Chapter 16: Knocks Me Off My Feet

Tabitha's hands were unsteady as she gripped the edge of the table, turning to look back at the angel who seemed just as unsteady as she was. His clothes were rumpled and in disarray from where her hands had grasped at him. And his lips now slightly swollen as his mouth hung open, greedy breaths of air being drawn through his lips. Even his hair—normally a boyish and charmingly disarrayed look—was now a harried mess from her roaming hands.

Turning away from the sound of Dean's calling voice, he met her gaze, whispering in an unsteady voice, "I… That's what the pizza man did." He swallowed hard, his chest still heaving deeper than she'd ever seen the angel breathe. "Your brothers have not put the spirit to rest. Be careful," he suddenly told her.

"Tabitha! You all right?!"

Tabitha glanced again in the direction of her brother's voice, torn between confusion at Castiel's strange warning and her brother's unexpected presence. But when she turned back, Castiel was gone.

Springing up, she pushed down at her skirt and smoothed her blouse back into the waistband, calling out, "Be right there!"

Dean stepped around the last bookshelf just as she was bending down to pick up her forgotten shoes and the reading glasses.

"Were you talking to someone back here?"

She shook her head and tried to look puzzled as she carefully finger-combed her hair. "No. I was maybe singing or humming a bit to myself as I finished putting books away. But there wasn't anyone here." And no way was she copping to her brother that she'd been—what?—making out with an angel in a library? She wasn't even sure what the hell had just happened, and she wasn't about to tell her brother about her meetings with the angel now, although she had been previously considering coming clean to him about it.

Dean didn't look convinced, but shrugged it off. "Why the hell would you actually be playing librarian? And why haven't you been answering your phone? We were starting to get worried." And though his tone was gruff, Tabitha could indeed hear the worry beneath it.

Still barefoot, Tabitha walked to the front of the library and fished out her phone from her purse. There were several missed calls from both of her brothers, several more texts from Shawn, and even a missed call from him.

"I didn't realize it," she mumbled to her brother as she fired off a message to Shawn. They'd been texting back and forth through the day. His twenty-first birthday was the following day, and Tabitha had been trying to explain to him that she couldn't get away from what she was working on to meet him in Boston and take him for a drink like she'd promised, but that she'd still do it in a few days. But Shawn wasn't accepting the answer and was badgering her for her location, saying he'd come to her.

It'll be a couple of days late, but I promise I'll still take you for a drink.

He texted back almost immediately. We're drinking. U promised. Can't back out.

She rolled her eyes and shoved her phone back into her purse, arranging it with her other things and slipping her heels back on.

"What's going on with you?" Dean asked. "You're acting all squirrely again and won't look at me."

Ignoring the question, Tabitha started towards the entrance of the library, shutting off the lights and locking the doors as she asked him instead. "So it's done? You guys put Barry to rest?"

Dean caught up with her as she started down the hallway, frowning at her before he finally answered. "Yeah. It's done.

"You're sure?" she pressed, feeling uneasy about Castiel's parting warning.

"Yeah. Of course I'm sure. Not my first barbecue. Now we can finally take off out of this town tomorrow. I can't wait."

Tabitha looked curiously at her brother as they walked, surprised by his emphatic desire to leave. He didn't usually care one way or the other about staying somewhere if they didn't have another case to work on. "I didn't realize this town was that bad in your memory. It was the first time we met Cort, remember? You practically idolized him. About as much as you idolized Dad."

Dean frowned even more, glancing at her before he muttered, "I just want to get out of this town." He shoved his hands into his coat pockets. "And I'd rather forget about Cort."

Tabitha crossed her arms as she stared at Dean, surprised by his harsh tone. "What's that supposed to mean? Did you run into Cort sometime since Sam and I left to go to college? Did something happen that I don't know about?"

He shrugged as if it didn't matter, but the tenseness of his shoulders said otherwise. "Saw him once in New Orleans right before Sam came back to hunting." Throwing her a suspicious look, he suddenly demanded, "Why? Have you seen him since you and Sam left?"

She shook her head. "No. Not in years. Why, Dean? What's going on?"

"Nothing. Just forget about it," he insisted with a wave of his hand. "What were you doing back there in that library anyway that you didn't hear your phone ringing?"

"Nothing," she quickly insisted, turning away, afraid that her face might give her away. "I was just putting books away."

They continued through the darkened and silent hallways without another word. Both lost in their thoughts.

Tabitha glanced down a hallway as they went, remembering herself as a no more than a kid really, kissing and groping Jake Mahoney in an alcove like the hormone-crazed teenagers they'd been. And then gently touching her lips as she recalled the much different kiss she'd just received. A kiss that stirred her more than all the kissing and make-outs with Jake had when she'd been that hormone-fueled teenager.

As she stepped out into the night air, her thoughts lingered on the boy she had understood only too well as a teenager, the man she had been crazy about as a teenager but would only understand when she finally became a woman, and the angel she wasn't sure she would ever fully understand if she lived a hundred years. Thoughts and memories of the boy, the man, and the angel filled her mind.

~*S~*U~*P~*E~*R~*N~*A~*T~*U~*A~*L~*

"I am so gonna kick your ass the next time I see you, Jake Mahoney," Tabitha growled to herself, stepping back to examine her hard work.

Her fingers were pruney from the soap and water in her bucket, and her knuckles torn from where they continued to scrape against the wooden sign of the Pine Motel. But the graffiti still wasn't coming off.

She roughly shoved the motel towel back into the bucket she'd stolen from the maintenance closet of the motel, water sloshing out of the bucket at her feet. But she picked up the towel and attacked the sign once more, trying to wash away the sight of a white, spray-painted heart, with the names Jake and Tabitha painted over the sign of the motel. She had to wash the evidence away before her brothers saw it and gave her hell, or worse yet, before their father got back and saw it.

Even though she was 16 and a sophomore in high school, their father didn't think she should be spending time with boys. That they were only trouble.

She scrubbed harder at the stupid heart and idiot Jake's name, thinking to herself that one stupid boy didn't prove her father right. But all the same, she wanted to erase the graffiti he'd painted, the jerk stupidly thinking it might impress her after what he'd pulled. She was hoping it might erase the memory of his girlfriend slapping her at lunch that day.

Her father might think she didn't understand boys, but she did. She knew he had been lying to her and making out with her just because she was pretty and the new girl. She was the shiny new toy he'd lose interest in and then go back to his volleyball-star girlfriend.

Tabitha kicked the bucket of soapy water, knocking it over in frustration as the spray-painted image only faded a little, having soaked into the wood too deep to completely erase. "Ugh!" she shouted. "I could've been a star at volleyball, or basketball, or something else if we didn't move all the time and I could actually join a team!"

She threw her towel down and angrily stomped a foot, promising herself that she'd punch Jake in the jaw the next time she saw him, and do more than grab his stupid girlfriend by the hair and just threaten to cut it off like she'd done after Kristie had slapped her at lunch. It hadn't been Tabitha's fault. She was new at the school; she didn't know Jake already had a girlfriend. The jerk hadn't told her that. And Kristie should have known her boyfriend was slutty and blamed him, not her.

Her head jerked up as she heard the loud roar of a motorcycle slow down behind her, the rider pausing to turn into the parking lot of the motel. Even in the dark, Tabitha was certain she saw his dark helmet turn and pause on her before he sped up a bit and pulled up to the office of the motel.

Stepping around the now forgotten sign, Tabitha peeked around the edge to see a tall, well-built man step off the gleaming black motorcycle, resting it on the kickstand as he turned away from the office, his unseen face looking towards her for just a moment before he turned and walked into the office, pulling his helmet off as he walked away.

Shaking the encounter off, Tabitha grabbed her stolen items, jogging back to the maintenance room to put them away before anyone noticed their absence.

Her skilled fingers had just twisted the deadbolt back into place with her lock-pick when she heard a voice behind her.

"You're pretty good with a lock-pick set, kid."

With a gasp, Tabitha sprang to her feet, hiding the lock-picks behind her back as she looked up at a tall man with dark colored hair. From the heavy black leather coat and helmet under his arm, it was the same mysterious motorcycle rider that had just arrived.

He pushed back the loose waves that had fallen in front of his eyes, grinning devilishly as a light twinkled in his brown eyes. Or maybe it was just one of the security lights of the motel?

"Why bother hiding it now?" he asked her, his deep southern voice sweet and slow like molasses, and the grin not leaving his dimpled face as he leaned casually against the side of the motel. "I already saw you break into that utility room and lock it back up again. B and E is pretty advanced for a kid like you." He wasn't a very old man, but older than Tabitha. Somewhere in his low to mid-twenties she figured.

Her eyes narrowed as she stood taller and squared her shoulders, wishing now that she had more on than the short-cropped tank top with Tinker Bell on it. Acutely aware that part of her stomach was exposed between it and the rolled up waist of her pajama pants.

"You try to turn me in, and I'll deny I was ever near that room. And besides, nothing's missing," she defiantly pointed out.

He laughed at that. The dimples in his cheeks flashing in an almost boyish manner with his mirth. "Didn't say I was gonna turn you in, kid. Just said you shouldn't bother hiding it after I saw you."

Not relaxing in the slightest at his assurance that she wasn't in trouble, she pointed a finger at him and told him, "I'm not a kid!"

His eyes suddenly trailed up and down her. "You're not much of one anymore," he agreed. And then he stepped past her, ruffling her loose hair as he said, "Night, kid."

She huffed after him, but watched him go, tracking his movements as he pushed his bike to his room and then grabbed the saddlebags and a duffle bag off the back of his motorcycle before he walked into his room.

She wasn't spying, not really—the room she shared with her brothers was just down past his after all—she just happened to stroll past his room as he held the door open and sprinkled something from a mason jar across the doorway of his room.

Slowing down, she saw that it looked like a red powder he was lining the doorway with. The man glanced up, his eyes still amused and laughing as he told her, "Red brick dust. I'm a bit eccentric." And then he laughed more at the way she wrinkled her nose, closing the doors but not completely shutting out the laughter she could still hear coming from him through the wood barrier.

Huffing, she walked quickly back to her own room, wondering if Dean was back from his "social engagement" yet.

Over the next several days, Tabitha watched the man with the sandy colored hair and the laughing eyes. And strangely enough, she knew that even as she tried to discreetly watch and study him, that he was very aware of her covert investigation of him.

One day, she followed him as he walked from the motel to the courthouse, going inside and not coming out for several hours, a folder of papers in his hand when he did exit. She continued to trail him, following him back to the motel where he started up his motorcycle and drove away.

Seeing her chance—and knowing she would hear the loud motorcycle drive back to the motel—she hurried to the man's door, and careful that no one was watching, picked the lock to let herself in. Something didn't sit right with her about the man. He didn't seem like a mere tourist or just a random passerby through town. She wanted to get a better look at what this guy was all about. And luckily, Dean was on another social outing, and Sam was busily working on homework, still trying to live the façade of a normal kid. Tabitha let him have his dreams, but had begun to accept that she probably wasn't destined for a normal life herself, and had already begun letting those dreams slip away. At least her brothers' activities left her alone to check out the stranger.

The door opened under her practiced hand, and she stepped carefully over the red dust lining the threshold of the doorway, careful not to leave any trace of disturbance. As she looked around the room, she was astonished at the sight, and felt assured in her suspicions of the strange man.

Computer printed out pages, articles, and pictures lined the walls of the room. Looking very much like what her father did when he was on a hunt. Question was, just what kind of trouble was this guy hunting here? She wondered to herself if he was some kind of scam artist.

As she edged around the room, she skimmed through all the pages and articles, paying closer attention to the scrawling notes the man had scribbled in the margins.

"What'you doing in here, girl?"

Jumping and spinning around, Tabitha turned to face the man, her hand automatically reaching into her back pocket for her switchblade and holding it out warningly towards the man.

"Hold on there, ma chére, no cause for that," he slowly told her, pushing the door gently closed behind him. "I'm just asking what you're doing here."

"What's all this?" she demanded, pointing at the walls. "What are you up to?"

"Just doing a bit of research. I'm a writer you see," he easily told her. But she knew a lie when she heard one.

"I don't believe you. You're up to something," she accused.

He smiled and leaned back against the closed door, his hands folded behind him. "Says the girl who broke into my room. Pretty good with the lock-picks, aren't you, chérie. Knew you wouldn't be able to help yourself when I left. Looks like I was right. So the question still is, what are you doing in my room?" he spoke the words slowly and carefully, seeming to stress the question with his careful enunciation and slight loss of his accent.

"I knew you were acting strange and up to something," she said simply. "I want to know what."

He took a few steps towards her. "Told you."

She held her blade up warningly at his advance, and he stopped, holding his palms up towards her. "Don't come any closer. I'm not afraid to use this."

"No doubt. But you didn't come in here with any bad intentions towards me," he told her, that infuriating smug smile in place.

"How do you know?"

He turned slightly and pointed back at the red dust that was lined just inside the door. "Brick dust keeps anyone meaning me harm from crossing the line. You're curious about me, but I know you don't actually mean me harm."

She craned a bit to look around him. "That's just superstition," she tried to insist.

When she looked back at the man, she saw his gaze drift down, and she followed the gaze to see the charm on the necklace her father had given her had fallen outside of her t-shirt.

As a look of understanding crossed his face, the man drawled, "I'll be damned."

Her brow furrowed and she said without thinking, "You could be."

He suddenly grinned again as he replied, "You know a bit about superstition yourself, don't you girl?"

Tabitha carefully replaced the anti-possession charm under her t-shirt to hide it from his eyes. "I don't know what you mean. And I'm not a girl."

His lips tugged up a little more as he slowly stepped forward and used the toe of his heavy black boot to kick back the edge of his rug, revealing something drawn in white chalk underneath it. "Thought you was just a curious kid following me, but you know a bit, don't you?"

Glancing down, Tabitha stepped forward herself and kicked the rug back further, staring in shock at the Devil's Trap drawn beneath the rug, nearly identical to the one in the room she shared with her brothers.

"You're a hunter," she whispered, the pieces falling into place.

"Yup," he agreed. "You're a bit young to be one, though."

She looked up. "My father's a hunter," she automatically answered. Her knife had lowered to her side, but she suddenly lifted it, realizing she should still be suspicious. "Just because you're a hunter doesn't mean you're trustworthy."

"Good girl," he praised.

"I'm not a girl!" she snapped.

"Who's your father? Might know him," he continued, ignoring her outburst.

Pausing for a minute, she considered it, but finally relented, "John Winchester. I'm Tabitha."

He considered the name and told her, "Heard of him. Good hunter. Works alone I hear. But where is he? Haven't seen him in town."

"He's working a job. Be back any day," she quickly insisted.

Shrugging, he continued, "Didn't know he had a daughter. Two boys, too, by the looks of things." She stayed silent. "Knows Bobby Singer from what I hear," the man lazily continued in the silence. "I know Bobby as well, you know."

She gave him a pointed, questioning look, and he seemed to catch on, giving her a flourishing bow. "Name's Cort Delacroix," he told her. "You can call Bobby. Ask him about me. I'm not looking for any trouble with you, just here doing a job."

"What job?" she demanded.

"Not for you to worry about," he told her, one brow rising as he bit back a smile, seeming to find her anger amusing.

Finally, he turned and opened the door, gesturing her to go out it. "If you're not gonna drop that switchblade, perhaps you'd be more comfortable leaving, ma chére. Go give Bobby a call. He'll tell you I got no quarrel with a little slip of a girl."

She stomped past him, her knife still in her hand as she exited, spinning around on the concrete pathway outside the room to tell him, "I'm not a little girl." And then she stomped back to her room.

Over the next week, she continued to follow Cort, only this time, he'd quickly drop back and catch her, telling her to go back to the motel, although, occasionally allowing her to tag along after him when he researched. She had called Bobby about the man of course, and Bobby had assured her that he was a solid hunter. Though he had warned her that she should stay away until her father had returned. He'd even offered to come stay with them when she'd told him how long their father had been gone. But she'd assured Bobby that their father would be back any day.

Her brothers had found out about the hunter staying in the same motel as them as well, and while Sammy wasn't too interested in him, Dean often joined her in tagging along after Cort, although Tabitha did her best to leave him behind when she trailed after him, annoyed by all the questions Dean was always asking Cort.

Cort had even finally relented and explained the job to her one day. He explained that he'd heard a story from a man that practiced hoodoo in New Orleans, and that word had spread to that man about a family having been cursed by someone else with a grudge. A family that had suffered terrible luck and tragedies and had since moved north to Indiana trying to escape their poor fortune. Moved to Fairfax. And Cort was tracking them before the curse got stronger and started resulting in deaths.

Tabitha had studied the material Cort had dug up on the family and she had to agree that it seemed like the right one. They'd certainly suffered some horrible tragedies. Their business had been audited and penalized heavily by the IRS, then started on fire and the insurance had lapsed and not paid out on the damage, their home had been struck by lightning, also doing damage, and even the family dog had run away or disappeared.

"I can help you find the gris-gris bag, or talisman, or whatever it is you're looking for in that house," she insisted to Cort as she followed him from the library where they'd been researching, following him right to his motel room door.

He paused in the doorway, looking at her with a raised brow, but finally giving a resigned sigh and stepping back to allow her into his room.

"I'll go look for myself, ma chére," he told her. "The family got cursed years ago back in New Orleans. No telling where to look for the object that was cursed, or even what exactly the object could be. Could be gris-gris, could be mojo bag, could be some kind of rootwork, or even an amulet or talisman. You won't know what to look for. You don't know hoodoo like I do."

"I can find it," she insisted. "Besides, the family's housekeeper is almost always there, Mrs. Stevens rarely leaves home, and their two kids are home in the afternoons after school, too. How are you going to look around without being suspicious?"

"How are you?" he shot back, pacing around the room in an annoyed manner.

"Lucas goes to school with me. He's a year older, but I have a Chem class with him. I'll get him to invite me over to study at his house so I can look around," she told him.

Cort turned back to her with a sardonic look on his face. "That your plan, ma chére? Twist this boy 'round your finger and get him to write your name on some sign in town, too?"

She felt herself flush, but forced herself to steadily meet his eyes and tell him, "I'll get him to invite me over to study."

"I don't like this plan, chérie. What would your father say if he knew I even considered allowing it? Hell, if he even knew I'd allowed you to research it as much as you have?"

"I can do it," she insisted.

The next evening, she knocked on Cort's door, holding her hands behind her back as he opened the door.

He sighed, but allowed her in. "You really shouldn't be spending so much time in my room, chérie. What would your father say?"

She ignored the comment, turning to him as he shut the door, grinning and holding out one of her hands to drop something into his.

His brows shot up at the sight of the dark suede bag in his hand, carefully prying it open to peek inside. "You—you found the gris-gris bag?" he stuttered in shock.

"Yup," she proudly told him. "Spilled a bunch of lemonade on the couch, and as Lucas was cleaning it up, and I 'went to get cleaned up,' I looked around in the attic. And I found an old family chest, and that bag was under the lining of the lid, stuck in a little carved out hollow. Easy as pie."

He shook his head, clearly amazed at the ease she described. Tabitha followed him as he walked into the bathroom, dropping the gris-gris bag into the metal trashcan, and then pulling out the silver flask from the pocket inside his black leather coat. He poured some of the liquid into the trashcan, and then threw a lit match in after it. The pair silently watched as it burned, Cort opening the bathroom window to waft out the black smoke.

"That's it?" Tabitha asked, the disappointment showing in her voice.

"What you expect, chérie?" he laughed, setting the wastebasket in the bathtub and going back into the outer room.

"I dunno, something more," she admitted as she watched him pulling down the pages and pictures tacked to the wall.

"You done good work, ma chére. You can be proud of helping that family out," he told her.

"What are you doing?" she asked as she watched him, ignoring his compliment.

"Job's done," he told her. "Gotta head back to New Orleans and look for the next job."

She felt her heart drop as she watched. Somehow, she hadn't ever thought about what would happen when he was done with his case. Or for that matter, what might happen if her father had come back by the time he'd originally said he would.

"You're just leaving," she whispered.

Cort walked past her and tousled her hair affectionately. "New Orleans calls, ma chére, gotta heed her summons," he laughed again.

Tabitha didn't think, just acted, grabbing the flaps of Cort's leather jacket and pressing herself closer to him, using his coat to lift herself to her toes and pressing a desperate kiss to his lips. For a second—just a second—he responded, but then the pages fell from his hands as he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back until he held her at arm's length, a startled look on his face.

"What'you doing, Tabitha?" he demanded in a soft, unbelieving whisper, using her first name for the first time since they'd met.

"Kissing you," she told him, not understanding why he was pushing her away.

"Oh chérie," he whispered, almost apologetically. "This can't happen, ma chére, you're still a young girl. I'm too old for you."

"I'm sixteen-years-old," she insisted. "I'm not a girl."

Cort's thumbs rubbed soothingly against her shoulders as he held her away from him. "Still a girl, Tabitha," he said, using her name again and making her cringe at it. "I have five years on you. And maybe someday that might not be so much. But in your short time, that's a lifetime of difference. This old man has seen more than you can understand in those five years, too. Mostly, I'm a broken wreck of a man. You deserve more. Maybe not those poor lads the foolishly think painting a girl's name on a sign will impress her, but you deserve a man not ruined by his past and the things he's seen and done. You still have an innocence to your eye that can't comprehend the man I've had to become. You deserve a man that can kiss you without holding a part of himself back all the time out of fear of what you might see. And you deserve a man that can kiss you and make the world fade away. But I'm not the kind of man for a bright, innocent girl like you. You should stick to boys your own age."

He released her shoulders then, both of them studiously ignoring the tears building in Tabitha's eyes as he went to the door and held it open. "You should get back to your brothers, ma chére," he whispered.

She forced her head high as she walked past him, spinning once she reached the concrete pathway to face him one last time. "I'm not the little girl you think I am. I've seen and done more than you give me credit for. I've hunted with my dad. I know what happens and what sometimes has to be done." She glanced briefly away as she steeled herself and fought the gathering tears. "And someday I'll prove it to you."

~*S~*U~*P~*E~*R~*N~*A~*T~*U~*A~*L~*

Tabitha glanced at the sign in front of the Pines Motel as she drove her borrowed car back. The graffiti heart and its two names were indeed faded now, but she could still read what Jake had painted so long ago. She'd understood Jake and his interest in the new girl only too well, but she hadn't fallen for his attempts back then.

And she had spent the better part of a year trying to more fully understand Cort, forcing her father to take her out on more hunts with him and Dean to prove to herself—and to Cort—that she wasn't the naïve girl he took her for.

But he'd proven himself right, too. When she had seen him again almost a year later, she hadn't been the same girl that had pined after him when he'd disappeared on his motorcycle into the night. A year of hard hunting had taken away the last of the innocence that she'd had, and she was older than her seventeen years.

She hadn't seen Cort in the time that passed after their last run-in when she was 17, but she knew from some of the other hunters that he was still out there himself, and still lived in New Orleans, even according to what Dean had divulged. But she'd changed even more in the intervening ten years since she'd been 17. She'd seen and done things that had hardened her even more. Had finally struck out on her own and changed the path of her life. If only for a while. She wondered sometimes if Cort would even recognize the woman she now saw in the mirror looking back at her.

Her phone buzzed in her purse, indicating a text message, and Tabitha pulled it out to look at the latest message Shawn had sent her. Know where U R. Coming there 2morro night. U promised.

She sighed, but didn't answer, knowing that the current boy in her life wouldn't listen. She glanced once more at the Pines Motel sign. Jake may have been a boy from her past, but Shawn was the boy in her current life. And though she knew Shawn had some kind of crush on her, she couldn't muster feelings of that sort for him. She looked at his eyes and still saw the innocence in them. Much like Cort had commented to her when she'd been 16. In only a year's time, that innocence had been gone the next time he had looked into her eyes, or at least, mostly gone. But Cort, too, was now just a man from her past.

Pressing her fingertips gently to her lips, Tabitha thought about the kiss Castiel had given her in the library. She didn't know why he had kissed her, and she wasn't sure what to feel about it. She was almost afraid to let herself feel anything about it. Castiel wasn't human; he was an angel, she reminded herself, just as he had often reminded her. And while she'd more than thoroughly enjoyed the kiss—hell, even enthusiastically participated—she couldn't let herself get too caught up in it now that she had cooled down. For all she knew, it might have meant nothing to the angel other than trying to experience something he'd seen humans do.

The thought that it could mean something more than that was too frightening to contemplate. After the life she'd lived, how could she possibly open her heart up to the angel? He might not have innocence per se in his eyes, but he was a divine being. So far above a lowly mortal.

Still. Her fingers brushed across her lips again as her mind returned to that moment.

That kiss.

What had it meant?


Tabitha shuffled her feet and alternately paced around the Impala as she waited for her brothers to finally pack up their junk and meet her at the car. It was well after noon now, both of them having slept in until nearly then.

She'd tried to sleep as well, truly, she had, but like the previous nights, she just hadn't been able to close her eyes. The 15-mile run she'd taken all around town early that morning hadn't helped either. She'd hoped it would push her to exhaustion, but her mind was still filled with swirling thoughts and questions, leaving her muscles aching, but mind and body still wired.

"Would you put that damned thing out," Dean complained as he stepped around her and threw his bag into the trunk.

She turned to see Sam trailing behind their older brother, and both boys frowning at her.

Flicking the ash from the tip of her cigarette, but not putting it out, she said, "Wow. You guys move slower and take longer to pack up than a bunch of women."

Sam threw his bag in the trunk as well. "Dean's right. You really shouldn't smoke. I just don't get why you'd take a long run and then punish your lungs by smoking anyway."

"You're not getting into my baby with that thing," Dean warned her across the top of the Impala's black roof.

With a huff, Tabitha finally crushed the cigarette with her boot heel. "Yeah, yeah. I know," she told Dean, turning to address Sam as the two stepped up the their side of the car and opened the doors. "And of course I know it's bad for you. Kinda like hunting. But I needed something to settle my nerves."

As they all climbed into the car, Sam immediately turned to regard her over the back of his seat. "What's going on? Something's up. Why haven't you been able to sleep the past several nights?"

"I dunno," she evaded. "I'm sure it's nothing. Probably sleep like a baby once we get on the road."

"Tabitha—" Sam started in a reproachful tone.

"Just don't, Sammy. It's nothing to worry about. I'll sort it out on my own. And I don't press you on what's been bothering you lately, so give me the same courtesy."

Sam's lips tightened into a narrow line as he regarded her, but he finally gave a grim nod and turned around, not willing to open himself up to questions.

Beside him, Dean glared at them both, but finally gave a resigned sigh as he threw the Impala in gear, not addressing either of them.

"Swing by the school one last time," Sam directed. "I want to say goodbye to someone. An old teacher."

Dean headed in that direction, but not without a few grumbles. "I told you, Sammy. We don't make friends with regular people, and we don't say goodbye." But he still pulled into the now quiet parking lot of the school. Most of the kids and faculty had gone for the day.

Tabitha opened her door when Sam opened his.

"Where you going?" Dean demanded of her when she started to follow their brother. "You have an old teacher you wanna look up, too? You guys think this is Dead Poets Society or something?"

"Nope. Can't even remember most of my teachers," she replied with a sardonic grin. "But I want to look into school records and make sure we didn't miss anything."

"I told you. We salted and burned the bones. It's done," he insisted.

"I just want to look," she growled back, shoving the door closed with more force than was required.

When she entered the school, she had to duck into a hallway to avoid one of the office staff. Since she hadn't shown up to fulfill her substitute duty that day, she decided it was best to avoid the woman and the inevitable questions seeing her in the school would raise.

After the woman had finally passed, Tabitha continued on her way towards the library, figuring she'd use the computer there to get into the school records system to figure out if someone had died in the school.

She was just about to turn towards the library when she heard a voice; she paused, listening to it.

"You got tall, Winchester."

The voice was that of a girl, and yet it wasn't. Castiel's warning still fresh in her mind, she sprinted around the corner, approaching silently behind a teenage girl as she stood over Tabitha's little brother. From her voice and the fact that she seemed to have gotten the best of her brother, Tabitha knew the girl was likely possessed by their angry spirit.

Sam was on the ground, twisted on his stomach, but Tabitha could tell by his movements that he was grabbing salt to expel the spirit from the girl. So she quickly maneuvered behind the girl, wrapping her arms around her in a chokehold to immobilize her. Her brother sprang to his feet, and seeing the girl fighting but immobilized, clapped his hand and the salt over the girl's mouth.

As the spirit was shoved out of the girl, the force knocked Tabitha backwards onto the floor as Sam wrapped his own arms around the girl to support her now lax body.

"You okay, Tab?" Sam asked over the girl's head.

Tabitha pushed herself up onto her elbows. "I'm fine. The girl?"

Sam looked down at her as Tabitha pulled herself to her feet, her body aching even more now.

"She's out, but I think she'll be okay."

"What about you?" she asked, pointing at his chest where there was a dot of blood growing slightly from a puncture wound.

"I'm fine," he insisted. "It's not that deep."

As Tabitha approached her brother, they shared a look. "This isn't over, is it?" he whispered in a tentative voice.

"No," she agreed, sadly shaking her head. "This isn't done yet. We missed something."

She turned away to head for the library.

"Where are you going?" Sam asked her retreating back.

"I'm gonna go see if I can find what we missed. You take care of the girl and tell Dean that this isn't done yet."

"How are you going to find anything else?"

Tabitha paused to answer with a grin, "Computers in the library are on the school's main server. And the real librarian has her login information taped to the bottom of her keyboard."


Tabitha flipped through the papers she had printed out at the school as they pulled off the road in the middle of the country to regroup.

Sam sat down outside the car as he dabbed at the wound on his chest. Dean grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the car, handing it to him as he said, "Trust me. This will help."

Taking the bottle, Sam clumsily tried to dab at the wound and pour the liquid onto his own chest.

Handing the papers she'd been thumbing through to Dean, Tabitha grabbed the bottle from Sam. "Let me do that," she told Sam and then threw over her shoulder at Dean, "Take a look at the student records of those three kids."

Sam hissed as Tabitha pulled his t-shirt out of the wound, dabbing some of the whiskey on the rag and wiping away the blood before pouring a little more whiskey onto the wound to disinfect it.

Dean's look turned dark at Sam's groans. "That ghost is dead! I'm gonna rip its lungs out!" He turned back at his siblings' incredulous looks and shrugged. "Well, you know what I mean."

"It knew my name, Dean," Sam pointed out. "My real name. We burned Barry's bones. What the hell?" He hissed again as Tabitha dabbed at the wound.

"Well, maybe it wasn't Barry. Maybe we missed something," Dean tried.

"Just like I said," Tabitha huffed. "Look at those papers, Dean."

"What am I looking at?" Dean asked as Tabitha continued to clean the wound.

"Look at their bus routes," she told him, pulling out some gauze to tape over Sam's wound. "Pull your t-shirt off so I can wrap some ace bandage over this, Sammy. You were lucky this wasn't deeper."

"Damn," Dean muttered as he paced and Sam followed his sister's orders, "they all rode the same bus."

Sam held his hand out for the papers and he winced while Tabitha wrapped an ace bandage around his chest and over his shoulder.

"Okay, so maybe the bus is haunted," Sam wondered.

"Well, that would explain why there's no EMF at the school, but not the attacks," Dean said as he stopped pacing and leaned against the trunk. "I mean, ghosts are tied to the places that they haunt. They can't just bail."

"Apparently this one can," Tabitha pointed out as she stood from bandaging her brother. "But it can happen, guys. We've heard stories about spirits possessing people and then riding them for miles. And when they leave the body, they're yanked back to their usual haunt."

"So a spook just grabs a kid on the bus and walks right into Truman?"

"It's possible," Sam agreed.

Dean started pacing again. "Ghosts getting creative—well, that's super."

Bending over, Dean pulled out three beer bottles and passed them around. "Guess this means we have to start over trying to pin this ghost down."

Halfway through her bottle, Tabitha paused to pull her buzzing phone out of the back pocket of her jeans.

"Dammit, kid," she muttered to herself when she read the text message on her phone.

"What's up?" Sam asked her.

Firing back a message, Tabitha replied, "That kid that does some work for me that I couldn't have the FBI do, Shawn, I promised him I'd take him for a drink on his twenty-first—which is today. But I was trying to put it off a day or two since we were on this hunt, and the stubborn kid won't take no for an answer and somehow tracked us down. Says he's in Fairfax right now and he's waiting for me to take him out for his promised drink."

"So tell the kid we've got a ghost to take care of first," Dean suggested.

Pacing as she continued to text with Shawn, she replied, "Right, Dean. I'm not gonna do that. The kid doesn't know anything about this stuff. I've kept him out of it, and I'd prefer it stay that way. He thinks I do PI work now that I'm dead to the FBI." She growled as Shawn sent another text. "Damn stubborn kid."

"How'd he know where you are?" Sam asked.

"Hacked the cell info, I'm sure," she dismissively replied.

"Look," Sam started as he stood up, pulling a clean shirt on over his bandages, "we can look for the spirit, you go take the kid for his drink. He did help us out last time, and it sounds like he isn't going to leave until you take him out. We can handle looking for the spirit."

Chewing her lower lip thoughtfully, Tabitha considered the idea.

"Sam's right, Tab. We can handle one ghost. Go do your thing," Dean added.

Tabitha walked back to the Impala as the boys followed. "Fine, but you guys call me the second you even think you are in trouble or need help."


"Shot of Jack," she told the bartender as she sat down at the crowded bar, holding out a folded bill for the bartender.

Shawn turned beside her to face her, a grin on his fashionable scruffy face. "Starting off heavy, huh?" he laughed.

"What about you?" she asked him as the balding bartender dropped her glass off. "What sounds good for your first drink as a legally acknowledged man?"

"How about a shot of Wild Turkey?"

She nodded to the bartender, repeating the order and holding out another bill.

The pair raised their glasses to each other in a toast. "Twenty-one," Tabitha told him as he quickly repeated her toast. She downed hers quickly, and grinned when Shawn downed his with a slight grimace.

"Why'd you even order Wild Turkey if you don't like it? I know you've been drinking for a while, regardless of your actual legal age," she chuckled, hailing the bartender again and asking for two tap beers.

Shawn shrugged, his face darkening slightly. "I've never had Wild Turkey before. I was saving it for today."

Tabitha bumped her shoulder against Shawn's, taking a sip of her beer as she asked, "Why?"

Shawn wrapped both of his hands around his pilsner, not drinking but staring down into the tall glass. "Wild Turkey was what my dad always drank. It's what he promised to take me out for today," he softly admitted.

Guilt assuaged her at his admission. She'd been so focused on her own problems, and trying to finish the hunt with her brothers, that she'd forgotten how truly young Shawn still was in many ways. She hadn't realized how much he still struggled with the death of his father. Or how much he'd been counting on her to be there to take him out for the drink his father had promised.

"I didn't know your father, Shawn," she told him. "But from what I heard, he was a good man. And I think he'd be proud of how much you've grown up, and done it on your own, too. He'd be proud of just how much you've overcome."

"I'm not so sure he'd be proud of the choices I've made. What I did got him killed," he muttered.

"You made some dumb choices as a kid," she agreed, "but your heart was in the right place. You donated most of that money to charities, and I know you still do donate heavily. And the things you do for me, it really does help people. You can feel good about that."

He finally swiveled towards her a little. "The stuff I do for you that you tell me to immediately forget all about. That stuff you mean?"

She turned and ruffled his short blonde hair, smiling when his whiskered cheeks turned red as he pushed her hand away. "Yeah, that stuff," she laughed, thinking that while the scruff was supposed to be fashionable, he still looked like a little boy playing at being a man.

"What really happened with the FBI?" he asked her then.

Tabitha sighed and pulled her hand away, wrapping it around her glass, draining it, and then holding out another bill to order another shot of Jack. "You really don't need to be asking or looking into that, kid. Promise me you won't. It could be dangerous."

When he stared at her and didn't answer, she turned towards him again and demanded, "I mean it, kid. It could be dangerous looking into that. Leave it be. Promise me."

For a beat, he stared at her, probably measuring her resolve and seriousness. Finally, he nodded and said, "Fine. I promise. But you must have done something for it to be so dangerous."

Sipping her whiskey, she muttered, "I wish I knew." She'd give a lot to know why the demons were after her.

They spent the next few hours talking about more inconsequential things, both careful to keep the topics more lighthearted.

Tabitha started to feel a bit of a buzzing in her head, and decided she had better keep to beer or even switch to water, though she was surprised that the alcohol was affecting her; she normally held her liquor much better.

Tabitha! she suddenly heard ring out in her mind, and realized the angel had been trying to get past the protection of her charms to get her attention and that it wasn't the liquor affecting her.

Though she knew it was useless, she sat up straight and looked around the room.

Castiel? she carefully thought at the angel.

I've been trying to reach you. Your brothers could use your help.

She stiffened but asked, Can't you help them? I don't know where they are.

They've gone after the spirit; they're on highway 40 just outside of town. Leave now. I can't go; I'm on the field of battle.

She could almost feel the thread of connection cut abruptly away, but still called after him, Please be careful!

"I've got to go," she told Shawn, turning to see that he was staring at her strangely. "I've got to go help someone."

He stood as she did. "What's going on? I'll help you."

"You can't," she hurriedly told him, grabbing her large purse and slinging the long strap over her head and shoulder. "I've got to go now. My brothers are in trouble."

Shawn followed her out as she weaved through the crowded bar and into the dark parking lot.

"Brothers?" he incredulously said. "I thought they were dead."

She finally spotted a fairly new condition motorcycle and pulled out her switchblade, prying the panel off to pull the wires from the starter and hot-wiring it. Over the roar of the Ducati, she told Shawn in clipped, sarcastic tones, "Yeah. They're dead. You're dead. I'm dead. Maybe we can all sit down someday and talk about what it's like being dead."

Before she could take off, Shawn suddenly swung a leg over the bike behind her, climbing on despite her protests. "I'm going with you."

She considered fighting him off, but didn't want to waste the time, so she gunned the bike, spitting gravel across the parking lot as she headed for highway 40 just as fast as the bike could travel. She weaved around traffic until she got out of town and could really open the bike up, ignoring the way Shawn's arms tightened uncomfortably around her waist.

As she sped around a corner, she barely caught sight of road spikes thrown across the asphalt in the dark night. A bus was pulled haphazardly to a stop just beyond it. Knowing her brothers' handiwork when she saw it, she immediately braked and downshifted on the handlebars, feeling Shawn's weight slam unexpectedly into her back as she held tight and drove around the spikes in the grassy ditch, slamming on the brakes suddenly again behind the Impala as she swung her leg over the front of the bike, leaving Shawn to steady the bike as she ran to the open trunk of the car, grabbing a sawed-off shotgun and a canister of salt that she shoved into the top of her purse against her hip.

Sam was on his back when she ran up to the bus, a chunky teenage boy straddling him and wailing away. She saw Dean running into the bus. Likely looking for whatever they needed to put the spirit to rest.

But Tabitha couldn't wait for Dean to find it. Sam was getting wailed on by a kid that outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, as well as having supernatural strength.

Stopping by the two on the ground, she slammed the butt of her shotgun into the temple of the boy, tossing the salt from the canister into his face when he looked up.

The possessed boy rocked back on his heels as he bellowed in pain, but Tabitha saw the blinding anger growing in his eyes.

She looked over the kid's shoulder at where Dean was looking through the pockets of another man on the ground.

"Hurry up, Dean!" she shouted, dropping the empty canister and shouldering the shotgun as she eyed the boy again.

"Got it!" Dean yelled, and suddenly the boy straddling Sam threw back his head as the spirit was expelled in a puff of fire and smoke.

Tabitha stood staring at the scene for a moment, suddenly realizing how out of breath she was, and bending over to catch it.

"Little help?" Sam squeaked from underneath the unconscious boy.

She stepped forward as Dean leaned back against the bus, looking at the scene.

"Ew." His nose wrinkled up. "He's giving you the full cowgirl."

Tabitha pushed at the boy's shoulder. "Dammit, Dean. Give me some help. This kid's heavy."

With his help, they finally managed to get the kid rolled off their brother, each grabbing one of Sam's arms to pull him to his feet.

"What was that?" Shawn suddenly asked, appearing a few feet away, his voice and body both shaking,

"Who's this and where'd he come from?" Dean asked with a jerk of his head towards Shawn.

"This is Shawn. The kid I told you about," she explained to her brothers.

"What the hell was that?!" Shawn suddenly shouted, his shaking increasing despite his yell.

Tabitha looked around at the scene, two bodies unconscious outside the bus, and a bus full of guys and their coach, staring out the window at them. "We need to get out of here," she told her brothers in a low voice.

They nodded in agreement as she grabbed Shawn by the arm, silently propelling him back towards the Impala and pushing him into the backseat, leaving the Ducati she'd stolen behind as her brothers packed up the car and quickly got in.

"Any chance I can just tell you that you didn't see anything?" she half-heartedly asked Shawn.

"What the hell was that?" he repeated in a softer whisper.

Dean turned his head and looked over his shoulder as they drove away. "What the hell were you thinking bringing that kid out here, Tab? How'd the hell you even know where we were?"

Shifting uncomfortably under her brother's scrutiny, she quietly admitted, "Castiel said you were in trouble and that he couldn't get there to help. So he told me where you were."

The Impala suddenly swerved to a screeching halt as everyone else braced their hands against something to keep from flying forward.

Dean whipped around to face Tabitha behind him. "You're still talking to that angel? He show up again, or'd he talk to ya…" he trailed off and pointed at his head.

"Yeah, that," she mumbled in return.

"Dammit, Tabitha," Dean thundered, his hand slamming against his seat. "We can't trust those damn angels. You were there when they were trying to kill Anna. They'd of gone through us to do it," he continued crossly. "And they still might come after you because of what you can do."

''Look, I don't want to argue with you about this again," Tabitha growled in return. Ever since Dean had found out about her little ability, they'd had nothing but arguments every time the topic or the angel was brought up. She had just started feeling grateful that they had finally stopped talking about the whole mess. "Castiel said you guys were in trouble and told me where. Just be glad he did, 'cause for one, I'm pissed that you guys got yourselves into that kind of mess and didn't call me like you'd promised."

Dean pointed a commanding finger at Tabitha over the back of the seat. "I don't want you talking to that damn angel anymore. They're nothing but trouble, Tabitha. And I want to know if he tries to talk to your mind again or whatever the hell it is he's doing that you can hear. It ain't normal and it ain't safe."

Leaning forward, her gaze narrowed on her older brother, she told him, "I'm not a teenager you get to still think you're in charge of, Dean. And Cas talked to me to warn me about you guys because he couldn't get to you. You're not responsible for me, so stop acting like you're my father and can tell me who I can talk to."

Her brother leaned closer to her as well, whispering in low angry tones, "I am your brother. You're damn right I'm still responsible for you. So stop arguing with me."

Throwing a hand at Sam, she argued, "I don't see you laying down the law and telling Sam that he has to report in every time he talks to his demon buddy. Or telling him that he absolutely can't see her again. And for my money, a demon's a helluva lot worse than an angel anyway."

"Hey, don't bring me into this," Sam backpedaled.

Throwing a glare between them both, Dean continued, "What the hell is wrong with you two? One of ya running off with a demon and the other cavorting with a damned angel. Why can't the two of you run around with normal humans?" Dean suddenly pinned his sister with a suspicious glare. "God! You're not sleeping with the angel, are you?"

Tabitha managed not to wince or look away from her brother as she truthfully answered, "He's an angel, Dean. And no. I'm not sleeping with an angel." She glanced over at Shawn watching from beside her, his head jerking back and forth between them as he stared in utter shock at them all. She sighed and let her head fall back against the seat in defeat as she continued, "And Shawn's as human and naïve as they come. And now the poor kid's traumatized by all this supernatural crap."

For a moment, Dean paused to look between all of the occupants of the car, and then he turned back to Tabitha. "Where we taking him?"

"His car is in Fairfax at that bar 2 blocks down from the Pines Motel. Head there first."

Giving her one last look, Dean ordered, "You better start telling him something. Try to set things straight for him before we get there."

By the time Dean pulled into the parking lot, Tabitha was just finishing her brief overview of the world as it really was. Not the world as Shawn had known it.

"You're really serious about all this?" he asked as Tabitha walked him to his nondescript blue Honda. "Angels, demons, ghosts, werewolves, vampires—they're all real?"

"Sorry, kid. But that's the truth. Good news though, Bigfoot is still just a story. Leprechauns, too," she tried to joke.

It fell flat as Shawn stared down at the keys in his hand, idly standing by his still locked car. Tabitha took the keys and pressed the electronic fob, unlocking the doors. "Either stay the night and then get on home in the morning, or get going back that way tonight. You're probably better off getting home where things are familiar and make sense to you. I won't call you for a while to ask for anything. Give you time to digest all this and sort it through in your mind. Or if you don't want me to contact you again, I'll do that, too. You just let me know," she told him, patting his shoulder and then walking away as he silently got into his car.

"Kid handling it okay?" Sam asked as she got back into the Impala.

"Kid's had his feet knocked out from underneath him. It takes time to adjust and wrap your mind around such a huge change in your life. He'll mull it over for a few days. Probably won't sleep much for a while, but he'll either come to grips with it, or decide it wasn't real and it was a momentary lapse of insanity." She sighed as she let her head fall back against the seat once more, her eyes falling shut. "I can relate to the feeling," she whispered. "It's hard knowing where you stand when you can't get back to your feet after having them knocked out from under you."

"What's knocked you from your feet?" Sam whispered, causing Tabitha's head to jerk back up as she stared at him. "Something's going on," he continued. "You've been off. And you haven't been sleeping, either."

"Nothing," Tabitha insisted, glancing between her brothers' probing gazes, and then focusing on Dean. "Just drive."

But as Dean put the Impala back in gear, her traitorous fingers stole up to her lips, softly touching them as her mind drifted back. Castiel had contacted her once since that kiss, but she wasn't any closer to knowing what the hell he'd meant by kissing her that way.

Just what the hell had that kiss meant?

And why did even the thought of it still knock her from her feet?


A/N: Points go to kishe for catching one of the lyrics Dean uses in the last chapter. The lyrics he used from School's Out were: "no more teachers' dirty looks" and "school's out completely."

Thanks so much to everyone for their marvelous reviews! I'm seriously humbled and astounded by each one. But keep 'em coming 'cause it's become my heroin, and I'm hopelessly addicted now!