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Coffin Training

Chapter Text

The first time it happened, Dean was nearly 8. He vaguely registered his body being moved, but he didn’t stir because even subconsciously, a sleeping child knows the touch of a parent. He was laid down on something silky, which was strange because the motel beds were never this smooth, but it was fine.

He trusted his dad.

Some time later, it became stiflingly hot in the room, and he opened his eyes. Or at least he thought he did. It was still pitch black.

He reached out, but he couldn’t extend his hands fully because they bumped into another silky smooth surface. He pushed his arms out to the side and found he only had a few feet of space, not enough to stretch out fully. He wriggled down and his feet bumped against another hard surface. He wriggled up and hit his head.

He was in a box.

The panic really set in and he scrabbled at the walls, tearing through the stupid silken material and ripping into the thin layer of foam underneath. His nails hit wood and he scraped against it. Corners of his nails peeled up and probably started to bleed, but he didn’t know for sure because he was in a fucking box in the fucking dark.

The air was too warm and he was breathing too fast to even think straight. His chest hurt from dragging in useless gulps of air and he didn’t even realize he was crying until he scrubbed a hand over his face and found it wet.

“Calm down you big baby,” he told himself roughly. The sound of his voice bumped weakly around the box, muffled in a horrible way that made feel completely alone.

I’m going to die here, he realized weakly. The fight sunk out of him and he went limp. It was harder to breathe, and there was a sharp stinging smell in the box. Dean realized with a flush of shame that he wet himself.

God I haven’t done that since I was Sammy’s age, he thought bitterly.

Sammy.

Fuck. Who was going to protect Sammy?

There was no air in the box, he felt lightheaded even though he was pretty sure he was laying down, but at the thought of his brother, Dean went wild. He let out a loud guttural scream, which probably took up way more oxygen than was smart, but he didn’t care. He needed to get out of here. He needed to make sure his brother was safe.

He pushed hard at the sides of the box. No give. He pushed at the piece over him and with the surge of adrenaline and the reckless abandon he now had, the piece tilted slightly. Dirt came raining down on him, making him splutter. It was impossible to breathe, but also impossible to give up now.

He pushed again.

And again.

The cool night air hit him like a gift. He sucked in greedy lungfuls one after another.

“I KNEW you could do it son,” John said, suddenly in front of him. He gripped him under the arms and lifted him up out of the dirt. Dean let himself be flung into the air, but when he was placed back on the ground, his knees buckled and he grabbed his dad by the forearms.

“What..” He trailed off weakly. In the moonlight he saw his fingertips, raw and bleeding profusely.

“Coffin training. A new exercise I whipped up. I figure at some point a monster is going to bury you and your brother alive and you boys need to know how to deal with that. What better way to train than in the safety of my presence?”

Dean looked up at his dad, at the mad gleam in his eyes, and felt nothing but a numb exhaustion. He let go of John’s arms and took his weight on his own unsteady feet. Behind John, he could see an open coffin, dirt scattered inside, and long gouges in the foamy interior, some painted in blood.

The most pathetic thing was that the coffin had clearly only been buried about one foot. If this continues, it would get worse.

So much worse.

“Dean,” John said sternly, a tinge of horror in his voice. “Did you piss yourself?”

Dean looked down, a fresh wave of shame washing over him. He wanted to talk, to make some excuse, but his words stuck in his throat.

John shook his head and took a step away from Dean as if disgusted.

“You try to raise a man and get stuck with an overgrown freeloading child. You’re washing those by hand when we get back, I ain’t touching your pissy laundry,” John said, pointing to Dean’s filthy jeans.

John shut the coffin and kicked dirt back over it, then placed some broken branches over the torn up earth. He made no comment, just started walking, presumably back to the motel. All the pride he had for Dean moments ago was replaced with a slightly annoyed indifference.

Dean jogged to keep up, the evidence of his terror cooling uncomfortably on his jeans. By the time they reached the motel, he was a shivering mess. His fingertips hurt, his lungs hurt, and most of all, his pride hurt.

When the door closed behind them he noted with relief that Sammy was sleeping. Dean didn’t say a word to his dad, just walked straight into the dingy bathroom and stepped into the shower fully clothed.

The water started off cold and never warmed. It was a long time before Dean felt safe enough to shuck off his clothes and scrub his body.

It was an even longer time before he felt safe enough to fall asleep.

At least one part of the training had been effective, because from that moment on Dean bolted awake at the slightest hint of movement near him.

Chapter Text

The thirty-fourth time it happened, Sammy was watching the whole thing. John had told him several times throughout the years that he was taking Dean out for coffin training, and just the term had been enough to shut his brother up and stamp out any curiosity.

Now, John wanted a demonstration. He had reasoned on the car ride to the middle of nowhere that Sammy was now twelve and it was time for him to start training too.

Dean tried to keep calm, and he managed to look the part during the hour long ride into the woods. He managed to keep a light smile and a brave face on while helping his dad dig six feet down, because thats what they had progressed to. He even managed a joke while unloading the coffin, which was now slightly too small for him.

It was only when John returned from the front seat with a filled syringe that he truly began to freak out. This hadn’t been part of the plan.

“Now Sammy, Dean here has been practicing this for years. He still sucks at it, but most of the time he manages to make it out.” John shot Dean a look, effectively reminding him of all times he had panicked himself into passing out and John had dug him up. Dean had no idea how John knew when he was no longer conscious. Maybe it was all hit or miss.

“Since he’s had some practice, we’re gonna knock him out first to make it more realistic. Ain’t no monster gonna invite you nicely to be buried alive.”

Sam gave Dean a horrified look, but Dean only returned a tight lipped smile. If they didn’t obey, they would both be in for a beating, and likely also some flavour of training even worse than what John had currently cooked up. He needed to put on a brave face. He needed to get through this because the alternative was always worse.

He stuck an arm out for John to inject whatever was in the syringe, and his last thought before the world tipped sideways was that he hoped John would only dig Sam a shallow grave to begin with.

Dean’s first thought upon awakening was that his arm hurt like hell. He bent it, and his elbow bumped into a wall.

He twisted, and found he couldn’t move very far because there was no room.

There was a fuzzy moment of blind panic before he remembered where he was and why. Coffin training. Again.

Dean kept his breaths shallow and slow, knowing the less he breathed, the longer he would have oxygen. He wanted to push up and get the hell out of there, but he knew as soon as he broke the surface, it would be Sammy’s turn. The thought of his little brother being buried, terrified out of his mind, made his stomach turn inside out.

Maybe. Just maybe, if he took his time, his dad would be too tired to dig another hole and do the whole thing over again.

Dean allowed himself one long inhale to calm down, then slipped his eyes shut and laid there, not moving.

He let as much time slip by as he dared, but when the air became muggy and thick he knew he had to move. With Sammy topside, John would be less likely to initiate a rescue. He would want Dean to prove himself to his brother; to prove that the training worked.

Dean removed his flannel in awkward bumping movements. He pressed the material over his face to act as a filter, then pushed up against the coffin lid with his hands and feet. It was slow, there was barely any room to move, but Dean eventually managed to crack the lid open a little.

As soon as dirt started to drop in, Dean wedged a hand into the crack to keep the lid from being pressed down again. Inch by inch, he pushed an arm out, then his head. He used the extra room in the coffin to push with his legs, and soon he found himself outside the coffin, completely encased in dirt.

Dean curled his legs up to meet his chest, then with a colossal effort, pushed himself up a couple inches. The flannel he kept pressed over his face made breathing nearly impossible, but it mostly kept the dirt out of his mouth and nose.

Dean kept squatting and standing, and inch by inch, his body moved in the direction he hoped was up. His lungs burned, his legs felt like they were on fire, but he ignored them and kept gong because there was no way in hell he was going to die like this.

It felt like years, but eventually the dirt softened. He pushed a hand up and it was met with nothing but air. Two more powerful pushes and his head broke through.

Dean tore the flannel away from his face and tried to breathe, but the dirt was pushing too tightly around his chest. He crawled the rest of the way out and flopped back onto the dirt, gasping.

“Fuck that took you long enough,” John said from above him. Dean scrambled to stand on shaking legs. He hated this weak near death feeling. He hated even more that no matter how many times John put him underground, he still came up feeling just as terrified and helpless as he had the first time.

“Alright kiddo, your turn,” John clapped Sam on the shoulder. Sam looked green.

“Wait,” Dean croaked out. “I wanna go again.”

John shot him a strange look, half annoyance half respect, but Dean wasn’t paying attention. He was watching Sammy, who was leaning heavily against a shovel, looking like he might bolt or faint. Or both. Dean breathed heavily, taking in his tiny frame. The kid looked like he hadn’t had a proper meal his entire life, Dean could pin him down one handed. Although Dean knew his brother could throw a mean punch and knew his way around a gun, the thought of him trying to push out of a coffin was ridiculous. Impossible.

“Please- It’s been a while. I can do better.” Dean said, staring evenly into John’s eyes. He had hit a weak spot. He knew there was nothing John liked more than one of his son’s proving themselves.

“Fine,” He grunted, picking up a shovel and digging it into the soft dirt Dean had just climbed out of.

“Sammy’ll have to just take his turn another day. You don’t mind do you Sam?”

“No sir,” Sam replied, picking up his own shovel and moving to help.

The wildly thankful look Sam shot him was almost enough to calm Dean’s racing heart. He really did not have the strength to do this again, his muscles felt like they had been steam rolled, but he’d rather suffocate under six feet of dirt than throw his baby brother under it.

He grabbed the third shovel and started digging.

Chapter Text

The fifty-sixth time it happened it was real.

The air smelled musty, like there had recently been something dead nearby, but the smell was such an improvement from the constant reek of Hell that Dean found himself taking large lungfuls of it.

With each breath he pushed the thoughts of torture, of bloodcurdling screams, of twisted words further away. Wherever he was, this wasn’t Hell. That much he knew for sure. And if he wasn’t in Hell then he’d be damned if he ever thought of that place again.

He shifted, and found that once again, that he was confined to a box. A coffin.

Fine. This was fine. Not his first rodeo.

Dean shoved hard at what he hoped was the coffin lid. It didn’t budge.

He pushed at it again, harder this time, and it still didn’t move an inch. He let out a loud frustrated groan and punched. The lid rattled and a fine dust sprinkled down on him, making him cough.

And you know what? Fuck this. He did not just spend forty years in Hell only to suffocate alone in a box.

Dean punched again and the coffin lid splintered, dirt and wood rained down but it didn’t stop him. Not even a complete lack of air stopped him. The dirt above him was packed down as if it had rained several times, which was stupid and impossible because there was no way he could have survived in a coffin that long.

He scraped at it with his hands, digging wildly, fuelled by anger.

The dirt above him crumbled and Dean shoved it downwards, scrabbling and clawing himself up. He had no idea how much time it took, his only measure of it was the burning in his lungs. By the time his head emerged into the clean air, he was desperate for a breath.

Dean pushed his way completely out of the grave and looked around. Nothing was growing in a large radius where he stood, as if all life had been choked out by the ghost from Hell.

He didn’t know where he was, but he knew that he was alive, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew had John to thank for that.