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Warnings Language; references/allusions to torture and non-con.
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22. Lay Your Weary Head to Rest
They sit there for a long time, Sam's arm draped over his brother's shoulder, Dean's head resting on his. Dean still feels tense, muscles rigid, and he hangs back as Sam untangles himself, stretches, reaches for the flashlight and gets up.
"Can't stay here, dude," Sam says softly, reaching a hand down. Everything about Dean's attitude screams mortification, he just knows that if it were daylight Dean's cheeks would be stained red with embarrassment.
"They know, huh?" his brother whispers, keeps staring at the ground.
Sam sighs, eases back down into the muck again, feels dampness seeping through to his butt, wonders if the seat of his pants will ever wash up clean. "They do know, Dean," he confirms gently. "Well, they know it happened. But they don't know the details. I mean… what we just talked about."
"It's just… I don't want pity," Dean spits out. He starts rubbing his brow again, and Sam thinks that if he ever, ever sees his brother reduced to doing that again it'll be too soon.
"They don't pity you," he says, reaching out his hand yet again to still his brother's. "They feel sorry that it happened to you. They feel compassion, and they hurt for you. Like I do. But that's not the same as pity."
Dean sighs, unconvinced. "I was a prick, Sam," he mutters. "I said things, things to you, to Kathleen… didn't mean 'em, couldn't help myself. Felt so… angry. Hated myself. Hate myself. Bad news. I'm bad news."
Sam doesn't like the sound of this rambling, the direction it's heading in. "C'mon," he says, pushing up again. "I saw you get hit, must've been pretty hard to have broken the bottle. I need to look at your head."
After a moment Dean takes his hand and Sam heaves up, almost pulls him off his feet, not used to his brother's lack of bulk. "This eating thing, I know it's partly a control issue," he ventures, laying his arm across his brother's shoulder again as he reels, gripping hold of him by his cast to help keep him upright. "But it isn't helping you, not really. It isn't helping you take control of your recovery."
Dean snorts, albeit weakly. "You sound like fuckin' Dr Phil," he mutters, before he stops dead and raises his hand to his eyes for a second. "Head rush… ohhhh…"
"Will you try eating something for me, Dean? I'm really worried about this. You're dropping more weight, it isn't good for you and I'm losing sleep worrying about it." It's a low blow, Sam knows, bringing the focus back on to himself, but he knows it'll pull his brother's strings like nothing else.
"I'll try," Dean whispers.
They walk slowly up towards the top of the alley, to where Bobby has parked his truck. The old man is leaning on the door, Hudak half-asleep in the shotgun seat.
Bobby stands to attention as they loom up out of the darkness. "Really had me worried, kid," he says, feelingly, walks a few steps forward, arms open. Dean collapses into them.
"I'm sorry… I'm sorry…"
"No, no, no," Bobby chides gently, enfolding Dean in his embrace. "Got nothing to be sorry for, boy. Nothing."
"Didn't know what to do… how to stop it, stop him… didn't know who I was…"
Bobby has one of his big hands on Dean's head, raises it to Sam, bloody. "Come on now, boy. We need to look at your head, stitch it up. Nasty gash you got there."
"Feel sick," Dean suddenly blurts out, and his knees buckle.
"How much liquor did you drink, boy?" Bobby says, bracing to support the added weight.
"Dunno," Dean slurs, as it suddenly catches up to him. "Dn feel s' good… Sam?"
"I got you, Dean. I got you," Sam says, starts helping Bobby maneuver his dazed brother up into the cab.
"Oh… gn be sick," Dean says faintly, and he jacknifes and yawns a flood of stinking brownish fluid down onto the road, Bobby jumping nimbly out of the way. He retches for several minutes, spits saliva, and Sam hauls him back into the cab, shaking, shivering, eyes shocked and staring. "Oh…" he whispers again, clutching his belly as he slumps against the seat.
"Hard liquor on an empty stomach'd do it," Bobby says, as he slams the door and climbs in up front. He reaches across, opens the glovebox and roots around, producing a plastic grocery bag and thrusting it back at Sam. "Justin Casey," he says, in response to Sam's glare. "Watch the upholstery, boy," he barks at Dean.
"Fuck the fuckin' upholstery," Dean mutters, and for a minute Sam thinks he sounds like Dean.
Hudak's looking back at them and when she looks at Dean, her face is soft in a way Sam hasn't seen it before, all gentle, big eyes. And he glances down to see Dean staring back, hears his brother whispering, "I'm real sorry, ma'am… dunno what came over me. Real sorry."
Hudak nods, smiles, and it's so old-world cowboy-John-Wayne courteous, Sam grins there in the dark.
Dean always has had a way with the ladies.
Sam thinks they might have turned a corner, that things might be better.
But it's never that simple where his brother's concerned and in some ways, many ways, it's no better over the next few days.
Dean wakes from screaming, sweat-soaked nightmares two, three times a night, stares wildly up at Sam, doesn't know who he is, where he is, sometimes doesn't know who Sam is. He jumps out of his skin, white-faced, if anyone touches him, even brushes up against him without warning, chases his food around the plate after a few unenthusiastic bites.
And Sam thinks to himself that his brother is fading before his very eyes, colors becoming more and more muted and washed out. "I don't know how to pull him out of this pit," he confides to Bobby. "I can't fucking bear it."
Several times Dean abruptly lets rip a torrent of spiteful abuse that Sam just soaks up like a fuckin' sponge, his brother mocks. "Why don't you fuckin' grow a pair, Sammy?"
And it's like Dean is pushing him, constantly trying to see just how far he can go, before he crests the peak of Mount Savage and descends the other side, calming down, horrified at his own ferocity, weeping tears of self-disgust, apologizing all the damn time so that you have nothing to be sorry for, Dean, becomes Sam's mantra, Bobby's mantra.
"Always hurt the ones you love, boy," Bobby sighs, five days after the alley, as he pins Dean's arm behind his back and hauls him off Sam's prone body before his flying fists really injure his brother. "Lucky you ain't as juiced up as normal."
For some reason, Hudak remains immune, sits and reads to Dean without coming under fire as he progresses from the bed to the couch to the porch swing.
It's a breakthrough of sorts, though it doesn't start out that way.
"You fuckin' left me. Douche," Dean grates balefully.
It's one time too many for Sam, and suddenly it shoots right off the Richter scale. "Jesus, I am quick-sick of this!" he snaps. "I never fucking left you, Dean, I thought you were dead. If I'd known you were alive I would have been out there looking – just like I came looking after Bobby saw you." He sees Hudak appear in the doorway, points at her. "Stay out of this! This is getting sorted once and for all, right the fuck now."
She freezes, like a rabbit caught in the headlights, gapes at them, head turning from him to Dean like she's watching a game of tennis.
"Weeks fuckin' later! Weeks!" Dean hollers. "That bastard, what he did to me… you got no clue, no clue…"
"Then tell me!" Sam roars. "I don't know because you keep it all inside! Tell me, because, because…"
"Because you want to know what a fuckin' slut I am?" his brother yells back at him. "That I put out for that prick? Is that it?"
And Sam suddenly wilts. "No," he says, wearily. "I need to know because it was my fault. Because if I'd had my head in the game, Bender never would have got me in the first place… because I should damn well know what you went through because I was stupid enough to let my guard down." He throws his hands up in surrender. "It's nothing to do with what you think you did, Dean. I'm not duking that one out with you. It's so far from true, it's… I'm just not doing it."
He turns away, but his brother follows, grabs his arm, spins him around, and he's as angry as Sam has ever seen him, his eyes alight with rage, hurt, despair.
"It is your fuckin' fault! You fuckin' left me there!" Dean shouts bitterly. "Left me with that fuckin' sonofabitch, and I had no way of getting out, no way to escape… hauling my ass all over the fuckin' place… what was left for me? What was left for me, huh? As long as Sammy got out, as long as Sammy got to do what he wanted."
He stops very suddenly, buckles at the knees, sits down heavily on the floor, starts rubbing his brow. "You never even looked back," he says. "You picked up your bag and you walked away, and you never even looked back. You left me standing there in the pouring rain. And then I had to deal with him without you there. And you don't know, don't know what it was like…"
His voice trails off and everything is quiet, and Dean seems to go into some sort of trance, rocking from side to side.
"What are we talking about?" Hudak suddenly interjects, in a small voice. "Just who are we talking about here?"
Sam doesn't have a reply, stands there feeling all sorts of upset, shocked, horrified. Guilty. And he suddenly flashes to the other not-Dean and what it told him, he's sure got issues with you, can hear it jeering, thinks that he never really heard what it was saying, dismissed it because it wasn't his brother speaking the words. But maybe it really was.
Dean seems to snap out of it, mutters low, "Lee Bender… he took all my hope. I thought, I believed, that there was something more, there had to be. I didn't know what it was. Something… someone I maybe mattered to. I had dreams, saw 'em in my dreams, but no one came. No one came to fetch me home, and so then I knew my head was all mixed up and they were my family. Lee and Missy, and it wasn't ever gonna get better. Ever. That was my life, and years and years would go by and he'd… use me, use me up until there was nothing left. I knew no one was coming for me, that I imagined it all. Imagined that I mattered."
Sam is rooted to the spot, can't talk over the lump in his throat, feels hot tears simmer in his eyes, and when Hudak steps around him and sits down next to his brother, Sam sees that she's crying.
And Dean rambles on. "You leaving… you left me, went away. Left me with that sonofabitch who took my hope and my dreams. I had 'em too you know. Dreams. But my dreams had you in 'em, included you. I had no hope after you left, Sammy. No more dreams. And that was my life and years and years would go by and he'd use me, use me up. You never even looked back. Fuck. My head, in my head… it's all blurring together, confusing me. I'm real confused, Sam… what am I, what am I gonna do…?"
He falls silent, and he's still rubbing his brow, and Hudak turns and he leans into her. He doesn't weep but he releases his breath in a sobbing sigh, buries his face in her shoulder.
"Dad. You're talking about dad," Sam whispers. "And me leaving for Stanford…" He rouses himself, kneels in front of his brother. "You could have come with me," he breathes. "I had it all planned, bought the bus ticket. You could have come with me."
"You never asked," Dean chokes out, from somewhere under Hudak's shoulder.
"I did… I did ask," Sam says, sadly. "But you didn't listen. You never took me seriously. You never heard me. And it got to time for me to go and I thought you'd never leave him."
"I would have. I would have."
They sit there in a sort of group hug for ten minutes or so, none of them saying a thing. And then Dean says the words Sam has been longing to hear since he helped his brother stagger along the alleyway outside the bar.
It's only a kid-sized portion of mac-and-cheese, downed slowly in red-eyed silence, but it's the first thing his brother has willingly eaten since he came around after the river, and after Hudak checked. And he even eats a yogurt afterwards.
He jolts awake from his usual nightmare, gets up to take a piss, sits down on the edge of the bed and rubs at his thigh. He reckons the dog's teeth caused some nerve damage: although it's pretty okay most of the time now, when it does bother him it shoots little bolts of electricity right up through the top of his skull.
He sinks back onto Hudak's bed, feels the usual stab of guilt that the deputy is still crashing in the guest bedroom, but tells himself she insisted. The soft mattress more than makes up for her room, which both amused and appalled him once he was alert enough to realize it was decked out like Macy's bridal department.
"You awake?" he whispers to Sam, down on the floor.
"Um. Are you awake?"
"No. No." Sam sits up, hair looking like he just rammed his pinky into an electrical outlet. "What do you need? Dean?"
He swallows hard. "Did you mean what you said?"
"Said? What? Said what, dude?"
"That I could have gone with you. That you wanted me to."
Sam flops back down, yawns. "Yes. I did mean it. I had a bus ticket for you, still have it, in fact. Even had a job lined up for you, if you wanted it. Local autoshop needed a mechanic." He pauses a moment, glances up to where he can just see his brother's too-sharp features backlit by the moonlight beaming through the window. "Did you mean it when you said you would have gone with me?"
He hears his brother sigh, knows the answer already. "I never could have left him, Sam. He needed me."
"But he left you."
"Yep. He left me."
And Sam hears the unspoken words: everyone leaves me.
"Bet you wish I'd never shown up at Stanford, huh?" Dean says, and he gives a sort of huffed-out, derisive laugh.
"Dean, I'm not stupid," Sam starts. "I know you blame yourself for Jessica, think maybe that thing only turned up there because it was tracking you." He senses his brother shudder up there on the bed. "I told you what I saw, the vision," he continues. "It was always going to happen and if you hadn't shown up when you did I would have been there with her, and—"
"You could have stopped it. Saved her," Dean mutters.
"No, that's not what I was going to say, Dean. I couldn't have stopped that thing. If I hadn't been with you, I would have died there with her. You saved me. Ever think of that? And I can tell you one thing for sure." Sam stops as he sees his brother is hanging his head, seems to have drifted off into memories. "Dean!"
Dean startles, looks at him.
"If I had been there when it happened and managed to get out, I would have come looking for you," Sam says. "I never would have lasted there. Because I missed you. So you can cross that off your list of things to be guilty about."
He flops back down. "Now get some sleep, Dean. These chick-flick moments are wearing me out."
He hears Dean fidget up there on the bed for a few minutes. "What I said before… it isn't your fault, Sammy," his brother murmurs. "Things happen. I don't blame you. Never have."
And Sam knows his brother isn't just talking about the woods, about Bender. "I'm not going anywhere, Dean," he says. "You, me, we're in this together and I'm not leaving you. So – no point in trying to push me away all the damn time. Not gonna work."
Dean eats two pancakes when he gets up, drowns them in syrup, washes them down with three cups of coffee and twitches for the rest of the morning.
He paces around the house, the yard, weeds Hudak's flowerbeds, searches through her shed for shears to lop back her overhanging branches, hollers for a broom to sweep out this fuckin' rat shit, enthusiastically sets traps for thefuckin' mothers, earnestly debates with Bobby over whether a square of chocolate or a dollop of crunchy peanut butter would make better bait.
After a couple of hours he's beat, slumping on the porch swing, pale and shaking, worrying at his shoulder, his leg.
But he's Dean, Bobby thinks, as he idly glances at his wristwatch and wonders if they've scored any rats yet. "Time to go home, boy," he says fondly, ruffling Dean's hair on his way inside. He finds Hudak backing out of her shed, using a shovel to maneuver a fully-laden rat trap out onto the grass.
"I heard it snap," she says ruefully. "I can't stand emptying the damn things. Which is why the shed is rat central, I guess."
Bobby bends, picks the critter up by the tail. "What the hell are you feeding these things, Kathleen? I've seen smaller cats." He bags it, scratches his head. "Lock your dog in there overnight. That'll sort 'em."
"Can't," she says, looking over to where the hound is lying flat on its back, paws in the air, soaking up the weak spring sunshine. "She's scared of rats."
Bobby shakes his head. "You could try a glue trap. Then shoot the mothers with a BB gun from a safe distance. You're tough enough."
"Yeah. Well then. I guess I'll be emptying the rest of these myself," she says.
Astute, perceptive, but Bobby knew that. "Kid needs to get home, Kathleen. Can't stay here forever."
She bites her lip, looks over his shoulder, and he gets this funny feeling she's checking that the coast is clear. "I didn't know if I was going to tell you this," she begins, and Bobby's heart sinks because it takes him right back to that forest discussion, the revelation about what Lee Bender was likely to have been doing to his boy.
"We got the report back on the fire up at the Bender place yesterday. No body was found. She wasn't in there when it burned, Bobby."
For a second his stomach turns somersaults and his vision grays out. "Then it's even more important I get him out of here," he says, and she nods in agreement.
Christ, this is awkward, and he wishes he had Dean's silver tongue."I want to thank you, Kathleen," he says, haltingly, trying to find the right words but stumbling, finding himself tongue-tied. "I don't know what I'd have done without your help with this, you being there for me and the boys. I want you to know I'll always appreciate what you've done for him, and that I'll never forget it."
She smiles and he thinks, what a fuckin' woman, wishes he were twenty years younger.
Sam wraps his arms around her, even sheds tears, but for all his college education and books, he just can't find the words. So Hudak just hugs him back and pats his head as he engulfs her for long moments and sniffs, before finally managing to choke out something that makes sense.
"If you ever need us, just call. We'll be there. I owe you everything. Everything."
She finds Dean dozing on the porch swing, lazily rocking it back and forth with his good leg.
She clears her throat. "I need you to know something."
"Well, that don't sound too good," he drawls, cracks one eye open.
"I need you to know it was me. Who checked. And I'm sorry."
He sits up, both eyes open and suddenly bleak. "Okay. Well. Had to be done. On balance I'd rather have your hands poking around down there than Sam's or Bobby's. I guess."
She shudders. "No poking occurred, Dean. I can guarantee you that." After a minute she continues. "You need to do something for me."
He raises an eyebrow. "And what might that be, Kathleen?"
"You need to get checked out for… you just need to get checked out. A blood test." She looks him right in the eye, sees him flush and grow uncomfortable. "You have to face up to this," she says. "You need to get checked. You know what I mean."
He shrugs, looks away, doesn't commit, and they both stare at the middle distance for a couple of minutes. "Maybe it doesn't matter," he says suddenly. "Maybe I just won't ever do that again anyway."
She can't help herself, she blurts it out. "Well that would be a hell of a waste."
"Well, there you go," he says. "Even the thought of watching Triple X makes me feel like I'm gonna yack. Can't see that working with the ladies, Kathleen."
"Look, don't take this the wrong way, Dean," she says, chooses her words carefully. "But you aren't the first person this ever happened to. And it's very recent. And people deal. And they move on." And inside her head, a little voice whispers that sometimes they never really find their way back from it.
She sees his leg start to jiggle, remembers Sam saying it's a sign of nerves.
"Give it time," she says. "Don't let it define you. You're still the same, still you. This is something that happened to you, something that was done to you. It doesn't have to become you. Jesus, I'm sure that makes no sense."
Dean smiles. "It does make sense, sort of. But it's… I feel like people can see into me, see what happened…" He pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Look, I'm not used to this. Talking like this. I'm sorry, I know I'm making no sense myself… but it's like I feel I'm marked. Or something. That people can tell."
She shuffles closer, reaches out and turns his face to hers, looks right into his eyes. "I can't see it," she says. "I can't see any mark. All I see is this beautiful boy with his whole life ahead of him, there for the taking."
And it's totally natural to lean in slowly and touch her lips to his, to tease them gently apart and dip her tongue in and taste what's there for long moments, to feel him return the favor, lips moving soft on hers. It's there for the taking, she suddenly realizes, but she stops herself, pulls back so her forehead rests on his. "Much better when you're breathing," she whispers. "You've still got it, Dean. Always will have it. Don't waste it, huh? Find the joy in it."
He leans in and kisses her again, just ghosts his lips against hers. "You ever need anything," he says. Anything."
Bobby drives non-stop, the one time they pull over for refueling something of a disaster when some bulky trucker brushes up against Dean as Sam is waiting in line to pay for a trayload of chili dogs. His brother yelps, flinches, and Bobby has to steer him outside. They perch on the truck bed to eat, and Dean doesn't say much.
It's dark when they drive under the arch, and Sam has to shake Dean awake. "We're home," he says, simply.
"At fuckin' last," his brother breathes. He stumbles a little as he gets out of the truck and Sam thinks it might be his sheer relief that has him wobbling.
They sack out on Bobby's couch, swathed in blankets, the old man announcing that he's off to his bed the minute he locks the door behind them. Sam flicks through the local TV guide, goggles for a second and then channel surfs his way through God only knows how much sport and rolling news until he finds what he's looking for, just in time.
The credits roll and his brother's drowsy eyes light up with pleasure. "Awesome. Giant killer rabbits. We should definitely watch this… watched it with Lee when we were kids…"
It's like a knife twisting in his gut, and Sam wonders how long the wound will stay raw.
Dean seems not to have noticed his slip, eyes Sam suspiciously. "Did you fix this? Is this you shining?"
Jesus, the movie is as dire as Sam remembers. Creepy fuckin' rabbit teeth. "I want you to know something, Dean," he says suddenly.
Dean is slowly listing over to the side, jerks upright. "Whassup?"
"I want you to know that you do matter, Dean. That all the time you were lost you mattered, and when I thought you were dead you still mattered. More than anything ever has." It's the first time Sam has really spoken about those awful days beyond-Dean, and he finds his mouth suddenly dry, his voice husky. "Even gone you were still there, still all around me, and the thought I would never see, or touch that again… that you were lost to me, was – I can't even put it into words, Dean."
He's looking down at his feet, but he sees his brother in his peripheral vision, sees him raise his hand, swipe at his eyes. "But you matter," he goes on. "And I know damn well you think I could just keep going without you, but this is a two-way street. I know what it would do to you to lose me, Dean, I know. But I need for you to know that losing you would do the same to me. You matter, you fucking matter. Get it through your thick skull, dude." He laughs sort-of, breaks the spell, because the emotion is just too much to handle, too much for Dean to handle too, he knows.
"Okay. Okay, Sammy," his brother whispers.
Sam doesn't believe in quick fixes, knows there isn't one for what his brother has endured, knows Dean isn't okay, not really. But the promise of okay hangs there, and he's going to stand shoulder to shoulder with his brother and grab that promise of recovery and hang onto it. For as long as it takes.
They watch the movie.
Dean's eyes drift closed.
Dean lists over again, very gradually, until his head is on Sam's shoulder, and he's limp, relaxed.
Sam quirks his own head, rests his cheek against his brother's hair, closes his eyes, sighs. "Never leave me," he whispers.
Clipboard Man is making right for her along with Front Desk Woman.
She sits on her bench, scrunches her toes inside her new sneakers, smooths the skirt of her new dress.
She can overhear snatches of their conversation. Found wandering along the road… filthy… half starved… can't remember her name… no ID… passerby dropped her into Child Services…
Clipboard Man squats in front of her, smiles.
She smiles right back, a full-on tooth smile.
"You look just like my brother, Mister…"
Thank you for reading… you may also want to consider reading the sequel to this story: The Killing Moon…