"This is my favorite kind of bar," Dean says, shining his flashlight among the tables. Drinks have been abandoned, chairs are skewed, some of them on the floor, as though the patrons left in a hurry. "It breaks my heart to see it all shut up like this. It should have life. Music. Girls in skimpy outfits."
"Strip clubs are your favorite kind of bar?" Sam picks his way carefully over the mess left by a dropped tray of drinks.
Dean swings his flashlight up to hit Sam right in the face. "They're not yours? I'm hurt, Sammy."
"Uh, no." Sam steps forward and knocks the flashlight down and out of his eyes. "We got a job to do, Dean."
Dean takes it on board as he makes his way toward the stage, but he can't resist one last tease where his little brother is concerned. "Pretty sure they'd make you one of those fruity drinks with the umbrellas if you asked nice."
To his gratification, Sam lets out a muffled laugh, even if immediately after, he clears his throat. "Is it just me, or do you smell it, too?"
"Roast stripper? Oh yeah. You still sticking to your static on the shiny outfit story, Scully, or are you buying spontaneous human combustion, yet?"
"I gotta see the stage," Sam says, and climbs up.
Dean follows close behind.
A fire extinguisher lies on it's side. There's foam residue all over the stage. Front and center, there is a large scorch mark. Sam and Dean both look up at the ceiling.
"The pole is gone," Dean says, noting the unblackened area in the shape of a bracket, holes in the ceiling where screws held it in place.
"Dean," Sam says, as he drops his eyes back to the floor. "She was burned at the stake."
"So," Dean says, talking with his mouth full. He can't resist the fries sitting in a basket in front of him. "We got two exotic dancers, burned to death on stage within a month of each other. The coroner ruled that the static electricity of her polyester outfit rubbing on the chrome pole sparked the fire. A freak accident. Then it happened again. You ready to rule out static, Sammy?"
"Uh, yeah. Dean, we gotta get a look at the pole."
Dean nods, but keeps his trap shut as the diner waitress fills his coffee cup. "Thanks, sweetheart," he says, shooing her away. "Evidence lockup?"
"They're not treating it as suspicious," Sam says, glancing at his phone screen, where he's got the news article up. "If they're still thinking static, maybe they just tossed it. Figured it was faulty."
Dean groaned. "Dude. I hate dumpster diving."
"It can wait," Sam says. "We'll suit up, hit the morgue."
"If there's a hex bag on her," Dean says, "I don't know what to tell you, Sammy, but I'm not going looking for it."
The body on the slab is almost unrecognizable as a human being. Crispy is the only adjective that's coming to him. There are scraps of clothing melted to her skin, shreds of hot pink fabric and silver sequins embedded in her flesh.
Dean's seen a lot, but this is horrifying. He's sure never going to be able to enjoy a strip show in quite the same way again.
Sam shakes his head. "I dunno, Dean. Traditionally, witches were burned at the stake. I don't know that they'd be doing the burning."
"Maybe they're subverting the narrative." Dean says. "Reclaiming the act to seek revenge on historic deaths."
"Revenge on strippers? I don't see it. There's gotta be a million targets they'd hit before they started burning these girls."
"The Church for example." Dean pulls the sheet up over the dead girl and backs away from the slab. "Are we done?"
There's nothing in the dumpster behind the strip club. Well. No pole, anyway. There's enough horrors in there, though, that Dean's eager to get back to the motel and take a scalding hot shower to scour away the ick.
Steam billows out behind him as he leaves the bathroom. "What've we got, Sammy?"
Sam's at the table, laptop open in front of him. "Fat load of nothing." He slams the computer closed and runs his fingers through his hair. "Maybe they stashed it in a back room or something."
"You hacked into law enforcement?"
Sam nods. "They attended the scene, but went with the original coroners report."
"That's some world class policing right there." Dean groans and sits heavily on the end of one of the beds. He's still got a towel wrapped around his waist and his hair is dripping. "So we got jack shit to go on, meanwhile, someone's burning strippers that might be witches—witch strippers? Witchpers?—at the stake. Awesome."
"The stake," Sam says. He's got a look on his face like something's just hit him. "Dean, get dressed."
Back in the morgue, Sam pulls the sheet away from the dead girls body. He hands a pair of latex gloves to Dean, and pulls a pair on himself.
Dean grimaces as he reaches beneath the girls right butt cheek—he can feel the sequins stuck in her skin—nope, strip shows never gonna be the same again—and lifts while Sam, hands beneath her shoulder, does the same.
Then she's over. Her body is face down on the slab. Down the center of her back is the mark of the pole.
"Jesus," Dean says. "They must have had to peel her off of it."
Sam picked up a magnifying lens from somewhere, and he leans in close. After a long moment, he pulls back, and hands the glass to Dean. "Tell me what you see."
Dean repeats what Sam just did. He slowly tracks the lens down the length of the pole scar embedded in the girls back, and then straightens up, putting the glass down on the slab. "Fuck," he says.
"It's Enochian," Sam says, like Dean didn't just see it with his own two eyes. "Angels."
"Angels," Dean repeats. "We haven't seen an angel since—"
"Since Chuck obliterated Michael."
"Why the fuck are angels burning strippers, Sam? What the hell did these girls do to them?"
Sam shrugs, and gestures for Dean to help him roll the body over again. "I dunno. Angels don't tend to go in for punishing this kind of thing. If they did, we would have heard about it before."
"You don't—" Dean doesn't even want to think it. "Chuck? What if he's back. What if he's rallied the troops. There's gotta be some angels that would still be loyal to him, even without all that power. He could make a hell of a mess, even if all he had was an angel up his sleeve."
Sam shakes his head. "It's been four years, Dean."
"Could'a taken him that long to get his shit together. We lost track of him, Sam. It was, what, six months before he just disappeared off the radar? What, you think he's been grifting this whole time? Off the grid, minding his own business—"
Sam covers the body. "Lets get out of here."
"You need to calm down."
Easier said than done. Dean knows he's doom-spiraling, pacing the width of the motel room as he comes up with scenario after scenario, but they got their lives back. They've been writing their own story for the past four years, saving people, hunting things, with nothing more apocalyptic than the occasional coven trying to raise a demon army.
Demons were easy, especially with the Queen of Hell on their side. And neither of them were getting any younger. Dean was finally starting to see rocking chairs in their future, and then suddenly...
"I know, Dean," Sam says. "But we gotta trust that whatever is going on, Jack's on it. Look, we've seen what a difference he's made the last few years. We haven't seen a single angel—"
"Until now," Dean says. "And if there's angels being dicks, you know Chuck's behind it."
"No, we don't," Sam says. "We'll figure this out, Dean."
"We've got jack, Sam."
Dean whirls around at the sound of the voice behind him. "Speak of the devil and he appears," he gasps. "Holy shit. Jack."
"I'm not the devil, Dean," Jack says. "I still have a soul." He grins. "I'm good."
Sam's on his feet and rushing in. "Jack," he says, as he goes in for a hug but then stops himself. "Okay?"
"Yes, please," Jack says, as he plasters himself to Sam's chest. It only takes seconds before Dean's in there, too, hugging the kid that feels like theirs, even if he's essentially the most powerful being in the universe now.
"Man, are we glad to see you," Dean says as they break apart. "So we think Chuck's up to something—"
"He thinks," Sam corrects.
"Chuck is dead," Jack says.
The room goes very still. Dean doesn't know what to feel. "What happened? Did you—?
"I had nothing to do with it," Jack says. "He got sick. He died."
Silence prevails. The atmosphere is thick. Sam breaks it. "So you know what happened here? Is it an angel burning girls at the stake? Because the pole—"
"It was etched with Enochian, yes." Jack nods. "I destroyed it."
"You didn't catch this after the first girl died?" Dean asks. Maybe he should regret his harsh tone, but he won't take it back.
"I destroyed that one, too," Jack says. "They replaced the pole, and I tried to help the angel responsible. I failed."
"You...failed," Dean repeats. "You let an angel, and you know most of them are dicks, but this one is a murderous psychopath, just walk after burning a girl to death?"
"He was my responsibility," Jack says. "It was my fault. I turned him into an angel, but he tried to apply the beliefs he held on earth when he was human to his new existence, and unfortunately, it didn't fit. There were..." Jack's face scrunches up, as though he's searching for the right word. "Incidents."
"Incidents?" Dean asks. "More shit like this? He's been going around burning innocent people to death all this time? Come on, man. These girls were making a living. How they did it was their own business. You think it's okay that this angel of yours is killing people for his bigoted beliefs?"
"No," Jack insisted. "At first he was just...appearing to people. People that believed what he believed already. Confirming their beliefs. Strengthening them. I tried to help him. It was my fault. I ended his human life and made him into an angel so it was my fault."
"Jack," Sam says, reaching out to the boy. "You didn't have a soul when you did that. You were manipulated. Used."
"Yes. I understand. But it was still my mistake to fix. Now I've fixed it. Permanently." Jack's face tightens. "No more innocent people will die."
For a moment, Dean sees God in Jack. A God that is merciful and benevolent, but can be lethally firm when required. Apparently it had been required. "I'm sorry you had to do that," Dean says. "So I guess this job is done."
"It won't happen again," Jack says. "No angels will intervene on earth from now on. I promise."
"You made an example, huh? Well, it was really good to see you, Jack. We're proud of you, you know that, right?"
Jack beams. "It was good to see you, too, Dean." He throws himself at Dean, and, this time, it's Sam he pulls in to join the hug. "I've missed you both."
It's always nice to be back in the car at the end of a job. Heading home to Kansas and the bunker is fast becoming Dean's favorite part of the job.
"It was nice to see the kid again," Dean says, pulling his eyes from the road to look across at his brother in the passenger seat. "Kinda anticlimactic end to the case, though."
"Jack was right, Dean," Sam says. "It was his mess to clean up. And he's doing it. It's a hell of a lot more than Chuck ever did."
"Yeah. I guess I don't have to worry about Chuck anymore. That's a load off."
The Impala's engine rumbles beneath them as Dean puts his foot down, heading right into the sunset.