A/N: Takes place on the tail-end of Season three, although a little AU for how Sam is able to break the deal, but has nothing to do with season four.
WATER IN A GLASS
When Dean wakes up the morning after the deal is due, he wonders if it's all some sick ploy to make him feel like he's safe before the real torture starts.
But everything's so sharp, so crisp. The mossy green colour of the walls, the stale smell of motel bedding, the bright yellowish lights, the aches in every corner of his body. It has to be real.
And when Sam appears by his side, wearing a smile so big it swallows his whole face, Dean's sure that it's real.
"You're awake," Sam grins, like Dean's just made Christmas come early in the simple act of cracking an eye open. "How are you feeling?"
"Like shit," Dean replies. He frowns, and clears his throat. His voice sounds off. Figures that he'd get a cold the day he escapes going to hell. "But I'm alive. Right?"
"Yeah, you are." Sam's face breaks in half with the strain of his smile.
"How?" Dean demands, struggling to sit up. He feels off; slow and clumsy.
"I figured out a loophole," Sam announces proudly. "And before you say it, yes I dumped enough sleeping pills into your coffee to drop a rhino, but I'm not sorry. I needed to keep you in the dark on this. You kept your end of the deal, but the demon still couldn't collect."
Dean tries to keep up with the conversation, but he's too preoccupied with the ache in his arms and the weight of his head.
"What's the loophole?" he demands, knowing already he's not going to like it.
"Well, everyone's soul has a unique identifying shape, and that's what your contract was written for. But if the soul in question is changed somehow, then the contract becomes useless."
Dean knew he wasn't going to like it.
"You changed my soul?" he asks, trying to put a threatening growl into the words. His voice fails him, and he clears his throat worriedly.
"Imagine that your soul is like liquid," Sam explains. "It takes the shape of whatever container it's placed in. So yeah, the shape is different, but it's still your soul, Dean."
Dean bolts out of the bed and stumbles to the bathroom. He flicks the light on and finds his brother's face staring at him in the bathroom mirror.
It's Sam, right down to the floppy brown hair, broad nose, and pointy chin. Dean reaches a giant hand up it push the hair out of the way, and watches as the mirror images does the same.
A second Sam, the real one this time, appears behind him, mournful frown worn expertly. Dean turns around and meets him exactly eye to eye.
"You turned me into you," Dean accuses, the strange sound of his voice finally making sense.
Sam shakes his head emphatically. "You're still Dean. Just a different shape."
"I've got your stupid hair." Dean pushes it out of his eyes again with a huge hand, poking himself in the eye as he goes.
"You can get it cut."
Dean walks unsteadily across the room and drops into a chair. It's uncomfortable. His legs are too long, and they have to bend too much to fit into the chair. Everything's too long: hair, legs, arms, fingers.
Sam drops into the chair beside him, hands clasped on the table. "I'm sorry, man," he says. "Bobby gave me a hand figuring it out, but I couldn't even ask you… The ritual only works if you use the form of someone who's already living. I figured you'd rather it was me than some stranger I found on the street."
The thought of spending the rest of his life in the skin of some random guy makes Dean's new skin crawl. And he realizes that he has a "rest of his life", something that had been quickly shrinking for the past twelve months.
Sam's still sitting across from him and looks miserable, hands twisting in his t-shirt and eyes dropped to the floor.
His eyes lift up slowly. "Yeah?"
"You did good. Thanks."
"Really?" The smile creeps back into place.
Dean gets his hair cut on that first day. He borrows Sam's clothes for a couple days, but soon makes a trip to get his own. There's only so long he can put up with Sam's weird shirts. Buying new boots sucks; they make hardly anything in his new size, and Dean realizes he can never tease Sam about his ugly shoes again.
Everything's better now that he's free of the contract. The Led Zeppelin is extra loud, the cheeseburgers are extra juicy, and the girls are extra hot. Everyone thinks they're twins now, and there's no use correcting them. It's better than being mistaken for a couple, and the girls actually kinda dig it.
Visiting Bobby is their first destination. The man takes one look at the two of them standing side by side at the door and breaks into a rare smile. "It's good to see you boys." He turns to Dean. "You owe Sam big, kid. If he hadn't stumbled across this, you'd have been in the pit right now."
"I dunno," Dean drawls. "I think part of this is just Sam being narcissistic enough to want a copy of himself running around."
Bobby snorts. "You two may have the same body now, but you're far from the same person. I could recognize that swagger of yours a mile away, Dean, regardless of the outside container."
And it's sort of true, actually. When Dean looks in the mirror now, he's still a little shocked, but he doesn't see a copy of his brother any more. The hair helps, but his face carries the same expressions that he used to in his own body. Maybe Sam was right with all that shit on liquids and containers. He's in a Sam-shaped glass, but he's still Dean.
Dean spends a little time adjusting to Sam's proportions. It easier than he though, however, and Sam theorizes that it's because Dean's got some of the muscle memory that belongs to Sam. It's not long before the itch hits both of them and they take a hunt that Bobby hears about. It's supposed to be a straightforward salt-and-burn, but the research turns out to be a little tricky. The small library is decades behind in technology, and all of the old papers have to be searched through manually.
Dean stays with Sam for hours in the library until Sam finally looks up from some article written in '86 and squints at Dean.
"You must be dying to get out of here. Why don't you take the car and find us a room for the night? We can meet up in a bit for some food."
Dena shakes his head. "Nah, I'm good for a while." He's in the middle of an article of his own, and doesn't want to just leave it unfinished.
Sam crinkles his brow. "Seriously?"
"Hey, like Bobby said, I owe you one. Least I can do is give you a hand with this."
Sam doesn't reply for a second, and Dean starts to wonder if they're going to have some big emotional conversation (about what, he's not really sure) but Sam finally just shrugs. "Okay," he says, and goes back to his crumbly newspaper.
It doesn't take them much longer to find their probable ghost, and have a good guess where the body's buried. It's still a little early to go digging up a corpse, so they head to a diner to grab some food.
Dean's all set to order another bacon cheeseburger, but he flicks open the menu restlessly. Maybe he's overdosed these last few days, so happy to be free that he's forgotten that there is, in fact, a limit to how many burgers you can eat before you get sick of them. He gets a chicken sandwich instead, and makes fun of Sam's Cobb salad even though it does look strangely good.
The salt and burn later that night is awesome. The ghost flings them both around a bit, just enough to make it exciting and to let them know they picked the right grave, but they torch the corpse and make it out with only a few bruises. As they start to fill the grave back in, Dean's back starts complaining.
"This shovel sucks," he decides as he passes it off to Sam for his turn.
"Dude, I've been telling you for years that we need to get one with a longer handle," Sam replies, dumping a mound of dirt into the grave. "You said this one was fine."
"Yeah, well, that was when I thought you were just being a bitch about having to dig up graves. This shovel has to go, like yesterday."
After a trip to the hardware store, they hit the road and chase after every evil son of a bitch they can find. Hunting's a bit different now, but it's actually all for the better.
They've got no deal hovering over them, no evil demonic plan, no desperate search for a missing father. It's just the two of them on the road together, more like equals than they've even been. Research, pool hustling, ass-kicking, and all other duties are equally dispersed now. They still keep to their own favourite weapons, but their clothes get hopelessly mixed up to the point where they stop caring about who the original owner is and just wear what happens to be nearby and clean. They're spending pretty much every second together, but they don't need the time apart that they have in the past. All the bickering that usually occurs when they're in close proximity for too long has just faded away to this easy rapport.
Some nights, Sam finds some weird documentary on TV about Mesopotamian trading or something, and Dean'll stay in and watch it with him cause the information could come in handy on a future hunt, and it doesn't turn out to be as boring as he thought it would be. Other nights, they go out for a drink together, either getting some pool money or just casually hanging out with each other. Dean's fallen out of the habit of flirting with girls at bars. They all seem the same to him now, flighty and shallow and drunk. Maybe he's getting old or something, but there's no real connection there to keep him interested, so he just gives up on the practice.
They've got a good thing going between them, and Dean's busy appreciating that (silently, of course) while studying the diner menu when Sam interrupts his train of thought.
"There's a barber shop just down the street."
Dean frowns. "So?"
'You want to get your hair cut? Must be driving you crazy."
He reaches his hand up to feel the ends of his hair. It's nearly covering his ears and starting to tickle his eyebrows. He pushes it out of the way and shakes his head.
"It's fine for a while longer."
Sam shrugs and takes a gulp of his water. "Okay."
Dean doesn't mind having his hair a little longer for now. It gives him some extra coverage. People are always staring at the two of them. It's probably the fact that they're six foot four twins, but it doesn't mean that Dean has to like it. Sometimes, he just wants a little anonymity. When he ducks his head now, his hair falls down a little and deflects some of those stares. Maybe he'll even let it grow a little longer.
Their waitress comes by and whips out her order pad and gives them a friendly smile. "You two ready to order?"
"I'll have a garden salad with grilled chicken breast," Sam orders. "Italian dressing."
"Got it. And you?"
Dean rolls his eyes at Sam's order, and takes a gulp of his lemon water before turning to the waitress.
"I'll take the salmon fillet, please," he tells her, returning the friendly smile. "With a side of grilled vegetables."
Impala starts making a strange noise when they're back on the road to Sioux Falls. He pulls the car to the side of the road and pops the hood. He spends a few minutes tinkering with it in frustration before slamming the hood back down.
"What's wrong?" Sam asks from his customary perch by the side of the car.
"Not really sure," Dean grunts, wrinkling his nose at the grease that ended up on his hands. "I rigged it good enough for us to get to Bobby's. We'll ask him to take a look."
It's been a few months since they visited, and Dean's looking forward to seeing the old man again. They're not far away, and they make the rest of the drive without any music. Dean loves his tapes, of course, but sometimes they're a little too loud. They throw him off when he needs to think about something, and right now he wants to listen for any more problems with the car.
"Good to see you, boys," Bobby greets them. "You know I've been hearing buzz about the two of you. Some unstoppable pair of identical twins that's taking out anything that moves the wrong way."
Dean smiles to himself, glad to see that they're making a difference, although he could do without the rumours.
Bobby's got some coffee on the go and pours them both a cup. Sam uses the milk first and then hands it off to Dean. The coffee's crazy strong, and Dean dumps more milk into it and even some sugar. Bobby looks at him funny, but Dean shrugs it off. Sam's lame taste buds are messing with him, that's all.
"So you boys planning on sticking around for a while?" Bobby asks them.
"Sam's got some books of yours he wants to check out," Dean replies, nodding in his brother's direction. "Car's acting up, too. You think you could take a look at it while we're here? When you get a chance."
Bobby's eyebrow quirks. "You can't figure out what's wrong with it?"
Dean shrugs. "Might need a new drive belt."
Bobby abandons his cup of coffee on the table and stands. "I'll look at it now," he grouches. "No point putting it off."
Normally, Dean would follow Bobby out and work on the car with him, but the idea of bending over a motor and fiddling with a bunch of different pieces is just not appealing to him right now. Sam grabs the books he wants and disappears, leaving Dean to browse the shelves himself. He finds some book on demonic lore written in Latin that actually looks kind of interesting. He'll flip through it for a bit, he decides, and then go see if Bobby needs any help.
The Latin book is ancient, and Dean has to grab a dictionary to help him with the more obscure words. A while later, he's taken down a couple more books to cross-reference. He's got his fingers in three different spots when Bobby stomps through the door and bangs it shut.
"Where's Dean?" he asks.
Dean looks up from his book, frowns, and lets his fingers slip out of the pages. "I'm Dean."
"Oh." Bobby pauses. "Sorry, I just thought—" He flips a hand at Dean sitting amongst the books, and something shifts inside of Dean.
He's up and running to the bathroom, the nearest mirror, before Bobby can react.
The image he sees in it stares at him. His mouth hangs open slightly, and his nostrils flare with every breath. The mussed hair hanging down doesn't hide his wide, panicked eyes that silently plead for answers. He leans forward, hunching his wide shoulders. Everything he sees reflected in the mirror is wrong: the little brother, the smart one, the quiet one. There's no trace of Dean, with his cocky smile and strong jaw and winking eyes. He doesn't listen to music at full volume all the time, he hasn't had any red meat in months, he doesn't flirt at all anymore, and he chose to spend the last hour digging through old books instead of a classic engine. He's been erased, or reformed, rather. Shifted to fit the container he was in.
The only thing left inside him now is Sam.