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Team Free Will 2.0 met Thomas Rossberg on the third day of one of their more frustrating cases in Moline, Illinois.

The case had been infuriating; the initial presumption they had had before arriving in Moline was that it was a particularly merciless vampire coven due to the exsanguination of the victims. However, after Sam and Jack's trip to the morgue, they had discovered that not only was this the case, but the brain stem had been removed from the back of the neck as well casting doubt over the monster they were facing; Dean had suggested a wraith trying to cover its tracks, but the brains had been otherwise intact. As it stood, by day three they had no leads, no ideas and barely any energy due to the extreme boredom they (aka, Dean) were feeling as they poured over the lore books Sam had packed with him.

"It could be zombies," Jack piped up unhelpfully for probably the tenth time that morning, at Sam's face he hesitated before brightly adding, "zombies being picky eaters?"

"I can't take much more of this," Dean groaned face planting the book on the table in front of him, the words had been swimming before his eyes for the past ten minutes and he had lost focus even before that.

"Why don't you go on a snack run?" Sam suggested, frowning when he realised Jack had eaten the rest of the chocolate bar that had been open on the table, "and get me a salad - and I mean a salad, Dean - for me and- what do you want Jack?"

"Nougat."

"And nougat for Jack."

"Yeah, yeah," Dean huffed standing and stretching, his stiff joints popping as he did so, "you coming, Cas?"

"Alright." The angel set his own book aside and made his way to the door.

---

They had been alerted to the case a week ago; a news article had mentioned a gruesome mass homicide that had left police baffled almost a month prior that was exact in nature to another mass murder in the city a month before that. Mr. Oliver McGregor (42) had been found murdered - corpse exsanguinate, brain stem removed - in a motel on the outskirts of the city, when the police had gone to inform his wife she, along with their three children, had been found in the exact same state killed some hours prior to that of Mr. McGregor's. Though police had initially believed it to be a murder/suicide case, the timing of the murder, along with Mr. McGregor's check in time at the motel (with security footage showing his car remained in the car park until his body was discovered), as well as the nature of the killings themselves, indicated that this was impossible. A month later, the exact same thing had happened to the Donavans - a newly wed couple who'd just moved into the area. Ethan Donovan (30) was found dead in a motel room outside the city, and the bodies of his wife Rosa (28) and six year old step-son Jamie were found dead by the police who went to inform them of the deaths. There had been no signs of break-ins to either the motel room or the houses in both instances.

On the first day arriving, Dean and Castiel had gone to interview Maggie Anderson, the widowed sixty something neighbour of the McGregors' whilst Sam and Jack went to the morgue.

"They were a happy family," she had said after offering them both a cup of tea, "but things had been so tense before it happened. Now my hearing's not what it used to be, but there was definitely an argument the night Ollie went storming off. I saw him burst out of the house in a rage - never seen anything like it - before he took off in that old car of his. As for Ellen-" she had blown out a breath, shaking her head. "- I've never heard such language out of that woman's mouth telling him 'good riddance' and that he 'never did anything' for the family anymore."

"Do you think she was having an affair?" Dean had asked and Maggie had snorted.

"Ellen? No. She wasn't the type, she wouldn't have had an affair behind Ollie's back."

Dean and Castiel had asked questions regarding the vampire theory which Maggie had answered in the negative to - but that was before Sam and Jack's report from the morgue which ruled it out completely and put them back to square one.

---

On day two, Sam and Dean had gone to interview the Donavans' neighbour Frank Graham, and his wife Nora whilst Castiel and Jack took a trip to the station to try and get the police reports. Frank and Nora had the exact same tale to tell about the Donavans as Maggie had to say about the McGregors; the night of the murders, Ethan had stormed out of the house in a fury with Rosa and driven off with his wife furious that he was no longer good enough for her or her son.

Once they had regrouped at their motel, the police report for the murders of the McGregors had read as such:

DETAIL OF THE EVENT:

- Mr. Oliver McGregor (42) found dead in Twin Hill Motel (on floor), laceration to the base of the skull - serrated - at 09:00am CDT May 6th 2018 when failed to check-out of motel by Mrs. Sandra Lane (53) the receptionist - motel owned by brother Mr. James Paxton (56) who was [in bed at the time]. Presumed Homicide by DI Hopkins on scene. TOD Estimated 23:30pm CDT May 5th 2018. Officers Hunt and Drake went to inform Mrs. Ellen McGregor (41) of the deceased. Door went unanswered and Officers attempted to call Mrs. McGregor but no answer. After phone calls from Mrs. McGregor's boss Mr. Adam Langley (69) informing that Mrs. McGregor had not arrived for work and the teachers of David McGregor (14), Ashlynn McGregor (10) and Kieran McGregor (7) informing no students had arrived for school, officers forcibly entered the McGregor Household at 18:25pm CDT May 6th 2018. Mrs. Ellen McGregor was found deceased in the kitchen (on floor), laceration to the base of the skull - serrated. TOD Estimated 22:00pm CDT May 5th 2018. David McGregor and Ashlynn McGregor were found deceased in living room (on sofa), lacerations to the base of the skull, singular for each - serrated. TOD Estimated 22:00pm CDT May 5th 2018. Kieran McGregor was found deceased in bedroom (in bed), laceration to the base of the skull - serrated. TOD Estimated 21:45pm CDT May 5th 2018.

- No signs of Break-In were detected in either the motel or the McGregor Household.

- Signs of struggle regarding deaths of Mr. McGregor & Mrs. McGregor, no signs of struggle regarding deaths of children.

- Neighbours reported argument between Mr. & Mrs. McGregor approx. 20:00pm CDT the night of May 5th 2018. Mr. McGregor left the house approx. 20:35pm CDT. Mr. McGregor arrived at Twin Hill Motel at 21:55pm CDT booked room for one.

- No surrounding blood at either scene - moved? Scenes cleaned?

SUMMARY:

- Victims knew the killer and let them into the house

- Children were killed first, then mother, then father

- Deep Laceration is presumed cause of death in all five homicides.

 

The chilling thing was that the report could have been copy and pasted onto the Donavan case which described a similar scene. Rosa had been found dead with a laceration to the base of the skull in the living room on one end of the sofa with her son found the same way in his bedroom. Only the mortician's report revealed the exsanguination of the corpses and the missing brain stems, though the police suspected they had been harvested as some kind of grisly trophy by the killer, the Winchesters and Castiel suspected it was more likely a food source for the monster they were hunting along with the blood.

---

Dean and Castiel were the ones to run into Thomas Rossberg.

Whilst driving away from the city to a gas station Dean had spotted on the way up to the city, they had heard shrieking and screams coming from a shed-like structure off the side of the road. Upon entering with their weapons drawn they had been attacked by a nest of vampires holding a young girl prisoner. Though Dean and Castiel had been able to fend them off, the former was knocked off his feet and almost bitten before the vampire above him was swiftly decapitated.

"Thanks..." Dean's grateful remark faded when he realised it was not Castiel who had saved him, but rather another man in a black biker jacket and boots wielding a scimitar.

The stranger moved on and quickly began helping Castiel who was fending off three vampires at once. Not to be outdone, Dean jumped to his feet and decapitated one of the vampires making its way towards the girl in the corner, quickly untying her.

"You okay?"

She nodded, face frightened.

"Get out of here, okay, get to the car, black, we'll take you home once we've dealt with this lot alright?" Another nod and Dean helped her escape out the door.

When he turned around, Castiel and the stranger her already finished off the last of the vampires and had struck up a conversation.

"Good work there," the stranger complimented, not even sparing Dean a second glance, "you guys must be hunters too, huh?" Without waiting for a reply he offered a handshake to the angel. "Thomas Rossberg."

Dean glared and walked to stand next to his Castiel.

"Dean Winchester, and this is Castiel."

"Winchester?" Thomas' face lit up, "the guys that stopped the Apocalypse right?" At Castiel's nod, he grinned a toothpaste commercial white smile. "That's awesome! You guys are really well known in the Hunter Community!"

"Can't say that you are," Dean replied cooly and Thomas shrugged.

"I tend to work on my own, but really, it's an honour to meet you!" His green eyes slid away from Dean's back to Castiel's. "And you must be Castiel then? The Angel?"

"I am."

Thomas enthusiastically shook Castiel's hand, a look of heroic sort of worship on his face as he did so.

"It's an honour! Truly!" His voice was as awestruck as the look on his face. "I can't tell you how much of an honour it is."

"You seem to be doing well so far," Dean muttered under his breath and Castiel gave him a strange look - damn angelic hearing.

Also that handshake seemed to be going on way too long in Dean's opinion. When Thomas finally dropped Castiel's hand, his fingers - very deliberately, Dean might add - brushed along Castiel's sleeve and trailed down his hand. Dean was pretty sure his face was furious but neither Thomas nor Castiel seemed to notice, Castiel was frowning at him and Thomas was staring. Prolonged eye contact, lingering fingers - was Thomas trying to subtly hit on Castiel?!

It wasn't until a few years ago that Dean had come to realise that his feelings for Castiel extended way beyond the bounds of friends and brothers and was leaning - okay definitely firmly grounded - towards romantic. However he had yet to act on these feelings blaming that it was never the right time, there was always a new threat, Castiel would leave... but really, deep down he knew that he never acted on these feelings because he was scared.

Scared that Castiel would reject him, scared that Castiel would become uncomfortable and leave for good.

He'd decided it was better that they remain strictly platonic friends. Castiel didn't need to know that his friend was desperately pining for him and really, how likely was it that the angel returned even an ounce of Dean's feelings towards him? Dean had done terrible things - Hell, he had even been a demon at one point, he'd attacked his best friend and almost beaten him to death in the bunker library. The likelihood that Castiel loved Dean was astronomically small in Dean's mind.

Yet just because Dean had decided no to at on these feelings didn't mean that Thomas had any right to be flirting with his angel like that.

The other hunter was currently flashing a charming smile that was so dazzlingly white it made Dean feel self-conscious by comparison and his green eyes were definitely in what Dean would consider a 'flirtatious' expression directed at Castiel.

"... working the McGregor and Donavan case, huh?"

It was only then that Dean realised that Thomas had been speaking and he'd missed the first half of his sentence.

"Sorry?"

But Thomas blanked him completely and Dean's next realisation was that Thomas wasn't speaking to him, but to Castiel alone.

"Yes," the angel answered, "are you working on it as well?"

"Have been for the past few weeks, angel-" was that a flirtation?! "- but can't say I'm doing so well on my own- hey! Tell you what, why don't we meet up and discuss the case together? Over dinner? There's this diner not too far from here. We'd have better luck combining our resources, right?"

No, Dean wanted to say.

"That sounds... good..." Castiel said hesitantly.

Thomas beamed at him.

"Thanks, angel!" Okay, that was definitely a flirtation. "Hey, here's my number-" he passed a piece of white card over to Castiel and winked. "-hope to hear from you soon, angel." He turned back to Dean. "I'll take Aimee back to her parents, I was worried she might end up being the next victim but these vamps only moved here recently." At Dean's confused expression, Thomas rolled his eyes. "The girl we just rescued? I'll take her back."

And with that, he sauntered off with his scimitar swung over his shoulder whistling what Dean could identify as 'Stairway to Heaven'. So the dick had good music taste, didn't make him any less of a dick. Outside Dean had to try very hard not to be impressed - Thomas drove a 1965 Ford Mustang, pristine condition as far as Dean could tell. It was no Baby, but it was still a classic car that roared off down the road away from them.

So Rossberg had good music taste and a pretty sweet ride, that didn't make him any less dickish. Not at all.

---

It was Sam who practically forced Dean to let them meet up with Thomas Rossberg. It had taken only a slip of Dean's tongue that Thomas had been a little forward towards Castiel and weirded him out that Sam had said in an infuriatingly smug voice "Oh I see" that made Dean shut up and ended up with him pulling the Impala up outside the diner that Thomas had texted Castiel about.

"You must be Sam Winchester," Thomas greeted, actually standing up to shake the taller Winchester's hand, "as I said to your brother and Cas here earlier, it's an honour."

Cas?!

"Pleasure to meet you," Sam replied taking a seat on the bench opposite, Jack had raised a hand in greeting which Thomas had turned into a high five earning a happy smile from the Nephilim.

Jack took a seat next to Sam, Dean next to Jack which meant - much to Dean's irritation - that Castiel ended up sat beside Thomas. He was tempted to ask either Jack or Sam to sit next to Thomas instead, but he could see Sam's knowing sort of smirk forming at Dean's slight hesitation, so he, very reluctantly, sat down and let Castiel sit next to douchenozzle.

"So," Thomas said, drumming his hands on the counter, "what have you fellas got for the McGregor-Donavan case?" He pulled out a notebook from his pocket as well as a battered lore book entitled -

"Attingas Parvulorum et Fame Pereo," Sam read, "'The Starving Ones'."

"You know it?" Thomas asked as he thumbed through it to the page he wanted to show them.

"I've read some of Jean Ephraim's work regarding creatures that have specific dietary requirements, but not that volume."

Thomas looked up intrigued.

"You're read Ephraim?"

Sam nodded, smiling that he had found someone with an interest in lore to rival his own.

"I've read Cor Et Mentem and In Loco Horroris et Vastae Attingas Parvulorum - his more recent works- that was one of his first, am I correct?"

"Indeed!" Thomas was grinning now. "This volume though has an interesting passage that I've been working with over the past few days that could be our monster; 'Though the human mind is a delicacy to the wraith and often commonly misinterpreted as a necessity to the common zombie - however the latter has since been disproven - there are other less common creatures that feast upon the brain; the most common example is the Wangliang, most commonly found in Chinese Folklore' - he goes on about the mythos of Chinese folklore for some time but here - "the Wangliang is a demonic spirit that feasts on a corpse's brains, it removes the brain using a sharp file like claw that it uses to slice open the scalp, or neck, in order to access the brain. Though in an emergency a Wangliang will digest the whole organ, it otherwise tends to feed only on a specific segment that pertains to its own individual tastes'."

"A Wangliang?" Jack repeated sounding somewhat disappointed, "so it's not a zombie?"

Thomas smiled warmly at the young Nephilim.

"'fraid not, buddy."

"Does it mention how to find and kill the creature?" Castle asked with a frown, "and how one might have ended up in North America?"

"Sad to say I've had run ins with a few monster traders over the years." Thomas shrugged and leaned back in his seat with his hands clasped behind his head. "It's possible it could have escaped from one of them. As for killing, it's a mix between an exorcism and salting and burning the corpse it last feasted on to ensure it doesn't return to eat the remains - the exorcism banishes it and the salt 'n' burn ensures it never comes back. It typically hunts at night and generally takes the form of a brown haired child with red eyes."

"That would match up with the times of death," Dean commented and Thomas nodded closing the book, "I've tried trawling the graveyards each night where they tend to rise up but so far, nada."

"Wangliang generally only feast upon those already dead, though," Castiel said with a frown, "why would one suddenly begin hunting the living?"

"Tastes change. I know vampires who've gone to drinking donor blood rather than hunting humans, perhaps this Wangliang got a taste for a living brain."

Dean made a face of acknowledgement though it pained him to admit the man had a point. Benny and Lenore had been two such vampires to quit drinking blood fresh from humans though their decision had primarily been moral rather than a preference of how it tasted.

"I've got the exorcism in the book, I wouldn't mind the extra help, though. This Wangliang's proven rather elusive for me what with the vampire nest moving in a few days ago and Aimee's abduction." He gave a small laugh. "Of course, I'd be getting to see what it's like to work with the real experts."

Sam nodded enthusiastically. Clearly the book club session meant that the youngest Winchester had made a new friend.

"... and get to see an angel in action."

Dean snapped his head up from where he had been looking over the police reports to see Thomas giving Castiel an extremely flirty look and his left hand, no longer clasped, was slung across the back of the diner seat behind the angel with his fingertips casually brushing the angel's shoulder. Castiel seemed oblivious to the hunter's intentions but Dean could feel his blood simmering beneath the surface of his skin. How dare he. How dare he.

"Good idea," Dean said between gritted teeth, "there's two cemeteries in town, Cas and I'll go to one, you, Sam and Jack can go to the other."

Sam snorted a little but he was too far out of reach for Dean to give him a reprimanding kick to the shin. Surprisingly, Thomas seemed pretty okay with having to be separated from the clear object of his affections instead making a comment on how good it would be to make friends with Sam and Jack.

---

"Tom is the coolest!" Jack said later completely covered in demon spirit goo and grinning like a kid at Christmas, "he gave me nougat and everything because I did good!"

"Yeah, yeah," Dean grumbled eyes fixed on where Cas, Sam and Thomas-Call-Me-Tom were stood talking a little way off from the Impala and the latter's Mustang wondering if they were going to hurry up.

He'd nicknamed his car 'Black Pearl' - or 'Pearl' as he commonly used in conversation - and Dean was reluctant to admit that the two of them had similarities in the ways that they cared for their cars. Tom had told them almost everything about himself to them; his mother had been a demon hunter before she had been killed protecting him and his younger sister from some during a home invasion, his alcoholic father had ditched them the second he could before passing away himself and his younger sister had died trying to get answers about their mother's death when both siblings still had no knowledge of the supernatural. He liked classic cars, ate healthy but didn't mind a sweet snack every now and again which he was willing to share out with them all - Dean and Cas had been the only ones to decline (the former for personal reasons and Cas didn't eat anything anyway) - and if his passion for lore wasn't enough, he also had a university degree in Literature from Open University.
The man was the complete package.

Handsome, intelligent and an excellent hunter. Hell, he'd already built up a friendship with Sam, now it seemed Jack was jumping aboard the Tom Train. As Dean watched, completely frustrated, Tom's eyes brightened at something Sam said - Cas looking surprised at whatever it was his brother had done - before the three of them made their way over.

"Tom's interested in our library," Sam explained when he drew close to them, "I was going to show him round it."

There was a beat as what Sam had just said sunk in with Dean.

"We're bringing him back? To the bunker? Seriously, Sammy?"

Sam frowned at him as if Dean was the one being unreasonable.

"He's another hunter, Dean, we've had plenty of worse people in the bunker - whether we invited them there or not."

That's debatable, Dean thought, directing a scowl over at Tom who was currently talking to Cas- has that man ever heard of personal space?!

From Sam's perspective, it looked as though his brother might be about to blow a gasket over the new hunter who, to the total obliviousness of Cas, was most definitely flirting with the angel.

"If you're jealous of him and Cas you should just tell him to knock it off."

He then bit his lip as he watched his brother's ensuing mental breakdown.

"It's- not- he's - no- jealous - what-" his brother looked mortified as he frantically fought for an answer. Sam decided to take pity on him and left him alone for a bit, wandering over to Tom again and leaving his brother's indignant spluttering behind him.

---

Tom was heavily impressed by the bunker including the extensive library which he immediately started pulling books from once Sam gave him the go ahead listing a series of author and volume names that Dean had never even heard of much less realised that they had.

"Soulshadow?  Magnus Opam?  Los Bebedores de Sangre?" Tom looked with excited eyes up at Sam, "dude, this collection is amazing!"  He looked over one particular book, a green bound volume entitled - The Man's Mirror Image by Shelley Bysshe* - with greater interest and smiled at Sam; "may I borrow this one to read?  I've been dying to get my hands on it."

"Sure!" Sam was beaming, "it's nice to meet someone who reads lore as well-" he threw a pointed look to Dean who shrugged and made his way down the stairs to play off his irritation at Tom casually bonding with his brother.  Hopefully the jerk wouldn't be staying around for too long.

"How many of these books have you read?" Tom asked, looking between all of them, except Dean who glowered - he was right there, did asshole face have to keep ignoring him like he was the outsider of the group? - slipping The Man's Mirror Image into his bag by his foot.

"Not all of them," Sam admitted and then gestured to the right side bookcase, "I've finished the right side of the room and now I'm starting on this one-" he pointed to the left side.  "- there are a few I've read from other shelves for cases but I'm trying to get through them all and catalogue the information that's in them.  The Man's Mirror Image is on my to read list, so be sure to give it back when you're done."  

He laughed a little and Tom nodded patting his bag securely.

"Don't worry, I'll make sure it makes its way back to you when I'm done..." he paused, "unless if you don't trust me I could stay here whilst I read it - plus that would save me so much on postage!"

He laughed again and Dean scowled thinking about how big Bysshe's book was - that would take more than a day or two to read and he was not having Perfect Tom stay in the bunker for more than an hour at mo-

"Sure," Sam said with his devastating politeness, "there's plenty of rooms in the bunker and we're always open to other hunters."

We are?  Dean thought glaring at his traitorous brother.

"You're sure?" Tom asked uncertainly, "I wouldn't want to impose on you or anything..?"

"We're quite sure," Cas said and Dean was pretty sure he was gawping now.

What the actual fu-?!

"Yeah it'd be great!" Jack beamed, already a fan of Tom due to the nougat the guy had given him.

And Dean was outvoted 3-1 so he went to his room to listen to his headphones which wasn't sulking regardless of what Sam might say later.

---

After a dinner cooked by 'Perfect-Tom' (Dean had come down to the kitchen to prepare his signature burgers which he knew that Castiel liked despite his angelness messing up his taste buds, he had found none other that Thomas Fucking Rossburg standing at the kitchen counter preparing dinner himself whilst Sam sat at the kitchen table researching and Jack helped out.  When Dean had asked, he had discovered that Tom had taken some cookery lessons - of course he had - and was whipping up burgers for the four of them whilst preparing a salad for Sam who had expressed no interest in the high cholesterol burgers which Tom respected and so was heaping up salad on the rest of their plates too) Dean woke up in the night feeling an itch at the back of his mind that had been steadily growing over the past few hours.   He assumed it was just a headache from having to hang round Tom for nearly twenty hours and so went outside to clear his head.

As Dean took a few deep breaths he heard the snapping of twigs coming from ahead of him and then saw the faint glow in the trees opposite the bunker of a fire.  With a frown, Dean walked forward and eventually hid behind a tree as Tom walked away from the fire he had started back to the bunker seemingly oblivious to Dean's presence.  The hunter had headed towards the fire to see that the man had placed The Man's Mirror Image into it.  Using a large stick Dean had knocked it out of the fire and stamped out the flames.

Why the hell would Tom be burning a book he claimed he so desperately wanted to read?

Being too tired to think it over, Dean brought the book back inside the bunker and hid it at the bottom of his duffle bag forgetting all about it the second his head hit the pillow.

***

A week. 

A FUCKING week and Tom was still in the bunker.

Every time Dean wanted to find someone there was Tom already having a chat, making them food, reading with them, teaching them some new skills, debating lore authors or flirting with Castiel.  God the man was evil.  

No-one could be as perfect as Tom was.  It just wasn't right - or fair!  The man could cook, he did mechanics, he was well spoken, well read, he played guitar to Castiel sometimes, he bought Jack chocolate and took him on drives like John had done with Dean when he was younger, he taught Jack; how to cook, about cars... 

And Dean was at his wits end.

No-one ever asked him anything anymore they always spoke to Tom.  When Mary had visited the bunker after travelling around hunting solo and met him the other day even she had seemed to ignore Dean in favour of talking to Tom who had offered to help her make pie so she didn't have to buy it anymore.  Mary had agreed to take him up on it but some other time as she was only stopping by.

His brother, his best friend, his mother, Jack...

His entire family seemed to prefer Tom over him and that made Dean withdraw slowly, becoming more and more frustrated until one day where he finally just snapped.

It was coming to the end of quite possibly the worst week of Dean's life - an achievement since 40 years of Dean's life had been spent being tortured in actual Hell - with absolutely no sign that Tom was departing anytime soon.  Whenever Dean broached the subject with the man at any time he could actually get Tom to hold a conversation with him the man merely shrugged or gave a passive answer that he would leave when he felt unwelcome which 'despite Dean's current attitude' he didn't.  Oh now Dean was the one with the attitude?  He had tried, okay, to give Tom a chance at Sam, Cas and Jack's requests whenever he complained about him and the guy had shut him down within seconds saying that "despite our many similarities Dean, I don't get the impression you want me as a friend, stop trying.  I can see right through your bullshit."  That had stung and Dean had given up any and all attempts to play nice with his family's new BFF.

Dean had tried broaching the subject with Sam, Cas and Jack but all three of them seemed to think that Tom was a great guy who they enjoyed hanging around with and their conversations always ended with Dean feeling like a jerk.

As the seventh day of Tom's seemingly endless stay at the bunker drew to a close, Dean had walked into the bunker library to see Tom, Sam, Castiel and Jack all sat round one of the library tables playing a game that he had not been invited to.  It may have been petty, it may have been "just a game, dude" as Tom had said to him, but it was the final straw in the whole week of Dean being side-lined and he just snapped.

"The fuck is this?" he demanded coldly and the four players looked at him; Tom in surprise; Jack with a friendly smile that was quickly fading that showed he had no idea what was wrong; Castiel and Sam with a sort of guilt that only served to piss Dean off even more.

"We're just playing Mah Jong," Tom explained as he moved some white domino like pieces around in front of him, "I found it in one of the storage rooms."

"Oh."  Dean nodded and moved over.  "Can I join?"

"Sorry, Dean, four players only."

Dean's jaw twitched.

"So you're stepping in, huh?  Didn't ask if I wanted to join in?"

"Dean..." Sam sighed, glaring at his brother.

And yes, Dean knew how petty and pre-schooler he sounded but after all the side lining that had been going on, all of his frustrations had finally come to a head.  

"Well you've made it no secret you like to be isolated from us-" us, since when was Tom the "us"?! - "so we just assumed you wouldn't want to join us."

And that was it.

"Oh you assumed?  You all assume Tom, or was it just you?"

"You've been avoiding us," Cas had said, sounding a little guilty.

"So you all assumed.  Well that's just great!"  He let out a humourless laugh glaring between all four of them.

"What is your problem, Dean?" Sam demanded, "you've been hostile ever since Tom came here-"

"He was only meant to be here for a couple of days! He's been here a fucking week, Sam!"

"Charming, Dean," Tom had said, glaring at him, "I am right here you know."

"Oh trust me, I fucking know."  

"Since when have we ever pushed other hunters away, Dean?  Tom's one of us!" Sam protested.

"Oh "us"?!  The guy weirds me out okay, Sam!"

"Still here you know-"

"And you three, it's like I don't even exist anymore!"

"Dean you keep shutting yourself away-" Castiel had said getting to his feet along with Sam.

"Because you three have made it abundantly clear that you don't need me around anymore now that you've got Tom!"

"You're being ridiculous, Dean."

'Am I?  Am I the only one seeing that I'm being side lined out of my own life?"  When he got three blank and two hostile stares back at him, he shook his head.  "Forget it.  I'm done."

Dean stormed back to his room grabbing his duffle bag and stuffing clothes into it before slinging it over his shoulder and making his way to the bunker door.

'Where are you going?" Sam demanded.

"Out.  I need some fucking air and somewhere away from all this bullshit."

And with that he slammed the bunker door shut behind him, threw his bag into the backseat of Baby and drove away.

---

It took Dean half an hour to reach a small diner away from the bunker so he could clear his head.  Dumping his bag on the floor as he ate he finally remembered the book that he had put at the bottom- The Man's Mirror Image; the one Tom had so desperately tried to burn before Dean snatched it out of the fire.  Reaching into his bag he pulled out the now slightly burnt volume and began flicking through it as he ate.  The book wasn't overtly special and didn't seem all that dangerous with various monsters and chapter titles flashing by as he flicked through it;

- Alberiches

- Metamorphosis

- Kelpie

- Nhang

- Selkie

- Shapeshifter

- Siren

- The Doppelgänger

Dean paused mid chew as he stared at the image on the doppelgänger page in Bysshe's book.  The page was far more crumpled than the others and more burnt but the writing and the illustration was still clearly visible.  The drawing showed a man standing next to his copy that was casting a shadow of a monstrous creature sticking needle like claws into another man next to it right beneath the skull.  Frowning, Dean began to read;

Doppelgänger

Of all the monsters that a hunter may face, a doppelgänger may prove the most difficult to identify. Doppelgängers, also referred to as 'doubles', are a cousin species of the Siren, the Qar'een and the Shapeshifter seen by many as the genetic link between the three monster species. Unlike a Siren and a Qar'een which take the form of the heart's desire or a perfect partner, a doppelgänger takes a form similar to that of its victim and uses a mild sense of telepathy with them to mould itself into a better version of that person based on what they themselves wish that they could change about them. The 'double' will then infiltrate that person's life with the aim to replace the original and form a psychic bond with the people closest to the victim. After it has achieved this - which usually occurs when the original walks out on their life - it will attack and prey on the people that are closest to the original with whom it has now developed strong psychic bonds before preying on the original with whom it has the strongest psychic bond.
Doppelgängers feed upon the brain stems of their victims; this is both a necessity to maintaining their ability to form psychic melds, however doppelgängers prefer those with strong bonds to themselves as it is more nutritious. (This is not limited to humans, any creature/monster with a brain stem - i.e. ghosts are exempt - will be at risk to being replaced)

Dean stared at the page in astonishment before continuing reading.

Signs of a doppelgänger; similarities in appearance and behaviour, coldness towards the original it is impersonating but displays closeness to everyone else, does not eat human food or most likely does not eat much human food unless in the presence of the humans around it, loved ones may start to ignore you as the doppelgänger steps into your role and pushes you out of the way.

Be warned: Doppelgängers are highly intelligent and expert manipulators, if you are planning an attack they will most likely sense it through the psychic connection. They have great strength and speed and can only be killed with a silver knife dipped in the blood of the original they are copying. Exposure to silver may cause them pain but strong 'doubles' are able to mask this in order to appear human. If you believe that a doppelgänger is taking over your life, under no circumstances part with your loved ones on bad terms at any time - this will trigger the final stage of the hunt.

Tom was a doppelgänger.  His doppelgänger!  That explained so much.   Everything that had happened, him being sidelined, the itch at the back of his head, the murder victims and Castiel saying that he was surprised a Wangliang would start to feed on living victims.  All the deaths, everything was Thomas Rossburg.  A doppelgänger trying to take over Dean's life so he could eat him and his family-

A cold chill spread through Dean at the final sentence as he recalled the argument with the others before he had stormed out. He had left and put Jack, Castiel and Sam at risk of being killed by Tom, his double. Regardless of the powers that Castiel and Jack possessed neither of them had sensed Tom was inhuman, and that meant that Tom could catch them off guard. He slammed the book shut, tossed some money on the counter and rushed back to Baby praying that by the time he arrived it wouldn't be too late.


---

Castiel was still reeling from the argument with Dean when there was a soft knock on his door. The game had dissolved after dean's furious departure and the angel had retreated to his room.  He expected it to be either Sam or Jack given how upset they both, the latter in particular, had looked after Dean's furious departure from the bunker. Instead it was Tom, smiling shyly.

"Mind if I come in?" he asked looking as though he fully expected the angel to slam the door in his face.

Castiel stepped back to allow him in and returned to sitting on his bed.

"I'm sorry about what happened with Dean." Tom looked at him imploringly. "If I had known my being here would cause all this, I would have gone long ago. None of you needed to hear any of that. Especially not you, angel."

Castiel frowned at that but nodded.

"I accept your apology."

Tom smiled gratefully but seemed reluctant to leave.

"Was there anything you needed from me in particular?" Cas asked as Tom paced nervously around the room, running his hands through his sand coloured hair.

"No, nothing like that..." chewing his lip, Tom finally came and sat down close next to Castiel. "I just need to tell you something important, something that's been weighing on my mind since I first saw you, angel."

Castiel merely titled his head in confusion and Tom smiled, gently taking one of the Seraph's hands in his.

"I like you, angel. Like, I really like you."

"You seem a good friend too... human?" the angel said slowly and Tom let out an amused huff.

"Not like that, angel." He leaned in much closer. "Like this."

And then Tom was kissing him, running his free hand through the angel's messy brown hair, rubbing his thumb over the back of the angel's hand, lips moving firmly against Castiel's. Castiel just blinked and Tom withdrew with an embarrassed sigh.

"There's someone else, isn't there?"

Dean, the angel thought immediately. His feelings lay solely with the hunter he had rescued from Hell. There was nothing wrong with Tom, who seemed a nice man, but he wasn't the same; then something cold made him hesitate - Dean wasn't his, he wasn't even sure Dean would want to be his if he asked. The one person he loved more than anyone seemed to have an exclusive preference for females, and though Castiel technically wasn't a man or a woman, he doubted that Dean could see past it. And then there was Tom, so very much like Dean who did want him, who did care for him in that special human way that the angel had longed for for so many years and was willing to give it to him.

So very hesitantly, Castiel pressed his lips awkwardly to Tom's who after a moment of wide eyed realisation, wrapped an arm round Castiel's waist and hauled him closer kissing back very enthusiastically. Just as the angel closed his eyes, he felt something cold prick the back of his neck before the door to the room was thrown open against the wall with a loud bang.

---

Dean burst into the room clutching the silver knife dipped in his own blood and froze at the scene before him. His angel wrapped in Tom's arms, locked in a passionate kiss, though now both of them had broken it to stare at the intruder. Dean felt his heart drop to the floor.

Then he saw the smirk on Tom's face and the flash of silver just behind Cas' neck - an angel blade - and that spurred him into action. With a furious snarl, Dean lunged at Tom swiping the knife at him. The doppelgänger ducked out of the way but the knife grazed his bare arm, the small wound sizzling as Tom's eyes flared from green to red, snarling in fury at being uncovered.

"Why couldn't you just leave?!" he snarled stumbling to his feet, "always sticking your nose in where it isn't wanted!  Why couldn't you just leave?!"

The hunter watched in disgusted fascination as long talons grew from Tom's fingernails which he used to swipe at Dean catching him across the cheekbone before he could move.  Castiel, who had stared at the doppelgänger in initial shock now sprung into action only to be thrown back into the wall by the creature putting cracks in the concrete.

"Cas!"

Tom grabbed Dean by the collar with a vicious snarl.

"All the others it was so easy!  They died practically painlessly, they didn't even know what hit them!  But you!" he gave another animalistic snarl.  "You just had to keep screwing things up, huh?" He swiped at Dean with the talons on his other hand but the blow was blocked.

The oldest Winchester took another swipe with the silver knife but Tom sent it skittering across the floor out of reach before throwing Dean against the opposite wall to Castiel who had gotten back to his feet.  The angel dodged the doppelgänger's next swipe and landed a punch of his own that sent the monster careening backwards into the door.   As soon as the fight had began, Tom had began to lose the features that made him human and by now he was almost unrecognisable.

The dark blonde hair fell out in clumps when Dean grabbed it allowing Tom to break free and grab the abandoned angel blade to take another stab at Castiel; the skin was falling away much like a Shapeshifter's with every blow landed to reveal a grey, shrivelled skin beneath; when Castiel landed a punch on the monster's mouth the teeth splintered to reveal nightmarish needle-like fangs in a gaping red maw of a mouth that shrieked inhumanly as the final skin around the face fell away revealing the grey, skeletal like creature the doppelgänger actually was now dressed in ripped clothes far too big for it's form.

Dean curled his lip in disgust as the creature screeched and swiped at him with the angel blade clutched in its bony hand, Castiel managed to grab it from behind pinning its arms as it thrashed and shrieked again; the hunter grabbed the silver knife from the floor and plunged it into the doppelgänger's chest which glowed red for a moment that seared through the veins under the skin before it fell to the ground dead shrivelling into a pile of ash on the floor.

There was silence broken only by Dean's heavy breathing before Castiel spoke.

"What was he?"

"A doppelgänger," Dean replied, "specifically my doppelgänger.  He was going to replace me and kill all of you.  He was responsible for the McGregor and Donavan murders, not the Wangliang we killed."

Dean paused as he remembered how Tom and Castiel had been kissing before he entered the room and felt a deep set despair sink in his chest.  It seemed as though Tom had ruined his chances with Cas even if he hadn't succeeded at killing them all.

"I guess you'll be pretty sad that he's gone now, huh," he mumbled, trying to keep the pain out of his voice, "you two seemed pretty close."

Castiel opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by the door being thrown open again and Sam and Jack running in armed.

"We heard banging and shouting," Sam explained, "what happened?

Dean kicked the ash pile on the floor.

"Tom happened."

And he explained to his brother and the Nephilim what Tom had been and done as Sam and Jack began to look increasingly guilty and quickly apologised for making Dean feel ostracised.

"It's fine," Dean said, shrugging them off - it wasn't, and he was pretty sure that they all could tell that - but they thankfully let it be for the time being.

---

A while later and Dean was sat in the library having returned Shelley's book to it's place in the library before sitting down with a beer.  A few moments later, Castiel stepped into the room and gestured to the chair next to the hunter silently asking if he could sit there.  Dean nodded and the angel sat down taking the bottle of beer Dean slid over to him.

"I liked Tom," Castiel said after a while and Dean felt a lump build in his throat staring down at the table blankly, "but not in the way you're thinking."  The hunter snapped his gaze up to see his best friend - and totally not-so-secret love of his goddamn life - looking at him as though he were a puzzle to solve.  "He was a good friend but I think I only kissed him because he expressed "interest"-" again with those dorky finger quotes. "-in me rather than me having any "interest" in him."

"... huh," was Dean's articulate response and the angel pressed on.

"I read Bysshe's chapter on doppelgängers; they "act on what their victim wishes they could do and are what their victim wishes they themselves could be"..."

Dean swallowed nervously as he wondered where Castiel was going with this.

"Tom was your doppelgänger meaning he would only act on what you wanted - but were too afraid - to do."  The angel fixed him with a look.  "So if Tom kissed me that means that it's because you want to do the same.  Am I correct?"

There was a long silence as the statement remained neither confirmed nor denied and Castiel spoke again to the hunter who was practically frozen in place where he sat.  

"The reason I kissed Tom was because he reminded me of you and I didn't believe there was any chance you would feel the same way about me as I do about you."  A great swell of hope was rising in Dean's chest as he placed the beer bottle down with a thunk.  "But knowing this information has given me hope, Dean."

"About what?" Dean asked and Castiel's next answer was open and honest.

"That your feelings towards me may be the same... but if they're not then I completely respect your wishes and won't ever bring it up again- uumf!"

During the angel's speech Dean had gotten to his feet, walked round the table and kissed him.  There was a moment's pause before Cas relaxed into the kiss, bringing a hand up to Dean's cheek and another to the hunter's waist before the latter was unceremoniously dragged into the angel's lap with a startled "hmf!".  The kiss broke for a second so that green eyes could glare at blue ones before a hand at the back of Dean's head pulled him back in for another kiss.

A warmth was building in Dean's chest - a happy, celebratory, I-can't-believe-this-is-my-actual-life-right-now-holy-shit-life-is-great kind of warmth - that had him smiling into the kiss and gently brushing Cas' lower lip with his tongue coaxing the angel's mouth open.  He was really getting into the kiss, running his fingers firmly through Castiel's messy hair and tilting his head back a little; Cas' hands roaming over his chest and hips with unabashed curiosity; and the kiss going from fairly innocent to extremely hot when a shocked voice cut through the room causing them to jump apart.

"Holy crap!"

Dean's head snapped round to see Sam standing in the doorway clutching a few bottles of beer, slack jawed, and looking completely and utterly shell shocked.

"Umm.." Dean began trying to re-engage his brain that was currently frazzled from the things Cas could do with his tongue.

He knew how it must look; him practically straddling Castiel's lap, both hands fisted in his hair, Cas' hands underneath his t-shirt, both looking utterly debauched having broken away from jamming their tongues down each other's throats.  Before Dean could say anything, Sam recovered his shock and began - to Dean's surprise and relief grinning.

"Finally!"

"Wait what?"

"How long has it been now?  Ten years!"  His brother was beaming in delight. 

"What do you mean finally?" Dean protested and Sam snorted gesturing a hand between them.

"All the eye-sex and tension between you two!  I'm just glad you two are finally doing something about it!  Do you have any idea how awkward it was having to sit between your little staring matches?  It was like you two totally forgot I was even here!"

"Uh, Sammy..." Dean gave him a look.

'You're totally killing the mood here'

"Oh right!" Sam began backtracking, "I'll just leave you two alone for a bit - don't do anything... you know in here.  You both have rooms... I'll just be..." he gestured begin him and then disappeared from sight.

Dean started down at Castiel in disbelief and the angel smiled a little.

"You should be glad he's so supportive."

"Overly supportive," Dean grumbled before moving back in to kiss Castiel again.

Okay so maybe Tom had been a total dick, and a monster intent on eating them all... but Dean would go through it all again knowing that this was the result; being the one to kiss Castiel and the two of them beginning the relationship that Dean wondered why he had been denying himself it all these years if this was what being with Cas was like.

Absolutely perfect.

- Fin -

*Shelley Bysshe is named after the famous author Percy Bysshe Shelley who wrote the book 'Prometheus Unbound' where he discussed doppelgängers.  He was also said to have been haunted by a doppelgänger some time before his death.