“That’s one fine automobile you’ve got there, young man.”
Dean closed the Impala’s hood and grinned at Leonard Bigsby, owner of the local Mom and Pop gas mart and fellow connoisseur of classic cars. Their hour long conversation had Dean glowing with pride on Baby’s behalf. Resting his hand briefly on the sharp lines of her trunk, he followed Leonard inside the store.
Sam waved from somewhere around the walk-in coolers, and Dean stopped short. He’d been so caught up in his conversation, he’d forgotten all about Sam, who’d graciously volunteered to do the shopping. It wasn’t like his little brother to be so indulgent when Dean was shooting the bull about cars. Now, arms loaded with assorted food stuffs, Sam joined him at the counter. “I think I got everything we need,” he said and began unloading his plunder.
“How much do we owe you?” Dean reached for his wallet, hoping he had enough cash to pay the man. Cheating some big franchise out of a few bucks was one thing; taking money from a car-loving small business owner was another.
“Woah, woah, woah. ” Leonard held up his hands like a conductor addressing the orchestra. “Put away your money. A man who appreciates classic beauty is a man after my own heart.” He rang up the sale with a flourish. “Gas is on the house!” Dean whooped in delighted surprise as Sam carefully placed a giant bag of Peanut M ‘n Ms on the counter with studied care.
“Hell!” Leonard reached towards the Pennzoil display. “Take a couple quarts of oil for good measure.” Both cans landed with a happy thud on the counter, the lids gleaming as brightly as Leonard’s big smile.
With a raised brow, Dean turned toward Sam, but his brother was busy adding three frozen pies to the pile (apple, chocolate, and coconut cream) and appeared completely unfazed by the store-owner’s generosity.
Dean frowned at Sam’s meticulous pie wrangling, ready to rib him for his OCD, when the door to the back office slammed into the wall with rifle-shot intensity. Dean whirled around in surprise, fighting defenses up and ready to rock and roll.
Beatrice Bigsby, the owner’s wife, burst through the door and headed towards the counter. “What in the world is going on out here?”
Beatrice stopped abruptly when she saw Dean, her eyes widening. “You!”
Certain the woman had i.d.’d his mug from his Most Wanted poster at the local post office, Dean gulped. She looked like the sort who listened to the police scanner for fun. “Thanks for the gas, Leonard!” Dean nudged Sam and started to back away.
“Wait!” The woman protested in her fire-siren voice; she waved her arms in the air like a swimmer going under for the third time. “Don’t go!”
Dean turned to her with his most disarming smile. “Hey.”
Beatrice beamed, her entire frame quivering with pent-up emotion. She edged closer to Dean who took a tentative step backwards. “Whew, is it hot in here?” She pawed at her husband’s arm, pupils dilated, her gaze roving over Dean’s face. And his chest. And his legs. And other places. Dean flushed and stepped back even more, but Beatrice closed the gap, fanning the hem of her This Grandma is Fabulous t-shirt, momentarily exposing her pale tummy. “Are you hot, Leonard?” she gasped again, her eyes still fixed on Dean. Leonard was also staring at Dean but with a delighted smile, as if Dean was the best thing since hot car wax.
“We’re sorry to bother you folks. Come on, Sam!” Dean hissed and pulled at his brother’s arm. Sam protested and reached for his grocery pile as Beatrice echoed his outcry.
“You can’t leave without your groceries!” The woman hip-checked her husband away from the register and pushed him towards the door. “Leonard, there’s another customer waiting for gas.”
Leonard ambled towards the door, shooting frequent looks in their direction, reluctant as a man forced to leave a close Super Bowl game with one minute to go. With an irate glare, Beatrice hurried to her dawdling husband.
“I’ll be seeing you boys around,” Leonard said as his wife pushed him outside. She firmly closed and locked the door behind him and turned her undivided attention back to Dean.
“Alone at last.” She pulled the turquoise banana clip from her iron-gray hair with a passable slow-mo toss. Dean took a step behind his brother as she sashayed back to the cash register.
“Could we get some of these Slim Jim’s?” Sam asked, his face earnest and sincere. “And some more Peanut M ‘n’ Ms? They’re Dean’s favorites.”
“Allow me,” she said in a throaty purr. She opened the Slim Jim’s and poured the entire contents into a paper bag. The Peanut M ‘n’ Ms were similarly dispatched.
“Will there be anything else?” The woman leaned towards Dean, provocatively arching both her brows and her back in anticipation. “Anything at all? It’s all…on the house. ” Beatrice’s smile was wide and beautiful…And utterly disturbing.
Dean paled and tried to edge further behind Sam, who was carefully gathering up their massive pile of goodies. “Uh, no. Thanks.” Dean helped Sam collect the groceries as Beatrice charged around the counter and threw her back against the locked door, ample chest heaving.
“Ma’m,” Dean defensively crushed a bag of groceries to his chest. “Could you…let us out?” Sam was intently peering into his multiple paper bags, as if assuring himself that the contents were all accounted for before leaving the premises.
“Not unless you say pretty please, hot stuff,” Beatrice purred again, her eyebrows bobbing corks in a storm.
“Pretty please.” Dean obliged through gritted teeth and a grim smile. With a sigh and a longing look of dismayed disappointment, the woman unlocked the door and stepped aside.
“Thanks,” Sam gave the woman a carefree nod and started outside.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Beatrice said as Dean followed after Sam. “You hear?”
“Ouch!” Dean moved fast but not fast enough to avoid the healthy pinch Beatrice gave his right butt cheek. Leonard, chatting amiably with his customer, waved.
“See you around, Leonard,” Sam called cheerfully, piling the bags in the Impala’s back seat.
“You take care of that car!” Leonard pointed at Dean. “Take care of your wife,” Dean grumbled as he gingerly slid into the driver’s side and started the Impala. When he saw Beatrice start through the door, he gunned the gas spraying gravel in their wake. Leonard whooped in appreciation.
Several miles down the road and safely away from Beatrice, Dean shuddered. “That was disturbing.”
“What was disturbing?” Sam shook a bag of M ‘n Ms at Dean who automatically held out his hand; Sam filled it with a generous pile of colorful treats.
Dean rattled the hard-shelled candies like dice in a crap shoot and popped them in his mouth. He chewed fiercely before turning to his brother. “Didn’t you think it was weird? Leonard giving us free gas?” Not to mention the butt load of groceries they’d hauled from the place.
“Leonard’s a connoisseur of classic cars.” Sam responded reasonably, and shoved in one of Dean’s favorite AC/DC cassettes. “He was just being nice.”
“And that woman. Mrs. Leonard.”
“What about her?”
Dean nearly cricked his neck as he turned to glare at Sam. “Come on, Sam!” he cried, indignantly. “She’s old enough to be my grandmother!”
“I guess so,” he shrugged. “What’s wrong with that?” Sam offered Dean another handful of M ‘n’ Ms.
Dean spluttered, wondering how Sam could be so oblivious. “She was pushing her rack in my face!”
“Well, you are a chick magnet,” Sam said slowly, like it should be obvious, even to Dean.
Dean stared at Sam, wondering if he was trying to be funny or sarcastic or just a dick. “Dude, don’t make me punch you.”
Sam just smiled and reached for a package of Slim Jim’s.
When they got back to Bobby’s, Dean left Sam to sort through their bags of groceries and escaped to the only place where he felt completely at home: under the Impala’s hood. Thanks to Leonard’s generosity, he was able to change out her oil. He checked her spark plugs, rotated her tires, and blew out her exhaust. He took his time, thankful to be away from the crazy that had been his day.
Closing the hood, he wiped his oil-stained hands on a rag and opened the driver’s side door. “Come on, Baby” he murmured as he started her engine. The comforting purr was gentle as a lullaby, and Dean finally relaxed and closed his eyes.
“Dean, we need to talk!”
“Man, Cas!” Dean startled and bumped his head on the Impala’s roof. He turned toward the trench-coated angel in the back seat. “How’d you find me?”
“Bobby told me where to locate you. He’s preparing a marinade prior to the evening meal.” Castiel frowned and stared at Dean for a long moment. “I didn’t know you enjoyed barbecued flesh.”
“You learn something new every day….” Dean began as Castiel vanished. “Crazy ass angel,” he muttered and reached for Baby’s keys. “Son of a bitch!”
When Dean’s heart rate had returned to its normal rhythm, he swiveled to glare at the ping-ponging angel. Castiel held the Impala’s keys and a paper take-out bag. He handed both to Dean.
“Oklahoma Joe’s pulled pork sandwich,” Castiel explained. “I have it under good authority that their sauce is the best on the planet.”
“Thanks, Cas. I’ll remember that the next time we need to ask Death to dinner.” Dean pocketed the keys and peered into the paper bag. It looked and smelled awesome! “So, what do we need to talk about? Something new going down with Lucifer?” Dean mumbled, mouth watering at the thought of the sandwich.
Castiel looked away, unable to meet his friend’s intense gaze. “I’ll meet you in Bobby’s parlor.” With a quick glance at Dean, the angel disappeared.
Dean polished off the pulled pork sandwich as he made his reluctant way to the house, grudgingly admitting that Castiel’s description was justified. “I hope Bobby didn’t finish the fudge,” he muttered as his boots hit the porch steps.
When he got inside, he heard anxious voices in the front room. His plan to sample some of the Lutheran ladies’ tasty treats thwarted, he prepared himself for a grim update. “What’s Lucifer up to now?” he growled. Sam and Bobby were staring at Cas, twin worried expressions painting their faces.
“It ain’t Lucifer. Something’s wrong with Castiel.” Bobby sniffed, and squinted at Dean in suspicion. “You smell like hot sauce.”
Dean pushed past Bobby and frowned at the angel. “What’s going on, Cas?”
“He seems a little flushed,” Sam muttered in Dean’s ear.
Cas turned his thousand yard stare to Dean and blinked like he was stacking up the facts and ordering them into place. “My vessel is experiencing an increase in heart rate and respiration,” Cas explained.
“Can angels get sick?” Sam asked Bobby, who shrugged and rolled closer.
Frowning, Dean cuffed the angel’s forehead with his palm. “You don’t feel hot, dude.”
“It seems that the physical effects are now more pronounced. Interesting,” Castiel replied, and Dean backed up a step and dropped his hand, flushing a little.
Overall it had been one weird-ass day. Sure, parts had been awesome, but a man could only take so much touchy-feely crap before the itch to get the move on burned a hole in his boots. Something fishy was up and while it wasn’t triggering any danger signals just yet, it was definitely getting there.
Time for a strategic retreat.
“Sam,” he said, slowly, “I’m going back out to the garage and pack our gear.”
Let me do that…” Sam protested, already taking a step in the direction of the door.
Dean held up his hands, and Sam stopped instantly. Taking a deep, calming, not-freaked-out breath, Dean continued, “Then I’m going to eat my fudge and get a little drunk.” He turned to each member of Team Free Will and growled, “And when I wake up in the morning, the world better be back to normal, or I’m gonna be pissed.” He pointed at each individual, eyes firm, shoulder blades itching, and slowly backed out of the room.
“Ahem,” Joshua coughed, gently. “The Father has a message for you. Bring your bow and arrows.”
Cupid giggled as he finished off a particularly tasty bit of chocolate vodka fudge. “Totally worth it!”