Some humor here to fend off fear
The washing machine died on a Thursday.
Until that day, the old top loader had done an admirable job, rattling along and ruining hardly any loads at all until that final, fateful load of threadbare jeans. It didn't start spewing soap or dancing across the basement floor – nothing so amusing. Instead, the motor whined and died in a belch of black, oily smoke.
Bobby cursed and threatened, but the washing machine refused to do more than tremble and smell like burned rubber and ruined clothes. After a great deal more swearing, Sam and Dean were sent off with a roll of quarters and garbage bags full of laundry, along with orders to make sure the damn whites were kept separate.
Castiel didn't pay much attention to the laundry itself; the cleaning of clothes was something that existed outside of his sphere, and interested him only as far as clean clothing was important to the well being of his people. The machine had served long and well, and some part of Castiel felt sure it could continue to do so; it just needed a little maintenance, a little help.
How hard could it be? Castiel had rebuilt Dean Winchester from the smallest atoms. There had been a time when the angel could have snapped his fingers and restored the machine to the condition it had been when it had come from the factory.
Twenty minutes of trying to work his will on the obstinate machinery reminded Castiel that he was no longer the angel he once was. The washer remained annoyingly broken, and Castiel was coming to realize that he didn't even know where to start to make it work again. Everything that was Dean had been burned into the very core of Castiel the moment he had laid his hand on the Righteous Man's soul; he had known from that moment forward what he needed to restore Dean Winchester to the realm of the living. Somehow, he doubted the washing machine was going to be so obliging.
“Are you having an aneurism or something?” Zoe asked. She'd perched on the basement stairs to watch Castiel, wearing one of Sam's t-shirt and what were probably Dean's jean's. Her clothes had been amongst that final load, and they hadn't gotten around to getting her anything new since they'd taken her from her school. Everything she wore was entirely too large on so small a girl, the shirt falling to her knees and the pants tightly belted to keep them up.
“I'm trying to fix the washing machine.” For the moment, he let the machine be, joining Zoe on the basement stairs. His hands dropped between his knees, and he continued to study the washing machine.
Castiel turned the question over in his head, considering his own motivations before finally settling on an answer. “I want to feel like I'm actually contributing something,” he admitted. “I seem to be good for little more than translating Bobby's more obscure texts and keeping you out of everyone's hair. There has been no sign of Meg since we got here-” And that was deeply troubling. “-and I can't leave to go looking for her. When we face Meg, it must be on our ground, on our terms.”
Zoe shifted her weight slightly, her expression thoughtful. “Is she really that dangerous?”
“Meg is the most dangerous kind of enemy you could face – smart and adaptable. And she is patient.” Castiel grimaced. “Something I should be working on, I suspect.” He rose gracefully to his feet. “Are you done sulking at Dean yet? You may need to talk to him about the state of your wardrobe. In any case, it's no more his fault than it is yours.”
Perhaps not the best change of subject, but truthfully, Castiel was beginning to run out of patience with Zoe on the matter. No matter what Dean might say, or how little he might show it, Zoe's hostility upset him, making Dean more irritable than usual. Zoe and Dean had been doing little more than sniping at each other when they could bring themselves to speak to each other at all. It didn't make any kind of logical sense... but since when had logic had anything to do with family?
“Screw him.” Zoe got up with far less grace than Castiel had, shoulders hunched at lips pursed like she'd been sucking on lemons. She scrambled up the stairs, and Castiel silently questioned his Father's wisdom in bringing such an obstinate child into his life. Dean had been bad enough.
There was a vampire nest in Port Angeles. Bobby let himself be amused by that fact for a minute before he started going through his contacts. The dumb bastard who'd found the next had made the mistake of thinking that just because the fang faces were willing to play into the fantasies of a bunch of teenage girls, they weren't dangerous. He'd been lucky to get out alive, even if he never used that hand again.
After two hours of phone calls, Bobby admitted defeat, hanging up the phone on Garth rather than listen to the details of a damn Sasquatch hunt. There were only two hunters not busy or incompetent who could get to Washington fast.
“Thank Christ,” Bobby sighed.
“It's vampires,” Dean growled. “We can do vampires in our sleep.”
“Cas says to never underestimate an enemy,” Zoe pointed out, not moving from the shelves of crap that filled one wall of the garage. Mostly, it was car parts salvaged from otherwise unsalvageable cars, but somehow those shelves managed to attract anything that Bobby had no immediate use for, but couldn't stand to get rid of. What the kid was looking for amongst all that crap, Dean had no idea.
“So you're talking to me again?”
“Cas says that I should get over it.”
Dean popped the trunk, hauling out the bags of laundry. “I'm gonna get real sick of hearing 'Cas says' real fast, kid.” He tossed a couple of shopping bags in Zoe's direction. “Where is he?”
“Trying to fix the washer.”
Dean stopped in the middle of opening the trunk's false bottom, turning slowly. There were some thoughts that just didn't belong together. Cas and washing machine repair were definitely amongst those thoughts. Zoe pulled out a small motor, looking it over and comparing it to the piece of paper she had in one hand before putting it back. “Fixing the-” Dean shook his head, shutting the trunk. “You screwin' with me?”
Zoe dug deeper into the shelves, hiking up her borrowed pants, her silence pointed. Dean rolled his eyes, nudging the shopping bags closer to Zoe. “I want my pants back,” he tossed off, heading inside. Sam and Bobby were doing their research thing, nothing he needed to get involved in just then, so he slipped into the basement.
It looked like someone had exploded the washing machine across the basement, and Cas sat in the middle of it all. The angel had finally shed his coat, sleeves rolled up to his elbows to reveal lean, pale arms. There were already grease stains on the white dress shirt, and the tie had been thrown over Cas's shoulder. Cas looked amazingly normal, like someone's dad talked into a home repair project. Cas was giving a thoughtful look to a worn out rubber belt, rubbing a particularly worn spot with his fingers. “I can fix it.”
“We can get a new one,” Dean couldn't resist pointing out. “After we pull a Buffy on some vamps. C'mon, lets get this show on the road.”
“I can fix it,” Cas repeated,” and you hardly need me to deal with vampires.”
Dean dropped down on the steps, chin on his palm. “Last time I went vampire hunting, my soulless brother let me get bitten and turned.” Cas put the belt down, shoulders tensing beneath the shirt. Dean winced, wishing he'd never opened his mouth. “C'mon, road trip. No being cooped up in the house, no kids, a little righteous smiting... we can get burgers after.”
Cas picked up the drum of the washer, running his fingers over the dents that had formed from years of things that hadn't belonged in the washer being dumped in. Dean waited, letting Cas do his brooding.
“You gonna stop talking to me too?”
“I'm trying not to say something regrettable.” Cas had a real talent for being snide when he wanted to be. “A talent that I hope will serve me well.”
Dean let his head drop. “Come with us. Bobby can handle things here while-”
“While you and Sam do your job and I am reminded of how little I can actually do, all the while leaving Meg a nice big opening to get at a defenseless child who she can then use to kill you if she has a mind to.” The washer drum made an ominous noise under Cas's hands. “Or I can fix this.”
Dean looked at the scattered parts of the washer, thinking hard. “How're the protections holding up?” he asked. “Since you're poking 'em every night.”
“They aren't what they were,” Cas pointed out. “The protections I had in place from before continue to degrade despite my efforts, as do the ones that Bobby placed, though those are more easily replaced. Soon there will be nothing left but what any human could do.”
“We 'mere humans' do pretty good on our own, in case you haven't noticed.” Dean couldn't help himself, but at least he scored something that almost resembled a smile from Cas as the angel started picking at the bits of a dismantled motor. A question nagged at the back of Dean's mind, finally forcing it's way out. “These protections-”
“The ones on Lisa and Ben are intact,” Cas supplied without further prompting. “What we do on a daily basis erodes the protections. Since it's highly unlikely that the Braedons are doing the same thing, they remain in place, just as the protections on Claire and Amelia do.”
“Thanks, Cas,” Dean murmured, making the climb back up the stairs. Cas waved a and in a silent goodbye, thought he didn't return his attention to the washer until Dean was long gone.
“You – get – back – here – and – die – like – a – man!” Dean huffed even as the vampire raced across the playground even as the vampire raced across the playground. Stupid lousy stinking stupid vampire. Two days to track the bastards to where they'd actually holed up, and they'd moved in to wipe out the nest. The other two had put up a fight in the shiny new recreation center the idiots had made their lair, the very place where they did most of their hunting, and they'd died there. But this one wasn't going to stand and fight, oh no. He was gonna be annoying and stupid and try to lead Dean into a trap like the one that had taken down the hunter who'd been on the job before Sam and Dean. The vampire was probably a hell of a lot smarter than it look, but Dean wasn't about to let him get away and start all over again.
Dean watched the vampire slide silently through the basement window of a 'learning center' – whatever the hell that was supposed to be – and listened to the vampire scream as he scrambled right back out.
Dean had never seen a vampire puke before. To be honest, he never wanted to see one puke ever again. Blood and bile mixed on bright green grass, and the vampire's whole body shuddered.
If Dean hadn't spent most of the drive up to Port Angeles hearing about what the vampire and his buddies had been up to, he might have felt really bad about cutting off the guy's head while he was trying to vomit up his toenails. But the thing had been killing people, and Dean wasn't about to waste any guilt over fighting dirty.
Sam caught up to Dean as he was prying the window open. “Edward over there saw something in here that had him going Linda Blair,” Dean grunted as he fought with the little window. The vampire had been one skinny contortionist bastard; Dean would be lucky to get his head and shoulders through for a peek.
When Dean finally managed to get a look inside, he almost wished he hadn't. The light from Sam's flashlight revealed that someone had turned the basement into a make-shift ossiery, lining the walls with femurs and shins, small skulls and tibias made into a small alter, and ribs turned into a gruesome chandelier. Most of the bones were old and dry, but some still gleamed wetly in the flashlight's beam.
Dean knew the difference between animal bone and human, and the difference between the bones of an adult and those of a child.
“Idjits,” Bobby growled into the phone, hanging up as he turned to the most used of his reference books, turning the new information over in his mind. Too many questions – was this beastie taking kids because they were easier prey, or was it because kids were part of it's MO? The piles of bones and no attacks on the parents ruled out changelings. The fact that the kids had been stripped down to the bone actually exonerated the vampires that most of the disappearances had been blamed on. Werewolves would have left more behind, the place was too populated for a wendigo. Maybe a rougarou, but the stacking of the bones was unusual.
Bobby's phone buzzed; Sam, with a sampling of missing persons reports. Even those were enough to prove there was no tie to the lunar cycle. Which left-
Castiel appeared in the study, his little blonde shadow trailing behind. The angel looked pleased with himself, but that look fled as soon as he caught Bobby's expression.
“What went wrong?” Zoe asked. “Are they- did they get themselves killed?” She crossed her arms over the brand new t-shirt from the batch Sam and Dean had brought back with them when they'd been sent out to do the laundry. There were already oil stains and grime all over it and the equally new jeans. “I thought vampires were supposed to be easy.”
“The boys are fine, the vampires are dead,” Bobby pointed out, his tone dry as dust. “I'll be sure to pass on your concern.” He smirked at the dirty look Zoe gave him. “There's something up there eatin' kids.”
Cas nodded once, going to the shelves. “What do we know?”
“You're not going after them?” Zoe continued to trail Castiel, digging her hands into her pockets.
“You almost sound worried,” Cas noted.
“Dean's a douchebag, but he makes you happy. Besides, if they die, it's you, me, and the creepy redneck, and Sam's got the good laptop with him.”
“I'm startin' to guess why this thing eats kids.” Bobby rubbed his hands together. “Okay, we're looking for a beastie with a taste for long pig that's made it's hunting grounds near a brand new playground. I'm gonna see what I can dig up about the area. As long as you two are done playing Maytag Repair Man, you two can do a little light reading. Unless that vast font of knowledge you got lodged in your skull's got the answer?” He arched an eyebrow, eying Cas.
The angel considered the question, then shook his head. “I'm afraid that's too vague for me.”
“I could break the washer again,” Zoe whispered, only to be shushed by Castiel.
Sam was the one who was good at dealing with families, and had been for as long as Dean could remember. Dean could do it and do it damn well, but Sam could charm people effortlessly, even on one of the worst days of their lives.
“This is my Skye,” Mrs. Blake said, her voice little more than a dry whisper. The Blakes had shed their tears for their missing son a long time ago; Skye Blake was one of the earliest cases of missing kids, gone almost seven years. Somehow, that just made it so much worse sometimes, like a wound you'd thought was healed splitting back open, still raw and red and bloody after all that time.
The boy in the picture was smiling the obviously false smile of someone who'd been told to knock it off with the faces already so the family could have something nice to show people. He'd been all shaggy hair and gangly limbs, with the beginnings of a serious pizza face and a weak mustache when the picture was taken.
“Do you really think Skye's...” Mrs. Blake worried her lower lip between her teeth, pausing a moment to turn off her vibrating cell phone after checking the number. “He might not be one of the-”
“We're still waiting on the DNA,” Sam said gently. “Mrs. Blake, I know this is hard, but we need you to tell us everything you remember about the day Skye disappeared.”
“Like om those cop shows? In case I remember something that didn't seem important then, but is actually the clue that breaks the case wide open?” Mrs. Blake looked from Sam to Dean and back again for confirmation. Sam smiled encouragingly, and Dean bit back a Because we can't get at the case files because the real FBI is on the way. Sam and Dean were doing their damnedest to fly under the radar – talking to Mrs. Blake was a risky move, but there was something out there eating kids, and Dean needed to know what so he could put the hurt on it.
“-Skye's friend Jasper said they were going to see where that homeless man set himself on fire, but Jasper went home instead. That's the last time anyone saw my boy. That's, um, Jasper Sulivan – one 'el'. I'm afraid he killed himself three years ago,” Mrs. Blake added, twisting her hands in her lap. “He was never the same after we lost Skye.”
“This place they were going-” Sam prompted. Dean had a feeling he knew exactly where she was going to say.
“I think it was one of the old buildings they tore down when they built the new park.”
“Why can't it ever be a simple salt and burn?” Dean wasn't whining as he put the cell phone in the middle of the motel room table and put it on speaker. Dean Winchester didn't whine. He was asking a perfectly reasonable question. Ghost hunting was supposed to be simple, the easiest crap to do. Hell, the vampires had been easier than this was shaping up to be. A good fifth of the kills they'd pinned on the fang faces had probably actually been the ghost, if they were reading the thing's hunting range right.
Over the phone, Dean thought he heard Zoe grumble something in the background, followed by Bobby suggesting that if Zoe didn't have anything better to do, she might wanna clean up the mess she'd made of the kitchen.
“Do you have children, Agent Simmons?” Mrs. Blake asked as she followed them to the door, the picture of her son clutched in her fingers. “It's... the hardest thing in the world to lose them, but not know for sure what happened. Can you give me those answers?”
“We'll do our best, ma'am. The son-of-a-bitch who did this is going down.”
“There are other ways to get rid of the ghost,” Cas noted. “Most of them are outside our means, but not all.”
“We're all ears, Cas.” Sam opened up a new word file on his laptop, fingers hovering above the keys. He'd already e-mailed Bobby everything they'd dug up on the accidental fire that had killed Henry Dutch, in a house that had only been half finished when the contractors developing the new community had run out of money. The abandoned construction site had become a favorite hang out for the local kids, and personally Dean was willing to bet that the fire had been about as accidental as a picked lock. More likely, some budding serial killer had caught Henry sleeping in the half finished out and lit him up just to see what would happen. Now Henry was taking it out on any kid that came in range, and some numbskull had built a playground right on top of him.
“What I've got in mind,” Cas went on, “is something like an exorcism. The ghost seems to be tied to the area where he died. Even if it does have some other anchor, you can cut the ties to that and force it to be tied only to that spot – or an object of your choice, but that version takes at least a week in preparation alone.” There was a pause on the other end. “This version takes twenty minutes, maybe less, but it requires that the ghost manifest itself.”
“Which it's not about to do for me and Sam.” Something twisted in Dean's gut. “We need bait.” He caught the look Sam was giving him, suspicious and thoughtful, and the silence on the other end of the phone was heavy. “No,” Dean went on sharply, “not Zoe. She'd just get killed. We'll think of something else. Lay the spell on us, Cas.”
There had been a moment when Castiel had wondered and doubted. Dean Winchester was a man who used whatever weapon came into his hands; Castiel had been such a weapon more than once, even if Dean didn't care to think of it that way.
Using Zoe as bait would have been easy enough, but Dean had refused the option out of hand. Zoe had gone to the kitchen after that, lured into cleaning by boredom and the promise of ten dollars when she was done. She was scraping food off plates and into the trash when Castiel checked in on her.
“I'm not impressed or touched,” Zoe pointed out, dropping an egg encrusted fork into the sink. “It'd take too long to get me there anyway. Not that I'd do it anyway. I like having the flesh attached to my bones.”
Castiel shed his coat, draping it over the back of a chair as he rolled up his sleeves. He'd begun to see the appeal of apparently tedious everyday chores' they kept the body busy, allowing the mind to work with minimal interruption. Working on the washing machine had been a positively enlightening experience.
“I'm not splitting my take with you,” Zoe added conversationally, reaching to turn on the faucet. She paused, sniffing the air as she bent closer to the drain. “Something smells rank.” The pipes rumbled ominously as Zoe turned the faucet on, and something foul bubbled into the sink.
“I don't think it's supposed to do that,” Castiel noted.
Sam and Dean returned to the Singer Salvage Yard to find Sheriff Jody Mills leaning against her cruiser, sharing half a sandwich with Bobby.
Now, as law enforcement went, Dean kinda liked Jody. Once she'd clued in to what the real world was like, she'd become a damn good ally. It was good to have an inside man with the police, even if it was just some sheriff out in the boonies. A call to Sheriff Mills had saved their asses more than once when some cop with a bit more on the ball than most had started to see through their bullshit and a call to Bobby's fake FBI line wasn't gonna cut it.
Also, she made awesome sandwiches, and dropped a few off at Bobby's every now and then.
But going by the look on Bobby's face even as he tore through his half a sandwich, Jody Mills was about to be a major pain in the ass.
The smell hit Dean as he got out of the Impala, stretching his legs after the long drive. As smells went, it didn't even rank in the top thirty worst things Dean had smelled in his life, but it was still more than enough to make him wrinkle his nose and wish he'd brought something to clip his nostrils closed with. “Oh man.”
Bobby grunted sourly as Sam turned on the puppy dog charm for Jody. “What brings you out this way, Sheriff?”
Jody was having none of it today, it seemed. Normally, Dean would have delighted in seeing Sam being unable to charm someone out of the sheer novelty, but the first words out of the sheriff's mouth killed that glee pretty damn quick. “So, who wants to tell me why there's a kid running around here at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday morning?”
“Kid?” Dean asked, wondering if it was too late to come up with a really plausible lie.
“Uh-huh. Keeps trying to hide behind your pretty friend with the gravel-gargle voice whenever she spots me. Been here almost a month now. Face likes she eats lemons in her spare time.” Jody gave a false-bright smile, all teeth and hard eyes, as Cas came around the side of the house with Zoe following like a persistent shadow. “Speak of the devil.”
Someone, Dean noted, had managed to get Cas out of not only his coat, but the dress shirt and slacks as well. If Dean where to guess, he'd say what Cas had been talked in to were Dean's own clothes – not any of his vintage tees, thank God, but something Dean had no problems seeing used during heavy labor... or on Cas for that matter. The shirt clung to Cas's torso, revealing what that too large overcoat normally hid; that while he wasn't as bulky as Dean, he was mostly lean muscle.
It was a good thing Dean didn't mind the use of those clothes, since both Cas and Zoe were covered in dirt and God only knew what else. Even the tool belts they both wore looked the worse for wear.
“Look,” Jody went on, pulling Dean's attention away from Cas and back to her. “I know, remember? But I'm not the only one who's noticed you've got a kid stashed up here. There are people asking questions, and it's not gonna be much longer before word gets to, say, CPS. Bobby's rep is bad enough I'm surprised they haven't been called already. I'll stall things as long as I can, but you either finish what you gotta get done, or you come up with something damn good to keep CPS off your backs.” Inside the cruiser, the the radio squawked, making Jody pull a face. “I'll be by after my shift,” she warned them. “Try to stay out of trouble.”
Bobby glared at Sam and Dean as the sheriff drove off, growling an annoyed “Balls,” as he headed inside with the remains of his sandwich.