Yeah, it’s yet more hurt!Jimmy and comfort!John. I seem to be a bit addicted.
The Other Side of the Door
Coming Down Book One Deleted Scene
"Jimmy? Buddy?" John looked at the kid in his arms, barely sparing a glance for the door as it shut behind his younger sons. He was grateful that Dean had understood to remove Sammy from the room so John could take care of their big brother. Dean had good instincts, even though he didn't understand half of what was going on here.
John leaned closer to the slack, unconscious face lying in the crook of his elbow. "Castiel? C'mon, Castiel. Can you open your eyes for me?"
No good. The dark-haired boy was scarily still and silent, pale and limp, blood oozing from his nose to soak the handkerchief John held to his face. This was a bad one. And really, John shouldn't have expected anything less, seeing as how the injured angel had managed to create some kind of holy explosion in order to kill the shtriga. John glared briefly at the mass of ugly, stinking flesh still smoking in a pile against the wall.
He sighed and leaned back into the headboard, pulling Jimmy-Castiel's limp body with him. The kid's long, thin arms flopped awkwardly with the movement, as if even in unconsciousness he was doing his best to escape John's grip. John muttered to himself and drew the wayward arms in again, tucking them up on the kid's torso and snugging him back to his chest, then hiking him up on his shoulder so that the limp, cool weight of Jimmy's head rested in the corner of his neck. And John wrapped his arms around his adopted son and held on.
"C'mon, kiddo," he murmured, as much to himself as to the boy. "C'mon, buddy. Wake up. I don't want to take you to a hospital, but I will if this goes on too long. You've never done anything like this before. I don't know what kind of effect it's going to have on you. Even healing Dean last summer didn't leave you out for quite this long. At least you managed to open your eyes so Bobby knew you weren't dead when he came out and found you two collapsed by that tree. I think you gave us both locks of gray hair that day, but poor Singer about pissed his pants. Don't scare me, Jimmy. C'mon, Castiel. Open your eyes and tell me you're going to be okay."
John's hand began rubbing up and down Jimmy's arm and shoulder, almost absently, as if trying to force life back into his flesh by sheer friction. At least he could feel the kid breathing, tiny puffs of cool breath hitting the hollow of John's throat. When John dared to draw the handkerchief away and check on his nose, though, the blood was still coming strong, dark and thick and ugly. Taking too much. It always took too much.
And yeah, so it was a little weird, sitting on a motel bed cradling an unconscious fifteen-year-old in your lap, but what made it even weirder was that this was Jimmy. He didn't let people get close, especially not grown men. Even when Castiel was in charge, if someone got too close Jimmy startled and flinched away, taking control without meaning to, then blushing in hot embarrassment at the involuntary reactions of his body. John had been trying for years to get the kid to accept so much as a hand on his shoulder, and sometimes even that was too much. If the boy was even the slightest bit conscious, this kind of cuddling would not be happening.
So maybe John kind of took it while he could get it, too. Jimmy just...so very much deserved to be cuddled. Again, John was grateful for Dean, smart Dean, intuitive Dean, who had somehow known how to get past Jimmy's defenses, to get under his skin and make him smile, so at least the poor kid could accept hugs and caresses from his little brothers even if he couldn't take it from John.
"C'mon, Jimmy." John rested his cheek on that mop of dark, messy hair. "C'mon, Castiel. You killed a monster, you know that? You saved my little boys. I don't know how you did it, but you did. If I didn't already owe you everything before today, I would now. I owe you everything, and I wish I could give it back to you, I really do. You deserve so much better than this."
John tipped his head back against the hard surface behind him and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. It was hard to believe how cold and distant he'd been with this kid when Jimmy and Castiel first arrived at his doorstep five years ago. He remembered the callous way he'd washed the boy's wounds, just mechanically going through the motions of caring. He could make excuses, acknowledge that at the time he was out of his gourd with terror, his world narrowed down to nothing but keeping his sons and himself safe. But he had still been a bastard to a beaten-up little boy. He wished now that he could go back and redo it all, treat Jimmy with some compassion and gentleness.
It had taken John awhile, too long, but his eyes had finally been opened, the narrow corridor of his vision widening until he saw what he'd been missing. It was Jimmy and Castiel who had made it happen, teaching him, training him, taking care of both him and his boys until John felt safe enough to breathe. He knew now why Castiel had asked him to make that promise, that vow that he would always put Dean and Sammy first. Without the support of this angel and this boy, John's vision would have remained myopic, focused only on survival to the loss of all else.
He had experienced it in Vietnam, the way everything fell away and all that mattered was the gun in his hand, the brother at his shoulder, the enemy in front of him. Food only mattered because it gave him fuel to keep fighting, keep walking, keep moving through the battle and beyond it. Sleep only mattered because without it his body would give out, and he begrudged every moment lost to unconsciousness. In the worst moments, John was ashamed to admit, people had only mattered because they were necessary to guard his back and beat back the other side.
Without the sheltering of an angel from the future, this, the life of a hunter, would have become another Vietnam for John. He would have thought only of finding Mary’s killer, of supernatural beasts and monsters, of the skills and knowledge that he had to acquire in order to beat them back from the door. Oh, he still would have loved his sons, would have died for them in a heartbeat, just as he would have died for any of his fellow soldiers. But he wouldn't have been able to live for them.
Castiel and Jimmy had saved John from that. And so he had realized, a couple of years ago, that he could breathe again. He was no longer choking on his own ignorance, his panic at being unable to protect himself and his children. He had noted, then, with some astonishment, that he no longer had two sons. He had four. And one of them was afraid of him.
It was one of the worst revelations of his life, right up there with the fire on the ceiling. John had always thought of himself as a good man, a good father. But when he took a breath that day and looked around, realizing that he was no longer afraid of the dark, but firm on his feet once again...he had reached out to pat Castiel's back, the angel standing at his side after teaching him one more bit of esoteric lore, a sigil drawn in chalk on the wall. He had meant it as a gesture of gratitude, of companionship and masculine affection.
Jimmy had flinched. He jerked away before John's hand landed, his shoulders hunching up, his back bowing away. His hands flew up to the level of his face, arms bent and spread as if to catch himself from hitting the floor, a harsh gasp bursting from his lips. It was as if the mere movement of John's hand was a blow, one that had already struck him.
John paused, his hand floating in the air, and stared at the boy in dawning dismay. He felt like he'd been punched in the mouth, and his brain was rattled in his skull, his teeth ringing, eyes blurred and lips bloodied. He had never, never in all his days wanted to see a child react like that to him, to something he had done. It was like being dropped from a height to a hard surface, and John felt shattered by the fall.
Slowly, achingly slow and painful, Jimmy straightened from his bent position, automatically taking a step back, sliding away from John along the wall. His cheeks were flushed red, and he could not meet John's eyes, his gaze constantly shifting as if trying to look in John's face, then slipping away. His arms folded over his stomach, holding himself in a shivering embrace.
"Sorry, Mr. Winchester," the kid murmured.
John winced. God, is that what Jimmy called him? "Mr. Winchester," really? How long had this been going on? The whole time?
John cast back in his mind and was horrified to find that it was true. Oh, Jimmy was a chameleon, same as the rest of them. In public he put on a good face, called John "Dad," smiled and shrugged and did everything he could to sell his image as a normal thirteen-year-old and the Winchesters as a normal family with a father and three sons. He did a pretty good job of keeping up the facade around Dean and Sammy, too. But in private, in these little teaching and training sessions, Castiel still called him John. And Jimmy called him Mr. Winchester.
It went all the way back to that moment at the picnic table in the park as Castiel and Jimmy ate their ice cream cone while Dean and Sammy played behind them. Castiel had given John the big picture in that cool, solemn voice of his, so at odds with his young appearance. The angel had warmed to him, then, taking John on as a pupil, promising to teach him everything he could about how to fight and defeat supernatural threats, laying out his tentative ideas for how they could turn away the coming Apocalypse. But when Castiel had retreated back into their mind, Jimmy's shoulders had hunched back up, same as ever, and he eyed John warily, always waiting, always expecting violence.
John remembered, too, the clinical, detached way he had evaluated Jimmy that day, noting with satisfaction that his bruises and scrapes were finally gone, but acknowledging to himself that the flinch might never fade. It had meant nothing to him at the time. The horrible reality before him of an abused little boy who might carry mental scars for the rest of his life had barely even registered in John's perceptions.
In his moment of revelation, watching the child cringe away from a gesture meant to be friendly, even comforting, John hated the man he had been. He wanted to pull Jimmy into his arms and make the promises he should have made the first day: It's okay. You're safe now. I'd never hurt you. You're going to be all right. I'll never let anyone hurt you again. But now, when he wanted to say those things, it felt far, far too late.
So he swallowed hard, pushing down everything suddenly rising inside him, and tried to give the boy a smile. "It's okay, Jimmy. I didn't mean to startle you. You know you don't have to call me that, right? You can call me John. Or even Dad, if you want."
Jimmy's eyes finally rose far enough to meet John's, but they held a depth of skepticism that was almost breathtaking. He hugged himself tighter, pressing his shoulder to the wall, and gave John a stiff nod. "Okay. John."
You're not my dad.
Jimmy would never say that, but the words hung between them like small clouds, dark and heavy and burdened with chilling rain. The corner of John's mouth twisted in an expression that was more grimace than smile. His heart literally ached, squeezing tight in his chest.
Jimmy and Castiel had ensured that John did not fail his biological children. He had been tender and attentive and fully giving of himself with Dean and Sammy. If ever he started to falter, the angel sidled over and nudged his arm, staring up at him with serious, condemning blue eyes, reminding him of his promise, until John wavered and gave in. But along the way, he had managed to fail another son so badly that the boy couldn't even think of John as his father.
Since then, John had begun a campaign to win Jimmy's trust. Every day he made another attempt to reach out, making sure that the boy always saw him coming, always saw the movement before it began. He tried to talk to Jimmy as a person, about things besides just the supernatural, the business of their lives. He paid attention to the cues he'd been missing and began the long effort of training himself not to set them off.
Jimmy never called him "Mr. Winchester" again. Instead, he didn't really call him much of anything. And two years later, the flinch was only slightly diminished.
So John took whatever opportunities presented themselves.
"C'mon, kiddo," John murmured, still rubbing the boy's arm, pressing the now-saturated handkerchief to his nose. "Open your eyes for me. This has gone on long enough."
"Nngh." The boy moaned, soft and pained, his head shifting where it lay against John's neck.
John went still, all but holding his breath. If Castiel hadn't depleted himself too much, he might be in charge right now. Castiel had no objections to being hugged and touched. He seemed to appreciate it, if anything, on the rare occasions when Jimmy didn't startle into control and flinch away before the angel could accept the offered comfort. If this was Castiel, he would probably settle down into John's chest with a little sigh and let himself be taken care of.
If it was Jimmy, though, he would tense up and try to fight his way out, even if he lacked the strength to move. He just could not handle having a larger body this close to his. Last summer he had almost panicked himself into a fit the first time he woke and Bobby lifted his head to help him drink some water.
"Buddy?" John murmured, keeping his voice as low and indistinct as he dared. If he could keep from startling the kid, maybe they could get through this more easily.
The boy rolled his head sluggishly on John's shoulder. "Daddy?"
His voice was slow, slurred, and impossibly young.
John's heart constricted, and his arms tightened involuntarily around the kid. It was Jimmy, and he didn't know where he was. This one was so bad that it had taken him back before all the darkness, all the bad things that had happened to him, and John wished to God that the poor kid could stay there.
"You're okay," he whispered, pressing his cheek even harder into the mess of dark hair. And he closed his eyes, rocking the boy where he sat. "You're okay."
Jimmy sighed, tension drifting into his shoulders, the muscles around his spine pressing against John's sheltering arm. Still, he didn't start struggling to get away, whether because he lacked the strength or the will. "John."
Such a brief moment of forgetting, already gone. John squeezed his eyes shut as tight as he could for a second, denying the tears.
"Yeah, it's John. I've got you, kiddo. You're okay."
"The...the shtriga...it was after Sammy..."
"He's fine. You killed it. You and Castiel."
"Castiel...felt the ward crack, and we...we ran into the room… The thing was standing there, reaching toward Sammy, and we, we…”
“You grabbed it. You held it off. It didn’t touch him.”
“It was trying to consume our life force. It was...delighted. It had found enough sustenance to feed it for centuries. We would have been lost in the belly of the beast."
John shuddered, as much at the emotionless way Jimmy gave his report as at the horror of his words. "Didn't happen," he said roughly. "You took care of it."
"We...we had to. Couldn't let it...couldn't let it get Sammy and Dean..."
Word by word, bit by bit, Jimmy relaxed into John's arms, the tension running out of him as his brief strength flowed away.
"You did good, kid. You saved us all." John drew back to check on the handkerchief, pulling it off to get a look at Jimmy's nose. He thought maybe the bleeding was finally, finally stopping. "How's Castiel?"
"Tired. As tired as he's ever been. He's just a firefly in my mind."
"Okay. You're gonna be okay."
The handkerchief was useless, soaked through with blood to the point that it was seeping through the fabric to coat John’s fingers, damp and dark and smelling of copper. John set it aside on the nightstand and grabbed a handful of tissues from the box there to press to Jimmy’s nose once more. They would have to invest in some thicker handkerchiefs.
Blood was already spattered down the front of Jimmy’s shirt, staining his collar, his neck. They’d probably left some on the bedspread, too, before John had hauled Jimmy up from his unconscious sprawl. Spots of it had transferred to John, too, in his heedless rush to get the boy up and into his arms where he could monitor him and try to stop the bleeding. The smell of it tinged the air, giving it an edge of metal, of earth and dark. It was a smell redolent of humanity, of weakness and frailty and the limits of mortal power. A familiar smell, one that had come to define John’s life in ways he did not care to contemplate too much or too often.
Jimmy’s head rocked on John’s shoulder when he pressed the tissues to it, his neck as weak and loose as a newborn’s, unable to hold still of his own power. The boy moaned at the contact, low and involuntary in his throat, his fingers scrabbling to grab John’s shirtfront in protest. His shoulders tensed again, then released, lacking the strength to sustain even a reflexive flinch. “Sorry, sorry,” John murmured, lightening his touch. “I’m sorry, kiddo. Try to relax. We’re almost out of the woods, here. It’s stopping. It’ll stop soon.”
"Hurts," Jimmy forced out, just this side of a groan.
"I know, I know, buddy. I'm sorry. I know, you're not feeling good and you don't like me being so close. Just hold on a few minutes longer, and we'll get you into a clean shirt and let you sleep. Okay?"
Jimmy released a breath that could have been agreement or could have been just random noise. His eyelids were fluttering and he was clearly on the verge of passing out again. John grimaced and held him a little tighter.
"C'mon, Jimmy. Keep your eyes open. As soon as your nose stops bleeding I'll lay you down, okay? I don't want you to choke on the blood."
Jimmy's fingers twitched in John's shirt, but he forced his eyes to stay open, staring up into John's face, his eyes full of suffering. John swallowed and met his gaze, holding steady no matter how much he wanted to turn away. "I know," he said again, soft and steady, because it seemed like it was all could say. "I know you'd rather hold it yourself. Your muscles just aren't working too good right now. Put up with me a little longer. You're gonna be okay."
Jimmy tugged on John's shirt in a gesture that might have been acceptance or might have been objection.
John sighed and looked toward the door that hid Dean and Sammy from view, for one second wishing with all his heart that Dean was old enough to deal with this. Dean was so good with his brothers, all of them, whenever one of them was sick or hurt or just feeling down. Even John.
But Sammy needed Dean, too, especially after such a scary, unsettling night as this had been. And John didn't want Dean to have to look at the dead monster still leaning against the wall, didn't want him to see Jimmy with blood all over his face and clothes, a soaked red handkerchief on the nightstand. Before John let his younger sons into the bedroom, he would clean up those disturbing details.
Jimmy twitched against him, a muffled grunt urging John to pay attention to him again. John looked back into his face and saw that the kid's eyebrows were raised, expectant.
John took the hint and pulled the tissues away from Jimmy's face. It seemed like the nosebleed had finally stopped. Thank God.
John blew out a breath in relief and put the bloody tissues aside, grabbing more to mop up some of the smears of red still decorating Jimmy's cheek, chin, and lips. "Okay, okay. We're on our way. Let's get you cleaned up, and then you can lie down, all right? Try to stay awake if you can, though. Dean will want to see you and make sure you're okay before you go to sleep."
Jimmy drew a deep breath, gathering strength, and nodded. "I'll try." His voice was raspy and faint, still clogged with the blood that had run down the back of his throat.
John gave him a smile, twisted and sad. He could not resist squeezing the kid, one last time, before gently unwinding his arms in preparation of shifting him over to rest on the bed. He didn't know when he would get another chance to hug his most wounded son, so he took it while he could get it.
He always would.