Disclaimer: Sadly, none of them belong to me. I'm sure they'd much rather belong to me though. I'd be much nicer to them than current management.
A/N: I. Typed. Over 2000 words. Of this story. Guess. What. Happened.
Oh, you're right! It GOT DELETED!
So here's the retype. Hopefully, I'll remember to save properly. (Yes, I know, people who don't save after 2000 words deserve what's coming to them. I got that, thanks.)
Set in Season 1, obviously, I think, since John is alive.
For once, the hunt had gone exactly as they planned.
Well, Sam hadn't exactly planned on the… thing (they still weren't sure what it was) tossing Dean headfirst into a tree, but knowing his brother, Dean had planned for something like that, and since they were both mostly fine, Sam was chalking this one up to a rare win.
It could have been a lot worse. One or both of them could be dead.
With that cheerful, comforting thought, Sam followed his brother into the motel room.
The headache was making Dean irritable. Thankfully, he didn't have a concussion (and how that could be, they had no idea; they were just grateful for small mercies), but the adrenaline crash he was experiencing was making him cranky and the pain wasn't helping any. All of Sam's previous attempts to make his brother lie down and go to sleep had met with stony glares and snapped refusals. Dean was nothing if not stubborn.
Well, so was Sam.
"Dean, man, go to bed."
His brother whirled on him, a retort ready on his lips, only to reach for the wall when his head caught up with his body. Sam was out of his seat and grasping his arms before he even realized he was moving. He led Dean over to the bed and eased him down on it.
"Dean, c'mon. Get some sleep. We're fine, everything's square here. I've got watch."
Dean looked up at him in weary confusion for a minute, then his face cleared. An expression of fond exasperation crossed his face briefly as he allowed Sam to lower him backwards. When Sam just smiled and reached for his feet to remove his boots, Dean sat up quickly, grabbing Sam's shoulder to steady himself when the abrupt change in elevation went straight to his head.
"I'll do it," he growled, batting Sam's hands away.
Sam stood, still grinning.
Sometimes, Dean just made it so easy.
A few hours later, Sam climbed into bed after first checking and rechecking that the doors and windows were salted and warded, the weapons bag was concealed but within reach, and the lights were off. Dean's knife was under his pillow, as usual. Sam sighed a little at the thought that the only security blanket his brother had ever had was a weapon in his bed. Sam had at least had Dean.
Rolling over, Sam closed his eyes and prayed he wouldn't dream. The nightmares about Jess had gotten a bit better, but there were still plenty of horrors handy in his mind to fuel his terrifyingly vivid dreams.
Opening his eyes to see Dean merely a few feet away, and feeling a bit like a four year old, only able to sleep with his big brother near, Sam finally fell asleep.
He came awake in stages. First were his instincts, tuned to the sound of Sam breathing beside him. Next was his body, his own self-awareness checking for injuries, noting the lingering headache from yesterday and moving on. The rest of his return to consciousness was mostly ignored as he completed his morning ritual of flinging out a hand to grip his phone and check his messages, on the off chance a miracle occurred sometime in the night and his dad actually called him back.
His eyes opened blearily as his hand closed around the phone and he stopped short. Turning his head and bringing his hand close to his face, he studied it.
Small, slim fingers cradled the phone in a deceptively gentle grip. Only the beginnings of callouses from a lifetime of cleaning and handling weapons were forming. The scar he'd gotten from pulling Sam out of the woodbin they'd had to hide in from a well-meaning neighbor when he was ten was missing.
Dean shot straight up in bed and scrambled out from under the blankets, noting as he did so that there were a lot more of said blankets than there had been last night.
Even before he faced the mirror, he knew what he'd see. Huge green eyes staring out of a thin face, freckles stark against the pale backdrop. His hair was tousled and sticking up on all sides.
His chin barely cleared the dresser top.
Dean stepped back and took a deep breath. Okay. It was okay. So he was all of eight years old now. That was… different, but they'd seen weirder. He and Sam could-
Dean pivoted and darted over to his brother's bedside, hand outstretched to shake the shoulder of the lump under the covers. The blankets slid back and Dean blew out an exasperated breath.
A childish face peered up at him from the center of the bed. Sam's suddenly small body tensed as he stretched and woke up. A moptop of blondish-brown hair flopped over into big hazel eyes that widened when he saw his brother.
"Dean? What the heck happened to you…"
He trailed off when the signals of his own body caught up with his mind. Dean nodded grimly when Sam's startled gaze swung to him.
"Us, Sammy. What happened to us."
"Okay, so, as far as we know, we're what, eight and four, respectively?"
"And we were normal last night when we went to bed."
"And other than that we know nothing."
Sam shot his brother an annoyed look that was a lot less meaningful on a four year old's face. "Would you stop saying that?"
Dean grinned at him. "What do you want me to say, Sammy? You were already saying it all!"
The smaller boy huffed at him and turned back to the computer. Dean pushed back the instinctive wrongness he felt seeing his now-really-little-brother doing research and went back to flipping through Dad's journal.
"Can you type? My fingers are too small."
They settled into a routine for the next couple of days. The room was paid for the week, and meals were ordered in and left on the doorstep. They never left the room.
Sam researched, struggling to use the laptop with tiny hands, and Dean paced and looked through books and made sure Sam took a break every now and then. They didn't have any leads, and other than a brief freak-out on Sam's part when he turned around and found his much-younger-looking-than-he-was-used-to brother cleaning guns, the days passed uneventfully.
By an unspoken agreement that neither really understood, but at the same time neither wanted to protest, they shared Sam's bed, farthest from the door. Dean said it made sense, to put as much room between themselves and points of entry as possible, and hey, now that they were smaller, they could easily fit into one bed and make themselves that much safer. Sam didn't call him on it.
And if Sam's head ended up on Dean's shoulder every night and Dean's arm was curled around Sam every morning, well. Neither one of them said anything about that either.
It wasn't good, but it wasn't all bad. For one thing, Sam slept a lot better now. In his smaller, more-easily tired out body, the rigors of simply living-much less researching and planning-knocked him out but good almost as soon as his head hit the pillows.
It was weird, being so small. He knew that as frustrated as he was, Sam had to be even more annoyed. Dean could at least see himself in the mirror. Sam's head didn't even reach the dresser top.
Still, in spite of weirdness and inconvenience and having no idea what was going on, Dean didn't really start worrying until the third day, when he came out of the bathroom to find Sammy sucking his thumb.
"Dean, I'm bowed," he said matter-of-factly, apparently finding nothing strange about having one of his extremities coated in his saliva.
Dean just stared. Sammy looked up at him with large, blinking eyes, thumb in his mouth, forefinger hooked around his nose.
Finally, Dean said, "Sam?" very carefully, wondering if this is how it felt to go insane. Except that he wasn't exactly sure he was the crazy one.
Sam, apparently getting even more "bowed" with Dean's non-answers, stood up and trotted over to his big brother. Reaching out to grab Dean's hand, Sammy insistently tugged him over to the computer.
"You 'search now," he said. "Sammy's ti'ed." With that, he curled himself up under Dean's arm half onto his lap, making any "searching" impossible, and closed his eyes. About three seconds later, his breathing evened into a pattern Dean still hadn't forgotten. Snuffly, but deep. Sam was asleep.
Completely confused and more than a little worried now, Dean turned his attention to the laptop. Hopefully he could get something useful out of this latest development.
Two hours later, Sam stirred under Dean's arm, then shot straight up, knocking away his brother's hand.
"The heck?" he said, rubbing his eyes and turning to look at Dean, who was watching him warily. Sam frowned. "What?"
"Sam, that's you, right?"
Confused, Sam raised an eyebrow. "Uh, duh? Who else would I be?"
"I mean," Dean said, pointedly glancing at their proximity. "Are you like Sam-Sam, or are you Sammy-Sam?"
"What's the difference?"
Dean grinned at that, a little pleased, then sobered. "Well for one thing, Sammy-Sam just spent the last two hours with his thumb in his mouth."
Horrified, Sam stared at his hand. Dean laughed. Sam glared at him.
"It's not funny!"
"Aw, c'mon, it's a little funny."
"Okay," Dean, suddenly serious, turned on the bed to face his brother so that their knees were touching. "Here's what's happening. We have the bodies of an eight and four year old, and about two hours ago, you started acting like a four year old. We have to assume that it's gonna happen again, Sam."
Sam stared at him, dismayed. "Dean!" he said weakly. His brother nodded.
"Yeah, I know."
"It'll be okay, Sammy. We can do this."
Calmed as always by the certainty in his big brother's voice, Sam took a deep breath and nodded, then pulled away with a sheepish smile.
"I'm gonna get a drink," he said.
"Apple juice, Sammy?" Dean smirked.
Chuckling to himself, Dean turned back to the laptop. "We can do this," he whispered, wondering who exactly he was trying to convince.
The very next day, Dean was convinced that they could not, in fact, do this.
So far, Sam had regressed into what Dean had dubbed "kidphase" six times. The second time, they figured out that he actually remembered everything. He was still Sam. Still knew about the supernatural, remembered Jess, remembered Stanford, remembered what had happened to them. He just responded to all of that the way a four year old would. A very mature four year old, but a four year old, nonetheless.
Which basically meant that when he got "bowed" with research, he stopped helping Dean and started amusing himself in other ways. Fortunately they were usually quiet ways. Unfortunately, that meant that Dean had to split his attention between Sam and their case even more than usual.
It wasn't Sam that convinced Dean that they needed to call in help. It was himself.
Dean hadn't regressed, as far as they could tell. He never forgot that he was really twenty-six and trying to hunt in an eight year old body. That was good, because at least one of them needed to be a fully-functioning adult-ish person all the time, and Dean would much rather be taking care of Sammy than the other way around.
But then, day four of the same hotel room, the same no-go research, and only slightly varied take-out, Dean caught himself looking at Sam, who was reading Dad's journal, and saying, "Sammy! You aren't supposed to touch-" He slapped a hand over his mouth the next second as he realized what had happened.
Sam's head came up, hazel eyes alarmed. "Dean? Did you just-"
Miserably, Dean nodded. "Yeah. Went into kidphase for a moment. Dang it."
Sam's mouth twitched. "Hey, it's about time you caught some of this weirdness."
Dean gave him a dirty look. "Sam, I'm eight. How much weirder do you want me?"
Sam cocked his head. "Good point," he said dryly, going back to the journal and leaving Dean to sulk in peace and wonder how in heck they were going to fix this.
Despite Sam's initial entertainment over Dean's arrival into kidphase, he found that he would be disappointed if he expected Dean to start actually acting like an eight year old.
Dean at eight had been pretty much the same as he was now. Over-protective, obedient to Dad, a smart-mouthed sweet-talker, and Sam's big brother. Taking away his years didn't make enough of a difference for them to notice it. Even Dean usually didn't know when he slipped in and out of the regression.
If Sam had been aware of it, he might have been a little sad that his brother hadn't been much of a child at age eight.
However, Sam was not aware of this, and Dean was doing a good job of keeping it under wraps, so it wasn't until the sixth day of their little problem that the older boy lost it.
Sam was sleeping, worn out by the long day they'd had, topped off by a crying jag that had completely scared the crap out of his brother until Sam had brokenly sobbed Jess' name. Dean had correctly deduced that this was all due to his little brother's inability to filter his emotions in a regressed state and simply held him close until the tears stopped. Dean put Sam to bed after that, ignoring the protests and offers to help with the research, and then went back to the laptop. That was two hours ago.
Now it was eleven thirty, and Dean was exhausted, frustrated, and beginning to get a headache. The research was getting them nowhere. They hadn't found any creatures that could do this, they hadn't been cursed by a witch, and there wasn't anything in Dad's journal that even hinted at something like this happening before. As always, the Winchesters got the short stick here. Supernatural guinea pigs, that's what they were. Dean was all out of ideas, sleepy, and feeling more and more like crying every second he stared at the unhelpful screen.
Of course, this would be-vulnerable, and upset-the moment when he unknowingly slipped into kidphase.
There weren't warning signs like with Sammy-Dean didn't suck his thumb or lose the ability to say the letter R, or totter over to his brother and demand that Sam play with him. Instead, Dean passed so smoothly from a frustrated, worried adult to an upset, frightened, half-asleep child that the transition was hardly even noticeable. He reached out for his cell phone, small fingers closing around its casing and flipping it open. With a shaky hand and heavy eyes, he scrolled through his contacts for his Dad's cell phone number. Taking a deep breath, he pushed Send.
To his disappointment, he got Voicemail again, his dad's voice telling him to call Dean if he needed help.
Dad, I need you this time. I haven't had much luck helping myself.
And dang, was his voice shaky or what? He sounded like Sammy!
"Dad, I, we, Sammy and I, we need you. Um… I know… I know you're busy and stuff, but… we need help, Dad."
Joss, did he just sniff? Stupid kid body and emotions and-
"We're in C-Colorado S-Springs, and-" here is where the eight year old took over completely- "Dad, I'm scared," he whispered. "I can't do this by myself. Please… please come."
Biting his lip, he finished shyly, "Love you, Dad." He hung up slowly and felt his eyes closing again. Rubbing at them with his palms, he closed the laptop and scooted off the chair. Moving felt like so much effort, but he managed to stumble across the room to where Sammy was sleeping in the bed furthest from the door and crawl into it. Sam mumbled in his sleep and turned into his older brother, nuzzling against him. Dean yawned and turned off the bedside lamp. Without thinking twice about it, he wrapped an arm around Sam and pulled him in even closer, just like he always used to when they were kids.
John listened to his phone ring with the sort of agony felt by those suffering under a self-inflicted code of silence. In the case of his youngest son, this code had been in effect for over four years, but he was even starting to miss Dean's voice as well. Sam being on the road with Dean was only marginally better than him being all alone out at Stanford. Being out of contact with his sons wasn't something John was comfortable with at all, and he was seriously considering tracking them down and checking up on them, if only to be able to sleep at night.
He let the phone go to voicemail and then waited for the chime that told him the message was completed. Sighing heavily, he reached for the phone, wondering who it was this time that wanted his help, and knew he'd be wondering for far longer how Dean had fared in helping them in his stead. He called Voicemail and waited impatiently while the operator told him what he already knew-"You have one new message." He pushed 1 to listen and nearly dropped the phone when a hesitant voice started talking.
Dean? The voice was quiet, and it sounded much younger than John was used to, but it was definitely Dean's.
"Dad, I, we, Sammy and I, we need you. Um… I know… I know you're busy and stuff, but… we need help, Dad."
Busy and stuff? How old are you, Dean? And are you crying?
"We're in C-Colorado S-Springs, and… Dad, I'm scared,"-the voice dropped to a whisper-"I can't do this by myself. Please… please come."
Dean hadn't called and begged him to come since the time he was seven when both he and Sam came down with the flu at the same time while he was hunting in Montana. John was so shocked he almost missed the shy, sleepy-sounding "Love you, Dad," at the end of the message.
Sitting back on his bed in his little motel room in Texas, John Winchester contemplated the likelihood of his son calling him for help on the same evening he was debating whether or not to go check on them and decided that there wasn't really any such thing as coincidences, and so God must be trying to tell him something, and if that was the case, he'd better pay attention.
He packed his duffle, grabbed his weapons and hit the road that night.
The seventh night of the boys' stay in the Red Ridges Motel, a man crept across the parking lot from his truck to the door of room 9-the room which, he had been informed by the nice middle-aged lady working the late shift at reception, had been rented six nights ago by two young men, one of which was extremely tall.
After checking almost nineteen hotels and motels in the area, he'd finally found the one his boys had holed up in. John was certain now that something was very wrong. Besides the unsettling phone call, Dean should have known to give him the motel name and room number. Either the boy was drunk-not likely, Dean didn't get drunk often, and certainly not drunk enough to call his father and beg for help-or he wasn't thinking clearly for some other reason. Either way, it wasn't good.
He let himself in with the extra key the nice lady had provided for him-those boys looked like they needed a caretaker, she informed him: one of them was leaning on the other and he looked dazed-careful not to make much noise.
John's gaze swept the dark room expertly, noting the salt lines in approval, and then moving further in. A laptop sat on the small table, a duffle bag he knew was filled with weapons on the chair beside it.
Satisfied with the room in general, John walked forward and looked next to the two beds. One was unoccupied, and John stepped just a little closer to the one farthest from the door, where a vague lump was gently rising and falling. He grinned as he took in the sight before him. In most recent years, the boys had taken turns on the floor, or more often, had their own beds while John was away. But long ago, before Sam turned sixteen and hit that growth spurt that had him sprouting up so fast John thought his arms and legs might fall off, the boys had always shared the far bed. Sam would be curled into Dean, face mushed up against his brother's shoulders. Dean would be on his back, one arm slung over Sam and the other hand resting behind his head or on his stomach.
John frowned. Why was Dean on his side… it almost looked like he was holding something… For that matter, why were they even in the same bed? He took one more step forward, bringing him right up next to the sleepers.
In one smooth, unified motion, the brothers shot straight up in the bed, arms sweeping up and holding steady. In barely a second, John found himself staring down the barrels of two handguns, aimed with precision and without hesitation at his midsection.
"Hands away from your sides! Lemme see 'em both! Now!" Dean's voice was rock-hard and didn't show any of the shakiness John would have expected. He immediately pulled his arms up and away from his waist.
"Sam! Lights!" Dean snapped. Instantly, the bedside lamp clicked on.
John felt his mouth drop open.
Kneeling on the bed, guns never wavering, were his sons, but not his sons as he thought they'd be. No, these were his sons as they once were, small bodies, thin arms, and determined faces from which huge hazel eyes stared out at him. His twenty-plus year old sons had been turned into children again.
And they were both currently holding him in their sights like the pros they were.
"Dean? Sam?" he ventured finally, since Dean wasn't saying anything, but appeared to be trying to blink the sleepiness away.
The boy's head cocked to the side and the weapon slipped a little for the first time. "Dad?"
"Yeah, it's… it's me. Dean, what-"
Suddenly, Sam started listing to the side, gun coming down to rest on the bed in front of him.
"No, no, no, not now, Sammy!" Dean murmured softly, apparently deciding that John was who he said he was, and lowering his gun to tend to his brother. Catching Sam at the shoulders, he shook him softly.
"Sam, don't do this to me, not right now, c'mon, Sam, Sam!"
John watched in confusion as his youngest son stared up at his older brother and blinked innocently. "Dang it," Dean muttered, releasing his brother and sitting back on his heels. "Great. Just great." He rubbed a hand over his face and looked at John.
"Dad, what are you-"
Sammy came to life all of a sudden and launched himself at his father, flinging small arms around the man's neck and hugging him with all his strength.
John sat still in shock for a moment before instinct and years of being a father took over and he hugged Sam back tightly, burying his face in the long, floppy hair for just a minute and relishing having his baby back in his arms. Dean sat back, making a face like he wasn't sure if he was amused or jealous. John was just about to reach out for him too when Sam went stiff against him.
"Oh my joss," he mumbled, sounding mildly horrified. John looked at Dean over his shoulder to find him smirking.
Carefully, slowly, Sam pulled away from John. A little unwilling to let him go just yet, John held onto his upper arms to help him keep his balance while standing on the mattress. Sam glanced at him briefly, face flushing, then turned to Dean.
"Did I really just-"
"Yup," his eldest replied, sounding unimaginably amused.
"Snap," Sam said, sneaking another look at John, who was staring at both of them and looking very confused.
"Hi, Sammy," his father said back instantly. Dean grinned. Then frowned.
"Dad… not that we aren't glad to see you, but… what are you doing here?"
It was John's turn to frown. "What do you mean? You called me."
"What?" Dean raised his eyebrows in astonishment, and John couldn't help but notice that it made him look even younger. "I didn't call you."
"Yes, you did," he insisted. "Left a message on my voicemail, asking me to come help you boys."
They stared at him silently.
"Ha!" Sam suddenly exclaimed, pointing at his brother. Dean glared at him.
"Shut up, Sammy."
"No, seriously, Dean, this is hilarious!"
"You called him Daddy."
"You called him, period!"
"You suck your thumb!"
"You cuddle me!"
John couldn't help a small grin when they both jumped and fell silent. Apparently he still had it. One word and they were at attention. Or, at least as at attention as they could be while sitting in bed.
John took a deep breath. "I think you boys need to explain a few things to me."
He scrubbed his hands over his face and contemplated how it was moments like this that made you appreciate how good you usually had it. Having your adult sons tell you they'd been regressed to ages eight and four overnight just sort of put things in perspective.
"And then one morning I came out of the bathroom and found Sammy here with his thumb between his teeth," Dean was saying. Sam scowled at him and Dean smirked. "Apparently, his four year old self took control of the ship."
John looked at Sam, who blushed, but rallied. "We figured out that sometimes our minds regress as well, but they always bounce back. We don't stay in kidphase the whole time."
"Dean's term," Sam looked to his brother. "It's what we're calling the regression."
John tried not to laugh hysterically. "Go on," he said.
Sam shrugged. "That's pretty much it. We remember everything while we're in kidphase, but we act like we're eight and four. Hence-" he blushed again-"Daddy."
John grinned. "Yeah, well, I haven't heard that in nearly fifteen years, so I guess I was nearly as surprised as you were."
"I wasn't surprised," Dean said with a wicked grin of his own. "He's been like that nearly all week. He'll stop in the middle of research or something and tell me he's 'bowed.'"
Sam glared at him. "I'm freakin' four, Dean. Could you pronounce anything properly when you were this age?"
Dean sobered at the same instant as his father and they exchanged solemn glances. "I didn't really talk much when I was four, Sammy," he said quietly.
Sam made a face. "Joss, I'm sorry, Dean, I didn't think."
Dean shook himself. "Yeah, well, that was a long time ago. And we-" he broke off with a huge yawn.
"Okay," John said quickly. "I think I'm pretty much up to speed for now. We should all probably get some sleep so we can figure this out in the morning."
"Yeah," Dean said sleepily. "That's probably a good idea." Slumping back into the bed they were all still sitting on, he grimaced and then pulled his gun out from under him. Fishing around under the rumpled covers, he found Sam's and placed it on the nightstand.
Sam blinked at John until John gave him a little smirk and asked, "Do you want me to tuck you in?" Sam glared at him and flopped back down next to Dean, reaching for the blankets only to find them being pulled over him and his brother. He looked up at his father and John smiled at him, half-teasing, half-seriously. Sam's eyes slipped shut almost against his will, and he relaxed. Unable to resist, John leaned over and dropped a kiss on the little head. Sam twitched a little, but didn't move otherwise.
Looking over to Dean, John briefly considered the possibility of getting away with kissing him too and decided that Dean would probably wake up and most likely shoot him if he tried it. Instead, he settled for brushing a hand over his eldest son' hair and whispering, "I love you, boys," to the silent room.
Settling into his own bed, John tried to shake the image replaying in his head: two young boys, one not more than four, sitting straight up in bed and each aiming a handgun with professional ease.
One good thing about this age regression, John noted, was that the attention span his boys were left with meant that it never crossed their minds to ask why he'd left Jericho all those months ago, or why he'd been out of contact for so long. He really didn't want to explain that to his sons when they were adults. Trying to make young children understand why he refused to answer their calls was definitely not something he ever wanted to try.
Currently, Dean was trying to convince a kidphased Sammy that yes, he really did like meatloaf, he just thought he didn't. Sammy was having none of it, however, and Dean was quickly getting frustrated with the whole situation.
"Fine, just don't eat then! You'll snap back eventually, and then it'll be cold!" he said huffily, turning back to his own meatloaf.
John smiled to himself, remembering similar conversations from years ago, when a young Sam didn't want to eat and Dean took it upon himself to coax his little brother into "just trying it." Some things apparently would always be the same.
Turning back to the laptop, John continued his research. Dean had told him that they had found no leads at all, but John believed in being thorough, and double-checking wouldn't hurt. Besides, he needed some light lifting and easy reading to get his toes wet and settle his brain. It had been awhile since he'd done the fatherhood thing.
Sam changed from Sammy to Sam and flushed as he recalled the pointless conversation with his brother. Darting a glance at Dean from under lowered eyelashes, he reached for his fork and speared a bite of meatloaf. He nearly choked on the cold lump, but determinedly chewed it anyway. He jumped a little as Dean's hand appeared in front of him to whisk the plate away and into the microwave, reheating the meal without saying a word. John hid another grin.
No creatures with the ability to regress human bodies, no EMF, and the Native American shapechanger the boys had been hunting didn't appear to have any kind of powers that would allow it to pull something like this. They hadn't run into any witches, nor had they stumbled across any curses. They were just… little.
John glared at the laptop and decided he needed a break. Tuning back into his surroundings, he started paying attention to what the boys were doing and grinned when he saw they were trying to figure out the child-proof cap of a pill bottle. Knowing that Sam was prone to headaches, he gave a wry grin when he saw the Aspirin label. Just one of those things would knock Sammy out for hours, but they didn't know that, and besides, he could probably use the nap. Dean's small fingers were ineffectively pulling at the cap. He cursed when his fingernail caught.
"Don't curse in front of your brother," John heard himself say automatically. Both boys turned and gave him identically incredulous looks, then Dean glanced over to Sam. "I… I have no response for that," he said, shaking his head.
Aware that he had sounded slightly ridiculous just now, and resisting the urge to defend his default setting, John rolled his eyes. "Gimme the bottle," he commanded, holding out a hand. Dean obediently brought it over and John popped the cap off with ease, pouring one pill out onto his palm. Sam took it from him with a murmured thanks and swallowed it down with a sip of water.
John watched them for a moment and then pushed away from the table. He needed to sleep. Not having slept all night would do that to you.
"Dean, I need a couple hours to crash. Look after everything?"
With a look on his face that said, Don't I always? Dean nodded, glancing at Sam and then back to his father. John nodded and collapsed onto the bed closest to the door.
John woke up at around ten o'clock, four hours after falling asleep. Someone was crying.
Two someone's actually, he realized as he opened his eyes fully and sat up.
Sam and Dean were sitting on the other bed. Sam was sobbing quietly and soft sniffles were coming from Dean. The older boy was wrapped around the younger, trying to soothe him. He registered John's movement and looked up, tears shining bright in green eyes.
Kidphase. Both of them. At the same time.
John was out of bed before he even recognized the need to comfort, reaching for his sons as he sank down on the edge of their bed.
"Hey, hey, Sammy," he said softly, tugging the little body away from his brother's and to himself, arm snaking out to include Dean. "What's wrong?"
Sam shook with sobs, tears clogging his voice as he brokenly whispered a name. Jess.
John swallowed, at a loss to help this small child with adult memories to deal with the same loss he'd never gotten over himself. He looked to Dean instead. "What about you, kiddo?"
Defiant, tear-filled eyes looked up at John and Dean sniffed. "I'm… having a bad week," he muttered, using his shoulder to dry some of the tears on his cheeks and daring John to argue with him about his need to vent. John smiled a little sadly.
"Yeah, Dean, I guess you are."
Sam was already falling asleep, surrounded by his family and wrapped totally in warmth. Dean was listing against John's side, trying to stay awake but just too sleepy. John had them both under blankets and lying down in seconds.
Looking down at his sons, sleeping side by side in one bed, years younger than they should be and with tearstains on both of their faces, he suddenly felt horribly, terribly inadequate in dealing with this situation. He needed to get them both back to normal. Fast. If only for the sake of all of their sanity.
Maybe he was looking at this the wrong way. If Sam and Dean couldn't figure it out, regression or no regression, it obviously wasn't something on the surface. Dig time. If it wasn't something external, maybe they needed to look closer.
He started with the motel this time, the history, the background, and soon found that he didn't need to go further. Pay dirt came up in only a few searches. There was something in the motel.
John read carefully and slowly, the science mixing with the supernatural threatening to overwhelm his brain. Before the Red Ridges Motel was a lodging house for world-weary travelers, it had been the family home of the Boynton clan. Apparently the matriarch of said clan, Mrs. Boynton, was something of a horror, a tyrannical old woman who kept the whole family under her thumb. It was only after her death that they managed to escape.
Unfortunately, the reprieve came too late. The mind of Ginny Boynton, the youngest daughter, was failing. Her mother had driven her insane. That insanity, coupled with a brilliant mind, led her into dark areas.
She concocted a spell, for no reason really but that she was bored one day and had all the ingredients at hand. This spell was one of three that each would be performed in different ways. They were called Peter Pan spells by the hunting community of the time. When activated, anyone within range-usually the room wherein the spell was performed-was affected. Activation could be anything. A word, an action, a thought…
John turned and looked over his shoulder to his sleeping sons, then back to the computer screen. Rubbing a hand over his face and beard, he sighed. This can wait, he noted with a hint of surprise. A spell meant a reversal spell, and then it was over. This could wait, the boys could sleep, and he could finally relax. Sort of.
With a grunt, John pushed back and stumbled over to the beds. Still bone-tired, even after his nap, he laid down and turned to face his boys.
Dean woke up and nearly shot his father when he saw the dark figure standing by the little counter trying to make coffee. Grimacing at John's back, he put the gun down and swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stretched. Behind him, Sam started stirring and John turned from the coffeepot with an exclamation of exasperation and said, "Does this thing even work?"
Grinning, Dean shook his head. "Sammy broke it, day one."
Sam grunted, a little fist pushing his hair across his forehead as he rubbed his eyes. "You try making coffee when you aren't tall enough to see what you're doing."
"I have," Dean pointed out. Sam ignored him and waved halfheartedly at their father. John grinned and waved back.
"Breakfast, you two?" he asked, giving up on the coffee maker. Both boys brightened and then there was a flurry of clothing being thrown on and shoes being reached for before they caught themselves. John chuckled as his sons turned to each other at the same time and said, "Snappit," faces screwing into identical grimaces of annoyance.
"Problem?" he asked. Dean scowled at him. "Can't leave the room like this. For one thing, no shoes that fit. For another, the people working the desk have seen us."
"This would be kinda awkward to explain," Sam agreed. John smiled.
"Well, lucky for you two, I've already ordered breakfast and it should be here…. Now."
A knock sounded on the door and Dean went through the motions of slipping the money under and to the delivery person and telling them to leave the food where it was. When they were sure the coast was clear, they opened the door and brought the food-a local pancake place's special-inside.
Marveling once more at how easily his sons had slipped into their roles as… well, as his children, John leaned back in his seat and studied them. Watching a four year old drink coffee was disconcerting, though not as disconcerting as it had been last night watching Dean reach for a beer like he actually planned to drink it.
"Hey," John had said. "Don't even think about it."
Dean had given him another one of those looks that said You do know I'm not really eight, right? John had stood firm. "Please don't drink it. For the sake of my sanity if nothing else. I really don't think my brain can take watching my eight year old son consume alcoholic beverages, no matter how old he really is."
Dean had made a face, but complied. Sammy had been in kidphase and thus had pretty much missed the whole conversation. (To his great dissatisfaction, when he found out about it an hour later.)
Now, John contemplated his children and wondered how he was going to let them go again once they'd cleared this up.
"Dean, Sam," he cleared his throat. They looked up at him expectantly and he swallowed back the fond smile threatening at the sight of two small boys with coffee cups. "I figured out what happened."
They just stared at him for a second before Dean turned to Sam in disgust. "Really?" he complained. "Really? Six days we spend knocking around here, trying to grab a hint, and he's here one freakin' day and he's got it? Unbelieveable."
Sam gave him a longsuffering look. "Dean, in all fairness, we aren't exactly at our best."
"Twenty-four hours, Sammy," his big brother rolled his eyes. "He's had twenty-four hours, give or take a couple or three."
"You done?" John asked.
Rolling his eyes right back at Dean, Sam leaned forward. "Whattaya got, Dad?"
John told them Ginny Boynton's story, and about the spell she'd laid in a trap.
"It's been here for nearly thirty years, and nobody's activated it yet," he said. "So that means the activation key must be pretty obscure for it to be something you two pulled. So," he looked back and forth between them. "Which one of you pulled the switch?"
They looked at each other. Dean's forehead scrunched like it did when he was thinking. Sam started pulling on his lip. John watched them both.
"It doesn't have to be something you said or did," he helped them out. "The spell could have been activated by a single thought."
Sam gasped. Dean looked at him sharply.
Wide hazel eyes turned on his brother. "That night… after we killed the… the thing-" "Shapechanger," John interrupted. "-We came back to the room and went to bed and I…" he gulped. "I kept checking on you," he said to Dean. "'Cause you hit your head. And I was thinking that I felt like a four year old-always needing to know where my big brother was…" he trailed off, glancing uncertainly between his father and brother like he though they were going to blame him or something.
Dean rolled his eyes again, effortlessly reading this on his brother's face, and settled back in his chair with a smirk. "Aw, Sammy. You wanted to keep me close?"
"Shut up," his little brother muttered petulantly.
"Alright, alright," John interrupted. "Sam, now that we know the trigger, we can use a reversal spell and just end it."
Sam stuck his tongue out a Dean. John gaped at him for a second before the extra-wide eyes and the thumb drifting vaguely towards Sam's mouth reminded him. Kidphase.
John pinched the bridge of his nose. It was gonna be a long day.
It was a long day. The ingredients of a general reversal spell were simple enough, and John carried them in his truck bed. It wasn't even the preparation of the ingredients or the figuring out when the exact moment was that Sam was doing his activation gig that was the hard part. The hard part, as John soon discovered during a moment when all he wanted to do was stop working and stare at the two little boys who were currently bickering over something that had happened years ago, was yet to come.
He didn't want to let them go.
Obviously, he didn't want them to be young children again and to stay that way forever, but… as soon as they were back to normal, he'd have to leave. And when he did, they would have questions, and now these questions wouldn't be forgotten in the face of the more pressuring issue. John really didn't want to answer those questions, and he didn't want to leave.
Biting his lip as he stood before his chest of herbs in the bed of his truck, his hand wavered over the forget-me-nots. Burning flowers associated with memory in a reversal spell would take away all memory of the spell in the first place. But did he want to risk it? These were his boys, not some civilians who couldn't handle the truth.
John thought of Dean with his unwavering trust in a man who didn't deserve it much of the time, and of Sam, who adored without reason and against his own will sometimes. He didn't see the rational adults they now were, who could be reasoned with and sat down and explained to. He saw his sons as they once were, young and unreasonable, blinking up at him with hazel eyes too big for their faces, accusing him without saying a word.
John tightened his jaw and dashed away the tear forming in his eye. He grabbed the forget-me-nots and slammed the tailgate.
The spell didn't take long to set up, and it wasn't long before Sam and Dean were settling into their bed on the far side of the room from the door, watching their father prepare to burn the required ingredients.
"Dad?" Dean asked when he hesitated, half rising on his elbows. John just looked at him for a second, then shook himself. Sam nestled into Dean's side, already falling asleep with a murmured, "Love you, Daddy, love you, Dean."
"Go to sleep, Dean," he said softly. "And want to be the right age."
"Been wanting that all week," Dean grumbled, but he laid back down and put his arm around Sam. John looked back at the bowl and took a deep breath before striking a match.
The forget-me-nots smelled sweet as they burned.
When the fire was gone, John carefully removed all traces of himself from the room and then stood over his sons as they slept. Grimacing and feeling like a failure as a father, he watched the gentle rise and fall of little chests as they breathed. Come morning, they'd be the right ages again, and they wouldn't remember that he'd ever been there, ever come when they called. His mouth twisted and he smiled wryly. Well, that would at least be the same.
Hopefully they wouldn't worry too much about the missing week. They'd probably both be tired and possibly a little sick from the aftereffects of the spells, so maybe they'd chalk the missing time up to fevers and confusion.
John bent and pressed a swift kiss to Sammy's forehead, missing his baby already. Turning to Dean, he let a fond smile slip as he dropped a kiss on Dean's hair. Neither stirred.
At the door, John paused and looked back, just once. He chuckled suddenly, as it occurred to him that they were going to be in an awkward position when they woke up.
He let himself out, went to the desk to return the key to the nice middle-aged lady who smiled and didn't charge him for the stay, and then climbed into his truck.
He came awake in stages. First were his instincts, tuned to the sound of Sam breathing beside him. Next was his body, his own self-awareness checking for injuries, noting the lack of any real pain but also recognizing the elevated body temperature and tiredness that came with being sick. The rest of his return to consciousness was mostly ignored as he came to the realization that someone was in the bed with him.
Someone whose face was squashed into his shoulder and whose arm was cutting off circulation to his ribs. Sam.
"Sammy, get off me."
"Mmph!" Sam's eyes jerked open and he shot up, looking down at Dean's annoyed face the next second. "Dude… the heck?"
"You tell me," Dean grunted, shoving Sam away and rolling out of bed. "I just woke up."
A/N: Longest oneshot I've ever written, and as such-predictably-took me FOREVER to finish. This story has seen three weeks on my desktop. Six stories have passed through my Word while this one was being written. Of course, if I hadn't been writing those stories, this one might've been done sooner. But still.
So, this might mess with continuity a bit, like Sam always complaining about John never being around, as he is-most definitely-around this time. So, for all continuity purpose, just assume that when the boys wake up their normal selves, they don't remember any of it, and we'll chalk it up to a lost week in the boy's first year back on the road together. John, I love you, but you're kind of a git sometimes, so you get to remember. Wallow. Mwahaha!
No-Longer-A-Spoiler Disclaimer: I don't own the Boynton family. Agatha Christie may claim that honor-posthumously of course-from her novel, "Appointment with Death."
Random fanfic-rant: Why do people put adjectives with people's names and exclamation points to form new adjectives? Like, "Wee!chester." I'm not exactly complaining if you do that, I'm just saying I think it's weird. Why can't you just say "Dean is hurt" instead of "hurt!Dean!"?