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: ~5,400
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 16 A Fair Trade
Halloween dawns crisp and clear and cold.
It's been two days since they got their dad back - their real dad, two days since he and his brother proved they weren't ghouls by drinking Brian's blood, two days since the rest of the hunters did the same, even Dustin, and two days since Gage and Stan took the ghoul that used to look like their father out to some mysterious location to 'deal' with it.
Two days ago, after the ghoul tests, his dad had wrapped one arm around him and one arm around Sam, fisted the material of their shirts tightly, and held on as if for dear life, misty-eyed and trembling. His dad is the only person Dean knows who can look as fierce as a grizzly bear and like he's about to break down and cry at the same time. Dean had hugged his father and told him that everything was going to be okay, that he just needed some rest and he'd be fine. Then Sam had helped Dad up while Dean and the other hunters had cleared the duffels and weapons off one of the beds so he could lie down and get some proper sleep.
Now, Dean sits on the motel room bed, moping while eating a donut and watching his brother discuss strategy with Brian, Bobby and their dad. Sam keeps throwing furtive glances his way like he thinks he's being sneaky. He's not. Dean can tell Sam wants to know why he's been so quiet. Problem is Dean doesn't really know why. Otherwise he'd clue Sam in. Honest. He would. Is it possible to be happy and sad at the same time?
Sam is right in the thick of the plans they're all making to hunt the Lich, one of the key players. He's studying the collection of papers, printouts, and maps they have pinned on the wall. Gone is the cute little boy who wanted to wear a blue shirt with an 'S' on it and a red cape so he could be Superman for Halloween and in his place is a mighty hunter. It's been an awfully long time since Dean has seen that mop-haired little boy with the big hazel eyes. He sort of misses the little squirt. It might have been fun to dress the munchkin up as Superman and take him trick or treating. That sure won't be happening now, not this year anyway.
Dad is doing that thing he does where he subconsciously rubs his thumb over the crease on his forehead. The gesture is so commonplace, like a default setting on a robot, that Dean doubts the man even knows he's doing it. Most of dad's cuts have scabbed over and now that he's had the chance to rest and eat a few meals that didn't consist of dried fruit, he doesn't seem to be any the worse for wear after his prolonged captivity.
Steve is off getting weapons training from Gage. The railway man had refused to leave, even though Sam and Dean had both assured him that they were okay and John had thanked him for all he'd done. It seems like Steve is determined to see this through to the end, especially now that he's witnessed something that can't be explained away, something obviously not human.
The other hunters are doing whatever they need to do to get ready for the upcoming showdown with the Lich and its ghoulish minions. No one seems to find it necessary to include Dean in their plans so he's stuck hanging around the motel room. Not that Sam or dad or even Bobby, for that matter, would let him go anywhere with the other hunters even if they had asked him to come along.
Stuffing the rest of his breakfast in his mouth, Dean flops back on the bed, letting his head bounce on the springy mattress and listening in on the strategy session.
"Let's go over it one more time." Brian says.
"Oh for the love of…how many times are we gonna hash this out?" Dad asks, his voice full of peevish frustration.
Dean finds his father's irritation comforting in its predictability. The man hates sharing his intel and has never played well with others. The last time he and Bobby tried to work a job together the shouting had gotten so loud that the neighbors had complained and the sheriff had come knocking on Bobby's door. Considering that Bobby's closest neighbor is half a mile down the road, it was quite an accomplishment.
"Just one more." Brian insists. "You were able to determine that the ritual will be held tonight. Are you sure of the time? Since we're counting on the ritual distracting the Lich as well as most of the ghouls it could be disastrous if we got the timing wrong."
Dad huffs and leans against the round wooden table next to the motel room door, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yeah, I'm sure. The Lich told me the ceremony would take place at sundown on All Hallow's Eve. It never got tired of gloating over how much more powerful it was going to become after the ritual was complete. It knew I was a hunter and it liked rubbing my face in my failure to stop it."
Brain nods thoughtfully. "I wish we had more information on the ceremony, you know, what it entails and what kind of power it's going to bestow on a creature that's already as powerful as a Lich."
"Yeah, me too." Dad rubs his forehead and moves away from Sam fractionally. "All it said about the ceremony was something about 'solidifying its control' and 'raising an army of ghouls to subjugate humanity', whatever that means. It used to tell me my kids – my family – were involved somehow, but it never said in what way. I think it just enjoyed screwing with me."
Dean wonders if dad caught his slip in time, holding his breath while waiting for Brian to start asking questions which would only lead to more lies – questions like 'That's right, you have another son don't you? Where is he anyway?' Dad knows better than to talk about his son Sammy in front of the other hunters. He must be more tired than he's letting on. The barrage of questions doesn't come though and Dean lets his breath out in a slow whoosh.
"The ghouls came after us a couple of times." Turning from the collage on the wall to face their dad, Sam speaks quietly as if he's getting ready to divulge a secret and he's not sure whether he should or not. "They didn't seem to be all that serious about capturing us though. It was more like they just wanted to toy with us, get their jollies. The one that looked like you…it – it said things…did things…it was pretty rough on Dean." He coughs and glances at Dean apologetically.
"I know." Dad's voice is a low, gravelly growl. "You already told me how his leg got all busted up."
Dean doesn't want to see anyone watching for his reaction to this exchange so he scrabbles off the bed as best he can with his leg brace and pretends to be absorbed by the important task of selecting a channel to watch on the TV.
"Do you think they were trying to lure you here, Sam?" He hears Bobby ask.
"You mean like maybe this is all some elaborate trap? I don't know…it's possible, I guess. The ghouls did try to separate us more than once and they seemed real interested in Dean."
There's a beat of silence before Brian says, "John, I have to ask, are you sure Dean should be involved in the rest of this hunt? I'm just saying, if this had been me ten years ago I might be looking for a safe place for Kevin to sit this one out. You heard Sam, we might be playing right into the Lich's hands by taking the boy with us."
"What's with you and all the questions, Brian? Yeah, I'm sure. Dean is staying with me." The volume of his father's voice gets louder as he continues. "He can handle himself just fine, same as Sam, and I'm not leaving him alone. He's safer with me then he would be if we left him behind somewhere. I'd think that was pretty obvious after that ghoul found them in the motel room and dislocated his kneecap!"
Of all the things his dad has just said, Dean is only really surprised by one of them and that one thing makes him whip his head around to stare at the man in astonishment. He knows his mouth is probably hanging open and his eyes are probably as big as saucers, but he can't spare the brain cells to care because his dad just told another hunter that he trusted Dean to come along on a full fledged hunt. Okay, maybe he didn't use those exact words, but still, he might as well have. The meaning is there if you read between the lines and that's the important part.
Brian shoots Sam a sly glance as though he expects the younger hunter to disagree. It's a fairly reasonable expectation what with how overwhelmingly protective Sam's been of his 'nephew' ever since Brian first met them.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving Dean behind either. He's more than capable of handling some ghouls. He's got two over the rest of us already." A barrage of emotions accompany Sam's words, chief among them pride and confidence. Worry and concern are there too, in almost equal measure, but Dean chooses to ignore that for now and focus on the positive. "Besides, Red Team's mission is to sweep the cabin for anything the Lich may be using to store its collection of life energy. If everything goes the way we hope it does, the ghouls and Lich will be at the bonfire preparing for the ceremony, not at the cabin."
Dean has heard the plan so many times he could probably recite it in his sleep. There are three teams, each headed up by one of the senior hunters. Brian leads Kevin and Dustin on the Blue Team and their job is to put out the bonfire with the industrial strength fire extinguishers they bought specifically for that purpose. Bobby has Steve and Gage on his Green Team. Green Team's top priority is to destroy the sapphire amulet the Lich wears because dad says the Lich wears it all the time and Bobby says it's a good bet the Lich stores its life energy inside it. They'll use holy water to disable the Lich while they grab and smash the gem. Red Team is made up of his dad, Sam, and Stan. Oh yeah, and Dean. With the Lich and all the ghouls at the ceremony, Red Team will be at the cabin, looking for any other crystals the Lich might be using to store its life sustaining energy. If they find anything mystical-like they're going to destroy it, just in case. All three teams will be killing any and all ghouls on sight.
Putting his hands in the air, Brian takes an exaggerated step backwards and smiles disarmingly. "Okay, okay, I surrender. Dean is an integral member of the Red Team and woe to anyone who dares to suggest otherwise."
"Great, now that that's settled, can we get back to planning this hunt or do we all need to have a group hug first?" Bobby's acidic tone is in sharp contrast to the wink he sends Dean's way.
Dean grins back at the older hunter, letting his happiness and excitement bubble up inside him until he feels like he's glowing. He gets to be on the Red Team and his dad said he knew Dean could handle this hunt. It's everything he's always wanted to hear his dad say and it doesn't matter that the man's voice was hostile and argumentative when he said it.
Sam gives him a lingering look and then turns back to the detailed nature preserve map hanging on the wall. "Where did you say the clearing is, Brian?"
"Here." Brian circles a spot on the map with a permanent marker.
Jabbing an index finger at another spot, Bobby says, "And the forest ranger's cabin where we saw the Lich is here. Makes a lot of sense that the forest ranger was the first to go missing. The Lich must have commandeered the cabin as its base of operations first thing."
Brian dutifully draws a second circle around the indicated spot. "There's the better part of a mile between the two points. Luckily we have enough hunters here to cover every possibility."
"Dousing the bonfire is critical. I'm positive they need it for the ceremony. They kept it burning the entire time I was there." Three brand new fire extinguishers sit on the floor next to the dresser. Picking one up, Dad turns the large canister over in his hands as if he's testing its weight. "Brian, if you and your group can stop the ritual by putting out the bonfire, you should be buying us the time we need to kill the Lich before it can become even more powerful."
Bobby takes his cap off and scratches the back of his neck. "Holy water will slow the Lich down, but not for long. Kevin should be back pretty soon with all the jugs he was able to find. I've got a batch of holy water ready to fill them up with in the bathtub of my motel room." The older hunter places his cap back on his head.
"Holy water in the bathtub? I wonder if that's the way Pastor Jim makes the holy water he supplies to the church." Dean raises his eyebrows and makes his eyes go big and round.
"Smart aleck." Bobby grumbles.
Schooling his face into a serious expression, Sam asks, "Have you figured out how to kill it yet? The Lich?"
"The Lich can't be killed unless we've found and destroyed all the items it's using to store the life it collected from its victims over the years. There could be more than one, even though we're pretty sure the sapphire it wears is the main source of its power."
Sam looks at Dean conspiratorially and rolls his eyes. "I know, but what about after that."
"Don't roll your eyes at me, boy. You think I don't see you?" Bobby growls, wagging his finger at Sam. "It's just a matter of salting and burning the bones at that point. A Lich is nothing more than a walking, talking skeleton once you've destroyed the crystals. Anyone from the Green or the Blue team can light'em up at that point. Have a little bonfire of our own."
The color coded team names are Brian's idea. Dad calls them 'juvenile' and 'ridiculous' behind Brian's back, but Dean likes them a lot. They remind him of Star Wars when the resistance is fighting on the ice planet of Hoth. He's already given himself a super cool call sign. In his mind he's part of an epic battle between the good Rebel Forces and the evil Empire. Cupping his hand over his mouth, he makes his voice sound all muffled and staticky as if he's speaking through a crackly communication device. "Come in Red Leader this is Rogue 1."
"What's that, kiddo? Did you say something?" Sam grins.
Laughing, Dean shakes his head. "Just practicing." He feels his brother's confusion and answering playfulness.
"Oh yeah? What are you practicing? Are you practicing to be an astronaut?"
Dean snorts. "No Sam, I'm practicing to be a Jedi. You know, Star Wars? The Empire Strikes Back? Any of this ringing a bell?"
"Ah yes, Jedi training is very important." Nodding his head with a mock serious look on his face, Sam drops the small leather book he'd been holding onto the table and walks over to where Dean is standing. "So young Jedi, you want to take that brace off and see how your knee feels?"
"Really?" Truthfully, he'd gotten so used to the brace after wearing it 24/7 for the past several days that he'd nearly forgotten he'd be able to take it off this soon.
"Yeah, really." Sam nods. "Bobby said you'd be able to walk on it in a couple of days and it's been a couple of days. The ace bandage we have around your sprained ankle should be enough to support your weight as long as your knee is alright."
Dean shows his excitement by pumping a fist in the air. "Awesome!"
At first his knee is stiff and sore, but as he moves slowly around the motel room, making a circuit between the beds and into the bathroom, the stiffness begins to ease up and pain isn't as noticeable.
"How you doin' there, Dean?" Bobby asks from across the room.
"It's good." Beaming at the older hunter, Dean makes another lap, a little faster this time.
With a pleased look on his face, his brother watches his every move like a parent watching their child take his first steps. "You just need to work the kinks out, huh?"
All the attention is kind of embarrassing and Dean gets tired of providing entertainment for everyone in the room, not to mention the fact that his knee is protesting too much movement, too soon after taking the brace off. Giving Sam a grateful smile, he nonchalantly sits on the bed to catch his breath, hoping no one will notice his wince.
"Dean, I wanted to talk to you about something." Sam sits next to him on the bed, close enough that their conversation can't be overheard.
"Okay." Dean nods and waits for his brother to continue.
Averting his eyes as though he's embarrassed, Sam whispers, "You're going to be alright coming with us, aren't you?" He holds up a hand when Dean rushes to answer. "I mean, I don't want you to feel bad about having to kill the ghouls. They aren't people no matter how much they look like it and…"
"It's not going to happen again – that thing – you know, I'm not going to zone out again. I promise." Dean says fervently.
"I'm not afraid that you'll zone out, Dean. I'm afraid…I just want to make sure that if you see a ghoul, you don't hesitate. If you see a ghoul, you take off its head any way you can. I just don't want you to get hurt."
"Hey Sam, we need you back over here." Dad's call keeps Dean from having to answer. "And Dean, if you're looking for something to do, you can sharpen the knives.
The rest of the morning is spent on cleaning and checking every weapon they own, filling jugs with holy water, and making sure the fire extinguishers are operational. Three hours before sundown, the cars are loaded and the hunters are headed back to the nature preserve.
Trekking through the woods to the Lich's cabin feels the same and yet completely different from the last time they were here. For one thing, Dad is leading the group instead of Bobby. That, in and of itself, makes a huge difference. The whole vibe is more intense, there's no talking other than the curt commands his father issues. He knows his dad doesn't mean to be brusque. It's just his way, his hunting style. Dean has seen several hunting styles now and he's sure that when he develops his own style, it'll be much more fun than his dad's.
Dad always says hunting is a duty, an obligation, and Dean guesses that's probably true. He hasn't seen much actual hunting yet and what he has seen has been disturbing, disgusting and horrifying. But somehow, when it's all over, the bad parts fade away and what's left is the memory of his heart pounding, his blood pumping, and the adrenaline singing through his veins. The part he remembers is the part that's exciting, invigorating, and thrilling.
Hunting is inside him, it's all he's really interested in. Even though his dad's training regimen is demanding and takes every ounce of strength he has to complete, he'd still rather do laps for hours on end than crack a book…most days. Today is definitely one of those days and he hopes he gets the chance to prove worthy of his dad's trust, maybe help save someone. That would be totally cool.
Another difference between last time he followed this trail into the forest and this time is Stan. The young, burly hunter doesn't seem to know what to make of the oldest Winchester's approach to leadership. Stan's early attempts to crack a few jokes had been shut down with a stern frown and the shake of a head. Since then, Stan has been a bit on the surly side, overly polite in a sarcastic kind of way. Dean's expecting his dad to get tired of the insolence and punch the guy out. He would never dare talk to his dad the way Stan is.
Also, this time he's not sporting a heavy metal cast on his leg. For the most part his knee is holding up to the exercise. He doesn't mind putting up with the ocassional twinge as long as he can move better when he needs to.
"We should be approaching the cabin any minute now. Sam and Stan, I want the two of you to circle around back. Dean, you and I are going in from the front. There shouldn't be anyone here, they should all be at the bonfire, but do a quick weapon's check before we move out so we'll be ready for anything. Dean, you stay behind me at all times. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes." Eager to show his dad how capable he is, Dean gets busy emptying and re-chambering the bullets in his shotgun even though he knows the gun is in perfect working condition and ready to go.
"Yes what, Dean?"
"Yes, sir." He quickly replies.
Stan snaps to attention and fires off a sloppy salute. "Locked and loaded and ready for action…sir."
Dean holds his breath, waiting for the inevitable take down, but his dad ignores the disrespectful tone. "Good, get going then and Sam," Dad gives his son a bracing look, full of a thousand unspoken words. "Be careful."
It hits Dean then that with all the other hunters around, Dad has been forced to treat his youngest son as the adult hunter he appears to be - and not even as his adult son, but as his adult brother. He wonders how his dad feels about sending Sam off with only Stan for back-up when in his mind he probably sees his six year old son standing there. For Dean, adult Sam and child Sammy are like two separate people and he doesn't have a problem treating them differently even though he loves them both.
He remembers the early days, when the Wish was brand new to them all, how they used to worry about grown up Sam reverting back to his child self before the crisis was fully over, but that's never happened. If anything, his transformation into an adult usually lasts longer than strictly necessary, giving them plenty of time on the other end of the crisis to wind down. Those post crisis days, the days with adult Sam when there are no monsters and no trauma, are like gold to Dean, something special to treasure.
"I'll be careful. You do the same." A worry line appears above Sam's eyes, almost hidden by his shaggy brown bangs. Patting Dean on the shoulder, he says, "Take care of your old man and stay out of trouble, kiddo. We'll meet up at the house."
Dean swallows and nods jerkily. Splitting up doesn't seem like such a great idea anymore, but Dad's already made the call and Dad knows best. Dean can't question a direct order. As he watches his brother and Stan cautiously stalk away to flank the cabin and anyone who might be inside, a feeling of unease settles in his gut.
Dad also watches to a point, giving the other two hunters time to get into position, then he steps forward. "Let's move out, Dean."
The cabin, when it comes into view, looks deserted. The glade is empty and silent except for the caw of a blackbird sitting among the leafless branches of a nearby oak tree. A rustic wooden rocking chair sits on the porch, giving the place a homey feel. Dean can imagine the park ranger sitting there in the evenings, drinking a beer and enjoying the peaceful quiet of the forest. It must have been a huge shock to be confronted by the Lich in a place as natural and undisturbed as this.
His dad takes point position and Dean falls in behind, just as he was instructed. They reach the porch without incident. There's no movement from inside the house, no sound either. So far everything is going according to plan. It looks like they were right about the ghouls and Lich all attending the bonfire event in the clearing, leaving no one behind to guard the cabin.
With his gun held at eye level, Dad swings the front door open and shines his flashlight into the large open area beyond. The beam of the light doesn't stop until it hits the back wall of the cabin. Dean's flashlight adds to the glow and by the diffuse illumination he can tell that the interior is mostly made up of one room that serves as kitchen, living area and bedroom. Furniture breaks the room into separate functional spaces, not walls.
A shadow shifts by the back door. It's not coming from inside the cabin which means that someone or something is outside. Dean focuses the beam of his flashlight on the back door and Dad does the same. Anyone coming through that door, whether it's Stan and Sam or someone else, will be blinded by the lights shining directly in their faces while Dad and Dean stay safely obscured in darkness. The light won't do any real damage to Sam, but if something else comes through that door, it'll give them a nice advantage.
The door opens swiftly and Stan barges through, followed by Sam.
Relief at seeing his brother safe and sound flares briefly right before he hears his dad's muttered, "Oh no."
Dean follows his father's gaze to where the beam of his flashlight has moved off Stan's face down near his feet.
"Stan, stop! Don't move!" The undeniable command and fear in his father's voice would have halted most seasoned hunters. If it had been him or Sam they would have obeyed without question, without thought. It's not either of them though, it's Stan.
"Why? What's up?" The beefy hunter asks, jumping sideways and ducking as though he thinks something is about to fall from above. By shifting sideways, Stan steps out of the elaborate sigil drawn in what looks like black spray paint on the hardwood floor in front of the back door, leaving Sam standing smack dab in the middle of it.
The sigil begins to glimmer an eerie blue and fine spider webs of blue light wrap around Sam's body, starting with his feet and rapidly moving up his legs to his thighs, hips, torso, and chest. Sam's eyes widen. "I can't move. I-I can't…" Panic laces his voice.
"Sam!" Dean cries and takes a step forward, intending to rush to his brother's aid, pull him out of the trap somehow.
"No Dean!" His father barks as he grabs his shoulder and yanks backwards. Only then does Dean glance down briefly to see a similar sigil painted in camouflaging colors on the floor in front of him. He doesn't spend any time worrying about what might happen if he steps into that rune though because all he wants to do is get to Sam.
His eyes lock with his brother's frightened ones and he begins thrashing in his father's grip. Dad has a hold of his arm and the material at his jacket collar and he won't let go.
The web of light wrapped around Sam gets brighter and then it pulses to the rhythm of a rapidly beating heart. Dean can feel the tempo as if it's his own heart thrumming inside his chest. On the fourth beat, the web contracts and Sam disappears…he just vanishes…right before their eyes.
With the absence of the pulsing light, Dean's heart forgets to beat, or at least that's how it feels as he chokes on a sob. He hears his dad talking, muttering something about a trap designed to be triggered by the second person entering the cabin, but he doesn't understand why that's important when his brother is gone.
Sam is gone.
Dad should be talking about how to get Sam back. Nothing else matters and if anyone will know what to do, it's their dad. Wanting to remind the man he idolizes of that fact, Dean grabs his elbow and shakes it. He looks up and is just about to tell his dad to fix this when he hears a dry, raspy chuckle that seems to be coming from nowhere and everywhere all at once.
"As you must have guessed by now, I have Sam." The brittle voice is unmistakably the Lich's even though the monster isn't visible. "I have Sam and I want you to know that he is going to die in agony unlike anything you could ever imagine."
Dean looks around wildly, trying desperately to find where the voice is coming from. Dad points his gun right, then left, then up, but the Lich is in none of those places. Swearing, Stan pulls a flask of holy water from his jacket pocket.
"There is a way out, however. I'm willing to bargain. Sam will die, unless…" The Lich's dry rattle of a voice pauses dramatically before continuing. "Unless you give me Dean. It's a fair trade I think. Sam for Dean. But consider carefully, for you won't be getting Dean back. The choice is yours…Sam or Dean. You have until midnight to make your decision. At midnight Sam dies."
On to ( Chapter 17 )
A/N: I geeked out big time while writing this chapter. I probably should have warned for excessive Star Wars references of something! LOL
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