Title: All In The Family
Length: 5521 words
Rating: PG-13 (this chapter)
Characters: Dean, John, Mary, OFC
Summary: John and Mary can't have kids and decide to try fostering while they wait on a waiting list to adopt. First they take in a silent little boy named Dean (who hasn't spoken a word since he was taken from his mother), and then newborn Sam. Supernatural AU in which monsters play no part. Dean and Sam are not brothers.
John Winchester's life was good. Really good. In fact, in that moment he'd proudly tell anyone that he was truly blessed.
His whole world was bathed in golden sunshine. The halo of light coming through the open kitchen window highlighted Mary's blonde locks, shining like liquid gold and white fire as she scrubbed absently at a dirty pan in the sink, her lips pursed tightly in thought, her brow furrowed in concentration. John smiled as warmth bubbled through his whole body at the sight of his wife, his love, his life, standing across the kitchen in all her domestic glory and he thought he couldn't be happier than he was at that very moment. She was so cute when she was angry, was so full of fire when she had her mind set on something, and it was no less true now that she was taking her aggression out on unsuspecting cookware. It made him certain that what they were doing was right.
"What are you smirking at?" his wife's voice snapped at him waspishly, drawing him from his pleasant reverie.
"Just thinking about us," he mused aloud. "Parents... It's a bit of a head trip."
She softened somewhat but her eyes still held something of the fiercely determined firebrand that he knew his wife to be when she was riled up. When Mary was on a mission she was like a force of nature. And right now she just upgraded herself to category five, Hurricane Mary.
"This isn't going to be a walk in the park, John," she warned him with a frown. And he couldn't help himself, he wanted to kiss that frown away, steal her breath with his want and need for her, light her up with his love until she felt as bathed in him as he was in her all the time.
"We'll get by," he shrugged. "We always do."
Her hands stilled as she released the dirty pan to the watery depths of the sink and extracted her pruned hands from the soapy water to towel them dry. Her accompanying sigh was heavy and weighted with all the care Mary Campbell Winchester put into everything she did: nothing by halves.
"I grew up in the system, John," she reminded him sadly. "I know what kinds of troubles these kids face. Whoever we bring home is going to have issues... might even have special needs or handicaps... And at the end of the day, if the biological parents show up and say they want to take them back, then..."
"We'll be making a difference," John said simply, taking his wife into his arms and holding her about the waist. "We'll love them as long as they're ours, give them a home and a safe harbour. Like the Jeffersons did for you."
"It'll be hard," she sniffed, and it was now that John saw her eyes were misted with tears. "We'll grow attached and will see lots of kids come and go. Kids we can't save."
"Now that I don't believe," John denied flatly, rubbing a thick calloused thumb along his wife's cheek to brush away a fat, salty tear. "There's nothing my wife can't do."
In spite of all his proud assurances to the contrary, John Winchester was scared shitless. He'd always wanted a family, and when Mary had made him the happiest man on Earth by agreeing to be his wife, he'd imagined the small brood of kids he and Mary would have one day. Boys to run around the yard and wreck everything, and maybe one girl whose hair Mary could braid and who John could be overprotective of with a shotgun at the door to ward away would-be suitors. Their nest would be full of Winchesters, he'd thought, and so long as everyone was healthy, he knew they'd have been happy.
But things hadn't quite worked out that way. Marriage came, and along with it the fulfillment of all of John's dreams, but kids apparently didn't. They'd tried to get pregnant, but several miscarriages were all they had to show for it. Mary had begun to despair of ever having children of her own, and so John had done the practical thing and had suggested that maybe they think about adopting. Which, of course, got Mary thinking about fostering children, as she had been fostered when she was a child.
She didn't talk about it much, but John knew that those first few years after her parents' deaths had been among the most traumatic of her entire life. Orphaned at age eight, Mary had had nowhere else to go, no next of kin to take up the parental mantle on her behalf, and had been thrust into the foster system without so much as a backward glance from friends or neighbours. She'd been tossed from one family to another until the kindly Jeffersons, the last stop on a long list of foster homes, had fallen in love with the blonde-haired, pigtailed girl and made her theirs. They'd also very conveniently lived across the street from Angus and Ida Winchester – John's parents. Mary'd been eleven years old at the time, and John had laid eyes on her and known his fate was sealed.
So if fate and the foster care system had brought his wife to him, then maybe it was fate and the foster care system that would bring him his children, too.
But it was still a little weird, and a lot nerve-wracking, to be strolling the halls of a group children's home to take stock of the kids and pick one out like one would do when selecting a puppy or a kitten from an animal shelter. He'd gone to the SPCA with an ex-girlfriend once when he was younger and had been overwhelmed with feelings of despair and helplessness at not being able to take them all home, to rescue them all (though if any of his marine buddies were to ask he'd swear on a stack of Bibles that he'd been completely unmoved). How in the hell was he going to walk away with just one kid knowing there were dozens of others who needed him just as much? And how were they supposed to decide which one to take home?
Luckily the social worker was there to help them with their decision. She was well versed in the backgrounds of each child housed at the group home, knew which ones were likely to return to their parents once their home situations straightened out and which ones were more adrift. She knew the behaviours, quirks, and histories of every child in her charge, and John was impressed with how thorough she was in overseeing the placement of each individual child. A caring representative looking out for the individual needs of these kids was exactly what the system needed to make it run more smoothly so that fewer children fell through the cracks.
"Where this is your first time fostering," the woman, Joan Archer, said, "you'll probably want to start with someone younger. We've got an eleven month-old whose mother is doing a two-year sentence over at the State Pen. Little girl. Reasonably well-adjusted."
"And is the mother likely to seek custody again once she's released?" John found himself asking.
Ms. Archer nodded. "Most definitely. From what I understand, the baby was the reason she wrote the fraudulent cheques and used the stolen credit cards in the first place."
He thought as much.
"There's also a sixteen month-old boy who was abandoned on the doorsteps of the United Baptist Church over on Lincoln. No ID and no word on the identity or location of either parent. He might be a good fit for you two."
That sounded promising, though again, made John feel like he needed to go to the bathroom. How was he supposed to decide one kid was better off with him and his wife while another wasn't? How could he know who would need him the most?
"Can we see them?" Mary asked hopefully.
The social worker eyed them warily and leaned forward against the office desk.
"This isn't like picking out a puppy," she said somberly as she folded her hands on the desktop. "We generally don't take the foster parents on a walk-through so they can pick out the cutest kids to add to their collection."
John was both ashamed of his earlier SPCA comparison and offended at the harsh rebuke. He wasn't just looking for a cute kid, and he and Mary were definitely not collecting kids. They wanted to give a needy child a good home – wanted to bring someone into their family who would need them the most. He could see his wife bristling at the implication and hoped she wouldn't lose her temper.
"Ms. Archer," she said in a controlled, calm tone that belied the anger bubbling just beneath the surface. "With all due respect, I am not here to bring home some kind of trophy child. I've been through the system – I know what kinds of hardships these kids face. My husband and I," and here she grabbed hold of John's hand and gave it a firm, reassuring squeeze, "we want to make a difference for a child that needs it. And while I trust that you're going to do your best to find a placement that you think would be a good fit, I think it would be good for John and I to meet some of the children to get a sense of them."
"We just want it to be the best fit possible," John agreed. "Someone that wants and needs to be with us. And I think that if we see him... or her... then we'll just know, you know?"
The social worker sighed and then nodded.
"Very well," she said. "But I warn you, you're going to see a lot of wide, dewy eyes begging you to take them home. It won't be an easy decision to make."
"Well that's what you're here for," John said stoutly.
Ms. Archer didn't say anything further as she stood from her desk and led them into the hall beyond. The group home wasn't large and housed about eighteen children. There was a nursery on the second floor where the infants and toddlers slept, while the rest of the rooms were divided by age and sex. Boys 4-8 shared a room on the main floor with girls of the same age sharing an identical room directly across the hall. 9-12 were on the second floor (again, separated by boys and girls) and the oldest kids were on the third floor.
"Most of them will be outside enjoying the weather," the social worker explained as she led them down the hallway towards the front door. John paused at the entrance to a largish room lined with tiny beds, two rows of three. He peeked in, wanting to get a clear picture in his mind of what these kids in the group homes lived with day to day and taking in the sight of those six empty beds with a deep pang of guilt in the pit of his stomach. The lighting in the room was stark, one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling casting the whole room in an eerie, garish, yellow glow. There was a bookshelf stacked with tattered copies of books that looked like they'd survived the second World War at the far wall and a single dresser near the door. A few toys lay here or there on the floor: a few dinky cars sprawling haphazardly near a pair of dirty socks, a broken yellow dump truck that had seen better days, and a fire engine that was missing a wheel, dotted the landscape of the barren room and made John think of the devastation left behind after some kind of disaster, like fire or hurricane or flood. These kids had nothing.
"John?" the social worker called from down the hallway.
He cleared his throat but remained rooted on the spot.
"This room... It uh... It's where the little boys sleep?"
Joan Archer nodded and turned to rejoin him at the entrance to the room, Mary hot on her heels. All three adults peered inside the empty space, taking in the gloom in his or her own way, internalizing it according to his or her own conscience.
"It's so bare," Mary whispered, and John could see the ghosts of memories of similar rooms in similar group homes dancing behind her eyes to torment her.
"Boys 4-8 sleep in this room," Ms. Archer explained. "Girls across the hall. But as I said, they'll all be outside for playtime right now, so if you'll just come with me..."
But Mary's sudden movement cut the social worker off mid-sentence as she made her way through the door frame and into the room, her eyes riveted on a tiny figure huddled in the window who, up until this point, John hadn't even seen.
A little boy, tiny in size and in mien, sat huddled in on himself on the windowsill, staring out at the world outside with the most lost, forlorn expression any child had ever donned. He was blonde and skinny, and from this distance John couldn't make out how old he was, though he'd have guessed around three years by size alone.
Upon seeing the child, the social worker seemed to snap to attention, taking a few confident strides towards the window to greet the silent boy.
"Dean, what are you doing in here?" she queried gently. "Everyone else is outside playing."
As John approached he saw the little boy's head swivel in their direction, wide eyes peering up woefully from behind longish, floppy, golden hair.
"Come on, why don't we go outside to play in the sunshine, huh?" the social worker suggested warmly, reaching a hand out to the little boy and waiting expectantly for him to take it.
The boy did not reply, did not appear as though he even understood what had been said, but merely continued to stare with those big, round eyes, his impossibly long lashes tenting into little peaks with wetness. He took in the sight of Mary and John in turn, silently taking in every detail, silently gauging the level of threat, perhaps, silently assessing. Or maybe he was just slow.
"Come on," Ms. Archer urged again, flexing her fingers for the boy to take the hand in his. The boy didn't move a muscle.
"Whaddya say we head on out and toss around a ball, huh Sport?" John suggested with forced joviality as he crouched down so that he could look at the boy at eye level.
Mossy green eyes locked on his and in them John could see a swarm of emotions raging bloody war against each other: fear, loss, curiosity, and hidden far away beneath it all, hope. This boy wanted to go outside. Sitting at his perch looking out at the world beyond, John could tell that the boy, Dean, wanted to feel the sun on his face, wanted to share in the games and laughter as the other boys and girls played... But he was afraid to leave the safety of the dark, sheltering room. He was scared and confused and lonely for something – something he wasn't going to find at the group home, no matter how hard he looked.
John could see the boy searching with those big, pleading eyes, as though he were peeking through a window directly into John's soul. And they'd talked about 'children in need' and being a safe harbour for someone who really needed them, but John had never imagined seeing that need reflected in wide pools of green would be such a sucker-punch to the gut. In that moment John knew that he was done for, because this boy was it. He didn't want to look any further – he'd already found what he'd come for. He knew it as easily as he'd known that the little girl Mary Campbell would change his life forever when she first arrived next door at the Jeffersons'.
He tilted his head up to see Mary staring at him with such intensity it took his breath away, and in that instant he felt both humbled and inexplicably guilty, as though he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar or had been found cheating or something. He hoped his wife had seen what he'd just seen, had felt what he'd just felt, because the very idea of walking away from those endless depths of green was enough to make all 190 lbs of solid marine muscle tremble with grief. But Mary's gaze wasn't accusatory. It was determined, gauging, and suddenly knowing, certain. It was as if she could tell that John had already made up his mind – which might be why John felt inexplicably guilty under her intense scrutiny – and had in turn made up hers as well.
"Come on, love," Mary whispered as she crouched down and took the tiny boy – Dean – into her arms. "Hush now." She laid a hand on the top of his golden head when his little body stiffened nervously and patted the silky strands with motherly affection. "Let's go outside and say hello to the sun."
A tiny nod was her only reply. It was a start.
It was a good day. John and Mary played with Dean, who they learned was actually four years old, not three, and watched him interact with the other children. He didn't speak and was almost pathologically shy, opting to keep on the fringe, out of the line of fire, staying away from the bigger children altogether and being careful of the younger ones. He was a polite child, courteous with sharing toys and making space for others to get around him or past him. But when Mary came around he seemed to light up like a candle. Having gotten over his momentary unease, he seemed to grow to her as a flower seeking out the sun. His tiny, pale face with the adorable spattering of freckles on his cheeks and nose would turn up to her expectantly, silently calling to her to lead the way and he would follow.
John wasn't sure what it was about Mary that Dean seemed so drawn to, though he himself had been drawn to it easily enough. Maybe it was her inner light and warmth, or maybe it was that she was a kindred spirit. Maybe Dean could sense in her that she'd been where he was now, that she knew what it was to be young and small and lost and not belonging to anyone. Whatever the reason, Dean took to Mary as though she'd always been there, as though he recognized her. When she called his name he drew to attention; when she beckoned him close he was there, tiny hand in hers, peering up at her with absolute faith and trust; when she invited him to sit on her lap he clamoured up with all the grace of a newborn colt and the eagerness of a four year-old boy who had no one in the world to love him but her.
Like attracts like, they say.
By the time they were seated in the office to discuss arrangements and paperwork, young Dean was sound asleep and crashed like a coma patient in Mary's arms, his limp form tucked against her, his arms and legs dangling like the lifeless limbs of a marionette with its strings cut. John had to brush away absurd thoughts about Pinocchio and 'real boys.'
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Joan Archer asked tentatively, though her voice was laced with hope. She rifled through a stack of papers on her desk and cast a few furtive glances at the prospective foster parents.
"We're sure," Mary assured her and John squeezed her hand to steady himself. This was it.
"Well, I can't tell you how happy I am that you've decided to take Dean," Joan beamed with a heaved sigh of relief. "We were really beginning to despair at ever finding him a home."
Alarm bells went off in John's mind as he wondered how it was possible that a child so adorable, so sweet and lost-looking could ever want for prospective parents. Surely he was like a kitten or puppy just waiting to get snatched up (and he would definitely have to stop with the SPCA analogy!).
"It's hard finding placements for children with special needs," Joan went on to explain. "And given the fact that Dean hasn't spoken a single word in almost four months... well, let's just say it's been a real challenge trying to find a proper placement for him."
So that was it. John had been terrified that they were going to learn the kid had a penchant for starting fires or strangling small animals – learning that the silent boy was literally a silent boy was nothing they couldn't handle. Probably. He hoped, anyway.
"Was it...?" Mary hedged hesitantly. "Has he always been mute, or did something... happen?"
The social worker took a deep breath and her eyes seemed to darken with sadness and anger. She pursed her lips in thought, as if choosing her words carefully, before speaking.
"We can't say for sure what happened to him," she explained quietly. "But we do know that little Dean Hastings was speaking before he was taken into protective custody."
"And his family?" John asked. He thought surely the boy's parents must be dead, as it seemed damned impossible that anyone with two eyes and a heart could ever turn their back on the golden haired boy with those pleading green eyes.
The social worker shook her head.
"I've been working in the system for fifteen years," she confided. "I've seen a lot of terrible things happen to children. But Dean...?" She shook her head in denial. "That little boy has been through hell, Mr. Winchester."
John's grip on his wife's hand tightened. His mind swam with a million different scenarios that would constitute hell for a child so young and small and helpless, and every single vision he conjured up made him more furious and protective than the one before it.
"The parents were young and stupid," Joan went on to explain. "A couple of unwed kids on their own for the first time, suddenly saddled with a kid of their own... Like a lot of sad stories that start out this way, theirs ended in drugs."
"So they're dead?" John asked.
The woman shook her head no.
"From what I understand of the case file, they were deeply in debt and owed a substantial amount of money to a local thug drug-dealer. When they couldn't pay he showed up to their apartment to collect. They were so strung out they didn't even fight when he took their son as payment."
"The dealer took Dean?" Mary whispered, aghast, and John could feel his blood running cold through his veins at the very implication of a child being taken as payment for anything.
Joan nodded solemnly.
"Carried him right out the front door while Mom and Dad were passed out in their bed. It took two days for them to figure out who'd taken Dean and why, and from what the mother told the police, they tried everything they could think of to scrounge enough money together to settle the debt. The poor mother even prostituted herself to get the money. But the damage was already done."
"How long?" Mary choked out. "How long was he taken?"
Joan cleared her throat and blinked away tears before sniffing.
"Two weeks. They had him two weeks before police raided the dealer's home and arrested him. By that time Dean's mother had already been arrested for soliciting and drug possession."
"And the sorry excuse for a father?" John demanded.
"Dead," Joan said simply. "His fatherly instincts kicked in a little late, though he did try to save his son, I guess. Died trying, actually..."
"The dealer killed him?" Mary queried.
"Stabbed him when he showed up demanding to get his boy back. It was his death that eventually led the police to raid the house, actually. I've tried getting answers as to why the police didn't go to collect Dean sooner, but you know how the Brass can be. Question their methods and they clam up. My guess is they didn't take the desperate pleas of a couple of strung out teens seriously. In any case, Dean was delivered over to our custody for suitable placement just over four months ago. He's been here ever since and, as you can well imagine, has been as silent as the grave."
The Winchesters sat in stunned silence, trying to absorb everything they'd just learned. It was unfathomable to John that anyone could be so irresponsible with their own kids like that, choosing drug-induced stupor over looking after their own children. And these parents... these junkies, had so lost themselves in their addiction that they'd allowed some criminal to take their son right from under their noses. Everything that their son had suffered at the hands of that drug dealer was their fault.
"I'm not going to lie to you," Joan said solemnly. "Dean is a very disturbed little boy. He obviously hasn't said anything about what happened to him during those two weeks, but..." She cleared her throat and locked her sad eyes onto the sleeping boy in Mary's arms. "The medical examiner confirmed that Dean was... there were clear signs of sexual assault."
Oh God, John didn't want to talk about this or even think about this anymore. It made him feel sick to his stomach to even contemplate anyone ever laying a hand on the tiny, tiny little boy to do him harm. He wished he could shut his ears off to block out hearing more about what was done to Dean. But then, he felt it he owed it to the boy to listen, to bear witness to his misery, especially when he had no voice to plead his own case. They owed it to Dean to listen so that they would know how to help him. John and Mary were going to take him home and make him safe, protect him from monsters who touched little boys in ways they shouldn't. But still, he'd already been hurt so badly and John feared he wouldn't be equipped to deal with the kind of trauma young Dean was carrying around inside him.
"He's just a baby," Mary whispered brokenly as she wiped a hand through the tumbled strands of blonde at Dean's forehead.
He looked like an angel in sleep, his tiny face slack and relaxed, his rosebud lips parted slightly. John felt so fiercely protective of the child in his wife's arms, soon to be in their care, that he vowed then and there that he would look out for Dean for the rest of the boy's natural life (whether he remained in John and Mary's custody or not). And the next person that tried to hurt Dean was going to wish he'd never been born.
It was a tense drive back to their house. The paperwork was sorted out quickly and Ms. Archer provided the young couple with a small duffle bag containing all of Dean Hastings's belongings (which, upon quick inspection, turned out to be a pair of pyjamas, a handful of t-shirts, a spare pair of jeans, and some socks and undies, along with a ratty old teddy bear that was missing an eye and a copy of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham). The social worker woke Dean and explained to him in hushed, soothing tones that he would be going to live with John and Mary for a while. Dean merely blinked in confusion and gripped tighter to Mary's hand.
It was clear that Dean was a very frightened little boy. He made no protest when Mary carried him out the front door of the group home, though his eyes went impossibly wider as he watched the house disappearing behind their retreating backs, his tiny face peeking over Mary's shoulder as he clung to her for dear life. It probably didn't help that he'd been woken from zombie-like sleep in Mary's arms to the news that he'd be going home with a couple of strangers. Dean trusted Mary, held onto her as though she were his only lifeline, but the move from the familiarity of the group home to the unknown of John and Mary Winchester was a lot for the silent little boy to cope with.
John tried coaxing him to relax by introducing him to the Impala, but Dean was far too distracted by his removal from the group home to do more than stare at Mary's hair and cling even tighter to her. Ms. Archer had explained to Dean that he was going to go live with the Winchesters but apparently the boy's reaction to that news had been somewhat delayed. The poor child sniffled quietly to himself for the duration of the car ride home, keeping his terrified tears to himself as he tried to bear the move bravely.
He remained big-eyed and terrified-looking while Mary led him through the house, John following closely behind them as Mary acted as tour guide of the Winchester homestead. Mary talked to him in her most soothing, motherly voice and Dean held onto her hand dearly. Then the whole family sat together at the table for a late lunch and shared chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes.
"We'll let you get used to things and then maybe tomorrow we can go shopping and buy some stuff for your room," Mary suggested hopefully. "Maybe get some new blankets and some toys?"
Dean's tiny mouth paused in his chewing as he raised his big eyes up beneath long bangs and blinked in confusion. He almost looked as if he wanted to ask a question, as if he were going to ask a question. Both John and Mary held their breath and waited for the boy to speak, but he merely resumed chewing and cast his eyes back to his plate.
"I guess that means I'll have to come with you," John said conspiratorially, leaning towards Dean to mock whisper dramatically. "If I leave you to go shopping with a girl, guaranteed you'll come back with dolls and pink frilly things. Correct me if I'm wrong, buddy, but girls really don't know how to shop for boys, do they?"
Once again the mouth stopped mid-chew, green eyes jumping in John's direction, both brows raised questioningly, before turning to look at Mary. There was something so openly vulnerable and adorable about that look, as if the boy were asking permission to join in the joke. Or maybe, John thought, he was seeking assurance from Mary that John was safe enough to joke with. The fact that Dean could be, and likely was, afraid of him made his heart ache.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Mary spent some time with Dean in his room, letting him get used to the space and watching him put his things away in the tiny drawer set next to the bed. Then they all went outside to play in the back yard, sitting in a perfect ring on the grass and rolling a ball quietly back and forth to each other. John and Mary kept up a steady chatter of nonsense, babbling about the neighbourhood kids and the park down the road, telling Dean about the 4th of July barbeque that was coming up in two weeks' time at Mrs. Baldwin's down the road. It was lazy and comfortable and easy, talking about everything and nothing and watching as little Dean pursed his lips in concentration every time it was his turn with the ball.
They took it easy, gave Dean a chance to be near them without having to do anything or be anything. He listened with eyes downcast, keeping his focus on the game they were playing, but occasionally his lips would quirk in the ghost of a smile.
It was a start, anyway.
Later that night, when their tummies were fed with homemade spaghetti and the evening was winding down, John watched from the doorway of the spare bedroom as Mary lay curled up on the single bed with Dean, reading to him from his tattered old copy of Dr. Seuss. It maybe wasn't the perfect picture of domestic bliss that John had envisioned when he'd imagined being a Dad, but it warmed his heart nonetheless. Mary's long, elegant fingers brushed soft strands of blonde off Dean's forehead as his lids became heavier and heavier, lulling him to sleep to the sound of her quiet voice. And in that moment John thought Dean could be theirs – he had the same golden blonde hair, the same big, expressive eyes, the same full mouth, as Mary. Anyone looking at them would think Dean was hers – theirs.
It made him smile in his heart.
A/N: So that was part 1. We have introduced Dean. Up next we'll have some (mis)adventures for the young parents and wee!Dean. Sam will be coming along in the next couple of chapters.