A/N: This is a prequel to my previous story Arrested Development. It is not 100% necessary to read that story to understand this one, however. Thanks to Skylar for the beta!
TRAPPED IN NEVERLAND
Dean woke up hacking water out of his burning lungs and dripping wet from his fall into the lake. He was set upright, but his feet weren't steady enough to prevent stumbling a couple steps and bumping into Sam.
"Dammit, Dean," Dad scolded. "I told you to watch your step on the rocks."
"S-sorry," Dean shivered. The rocks had been slimy and loose, and he hadn't realized until it was too late. He shook himself out, doggy-style, to get rid of the excess water. His head ached from where he had struck it on his way down, but the sharp chill invading his clothing made it impossible to pass out again.
"Is Dean cursed now?" Sam asked, his high eight-year old voice sounding more irritating now than it ever had before.
"We'll figure it out," Dad replied shortly.
"But you said the lake was cursed," Sam reminded Dad determinately. "And Dean didn't just drink the water, he inhaled it."
"We'll fix it," Dad insisted. "Okay, Dean?"
"Okay," Dean nodded, never thinking to doubt that statement.
They went to Pastor Jim's for two weeks after that. Pastor Jim pulled out a ton of old books and he and Dad spent hours in the library with the door closed. Once in a while the door would open and Dean would have to go in. They would try a ritual with weird symbols and words, and one time Dean had to drink this really gross tea crap.
On the night of day sixteen, Dean crouched down by the crack between the doors and listened to what they were saying.
"… Gotta be something else we can try, Jim," Dad was saying.
"John, we've been over this."
"I know! I know. The friggen fountain of youth. Dammit, Jim, it's not supposed to be like this. He's just a boy."
"It never is a good thing, John. That's why it's a curse."
"Do you have any idea what life is going to be like for him now? Everyone will pass him by."
"Dean?" Sam's voice was small and timid in the dark hallway, but Dean responded to it instantly.
"What's wrong, Sammy?" he asked, leading his brother back towards the stairs. It wouldn't do to be caught listening at the door.
"I wish you didn't have to be cursed." Sam sniffed, looking up at him with those eyes that always made Dean cave and do whatever Sam wanted.
"Aw, Sammy, I'll be okay," Dean reassured. "It's not that bad of a curse, anyway. I just get to stay a kid all my life. There could be lots of worse things. Like, I could have to look like you for the rest of my life."
"Hey!" Sam objected.
"Or, I could have to eat only broccoli for the rest of my life."
"Gross," Sam giggled. "Or, you could have to go the rest of your life as a… as a llama!"
"See, this is way better than that."
"Get into bed, Sammy."
Sam crawled obediently into his bed and pulled the pale blue covers up to his chin. Dean settled into the bed opposite and reached to turn off the lamp.
"Dean?" Sam's voice floated through the darkness.
"Will I still grow?"
"Are you the one cursed?"
"Then you'll still grow, nimrod," Dean rolled his eyes.
"So I'll get bigger than you?"
Dean shifted in his bed. "I guess," he allowed. He had a hard time picturing this bigger Sammy in his head. How long would it be before Sam outgrew him?
"Does that mean I have to be the big brother?" Sam wondered.
Sammy as his big brother? "No way," Dean answered quickly.
"Oh." Sheets rustled against pajamas as Sam turned over in bed. "Good, cause I like being the little brother."
"Yeah. It means I get the Lucky Charms."
"Yes, it does, Sam."
Things didn't change, really. Dean still watched out for Sam whenever Dad had to go somewhere for a job. Dean kept up with all his training, although he plateaued quickly with what he could do physically. He was allowed to use a few more dirty tricks, though. Dad had never wanted him taking shortcuts before, claiming they formed bad habits for when he was older. Now, he was never going to get any older so it didn't matter.
Dad started making Dean spend more time studying.
"You're going to need it more now, Dean," he explained. "There's more than one way to beat monsters, and you're going to have to be prepared with these alternatives."
Although he dutifully memorized all the Latin texts given to him, Dean disliked the studying. What he really caught onto was the time he spent in Uncle Bobby's scrapyard, tearing apart old bits of machinery and putting them together in new configurations.
Winter came and Sam's wrists were poking out of the ends of his sleeves, leaving a clear gap between jacket and glove. They were at the local Salvation Army stocking up on their essentials.
"Sam, come here," Dad commanded. "I need to see if this will fit."
Sam dragged himself from the pile of Hardy Boys books he had found and shrugged the winter jacket on. It was a little big on the shoulders, and the sleeves bunched up at the end.
"Good enough," Dad pronounced. "You'll grow into it."
Sam sighed. "Can I go read now?"
"Sure. Just don't wander off."
Dean trailed after Dad as he grabbed some Sam-sized jeans and a few shirts.
"You need some jeans?" Dad asked Dean.
"Uh… maybe," Dean replied. He still had one good pair, but his others had worn through in a few too many places.
Dad nodded, and grabbed a few pairs in Dean's size off the rack. "These good?" he asked, holding them up for inspection.
"Yeah," Dean shrugged. He would never need to worry about needing a bigger size again, he realized. Made shopping a hell of a lot easier.
"Sammy!" Dad called. "I told you not to wander."
"I know!" Sam replied from the shoe rack he had been travelling down.
"Well then, stay in one place," Dad ordered.
"Okay," Sam sighed.
Dad turned back to Dean. "Need anything else?"
"No." Maybe if he ate a ton of junk food he would get fatter. Did the curse let him do that? It wouldn't do much good, though. Dad would just make him work it off in laps.
"Sam!" Dad called. Sammy had gone around the corner, looking around the store. "Dean, go look after your brother," Dad told him. "I'll finish up here quick."
"Yes, sir," Dean replied easily. No matter what, it would always be his job to look after Sam.
They were a couple years into the curse when Dad started enrolling Dean and Sam in the same grade.
Dean had been bored with school to begin with and repeating the same stuff over and over quickly became close to unbearable, not to mention being trapped in a classroom with a bunch of kids years younger than him. Watching out for Sam gave Dean a purpose and he actually moved up the grades fairly regularly along with Sam, first pretending to be younger than his physical age, then the same age, and then finally older.
Sam was getting close to fourteen before Dean noticed something while he and Sam were walking to the junior high together.
"You're slouching," he accused Sam.
Sam kicked a rock and hitched his backpack up. "So?"
"So, don't do it. You wanna be a hunchback when you grow up? You've got enough problems with your looks, Sam, you don't need any more."
"Shut up," Sam answered, always the queen of comebacks.
"Hey." Dean grabbed Sam's arm, and pulled his brother around to face him. "Stand up straight. You know Dad'll just get on your ass if I don't."
Sam sighed, scuffed his shoe, and finally straightened his shoulders and neck, looking anywhere but Dean.
"You're taller than me," Dean realized, rocking back on his heels.
"Yeah," Sam murmured.
It wasn't by much, but Dean could tell that Sam had risen just a smidge above him. And he was looking guilty as hell about it.
"Dude, it's not a crime." Dean grinned, trying to make it look relaxed. He slugged Sam gently in the arm and Sam frowned, rubbing the spot.
Dean gulped down the swell of discomfort he felt at looking up at his brother. This was supposed to happen, eventually. Sam wasn't going to stay the same height all his life.
"We knew it would happen sooner or later," Dean told Sam.
"I guess," Sam allowed.
"And, dude, you realize that it took you way too long to get this tall. When you were twelve, you were tiny. If I hadn't taken the worst cannon ball dive in all history, you'd have spent the rest of your life as a shrimp."
"Yeah?" For whatever reason, that seemed to calm Sam, who straightened up completely.
"Yeah, Sammy, of course. And that's what you'll always be to me."
Sam rolled his eyes and grinned. "Whatever, Dean. And I told you: it's just Sam now."
"That's what you think, bitch."
Dean had fixed up the Impala all by himself this time around and, as a reward, Dad was letting him take her for a drive. Even though he was technically eighteen, Dean carried a restricted license that identified him as fourteen, but even that wasn't the most believable and having Dad ride shotgun for credibility wasn't the worst way to spend an afternoon, anyway.
"She sounds good, Dean," Dad nodded, tapping his finger on the door in time to the music.
"Thanks," Dean replied.
The sound of the motor and drum set carried them across the stretch of silent highway until Dad reached over and lowered the volume.
"There's a hunt I want to look into," the man announced. "Werewolf, I think."
Dad smiled at Dean. "I thought you would say that. Look, Dean, while I'm gone—"
"Wait, we're not coming with you?"
"Weres are dangerous," Dad explained.
"Yeah, so's all the other stuff we go after," Dean pointed out.
"Dad, I'll be careful, I promise," Dean pleaded. "I'll do everything you say, no questions asked."
Dean could tell Dad was hesitating, teetering on the edge of giving in.
"Look, I'll even stay in the car, if that's what you want me to do," Dean tried. Sure, it would suck, but it beat hanging out at Bobby's the whole time.
"It'll be pretty hard to use that Colt of yours from the car," Dad grunted.
"Yeah, but… Oh, wait, what? You mean I'm coming?"
"Yeah," Dad replied. "But you will follow my every word."
"Of course," Dean replied quickly, proving he could do so. Dad never took him on as many hunts as he wanted. He definitely didn't want to screw this one up.
"Sammy should come with us, too," Dad decided. "Good experience for him."
"Yeah," Dean agreed. "Sure."
"Just… Look after your brother, understand?"
"Yeah, Dad. I'll always watch out for Sammy."
The night of Dean's twenty-first birthday, he found himself sitting alone in the motel room, rolling a bottle of whiskey in his hand.
Dad had run off to Pastor Jim's quick for a possible lead, and hadn't come back yet. Sam was out with friends. They were all going to sneak into an R rated movie, and Dean had insisted he go. He wasn't going to be the one interfering with the "normal" experience Sam seemed to covet so fiercely, and sneaking into a movie seemed to be one of those experiences. Not that Dean ever could, of course. Sure, he was a legal adult on the inside but on the outside he could barely pass as a teenager.
And, well, here he was, all alone on a night where he should be enjoyed the town's finest establishments perfectly legally. He swirled the liquid inside the bottle, watching it whirl around behind the label.
Screw it: he was legal, even if his body wasn't. Besides, what was he going to cause, developmental damage?
The alcohol burned his esophagus as it slipped down, and Dean swallowed back a cough. Happy birthday to him.
He was just pouring himself another glass when the door broke open and Sam entered with a burst of cold air.
"Hey," he greeted Dean, stomping the snow out of his shoes.
"The movie can't be over yet," Dean wondered, following Sam with his eyes as his brother shrugged off his jacket, threw it on the bed, and dropped down in the seat across from him.
"Nah," Sam shook his head. "I decided to skip it. Some lame horror movie anyway with a bunch of mistakes that I would pick out."
"Picking them out is the fun part, Sam," Dean grinned before taking another sip from his cup.
"Are you drinking?" Sam crinkled his forehead but he was still smiling. "Man, where did you even get that from?"
"Manager keeps a bottle behind the counter," Dean explained. "Didn't need to distract him for long."
"Of course not," Sam snorted. He reached over to the counter to grab a cup of his own, barely needing to stand thanks to the freakishly long arms he was starting to develop. "Here, give me some," Sam motioned.
"You're sixteen," Dean objected.
"Twenty-one," Dean corrected. He poured Sam two fingers anyway, just because he was feeling generous. After all, the kid had come home for his birthday.
Sam raised his glass. "Happy birthday, Dean."
"Thanks, man." Dean clinked his glass against Sam's and took a drink with his brother.
Sam choked and gasped. His face turned red and Dean crowed with laughter. "Too rich for you, Sammy?"
"I'm fine," Sam wheezed.
"You can always water it down if you want."
"I said I'm fine, Dean." Sam took another drink and kept it all in this time, although his face took a funny turn as he swallowed.
"Sure you are, Sammy."
"You know, we can always go for a movie ourselves," Sam suggested.
"There's no way I could sneak into anything," Dean warned. With his size and appearance the only place he wouldn't attract attention would be at a Disney film.
"So we go for something we don't need to sneak into."
Dean shrugged half-heartedly.
"I just feel like we should do something," Sam explained.
"We could… uh… go to that diner up the road," Dean offered. "Get some pie or something."
"Pie for your birthday?" Sam frowned. "Is that even allowed?"
"Of course it is, bitch. Kids get whatever they want for their birthday."
Sam snorted. "Yeah. Right. You can't really use that argument after you've drank a third of a bottle of Jack."
"Wasn't full when I got it," Dean defended. The room was a little fuzzy, sure, but he held it together as he pulled his coat on.
Sam stood by the door, waiting to go outside. He was a full head taller than Dean now and showed no signs of slowing down.
"Ready?" Sam asked.
"Okay, big brother. Lead the way."
He kept expecting it to stop hurting as much, but that never came true. The punches landed on his face and the pain exploded at each spot with the same intensity. A blow hit his stomach and he felt a growing ache collect there, even after his kidnappers took a break.
Blood pooled in his mouth and Dean felt it dribble down his chin.
"Tell us," the man demanded.
"I don't know," Dean insisted. He wasn't begging them to stop, honest.
"You know where the Fountain of Youth is," the second man pressured. "Just tell us the location, and you can go back to your family."
It was a total lie. No way would those guys let him run back home. Dad would kill them in a heartbeat.
"You don't want to find it, anyway," Dean groaned. "It always turns out bad."
"Well, we're not stupid enough to drink the water when we're ten years old."
"Twelve," Dean corrected, earning himself another punch.
Truth be told, he didn't really remember where it was, anyway. He remembered the state they were in but it was nine freaking years ago. The towns had all kind of blurred together after all that time.
He was royally screwed. Dad was on a hunt a couple days north from here so even if Sammy did manage to call it would be a while before help could arrive.
The smaller guy had pulled out a knife, balancing it delicately in his hand.
"Last chance," he warned. "Things will start to get messy from here on out."
Dean collected some more of his bloody saliva to hawk at the man.
The door to the warehouse burst open and a tall and strong, albeit thin, hunter came flying in. It was Sam, Dean realized with a gaping mouth.
With the element of surprise on his hand, Sam charged the two men, bringing them down nearly instantly. The chilling focus set in his face made him look much older than someone in his late teens. He rushed to Dean, grabbed his chin roughly and forced Dean to look him in the eye.
"Dean! Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"M'fine, Sammy," Dean mumbled, struggling to speak clearly through his swollen cheeks.
"Here." Sam made quick work of the ropes that bound Dean to the chair. "Are you okay? Can you stand?"
Dean felt his body being lifted up, and seriously, when did Sam get so strong? Dean sagged against his brother, unable to support himself just yet.
"Where's Dad?" he asked Sam.
"On his way down," Sam replied. "But I couldn't just wait for him, Dean. I had to find you."
And rescue him. It was all wrong, this picture. Sammy wasn't supposed to be the one rescuing Dean.
"I can stand on my own," Dean decided, pushing Sam away to get some personal space.
"See?" Dean was swaying, but he still stayed standing.
"I'm sorry, Dean, I should have paid more attention to where you went. You must've been gone an hour before I realized…"
"You're not responsible for me, Sam," Dean ground out. Twelve year-old body or not, he was still an adult, dammit.
"Dean, careful," Sam admonished as Dean stumbled and fell against his brother again.
A long arm wrapped around Dean tightly, and Sam pressed Dean against himself.
"We need to get out of here," Sam announced. "Those two will only be knocked out for a while. I've got a car just outside the door. We'll drive to the next town over and call Dad again to meet up."
Dean found himself unable to do much of the walking to the car. Sam basically picked him up and hauled him out the room, across the parking lot, and into the passenger seat of the car.
Sam fixed Dean up as best he could when they checked into their new motel room and Dad, when he met up with them, took one critical look to check over Sam's work before nodding and going back to cleaning the guns.
Dean was all ready and willing to put the incident behind him and Dad and Sammy seemed to feel the same way. But it had lasting consequences. Three weeks after, when the bruises had faded and the swelling had gone down, Dad caught wind of a ghouls' nest a couple towns over. Sam still didn't want to miss out on some class or other, and Dad decided he'd meet up with Caleb to take the job on. He gave Dean a wad of bills to cover expenses and delivered the brothers a lecture on warding the room properly, which they both knew anyway.
"When will you be back?" Sam asked.
"By the end of the week," Dad answered, throwing on his leather jacket. "We'll keep in touch. And one more thing." He stopped by the door and fixed his gaze on his youngest son.
"Look after your brother, Sam."