The bathroom door was shut, but Dean's outrage was loud enough that Sam could hear him clearly from the kitchenette.
"Son. Of. A. Bitch!"
Sam put down the coffee cup he'd just picked up and stealthily approached the bathroom door. He'd learned over the past few days not to do anything that might provoke Dean, and given the argument they'd had last night …
"Dean? You okay?"
Silence long and deep enough that Sam was reaching for the doorknob, no matter that walking in on Dean at the moment was liable to get him shot. Luckily, before he had irrevocably committed himself, Dean spoke.
"You need to go shopping."
"Oooo-kay," said Sam. "What do I need to buy?" The way Dean was acting at the moment, it could be anything from a new gun to a tub of cookie dough ice cream.
More silence, and that was seriously beginning to freak Sam out, and if Dean didn't say anything soon he was so going in there …
They'd been investigating a string of disappearances: all of them men in their twenties; all last seen at the same local bar. Arriving in town after dark, they'd gone to the bar to check it out first, rather than calling on bereaved families or checking for more newspaper reports.
That had turned out to be a mistake, because the bar was where Dean had discovered the dangers of calling random women "sweetheart". Or, rather, of calling one particular redhead "sweetheart".
The next day, Dean had woken up as a petite blonde woman and after his initial freak-out had subsided, and Sam had been convinced that, yes, the woman in the bed next to him was his brother - and then stopped laughing - they had done more research. All the "missing" men had in fact turned up nine days after their disappearance, safe and well and utterly refusing to explain what had happened. Their wives and girlfriends, more relieved than suspicious, had all indicated that the returned man was an improvement over the one who'd disappeared.
"He's just more, I don't know, thoughtful," one woman told Sam, watching her husband playing in the backyard with their three year old daughter.
Which, Sam figured, explained the why. The fact that it had happened to Dean as well narrowed down the who, since, as Sam pointed out, even Dean couldn't manage to piss off that many people in one night; that, and one of the only returnees willing to talk to them had actually mentioned a redhead.
Once Dean had been reassured that his condition was temporary, that it was a standard "thrice three days" incantation, and once he'd given up the almost certainly fruitless quest of finding that damned redhead and getting her to change him back right the fuck now, he'd started to enjoy the transformation. Which was about the time that Sam had stopped finding the whole thing hilarious.
Sam had spent a lot more time that he'd wanted in every single lingerie store and clothing boutique the town possessed. He had always known that his brother had been proud of his body; but now that that body had breasts and hips that even Sam had to admit were above averagely attractive, Dean was determined to dress it as it deserved. None of Sam's arguments that it was stupid to max out a credit card on clothes that were going to be useless in another six days were entertained. Nor were any of his arguments that Dean could go clothes shopping by himself. If, Dean said, it was temporary and they weren't going after the bitch who'd caused the change, then Sam didn't have any more research to do — and Dean needed his advice on colors.
Sam hadn't thought life could get any worse, until the evening Dean decided to take his new body, clad in an outfit just this side of pornographic, out to a bar to hustle pool. Sam had gone along, and had to admit that Dean as a small blonde made an outstanding hustler. The only trouble was that Dean's old, masculine, mannerisms in his new, feminine, body had got a few of the men a little too excited, and Sam'd ended up imitating a jealous Neanderthal boyfriend. Sadly, Dean hadn't appreciated his protectiveness, and the two had had what Sam though must have been the dumbest argument in their long history of dumb arguments, which had ended with Dean yelling at Sam that he'd "never have treated Jessica like that" and Sam yelling back that, "well, Jessica didn't behave like a slut". After which they hadn't spoken again until Dean's shriek in the bathroom the next morning.
"Tampons?" Sam asked, and for a moment his brain shut down at the implications. He looked longingly at the door and thought about just walking away and leaving his stupid, witch-pissing-off, brother to deal with this part of the curse all by himself.
Except that Sam had lived through this with Jessica, and survived, and Dean's long history of one-night stands wasn't really going to give him the knowledge he needed. Sam sighed.
"Okay, tampons. Do you have any idea what size you need?"
"What size?" and, seriously, how many octaves had Dean's voice just jumped? "What do you mean, 'what size'? How am I meant to know what size? It's not like I've measured!"
"Hey, calm down, okay" Sam started, "It's just …" but his brain kicked in before he finished the sentence. Luckily, Dean was apparently too freaked out by the whole situation to be paying any attention to his brother. If Dean as a menstruating woman was anything like Jess had been, then the suggestion that any of his behavior was due to hormones would get Sam killed. Or worse, castrated. And, speaking of what Jess had been like … Sam went to grab another credit card. Dean was going to need more than tampons.
When Sam returned half an hour later, Dean hadn't left the bathroom yet, and from the sounds he was making it seemed that Sam's intuition had been right. The witch wasn't making Dean's life as a woman an easy one. Sam gently knocked on the bathroom door and then walked in to find Dean kneeling in front of the toilet, face grey and sweaty as he retched miserably. Sam put down his first load of supplies and went to wet a washcloth. Dean sat back on his heels, eyes closed, and let Sam wipe his face. They stayed like that for a while, one of Sam's hands on Dean's back, the other holding the damp cloth to his forehead, until Dean gave a sigh.
"I think that's it. I've now thrown up everything I've eaten since 2005. And several internal organs."
Sam reached past him to flush the toilet, and then helped Dean up to sit on the closed lid. Dean watched tiredly beneath half-open lids as Sam began to hold up his purchases.
"Tampons, as requested. But for your first time you might want to use these instead." He showed Dean the box of Kotex he'd bought, but Dean's eyes were now enormous in his horror-stricken face.
"'First time'? What d'you mean 'first time'? This curse only lasts nine days!"
"I know, I know," Sam back-pedalled. "I just meant that you haven't done this before and …" And there was no way he was going there. So he moved on.
"I got you some pyjamas. Figured that if you were spending the day in bed, you might as well be wearing something clean and warm. And some more underwear." He showed Dean the cotton briefs he'd bought. "Thought these might be more comfortable than the ones you chose."
Dean looked and nodded. His time in the lingerie shop had resulted in a collection of tiny bits of lace and silk; decorative, but not particularly useful.
"Okay, I'll leave you to it," Sam announced, backing away. "Come out when you're ready."
Dean nodded mournfully, eyes huge in his pale face, and Sam smiled sympathetically. Then he shut the door behind him and moved onto the next part of his job.
Dean emerged a few minutes later, wearing the lavender flannelette pyjamas with purple polka-dots that Sam had chosen. Lavender wasn't really Dean's color, but there hadn't been a lot of choice in the shop after Sam had ruled out pink, and the novelty "Tickle Me Elmo" varieties.
"Okay, here," Sam said, tapping Dean's bed, which he'd remade. Dean got half-way there before doubling over in pain.
"Son of a bitch."
"Cramps?" Sam asked. "I've got you a hot water bottle. And these." He showed Dean the pack of Midol he'd bought. Dean grunted, but made it the rest of the way to the bed, where Sam only just remembered not to tuck him in. Instead, he waited until Dean was settled and handed him a couple of tablets with a glass of water. Dean drank and then started to lie down.
"Here." Sam handed over the hot water bottle. "This always helped Jess."
Dean curled into the foetal position around the hot water bottle and sighed. Sam smiled down at him.
"Just go to sleep. There's nothing else you can do. Just sleep." He made his voice as soft and as slow as he could, and rather than kicking his ass for it, physically or metaphorically, Dean sighed again and relaxed into his pillow. By the time Sam came back from putting the glass away his big brother was asleep.
The rest of the day passed with Dean sleeping and Sam looking for their next hunt. Dean woke up when the Midol began to wear off, complaining about a headache and "fucking sore boobs", but the vomiting seemed to have stopped and he was able to keep down the cup of herbal tea that Sam made him. He didn't even bitch too much about it not being coffee.
The afternoon ended with Dean curled up on the couch under a blanket, hugging the hot water bottle while watching TV. Sam sat nearby on the couch and divided his attention between his laptop and his brother — it seemed that there was something about a blonde woman with period pain that brought out his nurturing side.
"Dude, are you stroking my hair?"
Sam started. He'd given up on the laptop and moved onto a book Bobby had lent him, but he only needed one hand to hold it and his other was …
"Sorry. It's just … Jessica … I used to … she said it helped." He snatched back the hand that had been smoothing Dean's hair away from his forehead. Dean grabbed it back.
"I didn't say 'stop'."
Sam was woken the next morning by a pillow in his face. He pushed it away to see Dean, still wearing the purple pyjamas, perched on the edge of his bed with a tentatively hopeful expression on his face. Sam smiled.
"How do you feel?"
"Hungry?" said Dean, as though he wasn't quite sure. "And the cramps seem to be gone?" He looked at Sam uncertainly. "Do they come back later?"
Sam didn't point out the irony of Dean asking for his opinion on matters of the female anatomy. "Probably not. It's like this for some women. Hideous for twenty-four hours and then they're fine. Wanna try some breakfast?"
Dean's sigh of relief was deep and heartfelt. "Oh yeah!"
Given that Dean hadn't eaten for more than a day, and had emptied his stomach of everything he'd eaten for the week before that, the joy with which he attacked his food wasn't a big surprise. What did surprise Sam was the thoughtful expression with which he surveyed the women in the diner.
"Every month?" Dean asked.
Sam looked up from his eggs. "Huh?"
"Women go through that, the throwing up and the cramps and everything, every month?"
"Not all of them," said Sam. "Becky was fine, no pain, no PMS, nothing. Jess used to hate her for it. And Jess only had pain for twenty-four hours. Some women have it for their entire period."
Dean paled. "For days. They have those cramps for days, every month? The headaches and the throwing up and the sore boobs? For days?"
Sam nodded, trying hard not to laugh. Dean Winchester, hunter extraordinaire, veteran of more wounds and broken bones than Sam could, off the top of his head, remember was freaked out by period pain.
"Maybe women are tougher than men?" Sam suggested mischievously. "After all, they're the ones who have to give birth."
Dean pushed his unfinished breakfast away, his pallor turning grey. "Please, Sam, just don't go there."
Exactly nine days after he'd woken up as a woman, Dean woke up as a man again, and Sam had to cope with the rejoicing as Dean reacquainted himself with his body. Dean's triumphant description of being able to once again pee standing up drove Sam out to the parking lot where the Impala was packed and waiting for them. Leaning against it was the redheaded witch, smiling.
"So, your brother's back?"
Sam smiled back. He could try and stop her, he supposed, but none of her "victims" had actually been hurt and the women he'd talked to had seemed quite pleased with the improved versions of their partners that had returned to them. While as for Dean …
"Think he learned anything?" she asked.
"Maybe," Sam said. "But, look, Dean wasn't really a misogynist to begin with. He's just a flirt. Doesn't let himself get too close to women. I mean, he lets himself get close, obviously, but not …" He trailed off, because the witch was nodding.
"He wasn't one of the worst. But he needed to learn some of the things that Jessica taught you. About different types of strength. About being taken care of. This seemed one way to start to do it."
Sam nodded. He'd been thinking so much about Jess over the past nine days that it wasn't a surprise to hear her name on the lips of a woman with this power. The witch stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "Good-bye, Sam. Be well."
"Sam!" yelled Dean, and Sam looked over to see his brother standing in the doorway with his hands full of women's clothes. "What the hell am I going to do with all these?" When Sam turned back, the witch was gone, and Sam laughed, and walked over to try and sort out Dean's latest clothes crisis.