Rating: T (for situations)
Characters: Jared, Jensen, and Christian
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. Younger!broken!Jensen.
Word Count: 7,900 in total (4,000 this part)
Summary: This is a timestamp in the Innocents 'verse found here: Innocents 'Verse Masterpost. Several months after Hope of Innocents, Jensen is slowly finding his way in his new life. Jared and Christian are determined to help him heal from his past abuse and show him what it means to be happy. This day is just a day, but the ending takes them all by surprise.
A/N: This story isn't for everyone, I've made my peace with that. Please read the warnings carefully and enter at your own risk. My love and appreciation go to etoile_etiolee for creating the gorgeous banner, cheering me through a terrible bout of writer's block, and being a wonderful friend. Her support has been invaluable to me.
For Love of Innocents
Normal. Nondescript. Nothing to make it stand out or to bring any attention to it Nothing flashy, gaudy, or overly messy. Just like the pieces of a puzzle, everything perfectly in its place.
The house is just as he remembers it, long hallway through the center, separating the living room on one side from the formal dining area and a stairway going up to the bedrooms on the other. The kitchen is on the first floor, in the very back. The closet is right where it's always been, under the staircase, door closed tight. He doesn't need to look inside to know what he'll find. Although it's in the perfect spot to be used as a coat closet, there aren't any coats in there, only a few ratty, old towels and some rags in a pile on the floor. Same as always.
Jensen knows every inch of this house. He knows that the brick of the fireplace is hard enough to crack open his skull if he's pushed into it with the right amount of force and that the doorknobs cause fist-sized bruises when they gouge into his back. He knows in which drawers they keep the lighter and the scissors and in which room they store the baseball bat.
The familiarity of it chills him as thoroughly as if he's been drenched with ice water.
Jensen stands in the hallway all alone and trembles, hard shudders that rattle his teeth and jar his whole body. He stands and he shakes and he tries to remember what he did to make his daddy bring him back to this terrible place.
A noise from the kitchen, a metallic clank, startles him into taking a wobbly step backwards on legs he hasn't used in a very long time.
"It's okay, sweetie," says Daddy. "I'm right here with you. Nothing bad can happen to you while I'm here." The voice sounds hollow as it echoes down the long hallway and Jensen wonders where it's coming from and why it sounds that way. Daddy's voice is usually so rich and warm, so comforting.
Jensen turns his head and sees Daddy Jared standing right next to him where before there had only been an empty space. The pieces of the puzzle scatter, becoming a jumbled mess. It's wrong, wrong, wrong, because Daddy doesn't belong here. Daddy is good and kind and he shouldn't be here in the bad place. Jensen opens his mouth to ask his daddy to take him away from here. He doesn't want to be here. He wants to go home. Please. Please. He'll do anything if they can just leave. But the words turn into abrasive dust and all he can do is cough and sputter as they scour the inside of his throat.
Daddy's lips try to smile, twitching up into something that gives his face a vacant expression, like he's here and someplace else at the same time. "You're all right. Come with me. We have to go this way." His hand comes up like he's going to place it on Jensen's back to guide him forward, further into the bad house instead of out and away, but then it just hovers in the air between them. The lack of contact unsettles Jensen more than anything else has so far. When has Daddy ever withheld his touch?
He shakes his head and makes a grab for Daddy's arm to pull him in the opposite direction. Daddy doesn't know how dangerous it is in here. Jensen has to make him understand; he has to get them both to safety. But his hand grabs only air. Daddy is gone and Jensen is all alone.
The hallway begins to shorten ahead of him, drawing him inexorably forward, and the kitchen gets closer even though he's sure he hasn't taken a single step. He never goes into the kitchen. Not if he can help it. Not unless no one has given him anything to eat for days and hunger is gnawing at his belly.
The doorway to the kitchen yawns open like the mouth of some hideous beast and, even though Jensen shies away from the gaping maw, he can't escape it. Hot, moist air billows from the opening, bathing his face in steam. His heart begins to pound so hard inside his chest it feels like his ribs might shatter from the beating they're taking.
Just as the frame of the doorway encases him Jensen finds his voice and sound gushes from his throat in a torrent, raspy and guttural. Thrashing against the wooden frame which has begun to crush him, he screams until his lungs burn from lack of oxygen. In his terror, his legs refuse to hold him up any longer and he crumples to the hallway floor, arms over his head to shield his face from the attack.
"It's just a dream, Jensen. Just a bad dream. Shhhhh, everything's okay. Come on, wake up, baby."
The words come from above him with an insistent edge even though the tone is mild, a deep rumble of sound like the low murmur of a base guitar.
Reality ripples and the fetid hallway recedes into memory. The pressure against his shoulders eases and shifts, no longer the ruthless frame of the kitchen doorway, but something much less sinister, something strong, yet more dexterous than the wooden beams conjured up by his mind.
He stops struggling against whatever is holding him down.
"That's it, wake up. Wake up, Jensen. You're all right."
The frantic beating of his heart makes it hard to catch his breath and he pants through a throat that feels scraped sandpaper raw.
"Don't be scared, it's only me. There's nothing here that's going to hurt you. Open your eyes, Jensen. Wake up and open your eyes."
He feels his eyebrows lift as he strives to comply, to do as he's told. There's nothing he wants more in the world than to be good for his daddy.
It takes some effort and some more cajoling before he's able to wrestle his eyes open. Once open, they dart around the room, searching for danger. The rapid heartbeat and the prickly feel of his skin brought on by high doses of adrenaline are warnings he has learned not to ignore, especially not when roused from unconsciousness. He goes very still, senses on high alert.
The room he's in is cast in shadows, lit only from a small lamp on the dresser. By the dim glow of the lamp, he sees walls painted a pale yellow and the bars of his crib. Mounds of blankets surround him, soft fleece and downy warmth. His stuffed rabbit, Mr. Bun, lies squished in a corner of the crib where he must have been pushed during Jensen's struggles. Jensen snakes a hand out of his blanket nest and pulls the white, floppy bunny into his arms.
Then he looks up into the worried face above him and the last vestiges of his nightmare fade away.
"Hey, are you awake now, sweetie? Do you know where you are?" Daddy ghosts his fingertips over Jensen's cheek, feather light, and traces the grain of Jensen's eyebrow with the pad of his thumb.
At Jensen's shy nod, the worry lines on daddy's forehead smooth out. Lowering the bars of the crib, Daddy leans in so he can get his arms underneath Jensen, careful to include Mr. Bun and Jensen's favorite blanket, the blue and yellow fleece, all wrapped up together before he lifts and carries him across the room. Jensen gets his arms around his daddy's neck and nestles in close while daddy sits down in the rocker, Jensen cradled in his lap.
The pitch black outside his window tells him that it's far from morning, which means that his nightmare must have woken Daddy up too. For a long time, they just sit and rock as Jensen tries to calm his still-pounding heart. The only sound in the entire house is the gentle whoosh and creak of the rocking chair.
Breaking the silence, Daddy whispers into the semi-darkness, "That was a bad one, huh?"
Jensen's only answer is to hide his face in the crook of Daddy's neck. He doesn't want to think about the nightmare, doesn't want to remember any part of it. If he remembers it, then it becomes too real.
It's still hard for him to separate the 'then' from the 'now' sometimes, and the nightmares only make it worse. He has ways to keep himself in this now, things he does when he's safe with his daddy that he never would have done in the mean-house. As long as he keeps certain things near him, like his stuffed rabbit, he can remember this time and this place. The mean people never let him have anything as nice as Mr. Bun so, as long as Mr. Bun is with him, he doesn't get as confused as he used to about where and when he is.
There are other things too. Like walking. He doesn't walk now, but he used to walk. Before. He remembers walking, he knows how, but as long as he doesn't walk, he knows he's not in that scary-horrible time anymore.
Daddy holds him tight, running a hand up his back to the nape of his neck where he squeezes lightly. The gentle pressure grounds him and Jensen feels the rush of adrenaline drain from his body, leaving him loose-limbed and light-headed. His eyelids begin to get heavy and he feels them close as he yawns around a thumb he doesn't remember putting in his mouth. Warm and drowsy with Daddy's arms around him, his thoughts begin to get fuzzy, distorted, and it's easy to just let them drift away, so he does.
He wakes up the next morning with sunlight streaming into his nursery, his blanket tucked under his chin, and Mr. Bun secure in the circle of his arms. The evidence of this 'where' and this 'when' are all around him.
Stretching both arms over his head and arching his back, Jensen luxuriates in the sense of safety he gets from being inside his crib. The bars represent a barrier he can keep between himself and the world. Perhaps not a very strong barrier, but a barrier nonetheless. There's comfort inside his crib and no one else ever gets to be in it except him. It's his place, his and his alone.
Daddy will come get him at the first sign that he's awake, that's something Jensen has learned. And since he's in a quiet mood, not quite ready to get out of bed, he decides not to make any noise yet.
The door to his nursery is ajar, a sign that Jared has already been in to check on him this morning. Through the opening he can hear voices, two very distinctive voices, Daddy Jared and Uncle Christian. They must be talking in the living room. Once Jensen stills, the muffled sound of voices resolves into actual words.
"He was so scared, Chris...Jesus, I was afraid to touch him. I knew any kind of contact would only make it worse until he realized where he was. Normally, if I talk to him, call his name, I can get through to him, but last night nothing worked. I just couldn't get him to wake up. Ended up having to shake him by the shoulder and it terrified him. I could see how much it terrified him. It freaking killed me to see him like that, to know that I was causing it."
"It wasn't your fault, man. I've seen it before, seen what the nightmares do to him, and I...I don't know. There's not much you can do to help except to be there for him, let him know nothing like that is ever going to happen to him again. Given enough time the nightmares'll stop coming so often and eventually they'll stop altogether," Christian says.
"I hope you're right. I just...I want him to be happy, you know? Really happy."
"You don't think he is?"
There's a pause before Daddy answers. "I think he's...content? Maybe? I think he's found some peace here and I'm glad for that. But happy? No. I don't think so. Not that he's shown anyway, not that I can tell."
Jensen has to ponder that for a minute. Happy. He rolls the word around in his mind, pokes at it, tests it. Is he happy? It's not something he's ever given much thought to. He's not-sad, but is being not-sad the same thing as being happy? He doesn't know. He doesn't have any frame of reference for happiness.
By the time he turns his attention back to the conversation going on in the living room, they've changed topics.
"Yeah, I brought something with me I think he'll like," Uncle Christian is saying, the smile plainly heard in his voice. "Wait'll you see, it's friggin' awesome."
"Great, I've got a couple of ideas, too. One in particular I'm going to need your help with. It involves climbing that big oak tree in the backyard."
Jensen hears a snort and then, "Do I look like a lumberjack to you?" But Christian sounds mostly amused.
"Hey, I thought you were all about serving and protecting, man. Isn't that what the badge says?"
"Yeah, right. And climbing trees fits into that how? I don't remember volunteering for tree climbing duty."
"I don't know exactly, but since you're better at that kind of thing than I am, you've been volun-chosen for the task."
"Volun-chosen? Really? You just made that up, didn't you? What have I told you about making crap up, Jared?"
There's another amused-sounding huff and Jensen begins to feel like he's missing out by staying in bed. Even though Christian makes a point of coming over frequently, Jensen doesn't want to sleep through his visit. Sitting up in the crib causes the frame to rattle slightly and that's enough to bring his daddy to the door where he peaks in, smile and dimples appearing when he sees Jensen is awake.
"Hey baby, you're up. Ready to get out of bed and have some breakfast with me and Christian?"
Reaching out to signify that he wants to be picked up, Jensen smiles back and nods, very much aware that Daddy wants him to be happy and that happy people smile. His effort is rewarded by a brilliant grin from Jared as he hurries across the room to lift Jensen out of the crib.
"That's good because Christian is making his famous french toast and we're gonna use the real maple syrup Misha brought us from his vacation to Saguenay last month."
They must have been holding breakfast until he woke up because all the ingredients - a loaf of bread, eggs, milk, and cinnamon - are already on the counter along with the electric skillet. The kitchen table is set with a glass of orange juice, plate, fork and knife for each of them.
Silverware gets placed in front of him for every meal even though Jensen's not sure why. He never uses it.
Christian busies himself at the counter and soon Jensen's mouth begins to water at the smells of bread frying in the skillet and syrup warming in the microwave. It doesn't take long for the plates to be filled with a steaming slice of french toast each with syrup poured on top.
Jensen can hardly wait for his first bite and cranes his neck forward, mouth open, to get at the forkful of french toast Daddy holds out to him. It's delicious. Humming, he chews and swallows and enthusiastically opens his mouth for the next morsel. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, each bite-sized square is drenched in syrup. The sticky, sweet stuff coats his lips and dribbles down his chin.
When the last of it is gone, he stares wistfully at the plate. He wants more, but he dares not let his daddy know. It's bad to be greedy. Asking for food means he's greedy and naughty. Asking for more food after he's already been given some makes him an evil boy. It's one of the worst things he can do and something that has always earned him the harshest punishments. Jensen doesn't want Daddy to think he's a naughty boy who deserves to be punished. The other people thought he was very bad, but Daddy doesn't. Not yet anyway.
Jensen waits to see if maybe more food will come without him doing anything to show how much he wants it.
Daddy thanks Christian for cooking. Christian says it was no problem. Neither of them seems to be paying much attention to him. Jensen licks the sweet syrup from his lips and looks at the empty plate in front of him. A puddle of syrup remains there, drizzled in haphazard patterns. He can't seem to look away; it's like he's mesmerized. Before he can question what he's about to do, he puts a finger in the puddle, smears it around and pops it in his mouth.
Finger in mouth, he looks up to see both Jared and Christian looking at him, disbelief plainly written on both their faces. The enormity of what he's just done hits him full force then and his breath stutters, his throat constricts.
Eyes wide, he sucks hard on the sugary digit and steals himself for his punishment. He doesn't know what made him take that last bit of syrup. He wants to crawl away and hide, but he won't. He wants to slide onto the floor, slink into a corner, and disappear somehow, but he won't do any of those things either. Even though he can't stand the thought of seeing bitter anger fan into life and blaze from his daddy's eyes, he has to stay and take his punishment because maybe, if he gets it over with, things can go back to the way they were before he was so bad and he can crawl into Daddy's lap and Daddy will hug him and tell him it's going to be alright.
He darts a glance at Daddy and then at Christian, wary and uncertain as to where the punishment will come from. But Daddy's shoulders are shaking and he has one hand over his mouth as though he's about to either laugh or cry and Christian's eyes are bright to the point of sparkling.
"You want more, kiddo? I'll make you more if you want it," Christian husks, getting up to turn the skillet back on without waiting for a response.
The absence of any kind of reprisal for stealing food comes as more of a shock than if his finger had been yanked out of his mouth and bent backwards until the bone snapped. Stunned, Jensen blinks at the back of Christian's head where he's standing at the counter, dipping another piece of bread into the egg batter.
When it's ready, Christian puts the golden brown french toast on his plate and Daddy cuts it into small squares before he drowns it all in more syrup.
Jensen doesn't understand what's going on; he can't figure it out. Shouldn't he be in trouble right now? Why isn't Christian going to get the baseball bat? Shouldn't Daddy be yelling? Daddy isn't yelling though. Daddy is watching him with an expectant, hopeful expression.
Christian nudges the plate a little closer to Jensen's place at the table, looks pointedly at the fork lying untouched nearby. "Go ahead, Jensen, it's all yours."
Daddy sits back in his chair, clasps his hands together in his lap as though to keep them from touching something he ought not to, and says, "I know this is a big step for you. This is huge, I get that. But I think you're ready."
Then Christian and Daddy freeze. They're both sitting so still that Jensen wonders if they're even breathing. The air in the kitchen, fragrant and warm, seems to hold them motionless under some kind of spell. It's like they've been turned into stone or ice and are waiting for someone to come along and break the curse, waiting for him to break the curse.
Jensen's finger slips from his mouth, slick with saliva. Slowly, he reaches out to touch the fork, feels the cool metal against his skin, the faint prick as he rubs his thumb over the tines.
Still, nobody moves and Jensen is really confused. He can tell they want him to do something even though he's mystified as to what it is he's supposed to do.
Without taking his eyes from his daddy's face, he closes his fingers around the handle, lifts the fork, and hesitantly brings it to his plate where he lets it hover over the food while he waits for some kind of reaction, a clue as to whether he's doing the right thing.
The corners of Daddy's lips twitch up and he gives a quick nod, just the briefest jerk of his head, as though anything more will cause something terrible to happen.
Christian whispers an almost inaudible, "Yes, that's it."
Anticipation makes a shiver run down Jensen's spine, makes his heart flutter like a caged bird, because this is really big. It's huge and Daddy may think he's ready, but Jensen's not sure, he's not sure at all.
He could put an end to this right now. It would be so easy to simply put the fork down and let things continue on the way they've been. Nothing monumental needs to happen here this morning. Everything is okay the way it is and Jensen is maybe not good, maybe not great, but he's...fine. He is content.
Dropping his gaze to the plate, he watches the steam rise. In spite of the anxiety twisting his stomach, his mouth starts to water again. He remembers how yummy it is and he wants another taste. The fork trembles in his hand as he spears one of the corner pieces and shoves it into his mouth before he can change his mind.
No sooner has he pulled the fork from his lips than the kitchen erupts with joyful noises. Daddy whoops, jumps out of his chair and pulls Jensen into a fierce hug. Christian comes around the table to hug them both, ruffling Jensen's hair and slapping Jared on the back.
"You did it! I knew you could!" Daddy says.
It startles him at first, all the ruckus, but then he gets it. He did something right, he did something that made his daddy happy, that made Uncle Christian happy. There's a warmth in his chest that spreads throughout his entire body, thawing some of the fear and uncertainty. It's a good feeling.
Jensen finishes off the rest of his breakfast and each bite tastes better than the one before. Syrup gets all over his hands and face. Some even manages to get in his hair. At one point, he accidentally puts his elbow in his plate. He's a mess.
No one seems to mind.
Continued here Chapter 2