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 12 All You Can Eat Buffet
The caravan of four vehicles enters the nature preserve by way of a winding dirt road. Trees on either side of the path stretch their bare branches across to meet in the middle. During the summer months it probably creates a leafy canopy, but this is late autumn and since most of the leaves are littering the ground the effect is more like a spectral tunnel made of gaunt bones.
Okay, maybe that's taking things a bit too far. They're just trees with normal branches. Nothing scary or unusual about them. Dean gives himself a mental kick for letting his imagination run away from him. He blames his unease on Stan's stories about people who have never been seen again after setting foot inside this forest. Ghost stories don't scare him. What kind of hunter gets scared of some silly ghosts anyway? If he's feeling a little…wary, it's only because they still aren't certain what they're going to encounter in these woods. Wary isn't the same thing as scared. Wary just means being careful and all good hunter are careful.
The driving path ends about a mile inside the border of the preserve and several smaller walking paths lead off in various directions from there. Once everyone has parked, they begin gearing up and making plans.
Dustin inspects each of the walking paths in turn before returning to the group and saying, "There's been recent activity on all three paths. We can't rule any of them out from lack of use."
"We can split up, cover more ground and make less noise in smaller groups." Gage suggests.
Kevin shoves his hands inside the pockets of his heavy coat when a gust of wind blows frigid air around the assembled hunters. "Alright, so three paths means three groups plus someone will need to stay with the cars just in case our friend gets creative and finds a way out of Bobby's trunk."
"Unless anyone has a reason why not, I'll take Sam and Dean with me, Dustin can go with Stan and Gage to keep them from getting into too much trouble, Kevin can stick with Brian and that leaves Steve to stay behind and guard our prisoner." Bobby's clear, authoritative voice brooks no argument and no one sees fit to offer one. Although Steve looks a bit concerned over the arrangements, he doesn't object.
The news that he'll be joining Bobby and Sam on the hunt comes as a welcome surprise to Dean. He'd been fully expecting to have to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to go. He can't think of a worse fate than having to stay behind and warm a seat inside one of the cars. All the time he'd spent crafting the perfect arguments and counter arguments seems to have been a waste, but he's okay with that.
"Remember, this is a reconnaissance mission only. We'll meet back here in three hours, right before it begins to get dark. If you see anything suspicious, you report back here to the group. No one plays the hero and tries to take on the enemy without backup from the entire team. If we thought this was something only one or two hunters could take care of by themselves we wouldn't all be here." The military crispness of Brian's commands reminds Dean of his father. He misses his dad even though he's not always sure why. It's not something he gives a lot of thought to.
Steve is leaning on the hood of Bobby's car, holding a rifle across his chest and looking distinctly uncomfortable. Since the railroad worker is only here because of him, Dean has to do something about it.
"Hey." He greets his friend cautiously. "Um, are you okay?"
Pulling his coat tighter against the chill, Steve glances at the truck where an occasional muted thumping can be heard. It's not really a loud noise because John's arms and legs are tied too tight for him to be able to move more than an inch or two. Bobby was obsessive about removing anything the creature might be able to use to escape before locking it in. "You know, I've never done anything like this, Dean." He confides. "What am I supposed to do if he gets out?"
The compulsion to reassure the kindhearted man is so strong it makes his chest ache. "He won't. Bobby knows what he's doing. He wouldn't leave you here alone if he thought anything was going to happen. Believe me, I've spent plenty of time hanging out in the backseat of the car while my dad was on a hunt. Mostly it's just boring."
"What about you then. Should you really be going in there?" Steve points to the trailhead where Sam and Bobby are already standing.
"It's different for me. I'm meant to do this. I've been in training since…I've been in training for a long time." Dean's breath catches in his throat because hunting is in his blood, thrumming through his veins, and this feels like destiny – his destiny. "Besides, you heard Brian this is just recon. No sweat."
Steve puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes like he doesn't want to let go. "You take care of yourself then. Don't take any chances and I'll see you in a couple of hours."
Dean nods and moves away when Steve's hand gives a final squeeze and eventually drops to his side.
Once everyone is prepared, the three teams separate, the noise of boots crunching through fallen leaves fades as the teams get further and further apart. The numerous oak and maple leaves scattered on the ground are impossible to avoid so stealth isn't really an option. Dean picks his next step gingerly and hopes the monsters or whatever haunts these woods have the same disadvantage.
His leg only hurts when he lands on it wrong, a big improvement from the stabbing, grinding pain of before. The brace on his leg, the brace Bobby made for him, holds his left leg locked in a straight position and supports his ankle which means he has to swing that leg out to the side to walk or balance his weight on the ball of his right foot while shuffling the other forward. Either way walking is pretty awkward, but he's still moving on his own and without it he wouldn't be allowed out here to help Sam so he counts it as a huge win. Bobby really came through for him.
He's carrying a shotgun on loan from Bobby while Sam still has their dad's Glock, the one he'd taken from the hotel when he'd turned big. Shooting a shotgun is like breathing to him – it's easy and feels completely natural. Having the gun in his hand gives him a boost of sorely needed confidence. If he focuses on the rhythm of Bobby's footsteps in front of him and Sam's behind him he can almost forget about the purpose of their trek through this forest and pretend it's like a hundred other outings he's been on to practice his hunting skills. A little tune bubbles up in his mind and he hums along to it under his breath.
The tempo to Sam's steps changes as his strides lengthen and he catches up to Dean. "Bobby, how well do you know Dustin and the other hunters?"
Dean opens the link to his brother's emotions and there's an undercurrent of distrust along with apprehension. Most likely the apprehension is coming from the hunt, but the distrust seems to be aimed at their new hunting partners.
"Some better than others. Why do you ask?" Bobby speaks in a hushed voice, glancing behind him so he can see Sam's face.
"Oh, no reason I guess. I just don't want…you know what, no it's fine." Sam darts a quick look out of the corner of his eye in his direction and Dean knows it has something to do with him; he just doesn't know what.
For his part, Dean likes being around the other hunters. They know lots of stuff about hunting and he wants to soak every bit of it up like he's a sponge. Sam, Bobby and his dad know tons about supernatural creatures and how to hunt them, but Dean figures every hunter is unique. They all know different stuff, like pieces of a gigantic puzzle, and he wants to learn all of it so one day he can slot the pieces into place and it will all make sense. He wants to be the best hunter ever.
Bobby snorts and then says, "You don't have to worry, Sam." As if he's deciphered Sam's cryptic sentence while Dean is still in the dark. He's not used to being in the dark when it comes to his brother and he doesn't like it, but he can let it go for now. There will be time to wheedle the meaning out of Sammy later.
The path they're on is a fairly straight shot due west. Dad's outdoor survival training is an extensive program so Dean has no need of a compass in order to determine their direction. After following the same course for about an hour, the trees begin to thin, making natural cover scarce. The path dwindles until it's barely discernable from the rest of the undergrowth. Bobby, from his position at point, slows the pace and crouches down, signaling for Sam and Dean to do the same. The index finger of one hand goes to his mouth in a 'quiet' gesture, the other points to a spot near a clump of birch trees in the distance.
When Dean squints in the direction Bobby is pointing, a flash of aqua-blue is visible weaving among the parchment-like trunks of the stately birches. The hours he's spent on field training come in handy as, at another signal from Bobby, all three hunters (yes, he totally gets to call himself a hunter now because this isn't just research, this is a real hunt no matter what Brian said about recon) move in tandem to follow the glimpses of bright blue they catch every now and again moving ahead of them. They stay a safe distance back, move with a practiced stealth. As they close the distance slightly, the blur of a figure they are following resolves into the shape of a man wearing an unusually vibrant blue jacket and black denim pants.
Within the space of about ten minutes, the man reaches a cabin and Dean watches from his hiding spot behind an grouping of boulders beside Sam and Bobby as the man opens the door, sauntering inside, heedless of the attention he has attracted. There are more people inside, a lot of them for such a tiny, rustic lodge. It's not the type of place people would normally go to party and yet Dean sees a wild jumble of people inside before the door closes behind the man. He wishes he'd been able to tell what they were doing in there, but all he got was a vague impression of chaos, almost like a mindless mob.
Bobby motions Sam and Dean to lean in until their foreheads are nearly touching. "Ain't no way that cabin is full of peaceful, nature-loving hikers. Not that many of 'em and not in the middle of an early winter with no fire burning to cook over or keep the cabin warm." He gestures to the chimney where not a wisp of smoke can be seen. "I'm going in for a better look. You two stay out of sight." He whispers.
Sam starts shaking his head and Dean can only stare wide-eyed at the older hunter. "Bobby…"
Their surrogate uncle scowls. "Listen, you boys do what I tell you. If anything happens to me, anything at all, you hightail it back to tell the others. Don't come back for me, don't go looking for me, don't even think about me until you get to the cars and tell the other what we found here." Waving his hand briskly to cut off any protests, he continues. "I'm just going to go take a quick gander through the window, get the full story on our nature lovers in there, and be back before you can knock your heads together three times." He thumps them each once on the forehead and is moving away before either of them can put voice to their objections.
Dean tightens his grip on the double barrel shotgun and sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, glancing at Sam. His brother's hard gaze never wavers from where Bobby is picking a slow, cautious route up to the only window on the front of the cabin.
With his heart trying its best to beat right out of his chest and his finger curled around both triggers of his weapon in dreading anticipation, Dean watches while Bobby creeps under the sill and peaks through the splotchy glass. His normal scowl is quickly replaced by a look of flat-out disgust.
Dean only has a moment to wonder what could have caused the repulsion before the hunter is back, stoking his bearded chin like he's been given a particularly difficult brain teaser to solve or possibly one of those word find puzzles that Sammy loves so much. "It's ghouls." He says absently. "The cabin's crawling with the darn creatures. They're having a…well let's just say they're in the middle of a meal…sorta like a buffet." And there's that look of disgust again. "What I don't get is, ghouls aren't smart. They don't have enough brain power between a roomful of 'em to charge a battery most of the time. So how have they gone and organized all this?" He flaps one hand in an all-encompassing gesture. "The abductions, the cabin, the large numbers all working together. And why?"
The sound of the cabin door crashing open draws Dean's startled attention. A horde of people – ghouls apparently – are flooding from the cabin and cascading across the stretch of land leading to the hunters' hiding place. They look like normal people, like anyone you might meet walking down any street in small town USA, except for the fact that they all have smears of blood and gore on their hands and around their mouths. Some even have blood dripping off their chins.
His every instinct is screaming for him to jump up, start blasting away, don't let them get Sammy, don't go down without a fight. His muscles tense to do just that when he feels a steadying pulse along the strand of connection with his brother, a brush of calm and constraint. Not yet.
And then they're surrounded.
Taking a deep breath, Dean looks at the gloating faces of the men and women surrounding the trio of hunters. It's only then that he notices several of them share the same face, as though they are twins or triplets. There are two women with thick auburn hair curling to shoulder length, oval shaped faces and double chins, three men wearing goatees with large bulbous noses, and a whopping four extremely rotund men whose pot bellies completely overlap the belts they may or may not have cinched around their incredible girth.
There are more ghouls pouring from the cabin every second and with the last of them comes a skeletal figure dressed in a moldering white burial shroud. His cheeks are sunken and his eyeballs protruding. He barely has enough skin stretched over his bones to hold them all together and yet a powerful electrical energy seems to radiate from him, a snapping humming current that Dean can feel crackling in the air. Everything about it looks and smells of death and decay except for the amulet it wears around its neck which sparkles a deep sapphire blue. Dean swears the undead creature, for certainly it cannot be alive, is not walking but gliding towards them.
"A Lich." Bobby hisses. "That explains a lot."
"Humans." The Lich intones, its voice a wheezy rattle. "I could sense you from a mile away. How nice of you to come straight to us instead of making us acquire you the hard way." The thing's smile is truly horrifying, a macabre pull of paper-thin leather over grizzly jawbone. "And with two days to spare. I always did admire punctuality, you know. I have huge plans for my followers this Halloween. I've made them certain promises in exchange for their allegiance. Certain promises I doubt you're going to like very much, but you can't please everybody, right?"
Hard as it is to look the Lich in the eye, Dean refuses to be intimidated. A chill travels up his spine that has nothing to do with the gust of wintry wind striking his face. His legs feel as wobbly as cooked noodles and it'll be a miracle if he manages to stay upright, but until he falls flat on his face no one needs to know how close he is to collapsing. Glowering at the Lich, he stands as tall as he can, throws out his chest and tenses every muscle in his body to stop them from trembling.
His show of defiance draws the Lich's undivided attention and it turns its unblinking gaze on him. "Not many would face me so directly, child. You have courage, a rare commodity." It glides nearer, hand outstretched as if to touch. "You could be very useful to me in the upcoming ceremony."
"No, don't touch him!" Bobby stands in a rush and tries to intercept the Lich. Before he can take a step however, three ghouls tackle him to the ground.
The Lich's hand hovers in front of his face and then Sam is right there snarling like a furious wolverine and pulling him out of the way. Dean stumbles backwards, the leg brace making graceful movement impossible, and lands on his backside.
"You would take his place?" The Lich asks Sam. "Very well." Lightning fast this time, the Lich's hand darts out and closes around the bare skin of his brother's neck.
Sam thrashes in the Lich's grasp, seemingly unable to get free. His eyes begin to roll wildly and his breathy pain-filled moans fill the otherwise silent air.
All rational thought flies from Dean's mind. He can't stand to hear his brother make that noise. It tears right through him like a serrated knife. He'll do anything, anything to stop Sammy from hurting. Struggling to his feet again, he picks up the double barrel shotgun from where he had dropped it and takes aim.
But the undead creature merely glances at him and laughs, dry and brittle like rotting leaves.
The laughter is returned by the surrounding ghouls and soon the glade is echoing with it.
Still chuckling, the Lich releases Sam and he crumples in a heap, panting heavily. "Oh, don't worry. I only drained him a little. There's plenty of life left in him for later. Now, I want a taste of you." It comes for him and the ghouls close ranks, eager to watch the suffering continue.
Now that Sam has stopped whimpering and he can think again, Dean knows the shotgun will have no effect, not on the Lich, and he only has two shots before he needs to reload. With twenty or so ghouls the odds are not in his favor. Dean knows no one is ever going to give him as award for his intelligence, but he has to do something. It's down to him now and the only thing he can think of is to keep the badies focused on him, away from Sam and Bobby. It's not a plan, not even close to a plan and he's pretty sure it doesn't have a snowball's chance of resulting in their secape. It's better than nothing though.
Swinging his braced leg out and back, he takes a shuffling step backwards. The circle of ghouls moves with him, the Lich glides and grins its unholy smile again, apparently enjoying the game. Two more shuffling steps like that and Bobby is outside of the ghoul ring, forgotten for the time being in favor of more enjoyable pursuits. Dean pretends vulnerability, stumbles to the side only to catch himself on a nearby tree trunk at the last possible second.
His one man show is working, the ghouls are transfixed and the thrill of an easy chase and guaranteed victory is making the Lich's eyes gleam red. Well, Dean thinks, this is one thing he has always been good at. He must make a very tempting target for all things supernatural. Of all the things out there for him to be good at, 'bait' turns out to be his most valuable quality. Yipee.
Although he can see the older hunter in his peripheral vision, he is careful not to look in Bobby's direction. On the outside he lets as much contempt and bravado show as he can muster while on the inside he cheers as Bobby regains his feet, reaches into his jacket pocket and produces a flask of holy water.
Feinting a lunge to the left and then to the right, Dean looks behind himself as though he's thinking about making a run for it. The ghouls react to his ploy by moving to cover his perceived avenue of escape even though they already have him surrounded. Bobby hadn't been kidding when he said ghouls were as dumb as rocks.
Sam starts to stir feebly so Dean relays encouragement while also sending all the standard emotions they use to convey stay quiet, don't move, and wait for my signal.
What with acting the part of cornered quarry, maintaining eye contact with two dozen monsters, and sending complicated emotional messages to his brother at the same time, Dean is about at his limit for multitasking. He's not sure how much longer he can keep it up. That's why, when Bobby finally makes his move, relief floods through him like a tsunami.
The older hunter sidles up behind the preoccupied Lich and, once he's within range, pours the entire flask of holy water on the creature's head.
The Lich lets out a shriek, writhing in agony as the liquid boils and sizzles over its emaciated body as if it were the Wicked Witch of the West.
"Remember what I told you." Bobby calls out to Dean before turning and running into the woods. The last thing Dean hears as Bobby is swallowed by the thicket is a string of taunts he throws out at the confused mass of ghouls who seem to have lost the ability to work as a cohesive unit and are milling about in confused anarchy.
Any hopes Dean might be harboring that the Lich will simple melt away leaving the heroes of the movie to go on about their business in peace are quickly shattered when it straightens and yells. "What are you waiting for? After him, you insufferable fools. And unless you want me to suck the life force from your useless bodies, someone had better stay to make sure these two are still here when I get back."
Galvanized to the last man and oddly identical couplet of women, most of the ghouls tear off in pursuit of Bobby with the Lich gliding behind them, screaming irate orders. Two stay behind to guard Sam and Dean until their master returns.
Sam had quieted under Dean's calming directives and now even though Dean can feel his brother's presence, alert and responsive, the young man is lying unmoving where the Lich left him. To anyone who doesn't know Sam, doesn't realize what a Winchester is capable of, he looks pretty defenseless. Dean is continuing his vulnerable child routine so no one can really blame the ghouls for what happens next.
Pulling a knife from a wrist sheath, one of them smirks cruelly and kneels next to Sam. "He didn't say we couldn't have a taste, did he?"
"No, he didn't." The other grins, smacking its lips.
As soon as he sees the knife come out something snaps inside of Dean. A rage boils up and overflows his shredded control. His mind conjures up an image of six year old Sammy, smiling a gap-toothed smile and looking up at him like Dean is his entire world. He's not letting Sammy get hurt anymore. No one else is going to touch his brother. There are two ghouls and he has two rounds chambered. He doesn't think it through any further than that.
The shotgun comes up in one fluid movement. He aims, squeezes the first trigger and one ghoul drops. Again he aims, squeezes the second trigger and the next ghoul drops. Head shots, both of them.
They are dead. Their bodies lie lifeless at his feet.
He killed them.
It's the first time anything has ever died at his hand.
They look like normal people, like anyone you might meet walking down any street in small town USA and he can't look away from the bloody, gaping holes he put in their heads.
He thinks maybe he should be happy because he's a real and proper hunter now.
But he isn't happy.
This is all he's ever wanted. He'd thought he was ready for it.
Yes, he's a hunter and he's also a killer. A murderer.
He starts to shake violently.
His throat goes as dry as the Sahara desert so he works his tongue around his mouth, trying to work up a little saliva. There's a thumping, rushing sound in his ears and everything seems to be getting further and further away. He's sinking. From a great distance he hears his brother's voice. "Come back to me, kiddo. Talk to me. Please talk to me."
Lethargy steals over him like a warm blanket and he welcomes it, wraps it around himself.
On to ( Chapter13 )
Back to ( Chapter 11 )
A/N: I've been slaving away at this chapter in order to get it posted before I leave for VanCon! If you are going to be there also, stop by and say hello to me. I'll be in seat F-29. Also, this chapter seriously tried to wipe the floor with me so I need to hear what you think of it. Review please!
Back to ( Chapter 1 )