This takes place during season 5, probably sometime between 5.08/Changing Channels and 5.09/The Real Ghostbusters. A couple ideas have popped into my head watching the past few episodes and won't go away, so I figured I might as well go ahead and write them down (but, yes, River of Dreams and On My Own are still in progress as well).

Both Winchester brothers as well as Castiel will be involved, at the moment I'm just debating who gets point-of-view when. Some bits from my story Children of Man may be referenced offhand, but it shouldn't be necessary to read that first. Although if you want to, feel free.

And in case anyone was wondering, Supernatural isn't mine.

* * * * *

"It's a beautiful day," Dean announced, swinging the motel room door shut behind him and flinging himself down on the first bed.

Sam gave him dubious look and then glanced out the window, staring pointedly at the clouded gray sky. "Uh…yeah. Sure."

"You're just jealous because she liked me better." The lovely Miss Nina Roberts, journalism student by day, waitress at Lucky's Pizza Parlor by night, with curves that—

"I think she likes having her apartment poltergeist-free," Sam interrupted. "You just took advantage of the situation."

"I would never!" Okay, so he might, or at least he'd been known to use that kind of situation to give himself a little glamor, but it wasn't like he hadn't really killed the thing. It was totally legit glamor. He caught Sam's eye roll and dug one of the pillows out from under his head to fling at his no-fun-is-good-fun brother. "Definitely jealous."

Sam rolled his eyes again. "Dean, I'm kind of busy here."

"Yeah, that computer been keeping you…stimulated? All that, you know, processor speed, and megabytes? You know, you ought to be careful. With all the crap you've been catching lately there's probably some vir—" Sam flung the pillow back at him, and he caught it easily. "So did you find another hunt, or what?" They'd sort of stumbled into this one by accident after leaving Bobby's last week, but Sam was always keeping an eye out for other possibilities. Well, he was too, but given that Sam claimed the computer most of the time, he tended to be the one that found that hunts that weren't totally local. He snorted to himself. With the angels—Cas excepted, of course—being their normal dick-ish selves, the best thing the two of them could do was keep moving.

"Maybe." Sam got to his feet, rolling his shoulders and indicating the computer. "Check this out."

Dean put the pillow aside and moved to take the seat that Sam had vacated. "Seriously?" he had to ask, as he caught the article title.

Sam's back popped as he stretched for the ceiling. "What? I am serious."

He didn't think Sam had managed to get his brains rattled keeping that poltergeist distracted while he'd dug up the remains, but maybe he'd missed something. He twisted to look up at his brother. "Sam, Bigfoot is a hoax."

"Huh?" Sam relaxed his arms and stared at him for a moment before leaning down to look over his shoulder. "No, not that one. The next article down."

"Oh." He'd known that. "Let's see…'Five unidentified hikers found.' What, did the dudes forget their names?"

"Keep reading."

He scanned down a few more lines and then winced. "'According to a reputable source in the local morgue, the authorities are attempting to identify the hikers by dental records, as all the flesh appears to have been stripped from their bodies.' Ouch. Okay, that's a little weird. You really think there's a hunt there?"

"Maybe. I mean, the article in the regular town newspaper doesn't say much beyond the fact that the bodies were found a few miles outside of town two days ago and that they're attempting to identify them using dental records due to 'extreme skin deterioration.' But according to this," he tapped the screen lightly, "aside from the missing skin—not missing muscle, not missing fat, just skin, and they were dressed when they were found—they were arranged in a specific pattern with symbols painted on the rocks they were lying on and petals from out of season flowers scattered around. That sounds pretty damn ritualistic to me."

Dean checked the title of the page. "Yeah, and tabloids never make shit up. Bigfoot rated higher than this, Sammy."

Sam shook his head. "They were skinned, Dean. Even forgetting about what the tabloid had to say, I can't think of too much that could, or would, strip a person of just their skin and leave the rest intact. I mean, an animal sure as hell wouldn't."

"Skin walker?" Dean suggested after a moment. Not that he'd ever heard of one actually skinning a person, but it made sense in a sort of twisted way. And God knew skin walkers weren't exactly among the most rational creatures they'd ever run into.

"That was my first thought," Sam agreed. "I mean, usually they just imitate a person, but maybe this one is a little more messed up than the rest. Or it could be something else—I mean, five people who everyone seems to agree were killed and skinned all at the same time? That's kind of a stretch for one guy."

"Point," Dean had to admit. "And if this site is even partially correct about how they were found…a witch, maybe?" He made a face and reminded himself that he'd probably be dead of unnatural causes long before he was too old to eat bacon cheeseburgers. "Man, I am so sick of witches."

"Could be, I guess. My next guess, after skin walker, was demonic activity. They've got rituals too."

"Huh. Or it could be just your everyday lunatic." He indicated the computer screen. "That idea is coming straight from a 'confidential source within the police department,' according to this." Of course, the police weren't exactly known for their stellar observational abilities, at least not when their cases involved he and Sam's line of work.

"I guess it could be." Sam frowned. "You don't think it's worth checking out?"

Dean shrugged, wondering if this was part of the whole 'let me grow up' thing before deciding that that was just dumb. Sam had been tracking down the majority of their hunts even before he went to hell. Of course, the fact that it was dumb didn't necessarily mean that that wasn't what Sam was thinking, but.... "Well, it's not like I had any other plans for the rest of the week. We might as well spend a few days in—" He scrolled up to check the city listed on the web page. "In middle-of-nowhere North Dakota. Dude, the next time you start looking for a hunt, could you limit your search to, I don't know, Vegas? New York City? Anywhere with a population of more than two thousand?"

Sam snorted. "If anything ever showed up in Vegas, there'd be fifty hunters there the next morning fighting over who got to stay and kill the thing. Anything supernatural that turns up there probably leaves immediately in self-defense."

That might be true, but Dean still found it annoying. "I guess we're off to North Dakota, then. Remind me to pick up a few magazines before we leave civilization."

Sam rolled his eyes. "You want to stay here tonight and leave tomorrow morning?"

With a shake of his head, Dean looked out the motel window. Still the same ugly gray sky that had been hanging over them for the past three or four days. "Might as well head out now; there's still plenty of daylight left. You're driving." He needed to get some sleep.