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DemonRed & AngelBlue: Gotta Catch 'Em All!

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1983

“Dean! Take care of Sammy! Go!”

The words echoed in four-year-old Dean’s head hours later. The fire trucks had come and gone, the ambulance had taken Mommy away under a sheet (a nice fireman had tried to keep Dean from seeing, but Dean knew), and Daddy had shuffled them off to a hotel. Dean had talked the nice fireman into helping him get things for Sammy; some diapers, his bottles, a blanket, some toys… The fireman had gathered two big bags, one for Sammy and one for Dean, he said. Then he’d pulled off his badge and pinned it onto Dean’s pajamas.

“You rescued your brother all by yourself, that makes you an honorary fireman,” he’d said, and Dean had puffed up his chest all proud.

But now, in the hotel, Dean looked at the badge and wondered what a fireman would do. Daddy had driven through McDonald’s for food for Dean and himself, but then he’d picked up some of the special sodas Mommy said were Daddy’s Grown-Up Drinks, and now he was sleeping. Sammy had been crying for a while, but Dean couldn’t get Daddy to wake up, no matter how hard he tried.

A fireman would make sure Sammy was fed. Sammy had yucky baby food, and milk that Dean had put in the hotel’s refrigerator like the fireman had told him to. The milk was heavy, and Dean was pretty sure he couldn’t pour it, but the fireman had put two full bottles in the bag too, and Dean knew how to open the yucky baby food. Sammy wasn’t much smaller than Dean, but Dean figured out how to sit Sammy in front of him, leaning back against Dean’s tummy, and was able to feed him that way. Sammy got them both super messy, but Dean didn’t mind.

Daddy wasn’t awake by the time Sammy was done, so Dean took Sammy into the bathroom. He was able to figure out the hotel bath without too much trouble, but couldn’t figure out how to get Sammy gently into the tub, so he climbed up onto the toilet and pulled down the towels and washcloths. He got a washcloth wet and wiped Sammy down, then himself. Then he went and found a new diaper and, after a couple of tries, managed to get Sammy out of his dirty diaper and into a clean one. He wasn’t sure how to get them both into the bed Daddy wasn’t in, so he pulled the blankets off instead and made a little bed on the floor just for him and Sammy.

“Don’t worry, Sammy. Daddy is just sad, but I’ll take care of you. I’ll always take care of you.”

*****
Present

“So guys, get this. There are reports of weird disappearances near the Black Hills, off of US Highway 26. Apparently four people have gone missing in the last two weeks? It’s been written off as people just getting lost, but it seems like it might be our kind of thing,” Sam said, walking into the kitchen carrying his laptop.

Dean looked up from the stove and turned off the heat, plating the sandwich he’d been cooking in the pan. Cas, at the table, was chewing on a large mouthful of what appeared to be a bacon grilled cheese sandwich. “Oh yeah? How far away?”

“Ten hours or so. The cops figure people are just getting lost, but the most recent was a seasoned hiker,” Sam said.

“It’s possible that it really is just people getting lost. Mountains are dangerous any time of year, even for someone who knows what they’re doing,” Cas said, thinking hard over his sandwich.

“Sure, but it’s worth checking out. We go, we do some research, and if it’s nothing, no harm done,” Dean said. “We’ll head out in the morning. Sound good?”

Sam and Cas nodded. “I’ll see what else I can dig up on this. Should we take Jack with us?”

“Couldn’t hurt. He could use the practice, if he wants to be a real hunter,” Dean said with a shrug. “He’s not half-bad with the research side of things, either.”

“I’ll let him know, then. We’ll be ready by the morning,” Cas said. He stood, setting his empty plate in the sink. Dean watched Cas go, giving him a grin and a salute when the angel turned to nod a goodbye at the brothers. Sam either didn’t notice, or didn’t care to comment.

*****

They stopped in Moneta, Wyoming, which was about the closest they could get to the general location. It was still a few miles away, but it was the town that had reported the most disappearances. By the time they got there, two more people were missing, and one person had been found dead. Dean was beginning to wonder if bringing Jack along to something they didn’t know anything about had actually been such a good idea.

“Okay, so here’s the deal. Cas and I are going to go to the coroner’s, see what the body looks like,” Dean said. “Sam, you take Jack to the local… what is it, a junior high school?”

“It appears that they hold both middle and high school in the same building. Likely because there are so few students,” Jack said, cocking his head to think it over.

“Right, well. He’s still young enough, maybe discuss enrolling him in school or something,” Dean said, waving his hand dismissively. Sam nodded, going through the packs to find suitable clothing for a father/son disguise. He’d already planned for this the night before, so he had packed accordingly. Charlie had created some enrollment documents for Jack, faxing some of them from a ‘previous school’ and emailing others to Sam to hand over, so Sam didn’t have to worry about that. Jack walked over to him, asking something quietly to Sam that sounded like excitement for school.

Cas turned to Dean. “Will we be FBI agents, then?”

“Don’t think so. From the reports, it’s sounding more like they think there’s an animal loose. Figure we can go in as forest rangers. We’re close enough to Black Hills to pull it off,” Dean said. Then he quirked a grin at Cas. “Plus it means you don’t have to worry about getting your badge wrong way ‘round. We’ll wear them on our chest.”

Frowning hard, Cas didn’t answer, but Dean laughed at his expression anyway. It didn’t take them long to put together their outfits. Leaving the motel separately, Cas and Dean headed towards the police station, while Jack and Sam went to the school. They promised they’d meet back for dinner.

*****

The school was, as expected, very small. It was actually another town over, far enough away that they likely wouldn’t have bothered if so many of the missing people weren't children. Sam had dressed in a simple pair of camouflage-colored cargo pants and a polo, going for a ‘dressed-up country dad’ sort of look. Jack wore jeans and a tshirt, something just nice enough to suggest Dad had had a hand in his dressing that morning, but not nice enough to suggest Jack was some kind of strange teenage angel-human hybrid who preferred overly formal clothing like his adoptive father.

Sam was playing as Jack’s uncle, who was chaperoning the boy while his father worked. Sam had explained to Jack that their “cover story” was that Jack and his father would be moving somewhere in this area soon, and Sam had brought Jack to check out the schools before the move, to help him feel better about it. They’d called ahead the night before, while they were getting ready to leave, and the vice principal had been very enthusiastic about the prospect. She’d arranged a time just as school was letting out, so that Jack could meet some of the kids.

Jack walked through the front door as Sam opened it, and they headed into the office. The secretary had them sit in the office while he called the vice principal, and within five minutes she came out smiling.

“Hi! My name is Sarah Holden, and I’m the vice principal here! It’s so nice to meet you, Mr. Cobain!” she said, holding her hand out to Sam.

“Please, just Sam is fine, Mrs. Holden. And this is my nephew, Jack,” Sam said, gesturing to the boy.

“Hi!” Mrs. Holden said. “It’s so nice to meet you. I hear you’re going to be moving into the area?”

“Yes,” Jack replied. “My father has a job in the area, and we are looking at houses. He felt it would be good for me to ‘scope out’ the school system.”

Although Jack’s speech was awkwardly stilted, Mrs. Holden didn’t seem to notice. Sam thought she was likely used to teenagers acting strange around her, because she just nodded.

“It’s an excellent idea. With your uncle’s permission, we thought we’d bring in one of our students to give you a tour, so you know your way around and have at least one friendly face when you get here permanently,” Mrs. Holden said, glancing at Sam.

“That seems like an excellent idea, don’t you think, Jack?” Sam said with a grin.

Jack nodded. “An excellent idea.”

Mrs. Holden clapped her hands, motioning to the secretary. He nodded and picked up the phone. Sam vaguely heard the announcement go over the intercomm, but Mrs. Holden was already turning to him.

“Now, you said that Jack here was 17? A junior, if I recall?” Mrs. Holden continued at Sam’s nod. “We have a few rules here that we expect juniors to follow. You’ll be allowed off-campus for lunch just like the seniors, but don’t be taking anyone younger than you, except siblings. You can drive to school if you have your license or ride with friends, but we’ll need your car information to park on property. We expect all students to wear clothing that is both comfortable and appropriate, so nothing with offensive language or imagery. This includes racist or sexist language or symbolism. We don’t care what you do at home, but there will be no Confederate flags or… other images at our school.”

Her words were firm, and Jack nodded mutely, his eyes wide.

“We also have a strict policy on bullying. There will be none of it. If you are caught bullying, there will be consequences. Finally, we are an open and affirming school. This means that our students are accepted no matter their race, gender identity, sexuality, or ability. If you cannot accept that, other arrangements will need to be made,” Mrs. Holden finished, looking between Sam and Jack.

Sam smiled, and Mrs. Holden seemed to relax a very slight bit. “That sounds wonderful,” Sam said. “I think Jack will fit in well here.”

Just then, the office door opened. “Hi? You called?”

The child who walked into the room had short-cropped dark hair, what appeared to be a teenage attempt at sideburns, and wore a tshirt and knee-length black skirt. Mrs. Holden smiled at them. “Ah! Jamie! Come here! We talked about you giving our new student a tour this morning?”

Jamie smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I remember. This them?”

Jack came forward and stuck out his hand to Jamie. “Hello. My name is Jack.”

“Nice t’meetcha, Jack. I’m Jamie, Shoshoni junior high and high school official ambassador. You ready to blow this joint?” they asked, shaking Jack’s hand briefly while pointing a thumb at the door.

“Yes, please,” Jack replied, and Jamie laughed.

“Damn, you’re polite,” they laughed.

“Jamie! Language! We don’t want to give the new student a bad impression,” Mrs. Holden scolded.

“Yes, Miz Holden,” Jamie replied, not the least bit apologetic. “Come’n, Jack, let the adults do their thing. It’s gonna be boring here. I’ll show you all the cool things.”

Jack let himself be pulled out of the office after them as Sam laughed and waved him off. Then Sam turned back to the vice principal. She gestured to her office, the one with the gold engraved sign reading Vice Principal, and offered him a seat as she shut the door behind him. Sam folded his long body into the chair and smiled politely as Mrs. Holden sat down behind her desk.

They chatted amicably for several minutes, Mrs. Holden explaining in detail the rules of the school and the curriculum, handing over some sample assignments from the major classes Jack would be expected to take. Math, science, literature, the like. Sam asked the questions that would be expected from a guardian, about discipline, details about policies, things like that. Then he leaned forward.

“Mrs. Holden, I have to ask… My nephew and I have been hearing some rumors… Disappearances and the like. Should we be worried?” Sam asked.

The vice principal looked uncomfortable, and sighed. “It’s been a concern. We’ve lost four students… One just yesterday, with his uncle. It’s been hard. The students don’t know what to think, to be honest. We try to encourage parents to talk to their kids about their fears, but our counselors are always available as well.”

Sam nodded. “Do the police have any clues?” He paused when the woman gave him an odd look. “I mean. It’s a big place around here. Any places Jack should avoid? People? Hell, activities?”

Mrs. Holden sighed. “Well, I know some of the kids wander around near the old Badwater church. It’s been abandoned for years now, but recently there’s been some new appeal to heading that way, though heaven only knows why.”

“Where’s that located? I’d like to make sure I have my brother steer Jack clear of that area, then,” Sam said. She drew him a map and gave him some final warnings, typical things one has to worry about when living in a small town in the mountains, and they settled into some more discussion on Jack and his ‘father,’ things a school might want to know about an incoming student’s personal and academic life. Sam answered with pleasant half-truths and lies, trying to give Jack enough time to do his own digging.

*****

Jack let himself be dragged by Jamie, until they finally stopped down the hall near the entryway. “All right, lay your questions on me,” they said.

“What?” Jack cocked his head, staring at Jamie.

“Come on, lay it on me. Get it over with,” they said, almost glaring at Jack. Jack shook his head, and then shrugged.

“Very well. Do you know anything about the disappearances that have been happening around here?” Jack asked.

Jamie blinked, then chuckled, and finally dissolved into gut-busting laughter. “Oh man, you’re… You’re alright, buddy. Anyway, let’s get this tour shit started.”

They led Jack into the library, introducing him to the librarians and giving him a quick explanation on computer and copier use. Then it was off to the cafeteria, which came with an explanation of getting food, lunch times, and which cafeteria ladies could be sweet-talked for an extra slice of pizza. Jack stopped at the vending machines, looking through the selections.

“They don’t have a lot of good stuff in there, unfortunately. Miz Holden took First Lady Obama’s recommendations to heart, and so most of the junk food got taken out,” Jamie said, coming to lean on the machine Jack was looking at. “There’s a few protein bars that are okay though.”

Jack was disappointed, but nodded. When Jamie gave their suggestions, he picked one and got it from the machine. He used some of the money Dean had given him, instead of just mojo-ing it out. Dean had said that drew less attention. Protein bar in hand, Jack turned back to Jamie.

“All right, buddy. What kind of things you into?” Jamie asked.

“Hunting, like my father,” Jack answered immediately. Then he thought over it some more. “I also like ‘Netflix.’”

Jamie shook their head. “Like we need more hunters around here,” they muttered.

“There are others?” Jack asked, intrigued. He wondered if perhaps others had noticed the disturbances here.

“Are you kidding? Of course there are. Bear, deer, duck, elk… I mean, that’s why you’re here, right?” Jamie raised an eyebrow, and Jack paused, and then nodded.

“Of course. Yes. That is why we are here,” he said. Jamie rolled their eyes, and then grabbed him by the arm again.

“Whatever. I’ll take you to the trophy cases; it’s the easiest way to explain our extracurriculars. Come’n!” Jamie said.

Jack let himself be dragged again, this time down a hall lined with lockers. “So we’ve got a marksman club, if you’re into that. The typical stuff, track, football, baseball, that kind of stuff. Our marching band is small, but it’s pretty kickass if you play an instrument. Or if you don’t. Mr. Recter is always looking for more members. He’d be willing to loan you an instrument and give lessons…”

Jamie continued off in that track for a while, going over the various school-sponsored activities a student could do. Jack nodded along, looking at the trophies, when a picture caught his eye.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to it.

“That? Oh, that’s the mathletes. They nearly went to nationals that year!” Jamie said proudly. “Something like 20, 30 years ago, a’course, but still! Town still talks about it now.”

“Is there… A list of the participant’s names?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, on that trophy next to the picture, see?” Jamie pointed, and Jack stared for a moment, not sure he believed what he was reading.

“Ah… I see,” Jack said quietly, reading that plaque, and then the one on the trophy next to it.

“Yeah, ‘pparently that year was a big one for this place. Got to state in the mathletes, regionals in the National Science Bowl, and regionals in OM. I think the town just about threw a damn parade,” Jamie said. “Not even our football team does that well. It’s good, a’course, but the nerds that year were on fire. Put us on the damn map, at least for a bit.”

“It seems that all three events had… one student in common,” Jack said, only a slight lilt to indicate that it might be a question to his voice.

“Yeah. Some middle school transfer student. He didn’t stick around long, they say, but. Kid named Dean, I think?” Jamie leaned closer so they could read the plaque.

“Dean Winchester,” Jack breathed. “That’s my dad.”

*****
1991

They’d rolled into town right after Christmas break. Dad had decided that they were going to stay for a bit, especially because one of his old war buddies lived in the area. Grant had been more than happy to have some company for a few months, and didn’t mind taking care of Dean and Sam while Dad was ‘working.’ Between the wendigo in the Black Hills, the vengeful spirit haunting the Custer Monument, the strange disappearances plaguing Ten Sleeps, and the Native American hunter John wanted to get information and learn some tricks from in the nearby Wind River Reservation, it was a smart move, letting Dad focus on the work without having to check on the boys.

Dean had been enrolled in the local junior high/high school, while Sammy was put into the elementary school. Grant had been living alone in a two-bedroom apartment since he’d come back from the war. Dean would look back later and realize that Grant had not been alone by choice, but because his boyfriend had died in the war next to him, and Grant had never recovered. Grant spoke of Noah with a reverence that Dean only saw when his dad saw fit to talk about Mary.

Grant had happily arranged the guest room for Dean and Sammy, getting a cheap set of bunk beds and putting the single bed that had been in there into storage. He also picked up a cheap desk for Dean and some age-appropriate toys for Sammy. Dad had spent most of his time gone, only around for a night at most, barely acknowledging his boys. Grant, on the other hand, had sat with Dean and Sammy every night to have dinner and work on their homework. Sammy didn’t really have much homework, but Grant had helped him with his spelling and math. Dean’s homework was a lot harder, but Grant had always smiled and praised Dean when he got it right.

When Dean came home with the flyer for the mathletes his teacher had insisted he ask his father about, Grant had been so excited for him that Dean couldn’t say no. It lit up something deep inside of him to have this man so proud of him. So when, a few weeks later, the science teacher gave him a flyer for the National Science Bowl, Dean had been excited to show it to Grant. The older man had sat him down and talked with Dean like Dean was an adult, asking him if he thought he could do both and still keep up with his homework in his other classes. Dean insisted that he could. With Grant’s permission, Dean began spending one night a week staying after school for the Mathlete Club, and a second to practice with the Science Club.

When Dean had brought home the permission slip for Odyssey of the Mind, Grant had sent Sammy to bed early and had a serious discussion with Dean. It was, surprisingly, the most encouraging talk that Dean had ever had in his short life. Grant talked about how proud he was that Dean was doing so well in his classes, as well as his extracurriculars, but that Dean didn’t need to do any of them if he didn’t want to. He talked with Dean about making sure his grades stayed up, and about how Dean would have to work hard to do all three, but if Dean really wanted to, Grant would let him.

When the mathletes went to their first competition, Sammy was sick. Dean had wanted to stay home to take care of him, but Grant had been adamant. Grant had hired a babysitter, and sat in the crowd, cheering the loudest when Dean had answered the winning problem correctly. He’d taken Dean out for ice cream later, and had, after some prodding, gotten Dean to admit how much he liked having something that was just his own. Grant was more perceptive than he seemed, and it hadn’t taken long for him to catch on that things were not well in the Winchester family. So when the Science Club competed, Grant came alone, leaving Sammy with a school friend, and Dean and Grant had celebrated Dean’s success afterwards.

It wasn’t that Grant focused entirely on Dean. There were plenty of times, after Dean’s first competition, that Grant would take Sammy out alone, leaving Dean behind to work on his homework. Sammy was also in school for a shorter day, so he got time with Grant before Dean got home. Dean used to get jealous, sometimes, when he’d be at the table doing his homework and Grant would be playing with Sammy. Dean’s homework took priority, but watching Sammy ride around on Grant’s wide shoulders. Dad never did that, and Dean had never trusted another adult that close to his brother.

When Dean helped his OM team construct the best tiny balsa structure they could and managed to get it to hold up under 625 lbs before it collapsed, he’d run to Grant first to show him his trophy.

That night, Dad came home and declared they were leaving. Dean had huddled in what he had come to think of as his and Sammy’s room, listening to Grant first plead with, and finally yell at Dad, insisting that the boys were doing better with Grant’s consistency. They’d screamed at each other for a long time, not realizing that Dean and Sammy could hear them. Sammy cried quietly, already aware that sobbing loudly would only get him into trouble. When Dad had stormed into their room, he’d thrown their clothing into a duffel and yanked on Dean’s arm so hard it hurt. The trophies had been left behind.

Grant had followed them to the car, still begging Dad to reconsider. Dad had simply shoved Dean and Sammy into the car, letting Dean deal with getting Sammy into his car seat. Grant had nearly been run over trying to talk to Dad.

Dean had never seen Grant again. Dad had made it clear that Grant was a liar and a ‘flaming asshole,’ and nothing he said could be trusted. Dean hadn’t done anything all that great, Dad said. Buncha nerds like that, they probably got to those competitions every year, and didn’t need any help from a nothing-nobody like Dean. When Dean got to his next school, he wasn’t allowed to stay late for any clubs because he had to take care of Sammy. Dad didn’t care if he got good grades, and yelled at him if he drew any attention to them, even good attention.

So Dean took everything he’d learned from Grant, and locked it away so deep he couldn’t find it again. And when Sammy brought home good grades and Dad smiled and called him ‘the brains of the pair,’ Dean accept it as truth. After all, Grant was a liar. Dean wasn’t smart, he wasn’t clever, and he was only good for manual labor. Dean accepted that, because it was the truth.

Dean took care of Sammy, and stopped dreaming for himself. Sammy was the smart one, Sammy would go far, and Dean would do his best to support that. Dean would give anything for Sammy.

*****
Present

“Seriously? That’s your dad? Are you kidding?” Jamie exclaimed, grinning widely. Jack shook his head solemnly.

“No, I am not ‘kidding.’ I was unaware, however, that my father had spent time here,” Jack replied, cocking his head as he thought over the implications of this. Dean spent a great deal of time talking up his brother, and Sam had never denied the idea that he was the ‘smarter’ of the two brothers.

“Damn. I can’t wait to meet him. You gotta promise to introduce me. He’s practically a legend around here!” Jamie gushed. Jack smiled.

“I will,” Jack said.

“Anyway, that about wraps up the tour, I think. Anything else you wanna know about?” Jamie asked, turning to lead them back to the office.

“I really would like to know anything you know about the disappearances,” Jack said. “My fathers want to make sure I am safe.”

“And you’re curiouser than a cat on Christmas, right?” Jamie said with a laugh. Jack opened his mouth to ask what cats or the birth of Christ had anything to do with it, but Jamie continued before he could. “Honestly, no one’s quite sure. The first kid, Davey, who went missing was kind of a loner, you know? Everyone thought maybe he’d just run away from home. But then Miz Stephy vanished on her morning jog, and Liz and Brandon disappeared after getting ice cream together one night, and everyone started thinking it was some kinda creeper, y’know?”

Jack nodded solemnly. “Uncle Sam said that they’ve found a body.”

“Yeah, that’s a helluva trip, too. The cops aren’t saying nuthin’ a’course, but Old Man Jeremiah figures it’s a monster. He says that… Well, old men talk, you know,” Jamie hedged, apparently unwilling to continue.

“What do the old men talk about?” Jack asked.

“Well, you know. With Jason and his uncle gone missing last night now too, it’s hard to see any kind of pattern for some kind of psycho, and well. It’s probably just animals,” Jamie said with a shrug. “It’s just weird, since there’s been no sign of bear or wolves ‘round here.”

Jack started to press more, but they’d reached the office and Sam came out to greet him. Jamie turned with a grin. “Cool meetin’ ya, dude. Miz Holden said you’re not moving here just yet. You got some time before you head home?”

“I should, yes,” Jack replied, looking to Sam.

“Here, I’ll give you my number. Call me if you get some free time, kay?” Jamie scribbled their number onto a scrap of paper they’d pulled from their pocket and handed it over. Then they raised their fist to Jack at about shoulder level.

Jack cocked his head, then reached up and shook the fist gently. “Very well.”

Jamie cracked up. “You’re strange, dude. I’ll catch you later!”

They turned and left the office, running just as the bell went off. Mrs. Holden hollered after them, “No running in the halls!”

Sam looked down at Jack. “You ready to go, bud?”

“Did you know that Dad went to this school when he was young?” Jack asked.

“What?”

*****

Dean and Cas followed the medical examiner down to the morgue as she explained where they’d found the body. It’d been about a mile off of the Badwater Road, fairly deep in the woods. The medical examiner thought that it’d been dragged there by animals. There was no sign that a burial had been attempted. When the body was pulled out and shown to Dean and Cas, Dean grimaced. It wasn’t that he’d not seen worse, but… That didn’t necessarily make this sight easy.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Cas said, nodding his head to her. She nodded, and, after some smalltalk, left them to their business. Dean glanced over at Cas.

“Damn. Something did a number on them,” Dean said.

“Yes. Though not all of these are wounds from the attack. It appears that there have been some scavengers,” Cas said, leaning over the body. He peered at the wounds, turning to Dean, “How do we tell what killed this person?”

“Well, you see the marks along these wounds here? That’s from the attack. Over here, though, the marks are different. This is from scavengers. It’s harder to tell when it’s not fresh, cuz bloodflow tells you a lot, but you can still figure it out if you know what you’re looking for. The ribs haven’t been broken through, so whatever it was that got them didn’t go for the heart first. Rules out weres. There’s too much blood left for it to be vamps. Still lots of options, though,” Dean said with a sigh.

“It’s a little far north for the chupacabra. I believe the six-legged cogglywoo was proven false, as was the one-eyed screaming emu,” Cas mused. “Perhaps the pink-tailed herfalumb has reemerged?”

Dean blinked. “I’m not even going to ask how you know about those. Anyway, I’m not entirely convinced that this is one of ours, yet, but there’s something weird going on here. I’m just not sure what.”

“The wounds would indicate, I believe, that a very large number of creatures were involved,” Cas said. “What around here runs in packs?”

“They’ve reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone,” Dean said. “But that’s not all that close. Besides, wolves are big. Whatever did this was closer to a chihuahua than a wolf.”

“I do not think chihuahuas run in packs,” Cas replied.

Dean snorted. “Not so much, no. I don’t know of anything that size that does. We’ll let Sam know. He’s the computer whiz; he can research native animals. If nothing pops up, we’ll stick around. I’ll call Bobby, too. He’s not too far out from here; maybe he knows something. It could be something we just haven’t heard of before.”

“It wouldn’t seem like there was much out there that you didn’t know about,” Cas said, a small smile on his face as he cocked his head.

Dean ducked his head, turning it into a shake. “Nah, man, there’s a whole world out there. No way in hell we know about everything. Anyway, we better get back to the others. Sam and Jack may still be busy; you wanna stop by someplace and we can pick dinner up for everyone?”

“I suspect Sam will not thank you for that,” Cas replied.

“Whatever, man, he needs more grease in his diet. Come on, I saw a great little diner down the street. We’ll get burgers for everyone,” Dean said, grinning wide. Cas shook his head but followed Dean out of the morgue, letting Dean take the lead on small-talking their way back out of the building. They left a card with one of Dean’s burner numbers on it, asking the officers to call them if anything else happened, and then they were out, headed down the road to the diner.

*****

Sam rolled his eyes when he got into the motel room and smelled burgers. “Dean, I swear to god, you better have--”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Sammy, I got you a salad,” Dean said, shoving a bag in Sam’s general direction. Inside, Sam found what was probably the diner’s best example of a salad, with the dressing packaged separately.

“It has fried chicken on it,” Sam said, glaring at Dean.

“Hey, a little grease won’t kill you,” Dean replied with a wink.

“It seemed like the best option, Sam,” Cas said from next to Dean, his own burger in his hands. “The rest were not a proper meal.”

Sam sighed, but dug the silverware out of the bag and poured some dressing into the box of salad. Jack sat down next to him. “What did you get for me, Father?”

Cas smiled softly, and held out a bag. “It is called a ‘bacon cheeseburger.’ They make me very happy.”

Jack grinned back, a gummy smile that took over his whole face. Sam wondered if Cas would ever be comfortable enough to do that with the same regularity that Jack did. Jack pulled out the box with his burger, taking a huge bite and grinning around it. He attempted words, but they weren’t understandable through the food.

“Chew with your mouth closed, buddy,” Dean said.

Sam snorted. “Wow, that’s rich coming from you.”

“Yeah, well I do it cuz it annoys you. Jack’s gotta learn how to do things right, then he can do whatever he wants,” Dean said loftily. He turned to Jack, “If you wanna keep doing it, make sure you face Sam.”

Cas shook his head. “Jack, you should listen to Dean,” he said, as the boy looked to him in confusion. “It isn’t polite to speak with your mouth full.”

Sam sighed, shoving a forkful of salad and fried chicken into his mouth. He watched as Dean smiled back at Cas, and then glanced at Jack. Jack was staring adoringly back and forth between Cas and Dean, watching while the two of them chatted back and forth. Sam couldn’t remember, really, living around here. They must have, because he’d recognized Dean clear as day in those trophy cases.

Jamie, Jack’s new little friend, had gone on and on about the trophies and wanting to meet Jack’s ‘dad,’ but Sam had a feeling those things had been somewhat exaggerated. He and Dean had never stayed in one place for very long, and more importantly, Dad had hated most extracurricular activities. It’d taken a lot of convincing and Bobby’s help for Sam to get to join anything. Dean had been largely uninterested in those types of things. If he stayed after school, it was for detention. Sam wanted to tease him about his ‘nerdery,’ but he wanted to know about it first.

After dinner, he settled back onto the bed he’d claimed with his laptop. In one window, Sam opened the variety of sites he used to research monsters and the supernatural. He also sent an email off to both Charlie and Bobby, listing off what they’d found so far. In another window, carefully set to incognito, Sam began digging through school records. He’d get to the bottom of this. There had to be something weird going on here, and Sam didn’t give up when he had a bone to chew.

*****

Cas and Jack had settled in with Dean’s laptop, doing research their own way. Dean smiled softly as he watched them. He may not have been willing to take Jack on as a ‘second Sam’ before Cas, but seeing Cas with Jack was a small joy to behold. It’d hurt so much to see the boy before; he was so like his chosen father that even if Dean had wanted to, it would have been impossible to not have seen Cas in every move Jack made.

Together, Dean could forget that Jack was actually Lucifer’s son. Any influence that Lucifer might have had was nearly impossible to pick out. Jack moved like Cas, spoke like Cas, even looked like Cas. Now, looking at the pair together, they made him ache in a different way.

Dean knew he could have joined them. Cas would have welcomed him, and Jack wanted Dean’s approval more than anything, even still. But he held himself back. Cas deserved better than Dean. Besides, with Sam doing what he was best at, it was time for Dean to do what he was best at.

“All right, while you nerds hang out here, I’m going to go hit the bar, chat some people up, see what the rumor mills are churning out,” Dean said with a cocky grin, waving his hand as he grabbed his coat. He had changed out of his ranger outfit before eating, knowing that when he went back out he’d blend in better with his jeans and plaid.

“Wait, Dean,” Cas said, beginning to extract himself from Jack. “I’ll go with you.”

“Nah, you stay here,” Dean said, nodding significantly at Jack. Cas tilted his head, looking down at the nephilim who’d chosen him to be his father. “You got some teaching to do, hunter. Help the kid out, okay? He can’t come to the bar anyway.”

Cas leaned back, squinting at Dean. He didn’t argue though, so Dean took it as agreement. Before Cas could formulate an argument, Dean ducked out the door, hopping into Baby and heading for a bar a town over, closer to where the disappearances occurred.

*****

“Why can’t I go to the bar, Father?” Jack asked, looking at Cas. Cas looked unsure, glancing over at Sam.

“Your fake IDs have you at 17. We didn’t bring any that are older. Humans don’t let anyone under 21 drink,” Sam said, only vaguely paying attention.

“But you have allowed me alcohol at home,” Jack pointed out reasonably.

“Sure, because it doesn’t matter so much there. Besides, we’ve never let you drink excessively,” Sam said with a shrug.

Jack looked up at Cas for an explanation. “When humans drink excessive amounts of alcohol, they become mentally impaired.”

“And Dean is going to a ‘bar’ to do that?” Jack asked, somewhat alarmed.

“Likely not. He is probably going to gather information, as humans are more likely to speak their minds when under the influence of alcohol,” Cas said. “Dean has a higher tolerance than many, so it is a good way for him to gather information.”

“Would I become mentally impaired under the influence? It has never seemed to affect me before,” Jack said, thinking back to the times Dean had handed him a beer.

“Perhaps. When I chose to drink, it took an entire liquor store to counteract my angel nature,” Cas said. “That was… not a pleasant time. It would be best if you did not try it, Jack.”

Jack nodded. “So Dean is going to a bar to gather information, through the use of alcohol. Wouldn’t it have been better to take someone with him? If he were to consume too much, will he not need someone to ‘watch his back’ Father?”

“I am… concerned about that myself, yes. But Dean would not welcome our presence,” Cas said, staring at the door with an expression on his face that Jack wasn’t positive how to place. “He seems to want to be alone right now.”

“Cas is right, Jack. Besides, Dean will just hang out for a few hours, pump some people for information, and then fall into bed with someone. He’ll be fine,” Sam said, still paying more attention to his computer than he was to the conversation.

Jack looked to Cas. A flicker of pain danced across Castiel’s face, but it was gone too quickly for Jack to be sure of what he was seeing. He opened his mouth to ask, but Cas turned to him with a gentle smile. “While Dean is out, we can do our own investigation.”

Sam looked up at that. “Uh. Are you sure about that, Cas? We don’t know what we’re looking for yet.”

“We know it’s near the old Badwater Church,” Jack piped up. “Mrs. Holden told you that, you said. And Jamie said that everyone thought it was animals. Except for Old Man Jeremiah, who talks.”

“If everyone is right, and it is simply animals, then Jack and I will be perfectly safe doing some scouting,” Cas pointed out helpfully. Jack grinned at his father and nodded.

“What if it’s not?” Sam asked.

“We are both of angelic nature, Sam. If there is actually something supernatural out there, fearless enough to attack the two of us, Jack and I are far more likely to survive an unknown entity than you or Dean, and it will give us a clearer idea of what we are facing,” Cas replied. Jack nodded.

“I am quite hard to kill,” the nephilim added.

Sam rolled his eyes. “Look, just promise me you’ll come back in one piece?”

“But we are two pie--” Jack began.

“Of course. We will be back soon,” Cas interrupted smoothly, placing his hand on Jack’s shoulder. In an instant they were gone, leaving Sam to his research.

*****

Dean was grinning past his beer bottle, meeting the bartender’s glance. They were both watching a woman in a camouflage cocktail dress cheerfully drink three burly bearded men under the table. One had already either conceded or passed out; it was hard to tell. Another was swaying heavily, insisting he couldn’t feel a thing. The third was still going, but Dean could see it wouldn’t be long.

The bartender was just as amused as Dean. Apparently it was a long-standing feud, according to the bartender, and their families would collect them at closing time. The bar and the local police had an unwritten agreement that they could continue said feud there at the bar, with the understanding that if it didn’t happen in public, the four would do it somewhere else and someone would probably die of alcohol poisoning. The bartender called for an ambulance if it went too far.

“So, I hear y’all are having some issues with animals ‘round here,” Dean said to the bartender.

“Yeah?” The bartender raised an eyebrow.

“What do you figure it is? I’m not half bad with a rifle,” Dean said, winking at the bartender. “I’d be more than willing to help y’all out while I’m passing through.”

The bartender shrugged. “Folks are talking plenty, but no one has any real clue. There’s talk of putting a party together, but without any idea of what we’d be hunting, ain’t no reason to head out. How long are you staying in town, anyway?”

“Few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Name’s Dean,” Dean said, sticking his hand out.

“Alex,” the bartender replied, taking Dean’s hand and shaking it.

“What time you get off, Alex?” Dean said, leaning over the bar and looking Alex up and down.

Alex laughed, and handed Dean another bottle of beer. “We’ll see if you’re up for it later.”

Dean grinned, taking a long pull from his bottle while keeping eye contact. The bartender just chuckled.

*****

Castiel and Jack fluttered into sight just off the Badwater/Lost Cabin junction, far enough off the road so as to not startle any passersby. Dropping his hand from Jack’s shoulder, Cas walked up to the old church building. The roof was mouldering, more holes than shingles. The walls were still up, though the windows and doors were boarded up. Cas could still feel the energy faith had given the building, a sort of residual holiness produced by human belief. He smiled softly at the specter that appeared as he came around the corner of the church to the graveyard.

“Hello there, boy,” Cas said, reaching down to let the canine sniff his hand. Jack came up behind him.

“What’s that?” Jack asked, starting toward it. Cas held him back.

“Let him come to you, Jack,” Cas said, as the dog gave a happy bark and let Cas pat its head.

The dog then turned and went to Jack, who stood quietly and let it sniff his hand as it had Castiel’s. The dog took a little longer, glancing at Cas and whining before finally tentatively licking Jack’s hand. Jack giggled, and the dog allowed him to pet it.

“Thank you. We will protect your charges,” Cas said, giving the dog another pat. Barking again, the dog faded into the darkness, leaving Jack blinking.

“That was not a normal dog,” Jack said.

“No,” Cas replied. “That was a Church Grim. This is a very, very old church, and it seems many of the old customs were observed. Whatever is here, it is not likely a spirit or ghoul. The Grim would have vanquished it immediately if it were.”

Jack nodded. “Dean and Sam will be happy to know that.”

Cas nodded. “There are still a variety of things that a Grim cannot defend against that might take advantage of such a location. A Grim might be able to fend off a ghoul or two, but the creature we seek hunts in packs. A single Grim can only do so much. We need to look further.”

Together, they ventured into the cemetery. There was a low stone barrier around it, that might have once held a long-rotted fence. Once past that, the graves were largely sunk, their contents having decomposed decades before. The markers were worn nearly illegible, some having fallen as the ground they rested on shifted. Cas could feel the presence of the Grim watching them, though it did not show itself again.

Jack knelt in front of a gravestone, running his fingers over the almost unreadable inscription. “How long will I live, Father?”

“If you are not killed,” Cas responded, “then you could easily live for millenia.”

“But humans… they barely live a century,” Jack said. “Dean and Sam…”

“We need to look for clues,” Cas said. It wasn’t a topic he wanted to think about. He wasn’t welcome in heaven, and Jack… Jack would be seen as simply a tool. It was best to concentrate on the present.

“Very well,” Jack said. He stood up, brushing off his hands on his pants. He pointed to the grave just beyond. “Something has disturbed these, Father.”

“You’re right. It’s been dug into, here, and…” Cas trailed off, staring at the stone. “It appears to have gnawed on the stone here.”

“What would do that?” Jack asked.

“I’m not entirely sure. We should keep going. The church mausoleum is ahead. It might bear some clue,” Cas said, striding further into the cemetery. Jack followed. Once at the stone structure, they carefully circled it together until they found, in the south corner, a hole formed by teeth marks.

It was approximately two feet in diameter, a rough circle holding a deep darkness. Jack knelt in front of it, looking in. Cas stood over him.

“This is concerning,” Cas said. “We need to tell Dean.”

Just then, Jack ducked down, shoving his head into the hole before Cas could react. Castiel immediately grabbed his collar, pulling him back and out of the hole. “No!”

Jack blinked up at Cas. “I thought we were investigating?”

“Do not stick your head into holes! It is a poor way to ensure your continued survival,” Cas scolded. “Come on. We should go back to the hotel anyway. We’ve found what we can here.”

“Very well, Father.”

*****

Jack and Cas appeared back in the hotel room just in time for Dean to open the door and stumble in. “Heeeeeey! Hey guys! Hey!”

Cas stepped forward to put his shoulder under Dean’s arm as the hunter began to sway. He raised an eyebrow at Dean’s antics. Dean grinned at Cas, leaning against him. Despite having left the room without a tie, somehow he now had one tied haphazardly around his head. He was missing the plaid he’d been wearing, though the jacket he’d worn over it was still on. His grin was too wide, happy in a way that only a drunk man could do. Or someone very good at pretending to be drunk.

Sam sighed. “Seriously Dean? Are you even going to remember any information you got there? You might as well go to bed.”

Jack watched the interchange curiously. “Shouldn’t we share our information, though? If Dean does not have news, then Castiel and I should at least share our findings.”

On the other side of the room, Sam was making large ‘No!’ gestures while Jack spoke, but Jack didn’t catch them. Castiel mentally sighed, but there wasn’t much to be done now. Dean blearily looked up at Jack.

“Findin’s?” he asked.

“Castiel and I went to the Badwater church cemetery. We found a hole chewed into the mausoleum. I stuck my head into it.” Jack wrinkled his nose, continuing, “It smelled funny. I didn’t like it.”

“Jack!” Dean yelled, suddenly far more coherent than his original entrance indicated he would be. “We don’t stick our heads into strange holes! That’s how you get face-huggers!”

Cas cocked his head, looking over at Dean. “There were no ‘face-huggers’ in the hole, Dean.”

“That’s not the point! Dammit! Sam! Why did you go out without telling me?” Dean turned on his brother, pulling away from Cas.

“Hey, I didn’t go with them,” Sam replied.

“That’s even worse!” Dean rounded back on Cas. “Why can’t you just stay in the hotel room where it’s safe for one night?”

“We found information, neither of us is hurt, and nothing bad happened. You went out to a bar alone,” Cas pointed out almost caustically. “How is what we did any different? At least we had each other for backup.”

“He’s a child, Cas! He barely knows how to use his powers! He can’t properly back you up! What if something had happened?” Dean shoved his hand through his hair, dislodging the tie and tossing it to the floor. “Why do you have to do stupid shit?”

Cas rolled his eyes, his entire body moving with it. He opened his mouth to argue, but Jack beat him to it.

“What is a face-hugger?” Jack asked. Dean rounded on him, almost like he was going to yell, and then just stopped and stared for a moment at Jack’s innocent expression.

“It’s… ah. It’s a movie reference, kid,” Dean said, deflating. Jack perked up.

“Can we watch it?” he asked.

“Ah, sure, yeah. Yeah! Lemme get my laptop, we’ll pull up Netflix, watch us some Alien,” Dean said, beginning to smile. Cas just shook his head, torn between amusement and annoyance. Dean turned to Cas, his face hardening. “This isn’t over, angel.”

Dean set up the laptop, settling in the center of his king-sized motel bed. Sam had already turned back to his own laptop, absorbed again in his research. Dean patted the side of the bed, inviting Jack to climb up. Jack happily did, pressing closely to Dean’s side in order to better see the screen. Cas stood off to one side awkwardly.

“I’ll just…” Cas began.

“You’ll just what, Cas? Go off alone and do something stupid again?” Dean asked. Cas glared, but Dean shrugged and continued before Cas could argue. “Get your feathery ass over here and squeeze in. I know you haven’t seen this movie either.”

“Metatron--”

“It’s not the same. Come on, Cas.” Dean raised an eyebrow, but what really made up Cas’s mind was Jack’s hopeful look. Cas sighed and looked over the bed critically. It was large, but with Dean in the middle, there wasn’t enough space for Cas to fit along Jack’s side. Carefully, he settled in next to Dean, leaving just a bit of space between them. He was never quite sure what Dean would be comfortable with.

As the movie started, Dean glanced at Sam, and then over to Cas. “Come on, buddy, I know you can’t see the screen from that angle. Scootch.”

Reluctantly, Cas moved over until he was pressed up against Dean’s side from knee to shoulder. Cas felt a tension release in Dean’s body, though he couldn’t imagine why. Dean grinned up and Cas, and then they settled in for the movie. Jack was intent on the screen, eyes wide at the opening scenes.

After a few moments, Cas glanced at Dean, and decided to take a calculated risk. The knowledge he’d gained from Metatron had included several ‘rom coms,’ and Cas had never really had a chance to put any of his education from them to use. Arching his back, he carefully stretched his arms overhead. Dean spared a look at Cas but didn’t comment at the apparent fidgeting. When he judged it to have been a sufficiently adequate stretch, Cas slowly dropped his arm around Dean’s shoulders.

Dean tensed for just a moment, his eyes darting over to where Sam still sat digging through whatever research he was doing. Cas’s gaze followed Dean’s, but Sam was thoroughly engrossed, not likely to come up for air anytime soon. With a nearly inaudible sigh, Dean relaxed again, before shifting just enough to get comfortable and rest his head against Cas’s shoulder. Cas made a note to himself; the technique worked, and might be used again at a later date. For now, he made himself comfortable.

By the time Sam finally went to bed, both Dean and Jack had fallen asleep, the glow of the laptop illuminating their faces. Cas watched them both, a soft smile on his face.

*****

The next morning found the four in a local diner, dressed in their regular clothing. With his trenchcoat, Cas stood out a bit, but no one said anything. The four of them squeezed into one booth, which was no small feat. When the waitress arrived, Jack gave her a big gummy smile from his spot next to Cas. “Hi!”

She smiled at him warmly, telling the table about the specials. Jack pointed to the children’s section in his menu. “Can I have that?”

Sam ordered a vegetarian omelet, while Dean went for a plate full of bacon and pancakes. Cas stared at the menu for a moment longer, before deciding on eggs and stuffed hashbrowns. Sam had his laptop out still, only half paying attention to everyone as they talked, though he’d look up every once in a while and ask a question as Dean, Cas, and Jack exchanged information.

“Okay, wait, so you’re saying that the hole your boy wonder stuck his head into was chewed there?” Dean asked, glaring at Cas.

“Yes. And recently. Whatever it was, it had no problem with the concrete foundation of the mausoleum,” Cas said.

“All right, so ignoring the fact that you went out into a cemetery alone, at night, with no backup, not knowing what you were hunting… Do you know of anything natural that could do that?” Dean said. He was rubbing his temples. Cas supposed when put like that, his scouting mission did sound rather foolhardy, but only when processed through humanity’s perspective.

“Not particularly, not of this size. Beavers, perhaps, but I see no reason for a beaver to do something like this.,” Cas said, thinking back. “Several millennia ago, perhaps, but nothing modern.”

“Well, unless we’re dealing with some kind of time-traveling Cenozoic ground sloth, I’m pretty sure we can rule that out,” Dean said with a sigh. “What about ghouls?”

Sam looked up at Dean sharply, before resuming his typing. After a moment, his brow furrowed, and he looked at Dean again, almost confused. Then he shook his head and continued typing.

“Besides the fact that ghouls would rather knock a panel in on a mausoleum than chew a hole through it, the cemetery’s protector would have no trouble scaring off a ghoul or two. They don’t hunt in large enough packs to be able to invade a properly protected cemetery,” Cas replied.

At this, Sam cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “So guys, get this. There’s a creature I found called the gobbsow. There’s a small version that is just kind of a large woodrat, but the one we’d be looking for is a lot larger. The supernatural kind is said to hide in cemeteries and mines, luring people close enough for it to drag into a grave or hole it’s dug out, where it eats the victim alive. Apparently, it usually goes for kids or the elderly, which would explain why so many of the victims are kids.”

“How do we kill it?” Dean asked. Sam opened his mouth to respond, just as the waitress showed up with their food. By mutual consensus they paused the conversation while she was there. She handed out the plates, making small talk as she did so. Jack grinned down at his plate as she put it in front of him.

“There you go, sweetie. Does that look good?” the waitress asked Jack. Jack nodded enthusiastically, before beaming back at the food smiling up at him from his plate.

“It looks excellent!” he exclaimed, picking up his fork. The waitress chuckled.

“Sweetheart, why don’t you put some syrup on those pancakes? Whipped cream won’t be sweet enough for a sugarpie like you,” she said, handing him the holder with the variety of syrups the restaurant stocked. Jack’s eyes widened, and he began reading the labels intently, trying to decide which syrup would be best.

“What is marionberry?” Jack asked.

“Thank you,” Dean said pointedly to the waitress as she opened her mouth to reply, wanting to get back to their previous discussion. “We’ll take it from here.”

The woman frowned slightly, but nodded, saying a quick goodbye to Jack before heading back towards the kitchen. Dean sighed. Cas leaned close to Jack, softly answering his syrup questions before letting him concentrate on his food. Absently, Cas began to eat his own food, turning back to Sam as he did so.

“We were discussing how one might go about killing a gobbsow?” Cas prompted.

“Well, the lore doesn’t really say. Gobbsows are apparently the type of creature one generally avoids at all costs, rather than confronts,” Sam said, frowning at his laptop while he ate. “I guess since old cemeteries and mines are usually too dangerous to wander around in anyway, no one bothered to figure out how to kill it.”

“What? You mean we have no idea at all?” Dean asked, his mouth full. It came out more like wah? Oo me e haf o ie a aw? but Sam had been fluent in Dean’s language for a long time.

“Not really. But if they’re gonna start being a problem…” Sam trailed off, already digging to try to find something.

“I suppose, if need be, we could attempt to catch one alive and see what it takes?” Cas suggested, somewhat hesitant. He didn’t like the idea of torturing an animal, supernatural or not, but it couldn’t be allowed to continue killing innocents. More importantly, the capture of a single creature to experiment on would allow faster, more humane exterminations later. It was a good justification, even if it was still upsetting.

“Hey, yeah, they make those no-kill cages for things like catching feral cats. Bet we could get one of those, no problem. And with our cover as rangers, it’d be totally normal for us to go set a trap or two. We won’t even have to worry about it looking strange!” Dean’s eyes were shining with excitement. He was clearly pleased with himself for their subterfuge.

“Alright. So we get our hands on a trap, and then we all head out to the cemetery?” Sam asked.

“Sounds good to me,” Dean said, shoveling more food into his mouth. He turned towards Cas, gesturing for the angel to eat as well. Castiel didn’t bother to argue, simply eating what was in front of him, letting Dean exchange forkfuls of his food for bites of Cas’s. Jack had mostly demolished his stack of Happy Pancakes, and looked over at Dean.

“How was ‘falling into bed’ last night, Dean?” Jack asked, cocking his head almost identically to Cas. Cas kept his face impassive, staring down at his food as though it had all the answers. Dean blinked.

“What?”

“Sam said that when you went out, you would drink alcohol and fall into bed with someone,” Jack explained. “Did you have fun?”

Dean choked, coughing hard. “Damn kid. That’s uh… That’s not really the kind of thing you ask at the dinner table.”

“Why not? I have been led to believe that asking about social activities is considered a normal part of human engagement,” Jack said.

“Not that part!” Dean said, still coughing.

“Come on, Dean, it’s just a ‘social activity,’” Sam said, grinning at his brother. It was clear he was enjoying this game. “Besides, it’s not like you’ve ever been shy about sharing your exploits before.”

“Dude. Not helping,” Dean glared over at Sam.

“Who says I was trying to be helpful?” Sam said with a laugh. “Seriously, you must have a girl in every town by now.”

“I believe there are several girls in this town,” Jack said.

Dean buried his face in his hands, and Cas took pity on him. “Jack, what Dean did last night is of a personal manner, and if he’d prefer not to speak of it, that is his choice.”

Jack looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but Cas shook his head. The topic moved on, but Cas noticed that Dean no longer picked food from Cas’s plate, nor encouraged Cas to try his food. Cas pretended it did not bother him.

*****
1995

It was just after Dean’s birthday that Dad pulled him aside and shoved a box of cheap condoms at him. Dean looked up at his father, confused.

“What…?” Dean knew what condoms were, roughly. He’d managed to have more than a few sex ed classes in all the different school districts they’d landed in. Some had been better than others. One had definitely involved learning the proper way to put a condom onto a banana, something that had sent his middle school class into a fit of giggles.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know what this is, boy,” Dad grumbled, tossing the box at the bed when Dean didn’t take it immediately.

“I do! I mean, I don’t need them—“ Dean began, before his father cut him off.

“If you’ve been out getting your dick wet without protection,” Dad growled, loudly enough Dean was afraid Sammy would wake up.

“No! Dad, I just… I’m not really interested in—“ Dean tried again to explain.

“No boy of mine better be a damn faggot! You know what they do to faggots? Makes vamps look damn near merciful. You take those, and you get yourself some pussy, and you stop arguing with me, you hear me?” Dad towered over him, and Dean nodded, staring down at his feet.

“That’s better. Won’t have no fairy near my son. You take care of Sammy, boy,” Dad said. “I’m going out.”

“Yes sir,” Dean replied quietly. Dad had slammed the door before he could have heard the response. Dean picked up the box, opening it distastefully to look inside. With a sigh, he pulled the contents out and stuffed them into one of the side pockets in his duffle bag. If he had to keep them, it would be best if they weren’t in a large awkward box.

*****

Months later, Dean met Robin. He’d… attempted to follow his dad’s orders, tried to find some pretty girls to… But it’d never really gone anywhere. He was awkward, unsure of what he was asking for, and not particularly interested anyway. But as he got to know Robin, Dean started to think about things. He still wasn’t real sure if he was interested in the things his middle school sex ed classes had hinted at, nor anything he’d found on the internet, but… He thought maybe with Robin he’d be willing to think about it a bit more. She was kind, and sweet, and she didn’t get mad at him for things, and she kind of reminded him a little bit of his mother. Of course, he’d been dropped off at Sonny’s with just the clothes on his back, so it wasn’t like his dad’s gift was going to come in handy anytime soon.

It was the first time Dean had legitimately had any stirrings of interest on his own, and not because his dad had pressured him, and Dean hid that in his heart. Clearly, if he could feel these feelings, he wasn’t… the things his father said. And besides, his father had left him here, right? So he could do what he wanted here. And he wanted to… He really liked Robin.

*****

Dad came and got him, eventually, and Dean couldn’t just leave Sammy. If he could have, he’d have grabbed Sammy and run back to Sonny. He wanted to stay there more than he could say. But he had to take care of Sammy. Sammy needed him, and Dad would never let them both go.

So he went back to his dad, and he didn’t think about Robin anymore. He didn’t think about what he liked about her, and he didn’t try to find that in anyone else.

But Dean saw the looks Dad was giving him, the ways Dad appraised him when he talked about the girls at school, and he learned. Dad expected him to be hanging out with girls, to be ‘messing around’ with girls, and what Dad wanted was what happened. Dean learned that he couldn’t offer relationships. He wasn’t going to be in town more than a few months at most, and he didn’t know what his next address was going to be. Dad wouldn’t give him any mail, anyway. There wasn’t any other real technology to allow long-distance communication, nothing that Dad wouldn’t know about.

So Dean hung out with the girls who didn’t want a relationship. He learned that kissing wasn’t so bad, that the girls willing to hang out with the transfer student who wouldn’t promise forever only wanted one thing, and he learned to be good at it. He learned that he enjoyed certain aspects of it. He learned he liked to wear panties, and that he liked to feel pretty and wanted, but not necessarily desired. He learned that activities he wasn’t as into led to cuddling, which he loved. He learned that affection and positive physical contact was a drug he needed more than anything else, and that he was willing to put up with ‘getting his dick wet,’ if that meant he could spend at least a few minutes holding someone and being held. If he could spend just a little bit feeling like someone cared about him.

By the end of the year, Dad was laughing when Dean had to be pried away from his ‘latest conquest’ by Sam at the end of the school day. Dad congratulated him on his good taste, and Dean never mentioned that he didn’t really find any of the girls he was with sexually attractive, that the girls’ looks weren’t something that drew him to them, that it was all a way to please his father and get the affection he couldn’t admit even to himself that he needed. He just smiled cockily and shrugged, and Dad bought him another box of condoms.

Dean never forgot the things he’d learned that year.

*****
Present

When the four hunters got to the cemetery that night, Sam carrying the no-kill trap they’d acquired, Cas stepped forward before Dean could stop him, holding his hand out to the darkness.

“Come here, friend. We have brought help,” Cas said. Dean raised an eyebrow, ready to ask questions until the darkness pulled together and solidified into a dog, sitting back on its haunches examining the group. Dean squawked.

“The fuck?!”

“Cas! That’s a Black Dog!” Sam cried, pulling his gun.

“Yes,” Cas said, maneuvering himself to be between Sam and the dog. “Specifically, a kind of Black Dog called a Church Grim.”

Dean’s gun was out as well, though it wavered a bit from pointing directly at Cas. “The hell does that mean, Cas?”

“You likely have not encountered them before,” Cas explained. “A Church Grim is an inherently good creature. It’s nearly impossible to turn a Church Grim evil, because of their nature, and if done, it would no longer be a Grim, but something else.”

The men shared a look, and then slowly lowered their weapons as Jack stepped forward. The Grim lolled its tongue out, giving a big doggy grin to the boy. Jack knelt in front of it, giving the dog a good scratch behind the ears. Finally Dean sighed, and stepped forward. Cas took Dean’s wrist, holding it for the dog to sniff. Sam followed suite after.

The Grim barked once after sniffing the men’s hands, and faded away. Dean shook his head. “Awesome. Cuz that wasn’t creepy or anything. Why the hell didn’t you tell us about that, Cas?”

“I had not thought about the fact that you would likely not have encountered one before, to be honest,” Cas said. “A Grim would not have bothered you. It only attacks those that have ill intent towards the inhabitants of its cemetery and church. Despite your... grave-digging ways, your intent was always to protect, not harm.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Alright, well, as much as I trust Fido over there, y’think you and Jack could make sure nothing interferes? Keep the kiddies away from here, that kind of thing.”

Cas raised an eyebrow. Dean knew he was aware that Dean was bullshitting. Dean was still annoyed that Cas had gone out by himself (okay okay, with Jack) the night before. Dean also knew that whatever action happened was likely to be wherever he and Sam laid the trap. He couldn’t help it. He’d nearly lost Cas already, come closer to losing Cas than he ever had with Sam. Cas meant something different, to Dean, than Sam did. And while Dean knew, on some level, that Cas was more powerful than Dean could ever think about being, Cas was so… new to things, so naïve at times, that Dean felt the need to protect him more than ever.

But Cas didn’t argue, and that was what was important. He turned to Jack, and together the two of them vanished, presumably to watch the perimeter. Dean knew they’d stick close, but he felt better with them out of immediate danger. He couldn’t help it. Dean had been fighting alongside Sam for years, but Cas was… Cas was different.

Setting up the trap was easy enough. Cas had insisted that obtaining human meat would not work, which made sense now that Dean had seen the Grim. Instead, they’d gotten some raw pork, which Cas insisted would be similar enough to attract an animal. If nothing showed up, they’d know whatever they were hunting had too much intelligence to be a gobbsow. So Dean placed the meat into the back of the trap, setting it so the door stayed open. Sam put a rock on top of it, and the two retreated a safe distance to hide among a copse of trees. It wasn’t a particularly great setup, but they didn’t want to simply leave the trap overnight. If nothing else, if the animal could chew through concrete it likely could get through the metal bars overnight.

So they sat out of the way, and they waited. Dean tried very hard not to jump at every unfamiliar noise. Stakeouts were not part of the Winchester’s usual methodology, and Dean couldn’t help but fidget. Sam got after Dean a couple of times for noise, but he was having just as much difficulty sitting still. Hiding out and assessing the situation was far more Jody or Donna’s methodology. Although they’d grown and learned a lot since their childhood, both Sam and Dean had been trained first and foremost by a man driven by revenge, and their tendency towards action first reflected that. Dean supposed that they probably could stand to learn a few things from the police officers; certainly some of their hunts might have gone better if they’d done more research before assuming they knew what the source of the problem was.

It took a few hours of somewhat patient waiting before they heard the sounds of something investigating the trap. Dean and Sam exchanged a look, silently agreeing not to turn around and look. Dean was practically dancing with anticipation, but they couldn’t afford to scare the creature away now. It might never take the bait. Both men held their breath, waiting for the sound of the trap dropping.

“HA!” Dean sprang to his feet when the sound came, just in time to see a bunch of small creatures scatter. But even in the dark, he could see something caught in the trap.

Sam followed Dean over to see what they’d caught. They both stared at it, somewhat befuddled, for a moment.

“…is it supposed to be that color?” Dean asked.

“No…” Sam replied, slowly. “The lore said it’d be a light brown…”

“Dude. It’s purple. That’s a fucking purple rat. What the fuck,” Dean said, poking the cage. The animal inside was indeed purple, about a foot long not including the tail, with large prominent front teeth and a long tail that curled at the end. Dean wiggled his finger at it, causing the thing to hiss and lunge at him. “Shit!”

Sam rolled his eyes. Taking out his phone, he began typing into it. “I’m gonna touch base with Charlie, see if we can figure out what this thing is.”

Dean shifted the rock off the top of the trap, grabbing the handle to pick it up. Sam turned, holding the phone in front of him. “Here, hold it up for a picture. I’ll send that to Charlie too.”

Holding the trap up near his face, Dean grinned as Sam took the picture. “It’s a cute little fucker, isn’t it?”

As soon as the cage came off the ground, the creature began screeching, a high-pitched, panicked noise. Dean shook the cage a little bit, glaring down at the creature. Sam was still engrossed in his texting, the phone illuminating his face as he sent information off to Charlie and probably Bobby, and who even knew who else. Dean started to walk back towards the entrance of the cemetery, Sam following behind, when Dean’s flashlight caught the eyes of something.

A lot of somethings.

“Sam? Sam!” Dean stopped in his tracks, staring at the multitude of glowing red eyes in front of him. Sam nearly ran into him from behind.

“What the hell, Dean?” Sam asked, looking up and over Dean’s shoulder. “Uh…”

The purple creature in the cage began shrieking even more loudly, and the owners of the eyes began to hiss intimidatingly. Sam and Dean both instinctively stepped back.

“That’s… That’s a lot of rats. Lots and lots and lots of rats…” Dean muttered, carefully setting the trap down. “Alright, guys, it’s all good, here’s your buddy back, we’ll just…”

Dean turned around, aiming to go the other direction and maybe avoid the pack, but the sight behind him stopped him in his tracks. “Big rat! Big rat!”

Sam glanced over his shoulder, not wanting to turn his back on the pack in front of him. “That’s not… That’s not… Dean, I don’t think that’s a gobbsow.”

“Ya think?” Dean said sarcastically, not taking his eyes off the creature in front of him. It was over two feet tall on its hind legs, its tail nearly the same length of its body. With similar teeth, the creature was brown, stocky, and possibly the most vicious-looking animal that Dean had ever seen while on Earth.

Making a decision, Dean glanced up to the sky. “Cas, I hope you have your angel ears on, cuz we could use a quick exit here!”

Instantly Cas and Jack appeared next to the men. “I see that you have managed to get yourself into some trouble, Dean.”

“Yeah yeah yeah, rub it in later, make with the getting out of here now please,” Dean said, pulling his gun out of the back of his pants where he’d stashed it to pick up the trap. Sam had also shoved his phone into his pocket to better hold his gun on the animals in front of him, for all the good it would do.

Cas rolled his eyes. Sharing a glance with Jack, the angel and the nephilim both raised their hands, Cas at the giant rodent facing Dean and Jack at the pack facing Sam. With a burst of grace, they scattered the animals back. It was just enough of a distraction for the four of them to dash for the cemetery gates. The animals recovered quickly, following after them at a pace Dean was sure would be too fast for them to get away. Just as they passed the gates, though, the Grim materialized between them and the creatures. Dean glanced back just in time to see the rodents swarm the black dog, the sounds of snarls and growls and hissing getting louder.

“Go go go!” Dean yelled, diving for Baby’s driver door. He started the car and peeled out before all the car doors were shut. He looked in his rearview mirror, watching as the Grim dematerialized and the rodents scattered. Dean could only hope the Grim was okay. The amount of rodents swarming behind them was immense, and they couldn’t hang around to check on it. Dean headed for the motel at top speed.

*****

“Okay, what the fuck were those things? Did you get that picture sent to Charlie? What the hell, Sam?” Dean was pacing the room, throwing questions out almost at random. Jack was staring at him, a confused look on his face. Every once in a while a question would pop up that he knew the answer to, and he would open his mouth to answer, but Dean had already moved on before he could speak.

Cas just sat quietly next to him, not bothering to attempt to speak. Sam was typing on his laptop furiously, clearly ignoring Dean until he could run out of steam.

“I’m not sure what they were,” Sam finally spoke up as Dean began to wind down. “Charlie only texted back with ‘Haha, nice one guys,’ and hasn’t responded further. Bobby is asking for some more specifics. Apparently there’s a lake rat monster called an ‘afanc,’ but it kills through drowning. The Colo-Colo kills through exhaustion, so that’s not it either. He even tossed out the possibility of Ratatoskr, but--”

“That’s not a rat, that’s a squirrel,” Dean replied. “So we have no clue? Seriously? Dammit.”

Dean finally sat down next to Cas, dropping his head into his hands. Sam gave Dean another curious look. He’d never really thought before about how often Dean interjected with things that someone who was as stupid as Dean professed to be shouldn’t know. He hadn’t even realized that Ratatoskr wasn’t a rat until he’d done the research. Sam had dug up some leads on the local school. He’d hoped to have some pretense tomorrow to go out and look up a couple of locals who might have known he and Dean as children. Sam didn’t know what to make of the trophies in the case at the high school, but he’d noticed that none of them were for individual accomplishments, only team activities. While a sports team relied on everyone pulling their weight, Sam wondered if that was necessarily true of something like OM.

Sam remembered Dean staying after school a fair amount, all through childhood, but it was always, as he recalled, for punishment. Detention, that kind of thing. John had never encouraged either of them in after-school activities. Sam had, through lots of fighting, eventually been allowed a few, when they’d known they’d be at a place for a while, but Dean had never even tried. Sam couldn’t even imagine him being interested in something like this. Glancing up, he watched as Dean looked over at Cas sitting next to him. The two always seemed to communicate better silently. Sam didn’t know what his brother and the angel were saying now, but Cas gently placed his hand on Dean’s shoulder, and Dean relaxed slightly, leaning into the touch.

“I’m not sure we can do anything else tonight. Tomorrow I’ll go out and talk to the townsfolk, see if I can find anything else out,” Sam said, closing his laptop.

“Jamie texted while we were out. They asked if I was ‘doing anything’ tomorrow,” Jack said, staring down at his phone. “There is also a face smiling at me, a hand, and a face with a circle above it… I am not sure of the meaning of that.”

Cas leaned over. “Ah. Emojis. This means that they are happy to speak with you. This one is another way of saying ‘hello,’ in the form of a wave. This one is an angel.”

Jack looked up at Cas sharply. “Has Jamie discovered our identities?”

Dean chuckled softly. “Not likely. Jamie probably has some trouble planned.”

“Oh. I will tell them I cannot come then,” Jack said, beginning to text back.

“Hey, whoa, no, don’t do that, buddy. Text your friend and arrange to meet up,” Dean said, shoving Jack’s shoulder lightly. “You can go hang out, see if you can get information that way, and have some fun. It’s happening to a lot of kids, right? So Jamie might know something.”

Jack lit up. “Can I really?”

“Sure kid. Go for it,” Dean said. Cas smiled at Dean, then turned to Jack.

“If you are planning on going out, then you should make sure you get some sleep. Take the couch tonight, and I will watch over you,” Cas said. Sam noticed Dean look sharply at the angel, but dropped his gaze before Cas noticed. Sam hadn’t ever paid all that much attention to how much Dean stared at Cas before. Of course, he’d known the two had a special connection, a ‘profound bond’ as Cas had once called it. But at some point the way his brother interacted with the angel had become background noise, and Sam was only now wondering what it was all about. Dean cared for the angel, of course, but… Sam wasn’t sure that was all it was. He just wasn’t sure when things had changed, exactly. Dean had just… always been Dean to him.

“Yeah, sleep sounds good,” Dean said, stretching his arms over his head. “Where are you gonna bunk down, Cas?”

“I don’t require sleep,” Cas replied, squinting. “You know that.”

“Right, but this is a damn small room, ‘specially with the kid on the couch. You’re not planning on hanging out in the tub, are you?” Dean asked. His grin said he was joking, but his tone was just serious enough that Cas appeared to need to think a moment before responding.

“I suppose I could just stand,” Cas said.

Sam shook his head. He might as well let them work it out. Cas had his strength back, so he would be just as comfortable standing as he would be sitting. And he was planning on researching his other case here, the one focusing on Dean’s childhood. Having a full night’s sleep would make that easier. “Alright, well, you guys keep it down. I’m gonna go to sleep,” he said, pulling the blankets of his bed over his head and laying down.

The sounds of murmuring continued for a while, as Jack bedded down. Then there was some clothing rustling, the sound of shoes (not boots?) dropping to the floor, and more murmuring. It finally died down, and Sam risked a glance over at the other bed. Cas was sitting at the head of the bed, staring softly down at Dean. Dean’s head was pillowed on his thigh, Dean’s arms draped around his waist. Cas was gently running his fingers through Dean’s hair. Sam covered his eyes again before they could notice him. He had a lot to think about.

*****

Jack wasn’t sure what the adults were doing today, but it was Saturday, and Jamie had invited him out for a “day of adventure,” as they had put it. The first order of business was breakfast, they’d declared, so he met them at the diner. Dean had dropped him off, to Jamie’s delight.

“Is that your dad? Is that Dean? Can I meet him? Pretty pretty please?” they begged as Jack was getting out of the car. Jack looked over at Dean, who appeared to be wishing to be anywhere but there right at that moment.

“Of course!” Jack said. He was very proud of his fathers, and did not mind any chance to brag about them. Even when Dean was making what appeared to be an ‘x’ with his fingers, as well as several swipes across his throat. Jack kept the door open, pulling Jamie around to stand with him. Dean made a face like he might be swallowing his tongue.

“Jamie, this is Dean Winchester, my father. Dean, this is my friend, Jamie,” Jack said, motioning to Jamie. Dean gave the teen a tight smile, shoving the car into park and holding out his hand.

“Pleasure. Now, I--”

“Are you really the Dean who took the school to state in the Mathletes? And regionals with the science bowl?” “Jamie likely would have kept going, but Dean interrupted them.

“Ah, I was part of the team. That was a long time ago, kid,” Dean said.

“Yeah! And you’re the whole reason they won!” Jamie exclaimed. “You’re like. A legend! No one is gonna believe me when I tell them I met you!”

Dean swallowed hard, glancing at Jack. Jack wasn’t sure what to make of the look. “It’s really not that big a deal…”

“Oh! Can I get a pic?” Jamie was already shoving their way into the car, twisting to get their phone out. Dean balked.

“Hey whoa, whoa, wait a minute kid, I ain’t posing for a picture!” Dean grabbed at the phone. Jack watched the ensuing wrestling match with interest. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

“Aw, come on! If I promise I won’t post it anywhere, is that okay? Jack can get into it too!” Jamie begged, and Dean sighed.

“Fine. Lemme get out of the car first,” Dean grumbled.

Jamie nodded. “Sure thing, sir. We could get the car too! I really like your car.”

Dean seemed to soften with that, and a moment later they had arranged themselves at the front of the car, where Jamie said the perfect picture would happen. Dean was in the middle, his arms draped around the teens to either side. Jamie had dragged Jack close, so that he was pressed against Dean’s chin, while they were positioned nearly central, head just under Dean’s. Jamie raised their camera up, adjusting the position until they had the ‘best angle’ and then snapped several pictures.

“You got it, kid?” Dean asked, as Jamie dropped their arm.

“Think so!”

“Good, cuz I gotta get going. Be careful out there, Jack. Stay safe, and look after each other. Call me if you need me,” Dean said, waving as he got back into the car. Jack waved as Dean drove off.

“All right! I have a perfect shot. I’m gonna get this printed out for my wall,” Jamie said, smiling down at their phone. Jack smiled at them. He wasn’t sure why this had made Jamie so happy, but that was okay. He was learning.

“Anyway, you got your phone?” Jamie asked, looking up.

“Yes,” Jack said. “You were very clear that a smartphone was required for our activities.”

Jamie laughed. “Awesome! Come on, let’s go catch some Pokemon!”

“Pokemon?” Jack asked as he was dragged off.

*****

Sam looked up at the house. It had the right address, and it was vaguely familiar, but that didn’t really mean anything. They’d lived in a ton of different places, dropped off with people they only knew for weeks or months at a time. The house he was standing at was, overall, fairly nondescript, nothing standing out as unusual that might be more memorable. Sam could just as easily be subconsciously trying to find familiarity in the unknown.

Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the front door. From inside, he heard shuffling and some cursing, before the door opened. “Can I help you?”

The face was familiar in the same way the house had been, a vague almost deja vu feeling, but the voice…

“Hi, my name is Sam--”

“Sammy? Sammy Winchester? You done growed up, boy!” The man broke into a smile from ear to ear. What made Sam pause was the hint of tears in the man’s eyes. “I thought… I never thought I’d see you again! Is your brother here? How are you? Come in, come in, let me get you some coffee. Come tell old Grant everything!”

Sam followed Grant into the house, pulled into a hug tight enough to cut off circulation as soon as he crossed the threshold.

“I’m so… I’m so glad to see you, Sammy,” Grant said, his voice choking a little as he held Sam tight. Sam wrapped his arms around the other man.

“I’m sorry we didn’t come earlier,” Sam said. Grant shook his head.

“You’re here now. That’s what matters. Come in, have a seat, and tell me all about yourself now,” Grant said, motioning to a chair. “Please.”

Sitting down, Sam began to answer Grant’s questions, editing as necessary. Grant was eager to hear everything, easy to talk to, and Sam honestly could not believe he’d forgotten him. He’d been expecting… something else, he supposed. Finally Grant wound down, and turned to asking after Dean.

“Dean’s fine, actually. He’s here in town, but he had some other things to take care of,” Sam said.

Grant nodded. “Makes sense. What’d he end up going to school for, then? I couldn’t see him going the lawyer route. He was always more of a scientist, that boy.”

“Yeah?” Sam hedged, trying to dig out more information. “Even as a kid?”

“Definitely. That boy has a head on him like no other. I’ve paid attention to the science news, you know. I’ve been expecting to hear his name in connection to one’a these discoveries,” Grant said with a grin. “Course, he always was a bit shy about standing out, so I guess it makes sense he stays in the background.”

Sam looked down, not sure what to say. “He’d probably rather tell you himself.”

Grant smiled. “You boys staying in town then?”

“A couple of towns over. We’ve got a motel room, doing some research for some things,” Sam hedged. He’d gathered quickly that Grant didn’t know much about what John had done for a living.

“You’d be welcome to come stay here, save some money,” Grant suggested. His eyes were nearly the ‘puppy-dog’ look that Dean accused Sam of. Sam swallowed.

“I’ll check with Dean. We’re uh… We’re not alone. So it’d be kind of a full house,” Sam said, looking around the room.

“House could use some filling up,” Grant replied. “You talk to your brother, then bring your things over here. Anyone important to you is important to me.”

Sam nodded slowly. Then he stood up, setting his cup on the coffee table. “Well, I suppose…”

“Would you like a tour of the house? I kept your things, moved them here after you boys left. I always hoped… Anyway, I had rooms set up for both you boys,” Grant said, gesturing to the stairs.

“We didn’t live here?” Sam asked.

Grant laughed. “Hell no, son. I had an apartment when your papa dropped you off with me. Never figured I’d need more space than that, but… Well, things change. You’re a mite taller than the full bed I put in your room, but I can work something out.”

Sam followed Grant up the stairs. He’d thought the house familiar, but clearly it hadn’t been. But Grant knew him, and well. Grant opened a door partway down the hallway and smiled. “This is the room I’d set up for you. Go on.

Walking in, Sam immediately recognized his schoolwork hanging on the wall over his desk. He’d been in elementary school at the time, so it wasn’t anything particularly stunning, but it was exactly the kind of thing a proud father might hang onto. On the desk was a small collection of animal figurines. They were all the same brand, but there were only two Sam recognized. He picked them up.

“I lost these as a kid…”

Grant grimaced. “Your daddy didn’t exactly give you boys a chance to pack. I thought I could talk him into leaving you boys here, so I hadn’t gotten you ready to go. I figured he’d at least give me as long as it took to pack your things, but…”

“Dad never was the patient sort,” Sam said softly, already looking at the other figures. “I didn’t have all of these though.”

“I’ve picked them up here and there. You boys had so little when you got here. I wanted to make sure if I got you back, you’d have some things to come back to,” Grant said. “And it was my fault you lost these.”

Sam continued around the room. The wall had some posters, movies like Neverending Story and The Rescuers Down Under, that Sam only vaguely remembered watching, a couple of cartoons Sam recalled watching, and lots of animals. Sam was fairly sure, in fact, that some of the ‘posters’ were actually a disassembled calendar. The bedspread was a tasteful gray and purple, with a moderately well-loved stuffed dog at the head.

There was a bookshelf filled mostly with young adult books and some children’s novels. Sam remembered that even as a child he’d read above his grade level. Hatchet was there, as well as Howl’s Moving Castle. Most of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles were on the shelves, and a large amount of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Some of them Sam remembered reading as a child, others he couldn’t place. Lower on the shelves were books he knew had come out after his time with Grant, including several Animorphs books. Buckets filled with Legos and action figures sat to the side of the bookshelf.

By the time he’d turned back to Grant, Sam didn’t know what to say. “You…”

“I know I only had you boys a few months, but I tried. I tried so hard to keep you, and I tried to get you back. I thought… I thought for a long time you must be dead,” Grant said with a shrug. “It made me happy, believing that someday you might find your way back here. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, or to take whatever you like with you.”

“Can I…” Sam swallowed. “Can I see Dean’s room?”

Grant’s face did a weird little thing, despair flitting across his face for an instant before he smiled sadly and nodded. “A’course. This way.”

Dean’s room was just as personal, but nearly a mirror image. The Legos were in labeled bins, in his room, according to set. The action figures were placed carefully on floating shelves. On the bookshelf, the books were more geared for adults. Arthur C. Clarke featured heavily, as did Orson Scott Card. Madeleine L’Engle and Douglas Adams were also sitting on the shelves proudly. What shocked Sam into stillness, though, was Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time, clearly read often. He pulled it down, opening the cover. Inside, in his brother’s childish handwriting, was written This Belongs To Dean Winchester. Keep Out. This means you, Sammy!!!

Placing it back on the shelf, he moved on. The walls were covered in posters, some rock bands that Dean still listened to, some movie posters (Pretty Woman didn’t surprise Sam at all), but among them were other things. There was a periodic table, a list of the space launches NASA had scheduled for 1991, a poster of Albert Einstein and another of Nicola Tesla, all surrounded by the things Sam recognized as quintessentially ‘Dean.’ The bed was red and black, something Sam knew Dean would enjoy. And above the desk, Dean’s work hung just like Sam’s had. It was well above middle school work; Dean had obviously been learning Algebra and Chemistry while most kids that age were still in basic math and science classes. It wasn’t a trick, either. Sam recognized his brother’s handwriting, even as a child.

And sitting on the desk, in front of what appeared to be several math and science related awards, carefully positioned in the center, was a white ceramic angel.

*****

With Sam off doing his own thing and Jack hanging out with his new friend, Dean and Cas were at loose ends. After dropping Jack off, Dean had gone back to find that Sam had already left, taking heaven only knows what car to do so. Cas had been left on Dean’s laptop. Dean wasn’t sure what he was doing, but when he cleared his throat Cas looked up with a smile.

“Well, buddy, you have any leads on the ROUS?” Dean asked.

“We were not in the Fire Swamp, Dean,” Cas said, cocking his head. “I do not believe that movie was factual.”

“No, I know, I just…” Dean sighed and shook his head. “You wanna get out of here?”

“Did you have an idea?” Cas asked.

“Nah, I just figured we could drive around a bit, get breakfast, spend some time listening to the police scanner,” Dean said. “Might as well get out of this room, right buddy?”

Cas nodded, standing up. “Sounds good.”

In the car, Dean kept glancing over at Cas. He couldn’t help it. It hadn’t been that long ago that he’d thought he’d lost the angel forever. Dean couldn’t imagine his life without Cas in it, not now, not then, and not in the future. But he wasn’t sure what form that would take. He couldn’t imagine… well, there was a lot he wasn’t sure of. Dean had never really bothered to sit down and chart out his sexuality, but he knew it wasn’t exactly… normal. Dean had kept up certain appearances when John had been alive, and then there had been Sam to consider.

Dean couldn’t help his worry. Sam had a very particular view of him, and Dean didn’t see a need to upset that applecart anytime soon. And now, with Mary back, Dean wasn’t sure how to even approach making a change. He made minor changes, but nothing that would make his family look at him differently. And Cas seemed content enough, so Dean figured nothing really needed to change.

*****
2003

Dean had watched Sam leave with a great amount of trepidation, and he hadn’t been wrong in his fears. After Sam was gone, Dad had flown off the handle, as angry as Dean had ever seen him. Dean had spent several months avoiding blows, and mostly trying to just stay out of the way. Dad had eventually declared he was going on a hunt, and left Dean behind.

It had kind of sucked, but Dean hadn’t been too upset about it. Sure, if he wanted to do anything or go anywhere, he’d have to hotwire a car since Dad had taken the Impala, but that wasn’t that big a deal. Dean could walk to the bar, and had no trouble finding ways to make money off cocky townies. He was also a lot better at shoplifting than he had been when he was a teenager.

So he’d hung around the small town Dad had dropped him off in, fielding Dad’s calls and pretending to be his Dad’s FBI supervisor when the locals called to verify Dad’s creds. Dean could vaguely remember when Bobby had done this, but Dad hadn’t spoken to Bobby in what seemed like forever, so now it was usually Dean’s job. He did research from a distance now, because Dad said he was more useful as a contact than a partner, unless the job called for it.

Dean never bothered to find a sleeping partner when Dad was away. The whole process was a pain in the ass, and frankly it was mostly a show he put on for his dad anyway. So he wasn’t quite thinking along the right lines when a man sat himself down next to Dean at the bar and ordered Dean a drink.

“You come here often?” the man asked.

“Ah… Well, I’m in town for a bit, I guess,” Dean said with a shrug.

“I’m David. Nice to meet you…?” David held out his hand, grinning at Dean.

“Dean,” he replied, taking David’s hand. He smiled. “Thanks for the drink.”

“It’s not often we see men as nice-looking as you come in,” David said, not letting go of Dean’s hand for a long moment.

Stuttering, Dean couldn’t quite quell his reaction. “Oh, well. I just… You’re pretty too?”

Dean could have kicked himself. He could feel his ears going red and he knew his eyes were nearly bugging out of his skull. He was never good with these kinds of things. It was fine when he was doing his persona, but he hadn’t expected to get picked up that night.

“You sound like you’re not too sure,” David said with a laugh. “So, what are you in town for?”

They got into smalltalk from there, slowly moving from Dean’s fictitious hiking trip into favorite movies and books. David was an avid reader and amateur engineer, the kind of guy who built robots for fun. Their conversation from there delved into Isaac Asimov and whether or not the Three Laws Of Robotics were necessary or a hindrance to progression. When last call was announced, David glanced up in surprise, and then smiled at Dean.

“What do you think? Would you like to take this discussion somewhere else?” he asked, grinning.

Dean nodded in agreement. “I still say you’re wrong, man.”

“Convince me,” David replied. “My place or yours?”

At those words, Dean hesitated. “I… Um. Isn’t there a 24-hour diner ‘round here?”

David raised an eyebrow. “I thought we were on the same page, here?”

“I’m not sure... “ Dean hedged. “I mean, I’m just in a motel, and I don’t want to get in trouble for noise.”

“Worried I’ll make you scream?” David asked, the smirk more than enough to make Dean swallow hard.

“I… Look, I don’t… I mean, you’re very handsome, and I… But I’m not…” Dean knew he wasn’t making any sense, but he didn’t know how to explain his problem with this situation. If Dad had been here, Dean would never have let this go as far as it did, but with Dad gone, Dean had less qualms about being seen as anything other than completely straight.

At the same time, though, he didn’t want to build the guy’s expectations of him up. Dean had no more problem being with guys than he did with being with girls, but that was kind of the issue. He’d rather not go home with either, really, unless it was for platonic reasons. He had a funny feeling David didn’t want to just cuddle.

“You’re not into guys? Really?” David asked, surprise in his voice. “Cuz we’ve been flirting all evening. I know I didn’t read that wrong.”

This was the bit that frustrated Dean the most. He had his Flirty Boy persona, who did Real Flirting. When he was That Person, he knew he was flirting, and he knew why. Because there was always an endgame. Most of the time, the endgame was to make his dad happy. Sometimes it was related to a case. Other times, more often than Dean was willing to admit, it was because Dean craved the kind of positive physical affection he could only get when he caved and spent the night with someone.

But when he wasn’t being That Person, things he said and did were still often interpreted as flirting. Dean didn’t understand it. His endgame wasn’t sex, so why did anyone assume a conversation about robots was about bedding someone? It happened too frequently for him to discount it, though. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.

“I just… I…” Dean kept stuttering his way through the words. He was never sure how to explain this to people.

“First time with a guy?” David ventured, features softening. He wrapped his hand around Dean’s shoulder, and Dean sighed.

“Yeah,” he said. It wasn’t true, but it was easier than trying to explain anything.

“Come to my place,” David said, leaning into Dean’s space. “I promise I’ll make it good for you.”

Dean paused, thinking it over. When he agreed, it wasn’t because he wanted a blowjob. Ultimately, he agreed because he knew that he’d get to spend at least a little bit of time holding someone and being held, and Dean craved that more than he was willing to admit. The sex he could do without, but being cared about, if only for a few hours, was priceless.

*****
Present

Cas had never felt a need to fill silence with smalltalk, so when they got into the car, he didn’t think to try to draw Dean into a conversation. He and Dean had always communicated better without words anyway. Dean had popped in a cassette tape of Queen and was quietly jamming along to Fat-Bottomed Girls. Cas smiled softly at the sight.

“What are you looking at?” Dean asked after a moment.

“Nothing, I suppose,” Cas replied. He looked towards the road. “Should we turn on the police scanner?”

Dean sighed. “Yeah, probably so. Go ahead, see if you can find the dispatch channel. We’ll see what we can listen in on.”

Cas pulled the scanner out, carefully switching from channel to channel until he got something more than static, and then listening to determine what it was before moving on. Finally he found what he was looking for, and turned the volume up just enough to be heard over the music. Cas didn’t need the volume, of course. With his ‘mojo’ back, Cas could have put it nearly silent and still been able to distinguish what was being said. But Dean was only human, and Cas was sure that he wanted to hear what was being said as well.

For the span of several songs, there was very little of interest. It was a small town, so the chatter was sparse to begin with, often unprofessionally personal, and certainly nothing that interested hunters. As the opening vocals for Bohemian Rhapsody began to play, Dean turned the music up.

“Can you still hear if I do this?” he asked.

Cas nodded, turning his head before he smiled this time. He kept part of his attention focused on the police scanner, but he couldn’t help enjoying the way Dean began to get immersed into the music. It started slowly, Dean singing almost inaudibly to himself as the song gained momentum. Before long, though, Dean was beginning to get into it, and by the time the guitar solo was upon them, he was singing at normal volume about his desire to not die. Only the need to keep steering kept Dean from pulling out the air guitar, though Cas could see his desire to.

Cas had been in enough car rides with Dean to know what came next. Sam rarely participated, and the song had never come up when Cas was alone in the car with Dean. Cas knew that, for some reason, Dean did not like to do things with him when Sam was present or paying attention. But when Dean ‘passed the mic’ over to Cas, clearly expecting to be blown off like Sam did, Cas opened his mouth.

“Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the fandango?” Cas sang at Dean.

His eyes lighting up in shock and pleasure, Dean joined in on the next line, off-key and lower than he regularly spoke, which was something of a feat, Cas thought. Dean was grinning from ear to ear as they sang back and forth, nonsense words and songs of the devil that Cas was quite sure made very little sense.

It was just as the vocals started after the guitar riffs that the scanner caught Cas’s attention. One hand raised the volume on the scanner and held it steady, while the other turned the tape deck off.

“Hey!” Dean said. “Driver picks the--”

“Dean, be quiet. Listen,” Cas said, holding the scanner up so Dean could hear better.

“10-93 we got a little problem here on Badwater Road. The blockade is flailing around. Need all available officers on duty to assist.”

“Flailing?”

“Heading to Badwater now.”

“How does a blockade flail?”

“On it.”

Cas looked at Dean. “We should probably check that out, Dean.”

Before Dean could respond, the radio came alive again. “What do you mean, dispatch? We haven’t shut down Badwater.”

“There’s… It’s a whale, sir. There’s a whale on Badwater Street.”

Dean turned the car around in the middle of the street, immediately heading for the new location. Neither of them bothered to turn the tape deck back on.

*****

The roadblock was set up a mile away from the accident, but Dean had paused long enough for he and Cas to change into their ranger outfits, and flashing their IDs allowed them through the police tape. The cop stationed to stop traffic recognized them from before, and sighed in relief.

“I sure hope you can help us, sirs. We ain’t never seen anything like it!”

“We’ll sure do our best,” Dean replied, waving as they drove through to the scene. They could see the creature long before they reached it. It was a very distinctive bright blue on top with a white underbelly, nearly 50 feet long.

Dean pulled over near the cop cars, getting out with Cas and staring at the whale somewhat stunned. He looked over at Cas. “D’you know anything that would do this?”

Cas just shook his head, not bothering to speak to his astonishment. Dean didn’t need to hear it to know he was shocked. They were in the middle of Wyoming, for God’s sake! There wasn’t an ocean for nearly two thousand miles in any direction. And yet Dean could hear the creature’s labored breathing.

“Can you… can you zap it somewhere?” Dean asked, leaning over to Cas. “Like, the ocean? It doesn’t sound too good.”

Cas rested his hand on the creature, and then sighed. “I could, but the fall and its own weight outside of the water has already done too much damage.”

“Dude, you’re an angel! You can’t heal it?” Dean tried to keep his voice down, but it was hard. The creature was clearly suffering.

“It’s not… It’s not of this earth, Dean. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s a saltwater or freshwater animal, and if I guess wrong I won’t be there to fix it,” Cas said, not moving his hand from the creature.

“Wait, so like. It’s from another dimension? Like when Jack was opening those portals?” Dean asked.

“Yes. But I am not... Dean, I’m sorry,” Cas said. Before Dean could ask what he meant, the creature’s skin underneath Cas’s hand glowed blue and the whale heaved a great breath out, not moving again.

Dean blinked at Cas. The angel clearly expected censure for his actions, but Dean could tell that he was struggling with his decision as well. And Dean couldn’t even argue that the decision was a bad one. The whale had been dying already, and if Cas did not think he could save it, then perhaps giving it a painless death was for the best. So instead, Dean just put his hand on Cas’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, man. You did what you could,” Dean said, squeezing his friend’s shoulder. Cas nodded once, looking up at the animal before them.

“I do not think Jack’s portals are the problem this time. I do not detect that sort of energy from this animal,” Cas said.

Dean would have replied, but the local police force came up to them. Dean settled into his ranger persona without a second thought.

“I gotta tell you, folks, I ain’t never seen anything like this,” Dean said.

“Somehow,” the police chief said, “I ain’t surprised. I think I’d be more shocked if you told me you’d said you knew what was going on. Near as we can tell, it’s a real animal, and it was alive until just now. We got the local farm vet on the way. Didn’t tell him what was going on, but he’s gonna be more use than much else.”

Cas nodded. “Do you have any idea how it happened?”

The police chief just snorted. “Ain’t much down this road, but we got a noise complaint from a local. Talked to him a bit once we got here. ‘Pparently there’s a car under that thing. Mr. Johnson was driving his tractor down the road, and this car passed him. Got a good hundred yards ahead and all the sudden the whale just… poofed into existence, he said. Mr. Johnson says he called in a noise complaint cuz he figured t’weren’t no way the cops would come if some lonesome farmer called in a whale on the road.”

“Reckon he’s right,” Dean agreed. “If you don’t mind, I’m gonna call in some backup on this one.”

“Call in the National Guard, if you like. None of my men even know where to start with this nonsense,” the chief said, shaking his head. With a wave, he was called away, and Dean turned to Cas.

“All right, I’m gonna text Sam to get his ass here. Can you take some pictures of this thing and send to Bobby and Charlie?” Dean paused, looking up at the huge carcass. “Maybe from the air? Dunno how to get decent pictures.”

“I can do it,” Cas said.

“Good man.” Dean pulled out his phone, starting to text.

“Should we call Jack back?” Cas asked.

Dean thought about it. “Nah. Let the kid make a friend. He doesn’t get to hang out with people his age often enough.”

“He is a nephilim, Dean. He is barely six months old, and will live eons unless my brethren capture him,” Cas said.

“I know that,” Dean said, rolling his eyes. “I just mean, kid needs friends, okay? And no, you don’t count. He calls you ‘father,’ that automatically disqualifies you for friendship.”

Cas arched an eyebrow at Dean, giving him what Dean affectionately (and very very privately) called his Imperial Ass look and Dean grinned back at him. With an eyeroll and a flap of his wings, Cas vanished. Dean turned to focus on his message to Sam.

*****

Sam was somewhat annoyed that Dean felt the need to start texting him almost nonstop just as he was coming out of the room Grant had created for Dean. Sam had shoved his phone deep into his pocket once he confirmed who it was. If Dean was in trouble, he wouldn’t be texting repeatedly. He’d have called immediately if it were an emergency, so Sam didn’t feel too bad ignoring the texts.

He said his goodbyes to Grant, still reeling a little from the things he’d learned. The idea that Dean hadn’t been bad in school, had in fact excelled in classes that Sam had not, was extremely foreign to him. Sam had been good at English, History, Social Studies, Philosophy, and things like that. The fact that things didn’t have definitive ‘truths’ but many subjective answers and interpretations had, in fact, been what drew him to law school. It’d also been what had often made him doubt that simply killing all monsters was the correct action to take, something he’d managed to largely convince Dean of at this point.

Dean, it seemed, had been good at the type of course that had an absolute answer to it. Which made sense, as Sam thought about it, because Dean had been the more black-and-white thinker of the brothers early on. Sam had always assumed it was because Dean didn’t bother to think past what he was told, but he knew from his days at college that the STEM kids could be incredibly intractable in their thought processes, even as their work was increasingly creative. It made sense, actually, that Dean would think that way more.

Sam couldn’t help but remember Dean’s sawed-off shotgun, the one he’d made himself. Sam had looked into making one at one point after Dean had, but what research he’d found indicated that a mistake in where he cut could cause catastrophic failure. Dean had also made his own EMF reader, something that Sam hadn’t really thought about before, but certainly hadn’t had a lot of detailed instructions to be found to do it. And yet he’d managed it, by himself, using an old Walkman. Even just recently, Dean knew things that Sam would not have expected from him. Who the hell memorized what time period giant sloths lived in?

It was too weird to contemplate, almost. Besides, Sam couldn’t help but wonder how much contribution Dean actually gave to the team. Sam had never done any of those kinds of afterschool activities, but movies and TV had given him the impression that so long as the team had one or two really good members, it could survive members that effectively warmed the bench, and allowed the team to have enough players to qualify. It was certainly possible that it was all coincidence, or that they’d simply had a particularly strong team that year.

Sam needed to know more, and he wasn’t sure how to get that information. Bobby might know. He’d been their second father for years. First, he needed to figure out what Dean needed, but after that, perhaps it was time for a private conversation with Bobby.

Unlocking his phone, Sam opened the text messages. “What the hell, Dean? A fucking whale?!”

*****

Sam pulled up to the roped off area just as Dean and Cas were heading that way. Dean waved him in, letting the cop stationed to keep out the gawkers know that Sam was with them. Sam couldn’t help but stare as they led him to the creature.

“I didn’t believe you,” Sam said. “But that’s a whale.”

“Sure is. Cas says it’s not anything from Earth. He sent off pictures to Charlie and Bobby. Bobby says he doesn’t have a clue, and we’re still waiting to hear back from Charlie,” Dean said.

“We did hear from her,” Cas pointed out. “It was just several exclamation points.”

“Yeah, we’re not counting that,” Dean said. Cas squinted a glare in Dean’s direction but didn’t reply.

“So what do we do now?” Sam asked.

“Take notes, I guess, see if we have any experts on marine life in our contacts. If Cas is right and this thing isn’t from our Earth it won’t matter, but,” Dean paused, thinking. “Suppose we could hit the library. Maybe something there will help.”

“Yeah, alright. Dinner first?” Sam said.

“Sure. Library doesn’t close until 9pm, we got time,” Dean said, checking his watch real quick.

“I could get us in after close, Dean,” Cas said.

“We’re not breaking into the library, Cas. It’s open until 9pm, and opens tomorrow at 7. We don’t have anything better to do, unless Charlie gets back to us with something,” Dean said.

“Where’s Jack? And how did you know when the library opens and closes off the top of your head like that?” Sam asked.

Dean just shrugged. “Jack’s off with his friend, remember? Come on, let’s go.”

*****
1996

Dean had always helped Sam with his homework. It had been a nightly ritual since Sam had gotten into grade school, that Dean and Sam would sit down together and work on their homework. Way deep down inside of him, Dean harbored the hope that if he and Sam could get a good education, maybe they could find a way to make it in the world that didn’t involve stealing or cheating. He didn’t admit that though, not even to himself. So whenever Dad was gone or busy, Dean sat down with Sam before dinner, and they did their homework together.

Dad liked it, because it kept them quiet and out of trouble, and because if they did their homework they didn’t bring attention to themselves at school. Sam liked it because he liked to spend time with Dean, and he liked making the teachers happy. Dean just enjoyed spending time with his brother, and he enjoyed the challenge of the homework most of the time.

By the time Sam got into middle school, though, Sam had begun stretching himself, trying to take classes that were especially advanced. Dean hadn’t bothered with those types of classes since leaving Grant’s house, but Sam… Dean was so proud of him. Sam wanted to try the hardest classes out there, and he was doing a great job. But for all that Sam liked to pretend that the classes were effortless to their father and his friends, Dean sat beside him every night and saw just how difficult it was for Sam.

Dean also knew how important this was to Sam. So he made a decision. Sam was four whole years younger than Dean. He couldn’t possibly be learning anything all that much harder for Dean to understand. Dean could just do some refreshers at the library, maybe steal some middle-schooler’s books, study Sam’s classes and teach himself the work, so that he could help out his little brother.

So he did. The first thing Dean did when they rolled into a new town was go find the local public library and memorize its hours. He helped Sam pick out his classes and then immediately went and scoured the library for relevant books. He would volunteer to do the research for whatever monster they were hunting, and then pull out the card catalog at the library, then later the computer indexes, making one stack of books about the monster they were hunting, and another of Sam’s advanced classes.

It was fairly easy, at first. Sam might have been taking advanced courses, but the subjects were things Dean had already taken. Advanced for a middle-schooler was a lot different than advanced for a high-schooler, after all. It’d only been in the last couple of years that Dean had begun to struggle, as Sam got into more and more advanced subjects.

It was especially hard, at times, because the constant school changes meant that the curriculum changed constantly. Sometimes Sam was ahead of his class, and Dean had to help find ways to keep him busy. Sometimes things Sam’s previous school had skipped over were the things integral to the new school’s lessons, and Dean had to bust ass to help Sam figure out what he’d missed. Other times, Sam was just woefully behind. A couple of times, they ended up in tiny schools that didn’t have an equivalent to whatever Sam had been doing, and he would end up with an independent study program. Usually, Dean helped Sam come up with something during those times.

Sam never really seemed to question Dean’s ability to help with his classes, and Dean figured that was for the best. If he had, Dean might have had to lie to him about why Dean had dropped out of high school. It had felt like a personal failure, especially when Dad found out about it. But when it came down to it, Dean hadn’t been able to keep up with helping Dad with hunting, helping Sam with homework in high school, and his own schoolwork. Sam’s second semester junior year, he stopped asking for Dean’s help. It was also about the same time Sam got serious about college. Dean was sure, though, that if he’d been smarter, it wouldn’t have been so difficult to get through high school. Everyone else seemed to manage just fine, after all.

Uncle Bobby, seeing that Dean was no longer working his fingers to the bone for Sam, had encouraged Dean to get his GED. To Dean’s surprise, it had been fairly easy. He’d studied hard for the exam, but in the end, there was very little on the test that Dean didn’t know forwards and backwards. Bobby had been proud as punch, but it’d only made Dean feel worse. After all, if he knew the stuff, why had it been so hard to get through the classes? It solidified the notion in Dean’s mind that he just wasn’t worthy, wasn’t smart, and would never have amounted to anything anyway. Bobby had rolled his eyes and called Dean an idjit.

Dean knew the truth, though. Dad had been right. Sammy was the smart one, and Dean was just the muscle.

*****
Present

While Sam, Dean, and Cas were at the library, Jack and Jamie were wandering through the woods staring at their phones. Jamie had had to explain how the game worked to Jack a couple of times, and their jaw had dropped when Jack told them he’d never heard of Pokemon. Jack had shrugged. He wasn’t particularly good at lying, so he hadn’t known what to say about the matter. Jamie had come up with an explanation on their own, though, that Jack had been very ‘sheltered’ as a child, and Jack had gone with that. It’d taken him a few tries to actually catch anything, but eventually he’d managed, and Jamie had cheered for him.

For a while, they’d wandered through town, spinning the two Pokestops in existence and catching the Pokemon that appeared. They chatted a lot, about Jack’s travels, about Jamie’s school, about what it was like to live in the middle of nowhere. It was a few hours in that Jack remembered he was supposed to be investigating.

“Have you heard anything more about the disappearances?” Jack asked, carefully trying to catch a Pidgey while he spoke.

Jamie shrugged. “Same thing as everyone else, I s’pose. It’s all near Lost Cabin, not that that’s a big town or anything. It sucks, too, cuz there’s a great nest over there right now.”

“Nest?” Jack asked.

“Yeah!” Jamie said, grinning up at Jack as they walked. “See, sometimes at Pokestops certain Pokemon will spawn repeatedly, for like two weeks, and then it switches to something else. It just switched yesterday, and it’s supposed to be Pikachu over there. There’s a badge and everything for catching Pikachu, so I really wanna go, but I promised Mom I wouldn’t go near the place.”

Jack was quiet for a moment as he thought over it. He knew the cemetery was dangerous, but that was at night. He and Cas had been fine during the day. And he was more powerful than Jamie realized, more powerful than a normal human. Surely he could protect them. Dean had told him to come out here with Jamie to investigate, and Jack couldn’t bear the thought of failing Dean. Decision made, he grinned at Jamie.

“We should go. I can protect you,” Jack said.

Jamie laughed. “Damn, boy. Being all macho here.”

“What’s macho?” Jack asked, cocking his head to the side.

Shaking their head, Jamie just chuckled. “Okay, maybe not you. Anyway, I really want some Pikachu, and they’re not very common around here so… Yeah, okay, but you gotta promise not to tell my mom, okay?”

Jack nodded seriously. “I promise.”

*****

Jack supposed it would have been a lot faster if he could have flown them, but Jamie had pulled him to their beat-up pickup truck. After three tries and a very gentle angelic nudge, the engine turned over and Jamie turned them out onto the main road. Jack held onto Jamie’s phone while they drove, attempting to grab Pokemon for both of them when the appeared. When Jamie reached the Badwater Church, they pulled into the overgrown parking lot, parking the car and reaching for their phone.

“All right! Let’s see what’s here!” Jamie said, spinning the Pokestop with a swipe of their finger. Jack followed suit, and they began to walk around the dilapidated building. At first, nothing was spawning, and Jack was mildly disappointed. Neither he nor Jamie noticed the collection of spheres and bottles that appeared behind them after their spins.

They separated slightly, Jack walking about ten feet to the right of his friend. Jamie had explained that, because they lived in such a rural area, Pokemon didn’t appear as frequently or as closely clustered as they did in the city, so the best way to find the most Pokemon was to stay far enough from each other that they could ping different spawns, but close enough to get each other’s attention for the ‘good’ Pokemon. Jack was walking through a fair amount of underbrush, mildly frustrated when he startled a bird out of hiding as he tried for another Pidgey. Jamie was walking closer to the building. Although Jack was keeping his senses tuned for danger, he didn’t sense anything off until Jamie screamed.

Looking up quickly, Jack could only watch in horror as a foot-tall yellow rat-rabbit with long black-tipped ears began to spark, somehow shooting electricity at Jamie. Jamie’s scream cut short as their lungs spasmed with the shock, gurgling to silence. The rat-rabbit stopped emitting electricity and dashed into the woods, leaving Jamie to collapse, twitching, to the ground.

Dropping his phone, Jack dashed to Jamie’s side. Pulling their torso into his arms, he shook them gently. “Jamie! Jamie, please!”

Jamie’s head lulled to the side lifelessly, and Jack began to panic. This couldn’t be happening, not now! He’d promised them they’d be safe. What was he going to tell Dean and Cas? What was he going to tell their mother? With a shove of his grace, Jack tried to restart their heart, tried to force life back into their body, but he could feel it almost immediately rebounding back to him. There simply wasn’t any soul to bring back. With a sob, Jack pulled Jamie’s body close to his chest.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I never meant for this to happen. I’m so sorry,” Jack cried, his tears falling onto his friend’s face.

Jack didn’t know how long he sat there when he felt a touch to his shoulder. Turning, he found a very very pink face staring back at him. The creature cooed sympathetically at him, and Jack found himself with fresh tears in his eyes.

“Chansey?” the creature asked.

“It’s my friend,” Jack replied. “They were electrocuted by a… by a yellow rat-rabbit. It’s my fault. I caused another innocent death.”

“Chansey Chan,” the creature said, nodding sagely. With a tug, it pointed back towards the way Jack and Jamie had come.

“You’re right. I should…” Jack choked on the words, gathering Jamie into his arms as he continued, “I should get them home.”

The creature shook its head and then gestured for Jack to stay put. Jack cocked his head, but finally nodded. He watched as the creature waddled back to where he and Jamie had stopped to spin the Pokestop. Leaning down, it gathered a small collection of objects into its small arms, above the egg in its pouch, and waddled back. “Chansey!”

Jack stared at the items the creature had brought with it. The creature set the items on the ground, and then picked up a diamond-shaped object, holding it out to Jack. After a moment of urging, Jack took the item, staring at first it, then the creature, in confusion.

With a great heaving sigh, the creature took Jack’s hand and used it to hold the item to Jamie’s forehead. Jack allowed it, not sure what else to do.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Jamie pulled in a deep breath and began to cough. The creature bounced excitedly, speaking in its strange language, before picking up a bottle and spraying Jamie in the face.

“Hey!” Jamie said with a cough, before rubbing their eyes of the spray and looking around. “What happened?”

“Are you okay? How do you feel?” Jack asked, anxiously patting Jamie down before pulling them tightly to his chest.

“I’d be better if I could breathe!” Jamie said. Jack let go of them immediately. “I feel… fine, actually? I got… I remember… electricity?”

Jack nodded. “The rat-rabbit.”

“The what?” Jamie asked.

Before Jack could respond, the creature nudged him again, this time holding a red and white sphere. “Chansey?”

“Thank you,” Jack said seriously, turning his full attention to the creature now that Jamie had pulled away and was breathing. “Do you have a name?”

“Chansey!” The creature said. Jack wasn’t entirely sure how he knew that that word was different from the other times the creature had said it, but somehow he was sure that the creature had answered him.

“It is very nice to meet you, Chansey. My name is Jack, and this is Jamie. We owe you a huge debt,” Jack said seriously. Jamie seemed to have been stunned into silence.

“Chansey, see see Chan Chansey Chan,” Chansey said, holding the red and white ball out to him. Jack took the ball, ready to thank Chansey for its generosity again, when the creature carefully took his wrist and bopped itself on the head with the ball.

Suddenly a white light appeared from inside the ball, enveloping Chansey and sucking it inside the ball. The ball snapped closed, emitting a soft noise as it shook once…

Twice…

Thrice…

With a ping, the ball stopped moving. Jamie jumped to their feet excitedly.

“Dude! You caught Chansey!”

*****

Dean glanced over at Cas to find that he had his phone out, carefully typing out a message with his thumbs.

“You get news from Charlie?” Dean asked.

“She is asking exactly where we are at the moment. I have given her the address of the library,” Cas said, setting the phone down.

“Huh. That’s weird,” Dean said. “You find anything in those books?”

“Not yet,” Cas replied.

“Me either,” Sam said from his place on a nearby computer. “Maybe we should call it a day.”

Getting up, Dean stretched. “Might as well take a break, anyway. We can go get dinner, come back in an hour or so.”

Looking over, he saw Cas texting again. “Whatcha doing now, Cas?”

“Charlie says we should wait ‘like 15 minutes’ before we go to dinner,” Cas said, still typing.

“What for?” Dean asked.

“She doesn’t say,” Cas replied.

“Well. I guess we should listen to her,” Dean said with a sigh. He flopped back down into his chair, leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling.

Sam and Cas both settled back into their respective research, letting Dean sigh and stare into space. It wasn’t until they began to hear a commotion at the library’s entrance, coupled with the vibration of Cas’s phone, that any of the men looked up again.

“Hey bitches! Guess who’s here?” Charlie’s voice rang through the building, followed by the severe shushing of the librarians.

Dean nearly fell out of his chair attempting to stand up. “Charlie!” he hissed. “What are you doing here?”

Charlie’s voice was significantly lowered by the time she arrived at the corner the boys had ensconced themselves in. She wrapped her arms around Dean first, who couldn’t help smiling softly as he hugged her back.

“You didn’t really think I’d stay away when there are Pokemon involved, did you? I can’t believe you guys found real life Pokemon!” Charlie said excitedly, before Sam wrapped her in a greeting hug as well.

“Pokemon?” Dean raised an eyebrow.

“You guys hadn’t figured it out yet?” Charlie asked.

“Like, the Gameboy game?” Sam asked. “Dean used to play those when we were kids…”

“I did not!” Dean snapped. “And even if I did, those things aren’t real. It’s a game.”

“And a cartoon, and movies, and stuffed animals, and a comic book series… I mean, it’s a big damn franchise, and then that app game just came out too,” Charlie said. “What if someone found a way to bring them to life?”

“What would we even do about that?” Dean asked, throwing his hands up in exasperation.

“I can research the lore,” Cas said. “I believe Netflix has many of the episodes online.”

Dean rolled his eyes at Cas, but smiled affectionately. “All right, you do that, buddy. As for the rest of us, we probably need to figure where they’re appearing from. See if we can find a simple cure for this. Or at least work out the source.”

“I’ll call Bobby, see what he can dig up,” Sam said.

“And I’m going to catch a Ralts!” Charlie said excitedly.

“I don’t even want to know,” Dean said. “Anyway, I hope you got your own hotel room, cuz sister or not, if you’re staying with us you’re on the floor.”

“Oh hell no, I totally got me a suite at the Best Western!” Charlie said with a laugh. “I’d be happy to take dreamy Castiel and your new kid off your hands if they wanted to come watch Pokemon in my room?”

Cas had raised his eyebrow at the term ‘dreamy,’ but ignored it to respond to the rest of Charlie’s sentence. “Perhaps that would be best, Dean? Jack and I do not require sleep, and we would not want to disturb your rest.”

Dean glared at Charlie, though it only served to make her smile wider. “No. If Charlie wants a research conclave, she can take Sam and they can do what they do all night if they want. But Jack is a kid, and that means he needs to get some damn sleep. You can watch your cartoons in our room.”

Sam raised an eyebrow at Dean, but didn’t argue. Dean was grateful for that, at least. “Alright, so I’ll go stay with Charlie in her fancy hotel room and you and Cas and Jack will sleep in the crappy motel room. Do I have that right?”

“It sounds dumb when you say it like that,” Dean grumbled, but nodded.

“Just make sure we reconvene at my place,” Charlie said. “Free continental breakfast!”

“Fine. Whatever. I’m going to go collect Jack. You coming, Cas?” Dean stood up, heading for the door. Cas made his excuses and followed, leaving Charlie and Sam to make faces at their backs.

*****

“I thought we were going to let Jack stay out with Jamie?” Cas asked, once they were outside the library and headed for the Impala.

“Changed my mind. Besides, the kid regularly forgets to eat still, and I’m sure his friend is starving,” Dean said. “We can take them out to dinner, drop Jamie off at their place, and head back to the motel to marathon Pokemon.”

“What about Sam and Charlie?” Cas asked.

“They’ll be fine,” Dean said with a shrug. “They’ll get more out of the evening together than you and Charlie would have, and this way I can explain what’s going on with the TV show.”

“You implied that you did not know the lore,” Cas said, squinting his eyes at Dean suspiciously.

“Sam would never let me live it down if he knew I’d watched most of Indigo League. And some of the movies. And… anyway,” Dean replied. “I didn’t get to play any of the games besides Yellow, but I loved that damn Pikachu. Kept up on the series when I could after that, at least the TV show. Always had a soft spot for Team Rocket. Anyway, text Jack, find out where he is. We’ll go grab him and hit up a diner.”

Dean could feel Cas’s eyes on him for a moment, but he ignored it, and shifted the car into gear. After a bit he heard the sound of Cas texting, and then the ding of a received message.

“Where we headed?” Dean asked.

“...The Badwater Church,” Cas replied. “Jack says there’s been trouble.”

Dean jammed his foot on the gas as he turned the car in the direction of the church. “Tell him we’ll be right there.”

*****

It didn’t take long to find Jack and Jamie. Dean knew what charred flesh smelled like. Following his nose got him to where the two kids were seated on the ground, leaning against each other. Behind them, a… very round, very pink creature stood, singing gently to them.

“Chansey!” it said when it spotted Dean.

“Father!” Jack said, looking like he wanted to get up but unwilling to leave Jamie’s side.

Castiel strode quickly to the kids, dropping to one knee in front of them. “What happened?”

“We were out hunting Pokemon, and then there was a Pikachu, but it was a real Pikachu, and I didn’t know what to do so I screamed for Jack but then it shocked me and I think I died and now there’s a Chansey and I’m not entirely sure I’m not dreaming right now,” Jamie said, barely stopping to take a breath.

Jack nodded along, opening his mouth to add to it but Dean held his hand up to the boy. Instead, he knelt beside Cas in front of Jamie. “You think you died? What did you see before Chansey appeared?”

“...A garden. I saw a garden,” Jamie said, their eyes wide.

Dean sighed. “Okay kid. How’d you bring your friend back?”

“I didn’t,” Jack said. “Chansey did. It found a gold stone and put it on Jamie’s forehead, and they came back.”

Looking at the Chansey, Dean sighed. “Chansey, where did you get the gold stone? Can you bring one to us?”

“Dean, it’s an animal…” Cas began looking at Dean like he was going crazy.

“No, it’s a Pokemon, and Chanseys are the top healers,” Dean said. Cas continued to look unsure, and Dean just shook his head. “Look, it will make more sense once you’ve seen the cartoon, but for now just trust me, okay?”

The Chansey, meanwhile, had gathered a small bundle of items from nearby and handed them to Dean. It’d been too long since Dean had played the game, so he didn’t recognize everything, but he knew the pokeballs when he saw them. With a tap, he shrank them down to pocket size and shoved the four balls into his jeans. He wanted to squeal like a child when it worked just like the cartoons. The other items didn’t have a shrink option that he knew of, so he put as many in his pockets as he could fit and handed the rest over to Cas.

“How do you feel now, kid?” Dean asked, holding a hand out to Jamie to help them up. They were a bit unsteady on their feet, but they offered Dean a smile.

“I think I’m okay, sir,” they said. “I just… Is this a dream?”

“Nah. I’ve died a couple of times. You’ll be a bit off for a couple of days, but you came back pretty quickly all things considered, so you probably won’t have too many ill effects,” Dean said. “Cas here can help you with the shock you’re probably dealing with. I was gonna offer to take you out to dinner, but…”

“No! I want to go to dinner with you! Jack’s talked so much about his fathers, and, I mean. Uh…” Jamie trailed off with a blush, still looking hopeful.

Cas and Dean shared a glance, and Dean shrugged. Cas turned to Jamie and said, “I think Dean and I would be happy to take you to dinner, Jamie. May I examine you a moment, first?”

Jamie nodded, and Cas made a gesture that was something between his normal angel mojo forehead bop and a mother checking a child’s temperature. Jamie took a deep breath and sighed, blinking when Cas took his hand away. Their eyes were instantly clearer, and they grinned. Cas smiled back.

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

“Yeah. That’s amazing,” Jamie said.

“Thank you, Father,” Jack said.

“Alright, gang, let’s go get some grub. What’s good around here?” Dean said, clapping his hands. Jamie and Jack began debating food choices as they walked back to the car. Dean let Cas lead them ahead, while he looked around the woods they were leaving. Now that he knew what they were looking for, he was hoping they would be caught unawares.

*****

Jamie nearly fell asleep part way through dinner, so Dean had Jack escort them up to their door when they dropped them off to make sure the kid got all the way home with no problem. Back at the motel, Dean noted that Sam had stopped by long enough at least to grab his things, and the cleaning service had been by to make the beds. Sam had apparently forgotten to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, but at least he’d cleaned up all obvious signs of their less than legal activities before he’d left. And that meant fresh sheets, which was a score all by itself.

Dean and Cas had already explained to Jack what the plan was, so he hadn’t been surprised when they’d arrived back at the motel without Sam. Dean left Cas and Jack to settle in for their cartoon marathon while he went to take a shower.

He had to admit, he felt kinda dumb that he hadn’t realized what they were facing. Pokemon weren’t exactly something he’d watched as obsessively as say, Scooby-Doo, but they’d definitely been part of his Saturday mornings and his childhood. He remembered watching them with Sammy sometimes, when they’d lucked out and somewhere they were staying had the right channels for it. The only thing Dean could console himself with was that, at least, the Pokemon he’d seen so far weren’t the most well-known one. He still had no idea what the whale one was, and they’d seen the rat things at night, in the dark, while they were attacking. So Dean could probably be excused.

Instead of worrying too much about it, Dean set up his laptop so that they could stream Pokemon on Netflix. He handed it over to Cas, and then turned to Jack.

“Okay, kid, you say you were out playing Pokemon? You wanna explain?” Dean asked. He didn’t mean for it to come out quite as accusatory as it sounded, but he needed to know.

“It is a game Jamie told me to download to my phone. You catch the creatures with balls, and you can collect them,” Jack said.

“Show me,” Dean said.

Jack did so, pulling out his phone and opening the game. Once it loaded, Dean saw that there was a blue pole with a circle on top of it just outside the motel. Six or seven different Pokemon, several of which Dean did not recognize at all, all popped up, causing the phone to vibrate. Jack leaned over the phone, pointing to the blue pole and explaining that it was a Pokestop, and that when the circle was spun with a finger, it gave the player a selection of balls, potions, and sometimes other items. When Jack demonstrated, Dean pulled out the items he’d put into his pocket earlier. They seemed very similar to the items that had spawned from spinning the Pokestop.

“All right, so how do I check the inventory, here?” Dean asked.

Jack showed him, and together they navigated until they’d found the history log. Dean checked his physical stash against the digital list, and sighed. “Well, if you both got items, and you said you used some…? Then it looks like the inventory here probably matches.”

“What does that mean?” Jack asked.

“It means,” Cas said, “that the animals are not the only thing appearing through this spell.”

“And somehow, this game is connected,” Dean said. “Cas, get out your phone. We’re gonna download this game too. If it’s connected to this mess, then we need to know how. The best way to do that is gonna be actually having it ourselves.”

The rest of the evening was spent alternating between playing the Pokemon app on their phones and watching the cartoon. Jack let Chansey out of its pokeball and Dean hooked his laptop up to the motel’s TV, allowing Jack and Chansey to take over one bed while Dean and Cas took the other. Jack didn’t comment on the affection Dean gave and accepted from Cas, and Dean didn’t think much of it. Jack had never been the type to care about things like that, and besides, Dean couldn’t bring himself to be assed about what Jack thought about matters.

*****

Dean blinked the next morning when he got to Charlie’s hotel for breakfast just to find her seated at a breakfast table with both Sam and Bobby.

“Bobby? The hell are you doing here?” Dean asked.

“Sam called me saying you guys had a case of cartoon characters taking over and asked if I had any info. I don’t, an’ I figured I hadn’t gotten out’a the house in a while and you boys seem a bit over your heads,” Bobby said, right before shoving a bagel into his mouth.

Cas sat down at another table nearby, and Dean and Jack settled in with him. “We have discovered that it is somehow linked to a cell phone app.”

“A what now?” Bobby asked.

“Your phone ain’t gonna cut it, Bobby. You need a smartphone,” Dean said, shoveling a far too large bite of waffle into his mouth and grinning around it.

“Don’t need no phone that thinks it’s smarter’n I am,” Bobby grumbled.

The group chuckled a little, and then Dean explained what they’d discovered the night before, holding out the items Chansey had given him. Sam immediately pulled out his smartphone and began downloading the app. Bobby sighed heavily, muttering about damn technology, but Dean knew the man was secretly excited that he’d have an excuse to buy a new device. Bobby believed in using equipment until it broke beyond repair, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want new things, Dean had discovered. Bobby had been raised, from what Dean could tell, with a mentality of “Makin’ Do.” Dean was happy to have given the old man a reason to get something he’d been wanting. Everybody there knew Bobby would have some “new-fangled doo-hickey” by the end of the day.

“Well, I think we can assume it’s some kind of localized effect,” Charlie said, “since nothing is popping up here in the restaurant. Where were you and your friend hanging out?”

Jack looked around the table. “We were at the Badwater church. I thought I could protect us both, since it was daytime.”

“You didn’t do half-bad, kid. Everything worked out, that’s the important part,” Dean said. “That’s where the purple things--”

“Rattata,” Charlie interrupted.

“--were hanging out,” Dean continued,” and the guy who got smooshed by the whale--”

“Wailord,” said Charlie. “And he shouldn’t have been driving and playing at the same time anywho.”

“Not the point Charlie. Anyway, he was near there too, a bit farther down,” Dean said. “I’m kinda surprised that you and Jamie didn’t hear all the ruckus from the cops while you were there.”

Jack shrugged. “There seemed like there had been something going on, but it had mostly been cleared up when we got there.”

“Anyway, we’re getting off-track,” Bobby said. “The point is, this thing seems centered around the Badwater church. That’s where all the critters are appearin’, anyway. So if we can get ourselves the game, we can do some research. Kid, your pink critter, it knows some healing things, right?”

“Chansey knew how to help Jamie,” Jack said. “And she may be able to do more. She seems to think so, at least.”

Bobby nodded. “That means you’re our point man, kid. After breakfast, we’ll gear up and plan to meet at the church at 10am. Jack, you can talk to your pink critter and make sure it listens to you and will help us. Charlie’s with me. You boys can figure out what weapons might be necessary in this hunt.”

“We watched several episodes of lore last night,” Cas said. “I believe the most important thing about the lore is the power of friendship.”

“Yeah, well, until I can use that to stab something, we’re gonna need a better weapon,” Dean said. “What else you got?”

Cas shrugged. “We’ll need lots of those balls, to capture the creatures, and the other items to help heal us should we be injured. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on killing the creatures. Although if we are able to obtain our own ‘Pokemon,’ we can use them to battle and defend against wild Pokemon.”

“Sounds like high-powered cock-fighting to me,” Bobby grumbled. “Not real keen on animal abuse.”

“Nah, the Pokemon like it. They basically fight each other anyway,” Dean said, his mouth full of waffle.

Sam gave him a funny look, and sighed. “Alright, well. We’ll pack the shot guns and some bird shot. If nothing else, it’ll scare most of them off. I doubt we want to get close enough to use knives, and anything more destructive could burn down the forest.”

“Where is your Chansey, anyway, Jack?” Charlie asked.

Jack pulled out a pokeball. “She seems to be fairly comfortable staying inside here. And besides, Dean wouldn’t let her ride in the car.”

Dean shrugged. “I dunno where that thing’s been, and Pokemon sure as shit never discussed potty-training the things. I won’t risk it.”

The whole group rolled their eyes, though Jack seemed mostly to do it because he saw everyone else do it. They turned to other matters, finishing up breakfast and teasing Dean about his love for his car, before parting ways. All of them had a lot to do, after all.

*****

After the Impala’s trunk was packed with appropriate weapons and the pokeballs and potions had been divided up as best as possible, Dean, Cas, Sam, and Jack piled in to head for the church. When they arrived, still in the safety of the car, Dean pulled the Impala as close to the Pokestop as he could and they loaded up the game.

Because they stayed in one spot after spinning the stop, the items from the stop dropped not onto the ground but into all four of the men’s laps. Once again, they divided up the items until everyone had several balls and at least a couple potions.

“All right. Bobby and Charlie should be here soon. Until then, we should stay in pairs. Jack, you stick with me, and Dean can take Cas and move the car out of the way like I can tell he wants to,” Sam said, ignoring Dean’s glare. He knew he was right, anyway.

“What are we doing?” Jack asked.

“Mostly, we want to try to figure out what’s different about this place that’s making the things come to life,” Dean said. “And we probably ought to catch any we find, take’m out of circulation. Maybe there’s a way to send’m back where they came from.”

Cas nodded. “And if we can partner with some, we might be able to better deal with the more aggressive of the Pokemon.”

Dean nodded. Sam and Jack hopped out of the car, and Sam didn’t bother to watch as Dean drove down the road a ways, until he was out of range to the best of their knowledge of the spawning Pokemon. Instead, he led Jack over to the church. Jack released Chansey from her ball, and she happily followed behind them.

With his phone in one hand and a sawed off shotgun in the other, Sam moved carefully through the undergrowth and into the building. With both their phones running, several creatures Jack identified as Pidgeys spawned and almost immediately took flight. Sam looked around inside the building, noting years of graffiti all over the walls.

It didn’t take long for Dean and Cas, as well as Charlie and Bobby, to show up. Bobby seemed intent on his phone.

“You just spin the thing here,” Charlie said, reaching over Bobby’s shoulder to demonstrate.

“I can figure that out, girl. But look at the picture on that little circle thing. Where’s that from?” Bobby said, knocking Charlie’s fingers out of the way.

Charlie shrugged. “Somewhere on the building, I suppose?”

Sam glanced down at his phone. “You notice something, Bobby?”

“Yeah. Help me find where that picture got took,” Bobby said, pulling out a flashlight and beginning to look around.

“It might be outside,” Charlie said.

“Take Jack with you if you go out there. Nobody goes anywhere alone for now,” Sam said.

Charlie nodded and Jack followed her outside, Chansey toddling along behind them. Sam continued sweeping inside, checking the walls against the tiny image on his screen. Finally a shout came from behind him.

“Ha!” Dean said. “Found it.”

Sure enough, inset into the wall behind a fallen beam, was a tiny altar with a well-worn statue of a saint inside it. Dean was grinning at the tiny statue, leaning over to examine it. “Looks like Saint Blaise. Don’t really see anything special about it, though. Just your typical corner devotional.”

Bobby leaned over it as well. “Ain’t the statue that’s weird. It’s the graffiti. Look here.”

Sam and Dean both groaned as they looked at the symbol just to the left of the statue. Cas looked at both of them, confused. He hadn’t bothered to try to shove past them, and Sam was pretty sure he couldn’t see the symbol from where he was standing.

“It’s a tulpa,” Sam said.

“A fucking tulpa. How the hell do we even deal with that shit?” Dean groaned, taking a step back and running his fingers through his hair.

“Pretty sure last time we just burned the place down,” Sam said. “Think that would work this time?”

“Probably not,” Bobby said.

“Why not? Burn the church down, no more tulpa symbol, no more tulpa Pokemon,” Dean said.

“Because, ya idjit, it’s not just on the building. How’d you think I noticed it? It’s in the cell phone,” Bobby said. “Ya burn the building down, it won’t take down the picture, and it sure as shit ain’t gonna keep people from coming here, not in the long run. They ain’t gonna stop spinning that thing, and you sure as shit ain’t gonna stop people from believing in Pokemon.”

“So what do we do?” Dean asked.

“We might be able to put in a request to the app company, have them change the picture or take down the stop altogether?” Sam said, thinking aloud.

“Hey guys! I caught a Ralts!” Charlie said, banging open the church door and walking inside. A small green and white creature perched on her shoulder, while Jack and Chansey followed behind.

“You’re not supposed to be catching them, Charlie,” Dean said with a growl.

“Yeah, well, I’m not giving up my chance to get a Gardevoir. Anyway, we got a problem. Did you find that thing you were looking for, cuz I didn’t,” Charlie said, glancing back the way she’d come.

“We found it,” Sam said. “We’re just discussing what to do about it.”

“You better figure it out, cuz it looks like that kid Chansey and Jack saved yesterday told all their friends about it,” Charlie said. “Somebody put a Lure up about an hour ago, and it’s been replaced every time it’s disappeared since. There’s Pokemon everywhere out there, and at least a dozen kids trying to catch them.”

“Fuck,” Sam, Dean, and Bobby all said simultaneously.

“How long would it take to get the company to change the picture on the app for the Pokestop, or get rid of it?” Dean asked.

“Uh, doubt they’ll get rid of it,” Charlie said. “Niantic pretty much wants to put more up, I think. There’s been complaints that rural areas don’t have as many, and it’d be hard to prove that wandering around outside an abandoned building was hurting a business or something, which is pretty much the only reason they get rid of them.”

“And changing the picture?” Bobby asked.

“Months, probably. It’s low-priority,” Charlie said. “Why? What’d you find?”

Cas explained the problem to Charlie and Jack while Sam conferred with Bobby and Dean. “There’s no way we’re gonna be able to keep a lid on this.”

Bobby nodded. “Word’s gonna spread fast. How many of these things spawn at a time?”

Dean shook his head. “No idea, but when we were walking through here with our games running, we were getting a bird for each of us. So even if there’s only one spawning in the system, it looks like it appears in the real world for every single person with the game running.”

“So if there’s a dozen kids out there…” Sam began.

“Then there’s a dozen fuckers popping up every time a single one spawns in the game,” Bobby said. “And once these kids go home and show off the real animals they caught in those real balls, we’re gonna have even more people showing up, which means even more animals. Balls.”

“What about hacking it?” Sam asked.

“Not sure going all zombie killer is the answer here, Sammy,” Dean said with a grin.

Sam made a face at Dean, getting a laugh back from his brother. “No, I mean, could Charlie hack the system, change the picture?”

Charlie shook her head slowly. “Not likely. Cell phone apps update constantly, to keep up with technology and roll out new features, and they’re probably working two or three updates ahead, if not more. Even if I was able to include it in the newest update, it’d likely be overwritten with every new update for at least the next several updates. We’d probably end up spending as much time waiting for it to end up part of the permanent coding as we would just going the official route, and I’d have to constantly monitor it to make sure it didn’t end up popping back up in the system six months from now.”

“Pretty sure we’d have to destroy both the physical sigil and the digital one,” Bobby said. “And that does fuck-all to stop people from believing in Pokemon, so it ain’t gonna stop the ones that have already shown up.”

Charlie nodded. “And there’s already some heavy hitters showing up. Sounds like Jack and his friend encountered Pikachu yesterday, which can do some serious damage. I wasn’t the only one who found a Ralts, and some of them definitely ran away. That’s a psychic-type; they’ve got all sorts of weird moves. I didn’t see any super rare spawns, but we know from Jack’s Chansey they’ll be possible. Who knows what will slip through the cracks before we can get it permanently closed off?”

“Could we blockade the area off until we get it worked out? I mean, we got the ranger outfits, pretty sure we could manage it,” Dean said.

“It’s doubtful we could close off the road permanently, Dean,” Cas said. “There are people who live further down the road who would need access.”

“And we know from the Wailord that the Pokestop can be reached from the road,” Sam said.

“Plus we just don’t have the resources to keep the whole area on lockdown, and you boys may technically be dead but it wouldn’t take much to start up that FBI hunt again,” Bobby pointed out. “Locals start to get suspicious, we’d have a mess on our hands.”

Charlie looked thoughtful. “Well, I can probably fix the FBI thing. If you guys have been considered dead long enough, they won’t be paying attention to changes in your files. Give me a few weeks, and I can scrub the system of any trace of you and then probably even reverse your deaths. It won’t fix any hardcopies they might have, but if your names aren’t in the system to ping, it’s not likely they’ll turn to digging through the physical files.”

“Would that mean we could try the lockdown thing?” Dean asked.

“No way, Jose. I can’t get rid of the hardcopies, so if you get yourself on the FBI’s radar again all it’s gonna take is one person remembering something about something about you and doing some digging,” Charlie said. “But that shit with the president and the devil wasn’t on any records I could find, or we would have found you a whole hell of a lot earlier,” Charlie said. “I can’t work miracles, guys. Best I can do is scrub the system of your names and pictures, which’ll give you close to a fresh start. At the very least, you won’t have to worry about a random stranger recognizing you from America’s Most Wanted.”

Dean looked thoughtful for a moment, glancing at Sam. Sam had no idea what that look meant, and pulled a face at Dean. The fact that Dean didn’t even react to the face Sam made annoyed Sam further, and he promised himself he’d set some time aside to get Bobby alone. He had some questions he needed to ask, and now that Bobby was here he knew he’d have a chance to do so.

*****

Dean glanced from Sam to Charlie one more time, and then leaned over into Charlie’s space. In a whisper, he asked, “So, if you do this hacking thing, would Sam be able to go back to school? Finish his degree?”

Charlie slowly nodded. “Yeah,” she whispered back, “almost definitely. I can probably get him a free ride anywhere he wanted, fake up some transcripts that give him the same class credits he already has but as a different Sam Winchester.”

“Alright. Don’t fill out any applications for him or anything; he ought to decide where he wants to go for himself,” Dean said. “But go ahead and scrub his records, do that transcript thing, and we’ll go from there. I dunno if Stanford is still something he’d want, what with Jess being gone, but…”

With a pat on Dean’s arm, Charlie smiled softly. “I don’t think Sam is as unhappy in this life as you think he is.”

“Maybe not. But if I can give him a shot at ‘normal,’ then I’m gonna. I was always gonna be a hunter, but Sammy had a chance to get out. I took that from him. And I ain’t gonna say I was wrong to do it, but…” Dean paused, trying to work out what he was trying to say. He knew what he was thinking, but figuring out the words to explain it had never been his strong point.

“The world was at stake, and you did what you had to. But the world isn’t ending anymore,” Charlie said, and Dean nodded. Charlie had always seemed better at understanding what Dean wanted to say better than Dean did. “And you’ve earned the peace you fought for.”

“Exactly. He has. Can you do that for me?” Dean grinned, flashing Charlie his best smile. She gave him a sad look, maybe noting his phrasing, but nodded.

“No problem big brother,” Charlie replied, finally raising her voice to a normal conversational level.

Dean gave her a light punch on the shoulder, an action she mirrored. Stepping back, Dean couldn’t help tensing up when he felt a hand touch the small of his back. He looked around quickly, but no one else was paying attention. The hand hadn’t left, but Dean could feel the hesitancy there. So when he finally looked over at Cas, he smiled softly, and Cas’s hand shifted from a barely-there touch to a firm one.

“‘Sup, Cas?” Dean asked.

“Currently, the ceiling, though I worry that won’t be the case much longer,” Cas said drily. Dean grinned at the angel’s sense of humor. “Dean… if Sam has earned his rest and a chance at a normal life…”

“Don’t go there, buddy,” Dean said, cutting him off. He was grateful that the angel let it go, though not without a stern look Dean’s way. He was equally grateful that Cas did not pull his hand from Dean’s back.

“A’ight, y’all. We ought to at least get the kids off the property for now,” Bobby said loudly, interrupting the conversations that the others had sunk into.

Dean paused, knowing what he wanted to suggest, but hesitant. He glanced over at Cas, and saw the angel smile at him. Dean smiled back, taking strength from his friend, and then said, “It might be a good idea if we all caught at least one, you know?”

“What the fuck for?” Bobby asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, look at Jack’s Chansey, for one. The thing knows enough about its own world’s rules to be able to help Jack bring someone back from the dead. Seems like a good thing to keep around,” Dean said. “And they all have their different abilities, right? I dunno about you, but I can’t wrangle with most of these things, or communicate with them. Getting a few on our side is only gonna help us.”

Bobby looked at Dean thoughtfully for a moment, and then nodded. “You’re talking sense. Okay, let’s spread out, shoo the kids away, and try to catch a couple ourselves. We can also see if there’s any way to send’m back where they came from.”

Dean grinned at Bobby, and the older man rolled his eyes. With some more terse orders, Charlie had been sent off with Cas, Sam with Bobby, and Jack with Dean. He wasn’t exactly in love with the partnerships, but it was only for a little while. Besides, Jack seemed thoroughly excited to be wandering around with Dean, and Dean couldn’t help his amusement at that. And having Jack with him instead of Cas would help remind Dean that he couldn’t have what he wanted. Not in life, and not in Pokemon. Dean wasn’t ready to face that yet.

*****

Sam walked with Bobby, waiting until they were out of earshot of the others before turning to his adoptive uncle and clearing his throat.

“Finally decide to speak up, boy?” Bobby grumbled. “You been chewing on something the whole time I’ve been here.”

“Do you… Do you remember someone named Grant?” Sam asked. He was surprised to see Bobby’s expression soften, minutely.

“Old war buddy of your dad’s. Your dad thought the world of him for a while, but at some point when you boys were young, they had a falling out,” Bobby said. “John never mentioned him again after that. Always figured it had something to do with John’s hunting ways. Why, he got somethin’ to do with this?”

Sam sighed. “Not really. It’s just… he lives around here, and apparently we did for a while, too.”

“Yeah?” Bobby said, raising an eyebrow. Sam marveled, silently, that Bobby could manage so much prompting in that one syllable.

“Pretty sure we’re the reason he had the falling out with Dad. Dad dropped us off for something like six months here, and Grant took care of us,” Sam said. “I spoke to him a bit. He says he was wanting to keep us, but…”

Bobby’s expression went hard. “I know that man was your father, boy, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive him for not letting you boys have a real childhood, not when he had so many chances to do so.”

“Yeah, I guess. Anyway, when we got here, Jack and I went to the local high school and Dean had all these trophies in the school, and when I looked up our records, I found Grant.” Sam paused for a moment, and then continued, “He had rooms for us, and Dean’s was… Dean’s not that smart, Bobby.”

Pulling up short, Bobby turned on Sam with so much anger that Sam took a step back. “Your brother is a damn sight smarter than he or John or apparently you give him credit for. Did you never wonder how it was you managed to keep your grades so good? For fuck’s sake, he got his GED without hardly studying!”

“I worked hard for my grades,” Sam said, sharply.

“And who stayed up with you making sure you got all your homework done?” Bobby crossed his arms across his chest, clearly expecting an answer.

“Well, Dean, but…”

“And who helped you catch up every time your dad moved you someplace where the schools were working on shit you hadn’t learned yet?”

“Dean, of course, but…”

“Who got you through all your advanced classes you kept insisting you wanted in middle school?”

“Dean, but Bobby! He’d taken all those classes first! How hard could it have been?” Sam said, finally getting his sentence out.

“Yeah? You think with your dad running him ragged in hunts by the time he was fourteen that that boy was going out of his way in school? You think he was taking advanced courses?” Bobby asked.

“Well, no, but…”

“But nothing, boy. Dean spent his childhood making sure you had one. So you need to knock off that attitude that he somehow ain’t smart enough to do any damn thing he wants to.” Bobby sighed, and then started walking again. “I take it from your comments that the trophies Dean was winning weren’t for wrestling?”

Sam shook his head. “No. Uh… Math, science, and something called OM.”

Bobby snorted. “Doesn’t surprise me. Dean tried the wrestling thing when he lived with Sonny, he said, but it don’t shock me that he got into academics if he was living with someone willing to encourage him. Boy was always too smart for his own damn good.”

“But… Then why did he get such bad grades?” Sam asked.

“John never thought Dean was worth much. Made him think of Mary, I suppose. Dunno, but Dean spent most of his time keeping the worst of it away from you. Between that, hunting, and playing tutor/father/mother to you, boy didn’t have time to keep up on his own schoolwork,” Bobby said.

Sam didn’t respond. He wasn’t even sure what to say. He’d been so sure…

Both men jerked their heads around when a scream went up nearby, and Bobby and Sam both went running. Sam’s first instinct was to reach for his knife, even though they’d all packed mostly pokeballs and potions, not weapons. He felt better, though, when he saw that Bobby had pulled out his gun.

Breaking through into a clearing, the men were confronted with two very hysterical high school boys and another boy who appeared to have a green blob for a head. Bobby started to raise his gun, clearly instinctive, but the boys began screaming louder, and both Sam and Bobby lowered their weapons slowly.

“What the…” Bobby began.

“Help us! It’s eating Ryan!!” The taller boy, clearly a football player, was in tears, close to screaming.

Sam stared, trying to calculate how easy it would be to cut the creature off the boy. Bobby’s gun would be useless, so it was down to Sam to fix this. He just had to--

“Balls,” Bobby said, and before Sam could move, the older man had pulled out a pokeball and thrown it at the kid whose head was engulfed. There was a flash of blinding light, and the green thing disappeared as Bobby’s ball dropped to the ground, shaking with the effort of containing the creature.

The boy who had been ensnared took a huge breath, before collapsing into his friends’ arms. The other two boys clung to him, stammering their relief and fears as he gripped their shirts and gasped for air. Sam and Bobby both kept their attention on the shaking ball, tensed for another battle. After a moment, though, the ball sounded a loud bell tone, and went still.

“That it?” Bobby asked, staring at the thing.

“I… I think so?” Sam said, turning to the boys huddled together. While Bobby went over to pick up the ball, Sam headed their way. The boy who’d had the thing on his head seemed to be hyperventilating, but otherwise alright. Just in case, Sam pulled out one of the bottles they’d gotten from spinning the pokestop earlier.

“Hey, Ryan right?” Sam asked, putting on his most charming smile. All three boys turned to him in tears. “I’ve got something that might help, if you want?”

The answer was incoherent, but still seemed mostly positive, so Sam stepped close, pulling the boy from the embrace of his friends long enough to spray the potion over his head. The boy coughed, but within seconds was breathing better. It didn’t take much encouragement from Bobby and Sam to get the boys to turn off their phones and head back towards home. Once the kids were out of sight, Bobby stared down at the pokeball.

“How do I get this thing out of the ball?” Bobby asked. “Probably ought to see what the hell it is when it’s not wrapped around some kid’s head.”

“Pretty sure you just push this--” Sam poked the button in the center of the ball and the ball split open on its hinge, releasing a light that coalesced into… a purple blob.

“What the blazes?!” Bobby screeched. “That thing was green when I threw this at it!”

“Dit dit ditto!” the creature said happily, and proceeded to wrap arm-like protrusions around Bobby’s leg.

“I think it likes you,” Sam said with a laugh.

“Balls,” Bobby said.

*****

“All right, Jack-o. I think we managed to clear out most of the kids here. Do you got any Pokemon you’re real interested in getting?” Dean asked, pulling out a ball and enlarging it.

“I’m happy with Chansey, Dean. But I would be happy to help you catch whatever you would like,” Jack said.

Dean pulled a face. He wanted his own Pokemon, but… Briefly, Dean pictured the Pokemon he’d loved since he was young. Small, fluffy, and brown… But there was no way Sam would let him live down capturing an Eevee, let alone evolving it into any of Dean’s favorite Eeveelutions. The fact that Dean even knew that word was something Dean could never let Sam know. Sam could deal with Dean getting a Pokemon if everyone else was, but nothing further than that could be allowed.

Jack cocked his head at Dean, looking shockingly like Cas. “What is it?”

“Nothing. If you’re not going to catch anything new, then turn the game off. We don’t need a bunch of extra animals popping up,” Dean said. With a nod, Jack turned off his screen and pocketed the phone. They traipsed through the woods for a while, Dean ignoring the Pidgeys and Rattatas that appeared. He wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted, but he definitely did not want anything that common.

It took nearly a half hour of walking their designated path in circles, but finally a fighting-type Pokemon spawned in their way. Dean grinned.

“Kid, you think you can pull out your Chansey, help me catch this thing?” Dean grinned. Jack nodded, and released his Chansey. Once out, she looked up at Jack with questions on her pink face.

“We would like you to assist us in catching this Pokemon, to partner with Dean. Can you help?” Jack asked.

“Chan chan chan!” Chansey replied.

“That mean yes?” Dean asked, glancing between Chansey and Jack. Both nodded. “Alright then. Let’s do this thing. Uh… Hit it, Chansey!”

Chansey gave Dean such a look of disdain that Dean couldn’t help blushing. Jack giggled, and, prompted by Chansey, said, “Double-slap, Chansey!”

The other Pokemon, surprisingly, had not run away during this time. Instead, it smiled and geared up to fight. Dean supposed that was appropriate to a fighting type. The Pokemon was about three feet tall and yellow, looking for all the world like a dumpling. Dean thought it was adorable, especially as it raised its tiny fists in preparation to take on Chansey.

“Maku Makuhita!” shouted the creature, and gave as good as it got while Jack prompted Dean on what Chansey’s moveset was. Sadly, it seemed that Chansey was better suited to healing than to fighting, but nevertheless, within a few rounds the Makuhita was swaying on its feet.

Pulling out a pokeball, Dean grinned. He didn’t have a baseball cap to spin around, but he made do by running a hand through his hair. “All right! Pokeball, go!”

Years of hunting meant that Dean’s aim was true, and the ball opened to suck the Makuhita inside in a flash of light. Dean crossed his fingers, staring at the ball as it shook gently. The red light, he knew, indicated that the Pokemon was still fighting to get out, and Dean really really wanted to catch it. When the light finally went out with a ding, Dean grabbed the ball, holding it in the air before spinning and holding it in front of him.

“Yes! I caught Makuhita!” he shouted.

Jack looked at him funny, cocking his head. “Is that a required dance for capturing Pokemon? I did not realize. Chansey, we should perform our bonding dance.”

Dean wasn’t sure whether to laugh or blush. He didn’t bother to correct the boy as Jack summoned Chansey back into the ball and repeated Dean’s motions. Dean might have watched too many cartoons, far further into his adulthood than he’d like to admit, and be able to mimic their catchphrases far too well. But Jack didn’t judge him for it, so Dean couldn’t be too upset. Opening his ball again, he released the Pokemon, kneeling down to look at it.

“Hey, buddy. You need some potions after that? I’ve got some things that might make you feel better,” Dean said.

“Maku!” said Makuhita, raising its tiny arms above its head in triumph. Dean wasn’t sure what that meant, but he dug into his pockets until he found a couple of potions and carefully sprayed down the Pokemon. Makuhita sneezed, then shook its body, before finally grinning up at Dean and giving him a pat on the arm.

“All good then? Alright. If you’re ready, Jack, we should probably get back to the group,” Dean said. Glancing up, he spotted a small brown furry creature staring at him from behind a tree. Remembering his love of Eevees, Dean couldn’t help smiling softly at the creature, though he wasn’t going to try to catch it. The Eevee perked up, trilling at him with ears forward and friendly. Dean’s heart melted, but he didn’t dare. Taking a deep breath, he broke eye contact, calling his Makuhita back into its ball and gesturing for Jack to follow him.

Dean didn’t look back.

So he didn’t see that Eevee did not stay behind.

*****

Dean stared as Cas walked up beside Charlie. Charlie, of course, still had her Ralts, the tiny green and white creature perched on Charlie’s shoulder, clinging to her hair. Charlie didn’t seem to have caught anything else. Castiel, on the other hand, had a two and a half foot tall yellow duck waddling along behind him.

“What the hell, Cas? Why’d you pick the most useless Pokemon out there?” Dean asked, gesturing angrily to the creature.

“Psyyy?”

“Don’t talk like that Dean. You’ll hurt Steve’s feelings.” Cas turned and knelt in front of the Psyduck. “Do not listen to him. I know that you are quite useful, and even if you were not, I want you here.”

Dean groaned and rolled his eyes as Cas turned a glare his direction. “Whatever. That thing better stay in its ball if you’re riding with me. I don’t need feathers and bird shit everywhere.”

Bobby and Sam walked up just then, and Dean pointed at the creature sitting at Sam’s feet. “No.”

“Come off it, Dean,” Sam said, reaching down to pat the puppy at his feet. “He’s cute.”

“Sam, those things breathe fire. Okay? Fire. No way in hell I’m sharing space with it,” Dean said, jerking his hands to emphasize his point. “I refuse to wake up parboiled.”

“At least we won’t need to keep stealing matchbooks from bars. Where the hell is yours, anyway?” Sam said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“In its ball, where good Pokemon should be,” Dean said. “Why don’t you put yours away?”

“Aw, come on, Dean, at least show us what you got,” Charlie said.

“I would like to see as well,” Cas said. Dean sighed.

“Fine,” he said, and pulled out his pokeball, releasing the Makuhita.

“Are you kidding, Dean? It looks like a dumpling!” Sam said, laughing.

Dean growled, glaring at his younger brother. His Makuhita, still with a brilliant smile, toddled over to Sam. Sam continued laughing, apparently unable to contain his amusement at the way the small creature moved. Makuhita stopped just in front of Sam, staring up and up and up at the man. With no warning, Makuhita reared back and punched Sam in the shin.

“Ow! Fuck! The fuck Dean?!” Sam exclaimed, jumping back from the creature and hopping up and down on his good leg, holding the other.

Unable to contain himself, Dean doubled over in laughter. “Hey man, that’s what you get for making fun of the little guy!”

Sam rolled his eyes, dropping his leg to limp over towards the car. “I’m gonna go get a room for me and Bobby, jerk.”

Dean knelt down next to his Makuhita. “Good going, little buddy!”

The Makuhita just smiled at him, crossing its arms over its tiny chest.

*****

By the time they’d chased off everyone, it was nearly dinner time. By mutual consensus, Charlie left to her hotel, while Sam climbed into Bobby’s truck and went to check into another room for the two of them. Even if the two angels didn’t sleep, five men to a single room was too crowded. Dean didn’t mind that Jack was tagging along with he and Cas. Jack looked up to Cas like the angel really had helped conceive him, and embarrassingly enough insisted on calling Dean his ‘father’ as well, though Dean had played absolutely no role in bringing Jack into the world. It made Dean feel bad, honestly. He’d been angry, grieving and hurting, when Jack had shown up, and had treated Jack very poorly. Yet, despite that, Jack looked up to Dean. It made him want to do better.

Before either Jack or Cas could get into the Impala, Dean made them both put away their Pokemon. Cas’s Psyduck was feathered, though not as tightly as Jack’s Chansey. It didn’t have feathers, but a very short fine fur coat. None of that was something Dean wanted shedding inside his car. Cas sighed heavily, but complied, and Jack followed suit. Dean called back his Makuhita, as well. He hated to think what Bobby’s car would look like after Sam’s Growlithe had been in there.

“Alright. Everyone ready to go?” Dean asked, climbing into Baby. Cas and Jack both nodded simultaneously.

“Great! Let’s go!” Dean shifted the car into gear and headed back towards their motel. He was nearly to the parking lot when he heard the distinctive sound of a pokeball opening and a Pokemon manifesting.

“Makuhita!”

“Son of a bitch!”

Dean swerved as the Pokemon appeared on the dashboard between he and Cas, obscuring part of his view. Cas grabbed for it, only managing to make it leap out of his grasp and into the back seat.

“Jack! Grab that thing! Makuhita, sit still!”

“Tatatatatata!” laughed Makuhita, bouncing as Jack grabbed for it. Dean gunned it into the parking lot, lurching into the first empty spot he saw. Jamming the car into park, he grabbed his pokeball and pointed it at the Makuhita.

“Makuhita! Return!”

Within seconds, the Pokemon was back in its ball, and Dean nearly collapsed. “I swear to God, if that thing had crashed my Baby…”

“I would not have allowed it,” Cas said solemnly. Dean chuckled weakly and nodded.

“Okay. Party’s over. Let’s get inside before something else happens,” Dean said, shoving the ball back into his pocket and getting out of the car. Jack and Cas both followed suit. Dean sighed. He’d parked a long way from the room, and normally he’d consider moving the car closer. He didn’t like having Baby too far out of view, and it was never a good idea to have her so far away someone might notice the kinds of things Dean and Sam carried in their luggage or on their person. But after nearly wrecking her, Dean wasn’t so sure he was ready to hop back inside and drive immediately.

Once in the motel room, Dean collapsed onto the bed he’d shared with Cas. His face half smushed in the comforter, he asked “Cas, buddy?”

“Yes, Dean?”

“Any chance you could run across the street and get us some burgers?” Dean couldn’t see Cas’s reaction, but he could imagine the look on his face. The one that said that Cas was struggling between wanting to be helpful, and wanting to remind Dean that he’s not an errand boy.

“I’ll do it!” Jack said.

“Great,” Dean said. Rolling over, he pulled out his wallet. “Bacon cheeseburger, everything on it, and a bottle of water. Whatever Cas wants, and whatever you want. If they have malted milkshakes, get yourself one. You’ll probably like it if you like nougat.”

Cas stared at Dean. “I don’t believe malt and nougat are--”

“He likes Milky Ways. That’s chocolate malted nougat. Let the boy live, Cas,” Dean said, grumbling. Jack took the money Dean gave him and shot a glance between the two men, before dashing out the door. Dean flopped back onto his back.

“You’re going to be uncomfortable if you sleep like that,” Cas said.

Dean sighed. “I know, I know. Give me a moment.”

“I could help…?”

“No,” Dean said sharply. He couldn’t help the tension that shot through his body. He was craving some kind of touch, some kind of affection. Ever since Cas had died, Dean hadn’t bothered picking up strangers. He missed the touch, the affection he got from sleeping beside someone. Dean had let himself curl up against Cas the past couple of nights, getting the contact he needed, but he couldn’t…

He couldn’t stand to let it go farther than that. One-night-stands were one thing; the other person didn’t expect it to ever happen again, so it was always on Dean’s terms when an encounter happened. But relationships… those were entirely different beasts. Partners were expected to do more than just cuddle, do more than just sleep in each other’s arms. And they were expected to do so often. Dean could deal with a one-night-stand every month or so, the grossness of the sex offset by the need for physical closeness of a more platonic kind. But he wouldn’t let his relationship with Cas become something he dreaded, and the only way he could think of to do that was to never allow Cas close enough to figure out that Dean… didn’t want to have sex. Dean had tried those types of relationships before, and it just didn’t work.

It meant Dean probably couldn’t sleep beside Cas tonight, which was upsetting. But he wasn’t going to be a cocktease. Forcing himself upright, Dean shrugged off his jacket and plaids, slid off his belt and jeans, and then settled down into the bed in just his t-shirt and boxer-briefs. He’d let himself get too comfortable with Cas at night, and now he was paying for it. Dean already missed the closeness, and he couldn’t help wishing things could be different. But this was all his own fault. Pulling the covers up, he rolled over. Cas would figure out his own after-dark arrangements.

So Dean was surprised to feel the mattress move underneath him.

“May I join you?” Cas asked.

“What about Jack? He’s probably lonely over in the other bed,” Dean grumbled.

“Jack is, as you would put it, a ‘big boy.’ He can sleep by himself,” Cas said. “There are two beds. I could stay with you.”

“Nah, you go keep Jack company,” Dean said, pulling the covers up over his head. He wanted to grab Cas and pull him into the bed, wrap himself around Cas like an octopus, but he didn’t.

Dean heard Cas sigh, and felt the angel get off the bed. He curled up tighter in the blankets, trying to ignore the cold that suddenly creeped in. Sometimes, Dean really really wished he could be better for the people he loved.

*****

Cas stared down at Dean for a moment. He could feel waves of longing rolling over his being, emanating outward from Dean’s core. It was frustrating, because Castiel was right here. There was no reason for Dean to yearn for Cas’s presence when Cas was no more than three feet away. He couldn’t understand Dean’s moods or wishes, though he tried very hard to.

He couldn’t make sense of it. For two nights now, Dean had sought out Cas’s companionship, inviting him into bed with Dean. Dean craved the contact; Cas knew that much. But Dean would pull away, shut down at times, in ways that Cas couldn’t predict. The human was, at best, confusing, and Cas had hoped that eventually he would learn to understand and anticipate Dean’s moods. But once again, it seemed like he’d failed.

Cas knew that Dean did not usually appreciate any form of ‘PDA’ when his brother was around, though Castiel did not understand why. Surely, Sam loved his brother enough to allow Dean the kind of affection the human craved, especially as Sam knew and trusted Castiel both with his brother’s life and his own. It was an incongruity that Cas had not yet deciphered, and was unwilling to go to Sam about directly. If there was, perhaps, some hidden reason that Sam would not approve, Castiel did not want to cause Dean grief. Dean avoided all direct conversations, as a matter of course.

With all that in mind, though, sharing a bed with Sam safely tucked away in another room should not have bothered Dean. Dean did not seem to mind Jack, and had allowed Jack before to curl up with them. Jack certainly placed no judgment on Dean for his desires. Nevertheless, Dean lay in his bed, tightly curled around his core, wordlessly begging for Cas to stay close while telling him out loud to go away. There was nothing in the room that normally triggered Dean’s insecurities, and yet they were still ruling him.

Cas had no idea what to make of it. As an angel, verbal consent was and had always been far more important to him than nonverbal signals, even if those nonverbal signals were empathetic. But it felt like Dean was lying to him, asking for one thing while wanting another. Ultimately, he supposed, it didn’t really matter. Cas was not human, and had no real desire to become human again after his last experience with it. Pleasures of the flesh that Dean enjoyed were not part of Cas’s skillset, making any kind of long-term human relationship out of the question. Cas had watched for years as Dean found new lovers, remembered distinctly their ‘last night on Earth’ in the brothel.

Resolving himself to be content with what Dean was willing to give him, Cas began picking up the clothing that Dean had dropped onto the floor and folding it. When Jack showed back up ten minutes later, Cas touched Dean’s mind gently, just enough to confirm that he was truly sound asleep and would not welcome a wake up. He put Dean’s food into the refrigerator, smiling with Jack as the boy ate his cheeseburger and slurped up the chocolate malt shake.

He knew he’d have to tell Dean in the morning that Jack had loved chocolate malt. Dean would be pleased that he was right.

*****

Dean was smug as shit when Cas told him the next morning that Jack had enjoyed the milkshake. Dean had also been more than a little sad that Cas had simply put his cheeseburger into the motel refrigerator the night before, instead of waking Dean up to let him eat it. Especially because it meant that Dean was absolutely ravenous. Dean couldn’t exactly be angry at the angel though, especially after Cas pointed out that it meant Dean could pack the burger for lunch, so that they didn’t have any reason to take a break in the middle of the day.

He would have happily eaten the burger for breakfast, but Cas had pointed out, far too logically, that they were planning on meeting the others at the diner, and Dean would be very disappointed if he couldn’t order something sugary or greasy at the diner. Dean had briefly considered eating it anyway, but he knew Cas was right. Besides, the diner had pie.

At the diner, they had to shove a couple of tables together to fit everyone again, earning a dirty look from the waitress. Dean just smiled at her.

“So what’s the plan for today?” Charlie asked when the waitress left with their orders.

“I’ve got… some calls to make,” Sam said, glancing at Dean.

“Yeah? To who?” Dean asked.

“People. What about you guys?” Sam asked, turning to Bobby and Charlie. Dean narrowed his eyes, watching Sam. Something was up, and Dean didn’t like it. They’d learned, over and over again, that keeping secrets didn’t make things better.

Bobby seemed to share Dean’s suspicions, if the look on his face was anything to go by, but he accepted the topic change. “Thought we might tackle some research, and maybe some experimentation. See if there’s an easy way to send these things back to wherever they came from, what the potions can work on, that kind of thing.”

“Jamie knows a lot about Pokemon,” Jack said. “I could call them, if you wanted.”

“Not sure we need another cook in the kitchen, kid,” Bobby said. “We got Red here, if we need information.”

Charlie glanced over at Bobby as Jack deflated. “It might not be a bad idea, actually. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know a bunch, but I was a lot more interested in Sailor Moon. Lesbian cousins and all. Never really got invested in the original show. We definitely could, you know, watch all 20-plus years of it, and the comic books, and read about the card game, and the handheld games, and the console games, and all that, but like. If we have someone who already knows a bunch about that? That’d be really helpful, and maybe point us in the right direction, you know? Besides, the kid’s already been brought into it. Isn’t Jamie your friend that Chansey brought back to life?”

Jack perked back up. “Yeah! They were telling me about some things…”

Bobby rolled his eyes as Charlie and Jack began discussing Jamie, Pokemon, and related things that didn’t seem to have a lot to do with their current predicament. Dean grinned at Bobby. “That’s what you get for hanging out with a bunch of kids, Bobby.”

“Somebody’s got to keep them in line. They’d wander off into traffic if I weren’t around to keep their heads up,” Bobby said in a grumble.

Sam snorted. “What about you, Dean? Any ideas for you and Cas?”

Dean shrugged. “I guess if you have calls, Cas and I can tag along with Bobby.”

Making a face, Sam looked down. Dean sighed. “Out with it, Sammy. You got something on your mind, you can fucking tell me.”

“...Dean, do you remember Grant? Dad’s friend? We stayed with him for a while around here,” Sam said, not looking up.

It took a moment for Dean to respond. “I… I haven’t thought about him in years.”

There was a reason for that. A reason that had been beaten into Dean until he’d forced himself to forget it. But yeah, he remembered Grant. Dean swallowed hard, tensing slightly when he felt Cas’s hand touch his hip under the table. The touch was light, barely there, and after a moment Dean shifted into it. He never quite understood how Cas always knew when Dean needed reassurance, but he wasn’t going to refuse it right now.

“Well, uh. I looked him up, figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if he had any clue what was going on,” Sam said. “We talked a bit, and he asked after you. He seems like a lonely old man, and well. I told him we were in town for business, but that you’d stop by if you could.”

Swallowing hard, Dean glanced over at Cas. The angel nodded almost imperceptibly, and Dean relaxed. “Yeah, okay. Give me his address, Cas and I will go over for a bit. Can’t hurt.”

Sam nodded. Bobby glanced between the two brothers and sighed. “Well, it sounds like we have a plan, then. Make sure y’all report back here at dinnertime. I don’t want to hear that some lion-bear has up and eaten you whole.”

Dean snorted. “Not sure lion-bear is a Pokemon, Bobby, but sure. We’ll all be back here by dinner. For now, let’s eat!”

Nobody noticed the Eevee, sitting on the windowsill of the diner, watching them eat from outside.

*****

Dean balked a little when they pulled up beside Grant’s house. He remembered the little two bedroom apartment, where Dean had shared a room with Sammy. The house was so different, similar in a lot of ways to places they had lived briefly with Dad, but out of place for Dean’s memories of Grant. With a glance to Cas for strength (though he would never admit that’s what it was), Dean opened the car door and got out. They walked up to the door together, and with a fortifying breath, Dean knocked.

From inside, Dean could hear some shuffling and a muffled “Be right there!” He wished he was brave enough to grab Cas’s hand for comfort. Dean was a grown-ass man, and he didn’t need to hold someone’s hand, but he wasn’t sure what his welcome was going to be. Grant had taken care of them a long, long time ago, and unlike Bobby or Sonny, had never been in contact since. It seemed likely that John had been right, and Grant had simply been indulging a dumb kid in overly ambitious dreams. Once they’d been out of Grant’s life, surely the man had come to his senses and realized Dean was dumber than a sack of bricks.

The door opened, and for a moment the older man on the other side just stared at Dean. Slowly, too quickly and yet far too slowly, Grant’s face seemed to crumple.

“Oh… Oh my boy…” Grant’s smile was wobbly, the tears that hadn’t yet fallen from his eyes evident in his voice. “I was so afraid, when your brother came by without you…”

Dean smiled, waving uncomfortably. “Hey.”

“Come in, come in! Dean, I’m so… I’m so happy you’re here,” Grant said. “Bring in your…?”

Cas stepped forward. “I am an angel. My name is Castiel.”

Dean jerked his head towards Cas as Grant took the angel’s hand in greeting. Grant just laughed, finally dispelling his grief. “Ah, is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?”

Cocking his head, Cas narrowed his eyes. “I have never called myself anything else.”

“Well, you’re a lucky one. Come on in, Castiel. Dean’s angel is welcome in this house.”

Dean wasn’t sure exactly what the innuendo was intended to mean, but he had an idea. Cas, on the other hand, seemed entirely unaware. He didn’t know how he was going to correct Grant without letting Cas in on the misunderstanding, and Cas had a tendency to make those kind of things even worse.

Grant led them into the living room, offering coffee and pie. Dean couldn’t turn those down on his best days, and wasn’t going to start now. The room was towards the back of the house, and Cas kept looking out the back windows, glancing back at Dean when he did so.

“Dude, what’s wrong?” Dean asked, while Grant was still in the kitchen.

“I think Grant might have a beehive,” Cas said.

“You wanna go talk to the bees?” Dean asked, grinning.

Solemnly, Cas nodded. “But I can stay here with you. It is fine.”

Dean shook his head. Grant walked back in right then, and Dean smiled up at him as he handed them both coffee mugs. “Hey, Cas here loves bees, and he was wondering if he could go check out your hives?”

Grant chuckled. “I don’t mind, but don’t get too close unless you want me to dig out the beekeeping gear.”

Cas shook his head. “I will be fine like this. They will not harm me.”

Pointing towards the back door, Grant gestured that Cas was free to go. Once Cas was outside, Grant sat down across from Dean and said, “I like him.”

Dean looked down into his coffee. “Yeah?”

“He suits you. Looks at you the way Noah… well. I like him.” Grant cleared his throat. “It’s been a long time, Dean. Tell me how you’ve been.”

“Not much to tell, really,” Dean said. “Why… How come you never got back in touch with us?”

It was Grant’s turn to seek wisdom from his coffee. “I tried, Dean. I called every number your father had ever given me, watched the news for any mention of you, even hired a private investigator. John was always good at disappearing when he wanted to, though. I moved here, put together rooms for you boys, hoping against hope I could find you and bring you back here. But after a few years…”

Grant trailed off, and Dean nodded. “I remember you and Dad fighting, the night we left.”

“He left you here nearly four months, with next to no contact. When you got here, you and Sam both were so… scared. You flinched when we talked, avoided eye contact with me… But you changed so much in those months,” Grant said. “I wanted to give you both a better life than John was willing or able to.”

“Dad never would listen to reason when it didn’t suit him,” Dean said.

“I tried to talk to him, but it eventually escalated to threats,” Grant said. “By then it was too late to change his mind, though. Dean, if I could have…”

Dean chuckled darkly. He wasn’t really sure what to say, settling for taking a long swig of his coffee, the liquid burning a path down his throat.

“...So… How long have you and Cas been together?” Grant asked awkwardly, clearly attempting for a subject change.

Dean nearly choked on his drink. “I…? What? No! I mean… Not… I don’t… What?”

Grant grabbed a napkin, handing it to Dean as he moved to Dean’s side and smacked his back in an attempt to help clear his airways. Dean coughed a moment longer, trying to hide his blush.

“Don’t lie to me, son,” Grant said with a grin. “I know that look.”

“We’re… We’re really not together,” Dean said, still flustered.

For a moment, Grant was silent, watching Dean’s face in a way that made Dean extremely uncomfortable. Then he turned his gaze in front of him, but Dean didn’t think the older man was actually looking at anything in the room.

“Dean… When I was a kid, loving another man was… Well, you just didn’t do it. Technically, we weren’t allowed in the military, but the draft boards didn’t care as much about it when we were in the middle of a war. Noah and I had been in school together, and when we found out how low his draft number was, we decided to enlist together. Figured at least that way I could watch his back, and he could watch mine, and we wouldn’t be overseas as long, maybe. We didn’t hide our feelings for each other after basic training, and no one cared as long as you were discreet about it,” Grant said. Dean started to say something, but Grant held up his hand, and Dean fell back into silence. “I swear this has a point, son. The thing is, Noah and I, we made plans. We both wanted kids, but… well, in our day that was out of the question. A lot of things were. We were going to buy a ‘bachelor house,’ live there together. We had all these hopes and dreams. And then… One day, they were gone. Noah was gone.”

Grant took a deep shuddering breath, and turned to face Dean. “In those days, what we were was illegal and immoral. Noah’s parents kept the flag, kept his medals, kept most of his things. We hadn’t made wills yet, and they likely wouldn’t have been honored anyway, not when we were only just out of childhood. I never got to have the life with Noah that we’d planned for. But Dean, things have changed. You can marry that boy, have kids, you can sit by his bed in a hospital, and you can walk down the road holding hands without fear. I know that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but. Don’t get in your own way, when you could be happy, son.”

Staring down at his hands, Dean nodded. “Grant… It’s not that I don’t… don’t need him. Last year, when I thought he was gone… But I’m poison. Everything I touch goes wrong.”

“How long has he been with you?” Grant asked.

“Nine years,” Dean said immediately. He blushed when Grant raised an eyebrow.

“And in nine years, he hasn’t left you yet?” Dean shook his head, and Grant continued, “Then he ain’t gonna. The way that boy looks at you, he’d follow you to hell and back.”

“He already has,” Dean mumbled, not really intending Grant to hear him.

“Then what is going to change if you tell him the truth?” Grant asked.

“It’s not just that, Grant. There’s also Sammy to consider,” Dean said.

“Sam’s a big boy, Dean. And I’m sure he wants his brother happy,” Grant said.

“But Sammy doesn’t need a fag--” Dean clamped his mouth shut, eyes wide as he realized what he was saying and to who.

Grant just smiled at him softly. “That’s your father talking. In all the years I knew him, I’d never realized how much a problem John had with me until I tried to take you boys away from him. Then it was like all the worst parts of him came out. I’m sorry he took that out on you.”

Dean shook his head, not sure whether he was denying that his father took it out on him or denying that his father’s voice still echoed in his mind. It didn’t matter; he and Grant knew that both were true.

“Is there something else that holds you back, son?” Grant asked.

“I’m broken,” Dean said, so softly he wasn’t sure that Grant would hear him.

“How so?” Grant didn’t immediately deny Dean’s statement, and somehow that made Dean feel better. It meant Grant was willing to listen to him, not just throw empty platitudes at him until he shut up.

“I’m not actually… Grant, when I look at Cas, I feel more complete than I’ve ever felt. I need him, more than he knows,” Dean said. He spoke quietly, staring at the carpet, refusing to acknowledge that he was actually saying these words aloud to another human. “I want him to stay close, forever if possible. But I don’t want to have sex with him. I’ve never… Never wanted to have sex with anyone.”

Grant was silent for a moment, so long that Dean nearly looked over at him. Finally he replied, “Have you had sex with anyone else?”

“Sure, bunches of times,” Dean said with a shrug.

“Why?”

“At first, cuz Dad expected it. Dad… Well, he had feelings about… people who were different, and he made it clear I better not be different,” Dean said.

“Only at first?” Grant asked.

“I mean, sex is kinda fun? Mostly, though, I just liked getting to be close to people. When I was with someone, I could relax, let them take charge. I didn't have to be on alert. And afterwards, I could usually talk them into letting me spend the night, and they’d hold me,” Dean said. “Dad wasn’t real big on touchy-feely stuff, but… I didn’t do it for sex, anyway.”

“Have you… ever looked at someone and wanted to have sex with them?” Grant asked.

“Not that I can recall,” Dean said. “I told you, I’m broken. You’re right, it’s fine to be gay or bi or whatever nowadays, but I’m just… nothing.”

Grant shook his head. “Have you ever heard of asexuality?”

“That’s how plants and bacteria reproduce. And some reptiles, though that’s a bit different,” Dean said, finally looking up and giving Grant a quizzical look.

“Fair enough. Scientifically yes, that’s true,” Grant said with a chuckle. “Always were a little scientist. No, I’m talking about human sexuality. Asexuality is when a person doesn’t feel sexual attraction at all. They’re not broken, and they can have fulfilling committed relationships if they want. It’s just… a different way of being, that’s all.”

Dean stared at Grant in shock. The older man wrapped an arm around Dean’s shoulders. “I don’t know all the ins and outs of asexuality, honestly. It might be for the best if you look it up, and don’t take an old man’s explanation without a grain of salt. But I promise you it’s a real thing, and there are others out there. I have a funny feeling your boy wouldn’t care, but if sex were a dealbreaker for him, then he isn’t good enough for you anyway. You understand that?”

Grant shook Dean gently, and Dean nodded. He’d never… The idea that there might be a name for what he was, and that it was normal…

He didn’t get a chance to dwell on it long, because Makuhita chose that moment to burst forth from its ball with a high-pitched screech. Both Grant and Dean shot to their feet in opposite directions, Grant grabbing a lamp to use as a weapon while Dean pulled out his handgun. Makuhita stared up at both of them for a moment in silence, before cackling and running off.

“The fuck is that?!” Grant shouted as the creature disappeared.

“Long story, I’ll tell you later. First let’s catch the damn thing,” Dean said, shoving his gun back into his pants and heading after the Makuhita. “Cas! We need you!”

Instead of walking in the door, like Dean had expected, Cas appeared with the sound of flapping wings, making Grant jump three feet in the air and turning his lamp-cum-bludgeon in Cas’s direction. Dean just sighed. “I promise, Grant. Later. Cas, Makuhita escaped again. We need to get it back.”

Grant stood there staring at both of them for a moment before shaking it off. “I’m holding you to that, Dean. What can I do?”

Dean grinned, and with only a small nod, Cas followed Dean’s lead, with Grant trailing behind. Dean supposed after this he’d be giving Grant The Talk, letting him in on the world of monsters and angels and, apparently, small Pokemon that refused to stay in their balls. For now, though, they had a punchy dumpling to catch.

*****

As soon as Sam was alone, he sent off a text to Eileen. Within minutes his laptop pinged, letting him know that he had a video call.

“Hey, how far away are you from Wyoming?” Sam said by way of greeting, signing along with his words.

“Depends on where in Wyoming,” Eileen replied, also signing.

Sam sent her a link through his computer’s map function, and once she’d looked it up, she shrugged. “An hour, maybe two. What should I bring?”

“Just you. I’ll explain when you get here,” Sam said. She nodded, and with quick goodbyes they logged off.

An hour and a half later, they were sitting in the motel room that Sam had shared with Bobby the night before, and Sam was trying to come up with how to explain. Eileen was staring at him squirm.

“The awkward silence doesn’t bother me,” she said, “but if you don’t start talking your butt might sprout wings.”

Sam choked on a laugh, and grinned at her almost shyly. “Okay, I need advice, okay? I… I found out some things about Dean, and me, and it’s kinda shaking my world apart, and I need someone to talk through it with me before I go crazy.”

Eileen nodded, quirking her lip up. “We certainly can’t have the Great Sam Winchester going crazy. Hit me.”

Relaxing, Sam began to talk. Once he got started, it was like the floodgates had opened. He talked about growing up with Dean and his dad, about how Dean had taken care of him. He talked about his longing to be normal, about running away to Stanford. He talked about the months and years of study that had gone into getting that free ride. He talked about how Dean had helped him study, how Dean had made sure Sam never wanted for food or clean clothing. He talked about Dean dropping out, and the things John had said about Dean after that. He talked about finding Grant here, about Dean’s trophies and posters, about who he’d thought Dean was for so long and all the little incongruities he’d suddenly noticed recently. About the things he was remembering now, that the Dean he held in his mind wouldn’t have been able to do, things he’d thought weird at the time but shrugged off. He talked about what had shaped most of his views on Dean, how John’s words had shaped Dean both in Sam’s mind and in Dean’s actions.

The more Sam talked, with Eileen gently encouraging him with questions and reassurances, the more Sam realized things. Little things, stuff he hadn’t really thought about over the years because Dean was just his dumb grifter hunter brother who killed monsters and flirted with anything that moved. He hadn’t ever thought to add up all the little deviations from that image Sam had before. But Dean knew how to build an EMF detector out of an old Walkman, something Sam knew he couldn’t do now, let alone when he was younger. Dean built electromagnetic bombs that could wipe every computer in range. Dean might let Sam do the research most of the time, but he was just as good or better than Sam when he tried. He knew things off the top of his head that Sam sometimes had to look up.

But there were other things, things from their childhood. Sam remembered that Dean always knew enough to help Sam with his homework, up until Sam’s second semester junior year in high school when he stopped letting Dean help. Dean had seemed to spend every waking hour once Sam got into middle school at the library, which Sam had always assumed was code for “screwing some girl” but now he wasn’t so sure. He knew Dean had ended up with more than his fair share of detentions, but thinking back it seemed that they had corresponded all too coincidentally with Sam’s soccer practices. He remembered the way John had talked about Dean, and to Dean, and how Dean had never argued back like Sam had. He remembered the bruises that Dean sometimes sported after spending time alone with John, remembered Dean brushing them off as hunting accidents, and only now realizing that werewolves, vampires, the kinds of monsters they hunted didn’t usually cause bruises shaped like the ones Dean had. Bruises shaped like his father’s fingers.

When he finally ran out of words, Sam looked down, forgetting for a moment that Eileen needed to see his face to read his lips. “I’ve been a jackass.”

He then repeated it when Eileen nudged his face up with a question in her eyes, and spelled it out in sign language, just to be sure she knew the kind of man she was dating.

Eileen shook her head. “Sam, you might have been a jackass. You Winchesters seem very good at that. But you were a child.”

“I haven’t been a child for nearly twenty years,” Sam said, burying his head in his hands. Eileen sighed and nudged his head up, making him repeat himself before she responded.

“No, you have not. But you have been rather busy, right? Saving the world and all that? Dean will forgive you. I doubt he thinks you’ve done anything wrong,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean I haven’t, though,” Sam said. “I have so much to make up for. I… I just always accepted that I was the Smart One, but that was never actually true, was it?”

“No,” Eileen said. “I love you, Sam Winchester, but you are sometimes as dense as a brick. It makes you rather lovable most of the time, but other times I just want to smack you.”

Sam groaned. “What am I going to do?”

“You’re going to apologize to your brother, Sam Winchester,” Eileen said. When he opened his mouth to protest, she shook her head sharply, closing her hand against her lips fiercely. Sam obeyed the order, shutting up. “You are going to apologize, and I suspect you will have to spend some time reminding your brother that he is just as intelligent as you. You will correct, and move forward. Your brother will forgive you. You are not perfect, Sam Winchester. You have made mistakes, and you will make them in the future, and that is okay. If you were not flawed, then I could not love you, and then where would we be?”

With a watery smile, Sam nodded.

“Also, you are going to show me where you got your fire dog. A Growlithe?” Eileen spelled the word out and Sam nodded. “Show me. I want one.”

Sam couldn’t help laughing.

*****

Jack had been mildly afraid that Jamie would refuse to answer his phone call, after Jack had nearly gotten them killed. It seemed, however, that Jamie was the forgiving type, because when Jack called and asked them to meet him at the diner, Jamie was excited to do so.

“This is my grandfather, Bobby, and his partner Charlie,” Jack said when Jamie arrived. Jamie stared wide-eyed at Bobby and Charlie.

“Partner?” they asked.

“Oh! Not that kind of partner!” Charlie said quickly, waving her hands in front of her. “No no, I mean, Bobby’s great and all but he’s like old enough to be my father or worse, and honestly he’s just not… I mean, I’m into girls, you know? So definitely not. Definitely.”

Bobby raised an eyebrow. “Good save there, Red. I’m sure they suspect nothing.”

Charlie sighed. “Okay, look. We’re here because there’s weird shit going down, and we’re trying to work out how to deal with it. Okay? We’re business partners.”

“Like Men In Black? You guys are from a super secret government organization or something? Are you going to wipe my brain?” Jamie turned their eyes to Jack. “I don’t want to forget you.”

“No, we ain’t gonna erase your mind. We were actually hoping you’d be willing to help us out a bit,” Bobby said. “Y’see, we know these creatures called Pokemon are appearing, and we need to know more about’m. Jack here said you might have some ideas.”

Jamie perked up. “You want my help? Yes! I can do that. I’ve been playing the game forever, and all the handheld games. And the newest cartoon series is super cute. Have you seen it?”

Jamie directed the last question at Jack, and he shook his head. “I have not, no.”

“Focus, kid. What can you tell us about the things?” Bobby asked. Jamie turned back to him and nodded.

“Where do you want me to start?”

*****

It took quite a while for Jamie to finish answering questions, and once they had, Bobby decided it was time to get out and do some ‘testing,’ as he called it. He piled everyone into his beat-up truck, and they headed out to the church again.

“All right. So ‘pparently if we catch a Pokemon, we can transfer it back to this Professor guy?” Bobby asked. Jamie nodded. “Then let’s see if that holds true for the real ones like it does for the digital ones.”

Bobby was the only one with his game running, and it didn’t take long for a Pidgey to show up. Pulling out a pokeball from their adventure the day before, Bobby beaned the bird in the head and they watched as it was sucked into the ball. When the ball dinged acknowledgement that the bird was captured, Bobby checked his inventory.

“...it don’t look like I’ve caught anything but the plant dinosaur I had to pick when I started the game,” Bobby said. “I’m not seeing the bird or the purple blob I got yesterday.”

Charlie sighed. “Probably was too much to ask that there’d be an easy way to deal with this. On the plus side, I get to keep Ralts, so.”

“If you’re not catching them on the phone, then you’re not getting candy, either,” Jamie said.

“That’s how you said Pokemon evolve in the phone game, correct?” Jack asked.

Jamie nodded. “If it’s not following Pokemon Go rules, then it’s probably levels. That’s how most of the games worked, and how the cartoon implied it worked.”

“And ya level up your Pokemon through fighting? Like some kind of glorified cock-fighting?” Bobby asked. “I’m not sure I like that. Pretty sure most people ain’t gonna, either.”

“That’s the easiest way, but… The games and the cartoons introduced things like the Contests and Showcases and stuff like that,” Jamie said.

“It sounds like,” Charlie said, “the Pokemon mostly evolve by mastering skills. That sound about right?”

Jamie paused, thinking for a moment, and then nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

“So it doesn’t really matter how they master the skills, as long as they do so,” Charlie said. “Probably a good thing you caught the bird, Bobby, cuz I’m pretty sure it evolves quickly. We can figure out how they evolve without too much trouble, I bet.”

Bobby nodded. “A’right. I’ll work with the damn thing later, see what happens. Hey kid, I got another question for you.”

“Shoot,” Jamie said.

“Do these things breed?” Bobby asked. “Are we gonna have to worry about more than them just… showing up?”

Jamie slowly nodded. “In the games and cartoons they do, yeah. Not so much in the app, but if they aren’t following app rules…”

“Balls,” Bobby said. “Figures. So there ain’t really any real way to make this go away at this point. If this stop has been spawning these things for weeks now.”

Charlie sighed. “Oh, hey. Those potion things… You think they work for anything?”

Jamie shrugged. “In the cartoon they only use them for Pokemon, really, but it worked on me when the Pikachu attacked, so… I’m not really sure.”

“One way to find out,” Bobby said. Tucking the ball away, he tossed a potion to Charlie and then pulled out a knife. Carefully he sliced the back of his hand open, deep enough to bleed but not badly enough to cause any lasting damage. Jamie promptly screamed.

“It’s okay!” Jack said. “Grandpa Bobby knows what he’s doing!”

Jamie buried their head against Jack’s chest. “Your grandfather is crazy.”

Jack chose not to argue, wrapping his arms around them after a moment. Jamie seemed to relax further, and Jack decided that was for the best. He watched as Charlie carefully sprayed Bobby’s hand with the potion, but nothing happened. Bobby looked over at Jack and held up his injured hand with a question in his eyes. Jack nodded, and reached over to tap Bobby’s arm, quietly healing the wound. Jamie remained cuddled up against Jack the whole time.

“Great. Okay, so it looks like these things only work for injuries relating to Pokemon attacks,” Bobby said. “Red, you said there’ve been a couple of deaths?”

Charlie nodded. “Yeah. Pretty sure the first one has been released for burial, but the other guy is probably still there. You and I can make a quick run to the morgue.”

Bobby nodded, glancing over at Jack. “You gonna be okay with your friend, boy?”

Looking down at the person in his arms, Jack nodded. “If you could drop us off back in town, I can take care of Jamie.”

*****

Dean had managed to corner the Makuhita at the end of the hallway, with Cas flanking him. Grant was behind them, far enough to stay out of the way but close enough to make a grab for the creature if needed.

“Makuhita, return!” Dean said, pointing the ball at the Pokemon. It hadn’t worked the last three times he’d tried, but with the creature cornered this time, he was hoping it would give up. His luck held out, and the Pokemon disappeared back into the ball. Dean sighed.

“...well, while you’re up here,” Grant said. “I showed your brother the rooms I’d made up for you when I moved here. If you’re interested… I saved your things, if you want to take them, or if you’re staying in town for a while, you could stay here?”

Dean glanced at Cas. “Uh…”

“At the very least, you did tell me you’d explain that… thing,” Grant said, with a sad smile.

“I’d like to see the room,” Dean said, coming to a decision. “And I’ll explain everything, but… Could I have some time with Cas, first?”

Grant nodded, his smile widening. “Come this way.”

When Dean opened the door to ‘his’ bedroom, he almost couldn’t believe it. It was… Well, if he were still in school, this would have been perfect. But his gaze zeroed in on the angel on his desk. “You saved her,” he said.

“Of course I did,” Grant said. “I always felt bad that something so important to you got left behind.”

Dean refused to look at Grant, knowing his eyes were beginning to water. “I’d like to talk to Cas now. Please.”

Grant excused himself, shutting the door behind him. Cas stepped forward as soon as the man was gone, placing his hand on Dean’s shoulder, right where his handprint had once been. “Dean?”

“When I was a kid…” Dean stared at the ceramic angel, not Cas. He wasn’t sure he was strong enough to say this to Cas’s face. “When I was a kid, my mom told me that angels were watching over me. After she died, I figured that was a load of crock, and when you guys showed up, well… But Cas… I. I’ve told you before, we need you. I need you. You’re…”

Dean trailed off, and he felt Cas squeeze his shoulder. “I know. I am like a brother, you’ve said. I try to be useful.”

Spinning on his heels, Dean grabbed Cas by the shoulders, meeting the angel’s wide eyes. “No Cas. I don’t need you to be useful. I need you to be here. I wouldn’t care if you never… You’re my best friend, you’re… Without you, I can’t be me, Cas. You’re what makes my life worth living. Do you understand?”

Cas stared at Dean unblinking, eyes still wide with shock, and Dean was afraid he’d have to spell it out further. Just as he tried to gather the words to do so, Cas raised his hands to cup Dean’s face. “I would stay by you forever, if you would let me.”

“I would let you,” Dean replied, finally smiling. Then he glanced away. “But Cas… I don’t… I don’t want to have sex with you. Probably ever.”

“All right,” Cas said simply, and Dean jerked his gaze back to Cas.

“What do you mean, all right?” Dean asked.

“Dean, I am an angel. We do not procreate the way that humans do, nor do we place the same importance on the act of copulating. Most angels never do so,” Cas said. “I would be happy to engage in carnal relations with you if that made you happy, but if it will not, then it does not matter to me.”

With a choking sob, Dean threw his arms around Cas’s shoulders and buried his face in Cas’s neck. “I can’t believe I was so fucking worried about that.”

Cas simply held Dean until he could breathe normally again. Dean pulled back, and both of them ignored Dean’s wet cheeks. “Well, we probably better go find Grant. I did promise him an explanation.”

Taking Dean’s hand in his own, Cas nodded.

“And, uh, Cas?” Dean asked, looking sideways at his...boyfriend?

“Yes, Dean?”

“What would you say to moving in here while we’re working the case? Get some privacy, away from Sam and everyone?” Dean asked.

“Would Jack be allowed to come with us?”

“Sure. We can put him in Sam’s room,” Dean said. “I just...I don’t plan to hide this, Cas, but I need to figure out how to tell Sam, okay?”

Cas smiled. “Whatever you need, Dean.”

Dean grinned. “Awesome. Let’s go talk to Grant.”

Somehow, as they headed down the stairs hand in hand, Dean knew things were going to work out okay. He glanced out the window as they got to the bottom of the stairs and nearly did a double take.

That couldn’t possibly be the same Eevee on the windowsill, could it?

*****

By the time everyone had gathered back together for dinner, news had spread about the pokestop. The locals were talking about it, and people had started driving in from the surrounding counties to check it out. With the stop located between two major tourist attractions, it was also starting to bring in vacationers.

“There were people pitching tents out there,” Sam said between bites of salad. “Eileen and I talked to several of them, and news is getting out on the internet.”

“What were you doing out there with Eileen, anyway?” Dean asked.

“I needed to consult with her about something, and she wanted a Growlithe too,” Sam replied. “Anyway, the point is, I don’t think there’s any way we can stop this now, especially if we can’t just transfer the animals back into the game.”

“Unfortunately, I think you’re right,” Bobby said. “And I couldn’t bring back the guy crushed by the whale--”

“Wailord,” Charlie corrected.

“--Either,” Bobby continued, glaring at Charlie. She just gave him a thumbs up. “Could be a few things, with that. We know it don’t work on things not caused by the Pokemon, so either it’s a problem where the damage was technically caused by the car crushing him, not the Pokemon, or it has to do with the autopsy.”

“Or it’s just been too long,” Eileen said, signing along. “It might only work within a certain timeframe.”

“And we haven’t worked out evolution, yet, but that may take some time,” Bobby said.

“So uh. Is anyone else having trouble getting their Pokemon to pay attention to them and not be a total menace?” Dean asked.

Jamie, who was sitting at the end of the table with Jack, perked up. “That’s usually about incompatibility with your Pokemon!”

“How the fuck can you be incompatible with an animal?” Dean asked, grumpy.

“Uh, well it’s not really something that happens in most of the games, but the cartoon deals with it a lot,” Jamie said. “In the Pokemon world, getting a Pokemon, especially your first one, is all about finding one that is gonna be your best friend, right? So picking out your Pokemon is a big deal. In most of the games, you just get three options, but even that says a lot about your fighting style and all that. In the show, though, lots of people don’t have one of the three starters. They found their own. It’s a partnership, and if you don’t have the right partner, then it won’t work.”

“Well fuck,” Dean said, staring down at his food. He definitely did not glance out the window, where he could see Eevee staring in at him.

“It’s okay, though. Sometimes it just means you need to do something to improve your own abilities, you know?” Jamie said. “That’s how it worked with Ash and Charizard, anyway.”

Dean didn’t respond, but he dropped one hand below the table and rested it on his leg, just against Cas’s thigh. Cas seemed to understand, because a few minutes later he slid his hand into Dean’s, letting Dean gain strength from him. Dean was grateful, at least, that he had one partner he could rely on.

Sam cleared his throat and Dean looked over his way. “Uh, Dean, I was wondering… You think you and I could talk? Privately? Maybe in the motel room?”

“Uh… Well, Cas and I were gonna move out of the motel today,” Dean said.

Bobby lifted his bottle of beer. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take the room. Sam and his girlfriend don’t need to be sharing with an old man like me.”

“No problem,” Dean said with a grin. “Jack, you can come with us if you like. We’re moving in with Grant until we work out the next step. Or you can stay with Bobby.”

Before Jack could respond, Sam jumped in. “That’s cool and all, but I’d really like to talk to you, Dean.”

Dean groaned. “Do we have to? I’ve had enough chick-flick moments on this hunt to last a lifetime.”

Sam gave Dean an annoyed look, and Dean sighed. It wasn’t Sam’s fault, Dean supposed, that this entire trip had been one giant chick-flick, complete with furry mascots. “Fine, fine. After dinner, okay?”

Conceding the point, Sam shoved another forkful of salad into his mouth. Dean turned to Eileen instead.

“So, you caught a Growlithe?” Dean asked. He very carefully spelled out the word, though he suspected he hadn’t spelled it right.

Eileen nodded. “Yes! Sam and I caught a couple of them. We decided we might like to breed them. We also ran into a couple of deaf kids. They taught me the sign for Growlithe.”

Lifting her hand, Eileen pulled her thumb in as though she were holding up the number four, then with the thumb pointed towards her ear, she drew her hand forward from behind her ear to in front of her face a couple of times, wiggling her fingers as she did so. Everyone at the table attempted to mimic her, though it took Bobby a couple of tries to get it right. Then she showed everyone the sign for ‘Arcanine,’ the second evolution for Growlithe, which involved hooking her pointer fingers and moving her hands in front of her to cross, before repeating the sign used for Growlithe.

“I also caught a Gothita!” Eileen said, spelling out the word. Then she said the word again, pinching her pointer finger and thumb together and pulling her hands apart, first to one side of her head, then to the other, and then below her chin. Once again, everyone mimicked the sign. “I am still learning all the signs for them all, but it is only a matter of time.”

“So what’s a Gothita look like?” Dean asked.

Pulling out a pokeball, Eileen released a black and white Pokemon with a purple face. It had three white bows on it, to either side of its head and below its chin. It smiled up at the group.

“Eileen said it spoke to her, sort of,” Sam said.

“Telepathy,” Eileen corrected. “She is fairly eloquent.”

“Makes sense, being a psychic type,” Charlie said. “She’s adorable!”

Watching everyone, even Bobby in his own gruff way, coo over the tiny creature made Dean lose his appetite. He glanced towards the window, making eye contact with the Eevee outside. The Eevee he was now sure was following him. But he was going to have to deal with enough bullshit from Sam once Sam figured out he was dating Cas. Sam’s image of Dean wasn’t exactly accurate to who Dean was, and hadn’t been for a long time, but it wasn’t easy to break a habit of a lifetime. Besides, when he’d made changes, like when he’d refused to hand over his life to protect Jack like he had Sam, Sam had pushed him to go back to his old ways.

Dean knew that was normal, that when people changed, even for the better, their friends and family struggled with those changes. It was something he and Sonny had talked about, when he was a kid and later when he’d reconnected with Sonny. It was human nature to want stability, and even positive changes could threaten stability. It meant, however, that Dean wasn’t willing to rock the boat too hard. Cas was too important to let go of, and Dean wouldn’t back down from that, but Dean figured he only had the strength to deal with one major change.

No matter how fucking cute the Eevee was, staring at him from the window. It opened its mouth and Dean could almost hear the quiet trilling.

He looked away, and over to Cas. His angel smiled at him, and Dean grinned. He didn’t need everything. Just Cas. He could let the Makuhita go later. Wasn’t like he needed a Pokemon anyway, right? He had his own bonafide angel, and a nephilim stepson. He was fine.

*****

It was with no little trepidation that Dean followed Sam into the motel room Sam had shared with Bobby the night before. Bobby had already moved his things to the room Dean, Cas, and Jack had vacated. Eileen’s stuff had replaced it, though Eileen was out with Charlie and Cas, probably having fun with their stupid cute Pokemon somewhere fun, instead of being trapped into a talk with Sam.

If Dean could have, he’d have turned around and dragged Cas in with him. Dean couldn’t think of anything Sam might say to him that Dean would mind Cas hearing. To be honest, most everything that was embarrassing in Dean’s life was something Cas already knew, and if he didn’t, well. Cas had rebuilt him from the ground up, hung out in his dreams, pulled him out of heaven and hell and purgatory, watched him become a demon, and still chose to stick by him. Dean’s panty kink might surprised the angel, he supposed, but Dean doubted it would change the way Cas felt.

But Sam had been adamant; he wanted to talk to Dean alone. It couldn’t mean anything good. So Dean followed his brother into the motel room and sat down on a bed.

“Alright, Sammy. The fuck is this about?” Dean asked.

Sam settled himself across from Dean on the other bed and took a deep breath, apparently trying to gather his thoughts. Or maybe his strength. Dean just sighed.

“Look, if you’re about to tell me that you’re gonna propose to Eileen, you gotta know you have my blessing. You guys have been dating for what, three years now?” Dean shrugged. “It’ll suck not to have you around the bunker anymore, but Eileen’s got a good head on her shoulders.”

Sam blinked at Dean, opening his mouth a couple of times before firmly shaking his head. “No, Dean. I mean. I’m glad you approve, but… Eileen and I haven’t talked about that. I just… I need to apologize.”

Dean just stared at Sam. “What the hell for?”

“I… For a lot. Can you… Can you just let me get this out? No interruptions, okay?” Sam asked, fidgeting. Dean had never seen Sam so nervous. He nodded, suddenly afraid of what Sam was going to say.

“So, all my life, I kinda thought of myself as the smart one. And that made you the… well. The not as smart one,” Sam said.

“So what? I’m the brawn to your brain, no big deal,” Dean said.

“Dean! No interruptions!” Sam said, making the most perfect bitch face that Dean almost laughed. Holding his hands up in surrender, Dean made a zipping motion across his lips. Satisfied, Sam continued, “I didn’t really think about it. Dad always said I was the smart one, and I went to college. It just made sense to me. But I’ve been… Well. Some things have happened that made me reevaluate those assumptions.”

It took everything Dean had not to interrupt again, and Sam seemed to notice because he shot Dean a glare before his gaze dissolved into discomfort.

“You were always more than my brother, Dean. I never really recognized it like I should have. You kept me fed, made sure I had clean clothing that fit, and you helped me with my homework until what? Junior year?” Sam raised an eyebrow at Dean, who just shrugged uncomfortably.

“That was my job,” Dean mumbled.

“No, Dean, it wasn’t. It was Dad’s job, and he didn’t do it. You kept up with my education at the cost of your own, as well as everything else,” Sam said.

“If I were smart like you, Sammy, then I wouldn’t have had to drop out,” Dean said, still staring at the floor.

“Goddammit Dean, you can build shit we need out of garbage. The math skills you show in hustling pool are insane. But I’ve seen the trophies, okay? I talked to Grant, I talked to Bobby. You’re not dumb. You really could have made something of yourself, Dean,” Sam said, and it appeared that it was his turn to talk to the motel’s carpet. “The fact that you decided not to, so that I had a chance… Dean, that’s more than I could have asked for, more than I deserved, and I… I didn’t even acknowledge it until now.”

“Sam…” Dean started to say, but Sam shook his head.

“I didn’t look past what Dad said about you, because it was easier. And I’m sorry. That’s on me. You’ve always been there for me, Dean, and believed in me no matter what. And I didn’t do the same for you,” Sam said.

“You done?” Dean said, after a long moment.

“Yeah,” Sam said, but then he held his hand up when Dean started to talk. “But if you argue with me on this, I’m just gonna repeat myself. I’ll remind you every day if I have to that you’re not the dumb one. You took on more responsibility than any kid should have had to.”

Dean growled, wanting to argue. It wasn’t that Dean didn’t know he had some smarts. He knew he wasn’t as dumb as his dad thought he was. Bobby had smacked him upside the head after he’d gotten his GED and suggested it was a mistake. Hearing Sam say it to him…

A little voice inside Dean’s head suddenly spoke, sounding suspiciously like Cas. You don’t think you deserve to be loved, do you?

He knew Sam was starting to squirm, but Dean couldn’t focus on him. He… Dean had listened all his life to the little voice that sounded like John, and for once, he wasn’t going to. He had a lot to think about, and he wasn’t entirely sure that Sam was right about everything, but he knew that Sam wasn’t wrong about everything either.

“Cas and I are dating,” Dean blurted out, looking up to meet Sam’s gaze.

“I. What?” Sam just blinked at Dean.

“I’m dating Cas. A boy. Angel. A boy angel,” Dean said. “I think… I think I love him, and I want to try.”

“O...kay,” Sam said, looking like he was still trying to catch up. “Okay. I’m glad? I’m happy for you, Dean. You and Cas are good together.”

“And I think I might be asexual,” Dean said. “And I’m going to go catch the Eevee that’s been following me around, because I think it’s the Pokemon I’m supposed to have. My partner, or whatever.”

Sam just stared for a moment, chewing on his words before finally nodding. “I’ll be here for whatever you need, Dean. Or I’ll try to be, and when I fuck it up you can remind me. Or Eileen will hit me.”

Dean snorted. “I knew I liked that girl.”

“Come on,” Sam said. “Let’s go catch you that Eevee. ...are you sure you want a stalker Pokemon?”

“Hey, I didn’t say anything about your girlfriend’s emo baby, or the fact that you now have multiple fire dogs,” Dean said, shoving his finger into Sam’s face. “None of which go free in Baby, by the way. Leave my Eevee alone.”

Sam just laughed as he followed Dean out of the motel room.

*****

True to his word, Dean immediately caught the Eevee, who had very conveniently been perched on Baby’s hood waiting for him to come back. More surprising was Cas, standing next to Baby and petting the creature. Dean hadn’t even had to throw the pokeball. When he’d pulled it out, the Eevee had trilled happily, walking to the front of the hood and bumping the ball with its nose to activate the ball itself.

Sam just smiled, and then he congratulated Cas. Cas had been startled, immediately looking to Dean. Dean had just slid his fingers between Cas’s and squeezed.

“Let’s go home, angel. Sam probably wants to call his girlfriend back since they have a whole motel room to themselves,” Dean said, smirking over at Sam.

Sam rolled his eyes.

Makuhita stayed in its ball that night. Eevee, on the other hand, slept curled up in Dean’s arms. Cas laid behind Dean, holding him to his chest and soothing the nightmares that came away.

“I love you, Dean Winchester,” Cas whispered when he thought Dean too far asleep to remember it.

When Dean woke up the next morning, his Eevee had evolved into a Sylveon. Dean knew that he should be embarrassed to have a pastel Pokemon covered in bows, but he just gathered up his new Sylveon to his chest and hugged it tightly.

“Good boy,” Dean said, and with Cas behind him, in a room designed with him in mind and filled with his things saved from a childhood of loss, Dean didn’t bother to pretend there weren’t tears in his eyes.

*****
Epilogue

Pokemon eventually spread worldwide. They still only spawned at Lost Cabin, but people came from all over to catch their favorites. The surrounding towns thrived, centering their industry around Pokemon catching. Bobby and Dean helped train Pokemon Rangers, who patrol the area with emergency equipment and their own personal Pokemon, to make sure that everyone is safe and following the rules.

Several different groups all attempted to lay claim to the Pokemon spawning point, including PETA, Nintendo, the US government, and the Vatican, among others. Bobby and Charlie pulled some strings, and eventually the local county, run by the people living in the area, gained uncontested rights to do with the land what they wanted. They made sure that no one knew exactly why the Pokemon had begun appearing, so that no one could replicate the situation elsewhere.

Grant Nussbaum became, with help from Dean and Sam, the local Pokemon Professor. He stayed in contact with Bobby, and they often exchanged ideas on how to deal with particularly troublesome monsters and Pokemon.

Jamie caught a Pikachu, and trained under Bobby and Dean to become a Junior Ranger. They never stopped hero-worshipping Dean, and Dean never really got comfortable with them because of it.

Bobby went back to Sioux Falls after everything was established. His Pidgey was trained to deliver messages, and they used it for particularly sensitive information. His Ditto, on the other hand, was mostly pet and sometimes hunting partner. Whenever Dean and Sam visited, it would transform into a Pidgeot and shout “Pidjit! Pidjit!” at them, to let Bobby know his boys had arrived.

Charlie trained up her Ralts into a Gardevoir, and continued to be the hunter/hacker queen of Moondor.

Sam and Eileen stuck around Lost Cabin for a while, helping to establish a Pokemon Town of sorts, complete with a Pokemon nurse who specialized in healing both Pokemon and humans of Pokemon-related trauma. They also caught several more Growlithe, and eventually Sam’s first Growlithe evolved into an Arcanine. They moved to Minnesota, where Sam used the transcripts Charlie had made for him to finish up his undergrad. He then began working towards becoming a veterinarian. He and Eileen became world-renowned Growlithe breeders, with Sam’s vet knowledge to help them. Eileen’s Gothita eventually evolved into a Gothitelle, at which time it had the manual dexterity to sign. It became Eileen’s dedicated translator.

Jack and Chansey helped to set up the Pokemon nurse’s office, teaching others how to heal Pokemon. He went with Dean and Cas back to the bunker for a while, but after a few months there he began regularly visiting Jamie and Sam and Eileen.

Dean and Cas stayed with Grant for several months while helping the townsfolk set everything up. Dean packed up some of his things from Grant’s house, most importantly the ceramic angel, but stayed in touch, visiting regularly. Cas moved into Dean’s room in the bunker, where Dean put the ceramic angel across from his bed on a shelf on the wall. Dean and Cas continued to hunt. Makuhita settled under Sylveon’s influence, and began obeying orders and staying in its ball. Sylveon was never required to stay in its ball, and spent most of its time by Dean’s side. Having Sylveon beside him helped Dean settle as well, but Cas was the one who truly kept Dean from sliding back into his old ways. Sam eventually convinced Dean to go back to school, and Dean got his degree in Psychology. When Sam finally convinced him to leave hunting to the younger folk, Dean began a psych practice specifically for hunters and people affected by the supernatural. His goal was to have fewer people who felt driven to become hunters, and with Sam and Cas’s help, he was successful.