Title: I My Loved Ones' Watch Am Keeping
Prompt/Summary: From the hoodie_time Dean-focused h/c comment-fic meme, for a prompt by the lovely and talented nwspaprtaxis, which went thus: Dean went to Hell and was hauled out of Perdition only to be turned into a 4/5-year-old version of himself.
Characters: Sam, Dean, Ocs
Rating: PG-13 for language
Disclaimer: If I had a wee!Dean of my own, I would not be sharing.
Warnings: Mild Season 4 spoilers, nothing else. Sick kid. Lots and lots of schmoop. Possibly diabetic-coma-inducing.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: Written really fast and unbeta'd. Read at your own risk.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: I didn't quite fill the prompt. It became less about post-hell!Dean, and more about wee!sick!Dean, but there are a few hints about that in the story.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: wee!sick!Dean is apparently my kryptonite. People who've read my Dean/Cas Big Bang will remember that I've already given Dean the croup before. I am a mean, heartless bitch. Poor Dean. They should confiscate him from me, because I clearly should not be allowed anywhere near him.
Neurotic Author's Note #4: Title is from the Welsh lullaby "All Through The Night."
Sam wakes to the sound of Dean crying. It's quiet, muffled under layers of blankets, but Sam has been sleeping alone for four months, now, and any sound is out of the ordinary in the dark of night. If this were before, and Dean was still twenty-nine, Sam would have no choice but to roll over and pretend he hadn't heard a thing. But now? Now everything has changed. He's got Dean back, no matter how much he's changed physically, and he's not about to let anything get between them again. So he carefully slips out from his blankets and steps over to the other bed, where all he can see of his brother is a tiny quivering lump under the bedclothes. He sits on the edge of the bed, places a hand on Dean's skinny shoulder.
"Hey, Dean," he says softly. There's another muffled sob, and Dean curls tighter on himself. "It's just me, bro. You have a bad dream?" He slowly peels back the covers, revealing a tear-stained face and tousled hair. Dean sniffles and coughs, drags the back of his hand over his cheek. "C'mere."
The old Dean would never have allowed Sam to so much as touch him, let alone pull him into his lap and hold him, and in the light of day even this version of Dean —all of five years old but tough as nails and with eyes that have witnessed decades of horrors— is fiercely independent. But when night falls all the hazy memories of the pit come rushing back, when his defences are down, and now he simply lets his head rest on Sam's chest and coughs again.
"Don't feel good, Sammy."
This Dean is allowed to call him Sammy, the same way he's allowed to cuddle him when he's had a nightmare. The old rules no longer apply. Shotgun also sometimes gets to pick the music, even. Sam wraps a hand over Dean's forehead, finds him hot to the touch.
"You're running a fever. Anything hurt?"
"It feels funny when I breathe." Dean's nose is running, too.
"Okay," Sam tries to think whether they have any children's cough medicine, but of course they don't. He pulls a tissue out of the box that's near the bed, and fights the urge to laugh when Dean squirms away from his attempt to wipe his nose. "First thing in the morning we'll head to the drugstore, pick up some stuff to make you feel better."
He thinks he can cut an adult Tylenol in half for now, so that they can at least get Dean's fever down, and then tomorrow he'll get some proper supplies.
"Can you wait for me here a few minutes?"
"M'not a little kid, Sammy," Dean grumbles into his shirt, and Sam feels an odd pang at that. Five-year-olds shouldn't have memories of hell. They shouldn't know what a hunter is, or that you need to put down salt by the doors and windows to keep out ghosts. That's one of the main reasons he cut off ties with Ruby: he doesn't want demons near his brother at all anymore, not even ones which might be allies. The angels can go fuck themselves too, as far as he's concerned. All that matters now is that it's him and Dean, the way it's supposed to be, even if it's not exactly the way it was before. He'll take what he can get.
"Yeah, I know you're not," he sighs.
He gives Dean's head a quick pat, puts him back down on the bed, and goes to fetch the Tylenol, which he carefully cuts in half with his penknife. He gives it to Dean with a small box of orange juice —which he now buys in bulk when he can. It's almost funny, the way that alcohol has stopped being a cornerstone of their lives together. It's a little sad, when he thinks of it, how much of a role it played in their lives before, but he's a little heartened by the fact that he doesn't actually have to share a drink with his brother in order for Dean to want to live with him.
Dean makes a face. "It tastes gross."
"The juice?" It makes no sense. He just bought these boxes a few days ago.
"The pill. It's gross."
He sighs. "Don't chew it."
"I'm not!" Dean sputters indignantly, then starts coughing again, huddling in the middle of the bed, looking tinier and more vulnerable than usual. Sam rubs his back, wondering if he should worry about how bad the cough sounds. Little kids get sick all the time, he reminds himself, but the cough sounds like it's settling in his chest and has a hoarse, bark-like quality to it.
Sam wraps the blankets back around his brother, brushes the back of his fingers against Dean's forehead, even though it's far too soon for the Tylenol to have even started working. "You think you can go back to sleep?"
Dean shrugs, fiddles with the frayed edge of the blanket, and Sam grimaces.
"Another bad dream?"
Dean shrugs again, then nods.
Sam hesitates, then tells himself he's being ridiculous. "Do you want to sleep with me for a while?" he offers quietly, and feels a little absurd at how pleased he is when Dean gives another small nod and lets him pick him up and settle him on his hip.
He gathers up the extra blankets from Dean's bed, tucks him under the bedclothes on his own bed, then slides in on the other side of the bed, pausing just long enough to switch off the light. Dean wriggles on the bed, and Sam lets out a surprised whoosh of air as a bony knee collides unexpectedly with his solar plexus, but soon he finds himself with an armful of overheated little boy, Dean's arms wrapped firmly around Sam's ribcage, nose buried in Sam's shirt. He coughs again, but settles when Sam rubs his back comfortingly, and after only a few minutes Sam feels his breathing even out into sleep.
In the morning Dean is cranky an uncooperative. The fever is down but the cough is worse. The orange juice tastes weird after he's brushed his teeth, the tag on his t-shirt itches. he doesn't want to change out of his pajamas at all —they're the Batman pajamas that Sam found for four dollars at the Salvation Army because there was a hole in the elbow, which he was able to patch up nicely, and they're Dean's favourites— and he wants nothing to do with Sam's attempt to comb his hair. Eventually, though, Sam manages to get him up and out the door ("Because I'm bigger and I said so!"), and makes the drug store his first stop.
"Aren't you cute?" The cashier is a pleasant, matronly-looking woman in her mid-fifties. "What's your name, hon?"
Dean smiles as though he hasn't been whining at Sam about being carried around like a piece of luggage for the past fifteen minutes, then ducks his head and presses his face against Sam's collarbone.
"His name's Dean," Sam says, smiling and rolling his eyes at the same time.
"Aw, they're adorable when they're at the shy stage," she says, and Sam can practically see her heart pitter-pattering away in her chest.
"He's not usually this shy, but he's got a cold and it's got him out of sorts," he hefts Dean to settle him more comfortably on his hip.
The cashier nods as she rings up his purchases. "Well, isn't that miserable? You're lucky your Daddy's taking such good care of you."
Sam's throat closes unexpectedly. "Oh, uh... he's actually my brother. Our, uh, our Dad passed a couple of years back."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize... it's just, he's so young."
Sam nods, and he fumbles for an explanation that will make sense. Finally he settles on, "Dean was kind of unexpected."
He gets a knowing but otherwise entirely genuine smile. "Those are always the best kind of surprises. That'll be thirty-four seventy-five."
He hands over the money, counting out the exact change with some difficulty while attempting not to drop his brother on the floor. "Yeah, you're right about that. The best kind of surprise."
Dean coughs into his shoulder. "You're such a girl, Sam."
Sam snorts and the cashier giggles, much to Dean's annoyance, and they're on their way again.
Sam has never really had to deal with a sick kid before, and he finds that he's kind of at a loss. As an adult, if they weren't on a case, Dean simply swallowed as much NyQuil as humanly possible, rolled himself up in several blankets, and tried his best to sleep off whatever virus he'd picked up. Now, though, Sam has a cranky, congested five-year-old who refuses to go to sleep but doesn't have the energy to do much more than cough and cling to him like a really tenacious limpet. Finally he gives up on doing anything on his own, settles them both back on his bed and pulls out his laptop. Dean has already made his opinion of 'kids' movies' clear as loudly as possible, so Sam has made a point of downloading several action movies with lots of car chases and explosions, which keeps Dean happy enough. Sam noticed early on that anything too gory made his brother go pale and quiet, and he's never going to do that to him again if he can help it. He wraps an arm around Dean's narrow shoulders, and watches with some amusement as Dean's eyelids droop, even as he struggle to wait until the 'really cool part' of Mission: Impossible, when the helicopter goes into the tunnel.
By the time evening rolls around, though, things aren't nearly as pleasant. Dean's fever starts to climb, and he's coughing almost constantly, the same alarming seal-like barking as before, only worse, complete with an awful rattling sound every time he breathes. The kid is obviously miserable, and nothing Sam does seems to lessen the misery at all. Every time Dean drowses off he wakes up again barely a few minutes later, often breathing hard and on the verge of tears from dreams that he can't really explain. The last nightmare wakes him screaming, and Sam makes an instinctive grab for him, gathering Dean into his lap while he coughs and sobs and whimpers.
"It's okay, I got you," he says softly, stroking Dean's hair, alarmed at the heat coming off him. "It's just a nightmare. Just a bad dream, now. I got you, Dean." Dean sobs something unintelligible into his shoulder. "What?"
"I don't wanna go back," Dean's voice is hoarse, painful-sounding.
"Go back?" Sam feels a chill go down his spine.
"I don't wanna go back to the bad place." Dean coughs, then lets out another small whimper. "Hurts, Sammy."
That does it. Sam's on his feet, taking Dean with him. "Okay, buddy," he murmurs, knowing that under no other circumstances would Dean ever put up with his calling him 'buddy'. "I'm going to take you to the hospital. I think this is something that needs a doctor."
He wraps Dean in a blanket, tugs on his shoes and socks but leaves him in his Batman pajamas, and carries him out to the car. It's a ten-minute drive to the emergency room, but it feels like an hour, with Dean coughing miserably, curled up with his head in Sam's lap. It goes against everything Sam knows about car safety, but he can't bring himself to insist that Dean be buckled up in the back seat, not like this.
They go through triage reasonably quickly, and a nurse clucks her tongue kindly at Dean, hands over a ream of papers for Sam to fill out with a look that suggests she disapproves of him —and isn't that a kicker?— and informs him that someone will be with them shortly. He takes a seat far from the doors so Dean won't be caught in the draft, and sets about trying to fill out the paperwork without dislodging his brother, who's half-asleep in his lap, head nestled against his chest, each breath rasping loudly in the mostly-empty waiting room.
"What's your little boy's name?"
Sam looks up, startled, to see a little girl standing in front of him. She looks about eight or nine, he guesses, with reddish brown hair and freckles and startlingly bright green eyes. Her hair has been pulled into a makeshift braid, and she's dressed in a yellow sweatshirt with the word 'Princess' on it in some sort of press-on sparkly things, very obviously a home-made job, over a pair of worn-looking blue jeans and dirty pink sneakers.
"He's my brother, and his name is Dean. What's yours?"
"I'm Virginia. My mother is right over there," she points to a woman only a few years older than Sam, with hair the same colour as Virginia's, also diligently filling out paperwork. He catches sight of another shock of red hair behind the clipboard, and guesses that she's got another sick kid sleeping in her lap. "What's wrong with him?"
"I don't know, it's why we're going to see a doctor. He has a bad cough," he tells her, just as Dean starts coughing again, as though to demonstrate his point.
She nods. "We had to take Billy to the hospital last year when he sounded like that. The doctor said he had croup, and Mom had to run the shower and put a humidifier in his room."
"Is that Billy over there with your mother?"
"Uh-huh. How come you don't have any toys?"
Sam blinks, trying to follow her train of thought. "We didn't bring any." Dean doesn't have toys, but he doesn't think this is the right time to explain it to her.
"Oh." Virginia's face screws into an odd expression that Sam can't figure out, and then she simply turns around and trots back toward her mother.
Sam shrugs and turns back to Dean, smoothing sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead. "You hanging in there?"
Sam thinks that maybe blinking is something people do a lot around Virginia, because she's back, and holding something out towards him. At first all he sees is a blur of orange, but soon it becomes apparent what it is.
"This is Tigger," the little girl informs him solemnly, as though he might be an idiot who has no idea what it is she's holding. "He's mine, but I think Dean should have him, and Mom said it was okay." She pushes the stuffed tiger into Dean's arms with surprising gentleness. "Tigger always makes me feel better when I'm sick, and when I'm better we play together. So now you can play with him."
Dean doesn't say anything, but his arms close around the plushie and he hugs it tight, and that seems to be good enough. Sam swallows the lump in his throat.
"Thank you, Virginia. That's really nice of you. Are you really sure you want to give Dean your toy?" He remembers how much he treasured his one childhood bear, long since reduced to ashes along with his apartment in Stanford.
Virginia nods. "I'm pretty big now, and Mom says I'm going to be too old for that sort of thing soon. But you're little," she says to Dean, "so you should have him." She looks away, and Sam follows her gaze to where her mother is standing up, a little boy not much older than Dean in her arms. "I gotta go," she says. "Billy's got an ear infection, and it's our turn. Bye, Dean!" She dashes back to her mother, who nods and smiles at Sam before leading Virginia away and disappearing into an exam room with both her kids.
Dean waves with one hand, the other arm wrapped tightly around Tigger's midsection. "'m I too old for a toy?" he asks, a little anxiously.
"'Course not. Never too old for toys," Sam hastens to assure him, and Dean settles more comfortably against his chest. "You doing okay?"
Dean nods, eyes drooping. "'m tired."
"Yeah," Sam strokes his forehead. "I bet you are. You go to sleep, okay? I'll wake you up when it's time. Don't worry," he adds, when Dean squirms in his lap, expression turning even more anxious. "I have your back on this, trust me."
That's all it takes. Dean settles again with a small sigh. "'kay, Sammy."
And with that, he's asleep.