You could come up with a number of reasons why it happened. It could be that Dean was exhausted from continuously working cases with his tireless, workaholic brother who never seemed to need any time to rest, let alone sleep. It could be that over the year at Lisa’s, Dean had gone soft, his hunter's reflexes dulled by his new civilian reality of a nine to five job and barbecues on the weekends. And of course, it could be attributed to bad luck, Dean’s oldest and most faithful companion.
Realistically, it was most likely a combination of all of the above. Not that it matters now.
Still, as he lies here on the dirty floor, eyes screwed shut and teeth clenched against the pain, being the stupid masochist that he is, Dean can’t help going over the events in his mind again and again. He can’t help thinking that had he been a little more cautious, a little faster, a little smarter, this could have been avoided.
Story of his fucking life.
* * *
Six Hours Earlier
“You know,” Sam says, leaning casually against the peeling wall of the motel room they’re currently staying in, “It’s not like waiting overnight and heading out to Lisa’s first thing tomorrow would kill you.”
“I get that.”
“Then why don’t you? This isn’t making any sense. You’re not thinking straight here.” Sam’s clearly trying to logic Dean into admitting defeat, all rational and sensible. He’s practically reason personified.
“Maybe not, Spock. But missing the people you care about and wanting to see them as soon as possible is kind of something that humans do. Remember?”
“Right, sure. Fine.” Though it doesn’t really sound that convincing.
“Good. Glad we cleared that up.” Dean starts jamming his clothes into his duffel before Sam can come up with any more objections. Or worse, find them another case.
It’s been over a week since that disastrous Dean-as-a-vampire incident. A week of back-to-back hunts that kept Sam and Dean busy. Now, it seems like they can finally get a break – no suspicious deaths have come up in internet searches, no freaky accidents have been brought up in newspaper articles. There’s nothing for them to do, much to Sam’s disgruntlement and Dean’s relief.
Dean hasn’t seen or talked to Lisa since he showed up in her bedroom like that stalkery vampire douche from Twilight; partly because he’s afraid of her reaction, but mainly because stuff like I was a vampire when I threatened you and your kid, but I’m fine now isn’t exactly something you just tell someone over the phone. He owes her and Ben an apology and an explanation face to face.
Not wanting to go completely radio silent until that happens, Dean’s left a couple of messages with vague but sincere apologies and assurances that he would explain everything as soon as he got the chance to come home. Now that chance is finally here, and he’s not going to let it be taken from him.
The last hunt has taken them to West Virginia, which makes it at least an eight hours’ drive to Lisa’s in Michigan, and yes, Dean knows he should catch some shut-eye before setting out, but he’s too restless, too eager to go, to wait any longer.
(And if he's honest with himself, he could also use some time without Sam. He's still not sure what to make of the way Sam acted when Dean got turned into a vamp, and maybe staying away from Sam for a while might give him a new perspective on the whole thing. One that hopefully doesn’t involve Sam not giving a damn about Dean anymore.)
So he guzzles about a gallon of black coffee, stocks up on Red Bulls, and while Sam’s not looking, he quickly swallows a couple of the pills he’s been secretly popping ever since he realized he wouldn’t be able to keep up with his brother otherwise. He’s all set and ready to go.
“Dean, seriously.” Sam speaks up, watching Dean pick up his duffel. "You look beat. You really sure you’re okay to drive?”
Dean sidesteps Sam, claps him on the shoulder on his way to the door. Out of habit more than anything else, he turns to give his brother a grin and a wink. “Ah, admit it, you just don’t wanna part with me ‘cause I’m so awesome and good-looking.”
“Yeah, right,” Sam says, but again, it comes out kind of flat.
And this right here is another reason why Dean needs to get out. Life has taught him to be pretty undemanding, but if there’s one thing Dean does need, it’s to see the people he loves smile. To make them smile. Even at his lowest, he used to be able to at least force an eye roll or a chuckle masked as a cough out of Sam, but lately none of his ribbing or goofing around elicits a genuine reaction.
The glaring difference between this new Sam and the old one makes it all the more painful to be around him, makes Dean want to get to Michigan all the faster. He misses Lisa’s free, ringing laugh at Dean’s snarky commentary of her favorite romantic movies, and Ben’s embarrassment at Dean’s lame dad jokes. He misses being treated like a human being.
God, he has to stop before this gets out of hand and he starts talking about matching colors, hair products and sleepovers.
"I'll call you when I get there," he tells Sam, and hits the road.
He's about halfway there, four empty Red Bull cans on the floor and eyelids still dangerously drooping, when he decides that arriving at Lisa’s a bit later than planned is better than ending up in a ditch or wrapped around a tree. He takes the next turn and pulls over at the nearest place that looks relatively remote and safe. When the engine’s off, he sets the alarm clock on his phone for two hours later, bundles up his jacket under his head like a pillow and closes his eyes. He’s out like a light.
That’s why he doesn’t hear the two cars roll in and the approaching footsteps until they’re right next to the Impala and the door’s creaking as it’s being yanked open. By then, it’s too late to do anything but throw a half-coordinated punch and flail helplessly as strong hands grab him and drag him out of the car. An arm locks around his neck as someone presses a chloroform-soaked cloth into his face. Dean tries to hold his breath and break out of the hold, but when they press down on his windpipe and then suddenly let go, instinct takes over and he draws a breath, then a second.
Soon after, his vision goes black.
When he comes to, his mind is hazy and sluggish, so it takes him a while to collect his wits and figure out what kind of mess he’s managed to get himself into this time.
It’s not looking very good. His wrists are tied behind his back, another length of what appears to be nylon cord is around his ankles, and he’s gagged and blindfolded too. Also – and this is new – he is locked in the trunk of his own car, judging by the familiar smell and by the sound of the running engine. This means there’s no way to get out; Dean himself had made sure of that when he first started using the Impala to transport monsters.
So yeah, not good.
Not like he hasn’t gotten out of far worse situations, though. He just has to keep his cool and wait for the right opportunity to escape.
He tries to wiggle his fingers and toes so his limbs don’t go numb, but whoever tied him up did a pretty thorough job – the cords are pulled tight and cutting off his circulation almost completely. He hates it when the bad guys know what they’re doing.
Seems like all he can do is wait.
Or maybe not. It’s a long shot, considering how distant Cas has been lately, but Dean sends out a prayer anyway, doesn’t think he’s got a choice here. Hey, Cas, you got your ears on? He waits a few beats, continues when there’s no reply from the angel. Looks like I’m in trouble, could really use your help, so if you could maybe pop up and give me a hand, I’d appreciate it. … Cas, are you there? Castiel?
Though he’s not really surprised when he gets no answer, it doesn’t make it any better either.
The Impala lurches to an abrupt stop approximately half an hour later, the driver either unaccustomed to handling classic cars or simply not giving a damn about treating them right. Dean silently promises whoever the son of a bitch is a slow, painful death if Baby gets as much as a scratch on her.
Then the trunk is opened and Dean thrown onto the ground, landing face down and just barely avoiding breaking his nose. He tries to get his feet under him, but as expected, they’re refusing to cooperate.
There’s laughter, and hands grabbing his arms, lifting him up. The grip of his kidnappers is bruisingly tight as they take him somewhere, not showing any consideration for their catch. Dean’s booted feet drag in the dirt, bump up several stairs and then grate against what appears to be wooden floorboards. That assumption is confirmed when the hands suddenly let go of him and he goes down like a sack of potatoes again, hitting the floor so hard he’s almost glad there’s no feeling in his limbs right now. He’s going to be sore like hell later.
More laughter, then the blindfold is pulled off and Dean’s blinking against harsh light, trying to make sense of his surroundings. He’s in a large unfurnished room with moldy, peeling walls and smashed windows, and there are five men standing around him. Middle-aged, average-looking, nothing special about them except for the black eyes and the sinister smiles on their lips.
“Well, if it isn't Dean Winchester,” one of them says, lisping slightly. He bends forward, hands braced on his knees. “Heard a lot about you.”
“Can’t say you lived up to your reputation,” another one adds, and they all cackle like it’s the funniest joke ever.
Bound and gagged, there’s nothing Dean can do but give them one of his trademark murderous glares, so he gives it all he’s got.
“My my, if looks could kill,” a demon wearing a balding man comments, clearly unconcerned, which just pisses Dean off and makes him glare harder. “Stop scowling, pretty boy, it doesn’t suit you.”
“I don’t know, I kinda like him like this,” Lispy disagrees, head bent to one side as he inspects Dean like a fucking zoo exhibit. “And I’m looking forward to wiping that defiance off his face.”
“Gonna teach him how to treat us with proper respect,” Baldy nods, and directs his next words to Dean. “Oh boy, you’re gonna be in a world of hurt soon. Gonna scream for us, oh yeah.”
Dean can’t resist rolling his eyes. It’s just his luck that once again, not only did he get caught by the bad guys, but he got caught by bad guys who love to hear themselves talk. And speak in clichés only.
A thin, pale demon who looks like his meatsuit must be an accountant, steps forward. “You got something on your mind?” Bony fingers untie the knots of the scarf serving as Dean’s gag before pulling it out. “Something you wanna share with the rest of the class, maybe?”
Dean licks his lips, swallows, considers not replying, but in the end, his snarky nature wins out. “Oh, nothing, Mr. B Movie Villain. I’m just marveling at the originality.”
Accountant doesn’t look offended. “We don’t need to be original, Deano. After all, we already know what works best in your case. I mean, Alastair sure made progress with you.”
Predictably but unavoidably, there’s a rush of crippling fear flooding Dean’s entire being at the mere mention of that name.
“I’ve seen him work on you, down in the Pit,” Accountant goes on, a dreamy note in his voice as if this is a nice memory he likes to revisit on long winter nights. “Of course Alastair liked to have you more… stripped down, with all the unnecessary bits and layers peeled off,” he chuckles at the joke that is not a joke at all. “So you didn’t look as pretty last time I saw you. Begged real pretty, though.”
There’s nothing about the demon’s words that Dean could deny, it’s nothing but ugly truth. He forces down the bile that has risen up to his throat, and does what he always does – deflects. “What do you want?”
“To have some fun,” Lispy answers simply.
Another demon (Dean’s done keeping track of them, so he just dubs him Demon number four) adds, “And a reward from Crowley. I’m sure he’ll give us a princely one for a Winchester’s ass.” He exchanges a knowing look with the other demons. “Whatever we’ll do to you, it won’t compare to what he’s got in store for you, boy.”
As ominous as that sounds, it’s actually good news. The demons want to keep Dean alive for Crowley, and as long as Dean is alive, there is also a fighting chance. Now he just has to wait out whatever the bastards are planning for him before they hand him over. Sadly, he bets his definition of ‘fun’ won’t match theirs in the slightest.
“Untie him,” Lispy, who seems to be the leader of the group, orders, and soon Dean’s ties are cut. It doesn’t do him a whole lot of good though, limbs still stubbornly refusing cooperation so he can’t do anything but lie there while Number 4 and Number 5 start pulling Dean’s clothes off. And Dean understands where this is going, has suspected it for a while and becomes sure when the demons themselves start undressing.
Not this. Not again.
Terror washes over him anew, immobilizing him for a split second before survival instinct kicks in, fear-fueled adrenalin flooding Dean’s veins and lending him strength. Dean spits and struggles and trashes, swings his arms out and kicks, headbutts one demon and bites another’s hand, even manages to slip out of their hold and take a few wobbly steps away from the cursing group.
He doesn’t get very far before invisible tendrils of power wrap around him and hold him still. Then, just to remind him that they can, the demons telekinetically hurl Dean against the nearest wall with such force that the impact almost makes him black out. After that, they use a more hands-on approach to get him where they want him, because clearly getting to smack him around is much more fun.
“Blood looks good on him,” Number 4 notes and slams his foot into Dean’s chest repeatedly.
“Best kind of foreplay,” Accountant agrees as his fist connects with the side of Dean’s head, gleeful satisfaction in his voice.
“Stop destroying his face,” Lispy admonishes, leaning over Dean and grabbing a fistful of his hair, lifting his head up and turning it from side to side, like he’s checking if the goods isn’t too damaged. “I wanna be able to see what he looks like when he’s stuffed full of cock.”
Again with the corny evil monologuing, Dean thinks, although deep down he’s grateful for it. The annoyance at the demons’ big talk helps him bottle up his growing dread, enables him to bury it under sarcasm and insults, the only weapons currently at his disposal. “How ‘bout I stuff you full of salt and watch you sizzle and burn instead, huh?”
Breaking his own rule, Lispy clocks Dean right in the face; a solid punch that almost dislocates Dean’s jaw. “Might be good for you to remember your place, Winchester.”
Dazed from the blow, Dean needs a moment to think of another retort. “Might be good for you to fuck off,” is what he comes up with, crowning his efforts with an attempt to spit in Lispy’s face. He misses; the pink-tainted gob lands on his own chest. Figures.
It’s the intention that counts though, so Lispy takes offence anyway, rewarding Dean with several nasty kicks to the kidneys that will have Dean pissing blood for days. If he even stays alive that long.
“Gentlemen,” Number 5, who hasn’t partaken in the ‘let's beat the crap out of Dean’ game so far, steps in. His tone is somewhat reproachful. “Let’s not waste time on crude, primitive brutality, when we have such a fine specimen at our disposal. Why don’t we proceed to the main event?”
“He’s got a point,” Lispy concedes and the other demons follow suit, albeit more reluctantly. They throw in a couple more kicks and punches for good measure, so by the time they’ve finally stopped and formed a circle around Dean, Dean’s head is spinning, his ears are ringing, breathing hurts like a bitch and his left eye is swelling shut. It wouldn’t take much more for them to beat him unconscious.
No such luck though.
“Careful, don’t want him to be completely out of it.” Lispy hauls Dean to his knees and pats his cheek, the gesture almost gentle. “Wouldn’t wanna miss out all the fun, right, Deano?” He has to steady him with a hand on his shoulder when Dean sways, unable to keep his balance, still trying to catch his breath and having to bite back pained moans every time his ribcage expands. He doesn’t think anything’s broken or cracked yet, just badly bruised, but either way, he’s in no condition to fight.
Cas, now would be a great time for a rescue. But Cas doesn’t listen, or maybe doesn’t care.
As a last resort, Dean starts reciting an exorcism, but he doesn’t even get the first verse out before there’s pressure around his throat, invisible hands tightening dangerously. They wait a few moments more and when they finally let him go, he collapses back on the floor, wheezing for air, trying to clear his vision of the dancing black spots.
“Do that again and we’ll cut your tongue out,” Accountant growls, and Dean’s not sure in how many pieces the demons actually want him to be when they hand him over to Crowley, so he takes the warning seriously.
“That’s more like it,” Lispy praises him as he steps up again, hard dick bobbing right in front of Dean’s face. “Now, I don’t have to tell you not to bite, do I?”
And Dean hates this, hates that he knows what’s coming, hates that he knows what he has to do, and that he can, because he’s done it before. Submit. Endure. Survive. Shame burning in his cheeks, he nods.
“Good boy,” Lispy smiles and pushes right inside, fast, not giving Dean any time to adjust. It's not really a surprise but Dean gags all the same when the head of Lispy’s cock hits the back of his throat, and tears spring to his eyes. It's been a while since he's last done this. Lispy pulls out just long enough to let him take a heaving breath, quickly going back in. His hands hold the back of Dean’s head as he fucks his face, heavy balls slapping against Dean’s chin as his hips snap forward again and again. And he won't shut up, keeps up a running commentary of how good this feels, how Dean was clearly made for this and only this.
It’s nothing Dean hasn’t heard before: from Alastair and other demons down in the Pit, and topside too, from sweaty truckers in parking lots and closeted townies in dark alleys behind bars when Dad was gone for too long and getting down on your knees for a stranger was the quickest way to get some cash. It's not something he's proud of, but at least he has the technique down: cover your teeth, relax your throat, breathe between thrusts. Turns out it's just like riding a bike.
The other demons grow impatient soon. As Number 5 puts it, “I’m afraid we’re not making use of all he has to offer.”
“Right, it’s not nice to not share,” someone else chimes in, and two rough palms land on Dean's shoulders, then start to skate down his back. The fingers are slick, maybe with Dean's sweat or with his blood, and they feel like tentacles as they slither down, slowly approaching their target. Dean can't suppress a shudder when the hands grab the globes of his ass and squeeze.
“Hey, I go first,” Lispy pulls out of Dean’s mouth. Unsupported, Dean’s head drops down. He keeps his eyes closed and counts his breaths while the demons squabble over him. Let it be over. Just let it be over with.
After a fairly heated discussion, Dean is rearranged to stand on all fours and Baldy takes Lispy’s place while Lispy gets between Dean’s legs. A gob of spit lands between Dean’s ass cheeks and two thick fingers push it in without preamble, scissoring maybe three times before they’re pulled out and replaced by the thick head of Lispy’s cock.
It’s just as bad as Dean remembers it, the splitting pain that goes so deep, and the sense of violation that cuts even deeper, filling Dean up, expanding inside him until it feels like it’s going to split him right open. Every fiber of his being is screaming, urging him to fight the intrusion, but that’s the opposite of what Dean has to do if he wants to have the slightest chance of getting out of this alive. Swallowing his pride, Dean relaxes and lets it happen, bearing down to minimize the damage because when they’re done with him, he needs to be able to act.
“I knew you’d take it like a pro,” Lispy smacks him on the ass and starts fucking him in earnest, the force of his thrusts impaling Dean further onto the cock in his mouth. He’s trapped between the two demons, has nowhere to go, especially when the remaining three crowd in, eager to touch and molest any part of Dean’s body they can reach.
They keep taunting and mocking Dean as they take turns with him, passing him around, arranging him this way and that. At first they make sure to hold him in place, but once they realize he’s stopped struggling, they don’t even bother anymore.
Oddly enough, they don’t try to get Dean hard and make him come against his will, use his own body against him. Amateurs, a dark, repressed part of him sneers disdainfully. And really, what kind of a person would think something like that?
“Told you he’s a cockslut,” Number 5 grunts, pulling out of Dean’s mouth and grabbing him by the chin, forcing him to look up. “Eyes open,” he orders before he paints Dean’s face with his third load of come, if Dean’s counting right. The demon must be boosting the vessel’s sex drive because he doesn’t even get soft, looks ready to go again and only steps back when Accountant pushes him out of the way, complaining that he’s feeling left out.
The five of them are going at it as if they only intend to stop when every square inch of Dean is covered in demon spunk, the stomach-turning smell of sex fills the air and the only words Dean knows are bitch and slut and whore.
There’s nowhere to escape the onslaught of sensations but the inside of Dean’s mind, so that’s where he withdraws to, behind a protective wall of Latin exorcisms, ways to kill various types of monsters, the designs of protective sigils and Devil’s traps. And he almost manages to zone out completely, but is brought back when the demons notice he’s not as responsive as they’d like.
“Oh no,” Number 4 brings Dean around with a hard, stinging slap. “You’re not getting rid of us so easily.”
From then on, the demons make it a point to keep Dean fully present; every time he starts to space out, they capture his attention by slapping him, pinching his nipples or crushing his limp cock or balls. They like that a lot, probably because he just can’t hold back the anguished wails when they do that, tears rolling down his humiliation-colored cheeks, hands clenching into helpless fists.
He briefly renews his attempts at resistance when they decide his ass is too loose and they should try to take him two at once. The instinctual fear is too strong and their blows aren’t enough to enforce Dean’s cooperation, but when Lispy suggests maybe they should go find someone else to play with instead, Dean goes slack again, lets them do whatever they want.
His screams aren’t very loud at that point; his throat is far too raw, voice hoarse and just as weak as the rest of him.
It goes on forever.
Dean goes where they push him, into positions that they find most suitable or most degrading. Tired, beaten muscles are straining to hold him up though, and he falls several times, arms and legs giving under him. Unless the demons need him up, they just leave him on the floor. Dean’s body is jarred across the floorboards by the endless supply of hard cocks driving into him, his hands reaching out towards God knows what, fingers trailing in the dirt and creating patterns that nobody sees or cares about.
“You ever had a fist up your ass?” Baldy bends over Dean, his question accompanied by a deceptively friendly smile. “Huh?”
They all know the answer, but Dean doesn’t feel like sharing his memories from his time with Alastair. The demons don’t seem to mind, stepping aside and gathering around to compare their hands to decide whose fist is the largest.
They make the mistake of leaving Dean unattended.
Mustering up the energy he’s been saving until now, Dean acts fast. A few finishing moves of his hand and then he starts crawling, limbs weak and shaking, but carrying him away, into safety.
It takes the demons several moments before they notice. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?” Number 5 yells and follows Dean in several swift steps, one two three – and then he stops, frozen in place as if hitting an invisible wall. “The hell?”
The other demons start toward Dean too, but just like Number 5, their progress is suddenly halted.
If this were an action movie, Dean would give them a cocky grin, maybe a wink, and say something like “Gotcha”. As it is, he just drops his gaze to the floor under the demons’ feet, waiting for them to notice the large Devil’s Trap he painted into the dust with a mixture of come, blood, spit and tears while they were too busy fucking him and gloating about how broken he was.
Lispy gets it first, and his face contorts with rage. “You little shit–“
More insults follow, but Dean doesn’t care; he’s got an exorcism to perform. He does it from his position on the floor, filthy and bleeding, words coming slurred from his swollen mouth and abused throat, but it does the job just as well and soon there’s black smoke flying out of the five meatsuits, swirling wildly before it burns up on the ceiling. The vessels drop down, unconscious.
Exhausted, Dean makes his painstakingly slow way across the floor to check the men’s vital functions, finding weak but steady pulse at each throat he checks. Good.
Next, he crawls over to the pile of his clothes and carefully, slowly puts them on, having to pause several times just to breathe through the pain and make sure he doesn’t pass out. By the time he’s fully dressed and his boots are on, there are fresh tears streaming down his face and he’s sweating, shaking like a leaf, and barely fighting nausea and unconsciousness as wave after wave of pain course through his body.
He drags himself over to the nearest corner, props himself against the wall because he’s definitely not able to support himself, wraps his trembling hand around the grip of his 1911 Colt that he found among the demons’ stuff, and waits.
The vessel of Number 4 stirs first, blinking in disorientation several times before he comes fully awake and sits up, alarmed. The noise wakes up the other four men, and they all turn confused, scared eyes first to one another and then to Dean.
He can see it when the memory of what happened hits them – horror and disgust, shame, fear; all the reactions you could expect from someone finding themselves in this fucked-up situation.
After their initial shocked silence, questions come, like machine-gun fire. What happened? Who are you? Where am I? What have I done? Why did I do it? Is this a bad dream?
“It wasn’t your fault,” Dean rasps, interrupting them. “You were possessed by demons. Yes, they are real. Yes, you can prevent it from happening again, you can find anti-possession tattoos on Google. No, I’m not going to report what happened here, so you can try to forget it ever happened if you want, although I gotta warn you – no matter how much you try to keep the lid on shit like this, it has a tendency to surface anyway.” He rattles it off as fast as he can, tone flat. Introducing civilians to the supernatural world has never been Dean’s favorite activity, and he’s particularly disinclined to sugarcoat it for them right now. Besides, it’s already too late for this unfortunate bunch.
Luckily, the men aren’t too interested in hanging around and chatting either. They leap at the chance to make things easier for themselves, accepting the absolving words of a stranger at face value just so they can avoid the blame. It won’t work for long, but it’s enough for them now. They scramble for their clothes, get dressed as fast as they can, keeping their heads down. Probably already building up walls so they can later tell themselves none of this was real.
Four of the men scurry out of the room, unable to meet Dean’s eyes, so he just hollers after them, “If you take the black Chevy outside, I’ll find you and kill you!” and then he’s left alone with the fifth guy, Lispy. "What?"
"Sorry," Lispy hovers in front of him, hands in his pockets. “You… are you okay?” His lisp is more pronounced now than when the demon was driving him. “We hu– … You got hurt pretty bad, I think I should take you to the ER.”
The simple fact that the guy asks – whether it’s an attempt to redeem himself or genuine concern – makes Dean give a tight smile of reassurance. “I’ve had worse, trust me. I can handle it.” It sounds like macho bullshit but it’s not. Dean knows his limits far too well, has been pushed past them more times than any man should. “Go on, just go home.”
But the guy isn’t deterred so easily. “Do you have someplace to go? You need some rest, maybe I could at least drive you there. You can’t stay here.”
At this point, accepting help seems like less trouble than trying to reject it, so eventually Dean concedes, and the man – Rick, he introduces himself – helps him walk out of the house and towards the Impala. Dean insists on a quick check of the car first, making sure that she’s fine and nothing is missing, before he gingerly lowers himself into the passenger seat. Finding a position that wouldn’t hurt is impossible, so he doesn’t even try.
Looking guilty and now also increasingly nervous (probably because Dean still has his Colt in his hand), Rick gets inside the car and starts the engine. “So, where to?”
“Just drop me off at the nearest motel.”
Rick looks like he’s about to argue, but then he nods. “Okay.”
They drive in silence, Dean brushing off all attempts at conversation with gruff, one-worded answers. He makes one pretty crappy passenger, but the thing is, he doesn’t know Rick, can’t really trust the man, and even if he could, he certainly doesn’t feel like talking. To anyone.
But even though he kind of wishes to just disappear off the face of the Earth, he can’t do that before he takes care of a few things. Dean opens the glove compartment and digs out his spare phone.
Hey, got held up on another job, might take me a couple more days, he carefully types with shaking fingers, and wonders if Lisa and Ben will experience the same mix of fear and frustration reading the message that Dean used to when he’d receive similar texts from Dad.
Almost immediately, the phone screen lights up, Lisa’s name on the caller ID. Dean quickly rejects the call and texts Sorry, can’t talk now before he can change his mind. If he talked to Lisa, there’s no way she wouldn’t detect something’s wrong with him. And even if she didn’t, Dean’s afraid that just hearing her voice, getting to feel that strong pull towards what he learned to consider family and home, might be too much for him to handle and he’d spill the truth himself. And then she’d come for him.
Lisa doesn’t deserve that, she already had to witness more than her fair share of Dean’s nightmares, and he knows for certain that they will come. He might be good at handling the pressure when things need to be done, but now that it’s time to deal and recuperate, things are going to get much worse before they get any better.
Especially since his usual support system isn’t exactly supportive anymore. Cas is off playing sheriff in Heaven. Bobby’s made it crystal clear that he’s fed up with the Winchesters asking for help, and that Dean should just quit whining. And Sam… Sam’s not exactly someone Dean would trust to have his back right now. Just the idea of being around Sam when he's this badly hurt, practically helpless, makes Dean's skin crawl.
He'll just have to handle this on his own.
Must be coming down with something. Gonna have to crash at Lisa’s for a couple days, he sends to Sam. The message is purposefully short and vague and the Sam that Dean used to know would immediately call back to demand answers, all worried like a mother hen.
But when Sam’s reply comes, it just says OK, get better soon. Which just serves as further proof that Dean’s little brother isn’t himself lately. But that’s a problem for another day.
“Is someone coming for you?” Rick asks when Dean puts the phone away.
Dean stays silent.
More silence, but Rick keeps throwing surreptitious glances at Dean. No doubt thinking about what happened between them, maybe wondering if the demons were lying about Dean and Hell. Either way, Dean’s not too keen on finding out what’s going through Rick’s head.
But today’s just not his lucky day. “Can I ask you something?” Rick says, continuing without letting Dean speak. “Do all demons act like that?”
That’s not the question Dean was expecting. “Once they stop acting like they’re human? Pretty much, yeah.”
“And they can possess anyone?”
“Anyone who’s not protected by a talisman or a tattoo.”
Rick’s eyes flit to Dean’s chest. “And the black eyes thing… that’s a demon sign? A surefire one?”
Rick nods, like that explains something, like something’s finally starting to make sense. He sits up straighter, head held higher.
Dean’s seen that look before, and even though this really is none of his business, he can’t hold his tongue now. “Look, holy water hurts them, and they can’t cross Devil’s Traps, like the one I painted on the floor. But if you’re thinking about going after someone–“
“I’m not,” Rick cuts him off. “It’s too late for that. Has been for years.”
He doesn’t say more, and Dean doesn’t ask.
Fifteen minutes later, they’re in a motel parking lot, looking at each other over the Impala’s roof.
“I’ll make it from here,” Dean tells Rick to prevent any more offers of help. He’s sick of the stares, of the mix of guilt and pity and curiosity, just wants to be left alone.
Rick swallows uneasily. “Right. I’ll just be on my way then, I guess.” He starts walking away, but turns back. There’s that guilty look again. “I just… I’m sorry. About what happened.”
“Wasn’t your fault. You’re as much of a victim here as I am,” is the best Dean can say. It’s nothing but the truth, and yet he can’t make himself say thanks for the help, not to a man wearing the face that laughed at Dean's suffering less than an hour ago.
Rick sighs and nods, walks away.
Leaning against the Impala, trusting her to support his weight, Dean watches Rick hitch a ride. He waits ten more minutes just to be sure before he gets back into the car and pulls out of the lot, searching for another motel because no way is he going to stay where Rick dropped him off.
The motel he ends up picking is one of the shabbiest he’s ever stayed in. The upside of that is a bored desk clerk who is completely unfazed by Dean’s appearance, the downside is a shower with cold water only. But maybe that’s good too, because the freezing water has a numbing effect on Dean’s body and a stimulating effect on his mind, so at least he doesn’t pass out from pain or exhaustion and break his head on the hard tiles. That would be a pathetic end to one pathetic life.
He cleans up as well as he can, teeth chattering and knees weak because even the cold doesn’t make him numb enough to not feel the pain when his shaking fingers reach between his ass cheeks. The demons tore him up some, but he decides it’s not bad enough to warrant a trip to the ER. He’d get asked too many questions, none of which he could answer. “No, I can’t describe my assailants, just their vessels. See, those men were possessed by demons.” Yeah, that would go over well.
He’s going to have to get tested for STDs later though, but that will have to wait.
Using up the entire (admittedly not that big) bar of soap doesn’t make him feel even marginally cleaner, but even scrubbing his skin with steel wool wouldn’t help with that, and Dean really doesn’t need to get pneumonia on top of everything else, so he shuts the water off, stumbles out of the shower and grabs the ratty towel.
He makes it a point not to look into the mirror placed above the sink when he puts on loose sleeping pants and a t-shirt. He knows he must look as terrible as he feels and should patch himself up, but if he tried that now he might actually pass out right here in the bathroom. Swallowing a couple of painkillers will have to do for now.
He limps over to the bed, sits down carefully, eases himself down into a lying position. He doesn’t want to go to sleep, knowing that he’ll be plunged into a world of nightmares the moment he does, but his body’s too exhausted to take that into consideration, dragging him under into the deepest, darkest corners of his mind anyway.
When he wakes up, sun is filtering through the thin motel curtain, and everything hurts so bad that the agony almost knocks Dean right back into unconsciousness.
He lies still, breathing through it and staring at the cracks on the wall with the one functioning eye, mentally and physically gearing up for the torment that will be getting up and moving, even if just to take a trip to the bathroom. But he will have to move, and not just because he needs to piss. His entire body’s throbbing with bone-deep pain and it feels like he’s swollen all over to twice his normal size. He can’t neglect his injuries any longer.
The trip to the bathroom takes an embarrassingly long time, and Dean has to do it in stages – move, pause and wait until the pain abates to a somewhat manageable level, move again, repeat. The progress is infuriatingly slow, but at least he stays on his feet, unsteady as they are.
A quick shower rids him of the cold, clammy sweat that came with the nightmares, and then it’s time to do some doctoring. Well aware of his not-so-stellar strength reserves, Dean makes a decision to take the med kit back to the bed. That way if he passes out, at least he'll have a soft landing. At least theoretically.
Cataloguing and tending to every bruise, scratch and cut eats up all of Dean’s remaining energy and when he’s done, patched up as well as his shaking hands and limited resources allow, he’s already more than halfway to unconsciousness again. He can hear the demons’ laughter at the edges of his mind, feel Alastair’s intrusively intimate touch, see the victorious smile when a blade is placed into his hand.
“Go away,” he whispers weakly, sitting up straighter in the bed and forcing his good eye to open wider in an attempt to resist the pull of sleep. But staying awake isn’t enough when even the slightest movement sends pain shooting through his entire body, when every breath he draws into his battered chest only reminds him of his latest failure.
He doesn’t have to be asleep for the nightmares to come, he’s learned that years ago.
He tries to eat, digging an energy bar out of the duffel he left by the bed, but he can’t keep the food down, isn’t even fast enough to get to the toilet in time.
It leaves a bad aftertaste no matter how many times Dean rinses his mouth; in fact, even the tap water tastes like sulfur and come to him. The stench of vomit from the cursorily cleaned carpet doesn’t exactly help him keep a firm grip on reality either, and when he breaks into a fever, his mind starts playing tricks on him.
The sweat-heavy sheets coil and tangle around his legs, turning into chains holding him in place. The cuts and abrasions on his body turn into wide-gaping wounds that go bone-deep, tearing Dean open for Alastair to climb in, fill him up with agony, despair, misery.
He drifts in and out of consciousness. Memories rise up in his mind, the good ones turning bad and the bad ones turning worse. He sees people, too – Dad, looking at him, disappointed, “I thought I raised you to be a man.” Sam, yellow-eyed, teeth bared in a feral snarl, choking the life out of Dean because Dean failed him, didn’t keep him safe. Jo, guts torn open, dying horribly because she made the mistake of trusting Dean. Cas, leaning over him, eyebrows knit together in a disapproving frown.
He blinks, once, twice, but the image of the angel doesn’t disappear. Dean licks his cracked, swollen lips. His voice comes out as a rasp. “Cas? You’re real?”
“You called me,” the angel states simply. “I had some vital matters to attend to in Heaven, but I came as soon as I could spare some time.”
It makes sense that Dean’s nowhere as important as the civil war in Heaven, but it still stings, because Dean’s a needy, clingy baby sometimes. He pushes it down, tells himself he should be thankful that Cas came at all, even if the cavalry arrived after the Indians had already won. “Well, it’s good to see you.”
Castiel’s expression softens. “You too. Although you look horrible.” He reaches out, puts two gentle fingers on Dean’s forehead. “There. That’s better.”
“Understatement,” Dean mutters and stands up to see if his newly fixed body works as it should. He's pleased to see that it does. “Thanks, man.”
Cas nods, standing there in his stupid trench coat, looking slightly awkward and out of place, but he’s here, he’s here because Dean needs him, and that fills Dean with relief and gratitude. Because as great as an angel’s healing touch is, it’s definitely no miraculous insta-cure to make everything all rainbows and puppies. But having someone you can trust enough to let your guard down, someone strong enough to help you carry the load without crumbling under it himself – yeah, that sure helps.
Smiling, Dean claps the angel on the shoulder. “I’m really glad you’re here, Cas.”
“I wish I could’ve come sooner. You shouldn’t have had to go through that.”
The smile freezes on Dean’s lips. “Yeah.”
Quick, he needs to think about something else, find something else to talk about before he starts going under again. He starts looking around the room – which Cas must’ve also magically angel-cleaned because the carpet bears no marks of Dean's earlier digestive disaster – until he spots his jacket. “Hey, what do you say we go grab some beer, order pizza and watch crappy movies? Or we could–”
But there’s a flap of wings and when he turns back, he’s alone. Again.
“Never mind,” he says to the empty room. He puts on the jacket anyway, fishing out the car keys out of the pocket, and heads out to find the nearest liquor store.
He wakes up sprawled on the bed, fully dressed, boots still on, fingers of his left hand tightly wrapped around an empty bottle. He stinks something awful. His limbs are heavy, skin sticky with spilled alcohol, drool and sweat, and the inside of his mouth tastes like a rat crawled in there and died. On top of that, he also has a terrible headache, the pounding inside his head so loud and painful that it’s practically incapacitating.
Unable to form a single complex thought, just like he wanted, Dean stares at the ceiling, comfortable and safe in the numbness of his stupor. If only he could stay like this forever, stuck in a state where nothing really matters because he’s incapable of caring.
A car horn blows outside.
Doors and trunks are open and shut as people enter and leave the motel parking lot.
A dog barks, a loud voice shouts at the dog to shut the fuck up.
Someone is crying in the room next door, a kid is laughing in another one.
Dean's phone rings several times.
He blissfully doesn't care about any of it.
It doesn’t work for long. It never does.
Time ticks on mercilessly, and the wall of indifference inside Dean’s mind crumbles, brick by brick. Awareness and memories trickle back in, and Dean knows that the holiday’s over. He might as well get cleaned up and see how he’s going to handle being a grown-up.
When he sits up, the world sways around him and his stomach lurches up into his throat. But he makes it to the toilet this time, so that’s an improvement right there.
“See? I’m Mr. Positive already,” he informs the porcelain bowl.
He takes a shower, brushes his teeth and shaves, stands in front of the mirror when he’s done to examine himself critically. All things considered, it’s not that bad a sight – he looks pale, with sickly skin and dark shadows under blood-shot eyes, but otherwise he looks fine. Except that’s one big fat lie, because where it matters, Dean’s still a fucking mess.
Nothing new there.
Lisa texts him later that day, asking if he’s going to make it home for the weekend. Dean badly wants to say yes, to get in the car and break all speed limits just so he could see her again. But there’s no way he’s going to get his shit together by the weekend.
He will do it, get back on his feet, as he’s had to do numerous times in the past. But it’ll take time, and until then, he’s going to be horrible company. He’ll be edgy and short-tempered, he’ll yell at Ben for no damn reason, be distant and closed off with Lisa, will wake them up screaming in the middle of the night or stink up their house with cheap whisky.
A nasty thought worms its way into his head: he’s always going to be like that. Weak and breakable, bad-tempered, violent, a control freak who is constantly bitter because he has no control over anything at all. And if he stays with Lisa and Ben, he’s only going to drag them down into the muck with him.
Out of the long line of unpleasant revelations Dean’s had about himself over the years, this might be one of the worst, right there at the top of the list with the big hits like I can’t keep Sammy safe forever and if I’d been more of a man, there would be no Apocalypse.
For someone whose life is one big nonstop failure, Dean’s not very well-equipped for dealing with this kind of news. Just skirting around the idea makes him break into a cold sweat, gets his heart beating like a hammer inside his chest, like a bell that goes ding-dong, you screwed up again.
He sinks to the floor, puts his head between his knees, squeezes his eyes shut and covers his ears in an attempt to block out the world. But he can’t, because this is inside him, this is him, and there’s no escaping that.
When his fingers stop shaking, he grabs his phone and texts Lisa. Too much work. I don’t know when I’ll make it back to you. Won’t be anytime soon though, sorry. Miss you and Ben so much.
Instead of replying, she calls him back. Dean debates whether to answer the call or not. He doesn’t want to lie to her, but he doesn’t want to make her feel like he’s ignoring her either. She deserves better than that.
“Dean?” She sounds worried. “Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah.” Not very convincing. He tries again. “Yeah, I’m fine." God, how can he say that to her after what's happened the last time he saw her? "I mean, I’m not fine. I messed up. Almost got you and Ben hurt.” Again.
“Yeah, you did,” Lisa agrees in that matter-of-fact tone she’s so good at, neither comforting nor accusing. “Wanna tell me what that was about? Because, look, me and Ben know you didn’t mean to scare us, and we know you’re sorry, but it would be a lot easier for us if we understood what the hell was going on that night. And if we knew it won’t happen again.”
He grimaces, screws his eyes shut. “I can’t promise that.”
“That’s not good, Dean.”
“No, it’s not.” A deep breath. He doesn’t want to say this, but he has to. “Look, I’d understand if you–“
“Don’t,” she cuts in. “Don’t be an idiot, Dean. We can work this out. Just… just come home.”
He wants to say yes so badly it hurts. But it’s not safe, not now. “I told you, I can’t.”
“I’m so sorry, Lisa.” He ends the call, drops the phone, and sits there, feeling like the worst piece of scum on Earth.
He still feels like the worst piece of scum on Earth the next morning.
It doesn’t matter that he just woke up from a nightmare crying like a baby and then threw up all over the bed as he realized the nightmare was just a fresh memory, which only proves that staying away from Lisa and Ben for now is the best thing he can do for them.
Of course, that's not exactly true.
Dean knows he could get help. Professional help, find a shrink. He’s thought about it before – things like coming back from Hell make you consider all your options carefully.
And Dean’s not an expert by any means, but he did his research, even asked around here and there about the various kinds of therapy and medication, so he knows that if he found a really good doctor and if he put in some real, continuous effort, he might actually get better. Learn how to deal with the ever-growing pile of trauma without the help of booze and violence, how to manage, how not to ruin and corrupt everything he touches because of his hang-ups and insecurities and fears.
The catch is, it would take time. A lot of it. And the way Dean understands it, getting to the roots of whatever’s festering inside him and refusing to heal would mean he’d have to let himself get cut open first. Let out all the stuff he’s been hiding behind walls, tear those walls down. Which would definitely put him out of commission for a while.
Dean may be holding together with duct tape, safety pins and dental floss stitches, but at least he’s functional. He can’t afford to fall apart, not now, when he has to figure out what’s wrong with Sam and how to fix it, when there’s some mysterious new big player who raised Sam and Samuel from the dead, when there’s a war in Heaven that might easily spill over into the lives of people on Earth.
He can’t take the time to try and become a healthier, better person, someone who remembers birthdays and makes you pancakes for breakfast. Someone who becomes protective of a shifter baby, someone who misses his loved ones so much that he puts them in danger by entering their house as a freshly made vampire.
If Dean doesn’t get his head back into the game, the next time a bunch of demons jump him, someone important might actually get hurt.
It dawns on him that the only logical solution is to stop being a person and fully become a hunter again. It’s becoming very clear that he can’t be both.
You can’t be a person, he tells himself, and in his head, it sounds just like his dad’s voice.
“Yes, sir,” he answers, straightens his shoulders, and starts working on getting back to his feet.
Once he manages that, he goes looking for a drink.
* * *
When Dean meets up with Sam two days later, it only takes Sam a moment to figure out that something’s wrong.
Sam sniffs, gives Dean a questioning-slash-disapproving look. “Have you been drinking?”
Sam frowns. “I thought you were trying to cut back on that.”
Dean shrugs again and makes up a half-assed explanation, something about Lisa kicking him out of the house because she and Ben don’t feel safe around him anymore. “Think I’m entitled to a little drinking after that.”
“Man, that sucks,” Sam says. “You gonna be okay?”
Nodding, Dean forces a smile. It feels like swallowing razorblades. “Sure. Sure, I’ll be fine.”
“Good.” Sam drops his bags inside the Impala’s trunk and heads over to the front of the car.
“Yeah,” Dean says, slamming the trunk shut more forcefully than necessary. It’s pissing him off that Sam buys his blatant lies, or maybe doesn’t care enough to see through them. It’s pissing him off that it’s pissing him off; he should be glad there will be no need to fight off Sam’s attempts at a chick talk, not hoping for a pity party. Seriously, what’s wrong with him?
He joins Sam in the car and starts the engine. "So, you found us a case?"
If Dean's tone is a little off, Sam doesn’t comment on it, starting up his laptop to tell Dean about a possible black dog sighting in Arizona instead.
They hunt, taking job after job.
Fueled by pills, sheer stubbornness and not much else, Dean plods on every day up to the point of near-comatose exhaustion, then drinks himself to restless sleep.
He's constantly tired and irritated, brimming with aggression that piles up inside him with every phone call from Lisa that he avoids answering, with every person they don't save, with every nightmare that he gasps awake from.
He vents some of it on the hunts, but that's not a solution to the problem. There’s violence in his dreams and there’s violence in his life, so much of it that Dean’s starting to realize he’ll never get away from it. He’s drowning in it and he’ll never be clean.
He tells himself it doesn’t matter, tries to lose himself in the work, like he did after Hell. But just like after Hell, killing monsters doesn’t really silence the dark voices inside his head; all it does is get his hands covered in more blood – theirs, his, is there even a difference?
When Dean gets hit by Veritas’ truth curse and Lisa tells him she and Ben can’t be a part of his life anymore, he can't find it in himself to raise any objections.