A/Ns: OMG, it begins! IT FINALLY BEGINS! I have been waiting for this chapter for MONTHS. Years, really. I think most of you have too. What is 'it', you might be asking? Well, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise. Read on, dear readers. Read on XD

Chapter Reference – FBI Data Analyst David Attingwood: David is an FBI agent who's been helping Henriksen out on the Winchester case. The last we heard about him, Henriksen had him comparing phone records for the area around Sturgen Hospital, hoping to find a common link between phone numbers that might identify the Winchester's numbers or identify someone helping them. For a refresher, see the end of chapter 82

Beta-Reader - I have exctiting news and a thank you to give! Vaesse is now helping me out as a Beta reader editing chapters prior to posting. She is muuuch better at catching all those mispellings and grammar bits than I am, so hopefully you will see a lot less errors :) She and I are also going to tackle all of the publisheed chapters as well. At some point I'll do a full update including an adjustment to the chapter numbers. But I'll definitely post an A/N when that happens to warn everyone of the shift. Until then, enjoy the beta'd chapters! So thank you Vaesse and also yay!

Chapter Warnings: Oh boy, what to say. Hmmm, Sam's packing like a girl, Angela's giving Cas all the good advice, Dean's the butt of all of Cas's newfound good advice, Victor's doing things he doesn't want to do, and the boys are off to their new case!

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The Road So Far (This Time Around)

Season 2: Chapter 81

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Two days passed without further word from Ellen. For once, no news was good news coming outta the Roadhouse. If Ronald hadn't made it, she'd have called. If he'd paired up with another hunter and headed out (likely to his death), she'd have called. And if he was such a mess she refused to help and turned him on his tail, she'd have definitely called to yell at them some more.

So yeah, no news was good news for now.

The Winchesters had decided to take the rare break to lay low at Bobby's. Between hunts, apocalypse chores, and being chased by the feds, they just didn't get that much downtime these days, so the boys would take what they could get. Dean slept for that whole first day. Sam didn't seem as at ease with their stolen break, but he did catch up on some sleep, at least at night.

The nerd of the family spent his time mostly conversing with Andy, improving his ASL with the kid as his teacher. Bobby would join on occasion if his hands were free, leaving Dean to feel like they were definitely talking about him (even if he knew they weren't). He spent the first two conversations grumbling and pouting about it, and finally sat down during the third to start taking some instruction from the other three.

Cas spent much of her time adding additional warding to Bobby's property, much to Bobby's begrudging respect. And constant pestering-slash-supervision so she didn't mess anything up, or so he insisted to the angel. Everyone else knew well enough the grump was a cover so he could learn as much as he could about advanced Enochian warding without seeming particularly interested in the subject or anything Cas had to teach him.

If the angel realized his legitimate interest, she never said a word.

By the seventh or eighth conversation with Andy where Dean was busy feeling like the dumb kid in class (all over again), Sam came up with the idea of having Cas create an Enochian dictionary of sorts. The angel perked up at the potential to be useful (Dean was going to have to keep an eye on that) and together with Bobby, the three started outlining what would be helpful for a hunter to know. Cas began translating at once. Which left Andy alone to keep talking-slash-teaching Dean ASL.

So, naturally, Dean walked away half an hour later with a repertoire of dirty words under his belt and not much else.

They couldn't hang around forever, of course. Bobby was likely a known associate of theirs in those ever-thickening FBI folders, and someone would be by asking questions sooner or later. Either way, they had to be long gone by the time that rolled around.

Dean was leaning against the hood of the Impala, well-rested for the first time in what felt like years (and well fed, despite all of Bobby's grumbling about getting eaten out of house and home and yada, yada, yada). He hollered towards the house for Sam to get moving, adding – helpfully – that his kid brother packed like a friggin' girl.

Cas was standing in front of him, immobile as a stone statue (as always), the hem of her coat flapping almost lazily in the light breeze. Her gaze, which had been locked on Dean since she came outside (when wasn't it locked on him, Dean complained internally), turned intense. It was the type of intensity that usually suggested the angel was contemplating something dangerous.

"How do girls and boys pack differently?"

Dean resisted the sigh and instead settled for a glare. "I'm not falling for that trap."

Cas's brow furled. Dean looked away, refusing to so much as acknowledge the fact it was cute.

"Trap?"

The hunter rolled his eyes, uncrossing his arms to shift his weight against his Baby. "Dragon Lady knows exactly what trap I'm talking about. Tell her nice try."

The angel, who looked thoroughly confused, narrowed her eyes. "Angela can hear fine. She does not need me as a messenger of your statements. You should know this by now."

Dean threw his hands up, not bothering to spare either woman the dramatics. "I can't win with either of you."

Cas tilted her head, hair shifting across her shoulder. Dean ignored it with a fiery passion. "I do not understand why…"

The hunter looked back at her, already trying to wrangle up the patience it would take to explain gender roles to a genderless angel, when Cas finished her statement.

"…But she is laughing again."

His glare could have melted sand to glass.

Castiel did not understand how a human eyeball could ever– but Angela insisted it absolutely could. It was a human thing, she reassured her. Castiel did not feel particularly reassured in her understanding of humans at all.

"So you're on board, right?"

The question, which did not make sense to her, brought the angel back to the conversation Dean had apparently steered in another direction while she was learning about human eyeball powers.

"I still do not understand that reference."

This time Dean did sigh. "You're coming with us."

Castiel did not immediately answer, weighing the best way in which to formulate her response so as not to anger the very easily angered human in front of her. Apparently, she took too long, and that angered him as well.

"Cas."

The way he said her name spoke volumes. Volumes she was still deciphering. Humans were…difficult.

'Men,' Angela corrected within their shared mental space. 'Men are difficult.'

Somehow, Cas did not believe that clarification to be entirely accurate, but kept her opinion to herself.

"I believe my time is better spent preparing for the Apocalypse to come."

Dean frowned, and Cas prepared for yelling. When he spoke though, his voice was only mildly irritated. "I thought you said the best way for us to do anything was to stick to the timeline. So…hunt."

He gestured to the car, like it was a symbol for that very activity. Castiel supposed it was, in many ways, at least for this hunter.

"Yes, for you and Sam that is the wisest course of action. Now that I have irreparably departed from my own timeline–" Dean looked away guiltily, but Cas's tone did nothing to hint at her own feelings on the matter– "there is nothing to follow. Therefore, I should go where I will be most useful. We will need supplies: safe houses that are properly warded, weapons, an ample storage of salt–"

"Medical supplies wouldn't be a bad idea either. And money," Sam added as he jogged down Bobby's front steps, duffle bag tossed over his shoulder. He chucked it into the Impala's trunk, closing her up before turning to Cas. "Not sure how you'll manage it, but…"

"I will find a way," Castiel promised with a solemn nod. Sam was correct; the humans would need money. The Apocalypse would not afford time for jobs or easy income, and any time she could save them by procuring money beforehand was more time they could dedicate to the cause. Locating and collecting money could not be that difficult. Not for an angel, she was sure.

She turned back to Dean, sensing his hesitation even if it was not the outright fight she had expected. "I can accompany you on hunts if you would prefer–"

"Nah, I get it," the man from the future interrupted, shaking his head. He might not like it – in fact he was pretty damn unhappy about it – but he also knew Cas had a point. Besides, there were plenty of times before he lost his wings when the Cas of his time was off in search of weapons, or God, or any other way to stop the Apocalypse. That probably was as close to sticking to her timeline as she could get now. So Dean would deal. For now. "Having all that stuff ready for when shit hits the fan… it's smart."

Next to him, Sam nudged the older Winchester with his elbow. "How much did that hurt to admit?"

Dean shoved him hard and, laughing, his kid brother climbed into the car. The older of the two pointed a finger Cas's way, daring her to defy the seriousness of such a gesture. Blue eyes locked on that finger. Dean resisted wiggling it just to see if Cas's eyes would follow.

"Keep your phone on and charged. You remember how to use it, yeah?"

"Your lessons were sufficient," she answered, then paused for a long moment, eyes drifting to the side along with her head. A telltale sign she was talking with Dragon Lady. "Angela says 'yes' would have been a more 'sufficient' answer."

Dean rolled his eyes for the second time that morning, ignored the air quotes the angel still insisted upon no matter how many times he begged her to stop, and went to climb in the car when the angel spoke again.

"She also says that hugs are a customary form of farewell."

The hunter froze, one foot already in the car, grip on her roof hard enough to leave Dents. Sam was biting his lip, staring up at him from the passenger seat with eyebrows nearly hitting the damn room and clearly trying so, so hard not to laugh. Dean's grip got tighter and Baby's metal friggin' squeaked.

When he still didn't move, Sam gave him a metaphysical nudge with a gesture of his head. "Aren't you going to hug her goodbye?"

Dean was back to glaring sand-melting daggers again, but his kid brother had long since become immune to those. So the hunter pulled away from the car, slamming the door shut in a way Baby absolutely didn't deserve but someone in this situation was going to feel his pain, damnit.

He stomped over to the completely un-expectant angel standing there with the same, unchanged expression. "You really want to hug it out, here, Cas?"

She tilted her head, not understanding the point of the question, as she had already implied the answer in her initial request. "Yes."

"You, Cas," Dean emphasized, gesturing to her with his chin. Castiel resisted the urge to look to either side, as if there was someone else to answer for her. She really didn't understand humans. "Not Dragon Lady. Speak for yourself, man."

The angel narrowed her eyes slightly at the haughty command, insulted at the insinuation. So she repeated herself, firmer. "Yes."

Well, Dean figured, he walked right into that one. Never challenge the nerd angels, man. So he went for a quick hug – not without an aggravated noise of resignation – and tried to pull away almost immediately after making contact. Only there was a set of immovable arms pressed around him.

"Uh, Cas? We hugged. You can let go now, buddy."

"Angela says that goodbye hugs are often long."

"Angela's a god damn liar," Dean muttered under his breath. Then louder, because he could hear Sam snigging in the car, damnit, he added snarkily, "You gonna jump off a bridge if Angela tells you to?"

Internally, Angela translated Dean's meaning for the angel, as she was uncertain what jumping off a bridge had to do with hugs.

Castiel pulled away, releasing her embarrassed charge. She couldn't fully admit to understanding his embarrassment, but it was a pleasant feeling to be the one to have caused it. Especially since she so often seemed to cause far less satisfying emotions in the human.

"I do not do everything Angela says. For example, I do not compliment your 'fine ass' nearly as often as she suggests I do."

Both Dean and Sam choked simultaneously, one on his own spit, the other on his laughter, and both for very different reasons.

Thank god she hadn't given up the air quotes. Dean might not have survived Cas calling his ass fine without the benefit of visual – if not fully understood or vocalized – sarcasm.

"I also do not think she would instruct me to do anything that would harm myself, or her."

"Goodbye Cas," Dean said loudly, deciding this conversation was most definitely over, and so the hell was their goodbye. He headed back for the driver side door with something between a groan, a mortified whimper, and a sigh. If anyone asked, he walked back to Baby in perfect, manly, stoic silence, thank you very much.

"Goodbye, Dean. Sam."

Ignoring Sam as he waved at the angel, still chuckling, Dean climbed into the car and rolled the window down so he could get the last word.

"See you around, Cas."

And what a word it was. Jesus Christ he was going to have to work on his game. There was no way in hell Dean was losing to a friggin' Dragon Lady.

-o-o-o-

Victor took a moment to collect himself before entering the room. The file in his hand felt far too light for how thick it was. His tie seemed obnoxiously tight today, despite it being the same tie he wore yesterday, in the same knot he wore every day. He closed his eyes, tilting his head back to deal with this damn stupidity he'd all but volunteered himself for by making the call. But the job was more important than his ego.

He would just have to keep telling himself that.

The agent opened his eyes, determination steeled, and opened the door to the near-empty cafeteria space the prison had set up for this. He gave an acknowledging nod to the guard standing just inside, not that he thought the man was needed, and crossed to the one occupied table.

Gordon Walker stared up at him, expectant and smug, and Victor reminded himself again that his ego could take a backseat if it meant catching the damn Winchesters.

"Agent."

"Walker."

Victor settled at the table, placing the folder he'd brought with him onto the table, just to the right of himself. He took a moment to straighten it, bottom edge perfectly parallel to the table's. Gordon's eyes flickered to it, just as the agent wanted them to.

"You have something for me?" the prisoner asked, dark eyes betraying nothing. They remained locked on Henriksen now, even as he took his hand off the folder and leaned back in the chair, a picture of nonchalance.

"I might. Depends if you have something for me in return."

Gordon eyed him for a good long while, and Victor let him. After several minutes had passed in judging, weighed silence, the felon suddenly smiled. It was anything but friendly.

"You ain't got nothing for me, Agent." Gordon leaned back in his chair as well, mimicking Victor's posture but nailing the nonchalance a hell of a lot better. It helped that he wasn't forcing it. "Nothing that I want, anyway."

"What makes you say that?" Henriksen folded his hands over his chest, never taking his eyes off the dangerous man sitting across from him.

"Because I want out, and you're not ready to do that, yet."

"I'm never going to be ready to do that, Walker. You're a convicted felon, and as far as I'm concerned, you're a murderer, too."

The man's sharp smile was anything but innocent. "I'm in here on a weapons charge, Agent."

"We both know you're capable of a lot more than possessing illegal firearms. So why don't we stop dicking around, here."

Henriksen had to work not to hold his breath as Gordon sized him up, maintaining even, un-concerned breaths.

"Alright," the other man said after a moment, shrugging a single shoulder. The handcuffs wrapped securely around his wrists clinked with the movement. "What is it you want from me?"

Victor waited for a second, sizing Gordon up in return. He couldn't tell what the man's game was, yet, but he doubted Walker was ready to play ball so easily. Still. He'd come here for answers, and he wasn't going to get them just sitting there chatting up the criminal.

So he reached over to the folder, flipped it open and grabbed the top piece of paper. He slid it over to the convicted felon, who sat up to get a look at it.

Victors gut tightened as Gordon's eyes lit up with recognition. A smirk took over his lips, but his eyes were so dark when he looked back up that, any doubts Victor might have had about this man's crimes, which were few and far between, were gone. Those were the eyes of a murderer.

"You know her, I take it?"

Gordon chuckled, the sound deep and foreboding. He pushed the photo back to Henriksen, the still from Milwaukee International's security footage glaring up at him tauntingly.

Dean Winchester was on the floor of the bank's lobby, bleeding from what could only be a fatal wound given the amount of liquid puddled on the tiles beneath him. His brother was at his side trying to stem the blood flow while a third man, identified as Ronald Reznik, crouched nearby, hiding from the searchlights. But it was the fourth person in the photo that Henriksen cared about right now, though.

It was the same woman from Baltimore, who'd apparently broken Dean out of an interrogation room in the middle of a damn police station, filled with officers who'd neither seen her come or them go.

Just like Milwaukee International. What Henriksen wasn't saying, though, was that the entire footage had revealed her appearing out of nowhere, and the group disappearing just as unexplainably. The footage had obviously been tampered with, but Victor wanted to know how because none of his tech guys could explain it. They swore it hadn't been edited, at least not by any technology or technique they knew. And they were the FBI. They knew it all.

"Let me guess," Gordon drawled, leaning back into his chair again with an irritatingly smug look. It was like he held all the cards, which infuriated Henriksen. He wasn't the one locked up and never getting out of there. He had the cards. "They disappeared. Vanished into thin air, and you don't know how they did it."

Henriksen stared at the man. Alright, so he held one card: he knew about the disappearing act. Knew what this woman was capable of, whatever that capability was. He must know how she did it, as well.

That, or he truly was insane, and the Winchesters had convinced him of their delusions.

"You gonna tell me how they managed that in front of an entire police department?"

"And the FBI," the criminal added, like he was genuinely reminding Henriksen that the Winchester's had pulled one over him too. He clenched his jaw, teeth grinding, but didn't say anything. "No. I'm not gonna tell you."

Victor repeated his mantra, and tightly controlled his reaction to hide the frustration. He wouldn't give this asshole the satisfaction of knowing he was annoying the agent. "And why is that?"

"You're not ready to hear it."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Victor snapped, reigning it in only seconds too late. He couldn't afford to let this man get under his skin. It didn't matter if it was what Gordon excelled at. Henriksen couldn't afford to get riled. He had a short temper as was, but he wasn't going to waste his one shot at the Winchester's just because Gordon Walker was a piece of work.

"It means you won't believe me even if I do tell you, so why bother wasting my breath." Gordon shrugged again, still leaning back like a king on his throne rather than a man sentenced to twenty years in this shit hole. Victor was getting tired of the superiority act.

"Oh, right, because you think this is all some sort of... supernatural thing. That it? Because you're a, what do you all call yourselves? Hunters?" Henriksen tapped the photo of the mystery woman, the missing puzzle piece, the pain in his ass. "What's that make her, hm? Some teleporting ghost?"

"Oh, she's no ghost. She's something a lot more dangerous."

"Right." Henriksen stood, grabbing the photo and tossing it back onto the open file, which he closed and scooped up. "Good luck with the next twenty years of your life, Walker."

"Wait." The command stopped the FBI agent as he turned away from the table. And that's absolutely what it was: a command. Not a plea, not begging, or anything else spoken out of desperation for Henriksen to deal. Gordon still thought he was completely in control of this exchange, this relationship of prisoner and law officer. And it rankled Victor to no end, because it felt like he was missing something. Something he could see, couldn't place yet. Something that was the key to all of this. To catching the Winchesters.

He looked over his shoulder, brow raised in question. That question being, why should I?

"You don't want to hear what I have to say. Not yet." Gordon spoke with every confidence, and that feeling in Victor's gut - the acknowledgement of that missing puzzle piece - twisted a little bit more. "But you will."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." It was something in the way Walker spoke. Either he was a damn good liar - maybe the best Victor had ever seen - or he was crazy. A true psychopath with some serious delusions on top. "Until then, we'll take baby steps."

Henriksen turned fully around at that, his deadpan glare saying what his words didn't. He didn't have time or patience for this crap. "Baby steps."

"Baby steps," Gordon repeated, drawing his cuffed hands away from the table and toward the pocket of his orange jumpsuit. He pulled a folded piece of paper out and offered it to Henriksen, slotted between two fingers.

Victor reached over the table, not bothering to sit again. He was still of the option that this entire thing – coming down here, talking with a lunatic, shit, even thinking he could have panned out as a lead – was a massive waste of his time. He plucked the paper from Gordon's hands and the man settled back in his chair as the FBI agent unfolded it.

There was nothing but a phone number written inside. Done with the games, Henriksen held it up, ink facing his convict. "What is this?"

"Bobby Singer's number." The way he said it was suggestion enough as to what Victor held in his hand. "His personal, traceable number."

Singer was a suspected associate of the Winchester's, but they'd never had anything on him. He had some system set up that kept his phones from being tapped, he was a damn suspicious bastard who never left his house, and when he did the FBI had neither warrant nor reason to attain one so they couldn't get in to see what the hell he'd done to his landlines.

If what Gordon said was true and they could tap this phone, or at least trace the person on the other end, then they could wait until the Winchester's came calling. And, finally, Henriksen would have a solid lead again.

If the information was real.

"And what are you expecting in exchange for this?"

"Nothing." At the agent's don't-bullshit-me look, Gordon raised his hands. "Honest. Call it a show of good faith. My Intel is solid, and it will help you catch the Winchesters."

Henrisken narrowed his eyes at the man, but tucked the paper into his breast pocket and turned to leave.

"If you get me out of here, that is."

The agent froze once more. There is was. He scoffed, but didn't rise to the bait. Let Gordon think that deal stood a chance. As long as it kept getting Victor these crumbs, he'd continue using that avenue.

Henriksen pushed through the door, telling the guard he was finished with the prisoner. As the door closed behind him, shutting out Gordon's smug, confident, and stupidly patient expression, Victor dug his phone out of his pocket.

"David, it's Henrisken. I've got a number for you to compare those cell tower records to."

The responding, "Oh thank god" wasn't particularly surprising. Neither was Henriksen ignoring it.

-o-o-o-

They were headed south, just passing through Omaha when Dean finally snapped.

"Spit it out or choke on it Sam. One or the other."

His brother, who'd been eyeing him from the passenger side on and off for the last three hours shot him an innocent look so fake that Dean considered punching it right off his face.

"You're really going to make me say it?

Dean tightened his grip on Baby's wheel until the leather creaked and kept strict, no-eye contact focus on the road. "Say what?"

His kid brother just shot him another look, and now Dean just wanted to punch anything. Sam included. When the younger Winchester held out, not saying a word, Dean finally shot him a warning glare.

"Seriously, Sam?"

"What?" Sam was back to sounding mostly innocent, except for the knowing look on his face. The one that said Dean was in so much trouble and Sam wasn't the perpetrator. "I mean… Dean, you shared your food with her. What else am I supposed to think?"

Dean very physically and not at all dramatically – threw out his hands in clear vexation. The car started to drift into the oncoming lane, and he quickly re-gripped the wheel and corrected before more than one car gave them a cursory honk. He glared at his brother, screw focusing on the road. "That's what you're on about? Seriously!"

But Sam, who knew he had the winning offensive in his argument, hands down, didn't budge. "Dude. You don't share food with anyone, Dean. Not even me, and I'm your brother."

The older Winchester pulled his head back, clearly affronted. He switched between glancing out the windshield and sending dubious looks Sam's way. "You don't think that's just a little bit of an exaggeration? We share food all the-"

"Last week," Sam interrupted, apparently prepared for this rebuttal. "That diner in Kentucky. You got the strawberry rhubarb pie – because you thought rhubarb was a type of chocolate-" Sam shook his head, eyes heavenward. Dean opened his mouth to argue, but the kid kept right on going, "-and told me I had to try some. So you ordered a second slice."

Dean gave him an honest-to-god-he-didn't-believe-in incredulous look. "What, I thought you'd want a whole slice!"

"Which you then ate," Sam continued without missing a beat, "when I didn't."

"Not my fault you don't like deliciousness."

"Because, as I told you before you ordered it, I don't like strawberry rhubarb pie."

Dean didn't have a comeback for that one, so instead he sat, brooding in the front seat, trying to think of a time when he had willingly shared food with his brother. Hell, even unwillingly.

He kept coming up blank.

"Dean."

It wasn't his fault he liked food, unlike his weird-ass, nerd brother. Maybe if he just ignored Sam, this whole conversation would go away.

"Dean."

"It's not a big deal, Sam!" Or maybe not. "It was Cas."

His brother just snorted, giving him a single raised brow before finally breaking the one-sided staring contest he was holding. "Yeah, Dean. That's kind of my whole point."

At first Dean just rolled his eyes, but then his mind went right on going, straight through a myriad of various emotions. They flew by too fast to really focus on just one – let alone start picking them apart, not that he wanted to do that – so he settled on anger. Anger was easy. Anger was familiar. "We're done talking about this. It isn't a thing, so drop it."

"Alright," came Sam's answer, way too easily. He leaned back against the seat, arm propped up on the door, the picture of moving on. Dean knew it couldn't possibly be that easy. "We don't have to talk about it. But if you ever want to-"

And there it was.

"Can it, Sammy. I'm serious."

"Come on, Dean," Sam sighed, but it was a resigned sound. The kind that came from a conversation he'd had a million times. Which made no sense, because they'd never had this conversation before. Dean was sure of it, cuz he would have shut it down immediately. "Haven't you ever wanted it?"

The man from the future frowned, not following. "Wanted what?"

"To be loved, man."

The silence that stretched between them could have been poked with a stick and it probably would have poked right back. Dean didn't even know how to start responding to that, so he didn't try.

"I'm serious. My whole life, Dean, I've never seen you let someone in. Not like that. Isn't it something that you want?"

Dean stubbornly stayed quiet, refusing to speak. He wasn't having this conversation with his brother.

Sam huffed out a breath, maybe annoyed at having a conversation with himself only but not letting it stop him. "Well, if it is… you shouldn't let something like that go. Shouldn't waste it."

There was something in his brother's voice, in the way it dropped in volume, like he was talking as much to himself as he was to Dean. He was clearly thinking about Jess, about what he'd lost. Maybe time he thought he'd wasted.

Some of Dean's anger eased as he glanced towards the kid. Maybe he was being too hard on his brother for diving headfirst into chick territory. Sam wasn't trying to poke the bear, he was just… looking out for him, he supposed, in his own way. Trying to keep him from passing up on something that Sam, at one time, might have sold his soul to keep.

"It's not like that," Dean said after a moment. He wrung his hands around Baby's wheel, fidgeting to distract himself from the fact that he was, more or less, resigned to having a touchy feely conversation for his brother's sake. And he hated touchy feely conversations, damnit. "It's not like, you know… you and Jess."

Or him and Lisa.

What he had with Cas was… well, it wasn't like what he'd had with… well, anyone.

Dean could only claim to have loved so many people in his life, and that number was nothing to write home about. There was Shawna Moore, the first person he'd ever… well, thought maybe he could be with for longer than a one night stand or a high school fling to pass the time in yet another town. It had been 1996, Arkansas, Fillmore high, the last trimester of junior year and he and Sammy had been in the town for almost all three months of it, for once. He'd met Shawna beneath the bleachers on the sports field, having snuck out there for a smoke. Apparently she'd had the same idea.

She'd been gorgeous, smart, a total badass. For a teenage girl and a civilian at least. Real rebel with a cause type and all that. Couldn't wait to get out of that town – that school, that life – and go do something big. Something real. Something that mattered.

She'd been one of the first kids his own age to just… get it. That there was more to life than textbooks, tests, and school dances. Or what college your rich daddy's gonna get you into. At seventeen, Dean was a friggin' hero. A hunter who saved people. Who did something that mattered, liked Shawna talked about. Nothing any school teacher was gonna teach him would make him better than that. To hell with school, he didn't need it. And Shawna got that. She got all of it.

John had even let them stay the summer after the school year ended, getting a job as a mechanic to make some money while fielding hunts in the area from Bobby, just a state over. He and Shawna had spent those months smoking, drinking, sneaking into movie theatres, and talking about futures that didn't involve homework.

But the monsters eventually showed up elsewhere and Dad had called it. Didn't matter that Dean had a gig at the local movie theatre and the beginnings of some savings, or that Sam had what he would call friends (bunch of nerds and losers, is what Dean thought). They always moved on. Always went to the next hunt. Dean would pack up, have the inevitable argument with Sam before herding him into the Impala, by force if necessary, and they would leave.

No more Shawna Moore.

She'd asked him to stay in touch and he'd told her okay, but never bothered. Even his seventeen-year-old self had known hunting was no place for a relationship.

Then he'd met Cassie. And thought… he'd thought just maybe he could make it work. He could tell her the truth. Dad was off god-knows where, and Dean wasn't a child anymore. He could make his own decisions. Could make his own life. He'd go on hunting trips when they came calling and come back to a… well, maybe not a home, but a town he could call home when he wasn't on the road. With a girlfriend whose bed he could crash in and whose fridge he could raid. Who he could poke and pester all night while she stayed up studying and he watched infomercials on the couch, trying to talk her into buying half the things. Whose hand he occasionally held in public, no matter how much it made him sweat or look around like someone might start calling him out as a charlatan.

She'd even brought him home for dinner with her parents over Easter, and fuck had that been terrifying. And awkward. Dean didn't do parents. But she'd argued it was a holiday, and he couldn't spend it alone. And somehow, he'd let her talk him into it. He'd even enjoyed himself. At least a little.

On weekdays he'd wake to the smell of coffee that she'd bring him in bed before heading out to class. He figured out her washer and dryer and even folded their laundry, like some sort of… civilian. It freaked him out almost as much as he secretly enjoyed it. They grabbed burgers and shakes at the local diner on 'date night' and she'd bitch about her mom giving her another round of 'when am I getting grandchildren' speech. And Dean would laugh and ignore the weird twinge in his gut when he thought about a future just like that. Filled with diner date nights, family dinners, and friggin house chores.

He never managed to picture himself any more domestic than that. He'd done the dishes after they ordered takeout a night or two. Helped her fix the plumbing when it backed up once. She took him apartment hunting when she needed to move closer to campus and her part time journalism job. But he didn't let it go any further than that. Didn't let himself think about anything more. Not getting an apartment together or calling it home. Not hanging up his hunting shoes and picking up honest work. Not those kids Cassie's mom wanted so much, sure he'd make a crap dad even then. He didn't let himself dream. Not much, anyway.

And, honest, he hadn't wanted any more than that what he had with Cassie. Didn't need that home, the family or the white picket fence. He was good as is. But he didn't want what they had to end, either.

So he'd told her. The first person he'd ever told. The first person he'd ever allowed himself to love. Really love. Love enough to risk that truth.

And she'd broken his heart in return. Maybe not in the weeping romance way, but in the little ray of hope he'd been nurturing deep down inside, hidden away where John Winchester could never find it. A hope he kept so buried he forgot it existed himself most days. But that's what she'd broken. She'd shattered his hope.

Dean had known all along. Hunting and love had no place together. He'd just deluded himself into thinking maybe he'd been wrong. That maybe, if it was the right person, he could make it work. That he could have it all. That he could have someone and be a hunter. Because Dean didn't know how to live without hunting.

So he made the easy choice. And left.

Lisa had known the truth before he'd shown up on her doorstep, desperate and alone and broken. He didn't have to hide who he was, what he'd done, and how messed up he'd become because of it. But he didn't have to hunt anymore either. It had been… almost perfect. She had been perfect. And he had loved her. It hadn't been the romantic love he'd always thought it was supposed to be, the kind of love years of TV and movies had painted for him.

But it had been love, in a way. His way, maybe. It had been curling up on the couch and watching old movies after Ben went to bed. It had been taking the kid to the county fair, even when he said he was too 'old' for it, and picking him up from soccer practice when Lisa was working late at the studio. It was taking turns making meals, doing dishes – Lisa had a rule that whoever cooked didn't clean, and Dean wasn't dumb enough to question the lady. It was holding her close every night, breathing in the scent of her hair and knowing, for once, that he wasn't alone. That he was accepted as he was. Even if he didn't deserve it. Even when he told her he didn't deserve it and she kept right on doing it anyway.

But then his past had come calling. Hunting was in his blood, and he'd been a fool to think it would leave him alone. That he could leave it alone.

It was why he'd asked Cas to do what he'd done. To take away their memories. Even in danger, even with her son in danger, Lisa hadn't been able to let him go like she should have. Like he told her to. Told her that he was no good for her, for them. But she wouldn't listen. Insisted that even if they didn't stay together, if he didn't live with them, that she'd still be there for him.

Just like Jess had promised Sam.

And so he'd made the choice for her. Because he wasn't worth that and never would be. And he needed her safe, like Sam needed Jess safe.

What he had with Cas… shit. It wasn't like any of that. It wasn't romance, or housework, date nights or time spent together. I mean, sure, there'd been moments once the angel had gone fully human, and all the bumps along the power road after.

Cas sitting at the kitchen table while Dean cooked breakfast in the bunker. Dean, nursing a beer and keeping the ex-angel company while he did dishes after dinner. Dean never minded Cas's presence, be it in the bunker with them, in the car on the way to a hunt or a night in a hotel on the road. He'd never thought about it in terms of enjoying the angels company, per say, but Cas was his friend. So, yeah, of course he enjoyed hanging out with him.

But what they had… it wasn't love. Cas didn't stay because he loved Dean. Not like that, at least. Cas stayed because he was a soldier, a hunter, and it was suicide to fight alone. He stayed because they were friends. A team. Those things didn't have anything to do with the kind of love Sam was talking about. The only kind of love Dean had gotten close to having for himself.

"It's not like that with me and Cas," Dean repeated, clearing his throat briefly and, in doing so, clearing his mind of the memories.

Sam tried to catch his brother's gaze, but Dean's eyes were glued to the road. The younger Winchester eventually turned back to the front, watching the road pass by the windshield. "You know… it's not like Jess and I became a thing overnight."

Dean didn't have anything to say to that, because he and Cas weren't like that. And they weren't gonna be like that. No matter how his horny-as-hell, twenty-something body thought of Cas's temporary body. Dean would get over that in time – he was certain – and it wasn't gonna change anything.

Sam didn't push any further. His thoughts were years away, back in Stanford, falling in love with a woman he had never seen coming. Love never ended up being like you thought it would be as a kid. It wasn't a fairytale feeling that came for free, that made the hard work not hard. It was…a connection. One you wanted badly enough to work for. To do the hard work that relationships required. Love didn't make the hard work any less hard, it just made it worth it.

But Sam wasn't sure how to even broach that conversation with his brother. Wasn't sure how to put it into words that Dean would even listen to, let alone put into the context of his and Castiel's relationship.

The miles passed, the tape deck hit the end of the track and spat the tape back out. Dean reached into the box between them without a word and popped a new one in. He cranked the volume – his way of saying this conversation was over – and Sam let it be. He'd said his piece. Whether his older brother chose to hear… well, you could lead a horse to water, and all that.

"Where we going, anyway?" he asked once another ten miles had passed, Omaha well behind them.

"Some college town in Ohio. Bobby said there's been some strange sightings around town." Dean didn't sound all that interested – or invested – but then again, it was only a maybe-case that didn't involve strippers, bars, or girls-gone-wild-style college girls.

"No deaths?" Sam's brow was furled. They didn't usually go off on a hunt unless there was a little more to go on. Maybe Bobby had just been finding them something to keep busy. It wasn't like they could stay at his place indefinitely. Not with the FBI on their tail.

"Not yet."

"Right." Sam shrugged, slouching in the seat and closing his eyes. "Wake me when it's my turn to drive."

Dean sent his brother an unimpressed look. Not that Sam saw it. "It's never your turn to drive, bitch."

The responding, "Jerk," soon enough turned into rhythmic breathing and soft snores. Dean popped a new tape into the tape deck and drove on.

-o-o-o

"Well that was a total bust," Dean muttered as they came out of the last place to have a 'weird sighting'. "A unicorn, Sammy. A friggin' unicorn." The older Winchester stalked around Baby with a growl. He stopped at the driver's side, keys in hand, and leaned his arm against the roof. "There's no such things as unicorns!"

Sam looked inches away from rolling his eyes, but stuck to just an eyebrow raise. He opened the passenger door. "Yeah, Dean. I'm aware."

Dean growled again, opening his own door and climbing in. "What is everyone in this town on?"

Unicorns showing up at the local coffee shop for a scone (according to the rainbow-haired barista closing up that night). Which it apparently got, stabbing the pastrywith its horn before trotting off.

Then there was the giant squid in the library. A local librarian – who was old enough to have crawled out of a crypt herself and wore eye glasses closer to damn goggles with how thick they were – swore up and down that one night, just before closing, she heard a book fall from one of the shelves. When she went to check and found a book lying open, alone, in the middle of an aisle, with water bubbling up out of it and tentacles.

Sam had elbowed his brother for snorting in the middle of the librarian's story.

Turned out, once the old broad had gone screaming out of the building and returned with some disbelieving cops, there was nothing but an old copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, abandoned in the middle of an empty aisle.

By the time they got to the seven year old boy who swore he'd seen the actual Easter Bunny – six feet tall, big feet, bigger ears, biggest basket of big, big eggs (kid had all the best adjectives) – hopping through his backyard, after eating the family bunny (irony), did Dean call it quits. He was fed up with the whole lot of 'em and whatever this screwy case was.

"It's February, Sam. Easter is in, like, May."

As his brother started driving away from the their latest witness's house – long past the kid's bedtime – Sam gave his brother a casual look that was really far more amused than Dean currently was.

"April, usually."

Dean spared him one hell of a glare. "Doesn't matter, because you know what it currently isn't?"

"April?"

"Damn straight." The older Winchester turned his annoyed, irritated, fed up glare back to the road and turned them towards the motel. He shook his head. "I'm telling you. People in this town are on drugs."

"Really?" Sam cast him a look, the amusement growing. "Even the Librarian?"

"Especially the librarian!"

Despite the oddity of the case that even Sam could admit was baffling, the younger Winchester laughed. "Dean… she's like, eighty."

His brother didn't even blink, casting him a knowing look. "It's the old ones that are the craziest."

Sam shook his head, still chuckling when the car suddenly lurched to a stop. The younger hunter glanced to Dean, confused, but found his brother's gaze locked over his right shoulder. Frowning, Sam followed his gaze out the passenger window.

There was nothing there, just some buildings and what might be a park, pleasantly lit up with landscaping lights.

"Uh…" Sam looked back at his brother, but Dean's eyes were locked on one of those buildings. "Dean?"

The engine rumbled pleasantly as Dean stepped on the Cas, turning the wheel towards those buildings. Sam glanced between them and his brother once more. He knew something was up, he just didn't know what. "Dean? Is this, a, uh, timey sense thing?"

"Yeah, think so."

They pulled into a parking lot sparsely scattered with cars. Dean put the Impala into park, climbing out. He was still looking around the place was so hauntingly familiar, he just couldn't figure out why.

Sam followed, no less confused but along for the Timey Senses ride. When Dean's déjà vu perked up like this, it was best just to follow along until he figured it out. They walked from the parking lot to a path through what was more of a courtyard than the park Sam had originally thought it was. Dean was on a mission through the courtyard to one of the taller buildings. It was aesthetically quite pleasing, a towering structure of white stone capped in fancy green roofing. A set of steps led up to it, and Sam realized why the whole place – the steps, the buildings, the courtyard – seemed familiar.

This was a college campus.

They were halfway up those steps, Sam following after Dean who had his mind set on something, when the older Winchester suddenly stopped dead. Sam would have crashed into him if he'd been any closer.

"Oh shit."

Sam peered around his brother to see green eyes wide and a stunned look on his face. "Dean?"

"Nope." Dean suddenly spun around, Sam almost losing his balance on the step just behind him. Dean was already trucking it down the steps and Sam hurried to follow as his brother muttered, "Nope, nope, nope."

Sam opened his mouth – because, really, what the hell? – but before he could get anything out something large, dark, and flailing fell from the sky and landed on the steps in front of them with a horrifying crunch and a bodily thud.

That was because, upon closer inspection, it was a body.

Sam almost fell over trying to back up mid-stair. "Oh my God!"

Dean, too stunned to move from his stiff, drawn back position, tilted his head back. Far above them on the upper floors of that tower was a broken window. He dropped his gaze back down to the very dead professor on the steps in front of them.

Sam startled as Dean struck at the air repeatedly with clenched fists, all but stomping his feet in what could only be called a silent temper tantrum.

"Son of a bitch!"

-o-o-o-

By the time the cops were done with their questioning – what were you doing on campus at eleven o'clock at night, what are your names, what are you doing in Ohio, blah blah blah – it was well past midnight and Dean was all but dragging Sam back to the car.

"Dean, someone just died." Sam was making half-hearted attempts to turn them around. Half-hearted not because he didn't believe in his cause – that they shouldn't be running away from whatever case they'd just stumbled onto – but because he knew there was no reasoning with Dean when he got like this. "You don't think that's something we should, I don't know, maybe look into?"

"Nope."

"Dude, what the hell?" Sam muttered as his brother all but dragged him back off campus towards the Impala. The younger Winchester glanced over his shoulder at the retreating school buildings, one of which was now lit with the blue and red lights of police.

There was a zipped up body bag on the ground and an un-needed ambulance parked in the courtyard.

"Not this one, Sammy," Dean muttered, keeping his voice low as he looked around like someone might be watching them. Sam frowned, looking around as well. They had just witnessed a death – probably a murder – after all. Maybe the perpetrator was still in the area. But the campus was largely deserted given the hour, and anyone who had been out was drawn by the cops and commotion. They weren't paying attention to the two brother's making their way off campus.

The younger Winchester pulled his arm free of his brother, dragging them both to a stop. Dean looked irritated, but Sam didn't let that deter him. "You said no more running."

"No," the man from the future countered immediately, finger already out and pointing. "I said we'd pick our battles. Well, I'm not picking this one."

"There are people dying here, Dean!" Sam tried for the honor-and-duty angle that usually was enough to win his brother over, or at least make him pause. Not this time, apparently.

"One guy. Just one guy, and he's a douchebag who had it comin'," the older Winchester harped back almost immediately. The unicorn, the tentacles. It was all making sense now. "That's what the trickster does, alright? And trust me, we don't want to get involved."

"A trickster?" Sam's voice rose in surprise. They'd never run into a trickster before. They were old and powerful, usually pagan gods or demi-gods. Through no fault of his own, the younger Winchester was intrigued. Dean could tell, given his deadpan return glare. Sam cleared his throat, trying to look a little less curious. He failed. "What, uh, what happened last time?"

His brother grabbed his arm again, once more hauling ass for the Impala. "Let's just say Taco Tuesday was permanently ruined for you, for like…ever. And I never got to listen to Asia again. So, yeah, we're leaving."

Sam was still trying to argue his case (in and among attempts to get more out of Dean than that jumble which had made absolutely no sense) when the Winchester boys rounded the corner of the building closest to the school parking lot and went out of sight. From a darkened alcove of that building, a short-statured man dressed in a janitor's uniform stepped into the light of the courtyard lamps, eyes narrowed and lollipop clacking against his teeth.

Gabriel pulled the sweet from his mouth with a pop, eyes still locked on where the Winchesters had disappeared. He'd been all prepped to be the one to 'discover' Professor Pervert's body and casually mention all the young ladies he'd taken up to his office to the responding police. Really stir the water cooler talk on campus.

At least until the Winchesters came trotting around the corner like men on a mission. Well, one man on a mission and one following along confused and worried and all frowny-faced.

Professor Pervert's fall had timed perfectly with the hunter's arrival. Gabe was kind of surprised about that, actually. Usually hunters showed up after someone died, not before. And they also didn't normally solve the Supernatural Who-Dun-It before doing any actual, well… hunting. They were totally throwing off his timing, and Gabriel prided himself on his comedic timing. It was kind of his whole thing.

So. That was kinda weird.

Gabriel popped the lollipop back into his mouth with an obscene smack. It was a good thing a trickster such as him liked weird. The archangel-turned-Loki tucked his hands in his pockets and followed after the pair of hunters.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

A/Ns: So, in short, Dean doesn't have a clue what love is, and western media entertainment's portrayal of romantic love is dumb, and shallow, and 2-Dimensional, and Gabe's on scene! *drops mike and exits stage left*

Cas: Don't worry, Cas will be making appearances far more often now that she's out of Heaven. I'm not trying to get rid of her again (the poor under-utilized logical part of my brain – a part that clearly doesn't get enough use in RL and so HAS to jump in, loudly, while I'm writing FICTION – nicely informed me that gathering weapons is more important than riding around in the Impala with the boys and a strategic angel like Cas would realize it. Thanks, Brain. Watching my back as always -_-)

Unicorns, Tentacles, Easter Bunnies, oh My! Okay, so why didn't all those things happen/appear in the original episode if they happened in this timeline? What changed to make them happen? Er….nothing. My reasoning to get the boys to that campus without alerting Dean as to the familiar case immediately couldn't be the professor, since he hadn't died yet, so I thought…you know what? I bet Gabe messes with people wherever he goes. The boys (in a different place last time and not at Bobby's) wouldn't have heard about Unicorns and Tentacles because crazy stories like that with single witnesses don't make the news. But a professor falling to his death does. That's my reasoning and I'm sticking to it :P Also because I legitimately enjoy the idea of Gabe just roaming from town to town leaving a trail of low-key chaos in his wake before stumbling on a truly deserving douchebag.

Happy Easter, Ramadan, and Passover to all who celebrate or observe!

Cheers,

Silence

UPDATE 7/30/2022 - Great news, everyone!

I am back in the swing of things. My depression/identity crisis (real fun combo, yaaaaay) is lately behind me and I'm clawing my way back to normalcy. Which means I am writing again! I have a chapter for you all, but I'm actually at my favorite, internet-less lake for the weekend. So I won't be able to post it on Sunday. I will get you all a chapter - a doooozy or a chapter :D - next weekend! Much love to you all until then, thanks so much for your patience, your encouragement, and your support, always 3