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Strange Truths

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Will Graham sighs as he leaves the hospital, a cold snap of fall air nipping at his cheeks. He hadn’t gone any farther in today than any of the other times he’s made this pilgrimage, but no one has yet put a stop to his trips so he continues to take them– like clockwork, every Sunday. He wonders if Hannibal knows, deep down in the bowels of this place, if he can sense it, Will’s presence creeping into the place and then vanishing. He should stop wondering.

Jack’s driven him today, had offered with something of an apology in his voice, but there’s something else on the agenda and Will knows, but he won’t prompt it out of the man, because it’s not what he wants, but he’s sure he won’t be able to refuse. He doesn’t want to have to look again, wishes secretly for some sandy, quiet, piece of beach somewhere, for a haven to simply exist in that doesn’t exist here any longer. But he could have gone as soon as he’d been freed, could have disappeared into the wind, and he hadn’t.  Another chance to walk away that he hadn’t taken, so he knows it’s more of an eventuality than a maybe, his grand return to the bureau; it’s not in Jack’s nature to make his decisions for him. They haven’t broached this topic yet though, not since, despite the way it hovers in the air between them, and Will has been glad for that. Some part of him is still too throbbing to make his throat work around the words he would need to say.

But when the other puts in the keys, but doesn’t start the car, Will knows the grace period is over. Further recovery will have to be done on his own time.

“Look, you know I wouldn’t ask you so soon after – after everything , but...” Jack shifts, uneasy in Will’s silence as the younger man moves to press his cheek against the window. “But it’s not just some run of the mill case…” It sounds as though this speech has been prepared, at least outlined, the words moving quickly and efficiently across his tongue.

Will barely hears it though, Jack’s voice flitting in and out of focus as Will waits for him to find the core of the thought. He wants to accuse the other of something suddenly, of disregard, or betrayal, or other stupidly dramatic things of the sort, to tell him that he thinks it doesn’t matter how run of the mill or otherwise the case is, that Jack would want him on board and full speed ahead if he’s capable of thinking, even after everything, all the damage this has done to him. But the words stick in his throat. Because as much as he wants to say them, they aren’t entirely true. There have been other murders since his release, and Jack hadn’t knocked on his door. And it’s not like he’s doing much of anything, succumbing to nightmares while his dogs whine unhappily, walking aimlessly through forests, missing serial killers. His schedule is pretty clear actually, come to think of it.

“…and so, since I promised Hendrickson…” Will finds the thread of the words again, and the gears start turning in his mind, matching the name with case files he’s seen, to other things he’s heard. “Will,” Jack is saying, turning his eyes onto him. Will doesn’t make contact, but this is the first time in a while Jack has addressed him so directly while they’ve been alone, and he doesn’t need imagination to know that might take some courage. “You can say no, but the Winchesters don’t surface often, and if they’ve got new friends, I want to know about it – and you…”

There’s a faltering in his voice and for a moment, an apology lingers there, an explicit one, Will listens to the edges of it humming out of the man’s mouth, but then Jack swallows it back and his voice turns authoritative, colder: “and this is your job, Will.” The words rumble out. “Still haven’t quit, and we haven’t fired you, so it’s your job. I expect you in the office tomorrow.”

At first, the words are like a slap in the face, though they’re exactly what he’d expected.  The petulant part of Will wakes up full force in their wake, calling for a fight as the silence stretches on. He doesn’t blame Jack, can’t, anyway, and yet, that Jack doesn’t seem to blame himself, to at least be openly apologetic after all that has happened niggles at him. For a moment, with the blood rushing loudly in his ears he feels as he felt underneath the angel made of flesh and blood, the bursting desire to tell Jack that he’s done and out, to go fuck himself and do it on his own if he wants answers so badly. He wants to remind Jack how much of this sits on his own shoulders, and that he’d like to see him go into the office tomorrow after going through something like this.  The words sit sourly in his mouth as he works through the emotions dancing through him.  In the end what comes out is…

“Fine, Jack, I’ll do it.”

They drive away, and he doesn’t look back at the drab building behind him. Perhaps next week he’ll be too busy to linger outside locked doors. He tells himself that’s a good thing.

“I don’t fucking get it.” Dean impatiently drums his fingers against the wood, which earns him a glare from the ex-angel sitting across the room. And how the hell did he get stuck with Balthazar, again? He knows the other and Cas are on some kind of Angel Protection Program for the time being, having lost their powers and largely the whole regime to Metatron, the other fallen angels having disappeared off the map. They’re working on that, but one issue at a time. Either way, he could have sworn Sam said he would take the bastard off his hands today. Library, there must have been some kind of library mentioned, he eyes Balthazar with open annoyance, and Sam isn’t here... So why is the Balthazar still–

“Sam said I could stay if I wanted to.” The accented voice comes curling around his ears. “And I told him that I did.” There are books sprawled over the bed the blonde is lounging on and an open one across his knees. He looks tired, but at the chance to tease Dean, light glints into his eyes all over again. “Funny, he seemed to really think you’d want me here to help, and I could only agree, knowing how you can’t bear to go on without my pretty face.”

He chuckles, dodging out of the way as a book is chucked in his general direction, groaning a little at the sudden movements after such a period of stagnation. Dean feels no pity.

Balthazar is picking up another book for retaliation when Cas finally looks up from his own reading, cutting the argument down effectively, there’s an expression somewhere between amusement and disapproval painted all over his features. Something like fondness ripples through it too, but Dean can’t tell exactly at whom it’s directed, and for a moment a nauseating lurch of raw jealously seeps through him. He knows he’s failed to hide it when Cas’s gaze suddenly snaps onto his. Even graceless, it seems to rip into every last hidden thought Dean has, to tear into him like a knife. For a heartbeat, Dean is sure Cas knows everything, but then the moment passes and leaves Cas’s reaction as nothing more than mild confusion. Dean’s heart is still racing, and Balthazar is smirking to himself in the corner, but no one says anything until Cas’s low voice is speaking once more.

“Tell me again, Dean…” There’s a quiet patience in the tone, even though Cas has seen everything - the body, the crime scenes, every bit of evidence - he always wants them to go through it all again, to think through it once more, and a time after that, until they find the piece that they keep missing over and over.

It’s helped before on other hunts, sure, but Dean suspects there’s more to it than that, wonders if secretly Cas thinks his now human memory is failing him somehow.  That he has them run through the cases so often to make sure he’s not losing any of the pieces with time. He keeps the thought to himself.

 “…What is the pattern?”

Even though it is the millionth time and there’s still no good explanation, Dean sighs and humors him. What’s one more? “Something is killing kids.” The words burn from his tongue, and any of the petty thoughts that had just been surfacing fade away. No time for selfish self-pity just now; they’re on a case. He hates that they can’t stop the fucker that’s doing this, that there have been three bodies already and they’re no closer than before.

“No forced entry, no sulfur, no ghoulish ooze, it’s just being let in somehow. And then it mangles them, like a wild dog or something, and the heart - “ He shakes his head, trying to keep the mental images of the bodies to a minimum, they drag up memories of a different place for him, of screaming and fire.

“The heart is gone, but the liver too, so not a werewolf. But these cuts are different than the rest of the chew toy act.” He’s pacing as he speaks, and he can’t help it, feels as though the pieces are just not fitting together, like some important part is there but he just can’t fucking reach it. “They look done by a human, like someone cut into the kids with a knife.” That image does hit too close and ugly memories course through him, spinning around in his brain as he fights to stay afloat. Even though it’s been years now, human years, time he understands, the memories haunts him: blood coating his fingertips as he yanks out some poor soul’s intestines, the smell of it sharp and tangy, the way it feels against his skin, he -  Cas’s hand lands on his shoulder and jerks him out of it, even Balthazar looks concerned from his corner, though it’s nothing more than a changing shade in his eyes. The moment passes by them and he’s back in the hotel room.

“Perhaps it is a shifter?” Cas suggests for the hundredth time, not mentioning what’s just happened, but his hand stays on Dean’s shoulder, warm and welcome.  Dean shakes his head though, no, that can’t be right, shifters don’t change into animals as far as he’s seen, and the kid wasn’t dragged away or anything, was just butchered in the bedcovers, or their backyard, or wherever they were found. In any case,  to use a knife, the thing would have had to transform, it’d have needed to go from claws to hands.  And transforming in the room would have meant shifter ooze left behind somewhere. And there wasn’t any anywhere that they’ve spotted. It doesn’t add up.

“Or some kind of creature who travels with a companion?” Cas adds, furrowing his brow. He hasn’t suggested this before, but Dean only shakes his head again, no.

Cas turns to look at him at that, blue meeting green. Cas’s determinacy is obvious in the gaze, mixed with slight annoyance at being rejected again, his lips set in a thin line.  But to decide that it’s two things, Dean see how it’s tempting, but ... He opens his mouth to explain the problem as the intensity of their gazes ratchets up,  but Balthazar beats him to it, infiltrating their connection.

“But then we couldn’t know what it was, could we, Cassy? Could be any two pairs of things and we’re back to square one. If it’s one thing…“ He’s risen to his feet now, wandered over to where they’re both standing, “then we have some kind of abnormality to keep our eyes out for. Otherwise, claws and cuts, we have no way of narrowing that.” He shakes his head. “But I think…I think we would perhaps be better off attempting to actually catch a glimpse of the creature than we are playing Guess Who in this hotel room.” There’s a slight challenge in his words, as though he knows what he’s suggesting could mean the death of another child and is aware of how well that might go over.

Par for the course, Dean glares at him, annoyed, but Cas looks thoughtful. “Attempting to figure out where it might strike next would be useful. Even if we may not be…” He snatches a glance at Dean, apologetically, almost, “may not be quite ready to kill it.”

It’s a suggestion, but Cas looks to Dean. Balthazar, he’s sure, wouldn’t bother, but Balthazar looks to Cas, so in the end it comes back to him and he battles. On the one hand, he has to admit it’s better than doing nothing at all, sitting on their hands and thumbing through more books that don’t have any answers. On the other, he can’t stand the thought of someone else getting cut into god-damned parts because they decided to just fuck it and go in half assed. But it’s easier to hear, somehow, coming from Cas. And it’s not that he doesn’t want to ditch the books and get into the thick of things… Sammy can stay behind with the geek work. He’d suggest Cas stay too, but Sam can manage, and besides Cas has a good eye for things, the soccer moms love him, and a whole bunch of other excuses he could pull out if he had to. But he doesn’t. Cas can decide for himself where he’d like to go, after all, and he’s right here.

“Fine,” Dean sighs, reaching for the police report files again. The thing doesn’t seem to kill in one town more than once, which is lucky cause the FBI is slowly catching up to them on the trail. Though the high and might bureau are never the quickest to pick up on the clues, they’re dangerously on their tail this time.  So far they’ve had a lead, managed to talk around the local units, but they can’t really afford a run in with the real thing, especially not with so many other loose ends at the moment.

It does seem to be making kind of a circle though, skipping around from town to town, and always for whatever reason attacking on a Tuesday.  There’s no telling exactly which neighborhood it’s going to strike next,  but there aren’t too many that fall into the line it’s drawing. It’d be worth driving through a couple of them, he supposes, asking strangers if they’ve seen anything resembling a huge, clawed, creature roaming the streets. He feels like he’s in Harry Potter or something.

They’re just about to leave though, when Dean’s phone rings.

“Hello?” The number is unfamiliar.

“Detective Stevens?” The woman’s voice is tear filled and grief stricken, but he’s heard it before. “I think you should come see this.”

Will walks towards the Behavioral Science department of the FBI at 9 o’clock sharp on Monday, as promised. He hasn’t been here since Beverly had scraped blood from under his fingernails, since the whole of the country thought he was a serial murderer. It’s a strange sense of the world lurching around him to be back, here where nothing has changed. The trial, the evidence, the jail cell, all of it flits past his gaze as he walks. There were times that he’d never thought he’d see these halls again, and now, standing here, innocent once more, a strange sense of self consciousness runs through him.

There’s been no interaction with anyone but Jack since the trial, not really. Beverly had stopped by his house once, knocked on his door, but he’d been in no shape to see anyone at that point, lying in bed, stricken by equal parts feverish exhaustion and relief. Alana he’d seen briefly when she’d returned the dogs and pressed a kiss to his forehead, but they hadn’t spoken. She won’t be here today, one way or another. Or perhaps she will. She has a habit of showing up when he needs her, but he’s not a child, he reminds himself, and this is not his first day of kindergarten. He doesn’t need to hold his mother’s hand, he just needs to take a deep breath and pretend as though nothing has changed for him. With regards to this, to his work, little has after all. He won’t get too close again, and with his brain more or less working straight, the encephalitis long gone, he should be able to handle this.

He pushes the door open and walks into the familiar examination room. There’s a very small body lying on the table, and Zeller and Price have already bent their heads over it, looking for missed information. He’s read all the other reports at home, and he can tell even from a distance that this one is exactly the same.

They look at him as he enters, and for a moment only silence lingers between all of them, but then Price looks away, picking up a chart, and Zeller shrugs, eyes flitting back to the body. Beverly starts listing off everything she spots as always, and Will lets himself fall into the flow.

His eyes rove the body as Zeller pokes around at the openings carefully, gloved fingers examining the wounds. The whole of the body is twisted up, bite marks and cuts that look suspiciously as though they’ve come from claws decorate the arms and the legs mar the face. They stop short at the torso though - don’t edge onto the stomach or chest. The incisions there are different…they may as well have been surgical. He swallows hard around the last word and exchanges it for precise in his mind.

“Could it have been an animal?” Zeller asks for what Will is sure is not the first time, and yes, claw marks and teeth indentations certainly seem to make that a…non absurd, if not completely on point, question. But it’s not so, it can’t be.

Beverly opens her mouth, but Will, still peering down at the body doesn’t see her and beats her to the punch, she shuts it again with a small smile. “No unusual traces of bacteria, no fur, and these lines.” His fingers edge across the clean marks. “These were done with a knife.” He blinks and tries to see past the corpse, tries to reach into the wounds themselves and pull out the hands of the murderer behind them, but to no avail, she’s been too removed from the site of the death, too cleaned up and muddled with to show him anything clearly. He blinks again. “No dog I’ve met could manage that much, don’t you think?”

Price snorts a little and the tension eases slightly more between the three of them. Will’s eyes move to the tag on the table. Eileen Johnson, it reads, from a few towns over. He wonders what he might have gotten to know about her if he’d seen the crime scene, if hadn’t been…drowning in his own mind. That flash of fury he’d felt against Jack in the car rises again, but it’s directed inwardly this time.

“Jack thinks it was the Winchesters.” He prompts them, even though he can feel their doubt that something solely human could be responsible for this. He shares it.

Beverly nods, their eyes meeting briefly. There’s a brief warmth in them, and then back to business as usual. “Yeah, their fingerprints were all over the place, haven’t seen them on anything for a while. Guess they got clumsy. But it’s unusual for them, kids.” She shrugs her shoulders as if to say, 'but who’s to say with crazy people,' as she moves over, showing him the prints sent up from forensics. “But they seem to have new people on board, prints we didn’t recognize. We’ve matched this one up –“ She points to one of the sets. “to a Louis Deveraux - a few priors, but nothing major. He went missing about three years ago, no connection to the Winchesters that we can find, though it’s possible they picked him up somewhere along the line.”

Will nods. He hasn’t studied the cases extensively but he knows the jist. A lineage of killers, but why suddenly introduce in someone new? It always struck him as something particular to the family.

“This one.” She gestures at the other set. “We don’t have him anywhere in the system, so it’ll be impossible to tell until we catch up with him, I guess.  Jack said they looked up other disappearances in Deveraux’s vicinity, but so far, no dice.”

“Bacteria or not.” Price interrupts their discussion, his tone curt. “These were definitely done by an animal.” He’s gesturing to the teeth marks and Will can’t disagree, the claw marks could have been manufactured, but to get indentations of that style in that shape to go so deep, they’d need the actual creature. Is that what Deveraux and their John Doe were there for? Some kind of twisted bestial development? His mind brings up a thousand kinds of scenarios, but he won’t know until they get a better look at fresh evidence.

Even if they had some kind of rabid dog, something still sits uncomfortably in his mind. How could they have stopped him from attacking the chest and the stomach? An animal, especially one rabid enough to attack a dead human body, doesn’t stop to choose where it attacks; it just latches on and claws.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try and match the marks.” Bev sets the files next to him. She moves closer to the body again, brow raised. “We’ve run them against all the humans we’ve got, but maybe if we could get a breed…”

Will nods his agreement as they start into a flurry of action. He picks up the Winchester case files, though he knows nothing inside of it matches what’s before him. Still, if they’re his murderers, it would be best to start getting to know them now, crime scene or not.  “Let me know when they hit again.” And then he’s retreated, leaving them to their practiced patterns, trying to forget where he might have been headed if this case had come up six months ago.

It’s dangerous, going back to a house that the real FBI has been through, but Mrs. Johnson had sounded both terrified and strangely calm on the phone; almost as though still in a deep shock. When they’d last seen her, she’d been a mess, tears and anguish, and she wasn’t to be blamed. But there’s something in her voice that sets alarm bells off in Dean’s head. So they go. He’s not sure why she called them and not the real FBI, but he has to hope she hasn’t called them both.The Feds have taken the body already, they have no real reason to come back, but they might. But if there’s something, anything, more that they’re missing, they have to go see it.  Cas seems wary of the idea, but for once, Balthazar falls on his side of the equation and they take off towards the Johnson house. The impala gets left behind this time; it's too high risk for her to go with them.

“I am still uncertain about this.” Cas mumbles as they pull up to the street, and Dean is about to say something, but Balthazar has reached over from the backseat and squeezed the other’s shoulder.  Dean grits his teeth, turning away.

“We’ll be fine, darling.” He hears as he gets out of the Impala, slamming the door shut harder than necessary and then regretting it. Shouldn’t let that smarmy son of a bitch get to him, shouldn’t give him the satisfaction. It’s a struggle to stop the thoughts as they all get out of the car though, and despite Dean’s best efforts at nonchalance, Balthazar’s eyes are twinkling as though he knows anyway. It makes that now familiar sparking, angry, feeling inside of Dean rise to life, a good part of him wanting to just tackle Balthazar to the ground, but he ignores it. He’d have a hell of a time explaining that one to Cas, besides, if he hurt the wimp, there’d probably be hell to pay in some form or another.

Instead, he rips his eyes away from the blonde and follows Cas to the door. Something like pride replaces the annoyance as he watches the other knock and then settle in to wait, badge ready to pull out, right way up, shirt tucked in, neat, in the new, if ill fitting, suit the Winchesters bought him. He’s come a long way since that day with good ol' Raph.

Next to him, Balthazar elbows him slightly, and he turns to face the other eyebrows raised, but whatever was going to be said is lost between them as the door swings open.

“Detectives.” The woman’s eyes are bright. There’s fear shining through them, but she no longer looks grief stricken. If anything, something’s lighter about her, brighter. Dean’s eyes narrow, that’s usually not a good sign in a hunt like this one, nothing positive ever coming of it. They saw the dead body on the table, nothing that makes that better so fast is going to mean anything they’re gonna wanna hear. “Please.” She doesn’t ask for their badges this time, only motions for them to come in, over eager. “I think you should see this.”

Shifter, he tries to think, shifted into the child? Or a ghost? Has the women reanimated the body somehow? No, he doesn’t think so, she seemed surprised, not guilty.

She takes them through the two story house, eerie silence hanging from the walls, and leads them out to the backyard, gesturing out to the swing set.

“She won’t talk.”  Mrs. Johnson’s voice has fallen into erratic whisper, shaking, but excited. “She’s just been sitting, and staring. But it’s her, right, agents? It has to be. It looks just like her.” The calm is gone now, and she’s shivering. “You see her too, don’t you?”

Perched on the swings is little Eileen, staring past them into the garden. Her limbs swing her back and forth, setting the playset creaking, but she seems vacant. She’s a perfect replica, though, of the little girl Dean had seen cut to pieces in this very house. He takes a step forward, but Cas’s hand stops him. He’s right, they don’t know what this is, it’s not Eileen, that’s for damn sure, but if he doesn’t get any closer, they’re never going to figure this out.

“Mrs. Price.” Cas asks as Dean debates. “When did Eileen reappear?”

Right, questions, they should get information, but the girl is right there, and it would only take the murmuring of a few things, a splash of holy water, iron, a silver blade if he can pull it off, to rule out some things.  And man, do they need to do that.

“Last night.” She’s tearful as she clutches onto herself, her eyes never leaving the little girl. “I found her tucked up in bed when I went upstairs to…when I went upstairs… and she was there.” Her eyes are big, wet with tears, and hope that’s too painful to look at. “She was there.”

“Has she said anything?” Balthazar asks, finally speaking, his eyes are on the moving child as well, the worry and displeasure is smoothly hidden on his face, but Dean can see it lingering in his eyes. It doesn’t shock him anymore when Balthazar gives a damn; he supposes he could put that down as progress.

Mrs. Johnson shakes her head.  “No, but she, she’d be in shock, wouldn’t she? Right? She’s been through so much, and she’d been attacked, maybe she doesn’t feel like speaking yet. Maybe…”

Had it been six months ago, Castiel might have told them woman this is not her child. He might have told her it was likely a demon or a shifter of sorts. But much time has passed since then, and now, instead, he nods quietly, passes her off to Dean, and moves closer. He knows he’d told Dean not to touch the child yet, but the mother, he’s fairly certain, will not help them much. And if she does know something, Dean stands a better chance at asking the correct questions to draw it out.

In the mean time, he can just as easily go over to the child and wet her skin with holy water, draw a bit of blood, attempt to coax her into speech. He can feel Dean’s eyes following his movements, but then the other’s low voice sounds and Cas is satisfied that his intent has been understood and accepted.

He kneels down in the dry grass, and waits a moment, just to see, but the girl continues to swing, back and forth, back and forth, her legs kick up the dust as she passes low to the ground, but she fails to notice that, eyes firmly on some point only she can see. Once, she sneezes, the vibrations interrupting the smoothness of the motion, but she continues with the repetitions the very moment everything in her body has settled.
With one smooth motion, he reaches out and stops the swing, careful not to jostle her, though he knows that she is nothing but a mere imitation of the child who once sat in this seat of rubber. The mother is watching though, he must spare her as best he can.

This uninvited interruption finally causes the child to look at him, and she sneezes again, followed by a cough. On closer inspection, he sees that she seems feverish, a sweaty sheen coating her features, her eyes bloodshot, cheeks blotchy. Her red hair is limp and lifeless, looks dead where it was once bright. He’s certain there’d be a temperature too high to be normal as well, if he checked her skin.  But for now he doesn’t touch her.

“Hello.” He says quietly, waiting to see the reaction. Her legs kick out slightly, the swing swaying in his grasp, as though she’d like to go again, but no indication that she hears him is evident. He says christo under his breath, just in case, though he doesn’t think she’s a demon, and is unsurprised when no reaction meets his efforts.

Hesitantly he moves, running his fingers across her skin. She seems unnaturally smooth to the touch, slippery, almost, as though she is not made of skin at all. Her eyes have gone back to the spot in the horizon; he thinks she’s staring almost longingly at the tree that’s visible just around the house. She sneezes again.

“Inspector…” He rises to his feet, not sure if he’s referring to Dean or Balthazar, but before he can quite make up his mind, the girl sneezes again, and then she’s choking, no, heaving, dry heaving, and plants are falling out of her mouth. He hears the mother’s worried screech, but can’t turn away to see if she is alright or not as the onslaught continues. Eileen sneezes and pinecones fall out of her nose, the greenery still pouring from her lips. Her skin is changing too, turning alternatingly brown and green, becoming rougher around the chest and smoother around the arms as she… transforms...her middle takes on the texture of tree bark, her skin falling off of her to reveal not bones, but fine blades of grass all woven together. Not a child at all then -  he’s transfixed though horrified - a puppet animated from the trees. A perfect Eileen-sized replica made of out dirt and trees. Her red hair turns last, rounding out into bright autumn berries.

He rises wordless, turning to see that Dean is holding the mother, Balthazar takes her, calling out to say that he is taking her inside, but as he turns towards the house, he stops short, gaze fixed on a high point where the silhouette of a man is standing in the window, a gun clearly drawn in his hand.

“We have to get out of here.” There’s a horrified look in his gaze as he looks from the man to Mrs. Johnson, but he shakes his head, mouthing FBI, and Cas doesn’t know how he knows, or if he’s right, but they can’t afford to be found at the murder scene if it’s true.

Dean looks stricken, but the man is already gone from the window and they have no time. Cas takes one last look at the straw doll of green and brown that was once Eileen and rushes off with them. They drive off just as the man comes running out to the front yard, his eyes wide and disbelieving, yelling at them to freeze,  before, realizing the futility,  he turns on his heel, back towards the house.
The sound of sirens greet them as they drive away.

Will sits and waits in the lobby of Jack’s office, thumbing through the files. The head of the unit isn’t there right now, but he’s waiting on the secretary for some papers that were left out of the report. Some kind of oversight probably, but he needs them.  He’s made up his mind to go visit the last crime scene, but the address seems nowhere to be found.

The secretary smiles at him from her seat, and he glances up at her briefly as she speaks over the printer humming behind her. “The papers should be ready in just a moment, Mr. Graham.”

He can’t help but notice that her eyes are bloodshot and splotchy: late night, probably, he thinks to himself, unable to help analyzing everyone that’s in front of him.  It’s not the first time he’s seen her tired, either; there's always a large mug of coffee in her hands. He pulls his eyes away from her before she realizes he’s staring. They never like it when you stare, but he really can’t help it. His eyes fall across her desk instead,  papers scattered about haphazardly, a letter of congratulations addressed to the Greenwood Family, the stamp on it shows a stork carrying a balloon in its mouth, and pictures of children at the edge;  single mother, maybe, trying to make ends meet.

She notices his gaze and smiles. “Nieces.” Her tone is soft. “Going to go visit them in Rockville tomorrow.”

He nods, politely, though his mind is elsewhere, distracted again.

“Jack lets me start late on Wednesdays so I can make the drive.” She reaches up to get the freshly printed pages, handing them over. “Do you have any children, Will?”

His smile is tight as he takes the sheets from. “Just a collection of strays…of the dog variety” He struggles with his natural inclination to be rude, because she’s only being nice, but he’s got other things on his mind, and the sooner he gets to the crime scene the better. It’s a waste of his time to sit here analyzing Jack’s secretary, no matter how much his brain wants to dig through everyone he meets. Now that the address is in his grasp, he nods and moves away as she goes back to her typing.

It’s not too much of a drive to Ashburn, he doesn’t bother with FBI transport and takes his own car. No point in bothering anyone else to come out with him; there’s nothing left there for the FBI to do, only possible clues as to why this child that will connect solely in Will’s mind. Getting to know her strikes him as pointless, but he owes it to her to try. His fists clench on the wheel, after all, he’d been asleep in bed, too busy feeling sorry for himself to be useful when she’d been torn to pieces. Yes, he has to at least make himself look, so they can figure out the pattern before the next attacks lands.

The image of the girl, of Eileen, flashes before his eyes as he drives: red hair, bright eyed. The pictures of her show her dancing, biking, but there’s nothing unique about her that he can see - nothing that matches up with the last girl that was killed except the gender.  He supposes he’ll see when he reaches the house, one way or another.  There must be something, some crucial clue that ties all of this together: there always is.

The doorbell clangs loudly when he finally reaches the house. The feeling of disquiet that always lingers a crime scene, long after the tape is removed and the police gone home, fills him. Maybe to everyone else in the neighborhood, the taint has faded, but Will can feel it deep in the roots of the place. Nothing here will ever be the same. He feels similarly about his own home sometimes, the darkness still tainting the air, haunting it. It makes him sick, even though he can’t bear to leave it.

Though two cars are parked in the driveway, minutes pass and no one answers the phone. The door tempts him, slightly ajar, swaying open as the air currents play with its weight. He has his badge after all, the security of having credentials behind him once more. And it’s imperative he sees everything as soon as possible, as close as he can to the way the home was on the night when everything happened. He’ll have the best chance of being able to see that way. To let even a day go by means the difference between the life of another girl and another corpse. He squeezes his hands together as he considers his options, pushing the door bell again as he looks around.

The wait drags on as the sound of the bells fade away into the air and he can feel Eileen calling to him from inside, her presence entrenched in this place, the best clues they have. Feeling like a thief, he pushes the door up and moves inside the building, calling out a “Hello, FBI, is anyone here?”  as he moves. It makes him uncomfortable, to enter uninvited, but the killer will strike again tomorrow and there’s no time for niceties.

From the careful notes in the file, he’s memorized the layout of the house, kitchen to his right, play room in the back, living room to the left. What had been labeled a spare room on the floor plan, has been painted the bright colors of a nursery, the smell of fresh pain still hovering in the air – a new crib sits in the corner, unused but waiting. It wasn’t Eileen’s, but there’s no second child. He moves past this mystery though,  what he’s after is the stairs directly in front of him, the girl’s bedroom lying on the second floor, towards the back, windows facing out onto the backyard. Could the killer have scaled the fence and climbed up the wall? He imagines the feeling of creeping up brick and stone, shattering a window – but no… there was no broken glass at the scene. He erases the scenario as he walks up the stairs, trying to fit a new one.

The bedroom itself doesn’t tell him much as he peers around; light dances across the freshly made bed, the bloody bedcovers have been changed, the sheets starched and new, everything has been put back in place, but scrubbed clean. Holes in the scene are evident here and there from where the FBI confiscated stuffed animals and pillows, took posters from the walls,  but the killer is nowhere in these things.  No image creeps out at him, no tendrils of another’s mind latching onto his own. All that’s here are the sad remains of a life no longer living.

With a sigh, he walks over to the bed, not ready to give up just yet, he’s come all this way after all and even if his imagination is no use, perhaps his eyes will be, though he knows how easily both can be deceived. He lets that train of thought dissipate, forcing himself to stay grounded in this case, in this crime. Noiselessly, he moves the covers to the side, picks up the pillows, considers lying in the bed just in case, but rejects it. Even empty of all alien thoughts, he can already tell the killer had not done that. The girl had been merely a means to an end, not a trophy to treasure. She’d been chosen for some reason, but not for herself.

He’s just turned to the chair (an old teddy bear sits on it, there had been a bear in the last room too, he’d seen it in evidence as he’d passed, but could a stuffed animal really mean anything?) when the sound of voices filters into the room.  He can’t make out the words from up here, but one is a man’s, low and rumbling, the others, panicked and tear filled – he moves over to the window to look, alarm bells going off in his mind.

There are four people in the yard, Mrs. Johnson, two men  whose backs are to him, and one, on the far side of the yard, kneeling next to…next to Eileen, he gasps, next to Eileen, alive and well, swinging herself back and forth. If Will had been holding something, he would have dropped it. He should go downstairs, should look up close to make sure it’s not just his mind seeing what it might want to, but something sticks him to the spot, hypnotized.

As he watches, the dark haired man reaches out and stops the girl’s swinging. He speaks to her, though Will can’t hear his words, but she doesn’t respond. Shock, he thinks dreamily, the vision of her cut up and lying on an examination table vivid in his mind. He thinks he might be able to relate.

Moments pass and nothing changes, but then from nowhere, the girl has bent over, is sick, heaving, Will strains to see, but then she’s shaking, changing, becoming…green. He feels a lurching feeling in his stomach: is he hallucinating this, is his mind not healed after all? The burning disease still present despite what he’s been assured, toying with him, making him see things that aren’t there. The icy grip of fear squeezes him. No, he grips the window sill as he watches, no, the other men are reacting too, the mother is screaming. This is not, his world is becoming rapidly dizzy, but he fights, this is not in his mind. He can trust himself to know what is real now, he has to hold onto that. And still, the girl is turning to greenery before him.

It’s not until the blonde man turns, as though sensing a presence, that he remembers himself, remembers what he’s here for and what he should be doing. Deveraux, the name leaps up at him from the pages in Beverly’s hands. Here, back at the scene of the crime, back where a little girl is dying all over again. The man meets his eyes, and he can see the words forming to his companions already, they’ll be gone by the time Will gets down there, but with trembling hands he pulls out his badge flashing it in the sun.

“Stop.” He yells down at them, replacing it with his gun for good measure. The equipment shuddering in his grasp, it’s the first time he’s held one since that night in Minnesota. “Don’t move.” But they’ve already run, scattered.

He races for the stairs, stumbling out of the door at top speed, just quickly enough to see the green Nissan driving of. He commits the license plate to memory, but it’s no good, he knows the car will be found in a ditch by evening. He breathes hard, a Winchester, the new hire, but what had he seen? What could he have possibly seen. A girl turning to a plant? It’s impossible. He swallows down the bile, slowly working his way into the backyard, putting on his glasses, just in case, though their absence could not have possibly caused the spectacle he’d seen.

Mrs. Johnson is sobbing in the grass, her hands on her belly. He leads her over to a chair, realizing what the nursery was for, after all: another child on the way.

He places a hand on her shoulder as he coaxes her to sit, her words too garbled to understand, her grief infecting him, but he has to see. Body shivering in the warm sun, he walks over to the swing. Sitting on it, unmoving, like a statue, is Eileen Johnson, a perfect replica in plant and bark, where moments ago flesh and blood had been sitting. He touches it, but it’s only grass, nothing out of the ordinary. Had the killer done this? Had the Winchesters somehow managed to pull this off? But how, how could anyone do this?

He gathers the the evidence up with ginger fingers, heart beating quickly, moving towards Mrs. Johnson, unsure what to say: were they all hallucinating?

She looks up at him, wet eyes bright, but calmer now, her fingers stroking over her growing belly. “Did I, did I only dream it?” She looks desperately like she wants him to say yes, to tell her nothing had truly happened, only a play of grief on the mind.

So he nods, swallowing around the lump in his throat, moving Eileen’s double out of sight. “Yes.” He tells her, “Whatever you saw.” He bend next to her, his hand covering hers, the grief mirrored in their voices, there’s a burning in his eyes. “It wasn’t so.” Sometimes, to think oneself insane is easier than swallowing the truth, he knows that. He gives her the gift of ignorance.

He lingers only moments more to explain about the Winchesters, then, with a squeeze of her hand, picks up the plant girl and moves the plant girl to his car, mind racing to try and find a logical answer. It reminds him of stories he’s read: of Daphne running from Apollo, her only means of escape to transform into a tree. Myths play across his mind like movie clips. But they’re only stories aren’t they? Silly tales to explain the unexplainable, and yet not even his mind is capable of finding a better answer.

The key turns in the ignition as he starts the car, intending to drive back to the office, unsure yet who he’d tell or what he’d say, but as his fingers curl around the wheel, he finds his car veering onto different roads, ones that don’t lead to the FBI, but somewhere else entirely.

“Yes.” Dean is growling onto the phone, they’ve picked up a new car and are driving to the next town over. The FBI guy might have seen too much and they can’t be too careful.  Balthazar’s driving and Cas is staring out at the road as Dean barks breathlessly at Sam.

“Yes.” He says again, calming a little at whatever the other has to say. “Yes, she turned into a goddamn Christmas tree; I’m telling you it was a girl one moment and a salad the next. So it eats organs and makes girls out of leaves. Come on, that must be specific enough to find.”

Behind him, Cas has pulled out his phone, it’s smart, because he likes his internet and research just as much as Sam does. He types wordlessly; brow furrowing as he presses buttons, shakes his head and tries a different search.

Balthazar can almost hear Sam on the phone flipping pages as he drives, wishes idly for his powers back as they go.

“He wants to talk to you.” Dean hands the phone back to Cas, who takes it, placing it under his ear as he and Sam start shooting names of various creatures to each other, Cas’s fingers flying over his phone. Dean rolls his eyes, half fond affection, half amused exasperation – they really are nerds, through and through. For a moment, listening to Cas’s voice keep up its steady stream of information, he can almost forget another girl might be killed tomorrow, that somewhere a crazy freak is hiding, ready to strike again.  It’s nice, he muses briefly, eyes on the ex angel in the back seat, having other minds at their disposal, other people to talk through ideas with.  He didn’t think that he’d like it at first, but even Balthazar… He chances a look at the other angel, the other lifting an eyebrow in the same amusement that Dean’s feeling as Cas says something particularly convoluted.  For a moment their eyes meet in shared fondness, but then Dean looks away and the smile fades from the blonde’s lips. Even Balthazar has proven himself to be decent, as aggravating as he is, most times.  Their reactions to things run down more similar lines than he might have thought.

And Cas…after all the bullshit that’s come between them in the past couple of years, he’s glad they have a chance to figure some of the stuff out. Not that he’d ever say it, not that they’ve had any sappy heart to hearts, well…not in a while anyway, not since the first night Cas had stumbled upon them human and half dead, Balthazar trailing in his footsteps, only slightly better off.
“Not a ghoul.” Cas is saying, shaking his head, he’s pulled out a notebook now, scribbling in it, crossing things out, and writing notes in the margins. Sam’s voice echoes slightly in the quiet of the car, by turns protesting and excited.

They’d exchanged words right after Cas had a returned: a long, angry, broken conversation on both ends. But since…well, Dean’s never done well with words, has preferred to shove things away, to ignore them. And they haven’t done that exactly, but somewhere in the rhythms of hunting, the need to trust and depend on one another, they’ve grown closer again, comfortable, an easiness that he doesn’t really remember them ever having filling the ragged spaces that have been cut into them with everything that’s happened. And he likes that better, all in all, than some dramatic scene of apology under a full moon by the riverside, or some crap like they show in the movies. Not that he and Cas are like a chick flick or anything, even if they were a movie. He just means that he likes that it’s happened naturally, not as some big, over hyped, moment. Cas is a friend, he muses, and for the first time in a long time, he feels like one. It’s nice.

“Yes.” The words are loud as Dean tunes back in, “Yes, perhaps that could be it. It sounds…apt. And with the child. There are not many things that would be able to have managed that. Yes, I’ll tell them. We will inform you of the new hotel address when we get there.”

“Sam is going to return to our hotel and collect our belongings and the Impala. He will join us when we arrive at our new rooms.”

Cas pauses, but Dean prompts it out of him. “And the monster?”  Sometimes he could just shake Cas for being so obtuse: relevant information first, really.

The look Cas fixes him with in return says, I understand, I was getting to that. Dean huffs in reply, about to say something sarcastic, but Cas cuts him off.

“We believe it to be an Aswang.” Cas has put his phone away and his notebook down. Slumped back against the seat, he suddenly looks tired. Dean wonders if he’s been sleeping well, for a moment, before his mind reminds him they’re in a middle of an important discussion.

“It is much like a ghoul, featured primarily in Philippines mythology and oral traditions, but they’ve been spotted all over the world. They hunt for children, eating the hearts and livers of the young as well as the fetuses of the soon to be born.”

Dean’s fingers drum along the side of the car as he nods, making a face at the words. “But we’re think it’s our creature because?”

 “Because…” Cas’s words sound faintly proud now, the sound of hard work paying off. “because it can transform into a creature, Dean. It appears human, but can become a bird or a dog, hands, claws, and teeth – all the things that marked up the girls.” He stops to take a breath, their eyes finding each other in the mirror. Cas’s gaze is excited, though still controlled. “And it is said to bring a changeling after it hunts  - one made of trees and dirt.”

“Eileen.” Dean breathes as it clicks into place, the memory of skin melting into wood still fresh in his mind.

Cas nods. “Yes. But the question is why?” The excitement fades again, blue eyes deathly serious. “Why these girls?” He sounds so much like a hunter in that moment, that Dean almost forgets that not so long ago this was a celestial being with the weight of the world on his shoulders. “It would seem there must be something tying them together.”

“You said this Aswang feeds on fetuses and the young?” Balthazar’s voice, thoughtful, interrupts and Cas makes a sound of assent. “And does it, perhaps, gain more power from eating both, from the same family?”
Even Dean has to admit it’s a good thought, and Cas dives back into his notes, flipping through the pages before looking up. “Yes, but –“

“Mrs. Johnson was pregnant.” Balthazar turns his eyes back onto the road with a shrug of his shoulders. “I believe Mrs. Cassidy was as well, and … whoever it was came before her. “

“So it’s going after expecting mothers with kids.” The words are rancid in Dean’s mouth as he says them. “And it’s gonna strike tomorrow. Fucking awesome.” He groans as he straightens again, trying not to feel the loss of Cas’s eyes. “How the hell are we supposed to find out who’s pregnant and where it’s heading?”

“We will go to the town as we planned, Dean. And…” Cas falters.

Balthazar picks up the thread of thought for him. “And we’ll see about baby stores in town, see if anyone’s expecting, hang about next to nursery schools.” His face has a defensive expression before Dean even turns to him with a smirk.

“Please.” Balthazar responds. “As though you’ve never thought you were going to have a child.”

Dean huffs at him, and Cas, as usual, brings them back to business before things get out of hand. “Yes.” He adds. “And perhaps Sam will have some insights into its hunting patterns by the time he joins us. This is an excellent contraption.” He holds up his phone. “But it is nowhere near as well suited for these things as a laptop.” There’s a note of almost longing in the last words, and Balthazar chuckles next to him.

“I think Cassy would happily trade us both for a laptop, don’t you?” He turns to Dean, who’s disarmed for a moment by the seeming camaraderie, then laughs as well. Cas glares at them from the back seat.

“I would do no such thing.” He protests, pulling out the phone again to continue his reading, Dean’s phone next to him on the seat. The laughter fades off, and Dean sinks into the thoughts of the case once more.
The car goes silent. Balthazar’s eyes on the road, Cas’s on the tiny screen and sometimes on the back of Dean’s head, and Dean’s staring straight ahead. It’s progress, but it’s not enough. Not yet.

“Finally going to go in today, are we?” Will ignores Dr. Chilton’s tone. The snide entertainment that the other gleans from all this is obvious, but it doesn’t matter to him right now.  Not really. His heart beats loudly in his ears; he feels at the same time too hot and too cold. Maybe he should turn around, go back. This is probably a mistake, definitely, what was he thinking, this is an awful idea.

He’s about to say as much, but the smugness on Chilton’s face stops him and he only nods, keeping pace with the other as they cross through secure door after secure door. The locking sound as they shut behind him still sends shudders up his spine, but he’s not here as a prisoner, he reminds himself, they’ll open up again when he wants to leave.  He knows that much is true, knows it. And yet a part of him is certain that he’s never going to leave again, that the darkness will swallow him up and not let him go.

“You know the rules, I trust.” Chilton stops with him at the last door, not waiting for Will’s answer before he plunges on. “If you learn anything from this er- conversation of yours, just know that we would be most interested to hear it. He has been…” Chilton’s eyes slide past the door, narrowing slightly. “He has tried to make us look like fools, you understand.”

“And we wouldn’t want that would we, doctor?” He can’t help the sarcastic response from slipping through his teeth, and Chilton fixes him with a cold smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

“No.” He says slowly. “I should think not.” The coolness grows underneath his skin. “It’s very interesting that you should come to visit, I think. One might wonder why? After all that he’s put you through. Tell me Will, do you miss him? That would be quaint, as I find he misses you.”

“One might wonder,” he says through gritted teeth, ignoring the way the words make something twinge through him. He feels something a lot like compassion for the figure looming beyond the doors, and he hates himself for feeling that, for wanting Chilton’s words to be true.

“Let John know on your way out.” Chilton says instead of goodbye when he finds that Will is going to say no more. He taps his key against the door and turns on his heel. “It’s past the other cells. At the end of the hall.”  The words call back to him and then die away. With a breath, he takes a step forward.

It feels like the hall stretches on forever. There are other patients in their cells, most of them muttering to themselves or asleep.  There are other dangerous minds in the bowels of this place, he knows that much, and they’re smart, he supposes, not to let Hannibal near them.

His footfalls are loud against the stone, and he knows that’s probably enough to identify him, but he doesn’t bother to muffle them. Does it matter if Hannibal knows for a minute more that he’s here? Perhaps it might if he cowards away before he makes it to the cell.

But his feet carry him forward, spurred on by what he’s witnessed today and the deep rooted feeling that only Hannibal would actually listen, would not discount his words as insane, which is ironic in many ways. His lip curls sardonically to himself, but it’s the truth, all the same.

Five cells, then three cells, then he’s paused. At the edge of the normal prisons, in the gap before the last one in the row. He knows that he’s shaking, not from fear, but a residual emotion that he has no name for. They haven’t seen each other since the trial, since Hannibal was declared the Chesapeake Ripper, his eyes meeting Will’s where he lurked at the back of the room. Since he was taken away, thrown to Chilton despite Will’s protests. No one had been listening. But even after everything, no one deserves Chilton for life. Not even Will’s enemies deserve that, and he scarcely knows what to call Hannibal.

He takes a breath. It’s go forward or turn back, he can’t stay here in this little limbo. There’s a killer on the loose. People are turning into plants, and he doesn’t know why he thinks Hannibal can help, but he does. The thought spurs him: he takes a step, and then he’s there standing in front of the glass, frozen.

Half of him expects Hannibal to be standing against the glass, to be lurking, looming, waiting for him. But he isn’t. He’s sitting on his cot, back against the wall; his legs are tucked underneath him, eyes glued to a book. He looks strange in a prison suit, his hair falling into his face without its usual gel slicking it back. Will supposes he’s not allowed it here.  He looks, strangely enough, content, Will thinks to himself. Unbothered, at least, by the sudden change in situation that has befallen him.  But the image hits Will wrongly anyway, seems as though he’s seeing something surreal. Even though Hannibal deserves it, he reminds himself, for all that he’s done. He deserves it.

The flare of anger, which is more of a hurt, but he prefers to think of it as the former, comes and goes, and he doesn’t know exactly how to start the conversation he’s come here seeking, for weeks now, perhaps. Doesn’t know how to say Hello, even, after all that has passed.

Hannibal saves him the trouble, always a step ahead.

“Hello, Will.” He says softly. There’s a layer to the voice that Will hasn’t heard before, that seems to provoke a flicker of thought even in the speaker’s face, before the other continues speaking, looking up slowly from his book and setting it aside. The little tone has disappeared. “Would you like a chair, or are you not intending on staying long enough to find yourself in need of one?”

Their eyes meet, and the gaze disarms him.

“I think perhaps a chair, John.”

Hannibal addresses someone behind him and Will jumps as the orderly brings a plastic folding chair to the window.  Will sits, Hannibal waits, and it’s now Hannibal’s eyes that are doing the appraising, jumping across the other man in a way that might almost be greedy, if a gaze could be as such.

“You look well.” He remarks after a few more moments. “The disease has left you.” He sounds almost relieved, as though it were not he himself who allowed it to grow. “I trust they have returned your dogs to you with your release?”

In his line of work, and being who he is, Will’s had a lot of truly bizarre conversations, but this one, he must admit, ranks. The humorless laughter bubbles out of him before he can stop it, gales of it, his body shaking with the sounds. Hannibal’s lips quirk a little at the edges.

“Yes, Dr. Lecter.” He speaks finally, finding his tongue. “Yes. They gave me back my dogs. If you were concerned, please don’t be.”

“Good.” Hannibal sounds satisfied, as though this truly has been bothering him. “I inquired with Dr. Chilton, but he is not a very accommodating man.” Hannibal’s tongue tuts a little. “I would not want you to find yourself alone.”

“Oh, what?” Will is still laughing, but it’s dying down, just the last whispering edges of it as his voice grows hoarse. “Alone. Without you, you mean?”

“Without me, perhaps.” Hannibal responds, calm in the face of Will’s tumult. The sitting man wonders for a moment, if he feels anything at all. “Do you feel as though you are without me?”

Will snorts. “Are you psychoanalyzing me, doctor?” His words have a dark edge of amusement to them, but also something different, something half wary and half longing.

“We are merely having a conversation.” Hannibal tilts his head as he rises from the bed, moving closer.  Standing now, impossibly tall.  “Though you did not come here to talk about you and I, or you would have come in any other one of those times when you lingered just outside my door.” There’s no accusation in the words, no mockery either. “And I have no wish to keep you here with meaningless words. Though,” He inclines his head slightly. “It is lovely to have someone to converse with.”  He continues before either of them can say anything to that thought. “So tell me Will. Why have you come?”

“I …” He rises himself, crossing his arms and pacing. He wants to demand Hannibal give him back control of the conversation, but a large part of him is also pleased that they’ve so smoothly arrived to this point. He shakes his head a little; he ought to have expected it really. “There’s this case, children are being killed, little girls.”

He’s looking at the wall, so he misses the way Hannibal’s face clouds over for a moment, the film of memory laying over him eyes before he tucks it away again, so far into his mind even he cannot reach it.

“And so I went, to see the house. And  - “ He pauses, shaking his head, hands grasping the chair, leaning over it and facing Hannibal again. “And the girl I saw dead on the table, she was there, only it wasn’t actually a little girl, and for the grand finale, she turns into greenery.”  His face colors with the recollection, the same disbelief as before rushing through him. “And I’m not nuts anymore, so tell me, tell me what can explain that?”
“Was the mother pregnant?” Hannibal inquires as though that is a perfectly normal question to be asking with no information at all.

Will throws a hand up in the air, shaking his head. “I – yes, she was.” He remembers the belly and the nursery. “But what –“

Hannibal doesn’t seem to be listening though, has stepped closer at the motion he’d made, sniffing the air. “Interesting company you have been keeping, Will.” He murmurs, turning on his heel and going back to his desk, drawing something on a piece of paper with a felt tipped pen.  His fingers fly across the page, and before Will speaks to question what he is doing, he has returned.

The lunch tray slot opens up and Will, his eyes never leaving the older man, reaches in to pick up the carefully drawn page that has been handed out to him.

“What is this?” He asks, eyebrow raising when he finally glances down, a complicated spiderweb of lines and symbols threading across it, words in Latin written on the side. “I don’t understand.”

“Return home.” Hannibal says instead of an explanation. “Draw it on your floor, say the words. I think you will find your answers.”

Will heaves a sigh, “And what, the magic spell will bring the killer right to my door?” He doesn’t even bother to try and disguise his disbelief.  “Seriously?”

“Not quite the killer, no.” Hannibal crosses his arms, moving to lean against the wall of his cell closest to the glass partition between them. “And yes. Seriously. You came to ask for my help, did you not? And I am giving it to you. Even if you are unwilling to believe me, what damage might it do? More to the point,  you claim you saw a girl change into a tree today, and you struggle to believe that what I offer might have some value?”

That...that might be a point. He looks from the paper to Hannibal and back. “Maybe you just want to turn me into a tree.” He mutters and Hannibal laughs, the sound of it familiar to Will’s ears, it makes something ache in his chest.

“I have no wish.” Hannibal’s eyes are brighter somehow as he looks at him. “for you to become greenery of any sort.” There’s a bad joke there, somewhere, that lingers between them and Hannibal looks at him for a long moment as though daring him to make it, but he doesn’t and they move on.

“I believe you will not be disappointed.”

His shoulders shrug as he nods, finally – he supposes it wouldn’t hurt to try. He doesn’t buy anything will happen, but he’s curious enough, especially after today’s events, to attempt.

He hesitates as he goes to turn away, Hannibal still standing at the glass. Somehow, it’s even harder to leave than it was to come in the first place.

Hannibal’s voice catches him in midstep. “I think sometimes.” He says, quiet again. “often, perhaps, about all that has passed between us, and I.” He doesn’t think he’s ever heard Hannibal sound so unsure. “I - . I miss you, I suppose.”

It takes a moment for him to find his voice again, and it’s only to croak out an “Okay.” before he’s turned on his heel and gone.


They’re sitting in the hotel room, waiting for Sam to get back. One moment, Cas is there, mouth open to ask some question or another. The next, he’s disappeared.


For a moment, Castiel wonders if his grace has returned to him. The flutter of air that surrounds him is similar to flying, and yet, when the air stops moving around him, the glow fades and no welcome brightness fills him.
He does not know where he is, he realizes, that is the first thing. And neither Balthazar nor Dean are present any longer. Instead of a hotel, he is in a large room of a house, standing in front of a fireplace, and he is stuck in a binding spell. There is a cacophony of howling around him.

He turns angrily in place until he finally spies the man standing in the corner.

“Where did you get these sigils from?” He growls at the other. He might be human now, but there is a gun in his waistband and phone with gps enabled in his coat: Dean is already on his way, he is certain. He puts any panic out of his mind and instead concentrates on the situation. The summoning spell entrapping him is ancient and it’s angelic, he kneels to examine for a moment, ignoring the man’s mumbles and then rises, eyes narrowing at him. Does this man know where the angels are being kept? Does he have some hand in their disappearance, is that why he has called Cas here with angelic words even he can barely read. “Are you in league with Metatron?”

“Metatron, I -  What?” The other seems as shocked as Cas feels internally, and is doing nothing to hide it: a human then. He watches the fumbling - most definitely not an angel. A human who seems to have no idea that he just summoned an angel…using a spell that…that requires them to have met before, he reads more of the marks on the ground, but when –

“You were at the Johnson’s today.” He surmises after a beat of thinking. “You’re not the Aswang are you?” Even though it is a relatively clumsy question, he feels that it’s worth it to ask. It would save them much trouble, if that were to be true.

“No.” The man sounds more frustrated now, though the shock doesn’t dissipate, as though he’s trying to follow but can’t. “I’m not…that, whatever you said. I’m just FBI, and I’m sorry but I really don’t have a clue what’s going on here.”

Cas sighs, a very inept human then. “You are the one who has summoned me and you would like me to tell you why?”

“I’m Will.” The man offers as he goes to sit down the couch, muttering something that sounds an awful lot like Dammit, Hannibal. But it’s hard to be sure. The name strikes him as odd: he last heard it on the battlegrounds of Rome, but who is he to comment.

He ponders the greeting for a moment longer, and supposes, his eyes sharply focused on the man, that it would do no harm to return it. It is not as though his name is in any of the FBI’s records. “I am Castiel.”

“Of course you are.” The words come out in a jumble, more like a groan than anything else.

Castiel frowns at him, unsure of what that is supposed to imply. “That is who I am, yes.”

“Yes, right - sorry, it’s just. It’s been a long.” He runs his fingers through his hair as they twitch for something to do, Castiel’s  eyes follow his actions. “I guess you saw that girl turn into a pile of plants today, too.” He nods over at where the little shrubbery version of Eileen Johnson that sits by his desk.

The blue gaze flits over it, he had debated taking it with them at the scene, but there had been no time. More interesting to him is the grief he sees in the other’s eyes, a deep unhappiness that he understands, a murderer escaped, another body for the count.  At least, his shoulders relax a fraction, at least whoever this is does not seem to want to cause them more trouble.

“And now I’ve summoned you.” He repeats Cas’s words, a dog comes up to him, nudging his leg. “What exactly does that even mean?”

Cas frowns at him, still attempting to figure out whether or not this man really had no idea at all about what he was attempting.  “You said the incantation, you drew the sigil, that is what you do in order to summon an angel. Was that not your intent?”

Will swears quite loudly, at that, and Cas fondly thinks of Dean for a moment.  “I’m sorry, you’re a what exactly?”

He is really tiring of repeating himself though. “I’m an angel, Will.” He says before he remembers he is no longer. “Or at least, I used to be. But I suppose this means there is hope. “ He gestures at the chalk drawn around his feet and then waits, looks for some kind of reaction from the other. At least a hint of the reason for why he has been brought here, but he’s disappointed. They stand there looking at each other silently for what must be another five minutes, Cas shifting, and Will shaking his head, his hands glued to his forehead. He wonders if the human is experiencing some sort of illness or shock, but he is ill experienced to help with either. In the end, he settles on letting the other be, killing time, as it were, for the rumble of a familiar car to come take him…home.  It takes longer than he’d hoped it might, but in the end it comes, the sound of tires screeching across gravel. The dogs barking starts up again, spurred to noise by all the new excitement.

 Will hears it too, because he jumps to his feet, but it’s too late. Dean has already kicked in the door and all but tackled him, pushing him into the wall as he splashes the shorter man with holy water.  If Dean didn’t look like he were about to choke Will, Cas would chuckle. He’s not exactly sure why he has an issue with Dean hurting the other, but in the end, he’s fairly sure he’s decided that Will, while a bit unsteady seeming, is not their enemy.
Balthazar and Sam trail in behind the other hunter, making a bee line for Cas, concerned looks on all their faces. He holds up a hand in greeting, with an extra nod for Sam. Behind them, Will splutters under the holy water, trying to scramble out of Dean’s grasp.

“Dean, don’t.” He calls sharply as Dean reaches for his knife. “He didn’t mean to do it. I think this is all a bit of a misunderstanding.”

“Dean?” Will gargles, falling to the floor as Dean drops him where he stands. “Winchester, Christ.” He’s scrambling to his feet, reaching for his own gun now.  His fingers close around it, raising it but not aiming, though his eyes are wary.

“The FBI thinks you’ve killed all those people.” He says evenly, his eyes are racing, trying to find the quickest exit should he need to escape. He doesn’t know if he believes it or not, not yet. The evidence is scattered at best, disconnected and with no notable pattern he can find. Not even when he strains. He knows Jack believes it, but sometimes Jack only sees what he wants to. Dean sighs, and Sam pushes him away, stepping towards Will with his hands up. But it’s Cas who speaks first.

“Will, we haven’t killed anyone.” He tries to say calmly, but Will’s face doesn’t change, he barely even hears him. He’s lost in his thoughts, jumping through the evidence he’s seen, the prints at all the crime scenes, the pictures of them tacked to the wall, red handed. And yet he can’t feel them there. Not really, every case rings with a slightly different tone, as though committed by different people. And they are so random and so scattered, even the best killers would struggle to manage so well across that many states without getting caught.

“There are pictures,” He says finally, hesitantly, because how can he really contest that. They were there, weren’t they? He’s been wrong before after all.  But even as he thinks it, his mind is rebelling. There’s no logic to blaming the Winchesters, they might be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and clumsy as all hell, but he still can’t parcel out how they’d have committed so many crimes and managed to get away quite so smoothly. No, his mind is telling him, there’s something else to this.

 “What they saw was a shape shifter.” Cas says calmly as Dean balks, the other ignores him though continuing to speak in his even tone. “You summoned me because I was an angel. Today, you saw an Aswang’s victim, what the FBI has photographed are shapeshifters and the Winchester’s leave prints in  crime scenes, not because they are killing people but because they are saving them.  In these cases, it is no ordinary human killing people.  They kill monsters.“ He tilts his head, meeting Will’s gaze as the other  finally turns to look at him. “You know it to be true.” He adds gently. “I know it can be difficult to accept, but we are not lying to you.”

Will’s eyes dart from one of them to the next, the hand on his gun lowering with his resolve. He might have ignored the sights he saw from today, wrote them off as the tail end of his madness, but Castiel…Castiel appearing before him, and Hannibal’s suggestion that it might happen. It’s too much evidence piling up in front of him. “I know that you believe it.” He says finally. “But I can’t.” He feels he has to protest, he’s just finished being crazy, he can’t be like that again, he really, really, just can’t.  “It’s ridiculous, these things.”  His voice is soft, almost a whisper. “They’re not real.”

Sam steps carefully towards the dresser, where Eileen’s straw doll of green sits, reminding him all over again of the nightmares he’d seen come to life. “It is real.”

He sounds calm, together, trustworthy. Castiel wishes Dean hadn’t rushed Will quite so viciously at the outset, but he wasn’t to know. And it’s flattering, really, that Dean feels so strongly for him that he  attacked. Family - the word flutters through his thoughts as he looks out at the room.

“It’s real, and you’ve seen it and if you want to stop a girl from dying tonight than you’re going to need our help.”  Dean now, unmoving, but his face set, resolved.

Will sinks into his chair, his face going into his hands, wondering for the last time, if this is all a dream, if he’s still in prison even, if some fevered reaction of his cells is making him hallucinate this whole case. But he can tell what’s real and what’s not now, he knows who he is. He’s worked hard to find the difference again for himself, and he won’t let it slip away. It would be more madness to ignore this than to accept it. His fingers dig into his palms.

“Okay.” He says to the floor. “Tell me about this Aswang.”

“It’s a kind of ghoul.” Sam describes the creature, Cas has heard the explanation before and isn’t quite listening, but this is the first time Dean and Balthazar have really heard the details. Will listens with rapt attention.
“A Ghoul?” He questions carefully, mulling the word around in his mouth as though he’ll understand it better if each of the letters soak into his tongue.

Dean leans forward, his fingers drumming against the half drunk glass of whiskey Will had handed him before they’d all sat down at the table. “Yeah, nasty creature. Hangs around graveyards, eats human flesh.
Will balks a little, but Sam is talking again reviewing the facts in a loud, clear, voice.

“This one takes the form of a woman, usually, really old or really pretty.” He scrolls down a bit and continues. “They’ll seem normal, except they’re always tired since they prowl at night. Big, blood shot, eyes make them recognizable… Major obsession with children, especially little girls. Silver ought to kill it…”

Something niggles away at Will as he listens, the pendulum in his mind quivering, waiting to crush through the cobwebs and the dust to show him the truth. But it’s not there yet, not quite. On the tip of his tongue, almost, something he knows,  something he can’t explain.

“Our girl’s been hunting on Tuesday nights.”


Jack lets me start late on Wednesdays

The voice is faint in the back of his mind, not loud enough to distract him yet, though the prickling of sensing someone, something, else in his mind is starting to be overwhelming. He concentrates on the table in front of him, forcing himself to listen.

“She’s circling, been to Ashburn, Sterling, and Reston. The likely possibilities for where she’s heading are Bethesda, Rockville, and Gaithersburg.


Nieces. Going to go visit them in Rockville tomorrow.


“She’ll be looking for a pregnant woman, one who already has a child.”



An envelope of congratulations

A stamp for a child

Tired, red, eyes

She’s hungry, unbearably hungry for them. The girl she’s seen from afar, even found a picture of her to look at. No one will remember, no one will see. She’ll burn it tomorrow after she’s feasted, when she’s strong once more. She’s so tired now, she looks around to make sure no one is watching her as she writes another letter. So tired. This body is weak, it wants to be shed, she wants to transform, but she is safe here and her feeding secure. She must fight the exhaustion.

The letter she puts in an envelope. It will be her last one to them, she’s inquired after the health of the child already, she’s made sure it will be due in time for her to experience the ecstasy of two from the same line, child and newborn.

The stamp is placed on the envelope as she seals it, a stamp appropriate for the occasion. Children love balloons and storks and she loves children. Yes, so very much.

Carefully, she addresses it.




“Will?” Someone is calling him as he re-emerges; his still-bleary brain tries to place the voice as it hurtles towards reality once more. He’s out of practice, hasn’t immersed himself in another’s mind in too long. A heavy grogginess fills him. Is It Jack? But that can’t be right, he’s at home, he can see the blurry outlines of it stretching familiarly out in front of him now, guiding him back. He shivers, a cold fear rushing him as the lines dim for a moment. What if he loses himself again?

“Will?” The voice is more urgent, hands on him, but he shakes them off with a growl and the touch fades from his body.

Not Alana or Beverly, it’s a man, not Hannibal, no. He’s far away…gone. He remembers something else at the thought, a case, murderers, transformations…angels.

Angels. The last word hits him like a bucket of icy water as recollection springs in him, shocks him out of the trance.  Everything that he’s missing slams back into him, all sharp, rocky, edges.

“I know who she is.” He blurts out, the worried faces that hover above him turn confused, and he realizes that he’s fallen to the floor. They tower over him like giants, faces grim.  Cas’s blue eyes are piercing, sharp, as he appraises him.  He pulls his body in on itself, struggling to stand, the floor growing dizzily father away.

“You… know who she is?” Dean prompts him, there’s doubt there, but the same raw hope he hears in Jack’s voice every time they call him; the hope that someone may have all the answers so they can stop beating around the bush and attack, attack, attack. He extricates himself from Dean’s psyche before his own can cling.

Before he can find the answer to Dean’s question though, the younger Winchester finds his voice. “What was that? You don’t have a headache, do you? See things?”

“I – ” He hesitates, furrowing his brow as he tries to figure out what exactly he’s being asked, Dean makes an impatient noise in the background but he ignores it. “Well, the headache hasn’t left since I took on this job, if that’s what you mean?” His lips twist into a grim reconstruction of a smile, the best he can manage under most circumstances. “I can see things, people, sometimes, I guess you could say.” It’s not a gift, exactly, useful perhaps, and he’s reminded of how much in times like these. “They call it empathy. I look at what gets left behind, the evidence, the leftovers, the fallout, and I find the owner in them.”

“You’re reading minds?” Balthazar’s leaned in now. He’s looking for something different than Sam, his face curious. Cas’s face is carefully blank. But Will thinks, at least here, he can understand what they’re really wondering -- if he’s magical somehow, if he’s like them, or like what they were. But he isn’t, he shakes his head.

“I’m reading information.” He tries to keep his voice from going too rough, tries to keep his mind from analyzing itself too deeply. “I see what’s in front of me and I put it together, it’s not –“ He shakes his head. “I know their motives, their feelings, sometimes I get lost inside their heads, but it’s just…it’s an echo.” Garrett Jacob Hobbs’s face swims in front of him for a moment but he shakes it away. Just an echo, he repeats in his mind, just an echo.

“Yeah, so what do you see about us?” The elder hunter’s voice is drawled, but there’s something loaded about the question. Enough that it makes Will look up to find his gaze for a moment, before he lets his own creep back to a safe, blank, spot on the wall.  But in the heartbeat where they’d locked eyes, he thinks he managed to put another piece of his new companions together. He stays silent.

It’s Sam that breaks the moment though, waving away the fragile spiderwebs of understanding from the air.

“Dean, he’s not a puppet. And besides…” He takes a seat and pulls the laptop towards him again. “You were right, we need to talk about the killer.” Something shifts from curious to business, and it makes Will just a shade less uncomfortable. Cases -  that he understands. “You know who it is?”

“I … I think so.” For a moment, he’s the monster again – his eyes narrowing, fingers twitching, and the hunger, he’s so hungry. “It…she’s a secretary at the FBI. She’s tired constantly. Whenever I see her, there’s coffee on her desk, her shoulders are slumping, eyelids falling closed. And…” He hates looking at eyes, but he’d noticed. “She has chronic dark circles and bright red veins. More than that, there are pictures of little girls all over her desk.” It could all be circumstantial, he knows that, but something eggs him forward. “I know she’s going to Rockville tonight, which you mentioned…And I can see her now. It feels like her.” They’ve never seen him do this, they haven’t been here for the events of the past months, but he trusts his brain again, the connection it makes. He’s looked at what’s in front of him and he’s seen who’s  responsible and it’s her. “The Greenwood family.” He remembers. “She’s going to go after the Greenwood's.”

He hears Sam’s fingers typing into the computer as he speaks, looking for the family undoubtedly. None of them speak as he works, looking up all the Greenwoods in the area, finding the one in Rockwood and pulling open page after page of information. Will thinks privately that he might give the FBI’s best detectives a run for their money, though more than once he’s certain something’s been hacked open to find. His normal instincts rebel against the idea, but this is a special case, and he’s not special investigator on this one, he’s a visitor into a world he barely understands, so he stays silent.

By the time the hour ticks by, already late afternoon, the sun lazing in the sky, they’ve got a pile of information about Mrs. Greenwood that goes sky high. She has a daughter, the files say, a family, she lives in a fitting area, and there are hospital bills in her name for a bunch of recent date.

But it’s not until Sam clicks into her facebook, and a picture of Mrs. Greenwood, her hands on her stomach, a little girl clinging to her side, sits staring at them from the page that Will can feel the impact hitting hard.
It’s her and they all know it.

“Hey,” Dean turns to Cas as they driving. Will’s let them go alone, murmuring something about not wanting to complicate the hunt for them, but Dean suspects it’s also because he’s FBI and they’re mostly wanted criminals. But hey, he gets it. FBI or not, probably wouldn’t be a good idea to let a rookie come along when a child’s life is on the line. “What happened before?” He stops, considering his words, tongue wetting his lips slightly. “You’re alright, right? Nothing…no weird business?” He doesn’t know exactly whether or not he trusts Castiel to tell them if he’s hurting. A part of it stems from all the shit that’s gone down between them, but mostly, he gets how responsible Cas feels, understands the hero complex and the martyr one to a tee. In fact, he’s aware he’s probably the dictionary definition. So he feels responsible to prod at Cas the way Sam might have prodded at him. That’s what they’re there for after all, to take care of each other. Not that he and Cas are like him and Sammy, but well the core of the feeling, family, that’s all the same.

He tries to keep his voice low, to imply that this is a private conversation. But even with Cas sitting right next to them, it’s almost impossible to do in this car.  She’s not as roomy as baby, they may have taken her to see Will, but she’s not going to a crime scene right now, not on his life. Sam may have fallen asleep, but in the backseat, Balthazar’s brows lift, though he keeps his gaze fixed on the scenery flying outside his window. Dean knows he has an audience, but ignores the sensation.

“I believe I am fine.” Cas’s voice comes after a pause, slow and measured. Sometimes on hunts, Cas will be pure action, will remind Dean of the angel he first met, daring him to get thrown back into hell. But other times, like right now, he’s so deliberate and human, it makes something clench inside Dean. He can’t quite tell if it’s a good something or a bad something. Maybe neither.  “I was merely…summoned.” The other finally decides on. “but it did not affect me in anyway. I suppose it only registered who I am…was, and brought me to the correct location.” His eyes flit back to Balthazar for a moment. “I think because he saw me with the girl when she transformed, he associated me more strongly with the answers he was seeking so the sigils chose me.”

Dean nods but peers over suspiciously. “And how did it know you were an angel at all? Thought you were human now, are you- is it- is it coming back?”

A low snort comes from the backseat and even Cas’s lips quirk up into the hint of a sad smile. “No Dean, it does not simply come back as such. Metatron has my grace and he…Balthazar’s has been torn from him. They do not simply grow again within us as a cut might heal.” He shakes his head, it’s progress, Dean thinks, the urge to reach out suddenly overwhelming, that Cas can even say these words now. His fingers grip the steering wheel tightly. He shouldn’t touch Cas if Cas doesn’t want to be touched.

“I believe…” The other continues. “That it was simply responding to the echoes my grace has left within me; faint traces of creation or altered parts of my being that will never be quite correctly human. It was very old angelic magic, some sigils I have not laid eyes on Earth at all. I…” He hesitates and then voices the question that Dean’s about to ask. “I wonder how Will came to have it.”

“He didn’t know?” From what Dean had gathered in the house, the agent had known Cas was an angel, he’d fucking summoned him after all, that doesn’t just happen by mistake. He turns another corner, the signs telling them Rockville is nearing them.

The sad quirk trades for the happy one and Dean feels momentarily pleased to have asked the right question to put it there. “No, Dean. It was a bit of a shock, you might say, to have me suddenly appear in his kitchen.  I think he was using the spell on faith, not belief.”

“In God?” Dean snorts, he hadn’t put down Will as a religious type, but hey, you never know, wait till he hears what a lame as-

Cas interrupts his thoughts, “In whoever gave it to him.” A half snuck glance at Dean, and a silence fills the car as the hunter ponders what exactly that means. Not faith in God, but belief in someone, and a look. A look from Cas. His eyes turn towards the road more fully and Cas’s towards his window. Quiet settles in the car as the miles fly past them.

Rockville, it turns out, is even smaller than the other towns they’ve visited, midwestern suburbia. If Dean were a monster, yeah, he can tell why this might be a good place to go hunting in. The yards are massive and the houses spread out, children are playing alone in the yards, as though there’s no cause for concern at all. He guesses that the panic hasn’t spread here yet, after all what’s three children in three other towns. The sight of them makes his teeth gnash, where are there parents?  Why isn’t anyone watching them?

Next to him Cas shifts as though to say something but doesn’t. Dean makes himself relax.

 “Okay.” Sam says, having finally awoken. His hair is rumpled and Dean smirks at him. “We’re looking for 159 Maywood drive. Should be just up the way and around the corner.”  He instructs as Dean drives, eyes scanning the road. “It’s early still, she usually doesn’t attack until midnight or later, but it doesn’t hurt for us to figure out locations to hang out in where we can see.”

“And shoot” Dean supplies.

Balthazar stretches in the back seat, his eyes finally coming away from the window. “Just don’t shoot the child, Dean.”

“I believe that this will lead us to the street.” Cas cuts in, Dean turning the wheel harder than strictly necessary. It’s supposed to be a distraction but it’s not.

“Hey, I’m not the one who missed all the targets for three months, am I?” He tosses back at the blonde, who’s smirking now. Cas shakes his head next to him, but Dean feels himself grinning. They pass a woman on the street, but none of them pay her any mind. “Not to mention that huge fucking werewolf back in Utah.”

Sam sighs and his face mirrors Cas’s, but there’s nothing more for him to interrupt with so he stays quiet.

“Why were we even hunting in Utah again?” Balthazar responds, ignoring the words completely. And Dean snorts, turning the corner onto the correct street, eyes watching the house numbers go up.
“Because Princess, we go where the monsters take us and not where the best restaurants are –“

He stops the car short as 159 comes into view. It’s a tall house, two storied, large yard. A mailbox with two cardinals sits in the driveway. And in the grass, near the flowers a little girl is playing, with her, a large dog. The mother is nowhere in sight.

“Jesus.” Dean’s hand is already on the silver blade in his pocket. All traces of humor from mocking Balthazar have left his face. They can’t use a gun with the girl in such close proximity, though they have ones stocked with silver bullets as well, but they’ll have to try killing it anyway. They have to get it while they can, before it attacks.

But the rest of them seem to have other ideas.

“Keep driving.” Balthazar hisses in his ear as the car rolls to a stop.

“What, why?” The thing is there, the monster, they have to get rid of it, right now.

“Because it could simply be the family dog.” Cas’s eyes are narrowed, watching the child interact with the animal. “And we cannot simply charge at it while it is looking right at us, Dean. It will run and we don’t have a good way of finding it once more if it does.”

It’s true the dog has stopped to look at them, and it’s a fucking eerie gaze. But they’re right, he pulls the car into a slow drive down the street, waiting until they’re safely out of sight to park. It could just be Old Yeller is a freak, and they don’t need exposure if they can help it. Definitely not for coldly killing some kid’s pet.

There’s a thicket of trees on one end of the yard and they move wordlessly through it until they can see again. Half of Dean is certain that when they look, they’ll see another gutted carcass, but the child is still playing happily, shrieking and running. Cold relief fills him and Cas’s arm brushes against his own. He doesn’t know if it’s circumstance or comfort, so he says nothing, but doesn’t shift away.

The animal seems to sense their approach, sniffing at the forest and barking once, the child shushing it gleefully, pressing her head to its side, but it doesn’t come to explore. And fuck it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s because it’s their monster, confident they’re unimportant, or just a loyal family pet.

It’s earlier than usual too, if it is the Aswang: they’re usually only night hunters, Dean remembers, and this one has certainly fit the pattern thus far.

Another half hour of anxious waiting passes before anything else happens, but Castiel feels it when it does like a shock to his system, the currents of supernatural energy flooding the air. Balthazar feels it too, he can tell, their eyes meeting as Cas nods. His eyes follow the threads, not sensing them as he might have once, but feeling their echos and finds that the dog’s teeth have grown, its tail longer, fur more matted. He can tell Dean realizes they’ve seen something, but can’t find it exactly, though his eyes strain towards the monster.

“It’s her.” He murmurs quietly, and he doesn’t think that it heard them, perhaps it’s clumsy or too single minded to pay attention to anything not its victim. “She’s getting ready.”

He feels strongly pleased when Dean only nods, doesn’t ask a million question, doesn’t try and parcel out exactly how he knows or why, just takes Castiel’s surety as his own.  Balthazar’s hand brushes his arm briefly and he smiles at him for a heartbeat before they’ve all turned their glances to the Aswang. The creature is still playing with the girl, but there’s something about it that seems to creep now, more of a prowl than a bounce; the predatory nature showing through the mask of harmlessness.

“We have to get the kid away from here.” Dean murmurs, his voice as low as it can possibly get.  Cas knows he’s trying to avoid the monster hearing, but thinks it hardly matters, it’s not leaving here without attempting to eat the girl. He remembers reading that when starving, the Aswang is single minded in its pursuits, will not be moved even in times of dangers to itself.  “And then we can shoot it and hopefully that’ll be that.”
As Sam nods and answers that he will take the child away, Castiel studies the eagerness in Dean’s face, the desire for this hunt to be completed, something of a futile desire, as they will only encounter another one tomorrow. But Castiel knows a thing or two about futility, so he keeps the thoughts to himself and only nods as Dean orders them to be ready, counting down so that they all charge out together. It is still a manageable size, the Aswang, they’d like to kill it before it becomes something much more out of hand.

The adrenaline that starts in him as they run is something new.  As an angel, he would feel nerves before a big battle, a preparedness of sorts, but in the end it was more of a calm. The chemical mix of emotions that hits him these days is entirely human; raw mixes of different secretions that result in his heart beating faster and his breath puffing in quick, short, spurts.  He’s beginning to grow accustomed to it as time goes by, but the first burst of it always takes him aback, the way it overwhelms him without his realization. He’s learned to only let that happen for a moment though, to let it consume him, but then to push back, to use it to his advantage
It’s not a long sprint, but at their sudden appearance the dog begins to growl, turns to pounce on the girl, claws lengthening and glinting in the sun, but Balthazar has already slammed into it, pushed it away before it can get a good grasp on the situation. Sam snatches up the child and runs, loud, high pitched sobs filling the air. Sam’s fingerprints will remain on the girl, he knows, but perhaps they will be long gone from this place by then. Are they going to tell Will goodbye? He wonders as he moves behind Dean, his gun out, waiting for Balthazar to get clear before they shoot. Or are they simply going to leave the dying creature for him to find as they disappear into the wind. Perhaps he will write the other a letter; he finds himself fond of the strange human, and his curiosity is peaked. The sigils, they must have come from somewhere: someone with angelic knowledge, and a vast amount of it, is lurking in the shadows. Perhaps they will be able to convince whoever it is to lend them support. To help them find the angels.

Dean’s gun shots ring through the air as Balthazar finds his way behind them again. The creature turns, snarling, its eyes a pure white now, hellish looking and angry, empty gaze skirting back and forth as it dodges and growls. One bullet skims its leg and a howl rushes out of it, but as the silver finds its home, lodging into its shoulder, it doesn’t seem to have the desired effect. There’s no instant death on contact as the books described, no crumpling up as the Aswang reverts to all its forms and then dies. It only yelps, fury in its voice and turns away, shooting into the trees.

Dean follows it, but they’re all aware it’s too late. The monster is gone. At least, Cas thinks to himself, at least  the girl is alive.

Will sits there for a long while after they all leave, thoughts blowing through his mind as he attempts to put them into some kind of order. Angels and monsters, and Hannibal had known somehow, had known all about them, of course he had.

A part of him itches to go back to the hospital and demand answers, but he doesn’t think he has his head on straight enough right now.  To come to Hannibal with his thoughts scattered and everything confused and jumbled is inviting trouble, he knows that, no matter how much he’d like to.

So instead, he goes for a walk. The day is cool and crisp, the fresh air brushing around him and it helps, as he walks, breathing hard, struggling to leave everything that had happened, all the head spinning revelations, back in the kitchen, to not let them haunt him as he loses himself in the step of nature.

The path he chooses winds away from all the neighboring houses, deep into the woods, following the trickling of a small stream that stretches out for miles in either direction. He’s so caught up in his own mind, that he almost doesn’t hear it, the faint sniffling, the pained yowls, all the signs of a stray in peril calling to him. But he’s so conditioned to respond to them by now, the desire to protect the animals from harm so deep within him, that he wakes up to it eventually, whirling around on his heel  until he finds the direction the sounds come from.

When he’s turned the corner, the smell of blood greets him, rising up from a small, white, puppy who’s breed he can’t decide off hand. There’s a cut circling its leg and a bullet lodged in the shoulder. He swallows hard around a lump in his throat. He never forgets how monstrous people can be, but still they manage to surprise him sometimes.

The puppy turns its eyes up as he comes closer, whimpering softly, trying to move but shrinking back in pain after the attempt. He bends over and gently picks it up, avoiding the wounds.

“Hey there.” Will’s voice is soothing, the take charge aura that only fills him when he’s dealing with a stray rising to the surface. “Get yourself in a little trouble, little guy?” He shrugs off his jacket and wraps it gently around the small, shivering, body. “Well, we’re going to take real good care of you. The others will be happy to meet you.”

He’s glad for it, actually, the distraction of finding another stray, something small to keep him busy and in control, to stop him from doing stupid things and involving himself in what he shouldn’t. What does he care? He thinks to himself as he and the puppy, which he’s already christened Charlie in his mind, walk slowly back through the underbrush. What does he care about creatures and angels, he doesn’t. He doesn’t have to. He does what he can, doesn’t he? Will continue to help Jack catch monsters of the human variety and leave the Winchesters and their clan to do as they wish. He should know better than to try and mess with things that are too far above his pay grade now, no matter what his instincts are trying to tell him. He’s already done that and look where it’s led him. Some part of him rebels at the thought, tries to tell him that there’s something important afoot here, but he ignores it. Lost to the world as he is, crunching back through the leaves towards his house, he fails to notice that the cut on the dog’s leg has steadily been knitting itself up as they walk. By the time they find themselves on his deck, it’s all but healed.

He sets Charlie on his bed when he enters: he doesn’t think the dog needs a cage, too injured to run and not showing any apparent signs of attempting when Will lets go of him. Instead, he lets the rest of the dogs outside, just in case they’re eager to get too close to the new arrival. There’s always a little uneasiness around new additions at first, before they have time to properly meet each other…But there’s something about the way they’re all growling and pacing unhappily that makes him think giving them a little extra adjustment time is probably a good idea. He doesn’t know what they can smell on the injured puppy that displeases them, but he’d rather not risk accidentally hurting the stray more. Winston stays at the edges of the door though and won’t leave until Will shoos him out. Even then, the puppy prowls the deck, watching on alert as Will turns away and heads back to the bedroom.

He fills up one of his metal bins with warm soapy water and carries the heavy load back to the bedroom, towels and first aid kit slung over his shoulders.  Usually, he’d prefer to do this outside, but this seems like a special case and it’s important that Charlie start to acclimate to the house as soon as he can.

The puppy is standing up by the time he reaches it though, pacing back and forth around the bed, making small noises now and again. Will stops short - peering it at it with some degree of confusion. He could have…could have sworn that there were two distinct injuries on its body when he’d found the animal. Now there’s only blood matting the white fur, and the pain is gone from its eyes.  The dog’s gaze turns up to meet Will’s and suddenly there seems to be something almost feral about it. He takes a step back, but then the instant passes and it’s crying in pain again, just as helpless as ever.

 His hand goes up to his head almost reflexively, the fear of the disease resurfacing flooding him like a punch in the gut. Is he hallucinating again, seeing things that he shouldn’t be? Every time this happens, he convinces himself that he’s alright, that he can rely on what he sees, but then at the slightest confusion he feels the doubt rush through him all over again. He wonders if he’ll ever completely stop doubting his reality. He shakes his head, turning to the living room as the doorbell rings.

Outside, he finds a delivery boy of some kind, holding a large food container and looking as though he can’t wait to deliver the thing and be done with it. Will looks at him with some bewilderment as he shoves the package into his hands.

“I didn’t order this.” Will says as the other man turns to go, and he gets a huff of breath in return as the delivery guy turns around.

“Your name is…” The guy pulls out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. “Will Graham?” He waits till Will nods, then shrugs his shoulders. “Look, it’s already paid for. Oh –” He digs around some more and comes out with a crumpled envelope. “There was this too.” Will takes it, but stares at him dubiously. The guy sighs. “Look buddy, it’s yours, you can do whatever you want with it. I just get told to bring food places and I do. Take it up with your friend or management if you don’t want it to happen anymore. I’ve already been tipped so -”

He turns around and leaves at that, clearly not in the mood to hang around anymore, debating free food with customers. Every step seems to make him fidgety and he casts a suspicious glance back at Will and the dogs before high tailing it back to his car and zooming down the empty road.

Will watches him go, the weight of the carton in his hands is nothing compared to the heaviness of the letter. The moment of bewilderment gone, he’s pretty sure he knows where this food came from. It could be Alana checking up on him, or Beverly’s sharp foresight, but it’s not.

He sets the food down on the bed without thinking and then gets up to pace as he slits the envelope. Crumpled now, but it’s expensive paper, the fold marks in it clearly the delivery man’s carelessness and not from the original hand.

With a suddenly shaking hand, he unfolds the paper inside. It’s in Hannibal’s neat script, as he’d known it would be. But how the hell had he gotten it out of the jail - how had he done this? Will’s not sure he’d like to know.


I was concerned that with all the excitement of your latest casework, you had not taken the time to properly eat. This idea I found to be displeasing, so I thought I would provide you with sustenance, just in case. As you know Will, it is important to take proper care of yourself, and since I am no longer available to ensure that you do, I hope I might trust you to do so for yourself. 

Do enjoy.


He reads the letter, and re-reads it and reads it another hundred times it feels like, his feet carrying him across the floor as he paces. He doesn’t understand, he never understands, it’s sincere, it sounds sincere, but how the fuck can he read it to be sincere after everything? He knows well enough to know by now that Hannibal never does anything just because. He just felt like sending Will dinner, because he somehow knew he hadn’t eaten?  And so what if he hadn’t, he’s entitled to do whatever the fuck he wants, and Hannibal has no say in it. If Hannibal wants something from him, the other should just come out and say it, should stop with the games, enough with the games. All these weeks of silence and then angels and a note. And yes, yes, he had gone to Hannibal, he probably shouldn’t have done that, but…the anger in him starts to deflate. But, he’d missed him. Of course he had. He’d missed him and Hannibal had only echoed the sentiment. Will hates them both for it.

His fingers tighten around the letter, wanting on some level to just crumple it up, toss it into the trash. And maybe, maybe that would be the best way after all, keep his distance, ignore contact. It’s what Jack would tell him to do, what Alana and Beverly and Zeller and Price would too, if he asked. But something in him can’t, and he sets it on the table with a sigh. He can’t throw it away, but he can’t do this either - can’t live in games and half truths and answers that only come out after he’s already knee deep in them. He leans over the table, trying to steady himself, trying to get a grip.

Behind him, the dog shifts, silently making her way towards the food lying on the bed, easily undoing the opening with her teeth. The smell of human flesh makes her feel stronger, lets her think more clearly. It’s not fresh, but it will make her stronger, strong enough to transform again, so she can feed on something more alive. She noses into the food, inhaling the blood in it, the chunks of delicious heart, her jaw elongates, grows bigger so she can fit more in and then she’s inhaling it; a savage, hungry, predator.

“Why the hell didn’t it work?”  Dean’s face is a hard line of stone, unhappiness at their failure, annoyance, frustration and a million other emotions playing through his eyes. “Any silver that touched her was supposed to be enough.”

Sam is already typing away on his laptop as they drive, searching through the hundreds of books stored there as he skims for an answers.

“That is what we believed.” Cas murmurs, his own head down poring through his lists. Balthazar has books open across his lap and they’re all poring over as much as they can, looking for what they’ve missed.

There’s a grim cloud hanging over the car, they’ve lost their trail and there’s no way of telling where the Aswang will go, if she’ll even hunt in this area again. Their one saving grace is that she was starving; Cas had found a page which mentioned that their eyes only went white as hers did, when the hunger was reaching an unmanageable point. So she’ll have to feed and soon, but if they’re not there to catch her when she attacks, they’ll probably lose her all over again.

“We should go to Will.” Cas says, still reading down the page his eyes are glued to. “We have to tell him she got away; maybe he can catch her in human form at his place of work. She may have to go there again tomorrow to keep up appearances.”

 It’s a faint hope, Dean considers, but it’s possible. It would mean things going their way though, and so that means there’s no way in hell it’s going to play out. “I guess so.” He turns the car into the next lane, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Probably should ask him to do some damage control too, you know, in case anyone saw us trying to shoot a puppy.”

“What about this?” Balthazar interjects and then reads. “The Aswang is impenetrable to most weapons, blades and guns cannot harm it. Only silver will cause its sudden death. However – “ He pauses, his eyes skimming the rest of the page. “However if it is in a hunger, a combination of things is necessary. First the monster must be made to eat garlic, which will not ordinarily destroy it, but serves to weaken it under all circumstances, and then silver must touch its body.”

Sam’s reached back for the book so fast that his hand is a blur in front of Cas’s face. “Shit.” He swears quietly as scans the page for himself. “Shit that must have been it, the hunger. Her eyes were white, right?”

Dean grunts in confirmation. “So what she hulks out when she’s super hungry and we have to fucking feed her something she knows weakens her before we can kill her? That sounds, well, really awesome.” He nods to himself, switching to a head shake in the middle.

“Well we cannot let her eat again so that she can be easier to kill, can we?” Cas already knows the answer, but he feels as though it might be helpful for Dean to think on it. And it works, determination removes some of the frustration from the other’s face.

“No Cas, we can’t.” He takes the exit that’ll take them towards Will’s house. “We can’t do that. We’ll see what Will has to say, maybe he knows where she lives, an address, something. We’ll find her.”
For a moment, Cas wonders if he could ever convince Dean to put in as much to find the angels as he does the monsters. But the thought passes; they do their best, all of them.

When they pull into Will’s driveway, they’re greeted by an overexcited mass of dogs, only one of them doesn’t move from his post, staring determinedly at the door as though willing it to open, and when Dean knocks, he totters over to wait with them, ready to bound in the moment that he can. There’s no answer though that they can discern, and after a moment, Dean’s fingers twist on the knob and the door pushes open. The dog runs in ahead of them and they follow. Will’s voice sounds as they move through the house.

“I hope that wasn’t poisoned.” He’s saying to someone, in a tone that sounds like he’s shaking his head. “But I guess you were hungry, huh? Maybe we ought to find you some dog food. Would you like that?”
They turn the corner just as Will gets up from the bed, heading in their direction, Winston bounds to him, and he laughs in surprise, turning to greet the new arrival but something rushes past him in a blur, growing and changing as it does, tackling right into Dean.

Cas barely has time to react as Dean pushes him away, taking the full impact of the heavy creature with a grunt, arms up to stop the things bared teeth from digging into his neck. It’s a losing battle though, because the monster keeps transforming, growing longer and longer. Sam has already turned on his heel racing back to the car for the knives and the guns, but there’s no time.

He lunges for the thing, trying to rip it off of Dean’s body, but it grunts and sends him flying to the floor.

“Silver.” He hears Balthazar’s voice as he rushes for the Aswang again, trying to distract it long enough for Dean to get a kick in, to shove it off him, something, his fingers search for its eyes, trying to blind the creature. Behind him, he hears the frantic opening and closing of cabinets, outside the dogs are barking, where is Sam? They parked only just outside. Maybe silver won’t kill it, but if they can just disable it long enough…

Something presses into his hand and without thinking he shoves it deep into the creature’s fur. It’s round and metallic, a coin, he thinks, but it doesn’t matter, whatever it is, it has the Aswang writhing, Dean grunts in pain as it collapses on top of him, but Cas pushes it off with a determined heave and reaches out a hand to Dean. The other looks at him for a moment and then takes it, the hunter’s skin rough and warm against his own.
The Aswang is still rolling around on the ground, its form changing rapidly from one thing to the next, it becomes the dog they saw in the garden, and then a bird, a woman he doesn’t recognize and then another dog, the forms switch out more and more rapidly, only the eyes standing the same, and it seems to shrink as it goes; less and less of it still there with every transformation.  It’s howling now, wrenching, unearthly noises that sound by turn furious and devastated. And then, with a small pop, its form no bigger than a child’s, it folds in on itself and turns to dust.

When Cas looks around him again, his fingers only now slipping away from Dean’s, he realizes with a slight blush, he finds Sam in the room again, his face relieved, Will is sitting at his table, eyes wide, Balthazar behind him, looking at the other with some concern as though he’s about to faint. When Cas’s eyes land on him, he looks up and smiles. Job well down, he mouths, and Cas smiles back. It relieves him sometimes that Balthazar is here with him. He doesn’t know how he might have tackled this alone.

“What –“ Will is stuttering, and then rubbing his face with his hands as though to scrub something off. “Jesus. What the fuck.” He seems stunned, and perhaps it’s hard to blame him for that.

“What I don’t get.” Sam moves forward now, going to the counter and moving the bottle of whiskey into Will’s reach. The other grabs for it and toasts, taking a long swig. “Is why it worked this time. I thought we had to force feed it garlic first? But we didn’t, did we?  Unless I missed it.”

Cas shakes his head as Dean answers. “Nope, no garlic on our end, we didn’t even have any on us and unless Will feeds his puppies pesto for dinner…” He turns his gaze on the still drinking man, who furrows his brow for a moment and then chokes.

“No.” He says hollowly.  “I don’t feed my dogs anything but dog food.” He pauses, his eyes going to the table where a white piece of paper is sitting and he sighs, as though he’s just resigned himself to something. “But I think I know who did.”

This time, Hannibal is waiting for him, for them, probably at the glass, and his lips curve into a smile as they approach.

“Doubtless our good Doctor Chilton did not appreciate your sudden disruption.” His eyes lock with Will’s for a moment, and they stay there, something flitting into them for a moment before Will looks away and Hannibal’s eyes move to trail along the rest of the group.

“I see you have all managed to disable your monster.” There’s a twinkling amusement in his voice. An enjoyment he doesn’t bother to hide.

Dean pushes forward and Will winces inwardly, not the ideal matchup, but Dean is Dean, and Hannibal he is sure, is going to be Hannibal. “Yeah, we have. Know a lot about that, I hear. Wanna share with the class.” There’s a distrusting snarl that edges the words. “Or are you too busy trying to figure out how good I would taste on a pizza.” Will’s sigh is audible this time, he knew he shouldn’t have told them that bit. It’s fairly unforgivable, he’s well aware, but baiting Hannibal at this point will accomplish little.

 Hannibal turns his gaze on him for a moment, fond, waiting, and he responds with a shrug of his shoulders, not that he’d think for a moment if he told Hannibal no, the other would listen. But something about the reference makes him dangerously pleased.

“I would never waste such fine meat as yourself on a pizza. That would be a horrible injustice.” Balthazar smothers a chuckle from somewhere behind them and Dean’s ears turn red. “I would say much more suited to a hearty stew or a lovely compote.”

Dean takes a step closer to the glass, mouth open but the older man smoothly interrupts whatever obscenities were about to fall from his lips. “As to what I know and who I am. I think your own companions might be able to shed more light on that for you.” His gaze moves to Cas’s, who is watching him, face unreadable.

“Cas?” Dean turns to him, and Cas’s face is by turns horrified and wonder filled. He can’t seem to find the words.

Finally, Balthazar shifts, sliding off the wall he’d been leaning and looking up at Hannibal with some interest. “He’s an angel, Dean. Full blown, the whole to do.  Wings, grace, all of it.”

Dean and Sam’s eyes widen  and their eyes shoot to Hannibal, but he’s busily looking over at Will instead. The other looks faint again, his face pale, gaze firmly on the floor.

“I requested for the chair from last time be placed against the wall.” There’s a gentleness in Hannibal’s voice that wasn’t there moments ago. “If you would like it.”

Will turns mutely and Sam hands him the chair which is just to their left, only when Will is safely sitting does the other, the angel, turn his gaze back to them.

“But Metatron.” Cas says quietly. “The spell, all the angels, they all fell, we all fell. Why are you? How are you …?”

Hannibal laughs again, but it is something altogether different, something colder, power threading through it, resonating through the halls of the hospital. Murmurs and mutters sound from the other cells around him. “Metatron is a weak willed, cowardly, terribly rude, excuse for our kind.” He says finally. “He could not have taken my grace from me with a thousand spells. But in this case, he made a poor judgment call. The spell causes all the angels in heaven to fall, and as you can see, I was not in Heaven at the time. He really should have made his decisions more carefully; I should think that I would, were I trying to overtake the Heavens.”

“And me?” Balthazar says quietly, the words unusually soft for him. It takes him a few tries to make the last few he says discernible: “I was dead.”

Hannibal’s eyes flit over him. “Perhaps it was not for you to be dead, then.  The hand of fate intervened, or something more powerful than that.”

“God’s not around.” Dean interjects into the conversation harshly. “Trust us, we know.”

“Do you really?” Dark eyes meet green, and neither look away. “Or do you only not like the plans that he has set for you and so you choose to believe he is not there at all. I think that in itself is a show of faith, Dean. Do you not?”

Cas’s hand finds its way to Dean’s shoulder, squeezing gently, and Will behind them shakes his head, a light snort coming from his direction. He still hasn’t said a word, but the shock seems to be starting to wear off.

“Would you like to know where our brothers are, Castiel?” Hannibal speaks again, after the sound has died away. “How to save them and undo the damage that you so unwittingly allowed Metatron to wreak.”

And suddenly this is sounding like a really terrible idea to Dean, a sinking feeling in his chest, but Cas is nodding and Hannibal is speaking and it’s too late to protest. He doesn’t think he can anyway, can’t not allow Cas the chance to save his family.

“They have been banished, they, in the form of their grace, that is, are locked away under a cage through which no angel’s grace can pass.” His eyes are unusually bright as they catch Cas’s. “There are six locks, so to speak, on this cage, and they can only be broken with pieces of a human soul.” He pauses, the intensity of their gazes growing. “But only an angel can reach the locks.” His lips thin into an emotionless smile. “You see how this might be the perfect cell. But you Castiel, you are an angel who has been given a human soul and as such the exception that could not have been factored in.”

Cas thinks he sees the grace glimmering at the edges of the imprisoned man now, resting at the boundaries of the human form. He wants to ask a thousand questions, who he is truly, where he was hiding, how he fell away from the heavenly gaze.

“Pieces of the soul.” He murmurs, a curl of dread threading through him, the words feel as ominous as they sound, a sudden heavy weight in his chest.

“You were never meant to have it.” Hannibal says softly. “Souls do not belong to Angels. It was given to you, so that you may do this.” There’s a pause and then the other adds. “If you so wish to. Do you wish, Castiel? I cannot answer that for you.”

The blue gaze shifts from Hannibal to Balthazar, who looks half terrified and half hopeful, but he shakes his head at Cas. Not worth it, his gaze says, not you. And to leave him again, the thought is terrifying, after all that has passed between them, finding Balthazar alive again had been a bright spot amidst all that was happening. The plea for forgiveness passes through his eyes, and Balthazar shakes his head.

“I can do it.” The other says to him after a long moment. “I’m not even supposed to be – You shouldn’t Cas, I can’t.” He takes a breath. “I  -“

“No, Balthazar.” He says quietly, but he’s looking at Dean now, the other not meeting his eyes for a long moment, only looks up reluctantly as Cas tilts his head, looking for his gaze. There’s something burning there, something that rings like, people always leave. And he hates it, he hates that he has to leave Dean to save his family, but he has chosen Dean over his family many times before and this time, he has truly wronged them.

“Dean, I-“ He starts, there’s apology in his voice. Apology for the last months of their friendship, which have been greater than he thought they could be…For the seamless way they’d fallen into each other’s lives and the rhythms they’d found which would now have to be ripped out of the other’s life. He’s responsible for that, he ought to have known better, ought to have known that this couldn’t last, not truly. He wants to find the words to explain that he’d hoped, against is better judgment, for a different end than this, for something more perhaps, in a half conceptualized future that he hadn’t dared voice. But he only feels the sadness welling up, robbing him of voice.

Dean finds his though. “Don’t.” It’s gruff, but the pain is there still, even clouded. “Don’t apologize.” He seems far to Cas, the distance between them seems longer suddenly, harder to traverse, and he can see Dean oscillating in it, leaning in and drawing back. “I think.” The other says finally. “I think this is a crappy idea, Cas; going on record, telling you right now. We can’t trust him.” He jerks his chin over at Hannibal. “And you, we’ve…” He loses his voice for a moment  as Cas flinches, turning away. “But I can’t tell you what to do man.” There’s a strength in there that’s all Dean, Dean’s ability to fight and fight and never lose the love he has for his world, for his family. “And I can’t leave you hanging, so it’s up to you, right?” He hesitates and reaches out, his fingers wrapping around Cas’s arm, alive against him.

Something burning scatters the blue eyed man’s vision, and he thinks with wonder that he is crying. He hasn’t done so since the first nights after he had fallen, where nothing had felt quite the same. He leans into Dean’s touch, relishing in it, wanting more than anything to accept the offer to cross back out of this threshold, to become human fully and forget. But he could never forgive himself, either way. He has a debt to pay.
With quiet determination he turns back to Hannibal. “Will you show me the way?”

The other’s eyes are sparkling with something unreadable, but he only nods, lifting up his hand. “Remember, your soul consists of who you are, what you have been, who you have hoped to become. That is what you owe to the cage for its opening.”

With a wave of his hand, they disappear.

The cell is quiet without the others, it seems to Will, and smaller somehow, as though it has shrunk with the disappearance of all its occupants. He supposes this means he has to talk to Hannibal, but he’s not sure yet if he can talk to Hannibal, Hannibal who gives him words that summon angels, Hannibal that is an angel, Hannibal that sends him gifts that kill monsters and makes people disappear with a wave of his hand…As though the cannibal thing weren’t enough. He feels cold suddenly, as though the world is turning inside out and he’s shaking, trying to catch his breath.

“Will.” The voice cuts through his thoughts, Hannibal who has been silent until this moment, interferes. “Will, please. I must ask that you breathe, focus on something.  Don’t allow everything to overwhelm you.”
“Oh yes.” He spits out as his mind starts to race out of his control, but he still struggles to do what Hannibal tells him, stomping down the panic as his eyes settle finally on the figure in front of him. “You know, last time I took your advice, I ended up in prison, so maybe you should stop handing it out, doctor.” He lets out a laugh. “Angel, whoever you are.”

“Are you going to hold that against me forever?” Hannibal’s voice doesn’t sound frustrated, mildly curious, perhaps a little hurt flits in and out, but doesn’t linger. “I had only hoped to achieve what was best for you, as I have tried to explain.”

Will’s hands go up to his face, stretching the skin as he drags them over it. “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” He gets up from the chair and starts to pace, back and forth, back and forth in front of Hannibal’s cell, the other’s eyes following him though he remains unmoving. He stops finally in the center and looks up at the taller man. “So you’re an angel?” Somehow, ridiculously, that’s an easier topic to tackle for him than all that’s come between them. But it’s less personal, less…devastating, so he chooses it.

“Yes.” Hannibal answers. Casually, as though responding to anything else. “I have always been, though I was living quite normally, as you yourself saw. All I have done, none of it was achieved through angelic means. I wished to stay quite hidden.”

Will wants to ask why: why any angel would wish to come to earth, to live with humans and stow their power away, but the question seems loaded, and Hannibal is not pressing the issues he has placed out of bounds. He has no doubt the other would answer him if he questioned, but… instead the words that bubble out of his mouth are: “So why have you stayed? In jail, I mean, limited like this. You could have just…flown the coop, right?”

Hannibal slowly nods, but the look that he’s giving Will is one that indicates the answer is obvious. When Will’s expression doesn’t change, he shakes his head with a slight smile. “I could have, yes. But then I would not have been able to see you.”

Another rough bark of laughter. “You stayed in jail with Chilton, without your things, so that you could keep talking to me?” It seems so ridiculous that he thinks Hannibal is toying with him again, but the other seems bewildered that he might find such a thing shocking. “Why?”

“Why?” Hannibal gives him another one of those looks, and he feels that sharp ache of loneliness again, the one that he’s been denying exists for weeks. “Because that is what I wished, Will. I have told you that I missed you and I was not lying. I would feel similarly whether or not I was in this cell, and I do not enjoy that feeling.” Something of a grim amusement plays across Hannibal’s face. “Here at least, perhaps you would come.”

The idea that he might be so important floors him. “I –“ He doesn’t have the words exactly and he stutters aimlessly for a moment. He wants to tell Hannibal that he’s missed him as well, that everything that has happened has sucked. But the angry part of him rebels, the part that has questioned his sanity every day for months, that goes on high alert every time he so much as shuts his eyes accidentally out of exhaustion.

“I understand.” Hannibal says quietly. “I will allow you to think on the matter. For now, I reluctantly must ask that you go. I have a visit I must pay to an old friend. I would not want them to implicate you in my disappearing act.”

Will huffs a laugh at that, but nods, not asking where Hannibal is going and why. He would, much, much, much rather not know.

He pauses at the end of the cell, not looking at Hannibal but straight ahead. “I’ll…I’ll see you later.” It’s muttered and unsure, but an offering all the same. And then he’s gone.

They arrive somewhere barren when the world stops spinning. It’s vast and empty, but neither desert nor tundra, like a vacuum at the end of the world.
Castiel can already sense the graces that are here: millions of them, billions perhaps, trapped beneath the ground, unable to escape, their strength being sapped. The guilt in him triples as they walk down the path they’ve landed on, and the sensation grows stronger. He thinks he can hear phantom voices crying. Ahead, at the end of the road, something white and large glimmers.

As they near it, the outline becomes clear: it’s a cage, a huge one made of bars that are not substance but grace solidified. Metatron’s perhaps, or some of the stolen angels’ coagulated together. The locks are literal, large and unyielding, six of them scattered across the front of the expanse. They’re far apart in and of themselves, but the whole of the bars stretches onward, out past where the human eye can easily see. Balthazar shifts uneasily behind him, and even the Winchesters seem affected by the place, though they cannot truly understand.

When they are close enough, they can see the dark emptiness that stretches down underneath, a void Cas knows is filled with the angels, a hole he must empty. Rage fills him for a moment, but dies. It is useless to be angry, he is going to fix this now, and he will right all the wrongs that have been committed.  At the edge of the ground he pauses, hesitating. Only he and Balthazar can go beyond this point, but he does not wish anyone to cross with him. This is his doing, his burden to bear.
Sam wordlessly pulls him into a hug, and then Balthazar follows suit, he lingers in the touch of the other, the warmth he can’t bear to lose suddenly. He feels wet tears that are not his own brush his cheek and he clings. With Balthazar too, there are words he wishes to say, moments he thinks they might have shared. But now is not the time for that. Instead he pulls back and turns to Dean, the other standing there motionless. For a moment Cas thinks that this will be their parting, the grand finale, but then Dean makes a sound like he’s choking and pulls him in, holds him tighter than he has before, tighter than the arm slung around his shoulder outside strip bar in some empty town, tighter even than the hug in purgatory. It’s as though his very life depends on it, and Castiel really, truly, hopes it does not.

“I am sorry.” He manages to say, but Dean shakes his head.

“I…” He pauses over the words. “I’ll miss you.” He says finally, but Cas thinks he hears something different in the words.

“And I you.” He murmurs, his voice almost a whisper, and then he’s turned, making his way to the start of the cage.  At his first step, he thinks he might fall, but the structure, even the holes, support his weight. With a heavy heart, he walks. The farthest first, he thinks, as he surveys them, lined up in two rows of three, horizontal to the ground he just stepped off of. So that…so that if he survives this, it will be easy to return. He shouldn’t be thinking like that, but he is.

It’s farther than it looks, a labored walk which feels as though it goes on forever and stretches empty before him, but finally he reaches the lock. It’s a smooth circle surrounding the bars, with no clear opening or place for Cas to try and pull it off. When he touches it, it sparks though, the iciness that runs against his hand turning to fire.

What you are, what you were, what you might have been.

Hannibal’s voice echoes through his mind and he thinks perhaps he understands. He will have to share with it all these things, will have to give them up so that the cage will open for him: a sacrifice, an eye for an eye. Well, he hadn’t thought this was going to be easy.

What you were, the voice rings again in his mind. Fitting, that he should start these trials with his past, the endlessness of it matching this place. But what can he offer? He thinks of the years in heaven, the years before Dean and the apocalypse and humanity. The lock glows but only barely. No, it wants something deeper, something meaningful to consume. His mind settles on Balthazar, at last, on the times they’d spent together before his existence was populated by many. It had been only Balthazar who had cheered him, who had made their long campaigns and missions bearable. The metal scalds hot in his hand, but doesn’t give.

Together they’d shared their immortal reality, Balthazar had stood for him in heaven when no one else had, had missed him, when no one else had, had been happy to see him. He shudders out a breath, a memory creeping out to him of them flying around together, Balthazar settling next to him on a lonely cloud and asking why he wouldn’t play. He’d reached out with is grace gently, with his hands and his being and his wings, and they’d flown together. So long ago now, and yet he still rememb – the memory snaps harshly, pulled for him as though by a vacuum as everything shudders at his feet, with a great tug, he pulls at the lock and it comes free. He feels empty somehow, a sudden weakness buzzing through him, but he tries not to think of it. Of what he has just lost, instead he climbs to his feet and moves to the next one.

Another memory of his past, then. This one comes easily, comes from a glowing soul whose light seeps even through the taint and corruption that coats it, even through the filth of all of hell. The soul who is beautiful as he gazes upon it, a sudden curiosity seeping through him that has never left, a sudden desire to know it, to know more about the others that walk the earth. He’d found Dean and he’d gripped him and he’d pulled him home. And with that, he’d made his own home, though he hadn’t known it.

The pull comes quicker than he expected this time, the lock yanks free with barely any effort, but it takes more away from him, it holds his whole past in his grip. He can still remember it, if he thinks, but it seems farther somehow, removed, no longer solely his own. He wonders if he will live long enough to have lost it completely. He hopes that he will not.

When he arrives at the middle locks, he feels almost numb to the idea of giving everything up, kneels on the cage bars and summons to mind images of the four of them, his new family, one that he’s chosen for himself, all around him. Balthazar sprawled on a bed, teasing Dean, Dean growling, but grinning at Cas, Sam at his laptop shaking his head at all of them, and he, Cas, at the center, surrounded by them, linked to them in a way that perhaps does not replace the links he has lost, but augments them, makes his loss more bearable. The image fades and the lock clatters away, he can barely stand this time, but finds his way to his feet eventually, limping over to the fourth lock.

The memory that comes to him is of a different sort this time. His first successful hunt, a spirit that had been plaguing an elderly woman, the scent of smoke and ash flooding him, the click of his lighter as he dropped the fire into the body, the cold of the winter night. The flush of success as the spirit vanished, the way Dean had looked at him, bright eyed and triumphant, as though all was forgiven. He’d felt strong that night, alive…human. The lock falls, and he falls with it, whimpering as nausea courses through him. His teeth are chattering suddenly and he feels ill - as though he’s been plunged into a pool of icy water and can’t find his way out. His lungs are straining. He crawls over to the next lock.

The future, the words blearily play through his mind, and it is very, very, difficult to imagine his future right at this moment where he can feel death playing on his shoulder, lingering as he waits for him to find his end, but he has to, he reminds himself as he coughs, blood splattering the clean surface of the bars, trickling into the abyss. He has to.

He summons up an image of peace in his mind, it’s not quite with form, but it’s a feeling, an end he longs for that holds no more unhappiness, only ease and peace. The phantom images of Dean, Balthazar and Sam walk through the feeling, it surrounds them, coats them, warms them all like a thick blanket.  He longs to stay in the dream, wants to never leave it, and he can, something in the cage whispers to him, he can stay here, he just has to crawl away, to step off the bars and he’ll be whole again, will be free to search out that point, to live it, to live it with the people he loves.

“No.” He says hoarsely, his throat ripped raw by the magic, no.

He forces the memory into the lock and it breaks for him. He can see the rest of them from here, can see the last lock, and he’s so close – but, he totters, trying to make himself crawl, but the bars skim the skin from his knees and his palms, he groans with pain, pushing himself forward, but pausing every few inches with the agony. It’s so far away, he can’t, the blackness bursts in and out of his vision, he won’t be able to make it.
He sees Balthazar lean in to say something to Dean, both of them grim faced, and then Balthazar has stepped onto the cage, grimacing as though slapped, but ignoring the way the spell tries to push him off. He’s an angel with a human soul, he’s as much right to walk the bars as Cas.

He kneels down next to him, arms going around Cas’s body, blue eyes are watering with a mixture of pain and emotion. “Hey darling.” He murmurs, pulling the other closer, Cas’s rests his shoulder against Balthazar, in too much pain to speak. “I don’t think it will let me finish this for you, but I won’t leave you here to struggle.”

Cas tries to protest, tries to make him leave, but he’s too weak, in too much pain. The ground leaves him and Balthazar’s holding him, bringing him towards the last lock.
“I love you.” He moves his lips numbly instead, and Balthazar nods, his hold tightening. “I love Dean too.” He adds. “Will you tell him, will you tell him for me please?” That Dean should never know suddenly feels too terrifying, more than this, more than death. “You have to.”

Balthazar kisses his forehead and only nods again; for once words have failed him. He holds Cas for another moment after he sets him down, kneeling at his side, arms wrapped around him, their heads tucked together. Balthazar’s shaking, he realizes blearily. Then an “I love you too,” whispers against his hair and Balthazar retreats. Cas watches him go, watches him lean in to murmur something to Dean, before curling his fingers tentatively around his shoulder, the distance between them lessening. They’re both watching him.

With effort, he brings his hand up to touch the final lock, his fingertips barely skirting the edges.  One more image of the future and he won’t have to hurt anymore, and they’ll all be gone. He’s sorry, he would tell them if they could hear, sorry that he’s leaving them and they love him and he loves them. Sorry that this image, whatever it is, won’t come to pass. His eyes fall shut.
In the darkness of his mind he finds a house, it’s small, but cozy, pictures filling every corner, sunlight spilling across the floor as he enters it. Laughter rings through, louder as he walks, turns the corner and little girl comes running up to him, her hair streaming behind her, the giggling still edging her turned up lips.

“Hi daddy.” She murmurs as she rushes to hug his leg.

“Hi sweetheart.” He murmurs, and the whole world crashes around him.

He can feel the graces of all the angels streaming away as his soul seeps out, thousands of them flooding up around him, and then more and more, their light brightening up the emptiness of the place, they sound like they’re singing, for a moment, he can feel them inside of him, feels a part of them as they rush past, like shooting stars once more, but in joy this time, in freedom, rising up the heavens where they belong.
They’re leaving though, leaving him and he has nothing inside, his mind empty, his vessel empty. His heart begins to slow in his chest and he feels like he’s falling, drifting down and down, slowly into the abyss. He welcomes it - what is he but darkness. His vision blurs, then leaves him, and he feels himself breaking at the seams.

And then a hand wraps around his wrist and pulls him up.

Hannibal finds himself somewhere he has not been in a very long time. The peculiarity of all that has changed and all that has not strikes him immediately. But he has not come here to reminisce, merely to do a job and return to where he would very much rather be. Not to his cell of course, he is quite finished with that, but to less of a geographically grounded location.
He has always prided himself on being one who does the jobs that need to be done though, so this must come first.

Metatron lurks exactly where he thought he might, in the great throne room. Always was a power hungry, sniveling, little thing. He might have disposed of him long ago, if the other had not been held in such high esteem. But the past scarcely matters now. The pathetic angel has been very rude, very rude indeed and there is much that must be done about that.

“Hello brother,” he greets politely as he walks into the room. They have no physicality here of course, but the space becomes whatever its inhabitants imagine it to be, and he is content with his human form at the moment. “It is pleasant to see you here.”

Metatron starts at the greeting, tensing, and then jumping outright, moving so his back hits the great throne he is sitting onL a little rat being stalked by a snake. Hannibal is calm in front of him. Metatron only panics.
“What are you, but you can’t be, I –“

“Miscalculated, yes. But don’t worry.” Hannibal’s smile is generous, easy. He has had so many simple mortal kills in the last decades, so many of the apes who were just ready to lay at his feet and die. A great part of him longs for this challenge. “You will not regret it for very long.”

A smash of power comes at him from nowhere, but he dodges easily.  It is an amateur opening move, a mark of one who is unfocused and out of practice in the ways of battle. Metatron is a glorified scribe and librarian, little more.

“You took what was not yours to take.” He sends a flurry of his own powers at the throne, feeling the proverbial muscles stretch. He has not used his abilities in so long they are almost intoxicating, tempting him with their strength. But he must remember: a job and no more. He is unhappy here; this is not the place for him. Using his powers is not the same as using his skills or his strength. There is no art to it, only brute strength. And his brothers will be coming shortly, if little Castiel manages to do what he has set out to. He must be gone by then.

Another shock of power dances across the room and then another. Relentless, he doesn’t stop until the thrown is destroyed and Metatron isforced away from the chair.
“That is not yours to sit on.” He points out, the tone in his voice casual - only a tiny beat of excitement creeps in, unavoidable with the use of his grace. He has fallen out of practice and it controls him, but only a little. Not like it does the others.

Metatron fights back. He’s not powerless after all, just pathetic…and occasionally lucky. A strike hits Hannibal’s shoulder and he winces, the burn searing through his jacket.
“It is now.” Metatron tries to keep the fear out of his voice, the powerful angel that should be fallen with the rest of them is here now, oh and he wants to kill him, no big deal. He can handle this. He managed to get this far, didn’t he? No one thought he could, everyone counted him out, but here he is. And they’re, they’re all locked away.

The other doesn’t so much as blink and the next current sends Metatron to the floor. “I should think that you would prefer I kill you. You see…” There’s mirth in the deadened eyes. “they are coming, all of them, very shortly and I would not want to be the one who would witness the host’s rage. At least I –“

Metatron tries to scrabble away but Hannibal pins him to the ground, a strength in his hands that comes unexpected. “I am merciful. I have come to deliver this end to you, so you do not have to suffer a crueler fate.”
The long fingers reach down, tugging the necklace from Metatron’s neck free and smashing it on the floor. A thin, dim, grace rises slowly from it, hesitating a moment and then flying away. Hannibal has confidence that it will reach its destination. One cannot live sustained on nothing, after all. Castiel is very lucky that Will approved of him. Otherwise, Hannibal might have left him to die. Or…perhaps he would not have.

In his moment of musing, Metatron tugs himself free and the energy that explodes across his chest is quite unexpected.  It burns through him, a poison seeping into his skin, and for a moment, he writhes there, pain something he is unfamiliar with. It’s almost curiosity that fills him, rather than dread, and when he moves, his joints aching, the newness of the sensation attracts him. But he doesn’t have time to explore his weaknesses just now, they do not stunt him from completing his aim and little else matters. He summons the sword to his fingers with a blink.

With a growl, his hair whipping around his face, he rushes at Metatron, speed unrivaled, and buries the knife deep in his throat.

“Goodbye.” He murmurs with an inclination of his head and then he disappears from the place without a second glance.

Cas lays across Dean’s lap, Balthazar kneeling next to him. The other is freshly re-angelified, twinkling along the edges and everything, but that doesn’t matter to Dean, not if he can’t heal Cas. It doesn’t seem like it matters to Balthazar either. He keeps trying, but there’s loss already fresh in his eyes. It’s because there’s nothing there to heal, they both know it. But Dean keeps holding Cas, and Balthazar keeps trying.
He can feel the other slipping away from his fingers, the breaths are barely there anymore, and the other’s heart beat is slipping, too slow, too erratic. Sam has moved away, has given them all distance, but Dean doesn’t like that, doesn’t need it cause Cas isn’t gonna die.

“Hey.” He says uselessly to the other, his fingers dragging through his hair. “Hey, come on, wake up. This isn’t cool.”

Balthazar sneaks a glance at him for a moment, and Dean can see the angel’s face is tear stained, but neither of them say anything to each other.

The sky that was moments ago lit up like a Christmas tree has faded into its dim nothingness again - which is only appropriate, Dean thinks, but then his next thought is that Cas deserves better than to die here and that sets off the denial chain of thought all over again. No, it doesn’t get to happen here, not like this, not now after everything has been going so damn well, and it’s not fair. This was supposed to be just another hunt, not some big epic show down for the angels, and fuck, no he is not crying. He doesn’t do that. No. And yet the tear slips out.

They’re so caught up in their grief, all of them, that the small ball of light creeps down from the sky unnoticed. It’s weak, curled in on itself and the light blinks in and out here and there, but it determinedly crosses its way down to the small group that’s settled next to the end of the world. It’s not whole on its own, not anymore. It needs a heart to wrap around, emotions to blend with. It’s not the same grace it used to be, but it’s still strong, still stubborn.

Balthazar notices it first, feels it thrumming in time with his own, and he looks up and finds the light; the only brightness against the dark, endless, sky.  He thinks for a terrifying heartbeat, that he’s only imagining it, but it comes close, surges with light as it nears them. There’s a warmth that surrounds it, a familiarity and a friendship, it nudges by him and he feels Cas.

It hovers over the all but lifeless body for a moment, but then, as though deciding something, floats upward to settle in front of Dean. He looks up at it with watery eyes, and then they widen, his fingers reaching out as though to stroke it, a half laugh coming out of him when it nuzzles back against him. With a small bounce, it shifts away, flinging itself back into Cas.

For a moment, an explosion of light erupts and sight and sound stop altogether. When everything starts to move again, Balthazar shifting beside him, Sam breathing behind him, he looks frantically around. What he finds is Cas standing straight, perfectly unharmed, an angel once more, smiling down at him.

“Hello Dean.”

He doesn’t think he’s ever gotten off the ground faster, pulling the other into a hug, half laughing, half crying into his shoulder

Will paces in his kitchen as he waits. The alarms have already gone off, and Jack is beside himself. But, as far as anyone knows, he’d been asleep in his bed when Hannibal escaped, all records of his presence there erased, and so he hasn’t been bothered much. There’s nothing he can do.

But he’s anxious for different reasons. Everything’s changed suddenly, and he’s not sure what he thinks, not sure what he wants, but he’s fairly certain he’s going to have to decide and soon.
He paces until the fluttering of wings tells him that time is up.


Hannibal greets him, and Will can see his shirt is singed, that there’s something careful about the way he holds himself. The shorter man wanders closer idly, fingers reaching out to brush the wound.
“I thought you were untouchable.” He murmurs, looking up. He takes a breath, but doesn’t move his hand. Hannibal stands very still.

“It will heal.” He answers after the silence has stretched. “All things do, eventually.”

There’s a question to his voice, but he’s Hannibal and so he won’t ask it, waits for Will to tell him what he will.

“Are you going to leave?” Will asks after a moment, something catching in his voice.

Hannibal appraises him. “Should I be doing so?” He returns the question with a question, Will’s hand still lingers on his shoulder.

“Everyone knows your face.” The younger man shrugs his shoulders, he can imagine Hannibal does not want to be hunted, wants his freedom.

“Then I will find a new vessel.” A crinkle of laughter fills the words as he says them, as though he knows the response that is coming, and Will doesn’t disappoint.

“No.” He shakes his. “No, this one is you. I – I like this one.” There’s more power to the words now, something more solid, a bit more certain, though the leap has not yet been made.

“Then I will make them forget.” Will looks outraged for a moment, but then he shakes his head, relenting.

 “Just your face.” He says. “Not what you did.” It is important, to Jack, to the victims, to their families, that the actions not be simply erased. Just because Hannibal has the power to do so, just because it’s what Will wants, doesn’t mean that it’s what should happen.

Will shifts for a moment and then asks, because it matters, it does. Despite everything that he thinks he’s realized, it matters. “Will you kill again?”

Hannibal ‘s eyes find his and they stand there for a moment, locked. Will wonders if the other might kill him after all, if he’s pushed too far, but then low chuckles meet his ears.

“I think, perhaps, we might work something out.”

The trail of bodies starts to become suspicious after the fifth one. They’re demonic possessions, clearly, the demon burned out of the body, still lying on the devil’s trap that held it in place. But demonic possessions don’t usually go hand in hand with missing organs. It’s not always the same ones either, the heart one time, the kidney and lungs the next, the liver, the tongue. It’s an assortment more for the kitchen than the supernatural, and Dean has a sneaking suspicion who is behind it.

They summon Hannibal into the middle of a holy fire ring one afternoon after the sixth body is discovered, though the hunter has a sneaking suspicion he only came because he deigned to. Hannibal watches them all with raised eyebrows. Cas texts Will the location from his spot on the couch.

“You might have called," is all the angel says at last, and Balthazar, whose arm is wrapped around Cas’s shoulder, looks up at him and grins.

“You know.” He tells Dean. “I have half a mind to swap you out with him. I think I quite like him.”

Dean rolls his eyes, but ignores him. “You’ve been eating corpses.” His voice is accusatory, but already resigned. He had to do this because he can’t let it slide, but he doesn’t really expect to get very far.
“I have been recycling, yes.” Hannibal steps close to Dean, ignoring how the flames jump at his movements. “It was a compromise, and one that was certainly not made for you. They are dead either way, and I do not kill them. Your opinion of it or of me is yours to have.”

A growl comes from the hunter. “ think it’s gross.” He declares and huffs back to the couch, not freeing Hannibal from the flames, he shoves Balthazar over and sits between the two, his arms sliding over the back of the couch.

“Well.” Hannibal responds, relaxed as ever, not asking to be freed. “I shall take that well worded sentiment under consideration.  Though, you might be interested to know, I imagine you might do better in a nice savory pie than what I mentioned previously.”

Dean blanches, and Hannibal chuckles. Cas moves to lean more comfortably against Dean.

It takes Will ten minutes to get there, and he’s got his annoyed face on. Cas sends him an apologetic look, but Dean only shrugs.

“You shouldn’t eat people.” He tells Will. “This is what you get for having a boyfriend angel who eats people: you get to drive half an hour to come pick him up. Let that be a lesson to you.”

Will douses the fire, muttering to himself, pausing as Hannibal leans in to murmur something in his ear. He chuckles lowly at the words and turns to the rest of them.

“He says we’d like to invite you to dinner, and that you owe us.” They walk towards the door together. “For them.”

Dean snorts, not dignifying the invitation and then reaches for the remote and flips the TV on. Hey, his life maybe is fucking weird, but at least he’s not as fucked up as those two. Cas sprawls against him as he chooses something at random and Balthazar comments on his utter lack of taste.

Yep, everything is pretty damn good.