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sometimes shotgun picks the music

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For two hauntings and several hundred miles, Gabe devoured the journal, reading it cover to cover like it was just some interesting novel and not Dean's damn life. And Dean twitched with the effort of not looking and not snatching it away. He had decided to put it in Gabe's hands. He'd known Gabe would read it; Dad hadn't exactly provided an index.

But that didn't mean Dean liked feeling so exposed.

Now Gabe was darting glances at him and shifting his feet in the drift of wrappers that kept growing on the floorboard of the passenger side. Dean pointedly kept his eyes on the road, having no interest in whatever Gabe was gearing himself up for.

"So, Sam is --?"

"Don't," he said shortly, as his hands tightened on the wheel. After everything Gabriel had put his brother through, he was the last person who got to ask about him. Dean stared through the windshield and ignored the hell out of Gabe's sidelong look, until eventually he looked away.

***

Gabe sat forward in his seat, sudden and focused... on a billboard. "Dean, can we --"

"Tourist trap," he replied as though it were a complete and self-evident sentence and then wondered when he'd turned into his dad. He flinched from the thought, but the expected pain didn't follow. Either more recent losses had numbed that particular pain, or he'd made peace with it.

"So?" Gabe had on his you're-not-making-any-sense face, equally as likely to appear when Dean told him breakfast for dinner didn't extend to Pop Tarts as when he tried to explain the difference between a Woman in White and a ghost. Dean thought if he used it much more it'd become his default expression -- permanently annoyed puzzlement.

"So it's a tourist trap. It's by definition lame -- just an excuse to pull people off the highway to bilk them for an overpriced Pepsi while they stand around taking photos."

"And again I say, so?"

"Oh my God, fine," he said, taking the exit so late the back tire caught the median and spun gravel dust into the air. The brown attraction sign at the top of the exit ramp pointed left with a discouraging '20 mi' painted beside it. The guaranteed waste of time didn't even have the decency to be close by. He should just drive right back onto the highway; Gabe wouldn't complain too long. Dean scowled and signaled left. "Great. An hour of my life I'm not getting back."

Gabe grinned. "But we'll have seen the world's largest--"

"Seriously, shut up."

***

Dean stood in the sun reflecting off the fields and waited for the tank to fill. He watched Gabe stalling inside the air conditioning, poring over the candy selection as though he were only going to buy one. Dean snorted but kept his eye on him. Weeks had gone by, and Dean had to admit to himself that he hadn't put much half as much effort into resolving the question of who or what Gabe really was as Gabe himself was putting into choosing his next sugar rush.

Dean could have tried asking, but he hadn't. Not Gabe, obviously -- he either didn't know or wasn't telling. But he could, maybe, have asked another angel. He wasn't sure if he hadn't done it because he'd thought Castiel wouldn't hear him or because he might, because there was Cas the human-ish outcast who'd become Dean's friend, and there's Castiel the actually awe-inspiring Angel of the Lord. Last time he'd seen him, the angel had been fully ascendant, and sometimes Dean thought they were only theoretically the same being. He considered calling on him anyway -- but didn't.

He'd done no research into ways of identifying disguised angels -- if there were any, since, in his experience, few angels even attempted subtlety -- and he'd placed no calls to anyone else who might know. Honestly, though, he probably was the current expert on angels. Few hunters had ever encountered one, much less several, even during the almost apocalypse. Dean had never even tried trapping Gabriel, not that he had any holy oil handy, but he knew a call to Bobby could fix that. A call and explanations he didn't want to get into, maybe didn't have. He should have made the call anyway. Dean suspected he was behaving recklessly. He probably should care more.

The cut-off engaged with a thump. He put the nozzle back, screwed in the gas cap, and looked to Gabe who was walking out with an entire bagful of candy. Through the glass doors, the clerk looked bemused but healthy. Dean idly wondered which had come first, the sweet tooth or the Trickster-Angel, as he slid back into the car.

***

Dean finished packing the salt rounds and started hiding the night's weapons on his person. It was harder in the summer, when too many layers started to draw attention.

"Take me with you."

He debated whether a knife in his boot or back pocket would be more accessible, decided to err on the side of both. "No."

"Why not?"

"Research is one thing, hunting's something else entirely." He checked the magazine and safety, then holstered the handgun. His boxy jacket would have neatly covered the bulge at his lower back; a flannel shirt would have to do. "You don't know anything about hunting."

Gabe shrugged. "You could teach me."

Dean didn't bother answering. But later, covered in sweat and gravedirt and surrounded by the smoky smell of burning rot and meat, he found himself considering it. Not taking the supposedly former Trickster/angel/pagan god out on a hunt -- he wasn't a complete fool -- but teaching him how to handle himself. He really should show Gabe how to protect himself if something happened to Dean, just in case Gabe were only human.

By morning, he was pretty sure he was making excuses, but that just meant he'd already made his decision.

***

Gabe had proven a natural with any kind of blade. Guns, less so. Dean shook his head and sighed. "Quit trying to look like the idiots on tv."

"I'm not."

"Fine, you've invented a new and idiotic way to hold a gun all on your own. Congratulations. It's inaccurate, and the recoil's going to dick with your second shot. Now quit it."

Gabe huffed and braced the butt of the pistol with his left hand. "You're an idiot," he muttered.

Dean rolled his eyes but let it go. He'd spent weeks giving a maybe-monster the keys to the hunter playbook: idiot was the least of the words for it. Gabe fired off a couple rounds. The first two thunked into the broad, fallen tree trunk they were using for target practice, the second much higher than the first. The third missed the downed tree entirely.

Dean stepped up behind Gabe to correct his grip again. The insides of his arms brushed the outside of Gabe's as he brought up his hands curl around Gabe's on the gun. He shoved down the memory of standing behind Sam the same way, back when his little brother had actually been little and his dad had been busy. "Like this. Now, exhale, hold and squeeze..." Gabe stilled. The bullet struck the tree dead center. "Again." He felt the small hitch-pause in Gabe's breath as he pulled the trigger. "Again."

This time, there was a recognizable cluster. "Better," Dean allowed. Then he realized that he was perhaps standing a bit close for people who weren't, after all, family and stepped away, hoping the hand he clapped to Gabe's shoulder felt less awkward from the other side. Time to end the lesson, he thought, but Gabe didn't seem at all bothered -- grumbling aside, he seemed to be enjoying himself -- and Dean was having fun shooting at things that weren't trying to kill him. "Ready to try the long guns?"

***

Dean had no sooner stepped back into the room and thrown down his gear than he was itching to leave. And not just because Gabe was watching porn, though it certainly didn't help. Dean squawked indignantly and averted his eyes toward the TV, neither surprised nor pleased to identify a scene from the Casa Erotica series. He stomped over and jabbed at the power button.

"Hey!"

"Didn't we just have the privacy conversation?" Dean asked, staring pointedly at the wall instead of Gabe.

"Not my fault you came in when you did," Gabe grumbled, though Dean heard the rustle of clothing being rearranged. "We'll still get charged for it, you know."

If he'd previously been host to any other angel, Dean might have counted the porn watching as evidence that possession of the vessel had returned to what was left of the original person -- but given Gabriel's goodbye message, well. He was also unsure how much he cared at this point. Dean rubbed a hand over his face. "I need a beer."

Gabe went so still he could hear it. "We drove past a bar on our way in."

He'd been trying to keep Gabe clear of large groups of civilians, even while acknowledging to himself that it was a pointless effort -- either Gabe was essentially harmless or Gabriel was unstoppable, and Dean didn't know who he thought he was kidding. Gabriel might well be playing him, but no matter how much time and thought he put into bracing for it, Dean figured he wouldn't see it coming. Realistically, going out was no worse than staying in, just with the addition of draft beer and pool or darts... and, apparently, unconvincing rationalizations.

Against his better instincts, Dean said, "Yeah, alright."

***

"I want cherry pie," Dean realized out loud.

"You always want pie," Gabe replied, not even glancing up from one of the comics he'd picked up at the truck stop a couple hours back. "It's like you don't know other desserts exist. Which is a shame, because they do, and they are good."

Dean made a disgruntled noise and started watching for exit signs for a diner or maybe a Bakers Square. He always ordered pie, sure, but that wasn't the same thing at all. It wasn't something Dean could put into words, but... he wanted pie, in a way that he hadn't really wanted anything in a long time.

"Thor's an asshole." Dean managed not to swerve as his attention jerked to Gabe. Much. Gabe looked up anyway and raised both the comic and an eyebrow. "What, do you like him or something?"

Dean shook his head and faced forward again, loosening his fingers on the wheel. "No. I was more into Batman. As a kid," he clarified, so Gabe wouldn't get the wrong idea.

Gabe's attention drifted back to the page. "Think I grabbed some Batmans, too," he said absently. "You could borrow them."

Dean snorted. He was glad Gabe hadn't gone for the tabloids, but he didn't have any interest in reading comics. If he happened to read one or two while Gabe hogged the bathroom that night, that would just be because it was handy when he needed a break.

Gabe glanced at him, and a familiar, knowing smirk briefly twisted his lips.

It didn't mean anything.