John awoke in the night to the insistent demands of a full bladder, his wife's arm slung bonelessly across his chest with her torso twisted around facing away from him. It didn't look like a particularly comfortable way to be sleeping, but John figured the excitement and worry of the day had taken its toll on her. He eased himself out from underneath her as carefully and quietly as he could, wincing when she suddenly bolted upright like a startled colt.
"John?" she gasped, hair sticking up in half-curled, half-frizzed plumes of blonde. "Is it Dean? Does he need me?"
She sounded kind of manic and her worry would have been adorable if it weren't so sad.
"Shhhh," he whispered before placing a chaste kiss on her rumpled forehead. "Dean's sleeping. I just need to hit the head. I'll be right back."
Mary heaved a sigh of relief and threw herself back onto the bed, the back of one hand draped over her brow as she drew out a long exhaled breath.
"I thought something was wrong," she admitted as John stood up from his side of the bed to make his way to the bathroom. Then, biting her lip, she sat up with a determined expression on her face.
"I'm gonna go check on him."
"10-4," John saluted her. "Report back to me at 0200 hours."
Mary paused for a fond smile before peeling herself up from the bed with a groan. John chuckled as he watched his wife shuffle tiredly across the room, pausing to kiss his chin absently before continuing on to the hallway towards Dean's room.
It was still kind of surreal. Dean's room. Dean. Sweet, big-eyed Dean with a host of ghosts in his tiny smile; Dean who never spoke but with his expressive green eyes; Dean who was so small and helpless and hurting, and in their care.
John knew a thing or two about trauma, he thought as he finished up his business in the bathroom and ran his hands under the tap. Vietnam hadn't exactly been a picnic. All the marine training in the world couldn't have prepared him for the fresh horrors of gunfire and sweat and death, watching his friends die choking on their own blood, cowering in fear at the cacophony of bombs exploding overhead and thinking, 'Oh God, don't let me die here!' Barely twenty years old, well-trained and hardened for combat, and all John could think at the time, in the moments when his instincts and training weren't carrying him through one grizzly moment to the next, was that he just wanted to see his Mom again, wanted to be home and safe and cared for.
It was Mary that got him through it. Memories of her sweet smile had warmed the chill in his bones. Whispers of her flesh against his in remembrance of love-making past, had carried him through the lonely nights crowded in close quarters with too many smelly guys and zero comforts. The sheer will to get back to Mary had kept him alive in a war that had claimed many.
She was like his angel.
It was hard for John to look at Dean and see the damage that had been done to him, knowing that it was needless, knowing that there was no way to erase it or, better yet, turn back time and prevent it from ever happening. But John knew his wife and had faith in her magical emotional healing capabilities. If anyone could bring the light back into that little boy's eyes, it was her. And for his part, John was going to do everything in his power to make Dean feel safe and loved, to let him know that no one would ever hurt him here, that he and Mary were looking out for the little tyke and would protect him from any and all harm.
Such a terrifying and daunting task, and yet John felt in his bones that it was a job he was born to do.
"John!" Mary suddenly gasped in a strangled, desperate voice from beyond the doorway, sending the man immediately on high alert.
"I can't find Dean!" she said in a breathless panic. "He's not in his bed, and I've checked everywhere and I can't find him! Oh God, what if he's run off..."
"Mary, calm down!" John soothed, taking her by the shoulders and giving her a firm, reassuring squeeze. "And slow down. What's happened?"
"Dean's gone!" Mary wailed. "I've checked in the closet, under the bed, in the bathroom, living room, kitchen. He's gone!"
Gone. The blood rushed from John's face at the implication of Dean being missing. Instantly his mind drew up images of that scum-sucking drug dealer sneaking into their house and snatching the little boy from under their noses while they slept. Large, cold hands grasping the sleeping child and plucking him from his bed. John felt his hands go cold and his heart stuttered to a stop, his breath catching in his throat.
'Get a grip, Winchester!' he chided himself. That sick fuck couldn't have taken Dean. He was in jail, and besides that, he had no reason to know where the boy was now. It was just hysterical fear making his mind jump to the worst conclusions. Fear of the worst making him imagine that particular horror happening under his own roof, on Dean's first night with them, no less.
"The window," he choked out, reason winning out over terror at last. "In Dean's room. Was it open?"
Mary shook her head vehemently.
"No. And the front and back door are still locked. I checked."
"Okay," John said absently, pinching his bottom lip between his forefinger and thumb. "Okay. So he can't have left the house. He's in here somewhere. Kitchen cupboards?"
"I'll check," Mary breathed and in a rush was flying down the stairs. John didn't follow, instead opting to search under his own bed, in his own closet, and then down the hall in the spare bedroom. He checked the linen closet and the cupboard under the bathroom sink. Nothing.
"He's not in the kitchen or in the front closet!" Mary called up from below, her voice breaking on the last few syllables.
Dear God, where had Dean gone?
He had to be hiding. He was in a new place with strange people and he was afraid. A little boy who'd been taken from his home once before and had terrible things done to him would want to hide the first chance he got when he found himself in what he believed to be in a similar situation. But he was only four, and there were only so many places he could be. They'd find him. They'd find him.
Husband and wife met in a rush on the stairs as John clunked his way down just as Mary was flying in a blonde whirl of hair on her way up. They paused and stared at each other a moment, breathless, before Mary's bottom lip wobbled treacherously.
"I can't find him," she breathed frantically. "John, I can't find him!"
"Basement?" John offered skeptically. Not a likely hiding spot for someone so tiny – little kids tended to fear cold, dark places like basements – but then maybe Dean's fear-addled brain had supplied the basement as somewhere a big scary adult intent on hurting him wouldn't be keen on going either.
"Let's go," Mary said.
They went together through the kitchen to the door that led to the basement, each taking a steadying breath before John turned the knob and opened the door. They waited, meeting each others' gazes with baited breath, and then peeked their heads through the dark opening. There were no lights on below, which meant that if Dean had gone into the basement, he'd done it completely blind. John's heart sped up at the thought of those tiny feet making their way through the inky black, climbing down the stairs one by one with no light to guide the way. He half expected to find Dean's broken body at the bottom of the staircase, the wee tyke having taken a tumble and busted himself up on each step as he fell down, down, down.
He flicked on the light switch and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the lack of a broken four year-old at the foot of the stairs.
"Dean?" Mary called quietly as she took a few tentative steps down the stairs. "Dean, honey, are you down here?"
Not surprisingly, Dean did not reply. John followed his wife down the stairs, careful to keep his steps light so as not to frighten the boy further.
"Dean?" Mary called again. "Can you come out? It's okay, baby. No need to be scared anymore."
John stilled and held his breath, listening intently for any kind of reply, but the only sound to meet his ears was his own harsh breathing and the teeniest, tiniest sniffling. They rounded the staircase as one, traversing the concrete basement in the muted shades of yellow light from overhead, the encroaching darkness giving both adults a strong sense of the heebie jeebies. Dark, cold places were no place for four year-olds, and John and Mary both felt it like an ache in their bones. They moved together, approaching the ancient wood furnace that heated the house as it nestled snugly in the far back, hulking metal in the coal black space. Two tiny feet poked out from behind its furthest edge.
"Dean," Mary whispered kindly, consolingly, as she placed a hand on her heaving chest in silent relief. "Hey sweetheart. Did you get frightened?"
The sniffling hitched, the feet jerking back further into the dark corner of his hiding place, followed by a keening, mewling sound. John's heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces at that sound.
But Mary knew what to do. In a heartbeat she was at Dean's side, her smaller frame squeezed into the narrow opening of Dean's hiding space between the wall and the furnace, her arms cradling the tiny sobbing child to her chest. Skilled, delicate hands rubbed soothing circles on Dean's quivering back, her long fingers brushing through white gold locks and shushing, shushing, there there, it's okay. Tiny arms wrapped around her neck in a near strangle-hold as Dean clung to her for dear life as he trembled and sobbed harder.
John was not going to cry. He was not going to cry. He was a big strong man who fixed cars for a living and knew how to clean and assemble an AK-47 with his damned eyes closed. He wasn't going to break down blubbering like a damned girl. Except that his own lip was doing a belly dance of its own, and his eyes had gone beyond misty to levy-breaking overflow, salty trickles snaking languidly down his grizzly cheek.
He crouched down at his wife's side and offered what comfort he could. Dean wouldn't welcome his strong, calloused hands – not in his fear – so he gave strength to his wife instead, knowing that she needed it. He rubbed his hand along her back and watched Dean's little hands fisting in a white-knuckled grip into Mary's night gown.
They stayed like that for at least ten minutes, husband and wife huddled together on their haunches on the cold floor as the terrified child cried his sorrows into Mary's shoulder. He trembled and mewled in anguish but Mary just kept on holding onto him, encouraging him to get it out, to let his cries sing their melancholy and be heard in the silence of the night. We can hear you, Dean, John thought. We know you're scared and hurt, but we can hear you. You don't have to talk. We can hear you. It was beautiful and painful and all wrong: the dank, musty smell of damp, cold basement mixed with the pungent scent of fresh urine. John craned his neck to the corner where Dean had been huddled and noticed the dark puddle with a sigh.
"Come on, love," Mary soothed at length, once Dean's sobbing had settled to shivering hiccups and hitched, hyperventilated breaths. "Let's get you cleaned up."
John helped her to stand as she held the tiny body to her chest and they made their way through the dark basement and up the stairs together, John's hands on her shoulders, Mary's hands cradling Dean, Dean's hands looped around Mary's neck as his chubby, dimpled fingers twined nervously through her hair. In the light of the kitchen John could clearly see the dark, wet stain on Dean's bottom from where he'd peed himself.
He wondered idly how many times his heart could break in one night, that a little boy had wet himself from sheer terror on a cold basement floor, in his home. It wasn't right. It wasn't right, damnit!
"I'm going to run Dean a bath," Mary murmured as they made their way up the stairs. "While we take care of that, maybe you should shave. I don't think Dean likes the beard."
John paused when they reached the bathroom and ran a hand thoughtfully along the harsh scruff on his cheeks and chin. He wondered if the kidnapping drug-dealer had facial hair, if maybe that was why Dean was so afraid of him.
"Sure," he replied absently before planting a kiss on his wife's waiting lips. "You get him cleaned up and I'll take care of this."
Dean was easy and pliant in Mary's arms as she gently undressed him and placed him in the tub, taking his bath somberly, his little cleft chin tucked towards his chest, eyes downcast. John left them to it and took his shaving gear to the small half-bathroom downstairs to shave off his several days' worth of growth. He applied the shaving cream quickly, fast strokes of the blade peeling away the layers of gruff to reveal a fresh-faced young man John wasn't often used to seeing. With each dip of the razor into the pool of water in the sink, John could hear the slosh-slosh-splash of water and soap playing harmony to the bath sounds he couldn't hear happening one floor above him. Then, freshly shorn and hopefully presentable for young Dean, John towelled himself dry and quietly made his way back up the stairs to his wife and new son.
They were just finishing up with the bath. Mary towelled dry tiny limbs gently while humming a tune John only vaguely recognized. He didn't speak; just stood in the doorway and watched as Dean's sleepy eyes drooped while Mary rubbed him down with a fluffy blue towel that was big enough to wrap his entire body in, like a rug. Then she helped him step into a fresh pair of tiny tighty whities and a slightly oversized t-shirt. It wasn't ideal, but considering Dean had soiled his only clean pyjamas, it would have to do.
"You ready for bed now, hon?" Mary whispered sweetly as she held her arms out.
Dean sniffed and nodded meekly, curling into the warmth of Mary's embrace as his plush bottom lip wobbled. Still such a terrified little boy, John thought. In a strange place, with strange people, looking to hide himself away and be safe. He wondered if Dean would stay in his bed this time, or if he would sneak off again at the first opportunity to find a new hiding spot.
As if reading his thoughts, Mary lifted the boy and carried him directly to the master bedroom. John didn't question it, merely opting to quietly make his way to the far side of the bed while Mary tucked herself and Dean in under the covers. It was kind of adorable, seeing that golden blonde head tucked under Mary's chin. Dean didn't seem to be too aware of John's presence, or else he considered Mary to be enough of a buffer to keep him safe. That much, at least, was a strong consolation. That Dean trusted Mary showed that they'd already made a lot of headway with him.
Sighing, John eased himself onto the bed and pulled the blankets up to cover his body. He caught a peek of a tiny, white-undied bum and skinny little legs before the blankets buried everything in heavy warmth. They'd turned the overhead light off, leaving only the warm yellow glow of the bedside lamp to light up the darkness so that Dean would have less to be frightened of. The occasional sniffle and hitched breath let both John and Mary know that Dean wasn't done crying yet, but he seemed calm at least. Overtired, definitely. Overwhelmed, most likely.
Then Mary worked her magic. As though she'd been doing it her whole life, Mary brushed her elegant fingers through baby-soft white gold locks and began to sing.
Don't make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart –
Then you can start to make it better."
John relaxed into the soft sheets and watched his wife, the most radiant, beautiful being on the entire planet, as she sang whisper-soft to the trembling child in her arms. He watched as the song settled like a gentle kiss over the little boy's limbs, watched as the visible signs of suffering slowly ebbed away, like a breath on the wind had blown the past. He watched as Dean relaxed into her hold, soaking up the sound of Mary's voice like a sleepy, greedy little sponge.
Don't be afraid.
You were made to go out and get her.
The minute you let her under your skin –
Then you'll begin to make it better."
He could be ours, John thought again. He could have come straight from Mary's womb. He fit so snug and perfect into Mary's body, his hair like spun sunlight a perfect match for Mary's gold tresses. He looked like he belonged in her arms, like he had always been her little, baby boy.
He could be ours.
John wasn't sure who fell asleep first – him or Dean. All he knew was that Mary did that miraculous thing that seems unique to all mothers: she made everything better. She wiped away the pain and fear and anxiety and soothed all the hurts and aches. John grinned sleepily when he heard a tiny sigh from the boy on his right and dozed off with a keen sense that he was the luckiest man alive.
And woke up several hours later to wide green eyes peering unblinkingly up at him in the bright early morning sunlight.
He startled slightly but didn't move. He could see that Mary was still soundly asleep, her long arms wrapped snugly around Dean's middle. They'd turned in the night so that both mother and child were facing John, and now said child was awake and staring at him.
"Hey, kiddo," John whispered huskily.
Dean quirked a strange look at him, inquisitive and probing, but not afraid. For the first time since they'd brought him home, Dean appeared to be unafraid around him. Then a chubby, dimpled hand sneaked up from under the blankets and petted his chin, gently stroking the smooth skin there.
"Better, huh?" John joked, his cheeks dimpling as a look of pure relief washed over Dean's expressive face. "Looked like there was a dead animal growing on my face, didn't it?"
It probably wasn't the right thing to say to a kid that small, but Dean didn't seem perturbed by it (and Mary, thankfully, was asleep and hadn't overheard it), so John said up a quick prayer of thanks for small favours. Then, amazingly, Dean's fingers trailed purposefully to the sunken divot of John's cheek, probing into the dimple experimentally. His eyes were alight with wonder, his lips parted in amazement and mild confusion.
"Dimples," John explained through his widening grin as the tiny digit probed deeper the more his cheeks stretched into a wider smile. "My mom used to tell me that God was pinchin' my cheeks when I was just a baby, and He pinched too hard and my cheeks stayed that way."
Wide green eyes blinked, unsure for just a moment, and then the little scamp grinned.
John knew in that moment that he was done for.