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“Hey, do you still carry Walkmen?” the guy asked Chuck. He was a rakishly handsome type, if you paid attention to that sort of thing. He grinned at Chuck, and Chuck noticed the unusual pendant hanging around his neck.

Mugshots—classified reports—dead bodies—chalices—pentagrams drawn in blood and chalk and fire—a thing in a secure cell, military uniforms and gore everywhere, until the room erupted in cleansing fire—

Chuck gaped at the man—Dean Winchester. “Vampires?” he said, because he couldn’t not say it. “Seriously?”

The smile dropped off Winchester’s face. “Hey,” he said, backing up slightly and raising his hands, “I don’t know what—”

“Is there a problem?” The new voice was pleasant, nearby, and familiar.

Chuck swiveled as the second man came to stand behind Winchester’s shoulder, and Chuck belatedly recognized him from the beginning of the flash—and from earlier than that.

“Hey, Sam,” Chuck said, and gave a little self-conscious wave. “How’s, uh, how’s it been going?” Since you left Stanford under mysterious circumstances and got yourself caught up in hunting vampires, which is apparently a career option even suckier than working at the BuyMore, he didn’t add.

“Guy just started in on vampires,” Dean Winchester said, weighting each word with a threat (Chuck was getting a lot better at recognizing threats, though sadly no more adept at avoiding them).

Sam smiled, broad and insincere, and put his hand on Chuck’s shoulder. “C’mon, Chuck, let’s catch up. What have you been doing since Stanford?” Chuck really, really wished he’d been behind the counter instead of out in the aisles, because behind the counter nobody could grab you in ways that were very, very hard to get away from and march you into the back where whatever happened would happen unseen to other eyes.

“So, uh,” he said as they walked, Sam behind him and Dean at his side, “Sam never mentioned he had a brother.” Or hunted vampires, which he thought bore repeating.

Dean’s upper lip twitched and then his face blanked.

“I didn’t tell him about anything, Dean,” Sam said, again freighted with greater significance than the words necessarily warranted. Also, that wasn’t entirely true—he and Sam had engaged in the usual beer-and-bullshit sessions, though he couldn’t remember Sam ever talking much about his background beyond that for some reason he’d taken home ec in four different states.

They stepped into the service hallway.

“So what’s all this about vampires?” Dean asked, shoving Chuck back against the wall, not rudely but with intent. It didn’t seem wise to resist.

“Nothing! Just making conversation!”

They looked at him with identical expressions of disbelief. Dean’s hand went to his waist, and Chuck quickly reviewed the rap sheet from the flash. The military memo accompanying it suggested that the facts weren’t exactly right, but that Dean Winchester was still a stone killer.

“Okay! Uh, it might have come to my attention somehow, don’t really know how, that you, uh. Kill things. Things that I’m sure needed killing!”

Sam frowned at him, the same expression Chuck remembered from studying for War in the Western World. “How would that come to your attention?”

Chuck closed his eyes. Sam had seemed like a stand-up guy, and nothing in his file suggested any involvement in Spy World. “There’s this thing in my head—”

“You’re psychic?” They said it together, Sam with surprise and Dean with disgust. “Is there anybody you went to school with that isn’t involved in this stuff?” Dean continued.

Chuck debated the wisdom of allowing them to continue in their misconception, and decided that it was indeed wise. If there could be vampires, why not psychics? Also, Dean’s question wasn’t directed at him, but it was something he wondered too, especially with Sam standing here, Sam who had always had a smile for everybody and had walked hunched down as if he was afraid he might scare people at his full height.

He shrugged sheepishly. “Anyway, didn’t mean to freak you out. But, uh, people will be looking for me—”

“Step away from the geek,” Casey’s voice came, cold as a walk-in freezer.

Dean turned, and in less than a blink the two of them were pointing guns at one another.

“Hey, no, hey!” Chuck protested. “This is a big, big misunderstanding. And now it’s a misunderstanding with guns, and I can’t help thinking that is a lot worse than your basic everyday misunderstanding, so maybe we can all back off—”

“Put the gun down and step away from Chuck,” Sarah said from behind Sam, who raised his hands and tilted his head at Dean expectantly. Dean, in return, gave Sam a look that clearly asked why the hell he hadn’t noticed Sarah sneaking up behind him. Sam’s expression said that this was not the time to be an annoying sibling—that one, Chuck found pretty easy to read. Anyway, Dean took his finger off the trigger, letting the gun swing in his hand, and knelt to place it on the floor.

“Like I said,” Chuck continued, “we’re all friends here. Well, colleagues. Or brothers. We’re all something. Something where we don’t have to point guns at one another.”

Dean snorted, even as he got to his feet and put his hands in the air.

“What are you doing here?” Sarah asked, still invisible behind Sam.

“All’s I wanted was a Walkman,” Dean said. Chuck was inclined to believe him; Sam had seemed plenty surprised. “Then your boy here starts in on vampires, and things got a bit out of hand.”

“Vampires?” Casey repeated with contempt.

“Maybe your security clearance isn’t as high as you think!” Chuck said with satisfaction.

“Security clearance?” Sam asked, and there was an awkward pause. “Look, I’m—pretty sure we aren’t all in the same place here. And maybe we don’t need to be. Just—let us go, we’ll walk away, we’ll forget we were ever here.”

Yeah, so that didn’t happen. Casey and Sarah marched the Winchesters down to the holding cell under the Orange Orange. When Dean got a look at Sarah, he managed to simultaneously wince and leer, the latter in a way that made Chuck briefly grateful for the replacement of the Weinerlicious uniform with the Orange Orange uniform. Sarah just looked murderous.

“Please,” Chuck begged Sarah once the Winchesters were secured, “don’t go up the chain with this. The thing I flashed on—it’s not actively dangerous, I mean not to us, and I’m about eighty percent certain they’re the good guys.”

Casey made the low rumbling noise that was his standard response to any of Chuck’s opinions. Sarah was wide-eyed and concerned as she examined him. “Let’s just talk to them,” she suggested.

Which, in the event, was about as much fun as pulling teeth (or at least Chuck presumed so; he’d always had the benefit of modern dentistry, and that one time with the drug lord who wanted to reenact the scene from Marathon Man Sarah and Casey had arrived even before he’d managed to wedge Chuck’s mouth open, but anyway). At last, Sam admitted that they were looking into some suspicious deaths in the area—“Connected to this,” he said and pulled a folded paper from his pocket.

Sarah stared at the sketch for a moment. “A menorah?” she asked, bemused.

“A haunted menorah,” Dean said from where he was crouched in the back of the cell, his tone daring her to disbelieve him.

“In modern Hebrew, it’s a hanukiah,” Chuck said absently, trying to get a better look. “The temple menorah has seven branches, while a hanukiah has an eighth. Hold that up to the glass, would you?”

Sam obediently flattened the creased picture against the barrier, perhaps hoping that Chuck’s so-called psychic powers would give him a vision.

Shattered glass—a swastika—armies on the march—hidden bunkers—a chalet, white and gleaming—a black-and-white photo of four dead bodies, fallen like leaves—handwritten ledgers—red velvet ropes, a museum—

“Looted during the Sixth Crusade,” Chuck said. “Then again during World War II. In private hands until the tragic death of the owner and three of his guests. On display in France until it disappeared mysteriously five years ago.”

“Well, it’s reappeared,” Sam said grimly. “Look, can you give me any more details about the owner who died? It might help us figure out—”

“Paul-Henri Avoyelles,” Chuck said immediately. Sam’s mouth dropped open. Oh, yeah, Sam still thought he was some kind of psychic, and psychics probably didn’t get scanned archives in their visions. “The murderer or murderers were never captured, but the things they did to the victims were practically medieval.”

“Thanks,” Sam said, nodding, his eyes already distant, as if he were planning how to deal with the Case of the Haunted Hanukiah.

“Yeah, thanks,” Dean drawled. “’Course, you keep us locked up here, more people are gonna die.”

“Working on it,” Chuck told him irritatedly. “Might help if you could be a little nicer.” And stop looking at Sarah like she’s on the cover of Playboy.

“Chuck,” Sarah said, meaning: come out in the hallway so I can yell at you.

He followed her. “They’re not our problem,” he said before she could start in on him. “Really. They may seem a little—well, crazy. But we should let them go. How often have I been wrong about stuff like this?”

There was a chance she was going to bring up Jill, but maybe that was too sore a subject for her as well, because she just frowned for a moment, her brows scrunching and her lips pursing adorably. “All right,” she said. “I’ll talk to Casey.”

“Great! Thank you!”

Don’t let them out until I’m back,” she warned, and yeah, he totally deserved that. But she hadn’t said not to talk to Sam, so he went back in.

“Okay,” he said, putting his hands together. “We’ll be getting you on your way soon. So, I guess it’s not just vampires.”

Sam stared at him, then made a decision and nodded. “Yeah, we’re kind of—utility players, I guess you’d say.”

“You’re some sort of pet government psychic?” Dean asked, his tone almost casual. He wasn’t watching Chuck at all, just sitting half-folded up on the floor, his eyes locked to Sam.

“Something like that, I guess.”

Dean nodded, mostly to himself. “So you get the high-tech bodyguards, I get that. But how come they don’t have you in some penthouse, living La Vida Loca?”

Chuck shrugged. “It’s complicated.”

Dean almost smiled. “I hear that. Least they didn’t lock you up for your own good.”

Chuck didn’t want to talk about that. “It’s not—there’s a lot of things about my life I’d change if I could. But I get to protect people, so—there’s that.”

Dean nodded slowly and rubbed his chin with the hand that wasn’t draped over his knees. After a minute, Chuck figured that the conversation was over.

When he met Sam’s eyes, he wanted to apologize for accidentally dragging Sam and his brother into his crazy life. Given how crazy their own was, however, he wasn’t sure it was as big a disaster as, say, dragging Morgan in, or Ellie.

He considered asking Sam about mutual friends, but there was a lot of hurt there for him, and maybe not so much fun for Sam either. The FBI report had said that Sam had left without graduating. He’d been a full scholarship student, like Chuck, and Chuck had never known.

“Were you—like this, even back then?” he asked, because the records were unclear.

Sam nodded. He’d put his sketch away, and now he was leaning against the bulletproof glass of the cell. Chuck recognized the pose, not exactly, but Sam held himself like Casey or Sarah when they were resting. No matter how relaxed they looked, they could spring into action with the suddenness of a car crash.

He wondered, a little, what it would be like to watch Casey and Sarah take on Sam and his brother. Especially if there was pudding involved.

He opened his eyes; Sam was regarding him skeptically. “Thanks,” he said.

“What?” Sam was openly confused.

“For, you know, keeping us safe from stuff no one believes in.”

Sam’s face softened. “You too.”

Over in the corner, Dean raised his head like he was going to say something really annoying, but then he didn’t.

Sarah and Casey returned then, and Chuck let the Winchesters out. Dean made sure to get his gun back; Casey handed it over with ill grace, which was pretty much Casey’s only variety of grace.

“Take care of yourself,” Sam told him, right at the BuyMore exit.

“And the same to you.”

Sam shook his head. “I’ve got Dean for that.”

Watching them walk away, not quite in sync but still together, made Chuck wonder what it would be like if Ellie knew, if it would bring them back to the closeness of being kids with no one to rely on but each other.

“So they’re ghostbusters,” Sarah said from just behind him, her voice soft.

“‘More things in heaven and earth,’” Chuck said. “I’m thinkin’ about knocking off early, surprising Ellie with the classic Bartowski dinner of macaroni and cheese and Hamburger Helper. It’s better than you think.”

“It would have to be,” Sarah agreed.

Because a boyfriend would, and because he could, he turned and slung his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her a little as they walked back towards his station. “Come on over, you’ll see.”

Ellie was better off with her ordinary, awesome life. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t still take care of her.

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