He was alone in the room, so he hauled himself out of bed and, yawning, headed for the restroom.
He had his hand on the doorknob when the sound of voices drifted up from downstairs and Sam paused, curiosity prickling down his spine. He'd been listening to Dean in his head for his entire life, but he was the only one. Bobby had known them both since Sam was a kid, but this was the first time he'd been able to talk to Dean and hear Dean talk back.
Sam hesitated, torn. Then he heard his name mixed in with the unintelligible mumble of words and didn't even bother to take the moral high road. He crept down the stairs, avoiding the ones that creaked the worst, and lingered outside the door to Bobby's study.
"-didn't think he'd grow up to be taller than me," Dean was saying, and Sam had to bite back a grin at how much that was apparently bothering him.
"You've always known he was tall," Bobby said, in the voice that meant he was totally laughing at Dean's pain. It was strange to hear it directed at someone other than himself.
"Yeah, but I thought I'd be taller. He's supposed to be the 'little' brother. It's downright embarrassing, is what it is." Dean's tone was light and easy, and Sam was struck with a strange pang at the thought of Dean sounding so comfortable with someone who wasn't Sam.
"I wouldn't worry about it." There was a pause. "You boys planning on telling your daddy about this?"
"No," Dean said immediately. "It's only a temporary thing. I'll probably be back to normal before he even gets around to calling back."
"I will be back to normal soon, right?" Dean asked, and there was a new sense of urgency to his voice. "Tell me you can fix this, Bobby."
There was a long moment of silence. "Yeah, I should be able to fix this," Bobby said finally. "But Sam's gonna have questions about what went screwy, because this spell sure as shooting wasn't meant to turn you into that."
"I'll deal with Sam."
"He's not gonna be happy with you keeping secrets from him," Bobby said. Sam frowned.
"Tough shit," Dean said. "It's none of Sam's business."
Bobby humphed. "Good luck with that."
Dean grumbled something at him than Sam couldn't make out, and then fell silent.
"You look like her, you know," Bobby said suddenly, just as Sam was about to give up on hearing any more. "Round the eyes."
"Thanks, Bobby," Dean said, softly. And then, "This is all really fucking weird."
"You don't say?" Bobby said dryly. "Never can do things the easy way, can you?"
"Easy's overrated," Dean said, in the tone of voice that meant the line of conversation was dying a ruthless death whether Bobby wanted it to or not.
Sam backed up to the foot of the staircase and then came forward with a deliberately loud tread. "Bobby, Dean," he greeted. Dean had a half-full bottle of beer in his hand and Sam tried not to think too hard about what a terrible idea that probably was.
"Morning, Sam," Bobby said, while Dean scooted over to make room for Sam on the couch. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah, thanks." Sam ignored the critical look Dean was throwing over him - apparently his brother was a overprotective in any body - and looked at Bobby. "So, do you know what happened to Dean?"
"More or less." Bobby stood and headed over to his desk which, as ever, was piled high with reference material. "Dean filled me in on your hunt," Bobby said. "I think they're connected."
Sam glanced at Dean, but he looked no more elucidated than Sam. Apparently Bobby hadn't felt like explaining this twice. "How d'you mean?"
"Well, from Dean's description, I'd say you're right that the monster you killed was a cherufe. And since there's no evidence of a Chilean volcano monster ever being in North America, we've got to assume that someone brought it here." Bobby rummaged through the mess on the table and came up with Sam's photograph of the spell circle.
"Huh," Dean said, and Sam realized that Dean probably hadn't seen it before now.
"It's some kind of containment spell, near as I can figure," Bobby said. "Meant to trap something supernatural."
Sam's heart jumped into his throat. "Someone was trying to catch Dean?"
Bobby snorted. "More like massive big idjit blundered into a trap set for something else and didn't get out of the way in time."
"Hey!" Dean protested.
"The cherufe," Sam realized, with that satisfying click in his head that meant all the pieces were coming together. "This was a trap set to catch it."
Dean frowned. "Like by a hunter?"
"Or the person it escaped from. That would explain how something like that ended up in Colorado, of all places."
"So someone had a pet magma lizard?" Dean said. "That takes balls."
"Or very powerful witchcraft," Bobby said. He gestured at the photo. "That's not a spell for beginners."
"So, what are we thinking?" Sam asked. "That cherufe can't have been easy to get a hold of. And this spell is serious stuff. So is this a one-off or-"
"Or does this witch maybe have their own creepy little monster zoo somewhere?" Dean finished.
"Which means this hunt isn't over," Sam said. "Shit."
"Pretty much," Bobby said.
"We've gotta get me back in the right body first," Dean interjected.
Bobby nodded. "Give me a day or two to work out a counter spell. That ought to get you back to normal." There was the slightest pause before he added, "if that's what you want."
"What?" Sam asked.
"Bobby," Dean said, with a warning edge to his voice.
"Maybe it's time to try and fix things," Bobby said, to Dean.
"And maybe you should mind your own goddamn business," Dean growled.
Bobby didn't look phased. "Dammit, boy," he said. "At least think about it before y-"
"There's nothing to think about!"
"Would one of you tell me what the hell you're talking about?" Sam demanded.
Dean stood and fled the room, one shoulder impacting hard against the door jamb on his way out. There was the sound of a cascade of books hitting the floor and then the bang of the front door slamming shut.
"Sam," Bobby said, putting a restraining hand on his arm when Sam went to go after him. "Leave him."
"Why should I?" Sam asked, torn between ignoring Bobby and following Dean, and staying to get the truth. "The hell aren't you two telling me?"
"You watch your mouth, boy," Bobby said, thin-lipped. "And don't you go bothering Dean, y'hear me?"
"God dammit, Bobby, would you just tell me what's going on?"
"It's not my place. If Dean wants to talk to you, he will. But, well-" Bobby gestured towards the doorway through which Dean had disappeared. "I think we both know that you'd sooner get water out of a stone than get that boy to talk when he doesn't want to."
"You never hear him talk," Sam said, a touch archly.
Bobby arched an eyebrow at him. "That doesn't matter one whit and you know it. I ain't never met anyone as stubborn as that brother of yours. And that includes your daddy."
"Whatever," Sam said, and left the room to the sound of Bobby cursing the pair of them.
Sam marched out of the house and found Dean sitting on the grass a few feet beyond the porch, staring at his own waving fingers.
"Fuck off," Dean said, without looking up.
Sam scowled at him. "No. Not until you tell me what's going on."
"I got turned into a person with ears and a tail, Bobby's working on finding the counter spell and everything is gonna be sunshine and roses again in a couple days. Now, shut up already."
"I'm not a kid, Dean," Sam said, ignoring the fact that he never felt more like a kid than when he said that. "Why does Bobby think you don't want to get back to normal? What needs fixing?"
"Seriously," Dean said. "Shutting the hell up isn't nearly as hard as you think it is."
Sam firmed his jaw. "Dean."
Dean sighed, and twisted around to face him. Underneath the tattooed swirls of colour on his face, his skin was unnaturally pale. The contrast made his eyes stand out strongly - the only part of this human body that Sam recognized.
"It's not your problem, Sam. Or Bobby's. So why don't you get the hell off my back before I kick your ass."
"You still have trouble standing up straight," Sam said, but he knew that he'd be an idiot to disregard the feral warning in Dean's eyes. "Don't think I'm letting you drop this," he warned.
Dean didn't respond and Sam tried not to stomp too much as he went back into the house. Just for that, he was making lunch and not sharing.
"So are you gonna ask or what?" Bobby asked, not looking up from the book he was reading.
Dean had been outside in the junkyard for hours, alternately banging on and banging into the various junkers and spare parts strewn around. Sam had volunteered to help with the research, biding his time. He'd have better luck getting answers out of Bobby if he left it alone for a while.
Bobby always had been able to see through his bullshit.
"Uh," Sam said. "Is it worth the effort to try?"
"Has the answer to that question ever stopped you before?" Bobby asked, sounding amused.
"Not really," Sam said. He took a moment to sort through the tangle of questions inside his head, looking for one that he thought Bobby might be willing to answer. "Why would a containment spell turn Dean into a human?" he settled on. He gestured at the photo on the desk. "Even if there were an error in the spell work, I can't see how these elements would cause transfiguration."
Bobby looked at him for a long, assessing moment. Then he hoisted himself out of his chair and came over to stand beside Sam.
"See this group of sigils here?" he asked, reaching out to tap at the top right hand corner of the photo. "It gears the spell specifically towards supernatural creatures. No point in having every squirrel in a mile radius setting it off. You could have walked right over it and not noticed a thing. Something like a werewolf might have been okay, too, depending on the time of month."
Sam opened his mouth to ask what this had to do with Dean.
"What I'm saying," Bobby said, before he could, "is that it's a very precise spell, real pinpoint accuracy. Only interested in supernatural creatures. And, well, Dean doesn't quite fit the bill."
Sam blinked. "What? How? He's a supernatural wolf. His claws can harm pretty much every monster in existence. He can talk inside my head. Unless you mean that he's not a monster, but I don't see how this kind of spell could determine if something's evil or n-"
"Sam," Bobby said. "You're missing the point."
"Didn't you ever wonder how you could have a wolf for a brother?" Bobby asked, instead of answering.
Sam sincerely hoped that his expression didn't convey 'do you think I'm a complete moron' quite as strongly as he was feeling it. "Of course I did! I nagged Dean for months! Not that he ever said anything. I never could figure out if he was being a dick or actually didn't know."
"Oh, he knows, the stubborn idjit. You didn't try and find out on your own?"
"It wasn't as though I had a whole lot to go on," Sam said, a little sullenly. "Besides black dogs and werewolves, there aren't a whole lot of supernatural canine myths out there. It wasn't like Dad was going to help. And I was kind of preoccupied with… other things at the time."
Bobby's expression was understanding, which was a far cry from Dean and Dad's reactions whenever Stanford came up.
"Well, you might want to start wondering again," Bobby said. "Since that's what got Dean out there, sulking like a wet cat, instead of enjoying the experience of having a new body."
That- was actually amazingly unhelpful. Sam tried not to look too frustrated. "What do you want me to do, Bobby? Because I don't think Dean's any more likely to talk to me about it now than he ever was before. Can't you-"
"I'm not interested in getting in the middle of an argument between you and Dean," Bobby said, in a tone that brooked no nonsense. "You want answers, you're going to have to get them from Dean."
"Because that always goes so well," Sam muttered, a little sullenly.
Bobby shook his head. "You two are as bad as each other, sometimes." He straightened and walked over to the bookshelf.
Figuring that the Q&A portion of the afternoon was over, Sam flipped listlessly through the book he'd been reading, not really seeing anything. Maybe he'd tie Dean to the front porch until he told him what was going on. Weirder things had happened.
"Here," Bobby said unexpectedly, and dropped a slim paperback on the table in front of him.
Sam looked at the book, and then at Bobby. "Thank you?"
Bobby snorted. "God knows Dean isn't good at being honest at the best of times," he said, and suddenly Sam was paying complete attention. "But this might help you know where to start asking questions."
Curious, Sam opened the book to the first page.
"The soul of Shamaism?" he asked incredulously.
Bobby held up a hand to forestall his protests. "It's mostly hokey New Age crap, but they're not all wrong. Read the part on spirit animals. You should also look up the history of the Skidi. Particularly in relation to wolves. I'm not being secretive on purpose," he added, possibly in response to the skeptical expression on Sam's face. "I don't actually have as many answers as you think I do. But someone needs to make Dean listen to reason and god knows it ain't gonna be me."
Sam wasn't so sure it was going to be him, either, but Dean wasn't the only stubborn one in the family.
The book was, as promised, mostly a waste of time, but there were enough kernels about the actual supernatural basis behind the concept to give Sam an idea of what it was he was meant to be researching. Modern interpretations of Shamanism apparently focused on the importance of being open to the guidance of the natural and spirit worlds but, in Native American mythology, the spirit world was something solid and powerful that could be harnessed to great effect. Sam ranged through Bobby's library, looking for books that dealt with historical shamans who commanded those forces, by guile, flattery and force.
What it had to do with Dean, Sam didn't know, but it didn't take much to figure out why wolves were so important.
"So wolves are valuable spirit animals for warriors because of their loyalty and ferocity," Sam said aloud, mostly to see if Bobby was going to respond. They'd been at this for hours now, and the silence was starting to get to him. "And the Skidi revered wolves so much that they used the hand signal for wolf to talk about themselves and were called the wolf-people by other tribes."
Bobby made an absent noise of agreement. "Sounds about right."
"Conveniently," Sam continued, warming to the subject. "The Skidi lived in modern-day Kansas. Which I'm guessing is how they came into contact with… Dean? Dad?"
"I'm hoping you're not expecting me to fill in the blanks," Bobby said.
"But, Bobby," Sam said, in what he vehemently denied was a whine.
That earned him a narrow-eyed look. "Look, Sam, even if I was willing to break the promise I made to your brother, which I'm not by the way, I don't have the whole story. I know what happened, but as to the why and how, you're going to have to get the answers out of Dean. Or you can call your dad," he added as an afterthought.
Sam made a face. "I think I'll stick with Dean," he said.
"Thought you might."
"None of this is helping," Sam said, staring at the mess of books and websites spread out in front of him. "I don't know what I'm supposed to be seeing."
"Boy do I know that feeling," Bobby said dryly. "Get some rest, Sam. It'll make more sense in the morning."
"But-" Sam started, only to realize that sleep was probably the best thing for him right now. His brain was already feeling like it had been stuffed with cotton; staying up even later wasn't going to help.
He bid Bobby good night and went upstairs. The bedroom was empty and Sam belatedly realized that he hadn't heard Dean come in at any point during the day.
On impulse, he went over to the window and ducked beneath the curtain. The world outside was a cascade of dark blues whitewashed by the light of the moon. Bobby's property was at once familiar and foreign in the depth of the night, and Sam froze when he saw Dean standing alone in the grass a hundred yards away. His hands hung loose at his side and his head was tipped back towards the sky. His tail drifted lazily back and forth the back of his thighs. He looked at once peaceful and frenetic, as though he was just waiting for the moment to end in some explosive fashion. It was a state that Sam was used to seeing Dean in, although it had never seemed quite so menacing when his body had suited that fearlessness.
Looking at his quiet readiness, the stillness of a predator shoved into the body of a man, Sam could see why the Skidi warriors had been so in awe of wolves. Wildness and ferocity and loyalty and freedom: what more could a warrior tribe ask for?
It wasn't until he had turned away from the window and fallen into bed on a collision course with unconsciousness that Sam realized that all those traits would be damn useful for a hunter too.
"He's got more than one spell laid on him, doesn't he?" Sam exclaimed, bursting into the kitchen with his shirt half-buttoned and his shoes untied. The morning sun was far too cheery for his peace of mind.
Bobby took a pointed sip of his coffee. "Yes."
Even though it had been the only logical solution, Sam still felt like he'd been kicked in the gut to hear Bobby confirm it. He groped blindly for the closest chair and slumped down into it.
"So-" It took three tries to get the rest of the sentence out. "Dean isn't really a wolf."
"Yes, he is." Bobby paused briefly. "But that doesn't mean he's always been one."
Sam closed his eyes. "He actually is my brother. My real, biological brother. Christ." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "I always thought it was just Dad being, well, Dad, or a reference to the whole mind link thing, not that Dean was, was…"
"Actually a human being?"
"Who cast the spell?" Sam asked, another question that he wish he didn't know the answer to. Bobby's expression was sober and Sam felt something like hysteria creeping up his throat. "It was Dad, wasn't it?"
Bobby nodded. "It was."
Sam felt sick. "Oh God, I remember Dean as a puppy. How old was he?"
Bobby's shrug was awkward but unapologetic. "Not quite five, from what I understand."
Sam's chair clattered against the floor and Sam found himself on his feet without any memory of getting up. "You knew!" he said, nearly yelling. "You've known all along that Dean wasn't supposed to be a wolf and you've done nothing to stop-"
"Sam!" Bobby barked, and Sam found himself wanting to quail under Bobby's stern gaze. "You can just take whatever crazy thoughts you've got in your head and shove 'em out, you hear me? I didn't meet you damn fool Winchesters until a few years after it happened, and by then it was too late."
"You should have reversed it!"
"Like it or not, Sam, it's your daddy who was responsible for taking care of you boys, not me. I could talk till I turned blue and it still wouldn't make a damned difference if John didn't want to listen."
"But what about now? Dean's not a kid anymore!" Sam protested. "It shouldn't be up to Dad whether or not h-"
Bobby made a frustrated noise. "If you think I haven't tried to convince Dean to let me reverse the spell you're a bigger fool than I thought. Why do you think I want you to know what he's been hiding from you?"
Sam nodded mutely, then spun for the front door. He vaguely heard a disgusted 'balls' as he pounded out of the house, breathing hard and still only half-dressed.
"Dean!" he yelled, starting towards the junkyard. There was no answer, so he yelled again. "I swear to God, Dean, if you don't answer me-"
"You'll what?" Dean asked, unexpectedly enough to make Sam jump. He wandered closer, much more fluid in his new - old - body than he'd been the day before. "I didn't know you missed me so much, Sammy."
"You're not really a wolf," Sam said, the only thing he could think of amidst the chaos inside his head.
Dean stiffened, then relaxed with obvious effort. "Now you're just being insulting, Sammy," he said, with a careless grin. "It's only a temporary facelift."
"No, you - this is the real you." He gestured at Dean and ignored his flinch. "The wolf is a spell. It was always a spell."
"I'm gonna kill Bobby," Dean said, teeth bared and tail lashing. It made Sam want to scream, seeing his human brother act like a wolf, even though the same behaviours had been cause for comfort over the past two days.
"I figured it out," Sam said quickly. "Bobby just confirmed it."
"Oh yeah?" Dean's expression was all challenge. "And how'd that happen?"
"The containment spell," Sam said. "It only works on supernatural creatures. It activated because it was trying to trap the wolf-you and it didn't work right because you're supposed to be human-" another flinch "-so instead it got tangled up with the first spell and now neither of them are working right."
"Well," Dean said, after a moment. "It's too bad I'm all out of gold stars, because that totally deserves a sticker."
"Dean," Sam said, not about to be distracted by Dean's bullshit. "You have to let Bobby reverse both spells."
Dean's face turned to stone. "No."
"Why not? I'm sure if you give him the details he needs Bobby'll be more'n happy t-"
"The answer's no, Sam," Dean said. "Drop it."
He went to move away and Sam grabbed his arm. "No, you are not running away from me this time, Dean. We are talking whether you like it or not."
"There's nothing to talk about." Dean tried to wiggle out of Sam's grip, but he wasn't familiar enough with his human body to know how to use his strength.
"Nothi- of course there is! You could be a human again!"
Dean scowled. "And why the hell would I want to do that?"
Sam faltered, completely flat-footed. "I- what?"
"I don't want to be a human," Dean said clearly. "I just want things to go back to normal. Capisce?"
"What's so wrong with being human?" Sam asked, and was rather irritated to realize that Dean was just as hard to read when he was playing something close to the chest now as he ever had been as a wolf.
"Gee, I dunno, Sam. Maybe it's the fact that I'm supposed to be a wolf? That one ever cross that noggin of yours?"
"No, you're not!" Sam shouted. "Jesus Christ, Dean, you were just a kid! Dad had no right to make that decision for you and you shouldn't have to-"
"Oh, for fuck's sake." Dean wrapped his free hand in Sam's collar and yanked him in close. From this close, his snarl was impressively wolfish. "This has got nothing to do with Dad, you hear me? The only one who makes my decisions is me."
Sam scoffed. "Oh yeah, because that's been true all of never. Face it, Dean, you've always jumped at Dad's command and the worst part is that you don't see anything wrong with it. Hell, he's probably got you convinced that you volunteered for it. That it was your choice to ruin your life for his fucking crusade-"
"It was an accident, okay?" Dean shouted, and the rest of Sam's sentence clattered off into awkward silence.
"An… accident?" Sam repeated.
Dean huffed. "Yes, Sam, an accident. Fuck's sake, do you really think Dad would want a magic wolf instead of a kid?"
Sam didn't dare to answer that one. "So what was it supposed to do?" he asked instead.
Dean growled in frustration. "If I answer, will you let me go? My arm's going numb."
Which nearly guilted Sam into letting him go, but he'd spent his whole life interpreting Dean's body language, and the nervous flick of his ears wasn't conveying physical discomfort.
"Depends. You going to run away?" Sam asked carefully.
"No," Dean said, tucking his chin down in a blatant display of submission; Sam wasn't sure Dean even realized he was doing it. Personally, he doubted it. When push came to shove, Dean always ceded to Sam's dominance in their fucked up little pack.
"Fine," Sam said. He let go of Dean's arm, hoping absently that he hadn't left a bruise, and gestured towards the porch. "Sit down."
Dean followed behind with a strange mix of swagger and resignation and, when he settled himself at Sam's side, it was in a surprisingly coltish tangle of long limbs.
"So?" Sam said.
"What do you know about spirit animals?" Dean asked, and Sam hid a start of surprise.
"Some," he managed, after a moment.
"Right." Dean took a deep breath. "So there's a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo involved, but basically the idea is that everyone's got a spirit animal or a power totem or whatever the fuck you want to call it, that protects them in the spirit world."
"Isn't it possible to have more than one spirit animal?" Sam asked.
Dean snorted. "You've been reading too much hippie crap. For shamans, maybe, but the average Joe's only got one shot. And the type of animal says something about the person." He looked down at his hands, watching the nervous tapping of his fingers. "Your spirit animal is a wolf."
Sam stared at him for a moment, shocked. "Please don't tell me you're a spirit animal."
"What? No. But, uh, you're not far wrong."
"So?" Sam asked, when Dean didn't say anything else. "You're going to have to spell this out for me, Dean."
"Right. I, uh, don't know exactly what the plan was," he admitted, casting a sidelong glance at Sam. "I was a little too young to really get it and I only got the information piecemeal later on."
"I'm all ears," Sam said, clenching his hands hard enough to make his knuckles hurt.
"Dad met this old shaman guy who told him about how real shamans could invite their spirit animals to possess them - which is fucking idiotic if you ask me - and channel their powers in the real world. This guy's tribe, the, uh Skippi or something, were particularly good at calling wolf spirits to help with fighting and hunting. Near as I can figure, the idea was to summon a spirit wolf and make it both of our spirit animals. Not, like we'd both have a wolf spirit animal, but we'd actually share one specific wolf. Which is exactly the sort of bullshit that makes everyone hate having younger siblings, in case you were wondering," he added, with a flash of his usual cheek.
"What difference does it make if we share a spirit animal?"
"Well you see, Sammy, sharing a spirit animal gives us a beautiful and undying bond for the rest of eternity."
Idly, Sam wondered when Dean had learned to flutter his eyelashes like that.
"Bond?" Sam asked, and promptly felt like an idiot when Dean tapped his own temple.
"The Winchester brothers hotline. Pretty useful stuff. I mean, it was meant to be more Escape From Witch Mountain than Lassie, but what can you do."
"Lassie wasn't psychic," Sam felt the need to point out.
Dean grinned. "But that Timmy kid totally spent all his time getting his ass bailed out by his dog."
"Jerk," Sam said, shoving him. Dean huffed out a laugh and Sam had the jarring realization that they could do this: they could be brothers in a way they never really got to when Dean had been a wolf.
"Why'd Dad do it?" Sam asked. "I mean, being able to read each other's minds is helpful, but it hardly seems worth casting spells on minors." And fucking them up he didn't add.
Dean shrugged. "Dunno, exactly. When we were kids, I just thought it was Dad being paranoid about protecting y… us. But after all the-" he made a vague spinning motion with his fingers "-Antichrist stuff, I figure he was trying to get one up on Yellow Eyes."
"You have noticed that you can't get possessed, right? It's not actually because of your mad hunter skills. Our souls are kind of a package deal now. Seems to be handy against all kinds of supernatural shit disturbers. And it seriously pisses off the demons."
"Huh. So what happened?" Sam asked, feeling vaguely like he was playing 20 Questions. "You said it was an accident."
Dean's hands suddenly became very interesting again. "Somebody fucked up something in the spell work. Dad, maybe, or one of the guys he had helping him, or the book was wrong, I don't know. Long and short of it was that I kind of… fused with your spirit animal instead of getting bonded to it. Hence the whole wolf thing."
"So you are my spirit animal?" Sam asked, and was rewarded by Dean making a face at him.
"More like you've got a wolf-shaped brother instead of a spirit animal. So I hope you're not planning on going wandering through the spirit world any time soon because I haven't got the faintest fucking idea how to guide you through it."
"I don't get it," Sam said. "Why leave it? Why didn't he get someone to reverse the spell?"
Dean shrugged. "Dad didn't know enough about what went wrong and he didn't want to risk something worse happening if he tried to undo it. And we both know he's never been all that big on trusting people. The fewer people who knew, the better. And it wasn't like it was a big deal-"
"Not a big deal?! You got turned into a wolf!"
"Are you still bitching about that?" Dean's tone was mocking, but there was something painful in the back of his eyes. "Anyone would think you didn't want a super awesome pet wolf for a big brother."
Sam hissed out a frustrated breath. "God dammit, Dean, that has nothing to do with this."
Dean raised his chin pugnaciously. "Doesn't it?"
"Look," Sam said, choosing his words carefully. "You would still be my brother if you were a wolf, or a human, or a freaking unicorn. I don't care, okay? But it's not okay for you to be in the wrong body because of a magical fuckup. Not when Bobby could fix it."
"I bet you a month of picking music in the Impala that your definition of fix isn't the same as mine," Dean said. "And who says he even can? It's not worth the risk."
"Dean," Sam started, but Dean was already standing.
"Sharing and caring hour's over, Sam. I'm gonna go help Bobby." He smirked a little. "Might as well take advantage of the ability to turn pages while I can."
"At least explain to me why you won't listen," Sam said. "If you're worried about learning to use a human body, we can-"
"I know how to use it to walk away from a chick flick moment. Here: I'll show you how it goes."
Sam growled low in his throat as Dean suited actions to words and left him alone on the porch. His brother was such a dickhead sometimes.
The rest of the day was a study in awkwardness. Dean threw himself into the research with abandon, whether to give him an excuse to ignore Sam or to make sure Bobby wasn't planning something behind his back, Sam didn't know.
Dean shut Sam down cold every time he tried to talk to him about it, and the one time Bobby tried Dean listened to the entire impassioned argument without reaction and answered him with 'no' and 'sorry'.
Eventually, Sam decided that his time would be best spent getting more information on this spirit animal spell. Bobby and Dean didn't really need his help with their work and Sam couldn't think of anything he wanted to know more about right now.
It was immediately obvious that it wasn’t going to be an easy search. Reversing a spell was a tricky manoeuver at the best of times; Sam would need to figure out exactly what the original spell was and what went wrong before he could start trying to undo it. Bobby wordlessly directed him to some books that he'd obviously done some reading in himself, which Sam was grateful for. If Dean realized what Sam was doing, he was pretending ignorance.
Dean passed out on the couch in the late afternoon. His preferred curl didn't work in the narrow confines of the couch, so he was sprawled out in a much more human manner than before. Sam found his gaze skipping over to him with somewhat embarrassing frequency as the evening wound on, but couldn't bring himself to stop.
Bobby packed it in just after 11 - "I'm cross-eyed enough without staring at tiny print all night" - and Sam managed only a little longer than that before he had to concede himself.
"I wish you'd just talk to me," he said to a sleeping Dean before he left. "You're my brother and I want to help."
The flash of Dean's eyes in the dark as he turned off the light could have been his imagination, but Sam doubted it.
The next morning, Sam was unceremoniously woken when Dean shoved him out of the bed, sending him crashing to the floor in a flurry of sheets.
"Rise and shine, bitch!" Dean said brightly. "We're going for a hike!"
Sam stared at him through the tangled explosion of his hair. "We're doing what now? Since when do you go on hikes?"
"Since now. So get your ass in gear before I leave it here."
"Screw that, I'm going back to bed."
"Sammy," Dean said, with a touch of gravity that made Sam pause in his clamber back onto the mattress. "Bobby's doing final adjustments to the counter spell. And I don't want to spend my last day as a human sitting around here. So move it," he added, slapping Sam's ass as he vanished out the door.
And Sam, damn it, didn't hesitate before lurching up to grab something to wear.
"You know what sucks?" Dean said, in an idle tone that was anything but.
Sam sighed. "What now?"
"Only having two legs." Dean crashed along down the path with a truly prodigious amount of noise. "How do you even get anywhere?"
"You're the one who wanted to come hiking," Sam said, through gritted teeth.
"Yeah and it's making me wish my other feet weren't missing."
"Seriously, Dean," Sam said. "Is there a reason we're out here? You've been doing nothing but complain the whole time." There was no response and Sam rolled his eyes. "I can't see you shrug your shoulders when you're behind me, dumbass."
"What makes you think that I even have the muscle control to shrug my shoulders?" Dean asked, then quickened his pace so that he was more or less even with Sam. Which wasn't really sensible on a path this narrow, but Sam wasn't inclined to protest.
"Where are we going?" Sam asked.
"Currently?" Dean flung an arm out in front of them. "That way."
"Pedant," Sam muttered at him.
"Philistine," Dean shot back without missing a beat, and they spent the next twenty minutes coming up with increasingly ridiculous insults. It was a nice way to pass the time, actually.
"Okay," Dean said abruptly. "I'm tired of walking. Here's good."
"For what?" Sam started to ask, only to determine it was a waste of time given the fact that Dean had sat down on the floor and pulled an apple out of his bag.
"Sit down already, Sam."
"An apple, Dean?" Sam asked, as he sat down beside Dean. "So you're suddenly into hiking and healthy eating? Maybe you're not my brother, after all."
"Fruit," Dean said, around a mouthful of apple. "Tastes a lot better in this body. I brought some Twizzlers and M&Ms too, though, just in case you were worrying."
"That's a relief."
They sat in silence for a while, muching on Dean's snacks and experiencing the quiet.
"It's not the human body thing," Dean said suddenly.
Sam glanced sharply at him; Dean was staring straight ahead, out over the landscape. "What?"
"I could get used to the body." Dean brought up one hand and fisted it, then let his fingers drift open in a carelessly graceful ripple. The motion made the blue marks on his palm undulate, reminding Sam of the way they'd moved through Dean's skin when he'd been trapped in the containment spell. "And it'd probably make our lives easier, too, if I was a human. I mean, I'd have to learn to use a gun and stuff, but I could help with the research and the interviewing and booking into hotel rooms and… everything."
"So… why don't you want to get Dad's spell reversed? If you want to be human."
Dean huffed out a breath. Strange how much it sounded like it always had in Sam's head, even though Dean's lungs were a different shape now. "What I'm saying is I'd deal with it if I had to stay a human. But if I want to lose the fur, the whole spell's got to go. And that includes breaking the link between us. I'm not going to do that."
"I can take care of myself," Sam started.
Dean was already shaking his head. "Not against demons and Yellow Eyes and who the hell knows what else you can't. And you shouldn't have to: that's my job. And we've already got a ready-made solution to the problem; why would I get rid of it?"
"We could recast the spell properly," Sam said. "We've got a lot more knowledge now than Dad did when he cast it the first time, and Bobby probably has a book about every thought the world's ever had.
"Who says it'll work? It's an unnecessary risk. I'm fine with how things are."
"Well maybe I'm not. Dean," Sam leaned in close, putting every inch of conviction into his voice that he could. "I know you think you're helping, and yeah, things would be harder without the bond, but we'd figure it out. I wish your first answer to everything wasn't stupidly self-sacrificing."
"Who said anything about sacrifice?" Dean crossed his arms over his chest. His tail was snaking across the floor and stirring up puffs of dirt. "That bond is as much mine as yours. And I don't want to give it up. Or are you saying you don't miss it?"
"I - of course I do. You know what it feels like, having it gone. But we can figure out another way. We know a whole lot more now than Dad did when he tried it. And we'll have Bobby's help."
"I am gonna keep you safe, Sam," Dean said. His expression was softer than Sam thought he probably meant it to be. "And I don't care what it takes to do that. This? This is nothing."
Sam sighed. "Dean."
"I've made my choice, Sam." Dean looked away from him, then, and back out towards the horizon.
Sam looked at Dean's profile: unfamiliar, but something he thought it wouldn't take too long to get used to.
He knew it didn't matter.
"There's nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?"
Dean kept staring out into the distance for a long moment. "No."
Sam swallowed hard. "Isn't there… anything that you're going to regret?"
"I'm going to miss having thumbs," Dean said, a little wistfully. He raised his hands and wiggled them, as though Sam needed a visual demonstration of said appendages. "I can totally see why they put you humans at the top of the food chain."
"You're one of us too," Sam said.
Dean's answering smile was almost gentle. "I'm really not. Five years that I hardly remember don't count."
"They should," Sam said, his voice smaller than he'd intended. "You should have had more."
Dean shrugged; it was an awkward but serviceable motion. "It is what it is, Sammy."
"I'm not giving up," Sam said. Dean made a face and Sam scowled at him. "I'm serious, Dean. You want to pack this up in the vault of shit we never talk about but I'm not going to let you. I am going to fix this. I'll go with your decision for now-"
"Gee, thanks," Dean muttered.
"-but I'm going to keep looking for a way to let you go back to being a human without breaking the spirit bond. There has to be a way."
"Who says I even want to be a human?" Dean asked.
"It's the only way you'll ever get to drive the Impala," Sam said promptly, and coaxed a reluctant smile out of Dean.
"You're a stubborn son of a bitch, you know that?" Dean sighed, shaking his head. "Fine, whatever. Research to your geeky little heart's content. Just don't expect me to help. And I'm not going to be a guinea pig for your budding career as a witch; if you decide to mess with this, you'd better be really fucking sure."
"Fair enough," Sam said, and gave in to the urge to tug Dean into a hug. God only knew when he'd get the opportunity to do it again. If ever.
To his credit, Dean returned the hug for several heartbeats before pushing him away. "Welp, that's enough brotherly love for me today. You ready to head back?"
Sam nodded. "Sure. Hey, Dean," he said impulsively, as Dean turned to start back down the path. "What was your spirit animal? Before all this happened, I mean."
"Dunno," Dean said. His mouth crooked into a melancholy little smile. "I've always kind of hoped it was a wolf. Wolves are badass."
Sam couldn't help chuckling. "That they are."
Dean nodded. "Way better than humans. I am so fucking done with having such shitty senses. How do you manage, honestly?"
And Sam let him bitch all the way back about how much being human sucked. He didn't ask which of them Dean was trying to convince.
Bobby was waiting for them in the study when they got back.
"We ready to get this show on the road?" Dean asked loudly. His face was split with a cheesy grin that was just daring one of them to try and fight him over it.
Bobby's expression tightened, but he didn't protest. "Just waiting on you."
"Now?" Sam asked, and was embarrassed to hear his voice crack in the middle.
Dean rolled his eyes. That was one element of human body language that he'd really got the hang of. "Stop acting like it's the end of the world."
"Oh sure, because I'm the overdramatic one in the family."
Dean gave him the finger. "What's the drill, Bobby?"
"You're going to get undressed and go stand over there-" a gesture towards a magic circle on the floor, "-I'm going to stand here and chant some mystical crap from this book-" a heft of the book, "-and Sam's going to stay right where he is and not interrupt."
Sam gave in to the entirely childish urge to make a face at the back of Bobby's head.
"Got it," Dean said, and immediately began stripping off his clothes without a shred of modesty. Well, he was usually a wolf. It probably shouldn't have been as surprising as it was.
Bobby smoothed his hand down the open page of his book and looked at Dean. "You ready for this?"
Dean offered him a thumbs up: his last use of his opposable thumbs. Sam had to smile a little through the conflict choking him; how very Dean. "Go for it."
Bobby took a deep breath and began.
It was a long, complicated, but apparently fairly painless spell, which was a relief. When the magic razzle dazzle was over, the familiar shape of Dean - wolf Dean - was sitting in the middle of the circle, just the same as always.
'Well?' Dean said, and wow, Sam knew he'd missed having Dean inside his head, but he hadn't realized just how much. 'Am I still gorgeous?'
Sam looked him up and down. "Eh, you'll do."
Dean gave his full-body ripple of a shrug. 'I'm taking that as a compliment.' He padded out of the circle and up to Bobby. 'Thanks, Bobby.'
"He said," Sam started, and Bobby held up a hand.
"I can guess. You're welcome," he said to Dean. "Even if I think you're a complete idjit."
Dean barked out a laugh. 'Fair enough.'
"You boys staying?" Bobby asked.
"Think we've crashed long enough," Sam said, after a quick conversation with Dean. He hunched one shoulder awkwardly. "We've got a hunt to finish, anyway."
Bobby nodded, as though he'd been expecting that. Probably had, honestly. He always had known them best. "You're eating lunch first," he said, in a tone that didn't brook any arguments. "And you're helping cleaning that shit off my floor. You two mess up my life often enough without making it literal."
'You're all heart, Bobby,' Dean said as he left the room. The sound of his claws on the kitchen tiles was as familiar as a heartbeat.
"You okay?" Bobby asked Sam in an undertone.
Sam nodded wearily. "I will be. I want to take some copies from a couple of your books before we go." He offered Bobby a smile. "Got some reading to do if I ever want to figure out how to do that spell right."
Bobby blinked and a gruff sort of pleasure creased his face. "Glad to hear it. I've got a couple of leads I can run down for you."
'Sam!' Dean called from the kitchen. 'Less with the talking and more with the feeding! This fridge don't open itself!'
"I can't believe I missed having you in my head," Sam said, without heat. He turned to Bobby. "I'll make lunch if you make copies?"
"Seems fair. Dean can deal with the floor."
'What? Come on, Bobby!'
"He says okay," Sam said, just to hear Dean growl.
"I'm sure he does."
It was mid-afternoon by the time they left, hoping to put a couple hundred miles behind them before they crashed.
'So,' Dean said, as Sam put the car into gear. 'You ready to go deal with some crazy witch and her magical menagerie?'
Sam looked over at the familiar sight of his brother in shotgun, head cocked questioningly to the side and his tail tucked neatly around his leg. Despite everything he'd learned in the past few days and everything he wished could have been different, it was still a comforting view.
"Yeah," Sam said, with a smile. "I think I am."