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 (3,700 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 banners (yes, more than one!!! Plus check out the sweet userpic she made of Jensen's first look at the Christmas tree!) 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.
Back to the beginning - ( Prologue and Chapter 1 )
Hope of Innocents
Epilogue - Two months later - December 25th - Christmas morning
Jared flicks on the small lamp on the dresser and just stands there for a moment, taking in the sight of his sweet boy where he lies fast asleep in the sturdy crib. Jensen's favorite sleeping position is curled up in a ball inside a nest of blankets like a hibernating squirrel. Sometimes he burrows so far inside his mound of blankets that no part of him is visible. This morning though, a few tufts of his sandy-blond hair are sticking out. His hair has grown long in the two months he's been in Jared's care, a bit shaggy maybe, but it gives him a carefree, playful look and Jared likes to see him that way.
Crossing to the crib, he adjusts the railing to its lowest position. "Good morning, sweetie. Time to wake up."
He keeps his tone even and soft, despite his excitement. It's best not to wake Jensen too quickly. He still startles easily and, depending on the nature of his dreams, doesn't always remember where he is upon first waking. That's why Jared makes a point of speaking before touching him to wake him up.
Today is a special day - Jensen's first real Christmas - and Jared can hardly wait to share the wonder and joy of the day with him.
The things most people take for granted around the holidays are all new to Jensen. The Christmas tree holds endless fascination for him with its twinkling lights, colorful ornaments and wrapped presents. He can spend hours at a time simply staring at it, his eyes wide and bright.
Watching Jensen is like experiencing Christmas for the first time and Jared loves it, can't get enough of seeing Jensen's amazed reactions to sights, sounds and smells that have long ago lost their magic for Jared.
The mound of blankets begins to quake and an arm emerges, stretching lazily.
"Merry Christmas," Jared whispers as he peels away one of the blankets, uncovering Jensen's head.
Sleepy, green eyes regard him for a moment and then close again.
Jared chuckles. "Oh, so it's gonna be like that, is it?"
Some mornings, Jensen wakes up gasping and screaming in fright. Nightmares, although not as common as they used to be, still plague him with a frequency that has Jared using some very imaginative language to curse the terrified boy's parents.
This is a good morning though, a drowsy, indolent morning when they can both indulge in what has become a cherished daily ritual. Jared bundles Jensen up, blankets and all, and carries him to the newly purchased rocking chair. There he lets Jensen snuggle in his lap, all sleep-warm and pliant, head on his shoulder, as they glide backwards and forwards at a languorous pace. They rock and Jared absently runs his fingers through Jensen's hair, letting his thoughts wander.
"Do you remember what I told you happens on Christmas morning?" he asks when it feels like Jensen might be drifting off to sleep again.
He gets an uncertain shake of the head and a yawn in response.
"Christian and Misha will be coming over to watch you open all those presents you've been poking at for the last two weeks."
Stiffening, Jensen sticks his thumb in his mouth, something he seems to do to comfort himself when he's nervous or upset.
"It'll be fun. You'll like it; don't worry, sweetheart," Jared soothes, even as his own pulse rate quickens at the thought of what Jensen must have endured over the years to make him so skittish. In order to distract them both, Jared continues, "First, we'll change your diaper and then we'll eat breakfast - orange rolls from the bakery, the ones you like with the raisins."
Sticking to the normal schedule as closely as possible is going to be important today. There's going to be enough excitement without making things worse by ignoring the morning routine. Easily overwhelmed by change, Jensen will need some normalcy or they'll risk a meltdown.
Christian's knock comes soon after they've finished eating. Jensen looks like he wants to bolt at the sudden noise, but Jared doesn't give him the chance.
"That'll be Christian. He said he'd be over early this morning."
Jared picks Jensen up and goes to answer the door with the teenager's gangly legs wrapped around his waist and socked feet tucked against his thighs.
Loaded down with presents, Christian laughs when he sees them. "I don't know how you do that, man."
Jared shrugs. "It's not hard for those of us who are taller than 5'10" and work out regularly."
"Yeah, you're a regular Arnold Schwarzengger; the casting agents are gonna come knocking on your door any day now, begging you to come to Hollywood and become an actor so you can be the new Conan the Barbarian," Christian snorts, winking at Jensen. "Right, kiddo?"
Jensen ducks his head, but smiles as he looks up from under long lashes. He's been doing more of that lately - smiling.
"They already asked. I turned them down. Got my hands full right here, you know?" Jared plays along.
"Yeah, I can see that." The small package at the top of the pile in Christian's arms looks dangerously close to falling as he asks, "So, where should I put all this?"
"Under the tree with the others, of course."
"Of course," Christian mutters, dumping his armload on top of the other presents in a jumble of ribbons, bows and boxes.
"Jeez Kane, I hope there wasn't anything breakable in there."
"Naw, just a couple crystal vases and champagne flutes," Christian smirks. "Hey Jensen, come here, kiddo. I've got something I wanna show you."
Kneeling next to the tree, Christian waits until Jared puts Jensen down and the boy crawls up to him. Then he pulls something out of his pocket. A miniature snow globe.
Jared steps closer so he can get a better view. Inside is a perfect, tiny snowman, wearing a wee top hat and sporting an orange carrot nose.
"You take it." Christian holds the globe out to Jensen who makes no move to take it, just staring at it in fascination. "See, when you shake it, it snows." As he talks, Christian turns the globe upside down and then right side up again. Flakes of glittery snow swirl and dance around the snowman under its glass dome.
Jensen reaches out a tentative hand, mouth open.
Jared wants to cry at the childish yet timid gesture.
"That's right, now you hold it." Eyes suspiciously shiny, Christian encourages him by placing it in his open hand and then ruffles his hair.
Jensen closes both hands around the small object and holds it up to his face as if trying to see every detail, all his attention focused on the simple toy.
A lump grows in Jared's throat, breath catching, and he wonders how he's going to make it through the day without falling apart and making a complete fool of himself in front of Chris. The confusing part is, he's not sure where all the emotion is coming from. Is he happy because he's the one who gets to give Jensen this wonderful new experience? Or is he sad because most children have this experience when they're two years old?
Jensen is so engrossed in the snow globe that he doesn't react to the doorbell when Misha arrives.
On Misha's head is an electric-blue, knit hat. A matching pair of mittens cover his hands. He pulls them off and gives Jared a quick nod on his way past and into the living room.
Jared isn't hurt by the curt greeting. He knows who Misha is here to see.
"Hey Jensen," Misha says, settling on the floor nearby. "How've you been? Is your Daddy Jared treating you okay?"
His expression is serious - well, as serious as Misha's expressions ever seem to get - and Jared knows this is more than just an exchange of pleasantries. Misha really wants to make sure that Jensen is being well taken care of and nothing short of Jensen's own affirmation will satisfy him. The silly nickname for Jared is just a screen for how deadly serious Misha is.
Head tilted at a questioning angle, Jensen looks from Misha to Jared and back again. He nods, licks his lips and nods again. Then he holds the snow globe out for Misha to see.
To Jensen, the subject is obviously closed, but apparently Christian can't let it go without comment.
"Wait, so if he's Daddy Jared, what does that make me? Uncle Christian?"
"Yup, that's exactly what it makes you." Taking the toy from Jensen, Misha gives it a shake and admires it before handing it back.
"Uncle Christian," the cop mulls the name over and then slouches into the couch cushions, satisfied. "Yeah, I like it. But then who are you?"
"I'm just Misha," he says with a grin, as though his answer is the only obvious one.
Christian rolls his eyes so hard he looks like he's trying to see what's behind him without turning around.
Jared snorts, shaking his head, and goes into the kitchen to put some Christmas cookies on a plate. While he arranges an assortment of frosted sugar cookies, peanut butter kiss cookies, and cinnamon bars he mouths the name to himself again, 'Daddy Jared.' Corny. And yet...it feels right.
When he gets back to the living room, Christian is at one end of the couch and Misha is still on the floor, guiding Jensen through the series of exercises he's supposed to do to strengthen his leg muscles and keep them from atrophying. Usually, Jared helps Jensen with the exercises as part of their bedtime routine, but he figures it doesn't hurt for him to get some extra reps in.
He watches as Misha asks Jensen to roll onto his back and has him bend his knees and lift each leg in turn. Jensen is silent and obedient. A frown of concentration pulls his eyebrows into a little knot and Jared wonders what Jensen thinks of it all.
Each exercise is designed to keep his legs toned and fit for when he's ready to start walking. The physical therapist that Misha had learned them from will be seeing Jensen next month to gauge his progress and determine if any additional exercises need to be added to the regimen.
Setting the plate of cookies on the coffee table, Jared grabs one for himself, starts up the Christmas music collection from his iPod, and then relaxes into his comfy new couch.
Christian scoots forward to snag a handful of his own cookies and says, "You'll never guess who I heard from yesterday."
"Remember when I told you about the anonymous tip we got, alerting the precinct to the domestic violence at Jensen's house?"
"Yeah, you said a call came in from one of the neighbors, but he didn't want to identify himself."
Stuffing an entire cookie into his mouth, Christian somehow manages to say, "That's right. Well, apparently the guy's had second thoughts. He saw the Ackles' getting arrested back in October and, now that the trial date is coming up, he's decided he wants to testify against them." He chews and swallows. "Not that we really need it since I was there and saw it all go down. Still, the guy wants to do the right thing so I gotta give him credit for that." In a much lower voice, he says, "Plus, without his tip I wouldn't have been there in the first place and Jensen, well...you know how that might have turned out."
Jared turns away from watching Jensen complete his exercises to give Christian his full attention. "So, you got a name? If nothing else I'd like to buy him a beer. Thank him, you know."
"Name's Murray. First name starts with a 'C' I think. Charlie? No Chad. Chad Murray. I'll ask him if he wants to get together sometime for a beer when I talk to him again. I'm supposed to call him back tomorrow to set a date for him to come in and give his statement."
Jingle Bell Rock is playing through his iPod docking station speakers. This song always makes Jared want to dance around the house, but he contents himself with merely bopping his head along to the music. Misha finishes up with Jensen while Christian demolishes almost the entire plate of cookies.
"Is it time to open the presents yet?" Christian asks, eyes gleaming.
Jared senses it too - the unbridled joy of anticipation, the pure excitement of Christmas morning and a pile of presents. A family to share it all with. These are emotions he hasn't had in so long that he barely remembers them from all those years ago. It's almost as if he's feeling it all for the first time.
"Yeah, it's time to open presents. Just a few to start off with," he cautions. "There are a lot here and Jensen might feel some pressure with all of us staring at him."
Rummaging around in the stack of presents, Jared searches until he finds the one he's looking for. "Come up here on the couch with us, Jensen. I've got something special for you."
The really tall man who gives him food and holds him sometimes and makes him feel safe...daddy...is holding up a box. It's covered in red paper and has a white ribbon tied around it. Jensen recognizes the box because it's the first one that had appeared under the inside-the-house tree. Jensen hadn't been able to resist the shiny red paper and had been drawn in by the delicate bow. He'd picked it up to look at it closer that first day, but afterwards he'd made sure to put it back exactly where he'd found it.
"Here Jensen. It's for you."
The man - daddy - puts the box in Jensen's hands, but Jensen's not sure what he's supposed to do with it. Is he in trouble for playing with it before? Is daddy showing him where the ribbon got moved the first time he'd picked it up so he knows why he has to be punished? Is this when the yelling starts again? The hitting?
They've been nice to him so far, but that could end at any time. Now that his stomach doesn't hurt as badly, the beatings will probably start up again. They've probably only been waiting for him to do something wrong so they can send him back to the mean place. He's been waiting for that to happen.
With trembling hands, Jensen tries to give the box back, but daddy won't take it.
Jensen looks at the man who calls him 'kiddo' and stops the scary people from hurting him. Maybe he'll help. Maybe he'll understand that Jensen hadn't meant to ruin the ribbon, he hadn't known he wasn't allowed to touch it. He holds out the box to him, careful not to move the ribbon any more, and hopes it's enough to keep the punishment from happening. The terrible too-scared-can't-breathe feeling wells up, choking him, clamping an ice-cold vise around his ribcage. Squeezing.
"Do you want me to help you open it?"
Help. Yes, he wants help.
Jensen nods while using one hand to shield his stomach where the skin around his scar is beginning to prickle. It does that sometimes.
A gentle arm wraps around his shoulders, warm and reassuring, and it's like being wrapped in a blanket. Sheltered. Safe. The vise-like constriction loosens a little. He lets himself take comfort from the contact, melts into it, because he doesn't know when he'll be allowed to have it again. Each moment of tenderness he gets could be his last and he wants to savor each one, store them away for later. He's going to miss this so much when it's gone.
The voice that speaks to him is a low whisper, not the angry shout he expects.
"No problem, kiddo, I've gotcha covered. All you have to do is pull on this. See?"
Reaching over, the man tugs on the ribbon and it comes undone. The little bow on top of the box unravels and the ribbon falls away.
Jensen inhales sharply. He looks over at daddy and daddy is making a not-mad face.
The ribbon is much worse now than it had been after he'd touched it the first time and daddy doesn't seem to be looking for something to hit him with. There are no fingers pointing at him and the eyes watching him have soft crinkles around the edges instead of hard furrows.
So...maybe he isn't going to be punished after all.
It's strange and Jensen feels disoriented, like he's spinning in circles with no way of knowing which way he's facing. All his reference points have disappeared and he's just so confused. What is he supposed to do?
The shudder that goes through him then causes the box to slip from his hands and it lands with a muted thump in his lap.
"Maybe this isn't such a good idea," daddy says, reaching for the box. "I-I thought he would like this, but...I didn't think it through. He's obviously not having fun." Daddy's voice sounds kind of wobbly.
The third man, the one who had stopped his stomach from hurting so much on the ride to the hospital, shakes his head. "No, he can do this. Let him do it."
Strong hands take both of his and put them back on the box. "Rip the paper, Jensen. Daddy and Uncle Christian and I want you to open the box. Find out what's inside, okay? It's for you."
Jensen does what they want him to do.
Inside the box is something fluffy and white. It must have been alone in the dark since Jensen first saw the box under the tree. And that's been days. Trapped. Ignored. Forgotten. Jensen's eyes water in empathy. He knows just how that feels.
Plunging his hand in the box, he pulls out a stuffed rabbit with long ears, floppy arms and dangling legs. It has a small, downturned mouth and large eyes that make it look a little bit sad and a little bit scared. The poor thing looks like it's starved for any type of affection.
Jensen cradles it to his chest, wrapping his arms around it and holding it tightly. Don't be frightened, bunny, he thinks. I won't make you go back into the box. It'll be okay, now. With eyes scrunched closed, he clutches the fluffy toy and concentrates on taking one breath after another.
"He belonged to Megan." He hears daddy say quietly.
"Does he have a name? I think he deserves a name."
"She used to call him snowflake, I guess because he's white."
"He looks too serious to be named snowflake."
There's a tap on his shoulder and when he opens his eyes, Jensen sees the man from the hospital ride sitting on the floor in front of him.
"Can I see him for a minute, Jensen? I won't keep him; I'll give him right back."
Reluctantly, Jensen lets him take the stuffed bunny out of his arms.
The man purses his lips and stares into the bunny's fuzzy face. Then he tilts his head and holds the rabbit up to his ear, nodding, as if listening intently.
"He says his name is Snowflake, Snowflake Bun, but he prefers to be called Mr. Bun because of all the things he's been through. Some very bad things have happened to him. And right now he's shy and sometimes he's scared." The bunny hides its head behind its paws.
Pulse racing, Jensen's vision begins to swim and he sticks his thumb in his mouth. The lights on the inside-the-house tree seem to shimmer out of focus and dim.
"Misha...I don't think-" someone says from very far away.
"But he won't always be this timid. He knows things are different now. He now has people around him who love him and they're going to take care of him. He's going to start feeling better and not be so frightened all the time."
A white face peeks out, the paws lower and Jensen believes he sees whiskers twitching as though the bunny is testing the air for danger.
"And one day he'll get over all the horrible things that have happened to him. One day he'll stand tall and proud."
Jensen watches, spellbound, heart hammering, as the stuffed animal straightens and appears to shake off its fear.
"So he figures he should be called Mr. Bun and that way he'll always remember who he's meant to be. Who he will be one day."
A sob catches in Jensen's throat. He pulls his legs up to his chest and curls into a ball, eyes shut, body stiff.
Then he's scooped up and cradled just as he'd cradled Mr. Bun.
He hears daddy saying, "It's okay if you're not ready yet, baby. You take all the time you need. But one day. One day."