Characters: Sam, Dean, John
Genre: Gen, hurt/comfort, AU, Wee!chester
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural except in my dreams where schmoop abounds.
Warnings: Those of you who think John Winchester was a good father doing the best he could under terrible circumstances may not like my portrayal. He's not deliberately cruel, but he is negligent and he treats his sons as though they are soldiers, not little boys. Just remember this story is AU and Sammy knows what his daddy does at a much younger age than canon Sammy.
Word Count: ~4,100
Summary: This is the third story in the 'Wish 'verse. I recommend reading at least the first story here before you read this one as this is an AU and it may be difficult to follow if you don't get the background. In summary: Young Sammy's wish to be a grown up whenever his big brother, Dean, needs help gets granted by a well-meaning gypsy. The unexpected consequences of the wish cause an unbreakable bond to develop between the brothers. A magical creature, the black imp, attempts to take the wish away from the boys, but is thwarted by John who is then cursed by the imp to forever be in pain when his sons are nearby.
In this installment Dean is 10 and Sammy is 6 until his brother needs his help and the Wish transforms him into a 24 year old. Dad comes home from a hunt and something is…wrong. Once more it's up to adult Sam to protect young Dean from danger and this time he can't count on John for back-up.
Bonded and Broken
Chapter 2 It's a Matter of Heart
Dean's eyes are glued to the large workman's boot and the scattered salt line, riveted to that one spot, and he has to forcefully peel his gaze away to look up, up, up past the muddy denim clad legs, past the well-worn leather jacket, until he finally reaches his father's face. He takes a moment to study the features carefully because something feels wrong. It's nothing he can put his finger on, nothing overt. Everything just seems the tiniest bit south of familiar, just one degree off.
"Are you alright, dad?" Dean asks and instinctively moves sideways to block Sammy from his father's line of vision. The protectiveness that wells up inside of him isn't something he questions. It's automatic, primal, hard wired into his very being. Even though the urge to ward off danger has never manifested with his own father as the threat before, Dean doesn't fight his instincts.
Pushing outward along the invisible strand of his bond with his brother, Dean thinks as hard as he can about staying still, keeping quiet, and blending in. Sammy can't read his thoughts, their bond doesn't work that way, but they've been working on developing a system of silent communication using the bond and their ability to sense each other's emotions. They've had about a year to practice, a year since the empathic abilities first became apparent and in that time they've found certain emotions they can interpret to mean different things. Slight variations of one emotion or another can be manipulated and combined with other emotions, turning them into their own secret language. So right now Dean is projecting a combination of caution mixed with patience and a little bit of fear and hoping that Sam gets the message.
"Yeah, I'm doing just fine, boy, just fine. Have you been behaving yourselves? Keeping out of trouble?" A smile twitches at the corners of their dad's lips before he closes the motel room door behind him.
The sound of the door snicking shut makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and when Dean opens the inner gate to his brother's emotions he is flooded with a mirroring unease and a vague warning, be careful. Without looking at the small boy sitting on the bed behind him, Dean gives a tight nod in response to the warning and then answers their father, "Yes, sir."
"Good, that's good. I'm glad to hear it." The hunter strides over to the window, flicks the ugly drapes aside briefly to glance outside, and runs a finger through the salt on the window sill. "Huh." He says thoughtfully.
"Are you hungry? I can heat you up something." Dean indicates the hot plate and the stack of aluminum cans where they sit on the floor next to the door to the bathroom as though his dad might not remember having stacked them there when they checked into the room two days ago. Maybe if he acts like this is any other time his dad has returned from a hunt it'll start to feel normal and everything will be okay, dad will be alright.
"No, not quite yet. There's something I need to talk to you boys about first. Something I need your help with."
And then his dad is standing next to him, pulling him into a tight hug and Dean can't remember the last time his dad stood close enough to touch him, much less give him a hug. He looks up into the man's face expecting to see the customary tension lines furrowed across his brows, the ones that always appear whenever he's in the same room with either of his sons, but instead he's met with a beaming smile. An ache of longing settles in the pit of his stomach because he wants this, has wanted this for so long. Yet now that he has a fleeting taste of his father's affection, it feels tainted somehow. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Dean asks, "Talk to us about what?"
His father gives his shoulder a final squeeze and then sits on the edge of Sammy's bed, ruffles the smaller boy's hair. "I've stumbled across something here, something big. A gathering of…well, I'm not sure what yet, but I'm closing in on them. Halloween is next week, six days from today, and everything points to that day as being important to this gathering."
Sammy squirms away from their dad and off the bed, distrustful and wary. He slides up to Dean while keeping both eyes glued on John, pressing into his brother's side like a baby koala bear clinging to its mother. Dean's not sure if his own emotions are feeding Sammy's anxiety or if Sammy is picking up the same bad vibes he is from their father. Either way, the warmth of the younger boy at his side is a steadying pressure and even makes up for the fact that his little brother's fixation with Australian animals seems to be rubbing off on him.
Their dad leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees, regarding his sons with an amused tilt of his head. "So, I'll need to stick around, look into this gathering and see what needs to be done, but I don't want you boys nearby. I'm going to move you to another location. Somewhere no one can find you, somewhere you'll be safe."
"Why can't we just stay here?" Sammy asks boldly, never one for taking anything on blind faith, always wanting to know why.
"I just told you," John squints in annoyance. "I'm afraid they'll find you here. We need to do a better job of hiding you, make sure they can't follow my trail."
"Who's going to find us?" The steely set to Sammy's jaw reminds Dean of Sam when he's all grown up. A quick double take confirms that his brother is still only six years old.
"I don't know yet. Haven't you been listening?" Their dad rubs a hand along his scruffy chin and takes a deep breath, letting it out in a loud huff. "We'll leave here in the morning. I'll find a place to stash you while I do my thing…hunting." At this last bit the man grimaces and then continues. "Before I go I need to know you're going to be able to defend yourselves if necessary, or at least be able to outrun anything that comes after you. I have to know what you're capable of."
Confused, Dean shifts from foot to foot, balancing restlessly. "What we're capable of? You know what we can do, dad. You train us all the time."
"I know about your training, I'm thinking of something a little different. A contest. Nothing fancy, just a good old fashioned, one-on-one trial to see which one of you is the better man." Their dad grins as though he expects his sons to be pleased with his idea to pit them against each other.
Pleased is the very last thing Dean feels at the idea. The way Sammy stiffens and clutches him tighter speaks volumes about how the smaller boy is taking the news and Dean doesn't even have to open himself up to his brother's emotions to catch the drift.
Usually dad stresses team work, taking care of each other, and watching each other's backs. This is different and Dean doesn't like it. Even though he wants to rebel, he decides to stay quiet and hear his dad out. He puts his hand flat on the small of his brother's back where his dad can't see and pushes out a sense of calm acceptance. Easy, squirt. Sammy relaxes under his palm.
It's hard finding the emotions inside himself sometimes, finding the calm when mostly what he feels is agitated and jumpy. He has to actually feel the emotions, not just want to feel them. There's a trick to it and it only lasts a fraction of a second. All his real emotions are still there and he has to dig deep to find the ones he wants to push to Sammy. It's a lot like pretending which he's very good at, only he has to fool himself and that's not exactly a walk in the park.
Dad's gaze wanders around the room as though he's searching for something in particular. He taps his blunt fingertips on the bedside table and turns to look back at the door leading to the wraparound walkway. "I got it! We'll have a race. A little healthy competition to let me know what I'm working with here." Their father stands up and rubs his hands together, a satisfied expression on his face. "First one to make it around the building wins. We can even throw in the stairs to make things interesting. Okay, so around the building, down the stairs and back up. Winner gets to go inside and get a good night's sleep while the loser continues to practice until I'm satisfied that he's improved."
Dean stares at his father in disbelief. He can't figure out what the man is up to. It's ridiculous. There's no question who will win in a race between him and Sammy and they all know it. "But dad, Sammy's a lot smaller than I am, we should give him a head start."
"No buts. It's going to be a serious race with no quarter given. Sammy will just have to try harder if he wants to win, otherwise he's going to be spending a lot of time out here getting to know those stairs real well." A mean little sneer appears and then vanishes so quickly that Dean's not sure whether he really saw the downward twist of his father's lips or whether he just imagined it.
Sammy reaches the door first, eager to get outside and stretch his legs. Poor kid probably thinks this is some kind of fun game. Dean knows his brother has been bored all day long and has wanted a chance to play out on the walkway.
A winter-like blast of frigid air blows into the room as soon as the smaller boy gets the door open and he stops on the threshold. "It's cold. We'll need our coats." He says and starts to close the door.
"Coats will only slow you down. You'll need every advantage you can get if you want to win." Their dad steps up behind Sammy and pushes the small boy out the door.
Sammy stumbles forward a few steps before catching his balance again and a shot of anger surges through Dean. That push had been unnecessarily hard and without thinking Dean says, "Hey!"
"You have something you want to say to me, boy?"
The authority in his dad's voice stops Dean in his tracks. It's second nature to obey that voice even though he feels like he's getting whiplash from his father's mood swings. "No sir."
Floodlights on the side of the building provide plenty of light. Tiny white moths bash themselves against the glowing bulbs repeatedly. Dean thinks that this race makes about as much sense as a moth's fruitless quest to get as close to a light bulb as it possibly can. In other words, not a lot.
The two boys take their mark at their father's call and take off as soon as he yells 'GO'. They race down the straight path to their father's shouts of encouragement. Dean paces Sammy, making sure not to get in front of the smaller boy. As much as he hates the idea of their dad not thinking he's good enough, not capable of taking care of himself and Sammy, there's no way he's letting Sammy get punished for losing this stupid race. He hopes his dad will understand.
Once they reach the first bend Dean slows down even more. "Keep going Sammy. Run. You can do it." He cheers.
Sammy looks back at him, dimples denting his cheeks in a big grin. The little boy is enjoying the heck out of this race after being cooped up in the motel room for so long. All talk of winners and losers and consequences seems to have gone right over the younger boy's head and he runs as if he hadn't a care in the world, wild and free, pure joy streaming off him.
Dean can't help but smile back and let the joyful emotion wash over him.
They continue like that through three more turns and by the time their father comes into sight again as they round the building Dean has allowed the gap between them to grow substantially. Sammy reaches the stairs and begins to scamper down as quickly as his shorter legs will take him, turns at the bottom and scampers back up. Dean jogs along behind him maintaining the distance.
John joins them at the head of the steps and greets Sammy with a tight smile. "Good job, Sammy. You can go on into the room now."
"What about Dean? He did a good job too, right?" The younger boy asks, a worried frown suddenly replacing his bright grin when he catches sight of the storm clouds gathering on his father's face.
"I think Dean has a little more work to do." John's displeasure is clear in his clipped tone.
Dean squares his shoulders and takes a breath, getting ready for whatever might be coming his way while at the same time thanking his lucky stars because while his dad is obviously angry, at least his plan worked and Sammy isn't being punished.
Sammy's frown deepens and Dean can see the wheels turning inside his brother's head. The exact moment when Sammy seems to get what's about to happen is apparent when he begins to violently shake his head. "No, Dean should come inside too."
Although he means well, Sammy is about to make matters worse by disobeying. He dares not say anything out loud just in case their dad thinks he's being disrespectful, so Dean pushes a combination of acceptance and gratitude and optimism through their connection to his brother. It's alright, go.
One of the lower level motel room doors opens. The soft murmur of voices drifts up to where all three Winchesters are standing, quietly watching one another. Once the voices fade away, Sammy sends one more piercing look at their dad and then stomps back into the room. The threat in the boy's gaze seems to go unheeded as John's focus swings back to Dean.
"That was by far the most unimpressive race I have ever seen." John's low voice throbs with menace. "What message were you trying to send me there, Dean? That you don't care? That you don't find my instructions important? 'Cause let me tell you something – by the end of the night – I think you're going to care. I think you're going to care a whole lot."
Dean knows better than to doubt the truth of his father's words. He moistens his lower lip with a suddenly dry tongue and waits patiently to hear his penance.
"So, we'll start off with some sprints up and down the stairs and I don't want to see any of that lazy jogging you just inflicted on me. You run. I mean RUN, as fast as you can and don't you stop until I say you're done!"
Nodding his understanding, Dean turns and barrels down the stairs, devoting everything he has to the effort, determined to prove just how much he really does care. When he reaches the bottom he starts back up again taking the stairs two at a time.
"Again, keep going." John growls.
By the time he's gone down and up ten times his calves and thighs have started to burn. He keeps his head down and lets the world around him dissolve. The concrete stairs are no more than a blur of grey and shadow. After a while, his body is generating so much heat that he doesn't even feel the chill wind blowing anymore.
And that's when his dad starts talking again. Or really more like heckling.
"Is that the best you can do? You really are worthless aren't you? I'm not even sure why I keep you around."
The words are like a physical blow, punching the air out of his burning lungs. Surely his dad can't mean what he said. He must just be trying a new tactic to get Dean to run faster. Dean obliges with a new burst of speed.
"Now that brother of yours is a different story…he's a keeper. He may not be as fast as you or as strong as you, but he's got a lot more heart and a lot more vitality than you'll ever have. That other stuff will come in time, he'll grow to be fast and strong and then he'll be perfect. Then you'll only get in his way."
A droplet of sweat trickles down his brow and into the corner of his eye. It stings, which is the only reason his eyes begin to water.
"Are those tears? Oh no, no, no, no. Please don't tell me you're not only lazy and stupid but a cry baby too." His father taunts.
"No sir." Dean swipes the back of his hand across his eyes and keeps climbing.
He has trained in endurance since he was seven years old, but by the time he's gone down and up that same flight of stairs twenty-five times his legs are starting to quiver, muscle fatigue setting in. Even though his breath is coming in painful bursts and his lungs feel like they're about to explode, he refuses to slow down or show he's tiring.
His dad shows no sign of calling a stop to the training exercise.
After that Dean loses count of the number of times he's gone down and up. His legs are like lead weights and his heart is pounding. It's possible that his dad is still yelling at him, questioning his loyalty, his devotion, his work ethic, his intelligence. It's possible, but Dean's not sure because he stopped listening long ago, the sound of blood pumping in his ears too loud to let any other noise through. All he knows it that he has to keep going. There is no stopping, no resting and no quarter will be given, no mercy granted. He's on a forced march and he's so tired, so very, very tired.
When he absolutely cannot face going down the stairs one more time he comes to a halt in front of his dad, arms hanging lifelessly at his sides and panting heavily. John steps right into his space leaving barely two inches between them.
"Did I tell you to stop? Because I don't remember saying you were done yet."
"I can't dad. Please." Dean pleads, shoulders slumping.
Fury twists his dad's lips into a disturbing sneer and that's the last thing Dean sees before he's flying backwards through the air.
Falling down a flight of stairs isn't anything like how he had imagined it. Not that he'd spent a lot of time fantasizing about falling down stairs, but still. He'd thought it would happen so fast there would be no time to even realize he was falling, just a thump and a thud and he'd be at the bottom. In reality, it feels like he's falling in slow motion.
He feels his father's hands connect with his chest, feels the shove and the backward momentum. The hand rail is to his right. He tries to catch his balance by grabbing onto it, but his arms won't move the way he wants them to. Too clumsy, add that to the list of his failures, he thinks morosely.
Somehow there's plenty of time for him to try to determine the best landing position to minimize injuries. By tucking his head and rolling into as much of a ball as he can he hopes to protect his most vulnerable body parts. Unfortunately, this only serves to speed up his downward velocity and soon he's tumbling down the stairs completely out of control.
The impact of his leg with one of the steps at a bad angle causes a flare of raw agony to erupt from his ankle to his knee, driving all other thoughts from his mind. The remainder of his fall is punctuated with jolts of pain to his back, his hip and his shoulder.
He's a bit hazy on what happens next. He opens his eyes to the sensation of his dad's hands fisted in the front of his shirt, hauling him to his feet. The hot pulse of injured joints, torn ligaments, or broken bones, and maybe all three, makes putting any weight at all on his left leg impossible. He cries out and crumples forward, his father's hold on his shirt the only thing keeping him vertical.
The door to their motel room crashes open and Sam is standing there, backlit by the lamps inside the room so that he appears to have a heavenly aura. He's a full fledged adult, all 6'4" of lean muscle and from the look on his face he's pissed off. Dean only has a second to wonder why Sam is all grown up, what kind of danger might be lurking about, before he sees the flash of reflected light off metal. A gun. Sam is holding their dad's Glock at the ready, finger on the trigger. He's not joking around.
"Get away from him. Let him go and back away." Sam is seething, his voice contains barely controlled rage. The gun points directly at their father's head. "Back. Off."
John releases his grip on Dean's shirt, holding his hands out to the side in the universal gesture for unarmed and defenseless. Dean promptly collapses without the support and doesn't see how, but the next thing he knows Sam is kneeling in front of him, gun still trained on John who has moved to the opposite side of the motel parking lot.
"Sam-my." The gutted sound of his own voice makes Dean want to cringe. "What…" He doesn't finish the question because there are too many things he doesn't understand and his head is spinning dangerously.
Sam loops one arm around his waist. "Hold onto me, Dean." He says and then lifts Dean off the ground and holds him against his chest.
It's been a while since Dean's been carried and he thinks he's most likely too old and too big for this kind of treatment. At the moment though, he feels so empty, like his insides have been scooped out leaving nothing more than a fragile shell behind. In a desolate fog he holds onto his brother and watches listlessly as his father retreats to the motel room.
"You can run, but you can't hide from me." The man calls out from the relative safety of the threshold. "I'll find you when you least expect it and when I do you'll wish you'd never been born."
The last spark of Dean's spirit sputters and dies.
On to ( Chapter 3 )