asked Dean.
Lu-Tze's eyes twinkled. "Then I would deal with you."
It was stated as plain fact, and Dean caught the underlying meaning: Lu-Tze would have had no problem dealing with something he considered a threat to this world. Had maybe faced this sort of thing before. Dean noted the monk's casual posture. Had maybe dealt with this kind of thing several times before. It was a probably a good thing that he hadn't gone ahead and punched the guy. "So, you've decided I'm not dangerous, what now?"
Lu-Tze laughed, a high, wheedling noise. "I decided you weren't a threat, I never said you weren't dangerous." He sucked on the cigarette like it owed him something. "What's next is up to you."
Dean fought the urge to laugh back in Lu-Tze's face. So few things in his life were up to him anymore. "I want to go home."
Lu-Tze shook his head. "Admirable, to want to get back to that responsibility so quickly, but I don't have the ability to send you back." He slurped at his tea, producing the maximum amount of noise. "If you were a time-traveler, that would be one thing, but traveling between worlds," and he shook his head with regret and a trace of something else, "this is a problem beyond the abilities of my order." The monk scowled and set his mug down hard on the tray. "You'll have to talk to someone more experienced with this kind of situation."
"The wizards?" asked Vimes, with a note of distaste in his voice. Dean took this revelation in stride: it was a world where they had trolls and dwarfs and time-traveling monks, why wouldn't they have wizards and witches and God knew what else? He'd have to ask about sasquatches.
Lu-Tze flicked a column of ash away. "It would be a good place to start, I think. The Librarian knows more about L-space than anyone else on the Disc."
Vimes stood, his joints cracking. "I was hoping to avoid them."
"Better you than I, Sir Samuel," said Lu-Tze. "Did you have any other questions, Dean Winchester?"
About ten thousand or so, but now that he tried to choose one they all fluttered away from him. Dean grasped at the ghosts of them: came up with just one. "Did anything else come through here, with me?"
Lu-Tze's eyes narrowed and he gave Dean a look that Dean couldn't decipher before he answered. "There was an entity that came through at the same time, but it died almost immediately. The passage as it existed when you created it was open for mere moments. As far as we can tell, the worlds are now as separate and distinct as they were before." He leaned back. "If there was anything else chasing you, it can't find you here."
Dean rose to his feet, which felt just a little wobbly under him. "Good. Good." The tulpa hadn't hurt anyone and no angels coming here to surprise him with bonus crazy made things less complicated. Dean drank the tea in one gulp, ignoring the sour aftertaste, trying to process everything he'd just been told. If he had that really high quantum-thingy, then his brother probably had it too. If Sam went looking for him, maybe he'd pop up in the library too. And Sam would be looking for him, there was no doubt of that.
Lu-Tze stubbed out his cigarette as Vimes and Dean moved towards the door. "I'll be keeping an eye on your situation, Mr. Winchester, so long as you're in my world. Good luck." Dean met the monk's gaze as he said this and nodded, understanding it to be both reassurance and warning. He was being tolerated, even assisted, but he was far from being trusted. Seeing Lu-Tze's smile, Dean couldn't help but wish he had his weapons back, even if he wasn't sure how much they would help.
Vimes and Dean left the shop wordlessly, returning to the streets, streets that were on a whole other world - a Disc, apparently, and Dean wondered what that meant. The monks seemed to know an awful lot about time, almost like the angels back home if slightly less bent on destroying humanity: wouldn't they know that planets were round? So much about this place was familiar, and Lu-Tze had been right, that was just plain weird, but now that Dean knew it was a different world all together he was seeing more and more things that were just a little bit off. And then there were the big things like the trolls and the dwarfs and wizards and other strange-looking people that he saw on the street. Was that a trash heap pulling a wagon full of garbage?
Dean grabbed at the wall and stopped, pressing his forehead against the relatively clean brick. A few moments later, Vimes had returned to his side. "Dibbler's pies?" he asked, his voice crisp.
"No," murmured Dean. He risked another glimpse at the street, then shook his head, his voice rising. "It's just - another world?"
Vimes swallowed. "Yes, I, uh, can see how that would be a lot to handle." He leaned up against the wall a few feet away, pulling out another cigar and giving Dean the space that he needed, and if they were other people, Dean might have thanked him for it. But they weren't, so Dean just stayed there, face to the wall, trying to pull himself together, listening to the sound of blood rushing through his head and the alien noises of Ankh-Morpork. After a few minutes, the set of his shoulders moved back, and Vimes straightened. "Let's get back to the station, eh?"
Dean nodded and they started walking. "I thought we were going to see the wizards," said Dean, allowing himself a quick chuckle at the phrase even as it escaped his lips.
Vimes grunted. "I'll send you off to them, lad, but I've already had my fill of insanity for the day, and anyways, I have paperwork to attend to." He flicked some ash away and gave Dean a sideways glance. "So you can destroy a whole world, can you?"
"Don't want to. I've been trying to avoid it," said Dean with a shrug. "That's the angels' thing, not mine."
"Angels, right." Vimes' hand returned to its rest on his truncheon. "So there's no danger of you doing it here, then?"
Dean glared at Vimes for a moment. "I don't want to cause any trouble, I just want to get home." Where he could get back to causing trouble, but that was none of Vimes' business.
"Fine, fine, had to make sure. Best to nip that sort of thing in the bud." Vimes bared his teeth in an expression that wasn't quite a smile. "How do you get into the world-destroying racket anyway? I had you picked out as more of the petty-mercenary type, small potatoes. What is it you do on that other world?"
Dean sighed. "I'm, uh, well, I kill monsters. Hunt evil. Save lives. At least, that's what I used to do. These days, I dunno. All of this destiny bullshit, feels like I'm more trouble than good."
"How's the pay for that?"
"Hmm." Vimes didn't say anything else for several blocks, and Dean felt even more exposed. He didn't know why he'd said all of that: he wasn't in the habit of voicing his insecurities to anyone, much less to cops he'd just met. But Dean realized that he liked Vimes: liked the man's straight-forward manner, liked that he'd actually heard Dean out, liked what Lu-Tze had to say about him. Stopping wars? Arresting the assholes in charge? If there'd been cops like that back home, Dean might have joined the force.
About a block from the station, Vimes stopped. Dean froze but didn't sense anything wrong, so he turned to face his guide. Dean couldn't make out the meaning behind the solid set of Vimes' jaw and shoulders, so he tilted his head. Vimes took another puff from his cigar. "Hunting evil? Sounds like good work. But the problem with hunting evil is knowing what it looks like. Like that gonne of yours. I'd say that was evil, you seem to have a different opinion. Worst thing of all is when evil looks like the man giving you the orders." His jaw worked around. "Among the things it doesn't look like is Sergeant Detritus." Dean looked down at this, felt embarrassment burning at his cheeks. Vimes puffed at his cigar. "But I understand how you could have gotten confused at first. So we'll get you home, Winchester, where you can blast away at the evil you know. Until you get back, however, check with one of us to see if it's evil before you start shooting." Vimes nodded to himself and proceeded on towards the station. As Dean followed, he had a smile on his face.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
The station was in a flurry of activity when Dean and Vimes returned. A number of officers vied for Vimes' attention, but the commander never broke stride as he headed for the stairs towards his office. "Is Captain Carrot here?" Vimes asked the open air.
A dwarf with a well-groomed beard had joined them, legs working hard to match the men's stride. "He is, sir, but we've had a number of disturbing reports-"
"Very good, Cheery, write them up-" said Vimes, taking the steps two at a time. Dean controlled the urge to ask Cheery if he had a brother named Surly.
"I think it's a little more urgent than that, sir," panted Cheery as they reached the top of the stairs.
Vimes frowned. "What kind of urgent? I'd like to settle this first, won't take but a minute." Their little group entered his office. "Ah, Captain Ironfoundersson, meet Dean Winchester."
Dean Winchester spent more of his life than was probably healthy in the presence Sam Winchester, a young man who was no slouch in the height department. Indeed, Sam was so blessed in stature that he spent most of his time slouching due to the embarrassment of riches he enjoyed insofar as height was concerned. Over the years, Dean had grown accustomed to the enormity that was his baby brother, and these days didn't call him Sasquatch or Gigantor more than once or twice a week, and only that much because it still made Sam glower each and every time.
As Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson rose from his seat and stood at attention, Dean's couldn't help but think that this guy was really fucking tall.
"Mr. Winchester, very pleased to meet you, sir." The fresh-faced giant extended a massive paw in Dean's direction, and Dean allowed his hand to be shaken all the while resisting the impulse to shade his eyes against the mirror polish of the captain's armor. The handshake was everything a handshake was supposed to be: firm but not crushing, energetic but not wild, neither a split-second too long or too short. After they released hands, Dean noticed his shoulders and spine had straightened out when he wasn't paying attention and that he was engaging in direct eye contact while smiling at Carrot.
"Good to meet you too, sir," Dean heard himself saying in his most respectful voice, and what the hell was going on? Bright blue eyes were beaming at him above a Colgate smile that should have been impossible in a place without modern dentistry. This guy was a joke, the solid jaw and broad shoulders something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and topping it all off with red hair in a standard military crop was a wholesome step too far even for ol' Norm. He had red hair and his name was Carrot. Of course it was. Why wasn't Dean making a snarky comment about it? Dean shot a desperate look over at Vimes, who was taking his place behind his desk while the dwarf talked at him, apparently immune to whatever mojo his subordinate was pumping into the air.
Vimes rubbed his jaw. "Has anyone sent round to Mrs. Cake, seen if they've set up shop there?"
Cheery nodded. "Corporal van Humpeding went, sir. Mrs. Cake hasn't had any new boarders in a month and says none of these things are going to show up at her doorstep that she can tell, she keeps a respectable house. She also said that if you want to know anything else it'll be ten dollars and that she knows you're not going to bother anyway." The dwarf smiled at this but quickly sobered and continued his report. "Sergeant Angua is checking out Biers now to see if they've noticed anything unusual in the last few days."
Vimes snorted. "Hell of a question for that place."
"Sergeant Angua's a bit of a regular there, sir, she knows how to deal with the crowd," said Carrot.
Dean saw Vimes give Carrot a significant look, the meaning of which, like the rest of this conversation, went completely over Dean's head. "She's a very capable officer," said Vimes, whose gaze shifted down to Dean and then back to Carrot. "While I'm investigating this, Captain, I need you to escort Mr. Winchester to Unseen University." Vimes pulled Dean's file back open and started to write a note, before he explained in a gravelly monotone, "Seems he's a hero of some sort from another world, got here through the library, needs to get back home to save the place, hopefully the wizards can take care of it. Start with the Librarian: this time of the morning, he won't have hit the pubs yet."
Cheery's head tilted at this revelation, but Carrot didn't even blink. Dean knew, he was watching. "Yes, sir," replied Carrot.
Vimes looked up again and Dean felt the scrutiny in his bones, saw Vimes make a decision as he tapped the pen against the paper and looked down again. "While you're there, might be worth it to ask they've got any insight into these, er, reports." Reports that Vimes apparently felt Dean shouldn't know about, even if he had just called Dean a hero. Finding out about these reports automatically moved to second place on Dean's priority list, right behind getting home. Vimes continued, "Not that I expect them to share too much, never can with the bloody wizards, but if they've caused it the least they can do is clean it up, nice and prompt."
Carrot nodded. "The University has long taken pride in its ability to police itself, sir, and I'm certain they'll be glad to offer their advice on the matter, whether it originated in the University or not. Wizards are always very forthright in their opinions."
Vimes smirked at this, shutting the file. "That they are. Don't forget to pick up his personal effects. Carrot, you will hold onto the gonne until he's on his way out the door, as it were. That's not up for negotiation, Winchester." He stood and shook Dean's hand. "I'm leaving you in the best of hands. Good luck getting home, and don't take it personal, but I hope I never see you again."
Dean met the commander's look with a grin. "Same to you, sir."
"Right. Sergeant Littlebottom, make sure that file finds its way to the Patrician, send word to Dolly Sisters that I'm on my way, and I'm leaving you in charge here." The last bit was said while Vimes clambered back down the steps, the dwarf trailing in his wake.
Dean was left alone with Captain Carrot, who stepped back to allow Dean to exit the office first. A quick sniff confirmed Dean's suspicions: the man smelled like soap and metal polish. Dean ducked his eyes down and walked out, muttering "Thanks," below his breath, a reflexive response to Ironfoundersson's overwhelming politeness. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Carrot stepped ahead of Dean and headed to the property officer, a man who rivaled Carrot in the clean-cut department. He seemed nervous and kept fingering a turtle-shaped pendant that hung from a leather cord around his neck. Along with his knives, flasks, jewelry, broken cell phone, wallet, and lock picks, Dean received a small booklet with a cover proclaiming that belief in someone named Om would give him a better life. This statement had an asterisk next to it leading to a lengthy disclaimer in tiny print at the bottom. Safely around the corner, Dean was about to drop it in the first wastebasket he saw, then reconsidered the pamphlet's potential uses as a certain problem was becoming distinctly more urgent. Carrot was still headed towards the doors.
Dean considered his options, found all of them wanting, grimaced, and finally said, "Uh, Captain Carrot?"
Carrot turned in a neat pivot. "Yes, Mr. Winchester?"
"I, uh, first off, just call me Dean. Second, um, where do you guys go to, uh, relieve yourselves around here?" Dean couldn't admit it to Vimes, but Dibbler's pies had hurried certain processes along, tea always made Dean have to piss like a racehorse, and there really wasn't any chance this place had indoor plumbing, was there? He strangled a whimper deep in his throat.
Carrot handled the question with what Dean was beginning to think might be his normal aplomb, directing Dean to the privy in the yard by the stables. 'Privy' here meant hole in the ground with a seat over it, the inevitable but welcome box of white powder next to the throne, and a cheap almanac with half the pages torn out hanging from a string on the door. At least it didn't smell any worse than the stables. Dean sat down to business before he noticed another book sitting on a small shelf. He grinned to himself as he picked it up: in jobs dominated by men - well, males - only one kind of book wound up stored in the bathroom. Or so he thought until he read the title, The Joye of Snacks, but it was that or learning about the benefits of accepting Om as his personal savior, so Dean gave snacks a shot. After all, he liked food.
Time passed. Natural processes took their course. Dean came out of the privy with a smirk on his face that made Captain Carrot's brow furrow. "Everything okay, Dean?" asked Carrot.
Dean slapped his new chaperon on the back. "Fantastic. This world of yours ain't so bad. Those Lancre witches are some kinky chicks, aren't they? Wish the witches back home were like that. Which way to the wizards?" Combining The Joye of Snacks with Dean's superb visual imagination provided him with a partial, temporary inoculation against Carrot's aura of respectability. His id preoccupied with new and novel smutty thoughts, Dean felt entirely at ease for the first time in ages. He didn't even bother to ask if he could have his gun back early.
While they walked through much wealthier neighborhoods than he'd seen that morning, Dean discovered that Carrot knew the name of every single person they passed, for an extremely broad definition of 'person,' and that the captain's presence had the same effect on most everyone: better posture, better manners, and a vague tickling at the back of the knees that didn't make any sense to Dean. But people's knees twitched when Carrot walked past. It wasn't like Andy and Ansem: Carrot didn't control people, didn't order anyone to do anything, not when he could make it a polite request instead. The world was simply a better place for about twenty feet in every direction around him.
Carrot was better tour guide than Vimes, telling Dean about the excavation project going on under the city and that the strange towers with the flaps were 'clacks' towers that used semaphore to send information all over the Disc. He identified every new species that Dean pointed out, along with their more admirable characteristics and contributions to city life. When Dean asked about the mysterious reports, however, the captain started turning the questions back at Dean. Dean found himself in a distinct over-share mood. By the time they arrived at the University, Dean had told Carrot about growing up as a hunter, how he and his brother had been manipulated into starting the apocalypse, and was finishing explaining the whole Lucifer-Michael host situation. Carrot kept asking questions, Dean kept giving answers, Carrot's route meandered as much as Dean's story, and maybe that temporary immunity had worn off somewhere along the way. "This decision is a terrible burden," said Carrot as they passed under the gate.
Dean shook his head. "Tell me about it." Still, it felt good to have someone like Carrot acknowledge it. The cynical-bastard portion of Dean's brain, already confused about how it had been pushed out of the driver's seat, filed that thought away for later examination when he was outside of Carrot's field of influence.
Carrot looked down at him. "Yet you're eager to return."
"Gotta get back to my brother. So far as he can tell, I just up and disappeared. I don't need him getting any wrong ideas."
Carrot nodded. "Yes, if Lucifer claimed you had already consented to the angel Michael, then he could use this to convince your brother to consent to him."
Dean blinked, his heart dropping into his stomach at the thought, and God he was an idiot for not thinking of it first . Maybe Carrot was more devious than he let on. He sped up the pace. "The sooner I get home, the better."
The courtyard was familiar, and just outside the door Dean remembered led to the library was a large cart, the words "Property of H. King" stenciled along the side. Burly men were wrangling the tulpa's corpse onto the platform. Dean stopped. "Huh."
"Yes?" asked Carrot.
Dean shook his head. "Nothing. It's just, uh, tulpas aren't usually so real. They're walking beliefs, can't hold together for more than a few minutes at a time without a lot of conscious effort on their part." One of the dog's heads flopped out of the back of the wagon. "That thing doesn't look conscious."
"Ah." Carrot nodded sagely. "I think you will find that on the Disc beliefs hold form very well." Dean followed him as he walked across the courtyard. They had almost reached the library when the ground exploded behind them, plumes of dirt shooting into the air.
Dean managed to maintain his balance and he spun around, saw out of the corner of his eye that Carrot had done the same and was in the midst of drawing his sword. It was then that something hooked around Dean's ankle and gave a firm yank. Dean landed hard on his back, knocking the air out of him, and then something was dragging him forward. Dean's fingers pawed at the ground, kicked with his free leg, trying to resist, but the thing was strong. It was, however, vulnerable to the steel of Carrot's blade, and it let out a terrible shriek when Carrot severed its tentacle, freeing Dean.
Shit. It had tentacles. That was never good.
The dust was settling and Dean could finally get a real look at the thing as he pushed back onto his feet, one of Carrot's long arms wrapping around his chest to pull him further away from the monster's grasp. Once he saw the dozen blue-green tentacles surrounding a very toothy maw, Dean wished he could un-see it. To hell with asking: this fucker radiated evil. Several of the tentacles were shooting in their direction, but Dean had his knife out now, and between his slashes and Carrot's, they managed to escape its reach. The monster kept making those horrible noises, the movement of its limbs slowing due to the half dozen arrows that Dean could see were buried in the main body. Another bolt struck the beast, coming from Dean's right, and when he looked over he discovered the shooter was a stout, bearded man in what must be a wizard's cap and robes, who was stalking towards his quarry and reloading his crossbow in an easy, practiced motion.
The tentacles were only twitching now, but the wizard raised the crossbow again, landing his next shot in the creature's eye. It shuddered one last time before falling still and dead. The wizard let out a booming laugh. "Ha! Bracing. Nice to have the hunt come to me for once, though you were a dumb sonovabitch for daring to break through in my very home, and unannounced no less. Poor form, old chap, poor form." He kicked his prey before he turned to the wagon and yelled, "Got another one here for you boys, send Piss Harry my compliments." Then he turned his attention to Carrot and Dean. "Ah, Captain Carrot, excellent reflexes and technique as always, you really must come hunting with me one of these days, what brings you to the University, not Watch business I hope?"
Carrot managed an apologetic smile. "I'm afraid so, Archchancellor."
The Archchancellor huffed. "Well, I'm always happy to help the Watch. What's old Stoneface need from us this time, and here, take this, son, mind your weapon." He tossed a rag at Carrot, and the watchman used it to wipe his sword clean of the foul green goo that clung to the blade.
"Thank you, Archchancellor. I'm actually here on two errands. The first has to do with my friend, Mr. Winchester. Dean, meet Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Unseen University."
Ridcully waved off the introduction. "Pleasure, pleasure, hate these formalities. Damn thing had the drop on you, but that was some excellent knife work and you carry yourself well. You don't look daft enough to be a potential student, so what can I do for you?"
Was there a good way of explaining this? "I, uh, um, the library, uh, I-" and words were completely failing him, so Dean tried to buy time via a not-entirely staged coughing fit, but regretted the tactic when Ridcully's fist pounded into his back.
"Swallow a clod of dirt back there, son? Or maybe I was too quick in declaring you not daft." Ridcully snorted. "Captain, get to the point for him."
"Mr. Winchester traveled here from another world by means of your library last night. We were hoping you could send him back," said Carrot. It sounded so simple when he said it, but it wasn't something Dean had ever imagined saying before, much less having it be believed.
Things worked differently here on the Disc, though, because Ridcully was nodding. "Ah, that was you? The Librarian managed to do in the dog, by the time he let us know something else had come through, you were long gone. No shame in the running, mind you, that knife of yours wouldn't give you near enough reach to take down something with three heads. A lesson in preparation, that is, young men today, like to go charging in all but unarmed, and what good does that serve anyone?"
The Archchancellor had paused so that he could be agreed with, and Dean wasn't going to get a better opening than this. "No good at all, sir, but didn't you want me to talk to the Librarian about how to get home?"
"Oh, right, follow me, lads." Behind Ridcully's back, Carrot gave Dean an approving nod, and Dean was not about to admit to himself how good that felt. He cast one last glance back at the thing that had attacked them, wondering what the hell it was, wondering if this was a regular sort of thing here, what with everyone else taking it in stride. Then again, at the moment 'everyone else' was Ridcully and Carrot, and they weren't exactly normal, either of them. But it was a nice to have some help in the fight for once, so Dean wasn't going to argue with that, even if Ridcully's energy was unnatural in a man of his age and the whole Carrot-mojo thing freaked Dean out. Dean could deal with this strange world for a little while longer without cracking up; he'd be home soon, and even if things weren't okay there, at least they were familiar. The Librarian was going to send him home: everything was going to work out all right.
The whole mantra went to hell when it turned out the Librarian was a fucking orangutan, and Dean was laughing and then he was crying and then it was both at the same time, couldn't stop either one, and who the hell were these people looking at him like he was the crazy one? Dean just needed to lean against the wall and shut his eyes for a second, block out the crazy for a moment, okay if he slid down the wall a little - his legs had gone all gumby and shaky anyways - and the black felt so very nice he decided to stay there awhile.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
"Drink it up, every last drop." The girl handing him a mug was named Glenda, sweet and pretty despite the extra chin , but Dean was in no shape to flirt with her. Not with Carrot and Ridcully and the fucking Librarian staring down at him like he was apt to start drooling at any second, along with a new guy, some geeky-looking guy who knowing this place would be able to kill Chuck Norris by staring at him the wrong way. Better just to concentrate on drinking the warm savory whatever-it-was that Glenda had pressed into his hands.
Carrot's eyes were soft and sympathetic. "It's okay, Dean. You've been under a lot of stress."
Fuck this. He was Dean Winchester, Destroyer of Worlds, and he didn't need their pitying glances. The blanket was nice and soft, though, so he pulled it in a little tighter. "Still need to get home," he muttered. The faces looming over him exchanged significant looks, and Dean groaned. He wasn't sure how long he'd been out, Carrot knew his whole fucking life story: who knew what he'd told the others? What kind of bullshit pop-psychology theories were they applying to him? This was why Dean didn't share with people who didn't have mutant listening powers - not that he'd meant to share anything with the guy who had the mutant listening powers, it just sort of happened. "There's nothing wrong with me that getting home won't fix," Dean grumbled, a bit louder this time.
The Librarian shook his head, looked at Dean with eyes that, now that Dean got a better look, were more intelligent than he expected, and turned away. "Oook," he said, and Dean had maybe been on the Disc too long, because he understood exactly what the ape meant: You guys tell him, I don't have the heart to do it.
"What'd he say?" asked Dean, his voice sounding hollow even in his head.
None of them wanted to say it, so he with the weakest willpower lost. "We don't know how to send you home," said the geek, not able to look Dean in the face while he said it.
Dean kept his voice even. "The monk, Lucy, he said you knew about this library thing. Said the Librarian knew more than anyone else."
Geek-boy sighed. "That's all true. And technically, yes, the Librarian could get you home. But L-space is tricky, and without knowing where he's going, it would take the Librarian a long time to find the way back to where you came from. Captain Carrot tells us you have a rather more limited schedule."
Little to no chance of Sammy walking in through the stacks anytime soon, then. Dean couldn't suffer the last glimmer of his hope to live. "How long is 'a long time'?"
The Librarian shrugged and peeled a banana. "Oook."
"Low range, a little more than fifty years. More likely, two hundred or so."
"At the most, four hundred." The geek had the grace to look apologetic. Dean shut his eyes and let the back of his head bang against the wall.
Ridcully guffawed. "Couldn't you use that bloody contraption of yours to cut down that time, Stibbons? What else is the damn thing good for?"
"The quantum variables involved, combined with the bibliodistortion and the reality phase shifts? It would take me twenty years to write the equation in a manner that Hex could process. Not to mention, if what Captain Carrot has said is correct, this man comes from a roundworld with strong thaumic activity!"
"So?" demanded Ridcully.
Dean could hear Stibbons the geek wiping at his face. "So it's not supposed to exist, that's so. Roundworlds don't work like that. Every simulation we've run insists that such a thing is impossible."
"Mr. Winchester exists, so it must be possible," said Carrot.
"Nonetheless, running the numbers through Hex, even if I knew how to formulate the problem, I'd be asking Hex to look for what he considers to be an imaginary needle in a fake haystack. It wouldn't register as a valid solution. Hex can't help here, Archchancellor, I'm sorry." Stibbons was breathing heavily by the end of his rant. Dean had to give the geek credit for sticking to his guns in the face of the force of nature that was Ridcully, even if what the guy had to say wasn't what Dean wanted to hear either.
Silence reigned for a few moments, making Dean open his eyes. His lips thinned. "You're wizards. Can't you just magic me home?"
Ridcully laughed. "Magic? Magic doesn't solve problems like this. Magic can only make this worse. You think your problem with the Dungeon Dimensions is bad now-" and not even Ridcully could deny Carrot's death glare, but it was too late now.
Dean looked up at Carrot. "I have a problem with the Dungeon Dimensions?" Not a term Dean was familiar with, but not a hard one to figure out. He licked his lips as Carrot backed up a step. Forcing him to go against Vimes' orders, even implicit ones, might kill the man, and Dean didn't want to do that. No mind, Stibbons was an easier target anyway. "Care to explain?"
"The beast in the yard, it wasn't the only one. They've been showing up around the city since you arrived, more and more of them. While you were, uh, resting, another one tried to come after you. There's good evidence to demonstrate that your status as a non-"
Dean held up his hand. "I got it. I'm the main course for the hell beasts. Not the first time." Dean cracked his neck. This was all making his decision a lot simpler, if not a lot easier. The monk had said that Dean would either save or destroy a world, Dean just hadn't thought he was talking about this one. "Anything else I should know?" The group was silent. "Okay then." No way home. Never gonna see Sam or Bobby or Cas or the Impala again. The apocalypse would go on without him. Dean took a long breath. "It's been real fun. Next one of those creatures shows up, you let them take me, you got it?" They gaped at him. "I don't like it, but I can't get home, and I'm the one who put your world in danger, I'll -"
"Be a hot-headed infant without an ounce of sense to his name," shouted Ridcully. "Didn't you listen to a damn thing I said before? You can't just charge into these things!" Ridcully thrust his hand into the air. "You are in a house of knowledge. Answers to questions you'd never imagine to ask are all around you. Men who've forgotten more than you'll ever know loiter the hallways, never applying their over-sized brains to any task more taxing than wondering how long the relish trolley will be at supper. Have some patience, give us a little bit of time to think about it, and we'll come up with an answer a damn sight better than offering your body up to the next demon that comes along." The Archchancellor grabbed Stibbons by the collar. "Stibbons, with me. Captain Carrot, make sure the lad doesn't have any more bright ideas before we return."
Carrot's smile was considerably brighter this time. "I'm sure they'll find a better solution, Dean. They're, well, they're the best at what they do." Dean wasn't going to rise to that bait, instead he shot Carrot a pointed glance that the cop ignored.
"Come on, Carrot. Look at me. I'm stranded and useless here. I'm a danger to this world and to my own just by breathing. Everyone and everything you know and love is at risk. You've gotta know that this is wrong."
Carrot looked thoughtful. "There is in fact a law dating from the reign of King Gideon the Hasty that prohibits loitering with the intention of disrupting the fabric of reality, but I've come to the conclusion through our conversations that you're not doing it on purpose, and as such, fail to fulfill the requirement of intent."
Well. Dean knew that tone, that delivery; he'd heard it from Sam a thousand times when they were kids, from Cas a hundred times in the last year: I'm right, you're wrong, and this is all the explanation you're going to get. There was no use arguing with it, whether it made sense to Dean or not. Instead, he reached for his jacket, found his flask, and emptied it of whiskey in two quick swallows. Wished he had more; wondered where all the smokers had gone now that Dean counted himself a goner and wanted to bum one.
Then Glenda was back with more food, and Dean contented himself with sitting on the library floor and munching away and letting Carrot battle the occasional creature from the Dungeon Dimension that came along. That's what they got for not letting Dean put an end to it. He kept an eye open for a geriatric monk prepared to take care of the situation once and for all, but despite Dean's certainty in the hopelessness of his lot, Lucy never showed.
Two hours later the wizards returned, this time with reinforcements. "We think we've found a way to mask your presence and slow down the infiltrations from the Dungeon Dimensions," began Stibbons.
"That's good," said Carrot, whose armor was considerably less shiny and more dented than it had been when he reported for duty that morning. Glenda had done a neat job bandaging the gash on his left arm, and Dean felt bad about that and all the rest of Carrot's bruises and scrapes, he did, but no one was listening to sense in this place. He hadn't asked for this.
Ridcully cleared his throat. "We've also discussed a number of options for returning you home."
Dean looked up, slightly too divorced from his body at this point to shoot to his feet. "Number of options? Great." Maybe he'd been too cynical, maybe things weren't always headed from bad to worse, maybe this once things would be different. "So, option number one, lay it on me." Dean rubbed his hands together.
"We'll start by summoning Death," said one of the new wizards, and that's when the unpleasantness began.
Fifteen minutes later the Senior Lecturer in Recent Runes was sipping tea with honey and lemon while Glenda held an icepack to his throat. Ridcully was giving a small frog an extremely stern talking to. "Now that you've heard the full plan, I'm going to change you back. I like you, boy, I do, and I admire your derring-do as it were, glad to see some initiative around here, even if you lean a bit too far to the suicidal for my tastes and for your own good. But you try to strangle another member of my faculty and it's straight back to the pond. Understood?"
The frog croaked, and with a wet pop, Dean was once again in his own body, with only a minor residual craving for flies. He swiveled around on hips that felt natural under his weight, then looked up at Ridcully and gave him a nod of acknowledgment. "I won't attack anyone else, but we're not summoning Death."
The Head of the Department of Post-Mortem Communications rolled his eyes. "Death routinely steps between worlds and the Rite of AshkEnte is quite simple and presents no risk to anyone. We don't even need a mouse any more. It's downright vegetarian."
Dean wagged his finger at the dark wizard. "No Death. Not for me. The next time I see that sonovabitch it's damn well going to be the last time."
"He's actually quite the nice chap, once you get to talking to him," said the Senior Wrangler.
Almost growling, Dean grabbed at his hair with his hands. "No. No Death. No chatting with Death, no deals with Death, Death does not get to enter the equation. Come up with something else. You said options before, so come on, out with them." The wizards mostly looked away and Dean let his arms fall to his sides. "What? What now?"
Ridcully shook his head. "It's just the other option is rather less savory, that's all. Death is a gentleman, and something of a known quantity to us wizards, you see."
Dean pursed his lips. "I'm a big boy, done plenty of less than savory things in my time."
Ridcully sniffed. "Maybe that will help prepare you, but probably not." He traded a look with the Senior Wrangler, who raised his hands in resigned disgust. "Well, if you simply refuse to meet with Death, then we have no other choice." Ridcully stared Dean down. "It'll have to be the Nac Mac Feegle." Dean heard Carrot inhale sharply, saw the Librarian's hackles rise up at the words.
This once, ignorance wasn't just bliss, it was a shield and a talisman against Ridcully's terrible stare. Dean folded his arms across his chest. "Fine. Take me to him." Stare away, old man, I'm not moving.
Ridcully suddenly sounded very old. "To them, Winchester. The Nac Mac Feegle are a them." He turned away. "They're usually found in regions closer to the Hub. An old, ah, friend of mine has encountered them before, I believe. I shall write and recommend you to Esme directly."
On the other side of the room, this name caused even more murmuring among the clutch of wizards, and now that Dean had kind of sort of managed to get his way, he could laugh at the silly fat old men with their dresses and hats gossiping like a sewing circle. He was escaping this crazy world of theirs, and if they didn't approve of his methods, even better. Then another seeming nonsense word escaped their huddle, and if the Librarian's hackles had been raised before, now he hooted twice, pounded his chest, and swung into the stacks. The defiant plan that had felt so right and shiny a few seconds earlier wasn't quite as appealing anymore, and the one wizard with the skull ring looked like he was sizing Dean's body up to be his next revenant because he knew a vacancy would be available soon. What's more, Carrot was wearily replacing his sword in its scabbard and wrapping his arm around Dean's shoulders in a sign of camaraderie. It wasn't natural.
He turned his neck to look at Carrot. "Gonna let me in on the joke of what 'weather wax' means?"
Carrot's toothy grin unnerved Dean more than anything else. "You should be pleased, Dean. They're sending you to meet a real Lancre witch!"
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
In a day that already ranked among the longest days of Dean's life - and there were some long days on that list - the last several tock hours of this one passed by in a blur of activity and discussion that managed to revolve around Dean without ever really involving him. Dean was okay with that. He didn't belong here; he spoke a language that sounded the same but somehow wasn't; and he didn't understand the codes and the rules that made these crazy people so determined to help him, or get rid of him, or whatever it was they were doing. He tick had to give these folks points for efficiency, though. Batshit but Efficient, that tock was the rule of the land, and a short while before midnight tick on this very long day, Dean had been summoned to meet with the King of Batshit-but-Efficient Land.
Well, the Patrician of it anyway, whatever difference that made. Dean had learned his lesson about not using the 'king' word real quick. Like Dean's Colt, the tock word 'king' made all of the Watch officers... twitchy. Especially Carrot and Vimes. Dean chalked it up to the crazy and went along with it. He glanced across the waiting room at his current chaperone. Definitely didn't want Detritus to get twitchy.
Whatever the wizards had done to mess with the Dungeon Dimension creatures worked pretty well, but there'd been a couple of attacks since. They had loaned Dean a freshly-honed if elderly broadsword from the Watch armory, but for all of his weapons training machetes were the longest blades he used on a regular basis and he had only ever fenced with a katana in the practice ring. Vimes had taken one look at Dean's grip on the hilt and made the order that Dean have a Watch escort at all times. Then Sergeant Detritus had come on duty about two hours ago, and that siege weapon of his rendered everything else superfluous anyways. Dean would admit tick to siege weapon envy. If it were street legal, he'd mount one to the rear bumper of the Impala. Not tock to mention that Detritus had been remarkably forgiving about the whole trying-to-kill-him thing.
"Din't hardly even feel it. And yer from a whole oder place what don't got trolls in, Mister Vimes told me. Just don' try nothin' like it again, right, and we be a lots-sided thing."
A few minutes following this amnesty, Dean had witnessed Detritus flattening the entire training yard with a single trigger pull. Dean had been gamely practicing thrusts and parries with the broadsword when another Dungeon demon appeared, this one looking more like a cross between a bear and a hyena. That is, that's what it looked like until it resembled nothing else more than a fine vapor spray, the biggest remaining bits rapidly blackening away to nothing in the small fires ignited by the friction of the blast. Detritus' grip had been heavy on Dean's shoulder and the bruise from where the troll had pulled him back was only just now settling into a deep purple color, but a bruise was a small price to pay for being pulled out of that line of fire.
Nope, Dean wasn't going tick to cross Detritus ever again. Dean would happily contribute to Detritus' favorite charities right here and now if the troll asked. But Detritus didn't, just sat there across the room, jaw jutting out, weapon laying across his lap, breathing even and rough like quarry noise. It was strangely tock comforting. Unlike that fucking clock over there that Dean was so very close to pulling off the wall and smashing if it didn't pick a goddamn rhythm and stick with it.
Dean bounced up to his feet at the very same moment that a clerk finally opened the door. "Mr. Winchester, Lord Vetinari will see you now."
Dean snorted, his eyes flickering from the hated clock to the clerk, who looked this close to snapping his fingers at Dean. "About damn time," Dean muttered as he walked by him, in a tone he knew for certain didn't travel further than five feet. He saw the clerk's lips twitch at the comment and channeled his satisfaction into the polite smile that he plastered onto his face as he approached the Patrician. This was the first head of state Dean had ever met, so he decided to play it safe and stood at a position of military attention a few feet in front of the desk. "Sir," said Dean, and even if the guy on the other side looked like a Bond villain, the only feeling coloring the word was a hint of exhaustion, Dean was sure of it.
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Winchester, but it took me significantly longer than usual to finish perusing the day's reports. Feel free to sit." Dean didn't; Vetinari didn't push the issue or seem all that surprised. Thin fingers drummed over a thick pile of manila folders, the tabs of which were neatly inscribed with Dean's name in black ink, before the fingers steepled together and rose up to rest under a neatly trimmed black beard. "Fascinating reading. It seems you inspired not only dozens of eldritch horrors to pierce the veil of our reality, but also more exclamation points than I've seen in quite some time. I doubt the punctuation exists that can adequately communicate Captain Carrot's experiences in your company, but he gave it a good Dwarfish effort." Vetinari let out what sounded like a small laugh, though no humor was evident in his eyes or expression. Calling Carrot a dwarf was a lame joke in the first place. "Fortunately, no major damage or casualties resulted from any of the other-worldly incursions." Dean felt a small shudder of relief: even though Vimes had assured him of this same fact a few hours ago, confirmation that he hadn't gotten anyone killed in the meanwhile was nice. "The Watch, of course, were diligent in their duties, and there were an unusual number of Hublandish fighting monks in the right places at the right times but several of the creatures were dispatched by ordinary citizens. That will be a source of some civic pride, if you believe the editorial page of The Times. What do you think?"
Dean coughed. "Excuse me, sir?"
Vetinari's hands turned so that both of his thumbs pointed at Dean. "I understand that where you come from, you're something of a professional in these matters. In your professional opinion, as a, ah, demon hunter, how do you feel about the way residents of Ankh-Morpork turned out to defend themselves against the ravening denizens of the Pit?"
"Um..." and this should be an easy question, but Dean had a sinking feeling he was about to get it wrong. "Uh, good for them, sir?"
"Mmmm." At that noise, Dean locked his knees and his jaw, waiting for the blow to fall. "There is something to be admired about their initiative, it's true, and the wizards assure me that the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions are nothing but," and here Vetinari read out of one of the files, "'vicious, malevolent hellspawn who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of quenching their own thirst for power.'" As he finished reading, Vetinari let the file fall shut without giving any air of finality to the statement.
"But?" The question escaped Dean's lips before he even knew he was thinking it.
Vetinari's right eyebrow shifted a fraction of an inch up while the corners of his mouth threatened to turn, though the Patrician managed to lock down that impulse before Dean could sort out which direction they were headed in. "The 'but' in question is that, a few decades ago - indeed, in some cases, a few months ago - that exact description was commonly applied to any number of groups and individuals who have since integrated themselves into the vibrant social, cultural and economic fabric of our fair city. And so I'm concerned that today's violence might inspire vigilante actions towards some of our recent immigrants who have not yet achieved a broad acceptance amongst their fellow citizens."
Dean's eyebrows lurched skyward, his lips pursing. "You think we should have tried a gift-basket approach first?" He was too tired to strip the contempt from his voice.
Vetinari shook his head. "My perspective is from a far different angle. I understand that the bulk of the attacks were directly focused upon you, and as a visitor, you cannot be expected to appreciate the fine demographic balance in this city. Allow me to enlighten you as to the delicate nature of your new surroundings." Vetinari rose and walked to the window with his hands folded behind his back. "Mixed in with nearly a million humans whose roots stretch across the entire Disc, you'll find sixty-thousand dwarfs, two-thirds as many trolls, and probably ten thousand miscellaneous gnolls, gnomes, gargoyles, orcs, werewolves, and other sentient species that could be termed 'living'. Then there's the undead: a few hundred zombies, around the same number of vampires - all black-ribboners, on the wagon, of course - as well as a few dozen bogeymen, along with some others that we dare not give names - unless, that is, they're taking supper at Mrs. Cake's table, when first names will do. All of them existing and working together in conditions close enough to peace and prosperity that each year several thousand more of them will willingly walk in through one of our many gates and contribute to the housing shortage." Vetinari raised a single finger, amending his statement. "This accounting, of course, does not include the golems, whom I suppose would fall under the category of non-living, and neglects the eternal question of Nobby Nobbs, which is too involved to discuss in detail at this late hour."
This entire discussion was too involved for Dean at this hour. "I'm, uh, sorry? Next one of those ugly sonsabitches shows up, sir, you've got my word, I'll send 'em straight to the Chamber of Commerce. You'll have to make the directions pretty simple though: I only get a few seconds between when they appear and when they try to disembowel me." Dean absently rubbed his jaw with his knuckles while he said this, noticing how badly he needed a shave - a shave and a bed and a drink, screw the order, he didn't care if his pillow had a little lather left on it when he woke up. Or a little whiskey.
"Mr. Winchester, I fear you misunderstand my point." Vetinari returned to his seat and steepled his fingers once more. "You're in a city where the leading cause of death is suicide, and today the favored suicide method was in attempting to kill someone Sam Vimes had decided was worth protecting. You are not to be faulted for that. And yet, I cannot help but note your impressive history of violence, particularly against some of our non-human citizens."
Really? After the day he'd just had, this guy wanted to give him a little lecture on tolerance? Dean tilted his head back. "I know the Sergeant and I started off on the wrong foot last night, but it's all settled. We're good buddies now: he frappéd an infernal immigrant for me and everything."
Vetinari briefly wore a tight smile Dean thought he'd seen before on the face of one of his many high school guidance counselors. "That's comforting to hear, but it is not your relationship with Sergeant Detritus that concerns me. It's come to my attention that the wizards believe it is unwise for you to travel to Lancre by broomstick?"
"Yes, sir." Technically true anyway. Ridcully had been expounding on the virtues of broomsticks as a valid method of air transportation when Stibbons noticed Dean turning a whiter shade of pale with each word. Ponder had 'discovered' a calculation indicating that the magic of the broomstick would counteract the masking spell they'd placed on Dean earlier. Dean could've kissed the geek.
"Instead, you will be traveling to Lancre via mailcoach through the Sto Plains and other points Hubwards, a distance of some five hundred miles that will take roughly one week to traverse. As you approach the Ramtops, you will find that certain groups that are comparatively marginalized within the city are more established in some of the mountain villages." Vetinari paused, Dean looked up, and the Patrician captured his gaze. "You are not aware of Ankh-Morpork's history, but the fact is that for many thousands of years we had a regrettable tendency to export our own troubles to other countries on the Disc. Usually in the form of large bodies of armed men. An unfortunate policy, which I have used my tenure as Patrician to rectify. Now, other states and nations send their problems to Ankh-Morpork in order to be solved." He nodded and Dean found himself nodding back. "However, it appears that yours is a problem that we cannot solve on our own. So we will be sending you forth with an official delegation. The Postmaster assures me that you will be chauffeured by his best drivers, men well-equipped to handle the special difficulties that have accompanied your stay here in our city. Furthermore, Commander Vimes has assigned an officer of the Watch to serve as an additional armed escort. Let it not be said that we are not looking after you to the best of our abilities. In return, I hope that you feel sufficient gratitude to towards Ankh-Morpork for her efforts that you will not embarrass her by unduly harassing the local color during your journey."
So that was what this was all about. "Understood, sir, I won't be looking for trouble."
Vetinari finally released Dean's gaze. "That will be a refreshing change for you, I'm certain." He opened a folder from the middle of his pile while Dean stifled a yawn. "More to the point, there is the matter of the Watch officer assigned to escort you. Are you acquainted with Sergeant Angua?"
Angua, Angua... Dean's mind flipped through all of the new names and faces from the last twenty-four hours, but it wasn't a face that registered with him so much as a body. A slow grin drifted across his face. "Yes, sir, we met this morning."
Vetinari took a breath. "One of the finest officers in the Watch, and the best-suited officer that may be spared from the city for an extended journey. I need to make sure that your personal prejudices will not interfere with her ability to execute her duties."
Dean shrugged: he didn't really care. "Don't know how things are run around here, but I've got no problem with ladies in positions of authority." Could imagine Angua and her strong, lean body in a number of authority positions which would make the trip much more enjoyable for both of them. They could maybe even find out if Celery Astonishment was physically possible. His smile widened.
Vetinari let Dean have a moment before clearing his throat. "Very progressive of you, Mr. Winchester. That is not what I was referring to. What I am about to tell you is not common knowledge. You will be discreet about this, naturally."
"Sure." It was an automatic response, but who was Dean going to tell about anything anyway?
"Good. Sergeant Angua is a werewolf."
Dean rocked back on his heels, happy fantasies replaced with the memory of Sam's face when Dean handed him the gun in Madison's apartment. "She's a what?"
"She is a werewolf. And a highly decorated officer. Captain Carrot reported that you've had previous encounters with out-of-control werewolves..." Hearts torn out of victims that he could scarcely recognize as human; Sammy's heart torn out as soon as the kid dared to have one again; human-looking bodies bleeding out from silver bullets Dean had fired. Dean shook his head, trying to focus on the words coming out of Vetinari's mouth. "... one could even say excessive control of her wolf-ish tendencies, so there's no need for concern. We debated informing you at all, but in the event that you are delayed, there will be a full moon in nine days, and felt it best, given your prior experiences, that you not be taken by surprise." Vetinari's face remained a study in neutrality. "Do you understand, Mr. Winchester?"
Dean blinked. "No such thing as a werewolf in control," he mumbled.
Was that compassion in the curl of the Patrician's mouth? Or something else entirely? "You've had a very long day, Mr. Winchester, far from home, and have an early morning ahead of you. I invite you to ponder these final thoughts: Sergeant Angua recently celebrated her eighth anniversary of service in the Watch. In judging her, ask yourself if I strike you as the sort of ruler who would allow an uncontrollable, violent monster free rein in my city for that long." Vetinari gave Dean a curt nod. "I bid you a safe journey. Don't let me detain you."
Dean wasn't about to, was more than ready to walk out of the office and follow Detritus to the station or wherever it was they were going, so long as it had a bed, or a flat surface, any place where Dean could get some real sleep. Thank God that Detritus embodied the strong silent type.
At the end of a short walk stood a large house with a stuffy little man who took Dean's jacket off and away while wrinkling his nose before leading Dean upstairs to the nicest room Dean had stayed in since Cassie's. Soft sheets, firm mattress, and heavy, carved wooden furniture for passing along generations. Detritus had said something about how this wasn't the first time he'd played guard overnight in Vimes' house; must be Vimes' house, a house fit for the Duke of Ankh. Got to be Duke of Ankh by being a good copper: what did you get for being a good hunter? A mind full of horrors and a criminal record long enough to kindle your funeral pyre. Salted and burned and gone and maybe a stopover in Hell if you were lucky; nothing more than the height of fashion in apocalyptic meatsuits if you weren't.
Dean pulled off his boots and jeans, tucked a knife under his pillow, and stretched out between linens that whispered sweet nothings to every one of his nerve endings. Linens fit for the Duke of Ankh. Duke of Ankh was a good copper. To hell with the Patrician: a good copper would know if Angua was an uncontrollable monster. She couldn't be: he'd have gotten rid of her years ago. Dean was on a Disc not a planet, speaking Morporkian not English, werewolves were the same word but different creatures. Tomorrow he'd begin the journey home to the world and the brother he'd either save or destroy: seven days in a box with a werewolf to go meet a witch; tonight he would just enjoy the Duke of Ankh's sheets.
Dean snuffed the candle, settled his head against the pillow and fell asleep within moments. He didn't remember his dreams in the morning but he remembered wishing that he could.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
Dean had a lot of experience getting run out of town. This was a lot like that. But slower, and more chaotic, and while the wife of the chief of police had played a role in several previous incidents, it had never before been through directing the packing.
Dean hadn't realized there was going to be packing; when he'd fallen asleep, he hadn't had anything to pack. Then he'd awoken at dawn to a distressing lack of pants, snatched out from under his sleeping nose by Vimes' ninja butler who also managed, sight unseen, to leave a bowl of hot lather, a pitcher of water, and a sharp razor in the room between the time that Dean's eyes first opened and when his feet touched the floor. Dean hadn't used a straight razor since he was nineteen (during a brief, unfortunate 'cowboy' phase that someday Sam was going to let him live down), not to shave with anyway, and he got a little wrapped up in the process. Razor gave a damn fine shave though. The ninja butler had struck again while Dean shaved and did his best to maintain his oral hygiene regimen with what was available, because when he returned from the cubby with a mirror, basin and toilet hole to nowhere - he couldn't call a place without running water a bathroom - he found his freshly laundered jeans hanging in the closet, along with three new pairs of sturdy canvas pants, five cotton shirts, a set of long johns, and enough boxers and thick woolen socks to last a week, as well as his leather jacket, also cleaned. A small leather satchel sat open and waiting to be filled at the end of the bed.
Dean Winchester, being Dean Winchester, responded the only way he could: left the new stuff in the closets and ignored the gamey aroma his t-shirt, socks, and boxers were developing. He checked his jacket pockets to make sure that everything was still where he'd left it and grabbed his borrowed sword. Then he ventured downstairs, Detritus apparently having been relieved of duty while Dean slept, and found Vimes already in uniform, scowling at the newspaper with its headlines about yesterday's Dungeon Dimension invaders. "Not that I don't appreciate the thought, sir, but-"
"Ah-ah!" Vimes stopped Dean with a raised hand. "Don't bother telling me, I had nothing to do with it. Bed for the night is one thing, but taking charity's another."
Dean flinched. The accent was wrong, but otherwise Dean had heard that exact line dozens of times throughout his youth. "Then who-" This time Dean was interrupted by a firm cuff to the back of his head, delivered by a sturdy woman wearing some kind of bulky safety gear who'd stepped up behind him with butler-like levels of stealthiness.
"Nonsense! And I don't want to hear it out of either of you," she said, stripping off her protective mask. "They're for Angua's sake. With her sense of smell, and you men want to stick her in a mailcoach for a week with someone who has already worn his single change of clothes for three days? No, I will not have her suffer for your pride, not when I can remedy the situation for less money than I spend on dragon fodder in one day." Commander Samuel Vimes might only resemble a duke in soft focus, but this woman scolding Dean with a single arched brow was definitely a duchess, no matter what she was wearing. She tapped him on the rear with her mask. "Now back up with you, Dean, make sure everything fits. Breakfast will be ready when you return. Quickly, now." She proceeded along into what must have been the kitchen, Dean staring helplessly after her.
Vimes sighed. "Sybil has a point. She usually does." The commander turned the page of his paper "I assume you know that if you lay a finger on Angua, she's more than capable of defending herself against a two-bit bar brawler like you. But if I hear report you've spoken to her with anything less than a civil tongue, know that while I will track you down regardless of what world you're in, no one else will ever find your body."
Oh yeah, the threats: at least those were a consistent element in being run out of town. Fortunately, this was a dance that Dean had down to a science: swallow, look down, hushed tone, "Understood, sir."
Beat. Beat. No response. Ah, Vimes would be one of those, but Dean was familiar with this variation as well: raise his head, but keep his eyes lowered to indicate hesitation, withstand the feel of Vimes' stare boring into him, one, two, three: look the man straight in the eyes. Man, Vimes was good at this, because Dean couldn't stop his nervous swallow. Vimes' lips curled. "Good," he said, raising his paper to cover his face. End of subject. Dean was free to go obey Sybil's orders now. Sonovabitch.
Afterwards, the morning took a turn for the disturbingly domestic. All the clothes fit: not worth asking how they'd found his sizes in this place between midnight and the crack of dawn. The coffee was strong and the eggs were fried until the whites resembled black lace bra cups, just the way God intended. Young Sam accidentally detonated a swamp dragon in the foyer. Okay, except for that, morning with the Vimes' was a bizarro twilight-zone peek into the home life Dean never had. Then again, he could remember another young Sam at about the same age achieving a similar effect with a batch of chocolate pudding, and dammit, it had only been a day but he missed his brother.
Dean was distracted from his homesickness by a growing panic centered in his stomach, because he was about to spend the next week in close proximity with a werewolf. Not a locked room, but close enough, and all it would take was a couple of little delays or just one long one and then he'd be stuck in a box with a werewolf during the fucking full moon. Every hunter's instinct in his soul was screaming bad, stupid, run, kill. But this was the way he'd chosen - there had been another option, they'd given it to him, he hadn't liked it, Dean had picked this instead - to get back to his world, back to his brother. There was no turning back now.
A last-ditch attempt to 'forget' his donated wardrobe came up short when Sybil pressed the satchel into Dean's hands herself. He gave her his sincere thanks - and he was sincere, this had been the most sincere twenty-four hour period in Dean's life since... well, possibly ever - ignoring Vimes' snort. Sybil and young Sam waved goodbye as Dean and Vimes began the walk to the Post Office. Vimes' good humor helped Dean quash any incipient feelings of panic, but that good humor disappeared when they turned the last corner and saw the crowd gathering around the Post Office.
"Lipwig," said Vimes, and Dean hadn't heard a curse that vile since his stint in the Pit. He grabbed Dean's elbow and pulled him down a narrow alley. "Better off going in through the stables anyway," Vimes muttered, and Dean didn't dare challenge his grip until they were safely inside the low walls surrounding the Post Office's stables and courtyard. As he pulled his arm away, Dean turned his head to the side and saw Carrot and Angua concealed behind a stall clearly wrapped up in their own little world. Angua's head was pressed against Carrot's chest; his lips whispering something into her ear while his fingers ran through her hair. Dean twisted his head away from the scene and followed Vimes through to the courtyard proper, reasonably sure that the couple hadn't noticed him noticing them. Best not to mention anything in case chain of command issues here were anything like the way they were at home.
What Dean assumed to be his ride was the center of the stable's activity. Vimes was charging into the building, stringing together curses under his breath, and Dean figured he'd find out what that was about soon enough. Instead he lingered behind and inspected the coach. The four horses were a mismatched set, but all looked strong, well-groomed and well-fed. Turning his attention to the coach itself, Dean set down his bag and sword, crouched down and checked the undercarriage. The axles looked solid, but they were just that: solid, thick, and primitive. A few steel springs were an encouraging sight. Dean straightened out and pushed down on the body: not a lot of give in those springs. He peeked inside the door, pressed his fingers into the seat cushions and suppressed a whimper. He missed his baby so much. This was little more than a box on wheels.
Dean turned to the gravelly voice, and took a minute step back to avoid being pulled into its owner's gravitational field. "Yeah, that's me," Dean said.
"I'm Jim Upwright, I'll be your driver." Upwright didn't offer Dean a hand. "She's a dependable ride, have no fear, and we don't scrimp on the feed or care of our teams."
Dean's eyes widened. "I didn't think you did." Upwright's eyebrows arched. Dean held his hands up, palms forward. "I, uh, spend a lot of the time on the road myself. Checking the vehicle before a long trip's just habit."
Upwright grunted, cleared his throat, and spat on the ground. "All right then. Them's your things?"
"Uh, yeah," replied Dean.
"Well, hand the bag over, but it's for the best you hold onto the sword, or so they tell me." Dean handed the bag to Upwright who passed it off to the stable boy that was packing the coach. "The sammies loaded the cabin with crossbows and bolts for you and Sergeant Angua. Me and Nosher Harry, that's the other driver on this trip, we've got our own armaments up front, but I need to know here and now if we can count on you if one of those things shows up."
Dean shrugged, deliberately casual, but maintaining eye contact. "I can hold my own."
Upwright's eyes gleamed. "Can you, then? Good to hear. Plenty of food packed up and they've made this an express, so we'll only stop to change horses, turn in for the night, and killing demons and bandits. Should make it well past Scrote by the end of the day." He tucked a cigar into his gap-toothed smile. "Just as soon as Lipwig and old Stoneface give us the all clear, we can be off. Ought to be an interesting ride." With that, Upwright waddled off to deal with whatever other business remained to be cleared up. Dean shook his head. If Upwright was any indication, at least he knew what had happened to the suspension.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Carrot and Angua approaching. Schooling his features into a smile, Dean managed a pleasant, "Good morning," without a lick of panic coloring his voice.
"Dean!" beamed Carrot, and it was hard to argue with that kind of enthusiasm at quarter past six in the morning, even if he was walking next to a werewolf whose controlled expression couldn't conceal eyes that kept darting towards the exits. Predators were never at their most dangerous when trapped, nope, and Dean was just going to let the mojo flow over him and focus on Carrot who was carrying a small bag. "I was not sure if you had any additional clothing for-"
Dean waved a hand. "Aw, thanks man, you didn't have to do that, but Vimes' wife beat you to the punch. She wouldn't take no for an answer."
Angua's lips twitched at that, but Carrot nodded. "Yes, Lady Sybil is quite generous."
"Looks like she's not the only one. Hope you didn't spend anything-" began Dean, but Carrot was already shaking his head.
"No, just some old things of mine," said Carrot.
Dean grinned: he would have been swimming in Carrot's things. He opened up his jacket to pull out an envelope. Not Ridcully's letter, but a thick package of diagrams and descriptions he'd put together last night while everyone else had been organizing around him. "Hey, Carrot, you know lots of those dwarfs and engineers who are working on that dig under the city, right?"
Carrot's head bobbed. "Yes, it's a fascinating project-"
Dean pressed the envelope into Carrot's hands. "Show this stuff to them. Make sure you get some of the roy- er, uh, see if you can get the patent for it. Trust me, this'll be worth a mint." That summer Dean spent apprenticed to a plumber would finally pay off for someone. And the rest of Ankh-Morpork would reap the benefits of Dean taking the time to sketch out the designs for not just flush toilets and modern indoor plumbing, but also of a basic water and sewer system. Vetinari wanted Dean to show gratitude for everything the city had done for him? He'd be thanking Dean every morning for the rest of his life.
Carrot tucked the envelope into his breastplate. "I'd be glad to show them, though it would be dishonest of me to claim the patent for your work."* Carrot frowned as he watched Dean refasten his jacket. "Are you certain you wouldn't like to take the cloak? Late-spring freezes aren't unheard of hubwards of Sto Helit."
"Nah, I'll be fine-" but Carrot was already pulling the cloak out and draping it over Dean's arm: heavy navy-dyed wool that was soft with wear. Dean pressed his lips together. It wasn't quite off the man's back, but - "Thanks, Carrot. For everything. I mean-" but Dean's quest to find the right words was interrupted by Vimes' bellowing at a man in a ridiculous golden suit as they walked out from the Post Office, hauling a heavy mailbag between them.
"... once a con-man, always a con-man, no matter how useful Vetinari thinks you are and if you don't think that I won't set Pessimal and Littlebottom on you to find out exactly what excuse I need to arrest you, you've got another damn thing coming."
The man in the golden suit didn't even blink. "Commander Vimes, I think you just threatened that you wouldn't set them on me."
Vimes whirled on the man, sticking his finger in the guy's face. "Don't you tell me what I'm threatening you with, Lipwig! You've had plenty of last straws, but I swear to you this is the end of them."
Lipwig's lips curled at this, and Dean swore the man was holding back a laugh while he handed the bag off to a pair of stable boys to load into the Lancre-bound coach. "Your Grace, the Post Office is self-sufficient, the Patrician's Palace didn't mention any special funding for this mission, and Lancre isn't exactly our most profitable route. Advertising a special discount to help minimize our losses doesn't count as revealing state secrets."
Vimes' eyes narrowed. "Don't you play innocent with me, boy. You of all people know how the mob works in this town, not to mention-" and here Vimes stopped as something over Dean's shoulder caught his attention. "Oh, hells. Winchester, get in the damn coach, now!"
Dean blinked at the harsh whisper of an order. "Huh? What?" Something behind Dean had spooked Vimes, and Dean couldn't resist the instinct to turn. He heard Vimes' shout of "Don't!" but it was too late, and before Dean could see what the problem was a flash of light blinded him. "Son of a-"
"Vonderful, thank you, could I get just vun more?" The voice made images of Count Von Count float in the white space formerly known as Dean's field of vision.
Dean felt Carrot's arms ushering him up and into the coach, heard the clank of his sword being set below his feet, then Angua climbing in and sitting on the opposite bench. Here in the dark he could make out the shape of her again, at least while she moved. The door slammed shut behind her, and Carrot told them both, "Good luck, and travel safe."
Outside the commotion continued. A woman was saying, "Harry King's men said he was present after half the attacks, and between that and the blotter report-"
Vimes interrupted her. "I assure you, Miss Cripslock, he's simply a private citizen assisting Watch business. Urgent business, so they must be off, give me one moment." The coach listed as Vimes pulled himself up to lean in the window, now visible behind shrinking purple blobs. "Sergeant, I leave you to decide when to hand this over to him, but not before you're outside the city limits." Vimes passed the Colt to her, which she held away from her body between two fingers. "Winchester, these are for you." Vimes gave him something small and rectangular that he couldn't quite identify in the dim light. "Both of you, take care of yourselves."
"Yes, sir," they replied in unison. Vimes leaned back, and Dean could see his satisfied smile now as he hopped down. Could see something else through the window, too: a dark shape against the light grey of the sky, something with wings, something swooping down towards the coach.
Angua hadn't put the gun away, so it was easy enough to grab it out of her hand. Dean released the safety, lunged through the door and fired two shots. The creature from the Dungeon Dimensions shrieked once as it dropped, dead before it hit the ground. For a second the world held still, the people outside staring at Dean, most of them with hands covering their ears. Dean gave the pretty woman who'd been yelling at Vimes a cocky grin. "Hey there." Vimes' face took on a deep red color, and Dean lowered the gun. "I'll just give this back to Angua."
Vimes gave a curt nod. "You do that. Leadpipe, get them the hell out of here." The coach started moving even as Dean pulled the door back shut. He clicked the Colt's safety back on before offering it back to Angua.
She arched her eyebrows and shook her head. "Keep it. You might need it."
"Thanks." Dean tucked it into his waistband, reveling in the feel of it pressing against the small of his back and feeling like his old self. He was on the road, killing monsters, saving people, and on his way back to Sam. All was right with the world.
Except it took them twenty minutes to get out of the city and good God, traveling by coach was slow as hell. Dean hadn't been wrong about the suspension either. He had a feeling that Angua was laughing at him silently every time he grunted when they went over a bump. There wasn't any music, and Angua didn't look interested in conversation, content to lean her head out the window while they drove along, sniffing the breeze...
... kind of like a dog riding in a car, now that he thought of it. The realization washed through him, and those hunter instincts started screaming again. After a few minutes, Angua let out a bitter laugh. "I can smell your fear, Winchester. Get over it." Then she turned back to the window.
Dean swallowed. "Sorry." He looked down, saw Vimes' parting gift: a pack of playing cards. He opened them up and discovered that half the pack was a standard bridge deck, suits and all. Lucy the monk would get a kick out of that. He shuffled them a few times, looking for any sign of interest from Angua before sighing and dealing out a game of solitaire.
The rest of the day passed without further excitement or another word exchanged between them. When they reached the roadside inn where they'd be spending the night, though, they both tilted their faces up at the quarter moon. After a moment, Dean was staring at Angua instead, the look on her face serene if a little sad. Then she caught him watching, and her expression turned wary before she walked away. Vetinari's parting shot echoed in Dean's mind, and it occurred to him that he'd been run out of Ankh-Morpork after hardly more than a day.
* Carrot was a man of his word, leading to an unintended consequence. History of the Roundworld informs us that the popularizer of the modern flush toilet was one Thomas Crapper, and on the Disc Historical Imperative is quite strong. Dean and Sam were used to hearing the reply, "Like the rifle?" when they gave their name back home. If they'd returned to the Discworld ten years following Dean's first visit, they** would have laughed to no end when they got the reply, "Like the toilet?"
** Well, at least Sam.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
And on the second day, time passed.
So did cabbage fields. Lots and lots of cabbage fields: the mountains closer now, but not growing with any appreciable speed. Dean needed something else to look at, and so far as things to look at went, there was plenty harder on the eyes than Angua. Sure, she was a werewolf; sure, she was Carrot's girlfriend; and sure, she appeared to strongly dislike him, but there could be no harm in looking. Right?
She quirked a single elegant eyebrow at him. "Lust?" The color drained out of Dean's face: they'd warned him about her sense of smell, but he kept forgetting. "And back to fear again." She smirked. "That was quick. At least the lust was a change."
Dean grimaced. "Has it occurred to you that reminding me you can smell my fear might not be helping? Y'know, with the fear?" he grumbled. Angua shrugged and resumed looking out the window. Dean started another game of solitaire and made sure his eyes stayed on the cards.
More time passed.
They ate lunch. Angua didn't eat the meat. Dean wondered if that was for his benefit. Probably not - though a vegetarian werewolf boggled his mind in a whole new way - but if there was a chance she was making a gesture, he could do with some less tension in the atmosphere. "So, is Angua your first name or your last name?"
"Oh." She didn't elaborate. "Huh."
The sun continued its march across the sky.
It was about two o'clock by Dean's reckoning when the next Dungeon Dimension demon attacked them. Upwright and Nosher Harry had their hands full keeping the horses calm, so Dean and Angua were left to dispatch the beast, some kind of bipedal insectoid-looking thing, six-foot tall and strong. Wanting to conserve bullets, Dean tried the crossbow instead, but the exoskeleton was too dense to penetrate. Thus it was Angua who landed the killing blow with her sword. She decapitated the thing and cleaned its ichor off the blade, all without any hint of satisfaction on her face. Without at any time looking like a vicious killer.
They moved on.
A few miles later Dean unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth. "Thank you."
Angua tilted her head at him. "For what?"
He took a deep breath. "I know you're only here because Vimes ordered you, but thanks. For, uh, coming along and, er, helping me."
"You're welcome." She pressed her lips together. "But you're wrong. I'm not here because Vimes ordered me. He wanted to come along himself."
Dean's brow furrowed. "Vetinari?"
"No, he planned to send one of the palace golems." It was Dean's turn to tilt his head and Angua relented. "Carrot told them I was the best choice."
Dean sat back, confused. "How's that work?"
Angua sighed and was silent again, but in a way that suggested she was deciding the best way to explain things. "Their families have some history. One of Vimes' ancestors killed one of Carrot's, Vetinari has some property that used to belong to Carrot's family, that sort of thing. The three of them have buried the hatchet-" and there was a joke there that Dean wasn't in on, judging by the curve of her lips, "- but Carrot's still got a lot of sway with them because of all the history."
"He's got a lot of sway with everyone," thought Dean, then he realized he'd actually said it.
Angua's mouth quirked to the side. "He's special."
Having glimpsed a softer side of Angua - or at least a less hostile side - Dean figured he'd keep her on the subject. "So how long have you and he..."
"A few years," she admitted.
Dean frowned. "Years? He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd wait that-"
Right. Probably the chain of command issue. Then again, they were talking about a man who had overruled his bosses to volunteer his hot werewolf girlfriend for a week-long trip alone with Dean, whom Carrot knew was both a letch and a werewolf-killer. Guessing his motivations for anything would be tricky at best.
Shortly after the sun sank below the horizon they reached the next inn, well into the foothills now. As they headed to their respective rooms, Angua smiled and told Dean "Sleep well."
Ever obedient, Dean did sleep better, even if he was rudely awakened just before dawn by a hideous creeping thing latching its suckers onto his foot. He buried his knife in its head, tossed the corpse in the fire, and headed back to sleep. It was so routine, he didn't even remember to tell his companions about it in the morning.
That day, Angua spoke first.
Dean flinched, knocked out of a pleasant daydream involving the Impala, soapy water, and Tawni Kitaen circa 1987. "Huh? What?"
She wore a bitch-face that would have made Sam proud. "You've been humming the same song for the last hour. Badly. And I don't think the tune was that good to begin with."
Dean blinked. Had he been humming? "Oh. Sorry."
The roads had grown steeper and the going much slower. In the afternoon it started to rain in sheets. Dean poked his head out the window and asked if Nosher or Jim wanted to trade out, but they waved him off. While he shook the rain out of his hair, Angua clenched her jaw. "That eager to be away from me, huh?" she asked.
Dean thought about it: he'd been relaxed enough earlier to completely zone out while sitting two feet from a werewolf. "No, just figured I'd give them the chance to dry off for a bit."
Dean looked down at the solitaire game he was losing. "You know any games that use both halves of this deck?"
Angua shook her head, gripped the hilt of her sword tighter. "I should keep watch. We're past due for something to show up."
"No we're not," said Dean. "One came after me last night." Angua pinned him with a stare. "I took care of it, don't worry. So do you know any games or not?"
She kept up the stare for a few seconds more before muttering, "I thought I heard something around dawn." Then she taught him how to play Cripple Mister Onion, and beat him on points in the first two games. Dean took the third.
Angua stopped him before he went into his room that night. "Innkeeper says there's been a bogeyman hanging around lately. Might fixate on you for the same reason the Dungeon Dimensions things do."
Dean chuckled. "Bogeyman? I'll, uh, remember to pull the chair up under the closet door and check under the bed before I lie down."
She scowled at him. "If he shows up, don't do anything stupid like try to stab him. Conventional weapons just make them angry. You have to throw your blanket over his head. Trust me."
"Yeah, sure. Nighty night." This room didn't have a fireplace and it was damn chilly and Dean wasn't about to give up the one thin blanket on the bed for no good reason. So when his sleep was disturbed by a creaking floor, Dean went with his instincts and slashed at it with his knife.
The next morning, the drivers' snickers were insufferable. Dean chose to ignore them, wrapping Carrot's cloak tighter around himself in an effort to finally get warm again. Inside the coach, Angua just shook her head and watched out the window. Dean stretched his legs out on his bench and dozed the morning away. Eventually, Angua prodded him awake and handed him a hunk of cheese and an apple for lunch. "Thanks," he mumbled.
"You're welcome," she replied. After a beat she asked, "So, when you shriek, does it always sound like a ten-year old girl?" Dean didn't dignify her with a response, he knew he'd earned it. He'd seen plenty of evidence that the Disc was a dangerous place, even if it was hard to take serious sometimes.
By the afternoon, his curiosity got the better of him. "Okay, so you warned me about the bogeyman, and he was horrible-"
"What'd he turn into?"
A hellhound, but he wasn't going to tell her that. The lie rolled off his tongue. "Midget clown, should'velistenedtoyouabouttheblanket, but nevermind," Dean leaned forward. "What do you know about these Feegle things? All of the wizards freaked out about them, but nobody's told me what they are." He put his hands together and looked down at his feet for a second before looking back up at her. "I'd rather go in prepared."
Angua shrugged, not overtly acknowledging Dean's humbled 'aww shucks' routine, but she didn't dismiss it, which counted for something. "The Wee Free Men? Didn't have them in my part of Überwald." At Dean's blank look, she explained. "Where I grew up, on the far side of the Ramtops. But you heard stories. They're not malicious, but they cause a lot of trouble, stealing livestock, ambushing travelers in the forest, and shutting down pubs."
"Shutting down pubs?" echoed Dean.
"Once you've got Feegles in a pub, it's something of a lost cause. Easier to relocate than evict them."
"Huh." They didn't sound so bad. "What do they look like?"
Angua pursed her lips, and Dean crossed his legs, clamping down on those thoughts before his traitorous body chemistry gave him away. "Did you meet Constable Swires?" Dean shook his head, so Angua held her hands up a few inches apart. "He's not a Feegle, but they've got a lot in common with gnomes. They're about this tall, covered in blue tattoos, made out of solid muscle and fury."
Dean guffawed. The wizards had gotten all worked up over what sounded like drunken Smurfs? "They're six inches tall? Hell, why not just step on 'em?"
"That'd be about as effective as waving your knife at a bogeyman." Dean winced. "Not to mention that a clan of Feegles usually numbers in the hundreds, so even if you get one, well, there's the rest of them to worry about." She leaned back in her seat. "I'm sure you'll be fine."
Dean was almost positive that she meant it.
That night the moon was more than half full and Dean dreamt about the end of his world. It was the usual scenario from the last few months: croats, demons, Lucifer-in-Sam taunting him about something or other. It faded as it always did upon waking, leaving behind few traces besides a foul mood. Normally, Dean would look over at the other bed and remind himself that no, Sammy hadn't said yes - would never say yes, so long as Dean was there to stop it. Instead, his eyes flipped open to the gut-wrenching realization that he wasn't there to stop it. The spiraling thoughts continued while he doubled over, remembering that time had moved differently in Hell, and Dean hadn't had the fucking presence of mind to think to ask Lucy about that when he'd had the chance, too stupid to ask the fucking most important question. Almost a week here, but who the hell knew how long Dean had really been gone?
After he'd pulled himself out of bed at dawn, Dean tracked down Jim and begged a pull from the man's flask, ready to barter away a knife or two, but the man took a step back before Dean could offer. He tossed Dean the flask and told him to hold onto it. Dean thanked him as he walked away, then swallowed half the bottle's contents in one go.
A few minutes later Dean crawled into the coach and slumped against the window, jutting his chin out at the looming mountains like he was daring them to try something. Angua's nose twitched when she joined him, but she didn't say a damn thing. Once they started moving, Dean listened to the clip-clop of the horses' hooves - too fucking slow, should've listened to the wizards, he could have been home by now, but he never fucking thought these things through first. Instead he was stuck here with a patronizing werewolf who wouldn't deign to talk to him but sniffed the air every few minutes, and that said plenty. "What?" demanded Dean.
"I didn't say anything," said Angua, her voice even and neutral.
"You're checking up on me with that fucking nose of yours." He turned his head back towards the window, and sniffed twice in exaggerated imitation. "Real fucking subtle," he muttered, shutting his eyes. "So tell me, oh nose who knows, what am I feeling now?"
"Cheap rye," replied Angua without hesitation or rancor, "but not enough of it."
He let his eyes open just a crack. "W'the hell's that s'posed to mean?"
Angua hesitated, her tongue darting out to wet her lips before she began, "You're sitting still but your body keeps releasing irregular, periodic shots of adrenaline. That tells me panic attack." She sighed then continued her calm recitation of facts. "You vomited at least twice recently, and you didn't notice when I killed a demon outside your door at half past two: it's been going on at least since then. Nothing else has changed here, which means the problem's back home and there's nothing you can do about it now that you're not already doing." She faced Dean with eyes like bottle shards. "And you're still conscious and taking your issues out on me, which means that you haven't drunk enough to pass out yet. So why don't you do us both a favor and finish the fucking bottle?" Having said her piece, Angua turned away, folded her arms, and set her feet on the unoccupied side of Dean's bench.
Dean sneered at the back of her head. She was a cold fucking bitch, that was for damn sure. He agreed with her on at least one point: he could use another drink. Dean continued to glower at Angua while savoring the burn of the whiskey spreading in his throat and stomach. She paid no visible notice. A thought occurred to him and Dean choked back a laugh, not wanting to reveal he'd just realized that for Angua 'bitch' was actually a technical descriptor, not an insult.
He was still thinking too clearly: time to take another shot. He jiggled the bottle after and listened to the swish of the contents. Quite a bit left. Perhaps finishing it was going past the line of self-medication. Fuck it. He drained the flask, replaced the cap, and tossed it so that it landed on the other end of the bench by Angua's feet. Her legs twitched and Dean smiled. "Got any more advice?" he asked.
She didn't rise to the bait; he didn't think she would. "Go to sleep, Dean." He snorted. Like that was going to happen when his father's voice in his head wouldn't shut up, dressing Dean down for running off in the middle of a job, letting himself get caught up in some fantasy world that didn't matter, and worst of all, for failing to protect Sam.
Except he blinked a short while later and the voice stopped. When Dean's eyelids drew back the light was streaming in through the wrong window, turning Angua's hair into a glowing halo. His first thought was that she was more than beautiful enough and almost enough of a dick to be an angel. Along with this epiphany Dean realized that if he moved, the headache would start, so he decided against moving. But the change in his breathing must have tipped Angua off, because she shifted her weight on the too-thin cushions and without looking threw a waterskin at his head. Dean caught it easily and then groaned as the hangover slammed into full effect. A few gulps of water took care of the dry mouth, but it would take awhile to clear up the headache and everything else. "Thanks," said Dean.
"You kept saying 'Sam,'" said Angua without preamble. "Somehow I doubt you meant my boss."
Dean shook his head and sipped at the water. "My brother," he explained.
Angua bit her bottom lip. "That what this morning was all about?" Dean nodded, waited, but Angua didn't say anything else.
When they reached the troll-owned roadhouse Angua ordered Dean a bath and a meal without asking. He chose not to argue. Lounging by his fire in a tin bath full of still-steaming hot water - trolls seemed to have trouble gauging human temperature tolerances - the last of the booze sweating out of his pores, and his stomach full of something called 'slumpie,' Dean was comfortably numb, which was the best he'd felt all day.
He heard a knock. "Are you fit for company?"
Dean opened one eye. Despite the pretense of the knock, Angua was already in the room. "I'm naked," he replied, "but then again, I get surprisingly few complaints about that, so I guess it depends on the company."
"Werewolves aren't modest when it comes to nudity: clothes don't survive the change," explained Angua, pulling a chair next to the tub. Dean sat up, sloshing water over the edge. "I was referring to your mood."
Dean grimaced. "S'pose I earned that."
"And more," agreed Angua. "We've got another hundred miles ahead of us: that's a day and a half. Are you going to be able to hold it together for that long?"
Dean huffed. "Don't really have any other options at this point, do I?"
Angua held her palms up. "I don't know. I'm supposed to get you to Lancre alive. If the next two days are going to be anything like today, there's no reason it can't be alive, bound, and gagged."
"Kinky," said Dean.
Angua rolled her eyes. "Not really my thing. So what's it going to be, Dean?"
"Honestly? I don't know." Dean trailed his fingers over the water. "There's this chance that I'm gonna get home only to find out my brother became a monster because I wasn't there to stop it." He exhaled. "How am I supposed to deal with that?" He looked over at Angua, who continued to regard him dispassionately. Shaking his head, he found the washcloth, wrung it out, and wiped his face with it. "Sorry. It's not your fault, not your problem."
"Does your brother want to be a monster?"
Dean's reply was automatic. "No!"
Angua gave him a small smile. "Then you shouldn't be so quick to declare him one." She rose to her feet. "Regardless of that: our brothers may be monsters, but that doesn't mean we must be monsters ourselves."
"'Our brothers'?" echoed Dean.
She walked past the window where a three-quarter moon shone before pausing at the door and nodding. "Did you really think you were the only one?" The words were bitter but Angua's voice was soft and raspy, and it occurred to Dean that he wasn't sure whether she had been talking to him or herself. "Get some rest. We'll talk about it in the morning." Angua left him to linger in the bath and think about Sam and Carrot and other giant things that Dean might not understand as well as he'd once thought.
On the sixth day, they talked.
There was some additional excitement involving bandits and a Dungeon Dimension creature appearing in the middle of the hold-up, but that wasn't what Dean would remember later. Upwright and Nosher took care of the bandits; he and Angua vivisected the demon, then they got back in the coach and moved on. Dean would remember the quiver in Angua's voice when she said Wolfgang's name. Most of all, he would remember her last words on the subject.
"I still haven't thanked Vimes for killing him. How could I? What would that make me? It was good of Vimes to do it; it was the right thing to do and I'm not sorry that Wolfgang is dead. He was a monster. Vimes could kill the monster without killing the brother; I couldn't." She worried at her bottom lip again, now swollen from the one nervous habit she seemed to allow herself. "It should have been me, but I couldn't."
Dean nodded. "Yeah." Their eyes met. "I think I know what you mean." That night it took him a long time to get to sleep, but he slept well and without dreams.
On the seventh day, they got off to an early start and reached Lancre by mid-morning. After introductions were made and papers presented, Shawn Ogg, the guard at the border, volunteered to take Dean on horseback directly to Mistress Weatherwax's cottage while the others could head to the village or begin the journey home. Dean looked over at Angua, who looked at the horses. "Horses don't tolerate werewolves as riders," she said.
Dean remembered that the cloak wrapped around him belonged to Carrot. "Here, you can take this back-" he started, his hands moving to the clip, but Angua stopped him.
"No, he gave it to you. It's yours, it suits you."
Upwright had already fetched Dean's bag from the coach and passed it off with a nod. Dean exhaled, pulled his silver ring off of his right hand, and offered the hand to Angua. They shook, and her grip still surprised him with its strength. Maybe the shake lasted a few seconds too long: when it was done the other men were looking away. Dean swung into the saddle of a placid old mare and rode off on his way home, knowing that when he looked back before the curve in the track Angua would still be watching him.
He looked. She was.
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
It had been a long time since Dean had ridden a horse - had to learn when he was fifteen, hunting a chupacabra through West Texas backcountry - so he was distracted through most of the trip with keeping himself in the saddle. This Lancre place was mostly vertical; no way the coach could have made it through here, but at least the mare was sure-footed which eased some of Dean's anxiety. The rest of Dean's attention centered on the noises and movements in the woods around them and he released his right hand's death grip from the reins to clasp the handle of his sword. In just one week, it had become Dean's weapon of first resort, the Colt still resting at the small of his back but Dean found he couldn't reach for it without hesitating: it didn't belong here. He frowned. This place was getting to him, but hopefully he'd be out of it soon enough.
Shawn Ogg spared him a look. "I wouldn't worry about that."
Dean grunted. "Don't know if we made it clear back there, but these things that have been attacking me just show up out of nowhere."
Shawn shook his head. "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but you're not in nowhere anymore, you're in Lancre." He raised his chin. "We're known for our witches, and there's not many willing to cross Mistress Weatherwax, even in the Dungeon Dimensions."
"These things attacked me while I was standing in the middle of the wizards' school," said Dean.
"Oh, wizards," scoffed Shawn. "Don't know much about them, but our Mum says they mess about with the Dungeon Dimensions all the time. Mistress Weatherwax doesn't hold with that sort of thing."
"She doesn't hold with it?" repeated Dean. "What does she hold with?"
Shawn looked thoughtful. "Pickles," he announced. "Mistress Weatherwax makes a fine pickle. And she likes the King. At least, I think she does, she and our Mum put him on the throne and all. And when the vampires tried to take over the kingdom a few years back, she didn't take too kindly to it. We was all worried after they bit her, because," and Shawn paled, "the thought of Mistress Weatherwax as a vampire, that's a bit much to digest, y'ken, but it was all just fine. Turns out, you bite Mistress Weatherwax, you winds up Weatherwaxed, and not the other way round." He looked over at Dean, proud and more confident than he'd appeared before. "Since then we haven't had a lot of excitement here abouts. Things know better."
Huh. True to Shawn's word, the rest of the short journey passed without any incursions from the Dungeon Dimensions. Shawn turned his horse about as they crested a hill. A cottage stood at the bottom of the slope, not over-grown but rather looking like it had become part of the landscape itself. It wasn't exactly inviting, but it wasn't foreboding either. Then again, what had happened to the birdsong which had been constant until now? "Here we are. I trust you can make it the rest of the way yourself?"
Dean blinked. "Not coming in?" Shawn said nothing, shook his head with his lips set in a narrow line. "Okay then." Dean dismounted and retrieved his bag. He handed the mare's reins over to Shawn, who tied them to his saddle. "Well, thanks for seeing me this far."
Shawn's nod was sympathetic. "Granny Weatherwax will sort you out, you'll see," he said as his farewell, and even if this Weatherwax witch apparently scared the crap out of him, he said these words as hard truth.
Dean held his breath for a few long moments while Shawn set off, staring at the cottage before exhaling, flexing his shoulders, and walking the remainder of the way to the witch's doorstep. He raised his hand to knock but the door swung in with a creaking whine before his knuckles could make contact. It was dark inside the cottage compared to the dazzling spring sunshine outside and it took Dean's eyes a second to adjust. When they did he saw a thin old woman with severe features sitting straight-backed at a small table in the middle of the revealed room.
"Come in," she commanded, and Dean's feet moved one in front of the other until he was inside the threshold. A thin eyebrow arched at him and he pushed the door shut without turning his back on her.
"Mistress Weatherwax?" he ventured, recalling the odd title that Shawn had used.
"I am. And you'd be Dean Winchester."
Dean froze. "How-" he began reflexively but then he stopped, remembered Carrot's walking tour of Ankh-Morpork. "They sent a message ahead of me on those towers," he said, answering his own question. Explained why there'd been two horses for only one guard at the border too, Shawn must have known about the message but didn't say anything, the sneaky bastard. Mistress Weatherwax's blue eyes glinted with approval, her only overt reaction, and before she could say anything another old lady had swooped in to take his things.
"Oh, but he's sharp, Esme. And a handsome young thing too, but even so traveling takes it right out of you, doesn't it? Come along and sit down." This one was short and round, her wrinkled face barely coming up to his chest. Dean felt thrown because until she'd spoken, he could have sworn that there was no one else in the cottage. He hoped it was magic or else his game was seriously off - and who was he trying to kid: if magic was the better option, then his game was already fucked to hell. Either way, the new one took a hands-on approach: he had to fight to keep his coat on while letting her take his sword, cloak, and bag and set them aside.
"No, thanks, it's fine," he said when she seized his lapels.
The old lady continued to tug. "Nonsense, make yourself comfortable. Leaving your coat on, why, it's like you're going to run out the door at any moment."
Dean swallowed. That wasn't why he was keeping the coat on - wasn't sure exactly why he was fighting her on this point and wasn't going to analyze it - but the urge to run had crossed his mind once or twice in the last few seconds. Could these witches read minds? He pulled down on the flaps of his jacket, dislodging her hands. "It's fine, I'm just a little cold."
Then she directed him into the chair opposite Mistress Weatherwax at the table. Specifically, she directed him by firmly pushing on his ass. He was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt right up until she squeezed with both hands on the release. With Dean sitting she could look him level and square in the eye to introduce herself as "Nanny Ogg, dearie, you can call me Nanny," while giving him a broad smile that was toothy in that it consisted of a single tooth.
"Gytha, that's a bit familiar for an acquaintance of a minute. My cottage is not the tavern," said Mistress Weatherwax, slotting herself into the category Dean thought of as Old Ladies with Standards - flirting is useless, remember to use a coaster, and don't even think about putting your feet on the furniture.
The scolding bounced off of Nanny with a loud laugh. "Not all of us stand on ceremony, Esme, and this is far too good-looking a problem for me to let you handle all alone. Let me fetch us a cup of tea, lad, while you tell us what all the fuss is about." Nanny hopped off the chair and bustled over to the kitchen. Dean cleared his throat and pulled the envelope out of his jacket.
"The Archchancellor sent this along with me, ma'am," he said, handing the letter to Mistress Weatherwax. She took it without a word, noted the intact wax seal, and cracked it open. Dean sat back to watch her read and a small white cat surprised him by hopping up into his lap. The cat rubbed its face into his chest until he relented and scratched behind its ears. It purred, kneaded the top of his thighs with its paws, and settled in for a nap.
"That's the right idea, You," snickered Nanny as she set the tea tray down. "How do you take it, lad?" Her salacious wink combined with the way she said it turned the line into a single entendré and Dean had to hold back a smirk. He figured that he'd found the author of Snacks.
"Uh, sugar, please?" Dean didn't much like tea but wasn't going to let his manners lapse around someone who went by 'Mistress,' and it would give Nanny a chance to tell him how he was already sweet enough.
To his surprise, Nanny didn't take the opening and set about pouring. "Esme likes to savor her letters like folks in foreign parts do with old wine, so you may as well start talking." The other witch's nose wrinkled at this but she continued reading. "The clacks said you were from another world; s'pose that's where you picked up the funny accent." She dropped two lumps of sugar into a cup before sliding the cup and saucer in front of Dean.
"Thanks, that's right," said Dean. "I'm trying to get home: the wizards thought you knew some people who could get me back there-"
"The Feegles," said Mistress Weatherwax, interrupting Dean.
He met the thin witch's gaze. "Yeah. Little blue guys that move between dimensions all the time, I guess: the Archchancellor said you knew how to find some." Dean, knowing how his life worked, braced himself for the inevitable revelation that he was going to go on some lunatic quest before he could meet them.
Nanny snorted. "Open up a stiff drink and you'll have to fight them off. Biscuit?" She pushed a chipped china plate featuring a spare assortment of cookies towards him.
Dean blinked. This wasn't how the story went: no quest, the possibility of drinking, and the guarantee of a cookie? "Sure, thanks." Having schmoozed with his fair share of old ladies on jobs in the past, Dean steered clear of the chocolate and picked a plain sugar cookie. Nanny Ogg snapped up the chocolate one as soon as he made his selection. He tested the corner of the cookie: stale but not inedible. Dean dunked it in the tea to soften it up and then shoved it whole in his mouth. "Will it really be that easy? I'm kind of in a hurry," he said while he finished chewing.
Nanny made a face. "What? You hardly just got here."
"Not fond of the countryside then, Mr. Winchester?" asked Mistress Weatherwax, glancing over the top of the letter. Dean was pretty sure that was a challenge.
He kept his gaze steady while he sipped at the tea and didn't flinch as the liquid seared off half his taste buds. "Nah, I like the countryside just fine, it's a lot nicer than Ankh-Morpork. But I really need to get back home to my brother."
Nanny Ogg shot him a knowing look. "Ah, family matters."
Dean gave her a small nod before noticing that Mistress Weatherwax was giving him the hairy eyeball again. "Is that all you need to get back to?"
"Well, there might be - uh, it's complicated." Dean really didn't feel like getting into this again, just wanted to get this over with, but who knew what Ridcully had included in that letter?
Mistress Weatherwax's nostrils flared. "Too complicated for the likes of us country witches, then?"
"No!" Dean had miscalculated. "It's just - I need to save the world, okay? I know it sounds crazy, but we're in the middle of an apocalypse, and I'm the only one who can stop it." The witches both frowned at him and he looked down, rubbing the back of his head.
Mistress Weatherwax set the letter on the table, writing-side down, giving a look to Nanny before speaking to Dean. "Sounds like we should get you back, then." She cleared her throat. "The Nac Mac Feegle know I don't hold with them loitering about here, but they will follow Tiffany Aching wherever she goes."
Nanny nodded and got to her feet. "She's with Eunice Caldicott today, I can fetch her. Shouldn't be more than an hour or two, 'less things get complicated."
Dean looked up. "I can go with you, it'll save time."
Nanny patted him on the knee. "Lancre's a traditional place, Dean, and menfolk aren't welcome at confinements." Dean's brow furrowed at the phrase. Nanny grinned. "It's a birthing, boy. Most any witch worth her salt is a midwife too."
"Oh." Dean's lips lingered in the 'o' shape. That would explain why things might get complicated, and Dean really didn't want to be around for that. "Right, don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, I should stay here." With the Weatherwax witch and her prying little questions: he'd been totally out-maneuvered. Dammit.
Nanny grinned. "There's a good lad. Don't worry your pretty head about a thing, we'll be back soon enough." With remarkable speed for a woman of her age and girth, Nanny was out the door. Dean looked up at Mistress Weatherwax, whose expression he couldn't read, but the way she was looking at him made him just a little uncomfortable. It wasn't that she had warts or green skin or cackled - wasn't like she had used any magic at all in front of him, and hell, her cat looked like something out of a cat food commercial - but Weatherwax just looked like a witch. Not just a witch, but the kind of witch that vampires and things-with-tentacles and maybe even smiling geriatric monks wouldn't want to mess with. And the way she could just sit so damn straight and still kind of freaked Dean out.
"Thanks for helping me out, ma'am," he said, looking around the room, trying to think of a way to avoid being interrogated for the remainder of his stay. The sunshine out the window looked welcoming. "Uh, I don't have any money or anything, but is there anything I could do, y'know, to pay you back?"
Mistress Weatherwax's lips twitched. "Don't take payment for witchin', but you look like a capable young man, and there are some chores that require capable young men." She looked thoughtful for a second. "You have any experience digging holes?"
Dean smiled. "I may have used a shovel once or twice in my time."
The witch stood and he set the cat down with a pet and followed her outside. She pointed to the outhouse. "Need a new privy dug. Ten feet or so to the left will do - not to the right, mind you, that's too close to the well. Has to be at least four feet deep. Shovel's in the shed." And then she left him. Dean blinked, shook his head, and pulled his jacket off and laid it on a stump. He walked around the existing outhouse to get an idea of the dimensions, found the shovel in the unlocked shed - but then who would steal something out of this lady's anything? - and started digging where she'd indicated. After a week stuck in a coach, he could use the exercise.
There was a method and rhythm to grave digging, and even though he would have to adjust for the slightly smaller hole - walls of earth too close in to get up to his fastest speed - Dean found himself slipping into it easily. He was just starting to work up a sweat, maybe two feet down, when he heard a thin cough. "Water?" asked Weatherwax, extending a glass down to him.
Dean paused. He'd only noticed he was thirsty a minute before. Looking up, he took the glass. "Thank you, ma'am." She watched him while he finished drinking. Dean considered handing the glass back to her, but instead planted it in the dirt pile before taking the shovel back in his hands. He started digging again and it was only a few more shovelfuls before she opened her mouth.
"What's that tucked in your belt?"
This lady was a real pro at finding conversations that Dean didn't want to have. He reached behind his back and felt where his shirt had ridden up and revealed the gun. "This?" He pulled it out of his waistband and fixed his shirt before setting the shovel aside and turning to face the witch, holding the pistol up but not pointing it. "This is a gun, it's a, uh, a kind of weapon."
Mistress Weatherwax examined it. "It's... fancy."
"Yeah, she's a beaut, ain't she?" Dean realized too late that 'fancy' wasn't a compliment. "But it's not just about looks. She packs a punch, has never jammed on me in a fight, and aims true."
The witch's stance shifted and Dean understood that he could put the gun away. "Never had much use for weapons," she sniffed.
Dean took the shovel back up. "Yeah, well, no offense, ma'am, but I kind of always felt the same way about magic."
Mistress Weatherwax grunted. "Hmph. Probably for the best, that sort of attitude. Magic's at its worse when you've got lots of uses for it. Question is: how do you feel about using your head?"
"Sammy's the one who did the school thing," said Dean, tossing up another load of dirt.
"And what's schooling got to do with using your head?"
Dean grinned. "Nothing at all, ma'am." He kept digging, and so did the witch.
"Keep asking that question myself." Dean grunted as he planted the blade down in the earth with his foot. "You ever meet an angel?"
"Can't say as I have."
Dean flung the load of dirt onto the pile. "Don't believe the stories you hear about 'em. They're manipulative, cagey bast- er, jerks, not real big on giving straight answers. Pretty much all they've ever said is that it's my destiny. Sent me back and forth through time, show me how much bigger than me this whole thing is. They've got this whole family drama planned out, and it's like my brother and me are their favorite dolls." He looked up to roll his eyes at her, let her know how he felt about the angels, and he paused when he saw the new fire that had lit in her eyes.
"Tell me," she commanded, so he did. It wasn't quite like talking to Carrot, but it was easier to talk about the whole apocalypse mess while he was digging and could concentrate on the job in front of him instead of the insanity coming out of his mouth. Sam always wanted him to talk about this shit, like he'd feel better or have some epiphany by spilling his guts. But it never worked that way for Dean - it still sounded crazy to him, still sounded impossible, still sounded hopeless. Saying it out loud just made it real.
By the time he was done, he was standing in a six foot deep hole. He shielded his eyes to look up at her, though she blotted out most of the sun. "Think this'll do, Mistress Weatherwax?"
She nodded. "This will do just fine I think, Dean." She stepped back as he pulled himself out of the pit, standing and brushing the dirt off, sweat making his shirt cling to him uncomfortably. "You can call me Granny, if you'd like," she added.
Dean's lips quirked. Mistress Esme Weatherwax wasn't anywhere near the decidedly vague concept that came to mind when he thought about the word 'granny,' but the offer was about more than that, and he wasn't enough of an idiot to turn it down. "Yeah, okay, Granny." He ran a hand through his hair, realizing he was standing just a few feet from the witch and that he had to look down to face her - he'd thought she was taller. He gave her a self-deprecating smile. "I, uh, kind of smell. Got someplace I can wash off?"
"Kitchen basin, be sure to knock the dirt off your boots first," she said. She remained still while he replaced the shovel in the shed and picked his jacket up off the stump. "So what's your plan when you get back?"
Dean turned to face her, more comfortable with a few yards between them. "Keep killing the demons, try to minimize the damage. Figure as long as me and Sam stay strong, keep saying no, we've still got time to figure out how to kill the Devil. There's gotta be a way, right?"
Granny licked her lips. "They can't have their apocalypse without you?"
"Yeah, me and Sam, that's what they say." Dean shifted his weight on his feet, stretching out the muscles in his arms and upper back. "Thought about offing ourselves, but, uh, apparently Lucifer told Sammy that they would just bring us back to life. Lucky us." He laughed bitterly, gritting his teeth. "Kind of makes me wonder how long they're willing to wait us out, because I still can't think of a reason that'd make one of us say yes first."
Granny jutted out her chin. "Aten't any angels coming here to the Disc, that's what the Hublander told you. You're so determined to save your world, why're you so keen on getting home?"
Dean's stomach twisted at the question. The thought had occurred to him - of course it had - but he'd refused to think about it. "No, no. Angels - they don't give a crap about people, they really don't. I saw the future - if I'm not there and they get Sam to say yes, he'll bring Hell on Earth, and the angels won't do a damn thing to stop him." He was shaking his head compulsively. "I need to be there for Sam. He doesn't want to say yes, but the demons, Lucifer - they've been messing with his head his whole life, feeding him that demon blood crap. He gets lost so easy, you gotta - I gotta - I'm just his brother. He's the one that really matters-"
"Stop for a moment and listen, boy." The witch's blue eyes caught his gaze and Dean had to stop his whole body from leaning forward in an effort to listen closer. "Interestin' fact I know about doors: there's only one I've ever encountered that you may only pass through in one direction. This aten't that one." Her head tipped forward towards him. "Not to mention that you're evidence that not even that door is one way." She folded her arms. "The Feegles will have to find their way back here anyway. It's a hard living in these mountains, but if your brother's half sturdy as you, you should both be able to get by just fine."
And now Dean's body lurched backwards as he understood what Granny Weatherwax was offering him – was offering Sam; hell, what she was offering to Dean's world. Deals like this didn't work. "What about the Dungeon Dimensions? Shawn Ogg said the reason I'm not getting attacked here is you." He let his eyes linger on her white hair, on her wrinkles. "You won't be here forever."
Granny snorted. "I'll be here long enough, boy." She glanced over at the forest, perhaps the first time he'd seen any sign of weakness in her. "And when I'm gone, there will be others." Granny said this with a plural but Dean understood that she had a particular someone in mind, that she wouldn't have made this offer if she wasn't sure. This offer was real.
Dean and Sam could come here, make lives here, not as freaks but accepted on the word of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg and accepting the word of those two came as natural as breathing to the people of Lancre. It wouldn't be a retirement, because there would be work and there was always evil to be fought, but the Winchesters wouldn't be on the front lines anymore, wouldn't be the pinions that the world turned on, and that was fine by Dean. Small potatoes, Vimes had said, and he'd been right.
It sounded better and better, the more he thought about it: a giant 'fuck you' to the angels and all their destiny bullshit. But there was that niggling thought - that the Disc had plenty of people looking out for it - Vimes and Carrot and Vetinari and Lucy and the witches. What did his world have? Him and Sam and not much else. He didn't want to be the guy who had to save the world, but then again, who did? Dean struggled to swallow around the lump in his throat. "I, uh, I'll think about it."
Granny Weatherwax nodded. "You do that. Now come along, you must be hungry after all that work."
Dean followed her inside, looking at the door's hinges as they squeaked open. "I could probably take care of that, too."
She waved her hand. "Maybe later."
Maybe later. Right. Dean shut the door with the knowledge that he could always open it again. If he wanted.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
Granny Weatherwax busied herself fixing whatever it was she intended to make for lunch on the other side of the kitchen. Dean pumped water into the basin, drinking a few mouthfuls before using a mug to dump it over his head and wash off the sweat. His sweat-soaked shirt felt clammy here in the dark chill of the cottage, so he grabbed a new one out of the leather satchel - his own t-shirt from home, which felt appropriate. He looked around - Granny Weatherwax must have wandered off somewhere. Satisfied he wouldn't be offending her sensibilities, he stripped his shirt off and splashed his chest and underarms with some of the water. A week with Angua had left him more than a little self-conscious about how he smelled, especially since he hadn't come across deodorant on this world yet. Next to the basin was a jar of goo that smelled like soap and lathered like soap when he rubbed it between his fingers, so he used a bit of it to clear up the worst of the pit stink. He didn't see a towel anywhere nearby, so he just rubbed himself down with the shirt he'd taken off.
"My goodness, lad, you're built like a brick shithouse!" Dean spun around at the words: Nanny Ogg had returned with a large jug in her hand and a teenaged girl in tow. For the girl's sake, he hoped she wasn't normally that bug-eyed and slack-jawed. "Puts those suits of armor up at the castle to shame," she said, fanning herself with her hand.
He shot Nanny Ogg his raunchiest grin. "Thanks, Nanny. I try to keep in shape," he said, snatching up his t-shirt and pulling it over his head as quick as he could. By the time he'd finished rolling it down his torso, the girl had recovered a little bit of her dignity, blushing and looking down. "Granny Weatherwax had me digging out back while you were gone, got a little sweaty," he explained. He threw the soiled shirt back in the satchel. He paused, considering it for a moment. "Hey, uh - Shawn Ogg, the guy from the border station, is he your son?" He'd have guessed grandson, but a little flattery never hurt.
Nanny nodded. "Aye, our Shawn takes care of a lot of odd jobs like that."
Dean buckled the satchel shut. "The folks down in Ankh-Morpork gave me these clothes for the trip, but I won't need 'em once I get home. Shawn looked about the same size as me, and they're practically brand new, just need a wash."
He nudged the bag towards Nanny with his foot and her eyes lit up. "And thoughtful, too. Esme, why exactly is it that we're so anxious to get him home straight away?" Dean turned to his left and noticed that Granny had reappeared - or maybe had never been gone, he wasn't sure now that he thought of it. The corners of her mouth were ever so slightly turned up.
"He's got some unfinished business back home, that's why." She held a plate towards Dean. "Sit and eat, Dean." Dean took the plate, sat down, opened up the sandwich and marveled for a moment at the existence of jam that was crunchy. Then he remembered what Shawn had said and ate the pickle while Granny continued. "Took you long enough to get back. No problems with the birth, were there?"
Tiffany turned towards Granny, and the shift in her expression was like watching someone age ten years before Dean's eyes. "Everyone's fine, but I was glad to have Nanny's help. It was twin girls."
Granny frowned. "Twins? I was up there last week and there was only-"
"Did you know that Miss Caldicott was Miss Level's cousin?" asked Tiffany, interrupting Granny, and Dean had to give the girl credit - she had guts.
What Tiffany had said must've meant something important, because Granny didn't take offense, just nodded. "I see."
Nanny Ogg set the bottle on the table and settled down in a seat. "I spoke with Eunice's mum and told them what to expect. I expect it'll be a mite easier this time round, for everyone involved."
"That's good." Granny joined them at the table. "Tiffany, this is Dean Winchester. He needs to speak to the Feegles."
Tiffany seemed to hesitate for a second when she realized the only seat left was next to him, the mature witch reverting back to teenaged girl, and Dean bit back a grin. For all the times that Sam had coughed "jail-bait" at Dean's hook-ups, Tiffany was way too young to even think about, though she'd be cute enough in a couple of years. Still, it was always nice to know he still had it and this could be fun. He flashed a smile at the girl while she sat. "They tell me you hang out with the little blue guys," he said.
She tried to look him in the eye, failed, let her gaze fall to his chest, blushed, and settled her focus on the table. "Uh, yeah. They, um, when we first got the clacks I told Big Yan to go- but, they're not- give me a second." She cleared her throat. "You can come out, wherever you are," she said in a firm voice. There wasn't any response, although something rattled on one of the kitchen shelves. Tiffany gave Granny Weatherwax a sheepish look. "Nanny?" she asked, and Nanny smiled and started pulling the cork out of the jug on the table. "They have a, uh, lot of respect for Granny Weatherwax," said Tiffany. "But there are some things they can't resist." Nanny Ogg succeeded in opening the bottle and the whole cottage was flushed with a smell of apples that made Dean's eyes water. Tiffany smiled. "You know what that is, don't you?"
"Ach, Tiffany, tha's nae playin' fair, openin' up a flagon o' scumble here in the cottage o' the hag o' hags," wailed a voice that was much too deep to come out of the little guy who'd appeared at Tiffany's feet, and yep, he was six inches tall and blue, just as advertised. At some point, Dean was going to stop being surprised when that happened.
She leaned down to speak to the Feegle. "If you can help us with this problem, Rob Anybody," Tiffany paused and glanced over at Nanny Ogg, who nodded, "then you can have the whole jug."
"We'll do it!" Rob's response was immediate. There was a rustling noise, and then the room was filled with the little guys, not cute and round like Smurfs, but menacing and made of ropey muscles and all dressed in tiny kilts and furs and this was some freaky-ass shit. Dean held himself very still - where the hell had all these things come from? Somehow the lead guy had gotten on top of the table, and was standing in front of Granny Weatherwax. "So wha's the wee bit o' trouble what defies your hiddlins and hagglins, o hag o' hags?"
Granny Weatherwax wrinkled her nose. "It defies neither my hiddlings nor my hagglings, Rob Anybody. It simply requires your special talents."
The blue man nodded sagely. "Ah, weel then, does it need stealin', fightin', or drinkin'? 'Cos we're prepared tae do any an' all o' t' t'ree." Dean's lips curled to the side: the few words he'd understood sounded like a good time to him.
Granny Weatherwax wore a neutral expression. "It's actually the crawstep that we're interested in."
Rob's eyes flickered over to Dean before he looked back at Granny. "For this huge heap o' bigjobs here, eh?" he said dismissively.
Dean pursed his lips at the unfamiliar term that sounded kind of like an insult, and one of the Feegles who was crouched on the edge of the table yelped, "Waily, Rob, he's got the knowin' o' the Pursin' o' the lips!"
Rob turned about as if to cuff the other Feegle. "Dinnae be daft, Daft Wullie, tha's women's hiddlins and nae even bigjob men have the knowin' o' the- oh." Rob paused as he caught sight of Dean's face. "Actually, tha's a fine Pursin' o' the Lips ye've got there, bigjob, verrae impressive." Dean thinned his lips, furrowing his brow and looking to Granny Weatherwax for some help in defending his manhood, but the women all looked like they were just barely holding back their laughter. Traitors. Meanwhile, Rob had turned to face Dean. He stalked over towards Dean skirting past the tea tray. "I'm Rob Anybody, big man of the Chalk clan. Any friend o' the wee big hag and the hag o' hags is a friend tae us."
Dean nodded. "Dean Winchester, pleased to meet you. Can you take me back to my own world?"
Rob paced, waving his hand and tipping his head from side to side. "Aye, aye, we have that partic'lar talent. But I dinnae ken why ye want tae leave here. Ye had tae have been awfully good in the other life tae come back here, what with all the things around you can fight and steal and drink."
Dean's eyes widened at this and he bit his lips. "Yeah, it's real nice here, and I might need you to bring me back some day, but there's plenty of stealing and drinking to do on my world, and one helluva a fight to be had there."
The Feegles were exchanging looks and murmuring amongst themselves. Rob leaned forward towards Dean. "Is there now? Sounds like a fine place, yer world. So tell us, wos yer story, and dinnae tell us the truth if'n the lie'd be more interestin'."
Nanny snorted at this, and Dean felt himself smiling at the absurd creature before him. "Heh. Uh, okay, there's these angels and demons that want to cause the apocalypse - er, end the world," he amended at Rob's blank look. "It's my job to stop them."
Several dozen blue heads tilted at him. Rob shrugged. "Dreein' yer weird, eh? 'Tis a fine geas, tae be sure, but tha's no' verrae interestin' at all. Ye couldae at least put in a dragon."
Dean remembered reading up on Michael just after Zachariah had dumped the whole Michael-sword situation in his lap. "Come to think of it, there might be a dragon somewhere in there." Not if Dean could help it, but whatever made the blue guy happy.
Rob was nodding. "Allow me a moment tae confer wi' my brothers." A couple of the Feegles hustled over to join Rob, including both the smallest and the biggest of the group. Dean looked at the witches, none of whom seemed terribly surprised by any of what was going on, which was reassuring.
After several moments of hushed whispering, the conference of Feegles broke apart. Rob nodded at the witches before turning to Dean, feet set in a wide-stance and hands on his hips. "We'll get you back tae yer fight, Dean Winchester, and if'n ye find yerself in need o' help wi' slayin' a huge dragon, weel, we might nae be averse to poppin' in fra' time tae time o' maybe stickin' 'round fra' a big fight. If'n, o' course, there's also drinkin' to be had."
"And stealin'!" said one of the Feegles standing on the shelves.
Dean's eyes widened, and even the witches looked a little surprised. "That's very generous of you. Thank you," said Tiffany after Dean took a beat too long to make his mouth work.
Rob grinned. "Weel, we're verrae gen'rous people, we Feegles. There's just one more thing. We need tae ken where we're goin'." The smallest one stepped in front of Rob. "This here's Awfully Wee Billy Bigchin, our Gonnagle, and he has the hiddlins o' the findin' o' the way." Billy had a strange device strapped around his shoulders.
Dean shifted in his seat. "Will you be able to get me to the same time I left, too?"
Tiffany blinked at his question. "I didn't realize that was an issue. Awfully Wee Billy Bigchin, is that the sort of thing you can do?"
The tiny Feegle nodded. "Aye, lass, the crawstep's near as good fra' the when as fra' the where. As fra' the findin' o' the way, i's just a wee thing, lad, but we'll need ye tae sing fra' us." He looked down, tugging at a pipe attached to the device. "Nae much, ye ken, don' need a strong voice, but from the heart." Billy looked up into Dean's eyes. "Do ye know a wee bit o' song that'll tell us just where ye've come from, lad?"
Dean guffawed. "You're kidding, right?" The tiny Feegle shook his head slowly and gravely. "I don't really, uh-" Dean glanced up, and every face in the room was looking at him expectantly, even if Nanny's eyes were sparkling with laughter. His own face fell. Shit. "Right," and of course his voice would go and crack on the word. Dean straightened his shoulders, cleared his throat, and thought for a minute. He knew lots of songs, but which one was the right one - and more importantly, which one wouldn't make him sound like a complete jackass? Then Billy began to play the instrument he carried - like tiny bagpipes - and Dean could barely hear the high-pitched sound, but it was filled with sadness and longing and "'Leaves are falling all around, It's time I was on my way...'"
The music from the pipes shifted to fit and Dean made it through the second verse and chorus of "Ramble On" before the music faded away. Billy nodded with approval as he slung the pipes back. "'T'was a fine singin' lad, and thank ye." Billy turned to Rob. "Whenever we're ready."
The witches had all stood up at some point, and Nanny and Tiffany had Dean's jacket, cloak, and sword in their hands. Dean got to his feet and took his possessions - he'd picked up a couple extra, hadn't meant to, but the cloak and the sword were his now, and he wasn't leaving them behind. Nanny teetered on tip toes to help him fasten the cloak's pin. "You take care of yourself, dearie boy," she said, wrapping him in a hug. He only hesitated a second then squeezed her firmly before setting her back. She stuck a wrinkled finger in his face. "You're far too young and pretty to go and die just because the world's ending. Help's been offered: don't be too proud to take it." She stepped back and retrieved a pipe from someplace - Dean wasn't going to think too hard about that - and chomped on the stem. "Now go and set your world straight, and don't be a stranger if you can avoid it."
Dean smiled. "Got it, Nanny." Next was Tiffany, who was looking at something very interesting behind him. "Thanks, Tiffany, I really-" Dean started, but she interrupted him.
"Do you have a diary?"
Dean's brow furrowed. "Huh? Uh, yeah, something like that."
"Get a lock for it. A good one. And don't let them have the whole bottle at once." She pushed the re-corked jug of booze at him. "You'll have to figure out the rest yourself. Good luck." Now she was looking down at the floor.
Dean looked at the bottle and glanced back at the girl. "Okay." He licked his lips, leaned down, and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you." Tiffany blushed, her eyes wide again as he straightened out and with a little bit of his own swagger having recovered from the whole singing-incident, he couldn't resist giving her a wink before turning to face Granny Weatherwax, who had one eyebrow cocked at him. Dean shrugged and she sighed, schooling her features into their normal stern positions.
"You'll remember what I said," she said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes, ma'am." And how was he supposed to tell her how much it meant? "I, uh-" Dean looked into those blue eyes and realized that he didn't have to say it: she knew, and that was enough. "Thank you, Granny." He offered her his hand and after a moment she took it and shook it.
"You're welcome, Dean Winchester. So long as you remember to use your head. I've no patience for fools." She folded her arms. "Best to get this gang of them out of my house quickly, then."
"Yes, ma'am." He looked over at Rob. "So, how do we do this?" Dean controlled the urge to yelp and jump as dozens of Feegles climbed onto him. The largest one stayed on the floor as did Billy, each of them grabbing one of Dean's feet.
"It's all in the ankle, ye ken?" said Rob Anybody from his position clutching Dean's lapel.
Dean didn't ken - wasn't entirely sure what ken meant in the first place. "Not really," he admitted.
"I's nae a problem, we'll tak care o' everything fra' ye on yer first trip, no worries."
Dean swallowed, took one last look around the cottage, not quite believing this was it. "Okay. Let's go." Billy lifted Dean's foot and he stepped forward and -
- the world blurred, and the Feegles were yammering on about this thing and the next but he couldn't follow them worth a damn, just let them move his feet forward one after another and he thought he just might be sick if it kept on like this -
- and he was standing outside a crappy motel. Dean spun around. It was pre-dawn, and he looked up at the sign. It was the motel in New Haven. He turned in the other direction and almost fell to his knees at the sight of the Impala. "Oh, baby." Lunging forward a few steps, Dean caressed her hood before he realized that there wasn't a Feegle in sight, and that he wasn't holding the bottle of scumble anymore. He chuckled and shook his head. What was their room number again? Maybe 304? Dean searched his pockets, but couldn't find the key, so he headed to the room, steeled his nerves, and knocked.
Sam opened the door, dark circles under his eyes which went wide at the sight of Dean. "Dammit, Dean, where the hell have you-" but Dean squeezed the bitching right out of his baby brother - still Sam, Lucifer couldn't pull off that bitch-face. Sam stumbled back and returned the hug. "Jesus, Dean, what the - I searched the whole damn campus and you were just gone and so was the tulpa and it's been ten hours and what's with the hug?"
Dean pulled away and slapped his brother's shoulder with a huge grin - he'd have to ask Billy Bigchin about how the timing thing worked, but ten hours wasn't half bad. "It's been a bit longer for me - long story, Sammy-boy, I'm gonna need a beer first." He looked past Sam and his grin just got wider. "Oh, hey, Cas." Dean gave the angel a jaunty wave and cocked a glance at Sam. "You called in the big guns just for me?" Dean headed for the mini-fridge. "I'm touched. You didn't wake Bobby up in the middle of the night, did you? Man's getting on in years, needs his beauty sleep or else he gets cranky." He kneeled over to grab a beer and caught the handle of his sword against the floor. When he turned back, Sam and Cas were both staring at him. "What?"
"You are wearing a broadsword," said Castiel.
Sam pointed. "And a cloak." Dean shrugged, opened his beer and took a drink. Sam's face got all pinched and confused while Dean took off the cloak and his jacket. "What happened to you, Dean?"
Dean pulled out a seat at the table and swung his feet up onto the bed. "I had a nice little detour."
Sam exchanged a look with Castiel before he slumping into the other seat. "Must've been a hell of a trip - you're still smiling."
Dean took a swig of beer. "Am I?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. And kind of scaring me a little."
Dean shook his head and locked his eyes with his brother. "Don't be scared, Sam." He ran his hand over the grip of his sword. "We're not running scared anymore."
Sam and Cas remained skeptical even after Dean had told the whole story, but Dean just smiled and told them to sleep on it. Cas would come around eventually: he was good like that. Sam's skepticism met a major challenge when he woke up to the sounds of one of the Feegles - Dean was pretty sure it was Daft Wullie, puking in the sink and moaning about how "pished" he was before passing out in one of Sam's boots. After that, Sam listened to Dean's explanation of Granny's offer with a little more attention. In the end, he agreed with Dean's plan to stick around here on Earth for the time being - as long as Dean cleaned up the Feegle vomit before he went back to sleep.
Dean woke up a little before noon and treated himself to the little things: flush toilets, hot showers and mouthwash. He watched an episode of Dr. Sexy and used the Magic Fingers while Sam showered. But it was this last pleasure that Dean had missed the most - that he would've taken the time for even if Sam had said that they should take up Granny Weatherwax's offer straight away. Dean slung himself into the driver's seat. He shut his eyes, savoring the feel of her steering wheel in his hands, and turned the key in the ignition. He sighed at the rumble of the engine. Sam shook his head. "What?" asked Dean.
"You're still smiling," said Sam, now smiling himself.
"It's just good to be home, that's all." He adjusted his mirrors and his breath hitched - the quick blue flash he'd caught was comforting, but something that would take some getting used to - before pulling out of the parking lot and looking over at Sam. "So, where are we headed?"
Sam leaned forward to pull a pile of papers out of his bag. "Bobby had a line on a job down in New Mexico, but before we get there, there's a haunting in Pennsylvania I think we can clear up in a day or two..." and Sam would be rambling on about the background for awhile if it was actually worth looking into. Dean kept his ears open for any juicy details while he shoved Zeppelin II into the tape deck and in that moment, everything was right. Everything was good. He was in the Impala with Sam, back on the road, looking for the next job. This was Dean's home: someone had to fight for it, and he wasn't ready to give up on it yet.
May, 2010, Detroit
The final showdown took place in a public park in a suburb full of foreclosed houses, and as he walked through it alone, Sam felt appropriately unnerved. It wasn't just economic decay run rampant, but the way reality itself felt so... thin after months of Lucifer massing his forces in this one place. Dean had indulged in a nice long rant - on at least six separate occasions - about how Lucifer must have been planning to break through here at least since 1999 - or whenever they decided to produce that mockery they called an Impala these days.
Sam had laughed at Dean's theory the first time, but the truth was he'd known why Lucifer picked Detroit ever since the Devil mentioned it back in Carthage, Missouri. Chuck had mistaken Hell's sadistic sense of humor for literary symmetry but Sam recognized it for what it was: predictable. Once a demon thought they knew your trigger, they'd keep pushing the same button until you broke. And though it had been years since he'd seen her or even really thought about her, Jess' niece Brittany had always loved Sam - treated him like a jungle-gym during the Christmas and two weeks in Hilton Head that he'd spent with the Moores. She was the closest thing Sam had to a daughter. Mother, girlfriend, would-be niece: demons and angels had a thing for threes too, so it made sense. A quick Internet search back in November confirmed that Jess' brother Carl and his family still lived in Grosse Pointe, but there wasn't much Sam could do but try to stop the Apocalypse before it came to that. It had been five years: there was no way to warn Carl and Brittany that wouldn't come across as crazy, plain and simple. Sam dropped Carl an e-mail over Christmas to re-establish the connection, just in case. Once the calendar turned over to May and no magic Lucifer-killing weapon had appeared, it was just a matter of waiting for the phone call.
Lucifer didn't snatch just Brittany, but nabbed her entire class on a field trip to the Tuskegee Airmen Museum. After twenty-seven years, Sam counted himself something of a connoisseur of demonic machinations and frankly, Lucifer's maneuver struck Sam as amateuristic, lacking Azazel's intricate, interweaving subtleties or Lilith's spare, elegant simplicity. Of course, the fact that Sam was in a position to make that comparison at all was a strong indicator of how fucked up his entire life had been to this point. Sam also had to remind himself that Lucifer wasn't a demon; he was an archangel, and so far as Sam could tell, archangels didn't even rank as blunt instruments: they were forces of nature. It was like using a hurricane to carve a marble statue: you might get a pile of stones smashed together, if you were lucky. If you weren't lucky... well, Sam's conscience didn't have room left for twenty dead middle-schoolers. Sam hung up on Carl and buried his face in his hands, then told his brother it was time.
Dean had slapped his thighs, stood up, and grabbed that broadsword which never seemed to leave his side these days. "Let's go rope us some dopes, champ." They called Bobby and Castiel, ate burgers at a greasy spoon, and drove all night to reach Detroit, singing along to Dean's old tapes the whole way. Lucifer sent Sam a dream of this park, but Bobby had triangulated the exact spot months ago, so it wasn't a surprise. On Dean's advice Sam took a long, hot shower that morning, then put on warm, comfortable clothes and armed himself with enough knives that he practically jingled as he walked through the park.
Sam stopped walking when his view matched the one from his dream. "Okay. I'm here." He turned around in a lazy circle until Lucifer came into view. Sam sighed: predictable. "Nothing's changed," he said.
"I didn't want it to be this way, but you've forced my hand," said Lucifer, palms held out and his borrowed face a mess of sores. "Say yes, or the kids die."
Sam shook his head. "No. I say yes and the world ends."
Lucifer actually looked like he pitied Sam. "I don't believe you, Sam. You're just too noble: there's no way you'd sacrifice them to the greater good. After all," and Sam would never forgive Lucifer for his smug smile, "what kind of monster would that make you?"
"You're right. Problem is: I know the kids are safe, and I'm not saying yes to you." Sam crossed his arms. "Not now, not ever."
"Don't be so sure of that." Gabriel's voice came from right behind Sam's shoulder, but Sam didn't flinch. When he turned he saw Gabriel smirking as he held Dean and Castiel each by the collar. "Your lame little rescue mission? Didn't work out so good, even with Dean all decked out in his Dungeons and Dragons gear. Cute cloak, by the way, what does it give you, plus-3 defense against the cold facts of reality?"
"No, I just like the way it billows behind me all heroic-like," said Dean as he tried to kick back at Gabriel, but the angel swiveled his hips and avoided it.
Sam backed up a few steps so that he could keep Gabriel and Lucifer in sight at the same time. Castiel didn't struggle like Dean but simply glared at Gabriel. "I would never have believed that you would sink so low as to do Lucifer's dirty work, Gabriel," said Cas.
Lucifer placed his hand on his chest. "I'm touched, really. I didn't even ask him to do this."
"And here we thought you had standards, Gabriel. Where's the trick?" asked Dean.
Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Tried tricks before, but you two are just a little too dense, so I've had to resort to more direct tactics." He released Castiel and pushed Dean onto his knees, the broadsword clanging against the ground. "So how's about you say yes, Sam, before little bro over there gives his demonic minions the go-ahead to tear little Brittany and all her BFFs to shreds."
"And while you're at it, if Dean could consent to my companion here, why, we'll have this show on the road." Sam glanced at his brother who stopped his struggles at the sound of Zachariah's voice. Zachariah and Michael strode towards the group to stand opposite Lucifer and Gabriel, which left Castiel and the Winchesters surrounded. "Not that this isn't a delightful family reunion - wasn't expecting to see you, Gabriel, you never return my calls anymore - but we've got a schedule to keep, and you Winchesters have delayed us long enough."
Dean cracked his neck as he got to his feet. He was smiling. "Looks like you've got us right where you want us."
Michael tipped his head forward, keeping his eyes on Dean and avoiding looking at Lucifer. "Destiny has brought us here, Dean, as I've told you it would. Your time is up. Say yes, and let us end this."
Sam looked down at his brother. "They want us to say yes," he said in a stage-whisper. "I told them nothing's changed."
Dean looked up at Sam. "They don't listen so good, do they?" Sam looked around to see all of the angelic fury he could have hoped for. More importantly, all of that fury was narrowly and completely focused on the two brothers.
Which made it a complete surprise to the angels when a voice screamed "Face full o' heid," and Big Yan plunged down from the trees, landing smack in the middle of Gabriel's forehead. Gabriel crumpled to the ground like a puppet with cut strings, and before any of the other angels could react, the Winchesters were covered in tiny blue men while a mass of Feegles surrounded the entire group.
Dean quirked his eyebrows. "Of course, there was that one thing that changed."
Lucifer's brow furrowed, causing the skin on his forehead to crack open. "What are these creatures?"
Zachariah shook his head. "They aren't yours?"
"No!" shouted Lucifer. He scowled. "This is your great plan? Tiny Scotsmen?"
Rob Anybody waved his tiny sword in Lucifer's direction. "Who ye callin' a Scotsman, ye huge scuggan! I'm Rob Anybody, big man o' the Chalk clan o' the Nac Mac Feegle, and I'll give ye a heidin ye'll nae ken till next Tuesday!"
The Feegles all raised their weapons and shouted. "Nae King! Nae Quin! We willnae be fooled again!"
Zachariah took a breath. "Very funny, Winchester, but enough is enough." He snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. His face fell and he looked at Michael, who shook his head.
Castiel stepped forward. "You will be interested to learn that the Nac Mac Feegle are natives to another dimension, and as such, are immune to our abilities to manipulate reality. I have tried to silence them myself." He paused. "Many times. You are fortunate that Dean requested they not drink prior to our meeting."
"Oh, and one other thing you might want to know about them," added Dean, facing Zachariah and Michael. "Cas tells me you angels aren't so good at moving from one reality to another. Boy, Rob and the guys here had a good laugh over that: after all, Feegles can move between realities just by setting one foot in front of the other." He chuckled. "So here's the deal: back off on the apocalypse, or else my brother and I will disappear from this world forever, right now, and you guys can just wait for the next pair of true vessels to show up. That'll be in about - what did you say, Cas?"
"Three hundred thousand years," supplied Castiel.
Zachariah snarled, "You wouldn't."
"I so very would," said Dean. "Did the Long Lake clan make it to the warehouse, Rob?" he asked without turning.
"Aye, the wee bairns are safe as houses, Dean-o, and these schemies ought to be cackin' their kecks less'n we do the same to them as been done to the smokey scunners."
Gabriel had recovered enough to rise to his feet. "What the hell did he say?"
Sam shrugged, facing Lucifer and Gabriel. "You've got me, but, like I said, the kids are safe, and we're still saying no."
Lucifer had turned red. "This is destiny! You will not deny me!"
"The apocalypse is written. It must come to pass," added Michael, who sounded only slightly less agitated to Sam's ears.
Sam laughed. "Would you listen to yourselves? I mean, I get it: angels were created as servants to the Word, so you're all caught up in this 'it is written' thing. But we're not angels: we're humans. We have free will. And we don't care about what's written. So what if God had it written that you and Michael have to have this stupid fight to the death? God's not here anymore." Castiel looked down, and Sam knew this part still bugged him, but it had to be said. "Why do you still care about what he wrote? I mean, other than following this stupid script, do you even have any reason to fight?"
"What part of 'destiny' don't you two understand?" asked Lucifer.
"That's the nice thing about being human," said Dean, and Sam could hear the smirk in his voice. "We're not scripted. We're messy. And we kind of like it that way. It's a lot more fun than playing out your family feud all over again."
Castiel raised his hand. "I have informed them that you are disinclined to give up on this story. So they suggested that you re-cast the roles in your head." He tilted his head. "Imagine the angelic host as the obedient older brother while humanity is the rebellious younger son."
Dean finished the lecture. "You guys are free to fight this little war you've got planned if that's really what you want - but you're going to leave us out of it. Leave Earth out of it. Go ahead and kill each other off, I don't give a damn. But your fight isn't our fight." Dean brushed his shoulder against Sam's. "You keep trying to involve us, and we'll run off to Stanford." There was a rustle as the Winchesters, Castiel, and several hundred Feegles all folded their arms in unison.
Lucifer clapped his hands. "Very nice. Go ahead, run to Stanford. Worked out so well for Sam the first time." Sam kept his gaze steady and jutted out his chin.
"We've got all the time in the universe," said Zachariah. "We will find you no matter what strange little world you run to." Sam caught a glimpse of his brother's silent smile out of the corner of his eyes.
Rob Anybody menaced the angels from Dean's shoulder. "Know that if'n ye ever do find them, I have a powerful suspicion ye'll nae find the Last World verrae welcomin' tae scunners like you. Hate tae see such smug schemies have their own arses handed tae them by the wee big hag, o' course, that'll only happen if'n we dinnae find ye first."
Michael took a step forward and Dean lifted his hands. "Hey! One more step and we're gone."
Michael stopped and spoke, his voice calm and even. "God wants the apocalypse."
"He wants it so bad, then where is he?" demanded Dean. "I'm not holding my breath. If he shows up, we'll deal with him when the time comes, but until then, the Apocalypse is off. Sam and I Are. Not. Playing."
Gabriel narrowed his eyes, focusing on Castiel. "And if God does show up?"
Castiel shrugged. "They'll probably just tell him the same thing." He looked at each of his brothers in turn before settling on Lucifer. "It is one of the prerogatives of being disobedient that you can continue to be disobedient whether or not the authority figure is present at the time."
Sam bit his tongue as the angels seemed to finally process that they'd lost the high ground. On his side, Lucifer had developed a thoughtful look. "You boys do know that the demons aren't going to change their ways just because I said so."
Sam nodded. "They were humans originally. They're still our problem. We can deal with them, just so long as we don't have to fight your apocalypse at the same time."
Michael pressed his lips together. "Is this really what you want? More of this same, messy, painful existence?"
Dean exhaled. "Pretty much, yeah. It beats the alternative."
Zachariah was about to state his objections, but Michael held up a hand to silence him. Michael and Lucifer shared a look and Michael said, "It is clear that you will not see reason at this time. But you have not heard the last of us."
With a rustle of wings, Castiel was the only angel left in the park. The apocalypse had been deferred indefinitely. Sam took the first full breath he'd been able to manage in two days while around him the Feegles cheered and celebrated. Dean pulled a mason jar full of clear liquid out of his jacket and held it out to Rob Anybody.
"As promised, one jar of genuine Tennessee White Lightning. It'll put Nanny's scumble to shame." He hesitated. "There's always going to be one of you sober in case those sonsabitches get any ideas, right?"
Rob wrapped himself around the jar. "Aye, aye, nae worries 'bout that, Dean-o."
Dean released the jar. "Okay then. And if we ever do wind up on the Disc, you just go and ask Bobby Singer for your last jar." He said this last bit to the empty air as the Feegles had already disappeared to enjoy their wages, and laughed. "Good job, guys, good job." Dean caught Sam's expression and grimaced. "We won. What's the problem?"
Sam bit his lip, not wanting to ruin his brother's good mood; then again, Dean's good moods had been a lot more common since New Haven. "It's just - the angels aren't lying. This is an imperfect world, and we're still gonna have to fight against the demons and all the other evil on this planet with hardly any allies. All that's changed is that now we'll have Heaven and Hell plotting against us for the rest of our lives-"
"Longer," said Cas. "They have the ability to resurrect you."
Dean sighed and put his arms around Cas and Sam's shoulders. "I know. I know. It's a tough job, nobody ever said it wasn't. But we're good at it and it needs to be done. For now, that's enough for me." Dean looked at Sam, his eyes soft and earnest and yeah, okay, it was enough for Sam too. Dean turned to look forward. "And on the day it isn't enough anymore, well, I know a great retirement spot."
Art and banners by angelicfoodcake
An sncross_bigbang fic
Completed April 3, 2010
Posted May, 2010
Author's End Notes: Well, if you've made it this far, I want to thank you for reading. This story is a work of love; my love letter to the Discworld, a world that has brought me more joy and laughter than any other. If you're not familiar with it, then I highly recommend at least trying one of the books. This story is also my sneaky way of writing a h/c fic for Dean - except Kripke already did all the hurting, I just got to do the comforting. It may come as a surprise after reading this to find out that I'm actually a bit of a Sam-girl at heart, but from the beginning, this had to be Dean's story. There's a number of reasons why, not the least of which is because in my head, Dean's kind of an overgrown Feegle.
I debated including the Epilogue up until the very end - the story holds up just fine without it, and as it was written before the post-hiatus episodes of season five were broadcast, it makes the story much more distinctly AU than I had originally intended. A couple of things pushed me to keep it - first, I love the idea of Big Yan knocking out Gabriel, and second, angelicfoodcake chose to make it the subject of her main illustration, and, well, yeah - suffice to say, both she and it are awesome. If you're not an über-happy ending kind of person, or if the epilogue strikes you as wrapping things up just a little too neatly, I don't mind if you consider it optional and imagine the boys taking another leg in the Trousers of Time.
Having praised my artist, I cannot give enough thanks to the betas: fish_echo, reapertownusa, and booster17, who were the midwives (and midhusband) of this story, and to the mods at sncross_bigbang, without whom it probably would have remained a vicious plot bunny.
P.S. - I don't know who'd be interested in this, but I know I always wind up clicking these sorts of things, probably because I'm nosy and the kind of person who watches DVD commentary tracks: this is a post of quotes and things that I referred to constantly while I was writing this, unlocked and free to be read by anyone who's read this far into the end notes. Enjoy.