Title: To-may-to, To-mah-to

Author: C Cawthorne

Rating: PG-13 (a little swearing)

Author's Notes: Written for tigriswolf (tigriswolf./) through the SPN Summer Gen challenge (community./spnsummergen/). The challenge was to write a conversation between Agent Henrickson and John Winchester while both are still alive (no ghosts, ouiji boards, etc., allowed). Characters from Supernatural are owned, of course, by Kripke. The rest is mine (ok, no, the town is real too...)

I still can't believe I drew this assignment.

"Hey, Henrickson, you're a rock climber, right? Good. Pack your bags."

Bishop, California. Population just north of 3,750. Two percent of that's African American. Do the math, and you'll see just how much I stick out here. I'm okay in the town, where I can play at being some yuppy weekend warrior here to climb White Mountain Peak. But if I go out to Tom's Place, population all of twenty? Or I try to get a closer look at that compound out near Crowley Lake? Might as well just shout out FBI over a loudspeaker and get it over with.

I swear, this "test the rookie" crap better be over after this. Maybe they think I won't bring back anything useful on Krister and his pack of brainwashed disciples, but that's just because they don't know who the hell I am. Once I'm on the hunt I don't back down. They'll learn.

What I've found out so far is going to surprise the guys who sent me here. They figured it was your run-of-the-mill apocalypse cult, its leader safely cocooned in the embrace of his fanatics. Well, the Crowley compound may be fenced in, but that doesn't mean we can't get access to the holy man. Krister must not be certified wacko paranoid yet, because he definitely takes little holidays away from the flock, at least once out to a town along the coast. Some of his top men roam further. It's only the sheep that don't have a chance to stray of the pasture. Once they go in, they don't come out.

I'm pretty sure they're stockpiling weapons along with that food they keep getting deliveries of by the truckload, and that's the reason I'm sitting here in this crappy saloon with its wanna-be wild wild west theme, watching some stupid National Geographic documentary about giraffes. I'm waiting for this big ex-Marine name of John Winchester to walk into this bar like he's done the last few nights. He's playing at being a tourist, but he's been meeting with Wayne Gilmore, Krister's second-in-command. Or head priest, or whatever the hell title Gilmore's taken on. You just know a former used car salesman is gonna give himself some kind of "bow down and worship me" honorific.

It's Gilmore who's been reaching out, making inquires among the various groups of survivalist nuts this country seems to breed. The only progress he's made so far -– at least, that we know of -– is bringing himself to our attention. He's been throwing his net wide, but apparently even the white-supremacist scumbags don't want to mess with a religious zealot like Krister, because as far as we can tell they haven't been sharing their contacts. I don't know what it is about the guy that scares them off, but whatever it is it can't be good. Problem is, I can't get in there to figure it out, and it's not like his lollipops-and-rainbows preaching gives me any clue.

And this John Winchester guy . . . I can't get a handle on who he is either. Dead wife, no family except for two sons he's been dragging around the country since the oldest was all of four, staying in cheap hotels and rental houses. I don't know exactly what his shtick is, but its some sort of survivalist paranoia, which means he knows how to get the guns Krister wants.

And here he is, casing the joint before he's even halfway through the door. Makes sure it's safe before he crosses to the far side of the room and sits at the one part of the bar where he can put his back to a wall. Puts him near the back door, too. Guess it's time for me to get a refill.

"'Nother beer." Sliding onto a nearby barstool, I give Winchester a nod. It takes him a while to nod back, but hell, I'm a yuppy rock climber. I'm not going to notice him giving me the once-over. "You here to try the Peak?"

He snorts and looks at me for a moment, and after a pause he grunts "trout fishing" and starts watching that damned giraffe documentary.

"I hear that's pretty good here. Maybe I'll give it a shot." I take a drink, then look at him again. "So where're you from?"

It takes a moment for those dark eyes to find me again. "Idaho," he finally says, and once again looks back at that television.

"Huh. Boise?" I ask, though I know he's from Kansas.

"Close enough," he says, not even taking his eyes from the screen, where a lion's looking interested in eating a baby giraffe for breakfast.

"This your first time out here?" I continue. I know he's not going to leave before Gilmore gets here, which gives me leeway to annoy him enough to talk without being in danger of pissing him off so much that he leaves.

"No," he says curtly, annoyance flashing in his eyes. "You?"

"Yeh," I answer, flashing a smile even though I'm pretty sure he's packing heat. It was the way his jacket shifted when he moved that gave it away, and knowing that doesn't exactly make my night. "Needed a new challenge. Heard a lot about the peaks here."

"Uh huh." He sounded skeptical. "Where're you from? Illinois?"

Hell, he's good. "Chicago. You've got a thing with accents?"

Winchester's gaze narrows a bit. "Biggest field office in that area. So what do you want?"

What the hell? How did he figure that out? "I'm not sure what you–-"

"Drop the act. You're a fed. I'd guess FBI; you're too white-collar for ATF."

"And who are you with?" I shoot back, though I doubt he's going to tell me. "Brotherhood? Saxon?"

He rolls his eyes. "Not a chance in hell. Enjoy your mountain climbing."

Winchester starts to get up, and since my cover's blown I've got nothing to lose. "Don't tell me you're looking to Krister to save your sorry soul."

The man laughs. It sounds more like a cough than a real laugh, though, and I can see the scorn in his gaze. "You've got no idea what Krister is, do you?"

"Why don't you tell me? What line is he feeding you that's got you so interested?" He doesn't look like the type to back away from a challenge; maybe I can reel him in that way.

"You ever track his movements when he leaves that ranch?" Winchester asks, his own challenge dripping from every syllable. "See where he goes, what he does?"

"Not yet," I admit, though if I have anything to do with it someone will get the assignment (though it better not be me).

"So you don't know a thing, huh?" he mocks. "Don't know why that generic peace and harmony bullshit reels them in so nice and easy? Don't know why they never leave? Don't know what he does to relax on those recruiting runs?"

I really don't like where this is going. "Why don't you tell me?"

"You want me to do your job for you?" Winchester smirks and shakes his head. "Do it yourself. Word of warning, though. Go into that compound while he's there, everyone's gonna drink the Kool-Aid guaranteed, and they'll take a few of you along for the ride. He's got one hell of a hold on them."

He tosses back the rest of his beer as I'm trying to figure out just how serious he is. Problem is, you can never tell with these fanatic types, no matter what flavor they are. "What kind of deal are you making with Gilmore?" I ask as he takes a step away.

"No deal at all," he answers with what would be a charming smile, except that it turns a bit feral at the end, like a wolf sizing up the competition. "Good hunting."

He's five feet away by the time I'm on my feet; for a big man, John Winchester moves fast. He glances back once and I point to my eyes, then him. He ignores me and is out the door. There's no point in following –- he's not going to tell me anything else and is probably on his way to warn Gilmore, or even Krister –- but I get up to follow anyway, leaving my beer at the bar. My surveillance is well and truly screwed, but I'm not just going to roll over and take it.

Winchester's already started up that massive black truck of his and is pulling out onto the street. As soon as he sees me getting into my car he peels out, turning down the road that will take him away from the away from the compound. Perfect. Maybe he'll double back once he gets out of town and realizes I'm not behind him, but it doesn't matter. I just don't want him warning Gilmore. I want to talk to that man while I can.

And there he is now, Mr. Ex-car dealer, getting out of his Sebring and going into that bar looking for Winchester. Time to play dumb tourist again, chat him up, try to figure out what he's in the market for before he knows who I am.

Like I said before, once I'm on the trail, I don't back down.