Title: Verbal

Rating: G-13 for language and mature situations. Gen-like, with a twist. That's your warning.

ETA: Extra Special Warning! I've caught some flack for this fic, so I feel that I should put a super-duper warning on this one…but I can't without giving away the central conceit and the solution to the problem presented herein. So…um…let me explain. I'm a gen writer, okay? I write gen. This is a gen piece at the end of the day. If your mind goes elsewhere…? Well, 'nuff said.

Summary: Dean spills his guts. Sam is amused, then appalled. Oneshot, complete.

Thanks to the marvelous and amazing betas. Lemmypie mainlined Bonanza for me and then regurgitated it on demand. JM slapped me upside the head and demanded structure.

a/n 1: This fic makes references to events in my previous fics Red, Dazzleland and Cirque de Céline. How's that for self-pimping? However, you can totally read this without having read those other things. All you have to know is this: Sam left for Stanford from Niagara Falls, resulting in an annus horribilis for Dean and John (Dazzleland); the boys met a Trickster before the one in Tall Tales (Cirque de Céline); and Sam killed a Big Bad Wolf to save Dean in Washington State (Red).

a/n 2: according to the super-wiki timeline, there's a bit of a jump between Roadkill and Heart, with many eps possibly coming between. Rather unadvisedly, I'm going to ignore that very good bit of theorizing, and I hope super-canonical folks don't freak on my ass, because I'm following the ep airing sequence, which the super-wiki guys (rightfully) suggest might be fucked up. So Verbal takes place between Roadkill and Heart, sometime in late February, Season Two.

a/n 3: This is for Tabaqui, for whom I promised something where they talked to each other.

At first, Sam blamed the whole thing on Dean getting laid. But Sam didn't really want to imagine that, not at all, mostly because Dean was going to flaunt it so spectacularly that there was no point in imagining anything: Dean always filled in the blanks when it came to his sexual adventures.

So he rolled to his side and focused his eyes enough to recognize and eventually read his watch: seven thirty in the morning, and Dean hadn't gotten in till well after midnight, had been noisy as hell in fact – getting fucking laid always made Dean both cocky and clumsy – and should have slept until at least the time when all the breakfast shows were finished their hysterical banter.

Except Dean wasn't sleeping, was he? Sam could hear him in the shower, talking to himself. It had woken Sam up, the mutters and growls. Sam could hear Dean's voice above the blast of shower and the motel owner outside flinging howdy-doody morning greetings at some unsuspecting family come to the Silver Nugget Ranch-o-Rama.

Thin walls and doors; not exactly fortified. Turned that word over in his fuzzy mouth, thinking of wine and banks and all those frontier towns.

Sam stared at the garish table lamp, collecting his thoughts like Cracker Jack toys, which was to say, one at a time and not without a sick feeling in his stomach: last night he'd failed to notice the western-style stitching around the rim of the lampshade, the buffalo horns set above his bed like it was the front of Boss Hogg's Cadillac. Lucky he hadn't spiked that sucker through the back of his head, drunk and falling into bed. Wasn't that a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Where did Dean find these places?

Still, Sam would be the first to admit, finding a Bonanza-themed motel in Reno wasn't exactly a strenuous activity. Wait. That wasn't right. They were in Carson City, not Reno. Yesterday morning, Dean had alluded to some prior gambling altercation in The Biggest Little City in the World, had expressed a preference for the presumably clean slate of Carson City. Trust Dean to be running out of down-market Nevada bars in which to ply his stick.

In every sense of the word.

Sam got up, waited for the bathroom, could hear Dean babbling about something in the shower, not singing. For a minute, he wondered if Dean had actually brought someone back with him, the tone of it was so fucking conversational, but no, Sam thought he might have noticed that, given that the girl Dean had been slavering over last night had possessed a loud voice and wasn't afraid to use it.

"Motormouth," Sam banged on the door. "Hurry up, would you? I'm dying out here."

Sam realized that the sound of running water wasn't exactly conducive to ignoring a full bladder, so he turned on the TV. He rocked from foot to foot, watching a commercial for pull-up diapers, waiting for Dean to finish, awash in irony.

Sam brushed past Dean as soon as he opened the door, steam swirling in eddies like Maine fog, ignoring Dean's protest.

Relief. Toothpaste. Washcloth. No, man, shower, because he still smelled of bar and the bathroom reeked of urinal deodorant and it wasn't a good combination. The water was hot and smelled of metal.

"You know," Dean said as Sam stepped back into the yee-haw room, towel barely big enough to go around, "I'm pretty sure I've stayed here before. The horns," and he gestured with one hand, head tilted to the side. Something was wrong; Sam saw it immediately, mostly because he'd been living in Dean's pocket for more than a year and a certain way Dean's eyes slid to the side signaled it: Dean was freaked out.

"What-" Sam managed, but Dean ran right over him.

"I once heard that they have a bunch of bison horns left over from the big hunts in the 1870s, but that's bullshit. Think they'd keep crap like that? Doubt it. Tatanka," and he curled his fingers into little horns on either side of his head like in that Costner movie. "Someone's gonna fucking kill themselves on those one of these days, though you might be able to tie someone up nice and tight to 'em if that was your kink. The coffee maker doesn't work, piece of shit, that's what first clued me in that I'd stayed here before, didn't work then, either, and Dad just laughed at me, bastard. Think we should get some coffee, because I'm good for exactly fuck all without it."

He took a breath and Sam stared at him, saw the rim of white around his irises. "What the hell is wrong with me, Sam? 'Cause I haven't stopped since I woke up. I opened my eyes and I was talking, man. Yammering away." Another breath and a half-shrug. "But that girl last night. Really something. She wouldn't shut up. I wasn't talking then. Didn't need to."

Sam dried himself off, glancing at Dean every once in a while as his brother outlined last night's sexual conquest in nothing so tactful as 'broad strokes'. Sam finally pulled on a long-sleeved jersey knit and held up a hand.

Dean's brows quirked. "Haven't you been listening to a word I've said? Don't give me The Hand. I can't fucking shut up." Enough time to swallow. Experimentally, Dean pressed his lips together, looked for all the world like a little kid refusing to talk.

A long moment passed, Sam looking at him quizzically. Neither said anything, the television providing the only commentary.

Finally, Dean's breath exploded through his nose like he'd just surfaced from a deep dive. "You know, I've seen this one before," looking at the fuzzy screen, which was tuned in to that tall Texan – Dr. Baldy. "She's been screwing around with his chiropractor, not sure whose kid it is, but he still wants her back, but he doesn't want to give up the chiropractor either. Pretty difficult to find a good chiro, apparently. Can't believe it. Who the hell would go on a show and spill their guts like that? Are people really that desperate?" His eyebrows crooked together, genuinely stumped. Then he sighed. "People have nothing better to do I guess. Wonder how they look at each other once the cameras are off."

Scattershot attention back on Sam, who was laughing quietly in disbelief. Dean sounded like he'd had his shower at Starbucks and kept his mouth open in the spray.

"Why the fuck don't you get your hair cut, man? Cause you're looking like My Little Pony. Why don't we dye it pink and let the kindergarten girls go wild on your ass? Jesus Christ, there must be coffee around here somewhere. You think the Comstock Pump n' Ride across the street has coffee? Must have coffee. C'mon, Sam." Stopped, glared. "You're fucking enjoying yourself, aren't you? Don't look so fucking pleased. I sure as hell don't want to be stuck like this. What's that German word you used when Gordo got popped by the cops? Schadenfreude. You get that look on your face and it just makes me want to crawl under a rock."

This was rich. This was some kind of cosmic justice and Sam didn't care if it was a psychic hiccup or a curse, or fucking pixie dust. Supernatural shit was rarely so apt and so funny. Dean pulled on a hooded sweatshirt and then his leather coat, because it was late February in the Sierra Nevada and it was cold, even as he was saying something about what you usually found under rocks and fishing and the way worms squirmed as you put them on a hook, poor bastards.

Sam followed him across the parking lot, still laughing at his non-stop brother, sun too bright for this time of day, but thin and insubstantial, like fine crystal, somehow dangerous for all that. Light meshed with air, was like breathing some kind of vapor not of the normal plane of existence: harsh, pure, star fumes.

They crossed Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America, quiet despite the fact it was morning rush hour, coffee enough incentive for them both. Why did the psychic cross the road? Sam asked himself, but was still too muzzy to come up with anything clever.

"Hey," Dean said to the gas station clerk. "You got coffee? Is it decent? How long ago was it made?" A sign hung above where the clerk pointed. "That's the price? Fucking highway robbery." Dean laughed at his own joke. "Get it? Can you pour it into one of those gas cans?" In the corner by the dog-eared state maps, a pile of red plastic gas jugs was arranged like a Giza burial tomb. "Maybe I'll just take the pot. No, I'm just kidding."

He turned to Sam, smiling. "See, Sam? You get your hair cut like this guy and you'd be in business. Bet he gets laid a lot, telling the chicks he works at the Pump n' Ride." Clamped his mouth shut at that, visibly struggling. Shook his head a little at Sam's wide grin. He filled two paper cups, took a handful of sugar packets and jammed them into his pocket. Back to the counter, wallet out, bills thrown across the lotto-ticket blotter. "You want a candy bar, Sam? I'm hungry as hell."

Sam grabbed a Snickers bar and placed it next to Dean's Oh Henry. Dean, still talking incessantly about how peanut-free factories had to be the biggest crock of shit on the planet, waved away his change, maybe embarrassed – though Dean didn't embarrass easily – and shot out the door, the biggest coffee cup imaginable in his hand.

Dean was walking quickly, and Sam had to dance sideways, trying to get his attention. "So, are you just saying anything that crosses your mind?"

Dean shrugged. "I guess." His mouth pulled into a half-grin, not quite amused. "Can't really stop it, but you know, I can say one thing while I'm thinking another. I do it all the time, right? You know, I'm sitting at a diner and you're going on about some metaphysical mystic from the twelfth century and I'm talking back at you, but really I'm thinking about the waitress's legs or maybe how stupid your hair looks or just how fucking tired I am of hamburgers." He stopped, head down, looking at the parking lot asphalt. "You see? Right there? I was thinking that I didn't want to tell you how tired I get, shit I still don't want to tell you, but now – now I can try to say something else, okay?" He looked at Sam, and Sam's eyebrows came together.

"What are you trying to tell me, Dean?"

"Just…just, you know. Keep me talking about cars or song lyrics or baseball stats. Otherwise I have no idea what'll come out."

Sam grinned. "Sweet."

Dean was capable of inflicting some pretty vile looks when he put his mind to it.

"Okay, Sam," Dean said, aiming for the Impala. Sam didn't know where Dean thought he was going, but the car was home base, was home safe, home free. Home. Maybe he wasn't going anywhere. "Let's think this through. I've eaten something or picked up a cursed object, or been cursed. Probably not coincidence, right? Not some random thing. Who the fuck would do this to me?" He set the candy bar and coffee on the roof of the car, looking for his keys, "Better yet, who the fuck wouldn't want to do this to me?"

"Dean-" Sam tried, but Dean just coasted right over him, as relentless as a zombie with noseful of scent.

"I've never heard of a curse like this, but who the fuck knows? A talking curse? A curse where you don't shut up? It's not natural, right? Couldn't be some flu bug or psychological tic. A drug? Maybe someone slipped me something? Some super spy-drug?"

Sam was laughing so hard he thought Dean might hit him.

Instead, Dean shook his head. "Nah, someone's put a whammy on me. Probably at the bar last night. But all I did was fuck her, Sam, and it was not the most remarkable fuck I've ever had, fairly standard, actually, compared to other stuff. That would probably have been those girls and their cousin – shit, I think they said he was their cousin – after hours at Disney World. One of them worked there, right? And so they got us in, musta been about 2:30 in the morning, I think. Don't really remember because I'd had a little too much to drink. One of them was Sleeping Beauty or Snow White or some shit like that, but they knew how to get into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Whole thing was surreal. Bunch of fucking pirate costumes," and Dean wasn't looking at Sam, was climbing into the car, smiling and shaking his head. He waved and nodded to the Silver Nugget's owner who actually tipped his hat to them.

Top of the morning to you too, Pa, Sam thought, getting into the passenger seat.

"Was it Disney World? Is that the one in Florida? Or the one in California?" Dean covered his mouth with one hand, closed his eyes momentarily.

Experimentally, like he was adding vinegar to a baking soda solution in chemistry class, Sam said, "Tell me about the last time you were here, with Dad."

Dean stared at him hard, hand still over his mouth. Between the fingers, Sam heard. "You fucking bastard." Closed his eyes, angled away, but Sam could still hear him.

"I'm not talking about that."

Silence. It didn't last long: "I watched a lot of TV. Was like the fucking Lone Star channel or something, back-to-back episodes of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. I thought I'd go mental." The hand slipped down to his chin and his words got clearer. "Awful lot of silver in the ground, still. Dad said it used to protect this whole area, like some kinda huge safe house. A lot of it's been mined. Dad was trying to map out what was left, some ongoing project he had with Bobby, if I remember correctly. I didn't pay too much attention, was just happy to be in one place. I was flat on my back, recuperating from the last job we'd had. It was a relief, coming someplace where we didn't have to kill anything."

Dean turned to him, anger in his eyes, in the set of his expressive brows. "Just stop it, okay? It's bad enough without you and your fucking lawyer's questions. Like a freakin' cattle prod. Like I'm some kind of longhorn you're trying to get to Dodge City. I think I've seen every single episode of Bonanza, you know."

Sam's hand was clutching the door handle. He didn't know if Dean was in any condition to drive, thought maybe he wasn't, maybe it was a bad idea to maneuver a few tons of steel at high speed while your head was buzzing and your mouth moving like Martin Scorsese on coke.

Dean hadn't touched the Oh Henry bar. He hadn't started the car. Dean slumped back against the seat, his hand sliding down to the steering wheel. "So if it's a curse, maybe one of the chicks last night laid it on me. Maybe we've stirred up a coven or something, or some kinda New Age stuff – you piss anyone off? No? Musta been me. I liked the look of the one you were talking to, but it didn't go anywhere, did it? Do I have to show you how to do everything, Sammy?"

Sam had always known Dean's capacity for talking about sex to be pretty much inexhaustible, but this was taking it to a whole new level. Besides, they needed to figure it out and Sam couldn't so much as draw breath when Dean was like this. Abruptly, while Dean was saying, "So if you'd just bought her a drink, fuckwit, she'd have-", Sam slammed his hand across Dean's mouth, covering it completely.

The silence was unnerving. Sam sighed. "Jesus, I can't concentrate with you going on like this. Man." He took a deep breath. "Dude, if I take my hand away, are you gonna be quiet?"

Slowly, Dean shook his head. Sam thought for a second that his brother might be tearing up he was so freaked. But no, it was just the effort of not ripping Sam's hand from his mouth. On the steering wheel, Dean's knuckles were white.

"Okay," Sam breathed, leaving his hand where it was. "Okay. I'll think of something." His eyes darted around the car, finally landing on the backseat, where Dean had thrown the red toolbox. Duct tape. "I could...tape your mouth shut." Winced as he said it. Then smiled, almost apologetically.

Dean rolled his eyes and under his hand, Sam could feel his brother's mouth twitching.

"Okay. I'm going to take my hand away to get the tape. Is that all right?"

Everything in Dean's stare told him that nothing was all right, but he nodded just a little.

In one motion, Sam vaulted halfway across the backseat, hands grabbing for the toolbox. His right hand was slimy from Dean's saliva, but he didn't give himself time to wipe it away. Mostly because...

"Jesus christ, Sam, why the hell can't I stop this? I ought to be able to just shut up. I'm good at it, shutting up. Stop fucking laughing, I am too. When have I ever told you anything that I didn't want you to know? Is that my shirt? You're wearing my shirt! I bought it at that store outside Topeka and I kept thinking what the fuck are we doing in Topeka? It's ugly there, everything's ugly in Topeka, just the gray buildings and the chicks, man, the fugly chicks there like orcs or something. Do you think those hobbits were gay? I think they were gay, or maybe not gay, maybe just not really into chicks at all, just like those ones in Topeka-"

Sam knew he'd go insane if he didn't find the tape in the next five seconds.

"It always drives me nuts when you do that, lean into the back seat. Can't you just open the fucking door and go around? One time, I banged Tracy Felistra on that seat, right where you are now. Incredible. You and Dad were in the motel room and she was just so hot, not like those hobbit women, not at all, although her sister was even more...you knew that right? I think her sister liked you Sam, even though you were only fifteen and really incredibly pimply. How'd you have such freakin' bad skin when all you ate was cucumbers I'll never know, must have been all that chocolate milk, maybe -"

There, the tape, and Sam — mouth set in a hard line — ripped a length off, clapped it over Dean's mouth, and collapsed against the Impala's door.

"Tracy Felistra's sister thought I was hot?"

Dean nodded.

"Dude, why didn't you tell me?"

Dean shrugged with his fingers, his hand tapping the steering wheel, some tune in his head.

"Dean," and Sam made a motion for him to get out of the car. "C'mon. Let me get to my laptop, see what I can find out. You write down everything you remember about the girl last night, okay?" Dean scowled, but grabbed the Oh Henry and jumped out. Sam hoped that no one was watching too closely, because duct tape across the mouth usually only screamed I'm being kidnapped, help me.

While Sam tapped out different search vectors on an online database that had proven particularly useful for supernatural phenomenon in the past, Dean spread himself out on the bed, fingering the Oh Henry bar, twitchy like he had mites. Sam was hungry himself. The coffee wasn't very good, but he'd managed to drink both his and Dean's while he searched.

Dean scratched away at the notepad Sam had thrown on the bed, tentatively at first, then writing furiously, not stopping. Distracted by the information that there were no fewer than forty-seven known talking spells, curses, or hallucinogenic red herrings masquerading as talking curses, Sam didn't immediately notice what Dean was doing.

Finally, Dean threw the pad across the room, and it fluttered like a large wounded bird, a seagull hitting a windshield at speed. Sam looked up with alarm and Dean ripped off the tape with one hand. "Oooww!" he roared, balling up the tape and throwing it next to the pad where it bounced around like a possessed gray mouse. "Okay, Sam, okay. I can't do this. I can't do the tape thing. All it did was transfer it to the paper," and he gestured to the blown pad.

While Dean detailed how much he loathed having duct tape residue stuck to his face, commiserating with women who had their eyebrows waxed – or other parts, which led to a relatively restrained recounting of a bikini wax gone wrong – Sam picked up the pad, read the scattered scrawl. Dean's writing wasn't exactly neat at the best of times, but this was somewhere up there with Jack Nicholson's typing skills.

Behind him, Dean's voice petered out: he was deliberately taking deep breaths, trying to slow down, not be quite as manic. "There's some stuff in there about last night's stand – her name is Michelle, very nice woman. A bit talky. And no," Dean stared hard at Sam, still standing in the middle of the room, pad in hand, trying to parse the salient details from tangential information about everything from Dean's opinion of athletic socks to a strategy for winning at Crazy Eights. "No, I didn't tell her to shut up or anything like that. Maybe she just wanted me to open up or something. Wouldn't be the first. It's what Cassie needed, and I couldn't give it to her, no matter how much I wanted to."

Sam watched as Dean forced himself to a stop. Stuff slipped out if he wasn't careful. Important things that he kept close, that he didn't want displayed like produce at a grocery store.

"Tell me more about this Michelle," Sam prodded, changing the subject for him.

Dean nodded, picking up his thread. "Had a bunch of those scented candles, place smelled like the inside of a Chinese apothecary. Or a bakery – probably cinnamon. I think that cinnamon flavored gum is just the worst thing in the world. Why the fuck would you mess with mint?" He sat on the bed, staring beseechingly at Sam as though he really wanted to know the answer to that question.

Whatever pops into his head, Sam understood. Whatever this is, a curse, whatever, it's getting stronger. He scanned the lines of prose, looking for anything – there, an address, a description of her house. A description of the underwear she'd been wearing last night.

Meanwhile, Dean was methodically listing off the lyrics to 'Gallows Pole' while his knee jumped. Their eyes met, Dean's mouth turning around the words, quietly now, soft. "You know, the original folktale is about a girl on the gallows and everyone wants to see her hang, except for her true love, who brings a bribe for the hangman. Except in Zeppelin's version, it's a guy and he gets hanged anyway. Still a good tune. Don't think we have it on tape. We should get it."

"Let's go," Sam spoke over his brother's quiet words, holding his hand out for the keys.

Dean lobbed them over, still talking, almost under his breath. Then, "D'you drink all my coffee? Man, that's low. Better not go back to the Pump n' Ride, the clerk thought I was weird." Smiled through it. "Most people do, I guess." Ricocheted away from that, jackknifing like an Olympic diver to: "Don't think I can handle food, I'll probably choke," and tossed him the candy bar on the way out the door.

It was better once Sam figured out that he could just turn on music and Dean would sing along. Would invent words when he didn't know them, resulting in some pretty twisted shit around School's Out, which Sam was pretty sure even he knew the words for. But Dean was just fooling with him, making shit up because he was so easily bored, and Sam wondered if Dean had alternative lyrics for every song in his tape collection because he must have played those tapes a thousand times in the last year. And they hadn't been new a year ago; Sam remembered some of them from before he'd gone to Stanford.

He drove and Dean sang along, neither particularly happy.

Still, it felt more normal for the both of them, more normal than Dean verbalizing every thought that passed through his skull, from the profound to the ridiculous. On the way to Michelle's house, Sam learned that Alice Cooper was a great golfer and that Nevada was one of his preferred stops. Played in a bunch of tournaments all up and down the west coast. Sam stopped at a corner store and got another coffee and some bottled water. Dean was starting to sound a little hoarse.

Dean tried to drink the water, took a quick slug of it, sputtering, eventually got the hang of drinking and talking. Sam could see it was difficult, though. He started the car, consulted his map on the seat between them, and lifted his eyes to the Sierras, snow-dusted like coffee cakes, air so clear he could almost see to California.

"You know, I always liked this part of the country – real Bonanza stuff. We should go to Virginia City, not so far away, really feel like you're in the old west. Maybe a bit touristy now, I guess. I like Westerns, though. You remember Alias Smith & Jones and How the West Was Won? Here Come the Brides? Well, that was Seattle, wasn't it? Not exactly old west, I guess. Logging, not mining or ranching.

"Goddamn Seattle. That fucking Wolf, picking off guys like we were livestock," and he choked a little, a sound of denial, of refusal. "Was always glad to take the I-5 outta town. Dad didn't like going back, either. Didn't like-

"Drove the 50 a bunch of times, following Dad in that big black truck, checking up on you in California. You never knew about that, right? Hell, I never knew when we were going to do it, either. Sometimes I swear Dad would change his mind around Sacramento, he'd just pull over and make us turn around. Goddamn it, he loved that truck."

And Sam didn't want him to stop, he realized, slowed the Impala, made his turn, didn't look at Dean, wanted all these lost words.

"Don't know what he had against this old beauty, but he loved that truck to bits. Even when things weren't going all that well, the truck was a sort of…you know…a salvation." Sam glanced at Dean, worried that he'd stop, would change the subject.

One finger traced a line on the window, eyes distant, out the front, somewhere between sky and mountain. "Sacramento was like a decompression chamber, this way station between our hunting and checking up on you. But we didn't check on you that first year. Dad was still too mad. Maybe mad isn't the right word. Maybe it's exactly the right word."

I don't want to tell you this. Might as well have said it out loud; Sam understood. Typical that this was the only thing Dean wasn't willing to admit.

"We stayed here for a whole month that first year you were gone. Dad couldn't decide what he wanted to do. Didn't put it like that of course. Staying a whole month someplace was so weird. After that stretch in Niagara Falls, we'd been picking up and moving and picking up and moving. Mostly to avoid the cops. Mostly."

It wasn't the sort of thing Dean talked about. Not something that Sam had asked about, had never wanted to think about it, at first too clouded by anger and then, later, by guilt. But it had been forced months ago in a Niagara Falls gymnasium, a gun to them both, facing a demonic homicidal teen. Sam could see his brother's jaw working, his eyes glossing with emotion and this wasn't fair. This was a form of rape, a violation.

Sam rubbed his face, wanting and needing. It was like eating a whole chocolate cake in one sitting. Gorgeous, he thought, and it was a terrible word.

"Why are we stopping?" Dean asked rhetorically, noticing that Sam had pulled over. "This where Michelle lives? Shit, looks different in daylight, but most things do. I think she had a boyfriend. Maybe I should have mentioned that earlier. But he's away in Lake Tahoe working the ski hills or something. Maybe he's a cowboy. Did you know the guys in Bonanza wore the same clothes every episode? Made shooting a breeze. Most people think there's only two brothers, but there were three. Adam disappeared the fourth season. His horse's name was Sport, but I don't think he ever called him that. Little Joe rode Cochise and Hoss – which means big horse, was his nickname, his real name was Eric – Hoss rode Chub. Needed a fucking Clydesdale because Dan Blocker was a whopper. His son Dirk was an actor too, was in Baa Baa Black Sheep, remember that? Robert fucking Conrad, knock my block off. Dude always reminded me of Dad."

Stopped only to take a breath, voice raw as zoo food. Sam turned in the seat, reached out and gently put his left hand over Dean's mouth and Dean let him. The silence was remarkable and Sam let it sink in, watched Dean like a hawk.

He'd closed his eyes, sat quietly, but was thrumming with tension, an elastic looped around two fingers getting ready to snap with purpose, sharpshooter accurate. A frustrated exhalation through the nose across the top of Sam's hand. Sam adjusted himself, rested his right hand on his brother's shoulder and Dean allowed that, too.

"We'll figure this out." Dean wouldn't like the next part. "I think I should go in there alone. If she's not our curse-caster, you'll freak her the hell out. And if her boyfriend's back from Tahoe, I don't see how you'll avoid a fight and that's the last thing we need right now."

Dean opened his eyes and shook his head.

Sam tilted his head, hair hanging in his eyes. "No. It's gotta be this way." He met Dean's stare and knew that he was the one in control, that he could get a grip on this while Dean was slowly unraveling. "It's gotta be this way," he repeated, but softly. Behind his hand, he could feel Dean twitch, the muscles that usually controlled smiles jumping uproariously, teeth chewing the inside of his mouth.

Sam heard snippets of what Dean thought about the idea of his brother going in alone as he got out of the car, but Dean's voice was low, almost a growl, and Sam hoped like hell that this Michelle was a cooperative witch, one that would easily see the error of her ways.

A red pickup truck sat beside a tiny Japanese car designed before Japanese cars were considered luxurious, and Sam knew that the boyfriend's reappearance might be a mitigating factor, might actually work in his favor. Leverage, that's what this could be.

Problem was, Michelle wasn't a witch, wasn't apologetic, and didn't give a rat's ass if her boyfriend – who appeared indeed to be a cowboy – knew all about her one night stand. Practically wiped his nose in it. It degenerated into a scream-fest without Sam hardly opening his mouth.

Cowboy called her a whore and Michelle said that at least she had the decency to tell him about her indiscretions – which left Sam wondering whether they were actually indiscretions if she came right out and told her boyfriend about them – and then the cowboy was crying and it was all so awful that Sam backed away realizing that Michelle couldn't have put together a talking curse to save her life.

Which meant that they needed to find out how to break the curse on their own, because the list of people that a) Dean had pissed off and b) knew how to access curses was really ridiculously long.

"See? I told you," Dean murmured to the Impala's quilted roof once Sam jumped back in and gave his pronouncement of failure. "She's too dumb to come up with a curse. Gonna have to figure out how to break it ourselves. Think you can do that?" He peered at Sam warily, fingers drumming against his thigh. "Shit, you already know how to break it, don't you? Just don't want to tell me. Must mean it's messy. You are so fucking transparent, Sam. No good at poker whatsoever. Easier to find out who laid the curse so they can lift it, right? Because breaking it ourselves is going to involve –"

Almost lazily, Sam had his hand back on Dean's mouth. "Yeah. It'll be easier if we can find out who laid it. Think. We helped Molly on that stretch of road up in the mountains. We came down here to the valley. We've only been in town a day, Dean. Did anyone else in the bar give you a weird look? Did you make a stop on the way back from Michelle's? Piss off anyone in a – 7-11 or a gas station?"

Slowly, he took his hand away.

"You wanna trace back all the people I owe an apology to? Like that Earl guy? That'd be some funny ass sitcom, wouldn't it? Dean Winchester apologizing for all the fucked up things he's done. So, no, I didn't stop, drove straight to the Silver Nugget Ranch-o-Rama." Cleared his throat, kept going of course.

"Can't really miss the old Silver Nugget, right? That big cowboy hat and the lasso on the sign. When you were in Stanford? That's when I started scouting out the bizarre motels, I think I was trying to get back at Dad, because he never said a fucking thing to me, I was going crazy and I thought, you know I just thought, that maybe, one time, he'd be so fucking perplexed by the weirdness of the motel that he'd say something, but he never saw the humor in it."

He was talking about Dad, again. It always came back to that, no matter how hard he tried and Sam loved it and loathed how much he loved it.

"Fuck, he'd find this a particular kind of hell, wouldn't he? Can you imagine him sitting here, listening to me go on?" Dean laughed but it was choking, a bark close to a sob, voice shattering on it, then collecting itself like the winnings at a crap table. "Hey, maybe he is, maybe he's sitting in a sound booth in Hell and the yellow-eyed Demon has a little camcorder somewhere in the Impala and Dad's just writhing in agony, hearing me going on and on about him."

His eyes showed white and Sam's hand was back there immediately. Fuck.

"You want to know what breaking the curse is going to involve?"

Dean nodded emphatically.

So Sam told him.

Supernatural things – demons, witches, sprites – had perverse senses of humor. That ought not to have surprised Sam, but it still did.

Spilling your guts. Very funny.

"You sure this is going to work, Sammy?" Dean croaked, face pale in the buzzing fluorescent light of the tiny bathroom. Outside the window it was dark and Sam could hear the sounds of a couple next door going at it. Dean had already commented at length and in detail. "Couldn't you just prick my finger like Sleeping Beauty? Does it have to be blood from my belly button? Did you feel like this with the Wolf? You gonna fill my belly with rocks? That would be something. Kinda poetic justice or something."

"Shut up," Sam muttered under his breath, sorting through their first aid bag for a sterilized scalpel.

"Can't," Dean whispered, trying to take a sip of water from a cup. He ended up splashing half of it down his bare chest, still looking warily at Sam's back. "Wish I could. Listen, this seems like a half-baked ritual. Kinda lame. All it takes is a few bloody sigils on my chest with my own blood? But from my belly button. That's just…weird. And what if you, I don't know, nick something important? You could kill me, you know."

"Don't give me any ideas," Sam said, straightening from the bag on the long counter. He'd laid out a dusty spell book, the suture kit and a bunch of gauze and bandages. He didn't think that Dean would need any stitches, but he wanted to be prepared.

Dean wasn't so sure. "Fuck! What the hell's with all the packaging? You planning on gutting me?"

"Just enough to draw blood," Sam said, annoyed. "It's your belly button. People get them pierced all the time, don't be a sissy about it. But why the hell do you think science is just discovering the benefits of umbilical cord blood? Stem cells, they can reproduce themselves any old way they like. Priceless. Magic place, the belly button. Hold still."

Dean watched as Sam sat down on the toilet bowl cover and gestured for him to face him. "I've had more than one woman tell me that it was sexually stimulating when anyone touched their belly button, so maybe you're right."

Sam looked up. "You keep up with this and I will gut you."

Dean tried to look innocent, but that never worked even when he wasn't cursed. "I once screwed a waitress from Maine who'd had her bellybutton surgically removed. Never thought of it then – she had a bunch of piercings all over the place, was like something out a bad horror movie, played in a band – but maybe she'd had a curse lifted."

"I'm not taking out your bellybutton, you moron." It was easier to speak above Dean now that his voice was almost non-existent, a mere scratch, same sound as a rat in the wall. "Just a little blood."

He consulted the open book, making sure that he had the right set of sigils. Meanwhile, Dean related the last time someone had painted symbols on his body, except somehow that had involved melted chocolate.

"Wonder if I could lick chocolate off someone? Think you could arrange that? Might get something in me that way. I am so hungry," and that was small, was true, set Sam's teeth on edge. He hoped like hell this would work.

"You ready?" he asked, breaking across Dean's list of favorite blue-plate specials, organized by state. Dean nodded as he outlined the relative merits of a vinegar slaw versus a mayonnaise one. His voice didn't hitch as Sam made a small cut. It bled freely, thank god. First time lucky.

"You almost finished there, Sammy? Because I really can't stand being operated on. Dad once sewed me up, right here," and his hand slid down, found an old scar near his hipbone just above his jeans. Sam shoved Dean's hand away, trying not to think about how deep he'd cut, whether it was too deep or not deep enough. He got to his feet, no longer able to see his incision for the welling blood.

"Or up here, too." This time to a scar under his ribs, right side. "That one fucking hurt. Oswego Beach, of all places. Can I sit down now?"

"No," Sam said harshly, because of what he was doing and was trying not to think about. "This counter-spell is specific. You have to be upright and awake."

Dean had moved on to broxas, whatever the fuck a broxa was, and Sam only partially paid attention: Dean was going on about various weird monsters that Sam had never heard of. Dean had killed a shitload of things. Sam had always known that, but it was terrifying, hearing it listed like this. Cold, a catalog of death and blood.

Sam folded Dean's fingers down so only his index finger was straight, dipped it in the blood overflowing Dean's concave navel – and man, he really didn't have to worry if there was enough blood – and helped Dean copy the sigils from the book onto his chest, three to each pectoral, then a vertical series of small symbols down the path running like a lei line from sternum to circle of blood.

Sam was shaking, knew Dean would feel it, and sure enough Dean started to laugh. "Fuck it, what are you upset about, Sammy? It's me that's got a stupid curse. It's me that's bleeding from the middle. Hey, are you sure we've got this one right? Looks more like a cochlea in the book. Yours looks like that big snail from Doctor Doolittle. The musical, not the one with Eddie Murphy. I liked that musical. And the pushme-pullyou. I always imagined you and Dad like that thing, both pulling away and going round in circles because you two were too fucking stubborn for words."

Sam turned him around gently, and wordlessly began drawing the necessary sigils on Dean's back.

"You're a fucking butcher, Sam." A low laugh, hoarse. "That's what I told Jo, too, when she was digging out that bullet you put into me. You know I don't hold that against you, right? I could see that you didn't really remember that, but dude, seriously? That's at least four times you've shot me and if I wasn't such a big-hearted guy I'd be holding it against you. This isn't working, is it?"

Sam shook his head in frustration. Dean was going on and on, now about how Woody didn't have a gun in his holster in Toy Story and how weren't they a little bit like Woody and Buzz, maybe he'd start calling Sam Woody, except that Sam always had a gun and he didn't think that Woody had ever shot Buzz.

"Sit down," Sam said loudly.

"Thought I wasn't supposed to, that it wouldn't work if I was sitting down."

"It's not working," Sam admitted, sudden tears frustrating his ability to sound calm about any of this. "I don't know why, but it's not working. Come on." Sam dragged him from the bathroom to the bed, pressing a square of gauze against Dean's belly button, checking for when the bleeding stopped. When it did, he returned to the bathroom for the disinfectant and a bandage while Dean quietly listed all the ballparks he'd visited and which ones he hadn't.

Sam stood at the bathroom sink for a long moment. He splashed some water on his face, willed down the bile. C'mon, get a grip on yourself. He washed his hands thoroughly, soaked a washcloth to wipe the useless sigils from Dean's body, then forced himself away from the sink, back into the next room.

Dean took one look at Sam's face and turned away, throwing the bloody square of gauze to the floor. "Oh, fuck, Sam, stop it. It's not that bad," but Dean's thrashed voice wasn't pissed off, which somehow made everything worse.

Dean was soon cleaned up, lay prone on the bed, one arm thrown across his eyes. His voice was drifting in and out, sometimes audible, sometimes just a series of small croaks. Sam rummaged in the medical bag, took the sterilized paper and plastic wrapping off a syringe and filled it with sedative, and Dean asked, "What's that?" suspicious and instantly alert.

"You need to get some sleep, Chatty Cathy. I don't think you'll get it any other way. Just a little pin prick."

Dean sighed, gestured with his hands, mumbling about Mattel talking toys. He held out his arm, though, acquiesced without protest, grimacing as Sam slid the needle out handed Dean another square of gauze.

Dean glared at him, sinking back onto the bed. "Fucking horse doctor. You shoulda been a vet, Sam, with your bedside manner." But the sedative worked fast and Dean's eyes drifted shut, a bloom closing up when the sun went down.

Sam settled in with the laptop, anxious. He'd done the ritual correctly, he was sure of it. Even so, even in his sleep, Dean's mouth still moved, worked. Sam couldn't make out what he was saying, but every once in awhile a series of words would appear like the message at the bottom of a Magic 8 Ball: Don't want to; Yessir; Nice girl like you; Hit the mother lode, Pa.

By about three a.m., Sam knew they were in trouble. He had nothing. And Dean kept going even in his sleep, restless, veering from memory to television to baseball and back. And it was always about Dad, somehow, for both of them.

"Victor Sun Yen played Hop Sing. He did all their work, goddamn lazy-ass Cartwrights. He died of a gas leak in L.A., penniless, didn't find his body for three days. Spoke Pidgin English around the white guys, but when he was around Chinese guys, he spoke perfect English."

Sam lifted his head from his arm. His back screamed abuse at him, the laptop almost as deeply asleep as Sam had been. He blinked gummy eyes and registered that the sun was up.

"I'm gonna phone Bobby," Sam said by way of 'good morning'.

"Not a bad idea. I don't think I could hack one more of your curse liftings. And no more of whatever horse tranquilizer you shot into me after you'd drained me of half my blood." That with a grimace as Dean came to a sit. He reached back and levered himself up with the buffalo horns. "Bolted to the fucking bed as though anyone would steal them. Man." His voice was stronger, if only because he'd had some sleep, a few hours of unconsciousness.

"You okay? How are you feeling?"

Dean shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Like I just survived a fucking autopsy. Thanks," fast and heartfelt, but ultimately no comfort at all because he was still talking non-stop, wasn't he? "But seriously, you come near me with any kind of needle or knife and I'll scream like a six-year-old girl. Let's get this done today, okay? Man, I'd kill for a cup of coffee. Think I can get it down?"

Sam was already getting up, grabbing his coat. Pump n' Ride, here I come.

By the time he returned, Dean was dressed, pacing two steps to the silent television, two steps to the bed, muttering like a crazy person off their meds. As soon as Sam entered, though, Dean calmed, too white and too worn. "Great. I'll let it cool before trying to drink it in case I spill it all over me."

"You sound like crap," Sam said, pulling out his phone and dragging the bedraggled notepad closer to him. He sat by the laptop, fingering the number pad of his cell, eyes on Dean.

"I know. I think I've busted my vocal chords. Should be used to it, I guess. You got me pretty bad in the throat once, too. At the Falls. Remember? Jesus, if I had a dime for every time you've clocked me or shot me, I'd be rich. The shit I put up with."

Sam had forgotten that, actually, had forgotten Dean's silence back then. Had needed that memory to disappear if he was to enter the real world of Stanford. Had put it away as deliberately as Christmas decorations in January.

"I'm sorry," he said softly.

"Shit, I know you're sorry. Even when you were fucking doing it, I knew you'd be sorry. I don't want to be saying all this, I don't." He was trying to stop, but the compulsion was relentless; something had changed in the night and Sam saw it right away. "I always knew you were sorry, even when you didn't know it. Like I said, you're fucking transparent."

Sam swallowed hard, not wanting to ask, hoping Dean would just go on, but he couldn't help himself. He wanted to know. He needed to know. To take responsibility, he had to know.

"What happened? After I left?" he asked over Dean's continuing mutters about Sam's transparencies.

Though it didn't shut him up, it did startle him, and Dean turned to Sam, eyes wide. "Oh god, Sam don't ask me that. Please don't ask me that. Because I'll tell you and I don't want to, I really don't want to. You're sorry, let's leave it at that-" and suddenly, Dean was heading for the door fast, hand over his mouth, the words still coming, seeping through his fingers like the Demon had seeped through the floorboards in that goddamn South Dakota cabin.

A mistake, god a mistake, and Sam momentarily rested his forehead in his open hand, the other about to speed dial Bobby, but now guilt rushing to him like tide on a beach. The door was open to the icy outside and Sam could see Dean resting by the Impala, his head down, one hand across his stomach, the other roaming the surface of the car, beloved as a child, lips moving incessantly, head slowly shaking back and forth.

What was it like, after I left? Memories too hard to hold, let alone give voice. It was what Sam wanted and here it was and it was cursed. Dean would talk about anything, and Sam could apparently guide it.

It was a curse and he knew it.

Sam got to his feet, slowly walked through the open door into the too-bright parking lot, a large neon sign for Lucky Jack's Casino looming over the far sidewalk like a psychedelic ogre. Dean looked up as Sam approached, but Sam was fast, put his hand over Dean's mouth, held it there for a moment, saw the gratitude gleaming sharply in Dean's eyes.

"I'm sorry," Sam repeated, leaned his forehead for one brief moment against Dean's, pulled away, but left his hand where it was. "I know I've been saying that a lot, but I mean it. I'm going to give Bobby a call. And if that doesn't work, then Ash. I don't know if either of them will know how to help, but I'll figure it out." He offered a small smile to Dean, like a child would offer his sitter a frog. "There's an answer."

Dean reached up, pulled Sam's hand away, but held onto his wrist while he said, "Let it be? Is Mother Mary going to come to me?" This was rich fodder, family dynamics disguised as song lyrics. While Dean concentrated on that, Sam led them back into the motel room, where Dean cataloged the words to all the Beatles songs he knew – which was more than Sam had ever thought possible; British blues was one thing, the Beatles something else – and tried to drink his tepid coffee.

First ring, like the man was waiting for them. "Bobby," Sam said. "We gotta problem."

Sam outlined the bones of the curse; Dean rattled off the entirety of 'A Day in the Life'.

Well, that is a problem, Bobby said, but he didn't sound amused.

Sam had realized about halfway through his explanation that to anyone who knew Dean, this was the funniest thing, ever. This was justice. It was hard to convey gravitas, though, while Dean was ticking off what was going to happen when he was sixty-four and why anyone would call their grandkids Vera, Chuck or Dave.

Bobby didn't know Dean in a slipshod manner, though. He knew him in a way that Sam was just beginning to understand; it stemmed from a time that he knew nothing about, and Bobby wasn't finding this funny in the slightest.

You've tried blood sigils?

"Yeah. Didn't work." He took a deep breath. "Listen, are we going to have to backtrack, see if we can find out who cast this thing? Is that our only option?"

A silence, and Sam had a mental image of Bobby adjusting the sit of his cap, maybe taking it off altogether and rubbing his hand through his hair. Where the hell are you?

"Carson City," Sam explained.

Well, goddamn, Bobby said, just as Dean wondered loudly why Rocky Raccoon had it so bad for some girl who couldn't even get her own name straight. That's blood soaked territory for sure. Comstock Lode and for every asshole who made a million pulling silver to the surface, there's plenty more whose bones are underground. You hunting ghosts there? I'd love me a piece of that action. Why the hell do you think I settled in the Black Hills, anyway?

Gideon was busy helping with good Rocky's revival and then Dean was on the d'do d'do section of the song and Sam thought that if he had a gun right then he might have gone all Daniel to Dean's Rocky. "Bobby, I can barely hear you, Dean's singing."

That doesn't sound like singing to me, Bobby replied. But if that spell didn't work and you did it right, there's only two possible explanations.

"What're those?" Sam put one hand over his ear, but Dean's voice was getting rougher all the time, quieter, the rustle of paper in a library.

Have you considered that maybe it's not a curse?

"What?" Sam objected, knowing where Bobby was going. "He's not on drugs, he's not nuts. You think Dean's having a psychotic break? He's not crazy!" And looked at Dean, who smiled and shrugged unhelpfully: Maybe Bobby has a point, Sam.

Hold on, there, Samuel. Bobby had never sounded contrite in his life, wasn't about to start now. Was even and solid and Sam was ready to worship the ground he walked on, as long as he wasn't suggesting that Dean was clinically insane.

"Okay, what's the other possibility?"

A pause, Bobby assembling words like chess pieces. Maybe, Sam, he's not the one who's cursed. Wise enough not to say anything further, would let Sam come to it like a spooked alley cat attracted by offered food.

"How could that be? Are you…" Sam gathered the evidence to him, stared at Dean, mouth moving, nothing coming out but thin air. "Are you saying that it's my curse?"

Could be. You ever wish Dean would tell you stuff, open up a little?

Oh man. Sam kept his eyes on Dean, who had come three steps closer, head cocked to the side, trying to get a sip of coffee in between the wisps of verbiage. "Yeah. I've said it half a hundred times in the last week alone."

Well, maybe it's not a curse. Maybe someone granted you a wish. And there's only one thing I can think of that grants double-edged gifts. At least one that knows you boys well enough to know the dilemma a gift like this presents.

"You're joking." Aw, man, this was worse than he thought. "A Trickster?"

Could be. If it's your curse, performing a blood spell on Dean wouldn't have any effect whatsoever. If it's a Trickster causing this havoc, a blood spell won't work no matter what. Were you talking to anyone at the bar the night before this happened?

"I've met two Tricksters in my life, Bobby, and the woman I was talking to definitely didn't look like either of them."

Dean's voice grew louder, both because he was standing right beside Sam and because he was outraged.

"Goddamn it, Sam! A Trickster? I fucking should have known it. Why do you have to go opening up your goddamn sad sack story to every pretty thing that bats her eyelashes at you? You are a freak of nature, falling for it like that. A Trickster doesn't have one fucking shape. It can change shape. Hell, maybe the girl slobbering all over you and your beer-soaked ass that night was one of the Trickster's chicks."

"We killed that one, remember?" Sam interjected, but Bobby was already telling him the same thing. Then something else occurred to him, had been there all along. "Wait a minute, Bobby," and passed the phone to Dean, who said hello to Bobby and proceeded to tell him all about the Comstock Lode and the general plotline of Bonanza's third season, Dean wondering why every girlfriend Little Joe ever fucking had got killed off. Bad for ratings, maybe, some kind of Cartwright curse.

Sam looked in his duffle bag, searching for the jeans he'd worn the night before last, thankful that the present crisis had prevented him from doing laundry. His hand found a crumpled gum wrapper and a torn receipt. He flipped the receipt over and read the telephone number under the name 'Angelique'. No wonder he hadn't pursued her; that was a stripper name if he'd ever heard one.

"Give me your phone," he interrupted Dean's long soliloquy on all things Ponderosa. Without pausing, without skipping a beat, Dean walked to his jacket, gave Sam his phone.

Carefully, Sam dialed the number. It rang five times before someone picked up.

The voice didn't sound like it belonged to a stripper; it sounded like it belonged to a French cold war spy and all the hair on Sam's neck stood up.

Hello Sam, Etienne Marcoux said, lanolin smooth. I was wondering when you were going to give Angelique a call.

Sam swallowed; it was made difficult because of the anger. "Take it back. Now."

Oh, you're going to hurt my feelings. I thought I was only giving you what you wanted.

Dean's eyes were on him, but he was reciting the theme song lyrics from Bonanza now and Sam felt a little bit of his heart breaking as Dean said, "With the friendliest, fightingest, loving band that ever set foot in the promised land, and we're happier than them all. That's why we call it Bonanza. Is that not the crappiest theme song you've ever fucking heard, Bobby?"

Sam sighed into the phone. "You don't get to do this to him. Make it stop."

A pause as Etienne appeared to consider options. Maybe you should think about what you really asked for, Sam Winchester. Maybe think about what it would feel like to have to give that. Then come talk to me. And the line went dead.

Sam immediately tried the number again, not finished – I'm not finished with you, asshole – but only got a recording, informing him that no listing was attached to the number. Goddamn. Sam restrained the urge to throw the phone against the wall. It was Dean's phone after all. Instead, he nodded to his brother, put Dean's cell on the table.

"That freak from the Cirque," was all he said.

"Etienne Mar-fucking-coux? He could be anywhere." Dean gave him the phone, Bobby rendered silent on the other end. "He's got some fucking sense of humor, that one."

Sam rolled his eyes, angled away from Dean, because Bobby was talking again.

Sam? This is serious. Tricksters don't lift their work, even if you can find them. People have to work out their own solutions. But if you find him, you might be able to make him talk, give you a clue.

No way did Sam have any confidence in getting Etienne to talk, even if he could find him again. Slippery. Not evil, not exactly, but operating on a level of moral superiority way above Sam's head, which was saying something.

"Great," Sam muttered. "We'll see what we can find out at the bar. I just got off the phone with him. He said to 'come talk to him' and that's the only place I can think of where he'd be."

"Unless the Cirque's in town," Dean didn't so much join the conversation as run right into it like a kid would the ocean. "Close enough to Las Vegas, aren't we? That's where they went." He went on to detail the various things he'd like to do to the Trickster far more explicitly than Sam really wanted to know.

Be careful, Bobby warned. Like I said, there's still a lot of silver in the ground around there, George fucking Hearst and his cronies didn't get it all out. Lots of strange things got hid behind that silver. Playground for a Trickster. Hard to tell what's safe and what's open season, just like they like it. You'll have to improvise. Bobby paused. It's probably what the Trickster wants you to do. The point, you might say.

"For me to figure it out how to reverse it? For me to learn some kind of lesson?"

Bobby was too polite to say anything to that. Too smart. So Sam thanked him, slid the phone closed and looked at Dean, hunched over, small sounds escaping from him. Still, when he felt Sam's attention, he pulled straighter, small smile tugging his moving lips.

"Please tell me I'm going to get another crack at that asshole. Because I'd love nothing more than that." He cleared his throat and Sam didn't have to imagine how sore that must be. "We have a whole day to kill before that bar opens. Cards?"

Never in his life had Sam won so many hands of poker. It wasn't hard to win when Dean kept telling him what was in his hand. No matter how hard Dean tried, his attention kept wandering enough that he'd let slip what he had and what he needed and then he'd just slam his hand down on the table in frustration.

Sam was pretty sure that Dean wanted to throttle him, but somehow, Dean had managed to keep those words out of his mouth. The only thing he seemed to have control over now, the not-telling Sam that he'd like to kill him. By virtue of the fact that it had held out till last, Sam knew it was the most important, which somehow made it worse.

Sam was learning, though. Every time they got close to something important, something that Sam yearned to have, some missing piece of Dean that Sam recognized if only by the known territory surrounding the void, Sam forced himself to deflect the conversation with a well-placed question about seventies television, or he turned up the music on his computer, listened to Dean make up words to songs he didn't know.

It was a question of ethics and rights, and Sam had always had a moral stick up his ass, even he would admit it. He wouldn't take advantage of Dean this way. Couldn't.

Opening hour wasn't coming fast enough.

It was a long shot, for sure, that Etienne would be conveniently waiting at the bar, ready to release Sam from whatever wish he'd inadvisably made. Not a curse. A wish. Goddamn Tricksters and their lawyer's adherence to the spoken word. Assholes.

They walked in, Dean refusing to wait in the car, not if he had even the slimmest chance of punching Etienne Marcoux in the face, the bar dark after the clarity of the mountain afternoon. Dark, but not dark enough to disguise the fact that no one bore even a remote resemblance to the wiry Etienne.

Sam got them both a beer, avoiding a group of large men who looked as though they drove trucks for a living, all of them big as Highland Games athletes. The bar was rougher than Sam remembered, the kind of place that he usually avoided getting drunk in.

Angelique had bought him his third and fourth drinks, Sam suddenly remembered. Fuck it, I was played. He described Etienne Marcoux to the bartender, the same one from the other night, but even as he sketched out a description – exquisitely short, hard-to-pin ethnicity, dapper, flattop haircut, probably dressed in expensive European suits – Sam realized that the Trickster would have stood out like a peacock in a henhouse.

He carried the two brimming glasses back to Dean, who was murmuring under his breath, looking at the pool table longingly.

"Don't even think about it," Sam advised, sliding the beer to Dean. He took it, eyed it, and tried to take a sip before spilling half of it on the table.

"Shit," he whispered. "C'mon. The bartender must have seen something. You ask about the girl who put this fucking thing on you? You didn't, did you? You're a freakin' monk. Just like Dad, letting your obsession get the better part of the good times. What would one night have cost you? What would one night have cost him?"

He stopped himself, barely, staring hard at Sam.

"And how come even when you get cursed, I'm the one who suffers for it? It's a fucking pathetic joke, that's what this is. The gods have never liked me," and he got up, crossed to the bar and Sam followed him out of fear more than anything else.

He had reason, because as soon as Dean leaned against the bar, one boot up on the brass rail running along the floor, the bartender for the moment occupied at the far end of the counter, Sam knew what was going to happen. Shit, it was bad enough when Dean had ostensible control over his mouth. So much worse now.

Because one of the truckers – or miners, or caber-tossers – bent and greasy cap perched precariously on the back of a balding head, ginger moustache fringing a mouth fully occupied with his third or fourth beer of the day, noticed Dean.

Gave him a look.

Dean never took kindly to being given a look, the kind that sized him up, judged him, ran a mental measuring tape around his merit, took stock of his defenses. Sole purpose to determine whether he could fight, or steal someone's girlfriend, or win at any game he put his mind to: pool, darts, foosball.

"You are so not my type," Dean said quickly, fingering the condensation on his glass. "So stop looking at me that way. You know, that cap does not disguise the fact that you're losing all your hair. I hear some chicks dig that, so that's fine. You should stop worrying about it, because that's not your problem. You're not married are you? No fucking wonder, you should think about maybe expanding your idea of a date by actually asking a woman out. Trouble is, guys like you always get on with the other guys, right, but when it comes to women, you don't have a fucking clue. It's like that guy in the 40-year-old Virgin or that baseball movie about Boston and the World Series. You know, the one with Drew Barrymore. Don't have a fucking clue how that one came back from the partying – must be hell to have a famous family. They screw with you, families, don't they? But what can you do? You're stuck with them."

Sam watched in horror as Balding Cap Guy came to his feet. He was big, which didn't normally alarm Sam, not when it came to Dean, but there were circumstances to consider, not the least of which was that they needed to find the origin of their problem and Sam was pretty sure Etienne wouldn't be caught dead wearing a battered cap that declared Virginia was for Lovers.

The bartender noticed an altercation was in its initial stages, came over, eyeing them intently. She looked as though she wasn't above knocking their heads together or throwing them out on their asses, either outcome completely undesirable.

"We gotta problem here?" she asked, basilisk calm.

"No problem," Dean and Sam said at the same time. Dean was the one who continued, of course. "Listen, sweetheart," and surprisingly, Sam watched as the sharp bartender smiled a little at the word 'sweetheart'. When he means it, he means it, Sam thought. "My brother here, you remember the girl he was talking to night before last?"

But of course, couldn't wait for the response. That was the problem.

"I told him he should have taken her home, but he's such a fucking putz when it comes to these things, almost as bad as my friend here," and he jerked his thumb at Cap. "I tell you, it's somewhere between traveling with a monk and an idiot savant some days. Dopey as hell, most of the time. I can't for the life of me figure out why he always liked that dwarf best, either. I mean, Dopey always scared me. I kinda liked Grumpy. Or, tell you the truth, even Bashful was better."

He was getting stared at and no wonder.

"Bashful wanted to jump Snow White's bones, too. Sammy's not Bashful, though. Dopey, definitely. The whole story was stupid as hell. Love's true kiss. What a load of crap." He turned to Cap. "You still staring at me, asshole, because I'm good for it-"

"I oughta-" but Cap didn't get much further; Sam stepped between them.

Behind him, close against him, Sam heard Dean keep going. "Yeah, you oughta what, cementhead? You're all about what you oughta do instead of what you can do, am I right? Sam, step the fuck away. This goofy jerk wants a piece of me and who can blame him? He's frustrated in every other way, might as well take a swing at me. Surprised those fucking dwarves didn't haul off on each other all the time. What is it with dwarves? It's genetic, right? Used to freak me out a little, tell you the truth…"

Dear god, he wasn't going to start in with the gay hobbits again, was he? Keeping one eye on Cap, who indeed looked as though he'd climb over Sam to get to Dean, Sam turned.

"Dean, we should go," he tried whispering, but Dean was having none of it. Not that Sam could blame him, not after the last twenty-four hours.

"Go? We're not going anywhere until we figure this out. This is your curse, not mine. You work it out, Sam, work out a way to break it, to – aw, jesus, I don't know – to act on your stupid wish, to give back what it is that you were asking for. You know, pay it back, or make it come full circle-" and then was on to the Circle of Life and how Walt Disney had fucked up every great story there ever was and Sam's mind was going faster than Dean's mouth for once.

Because what Dean was actually making sense. All of it came together, a Tetris game going at light speed, each falling block fitting together, Sam turning and Dean turning and all that blather, all that nonsense, suddenly making sense.

What had Sam really wanted?

For Dean to trust him enough to tell him. For Dean to open up, for him to show Sam what was inside.

What would it feel like to truly give that?

The mirror act wasn't possible; no way could Sam compete with Dean's mouth, nor would Dean want him to. But somehow the idea of the reciprocal gift and dwarves and Disney-fied folktales all coalesced and Sam was forced to concede that he needed to make his own luck.

Dean had both elbows on the bar, back arched to protect his sore belly, yammering on about Old Yeller now, hands fisted, ready for what was to come.

Well, not quite ready, Sam thought briefly, leaning in.

The kiss Sam gave him was long and shocking, as it was meant to be. He had to make it count, had to invest it with all the warped longing and suppressed emotion that cloaked everything Dean did. Sam had to give it back.

At first, Dean's mouth was still moving, still going on about it being his dog and that he had to kill it, and something struck Sam obliquely there, with those words. It was stupid and it was sad and it hurt deep down. Then Dean's mouth held still, shivered, responded to what Sam was giving him.

For once, giving.

Such a long kiss that Sam was breathless when he finally pulled away, eyes locked on Dean's, not asking for forgiveness this time, knowing full well what he'd done.

Dean's mouth opened, then shut. The swallow he took was noticeable. And silent.

The bartender was still calm, this time with a tiny smile that Sam only half understood. Sam closed his eyes, turned away, utterly overwhelmed.

"What a bunch of fucking freaks," was all the warning he got that Cap was offended and on the move.

Bar fights were common enough to have a usual rhythm for Sam, but it wasn't as though either were in top form, what with the lack of food and the lifted wish. What with the sheer exhaustion. What with the kiss.

Luckily, Sweetheart the Bartender had a shotgun and that shut everyone up pretty fucking fast, even Dean. They left on their own accord, Dean looking regretfully at his beer as he grabbed his coat.

No words were said on the way back to the Impala; Dean held his hand out for the keys and Sam passed them to him.

They sat for moment before Dean turned the engine over, just breathing the cold air. After all, there wasn't much left to say.


ETA: OMFG…it's not 'pigeon' English, it's Pidgin English, of course. ROTFLMAO. Pigeon English would be the English that…birds speak. snort

ETA2: As I said at the 'warning' section, this one has a bit of a bend at the end. LJ has one or two advantages over this fanfic site, the biggest one being that I can enter into public discourse with readers that have questions/concerns/views about decisions I make on the virtual page.

Over on my LJ, I've discussed ad nauseum why I decided that the 'wish' had to be broken with a kiss. Several folks have wondered at my intentions, whether I was taking a little wander over to the "dark side" as one person put it. I wrote Verbal (in part) for Tabaqui, a delightful writer-friend who tends to write slash and wincest. She wanted something 'where they talked'. Careful what you ask for, eh? The kiss was a bit of a wink and a nod to her, but it was also the most powerful way to end, the one thing that would actually shock Dean into silence while at the same time achieving what Etienne wanted in the first place: for Sam to 'give back' all that he (generally) takes for granted (and let's face it: a lot of us viewers would like that too).

Yeah, I could have found another way, I suppose. But I didn't. This is what was intended from the outset. Opinions always welcomed, but I follow the muse where she takes me. Continue discussion over on LJ, or read my responses there! Cheers, BigPink.