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: ~3,700
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 14 Lessons in Spell-casters
Dean doesn't need Sam's hand covering his nose and mouth to know not to make a sound. It's an insult to his hunting skills and he would definitely be glaring at Sam right about now to let his brother know how offended he is if not for the shock of seeing his dad shambling along the path - because what the heck! All worry about the zombifying trances and his inability to stave them off is shoved rudely aside at the sight. He knows he can't react to this new incarnation of his father and when a full-body shudder threatens to make his teeth rattle he digs his blunt fingernails into the palms of his hands until it stops.
He stares through the brush and ground cover at the man on the trail. Grime and the rusty brownish-red of dried blood stain his clothes and skin. There are knife-thin, precise cuts everywhere ranging from mostly healed and scabbed over to fresh and oozing. He's not wearing a coat and both his shirt sleeves are pushed up past his elbows as if something wants ready access to the fleshy parts of his biceps and the juicy veins in his forearms. Angry red abrasions ring swollen wrists, his hair is matted with filth; in short he's a mess.
The last time Dean had seen the monster wearing his dad's face, before they had locked it in Bobby's trunk, there hadn't been a mark on it. Steve had been standing guard with a rifle not a knife so even if the creature – ghoul? – had escaped there would be gunshot wounds not knife wounds. Of course, now Dean knows there could be more than one ghoul out there imitating his father. This doesn't have to be the one from the trunk, this could be a different ghoul sent to lure them into a trap.
Possibilities whirl through his mind and his lungs burn from lack of oxygen as he watches the thing that might be his dad stop its forward progress, grimace as though it's in pain, and pass a grubby hand over its forehead in an achingly familiar gesture of discomfort, the one his dad always seems to use whenever he gets near either of his two sons and especially when both boys are together. Then its head jerks up and it begins peering intently into the undergrowth beside the well worn path, luckily in the opposite direction from where he and Sam are crouching, hidden in the dusky twilight.
"Dean! Sam! I know you're here somewhere boys. Are you…are you alright?" Its voice cracks and its head drops down to its chest, the picture of dejection. "The ghouls didn't get you, did they?" It whispers brokenly.
Sam sends every negative emotion that exists along their connecting link, but removes his hand from Dean's face. Don't fall for it. It could all be an act.
Finally able to get a breath of air, Dean carefully fills his lungs and rolls his eyes at his brother as he quietly exhales. Duh.
The man's head comes up and he seems to gather himself together. "Okay, I get it. There's no way I'd come out if I were you. I taught you better than that. Hell, I'd probably be pissed if you trusted me right now 'cause if you guys are here that means you know what we're up against." He heaves a sigh and rubs distractedly at his temple. "I just hope you boys brought backup."
The muscles in Sam's jaw bunch, contract and release rhythmically, a sure sign that he's upset, and Dean wonders how they're going to get past this stalemate. The dad-like creature - he refuses to think of that thing as his dad until he has some stone-cold proof - doesn't seem to be going anywhere, as stubborn as their father and annoyingly steadfast in its belief that John's sons are nearby despite the fact that he doesn't seem to have located them yet in the approaching darkness. Dean wishes he knew what had given them away since he's sure they didn't made a sound or do anything to clue the monster in to their presence. Oh well, it doesn't matter at this point. What's done is done, no way to go back and change it.
Concern buzzes through the brothers' bond, constant like a persistent low-grade fever. Sammy's worried about him and really?…that's not surprising considering his recent melt-downs. He hates that feeling of slipping away, of leaving Sam behind to worry and handle whatever the current crisis happens to be. He hates that the defense mechanisms he's accustomed to using seem to be turning against him. Instead of letting him hide his insecurities they're exposing him. The emotion sharing thing with Sam takes away his ability to keep most of his secrets intact, but this…this is even worse. This is like waving a red flag and screaming, 'I'm a wreck, come take a look at how messed up I am,' and Dean hates it. Sam had said everything about the Wish turns out to be beneficial, but Dean's not so sure. It seems as though they could be getting into some questionable territory here.
Confessions of mind control powers and freaky trances aside though, Dean has to admit he feels oddly in control of himself right now, his mind clearer and sharper than before this whole disaster began. It's like he's more focused or something. Whatever. It's weird, but it's good because when their dad – or the ghoul – starts talking again, he's able to listen and concentrate on every nuance, filtering out his doubts and anxiety.
"All right, we need to keep moving. The ghouls could discover I've escaped at any moment and when they do they'll come looking for me. I'm like some kind of prize trophy or something, me and some other hunter they caught." Cocking his head to the side, the man seems to think for a second. "They weren't anywhere to be seen this afternoon. Normally there's at least a dozen ghouls swarming all over that clearing. I took my chance at escape when they didn't show up to stoke the bonfire at the regular time. Did you boys have something to do with that?" He pauses as though maybe someone is going to answer.
No one does.
"Anyway, I'm thinking I'll just keep walking the way I was goin'. This path should meet up with the main road unless I'm totally turned around. And you two can follow, stay out of sight if you want, that's fine by me. I won't look for you. I'll tell you everything I know about those monsters as I'm walking, everything I've learned about them and that unholy Lich since they captured me…I don't even know how many days ago." A look of confusion crosses his face. The flash is brief, difficult to see in the dying light, and then it's gone, leaving the customary frown in its place. "Maybe something I say along the way will convince you I really am your dad."
Darting his eyes at his brother, Dean gives a tight shrug of one shoulder and a slight nod of his head. Seeing as how they can't stay where they are waiting for the ghouls to show up, he thinks it might be best to keep an eye on this man whether he turns out to be their father or simply another ghoul and yeah, the dry leaves and debris will definitely give away their location once they start moving, but they'll still have the advantage of weapons, his shotgun and Sam's handgun. The man looks to be unarmed and barely able to stay on his feet although that could all be part of an act, it's hard to tell for sure. Depending on his brother's decision, Dean is willing to take the risk.
"Okay then." The bedraggled looking man inclines his head as though he's received agreement, takes a few faltering steps forward, and starts talking to the empty space around him. "Ghouls by themselves aren't much of a threat to humans, not to those of us who are alive and kicking anyway. The ones we're dealing with here though, well they're a bit of a different story because they've hooked up with a Lich. You know what a Lich is? I don't think I've ever told you about'em. No need to. There aren't many of the soul-suckers around, thank god." The way the man is speaking, like he's giving a lesson, is so intimately familiar that Dean is immediately reminded of thousands of other lectures given in that same baritone voice and it chills him to the bone.
As the hunched and stumbling figure of their dad gets farther away and his voice gets harder to hear due to the increasing distance, Sam gestures for Dean to climb onto his back piggyback style. Dean's not thrilled by the idea, the position is restrictive, makes it hard for him to be of any help to Sam, makes it hard for him to move quickly if he needs to, but who's he kidding, he's not able to move faster than a hitching walk with his leg all braced up anyway, especially as they'll probably be staying off the trail amongst the thicker foliage and out of sight for now. His lower lip pokes out before he can do anything to stop it.
Even though Dean only scuffles the leaves around a little as he's clambering onto his brother's back, the man on the path ahead of them stops and tilts his head in a posture of rapt attention. He can't see it from this angle because the man's head never turns their way, but Dean imagines a look of smug triumph on his father's face and tightens one arm around his brother's neck while adjusting his grip on the shotgun in his other hand. He's ridiculously grateful for the lush undergrowth and the quickly setting sun which is casting more shifting shadows than light, making it easy to keep hidden.
His chance to reload the shotgun is gone for the time being and he won't be able to accomplish it while perched on his brother's back. At least Sam still has a fresh clip. Dean lets his mind conjure a picture of pulling the trigger and watching his dad's head explode in a spray of blood and brains. His stomach lurches and suddenly he's glad he didn't take the opportunity to reload when he had it.
Rigidly facing forward, apparently afraid of spooking them by turning toward the source of the noise, their dad begins walking again, continuing his monologue. "So a Lich is a spell-caster, kind of like a warlock or a sorcerer, only he specializes in spells that draw the life out of others to prolong his own miserable existence. The longer a Lich lives the more powerful it becomes. Some are able to store the life they suck from their victims in a crystal or a gem making them nearly impossible to kill unless you can find and crush the crystal first."
Sam stands, supporting Dean's weight with an arm behind his back and pulling the Glock from his waistband to have it handy. It's not difficult for the two brothers to match the man's limping pace even though they both have to duck occasionally to avoid low overhanging branches. The crackling underbrush is unavoidable as they move, but their dad sticks to his side of the bargain and doesn't turn his head to look for them.
"I was worried about you boys, you know? Have you been taking care of each other?"
The change in topic jolts Dean out of the comfortable mindset he's trying to create, convincing himself that the injured man on the trail isn't his dad, he's just a man or maybe a monster, but in either case he's not anyone important to Dean and if they have to shoot him it's no big deal.
Their dad nods at the empty space in front of him. "Yeah, I know you have been. Sam, I don't even know if you're an adult or a kid right now. Wish I could get a good look at you, make sure you're alright. What are you two doing out here anyway? You shouldn't be here." His voice takes on a hard edge, concern warring with anger. "It was stupid and reckless, coming out here."
Sam's back stiffens.
Receiving a dressing down from his dad…wow, that hits a little too close to home. Dean's breath catches in his throat.
"Never mind." The man squeezes the bridge of his nose between a forefinger and thumb, groaning softly. "You're here so we'll just have to…I don't know." He seems to lose his train of thought and when he speaks again his voice is slightly slurred. "We'll have to…we'll figure something out." Then he staggers sideways, and slumps to the ground, seemingly unconscious.
Sam freezes in indecision and then exhales roughly. "Great, what do we do now? Leave him here? Go get the others?" He's whispering, but Dean can both sense and hear the sarcasm loud and clear. The Glock in his brother's hand never wavers, pointed unerringly at the downed man's head. Sam obviously isn't taking any chances and Dean doesn't blame him.
Dean squirms and kicks at Sam's hip to be put down. It makes him feel like a toddler, but hey, it's effective. Once his feet touch the ground he says, "We can't leave him here. The ghouls…and what if…?" The sentence hangs there unfinished. He can't bring himself to say it, not yet.
"Yeah, okay." With a firm hand on Dean's shoulder, holding him in place as if Dean might bolt to his father's aid at any second or just bolt period, Sam stares at the unmoving figure lying on the trail. "How about this, we move him off the path, hide him under some debris and then go get the others?"
Dean sort of despises the idea. It feels like leaving a man behind, something that goes against every instinct he has, every fiber of his being screams that its wrong, and he has to remind himself – again – that this isn't necessarily a man at all much less his father. To think of him as their dad opens him up to a world of disappointment if it turns out to be another random ghoul, disappointment that could very well end him.
They don't have any other choice though and just as he's about to agree to Sam's plan, a voice reaches them from up ahead. Bobby's voice, sounding brusque and forceful even if completely stressed, precedes the gruff hunter as he charges around a curve in the trail. Steve is right behind him followed closely by Stan, Brian and Dustin. "It shouldn't be much further. Keep your eyes and ears open and your guns ready."
Overwhelming relief washes through him even as Dean does a quick mental tally and notices that Gage and Kevin are missing from the group.
The second Bobby sees the unconscious man on the trail he stops so suddenly that Steve can't avoid running smack into him. "Well, I'll be damned." Bobby murmurs, bringing his flashlight and gun to bear on the man at the same time.
"Bobby!" Sam announces their presence as they step out of the sheltering shadows and onto the path.
At the sound of Sam's voice, Steve's head jerks up from where he'd been staring at the bloody form of yet another John Winchester. "Sam, Dean, you're okay." He says and rushes forward to clasp them each on the shoulder before pulling Dean into a fervent hug.
"Blast it all, you two are gonna put me in an early grave." Bobby's face softens, the tension draining from his posture. "I gotta tell you though…you did me proud back there, kept your heads and followed the plan." The older hunter gives them a wry smile. "I'm real glad you're alright."
The approval gives Dean a surge of warmth. Coming from Bobby, it means almost as much to him as if the words had been spoken by Sammy or his dad.
"Way to go, little buddy!" Stan cuffs Dean good-naturedly on the arm.
"How'd you get away, Bobby?" Sam asks. "The last we saw you had a dozen ghouls and the Lich hot on your trail."
"Outmaneuvered'em and left a false trail." Bobby grimaces. "Ghouls ain't too bright."
"You've said that before." Dean takes the rare opportunity to tease the man who is as close to him as family, feeling almost giddy at being back in the company of the other hunters and finding out his friends are safe.
"Yeah well, it's true." Bobby raises an eyebrow as though he's been challenged.
Sam laughs. "We're not doubting you, Bobby."
"I hate to break up this happy reunion, but…how do we know they're really Sam and Dean?" Dustin's cynical smile doesn't hide the hard set of his jaw or the feral glint in his amber eyes. "I mean, Bobby says we're dealing with ghouls, and not any ordinary ghouls, but ghouls that can take on the appearance of a living, breathing person just by having a little snack. He says he saw multiple ghouls that all looked like the same person. That's not normal. So how do we know they aren't ghouls dressed up like Sam and Dean, sent to gain our confidence?"
Brian's eyes narrow suspiciously as he glances from Sam to Dean and back again. His hand goes to the gun he had stuffed into the pocket of his jacket moments ago.
Dean feels a tug on his coat and realizes it's Sam subtly trying to pull him out of the line of fire should there be any.
"Now hold on. Everybody just keep your pants on." Bobby glares at Dustin and raises his gun into the air, finger off the trigger like he's trying to set an example for everyone else to follow. "Let's not go jumping to conclusions."
Brian relaxes and nods his head. "Bobby's right. This isn't the time or the place. We should get everyone back to the cars and figure out where to go from there." Pointing at John, he says, "Someone help me with him and let's go."
The trek back to the cars is tense and quiet. Brian and Steve end up hauling John's unconscious body and Dustin opts to bring up the rear. He makes no attempt to conceal his continued distrust of Sam and Dean, going as far as to insist all weapons be taken from them before they all move out.
His good mood at being among friends dashed, Dean finds himself on the receiving end of his brother's protectiveness once again when Sam makes a point of walking directly behind Dean, shielding him from Dustin with his own body. He pushes irritation at his self-appointed bodyguard, but his annoyance is only met with steel hard determination and Dean can only sigh in resignation while clomping along with his braced leg making faint metallic sounds that he doesn't try to avoid. It's as much of a temper tantrum as he can safely get away with.
Once they reach the cars they are greeted enthusiastically by Gage and Kevin.
Thumping his father on the back, Kevin grins. "Everyone seems to be accounted for. Looks like operation 'rescue Sam and Dean' was successful!"
"Maybe, maybe not." Dustin replies dryly.
The smile on Kevin's face slips as he glances from one somber face to the next. "What's going on?"
After Kevin and Gage are brought up to speed on recent events Brian clears his throat. "I think I might know a way to tell the difference between a ghoul and a human. If I'm right we can clear this mess up, make sure we're dealing with the real Sam, Dean and John, and get on with the job we came here to do. All we need is a little bit of blood."
On to ( Chapter 15 )
A/N: My writing class is going well, but it's certainly not boosting my ego very much. Then again, I didn't take the class to be told what I great writer I am, I took the class to improve my writing. That being said, I sure could use some encouragement. Your reviews mean the world to me. Thanks for your interest in this story.Back to ( Chapter13 )
Back to ( Chapter 1 )