Title: Coming Down on a Sunny Day
Characters: Winchester Ensemble
Category: Big Bang, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Drama, Gen-with-minor-het-in-second-half
Warning: Allusions to child abuse that may be triggery, OC character death, minors in peril, somewhat pro-church/religion, scary imagery
Spoilers: Through S4 in general
Summary: In 2009, Castiel watches the Apocalypse end disastrously and makes a decision. In 1984, John Winchester suddenly finds himself with another little boy on his hands, one with dark, messy hair and sad blue eyes who won't leave John and his sons alone. And so Sam and Dean get a weirdo big brother. Because their lives aren't complicated enough.
Word Count: ~34,000
Author's Note: AU of the Rain Falling Down 'Verse.
Book One: Like Superman
Lincoln County, Nebraska
Dean had a cold. His warm little arms wrapped around John's neck, clinging close, almost stifling. John could feel his son's tiny ribcage rising and falling, wheezing, pressed against his own through the layers of shirts and jackets. Dean's face was hot where it lay against John's neck, but his weight was limp and solid and heavy, almost too much to bear.
Rain fell from the sky in sheets and torrents, and John looked up at the clouds from under the thin protection of the motel overhang, listening to the water rattling in the gutters. The gutter above must've been blocked with debris, for a column of water as thick as John's arm fell to the concrete in a cascade just a few feet to his left. Another mark of this particular establishment's poor maintenance. He hadn't noticed it last night, too tired from driving, from pushing, from fighting, roving the roads with his sick toddler and his crying infant. He had poured the three of them into the ratty beds without noticing the rusty pipes and moldy skirting and frayed electric cords.
Only the light of day had revealed these dangerous defects to him, and John knew that they had to move out. Even though he had hoped to stay in one place for a few days and give Dean a chance to get better. Even though the cash in his pocket was running dangerously low and he needed a break to build it back up. Even though road-weariness had seeped into his very bones, weighing him down and making everything just that little bit harder.
Dean coughed on his shoulder, wet and loud, and John's eyes slipped back to the car. Just ten steps away into the rain, and he'd already packed everything else, even gotten baby Sammy into his seat in the back. But something inside him—maybe the memory of Mary and her fierce motherhood—made him hesitate to take his sick son out into the rain.
At last, he forced himself to do it. He crossed through the rain and bundled Dean into the backseat, letting him lie down next to Sammy's infant carrier and covering him with a blanket from the floor. Dean's hands slipped away from his neck reluctantly, but the poor kid was half-asleep already, snuggling into the purr of the Impala rumbling warm around him. John's hand lingered on his forehead for a moment before he pulled himself away and into the driver's seat.
There he sat, hands wrapped too tight around the steering wheel, and stared into the rain. Where next? Where could he go? He had never wanted to leave Lawrence, but the fire hadn't ended with that one terrible night, the deaths hadn't ended with his beloved wife, and Missouri Mosely had scented the taint of evil. And so he had gone, hoping to draw it away, outrun it, keep his boys and his remaining friends and family safe. But now he had nowhere to go, no home to return to. He was wandering without purpose, without a plan, and that was the worst thing of all. What was he supposed to do?
He was so tired.
Something moved in John's peripheral vision, and he jerked his head around just in time to see a gray figure loom out of the rain like a ghost, slipping in between one moment and the next, and a pale hand splayed across the window with a splat of rain and glass. He jumped at the sound, helplessly, and then was furious at himself for reacting like that. It was just a kid, he saw, just a boy soaked and shivering, staring at John through the glass and the torrent.
He stared, breathing hard, not sure what he was supposed to do. The boy stared back at him, grim and silent, like some unwelcome harbinger. Then his palm lifted from the window, his hand curled into a fist, and he knocked, gently, once, twice, and again.
"John Winchester," he said, and somehow John heard him even through the patter of water over metal, the rumbling of the engine, the roaring of the sky.
John breath caught in his throat. He fumbled for the automatic lock, found it, and listened to the ka-chunk as they depressed, sheltering him and his boys from this strange specter.
The ghostly boy had blue eyes, he saw. Blue eyes and a battered face, scraped and bruised, blood in his hair slowly being diluted by the rain to run across his forehead and down his cheek.
"I must speak to you, John Winchester," the ghost said. "Will you let me in?"
He shook his head numbly. Of course ghosts were real. Of course they were. Hadn't Missouri said? More things out there in the dark than you've ever imagined, John, she'd told him, her voice both kind and sorrowful. Most o' those stories we tell our youngsters to keep 'em out of the woods... Most of those stories are true. You take care now, y'hear?
But he didn't know what to do about it. He didn't know how to fight them. That was what he needed—he needed information, he needed knowledge, he needed weapons. And he didn't have anything, anything at all, just a car and some clothes and a gun from his service days.
And two sons, sleeping behind him, secure in the trust that Daddy would always keep them safe.
That was what started John's hand toward the gear shift. That was what pulled his face into a fierce snarl. "Fuck no! You get away from me and my kids!"
He put the car in drive and pulled out, ignoring the way the ghost snatched his hand back and stumbled away from the car. In the rearview mirror John saw the pale figure standing there in the rain, watching them go, before he turned his attention back to the road ahead. They were getting out of here before even more supernatural creatures sensed the taint on John and his boys and sought them out.
Someday John would know how to deal with these threats, how to kill them and destroy them and drive them back. Someday soon, God willing. For now, though, all he could do was run.
It was still raining when John found a new town, a new motel. He backed the Impala into the space next to the door of their room so he wouldn't have as far to walk, but they were still going to have to pass a step or two through the rain. When he opened the back door, Dean was awake, staring sleepily up at him, still bundled in the blanket. He didn't say anything—he rarely said anything—but there was the same weary question in his eyes as always. Where are we, Daddy? Where we going?
"We're here," John said, felt the gruff rasp in his voice. Too long since he had spoken to anything but ghosts.
He carried Dean inside first and settled him in the bed, then brought in the portable crib, then the baby, who by that point was crying, fussy from enforced captivity. He brought the duffels next, set out the few toys they had for Sammy to play with, then went back out to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything.
The ghost-boy stood there in the rain, watching him.
John halted one step outside the motel door, and the keys fell from his hand and splashed down on the wet concrete.
The boy stood straight and pale, directly across from John in the aisle between the Impala and the car next to it. His arms hung at his sides and his face was blank and white where it wasn't bruised and bloodied. John stood there numbly, watching the rain bounce off him and sluice down his flesh.
"John Winchester," the boy said again, solemn and ringing. He spoke like someone who was used to being heard, a voice of command completely at odds with his pitiful, waif-like appearance. "Will you speak to me now?"
This time John was ready. He pulled his gun, pointed it, held it steady, and took one step forward. "What are you? What do you want with me?"
Yeah, holding a gun on a ghost was probably not his best plan. But it was all he had. So he held on to it, and tried to make himself believe that it would work, that this was all he needed to protect his sons.
Strangely enough, it actually had an effect. A change swept over the boy, fear transforming his face in an instant, and he flinched sharply. His head jerked and he stumbled back a step, a low cry bursting from his mouth as his shoulder hit the Impala's side mirror, and both hands reached out for something to hold on to and found nothing but rain-slick metal and glass.
A dart of regret pierced John's heart. Ghost, monster, or supernatural beastie, the thing still looked like a child, only a few years older than Dean. He felt monstrous himself for causing that sort of gut-wrenching terror in that small face, that trembling frame. "What are you?" he barked again, forcing it down.
The specter groaned and leaned against the car, trembling all over. Did ghosts tremble? Did they interact with physical objects like that? John shook his head. He didn't know. He didn't know.
"I'm...just a boy," he said. "I'm just a boy. A human boy. I know...I know why you're scared of me, but don't be. Please don't be. I'm just a little human boy."
"I'm not afraid of you," John spat, but they both knew it was a lie. He took another step forward, holding his gun straight and bracing his arm with his other hand, tipping his head to sight along the barrel. "Why should I believe you? How did you find me? How do you know my name? How did you follow me from the last place?"
"I just...I know things. I know you, and Dean, and Sam. I knew where you were because I...I saw it. I know you. I know...what you need to know."
Could this boy see into John's mind, read his desires? That was what he needed more than anything. Knowledge. Answers.
One more step, and the muzzle hovered only a few inches from the boy's temple. If John leaned down, he could press it right into that pale, wet skin. This close, John could see that his nose was bleeding, a sluggish tongue of dark red trailing across his upper lip. It looked like blood. It smelled like blood. The coppery scent was clear through the fresh fall of rain, utterly unmistakable. John was very, very familiar with that smell.
Did ghosts smell like flesh and blood? Surely they only smelled of wind and night and grave dirt.
John let go of the gun with one hand, slowly, slowly, and reached a finger toward that ugly trickle. His own hand was trembling, too. He ignored the boy's instinctive flinch at his nearness and pressed down.
It felt like blood. The skin below was clammy, but it felt like skin.
"I'm just a boy," the child whispered. "I know who you are, and I came to help you. I know what killed your wife."
For a moment John couldn't breathe. The ability had been taken away from him, just like that.
Then the boy collapsed, his knees buckling, and he slid down the side of the Impala as his strength finally failed. John was frozen, staring, unable to catch him even from only inches away. The kid folded to his knees in a puddle by the front tire, bent and trembling, utterly spent.
John stood, towering over this exhausted, bloody boy. He felt the rain in his hair, on his face, saw the child's chest slowly rising and falling. They were done. They were both done.
He put the gun away and gathered the kid into his arms to carry him inside.
John remembered enough first aid to know that the kid was dangerously close to hypothermia. His body was heavy and cool in John's arms, his breath too slow, too labored. His lips were tinged with blue, eyes glassy, head a limp, wet weight on John's shoulder. John pushed the door shut behind him with his hip, saw Sammy playing on the floor, Dean asleep and dwarfed in the queen-sized bed. His sons were all right, for now, so John had a little time to try to figure out this new burden.
He carried him through the living area to the bathroom, leaving a trail of rain behind them on the carpet. John was soaked, too, but he didn't feel his own shivering, only the child's. In the closer quarters, the boy twitched against John, tensing up, and John didn't like what that signified. Not one little bit.
"Shh," he ordered gruffly, carefully setting the boy on the toilet to rest for a moment. He had to keep a hand on the shivering shoulder to hold him steady while he leaned down to turn on the taps, start the tub filling with warm water. "We gotta get you warmed up, that's all. You've been out in the rain too long."
The boy nodded, chin jerking with the movement.
"What's your name? You seem to know all about me, but I don't know anything about you."
"J-J-Jimmy." Now that the adrenaline of the confrontation was gone, the kid's teeth were chattering, thin little body shaking uncontrollably with bone-deep chill. "M-my name is J-Jimmy."
"Nice to meet you, Jimmy. Let's get you out of those wet clothes, okay?"
Jimmy's hands clenched in the wet fabric over his stomach, unwilling to give up this scant protection. John didn't give him much of a chance to get over his shyness, just reached for the shirt and started stripping it off. The kid's fingers were weak, and the ragged, stained clothing slipped out of his grip at John's tug.
Then it was off, and John sat back on his heels, staring. Jimmy looked away. John felt the wet shirt clenched in his fist, dripping over his knee and thigh, wringing out in his grip as he sat there.
The kid's torso was completely covered with bruises and marks, half-healed but still awful, still ugly, still clear as a fucking bell. They weren't the kind of scrapes all kids got in the summer, either, falling off fences, sliding into home. This was something else entirely.
John wanted to ask who had done this. He wanted to hunt the bastard down and beat him to a pulp. He wanted to tell Jimmy that nothing like that would ever happen to him again, not ever, not in a million years.
But John had his own family to protect, his own two children who depended solely on him now. He'd made similar promises to them (not again, gonna be okay, safe from now on, I promise I promise I promise), and those were first on his heart. He couldn't make another promise, not now, maybe not ever.
So he just set the shirt on the linoleum by the tub and reached back again, carefully but inexorably forcing Jimmy to relinquish the rest. The kid tried to resist, a little, where he could, but he was nothing against the will of John Winchester. Before long he was shivering in the tub, head bent so John couldn't see his face, knees drawn up to his chest in the circle of his arms. He let John minister to him, drawing up warm water in a plastic cup, pouring it over his welted back, his matted hair, washing away the cold and grime and leaving the livid evidence of long-term torment.
John didn't say a word. Just got the kid clean and warm, draped him in one of his threadbare Marine t-shirts, and folded him into bed next to Dean. The toddler was a furnace of fever, flushed cheeks and sweaty gold hair. At the new presence in his bed, he turned over in his sleep and snuggled up to Jimmy, digging into his side and throwing an arm around his chest.
Jimmy lay frozen for a few seconds, then wrapped an arm around the little boy and held him close. He stared down at the five-year-old for a long moment, his face unreadable. Then he closed his eyes and seemed to just pass out, right there. John watched it all, not sure what to think about the conflicting currents tugging around inside his chest. He tucked the two children in, then sat back on the side of his bed, watching them, holding his chin on his folded hands. Two sick, traumatized boys... They ought to be together, he thought, still somewhat fuzzy with reaction and confusion, only that thought even marginally clear. And it seemed that the two of them agreed.
He watched them for a long time. Until Sammy started fussing, demanding food, and his own stomach growled, and other needs intruded.
That was the beginning.