The first time John meets the Trickster is before he has any idea about the supernatural at all.

He and Dean are picking up Mary and the baby from the hospital. When they get there she's already wearing her own clothes and the baby is bundled up in her arms. A doctor is talking to her and when John arrives he glances at John first and then his eyes shift to look at Dean.

There's something not quite right about the way he looks at Dean, too long and too intense – like he's seeing something more than a three year old kid. John almost wants to push Dean behind him, but that's just stupid. He's just imagining things.

Then the doc turns back to Mary. "You take care of that kid," he says and looks down at the baby. And if there was something off in the look he gave Dean, it was nothing at all compared to how he looks at the baby. It's not like John can even say what's wrong about it, not really. He just knows that for a moment he's afraid. Afraid for the baby. Really, truly afraid.

And then before John has time to do anything at all, the doc gives Mary one more smile before he leaves.

It's not until years later – when he's learned too much about things that shouldn't exist – that he realises that there was a good reason to be afraid. And he'll never admit it to anyone, not even himself really, but sometimes he wishes the Trickster had gone through with it.

The next time, well he still doesn't know anything about tricksters and he doesn't remember ever seeing the guy before. It's not like there's anything that really stands out about him.

It's too fucking hot in a diner in the middle of nowhere with no decent air conditioning and Sammy won't stop crying. Even Dean's given up, and usually Dean's the one who always gets a laugh from little Sammy. He's not even two yet, but he already adores his big brother.

The waitress takes their order and John tries to look apologetic. Judging by the pinched look on her face and the annoyed glance at Sammy, she's not really buying it. Well, what the fuck ever, it isn't his fault they don't want to get decent AC in there. If it wasn't so damn hot then Sammy would stay quiet.

Maybe food will help. He's pretty sure the kid's hungry too. They've been on the road a bit longer than he'd meant, but this was the first place to stop. Dean hasn't complained though, but he rarely does, not on his own behalf. Still too quiet and by now John's not too sure if that's ever gonna change.

But it turns out the food won't do much good since Sammy's refusing to eat, just keeps on wailing away where he's sitting next to Dean, in the booth across from John. And Dean's just picking at his food too, because when Sammy isn't eating…

John stuffs some food into his own mouth, he's pretty sure it ain't worth the money he paid for it. But in this heat it hardly matters anyway, he doesn't feel much like eating either.

A short guy standing over at the counter walks over. He's been looking at them for awhile and John's not sure what that's about, but most of the people there have been giving them annoyed looks so he hasn't given it that much thought.

"Problems with the little guy?" He asks as he stops next to their table.

John half glares at him, like it isn't pretty damn obvious by now. "Too hot," he offers in the way of explanation and the guy nods like that really does explain everything. It pretty much does.

"Mind if I…" the guy asks, with a small nod towards Sammy. John's hand twitches a bit and he wishes it wasn't too hot to wear a jacket. No jacket means no gun.

"Go ahead," he tells the guy. "Not that it'll do you any good." John doesn't let strangers around the boys too much, and not without him around. But it's in the middle of a diner in broad daylight and he doesn't think the guy is about to do anything stupid.

John shifts casually into a position where he'll have easier access to the knife stuck in his boot. He's not stupid either.

The guy crouches down and looks past Dean at Sammy – and John can see how Dean has to stop himself from cringing, pulling as far away as possible.

"Hey, Sammy," he says and John's hand twitches again. Except he probably overheard them earlier. Right.

Sammy actually stops his wailing long enough to look at the new person. He sniffles a bit and finally manages a small "who're you?" Sammy isn't old enough to put together anything too long, not anything that'd sound like a real sentence anyway. But questions – question's he's good at.

Out of all things, John should have known Sam's curiosity would be the one thing to get through to him.

The guy grins bright enough that John damn near feels like smiling back, he scowls at them instead. "Loki," he tells Sammy and winks.

Sammy giggles at him.

"How about I give these to you brother," the guy – Loki (and that can't be his name) – says and pulls out two chocolate bars out of somewhere. "And you can have one, once you've finished your dinner."

He glances at John, like it isn't a bit too late to ask for permission now. John doesn't bribe his boys into behaving, breeds bad habits that sort of thing. But this isn't coming from him and he's tired of having to listen to Sammy crying through the day, and it'll get worse if the kid doesn't eat anything. He gives a small nod.

Dean looks up at John for permission before taking the offered candy. "Go ahead, son," he says.

Dean doesn't quite look at the guy as he mumbles "thank you," but there's a very small smile on his lips and John's pretty sure Dean's happy enough about the sweets. Or maybe he's just happy that Sam seems to have calmed down, sometimes John just can't tell with that boy.

"My pleasure," Loki tells Dean with an oddly gentle smile – it seems out of place on him somehow. "Take care of him, will ya?"

Dean finally looks straight at him and nods, a serious look on his face. It should look funny on a kid Dean's age, but there's nothing funny about it at all from where John's sitting.

They look at each other for a moment, Dean and the stranger. John feels like he should interrupt somehow, like there's too much going on here that he's not getting – which is kinda ridiculous really.

Sammy tugs at Dean's sleeve and as Dean looks over at his brother Loki stands back up. With a brief nod at John he's gone.

The next time John sees Bobby he asks about the name, just in case.

The third time John meets Loki he knows all there is to know about tricksters.

He presses the tip of the bloodied stake a bit harder against Loki's chest. Loki can't exactly turn his head downward, what with John's arm against his throat pressing him into the wall, but his eyes still flick down like he can see where the weapon is touching him.

"What do you want with us?" John growls at him.

"There really isn't any need for all the dramatics," Loki says with a weak grin. "Did you consider asking nicely." He seems to consider that for the briefest of moments. "Well, maybe a nice dinner first to get me in the mood."

If both of his hands weren't occupied, John would consider punching him. As it is he only growls at him instead. If it wasn't for the information he wants, John would have no problems pushing the stake all the way in.

"Fine," Loki sighs. "Just put that thing away, and I'll tell you."

John's only response is to shove him a bit harder against the wall.

Loki rolls his eyes. "Come on Johnny-boy, you're hurting my feelings." His face settles into something that probably passes for serious for this guy. "I haven't harmed any of you yet and I can't tell you anything if I'm dead."

John glares at him and slowly takes a step back. He needs to know.

Loki laughs and snaps his fingers. John curses himself for even considering giving him a chance. He's about to shove that stake right through the son of a bitch's heart, but his fingers are clutching empty air.

Loki falls down into the ridiculously puffy couch behind him. "Sit down."

John glares at him before he takes a look around. It looks like they've ended up in an apartment – one belonging to someone with horrible taste maybe, but otherwise normal.

Also, except for the couch there isn't anywhere to sit. Not that John was planning on doing it anyway. "No thanks," he bites out.

"Come on Johnny-boy," Loki says with a smirk that promises nothing good and pats the couch next to him. "Indulge me."

John really wants to punch him. Hell, he really wants that stake back, because he'd be more than happy to kill Loki right about now, information be damned. John kills monsters, he doesn't fucking well sit around having nice little chats with them.

They stare at each other quietly for a while, a lazy smirk stretching Loki's lips and his eyes glittering with a dark mischief. John has the feeling that Loki is more than ready to just wait him out.

Wordlessly John sits down on the other side of the couch.

"So what did you wanna know," Loki asks.

"Why the hell do you keep showing up?"

"Oh, that…" Loki's grin dims a bit. He snaps himself a bar of chocolate and looks at it for longer than it really requires. "Sammy of course, what else? Not all of us like where he's headed Johnny-boy. Don't like it at all."

He takes a bite out of the chocolate morosely. John's faintly surprised at the answer, he's never had much reason to think about what the monsters feel about things.

"You were there to kill him," John says once he puts two and two together.

Loki shrugs. "Children… not my style." So, Sam is only alive because a monster felt bad about killing babies. "She knew, your Mary," Loki adds before he concentrates on his candy and doesn't look like he's going to say anything more.

There's about a dozen answers John wants to demand from him right then, like what exactly Mary knew. But there's always one thing more important than anything else.

"What do you know about Sam?"

Loki smirks at him in a way that makes John want to squirm – he doesn't of course – and whatever the momentary gloom Loki'd been feeling there wasn't a trace of it now. "Now Johnny-boy, that's gonna take a lot more than just dinner."

And maybe John knew all there is to know about tricksters, but maybe he should have learnt a bit more about Loki.