Dean groaned, shifting sleepily in his nest of fabric. One hand groped blindly for a cover, his arms prickling with goosebumps in the early morning chill of the flat. Taking off his jacket before bed made him vulnerable to the cold that seeped into the walls when the fire in the fireplace died down.
This time, the light voice by his side made him sit bolt upright, trying to blink the sand from his eyes so he could see in the dimly-lit interior of the walls. Staying up late the night before had left him groggy and unable to focus so early in the morning, the darkness all around trying to pull him back to sleep.
Dean looked around the dark room he shared with Sam. His little brother remained out cold, lying on his side to keep the weight off the tender brand on his back while also keeping his injured leg stretched out. The fragile limb would heal, but it needed time and Dean fully intended to give Sam that time. It didn’t look like he’d moved since Dean had sunk into his covers the night before, and that was for the best. Running around the day before with giants and taking care of a house full of rescued captives took all of his energy, leaving little for himself.
Speaking of captives, when Dean turned the other way he found the source of the voice.
Eight years old and barely two inches tall, the girl was scrawny for her age. The only sign she was recovering from her trials was the healthy flush across her cheeks and the optimistic look in her eyes, her spirit unbroken by Euan and the professor's treatment of the little people.
“You finally woke up!” Kara declared triumphantly, her voice a hush despite the exclamation, acclimated to quiet from years of living in the walls out of sight of humans in her own motel. There was an ache in Dean’s heart to realize he’d been cursed longer than she’d been alive.
Even so, Dean held a finger to his mouth to indicate quiet. Sam needed the rest more than anyone else, and he didn’t want Sam disturbed. Kara settled down, her grey eyes bright as she fidgeted in place.
“Okay,” Dean whispered. “Is everything alright?”
Kara bobbed her head, following Dean’s example for quiet. “Daddy’s sleeping and he told me to go back to bed, but I couldn’t wait to get up!” She shyly cast her eyes down at her hands. “Since daddy’s asleep and I’m not ‘upposed to wake uncle Mikael, I was hoping you could help me make a new hook. Those mean people threw mine in the trash with the supply bag daddy made.” There was no denying the hope that shone in her when she looked back up at Dean.
Dean’s sleep-deprived mind struggled to keep up, vaguely remembering his promise the day before to help her find a new hook. Even without that, he could never turn away someone who, after losing everything but her father and uncle, still had such optimism in life. “Ah.” Giving up on sleep, at least for the time being, he shoved what remained of his fabric scraps from his lap, pushing himself to his feet.
Stretching his arms over his head, Dean felt his back crack with a satisfying pop! Kara giggled, then took the hand he offered, following his lead as he tiptoed out of the room. “C’mon, munchkin, let’s go get you some gear.”
The main room of Sam and Dean’s home was silent. Dean stood Kara by the table, leaving her bouncing on her heels while he splashed a drop of water on his face from the bottle cap he’d filled the night before, trying to wipe away his sluggishness. It worked like a charm, leaving Dean awake to face the morning. He attempted to straighten his crooked spike of hair with another drop of water and only partially succeeded, the short strands resisting his coaxing.
The other liberated captives remained fast asleep in the main room. Moira was curled up in her own nest of fabric not far from the table where Dean and Kara stood, near Bree. Soon, she would have to return to her home to let her parents know she was safe, and likely drop the bomb about the captives, not to mention Sam and Dean’s involvement with the humans in the flat. The trip was long, but not overly hazardous, and Dean would be sure to see her off if he didn’t have the time to accompany her back.
Mikael and Christian remained in the same places from the night before, looking like they hadn’t budged an inch since Dean dragged himself to bed, and Anita and Mark were curled protectively toward each other with their foreheads touching, reunited at last after such a long separation.
Grabbing clean pants and another black shirt, Dean ducked quickly back into the room he shared with Sam and changed. Shrugging into his leather jacket for warmth, he declared himself ready, snagging his duffel bag on his way back to Kara.
Kara excitedly took his hand again as he passed by her, and he cautiously led her around the peacefully sleeping forms, hoping to leave them all asleep to gain back their energy and begin to recover from their prolonged suffering. They were all snuggled close for warmth in the shredded remains of John’s shirt. Assistance like that was something Dean would normally refuse from his… flatmates, but they needed the fabric for bedding now. Without John’s help, all they would have to offer the others to sleep on was Dean’s small nest.
Dean had to sweep Kara off her feet to avoid Mikael, carrying the giggling little girl in his arms to the main exit from the home. The supplies Dean needed to help Kara make her own hook waited for them in the supply room placed next to Sherlock’s chair, but Dean had a stop to make first, for his own peace of mind.
The bookshelf looked better with the old tomes back in place, Dean determined when they got out there, finally seeing it again in the light. Less… open. Wide spaces like that made him feel naked and exposed.
The wood paneling beneath their small feet was smooth and dust-free, swept clean from Sherlock removing the books the day before.
Kara’s eyes were wide at her first real look at the flat beyond. There had been no time for sightseeing the night before when they arrived at Dean and Sam’s place. “This is your home?!” she squeaked in awe, her eyes briefly pausing on John’s armchair, where the kind human doctor had gone to sleep the night before, head supported by a Union Jack pillow and lolled toward the bookshelf.
Dean grinned as he knelt down next to her, ruffling her light brown curls into a mess. “You bet,” he said, sweeping an arm out to put the whole of the room on display. The desk covered in scattered newspapers and scrawled notes, the violin next to Sherlock’s armchair, the smiley-face painted on the wall with bullet holes dotting the yellow paint (one of Dean’s personal favorite vantage points for spying on the humans, back before they’d befriended them).
Out of sight from their place on the shelf, the vials and beakers scattered throughout the kitchen, some with experiments Sherlock was working on inside them, the fridge likely filled with more. Kara would never have anything to fear from those jars.
“Home sweet home,” Dean said, suddenly surprised to hear those words from his mouth. He had a home, and a place where he belonged. It wasn’t quite what he envisioned when growing up in the Impala, but it was his life. Even the sight of John’s slumped figure, as gigantic as a building and with steady breaths that Dean could hear from where they sat, was welcome. They had people they could count on, at both sizes.
“And the humans really don’t mind?” she whispered, her eyes wide as she watched John shift sleepily, brow slightly pinched.
“Not these two,” Dean promised, knowing in his heart, after all they’d gone through together, it was true. “You’ll never have to be afraid of John or Sherlock.”
With a sniff, John's eyes squinted open. From his armchair, even hushed voices from the smaller folk had slowly tugged him out of his light slumber. It was the entire reason he'd gone to sleep there, so he could be easily reached by any of the people crashing in Sam and Dean's home behind the bookshelf.
John gave a light groan, feeling a kink in his neck coming on as he lifted his head a bit to blink the blurriness from his eyes and focus on the figures standing by the books.
"Hey," he whispered as he rubbed at his eyes. He glanced at his watch, then offered a tired but warm smile when he saw the small frame next to Dean. "Bit early to be up. Everything okay?"
He kept his tone light and conversational, not wanting either of them to feel put on the spot. John wasn't interrogating them, just checking up in case they needed something.
“Dean’s gonna get me a new hook!” Kara declared, bouncing on her heels as she gripped the side of Dean’s pant legs.
Dean gently extricated her fingers from the fabric and had her stand in front of him so he could keep his hands on her shoulders. The only reason he was doing better than John with sleep was because he’d washed his face before coming out, otherwise his nest back in the hidden home was a heavy draw. Out of everyone in the flat, Dean had been up the latest, and now was awake the earliest. If he smelled even a drop of coffee coming from the kitchen, he’d make a beeline for it.
“Gotta get you back on your feet and climbing, right kiddo?” Dean asked with a grin, keeping his exhaustion to himself.
She craned her neck back and looked up at him with an excited nod. “Then I can show you how good I am!” she told John.
"I look forward to it." John's smile widened, feeling a bit more alert as though Kara were sharing her enthusiastic energy with him. He hadn't had much time to spend with any of the people he and Sherlock rescued from that horrible place Sam had been taken to, but Kara and her spirited attitude certainly stood out in his memory.
"Be sure to come and find me once you're ready for that," he added, realigning his back and settling back down in his chair. Not only was John curious to see the child's climbing skills, but he also would prefer to be around when she started doing this around the flat. He and Sherlock (mostly the latter) kept a great many things lying about, and John wanted to be sure she wouldn't get into anything too hazardous. Not like there was ever an occasion to child-proof the flat before, let alone for a child pushing a handful of centimeters in height. "I'm usually around."
“Okay!” she chirped, her light brown curls bouncing with her excitement. “Once I’ve got my thread allll ready I’ll look for you.”
“Once your dad is ready too,” Dean cautioned, visions of a tiny child climbing around and getting in trouble into John and Sherlock’s stuff dancing in his head. John wasn’t the only one who saw that as a recipe for disaster considering the state of the flat and the continuous experiments Sherlock had going on. Dean knew all too well how dangerous humans could be by accident. Sam had once almost been plucked up by John right out of a jacket pocket without John ever knowing both brothers were near.
“Say goodbye for now,” Dean encouraged Kara with a knowing grin, squeezing her shoulder.
“Bye sir!” Kara waved.
“Bye John,” Dean corrected, one of the few times he’d ever called the kindly doctor by his name instead of a companionable nickname.
John gave a small wave back, lifting his fingers from the arm of the chair and letting them drop back down. "See ya round, Kara," he replied.
Then to Dean he nodded, understanding that the smaller man had a rough night and an early start. He hoped that, once Kara quite literally let him off the hook, that Dean would be allowed a few more hours to catch up on sleep.
"Good morning," he bade as they turned to go, biting back a yawn.
Dean gave John a cocky salute, holding out a hand for Kara. She took it, her skinny fingers wrapping around just two of his. She skipped along at his side, her quick paces keeping up with his longer strides.
“I’m gonna show Uncle Mikael and daddy as soon as they get up!” she chattered on excitedly as they reached the books. “They’ll have to get climbing supplies too!”
Darkness fell over them and Dean let Kara take the lead. “Just take a right when you get to the back,” he cautioned her. “That way leads to our supply room instead of our home…”
His voice trailed off into silence as they slipped into the walls, leaving John alone in the living room.
The doctor sighed, glad to know that all the awful recent circumstances hadn't discouraged little Kara in the slightest. John had nearly forgotten how small she was, almost half Dean's height. It was lucky she seemed attached to the elder Winchester; he knew the flat and he knew the humans, and if anyone could assure these newcomers that they were safe, barring a badly injured Sam, it was Dean.
Still, John couldn't help but think about how much responsibility that put on Dean. He had no doubt the little fella could handle it. He'd jumped into a leadership role fairly quickly the night before, even asking John for help with providing them all with a place to sleep.
But that was just it, no one could be prepared to suddenly go from feeding, watering, and sheltering two people to nine. John recalled how much food Dean had been fetching when he and Sherlock interrupted him hours ago, and as much as Dean hid it from Kara, John could see the toll all that work was taking on him.
John turned all this over in his mind, shooting a brief glance over his shoulder at the kitchen before relaxing into his chair and the Union Jack pillow to hopefully snag an extra hour or two of sleep.