The sign on the bedroom door says Dean Cursed- DON'T COME IN, and Sam turns away from the door, confused, to see Charlie going for one of the apples on the counter. "Witch hunt?" he asks, rifling his hair out of his face and wincing when he realizes it probably needs cutting again.
"Yeah," she says, leaning against the counter and running the apple around in her fingers like she's trying to decide where to start in on it. "Not far from here. Ghost, actually, ghost of a witch. Which… was pretty cool."
"What happened to Dean?" asks Sam, jerking a thumb behind him. Charlie shrugs.
"Wouldn't say. As soon as we got back to the car, he turned the radio up to eardrum-shattering and hightailed it back here." Decisively, she bites into the apple, the loud noise in the relative silence startling Sam. "Hasn't said a word since we ganked Elphaba."
Sighing, Sam turns back to the door, reads the sign again, and decides that no embarrassment- whether Dean's talking in limericks or growing scales- is worth risking his health crammed up in his bedroom instead of getting help. He goes in.
In the dark room, Sam almost doesn't see Dean hunched over by the far wall, tucked into himself and staring resolutely at the Star Trek poster he taped up last week. "Hey," says Sam, keeping his voice level. "Charlie said you fought a witch."
"And you believe her like you believe every lying bitch to walk through our door," Dean spits, not looking away from the wall.
In the seconds that follow, Sam's too shocked to even be offended. "What?"
"Seriously," says Dean, eyes fixed forward, "Bela, Ruby. You've got yourself a history, Sammy."
If it weren't for the sign on the door, Sam would go for the holy water. As it is, he steadies his shoulders and takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says. "This is the curse. This isn't you. Okay?"
"See, you're smart." Dean's voice sounds like him but not like him; at least, he's not talking the way he normally speaks to Sam. He's talking the way he does when he's leaning over a demon in a Devil's trap, spewing out snarky retorts and biting insults. "That's why you went to college and abandoned us."
"Okay," Sam says again, to himself, mostly trying to ignore Dean. "I'm, uh, I'm gonna get Cas, maybe he can fix-"
"Don't," Dean says, and his voice sounds manic like he's trying not to talk but also trying to scream. "If you bring him in here I swear to God I'll kill you like I should've done years ago."
"Okay." One last look at Dean's curled over shoulders, and then Sam steps backward out of the room and lets the door swing shut, the sign flapping for a moment before falling still. At the counter, Charlie's watching with a half-eaten apple and an inquisitive look. "What exactly happened before you burned the witch-bones?" Sam asks, turning to her.
"Well," she says carefully, balancing the weight of the fruit in her hand, "he was being all reasonable with her. Trying to convince her to go gentle into that good night, or whatever, because he got all quiet and told her how rattling around all day throwing furniture was only hurting the people she loved." After pausing to take a large bite out of her apple, Charlie continues. "Then she said something to him- I didn't hear it- and waved her fingers kind of, and then she went up in flames because I got to the lighter."
"Okay," Sam says, feeling the word rapidly overtake most of his vocabulary, "I think I know what's going on. Maybe." Leaning back against Dean's door, he fumbles for the phone in his pocket and starts skimming through for Garth's number. "You should probably get out of here, I think he's worried about the curse getting to you."
"Hey, I don't care," Charlie says, straightening up. "If Dean's in trouble, I want to help."
"No, it's not like that, it's…" And he hesitates, because he's not one-hundred percent sure what it's like. "He didn't say anything to you on the way here?"
"No," she says, shaking her head. "Kinda looked like he was going to chew his lips off to keep from not talking, though."
"Yeah," Sam says, letting his shoulders relax, because a diagnosis is a diagnosis, even if he doesn't know the cure yet. It's a step. "Yeah, I think I figured it out. You should go."
"Fine," she says, and though she sounds like a petulant teenager he can tell it's mostly for show, because she grabs for her jacket and rolls her eyes at him good-naturedly. "But I'm stealing another one of your apples." After doing so, she's almost out the door when she turns back and calls, "Let me know what's going on with Dean," before disappearing out the door.
Garth picks up on the second ring, sounding tired, and Sam wonders if he's been sleeping. "Hey," he says. "It's Sam. Dean's cursed."
"How so?" chirps Garth, immediately alert and focused.
"It's like…" Thinking of what Dean had said to him, what he'd been telling the witch, Sam says, "It's like he's cursed to say the most hurtful things he can to the people he loves." As soon as he says it, he realizes he's right. Why else would he try to lock himself in his room? He didn't want people coming in and getting an earful of abuse. Especially not Cas. "There's gotta be a cure here somewhere, it'd just be nice to have some back-up."
"On my way."
Waiting for Garth, Sam ends up sliding down the wall and sitting on the floor with his head crocked back against the doorframe. After asking once how Dean's doing (and getting "Better than any of the girls you've screwed, that's for sure" in response) Sam doesn't bother trying to talk to him.
When Garth knocks on the door, a careful pattern of raps, Sam jumps up and goes to answer it, barely conscious of the fact that he's begun counting to himself to keep him from worrying. Swinging the door open, though, instead of just Garth, Castiel is there, his head poking over Garth's shoulder.
"He poofed into the backseat," Garth shrugs, elbowing his way in. Sam gives the angel a tight smile of greeting and lets him pass, annoyed.
He opens his mouth to tell Cas that Dean doesn't want him here, but as soon as the thought crosses his mind, Sam snaps his mouth shut again. Dean doesn't want you here. Talk about hurting the people you love. While Sam leans back against the front door trying to figure out how to phrase it in a way that doesn't sound vicious, Garth heads for the library.
"So," he announces, clapping his hands together, "involuntary speech and action related curses. There's gotta be a book on that in here somewhere. Sam, man the Internet." They head off to their respective jobs, leaving Cas swaying awkwardly in the middle of the room.
"I'll go check on Dean," he says finally, spinning on his heel. Looking up from his computer, Sam tries to stop him but still hasn't figured out what to say.
"Okay," says Sam (yet again), "but just remember- he's cursed. He's not exactly Dean right now- you know?"
"I know," says Cas, and then he's gone.
The familiar rustle of wings makes Dean stiffen; the accompanying "Hello, Dean," gets him to turn around. His eyes look dead, his lips raw like he's been biting them to keep from talking.
"Go away," he ekes out through his teeth. Standing ramrod straight by the door, Castiel doesn't move. "Please," Dean adds, sounding desperate, begging like he's gasping for air, "please, go away. Go away, you worthless traitor." The words fall like dominoes and Dean claps a hand over his mouth, eyes pleading.
Cas, if anything, looks pleased in a morbid sort of way. "Don't worry," he says. Dean looks surprised; evidently, he doesn't think he's the one who needs comforting. "I know you don't mean it. I know you're cursed."
"Yeah, but you couldn't even figure out when you were cursed, could you?" he answers. It's like everything he says has to climb out of his throat with claws and teeth before erupting from him, and he hates it. "Couldn't drop me a hint that you were back to just bein' Heaven's Little Soldier."
"And I am sorry for that." Despite everything, Cas is keeping his calm well enough. Unfortunately, it only seems to spur Dean on more.
"I don't think you mean that," says Dean. "I don't think you can, angel." Making a face like he's swallowed acid, he adds, "Weapons can't feel sorry."
A few minutes of abusing Castiel later, Dean hears Garth knocking on the door to say he's cobbled together the cure in record time. Cas switches places with him.
Outside Dean's room, Cas breaks his perfect posture and leans against the wall beside the door. At the table, Sam watches him.
"You okay?" he says, wishing Castiel hadn't gone in there in the first place.
"Yes," says Cas. "Yes, I'm very much okay."
"Okay." And Sam knows that any minute know Dean will come slumping out of that room looking sick and tripping over himself apologizing, telling them he didn't mean any of it. He knows that Dean'll probably stay up tonight and get drunk. What he doesn't know is why Cas is grinning from ear to ear , face pinkish. Sam slides back from the table and pushes his chair in, turning to face Cas. "What could he have possibly said that would make you smile?"
"Oh, he was terrible to me," Cas says in that blunt way of his. The smile doesn't drop. "Completely awful. He's cursed to say the most hurtful things he can to the people he loves."
"I know," Sam reminds him. If it's possible, Cas grin widens. "So?"
Sinking a little down the wall, Cas says almost to himself, "He loves me."