Dean wasn't sure what had happened.
One minute he'd been off playing pool in the local bar, making some extra cash. His opponents were faceless as he defeated them, one by one, but that didn't matter as long as they ponied up the cash. Dean smiled, counting the bills in his hand. He and Sam could live off this much for a long, long time.
As he counted his winnings, the world wavered around him. His whiskey on the bar faded, along with the barflies he'd been hitting on. Last, the cash in his hand faded, like it had never been there.
Dean opened his mouth to protest when he realized he had no idea where he was. A plain white expanse stretched out in all directions, surrounding him in silence.
After a moment staring into the distance, Dean realized he wasn't alone. He twisted around in surprise, spotting two others there with him. His eyes locked on the more distinctive of the pair, eyes widening in shock at the sight of Bowman, full-sized.
Seeing those leafy green wings from a proper perspective made Dean realized why the sprite was so overprotective of them. They were huge, clearly a major part of Bowman. Dean's face flushed with embarrassment at the memory of his hand clenched around them, crumpling them against the sprite's body. He found himself thankful Sam had warned him away from hurting them, even by accident. He could have snapped one of the fragile wings all too easily.
But before he could open his mouth and apologize to the sprite who mirrored his surprise, Dean's gaze was drawn to the third person standing there in the white emptiness with them.
The third member of the odd little group was staring around with just as much confusion in his eyes as Dean. Fluffy brown hair hung messily around his ears, and expressive hazel eyes met Dean's greens. A tan jacket that seemed so damn familiar completed the ensemble, making Dean's memory try to put together facts that seemed impossible for a few moments.
For a long moment, neither of them recognized the other.
After all, which of them would ever expect to find himself standing face to face with his brother? Sam was supposed to be asleep in Dean's pocket right now, surrounded by the landscape Dean's chest became at that scale. Curled up comfortably under a hand bigger than he was.
Dean's mouth went dry as he realized the truth.
Realized who was standing there with him.
"S--," Dean had to pause to clear his throat. "Sammy?" He took a halting step towards the other man in shock.
The confusion in Sam's face cleared up at Dean's familiar, comforting voice. "Dean? Is... is that really you? How is this --"
Sam was cut off when Dean slammed into him with a bear hug, almost knocking them both to the ground from the force. Sam had tears in his eyes as he hugged Dean back with a laugh, catching the older hunter off guard with his unexpected strength. They clung to each other like long-lost family, reunited at last, and that wasn't far from the truth.
After an endless stretch of time later, Sam realized Dean was pulling out of the hug. Still in shock, he did nothing to resist the older hunter's movements. Dean's hands found his face, making them look each other straight in the eyes. Sam tried to blink away his tears, overwhelmed by the moment.
"Let me get a good look at you, pint-size," came Dean's deep voice past his watery vision. A callused thumb wiped away his tears, taking care of Sam the way he'd always wanted to. At long last, Sam found himself looking down at Dean through clear eyes.
Down at Dean.
Dean's deep chuckle filled the air between them, in time with Sam's thoughts. "I'll be dammed," he said. "You did it, Sammy! You're taller than Dad!"
Sam pulled away from Dean's hands, shocked at what he saw. Dean, his enormous, over six foot tall brother who could tuck him in his pocket, was shorter than Sam. He found himself looking down at the top of Dean's head. It only came to about his eyes.
"Holy crap," Sam said, his eyes wide. "I knew I was at least a little tall around Walt and the others, but... holy crap!" He reached forward, poking the pocket on Dean's chest that he'd gone to sleep in not so long ago. Pulling the flap up he peered in, searching for any sign of his satchel. It was shocking to see how small it was now, compared to his hand. He could cover up the entire pocket with room to spare with only one hand. "My bag..."
Dean took Sam's hand, moving it away from his pocket. Before letting go, he stretched out his hand against Sam's, staring at the way it eclipsed his own. "I'll be dammed..." he repeated to himself, a broken record under the weight of his own surprise and joy. This same hand against his never filled more than his fingertip, and now it could engulf his own.
Dean pulled away from those thoughts, stepping back to really take in Sam's size. "Tell me about it," he said. He sized Sam up with a critical eye. "I'd give you... 6'3, 6'4, at least." He clapped Sam on the back. "I think we need a new nickname for you, Sasquatch!"
"Dean... you're... I can't..." Sam floundered, unable to find the words he needed.
Dean's eyes softened and he put a supportive arm around Sam's shoulder, trying to calm his younger brother down. An arm. Not a finger or a thumb like normal, but Dean's entire arm, and it barely reached around Sam. Sam's eyes sought out Bowman, a familiar ground to the way things were supposed to be.
"How is this... how is any of this possible?" Sam asked, almost pleading for answers.
Though he was just as confused as the pair of them, even Bowman couldn't help but be a little happy for them. He knew by the looks on their faces that they had never expected to be able to see each other eye to eye. And yet, here they were. Sam and Dean, standing together at the scale they were meant to. Bowman was beginning to understand why they were all there.
He took a deep breath, trying to think of a nice, succinct way to explain. "This is how the Earth Spirit contacts someone," he answered, a certain reverence in his voice. Joyous though it was, it was also a deeply profound honor for a sprite to receive the attention of their Spirit. "I've never heard of Her contacting more than one person at once, but I guess this is what that looks like." He shrugged and raised his arms from his sides slightly, indicating the void around them, and the fact that all three of them stood within it. Standing at the same scale with a couple of humans ... it was a bit of a rush.
Maybe she made us all the same to make it easier to talk to us all at once, Bowman guessed, once again glancing around for the Spirit Herself. She had to have a reason for contacting all of them like this.
There was a breeze, and Bowman stood up straighter as it wafted by. This was it. She was going to reveal Herself and reveal why She wanted to contact the three of them. Bowman took a deep breath of the sweet air, reminded of a sunny day in the woods shortly after a rain.
Artwork by yours truly,nightmares06!
Into their midst came a soft green glow, which quickly grew and took the shape of a sprite, wings and all. The light solidified until a woman was revealed, Her skin just a shade darker than Bowman's amber tone. Her eyes were solid pools of sage green, and She wore a simple long dress that faded from the palest green to teal. Long green hair framed a kind face, which She angled towards each of them in turn. She looked pleased.
"Bowman Leafwing, it seems once again you have met humans and once again they have earned my favor," She remarked with a smile, tapping Her chin as if thoughtful about the coincidence. Bowman grinned sheepishly.
Soon, She turned Her gaze to the brothers again. "Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester," She greeted them. Her voice, when it formed the sounds of their names, seemed to fill the air around them with life energy, with vigor and health. The Lady of Life had that effect on those She contacted. "I wish to convey my gratitude," She continued, tilting Her head slowly to the side and sending Her pale green hair curtaining over Her shoulder. "You place your lives on the line quite often. Today you risked yourselves to help protect my children. I cannot say thank you enough."
She held out a hand to indicate Sam's height compared to Dean. "In lieu of words, I offer you each the chance to see your brother as you were meant to see him."
The brothers listened to Her words in silence. Sam saw a flicker of sadness cross Dean's face when She said it wasn't permanent. He knew Dean always had hope they would find a way to cure Sam once and for all, one day.
Standing side by side like this, it was easier to see the differences between the brothers, even in their clothing. While Dean's clothes had been bought manufactured from a store, Sam's were lovingly handcrafted by his adopted mother, sewn together from fabric she'd spent her days gathering from empty rooms. Though his clothes were modeled on the same idea as Dean's, the threads were thicker, the seams a little rougher. Sam's boots were the closest part to what Dean had on, expertly made from the hides and bits of rubber Walt had crafted.
Sam found himself dropping to a knee in front of the Spirit. "You've given us more than I ever hoped for... more than we thought possible, for so long now. Thank you, for all this."
Dean sank down next to Sam, following his younger brother's example. Dean kept a hand on Sam's shoulder, unwilling to let go. He hated thinking this wouldn't last, but he knew it wasn't meant to be. Not yet, at least. "Thank you... for giving me this chance to see Sam," Dean blinked, fighting back his own tears. "I've always wanted to see him eye to eye, ever since finding out he was still alive." His hand tightened on Sam's shoulder. Sam put a hand on Dean's, sharing a look of understanding with his older brother.
The Spirit smiled softly, regarding their respectful positions. "I am glad to give you this gift," She replied. "You owed me nothing. And yet you risked your lives to ensure that my children would be safe." She held up a hand, indicating that the two of them could certainly stand if they wished.
Dean pulled himself off the ground, followed by Sam. He couldn't help shaking his head slightly, amused by how tall Sam was. After everything the guy had been put through because of his size, he stood a good few inches over Dean. And he was strong. Remembering that hug, Dean couldn't help eyeing Sam's upper body appreciatively. Was Sam really stronger than him? He found it hard to believe, after a lifetime of training and hunting, but when he remembered the amount of climbing Sam had done growing up, it made a little more sense. Maybe being shrunk had something to do with it, too. None of the others like Sam had any issues with climbing, but a lot of humans did. A natural strength would help with survival.
The Spirit glanced past them at Bowman, who had his head bowed respectfully. "I especially appreciate the help with this child of mine, who, try as he might, cannot seem to stay out of trouble."
Bowman looked up, nearly blushing fire, at the Spirit's almost teasing smile. "I ... My Lady, that's...!"
She cut off his stammering with a laugh, a clear, pure sound that lit up Her face and sparkled in Her eyes. One small hand was placed in front of Her mouth to pretend to mask the expression. She moved on from Her gentle scolding and said, "I thought you might appreciate the chance to greet your friends as well, Bowman, both of them. Especially after putting yourself in front of the enemy to help them."
"Y-yeah." Bowman thought about how he'd dove in front of that wolf, and then again in front of the lich in the final fight. He'd done both with hardly a second thought, no wavering in his resolve. But the pair had earned his loyalty, and they would keep it now after taking down the lich that threatened to wipe out the entire village with its foul designs.
His eyes drifted somewhat reluctantly off of the Spirit to settle on Dean. "So this is what you look like when you're not giant, huh? I thought I was getting used to it but standing around two people without wings is just kind of bizarre," he quipped, smirking faintly at the pair.
Dean crossed his arms with a scowl. " 'Giant?' I'll have you both know I'm perfectly normal sized. It's not my fault everyone around me has a height deficiency."
Sam rolled his eyes with a grin, nudging Dean with an elbow to snark. "Big words coming from the shortest guy here." Dean was caught off guard, stumbling when Sam used a little more force than he'd needed.
Dean paused at Sam's words, a little shocked when he realized it was true. Bowman, while shorter than Sam, was still taller than Dean. He threw up his arms. "That's right, make fun of the guy who saved your asses!"
Bowman grinned and held his head a little higher, trying to size up just how much taller he was than Dean at the moment. It didn't seem like it was by much. To Dean, it was an inch or two at best. Bowman had to remind himself that at his usual size, an inch or two was a significant fraction of his height.
So, naturally, he was going to relish this moment for as long as it lasted. "Aww. What's the matter, small fry? Don't like being a little bit shorter one time in your life?" he teased.
He wondered briefly what Vel would think if he saw Dean at a closer scale. Judging by the kid's reaction to even Sam, he wouldn't mind in the least if his 'big brother' wasn't human-sized. "Don't worry, though, Dean," Bowman added brightly. "You're still taller than the nestlings."
He opened a wing and extended it towards the human. Bowman angled the wing so he could brush the tip over Dean's head, effectively ruffling his hair. It was amazing to think that, in the waking world, the very same wing would hardly tickle the human. Dean could (and had) easily engulf that wing in his hand, along with the rest of Bowman. The sprite snickered as he quickly pulled his wing back before Dean got the idea to grab it. "There, there, small fry."
Dean dodged back, too slow to avoid the wing. He brushed back his short, dirty blonde hair, fixing the spiky style he favored. "Let's not forget who's taller than who here," he groused. "Or you two are going to earn pocket-time, for sure." He jabbed a finger at both of them, fixing each of his companions with a customary glare. Inwardly, he was smiling even as he snarked back, knowing how much Sam must be enjoying being the tall one for once.
Bowman chuckled, not fazed by the threat of pocket-time. Why would he worry? At the moment, he was taller than a human. The experience was too novel, too intriguing for him to be anything but entertained. He wondered briefly how he would compare to the other humans he'd met. Especially Jacob, who he was pretty sure was also taller than Dean at this point. It was hard to tell with people that towered over his head normally.
Sam couldn't quite believe it himself. Dean wasn't the only one who'd noticed Sam's strength was unexpectedly more powerful than either of them had ever thought, considering how easy it was to trap him in something as normal as a fist. Is it possible? Am I actually stronger than Dean? he thought to himself in amazement while the other two carried on. It was a heady thought, to be relatively stronger than his brother.
Hearing Dean's words, Sam bit back a grin. "Putting us in a pocket later can't hide the truth, pint-size," he shot at the hunter, taking full advantage of his 'short' brother. His eyes were drawn to Dean's pockets again, disbelief filling him at how small they were against Dean. And I'm in there right now, he thought as his eyes landed on the chest pocket he was using as a sleeping bag that very moment. Can't lose touch with how big he really is in reality, or you might end up stuck in a pocket for real.
Dean didn't catch onto Sam's thoughts, snorting at his 'little' brother. "Well, guess I'll just have to start calling you 'gigantor,' won't I?"
"It's good to know you don't limit the nicknames to just the smaller folk," Bowman quipped, thinking over the strange sound of 'gigantor' in his head. He thought he understood that one, at least. Mostly.
"Why would I ever limit the nicknames?" Dean said, snickering a little at the thought. "I've got plenty for everyone, might as well share."
He tried not to feel self-conscious, feeling Sam and Bowman's gazes on him. He couldn't really blame them, just as caught off guard by having the two guys he'd been carrying on his shoulder earlier that night standing taller than him.
He couldn't at least have one of them be shorter? Preferably Bowman, of course. Dean would never want to take this moment away from Sam, shorter brother or not.
Bowman thought to himself that it was almost strange to have the same kind of banter he was used to having with humans, but without having to look up to see them, and without their voice rumbling through his entire body. It was ... normal. And by the look on Sam's face, it was something he'd hoped for for so long that he almost didn't know what to do now that he had it. Perhaps the Earth Spirit's presence had filled the air with life, but the joy in the room came from the mortals She chose to visit.
Now that he could see both brothers at a closer scale, Bowman couldn't help himself. He glanced over his shoulder and stretched his wings as far as they'd go. Just to see how they'd compare to a few humans if he were bigger in real life. They were longer than he was tall, and would probably cast a formidable green-tinted shadow.
Dean tried not to stare. Those wings were huge, the wingspan easily reaching fourteen feet from tip to tip. It was hard to believe he'd held them both in one hand just yesterday.
"Imagine how much noise my wings could make at this size," Bowman mused, thinking about the simple clapping noise he could make at sprite size. "Might just give you a heart attack, Dean," he added with a smirk.
"Better watch yourself," Dean said dryly. "We all know how that one ended up for you today. You might give yourself a heart attack again."
Feeling Sam's eyes on him, Dean turned slightly, catching his little brother's eyes. Sam twitched his head at Bowman, his meaning clear in those big, expressive eyes. Dean couldn't bring himself to ignore Sam's meaning, blindsided by the sight of full-sized puppy eyes.
That’s not even fair.
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Hey man," he said to Bowman. "I... I'm sorry about yesterday, when I, you know... almost crushed your wings." At this, Dean's thumb rubbed against his palm, recalling what it had felt like having those tiny wings thrash helplessly in his grip, slapping his wrist with all the power they could muster and still hardly feeling like more than leaves bumped against him in a breeze. His face warmed at the thought. "I really didn't want to hurt you, so... sorry, alright?" The last few words came fast, trying to stumble past the apology as fast as he could.
The apology made Bowman pause in the middle of drawing his wings back towards himself, frozen with them partially open and his eyebrows raised. Considering how badly he and Dean had been getting along at first, he never really expected to hear an apology out of the human. He folded up his wings with one last rustle and shrugged.
"No harm done, somehow, despite you having monster hands," Bowman quipped, smirking. "Don't sweat it." The Earth Spirit, who had not spoken in a while, smiled faintly, and She seemed pleased that Bowman had so easily forgiven Dean. After all, Bowman was protective of his wings to a fault.
Dean stared down at his hands at Bowman's words. Monster hands... It was as good a name as any. Monster hands that could snatch Sam or Bowman up without giving them a choice, and once those hands closed around them, they had no way to escape. I never wanted that... Dean thought to himself. I never wanted to have that kind of control over someone else...
Especially not over my friends and family...
Bowman took a moment to think about his brief conversation with Sam before they'd gone to sleep. How Dean felt bad for pulling the gun on someone who didn't deserve it. Really, after seeing Dean in action today, Bowman couldn't doubt that. He was terrifying in battle, but he always seemed to know which way to aim his fury. He'd even made some attempts to avoid touching Bowman's wings, back when he had no idea what was going on in the woods. And no one could deny that he'd been very good with the kids, especially the little nestling Vel.
Jacob had once told Bowman about a gesture that humans did. It could be a simple greeting, or a congratulations, or a sign of camaraderie and trust. He was almost hesitant, but after the briefest pause Bowman held out a hand for Dean to shake. Am I even doing this right? he wondered. “All is forgiven, giant.”
Dean looked up from his gloomy thoughts in surprise, not expecting the sprite to offer a handshake, of all things. With a slowly growing smile, Dean reached out and took the offered hand. A hand that could close around the sprite's entire body and then some gripped the slim hand firmly, going up then down once. "Glad to hear," Dean said during the handshake. "Keep those wings safe, flyboy. I don't want to have to come back here to hunt the jackass down that hurts them, but I'll sure as hell be back if anyone messes with you or your village."
Flyboy. The nickname got a smirk out of Bowman. There really was no end to them. But, following the nickname was an assurance that surprised Bowman more than Dean's apology had done. It was one thing for Dean to have put his all into protecting the village once. His lifestyle as a hunter had just happened to lead him to Wellwood with the goal of protecting humans. But now, he seemed fully ready to come back specifically to aid the sprites when they needed it, and that kind of loyalty was powerful.
"I'll keep that in mind," Bowman answered with a smile of his own. "You know you've got my help if you need it." He wasn't sure what someone like him could do to help the pair, considering the kinds of misadventures they had to be prone to, but Bowman wasn't about to answer Dean's offer of allegiance with anything less than the same.
"You'll have to come back anyway and we can have a rematch," he added with a grin. Nodding his head in Sam's direction, Bowman said "You won't have a secret advantage next time. You two won't get the better of me again."
Sam grinned back, stepping forward as Dean and Bowman separated. He shook the sprite's hand as well. "Guess this means you won't be underestimating us next time we're in town, will you? Or," and Sam smirked at this, "maybe next time me and you'll keepDean on his toes. Can't have him slacking off now and thinking everything's easy, can we?"
Dean sent Sam a mock glare. "I never slack off!" he declared obstinately, crossing his arms.
It was an odd feeling, meeting that glare and not even getting at least a little nervous. There was that strange euphoria that filled Sam as he stood on the same level as Dean for the first time since they were children. And even when they were kids Dean had always stood taller than Sam. He hadn't hit his growth spurt until he turned 16 or 17, and when you lived with people who reckoned their size by inches, there's no way to even find out how tall you would be if you'd stayed the same size.
But now I know, and I'll always know no matter what, how tall I would have been, he thought wistfully. Really, the only time he'd really want to have it was when John was around. Show him how it felt to be smaller for once. At least Sam had Dean around, no matter what. The hunter would always have his back no matter his size, so even though Sam knew this wouldn't last, it didn't bother him.
The important people in your life shouldn't care about something as silly as how tall you were, and Dean didn't. Nor did Bobby, or Walt. Sam had no idea what John thought, since his father had left without saying goodbye, but he hoped John had rethought his actions and understood where his sons were coming from.
"So Bowman, after we leave, you going back to patrolling the woods?" Sam asked, remembering what Bowman had said he was doing when they first found him.
Bowman snickered. "You think you guys could scare me off that? Of course I'll keep watch," he answered without any hesitation. After all, even if things hadn't gone exactly smoothly yesterday, Bowman had found out about the threat of the lich in time thanks to patrolling that far.
He tried to imagine what might have happened if he hadn't run into Sam and Dean. They'd probably still be tracking the wolf attacks, slowly working their way towards the lich. In the meantime, the sprites would have fallen victim to a huge attack. No amount of sprite knights would have been enough against that lich on their own.
He thought about how it had felt, being trapped in that monster's skeletal hand. To have life energy dragged through him, eroding him from his core. Every single sprite might have faced that until they were spent, all powering up the lich, possibly beyond even Dean's ability to fight it off.
"Someone's got to keep an eye on the humans that stumble into the woods," he added with a chuckle. "Make sure they don't cause any trouble."
The Spirit had watched the conversation with a soft smile on Her lips. She hadn't said a word, simply allowing the three to look each other in the eye like they so deserved. But now She gracefully took one step forward, drawing the attention back towards Herself. "I'm very happy that you enjoyed this gift," She said, turning Her smile on Sam and Dean. "I am pleased to have met you. Thank you again for protecting my children."
"I only wish I could do more for you," She added, Her voice lowering very slightly to convey a tinge of regret. She could not touch the curse on Sam, though She had tried. "I must let you sleep soon. Sun shine on you, Sam and Dean Winchester." The Spirit didn't yet fade, but She nodded at them to indicate that the connection would be ended in a few moments.
Sam's happiness turned bittersweet at the spirit's words. "You've done more than we ever expected. Thank you."
As Dean echoed the sentiment beside him, Sam turned back to his brother. It might be his last chance to look Dean in the eyes and he wasn't about to waste it.
Dean's smile was forced when Sam saw him, sadness shining in his eyes. There was nothing he hated more than the constant fear that he'd accidentally hurt Sam one day, and after this dream ended that's what they'd go back to.
"Dean," Sam said. His voice broke, choking up. How could he tell Dean in these last few moments it didn't matter how big either of them stood? How he didn't mind if he stood in Dean's hand or by his side? It didn't matter, because that was his brother he was standing on or next to, and he felt safer with Dean than anywhere else. Dean had earned his complete trust.
"I know, Sammy, I know." Dean arched his eyebrows and grinned. " 'Size be dammed,' right? Words for us to live by, no matter what happens. We watch each other's back, no matter the circumstances."
Sam grinned back, and grabbed Dean in one last bonecrushing hug. Dean grunted briefly at the force, but leaned into the hug as well, taking that last chance the Spirit had offered them. The world faded away as they slipped into sleep, darkness claiming them both.
The last thing Sam heard before the world went dark was Keep your chin up, Sasquatch. I got your back, come whatever.