As many things as there were about Dean that irked the hell out Sam, he always was a little bit envious at Dean's ability to roll with whatever weird shit happened in their lives. And for the record, that was a lot of weird shit. It helped that Dean's philosophy was "shoot first and apologize later if you're not running for your life". Weird things were easy to deal with if you have no problem shooting them in the face.
But…Sam couldn't shoot this weirdness in the face…because it was Dean's face.
Well, more accurately, it was Dean's face circa 1985; Sam couldn't recall any personal experience with this particular version of Dean's face because he was too young to remember what it looked like the first time around, but it sure looked like photographs he had seen and if he was being honest with himself, Sam just knew that the little boy sitting on the ladder-back chair was Dean. He would've known no matter what he looked like. And…his brain was babbling.
Sam ignored the well known axiom "a watched pot never boils" and glared at the tomato soup he was stirring, willing it to cook faster.
It wasn't as if this situation was completely outside the realm of possibility, they'd had to deal with Dean not being his age before – at least this time Dean wasn't in danger of having a heart attack, and it didn't seem as though he was getting progressively younger. Dean seemed to be stuck somewhere between five and six-years old. Sam snuck a glance over his shoulder. Dean had pulled his too small right leg up onto the seat of his chair and wrapped his arms around it; he was using it as a pillow for his cheek. Dean's left leg swung listlessly back and forth; seated the way he was tight against the back of the chair, he didn't even have enough height for his foot to brush the floor.
Sam's gut made an uncomfortable roll as he turned his attention back to the soup. He was grateful that while Dean's adult experiences seemed to have been erased in the transition, the little boy still equated "Sammy" as his brother and hadn't tried to run away. But the change hadn't completely erased Dean's suspicious nature or innate understanding that something was wrong, so he had moved the chair to a position close to the door and kept an eye on Sam from there.
As the soup in the pot began to sizzle around the outside, Sam turned the heat down and gave his attention to making a grilled cheese sandwich. It was a Winchester specialty; one of the few culinary gifts passed on from John to his sons. Sam tried not to flinch when Dean started coughing and aggressively denied the impulse to run across the room and rub his back until it passed. Hovering like a nursemaid over an adult Dean was tricky; hovering over the pint-sized version of Dean was likely to completely freak him out and the last thing Sam needed was for the kid to make a break for the door.
Sam tried not to obsessively catalog the extent and harshness of Dean's cough, but it was hard not to. Dean definitely sounded like he was struggling more than he was earlier in the afternoon, but Sam hoped that the warm soup, some cough medicine and a good night's sleep would ease him. Sam's concern was that as quiet as the little boy was, Sam knew that Dean was completely wound up. Unless Sam could get him to really relax, a good night's sleep would be a long time coming.
When the grilled cheese was perfectly crisped, Sam transferred it to a paper plate. Then he poured the soup out into bowls and brought everything over to the table. "Uncle Bobby" had researched his ass off and was busy procuring the ingredients needed to transform Dean back into his adult state, so Sam only had the two of them to feed.
"C'mon over, Dean. Let's have something to eat."
Sam busied himself gathering spoons, napkins and sodas while Dean dragged his chair from the spot by the door to the table. Sam considered sitting on the opposite side of the table facing Dean, but he couldn't make himself do it. Dean's fever flushed face troubled him and he wanted to be close just in case.
"Hey…you made tomato soup. Just like…"
You used to.
Dean's expression said he was trying to pinpoint a memory. Sam didn't know if Dean was trying to recall Mary or John, but since most of his memories seemed to be erased he couldn't isolate it. His brow furrowed in pain. Sam couldn't stand to watch Dean struggle so he distracted him.
"I made grilled cheese too." Sam pushed the plate closer to Dean.
A smile ghosted across Dean's face. "You cut the crusts off too." Dean tilted his head and something eased in his expression. "Thanks, Sammy."
Sam couldn't help but smile back. "Welcome."
Sam tried to push the food without being pushy. Although Dean's appetite wasn't voracious, he did finish all of the soup and about half of the sandwich. They were only interrupted once by a coughing fit. Once it passed Dean pushed his plate away.
"I can't finish it, Sammy." Dean stared forlornly at the plate.
"Don't worry about it, Dean. I'll take care of it." Sam couldn't help running his palm across Dean's head as he stood up. He let his hand gently slide down the side of Dean's face trying to assess his temperature without a thermometer. The way Dean simultaneously curled against Sam's leg and leaned his cheek into Sam's palm brought every protective instinct Sam had roaring up into his chest; he suddenly understood what it felt like to be a big brother.
Swallowing hard against the lump in his throat Sam leaned over a little and rested his hand on Dean's small chest. "C'mon, kiddo. Let's get you parked on the couch."
Sam set Dean up under an afghan watching "Dukes of Hazzard" reruns while he cleaned up from dinner and organized the kitchen. When Sam returned to the living room, he brought a glass of water for Dean and the bottle of cough syrup. Sam settled on the far side of the couch, but as the episode wore on and the Dukes outwitted Boss Hogg yet again, Dean shifted and stretched and twisted until he made his way across the couch and carved out a comfortable nest under Sam's left arm.
Sam had a very clear recollection of using exactly the same maneuver more than once to end up under the comforting weight of Dean's arm in similar circumstances. So Sam did what Dean would've done and wrapped his arm around his small brother, soothing him with his presence.
This time, when Dean was seized by a coughing fit, Sam was right there to rub his back, talk him through and give him something to drink when it passed. Somehow Dean ended up curled in Sam's lap, and when, with the help of a healthy dose of cough medicine, his breathing evened out into the steady pace of slumber, it was Sam who was comforted.
Bobby rolled in well after the Dukes were over and the A-Team mini-marathon was in full swing. The boys were bathed in the homey light of a reading lamp and reflections from the TV. Dean's too small body was curled against Sam's chest. On his face was an utterly peaceful expression, in spite of the flush that invaded his cheeks. Sam was equally peaceful in repose, his chin resting on Dean's head and his right arm cradling Dean against him.
Bobby cursed himself for a sentimental fool as he blinked back pansy tears that the image of the sleeping boys brought to his eyes. He turned off the TV, but left the lamp on. Quietly he exited the living room and put the gathered ingredients in a cabinet in the library. There'd be time enough for a cure in the morning.