A/N: Surprise! Still breathing! And look, I finished a story!
A/N 2: Possibly set during S6. However, it veers away from canon to fall off a cliff and thus could be considered AU. It's also kinda…crackish. Not total crack, but crack-like. Or at least, I tried. Did it work?
A/N 3: Thanks to Kati and Swanseajill for reading/commenting/comma wrangling. Anything that looks weird is all my fault.
"Dean and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week"
"It's not funny!"
"Oh, come on, it's a little funny. Maybe," Sam went on, with not even the slightest hint of dewy-eyed sympathy, "it was just a fluke." The twitching lips grew into a smirk. "A one-off. Could happen to anyone."
"It does not happen to me," Dean snapped, feeling the flush of embarrassment flood his face all over again. He had already slammed the motel door behind him, and now he threw himself on the nearest bed, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I will damn well sulk if I want to." He gave Sam an impressive glower, then jabbed a finger at him. "You should not be enjoying this so much. I lost the gas money. The food money. The next round of ammo money." Choosing to contemplate the water-stained ceiling instead of Sam's face, he added, still shell-shocked, "To a…a college kid." His voice rose in horror. "I do not lose pool games to stuck-up, smarmy college kids with trust funds!"
"Apparently, you do."
"Not helping here!"
"What can I say?" Sam spread his hands as he flopped on the other bed. "The odds were bound to catch up with you. So you made a few mistakes—"
"I didn't! It wasn't my fault! Things were going great, I was winning, and then I wasn't. Between one shot and the next, it all went downhill! The cue was…off, or something—"
"All of them? You tried three."
"The table was lopsided!" Dean argued. "The balls kept, I don't know, rolling weird! How can you not have noticed that?"
"The trust fund kid didn't have any problems," Sam said with a shrug. "Face it, Dean, you were outplayed. Tomorrow night or the next, I'm sure you'll win it all back. Unless of course," he added slyly, "you're over the hill and have lost your touch."
"Well, thanks for that rousing vote of confidence," Dean muttered, as he began yet again to replay the game from hell in his head, shot by painful, agonizing shot.
Dean checked all his pockets the next day for any stray cursed rabbit's foot that may have found its way there. He rooted through all his clothes and his duffel bag, went through the Impala with a fine-toothed comb, and while Sam was on a food run, he scoured their current tatty motel room from top to bottom searching for hex bags or other possibly evil objects.
And came up disturbingly empty-handed.
At another roadside bar three nights later, hoping to salvage some of his pride along with their diminished funds, Dean instead found himself inexplicably, and very quickly, more than a hundred dollars in the hole. Before he could object, Sam stepped in and firmly removed him from a disaster of epic proportions in the making. He shoved Dean into a corner booth with a bottle of beer and politely asked Dean's opponent for a chance to win back some of the money Dean had lost, explaining soberly that his brother was having a tough time lately, and really didn't know what he was doing, what with the effects of his current medication and all...
Still in a daze over balls that randomly skipped across the pool table and defied the laws of physics—and he was not going to begin to contemplate the idea of some so-called Mystery Spot—Dean couldn't even muster up the energy to get outraged. He nursed his beer, attempted some halfhearted flirting with the waitress, who frostily ignored him, and watched as Sam won a little, lost a little, won a little more, and no hard feelings when he came out two hundred and seventeen dollars ahead at the end.
The brawny biker even gave Dean a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and told Sam to take good care of him as they headed out the door to the parking lot.
It would've been one hell of a perfect hustle. If they'd been running one.
"Maybe you should take some time off for a while," Sam suggested with a sideways glance. He folded the money away as they got in the car. "You're in a slump or something. Not getting sick, are you?"
"No," Dean snarled. He felt Sam's appraising look but ignored it in favor of turning the key in the ignition. Nothing happened, just a horrible grinding shriek that made him cringe. He grimaced and tried again. Come on, baby, don't do this. Not tonight. Not with the way things have been going lately. Come on…
Nothing but a rusty clank this time. Then silence.
Sam breathed out a weary, irritated sigh.
Dean whimpered, just a little, and banged his forehead on the steering wheel several times. He joined Sam in another sigh and got out. Fishing out a flashlight from the trunk, he went around to pop the hood.
He knew every inch of his baby, could take her apart and put her back together blindfolded in the dark in a rainstorm. At the bottom of a coalmine.
There was nothing wrong. His eyes and fingers told him so.
He put the hood down. Got back in the car. Turned the ignition. And…nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even a groan.
Sam sighed yet again, pulling out his cell phone. "What's wrong? We need a tow?"
Dean did not waste his breath on a reply, and discovered that a few more head bashes on the steering wheel did nothing to improve his mood.
"Dean! Hey!" Sam's hands on his shoulders pulled him back before he could go for another round of cranial abuse. "Stop."
With an inarticulate growl, Dean wrenched away and got out of the car again, fury barely held in check. He wanted to smash something, but it wasn't his baby's fault she wouldn't start—no need to take his anger out on her.
"All right!" he shouted up at the night sky, arms flung wide in his best take-a-potshot-because-I-don't-care pose. "You've had your fun! But enough is enough! No messin' with the car, you hear me? Not my baby! Not ever! So come on out and show yourself, you sadistic son of a bitch!"
Dead silence. Even the crickets had shut up.
Dean waited, breathing hard and glaring at everything.
"Uh, Dean?" Sam's voice was cautious and placating as he got out and sidled around the hood. "Sooo…what's up? The Impala didn't start—I get that you're pissed, but what am I missing here?"
His furious gaze landed on Sam. Who actually stepped back and held up his hands in a non-threatening manner.
"Tricksters, Sam," Dean said darkly. "Tricksters. Do I need to tell you how friggin' much I hate those friggin' half-assed deity wannabes and their smug little jokes?"
Even in the dim parking lot lighting, he could see Sam's face suddenly turn a sickly pale.
"Tricksters?" Sam repeated warily, stance shifting, eyes quickly scanning the lot before turning to Dean again. "Where? Why? You sure?"
"What else could it be?"
"What could what be?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "You're supposed to be the smart one, or so everyone tells me."
Sam huffed, irritation evidently overriding paranoia, and folded his arms in a posture of defensive annoyance. "What's going on, Dean? Why are you screaming about tricksters? Just because the car won't start? Stuff—crappy, stupid stuff—does happen without a supernatural cause behind it, you know." He paused. "Even to us." Another pause. "On occasion."
"For cryin' out loud, do I have to spell it out?"
"Apparently," Sam snapped. "Because you're not giving me much to go on here."
Dean scrubbed a hand through his hair and gnashed his teeth. Several furious seconds later of stomping back and forth across the parking lot, he halted in front of an impatiently waiting Sam, suddenly more tired than angry. "Do I look different?" he blurted.
Sam's face morphed into confusion. "I thought we were talking about tricksters."
"We are! Try to keep up!" At Sam's pointed glare, he moved to sag against the Impala for reassurance, and repeated, voice lowered, "Do I look different to you? Because…" He licked his lips. "Because I feel kinda…different."
"Like what?" Sam demanded, crowding into Dean's personal space. "Possessed different? Delusional different? Alternate-reality-version-of-you different?" He peered worriedly into Dean's eyes.
Dean gave him a push, sending him rocking back a few inches, then shrugged helplessly and flapped a hand. "I dunno! Just not like…me. Something's wrong. I mean, come on, Sam! Losing a few rounds of pool to guys I should be able to wipe the floor with? Not scoring one hot woman's phone number in a whole week? Hell, never mind hot—I haven't scored any chick's phone number. They're all ignoring me and looking at you! That's just not…natural!"
Sam adopted a combination Bitchface of Skepticism and a Smirk of Condescending Amusement.
Dean resisted the urge to smack him upside the head.
No doubt correctly reading that intent in Dean's face, Sam toned it down a notch and backed up a bit more. "So, uh, you think there really is a supernatural explanation?" he said slowly, carefully, like Dean was five years old. "Like a trickster…or something? Laying on a curse?"
"Glad you've finally caught up. Gold star." Dean spun around, staring fixedly into the darkness. "And the bastard's probably watching right now." His voice rose. "Aren't you? Well, listen to this, jackass—I have had enough! You've had your fun screwin' with me, but it's over now, you hear me? Go find some other poor schmuck to put your whammy on!"
"I am not crazy, Sam!"
"I never said you were."
Dean snorted at the patronizing tone, staying out of reach of Sam's long arms. His brother was circling Dean as though he were trying to corral him and stuff him in the trunk for his own good.
"But I think you're jumping to conclusions," Sam went on, still trying to cajole him into reasonableness. "Why a trickster? Maybe—"
"Why a trickster? Because I am just that awesome, Sammy." Dean yelled into the darkness again. "And because he's a jealous little dick, that's why!" He swung back to Sam. "So he's messin' with my…my stuff! You know, the magic. The Dean Winchester mojo. Like…like what Dr. Evil did to Austin Powers!"
"—You're just having a bad week," Sam went on, as though Dean hadn't shouted to the sky like a lunatic. "Like I said, stuff happens. You say trickster, and I say we need more evidence."
"Fine. You want evidence?" Dean pointed at the Impala, her engine stilled. "I bet you a year's worth of gore-infused laundry that if you try to start her, you won't have any problem."
Sam gave him another "humoring-my-crazy-brother" look, but caught the keys when Dean tossed them over, obligingly opened the driver's side door, and slid in behind the wheel.
Climbing into the passenger seat, Dean grit his teeth as he waited for Sam to turn the keys in the ignition. He wasn't sure if he wanted his baby to start or not. Yes, to prove to Sam he wasn't imaging things and no, because really, was he gonna be happy about being right about all the bad juju that had fallen his way in the past few days?
He was screwed, that's all there was to it.
When Sam finally turned the key and the familiar smooth, rumbling purr of his baby started right up, Dean just slumped back in his seat and shut his eyes, completely unsurprised. And thoroughly pissed off.
"Huh," Sam said thoughtfully, staring out the windshield.
"Yes, bitch," Dean intoned. "You are so doing the laundry for the next year. Hope you're happy."
"Huh," Sam said again, pulling out of the parking lot and aiming for their motel a couple of miles down the road. "Maybe you're right."
"About what?" Dean opened his eyes enough to shoot Sam a glare of death. "You doing laundry, or the fact that somethin' weird is going on with my life?"
"Yeah, okay, something weird could be going on," Sam conceded, seemingly unconcerned about his upcoming Year of Laundromat Doom. "Not like that should be a surprise. I mean, come on. Demon possession, crazy angels, apocalypse roulette, dead more ways than you can count, time travel…"
Dean sighed. "Point taken. But. Those pale in comparison."
Sam snorted a laugh. "Uh-huh. So what do you wanna do?"
"Fix me, dammit! Let's find out what—or who—is causing this, and stake 'em! Cut off their heads! Tear them apart limb from limb and leave them under the hot desert sun so buzzards and crows and tiny, vicious insects will feed on their entrails!"
Dean growled and sank lower into the seat. "I'm just a little irked by this situation, Sammy."
"Yeah, I…sense that."
"So stop mocking my pain," Dean said, with a warning jab in Sam's direction, "and help me figure this out before something really horrible happens."
"What, more horrible than not getting phone numbers from hot women?"
Dean gave up on resisting the urge and reached out to smack Sam upside the head.
"Ow!" Sam rubbed his ear and batted away Dean's second smack. "Stop that."
Dean subsided. He did need Sam's help, after all.
Sam gave him a wary glance. "All right," he said, back to soothing and reasonable. "Let's just…lie low while we deal with this. Nothing going on right now anyway, so here's what we do. Leave for Bobby's in the morning—Sioux Falls is only a few hours out. We get some help with...whatever this is. If nothing else, we can stash you in the panic room, safe and sound with a tinfoil hat. It'll keep you away from pool tables, at least."
"Very funny," Dean muttered. "But yeah, okay. Bobby's."
"Okay." Then Sam added, a little too smugly, "And I guess I'll be driving."
Which earned him another well-deserved punch.
Dean woke groggily the next morning in their motel room to find Sam pointing the EMF meter in his face.
"Stop that!" He pushed Sam's hand away and sat up. "I'm not possessed."
"Just checking. Wanted to make sure you're you."
"As far as I can tell, you are." Sam waved the meter around the room in general. "Nothing in our stuff's lighting things up, either."
"I know. Did that already. Searched my bag and the car. Do you think I'm completely hopeless?"
"Not usually, no. But if you're all wonky—"
"'Wonky'?" Dean repeated incredulously. "What kind of word is 'wonky' in this situation?"
"You said it yourself—you feel different. Not quite like you."
"That does not make me wonky! Wonky is…a table that won't balance because one of its legs is shorter than the other! Or a TV with rabbit ears that only gets three blurry channels, like most of the ones in every crappy motel we've ever stayed in!"
"Okay, you're not wonky," Sam huffed. "You're—"
"And I'm not crazy, either!"
"WHATEVER," Sam hollered. He tossed the EMF meter behind him to land on his bed and sat down at the table that held his laptop. "Okay," he said, "not crazy or wonky, but quite possibly cursed. Or something. So, let's hit the road, get to Bobby's, and figure this out."
"Shower," Dean grumbled, throwing off the blanket and grabbing clothes. "Coffee and pancakes and sausage."
Sam flapped a hand toward the bathroom, already booting up the laptop. "All yours. I'm gonna just look up some stuff…"
Dean left him to it and headed into the bathroom. He made quick work of showering and getting dressed, dug into his kit, and picked up his razor with a considering glance. It had a fresh blade in it. Nice and sharp.
He rubbed his stubbled jaw and put the razor back in the bag. "On second thought, maybe not a good idea this morning," he told his reflection glumly. "In view of recent events. Wouldn't wanna damage this face, after all."
With a grimace he recalled the previous night's…bad luck with the weapons.
After a harrowing ten minutes of trying to clean the guns—something that normally soothed his nerves—Dean had had to call it quits before he wound up shooting his own foot off with an apparently unloaded weapon. Second nature turned to sudden clumsiness, and the knives hadn't gone any better. A flailing, freaked-out Sam had taken everything away from him when Dean's Bowie knife slipped from his grasp to slice shallowly across his hand on its way to nearly taking off a fingertip. Sam had put the weapons bag on his side of the room with strict instructions to keep Dean's cursed, ill-fated self away from it.
"Hey!" Sam's voice suddenly boomed through the door. "Don't even think about shaving! You'll probably slit your throat!"
"Yeah, thanks for that image!" he shouted back, irate. He jerked open the door and stalked out, nearly hitting Sam on his way. "Don't worry, no sharp objects for me."
Half an hour later at the truck stop diner next door to their motel, coffee and pancakes and sausage weren't doing Dean any favors, either. Their teenage waitress, all dreamy-eyed over Sam's dimples and ridiculous hair, brought Dean cold pancakes, bacon instead of sausage, then somehow managed to pour hot coffee onto Dean's lap before he could dodge out of the way. Which made him yelp and bang his knees painfully on the table. Not to mention causing severe discomfort to other more vulnerable areas of his anatomy.
The waitress blinked at him, lethal coffee pot in hand. "Oh. Um. Sorry?" She turned back to Sam with a flirtatious smile and batting of eyes. "Anything else I can get you?"
Dean slid out of the booth, gritting his teeth, and leveled a finger at Sam. "Bobby's. Now. Order me breakfast to go. And pie. I deserve pie. Lots of pie. Which you are paying for." He looked down at his damp crotch and sighed. "Gonna go change."
Sam opened his mouth, a smile sneaking up at one corner, but Dean cut him off with a snarl. "One word, Sammy. Just one word, and I will kick your ass. Meet you at the car."
No driving, no handling weapons of any sort, no women (hot or otherwise), and, apparently, no pie.
Dean could've wept.
He ate his slightly-warmer-than-cold pancakes and sausage with weary despair while leaning against the Impala—passenger side, dammit—and thought longingly of everything in his life he treasured that had now turned against him.
"Sorry about the pie," Sam said, safe on the other side of the hood. "They'd just run out."
"At nine in the morning?"
"Yeah, well…" Sam trailed off.
"Friggin' curse," Dean muttered. "What's it got against pie, anyway? Poor, harmless pie. That's just going too far, Sammy." He swallowed his last bite of pancake and tossed the empty Styrofoam container in a nearby trash barrel. "There had better be pie somewhere between here and Sioux Falls."
"I'll find you some pie, Dean," Sam promised, opening the driver's side door.
"Only if you make sure to act like the pie's for you," Dean said, morose. "If it thinks it's for me, it'll disappear."
"I, uh, don't think pie is actually…sentient."
Dean made a face. "Yeah, and pool tables don't suddenly tip in the middle of a game, either." He got in the car—passenger side, wrong, wrong, wrong—and stared gloomily through the windshield.
"Yeah, okay, when you put it that way…"
Perching a pair of sunglasses on his nose, Dean waved at the highway in front of them. "Let's go. I wanna figure this out sooner rather than later. I wanna drive my own car, and I don't wanna get killed with my own gun."
Sam wisely kept his mouth shut, nodded, and started the car.
And if Dean gave a very quiet, very surreptitious sniff, Sam wisely ignored that, too. Because Dean Winchester did not cry like a little girl. Not even over pie.
He should've known better, really. After one of his fresh, newly-minted credit cards—not in his own name, of course—was speedily declined at the first gas station they pulled into, Dean stomped back to the car and made Sam pay. For everything. All the way to Bobby's.
Which, if truth be told, was the only good thing to come out of this whole curse-whammy-bad juju nightmare so far.
They called Bobby to let him know they were heading his way, without really going into why, and Bobby didn't push—though that could've been due to the crashes and the howling going on in the background right before Bobby hung up with an annoyed shout in Latin.
"That didn't sound good," Sam commented, pulling back into traffic on I-29.
"Huh. Guess I'm not the only one having a crap day."
When they pulled into Singer Salvage right around suppertime, the lights were on in the house, which was still in one piece. Bobby, also in one piece Dean was glad to see, appeared on the porch as Sam brought the Impala to a stop.
Dean eased out of the car with a quiet, relieved moan. He friggin' hated riding shotgun.
"Evenin', boys." Bobby came down the steps, and stared at Dean. "You all right? Sam drivin' ain't ever a good sign."
"Long story," Dean grumbled. "Which is why we're here."
"Well, then get your butts inside and tell me about it."
Sam had grabbed their duffel bags and now walked behind them into the house. "How about you, Bobby? Sounded like we interrupted an exorcism or something."
"Ah, that was nothin'." Bobby made a dismissive gesture. "Just an ornery spirit tied to an old grimoire. No wonder I got it so cheap. Now, just what's goin' on with you two?"
Half an hour later, over warmed-up chili and cold beer, Dean finished relating the sorry state of his life in the past week.
Bobby stared at him, beer bottle raised halfway to his lips, and let out a loud guffaw.
Which went on far too long for Dean's liking.
"It's really not that damn funny!"
Wiping his eyes, Bobby snorted. "Oh, yeah, it really is."
Dean crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. "I've been whammied with a curse that's turned me into less than Joe Average! I've totally lost my cool factor! Not to mention that I don't dare go on any kind of hunt because I'd wind up killing myself and not the damn monster! So stop laughing and help me figure out how to get rid of the bad mojo and bring back my awesomeness! I wanna be me again!"
Bobby turned to Sam, asking solemnly, "Did you think to check the Impala's trunk for a pod? Maybe Dean here has just been replaced."
Sam tipped his head in a thoughtful gesture. "Didn't do that yet. Guess I should."
"Oh, hilarious. This is not an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario."
"Just sayin'." Bobby shrugged. "Gotta cover all the bases, right?"
"I am not a pod-person," Dean muttered.
"Well, isn't that just what a pod-person would say?"
Dean let out an inarticulate growl, preparing to go sulk in private.
"Settle down, son," Bobby said gruffly, waving him back to his chair. "Stop frettin'. We'll get to the bottom of this, don't you worry. Me an' Sam'll put you right."
Dean paused, and slowly sat down again. "Okay."
"So," Bobby said, an unfortunate gleam back in his eye. "Did you ever get your pie?"
With a thud, Dean's head hit the table.
"Ah. Guess that's a 'no,' then. Sorry, kid."
While Dean wandered from one end of Bobby's library/living room/study to the other, Sam and Bobby tossed theories around.
"Dean's obsessing over a trickster being behind this, but it could be anyone with the power to lay a curse," Sam said. "Who and how…those are the questions."
"And how to get it off me," Dean muttered, carefully avoiding a three-foot tottering stack of ragged old books. "And then kill whoever did it, of course. Slowly."
"All in good time, son." Bobby tugged at his cap. "So, no cursed objects, nothin' showing up in your stuff that doesn't belong there. No hunts in the last few days, right? Nothin' leftover from some critter takin' a bite outta you, or gittin' hit with stray spells…"
"No, nothing like that," Sam said in agreement. "We finished up a hunt down in Missouri, nothing special—just a salt-and-burn—and it's been pretty quiet the last couple of weeks since."
"Been replenishing the cash supply," Dean added. "Had some downtime."
"Hm." Bobby sounded thoughtful. "And what happens when you boys take some downtime?"
A moment of significant silence ensued.
Dean found two sets of speculative gazes boring a hole in his skull when he turned around at the end of his pacing route. "What?" he asked, baffled.
"You get yourself involved in any random hookups lately, Dean?" Bobby gave him a stern glare. "Maybe a witch or a succubus or a pissed-off goddess?"
"No!" Dean protested.
"But would you know if they were a witch or a succubus or a pissed-off goddess?"
Dean glared back. "I think I know to steer away from certain types of women, thank you very much." He paused, recalling a killer smile, long legs, and an abundance of sweeping, dark hair. "The last one was definitely human."
"Uh-huh," Bobby intoned, the skepticism loud and clear.
"And talented," Dean added with a wistful reminiscence. "She did this thing—"
"Thanks," Bobby interjected hurriedly. "We really don't need a play-by-play."
"Fine. Your loss." Dean shrugged. "'Sides, Sam's the one who hooks up with demons possessing dead chicks, so don't look at me funny."
"Er," Sam coughed. "It was just the one demon, Dean. No need to get snarky."
"Just sayin'. Anyway," Dean went on, ignoring Sam's huff, "this just started a few days ago, and I think I woulda noticed getting whammied by a witch. They're never exactly subtle, you know?"
"All right," Bobby said. "Then let's break it down, huh? Tell me everything you did and everyone you talked to in the last few days—without," he pointed at Dean, "details about what happened in the sack."
Dean gave Bobby a leer.
The next day, and several curse-lifting attempts later…
"Knew it wouldn't work," Dean said, slumping into a chair at the kitchen table. "But thanks for trying."
The smell of burnt herbs and holy oil wafted through the house.
"Sorry, son, but ya know we gotta start somewhere." Bobby dropped into a chair across from him and sighed. "But, yeah, I got nothin'."
"Don't know the caster, don't know the exact curse. Or whatever. Gonna have to go find the rat bastard who did this, Bobby. Or somehow get them to come to us."
"Hell, maybe the damn thing'll just wear off on its own," Bobby said, frustration at being thwarted evident in his voice. "Just let it run its course. Seen that happen a time or two. Or if it is a trickster, like your old buddy, maybe he'll just get bored and wander off to pester somebody else."
"You honestly think I'm gonna get that lucky?" Dean demanded wearily. "The way this has gone? I'll be dead of some stupid accident first."
Sam joined them, elbows on the table, chin in hand, and let out a sigh of his own. "I think you're right. We're gonna have to backtrack and find out who did this. Don't know how to break it, otherwise. It's recent, and it feels…personal."
"Why me?!" Dean threw his hands in the air. "Yes, the awesomeness is obvious. But come on, I'm a nice guy."
"Yeah, what with all the killing of supernatural critters an' such," Bobby said. "Plenty of things out there would like a piece of your hide, kid."
"Killing me would be a lot more satisfying than this…this whatever-it-is!" He paused. "Right?"
"You'd think," Bobby replied dryly.
Dean shoved back his chair and got to his feet. "Come on, Sam. Let's get packed up. Time to hit the road."
"Got any particular place in mind?" Bobby asked.
With a shrug, Dean said, "That first pool game that went south. Start there. Before that, we were in a couple of podunk towns in southern Missouri. We've gone over it all backwards and forwards, and that's all I've got. Probably shoulda done that first, but hell, it was just one pool game…"
Sam nodded in agreement. "Ground Zero, here we come. And, uh, Dean?"
"Let me handle the weapons bag?"
As Dean opened his mouth to reply with what would no doubt be a snappy comeback, the air quivered and a familiar rustle echoed around them. And Castiel merged his way into Dean's space, staring at him with a peculiar—even for Castiel—expression.
"Uh, hey, Cas," Dean said, awkwardly attempting to move out of range. "Nice to see you."
"Dean," he said earnestly, still in Dean's face, "for some odd reason, I thought you were in a small, rather unsavory drinking establishment somewhere in what its residents confusingly refer to as the 'Show-Me State.' I went to look for you there, but you were not to be found." The angel cocked his head. "What does it mean? To sense you there but find you here? Is there something to Show Me, perhaps? I do not understand."
Dean frowned and exchanged glances with an equally puzzled Sam and Bobby. "What? You shouldn't sense me at all. Enochian rib-carvings, right? Or are they malfunctioning?"
Castiel frowned back. "Dean… Something is very wrong. Wrong with you."
"Well, duh, what do you think we've been—"
The angel suddenly reached out with two fingers and placed them on Dean's forehead before he could jerk away. But he didn't go anywhere; this time there was no flash of light followed by disorientation, a strange landscape, and bad hairstyles. Just a slight electric shock kind of tingle that went through his head and down his spine. He flinched.
"What?" Dean demanded. "The hell?"
Castiel drew back, looking impossibly even more serious than usual. He stared at Dean, eyes and mouth pinched. He didn't say anything, just kept staring.
"What?" Dean said again, grabbing the lapels of the angel's trench coat. "Don't leave me in suspense here, Cas." He swallowed and straightened up. "I can take it."
Castiel stepped away, gazing at him with sorrowful blue eyes, but offering no explanation.
Dean felt the blood drain from his face. "It's not just a curse or a whammy, is it? It's way worse. It's like, what, terminal. Or my soul got snatched, or I'm possessed by an unheard of something-or-other. So that's just great. I'm not me anymore, and I didn't even notice, not really, I mean I knew something felt off, but not really what, just the bad juju falling left and right, and now I'm just a pathetic shell of a human being and before you know it I'll be walking around in an amoral robo-zombie haze like Sam did—"
"Hey!" Sam protested. "Standing right here!"
"Knew it was bad," Dean went on. "But—"
"DEAN!" Castiel grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a shake. "Calm yourself. You are being overly dramatic."
"I'm being overly dramatic? After you come fluttering in here and tell me there's something wrong and poke your fingers in my brain?"
The angel gave a huff. "My apologies. But I am…surprised by what I have discovered."
Bracing to hear the extent of his doom, Dean ground the words out between his teeth. "Just tell me, Cas."
"Dean…you have, of late," the angel took a breath, and let out a mournful sigh, "lost all your…" He paused and his head tilted to one side in that confused puppy pose that Dean thought was actually kind of endearing, not that he'd ever admit it. After a moment of pondering, Castiel nodded, mind made up, and went on. "I believe the term is 'mojo.' I fear some outside influence is to blame."
After a stunned silence, Dean turned to Sam and poked a finger in his chest. "I was right! Didn't I say that? Just like Austin Powers, I said! Doctor Evil! Damn it!"
Sam blinked. "Yeah, you did say that. Huh."
"I know nothing of this 'Doctor Evil' you mention, but if he has perpetrated such a horrible act, he must be dealt with, and you must be restored to your true self." Castiel's eyes glowed bright. "Let us go forth and smite."
"I'm all for smiting." Dean perked up for the first time in days. "Yeah, let's do that."
"As you wish," the angel said, somehow looking taller and far more…smitish. Smiteful. Full of wrath and vengeance, anyway. "But first, however," he said, eyeing Dean critically, "there is something you need. You must be properly armed for the battle that is to come."
"Awesome!" Dean said, feeling a manic grin spread across his face. "Wha—"
Castiel disappeared in a whoosh of displaced air, and reappeared a breath later, a rolled up bundle beneath his arm.
"—t kind of cool weapon of smiting do I get?" Dean finished.
"You do not need a weapon," Castiel said. "You need your armor and signs of power to protect you and give you strength."
The angel held out the bundle, and Dean shook it out to reveal a very oddly familiar and battered leather jacket in his hands. It wasn't possible. Was it? Angels and mysterious ways and all?
"Aw, Cas," he said, his voice suddenly husky. "Dude. Thought this was gone forever. Stolen right out from under me. Damn." He shrugged it on; it slid over him like a second skin and settled comfortably in place once again.
Castiel might've smiled. "There is more. Here." He placed two small objects in Dean's hand.
"Where'd you find this stuff?" Dean asked, looking down at his hand. He fingered the silver ring, once again bright and smooth, for a moment before putting it on. "I tossed this out. It got all gouged up and dented after…" He flapped a hand. "Some hunt. Didn't even fit anymore. And this…" The last precious item swung in his grip, glinting.
"Put it on, put it on," Sam said, grinning like a gleeful eight-year-old on Christmas morning.
Dean slipped the amulet over his head, and it came to rest against his chest.
"That looks better," Castiel said in a very unangelic note of smug satisfaction.
"But, Cas, where'd you get this?" Dean asked again.
"There is a place," Castiel said, "where lost things…gather. Like cell phones and car keys. Forgotten thoughts. Plot holes from bad movies. The flotsam and jetsam of the universe. One simply has to know where to look. And exactly what to look for."
"Well, damn," Bobby muttered. "Now I know who to ask when I'm missin' a sock outta the dryer."
"Yes," the angel said gravely. "That is indeed where all socks congregate. I would be happy to retrieve any you have lost, Bobby."
Dean bounced on his toes, and cleared his throat, intent on avoiding any further chick flick moments. "Okay, if this is me being armed and dangerous, let's go smite some ass."
Castiel nodded and raised an arm.
"But," Dean rushed out, "I still think a few weapons would come in handy. We don't know what we're going up against. There could be an army of Fembots. Or sharks, with lasers. You never know."
Sam snickered at that, but Castiel responded in all seriousness. "I should be able to convince any sharks not to harm you, but very well. Bring what you need."
The three humans all took a few moments to load up with a number of guns and knives—Sam and Bobby only, Dean mournfully agreed—flasks of holy water, packets of salt, silver bullets, and other sundry esoteric oddments accumulated in a lifetime of hunting.
"Okay," Dean said. "Think we're set." He shot a glance at Sam and Bobby, getting nods in return. "Okay, Cas. Let's hit that bar you mentioned. Where you thought I was."
The angel gave a solemn nod. "Agreed."
The rushing, rustling of angel wings filled the air. Castiel seemed to gather them within his outstretched arms, and Bobby's library blinked out around all of them…
…And they reappeared, Dean staggering into Sam and Sam falling into Dean, in a very familiar dive of a roadside bar.
"Whoa," Dean said, grinning, as he got his balance back. "Holy deus ex machina, Batman."
"I am not God, Dean," Castiel said. "Nor Batman."
"Next best thing, dude. Trust me."
"Thank you, Dean."
Their sudden arrival did not go unnoticed by the denizens of said familiar dive of a roadside bar, and a few shouts, and a couple of feminine screams, went up.
"What the friggin' hell, man?"
"Everybody stay put!" Dean yelled over the babble of confusion. "Nobody do anything stupid. We just wanna ask some questions."
The shouts died down into muttering, but at least the dozen or so customers kept still.
With Sam already at his back, and Bobby and Castiel at the other corners of their defensive square, Dean quickly scanned the room, seeing bewildered faces, dropped jaws, and a couple of blurry-eyed stares. The bartender, recovering faster than his patrons, reached under the bar. Probably not for the makings of a fruity cocktail with an umbrella in it, either.
Meeting Castiel's eyes, Dean tipped his head a fraction. The angel was suddenly beside the bartender, and the sawed-off shotgun he'd just had in his hands turned into a bouquet of daisies.
"Kind of a cliché, dontcha think, Cas?" Dean raised an eyebrow.
"I enjoy the classics," Castiel returned, deadpan. Or maybe in total sincerity. Who knew?
The bartender, warily eyeing Castiel, had backed away behind the bar, still holding his former shotgun with some bewilderment. "What is this?" he demanded, though not as loudly as before. "Who are you guys, what are you doin' in my bar, and if you're not outta here in sixty seconds, I'll…" He looked at the bouquet of flowers in his fist. "Yeah, okay," he went on, deflating. "Never mind." He tossed the daisies on the bar in disgust.
"Thank you," Castiel said in all politeness. "I believe an open dialogue is started on a more positive note if there are not guns pointing at one another."
"We'll keep ours, thanks, Cas," Dean said, still searching the room.
Castiel's head went up. The angel suddenly looked like a retriever on point. "The Doctor of Evil is still here, Dean. I can sense…an aspect of you. But not quite you."
"Is that so?" Dean replied softly. "Isn't that interesting." He spotted stealthy movement in the back of the room, in the corner by the pool tables. "You!" he barked. "Hold it! Come out here with the rest of the crowd."
There was a muffled oath, a stifled squeal, the clatter of a tipped chair, and a thin, pale, twenty-something guy sidled out from the shadows, a pretty blonde woman desperately clutching onto him. Both with slightly disheveled clothes and mussed hair, breathing a little fast, it was obvious what they'd been up to in the corner. The man gave the woman an absent pat on the arm, and turned to Dean with a shifty, squinty-eyed smirk that had too much familiarity in it.
"Hey, Dean," the guy drawled with smooth arrogance, straightening his collar. "How's life treating you these days?"
Dean traded a look with Sam as his brother came to stand beside him. Sam wore a thoughtful expression, and the shotgun came up.
They guy wasn't exactly what Dean was expecting, but then, it seemed like evil witches never were.
"You've got a damn forgettable face," Dean said, studying the average, unremarkable features. A hint of stubble. Brown hair, not too long. Washed out blue eyes behind wire rim glasses. "Probably pretty convenient for you. But I always remember faces at a pool table. You weren't the kid I played against, but you sure were watchin'. Friend of yours?"
"Nope," replied Thin and Squinty, apparently ignoring the threat of Sam's weapon to focus on Dean. "Just happened to be enjoying the show. Gotta say, it was pretty funny," the smirk widened, "to see a guy like you get beat by a snotty frat boy who barely knew which end of the stick to use."
"Yeah," Dean said, pushing back his rising fury. "Pretty funny." He took a step closer. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"You just leave Derek alone!" the blonde shrieked at Dean. "Lay one hand on him, and I'll claw your face off, just you watch!"
"Oh, I'll be happy to leave Derek alone as soon as I figure out how he did what he did. And reverses it."
He heard Bobby and Castiel move up behind him. The rest of the bar had fallen silent, evidently more interested in what was taking place than in fleeing or calling the cops.
Derek tilted his head, his demeanor oddly calm for a man confronted by four others, armed, and who had seemingly appeared out of thin air. "Just what is it that you think I did? Besides watch you lose at pool."
"I think you took something from me," Dean said in a low voice, his hands briefly clenching into fists. "I don't know how, or why, but you took away a piece of what makes me…me."
The blue eyes went wide, and he gestured at himself. "Moi? You flatter me, sir. Anyway, do you know how crazy that sounds?"
"You're a witch."
A snort of laughter met this flat pronouncement. "Dude, really. Get out of the Middle Ages already." He favored Dean with another smug smile. "I prefer the term 'techmage.' Has a better ring, don't you think? Especially for a guy. None of that ridiculous Wiccan stuff for me."
Dean decided he really hated that smile, and would smash it off his face later, but for now, he stared just him down. "I don't give a fetid dingo's kidneys what you call yourself, but if you don't reverse whatever you did—"
"What?" Derek interrupted, pushing the clingy blonde aside and moving closer to Dean. "You'll kill me, huh, tough guy? Then you'll never get your groove back, Dean-o. It'll be mine forever."
"In my experience, killing the witch can break the spell. I really wouldn't mind giving that a shot." He paused, considering. "Slowly, of course."
"Jesus, will ya stop it with the chitchat already," Bobby muttered. "Let's take care of the smarmy twerp and blow this place." He reached inside one of his pockets and pulled out a leather bag he'd filled earlier.
"The time for smiting has indeed arrived," Castiel agreed, sword sliding down from his sleeve like a magic trick.
Dean grinned nastily as Derek took a step back, raising his hands in front of him. "Now, now, no need to get violent," the techmage said, the first hint of panic showing under the bravado.
Bobby started intoning in Latin, the words rolling out with impressive ease and authority. He hefted the leather bag as though about to toss it like a Holy Hand Grenade.
Sam cocked the shotgun and loomed menacingly, joining in on the Latin.
Castiel's angel sword started to glow with blue fire.
Dean quirked an eyebrow. "Hey, nice."
"I think so."
The room darkened momentarily, the air went thick, and there may have been a rustle of wings, but Dean couldn't swear to it.
A collective gasp went up from the observing bar patrons, and there was a sudden stampede as everyone, sober or not, scrambled for the door. Including the blonde, who let out a shriek and, without another glance at her erstwhile boyfriend, fled after the crowd.
"So," Dean said softly, stalking forward, forcing Derek to back up or get stepped on. "You seem to be outnumbered and outclassed. I suggest you rethink your strategy and undo the spell you whammied me with. Or things could get very unpleasant for you. Believe me, we've all had a lot of practice at this."
Dean saw the light bulb go on as, finally grasping a sense of his peril and perhaps imminent doom, Derek went a shade paler and stumbled back into a pool table.
"You messed with the wrong guy," Dean snarled, shoving his hand against the man's chest, flattening him over the table. "Tell me what you did. Give me back what's mine."
There was a pause in the Latin.
"One more phrase to go," Bobby said. "Let me know if I should keep going, Dean, and I'll lob this bag at our boy and fry his power but good."
Castiel appeared at Dean's shoulder, the tip of his blade coming to rest on Derek's collarbone. Derek let out a yelp as the sword snapped off a blue spark.
"Okay, okay!" His voice squeaked and went up an octave. "I give up! I'll break the spell! Just don't hurt me!"
Dean stared into the terrified eyes. "No promises. Tell me what you did," he repeated. "And why."
After an audible gulp, the techmage licked his lips, and said, "I, uh, saw you come in here that night. When you started playing pool. And how all the girls looked at you the second you walked in the door."
"How do all the girls look at Dean?" Castiel inquired curiously with a nudge of the sword when Derek stopped.
"Like they want him. They like what they see—those good looks and the easy charm." The man's voice went bitter. "Like they never looked at me."
"So you decide to steal my mojo so you can pick up women?" Dean shouted. "That's your motive for making my life a freakin' hell in the last week?"
"Yeah." Derek gave a wretched sniff. "Why else? And it really worked, too. Shelly was all over me that night."
"So why'd I lose a pool game and not be able to drive my car, huh? What's that all about?"
"It's…whatever else it is that makes you special. Strength of character. Self-confidence. Talents. Stuff you're just good at naturally. That kind of thing." He flapped a hand. "Your aura, essence, if you wanna be new-agey about it. Luck. What you've got a knack for. You know. Mojo."
"You slimy little weasel. You thief. You pathetic excuse for a human being." Dean glared at him, his hands fisted in the techmage's t-shirt to haul him upright. "Fix it. Now."
"What does 'uh' mean?" Dean queried dangerously when he trailed off.
"I think I can fix it. Uh, probably."
"Well, how about you do what you did, but in reverse, jackass?"
"Uh, yeah, okay," he said hurriedly. "I'll try that. Yeah." He squirmed in Dean's grip. "Um, can you let me go? I need to get my cell phone."
Both of Dean's eyebrows went up. "Your cell phone?" he repeated.
"Yeah, like I said. I'm a techmage." He squirmed again. "I use tech."
Dean loosed his fists and stepped away. Castiel slowly lowered his sword but still kept it pointed at Derek.
"So what did you do?" Sam asked. "Steal Dean's mojo by taking his picture on your phone or something?"
"Well, yeah. Duh."
"That's a new one," Dean muttered, trading a look with Sam. "Okay, get your cell phone, or sonic screwdriver, or what the hell ever, and reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, here. I've had it with you, your lack of dating skills, and have I told you how much I hate witches?"
Derek pulled a sleek new iPhone5 out of his pocket, thumbed it on, and brought up, to Dean's craning gaze, a very strange screen and decidedly unfamiliar icons.
"What, you got a friggin' app for this?" Dean asked, incredulous.
"Yeah," Derek nodded, fingers poking. "I invented it." The cocky swagger crept back into his attitude. "Been trying to sell it, but I keep getting shot down. People don't recognize genius when they see it. Blind fools."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Cut the evil genius monologue. Get on with the it."
"I don't have to tell you," Sam put in, "what we will do to your sorry ass if this doesn't work, do I?"
"Dude, enough with the threats," Derek whined. "I can't concentrate under this kind of stress." He fiddled some more. "Okay, that should do it." He squinted at Dean. "Stand a couple feet further back. Yeah, that's good. Okay. Say 'cheese'."
With a baring of his teeth, Dean just growled.
"Or not, then," Derek rushed. "Suit yourself. But hold still at least. You other guys, out of the way unless you want things to get really weird."
Dean held his breath, there was a click and a flash, his vision swam, and he wobbled slightly, feeling Sam's arm steadying him from behind.
"Dean? You all right?"
He considered that for a moment, giving himself an internal poke and general mental rundown, then thoughtfully squared his shoulders. His skin felt like it fit again for the first time in a week. Something had settled happily back into his inner being, like a cat turning around three times before curling up in a pool of sunshine. Dean mentally rolled his eyes at himself for that description, but he didn't care.
He bounced on his toes. He felt awesome.
"Now, Derek," Dean said pleasantly. "We have a few things to discuss before my friends and I leave…."
Dire threats of bodily harm, wrath, and angelic retribution quickly had Derek agreeing to give up both his evil techmage ways and his magically converted iPhone. After Castiel had zapped the phone into the universal whirlpool of missing stuff, he zapped them all back to Bobby's library.
Dean sighed and slumped into a chair. "Thanks, you guys."
"My pleasure, Dean."
"No problem, son."
"What do you wanna do first, now that you're back to being you?" Sam asked. "Find a hunt? Go play some pool? Score some phone numbers?"
"Maybe later." Dean smiled. "But first, let's track down some pie. And I'm driving."