The following morning, a hazy pink sunlight filtered across the Winchesters' room. It illuminated a film of dust floating lazily in the still air and highlighted a long shifting lump beneath a limp, green quilt.
Sam groaned as the fog of sleep began to lift, and stretched, as if he actually needed to be any longer; yawning wide enough to make his jaw crackle loudly.
Blinking blearily, he rolled over to glance at the shoe box which, up until yesterday morning had contained a brand new pair of Bobby's workboots, and now stood on top of the nightstand beside Sam's bed containing his sleeping brother and a makeshift bed of folded linen.
He leaned over to glance in the box and his heart froze.
"Dean?" He reached over and tipped the box up to get a better look; the linen lay flat and undisturbed, the box clearly hadn't been slept in all night.
Heart pounding wildly, he hoisted himself up onto his elbows and frantically scanned the room for signs of his missing brother.
"Dean, where the hell are you?"
Suddenly, he paused on hearing a tiny, barely audible sound. What was it? A grunt? a sigh? ... a snore?
Glancing down, he suddenly noticed a tiny body, fast asleep, burrowed up tight against his side.
He let out a deep sigh of relief and slumped bonelessly back down into the pillow.
"Hey," he gave the little sleeping figure a gentle jab in the back with his thumb; "hey Jerk!"
Dean's eyes flickered open vacantly, and drifted into focus, eventually latching onto Sam's face.
"What you doing in here?" asked Sam; "that's your bed." He gestured toward the shoebox.
"Don' like it," Dean answered shiftily, "it's uh, warmer in here."
"You shouldn't be in here," Sam replied, trying not to smile as Dean sat up woozily, still struggling to shake off the grip of a deep sleep; "I could've rolled over and squashed you."
"Better'n endin' up as rottweiler chow," Dean mumbled across a long and noisy yawn.
Sam's heart wrenched as he saw the bruises colouring Dean's face, and the livid graze across his cheekbone; medals from yesterday's encounter with the previously friendly dog.
He couldn't find it within himself to be angry with Rumsfeldt. Sam knew the dog was only doing his duty; ridding the yard of anything small, scuttly and destructive. Unfortunately, this particular little creature, although undeniably small, scuttly and destructive, was Sam's 'big' brother, and not one of the rats and squirrels that Rumsfeldt was used to dealing with.
Looking up at his brother, Dean sat scratching his head and Sam could see genuine fear in his eyes.
He knew that Dean's purpose in climbing out of his box and hopping across into Sam's bed had nothing to do with warmth and everything to do wtih security. Sam knew he hadn't only developed the physiology of a tiny creature, but also the skittish, fearful psychology of one too; a terror of being utterly helpless and completely dependent on others for his safety and welfare.
Sam scooped Dean close into his side, ignoring the muffled grunt of 'great girly bitch,' and smiled sadly at the fact Dean made no effort to escape his clutches.
The brothers eventually rose, and after a brief episode in the bathroom; Sam learning an unpalatable lesson about not brushing his teeth over the basin when Dean was taking a bath in it (toothpaste doesn't really rot your guts when you swallow it, does it?) and an equally disturbing attempt, borne of Dean's constant haranguing, at giving Dean a shave with his beard trimmer - he so wasn't going to tell Dean about the little misjudgement and the bald patch behind his ear, Sam trudged into the kitchen, decanting Dean onto the table, and set about making a coffee.
Sam turned his attention from the sink back to the table; "yeah?"
"Bobby's left a note." Dean read from the piece of paper in his hands; "Gone out. Sam, look after that little idjit, and don't try anything clever out of them books. If I get back and find him turned into a possum or something, I'll kick your ass into next week!"
He looked up at Sam. "Touchin' that he's got such faith in us, ain' it!"
Sam shrugged and smiled; that was quite mild compared to some of the guidance Bobby had offered in the past.
When Bobby eventually reappeared after his mysterious errand, Sam was sitting at the table, disposing enthusiastically of a pack of cookies, and studying a dusty, crumb-strewn tome.
Beside him, on the table was Dean, clearly desperate to help and wrestling irritably with an equally ancient and equally large book.
Sam looked up, cross-eyed from the inpenetrable text he was squinting over.
"Hey Bobby, where y'been?"
Bobby shrugged off his jacket; "uh, just taken Rumsfeldt to my buddy's over in Lennox, he's gonna stay there for a few days; well, until we've figured out what we're doing with Tom Thumb over there," he gestured towards the increasingly irate figure who had finally dragged his errant volume into an upright position.
They both watched in silent resignation as gravity took over the job and the book toppled over on top of Dean with a cringemaking thud.
Sam patiently lifted the book off of the dazed and spreadeagled figure, picking him up and gently dusting him off.
"Don't say it," warned Dean dangerously.
Sam sighed; "why don't I try to find you a smaller book?"
Dean's head slumped petulantly and he kicked Bobby's thimble, splattering droplets of cold coffee across the table; "why don't you find me a friggin' cure," he moaned.
"I'm trying," Sam replied calmly, mustering every atom of patience within his being.
"I wanna help," Dean's moan was rising into a whine; "I'm sick of being friggin'useless. I can't do anything, I'm jus'a waste of goddamn space."
"Bobby shrugged helplessly; "Well, for what it's worth, you're not wasting a lot of space."
Dean's head lifted from it's sulky droop; "Not helping Bobby."
Bobby pulled up a chair; "so what ya found then?"
Sam briefly flicked through some notes he'd made; "well Bobby, I found a spell for increasing the size of your manhood," he looked up quizzically; "don't know if it works on the rest of the body as well."
"An' we're not going to try and find out either," Dean snorted, his hands gravitating protectively toward his groin.
"And I've seen a spell for increasing the size of a rabbit carcass so it can feed a whole family," Sam added, a hint of exasperation in his voice; "but that involves coating the carcass in a carefully measured mix of herbs and and spices then chanting an incantation while it roasts in the oven."
Bobby shook his head; "not appealing."
"But, I've read these darn books backward," Sam groaned; "actually, they make more sense that way, but I can't find a single damn thing that could be in any way useful to anyone!"
"So the upshot of all that," snorted Dean; "is that we've found a great big steaming pile of squat!"
Bobby leaned back in his chair and rubbed his brow wearily; "dammit," he sighed, "we're gonna sit here goin' friggin cross-eyed; we've no idea what spell the bitch used." He hesitated for a moment; "I don't even know if it was a friggin' spell," he snorted.
Dean's eyes widened in indignant anger; "yeah, perhaps it wasn't a spell at all," he snapped; "perhaps it was just some conjuring trick, or perhaps it wasn't even magic. Maybe she just PUT ME THROUGH THE HOT WASH!"
The little enraged figure bounced up and down on the balls of it's feet jabbing a finger aggressively at Bobby.
Bobby's face fell into a menacing glare; "shame she didn't shrink your smart mouth," he snorted. "What I mean, smartass; is that if it was so sudden it might be a curse or some kind of other jinx or hex rather than a full-on spell; something a lot more spontaneous."
He pushed one of the books aside; "judging by these books, it looked like she dabbled in all sorts of sorcery."
Sam nodded as Dean dropped down onto his butt, crossing his legs and stewing moodily.
"We've also got to take into account the fact that Ten Inch Hero here blew her brains out in the middle of whatever she was doing," Bobby continued; "It could be that this …" he gestured toward Dean, " … isn't even what she was intending to achieve, but the fact that she bit it midway through meant that whatever she was scheming got kinda screwed up."
Bobby reached across and took a swig of Sam's cold coffee.
"It could be that even ifwe find a likely looking spell, we could try a reversing charm, and find it ain't even for what she'd tried to do in the first place," he cringed; "God only knows what we could end up doing to him."
"Well aint you a friggin' ray of sunshine," Dean grumbled, becoming more and more despondent with every word that was exchanged above his head.
"Well, if we don't know what we're lookin' for or what we're gonna do when we find it, what do we do then?" Sam asked quietly.
Bobby shrugged helplessly, "I wish I knew son; we just keep lookin' and reading' and thinkin'," he scratched his head vacantly under his cap and sighed deeply; "there mus' be an answer inamongst all this crap somewhere."
He looked across at the despondent little figure on the table.
"In the meantime, we keep an eye on him; keep him safe."
"Hello; 'him' is here!" Dean pointed to himself irritably.
Bobby fell silent, seemingly deep in thought.
"Of course, there is another possibility," he murmured.
"What?" Two pairs of eyes swivelled toward him as he ran a grimy hand over the back of his neck and shrugged. "There are some timebound curses; they just put you through hell for a coupl'a days or a coupl'a weeks then just reverse themselves automatically, an' I have heard stories of other curses, 'specially if they're pretty weak magic, jus '…"
When it happened, it happened very suddenly.
With a fluttering whoosh that reminded Bobby of a parachute deploying and an outraged yelp, Dean unravelled to his normal size like he'd inadvertently pulled an unseen ripcord.
Time stood still as Dean floundered across the table, staring at Sam in a brief second of silent bewilderment before, with a long rattling creak and a menacing snap, the table collapsed beneath his weight sending a flurry of coffee mugs and flying books skittering across the floor and Sam toppling backwards off his chair in shock.
Bobby stared at the sight before him helplessly. "… wearing off."
Staring at his brother sprawled naked amongst the wreckage of a kitchen just as he had been when their ordeal began, Sam blinked through the floating dust and reflected that, actually, symmetry isn't always beautiful.
Dean rubbed his eyes, coughing weakly on an inhaled scrap of Ken's exploded jeans, and coyly pulled the tablecloth into his lap.
"I freakin' HATE friggin' witches."