A/N: Written for the hurt/comfort bingo fill "gaslighting," which I feel like I didn't quite do justice to in this fic. I really feel like I needed to write a longer fic to get the point across, but hopefully, you'll enjoy this little idea that's been floating around my head for ages. The setting is somewhat vague, and honestly, if you don't know anything about Teen Wolf, you should still do fine with this fic. And, yes, I might have been listening to Halsey's "Gasoline" while I was writing this.
The fire danced across her eyes. There was something primal in them, rapture in her rage. And she swayed. Like it was a song she heard in the background, the creature's screams. He'd never seen that on anyone's face, much less on a seventeen year old girl's.
"We can't just let him burn."
She grabbed his arms to cut him off, stop him right there, keep him from pulling his gun. From cutting off the song. "He was a monster, Dean. You know that. They have to die. All of them."
The heat was too close. The smoke made his eyes burn.
"He wasn't the one who killed those people. We caught that thing." His brow furrowed in doubt, and he felt the sudden urge to vomit over his shoes. "We don't even know if it hurt anyone… And you killed it anyway."
She cocked her head, her bright eyes chiding and childish surrounded by her messy blond hair. Ash made it look gray under the starlight. "Oh, sweetheart, are you forgetting? You're the one who poured the gasoline." She cupped his cheek with her fingertips, smelling like fuel. "I can see it in your eyes, you're enjoying this. You're just like me. Worse maybe." She raised onto her toes, pressing her lips against his chin. "But I won't tell anyone, if you don't."
And Dean wondered if it was another lie or one of those rare truths she occasionally gifted him with. He wasn't sure, but he hoped to God she was wrong, that his eyes didn't look a damn thing like hers.
"A thank you would have been nice," Dean snapped, brushing the crumbs off his chest. A few of them bounced along the sidewalk, his boots crunching them. He glanced down, realizing those were tiny flecks of popcorn kernels sticking to his flannel overshirt. The grease was definitely going to leave speckles on the fabric, not that he really cared. At the time, he hadn't even realized what it was the girl had thrown at him when he'd dodged the paper bag.
Sam huffed out a laugh, slowing down his pace so that he could glance over at his brother. And maybe over his shoulder. They didn't hear any police sirens, but that didn't mean the police weren't going to be called after their antics at the snack bar. "Can't say we didn't deserve it," he noted, biting down something like a smile.
Dean raised a brow, figuring that hint of a smirk was due more to the fact that Sam had managed to dodge the bag. They drew up to a stop beside a long overgrown hedge at the end of the alley behind the old theater. Baby was waiting for them there, untouched and patient as always.
"Yeah, well I smell like a movie theater now," Dean muttered, unlocking the car. Then he frowned, realizing what Sam had said. "And we saved her life. Killed the bad guy. Well, he was already dead, but still… Nothing for her to get so pissed over."
"Dean we lied to her." Sam shook his head, as if amused. "I mean, we basically told her that she was crazy. Repeatedly. We were totally gaslighting that girl."
"We have to lie to a lot of people, Sam. Sometimes telling the truth won't do them a bit of good, especially if we're going to have to use them for bait. Better to think you're losing your marbles for a few days than to have nightmares for the rest of your life. " Dean stopped. "And we're not gaslighting anybody."
"Do you even know what gaslighting means?" Sam asked, slipping into his seat.
"I friggin' know what it means," Dean snarked back, surprised when he felt the urge to tack on "college boy" at the end of the comment. It had been years since he'd tossed the nickname at his brother. When he saw the slight shift on Sam's face, from mildly amused to sober, Dean figured Sam was backtracking in his head, thinking about the times he and Dean had lied to one another, wondering if their sometimes strained relationship had ever ventured into gaslighting territory.
"Hate to break it to you, Sam, but lying to someone doesn't equal gaslighting," Dean said, bringing Baby to life. He rested his hands on the steering wheel, instead of putting the car in drive. He saw Sam's mouth open to give him a dictionary-worthy definition of the word and cut him off. "All I mean is, what you're talking about? That's abuse. There's intent there. And it's a long game, played out for kicks and shit by sociopaths and narcissists so they can lord over their victims. It's a sicko's manipulative powerplay. What we have to do? It's to save lives."
"And keep our asses out of jail," Sam added.
"And keep our asses out of jail. And the looney bin," Dean tacked on.
Sam rolled his eyes at the wording, but the look he shot his brother was inquisitive. "Since when do you put so much thought into types of abuse? I would have thought you'd brush gaslighting off as 'Tumblr speak'."
"Don't know what the hell that means," Dean muttered, then smirked at Sam's huff, glad to have changed the subject. "And if you must know… Had a chick say it to me once. Had to look it up. Thought it had something to do with a salt and burn."
Sam nodded along, as if that were answer enough, but his gaze narrowed slightly as he side-eyed his brother. Dean pretended not to see it. It wouldn't do to confess to lying while discussing lying. Not that it was entirely a lie anyway… Dean had looked the term up after a woman had accused her husband of gaslighting. And the more he read about it, the more he'd understood exactly what it had meant.
The more he'd understood her.
They were rolling down blacktop, headed toward the closest road out of town, when Sam spoke again.
"Hey, Dean, do you remember that summer we spent in that little mining town, Beslin, when we were teens? Dad was teaming up with another hunter? A young guy. His sister was my age."
Dean felt his mouth go dry. He needed to reply. He knew that if he had a chance of brushing off the question, pretending the reference didn't apply, he should do it quickly, but he couldn't. Shock stopped him, because there was no way in hell Sam should understand how relevant his little segway was.
"Kate." Her. The name slipped out, and Dean tried to recover from the mental lapse, clearing his throat. "Yeah, Chris and Kate. They didn't get along too well. Made us look like the Brady's. What made you think of them?"
Dean hoped his voice didn't sound as choked as it felt, the words chewed up and stuck at the back of this throat. Sam hummed some sort of affirmation.
When they rolled up to a lonely stop sign, Sam leaned up a little, just enough to force Dean to look over, see him.
"Listen, Dean, I know I never brought it up back then-"
"Why are you bringing it up now then?" Dean snapped. Or wanted to, what actually left his mouth was, "I barely remember that summer."
Because that was supposed to be the answer. He was supposed to go on pretending it didn't happen. And Sam was supposed to pretend to be none the wiser. That was the deal they'd made, the only way Kate would let him out of it.
"She fucking told you," Dean said, after a long beat. And he couldn't remember putting the car in park, but there they were, stopped. Fully. He ran a hand down his face. When Sam didn't reply immediately, Dean shook his head. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Because I knew she was lying," Sam answered. He twisted in his seat. "Dean, I knew she was up to something, and I'm sorry I didn't say anything to Dad. We could have…" He trailed off, as if unsure. "I didn't understand back then. I do now. You want to tell me what actually happened?"
Beslin was a shitty spot in the road, and Dean knew shitty spots in the road. There was nothing worth remembering in this town, nothing accept Her. And she wasn't even from here.
She brushed her fingers against his as they walked the trail, Chris and Dad up ahead, discussing the hunt.
She was too young, Sam's age, which wasn't that distant enough from his own, but still, Dean knew he should say no. Which was what he did say the first week into the hunt, especially after a sharp glance from Dad reminded him that they were on a job. So he did say no. At first. One night of booze later, though, he couldn't actually remember the moment he'd stopped saying no.
He pulled his hand away, remembering how she'd woken him up, after he'd been startled to find her in his bed, looking down at him while he slept; "You're the one who came after me," she'd whispered against his ear, and laughed. It sounded like the truth, even if Dean couldn't remember it happening that way. Dean had been with plenty of girls, but there'd never been a time when he'd been worried about being caught with one. Kate made him nervous that way.
She glanced ahead, as if to make sure they wouldn't be overheard, then turned back to Dean with a hurt expression on her face.
"Use 'em and lose 'em. Must be the Winchester style," she said, quietly.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Dean muttered back. Confused or not, he was aptly aware that they were supposed to be on a hunt, and that whatever had decided to make lunchmeat out of five people in these woods was still out there, possibly aware of the hunters stalking it.
Kate gave a pointed look back at the two up front, but then rolled her eyes like it wasn't important. "God, you're oblivious," she whispered, then picked up her speed, moving away from him.
Dean suddenly wished Sam were there, instead of laid up with a twisted ankle and stuck doing research at the cabin their new partners, the Argents, had offered to share with them. At least, if his brother had been dragging around the back with him, there might be someone to warn him away from Kate.
That lie, the implication, that his dad would so much as look at a teenage girl, it was enough to throw Dean off balance. And he knew that's exactly what that comment had been meant to do, hadn't it? Make him uneasy? Make him jealous? Make him doubtful?
When she glanced over her shoulder, smiled his way, easy and charming, he tried not to smile back. Something inside him stirred, nervous and interested and refusing to consult with his brain on the matter. Her expression told him that her words had been a lie, a joke or something, but it left him jarred.
Lifting her hand, she pressed her fingertips to her lips and blew him a kiss.
Dean knew he should probably get up, get the laundry separated, haul ass to the closest restaurant for a bite to eat before closing. But he'd been lulled into a daze by the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. He laid, propped up against the cheap headboard, only his shoes shed, until he heard Sam come out of the motel's meager shower, a trail of steam following him.
"Shower's free," Sam noted, when Dean didn't move an inch.
Dean grunted a reply.
"You okay, man?"
Dean blinked at the question, then realized the television he'd been staring at for fifteen minutes was turned off. He opened and closed his mouth, reconsidering the question on the tip of his tongue, before he finally tossed it out.
"When did she tell you?"
Sam pulled a chair closer to the bed, easing down into it, like Dean was a wild animal to be approached with caution. "Right before I left for Stanford," Sam answered, after a long beat.
Dean rolled his eyes, suddenly understanding why his brother hadn't mentioned that detail. As far as he'd known, Sam hadn't seen Kate Argent again after Beslin, but obviously he'd been wrong.
"You and dad were finishing up a hunt, and I'd stayed to work on my exams. She showed up looking for you… I don't know how she tracked you down, honestly."
"Argents have their sources," Dean commented.
Most of the hunters he'd met growing up were loners, but there were some families with a long history with the supernatural, and the Argents were one of them. They were practically bred for the hunt, or that was the rumor around places like Harvelle's. John Winchester had never liked those sorts, so their time around them was somewhat limited, and after meeting Kate, Dean had never been more thankful to not know other hunting families.
"She was… pushy," Sam said, "so I might have gotten angry with her. Told her that you didn't want to see her again. I don't even know why I said that. I think I was mad at you and dad at the time. I didn't realize she'd blow up like that, though. That's when she told me, about Beslin and the hunt you met her on in Utah afterward. I think she was expecting me to actually believe her… When I didn't, she just kept spinning more tales."
"Why not?" Dean interrupted. "Why not believe her? Hell, I did."
Sam's brow furrowed. "She said you'd gone crazy and killed a homeless man, some guy you'd thought was a monster. That you were dangerous. That she was afraid of what you'd do if she told on you."
"He was a werewolf," Dean said, quietly. "The man we killed."
"Yeah, well, she left that part out," Sam said, raising a brow. "The way she said it, man, it was like she wanted me to turn on you. To get pissed enough to call you out. She even brought out the waterworks, implied that I should warn Dad. If I didn't know you better, I would have believed her."
"She wanted me to leave you," Dean said. "And Dad. That's why I was avoiding her. She wanted me to go away with her. Work for her family. She'd threatened to tell you if I didn't. It didn't help that it was the truth. Most of it."
Sam blinked, surprised. "You said the guy was a werewolf."
Dean nodded sharply. "Yeah. And he was. But, Sam... It wasn't the full moon, there wasn't a trail of bodies, or even a reason to be hunting the bastard in the first place. Kate had called me out there. She made it sound like my idea, killing him, made me think I was the one who wanted to stop him before he could hurt anyone… I think I started to see what she was when I looked into her eyes after we killed him. She enjoyed it, Sam. And then she told me that I'd enjoyed it too."
"Why didn't you say anything, Dean?"
Dean leaned forward, wincing at the strain on his back as he sat up straight. "I'd slept with an underage girl, went on a hunt with her. Someone died. Someone who might have been innocent for all I know. And she had a way of saying things... By the time she was finished talking, I was sure you and dad would hate me if you found out about me and Kate."
He crossed the room, trying not to meet Sam's eye as he dug around in the cooler for a beer.
"I really thought Dad would believe her if she told him I'd made her…God, I don't know. I don't know why I didn't say anything, but every time I realized that she was spinning lies a mile a minute, she'd come out and tell me that I'd saved her ass. That I was one of the best hunters she knew. She made it just good enough that I called her, wanted to see her. Even though I knew she was setting me up… Half a year. That's how long she kept me under her finger. Then I realized she couldn't hold anything over me anymore."
Sam winced. "Because I left."
"Because you left," Dean agreed. He took a long draw that half-emptied his bottle then shook his head. "And Dad started taking jobs on his own, sending me off on hunts. My family pushing me away, it wasn't really much of a threat anymore. Honestly though, I think she just got tired of me. Found someone else she could control. Poor bastard."
Sam leaned back in his chair, staring up at Dean. "She's dead, Dean."
Dean froze, bottle halfway to his mouth. "What?"
"That's why I brought her up, Dean. I saw an article on it while I was researching our last hunt, and I wanted to say something… Then I remembered what she'd said. I started to put some things together that hadn't quite made sense to me back then. Hindsight being 20/20."
"You baited me, with the gaslighting thing?" Dean snorted, but didn't look entirely amused. "So glad I'm an open book."
"I'm sorry, man." Sam frowned. "I just… I had a feeling that if I just brought it up, you'd never tell me what happened between you two. I just wanted to... I don't know, I just wanted to make sure you knew what she'd done. How she'd used you."
"I figured that out a long time ago. Hindsight and all." Dean tried to not think about how many hours he'd worried about her getting her hooks in Sam and Dad. All for nothing. "How'd she die?"
"Wild animal attack," Sam said, shrugging at the obvious lie. "It's all over the news right now. They're, uh...They're saying she's some sort of mass murderer. Apparently she killed a family, years back, and the evidence is just coming to light. Arson. It would have happened not long after she came looking for you."
You're the one who poured the gasoline.
Dean grimaced, almost hearing her voice in his head. "Guess we know why she wanted a partner in crime, don't we."
"Do you think the people she killed were human?"
Dean sat his bottle on the table a bit too hard and the sound rang out like a gunshot, making him wince. "With Kate Argent, I don't think it much mattered," he answered.