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Ugly Duckling

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The fairy's curse hit with a snap and a flash of light, blinding Sam before he could throw his hands up to cover his eyes.


"Sam!" Dean yelled, over the sound of Dad screaming out the incantation to kill the fairy.

Sam dropped and rolled, getting back behind the car. He shouldn't have come out in the first place, but he'd wanted so badly to see a real fairy, especially since he'd been the one to find the hunt and do the initial research before Dad took over.

Dad finished the chant just as his vision cleared. Sam waited a moment and poked his head over the trunk, just in time to see Dad, unthinkably, aim his gun at Dean.

"Stay right where you are," Dad ordered. Dean froze. Sam could only see his back, tense and uncomprehending. He had to find out what was going on. Dad would whip his ass if he yelled, so he ran over to stand by Dad, and nearly fell over when he saw.

Even at twelve, Sam understood that puberty had not been kind to his brother. Dean's chipmunk cheeks had stayed round, even puffed further as the rest of him had filled out, leaving his eyes sunken and piggish. His eyebrows had gone bushy and twisted, his stubble both patchy and fast-growing, with a strange reddish tint that contrasted badly with the rest of his coloring. His freckles had congregated in clumps that looked like birthmarks, dappling his skin. His chin never got below two pimples at a time. His mouth was just a bit too close to his nose, and his perpetual snarl did little to make him look better. Teachers took one look at him and knew he'd be no good; cops took two and kept their eyes on him.

But now, the boy standing in front of them was wearing Dean's clothes, holding Dean's gun, braced in Dean's protective, aggressive stance. Except that this boy's close-clipped brown hair was streaked with gold, his huge green eyes were framed with fashion-model lashes, his jaw had superhero angles, and his mouth looked like—well, honestly, like a really pretty girl's.

"What?" the boy—Dean?—snapped, and that familiar sneer suddenly looked badass instead of delinquent. His skin was clear of acne and peachy gold. Even the freckles were different, lighter and dusted across his cheeks like somebody'd blown a handful of cinnamon on him.

Dad's gun wavered, dropped down. "Dean?"

Dean blinked at Dad, confused. "Yessir?"

"You—the fairy cursed you. I think."

Dean began to look himself over, hampered by his tight grip on his gun. "What? What'd that bitch do?"

"It made you beautiful!" Sam blurted, and Dad held himself very still.

Dean looked at Dad, seeking confirmation or permission, and Dad nodded just a fraction. Dean set his jaw—whoa, he looked totally serious, not demented—and hurried over to check himself out in the side mirror, sticking his gun in the back of his jeans as he prodded at his strange new face.

"Holy shit," he said, and Dad still didn't say anything about the profanity. "How long is this gonna last?"

"Fairy magic usually either lasts until midnight or it's permanent," Sam informed them. "But why would a fairy curse you pretty?"

Dad made a choked sound and Dean turned away from the mirror to glare at Sam. Sam should've prepared himself to get bruised, but Dean's new expression sent a shiver through him that wasn't entirely fear.


The magic—Sam wasn't sure it was fair to call it a curse—lasted beyond midnight. "Time to get out of town," Dad said, which made sense. Schools generally didn't like it when you lost a whole kid, and Dean couldn't exactly go back in claiming some miracle cream fixed his face up.

Sam took it on himself to check out the lore: there were a couple of versions of fairy magic where the magic lasted a year and a day, or where there was some condition to be met and then the spell would dissipate, but that latter was unlikely. Under magic's rules, any condition would have to be disclosed.

"So I could go back next year," Dean mused when Sam gave him the full report, rubbing at his mouth the way he'd started to do now. "Hunh. Guess I better make the most of it."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked, looking at Dean with a little suspicion. At first he'd thought he liked that Dean didn't spend as much time hovering around him, but—even though he'd never admit it—he kind of missed Dean's constant attention.

"It's like this, Sammy," Dean said, and grinned (another novelty, since Dean-before had been more likely to duck his chin and turn away when he'd been amused; he'd had a laugh like a donkey). "The difference between me before and me now is spelled P-U-S—"

"Shut up!" Sam yelped. Dean's grin turned into full-on chuckles, and Sam couldn't help but smile back, embarrassed. So, yeah, Dean was still an ass, but a good-looking one, which turned out to make a world of difference in the level of assheadedness other people were prepared to tolerate.

Dean worked it hard, just to prove he could: leaning on counters at motels, blinking his ridiculous lashes up at waitresses, standing too close to girls he'd just met. Dad just rolled his eyes, sometimes offering Dean advice on how to get what he wanted that Dean took like it was gospel; better than gospel, because Dean never showed any indication of observing any of God's rules.


Sam figured out that Dean was worried about the year-and-a-day thing a couple of days before the anniversary. Dean had been tomcatting even worse than usual, and it was starting to annoy Sam, because Dean didn't get that hearing about all his adventures was suddenly a lot more uncomfortable than it used to be. But Dean wouldn't shut up, and he wouldn't stop moving, looking at himself in every reflective surface he passed until Sam halfway wanted to cut him so that he wouldn't be so damn obsessed any more.

Then, when Sam realized what time of year it was, he decided to be the bigger man (only way he was ever going to get to do that, that was for sure) and reassure Dean. "It doesn't matter if you go back," he said while Dean was smoothing his hair back for the hundred thousandth time. "You'll still be the same."

Dean turned away from the window and smiled, quirky and sincere, nothing like the smarmy grins he had for girls. "Sure, Sammy."

But when the year and the day came and went, and Dean woke up hungover and cursing, the first thing he did—before he threw up, even—was put his whole hand flat against the bathroom mirror, leaning into his own reflection.


At Stanford, Sam did a paper on fairytales and beauty. In kids' stories, ugliness was evil. Beauty brought trouble, but also glory. Sam thought either the fairy's curse had misfired, or it had been the lone benevolent supernatural entity they'd ever encountered, possibly trying to prove its good intentions. He'd never know for sure, but he liked the thought of Dean getting something back from the shadow world that had stolen so much from all of them.


After Pamela sent them ghostwalking, Sam got to thinking about what Dean looked like in Hell. Dean's incorporeal form had the same face he'd had for nearly half his life, but Hell was for torture and presumably a body Down Below could be forced into any configuration.

Because they weren't talking much these days, he decided to wait until Dean was very drunk to bring it up. He didn't have to wait long.

Dean blinked at him, slow and glassy-eyed, his irises green-black in the bad motel light. "Ain't nobody pretty in Hell, Sam," was all he said.

Then, five minutes later: "I look like him now, a little. Don't you think?"

By the time Sam breathed out his, "Yeah," Dean had already passed out.


Dean never did call it a curse, not even when he came back from a bar that one time when he was eighteen, bruised and walking slow, some of the light gone from his eyes. When the police sketch was plastered all over, TVs and post offices and police stations, he never once came close to hinting that it would be awfully convenient to return to the face he was born with. Sam thought he forgot, sometimes, that he'd ever been anything other than conversation-stopping.

Sam never did.

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