Not Quite the Empty
By San Antonio Rose

When Sam came to, everything was black.  Well, not quite everything; there was light coming from somewhere, just enough to see by.  But it looked like he was standing in an unfurnished room where all the walls, ceiling, and floor were black.

“What the hell?” Dean asked.

Sam swallowed hard, torn between being glad he wasn’t alone, sorry that Dean was with him, and nervous about what he was about to have to admit.  “Well, Billie did say our next death would be our last, and she’d send us into the Empty to make sure of it.”

Dean blinked.  “Who?”

“Billie.  The... the new Death.”

“Wait, what?!  When did you even—”

Sam looked away to try to figure out how to explain and frowned when he saw that the room wasn’t as empty as he’d thought.  Either a wall had disappeared or he hadn’t looked that direction long enough.  In any case, about fifty feet away stood a white table under what might be stage lights, with a sort of archway made of giant scythe blades standing ten feet in front of it.  And behind the table, American Idol-style, sat two skeletons and a black-clad... man? entity? with long white hair who was writing on something and apparently talking to the skeletons.  “Hey,” Sam said, holding up a hand to cut Dean off before pointing.

“NEXT!” called the figure at the table.

Sam and Dean looked around, didn’t see anyone else who might be the intended audience of that summons, shrugged at each other, and walked over to stand in front of the table.  From this angle, Sam could see that the writing figure, for all it looked human, had a skeletal face and was dressed like an old-school executioner.

“Name?” asked the writing figure without looking up.

“Sam and Dean Winchester,” Dean answered.

The writing figure looked up with a start.  “Oh, dear,” it said hoarsely with a British accent.  “I’ve been warned about you two.”

Sam and Dean frowned at each other before looking back at it.

“Look, I’m not like your Death.  You can’t kill me ’cos I’m already dead.  And I can’t... I can’t send you back even if I don’t like your story.  It’s against all the rules.  I’ve already quit once; I can’t break the rules again.  Himself won’t let me.”

“I’m... not sure that’s actually a problem,” Sam replied slowly, glancing at Dean, who shrugged.  “I mean, we’re together this time, so it’s not like there’s anyone back on earth who’s going to want to make a deal to bring us back again.”

“Well, maybe Cas,” Dean amended, “but it’s not like he tried the last few times.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t have his grace then, or at least not his full grace.  And you know what he said the last time he came back, about resurrection being a punishment.”

Dean tilted his head in acknowledgement.  “If Crowley tries, though, answer’s no.”

“Definitely.”

The figure at the table—Death?—blinked at them a couple of times before squaring its shoulders.  “Right!  What’s your story?”

“You want the long version, the short version, or the ultra-condensed version?” Dean asked.

“Ooh.  Ultra-condensed, if you don’t mind.  Haven’t got all day, you know.”

“All right.  Well, we’re hunters.  We kill demons, ghosts, things that go bump in the night.”

“And then some,” Sam added.  “Once in a while we even get things no one’s ever heard of.”

“I see,” said Death.  “So was it one of those that killed you?”

Sam and Dean shared an uncomfortable look.  “Not exactly,” Dean replied.  “See, we got rooked into starting the Apocalypse, and then we had to end it.”

“And then you died?”

“Multiple times,” Sam confirmed.  “And then there was a civil war in Heaven, and an angel and a demon tried to break into Purgatory to steal the monster souls there as a power source.  We managed to get most of them put back, but the Leviathans got loose and started trying to take over the world, and we had a hell of a time trying to get rid of them.”

“And then you died.”

“In a manner of speaking,” Dean hedged.  “Then we tried to close the gates of Hell, which almost killed Sam, but there was a different kind of civil war in Heaven, and the angels got cast down and kept fighting on earth.  Plus, a time-traveling demon showed up and decided to become queen of Hell.  So we were having to fight her and the angels, and I took some real desperate measures to give us an edge.”

“And then you died.”

“Temporarily,” Sam admitted.  “The desperate measure was the Mark of Cain, and it took another year for us to figure out how to get it off of him.  Unfortunately, that unleashed a primal monster called the Darkness, and it took forever to figure out how to get rid of her.”

“And then you died.”

Sam and Dean exchanged another look.  “Well... not exactly,” Dean said.

“It was an accident,” Sam said.

“A freak accident.  Million-to-one shot.  We weren’t even moving.”

Death leaned forward in anticipation.  “Yes?”

“We’d been up to Sioux Falls to visit a friend and were on our way home to Kansas.  We were just sittin’ there in a park, eatin’ lunch.”

“Yeees?”

“And then...” Dean sighed heavily.  “Hell, I don’t know.  Maybe Atropos was finally tired of dealin’ with us.”

“It was like both our last remaining nightmares came true,” Sam continued.  “There was a chartered jet flying overhead, taking a group of clowns to a convention.  But somehow one of the engines didn’t just fail... it fell off.  And landed on us.  We lived long enough to hear about the plane from the EMTs, because it barely managed to land at a nearby airport, but I don’t think we made it to the hospital.”

Dean shook his head.  “I don’t even remember them loading us on the ambulance.”

Death looked from one brother to the other.  “You... you mean you were....”  And then it started laughing—wheezing, head-tossing, table-pounding guffaws.  “All those deaths from the supernatural, and the one that sticks is completely mundane!  HAAAHAHAHA!  Priceless!”  It pointed one white-gloved hand toward the archway.  “You’re through to the afterlife!”

The brothers looked at each other in astonishment, squared their shoulders, and strode side by side through the gateway, the sound of Death’s chuckling following them even as the strange stage they’d been on faded away.

Once the Winchesters were gone, Death turned his head slightly.  “You’d best go after them, you know.  I can’t hide you here too much longer in any case—Himself already knows, of course, which is why nobody’s spotted you yet, but with those two about, it’s only a matter of time.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”  Gabriel came out from behind the curtained backdrop behind Death’s table.  “I appreciate your putting me up.”

“Well, your own death wasn’t exactly stupid, but it was certainly entertaining.  The bit with the DVD—classic!  Much better than the usual foiled assassinations I get.”

Gabriel chuckled.  “Thanks, buddy,” he said and shook Death’s hand, then went through the gate to a Heaven far different from that of the universe he’d fled and retrieved the Winchesters from.

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