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: ~4,700
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 11 A Gathering of Hunters
A strange tension settles over Bobby's place as they wait for the other hunters to arrive, an undefined disquiet that makes Sam's skin crawl as if the air around them is actually vibrating with tiny force waves of pressure. He can tell it's not just him, the others feel it as well. Dean is jittery and can't seem to sit still for more than a couple of seconds. More than the underlying urge to be on the go after being immobile for days on end, the boy is restless and Sam can sense the strain of his brother's nerves stretched taut. Steve's reaction to the stress is to become unusually talkative, rambling on about everything and anything like a hyper game show contestant, only not quite that enthusiastic. Even Bobby seems stiff which is odd because surely Bobby knows these other hunters, has probably worked with most of them before and knows what to expect.
Sam is at a complete loss for what could be causing the experienced hunter's unease until Bobby covertly snags his arm and leads him into the kitchen, out of Dean's and Steve's hearing range.
"Hunters are a notoriously suspicious bunch and that makes'em unpredictable. Some of them are more dangerous than the things they hunt." Bobby begins without preamble, fixing Sam with a steely gaze that fails to hide his worry.
Thoughts of his father's arsenal and occasionally paranoid behavior fill Sam's head and yeah, it's not too hard to imagine why Bobby might be slightly concerned about a whole house full of similarly minded men, all fully armed and itching for a fight. "So you're telling me to be careful."
"I'm telling you to lay low, don't draw attention to yourself. Keep Dean off everyone's radar and for Pete's sake whatever you do, don't mention that John's your daddy." Readjusting his grip on the shotgun in his hands, Bobby lowers his voice further as though someone might be listening in already. "We'll stick to the story that you're John's younger brother and Dean is your nephew. The last thing we need is for rumors of your transformation to begin circulating among the hunter community."
The subterfuge should be effective. John has always shielded his sons from the scrutiny of others as best he could, sheltered them from prying eyes. Sam has never met the other hunters his dad has been in contact with over the years except for a select few, only the ones John trusts and there aren't many people John trusts with a box of matches much less his children. There's no reason to think any of the hunters who are about to show up know that John doesn't have a younger brother.
"Works for me." Sam agrees. "If Dean's my nephew does that mean everyone will know he's John's son?"
Bobby grimaces. "I don't see any way around that; it's the only reason we have for bringing him along on a hunt as nasty as this one is likely to get. Unless you think I have a chance in Hades of talking him into staying behind here at the house with you and Steve while the rest of us handle it." The hopeful yet highly skeptical look on Bobby's face reminds Sam of an old bulldog trying to figure out how to carry a gigantic bone through the doorway of its much too small doghouse.
Shaking his head regretfully, Sam says, "He'll never go for it and I'd rather we all stay together so I can keep an eye on him than have to worry about him taking off and trying to follow you to Chinook on his own."
"That boy's a scamp all right, not to mention a resourceful scoundrel when he wants to be. I wouldn't put it past him to find a way around you if we try to leave him behind." The older hunter scratches his neck absentmindedly.
"Tell me something I don't know." Sam sometimes wishes his brother were a little less tenacious. The lengths to which the boy will go to help others are staggering. Like the time the neighbor's little boy had lost his ball by rolling it through a hole and into the crawlspace of his dilapidated rental house. Dean had somehow squirmed under the house and then emerged later with cobwebs in his hair, grime streaked across his cheeks and up his arms, scrapes on his legs and his eyes as large as saucers. In his hands had been the child's ball. Sam can think of countless other similar episodes without even breaking a sweat. Dean can't stand by and watch people suffer if there's anything he thinks he can do to help. Since more often than not Sam is the recipient of his brother's altruistic efforts, all he can feel is an overwhelming sense of fond exasperation.
The first hunter pulls up the gravel drive just after lunch. Gage Levi has dark skin and black hair which parts around his face in long dreadlocks. A silver bar pierces his right eyebrow and his smile is wide and friendly. Even though he's about as far from the typical hunter stereotype as he could possibly be, a long jagged scar running from the base of his jaw and disappearing under the collar of his jacket marks him as a man familiar with the life.
By the time the last car has been parked in the side yard there are a total of five totally diverse hunters lounging on Bobby's back porch. Introductions are made quickly without a lot of fanfare. No one seems inclined to do a lot of chitchatting.
Brian and Kevin Bruyette are a father/son hunting team, both tall with their reddish-blond hair buzzed to barely half an inch in length. The only difference in the two men is their ages, Kevin looks to be about Sam's age and Brian is probably close to Bobby's.
Next comes Stan Olivier who hauls in a case of beer as though he's attending a kegger instead of a hunter's gathering. He's built like a collage football linebacker and true to form there's a class ring gleaming on one hand. It's not hard to imagine the burly man using a jeweler's rag to shine it diligently every night before he goes to bed.
The last to arrive is Dustin Porter. Of all the new arrivals, this man gives off the most menacing vibe. He has the rangy, lean physique of a cougar and a cold, speculative gaze to match, his eyes the color of dark amber. When he talks, his voice is a low growl.
No one bats an eye at Dean's involvement or comments on the oddity of John having a brother named Sam. Brian even goes as far as to thump Dean on the back, saying, "Keep your chin up," which Sam finds somewhat offensive, but Dean merely inclines his head like he's not bothered so Sam lets it go. Steve is accepted as simply a friend of Sam and Dean's who wants to help out but isn't very experienced in the ways of hunters.
They congregate in the living room as it's the only place in Bobby's house large enough to accommodate everyone. Those who are quick reserve seats on the sofa or bring chairs in from the kitchen while everyone else settles on the floor. Dean and Sam sit next to each other, backs against a desk pushed up to the wall, out of the way but with excellent visibility of the proceedings. After glancing around the room, Steve perches on the edge of the desk close to Dean, muscular arms crossed over his chest, a silent sentry.
For dinner Bobby serves up a hearty batch of chili, the smell of spicy beef, tomatoes and peppers permeates the entire house. Stan passes out the beer and jokingly hands one to Dean, at least Sam hopes it's only a joke. Sam intercepts the can neatly despite his brother's muttered complaints. Apparently the boy wants to be treated like one of the guys and thinks drinking beer is an acceptable way to fit in. That doesn't bode well for Dean's teenage years when peer pressure will be even more of a factor. Then again, Dean has never really cared what his classmates or other kids his age were up to. He's much too concerned about the man he idolizes and his opinion to give anyone else's opinion a second thought. Dean's idol has always been his hunter father, his hero. Sam makes himself a mental note to be more alert to the influence these other hunters might exert over his impressionable brother.
"I tried, little buddy." Stan says to Dean, shrugging.
Thankfully, talk quickly turns to the task at hand.
"Jim wasn't able to shed much light on what we're going to be facing. What's the latest intel, Bobby?" Brian pops the top on his can and swallows a mouthful, making a satisfied noise.
Pastor Jim doesn't do much active hunting, acting more as a hub of information and a reference source for hunters. His church has been a haven for many including the Winchesters at times.
"It's a mess is what it is. The pieces don't fit together right. We've got at least ten people who have disappeared without a trace. Chinook's not that big a town so you can imagine what the mood must be. Those people are probably jumping at shadows right about now. We're going to have to go in smart and be discrete." Bobby emphasizes his point by pulling his cap lower on his head.
"Hey, delicate is my middle name." Stan smirks. Considering the man looks like he could go toe to toe with a bull, Sam doubts Stan even knows the meaning of the word delicate.
"Whatever you say, cupcake." Gage balls up his napkin and throws it at Stan.
If this keeps up they're going to have a tough time making any headway on solving the mystery and rescuing John, Bill and the other missing people. Sam just hopes they're not already too late.
Bobby must be on the same wave length because before things can get any further out of hand he glares at the two trouble makers and continues. "Then there's the thing impersonating John Winchester which currently resides in my closet." At this Bobby juts his scruffy chin in the direction of the tiny room off the hallway."
"Shapeshifter?" Dustin asks.
"Nope, no reaction to silver." Bobby recites the same information he'd given Sam earlier. "No reaction to holy water or salt for that matter."
"Have you ruled out spellwork or a cursed item?" Gage brushes a strand of his hair over one shoulder when it comes too close to dipping into his bowl of chili.
"Not yet. I suppose we could be dealing with a coven of witches." Bobby admits, cutting a brisk look at Dean and then Sam. "But why would they target John?"
Wouldn't that be like a punch to the gut? To find out that the creature they have locked up in Bobby's closet isn't a creature at all but really is John Winchester under a spell or a curse. To find out that all along Sam has been wrong and the thing antagonizing Dean, tormenting and injuring him, actually is his father. He doesn't think his brother would react well to that information.
Dustin's voice disrupts Sam's thoughts. "Revenge? That's always a pretty motivating reason. I've found that most creatures don't take kindly to being hunted." The lean hunter places his empty bowl on the floor between his legs, pushing back into the chair he had commandeered.
"Jim mentioned a bunch of grave desecrations as well. Caskets ripped apart and bodies stolen." Brian glances at Kevin as though this is a discussion they've already had. "Could be the work of a large family of ghouls. It's not their normal behavior, but it's a possibility."
Canting his head, Bobby hums thoughtfully. "I'd say you were right, but the rest of it still doesn't add up. Ghouls don't like to draw attention to themselves. I've never heard of one abducting a living person, much less enough people to field a hockey team and two hunters for good measure. For the most part they hide out in dusty mausoleums."
"If they're hungry enough they might forego their usual secretive nature." Taking a long gulp from the beer can in his hand, Brian shakes his head. "Look, I hear what you're saying; I just don't think we can afford to dismiss anything yet."
"Point taken, we don't rule anything out unless we're positive."
Dustin is staring warily at the hallway. "When can we get a look at it…this thing pretending to be John Winchester? I'd like to see it with my own two eyes if you don't mind. Not that I don't trust you or anything." He grins, showing all his teeth.
"Trust me or don't. It's all the same to me." Bobby shrugs. "You'll get a chance to see it before we go, but that brings up a good question."
"What's that?" Stan asks.
"Do we take it with us or leave it here with someone to babysit while the rest of us head up to Montana?" Bobby lets his gaze fall on each hunter around the rough circle.
"Seems to me there's really no choice there, we'll have to take it with us." Brian announces.
"How do you figure?" Sam would rather not have to lug the monster around with them; it's just one more thing to worry about keeping Dean safe from.
"Well, first of all, we can't afford to handicap ourselves by leaving an able-bodied man behind just to watch your houseguest."
"And second, if there's a spell or curse involved John may need to be present before we can break it." Kevin supplies the ending to his father's thought. That's the kind of thing that comes from working so closely together for a long time. Sam likes the idea of that kind of working relationship. Nothing's stronger than family.
In the end they all decide the best course of action is to take John - or John's doppelganger - with them trussed up tight and secured in the trunk of Bobby's car. Everyone also agrees they should leave immediately even though it's already getting late in the evening and Chinook is a twelve hour drive from Sioux Falls assuming minimal pit stops, clear roads and lead feet. The clock is ticking, the deadline of Halloween fast approaching.
Bobby's gear is already packed and since everyone else came prepared, there's only one matter left to attend to before they can head out. Extracting John from the closet where he has been eerily quiet all day becomes a major attraction. Curiosity gets the better of the hunters as no one wants to miss getting a glimpse of the captured creature. Crowding into the hallway and jockeying for position, they watch as Bobby uses an iron knife to scratch away a portion of the containment rune.
Sam stands as far from the front of the press of hunters as he can get, Steve behind him and Dean at his side. They've seen John and don't have a strong desire to see him again, at least not in his present condition. In any case, Dean's emotions are spiking all over the place and Sam needs to do whatever he can to shield the boy from further trauma.
As the closet door is thrown open, Sam hears a collective groan of frustration from the gathered hunters.
"Where is he?" Dustin turns to Bobby accusingly.
Straining to see over the tops of heads, Sam uses his height advantage to confirm that the closet is indeed empty. He puts an arm protectively around his brother's neck, ready to pull the boy to safety if necessary.
Consternation stark on his face, Bobby growls, shoves Justin unceremoniously out of the way, and steps forward, knife held firmly in his hand.
There's a crunching, crashing sound from up above Bobby's head and then suddenly the hunter drops under the weight of a large, undefined shape. Dean startles, his rapid heart rate discernable against Sam's palm where it's splayed on the boy's chest to hold him steady.
Dustin, Kevin and Stan, who are nearest to Bobby, surge forward and with a collective effort they wrestle the struggling figure, none too gently, off the cursing hunter and out of the closet.
The unmistakable click of a shotgun being cocked fills the air. Sam's head swivels around to see Gage drawing aim on a snarling John Winchester whose face is pinched into an expression of utter rage and hatred.
"Don't hurt him!" Dean's anguished cry pierces Sam's heart. The boy is obviously fearful that this really is his father only under a spell or curse of some kind.
"Dean, stay back!" Steve yells as Dean rips out of Sam's grasp, launching himself towards Gage.
John must recognize a golden opportunity because his face transforms from hostile to pleading in the space on an instant. "Don't let them do this to me, son. Don't let them shoot me."
Brian pivots and catches the boy mid tackle. The strawberry blond man is much more agile than his towering frame would imply. With a reproachful glare he thrusts Dean back at Sam as if to say the boy is Sam's responsibility and he needs to do a better job of looking after him. Sam agrees wholeheartedly.
This time he holds onto the boy so tightly he knows there will be finger sized bruises on his brother's arms and he doesn't care. He doesn't care at all because when he thinks about what could have just happened he wants to throttle some measure of self preservation into the kid.
He's not mad at Dean. How could he be? It's not Dean's fault. He's had all sense of self preservation stripped from him. While other children get told how loved and important they are on a daily basis, Dean gets trained to save other people, to put himself in danger. It's always about other people and never about Dean and while that's certainly admirable, it's not fair or right and it makes Sam mad.
Bobby pulls a pair of handcuffs seemingly out of nowhere, slaps them on John and just that fast the threat is neutralized. Gage lowers his shotgun while everyone lets out a sigh of relief.
A soft hiccup-like gurgle comes from his brother. Sam looks down to his see Dean's lower lip chewed nearly raw. He suspects the boy of gnawing on his bottom lip to keep it from trembling and remorse immediately flows through him. Of course Dean can feel Sam's anger and is trying to deal with it as well as fear for his father. Smoothing his hands over the places where his fingertips had just been digging into the flesh of Dean's arms, he murmurs, "Sorry, Dean. I'm sorry. I'm not mad at you."
Dean is Sam's responsibility, his sole motivation. The Wish turnes Sam into a grown up becase Dean needs him and that's something he can never allow himself to forget. No matter how many other people are around, Dean needs Sam, for both emotional and physical protection.
The stoic boy gives Sam an enigmatic shake of his head while leaning into his supporting frame. "I know, Sammy. It's okay."
It's not okay though and Sam knows he has his work cut out for him once this is all over.
Once John is tightly bound, gagged and loaded into the trunk of Bobby's car, the hunters split into pairs for the drive to Montana. That way, the driving duties can be shared, one driving while the other sleeps, to avoid stopping for the night. Sam and Dean ride with Steve, Dustin pairs up with Bobby, Gage and Stan team up, and Kevin goes with his dad, Brian.
Their destination lies 900 miles to the northwest. Sam takes his turn at both driving and sleeping. Dean sits in the back seat as quiet as a mouse. Each time Sam turns around to check on the boy he expects to find him sleeping, but Dean just stares out the window at the darkness, eyes glowing faintly in the shine from passing headlights late into the night.
To say the residents of Chinook are skittish would be an understatement, petrified would be closer to the truth. The streets are deserted. The playgrounds empty of children. No traffic. No pedestrians.
They drive down Main Street in a lonely procession, the only cars on the road. Many of the stores are boarded up with signs proclaiming them closed until further notice. Those still open have no customers even though it's the middle of the business day.
A hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant located at the far end of a strip mall provides a convenient place for the small group of hunters to confer. From what Sam can see there are only three employees, one waiter and two cooks. The floor plan is one open space with no wall between the kitchen and dining area. The hunters can see everything going on in the kitchen so there's no way they'll be surprised or ambushed while they're here. Conversely, they won't be able to hide what they're doing from curious outsiders either. Luckily there are no other patrons and it appears as though the staff doesn't speak very much English.
By combining several tables into one long one all nine travelers are able to sit together, hunched over their menus and conversing in whispers.
"This town is giving me the creeps." Kevin says, letting his eyes scan the interior of the windowless restaurant. The ghost town atmosphere permeates the very walls and Sam has to admit he feels it too.
"Yeah, well you can't really blame them, can you?" Steve rolls his shoulders to rid them of the kinks he's built up over too many miles of travel. "I mean, every time they turn around one of their friends or neighbors is missing." The civilian perspective still comes easily to the railroad worker.
"I didn't even see any police presence. I bet the cops are all hiding under their desks at the precinct." A contemptuous arch of eyebrows accompanies Dustin's remark. No love lost between the feline-like hunter and the law then.
"No cops only makes our job that much easier," says Gage.
Brian picks up his paper napkin and begins tearing it into strips. "So, I'm thinking we send Stan and Sam out to get the lay of the land. Knock on a few doors, feel people out. Maybe they get lucky and find us our next lead."
"They do have the most trustworthy looking faces." Dustin sneers, making the comment sound like an insult. "I suppose they have the best chance of getting information without spooking the locals. And the fewer we send the better shot we have that the townsfolk won't run screaming in the opposite direction."
Dean tenses in his seat between Sam and Steve. Through their link Sam senses denial and a strong aversion. No way is Dean going to be okay with this plan, but Sam's not sure how to extricate himself while giving the impression that it's no big deal to the other hardened hunters. He doesn't want to give them any reason to wonder about him or his brother.
"Not Sam." Seemingly aloof, Bobby carelessly taps his plastic covered menu with blunt fingertips.
Giving Bobby a measured glance, Brian yields to the experienced hunter. "Fine, Stan and Gage then."
"That's like sending Laurel and Hardy to do our dirty work for us." Kevin chuckles, but since no one has any serious objections it's decided and after an amazingly tasty authentic Mexican lunch, the two men set out, leaving the remaining hunters to bide their time and sip their coffee in the relatively easy to defend restaurant.
Two and a half hours later Stan and Gage are back, grinning like loons.
"Jackpot!" Gage pumps a fist in the air. "We hit the mother lode."
Brian makes a 'keep it down' gesture which is summarily ignored by the two swaggering young men.
"Yeah, we told them we were journalists looking into the disappearances and people fell all over themselves to tell us their theories." Stan elaborates.
"Then we met this old woman, I swear she had a few screws loose."
"Dude! Only a few?" Punching Gage in the arm, Stan chortles, low and throaty then pitches his voice in a high falsetto. "That forest is haunted I tell you. My poor Amy went in and never came out." Apparently that's his best impersonation of the old woman they had interviewed because Gage nods along.
"Look at the newlyweds. Ain't they adorable?" Sarcasm drips from Bobby's voice. "You boys need a little privacy?"
Dustin makes a derisive sound.
"No really," Gage grows serious at Bobby's tone. "She's not the only one to mention the nature preserve."
"What nature preserve?" Sam leans forward, eager to hear about an actual lead.
"The one to the northwest of town. The park ranger was the first person to go missing. Not only that, but anyone who goes in never comes out." Stan wiggles his fingers in the universal sign for 'spooky'. Sam can almost hear the low budget horror movie music cue up to play.
Kevin reaches across the table to pat Dean on the top of his head. "Well Shaggy, I guess we have to check out the haunted forest. Better bring the Scooby snacks."
Dean, who has been listening intently to every word, cracks a huge smile at the cartoon reference. Yeah, Sam's definitely going to have to keep an eye on his very impressionable brother. He can only imagine the boy trying to mold himself into some strange hybrid version of all these hunters, combining Gage and Stan's flaky humor, Dustin's callous mercenary attitude, and Kevin's condescension. He shudders at the thought and yet his brother's long absent good mood is infectious and Sam can't help smiling along with him.
On to ( Chapter 12 )
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