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: 6,058 this part, 42,100 in total
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: Well, we did it! We reached the end of the story. My life is very different from what it was when I began writing this story. In some ways, it has gotten worse, in some ways, it has gotten better. But through it all, I have never stopped loving our Show. I think I'll always love it and this wonderful fandom. I'm very grateful to everyone who has ever left me a comment on any story, but especially this one. It's not mainstream and only appeals to a select few. But it is near and dear to my heart, so I thank you mightily for the support you have shown me. Without those who comment, this story would not exist. (((Hugs)))
The trial begins on a Tuesday in early October and lasts for two weeks. As agreed upon beforehand, their friends who are witnesses for the prosecution - Jim, Christian, Misha, and Chad - don’t mention the trial or anything about the proceedings whenever they spend time with Jared and Jensen in the weeks before and during the trial. Jared figures that’s the best way to keep the trial from being a major disruption to the healing and nurturing environment he’s trying to foster for Jensen’s sake. They go so far as to ban all trial talk even during phone calls, which means that Jared has no idea how the trial is going.
This is both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because he doesn’t want his moods to be tainted in any way by news of the trial; a curse because not knowing is causing him to loose his mind a little bit.
On the Saturday after the trial ends, they all meet at the lake for a picnic. The outwardly stated reason for the picnic is to say goodbye to the turtles since winter is coming and this is probably the last time they will come to the lake until next spring. The secret reason, secret from Jensen if no one else, is so Jared can get a first-hand account of everything that happened in the courtroom, and most importantly, find out whether Jensen’s parents were convicted.
It’s crisp outside, and by the time Jared has layered Jensen up with two pairs of woolen socks (the shoes are still a bust), long-sleeved tee, sweatshirt, sweatpants, and a jacket, they’re running late.
Eyeing the other cars already parked in front of the lake as they pull up, Jared says, “Looks like we’re the last ones here.”
Jensen begins fumbling with the seatbelt latch and looks up, surprised and clearly delighted, when the clasp pops open.
“You did it all by yourself, didn’t you?” Jared exclaims. “Good job!”
He has only just started trying to do certain things for himself. It’s wonderful seeing self-confidence slowly beginning to take root and bloom.
Before they can get out of the car, Chad comes jogging up from the lake. Yanking Jensen’s door open, he booms, “Heya there, big man! We’ve all been waiting for you. Misha won’t let anyone eat until you...” He trails off when Jensen cringes away from him, gasping panicked breaths in and out while trying to climb over the gear shift into Jared’s lap. “Shit, sorry. I forgot about the whole startle factor. You’re alright, aren’t ya, my dude? You’re not scared of good ole Chad...are you?” Chad’s voice goes a little wistful at the end.
Jensen doesn’t peel himself from Jared’s side, but he does give Chad an uncertain smile that speaks of forgiveness. It’s a far cry from the pure joy of mere seconds ago though.
Leave it to Chad to ruin the moment. At this point, all Jared can do is roll his eyes as his arm automatically encircles Jensen to pull him closer and calm him down. Apparently, this is going to be a recurring theme for Chad. The guy just doesn’t ever seem to learn. Feeling a little vindictive, Jared says, “Grab the cooler from the back there, would you, Chad? I’m going to take Jensen down to the lake and then I’ll be back to get everything else.”
The cooler is massive and not easily wrangled by a single person. Making Chad do it by himself is a punishment and Chad knows it. Grumbling something about ‘not being a pack mule’, Chad lugs the enormous cooler out of the trunk and makes his way down the embankment, cooler in tow, to where the others are waiting.
Serves him right, Jared thinks, as he turns his full attention to Jensen. “You ready to go see all your friends?” He cards his fingers through Jensen’s hair and then cups his chin. Large green eyes fringed by thick lashes peer up at him. The depth of emotion contained within those eyes is staggering. Entire vistas of hope and courage, fear and despair, excitement and longing.
With an effort, Jared tears his gaze away and climbs out the driver’s side door. Jensen holds his arms out to be picked up. It’s too far for him to crawl all the way down to the picnic site, not to mention the ground is a bit rocky in places, so Jared obliges readily. Once hoisted up, Jensen holds on with both his arms and legs. Truth be told, Jensen does most of the work of being carried, so it’s not the hardship some might think, and Jared enjoys the trust imparted by arms wrapped securely around his neck and legs gripped tightly against his hips.
Down at the lakeside, their friends have laid out an amazing spread. Sandwich makings of all kinds, several bags of chips, boxes of cookies, containers of potato salad, and no less than three coolers stocked with beer and sodas are all arranged on a collection of blankets near the lake’s edge. There’s even a fruit tray included in the mix.
“Still not a big fan of shoes, eh Jensen?” Misha calls out when they get closer.
Christian’s eyes get an evil glint in them, and he opens his mouth, but Jared preempts any snarky comment he might be about to make by snapping, “Not a word, Kane. Not. One. Word.”
“Who me? I wasn’t going to say anything,” Christian feigns wounded indignation, but he can’t keep the smile off his face as he wiggles his pinky finger in the air and mock whispers, “Wrapped.”
Jared’s glare does nothing except to make the crinkles around Christian’s eyes deepen.
“We have a lot to fill you in on,” Misha says, standing up from his cross-legged seat on a bright orange blanket and making his way over to them. “Why don’t you let me and Chad take Jensen closer to the lake while Christian and Jim give you the run down.” Uncharacteristically, Misha’s face betrays no emotion, either good or bad. It’s unsettling.
A certain amount of trepidation makes Jared’s stomach churn. He’s not sure what he’s going to do if Jensen’s parents didn’t get the book thrown at them. Hell, he’s not sure what he’s going to do if they didn’t get an entire library of books thrown at them. He’s almost happy to postpone the inevitable when Jensen clings a little tighter, not yet ready to leave the safety of his arms. “Let’s give him a few minutes.” Jared rubs Jensen’s back and the nape of his neck, swaying from side to side and chit chatting with Jim about the first thing that pops into his head which just so happens to be the classic car Jim bought recently, a ‘65 Mustang he plans to rebuild and paint cherry red. Jared is a little envious. He’s always wanted a classic muscle car, something sleek and powerful, although his color preference tends more toward black than red.
After a few minutes, Jensen lets them know he’s over his shyness by performing his patented move of releasing his hold on Jared and trying to dive head first out of his arms. Jared just manages to catch him before he cracks his head open on a rock. “Whoa,” he exclaims, lowering him safely to the ground. It’s amazing to him how fearless Jensen can be about some things. “I guess you’ve had enough of me. Are you ready to go with Misha and Chad?”
“Sure he is!” Chad leaves the heavy cooler with its three, smaller companions and bounds over like the excitable puppy he so frequently resembles.
Crouching down so that he’s on the same level as Jensen, Misha takes the boy’s no-longer-bandaged hand and turns it palm side up. The burns have mostly healed, the skin unblemished except for a couple shiny, reddish-pink patches where the worst blisters used to be. He uses the tip of one finger to lightly trace Jensen’s lifeline. “Good as new,” he says, voice soft.
Jensen, his stuffed rabbit tucked under his arm, flexes his fingers as if to test Misha’s prognosis. The movement still looks a little stiff, but Jensen gives him a shy smile and nods.
Boisterous as always, Chad claps his hands and says, “Okay, let’s get this show on the road! I was promised turtles.”
Chad’s being so loud it’ll be a miracle if he doesn’t scare all the turtles away, Jared thinks as he watches the three of them move closer to the lake’s edge and out of hearing range. As soon as he’s sure Jensen is doing okay and is too distracted to pay them any attention, he turns back to Christian and Jim. Anxiety gives way to impatience, and the suspense that has been building inside him over the last few weeks all seems to catch up with him in a rush, like an over filled damn bursting open. “Okay, spill. What happened? At the trial, what happened? Please tell me they were both convicted.”
A wide grin stretches across Christian’s face, making his eyes sparkle. Jim, whose demeanor tends more toward gruff fondness than open good humor, actually chuckles.
“They were convicted of felony child abuse. Fifteen years in maximum security prison!” Christian declares. “We couldn’t have asked for much better than that, although I swear Judge Morgan would have given them life if he could have. I’ve never seen the man that disgusted before.”
The unrealized tension he’s been carrying these past few weeks seems to dissolve all of a sudden, making his muscles feel cooked-noodle weak, and Jared sinks down onto the nearest blanket. “Fifteen years,” he mutters. It’s not enough. Then again, twenty years wouldn’t seem like enough either. Twenty-five years. Thirty years. Nothing would truly make up for all the harm they’ve caused. Fifteen years will have to do. “Fifteen years,” he says again. “I guess, I guess that’s okay.” Deep in thought and head bowed, he tries to conceptualize what their lives will be like fifteen years from now. Jensen will be thirty-four years old. What will he be doing by then? A lot of healing can take place in fifteen years. Will he be walking? Talking? Will he have a job? Fifteen years is a long time when he thinks about it that way. Anything is possible.
Taking a steadying breath, Jared locks eyes first with Jim and then Christian. “Okay, start from the beginning. I want to hear everything that happened. Everything.”
Jim starts the narrative off by describing the setting. He tells of the jury, five men and seven women, various ages and occupations, who all start off looking somewhat bored, but all of whom are brought to tears at one point or another during the proceedings. He paints a word picture so vivid that Jared can almost imagine he’s there, watching as Judge Morgan, presiding over a packed courtroom, instructs the jury as to their responsibilities and duties. “Morgan is strict and doesn’t put up with any nonsense in his courtroom. Good thing too, because he saw right through the defenses’ bullshit,” Jim says, a rare sneer in his voice. “The first thing they tried to do was to have the case thrown out due to the statue of limitations.”
“Yeah, they had no basis for it though, and Morgan didn’t even let their slimy lawyer finish the motion before he denied it,” Christian cut in.
“What about Jensen’s parents? What do they look like?” Jared thinks evil people should look the part, like Maleficent, the evil fairy in the Disney cartoon about Sleeping Beauty. All it takes is one look at her to know she’s bad to her core.
“His mother is thin and horse-faced with straight, dishwater blond hair. Very plain. Nothing special about her.” Christian says. “His father has a weak chin and a large nose. Reminded me a little of Rowan Atkinson, only with a cruel, mean look.” He pauses here with a thoughtful expression, adds, “It was his eyes, I think — they were cold. Devoid of emotion. Like a snake’s eyes.”
Jared’s gaze is drawn toward where Jensen is sitting atop a large, flattish rock. Water laps gently at the base of the rock, but it’s tall enough that Jensen is in no danger of getting wet as long as he doesn’t clamber off in the wrong direction. Misha, his shoes and socks in one hand and pants rolled up to his knees, is standing in the water in front of the rock, obviously ready to prevent just such an occurrence. The water must be pretty cold this time of year, but Misha seems too intent on Jensen’s safety to notice.
Smaller stones stick out of the water in haphazard formations around the one on which Jensen is sitting. Chad is in the act of leaping from one stone to the next. It makes Jared smile to see the look of astonishment on Jensen’s face as he watches Chad’s exploits. Exposing Jensen to Chad and his sometimes childish behavior might turn out to be exactly what Jensen needs to encourage him to experience all the joys life has to offer. It’s almost like Chad is the playmate Jensen never had as a child, whereas Misha, Christian and Jared are the caring adults. Both are crucial for healthy development.
Satisfied that Jensen is well occupied and too far away to hear them, Jared turns his attention back to the discussion at hand. “Did they admit to anything? Did you find out anything we didn’t already know?”
“Yes, we got confirmation on many of our guesses,” Jim’s eyebrows furrow. “And there were a few new pieces of information.”
“Well, like why Jensen never tried to leave the house. Never tried to escape or run away from the abuse.”
Jared nods. “I’ve always wondered about that.”
“Young children often find ways of coping with their traumatic situations instead of trying to escape from them,” Jim says, matter of factly. “Often they detach from the cause of the trauma, disassociating. We’ve all seen Jensen do that — those catatonic states he sometimes falls into. Back then, they were his only way of escaping the torture. Now, they’re his way of escaping the past.
A coldness that has nothing to do with the brisk Fall day comes over Jared. “What do you mean, ‘his only way’.”
Jim’s tone hardens. “Jensen’s parents admitted to taking extreme actions to keep him from ever leaving the house. Training, they called it, like he was a disobedient dog.”
Stealing himself, Jared asks, “Such as?”
“Once he was old enough to reach the doorknob, they would put his hands or his feet in the doorframe and then slam it shut. They did this repeatedly until he learned not to go anywhere near the door.”
“Jesus,” Jared whispers. “That...well, that explains a lot, actually.”
“That’s not all.” Jim hesitates like he’s searching for a way to speak about the unspeakable. Finally, he says, “Jensen’s age regression...there’s a reason for it. That is, I always knew there was a reason. I just didn’t know what the reason was. Now I do.”
From the hard set of Jim’s jaw, Jared isn’t sure he wants to know. Ignorance is bliss, and all that. But if it’ll help him to help Jensen, he can’t live in blissful ignorance. “Tell me.”
“Sometime around when he turned two years old, his parents decided he was too old to cry. It was during a long crying jag that they first decided to put him in the closet and leave him there until he stopped crying. No matter how long it took.”
Head bowed, Christian snorts, a disgusted, angry sound. “Like caging a distraught two-year-old in a dark closet is going to make him stop crying.”
Two years old. Jared remembers what two-year-olds are like. He was old enough to vividly recall his little sister Meghan when she was two, when her sunny, sweet disposition could become a full-on temper tantrum at the drop of a hat. That’s how young children test boundaries, learn how to control their emotions. What happens if a child isn’t allowed to grasp this fundamental behavior, never learns how to work through their emotional turmoil? Jared thinks he has a decent idea of what happens, has seen it first hand.
But as terrible it is to know how young Jensen was the first time he was punished by isolating him in a closet, it’s not that big of a revelation. They’d already suspected as much. Hell, Jensen had as good as told them that himself when Matt and Rachel talked with him. There must be something more to it or Jim wouldn’t have brought it up. “What am I missing?” Jared asks.
Jim’s graying mustache seems to bristle. “Up until he was two years old, they didn’t punish him. Not in any overt way. Jensen felt relatively safe and cared for, if not loved, until he was two. He associates safety with being an infant. That’s where his behaviors stem from.”
It makes a tragic kind of sense. The closest thing to love Jensen ever felt came before he could walk, before he could talk, before he could fend for himself. As soon as he was no longer completely helpless, the torture began.
“That’s all they would admit to,” Jim continues. “Everything else that came out was gleaned from Jensen’s medical files, eyewitness accounts, the physical evidence found at the scene, and from what Matt and Rachel learned during their visit with Jensen.”
“I’m surprised his parents admitted to even that much. Slamming a child’s hands and feet in a door? Locking a toddler in a closet? Those things are pretty damn incriminating.”
Christian looks up at this, admiration clear in his expression. “Yeah well, Matt and Rachel were amazing. You should have heard them. They knew just how to present the evidence they had to the best effect. They laced conjecture in with fact so seamlessly that Jensen’s parents didn’t even try to deny it. They seemed completely shell shocked that Matt and Rachel knew so much.”
“We should thank them somehow.”
“I don’t think they do it for the thanks. They seem, I don’t know - passionate about their jobs - I guess is the best way to describe it. They were clearly in their element in that courtroom.”
“Still, I’ll call them tomorrow to let them know how much I appreciate everything they did.” Jared picks up a brown leaf from beside his knee. Being mostly dried out, it crumbles easily as he closes his fist around it. He feels like a chapter in his life has come to an end, but the book is far from over. “What comes next?” he asks no one in particular. “Does this change anything? And how do I explain all this to Jensen?”
Silence greats his questions. Even Jim, who Jared counts on for his sage advice, is apparently too lost in his own thoughts to offer any words of wisdom.
Christian moves a Tupperware container full of potato salad a couple inches to the left, but makes no move to open it. Then, he opens a bag and pulls out a handful of paper plates, plasticware and napkins. He arranges them on the blanket in the small space he created next to the potato salad, grunts something under his breath and rearranges them. It’s obviously just busy work, something to do with his hands.
Restless, Jared stands up. “I’m gonna go for a walk. You guys can go ahead and start eating if you’re hungry. I’ll be right back.” The jittery feeling that had built up in his limbs dissipates as he starts walking. He doesn’t plan to go far, wants to keep Jensen in view, but he needs to sort out a few things in his head, and walking always helps him think.
Letting his mind wander, he sets out on a path that goes parallel to the lake. The sky is a periwinkle blue. Clouds converge and separate in the air above him, towed along inexorably by invisible air currents. He’s not paying any attention to where his feet are taking him. As he walks, his thoughts become less tangled and he is able to put some things in perspective.
Even though he never really thought about the trial being a milestone they had to get past before he and Jensen could move on with their lives, now that it’s over, he does feel like he’s learned enough to be of more help to Jensen. Maybe it’s time to start teaching Jensen how to be more self sufficient. With that heartening thought in mind, Jared turns around and heads back, ready to spend time with his friends, eat some good food, and enjoy the day.
The halfway submerged stone Chad has just jumped onto tilts precariously under his feet, and with a yelp, Chad begins windmilling his arms. Laughter bubbles up inside Jensen and spills out as Chad loses his fight with gravity, one foot splashing into the water.
Chad pulls his soaked foot out of the lake, regarding it in dismay. “Oh, you think that’s funny, do you?” Chad’s disgruntled grimace quickly slides into a lopsided grin when he glances over at Jensen, self-satisfied and pleased for some unknowable reason. Water drips off his soggy sneaker and the bottom hem of his jeans. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess it is kinda funny.”
Misha just shakes his head and sighs. “Oh, Chad.”
Jensen thinks he sounds exasperated in a goofy kind of way, which makes it even funnier. Daddy would probably think it was funny too. He turns around to see if Daddy has noticed Chad’s wet foot, but Daddy is walking away from them along the lakeshore, his hands in his pockets, face turned up toward the sky.
Movement in the grass catches Jensen’s attention. A long, slender body ripples along the ground, sometimes seen, sometimes hidden by thick tufts of vegetation. At first, he mistakes the triangular shaped head for that of a turtle. Turtles don’t move like that though. This animal is slithering. Turtles don’t slither. Snakes slither.
Jensen has never seen a real live snake before. He’s only ever seen programs about them on tv. Curiosity flickers to life inside him. He wants a closer look. It could be like an adventure - his first for real and for true adventure. A thrill, like fizzy bubbles popping on his skin, goes through him.
Of course, Mr. Bun will come with him, but that presents a problem because he’s going to need his hands free for crawling after the snake. The snake is on the move and Jensen needs a solution quickly. Inspiration strikes. He stuffs Mr. Bun inside the front of his jacket where he’ll be safe and sound squished up against his chest for their journey, then, he pushes himself backwards off the rock, and lowers himself to the damp, pebble-strewn lakeshore. A quick look behind shows him that Misha and Chad are busy trying to pull off Chad’s shoes and socks before they get any more wet than they already are, Misha chastising Chad good-naturedly all the while.
The snake is moving slowly, almost leisurely, like it hasn’t a care in the world, and it probably doesn’t. Jensen pretends he’s a wildlife explorer, trying to catch a glimpse of a rare animal, just like he’s seen them do on tv. Over sandy beaches and into the grasslands he crawls, make-believe camera at the ready.
Most snakes are harmless, although some can be dangerous. He knows this. He doesn’t plan on getting too close, just close enough to see if he can figure out what kind it is. The program about snakes he’d watched the other day explained about how to tell which snakes you should stay away from.
This snake is mottled dark brown and black. Jensen crawls up alongside it while still giving it a wide berth. He’s fascinated by the way it’s muscular body glides so effortlessly over the uneven ground, it’s scales like liquid metal. It stops moving and Jensen sits back on his haunches to study it. He catalogues the shape of its head, eyes, and nostrils, the markings around its mouth, its coloring, its habitat. He compares them to what he knows about snakes from different documentaries. And comes to a not-good conclusion. This snake is a water moccasin. The bite of a water moccasin is very, very poisonous.
Jensen begins to shuffle cautiously backwards on hands and knees, careful not to make any sudden movements. The snake doesn’t seem interested in him though, for which Jensen is grateful, until he hears the crack of a twig under a foot and understands what has drawn the snake’s attention.
Daddy is walking straight towards him, smiling big, dimples flashing and everything. He seems so intent on Jensen that he doesn’t notice the danger. He’s still far enough away that he’s safe for now, but he’s quickly coming closer. “Hey sweetheart, what are you doing over here all by yourself?”
The snake draws itself into a tight coil, its reptile eyes, cold and utterly inhuman, focused on his daddy.
An icy chill skitters down Jensen’s spine. Fear. But not for himself. This isn’t a game of pretend anymore. This is serious, and his daddy is in danger because of him. If he hadn’t been playing, if he hadn’t been curious, daddy wouldn’t be walking towards a venomous snake right now without the faintest idea of the peril he’s in.
Acting without thought, Jensen crawls in front of the snake, his back to his daddy, shielding him from the snake’s sight. The snake rears back, obsidian gaze now trained solely on the newly perceived threat in front of it. Jensen glares back, unblinking. If it wants his daddy, its going to have to go through him first.
“What are you looking at?” The footsteps behind him stop, and there’s a quickly indrawn breath, then silence.
Jensen stares at the snake. The snake stares back, tail flicking in agitation. After a long, drawn-out minute, the snake finally backs down, uncoiling and retreating back towards the water.
That’s right, go, Jensen thinks triumphantly, and don’t even think about hurting my daddy ever again.
A loud exhale has him turning around just in time for Daddy to descend on him, big hands frantically patting him down, pulling up his sweatpants legs, palms running up and down his legs. “Did it bite you? Did it hurt you?” Daddy asks in a trembling voice. Then, he’s roughly scooped up into his Daddy’s arms. “Jesus Jensen, you almost gave me a heart attack,” Daddy breaths into his neck while squeezing him tightly.
Now that the threat is past, Jensen allows himself to melt against his daddy’s warm chest, Mr. Bun a squishy lump between them inside his jacket. Daddy’s arms are shaking, and he stands there, breathing deeply, as though he can’t quite catch his breath. It’s a long while before he finally says, “It’s a good thing Misha didn’t see that. No telling what he would have done,” and gives a laugh that sounds shaky, like Daddy is being jostled even though the ground is solid as far as Jensen can tell.
They don’t relax their crushing holds on each other until Daddy has walked them back to the picnic site where everyone else has already gathered.
“You will not believe what just happened,” Daddy says, giving Jensen a final squeeze and setting him down on a red and white striped blanket. “Jensen just faced off against some kind of snake, and won!”
“What!” Uncle Christian exclaims.
“No way,” is Chad’s response.
“Is he hurt?” asks Misha, as if he’s about to make a run to his Jeep for the med-kit he keeps there.
“No, no, he’s fine,” Jared assures the paramedic. “I checked.”
Jim gives Jensen a little smile that seems as if he’s not surprised at all, like he was expecting something like this to happen which is strange because, how could he? He turns to Jared and says, “Why don’t you tell us what happened.”
“Well, I was on my way back here when I saw Jensen sitting in the grass over there.” Daddy points. “He was looking at something, but I didn’t see what it was until I got a little closer. Haven’t you guys started eating yet? I’m starving.” Daddy leans forward, grabs a plate, and begins piling food onto it; potato salad, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some miniature pretzels.
As if they’ve all just realized they’re hungry too, everyone begins doing the same.
“Yeah, go on. He was looking at a snake, I presume,” Misha says while in the process of slathering a piece of bread with mustard and reaching for the ham slices.
Chad crams a handful of Doritos into his mouth and asks around the mouthful, “What kind of snake was it?”
Daddy shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He puts some apple slices on the plate of food he’s building, and puts it in front of Jensen. “Here you go, sweetheart. Eat up.”
Jensen ignores the food, too engrossed in hearing the story from his daddy’s point of view.
“Something big and black.” Daddy continues, as if he hadn’t interrupted himself. “I have no idea if it was poisonous or not. For all I know, it could have just been a harmless water snake. Didn’t matter, it was too close to Jensen, that’s the only thing I cared about. I saw him crawl in front of it, face off with it like it was a showdown at the OK corral, and I swear, my heart stopped beating. That snake was all coiled up and reared back like the slightest movement would provoke it into striking. I froze, didn’t want to be the reason he got bit. I don’t even think I was breathing. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done, just standing there, still as a statue, willing that thing not to bite, even though all I wanted to do was rush in and pull him to safety.” The muscles in his daddy’s jaw bunch as he stares past his friends at the lake beyond.
Uncle Christian puts a hand on Jensen’s knee. “But it didn’t, right? It didn’t bite him?”
“It didn’t. By some miracle, it didn’t.” Daddy turns his attention back to Jensen, nudges the plate in front of him a little closer. “Aren’t you hungry?”
Daddy still hasn’t started filling his own plate yet. Apparently, even though daddy said he was starving, neither of them is actually ready to eat yet.
With a little frown, he says, “Still not sure why he crawled in front of it like that.”
A frisson of anxiety sparks along the scar on Jensen’s tummy, but it’s not a mad frown. Daddy isn’t mad at him, so he settles.
“Were you walking toward the snake?” his doctor asks.
“I was walking towards Jensen, but...yeah.”
Doctor Jim smiles, soft and knowing. “He was protecting you.”
Everyone stops eating and looks at Jensen.
He ducks his head, not liking the attention.
“Yeah, sounds about right.” Uncle Christian gives his knee a pat. “Under it all, he has a protective streak.”
“A mile wide, I’ll bet,” Misha says.
“Well, I’ll be damned, my man Jensen’s a hero,” Chad laughs.
Daddy cups his chin, brings his face up and stares deeply into his eyes. “Is that why you did it? You were protecting me?”
Jensen doesn’t know what to do, so he just gazes back, hopeful that his daddy can see everything he can’t say. All the things he’s only now beginning to understand for himself. About himself. Things like emotions that aren’t all about fear or helplessness, loneliness or despair.
Something feather-light and bright like sunshine flutters inside him.
Doctor Jim makes a throat clearing noise. “Do you remember what I told you back at Oak Grove? About the difference between trusting someone to protect you and loving them? About how Jensen couldn’t love you yet because he hadn’t learned what love was?”
Daddy nods slowly.
“Well, looks like that’s changed.”
“Oh,” Daddy whispers, voice sounding a little husky and awed. His hand moves up and palms Jensen’s cheek. “Oh wow, that’s...” He cocks his head as if hearing something profound even though Jensen is as silent as ever, speaking only with his heart. “I love you, too, sweetheart.”
Jensen smiles then, because Daddy understands and now he does too. Love. That’s what this feeling is. Knowing seems to make it grow even bigger, expanding until he feels like he might just fill up with this airy substance and float away balloon-like into the autumn sky.
Chad, a can of beer in one hand and a cookie in the other, asks, “Hey my dude, what’s inside your jacket?”
The loud question breaks the moment, brings Jensen back to earth.
Daddy unzips his jacket for him, and Mr. Bun tumbles out. He almost lands in Jensen’s plate of food, a quick grab the only thing that keeps his white fur from getting sticky and stained from the jelly oozing out of his uneaten sandwich.
Misha claps his hand over his mouth and says, muffled, “Oh my God, I forgot all about Mr. Bun. How could I forget such an important member of our group?”
Jensen gives him a faintly disapproving look, but Misha’s eyes are pitiful and pleading, and Jensen forgives him immediately.
“I thought you said you were starving. How come you haven’t started eating yet? This is supposed to be a celebration.” Uncle Christian lifts an eyebrow at Daddy and then tilts his head at the untouched plate of food in front of Jensen.
Daddy’s gaze travels to the plate and he looks a little surprised. “Oh. Oh right, I am.”
Only once Daddy has made himself a turkey sandwich and taken a big bite does Jensen realize how hungry he is. He reaches for his own sandwich. Jelly dribbles down his chin as he bites into it. Peanut butter sticks to the roof of his mouth. It’s delicious. Chewing happily, he looks over to see his uncle give his daddy a thumbs up. Strange.
Jensen eats his fill and listens to the chatter going on around him. Chad tells stories about the people he works with at the car parts store. His stories involve lots of hand gestures and sometimes even sound effects. They aren’t as interesting as Uncle Christian’s stories about his life as a cop or Misha’s paramedic stories, but they sure are animated.
At some point, Misha comes over to clean Jensen’s hands and face with a package of sanitary wipes.
The excitement of the day and his full belly are beginning to make him feel heavy-lidded. He yawns. Daddy’s lap looks inviting, so he stretches out on the blanket, Mr. Bun clutched firmly against his chest, head in Daddy’s lap. His thumb finds its way into his mouth.
“Hey! Don’t go to sleep. I haven’t finished telling you about the guy who came in to have his battery checked yet.”
Daddy cards a hand through Jensen’s hair, long fingers scritching at the nape of his neck.
An almost inaudible hum, like a purr, reverberates deep in Jensen’s throat. The air is chilly, but the sunshine feels good on his face. His limbs are lax, and he feels so very comfortable. His eyes drift closed.
“Leave him alone, Chad. It’s been a long day.”
It has been a long day. A good day, he thinks idly, twining his fingers through his bunny’s fluffy fur. He and Mr. Bun have been on their first adventure. It wasn’t a big adventure. It didn’t involve any epic quests or long journeys. But it was heroic in it’s own small way. It was a start.
With the rumble of conversation going on around him and his daddy’s fingers gently massaging his temple, his thoughts begin to go soft and muzzy. The last thought he has before dozing off is, Sparkle would be so very proud of them.
He dreams of a vast savannah, a herd of antelope, and a fearless explorer, striding along, his trusty long-eared companion at his side.
A/N: Happy Holidays! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season! This is my present to you. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for reading.
Start at Chapter 1