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Prank'd

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PROLOGUE


THE
ROAD SO FAR:

Amanda Winchester is dead and John is possessed by the yellow-eyed demon. Their son, Dean, has abandoned his old life as a college student and musician and taken to the road with the mysterious hunter, Sam Campbell. Sam is teaching Dean about the supernatural and, together, they have embarked on a quest to find and rescue John, and avenge the deaths of their mothers.


NOW

Upper Creek , Texas .

As he descended the stairs his torchlight fell on an assortment of jars arranged on the dust laden, cob-webbed shelves that lined the room. His expression reflected a sense of morbid fascination with their brackish contents and the nameless shapes festering within.

"We should leave," urged his athletic, blonde companion. "Trust me. No good can come of this," she insisted. "I've faced this thing before. Once it sees you, it never lets go."

As he turned, the light from her torch picked out the sweep of his dark hair and accentuated the determined cut of his jaw, the glitter of his darkly intense eyes. His voice was deep and gruff as he told her "I'm not leaving. We have to find my brother."

He moved cautiously into the depths of the dank cellar and began to revolve slowly while training the torch beam around the room. As he completed his circuit the beam rested once more on the face of his companion. He noted her slack jaw and wide-eyed shock at the same instant that he felt something cold brush against the back of his neck. Hesitantly he turned and raised fearful eyes upward, toward the body hanging from the rafter above him, its head twisted at an unnatural and grotesque angle, purple swollen tongue lolling in a face frozen into a gruesome death-masque. Then, opening his mouth to yell, he emitted a long, high-pitched girly wail.

There was a moment of stunned silence before he and his co-star caught each other's eyes and both erupted into a fit of helpless giggling.

"Cut!" yelled the director.

"Sasha! What was that?" Sarah demanded, recovering slightly as she wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. Frank was laughing so much he was starting to choke for real, and a crewman had to help him extricate himself from the halter that secured him to the rafter.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Sasha gasped. He chewed at the insides of his cheeks, trying to regain composure, but it was no use. He was gone.

The sight of Fran Spires heading his way sobered him a little. He wouldn't say he was afraid of the writer/director of Grudge Holder II, but she was influential in her own sphere. It was rumored she could get anyone in Hollywood into her flicks and have them do anything she wanted. And Sasha didn't want to open a script and find himself hanging from a rafter in the next scene.

"That's great, Sasha. It's all good," she assured him. "Love your work." She paused. "We'll go again. And this time, do you think you can make the scream a little more . . . um . . . macho? I mean, I know it's your brother but . . ."

"I know. I know. I'm sorry. I think maybe I'm a bit . . ." he grimaced ". . . off balance . . . you know, after this morning?" She couldn't blame him for that. She'd approved it. Of course, that didn't necessarily mean she approved of it. "I'll find it," he promised.

Fran nodded. "I know you will, angel."

"Going again, everybody!" yelled a set worker. "Ten-minute reload for camera and sound!"

Sarah had wandered off to get a drink so Sasha decided to take a little walk to settle himself. Pulling out his cell phone he started to compose a message. "Ciao, sashamores!" he tweeted. "Still not recovered from my brush with the prank'd team. Those guys got me good. Plotting my revenge on the tall guy! Rotflmao!"

Sasha's attention was suddenly arrested by a horrendous rending and crashing noise coming from behind the cabin. As he moved toward the back of the set he witnessed trees and scenery being hurled hither and thither, seemingly by some invisible source. It was an impressive sight, and he wondered how it was being achieved without the benefit of C.G.I. He also wondered why he hadn't been informed an FX scene was being filmed today. Perhaps the new guy had slipped up. He shrugged and turned away from the commotion, but hadn't moved more than a few feet when he started to notice a whole bunch of NC17 shiz-nickel: swathes of red splashed across the set or glistening in wet pools, severed limbs with ragged, bloody ends. The techies on this movie really knew their stuff; he'd never seen such realistic work. As he stepped back to avoid compromising the scene he felt something warm and wet drip onto his head and trickle over his ear. He wiped it off and stared at the red stain on his fingers.

Warm?

It was then that he noticed the growing stench: rich, pervasive and visceral. He looked up. Hanging from a lighting rig above him was what remained of a man Sasha vaguely recognized as a member of the Prank'd team: a bloody head hanging broken and twisted over a limbless torso that swayed gently backwards and forwards trailing streamers of intestine.

Sasha vented a hoarse and guttural scream of horror. Absurdly, it occurred to him that Fran would have been pleased with it. Unable to move, he was rocking slightly with a sense of disconnection and unreality. He was half conscious of people running up behind and beside him, and presently he recognized the two nearest him as the new P.A. and his tall friend. The young man traded glances with his friend.

"Son of a bitch!" he snarled.

 

SCENE 1: KEEPING UP WITH SAM


One Week Earlier

Dean's heart rate began to quicken. Something had woken him. What was it? As he came more fully awake he became aware of the sound of regular movement accompanied by soft grunts and exhalations. After a moment he began to relax as he realized it was just Sam doing his morning calisthenics. Dean opened his eyes and watched for a few minutes with a kind of rapt fascination as Sam performed his routine with the unrelenting rhythm of a metronome. The man was like a machine.

Except for that body. That was definitely flesh and blood and hard, rippling muscle. It made Dean feel almost effeminate by comparison. Not that Dean wasn't gaining some muscle of his own since he'd started to work out himself (when Sam wasn't around to judge his performance), but he had a long way to go before he could compete with Sam's Olympian level of fitness. How many sit ups had he done now, anyway? Was he even counting? Dean thought about Sam's obsession with order: the way he laid everything out in neat rows when he was packing or unpacking; the positively Vulcanic organization of the weapons cache . . . hell, even the toiletries in the bathroom were always arranged in the same precise line. Oh, yeah. Sam would be counting.

"Twenty-five . . ." Dean suggested, helpfully. "Seventy-eight . . . sixteen . . . a hundred and three . . . seven . . ."

Sam's rhythm ground to a halt with an exasperated sigh. "Dean!"

"Morning, Sammy!" Dean responded gaily, flashing him a broad grin, then as Sam returned to his routine Dean made a quick leap for the bathroom.

Much to Dean's surprise, Fido was up this morning and begging for attention. It had been so long since there'd been any activity in that quarter it was really a shame not to let him out to play, but now wasn't really the time, especially since Dean hadn't locked the bathroom door. Not that there was any danger that Sam was going to walk in without knocking; he was really precious about bathroom etiquette. God knows why. Not like Dean had anything different from what Sam had, did he? Still. After a sharp flick from the back of Dean's thumbnail Fido dropped so Dean could take a whiz. After washing his hands Dean paused to splash his face and rinse away the evidence of another poor night's sleep. He dried himself on the hand towel and dropped it into the sink when he'd finished.

Sometimes the hardest part of his life was finding a reason to get up in the morning. A reason to go on wasn't an issue; he had a long term goal (find the demon, rescue his father) and an interim plan (train, learn, get ready – saving people, hunting things); but the downtime, when there was no hunt to occupy his attention, that was when he needed something immediate to motivate him to get up and face the day. Most days that something was Sam. And finding as many different ways to annoy the man as he possibly could.

It was important to remember that he wasn't just doing it for the fun of it (although, obviously, it was fun). No. He was doing it for Sam's own good. Though his friend had many admirable qualities, it had to be acknowledged he had control issues. Seriously, he was wound. The dude considered it a personal failure of discipline if he cracked a smile. Dean had decided to shake the pot a little. He had concluded that what Sam really needed in his life was a judiciously applied dose of disorderliness, and Dean considered himself ideally qualified to provide it. What he was doing was . . . a community service. Before leaving the bathroom Dean reversed the order of Sam's deodorant and shaving foam.

Sam was sitting at the table going through a stack of dailies. Before joining him Dean paused to turn on the radio and the strains of one of his favorite Scissor Sisters numbers blared from the speakers.

You can show me the work that you've done, your fears have been disguising,
Is it just me or is everyone hiding . . .

Sam made no comment, but the familiar pruning of the lips bespoke his disapproval of both the song and its volume.

"Your half-caf, double vanilla latte is getting cold over here," he said, his tone implying value judgment.

We'll fight fire with fire, fire with fire, fire with fire
Through desire, desi- sire, desi-, through your desire

For a while after the death of Dean's mother Sam had been admirably (irritatingly) tolerant of Dean's idiosyncrasies, like Dean was made of glass or something, but now he was starting to come back with some 'tude now and then. Like his black coffee, extra strength, no sugar somehow had status over Dean's latte with syrup. Even more mystifying was the constant unspoken implication that his favored rabbit food was superior to Dean's burgers or bacon rolls or whatever. As Dean approached the table Sam picked up the coffee and a cardboard carton, proffering them at arm's length like they were something he'd scraped off the grass at the park, while at his own elbow sat some protein health shake crap that looked like it had been scraped off the grass.

Dean took a sip of coffee as he sat down at the table and booted his laptop. He noted that the carton contained his usual, and wrinkled his nose in mock disappointment.

"Actually, I was thinking of having an omelet and muesli this morning."

Sam looked up, surprised. "Seriously?"

"No." Dean took a bite of his roll and started to chew noisily. "But I might have wanted a change. You didn't ask, did you?"

Sam stared at him for a moment, then rolled his eyes and turned back to the newspapers. Dean continued eating his breakfast and focused on his computer. He brought up a couple of porn pages first. Then he began his routine searches for demon sign. When they yielded the usual fuck all he closed the laptop and checked his cell phone while he finished his breakfast. There were no messages. He wasn't expecting any, but he could always hope.

Sam likewise finished scouring the newspapers and from his expression it was clear he'd found nothing of interest. Absently he reached for the laptop, but then he hesitated and glanced at Dean.

"Do you mind . . . ?"

Dean smiled. "Sure. Go ahead."

Sam opened the lid and typed in the password to reactivate the screen. As the page came up his shoulders positively sagged with exasperation. "Have you finished with this, Dean? Can I close it?"

"Is that Busty Asian Beauties or Best Breasts?"

"It's both," Sam replied, tight jawed.

"Oh, yeah. You can close those." Dean smirked. Sam stared at him for a moment. His eyes narrowed, his lips pruned, and he clicked the mouse with an irritable flourish. Jeez. Sometimes he was just too easy.

Mind you, after breakfast was serious payback time for Sam, and Dean found himself reflecting that if he was smart he'd lay off his secret mission until after the morning run. Sam always ran just far enough ahead to let Dean believe that, if he tried just a little harder, he might catch up. And even though Dean knew it was a con, he still couldn't help trying. After the punishing run came the daily game of "how many times can Dean get dumped on his ass or rabbit punched in the gut?" or combat training as Sam called it. Still, if he wasn't very much mistaken, he was improving. Sure, Sam was still out running him, out maneuvering him and knocking him flat, but these days he was at least starting to break a sweat doing it. Of course, Dean always arrived back at the motel looking like he'd just come back from a steam bath but Sam usually let him shower first, which was good of him really considering he hated how long Dean spent in the bathroom.

Not that Sam said anything. Not like he had to. Sam had the ability to radiate disapproval without saying a word, and he disapproved of so many things that Dean did. Which only made Dean want to play up more.

"You go ahead," he told Dean this morning. "I'll get some laundry done," and he opened a cupboard and pulled out the trash bag their clothes were collecting in.

"You'd better take these as well, then." Dean peeled off his sweat sticky t-shirt and tossed it at Sam.

Sam caught the hot, damp garment and stared at it for a moment. It was hard to read the pinched expression on his face but Dean took it for distaste, especially when he hastily stuffed the shirt into the bag like he was afraid he might catch something from it. Dean was already sliding his joggers down his thighs, and as he stepped out of them Sam held the bag open so Dean could throw them in. Which was unfortunate because, with his hands occupied holding the bag, Sam failed to prevent the joggers landing in his face. He didn't make that mistake twice, though; he caught both of the sweaty socks and pretty much hurled them into the bag.

"Are you done?" he demanded, with a definite snap in his voice.

Dean was tempted to toss him his boxers as well but that would probably be going too far, especially since Fido seemed to be getting a bit frisky again after all the exercise, so Dean contented himself with tossing Sam a casual wink before making a quick exit into the bathroom.

As he started the shower and adjusted the taps Dean's head was still full of the morning's training. It was tough, and would probably leave him with a few bruises, but it was invigorating. While he waited for the temperature to stabilize he practiced a few of the new moves Sam had taught him. He'd gotten in a few good punches himself today, and on one occasion he'd actually drawn a surprised "ooff!" from Sam. Dean grinned as he remembered the moment with satisfaction.

They were at a semi-respectable motel for a change. The room had a half decent shower with hot water and reasonable pressure, and Dean spent a minute or so just enjoying the play of the water over his shoulders and back. By the end of that minute he had a full on boner. Apparently his libido was back from sabbatical. He half ignored it while he washed his hair, face and arms, though occasionally he tilted his hips to catch the stream of water over the sensitive dome and his breath caught a little at the pleasure it afforded him. It had been a while.

Not that he was fully into it. So his body was back to normal – which, good – but his head was full of so much new crap at the moment it was hard to concentrate on anything else. It had been a steep learning curve these last few weeks, what with the work outs, the weapons training, and working his way through Sam's scary schizoid journal – but he had some time to himself now while Sam was away at the laundry, so he might as well take advantage of it. He worked up the best lather he could with the cheap motel soap and started sliding his hands over his chest and torso, circling his nipples with his fingers and tracing the backs of his fingernails over the tightening flesh. "Mmmmm," he grunted as he tweaked and twisted the buds into stiffened peaks and his dick twitched with heightened interest.

Sam had been showing him how to make his own ammunition, too. He'd shown Dean how to use the vice, and how to fill and pack the cartridges. And he'd really got on board with Dean's idea about the rock salt, really seemed quite pleased about it. Dean's hands moved down, spread out over his abdomen and started stroking lower with smooth, firm, revolving strokes. His tight shaft stood to attention and quivered with anticipation.

"Yeah, wait for it, sucker," Dean murmured as he began massaging his lower belly.

The shotgun they loaded with the stuff kicked like a son of a bitch, though! The first time Dean had fired it he'd ganked the top off a pine tree. He moved lower, sliding his fingers into the gap between his thighs and teasing the flesh beside and behind his balls, letting out a long breathy exhalation as nameless thrills sparked through his loins and skittered up his shaft. Dean had thought it was pretty funny. Sam had just rolled his eyes. God forbid he should admit to having a sense of humor. Dean lathered his hands again then slowly massaged his balls, gently working the flesh with his thumb and fingers. His eyelids fluttered closed as he enjoyed the sensation, and he sucked in his lip, running his teeth over it as his dick ached for attention.

Even on his second try when Sam had adjusted his stance and shown him how to brace the gun against his shoulder, the recoil had still taken him by surprise, shuddering through his whole body and knocking him back into Sam's arms.

"Oh, yeah! Oh fuck yeah!" he gasped as his hand finally slid up his waiting shaft and pleasure flared bright and sharp through his flesh. God, it felt good. Too good. It had been too long. This wasn't going to last. As his hand swept up and down the rigid length and his thumb caressed the weeping dome his thighs began to shudder and his knees buckled a little. Pausing, he placed his hands against the wall, blew out through pursed lips and tried to regain some composure.

He'd been a little embarrassed about it, but he wasn't about to admit that to Sam. He'd passed it off with a typical casual quip. "Was it good for you, too?" he'd asked. Sam hadn't thought that was funny either. Because weapons training was serious, so they had to be serious. Like Dean didn't know how important it was. Like he hadn't risked his neck a few times already. But Sam never relaxed. Hell, even when Dean had slammed back into him, even though he hadn't been expecting it, there'd been no give in that body. Dean had been flattened between the recoil and that unyielding pillar and, for a moment, it had driven the breath right out of him.

Oh, fuck it. Dean's hand found his dick once more, the other spread across his chest and he rolled the throbbing bud of his nipple between his thumb and forefinger while he stroked and massaged himself with quickening urgency. Muscles tightened in his thighs, fiery fingers glowed in the small of his back, he felt the taut expectancy low in his belly, his balls drew up, his shaft convulsed –

"Nnnnnnnnn – aa – aaaahahh!" Fuck it was good. Fuck! He grabbed one of the taps and clung to it, eyes screwed tight shut, pressing his forehead against the back of his hand and struggling to keep himself upright. "Gguuhhh!" God! Fuck. Damn! It had been too fucking long.

His rhythm slowed and he handled himself more gently as the pounding beat eased and he milked out the ebb of his pleasure for as long as he could. Then he turned his back to the wall and allowed himself to slide down it until he was sitting in the shower basin with his knees drawn up and his hands hanging loosely between them. He drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and lifted his head so the cooling water could run over his face. Then he dropped his chin onto his chest and grinned. Yeah, that was good.

Might have been even better if he could stop thinking about weapons training for five minutes.

 

 

Chapter Text

SCENE 2: THE DEAN FACTOR

 

. . . 8 . . . 9

He was definitely doing it deliberately.

.. . . 12 . . . 13

That was already one and a half seconds longer than yesterday.

. . . 15 . . .

Dean's eyes rolled toward Sam and he hitched his eyebrows at him.

You're gonna choke if you're not careful.

It was starting to sound forced.

Go on. Choke.

Dean gulped, coughed, spluttered and spat out into the sink, still coughing.

Serves you right. "I read about a guy who drowned while gargling once," Sam told him.

Dean cleared his throat. "You shouldn't believe everything you read in World Weekly News, Sam," he responded, still sounding chesty.

Dean Winchester was, far and away, the most unremittingly aggravating individual Sam had ever known. He was a constant, unrelenting irritation like . . . sand in your sneakers, or some inane song that you can't get out of your head and find yourself humming if your attention wanders . . . or an itch in a place you can't reach.

It wasn't any one thing, or even a couple of bad habits constantly repeated. No. Dean had a whole vast, diverse range of infuriating habits and, after a while you found yourself being sucked into the rhythm of them, anticipating the regular themes, and being thrown off balance by the variations. It was like a whole orchestra of maddening idiosyncrasies. Dean was like the Bolero of annoying.

Sam had tried to classify Dean's behavior into categories. It fell into three basic classes. First, there were the innate characteristics. Dean had a restless energy that he exuded in everything he did. He never simply sat down; he dropped into a chair, or he sprung onto a bed. He never picked something up, he swept it up, gesticulated or juggled with it. And when he moved it was always in time to some internal or external rhythm. He liked music. Fine. But he liked it loud and all the time. Even when there was no music playing he was usually humming or whistling, or otherwise telegraphing his internal soundtrack with a tapping foot or a nodding head. There was no peace around Dean.

He was an exhibitionist, a natural performer. He liked attention, demanded it. The world was his audience and his foil. Every situation was a dramatic opportunity, every comment a cue for a punch-line. He was continually seeking a response, a reaction. It was exhausting. Nevertheless, Sam tried to be tolerant of these traits since they were natural and, to a degree, unconscious. To attempt to change them would have been to deny Dean's fundamental personality.

He was combing his hair now, and apparently having difficulty with it.

"Ow!" he whinged as he tried to drag the comb through a particularly knotted mass. "Ow! Ow! OW!" He sighed and glared at Sam, as if his tangled hair was Sam's fault.

"Would the budget run to some decent shampoo, Sam?" he whined. "This motel crap is playing havoc with my locks."

"Funds are a bit low at the moment, Dean."

"A bottle of shampoo, Sam. So I can feel human once in a while."

Trouble was Dean seemed to require an inordinate amount of product to feel human. The women in Sam's family had been less vain about their appearance than Dean was. In downtime he would spend hours in the bathroom tending to his grooming ritual. It taxed Sam's imagination sometimes to guess what he could possibly find to do that took so long, but he always came out looking –

Dean started pulling the matted clump of hair out of his comb and he dropped it onto the top of the vanity.

"Are you gonna leave that there?" Sam demanded.

Dean raised his eyebrows then picked up the waste bin, picked the hair off the vanity and dropped it into the bin, all with a smirk and an affected, exaggerated manner that implied there was something unreasonable about Sam expecting him to throw away his dead hair.

Sam had less patience with the second class of Dean's behavior: acquired habits, everything that revealed Dean had been used to having someone to clean and pick up after him. Dean was a slob. He left clothes lying around all over the place, never put anything back where he found it, he dropped towels wherever he'd used them and invariably left the top off the toothpaste. And he ate like a pig. Not only was it revolting to watch, but Sam shuddered to think what he was doing to his body with that high fat, high carb, high spice barrage. He wondered if it would know what to do with a vitamin now if it accidentally got one.

Sam picked up his shaving foam and directed the nozzle into his palm. He got a handful of deodorant instead. Dean had switched the bottles around. Again.

Dean smirked as Sam flicked his wet hand into the sink and rinsed it under the tap. "Could have been worse, Sammy," Dean assured him. "Could've been shaving foam under your armpits."

Then there was the most infuriating class of all: the things Dean did deliberately to wind Sam up. They were the worst because Sam had absolutely no idea how to handle them – whether giving Dean the response he was angling for would just encourage him, or whether ignoring him would just lead him to escalate until he drew blood.

"What are you? Like, twelve, Dean?" Sam asked, trying to sound calm and reasonable. That didn't work either. Dean just grinned. The man had no shame.

Sam picked up his shaving foam, checked the bottle this time, squirted the foam into his palm and spread it over his face. Living with Dean day in and day out, sharing nights in cramped motel rooms with him, spending too many hours cooped up together in the Impala, always in close proximity, always rubbing shoulders, butting heads, too near, too intimate, Sam couldn't help noticing all these aggravating traits. He opened his razor and gazed at it for a moment as the light flashed off the edge of the blade before he raised it to his face. Then he paused briefly as he caught sight of Dean's reflection in the mirror.

More accurately, he should say that he focused, or tried to focus on Dean's innumerable flaws rather than, for example, some random, trivial detail like Dean applying a chapstick, running the waxy end backwards and forwards across the plush pads of his lips, rubbing them over each other in a slow, sensuous slide and drawing them into his mouth until they emerged slick and glossy and pursed for a moment into the shape of a Valentine's kiss.

Because it helped to give him some perspective, gain some distance, maintain some objectivity. It served to remind him of the irrational nature of his infatuation with the man. At least that was the theory.

Sam couldn't understand why it didn't work.

 

SCENE 3: BLIND DATE

 

The bar wasn't that busy when they arrived, but it was noisy with C&W competing with TVs showing news and sport. Dean lifted a couple of menus as they passed the rack and let Sam lead him to a booth that had a clear view of all the exits. As they reached their seats Dean touched the arm of a passing waitress, a petite dimple-cheeked blonde with big blue eyes and a cupid's bow mouth.

"Hi . . . Angela." He smiled warmly at her as he checked her name tag (and her ring finger). "Could we get a couple of beers here for me and my friend?"

She checked him out, her eyes scoping up and down the length of his body as she returned an equally broad grin. "Sure, I'll be right with you," she assured him, and Dean watched her retreating form appreciatively as she sashayed back to the bar.

"Man!" he mouthed as he turned back to Sam. He received the usual disapproving roll of the eyes in return, but he wasn't going to be deterred from enjoying the revival of his testosterone levels just because Sam's chastity belt was pinching him. He took a cursory look at the menu but his choice was pretty much settled from the moment he'd walked in and the smell of burgers and fried onions had awoken his appetite. Angela was soon back with the drinks and a bowl of beer nuts. She offered to wipe down the table for them, and as she cleaned up the sticky residue of previous customers Dean took the opportunity to admire her cleavage. Well, not like she was trying to hide it.

She took their order. Sam plumped for his usual carnivorous bunny diet: house salad with steak (rare/medium rare) and Dean ordered bacon cheeseburger with a side of wings, extra fries and onion rings.

"Quite an appetite," Angela remarked.

Dean grinned. "Well, I'm a growing boy," he retorted, holding her gaze with his own. A barely repressed sigh hissed across from the other side of the table but Dean ignored it. Angela was meeting Dean's grin and raising it with a knowing purse of the lips.

"I'd better hurry back with it as soon as I can, then," she quipped.

Dean raked his fingers back through his hair then tried to adopt a cool and casual posture with his elbow over the back of the seat, hoping she wouldn't notice that he'd just snagged his signet ring in his hair. He waited until Angela had taken their menus and moved away before trying to disentangle himself.

"I need a haircut," he grunted.

"Mmm," Sam agreed.

His tone was non-committal but Dean wondered if he could detect criticism in it. He was starting to feel just a tad self-conscious about the length his hair had grown to – almost as long as that girly lawyer's in the last season of Angel. Well, it wasn't his fault he never got time to visit a hairdresser, or that Sam had a fixation with making sure their ill-gotten gains weren't ill spent. Some people might call it moral integrity; others might just call it being tight.

"Well, is there room in the budget for a visit to a hairdresser?" Dean asked.

"Depends. Are we talking local barber or Vidal Sassoon salon?"

Wow. Dean was all for Sam showing some spirit but it looked like something had really rattled his bitch box tonight.

What pissed Dean off was that he had money of his own back home, but Sam wouldn't let him access it, because it could be traced. Well, fine, except that left him dependent on Sam's good will like some not-so-well kept woman.

"I could cut it for you, if you like," Sam added. "My cousins and I all used to cut each other's hair."

Well, bully for you. "Thanks for the offer, Sam, but I think I'll pass. I've seen what you've done to your own hair, and I might want to get laid some time."

That might have been a bit over the top. Judging by the expression that ghosted across Sam's face it had stung more than Dean had intended it to. Hell, he hadn't thought Sam had any vanity. He wasn't about to apologize though. You shouldn't dish it if you can't take it back.

"It's practical." Sam retorted. "My priorities don't revolve around trying to impress random waitresses."

Oho! Bring it on, fly boy! "We're allowed to have fun once in a while, you know, Sam. Now that . . ." he indicated in the direction of Angela as she moved around tables collecting orders. " . . . is fun. You ought to try it some time. God knows if anyone was ever in need of some happifying it's you." Maybe that was the simple explanation for Sam's bitchy mood. Maybe the chastity belt was chafing.

Sam said nothing but his jaw was starting to jut, which was never a good sign, so Dean decided to leave off baiting him for now. Instead he grabbed a handful of beer nuts and practiced lobbing them into his mouth. As the nuts soared a little higher each time before Dean caught them on his tongue, Sam's mood didn't seem to improve any . . . which was weird, really. Dean would've thought Sam would at least appreciate his improved hand/eye co-ordination.

When Angela returned with their meals Dean decided to try a little experiment. Sam always seemed to project some kind of perception filter that deflected people's attention away from him, but if Dean could just get Angela to notice Sam she'd have to be impressed by that hot bod and cute face, wouldn't she?

"Angela, maybe you can help me out, here . . ." he said. "I'm trying to guess my friend's star-sign but Sam's being real secretive about it. What do you think he is?"

Sam somehow managed to look startled, glare, frown, prune and blush all at the same time. Dean thought he looked cute, but Angela just seemed puzzled and a little confused but she took a look at Sam and Dean watched her hopefully.

"Uh . . . I don't know . . . Virgo?"

Ew! Strike one. Never mind. Damage control. "I was thinking Scorpio," Dean suggested. "He has hidden depths," he explained conspiratorially, giving her a hitch of the eyebrows.

"I'm Taurean," Sam growled.

Some people just don't want to be helped.

"My brother's Taurean," Angela revealed.

A-a-and strike two. Sam so wasn't getting any tonight. And probably neither was Dean now. The sacrifices he made . . .

"Word to the wise, Sammy," he began when Angela had returned to the kitchen. "Never tell a woman you're Taurean. Taurean's are boring stick-in-the-muds. Tell 'em Scorpio if you wanna be mysterious and sexy, Capricorn if you want 'em to think you're ambitious and successful and Pisces if you wanna appear soulful and sensitive."

"Which sign is most likely to start snapping your bones one by one the next time you try to pimp me out to the waitress?"

Dean paused with his burger half way to his mouth. Sam's eyes had a green glint in them that made him feel just a little uneasy. He shrugged and tossed his head a little. "Well, Taureans do have a temper," he acknowledged, and busied himself with eating his burger.

Sam, on the other hand, was less focused on his own meal. His attention shortly became fixed on a point somewhere over Dean's shoulder and Dean recognized his expression as a slow, deep frown of concentration settled on his face. Following Sam's gaze, Dean turned and studied the TV set behind him where an animated young woman was reporting from a location somewhere in Albuquerque.

". . . Christopher Ash, the show's presenter is unavailable for comment at this time but is said to be grieved and shocked by the sudden death of his colleague. Police have yet to release any details or say whether they are treating the death as suspicious. Some reports have suggested that the writer may have been the victim of an animal attack, but ill-fortune seems to be following the Prank'd team as they've taken the show on the road this season. In recent weeks, two of their stunts have been sabotaged and three other members of the production crew have had property vandalized. Some have speculated the attacks may be payback from one of the show's former victims but, if this is a prank, it has taken a sinister turn. This is Anne Kerr, BSNN, reporting from the Best Holiday Motel, Albuquerque."

Dean turned back to Sam. "Animal attack in downtown Albuqueque? They've gotta be kidding. It's more likely to be a vendetta. That show's probably made a few enemies with all the people it's shown up over the last couple of seasons."

"Did you see the tree in the background?" Sam asked him.

"What about it?" Dean responded evasively. He hadn't noticed anything in the background, having given all his attention to listening to the pretty reporter.

"It had been torn out of the ground by its roots."

"Huh?" Dean reflexively glanced back at the screen but they'd moved on to a report about a dancing Yorkshire terrier. "Well, I guess we can rule out angry ex-girlfriend, then?"

"Off the top of my head I can't think of much that could uproot a tree of that size."

"Earth mover?"

"I think in downtown Albuquerque people might have noticed someone driving an earth mover into a motel parking lot. You'd think someone might have noticed anything that could have done that kind of damage."

"One of ours, you think?"

There was no verbal response, but Dean recognized the expression that was now settling on Sam's features. That was his case face.


 

Chapter Text

SCENE 4: TRAUMA ( LIFE IN THE CORONER’S OFFICE)

 

"That's all for now, ma'am. Thank you very much for your time."

Sam closed his cell and sighed. He had been investigating the vendetta angle but he was coming to the conclusion that it was pointless until they had more intel. Dean climbed into the car next to him and took a couple of long pulls from a can of coke, then swallowed hard and cleared his throat. Sam thought about saying something, but Dean saw he was about to say something and gave him that fake quizzical look that said "I have no idea what you're about to say but, whatever it is, don't say it."

They were playing that game again: the one where Dean doesn't throw up. Sam wanted to point out that most people who hadn't witnessed violent crime scenes since puberty would have an adverse reaction to seeing a motel room redecorated in red and accessorized with unidentifiable fleshy globules. He would have told Dean that his response was perfectly normal, and perhaps he should be glad that he still had a normal human response in him, that he had not yet become inured to these horrors. But Dean doesn't throw up. So Sam pretended he hadn't heard him heaving in the alley behind the motel, or seen him rinse out his mouth with his first gulp of coke and spit it into a drain before he got into the car, and Sam said nothing.

"So, any luck with the interviews?" Dean asked him.

Sam screwed up his nose. "I think we should put motive on a back-burner for now and concentrate on means and method. Do you know how many people might have it in for one or more members of the Prank'd team?"

"Everyone who's ever been on the show?"

Sam nodded. Prank'd was a reality show airing on the MTelly network. Styled after Candid Camera and similar TV programs, it specialized in setting up celebrities and placing them all unaware into orchestrated situations that were designed to cause them stress, anxiety and embarrassment. "Pretty much. And then you can add people who might have a personal score to settle with them because . . . well, because they're all dicks. I've limited it to people whose reputations, livelihood or relationships have been significantly harmed either directly or indirectly as a consequence of appearing on the show, but it's not so easy conducting interviews over the phone when you can't see their faces or body language. I didn't pick up on anything that persuaded me we should rush back to California and investigate further though . . . or Canada."

"Canada?"

"Yeah. A locksmith who appeared on the show lost his job and had to move to Canada to get work. Now he's living in Vancouver."

"Damn! Well, that's a motive for murder, isn't it?"

"Maybe, but I'm not planning to go there unless we're really desperate."

"Oh, I hear you, Dude!" Dean pulled a face and shuddered. "By the way, I may have something. I just interviewed a possible witness."

Sam frowned. "The police said there were no witnesses."

"They probably didn't take this one seriously. It was an old bum I spoke to behind the motel. He said he saw the tree uproot itself, and the motel door came off its hinges and flew through the air - like magic, he said."

"Huh," Sam replied. "I hadn't thought of that. I'll add it to the list."

"What? Magic?"

"Witches. A poltergeist's a possibility, too. Ghost's are usually fixed to one place, but poltergeist's can attach themselves to specific people. I think it's significant that these attacks have all taken place since the team has been away from Hollywood," Sam suggested. Over the past two seasons Prank'd had gained quite a reputation with the stars in L.A., and its cast and crew were getting well known to its potential subjects, so this year they'd taken the show on the road with the aim of hitting celebrities where they least expected it. In recent weeks they'd been in locations as diverse as New York and Florida, but the attacks had occurred in Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma, in each case within twenty four hours of the prank going down. "The team may actually be carrying the source around with them - like a cursed object, maybe. If it's one of those it'll be a real pain in the ass finding it, because it could be anything. It's like looking for a needle in a stack of needles." Sam paused. "I've checked out their schedule . . ."

"Meaning you've hacked their email," Dean interjected.

". . . and this week they're planning to hit an actor who's currently filming a movie in Texas," Sam continued without acknowledging the interruption. "I think we should go there and try to infiltrate the team in some way. If we're on the spot maybe we can stop it happening again."

"Who's the actor?"

"Some guy called Sasha Novak."

"You're kidding me! Sasha D. Novak?"

"You've heard of him?"

"He was in 24!"

Sam looked blank.

"Small role," Dean conceded. "Blink and you'd have missed him. But he was really good. Man! I am loving this case!

Sam stared incredulously. "It's good you can see the silver lining, Dean. People are dying bloody, but you get to meet movie stars."

Dean actually blushed a little. "I'm just a fan of his work is all. He's very good." Maybe he did have some shame after all. Who knew? "So, what's next?" Dean demanded, changing the subject.

Sam hesitated. "I wanted to pay a visit to the coroner . . . but if you'd rather sit that one out . . ."

Dean's expression stiffened. "Why would I do that?"

"Well, I was thinking it might be a bit . . . and I could probably manage . . ."

Dean cocked his head to one side and gave Sam his "I can't imagine what your problem is" look.

"But if you're sure you want to come with . . ."

"Yeah, I'm good," Dean insisted.

Sam shrugged. "OK."

Dean put the car into drive. "Hey! Do we get to interview Christopher Ash?" he asked, cheerfully. "He was really funny in Dude! What's Mine Say?"

 


Doctor Drake peered at their I.D badges and chuckled. "You'll forgive me Agents but the combination of your two names is coincidental and mildly amusing to aficionados of rock music. You see, Manny Charlton is a guitarist in a Scottish rock band called Nazareth," he explained. He spoke very precisely with an English accent . . . possibly Scottish. Sam wasn't an expert on European accents.

Sam cleared his throat and shot a quick glare at Dean. "Really, Doctor? That's . . um . . fascinating. Er, would it be possible for us to examine the body?"

"Ah, yes. Certainly. Certainly." He walked over to a cabinet and opened it. "Although, I'm not certain that body is the most apt description under the circumstances," he added as he began lifting plastic storage boxes from the shelving within. He opened one and started to arrange limbs and other body parts on the examination table. "As you can see, the joints and flesh have been torn apart, not cut or otherwise dismembered with any kind of instrument. Fortunately for the poor soul you see before you, the dismemberment was not the cause of death." The good doctor opened the largest box and lifted from it a partial torso with head still attached . . . though not facing in entirely the right direction. "The spinal column was snapped cleanly at the neck. Death was instantaneous."

"Well, small mercies, eh, Doc?" Dean commented tightly, sporting the exaggerated grin he always wore when he was uncomfortable.

"Quite. Would you care to examine the wounds to the chest?"

"Oh!" Dean stood back and made way for Sam. "After you, Agent Manny."

"The wounds give the appearance of an animal attack," Drake continued. "But I'm unaware of any individual animal that could have torn a human being apart in this manner. A team of horses, perhaps . . ." He smiled wryly. "But then we'd be forced to explain how a team of horses came to be in a city motel room." His expression became distracted momentarily. "Actually, I do recall an occasion in my younger days when I witnessed the sight of a horse not in a motel room, but in a dorm room and that was quite a feat in itself since it was on the second floor. But that was at University and it was rag week, you understand. In any case, though, horses don't have ten inch long talons." He indicated the lacerations through the chest. "Neither do they have seven inch incisors." He pointed to gashes on the neck and shoulders. "But, then again, I'm not aware of any animal that does." He smiled. "It's quite a mystery."

Sam glanced worriedly at Dean. "You OK?" he murmured.

"Yeah, I'm good." Dean nodded emphatically in defiance of the grey hue and damp sheen to his flesh.

"Now this is the part I find particularly interesting and inexplicable," Drake continued with apparent relish. "From the angle of the incisions in this man's flesh I would say that he was attacked by a creature no less than fifteen feet tall, which is a puzzle in itself, but – "

"But the motel ceiling would have been no more than ten feet high," Sam supplied, frowning.

"I'm at a loss to explain it." Drake acknowledged. "Hence: inexplicable."

"Were you able to tell if any organs were removed? Heart? Spleen?"

"Not in the sense that they were deliberately extracted, if that's what you mean, Agent Manny. But, on the other hand, not many remained in place once the body had been dissected, as it were. I think we managed to recover most of the major organs if you care to examine them, but I can't guarantee you'll find them in one piece." Drake opened the last box and displayed its contents.

From behind him Sam heard a sound like someone dropping a heavy bag of laundry and he followed the direction of the doctor's gaze to the floor.

"Oh, dear!" Drake exclaimed sympathetically. "He's new, I take it?"

Sam's brow furrowed uncomfortably and he dragged his attention from Dean's prostrate form to return a tight, awkward smile.

 

SCENE 5: ROAD RULES

Plainview , Texas

Dean was angry. Specifically, he was angry with Sam. Because it was Sam's fault that Dean had . . . not fainted – 'cause real men don't faint – he had just had a temporary . . . blood sugar . . . issue. Or something. That's all. And it was Sam's fault. Somehow. And, anyway, Sam had carried him back to the Impala with a fireman's lift and he'd woken up with Sam's ass in his face and he was definitely angry about that, and he had a right to be. Whatever. So now he was playing his music real loud to punish Sam, and because music was more macho when it was played real loud. Yeah, don't ask.

♫So when you see me comin' get away.
The ones that didn't ain't around today .
The sweetest piece of loving any girl ever had .
I'm here to tell you boys I was born to be b – ♫

Sam finally stabbed at the eject button and turned off the radio.

"Hey!" Dean yelled.

"Five minutes, Dean! Five minutes peace and quiet so I can think."

Dean smirked. Sam was frustrated, too, because this case didn't fit into any of his neatly ordered categories. That was a bad thing, really, 'cause it made the case harder to solve. Dean knew that, really, but all the same. He smirked.

"So, it's not a wendigo or a werewolf . . ." Sam muttered.

"Oh, you don't say! Genius!" Sam had just been thinking out loud, but that didn't stop Dean commenting. "Why don't you just admit we've found one that isn't in your monster book of monsters?" Dean had been studying the journal so hard lately he was probably more familiar with its contents right now than Sam was. And there wasn't a fifteen foot invisible monster with ten inch talons in there. Not a one.

"Dean, we really don't have enough information yet to know what we're dealing with."

"No point in cranking the old mental gears then, is there Sammy?" Dean shoved the tape back in and turned the radio back on.

♫Born, Born to be bad.
I was Born Born to be bad.

"Could we at least have something quieter?" Sam yelled over it.

"My car, my rules. Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cake hole."

"Dean, do the words 'over compensating' mean anything to you?"

"Sorry. Can't hear you. Music's too loud."

Sam's teeth were grinding. "Jerk!" he hissed.

"Bitch," Dean retorted.

♫I was Born Born to be bad, yeah.♫

They turned off the interstate and headed for Plainview because Sam wanted to interview a guy who lived there, a scientist who'd been working out of UCLA until last year when he'd lost his funding. He'd also had a brief appearance on Prank'd in its first season and Sam thought there might be a connection. He made some noises about Plainview being central to all the attacks, but out of several ex-victims that were now located in other parts of the country it looked to Dean like Sam was just picking on this guy because he happened to be on their driving route.

"Does the phrase 'clutching at straws' mean anything to you, Sam?" he asked as they got out of the car.

"Shut up."

Doctor Pat Plant met them at the door and led them into his living room, hastily gathering up books, pizza boxes, items of clothing etc to clear a space for them to sit. He was a small, shabbily dressed, insignificant looking man and he looked like every nerd Dean had ever known in high school. His tastes were nerdy, too. The books were about things like particle physics, Shakespeare and the new Marvel movie. But Dean noticed a ladies' undergarment amongst the mess Pat had cleared up, so at least he was getting some. Let's hear it for nerd power. Whoo!

"So, you want to talk about my research?" he asked, incredulous but pleased.

"Yes, that's right, Dr. Plant. We understand you're doing ground breaking work in the area of quantum theory."

Dean cringed at Sam's use of the pronoun "we". Dean didn't understand anything. They were posing as reporters from New Scientist and he was way out of his comfort zone.

"Well, I don't know if I'd call it ground breaking but I have been able to expand on some of the work that's been done in the area of blah blah blah. Blah blah, blah blah blah blah . . ."

Dean hoped Sam was getting all this. He looked like he was following the guy. Sam was a bit of a nerd, too, Dean supposed. It was just hidden under all that muscle and Batman meets Daniel Craig's James Bond coolness.

" . . . blah blah. Blah blah blah, blah blah. Would you like to see my apparatus?"

Excuse me?

"It's just in the next room. I think you'll find what I can show you impressive."

Dean raised his eyebrows and grinned at Sam. "Well, go ahead, Sam. Who knows when you'll get another offer like that."

Sam shot Dean a warning glare and they followed Pat to the next room where he had a computer wired up to an imaging monitor and various other bits of equipment that Dean didn't recognize.

"This measures electro-magnetic activity," he explained. "And this headset is designed to locate the retinal centers of the brain. What my program does is re-interpret the EM in the form of light waves, and then it reproduces it on the monitor as a digital image."

He opened a file on the computer and placed the headset on his head, then turned and grinned. Immediately a scattering of pixilated images appeared on the monitor, like a bad reception night on digital TV, but the image slowly began to coalesce and presently it formed into a somewhat surreal but recognizable picture of Sam and Dean.

Damn. Dean thought. Am I really that much shorter than him?

"But this is the really clever bit." Pat closed his eyes. The picture remained, though it became somewhat less recognizable.

Sam's posture straightened. "That is impressive," he acknowledged.

"Of course, it helps if it's a subject you know really well." The image disintegrated and reformed as a clear picture of a woman in her fifties. "That's my mother."

"So, how come you lost your funding?" Sam asked. "This is important work you're doing here."

"Oh, well, you know how it is. Budget cuts. And they said my work was derivative and my arguments about the practical applications were unconvincing."

"Surely, there's any number of practical applications."

"That's what I said!"

Sam paused. "Do you think your appearance on the Prank'd show might have influenced the decision?" he asked.

Pat's face fell. "Oh. You know about that."

"I was wondering whether you thought it had affected your credibility in the scientific community."

"Well, it didn't help. I mean, it's kind of a no-no to appear on any popular TV show, but that one made me look really stupid. My girlfriend set me up and I totally fell for it."

"So why did you give them permission to broadcast it?" Dean asked.

"Well . . . she was really hot."

"Oh."

"But it turned out she did the whole thing to make a point about me being too easy going, so she dumped me anyway . . . Er . . . You're not gonna print this bit, are you?

~

"Well, Pat didn't strike me as the vengeful type," Dean concluded when they were back in the Impala. "Just kinda sad."

"Mmm," Sam agreed, absently.

"I don't know why the show picked on him, anyway. It's not like he's famous. It's one thing taking a poke at celebrities, but I don't get it when they hit ordinary people like Pat, or like that locksmith guy."

"I don't get it period," Sam replied, almost heatedly. "I don't see what's so funny about humiliating people, famous or otherwise. I saw a guy on one episode, pop star or something, looked to me like he was in tears. How is that funny?"

Dean raised a quizzical eyebrow. This was new: Sam expressing an opinion on something normal. "I thought you didn't watch TV," he observed.

"Couple of my cousins used to watch the odd show during downtime."

Dean scoffed. "Oh-oh, the old 'I don't watch it, my cousin does' excuse."

"I don't like the show, Dean. I don't like any so called humor that's at other people's expense."

"Well, I guess that's why you don't have a sense of humor, Sam. It's always at someone's expense. It's about . . . fallibility. And it's a basic human defense. We laugh at the things that would drive us nuts if we didn't. I learned that lesson young, Sam: you've gotta be willing to laugh at yourself cos, if you don't, some other son of a bitch'll do it for you."

Sam didn't respond immediately; he just stared at Dean for a few moments. Then he asked "why do elephants paint their toenails red?"

"So they can hide up cherry trees," Dean replied. "Is this you trying to prove you have a sense of humor, Sam?"

"I was demonstrating a point," Sam responded primly. "That joke isn't at anyone's expense."

"That's why it isn't funny." Sam's bitch-face was usually good for a chuckle, though.

"The show's lame, Dean. And the people who make it are all dicks."

Dean smirked. "Maybe the fifteen foot invisible monster agrees with you."

Sam didn't respond. In fact, he didn't say another word beyond map directions all the way to Richardson and, after that, until they reached a tired looking town in the middle of nowhere that looked like it probably had to share the horse, where he just said "here we are: Upper Creek."

It was dumping down with rain when they checked into the only motel, and the girl behind the desk looked as tired as the town. She barely glanced up from her magazine as she pushed the register at Sam and he pushed his dodgy plastic back at her.

"King size bed OK?" she asked, dropping a key on the desk.

There was a pregnant silence then

" . . . Oh! We're not . . . "

"We're not together . . ."

" . . . Why would you even . . .?"

"We're brothers."

"Wha – ?"

"Two singles, please."

" . . . two singles."

The girl looked from Sam to Dean and back, chewing gum with an impassive expression on her face. "It's all we got left." She blew a bubble and snapped it.

~

"Why did you tell her we were brothers?" Dean asked as they dumped their stuff in the room.

"Just thought it would eliminate confusion," Sam explained.

"Oh." Dean kinda thought it was a nice idea, like they were starting to feel like family or something. He should have known that would be too sentimental for Sam. The guy was just being practical as usual. "Next time, just use a gender appropriate credit card."

"Francis is a guy's name," Sam insisted.

"Not when it's spelt with an 'e'."

Sam checked the card and responded with his trademark nonchalant lip-shrug, and it pissed Dean off. Sam could afford to be off-hand about it. Not like anyone was ever gonna question his masculinity no matter what he called himself . . . or how many guys he'd fucked.

"So who gets the couch?" Dean enquired, changing the subject.

To give him credit, at least Sam was fair about it. Dean should've guessed he'd choose rock, though.

Chapter Text

SCENE 6: IDOL

 

The town only had one bar and when they walked in it was packed. Sam was momentarily surprised at how busy it was considering the size of the town, but then he realized it was full of movie personnel. Presumably the rain had disrupted filming and some members of the crew were taking a break. And Sam was soon forcibly made aware that it wasn't just the crew who were taking refuge in the bar as Dean suddenly thumped him in the shoulder and indicated toward a table in the corner.

"SASHA NOVAK!" he mouthed, silently but excitedly. His eyes were a touch too wide and bright, and Sam started to worry a little. He hoped Dean wasn't going to turn out to be one of those people who lost it around celebrities. They needed to be cool and blend in.

They threaded their way to the bar and ordered a couple of beers. Dean was still scoping the room and pointing out people he recognized. At least he was doing it quietly, and it was quite impressive how many he could identify: not just actors but technicians as well. The woman with Novak was his co-star, Sarah Michelle, reprising her role from the original Grudge Holder movie. Another guy Dean knew worked on cinematography on a movie called Savage Messiah. A guy involved with the music for a Def Leppard biopic had recently won a "best new composer" award. And the list went on. Dean was a veritable IMDB on legs.

While Dean continued his who's who of Grudge Holder II, the door at the far end of the bar opened and an attractive, petite brunette walked in looking somewhat bedraggled from the rain. Her gangly, grinning companion was equally sodden and looked a little like a big soggy puppy.

WHACK!

Pain thrilled through Sam's arm when, once again, Dean thumped him in the shoulder.

Whack. Whack. WHACK!

"What?" Sam snapped.

"Duh! Do you know who that is?" Dean gasped hoarsely.

"Should I?" Sam thought he might vaguely recognize her from something, but he couldn't place her.

"It's . . . it's . . . GUH!"

Crap! Dean was really losing it. He was doing a lot of gesticulating but nothing intelligible was coming out of his mouth. Any other time Sam might have been amused at the sight of Dean speechless but this wasn't the time or place for a melt down.

Whack! "Gilmore Girls!" Whack! Whack!

"Quit it, Dean!"

Dean took to tugging at Sam's arm instead. "G – guy from The Gilmore Girls!" he gasped.

Oh! The guy! The name of the show rang a faint bell but he couldn't place it. He took another look at the actor. He and his girlfriend were standing and talking with Novak. For the life of him, Sam couldn't see what the big deal was, but Dean was looking at the guy like he was God with special features.

"Never saw the show."

Dean wasn't listening. He was watching the man working his way through the throng to the bar. Then he suddenly turned and thrust his beer into Sam's hand.

"Hold that," he hissed, and disappeared into the crowd.

"What? Dean, wait!" But it was too late. Dean was gone, and the next time Sam saw him he was standing over the other side of the bar next to the celebrity puppy who was just trying to order himself a drink.

Briefly Sam considered which would cause more of a scene: letting Dean do his fanboy thing, or trying to drag him away. But then, as Dean engaged the actor in conversation Sam became horribly fascinated with the exchange, with Dean's body language – all eye-contact, gesture mirroring and . . . damn! He was even smoothing back his hair! Dean was making a present of himself to this guy and he didn't even know he was doing it.

Sam shook himself. It didn't matter. So Dean was making a fool of himself, but he was doing it quietly. He wasn't making a scene. And the guy was being nice about it. Humoring him.

Don't fucking humor him, you smug bastard. You don't know him. You don't know what you're looking at. He's not just another adoring fan. He's seen and done things that'd make you piss your pants.

Dean pulled out his cell phone. There were fake smiles, a flash, then a handshake, and he was done apparently. Thank God. Because this was worse than watching Dean batting his eyelashes at some strange waitress that Dean didn't take any more seriously than she did him. This guy seemed to mean something, like Dean thought he was better than him somehow. And why? Because he'd been on TV? Because he'd had 15 minutes of fame on some obscure TV drama Sam had barely even heard of? So what? How did that make him special? Take away the fame and the money and the smart clothes and who was he, really? How was he any different from the next guy?

Maybe if Sam grew his hair . . .

Dean was back, flushed and beaming and grinning manically at his cell phone.

"Nice pic, huh?" he said, briefly flashing the photo at Sam. "He seems different in real life. Taller. How tall do you think he is? Six foot three? Six foot four?"

I'M six foot four, Sam thought irritably.

"He's put on some muscle since he did the show, too. Reckon he's been working out."

I work out.

"He's got a really great smile, don't you think?" Dean flashed the photo again.

"What's the matter with you, Dean?" Sam snapped. "Are you in love with the guy or something?"

Dean's face fell and he stared at Sam for a moment wide eyed, lips parted, bottom lip drooping a little. Then he jerked his head back and snorted, as if the suggestion was preposterous. "No – o!" (Two syllables. Key change.) "I just admire his talent is all."

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure his smile is real talented."

Another beat and then Dean rallied. "Well, you had a nice big bowl of bitch flakes this morning, didn't you? What is with you lately?"

Sam grabbed Dean's arm and directed him into an alcove that wasn't so crowded. "In case you've forgotten, Dean, we're here on a job," he hissed. "Is it too much to expect you to act like a professional?"

Dean snatched his arm away and his eyes flashed. "Oh, I'll be professional as all hell," he growled.

"Good."

They sipped their beers in awkward silence and Sam surveyed the room, without the benefit of Dean's film buff knowledge this time since Dean wasn't offering it and Sam didn't feel comfortable asking. A few feet away a mature but striking woman was having a discussion about lighting with a man in a suit, and Sam listened to their conversation to take his mind off the noisy silence that was standing next to him.

"There are conventions," the woman was explaining wearily. "The darkness in horror movies is a metaphor; it signals that you're entering the world of the shadow and the underworld from which it springs. The only time you'd use bright colors in a supernatural show or movie is when you want to signal to the audience that they're watching a dream sequence or that what they're seeing is in some other sense not real."

"The prank's going down tomorrow, by the way" Dean said in a low voice, with a would-be casual manner.

Sam stared at him. "How do you know?"

"Some intel I got while I was being unprofessional." His voice dripped sarcasm. "The love of my life is in on it. He told Sasha he was just dropping in on a visit to his hometown, but he's actually going to be part of the con."

Sam was stunned. "How the fuck did you get him to tell you that?"

"Just my natural charm, I guess," he said, flashing his broad shark-tooth grin, and Sam felt the shock of its sharpness. Dean hadn't turned its bite on Sam since the first night they'd met.

The heat of shame started to creep into Sam's cheeks. Something else he had in common with the Gilmore guy: he'd underestimated Dean.

"And that's Fran Spires," Dean added, subtly indicating the woman with the suit guy. "Director of the movie."

She had an intelligent face framed by flame red, curly hair and she dressed flamboyant but stylishly in a short, sleeveless tunic and very, very high heels. An array of curious jewelry, mainly bracelets and bangles, graced her distinctive ensemble. Sam's eye was particularly drawn to her pendant – a variant of a Taijitu with a red S bisecting the yin and the yang – that hung in the valley of her plunge neckline. Despite her years she was clearly a woman who was very comfortable with her sexuality. She struck Sam as . . . interesting.

She became aware that she was being observed and she turned her attention toward Sam and Dean, her lips twisting whimsically as her gaze swept them from head to foot. She directed an enigmatic, oddly knowing, smile at Sam that made him feel decidedly uneasy then she fixed Dean with a look that was positively lascivious.

"Pretty boy! Make yourself useful!" she chided, holding out her glass.

Dean looked behind him as if he expected to find someone else standing there, then he looked questioningly at Sam who just inclined his head back toward Spires.

"Oh, I'm pretty boy?" Dean exclaimed.

"Yes!" Oop. That came out a bit quick, Sam thought.

Spires waggled her glass. "Yes, you. You are a P.A., aren't you? This is what you do? Get me a refill."

Sam jumped forward and laid a hand on Dean's chest to restrain him from coming back with some smartass response. "Yup! Yup, he . . . ah . . ." He took the director's glass from her. "One refill, coming right up!" he assured her, pausing only to check what she was drinking before leading Dean back to the bar.

"We can use this," he explained. "If she thinks you're a P. A. it'll give you access to the movie shoot. You can keep an eye on what's happening there tomorrow while I check out the town. Spires had to approve the Prank'd team hitting Novak while he was shooting, so they have to liaise with her. If you stick close to her you might be able to get in with them, too."

"Oh, so now you want me to mingle?"

Sam sighed and rolled his shoulders. "Look, Dean, I'm sorry, O.K.? I thought . . . never mind. Truth is, you're good at getting people to talk." Dean blinked in surprise and Sam hurried on. "You do it so well even I can't tell when you're acting."

"Not acting, Sam: multi-tasking." Dean attracted the attention of a woman serving behind the bar and tossed her a wink.

O.K, he was getting cocky again now. "Yeah, Dean, I want you to mingle," Sam confirmed. "Try to strike up some sort of casual acquaintance with the team members, see what you can find out about them, see if anyone's got an axe to grind – "

"Yeah, I get it, Sam. But I want pie for this. You know what a P.A. is? They're like robot slaves." He paused to order the drink and took the opportunity to order two more for himself and Sam, and he put those on the production tab as well. When he'd been served he picked up the drink stiffly and spoke in a deep, stilted, mechanical voice: "Now I must return to my mistress with her alcoholic beverage."

Sam couldn't help grinning. "Don't talk to her like that," he warned. "She might like it."

Dean's eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped open. "My, my, Sammy!" he exclaimed. "Was that humor at another's expense? I'm so proud of you right now."

Sam shook his head and tongued his cheek. "Go personally assist, slave," he said.

Dean grinned broadly: warm and genuine this time. It made Sam's heart beat a little too fast.

As Dean moved back toward Fran Spires' table he tossed back over his shoulder "and I want shampoo!"

 

 

They spent the rest of the evening in the bar. Not like there was anywhere else to go. They ate there, played some pool, mingled (like Sam said). Dean kept an eye on Fran and made himself useful when he saw an opportunity. Turned out a couple of the Prank'd crew were there already, keeping a low profile, so he chatted to them when he got the chance. He discovered most of the crew were staying at the motel because, again, where else?

Sam was doing a toned down version of his happy drunk act. More of a slightly tipsy act, really: just enough to make himself look like an inconsistent player, dropping the odd easy shot and compensating with 'lucky' ones. He wasn't winning big, not enough to piss anyone off, but he was winning steady, replenishing the coffers. Dean could almost smell the Herbal Essences.

Dean liked tipsy Sam. Tipsy Sam seemed relaxed, acted like he was enjoying himself. He smiled. Hell, he even laughed. And Sam was kinda beautiful when he laughed. It made Dean sort of sad that he didn't do it more often. He wondered what it would be like if he could really get Sam pie-eyed. Was there anything of the real Sam in that performance, he wondered? In any of them: Agent Sam, roving reporter Sam, hell, even the every day puritanical Saint Sam. Was that real? Or was that a performance, too?

So, will the real Sam Campbell please stand up?
And put one of those fingers on each hand up?
And be proud to be outta your mind and outta control . . . 

Now there was a concept: Sam Campbell out of control. Hard to imagine.

. . .

Actually, now that his mind was trending that way, Dean was surprised to find that it wasn't that difficult to imagine, just . . . inappropriate.

Dean turned his attention to checking out the women in the room instead. Because, surely, if ever a woman was gonna notice Sam it was now when he was being all tall and cool and flashing his dimples and even bending over occasionally and showing off his not too shabby butt . . .

And . . . . . . there! Two women over by the bar, and one was definitely checking Sam out. But then the other one spotted Dean looking at them and nudged her friend.

No, not me! Eyes left, ladies. Eyes left!

Dean looked away so as not to distract their attention from what was happening at the pool table, but he logged the information for later use. And there were two of them, so: bonus.

Dean returned to his reflections about the many faces of Sam. Was there a little of Sam in each of them, perhaps? Or did he hide behind all those personas because he was afraid to be himself? Afraid of what?

Afraid of . . . afraid to be . . . to feel – steel. Afraid to feel.

Dean reached for a coaster as rhyming pairs started coupling in his head. Moving over to the bar he attracted the attention of a barman and asked for a pen.

"You can borrow mine, if you like." The woman who'd checked Dean out earlier. And her friend . . . was still watching the pool table. Great. If Sam didn't blow this he could definitely get lucky tonight.

"Thank you," Dean said, accepting the pen and treating the giver to a slow smile filled with subtext. Then he turned his attention to the beer mat and started dashing out lines, eager to get them down while they were fresh in his head. After a few false starts, scratchings and revisions he had a quatrain he was satisfied with. He read over it once more, lips pursed around the top of the pen.

A suffering soul trapped in a mind of steel
An empty heart afraid to feel
Can't think what to do with all that fire and rage
Except to lock it in an ice-cold cage  

"Sounds sad," the young woman remarked.

Dean smiled around the pen tip then offered it back to its owner. "Ah, well. Sad songs say so much," he quipped. Sadly, the reference seemed to go over her head.

"So, you're a poet?"

"Lyricist. I'm a musician." Dean explained how he'd become a P.A. looking for his big break, hoping to make contacts who had connections in the music industry. Actually, that didn't sound like a half bad plan but – no. That life was behind him now. He fixed his attention on the present, and his pretty companion. She was pert and blonde and sassy, and Dean liked her. It was a pity that her name turned out to be Penny. Dean could have done without that. It made him sad, mostly because it reminded him how long it had been since he'd last thought of the woman he'd thought mattered so much to him. But he kept talking to the girls, learning all he could about them, and he kept his smile fixed to his face and one eye fixed on the pool table.

Eventually Sam ran out of marks and Dean saw him tucking his winnings away. He waved to draw his attention and beckoned him over. Sam, unfortunately, took one look at Dean with the girls and sized up the situation pretty quickly. He returned a tight, curt shake of the head - but Dean wasn't to be deterred. He waved again, as if Sam hadn't seen him the first time, and called "Sam!" a little too loudly, and followed it with a look that said "I'll yell louder if you make me."

Sam's eyes narrowed but he gave in to Dean's ploy. As he approached, though, there was a steely glitter in his eyes that told Dean that, if this didn't work out, he was probably going to pay for it later.

"Sam, have you met Lori? She's doing some great work in production logistics. And Penny here is a make-up artist."

Sam gave her a beaming smile and draped his finger tips on her shoulder. "Oh, I could tell!" he exclaimed in a honeyed voice a good half octave higher than his usual register. "I can see you really know how to apply. The blending on your eye shadow is so subtle!"

Dean's stomach dropped into his boots. Scratch later. Sam was gonna make him pay right friggin' now.

"Can I say, I just love your ensemble?" It was a crass stereotype, all hand gestures and too much touching but Dean could tell from the girls' faces that it was meeting Sam's requirements. And he wasn't letting Dean off the hook yet. "I bet you're Aquarian. I'm right, aren't I? I love Aquarians. So individual."

"I'm Taurean, actually," she said flatly.

"Oh," Sam sounded disappointed. He gave Dean a significant look. "Ah, well, Dean's Aquarian, you see."

Fuck, how did he . . . ? Does he . . . ?

"It's that individual streak that makes him so attractive." Hand on Dean's arm.

Fuck! Dean seriously needed to do some fast talking damage control . . . but he seriously couldn't think of a thing.

Then Sam delivered his coup de grace. "Aquarians are into unconventional relationships, you know," he said, giving the girls a distinctly creepy smile and a slow, exaggerated wink.

They exchanged an alarmed look and started gathering their purses.

"Wait," Dean interrupted hurriedly. "He's kidding."

"Um, well, it's late," Penny explained. "And I think you two need to . . . whatever."

"No, seriously. He's kidding!" But the girls were already beating a retreat. "Oh, come on!"

Defeated, and slightly in shock, Dean turned back to Sam and regarded him with an expression that was something between admiration and murder in the first. Sam was grinning smugly. Apparently he was embracing the concept of humor at someone else's expense.

Chapter Text

SCENE 7: MAKEOVER

Being a P.A. sucked. Except for the food: that was delicious. And the part where he got to meet the actors. Dean actually got to have quite a long talk with Sasha and Sarah. That didn't suck. And when he'd gotten hold of a headset and a utility belt with all sorts of techie shit on it – that was kinda cool.

He'd met the Prank'd film crew, too. He'd found out where they were setting up from Lori, who'd organized the trailer, so he picked up a tray of sandwiches and paid them a visit. He got to watch the hit on Sasha go down while he was there. The dicks had tortured the poor bastard mercilessly, but he'd been a good sport about it when Chris Ash finally turned up to let him off the hook.

While the crew was busy with filming and enjoying Sasha's torment, Dean conducted a discreet search for hex bags or anything that looked like it might have been a cursed object. When filming finished one of them noticed what he was doing, so then he had them all down on the floor looking for a non-existent contact lens. That was just practical; it gave him an opportunity to check the work station and make a quick scan for EMF. He wasn't doing it for the fun of it at all. Not even when he 'found' the lens, and mimed putting it back in his eye. Weird how none of them seemed to want to see that.

OK so it wasn't so bad. Apart from the part where he had to fetch and carry for everyone – that did suck – he'd actually enjoyed his morning on a movie set. He still wanted pie, though.

There'd come a point when he'd finished all the searches Sam had asked him to, and gathered as much intel as he was likely to get, and then he was just waiting for Sam to come back with the Impala. Since he had a little time to kill, and a two-way to keep up on what was happening around the set, Dean decided to pay a visit to make up and clear the air with Penny. Not that he had any thought of getting anywhere with her – that ship had sailed – but it had occurred to him that when there was a whole team of industry grooming specialists right under his nose, it would be just plain dumb not to take advantage of it.

One-on-one with Penny he managed to convince her that he was not, in fact, some kind of pervy swinger and that Sam had just been pranking him. After a little more persuasion she introduced him to a hair stylist who had a spare ten minutes: a pretty but whacky emo, with dark hair and make up and a lot of tattoos, called Haley.

"So what are you looking for?" she asked him as he took a seat.

"Something short and practical and easy to take care of . . ." He hesitated and cleared his throat. "I want something that looks macho," he explained, feeling his cheeks warm a little, "but still hip and cool and stylish, you know?"

Standing behind him she sliced her fingers through his hair and drew it back off his face, holding her own close to his and making eye contact in the mirror. Dean liked having his hair styled.

"How about something like this?" She stood up and reached for a pile of magazines. "It's a style that's becoming popular at the moment," she explained as she flipped open a copy of OK! Magazine. "This guy's got a kind of tough guy image, but he's still cute and really sexy. I think this style would suit your face."

Dean gazed at the picture, a photo of some actor who'd just been nominated for a TV Choice Breakout Star award. He grinned. "Awesome," he said.

As Haley did her magic Dean got her to explain what she was doing, and she showed him the settings she was using on the trimmer and how to maintain the style. He also learned the history of her tattoos, all of which had some special meaning for her: one was a stylistic rendering of her initials, a celtic cross reflected her spiritual leanings (which she said were a meld of neo-Catholicism and Druidism), another used to be the name of an ex-boyfriend, but she'd had it turned into a snake, and another was the logo of The Blue Oyster Cult because . . . well, just because she liked their music.

Dean knew the benefits of being a good listener. He went away with a new understanding of Druidism, a great hair cut, Haley's phone number, and a bottle of star-quality shampoo.

After that he continued to make himself useful and familiar around the set. It was a warm day for the time of year and, with all the running around, Dean found he was starting to break a sweat so he stripped off his shirt. That was the reason. The fact that he looked cool in just a tank top, with his new hair, and his utility belt slung low over his hips, had nothing to do with it.


 

Once the house-keeping staff had finished their rounds that morning the motel was practically deserted; pretty much all of its patrons were over at the film shoot, so Sam took the opportunity to conduct a room search. As he slipped his knife between a window and its frame and slid the latch across it struck him that if TV producers wanted to make a really useful show, it would be something that showed people how easy it was to break into places that have that kind of window lock. Still, if more people wised up to that it would make Sam's job harder, he supposed.

He scanned the room for EMF then double-checked with the thermal scanner. Nothing. A thorough search for hex bags or other signs of witchcraft came up equally empty. Sam hissed in aggravation. The lack of solid leads on this case was getting really frustrating. Everything was getting really frustrating.

It turned out Dean had obtained some useful intel while he'd been chatting up the women in the bar – multi-tasking again. One of them had helped to organize accommodation and parking for the Prank'd crew. With that information it had taken Sam an easy couple of steps to hack the relevant emails and get the room numbers and license plates of the team members. A few of their cars were still parked at the motel so when he'd finished searching the rooms he checked those out as well: flash, expensive cars filled with skuzzy junk that Sam had to pick his way through to check the seats and pockets, and he still didn't find anything helpful. As he searched the last vehicle, a BMW X5 sport, it occurred to him that its owner would get on well with Dean. It was littered with movie DVDs, many of them with classic titles like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Casablanca, Ben Hur etc. Dean would appreciate someone who got all his friggin' pop culture references.

Sam had expected Dean to have a lot to say about what had happened in the bar, but he'd been remarkably restrained, and restraint wasn't a trait Dean often exhibited. It made Sam nervous. Sam wasn't proud of the way he'd behaved. It wasn't just juvenile it was stupid; proof positive, if he needed it, that he was letting the situation with Dean affect his judgment. It was downright dangerous. He was thinking about the guy all the time now, even when they were on a case. Hell, he was thinking about him now.

As he backed out of the vehicle he narrowly missed being seen by the receptionist who chose that moment to walk out of the office. He shielded himself behind the SUV until she was out of the way then made his way out of the motel grounds. After a basic supply run he spent the rest of the morning at the library in Richardson, researching what little he could. He left with a few books on quantum theory and particle physics and then drove out to the movie shoot.

Finding the Prank'd crew vehicles at the shoot wasn't so easy, and neither was searching them since there were more people around and greater security, but he had to be thorough despite having little expectation of finding anything. He hoped Dean had had better fortune that morning because Sam was beginning to feel distinctly deficient in the luck department.

He made his way to the set where they were shooting the cabin scenes and looked around for Dean. He couldn't see him anywhere, but then a voice behind him called "Hey! Sammy! Over here!" and he turned.

. . .

"HH – g – uhh!" Sam gasped. Out loud. Out loud. CRAP!

Dean blinked. His lips parted in surprise and confusion.

Oh, CRAP!

 

SCENE 8: FEAR FACTOR

An uncomfortable pause seemed to stretch out interminably in which he and Dean just stared at each other. Sam could feel himself beginning to blush and his heart was beating so hard he was convinced it must be audible. Fucking CRAP!

"New haircut," he said, at last, because he had to say something.

"Yeah!" Dean rallied and grinned – a little too emphatically, Sam thought. "Courtesy of Hollywood's finest. What d'you think? Practical enough?"

"Um . . . yeah . . . it looks very . . ." Sam found himself scratching the back of his head and quickly dropped his hand back to his side. He searched around for some kind of . . . any kind of distraction. He noticed some clothing draped over Dean's arm. "Are those dresses?" he asked.

Dean's expression was a little blank for a moment but then he looked down at what he was carrying. "Oh, yeah! They're for Sarah. She wanted some samples from costuming," he explained, quickly dropping the clothes onto a chair. "Did you bring the bourbon I asked you to get?"

Sam produced a bottle he'd picked up at the store in Richardson and handed it over.

"Hey, Cooky!" Dean yelled to a nearby technician who took the bottle, studied the label and grinned appreciatively.

"Genuine Kansas City Bourbon. You're a helluva P. A., Dean."

"I know," Dean acknowledged.

Sam didn't know if supplying liquor to the crew was supposed to be in a P. A.'s job description, but Dean appeared to be assimilating. And the exchange had given Sam time to get his heart rate under some control. What was the matter with him? It was only a friggin' haircut!

As the technician retreated with the bottle there was another awkward pause, and then Dean asked if Sam's searches had turned up anything.

"Not much," Sam admitted, but he was relieved to be discussing the case. "I checked some more of the correspondence, though, and discovered the writer who was killed was also the one who suggested the idea for the locksmith prank."

"Please don't tell me we're going to have to go to Canada after all?"

"No. Not yet, anyway. How about you? Did you get anything?"

"I talked to some of the team members. You know they hit one of their own actors in the first season? Made him witness his car being trashed? My money's on him. If anyone touched my baby I'd tear them limb from limb."

"You know it wasn't really his car?" Sam pointed out. "Just a replica."

"Yeah, but there's the psychological trauma. He thought it was his."

"Did you check their trailer for EMF?"

"Yeah. There's too much electrical equipment round here screwing with the readings."

"Well maybe we could check for residual with the scanner after they've gone."

"Didn't see anything that looked cursed or witchified either. Doesn't help that we don't really know what we're looking for."

"Uh huh," Sam acknowledged. "Anything unusual about the Novak prank?"

"No. Pretty usual fair. They stole his trailer."

Sam frowned. "What . . . the whole . . ."

Dean laughed. "Yep. Just drove it off the set. You should have seen Sasha's face when he went back after the shoot this morning and there was just a space where his trailer was supposed to be. So then there was the whole shindig about how could a trailer just disappear without anyone noticing . . ."

"And was the Gilmore guy involved?"

"He wasn't the Gilmore Guy, he was in – never mind. Yeah, he and his girlfriend stayed with Sasha last night – "

"In his trailer?"

"It's a big trailer. Anyway, he told Sasha he'd left something in it: a priceless antiquity he'd picked up on his recent trip to Oaxaca. So first he's got Sasha sweating over that because it's supposed to be worth squillions and it's not insured yet. Then he starts getting antsy about the police being involved and hints that there might be a legal question mark over the item having been removed from Mexican soil. And then, of course, Customs and Excise people turn up and take him into custody and then they talk about arresting Sasha as well as an accomplice or accessory after the fact or something. Sasha was freaking out! You should have seen his face, it was so cute!"

Dean apparently thought all this was very funny. "This is what friends do to each other is it?" Sam asked.

"All the time," Dean insisted. "Besides, Sasha was dumb not to see through it. I saw the Customs guys' badges and they totally looked fake. You should give them the names of some of the places you – . . . or not," he reflected as he saw Sam's expression. Then, after a moment, he added. "You know, you're looking pretty exposed on your moral high ground there, Sammy." When Sam didn't reply straight away Dean seemed to think the remark needed some qualification. "I mean after your little show in the bar last night – "

"I knew what you meant, Dean," Sam interrupted hastily. "I know you're mad at me about that, and you've a right. But you had it coming."

"Oh, I'm not mad, Sam," Dean assured him with a grin that was a little too broad. It wasn't the shark grin, more of a crocodile smile, but it still made Sam uneasy.

They were interrupted by urgent activity on the set in front of them and Spires appeared and started calling instructions. "Come on, people! The dicks from Prank'd have gone, so maybe we can get some work done now," she yelled to the cast and crew.

"Don't think she likes the show any more than you do," Dean confided quietly as he picked up a headset from where he'd left it at a nearby work station.

"Why did she co-operate with them then?"

Dean shrugged. "It's all publicity for the movie, I guess."

Sam watched as the actors prepared for the scene. There didn't seem to be much point in hanging round the set any longer.

"We should probably go now," he suggested.

"Copy that," Dean replied. He moved behind the work station and started tapping at a computer keyboard.

"Copy what?"

"I'm getting it up for you now."

"What?"

And then Dean suddenly started reciting poetry for no apparent reason.

"when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound 
I'll drown my book.

"Act V Scene 1," he added.

Sam frowned. "Is that . . . Shakespeare?" he asked incredulously.

"The Tempest." Dean confirmed. "Fran asked me to look it up," he tapped his headset by way of explanation. "She likes to put literary allusions in her scripts. You should read it. It's quite funny. There are lots of movie and TV references, too . . ." Dean hesitated. "Yeah . . . no, never mind. You wouldn't get it. Yes, I have a visual on Sasha. He's just coming."

"What?"

"Ssh."

"Quiet on set!" somebody called, and then they were stuck there while the scene played out.

Dean's attention was focused on the scene, and with nothing else to hold his attention Sam found himself focused on Dean. How could a haircut possibly make that much difference? But it did. It was like Dean and that haircut had been waiting to find each other all their lives. The short style threw all of Dean's best features into sharp relief and suddenly he was all eyes, lips and compact, lean muscled body. He even had attractive ears. Seriously? Who has attractive ears? Well, Dean did.

Dean seemed to become aware that Sam was watching him and Sam looked away hurriedly. What was Dean thinking about right now? Sam wondered. He seemed to recover quickly after Sam's initial reaction and had behaved more or less normally since. Maybe he hadn't really attached that much importance to Sam's blunder. Maybe he hadn't really noticed. Sam glanced at Dean again only to catch him watching Sam surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye, and when he saw Sam turn he looked away hurriedly.

Crap. He'd friggin' noticed, all right!

Sam's uneasy reflections were interrupted by a shrill scream and he scanned around hastily for its source, but then he realized Dean was laughing and so were several others.

Sam frowned. "Was that . . . Novak?"

Dean chuckled. "He screams like a girl."

"Cut!" Spires called.

"That's a cut!" Dean echoed. "O.K. we can go now, just let me get these over to Sarah," he said, taking off his headset and picking up the costumes. As he headed toward the actress it struck Sam that Dean was taking his P.A. duties a little too seriously.

When he came back Sam was relieved to see him retrieve his shirt and slip it back on, but just as they were about to leave Dean was waylaid by Spires. "Hello, Sweetie," she said with an intimate tone, and Sam noticed that Dean stiffened awkwardly as she threw a hand over his shoulder and stood so close that her breast was pressing into his back. "Just a quick word . . ." she said pleasantly. "Who's the director of this movie?"

"Um . . . you are . . ." Dean acknowledged to the ground somewhere to the left of his feet.

"So, who gets to say 'cut'?"

"Ah . . . you do?"

"That's right. And did I hear a little rumour that you've been giving creative advice to my actors?"

Dean cleared his throat. "Well, not . . . creative . . . exactly . . ."

"Sweetie, you see all this?" She cast her hand around in a sweeping gesture that embraced the set, the scenery and everything around them. "This is my world. I created it. Now, imagine how frustrating it is for me when some loose canon comes into my world and starts trying to direct it for me, hmm?"

Sam had mixed feelings. Part of him was annoyed at the woman for the liberties she was taking with Dean but, on the other hand, he sort of knew what she meant.

Dean had no answer for her, but she seemed to think she'd made her point. "Nice hair cut," she commented, scruffing the waves on the crown of Dean's head. "Suits you." And, with that, she tossed a wink at Sam and walked away.

Dean stood still for a beat longer then headed quickly in the opposite direction. As Sam fell in beside him he confided in a low growl, with a distinct shudder in it, "that woman makes me very uncomfortable," and Sam tried not to feel amused at his discomfiture.

Back at the Impala the awkwardness seemed to set in again. Sam cleared his throat as he opened the trunk and took out the thermal scanner, and tried to act normally. "If the Prank'd crew have left now, maybe we could check out the empty trailer – "

"Sam . . ." Dean interrupted him. "What's going on?"

Sam's stomach lurched, but then he realized Dean wasn't even looking at him. He heard a crash from behind and as he followed Dean's gaze he saw trees bending and falling in the woods beyond the trailer park.

"Fuck!" he gasped. "I thought the team left."

Dean shrugged and looked to Sam for instructions, but with so little to go on he could only guess at what they should arm themselves with. He handed off the salt gun to Dean and he concealed it under his shirt, while Sam pulled out the .45 and began loading it with iron rounds. When they reached the border of the woods they paused and Sam pulled out his cell phone. Ahead he could hear the crash of trees being torn up and felled, and metallic rending where scenery encroached on the trees; showers of sparks flew into the air from electrical damage. And there was another noise, like howling and snarling. Sam aimed his camera in the direction of the noise and sparks but he couldn't find anything in the viewer. Then he saw movement in bushes some distance ahead, and trees within eye-shot began to fall.

"Sam, I think it's coming this way," Dean said, with an edge of nervous strain showing in his voice.

"Get behind me!" Sam told him as he swept the camera from side to side, but then a tree just yards ahead began to bend and Dean started shooting.

"Dean, be careful! Get back!"

"Did I hit it?" Dean yelled.

"I don't know. I can't see anything. DEAN!"

Suddenly Dean was swept into the air, and then he just hung there, yards from the ground, flailing and yelling. The shotgun fell to the earth.

"De – !" Sam's voice locked in his throat as he heard Dean's cries, and the roar of the creature, or whatever it was, was loud in his ears. He raised the pistol and fired volleys to either side and above the struggling body, to no avail. He ran forward and grabbed the shotgun, firing desperate shots into thin air, but there was no response.

Then suddenly the howling stopped and Dean dropped, as if idly tossed aside, into the bushes, and all movement around them ceased. Sam raced forward, his heart pounding in his chest, but when he reached the bushes he found Dean already struggling to get out of them, and cursing a steady stream of colorful invective that indicated he was more angry and shaken than hurt. Releasing a heavy, relieved breath Sam reached forward and helped his friend back onto his feet.

"Did we get it?" Dean demanded hopefully.

"I really don't think so," Sam replied. "I think it just . . . left."

In the sudden silence they could hear activity: alarmed voices coming closer. Then clear above the other noises there was a loud, guttural cry of horror. Sam and Dean shared a glance before they both ran toward the source of the scream. At the edge of the clearing where the set began they found Sasha Novak, immobile and staring vacantly at the mangled and bloody remains that swung from the lighting rig.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean growled.

Chapter Text

SCENE 9: FLIPPING OUT

It wasn't a big deal. It wasn't anything, really. Just a weird moment, and then it passed and then . . . Sam had probably forgotten about it already. And he probably . . . definitely probably wasn't thinking about it right now. Not like there was anything remotely erotic about pulling thorns and splinters out of someone's back, even if you are both sitting on a bed, no matter what size the bed is . . .

"Ow! Jesus, Sam!"

"Sorry."

"What are you using? A fucking meat hook?"

"A needle. And if you don't keep still – "

"OW! Son of a bitch!"

"I told you to keep still."

"Awesome bedside manner, Sam. If you ever give up hunting there's a career in nursing waiting for you with open arms."

Damn, Sam's hands were warm, though. He'd never noticed that before. But, again: thorns, splinters, fucking great painful bruises, so. And it's not like Dean could have done it himself because, obviously: splinters in his back. And it wasn't the first time Sam had tended to Dean's injuries, probably wouldn't be the last. So. Nothing weird about it at all.

"What I wanna know is: why is it always me that gets beaten to hell? Did someone stick a sign on my back that says 'MONSTER BAIT. PLEASE KICK ME.'?"

Sam opened a bottle from his Florence Nightingale pack and poured something that smelled of this is going to sting onto some wadding.

"I think the simple explanation for why it attacked you is that you got in its path. The more troubling question is, why are you still alive?"

"Well, by all means, let's maintain some perspective – YOW! I swear to God, Sam, your potions are worse than getting beaten up in the first place!" Maybe Dean was protesting more than he normally would . . .

"I mean," Sam continued, without acknowledging Dean's pain, "there's a basic contradiction between this apparently mindless creature beating a wanton path of destruction, tearing up everything in its way, and the fact that it's clearly attacking victims with selectivity and discretion. It dropped you unharmed because you weren't the target."

"Unharmed? Have you seen these bruises?"

"I think we can rule out cursed object, and it isn't a vengeful spirit or a poltergeist. The salt and iron didn't seem to do a thing." Sam started packing away his medicine pouch.

"Are you done? Can I get dressed now?" Dean stood up and reached for his shirt just as Sam stood and moved toward the kitchenette. So now they were in each other's way in the narrow space between the over-sized bed and the wall, and each time they moved it was the wrong way, and neither of them seemed to want to make eye contact.

"Could you . . ."

"Sorry . . ."

"Just trying to . . ."

"Need to get to . . ."

They both turned sideways. Dean sucked in his tummy, Sam cleared his throat, and eventually Dean got to his shirt and Sam to the sink.

Fucking ridiculous.

There just wasn't enough space in the room for a bed that size.

Sam rinsed and dried his hands then stood gazing at the array of photos and notes they'd pinned to the wall. "Whatever this thing is, it's being directed," he said. "I know we haven't found any physical evidence yet, but I'm leaning toward hoodoo or witchcraft of some kind."

See? There. Sam's mind was on the case. Just like normal.

Dean didn't realize he was staring until Sam turned a questioning look toward him and demanded "what?"

"Nothing." Dean quickly shifted his attention to the wall.

Sam watched him for a beat longer then continued. "O.K. So, the first victim, Jack Butcher: writer and producer responsible for the locksmiths' episode. Second victim, this afternoon, Lex Randall: actor and director responsible for Dr. Pat Plant's episode. He appeared in the show and was all over Plant's girlfriend. Fake or not, that must have been very humiliating."

"So Pat has a motive for the second murder but not the first."

"And the locksmith has a motive for the first but not the second."

"Strangers on a Train?" Dean suggested.

Sam stared at him, blankly. "I don't know what that means," he said.

"Hitchcock movie," Dean explained. "Two guys agree to commit murders for each other."

Sam blinked and gave a slight, bemused shake of his head before continuing. "It seems to be just the one perpetrator, and if it is witchcraft I think we can rule out the locksmith. He's too far away to be directing the magics."

"So that leaves Pat."

"Or there's Eduardo Fez, resident actor and prank victim in season one," Sam tapped his photograph. "He's with the team all the time, which gives him the best opportunity to orchestrate all the attacks, but I still think witnessing a fake vandalism on his car is a pretty flimsy motive for murder."

"Meh," Dean responded, equivocally.

"Anyway, I searched his room and car and I didn't find any indication he was involved in witchcraft. Just a lot of old movies. I didn't see anything at Plant's place either, but we may have to go back there and do a more thorough search."

Sam turned. Dean wasn't expecting it and as he took a hasty step backwards the bed butted against the backs of his knees, knocking him off balance and dumping him down on his ass.

Sam gave him a wooden stare. "O.K." he said after another awkward beat. "Well, for now, I suggest we go eat. By the time we've had dinner the local law should be finished with the crime scene and maybe we can take another look."

Sam moved to pick up his jacket and Dean pulled a clean shirt out of his duffel and headed for the bathroom, and once again they found themselves vying for the space between the bed and the wall. Dean stood back and let Sam pass, then he let himself into the bathroom and closed the door between them with a distinct sense of relief.

Fucking ridiculous.

Dean took off his shirt, had a quick wash and sprayed himself liberally with deodorant to try and disguise the smell of the herbal crap Sam had dabbed all over him. After he'd rinsed and dried his face he stood up straight and, just for a moment, he checked himself out in the mirror.

O.K. The haircut looked good. No point denying that. And, he realized, he was starting to look pretty buff with all the workouts and training he'd been doing. In fact, he was probably looking better than he ever had done, and he wasn't going to pretend he didn't know he looked good before. He turned girls' heads everywhere he went. He knew that. Yeah, guys, too, sometimes; he wasn't blind.

But no one of Sam's caliber, for fuck's sake. What the fuck would a guy like Sam see in Dean? Not like Sam was the kind to be impressed by a pretty face. Dean hadn't seen him look twice at anyone, male or female, the whole time they'd been on the road together, not like he'd . . . not the way he'd looked at Dean this afternoon . . .

Dean wiped a hand round the back of his neck and took a deep breath to steady his absurdly rapid heart rate.

It wasn't a big deal. Probably wasn't even as big a deal as Dean thought he remembered it. Probably wasn't anything. Not like Sam had been acting weird since . . . or, if he had, it was probably only because Dean had been acting weird. Dean didn't even think Sam swung that way. O.K., so he'd admitted to that one time with the hooker but he'd made it sound like a one time curiosity thing . . .

No, look, he was over thinking this. Not often Dean could be accused of over thinking anything, but that's what he was doing. Even if – and that was a big if . . . Sam had given no indication, the whole time they'd been together. And why would he? Sure, Dean could bust out the charm when he wanted to, but Sam knew him, and he wasn't remotely impressed by all Dean's crap. Made a point, in fact, of making it clear how unimpressed he was by any of Dean's crap, and no way in hell a new haircut – no matter how cool it was – was gonna make up for that, so. So even if Sam was taken by surprise and had a momentary . . . something, it wasn't anything. Couldn't be.

It wasn't a big deal, and Dean should just get it out there and let Sam know he knew it wasn't a big deal, just give Sam shit about it, like he would anything else, and move on. Act normal. Just do what he would normally do.

O.K.

Dean slipped on the clean shirt and picked up the old one. As he draped it over his arm a small bottle fell out of the pocket. It was a bottle of special super-strength tanning lotion he'd picked up from one of the make-up FX people that morning. He gazed at it for a few moments then glanced at the bottle of motel body wash that was sitting in the shower tray, and a slow grin began to spread over his features.

Yep. Just what he would normally do.

 

SCENE 10: BOILING POINTS


The bar didn't seem so crowded this evening. Perhaps there were almost as many people as before, but less activity, and the conversations were muted. Eviscerated bodies tended to have that effect on a community.

They found a booth close to a window and Sam sat down and picked up the menu. Dean was about to sit himself when he caught sight of his reflection in the glass. He cast a sly glance at Sam and started turning left and right, examining each profile in turn.

"I really am ruggedly handsome, aren't I?" he commented when he was sure he had Sam's attention.

After a tiny pause Sam glanced up from the menu and gave Dean a blank look. He really needed to patent his withering stare. Seriously. It was an art how much derision he could pack into no expression at all.

Dean sat down. "I guess your cousins didn't watch that program, huh?"

"What program?"

Well, that conversation was going nowhere so Dean picked up a book Sam had brought with him and left on the table: The Tao of Physics.

"The Tao of Physics?" Dean queried.

"It's a comparison of modern physics and Eastern mysticism."

Dean pulled a face. "I know exactly why you never get laid," he said. Nevertheless, he flicked curiously through the pages while a young man came to take their order. The guy was kinda pretty, Dean noted. That had potential, but it could wait. He ordered his usual and returned his attention to the book, skimming a couple of the passages Sam had marked.

"The subatomic units of matter are very abstract entities which have a dual aspect," one read. "Depending on how we look at them, they appear sometimes as particles, sometimes as waves; and this dual nature is also exhibited by light which can take the form of electromagnetic waves or of particles."

And if that didn't boggle the mind enough, further on there was a quote from a Zen master:

"We were parted many thousands of kalpas ago, yet we have not been separated even for a moment. We are facing each other all day long, yet we have never met."

What the two passages had to do with one another Dean couldn't imagine, but that last line struck him as oddly close to home. "What's a kalpa?" he asked.

"4.32 billion years." Sam tugged the book out of Dean's fingers and resumed reading it from the last passage he'd marked.

O.K.

"I was taught it was rude to bring a book to the meal table," Dean remarked.

"It's research, Dean."

"Uh-huh." Apparently Sam wasn't inclined to be sociable and for want of anything better to do Dean found himself idly toying with the amulet that hung around his neck. Not for the first time he wondered what the strange beast was and what it meant. He'd asked Sam but, apart from his conviction that it was a powerful protective charm of some kind, Sam seemed no better informed than Dean of its origin and symbolism. One thing it apparently didn't protect Dean from was being beaten up by random monsters.

The guy returned with their beers and when he went away again Sam returned to reading. Dean didn't appreciate being ignored at the best of times, and the Devil makes work for idle hands.

"I think he's into you."

"What?"

"Pretty sure he was checking you out, Sammy."

Sam was giving Dean the blank stare again, but his fingers tightened on his book. "Seriously, Dean? Are you kidding me?" His tone was dismissive but there were telltale pink patches growing in his cheeks.

Dean grinned. "I could get his number for you if you're too shy to do it yourself."

"I'm not interested in the fucking waiter, Dean!" 'Bitchface' didn't begin to cover Sam's expression.

"Well, if you prefer the butch type, I heard some goss there's a guy in stunts who's between relationships – "

Sam slammed the book down on the table, and a warning voice whispered playing with fire, Dean, but suddenly Dean was curious to find out how close to the flames he could get. At least he'd gotten Sam to put the book down.

"What is with you, Dean?" Sam demanded. "What the fuck goes on in your head?"

"I'm just trying to help, Sammy. If the basic problem is that I've been fielding you to the wrong gender – "

"The basic problem, Dean, is that you don't seem to speak English. What part of 'I don't need you to help me get laid' don't you understand?"

He wasn't addressing the gender issue, Dean noticed. "Well, you need someone's help, Sam, `cause you're going through the driest spell since Prohibition."

Sam paused, a confused frown wrinkled his brow for a moment then he shook his head and continued. "Why are you so fixated with my sex life, Dean?"

Whoa. Dean blinked and pulled his head back. Fixated? "Sam, maybe I need to explain to you what a wing man is – "

"I don't care, Dean. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing in our job descriptions that says we have to pimp for each other." He picked up the book and held it like a barrier in front of him, clearly signaling that the discussion was over, and if Dean was smart he'd leave it at that.

In the silence that followed the waiter brought over their meals and Sam acted like the guy was invisible. Dean extended polite thanks for the both of them, and as he took a bite of his burger Sam put down the book once more and started cutting into his steak.

"Trouble is, Sam, I'm the one who has to put up with you mooning around with a knot in it, all brooding and pensive, and that's not as good a look on you as you think it is."

Sam's shoulders sagged and he jerked his jaw sideways. That should have been enough warning, but Dean continued undeterred.

"You should try trotting out that smile of yours more often. You catch more flies with honey, Sam."

"Not interested in flies, Dean."

"Well, whatever you're after, Sam, male or female. It's not like you haven't been blessed with the materials. You've got a great smile, that cute pixie face, you've got that whole beauty spot thing going for you, and with a body like yours you should have them falling into your lap if you just made a little effort . . ."

Dean paused. O.K., seems he'd slipped a gear somewhere between his brain and his mouth `cause, this speech? Starting to sound like a come on! . . . And Sam had lowered his cutlery and was giving Dean a very odd look.

O.K. this conversation should have ended . . . well, before it began really but Dean was in it now, neck deep, so he'd better make himself clear.

"I'm talking generally, you understand?" Dean qualified. "I'm not saying I find you attractive. You get that, right?"

Sam dropped his gaze back to his plate and resumed cutting, very deliberately, into his steak. "Dean, what makes you think I even care?" His voice was suddenly very calm and cool and dismissive, and for some reason it really pissed Dean off.

Oh, well, maybe `cause this afternoon you looked like you wanted ME served on a plate with a side of salad . . . but that didn't really happen, right, Sam?

Dean leaned back in his chair and pinned a smirk onto his face. "Well, it stands to reason, Sammy," he said, casually mocking, and he gestured up and down his own torso. "What self-respecting homosexual wouldn't want this hot bod?"

"Dean, I'm not homosexual."

"Bi-sexual, then. Whatever."

"Dean – "

"Oh, no, I forgot. You're asexual. How's that working out for you?"

Sam suddenly slammed his cutlery down. "Dean, do you ever listen to yourself?" he snapped. "Do you ever hear the endless stream of shit that comes out of your mouth?" He glared threateningly at Dean who, for once, had the sense to keep silent. Then he started to gather up his cutlery, his plate, his book and his beer.

Dean watched, shocked and perplexed. "Wait, Sam . . . what are you . . . ? Where . . . ?"

"Just finish your burger, Dean. I'm going to find somewhere I can finish my meal in peace."

"Oh, come on, Sam! I was kidding! Sam – !"

But Sam was gone, searching for a table on the other side of the bar.

Well, fine. O.K., then. Terrific. Well, O.K., Dean was ready to concede that the whole get it out in the open and make a joke of it thing, probably not the best move. But if Sam was going to stomp off like a great big drama queen, Dean wasn't going to chase after him. He could just go off and sulk in his fortress of solitude and Dean would . . . finish his burger. By himself.

He picked up the burger and lifted it to his mouth . . . held it there for a few moments and put it down again. Then he pushed his plate away and stared out of the window. After a minute or two he pulled his jacket off the back of the chair and stood up. "Screw you, Sam," he muttered as he made his way back to the Impala.

He didn't get in straight away; he felt like he needed some air. He just leaned against the hood and waited, with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ground. Presently he became conscious of the hard edge of his cell phone against his fingers and he pulled it out of his pocket and gazed at it. He thought of calling Stan, but he didn't know what he'd say to him. Stan would call him if there was any news to tell. He brought up his contact list anyway, and stared at the short list of numbers he still kept every time he changed his phone, but it was the same story. He had nothing to say to any of these people any more. They were the ghosts of a life that had gone up in flames. He kept the highlight hovering over Penny's number for a few moments longer, then closed the cell and put it back in his pocket.

For the first time in ages he heard the voice of Daniel Whitman in his head. "You'll give up everything you have for him, and then he'll abandon you." The early spring evening suddenly felt chill.

He shouldn't be surprised Sam had lost his temper. Dean had been riding his butt . . . winding him up for a while now. Did he think the man didn't have a snapping point? Did Dean imagine he had enough credit with Sam that he could keep dishing shit to the guy and he wouldn't reach a fill level? Like he didn't already have enough on his plate with wet nursing Dean through all the supernatural crap, wiping Dean's nose, dabbing his grazed knees . . . Like Dean could ever be anything to Sam but a freakin' liability . . .

For a moment Dean's eyes stung and his vision blurred. What the hell?

"Grr - rrrr!" Dean growled and cleared his throat, tried to laugh at himself. Ya big baby! Baby gonna cry? Get a grip, will ya? D'you want Sam to catch you like this?

He should just apologize. Admit he'd crossed a line and tell Sam he was sorry. That's all. Two people who spent as much time together as he and Sam did were bound to butt heads now and then. No big deal.

Dean straightened up as he noticed Sam heading toward him from the bar. He'd finished his meal quicker than Dean had expected him to. When he reached the car he paused and regarded Dean with an unfathomable expression.

"You didn't finish your burger," he commented.

"Wasn't hungry," Dean responded awkwardly. He was surprised Sam had noticed that.

"You had the waiter worried we'd skipped without paying."

"You were the one who moved tables." Wrong foot. Sam looked like he was about to say something but Dean forestalled him. "Look, Sam, I'm sorry. I don't blame you for getting pissed. I was out of line. I know I'm a pain in the butt. I'm a mouthy son of a bitch, I'm messy, I drive too fast. And I listen to the same five albums over and over and over again, - and I sing along. I'm annoying, I know that . . ." He should have stopped there, but somehow he didn't. "But you're not a joy to be with all the time either, you know." His voice was suspiciously unsteady. "You have no sense of humor and you have a stick rammed so far up your wazoo it makes your eyebrows wrinkle."

Sam was surprised into a frown and his eyebrows twitched upwards. His hand moved self consciously to the bridge of his nose as he tried to smooth out the furrows there. Another time Dean might have laughed.

"You need to lighten up, Sam. Maybe you haven't noticed but I am making an effort here. These past few weeks have been so far off the highway for me I don't know what the hell any more, but I'm trying. I'm doing your boot camp, and your weapons drill and I'm studying all the lore – hell, I've done more research in the past few weeks than I did in the five years I was at University. How about some reciprocation here, Sam? You talked about us being a team. Well that takes more than just ganking the bad guys. If we're going to do this we should at least try to be sociable. We need to be able to have a conversation now and then about something besides EMF and entrails. We need to have some fun once in a while. Otherwise we'll be spending our time doing nothing but killing things. Imagine what that'll be like."

When Dean finished there was the kind of silence movie makers usually fill with crickets. Sam was staring at Dean and he didn't seem to have noticed that he was wearing his wrinkly frown again. Dean had no idea what he was thinking. Sam could be a book written in Sanskrit for all Dean could ever read of him.

"Are you done, Dean?" he asked at last.

"Yeah . . . I guess," Dean replied warily.

"Can we get over to the crime scene now, then?"

Dean felt all the air go out of him. It was like talking into the Pit. He pulled in a breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. "Yeah, sure. Whatever."

They climbed into the car and as Dean gunned the engine he reached out to push the tape in, but thought better of it. The silence as they drove out to the movie set almost physically hurt his ears but, hell, maybe Sam liked it that way.

Chapter Text

SCENE 11: LOST

Sam hated the silence. As aggravating as he found the persistent noise that accompanied Dean's presence, it had become a constant in Sam's life, and its absence was disturbing, unnatural. He could no longer associate silence with any kind of peace, only with the awareness that something was wrong. What made it worse now was that it wasn't complete. It was punctuated by Dean's thumb tapping against the steering wheel, and it wasn't the rhythmic beat of some internal soundtrack, but an irregular nervous drumming that set Sam's teeth on edge. He didn't dare make matters worse by asking Dean to stop; he wasn't even sure Dean was aware he was doing it.

Sam was even beginning to see the appeal of the unremitting cacophony. Maybe Dean was afraid that if he didn't fill his brain with noise he might actually have to use it. There were times when Sam wished he could be relieved of the necessity of thinking. Like now, when the silence left him with nothing to do except meditate on the steaming mass of contradictions that was Dean Winchester.

Apparently Dean was upset. He'd left practically all of his meal, so it must be serious. When a dog doesn't eat . . .

All the times Sam had wanted to shut Dean's mouth, wipe the smirk off his face, and now he'd somehow managed to do both and it just made him feel sick to his stomach. Just because Sam had lost his temper – which, O.K. he shouldn't have done, but come on! – How could Dean be so sensitive and fucking insensitive right at the same time? Somehow Dean could ridicule and humiliate and taunt Sam, and lecture him on what poor company he was and somehow Sam was the one who wound up feeling guilty. How was that even possible?

It wasn't that Sam didn't get the upheaval Dean had been through. He got it. O.K? But did that give Dean the right to make Sam his Piñata? What was that? Payback? And why did he talk like he'd learned everything Sam had taught him just to please Sam? It was for his own benefit, his own safety. He needed to know this stuff. Didn't Dean get that? And why did he talk like he was the only one who'd had to adjust. Sam had had to adjust to Dean, being with him 24/7, locked up in a metal cage for hours every day with a mercurial clown who was the opposite of just about anything Sam could understand. But he hadn't asked Dean to change. Not once. He accepted Dean for what he was and just . . . lived with it. Dean didn't have to live with himself. Well, O.K. yes, he did, but not the way Sam did. Annoying? Annoying was just the beginning. Dean didn't know what it was like to spend so much time so close to a man who just fucking seemed to sweat sex from every pore every minute of the day until it seemed to seep into every muscle of Sam's body until he ached to the bone with it. And yet Dean himself was so fucking cavalier about sex: it was fun, it was entertainment, amusement, that's all. And now, apparently, it was extra ammunition to goad Sam with.

Perhaps Sam should be relieved Dean thought his feelings were a laughing matter. At least he wasn't freaking out or insisting they get separate motel rooms or anything. He was just making damned sure Sam got the message that if he was interested in men he should look elsewhere, as if Sam needed that memo. As if Sam was ever going to make a pass at Dean, even if he'd ever kidded himself that Dean might be interested, which he didn't, even if Dean seemed to spend a fuck of a lot of time obsessing about another man's sex life and assessing his sexual marketability for a guy who reckoned he was so damned straight. Even when innuendo dropped from his lips every other sentence, even when he was taunting Sam with his fucking striptease shows and going down on his fucking chapstick, had Sam ever given Dean a reason to think he didn't have it under control?

Had he?

Well, he wasn't. Going to. Ever. Because he knew better. He'd learned his lesson before, and it didn't need Dean to teach it to him all over. As if Sam would ever make that mistake again.

God, he wished Dean would put some fucking music on.


The movie set was deathly quiet. Production had been halted while the local authorities investigated the incident. Even the trailer park was deserted; the movie crew and personnel had found alternative accommodation in town or in Richardson. All of which suited Sam and Dean very well since it gave them full access to the site now the forensics team had finished with it. For all the good it did them. Power lines and cables were still screwing with EMF readings, the thermal scanner was getting bupkis, and the physical chaos the creature had left in its wake was just that and nothing more. Rigging was twisted into tortured pretzel shapes, some still stained red, with scraps of flesh clinging to the metal; broken power lines, now dead, lay in tangled coils on scorched earth; grown trees were uprooted or snapped like twigs, their fractured trunks bleeding sap. As they followed the trail of wreckage out from the movie set toward the car park Sam took measurements while he could. They were starting to lose the light so he took out a torch to examine some marks on the tree trunks.

"Dean, I think it's growing."

"What makes you say that?"

Sam indicated the gouge marks in the bark. "The span of these gashes is wider than it was on the body in Albuquerque. Drake estimated the height of the creature at fifteen feet, but judging by these marks and the general height of the damage, I'd say we're dealing with something that's at least twenty, twenty-five feet high."

Dean gazed at the gouges. "So: something invisible that keeps getting bigger and more destructive. Ringing any bells with you, Sam?"

Sam shook his head in frustration. There was something nagging at the back of his mind but he couldn't get a fix on it. Presently he became aware that Dean was watching him out of the corner of his eye. He returned a questioning look but Dean just gave an odd toss of his head and walked away.

Sam watched him for a moment then returned his attention to the tree, just as Dean suddenly let out a startled cry, and a crumpled sound of impact immediately followed. Sam turned in alarm and his gaze swept the area but he couldn't see any sign of Dean, until he sat up from inside what appeared to be a depression in the ground some feet away.

"Son of a bitch!" he ejaculated.

Sam refrained from laughing at Dean's mishap. Walking up to the hole, he offered his hand and Dean took it and scrambled to his feet. As he climbed out Sam stood back and studied the shape of the hollow more carefully: some four feet long, narrow at one end, eighteen inches or so at its widest, and ending in a rough point. Turning back in the direction of the set he now realized there were similar depressions at intervals along the path they had followed.

"Huh!" he exclaimed.

"What?"

"It's a footprint!"

Dean turned then he frowned and started to circumnavigate the hole. He examined it from all angles then declared "oh, someone is yanking our chain! I know what this is, Sam!"

"Dean, if you're about to say Big Foot – "

"No, I – " Dean paused and gave Sam a quizzical look. "Big Foot's not real, is it?"

"No," Sam assured him.

"No," Dean continued, returning his attention to the hole. "This is freakin' Forbidden Planet!"

Oh crap. Now what? Movie? TV show? Burger restaurant? What?

Dean could tell from Sam's expression he was lost. "You know nothing of our cultural heritage, do you?" he chided. "Fifties Sci Fi movie: landmark FX flick featuring a giant invisible monster that left footprints just like this one. Turned out it had come from Walter Pidgeon's dreams."

"This thing's a bit more than a dream, Dean."

"So was the monster from the Id. It killed a bunch of colonists and then went after Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis."

Sam was losing the thread of this plot. He tried to focus on what seemed important from Dean's summary. "The monster from the – "

"Sasha?" Dean was staring somewhere over Sam's right shoulder. Sam whirled round and discovered Novak standing right behind him. How the hell had the man walked up without Sam hearing him?

Novak tipped back a little and stared glassily at Sam with a dull expression of surprise. "You're not supposed to be here," he stated in a bland monotone.

Dean skirted the edge of the hollow to stand at Sam's side. "Sas, you're not supposed to be here," he told him. "Everyone else has gone. Why are you still here?"

"'v losst my trailer," Novak explained, his speech a little slurred. "Think itss been stolen . . . again."

Now Sam noticed the man was swaying a little unsteadily and was holding a half empty bottle of tequila, and he realized he'd just been crept up on by a drunk guy. He was seriously losing it.

"No, I think it's you that's lost this time, buddy," Dean explained. "Where did you come from?"

"I found a liquor store," Novak told him.

"And?" Dean took the bottle from Novak's hand and checked the label.

"And I drank it."

"Man, you didn't drive like this, did you?" Dean glanced at Sam and Sam realized with a sinking feeling that Novak's insobriety had just become their problem. "Have you got a motel room?"

"Got a trailer."

"Are your friends there?" Sam asked.

Novak stared at him blankly for a moment then some kind of comprehension swam in his eyes for a moment. "No. On a plane to Canada." Then, inexplicably, he was taken by a fit of the giggles.

"They had to get a flight straight after filming the prank this morning," Dean explained to Sam. "He's working there now, apparently. Dunno what the big attraction is up there all of a sudden. At this rate there'll be nobody left in the US." He looped Novak's arm over his shoulder and started leading him toward the car park. "Come on, Sas," he said. "You'd better come back with us."

"Er . . . Dean . . . ?" Sam started to object.

"We can't just leave him here by himself," Dean insisted. "He's drunk and traumatized. But, I'm warning you, Sas," he added to the inebriate, "If you puke in my car I'll see to it you never work in this town again."

 

SCENE 12: INTERVENTION

Actually, Novak managed to hold off until they got back to the motel, but then he just didn't stop. And Dean insisted on staying with him in the bathroom to make sure all the vomit stayed in the toilet, and Novak stayed out of it. When Sam took in a couple of beakers of water, Dean was looking almost as green as Sasha and he was clearly struggling against a bout of sympathetic heaving.

"Are you O.K., Dean?" Sam aked.

"Yeah, I'm good," Dean growled, as Novak continued to roar into the bowl.

"Are you sure? `cause I could take over if – "

"I said I'm fine!" Dean insisted.

Sam nodded. "O.K.," he said, and retreated to the other room and turned on the news channel in an attempt to drown out the unsavoury noises coming from the bathroom. Honestly, Sam couldn't see that Novak was their responsibility, but Dean seemed to have a need to take care of people. It was something about Dean that troubled Sam . . . or about himself.

Dean emerged from the bathroom when Novak reached a point where he was taking enough space between retching to breathe at least.

"Man, that dude's stomach is bottomless," he remarked as he started to make coffee.

"Most civilians aren't used to seeing dead bodies that have been ripped apart," Sam acknowledged.

"Some hunters aren't used to it yet, either."

Sam frowned. Was Dean starting to see himself as a hunter? Wasn't all this supposed to be just temporary for him, until he found his father? "Then there are those who are and wish we weren't," he responded.

Dean's hand paused above the coffee mug, and he turned and gazed at Sam for a moment. Then there was a sound, a tinkling tune playing somewhere that Sam didn't recognise.

"Is that yours?" he asked.

Dean shook his head and started hunting for the source of the music. He found it in Novak's jacket pocket, and when he checked the screen of the cell phone his face lit up, which was a clue to which of Novak's acquaintances was calling.

"Hey!" Dean said, a little breathlessly, Sam thought. "Sasha's . . um . . indisposed right now. This is his P.A."

Sam could hear Mr. Personality speaking at the other end, and he found the sound of his voice grating.

"It's hard to say," Dean replied to the man. "He took on a bottle of tequila and lost."

A loud "HHOO – WORRRRR!" issuing from the bathroom at that point seemed to illustrate Dean's comment.

"Hold on. I'll check." Dean carried the cell into the bathroom and returned without it.

"What did he want?" Sam asked, for the sake of making conversation.

Dean's head jerked back in that surprised, puzzled manner of his, like he didn't understand the question. "He was worried," he replied, in a tone like he was stating the obvious. "He just heard the news that someone had been brutally killed on the set of his friend's movie and he was calling to check how Sasha was handling it." Dean finished by blowing a kind of half raspberry through his lips to emphasize his point.

"This would be the friend that he helped to psychologically torture this morning?" Sam queried.

Dean stared at him. "Sam, that was a joke. Friends wind each other up sometimes. Don't you get that? Sasha probably does the same to him. Didn't you and your cousins ever tease each other?"

Sam didn't know how to respond. The kind of verbal fencing, and physical wrangling, that went on in the Campbell household Sam wouldn't characterise as 'teasing'. They tested each other, vied for position and status. It was about the pecking order and alpha male jockeying. Maybe it was about that with Dean, too, but he seemed to regard it as a game: less like a fight or a challenge, more like . . . trying to win at Monopoly?

Dean let out a small sigh and returned to the kitchenette. Reports on civil unrest and arms stand offs became a distracting background noise as he finished making the coffee, then the words "Prank'd" and "Grudge Holder II" caught Sam's attention and he turned up the volume. A reporter was holding a microphone in front of Fran Spires' face as she was leaving the movie set.

"In light of the tragic occurrence this afternoon, and in co-operation with the authorities, we're shutting down production for a few days," she was explaining as a scrolling caption at the bottom of the screen identified her as the director of Grudge Holder II, View From a Couch and Portrait of a Secret Obsession. A slight frown settled on Sam's face. He was mildly surprised. Those last two titles didn't sound like horror movies.

"Rumors have been circulating since the attack," the reporter persisted. "People have claimed that they witnessed some kind of monster attacking Jack Butcher. Do you have any comment to make about these reports?"

"Ah . . . I'd say they've been watching too many of my movies," Spires responded with an evasive smile just as security personnel bundled her into a car and the report returned to the studio.

"Looks like she got more publicity out of Prank'd than she anticipated," Dean remarked.

"She doesn't just write and direct slash movies, then?" Sam queried. "She's done other genres?"

"Ah . . . that's slasher movies, Sam. Slash is . . . never mind."

"Our Fran is a versatile lady." Novak appeared in the bathroom doorway, wobbling slightly. "She's done a lot of things . . . and people," he added with a giggle.

"Meaning?" Dean asked as he grabbed the man and guided him to the couch.

Novak dropped down and his head lolled back. "Oh, she gets around. That's how she's acquired her influence in the industry." He giggled again and raised his hands, making vague bunny ears with his fingers as he continued. "She's had a number of (air quotes) creative liaisons with her (air quotes) colleagues in (air quotes) TV and film. She's rumored to have a regular thing going with Eric Kripke, but she's had flings with Jackson and Russell T. Davies as well. She's flirted with Whedon and Chris Carter and a whole bunch of others. She's even got her eye on J. K. Rowling."

Dean pursed his lips and nodded his head. He looked impressed. He handed Sasha a mug of coffee and held his hand steady as the mug tipped and threatened to upend its contents into the man's lap.

"Fran'll partner up with anyone if it helps her (air quotes) art," Novak concluded.

Well, that was more information than Sam needed or wanted to know about Fran Spires but Dean appeared to be amused by it. "I've always admired women with experience," he said.

"You might not want to mention that to her," Sam suggested, and Dean's grin faltered a little. The mug tipped again and Dean just barely saved it from falling.

"How are you feeling, Sas?" he asked.

"Sleepy," Sasha acknowledged groggily.

Dean glanced at Sam and Sam rolled his eyes. Novak obviously wasn't going to sober up enough for them to get him to another motel tonight. Dean aborted the attempt to feed him coffee and lifted his legs up onto the couch instead, and as his head dropped back on the pillow Dean took the mug out of his hand and started to drink the coffee himself.

He dropped down next to Sam on the edge of the bed and they ostensibly watched a report on climate change. After a few minutes the sound of light snoring drifted over from the couch.

"You're not really his P.A. You do know that, don't you?" Sam pointed out.

"My resume's full of things I'm not really," Dean retorted. "Not really being things is what I'm best at."

Sam frowned. It was said lightly enough, but Sam got the feeling there was a lot of weight beneath it. After a pause he suggested "maybe you should have gone into medicine instead of law."

Dean quirked an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?"

"You seem to like . . . helping people."

"Oh, you're a funny guy."

"No, I'm serious."

Dean's eyes swivelled toward Sam then returned to gaze at the TV screen. He took a sip of coffee. "Well, you may not have noticed, Sam, but I have a slight issue with the sight of blood," he confided.

For a moment Sam had asbolutely no idea how to respond, but then Dean laughed softly, the tension broke and they were both laughing. Dean bumped against Sam's shoulder. "See, I knew you had it in you," he said, grinning.

There was a pause for a few moments, then Sam said "Dean, I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier."

"Hey, I had it coming," Dean acknowledged.

"You were right, though. I do probably forget sometimes how difficult all this must be for you. How frightening – "

Dean bristled a little. "Hey, I never said I was scared – "

"No, but you should be, Dean. You're right to be. It's so damn hard to do this, what we do. All alone, you know? There's so much evil out there in the world, Dean, sometimes I feel like I could drown in it."

Dean's eyes widened. His lips parted slightly and Sam wondered if he should even be saying all this but there were things . . . things Dean needed to understand.

"You've got your - coping mechanisms, I guess, for dealing with everything," Sam continued. "And that's good. I don't want you to change. At all. But it's difficult for me, too, sometimes. You know? Because the way you see things is . . . different from what I've been used to. I mean, even . . ." Sam glanced over at the snoring body of Sasha Novak and took a deep breath. "My cousins, my family and I, we saw ourselves as professional hunters. It was our job to eradicate evil . . . it would never have occurred to me before to try to actively do some good."

Dean stared at Sam with an incredulous expression somewhere between a smile and a frown. "Yeah, it would," he insisted gently.

"No, Dean. It wouldn't. You asked me earlier to imagine what it would be like to spend all my time killing things. I don't have to imagine. That sums up my whole life."

An awkward silence seemed to stretch out interminably then Dean asked "and didn't it drive you nuts?"

Sam looked down. "Yeah, it did actually. I was trying to get out, get away. I wanted my life to be normal, whatever that is. I was trying to start over when – " he stopped abruptly.

"When I dragged you back into it?" Dean supplied the rest of the sentence.

"You didn't . . . it wasn't just . . . if it hadn't been you it would have been something else. Once you know what's out there you can't help seeing it, seeing the signs, and what can you do? When you can see some monster about to sit down for an all you can eat buffet, what are you gonna do? Hand it a napkin?"

Dean smiled ruefully. "Sam, you just very nearly made a joke."

"Yeah, I'm laughing on the inside."

"So what was it that finally decided you to get away?" Dean asked.

Sam flinched.

Her eyes were white and wild; her mouth was crowded with bared teeth awash with the blood of her last kill. Sam felt the blade in his hand. "Sam, no! No! It's still me!" He didn't hesitate. She was a monster now . . . and yet her eyes looked human when her head was lying in the dust.

"It was doing something . . ." Sam's voice came out in a muted husky rasp. ". . . something to me . . . making me into something . . ." He couldn't finish.

They were both silent for a few moments then Dean said quietly "That's a question I shouldn't have asked. I'm sorry, Sam"

Sam looked up to see Dean's eyes soft with compassion and – what was that? Tenderness? His jaw tightened; he stretched his neck in a tight sideways tilt and stood up. "We should try to get some rest," he said. Then his attention returned to Novak snoring in blessed oblivion on the couch, and it dawned on him that they had a logistical problem.

"Where were you planning to sleep?" he asked Dean.

"Ah . . . well . . ." Dean cleared his throat as his gaze drifted toward the bed and away again. "Well, couple of alternatives . . . I guess . . . not loving the idea of sleeping on the floor. There's the back of the Impala, I suppose . . ."

Sam opened his mouth to speak but Dean continued.

"Or I was thinking there's really plenty of room on that for the both of us." He swiped a hand round the back of his neck as he indicated the bed. "I'm not being funny, Sam," he added quickly. "I'm talking about sleeping on top, fully clothed. Hell, you've seen Yentl, haven't you?"

Sam hesitated. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep with Dean right beside him on the bed, but there'd been such a sense of an olive branch waving around in the air Sam didn't want to be the one to drop it.

Dean laughed awkwardly. "No, of course you haven't. What am I talking about?"

"I have actually."

Dean's eyes widened with surprise and delight. "Yeah?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, good film."

"That it is," Dean agreed with a pleased, approving nod. He extended his coffee mug in a silent toast then took a sip. He pulled a face when he realized it was cold. Moving over to the kitchenette he poured away the remnants of the coffee while Sam turned off the television and the main light.

"Any preference as to side?" Dean asked.

"I usually sleep facing the door," Sam replied, dropping down on that side of the bed and kicking off his boots.

Dean took the other side and did the same then they both shuffled up the bed and settled down back to back on opposite sides.

"Shall I get the light?" Sam asked.

"Sure. I'm good," Dean assured him.

Sam reached out and turned off the side light and the room fell into darkness and silence, apart from the continued snoring from the couch. Sam was thankful for it. The noise drowned out the sound of his too rapidly beating heart. He stared into the darkness for a few minutes, breathing slowly and trying to maintain perspective on this perfectly mundane, totally practical situation.

"Dean?" he murmured presently.

Dean didn't reply immediately and Sam wondered if he was asleep already, but then he prompted "what?"

"Why do all the snakes get out of the jungle at 5 o'clock?"

Another beat and then Dean responded "I don't know, Sam. Why do all the snakes get out of the jungle at 5 o'clock?"

"Because that's when the elephants jump down from the cherry trees."

There was a brief silence, the length of time it obviously took Dean to make the connection to Sam's joke from the previous day, then he said "still not funny, Sam," but Sam could hear he was smiling.

 

Within ten minutes Dean was sleeping as well, and then Sam had to listen to the chorus of snoring in stereo. It didn't matter; he wasn't going to sleep anyway. He couldn't risk waking up in the middle of the night and forgetting it was Dean right behind him. It wasn't safe; he didn't know what he would do. Still the noise was annoying, and he was hyper-aware of every little move Dean made. He was probably imagining that he could feel Dean's body heat. It was highly unlikely; there was some distance between them. Still Sam imagined that Dean was radiating something that he could feel, beating against him, into him. He was just deciding that he would give it a few more minutes to make sure Dean was really deeply asleep and then he would get up, maybe get some research done, when Dean rolled over onto his back and his hand came to rest against Sam's hip.

Sam's breath caught. Now he could definitely feel Dean's body heat. He began to edge carefully away from it but before he had barely moved Dean rolled again and now he had an arm around Sam and he was starting to friggin' snuggle! Sam panicked and fell out of bed. This whole idea? Not so practical. Apparently Dean couldn't share a bed, or even sleep on a car seat, with anyone nearby without getting grabby. Sam held his breath waiting to see if the noise of his fall had woken Dean, and while he watched Dean's hand felt around on the bed for the warm body that had lately vacated it. When he couldn't find it he grabbed the pillow, dragged it down beside him and snuggled into that instead. After that he appeared to settle quite happily. Sam gazed at Dean as he cuddled the pillow and felt a complex of powerfully ambivalent emotions. It made him uncomfortable to watch. It made him sad. He shivered with something between longing and aversion.

Presently he made himself get up and he edged quietly over to the table and opened the laptop. Both sleepers continued to snore undisturbed and Sam eventually relaxed and turned his attention to his research. He was intrigued by what Dean had said about the footprint they'd found, so he decided to familiarize himself with the plot of the movie Dean had mentioned. From what he read he quickly concluded that Dean was right, and the monster was indeed the product of somebody's macabre sense of humor. After a little more delving he was suddenly struck by an idea. Picking up the journal and rifling through the pages he tried to read them by the light radiating from the laptop screen.

"Damn," he breathed softly. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of that before.

 

 

Chapter Text

SCENE 13: NASHVILLE STAR


Dean woke up to find himself wrapped around his pillow. He was mildly ticked with himself. He thought he'd gotten out of that childhood habit years ago. It took a moment longer to realize he was fully dressed, remember why, and wonder where Sam was. He checked behind him and the bed was empty, and then he realized he was on the opposite side of the bed from where he'd started. Damn. Had he pushed Sam out of . . . ? Sam was asleep at the table, head squashed against the keyboard of the laptop, limp fingers propping up the edge of a book. Dean felt a twinge of guilt. He really hadn't been a lot of help to Sam on this case.

From out of the corner of his eye he caught movement at the foot of the bed. As he turned and saw a figure standing there he startled and actually made a grab for his gun before he recognized Sasha and full recollection of the previous evening came back to him. Then he realized what Sasha was doing.

Oh, crap.

Dean shuffled down the bed, stood up next to Sasha and tried to give the man a casual reassuring smile.

"Hey. How are you feeling this morning?" he asked.

Sasha didn't seem to absorb the question. He turned big brown eyes toward Dean and it occurred to Dean he looked like nothing so much as a bewildered cocker spaniel.

"What is all this?" he asked, indicating the wall with its collection of photos of the Prank'd victims, pins, bits of string, scraps of paper scribbled over with alarming conjectures . . . To an outsider, it must have looked very Beautiful Mind meets Se7en.

"We're private investigators," Dean told him. It was still the best explanation to give as a general rule: reassuringly normal sounding, something people thought they understood. "We're looking into the Prank'd killings." Dean shrugged awkwardly. "We specialize in these weirdo type cases."

Sasha returned his gaze to the wall, scanning down the sheet where they'd listed possibilities – witchcraft, vengeful spirit, poltergeist, cursed object – all but the first item now crossed out. He dropped the weight of his doggy eyes back on Dean.

"You think it's witchcraft?"

Dean shrugged again, apologetically. "Well, we don't know . . . yet. But you saw what happened to Jack Butcher. Can you think of a normal explanation for that?"

The sound of Sam clearing his throat interrupted them. He was propping himself upright, looking bleary, but awake.

"Actually, I think I might have a theory about what's going on," he said.

Dean raised his eyebrows. "Oh yeah?"

"What if the monster is a Tulpa?"

"Tulpa?" Sasha enquired nervously.

"Yeah." Dean remembered reading something about it in the journal. "It's a Tibetan thought form." Dean glanced over at Sam and received an approving nod. He tried not to look smug about it.

There was an awkward silence and then Sasha asked "do you mind if I use your shower?"

"Oh, sure! Of course!" As Sasha turned toward the bathroom Dean forestalled him. "Hey, wait up." He turned to his duffel bag and pulled one of his shirts out of it. "Do you want to borrow a clean shirt, Sas? No offence, Dude, but yours is rank." He indicated the vomit stained article.

Sasha looked down at the stains and took Dean's point . . . and his shirt. "Thanks, that's very good of you," he said, and tried to smile.

Dean made light of it with a half-raspberry and, as Sasha retreated into the bathroom, he started making coffee. He noticed Sam was watching him and had an enigmatic smile on his face.

"What?" Dean demanded suspiciously.

Sam shook his head. "Nothing."

"O.K. . . ." Dean shrugged and started setting out the mugs. "So, ahhh, all right keep going. What about these Tulpas?"

"Well, it was your reference to Forbidden Planet that made me think of it: you know? The guy who manifested the monster out of his dreams? That's a psychic projection, basically a tulpa. Theoretically, a tulpa can be anything the mind can imagine. Well, with meditation and the aid of a sigil that concentrates thought, it's possible to bring the thing to life. Out of thin air."

Sam picked up the journal and leafed through it. He opened it out at a page where he'd drawn a weird squiggly symbol. "That's a Tibetan spirit sigil. We came across one a couple of years back. Kids had painted it on the wall of an abandoned house. They'd copied it from a theology textbook not even knowing what it was. Then a couple of jokers put a photo of the wall on their website along with an urban legend about the house being haunted. So then there were 10,000 surfers on the website staring at the sigil and thinking about the legend. Next thing you know, the house really was haunted."

"Now wait a second. Are you trying to tell me that just because people believed in the ghost, it was real?"

Sam shrugged acknowledgement. "Sometimes I wonder, of all the things we hunt, how many exist just because people believe in them." Sam shook his head and became practical again. "But that would explain why the rock salt and the iron rounds didn't work. A tulpa's not a traditional spirit."

"So we need to find the sigil and destroy it?"

"It's not that simple. You see, once Tulpas are created they take on a life of their own."

"Great. So if it really is a thought form how the hell are we supposed to kill an idea?"

"Well, first we need to find the person who created it."

Dean studied the symbol. "So we need to find someone who's got one of these in their calligraphy collection?"

"Not necessarily. This is just one example of a sigil. There are many kinds. In fact, practitioners of Chaos Magic can create individual sigils out of whatever happens to be meaningful for them: a personal symbology, maybe the letters of a name. Basically, it could be – "

"Sam, if you're about to say 'it could be anything' . . ."

Sam grimaced apologetically.

Dean sighed. "Man, this case sucks!" Then a thought struck him. "Wait a minute. Could it be a tattoo?"

Sam frowned. "Possibly. Why?"

Dean took the journal out of Sam's hand, pulled the pen out of the back, leafed to the empty pages and started sketching Haley's tattoo from memory. "The girl who cut my hair yesterday had a tatt made out of her monogram. Could this be a sigil?"

Sam gazed at the drawing. "Well, I suppose we can't rule it out," he said doubtfully. "But lots of people have these, and what would be her motive?"

Dean looked a little disconsolate at Sam's dismissal of the information, so Sam added. "Actually, I was thinking about the guy you suspected, Eduardo Fez. The guy with the car? He's a classic film buff. And this creature does have a strong resemblance to the one from the movie."

Dean nodded speculatively. Then he grinned and slapped Sam's shoulder. "Hey! Maybe they're both in it together!"

"Ow! O.K. we'll check them both out." Sam fiddled with the page Dean had drawn on. He wrinkled his nose irritably.

"What?" Dean demanded. "Oh, what? Have I put an untidy drawing in your nice neat journal?" He reached out and tugged at the page. Naturally, the paper broke at the rings leaving no evidence behind that the page had ever been there. "See! All better now." Folding up the sheet, he inserted it into Sam's shirt pocket and patted it down. "Jeez. Lighten up already," he scolded with a grin.

Sam glared at him, just a little, from under the fringe of his eyelashes. Minimum bitch face. What do you know? Maybe he was learning after all. But then his expression changed and he focused over Dean's right shoulder, looking surprised and perplexed. Dean turned to find Sasha standing right behind him and . . .

Oh, crap. Dean had forgotten about the body wash.

"Is it just the light in here?" Sasha asked. "Or do I look orange to you?"

Dean glanced nervously at Sam, who was studying Dean with rapidly growing suspicion. He was putting two and two together and the bitch face was definitely climbing the scale. No way was Dean getting out of this one without a slapping.


 

Sasha was remarkably good natured about the whole body wash thing. He took it with the philosophical calm of one who is used to being the butt monkey of his friends' practical jokes. He expressed confidence that the FX people would have something to counteract the effects of the tanning lotion, or at least that the make up girls would be able to cover it up. All the same, he seemed anxious to get away and politely declined Dean's invitation to join them for breakfast. He was also reluctant to accept the sure-fire hangover cure Sam offered him, but Dean didn't blame him for that. Dean wouldn't have fancied the vile looking stuff, either. But after Sam's continued assurances of its efficacy Sasha nervously tried some and presently acknowledged that (like most of Sam's nasty looking crap) it did seem to be doing some good.

After that Dean drove him back to the movie set where he picked up some necessaries from his trailer, and then they set out to find out where he'd left his car the previous evening. It took a while as it turned out he'd missed the car park by a good half mile.

"Are you sure you're going to be O.K. to drive?" Dean asked him.

"Oh, yes. Yes, I'm sure," Sasha insisted. "Your partner's hangover cure was remarkably effective. I should thank you both for taking care of me last night. It was good of you . . . Oh, and . . ." He patted his hip pocket. "Thank you for the - er . . ."

"Oh, don't mention it," Dean assured him, grinning. "Happy to help."

"Well, good luck with the . . . er . . . tope . . . er . . . ?"

"Tulpa."

"Right." They shook hands and Sasha added "and I hope you and your partner make up your differences."

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure – " Dean paused. Suddenly he had a feeling Sasha wasn't just talking about the body wash issue. "How d'you know about that?"

"Well . . ." Sasha looked awkward. "Well, it was evident the two of you had been sleeping separately so . . ." He cleared his throat. "It's none of my business," he concluded with an apologetic wave of his hand.

Dean's eyes widened. He made an abortive attempt to start a sentence then tried again. "W . . . wait a minute, when you say partner . . . ? . . . Sas, we're not . . . Sam and I are just friends."

"Oh!" Sasha stared blankly at him for a moment. "Oh. Right. Of course. Sorry." He clearly didn't believe a word of it. "Well, good luck, anyway."

They exchanged awkward final farewells and, as Sasha got into his car and drove away, Dean turned and studied his reflection in the window of the Impala.

He felt a little disgruntled as he climbed into the driver's seat. He'd thought the new haircut made him look more butch. Maybe now it just looked like he was over compensating.


 

When Dean got back he found Sam in front of the laptop and poring over his books once more. He'd been busy while Dean was running Sasha back to his car. Eduardo Fez had checked out that morning, but Sam had managed to steal another look at his room before he left by posing as housekeeping. He'd then used the same ploy to get into Haley's room.

"But there wasn't any evidence that either one of them were practitioners of magic or shamanism of any kind," he concluded as he pushed Dean's breakfast across the table to him. "Haley had a bunch of typical new age books and nick-knacks: crystals and gem stones etc., but nothing to suggest she had any real knowledge or understanding of the occult."

Dean sighed. "So, where does that leave us?"

"Well, back where we started, I guess," Sam admitted, but as Dean's shoulders drooped he added. "Dean, I think the answer's been in Plainview all along."

It took a moment for Dean to register what Sam meant, and then his eyes narrowed. "Are you sure, Sam?" he said, "cause, that's an awful long way to drive for a bad pun."

"Take a look at this," Sam insisted, and he turned the laptop so Dean could view the page he'd been reading and Dean scanned it as he began to tuck into his breakfast. His heart sank as he saw all the italics, umlauts, superscripts, and blue underlined text. His favorite. Fortunately Sam proceeded to give him a précis of the pertinent points.

"Basically, the manifestation of a tulpa involves three stages of actuation," Sam explained. "First there's the sphere of potential: the creative space where the idea arises; then there's the sphere of the intangible: spirit, mind or energy; then finally there's the sphere of realization, where the idea takes material form. Well, it occurred to me that Dr. Plant's equipment is already creating the first two conditions: it interprets the electromagnetic energy of thought and reproduces it as digital images."

"O.K." Dean responded encouragingly through a mouthful of bread and bacon.

Sam glanced up, was momentarily distracted by a sliver of meat hanging from Dean's lip, then he continued. "Well, it's a bit of a leap, granted, but I was thinking: what would it take to go one stage further and actualize the image as a physical object or force? I think Plant's equipment could be used as a sigil, or in conjunction with a sigil, to manifest a tulpa."

"Like in Forbidden Planet, when the Krell educator boosted Morbius' brain power after he used it to image his daughter?"

Sam nodded. "More or less."

"Awesome." Dean crammed the remainder of the egg and bacon roll into his mouth, licked the wrapper, and swilled it all down with a few mouthfuls of coffee. "Road trip, then?"

They were well used to the routine by now and it took only minutes to pack up and check out, but as they climbed into the Impala Dean thought about the hours of driving that lay ahead of them, and he wanted to be sure the air was clear between them before they got started.

"Uh, Sam . . ." He cleared his throat a little. "I'm sorry about the tanning lotion thing," he said.

Sam returned one of his inscrutable expressions. "That's O.K." he said, a little too casually.

"I did it yesterday," Dean felt the need to explain. "Before . . . well before . . . everything." Sam's face remained impassive so Dean continued. "It was a joke Sam. I was just getting even with you for dropping me in it with the girls in the bar."

"I get it, Dean," Sam assured him.

"So, don't get mad again," Dean finished.

"Oh, I'm not mad, Dean."

The words sounded vaguely familiar . . . and vaguely ominous. "So, are we cool?" Dean asked.

"Of course."

"O.K." Dean grasped the keys and turned over the engine, not entirely reassured. He automatically reached for the radio then hesitated and sat back again. "Do you mind if we have some music on?" he asked.

"Oh, sure!" Sam agreed enthusiastically and, to Dean's surprise, he reached forward and turned the radio on himself. But instead of pushing the tape in, he started adjusting the dial. In retrospect, that should have been a warning, but the full import of Sam's actions began to manifest themselves only when twangy guitar chords issued from the speakers.

Oh no. Oh, God, no! Not the country channel!

"Oo! Tammy Wynette!" Sam exclaimed cheerily. Then he started singing along.

Dean had never heard Sam sing before, and he soon discovered why as Sam loudly took up the lyric in a bad imitation of a Nashville accent.


Sahmtimes it's hahd tuh bay a womahn
Givun' awl yore lahv tuh jus one mayn.
Yoll have bayd tayms, while hay has gid tayms
Dowin' thangs that yo don't unnerstaynd . . .♫


Oh, God, Sam! Pick a key! ANY key!


♫But if yo lahv ham, yo'll forgive ham
Een thow hays hahd tuh unnerstaynd♫


Sam gradually increased volume as he started to hit his stride, punching every word with passionate, if utterly untuneful, emphasis.


♫An - if - yo - lahv - - haymmmm
Aaaaah - bay - prow-owd ahv - haymmmm
Cus, after all – hays jerst a mayyyyn.♫


Sam hadn't just embraced the concept of humor at another's expense; he was banging it into the mattress! Dean began to appreciate he'd created a monster. He sank down into the seat and his knuckles whitened on the steering wheel as Sam built up for the chorus.


STAYNDBAY YOWR MAYYYNNN. . .♫


Dean's foot grew heavy on the gas pedal. So many country hits. And less than 400 miles to go.

 

SCENE 14: MONSTER HOUSE


Sam pressed the doorbell for the second time. Still no response.

"Guess no one's home," Dean said.

Well, that was actually good news. It meant Sam would be able to examine the program unhindered. He glanced down at the lock on the door. It was basic. He had something that would open it.

"Keep a look out," he told Dean as he reached into his jacket pocket, took out his toolkit and opened the pouch.

Dean's attention was divided between sweeping the road and watching Sam as he bent down to pick the lock, inserting his tool into the mechanism and carefully working it in and out.

"Smooth technique," Dean remarked.

It actually took a beat for the implication to sink in, and when Sam looked up Dean was wearing an expression of beatific innocence. Yeah, right. Sam brushed off the interruption with a quick sigh and returned his attention to the lock. After a moment he heard the requisite click and opened the door, then swiftly made his way toward the study. Dean was behind him until they reached the room where they'd interviewed Plant, but then he became distracted by something on the couch where they'd sat that afternoon. He picked up a book and started tugging at something that was tucked between the cushions. Sam left him to whatever it was he was pursuing and headed for Plant's desk.

Hacking into the computer wasn't an issue; Sam had watched Plant while he was typing in his passwords and had made a mental note of them. Finding the source code for the program took a little longer, and reading it . . . well, Sam could do no more than scan the code for anything that looked odd or out of place. To his surprise, he found it quite quickly. Early in the program, apparently unconnected to anything around it, there was an inert function with a link to a picture file. Dean came up behind him while he was waiting for it to open.

"Sam?"

Sam turned to find Dean dangling a woman's bra in the air. He rolled his eyes and started to return his attention to the computer. He wasn't interested in Plant's sex life.

Dean shoved him in the shoulder. "Sam!" he repeated more insistently and now Sam realized he was brandishing a book in his other hand: a copy of The Tempest.

"What if it isn't Pat that's the Shakespeare fan?" Dean suggested.

At first Sam wasn't sure what Dean was getting at, but then the file downloaded and the picture filled the screen, and Sam felt a strange chill wash over him as he absorbed its familiarity and its significance: the symbol of the Taijitu bisected by a red 'S'. At this size, he could see more detail. In the eye of each hemisphere, either side of the S, were the letters S and D; and around the circumference of the circle, where the points of a pentagram would meet it, were the letters K, R, N, A and E. The meaning of these letters was a mystery to Sam but the significance of the Taijitu, and its relation to the three stages of manifestation,wasn't lost on him: the ovum mundi – the sphere of creation – and, within it, the dual aspects of reality – body and soul, matter and energy, the particle and the wave.

"I've seen this before," Sam breathed.

"Penny in the air," said a woman's voice.

Sam and Dean turned sharply in the direction of the voice. Dr. Pat Plant was standing in the doorway wearing just a pair of jeans. By his side, clad only in a man's shirt, was Fran Spires. Sam's gaze dropped immediately to the valley of her breasts, to the pendant that hung between them.

"And the penny drops", she said.

"You!" Dean cried. (For future reference, it occurred to him, they should remember that sometimes people choose not to answer the door.) "You're a witch!"

"Oh, please." Fran pursed her lips. "Do we have to descend into name calling?"

"So you two are in this together?" Sam queried.

"Oh, let's not jump to hasty conclusions. Pat wouldn't harm a fly, would you Sweetie?" She tousled the curls on the top of Pat's head then turned back to Sam and Dean. "I've just been using his equipment," she explained, sporting a wicked grin. "He wasn't even aware I'd added the sigil to his program."

Pat was listening to the conversation with his mouth half open, turning his face back and forth between Fran and Dean like he was watching a tennis match. If he wasn't clueless, he was doing a damn good impression of it.

"Then why have you been doing all this?" Dean demanded. "For the publicity? Or are you just freaking insane?"

Fran returned a mocking smile. "Sweetie, I'm a writer. Of course I'd kill for some attention. But . . ." She shrugged. "Mainly, I just don't like the show. It's mindless, it's spiteful, and it's taking up air space that could be filled with quality drama."

"An attention whore and a self-righteous bitch," Dean sneered. "Awesome combo."

Fran pursed her lips into a knowing smile. "Well, you two would know," she retorted.

"Well, I know this . . ." Dean stepped forward. He snatched the talisman from around Fran's neck, dashed it to the floor and stamped on it, smashing it apart. "You're not raising any more monsters!"

Fran's eyes flashed with sudden anger and alarm and, from behind him, Dean heard Sam make a strange, abortive little noise.

"You shouldn't have done that," Fran said, a tremor of sudden fear in her voice.

"Yeah, I'll bet."

"I think she's right, Dean." And Dean was unsettled to hear a note of real anxiety in Sam's voice as well.

"You damn fool, Dean!" Fran exclaimed. "You haven't destroyed the monster; you've just robbed me of my means of controlling it! That was the symbol of everything that protects you!"

As if to illustrate her point the room was filled with the noise of a distant howl, then the ground beneath them shook with the vibration of something huge and heavy headed in their direction. She cast a distressed glance toward the window. "Get out of here! All of you. Run!" she shouted, ushering Sam and Dean out of the room and pushing the bewildered Pat ahead of her. "RUN!"

Dean hesitated at first, but then he felt Sam pulling on his arm, and then his feet were in motion and he was running. Behind him he could hear the howl and roar of the beast, and the crash and grind of trees breaking, buildings smashing, vehicles being thrown through the air. As he reached the front door an explosion of rubble and splintering glass behind him announced that the creature had breached the back wall. Once outside he was just running, blindly. He couldn't see the monster, didn't know for sure where it was, but he could hear its rage and noise behind him, and feel the shudder of its weight beneath his feet, and he was filled with the conviction that it was coming right for him.

"Dean!" he heard Sam yell. He turned. The creature had uprooted a power pole. It was falling. Dean was right in its path.

He felt like he'd been hit by a freight train. He was knocked sideways and the power pole crashed to the ground just feet away, and Sam was on top of him. Ahead of them electricity was arcing through the air, and the beast appeared in the midst of it, snarling and thrashing. The bright light appeared to give the creature form and, at last, its shape seemed visible . . . it seemed . . .

It seemed to be a giant version of the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil.

Sam and Dean clung to each other instinctively as they clambered to their feet. Sam had actually thrown a protective arm across Dean's body and was clasping his shoulder.

Oh, crap, thought Dean. I'm Anne Francis!

The snarling devil was breaking through the power lines, reaching toward them. Then, suddenly, Fran Spires was in front of them, between them and the creature, arms outstretched.

"NO!" she screamed. "You won't harm them! I won't allow it! I deny you! I give you up!"

There was a howl of frightful rage, a blood curdling scream, then the world exploded in a ball of light and a cloud of red, and Dean felt something hot wash over him.

Then all was still and silent.

When he opened his eyes the ground and everything around him was splattered with red ooze and fleshy globules. He was wet and sticky and warm, but rapidly cooling, and the expression "blood bath" suddenly took on new meaning for him as he realized he'd just taken one.

He turned and stared at Sam who was similarly covered in bits of Fran. Gingerly he reached out and pulled something small and white from Sam's hair and Sam regarded it with a look of distaste. "Is that a molar?" he asked.

Dean's expression became a fixed, horrid grimace as it began to dawn on him what the sickly sweet, metallic taste in his mouth was. When he spoke his voice was a low growl, with a telltale squeak of revulsion. "I think I swallowed some of her," he complained.

 

 

Chapter Text

SCENE 15: BACK TO REALITY

 

An interstate diner, one week later.

Sam closed his cellphone and took his seat opposite Dean. "Well, the Prank'd team filmed their latest hit three days ago, and there haven't been any attacks of any kind on the cast or crew."

"So the monster's definitely gone?"

"Looks like it." Sam still sounded doubtful.

"Go team," Dean responded.

"Go team? We didn't do anything!"

"Well, we didn't get dismembered either, so I'm counting that one as a win," Dean insisted. "Hey, I've got some goss for you," he continued, tapping his laptop by way of elaboration. "Christopher Ash is leaving the show. Word is he's been offered a leading role in a prime time sit-com. General consensus is that Prank'd won't survive without him. I guess Fran would have been pleased about that." Dean looked up and grinned, but his smile faltered when he saw Sam's face. The boy had tram lines running down the middle of his forehead and the corners of his eyebrows were doing hand stands.

"What's wrong?"

Sam shook his head slightly. "Nothing."

"Babe, you look like you're sucking on a lemon. What's going on?"

Sam opened his mouth to respond then halted. His frown deepened and he focused on Dean's face.

"What did you just call me?" he asked.

"Nothing," Dean replied, expression impassive.

Sam continued to stare at Dean for a moment but he obviously wasn't sure what he'd heard, so unless someone had a tape of the conversation they could play back, Dean would maintain plausible deniability.

Sam shrugged and shook his head. "Dean, didn't it all just seem too easy to you?"

"Easy? I'm still finding crud I don't want to think about in places I don't want to talk about."

From the way Sam winced and shifted uncomfortably in his seat, Dean guessed he wasn't the only one.

"But why did she do that, Dean?" Sam persisted. "Why would Fran Spires sacrifice herself for us?"

Dean took a deep breath and hitched a broad grin onto his face. "Well, I don't like to brag, Sam, but I think she had a bit of a thing for me."

Sam wasn't laughing. "I just feel like we've been missing something," he said.

Dean sighed and returned his attention to his laptop. He really didn't want to give the gift horse a dental check. "Well, the good news, for Sasha anyway, is that the movie's going ahead with a new director."

"Anyone I'd know?"

"Doubt it. Woman by the name of Fanny Pride. Ring any bells with you?"

Sam shook his head.

"Apparently she's had a couple of minor hits: Beer, Pie and Monsters and Revelations in the Shower."

Sam still looked clueless. "Never heard of them."

"Me either." Dean conceded. "They sound like my kind of movies, though." He smirked and continued to scan Sasha's twitter page. He smiled as he spotted what he'd been waiting for:

"Ciao, Sashamores," it read. "Finally got my own back on the tall guy for his part in pranking me last week. My thanks to Dean. Hope you're reading this, buddy, wherever you are. You're one hell of a P.A. (P.I? ;)" Dean clicked on the link that accompanied the tweet and when the picture file opened he laughed out loud. He couldn't help himself.

"Ah, Sam, I know you don't approve of this shit, but you've gotta see this!" Dean turned the laptop around so Sam could see the photo. To his surprise Sam took one look and let out a loud bark of laughter. He covered his mouth to try to control the impulse but the effort of restraining himself was forcing tears out of the corners of his eyes.

"Wh – what . . . ? How . . . ?" he wheezed, shoulders bouncing.

"I gave Sasha the rest of the tanning lotion," Dean explained. "I only put a few drops in your body wash; Sasha hit him with the whole of the rest of the bottle!"

Sam took in a few deep gulps of air in an effort to recover himself. "O – orange really isn't his color," he observed breathily.

"It really isn't," Dean agreed, grinning. "Man, the make up girls in Vancouver are gonna have their work cut out covering that up!"

Sam pulled out a handkerchief, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. He was recovering slightly but he was still shaking his head with quiet mirth. It really was a treat to see him smiling.

"You see, I was going easy on you," Dean pointed out.

Sam nodded agreement. "I guess so." He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, and then he gave Dean an appraising look. "Truce, Dean?" he asked.

Dean deliberated. It went against the grain – Sam was actually ahead on points – but maybe he could be generous. "Yeah, truce," he agreed. " . . . at least for the next 100 miles," he added with a teasing grin.

Sam's shoulders slumped a little. "I'll go settle the check," he sighed.

 

"So . . . where to now, Scout?" Dean asked when they got back to the Impala.

Sam appeared to ruminate for a few moments. "Well, I'm feeling a bit pooped," he confessed. "I was thinking maybe we'd just find a motel, grab a few beers and rent a movie . . ." he suggested tentatively.

"Yeah?" What, no research? No weapons drill? No surfing for the next case?

"Unless there's something else you'd rather do . . . ?"

Dean could see it in Sam's face that he was dreading Dean would suggest a strip bar or something. It was tempting, just to ride him a little, but nah. If Sam was making a gesture, Dean wasn't gonna rain on his parade. "No, I'm good," Dean assured him. "Quiet night in. Just what the doctor ordered." He punctuated the comment with pursed lips and a satisfied nod. As he turned the keys the engine growled to life and the radio blared rock music. Dean leaned forward and lowered the volume a little.

As they moved out onto the road, Sam seemed to have something on his mind.

"Dean," he asked.

"Uh huh?"

"Why does the king cobra have a flat head?"

Dean frowned, puzzled. What was it with Sam and snakes? "I don't know, Sam. Why does the king cobra have a flat head?"

"It didn't get out of the jungle at 5 o'clock."

It took a moment for Dean to join the dots, but then he burst out laughing. "O.K. you got me," he admitted. "I didn't see that coming."

"So you admit it's funny!" Sam challenged.

"Sure, Sam, but it's humor at the expense of the snake."

"Oh, come on!" but Sam was laughing, too, and the way he ducked his head and bit his lip as he grinned suddenly made him look very young.

Something else about him looked different, too. His hair looked thicker or . . . maybe longer? "Sam . . ." Dean asked, "are you growing your hair?"

Patches of pink started to pool in Sam's cheeks. Oh, he did look sweet.

Sam cleared his throat. "Well, I've been thinking . . . about some of the things you've said . . . I took on board what you said about our both needing to adjust . . . about my needing to loosen up . . ." Sam shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and the pink patches were getting positively rosey. "It's a gesture, Dean," Sam tried to explain. "I'm just . . . it's a gesture."

Dean smiled. "I get it, Sam," he assured him gently.

"You do?"

"Sure." Why? Why did Dean always have to rattle the cage, just when everything was good and sweet and wholesome? He couldn't help himself, he guessed. It was just in the nature of the beast. "You want to look pretty for me. It's sweet. I appreciate it."

Sam threw up his arms in exasperation. "Dean, I swear to God . . . !"

Dean grinned and leaned a little closer to Sam. He gave his eyebrows a quick hitch. "I could make you," he purred.

Whoa! Too far! Dean knew it the moment the words were out of his mouth. Sam's eyes changed color. Dean watched it happen. They went from green-hazel to dark smoldering brown, right in front of him. Son of a bitch! He wasn't imagining it. He really wasn't! That guy was really into him!

Strains of Foreigner mocked from the radio:

You don't have to read my mind
To know what I have in mind.
Honey you oughta know.♫

Dean drew back and laughed uneasily. "Whoa! Easy, Tiger! Kidding, Sam! Just kidding!" Sam was giving him a look somewhere between wanting to punch him through the door and throw him onto the back seat. He figured it was only the fact that he was driving that was saving him.

"Jerk!" Sam hissed, and somehow Dean couldn't bring himself to make the customary response.

"I am," he admitted. "I really am."

Sam directed his glare out of the window and Dean let out a slow breath to steady himself. Playing with fire, baby, he thought. Playing with fire. Maybe he really should lay off the homoerotic smart talk with Sam. One of these days the guy might expect Dean to keep the promises his mouth kept making, and then what would he do?

♫Will you be ready when I call your bluff?♫

Dean shot a quick glance at Sam's still fuming figure.

Feel the fever burning inside of me.

And then what would he do?

♫Come on baby, do you do more than dance?♫

Well?

Shuttup. I'm thinking.

As Sam continued to stare out of the window Dean stole a few sly glances at the man sitting at his side . . . the exceptionally, well, beautiful young man with the body of an Adonis . . . not that . . . well, Dean had never . . . not with a guy . . . never even considered . . . had no reason to . . . but . . . but FUCK! . . . This wasn't just any guy, this was fucking SAM for chrissake!

♫Now it's up to you.
We can make a secret rendezvous
Just me and you.
I'll show you lovin' like you never knew.♫

The thoughts in Dean's head started to shift, move from abstract conjecture to vague images and possibilities. Then his eyes widened as something downstairs stirred, raised its head, and murmured "hello?"

♫Well, I'm hot blooded, check it and see.
I got a fever of a hundred and three.♫

Well?

♫Come on baby, do you do more than dance?
I'm hot blooded, I'm hot blooded.♫

Dean swallowed. I'll get back to you.

 

STILL TO COME & CLOSING CREDITS

Thank you for reading Prank'd, episode 3 in the series THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME. Other episodes in this series include the double pilot episode, I Can Never Go Home (part 1 “Visions and Revisions”, and part 2 “The Never Ending Road”) and episode 2, Golem. If you would like to continue the journey, a preview of the next episode will follow soon.

 

STILL TO COME

EPISODE 4: TOGETHER

Everything changes. Everything stays the same. Tensions mount in Sam and Dean's relationship until an explosive quarrel drives the friends apart. Sam finds himself drawn to a pretty stranger, while Dean confronts a sinister scarecrow. You think you know this story. Think again.

 

CLOSING CREDITS

This section is for the benefit of those readers who enjoy spotting my allusions to other fandoms etc. This was the episode that began the tradition of including a credits chapter because it's packed with more in-jokes and references than Snickers has peanuts.

Please insert your Supernatural soundtrack CD now and click on track 18.

 

CAST LIST

If it pleases you, you may think of the celebrity guest characters as having been played by the following actors, in order of appearance:

Misha Collins as Sasha D. Novak

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Sarah Michelle

Alex Kingston as Fran Spires (I can dream, can't I?)

David McCallum as Dr. Drake

Johnny Galecki as Dr. Pat Plant

And featuring a special appearance from the guy from The Gilmore Girls as himself.

My thanks and apologies to the creators of Doctor Who, NCIS and The Big Bang Theory for my use and abuse of certain familiar characters.

NB, Pauley Perrette did not play Haley. She was just a red herring. Ashton Kutcher was unavailable to play Christopher Ash.

 

OTHER CREDITS

Allusions to the original dialogue of Supernatural are far too numerous to mention. All I can suggest is, if it sounds familiar, google it. Or get out your DVDs and watch all the shows again. I know it's a lot to ask . . .

For allusion spotters of other fandoms, give yourself a brownie point for each of the following that you spotted:

The episode title, Prank'd is, of course, an allusion to the reality TV show, Punk'd. All of the scene titles are also based on reality shows.

From the Prologue:

"Once it sees you, it never lets go" is the publicity catchphrase from the movie The Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Misha Collins recently appeared with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the TV series Ringer. Misha's discussion on his struggles with his giggling habit is available on youtube. To check out his tweets google - Misha Collins Twitter. Haven't figured out who Fran Spires is yet? Keep reading.

From Scene 3

The girly lawyer in Angel that Dean is referring to is Lindsay, played by Christian Kane. The idea of Sam's perception filter is nicked from Doctor Who S3 "The Sound of Drums" which, in turn, nicked it from Douglas Adams' Life, The Universe and Everything.

From Scene 4

Sasha's brief appearance in the TV series 24 was in 2002 (the same year Misha Collins starred in the show as Alexis Drazen). "Dude, what's mine say?" is a line from Dude, Where's My Car.

From Scene 6

The cinematographer for Savage Messiah was Serge Ladoceur. Other cinematography credits include a show called Supernatural. Supernatural composer Christopher Lennertz was named best new composer by Cinemusic in composing the music for Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story in 2001. Readers who have reviewed or commented on my posts, or checked out my profile, may recognize Fran's pendant. If not, keep reading.

"Oh, I'm pretty boy?" Dean exclaimed.   "Yes!" Oop. That came out a bit quick, Sam thought.

These lines are pinched from the Doctor's conversation with Donna in Doctor Who S4 "Silence in the Library".

"You know what a P.A. is? They're like robot slaves."

The deep mechanical voice Dean assumes after this comment mimics the voice of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet.

"Sad songs say so much." is a line from an Elton John song.

From Scene 7

I presume you all know Jensen was nominated for the TV Choice Breakout Star Award in 2006?

From Scene 8

Dean provides costume samples for Sarah and procures bourbon for a techie. In Forbidden Planet Robbie the Robot makes a dress for Altaira and bourbon for the ship's cook. The quote from The Tempest alludes to the fact that the movie Forbidden Planet is modeled on Shakespeare's play. The lines, spoken by the magician Prospero, are mirrored in the film by the moment when Morbius gives up his inner monster. The Tempest, and this speech in particular, is generally considered to be Shakespeare's comment on his own art. "Hello, Sweetie" is River Song's catchphrase in Doctor Who.

From Scene 9

"Strangers on a Train?" Dean suggested.   Sam stared at him, blankly. "I don't know what that means," he said.

In the TV series Bones, Temperance often responds to pop culture references with this comment. My thanks to Jolieblon who pointed out this parallel between Sam and Dean's relationship and that of Bones and Booth.

From Scene 10

"I really am ruggedly handsome, aren't I?"

Quoted from the first episode of Castle, this phrase is repeated in the opening credits of the show every week.

The quotations from Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics are actually from pages 77 and 56 respectively. Wikipedia defines a kalpa as 4.32 billion years, and cites the Puranas as its source, but there are many different definitions of the length of a kalpa in different texts.

From Scene 11

Maybe Dean was afraid that if he didn't fill his brain with noise he might actually have to use it.

There's just a hint in this of Douglas Adams' assertion in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that human beings talk all the time to keep their brains from working.

From Scene 14

If you're still not sure who Fran is, or you've been puzzling over the significance of her talisman, and the mysterious letters K R N A and E, check out my profile at fanfiction.net. The list of stories on FF may also provide a clue to some of Fran's "creative liaisons" listed in scene 12.

"Penny in the air" and "The penny drops" are catchphrases repeated by Melody Pond (River Song) in Doctor Who S6 "Let's Kill Hitler". The imperative to "Run!" also appears to have leaked across from the Doctor, who does and awful lot of running :)

"Oh, crap, thought Dean. I'm Anne Francis!"

Dean is referring to the climactic scene from Forbidden Planet where Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) holds Altaira (Anne Francis) protectively in his arms as they are threatened by the invisible monster. They are saved when Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) flings himself in the path of the creature from his Id and renounces it with the words "I deny you! I give you up!"

From Scene 15

The movies of Fran Spires and Fanny Pride.

In Hollywood Babylon the spoof movie trailer announces that Hell Hazers II is from the makers of Monster Truck and Cornfield Massacre, spoof names for previous Supernatural episodes "Route 666" and "Scarecrow". Similarly, the movie titles listed in scenes 12 and 15 are spoof titles that allude to intimate scenes between Sam and Dean from each of the episodes of The Song Remains the Same, as follows: View From A Couch alludes to what Sam saw from behind the couch in "I Can Never Go Home"; Beer, Pie and Monsters to the scene where Sam tended Dean's wounds in "The Never Ending Road". Portrait of an Obsession to Dean's discovery of Sam's portrait of him in "Golem" and Revelations in the Shower to Dean's unconscious Sam fantasies in the shower in scene 1 of this episode.

"So . . . where to now, Scout?" Dean asked when they got back to the Impala.

 A quick allusion to Harper Lee's young heroine whose life was saved by her older brother Jem in the closing chapters of "To Kill A Mockingbird" .



MUSIC CREDITS

Scene 3

"Desire" performed by Scissor Sisters.

Scene 5

"Born to be Bad" performed by George Thorogood.

Scene 6

"The Real Slim Shady" by Eminem, with alternative lyrics by Dean Winchester.

"The Key" by Dean Winchester.

Scene 13

"Stand By Your Man" performed by Tammy Wynette and Sam Campbell

Scene 15

"Hot Blooded" performed by Foreigner.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

In the heartland

It was the slowest day of the year: not a customer all afternoon until four o'clock when a tall, swarthy, solidly built man walked into the empty bar and rolled up to the counter. Unloading a duffel bag from his shoulders and resting it on the stool beside him he locked the bar-keeper with dark, intense eyes and a broad smile.

"Give me a shot of Jack, friend," he said. "And take one yourself. I'm celebrating."

"Thank you, sir, and congratulations," the barman replied as he poured the drinks. "May I ask what the occasion is?"

The man picked up his shot and knocked it back whole, setting the empty glass back on the bar with a satisfied sigh. "Do you have children?" he asked.

"Two sons and a daughter," the barman acknowledged.

"Good. Then you'll know how it is – how you bring them into the world, you raise them, try to protect them and guide them . . . then a day comes when you can see the progress they've made, and you see them taking their first steps toward their destiny, and if you know you've had a hand in that, you'll know what a proud moment it is for a father."

The barman nodded his understanding. "Sure is," he agreed.

The dark man pushed his glass across the bar. "Hit me again," he said, and the barman refilled the glass. "Do you believe in destiny?" he asked.

"Can't say I've thought about it, sir."

"Oh, I'm a great believer. I believe life is like a story – like the great stories that are told over and over again, and everyone tells them a different way, but some parts are fixed. The hero always meets the temptress; partnerships are always tested; the big choices are made. That's destiny. The story's always the same. It's just the how and the why that changes." He leaned forward and grinned, and suddenly his eyes glowed yellow. "The Devil's in the detail."

The barman gasped and stumbled backwards but the man's hand shot out and grabbed him by the collar, dragging him across the bar and pressing their faces close together.

"Not so fast, friend. I have to make a call to my daughter."

"There – there's a p – payphone next to the – "

The thing with the yellow eyes raised its other hand and the barman saw the glint of the knife there before it sliced cold across his throat.

"It's not that kind of call." The demon lifted the chalice from his duffel bag and held it under the barman's head as he bled out.

Azazel grinned. "I can feel you in there, John, scratching, fighting. Gotta say I'm impressed. Most people would have given up by now, but not you. You never stop. You never give in. You just gotta keep fighting the good fight. That's what I like about you, John." The demon stirred a finger in the hot, crimson fluid. "It's in your blood.”

 

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