Dean smacked Sam’s shoulder and he jerked awake. “Ow. What?”
“We’re here.” Dean was staring straight through the windshield, eyes wide and unblinking, mouth in a half open grin. Sam had seen that look a hundred times. He turned and peered through the window, taking in the stucco crust roof of The Pie Hole.
“I wonder what they serve,” he said.
Dean hit him again. “Shut up.” They got out of the car and made their way inside.
The bell over the door jingled and a tiny, pixie-like waitress spotted them immediately. “Welcome to The Pie Hole!” she said. “Table for two?”
“Yes,” Dean said. “A booth, if you have it.” He would need room for everything he was going to order.
She grabbed two menus and pointed them to a booth. “Right this way. My name is Olive, our specials today are blueberry and lemon meringue, but I recommend the strawberry kiwi, it’s Ned’s best and I love it today,” she said this all in one breath. “See, every morning, I pick a pie and concentrate all my love on it, and at the end of the day, we’ve sold more of that kind of pie than any other! Today it’s strawberry kiwi.”
As she spoke, Dean’s eyes went wider and wider. He was in heaven. “Well, I will take two slices of the strawberry kiwi.” He handed back his unopened menu and smiled at Sam. “How about you, Sammy? What are you getting?”
Of course both pieces were for Dean. Sam shook his head and smiled at the waitress. “Can I get a cup of coffee to start? I need a few more minutes.”
“Sure, sure.” She bustled away on very high heels and returned with two cups and a pot of coffee. She served them both and went to put in Dean’s order.
The restaurant wasn’t overly crowded but Sam leaned in all the same. “You know we’re here on an actual case, right? It’s not a side trip so you can gorge yourself on pie.”
Dean scowled over the rim of his coffee. “Will you give me a few minutes to enjoy this? I’ve wanted to come here ever since we saw that ad back in Oklahoma. Besides,” he took a sip of coffee and moaned. Even the coffee here was good! This must be heaven. “Besides,” he said again once he recovered, “Bobby said this was a thin case. Milo said he saw two guys reanimate a body behind this place while he was heaving up the night’s liquid lunch behind the bar next door. Not exactly the most reliable witness.”
Sam rolled his eyes and pretended to leaf through the menu. It all looked really good. “Sure. You just don’t want to have to kill someone who works at Pie Mecca.”
Olive reappeared and set two slices in front of Dean. “Enjoy your pie,” she said, then turned to Sam. “Did you decide yet? Or do you need a few more minutes?”
Sam looked down at the menu and picked something at random. “I’ll try one of the cup pies. Blueberry, please.”
“Oh those are good,” Olive said. “There’s honey baked into the crust, made by our own resident beekeeper.”
Dean arched his neck to see the menu as Sam handed it back. “That sounds amazing.” He went to order one, but Olive was already gone.
“Tell you what,” Sam said. “You can have another one once you’ve finished what you already have.”
Dean scowled at him and shoveled in more pie. After Olive delivered Sam’s pie and refilled their coffees, they started talking about the case again.
“What were the descriptions Milo gave Bobby?” Dean asked.
Sam flipped open his notebook and read the nearly illegible notes he’d scribbled while the car was going. He asked Dean to pull off to the side when he was trying to write, but it never happened. He would probably die of shock the day it did.
“Two men,” Sam said, “one black guy, big, with—now these are Milo’s words—a snazzy suit and a white boat of a ride. Second one, white guy, tall and skinny, wearing an apron.”
Dean made a “what” gesture with his fork. “Milo got all this with his head in a gutter, knee-deep in upchuck?”
Sam shrugged. “Some of the best hunters are drunks. Look at Bobby, look at yo...” Dean glared at him, “... not you.” He turned his attention to his notes. “Milo said he heard three voices talking about some murder. Then, he heard a snapping noise—like when you get a shock off something, but louder—and saw these two guys carrying a corpse into the white car. They took off before he could do anything else.”
“Mmm,” Dean grunted. Or, he could possibly be enjoying his pie more than he was listening.
“The guy with the apron could work here,” Sam suggested. Dean grunted again. “Which means, we’ll probably have to stick around for a while.”
Dean smiled and nodded. He’d finished his two slices and waved Olive down. “Could I get one of those cup pies next? Apple.”
“Coming right up.”
The next few hours wore on. Sam set up his laptop to do some research on the restaurant and it’s owner (and this town, strange kind of place that it was) while Dean continued to eat pie. The table was covered in empty plates. Olive took them away as fast as she could, but after Dean ordered three more slices and two more cup pies, and the lunch rush kicked in, she was having trouble keeping up.
When it looked like Dean was finally slowing down, the bell over the door jingled after a half hour of silence. A large man walked in and slid into a booth farther along the wall. He nodded at Olive and she smiled back, automatically bringing him a cup of coffee and a slice of three plum, a la mode. So he was a regular. He removed his mahogany brown jacket and set it on the seat next to him, then pushed up the sleeves of his dusky rose colored silk shirt and adjusted his pink and brown paisley tie.
Sam and Dean exchanged a nod. “That is one snazzy suit,” Dean said.
“We found guy number one,” Sam said, taking a quick sip of his coffee to muffle his voice.
The kitchen door opened and a tall, skinny man in an apron walked out and slid into the booth across from Snazz Suit guy.
“Guy number two,” Sam said.
Dean’s eyes went to the door he’d come from. The kitchen. He looked down at his pie and sighed.
Sensing his brother’s sadness, Sam shrugged. “He might not be the Piemaker. He could be the dishwasher, or the inhouse beekeeper.”
Dean finished the last bite of his pie and pushed the plate away. “There’s one way to find out.” He sighed, as if preparing himself for the worst, and held up a hand for the waitress.
Olive walked over and Dean turned on the charm. “Anything else I can get you?” she asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Dean said. “Is it possible I could speak to the Piemaker? I just want to tell him how amazing his pies are, and how outstanding his establishment is.” He shrugged and twinkled his eyes. “I’m sort of a pie enthusiast.”
Olive chuckled. “Five slices and three cup pies kinda made me think so. I’ll go get Ned.”
Dean followed her with his eyes. His heart sank when she stopped at the booth with Snazzy Suit and spoke to the tall, skinny guy. After what looked like a little verbal prodding, the tall guy got up from the booth and walked over to Sam and Dean’s table, lopsided, half-forced smile on his face.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Ned. I’m... the Piemaker.”
For a second, Dean ignored the fact that this man was possibly a monster in need of hunting and let himself gush. “Ned,” he said, “your pies are...” he didn’t have words. “They’re the best I’ve ever tasted. They’re better than that, but I don’t know what else to say.” Ned’s smile ticked up a few notches and Dean could tell he wasn’t forcing it anymore. “The strawberry kiwi pie alone...” he trailed off, unable to compare it to anything he’d ever had before. There was nothing so delicious in this world.
“Thank you,” Ned said. “My mother taught me to bake pies. The strawberry kiwi was her signature.” He didn’t know why he was talking about his family to complete strangers, but no one had ever asked to give their compliments to him. No one had ever enjoyed his pies as much as this customer seemed to.
“That’s so great,” Dean said. “When you see her next, please pass on my compliments. She is a pie genius. And I don’t say that lightly.”
Ned shifted a little, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. “She’s no longer with me,” he said. “She died when I was a kid.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” He tapped Sam’s arm. “Me and my brother are in the same boat. Our mom died when we were really little. I’m sure your dad appreciates you carrying on your mother’s talents.”
The smile was completely gone now. “Kind of an absentee father, actually.” Ned took a step back. “I’m glad you enjoyed the pie. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna get back to the kitchen.”
Dean nodded. “Oh yes, I’m sorry for keeping you from your work. Thank you so much.”
The Piemaker returned to the kitchen. Sam and Dean stayed put just long enough to watch Snazzy Suit guy get up and follow him. Oh yes, there was definitely something going on here.
Shaking his head at the injustice of it all, Dean paid the bill and even grabbed another pie to go. Probably to drown his sorrows later, Sam thought. They got into the car and Dean sat there for a moment, pie on his lap, his fingers gripping the sides of the box.
After a few minutes, Sam took a chance. “Dean?” he said. “What’s going on?”
“Milo’s information is really spotty, right?” Dean said. “I mean, it could’ve been a completely human murder and body dump. We don’t deal with human murders.”
“We can’t leave this. We have to check it out.”
“I know,” he sighed. “Can we at least call Bobby when we get to the motel? Verify Milo’s story a little more? He’s bound to be sobered up by now. Maybe a few more details fell into place.”
“Sure,” Sam said. “We can do that.”
Dean nodded to himself and turned the car on. The whole way to their hotel, he kept the pie on his lap, one hand caressing the top of the box. Sam didn’t say a word about it. They got into their room and Dean laid down on his bed, still holding the pie to his chest. He didn’t move for a full five minutes and Sam started to worry. He wouldn’t put it past Dean to fall in love with the Piemaker over how good his pies were. Then again, they’d killed loved ones before.
Sam shook his head and started up his computer. Back at The Pie Hole, he’d searched the owner’s name and worked backwards until he got to the website of a private investigator—Emerson Cod. From the picture on his website, it looked like they found Snazzy Suit guy. Sam also found two brothers, Maurice and Raulston, they were magicians, so maybe this was a family of witches or something. Two brothers used magic for money, one brother used it for murder. It wasn’t the strangest family they’d ever met, not by a long shot. Although, this private investigator had a very high success rate, especially when it came to unsolved murders with rewards attached. Could that be the connection?
Finally, Dean got up and put the pie in the motel’s mini fridge. He sat back down on the bed and nodded. “Okay, let’s call Bobby.”
Sam snapped out of his research tunnel vision and nodded. He pulled out his phone and dialed the number. When Bobby picked up, he put it on speaker. “Hey Bobby,” he said.
“Hey boys,” the gruff voice greeted. “What’s goin’ on?”
“We wanted to get Milo’s story again,” Sam said.
“Yeah,” Dean said, grabbing the phone from his brother. “We checked out the place and everything looks normal. We’re thinking Milo might’ve seen a completely normal body dump.”
“Think again,” Bobby said. They heard the shuffling of papers. “Milo sobered up and called me back with the story. He definitely heard two voices and the sound of a body bein’ dragged. Then there was a pop noise, three voices talking about a murder, another pop, and back to two people and a corpse.”
Dean hung his head, rubbing his hand through his hair. “And what do you think we’re looking at?”
“I don’t know,” Bobby said. “Bringin’ folks back to life just to kill them again isn’t any sort of magic or hoodoo I’ve seen before. I hit the books and only one thing keeps coming up over and over again. We might be dealing with a necromancer.”
“A necromancer?” Dean repeated. “Like: power over the dead type stuff?”
“If there’s no magic involved—no herbs, no set up—just raw, inborn power, then yeah,” he said. “Necromancer’s all I got.”
“Okay. Thanks Bobby.” Dean hung up without so much as a goodbye and threw the phone onto the bed. “A necromancer,” he said. “What do we do about one of those?”
Sam shrugged, pulling up the tabs he’d been working with earlier. “Check this out,” he said. “The Snazzy guy is Emerson Cod, he’s a PI around here. From all these articles, he looks more successful than the local PD. Specifically, when it comes to solving murders.”
Dean scratched his chin. “So, you think this PI and the necromancer have a deal? Necro Ned reanimates murder victims, asks who killed them, then re-deads them? They split the reward?”
“It’s possible,” Sam said. “And if that is the case, then the necromancer is using his... powers, magic, whatever, for good.”
“We’ve heard people say that before,” Dean mumbled into his hands. “They all go darkside eventually. Today, the Piemaker might be solving murders, but what about tomorrow? It’s a slippery slope from good intentions to an army of undead soldiers shambling down main street.” He fell back onto the bed and rubbed his hands over his eyes. “We have to kill him, don’t we?”
“You will do no such thing.” Sam and Dean both shot to their feet, guns raised as they turned to the skeletal figure sitting in the armchair across the room.
Death’s thin hands rested on the top of his cane, one long finger tapping to a tune only he could hear. He pulled himself to his feet and nodded his head towards both of them in turn. “Sam. Dean. Be good and put those away.”
“Hello... Death,” Dean said. He looked at Sam and they exchanged a shrug as they tucked their guns away. “What are you doing here?”
“I am here,” Death said, “keeping two idiot hunters away from my son.”
“Your son?” Sam said.
Dean just gawked for a second before pulling himself together. “Death can have children?”
Old, intense eyes focused on Dean. “Be a proper host and share some of that pie,” he said, not answering the question. “You can get another one before you leave town, provided you follow my instructions and don’t murder my son.”
Death reclaimed his chair and watched Dean with careful eyes. He nodded and went to the fridge to get the pie. As he cut slices for everyone, Death continued, “Every few millennia or so, I pose as human for a little while. My Reapers can handle the day-to-day influx of souls going to the other side, and I can manage them from anywhere. I take a decade or two off, settle down, you know.”
He rubbed the silver grip at the top of his cane, fingers looking so frail, but Sam and Dean knew how strong Death really was. His other hand started cutting at the pie with his fork.“This was the first time such a union resulted in a child. I figured my influence couldn’t be the best and tried to limit my contact.”
Dean snapped his fingers. “Absentee father.” One icy glare from Death struck him mute. “Sorry, go on.”
“It was interesting to find out the boy had powers,” Death said. “But they’re very limited. He can give one minute of life to any dead thing before the balance restores itself and takes a life of equal value.”
It took Sam and Dean a moment to think through the Death-speak. “So... he has killed before,” Sam said. “You said the balance restores itself, right? Meaning he’s kept someone alive for more than a minute and someone else died for it.”
Death shrugged and it was strange to see such a casual movement from such an... imposing being. “A few. Accidents, most of them. Only one true kill where he acted with impunity. It was to save the woman he loves, if that matters any to you.”
Neither Dean nor Sam said anything. You didn’t exactly back sass Death. “Wait,” Sam said, suddenly remembering his research. “This guy has twin brothers. I found them when I was researching his family. You did this twice?”
Death smiled one of his little half smiles. “Very good. He doesn’t even know about them yet. I had to repeat the experiment. I’ve never been able to sire children before, I had to know if it would happen again. If it did, would his powers reappear in his siblings?”
“Did they?” Dean asked. Were there more out there like the Piemaker? More accidental kills?
“No,” Death said. Sam and Dean released a breath they didn’t know they were holding. “Then again, they haven’t had any contact with death the way Ned has. Their mothers are distant cousins, so it may have something to do with the family line.” His voice softened. “No, I believe Ned’s circumstance is unique, probably due to a combination of things that were wholly unique about his mother.”
Sam and Dean exchanged a look. “So Death can love,” Dean said.
“Yes,” Death said. He stood up, leaving his pie unfinished. Strange for him, Dean thought, what with his passion for junk food. “I can love very well, and I love my sons. So pay attention when I say—” he drew himself up, somehow getting taller than his thin frame seemed capable of. “If you, or any other hunter so much as touch one hair on their heads, I will Reap you on the spot and give your souls to Crowley to torment for the rest of eternity. And since you derailed the Apocalypse, eternity is what you will get.” He leveled his cold gaze on each of them. “Do we understand each other?”
“What happens if he goes off the rails?” Sam asked. “If he becomes a problem, who gets to intervene?”
“I do,” Death said. “Ned is my son, should he disturb the balance too greatly, I shall take charge. Should Maurice or Raulston come into their powers and begin to abuse them, I will deal with that as well.”
Dean arched an eyebrow. “Ned, Maurice and Raulston? Who thought of these names?”
Death’s chilling gaze focused on him. “Their mothers. Do we have an understanding? Keep in mind: should you refuse and continue to hunt my son, I can have Crowley here to rip your spines out at a moment’s notice.”
“You’re not usually the threat type,” Dean said. “You’re also not the type to deal with Crowley.”
“True,” Death said. “Yet, you Winchesters of all people should understand what it means to do anything when family is concerned.”
Sam and Dean took their eyes off Death for a moment to silently converse. Sam wanted to give him a chance, and so did Dean. Sure, they’d killed other “good” monsters in the past, but then, they didn’t have Death threatening to pull their spines out. They nodded to each other and turned back to Death.
“Okay,” Dean said. “We’ll put other hunters off. But you have to keep watch. So much as one extra body—”
“The threat is novel,” Death said. “Few have tried threatening me. Most haven’t lived through it. Believe me, I am as omniscient as God himself, there is nothing my sons get up to that I don’t know about.”
“Okay,” Sam said. “We’ll stay out of it.”
Death inclined his head. “Thank you.”
With a blink he was gone, leaving Sam and Dean standing stupidly in their motel room. Dean sighed. “Well, I guess that’s it.” He walked over to the armchair and retrieved Death’s mostly uneaten pie.
Dean picked up the fork and Sam rolled his eyes. “Dude,” he said.
“What?” Dean mumbled around a mouthful of pie. “This stuff is like ambrosia, I’m not wasting it.”
“Do you think Death will keep his word?” Sam asked, shutting down his computer.
“I don’t know, but I’m not in a hurry to try and cross him.”
Sam shook his head. “You’re just happy you don’t have to kill the maker of the ambrosia pies.”
Dean didn’t even try to deny it. When he finished Death’s pie, he picked up his own neglected slice and ate it too. He started eyeing the fridge and Sam had to put his foot down. “No,” he said. “I’m the one who has to drive with you tomorrow. No more pie for another two days. At least.”
Dean frowned but nodded. He put the plates in the sink and stretched out on the bed to get some sleep. “Before we leave town,” he said. “We’re stopping back there for another pie.”