Rating/Warning: Mature themes
Category: Sam/Dean (implied), Sam/Jess (implied)
Summary: A body swap has Dean seeing a Sam he'd thought he'd lost forever.
Living in close quarters and practically in each other’s pockets up until Sam was eighteen; Dean figured he knew everything there was to know about his brother. It was starting to seem like four years and a couple of hundred miles made a difference.
Sam liked to cook breakfast. He sang along to Jess’s Nina Simone CDs in a weird falsetto voice and he was a toucher. Dean didn’t know who had stopped the casual affection first but the important thing was that it had stopped. Sam would squirm out of hugs and Dean would shrug away from arms slung over the shoulder until both of them stopped trying.
With Jess, Sam would go for a hug or a brush of fingertips whenever he could. Dean wondered if maybe Sam had just been craving skin and was now gorging himself because he could. When they sat down on the barstools at the kitchen counter to eat the eggs Sam had made, Sam hooked a hand around the seat Dean was perched on and dragged it closer because Dean had automatically moved it further away.
Dean let them sit with arms pressed together, and even used Sam’s bony shoulder to rub the hair out of his eyes when he had a forkful of eggs in one hand and a piece of toast in the other and wasn’t willing to relinquish either just so he could see them. He was also very used to Sam’s seagull tendencies and how any food left unguarded for more than thirty seconds was fair game.
Dean had to admit that he was enjoying this Sam, who chatted happily and touched casually. Apart from the night before, there was no hint of the troubled teenager that had left him four years earlier with stinging words and burning eyes. This was a Sam he hadn’t seen since Sam was twelve, pudgy, and believed ice cream was the answer to all of life’s problems.
A wet willy bumped Dean right out of his musings and Dean leaned sideways, rubbing at his violated ear. “Ah gross!” Dean exclaimed. “Why does Jess date you?”
Sam looked puzzled for a moment and Dean felt his heart trip-hammer, knowing that the jig was up, but a second later Sam cracked a grin and said, “Because Sam has a big-”
Dean lunged forward and clapped hands over Sam’s mouth, because there was casual affection, and then there was being scarred for life.
Dean begged off classes and work, feeling like a heel because all Sam did was be understanding and concerned. He hated lying but he still believed that the truth would be worse for Sam, maybe forcing Sam to realise that no matter how hard he tried, the life he’d had would always find a way to encroach on the new life he was trying to make for himself.
Dean wanted Sam to have his normality, even if only for a little longer.
Dean walked Sam to his first class and then took the time to wander the rest of the campus, trying to fathom exactly why Sam saw Stanford as the answer to all his problems. A few people stopped to say hello and Dean fumbled through greetings, resorting to calling people hon on more than one occasion and getting weird looks when he let the occasional dude slip out, blaming his exposure to Sam’s vocabulary.
He found his way back to Sam’s building about the time he figured Sam would be getting out and saw him emerge with two girls on one side and a guy with dark red hair on the other, chatting and laughing. Sam was animated and relaxed and Dean felt something in his heart twist. He’d always figured Sam would find his way back to them, to the Winchester family unit, but now he wasn’t so sure. Dean had strongly believed that Stanford was something Sam just had to get out of his system and was now beginning to realise that the reason their father had gotten so angry at Sam was because he’d known that this was it, Sam wouldn’t be coming back to them.
Dean caught a reflection of himself, or rather Jess in the bookshop window beside him and turned to really look, seeing what Jess was other than a pretty girl.
She was Sam’s future and Dean, he was well and truly Sam’s past.
Dean was back in the apartment, flicking disconsolately through the TV channels when there was a knock at the door. Dean got up and answered, finding a small, dark-haired girl on the doorstep.
“Where have you been?” the girl demanded, bustling passed and flopping dramatically onto the floor, throwing an arm over her eyes. “You know I can’t survive Professor McGropeyhands without you.”
“I haven’t been feeling great,” Dean tried but that only earned him another dramatic sigh.
“Yeah right. All I ask is that you warn me if you’re going to skip so I can too. The Professor was in fine form today. He managed to touch my ass five different times and even got in a boob graze.”
“Boob graze?” Dean snorted and the girl grinned.
“You know!” she said, rolling up onto her knees and then moving over to where Dean had perched on the couch. Dean wasn’t quite sure what to do when the girl reached dramatically across him to retrieve the remote that he’d rested on the chair arm, her elbow pressing briefly against his right breast. The girl made a little tada gesture with her hands when the movement was completed. Dean couldn’t help it, he curled in on himself and actually giggled.
“Anyway, I need your blue top with the sparkly things. Every time I wear it I get laid and I’m going out with Greg tonight.”
Dean blinked for a second because although he was pretty sure he knew women better than most males his age, he’d never realised they could be this crass. He didn’t know whether maybe the girl before him was the token outrageous friend, or all girls were like that when together.
He was hoping the latter was true because he thought that would pretty much rock.
“Uh, sure,” Dean agreed, moving towards the bedroom. “I’m not sure where it is though.”
The girl followed him into the bedroom and Dean was wondering how long he would get away without addressing her by name when he noticed the necklace she was wearing. It spelled out her name in loopy, silver writing. “Belinda,” Dean said and Belinda, who was already shoulder-deep in Jess’s closet, poked her head out long enough to say, “What?”
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting at the kitchen counter, a tub of chocolate ice cream between them and two spoons. He knew Belinda was an Aquarius, had dated four different guys named Matt, all of them bastards, and envied Jess’s boobs. The front door banged open and Dean heard the sound of Sam bustling in. He appeared in the kitchen doorway and Dean recognised the false smile he plastered on his face when he spotted Belinda.
“Hi Bel,” he greeted, dropping a kiss on Dean’s head as he moved towards the fridge.
“Hey Sam, do my tits look good in this top?” Belinda asked, getting up and angling towards Sam, one hip jutted out and Dean thought oh. He recognised the move, had seen it aimed at him enough times and he felt the overwhelming urge to tackle Belinda to the floor and twist her head off on Jess’s behalf.
“Geez, I don’t know,” Sam grumbled, flushing red just before he stuck his head in the fridge, looking like he wanted to climb into it if it would get him away from the piranha behind him.
“Hey Bel?” Dean stood, clenching hands into fists. “Mind not throwing yourself at my boyfriend while I’m in the room?”
Belinda turned around, looking satisfyingly pale. “Jess, I didn’t mean…”
“Yeah you did,” Dean snapped, cutting off whatever half-assed excuse Belinda would try. “Why don’t you go and keep that top?” Dean added, getting up and herding Belinda towards the door. “It’s way too slutty for me,” Dean added, grinning to himself at Belinda’s startled expression as he shut the door in her face.
Sam appeared in the hallway, blinking owlishly. “Who are you and what have you done with my too-nice girlfriend?” Sam asked, but he was grinning from ear to ear and Dean did a little air-punch.
“Nobody messes with my baby,” Dean said, feeling silly and buoyant and wondering if being a girl was getting to him.
He forgot about feeling ridiculous when Sam scooped him up into a bear hug.
They ordered in Chinese food and ate it on the couch, Dean resting his little feet, now with clear nails because the blue polish had just bugged the crap out of him, against Sam’s thighs. They flicked between Spongebob Squarepants and the Simpsons, snorting laughter and rice and tossing wontons in the commercials.
Dean knew this wasn’t his, that he was stealing someone else’s life with Sam, but he couldn’t help enjoying himself. He also couldn’t help enjoying Jess. She was girly and soft and even though she was a tall girl, she was tiny compared to Sam. Sam would circle his fingers around Dean’s wrist and the middle finger and thumb would overlap. He would cradle Dean’s whole head in his palm and Dean could fit both of Jess’s feet into one of Sam’s shoes, which Sam found hilarious.
Dean remembered carrying Sam to bed when he was six. Sam had gotten into the habit of falling asleep wherever he dropped when he felt tired, one notable evening on top of the television set. Despite this, Dean was still amazed when he woke up hours later with his nose pressed to Sam’s throat and his feet dangling. He kept his eyes closed and his face relaxed until he felt the bed underneath him and then tugged one of Sam’s arms to his chest and curled around it.
“I’m going to marry you,” Sam said in a low voice, probably not meant for Jess’s ears.
Dean wondered if in some small way, he’d just contributed to losing Sam forever.
Jess sounded relieved and a little annoyed when Dean called her the next morning, mostly because he’d forgotten to check in the evening before. “I’m going stir crazy,” Jess admitted.
“I’ll ring my guy today and see where we’re at,” Dean promised.
“How’s Sam?” Jess asked, sounding anxious.
“He’s fine,’ Dean assured her, still finding it a little twilight zone to be talking to himself on the phone.
“How are you handling…I mean, how are you avoiding…?” Jess trailed off and Dean could pretty much guarantee she would be blushing furiously on the other end of the phone.
“It hasn’t been a problem. He knows something’s up but he believed me when I told him that it doesn’t have anything to do with him and he’s giving me…you, space.”
“He… believed you?” Jess asked slowly and Dean frowned.
There was a silence that stretched for so long that Dean was starting to wonder if Jess had put down the phone and wandered away when she made a contemplative noise and said, “And he just… dropped it?”
“Yeah… he…” Dean paused because now he’d said it out loud, he didn’t believe it himself. Sam was tenacious and stubborn and worked at you until you opened up. There were dozens of times when Dean had been mad at the world, mad at their dad, mad at Sam and Sam had never dropped it. Sam tested defenses, walked the perimeter but always, always found a way in.
“Son of a bitch,” Dean breathed, recognising the cartoons and takeout night for what it was. An opening salvo.
Dean had been sitting on the bed for an hour, just staring off into space. Sam would sometimes tease him, saying that Dean needed to be completely still to think because when he was moving, his brain didn’t work, just instinct. In a weird way, through the fog of time and romance, Dean might’ve seen that for the compliment it was meant to be, the envy colouring Sam’s tone who was always accused of thinking too much, but now there is something distracting him.
Sam was researching.
Dean had been distracted by the weirdness of his situation that it hadn’t been clear until Jess had pointed it out. Sam was being accommodating and careful but once Dean looked, the hallmarks were there. Buried under magazines in the drawers under the heavy coffee table were the few occult books Sam had taken with him, on his computer were bookmarked some sites Dean had found himself having to peruse on his hunts and Sam was asking gentle, probing questions in amidst normal conversation like he was interviewing a witness, or a suspect.
Sam knew something was up and was worried enough to be looking into it.
Dean now knew it had been naive to think that Sam’s girlfriend being replaced would go unnoticed. While both he and his father had seen patterns in seemingly random and unrelated acts, Sam was always the one that would warn them against untrustworthy sources and just know when someone was intentionally leading them astray. He would interview witnesses, question onlookers and comfort family members and Dean couldn’t say when both he and their father had started trusting Sam exclusively with those kinds of tasks. He also didn’t think it was only because Sam looked wholesome and unthreatening but because he would know when they were being lied to and when someone was genuine.
Dean knew now it was a mistake to treat Sam like the wide-eyed innocent that in actual fact, he had never been. Sam hadn’t liked the hunt, but he’d been damn good at it regardless. He’d abandoned the Winchester family business, but he hadn’t hung up his brain and it went to the dark places whether he liked it or not. Sam was many things, but he wouldn’t ignore signs if they were there to be seen.
Sam was playing the part of the dutiful boyfriend while he was figuring things out and from the pattern of his research; Sam had narrowed his options down to either possession or shapeshifter. Sam would’ve been hoping for possession because if it were the latter, there was a good chance Jess was dead. Dean knew he had to level with Sam and soon, before he got a silver blade in the heart or Sam tried to exorcise him.
Dean scribbled a hasty note and went out, needing to talk to Bobby before he had the conversation he’d been dreading with Sam. He needed to warn Bobby that they were on their way and find out if there was anything they could do to make everything right.
When Dean returned to the apartment, Sam was there, sitting on the couch like he was just waiting for Dean’s return. Dean shrugged off his jacket and hung it up on the coat rack, trying to see if Sam had a weapon of some kind close by. He knew that if Sam had decided he was something sinister, that he might not necessarily believe Dean straight away about the real situation and Dean would need to immobilise him until he could get Sam to accept what had actually happened.
Sam wasn’t doing anything though, sitting still and with his face carefully blank, the note Dean had left him scrunched in one hand.
“Hey, you okay?” Dean asked, going for a light tone and not really sure if he made it.
“Yeah, fine,” Sam said, voice hollow. “I left something in the bedroom for you,” he added and Dean slowed, switching direction because he’d been headed into the kitchen.
“Okay,” Dean nodded, making his way slowly towards the bedroom, trying to move warily while looking casual about it.
“Hey, Dean?” Sam called.
“Yeah?” Dean automatically responded and then froze, turning slowly. Sam was standing up now, looking ashen and furious.
“At first, I thought something was off but I didn’t know what. We’d had a fight and I thought maybe that was it, maybe Jess was relapsing into mad for some reason or maybe I’d done something. Then I started thinking that it wasn’t Jess at all, something was just wrong, but she still felt familiar, felt like she fit.”
“So I started thinking it might have been possession, some old enemy of Dad’s trying to get to him through me, thinking I was weak because I’d been out of the game for a while. I put a line of salt across the front door,” Sam said and Dean’s eyes flicked to it, seeing the black tape laid flat across the threshold to hide the salt, an old trick. “But you stepped right over that without blinking. A little holy water in your coffee didn’t do anything either.”
“Can I explain?” Dean tried but Sam’s eyes narrowed.
“Did you do this on purpose? Was this some kind of sick joke?” Sam demanded, high color on his cheeks.
“I don’t know what happened Sam!” Dean snapped. “I didn’t just decide one day that it would be fun to be stuck in my brother’s girlfriend’s body.”
“How long have you been in there?” Sam growled, voice a dangerous growl.
“Only a few days.”
Sam paled further and his eyes grew round and glassy. He clapped one of his hands over his mouth. “I nearly… was that you when I…?”
“It was me but I stopped it before it became, you know, embarrassing,” Dean said, a wry smirk on his face that dropped when Sam just seemed to deflate.
“Is Jess in your body?”
“Yeah. When I disappeared the other day I went to see her.”
Sam seemed to fold in on himself, dropping onto the couch hard. “She knows. She’s going to… she’s never going to want to see me again,” Sam moaned, dragging his legs up onto the couch and hugging his knees to his chest.
“She doesn’t know it has anything to do with you,” Dean said, kneeling beside Sam and squeezing a hand on his shoulder. “She’s actually been pretty awesome about the whole thing.”
“She’s going to know eventually,” Sam sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I can’t hide the fact that you’re my brother forever and we can’t just tell her it’s a coincidence that she just happened to be body-swapped with my brother but that had nothing to do with me.”
“Bobby’s got it covered.”
“Bobby knows?” Sam asked, looking a little reassured.
“He’s going to help put everything back the way it should be. As an extra-special bonus, Jess isn’t going to remember a thing.”
“You can’t do that,” Sam protested automatically, dropping his legs back onto the floor and turning to Dean.
“What do you mean? How many times did you wish you didn’t know any of this? We’ll get the brains back in the right bodies and Jess will be none the wiser. Problem solved.”
“I’ll know,” Sam said, frowning. “It’ll be this thing between us that-”
“I’m sorry, but don’t be so fucking dense, Sammy,” Dean snapped, resisting the urge to cuff his little brother over the back of the head. “Unless you’ve told Jess our little family secret, then you’re already keeping things from her.”
“Okay,” Sam grumbled. “But it’s gotta be up to her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s gotta be her choice. If she wants to remember this, then we let her.”
“Why would we do that?” Dean snorted but Sam was looking at him levelly, his mouth a stubborn line.
“Would you have wanted Dad to take the memory of Mom’s death away from you?” Sam asked.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s not the same thing.”
“Of course it is Dean, don’t you see? You think it would be easier on Jess for her not to remember any of this, easier for me because I get to keep her but it’s not right. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.”
“You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?” Dean said, knowing that this was one argument he wasn’t going to win. “So, what ultimately gave me away?”
Sam held up the note again, turning it over so Dean could see the gone out for a bit, be back soon scribbled on it. “I had my suspicions but c’mon, I’d know your chicken scratch anywhere.”
Jess was halfway across the room, looking like she was going to fling herself, or rather, Dean’s body into Sam’s arms, when she stopped at the last moment, looking pensively between Dean and Sam.
“It’s okay,” Sam assured, closing the distance between them and wrapping arms around Jess, pulling her in tight. “I know.”
“This,” Sam explained, tugging on Jess’s arm. “Is my brother, Dean.”
“Oh,” Jess said, looking between them again. “Ah, okay.”
On the way to Bobby’s, when it was Sam’s turn to drive, Dean climbed into the backseat with Jess, who was slumped against the door, looking troubled. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but you don’t have to remember any of it,” Dean reminded her, after having explained back at the motel just where they were going and what their options were.
“I know,” Jess nodded, looking grim. “It’s a lot to think about. On one hand it’s safer not knowing but on the other…”Jess took a long moment to look at Sam, who met her eyes in the rear-view mirror. “There’ll be no more secrets, no more thing between Sam and me.”
“It’s up to you,” Dean allowed, still not sure it was the best idea, but he’d literally lived in Jess’s skin and had caught a glimpse of what she and Sam had. He could see why Sam would maybe want her to know, how desperate they both were to have the unmentionable between them brought into the light before it destroyed their relationship completely. They loved each other but it wasn’t always enough.
Dean also has to admit to himself that he was feeling a little resentful and it might be skewing his judgement. Sam had been sullen and brooding for practically the last four years they’d been together. There had been occasional breaks in the storm clouds, but inevitably either their father would say something or something would happen like moving in the middle of a school year that would snap Sam back to that dark place so fast Dean wouldn’t even remember exactly what the respite had been like.
Jess got to have the Sam Dean had desperately missed, the laidback guy who was sure of his place in the world and where he was going. Dean got a few precious days to see what life with Sam could’ve been and it was like a drug. He was addicted. He thought he had missed Sam before but now, with the memory of the goofy guy who would stick chopsticks under his top lip and pretend to be a walrus just to hear the sound of his girlfriend’s laugh, Dean felt the loss like a physical wound, raw and bleeding.
It was only later, when they’d swapped again and Sam was asleep in the backseat and Jess was riding shotgun, after the initial teasing about Dean having to move the driver’s seat practically flush against the steering wheel to reach the pedals, that Jess had looked at Dean seriously and had said, “I envy you.”
“Why?” Dean asked, taken aback that Jess’s thoughts would so closely mirror his own.
“You have a part of Sam that I can never touch and I’m not sure you even realise it,” Jess had said before she’s laid her head against the seat back and had closed her eyes.
“I never knew you were a closet cuddler.”
Dean and Sam were sitting on the hood of the Impala, watching Jess inside the gas station office trying to pay for gas and not be embarrassed about the girl behind the counter valiantly hitting on her. “It’s all the time,” Jess had hissed and when Dean had preened, Sam had groaned and rolled his eyes.
Dean was looking down at his legs, swinging idly. He was wearing shorts and even though he’d claimed he never would, Jess had nice legs, it was a hot day and he wasn’t about to deprive the world. He’d caught Sam staring a couple of times and was planning on giving him hell about coveting his brother, but Sam had gotten in first.
“What the hell are you talking about Sammy?” Dean spluttered, wiping the sweaty back of his hand over his forehead. Before they’d hit the road that morning, Jess had done something complicated with his hair that she’d called a reverse French braid of all things, but end result was that he didn’t have hair in his face and he was thankful for small mercies.
“You hugged me, like a lot,” Sam said, grinning when he noticed Jess accepting a piece of paper that more than likely had a number and a girl’s name scrawled across it, with an embarrassed flush.
“Hey, I was the huggee, not the hugger. It was all you, buddy.”
“Aw, Dean. It’s okay. The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. Now, c’mere.”
Dean turned horrified eyes on Sam, sliding off the hood so he could get his feet under him. “What? No!” he protested as Sam advanced, ridiculously long arms outstretched.
“You know you want to,” Sam cajoled in a low, sing-song.
“No I… hey! Get off me!” Dean squeaked when Sam suddenly lunged, enveloping Dean in a bear hug and lifting him off his feet. Dean kicked small, ineffectual flip-flop clad feet at Sam’s shins, wishing desperately for his steel-toed boots.
“Are you alright?” Dean and Sam froze when a trucker, belly hanging over the waist of his jeans, approached them. “This guy bothering you?”
Sam snickered and Dean turned a wicked grin on him. “He is bothering me. I’m a’ scared for my virtue.”
Dean wished he had a camera for Sam’s face, who opened his arms so Dean dropped out of them, stumbling a little because he wasn’t prepared for it. The trucker had a friend who appeared at his elbow. “Everything okay, Bo?” he asked, casting a threatening eye over Sam.
“Oh, hey, no,” Dean said, moving in between the two men and Sam. “We were just messing around. He’s my brother.”
“Your sister thinks she’s a comedian,” the guy identified as Bo sneered and Dean realised he’d made a huge mistake. He’d messed with two good ol’ boys spoiling for a fight.
“C’mon Sam, car, now,” Dean ordered, pushing at Sam’s chest. When one of the men moved forward and laid a meaty hand on Dean’s shoulder, Sam elbowed him out of the way, pushing Dean back and behind him.
“Don’t touch her,” he snapped as Jess appeared behind them, clutching a bag of snacks and looking nervous.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Bo turned and hooked a fist at Jess, sending her sprawling. Dean watched, horrified, as she landed on her ass, holding a hand to her nose. “You hit me!” she exclaimed, sounding more surprised than anything.
Dean and Sam moved as one. Dean had a shorter reach and not as much weight behind him, but he’d gotten used to compensating for being the smaller opponent in a fight since Sam had shot up over the summer of his sixteenth birthday. There was a flurry of movement, Dean felt an elbow connect solidly with his temple that nearly sent him to the ground, but he kept moving, knowing that Sam could probably take both men by himself, but not while he was trying to protect he and Jess. After a few minutes, Dean was pretty sure it was pure adrenalin keeping him on his feet because when both Bo and his friend finally dropped and didn’t get up again, Dean sat down hard, ears ringing and everything aching.
Jess had gotten up, still a little blood under her nose, and leaned over to scoop Dean up. He protested weakly about being picked up by a girl but there was black tinging the edges of his vision and he could see that Sam was hobbling, having enough trouble getting himself to the car.
“Men,” Jess snorted derisively and Dean tended to agree with her.
Dean came to, stretched out on a bed and he recognised the room he was in, having stayed there more than a handful of times when he was growing up. When he sat up, Bobby poked his head into the room and smiled. “I’d hate to see the other guy,” Bobby quipped and Dean was tempted to throw one of his flip-flops at Bobby’s head, if he knew where they were.
“They’re both fine,” Bobby reassured, moving sideways out of the door when Dean got up and padded towards him. “One of the sons of bitches kicked Sam in the knee so he’s going to be sore for a few weeks and you’re got a thick head so Jess is fine.”
“Hey,” Dean protested weakly, making his way into Bobby’s kitchen. Jess was sitting at the table, nursing a coffee and holding a cold compress to her face and Sam was on the other side, one leg out straight over another chair and a bag of ice balanced on his knee.
“Oh my God, you broke my head,” Jess exclaimed as soon as her eyes fell on Dean and he grimaced, bringing fingers up to his temple where he’d felt the elbow connect and feeling the tender skin there. He knew he was probably sporting a pretty spectacular bruise.
“Is your guy here?” Dean asked, dropping into the vacant chair left at the table and Bobby tipped his chin in the direction of the living room. Dean followed his gaze and saw a woman sitting on the couch with her legs drawn up underneath her, a book on her lap and a milky-looking jar held in one hand.
“Madelyn,” Bobby called and she looked up, arching an eyebrow. She was petite, with coffee coloured skin and looking at her, Dean couldn’t get a read on exactly how old she was. She was one of the tough-skinned women who could’ve been anywhere between thirty and sixty. She slid off the couch and moved into the kitchen, dropping the jar she’d been holding in front of Dean.
“The last bar you went to before your change was infested with these little buggers,” she said, her accent lilting but undefined, like it was a mixture of different places and experience.
Dean leaned down, resting his chin on the table and squinted into the jar. He blinked when he realised he was looking at a tiny, winged person, sitting at the bottom. As he watched, the tiny thing raised an arm, extended a hand and flipped him the bird.
“Sprites and fairies. People always assume they’re nice when usually they’re nothing more than pests,” Madelyn snorted derisively, picking up the jar and giving it a shake. There was the sound of a small, indignant wail from the jar. “Anyway, I can reverse what was done now that I know what I’m dealing with.”
“Hang on, how was it done in the first place. Don’t Sprites grant wishes?” Sam asked and his words triggered something in Dean, a memory that he’d thought was unimportant. Him sitting at the bar in some one Starbucks town, more than a little drunk and telling the bottle-blonde beside him how he wished he could check up on his brother without Sam feeling like he was being spied on. Dean picked up the jar and brought it closer and even though it was a tiny version, the Sprite was annoyingly familiar.
“Sometimes,” Madelyn allowed, but then cast a look at Dean and her face softened. “Sometimes they’re just out to cause trouble.” Dean looked at the small woman and smiled, grateful that she was deflecting the blame away from him.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Jess piped up, stretching in her chair. “But I want my body back.”
“Have you decided… about the other thing?” Sam asked carefully, watching Jess curl back in on herself, a troubled frown on her face.
“When do I have to decide?” she asked and Madelyn put a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“You have a few hours. I have to set up a few things and there are some supplies I need that Sam and Bobby can help me with.”
Sam looked like he was going to protest, but a stern look from Madelyn had him biting his lip and keeping his silence. Jess looked grateful and nodded, standing up and heading towards the back of the house and the yard beyond, filled with old cars and dust.
“Go talk to her when we leave,” Madelyn instructed as Bobby went to fetch an old pair of crutches to make Sam’s movement easier. “She needs to know that you are as worried as she is.”
“How old were you when you found out that all the dark things were real?” Jess asked. They were sitting on the back steps of Bobby’s house, facing the junkyard. Dean could see a family of stray cats, four kittens and an old, fat momma cat twining in and out of one of the more rusted junkers.
“Four,” Dean said, feeling her gaze on him but not ready to meet it. He knew it was probably Sam’s place to tell Jess their history, but she needed to hear it and he figured it might be easier coming from him. “Our Mom was killed by a demon and we’ve been hunting it pretty much ever since.”
“My God,” Jess breathed. “I can’t imagine…” She made a helpless gesture with her hands that Dean caught out of the corner of his eye. Every hunter had a similar story, would be sympathetic but understanding whenever their father had to tell their tale but Dean realised he’d never actually told an outsider what had happened. He’d told an old girlfriend that he’d fallen surprisingly hard for about what they did, but not why and he was pretty sure she just thought he was crazy anyway.
“Me and Dad,” Dean continued, toying with the tail of his braid. “The hunt’s all we got. My Dad’s been hollowed out by it until that’s all that was left and me…” Dean shrugged slightly, watching the sun going down over the old cars. “Sam though, he was never happy with it. I thought maybe the whole school thing was a phase he was going through that he’d get over but I guess not.”
“Dean,” Jess said, a low exhalation, apology and understanding both.
“I don’t blame you or anything,” Dean said, shaking his head. “You’re just part of the new Sam. I get that he never felt really complete but you’re one of the missing pieces. I can see that now.”
“You miss him,” Jess said, an observation rather than a question but Dean nodded in confirmation anyway.
“More than… more than I thought possible but knowing that he’s with you and he’s happy. It’s enough. It’s gotta be enough.”
“I want to remember,” Jess said, putting a warm hand on Dean’s arm. “But I’m not going to.”
Dean turned to look at her, surprised. He’d been expecting her to keep it, keep the knowledge because it would make things easier between her and Sam, but she was smiling grimly, eyes firm in the dying light of the day.
“Sam left the life you had, left the hunt,” Jess explained. “If I know, if I’m part of it then eventually… I’m afraid that he’ll need to leave me too.”
“He won’t do that,” Dean said, taken aback.
“I’m not so sure,” Jess mused; dropping her hand away and swinging her gaze back out into the yard. “I mean, he left you and from what I can see, he loves you more than anything in this world.”
They sat on the steps, neither saying anything while the final light of the day failed and the stars came out. When the front door banged open, Jess seemed to shake herself and stood, offering a hand to Dean. He took it and let her lever him up, plucking a sweat-damp shirt away from his stomach.
“You’re sure?” Dean asked, knowing he wouldn’t ask her again.
There was the ka-thump-ump of Sam moving through the house on his crutches and then he appeared in the back door, looking between the two of them.
Jess simply said, “Yes, I am.”
“I’m going to have to know eventually,” Jess said as Dean watched her set up the video camera Bobby had provided on its tripod. “If I’m going to be with Sam and I’m going to know you and your dad.” She leant down to peer through the camera lens, lining the camera up with the couch. “I think it would be easier to take if I told myself.”
“But it’s not… you,” Dean said, waving a hand to indicate his own body and Jess grinned.
“That’s why you’re going to do this for me.”
“Why though?” Dean prodded. “If you’re going to know eventually, why not just remember now?”
“Sam can show me when we’re more settled, when we’ve had years to build something between us that won’t be destroyed. I love him but I don’t think either of us is strong enough yet to survive this. Does that make sense?”
“Not really,” Dean said and Jess punched him lightly on the arm.
“Anyway, you’ll tell it better than me,” Jess said, taking Dean’s hand and guiding him in front of the camera, pushing on his shoulders to get him to sit.
“Okay,” Dean said, looking straight down the camera. He grinned and Jess pushed the record button. “This is Jessica Moore and I’m coming to you through space and time to warn you of the impending apocalypse,” Dean said, holding up his hands and waggling his fingers for dramatic effect.
“Dean!” Jess snapped, pushing the stop button and then erasing what Dean had just done.
“Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system,” Dean said, grinning sheepishly. He waited for Jess to hit record. “Hi, this is Jessica Moore and I have something to tell you.”
There was foul-smelling paste, sitting completely still in a chalked circle for an hour, that Dean had to do over three times because he fidgeted, and Madelyn burning a knot of rope and swinging it around his head.
“Are you just messing with us?” Dean asked, then coughed and blinked because the end of the sentence was said in a different body. He looked down at himself and saw a flat chest, strong legs and then held up broad, square fingered hands in front of his eyes. There was also pain in his nose and Dean cursed, feeling like he’d just been hit.
“Hey, is that you?” Sam asked from the doorway, looking concerned and Dean grinned.
“Yeah bitch, it’s me,” he said and Sam laughed.
“She’ll remember bits and pieces, but it’ll seem like a fever dream,” Madelyn explained. Jess was stretched out on Bobby’s couch, fast asleep. “She’ll wake in a day, maybe two and won’t remember much. You can tell her she had the flu or something, was delirious. That usually works best.”
“You do this often?” Dean asked from the doorway, arms crossed over his chest.
“Some people want to forget. Not everyone uses revenge to deal with loss,” Madelyn said and although her words sounded like a criticism, her tone was gentle and Dean let it slide.
“You can borrow the green van out the back,” Bobby said to Sam. “Just get it back to me when you can.”
“I can take you back,” Dean offered, but Sam looked back at him when Bobby had lifted Jess gently from the couch and shook his head.
“Madelyn says the first couple of days are important to surround Jess with the familiar. If she sees you, she might remember.”
Dean nodded slowly, trying not to feel hurt. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to visit Sam any time soon and they probably couldn’t risk Jess seeing him for longer than that. This was where they parted ways, Sam was saying, possibly for a while.
When Bobby had moved from the room, Madelyn following close behind, Dean watched Sam carefully set aside the crutches and frowned at him. “What are you doing?”
He froze when Sam put arms around him, folding Dean into his body, but he didn’t fight. It was a different sensation, being hugged by Sam while he was in his own body but he had to admit to himself that it wasn’t bad. Dean relaxed, bringing his own arms up, digging fingers into Sam’s shoulders.
“I know we probably won’t be able to see each other for a while, but will you call me? Check in sometimes?” Sam asked, Dean studiously ignoring the way Sam’s voice sounded watery.
“Yeah, ‘course,” Dean assured, knowing that he meant it that day but not knowing how he would feel as time and distance separated them again. He wanted Sam in his life and he wasn’t sure he could accept the scraps left over while Sam was away being normal. He’d meant to ask Sam to stay when he was eighteen and he still choked on the words, even years later. He knew he could never say them out loud because he loved Sam too much.
“Okay,” Sam breathed, leaning back and then disentangling himself. He rubbed a sleeve over his eyes and Dean grinned, wanting to accuse him of crying like a girl but knowing that he might have to leave the girl jokes alone for a while yet.
“You drive safe and treat that girl nice,” Dean said as Sam leaned over and retrieved the crutches.
“Say hi to Dad for me,” Sam said and Dean nodded grimly, knowing that he was going to have trouble convincing Bobby not to let their dad know what had happened. Dean followed Sam out onto the porch and watched him manoeuvre himself into the van behind the wheel, Jess in the back.
He wondered how many times he was expected to let Sam go and worried that maybe this was it, the final time.
“You okay?” Bobby asked, shading his eyes as he looked up at Dean, concern deepening the lines on his brow.
“Yeah,” Dean sighed, watching the van until dust and distance obliterated it from sight. “Yeah Bobby, I’m okay.”