Rating: T (for situations)
Characters: Jared, Jensen, Christian, Misha, Kurt Fuller, Kim Rhodes, Jim Beaver, and Chad
Genre: RPF, hurt/comfort
Disclaimer: None of these people belong to me; they all belong to themselves. None of this is true in any way, shape or form. I made it all up.
Warnings: Mental illness resulting in mental age regression and a form of infantilism which is emotional and not sexual in nature, mentions of past child abuse, mentions of a child who goes missing and is never found, and poor portrayal of a long-term care facility. Younger!abused!Jensen.
Word Count: over 30,000 in total (4,500 this part)
Summary: Prequel to Nightmares of Innocents Masterpost. Nothing could have prepared Jared for what he sees when he walks into that hospital room at his friend, Christian's, request. Sure, he knows the boy has been abused horribly by his parents, he knows the boy is scared of everyone except Christian, he knows the boy is malnourished. But there are some things that can't be explained, they can only be seen. This is the story of how they get from here to there, together.
A/N: This story is a difficult one to tell and you may need an open mind to read it. There are some aspects, I'm sure, that won't seem completely realistic so I claim creative license right here at the very beginning. My love and appreciation go to etoile_etiolee for creating the wonderful banner for this fic.. She has helped in so many ways I can't even name them all, from guidance on all matters having to do with medical and hospital procedures to keeping up my spirits when I wasn't sure I was on the right track in writing this story. My thanks also go to kamikaze_redux who did a wonderful job as beta even though she has a very busy schedule of her own and to alezig who I will always credit for the encouragement she gave me to not only finish writing the original story in record time, but to turn that kink meme ficlet into the Innocents 'verse.
Hope of Innocents
Six years ago
"Jar-ed! Come on, you promised you'd watch scary movies with me tonight!" Megan whines in that high-pitched, grating register that only pre-pubescent, little sisters can get away with. She's standing in the doorway to his bedroom, one hand on her hip, the other clutching three DVD boxes. The Scream trilogy.
Heaving a monstrous sigh, Jared shuts down his laptop and pushes up from where he's slouching against the headboard on top of his childhood comforter. "Remind me why you aren't trick-or-treating with your friends or going to a Halloween party tonight," he says even as he stands and stretches. He had promised after all. At twenty years old and a college junior, Jared prides himself on being a man of his word.
"I'm too old for trick-or-treating," she says, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Then she gets to the real reason. "Besides, Cammie went to the lake for the weekend with her parents and Ginny is staying the night with Nadia." The hurt is hidden by a nonchalant tone, but Jared recognizes it anyway. Being left out is never fun.
Slinging an arm over his kid sister's shoulder, he breaks out his most ridiculous, spooky voice, complete with fake Transylvanian accent. "Very well then, pipsqueak, it's just you and me for a night of chills, thrills, and all the Skittles we can stuff in our faces."
"You're a candy slut, you know that, right?" she giggles, pretending to stagger under the weight of his arm while they walk down the hall to the living room.
"Language young lady. Do mom and dad know about that filthy mouth of yours?"
His mock reprimand is met with an eye roll. "Right, like mom and dad can hear me from the cruise ship."
"Well, maybe they can't hear you, but I can and since I'm babysitting..."
This is a recurring argument and a source of constant amusement for Jared. Because of the large difference in their ages, eight years, their parents have always relied on Jared to take care of his little sister. When other parents had worried about leaving their children at home alone, the Padalecki's had never hesitated.
Right on cue, Megan corrects, "It's called keeping me company, not babysitting. I'm not a baby anymore, Jared."
"Fine, fine, I'm keeping you company." And really it's not a huge hardship - keeping her company, being there for her when she needs him. He enjoys being a big brother. He always has.
Waving her toward the DVD player, he heads into the kitchen. "You put in the first movie; I'll get the snacks."
The stream of trick-or-treaters has trickled off and they probably won't get many more so Jared grabs the bowl of candy from the kitchen counter. As long as he's watching movies on Halloween with his little sister instead of going out with his friends or writing his journalism paper he might as well do it up right and make it a night to remember. Mom keeps candles and matches in the sideboard of the fancy dining room set for special occasions. He makes a detour to grab them before turning all the lights in the house off and settling down on the couch in front of the TV.
"Hey, why'd you turn out the lights?" Megan asks as the opening credits for the first Scream movie begin to roll.
"We can't watch scary movies with the lights on," he explains. Then he follows up just to make sure. "That's not gonna be a problem is it? Do scary movies give you nightmares?" It's kind of a stupid question because the whole point of this evening was to introduce Megan to the wonders of slasher flicks. She hasn't watched anything scarier than The Sixth Sense before now so how would she know if they give her nightmares?
Still, she answers right away. "I don't get nightmares."
She sounds confident enough that Jared shelves his protective nature and lights the candles. The wicks flicker to life, creating just the right mood. Shadows dance at the periphery of his vision and vanish when he turns his head to catch them. Grinning, he looks at his sister. She grins back, delighted, reaches into the bowl of candy for a Kit Kat, and stretches out on the sofa, head on a pillow and socked feet in his lap.
"Don't fall asleep. I'm not carrying you up to bed if you do," he warns.
She throws the candy wrapper at his head. They both know he's full of shit.
The lighting in the bar is filtered, shades pulled over the windows to block the afternoon sun. It's unusual for them to be out drinking at this time of day, but Christian had asked to meet him here and Jared would do anything for his best friend. Dropping everything at a moment's notice to meet him for drinks at their favorite bar is kind of a no brainer on the scale of things Jared would do for Christian. He knows the feeling is mutual.
Christian swirls the last of the beer at the bottom of his bottle. There's tension in the set of his shoulders and anger in the hard downward curl of his mouth. He's hunched forward on his barstool in a manner completely uncharacteristic of his normal lazy sprawl over drinks with friends.
"When I think about what they did to that poor kid – their own son – for all those years, it makes me…" Christian trails off, shaking his head savagely and downing the last of his beer in one long pull. "Honestly, Jared, I think I could murder them in cold blood and not even think twice about it."
The story is a brutal one. Jared has heard most of it already and it makes his skin crawl.
The police precinct had received a call from a concerned neighbor who had heard loud screaming and yelling coming from the house next door. Christian, expecting a case of domestic violence, had taken the call. He'd been cautious, wanting as much information about what he was facing inside the house as he could get.
Instead of going straight to the front door, he'd gone around back where he had been just in time to look through a bay kitchen window and see a woman pull a long-handled carving knife from a drawer and plunge it into a teenage boy.
Christian had broken the back door down and saved the boy's life.
"After what you've told me, I don't think a jury would convict you if you did – kill them, I mean."
Running his blunt thumbnail under the label of his own bottle, Jared motions to the bartender for another round. He's rarely seen his friend so upset about an investigation and subsequent arrest. Christian's usually able to shake off the horrible stuff that comes from being a police officer in a medium-sized city. This case has really gotten under his skin though and Jared is hoping to see the return of his friend's typically mellow mood sometime soon.
"The worst part is there's no public record he even exists other than a birth certificate. He's eighteen years old and he's never been to school, he's never had any contact with people who didn't treat him like shit. I've talked with all the neighbors and most of them didn't even know he was living in that house." Christian is talking fast, spitting the words out viciously and getting more furious by the second.
The bartender slides two full bottles in front of Jared who hands one to Christian, quickly moving his friend's empty bottle out of the way. As riled up as the cop is, Jared wouldn't put it past the man to start throwing things and while there aren't enough people in the bar on a Wednesday afternoon to worry about anyone getting hurt, it is one of their favorite hang outs. It would suck to get banned.
"He's been kept prisoner in that house, treated worse than a fucking dog, his entire life." Christian thumps his hand on the counter, palm side down. "You'd think he'd be like a feral animal and the thing is...in some ways he does act like something wild and terrified. He has no social skills whatsoever. But he's also sweet and…God, he craves affection, melts at a gentle touch." Emotion seems to overwhelm him, his nostrils flaring, and Christian stops to rake a hand through his long hair. "It's…fuck, I can't even describe it. I can't describe him. You should come by the hospital to meet him."
The look his friend gives him is both hopeful and like maybe he isn't telling him everything. But why is Christian being secretive?
Skeptical, Jared asks, "What do you mean 'come meet him'? Why would I need to come meet him? What aren't you telling me?"
"Nothing, I'm not…I've just been thinking is all."
Oh no, this doesn't sound good. Jared wonders if he should start backing away slowly; make a run for it while he still has the chance.
"Thinking about what?" he demands.
"Okay, so…you know how you've been trying to adopt a kid for a while now?"
"Yeah," Jared draws the word out slowly, all the while watching his friend's face for some clue as to what's going on behind those intense, blue eyes.
Adoption has been a dream of Jared's for a long time now. Not that Megan can be replaced. It's not about her even though she's rarely far from his thoughts.
No, it isn't about Meggie, but it's something he knows he'd be good at, a way to makes amends, something he wants with all his heart and something he's painfully beginning to realize will probably never happen.
He's been to every agency in the State, answered dozens of ads looking for adoptive parents, spoken to social workers and case workers and advocates for pregnant teenagers. Everywhere he's gone he's heard the same thing – it's nearly impossible for a single man to adopt a child. Foster? Maybe. Adopt? Never.
His hopes have been dashed time and time again. He's about ready to give up.
Christian knows all this.
With a sigh, his friend looks down at his hands where they're wrapped around his fresh bottle of Samuel Adams, condensation rolling down the cool glass and onto his fingers. Softly he says, "The doctors think Jensen has been abused - not just neglected - his whole life."
Jensen. The boy whose mother had stabbed him with a kitchen knife. The boy whose name they only know because the police had found it on his birth certificate. His parents don't use his name when they speak of him and the boy himself doesn't seem to talk.
For the first time since walking into the bar this afternoon, Jared really looks and sees the exhaustion in his friend's posture, the smudges under his eyes, the deep furrows in his brow. And it hits him – this isn't just another case to Christian. This isn't just some kid. Christian is in deep. He truly cares about the boy. He's nearly out of his mind with worry.
Thunking his bottle on top of the bar, Christian continues, "They've found patterns of long-term abuse, poorly healed broken bones, deep bruising, malnutrition. Shit Jared, he's so skinny I wonder how long they've been starving him. Did they ever feed him or did he have to scrounge for food?" There's a long pause while Christian's jaw clenches and unclenches, the muscles in his cheek bunching repeatedly. "And then there are the behavioral issues. He's fucking scared of everything and everyone. Cringes away from the doctors, the nurses, tries to hide whenever anyone he doesn't know comes into the room for fuck's sake. He's gonna end up pulling all the stitches out of his stomach."
"Can't they sedate him? To stop him from hurting himself?" Jared doesn't know a lot about hospital protocol, but it seems like common sense to him, especially for someone as traumatized as this boy seems to be.
His friend sighs and runs a hand through his hair again, brushing it out of his eyes with an agitated flick of his wrist. "No, they can't. Pain meds make him sleepy enough and he's so damn skinny any drugs they give him hit him hard." In frustration, Christian slams his fist into the countertop.
Jared nods, doesn't know what to say. His heart breaks, both for the boy and Christian, and he feels his eyes fill with unshed tears. He wants to help, but this is so far beyond anything he feels ready for. Psychology isn't one of the subjects he studied in college. His journalism degree isn't going to be much help. Journalism and sociology don't share any core competencies.
Still, he has to ask, "What can I do?"
The soft rock song playing on overhead speakers comes to an end and the next song begins while Christian swipes a bead of moisture off his bottle with the pad of his thumb.
"He needs someone to take care of him, Jared. He won't make it if they institutionalize him. He can't-" Voice cracking, Christian looks up at Jared, eyes big and pleading. "I know an eighteen year old isn't exactly what you had in mind but…he needs you."
Jared's breath catches in his lungs as though the air has become as dense as lead. With a concerted effort, he clears his throat.
"When can I meet him?'
A sign on the door says, 'Knock first. Please do not come in unless granted permission.'
From the hallway, Christian cracks the hospital room door open, peaks through the tiny opening as though he's on a secret mission of some kind, and eases it closed again before turning to Jared. "Okay, he's awake so give me about five minutes with him and then come in."
It all seems a little bit cloak and dagger to Jared, a little like overkill. Yes, he's aware that Jensen's extremely shy. And with very good reason. But this sneaking around, the sign, it all strikes Jared as odd.
Through the door that Christian leaves ajar, Jared can hear his friend speaking softly to someone, although the actual words are indecipherable. A second voice answers which surprises Jared since Christian had been very clear when he'd explained that Jensen doesn't speak.
There's a shuffling sound and then the door opens slightly, a dark-haired man with piercing blue eyes squeezing between the door and the frame like he's jealously guarding whatever or whoever is in that room. His hair is shorter than Christian's, not so much styled as giving the impression of being freshly tousled. The man gives him an appraising look, lips pressed together in a thin line. Then he smiles, making Jared feel as though he's passed a test of some sort, and holds out a hand.
"Hello, you must be Jared. I'm Misha." They shake hands and Jared barely has a moment to wonder who Misha is and what he's doing in Jensen's room before the man continues. "He knows you're here to see him, but go slowly. He's scared."
It's obvious Misha is talking about Jensen and it's also obvious he's anxious about what's going to happen next. Concern is evident in the quick glance he sends over his shoulder at the room behind him and in the tight knot between his eyebrows when his gaze returns to Jared.
Jared's pulse thrums and he realizes that he's nervous too, scared he's going to make a wrong move, say the wrong thing. It's suddenly clear to him how much of a catastrophe this meeting with Jensen could turn out to be if handled incorrectly.
"And take it easy on Christian too. He's sorta out of his depth, but he's doing the best he knows how." With those cryptic words, Misha gives him a sad smile and walks off down the long, white corridor.
Resolving to ask Christian what that was all about later, Jared pushes the door wider and steps inside.
The sight he's greeted with is absolutely heart wrenching…and the strangest thing he's ever seen.
The boy – young man, really – lying in the hospital bed is skinny to the point of being gaunt. His prominent collarbones poke out of the neck opening in the hospital gown which he appears to be swimming in.
Various tubes crisscross each other on their way to needles inserted into the veins inside his elbows. A large lump under the covers denotes where the padding and bandages covering his stab wound must be.
Freckles dot his pale skin, his eyes are wide with fear and his thumb is planted firmly in his mouth.
The young man is sucking on his thumb.
But that's not the strangest part.
Half reclining, half sitting on the bed next to him, arms wrapped firmly around the boy's upper body and murmuring into his ear…is Christian.
Badass, tough guy, first in his class at the police academy, Christian Kane.
Nothing could have prepared him to see his best friend playing the dual roles of security blanket and human restraint for a terrified eighteen year old boy.
Jensen gives every indication of wanting to bolt, from the stiff way he's holding his body to the frantic twitching of his long, thin fingers where one hand tangles in the bed sheet and the other curls around his nose. He swallows hard and Jared can see the muscles in his throat working.
Chris shifts around so he can hold the young man's back against his chest one-handed and begins to stroke his dark blond hair, whispering to him all the while.
Jensen's hair is medium length, but it looks as though it's been recently cut by someone with more compassion than actual skill as evidenced by the uneven edges at the side of his head. Jared wonders who Jensen might have let near him with a pair of scissors. One of the nurses? Christian? He tries to picture his friend trimming Jensen's hair and just can't see it.
Jared stares, amazed, until he remembers how tall he is and how intimidating he probably looks from Jensen's position on the bed. There's a chair on the far side of the room, one of those really hard plastic numbers. It's far enough away to put a comfortable amount of distance between them and still be well within Jensen's line of sight. Slowly, he backs up and sits when he feels the seat hit the backs of his calves. He feels a little like he's sitting on a kindergarten chair, his body folded at an unnatural angle.
Their gazes meet and Christian nods his approval, giving Jared a wink over the top of Jensen's head before turning his full attention back to the boy. "There, see. It's all good, kiddo. That's just Jared. I've been telling you about him. He's one of the good guys."
Careful to keep his movements small and non-threatening, Jared raises one hand in a wave and smiles. "Hey, Jensen."
Bright spots of color stain Jensen's cheeks at the greeting and he squirms onto his side, heedless of the tubes attached to his arms. Burrowing as close to Christian as he can get, the boy ducks his head and looks over at Jared through lowered lashes.
"Easy does it. Don't pull your IV out again. The nurse could barely find a vein last time. You don't wanna go through that again, do you?" Christian asks, a light teasing note in his voice.
Jensen frowns around his thumb and, yawning, makes himself comfortable by snuggling closer and smushing his face into Christian's stomach so that he's almost lying on top of him. Then he very deliberately closes his eyes as if to demonstrate that he's no longer listening.
Christian chuckles, "Fine, you can ignore me, but you know I'm right."
As frightened and timid as he is, there's something captivating about this boy. Something compelling. Jared can understand how his friend got himself in so deep, so fast.
"Dude, I gotta ask – how did this happen?"
"What?" Christian feigns ignorance.
"This!" Jared makes a sweeping arm gesture meant to encompass the entire situation at the hospital with special emphasis on the bed sharing and cuddling which is so out of character for his best friend.
Even with his eyes closed, Jensen flinches at the sharp tone and Christian automatically rubs his back in a soothing motion as though he's done it a thousand times before.
He shrugs and says, "For some reason, I'm the only one he trusts enough to do this. If I'm here," Christian points at his spot on the bed, "he lets the doctors and nurses do what they need to do to take care of him. If I'm not, he won't let anyone touch him. His primary doctor doesn't want to use any more drugs than absolutely necessary, so they can't sedate him. He's worried about the possible side effects of additional medication. The only other recourse they have is to restrain him and I can't let that happen. Not after everything else he's been through."
"You didn't tell me all this before."
Jared feels a little betrayed by his friend's omissions. It's stupid, he knows, but it feels like Christian has been keeping a really big secret from him because, from what Jared knows of the case, Jensen has been in the hospital for almost a week now. Christian is apparently very comfortable with being here and that means he's been doing this for Jensen, being here for him, all that time without mentioning his level of involvement to Jared.
"I told you I couldn't describe him. You had to see him for yourself. Would you have understood if I'd tried to explain this to you?"
Jared has to admit that he probably wouldn't have. Instead of saying that out loud, he points out, "He feels safe with you."
"Mmm hmm," Christian hums his agreement, "And he's beginning to accept Misha too. That's why I felt now would be a good time to have you come by to meet him."
That reminds him of his questions regarding the strange man who had come out of Jensen's hospital room earlier. "Who is Misha? Why is he interested in Jensen?"
Canting his head to the side, Christian thinks before he answers. "Misha was one of the paramedics dispatched to the scene when I called for an ambulance. He's been here at the hospital with Jensen almost as much as I have. We try to take shifts so he isn't left alone." His voice lowers into a deeper register, a dangerous, rumbling growl. "I think seeing the kid in such bad shape and almost losing him in the ambulance really shook Misha up. He tries hard and he's pretty good with him."
"You're pretty good with him too; he's asleep." Jared juts his chin at Jensen and Chris looks down at the head resting on his abdomen.
Lax features and the soft fall of long eyelashes against his cheek make Jensen look even younger than his eighteen years.
Christian's smile transforms his entire face, from brooding to fond in an instant. Gently, he pulls Jensen's thumb from his mouth. The slide of thumb across lips causes the lower one to poke out in a cute little pout and Jensen snuffles in his sleep.
It shouldn't be charming, but it really, really is. They're adorable together even though Jared kind of wishes he didn't feel like he was on the outside looking in.
He grins just in time for Chris to look up and catch him.
The cop schools his face into a slightly less sappy expression.
"Shut up." The warning in Christian's tone is tempered, modulated, in deference to the young man sleeping on him.
"I didn't say anything." Jared defends himself, hands held up innocently at his sides, still grinning.
"Yeah, well I know what you're thinking and you can just stop it right now."
"What? I'm not thinking anything. I'm certainly not thinking about how sweet you look because that would just be wrong on so many different levels." Jared tries for serious and can't pull it off, his mouth refuses to quit smiling and it's making his cheeks hurt.
"You know I can get up, and when I do you're gonna get it, Padalecki." Christian starts to scoot out from underneath Jensen, but the boy whimpers and clutches at his jeans-clad leg which is enough to have Chris sink back onto the bed with a wry smile of his own.
"Guess you're stuck." As Jared says the words he knows they have more than one meaning. And Christian isn't the only one who's been snared.
"Yeah," his friend nods, eyes bright, "I guess I am."
Neither of them speak for a while, lost in their own thoughts.
"This is a good thing." Chris says into the companionable silence of the plain hospital room. "He doesn't sleep much even though the pain meds make him groggy. He fights sleep like he's afraid of waking up and finding himself back in that house with his abusive parents." A disgusted look settles over his friend's face, eyes going storm-cloud dark and mouth forming a scowl.
Christian can be damn scary when he gets mad. Luckily, he doesn't get mad all that often.
"Plus, he hardly ever sleeps when anyone besides me or Misha are in the room with him. He must like you."
It pleases Jared to think Jensen might like him, although he's not sure he deserves the boy's friendship yet. "How can he like me already? All I did was say 'hi' to him."
"You'd be surprised by how many people don't even do that. They think just because he doesn't speak he can't hear them or they think he's mentally disabled and they ignore him. He's messed up – yeah, who wouldn't be – but he's smart." Christian's hand lies protectively at the top of Jensen's spine where the hospital gown has fallen from the sleeping boy's shoulders. His fingers splay over the freckled skin, running lightly back and forth, soothing. "Lots of people loom over him too, even though it's easy to see he's frightened. You did good, Jay. It's a good start."
A good start, maybe, but Jared knows it's going to take time. Earning Jensen's trust won't just happen overnight, if it happens at all. Look at how long Christian and Misha have been at it and, if what Chris said is true, Misha still doesn't have Jensen's full confidence.
Jared has a lot more to learn about this situation. There are no easy answers; that's for certain, and although he has some thinking to do, one thing requires no thought. "I need to know more about him. What more can you tell me?"
On to Chapter 2