Summary: Dean's hit with a de-aging curse sometime in vague mid-Season 4, and Sam kind of flounders at suddenly having to take care of a kid. When Dean gets sick, though, Sam comes into his own and is able to give Dean some of that love he was so lacking in S4.
Disclaimer/Author's Note: The idea for this has been lingering in my mind since about forever, because sick, de-aged!Dean is my most favorite thing EVER, but it took a prompt from the Again, But With Colds meme to really get the spark going. Warning for ANGST. Title is taken from the fabulous song by Guns N' Roses.
Prompt: Gen. Mentally and physically De-aged Dean with a bad cold. Clingy and miserable and really feverish. (If it was a curse or god-knows-what is up to the author) Sammy for the rescue. Bonus points for forehead feels and awesome Sam.
He’s five. The age when he should be running around with a carefree laugh bubbling up unrestrainedly, not waking up with a perpetually damp pillow from dreams of things he can’t understand.
He talks about himself, sometimes, about how he’ll be when he’s grown up. Sam’s not sure if it means that he remembers being an adult, or if it’s simply a child’s wishes for the future.
Dean’s kind of a quiet kid, which surprised Sam at first given his older brother’s love of the last word, but then he really thinks about it and it all makes sense.
When he looks into his brother’s eyes now, he’s not sure if what reflects back at him is hellfire or the house in Lawrence burning.
Sam supposes that it’s only natural—kids get sick. And Dean’s a kid. He guesses he just never expected it, though- not like he can expect anything anymore, honestly.
It’s a morning a lot like all the other mornings since they were cursed. Sam rephrases that in his mind- something makes him suspect that they were always cursed. Nothing’s real until it’s on paper, though, that’s what Dean told him with his eyebrows waggling suggestively, as they zipped through new social security card applications. Who’d have thought that Dean would’ve put his birthdate in wrong, who’d have thought that the lady at the desk would take offense to his shameless flirting, who’d have thought that luck could have negative values.
Absolute value, yeah, that’s what Sam would like to see sometimes.
Regardless, neither of them would have guessed that the perky redhead working the desk at the social security office had more in common with Ginny Weasley than just the hair color. And that she’d show up at their motel room with her hex bags and curse Dean… not into oblivion, but into innocence.
“How’d Harry feel about your going darkside?” Dean had tossed at her after opening the door.
You’d think that they’d have learned that the peepholes were there for a reason by now.
She hadn’t said anything, just started chanting angrily in Latin.
“Yeah, I always thought he had a thing for Hermione, too,” Dean had shouted over her.
And that’s the last thing Dean had said to Sam, as himself anyway. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t superimpose the child over the schema of his adult brother. They’re two separate entities, two points on the same latitude but whose longitude varies incredibly.
“Now he matches his maturity,” the witch had said, and left.
Anyway, they’re having breakfast at some diner, like usual, only not like usual because Dean’s shoulders usually more than barely clear the tabletop. This morning’s different, though, and later Sam could kick himself for not realizing what it was earlier.
Dean’s resting his head back on the red vinyl booth, menu untouched in front of him.
“Do you know what you want?” Sam asks him.
“I want you to choose.”
It’s on the tip of Sam’s tongue to tell his brother to just pick whatever, but then he realizes that Dean can’t read anymore. It’s one of those things that he knew, but that he forgets anyway. One of those myriad of things about his brother’s new state that hit him like a brick to the frontal lobe every single goddamn day.
After their food arrives, Dean just pokes at it with his fork for a while, stares around the restaurant with his big eyes.
“What’s wrong, Dean?”
“I don’t like eggs.”
Sam swallows back a sigh that’s a veritable cocktail of feelings- irritation, guilt, longing- laced with the omnipresent craving for the blood.
“Sure you do,” Sam says, injecting false cheer into his voice. Dean just looks at him. He’s not buying it, and Sam thinks that even Sterling Cooper would’ve fired him by now.
“You’re not the boss,” Dean says quietly, looking down at his lap. “Dad is.”
“Dean—” Sam doesn’t have the heart to finish the sentence. God, does he hope that Dean won’t remember any of this if—when—they figure out how to break this curse, because if he does, Sam’s sure that he’ll kill him for all the cat-on-the-roof business.
They’ve discussed this already, Sam trying to lay out what’s happened in simple terms, sitting next to his brother on the edge of a generic motel room bed. Dean had traced the pattern of the bedspread with his finger, had seemed to accept their father’s absence as following the standard form of the equation. It makes Sam think about substituting variables in for variables, and how no matter what, Dean would never let the results equal anything that would end in Sam’s side of the equation approaching zero.
It’s not calculus, Sam suddenly wants to laugh to himself, because when it comes to his brother’s love, there’s no limit.
Dean laces his small fingers into Sam’s large hand without preamble when they leave, his hot little hand burning into Sam’s heart as surely as Cas’ had on his brother’s shoulder.
The scar’s still there. Literally and figuratively.
“Did I get burned?” Dean had asked him, once.
How would you get burned, Sam had asked. A question for a question, hadn’t he learned from Clarice that quid pro quo wasn’t the best game?
“In the fire,” Dean had explained slowly, as though Sam was very stupid and he couldn’t believe that he had to tell him. “The fire where I saved you.”
Sam wasn’t sure how to answer. Regardless of whether Dean had received the handprint from the fire in Lawrence, he’d burned for Sam in the end.
It’s weird having his brother riding in the backseat of the car. Sam can remember Dean being back there only a handful of times in adulthood, and somehow it just feels wrong. Right now he’s quiet, his usual state, but even this is falling below the curve of the tangent line of normal.
By the time they get back to the motel, Dean’s wavering at some point in between dreaming and waking, long eyelashes fluttering to freckled cheeks, whisper kisses of the razor-winged butterflies that hover around him. He’s too innocent for them to touch now, but still they hover, just on the haze, waiting.
Haze. That’s the way Dean looks at Sam when he comes around to open the car door. Bud, kiddo, sport, Sam calls him. Things the real Dean would never let him even think in his direction, much less answer to. His cheeks are flushed, and Sam lets the back of his wrist meet Dean’s forehead. He purses his lips, feels the visceral absence of Dean’s comment on his pouting. Instead, the kid just watches him, coughs in a way that ties the ventricles of what’s left of Sam’s heart into a knot. You sure you weren’t a Boy Scout, he wants to ask his brother. Because I think you’ve earned your merit badge for knot-tying.
Dean’s far too old to be carried inside. Because he insists on walking in himself, naturally, not because he’s actually twenty-nine years old. Theoretically.
Entanglement, is the word that lingers in Sam’s mind as he’s trying to gauge his brother’s fever without a thermometer and calculate the correct dosage of medicine in his head. It’s not that they’re in over their heads so much anymore as that they’re tied down underwater, lashed to each other irrevocably. Non-rejected transplant organs fusing so that they share the same air supply. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear their hearts beating as one. It’s your decision whether that’s because the organs are in sync, or if each of them has half a heart left, and its rhythm is only audible when they’re in close proximity.
There’s a solar system’s worth of freckles on his brother’s shoulders, a continuing constellation. Sam runs his hand over them lightly as he’s helping Dean into his pajamas, tries not to let the fever heat make him think of Death Stars and implosion and supernovas. He tries to think instead of stars being born, of new beginnings, of burning forests to cleanse them. To think of anything except how Ruby’s only a phone call or a ritual away, yeah, demon blood would clean out his veins all right. Never mind the sulfur deposits, they were probably there all along.
When he settles his brother underneath the motel covers, he’s struck by the fragility of life, and the tenuous grasp the two of them must hold on it, because how else could they die so often and so well? He thinks about how Dean would’ve told him to throw the philosophy on the fire, because what use was it to them now.
They’ve been past rationalization for a long time, and morality, too- but Sam thinks that maybe they’ve been working to prove Kant right. A little internship in Hell- a handprint’s signature to prove that yes, they did know about causality.
Dean’s coughing brings Sam back to the effects side of things, and without really thinking about why he’s doing what he’s doing for once, Sam climbs into the bed next to his brother. He rubs his back while he hacks wetly, even catches himself murmuring that it’s going to be all right.
Dean merely blinks at him balefully when it’s over, and Sam suddenly misses his older brother so much it hurts. Dean would know what to do with this kid sitting here in front of him, so obviously sick and miserable and so without a clue that whatever pain he feels now is nothing compared to what his adult self has soldiered on through.
Dean sleeps restlessly, his breath sounding congested, and when he wakes up for the third time, Sam decides to try reading to his brother, remembering how Dean used to read to him when he was sick.
Dean’s pressed into his side like his own personal branding iron. Sam’s read the directions on the medicine bottles, but he’s scared to give Dean too much, because when he looks at him all quiet and pale and little, it just breaks his heart. Finds the fault lines and fissures, turns the terrain of his aorta inside out.
Sam turns the last page of the book, and Dean gives him an indignant look.
“What, did I not read it right or something?”
“You forgot the end.” Dean’s voice is all scratchy, and he coughs into Sam’s shirt.
“I read the whole thing to you, dude.”
“No, the end. You forgot it.”
“Oh. Oh. Okay.” Sam opens the book again, reads out the two words.
Even a miniaturized version of his brother is still looking for closure.
Two days later Ruby’s finally tracked down the fiery-headed witch who started this whole thing- or did she? The deeper he gets, the more tangled the string of blame becomes, and the harder it is to find its beginning. He has a feeling that Ruby’s out there snarling their ropes together until the day comes when he’ll never be able to untie them, but for now, she did them a favor, and for that Sam’s grateful. That, and the way he knows that that day burned past long ago, when he pressed his lips to Ruby’s and lit the fuse. It’s a long fuse, sure, but as long as he keeps on adding fuel to the fire, the explosion’s inevitability increases exponentially.
Ruby wasted the bitch, though, the relish obvious in her voice. Sam’s sure she’ll be pissed when he sees her next, because he only took the time to thank her before hanging up.
As he’d hoped, Dean has only vague recollections of being a child. At least, for the last week. Sam doesn’t go into much detail when he tells him what happened.
“It was like ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,’” he says. “Except you were bigger.”
Dean raises his eyebrows when he sees the various medicines and supplies lying out on the night table.
“Was I sick?” he asks.
Sam blinks past the flashbulb image of the child-Dean asking him if he’d been burned, and affirms it nonchalantly. Dean shrugs it off, coughs slightly into his collar, goes to get their things together.
They’re getting ready to leave, and Dean’s trying to find where Sam stuck his revolver. He’s kind of annoyed, but after Sam had asked him if he really thought that he would give loaded firearms to a child, he’d just huffed and made a lot of obvious noise while searching.
Sam’s on the phone with Bobby in the front seat, and Dean can hear him vaguely from where he’s rummaging around in the trunk. “… though maybe he’ll still want me to tuck him in at night…”
Dean pokes his head around the end of the Impala. “I heard that.”
“Oh, sweet child o’ mine,” Sam laughs, then says something else to Bobby that Dean can’t quite make out.
“I’ll give you guns,” Dean calls. “No roses.”