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 (3,900 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
There's something special about today, starting with the french toast breakfast and now this. This is new. Jensen has never seen anything like it before.
Instead of his uniform, Christian is wearing a pair of faded jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and some work boots. The shirt has splatters of old, dried paint on it as if he'd known he was going to wind up perched in the branches of a sturdy oak tree and shouldn't wear anything he cared greatly about.
A long, thick length of hemp rope dangles from Christian's waist where it's tied like a belt so that his hands are free for climbing. A painter's ladder leans against the tree within reach of the branch Christian is straddling. He stands, wobbles for a second, arms stretched at his sides to help him regain his balance, and then grabs a higher branch, wraps his arms around it and hauls himself up.
"Careful," Daddy calls out, cupping his hands around his mouth like a megaphone.
"I'm being careful," Christian grunts as he swings his leg over the next branch. "This is nothing. The obstacle course at the academy was a much bigger challenge."
From his seat on the ground, Jensen watches, head tilted way back and mouth open in amazement. A cool breeze blows his dark blond hair into his eyes and he briskly swipes it to the side so he doesn't miss a second of the proceedings.
Spring has come early this year, at least that's what Daddy says, but Jensen gets cold easily and the chill wind goes right through him. He tugs his light-weight jacket closer around his thin shoulders, crosses his arms in front of his chest to preserve heat, and nibbles on his lower lip.
The branch Christian is heading for, a massive limb that makes a nearly perfect right angle to the trunk, isn't too much farther. Once he gets there, he unwinds the rope from his waist and loops it around the trunk. Then he fashions some sort of intricate knot and gives it a couple of tugs. The knot holds and Christian must be satisfied with his work because he turns around and begins to retrace his path back down the tree to the ladder, leaping from a rung about midway on the ladder to land with a flourish.
Jared slowly claps his hands twice. "Yes, you're very impressive. Reminded me of a giant squirrel the way you scaled that tree, man."
Christian swaggers as he walks over and puts a hand on the back of Jensen's neck. "Shut up, you're impressed and you know it. Jensen's impressed too, aren't you kiddo?"
Jensen leans into Christian's leg and looks up, giving him a bashful smile. He's gotten used to the way his daddy and uncle tease each other sometimes. They only do it when they're both in good moods and having fun, so Jensen has come to look forward to the friendly banter.
The next thing that happens is much less dramatic although it's just as strange. Daddy goes to the shed at the side of the house and returns with a tire so big it easily comes to above his hip as he rolls it along in front of himself.
"Now that's a tire. Where did you get that monster?" Christian's eyebrows hike up until creases appear on his forehead.
"Went to the salvage yard and asked for the biggest one they had."
"Dude! It's ginormous!"
Daddy's lips quirk up in a lopsided grin, giving him the appearance of a mischievous child. "Right?"
Between the two of them, they heft the tire off the ground, Daddy holding it in place while Christian attaches it to the free end of the suspended rope with another series of complicated knots.
"Sometimes, it pays to have gone through the Scouting program," Christian says once he's tested the knot to make sure it's secure.
"Apparently so," Daddy replies. "And as your reward, you can have the first turn." He graciously backs away from the tire to stand next to Jensen a respectable distance away, bending over to card his fingers through Jensen's hair and say, "Watch this, Jensen. Watch Uncle Christian."
"I can see right through you, Jared. You just want me to be the guinea pig. Well, I'm not falling for your little ploy." Despite his words, Christian doesn't hesitate to grab the tire, pull it as far back as the rope will allow, and launches himself to the top.
Jensen stares, awe-struck.
The tire jiggles erratically under the sudden weight and then evens out as it glides forward and back, Christian balanced on top with his legs stretched in front of him, crossed at the ankles.
"Shoot, this brings back memories." Christian hoots, obviously delighted. "My parents took me and my brother to this cabin in Tennessee one summer, up in the Smoky Mountains. I must've been about nine. There was a tire swing that went out over a cliff, an honest-to-God cliff. It probably wasn't as high up as I remember or my parents never would have let us use it, but at the time it seemed like we were swinging out over a mile-deep chasm. It was awesome!"
"Figures you were a dare devil as a little kid," Daddy says.
"What gave it away?" From the smile on Christian's face, it looks as though he's reliving that summer in Tennessee as a boy. He whoops while he shifts his body weight in tandem with the movements of the swing, causing the tire to go higher on each subsequent pass.
Jensen has never seen Christian like this, face flushed and blue eyes bright. He wonders what it must feel like to be up there, if it feels as amazing as it looks.
Daddy crouches down to Jensen's eye level and gives him an assessing look. "You ready for your turn, baby?"
The question startles him.
He hadn't thought to be given a turn.
This is the kind of wonderful treat that's only offered so it can be snatched away again as soon as he gets his hopes up. And then everyone laughs because it's so funny that he could actually believe they were going to give him the cookie or the ice cream cone or the shiny new toy. They laugh and they point at him and they say ugly, mean things.
His eyes fill with tears as he slowly turns his gaze from his daddy's earnest face to watch Christian bring the tire swing to a stop and hop off. He wants a turn on the swing so badly that he can feel the desire surge through him, making his jaw muscles clench. The deep-rooted want thrums and vibrates all the way into his bones.
Brow furrowed, Daddy cups his cheek and wipes away the tears as they begin to fall. "What's wrong, honey? Are you scared?" he whispers, voice soft. "Are you afraid you'll get hurt? Because I won't let that happen."
Jensen's breath hitches as he shakes his head. No, he's not scared of getting hurt, at least he's not scared of the kind of hurt Daddy means. He's not afraid of falling. There are worse hurts than broken bones. There are the kinds of hurts that never truly heal, the ones that leave gapping wounds on the inside. Jensen covers his stomach and the scar hidden under layers of clothing with both hands.
Daddy seems to get it. His concerned expression is replaced with one of understanding and then grim determination. "We built this swing for you, Jensen. It's your swing and you can have a turn on it any time you want. The only reason Christian went first was to show you that it's safe." Daddy kisses his forehead. "No one is going to keep you from it. Not ever."
Jensen marvels at how his daddy just seems to know what to do, what to say, to make everything better. He sniffles and closes his eyes, reminds himself that things are aren't the same as they used to be. This is 'now', not 'then'.
When he opens them again, Christian is standing next to him, face grave. "I'm sorry if I did something to upset you. I didn't mean to."
Shaking his head back and forth hard enough to make himself dizzy, Jensen grabs Christian's shirt and pulls him down into a hug which his uncle returns fiercely.
Their back yard adjoins an open field in the rear and undeveloped land on each side. They have no neighbors to speak of and very little traffic travels the road in front of their house. With no one around to tell him he's not allowed to get on the swing, Jensen lets his daddy pick him up and get him situated on top of the tire. Daddy makes sure he's secure, that he has a good hold on the rope and then Christian pulls the tire back and back and back.
And when he releases it...Jensen feels like he's flying.
The stiff breeze whips his hair away from his face as though it's something alive and playful. Gripping the coarse rope in both hands, he leans forward and breathes in a huge lungful of cool, crisp air, his earlier chill forgotten. There's a moment, just as he reaches the highest point, where he's weightless, as light as a helium-filled balloon. During that brief fragment of time, he thinks he could float away and leave his past behind him forever.
Jensen smiles. He's not certain if this is what happiness feels like, but he thinks this must be what freedom feels like. Nothing binds him or constricts him. Open space surrounds him, above as well as below him, with not a wall or door to be seen in any direction. He can't be locked in or shut out. Here, he can just be.
Here, on his swing, he's free.
After Jensen has played on the swing to his heart's content, they go back in the house for a diaper change and lunch. Then they go to the living room to relax. They sit on the couch, all three of them, with Jensen in the middle. This would normally be Jensen's nap time, but since Christian is spending the day with them, Jensen doesn't want to take a nap.
Daddy gives him that assessing look again, clearly skeptical. "Are you sure? You've had a busy morning. Aren't you sleepy?" He waggles Mr. Bun as though the stuffed bunny might entice him into changing his mind. "Christian will still be here when you wake up."
It's true that he's been more active than he's used to and maybe he's a little bit tired, but he's not going to let that slow him down. Taking Mr. Bun, he holds the soft fur against his cheek and shakes his head.
"Well..." Daddy pauses to scratch his nose. "I guess it's okay for you to skip your nap. Just this once."
A snort comes from Christian's side of the couch, but when Jensen glances over at him, he's got the back of his hand pressed to his mouth, his eyes wide and innocent. "If that's settled, I have something I want to share with you, kiddo," he says.
Christian has a book on his lap. It has a funny cartoon picture on the cover. There's a little boy with spiky, blond hair and a tiger. They're lounging on a tree branch, eyes closed with smiles on their faces, as though they haven't got a care in the world. The boy is holding an orange water balloon.
"This is my favorite comic strip series. I've had this book since I was in high school," Christian tells him.
Opening the book to a random page, Christian begins to read while pointing to the pictures in each cartoon frame. Jensen snuggles in close to listen, Mr. Bun held loosely in one arm, the other hand fisted in the sleeve of Christian's shirt.
The first picture he points to shows the boy and the tiger walking through some snow. "When a kid grows up, he has to be something. He can't just stay the way he is," Christian reads the bubble attached to the boy. In the next frame, the two stop to look at each other. "But a tiger grows up and stays a tiger. Why is that?" asks the boy. A self-satisfied grin on its furry face, the tiger answers, "No room for improvement." The final frame shows the boy, shoulders hunched in disappointment, and the tiger smiling at him. "Of all the luck, my parents had to be humans," grumps the boy. "Don't take it too hard. Humans provide some very important protein," replies the tiger.
Daddy rests his chin on the top of Jensen's head so he can see the book too. Jensen can feel the chuckle rumble through his chest where it touches Jensen's back. It's nice.
Christian turns the page and reads about the boy and his tiger making an entire army of snowmen. Other pages contain comic strips about the boy and his tiger forming the Get Rid of Slimy Girls club - GROSS - and pelting the little girl who lives down the street with water balloons. There are even sections devoted to the boy pretending to be a spaceman on wild adventures across the galaxy.
Jensen is intrigued by how much the boy gets away with. He's not a good boy. Not at all. He's mischievous and willful, disobedient and ornery. Yet...no one ever hits him or stabs him and when they yell at him, he doesn't seem to care much. His worse punishments consist of being sent to his room where he has toys to play with and his friend, the tiger, is always there with him. Jensen's punishments were nothing like that. Jensen finds that he enjoys listening to the boy's exploits even though they are so far outside of his own experiences that they seem unfathomable to him.
They've gone through half the book before Jensen catches on that the tiger is a stuffed toy, only alive in the boy's imagination. The realization makes him hold Mr. Bun at arm's length to gaze into his soulful eyes, trace the rabbit's whiskers with his fingers, and give him a scratch behind the ears.
Daddy kisses Jensen on the temple. "I bet Mr. Bun seems real sometimes too," he says, displaying his knack for knowing exactly what Jensen is thinking once again. "He's a good friend."
Mr. Bun is a good friend. Jensen nods and gives the rabbit a hug as he burrows under Christian's arm so he can use his shoulder as a pillow. Christian accommodates him by lifting up his arm and letting it settle around his shoulders once Jensen is nestled against his side.
As the afternoon winds down, Jensen begins to get sleepy in spite of himself. Cozied up to his uncle on one side and his daddy on the other, he feels relaxed, the warmth of their bodies acting like a sedative on him. It becomes a struggle to open heavy eyelids after every blink. The pictures in the book get blurry, the images grow indistinct as even the muscles in his eyes begin to tire. The deep, base register of Christian's voice and the smooth cadence of his words soon lull Jensen into a light doze.
A hand stroking his cheek pulls him back from the brink of oblivion. "Nuh-uh, no sleeping, Jensen." Daddy's voice says. "You fall asleep now and you won't be tired tonight."
Christian huffs out a soft chuckle. "I guess we'll have to finish this another time."
The movement of what must be his uncle closing the book jostles his shoulder which in turn dislodges Jensen's head. Jensen protests the loss of his pillow by making a small whimper of discontentment.
He's so tired. If Christian won't be still and let him sleep, he'll just have to try a different position. Without opening his eyes, he shifts around and cuddles into his daddy's bulk, head against his chest where he can hear the soothing thump of his heart. It's a good spot for sleeping, one he's very familiar with.
Before he can drop off though, there are more nudges. "No baby, I'm sorry, but I can't let you fall asleep now or your schedule will be all out of whack." Daddy's voice somehow sounds regretful and amused at the same time.
"Come on, Jared, let the poor boy sleep. It's been a long day. He's all in."
"You're no help, Kane. And you're only saying that because you'll be long gone by the time midnight rolls around and someone," here there's a pause, "is wide awake and cranky."
There's no need to wait until midnight, Jensen is beginning to get cranky right now. He lifts his head and opens his eyes to look at his daddy, lower lip poked out and trembling.
Eyes locked on the pout, Daddy's expression softens immediately. "Oh sweetie, don't do that to me," he husks as he lightly presses a thumb to Jensen's lip, stopping the quiver. He bites the corner of his own lip for a second and then says, "Hold on, I've got an idea."
With that he's off the couch and Jensen has no choice but to sit up from his slouch or topple onto the floor.
"We need music. Something with a good beat to get our blood pumping." Daddy crosses the room to where his iPod rests in its docking station, speakers on either side.
"This oughta be good." Christian sets his book on the coffee table and sits forward, elbows resting on his knees as though he's ready for just about anything. "Your taste in music has always been questionable. I'm almost scared to find out what's on your play list."
"You're right, my judgement clearly can't be trusted. After all, I like most of the songs you play."
Music pours from the speakers, as sweet and mellow as the warm syrup from breakfast, and Jensen recognizes it as one of the country songs Christian plays for him sometimes. Daddy quirks an eyebrow at his friend, but doesn't comment other than to shake his head and tap on his iPod again. The song breaks off mid-note to be replaced by a different one.
A female voice, accompanied by a guitar, sings of how she has to move on, to fly, to leave everything she knows behind and break away. It reminds Jensen of his new swing and how it makes him feel like he can touch the sky, up where no one can punish him and walls don't exist. It's a wistful song and only a few bars play before Daddy makes a tsking sound with his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
He taps a third time and a pulsing beat fills the room. There are no vocals for several bars, just the thump, thump, thump of a single note played over and over again.
"Yeah," Daddy says. "This is perfect." He turns up the volume, puts the iPod back in its cradle and begins bopping his head along with the rhythm. His hand smacks the side of his thigh as he bites down on his lower lip. It makes him look kind of silly.
A heavy lassitude still weighs down Jensen's limbs, but it's pleasant to sit on the couch, music swelling around him, Christian an indulgent, warm presence next to him while they watch Daddy do...whatever it is that Daddy is currently doing. Jensen yawns, his eyes fall to half-mast.
When the lyrics start, Daddy joins in, belting out the words in a voice too loud to stay in key. "I've got a feeling, woo hoo, that tonight's gonna be a good night, that tonight's gonna be a good night, that tonight's gonna be a good, good night." He puts his hands in the air and shakes them in time with the music. He wiggles his butt.
Christian hoots out a short bark of laughter.
Jensen can't be sure, but he thinks Daddy is trying to dance. He jerks and sways and flaps, all the while singing as loudly as possible. "Go out and smash it, like Oh My God, jump off that sofa, let's kick it...OFF." On that beat, he strikes a pose, fist in the air, head cocked to the side, his thick, brown mop of hair falling into and covering his face. Through the mask of hair, Daddy peeks at Jensen. He looks ridiculous and it's just..it's so...funny.
A smile tugs on the corner of Jensen's lips. A tickly, bubbly sensation, like the carbonation from a can of shaken soda, starts to build in his chest. It grows stronger, bigger, expanding inside him until he can't contain it.
The laugh bursts from his mouth, a stream of absolute delight. His body convulses with it.
Daddy is being goofy for him. The realization is like a soothing balm on his shattered psyche. This is all for his benefit, the breakfast, the tire swing, the cuddles, the dancing. Daddy does things all the time, just because he wants Jensen to be happy.
Christian's booming laughter joins his as Daddy falls to his knees in front of the couch, eyes wide in astonishment.
He takes both Jensen's hands in his larger ones. "You're laughing! You don't...I've waited such a long time to hear that sound, to hear you laugh. You have a great laugh, Jensen, the best I've ever heard."
Jensen isn't used to this. It's strange, this light, airy feeling. His face heats up. He's a little embarrassed to have Daddy looking at him that way, like he's done something amazing and wonderful, like Daddy is proud of him.
He doesn't think he's done anything to be proud of, but he is certain of one thing. He's certain that this...this is what happiness feels like.
A/N: Here's a youtube video of The Black Eyed Peas performing "I've Got A Feeling" on Oprah's show in Chicago. The flashmob dance is where I got my visual for Jared's dance. If this video doesn't make you want to get up and groove, I don't know what will. http://www.youtube.com/watch?hl=en&client=mv-google&gl=US&feature=related&v=OnOtLbYtGL0&rl=yes&nomobile=1