Chapter 16: Should I Stay or Should I Go?


“I need your help.”

Shawn surreptitiously scoots past his door into the hallway, carefully shutting his apartment up behind him while placing himself almost protectively in front of it. “What are you doing here and how did you even find me?” he demands in a hushed whisper.

When she gets her first good look at the boy, she can’t help pulling back and blurting out, “Did you lose a fight with a jar of ink?”

With narrowed eyes, he hisses, “Ha ha. Funny. What do you want?”

She spares a last appraisal of his new look: black clothes, dyed black hair, and even black mascara and nail polish. Somehow, all the black seems more surprising than the large nose ring he now sports, filling out his startling new look.

After shaking her head, Tabitha looks up and down the hallway, but sees no one that might overhear them.

“Whatever,” she says, dismissing his radically changed appearance from all-star preppy boy to all-out gothic punk. “Like I said, I need your help. I could use your particular set of skills.”

His black outlined eyes narrow accusingly. “And I asked how you found me.”

She rolls her eyes in annoyance, bracing her hand against the doorframe into his apartment and leaning against it as she inches closer. “I’m the one who introduced you to your ID forger, remember? I went to Neal and asked him to give me the last few aliases the two of you created. Wasn’t too hard once I had the new names you were using. And I do still have a few tricks up my sleeve for finding people, even if I’m not a Fed anymore.”

Shawn deflates slightly, absently scratching his slightly longer, and much shaggier dyed locks. She can’t help but wonder if his dye job is still fresh. “Oh, yeah. I forgot you knew Neal, first.” Puffing back up again as he remembers his indignation, he asks, “I thought you were gonna leave me alone until I was ready?”

The accusation is enough for her to be chagrined. “I was trying to,” she regretfully explains, wishing she could have given him more time to come to grips with the truth about the creepy crawlies in the night. “But I need your help, kid. So I was hoping you’d overlook me breaking my word to you this one time. You’ve got to know it’s important if I’m actually breaking a promise to you.” She sighs and reminds him, “You know I always keep my word.”

He stares at her for a moment, seeming to weigh whether or not he believes her. Then, he sighs and reaches behind him for the doorknob.

“I probably don’t have any choice, do I? You want to come in because if I don’t let you in, someone’s gonna end up dead, right?”

She frowns at his bitterness.

“Well, with any luck, if you give me what I need, it won’t be you. I’m looking for someone.” She tries lighthearted, sarcastic banter to brighten his bitterness, but she’s afraid she just doesn’t have enough lightness in her own heart to pull it off.

The door suddenly whips backwards out of Shawn’s hand, the barrel of a shotgun rushing out towards Tabitha’s face.

On instinct, she steps forward, raising an arm to deflect the cold metal barrel from aiming at her, griping it and trying to push it from the hands of its owner.

She has only the passing impression that she’s fighting a young woman a little shorter than herself, a redhead dressed all in black to match Shawn.

“What the hell?!” she can hear Shawn screech. “Stop it!” She doesn’t pause to decipher which of them he’s yelling at.

Both women ignore his frantic protests and desperate arm flapping.

The redhead seems to realize her grip on the shotgun is lost, and let’s go, throwing her forehead forward towards Tabitha’s face.

Caught off guard, Tabitha catches the blow to her mouth and chin, but her height over the girl protects her nose from a blow that surely would have broken it.

Still, the shooting pain to her lips, teeth, and mouth causes Tabitha to stumble backwards and lose her own grip on the short-barreled shotgun. As it clatters to the floor, the redhead charges Tabitha, shouting as she does so.

The pain in Tabitha’s mouth is instinctively sublimated, her focus back on the charging redhead. She holds her ground, waiting for the redhead’s attack.

At the last second, she again steps into the redhead, grabbing her upheld arms by the wrists, and then pivoting behind the girl and using the momentum of her attack to slam her against the far wall of the hallway, wrenching her arms into a tight grip behind her back. To herself she thinks what she wouldn’t give for her familiar handcuffs to help contain the hellion of a girl.

Even that much subdued, the girl pushes back from the wall, struggling to break free and trying again to head-butt Tabitha with the back of her head.

This time though, Tabitha’s prepared, and tilts her head out of reach. Annoyed by the still flailing girl, she yanks her from the wall, tucking a foot between her legs to trip her and then slamming her face first to the floor as she straddles her kicking legs.

“Dammit! Enough!” she growls to the redhead’s back pushing her harder into the floor as the girl struggles to regain the air Tabitha had forced from her lungs. “I don’t know what your problem is, little girl. But stop it. Now!”

When she looks up at Shawn, she catches him staring at the scene in the hallway of his dingy apartment complex with a mixture of shock and lust swirling in his gaze. She’s almost surprised neighbors aren’t lined up to look at the commotion, but the type of apartment complex they’re in screams of people who know how to mind their own business. Lest someone start poking into theirs.

Rolling her eyes at the gaping kid, she snaps, “Dammit, Shawn. Stop staring like this is your wet dream come to life.” She gathers the girl’s wrists in one hand at the small of her back, grabbing a fistful of copper red hair with the other to yank the girl’s face from the worn wooden floor.

“She came outta your place,” she irritably points out to Shawn. “Is she a friend of yours? Or should I assume she’s a random burglar that broke in and just take care of her right now?”

Fear bright in his eyes, Shawn snaps from his lusty stupor.

“No! Don’t hurt her, Tabitha. Please. This is just a misunderstanding. Please don’t hurt her. You’re here for me,” he worriedly pleads.

“Y-you’re not t-taking either one of us, you…evil b-bitch,” the girl gasps, still struggling for breath. “V-vade, Satana, in-inventor et magis-magister omnis f-fallaciae, hostis humanae salutis.”

Tabitha sits up in surprise at the breathy Latin coming from the girl underneath her. As she does so, the dim light of the hallway catches and glints on a necklace caught up in the copper curls fisted in her hand. Releasing just the hair, she holds onto the necklace, examining the silver pendant. One she recognizes well. An anti-possession charm. That, and the Latin the girl had been shouting the moment she rushed through the door finally click in Tabitha’s mind.

Leaning back down over the girl and wrenching her head up once more, she hisses in the girl’s ear, “Are you a hunter?”

Fear seeps from the girl’s very pores, but it seems to embolden and strengthen her voice. “Humiliare sub potenti manu dei.”

Shaking the girl by her fistful of hair, Tabitha snaps in annoyance, “I’m not a goddamned demon. And I don’t know why you’d think so. Now. Are. You. A. Hunter?”

The girl swallows thickly despite the way her neck is curved at an extreme angle towards her back. But she refuses to answer.

Shawn suddenly kneels beside the two women, frantically answering, “Yes. Yes she is, Tabitha. Now, please! Let her up. Stop hurting her.”

Ignoring the kid’s pleas, she asks the girl instead, “Why would you think I was a demon? Or do you just assume everyone knocking on the door is?”

“I heard you threatening Shawn,” she suddenly defends in a stubborn tone, but finally relenting to answer. “You said you were looking for someone and that you were gonna kill Shawn if you didn’t find them. I thought you were looking for me.”

Releasing the girl and shoving her one last time at the floor, she stands while telling her, “Jesus, girl. I wasn’t threatening Shawn. You ever heard of sarcasm? And I sure as hell wasn’t looking for you. I don’t even know who the hell you are.”

Shawn immediately attends to the girl, helping to turn her over and sit up as she tilts her head back to glare defiantly at Tabitha.

Dismissing the glare, Tabitha turns her own on the kid.

“A hunter? Really? You get a hard introduction to the reality of what’s out there, and instead of keeping out of it like I told you, you decide to hook up with some Twilight wannabe vampire stalker?”

The girl scrambles to her feet. “I don’t know who the hell you are,” she snarls, unobtrusively rubbing at her throat where Tabitha had painfully wrenched it backwards, “but I’m no pussy little girl who thinks vampires are cool. I’m a hunter. And I hunt demons.”

“Well, good for you, Daphne,” Tabitha says with false cheer. “But I don’t really give a damn about how you and the gang hunt ghosts and monsters or anything else you have to say. You pointed a shotgun at me for no reason.”

“I thought you were a demon come after me!”

“All the more reason you should stay away from this crazy chick!” Tabitha shouts at Shawn. “She’s obviously got demons after her ass. So she’s definitely not safe.”

The hallway suddenly falls silent as they all look around, realizing where they are.

Clearing her throat, Tabitha jerks her head towards the open apartment, telling the other two, “Let’s finish this conversation behind closed doors.”

The redhead gives Tabitha one last glare before flouncing haughtily into the apartment. Shawn turns to follow her, but Tabitha holds him up by his elbow, warning him, “The first thing you get to do, is explain to me just how the hell you ended up here with Miss Elvira the hunter here.”

“You went looking for more proof of the supernatural after I told you to lie low,” Tabitha huffs in disbelief. “Do you not understand the definition of laying low?” she demands running an angry hand through her dirty blond hair where it had fallen over her shoulder, pushing it back. “I told you to stay safe, and you actively seek out little miss danger magnet over there.” Under her breath she mutters, “Men are such idiots for any old rack and legs.”

“Bite me,” the girl growls.

“Her name’s Ember,” Shawn meekly points out when Tabitha continues to invent new names for the girl.

“‘Ember,'” Tabitha repeats, shaking her head in annoyance. “This gets better and better,” she tells herself, leaning back in one of Shawn’s expensive office chairs.

For all that the apartment complex he’s chosen is a dump—as is most of his own apartment—per usual, one area of Shawn’s living space is filled with all the best toys and accessories: his office.

Rows of computer CPUs, monitors, and laptops line the three desks sandwiched against each other. With two high-end leather office chairs sitting in front of them.

Tabitha had commandeered one while Shawn had taken the other to explain how he’d ended up in Denver, and decided to start looking into the truth of the things that went bump in the night.

“I can’t believe you read a blog online and then decided to go check out a haunted house when you know nothing about them,” she sighs, forehead in her hand as she tries futilely to ease the tension headache building. To herself, all she can think is that she can see why some people choose to never have children. It’s stressful enough watching out for Shawn. And he’s not even hers!

“I just wanted to know if it was really real,” he mumbles.

“What you saw in Fairfax didn’t seem real enough?” she demands, waving an angry hand through the air. “That was stupid and dangerous, Shawn. You know nothing about ghosts and hauntings. You could have gotten yourself killed.”

“Could have. But didn’t.”

Hearing the statement, Tabitha turns towards the far corner of the cramped living room/office where…Ember…is slouched irritably in the corner.

“Excuse me, Elvira?”

Pushing away from the corner, the girl snaps, “My name is Ember. And I said he didn’t. I came along and got him out of there. And I took care of the ghost myself.”

“Well, hooray for you. And how many hunts did he say you took him on after that? Teaching him?” she angrily demands. “He has no business out there!”

“Hey!” Shawn snaps, jumping to his feet. “I think it’s my right to decide. I wanted to learn. I can’t just pretend I don’t know what’s out there now. And at least Ember’s teaching me instead of just telling me to burry my head in the sand.”

Rubbing at the tension again, and pushing back further into the soft leather, Tabitha mumbles, “I’m just trying to protect you, kid.”

“I’m not a kid anymore,” Shawn softly points out, a hint of annoyance creeping in. “And I know you took over looking after me when my dad died, but I’ve still mostly been on my own, Tabitha. I make my own decisions now.”

“Tabitha?” Ember questions, stepping forward as her brows rise with her piqued interest. “Tabitha who?”

She pauses, but figures Shawn will probably tell his new girlfriend her real name anyway. “Winchester.”

Ember snorts in disbelief. “And you think I’m dangerous. I may have a few demons after me, but from what I hear, you and your brothers have them all after you three.” She paces nervously around the room, stalking to look out through the peephole of the door as she demands, “Are you sure you weren’t followed here? Because from what I hear, trouble always tails a Winchester.”

“We’re not that bad,” Tabitha half-heartedly defends.

“Right,” Ember snorts again. “‘Cause I’m sure all those demons just want to find you so they can catch up about the good ol’ days. And tell me, has anyone survived knowing you three? Death allows seems to trail a Winchester. Even Bobby has his wounds from what I hear.”

“We all do!” she snaps, visions of Pamela, Ellen, Jo, Casey, and countless others flashing through her mind. “What the hell do you see in her?” Tabitha demands then from Shawn, refusing to dwell on those lost or the one who might be lost.

Not waiting for an answer, she asks the girl, “Just what the hell kind of parents name their kid ‘Ember?’ Did they seriously want every guy in the world using lewd come-ons with you and making crude jokes?”

With a challenging look in her eyes, the girl crudely says, “Like what? The harder you blow on Ember the brighter she burns?”

“Christ,” Tabitha mutters under her breath. “Tell me that Ember isn’t your real name and you just made the idiotic decision to choose it.”

“My name is none of your business,” the girl snaps, all but confirming it isn’t.

Lowering her hand from her forehead, Tabitha questions, “What are you even doing hunting? You’re barely out of diapers. What, like fifteen? Sixteen?”

“I’m twenty,” the girl sullenly maintains.

Seeming to feel the need to smooth matters, Shawn points out, “She’s eighteen, Tabitha. But she’s been on her own since she was fourteen and her parents got killed by a demon.”

It does nothing to smooth things over with Ember, who turns to stalk back to the corner, long copper hair whipping behind her.

Tabitha tracks the girl, asking her, “How’d you learn all of this if you’ve been on your own since then? Who taught you?”

“My dad,” the girl defiantly fires back, her chin jutting out. “Before a demon ripped his heart out and then my mother’s. The demon followed him home from a hunt.”

Softening with the sympathy she can feel for the girl, knowing what it’s like to be raised by a hunter, and to lose a father that way, she asks, “What happened to the demon?”

A brief look of fear and horror fills Ember’s eyes before she thrusts her chin out again, telling Tabitha in an emotionless voice, “I got to Daddy’s shotgun and blasted it with rock salt. Then I exorcised it and sent it back to Hell. But not before it promised to claw its way back here again and find me, too.” The terror briefly flashes in her eyes before anger replaces it. Eyes focused on Tabitha she spits, “And that seems likely to happen sooner rather than later. Demons been running around in droves lately. And word is that you Winchesters are always at the center of things. Probably responsible for the world turning to shit, too.”

Since she can’t deny it, Tabitha sighs and turns back to Shawn, “Look, you’re right. You’re a grown man now. Mostly. And you can make your own decisions. Sorta. No matter how dumb I think they are and how dangerous it is dating a hunter.” The last part is muttered under her breath, annoyed by the irony of giving him the same speech about not dating a hunter that her own older brother had given her.

It hadn’t stopped her and Cort from dating years back, and she’s resigned to the knowledge that her words will probably have the same effect on Shawn that Dean’s had on her.

“Like I was trying to tell you earlier, I need your help, Shawn. And I wouldn’t have come if it weren’t serious. I’m talking life and death here, kid. I really need your expertise.”

“With what?” he curiously asks, lowering himself once more into the leather chair beside her.

“I need you to find someone.” Her hand slips into the pocket of her leather coat, brushing against the blue tie balled up within.

His brows lift in surprise. “I thought that was your area of expertise.”

With hurried movements to keep herself from stroking the cheap cotton tie, she tugs her jacket off, laying it over the arm of her commandeered chair. Reluctantly, she admits to Shawn, “I don’t quite have the resources anymore that I once did. And I need some big guns for this.”

His features smooth out in understanding. “Oh,” he murmurs, nodding to himself in understanding. “You want access to the databases and search parameters in Quantico.”

Slouching further in her chair, elbows bracing on the arm rests as she swings her booted heels up onto the edge of the desk beside her, she reminds him, “Well, I didn’t go to all the trouble and risk of sneaking you into Quantico to hack the servers there just to let it go to waste when I need it most. I knew the day might come when I needed a backdoor access to the FBI systems. And that day has come, kid.”

There’s an eager glint in Shawn’s eyes as he twists towards the computer in front of him, sliding the keyboard closer. His eagerness is strong enough that he barely passes a cursory glare at her boots on his desk.

“So who is it you’re looking for that you’re willing to use your emergency backdoor?” he asks as his fingers clack out keystrokes. “You know that I can only risk doing this a few times before someone there catches on to my hidden access and tries to trace me.” He tosses her a curious look. “Must be someone important that you’re looking for if you’re asking me to do this.” Under his breath he tacks on, “Or a real badie.”

Aware that Ember is slinking closer with an obvious interest at their discussion, Tabitha evasively tells Shawn, “Doesn’t matter who it is. Just need to find him.” Despite having removed the temptation of his tie, her eyes catch on the charms of her bracelet lying across the faded and torn denim of her thigh. The angel wing charm glints mockingly in the stark office lighting of Shawn’s apartment. Now a permanent part of her. But is it destined to be a permanent reminder of the angel that sacrificed his Grace trying to protect her in his own odd fashion?

Shawn’s busy clacking draws her attention from the charm. As she watches, the familiar sight of the Quantico database fills one Shawn’s screens, and before she can blink, he bypasses the login screen.

Grinning and slipping her boots from the desk, she leans forward to grip Shawn’s shoulder. “You did it, kid,” she breathes in relief, glad to see the fruition of the kid’s assurances and promises from when she’d made her gamble and snuck him into Quantico.

He shoots her a truly annoyed look. “You say that like you’re surprised,” he huffs. Proudly puffing out his chest, he tells her, “This was some of my best work. The shifting algorithm took months to write, but it was flawless for integrating with—”

Squeezing his shoulder to silence him, she scolds, “Don’t ruin it for both of us by spilling your secret ingredients. Hmm?”

She can pull a few impressive tricks with a computer herself, but she’s well aware that she’s a rank amateur compared to what the kid is capable of. But she has no desire to delve into the depths of techno geekhood that the kid has achieved. She’d rather let him be the master of that realm.

He stretches his arms in front of himself and then crosses them, sullenly admonishing, “I just want you to understand what kind of glory you should be basking in.”

She cracks a small, sarcastic grin. “Consider me basking in all of your magnanimous glory.”

Nudging her chin towards the screen, she reminds him, “But I still need you to find someone.”

Cracking his knuckles, he asks, “So, you got a name or anything to go on?”

Before she can open her mouth, Ember elbows her way between them, turning to Shawn as she incredulously gapes, “This is the FBI database. Like…everything. Their private network. You can access everything from here.”

Raising a brow at her eager and envious gushing, Tabitha drolly comments, “Well, you can access everything the FBI has access to. Not everything.”

“That’s damn near everything,” Ember scoffs. Eyes narrowed, the girl demands, “How’d you get Shawn into the Quantico servers? ‘Cause a hack like that could have only been done onsite. And that place would have been crazy sick with stupid Feds.”

Surprised at the girl’s imperious tone, Tabitha nevertheless flatly answers, “Wasn’t that hard for me. I used to be a Fed.”

“You’re a cop?!”

Wincing at the shrill tones, Tabitha pointedly replies. “Fed. Not cop. There’s a difference. And did you not catch the ‘used to be’ part?”

“I can’t believe you would actually join those idiot Feds,” Ember mumbles under her breath, turning back to stare enviously at the Quantico database screen. Tabitha’s not surprised the girl harbors the same dour feelings and opinion of law enforcement that most hunters do. She’d certainly caught enough flak for it when she’d been in the FBI. And no small amount since she…retired.

To Shawn, the redhead asks, “Why didn’t you tell me you hacked the FBI? Do you know what we can do with this access?”

Loudly clearing her throat, Tabitha interrupts, “Yeah, sorry Little Orphan Annie. This is only for grownups. And it’s too valuable to risk overusing and letting them catch on. You’re not allowed to play with it like a cool new toy.”

Bristling at the barbs, Ember glares at her before stomping away again, muttering colorful curses under her breath.

Looking torn between the two women, Shawn sighs before turning back to his keyboard. With a slight frown, he admonishes, “Not nice, Tab.”

Rolling her eyes, Tabitha sighs. “Whatever. I just want it made clear that your little girlfriend doesn’t get to play with this access. You’re not supposed to either unless we both agree to it.”

Noticing her slightly curious gaze, Shawn quietly assures her, “I haven’t used it. I promise. Haven’t needed to.”

Jerking a nod, Tabitha reminds him, “Alright. Back to business.”

“Right. Who am I searching for now?”

She starts to say Cas, but sighs, remembering her argument with Dean before she’d taken off to find Shawn.

It had been another doozy of an argument between them. She’d been unwilling to accept that her angel might be dead, despite her older brother’s insistence that she should at least be prepared for the possibility. He kept saying that she had no proof that he really was alive. And he was right. All she really had was a deep-seated need for it to be true.

Despite her insistence that it would take a lot to kill the angel, they still hadn’t seen or heard from him. And while Castiel had certainly talked as if it might be his final act, she refused to believe it. Because he’d certainly come out alive all the other times he’d talked that way.

Remembering when he’d taken them to the past and then passed out for days, Tabitha clings to the feeble hope that he’s once more incapacitated and just needs a bit of time to heal and a little help to get back on his feet.

But if he is unconscious, no one will know him as Castiel.

“Search for Jimmy Novak of Pontiac, Illinois.”

“Where am I looking?”

“He could be anywhere in the world,” she sighs, thinking he could truly be anywhere in the universe, but Jupiter is a bit out of her reach.

Rolling his eyes, Shawn points out, “Quantico only covers the US.”

“Then search the whole country. I’ve got an Interpol contact I can branch out to if we find nothing here.”

Shawn’s fingers begin their magic, and they both unconsciously lean towards the monitors as they await the results.

“Nope,” he sighs, leaning back from his keyboard. “No hits. Just a missing person report from more than a year ago. Nothing about him being found or anything since.”

To herself, she nods once, as if dismissing a possibility from her list. Somehow, she’s not surprised not to find him under Jimmy’s name. She’s not even certain if he carries Jimmy’s wallet with him. And all the times she had undressed the angel, she’d been too intent on other things to notice if he carried a photo ID.

Following a suffering sigh, she says, “All right. We’re gonna have to do this the long way. Search all the centralized databases the FBI has access to for an unidentified white male between 35 and 45. Five-ten to six foot, and 155 to 175 pounds. Brown hair.” Closing her eyes, she continues. “Search all police records for current unidentified persons, all hospital records…” Almost wanting to bite her tongue, she tacks on in a whisper, “And all morgue records.”

She can sense Shawn whip to stare at her.

“Morgue?” he repeats in shock. “I thought this was someone supper important if you were risking this kinda access to find him.”

“He is to me,” she whispers. Opening her eyes to pin the kid with a withering stare, she adds, “I need to know where he is. If he’s alive or not. He can help if he is.” She gestures vaguely to the world around them. “With all this.”

Shawn takes the hint and silently follows her bidding. In a subdued tone he explains, “It’ll take a few minutes to tabulate all the possibilities, but it’s gonna take even longer to go through them to find anything. Do you have any idea how many hits we’re gonna get searching the whole damn country? Can’t you narrow the area down somehow? To a region or state.”

“No. I can’t,” she snaps. Then more soothingly adds, “And yes, I’m aware of how many hits this will yield. I’ve done this before, kid. Twenty three hundred people are reported missing every day. But fewer are found as unidentified persons.”

The computer suddenly beeps. As Shawn leans forward to peer at the screen, he sighs while relaying, “674 possible hits.” Under his breath, he mutters, “This is going to take forever.”

She claps a hand against his shoulder. “That’s not so bad for the entire country. With those broad search perimeters, I was afraid it would be a lot more.” Thinking back to her days with the violent crimes unit, she tries to recall all the ways the team would get their analyst to narrow down search results.

“Okay. Let’s see how we can filter some of these out. Narrow the results to just those that have popped up in the last few days. That should filter out those unidentified persons that have been that way for a long time.”

Another beep signals their results. “Still 104,” Shawn sighs.

Frowning, Tabitha muses, “That’s actually higher than I anticipated in a few days’ time.” But she chalks it up to all the hell raining down from the Apocalypse.

“All right,” she continues, returning to business. “Start bringing up any of the search results that have corresponding picture files attached that they’re using to help identify these guys. We’ll start with those.”

“There are only 62 with files attached,” he morosely replies, bringing up the first grainy, poorly lit hospital photo of an unconscious man.

“Not him,” she dismisses, motioning for him to bring up the next photo.

Only a few photos in, her phone rings. Not even looking at it, she sharply answers, “What, Dean? I’m busy.”

Wow,” Sam’s voice grumbles in her ear. “You and Dean are so much fun when you’re fighting with each other.

Properly chagrined, Tabitha leans back from the computer screen. “Sorry, Sam. I thought it was Dean calling to see if I’d failed yet.”

No matter how that argument went, we’re both hoping you find Cas, Tab. We could use his help.

“I know,” she demurs, tiredly massaging the bridge of her nose.

But you haven’t found anything,” he more or less states.

“Not yet. We just started. What about you guys?” she asks, changing the subject. “Any luck on your front?”

I’m not even sure what we’re searching for anymore,” he confesses. “Other than a Hail-Mary to find another angel and possibly still save Adam.

“And if we find Cas he might be able to help with that,” she defends.

I know.

She silently motions for Shawn to pull up the next result. Refusing to give up hope yet.

“So where are you knuckleheads at anyway?”

I’m not even sure,” Sam sighs. “Some little deserted stretch of I-90 in Wyoming. Where strangely enough we were able to get out of a torrential downpour and into a five-star hotel.

Frowning, she tells him, “Wyoming doesn’t have any five-star hotels. Not along that stretch of 90 anyway.”

She can almost see him shrug. “Well, it’s here. Elysian Fields. They’ve supposedly got the best pie in the Tri-state area. So you know Dean isn’t leaving ’till he’s gorged on the buffet.

“You know,” she sighs, “some day some monster’s going to realize that’s the perfect way to trap him. That or a hot woman, anyway. But they’re gonna realize that and set a trap he won’t be able to resist.”

Probably,” he laughs, and then lets out an extended sigh. “Look, I gotta go, Tab. He’s waving for me to join him at the buffet. I just wanted to check in with you.

“Thanks, Sammy. Just, keep an eye on him,” she warns. “Despite Zachariah finally being dead—which I’m still rejoicing Dean sticking a blade through his skull, just wish I’d been the one to get that pleasure. I’m also pleased about Dean claiming to be back in the fight, but I’m still worried he might flip the switch and throw in with those dickwads again. We have to be cautious.”

I’ll keep an eye on him,” Sam promises.

“Two,” she warns, before pocketing her phone.

Returning her full attention to the screen, she distractedly tells Shawn, “Remind me to check into the Elysian Hotel along I-90 in Wyoming when we get a chance.”

“Sure,” he absentmindedly agrees, pointing to the next picture. “What about this one?” he asks, nodding at the autopsy picture from a brightly lit morgue filling the screen.

She leans closer, blowing out her nose in relief as she shakes her head. “Not him. Next.”

Three hours later finds them having exhausted the possible matches that include photos in the files.

“Now what?” Shawn dejectedly asks.

Digging out her cellphone again, she replies, “Now it’s old fashioned detective work. Or rather the FBI agent lording over LEOs and making them get me the info I want.”

At Shawn’s curious look, she explains, “A lot of these hits that don’t have jack-squat for info to go with them are from small sheriff’s departments without the resources to keep their files fully up to date. Or from huge departments that just can’t be bothered to keep them up to date to help other departments.”

Dialing the number of the police department listed on the next hit, she slips into retired but not forgotten role of Special Agent Winchester.

“I’m looking for Detective Winters…Who’s calling?…You let him know that Special Agent Susan Weaver from the San Diego field office is calling about that John Doe of his that you guys haven’t identified yet in the hospital…Well, you can tell him to do his damn job and get his files updated on the federal database… No, they’re not up to date, and I’m looking for a match to the Tenth Street Strangler case we’ve got…Yeah, he’s a serial killer in the area. Already got 17 on his body count, but we’re trying to keep it quiet. You understand…Yeah, your John Doe matches a possible suspect in the case but I need a photo for a witness ID… Sure you can email it.” Tabitha snaps her fingers at Shawn who scrambles to write an email address down and then feverishly works on his computer to create the official looking email account he’s named for her.

When she hangs up and turns to him to look for the incoming email, she finds him staring curiously at her.

“Serial killer?” he suspiciously asks. “Please tell me this guy ain’t really that kind of baddie.”

She snorts ineloquently. “He’s not. Trust me. But throwing around crap about serial killers always gets people’s attention and their willingness to cooperate. Everyone dumb LEO thinks they’ll be the ones to break some big serial killer case and get famous for it.”

“Here it is,” Shawn says after a few clicks of his mouse, bringing up the new picture.

“Not him,” Tabitha sighs. “41 more to go.”

“This is going to take all night,” Shawn laments.

Forgotten in the corner of the apartment, Ember huffs in exasperation. “Well, fun as this has been, I’m calling it a night.”

“Good,” Tabitha dismissively grumbles. “Past your bedtime anyway, Pippi Longstocking. Only the grownups should be up this late.”

“Screw you, bitch!”

Shawn groans at their less than veiled hatred of each other. “Can’t you at least try to get along with her, Tab? She’s my girlfriend. Maybe just call her by her name, you know, Ember.”

“Don’t pin this on me,” Tabitha defensively responds, crossing her arms over her chest. “She’s the one that attacked me and pointed a shotgun in my face.”

“She’s my girlfriend. Besides, she thought you were a demon,” Shawn repeats. Growing even more serious, he struggles saying, “And…and I think I—”

Tabitha cuts him off there, sure she knows exactly what he’s going to say. “Don’t even say it, kid. You’re too young to even think about things like that. And she’s definitely too young.”

Quietly, Shawn insists anyway, “I like her, Tabitha. I want you guys to get along. Please don’t make me choose.”

Remembering the heated lectures and arguments from her youth when Dean had desperately tried to warn her away from ever dating a hunter—and how successful that had been—Tabitha attempts to force herself to let up. After a string of smothered curses, she puts on a false smile and calls out, “‘Night Ember! Sleep tight!”

After a far more colorful return from the bedroom, Tabitha pointedly throws her arm in that direction, silently pointing out the futility of making nice.

Shawn chuckles mirthlessly and returns to their project, telling her, “Well, you were going a bit overboard with the names there, Tab. ‘Little Orphan Annie’? That one was low. And surprisingly mean.”

Feeling slightly chastised at his reminder, she shrugs and mutters an apology, adding one last time, “I still think you should find yourself a nice normal girl.”

Hearing the memory of almost the same word for word advice from Dean in her mind, she cringes to herself. Since when had that advice ever worked out for her?

Tabitha glances at the time on her phone as she answers Sam’s call. “You boys are sure up early. Which is shocking. You guys never drag yourselves out of bed before 10 in the morning if I’m not around to kick your asses out from under the covers.”

She can hear her younger brother swallow thickly on the other end of the line, and she quickly wipes the exhaustion from her eyes. Thirteen straight hours of no sleep while searching all night for Castiel and making call after call demanding various police departments, hospitals, and morgues send her pictures of their John Does had begun to wear on her, but every tired ache flees in the wake of the quiet clearing of his throat.

We thought you should know he’s dead, Tab.

The hand holding her cellphone falls uselessly to her side as she collapses back into her chair, staring blankly at the image downloading onto Shawn’s monitors. It was one of the last possibilities they were getting. An image coming from the Philadelphia morgue. Her eyes blur as she sees Castiel’s lifeless image fill the screen.

And suddenly, her every fear and dread hits her as she presses a hand to her mouth, unsure if she’s trying to hold back the bile trying to rise in her throat, or the scream building in her soul.

Aware that Sam is shouting her name, she mechanically brings the phone back to her ear, bracing herself to hear how they found the angel and how he’d died.

Jesus! Are you still there, Tab?! Answer me!

“Yeah,” she croaks, unable to force more than the broken syllable past her lips.

Are you okay, sis? I didn’t think you were that close with Gabriel. We just thought you should know right away,” Sam continues.

Her sluggish mind finally catches up. “Wait. What?!” she demands. “Did you say Gabriel?!”

Yeah. I guess that motel last night was actually a trap laid by a bunch of pagan gods hoping to use us to stop Lucifer. Then Gabriel showed up trying to talk them out of it. And then Lucifer himself got there and slaughtered them all. He killed Gabriel, too. Only Kali got away with us.”

Furiously dashing the tears from her eyes away, Tabitha springs to her feet and yanks Shawn’s monitor closer, staring at the image on the screen.

“It’s not Cas,” she sighs in relief.

What’s not Cas?” she hears in stereo from Shawn and Sam. Shawn follows up with, “Who’s Cas?”

“Never mind,” she dismisses them both, still clinging to the hope that until she has proof otherwise, that her angel is still alive.

Then, everything else her brother had said really begins to sink in. “Wait. Gabriel’s dead? Pagan gods? Lucifer?” She shakes her head, feeling her exhaustion return with a vengeance. Along with a stabbing guilt at the elation she’d felt to know that it was Gabriel who died and not Castiel.

“‘Lucifer?'” Ember repeats as she pads out from the bedroom. “Everyone knows that’s just a myth from demon Sunday School.”

Waving an aggravated hand in the girl’s direction, Tabitha listens to her brother’s retelling of their night.

“Holy shit,” she breathes when he finishes. “I knew angels could be killed,” she darkly wonders—she’d killed a few herself. “But somehow Gabriel just seemed…unkillable. You two certainly never could.”

I know,” Sam sighs, ignoring her unintended slight to them. “It really surprised us, too. Him throwing in with us against his own brother. Guess it didn’t do him any good though.

“Kali’s still alive?” she hesitantly asks her brother.

Yeah. Why?

Then he accomplished what he set out to, she thinks to herself.

Her thought is banished when Sam clears his throat again.

There’s another reason I called,” he informs her. “You see, Gabriel really did decide to help us out in the end. I think. Anyway, he left us this…ah, well, DVD. But when we try to play it, his voice plays over the main menu, demanding that you be here before it’ll play. The damn thing keeps saying it won’t play without the…ah, presence of the, um, ‘smokin’ hot’ Winchester. And despite Dean’s insistences that it’s him, the damn thing just won’t play.

Shaking her head in confusion, Tabitha asks in aggravation, “Well, what do you expect me to do about that? You’re still in Wyoming, right? And I’m in Denver. We’re a few hours away from each other. Either head this way, or wait for me to finish my current project and then I can catch up with you guys.”

This is important, Tab. I think he could be trying to help us stop the Devil.

“Finding Cas is important, too, Sam!” she snaps. “He could help us stop the Devil, just as well. And he sacrificed himself helping us try and fail to get Adam back.”

Soothingly, Sam replies, “You’re right, Tab. I didn’t mean we should stop looking for Cas. Just…what if I rip the video file from the DVD and then email it to you? Maybe it’ll play for you then. And we can figure out what Gabriel’s message to us was.

“Fine,” she answers shortly, feeling the stab of guilt twist in her gut. Somehow, it seems very like the trickster in Gabriel to have left a message behind in the event of his death, but she’s a bit uneasy about him demanding she be present for it to play. His offer to run away with him rings in her mind. She might have saved herself a lot of heartache if she’d yielded to his more than tempting offer. And perhaps even his life.

“You guys are crazy,” Ember huffs. “Angels and the Devil don’t exist. This is all just ridiculous talk.”

Tabitha closes her phone, waiting for her brother to send the file as she turns to appraise the girl behind her.

Her brows climb at the sight of the girl glad only in lacy black underwear and a short, black spaghetti-strap tank top paying homage to the band H.I.M.

“You want to put some clothes on there…” she catches herself with a sidelong glance to Shawn, barely able to bite out with a smile, “Ember. I’m sure Shawn appreciates your fresh from bed look, but it’s not to my taste.”

“Bite me, skank,” she growls, walking closer despite her scowl. And completely uninhibited about her state of relative undress. “Now, why are you talking about that kind of nonsense?” With a look of superiority, she tells Shawn, “Don’t listen to what she said. There’s no such thing as angels, and certainly no Devil.”

Tabitha rolls her eyes at the girl. “Right, Daphne. And no such things as monsters. It’s always just some loser in a mask complaining about how he would have gotten away with it if not for you pesky kids,” she huffs, going to her forgotten pile of bags by the door that she’d brought in during the night and digging out her laptop. “Why don’t you and the gang just head on back to the Mystery Machine.”

She hands the laptop to Shawn, telling him, “Download the file from my email on here. And then you can hook it up with your stuff and share whatever is going to play with my brother’s laptop through my Skype account, can’t you?”

“Sure,” he nods, apprehensively looking between the two women as he takes the laptop. “Piece of cake,” he mumbles, turning to his scattered equipment on the desk, seeming to decide it was safer to focus on instead of the two glaring woman.

Freed of the laptop, she stalks closer to the younger woman, looking the redhead up and down. “Listen. Ember. Just because you’ve exorcised a demon or two and put a ghost to rest doesn’t mean you know everything that’s out there. Trust me, I’ve seen more than you can possibly imagine. Including angels and yes, even the Devil himself. Who the hell do you think is the cause of all of this?” she demands, throwing a sweeping gesture in reference to the messed up state of the world around them. “It sure wasn’t Santa Claus, sweetheart.”

With a sneer, Ember demands, “If angels are real, and so is the Devil, why hasn’t anyone seen them? And if the Devil’s responsible for all of this, why aren’t these supposed angels kicking his ass and putting the world back together?”

“Because angels aren’t like little Precious Moments figurines. Most of them are dicks. And believe it or not, they let Lucifer out and started this whole mess to begin with.”

“What?! That’s ridiculous.”

“Uh, guys,” Shawn interrupts. “I’ve got everything ready. Just dialing your brother now and waiting for him to pick up. At least, I take it you wanted me to connect to Moose83? That was your only other contact besides my three accounts.”

“Yeah, that’s him,” Tabitha confirms as the video chat screen fills one of Shawn’s many monitors.

Hey, Tabby,” Dean greets in a slightly subdued manner. Both he and Sam are bent down towards their screen, and from the angle and the sky behind them, she imagines they have the laptop set on the hood of the Impala. “You find anything on Cas yet?

“No. Not yet. But there’s still a couple of possibilities I haven’t looked into yet,” she sighs, returning to Shawn’s desk and slumping down into the chair she’d spent most of the night in. In truth, she only has two John Does to look into. And her heart has been struggling to cling to the hope that he might still be one of the last two she has yet to look into.

He’ll turn up,” Dean attempts to assure her.

She’s surprised by his change in tune, and wonders if he’s trying to cling to the same hope of finding their friend that she is. Perhaps seeing Gabriel die has made her brother realize how much he wants their friend to still be alive.

Dean coughs once before admitting, “So, I guess it was a pretty damn good thing you weren’t with us when Lucifer showed up. Having you around him is a bad idea. You made the right call in the end.”

She ignores both the way he makes it sound like she made a lucky call and the way the mark on her chest seems to burn at the mention of its maker. Instead, she gives him a small smile.

Catching sight of the other two in the room, Dean jerks a silent, questioning nod at them.

In return, Tabitha indicates first next to her. “This is Shawn. Computer genius extraordinaire.”

Dean nods again over her shoulder. “Who’s the fiery looking redhead?

At Dean’s leer, Tabitha tells him in annoyance, “Knock it off, Dean. She’s like 12 years old. Just ignore Little Red Riding Hood back there. She’s Shawn’s, ah, new guide to the underworld.” At Ember’s loud protests and Shawn’s loud huffing, she amends, “I mean, uh, girlfriend or something.”

So,” Sam interrupts, obviously deciding he doesn’t care whom the girl belongs to. “You got that video file that I sent you?

“Yeah,” Tabitha confirms, leaning forward to click on the file Shawn had downloaded to the desktop of her laptop.

As the video fills her laptop screen, she looks to Shawn to confirm that her brothers can see it.

“Yeah,” he nods. “They’re seeing your screen, too.”

Cheesy music plays over her speakers, along with a bright red screen proclaiming the legal age of all performers of the following film. As the screen fades to black, the words “Casa Erotica” fills her screen, and the cheesy music finally makes sense to her, even if the film doesn’t.

“Ah, Sam,” she hesitantly begins. “I think Dean’s been downloading porn to your computer again and you sent that to me by mistake. Although I know he typically prefers Asian Busty Beauties.”

Sam clears his throat. “See, ah, that’s what Gabriel said he was leaving for us. But I was hoping there was something actually useful on it. And not just, ah, you know…porn.

Tabitha shrugs, crossing her arms over her chest as she settles in to watch at least the beginning of a porno with her brothers, the kid that looks up to her like a sister, and his bitch girlfriend.

Dear Diary,” a strangely familiar and sultry voice says over the corny music. The black screen fades to the image of a woman on her stomach, her clear hooker heels swaying lazily in the air as the camera pans over her legs. “Being a high-powered business president is super-fun but so exhausting,” the voice continues as the camera pans across the black underwear-clad back and shoulders of the woman.

As the camera pans slowly up to the blond woman’s face, she continues, “Sometimes I just need to relax. I need…Casa Erotica.

“Wow,” she hears Shawn mutter beside her, his voice dripping with a strange horror and appreciation all at once.

Simultaneously, her brother’s ring out loud objections on their end of the screen.

Uh, don’t need to see that,” Sam coughs.

What the hell?!” Dean angrily exclaims.

For her part, Tabitha stares in shock at the screen, thinking to herself that while she doesn’t look too bad, she’d never imagined seeing herself in the cheesy acting of a porno. Although, she’s chagrined to realize that she does actually own that very bra and panty set. Just not the hooker heels.

On the screen, a knock bangs on the door as a man calls, “Room service!

Tabitha watches in a detached fascination as the image of herself on the porno looks up to eagerly call, “Come in!

On the video chat, Sam demands from Dean in a startled tone, “Gabriel wanted you to guard this with your life?

Dean ignores Sam’s demand, making one of his own to their sister. “Is that what you and the bird-brain were doing back in TV Land?! Making a porno?!

Snapping out of her stupor, Tabitha leans forward, moving automatically to cover the screen with her hands as she insists, “Of course not! That’s not me!”

Sure as hell looks like you!” Dean shouts back.

Wait, is that Gabriel?” Sam asks.

Realizing that covering the screen with her hands isn’t keeping her brothers from seeing it, Tabitha pulls her hands away to see a mustache sporting Gabriel pouncing on the porno version of Tabitha as she giggles and wraps her arms around him.

“Okay, this is ridiculous,” she fumes. “I’m a highly educated, professional woman. I would never giggle like that. That’s so not me,” she continues as Gabriel runs his hands up and down the scantily clad porno version of her.

Gabriel suddenly pulls back, turning to look directly at her as he cheekily tells her, “No, but it could have been you. If you hadn’t turned me down.

Startled by the video answering her, she scrambles to stand. “What the hell?!” she shouts in surprise, watching as Porno-Tabitha stands behind Gabriel, wrapping her arms around him, rubbing against him and moaning enthusiastically.

Oh, gross. This is just sick and wrong,” Dean gags.

Suddenly, two more identical Porno-Tabithas fill the screen, each vying for Gabriel’s attention and rubbing themselves against him as they loudly moan and giggle.

Shooting her a grin, Gabriel turns back to the three woman, lightly scolding them, “Now, girls, there’s plenty of me to go around. No fighting.”

Tabitha darts forward, punching at the pause button on her laptop, trying and failing to make the video stop before things get worse. Her laptop is unresponsive however, the porno starring her and Gabriel rolling on into dangerous territory.

Stuttering, Dean demands, “Is that… Are those… Does Gabriel have Tabby-bots?!

As Gabriel’s hands start moving up and down the women, going from R-rated territory to X-rated territory, Tabitha panics and yanks the cords from her laptop, snatching the computer and pressing the screen to her chest so that no one can see it since it won’t stop playing.

A contented sigh sounds from the laptop. “I always knew I’d get between your breasts sooner or later.”

Jaw dropping in horror, Tabitha whips the screen back to see Gabriel leering at her with a happy but suggestive smirk.

Slamming the lid closed on the laptop, she repeats to her brothers, “That is so not me.”

Her brothers seem torn between anger and horror at what they’ve seen. And she thinks to herself that they look worse than if they’d been facing down a pack of snarling werewolves or wendigos.

Come on, Tabitha,” Gabriel pleads from the closed laptop. “Don’t be that way. Come back. I miss the sight of your gorgeous face.

“Then turn your attention to my little clones,” she hisses at the closed laptop sitting on Shawn’s desk.

Shawn and Ember lean forward, staring in a strange wonderment at the laptop when it’s silent for a minute.

“Is that…some kind of artificial intelligence?” Shawn asks in a startled sort of reverence for the technology.

Gabriel snorts inside the closed computer. “Try Angel Intelligence. Who’s the kid, babe? You moved on already? I figured once you go angel, there’s no other angle.

Tabitha rolls her eyes at the cheesy pun. “Try Artificial Idiot,” she replies in annoyance.

Finally, they hear Gabriel sigh theatrically.

Okay,” they hear him say. “Come on girls. Time to clear out. I’ve got to talk to the real thing. And real is so much more…satisfying.

After another minute, and the sound of those horrid giggles fading away, Gabriel calls out, “The coast is clear. You can come back to me, my luscious sweetness.

“Stop saying shit like that,” she hisses again, cautiously opening her computer, and sighing in relief when she sees only the archangel. “I should kick your ass. Or kill you,” she growls.

If you’re watching this, then it’s too late on that score, sweetcheeks. I’m already dead.

Seeing her unease, he shrugs and continues. “Oh well. Anyway. You’re probably all wondering what the hell’s going on.”

Generally,” Dean answers, reminding Tabitha to reconnect her laptop so her brothers can see her screen again now that it’s more…appropriate.

Gabriel dramatically pulls his mustache off. “Well…like I said, if you’re watching this…I’m dead.

As her brother’s roll their eyes, Gabriel continues, “Oh, please. Stop sobbing. It’s embarrassing for all of us.

“You want to talk about embarrassing,” she hisses at the angel. “Try watching some creep make out with clones of yourself.”

Ooh,” Gabriel grins. “Sounds kinky. I like it. And don’t try to tell me that you mind the…winged variety in your bed.

She swallows nervously at his veiled reference, but he presses on before her brothers can catch the inference.

The angel backs up to and sits on a heart-shaped bed, telling them, “Anyway, without me, you’ve got zero shot at killing Lucifer. And getting his mark off your fine ass, too, sister. Sorry,” he shrugs in apology. “But…you can trap him. Won’t remove his mark, but it’ll keep him from being able to use you in any way, kitten.

“Don’t call me ‘kitten,'” she warns in annoyance.

So touchy,” Gabriel comments with an amused grin. “‘Don’t call me kitten.’ ‘Don’t make clones of me and then make a porno with them.’ So many rules, Tabitha. Is that it? You’re into having control and dominance. Ooh, I like the sound of that. Should I call you ‘Mistress’ while you spank me for my behavior?

Gabriel!” she warns again, more heavily stressing his name.

All right,” he reluctantly sighs. “Anyway. Like I said. You can trap him. The cage you sprung Lucifer from is still down there. And maybe—just maybe—you can shove his ass back in. Not that it’ll be easy. You got to get the cage open, trick my bro back into it, and, uh—oh, yeah—avoid Michael and the God Squad. But hey, details, right?

Gabriel leans closer to the screen. “And here’s the big secret Lucifer himself doesn’t even know. But the key to the cage—it’s out there. Actually, it’s keys—plural. Four keys. Well, four rings. From the Horsemen. You get them all, you got the cage. Can’t say I’m betting on you crazy kids, but hey, at least I’ve got the girls here to keep me company.

The three porn clones of Tabitha return, climbing onto the heart-shaped bed behind Gabriel, once more fondling and fawning over him.

Oh, and Dean…you were right. I was afraid to stand up to my brother. Not anymore.” Gabriel stands on the screen. “So, this is me standing up,” he says as the Tabitha clones behind him giggle and stroke his shoulders. “And this is me…lying down,” he continues as they hear the unmistakable sound of a zipper.

“Ew, ew,” Tabitha groans as she yanks the cord from her laptop and then removes the battery to silence the unmistakable sounds coming from her computer.

That was wrong,” Sam groans from the video chat.

Tabitha shivers. “On so many levels,” she agrees, feeling torn between horror, violated, and sadness that Gabriel is gone. And despite the past few minutes, she suddenly feels tears form in her eyes. Because if the archangel himself is dead, what chance does she stand of finding Castiel still alive?

She expects Dean to continue to blow a gasket at Gabriel and Tabitha Make a Porno, but surprisingly, his face is thoughtful as he stares into the screen.

Horsemen, huh?” he carefully comments. “Well, we got War’s. We nicked Famine’s. That’s two rings down. Collect all four.” he continues, pulling the two rings from his pocket as he contemplates them.

“Guess it’s a good thing we didn’t make that pit stop to Mt. Doom,” Tabitha jokes, purposefully ignoring the rasp of her voice.

Her brothers look uneasy, as they always do at the first hint of female emotion.

Anyway,” Dean coughs. “All we need is Pestilence and Death.

Oh, is that all,” Sam tiredly replies.

It’s a plan,” Dean returns.

Tabitha sighs in resignation, admitting to herself that she can’t come up with a better one.

Dean looks up into the screen again to regard the middle Winchester. “I don’t suppose you’re ready to get back here and help us track down the last two rings, are you?

She shakes her head. “I’ve still got a few things to look into. Cas is still out there somewhere.”

Dean opens his mouth, but stops short of speaking when Sam pointedly elbows him.

Before their older brother can speak, Sam tells Tabitha, “Just hurry as much as you can. We could really use Cas’s help on this if we’re going after the last two Horsemen. And we could use your help even more, sis. Call us when you’re ready to join back up.

“Thanks, Sammy,” she tells him, offering a small smile at the way he still speaks with the assurance that she’ll find the angel.

Whatever,” Dean dismisses. “Just hurry your ass up. We’ve finally got a game plan here, and we need to get a jump on it.

He reaches out to shut the laptop on their end, disconnecting the video chat.

In the ensuing silence, Tabitha finally turns to see the staggering shock in Ember and Shawn’s faces.

“Horsemen. Angels. Lucifer,” he whispers. “It’s all real?”

“It can’t be,” Ember tries to insist in another hushed whisper, seeming to be trying to convince herself. “It just…it can’t be.”

“Sorry, kids. But it’s all real. Well, Bigfoot’s still not,” she jokes. “I think.”

As Shawn sits in his chair staring at his rows of monitors and Ember remains standing, staring into space, Tabitha returns her attention to the parts of her laptop spread across the desk.

To herself, she says, “Guess I should see if I can get Gabriel’s porno off my laptop now. I’m not sure if I’ll need Geek Squad to disinfect it or a priest to exorcise it.”

Just as she reaches for it, she hears, “Good luck with that, sister.

Jerking her hand back, she exclaims, “Gabriel?!”

In the flesh. Well…figuratively. Technologically.

She cautiously approaches the laptop again, slowly lifting the lid and peeking in. When she sees the glow of the screen, she flips it open. With her hands on her hips, she demands, “How the hell are you doing this and what the hell is even going on?”

Relax, sweetcheeks. I’m just…taking up a new residence.

She eyes him, thankful at least that the…Tabby-bots, as Dean called them, are not in sight.

“How are you on my computer? I thought you were…”

Dead?” he finishes when she trails off. “Oh, I am. Just not all of me. I made sure to leave enough of me behind to still be around a while.

“And you decided to leave a…piece of yourself on my computer?” she incredulously demands.

Gabriel leans back on the heart shaped bed, pressing his shoulders into the pillows and striking a very porn-esque pose. “You think I’d have rather hung out with Heckle and Jeckle? The view is much better here.

Folding her arms imposingly over her chest, she fires back, “So what, I get to be the girl lucky enough to have the haunted computer?”

Haunted? Who said anything about haunted? You talk like it’s a bad thing I’m here. You should see it for the convenience it is. I mean, I don’t see little Cassie boy around. A woman has needs. And it’s not cheating if it’s virtual sex.” He sits up, face suddenly lighting with excitement. “Oh! Or do you guys have like an open relationship. ‘Cause if so, hells yeah I want in.

“You’re such a perv,” she scolds fighting the little smile that tries to play across her lips at his antics.

Suddenly sobering, she carefully broaches, “Are you really Gabriel? Or just like, the memory of him?”

He looks at her almost suspiciously, but carefully answers, “I’m still me, sugar-plum. And yes. I am really dead. This is…” He gestures around the computer screen. “I guess you could call this just another trick of mine. My last ‘up yours’ to Lucy for killing me. ‘Cause this way, he didn’t get all of me.”

After a moment of considering her question, Tabitha finally asks, “Then, do you know if Cas is still alive?”

Gabriel sadly shakes his head. “I don’t know anything more than I did when I died. And at this point, I don’t know anything more about Cassie boy’s status than you do. Just because I’ve pulled a fancy trick and I’m speaking from the dead, doesn’t mean I’m suddenly all-knowing or anything.

At some point, Shawn had shaken himself from his stupor induced by the series of crazy and unbelievable revelations the morning had brought him. Or perhaps he’d simply decided to focus on something he understood.

Following the lull in conversation between Tabitha and the presence of the dead angel on a computer that should not have been working, Shawn carefully catches Tabitha’s attention. Pointing to one of the screens in front of him—and wearily eyeing the partially dismantled but still talking laptop in front of her—he says, “I got the last couple of emails in with the last few missing pictures. Any of these your guy?”

She slides her chair away from her Gabriel possessed laptop to view the pictures on Shawn’s screen.

With a sigh of defeat, she says, “No. None of those are him.”

“Then what are you going to do now?”

Tabitha pauses at the question, not sure herself what to do now. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized how much of her hopes had been pinned on finding Cas using the FBI database. Was her brother right and she’s on a futile mission trying to find a dead angel?

Her fingers curl around the cellphone still in her hand. She could call her brothers and tell them that she’ll head their way to rejoin them and begin the search for the last two Horsemen. At least that would be making clear progress. It would be furthering their ultimate goal of defeating the Devil and saving the world.

But why does it feel like if she calls them she’ll be completely giving up hope on Castiel?

A silent tear streaks down her cheek as she makes her decision.

With a forced smile that doesn’t reach her eyes, she turns to tell Shawn, “Thank you for all your help, kid.”

“You’re leaving?” he guesses, seeming a bit withdrawn.

“Yeah,” she affirms. “My brothers were right. I need to help them find these last two Horsemen. It might be the only shot this planet has.” She just wonders if it’ll be enough to make Azrael back down, too. After all, she wouldn’t need to torch the universe if Lucifer is safely locked up, just like before. And if Lucifer is locked up, the concern of his…mark on her might be moot.

For the first time in a long time, Tabitha begins to feel a glimmer of hope.

Until she remembers Castiel. Or the fact the she’s royally screwed over anyway when she dies.

Shawn shakes his head in disbelief, and even Ember comes over to sit on the arm of Shawn’s chair, seeming more subdued than when Tabitha had been threatening to kill her the day before.

“Going after Horsemen,” Ember whispers. “Like The Horsemen.” She shakes her head. Although she doesn’t say it, her look speaks loudly enough. It says that she thinks Tabitha is as good as dead.

Tabitha wipes away the stray tear, thinking to herself that Ember has no idea just how right she is. And strangely, the whole thing somehow seems laughable. In a pants-pissingly-terrified kind of way.

After a moment’s hesitation, Tabitha stands and tugs something out of her jean’s pocket, grabbing Shawn’s hand over Ember’s still bare legs and closing his palm around it.

“A key?” he asks, startled, opening his palm to inspect the small gold item.

She jerks a nod. “Yup. And before too long you’ll get directions from me on what it opens. Until then, keep it with you.”

Shawn stands quickly. Nearly dumping a startled Ember onto the floor when he scrambles out of his chair.

“Wait a minute,” he demands. “That sounds too much like a goodbye. Like a final goodbye. Is that what this is? Are these Horsemen guys that dangerous?”

It’s not just the Horsemen on Tabitha’s mind as she shares a surprisingly understanding look with Ember. Despite their initial hatred for each other, there’s an understanding that passes between the two hunters. Made even more evident as Ember quietly and surprisingly tactfully excuses herself to leave Shawn and Tabitha alone.

“The answer is both yes and no, kid,” she finally sighs, trying not to feel like she’s abandoning the boy. Whom she still must remind herself is now a man. “The Horsemen are dangerous, but they’re not the only danger I’ve got coming. Or even the worst.”

“Lucifer,” he guesses.

“Him, too,” she nods. “And more. I’m just trying to make sure my ducks are in a row and everyone’s taken care of. When the time comes, you’ll get an email that’s set to be delivered to you automatically if I don’t reset it each week. When you get it, you’ll know. And you’ll be okay.” She places her hands on his shoulders, and nods at the key in his hand. “It’s to a locker in a bus station. Anything I can provide to help you in the future is in that locker.”


“What?” she asks in confusion, brows creasing in confusion.

“You said, ‘when the time comes.’ You mean, ‘if,’ though, right?”

He seems so hopeful, but she can’t let him count on an impossibility. “I’ll fight like hell, kid, but the odds are almost nil in my favor. I’m just preparing for the likelihood.”

Shawn suddenly hugs her, shocking her with the sudden affection, especially given how standoffish he’d been when she first showed up on his doorstep.

Something presses info her own hand, causing Tabitha to curiously pull back so she can look. A micro USB drive lays nestled in her palm.

“You’re going to get through this,” Shawn insists. “And go back to hunting just like before. Just like Ember and me. And I want you to have that. Keep it with you at all times but keep it hidden. If you ever get into trouble, it can be your Get Out of Jail Free card.”

Shaking her head at his youthful insistence in having faith, Tabitha relents, “Okay, kid. Okay.”

But as she gathers her things and turns to leave, Tabitha finds herself more afraid of walking out the door and giving up on Castiel than she is of facing the Horsemen and Lucifer together.

But how can she stay when there seems to be no hope left?

A/N: This is a lot shorter chapter than a lot of my previous ones, but I wanted to get something out to prove to you all that I have begun writing again. And this was kind of a transition chapter that was never intended to be very long anyway. Think of it as an interlude before the big push to the finale of part 2. ‘Cause it’s coming! I only have two more episodes to cover before the finale of season 5 and my second part. Then, on to the 3rd part!

Also, so so so so so sorry! Long time no write, huh? I can’t believe it’s been more than two months already! Wow!

Well, in the two months that went by, a lot happened for me. I was working for a family friend helping to manage one of her motels in a tourist town nearby. I’d never really done hospitality work before, but learned quickly. By my second day on the job she had me already training the new employees! Yikes! But I learned a lot and realized I thoroughly enjoyed the work. But wow, they say you never really know someone until you work for or with them. And jeez, this family friend of ours turned out to be a HUGE b*tch. I’m talking capital letters.

We’d never seen that side of her before, and I was completely blown away. It got so bad working for her, and I got so disgusted with the way she treats employees (especially my sweet housekeeping staff that I tried very hard to protect from her wrath so they wouldn’t quit on me) that I ended up giving my 2 week notice and leaving that job. It got a few of my housekeepers through their work period and them back to college before I left at least. But that was about all the longer I could stand with her.

But the good news is, after I gave my notice, I decided to look around in the bigger town nearby for similar work, and applied to 3 of the nicer hotels that caught my eye, and I ended up with 4 job offers. Still not quite sure how that worked out, lol, but I ended up taking what I’m hoping will be the best offer. And I still have standing offers to take any of the others if it doesn’t work out. So we’ll see. Just started the new one.

I’m hoping to continue working now more like 4, or maybe even 5 days a week to keep a little more of my time free. (And yes, writing is on my agenda) I had been working 6 days a week this summer, and when you’re working for a real witch, it really takes its toll being around someone like that for so many hours.

But I just thought I’d share a little bit of what I’ve been up to so you didn’t think I’d just given up on this story. I’d just been so swamped with work and so mentally exhausted from dealing with someone like that day in and day out. I just had nothing left mentally to devote to writing. And since I gave my notice, I’m much happier! And not so exhausted now that it’s over.

So, I just wanted to offer my profound thanks and gratitude to everyone for hanging with me and for continuing to read (and often reread) my story even when I was on a little hiatus. You all completely humble and amaze me with your kindness and thoughtful reviews. Thank you all a million.

Now, hopefully it won’t be so long for the next installment!


Chapter 17: Dum Spiro, Spero


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