Rating: T (for situations)
Characters: Jared, Jensen, Christian, Misha, 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 age regression and a form of infantilism which is emotional and not sexual in nature, mentions of past child abuse. Younger!abused!Jensen.
Word Count: 4,700 this part
Summary: Timestamp in the Innocents 'verse which can be found here: Innocents 'Verse Masterpost. This story takes place in between For Love of Innocents and Nightmares of Innocents. I highly recommend reading the other stories in this 'verse first. Jensen's parents are finally being brought to justice and Jared is determined to shield the traumatized young man from any possible fallout from the trial. Meanwhile, Misha makes an understandable mistake and Christian makes a new friend who really wants to meet Jensen.
A/N: Thank you to my alpha readers for giving me the encouragement needed to post this chapter! I'm sorry it has been such a long time since I last posted. Time really does fly! I've got a new hobby - babysitting. :) It's so much fun and I get lots of inspiration from all the adorable babies I now get to cuddle. If you stop by to read and you enjoy the story, please leave me some love at the end. (((Hugs)))
Clouds, dark grey and ominous, roll in the next morning, bringing with them a stiff breeze that whips the nearby oak tree's branches into a frenzy. Storms are unpredictable and so is Jensen's reaction to them. Usually, he's okay as long as Jared stays within his line of sight. Distractions help too and Jared has the perfect distraction for today; they're baking cookies together, Jensen actively helping for the first time. One batch is already in the oven. It'll be ready any minute now as evidenced by the heavenly aroma. The smell of melting chocolate morsels along with butter-rich batter wafts through the cozy kitchen. Jensen is sitting at the table, a spoon with chocolate chip cookie dough on it in one hand, an empty spoon in the other, his brow furrowed in concentration as he carefully drops the dough onto the cookie sheet in front of him. The dollop completes that sheet. Jensen looks up, seeking approval, his expression saying louder than words, 'Look what I did! Do you like it?'
Jared smiles at him, "Good job, Jensen!"
Jensen's answering smile crinkles the corners of his green eyes, makes him look bashful and impish and sweetly self-satisfied all at the same time. Flour smudges his forehead, probably put there when he swiped the bangs out of his eyes. His dark blond hair is a little long. They'll need to cut it soon, although Jared has been putting the task off because he likes it the way it is, not as long as his own, but long enough that it curls slightly in the back against his nape. Christian always teases him about letting Jensen's hair get too long.
Jared puts the finished cookie sheet aside, ready to go into the oven once the timer dings and the cookies currently cooking are done. Then he sets an empty tray in front of Jensen.
Outside the kitchen window, lightning sizzles a jagged path across the sky far off in the distance. Jared moves a little closer to Jensen, places a hand gently on his back, ready to reassure, anticipating the thunder's concussive boom. But when it comes, Jensen doesn't flinch, doesn't even look up, too immersed in filling the new sheet with rounded scoops of cookie dough.
Maybe that's why Jared gets caught off guard, is lulled into a false sense of complacency, because Jensen is doing so damn well. This is nothing like that first thunder storm they'd weathered together, when Jensen had gone missing and Jared had been out of his mind with worry, finally finding the boy huddled in terror between the clothes dryer and the wall in a space why too small for him. The scene before him is so perfect, so homey, so peaceful...that he lets his vigilance slip. And really, he should have known better, should have realized that the lessons most people learn at an early age from parents who patiently and diligently guide them away from anything that might harm their precious children, lessons like no, no honey, don't touch, that's hot, those lessons were not the ones Jensen was taught.
When the timer for the cookies goes off and his phone rings shortly thereafter, Jared uses an oven mitt to pull the hot cookies out and places them hurriedly on the edge of the counter before taking the call. He turns toward the window, scans the sky absently for the next bolt of lighting as he directs most of his attention to the voice coming through his cell. What he doesn't do is keep an eye on Jensen. He stays where Jensen can see him, but he has his back turned, and that's where he makes a crucial mistake.
Cookies are done baking. From where he's sitting, Jensen can see the tray, cookies now golden brown around the edges, flattened and spread out larger than the dollops he had so carefully placed there. The smell is amazing. He doesn't remember smelling anything like it in that before-here place.
That wasn't a cookie baking kind of place, not at all. Jensen wasn't even supposed to go into that kitchen. Sometimes he did though, very quietly, when he didn't think anyone would notice him. It was a bad thing to do, but sometimes he had to go there because sometimes they forgot to feed him. Days would go by with nothing. His head would feel light like a balloon and the walls would start spinning lazily around him. That's when he knew it had been too long. He would sneak inside on the balls of his feet, breath held, slowly creeping like a tiny mouse, searching for a left-over crumb.
Jensen doesn't have to sneak here. He's allowed to eat whenever he gets hungry and, even though it feels strange to do so, Jensen is slowly getting used to doing just that. It's still a struggle for him, taking food that hasn't been given to him. It still feels like a forbidden act, one punishable in horrible ways, and Jensen has to push the fear away each time he takes a bite not specifically pressed into his hand. He has to remind himself each time that it's different now, he won't get into trouble.
For instance, Daddy won't get mad if he takes a cookie from the tray. He's allowed. He helped make them after all, right? And they smell so good. His mouth is watering just thinking about biting into a gooey morsel. Plus, Daddy left them right there on the edge, like an invitation.
Casting a look over at his daddy, all Jensen sees is his broad back. Daddy is busy. Talking on the phone. Don't interrupt, don't be a pest, his memory supplies words from his past. It's okay though because he doesn't need permission to take a cookie. Daddy would want him to. Daddy would want him to just reach up there and take a cookie off the tray. So that's what he's going to do.
Despite the warning prickle at the jagged scar site on his stomach, Jensen moves his hand in jerky stops and starts toward the tray that sits on the counter above his head. He ignores the persistent crackle and fizz along his nerve endings, the pounding of his heart. It's hard, but he wants to see Daddy's I'm-proud-of-you smile so he has to be brave. He can do this.
The tray is a little too far away, the cookies just out of reach. That's not going to stop him though. He'll have to bring it closer. His hand closes on the baking sheet.
Immediate, searing pain scorches his fingers, his palm.
Instead of jerking away from the excruciating agony, his muscles clamp down like a vise, as if letting go will bring a worse disaster upon him. Misfiring instincts override common sense. The pain and the smell of burnt flesh is so familiar that he can only stay still and accept his punishment. An involuntary spasm wracks his body, pulling the tray, still gripped tightly in his hand, off the counter.
Only then, when the metal sheet crashes to the floor, spilling hot cookies into his lap, will his fingers finally release their grip. His hand continues to burn. Jensen looks at it and expects to see flames licking the skin from his bones. It hurts so badly that he's surprised to see the flesh still intact and a bright, angry red instead of charred black. He can't really move his fingers anymore though. They seem to have solidified into a claw-like shape.
His breathing becomes rough, as though he's trying to pull pudding into his lungs instead of air. His vision wavers and dims. Someone is touching him, and there's a frantic voice nearby.
"Baby, are you hurt? Let me see your hand. Jesus Christ! Hold on, Jensen. Hold on, baby. I'll be right back."
The voice moves away, growing somewhat muffled but no less urgent. And then it's in his ear again. "Here Jensen, keep this ice on it. Can you hold the ice against your hand, baby? Jensen? I'm calling Misha."
Cool relief douses some of the fire in his fingers and he feels himself disconnecting. But he doesn't want that, he doesn't want to go away because it's Daddy's voice he hears and Daddy sounds scared. Jensen needs to stay in this here and this now for his daddy. Shaking his head clears the encroaching grey fog even as it makes him somewhat dizzy. He twists around until he can see his daddy crouched behind him, phone held white-knuckled to his ear, eyes wide and watery.
Daddy shouldn't look so frightened. Jensen drops the wet towel he doesn't remember taking and reaches for Daddy Jared's face with his not-burned hand. Without the cold towel the pain returns immediately, but he pushes it deep into a box inside his head where he can't feel it as much.
"No sweetheart, hold the ice," Daddy grabs the ice-filled towel and presses it back into his hand, guiding it against the burn. He keeps it there while saying into the phone, "Misha? We need you!"
"Oh, hey Jared," Misha responds hesitantly. "Um, is it something I can do over the phone? I'm a little busy today so..."
In a panicked rush, Jared plows through his friend's excuses, "I don't know what to do, Mish. I've put ice on it, but that's all. I don't have any burn cream. Do you think I should take him to the hospital? He's not crying, God, he's not making any noise at all, but it's got to hurt, right? I mean his hand looks like a boiled lobster!"
The voice that cuts into Jared's irrational rambling is curt and professional, Misha's paramedic voice. It's like a switch has been flipped inside the man and his recent unease has vanished, his medical training overriding everything else. "Jared! Take a deep breath and start from the beginning. Who's hurt? Do you need an ambulance?"
"N-no ambulance, at least I don't think so." Jared takes a deep breath as instructed. "It's Jensen, he burned his hand. I wasn't watching and he picked up a tray of cookies straight out of the oven."
Jensen drops the towel-wrapped ice a second time while again reaching for Jared as if to console, as if Jared is the one who needs comfort. Pulling the phone away from his mouth, Jared says, "Jensen, sweetie, you need to keep the ice on your hand."
"Okay Jared, listen to me." Misha's commanding, clipped tone recaptures Jared's attention. "Immerse his hand in cool water. Don't use ice. I'm on my way." The line goes dead.
It strikes Jared then that he'd never doubted Misha would come. No matter what was going on with him or how nervous he was about Jensen's reaction to him after the incident at the lake, Misha would always be there for them when it really counted.
By the time Jared fills a bowl with cool water and sets it down near Jensen, the boy's hand is visibly swollen, his fingers puffy, the skin stretched tight and shiny. Not good, not good at all. "Put your hand it the water, baby. It'll feel better until Misha can get here and treat it. I know it hurts. You're being so brave," he murmurs as he cups Jensen's face, watchful for any signs of shock.
There are none, even though shock is the only thing he can think of that would explain this lack of reaction to what must be severe pain. Jensen's vivid, green eyes, which always display his moods and feelings like a panoramic photograph of his soul, reflect only a mild concern. A concern for Jared, not for himself. It's Jared's panic that Jensen is keying in on. His own pain doesn't seem to bother him at all. He's had worse. The thought makes Jared feel like puking his guts up.
Misha barges through the front door without knocking about fifteen minutes later, carrying the large, white box that contains his portable paramedic supplies. The drive should have taken closer to twenty-five minutes so he must have blown through a few traffic lights. Driving an ambulance for a living probably makes traffic laws seem pretty irrelevant in an emergency situation.
He slows down as soon as he sees them, Jensen sitting on the floor with his hand in a bowl of water, Jared crouched beside him. Then he approaches cautiously, wary, as though Jensen is an easily-spooked feral kitten. "Hi Jensen," he stage whispers, locking eyes with the boy. "Jared told me you burned your hand. Can I take a look at it?"
Jensen's gaze swings over to Jared then back up to Misha before he slowly nods and pulls his dripping hand from the bowl, holding it out for Misha's inspection. At the same time, he leans into Jared's side. It doesn't seem like he's shying away from Misha, but like he's doing it simply for the sake of comfort, both giving and receiving. Jared lifts his arm and Jensen sinks further into his loose embrace, all the while regarding Misha somberly.
"Deja vu," Misha mutters, still looking at Jensen's face as though hypnotized by what he sees there.
Jared doesn't blame him. Jensen has a way of looking at you, his stare so intense that it makes you forget anything else exists, makes you feel chilled and warmed through at the same time. Jared has been caught up in its spell more times than he can count. The funny thing is that Jensen isn't even aware he's doing it. It's nothing conscious, no intent behind it. His gaze is no less mesmerizing for its innocence, perhaps even more so.
With a shake of his head, Misha tears his attention away from Jensen's face. He carefully takes the boy's burned hand in both of his, turning it palm side up. His brow furrows. "Second degree burns," he says. "I can already see blisters forming. This is more than an accidental oven burn. He must have held his hand against the - what did you say it was?"
"A cookie tray," Jared supplies. "We were baking cookies and I wasn't paying enough attention. It's my fault."
Jensen squirms and, turning his head, presses his open mouth against Jared's neck. It's a kiss, wet and sloppy the way a toddler would do it, but a kiss nonetheless. Jensen is imitating the gestures of comfort he's witnessed Jared give to him. Whether he understands the feelings they're meant to convey is anyone's guess.
When he pulls back, he tilts his head, bottom lip caught between his teeth.
"It's okay, sweetie. I'm okay, just worried about you is all," Jared is quick to assure him. Addressing Misha, he says, "Second degree burns? Does he need a hospital? Or can you treat them here?" He doesn't want to subject Jensen to a hospital visit, not if it can be avoided. That's not to say he won't take him if that's the best thing for his health.
"I can treat them here." Misha opens the medical kit and removes the supplies he needs from the meticulously ordered contents. "The fewer visits we can make to the hospital, the better. Isn't that right, Jensen?"
At the question, Jensen's uninjured hand twitches. Maybe toward the long, jagged scar slashed diagonally across his stomach. Maybe toward his mouth. It stops before reaching either destination so it's hard to tell which it would have been. He hasn't sucked his thumb at all since the accident, which is surprising. He also hasn't cried, or even whimpered. Mention taking him to the hospital though and suddenly his chin begins quivering.
The one and, as far as Jared knows, only time Jensen has ever been in a hospital was also the first time he'd ever left the house where his parents abused and tortured him. While at the hospital, he'd endured surgery to save his life and been subjected to strangers poking and prodding him, sticking needles in him, hooking him up to loud, scary-looking machines. Jared doubts Jensen understood most of what was going on and knows he'd been terrified for pretty much the entire time, unless either Jared, Misha, or Christian was there with him.
Misha knows all this too. He pats Jensen's hand dry with a small, square cloth. "No hospital, I've got this. I've got you, Jensen," he says.
Jensen doesn't move while Misha continues his treatment, carefully applying burn ointment and a topical antibiotic. His gaze never leaves Misha's face as the paramedic wraps his hand in several layers of gauze.
Without looking up from his work, Misha says, "This is why. This is why I couldn't just leave him in the hospital after I got him there, still alive, if only barely. This is why I couldn't just walk away from him, even after I knew he was going to recover." His voice is hushed, as though he's speaking more to himself than to anyone else. He tapes the gauze in place and, finished, places Jensen's hand back in his lap. Then, he finally looks up, meeting Jared's gaze. "I don't invest myself personally in all the patients I treat, you know? There are so many of them, how could I? But Jensen...he was...well, special doesn't even begin to explain it."
Jared has heard about Jensen's rescue, mostly from Christian. He knows what happened in the hospital, some of it from personal experience, but he's never heard the full story from Misha's point of view.
"What was it like?" he asks, curiosity getting the better of him despite the circumstances.
A shudder seems to jar Misha out of his contemplative mood. He gives Jared a tight smile. "I'll tell you all about it, but first..." He trails off as he begins searching through his medical supplies again. "Ah yes, here's the ticket." The bottle now in his hand rattles as he stands and crosses the small kitchen to the cupboard where Jared keeps his glasses. Once he's filled a cup with water, he crouches down near Jensen again, holding two pills from the bottle close to Jensen's mouth. "Take these, Jensen. The dressing I put on your hand will have dulled some of the pain, but I know you're still hurting."
Jensen does as he's told, parting his lips and swallowing the pills along with the water Misha offers him.
Jared has to ask, "About that, I know burns hurt like a sonofabitch. Does it make sense to you that Jensen doesn't seem to feel the pain? He didn't cry when it happened, didn't make a sound. I wouldn't have known anything was wrong if the tray hadn't fallen." He indicates the metal sheet and the crumbled cookies scattered all over the floor.
"Yeah, burns hurt." Misha grimaces. "Just because he isn't screaming bloody murder, don't think for a second that he doesn't feel the pain. There aren't many injuries that hurt worse than a burn. Second degree burns like this one are almost unbelievable torture. And the pain doesn't stop, it just keeps getting worse and worse even after the heat source is removed. The only thing I can think of that rivals a burn for pure agony is a deep stab wound."
Jared knows exactly what Misha is referencing. It all goes back to that horrible, yet wonderful day. The day Jensen almost died. The day he was rescued. And now Jared is even more curious to hear Misha's story.
Misha swallows heavily, cups Jensen's jaw. "You really are amazing."
Jensen leans into the touch and Jared sees understanding dawn in Misha's eyes. They well up as he finally gets it. Jensen doesn't hold a grudge about their day at the lake. He isn't scared of Misha and didn't flinch away from him as Misha probably feared he would. Their friend visibly uncoils, the tightness in his back melting away. Jared hadn't realized how stiff Misha has been ever since his arrival until he sees the difference in his posture now.
Blinking rapidly, Misha looks at Jared. "We should get him off the floor. It can't be a very comfortable place to sit."
As soon as Misha mentions the floor, Jared's tailbone starts complaining because, yeah, they've been sitting on the hard linoleum for what has to be almost an hour now. Jared had been so worried and upset that he hadn't thought to move Jensen anywhere more comfortable. They could just as easily have been sitting on the couch in the living room all this time. Way to panic, Padalecki, he chides himself. The voice in his head sounds remarkably like Christian's.
Once they've relocated to the couch, Jensen sandwiched safely between them with his favorite blanket wrapped around him and Mr. Bun in his lap, Jared turns to Misha. "So, tell me about it. And what did you mean earlier when you said, this is why you couldn't leave him?"
A faraway expression steals over Misha's face. His gaze fixes on a point over Jared's left shoulder. It takes him a full minute or more before he starts talking in a quiet murmur.
"A knife wound to the stomach. That's the dispatch call I got. Knife wound scenes are always messy. Think horror movie levels of blood and gore. I've been a first responder for those types of injuries more times than I like to remember, street fights mostly. Stab wounds to the stomach are the worst. I've seen bad-ass men cry like babies for their mommies while trying to hold their guts inside their bodies. I've seen hardened gang members writhe on the ground, screaming from the pain of an injury like that." Misha takes a shallow breath.
"But not Jensen," Jared guesses, tightening the hold he has on the teenager beside him.
Misha gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head and his gaze finds focus on Jensen's face. "I walked into that house and everyone was talking in hushed voices. There wasn't any screaming. The anguished cries I was expecting were non-existent. I thought I was too late and whoever had been stabbed was already dead. Then, I got to the kitchen and saw him. Covered in blood. Clinging to Christian like a drowning man would clutch a life preserver."
Jensen shifts restlessly so Jared puts a hand on the nape of his neck, scratches gently at the soft hairs there until he settles.
"Do you want me to stop, Jensen?" Misha asks, placing a hand on the boy's ankle where he has his socked feet tucked under the paramedic's thighs. "I can stop if you don't want to hear this."
It's easy to touch Jensen, Jared muses, because he so obviously craves it. Every caress, every little bit of human contact seems to nourish him as if he's a parched flower in a desert, soaking up the moisture from a light rain.
Jensen doesn't answer Misha's question. His thumb comes up to his mouth, slips inside, and his fingers curl around his nose. Soft, suckling noises testify to just how urgently he's sucking on the digit and how desperately he needs this extra comfort.
Jensen's head is resting on his shoulder which makes it difficult for Jared to see his expression, but after a minute of studying his face, Misha must receive the permission he's waiting for, because he continues.
"He'd lost a lot of blood. It was all over him, all over the floor, all over Christian. I could tell as soon as I saw him that he was absolutely terrified, the way he was huddled against Christian, nearly in the cop's lap for Christ's sake. But when I walked into that room...he just looked at me with those huge, green eyes of his. The whole time I treated him, he never made a sound, not even when I had to press on the gash to stop the bleeding. I've never met a person with a pain threshold as high as his." Misha rubs a thumb absently over Jensen's ankle bone, lost in thought for a moment. "I didn't know his whole story back then, I could only imagine that he must have experienced pain before, frequently, and that he'd devised methods of dealing with it."
One hundred and one questions swirl through Jared's mind. Questions like 'How much agony would a person have to endure in their lifetime before they learned how to turn off their pain receptors like that?' And less scientific questions like 'How could a parent inflict that kind of damage on their own child?' He doesn't give voice to those questions however. Not with Jensen sitting right there, listening to every word. Even if he did, Misha wouldn't have the answers. Instead, he opts to ask a question the paramedic might have an answer for. "If Jensen isn't afraid of pain, what is he afraid of? He's easily spooked, he cries when he's startled or frightened. What do you think scares him so much?" To take any possible sting from his words, Jared places a kiss on his sweet boy's temple.
"I suspect he fears abandonment and upsetting the people he cares about, the same as most people only to a more heightened degree. And just to be clear, I never said he wasn't afraid of pain." A crease appears in Misha's forehead. "Just that he suppresses it somehow. He's like a prey animal in that respect. Prey animals, like rabbits, they don't show any outward signs of being hurt or sick. Because if they do, they're just painting a giant red bullseye on themselves for predators. I think Jensen is an awful lot like that. In order to survive, he couldn't show his distress."
That thought - the idea that if Jensen showed any signs of weakness in front of his parents, they would pounce on him like hungry tigers ripping into an injured lamb - makes Jared feel as though a boulder is sitting in the pit of his stomach.
Jensen burrows closer against him, turns his head and hides his face under Jared's chin. Fine tremors begin shaking his body. Jared takes all this for the certain signs they are. Jensen's had enough.
"Okay sweetheart, we're done. We won't talk about it anymore." Jared chafes the shivering boy's arm, careful not to jar his bandaged hand.
Misha leans over and lowers his head. "I'm sorry, Jense. I'll stop now, but I just want you to know that I get it. I may not understand all the things that have happened to you, but I know you. You're sensitive and stoic and brave in ways most people could never be. And that's why I couldn't leave you in the hospital like I would have any other patient. I couldn't just go back to my job and pretend I hadn't seen something extraordinary."
Jensen makes a small sound, like a cross between choking and whimpering, and then he's out of Jared's arms and into Misha's faster than a speeding bullet.
Jared's eyes are wet. He swipes at them with the back of his hand. Jensen is extraordinary, he thinks, in every sense of the word.
Sadly, there are other children who get abused by their families or trusted adults. You hear about it every day. But many children living with abuse become angry, they lash out, become violent themselves because it's what they've learned. Jensen is too kind-hearted, too sensitive, too attuned to other people's feelings, to ever inflict pain himself. So he internalizes everything, takes it all on himself, and deals with it in the only way he can.
This is a new perspective, a new insight into his beautiful boy, and Jared is grateful for it. "Thank you," he mouths the words silently to Misha.
A single tear rolls down his friend's face as he hugs Jensen for the first time since the day at the lake. Closing his eyes, he presses his cheek to the top of Jensen's head.
Neither seem anxious to move any time soon.
Continued in Chapter 6
Start at Chapter 1