Title: Soldier's Eyes
Characters: Dean, Sam, Benny - GEN
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title of the story comes from a song by Jack Savoretti by the same name. Also, Mumford, Iowa, is totally made up.
Summary: Post 8.07, A Little Slice of Kevin. There's only so long he can avoid the trap of memories, and he fears that when they catch him, they won't let him go.
The moment he stepped into the dark, cloistered room, the coppery smell of blood hit Sam with force. He instinctively looked over at Benny, sweat beading on his upper lip. Aside from his blue eyes glowing a bit in the dark, the blood didn't seem to be sending the vampire into a frenzy of lust, so Sam scanned the room, trying to catch his breath.
Benny reached behind Sam and hit a light switch. The lamp from what had been the bedside table was on its side, the shade gone. The bare bulb illuminated the carpet and cast disconcerting shadows around the room.
"Holy Christ," Benny breathed.
"Jesus," Sam muttered at the same time.
It struck him as telling that they both called out to a Heavenly entity as they took in the disarray of the room. The dresser had been shoved against the door, the night stand shattered into strips of false wood. The mattress was pulled from the bed, jimmied in front of the bathroom door and the sheets were missing.
The walls were covered with sigils – some to ward off demons, some angels, some Sam didn't even recognize – all created with blood.
Sam's heart dropped. His body went cold. He was scared – really, truly scared – for the first time since he'd been left standing alone in the Leviathan lab.
"Dean?" Sam called softly. He scanned the room, the disjointed light playing with his eyes. "Hey, it's…it's Sam."
Benny leaned over and picked up the lamp, setting it on the dresser, and pushing the door shut behind them. Sam flinched at the sound, but was grateful for the added illumination. He was starting to think Dean had ducked out through the bathroom window, leaving this destruction behind him when Benny tapped his arm. Sam glanced over at the vampire, then followed Benny's worried gaze to the far corner of the room, next to the pile of sheets.
Dean sat with his knees up, his demon-killing knife out and ready, the hilt turned in his grip so that the blade ran parallel to his arm. He was naked save his boxers and his arms and legs were wet with blood. His eyes were on them, but it was clear he wasn't seeing them. Sam had seen that thousand-yard stare before. Dean wasn't seeing anything here.
"Hey," Sam said quietly, crouching low, moving slowly. "Hey, Dean."
Sam started forward, one hand out, his heart pounding. He'd never seen his brother this wrecked before. He felt totally out of his element. Drawing close to Dean, Sam swallowed, keeping his voice even, soothing.
"How about you put the knife down, man?"
Sam reached out to touch his brother's leg and Dean moved like lightning. Sam knew Dean was good, but he had never seen him move this fast. Dean had Sam on his back, pinned down by his weight, the knife at his throat before Sam blinked.
"Where are they?" Dean growled.
"Wh-who?" Sam gasped, trying to breathe and not move at the same time. He could feel the bite of the blade against the soft underside of his jaw.
"You know who, you bastard. Tell me where they are!"
"Oh, my God," Benny suddenly breathed. "I know this."
"Little help?" Sam gasped.
"Tell him they're at the river," Benny ordered.
"Wh-what?!" He felt the blade dig a little deeper.
"Just fucking tell him."
Sam looked at Dean, met his brother's wild green eyes, pupils blown so wide he wasn't sure Dean could focus on anything.
"Th-they're at the river," he rasped.
Dean pushed away from him and stood, pressing back against the wall, smearing the anti-angel sigil as he moved. Sam scrambled backwards and let Benny help him to his feet. He touched his throat, feeling the slim line of blood seeping from the knife cut. He didn't take his eyes from Dean, unable to assimilate this wild-man stance with his typically in control brother.
Dean was shaking from head to foot as he pressed back against the wall. The only thing steady was the knife. Sam gaped, taking in the slices on his brother's arms and legs, some deeper than others, blood coating his skin in a slick sheen. What shocked him more, though, were the scars across Dean's chest and belly from wounds that had simply had to heal as Dean survived Purgatory.
"Oh, Jesus, Dean," Sam choked out, emotion wrapping tight fingers around his hammering heart. It beat a choked, helpless confession of I'm sorry…I'm so sorry.
"Sam," Benny said quietly, easing Sam back with two fingers on his arm. Sam gave way to the vampire, completely unsure how to help his brother snap out of this break with reality. "I got this."
Sam watched as Benny moved cautiously forward. He held his breath when the vampire lifted a hand, but it was only in greeting, not to touch Dean.
"Hey, there, brother," Benny greeted.
Sam winced at the endearment, but watched as Dean's eyes tracked to the sound of Benny's sultry voice, finally seeming to focus on something.
"We're okay, Cas and me. We're alive."
Dean blinked, his gaze pulling in closer, finding Benny's face.
"We found you," Benny continued. "You remember?"
"You…found me?" Dean repeated, frowning.
"You were a goddamn warrior," Benny continued. "You stayed alive, brother. You made it out."
Dean swallowed and Sam watched him look around the room, slowly, as if taking in his surroundings for the first time that night.
"You fought off every one of those bastards," Benny reminded him. "And Cas and me…we found you."
Nodding, Dean met Benny's eyes. "This…this is real." He looked down at the knife in his grip, his hand starting to shake along with the rest of his body.
"It's all real," Benny said, holding out a hand toward the knife. "We got out. You're not there, you're here. You found your brother. It's all real."
Sam watched as Dean raised the knife, the blood on the blade reflecting in the bare light of the lamp. He looked up, around, finding Sam with destroyed eyes.
Sam stumbled forward, relief at seeing Dean look at him – really look – making him dizzy.
"Hey," Sam choked out. They both seemed to try so hard to convince each other that there was no problem, that they were fine, when in actuality, Sam realized, they were both falling apart inside.
We're such fakers, man.
Dean swallowed hard, repeatedly, as if he were trying not to get sick. He looked at the bloody sigils adorning the walls, then glanced down at his bloody arms, his shaking fingers stiffly uncurling from the hilt of the knife, the weapon clattering to the floor.
Sam heard Dean take a shuddering breath and moved on instinct, stepping past Benny to stand in front of Dean a heartbeat before his brother's eyes fluttered closed.
Dean's legs gave way and he seemed to sink, gravity pulling on him with greedy fingers. Sam caught Dean against him, the blood on his arms making him hard to grip. Slowly going to his knees, Sam took his brother with him and held him close, feeling the tremors slip from Dean's body into his and sending his head spinning slightly.
"Dean?" Sam patted his cheek, taking his chin in his hand and turning his face up. "Hey, Dean, c'mon, man."
But Dean stayed pliant, unresponsive, his body trembling. Sam cradled his brother's head against his shoulder, looking around at the destruction, the blood on the walls, then back at the bare, bloody, scarred body in his arms.
"Damn," Benny breathed from behind him.
"I need…," Sam choked on the request, wanting nothing more than for the vampire to leave.
But he needed help. Dean needed help. And as he'd just witnessed, there were some things that Benny knew about Dean that Sam would never know. It chewed through him, this understanding. It ate at his heart like acid.
"I'll get the mattress back on the frame," Benny offered.
"There's a bag," Sam said, not lifting his head, not looking at Dean, just holding him close, feeling the steady rise and fall of his brother's chest. "Right outside the door. First aid."
"Got it," Benny replied.
Sam didn't move. He felt his legs start to go to sleep as he rested on them, the added weight of Dean against him. But he wanted that weight. He wanted the solid reminder that what Benny had said was true: this was all real. All of it.
It wouldn't be enough, he knew, leaving hunting. It wouldn't be enough to settle down and leave Dean slashing and burning through the bad guys. He would never be free of it.
This life owned him, no matter what he wanted. No matter what either of them wanted. There was no escaping it.
Sam bowed his neck, pressing his forehead to Dean's, and felt tears, hot and mean, build behind his eyes. The noise of Benny returning the room to some sort of order so that they could treat Dean's wounds seemed to fade into the background and all that mattered in the moment was that in the center of that spinning room, Sam sat with his brother alive in his arms, grounded by the knowledge that they may be lost to this world that tried so hard to bleed Dean out, but they weren't yet defeated by it.
They weren't defeated by a long shot.
Benny was standing over him.
"I got him," Sam said.
His felt blood rush to his lower legs as he pushed upright, pins and needles dancing painfully in his feet. He held Dean against his chest, pressing a hand against the wall to gain his balance, then dragged Dean's limp form the few feet to the bare mattress. He turned and grabbed a sheet from the pile on the floor, rolling Dean first one way, then the other as he spread the white cloth beneath him.
"Here," Benny said, handing him a towel, heavy with hot water.
Sam started cleaning the blood from Dean's arms, watching his brother frown, his limbs twitching involuntarily as Sam hit one of the cuts with the rough material.
"How are you not…," Sam glanced up at Benny, surprised to find the vampire's worried blue eyes pinned to Dean's face. "Y'know, vamping out?"
"What?" Benny asked, confused, pulling his gaze over to Sam. "What are you talkin' about?"
"All this blood," Sam pressed. "Gotta be like…an open bottle of Scotch to an alcoholic."
Benny frowned. "I drink blood," he said. "I don't drink people."
To Sam, it sounded rote, as if he were weary of having to prove himself. But Sam didn't care. If this guy was to get one iota of trust, he was going to have to prove himself.
"And I sure as hell don't drink my friends," Benny said quietly, his expression inscrutable as he watched Dean's face for signs of awareness.
Sam looked away, not wanting to recognize the fact that Benny clearly cared about his brother. He didn't want to remember that the vampire had once been human, that he had emotions, that he could feel attachment to Dean.
He didn't want to have to admit that Dean's trust might have been earned.
He focused on cleaning the blood from the cuts on Dean's legs. The slices there were deeper, crooked as if he'd not been able to hold the knife steady. Dean muttered, a low curse that made no sense except for the tone, and shifted restlessly on the bed.
"I can't believe he's not waking up for this," Sam confessed quietly.
Benny moved away from the bed, boosting himself up on the displaced dresser and pushing the heavy curtains apart with one finger, peering out at the night.
"He sleep much since he got back?"
Sam shrugged, not really caring if the vampire saw him or not. He began to wrap the shallow cuts with gauze, tearing the medical tape with his teeth and securing it in place. One cut on Dean's left arm and a cut across his right thigh were deep enough Sam knew stitches were going to be necessary.
"I ask because he didn't sleep much while we were there," Benny continued. "I didn't either, but then," his voice shrugged, "I don't really need it as much. Cas…I don't think he ever slept. He had Leviathan radar going twenty-four-seven."
"No," Sam muttered. "I don't think he's slept much."
"He forgets he's human," Benny commented dryly.
Sam could tell Benny was looking back at them, but he didn't reply. He cleaned the deeper cut on Dean's leg with antiseptic, the shock of it bring Dean around with a gasp. He stared at Sam blindly, blinking rapidly as he tried to figure out what had hurt so badly.
"Hey, it's me," Sam reassured him.
"The hell?" Dean rasped. "Wha' happened?"
"You kinda…messed yourself up," Sam said, stumbling over his words. He glanced at the wall next to them and Dean followed his look.
"I did that?" He sounded spacey, not quite awake.
Sam nodded, frowning, his hand on Dean's bandaged arm. "I'm gonna put in some stitches, okay?"
Dean frowned, his eyes slipping closed. Sam sat for a moment, waiting to see if he would open his eyes once more, but when he lay still, Sam threaded the needle and started to sew the cut across his brother's thigh.
"What happened at the river?" Sam asked Benny, just to have something to say, distracting him from the task at hand.
"Nothin'. Just knew he'd remember it as a real place," Benny said, his voice muffled. Sam glanced over and saw the vampire was looking at the ground with that same thousand-yard stare Sam had seen on Dean's face too many times. "It's where we found Cas."
Sam wrapped the wound on Dean's thigh and moved to his forearm. "What happened to you guys there?" Sam asked.
Benny took a long, slow breath. "Too much."
Sam rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, thinking how to rephrase the question. He wanted to know so much more. He wanted to picture it. The fact that there was a river there had him re-thinking everything he'd been imagining Dean had been through. No longer could he picture a torture rack, or scrambling around in a cage. There'd been a river. Combined with Dean's comment about 360-degree combat, Sam's mind was spinning.
He set the needle to Dean's arm and Dean jerked.
"Son of a bitch." It came out as a gasp, a plea to stop. He flailed out a hand and grabbed Sam's wrist.
"Easy," Sam said, carefully twisting his hand away from Dean's weak grip. "Almost done, man."
"Yeah, it's me." Sam used his fingers to press the cut closed, frowning at the blood seeping through and making his job more difficult.
Sam looked up at his brother and saw Dean's eyes were on his throat.
"I did that, didn't I?"
"It's okay, Dean," Sam reassured him. "It doesn't hurt."
"I'm sorry." Dean licked his lips, looking off to the side, not quite out, but not really present, either.
Sam carefully sewed up the cut on his arm; they'd each been the givers and receivers of stitches more time than he cared to remember. Being awake for them was nothing new. He wrapped Dean's arm and reached into the first aid kit for two bottles. He tapped out antibiotics and pain meds.
"Think you can take these?"
Dean blinked, looking at Sam, leveling his eyes. "I'm sorry, Sam."
"I know you are," Sam replied quickly, not wanting to think too much about the layers inside that apology, knowing it wrapped more than just the cut into it.
If he accepted Dean's apology, he would feel the need to make one of his own and he just wasn't ready. He wasn't ready to not be mad, to not be hurt. He started to get up to get a glass of water from the bathroom.
Dean grabbed his arm, stopping him. He shook his head once, then blinked his eyes as if keeping them open was taking a monumental effort.
"I shoulda…I need t'tell you," Dean tried. "There's stuff you don't know. You'd understand…I think you'd understand if…."
Sam closed his fingers around Dean's hand, quieting him. "We can talk about it later, okay? Take these. Get some sleep."
Dean swallowed the pills without water and with a sigh let his eyes fall shut once more. Sam sat looking at him for another moment. Blood was smeared on the sheet beneath him and Sam hadn't been able to really get all of it off of his arms and legs.
"Eight. He cut himself eight times," Sam said, his tone dull with disbelief. "Protecting himself from his own head."
He reached down for the blanket bunched in a pile on the ground, spreading it over Dean's still form.
"I know you've seen a lot of shit, Sam," Benny said quietly. He drew out the words like taffy, seeming to try to strike a balance between confession and protection.
Sam looked over his shoulder at the vampire, waiting.
"You know those dreams where you're…you're just there." Benny was staring at Dean, blue eyes bright in the unshaded lamplight, a sort of haggard sorrow ghosting his expression. "And nothing could convince you otherwise."
Sam nodded, slipping off the side of the bed and sitting on the floor next to the shattered nightstand, his back against the wall. From this position, he could see Dean on the bed and above him, sitting like a protective gargoyle, Benny's profile was silhouetted against the harsh light of the bare lamp bulb.
"We took shifts, watching. Even if we didn't need sleep, Cas and me, Dean made us rest." Dean took a breath, shifting on the bed at the sound of his name, but he didn't wake. "Said we were a unit – like some kind of soldier-boy. Said we had to watch out for each other if we were gonna make it outta there."
Sam nodded. That sounded exactly like Dean – mostly because it also sounded exactly like Dad.
"This one time, we got separated. Leviathan." Benny spat the word. "Dropped down right between us and it was…chaos." He looked down and Sam saw him rubbing at his palm. "By the time we'd cleared 'em out, we realized Dean wasn't nowhere. Cas vanished and I thought I was as good as dead, but then he came back."
"He was looking for Dean," Sam guessed.
Benny nodded. "He stuck with me after that. Not really sure why. But we looked together, Cas and me. Took us three days to find him."
Sam looked at Dean as his brother twisted again in the sheets.
"He'd built himself a…kind of a shelter. There were bodies…hell, everywhere. Vampires, werewolves, Leviathan, rugaru, revenant…. He'd taken 'em all out. And he'd painted these," Benny gestured to the walls around him, "on all the trees surrounding him."
"With his blood?" Sam asked, his throat tightening.
"Some. Think others might've been bad guy blood." Benny glanced over his shoulder at Sam, then let his eyes rest on Dean. "Sigils made it so Cas couldn't come close – anti-angel sigils got mixed up with the anti-demon ones in his head, I guess. I waded in there and found him. He was…," Benny glanced down. "He was kind of a mess. Hadn't slept, was covered in blood. Took me a bit to convince him I was really there. Then he…he just looked at me. Know what he said?"
"What took you so long?" Sam guessed.
Benny chuckled, the sound a low, pleasant roll against the air around them. "You got it. I hauled his ass out of there and we…patched him up. Didn't let him take a watch for awhile."
Sam looked at Dean, feeling inexplicably exhausted. "You just told me more about his time there than he has since he got back."
Benny frowned for a moment, then looked down, nodding. "Yeah, well. He don't want you to know what it was like, man."
Sam felt his jaw tighten. "Why not? Maybe if I knew more of what he'd been through, I'd understand why he—" He pulled up short, darting his eyes away from Benny.
"Why he's friends with a goddamn vampire?" Benny finished for him.
Sam looked at the ground.
"You're gonna have to talk to him about that," Benny informed him. "I will tell you, I've never met a better man." He looked out through the window again. "And I've lived a damn long time."
They sat quietly for a bit, then Sam heard Benny slide from the top of the dresser, moving to the side of the bed. He watched as the vampire looked down at his sleeping brother. Something seemed to cross his face, a curious sort of sadness that Sam didn't know where to place. Benny's eyes shifted to him and Sam forced himself to meet his gaze.
"Gonna be sunrise, soon," Benny informed him. "I'll be going."
Sam nodded, remembering his promise.
"You tell this idiot to sleep, ya hear?" Benny looked back at Dean. "And talk to him." He slid his eyes to Sam in a challenging glance. "He ain't broken, Sam. He's just…trying to find his way." Benny glanced around the ruined room. "Like we all are."
Sam didn't say a word, simply watched as Benny shoved the dresser further aside and slipped through the door. He sighed, then leaned his head against the mattress, finally admitting he was completely exhausted.
Talk to him….
How could such a simple statement hold such weight? Before this past year, Sam barely had a memory that didn't involve Dean and now…guilt, resentment, jealousy were all getting in the way of something that could solve so many things. The chasm between here and there just felt so wide.
He closed his eyes, head bouncing slightly against the mattress as Dean moved restlessly on the bed. Just before he fell asleep, Sam felt a hand on his head, comfortable and familiar.
Dean opened his eyes, stifling a groan. He hurt. A lot.
Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he let his eyes roam the unfamiliar room, memories of the night before filtering through the dissipating fog. Bar, girl, sex…and then nothing but chaos and pain.
He swallowed roughly, trying to remember if he'd hurt anyone besides himself. He had a vague memory of shoving someone and cutting someone else. Reaching up, he dragged a hand down his face, rolling slowly to his side and sitting up on the edge of the bed, planting his feet and waiting for the world to stop its impression of a top.
Dean blinked blearily, looking around to find the source of the voice. Sam. Sounding…happy.
"Hey," he croaked.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like ass," Dean replied honestly. He narrowed his eyes at his brother. "What are you…are you washing the walls?"
"Dude, it looked like a crime scene in here," Sam informed him. "With your DNA everywhere."
"I'm a dead man, Sammy." Dean rubbed the back of his head.
"The dead have risen before," Sam muttered, going back to cleaning the walls. "Got your clothes and some coffee."
Dean felt his mouth water in reaction to the word coffee.
"You look like shit, but I'd avoid a shower for a little while," Sam continued. "Pretty sure that'd hurt like hell."
Dean looked down at the bandages arms and the two on his legs. Spots of red seeped through some of the white, while others were clean. Smears of red spread over the none-bandaged parts of his skin. He looked like he'd fought a paper shredder and lost.
"Damn," he muttered. "Jesus, man, did I…?"
"You didn't hurt anyone," Sam reassured him. "Gave me a little bit of a close shave, but I'll live."
Dean put his face in his hands and rested his elbows on his knees. He ached, from the inside out. He felt sick and scared and angry and strangely like he wanted to cry. He felt Sam move past him and he looked up. Clothes dropped beside him.
"Get dressed," Sam ordered. "Let's get the hell out of here. You can eat on the road."
Dean's stomach churned at the thought of food. "Not really hungry."
Sam planted his feet, standing in front of him and forcing him to blink bleary eyes up at his brother.
"Based on what I just washed off the walls of some back-woods motel room, you're about a pint low. You need to eat. End of discussion."
Dean nodded, slowly pulling on his jeans and shirts, bending stiffly to lace his boots. His clothes felt gritty and tight against his abused, filthy skin, but Sam was right – a shower would hurt like hell right now. He stood for a moment, waiting for the world to balance once more, before grabbing his jacket and turning toward the door where Sam waited. He glanced at the dresser sitting cock-eyed in front of the door.
A memory shot through him. A memory of a voice…a voice he knew quite well.
"Sam," he said suddenly, a sick, cold feeling in his stomach. "Was…was Benny here?"
Sam didn't reply right away and Dean looked over at his brother quickly, worry spiking his heart rate.
"Yeah," Sam replied quietly. He grabbed the handles of their first aid kit and handed Dean the knife, sliding his Colt into the bag. "He was here."
Dean slid the knife into the interior pocket of his jacket, feeling his mouth go dry. "And…then he left?"
"He left." Sam nodded. "Head intact and all."
Dean felt the room shift and tried to mask it by grabbing the bag of food and coffee from the dresser. He didn't want Sam to see how the idea of his brother encountering his friend frightened him. He would prefer to avoid that situation forever if he could.
"How'd he know?" Dean asked, following Sam out into the cold daylight.
"You had two numbers on your phone," Sam informed him. "The girl called both when you…freaked out."
"Holy shit," Dean muttered, climbing into the passenger side of the Impala without having to be told. He was too wrecked to drive, that was for sure. "Think I've sworn off one-night-stands for a while, man."
Sam chuckled, sliding behind the wheel. "That's what you said after the Amazons."
"Consider it re-said," Dean grumbled, sipping his lukewarm coffee. It had felt good, though. He remembered that much. It had felt good to just feel. If nothing else, he could hold on to that.
As they pulled out of the lot, Dean glanced over at Sam. "So. You let Benny leave?"
Sam nodded. "You were…," he looked back at Dean, then returned his eyes to the road. "You were pretty messed up, man. I needed help. And he'd…well, he'd been there with you."
Dean looked out through the side window, sweat gathering on his lip, the back of his neck. "Freakin' Purgatory."
Sam was quiet a moment. "You can talk about it, y'know."
"Not exactly something I'm excited to recap, Sam."
Dean watched the world slip by as Sam drove, thinking about what his brother had learned of his missing year in the last few days alone. His stomach churned at the thought of how it could push Sam further into the I'm done with hunting camp.
It made him cold, knowing how close to a real possibility that was. Hunting was what he did, it was all he knew. But doing it without Sam…doing it alone…Dean wasn't sure he could picture any reality for him where that wasn't a bleak future.
Last thing he wanted to do was give Sam more reasons than he already had to leave his ass in the dust.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Yes," Dean sighed. He was tired, sore, angry with himself, and his head was spinning, but he was more or less okay.
The quiet in the car was weighted.
Sam was often quiet, but this was…this was heavy. Awkward heavy. The frequent, worried glances Sam shot his way, the restless shifting behind the wheel made Dean uncomfortable. Anxious. Like Sam expected something he knew he wasn't going to get.
Reaching down for the box of cassettes at his feet, Dean thumbed through the familiar selection, hoping to find something that would distract them both, something to fill the screaming silence.
"So…I hit this dog," Sam said suddenly.
Dean stared at him, nonplussed. "What?"
Sam glanced at him again, took a deep breath and settled back against the driver's seat, his hand dropping to the bottom of the steering wheel. He looked out through the windshield once more.
"I hit this dog," Sam repeated. "Scared the crap outta me. I didn't see him until it was too late…."
After a moment, still watching Sam, Dean put the battered cassette box back on the floor.
a/n: Now you see the wish fulfillment aspect, yeah?
Those of you who know I'm NaNoWriMo-ing this month, I haven't given up. I'm still doing that, I just had to get this out of my system. *smiles*
Okay. Carry on.