Title: Bonded and Broken
Characters: Sam, Dean, John, Bobby
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: ~3,500
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 4 Moments to Savor
Dean isn't sure when he first started referring to their dad's friend Bobby as Uncle Bobby. It might have been in the days after the Black Imp's attack, but Dean doesn't think it started that early. Most likely it started during one of their subsequent visits to the older hunter's scrap yard when Sammy was four or five and their dad needed help with one hunt or another. He does remember that the words had unconsciously slipped out of his mouth one day while the two of them had been outside bent over an old Buick, Bobby tinkering with the engine and Dean handing over tools as needed. Dean had felt his face go red with embarrassment, but Bobby had just laughed, pleased, and put a fatherly hand on his shoulder. The name had stuck, Sammy quickly picking up on it, and the man had been Uncle Bobby ever since.
As one of the few – very few – people who know anything at all about Sammy's Wish, Uncle Bobby has become more than just a friend of the family – he is family.
The prospect of going to Bobby's gives Dean a glimmer of purpose, something to pin his hopes on. There's one thing he knows for certain about Bobby - if it's in the man's power to help them, to help their dad, he'll do whatever it takes and leave no stone unturned.
That's not to say that he doesn't trust Sammy to do anything and everything possible, because he does. Dean trusts his brother implicitly and it's a trust born of experience. He's seen his adult brother in action, knows what Sam is capable of. Sammy in grown up form becomes truly awe inspiring in his drive to protect.
When Dean had asked Sam what they were going to do, he had been prepared to follow his brother to the ends of the earth if Sam had said that's where they needed to go, no questions asked. It made him feel good though, useful, to be able to suggest going to Uncle Bobby's. It's not so much that he's proud of himself for coming up with a solution; it's more that he's happy to have made a contribution. When Sammy is little Dean is usually the responsible one and when Sam is big Dean is satisfied to let him take the lead, but he doesn't want to be a burden and with his leg messed up…that's exactly what he is, a burden.
"You're thinking too hard, kiddo. Aren't you tired? You can sleep and I'll keep watch." Sam says from behind him.
Rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, Dean lets himself soak up his brother's warmth where his back rests against Sam's upper body. "I'm not that tired," he lies.
The truth is that his whole body aches except his left foot which has gone mostly numb. The swelling around his ankle makes the skin feel stretched taught and burning hot. The rest of him is still chilled even with Sam offering his own body heat like a living, breathing heating pad. Jolts of pain flash through his knee every time the boxcar hitches over uneven terrain or a bump on the rails.
More distracting than all his injuries combined though is the incessant worry about his dad. A floaty, weightless sensation makes him feel like he's going to drift away, a balloon without a string and no one to hold onto him. He can't stop thinking about the events that led to their bizarre escape via freight train of all things. Everything keeps spinning around and around in his mind. His father's voice is set on repeat: you really are worthless, you're not only lazy and stupid but a crybaby too, I'll find you when you least expect it and you'll wish you'd never been born.
There's no way he's going to be able to fall asleep.
Dean is still considering all the reasons why the sandman won't be paying him a visit anytime soon when exhaustion gives him a little tug and his head lolls into the crook of Sam's elbow. Two seconds later, he's out like a light.
He awakens some indeterminable time later to the soft stroking of his brother's fingers smoothing the hair back from his temple, playing with the fine strands absentmindedly. It's nice, sweet in a way and also grounding, providing him with a desperately needed touchstone. He feels cared for and watched over.
The cloaking darkness gives him the illusion of anonymity. For just a little while he can be any little boy being comforted by any parental figure. For just a little while he can pretend to be anyone other than Dean Winchester, son of John Winchester.
Since he doesn't get to have this very often - too much his hardened father's soldier-in-training - he sinks into the gentle touch. The rare moment is precious to him. He savors it while it lasts.
The railcar continues to roll along, swaying back and forth as though trying to rock him back to sleep. Nothing is visible in the darkness of night, but Dean imagines the frosty landscape outside the door as they move past and it recedes into the distance. He wonders if they're passing mountains or lakes, maybe sleepy neighborhoods or horse pastures.
"Go back to sleep, Dean." Sam murmurs.
And Dean does.
When next he wakes, dawn's early, dull glow is seeping into the boxcar. Sam's hand has ceased its idle petting and is circling his wrist as if Sam is in the middle of counting the beats of his pulse. Dean takes a deep breath of icy air which seems to be Sam's cue.
"Morning kiddo," his brother yawns, releasing his wrist. "How're you feeling?"
Experimentally shifting his left leg turns out to be a big mistake. The resulting flare of pain steals his breath and he immediately freezes, holding stock still and willing the pain to subside. Ouch. Okay, not moving ever, ever again sounds like a really good plan.
Sam exhales loudly in sympathy. "That bad, huh?"
Dean just lifts one shoulder in a slight shrug and tries to come up with a different topic of conversation. He hates hearing that concerned tone of voice coming from his brother, hates that he's the one who caused it even more. "Where are we?" He diverts.
"I don't know for sure." Sam gestures at the land speeding by the open door. "We haven't stopped all night and we're moving pretty fast. The sun is coming up in front of us, so I guess we're moving east or maybe southeast which means we're headed in roughly the right direction if we still want to get to Bobby's."
In order to look at the passing scenery Dean has to scoot forward a couple of feet. The view is spectacular, well worth the effort. He cranes his neck and then gingerly props himself up on his elbows so he can see more of the stunning landscape, his vow of stillness from only moments ago forgotten. "Oh, wow." He breathes, awestruck.
The plains stretch out for miles, dotted with trees and shrub. A thin layer of frost shimmers on every blade of grass, every delicate leaf. Fading away into the distance and shrouded by morning fog is the blue-grey outline of a mountain chain.
They've driven through the Great Plains on several occasions, most notably when they're on their way to or from Bobby's house, but there's something different about seeing the majestic landscape from aboard a swiftly moving train with none of the normal roadside distractions to take away from the natural beauty of the land and nothing to mar the unbroken landscape. It's far better than seeing it from the back seat of a car, that's for sure.
Sam takes the opportunity to wriggle carefully the rest of the way out from underneath his brother and join him in admiring the view. "It's beautiful."
At the edge of a copse of trees, Dean spots a small group of deer. "Look." He points excitedly.
Smiling fondly, Sam says, "Mule deer. They usually only come out at dawn and dusk."
"Cool." Dean says.
"Now that the sun is up, I need to take a better look at you. I need to see what's what." As he talks, Sam moves closer to Dean's left side, slides an assessing hand onto his ankle. "Swelling has gone down a bit, that's good. I probably should have tried to elevate it last night. It might have gone down even more." Sam frowns. "How does it feel?"
"I can't really feel it at all." Dean says, unconcerned. Considering how the rest of his body feels, not feeling anything is preferable.
Sam's frown deepens. "You can't feel your ankle?"
"I can't feel my foot." Dean clarifies.
Muttering under his breath, Sam hastily removes Dean's sneaker and then his sock. The bruising is impressive, bright blues and purples decorating his ankle and creating blotchy patches on the side of his foot. It looks like a finger painting project Sammy made in kindergarten last year. "Oh Dean." Sam covers his mouth with the fingers of one hand.
Dean can't stand to see Sam looking so upset. He bites his bottom lip and tries to pull his foot out of his brother's loose grip. "It's okay. It's not that bad." Unfortunately, his knee chimes in with a loud chorus of complaints at the movement and Dean has to stop on a gasp.
"I'm sorry. Jeez, I'm so sorry." Sam says as if he's accepting the blame for much more than just the colorful bruising. "Your shoe must have cut off some of the circulation to your foot what with the swelling. I should have thought of that and I didn't. I'm such an idiot, God, I'm so sorry."
None of this is Sam's fault; he shouldn't be apologizing. Dean doesn't have to open up the channel of empathy between them to feel the waves of remorse Sam is emitting. "Don't say that. It's not that big a deal. I can't…please." He can't handle Sam's guilt, not now when everything is so screwed up.
Sam gets it, he nods and lowers his hand from his mouth. "Okay, kiddo, okay, but this is going to hurt. I'm going to try to get the blood circulating again." Propping Dean's foot in his lap, Sam starts rubbing both hands over the arch of his foot, massaging his instep and heel.
At first he can't even tell what part of his foot Sam is touching. Then the sharp pricks of pins and needles begin in the ball of his foot. They spread out from there until he doesn't have to imagine what it would feel like to put his foot into a hornet's nest because he's getting the full experience, thousands of angry stingers jabbing into him all at the same time. His foot is on fire. He wants to move away from the source of the pain, needs Sam to stop digging his fingers into his swollen flesh. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, Dean clamps his teeth together so he can't cry out and balls his hands into fists, his short fingernails biting into his palms unnoticed.
When the stinging sensation finally eases off, he opens his eyes to see his brother watching him, concern etching deep groves across his forehead. "I can feel my foot again." He tries to erase Sam's worried expression by pasting on a grin, but his voice catches unconvincingly so he's not really all that surprised when he fails.
Sam swallows and looks back down at the foot he's cradling in his lap. "Good, that's good." It's perfectly clear to someone who knows Sam as well as Dean does that his brother would like to say more and is restraining himself with great difficulty. Since he probably wants to apologize some more and beat himself up a little bit just for the heck of it, Dean is happy with the uncomfortable silence that follows instead.
There are more bruises on his shoulders and back. Dean can tell each time Sam finds a new mark by the tsking sounds he makes. The examination is conducted from the waist up as it would be difficult given Dean's unstable kneecap to get the jeans on and off without causing additional problems. That's Sam's analysis anyway and Dean wholeheartedly seconds his opinion. Not only would the process be painful, but also talk about embarrassing.
They have no first aid supplies, not even a length of bandage to wrap Dean's ankle, so once Sam determines there's nothing more that can be done, they sit back to enjoy their easy camaraderie, taking turns pointing out anything through the doorway that catches their eye.
"What's that?" Dean asks, indicating a scattering of dark shapes moving slowly in the distance.
Sam squints in the indicated direction and shields his eyes against the glare of the advancing sun. A smile emerges gradually as he recognizes the huge animals. "Bison," he says, laughter in his voice. "It's a herd of bison. Hey, remember that time we were trying to get to Bobby's and the road into town was blocked by about fifteen bison? Dad got out of the car all fearless and self-confident to try to shoo the shaggy beasts out of the way."
"Yeah, and they just stared at him like they owned the road and he was nothing more than a pest." Dean grins, remembering how he and Sammy had sat in the backseat with their noses pressed to the window, watching their mighty hunter father bested by a herd of buffalo.
Sam's mind has obviously gone to the same place. He muses, "That's the first time I ever saw anything get the better of dad. We must have waited half an hour before they decided to move on."
And now dad's apparently been bested by something else altogether and suddenly it doesn't seem so funny anymore. The smile slides from Dean's face and he stares at Sam while his brother stares at the grazing animals.
"We'll go to Bobby's and tell him what's going on. He'll be able to help us. It's going to be alright, Dean. We're going to get dad back." Sam speaks without taking his eyes from the herd, knowing instantly when the mood shifts.
Dean leans back and closes his eyes against the prickle of tears. He's not going to cry, he doesn't need to. The empathic bond they share gives Sam a direct line into Dean's state of mind and sometimes, like now, Dean is intensely grateful that his brother understands him on such a deep level. There's no need to hash things out or try to talk about how he feels because Sam already knows. Sam already knows.
Still without turning to look at him, Sam laces their fingers together and gives them a brief squeeze. We're together in this. Dean sqeezes back. I know.
Hunger is gnawing at his belly by the time the first industrial buildings begin to encroach on the undisturbed plainlands. A railway station comes into view and beyond it the outskirts of a large town or city.
"As soon as the coast is clear we'll get off the train and see where we are. Hopefully we're not too far from Bobby's." Sam says as he scoots back into their hidey-hole made of crates and repositions Dean to make sure nothing is visible to someone looking in from outside of the railcar. "Until we know it's safe, we're going to have to stay hidden."
"Yeah, okay." Dean readily agrees. He really doesn't want Sam to have to explain their unauthorized presence to anyone.
The train begins to slow, the high pitched grinding sound of brakes being applied can be heard above the groan of the engines powering down. If Dean had to place the sound of the train coming to a halt he would probably say it sounded like a hill giant sitting down after a long day of hard work, expelling a huge whoosh of air as it shuttered to rest. Not that he's ever actually met a hill giant, but you know, anything's possible.
Railway workers are striding loudly back and forth on the platforms right outside their boxcar. He can hear the stomp of their boots and the sometimes boisterous sometimes soft cadence of conversations. After a while things seem to calm down and Dean thinks they may just about be clear to leave when the car rocks beneath them.
"I'll be right there. I just gotta check on the freight cars." A man's gruff voice yells from the other side of the crates.
Dean holds his breath, feels Sam's chest stop moving too. Maybe the man won't see them, they're nestled pretty far back after all. But this particular railway worker has been around the block once or twice and the man obviously knows what to look for and, more importantly, where to look for it. Within moments of the man jumping into their boxcar a pair of brown eyes is peering at them from around a stack of crates.
"All right you two, time to vamoose." The railway man sounds kind of discouraged, but not surprised to find them there. "You leave now and I won't call railway security on you. Go on now, git."
"No problem." Sam nods and gives the man an appreciative smile. He stands up and looks down at Dean. "Just give as a minute and we'll be out of your hair."
Sam must have put about as much thought into how to get Dean out of the railcar as Dean has and they're both at a loss for what to do that won't look ridiculous to the stranger now watching them. One way to solve the problem would be for Sam to drag Dean out of the cubby and over to the door where he could jump out first and then lift Dean down. Dean's knee could stay straight the whole time that way and it would be the least painful way to go. It's probably also the most cringe-worthy method of getting out of the boxcar and Dean's face heats up at the mere thought. To save his pride, Dean raises his hand to his brother and says, "Help me up, please."
"Sure. Of course," Sam says out loud and then whispers, "Use me like a crutch," into Dean's ear.
The railroad worker is watching them like a hawk, taking in every detail as they hobble-pause-hobble-pause over to the door. "You boys don't have coats?" He asks while Sam jumps out and turns to help Dean.
Truth be told, Dean had forgotten exactly how cold it was with the wind blowing outside. Bracing himself against the wintery breeze, he lets Sam lower him to the ground where he leans into his brother and waits to see how this exchange is going to play out. Although he's been quiet up to this point, he's ready to back Sam up if need be.
"No, sir." Sam rests a protective hand on Dean's shoulder.
"Probably hungry too, I'll bet."
Sam considers the question and gives a brisk nod.
"That's what I thought." The man lets out a world-weary sigh. "In that case I guess you'd better come with me. By the way, you can call me Steve."
On to ( Chapter 5 )