Regression, Chapter 10
There was still almost a week before they'd be able to get Dean changed back to his adult self, and there was nothing to do in the meantime but wait.
Which should have totally sucked.
Dean considered himself a man of action. He never waited if he didn't have to. And when he did have to, he was usually restless, ready for a fight, for something to do. He knew there were times that patience was called for—researching for a hunt, stalking prey, watching out for Sam when Dad was gone.
Now, though, there was no real purpose behind the waiting. Sure, they had to wait for the potion to… whatever… but there was no task to do in the meantime. No victims to interview or Sam to entertain. No monster to kill when the waiting was done.
And Dean would have thought that the down-time would be killing him.
But really? It wasn't that bad.
Because the thing was, Dean had never been, well, coddled before – at least not within any real memory. And though it had its drawbacks, and while he'd never admit it out loud to anyone, it was actually kind of nice once he'd realized what was happening.
And everyone was doing it.
From Jo who kissed him and petted him and called him "baby" even more than usual, to the boys who brought him Cokes and sandwiches and watched whatever television or movie he wanted as long as it would make him laugh, to Marge who dipped extra ice cream onto his pie, to Jake's friends who set up a Wii system in the family room and played games until Jo ran them out, to Sam who…
To Sam who made sure he took his meds and sent him to bed and soothed nightmares and stayed close, watching and protecting and there. Sam who, without realizing it, had taken on Dad's mode of care-giving. Quiet and solid. For Sam, surprisingly unfussy. Not to be ignored.
And it was that constancy, that steadiness that soaked into Dean's soul, that drew him in and made him feel safe again.
"Why are you still awake?" Sam closed the door behind him.
Exhausted, Dean had gone to bed earlier than almost everyone else in the house. But he'd been unable to fall asleep, and he'd spent the last few hours staring at the ceiling. Now he angled himself up in his bed, ignoring the question and watching Sam sleepily as his brother gathered up his night clothes. Sam didn't say anything either, just gave Dean a look before he headed toward the bathroom.
When Sam left, Dean slumped back down and let out a heavy breath. He rolled over on his stomach, feeling himself settle knowing that Sam would be there again soon.
Dean wasn't afraid any more. Really hadn't been after the first couple of nights back. But there were times when he found himself oddly reminded of the feelings he'd had when he'd been this age the first time and Dad had been gone on a hunt. There had always been a constant thrum of anxiety when he'd been left to take care of Sam by himself. A steady ache in his gut that Dean associated with those times. And it had only eased when Dad had gotten home.
That had been the feeling he'd had in the aftermath of being kidnapped. But instead of Dad, the comfort had been Sam. And as much as Sam was like their father in some ways, the feeling of safety Sam gave Dean was different. It was a safety that felt solid in a way that Dad's never really had. Sam's felt… unconditional. Not in danger of being taken away because of failure or disappointment or forgetfulness.
Truthfully, though, Dean knew that wasn't fair to his father. Knew that Dad's protection – his love – hadn't really been conditional in any way. But it was hard to deny that it had felt that way sometimes when he was a kid. That it had felt dependent on taking good enough care of Sam, on hitting the target, on being the person his father wanted—his father needed—him to be.
Dean had tried so hard to bear those responsibilities well and without complaint. Hadn't minded, he hadn't thought, being the one who was there for his dad, there for Sam. But in retrospect those responsibilities seemed now like a heavier burden than might have been fair. Dad's own admission of that truth planting the seed that had grown uncomfortably in Dean's mind.
Dean was just this side of sleep when Sam returned. He didn't open his eyes as Sam moved around the room, but stayed vaguely aware of his brother's presence, letting himself float.
The bed dipped, and Dean slit an eye open to look at Sam, who had perched on the edge of the mattress. A heavy hand came to rest at the small of Dean's back.
"You having a hard time getting to sleep?" Sam asked.
Dean made a non-committal hmming noise in the back of his throat and let his eyes slip closed again.
Sam was quiet for a minute, and then Dean felt the weight of Sam's hand start to move, a slow, soothing motion up the length of his spine. Dean sighed and felt the muscles across his back relax as the warmth and contact of his brother's wide palm began to move in lazy circles over his shoulder blades.
He wasn't aware when he slipped into sleep.
Tomorrow they'd be ready to get Dean back to himself. Sam had checked and double-checked all the preparations. He'd cleared everything with Luke. Filled Jo and Bobby in.
It was time.
"Yeah?" Dean was lying on the floor on his side, head propped in his hand, engrossed in a cutthroat game of Risk with Jake and Tommy. He didn't look up at his brother.
"We need to talk about what's going to happen in the morning."
That got the attention of all three boys, and they sat up in synch, eagerly turning toward Sam.
"OK." The expectant look on Dean's face was worn by the other two boys as well.
"Let's go to our room," Sam said.
There was a flicker of apprehension on Dean's face as his eyes caught Jake's then Sam's.
"Oh. OK," he said, climbing to his feet.
"It's not that big a deal," Sam tried to reassure him. "It's just… Let's you and me talk first, OK?"
"Don't worry, man," Jake said. "It's Tommy's turn. And you know it takes him forever to make his mind up."
"Shut up, Jake!" Tommy said indignantly. "It does not!"
"Right," Jake drawled. "Like I didn't have time to make myself a hamburger last time it was your turn."
"That's not fair! I…"
Sam put a hand on Dean's back briefly as they walked out of the den, Tommy's protests fading as the Winchesters made their way back to their room.
Sam closed the door behind them, pulling up a chair to sit across from Dean, who had dropped onto his bed.
"What?" Dean asked. "Just tell me, Sammy," he said tightly.
"OK, look. It's really not that big a deal, alright? It's just… I thought you'd probably want to hear it without the kids around."
Dean's eyebrows drew down in a confused frown. "What then?" he demanded. "You're kinda freaking me out, man."
"Yeah," Sam agreed. "OK. So you know we've got the potion all set and ready to go?" Dean nodded. "So. The thing is how you have to take it. And where."
"Okaaaay," Dean said. "What?"
"You've got to drink half of it. Then… smear the rest over your, uh, naked body. And then, um, bathe in a spring."
Dean stared. There was a long moment of charged silence.
"You have got to be kidding me," Dean said.
"Nope. Sorry, man."
Dean clenched his jaw together. "OK," he said. He squinted at his brother. "OK. Potentially humiliating, but OK." He seemed to think about it for a second. "Where's the spring?"
Sam watched his brother carefully before he said, "The public pool is spring fed."
Dean blinked at him. "Excuse me."
"The public pool."
Sam rushed over Dean's sputtering. "Dean, Luke and I have worked it out. He's already ordered it closed for tomorrow. Something about microbes or something. We'll be there before dawn, get you, uh, you know smeared up. Then you gotta be in the spring as the sun rises. You'll get out, we'll dry you off, and then…"
"Then what?" Dean said angrily. "What? Do we even know when I change? What if someone sees us? I'm going to be naked!"
Sam couldn't help the snort. "I don't remember exhibitionism ever being an issue with you before, Dean."
The glare his brother sent him was lethal.
"What?" Sam said defensively. "You're the one who streaked across the stage at my graduation, you jerk!"
Dean's outraged face shifted to a smirk. "The classics are always…" he started.
Sam rolled his eyes almost audibly, talking over his brother impatiently. "Dude, if we get caught, I'm going to be the one popped for trespassing with a naked kid in my company."
Dean couldn't seem to help the slight grin on his face. "It's a good thing we know someone, huh?"
"Whatever." Sam could only imagine trying to explain himself to some enraged local if they were interrupted in the midst of this ritual. He'd be dead before Luke even got there.
Dean didn't say anything for a minute.
"OK," he sighed.
Sam nodded. "OK."
Mercifully, Sam left the "naked" part out of the plan when he was telling the boys at supper, and then just said "no" in his best Dad-voice when the kids started clambering to come along. No boy, not even ones who'd never met him, could defy the John-Winchester-When-I-Say-No-I-Mean-No-Voice.
Except, of course, ironically, the grown boy who was currently using it to such great effect.
"We'll have to jump the fence," Sam said, cutting Dean a look. "But it won't be the first time we've had to do that."
Dean grinned around a bite of mashed potatoes
"Though it'll be the first time I've had to give Dean a boost," Sam went on, unable to suppress the sudden giggle, hair falling over his eyes.
The smile fell off Dean's face, and he scowled. "Laugh it up, fuzzball," he growled.
"You don't have to climb the fence," Jake said. "There's a gap in the chain link down by the…" He trailed off at the interested stares from his aunt and uncle. "I mean…" He cleared his throat. Luke raised an eyebrow at him. Jake dropped his eyes, focusing on his plate. "You know, that's what other kids say."
"Oh, really." Luke's voice was heavily disapproving, but if Jake had looked up he'd have seen the quick grin and wink his parents exchanged. That gap had been there a long time.
Sam bit the inside of his cheek. "Where do the kids say it is?" he asked carefully. Dean had healed up pretty well over the last week, but it would be easier on him not to have to go over the fence.
With a sideways glance at the law man to his right, Jake filled Sam in.
That night as he lay in bed, Dean thought about what it would mean to be grown again, to leave behind this second look at childhood, to be responsible for himself – for Sam – again. And he felt a pang of regret and loss that he hadn't expected. Realizing he'd miss the security that came from being protected, from being cared for, from giving over the weight of all that responsibility to someone else.
Dean sighed and flipped over onto his back. That was ridiculous. He hated being a kid, hated being vulnerable, dependent.
But with one huge exception Dean hadn't felt either of those things. He'd been disgruntled and frustrated, especially initially, but he'd never felt unsafe. And though he recognized he'd been dependent on Sam, it hadn't been as humiliating as he would have thought. In fact, it had been pretty easy.
Dean huffed out another breath, annoyed at that self-admission.
"Dean." Sam mumbled it from his bed, disgruntled and sleepily bossy. "Go to sleep." There was the sound of Sam shuffling under the covers, jerking sheets around pissily. "If I have to drag your ass out of bed in the morning…" He trailed off, trying and failing to sound ominous.
With a grin, Dean rolled over and obeyed.
Sam woke Dean at 5am, and if there was some dragging involved it wasn't so bad that blows were exchanged. They had a quick cup of coffee with Luke and Jo before heading out.
As they were leaving, Jo pulled Dean to her, hugging him tightly and kissing him. "You'll be too big to cuddle when you get back," she whispered, tears and laughter in her voice. Dean groaned in token rejection, but pressed into her at the same time, breathing her in, absorbing.
Luke took advantage as well, giving him a quick hug, and sneaking in a loud kiss. He snorted and grinned at the indignant swat Dean aimed at him. "Don't come back 'til you're grow'd," he said severely.
"See you in a little while," Sam said, large hand on Dean's shoulder, guiding him resolutely out the door.
They used Jake's gap in the fence, Dean slipping easily through, Sam more problematic, his size making negotiating the hole harder to manage. The third time he snagged his t-shirt was when Sam had been willing to retreat and climb over, but Dean's quick fingers had found the sticking point and he'd finally gotten through.
They walked down the sidewalk along the length of the pool. The springs were directly under the diving board, and Sam figured they could get close to ready and then wait out the remaining time 'til dawn.
Sam dropped the majority of their stuff next to the stairs leading up to the lower diving board while Dean stripped down to his boxers. With a quick grin at Sam, Dean skipped up the ladder and ventured out onto the diving board, bouncing lightly as he went, arms held out for balance.
After a brief hesitation Sam followed, his extra weight making the board dip abruptly.
"Dude!" Dean exclaimed, looking back over his shoulder at Sam chidingly after he'd regained his equilibrium.
"Sorry," Sam said, taking a couple more careful steps after Dean before he sat down, feet dangling off the edge. He put the bottle of potion on the board next to him, then bent forward, gripping the side of the board with his hands, swinging his legs slightly as he watched the smooth surface of the pool beneath him in the pre-dawn light. The board jiggled slightly as Dean eased down next to him.
Dean's shoulder pressed into Sam's bicep, and Sam turned his head to look at his brother. Dean was staring into the pool, but he tilted his face up to Sam when he felt his brother's eyes on him.
"What next?" Dean's legs swung next to Sam's, skinny thighs and knobby knees.
Sam checked his watch. "I figure we wait about 10 more minutes, then… drink, smear, and in you get."
"We're early," Dean observed.
Sam shrugged. "I wanted to be sure."
"'K," Dean agreed easily.
Sam leaned back, putting his hands on the board behind him and to either side, tipping his head up to look at the stars. Beside him, Dean did the same thing, and their forearms crossed behind them, Sam's hand slightly behind Dean, Dean's slightly behind Sam. Dean was close enough that Sam could feel the warmth of his brother along his side.
"'s pretty," Dean whispered, face on the sky.
Sam glanced over. Peaceful little-boy face upturned, rosebud mouth and too long lashes. So Dean and so not. Sam smiled. "Yeah," he said. Unable to stop himself from lifting a hand to skim over the back of Dean's head.
"Hey, Sammy?" Dean's quiet voice broke the stillness that had descended.
"Yeah?" Sam rested his palm again on the rough surface of the diving board.
"Thanks for taking care of me."
Sam turned to look at his brother and found Dean regarding him steadily. "No biggie," Sam said, lip quirking up in a small smile, leaning into his smaller brother.
Dean grinned in return, bumping his shoulder against his brother's ribs before his eyes went back to the sky. He gasped suddenly, pointing, "Sammy, look!"
Sam's head jerked in the direction and saw the tail end of a shooting star streaking across the night.
Dean's eyes didn't leave the star. "Awesome," he breathed.
"Pretty cool," Sam agreed.
Neither spoke again until Sam said it was time to get ready.
"OK, boxers," Sam said.
They stood up on the board and with a grimace, Dean divested himself of his remaining clothing, grabbing onto Sam for balance. He balled up the shorts and handed them to Sam. Without thought, Sam took them and stuffed them in the back pocket of his jeans.
"Now, drink." He handed the bottle to Dean. "Slowly. I'll tell you when."
Dean nodded, tilting the bottle back and drinking with an eye on Sam.
"That's enough." Sam gently pulled the bottle away from Dean's mouth.
"Blech," Dean spat, though he didn't spit out any of the concoction. "Why does this stuff always taste like ass?" he hacked, face almost purple with distaste.
Sam bit back on a smile. "You weren't on the trip when I got that piece of ass, were you?" he asked.
The double meaning of his words didn't hit Sam until Dean's eyebrows shot up and Dean choked, "Oh, dude, you…."
Sam felt his face heat up. Even at 14 Dean still… "Shut up," Sam snapped.
"Me?" Dean started indignantly. "You…"
"Dean!" They really didn't have time for this.
"Fine," Dean clipped, scowl set. "What next?"
"You gotta, you know…" Sam made rubbing motions, and Dean's jaw clenched testily.
"Right." He held out his hands.
Sam poured some of the mixture into the boy's cupped palms.
Nose wrinkling, Dean started the process of smearing the potion on his arms.
"Here," Sam said, tipping the bottle into one of his own hands. "Turn around," he instructed.
Dean gave Sam a quick glance through his lashes and pivoted carefully. Sam ran his hand with the thick mixture through Dean's hair and down the back of the boy's neck, moving with him when Dean hunched away slightly at the contact.
"It's got to be everywhere, Dean, OK?" Sam said quietly, and Dean nodded, hands moving quickly and surely over his stomach, starting to run down his legs.
It took them awhile to get Dean coated, but they finally decided they'd gotten him completely covered.
"How much time?" Dean asked.
"'Bout a minute," Sam said, checking his watch and the sky nervously.
"Cool," Dean said. "Move back."
"Move back," Dean insisted, pushing at his brother. Sam took a hesitant step away. "Move," Dean ordered again.
Sam did, backing toward the ladder of the board. "Dean?"
"Move," Dean followed after him, shoving.
When Sam got to the ladder he took a step down, watching as Dean turned to face the front of the board, hands resting lightly on the railings, feet poised for running. He looked over his shoulder at Sam.
Sam glanced at his watch again. "Twenty-five seconds."
Dean nodded. Grinned. "Count it down." He was shifting his weight from the foot in front to the one in back, hands sliding up and down the rails. He waggled his eyebrows at brother. "Come on, Sammy. Countdown."
Sam just stared.
"Sammy," Dean wheedled.
Sam shook his head, looked at the time, started the countdown. "Ten."
Quicksilver flash of a smile before Dean turned his head back toward the front.
"Nine…" Dean rocked in time with Sam's cadence, "eight…." Getting ready, "seven… six… five…"
Dean started to run down the board.
"Three…" A hop and slap as bare feet hit the end of the board.
"Two…" Up in the air, tucking into a ball.
"One…" Downward fall to the surface.
Sam's whisper timed perfectly with the ker-floosh of Dean hitting the water, the arc of the splash scattering liquid drops, flashing starry gold and red and orange as the first light of the morning hit them, sun cresting the horizon at exactly the same moment.
Sam jumped off the board, scrambling to the edge of the pool and peering in. He saw a shimmer across the surface of the water, the flash of a shape in the murky green below.
"Dean!" He shouted. The form under the water was rising quickly, getting larger as it got closer….
Dean's head broke the surface, short-cropped hair attached to an adult head, clear green eyes, lashes spiked with moisture, freckles faded into the background of pale skin, mouth opening even as his hand came up in front of his face.
"Sammy?" Eyes going from his hand – long fingers, calloused and strong – to his brother on the edge of the pool.
"Yes!" Sam shouted and Dean echoed it, fists pumping in the air.
Sam had tipped back from his knees to his butt and was pulling at his shoes, fumbling with the laces while Dean treaded water, blinking the pool out of his eyes.
"Dude, what are you doing?"
Sam stood and was stripping off his jeans, tugging his t-shirts over his head.
Dean tipped his head back, barking out a laugh at Sam's grinning response.
Sam kicked his clothes at the pile that held Dean's and in two steps reached the diving board, swinging himself up the ladder. Long legs took the length of the board in three enormous strides; two bare feet and 200-plus pounds hit the end of the board, bending it almost to the water and rocketing Sam's 6' 4" body into the morning air. He twisted as he rose, eyes on his brother as he drew into the tightest ball he could manage, and Dean realized exactly where his cannonball of a brother was going to land.
"Holy crap!" he shouted, striking out for the side of the pool trying to get out from under… Too late.
Sam landed a couple of feet away, the wave from the impact swamping Dean, pushing water into his face and eyes, leaving him sputtering and choking in its wake.
"You are so dead!" he shouted when he could speak again, flailing out blindly for his brother, touching slick skin and hearing Sam's laughing gasp when Dean made contact. Sam had only just started to kick out of the way – feet coming up belatedly to propel and protect – and Dean grinned as his hand fisted around Sam's ankle. He jerked his brother down and making the most of the leverage, threw himself on top of Sam, pushing the shaggy, dark head under water.
They fought for almost 15 minutes, dunking each other and splashing until the light got bright enough to remind them that they weren't supposed to be there. And that neither one of them was wearing enough clothes to meet unexpected guests.
They heaved themselves out of the pool, Dean grabbing the one towel they'd brought, hogging it while Sam shivered impatiently in his wet underwear next to him. Until the brat dangled Dean's jeans and shirts over the edge of the pool.
Once they were dressed, they started back for the car. Sam hadn't planned on the swim and so had been forced to pull his jeans over soaked boxers. He squirmed in the passenger seat of the Impala all the way back to the Sweeds'.
After breakfast with the entire family, Dean and Sam headed back to their room, Dean gathering up what he'd need for a shower and a shave. He ran his hand over his face, unable to stop the grin at the rough feel of stubble along his jaw.
"It's good that you're you again, man," Sam said, throwing himself down on his bed.
"Damn straight," Dean agreed, taking a moment to stretch up and out, enjoying the feel of adult muscles and sinew pulling along his back and arms.
"Cuz I'm no good the big brother stuff," Sam went on wryly.
That brought Dean up short, and he lowered his arms. "What?"
"Nothin'," Sam said looking away.
"It's just… I'm in charge for, like, three weeks, Dean, and you get snatched by a child molester. If he'd…" Sam's voice wavered in a way that made both of them uncomfortable and he cleared his throat, unable to go on. He sat up on the bed, avoiding Dean's incredulous attention.
"OK, first of all. Dude. You were never 'in charge.'" Dean gave Sam a stern look when Sam's head came up and his younger brother snorted. "I may have been a mini-version of me, but I was always in charge. And I was always the big brother."
Dean paused for emphasis. "And second." He took a couple of steps closer to his brother. "Sammy, it wasn't your fault. There was nothing that you could have done. And nothing happened." He sat down next to Sam, pressing his shoulder into his brother's. "Nothing happened," he said again. "You got there in time."
Dean hesitated. "You saved me, OK?" he said softly. "And I knew you'd come, Sam. You're my brother. It has nothing to do with being big or little. I know you'll always come for me. Like I'll always come for you."
Sam had turned to look at him, and Dean nudged him with his shoulder. "Right?"
Sam's face was serious as he looked at his brother. "Right."
Dean smiled briefly. "And." He cleared his throat softly. Looked away. "You didn't do too bad at the other stuff."
Sam was quiet for a minute. "I had a pretty good role model, I guess," he said.
The look Dean shot Sam was quick—pleased and embarrassed.
"OK," Dean said abruptly, slapping his brother on the knee as he rose. He looked down at Sam. "We all done with this?" he asked.
Sam grinned. "Yeah."
"Good." Dean grabbed his stuff, starting for the door and a shower. "I think I've still got some of that freaking potion in my ears."