A/N: This was written for a prompt over at the sick!Dean meme on LJ. It kind of gave me a toothache to write it, in all honesty.
The worst thing about this curse, Sam thinks, is that Dean is so fucking adorable.
There are some other drawbacks too, obviously, like the fact that Dean's teeny-tiny little hands don't fit around a gun, or how his legs are so short Sam's forced to shuffle along next to him 'cause Dean refuses to be carried, and it definitely sucks asking waitresses for a booster chair so Dean can reach the table – but really, it's Dean's cuteness that's getting to Sam the most.
It's like having someone put a golden retriever puppy down in front of you and tell you you're not allowed to pet it.
Right now Dean's strapped precariously into the passenger seat, singing along to the Allman Brothers's "One Way Out" like he always does – except his voice is itsy-bitsy and high-pitched and belongs to a freckled, messy-haired four year-old with pudgy cheeks and long, sweeping eyelashes. And his nose is a little stuffed-up, which just makes things more hilarious.
"So raise your window, baby," Dean croons congestedly, drumming on his tiny knees, "I cad ease out soft and slow…"
Sam can't help snorting with laughter, and Dean glares at him, which is even cuter than watching him try to sing.
"Fuck you," Dean squeaks. "What, I cad't sing now?"
Sam resists the urge to reach over and ruffle his brother's hair.
"I'm not stopping you," Sam says. "It's just, maybe we should stop and get a Muppets tape or something more suitable, what do you think?"
"I think you should stick a Buppet up your ass," Dean says.
"I'll pass on that," Sam says, then frowns as Dean tries to form a response and instead falls into a hacking cough.
"Woah," Sam says. "That doesn't sound good. You feelin' okay?"
"I'b fine," Dean says irritably. "Just a stupid cold."
Sam lets it go, but he can't help and notice that Dean gets quieter and quieter as the hours pass, finally falls asleep slumped against the window, and Sam can hear the rattle of his chest as Dean breathes in and out.
They stop for the night at about eleven o'clock, and Dean wakes up slow, blinking huge green eyes through crusty eyelashes as Sam pulls open his door and the lights go on.
"C'mon," Sam says, keeps his hands to himself, even though he wants so badly to reach out and shake one of those little shoulders.
"We here yet?" Dean croaks.
It's strange, and Bobby'd warned them it would happen, but sometimes Dean's body gets the better of his mind, and for a moment it seems like he might actually be four. It kind of freaks Sam out, and he plays it off like it's normal.
"If 'here' means The Starlight Motel outside of Pittsburgh, then, yeah, I guess we are."
Dean fumbles at the buckle with his tiny fingers for a moment until Sam lets out an exasperated sigh and hunches forward to do it for him.
He starts worrying when Dean leans back and lets him.
"You all right?" Sam asks, as Dean swings himself precariously to the ground, puts one steadying hand against the Impala's side like he needs it for balance.
"Wanna sleep," Dean says. "Just tired, is all."
They walk slowly to their room, and Sam unlocks the door and lets them inside. Dean immediately goes over to one of the beds and attempts to hoist himself up, but it's unnaturally high, and he struggles fruitlessly, wheezing a little.
"Dude, cad I get a boost over here?" Dean asks finally.
"Sure!" Sam says, a little too enthusiastic, because, okay, he knows he's fucking weird, but he really loves picking Dean up.
He grips his brother under his armpits and swings him up onto the bed, drops him down, and Dean bounces once and lets out a high-pitched giggle that he immediately stifles with a horrified look.
Sam chooses not to comment.
Dean falls asleep almost immediately, and Sam gets changed and climbs into his own bed, watches Dean for a moment to make sure he's okay. He can't tell in the dim room, but it seems like Dean's face is too pale underneath the freckles, and Sam doesn't like how he's breathing, like he's struggling to get enough air into his lungs.
Sam gets out of bed and drops another blanket over his brother, and Dean snuffles wetly and curls a fist up to his chin, snuggles deeper into the pillow.
Christ, he's cute. Sam wonders if he was ever that cute when he was little.
He turns out the light, rolls onto his stomach and is out almost immediately.
He wakes up to the sound of his brother coughing, harsh, damp gasps for air that have Sam sitting upright and fumbling for the lamp chord.
Dean is leaned up against the headboard, blanket clutched to his chin, looking completely miserable.
"Shit," Sam says, "you sound awful."
"I feel awful," Dean snaps, but in his child's voice it sounds plaintive, sad, and it cuts straight to Sam's heart.
"There's fucking bucus all over me," Dean continues, and suddenly he's not so cute anymore.
"Ugh, gross, dude."
"I'b sorry, but it's true. Think I could get a freakid' tissue, baybe?"
Sam goes into the bathroom, comes out with a roll of toilet paper and a glass of water.
He watches Dean blow his nose, which sets him off into another round of horrible coughing, and Sam sinks down on the bed next to him.
"Drink this," he says.
Dean drinks it dutifully, has to use two hands to keep the glass from falling, and Sam takes it when he's done.
"We'll get some cough syrup tomorrow," Sam says, "okay?"
"Okay," Dean says, eyes already fluttering closed again, and Sam has to remind himself that his brother isn't actually four, because he sure looks the part right now, all sleepy and sick and miserable.
"Try and get some rest," Sam says, reaches out and pats Dean's knee. It's a testament to how tired Dean is that he doesn't even protest.
He'll be all right in the morning, Sam figures. Coughs are always worse at night.
But the next morning, Dean is coughing worse than ever, breath coming in tight, painful gasps, and his nose is so clogged he can't even blow it anymore.
"Shit," Sam says when he takes the thermometer out of Dean's mouth. "Shit, Dean, you've got a fever. We should take you to a doctor."
"Dot goidng to any doctor," Dean grumbles indistinctly. "I'b dot that bad, it's just a cold."
"Yeah, well, your body hasn't built up resistances yet," Sam says. "You're susceptible to all kinds of crap. Shit, I shoulda thought of that."
Dean coughs, screws his face up like it hurts, pounds his chest with a tiny palm.
"I really think we should go to a doctor," Sam says, because he can't help it, he's getting more worried by the second.
"Sab, we cad't," Dean says, coughs again. "We cad't when I'b dormal-sized, we cad't dow, either."
Sam is quiet, because this is true, and he doesn't want it to be true.
"Quit worrying," Dean says, and closes his eyes again.
But Sam can't quit worrying. He leaves Dean alone for ten minutes to buy cough medicine and some orange juice at the corner store, and the whole time he's panicking that he'll come back to the motel and find his brother suffocated in a puddle of his own boogers.
The cough medicine doesn't seem to do much, and as the morning progresses, it just gets worse.
"That's it," Sam says, sitting on the bed next to Dean, rubbing his back as his brother does his best to cough up a lung. "I'm – we gotta do something, man. This is bad."
"I don't feel too good," Dean admits, his head sagging a little against Sam's shoulder, and Sam's heart clenches painfully.
"I know, buddy," he says, and Dean raises his head enough to narrow his eyes.
"I'b not your buddy," he says, then dissolves into a fresh coughing fit that leaves him slumped and exhausted at Sam's side, tiny body quivering with the effort to breathe.
"I'm calling Ellen," Sam decides. "She'll – she's had kids, she'll know what to do."
Dean is too worn-out to argue, just coughs weakly and lets out a groan, and Sam carefully lifts an arm and re-settles a limp, unprotesting Dean against his side, gets his phone out from his pocket.
Ellen answers on the first ring, terse and businesslike as always.
"What the hell'd you get yourselves into this time?" is the first thing she says.
"Ten-day age-regression curse," Sam says without preamble. "Dean got hit, but good. He's still himself, but he's got the same body he had when he was – we think it's about four, could be three, or five, I dunno. This is day six. Nothing to do but wait it out.
Ellen chuckles then, low and delighted. "Lord, tell me you boys are around these parts. This, I think I'd pay to see. Foulmouthed baby Dean, huh?"
"Yeah," Sam says, and normally he'd be laughing with her, but right now he has no patience for amusement. "It's just, we're in Pennsylvania, and, I don't know Ellen, I think he's really fucking sick. Coughing like crazy, and he has a fever, and his nose is all stopped-up – having trouble breathing, it's, it's really bad, and I don't know what to do. 'Cause he's just a kid, you know? He's just a kid, and his body's all – I don't know what to do. What do I do?"
"Hey, hey, slow down," Ellen says. "You been making sure he drinks lots of fluids?"
"Yeah, of course," Sam says.
"Don't of-course me if you're gonna ask for my help."
"Sorry. Sorry, yeah, he's drinking orange juice."
"Give him water instead," she directs. "The citrus is just gonna make him phlegmier, clog him up more."
"Oh," Sam says, "really? Okay, no orange juice. Got it."
"No milk or anything, either. Just stick to water. You been givin' him medicine at all?"
"Cough syrup, but it's not doing much good."
"Give him just a little more, then. It's okay to go a little over, but no more than an extra spoonful."
"You say his chest is all stopped-up?"
"Yeah, he's like, he's wheezing really badly."
"Okay," Ellen says, "okay, listen up. I'm gonna tell you how to do something, okay?"
"Okay," Sam says, and Dean coughs against Sam's chest, painful-sounding and wretched.
"Shit, he sounds awful," Ellen says sympathetically. "Okay, Sam, you got a stove in your motel room?"
"There's a, there's a hot plate."
"Good. You got a bucket of some kind?"
"Yeah, there's an ice bucket."
"That'll work fine. What you're gonna do is boil up as much water as you can and pour it into the ice bucket."
"Then you're gonna have Dean lean over it, and drape a towel over his head."
"What?" That sounds really fucking weird to Sam.
"The steam will help break up whatever's in his chest, I promise," Ellen says, and all of a sudden Sam has a flashback of leaning over a hot tub, blanket covering his head, face full of steam.
"Oh!" he says. "Yeah – yeah, I'll do that."
"Call me again in a few hours if he doesn't get a little better," Ellen directs.
"I will – I will. Thanks Ellen, thanks so much."
"You can thank me by gettin' some of this on videotape," she says. "Maybe after he's a little better. Bet he's cute as a button, ain't he?"
"Yeah," Sam admits. "It's pretty ridiculous."
She laughs. "Don't worry too much, Sam. Kids get sick, and they get through it. They're tough bastards, even if they don't look it. Tougher than us, I sometimes think."
"Okay," Sam says. "Okay. Thanks again."
"Like I said – video."
And she hangs up.
Sam props Dean up on the headboard while he boils the water, then heads back to the bed and sits next to Dean, settles the bucket between Dean's legs and has Dean lean over, towel obscuring most of his upper body. Sam keeps one arm wrapped around his shoulders to keep him from falling forward, and the other arm keeps up the slow, concentric circles on Dean's back.
He re-fills the bucket after the water cools, and keeps doing it for a while. Under his palm he can actually feel Dean breathing easier, his lungs working a little better, and after some time Dean can blow his nose again.
"I rebeber this," Dean says when he's speaking in full sentences again. "I shoulda rebebered. I did this for you once." He snorts as best he can with a nose full of snot. "S'funny, 'cause I had to call a neighbor lady to figure it out."
"Oh," Sam says, and it's weird to have a four year-old telling him this. "Weird. Just like now."
Dean coughs, but it's not as harsh this time, and Sam feels something inside himself relax.
"I hate being sick," Dean says petulantly, fighting back a cough and a yawn at the same time, a little loopy from the extra cough medicine.
"Yeah," Sam says, blinks in surprise as Dean leans back and fits himself under Sam's arm with a wiped-out, hoarse sigh.
"You'll be better soon," Sam says, tucks his head down over the soft blonde head. "Soon."
"Promise?" Dean asks, and Sam knows that right then, he's not an adult at all. He's just a scared, sick kid who feels like shit.
"Yeah, Dean," Sam says. "Cross my heart and hope to die."
"Stick a needle in your eye," Dean mumbles, and snuffles a little, Sam's arm wrapped around him, a cooling bucket of water on the nighttable next to them.
Sam can feel his brother's nose leaking slowly onto his t-shirt, but somehow he doesn't care.
"My turn," Sam says quietly into Dean's hair. "My turn, Dean."
Dean twitches, his fingers curling into Sam's shirt.
"Sammy?" he says, not quite awake, and Sam smoothes a palm down his shoulder.
"Shhh," Sam says. "Sleep."
And Dean sleeps.