Dean gets rid of the spider and shoves the laptop toward Sam. He grabs the journal and flips it open, trying to figure out what the hell to look for - not like Dad had step-by-step instructions for what to do when Princess Sam started living his gender studies dream - and notices, belatedly, the complete silence from Sam's side of the table. No fingers tapping impatiently on the keyboard or the table, no absent-minded humming. Sam hasn't even turned the damn thing on.
"Sam?" he asks, keeping his voice as gruff as possible; he's not in the mood for any more caring and sharing.
Sam wraps his arms around himself and rocks a little in his seat. "Cramps," he whispers, sounding exhausted. Dean slouches in his chair, hoping that whatever did this to Sam can feel pain.
Twenty minutes later, he's got some mocha-whipped cream concoction in one hand and a bottle of Motrin in the other, and Sam's curled up in a ball on one of the beds. Sam doesn't even open his eyes before accusing, "You forgot the heating pad."
Dean heroically refrains from delivering the Motrin to an address where the sun never shines.
Sam, it turns out, is as bad a singer as a soprano as he is as a tenor. It makes Dean's throat hurt to hear Sam forcing his voice to that high register, and, incidentally, his ears bleed as well.
Sam's lousy enough that it takes Dean ten whole minutes to realize that Sam's singing one of his insane medleys, lyrics from a million different songs all jumbled together, regardless of the songs' keys. When Britney Spears fades into Belinda Carlisle, he leaves the motel room and pees into the gutter outside in protest. At least one part of him is happy now.
Sam refuses to leave the room, protesting that he doesn't want anyone to see him "like this." Fine. Dean can be the errand boy if Sam will be research girl. But every time he comes back to the room with food or clothes or newspapers, Sam's still on the same page of his book but there are several more tiny braids in his hair.
Dean sharpens his favorite knife and tests the blade with a hair plucked from his own head. He thinks that's pretty clear.
They haven't made any progress by nightfall, but when Dean comes out of the shower, desperately ready for sleep, Sam kisses his cheek good-night and Dean knows he can put up with this for as long as it lasts.
Dean gets rid of the spider and Sam sinks shakily into the chair. He drops his face in his hands and looks up suddenly, his fingertips plucking at his hair. "My hair!" Sam wails, looking distraught. "It's . . it's . . ." It looks like he's trying to see the ends of it, but it's too short to get into his line of sight. "I was growing it out, and now it's all . . . butch!"
Dean sighs. He still wants to get back to bed. Wake up in a couple of hours, and maybe Sam will be back to normal. "Dude, trust me; 'butch' is pretty much the last word to describe that mop on your head." Sam looks up at him, nodding frantically and obviously trying to calm himself down. He runs his hands through his hair a few times, and Dean watches as Sam's long fingers - the knuckles as raw and red as if Sam cracks them against glass jaws across the country on a daily basis instead of surfing the internet pretty much 24/7 - trace his face. Sam's jaw drops in horror. "Dean! I've got sideburns!"
Sam's eyes are sparkling with tears, and Dean pinches himself in an effort to keep his mouth firmly shut.
He still needs to take a piss, but Sam is clinging to him like a fungus. Evidently, he cuddles his little sister a whole hell of a lot, if the way Sam's snuggled familiarly up to him is any indication. This is beyond bizarre, his brain says. I agree, his bladder chimes in.
He's just unwinding one of Sam's long gorilla arms from around his neck, trying to get free of the six-and-a-half-foot barnacle, when Sam raises his head from Dean's chest and meets his eyes squarely. Sam's hair is tumbling all over his flushed face, and Dean kind of wants to smooth it back, but he just raises his eyebrows, waiting to hear what Sam will come out with next.
He waits, and the silence spins out between them, getting heavier by the second. Sam's eyes harden and he scrambles back until he's no longer touching Dean, just poised on his hands and knees on the bed. "Christo," Sam says, his voice thoroughly miserable. "Christo!" he shouts, starting to cry, his fists pummeling Dean.
Sam's landing some quality hits, so Dean grabs him close, trapping his arms between them. "Sammy," he says, waiting until Sam is breathing normally again, warm little gusts of air against his collarbone. "Sammy, it's me. And you. And I'm not going to let anything hurt you, okay? We'll figure this out."
He sits up, pulling Sam with him, and looks around for a tissue, so that Sam will stop making a mess of his Black Album tee shirt. "Hang on," he says, unsurprised that this cheap-ass motel can't even spring for a goddamn box of Kleenex, and grabs a wad of toilet paper, eyeing the toilet longingly before he returns to Sam. "Blow your nose, wipe your eyes," he says, big-brother mode kicking in. Sam reaches out for the paper and Dean stuffs it in his hand. "Be right back."
He finally escapes to the bathroom and takes the longest piss of his life, an Austin Powers kind of leak, and feels himself start to wake up. He brushes his teeth in an effort to clear his head some more. When he gets back Sam is leaning against the headboard, legs drawn up so that only his eyes - still suspiciously shiny - are visible above his bony knees. "Dean," he says, and Dean's never in his life been able to hold out against that voice.
"Yeah, Sammy," he says, and resigns himself to being his brother's security blanket again.
He's just drifting back off to sleep when Sam elbows him urgently, and without even considering the implications, he groans and bites out, "What is it, Princess?"
Sam doesn't even blink - so apparently he not only lets his sister cuddle him, but also calls her all sorts of pet names without any fucking irony - and just asks, "Where's Dad? He'll know what to do."
Dean can feel himself go cold all over, one steady sweep from his feet to his head. "What do you mean, where's Dad?" Shit. This is even worse than he thought. "Sam," he says, trying to keep his voice level, "what year do you think this is?"
Sam starts to make a bitchface, then pauses consideringly. "2006. Right?"
"Yeah." He scrubs his hand over his hair and face. Time to get down to the hard stuff. "And when were you born?"
"Samantha Jane Winchester, daughter of John and Mary, sister of Dean, born May 2, 1983, in Lawrence, Kansas."
"And . . . Mom. The fire. Hunting, the three of us."
Dean narrows his eyes. "College?"
Sam looks startled. "What for?"
So Stanford didn't happen here, Sam can talk about Dad without bitterness, and nothing is the same. He wants to punch holes in the wall.
Sam sees the look on his face and backs away, mumbling something about a shower.
Sam's combed his hair, for once in his life, and maybe it's in honor of that momentous occasion that Dean allows himself to be talked into a proper breakfast at a diner instead of just takeout coffee and Slim Jims.
Sam pours half the pot of creamer into his coffee and Dean looks away in disgust, trying to concentrate on his hash browns and waffles. "So," Sam says, sounding perky, and Dean makes the mistake of looking up to see half-chewed strawberry pancakes in Sam's gaping maw, "not the poltergeist. Who else could have done this?"
He's tempted to say he doesn't really care - Sam's not in danger, nothing has actually changed. Except for Sam's memories, and it's not fair to leave Sam trapped between two lives like that. He swigs his coffee and tries to think. Sam shakes back his hair again, and the scars from the wendigo catch the light. Dean feels his stomach lurch at the way Sam has rewritten history - their history - and clamps down on his rising anger. He starts talking just to keep himself from screaming.
"We, uh, got into town two nights ago." Sam looks up from his pancakes and bacon, nodding. Dean blows out a frustrated breath. "Dude, aside from the poltergeist, the only person we've even talked to in town was Beatrice."
Sam pushes a strawberry around his plate to catch the last of the syrup. "Then let's go talk to Beatrice," he says, flipping the bill over and sliding it toward Dean.
Sam gives the doorman a flirty smile, dropping it only when they get to the elevator. "Boys!" Beatrice says with delight as she opens the door for them, and Dean heaves what is meant to be a silent sigh of relief. Beatrice's round, kind, silver-dollar eyes meet his, worried, and her gaze lingers on him when he steps aside to let Sam go in first. "Dean? What's wrong? When you called me last night, I thought you said the job had been no problem."
He shrugs unhappily. "That was last night. This morning Sammy woke up with kind of a different problem." Sam's snuggled into a corner of the overstuffed couch, and Dean realizes with a dull ache in his chest that Sam hadn't even protested his unthinking use of the childhood nickname.
"My dear boy, whatever is the matter?" Beatrice asks, one frail hand reaching out tentatively toward Sam's drooping head.
Sam looks nervously at Dean and clears his throat. "I, um, think something changed me. I wasn't a boy before."
Beatrice doesn't miss a beat, and Dean wants to plant one on her just for that. Or maybe what he really wants is for her to stroke his hair and sing him a lullaby, and he'd wake up with his own Sam back. "Do you mean in a past life?"
"No, I mean, like, yesterday." Sam's face falls at Beatrice's silence. "You . . . you don't remember meeting me yesterday?"
"Of course I do," Beatrice says, her hand fluttering to her heart. "My stars, I'll never forget that moment when you walked in behind your brother." She smiles, a faint, misty smile, and looks at Sam so affectionately that Dean decides he really wouldn't mind if she did the hair-stroking lullaby thing. "I thought you looked just like my Randolph."
That snaps Dean out of his passivity. "What?"
"Spitting image," Beatrice says, her eyes starry with memory. "For a moment I wondered if you'd brought along his ghost, but I'd burned his bones, so . . ." She clears her throat, delicately. "I knew I couldn't have him back, not in this lifetime." Her eyes close, and Dean can see the vitality just bleed out of her, leaving her old and wrinkled and desperately lonely. "No matter how much I wished it."
Sam pulls her into a gentle hug, and over his shoulder her eyes meet Dean's. He thinks about how weird it must be for her to be wrapped in the arms of her dead husband's doppelganger; he doesn't want to think about the kindness of Sam's gesture, the proof that he and Dad raised a girl just as good as their boy.
Beatrice winks at him as she sets the tea-tray down, so he scoops up most of the chocolate-covered biscuits and leaves Sammy to have a tea party with her. He wanders around the apartment, his boots thunking loudly against the polished wood floors, scanning the pictures and mementos she's chosen to surround herself with. He stops at her study, admiring the antique rifles mounted on the wall near a series of Punu masks. There are a few black-and-white photographs of Beatrice with her parents, all three of them standing stiffly at attention.
In the bedroom, on the dresser by the mirror, are pictures of her and Randolph, and he whistles at the resemblance between her dead husband and his baby brother. Same cat-eyes, same face made of angles and lines, softened and brightened by the same wide smile. It's a little freaky, even knowing that Randolph had to be at least half a foot shorter than Sam; they just didn't make them that big back then. There's one more photograph, this one on the bedside table, Beatrice on Randolph's lap, both of them laughing in sheer delight, looking totally caught up in each other, and he shuts his eyes, trying not to look at something so private, and goes back out to the living room.
Sam's hands look absolutely enormous cradling one of Beatrice's fragile, gilded teacups. He walks back over to the wing chair and Sam looks up and gives him a smile, bringing him into the flow of the conversation.
"Randolph did all the hunting," Beatrice says, "though he knew I knew how to handle myself. But what I liked best was this part." Her hand drops lightly to Sam's knee. "Talking to people. Even when they can't believe their eyes, when they're nearly crazy with grief and fear, people will talk to a woman quicker than they will to a man."
Sam nods emphatically, and Dean wonders how many memories Sam has of being the cute pigtailed girl, sent in when her battle-hardened father and shifty-looking brother wouldn't get the time of day from the victims and the witnesses. He wonders - given the spider - if he and Dad have kept Sam away from the dirtier parts of the job, the way Randolph had shielded Beatrice.
"He used to say we worked like one person," Beatrice says, "always of one mind."
Sam excuses himself to go to the bathroom, and Beatrice smiles at Dean while she takes the last chocolate biscuit. "You had that, and you lost it, and now you've got it again. I envy you, Dean."
He puts his hand out and their fingertips barely brush. "I think I am to blame," she murmurs, and they turn together to look at the circular charm hanging on the wall, shining bright against the dull cream paint. He crosses the room and lifts it from its hook, bringing it back to her.
"Sam's got Randolph's body and your spirit tucked away inside him, right? Two as one, Sam playing host." Her eyes are glassy as she nods, sorrow in every line of her face. Beatrice takes the charm from him, breathes a few words over it, and sets it on the ground. Fragile as a sand dollar, it is crushed to dust underneath her heel.
In the bright light outside the apartment building, Dean can see the lines of guilt and worry etch themselves back onto Sam's face; it's not Randolph or Beatrice he's caught up with now, but Jess, always Jess. Dean shields his eyes from the sun and pulls the keys from his pocket. Sam stays by his side, falling in step until they reach the car. There's no point sticking around here anymore. He hands Sam one of the newspapers resting on the Impala's backseat and starts to drive.
My best thanks to janissa11 for the lovely beta work.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.