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A Chance to Set The Angel Free

Chapter Text

Even after a year had passed since the events in Rockwell, Maine, Kent was still haunted by them.

His trial had been mercifully short. To avoid publicizing the issue and compromising national security, he had been punished with long, grueling hours of community service. Once his time was up, however, he was booted out of Washington. It was more than guaranteed he’d never find work as a federal agent again. With that hanging over his head, he saw no reason to remain at the capital. So he packed his essential belongings into his car, sold his house, and left.

After some time traveling around (he didn’t wander too far, as his attachment to the District of Columbia remained strong), he settled down in Maryland. Or rather, he stayed there the longest. His place of residence was an ugly, decrepit motel. It was all he could manage afford. Finding decent work was hard, he told himself. He turned to digging ditches, breaking rocks, and laboring until his body ached. No job since his early youth had him work so hard, and at least then he was breaking his back for the government.

The government. All things kept returning to the government. And every time it did Kent had to sit down, curl up into a ball, and tug at his hair to resist the urge to scream at the top of his lungs.

That first year was hard. Too hard for Kent to deal with on his own. Slowly he found himself turning to the bottle for comfort. His precious funds hard earned from odd jobs went to booze instead of his savings. Brandy, whiskey, cognac– they all became familiar comforts. His clothes began to reek of them eventually. They left him a shell of a man; he couldn’t think, couldn’t talk, couldn’t feel. And that was how he wanted it.

That was how he was when Dean called him for the first time.

“Who is this?” Kent sputtered. He raked a shaky hand through his hair and leaned weakly against his motel bedroom wall. Work had been more of a hassle that day, so he was more drunk than typical that evening.

Dean hadn’t been expecting this call to be very short, but then he picked up the phone and sounded like– well, he was drunk, there was no doubt about that, but he also sounded sad. Maybe sadder than anyone he had heard in his life, which was quite the surprise for Dean.

“Yeah, uh, hello it’s Dean? Dean McCoppin. From McCoppin Scrap? I was just calling to ask–” Okay, asking how he was could be a stupid road to go down. Maybe a joke? Yeah, that should work. “I was calling to ask when would be a good time to come pick you up, because you’re such trash?”

Dean slapped a hand to his face. That was stupid. He might as well have just asked how he was doing anyway. The beatnik leaned against his kitchen wall to wait for whatever heart wrenchingly pitiful, or just downright angry response he would elicit from the man on the other end of the phone and then try to turn around for at least a slightly better mood.

Excuse me? ” Kent’s eyes went wide and he stumbled a tad. He didn’t immediately recognize the voice past his drunken haze, but the words had rung clear. And they’d stung. He cleared his throat and tried to blink away the knee-jerk tears that had welled up in his eyes. Then it hit him: Dean McCoppin from McCoppin Scrap.  He knew who that was. A sudden tightness gripped his chest and he shifted his posture against the mottled motel wallpaper try and distract himself from the feeling.

“How did you get this num–” The question truncated itself. The answer was rather obvious once he gave it some thought. There was one concerned coworker he had that had tracked his entire exodus out of Washington. Kent scowled. He should have really better cut his ties. But deep down the idea of still having a thread of connection to the place and business (so to say) he loved so much brought him a small bit of melancholy joy. It was making him tear up all over again, so he forced himself to stop considering the possibility of it being more joyous than it actually was.

“Never mind. What do you want?” There was no plausible reason Kent could fathom for the other man to be ringing him up. What did McCoppin have to gain? Did he want to taunt him? Kent scoffed under his breath. Now that was plausible. He was certain that everyone in Rockwell hated him. A snarl formed on his lips.

Rockwell .

The name of that town was always thought or said by him with an undeniable note of venom. It was God-forsaken as far as Kent was concerned. That spot had been the sight of his greatest failure. And, for once, deep down in the corners of his mind, he believed it could have been his fault.

It was not only the near-death experience that made him drink.

“I wanted to ask how you were doing. Did you make it back to Washington?” Are you okay?  Dean figured that maybe some honest interest in his well-being might cheer him up. Or at least make Kent think he had the upper hand. He tried not to betray the fact that he knew of the other man’s inebriated state just yet. The telltale sounds of a stifled sob came through the phone and Dean couldn’t help but pity him.

It had taken him a long time. No one had so much as thought of Kent Mansley in the weeks following the explosion, but over time, people began to wonder what had ever become of the man. There were rumors of a badly decayed corpse washing up from a river several miles from Rockwell, but as far as Dean had known the rumor had no foothold in reality. Kent’s name barely came up in the Hughes household, but when it did it was usually met with a scowl from Hogarth.

It had taken a long time for Dean to think of him too, and even longer for him to think of him as any more than some whackjob. Someone who was gone and didn’t matter anymore. But as the months passed, Dean began to realize what had happened in Kent’s life as well. He’d lost his job for certain. Something that Annie had told him he had put great stock in. The way he must have been outcast had more than likely left him without a steady job, and after all, he had nearly died that day too.

When a call came from Washington only a few days ago, Dean was surprised. It was that coworker. She told him that she had found his business card and thought that if he could contact Hogarth, it might be good to make amends with Kent. Dean agreed, but he didn’t ask Hogarth. He decided it would be best to find out how Kent was doing first.

Kent’s brow furrowed and a question of his own formulated in response to Dean’s: Why do you care?  He couldn’t understand why the beatnik was showing compassion for someone he deserved– no, not deserved, but was expected to hate. Kent still reasoned he had done nothing worthy of being hated, but the reaction a handful of his coworkers had to his actions lead him to predict others would detest him anyways. Dean should feel the same. Dean should hate him.

Maybe he did.

“I’m not in Washington anymore,” Kent sighed. His voice was ragged with unreleased sobs and the burn of alcohol clinging to his throat. It took on even more edge when his tone became defensive. “What’s it to you, McCoppin? Why do you–” A pause, a press of the hand to his lips, a suppressed belch, and he was speaking again “–why do you want to know?”

He slumped against the motel wall further and the ground seemed to fall out from under him for a brief second. He was terribly, terribly drunk. Kent raked a hand through his hair to steady himself. Did Dean notice? Most likely. Did he care? Kent thought not.

“I wanted to tell you that I forgive you. We’ve all suffered enough.” Dean plopped down in a chair, letting his hand rest against the arm. “There’s also– Well. I also wanted to invite you on a trip. There’s a museum opening down in California. I wanted to go, but I’d rather not make the drive alone. You know Annie and Hogarth, they’re always busy. I thought the trip would be good for both of us. We could…” Dean couldn’t really think of an appropriate way to say it. “We could catch up.”

And the way Kent was acting, it was obvious he needed the trip. Dean drummed his fingers on the armrest, hoping he still managed to sound casual. “Where are you anyway? I could pick you up on the way if you want to go.” He was careful of his phrasing. Dean had to make sure Kent still believed he had autonomy in this situation. He had to believe this was his choice alone. It was a measure of confidence that Dean was unsure if Mansley had retained.

“You forgive me?” Kent hadn’t heard anything Dean had said after that. He nearly dropped the phone; it was a wonder his clammy hands held onto the receiver as well as they did to begin with. There was no reason he should be forgiven. Kent shut his eyes against his growing headache. He was certain the beatnik still blamed him for what had happened in Rockwell.

And who wouldn’t? From the townspeople’s point of view it appeared as if he had doomed them all. But if they knew– if they knew what Kent had been trying to do, they would blame him no longer. It was the fault of that stupid kid his plan didn’t pan out. He had brought everyone back to the town, back to the nuke. None of it would have happened if–

If Dean hadn’t driven back to the town. If Hogarth hadn’t survived being shot out of the sky along with the Giant.

A lump formed in Kent’s throat and he attempted to swallow it roughly. It persisted. He eyed the desk just across from him. There he had left his bottle of whiskey and his full, but half-melted, glass. Weakly he stumbled back into his chair and quickly took a sip from the stout cup. The phone cord strained over the distance. “Why?”

“The Russians could probably kill us any moment from the sound of the news. I don’t want to leave loose strings untied. I don’t want to leave with any debts. Whether you deserve it is out of the equation. I barely know you.”

It was an odd way to describe how he felt about it, but Dean thought it brought the point across. Most of what he knew of Mansley was what Hogarth had told him. His own personal experience was mostly of him panicking, fearful of the general’s wrath or of the giant itself.

He had known the Giant better than he did Kent, but he knew that Kent had been terrified, and for a long time it seemed fear had ruled the country. It didn’t mean much, but he thought one small step would start to bring the fear out of all of their lives. Not the government, maybe, but he had to stick to his principles. If the Giant was alive like Hogarth said, it had acted out of fear too. Dean knew he would never understand, but that was alright.

All of Kent’s melancholy evaporated. Through his drunken haze had interpreted all of what Dean had said– and not the way he had intended for his words to come across. This wasn’t about him. This wasn’t about what he felt, or what he was suffering from, or what he had done.

“You barely know me,” he rasped. A long, sarcastic chuckle followed those words. For a second he had been sucked in by Dean’s kind tone and apparent compassion. But it was a ruse. All that matter was that he walked away guiltless. That he felt like a good person for washing away the animosity he felt for Kent. That he could leave him behind in his memories and sleep better at night and muse to others  I took him on a trip once to let him know how sorry I was.

“You barely know me, you hate me, and now you’re sorry,” Kent finished, biting down on the word ‘sorry’ with a note of unbridled bitterness. “Is that right? Is that– I’m not an idiot, you son of a bitch. You pity me. You want to wash your hands of me. That’s it. That’s what everyone else has done. That’s what you’ll do. At the end of the day you really aren’t different from everyone else.”

Dean’s face took on a concerned expression as soon as he heard the laugh. It sounded just a little unhinged from his end of the line. “Mr. Mansley– Kent–” He was cut off by the bitter words vibrating through electric cords, seeming to pick up more malice with every mile they traveled.

Finally fed up, Dean didn’t wait for an opening and just spoke.“I’m not sorry. I don’t regret anything I did. I hated you like everyone else, but then I thought, ‘No, that’s just stupid. The person who hates Kent Mansley the most is Kent Mansley. He might as well know that there’s one person out there who doesn’t agree with him!’”

Dean gesture wildly at the earpiece, anger sparking movement from him like a cattle prod. “Don’t be stupid. If I really hated you I’d ask how you were doing, let you lie and say you’re fine, then let you get back to that bottle you’re busy finishing off. I’d pretend to be a good person, but yeah, I’m just the same and you can go ahead and say that.”

“You think I hate myself?” Kent had to laugh at that, so he did. For a long time, the only thing audible on his end of the line was his bitter laughter. One might start to wonder if he was of sound mind– not merely stuck in a depression drowned out by booze, but an instability sprung from the same bottle. With just the sharpness of his laughing this was detectable. What Dean could glean by looking at Kent would likely be even harder for him to handle.

“I don’t hate myself,” Kent wheezed finally. “You hate me. I hate you, not me.” A hiccup followed those words. “And you… You don’t regret it? You don’t regret hating me. That’s new.” He hunched over in his chair to rest his face in one palm. The phone cord tightened even further behind him and the flimsy table before him groaned with his weight. “No one before you was so… Pitiless that they didn’t regret hating me.”

“I don’t hate you anymore. I feel sorry for you. Especially with that little… Revelation you just had. Honestly, I think you should see a doctor, you don’t sound right.” Dean sighed and rubbed a hand over his forehead. “Look, Kent, I think you need to get out of where you are right now. The isolation isn’t helping you.”

Dean leaned over to adjust a piece of a mobile hanging from the wall. “Where are you anyway? I’ll come and get you if you really need it.”

“You feel sorry for me?!” Kent stood bolt upright, suddenly screaming into the phone. He wasn’t sure what was worse– to be pitied, or to not be pitied at all. The conundrum didn’t get much thought put into it as the quick elevation left Kent feeling light headed and queasy. With a groan he sat back down. Dean was right to worry about his health.

“I don’t want your goddamn pity,” he seethed, rubbing a hand over his face. “If that’s all you have for me then I’m not going to tell you where I am. I’m not going to tell you anything, I’ll just hang up right now unless you give me a damn good reason not to.” Kent was shaking now; rage was all he could feel.

Dean held the phone away from his face. God was he loud. Tentatively, Dean held the phone back up to his ear soon enough to hear him groan. He had to hold back a scoff at Kent’s little tantrum, but he managed to keep an even keel.

“Okay, calm down and hear me out, alright?” His patience was running thin. Why had he called again? Kent was about half as charming as when he had been screaming about the Giant, and that was saying something. In the end, Dean kept on the phone because he was worried.

Perhaps he was a little too much of a humanitarian for his own good, or he just wanted to prove he was more stubborn in his ideals. It was hard to tell. Dean sat down on his couch and laid out his metaphorical cards.

What incentives did he have on this guy? He hadn’t known him very well in the first place, so what did everyone want? There was money. Dean wasn’t sure how much of it Kent had, but he was almost certain he had more of it. “Listen, I know you must be short on cash. I’ll take you on this trip, help you get back on your feet, and then you never have to come near Rockwell again. Deal?”

Kent’s eyes went wide. Either he knew him well enough to know he couldn’t turn down a bribe or he still felt sorry for him. In his drunken state, however, Kent didn’t reach either conclusion and instead fell into a bit of a mental limbo. The only sound he made was a peeved mumble– almost a growl, but not quite. Certainly the noise someone made when not in the best state of mind.

“…Fine,” he finally said. “If you keep your word– you had better keep your word, you hear?” He raked a hand through his hair with a huff. Was he actually going to tell Dean where he was? Kent considered just hanging up; but then there was the money problem again.

He needed funds. There was still an amount of money in his savings. But due to his habits, it certainly wouldn’t be enough to get him back on his feet. Not if he were to use it himself, alone.

“…I’m in Maryland,” he rasped. “Baltimore. I’m staying at…” As he tried to remember the seedy motel’s name he went silent and squinted. “The Captain’s Quarters. Did you get all that?”

“Yes, I’ve got it.” Dean grabbed a notebook and found a piece of graphite (he had been sketching earlier) to write it down. “I promise I will not go back on my word. What does the place look like? I’m going to need a visual reference.”

Without thinking about it, Dean began sketching shapes next to the directions. There were two wide circles set in a somewhat ovular shape, then a rectangle below that with several triangular shapes inside of it. Slowly, it took a humanoid shape. Several trees grew from lines around its feet, the tallest only coming to its shoulder. Then, in a tiny clearing below the giant, a little figure stood, tiny wisps of smoke rising from its pipe. “You know, Kent, Maryland is a long drive. It’s going to be awhile. You should get some sleep before I get there. You’ll feel better.”

“…I’ll try,” Kent muttered through the line. “And the place– it’s this God-awful pea green color. If it makes you feel sick to your stomach you’re in the right place.” He stood up and wandered back over to where the phone’s cord began, a hand pinching the bridge of his nose as he went. Dean was right. Sleep was what he desperately needed. Every night it seemed he was getting less and less rest and having more and more nightmares.

Distorted, crimson memories of that day. The end of everything. Over and over again. Kent felt a cold sweat break out on the back of his neck just thinking about it.

“And I don’t think I’ll get any sleep,” he added. “I haven’t been getting sleep for a while now.”

“Pea green, got it.” Dean may have lived in the giant equivalent of a tin can, but at least he had the sense not to paint it that color. He continued sketching as Kent moved back to the base of his phone. “Why can’t you sleep? You do know coffee won’t make you sober, right?” Dean stood back up, flipping his sketchbook closed.

“I’m coming to get you. It’s going to be…” he had to guess the distance in his head. “It’ll take me about a day to get there. Sit tight and don’t touch that bottle, alright?”

“It’s not coffee, McCoppin,” Kent sputtered. “I don’t drink to be sober. And I’m going to keep drinking as I very well–” a hiccup “–please. Do you hear me?” It’d be rather difficult for Dean not to hear him. Kent hadn’t toned down his volume any and was still on the cusp of shouting. He leaned back up against the wall with his eyes half shut. Kent was utterly exhausted, but he hadn’t been lying when he said sleep would be difficult. If only the nightmares didn’t persist every time he finally drifted off and found peace…

Sleep was supposed to be his retreat. Dreams of what should have been and would could be were supposed to flock to him and dress his nights with joy his days could no longer supply. Kent grasped the phone corded between his thumb and index finger and pinched it until his knuckles went white. Even his own mind was turning its back on him. Would he go insane next?

“Are you still there?” he asked in a growl.

“You can’t drink if you go to sleep. Look, Kent, do whatever you need to do, just don’t kill yourself and get some rest.” Dean was sure of it now. Kent needed this. Despite his attitude, he was glad he’d called. Even if he wasn’t suicidal, Dean wasn’t sure if he would make it very long on his own. Soon enough the money was going to run out for him, and Dean wasn’t sure what he might do then. Finally hearing Kent’s last question, Dean spoke up again. “Yes, I’m here. Listen, just go to sleep, you’ll feel better in the morning.”

Kent was silent for a few moments. Maybe he should at least try to get some rest. But that would mean doing what a beatnik ordered, and that idea made his stomach churn. He scowled and, absently, growled into the phone like an animal. And in a way that’s all he was now; the man who had marched into Rockwell had been worn away by a year of poor self care and a gnawing sense of something he was choosing to ignore. The Kent Dean now spoke to was nothing more than a wounded, discarded government dog.

“Fine,” he spat. “Fine, I’ll… I’ll try. But I probably won’t get any sleep. I never do. So I don’t bother.”

“That’s all I ask.” Dean cooled down a bit, it was easier to think clearly when the situation was no longer escalating. He leaned against the wall with the phone lazily pressed to his ear. “By the way, did you just growl at me?” Dean’s suppressed laughter could be heard on the other side of the phone. “Cool yourself and I’ll be right over. Goodbye, Kent.”

Kent just let the phone fall from his hand. It was likely the beatnik would hang up anyways, he figured. He frowned; the beatnik, what on Earth was his name? It was a struggle to recall it beyond the haze of exhaustion and alcohol clouding his mind. Like most things from Rockwell, Kent had tried his best to forget it. All of the clues, all of the events– it wasn’t to much avail, but in the case of the junkman’s name he had succeeded. With a grunt he pressed his hands over his face, as if to rub out every bit of exhaustion in the creases of his expression.

Maybe he would try to sleep.

The (second) clunk of the phone hitting the wall made Kent jump. But it was then he decided that, yes, he would try and rest. He reluctantly closed up his bottle of whiskey and then crawled onto his shaky bed, the springs squeaking under his weight. Kent curled up onto one side, breathing uneasily and stifling a cough, and shut his eyes.

It was not until he heard knocking on his door that he realized he’d actually drifted off.

Chapter Text

Dean hung up and gathered things to take with him on his journey. His wallet, a thermos of coffee, his keys, and a blanket. Dean was already dressed warmly, but he wasn’t sure how much sleep either of them would get in the next twenty-four hours. Finally, the beatnik climbed into his tow-truck and set out for Baltimore.

Several cups of coffee, a dinner stop, and eleven hours later, Dean was driving through the mean streets of Baltimore. A tinge of sickly green through the window let him know he was in the right place. Dean parked the car and got out, surveying the ugly building before him. “This is definitely the place.”

Inside, a grumpy looking woman at the front desk greeted him. Her face looked like a road map, and not in a flattering way. “You want a room?”

Dean shook his head. “I’m here to see a–” he cleared his throat. “Kent Mansley? Real tall cat, red hair.”

The woman nodded. “Upstairs, third door to the left.” In less than a minute, Dean was knocking on the door, a bag of fast food in one hand and a rather concerned look on his face.

Kent swung open the door rather suddenly and stared down at Dean with red-hued eyes. Despite having a suitcase gripped tightly in his right hand, the last thing he looked ready to do was travel. Everything about him was slightly off-kilter. His clothes were disheveled enough, his hair was unkempt enough, and his posture was unbalanced enough to suggest that he was unwell– and certainly not the brash and arrogant man who had strode into Rockwell a year ago.

“I didn’t get any sleep,” he seethed. “Are you ready? I want to get out of this hellhole.” The smell of alcohol and something unpleasantly yet familiarly acidic clung to the air around him.

Dean sent up a silent, involuntary prayer for Kent’s health as soon as he saw him. Or perhaps it was a not-quite-silent oath. It was hard for him to tell which from his own perspective. All he knew was that there were quite a few nonverbal expressions that came out with the word, “Christ.”

Dean stepped back to give him room to move. “Are you? I’ve got– I picked up dinner.” He held out the bag and a cup of coffee. “I take it you’re not driving?” He headed down the hallway with a pensive frown on his face. “Let’s get you the hell out of here.”

“I have some things in my room,” Kent grunted. He jabbed a stiff thumb towards the space behind him but continued to leer at Dean like he was some familiar but grotesque hallucination. “In the cardboard boxes. Don’t look in them or I’ll strangle you.” With that he headed out to put his suitcase in Dean’s car.

It was hard to tell exactly what the source of Kent’s hostility was. Was it the general resentment he likely felt for those of Dean’s ‘type’? Was it because of some personal grudge related to what had happened in Rockwell? Was it just because Kent hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a whole year? Perhaps it was one or all of those factors. One thing was clear– he had no good will harbored towards the junkman.

Dean frowned and watched him as he headed down the hall before entering his room to retrieve a couple of the boxes. “Don’t worry,” he grumbled, “I don’t want to look at your porn.”

Downstairs Dean set down the boxes to unlock the car. “Dinner’s in the bag.” He nodded toward the bag he had deposited on top of the boxes. “And you’re going to act like a reasonable human being, or I’m not driving you back.” He shoved the bag into Kent’s hands and went to retrieve the rest of the boxes from his room, dropping the unfinished bottle of whiskey in the trash.

Kent was in the passenger’s seat eating when Dean returned. Apparently at some point he’d opened packet of maple syrup and had a bit of a struggle doing so; it clung to his fingers and everything he had touched since. A wadded up, discarded napkin was proof he’d tried to wipe it off. It’d be rather humorous if it weren’t for the fact he was shaking like a thin branch in winter wind and looked like Death’s twin. He stuffed another forkful of pancakes and hash browns into his mouth and spoke while chewing.

“What did you do with my whiskey?” he asked. His gut was telling him Dean tossed it out; Kent wasn’t too sure whether that prospect made him relieved or upset. On the one hand, he’d just thrown away his belongings without asking. On the other, he’d just severed his last ties to a bad, bad habit. But… It was Dean who had done so. And that made Kent’s blood boil.

“I just want to know,” he added quickly. “I deserve to know.”

“I threw it away,” Dean said. “It’s not good for you.” And from the looks of it, it’s killing you. He looked him up and down, slightly disgusted. He felt sorry for him, but damn him if he wasn’t driving him crazy. It didn’t seem worth it to say anything though. He was sick, it wasn’t right to bother him with manners.

“Is there anything else you want to bring? I’m just about finished with these boxes.” He opened the back door and set the boxes inside. “You’re going to want to wash your face before we leave too.”

Dean’s eyes then softened. “You’ll be able to sleep better if the blanket doesn’t stick to you.” He took said blanket out of the back and set it between the seats. “I’ll be right back with the rest of this stuff. Don’t fall over, Mansley.”

Kent glared after Dean and kept eating. He spoke to him as if he were a child; it wasn’t his fault his motor skills were impaired by the God-awful combination of sleeplessness and drunkenness. Well– it certainly was, but Kent was not about to take the blame for anything. And definitely not for something as insignificant as a mess made while eating. He continued to dice up his pancakes and stuff forkfuls into his mouth.

When Dean returned Kent told him in an affected state of haughtiness: “The rest of my belongings are in my car.” There were several other boxes piled up in the backseat; and until the trunk was opened, only heaven knew what was inside. It was startlingly clear now that Kent really had left D.C. for good. Everything he could afford to continue owning was either in his suitcase, in Dean’s trunk, or in his own automobile.

Anything material wealth seemed to suggest was not applicable to Kent. He was stripped bare not only by sickness but by circumstance as well. Kent trembled in the passenger’s seat and set his fast food bag, full of trash, aside.

“I’m cold,” he mumbled.

Dean finished putting the boxes in the back and dusted off his pants. He hadn’t gotten dirty moving any of Kent’s things, but it was a good signal that it was time to go. “I’ll be sure to hook that up.”

Dean reached into the truck and took out the bag. “Come on,” he offered his other hand. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Then you can warm up under that blanket. I’ll even turn on the heat if you need it.” He spoke gently, as if to a wounded animal, but he doubted his tone would have any positive effect. Kent would take anything he said aside from an outright insult as patronizing. At least, that was what he guessed. “You know, if you’re not feeling up to traveling, we can stay here for awhile longer. You’re not driving, that’s for sure, so it shouldn’t be too bad.”

“I am not going to say here a single moment more than I have to,” Kent snapped. He rubbed the back of his hand against his face and scoffed when it only further worsened the spread of maple syrup. Another shiver passed over him and his gaze sharpened. The state he was in was utterly pathetic– deserving of at the very least pity. But to be pitied was the last thing Kent wanted. He kept his eyes off Dean deliberately.

“I thought the whole point of this was to get me out of here. If I stay any longer I might just change my mind and forget you, this trip, and any chance of–” Kent cut off, his lip curling. His whole expression gained a layer of poignant bitterness. “–Forget it. Let’s just get the hell out of here.”

For a few seconds, Dean gave him a deadpan look. He was curious about what Kent was going to say, but in this state... There was no way he would get a straight answer. “I’ll be right back.”

Dean went back to hook up Kent’s car, but after a few minutes it was clear that it was not the only thing he planned to do. He circled back around and went inside the motel. A few minutes later he came back out with a handful of damp paper towels. “Here, clean up.” He thrust them toward Kent and turned on the ignition. “You don’t need to get my car all sticky.”

There was no trace of pity in Dean’s demeanor. If anything, he had an air of a very disappointed parent, but he seemed detached enough now that even that didn’t quite fit the bill. “We’re driving straight to Rockwell all night, then through the morning. Any problems?” His tone of voice made it clear that any problems he might voice were of little concern to him.

Kent tossed the soiled paper towel right in Dean’s face.

“You had better not take me into town. Just your junkyard. We leave my car and then we head out, understand?” He was livid but trying to contain his anger. It made his trembling worse and had a cough boiling up in the back of his throat. But to show any more weakness was the last thing Kent wanted to do, especially in front of Dean. Even if it was a rather futile pursuit.

Every bit of his exhaustion was already painfully evident. There were heavy bags under his burning gaze; the fingers of his clenched fist were bonier than usual; the broad hunched shoulders that once conveyed a powerful presence sloped like a broken horse’s back. Unlike some wounded animal, however, Kent didn’t realize how close to the edge he was. How close to death he really was.

“Let’s just leave. I’ve got everything,” he spat. “Are you stalling or something?”

Dean sat there in silence, allowing the towel to fall off of him, listening to Kent’s spiel, shoulders tense. When he was done, Dean whipped around to face him. “You know what, Kent?” His hands gripped the wheel with a sort of intensity that Kent had only seen once before, when he rode into town on his bike to tell him Hogarth was still with the Giant. “We are leaving, but I’m gonna give you a choice. Either you calm down and stop acting like a spoiled kid, or I’m taking you to the hospital. You can forget about Rockwell. Do you know how bad you look? Do you have any idea of how much you look like a corpse?”

Despite the intensity, Dean remained calm. He did not shake, he did not shout. He spoke quietly, his voice tight with bridled anger. He threw the blanket at Kent and pressed down on the gas. “So which is it?”

“I don’t have any goddamned money to pay a hospital bill!” Kent seethed. He was trembling all over again and he hated it. But he went on– his rage was worth letting out, he decided, even if it only served to make Dean even further convinced he needed medical attention. Not just because he had threatened to leave him in the hands of doctors as punishment, but because the angrier Kent got the sicker he looked– both in mind and in body.

“Either you leave me here to rot or you’re taking me to Maine. It’s your choice, but either way you–” Kent grasped Dean weakly by his shirt front and stared him down with intense, hollow eyes “–have to deal with me. And that includes however I very well feel like acting, whatever I very well feel like saying, and whatever I damn well want!

“You let go of me,” Dean demanded. “I’m driving. It isn’t safe.” He took Kent’s hands and pulled them off of his shirt, surprised by how easy it was to do.

“The hospital bill will get paid, what matters is that you get better. Now I’ll take you to Rockwell, but I need to know you’ll make it there. Being angry with me isn’t helping.” Dean’s voice was somewhere between angry and soothing. There was no reasoning with him, so Dean decided it would be best to appease him instead. Pissing him off further obviously wasn’t going to help either of their mental states.

“We’ll go straight to my place, no stopping in town. You’ll never have to see Baltimore again,” he said, a hint of a southern accent revealing itself in his voice. “You just need to get some sleep so I don’t have to take you to the hospital. Okay?” Dean didn’t quite realize it, but he hadn’t let go of one of Kent’s hands. He held it tight in his own free hand.

Kent burned his gaze into Dean’s hand, not really registering what was occurring until his haze of anger let up for a few moments of pensive clarity. What he did realize– the beatnik was touching him –only served to make him even more enraged. He didn’t hesitate to shove Dean backwards, snarling like a cornered animal.

The car swerved when Kent pushed Dean. “Don’t do that!” He turned sharply to compensate for the wrong turn and managed to get the vehicle back under control.

“Don’t you ever touch me!” Kent spat. “I’m supposed to sleep, and what, you do know what God knows to me or my things? Who’s to stop you from pilfering my wallet?”

Dean turned and gave Kent a sharp glare. “Do you think I would come all this way just to take your wallet? You’ve already got everything you own either in or attached to my truck!”

Kent was complaining for complaining’s sake and he knew it. Sleep sounded like a wonderful idea, despite his protests. How long had it been since he’d gotten a full eight hours of shut eye? His eyelids sunk halfway over his eyes just thinking about it and he heaved a ragged sigh.

After a while, Dean calmed down, relieved that Kent was finally resting. He drove for quite a while before the six cups of coffee he had had caught up to him. He stopped on the side of the road and looked up at the sky. The night was calm and the moon shined brightly overhead. Dean stepped out into the field beside the road and faced away from the car.

Kent wasn’t fully asleep when they stopped, but was very well close to being unconscious. With one bleary eye open, like an animal not fully committed to being awake, he watched Dean exit the car. He grunted as he realized what he was doing and directed his monocular gaze elsewhere. Not because he respected Dean’s right to privacy, but because he didn’t much fancy watching him take a piss.

The sky was rather nice, he noted. Kent squinted and groaned a tad. Looking up was like scaling a sheer height and then, after being told to not look down, wanting nothing but to face the abyss beneath one’s feet. Except in this case it was even more of a test of self-restraint; Kent had issued the order to himself.

Maybe he should get out and try for himself.

Reluctantly he peeled himself from the door’s window, wiped his damp cheek dry, and got out of the car. He walked quite a distance away from where Dean stood– the desire to not be near him was even stronger in this situation –before he did as nature told him to.

It didn’t take much observation on Dean’s part to figure out what the other man was doing so far down the road. When he was finished, he got back in the car and waited for Kent, fingers tapping the steering wheel. It crossed his mind that he could drive away and leave him there, though the intention of actually doing so was far from his mind. How paranoid was Kent? Dean stared down the small stretch of road in his headlights with a thoughtful scowl. Would he think of that? Or was he just too tired to care? It wasn’t possible that he actually trusted him, that was certain.

The black silhouettes of the trees against the sky reminded Dean that they still had a lot of ground to cover, prompting him to glance out the window in Kent’s direction. “You okay over there? It’s going to be a few more hours before we get to Rockwell, so if you need to stretch your legs or anything, I’d do it now.” Not that he was in any shape to do such a thing. Dean just hoped his show of concern would be taken as a peace offering between the two rather than another insult.

Kent zipped up his pants with a sharp tug and snarled. Was he trying to hurry him up? He’d move at his own pace whether that beatnik liked it or not. What was his name again? It had slipped his mind; with it still clouded by the after effects of alcohol and little sleep, it was hard to remember much of anything. Dean, it floated back to him, Dean McCoppin. Right. Slowly Kent trudged back over to the car.

“I’m fine,” he hissed. A white-knuckled grip braced against the open window of the driver’s door. Kent bore into Dean with his reddened, hostile eyes. They were glassy– eerily like a dead man’s. But the vitriol making them tremble in their sockets made it very clear Kent was, thankfully, still alive.

Dean looked utterly terrified by Kent’s sudden appearance for a moment before grasping the wheel and letting out a shaky breath.

He stayed silent, despite the immediate response of, “could’ve fooled me,” being on the tip of his tongue. He thought it might be better if he didn’t speak at all. At least for now. They had several hours left to drive, and Dean was hoping he might get some peace and quiet in some of that time.

He waited for Kent to get in the car before driving off.

Chapter Text

Several hours later, Dean pulled into his driveway and yawned. He leaned against the wheel for a few seconds, his head bowed. He looked over toward Kent. “Look, I’m gonna go put your car in the back so it doesn’t get rained on. You can go inside and help yourself to breakfast or whatever.”

The sun was high in the east, indicating mid-morning. They had driven– or more accurately, Dean had driven and Kent rode –all night.

Kent groaned and reluctantly sat up. He remained immobile for a long while (much longer than one would spend sitting idly in a car after parking, anyways). Slowly his senses took in his setting: the leather beneath him. The sound of mirthful birdsong. That familiar ache that came with waking up earlier than noon– painful but carrying the promise of a new day to be lived. He blinked.

I didn’t have a nightmare, he realized. His eyes flew open and in a rush of motion he hopped out of the truck. The surge of energy was gone the moment his feet hit the ground, however, and he was left standing there wobbly without the support of the energy that had carried him forwards. He didn’t have a nightmare– he’d slept that whole drive.

Kent hadn’t gotten that much sleep in months.

The rumble of his stomach had his mini celebration come to an end. Kent grumbled something unintelligible even to himself and meandered inside. Dean had promised him there was breakfast in there, hadn’t he? It was a bit hard to decipher what he’d said half-asleep.

When Dean made his way indoors– Kent hadn’t noticed him at all since their arrival –his impromptu guest was seated at the short kitchen table eating oatmeal with a trembling hand.

Dean had finished putting away Kent’s car before coming inside. “Oh, good. You’re eating.” He put some bread in the toaster and started a pot of coffee. “Do you want any coffee?” Dan leaned against the counter to wait for his breakfast. When it was done he sat down across from Kent and ate silently.

When Dean finished his toast, he finally broke the silence. “You need a shower before we go. And some rest. I don’t think you’re in good shape to be traveling right now.” Dean didn’t bother to brace himself for any violent backlash. By now he was expecting it. “I’m going to sleep. I’m going to unfold the couch for you so you can do the same, okay?”

“I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to,” Kent barked, mush sputtering from his lips. He noticed and did his best to restrain his anger– which wasn’t by much. The trembling hand holding his spoon rested on the table.

“I’ll shower, change clothes– but then we’re leaving.” His unsettling gaze bored into Dean’s yet again. Even if he had gotten sleep on the drive up to Rockwell it was starkly evident Kent was in no condition to begin traveling yet. Red still rimmed the sclera of his eyes; dark circles were stamped into his sockets. Surely Kent could feel his exhaustion? The hollowness of his cheeks, the shaking of his thin form? But perhaps those things had set in gradually and he had merely come to accept them as normal.

“Do you hear me?” he sputtered. “We’re not staying in this– This God-awful place any longer than we have to!”

“Kent,” Dean said gently. “If we go now, I don’t think you’ll be coming back with me.” He didn’t clarify his statement, he just hoped the grim tone in his voice communicated what he intended.

He reached out and laid his hand over Kent’s, steadying the shaking muscles. Perhaps when he saw the contrast between Dean’s steady hand and his own shaking one he would understand, but he doubted it. “In the next twenty four hours, if we leave this house, we’re going to be heading to a hospital. The closest one is in the middle of Rockwell.” He let go of him quickly to search his cupboards for something, coming back with a thermometer.

“Here, if you don’t believe me, believe this.” He set the thermometer in front of him. “I’m going to go make your bed. I’ll be right back.”

Kent stared at the thermometer in contempt. He was still upset that Dean had the audacity to touch him– the farthest way he was from him physically, the better. His eyes narrowed and he picked up the thin glass instrument with a still shaking hand and, deeming his cereal pointless enough to be resigned to a fate of turning soggy, placed the tapered end in his mouth.

“I have a fever of one hundred and three degrees.”

Kent entered Dean’s living room rather silently (one would have expected him to drag his feet) holding the thermometer in one hand as if it were a used napkin. He didn’t hesitate to stare Dean down– If you say I told you so, I’ll throttle you. That statement was clear in his glare alone. Never mind how sick he was.

“That’s pretty high. Almost four and a half points above normal.” He smoothed out the blankets he had laid haphazardly over the couch and stepped back. “Here.” He reached out and took the thermometer from his grasp. “I’ll take that. You get some rest.”

He was hesitant to touch him to try to guide him to the bed he had set up for him. Kent seemed like he was getting around alright for the moment, so Dean let him be.

Dean took the thermometer into the kitchen and washed it off, returning the instrument to the cupboard. When he came back out, he crossed the room to his own bed, several feet away from the couch. “Do you need anything? Water, blankets, ice?”

“Water.” The word came out in a croak that made Kent wince. He had already made himself comfortable on the couch, up to his chin in blankets and part of the way off to falling asleep. Kent growled under his breath and turned to press his cheek against his pillow.

“Maybe an ice pack.” His forehead felt like it was on fire. A shudder passed over Kent; one stronger than the ever-present tremble that gripped him. He really was sick– reality was finally beginning to settle into Kent’s mind. Sick with what, he wondered? Maybe his liver was shot. Maybe it was something else. What else? His eyes shut tight. That was something he considered best not to think about.

“Are you still standing there? Go and make yourself useful for Christ’s sake.”

“You just… Shook.” Concern furrowed Dean’s brow. He hurried into the kitchen to retrieve the items requested. When he returned, he grabbed a table and brushed the items on top of it to the floor. He handed the ice pack to Kent and set the glass of water on the table as close as possible to him.

Dean’s haste was not out of fear that Kent would hurt him, he didn’t think he could now. Instead, concern was the force that hurried him. It didn’t make much sense, even to him. What reason did Dean have to care for this man’s well being? Perhaps it was common human decency, or maybe it was the fear of the very presence of death that seemed to hang over him. Dean was never the most spiritual person, but whatever chill feeling had gripped his spine certainly had control now.

Once Dean was done delivering the needed items, he picked a book off of a makeshift shelf and began flipping through it.

Kent drank his water like a man just retrieved from the brink of dehydration. It was likely that it wasn’t too far from the truth. Alcohol had replaced his usual cup of water, and having a cup of coffee hours ago and nothing after had likely had him acutely feeling his deprivation. Originally he had intended to press the ice pack to his forehead, but he began to alternate between alleviating his fever and alleviating his thirst by letting its condensation drip onto his tongue.

“I need more water,” Kent rasped. Anger had dissipated from his tone and left him sounding worryingly parched and painfully melancholy. The sound of his own voice made Kent wince– he corrected that the next time he spoke, barking a false “Please!” a few seconds later. With a half-groan, half-whine he sank into his pillow.

He felt like cursing. But this wasn’t the kind of pain eased by a few forbidden words; this was no stubbed toe or banged humerus bone. Kent screwed up his eyes as he shut them and his body gave one violent tremble again.

“Maybe get some aspirin too,” he whispered.

Dean immediately went to get another cup of water. The realization hit him that Kent must have been going through the worst hangover of his life, and he worked accordingly. He found a pitcher somewhere in his cupboards and filled that too and brought it out. Had he just said please? Dean shook his head. Now he was imagining things.

He found the aspirin next to where the thermometer had been and set the bottle next to the pitcher of water. When he was finally done with all that, he sat down on the edge of the couch and picked up the book again, frantically searching its contents. The title, if one were to look close enough (and was capable of reading at the moment), read “Medical Dictionary.” A book likely bought on a whim in a library yard sale along with several anatomy books. Dean was an artist after all.

“Uh, Kent, you’re not hallucinating, are you?”

“I don’t know, am I hallucinating you being annoying?” Kent snapped. He pressed the cold pack close to the wrinkled plane of his forehead before reaching over to grasp his refilled glass of water. That second glass took him longer to down than the first, but it still seemed like almost no time at all passed before he was halfway through with the pitcher. At that point he seemed satisfied and settled into the couch with a sleepy but malcontent sigh.

“I don’t know, I’m only trying to figure out if you’re dying or not, sorry if that’s annoying to you,” Dean shot back with a glare he intended to be sharp enough to split steel. It really wasn’t, but he wanted it to be.

“I can’t open the aspirin,” Kent wheezed, ignoring Dean’s retort altogether. His wrists had gone tight with his, for once, actually normal arthritis– but along with his shaking it was sure to have made the twisting motion necessary a temporary impossibility. Kent tried to draw the blankets back over himself with one hand (the other still holding the cold pack in place) only to lack the strength to do so.

A long groan escaped Kent. He hoped a day’s rest would fix this. That was if he could manage going to sleep. At this rate it seemed unlikely.

Dean sighed. “Let me get that for you.” Apparently Kent was both stupid and pathetic. He may not have been raised in the highest class of people, but he had the good graces not to insult someone who was taking care of him in illness. He opened the bottle of pills and handed it back to Kent.

Dean’s expression softened. He waited for Kent to take the aspirin before pulling the blanket up over him again. “I’m sorry. You need to get some rest. I’ll be right across the room if you need anything.”

Kent’s expression was one of exhaustion more than anger. He managed a curt nod in thanks when handed the aspirin, and looked rather disgusted after swallowing them. A bit of surprise overtook him when Dean pulled up his blanket for him, however. Up to that point he had been treating the beatnik with about as much decency as he expected to be shown in return. He hated him, right? So Kent figured he’d hate him back.

That didn’t really explain why he was taking him on a trip cross country and promising to help him out financially.

Pity! Pity explained that. Kent half shut his eyes. Finally, the will to sleep was falling upon him. But he continued to think as he drifted off. One could pity and hate at the same time, right? Kent surely had. His lip curled a tad. A beatnik thought he was better than him. How cruel; he figured this was just another layer to his cosmic punishment.

“God, Kent. What have you done to yourself?” Dean scratched the back of his head as he made his way over to his own bed. Kent couldn’t even lift a blanket now? His frown deepened. If he was getting worse, there would be no avoiding it. Dean would have to take Kent to the center of Rockwell, only yards from where the Giant had stood. There would be little hope for recovery there. Dean set the medical book beside himself and propped himself up with a pillow to read. Maybe this time tomorrow Kent would be well enough to get out of Rockwell for good.

After a while, Dean’s eyes drifted up to Kent’s sleeping form. His finger rested on a passage labeled, “alcohol withdrawal symptoms.” That certainly explained a few things.

Minutes later, Dean’s eyelids grew heavy. He fell asleep with one finger wedged in the book.

Chapter Text

Screaming was how Kent woke up.

Cold sweat rolling over goosebumps and eyes wide, he sat bolt upright, his scream getting cut short by the realization that he was awake. He heaved a ragged breath and wrapped his arms around himself. His form quivered even more than it had earlier.

Dean woke up to Kent’s screaming and flailed out of bed, ending up on the floor with a light thud. His head popped up beside his bed before he clumsily made it to his feet and rushed over to Kent. “Are you okay?”

“…It was a nightmare,” Kent whispered. “The nightmare.” His fear subsided; his form stilled. Stiffly he pressed the heels of his palms to his cheeks to wipe away his falling tears. Crying last state he’d wanted for Dean to see him in. But, as he recalled with a hint of bitter amusement, his entire life had swerved into a direction he would have prefered never to be seen. This was no exception.

Dean stopped short of touching Kent, but he could see that he was crying. A nightmare, that’s what he had said. It was only a nightmare. Dean left the room to grab the thermometer again and pulled up a chair next to the bed when he got back. He handed the glass tube to Kent. “Take your temperature again. Do you want some more water?” Dean thought it best to take his mind off of it as fast as possible. He was stressed enough as it was without dwelling on it for now.

Kent took the thermometer– barely able to hold on to it –and stuck it into his mouth without a further word. He nodded, hoping Dean took that as a ‘yes’ to the offered glass of water. After that he heaved a regulating sigh and focused his bleary eyes on the corner of the room. The dream was already fading away into the recesses of his mind. The shock factor it had possessed had worn off long ago.

That was because he’d lived it, in part. He already knew what would happen. But the feeling of being hit by the bomb, seared away by a flash of light and heat, the utter agony it brought was always enough to wake him screaming.

“Thank you,” he croaked when offered the glass of water. Kent couldn’t look Dean in the eye.

Dean went to refill the pitcher as well as the glass with cold water. He didn’t know about Kent, but he preferred cold water to lukewarm. When he came back into the room, he waited for Kent to finish with the thermometer before giving him the glass, this time with a straw stuck in it. If he was having trouble lifting a thermometer, he doubted he’d have an easy time with the glass. He was surprised he had managed the pitcher before.

Dean was even more surprised to hear Kent say thank you, but he made no move to acknowledge that fact other than blinking a few times. “You’re welcome. Are you feeling better?” Dean made an effort to look at him while he was talking, but found it futile. “What did the thermometer say?”

“Ninety-nine,” Kent replied in a gravelly tone. He handed the thermometer back to Dean before pitifully sipping on his straw.

“Ninety-nine. That’s a lot better than it was. Maybe we’ll be able to go soon after all.” Dean tried to keep his tone optimistic as he washed off the thermometer and returned it to its place. When Dean returned, he retrieved Kent’s then-empty glass and filled it back up with the pitcher. It would be there if he needed it. Finally, Dean sat down by the makeshift bed again.

“You know, once you have the strength to get up we can go. It’s not like sitting in a car is stressful. Maybe you won’t get to do much at first, but it won’t be Rockwell.” Dean’s well intentioned, but perhaps misinformed words were sincere. He didn’t believe Kent would feel much better as long as he was in Rockwell, especially if Hogarth came to visit.

Maybe. At least his fever had gone down, Kent told himself. At least he had gotten over the nightmare quickly. At least this, at least that... He couldn’t consider Dean’s words seriously, as much as he wanted to. Recovery at this pace would mean no trip. Plain and simple. After another cup of water was eventually drained, Kent reclined with a groan.

Regardless: he was not going to spend another minute more than he had to in Rockwell, let alone spend a few months in the hospital. God as his witness, he wouldn’t spend another day in Rockwell.

“Do you have any ice cream?” Kent asked. Maybe a bit of something sweet would make him feel better. It would be a healthier indulgence than alcohol, anyway. His veins throbbed uncomfortably, pounding against his temples hardest; he couldn’t tell which of his vices he was aching for at this point.

“Ice cream?” Dean had to think for a moment. He didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, and he didn’t often eat at home, but the more he thought about it, the better it sounded. “I’ll have to go check. I’ll be right back.” Dean got up and checked the ice box. Lo and behold, he just happened to have a container of vanilla left. He filled two bowls and brought them out, setting one next to Kent.

Kent uttered another oddly meek ‘thank you’ before taking his bowl. He indulged in his ice cream as if it were a last meal, which accounted for his slow movements. His fever had broken and thus wasn’t weighing on his fragile form as it had been earlier. The look of simple bliss on his face made it clear his movements were deliberate. Save the shaking.

Perhaps Dean’s words were not as misinformed as one would think; still, Kent’s condition was not conducive to traveling whatsoever. Even as a passenger dealing with a sickness on the road would have been difficult. Not that Kent cared. He wanted out of Rockwell. Soon.

Dean enjoyed his ice cream at a slightly faster pace, and when they were both done he took their bowls to the sink and left them there. It surprised Dean how much Kent really was a man of simple pleasures. He honestly hadn’t thought it would help so much.

Kent set aside his emptied bowl and reclined onto the couch again. Drowsiness was weighing his eyelids down once more. “I don’t care where we go, where we are,” he grumbled. “So long as it’s not here.”

Dean sat back down. “If you really think it would help to get out of Rockwell I’ll go get groceries and we’ll go. Just tell me what to pack. We’ll be out of here as soon as you can stand it.“ It crossed Dean’s mind that this might be Kent’s last chance to travel, regardless of the fact that he was ill. Maybe it didn’t matter. “Just get some sleep and we’ll see how you are when you wake up.”

Kent wanted to bark orders at Dean– get this, pack that, –but his eyelids continued to droop. A commanding index finger traced wobbly circles in the air before flopping down on his lap. The one time he didn’t want to sleep and here it was forcing itself upon him. He groaned but relented. Getting rest was more important anyways. Besides, Kent reasoned, he could always push Dean around later…

It wasn’t long before he drifted off again. His snoring was much heavier, and much louder, than it had been ever before. The pillow Kent’s cheek pressed against was soon soaked in drool.

Dean blinked. Well, he had dropped off rather suddenly. He got up and went to wash the dishes and pack a few things before heading back to bed himself. It was dark again since arriving that morning and Dean only hoped Kent would get a good night’s sleep before he woke up to another nightmare.

Blankets. He would pack those and the thermometer, and maybe he’d bring a cooler for ice and water too, before he forgot. He’d make sure there was a place for him to sleep in the back while they were on the road as well. Dean made mental preparations as he dozed off.

Hopefully tomorrow would be better.



When Dean awoke the sound of water hitting a shower drain was audible. Kent had, evidently, found the bathroom. (And he was using up as much hot water as he seemed able to). Dean sighed in relief. Maybe Kent wouldn’t smell so much like he belonged in a drainage ditch now. What he didn’t expect when he finally sat up was seeing Kent half-naked in his kitchen.

Kent made his way to the kitchen and fixed himself a bowl of cereal for breakfast in nothing but a towel. Dripping wet, he took a seat at Dean’s short table and started eating. It was very obviously an attempt to make Dean uncomfortable. That, or Kent’s laziness outweighed his urge to make either of them feel at ease.

A little bitter smile turned up the corners of Kent’s lips. Apparently it was not the latter. “Morning,” was the greeting he tossed Dean’s way in a grunt.

“Uh, morning. You do know that towels are for drying off, and not just covering gonads, right?” Dean stood up and made his way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. He had to clench his teeth to resist the urge to tease Kent about his figure as well.

He wasn’t overly uncomfortable with having a naked man in his kitchen. He’d seen them before, whether in paintings or (unfortunate?) glances in the locker room. What bothered him was that it was Kent, and the fact that he had either done it to annoy him or because he was still totally exhausted. Perhaps a combination of both. Either way, two could play at this game.

“Bite me,” Kent snarled; his threat came off a little odd due to the smile on his lips, but the look in his bright eyes made it clear he wasn’t afraid to sock Dean if he had to. He noticed as Dean clenched his teeth and refrained from speaking more. Briefly Kent wondered what other snarky thing he had to say. Was his stomach laughable? His limbs feminine in their slenderness? There had to be something. He munched slowly on another spoonful of cereal.

“I checked my temperature earlier,” Kent told Dean, as if the matter of his near-nudity was now a moot point. “I don’t have a fever anymore. Seems like sleep was all I needed.” He very obviously needed more than a few nights rest to be back to some sense health. His hands still shook, his voice was still slightly raspy, and his cheeks and eyes were still hollowed out. But Kent figured Dean knew what he meant.

“While you take that trip into town, I’ll stay here and pack,” Kent said. That was a statement of what would soon be truth, not an proposed scenario. At least, in Kent’s mind.

“Gladly.” Dean set down another coffee mug in front of Kent and took his place across the table, folding his hands in front of his mouth to shoot a cool look across the table at Kent.

“I’ll be taking the thermometer with us anyway, just in case. You still don’t look good.” A tiny smirk showed on his face. “Not that you ever looked good in the first place.” Dean had to let a little bit of bitterness out. It was only fair after what he’d endured. “I’m going to stay here and help you pack. After yesterday I don’t trust your strength. Then you’re going into town with me. You can stay in the car. You won’t die.”

Kent’s bitter smile gave way to a sour frown. He wouldn’t– He wouldn’t be able to drag him into Rockwell unless he dropped dead! (And considering how much energy he would burn resisting, it was entirely possible.) Kent tried to brush it off, dousing his cup of coffee with creamer, before his hands began to rattle the bottle with anger and he was forced to put it down. Damn him!

Dean’s expression remained neutral. Unamused and unintimidated. He unfolded his hands to pick up his coffee which he sipped calmly. “Be careful, you’ll spill it,” he said, nodding toward the creamer which was still only inches from his shaking form.

“You rat bastard,” Kent spat, his expression becoming viscous. “Where do you get off, torturing me like this? I thought you were supposed to be helping me get better! Taking me into Rockwell could kill me. Give me a heart attack, even!”

It was hard to take Kent seriously given that he was still naked (save a towel). Water droplets hit the tile floor as he shook like a tree in a hurricane. His rage served to make him look ridiculous, yes, but his bared teeth and narrowed eyes made it clear he wasn’t joking. There was murder in his eyes.

“Which is worse, having a heart attack or dying?” Dean raised an eyebrow, still staring at Kent’s shaking hands. Perhaps now was not the time to be a smartass about Kent’s phraseology, but he was being irrational. Rockwell was no more lethal to him than any other place as long as he didn’t treat it like it was. “There’s a hospital there. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Dean turned his attention from his coffee toward Kent again. He blinked. Those eyes. Had he forgotten how hostile they could look? “I would tell you to sit down, but seeing as you’re already there,” he shrugged and got up from the table. “Get dressed. This won’t take long.”

Kent’s anger broiled to the surface in a manner of seconds. He tossed the open container of creamer right at him, screaming like some kind of animal. It was clear he was trying to say something, but exactly what that something was got obscured by the unrefined rage in his tone. Eventually he ran out of (most of) his steam and stormed out of the kitchen, one hand grabbing his hair fiercely out of frustration.

“Idiot…! This was a mistake…! I can’t believe–!”

Dean watched the carton of creamer fly by his head and land on the threadbare carpet to drain sluggishly. He got up and carried it back to the fridge which he closed unceremoniously. He then grabbed a washcloth off of the counter and dropped it on the rug, stepping on it with one slippered foot to soak up the spill.

Kent, meanwhile, was set on getting dressed. The brief factor of fun that came with making Dean uncomfortable with his near nudity had worn off. Kent found a ‘fresh’ outfit to put on for the day. He still had no intention to go into town with the beatnik, however. Could he carry him? Kent doubted it; the height difference would make it impossible. Unless he were…

No, he wouldn’t knock him out. Dean couldn’t lay a hand on him. Out of principle, Kent thought in a sneer. It would be fun to watch him try and get him in his car.

Dean soon left the kitchen to find Kent dressed. “Have fun with that little tantrum?” He raised an eyebrow. It was hard not to let on that he found it humorous. Dean walked back out to put together a bag for himself, stuffing several shirts and a few pairs of pants into a duffel. He went into his bathroom and found some toiletries and then grabbed a guitar from the corner of the main room. A few sketchbooks and pencils were tossed into his bag along with other various items. All of this he tossed into the trunk of the car. “Is there anything you need help packing, Kent?”

“I’ve got it all, McCoppin,” Kent shot back. “No need to worry. You go into town. I’ll be here when you get back.” He shot Dean another sharp glare before moving past him to put his suitcase in the car. He’d be damned if the beatnik tried to get him into town. Damn! That was a good word to say. He cursed under his breath a few times, with variation– “Damn it, god damn, damn him!” –and felt better after doing so.

He walked back inside and took the seat in front of Dean’s television after turning it on. Kent didn’t particularly care what was broadcasting; he could lie about it being his favorite program. I can’t go into Rockwell– I’ll miss I Love Lucy! or something to that effect. Hell, he could lie the whole trip. Feed Dean a crock full of bull about why he was ruining his life. A rancorous smirk crept onto Kent’s lips as he considered the possibility.

“I think we’ll save time and gas if you just pack right now and come with me. You won’t even have to look at Rockwell if you sleep all the way. Besides, we have to go through it to leave town.” Now that was an outright lie and Dean knew it. Maybe it was the best way, but Dean knew every back road around Rockwell.

“Come on, nobody’s going to bite you.” Dean walked up to stand in front of the television. “You’ll be just fine.” He rested his hands on his hips, attempting to appear immovable on the subject. “You don’t leave Rockwell unless you go through it first.”

“Bullshit,” Kent snapped. “How do you think I got here? I drove, nitwit!” He shot up out of the chair and in a few powerful strides was standing toe-to-toe with Dean. Their height difference was incredibly noticeable then, with the bristling redhead breathing down the beatnik’s face. Kent’s narrowed eyes regarded the man before him as if he were some stubborn pest instead. That’s all Dean was; a pest.

“I am not stepping foot in that town, awake or asleep,” he hissed, emphasizing each and every word as its own compact threat. “Do you hear me, Dean McCoppin?

I have the keys to the car. Kent Mansley.” Dean had to remind himself that Kent couldn’t hurt him. He couldn’t, could he? “You’re going through Rockwell whether you like it or not.” Kent was at least a head taller than he was. Dean had to look up at him to see his eyes. He made an attempt to stare him down, but he knew he couldn’t do it. “You’re not getting out of here alone.”

Despite his words, Dean was already thinking through alternatives in his head. He could always stop in another town, or just go without Kent. What he really wanted to do was show Kent that he had nothing to fear. Maybe he could trick him into coming with him and then turn around to go through Rockwell?

Kent did not hesitate to grab Dean by his shirt collar. Funny; Dean’s neck had been his target. He did manage enough strength, however, to lift the beatnik an inch off of the ground. One might wonder how far he could have hefted him up had he not been near death. The idea that this was Kent in a state of sickness suddenly made him all the more potentially terrifying. Potentially.

Dean struggled against Kent’s grip on his shirt. “Put me down, or you’ll be going to Rockwell in the back of a police car, and I can guarantee they won’t be as accommodating in county jail as I’ve been.” He couldn’t keep this up for long, could he?

Dean had to wonder if he was in a life-or-death situation right now. His eyes wandered around to look for his crowbar, or a hunk of steel, or just something to use as a means of defense. If he could get out of Kent’s grasp, he would run for it. Unless he could diffuse the situation peacefully.

“You take me through Rockwell and I’ll wring your arm off,” Kent snarled, his quiet tone keeping down his anger unsuccessfully. “Hell, I could wring your arm off right now.” Kent didn’t show any signs of wanting to disfigure one of Dean’s appendages at the moment; in fact he was still eyeing his throat like some kind of challenged animal. Was Kent above tearing his throat out with his teeth? More than likely. Was he above strangling someone? Not likely.

Dean summoned the next sentence from his throat reluctantly. “Alright. We won’t go to Rockwell. I’ll get groceries somewhere else. Just put me down.”

Kent lowered Dean with a grunt. Being arrested again wasn’t something he had ever planned on doing, in Rockwell or not. And to have it be over something so petty would just be stupid, he thought. However… If the beatnik didn’t keep his promise, Kent wasn’t so sure he’d be able to spare him a broken bone.

“You’d better keep your word,” he spat. “Or so help me God…” He turned away from Dean and made his way to the car. He’d already stowed away his suitcase, so all he was left to do was take a grumpy seat on the passenger’s side. Which Kent did; rather noticeably, considering he slammed the door shut.

Dean locked his door, took his place in the opposite side of the car and drove out of the gates. He took a turn in the opposite direction from town, checking on Kent all the while.

He was waiting for him to relax and maybe even fall asleep before turning around. Eventually he took a turn on a back road that would eventually lead them back to town if he continued in the same direction. Dean stayed calm. There was no sign on his face that he had started toward Rockwell again. He could only hope that Kent didn’t suspect anything.

Kent had taken to tapping the dashboard with an irritated finger. He didn’t feel much like sleeping; another nightmare was not something he wanted to risk. Every now and then his narrowed gaze would turn back to Dean, looking him over for any signs to be suspicious of. But every time he found nothing and eventually turned his attention back to his restless hand.

“Turn on some music, why don’t you,” he snarled after a while. The silence was starting to wear on him. And there was no way he was going to fill it by talking to Dean. That was the last thing he felt like doing, especially considering that had resulted in the threat of being sent down to the Rockwell police station.

“The radio’s right there. Change it to whatever you like. And while you’re at it, notice the trees around here. Unless you want to crash into them, I suggest you keep your hands off of me while I’m driving.” Dean took another turn and Rockwell could be seen in the distance.

He glanced over at Kent. Despite his calm demeanor his heart had started to race. Would Kent heed his advice, or let his anger and fear take over as he had before? Dean already knew that Kent hadn’t been thinking when he bombed the Giant the year before.

Kent continued to glower at Dean. In fact, he didn’t take his eyes off of his at all as he reached over and turned the radio on. He wanted the beatnik to know he wouldn’t back down to any challenge he threw his way. Including one to not sock him while they were driving down a road flanked by numerous trees. Kent could do whatever he very well pleased– and he was still so near death that there was no guarantee he’d see tomorrow anyways. Going out in a ball of flame, so long as he had set the damn nuisance straight beforehand, would be better than drowning his liver in alcohol.

“I’ll do whatever I feel like doing,” Kent snarled. “Bite me.” His words stuck out in sore contrast against the calm jazz that started playing out from the radio. And Kent’s hard set expression, with his blue eyes wild against their concerning dark sockets, did nothing to help alleviate his abrasiveness.

“You must be fun at parties.” Dean took a sharp turn, moving closer to the trees to help obscure the town before them. He couldn’t turn back now. “You know, I thought you said you weren’t suicidal. Or do you just figure you’re too far gone already?” He seemed to drift carelessly over the road, taking every turn as sharply as he possibly could. “If you want to die, there are easier ways to do it.” Finally, the vehicle reached the edge of town. Dean sped to get to the grocery store before Kent could lash out at him. He jumped out of the car and slammed the door in his face before sprinting into the shop.

Kent was just short of screaming a blue steak of curse words at Dean, but the slam of the door cut him short. So he resorted to shouting in his mind– Goddamn two faced bastard! Good for nothing son of a bitch! Worthless shitstain! –and burrowed deep into the front seat with his arms folded tight across his chest. This was what he got for trusting him! It was begrudging trust for sure, but wasn’t that worth something? Just a year prior he’d been fine with blowing that man to smithereens! Certainly this was progress?

Kent decided he would smoke up Dean’s car as payback. Who cared if he was comfortable? This was all about Kent getting better anyways. He fished out his pack of cigarettes and lighter– he hated cigarettes, but with his funds dwindling it was what he was forced to make due with. Cravings were cravings.

While Dean was inside, a little girl peered over at Kent with frightened eyes. She ran away, shouting something like “ghost!” A couple of boys stood by and whispered to each other. Someone across the street closed their window.

Several minutes later, Dean came out of the grocery store carrying two large bags. He stuffed them in the trunk and slammed it shut. Dean stood outside the door, watching to see if it was safe to come inside. When he finally determined that it was, he opened the door and coughed. “Geez, Kent. Why don’t you set the car on fire?”

Kent was too busy staring wide-eyed out the other window to take immediate notice of Dean. He never thought he’d be considered a ghost; he took himself to being more akin to a demon of some sort. But then again, he had a habit of overestimating his importance to people. His chest tightened and he took a long drag from his cigarette to ignore the sudden constriction.

“Maybe I will,” he rumbled, his voice gravelly. “Since you brought me into this fucking town against your word. I don’t appreciate it when people lie to me.” Kent poised the end of his cigarette above Dean’s arm threateningly but decided it would be in his best interest to be a decent person and dispose of the butt in the ashtray instead.

“We’re leaving right now.” Dean sat down and started the car. “To be honest, I’m surprised you didn’t have a heart attack or something.” Dean was almost smiling. He meant it as a joke, but his smile faded as he realised it wouldn’t be taken that way.

Once they were out of town Dean stopped the car. “Are you going to be okay? I can get you to a hospital if you need me to.” He did his best to look genuinely concerned, but he doubted it would help.

“I don’t want to go to a goddamn hospital. How many times do I have to say that? Three? I can reiterate one more time before I just resort to hitting you!” Keny bored his wild-eyed gaze into Dean for a few moments longer before turning his stare out onto the road. Whatever semblance of patience he’d possessed earlier had dissolved into the acid puddle that was his anger. Notably Kent was… Somewhat calmer, but overall his attitude was sharp and unpleasant. At the very least his threats seemed to be confined to his words alone.

“Now shut up. I turned on the radio so I don’t have to listen to you.” Kent reached out and turned the volume dial on the radio’s panel; jazz filled the silent space between them uncomfortably.

Dean stepped on the gas without a word. He was close to convinced that he should have already thrown him out of the car.

Chapter Text

It was several hours before Dean stopped the car at a run down motel. A quick glance around revealed the parking lot was busy. He didn’t bother turning to Kent before addressing him.

“If you’re hungry, make yourself a sandwich. I put a cooler in the trunk.” He slammed the door in Kent’s face before going inside to get a room. Kent jerked back, again caught short of spitting out a swear word.

It was as he stepped out of the car, intent on having a sandwich, that Kent too noticed how packed the parking lot was. A few people were standing outside enjoying an evening smoke; others still were just arriving themselves. He did his best to suppress an unseemly scowl as he made his way to the car’s trunk.

When Dean returned, Kent was finishing off one sandwich and reaching for one more he’d made– in total there were three. There was no telling how many he’d made since, given how quickly he ate. The parking lot had mostly cleared out at that point, save one or two smokers, so Kent thought it appropriate to growl at Dean when he came close.

“I made these, so they’re mine,” he snapped. “Make your own damn sandwiches.”

“I don’t give a damn about your sandwiches, Kent.” Dean reached into the trunk and slapped together a sandwich of his own. He ate fast. What he really wanted to do was get inside so he could go to sleep and maybe take a break from Kent’s attitude.

“Come on.” Dean slammed the trunk shut, bag in hand. “I’m tired. I don’t know about you, but I want to get some sleep.” Upstairs in their room, however, they were met with a rather upsetting surprise.

“Shit!” Dean turned on his heel to leave the room. “There’s only one bed.”

“Well you can’t have it,” Kent sneered. He tossed his suitcase onto the lazily tucked sheets and took a defensive seat on top of it. He even crossed his arms; he looked more like a snobbish child than an assertive man in that position. And despite his attempt at strength, his frailty was painfully evident. He still shook like a leaf in a winter breeze no matter what he did.

“Tough shit, McCoppin,” he cackled. “You have a sleeping bag, don’t you? You seem like the type to bring one of those around on a trip. Sleeping under the stars bullshit…” He went off on a tangent, muttering about liberals and their apparent nonsense to himself for a good solid minute.

“Yes, Kent, I do have a sleeping bag. I brought one for you too, and since I’m the one paying for you to sleep indoors, you might want to tone it down before you end up using it in the great outdoors.”

Dean rummaged through his bag, muttering something along the lines of, “And I’ll be praying to my ‘liberal’ gods that your mattress has a loose spring that stabs you in the back.” When he finished rummaging, he pulled out his rolled up sleeping bag and got inside, turning angrily on his side to face away from Kent.

Kent had absolutely no intention to ‘tone it down’. If Dean wanted to be a good person and wash away whatever pity he felt for him, well dammit, he was going to have to work for it. How dare he pity Kent at all! His lip curled into another snarl just thinking about it. He wasn’t going to take anyone’s handouts lying belly up. An annoying foot nudged the tip of its Oxford shoe into Dean’s side.

“If I do get stabbed you’re paying for my tetanus shot, jackass,” he snarled. “You know what? I can’t sleep just thinking about that. Check my bed for loose springs why don’t you? I’ll bet doing that would be less of a pain than forking over cash to a doctor. Come on, beatnik, get up.” He cackled, his laughter raspy and bitter.

When Dean got up, being a good person was the last thing on his mind. He stood, straightened his clothes, looked at the bed, looked at Kent, and socked him straight in the jaw. It was a stupid thing to do, but he did it.

“How’s that for lockjaw, you lousy prick?” Dean clammed up after that, but he kept his challenging gaze, fists clenched. He hadn’t punched anyone in years, but that didn’t mean it felt good. In fact, his knuckles throbbed. Damn, he had a hard jaw. Dean really didn’t care what Kent was going to do now. That punch had been almost a year in the making and he wasn’t about to regret it.

Kent was absolutely livid.

“You son of a bitch!” He reared up and backhanded Dean with as much force as any punch he could have tossed him. Still, the open palm suggested that he still saw the beatnik as below him. Not worth the second it took to ball his hand into a fist. Despite his smarting hand he grabbed Dean by his shirt collar and pinned him to the wall, ready to make mincemeat out of him. Dean’s cheek stung from the force of the impact and he stumbled back, making it easy for Kent to pin him in place.

“I could fucking kill you right now!” Never mind how poor a decision that would be. Not from a moral standpoint, as far as Kent was concerned, but from a practical one. Where would he hide the body? How would he hide the body? Maybe he wouldn’t actually kill him– just ruin a limb or two.

“Go ahead. If you want to die in prison it’s your choice. I won’t go quietly.” Dean kept his hands at his sides. Whether he could take Kent or not, for now he would try to diffuse the situation. If this ended badly, there was no way both of them would be walking out of there as free men– or perhaps not at all.

Kent huffed and let Dean go– but not before he slapped him again. Dean didn’t cower or cry like the subordinate Kent insisted on treating him as. He merely flinched at the smack in the face he was given and moved away.

“You little fucker,” Kent snarled. “You try something like that again and I’ll break your fingers.” He rubbed his jaw, the spot Dean had socked him in already turning sore, and climbed back onto the bed. A shower was the last thing he felt like bothering himself with at the moment. Sleep was more welcoming. If he could fall asleep. There was still the thread of nightmares looming over him. He shut his eyes tight regardless. In the morning he could get clean. For now he just wanted to drift away. Reality was being a bother.

Dean laid down in his sleeping bag and moved as far away from Kent as he possibly could. He didn’t look forward to walking up the next day.



But, when he did, he was the first one up. Dean went downstairs, made breakfast for the two of them, and then brought it upstairs. He stood by Kent bedside and begrudgingly held his plate so it didn’t spill on his face. “Wake up. I made breakfast.”

Kent had already been awake for some time. He had woken up some point in the early morning; the grip of a nightmare was still upon him. A hand was pressed tight to his lips to stop himself from shaking. Tears had dried on his hollowed cheeks.

When Dean approached Kent he snapped up, knocking the plate from his hand. He stared down at the now sullied motel carpet numbly. His eyes couldn’t meet Dean’s.

“That was an accident.” That was obvious. “I’m sorry.” That was not so obvious.

Dean frowned, his anger leaving him. “It’s okay. No big deal.” He handed Kent the other plate before kneeling down to pick up the mess. “Are you alright? You looked kind of shaken.” Dean looked up at him, his eyes roaming his face. God, he looked like hell. What he was really looking for was a bruise from when he’d hit Kent last night, but he wasn’t about to ask about it. There was enough turmoil between them as it was.

“I’m–” Kent cut off when his voice cracked. It should have been easy to lie and say he was fine. But for some reason the silken falsehood wasn’t slipping off his tongue like it should have and was getting caught in his throat, making more tears well up in his eyes. His whole body trembled. Weak was how he felt. He hated, hated, hated, hated it. One fragile hand reached up and wiped away at one damp eye.

“I’m not okay,” he admitted in a low croak. Kent’s head shook vehemently. Stop it. Stop it. “I-I’m not okay and I don’t know why.”

He didn’t know why? Dean had to hold back a scoff of disbelief hearing that. Well gee, Kent. It couldn’t be the nightmares or the binge drinking or nearly killing us all, could it? He shook his head and sat down on the edge of the bed. He couldn’t be bitter right now.

“Don’t bite my head off, okay?” Dean raised his hands in surrender and continued. “It isn’t the bad dreams? Or do you not know what’s causing them?”

“I-I don’t know,” Kent stammered. He was regretting having opened his mouth at all. He could have just shrugged this off. Said he was fine, moved on. What would Dean do, now that he knew how utterly fragile he was? Beyond his obvious sickness, that was. Kent’s shoulders tightened. The last thing he wanted to think about, aside from how open he was now being with Dean, was how close to death he looked.

“The nightmare certainly isn’t helping matters.” Shaky hands wiped at Kent’s tears and he heaved a burning sigh. “And I don’t know why it keeps coming back.”

“The nightmare. As in a recurring one.” Dean set the ruined plate of food on the nightstand. “You should eat something. You need to keep up your strength.” He pushed the unsoiled food, what was supposed to have been his plate, onto Kent’s lap. Never mind that Kent had let him sleep on the ground. Never mind that he had slapped him around, made fun of him. Now he needed to get to the bottom of the situation, and he wasn’t going to get there without asking a few more questions.

“What’s the dream about? The Giant? The bomb?”

Kent slowly picked apart a piece of toast into bits he could tolerate eating with his stomach churning as it was. He stuffed a few scraps past his lips before speaking again. Some squeaky child’s version of his voice chimed in the back of his head: It’s important to eat! Kent knew it’d be a bad day when he found himself fighting off the urge to snark at himself. No shit, Sherlock.

“It’s about the Giant and the bomb,” Kent confirmed in a ragged voice. Another veritable bread crumb was dropped down the hatch. “It used to just be about a bomb. Before last year. The whole ‘reoccurring’ thing isn’t new.” A tired hand smoothed its palm against the various wrinkles of his face. Why was he still telling Dean this? Was the wound open so wide that he couldn’t clam up? Kent shut his eyes tight and he resisted the urge to cry.

“I don’t know why it’s been so violent recently,” he hissed, suddenly seething. “Waking up screaming, afraid for my life– that’s new.”

“Okay. And the problem is… You don’t know why that’s happening?” Dean stood up and dumped the other plate in the trash across the room.

“I’m not sure how to help you with that. For now maybe you’d feel better after a shower and a change of clothes. Then maybe we can get somewhere today.” Dean grabbed some clothes from his bag and set them down on the nightstand. He was going to change when he got the chance, but he wanted to make sure Kent had calmed down before he left.

“Yeah. Okay.” Kent finished eating and stood up. Not wanting to get crumbs all over whatever clothes he’d put on for the day, he headed to the bathroom to take a shower. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Dean had a point. Getting somewhere was the whole point of the trip– literally and figuratively speaking.

It didn’t take long for Kent to get dressed after his uneventful shower, but he was still moving with a weight upon him. His nightmare was still hanging over him. The fact that there was so much about it that, to him, made no sense was what bothered him. Scared him. A tremor wracked his body and the urge to cry was suddenly strong.

“I hate this,” he said aloud, hissing through his teeth.

“This?” Dean asked, taking a bite from a new plate of breakfast. “Describe ‘this.’ The motel? The room? The circumstances?” He had gone down to fix himself breakfast after Kent had gone into shower. “We’re going to move soon, just let me finish my breakfast and wash up. Then we can get coffee. How’s that sound?”

Dean finished up his breakfast and threw off his shirt, heading for the bathroom. “I’ll be right out.”

Kent watched him go without another word. Did he have to smart-mouth all the time? Kent figured that it was perhaps in Dean’s nature as a beatnik to be nothing more than an insufferable smartass. He scowled, his wall of anger and intolerance rising back up around his fragile core. So much for getting somewhere. The only progress they’d be making would be on the road; Kent would be making sure of that. If Dean couldn’t respect the fact that he was opening up to him, then he wouldn’t be getting a chance to take advantage of it.

The former agent’s suitcase was all packed up by the time Dean exited the shower. He was looking down at his watch with an impatient frown making him look even more dour than earlier. Slowly he turned his eyes from the ticking miniature hands to Dean’s figure and growled at him like an animal.

“You took your sweet time,” he spat.

“Yeah, maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long if I could have finished breakfast sooner,” Dean shrugged. If Kent could be nasty so could he. At this point he hardly realized when he shot back with too much sarcasm. He headed downstairs quickly and started the car without bothering to look at Kent. He could brood without him looking on.

“You know, Kent,” Dean barely glanced over at him when he approached the car. “I was serious. You said you hated ‘this.’ I was hoping if you could isolate a few things then they could be changed.” He felt around for his sunglasses on the dash and put them on, squinting up at him finally.

“You don’t know what I was talking about,” Kent sneered. “And you’re not going to know. You don’t deserve to know.” The word ‘deserved’ was breathed out in a hot growl, and he was close enough for every last trace of alcohol on his breath (it still lingered, even after two days of being sober) to hit Dean square in the face. Kent glared at him for a few moments more before setting his suitcase in the car’s trunk.

“I’d hate to deserve knowing,” Dean mumbled. His shoulders tensed as Kent made his way to the passenger’s seat.

“What needs to change can’t just be cut away.” Kent muttered absently. For a second he assumed his earlier forlorn, fearful expression. But it lasted for only a few seconds before he was snarling like an animal again.

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Can’t be cut away?” he repeated.

He chose to leave it at that. Maybe he'd catch him in a better (more vulnerable?) mood later.

Chapter Text

Dean drove for a while longer before they came to a small suburb. The houses became less and less similar and much farther apart as they went. There was a dog tied to the porch of one of the houses that barked as they went by.

“Did you see that mutt?” Kent asked. He grabbed Dean’s arm to draw his attention– and for just his attention. A look of mild concern was on his face. “That house was foreclosed, did you see? That dog may not have had any water o-or or food for days. Dean, we have to help it.”

“I didn’t see it, but I sure heard it.” Dean stopped the car. He wasn’t about to leave an abandoned dog to die, even if he didn’t particularly like them. “Mutt, huh? That’s a nice way of putting it.” He spotted the dog next to a sagging old house sporting a porch pockmarked with some kind of green something living in the wood. It was unlikely anyone wanted the house anymore.

Dean moved closer to dog to get a better look, but he didn’t move within range of its leash. “You know, she might bite. We should get a good look before we go touching that thing.”

Kent was already petting the mutt.

He hadn’t heard what Dean cautioned, but even if he had the advice would have been ignored. Kent spent his boyhood with a faithful bloodhound– he knew dogs as well as he knew himself, he’d say. Which would be inaccurate; he knew canines a bit better.

Lucky for him, the dog wasn’t a biter. She relented happily under his touch, fluffy tail wagging even faster as Kent scratched her ears. Kent himself looked like he’d be wagging his tail if he had one.

“Aw, she’s a sweetheart,” he cooed. “We should keep her.”

Dean crossed his arms, giving Kent a critical look. “How do you know it’s a girl? Did you look? And–” He sidestepped around the dog and ducked down to check. “How do you know she doesn’t have any diseases? Or fleas?”

Dean looked the dog over once more; she did look healthy enough, but he couldn’t really tell the breed. Kent must have been right. She was a mutt, even if he didn’t really care for the term. “You know, even if she is healthy, how do we take care of her on the road? You’re barely in good enough shape to take care of yourself.”

“I can take care of a damn dog, Dean,” Kent snapped. “And–” He lifted one of the pooch’s hind legs and snorted “–I know it’s a bitch now. She’s less of a pain in the ass than you are at the moment, so I think I could handle her.” Kent stood up and unwound the dog’s leash from the post it had been tied to. Then he stared Dean down, expecting another challenge. “Do you have anything else to say about the matter? Because if not I suggest you get back behind the wheel before I sock you.”

“Don’t threaten me. We’re gonna take the dog to a shelter and then get back on track. I can barely handle you, let alone some crazy dog. Someone else will do a lot better taking care of her than we will.” Dean headed for the car. If Kent could behave he might change his mind; but as it stood, he wasn’t going to tolerate a stray, probably dirty dog in his car for long. He got behind the wheel and waited for Kent to catch up, staring him down as he approached.

Kent snorted like an angry bull and let the dog take the backseat. After he sat down beside Dean up front he gave him another sharp glare. “I’m keeping her,” he insisted. “There’s nothing you can do about it.” And when he thought about it more, there really was nothing Dean could do about it. Did the beatnik lack heart enough to just let the dog go, possibly to meet her end at the front end of a truck? Kent didn’t think so.

Dean scoffed. “There’s a lot I can do about it. I’m sure somebody would take that dog.” He kept an eye out for a place they might be able to stop, but it was a half-hearted search at best. Dean was already considering how beneficial the dog might be. Maybe if Kent could learn to take care of the dog he could take care of himself, too. Even if it was only a little thing, it was something to live for.

The mutt seemed to know she was the subject of debate; curious, she rested her head on the top of the front seat, her big brown eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. Her tail wagged slowly. Kent had to smile at that and gave her a hearty scratch behind her folded ears.

After a few more hours of driving it became clear that Dean had no intention of dropping off the dog. He finally stopped in a small town near a corner store. “We’re gonna need dog food. Scratch that, dog food and food in general.”

Kent grinned; it wasn’t a giddy expression however. It was jagged with childish, bully-like triumph and a joy entirely separated from whatever Dean might’ve been feeling. The sense of victory Kent felt was rather palpable, rolling off of him in waves. “Good,” he declared. Good boy might’ve well been what he’d actually said.

Kent stepped out of the car after that and walked into the store with the stride of a successful man. It almost detracted from how sickly he was; indeed, if one had no idea he was sick, they might have merely presumed him to be aged. Absent though were the gray hairs brought on by years lived, so Kent’s true state of being was not too hard to guess at. He didn’t particularly care. It wasn’t like he’d be seeing anyone in that town again.

Dean looked up toward the sky as if seeking heavenly sympathy. He stayed in the car. If Kent was going shopping, Dean was going to make sure his dog didn’t make a mess of his car. Across the street, he spotted a diner. He figured they would eat there after Kent had picked up supplies for the dog. His foot tapped rhythmically against the car floor as he rolled down the window to peer after Kent over his sunglasses. Dean picked a toothpick out of a small container in the glove compartment and ground it between his teeth like a cigarette. Kent was really starting to get on his nerves.

Speak of the devil; Kent was back and just as haughty as he’d been when he left. “Are you going to cover the cost of this?” he asked in his common sharp tone of opposition. ‘This’ being all of the things he’d bought for his nameless pooch.

Kent noted the toothpick between Dean’s lips with a mildly confused expression. Not a smoker, was he? Kent couldn’t blame him; he found cigarettes repugnant, but he had to feed his nicotine addiction somehow. Funds be damned. Buying dog food, however, was something not covered as an exception to his thrifty habits.

“You know I’m flat broke,” he added. The dog supplies joined the mutt herself in the backseat; Kent took his place in the front. “It was ten dollars for all of that.” He held out a palm, expecting cash. At such a close distance, the bizarre callouses he possessed were visible. They did not belong on the hands of a man like Kent– at least, not in theory. What was a cushy desk worker like him doing with hardened palms? Kent didn’t seem to notice how anomalous his hands were at the moment, however.

“Flat broke. Sure.” Dean spoke from between clenched teeth. He doubted he was quite “flat broke,” but when he saw the supposed desk worker’s hands, it became pretty clear why he hung onto what money he had. Dean pulled out his wallet and slapped the money into his hand.

“I don’t suppose you’ll want to cover your own meal over there?” He thrust a thumb in the direction of the diner. “You’re gonna want to feed your dog before we go.” He got out of the car, took the toothpick out of his mouth and threw it on the ground. The end was thoroughly chewed. It was pretty clear how irritated Dean was with Kent, even if he could sympathize with him.

Kent flashed Dean the bird with an even darker scowl. “You should’ve suggested doing that before I sat down.” He got out of the car grumbling.

“Hey, you can put your hands in your pockets if you’re going to be making gestures like that. There are kids around, you know.” Dean leaned against the car door nearest him, his own hands in his pockets. He looked back as Kent fed the dog, somewhat grateful for the reprieve.

After a solid five minutes of discontented grumbling from Kent, the dog had eaten and he was back in the front seat. The mutt, meanwhile, thought it best to catch a nap on her full stomach and went quiet in the back. Kent’s anger faded a tad. How could one be mad around a sleeping dog?

“So we’re going to that diner?” Kent spoke in, for the first time, a soft, gentle tone. He still couldn’t look at Dean, sure, but he addressed him with a voice that amazingly connotated some kind of respect. Perhaps not respect for Dean– the dog had more of Kent’s favor –but it was respect nonetheless.

“Yeah, we’re going.” Dean’s expression softened as he turned to look at Kent. “Are you okay? It’s just across the street. I thought we could walk.” He pointed at the building, no more than thirty feet away. “You know, I really can’t tell whether you’re uh– you’re tired. You can’t just get snippy with me when I don’t read your mind, okay?”

“I think it’d be best if we drove,” Kent said with his brow furrowing pensively. One could almost see the worst case scenarios flash before his eyes. He glanced at Dean rather casually, and for once the intense malice he often hefted the beatnik’s way via dark expressions was mitigated. “You said yourself I’m sick. Why take any chances?” There was the familiar hyper-criticism laden in his words. But overall it was clear that Kent’s abrasiveness had been… Somewhat minimized.

Time would tell if his lessened frustration would make his tongue wag.

“Well?” Kent asked, his tone sharpening. He had no intention of acknowledging Dean’s other words. “Aren’t you hungry too?”

Dean took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay. If you think it’s best.” He sat down in the driver’s seat and turned on the car. “I was thinking about having you drive sometime, but now… Maybe not.” He was starting to wonder if he should have allowed Kent to go into that store alone.

He turned and drove in a straight line across the street, stopping in a parking space close to the diner’s front door. “Are you going to need any help getting inside? You can lean on me if you need to.” He got out and crossed to Kent’s door, opening it and offering his hand.

“I’m not going to need any help.” There was an edge to Kent’s voice that was unintentional. His eyes were still stern, however, as they trained themselves on Dean’s face. He was sick, not a senior citizen. Briefly he wondered if Dean knew how old he was– and then Kent realized that he didn’t know the beatnik’s age in turn. If he cared enough, he would have been embarrassed about it.

“I can get out on my own,” he said. And he was right, thankfully. Getting out of the car was a task he accomplished with ease; then again, Dean had sent him into the store alone. Presumably walking wasn’t that arduous for him.

Dean withdrew his hand. “Okay. Okay, you said you were tired.” His shoulders sunk slightly with relief. So Kent could get around on his own. Maybe it had been the road he was afraid of.

He headed for the door and opened it for Kent, but after that he allowed him to lead. Dean knew it would be best to let Kent decide where they sat so he didn’t feel overly exposed or too far from an escape. As irritating as it was, he wanted to make sure Kent could maintain some control where he could get it.

Kent picked a booth in its own little corner; one so closed off and shut away it might as well had been part of another building. The thought of being seen with a beatnik didn’t have any sort of appeal to Kent. Not that there was anyone for him to be seen by. The diner was rather vacated; not even the waitresses existed in abundant numbers. But it was clear by the sounds of a busy kitchen that the place was indeed in operation.

“What would it take to get some service in here?” Kent grumbled. He rapped his fingers against the smooth table surface in a constant drum heralding his annoyance. “We’re basically the only people in this dump.”

“It’s okay, Kent. They probably haven’t seen us yet. Don’t get so worked up over nothing.”

It didn’t take long for a waitress to show up at their table, an extra cheesy grin plastered on her face. “Hello, sorry for the wait. What can I get you boys?” She flipped out a little notepad and took a pencil from behind her ear.

“Coffee.” Dean looked down at the menu he had taken from a holder at the back of the table. “And a turkey sandwich. What about you, Kent?” He smiled at him, hoping he’d take the hint to be pleasant.

Kent resisted the urge to mock the waitress’s phrasing– boys? did they look like a couple of boys? –and simply placed an order of coffee and a ham sandwich. With a smile, surprisingly. Apparently a surly attitude was something he could hide behind an impeccable facade. When the waitress left, however, he was glowering at Dean once again.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he ordered in a voice barely above a mutter. “You’re looking at me like I’m some kind of half-wit. An idiot.” As far as Kent was concerned, that was worse than being deemed a child. “I deserve more respect than that– as a human being, I do.”

“Do you? I thought that I was a human being too,” he shrugged. “We must both be subhuman or something.” Dean narrowed his eyes. “And you know, idiots are people. You– I mean, they just happen not to think like everyone else.”

He folded his hands on the table and put on an overly friendly grin. “How about we make a deal? You be respectful of other people– including me– and I can stop looking at you like some kind of mentally incapable… Child.” He took his hands off of the table when the waitress approached again with their coffee. Dean nodded and thanked the waitress before she left and took a sip of his coffee, choosing to focus on it instead of Kent.

Kent trained an intense gaze on Dean; he was past the point of anger and on the cusp of blistering rage, with only social convention and a possible sore throat holding him back. Well, perhaps not the first thing– but Kent was rather hungry, and the possibility of getting booted from the diner for shouting was one that existed. He rapped his fingers against the table even harder than before and pressed his lips together in a firm line. Several insults were on the tip of his tongue– son-of-a-bitch and shit-eating bastard being chief among them, but Kent thought it best to stay silent for once.

He picked up his coffee cup and added copious amounts of creamer. Then he raised it to his lips and took a long, long sip. All while still giving Dean that look that toed the threshold into a madness beyond his normal rage.

Dean elected to ignore Kent’s rage at his own peril and began a conversion of his own.

“You know, this is some pretty good coffee for a little place like this. Reminds me a little of how my dad used to make it. ‘Black, because we can’t afford to waste the milk,’ he used to say.” He chuckled at his own little joke in an attempt to ease the tension between them. “I wasn’t old enough to drink coffee then, but he still let me have it.”

“Old enough? What the hell is old enough to drink coffee?” Kent didn’t really give a damn, but he wanted to piss Dean off. If he had to be angry then so would Dean. He flat out growled at the beatnik before raising his mug up to his lips– just as the waitress returned with their food in hand. Surprisingly, Kent managed to smile her way before she left; unsurprisingly, he was scowling once again when the two were alone once more.

“I dunno,” Dean shrugged. “Some people say it stunts your growth. I guess it might be true.” He waved his hand above his head and toward Kent’s, indicating the height difference. He ignored Kent’s growling, placidly sipping his coffee before thanking the waitress for his food.

“What on Earth are you even trying to accomplish with this?” Kent asked suddenly. “With bringing me on this trip? You hate me, I hate you– why can’t we just leave it at that and be done with each other?”

Dean took a bite from his sandwich and swallowed before speaking again. “I was trying to get you on your feet again. Just yesterday I was wondering if that fever of yours would ever break, and now I’m wondering if you won’t end up bedridden again.”

He took another bite of his food and continued. “You know, I could just leave you on the side of the road and be done with you, but then I’d end up reading about some John Doe they found in a ditch somewhere. Dead, if that wasn’t clear enough.”

“Because then I’d be on your conscious, right? Is that it?” Kent laughed bitterly, one hand blocking some of his sharp smile. “You think that makes you all high and mighty, doesn’t it, you moral son-of-a-bitch? Huh? Well, I know and you know that you don’t care about me beyond whether or not I’ll be a skeleton in your closet. Otherwise you’d let me die, right?” Kent brought his coffee mug back up to his lips, and once he finished off its contents he pulled out his cigarettes and lighter.

“If you weren’t paying for everything I would have already been gone,” he snarled in a cloud of smoke. “And with it taken your promise of redemption. Hell–” Kent’s gaze sharpened, blue eyes murderous and his smile all gone “–maybe I still will.”

“Yeah, because I’m the one who needs a clear conscience,” Dean replied. “You know, Kent, I thought you said you wanted to live. What was it? ‘Screw our country, I want to live?’ You can go ahead and go, because I know that I did as much as I could. I dragged you– kicking and screaming– toward help and you refused.”

He took the last bite of his sandwich and stood up, dusting himself off. “You can go ahead and call my bluff, but I know you won’t last another week.” Even with his aggression, Dean managed to remember to pay for their meal before storming out. “I’ll be in the car. You can come get your dog too.”

Kent glowered and followed after him wordlessly. Last another week? What did he mean by that? Did the beatnik expect him to crack in a week, or end up dead in a week? Another wave of anger surged over him. Was that it– was Dean’s plan to serve as his hospice care? Oh, the nerve of–

He grabbed Dean as soon as he reached him, boiling with the blinding rage that had built up earlier in the booth. It ran off of him in searing waves and shook his form even more than it already trembled.

“You rat bastard,” he seethed. “I see what your getting at. You’re dirt– You’re pitying me and I didn’t ask for it!” Kent didn’t have any clear way of voice his frustrations– all he could manage was vague accusations. What was one supposed to say upon making such a realization, anyways?

“Hands off!” Dean pushed him away, enough to remove him, but careful not to knock him down. With how much he was shaking, he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t snap like a twig, as impossible as that was.

“Kent, you–” you what? You bastard? Idiot? Dean sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He did pity him, but he didn’t understand how anyone couldn’t. “You need to sit down. Please, before you hurt yourself.” He opened the car door for him and gestured to the seat. “Talk with me, not at me. And for once,” his shoulders slumped, “I’ll try to do the same.”

Kent’s eyebrows rose. There was the respect he’d been wanting but had of yet to properly ask for. He could have gotten mad again– Where was this attitude earlier? –but at the moment Kent lacked the energy. Getting angry on a full stomach was a difficult task to manage. Wordlessly, he took a seat on the passenger’s side of the car.

“Why are you doing this?” Kent asked in a small voice. “I don’t understand. You hate me, don’t you? Pity me?” He turned to Dean with a gaze sharpened out of a defensive anger. “What makes you think I’ll open up to a man like that? To a man who can’t respect my humanity?” Kent crossed his arms with a huff and muttered something about a prior punch to the face. “You going to have to give me a damn good reason to tell you anything. Or else you’re not getting shit.”

“I don’t hate you, Kent. I pity you, but you’re hurting. There isn’t a lot I can do about that. I want to help. That’s what I want.” He sat down and rested his head on one hand, his elbow resting on the wheel. “I can’t help that I suck at it. When you lash out like that– I can’t hit you back. I shouldn’t.” He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

Dean couldn’t help but think of Kent like a wounded animal. He was hurt, but there wasn’t much he could do. No one to turn to he could trust. What could Dean possibly be? A predator closing in? Certainly his intentions couldn’t be pure. Dean buried his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. And that way of thinking certainly didn’t respect Kent’s humanity. Not at all.

“You’re sorry?” Those words hit Kent’s ears and jumbled around in his brain like the hollers of some drunken idiot. They just didn’t make sense. What– what was he sorry for? For not being able to help him. Why? Because he pitied him. God dammit! His teeth gnashed against each other in another show of unrestrained anger. There went respect! There went compassion!

Kent’s hands clasped themselves around Dean’s neck. He did not intend to kill, despite the pressure. His anger was reactionary– not strong enough to do the deed. Soon enough it would blow off like steam from a boiling pot, but at the moment he intended to ride out his rage.

“You un-Godly son of a BITCH! No good BASTARD!” Kent roared. “You don’t get it! You don’t give a damn, do you? What have I done to where you can’t see another man in front of you? Hate me all you want– but could you at least respect me?!”

“I don’t– I don’t understand.” Dean took Kent’s wrists and removed them from his neck, taking a deep breath. It wasn’t worth it to get angry. It wasn’t worth it.

“I don’t understand what you want. Respect? I respect your life, that’s why I’m trying to help you. Just because I can see that you’re not well doesn’t mean that I don’t respect you!” Dean scrambled for the right words. There was no way he could understand where Kent was coming from. Not really. Respect was treating someone well, holding someone in esteem. Pity was sorrow and sympathy for another person, wasn’t it? Dean couldn’t understand why Kent was so hung up on it. They weren’t mutually exclusive as far as he knew. He didn’t feel like he was getting much of either from Kent, but this really wasn’t about how Kent treated him.

“Is it because I punched you? Or because I–” don’t let you walk all over me?  “–somehow treat you like a child?”

“Somehow?” Kent spat; his spittle could have been acid given his tone. “Are you such an idiot that you can’t even realize you’re doing it?”

“Yeah, I’m ‘such an idiot,’ as you like to put it,” Dean deadpanned. Maybe that was just the way Kent reacted to temper tantrums, but he didn’t feel that worth mentioning. They were finally getting somewhere.

Kent wrists trembled in Dean’s embrace until, predictably, the anger faded away. That was the worst– that was how it always went. The anger would fade, and all he’d feel were emotions best drowned out with drink.

Regret. Guilt. Sadness. All old friends, all old enemies, all best paired with a glass of whiskey. A choked sob rattled out of Kent.

“At least you try,” he admitted in a choked voice. “No one else bothered to try.” Before he could be asked to elaborate, however, their mutt poked her head over the front seat to lick Kent’s flushed cheek. A weak smile crossed his face. How could one be angry in the face of such blind kindness?

Dean tried. Well yes, he did. But what? He tried to help, tried to communicate, he’d even tried to respect him (as hard as that was), but what was Kent getting at? He didn’t even seem to realize how poor his health was. Kent’s florid face reminded him of a lot of people he’d seen before he moved to Rockwell and even a few people he knew now. Wasn’t that a side effect of alcoholism? That and exceptionally pale skin. Dean almost chuckled to remember the first time he’d met Kent with his flushed face and insistent shouting. Seeing him calm like this made it was easier to remember.

“Who else was there– who didn’t try, I mean? General Rogard? The people in Washington?”

“No one,” Kent said aridly. “No one gave a damn. No one should give a damn– but you do. You do.” He waved about a distinguishing index finger before letting it fall limp. It took effort to enunciate his words now. What he needed, perhaps, was a nap. The dog had retreated to her place in the back seat, so now he very well could take one.

“I don’t know why,” he mumbled, half to himself. “Why do you care? I tried to kill you. I tried to–” his brow furrowed “–never mind. Let’s not go there. Let’s just keep going.” He motioned awkwardly to the road and leaned against the passenger side door, eyelids drooping. He was going to sleep whether he wanted to or not; it helped that he wanted to.

“Yeah, let’s not worry about it.” Dean turned the key in the ignition and shifted the car into drive, the lever clicking into position. He easily maneuvered the car onto the road.

A smile crept onto Dean’s face as Kent slept. Finally they were getting somewhere. Why did he care? Dean wasn’t really one to ask that question. His thinking process didn’t include the question how does this benefit me? It wasn’t that he was entirely altruistic. He just couldn’t ignore Kent’s situation.

Not when it stared him in the face.

Chapter Text

When Kent woke up next the sky was being dyed the dark indigos and blues of night. Stars were beginning to wink down at the Earth below– and it was a sign they were far removed from civilization, since Kent could see nearly every one of them. He blinked a bleary eye and grunted like a frustrated animal.

“Wh– Where are we?” Kent asked in a mumble. He sat up slowly with one hand rubbing his clammy cheek; the window had been a cold and hard pillow. “Are you tired?” He couldn’t imagine how Dean had continued driving that whole time. What whole time, he wondered? Kent turned his wrist to check his watch, but in the darkness the clock-face read blank to him.

Dean’s head swung around toward him with a slight swiftness that suggested minor surprise. “Uh, I’m not sure. I think we’re in another state now. We got out of Maine awhile ago. Pennsylvania. That’s where we are.” He shrugged. Still the same scenery, the smell of pine.

“I’m not really tired. I had coffee.” He gestured to several empty cups. Dark circles were still present around his eyes, but it was hard to tell what was exhaustion from his normal appearance. “I didn’t get you anything because I figured you’d need the sleep. Are you alright by the way? You still don’t look great.”

“I don’t feel great,” Kent retorted. He rested his head back on the window, taking care not to smother the right side of his face that time. Being caught between the worlds of sleep and wakefulness was an unpleasant experience. The only solution was to ride out the feeling of being dried out and left to hang until he either felt rested or drifted back to sleep. Matters weren’t helped by the fact he wasn’t entirely sure which he’d prefer to be doing.

“Let’s talk about something else,” he breathed. Why he wanted to talk to Dean now was unclear; perhaps his mind being out of sorts contributed to that. Or perhaps Kent had come to realize his belligerence was not only wearing the beatnik thin but himself as well.

“Alright. What do you want to talk about? Maybe one of the states we’re passing through. You traveled a lot before, right? What states have you been through?” Dean specifically avoided the subject of Kent’s work, but he had a feeling it was going to come up anyway.

As Dean drove, his headlights caught the eyes of a deer by the side of the road which had previously been chewing the grass that had grown up in the relative absence of heavy foliage. He pointed it out to Kent. “Did you see the deer?”

“Deer?” Kent sounded as if he were drunk; but, unlike an inebriate, he didn’t turn around in a delayed reaction to observe the darkness where the deer had supposedly stood. Kent’s next words were merely an unintelligible rumble. Who cared about the deer. Who cared. His eyelids drooped.

“I didn’t see it,” he chuffed. “You wanted to know where I’ve been?” The states were what he referred to. “All of them. Except Alaska… And Hawaii.” A long yawn followed his words, and for a few moments he resembled some sleepy big cat getting tired of being pestered. He should have known better than to start a conversation he didn’t care to finish.

Dean slowed down the car. “Do you think we should find a place to stop for tonight? You look like you’re gonna nod off again.” It didn’t look much like they’d find a place to go, but he asked anyway. “I’ve got sleeping bags. We could camp.”

He looked at the backseat. The sleeping bags were there, along with his guitar and the still unnamed dog. “I’ve got a fire starter too. I should be able to keep it warm.”

“What–” Kent shot up, eyes going wide. “You aren’t suggesting we sleep out here, are you?” Was he complaining just to complain? It was likely. Given how easily he’d napped in the car earlier, one would be troubled trying to find a legitimate point to his defiance. Kent’s hands flexed and curled, as if Dean’s neck were right beneath them.

“I am not sleeping out here, in this immobile car, open to robbery and who knows what else– we are going to find a goddamn motel, you understand?”

“Kent, there is literally no one else out here. No one. The worst that could happen would be a raccoon getting in somehow, which I doubt will happen if the top is up.” Dean stopped the car. “We’re gonna end up driving a lot longer if we look for a town with a motel in it. Unless sleeping in here is gonna mess up your back or something, we’re better off camping out.”

He got out of the car and grabbed the sleeping bags from the back, throwing one at him. “You can sleep in there if you want. I’m sleeping out here.”

“It– It would be bad for my back!” While Kent was likely right about sleeping on the car seat for a long period of time not doing his back any favors, it wasn’t why he was complaining. Partially out of his preference for laying himself to rest on a bed, partially out of the principal of arguing with Dean just to be a nuisance. He could be somewhat cooperative with the beatnik, sure, but if he thought that meant complacency he would have another thing coming. Kent would see to that.

“We are not staying here!” Kent insisted again. He threw his sleeping bag right back at Dean. “Hell, I’ll drive! I’ll drive us to the next town, alright? Just for God’s sake, don’t be so stupid as to just park your car at night and sleep in it!

“Aww, come on. Where’s your sense of adventure?” Dean caught the sleeping bag and rolled it under his other arm. “That, and I’m tired and you were about to fall asleep two seconds ago. It’s not safe to just drive like that.”

He set the sleeping bags on the ground. “I’ve got pillows in there. You can make yourself a nest. That should help your back, right?”

“I–” Dean was right about that being able to help his back. But Kent still wanted to argue, to protest, to scream and throw a fit until he got his way. Like a petulant child– a spoiled brat. Not every temperamental child was given what they wanted. So too with any temperamental adult, as Kent was now having to learn.

Fine. We can stay here. But we’re not– don’t expect me to ever agree to anything like this again, you understand?” Kent snatched his sleeping bag up off of the ground and laid it out over the front seat. “And I’m not sleeping on the goddamn ground…”

“No, sorry. I don’t understand. I just blinked and forgot sixty percent of my first language. Can you run that by me again?” Dean rolled his eyes. Of course he understood. He wasn’t going to actually listen, but he understood.

He set to work finding about everything in the car that could even remotely be called a blanket or pillow and dumping it in the front seat, save one. “There. Go nuts.” With that, Dean set about setting up his own bed, moving rocks and sticks that were in his way.

Fucking smartass, Kent growled silently. He deserved better treatment than this, surely? All for the money, he had to remember– putting up with the insufferable beatnik was all for the money. Why he wanted to give Kent any money was still beyond him; but when God sends a blessing did one question why it was sent? With a huff, Kent set to making himself comfortable; stuffing pillows here and blankets there. When he finally set his head down Kent had to admit a level of comfort. And with the dog sleeping just behind him, her surprisingly warm body pressed against the back of the front seat, Kent found himself rather warm. Cozy, even.

It wasn’t long before he nodded off, snoring loud enough to be heard just outside the car.

Dean could only shake his head at Kent’s antics as he made his bed. When he was finally inside his sleeping bag and Kent was snoring, he let himself laugh. For now, he seemed okay. No screaming, no fevers, no pitching a fit about nothing. For once, Dean felt he could really relate to some of the parents around Rockwell. Well, almost.

“Goodnight, Kent,” Dean whispered. The stars above his head provided enough light to still see him snoring like a kitten in the car. Soon, even Dean had drifted off to sleep under the cool light of the moon.

Kent woke up with the odd feeling of being misplaced. He’d forgotten where he’d fallen asleep. An attempt to stretch painfully reminded him, however; jamming one’s humerus bone against the floor of a car was certainly an effective way to do that. He groaned and, rubbing his elbow, sat up slowly. There were two more things he was now aware of– it was mid-morning, and he was hungry.

Rather reluctantly, Kent left the comfort of his various blankets and pillows to exit the car. Surely there was something to be had for breakfast in the trunk.

Dean was nowhere to be seen outside. His sleeping bag sat rumpled on the ground. Inside the trunk there were several food items, including some bacon, a package of bread and a dozen eggs, packed into a cooler. At some point before his disappearance Dean had set up his little camp stove as well, and there was a fresh pot of coffee on top of it.

A few minutes later, Dean came trudging out of the woods, drying his hair on a towel. He dropped a small plastic pail carrying a bar of soap into his bag in the trunk and straightened up. “Morning, Kent. Did you sleep okay?”

“What– When did you– Where did you–” Was there a body of water somewhere nearby? Or had Dean walked to the next town just to take a shower? Kent thought it was likely the former. But then that begged the question: why on Earth would he bathe in a random pond he happened upon? Kent’s nose wrinkled. Dean was likely dirtier now than he had been before he stepped into stagnant water. Then again, he was a beatnik. Wading among pond scum was no different than congregating with those of his own mindset.

“Never mind. I slept well enough.” Like he cared, Kent scoffed to himself. He grabbed the pot of coffee and a nearby mug to help himself. The food could wait until after he was caffeinated.

“A lake, Kent. You know, the kind that people used before plumbing was invented.” He rolled his eyes at Kent’s disgusted look and grabbed his own mug to refill when Kent was done. “You know, that coffee was made with lake water.” Dean grinned devilishly. It really wasn’t, but screwing with him was deemed adequate payback for Kent’s attitude. “Where’s the dog? You should take her for a walk before we go, since you were so excited about being here in the first place.” Dean rolled up his sleeping bag and threw it in the trunk before grabbing a few items for breakfast from the trunk. “I’ll make breakfast.”

Kent poured out his coffee with a look of disgust. He didn’t put it past Dean to be dimwitted enough to make a pot with lakewater. Did he boil it long enough to make it safe to drink? Did he boil it at all? Kent thought not. If Dean wanted to catch some stomach bug, that was his prerogative.

“I’ll walk her,” Kent agreed, sneering past a curled lip. “But not until you give her a name.” Kent was certain the beatnik was just as tired as being in the same vicinity as Kent was; so, in exchange for ruining his coffee, he’d be an annoyance for a little while longer. Kent opened the backseat to let the mutt out, and she bounded over to Dean as if on cloud nine. She was quick to rise onto her back legs to bat at Dean’s shoulders in vigorous play.

“See? She even likes you,” Kent snickered.

“A name? She’s your dog.” Dean grabbed her paws and lifted them off of his shoulders. “Stop that. I don’t know, how about Annoying? Scratchy, Jumpy, Irritating?” He had to be difficult about it. Kent could name the dog. He really didn’t care what happened to the dog as long as she was okay.

“What about Sugar?” Of course coffee sweetener would be his first serious suggestion. He searched around for a stick and threw it at the dog to get her attention. “Go get it! Go get it girl!”

The dog stared up at Dean with ears perked and tail wagging. Kent snickered and hooked her new leash to her new collar and strode past Dean with a look of pride.

“You can think of a suitable name while I walk her,” Kent said, holding his nose high with a snobbish smile. “Sugar isn’t going to cut it.” Nothing Dean said was likely going to ‘cut it’ with Kent. That was only half-intentional; there was Kent’s conscious efforts to piss the beatnik off, and then his unconscious urge to just resist. He was angry to begin with, and Dean was merely the closest person to take his rage out on.

Dean shrugged. He was more intent on making breakfast than naming the dog. He made a quick round of French toast and several strips of bacon. While he worked, he finished off the first pot of coffee and put another on. He made a point of showing Kent he hadn’t used lake water by pouring the water high above the pot.

“So energetic,” Dean told himself. Jumper? Runner? Were those even dog names? What about just names? Lucy?

“Hey, Kent!” Dean waved him down as he returned with the dog in tow. “How about Lucy?”

The dog barked and wagged her tail at that. Kent squinted at the mutt; she wasn’t supposed to like any of Dean’s suggestions. But if that’s what she wanted to be called, then Kent had no choice but to roll with it.

“Well I guess her name is Lucy,” Kent muttered. The dog– Lucy now –leaped up excitedly, waving her front paws in the air. Her excitement only served to deepen Kent’s scowl.

Dean laughed. “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do!” He set out two plates with breakfast on them and rewarded himself with another sip of coffee. He hid an extra piece of bacon behind his back and walked closer to the dog.

Luuuuuuuciiiie. Are you hungry girl?” He held up the bacon above her head. “Sit. Go on, sit.” He grinned down at her. Since she’d been previously owned, who knew what tricks she remembered?

Lucy took to the command like fire to kindle and sat down, big puppy-esque eyes staring up at the slice of fried pork held just above her. Kent frowned. This was his dog Dean was baiting– the beatnik had said so himself! So like him, he thought, to only care about something or someone unless they were obeying him. Deep down, however, Kent had to admit that he could understand such a sentiment.

“Don’t waste that on her,” he snapped, snatching the bacon from Dean’s hands and taking a bite of it. “And don’t get her used to people food. Then she won’t eat her own.”

“It’s a treat. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to tease dogs, Kent? It’s rude.” Dean grabbed another slice of bacon from his own plate and gave it to the dog before Kent could have any say in the matter. He didn’t see it as obedience; he saw it as a positive interaction that would only serve to better his relationship with Lucy. If only it were so easy to get on Kent’s good side. “Good girl. Why would anyone abandon you?”

Dean straightened up and retrieved the plates from the stove, handing one to Kent. “Eat something and let’s get out of here. Maybe if you’re lucky we’ll find a good place to stay tonight.”

Kent took the plate with fingers stiffened by a begrudging attitude. How humiliating it was to take his hand outs after losing some proxy argument. It reeked of pity– giving out of pity, feeding Kent out of pity. It made his blood burn. Treat me like a man, dammit!

As Kent sat down and ate, he had to keep Lucy at bay. The dog eyed his eggs and bacon with gluttonous eyes. Kent did not miss the opportunity to glare at Dean with his own murderous ones.

Dean ignored Kent’s glare and even fed the dog– her own food, of course. After taking care of the dishes and letting Lucy back in the car, he sat down in the front seat. Eventually Kent finished eating and even got a cup of coffee in. But as soon as he took his seat on the passenger’s side he felt himself nodding off.

“You okay, Kent? You can rest here for a little while longer if you need to. Or I could clear out a spot in the back and put the dog up here.” If Kent was going to sleep, Dean was going to be as accommodating as he could. At least then he wasn’t actively resisting him.

“Just shut up and drive,” Kent snarled, managing a bit of coherency just to snap at Dean. His anger wasn’t enough to prolong his wakefulness, however, and he slumped against the door window once again. He wanted to sleep– but he didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to leave– but he didn’t want to leave. Decisions, decisions. None he wanted to make.

“I don’t want to talk to you right now.” A paltry explanation for his rudeness, but an explanation nonetheless.

Good, then shut the hell up. Amazingly, Dean managed to keep his mouth shut as he shifted gears and headed out on the road. All night and Kent was still sleepy? Sleeping in the car must have been worse for him than Dean had thought. Either that or it was a symptom of whatever illness he’d managed to give himself. He wasn’t going to ask. He knew he’d get his head bitten off.

It was quite a while before Dean bothered to speak again, but when he did, it was clear by his controlled tone of voice that he wouldn’t put up with any abuse. “We’re coming up on a city pretty soon. Do you want to stop for lunch?”

Kent peeled himself from the window to look at Dean. His glassy-eyed stare suggested that he had forgotten Dean was even there, driving as he was, and the crease of his brow and petulant pout of his lips suggested that Kent had preferred it that way. He drummed his fingers against the door handle with a thoughtful, rousing mumble. Did he really want to stop and eat? His stomach rumbled. Apparently the answer to that question was yes .

“Sure,” Kent slurred. “But let’s make it quick. I’m still tired.” Sleeping away the day had turned out to be all he was keen on doing. Less thinking that way. Almost like being drunk, Kent mused. He liked that fact the most.

“Still tired.” Dean nodded. He had to choose his next words carefully or he was sure Kent wouldn’t tell him anything. He couldn’t act like he was allowing him to sleep, but he couldn’t quite criticize him for it either. He couldn’t ask if he felt sick. He’d done that too many times before with terrible results. Maybe he could just ask why he slept?

“Hey, Kent. Why are you sleeping?” He had to keep his voice neutral. That was it. No suggestions as to why, no offering comfort, and no pity. Just a question, or at least he hoped that was it.

“I’m sleeping because I’m tired.” Kent stared at Dean as if he were stupid. Wasn’t that obvious? At least he didn’t snap at him verbally; as Kent had said, he was tired. It took effort to get angry. It took effort to clam up, too. Certainly if the beatnik questioned him carefully enough, he could coax a decent conversation out of him. If Kent didn’t fall asleep first, that was.

Dean stopped the car in an open alleyway and got out to rummage in the back. “Sandwich? That’s pretty quick.”

Kent’s stomach rumbled. “Sure. A sandwich. That’d be good.” Right, he was hungry. He’d forgotten. His brow creased and he blinked slowly. What had put him in such a mood? He didn’t want to do anything but sleep. Perhaps it was how he was going through withdrawals. He had noticed he’d started aching… Sleep was the best way to ward of the pain of headaches and sore bones.

“Why are you tired?” Okay, maybe he was acting like a three year old now, asking ‘why’ about everything, but he had to keep format. No suggesting, that made him sound like he assumed Kent couldn’t provide his own reasons. Even if he was tired.

Dean made up a quick ham sandwich… And then several more. He’d almost forgotten how much Kent tended to eat, and from the looks of his hollow cheeks, he needed it. He came back up to the front of the car and handed them over. Dean pressed his lips together. No more questions. Are you alright? Are you grouchy because you’re in pain? Are you sure you don’t need a doctor? He bit into his sandwich. Maybe he’d be less tempted with his mouth full.

“Because I don’t have anything worthwhile keeping me going,” Kent sighed. He bit into his first sandwich slowly, chewing as if reluctant to even eat. Food was supposed to be another comfort. But Dean was starting to wear him out with all of his questions, simple though they were. He just didn’t have the energy to dig within himself to find answers to provide.

The first sandwich was gone and he reached for another.

“I didn’t just lose my job. I lost my livelihood. My passion. What do you– what are you supposed to do when that’s gone?”

Dean frowned. It was hard to imagine that. He’d lost his passion, and he didn’t seem to have a family to support him. He couldn’t imagine not having his art. What would that feel like?

“I’m… Sorry. That’s horrible. I mean that.” Dean had already finished his own sandwich and started the car. “Is it okay if we keep going?” As much as Dean was trying to keep from sounding like he pitied him, he didn’t want him to get motion sick.

“Go ahead and drive,” Kent said around another mouthful of his sandwich. Apparently his mind started to agree with the idea of eating, and soon he was working on finishing off the whole plate Dean had brought back. He’d made them to be eaten, right? No point in letting them go to waste. Kent’s shirtfront was soon bespeckled with breadcrumbs.

Dean looked down at the pedals beneath his feet. “You’ve got to keep going though. There’s no other way. You have to find something new.”

“Find something new? What the hell else is there for me?” Kent stared at Dean in a way that didn’t suggest anger but instead a bewilderment at what he perceived to be stupidity. “I didn’t want to do anything else with my life. I don’t– I don’t have anything else I want to do.”

“So you don’t want a family? No wife, kids, your own house? There are things other than work to live for, Kent. There has to be something else you can see yourself doing.” Dean didn’t know if his questions fit Kent’s definition of ‘respectful’, but he felt like they were important enough to be asked. He needed a reason not to drink. Didn’t most people want those things?

Dean’s eyebrows furrowed. It was possible he’d already had those things and lost them. He realized that he really didn’t know the man sitting next to him in the front seat. Not at all. “I’m sorry– I don’t even know if you ever had those things. Do you have a family?”

“I have a shit excuse for a family,” Kent corrected in a snarl. For once the anger wasn’t directed at Dean; that was clear by his avoidance of eye contact. Kent stuffed bread crusts past his lips and chewed his rage away. “I’m not going to waste my breath talking about them. And I never married. If I have kids, I don’t know about them.” Briefly he considered the fact that he very well could have a bastard child running around. But only briefly; it was unlikely anyways.

Dean’s eyebrows raised at the anger Kent showed in regards to his family. So he wouldn’t be asking about them again for awhile. Maybe they were part of the issue, but it seemed that just finding a reason to go on was the top priority at the moment.

“What about you? Are you married?” That was a first– Kent asking about Dean. For once he wasn’t barking an order or demanding he shut up. He glanced at Dean sideways, as if he were already uncommitted to having asked his question and receiving an answer.

“No, I’ve never been married either. I don’t even have a girlfriend anymore, but that’s okay.” Dean didn’t really expect sympathy from Kent as much as he expected him to use his weaknesses against him.

Dean had to scold himself. He shouldn’t be thinking so poorly of Kent, no matter how poorly he thought of him. What had he said? He wanted to be treated like a human being. “What about you? Any past girlfriends?” He allowed himself to smirk, giving Kent a devilish look.

Kent gave Dean a hard look. They weren’t on the level of joking quite yet. At least, not in Kent’s mind. The only thing Dean’s expression read as was… Well, was the look of an insufferable jackass. Kent’s own lip curled the more he thought about it. Jackass, he groused internally. What right does he have to know that?

“That’s none of your goddamn business,” he snapped. “Shut up and drive if you can’t help but act like a son-of-a-bitch, you understand?” Kent held up a tightened, white-knuckled fist as a silent threat.

Dean’s gaze hardened, his smile turning into a hard line. “Go to sleep, Kent. You work yourself up over nothing.” He let his foot lie a little heavier on the gas pedal. It took most of his restraint not to stop the car and let him know just how close he was coming to being thrown by the wayside. The only thing that stopped him was the realization that Kent didn’t care.

He took a deep breath through his nose, grip tightening on the steering wheel. The only reason Kent was treating him like this was because he had nothing to lose by doing so, or so Kent believed. There was nothing Dean could do about it. He’d either have to stick with him and deal with it or cut his losses and leave him.

A vicious grin slowly crossed Kent’s face. The workings of Dean’s expression had let him know he’d worn the beatnik’s patience thin. Good. Lest he forget that Kent was not some wind up toy that did only what he wanted him to do. His teeth gnashed against each other and his hands balled into fists. It would be stupid to fight him there in the car– but to belittle Dean verbally was something he was definitely up to doing. He’d let him know what the price was for pushing him around.

“I think you’re forgetting something, McCoppin.” Kent leaned uncomfortably close. Despite his strict temperance for the past few days, the stench of alcohol continued to cling to Kent. Perhaps he had yet to sweat it all out. “I’m not some puppet with strings you can yank. If you want me to be agreeable, you’re going to have to play nice.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Dean grimaced. “I’ve been treating you terribly. Walking on eggshells to try and help you, never knowing when you’re gonna go off. Clearly I haven’t treated you properly, because any sane person would have thrown the hand grenade out of the car.” He stopped at the side of the road where a long expanse of trees went up to the horizon. If civilization was close, it wasn’t visible.

“I think you’ll be happier if we just leave each other alone. Get out.” He didn’t bother to look at him. He wasn’t looking for sympathy, or giving him one last chance (or at least that’s what he told himself), he intended to leave him and get on with his life. They’d just left the city. Surely Kent could find his way there? He couldn’t remember if the distance was just one mile or ten.

Get out? Was he joking? Kent’s brute grin reset itself, freeing his teeth from his habitual grinding. His fists balled even further. Even if Dean wasn’t joking, what he’d said was still hilarious. A real knee slapper! Where had all his pity gone? With how he’d been treated Kent was under the impression Dean had a wellspring of it. How nice it was to see that he could run dry.

Kent socked him in the face with his right hook.

“You can’t get rid of me yet,” he spat. “I’m not some soldier who marches because you tell him to! When are you going to get that through your thick goddamned skull?” A sharp cackle rose out of Kent like some hidden demon. He wondered how Dean would bruise.

Dean flinched as Kent’s knuckles connected with his cheekbone and the back of his head rebounded off the window. His hands went to his face and he had to take a few seconds to adjust to the pain before making his next move.

“I don’t know if you think I’m a communist or something,” he began calmly, “but this is my car, and when I tell you to get the hell out, I’m not treating you as a soldier, or a government dog, I’m treating you as a trespasser. Get. The hell. Out.” He pointed to the woods outside.

“I don’t know what you think you’re still here for. You don’t want my pity and if you did you wouldn’t get any. You don’t want to be around me. You said it yourself that you didn’t want to be here, so here’s your chance. Leave, and take your crap with you.”

"Trespasser?” Kent howled laughter at that. “You nitwit! You let me in! I’ve made no transgressions. You know what I am. And you still accepted me. Stupid, stupid…” Kent ground his teeth and printed half-moons into his blistered palms. His knuckles smarted from punching Dean but he ached to hit him again. Shut up, he thought. Shut up. In truth he didn’t want to leave. For some reason, he felt… Safe around Dean.

“No transgressions?” Dean still rubbed the side of his face where he’d been hit. “Really, Kent? You amaze me.” His eyebrows raised. He really did look surprised. Kent wasn’t wrong to feel safe around Dean, but his protection wasn’t for him anymore.

Kent’s behavior was irrational. Kent did not care. He rose his hand, flat palm bared this time, and struck Dean again. You are beneath me. Act like it.

“I want my money,” he hissed. “You promised to ‘get me on my feet’. Otherwise I’ll die out there. You know it as well as I do. You let me go, you send me out to perish.” A tremor wracked Kent’s body. Death was all he feared. He didn’t want to die; not yet. Not ever. He just– well, he didn’t know what he did want. All he knew was what he didn’t. His hand rose up to strike Dean once more. Stupid!

Dean flinched back when Kent hit him again. He expected it enough not to hit the window this time, but he kept his head down. It stung even more on the forming bruise. “I can’t save you, Kent. Nothing I do is going to save you. I tried, but I was wrong. You don’t want to live.”

He stood up and walked around the car to open Kent’s door. “The way it is right now, you’ve got a choice between dying out there,” he pointed to the woods. It was already dark enough that the space beyond the first rows of trees was black and unknown. “Or shivering in a hospital bed. It was never up to me whether you live or die. Hell, it’s probably too late for you to decide. Money can’t help you now.”

Kent’s vicious grin faded and a tremor wracked him. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear. This wasn’t going as he wanted. Stop that. The urge to scream was boiling inside of Kent. He socked Dean again, knuckles of his right hand knocking his jaw. They started to smart immediately afterwards.

“Stop talking like that!” he ordered, eyes blazing. How ironic that he, who had complained about being controlled, was lashing out because his fitful feverish visions were not coming to pass. Kent’s face burned up with an angry, red flush, veins rippling across his cherry-hued neck. If he didn’t calm down, he could drop dead right then and there.

As unbalanced as Dean was on the uneven ground, he ended up falling flat on his butt when Kent punched him. His face throbbed angrily under his palm. When he finally looked up, he was struck by how red Kent was.

He got up on his knees, pants damp from the cold ground and took his hand to feel his pulse. The blood pounded hard against his fingers. “You need to go to a hospital.” The reality of the situation had dawned on him. The pain in his face didn’t matter. He couldn’t leave him there.

Dean let go of Kent’s wrist and opened the back. He took out anything that didn’t qualify as a blanket or a pillow and rearranged things to look like a bed. Lucy waited patiently by the car, nosing at Kent’s hands. Finally, Dean took a bottle of water from the back and knelt back down in front of Kent. “You need to breathe, okay? Please listen to me. You can lie down in the back, and I’ll get you to somewhere you can rest.” He folded the bottle into his hand. “If it’s up to me you’re not going to die tonight.”

The world, and Kent’s mind, had been bathed in a red hue. What was he seeing? Feeling? Thinking? He didn’t know. He wanted to rip something apart. He wanted to strangle something. Anything. He–

He was feeling rather woozy. Kent’s knees buckled beneath him and he collapsed onto the backseat. It took all of his will to resist lying down. Dean was treating him like a child! Or so he thought. He shoved him back weakly.

“Don’t you fucking touch me,” he slurred. “D-Don’t take me to some goddamn hospital. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you. ” There was no way Kent possessed the strength to resist any of Dean’s measures. The wild look in his eye faded as his mind slipped away. He fell limp; his consciousness had given in to sleep, and quite suddenly at that. He slumped over forewards, drooling like an infant.

Dean only stepped back a foot to allow him room. Seeing him collapse and lose consciousness so suddenly had him worried. Maybe he had been right. Maybe he was dying, and he was doing it quickly. He leaned down and gently rearranged Kent’s limbs so he could lie down, then tilted him backward so his head rested on a sleeping bag.

It never quite occurred to Dean that he was treating him like a child. In his mind, the sick were given whatever care they needed, no matter how undignified. Dean had to wonder if the exhausting fits of rage were just one more symptom of withdrawal, or just Kent himself. Either way, he wasn’t pleased to have to appease him. Especially because it didn’t work most of the time. Kent had gotten what he wanted, but Dean imagined he would be far from satisfied.

Dean had Lucy get into the front seat along with any other discarded items from the back and headed for the nearest town. On the way, he tried to figure out if he should ignore Kent’s wishes and take him to a hospital, or just take him to a motel where he could rest. He doubted the doctors could calm him down from one of his fits, and this time Dean wasn’t sure if the stress would kill him.

He resolved to take him to a motel. Upon arriving to one that was as aged as the last, he rented a room on a ground floor. Dean parked as close to said room as possible for Kent’s sake. Then he went to get his infirm, infantile traveling companion out of the back seat.

Chapter Text

Kent snapped awake like a restless animal, staring wide eyed at Dean from where he now sat in the backseat with an unnatural stiffness keeping him upright. His blue eyes were vibrant with wild surprise. Where were they, he wondered? It didn’t feel like a hospital. His fingers slowly curled around the car seat beneath him. In his peripheral vision the neon sign of the motel blared in obnoxious magentas and aquamarines: VACANCY. In an instant, his stiffness faded away.

“You listened to me,” Kent realized in a murmur. His eyes flitted about, reading words that existed only in his mind, and he pursed his lips. Dean had taken his demands into account, for once. Or had he done so before? Kent wasn’t sure; he was sure that this case was anomalous. Then again, the whole situation was. Things tended to be odd when rational thought and process were abandoned.

“How long have we been here– how long was I out?” He couldn’t even remember actually passing out; awake one moment, awake another. Anger had made the time pass irregularly.

Dean flinched back when Kent popped up suddenly, afraid of what he might do if he didn’t like, well, anything. It didn’t take long for him to regain his voice though.

“A couple of hours. It took a little while to get here. You passed out, remember?” He reached into the car and offered his hand to Kent. “Let’s get you to bed. Before you passed out you looked pretty sick.”

In the dim lighting it wasn’t easy to see, but Dean definitely looked different. His face had swollen on one side, but whether he had formed a bruise there was unknown. He squinted slightly where his cheek was swollen, but he didn’t seem to be in pain anymore. He hadn’t forgotten though. That much was clear.

Kent’s vulnerable surprise soon settled into something more durable– and less open. His lips pressed into a firm line and his eyes narrowed a tad. He could tell that Dean’s face had swollen. Was he perhaps regretting dealing those blows earlier? But if he regretted it, that would imply he even thought through doing it in the first place. He’d been so feverish…

It hit Kent then that he was sick. Undeniably sick. He couldn’t remember why he was doing things, let alone if he’d done them at all or not. He turned a shade pale. Maybe he was just going stir crazy in the car. That was it. And the lack of sleep– it was driving him to the edge of irrationality and back.

“…Why are you doing this?” he asked quietly. “I haven’t exactly been kind to you.”

Dean dropped the hand he was offering to Kent to help him up. “You’re sick. If no one helps you, you’ll die.” It was a weak reason. If Dean really thought that, he could have just left him at a hospital. He would be taken care of there no matter how little money he had. But then it was possible he would be sent to a mental institution too. Not necessarily because he was insane, but his anger certainly opened up the possibility. Either way, Dean had to have more of a reason than he was saying he had.

“C’mon, Kent. The car seat is bad for your back. You should come inside and rest.” It was possible that Dean wanted him out of the car so he could drive off and leave him there, but that kind of trickery was more than likely beyond him. He looked tired and worn down, as if Kent’s abuse had finally taken some spiritual toll as well as a physical one.

Kent decided he’d drop the issue of Dean’s motivation for now. He likely wasn’t going to give him any deep answers unless Dean got some in return. Kent’s eyes narrowed again. He really didn’t want to fork over any sensitive information, but…

It had been some time since Kent had played the game of ‘give a little, get a little’ but that didn’t mean he was no longer adept at it. Just a little rusty.

“Where’s the dog?” he asked. He hadn’t noticed that Lucy wasn’t in the back seat until that moment. A sense of dread overtook him. Dean wouldn’t just abandon the dog, would he? He wasn’t that despicable, was he? Kent’s heartbeat quickened. “Where is she?”

Dean pressed his lips together in frustration. So Kent was going to ignore him. “Lucy!” He called toward the front and she poked her head around the seat.

“She’s fine, and for the record, she’s a much better co-pilot than you are.” So he cared about the dog. Maybe he could get Kent to calm down next time using her somehow? It didn’t matter at the moment. For now he seemed fine.

“Can you come inside now? I’m going to get dinner if you want to come with me, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say you don’t even want to look at me right now.” He was only making a small reference to how badly beaten his face was.

“I’m sorry.”

Kent looked at Dean head on. His expression wasn’t particularly guilty, but a sincerity shone in his eyes even in the poor light. It seemed unlikely that he regretted doing anything to Dean– but why else would he be apologizing? Perhaps just to mend what one could call their ‘relationship’. Whatever the reason was, it was incredible that he was apologizing at all.

“I was delirious earlier,” Kent admitted, averting his gaze. “I wasn’t thinking straight. Or at all. So I’m sorry for hitting you.” That was wrong, Kent almost said in a mocking, childlike voice. Now I know better.

Dean was almost shocked. Kent was saying sorry? Surely he was incapable of that kind of repentance. After all, he’d seen none of Kent’s acting, his sickeningly sweet facade Hogarth had hated so much. He’d even made the mistake of trusting him with Hogarth’s life. Not that he knew about Kent’s lie. Even so, he took his sincerity with a grain of salt.

“You’re right. You’re not thinking straight. That’s why you need to get some rest now. Will you come out of the car?” The slightest bit of irritation shone in his voice. He started to slide a tired hand over his face when his fingers irritated his bruises and he took it away.

“Look, I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have tried to leave you there. You don’t need to be hurt anymore than–” than you’ve already hurt yourself   “–than you already have been.”

“…Alright. Help me up.” Kent grabbed one of Dean’s hands regardless and pulled himself out of the car. Finding a nice warm bed to lie down in sounded appealing now. And perhaps a nice warm shower beforehand– yes, Kent would definitely leave the car more than willingly now.

He didn’t address Dean’s apology. He wasn’t quite sure how to.

Kent was grateful for it, of course. Dean admitting his failings was a sweet, sweet victory. But it didn’t feel… Like it should. It felt too earnest. There was only so much sincerity Kent could fork up or take.

“Which room is ours?” Kent asked. He turned to Dean with his suitcase in tow. “Are we on the second floor, or…?”

Dean grunted at the sudden weight on his arm. He had to pull back with most of his own to get enough leverage to pull Kent up.

“We’re on the first floor, right here. I wasn’t sure if you should be climbing stairs right now.” He opened the door for Kent. “Room four, remember that. I’m going out to get dinner because I don’t feel like cooking. Is there anything you wanted? I’ll be gone maybe…” he looked up toward the ceiling to calculate in his mind. “30 minutes. Give or take.”

He glanced back toward the car where Lucy sat patiently in the front seat. The motel didn’t allow pets, so he’d be taking her with him. “I’ll be back, I promise.” Dean wasn’t sure if Kent trusted him to come back, but he hadn’t abandoned his dog. Hopefully that would be just enough to convince him that he would keep his promise to help him.

Dean had told himself that he was still helping Kent because of his condition. Clearly he wouldn’t survive without help. At least, not until he realized how sick he had made himself. The apology didn’t matter to him. Or so he thought. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he rejoiced at finally winning over some small part of him. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so difficult now.

Kent stared at Dean for a few moments. Was that all it took for him to be considerate? And why was he reiterating his promise to return? He couldn’t see why– his eyes widened a little. Had he contemplated leaving him at the motel; revision, abandoning him at the motel? Thinking about it a little more left Kent feeling rather stupid. Why hadn’t he considered that as something Dean would do? If their positions were switched– and he had been the one to have been punched multiple times –he would have definitely left the beatnik behind.

“…I don’t want anything in particular,” Kent said. “Just get me whatever. I don’t care.” He really did care, but he didn’t want to be in the presence of Dean at the moment. The chance that he’d do something worthy of another reluctant apology was high. He closed the room door in Dean’s face without another word.

Dean stepped back with a startled expression on his face when the door slammed. So Kent hadn’t thought he was leaving him before. “Okay, good.” He waved goodbye through the door and headed for the car.

When he returned, however, Kent seemed rather… Chatty. Not quite amicable, but certainly talkative. He greeted Dean at the door wearing a rather conservative set of long sleeved striped pajamas. “You’re back already? That was fast.”

It hadn’t take Dean long to find a suitable place to pick up dinner. There had been a barbecue nearby. He was surprised to see Kent so… Put together after what had happened on the road. He thought he would be sleeping already.

“Yeah, there was a barbecue at the local firehouse so I figured it was as good a place as any.” He set one of the boxes he had gotten there on the nightstand next to what Kent had claimed as his bed and sat down on the remaining one to eat his own dinner.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling alright,” Kent gruffed. He spent more time twirling his fork between his fingers than he did eating. His stomach wasn’t feeling the best and the last thing he wanted to do was upset it further. It was a shame to let such good barbecue go to waste. The mashed potatoes and various meats stared back up at him, nearly as unfeeling and empty as he felt. Kent huffed a tad and managed eating another piece of brisket before setting his to go box aside.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck with a sigh. “I’m still not feeling well. I’ll finish it in the morning.”

“No, no, it’s alright. I’ll put it in the icebox. Can’t have it setting out all night.” Dean closed Kent’s leftovers in their box and put it inside the small cooler they were provided with alongside his own. He was more eager to rest than to eat himself.

Kent slipped under the blankets of his bed (they smelled freshly washed, he noted) and in no time at all drifted into a weightless sleep.

Once Dean got into bed, clothes and all, Dean found that he couldn’t sleep just yet. Usually Kent ate like a bear before hibernation. Was this a sign of his illness getting worse, or just the distress he had suffered beforehand? He couldn’t think about that all night, so he resolved to wait until morning to find out. Despite that, he couldn’t keep himself from rising to check Kent’s temperature.

Gently, Dean brushed aside the hair on his forehead, careful not to wake him. He laid his hand on his brow with a feather-light touch. Kent stiffened under Dean’s hand but didn’t wake. It was likely coincidence; he was a heavy sleeper most of the time. His snoring didn’t even stop. But still, the jerk was strong enough to suggest his sleep was suddenly ending– that he could possibly catch Dean in the act of checking his temperature and deem it a grievous mistake. But he stayed unconscious. His posture slackened once again, letting his head fall back into the puddle of drool on his pillow.

Dean pulled his hand away, satisfied that he wasn’t burning up, and sat down on his own bed. He brought his legs up to his chest and hugged them, setting his chin on his knees so he could watch him from there. After a short while, Dean’s vigil ended when he fell asleep, still propped against the wall.

When Kent woke the next morning, he was hungry and oblivious.

Hungry for the barbecue he didn’t finish the night before and oblivious to Dean’s concern for his health. Kent retrieved the box from the cooler and ate the meat and potatoes cold. While he ate, he pondered over why Dean was helping him. The answer still wasn’t very clear. He hated him, right? Or had he denied that? He could have been lying, Kent realized. A small snarl raised his upper lip. If Dean was acting merely out of pity… Then he’d have to throttle him again, Kent decided.

Dean woke to the commotion of Kent finding his breakfast. He stretched and yawned and looked toward him, somewhat surprised. “Oh good, you’re eating.”

He stood to retrieve his own leftovers and sat back down on his bed. “Did you sleep well?” He tried to keep his voice in a conversational tone, pushing his concern to the back of his mind. Dean’s face was not only black and blue, but red as he realized that Kent had seen him sleeping upright. He was going to be angry, wasn’t he?

“I slept well enough,” Kent replied curtly. He glanced up at Dean and arched a curious eyebrow. For all of thinking about the beatnik he’d been doing, he hadn’t gotten a look at him since the night previous. Was… Was he blushing? Did Kent do something embarrassing? He frowned and glanced back down at his food. No, that probably wasn’t it. Maybe Dean had a wet dream, or something. It happened to everyone. A bit of a flush turned Kent’s face pink for reasons he wasn’t entirely certain of.

“You don’t look like you slept well,” Kent added. It would be hard to, given his injuries. His mind harkened back to a question he’d asked himself earlier– Kent saw now how Dean bruised. It wasn’t very appealing anymore. Wordlessly he finished the rest of his cold dinner and tossed the empty box and plastic utensils away.

“Yeah, I guess I didn’t.” Dean finished the last of his food and laid the box aside. “I’m gonna… Get a shower.” He stood and left to go to the bathroom. From the state of his clothes and his greasy hair, he more than needed it.

When Dean got back, he was dressed in one of his bowling shirts with a white tee shirt underneath. His usual dark jeans were cuffed over the top of his shoes. Though he certainly looked cleaner, his face showed little improvement. He checked the checkout time by the door.

“We have to leave by eleven. Is that what you’re wearing?” Dean thought back to the car. Would Kent want to stay in the back, or rejoin him in the front today?

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t wear this.” In the time Dean had gone to shower Kent had took it upon himself to get dressed. He looked… Marginally better that day; it helped that every outfit he seemed to own was at its most casual semi-formal– they all made him looked well put together. Healthy, almost. But a careful examination of the bags under his eyes and the hollowness of his cheeks made it very clear how sick he really was. Kent tried to ignore it every time he looked into the mirror. It was a task he found difficult, given how much of a perfectionist he tended to be when it came to his appearance. At least, how he was starting to (once again) be.

“Is there a problem with what I’m wearing?” Kent asked, an edge seeping into his tone. He couldn’t see what Dean might find fault in a simple green polo and slacks. Maybe it was his shoes; did he have a vendetta against Oxfords? Or did Dean just hate Kent’s fashion sense because he hated him? A scowl crossed his face.

“No, no. I was just wondering if you wanted to wear something more comfortable. You could sleep in the back if you wanted. You could sleep all day and I’ll drive.” As if a few broken blood vessels was the only problem, as if the hollow cheeks and dark circles would fade away with a little food and a little rest. Certainly those things could help, but there was more to his condition than just poor self-care, and Dean knew it. He’d seen it before.

“You’re not still having those nightmares, are you?” Even though he still looked tired, Kent did seem to be sleeping more than he had said on the phone. That much was good. “Because if you want to sleep, I’ll keep Lucy in the front. She’s a good dog, she won’t bother me.” Kent probably didn’t care about that, but for the sake of his own life he’d probably feel better knowing that wouldn’t cause a crash.

“I’m fine wearing this,” Kent assured him. He closed his suitcase, taking care to make sure the latches were secure. “And I can sit up front. I’m not so tired today.” He had, truthfully, gotten plenty of sleep the night before. No nightmares, no dreams– nothing but a restful gray. Kent’s brow furrowed a tad. That didn’t sound very healthy. Oh well; the point that he felt alright remained. Aside from the aches and pains that he had, unfortunately, become rather accustomed to. Perhaps that wasn’t very healthy either.

Kent handed Dean his suitcase. “Can you take this down for me? My arms are a little stiff.” Arthritis, unlike his other acquired afflictions, had developed while Kent was healthy. It came with age, his doctor told him. Most of the time it didn’t bother him; that was not one of those times. Kent rolled his shoulder with a grunt. “Thank you,” he added.

Dean nodded his agreement and took the suitcase. He wanted to ask if he was okay, but he’d asked so many times already he wasn’t sure one more would be taken very well. After all, Kent had said he wasn’t tired. That had to be a good sign. His eyebrows raised when he heard him say thank you, however. It had to be the third time he’d heard it in twenty-four hours. Could his attitude be improving as well?

His shoes scuffed softly across the pavement as he carried the suitcase out the door. He didn’t bother to point out to Kent that he had taken this room solely because he could get very close to it with the car. He pulled the clutter from the front seat and threw it into the back, ushering the dog as well. The brief refreshment he had gained from sleep the night before was beginning to fade and he yawned. Coffee. He needed coffee.

“What state are we in?” The question was really out of the blue; but Kent had just realized he had no idea where he was. If Dean had really abandoned him, he mused, it would have been an even crueler action than it first appeared to be. It was one thing to just leave him there, alone– it was another to leave him there, alone, and with no sense of direction. Who could just leave a man in the middle of nowhere? Kent’s brow furrowed. He could, he admitted to himself. Not that he was going to. Not at the moment, anyways. Dean hadn’t done anything to piss him off yet.

“I just– I don’t even know where we’re going,” he added, suddenly cutting himself off. “Where– what’s your plan anyways? Why are you helping me?” His intense blue eyes bore directly into Dean as if they were intent on drilling to the answers he desperately craved.

“Uh, we lost some time. I think we might be in Illinois?” He headed around the car for the driver’s seat. When he sat down, he leaned across the car to rummage for the map, covering a yawn with his hand. He came up so fast that he hit his head on the top of the convertible. He looked up and rubbed his head before answering.

“I, uh, we were going to this new museum. In California. An art museum. I can drop you off anywhere though. Not that I want to, but if you’ve got a place to go–” he shrugged. Yeah, smooth.

The last question, he knew, couldn’t be avoided. He’d questioned his motives since the beginning. That didn’t mean he was going to tell him, in fact, he wasn’t sure he knew. He did have an idea. “I’m helping you because it’s the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised.” That was a good enough answer, right? After all, Kent was set in his ways as well. He must understand.

Kent stared at Dean for a solid minute of silence. He could not believe it. The right thing to do– was helping him really the right thing to do? Kent had hit him, swore at him, demeaned him, tried to kill him, and yet helping him was the right thing to do. Kent’s throat tightened; he swallowed air roughly to free it back up. Was he going to cry? He didn’t want to cry– not because someone had the decency to treat him like a person. That was what they were supposed to do. (Had no one done so before? The past was blurry and far away).

“I-I don’t understand,” Kent warbled. “But okay. Okay. Just– let’s keep going.” He wasn’t sure if he’d be going to California or not. That all depended on how well Kent felt he could handle being alone again. His brow creased and he folded his arms across his chest as if he was cold. At the moment he didn’t think he could handle that very well. It had been an exaggeration when he postulated his death following abandonment– but perhaps it was founded in truth.

Dean didn’t bother to address Kent’s confusion. He did, however, grab a sleeping bag from the back and hand it over to him. “Are you cold?” Somehow, Dean’s concern had turned to outright worry since the night before. The possibility had become all the more real to him: Kent could die, and he was likely the only person standing between him and that threshold. Or he had been, there was certainly a change in Kent, but he wasn’t sure of its extent yet.

He headed out on the road, keeping an eye out for another diner. Dean needed coffee, then he could set out for real. Of course he could brew some, but that meant stopping and using more of the stuff in the cooler. His eyelids drooped enough that he had to shake himself to stay awake. “Hey, I’m gonna stop for coffee. Do you want anything? I mean, I know we just ate, but you need to keep up your strength, right?” Dean’s voice lowered to a lazy, southern-accented growl.

Kent, who had taken the sleeping bag and burrowed within in it in the interim, stared at Dean from his side of the car wrapped up and warm. He looked so vulnerable, wide-eyed as he was, but the frown on his face made it clear he was not thinking anything positive. Or at least nothing he deemed appropriate to say aloud. He blinked. He cast his gaze elsewhere. He coughed.

“Some coffee, sure,” he said off-handedly. “A scone, too, I guess. Or just… I don’t know. Coffee. That’d be good.” He hoped coffee would warrant a bit of a break. Talking to Dean while he drove didn’t seem like the best idea.

Yes, Kent had decided to simply talk to him. Perhaps that way he could get to the root of Dean’s motivations for helping him. There had to be some ulterior angle to all of this. There– it just wasn’t possible for someone to act on compassion alone. People were too greedy to do that. Or was Kent just a pessimist? At this point he was open to believing either.

“If they have scones where we go, you can get a scone.” Dean was thinking just the opposite of Kent. The talking was helping him focus on staying awake. They weren’t far from the motel when Dean stopped the car and got out.

“This is gonna be quick. Do you want to tell me your order and I’ll bring it out? We can stay here too, if you want.” Did Kent get car sick? He hadn’t already, but that didn’t eliminate the possibility. As fragile as he looked, Dean didn’t want to make him do anything he wasn’t up for, especially after the night before. He felt like he owed him. A few punches to the face was nothing compared to being left by the side of the road to die, wasn’t it?

Dean looked toward the sign at the front of the establishment, then back at Kent. “I can go ask what they’ve got too.”

“Coffee is all I really want,” Kent said, his voice a little louder. He sounded a bit more comfortable; a bit more like his former self, sans the anger. It was a minute sign of improvement. His brow furrowed a tad as he considered something. “But if they have pastries, or things like that, then get me one. Don’t–” Kent was going to say don’t go out of your way, but if he could get Dean to do things for him then he was going to. He resisted the urge to grin. What had he done to have him in the palm of his hand like that?

“Don’t, uh… Forget about it,” he said. “A coffee and a pastry. That’s what I want, alright?” He pulled the sleeping bag around himself a little tighter and settled against the seat with a sigh.

“Alright. I can do that.” Dean headed out at a moderate pace. Maybe he could have a little time to clear his head. Inside, Dean sighed in relief. Finally, there was no more (mostly metaphorical) kicking and screaming. Maybe Kent could still act like a little brat, but at least he could make him stop now, couldn’t he? Just a little pampering and he could have him eating out of his hand.

It wasn’t the best solution, but it was one he was willing to take for now.

Chapter Text

Dean rubbed his face as he saw the waitress approach the counter. A smiling teenager probably saving up for college, or her first car. It was nice to see someone seem happy after the ordeal he had gone through.

“Hello, sir, what can I get for you today?” The smile fell from her face as she looked up from her notepad. “A first aid kit?”

Dean laughed. “No, that’s okay, kid. I got in a little rumble last night, got a little out of hand. Can I get a couple of coffees to go, and like a danish or something? I’m on kind of a long trip and there’s a… Friend waiting for me in the car.”

The young woman nodded quickly, probably assuming he was some kind of ruffian, and ran off to get the requested items.

Dean came back to the car with the cups of coffee and a cherry danish in hand, along with several sugar packets in his pockets. He handed over one of the cups to Kent and the paper bag the danish came in.

Kent snatched up what Dean offered with greedy fingers and started eating. He’d been hungrier than he’d let on or even realized himself. And the fact that he’d gotten Dean to do what he’d wanted, no arm twisting, hair pulling, or face slapping involved, had him rather giddy. What else could he get him to do, he wondered? That was the real question to be asking– not why, but what.

The only thanks he offered up was a quick grunt. No words, just an animistic noise and a quick glance. He was busy eating, anyways. Given how flaky the danish bread was it would have been hard to talk with his mouth full anyways.

Briefly– very very briefly –Kent wondered what the staff inside must have thought of Dean’s swelling bruises. He was turning purple in several places at that point. Kent almost paused to chuckle but he decided that food was more important. And once the danish was gone, coffee– coffee was more important. He rummaged through the bag for sugar and creamer packets.

“Hey, did you forget to grab sugar? You know I don’t drink my coffee black.” Idiot .

Dean only got one sip of his coffee down before his attention was captured by Kent’s apparent gluttony. If he was really hungry, he should have said so. After all, there had to be a lot of tissue to rebuild after the alcohol had destroyed it all. He wasn’t about to question whether he needed to eat or not.

“I can get you something more, if you want.” Dean glanced toward the back, and almost got up before Kent’s demand for sugar recaptured his attention.

“Yeah, I’ve got sugar.” He dug in his pockets for the little packets and dropped them on the seat between them. He almost laughed at the fact that he had kept it in his pants. Almost.

“If there’s anything you need, I want you to tell me. If you’re hungry, you have to eat something, if you’re thirsty, I’ll get you something to drink. Don’t ignore yourself for my sake.” Not that he believed he did, but alcohol had taken precedence over both of those things for a year. Somehow, Kent had to get back in touch with his health.

That time Kent was unable to avoid a little smile. It was all he could do to take the edge off of it– it wasn’t a sneer he bore Dean, but a tight lipped piece of what could be a sneer. Or a genuine smile. It was hard to tell without knowing that ulterior motives were behind Kent’s requests. He sipped his coffee to hide the expression anyways. Kent didn’t say thank you.

“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll try to keep that in mind.” It was all he was keeping in mind. “Oh, and hey– why don’t we hold off on the driving for a little bit? Let’s just–” Kent smiled oddly, eyes narrowing and the gums of his teeth showing “talk for a while? We hardly know each other, McCoppin. And that’s just a shame. A real shame.”

“Yeah, a shame.” Dean inched away from him. It was a shame Kent couldn’t seem to be friendly without some ulterior motive. Whatever that motive was (that grin was rather predatory, definitely worrisome), he was determined to finally establish some common ground. After all, the sooner they could really get along, the sooner he could get him to see a doctor, and hopefully he could be off on his own soon after that.

“Uh, what did you want to talk about?” Dean shifted uncomfortably. “Do you… Have any hobbies? I think you already know mine. What do you like to do when you’re not… Doing what you used to do.”

“Hobbies…” Kent ruminated on the topic and tapped a thoughtful finger to his bottom lip. “Sure. My work was my passion, understand, but there were things I did aside from it. They’re not really important, though, so I have to ask– do you really care?” He smiled thinly and sipped his coffee as he gauged Dean for a reaction. It wouldn’t be hard to lie and say that he did– especially considering Kent had been the one to say he wanted to talk.

In Kent’s mind, he had Dean trapped.

“I’ll elaborate anyways,” Kent admitted. “But I just thought I’d ask if you did.” Because you really don’t seem like you do.

Dean glanced out the window and back. More and more, he was starting to feel trapped. “I’ll be honest, I can’t say I care until I know what it is. You can talk about work, too. I’m sure that had it’s high points.” Slowly, he was backing against the window, one hand on the wheel.

“Look, you’re the one who wanted to talk, go ahead and pick the topic. We’ll talk about whatever you want.” That had to be good, right? Everyone liked to talk about himself, and the way Kent was, he certainly must have too.

“Oh, I was going to talk about what I wanted to anyways,” Kent said, grinning. His whole expression made it clear he thought Dean was downright dimwitted. “But I wanted to know if you cared. It’s very obvious now that you don’t.” He shrugged and hummed through a tight-lipped smile, waiting until the crack in his voice faded away before he spoke again.

It hurt; he would never, ever admit it, but it hurt that not even Dean really cared. Not even pity garnered interest.

“Well– my hobbies. What were those, anyways? I haven’t been doing much of anything fun this past year.” Kent spoke through clenched teeth the last few words. “I’m an avid mathematician, I suppose. I like algebra, calculus, physics, that sort of thing. I find it… Relaxing.” Given how un-relaxed he was at the moment, Kent wasn’t doing a very good job of advertising solving equations as fun.

“Maybe you should do some of that now. Do something you enjoy. Look, you’re so stressed, you need–” Dean shook his head. He was starting to sound like some kind of patronizing therapist again. “You owe it to yourself to enjoy at least some of your day. I care about that. I care if you smile– I want it to be a real smile, not a fake like the one you’re wearing.” Dean grimaced. Kent’s body language was oppressive, like he blocked all of the air in the car from getting to Dean. His throat tightened and he swallowed. Was he going to get hit again?

He took a deep breath to calm himself. “Math is a good subject. Useful. It’s good that you like it.” His brain scrambled for something that would put Kent at ease. Had he been this scary back in Rockwell? To Hogarth?

“You think I’m the fake?” And with that the facade was shattered. Kent grabbed Dean by the shirtfront– his rage was getting the better of him once again. Would he descend into violence otherwise? His teeth gnashed against one another and he stifled a bitter laugh. He was all seriousness this time.

“What about you? Pretending to give a damn when we both know you don’t. Why the hell do you keep doing this? And don’t give me that ‘it’s the right thing to do’ bullshit– how do you know I don’t plan to kill someone after I get better? You saw me try already!” Kent was referring to the Giant, to everyone in Rockwell– not just one boy in particular.

“There has to be some reason, some goddamn motivation–” Kent cut off, spittle collecting on his lower lip as he outright hissed “–some fucking reason you keep helping me.”

That was enough. If Kent thought he could throw a tantrum, Dean was sure as hell going to stop it– or try. He steeled himself, clenching his fists and puffing out his chest as if he could change Kent’s mind about how tough he really was. If he could stop his bike in front of an oncoming tank, then he could stand up to one man.

“I know you’re not going to kill someone because you’re not a murderer, dammit! You’re a pain in the ass, and maybe you’re evil, but I don’t think you’re a murderer, and I’ll be damned to hell before I let you die because of your own stupidity!” He leaned forward, trying to regain some of the ground he’d lost. The tip of his nose almost touched Kent’s.

“You want to know why I’m helping you? Because you’re the same kind of stupid fucker as my father, who couldn’t keep his goddamn emotions in check! You have nothing to live for? You want to kill yourself? Then go jump off the goddamn Brooklyn Bridge instead of making everybody else suffer!”

Dean clasped a hand over his mouth in surprise, but it didn’t stay there for long. He skewered a pointed finger into Kent’s chest. “Don’t say a fucking word. Not a word, do you hear me?”

Kent froze– his eyes were wide, his face was red, and his jaw was hanging slack. He could feel his rage crawling up his back. Festering under his skin. He was going to do something. Right after he figured out what on Earth that meant. Jump off a bridge. It would be a lie to say Kent hadn’t considered doing do. The grip on Dean’s shirt faded.

The urge to let go of his anger and merely sink into despair was strong. To cave in like a collapsing mine. Maybe that way he’d actually gain some sort of compassion. Kent shut his eyes tightly– and the grip on Dean’s shirt returned full force.

What did he want with the compassion of a man who wished him dead?

Dean’s face was almost apologetic. It was too blunt. He should have pulled his punches. What business was it of his to unload his emotional baggage on Kent? He was hurting enough.

Even when his grip returned, Dean imagined it was because he was about to collapse under some kind of emotional weight. What had all of that guilt done to him? Dean had half a mind to hug him.

“I’m so sorry, Kent. I didn’t–” no, that was a cop out. Kent thought he didn’t care. He had to convince him–

“…I’ve decided something,” Kent said. His voice was hushed. Small. Eerie. “You know what I’ve decided? That I’m going to actually do something for once.” He slipped a hand under Dean’s chin, right at the end of his throat, and opened his eyes. They were burning.

“I’m going to wring your head right off,” he said. Each word carried its own weight, clearly articulated and not obstructed by some animalistic, mindless growl. “Right. Off.”

Dean’s train of thought might as well have slammed into a brick wall. There was a hand around his throat, but Kent wasn’t a murderer. Well, apparently he was wrong, and Kent was not a man to be reasoned with. His gaze hardened.

“No, you’re not.” Dean didn’t try to take the hand from his throat. Instead, he raised his legs and kicked as hard as he possibly could, aiming straight for Kent’s liver.

Kent let out a cry like an injured dog– one that woke the actual canine in the back seat and garnered her concerned attention. Kent backed away to the other side of the car, whatever clear frenzy he had been in lifting from his shoulders. His arms wrapped tight around his midsection. A hiss escaped him with every breath, air drawing sharp past his teeth.

“You bastard,” he sobbed. “Y-You could have killed me–” He seemed to already forget that he had attempted to end Dean’s life. “Wh-Why would you– God, why would you do that?” A sudden green hue surged up his face and Kent frantically opened the car door. He tumbled onto the ground– and then so did his breakfast.

It took Dean a few seconds to register what had happened. You bastard? What? Kent couldn’t get it past his thick head that whatever happened to him now was his own fault, at least in Dean’s mind. For a second, he contemplated closing and locking the door. When Kent got up, Dean was sure there’d be hell to pay, but that was the question, wasn’t it? Would Kent get up at all?

It crossed Dean’s mind that he might have just given him a fatal blow. Kent might have been right. He had to help him.

Dean got out of the car and knelt down next to Kent. He grabbed some of the napkins from his breakfast and dabbed at his face and the front of his shirt.

“I’m going inside to get help. I don’t want you getting run over out here, so I’m going to help you into the car again, just let me know when you’re ready. You’re hurt, badly. I wouldn’t suggest fighting me on this.”

“Don’t touch me,” Kent wheezed. “Don’t fucking touch me.” He shoved Dean with the best of his strength– which was more of a nudge given how diminished it was. He coughed and trembled. His stomach did another flip and he nearly vomited again. A pitiful noise of effort to suppress the urge escaped Kent despite his wishes. It suddenly hit him that he was sick. Utterly so.

That, or, his joggled mind reasoned, the site of his appendix surgery was still weak. Thirty years later. Kent was seeped in enough denial to believe it.

“You bastard,” Kent warbled again. “Why do you keep doing this? I-I tried to– and you’re still–” The frustration broiling in his mind finally hit a fever pitch, and he broke into tears. A sharp sob wracked him and he covered his face. His cheeks were red-hot with embarrassment and illness. In the backseat of the car Lucy whined and pawed the glass window. For a split second Kent envied the dog.

Dean knelt and rubbed his back. He barely paid attention to the nudge. What had he done? Kent could barely get up, let alone choke someone to death. He had been angry, threatening, and in response he had nearly killed him.

That was what Dean had to tell himself in order to hang onto the last vestige of empathy he had for the man. “Come on, we’ll go inside and get you cleaned up. Then you can rest or– or eat again when you’re up to it.”

Dean’s brow furrowed. No, he was too focused. All he wanted to do was do something when he should have been explaining himself. He wanted to know why he was helping him, didn’t he? Dean needed to speak to him like an adult human being, not some little child he was charged with taking care of. It struck him that he was capable of talking to Hogarth more like an adult than Kent.

“You still want to know why I’m helping you? I’ll tell you. You’ll think it’s a stupid reason, but I’m going to tell you, okay?”

Kent was going to demand Dean tell him– but his stomach won control over him again and he was lucky not to make a mess of Dean’s clothes. An ugly noise escaped him after that: something caught between a groan, a raspy gasp, and a hiccup all at once. He wiped his face clean with his shirt sleeve and soiled it even further than it already had been. Clearly, Kent was not in the position to be holding conversation.

At that point, someone inside the diner had pointed out the two men crouching on the ground and a waitress had stepped outside. She looked, understandably, disgusted and surprised. Luckily she had concern dancing in her eyes as well. She promised to return with napkins and Alka-Seltzer.

Kent, meanwhile, was barely registering anything. It felt like he was going to lose consciousness any second. He hoped to God he didn’t collapse right where he’d lost his lunch.

Dean’s face twisted with distaste. “But not this minute.” He rubbed Kent’s back as he finished ejecting his breakfast, trying to loosen the muscles and thereby lessen the pain.

He looked up in surprise at the sudden interlopers, but he didn’t mind them. He could stay and help Kent with them taking care of all of that.

Gently, Dean put his arms around Kent’s ribs, careful to avoid his stomach, and pulled him backward so he could rest against the car. He brushed his hair back from his face to get a better look at him. From his unfocused eyes, Dean could tell that he was in his own little world. He doubted it would be a good idea to ask him to move on his own volition, so he positioned him so he wouldn’t fall over. It seemed unlikely that Kent would be taking the Alka-Seltzer right away.

“Come on, don’t pass out on me again. We’re gonna get you to a hospital soon, okay?”

Kent’s eyelids drooped. Was Dean saying something to him? The bastard had better not taken the opportunity to explain himself while he was beginning to fall unconscious. What a cop out– but, Kent had to admit, something he would do if their roles were reversed. Well, provided they had gotten that far. He would have abandoned Dean the first night he hit him. Or wouldn’t have thought to call him at all.

Kent passed out against his will. He didn’t even register the exact moment he fell asleep; all that he knew was that he had, and that he was waking up in the back seat of the car again. Funny, how that always seemed to happen. Perhaps those leather seats were just adept at making him feel misplaced somehow. He pressed a hand to his chest, and found it bare. Hadn’t he worn an undershirt? Maybe that had gotten… Stained as well.

“Jesus Christ…” Kent muttered. He screwed up his eyes tight and groaned. His stomach, while definitely more calm, still ached. Are we still at the diner? he wondered.

Dean was watching from the front seat of the car, leaning forward against the back of the seat. “Does it still hurt? A lot?” They weren’t at the diner anymore, but they were in a parking lot.

“Listen, Kent. There was a nurse at the diner– she was a waitress, in training and all, and she told me that you could be alright. It’s hard to tell. I told her about the other night, how you passed out because you were angry, and she said you might just belong in a mental hospital. I don’t want to have to take you to one of those.“

Dean paused, looking down at the car floor. “They’re not good, Kent. Not good at all. We’re outside of a hospital now, but if we’re gonna go in, I need you to be calm. It’s your choice now. That injury could be serious. You did pass out...” He trailed off. “But it’s been a little while. Maybe you’re fine. Either way, she told me you should see a doctor. As soon as possible.” Dean knew he would be angry that he had disclosed so many details about his illness, but since he hadn’t been put in jail for attempted murder, he figured that had to count for something.

“I’m sorry, Kent. I don’t want you to jump off a bridge. I want you to get better.”

“I’m not going in there,” Kent barked. His voice was raspy and carried almost no weight, but the burning anger in his eyes made up for it. He pushed himself up with a grunt of effort and managed to grab at Dean’s shirt front with a hand. His grip was no stronger than an infant’s. “You swore to me you’d never take me to a hospital. You’re nothing but a rat bastard, you know that?” What reason, however, did Dean have to abide by any promise made to him? Kent had acted in such an uncouth way that one would think promises meant nothing to him. And aside from that– he was deathly ill. Who in their right mind would let a man simply die because of a paltry vow?

“Listen to me,” he growled. “You drop me off in there and they’ll cart me off to a crazy house. You said it yourself– that nurse thought I was crazy. They’ll think I’m crazy. And if that happens I–” He cut off. “Do you know what they do to people in places like that? I don’t want that to happen to me. I’d rather die.” Kent’s whole expression changed, sinking into one of fear and despair.

“I know, Kent. I know what happens to people in those places. I don’t think you’ll have to choose between dying and being there for long. That’s why I didn’t take you inside. I told you I wouldn’t, and I didn’t, but I’m telling you, you need to go in. You’re sick.” Dean took Kent’s wrist with a gentle hand. “I promise, I won’t let them take you.”

“You never answered my question,” Kent whispered. His fingers curled around the fabric of Dean’s shirt a little tighter. “Why do you care so much?”

Dean’s expression softened, his mouth pulling into a pensive frown. He freed Kent’s wrists of his grip with an exasperated sigh. “Alright, I’ll tell you, but you’ll still hate me for it. You remember what I told– what I yelled at you in the car earlier? Well, my dad was an alcoholic, like you. He was in World War I and I guess he didn’t like what he saw. Unlike you, he was the kindest person I ever knew. He was always happy, he always took care of us. He worked hard to make sure everyone was provided for–”

Dean shook his head. “But you don’t want to hear about that. He died during my senior year of high school. One day he just fell asleep and didn’t wake up.” He closed his eyes, bringing one hand up to his face to cover them.

“It’s a stupid fucking sob story, but I learned a lot from him. I learned to be kind to everyone, and that sometimes when a person needs help the most, he doesn’t know it.”

Kent let go of Dean’s shirtfront with an expression of surprise and mitigated horror. For once, it seemed, he understood his compassion. The stirrings of empathy were rising within Kent because of it. And now he felt, frankly, like an ass.

“I get it now,” he admitted. “I– I just thought you–” He thought Dean was helping him merely to clear his conscious. That was the intent most of his coworkers had approached him with. Like he was just some tool for others’ self-improvement. It was only natural he hate them, Kent reasoned. He was so tired of being used.

“Thought I what?” Dean looked back up at him. “You know, you don’t have to say you’re sorry. It’s not your problem. You’ve got a lot of them, but dead loved ones aren’t one. Well, not that I know of anyway.”

“I-I’m sorry.” Kent was compelled to apologize anyways. He held Dean’s gaze with as much compassion as he could manage. “But I’m still not going into that building. Not everyone in there would– would understand.”

Dean’s shoulders sank. “Look, I understand that you’re scared– I don’t want to make you go in there, but there isn’t another way. A hospital is the only place you can get help, and none of them are going to be much different from this one.” He looked back at the doors.

“If you go in there, I promise I won’t let them take you to a mental hospital. No electroshock therapy, no lobotomy, nothing. We’ll be out of there if someone even mentions it. But… If you won’t go, I want to know who to notify–” he pinched the bridge of his nose to avoid looking at him, “–when this is over.”

“My parents,” Kent said quickly. “They’d want to know. I-I can give you their information. I hope.” His expression creased with some indescribable emotion. The idea of dying was suddenly scary– was it easier to go out in some hot flash of anger than a cold spell of grief? Death made Kent’s head spin, regardless of how it happened.

“They aren’t really the kind of people to move,” he clarified. “I– I told you Dean, I’m not going in there.” Fear shone in Kent’s wet eyes and spilled over his cheeks as tears. Dammit. The last thing he wanted to do was break in front of him– in front of anyone. That would just garner himself more pity. They last thing he wanted was pity–

“Don’t look at me,” he warbled. “God, I’m a mess–”

Well, of course he was a mess. It only made sense, but Dean didn’t see any reason to point it out. He glanced at him in the rearview mirror and started the car. “Where do you want to stay tonight? I think I saw a motel nearby.”

He turned out of the parking lot toward town when a thought hit him. “Are you still coming to California?” Would he make it to California? Would he make it through the night? He almost didn’t believe he’d made it this far. Dean had to suppress his own tears. Had he just let him make that decision? He was just going to let him waste away and die?

Dean’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Why don’t we get you to a doctor’s office instead? No IVs, no wires, just prescription pads and stethoscopes. If he says you’ve got to go to a hospital, then we give up–” he managed an encouraging smile into the mirror. “Please, at least try.”

“I don’t–” Kent turned away from Dean and pressed against the side of the car door. He was afraid to go to a doctor; they’d likely hospitalize him, too. Then he’d end up in a mental ward. Then he’d– He didn’t want to think about what would likely come after that. Abuse at hospital staff? Shock therapy? Lobotomy? His stomach churned again and more tears fell from his eyes.

“I don’t want to see a doctor, Dean, alright?” He wiped pathetically at his wet cheeks and sniffed. A feeling of powerlessness that Kent couldn’t shake made him, ironically, shake. Everything was slipping away from him. “I’ll– I’ll go to California with you. But I-I’m not– I wouldn’t feel safe seeing a doctor. Not yet.”

“Okay.” Dean was at a loss for words. Kent’s iron-clad will still seemed to remain with him, no matter how ill he became. Dean was just afraid it’d be the death of him. “You can go when you’re... When you’re ready.”

Chapter Text

In the morning Dean woke early to prepare the car. He got dressed, packed his bag, moved his sleeping bag and took care of anything else they had left around the room by packing it back into the car’s trunk, save Kent’s suitcase. After finishing his preparations, he began making breakfast. Before long there were two plates of eggs and bacon, along with two travel mugs of coffee set out on a table outside near the car.

Dean came inside to wake Kent. “Come on, breakfast!”

Kent groaned and slowly slid out of bed, each leg dropping to the carpeted floor like globs of syrup off the edge of a plate. He stretched, yawned, and walked over the the front of the room. From its window he could glimpse Dean standing outside, beside the car.

Kent tightened the blinds before allowing himself to scowl. Couldn’t he had brought breakfast inside? What a jackass. Still, he got dressed and soon joined Dean where he stood. He wanted to eat, after all.

“Morning,” Kent grunted. He grabbed his plate, a fork, and started eating. No other words were tossed Dean’s way.

Dean sat down after Kent and carefully separated his eggs into bite sized chunks, not bothering to eat right away. “Are you…feeling okay this morning?” Yeah, sure. Ask that question a few million more times. He’d seen how well that had gone.

Finally Dean took a bite of his food. “I think if we hurry, we can make it to Nevada before night falls. Maybe even farther.” He tried to sound encouraging. Kent had wanted to go to California, right? He managed to keep up a smile despite the dark clouds gathering over Kent’s head.

“You know, when we’re done with the museum, we could stay for a few days and head for Hollywood. You like movies, right?”

“I do,” Kent responded. “I’m very much a fan of cinema. Silent movies, talkies– it’s all very fine in my book.” He handed Dean his plate once he was done, intent on avoiding taking care of it himself, and stood up. The idea of ending the trip soon sounded all well and fine to him; or, he thought so. A bit of a frown settled on Kent’s face.

The sooner they reached California, the sooner he’d have to make a decision about where he’d be going afterwards. The idea of going to Rockwell did sound better than staying with his brothers, but at the same time… What would motivate him beyond that to stay in a place where people hated him? At least his brothers, in Kent’s mind, could lie and say they liked him.

“A few days?” he asked. “How long do you mean, a few days? Two or three or–?”

“About that long. Maybe longer.” Dean shrugged. “It’s not a big deal depending on where we stay. I could even pick up some odd jobs.” Dean took the plate inside to wash in the bathroom sink.

The beatnik wasn’t intent on getting home. He loved Rockwell, but it had been his first time getting away in years. He’d return, but he wasn’t terribly picky about when. “Is there a certain place you want to go? I get the museum, where specifically do you want to visit?”

He finished the dishes and stored them away in the trunk. After that he put away the few things that were still out and sat on the hood of the car to wait for Kent.

“I guess a few studios around Hollywood,” Kent replied in a quick stammer. He didn’t want to let on how anxious he was about the change to, eventually, come. A deep breath in, a deep breath out; it would be in his best interest to take things a day at a time. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and ground his teeth a little.

Kent decided he was in want of a cigarette.

“I’m going to take a smoke break and then we can leave,” he sighed. Kent reached into his deep pockets to retrieve his lighter and nearly empty pack of Camels; eventually he had one lit and looked a tad more at ease.

“When you’re done, we’ll have to get gas. Is there anything else you need? Could grab some gum, coffee...” Dean just shrugged. Kent knew the kinds of things sold at gas stations. He didn’t have to explain.

“You know, we can get more of those–” he pointed at the cigarette pinched between Kent’s thin fingers “–if you want. If they help with the stress, that is. I know quitting the drinking must be hard. It’s not like you don’t have a reason for it.” But didn’t everybody have a reason? Kent’s was particularly good, but each person’s reasons had to be good enough for them. Dean turned back toward the dash and noticed that the fuel gauge was near empty. He could wax philosophical later.

“I’m not quitting,” Kent said rather suddenly. He even surprised himself; but after thinking it over a few seconds more, he found he agreed with the idea. “I’m just… Taking a needed break. But I’m not going to go back at it like I was. Never again.” It was promising to hear he was committed to self-improvement, even if his conviction was founded on a bad idea.

Dean jolted slightly in surprise, as if he’d been shocked by a door handle. He’d never seen someone recover from alcoholism, or at least not as severe as this. Kent had been close enough to death that Dean believed it would be in his best interest to never look at a bottle again.

“You’re not?” Dean’s frown slackened into a surprised stare. “Well, I think you’ve still got a little while to go before this break is over. Come on. We’ll get that stuff– whatever you decide on.”

“I’d like some cigarettes and gum,” Kent clarified. A pause. “Wait, no– candy. Candy and gum?” Kent wondered how far he could push Dean’s willingness to spend for him. He knew the man wasn’t thrifty out of choice (what beatnik had money?), but under certain circumstances everyone could make their dollar stretch. Kent was sure that his needs qualified ‘certain circumstances’ in Dean’s mind.

Briefly he considered that his manipulation of Dean’s– what was it? compassion? perhaps empathy? –was wrong. But only briefly. Material gain was just too good to pass up. Kent had a void to fill, and if booze wouldn’t take care of it, something else had to.

Dean’s brow furrowed. Now which was he supposed to get? “Do you want cigarettes or candy? Which will help you more?” He figured both might provide some short measure of relief, but the fact that cigarettes were like a drug in general lead him to assume that they would do better for him. “You know what? How about both? They’re not that expensive.” There. Both would last longer, and hopefully make him happy in the meantime, even if it was for such a childish reason.

“Thank you.” Kent’s smile was purposefully kept petite; otherwise, he was certain, a wide gibe of a grin would have broke out on his face. Then he wouldn’t be getting either of the things he wanted. What a rube! Any broad, overzealous expression of joy would have projected Kent’s inner dialogue.

And yet… Was it really right to be calling Dean a rube? Kent didn’t want to think about it– but, for once, he did anyways. For a solid moment he froze; Dean was, at the very least, only being compassionate. Was it right to take advantage of that? Yes, yes of course– of course it was. Kent was sick. Sick men got to do whatever they wanted.

“Where’s the dog?” Kent asked suddenly. An antsy feeling had him wanting to change the conversation. “Lucy, right? That’s what we– you –named her?” He was starting to think it was a bit of a stupid name. Or that it was mean-spirited; did Dean think the wonderful Lucille Ball was a, egads, a bitch? For no reason at all Kent had found another reason to be angry with Dean. Bastard.

The odd smile was gone; the familiar scowl was back.

“Dog’s in the back, sleeping.” Dean turned to the back seat, stuck his fingers in his mouth, and whistled.

“C'mon, girl! Wake up!” She stood, tongue lolling out as what almost looked like an excited grin appeared on her face. Dean scratched behind her ears. “Good girl!”

In the short time they’d had her, the dog had been perhaps the most helpful thing they’d had on the trip. By now he looked at her more like a friend than he did Kent. At least she was actually friendly.

Dean looked back toward the front of the car, the smile on his face quickly dissipating. “You okay, Kent? You look a little… Upset.” His eyebrows knit together in a concerned expression. He wasn’t upset at him again, was he? What did he do? He looked around in search of something that could have struck him as insulting. All he saw was the somewhat messy interior of the car. He was a little amazed that it wasn’t a bit worse for wear.

“I’m fine,” Kent muttered. He wasn’t going to bring up the conclusion he had reached. It was stupid anyways, he decided. At this point he was pulling reasons to be mad at Dean out of his– Well anyway it doesn’t matter, he thought.

His gaze edged away from Dean and onto the dog. There was no way he could stay mad looking at a dog.

“Let’s just go,” he sighed. Kent was, truthfully, ready to leave the motel parking lot. Or, rather, the motel in general. Staying in one for too long left him feeling… Off. He shuddered, thinking back to the one he’d holed up in during his stay in Maryland. Instead of pondering on the thought longer, he took his spot in the passenger’s side of the front seat. “I’m ready to leave.”

Dean nodded, joined him inside, and turned the key in the ignition. The car rumbled to life with a pleasing growl. He took a moment to appreciate the car before heading off in the opposite direction they had come.

In less than a minute, Dean found a gas station and pulled in. He paid the kid at the pump and got up to go find Kent’s ‘necessities’.

“What kind of candy do you want? Or should I send you in instead?” He pulled a couple of bills from his wallet but kept them by his side, watching Kent expectantly.

Kent mulled over Dean’s question for a while. If he sent the beatnik in, there was a higher likelihood he’d save a little money. But if Kent went in himself, he could stretch his dollar a little farther. Was that worth forfeiting trust, though? Trust as far as money went– which was pretty far anyways.

“I think it’d be fore the best you went in there,” he said. Why he was being the better person, Kent didn’t know. “Just get me anything chocolate. And Camel cigarettes. Or Marlboro, I guess.” He crossed his arms and sank into the seat like a child forced to do the right thing.

The only difference was that Kent had been forced by no one but himself. Why, he asked himself again, did I say that?

“Alright. Sit tight, I’ll be right back.” Dean went inside and picked out a candy bar– no nuts, just chocolate –and a pack of gum. He had to look between the Camels and the Marlboro for a few moments before picking the Camels, then went up to pay. He decided to skip the coffee for now. He could brew some later.

Dean headed back to the car without incident, and handed over the candy and cigarettes. He pulled another toothpick from its container and held it between his teeth, this time allowing it to sit there rather than grinding the end to splinters. He tapped his fingers in the wheel and then looked over at Kent.

“Did I get everything? You look a little down.”

Kent had opened his pack of cigarettes as soon it was handed to him. He already had one opened, and worn, from the looks of its cardboard, but laziness compelled him to begin what was new instead of finish what was old. His frown only deepened– but refrained from becoming a scowl as such an expression of his was typically prone to.

“When a man only has enough money for this kind of tobacco you have a reason to be down,” Kent sighed. That wasn’t the real reason he looked somewhat sour-faced, but he wasn’t about to tell Dean the real reason.

Coming clean about having ulterior motives didn’t seem to be like the best plan.

“But thank you, by the way,” Kent said. “You got exactly what I asked for.” It was as if Dean had read his hind; he had been hoping for a chocolate bar, but he hadn’t expected Dean to get him one. At least, not a kind he would prefer. Had he let that too, he wondered, slip into one of their conversations? He tended to over-share during them…

“I guess so.” Dean shrugged, unconvinced of the merits of Kent’s tobacco preferences. He watched Kent open the cigarettes, surprised he would choose them over the old ones. His teeth clenched around his toothpick unconsciously. He turned away. “Could get some pipe tobacco when we–” that was right, they weren’t sure if Kent was coming back to Rockwell. He let it drop.

Dean looked surprised to be thanked, but his face broke into a grin nevertheless. “You’re welcome. I’m gonna put the top down if that’s alright. I don’t really care for cigarette smoke.” He got out and did just that.

When he was back inside the car, he kept silent for a few moments before deciding to break the awkwardness. “Uh, I got you a plain chocolate bar. I hope that’s okay. You just said chocolate, so I got that.”

“That’s fine. I don’t really like nuts in my chocolate anyway.” That was a lie; Kent found himself pulling an expression of confusion. There wasn’t even a point to that lie. Well… Unless making Dean feel better counted as ‘a point’. A ball of discomfort and saliva rolled down his throat slowly. What on Earth was he doing trying to make Dean feel better? That wasn’t at all anything he was trying to do.

But why was that such a bad thing? Because, he chided himself, he doesn’t return the same courtesy . Kent’s eyes narrowed and he bit into the filter of his cigarette a little too much. That was another lie.

“Are we done here?” he asked in a quiet voice. His dodgy gaze couldn’t even glance in Dean’s direction.

“Yeah, we’re done.” Dean turned the key in the ignition and drove off without putting the top back up.

He stayed silent for a while before finally turning back to Kent. “You know, we’ll be passing through Nevada. You can’t drink, but… Do you want to go to Las Vegas?” Maybe neither of them had the money to gamble, but they could look at the lights, maybe catch a show. Even a peep show. His face lit up red at the thought.

“So… What do you say? We’re not traveling across a continent just for California.”

“Vegas?” Kent asked about the city despite finding himself puzzled by Dean’s blushing. He’d never seen the beatnik turn red before– at least, not because he’d punched him. Or something.

Caught between narrowing and going wide, his eyes remained their same size and shone abnormally. Had he… Said something? To make him blush? Kent recounted in his head but came up short.

“Sure, sure… That’s fine.” His gaze found something else to stare at. “I haven’t been to Las Vegas in a while. Maybe I can show you around.” Kent didn’t squander all of his trips across the nation on work, after all. The Vegas strip had been welcoming the last time he had visited. Hopefully, he thought, it would be again.  

“That would be great, Kent. I’m just mad for something to do.” He checked over at the passenger’s side. “Do you mind getting the map out? I don’t want to miss it or anything.”

Like he could. A couple of hours later, after dusk had settled over the desert, they rolled into town. If Paris was the city of lights, then Las Vegas was the city of neon. A multitude of colorful displays reflected their intense hues off the exterior of the car in the dimming light. Dean had to squint to keep from being blinded.

“Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?” He stared up at a vividly lighted cowboy. Was that part of a casino? Boy, did this place have a gaudy taste in decoration. Even Christmas in New York seemed to have paled in comparison.

“I’d rather find a motel before we went anywhere,” Kent yawned. He had just woken up from a well-deserved nap– although he had fallen asleep suddenly and ended up with a big smear of chocolate on the side of his face. He was too busy adjusting his hair to really notice it at the moment.

“I don’t want to end up blowing all our money and not having a place to sleep because of it.” A limp hand rubbed the crust of sleep from his eyes. “You’re good at managing money, sure, but Vegas has a way of… Pulling it from you anyway…” Kent yawned again. “Not that I’d know from experience of course. Seen it happen, that’s all.”

Finally he noticed the stain of candy on his cheek and, in a spark of sloth, merely wiped it off with his tie. Kent blinked his rheumy eyes and glanced over at Dean for the first time in a while. He looked like he could use another nap.

“Yeah, good. That’s why I have so much of it.” Dean chuckled. “Where do you want to stay?” He noted that Kent was looking awfully tired. “You know, we can do something tomorrow. We’ll stay for a couple of days to rest, then get back on the road. What do you think?”

He headed for a corny-looking, cheap motel without waiting for an answer and parked the car in the lot. He got out and put the canopy up before moving to grab their suitcases. Lucy watched him rummage for the bags, panting eagerly. That was right, food. He should get them dinner too.

“Listen, I’ll be right back. I just have to get a room. Then I’ll make some dinner, okay?” He paused for a moment. Oh yeah, don’t treat him like a kid. “I mean, unless you want to do something else.”

Kent stared at Dean for a dim moment before nodding slowly. He was tired, yes, but he was thinking something over as well. Being exhausted didn’t foster the thought process very well. An absent hand scratched at one short auburn sideburn as he, finally, considered something with a coherency clearing up the fog around his mind.

Gazing over at Dean made Kent feel oddly secure. Not in the way that the presence of a policeman or figure of authority made Kent feel secure– the beatnik provided an emotional safety net, not a physical one.

Kent froze. That was it, then; wasn’t it? Why he felt the need to overshare? He swallowed air roughly.

There was only so much time left for him on the planet. Kent knew that. Dean just so happened to be the nearest person he could trust with any sort of confessions he had to give before he– Before he–

Oh, God. The thought made him queasy. Kent clutched his stomach with one hand to keep himself from doubling over.

“Dean,” he stammered out, “When you get back, we have to talk. When you get back. I– I don’t have the words right yet.”

“Are you okay?” Dean laid a steadying hand on his shoulder. His eyes darted towards the road. Again, he wondered if it would be worth the cost to take him to a hospital, Kent’s sensitivities be damned.

“I’ll… I’ll be right back, okay?” Dean let him go and ran off toward the motel. He procured a room key at the front desk and put their bags inside, setting up the beds for use as well.

Dean opened the front window of their room to look out at the car. The bright lights glimmered dimly on its surface and obscured Kent in shadow. Only his silhouette was visible, sitting upright, if slightly bent. Did Kent really want to talk in the car? At least he still seemed to be alright. Much more slowly this time, Dean headed back out to the car.

He opened the door and sat down inside, waiting for a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark again. “Are you sure you want to talk here? We can go inside where you can rest. Just let me make dinner and I’ll be right in–”

“I feel like if I don’t tell you this now, then I never will.”

Kent spoke with a solemnity to his tone that was utterly unnerving. He fixed his unwavering gaze directly onto Dean’s; in the bask of the soft orange light from their room, cast unevenly on the sharp planes of Kent’s face, he looked even more haunting. More serious. The blue of his eyes was set almost onto an entirely different plane, drawing up the whole conversation into its own vacuum. It was as if the world were only them.

“You’re the only person who’s listened to me,” Kent admitted. Despite his cracking voice his eyes did not wander. “Do you get it? The average life expectancy of someone born when I was is fifty two. I’ve got ten years– maximum –left on this goddamn planet and nothing to show for it. Except for someone who shouldn’t care so much listening to me stammer and mumble.” His hands fidgeted in his lap before curling tight around themselves.

“Let me have that, Dean,” he begged in a whisper. “Just– just listen to me. That’s all I’m asking for right now.”

Dean was tempted to say something, but he held his tongue. Ten years? Maybe if he got help. To Dean it seemed he was passing from the world right in front of him. Was Kent still in denial?

More surprising still was Kent’s admission that Dean was something to show for his life. Somehow, he was of value to him. For some reason he was worth mentioning. Unless this was some kind of manipulation. He wanted him to listen. What in the world could he wasn’t to confess? Dean already knew the worst thing he had done, didn’t he?

Dean looked into his eyes, slightly unnerved. “Whatever you have to tell me, I’ll listen.” Perhaps he wouldn’t enjoy it, but he’d listen nonetheless.

Kent finally looked away– he needed to gather his thoughts. The urge to confess was there, but not the material itself. What was there to tell Dean? He knew about his family. Somewhat. He knew enough anyways. But he didn’t know about the year previous. What he did to fill out every minute between that fateful day in October and the first phone call Dean had ever given him. He wrung his wrists tighter.

“You know already about the alcohol,” he whispered. “But I didn’t tell you about the– the other things.” Kent rolled his head to one side with a grimace as if he were in physical pain. His face looked pale in the yellow light and against the darkness of the evening. He continued.

“It wasn’t just… Booze. That wasn’t enough.” Kent’s blue gaze fell on Dean again. “You’d be surprised– horrified, maybe –to know what a man can pick up in Washington. You know what heroin is, don’t you?” His eyes quickly shut.

“Yeah, I know what it is.” Dean watched Kent grimace with a worried look on his face. “When you had your shirt off– I didn’t see any marks on your arms.” He must have been lying, or hadn’t done it often. But given the state he was in, it didn’t seem to be the case.

“It comes– It comes in powder,” Kent mumbled. He was the one who wanted to confess; why was he suddenly feeling shame? Or had it never been sudden, always inlaid within him whenever in Dean’s presence, and he had just overcome it enough to tell the truth about his self-grievances? Kent didn’t know. He just knew he felt better to finally have it off of his chest. But still more remained.

“That’s not the only reason I’m such a mess,” he stammered in a hushed voice. “I was doing work I shouldn’t have been doing. Breaking boulders, digging ditches– work past my time and my condition. I don’t know why.” Kent’s breath hitched. He knew why.

“No, sorry, that’s… That’s a lie.” Even when he wanted to tell the truth it was a trial. “I know why.”

“You needed money.” Dean could put two and two together. He couldn’t get better work, so he did the physically stressful jobs to get the drugs he thought he needed. Wasn’t that it?

“Look, Kent. This whole thing is stressing you out. You don’t look good. Come inside, I’ll make you some dinner. You need to rest– The rest of those things don’t matter. They’re not even bad compared to– Well, you know.” He reached out to try to steady him, lead him out of the vehicle.

“I didn’t just need money,” Kent said a little louder. His eyes were open again; his intense stare focused on Dean to pin him in place. He all but reached for him with his hands, surging forwards to reign the conversation back in, back to the car. It had begun there and would end there.

“I could have gotten good work. Respectable work. In some town somewhere, outside of Washington. But I didn’t. You know why?” That’s when the tears started. Kent’s words began to stick to his dry throat. Why– Why was he suddenly mute, why was he crying? It was pathetic. And yet–

“I thought I deserved it. I still do. You shouldn’t have called. I–” Kent’s shoulders slumped. “–I’m damned, now, Dean. Damned in worse ways than I knew back in October.”

Dean didn’t need to hear any more about Kent’s heroin use. He understood that now, but when he leaned toward him, Dean instinctively moved back.

“But you– You didn’t deserve it. You made yourself sick, you–” Dean shook his head, he wasn’t sure about any of that. He wasn’t sure what it would take to atone for his sins, but for Kent’s sake, he would tell him he had.

“You don’t need to feel guilty still. What are you so upset about? Nothing you do can change what happened, so why punish yourself like this?” Dean turned his face away flinching. He didn’t even know if what he had said would be offensive, he just knew that Kent had a tendency to go off whenever he spoke.

Tentatively, he opened his eyes again, and reached for Kent’s hands. “Please come inside.”

“It has nothing to do with what happened!” Kent pulled his hands away from Dean’s frantically. His whole body was trembling; the precipice of confession loomed before him. Should he tell him? Could he trust Dean? Kent gazed at him warily with wild eyes. They were more electric with fear than they had been ever before. Kent took in one sharp, deep breath– and exhaled.

“I’m going to hell, Dean,” he said with frightening serenity. “You want to know why? It’s not because of what I did in Rockwell, or because of the alcohol, or the drugs, it’s–” His hands reached out and touched Dean with a gentleness that was alien. Kent cupped the underside of the beatnik’s face, thumbs brushing across his cheeks, and trembled once again. Now he’d done it. Dean was going to leave him stranded somewhere the next day, he was going to beat the living shit out of him, he was going to kill him and dump his body in the Nevada dust. But Kent couldn’t turn back, even though he so wanted to.

“It’s because of the way I am,” he whispered. “I look at you and I know God’s given up on me.”

Dean looked up at him, frightened for a few moments. Was Kent comparing himself to him? But then when Kent’s hands brushed his cheeks he realized.

“But you… You and Annie. Hogarth told me you were almost together. You can’t be…” Dean shook his head. That didn’t quite make sense. He’d seen men and women in… Similar lights himself. “Look, you’re not going to go to hell over… Thoughts. I mean, I’ve had thoughts like that before myself. This guy I knew…”

He looked up into Kent’s eyes. Terrified. He looked terrified. Was that why he had hit him? Masking some kind of attraction He felt he couldn’t control? Was that why he hated him so much? It must have been. Dean looked into the bright, icy blue. God, did he have pretty eyes.

Dean’s brow knit together. No. He didn’t even like Kent. He just wanted him to feel better. To be okay, so maybe they could both have some peace of mind.

“Dean–” he did not speak the beatnik’s first name often “–you’ve already done more for me than I deserve. I don’t know why, but you have. You listened to me, you coddled me, you’ve…” Kent trailed off and turned his gaze to the side with another sigh. His hands didn’t move, however. Dean was warm against the calloused skin of his palms.

“I’m not expecting you to do me any more favors. You don’t have to– to understand this, or try to. You can drop me off somewhere tomorrow if you need to.” Then Kent let go of Dean. At least he didn’t sound ready to, perhaps, slit his throat while he slept. I’ve had thoughts like that before myself. Kent found that oddly reassuring. Oddly? What was odd about–

His eyes widened and he turned back to Dean. “Wait, you… I don’t understand...” That was another lie (he winced); he understood what Dean had said, but he didn’t understand why he had said it. There just simply was no way he meant it.

“No, I’m not going to leave you here.” Dean assured him. “I– I don’t want to take the rest of the trip alone or anything.” He looked away, out the window at the motel.

Then he looked back at Kent. He let his eyes scan Kent’s face. Dean looked over his jaw, up to his cheekbones, then his eyes traced his lips. A thought entered his mind, but he let it pass. Kent looked so worn, so tired. Sick. He had to go inside and get some rest. No, he couldn’t leave him now. Dean was in it for the long run. He knew.

“You don’t understand?” He pinched his chin between his fingers and leaned in. “Enjoy it while it lasts, Kent.”

Dean puckered his lips and kissed him, gently.

There were no butterflies in his stomach, no nervous joy. He was just glad to know he wasn’t alone, and he was determined to prove to Kent that he wasn’t either.

Chapter Text

Kent froze up.

He was certain that none of this was happening. Was it too good to be true– or just too unbelievable to be true? He wasn’t sure what to do– he wasn’t sure if doing anything at all would be the best course of action. But then he thought back to what Dean had said just moments before: Enjoy it while it lasts.

The beatnik had taken to saying and doing so many surprising things that night. Perhaps, then, he should just try to… Adapt.  Slowly, Kent’s shock faded. His arms wrapped loosely, timidly, around Dean’s middle. He kissed him back as he trembled for reasons he was unsure of.

Dean thought about pulling away for a moment, especially when he felt his kiss returned, but Kent was trembling so violently– more violently than the usual delirium tremens he expected –that he chose to press on instead. He let go of Kent’s chin and instead wrapped his fingers around his upper-arm.

He pulled him close against his chest, hoping that would at least stop the trembling. Finally, he opened his eyes and broke the kiss. He looked up at him with some kind of thoughtful, unreadable emotion in his eyes.

“There. You’re fine. God hasn’t struck you down yet.”

Kent found himself unable to look at Dean; the expression he was wearing was intense in a way that made him feel sick. He quickly let go of him and retracted to his own side of the car. When that proved to not be enough distance, he finally stepped out of the vehicle and briskly walked into their motel room.

He was fine? He certainly didn’t feel fine. Kent slowly sank onto one of the beds (thank God there were two; perhaps He really hadn’t given up on him) and pressed his hands into his face. It wasn’t going to be possible to forget that had happened, or how it made him feel. How did it make him feel, exactly?

Angry; Kent felt like he was being pitied again. But that was just the initial reaction– there was no way Dean could have done something like that out of pity. Some peculiar compassion had put him into action, Kent knew. So then– was he sad instead?

His stomach threatened to do flips again, so Kent elected to stop thinking about it. Throat tight he rolled over onto his side, shut his eyes tight against the overhead room light, and tried his best to fall asleep. They could sort this out in the morning.

Dean walked into the room after Kent and turned his head to see him on the bed. He flicked off the switch next to him without so much as a nod. No pajamas? Well, that was one less thing to wash the next time they did laundry.

The beatnik elected not to wear pajamas himself. He didn’t even bother to strip down to his boxers. He simply kicked off his shoes (one sliding under Kent’s bed) and stuck each of his feet under the blankets.

Even after he was in bed, Dean stayed awake, staring at the ceiling. He wasn’t sure what to think of what he had done. He was a little disappointed in himself, that was for sure. Kent had thrown a fit about being attracted to men? So what? Dean could have just reassured him that he wasn’t insane and went to bed. But he chose to kiss him. He doubted Kent would have shut up about it otherwise.

After several minutes, Dean rolled over and went to sleep. Kent would not get the best of him again.

The first thing Kent registered upon waking up was how uncomfortable he was.

He must have slept wrong; his whole left side was sore, and being in his clothes (shoes and all) certainly hadn’t made his slumber any better. Kent stifled a groan and adjusted his position. Perhaps the fact that he had done his best to turn away from Dean had him feeling off– normally he slept on his stomach anyway. The idea of getting out of bed crossed his mind, but when the attempt to move had his joints aching, he decided he’d stay in bed a little longer.

Kent still didn’t feel any better about what had happened last night, either. He shut his eyes tight against the thought. Why was he still thinking about it? It would be for the better that he put it behind him. He was certain that Dean had already done so. Still… A tremor passed over Kent as he struggled to push back thoughts of futureInteractions. They simply weren’t going to happen.

At the same time, Dean was awake on the other side of the room and just getting up to take a shower. He pulled his shirt off and tossed it to the floor. If Kent felt like looking, he could. Dean didn’t really care. Although he hoped he’d gotten it out of his system the night before.

When the shower was warm, Dean finally stepped in with a sigh of relief, face turned up to the faucet above him. He lathered his hair, rinsed off his body, and when he was done with the shower, he reached for a towel. Then he remembered. He’d forgotten to bring in a new set of clothes. Dean sighed and wrapped the towel around his waist. Hopefully Kent was asleep again.

Dean stepped out of the bathroom and toward his bag, hair still damp from the shower. He quickly rummaged through it for a new pair of pants and another tee shirt.

Kent had to rise at that exact moment. Half turned around and ready to leave the bed; his whole face flushed a noticeable pink and his eyes quickly found themselves examining the carpet. That wasn’t something he needed to see for a whole host of reasons. Awkwardly he coughed, wondering if Dean still thought him to be asleep.

“Morning,” he stammered. “I’ll make breakfast.” Kent hurried out of the motel room without another word.

Well, that’s one way to get him out of bed. Dean watched him go and went to the bathroom to get dressed. It wasn’t as if he didn’t expect him to get an eyeful.

Their mutt, Lucy, perked up and started wagging his tail upon seeing Kent– and that was able to bring a smile to his face. He pet her through the backseat window (which had been cracked enough to let her breathe) for a few solid minutes; while he wasn’t feeling as well as he liked, spending time with the dog improved his mood tremendously. Then he remembered why he’d rushed outside. Soon enough, though, Kent had pancakes and bacon cooking on the portable stove.

Dean came back out of the room a few minutes later to help Kent with breakfast but found that he had it handled already. He took advantage of the now vacant stove to make some coffee for the two of them and sat down on the car bumper to eat.

“Are we getting out of here today, or are you going back to sleep?” Dean set his fork on his now empty plate. “Thank you, by the way.” He made a point to say it. It felt like Kent never did, though his appreciation was hardly unknown since the confession the night before.

“I thought you wanted to see Vegas,” Kent mumbled. He spoke around a half-hearted mouthful of an improvised pancake and bacon sandwich. Not that he really wanted to do anything with Dean anymore– besides getting drunk. But he knew that was out of the question, so he would have to deal with their problem sober.

“We don’t really have to.” But the more Kent considered the idea, the more it was beginning to grow on him. He could at least stop thinking about Dean if they went to a casino to blow money, or a peep show to see the obvious. It’d be hard to think about the beatnik with money or dames on the brain. “Well– actually, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Oh. I… Honestly, I forgot.” Dean scratched the back of his head. After the night before he was almost tempted to ask Kent where he wanted to be dropped off and leave him there. But he knew that Kent would likely just go back to the bottle without help. At least while he was with him Dean could keep Kent from being an alcoholic. He figured he might have to wrestle the alcohol away from him, though.

“Maybe… Do you think that we could find… One of those places? You know, so you can uh, get it out of your system?” He meant a peep show, but he wasn’t sure where to find one, or even if they would be able to afford it. He stared down at the ground. Maybe they should have talked about it. He didn’t want to.

“I–” Kent felt himself turning a deep hue of pink once again. He wasn’t going to say that it was unlikely that a little glimpse of a woman’s skin was going to sate him. Especially given it wasn’t at all what he wanted to be thinking about, against his best wishes. A ball of worry stuck in his throat and he did his best to swallow it down as he rose. His intent was to put up all he’d taken out to cook with.

“–I know a place,” he said in a small voice. “I’ve been here. To Vegas. Before. So I went last time.” Kent’s dodgy gaze was focused on the asphalt of the motel parking lot. He wondered briefly if Dean had ever considered him to be the type to visit such an establishment– that he had… Certain needs. It would be a lie to say that Kent had thought so about Dean. His blush deepened.

“I’d– we can go to a casino instead, if you’d like.” Now Kent wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted to do anymore.

“There’s no way I’ve got money to blow in a casino. Maybe we could catch a different kind of show.” The sight of Kent turning red reminded him a bit too much of the time he had passed out in the car. Anything he could do to calm him down was on the table at that point.

“You know your way around here, why don’t you show me where you want to go? You can even drive if you want.“ Dean was turning red at that point. He was just hoping that aching feeling in his heart would go away. He was trying to help Kent, not get him in trouble. Or himself for that matter.

Dean got into the driver’s seat without thinking of the breakfast materials that were still outside, anxious to go.

Kent’s expression soured. He could understand Dean’s discomfort, but he wasn’t going to help him clean up or make good on his promise spoken just moments before? Anger started boiling up in his chest and made him grit his teeth.

“You aren’t going to help me? Jackass,” he snarled. Kent wasn’t able to catch himself before the insult came out. Yes, yes, he had made a promise to himself to quit such behavior (hadn’t he?), but he was angry. The worst thing he could do for himself would be to bottle it up.

“Fine. I’ll take care of it myself.” Kent started putting everything back into the trunk without another word, but still bore a scowl of mitigated rage on his lips. His sharp, jerky movements also made it clear he was far from calm.

Dean’s eyebrows raised when he heard Kent’s voice. His shoulders also tensed. Alright. So he wouldn’t help. Not if Kent was going to have a fit about it. He stayed silent and put his feet up on the dash. If he could wait on Kent hand and foot, he could do a little work too.

When Kent looked about done with putting away the dishes, Dean turned back to shout, “Are you done?” He was referring more to Kent’s attitude than to his task, bit he certainly wasn’t going to bring that up.

“I am done,” Kent responded in a flat tone. The majority of his anger had ghosted off like mist from a boiling pot but vestiges still remained and had him feeling sour. His scowl had only softened instead of disappearing completely. “And I’d very much like to take the driver’s side now.”

“So where did you want to go? I’ll move if you want to drive.” Dean’s hand was still on the wheel. From his body language, it was easy to tell that he wasn’t exactly willing to give up the driver’s seat.

Kent leaned down and braced his hands on the open window. It occurred to Kent that they were close enough to kiss; for once since last evening, the idea didn’t fluster him. In fact, he was considering weaponizing said fact against Dean. Kent resisted the urge to smirk– or to make use of the opportunity provided to him. They were still in a public place, he remembered. The motel parking lot was no place to be starting things. At least, not mid-morning.

“Now would you scoot over please?” he asked. The bitterness in his tone removed any semblances of politeness he could have mustered.

Dean leaned back, scrunching up his nose as if disgusted. It occurred to him that Kent was close enough to kiss him, but there was no way he was about to let him do that.

He opened the door underneath Kent’s hands and backed away to allow him to flail. Dean stepped over to the passenger’s side and waited for Kent to scoot over. When he did, Dean sat down heavily and crossed his arms.

“So where do you think you’re going? It had better not be a bar.” He fumed silently after that.

A peculiar smile flashed across Kent’s face, pulling back far enough to reveal the gums of his teeth even before his next words spilled out; it was as short lived as it was vicious. The stark vibrancy in his blue eyes, and the sudden weight of his brow, didn’t make his expression any more placating however. He started the car with a sharp turn of his wrist and curled his fingers around the steering wheel after the engine purred to life.

“Maybe I will go to a bar,” he said, voice stiff. “And I’ll waltz right in and pay for a drink or five with my own damn money and there won’t be a single thing you can do about it.” He leaned close to Dean, still bearing that poignant look. His gaze was fixed right onto his.

“How about it, huh?” The road stretched out before them with numerous possibilities for him to make a rash decisions. Kent, however, had no intention of driving to a bar and breaking his promise. There wasn’t any way his liver could handle it anyway, much to his chagrin.

All he wanted to do was piss Dean off. “Or are you going to try and stop me?”

Dean looked away from him. “Go ahead. I’ll drive you to the hospital when you pass out.” He leaned his head against the window. “I thought all this would be over last night.”

He watched out the window for the bar, but never saw it. His brow furrowed in confusion. “Where are we going?” He looked over at Kent, anger and confusion showing in his face. “Did you decide not to kill yourself?” Dean’s filter was all but gone now. As far as he was concerned, all bets were off now. He’d be brutally honest, whether Kent liked it or not.

Kent was silent; he glanced at Dean out of the corner of his eye occasionally but gave him no acknowledgement beyond that. The car continued down the dusty desert road, with the only noise between them the muffled sounds from the almost-muted radio and the roll of the wheels on tar and gravel.

Chapter Text

Kent had driven them out to a flat stretch of nowhere. He parked the car and glanced over at Dean. His fingers drummed against the steering wheel; he reclined in his seat, elbow slung around the headrest, as if he owned the car he was sitting in. His lips pursed in a false expression of thought. He already knew what he was going to say– and do.

“I decided not to do that a while ago, McCoppin,” he retorted. “Catch up, would you? I thought I was the old one here.” Kent titled his head to one side, his face taking on a bit of a frown.

“This isn’t Vegas– what are you doing?” Dean cast an angry glare at Kent. He acted so comfortable, so at ease in his car. Who did he think he was? Could he have been so easy to manipulate that Kent thought he could do whatever he wanted now?

A much more terrifying thought entered his mind. Kent was larger than he was, maybe even able to overpower him physically. If he was planning to hurt him– or to kick him out of the car, he might not be able to keep him from doing it.

“I’ve caught up, Kent. It’s you who seems like he’s indecisive.” He grabbed the door handle, ready to bail if he had to.

“You’ve been off this whole day,” Kent said. He spoke as if he were taking mental notes. A twitch made his hand jerk against the wheel. “It’s been awhile since you’ve been so… Mean-spirited.” Such an observation could have been one made out of concern if it weren’t for the fact Kent was feeling just as bitter. “What the hell could be eating you, of all people?”

Kent’s line of questioning caught Dean off guard. He was actually... Paying attention to him. “I’ve been mean spirited? I have? Why don’t you check the rearview mirror? I’m ticked off that I let you take advantage of me, that’s what.”

“Take advantage of you? Everything you’ve been doing– you’ve been doing because you wanted to!” Kent reached out for Dean with one grabby hand, managing to catch his shirtfront and hold tight to it with shaking fingers. This conversation wasn’t going at all as he had planned– but then again, he thought, he should know better than to expect Dean to act the way he wanted.

“I didn’t do anything but open up to you and this is how you take it? With a temper tantrum?” Kent’s gaze bored deep into Dean’s. Was he wrong to have expected some level of maturity from the beatnik? Or was this just an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation?

“In case you forgot, jackass, you’re the one who made a move on me,” he hissed. “Alright? You kissed me! I had no play– no part in that. You apparently decided that was the best thing to do instead of… Instead of getting rid of me.” Kent let go of Dean’s shirt with a ragged sigh. The anger he’d built up had vanished.

“I still don’t understand,” he said in a soft voice.

“I’m not talking about that,” Dean admitted, his voice low. “You just– act like you own the place most of the time. Not then. Then I actually thought you might be worth kissing. That was a lapse in judgement.”

He wasn’t so afraid of Kent now. If he hadn’t let go when he did, Dean would have pushed him off. Kent had opened up to him, and now he saw every chink in his armor. He was tired of being afraid of him anyway. Kent would get no sympathy unless he treated him with the same decency now.

“I’m not going to get rid of you. You don’t deserve to be abandoned for that, and if I didn’t abandon you for all the things I already knew about you– well, I guess I couldn’t do it for anything.”

“But you’ll get pissy after I call you one nasty thing?” Kent countered. “You might as well go ahead and let me rot somewhere. It’s not worth it putting up with you if you’re going to shove me back.” Kent was in no position to be speaking in such a way and he was partially aware of it. But he felt that if there was anyone he could speak openly with, it was Dean. His sharp glaring gaze had softened considerably; the confusion behind his anger was now visible.

“I don’t understand what you want with me anymore,” he admitted. “At first I just thought– Well. You know what I thought. And then I realized you were doing this because you’re a good person. But now– Do you want something from me?” A look of horror crossed Kent’s face. The idea didn’t sit well with him. At all. And why should it? To feel as if he’d been manipulated into suddenly seeing Dean ‘that way’ wasn’t a pleasant way to feel. It didn’t seem in character for the beatnik, but… The idea persisted.

“No. No! I don’t want anything from you! I’m still doing this for the same reasons I was before, I’m just not happy about it. Not that I ever was.”

Dean got out of the car and went to sit down on the bumper. He stared out into the empty distance, arms crossed. If Kent wanted to yell at him, he’d have to chase him. He was done controlling his attitude around him. Done walking on eggshells.

How dare he anyway? He picked up a stray piece of gravel from the ground and hurled it as far as he could into the distance. How could Kent be sympathetic enough to make him want to kiss him? Ever?

Kent let Dean have his moment outside and stayed seated at the wheel. Besides, if he got up to walk around, who was to say Dean wouldn’t drive off without him? Given the way they had been talking, too, it wasn’t something Kent thought he should put past him. His eyes narrowed and he hunched over to drum his fingers against the dashboard. Nothing had been going right. Or was it that nothing had been going the way he wanted it to?

“Son of a bitch,” Kent muttered. That’s what the beatnik was acting like. He was supposed to be the brat, not the other way around. Why was he treating this of all things without the patience he had exhibited earlier? Dean had been sharp, sure, but he hadn’t thrown such a tantrum when Kent had hit him (several times at that).

Perhaps he was scared– scared of caring for Kent as anything more than a human being. That had been fine in the beginning, when Kent hadn’t been treated with such bare minimum respect since the incident in Rockwell; but now Dean was doing him a disservice by refusing to see him as more than just another person. It simply wasn’t enough anymore, whether either of them wanted it to be or not.

Kent decided Dean had had enough time to himself. He stuck his head out the window after hurriedly rolling it down. “Are you done?” he asked, voice sharp. “Because I’m not done talking to you.”

“Well, I’m done talking to you.” Dean turned back to stare into the distance again. He hunched over, but his eyes strained to look back through the corners at the car. He still couldn’t see Kent, but he refused to turn his head to look at him. Let him think he’d abandoned him. Let him wonder. How dare he take advantage of his charity? How dare he need him? Ever? How dare he be–

Dean blinked. Human. Kent was only being human. And Dean– feeling the way he did. That was only human too. He closed his eyes tight. He really wished he didn’t feel that way. Suddenly he felt a way he didn’t think he could possibly feel about Kent, and he was very afraid.

“If you want to talk, you’ll come out here. I’m carsick.” He pressed his hands to the sides of his head, massaging his temples. “Claustrophobic.”

Kent hesitated. But, after a moment to reflect, he then decided that getting out of the car would be the best idea. He left the door open after getting out and slowly took a seat beside Dean on on the bumper, which was almost unbearably shiny in the sun. The silence that passed between them didn’t get the best of Kent. For once. He stayed quiet until he was absolutely certain of what he wanted to say.

“I’m sorry.” Sorry for what? Kent tensed; maybe he wasn’t so certain. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, to be sorry about. There were a lot of things he did that day that he was wishing he could take back– so he kept his apology vague. Kent rubbed his palms together in an attempt to release his tension. It didn’t help him any.

Dean didn’t react to the apology other than a slight nod. It was just so general, all he could really do was accept it without comment. Asking Kent what he was sorry for would be like asking him why he was so sad.

“You did something… Major yesterday,” Kent continued. “And I’m… Not sure how to feel about it. Getting testy wasn’t the right thing to do. But I– I don’t know what to do instead.” Kent glanced at Dean out of the corner of his eyes. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I shouldn’t have done that.” Dean leaned down, clasping his hands together in front of himself. He still refused to look at him. Perhaps he could have said more, but nothing came to his head, and he didn’t feel like digging for anything else.

Finally, he turned to look at him. “Major. Like a turning point.” Dean scowled and turned away again. “I don’t know where you think this is going, but I don’t love you, and I don’t want to.”

Kent gave Dean a bug-eyed, incredulous look. “Okay, mister, it was a big deal, but it wasn’t like we slept together.” He had to keep from rolling his eyes. “I figured you at least liked me. Enough to do that, anyway. Are you insinuating something?” He had in no way come to such a conclusion. Dean, love him? That idea seemed preposterous. And, evidently, rather far from what Kent thought the beatnik felt about him. He assumed that he found him attractive– but beyond that he wasn’t sure.

“If you don’t want to– to be with me like that, then why do you do these things?” Kent turned his attention back to his calloused palms. “It’s not like we’re friends. At all. And if you could just set me up somewhere if you wanted to. But you keep me around. Why?” Kent’s brow furrowed. He didn’t have an answer as to why he stayed around. But it was much easier to keep Dean talking than to reveal things about himself.

“You’re sick. I should take care of you. It’s not like you should be left alone.” Dean’s brow furrowed even more. “I’m not insinuating anything. I don’t even like you, you bother me.”

Dean knew that his answer still didn’t explain why he had kissed Kent. Not very well anyway. “I kissed you because you needed it. I thought maybe you’d… Calm down or something.” His face turned red. Okay, so maybe he didn’t like Kent, but he was certainly attracted to him. He still didn’t want to admit it though.

“I bother you– and you haven’t gotten rid of me?” Kent gave Dean a hard look. That didn’t make any sense. He had every right to ignore his wishes and throw him in a hospital. If the tables were turned, he would have done the exact same thing. But Dean didn’t and Kent really had trouble understanding why. Who in the hell kept around someone they didn’t like?

Kent reached out a tentative hand to touch Dean’s shoulder. “Look at me,” he ordered. “I can’t tell if you’re lying if you don’t look at me.” He caught a glimpse of the beatnik’s flush and, against his wishes, turned pink himself. Now he was starting to understand why Dean might have let him remain.

“…You thought I needed it?” Kent whispered. “Or did you do it because you wanted to?”

“I didn’t want to,” Dean snapped, turning to look at Kent. Of course he did. “Look, I don’t care what you think. I don’t care if you think I’m lying. I care about your health and well being and that’s it. I kissed you because you thought you were going to hell for… Looking at me, I thought you’d feel better if you knew you weren’t the only one who sees other men that way.”

He hid his face in his hands. His face felt hot. The fact was that Kent was an irredeemable ass. Dean just wanted him to be a mentally stable irredeemable ass. So what if he had those intense blue eyes and that square jaw? He was still a horrible person, and Dean did not want to kiss him again. Or think of what he’d said the night before.

Dean stood and headed back to the passenger’s seat, sat down, and waited for Kent. As far as he was concerned, they were done talking.

Kent watched him go through narrowed eyes. So that was it. There was something Dean was keeping hidden from him– but the answer he gave, he was certain, had some grain of truth to it. His hands balled into fists. Why couldn’t he just be open with him? After everything Kent had told the beatnik in return–

He paused, and his anger faded. I thought you’d feel better if you knew you weren’t the only one who sees other men that way. Did that mean… That Dean was of his sort? It wasn’t the first time Kent had pondered over such a possibility, but it was the first time he felt like puzzling out an answer. He felt his throat tightened and he swallowed roughly. Dean could have merely told him that. But instead he kissed him, right on the lips. Kent’s expression pinched in an odd way; he was confused, but he also felt… Well, he wasn’t sure.

The best thing to do at the moment was to get back in the car, he realized. It was noon at that point, and the Nevada sun was not kind. Kent frowned. He figured his freckles would be darker now. Whatever. He took his seat at the steering wheel.

“We’re going back to Vegas. I think you’re right about… Letting off some steam.”

“Yeah, I figured.” Dean faced away from him in his seat. “I’ll stay here. You go where you want.” Of course if he was in the car, he would be going somewhere, but he did indeed plan to stay inside the vehicle.

He didn’t really feel like compromising anymore. Maybe Kent was right, maybe he should just let him go somewhere and leave. Guilt flooded his stomach as soon as he thought about it. Okay, maybe not. He glanced over at Kent. He still looked ill, pale and tired.

“I can drive, by the way, if you don’t feel up to it.” His eyes darted down to the floor in shame. He couldn’t tell if it was because he’d thought about letting Kent go or– well, holding him way too close.

“I can drive,” Kent said evenly. He glanced at Dean through the corner of his eyes every now and then. It seemed that he was the one in the more incapacitated state; Kent wouldn’t feel safe having him at the wheel. There was no telling what was going through his mind. Well– that was a lie. Kent had at the very least an inkling of what he was thinking about. And given the beatnik’s intense red flush, it wasn’t really that hard to put two and two together.

“You obviously need some time to think.” His words were a little sharp, but mostly instructional. Kent glanced around; it was only mid-day, and the Vegas strip was lacking the life that flowed through it during the evenings. A grunt of disappointment was Kent’s response. They’d need to do something else to kill time. He spotted an empty alleyway nearby, and pulled the car into it. After setting it in park and cutting the engine, he leaned back to indulge in a cigarette.

“So until we can go somewhere, I’m going to let you do that. Think.”

“I don’t want to think.” He rolled his eyes at him. “I want… Well, I don’t know what I want.” Dean hit his forehead with the heel of his hand a few times, then looked up. Apparently he’d had an epiphany.

“When you said that thing– about knowing you’ll go to hell when you look at me– how long have you thought that? How long…?” Geez, this guy was turning him into a neurotic. What was he trying to do? Prove that Kent had seduced him somehow? Now that was ridiculous.

Dean looked away to play with the lock on the door, flipping it up and down. “You’re driving me crazy, I swear. If you don’t have some problem with me, you want to talk or punch me or be honest. You’ve gotten this far without being honest, you didn’t have to tell me that!”

Kent stared at Dean through half-lidded eyes. A bit of a scowl crossed his lips every few seconds, making the corners of his frown twitch in a brief show of aggression. He was angry for some reason. Scratch that: he was angry because Dean couldn’t make up his mind. His lack of convention was pissing him off. But he wanted to remain calm– the last thing they needed was to get into another fight. He raised his cigarette to his lips and took a long drag.

“I don’t know what you’re getting upset with me for,” he muttered, thin smoke pouring from his lips. “But– you have to be specific. In general? My whole life. But I denied it until last year.”

A pause. “It’s been a year, regarding you. Can you believe it? I didn’t even know your name for the longest time.” Kent didn’t laugh.

“I thought you wanted me to be honest. So that’s what I’m doing. Why can’t you do the same?” Kent gave Dean a critical look before turning to stare needlessly at the brick wall in front of them.

“You’re an ass.” Dean didn’t really think before he said it, but once it hit the air he didn’t much mind that it was there. “You didn’t even know my name, geez–” Like he’d needed to know his name. As if he required some kind of permission to be attracted to him. All the same, Dean wasn’t very comfortable with the idea. Maybe he’d thought Kent was good looking, but it didn’t keep him up nights.

“Look, you’re kind of cute yourself. When you’re not talking. Or looking at me.” He reminded him a little of the woman in Singin’ In The Rain. Nice to look at, but cringe-worthy whenever she opened her mouth. Not that Kent’s attractiveness had anything to do with why he was still there. Dean hadn’t even thought about it until Kent had brought up his attraction to him. Perhaps he’d caught himself staring a few times, but the ravages of alcohol on his body had put a damper on his appearance in the first place. He’d written it all off as concern.

“Open a window if you’re going to do that, by the way. I hate smoke.”

Kent glared at Dean silently, steely, and blew a large cloud of smoke right in his face. He tapped his cigarette leisurely, letting his ashes fall right on Dean’s thigh, and took another long drag.

“At least you’re being honest,” he rumbled. “You think I’m cute, huh?” His frown turned into a smirk and he finally laughed. It wasn’t a sound of any sort of joy; at least, none that could be considered comforting. “Unfortunately, the sentiment is returned.” Kent’s hard expression softened somewhat. Why was he being so cruel to him? He had no reason to be. At this point, he was the only person he trusted. The only person.

His spiteful mirth faded. He took another drag, respectfully away from Dean’s face that time. “…What do you think we should do about it?”

Dean coughed and glared at him, brushing the ash from his pant leg. He rolled down his window, waving the smoke out of the car. “I don’t need to get the smell of booze and cigarette smoke out of my car.” His words were laden with poisonous sarcasm. Dean wanted the smell of Kent in general to get out of his car.

“It’s not cute when you do that. In fact, I hate it. I hate your entire personality.” He was exaggerating, but it really didn’t feel like it. Dean was leaning away, a subconscious effort of self preservation. “I don’t know what you should do, because I’m not going to do anything. I don’t want to do anything.”

“Then you shouldn’t have kissed me,” Kent snarled. He jammed his cigarette into the ashtray on Dean’s side of the car; by reaching over, he pinned the beatnik between the door and himself. It was purely a move of aggression. If that wasn’t clear by his tone of voice and stiff movements, then it was made clear by his wild and feral expression.

“I don’t expect you to put out, I expect you to man up,” he spat. “You can’t just do something like that and pretend it never happened. I sure as hell wish you could, but that’s not how things work!” Kent balled one hand into a trembling fist. Not even he was sure whether or not he was going to hit Dean again.

“Talk to me,” he ordered, grinding his teeth down on his words. “That’s what I want you to do. Talk to me– and be honest .”

“Just because I kissed you before doesn’t mean I want to do it now. I figured you wouldn’t be such an ass– and– and,” Dean’s face contorted in confusion. He closed his eyes, turning his face away as he pushed him away with as much strength as he could muster. “Put out? Put– you really are crazy. How could you even think of that? I’m not some toy for you to use and discard when you feel like it– you’re not giving me anything by saying I don’t have to fuck you!”

Dean took deep breath and huffed through his nose, his chest rising and falling with the action. “There! Am I being honest enough for you? Don’t touch me!”

It took a few minutes for Dean to finally calm down, but when he did, he ran his fingers through his hair, took a deep breath, and finally broke the awkward silence. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair.”

Kent backed away slowly. His eyes were still narrowed, his lip still pressed into an angry pale line, but his rage had lessened considerably. They had reached a turning point and Kent was in a clear enough state of mind to realize it. He reached behind himself to roll down his own window, and the cloying smoke that still remained in the automobile’s air floated off like some excised demon.

“You were telling the truth. That’s what I asked for,” he said simply. Kent pressed his palms together and his bony fingers steepled. “I’m not going to get angry with you for that. I– I’m not expecting you to do anything but be honest with me. Do you understand?” Bright blue eyes slowly rolled up to hold Dean’s dark gaze.

“I’m not asking for fair.” His voice was uncharacteristically soft; his brow crinkled. “I just want the truth.”

“Well, I just told you the truth. Do you want to to describe everything I hate about you in detail?” Dean sounded defeated. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted anymore. Did he really want to drop him off and leave him somewhere, knowing that he’d probably just end up going back to what he’d been doing before? Did he want him to die?

Dean paused. “I want to know that I’m not wasting my time, Kent. We’ve stopped so many times, we could have been to California already if you didn’t kick and scream the entire way. I want to know: are you going to get better, or are you going to hurt me until you can’t anymore?” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “I want to know– can you be gentle?”

Kent glanced up at Dean with somewhat uncertain eyes. Could he be gentle? Was his propensity to violence and anger so great that Dean had to ask for otherwise? A hot wave of something washed over him. He felt terribly offended; but what he shown Dean for him to think that he was anything but a savage brute? Kent swallowed air roughly– and put one hand on Dean’s shoulder slowly.

“I can try,” he said in a quiet tone. He wasn’t able to look at Dean quite head-on, both for respect of the beatnik’s comfort level and his own. “I think– I think that’d be good for the both of us. In the long run.” Kent wasn’t sure if ‘the long run’ meant the duration of the trip, or some time… After that. Or just the next day. ‘The long run’ didn’t feel like a span of time he’d get to see.

Dean’s shoulder tensed. He certainly hadn’t asked him to touch him, although he wasn’t sure how else he expected Kent to convey gentleness.

“Are you okay?” That was it. Dean had finally snapped out of it, if only for the moment. He’d really hurt him, and he was all he had at the moment. Well, other than the dog. He turned back to look at the still-sleeping Lucy, a small smile appearing on his face.

“Am I okay? I–” Kent removed his hand, his surprise causing his whole body to recoil backwards. He hadn’t considered it. All things considered, he didn’t feel ‘okay’. ‘Okay’ was an ideal; ‘okay’ was a goal to strive for. Perhaps, in time, Kent could reach it. Maybe within the span of their drawn-out trip. A tremor passed over him as his chest tightened with some emotion he didn’t know the name of.

“–I want to be.” He decided to let that conversation die.

Dean didn’t follow the conversation to its grave either. “We should talk. But not about each other or anything. Let’s just… I don’t know. What do you think about the war over in Vietnam? I know it’s kind of a polarizing issue, but I want to see if we can agree on anything.” At least that was something that interested Kent, right?

“Vietnam? Are you sure you want to be asking me about politics?” Kent’s brow creased considerably, and a trembling, confused frown tugged at the corners of his lips. “I don’t– I don’t want to get into another argument.”

“No, no, just tell me your position and tell me why you have it. Maybe we can get to understand each other that way. It doesn’t have to be Vietnam either. It could be anything. I picked politics because I thought we would disagree.”

Dean sat sideways so he could look at him. “What do you think? Can we discuss something civilly? Anything? How about… How did you find out you liked men?”

“You thought I’d disagree? Did you really think– why would you want me to disagree with you? That’d just end up in me shouting and you getting… Upset.” Kent’s brow furrowed in confusion. Why the hell would he want to start an argument with him? Kent was, unfortunately, aware of his temper. That made it even more inexcusable that he got hot-headed, but he always got angry regardless.

Dean’s second proposed topic made Kent physically be taken aback. He jerked in the opposite direction, eyes widening, and stared at the beatnik with an open mouth. “I– I don’t know.” That was a lie; an immediate reaction. His gaze shifted to stare down at the car’s leather seat.

“It was… In high school,” he corrected. “My baseball co-captain. I… I guess I fancied him. I never admitted to it, but I did.”

Dean didn’t pursue the other topic any further. He supposed Kent wasn’t able to have a civil conversation about something he cared about like that. Not when someone disagreed anyway. “Okay. That’s fine. That’s normal. Well, for either of us anyway. It’s not bad. You didn’t do anything wrong when you felt that way.” He slowly wrapped his fingers around Kent’s wrists. “It’s not something to be upset about.”

“Fancy–” Dean chuckled. “Well, I guess I fancied a guy who used to pal around with me in my old neighborhood. I beat him up one time. Because I wanted to impress him.”

He looked down, rubbing his forehead. “I didn’t punch you to impress you though. That was just pure hatred.”

Kent’s expression took on a serious shape. He bored his bright blue eyes straight into Dean’s. There was a strange calmness settled around Kent’s person. It was uncharacteristic of him in the most unnerving of ways; like the quiet, balmy weather before a hurricane.

“I broke that kid’s arm and leg,” Kent said in an even tone. “He was running against me in a scholarship bid. We both lost, though, so it didn’t matter in the end. And he still never came to like me.” His eyes flickered down to stare at the fingers still around his wrists. They began to tremble.

“I didn’t say that violence was a good way to get a guy to like you. It was just something I thought at the time would be impressive.” It certainly hadn’t been attracted Dean to Kent. Not that part.

“You're touching me,” Kent rumbled darkly. “Why? Don’t you still hate me?” The beatnik had good reason to, anyway. Kent felt tempted to give him another reason to keep doing so.

Dean glanced down at his hands. “No, I don’t hate you.” He leaned in closer to him. “Do you hate me?” He looked up into his eyes again, shoulders tensing. His fingers tightened around Kent’s wrists. He hoped he wouldn’t be able to move them.

“Would you mind if I kissed you? Again? I should have asked the first time.”

Kent was taken aback. His eyes widened. Given his sudden violent urges, it was odd to hear Dean’s proposition. Given Dean’s earlier words alone, it was odd to hear him offer up another kiss. And being so convinced that the beatnik hated him did nothing to help him understand why he might want to be intimate, even if in such a small way, with him again. Kent’s whole form stiffened.

“I wouldn’t mind,” he admitted. He was not one to turn down a kiss. “But I don’t… I don’t understand why you would want to. At all, let alone again.” His gaze slowly met Dean’s, this time without the intensity it had once carried. His confusion, unbeknownst to him, bled through his expression profusely.

“I thought… Maybe you wouldn’t want to hit me so much again if… If we did it right this time.” Dean let his eyes drift down to Kent’s lips, then back up to his eyes. “Maybe if we did this one more time, we’d both get over this, and then we’d never have to do it again. I don’t know what else to do.”

He let go of Kent’s wrists. “What am I saying? It’s a stupid idea. Nothing is going to work. I can’t get you out of my head.” He moved to press against the door. “Now I see why you would want to hit me. I like your eyes, but I hate your personality.”

Kent’s dark expression soured. A deep scowl cut across his face, and the eyes Dean had called nice hardened like beads. Cold and unfeeling. The hands he had so desperately wanted to curl into fists finally balled up. His knuckles turned white as skin stretched over bone and ligament.

“So I’m just a thing to you?” he spat. “Someone to look pretty for you?” Kent knew very well that wasn’t what Dean meant, but he’d been itching for a reason to be angry. For justification. That was justification enough as far as he was concerned. Again– again the beatnik’s apathy was showing its true, bleak colors. Kent couldn’t stand it. Why couldn’t he just move on? They both were aware Dean didn’t like him; could he simply not let things be?

“Well I’m not going to play that with you, McCoppin. Understand? I’m not just– I’m not just some damsel for you to work through your pity with.”

“Look, Kent, I’m not just attracted to you, listen to me–” he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I care about you. More than I did when this whole– whole thing started out. I want you to get better. That’s what I want. I’m just fucking stupid, okay? I’ve never had to deal with feeling like this before. Especially not now when it’s out in the open.”

Dean looked him up and down. He was angry again. Of course he was. “Look, either I’m going to be able to help you, or I’m not, but you’ve gotta choose. You’ve gotta decide to let me help you or not, and getting angry isn’t going to help you do that. You don’t have to kiss me, you don’t have to do anything, but if I can’t help you, then tell me where to drop you off because right now, I’m betting you don’t even want to look at me.”

“I do want to kiss you.”

There he went again, putting words in his mouth. Kent was still scowling. Dean had a propensity for assumption that had gotten him angry to begin with. He was certain that at least half of their arguments were the result of poor prediction alone. At least, he thought so. That’s what it felt like, anyways. His deep, sharp frown tapered off into something silly– a pout. It was incredible, how a forty two year old man could look so childish.

“But yes, if you insult me, I’m going to be difficult. I’m going to be angry. That’s how most people would react, not just me.” His gaze narrowed. “Do you think before you speak? Because that was a pretty dumbass thing to say aloud– ‘I hate your personality’. You aren’t perfect either, beatnik.”

“I can be honest, or I can be nice. You have to pick one, Kent.” A smirk tugged at the corner of Dean’s mouth. “And I meant that with all the love in my heart.” Now that was something he hadn’t heard in years. He wasn’t sure he had ever said it before.

Dean realized for a moment that he didn’t actually take insults seriously. Perhaps that was why he didn’t expect such reactions from Kent. After all those years, words just became nothing but words to him.

“I’m sorry, Kent. I don’t realize what I’m saying sometimes. I shouldn’t be kissing anyone with the mouth I have.”

“Maybe you should just shut up for a while.”

Kent had meant to phrase that as an retort– a snarky solution for Dean’s snark problem. But his contemplative mood had made him speak in a soft, low tone. He was surprised by the sound of his own voice for once and his eyes grew to be the size of baby blue bird’s eggs. A tentative hand brushed its fingers across his pale lips.

“I mean– if you don’t like what you’re saying–” Covering up for an insult was something Kent also found bizarre. He never did that. He was crass and unapologetic, dammit! A frown tugged at the corner of his previously firm set lips. “There’s better things to be doing than talking.” Smooth. He could kick himself for that; hitting on Dean was the last thing he had wanted to do. And yet…

The words weren’t something he spent time thinking about. They just… Happened to leave his mouth. That was it.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Dean smirked. How charming. He was dumbfounded. He moved closer to Kent. “What I said last time– enjoy it while it lasts. I guess I was lying.”

Dean took hold of Kent’s waist and moved closer to him, gentler than the last time. His breath hit Kent’s face at a faster pace than before. Carefully, he leaned in closer until their lips connected. He closed his eyes. One hand moved up to cradle Kent’s head while the other stayed at the small of his back. He tilted his head to get a better angle.

Yes. Shutting up was much better.

Chapter Text

Dean was on top of him before Kent knew what happened. He really went for it, Kent thought. His wide eyes glanced all around; what was he supposed to do. Well, that was obvious, but he felt as if there was no real proper reaction. His heart beat double time in his chest as he considered what to do–

And then he realized that he was being ridiculous.

After a few moments passed, Kent finally relaxed. This was what he had asked for. His eyelids drooped as Kent wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist in return; wide palms pressed against the beatnik’s back as if to stabilize the both of them. Without the haze of severe surprise clouding things, Kent was able to appreciate what a fine kisser Dean was.

Dean settled against him happily, feeling his affection returned. When he finally pulled away, he was somewhat dazed. “You’re… That’s nice.”

He scooted away from Kent, allowing some space. “Are you still angry with me?” His hands flattened against the smooth surface of the leather interior. The seat was still warm from the Nevada sun.

He felt wrong, but for different reasons this time. Was he taking advantage of Kent? He was sick, after all. Maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly. Kent wouldn’t kiss him. He hated him. A guilty flush lit his cheeks, but it wasn’t quite visible in the shade.

“I’m not angry with you.” Kent blinked away the feeling of being dizzy. He couldn’t believe that had just happened– again. It was just enough to wrap his head around the fact that they’d kissed once. Absently his fingers splayed across his bottom lip and his brow creased. He had enjoyed it. There was no doubt about that.

“Quite the opposite,” he continued. “I think that’s nice, too.” His dodgy gaze lifted back up to Dean’s face and registered his expression. Was he blushing? It was hard to tell, so he brushed it off. Kent slid across the heated leather seat to sit closer to Dean. The beginnings of a smile graced his lips.

“I wouldn’t mind doing that again,” he admitted in a quiet voice.

“Well, we did just do it twice, but–” he leaned forward again, any notions of guilt having fled his mind.

Dean took his hands in his, sentimental as ever. “Neither would I.” He leaned forward to kiss him again, gently pushing him down until he could rest against the seat. He pulled away for a moment to caress his cheeks, holding his face just so he could see it clearly. “God, your eyes are so pretty.”

He pressed his lips clumsily against his again, perhaps to stifle anything he might try to say.

Kent, in the same vein of clumsiness, kissed Dean back with even less of an idea as to what to do than before. This time his compliment had left him feeling disoriented. It wasn’t like Dean hadn’t said pleasant things about his eyes before– but this time it was without a hint of malice, without the dressings of a backhanded compliment attached. Kent felt that he should have at least said ‘thank you’ first.

The urge did not persist for long. His arms wrapped around Dean’s form as they had just moments earlier, holding the beatnik in place with a delicateness unlike Kent’s usual temperament. He did not take note, however, too busy focusing on the rush he felt that had become characteristic of their exploitative kisses. That was something he could get used to, he thought.

When their lips finally parted Dean kept his hands on his waist. “I think… I think it’s late enough to do… That thing. I can’t remember what we were gonna do.”

He sat up, taking Kent with him. He wasn’t quite willing to let go yet. He was feeling very protective of him. Even more so than before. “If you still want to do it, that is.” Gently, he brought one hand up to feel his hair. “It’s so soft.” He smiled, watching it bounce back from his touch.

“I’m sorry.” He suddenly glanced down at his feet. “For everything. And touching your hair. That’s probably annoying. And rude of me.”

“No, no, I… I don’t mind.” In reality Kent did mind, but the fact that Dean had apologized left him more than willing to handwave his infractions. And to say he was truly, terribly upset because of the attention he receiving would be to exaggerate grossly. A tender flush lit up Kent’s face and cast his cheeks in a hue slightly more pink than usual. It was odd. He was so unused to being the subject of such gentle attention.

“Uh– late enough to do what? What thing?” Kent had plum forgotten about his proposed idea for spending their evening in Vegas. He felt as if he’d plum forgotten about a lot of things that had recently occurred. Such powerful escapism had to be dangerous, he thought. And yet it was because of that he felt tempted to indulge in it again. A wide hand pressed against Dean’s shoulder, off-center just enough to make his true intent of putting his hand upon Dean’s torso unknown. He tried to keep a straight expression as he felt the sinew beneath his palm. For perhaps the first time Kent was aware of his kinesthetic sense, at least as far as it regarding Dean was concerned. He liked it. The way he felt.

“We don’t have to go anywhere,” he mumbled. Kent’s growling stomach disagreed.

“We can get something, if you want.” Dean smiled gently at him. “How about we make a date of it. Come on, Kent. Can you be gentle? A gentleman?” The smile turned into a smirk and he laid a hand on Kent’s shoulder in turn.

“I can drive this time.” Dean leaned against Kent and reached over for the wheel, his hands crawling up his chest and pinning him against the door. “What about it? Can I drive?” He turned to the dog sleeping in the backseat. “Can I drive Luce? Can I?”

Once he had overtaken Kent to his liking, he scooted into the driver’s seat and pushed him over to the passenger’s side as gently as he could. “Where do you want to stop? You’re the one who knows Vegas.”

“Uh– Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve been here,” he reminded Dean. “And, well, as much as I like food, there are certain things you remember a little better than where the best diner in town was.” At that Kent couldn’t help but grin a little; revision, a lot, given how his lecherous expression steadily grew the longer he remembered something. He drummed his fingers against the dashboard as he considered a more concise answer to Dean’s question.

“I’m not very picky,” he continued. “Wherever we stop will probably be fine with me.” Kent glanced around. “The first place either of us spots can be where we eat. How does that sound?” He turned to Dean to gauge his expression for confirmation.

“Yeah, that works.” Dean shrugged and turned on the ignition. He backed out of the alley and headed deeper into the town, right onto the well lit streets where the more civilized crime took place. He pulled into the parking lot of some cheap burger joint and got out of the car. He opened the door for Kent too.

Inside, music was playing loudly from a jukebox in the corner. The heat from the kitchen was noticeable even across the room. Dean picked a corner booth and sat down, beckoning for Kent to follow.

“Johnny Cash?” Dean said, not quite shouting above the din.

“Who?” Kent’s words were lost in the noise, and the only thing that indicated he’d spoken was a movement of his mouth and the confusion that made his expression twitch. He was just so absorbed in the genre of jazz music– the genre that had made itself appeal to whites such as himself, that is –that any other musician who played outside of the style simply hadn’t struck his fancy. That, and it was damn loud in the diner.

Kent decided to brush Dean’s comment off. Whoever the musician was, Dean seemed to like him. Given the prominent guitar of the song, that was unsurprising. It was suddenly apparent to Kent that he still had of yet to hear Dean play his.

“Do you–” The sound was still drowning his voice out, so he leaned closer for Dean to hear him “–do you still have your guitar?”

“Yeah, it’s in the car, if Lucy didn’t eat it or something,” he laughed. They were interrupted by a teenager chewing gum walking up to their table. She was dressed as a waitress and passed out menus to them.

“Thanks,” Dean said, looking up at her. She only nodded.

“See ya.” She strutted off to allow them some time to look at their menus. Dean made a mental note not to come again if the opportunity arose.

“Yeah, uh, I don’t like Johnny Cash that much. He kind of… Talk sings, but that’s okay. You like… What do you like?” He opened up his menu, eyes roaming down to the drinks. “Jazz?”

Kent nodded curtly as he perused the menu. He eyed the laminated paper for any sign of the word steak. He’d never been to the diner before so when in doubt, he ordered steak. It was hard to screw one of those up. After he found what he wanted his eyes drifted back up to Dean’s face. Kent still had his lips pursed thoughtfully, however, and for a split second looked utterly ridiculous.

“Jazz? Yes, I like jazz,” he answered. “I figure you do too. Being a beatnik and all.” Kent’s lips curved into a sharp smile. He had slipped in the insult out of good humor, but the stinging smile did nothing to convey his true intent. He closed the menu over his thumb to give Dean his full attention.

“I like to listen to Pat Boone a lot,” Kent continued, his voice rising up on a lilt of superiority. “The man has such a wide discography. Sinatra is fantastic, too, of course. Very charming.” However, the mention of Sinatra, by himself no less, made him wince. Recollecting his various pity parties that had a Frank Sinatra soundtrack was the last thing he wanted to do– unfortunately, his memory disagreed. A frown tugged at the corners of his lips, and Kent prayed that Dean didn’t ask what was wrong.

“I listen to… Other people too.” He waved about a dismissive hand as he trailed off.

“Mmm hmm. They’re both good,” Dean wasn’t the biggest fan of either, but Kent had been right about jazz. “Yeah, I guess us beatniks aren’t so strange after all, huh?” His voice had an edge to it. Kent’s usual use of the word was far too negative for him not to take it as an insult.

“Frank Sinatra…” His eyes scanned down the menu as he mumbled to himself. He didn’t seem to have caught Kent’s flinch. Or if he did, he hadn’t let on. “Hey,” he looked up at him. “If they’re gonna play the music so loud, it might as well be something we both like.” Dean reached into his pocket and produced a pile of change. “Here, you pick. If you’re done, that is.”

Dean flattened his menu in front of himself and marked his order with a thumb. “Do you want coffee? I figure if we both have it, we could ask for a pot for the table.”

Kent moved to speak but found himself too impressed to do so. His head quirked to one side in an imperceptible jerk and a curly half smile curved his lips upwards. A short laugh made his shoulders quiver. “You’re– You’re really thoughtful,” he noted. “Yes, I’d like some coffee. Go ahead and order the pot. Just don’t go crazy with the food. I’m paying.”

With that Kent stood up, tossing up one coin of the pile Dean had handed to him, and swaggered over to the jukebox. A teenage girl leaning against the it glared at him from behind cat eye glasses; when Kent stared back with an impressive glare of his own, she reluctantly moved aside to let him pick what music he wanted.

Kent stocked up the player with jazz songs, spending every coin that Dean had handed him. Various artists– he didn’t care, so long as they fit the genre. A Sinatra song started playing and again he winced, but a smile remained on his face.

“That’s better,” he mused.

One of Dean’s brows quirked upward. “Thoughtful, huh?” If only he could have figured that out earlier. He watched him as he headed for the jukebox, smirking at the little exchange he had with the young woman.

“I hope you didn’t scare her too badly,” he leaned forward, smirking. “You aren’t the most comforting thing somebody could see on an abandoned street at night.”

Their waitress soon returned to the table, the smell of a new piece of pink chewing gum on her breath. “So, what’ll it be?” Her voice was mildly grating, nasal and caring an unsophisticated accent. Dean smiled at her and ordered a cheeseburger and their coffee, then looked over at Kent, signaling his turn.

“The steak, well done,” Kent told her. “You can hold the mashed potatoes but keep the vegetables.” After the waitress walked off with their menus and their orders, Kent turned to Dean with a bit of a wry expression.

“They don’t make many like her anymore, do they?” he sneered. He took the chance to glance around the entirety of the diner. “Or like anyone else in here… Maybe it’s just Vegas. These people are the dregs of the city.” Kent shrugged and hunkered back down over the table to absently fiddle with the salt and pepper shakers.

“They’re just people, Kent. We weren’t looking for a high class establishment.” Dean tapped his foot to the song that’d was playing, softly tapping his fingers to complete the rhythm.

“You know, I was a teenager when they first built that big damn dam out here.” Why Kent decided to discuss recent historical occurrences was not readily apparent, but he continued. “I considered running away from home to help put it up.”

“Why’d you want to run away to build a dam? It’s just a dam.” It felt strange to be talking about events that must have occurred when Dean was much younger. Perhaps he wasn’t even born yet. “Were you thinking you wanted to be an engineer or something?”

The waitress came back with their coffee and left as soon as she came, not even bothering to ask if they needed anything else. The sugar packets were on the table, creamer in a plastic bin, and napkins were by the window. At least they already had what they needed.

“I would have left because I hated my parents. And the dam was a government project, and I was willing to take any stupid chance go get into the bureaucracy.” Kent grabbed his coffee mug and started violently tearing open sugar packets. Each one gave way with a quick, sharp twitch of his wrist. He didn’t stop until he’d emptied five (and a forgivable half) into his cup. Nothing about such excess struck Kent as odd given the expressionless mask on his face.

“It was a good thing I didn’t,” he said. Kent stirred his coffee with a spoon absently. His other hand propped his cheek up. The posture was slightly feminine in nature– mostly given the crossed ankles that had him leaning one way instead of staying dead-center stable. Neither he nor the other patrons cared, but it made Kent seem less of a sycophant and more… Relaxed. “A whole host of people died building Hoover’s damn dam. And this town is as seedy as it gets.” Kent examined the patrons again out if the corners of his eyes.

Dean cast a glare across the table at him. How did he have such an easy time looking down in people? “Look, why did you want to be part of the government at that age? Was that really all you wanted to do? You never wanted to write or be a lawyer, a… Salesman maybe? What was wrong with your parents?” He realized he’d probably asked those questions already, but they weren’t anything Kent had answered anyway. Perhaps with their newfound trust, he could finally learn more about the man.

“My parents are idiots who should have raised me better,” Kent said sharply. His posture resumed a masculine slant as he stood up bolt upright. He lifted his mug to his lips to take a tentative sip, only to set it down nearly immediately and decide more sugar was worth adding. A scowl flashed across his face like lightning each time he ripped another packet open.

“And no, I’ve wanted to work for the government ever since I can remember,” he snorted. “Well. There was a time I considered playing baseball for a career. But that didn’t last long. I knew I wanted to be president, or a congressman, or something. I wanted to run the country.” After adding more lumps of sugar he finally took a long swig from his cup. Kent visibly cringed at how sweet it was, but kept drinking anyways. If he was occupied with that, anyway, he couldn’t answer anymore of Dean’s stupid questions.

Stupid because the answers were obvious. Of course he wanted to work in the government. Why? Because of course. And his parents were idiots– that was just a given. Right? Right. Kent wriggled his nose. He didn’t like to dignify stupid questions.

“Thirsty?” Dean raised an eyebrow. He could guess why Kent didn’t want to play baseball. Given the boy he ‘fancied’ and his current physical state, he really was better cut out for bureaucracy, even without the sickness that hung about him.

Okay, so he wasn’t going anywhere with that line of questioning. Kent’s body language was a bit off-putting as well. He stirred his coffee with a spoon, ignoring it for the moment in favor of watching Kent.

“Are you feeling better, by the way? After all that… Whatever it was?” He meant the violence, the kick to the stomach, the punch to the jaw; Dean could still feel the yellow bruise on one side of his face. “Because I was thinking maybe you could go in for a checkup soon. I know you can pull yourself together.” It wasn’t quite an ‘I believe in you’ but it would have to do.

Kent froze up. Was he feeling better, he asked. His gaze floated to a particularly standout patch of nothing-in-particular. In general, yes. Getting out of that seedy motel in Baltimore was something that had done wonders for his health. But he was beginning to feel (just beginning?) what he was certain were withdrawal pains. His stomach would ache even if he was full. Was that the fault of his kidneys or his liver? At least he hadn’t started any bleeding– or anything else unseemly. Still, they were pains that he could not ignore. That was aside from the constant headaches.

“You battering me certainly hasn’t helped me ‘feel better’. But yes, marginally,” Kent replied. His tone was not without a helping of snark; as if his words were not enough. “I don’t think I’m ready for a, uh, a check up yet. Maybe when–” Was he going to go back to Rockwell? He had no reason to. Kent’s gaze floated back over to Dean. No, no… They’d only kissed. He wouldn’t follow a girl he’d only kissed back up to Maine; what made Dean any different?

“–Maybe when I know I’ll be secure somewhere.”

“I’m sorry. I was afraid you would hurt me. Kill me, probably.” It was a flippant remark, borne out of his impatience. Kent could stop pretending he was the innocent victim in all of that. Dean could think of only one instance in which he hadn’t felt threatened when Kent hit him.

“Listen, you can come stay with me for a little while. There’s your security.” He gestured toward him, holding his hands out in a silent plea. “I’m not going to leave you homeless. And I won’t make you stay with your family. You hate them, I know.” Dean’s hands closed into fists.

“And when you say, ‘marginally,’ what do you mean? Is there something wrong that we could fix? There’s pain medication, we could get you some kind of vitamins, anything.” Dean’s voice rolled on as he listed down, then his body language became more urgent. He leaned forward. “We’ll manage it until you get to a doctor. And you will.” He fixed him with a look, as self assured as he could manage.

Kent drew back with a comically uncomfortable expression. He waved Dean down with a hand, as if he had suddenly turned into a canine who acted on command.

“Alright, alright, I’ll see a doctor,” he said, relenting. His eyes rolled rather sarcastically, which didn’t grant his words the solidity of a promise. “I’ll go see whatever doctor you have up in Rockwell. Hopefully he’s not some hack.” As Kent raised his mug of coffee back up to his lips, he could feel another pang across his kidneys. His liver? All he knew was that it was worrisome– and had him realizing he was genuinely hoping that the doctor he’d eventually see was professionally trained.

Dean tried to hide his disappointment. What he really wanted was for Kent to go as soon as possible. Especially if he needed specialized care. The doctors in Rockwell were good, but he wasn’t sure they were trained to handle… Well, whatever it was Kent was dealing with. He hoped it wasn’t too serious.

“We should probably buy some painkillers, though,” Kent rumbled. His brow creased. “After this, probably.”

Dean’s brow creased as well. Now he knew Kent was in pain. Could it have been from the kick to the stomach he had taken earlier? Or was it Kent alone who had caused it? Neither answer seemed favorable to Dean. He sipped his coffee to hide the frown that had appeared on his lips.

The waitress came back with their food and set it down without speaking as she was apparently accustomed to doing. Dean began eating in silence.

Now Kent was even more confused. Where had Dean’s willingness to converse gone? He gave him a addled, somewhat disturbed look before turning his attention to slicing up his steak. The look on the beatnik’s face was hard to decipher; from Kent’s point of view it was rather emotionless. Sterile. Perhaps he was trying to expunge something from his view. Kent’s eyes narrowed. Weren’t they beyond keeping secrets? Or was he being too hopeful?

“Are you going to pick up the tab? I forgot.” Kent really hadn’t forgotten his intent to pay for their meal, but he wanted to see if Dean was really out of it or not. No point in getting angry with him for no reason. As he had in the past. Kent mentally waved it off; he’d been delirious then. Reason had (in his mind) returned to him.

“Huh? Oh, yeah.” Dean wiped ketchup from the corner of his mouth and stared down at the grayish conglomerate of meat that was his burger. He gave it a disgusted look before reaching into his pocket. He almost drew out his wallet before his eyebrows raised. “You said you had it. Forget your wallet?” It didn’t really matter to him. He could find his way with or without money. He always had.

Dean reached into his basket of fries and ate several dry. He sighed. “Guess you have to drown it in either grease or ketchup to make it edible,” he said, squirting ketchup over the fries. “You want any? I think I can still muscle down the rest of this burger.”

Kent grimaced. “You got ketchup all over them.” Of course Dean would be the type to do– well, that. How rude. “I’ll pass.” He reached for his wallet; at least he really had been clocking out mentally and not secretly judging him. Or so Kent thought. Regardless, it was enough to get him to do as he promised and pick up the tab.

“And,” he added, “mind, I have mashed potatoes with my steak. I think I’m covered in terms of starches.” The waitress returned to hand them a receipt; Kent took it, glanced it over, and then handed her cash enough in one smooth motion. Doing the math for a rather skimpy tip barely took him a second.

“Let me finish my meal and then we can head out of here,” Kent sighed, returning to his slab of beef.

“Yeah, okay.” Dean almost grabbed a few bills from his pocket, anticipating the small tip, but she was back in the kitchen before he could even speak. He supposed it wasn’t a big deal.

“Didn’t know you hated ketchup. I just thought they were dry.” He bit into his burger again after adding ketchup to that as well. “Burger too. Don’t these people know how to cook?” He was not one for well done burgers.

“I thought you skipped the potatoes?” He glanced down at Kent’s plate and found he was wrong. “Huh. I’m thinking we get some groceries, then get a motel room. I’m tired, it’s late, and the dog’s running out of food.” He looked back up at Kent. “Are you okay? You can wait in the car and rest if something’s bothering you.”

“I’m fine,” Kent replied, taken aback by Dean’s question. He blinked several times. Sure, he was in ill health, but did that warrant him asking so often? Then again, he had just a few moments before winced in pain… His brow creased. And he’d asked for painkillers. Where had that pain gone, anyways? It was even more troubling now that it had vanished than it had been before.

“Why? Didn’t you ask that just a little bit ago?” Kent’s tone was not accusatory, for once, and came off rather as curious. It would be better to brush the matter of his health off. He skewered the few remaining pieces of his stake with his fork, rounded up his mashed potatoes, and downed them all in one go.

“That plan sounds fine, by the way,” he added. “But didn’t we agree on going to a… A show, later?” Briefly he wondered if Dean had other plans in the ways of ‘that’ department, but doubted it immediately after considering it.

“I’m feeling kind of tired to go to a show. I guess maybe we could find one if you wanted, but it might be better if we avoided it.” Dean stood up and stretched. “Come on, whatever we’re gonna do, we should get to it.”

Dean stepped into the car and was immediately assaulted by Lucy. She licked his face, hopping onto his lap. Dean lifted his arms to shield his face, laughing. She only stopped when she noticed Kent following behind. She let out an excited yip, wagging her tail as she waited for him.

Kent, despite wanting to greet Lucy with all the enthusiasm she presented him, felt himself unwilling to get near the dog. The pain that had suddenly began in his abdomen and had just as quickly vanished was present once again. An absent hand gripped the fabric of his shirt and Kent barely hid a grimace.

“Hey, girl,” he sighed, petting her head gently. Kent didn’t spend much time even doing that, and was soon in the passenger’s seat.

“I really think we should go to a convenience store. Pick up some things.” Medication, he meant, medication. His face was beginning to pale. So much for going out that night.

“That was sort of what I was planning.” Dean took the dog off from his lap and set her in the back seat so he could drive without distraction. He glanced over at Kent.

“You don’t look so good.” He shifted the car into drive and left the parking lot, neon lights blurring outside their windows. “I’m going to tell you right now, if you think you need to go to a hospital, at any time– I don’t care if it’s three in the morning, you tell me, okay?”

He pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store and stepped out of the car. “Do you want to wait here? I can grab a water bottle too, so you don’t have to swallow anything dry.”

“I’ll wait here,” Kent sighed. The pain was easing up again, but there was a very high chance it would return with a vengeance. He didn’t want to be standing up for when that happened; an underlying queasiness had settled in, and the threat of losing his lunch was something great enough to keep him seated. He gripped his stomach every few seconds and winced.

“The dog’ll keep me company. Won’t you, girl?” Lucy raised herself up on her hind legs and flopped over the front seat at the mention of her name. She gave Kent’s face a few loving licks before falling back down. Kent chuckled a bit to himself and wiped his face dry.

“She has a good bedside manner,” he mused.

“Yeah, it would be even better if you were actually getting better. What are you doing– that there, the wincing– does the pain fluctuate or something?” His brows furrowed in frustration. Was he just allowing it to get worse? What if something was happening, and he didn’t do anything? “You know what? Never mind. I won’t be able to help anyway. You can tell it to the doctor. When you see him.” Dean applied extra emphasis to the word ‘when’.

Kent scowled. “If all you’re going to do is scold me, I don’t want to hear a word from you,” he barked, “I didn’t agree to come on this trip to be berated– to be talked down to, you hear? I thought we went over this already anyway; you know, right before we got into Nevada. Unless you need something to jog your memory with.”

It was unclear as to whether Kent was alluding to violence or something more in the vein of romance, but given the way his eyes were narrowing it was more than likely the latter. But not even Kent was sure. He didn’t quite feel up to the task of fighting Dean (as much as he wanted to punch the smugness right out of him).

Dean scowled and left the car without another word. He was worried his frustrations would manifest in some dangerous way– and the shopping needed to be done, as Kent was obviously in no state to continue on without bed rest. He came back from the store with dog food, pain medication, a water bottle, and a first aid kit. The dog food and the kit went in the back of the car. He stood at the car door to hand him the water and pills. It was then he spoke his mind once more. “You’re crazy, you know that? You want to live, but you do nothing to keep yourself from dying. It hurts just watching you.”

“Do we have anywhere else to go?” Kent asked with an exaggerated sigh. “Because I’m getting quite impatient with you, beatnik. I want to lie down already. And take some of those pain dullers or whatever they’re called.” His eyes shut tight for a brief moment. That’s right; he was tired. Sitting out in a hot car under the mid-western sun hadn’t done him any favors, and neither were the sharp pangs firing off in his liver and kidneys.

“Fine! Fine. Go ahead, do what you want.” Dean sat down in the driver’s seat and gripped the wheel for a few seconds to calm down. He took a few deep breaths and turned to Kent.

“No, we’re going to get a motel room so you can rest.” He took Kent’s hand and held it close to his lips, close enough he could feel his breath on the back of his hand. “You’re gonna be okay.” He pulled the painkillers from his pocket and wrapped his fingers around the bottle, then he placed Kent’s hand against his chest. He set the water bottle next to him.

“I’ll find the closest place.” And he did. It was only a short drive to the nearest motel. Dean helped Kent out of the passenger’s seat and hooked the dog up to the car with a bowl of food and a promise to be back later. He bought a room and took Kent to lie down. There were two beds inside, a chair, a dresser, a bathroom, and a coffee maker. The whole thing had wooden paneling that made it seem like some kind of country home.

“Sit tight, Kent. I’ll get the bags.”

Chapter Text

For a while Kent was incredibly short on words. Every now and then he’d nod in recognition of whatever it was Dean had to say, but aside from that was silent in the ways of communication. His expression was frozen not because of pain– the medication had started working quite quickly –but because he was stunned.

The gentleness with which Dean could treat him was still something that bewildered him. The brush of his lips against his knuckles– thinking about it made him turn pink. Never before had he been the receiver of such tender attention.

Well… From family, in the distant past, he had. The image of his mother flickered before his mind. But comparing Dean to some sort of familial figure felt wrong, their past interactions aside. It just did not seem apt enough to describe Dean as family. He was sort of like…

Kent cut off his train of thought there. From his seat on the bed he stared bug-eyed at nothing, frowning in a way that suggested self disgust and not anger. Under his breath he grumbled something unintelligible. Stupid .

“I’m sorry,” Dean stood up and moved to his own bed. “I– thought you were comfortable with being touched.” He reached for his bag and picked out a pair of pajamas for himself. He put them on while Kent rose to go shower. After he was dressed Dean set to work making coffee.

When steam rose up from the coffee maker signaling that the coffee was done, Dean grabbed a mug from the wall behind the little dresser and filled it. He took it back to bed and sat back with one of the books he had brought with him. He couldn’t focus on reading.

He wondered how long Kent had left, if he could get him to a doctor in time, and if he really would be sent to an asylum if he brought him to a hospital. The thing that bothered him most though, was that feeling that had buried itself deep inside Dean’s heart. An attachment to Kent that wouldn’t allow him to suffer. The tenderness he had shown earlier was a sign of that feeling, and it would only become more intense as time wore on.

Eventually Kent finished showering and tip-toed his way out of the bathroom. He was dressed modestly in a set of striped pajamas. The long moment of contemplation time in the shower had provided him with had lead him to regretting his awkward rejection of Dean’s affection. It didn’t have to mean anything, he decided. Nothing had to necessarily… Result from it. Whatever that meant. Kent frowned, upset with himself. He knew what it meant. He could keep himself composed.

If Dean didn’t ask, that was. If he did, Kent was certain that any explanation he would offer up would simply be frustrated sputtering.

Rather timidly Kent took a seat on his bed again. His posture was closed, his limbs pinched together and his gaze trained on the lackluster motel carpet. He curled his toes. The last thing he wanted to do was walk around barefoot on it.

“Why’d you make coffee?” It seemed rather counter-productive. “Weren’t you the one who was tired?” They were both tired, Kent realized, but that was besides the point.

“It helps me relax. It’s easier to sleep when you’re relaxed.” Dean leaned back and closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of the mug in his hands. “I thought you were tired too. You were the one in pain. That’s draining in itself.”

He turned over to face him, setting down his cup on the nightstand with a slight clinking noise. Dean grabbed the pillow under his head, pushing it upward until the bundle provided enough support for his head that he could see Kent over the table between them.

“This place is ugly, isn’t it? Not as ugly as my place, but it’s still a little…” He shrugged, unable to come up with the right word. “At least it’s not green or anything. Like puke or something.” Dean’s eyes roamed up to the ceiling. He turned over and fell silent for a few moments.

“You want to go to California tomorrow? We could always stay here if you don’t feel up to traveling. It’s up to you cuz I’m fine with it either way.” His hands folded and re-folded together nervously. Something was pent up in him, but he wasn’t sure how to express it.

“I’m not ready for California yet.” Kent appreciated Dean’s effort at small talk, but he wasn’t feeling up to engaging in it. Any small conversation they finished removed one more obstacle that floated in front of the inevitable, which loomed before them like an iceberg– large and frightening, with a whole host of implications that lurked beneath a dark cover of ocean. Kent swallowed phlegm and the urge to do something unwise and crawled under his sheets. At least the beds were nice.

A clock hanging on the wall ticked away the minutes that passed through the silence hollowly. Outside a few cars passed by, rushing around on the tar road toward some important destination, honking wildly at whoever dared impede them. The blaring sign of the motel droned duly outside as it flashed its neon yellows and magentas and oranges out into the Vegas sky already polluted with light. Someone in a nearby room slipped into a coughing fit; in another a record began to play a song so filtered by stucco and pasty floral wallpaper it was hard to tell who was singing along to the melancholy jazz band.

Kent curled his fingers tight around his blankets. It wasn’t quite silence, then. Already he felt like he was going to overheat in his pajamas, but the presence of Dean , of that beatnik forced him to be prude. He could almost hear some impassioned priest warbling his way through a sermon warning about the dangerous of nonchalant half-nudity– ‘Something could happen!’ Kent felt himself sweating for a multitude of reasons now.

“Dean,” he whispered, throat parched. “Could you get me a glass of water? My legs feel a little weak.” And they did. Frighteningly so.

“Yeah, yeah. I can do that.” Dean sat up and stood carefully, a little off balance. He blinked a few times and headed for the bathroom, grabbing a cup from next to the coffee maker. For a few seconds, the sound of running water joined the warbling jazz music and the cars honking, then abruptly stopped.

Dean handed over the porcelain mug and stepped back, afraid to violate Kent’s personal space again. One hand unconsciously raised to his chest. Was his heart beating faster? The hand retreated back to his side. He sat down against his bed, eyes darting over to watch Kent.

“You look a little hot. And I mean that literally. I’m not coming on to you or anything.” His cheeks glowed under the stubble on his chin. He turned his face away, hoping Kent wouldn’t be able to notice. “Do you need some ice? I think I might have brought the thermometer too.”

“No, it’s fine.” Kent sat up slowly, grunting a bit. The mattress creaked under his shifting weight. He was sore; more specifically, his abdomen was sore. The pain had stopped (for the moment), but its ghost lingered on and caused Kent to grimace with every movement. Still, he was parched, and Dean was standing right there with a glass of water. A lukewarm sweat was starting to build on his legs. The pants, at the least, had to go. Kent swung his feet over the edge of the bed and peeled off one half of his nightwear. Then he folded the cloth into a neat square and set them on the nightstand.

Kent glanced up at Dean poignantly. His gaze caught the low yellow lamplight just right; sky blue eyes appeared intent on piercing through Dean’s composure. In a voice lowered with the intent to be quiet, Kent spoke. “Come here.” Although the phrase was compacted, and came out akin to ‘c’mere’, with just enough enunciation to be respectful.

Kent reached up to take his glass of water from Dean’s hand, and lingered. For one so averse to touch earlier, he seemed to have made a dramatic change of opinion. His intense stare never left Dean’s line of sight. He couldn’t see him blushing in the semi-darkness, but wouldn’t have been surprised to know he was. “Thank you.” Kent didn’t let his hand go.

The beatnik was surprised to see Kent was willing to disrobe in front of him when only moments before he had declined to even hold his hand. The way he grimaced even he moved made him wonder if in the last few minutes, he’d managed to become sick enough, or at least hot enough not to care. He was even more surprised when he wouldn’t let go of his hand.

Dean stood back up at his request and, without letting go of his hand, turned around and sat beside him. He let go of his hand to instead hold him up, his hand sliding around his ribs, and his shoulder serving as a partial backrest.

“Finish your drink and I’ll help you back into bed. Do you want some more pills? You keep making faces when you move. If there’s anything else, anything, just tell me.” Despite Kent’s apparent approval of his touch, he refrained from anything more intimate than what might be required of a nurse in their current situation.

Kent didn’t hesitate to lean against Dean. He was still burning up, but the unexpected hug had him realizing how much he actually missed human contact. It was as if he had forgotten he’d been starving and was suddenly given food. Being alone had taken quite the hefty toll; Kent felt like he was going to break into tears for the umpteenth time. Embarrassment made his face hot.

“I-I’m just sore,” he explained. He cleared his throat upon hearing his raspy voice and registering it for the first time. “It’ll go away.” Kent shakily rose his glass of water to his lips. The idea of looking Dean in the face seemed like a Herculean task now. To admit to wanting his closeness aloud (he’d all but said it at this point) felt wrong. How would he even take such a statement anyways?

The din of the motel and the surrounding area continued to make silence impossible. The jazz record had started up another song. The screeching of tires had become less frantic, but that didn’t stop the honking of horns and sound of laughter. Kent didn’t want to consider the idea that they might have rented a room in a red-light district. But the fact that the sounds of illicit, unmentionable services was absent was rather telling. The only bed squeaking had arisen from the two of them moving around.

Kent moved to speak, but found he had no words. None he felt he could use.

“Well, that’s why the medicine is there, but you’re probably right. I shouldn’t over-medicate you.” When he found that Kent was stable, he let go of his side to brush back the stray hairs that threatened to fall too close to his eyes.

“Do you need any more water? You still look a little flushed.” The memory of him drinking down what must have been a pitcher’s worth of water stuck in Dean’s mind. He didn’t have fever as far as he could tell. Maybe he should check again? He reminded himself it really didn’t matter. Kent wouldn’t let him take him to a hospital anyway.

“Did you say something?” He turned to face Kent’s profile. He couldn’t see his face. “It looked like you were going to say something.” His free hand held Kent’s wrist, closer to holding his hand than any confining gesture.

Kent found his lips on Dean’s before he realized what had happened.

Perhaps it was his general exhaustion; perhaps it was the heat gone to his head. But everything felt foggy. Muddy. Slow. Time had been slathered in a thick coat of molasses, and everything was trudging along at the pace the seasons seemed to pass. Kent’s glassy eyes were half-shut and almost blinked, but all his autonomous functions accomplished was a frenetic flutter of eyelashes. He was tired.

His wrist twisted limply in Dean’s grasp. He mumbled against his lips, robbing the situation of its last barrier between them and a deep, frightening intimacy. There was distance that had come with their earlier kisses; no longer did it have permission to exist.

“Hold me,” had been the words Kent spoke. He wrapped his free arm around Dean’s shoulders in an effort to pin him in place. The vacuum he could feel growing that would come with separation was something Kent didn’t want to deal with. “Just stay here a little longer.” The noises from outside– the whir of tires against tar, the multicolored drone of the neon sign, the jazz enthusiast several doors down –all smelted down into one continuous hum. For a split second Kent mistook it for the white noise of his mind.

Dean didn’t have to be told to obey Kent’s request. He laid down on his side, bringing Kent with him. There, one of his hands wrapped around his waist to rub gently against his back while the other caressed Kent’s cheek.

He felt so heavy in his hands, and he moved so slow that Dean could tell he was tired. All the heat rolling off of him lulled Dean into a sort of dreamlike state himself. Vaguely, he wondered if he would have to buy a room with two beds the next time they stayed at a motel. Their closeness seemed so natural, so right, that Dean tangled his legs with Kent’s without thinking. They were in their own little world together, it seemed.

Finally, Dean opened his eyes and found himself a part of the world at large again. He stroked Kent’s cheek, fixing his gaze on his eyes. “I’ll stay with you. I’m not going to leave until you tell me to leave. Now get some rest. You need it.” He tilted his head down to plant a kiss on Kent’s forehead and pulled the blanket over them.

Kent could not recall when he fell asleep– or if he slept at all. But he must have because at some point he was rousing from a night’s rest. He blinked a few times, a groan getting caught in his throat. Whatever sleep he’d gotten hadn’t been very pleasant. An overbearing warmth was still layered over him like an unshakable blanket. And he felt closed in, as if–

He froze up. As if someone were next to him? He blinked a few more times to clear the hazy filter over his eyes and glanced up. There Dean was, unconscious and inches away from his face.

The memory that nothing had happened (nothing as in the perhaps unmentionable, the unthinkable) was comforting. Through the haze of sleeplessness and persisting exhaustion, Kent recollected the previous day’s events. Nothing too extraordinary– save the unbearable tension.

Kent’s eyelids dropped to half-mast. Just thinking about it had him feeling tired again.

Dean sighed and opened his eyes. “Kent? Hey, did you sleep well?” Through the haze of sleep, it took him a few seconds to notice the moisture on the sheets, and on Kent’s face. He frowned and sat up, alert from a restful night’s sleep.

“God, you must be burning up!” He left the bed and peeled off the blanket. “Come on, let’s get you a shower, then you can sleep in my bed, okay?” He lifted his torso so he could sit up, propping him up with his shoulder. “Come on. You’ll be alright. Are you thirsty?” He patted his cheek to rouse him, concern growing on his face.

The concern Dean was showing Kent left him feeling relieved. So he hadn’t dreamt last night’s events– not that he had doubted their authenticity to begin with. Kent groaned as Dean propped him up. The pain medication had stopped working sometime in his sleep. That, and he was indeed sweating like a hog in summer.

“I’m pretty thirsty,” he rasped. Kent was surprised by his own voice, and rubbed his throat with a clammy hand. “Can you get me some water? And medication? Thank you.” He closed his eyes tight for a moment to try and clear his head. Something that wasn’t quite painful enough to be a headache was clouding his mind.

“Yeah, I can do that.” Dean picked up the mug he had used the night before and headed into the bathroom to refill it. He opened the pill bottle and served Kent two capsules along with his water. His hands hovered around Kent’s to make sure he didn’t drop them while he tried to take the medication.

“Just stay there and rest for a few minutes, then I’ll help you into the shower. I’ll buy another day at the front desk while you’re in there.” He checked the clock across the room. He was going to have to pay for another day if they stayed another hour anyway. “We’ll stay here for the rest of the day. You can sleep as long as you want, then we’ll go out if you feel up to it, okay?” Dean barely realized his new habit of explaining his plans– and making plans ahead of time.

Dean’s gradual build of organization would have impressed Kent if he wasn’t so dazed and out of the moment. It took him ten minutes to get down his pills, and another ten to finish his water. What did Dean say? A shower? A sweaty hand rubbed his face sluggishly. He could go for a shower– but he wasn’t sure if he could stand up for one.

“Yeah– Yes, yes, that’s alright,” he rasped. “Go buy another day. It’s… It’s going to take me a while to stand up.” It felt like his legs were melting into the sheets beneath him. Kent weakly lifted one, then the other, merely to unstick himself from the light cloth. Dimly he registered the fact that it was morning; it was one thing to be awake, but it was another to be aware of the sunlight in the windows, and the birdsong just beyond them. The drone of night had been replaced by something that made Kent think of honey. However that worked. He was so feverish that he wasn’t surprised he was thinking nonsense.

What was he even sick with? Kent was certain as to why he was sick, just not what was ailing him. His stomach panged again as the soreness died. Perhaps his body was merely giving up on itself.

Dean allowed himself a gentle touch to Kent’s forehead, pushing aside stray hairs with concern before running off to pay the innkeeper. He was back a few minutes later, out of breath and carrying a couple of breakfast sandwiches.

“Here, maybe you can eat and rest. Multitask.” He offered one of the sandwiches to Kent, wrapped in thin paper. “Once you’re done, I’ll help you into the bathroom and you can take a bath. You still don’t look like you should be walking around.”

Dean bit into his own sandwich as he paved the tiny room, straightening sheets and putting what he could in order so it would be easier for Kent to get around. He refilled his cup and put it on the nightstand by the pills, filled the tub, and moved the soap down to a lower shelf. He even set one of the towels in the lid of the toilet where he thought it would be easier to reach.

Kent’s state had Dean in a tizzy. He barely noticed the birds or the sun streaming through the curtains. All that seemed to matter was that Kent was sick, and there wasn’t much he could do about it at all.

Kent gnawed on his sandwich sluggishly, like a lazy cow munched grass. However, he was putting in half the effort involved with chewing, barely moving his lower jaw up and down and up and down. His eyes blinked one at a time. At least they weren’t red. The only thing afflicting him was a stupefying fever and a paralyzing ache in the abdomen. His stomach whined in protest.

Just as he was dimly aware of the morning, Kent was dimly aware of Dean. His various preparations were barely registered. What was he moving? What was he positioning? He had no idea. All Kent knew was that he looked busy. His peripheral vision didn’t bother with following the beatnik’s movement across the room, and moving his head even a millimeter would have been akin to shrugging the planet off his shoulders.

At some point Kent finished his sandwich. He wasn’t sure as to how or when, but it happened. His long fingers absently caressed the air. Finally. Maybe a shower would help him cool down. “I’m ready to stand up now,” Kent croaked.

Dean nodded dutifully and picked him up, one shoulder under Kent’s and a hand on his back to keep him steady. Slowly, he guided him back to the bathroom and had him sit on the toilet seat, his hands still on his shoulders to steady him. He felt his forehead.

“You have a fever. This could be bad, Kent.” Dean was glad he’d drawn tepid water, but he was starting to wonder if it shouldn’t have been cold. “Look, maybe it would be best to go to a hospital after this. I know they’ll take care of you there, and they’ll do a better job of it too.”

He hesitated to take off his clothes for him. “Think about it while you take your bath, okay? I’ll be right outside if you need me.”

“I don’t have to think about it. I’m not going to the hospital,” Kent said. His voice was stern, but cracked halfway through his sentence and revealed the fear he’d been trying to mitigate. His gaze instantly shot downwards to the grimy tile floor. The last thing he wanted Dean to do was to worry more about his health. Why? Kent’s brow furrowed. He wasn’t so sure it was just because he wanted to avoid the hospital anymore.

“I told you already.” Kent started unbuttoning his pajama shirt without any thought. Given how feverish he was, his sudden disregard for privacy wasn’t surprising. “Under no circumstance do I want to go to a hospital. They’ll– they’ll put me in a ward. I’ll see a doctor outside of one but…” He trailed off. It was likely any doctor they’d see would admit him to a hospital anyways.

“Then we’ll see a doctor outside of one. Please, Kent, I don’t know if you’ll make it all the way back to Rockwell before something happens.” Dean crouched down next to him. He put his hand on his arm. “Listen to me, please.”

He looked up with earnestness at him. “I can help you undress if you want. If you don’t need me, then I’ll leave. Like I said, I’ll be right here.”

As he stood and turned to go, he took a moment to look back at him. “I promise I won’t let them take you away. I care about you. I really do.” And then he left, during the door behind him.

Kent was red in the face for reasons aside from his fever at that point. Dean cared about him. He stared at the door wide-eyed for a few stunned moments. It was hard to fully accept that as fact, what with his fever clouding his thoughts. So instead of mulling that over unsuccessfully, Kent focused on fully disrobing to take his bath.

Most of what he did in the tub was sit still. Kent knew that that wasn’t really the best idea, given how grimy the rest of the room was, but his sudden bout of illness had him feeling sluggish enough to do so. And the water was alleviating most of his heat, too, so there were two good excuses to justify his sitting there. And he thought, too, while he remained immobile. He thought about what Dean had said and he thought about how he should respond.

Eventually he joined Dean back in the main room, wearing the clothes he’d taken off; he’d forgotten to bring clean ones with him. A quick change would be painless, he figured. Especially now, since he was feeling much better.

Dean, in the interim, had replaced the sheets on Kent’s bed so he could lie down if he wanted. After all, they were staying another night. The man himself sat cross-legged on his bed, flipping through a magazine he’d bought, when Kent returned from his bath. He looked up in surprise to see him.

“You’re moving under your own power, huh?” Dean smirked. “I guess that bath did more than I thought it would. Do you need anything else?” He set down his magazine and shifted towards Kent to get a better look.

“How’s your fever? Let me see.” Dean reached for his forehead with a gentle hand.

Kent dimly moved back, blinking to bring himself to a state of awareness. “Wait,” he mumbled, un-sticking his dry lips, “let me get dressed first. These clothes should be washed.” He glanced around for his suitcase– slowly, as to not agitate his fading headache. Once he laid eyes on it, he shifted foot after foot over the carpet in crude locomotion.

“Can you… Just turn around or something?” Kent asked. Suddenly he wasn’t so comfortable undressing in front of him. (Perhaps because of a certain nugget of information Dean had decided to impart to him… Kent shrugged it off). “I’m too tired to walk back to the bathroom.” ‘Walk’ was a word that implied more motion than Kent was currently capable of, but he was certain Dean got the idea.

Dean nodded and turned around. If Kent wanted privacy, he could have it. He tapped his foot as he waited for him to get dressed.

“So, you want to stay inside today? I could go out, grab some books, maybe a board game? There’s always sleeping too.” He looked up toward the ceiling.

“Almost done?” When he finally received confirmation he turned and rested his hand on Kent’s forehead. “Yeah, we should stay here today. You don’t seem to be in good shape.”

Kent balked under Dean’s hand. “I don’t.” It wasn’t enunciated enough to be a proper question, and it would have been pointless to fully pose it as such anyways. He was well aware of the fact that he wasn’t in the best of health. He hoped that getting in more sleep would do him some good. At the very least, however, the fever that had clung to him last night felt as if it were dying down.

“I’ll sleep some more,” he mumbled, backing away some. Dean’s touch was alien again. “A board game would be nice. That would help pass the time.” If Kent didn’t sleep the whole day. He didn’t feel like he had the capacity to do so, but then again he didn’t feel like he had the capacity to suddenly run a fever either.

“Okay. Just lie down. I’m going to go pick up a few things, I’ll be right back, I promise.” He took his arm and lead him to bed, gently guiding him down to meet the sheets.

“I’ll be back!” Dean called over his shoulder as he shut the door. He headed out to the car and drove around town. It wasn’t as busy as the night before had been, but there were still quite a few people going from place to place, buzzing like flies in the heat as they moved quickly from place to place.

An hour or so later, Dean came back with a game board, a deck of cards, and a brown paper bag full of groceries and other assorted goods.

Surprisingly, Kent wasn’t in a state of slumber when Dean returned. He’d turned on the radio provided in the room (as it was scant on a television set) and was listening to a drama about the tumultuous affair between two lovers. He seemed somewhat interested; but not enough to where he’d be embarrassed for listening. It was likely the only thing he found mildly entertaining to be broadcasting on the airwaves. When Dean entered the room again Kent turned to face him with a blase expression.

“You’re back,” he noted needlessly. “Good.” He gave him a cursory once over, as if he had expected Dean to grow a third arm and was disappointed with the lack of said extra limb. “I’m feeling better, by the way. I took some of those pills and the pain’s pretty much gone.” Kent adjusted his posture with a small sigh, folding his hands over his lap and leaning his head back against the headboard of his bed.

“What board game did you get?” Evidently he was intent on actually playing whatever it was Dean had bought.

“It’s just checkers. I figured that was pretty simple and universal.” He set the game down on the nightstand. “I also picked up some more pills, and these. He pulled out a couple of issues of Captain Marvel. “I thought that if you were sick, you might as well not be bored.”

He sat down across from him on his own bed and started to take off his shoes. “Oh, before I take these off, do you want something to eat? I picked up some groceries.”

Dean looked up to gauge Kent’s reaction. Hopefully he would get something positive. The man had been so defensive, Dean wasn’t sure what he thought of him anymore. Especially not after the kiss from the night before.

At the mention of Captain Marvel Kent’s expression had considerably brightened. He looked like he was going to almost, maybe, perhaps, crack a smile. The most he came to doing that, though, was blushing. The hands Kent had folded over his lap passively were now active, nervously steepling their fingers against one another. His gaze became a bit dodgy before settling on a nondescript corner of the motel room.

“Thank you,” he said quickly. He wondered what issues he’d gotten him. Would they line up with his collection? How would he fill in the gap? The urge to have it complete was starting to bother him.

“I would– like something to eat,” Kent added just as tensely. “I don’t care what it is. I’m just hungry.” He wasn’t saying that just to be courteous, either. His stomach rumbled mutely.

“Alright. Do you want to set up the game board while I make some sandwiches? The comics are in the paper bag with the pills.”

Dean left the room to go make the sandwiches. He came back with a couple of bacon sandwiches several minutes later and sat down across from Kent. He handed him two. There were three more not including Dean’s on the plate.

“You know, you seem a little distressed. Are you embarrassed about those comics? I didn’t mean to upset.” He helped set out the final checkers. “Please don’t worry about it. I didn’t say who they were for.”

“Embarrassed?” Kent tensed somewhat. Well, he was a little. But really he was feeling– what was that feeling? Gratitude, was that what people called it? It was a foreign thing to Kent, as strange as guilt and only marginally more welcome. He slipped a hand over his chest. Maybe his heart was starting to decay, too. Or what he had been mistaking for his heart.

“No, I just– I’m touched,” he said, keeping his real feelings vague. And truthfully they were vague to Kent, too. His eyes narrowed in a pensive squint. “No one’s ever bought me comics before. I… I appreciate it, McCoppin.” The use of the beatnik’s surname created, what Kent felt, the right amount of distance between them.

Perhaps they hadn’t crossed into the realm of no return quite yet. Time would tell.

Kent slowly got up from his seat on the bed, one sandwich in hand, to make his way over to their room’s only window. He hadn’t gotten a good look at his surroundings in quite some time.

“Oh.” Dean took a bite of his sandwich and followed him to the window. Cars moved on the street outside, the neon lights in the windows of other buildings still off, waiting for darkness to fall. The pavement was a dull grey-brown.

“Not much to look at out there.” Dean continued to eat his sandwich in silence, looking between Kent and the window.

“You actually look a lot better. Maybe the doctor can wait a couple of days.” He pushed on the conversation in an attempt to bridge the gap Kent had set up. He kept pushing him away. Why? He hadn’t given him a reason. Not lately, anyway.

The doctor, that was right. He’d suggested he see a doctor again. “I’m sorry about asking you to see a doctor. I shouldn’t force it. I know you’re scared.”

Kent turned to Dean with a bit of a confused look on his face. “Did you say something?” he asked. All of his attention had gone into people watching, observing the folks who were coming in and out of the very same motel they were currently staying in. It made him feel at ease to see some of them didn’t look much better than he did.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Kent continued. He made his way back to his bed from the window sill. Aside from the occasional person, Dean was right about there not being much to see. Hollow thunder crackled in the sky above, but no rain fell; the clouds were all dust and no moisture. Kent huffed a short sigh. Rain would have been nice, he thought.

“What all did you have planned today?” Kent asked. He finally made eye-contact with the beatnik for the first time in a few awkward minutes. “I can’t remember. I’m not feeling very tired right now. Maybe we could go out somewhere.” A certain type of venue floated back to the front of Kent’s mind, and he would be lying if he said he wasn’t considering going to one.

“I was planning on staying in, eating dinner, playing checkers. Maybe reading?” Dean sat back down on his bed, balancing his hands on his knees. “Unless you’re feeling better, I could consider going out if you’re feeling up to it, but only if you’re feeling up to it.”

Dean thought back to the day before, when Kent hadn’t been feeling well. “You’re not thinking about going to see a show, are you?” And a very specific kind of show too. “Because we could go, but the way you were acting earlier makes me a little nervous. Do you think you could let me know if you start feeling sick?”

“I won’t start feeling sick. Not if there’s dames involved.” For the first time in a long time, a smile crept across Kent’s lips. It was obviously the smile of a lecher, but it was an odd comfort nonetheless. Any sort of joy was a sign of improvement as far as his health was concerned. He even chewed on his second sandwich bearing a grin.

“But,” Kent continued, “we could play checkers in the interim. It’s only, what…” He flipped his wrist over to check his watch. It was only a few minutes past midday. “Twelve o’ clock? We have some time to kill.” His gaze fell on the unopened box of checkers. A pair of children seemed rather over-eager to be competing against one another on the cover. Kent was vaguely reminded of the Mapo cereal commercials and others like it; populuxe cartoons just a few well-placed lines away from meaningless scribbles.

“We can go ahead and play that if you’d like.”

“Okay, we will. We’ll see how you’re feeling at… Six or so, then we’ll decide where to go.” Jealousy glowed in Dean’s cheeks against his will. So Kent was more interested in women. That made perfect sense. Rationally, he had no reason to be upset.

Dean picked up the box of checkers and started to set out the board. “Black or red?” He set it on the nightstand and set out each side, the checkers clicking each time he set one down.

“The rest of those sandwiches are yours, by the way. Do you want anything else?” He moved the board closer to Kent’s bed. “I can grab you a drink if you want.”

Kent gave the sandwiches a dim look as he, ironically, considered what he wanted to drink. Without a word he started picking the red checker pieces and started setting up his side of the board. “…Do you have anything carbonated?” he asked after his pensive pause was over. “I think maybe that’d help settle my stomach a little. I know it probably wasn’t just my stomach hurting, but…” He shrugged. It seemed pretty obvious what his intent was.

He caught sight of Dean’s flush but said nothing. Kent’s eyes did narrow, somewhat– out of curiosity more than anything else. He certainly did not find it charming (correction: adorable). Adorable? He averted his gaze. He couldn’t recall saying something that would be particularly raunchy… His suggestion was only, fittingly enough, suggestive of something risque. And, perhaps, that showed in his smile… Whatever. It didn’t matter.

“You can move first,” he offered.

Dean made his move and got up to check the trunk of the car. “I think I bought water. Didn’t really think of soda. There’s a place across the street, I’ll grab you something if you want.” He glanced out the door and then back at Kent, then headed to the trunk of the car.

As he had predicted, the search was fruitless. He headed off to find a drink across the street and came back with a couple of Cokes.

“You like Coke, right?” He handed over one of the sweating bottles and say back down. Did you make a move?“

“No– uh, no, I didn’t move. Coke is fine.” Kent wrapped the corner of his shirt around the bottle cap before twisting it off. “I said you could move first anyways. I thought that would be… Fair.” He wasn’t really sure as to why he felt that way. Perhaps because Dean was doing all of these things for him, it was only courteous to at least let him move first in their game. Or maybe Kent wanted the upper hand by watching the beatnik play first. He decided that it was a bit of both reasons.

Kent took a short swig from his soda bottle and frowned. It was looking as if carbonation was the last thing his insides needed to deal with at the moment. He reluctantly set the glass bottle aside and huffed.

“I did move.” Dean pointed to the checkerboard. “You don’t look good. Maybe you just need some water.” Kent was distracted. What could that mean? He was in pain? Or just worried? Nothing seemed to be doing him any favors. Except perhaps Dean himself. He got up and filled a coffee mug with tap water and set it beside the soda.

“I can put that in the cooler if you want. You can try it later, when your stomach settles down.” If it ever did. It was getting increasingly harder not to notice the effects of the poison on Kent’s body. He wished he could help.

“No, I’ll just drink it now,” Kent sighed. He lifted the mug to his lips and, somewhat half-heartedly, sipped his soda again. It took a large portion of his willpower not to recoil in mild disgust. He really should have let Dean put it in the cooler. Drinking the rest of it wouldn’t be doing him any favors, but… For the first time he was feeling a bit bad for making Dean spend money on him. He didn’t want to be wasteful.

Kent did, however, set it down and raised the mug of water in favor of his soda after a while. It wasn’t worth it to make himself anymore sick because he felt… Guilty. He frowned. That wasn’t right. He didn’t feel guilty about something like a soda, did he?

He moved his first piece to distract himself. So far there was no real way to be at a strategic disadvantage. Kent just hoped he could stay focused enough not to fall victim to any silly mistakes.

“You don’t look like you really want to. It’s no trouble, it’s like ten feet from here.” Dean made his next move and leaned forward to get the bottle from him.

“I’ll be right back, I promise.” Dean took it away and headed for the car. He was back a moment later. Back and forth, back and forth, it felt like Dean was dealing with Kent’s mood swings again. Well, at least it wasn’t Kent’s mood swings. Those were much worse.

Dean sat back down and stared across at Kent. “You know what? Maybe we should go out. You might get into better spirits. If you get sick, we’ll be right back here.”

“Let’s finish this game first,” Kent said. It was still early, and there wasn’t much in Vegas he was keen on doing. He’d already seen the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. And gambling simply wasn’t appealing– especially now, with having so little money to his name. He grunted a little; only if he spent the time doing the math to boost his chances of winning in a casino would it be worth it. And he didn’t feel like doing all that . So checkers it was.

Kent jumped one of Dean’s pieces with the beginnings of a smug smile. “I want to see how good you are,” he explained. And it was true. But he also wanted the satisfaction of besting Dean too. Already he was planning how to win his first king.

“Well, you’re gonna be disappointed. I’m not good at board games. No good at strategy.” Dean frowned as Kent jumped his piece and moved one of his checkers from the back row. The game would be over far before they planned to leave.

“We can go to a club later” Kent said. He casually raised his mug of water to his lips.“But not until it’s dark. They don’t open this early.”

“Well… What do you want to eat tonight? I can make dinner and then we’ll go out. Where were you planning on going? Not a… Gentleman’s club, is it?” Dean scanned Kent’s face for any sign of foresight.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with going, I just wasn’t… Sure.” He glanced up at the ceiling. “Go ahead and move if you want. I’ve already gone.”

“I don’t care what we eat, so long as we do,” Kent replied curtly. One of his red pieces jumped over two of Dean’s in a flash. “And– well, yes, I suppose it is a gentleman’s club.” He smirked at the use of his euphemism. There were likely very few gentlemen in such establishments. He himself being an exception, of course.

Kent reached over for his last sandwich to munch on as Dean made his next move. His chewing seemed to help him think; in little time at all he had not one, but two of his pieces made into kings. He would win the game without exerting any effort, just as Dean had warned. Briefly Kent considered letting him win.

“You really do stink at this,” he mumbled.

“What did you think I told you that for? I’m not good at these strategy games. I’m even worse with chess. He managed to jump one of Kent’s pieces, but it put him directly in the path of another one. Dean really wasn’t paying attention to the game.

“I’m going to make sandwiches if that’s alright. You know, in a few hours. Before we go to that… Club.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Do you want to play another game after this? Or we could do something else. I know you have stuff to read, I brought my sketchbook.”

“I’ll read.” Kent paused, moved his piece over Dean’s, and then glanced back up at him. “What’d you mention your sketchbook for?” He thought it was pretty much implied that he wanted nothing to do with the beatnik’s art. He thought it was all indistinguishable from the junk in his scrapyard. What could possibly be in his sketchbook, anyways? Abstract scribbles? Kent figured he wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from chicken scratch.

“…I could teach you how to play if you’d like. Checkers,” he clarified. “I don’t see why you should continue to be awful. Otherwise it won’t be fun to play in the future.” That was, if they ever got to play another game down the line. Kent assumed that they would have the opportunity; thinking otherwise did not appeal to him whatsoever.

He found Dean’s squirming to be… Well, not cute. Amusing. He poorly hid a small smile. “Why don’t you just call it what it is?” he asked. “We’re both men here. Both adults. I see no reason for not speaking frankly.” Despite the fact that Kent himself lacked the ability to do so, he made the suggestion. Embarrassing Dean was just too fun; it was worth a bit of hypocrisy.

“Sure, sure. A strip club. With a guy who I just kissed last night. I remember sleeping with him too, in an all too literal sense.” Dean frowned and headed over to his bag to pick up his sketchbook.

“I don’t want to learn to play checkers. I know how to play, I’d only get better if I cared.” He’d never cared much about strategic games. Never cared to think so far ahead for something so trivial. Dean opened the book to a drawing of… Someone, but it was definitely a human someone. He lied down on his stomach, pencil in hand, and continued to draw.

His hand moved in quick, precise, strokes, forming part of a jacket and shading it. “I care about this. I care about art, and stuff that matters. Not being better than everybody else.” He pushed another piece across the board. “There.”

“Don’t be an ass, McCoppin,” Kent snapped. Even though he was being exactly that. Still– the fact that he’d turned down his offer and hadn’t been able to take a little teasing had rubbed him the wrong way. Kent had been sincere when he meant he’d teach him how to play checkers. It wasn’t like it’d be hard to teach.

“I was trying to be nice. So you don’t want to learn the game. Fine. You were the one who bought it in the first place.” Kent leaped Dean’s piece with his own; then another, and another until it was on the other side. That was two kings in his pocket.

Kent chewed the inside of his right cheek. There was still the fact that it was a strip club they were going to. He’d forgotten all about that whole kissing business. Somehow. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the best thing, then– to work up a fit of hormones and then return to the motel room. Alone. He glared at the checkerboard.

“I bought it because it’s easy to play.” Dean covered his drawing with his arm as he continued. “We can still go to the club if you want. It doesn’t bother me that much.” He moved another piece, barely glancing at the board. He suddenly wished the room had had a television. Then Kent could have something to keep him occupied when he was… Well, he wasn’t exactly bedridden yet.

Yet. Dean’s stomach twinged. He dared to glance up at Kent. The familiar feeling that time was running out came back again. “Really, you should go. It’ll help you unwind.” At least that’s what he hoped. Some relief from stress had to be more than welcome at this point, even for Dean. He didn’t consider himself to be under very much pressure compared to his companion.

“I can get you some other stuff to pass the time too. When did you say you wanted to leave?”

“Whenever it’s dark. Those places don’t open up this early.”

Well, perhaps Kent was exaggerating a bit. He caught glimpse of the sky outside the window. The sun was setting, casting everything outdoors in a brilliant dying orange hue. The clouds were dyed blood red, and the tinge of black that was steadily growing bore with it stars. It was getting to be ‘late’, then, and a few of those gentleman’s establishments were likely beginning to set up shop.

Kent grumbled under his breath again. He still hadn’t shaken off the sour mood Dean had put him in. If going to a club didn’t lift it, he didn’t know what would. Well, fighting the beatnik probably would, but he didn’t have the physical strength or the gall to do that again.

He took his turn again. Soon enough, he’d won the game. Easily. Kent wrinkled his nose. There was no fun in an easy victory.

“You sure?” Dean glanced out the window, then down at the board. He didn’t look impressed. “I think it might be time to go. Need any help getting up?” He put away the checkerboard himself, spilling the pieces from the game into the box, then setting it down on top of them.

He offered his hand to Kent, but not before closing his sketchbook so he couldn’t see what he had been drawing. He didn’t need that man’s ridicule.

Chapter Text

Soon enough, they were on the road passing the blur of neon lights. In the middle of the street, they couldn’t see any stars. The light was too much, even for Dean as he glanced up at a pair of neon pink legs. He parked the car across the street. That was subtle, of course it was. Dean checked back to make sure Kent could get out of the car alright before making his way into the establishment.

Kent said nothing as he exited the car and followed after Dean. The entering of such a place apparently warranted smoking a cigarette because when he next faced the beatnik he had one between lips curved in a smile. For a moment it wasn’t clear why he was in the mood to smile, but as his gaze traveled from the beatnik’s face and around the bar, it was clear Dean had nothing to do with engendering it.

“Are you going to let me have a drink?” Kent sneered. “Or am I still too sick for that?” His voice was grating as it did its best to rise above the music; his attitude was even more infuriating. Something about that place filled him with an unnecessary amount of confidence, and it was leading him to act like an imbecile with no manners. Kent was crass enough to blow smoke in Dean’s face and laugh about doing so.

“No, I’m not.” Dean coughed and walked past him deeper into the club. He held up his wallet. His fingers had barely grazed Kent’s pocket. He shoved the wallet in with his own. “Don’t worry. You can have it back when you decide to tip.”

Dean slunk past the neon lights to be obscured by the shadows in the dimly lit room. Growing up in New York, he had learned a thing or two about pickpocketing and then escaping the consequences when he was caught. The club however was more than a little unfamiliar to him. The adolescent crimes he’d been caught up in had never landed him in a place like this. He knew they existed, sure, but he’d never been inside of one. He blushed, wondering if perhaps that had something to do with his errant sexuality.

Whether it had something to do with it or not, the flashing lights and movement in his peripheral vision made him uncomfortable. It was so impersonal. Crude. An overwhelming desire to be alone made itself known. He decided to sit down. Maybe he would order himself a drink.

“Have it– hey!” Kent’s attention tore away from the glittering stage and locked on to the crowd. That little rat. Who had given him the right to take his belongings? If he wanted to spend his money getting sick that was his right. Kent’s eyes narrowed. Not that he would. The will to drink had escaped him– and so had Dean.

Grumbling, Kent took a seat at one of the far back tables. He tried to put the beatnik out of his mind; ugh, he thought, that doesn’t sound right at all. Dean was a distraction, now, here, of all times and places? The hole his wallet left was just too great, he told himself. But as he considered more and more the pickpocket-er and less the action of being pickpocket-ed, the more Kent found himself feeling like an idiot in such an establishment.

Without trying to find Dean, Kent walked out. He leaned against the passenger’s side of the car and stared down at the gravel parking lot.

As Dean sipped at the Irish coffee he had ordered, he caught a glimpse of Kent across the room. He frowned. The man didn’t look nearly as threatening as before. He looked upset, thoughtful. He wasn’t even paying attention to the women on the stage. And then he left.

Dean downed the rest of the drink and left a tip for the waitress. Bills crumpled in his palm as he shoved a few extra into Kent’s wallet and followed him at what he deemed a safe distance. When he saw him exit, he walked a few minutes to join him.

He shut the door silently behind himself and walked slowly into the pinkish light. His eyes were barely visible, but if Kent could see them, he would know they were full of regret. He held out the wallet for him to take.

“I’m sorry. This is yours.”

Kent was quick to snatch it back. He was tempted to smack Dean senseless, if not just once. But they’d promised, or agreed, or had done something that meant no more violence. So instead Kent balled up one fist at his side and pounded it against his leg a few times.

“You didn’t have to take it, you son of a bitch. I wasn’t going to buy anything. There are little things called jokes, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them.” He grumbled as he fingered through the bills in his wallet. The crumpled ones– those weren’t there before. The idea that Dean had used his money and stuffed change back in to compensate crossed his mind before any act of generosity.

“…Did you use my money?” he asked in a tense voice. His anger was white-hot at that point. “You– You little bastard, how could you–! You know damn well that I have next to nothing!

“Kent– look, do you know how much you had before? I put that money in there to apologize for what I did. I’m sorry.” Dean stepped back, sure to avoid any violent outbursts.

“Do– do you want to go back to the motel? Maybe this was a bad idea.” The best thing now, Dean thought, would be to let Kent rest. Well, next best to seeing a doctor. “We can stay another day from here, but after that, we need to move on. You should use that bed while you have it.”

Dean opened the door for him and slid into the driver’s seat. “Come on, we’ll find you something else to occupy your mind.”

Kent’s anger evaporated much more quickly than it had settled in. It was tiring to stay enraged, and he didn’t want to expend energy for no reason. Deflated, Kent climbed into the car on the passenger’s side and limply closed the door behind him. He stuffed his wallet back into his pocket. He believed Dean, deep down– and he felt like a fool for thinking he’d steal money from him. After paying to feed him, shelter him, and take him across the country?

“I’m sorry too,” he sighed. “Let’s go back to the motel.” He wasn’t going to admit to their little trip being in poor taste, however. Kent glanced outside the window. His desire to visit hadn’t been prompted by anything Dean had done.

Or had it? His eyes reluctantly traveled back over to the beatnik. Maybe those kisses were what had him feeling pent up. His eyes were back staring at the window; considering it anymore might lead to mistakes.

Dean drove in silence back to the motel past buzzing lights that hurt his eyes. He stopped the car in the parking lot, but he didn’t bother to get out. He simply sat, staring out the window. After a few moments, he looked over at Kent.

“You look a little haggard. Do you need any help getting out?” Dean put a gentle hand on his arm. He meant it as a sign of forgiveness. Kent was at his mercy, after all. He had so much power over him, if he abused it once, why wouldn’t he do it again?

Dean blinked in surprise. It hadn’t been just once, had it? He’d threatened to leave him alone, physically hurt him on several occasions, and then he stole from him. Even with the intent to give his wallet back, what reason did Kent have to trust him? His fair weather charity could hardly make up for all of his failures.

“I’m really sorry I did that. You had a right to be angry.”

Kent glanced over at Dean again, head rolling lazily. He wasn’t about to do the mental exercise to figure out who should be sorry, and to what extent. Apologies were exchanged once; he wanted to leave it at that. Kent’s gaze traveled downward to rest on the hand currently on his arm. Without his knowing, his breath hitched.

“Alright,” he said, voice croaking slightly. “I accept your apology. But I think–” Kent gently inched Dean’s palm off of him. “I think, maybe, it’d be for the best if you didn’t touch me.” The nervousness from earlier had returned– the sort of fear that had come with the first time they had ignored personal space. Kent didn’t feel comfortable letting someone like Dean so close– not without knowing what they were.

Kent wasn’t sure if he wanted to know either. So it was best Dean refrained from getting too close.

“Oh. Okay.” Dean got out of the car and opened the door for him. “Uh, let me know if you need anything. I’m going to walk the dog. Get some rest, okay?”

Dean took the dog from the back of the car and headed off through the parking lot. He made his way around the perimeter a few times before bringing her back to the car. He made sure she was comfortable on some old blankets inside before heading up to their room. The window sill became his support as he leaned against it to observe the street from over his shoulder.

He stared out into the street at the yellow and pink lights. There was an open sign with the ‘o’ blown out at the shop he had stopped at earlier for sodas, and what looked like a cowboy further down the street. He crossed his ankles and looked down at the pointed toes of his shoes. “Maybe I should make dinner or something.”

“Maybe you should.” Kent was lounging on his bed, staring up at the ceiling as the radio fed him the story of a crew stuck at sea during a hurricane. He lazily held a cigarette in one hand, and occasionally tapped ash onto the already ruined motel carpet below as he took in a deep breath. Kent blinked slowly as he mentally shifted his attention from the doomed men of Captain Whoever to Dean.  

“What do we have left in terms of food, anyways?” he asked. The cigarette was brought to his lips. He took a drag. Exhale. “I can’t remember. Do we have any bacon, deli meats? Maybe we can finish whatever’s left of the bread with that. If we still have some.” Kent sat up with a grunt.

“Or maybe we can find a place that’s open still and pick up something from there. Take out, that kind of thing. I’m just hungry, I don’t care what I eat right now.” Beggars can’t be choosers, after all, and they’d killed more time than Kent would have liked doing nothing at the strip club. He took another drag.

“I don’t know. We could just wait and have a big breakfast.”

“You said you were hungry, so we’ll eat.” Dean dug out the bread and some sandwich meats and slapped a few sandwiches together. He brought them inside, slamming the door behind him.

Dean laid a few sandwiches on a paper bag beside Kent and bit into his own. “Brought your soda too.” He set it on the dresser. The beatnik propped himself against the wood paneling next to his bed and went quiet as he ate. He kicked off his shoes and sat cross legged while the last bite disappeared.

“You know, I drew you,” he said thoughtfully. “You have a good face for that. It would be even better if you were healthy.” He grabbed his ankles and pulled them inward, rocking and looking about the room like a child.

“Why?” Kent took a gentle bite from his sandwich slowly. He eyed Dean with a gaze much too intense given how tired he felt. “I’m not angry. I’m just confused. Why did you draw me like that– why did you think of me? ” His head tilted to one side as he pondered what the answer could be internally. His first answer was, quite simply, Dean’s astounding compassion. Of course he’d want Kent well. What was the harm in hypothesizing about that?

But at that point such an answer felt elementary. There had to be a more poignant reason. Kent’s eyes narrowed, but not out of any hostility. He took a drag from his dying cigarette before grinding it into the ashtray on the nightstand. As if to drown out his thoughts, he turned up the radio’s volume.

“Why do you get so close?” Kent’s fevered murmuring was the accidental relay of his feelings aloud; if they could not blossom in his mind in silence, then they would come forth as words. “I don’t think I understand anymore. Is there– did something change between us?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’ve gone too far not to see you get better. Yours is the face that I’ve been seeing every day. And in my dreams. Of course I drew you. You haunt me. And you will haunt me.”

Dean sighed and laid back. He looked over at Kent. “There’s something unnatural about your eyes. Nobody should have eyes like that.” He rested his head on his arms and stared up at the ceiling. “Do you want to see that drawing? I can go get it if you do.”

Dean reached down to grab his sketchbook from the black bag lying on the floor. “I did it a little different than my usual style. Reality was… Abstract enough at the time.” He flipped open the page and slid it across the carpet to him.

“You’ve dreamed about me?” Kent stared at Dean with an incredulous look. Even with his ridiculous feelings about the beatnik– the true nature of which he was still uncertain about –he had never dreamed about him. His gaze narrowed. Hadn’t he? Maybe in a fever dream. A cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck. Now that he was thinking about it, he was growing more and more uncertain. Stupid. That’s what always happened when he confronted things like… This. Ridiculous things.

Kent’s gaze slowly fell down to where the sketchbook lay on the carpet. He wasn’t going to pick it up. That would feel… Like he was accepting something he wanted no part in. So he haunted Dean. So what? That wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t Kent’s fault his eyes were how they were– unnatural, he called them? Unnatural my ass, was Kent’s mental retort. A snarl curled his lip.

“Maybe I’m not the only sick one,” he spat.

“Kent, I–” Dean frowned across the gap between them. “I don’t mean it that way. We’ve been around each other for weeks now. Of course I dream about you. I dream about the car too, and Lucy. And the waitress who kept snapping her gum.”

He stretched his arm across the floor to retrieve his book, the fingertips just catching it and sliding it back over to where he could close it. “All right. Don’t look. Go to sleep or something. I’m sick. What the hell is your problem anyway?” Who needs your dumb opinion? He’d tried so hard to stay on friendly terms, but every time he reached out, Kent would lash out. What was wrong with him?

Kent backed away slowly as Dean neared him. Any closeness still felt forbidden. Forbidden because of his own refusal to be any small distance from the beatnik? More than likely. Regardless of why it felt wrong, Kent was making sure he didn’t break any sort of rule. Or something. His eyes narrowed again, out of a self-disparaging mood and a show of anger.

“I don’t know,” he said quickly, being truthful.·“I don’t feel– right, being next to you.” That didn’t explain that night he’d been delirious and, despite of a fever, asked Dean to hold him. His stomach tightened, and that time not because of one of his organs threatening to fail him.·

“And you’re not making me feel very–” Kent paused to search for the right words, and in failing that brought up some of Dean’s own. “You think my eyes are unnatural? What the hell kind of thing is that to say to me?”

“Your eyes are beautiful. That’s what I meant. I’ve never seen anyone who could look daggers at me and actually make me feel like I’m being stabbed. Or could be anyway.“ He shivered just slightly.

“I don’t think you get uncomfortable until you decide to be. The other night you were so sick you didn’t even think. I don’t know if it was just me, or if anyone would have done, but you definitely didn’t have a problem until that morning. ”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, anyway. I’ll leave you alone.” He slipped the book back into its place and turned over, flipping off the light. “Good night.”

“Hey– Hey, I’m not going to sleep yet!” Kent fumbled for the lamp and turned it back on with shaking hands. “I fully intended to shower, McCoppin, and unlike you I don’t have goddamn night vision.” If the beatnik was going to be bitter, then so was he. That seemed to be the pattern: as soon as Dean made certain behavior acceptable for himself to undertake, Kent followed suit in mimicking it. He was rather infantile that way, but was too adult to be allowed to continue on with it.

With a huff, Kent stood up from the bed and started pillaging his suitcase for clothes (specifically his night wear). He spared Dean any more venomous words and shut himself in the bathroom soon enough. Giving him the cold shoulder was all he had the energy for.

It occurred to him that he’d left a half-eaten sandwich behind. Dammit, he thought. Well. At least that’ll be another thing to bitch about.

“You had a bath this morning, didn’t you?” He didn’t really care. Dean rolled back over and turned off the light as soon as Kent closed the bathroom door. He curled up beneath the blankets and let the sounds of the street outside lull him to a state somewhere between awake and asleep.

Thoughts drifted and passed through his mind without fully forming, until he realized that Kent had left his sandwich on the edge of his bed. Dean retrieved it and set it on the nightstand. At least he wouldn’t lie on it in the dark.

He couldn’t quite get to sleep afterwards, so he lied in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for Kent to come out and find something else to find fault with. What was his problem anyway? He was so defensive now. Dean didn’t appreciate being yanked around like that.

Kent stumbled in the dark back to his bed, making a loud show of cursing any time he so much as brushed past anything. The one time he did stub his toe he kept silent, trying to hold in a scream that would have woken not only Dean but their neighbors. He wasn’t surprised to find his sandwich sitting on the nightstand (he had convinced himself in the shower that he’d had the foresight to leave it there) and picked up eating it as soon as he sat down at his bed.

Why on Earth was he so… Angry? At this point it felt like it was for no reason. The wallet– he’d gotten over that. He understood why Dean had done it. And he’d apologized. What about… Kent’s thoughts broke off. He was looking for excuses for his excuses.

“I’m sorry.” Kent had been doing a lot of apologizing. It still didn’t feel like enough. He wasn’t even sure if Dean was still awake.

Dean rolled over and opened his eyes. “Thanks.” And then he closed them again. He pulled that blanket closer around himself. He couldn’t quite understand why he was sorry after he had turned out the light. So Kent wasn’t angry anymore. He’d find something else to be angry about soon. He might as well sleep before he changed his mind again.

Chapter Text

That morning, Dean got up, stretched, and felt Kent’s forehead for any sign of fever before he went out to make breakfast. They would need to keep going soon, so he made sure to make it early so they could still leave without paying for an extra day. If Kent was even up to traveling. He glanced back through the screen door as if he could check that way. He brought breakfast inside.

“Wake up, it’s time to eat.” Dean brushed crumbs from Kent’s night shirt and set the plate on the nightstand.

Kent woke slowly, fighting through a headache brought on by lack of sleep, but did in the end wake. He rose to a sitting position with a grunt of effort, shut his eyes against the light of morning filtering through the window’s dirty blinds, and grit his teeth. It was all a painful reminder that he wasn’t in the best of health.

But, on the other hand, at least he was sleeping. It occurred to Kent that he had not had a nightmare in quite some time. One by one, he half opened his eyes, and lazily turned to gaze at Dean.

“What’d you make?” he rasped. Kent cleared his throat and blinked a couple times. “It smells good.”

“Omelettes. I used up the bacon. I’ll have to go shopping. Do you want to stay here today or head out?” Dean sat down on the edge of his bed and stabbed a forkful of his own breakfast. He brought it to his mouth. “You look better today. Not like the morning when you had a fever. The words, ‘you look beautiful’ flashed across his mind for a split second before he caught himself. He was just glad he’d survived another night. And he wasn’t angry.

“So, uh, I’m gonna take a shower after breakfast, then we can head out to California if you want.” If you’re up to it.

“We should head out,” Kent sighed, rubbing his wrinkled forehead. He turned to the nightstand and was mildly surprised to see an omelette sitting there. Part of him was of a mind that thought he’d left his sandwich there last night. But, he remembered dimly, that was false. He’d finished it. At some point. Everything blurred into unidentifiable memory after a certain point before his sudden loss of consciousness. Sleep had smothered itself over him.

“I don’t think it’d be good to have me staying in one place like this for long,” he added. The motel was more of a dump than Dean’s house– and that was saying something. Kent sighed before picking up and starting on his omelette. He’d stayed in nicer motels before. What had ever happened to that?

He had money then, that’s what. Another little sigh escaped him. There was no use moping about the past, though. At least not at present.

Dean finished his omelet and stood up. “Right. I’ll go take a shower. You can stay here and relax if you want, or take the dog for a walk. I’ll get the bags when I’m done.” He grabbed his bag and headed for the bathroom.

Freshly showered and with their bags in his hands, Dean headed out to the car clad in leather jacket, white tee, and jeans. He tossed the bags in the back along with his jacket, deciding the Vegas air was far too hot.

“Are you ready, Kent?” Dean called over his shoulder, sliding one hand through his still damp hair. “I think we’re all packed. Aside from the checkers game.”

Kent followed Dean outside slowly. It was a speed spurred by a sort of awe. He was well-dressed, for once, not looking disheveled or greasy and all without a morning shower. He blinked dumbly in the morning sunlight, mouth somewhat agape. It felt like something new had fallen into his lap just with his departure from the motel room. Or rather– like a second fever he hadn’t been aware of had broken. A kind of transformation.

He stared at Dean through the windshield. One of the feelings he’d been shutting out– there had been so many, too many to pause and identify (not that he would want to anyways) –surfaced again to flutter in his chest. Kent balled one hand into a loose, trembling fist. For once he wasn’t feeling angry because it decided to reappear.

“I’m ready,” he said, perhaps too quietly. Kent took his seat on the passenger’s side a bit more quickly than he’d walked out of the motel room. He crossed his legs and folded his hands over his knee and stared at the toes of his wingtip Oxfords.

“You look good,” Dean said, sliding into the driver’s seat and tossing the checkerboard into the back. “Not that uh– Uh. Sorry.” He looked ahead to start the car, avoiding Kent’s gaze. His arms were stiff on the wheel, far too tense to unlock his elbows. He maneuvered the car easily out of the parking lot and headed out of town.

“There are redwoods in California,” Dean finally said. “At least, if I read that map right. Do you want to go see them?” He was missing trees right about now. They might as well have been driving through a desert. The dog hung her head out of an open back window, drooling on the side door. Dean glanced back and tried to remember what he had opened it for. That was right, air. God, was it hot. Maybe it would cool down the coast they were to their destination.

“We should– ah, talk about what we’re going to do there too. After we see the museum. Are you coming back to Rockwell?”

“If you’ll have me,” Kent said in a soft voice. Everything about him was tentative, small, and quiet that day. He didn’t look at Dean as he spoke. His gaze darted to his right, inspecting the intricacies of the handle that rolled the window up and down. A finger rubbed over one of his knuckles incessantly– just as his foot began to bounce.

“I don’t want to impose,” he continued. “But I don’t– Well, my brother lives in California.” Kent’s face drained of color; his expression was caught somewhere between a scowl and a gape of fear. The idea of living with relatives was enough to chill his blood, or at the very least suddenly make him feel cold.

“But I don’t want to live with him. I’d rather… I’d rather go to Rockwell.” It was as if he were saying he’d rather go to hell. But it was a choice Kent seemed rather resolute in.

“…Redwoods are nice,” he added pitifully.

“Alright. We’ll see the museum, then the redwoods, then Rockwell. We can always visit other places on the way.” Dean stopped by a diner and got out of the car.

“Hey, let’s get lunch, then we’ll get to town, head for the museum– or get a motel room first. Either way.” He headed over to Kent’s side of the car and opened the door. “Come on, don’t be so timid. I’m not angry with you or anything. I’m buying.” From there, he headed inside to sit at the counter. He ordered coffee for both of them and a burger for himself.

Kent settled into the seat across from Dean. His timidity faded, but in its place was… Nothing. Nothing in particular; nothing of note. With that cathartic release from what seemed to very well have been the last vestiges of his anger toward the beatnik, his emotions about him, the trip, and everything else, were replaced with a sort of blank slate. Without being angry with Dean, Kent wasn’t quite sure how to feel.

A rather comedic, flat frown spread across his face as a low and pensive hum rumbled in his chest. What the hell was he supposed to do? What even were they? Slowly, he turned his gaze up to lock onto Dean’s face. His fingers drummed against the table.

“McCoppin,” he started, addressing Dean as if he were some sort of business partner, “how– what exactly–” Kent leaned in close to whisper “–what exactly are we?”

Dean’s eyes went round with surprise. His palm made a quiet thump against the table as he pursed his lips. His shoulders rose. “mmMMMm,” he replied. It sounded an awful lot like “I don’t know.”

“You know, it would be better if we talked about this later. When you wouldn’t have to whisper, you know?” A waiter pushed a couple of plates across the counter. Dean pushed Kent’s closer to him and sipped at his coffee first. “Maybe I should’ve ordered take out,” he mumbled.

Dean tapped his foot uncomfortably to the beat of some song he’d heard before. It was playing on the jukebox. Who was it? The Coasters, maybe? “I want to be honest with you, Kent. So let’s wait until we’re somewhere private.”

Kent reclined in his seat. Alright. He understood the beatnik’s– should he stop calling him that? He blinked slowly, half pouting. It was probably for the best that he did. It was.. It was an insult whenever he said it. Beat-nik. Counterculture met communism in one word, armed with vitriol to pack a punch every time it was spoken. Yes, Kent decided, he’d make an effort to stop using it.

Anyway– he understood Dean’s concern. The restaurant wasn’t as empty as any other they had frequented; it was easy for Kent to stop a server and place his own order. It was a short wait for his Reuben sandwich and coffee. As he chewed, Kent reached an even deeper realization.

Whatever Dean was going to say was going to… Insinuate something. Something beyond tolerance– something beyond friendship. Kent stared wide-eyed at Dean for a moment before his stomach rumbled and urged him to keep eating.

Dean finished much more quickly than he had planned. He downed his coffee and asked for a check before Kent even finished his own cup of coffee. He was out in the car again in no time, and when Kent finally joined him, he drove down the road another few miles before stopping.

“Okay. So you wanted to know what we are?“ Dean had to pause to collect himself. It took him a few moments to gather the right words. “I was honest. I really don’t know. But I do care about you a lot, okay? I don’t know what you want to be, but whatever you decide is fine with me. If you want to leave, that’s okay. And if you want to stay–” he took his hands off the wheel and spread them in his lap. “You can stay for as long as you want.”

“You care about me?” Kent’s eyes grew as wide as a robin’s eggs (and were about the same hue). He stared at Dean with that bug-eyed look for a solid minute in silence. Then he blinked a few times, rapidly, turning to stare at the glove department in bewilderment. It was one thing to just know , instinctively, that someone cared; it was another to hear them say it. That was a true commitment– there was true commitment in words.

“Why didn’t you–” He cut off. Hadn’t Dean said that before? It didn’t matter. There was a better question to ask regardless. Kent’s fingers curled up in his own lap, and his knuckles slowly turned white.

“Why?” His voice was uncharacteristically soft– softer than it had been earlier that day. “What have I done to make you care about me?” Another inquiry began to float around in the back of Kent’s mind: did he care about Dean?

There was a familiar tug at his chest. The sort of emotion he’d been ignoring was welling up again, and soon enough his throat felt conflated. Perhaps.. Perhaps he did.

“I don’t– I don’t really know. You’re hurt, and in a vague way I get where you’re coming from. It’s got us tied together in a way. How about you? What are we to you?” Dean followed Kent’s eyes to the dash. He didn’t think he’d get much of an answer, but he had to ask anyway.

Dean put his hand between them on the seat. An invitation to lean closer. “Does it bother you? Getting close? Because I can move. I’ll leave you alone if you don’t want to be together or– or whatever this is.”

He closed the distance, putting his hand over Kent’s. His cheeks burned. There was no way he could get away with this. No way at all. He was sure.

“No, it doesn’t–” Kent turned, eyes still wide, and blinked a few more times. It didn’t bother him. Why was that? He wasn’t feverish and delirious anymore. Outside of that state of sickness, he only wanted to be close to people he liked. Did he like Dean? The situation was proving he was quite fond of the beatnik. Kent was aware of the fact that there was a multitude of reasons he should be, but the fact that he was still had him in a state of confusion. “–It doesn’t bother me.”

“And I don’t know what we are,” Kent continued. He caught Dean’s gaze with his own. “I know we aren’t… How we were , though. There’s something different between us now. Isn’t there?” His tacked on question made him sound both hopeful and frightened in the same split moment.

Finally , Dean thought. Kent seemed to reciprocate his feelings, or at least he was willing to tolerate them. He looked like he wanted something, but what? Dean was willing to take a guess.

“Yeah. There is.” He moved even closer. “Do you… Mind if I– what if I– can I kiss you?” Dean’s hand tightened around Kent’s. His lips parted slightly. Dean’s other hand slid up Kent’s arm, pulling even closer to him. His fingers trailed even further, tracing Kent’s jaw, then up over his lips. “Can I?”

Kent felt himself trembling as Dean touched him. That was new– usually Dean was holding him because he was shaking, not the other way around. His gaze traveled down, across the beatnik’s face pensively, before his eyelids drooped over his almost glassy eyes. The situation felt surreal to a perhaps dangerous degree. Was his fever truly gone? Or was something else making his head spin?

His lips pursed against Dean’s finger tips almost independent of any will of his own. Kent’s mind was tossing around several thoughts at once at that point; none of them seemed better than the other. He felt himself leaning forwards without deciding on a course of action.

“Please,” he panted. He sounded needy; he felt needy. It was the first time it felt justified. The first time he wasn’t begging for the sole reason of being a brat. Kent squeezed one of Dean’s forearms to try and ground himself. It worked, somewhat. He was already clumsily pressing his lips to his without any other forewarning.

Dean’s hand slipped into his red locks and gently pulled him closer to return the kiss. His chest pressed flush against Kent’s, free arm binding them together. His heart sped up in his chest and it only made it worse to think that Kent would know because of their proximity.

Slowly, Dean guided Kent down to lean against the door. He opened his eyes to trade a furtive glance with the vacant road. They were safe, at least for now.

Dean was beginning to trail off, forgetting Kent’s lips to kiss his cheek and along his jaw. His knuckles turned white as his grip on Kent’s hair tightened.

Kent felt weak under Dean, holding onto him by the cloth of his shirt with weak hands. It was a good thing they were sitting down; otherwise his knees would have given out beneath him. The sound of his own heart beating loudly, second by second in a rapid staccato rhythm, drowned out any noise Dean’s was making. But he could feel it right against his chest as he pressed closer, thrumming in his rib cage like a confined panicked bird.

With the sharp tug on his hair, however, the feeling of weightlessness faded; Kent grunted and tugged on Dean’s shirt. His feet planted themselves firmly against the car seat and floor, the heels of his Oxfords threatening to leave marks on the leather. It wasn’t that it hurt (far from it, Kent thought with a growing blush)– but that it was exciting.

It had been a long year since anyone had gotten so close to him. Kent let out one shuddering breath and let his head fall back against the window. Hadn’t Dean sworn to only kiss him once? He wondered what he’d done to make him change his mind.

“Oh, sorry–” Dean drew back. He’d hurt him, didn’t he? And he was certain he didn’t want him kissing him any more. In a few seconds, the whole thing would backfire, and Dean didn’t want to be at ground zero when it did.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you. Did I? I guess I was a little excited.” Dean was rapidly retreating, moving back to his side of the car. There was a fine line between offering comfort and taking advantage, and he was certain he’d crossed it about a mile back.

“I should have asked what you wanted. That was out of line.” He clutched the head of the seat beside him, and the steering wheel on the opposite side. “I’m sure you’re tired– We should go–”

“No, no, that wasn’t–” Kent reached out a hand for Dean, but stopped short. Maybe he’d done something to make Dean change his mind. Or perhaps the unreality of the situation had finally hit him, and he was merely coming to his senses. His extended fingers curled up tight against his palm. A violent tremor extended its reach all throughout Kent’s body; a hollow had suddenly found a place in his chest, and it was making him feel worse than any punch Dean had dealt him did.

“–I’m sorry. I made you do that, didn’t I?” A weak smile flashed across Kent’s lips. “I cornered you, with those kinds of questions, I… I shouldn’t have put that idea in your head, that was wrong. I’m sorry. It was… Stupid.” He shook his head absently a few times and hugged his knees to his chest to try and press out the urge to cry welling up where he felt empty. He felt like a goddamn infant, slipping into such emotional fits all the time. Delirium still hung over him; at least, he hoped it was only delirium.  

Dean’s shoulders sank. So Kent wasn’t going to be angry, but his body reacted so violently, he regretted moving away. He moved closer all over again, slid a hand behind his back and started to rub it, hoping he could bring him some comfort.

“No, Kent, you didn’t do anything. You’re just fine by me.” His other hand caressed his cheek, brought his head to his chest and stroked his hair. Dean rocked just slightly, hoping the shaking would go away. “I shouldn’t have let go.”

And then he kissed his ear. The corner of his jaw. His cheek. The top of his head. A rain of little apologies all over his face. Ever so slowly, Dean lowered him back down to the seat. He found pillows to make him comfortable, and pulled a blanket over both of them. The kisses slowed, but they didn’t stop. They planted themselves on his hands, up his arm, down his neck, and even on his eyelids. They seemed to have forgotten how to find his lips.

Again Kent’s hands were grasping at Dean faintly, one curling fingers around his shirtfront, the other resting at the base of his neck. What on Earth is happening? Kent wasn’t sure if he cared enough to answer the question. Or was he just so content he didn’t need to? He let himself falter and be guided by the beatnik’s purposed but fretful hands. In that moment he felt like he understood the appeal of artists, beyond their work.

A trembling sigh left Kent and he shut his eyes as Dean continued to kiss him. He basked in the attention. How parched he’d been, and without even realizing it, for affection. Oh, God, how had he done it? How had he gone so long without opening up to any kindness or charity so intimate? Kent found himself mumbling something, nothing, not knowing what to say but knowing he had to speak.

“Hmm?” Dean brought himself out of his self-imposed trance to look up at Kent’s face again, caressing his cheek. He was trying to say something, wasn’t he? Dean snuggled down under the covers to listen to the rumble in his chest. His fingers toyed with the buttons on Kent’s shirt, unsure if they could go on. Kent did have him by the shirtfront, perhaps he wanted it off. He tugged at the fabric himself.

“Do you want this off?” He lifted the hem of his tee shirt, catching a glimpse of the steamy windows as he did. Had they really gotten that excited? It was hard to tell as darkness fell over the empty stretch of road. Had they really been there for so long?

Kent finally brought himself to words, red in the face and somewhat embarrassed. Embarrassed he hadn’t spoken earlier, that was. His hands let go of Dean’s shirt before he spoke, however; he felt as if they were in the way.

“S-Sure,” he mumbled. He certainly did want that shirt off. Kent blinked a few times, his eyes going wide as another realization washed over him. What on Earth were they doing? Sure he’d realized it earlier, but now it seemed that things were… Progressing. Kent wasn’t certain how he felt about that.

“What are you– we –doing?” he asked quietly. “I just want to make sure, I–” Kent glanced up and caught sight of the foggy windows. His face turned a shade redder. “Oh my God.” For once it was embarrassment, and not fear, that had him dumbfounded.

Dean almost threw his shirt into the back of the car before Kent’s exclamation stopped him dead in his tracks. Instead, the fabric landed by his side on the leather seat as he leaned over to check the temperature of Kent’s forehead.

“Are you okay, hon? You look distressed.” He took hold of his hand, eyebrows furrowing. “We don’t have to do this if you’re afraid.” Dean’s free hand traced down Kent’s shirt fondly. There was no mistaking it, Dean certainly wanted to. He was sorely tempted to take Kent’s shirt off himself.

Dean brought Kent’s knuckles to his lips and rested them there nervously, watching Kent with wide eyes. His stomach churned uncomfortably. He really didn’t want to go back, but forward was an all new, terrifying direction now.

“I’m…” Kent rolled his eyes pensively, eventually coming to stare down his own chest. He was a little scared; he had to be honest with himself. Nothing of this caliber was something he had expected from Dean. It seemed that part of him was still convinced that all of this was a facade on the beatnik’s part; but the way that he was looking at him suggested otherwise. Kent’s breath caught somewhat. His stare was intense; was that how he felt when Kent looked at him in turn?

When Dean took his hand to kiss his knuckles, however, Kent’s sense of fear faded. But not his doubt. A cruel sense of amusement (cruelty he inflicted on himself, silently, internally) bubbled up in his throat.

“…You called me hon,” he pointed out, still looking shocked. “I’m sorry, I’m just a little… Overwhelmed. I can’t believe this is happening, that you want to–” Kent pressed one hand to his face to suppress a sudden, sharp laugh.

“This has to be some kind of joke, right?”

Dean lowered his hand, but his grip on him only tightened. His jaw dropped in amazement. “No– no, it’s not a joke. Why would it be a joke?” He moved closer, letting go of his hand to hold his face between his.

“Is this a joke?” Dean leaned down to kiss him once more, directly on the lips. He let it last several seconds, his hands roaming down to Kent’s shirtfront. He hesitated a moment before fumbling with the first, undoing it after a few moments. He finished with the next two before breaking the kiss to glance up at Kent.

“Would it be okay if I...?” He tugged at one of the remaining buttons. He was so tempted he barely had the patience to ask.

Kent stared up at him dazed for a long while, blinking through the silence. It all certainly felt like some big joke. Why, then, was he the only one laughing?

“You– You really want to–” He pressed both of his hands to his mouth at that point, as if doing so would suppress any embarrassed blubbering on his part. It didn’t quite work; he blubbered anyways.

“I’m sorry, I’m still just… I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we’re doing this. Take it off,” Kent added quickly. “I’m stalling. Just do it.” Kent finally removed his hands (he decided they were better suited pressed against the seat beneath him) and pressed his lips into a firm line.

Dean finished undoing the buttons and opened the front of his shirt. He stopped there, looking somewhat horrified. He seemed even sicker, paler with more skin exposed. Dean leaned down to kiss his shoulders, wiping his eyes as he did. If it was possible, he was even more gentle than before.

He removed the rest of Kent’s shirt and allowed his hands to roam down to his hips, finding purchase there so he could pull him close against him. His lips traced a line up the side of his neck back up to Kent’s cheeks, taking advantage of the vacancy left by his hands.

After a while, Dean sat back up, breathing a little heavier than usual. “You okay?” He picked one of his hands up and squeezed it between his. “You’re not overwhelmed or anything, right?”

Kent had his eyes shut, but not because of any fear or discomposure. Whatever state of mind he’d been in when he first clumsily kissed Dean he had returned to; his hands had taken to grasping somewhere, anywhere that was the man above him once again, and his every movement only seemed intent on inviting the beatnik to go further. It took Kent a moment to register the fact he’d been asked a question. He tilted his head forwards with an absent sigh, blinking a few times to clear his mind.

“I-I’m fine.” His gaze roamed aimlessly before settling on Dean’s face. Once again he was starting to find comfort in it; what about him had lead to the assumption that he was treating Kent like a joke? Rather surprisingly (he was always, always surprised, it seemed) he found something akin to… No, no, it was not just akin to– it was want he saw in Dean’s expression.

“I’m still just– in disbelief,” Kent finished. He was blushing again, much to his chagrin.

“Well, let me convince you.” Dean bent down to kiss each of his freckles, then his chest, and then hesitantly, his stomach. Before long, he was reaching down for his waistband.

Chapter Text

The beatnik sighed contentedly and pulled the blanket further over the two of them. His fingers curled into Kent’s hair, twirling a few longer strands between his fingertips. He laid his head in the crook of Kent’s neck.

Dean looked up out the window at the twinkling stars and turned to look at Kent. “Your eyes are like the sky. Or those blueish wildflowers, the ones with the rough stems. They’re so beautiful. Especially when you’re happy. That’s what I tried to say before, but I guess I just freaked you out, huh?”

Dean’s free hand rested on Kent’s chest, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his chest. “You know, I think I’m in love.”

Kent had settled into a blank state. His eyes were trained upwards, hauntingly still, on the car roof. He didn’t take notice of the passage of time until Dean murmured his metaphor; his eyes wandered slowly, and with a shudder he took note of where they were. Lying in the front seat of a car parked on the side of the road.

Emotion welled in his throat when he realized what they’d done. He blinked rapidly a few times; the hands resting on his stomach, folded, moved upwards but were hesitant to actually touch his own face. It felt like a mistake– and Kent wasn’t sure why. He’d been wanting something like this to happen for a while. Deep down, he knew he had. He could admit to that now; having been pent up for a year had lead to him feeling strangely about everything, Dean included.

Kent still denied the feelings welling up in his throat even after tears were rolling down his face. His lip trembled; he was not going to cry, goddammit. He was just now getting a handle on his dignity. There was no fever, no migraine, no stomach pains to be pushing him to the edge of emotional and physical exhaustion warranting a pity party. He’d just had sex! Why was he crying, then? (The blubbering proved inevitable).

I think I’m in love. Oh. Right.

“’M sorry,” he managed quickly. “Sorry.” Kent’s trembling hands were hiding most of his face. Shame had his whole body heating up.

“Oh– oh.” Dean pulled Kent up against his chest and stroked his hair to try to comfort him. “You feel warm, are you sick?” He guided hands away from his face so he could look at him in the eyes. “What’s wrong, sweetheart, ah– Kent?”

Dean picked their clothes up off the floor and draped Kent’s shirt over his shoulders. He set his pants in his lap so he could put them back on if he chose. “Should I–” he started to pull his shirt back on, “Should I get dressed? Are you uncomfortable? Hey, hey–” he smoothed his hand down Kent’s arm. “How about I drive you to the nearest town? We’ll get you set up in a bed. I promise you’ll feel better.” He pulled on his boxers and turned so he could take the driver’s seat, gently prepping Kent against his side instead.

Dean almost turned the key in the ignition, but paused. “The painkillers– they’re in the back, you could have some of those.” He cast a fretful glance Kent’s way. And then his shoulders sank.

“I’m sorry, I’ve got you all– all riled up, don’t I?” He traced one finger down Kent’s tear streaked cheek. “Just tell me what you need right now. Tell me how to make you feel better.”

Kent dressed himself with shaky hands, silent both out of a pensive disposition and out of the effort to try and stop his incessant weeping. The sound grated on his own ears and he was tired of hearing it at this point. He’d likely cried more times on this trip than he had his entire life up to that point. He wasn’t even sick (or, well, as sick) anymore! There was no excuse to be acting like– like a petulant child!

“L-Let’s just– get a motel room,” he stammered. He sniffed a few times, once, thrice, five times, before getting a hold of himself. The crying stopped, but the tears continued. His vision remained constantly blurred.

Kent remained curled up in place the whole ride to the nearest motel; once they arrived and had their room, he ambled absently inside and took a seat on the bed without so much as a sound. He found he was unable to look at Dean; he didn’t even want to think about him. It was just too much– too much to consider, to feel, to– to–

Kent ground his teeth together and tugged at his hair with a ragged sigh. No more consideration. He reclined on the bed to try and get some sleep.

Dean watched him, waiting by the door until he decided to lie down. He came to sit on the side of his bed, pulling the covers over him. “Goodnight.” He leaned down to kiss what he could of his cheek.

“I had a good time. I’m sorry I pressured you into that.” He rubbed his back for a few seconds more to see if he would respond, then patted his shoulder and stood to go to his bed. He curled up beneath the sheets and closed his eyes.

The next morning, Dean placed a glass of water on the nightstand and the pain pills, moved his suitcase to his bedside, and went out to make breakfast. He’d made a habit of giving Kent breakfast in bed, and he wasn’t about to stop. He set a plate on Kent’s lap and patted his cheeks to wake him up.

“Come on, time for breakfast ho- I mean Kent.”

Kent groaned and rose slowly, blinking away the sleep crusting his eyes. He rubbed them each with his hands once he was fully upright for a long while. He mumbled something akin to ‘okay’ to let Dean know he’d understood his words. He wasn’t feeling up to conversation; it was first thing in the morning, after all.

He started eating in silence, occasionally looking up to glance at Dean timidly. He wasn’t sure what to say. He’d given him quite the scare last night, hadn’t he? His weak, nearly unintelligible apologies hadn’t done anything to assuage his fears.

“…You didn’t pressure me into doing anything,” he said; his voice was barely above a whisper. Kent set aside his empty plate and folded his hands in his cross-legged lap. “I chose to… To do that. Maybe against my better judgement. I wasn’t in the right place for that then. But I don’t– I don’t regret it.”

Kent glanced up at Dean with a neutral, but almost melancholy, expression. “I’m not sure how I feel about you yet. But I know it’s not something… Platonic.”

“I guess not.” Dean scratched the back of his neck. “Are you– Do you think you’re up to going to the museum today? Last night was kind of rough for you.” He picked up the empty plates and took them to the little bathroom sink to wash. As soon as they were in the trunk of his car again, Dean was back on his bed, his hands folded on top of his legs.

“What, uh…What place would you say you’re in now? I don’t mean, are you willing to sleep with me again or– Or anything like that. I mean, are you better or worse or is there something I can do to help?” His shoulders rose with anxious tension. “I won’t ask you to do that again if you don’t want to be tempted.”

For some reason, Dean wanted to be beside him. He wanted to hold Kent and run his fingers through his hair, tell him everything would be alright because, for now, it was within his power to keep him safe. In Rockwell it wouldn’t be. And what right did he have to ask him to go there?

“Uh, after the museum, Kent, do you still want to go all the way to Rockwell? You’d be safer with your brother, I think. People still don’t like you there.”

“I hate my brother,” Kent spat. He paused, twiddled his thumbs, and shook his head. “That’s… Chuck is alright. I suppose. But I’d rather be hated than hate. Does that make sense? It’s just. Too much effort. I might relapse if I stayed with him.” He would relapse if he stayed with his brother, but he didn’t want Dean feeling guilty if he did indeed just dump Kent and his belongings at Chuck’s California home.

“I really don’t want to do anything today.” Kent timidly cast his gaze up to Dean’s face. He was feeling restless in a way that had him also feeling uncomfortable. The urge to do… Something was bubbling just below his gut. His sharp eyes, somewhat narrowed but still observant, picked up on Dean’s slight movements. Was he feeling the same way? Should he just be blatant about what he wanted?

Kent wasn’t entirely sure what that was, which was a problem.

“…Can you just come here?” he asked. “You sitting over there is making me feel nervous. Like you’re confronting me with something.” Kent outstretched his arms to offer up an embrace. Maybe they could figure out whatever it was they wanted to happen together.

Dean made his way across the little aisle that separated their beds and sat beside Kent. He wrapped his arms around Kent in return for his offered embrace and let his head fall on Kent’s shoulder.

“I’m not gonna make you go anywhere you don’t want to go.” His fingers traced lightly up and down Kent’s spine. “Hell, we can just lay in bed all day today. We don’t have to do anything else.” He pressed against Kent, cheek to cheek, rocking just slightly.

After awhile he came away. “Is there anything you want to do for now? Just something small like read a book, write a letter, whatever? We don’t have to get as… Intimate as last time. I’ll just grab something from the car. I’ll make sure that Lucy’s walked and everything, just pick something small.”

“No, I– I want to try it again. I want a do-over.” Kent was of sound mind now, unlike the night before. Or so he had deduced. His emotions were aligned, he would argue; his mind was in a place of clarity, and his body felt– well, Kent was feeling a certain way. Dean tracing fingers up and down his back certainly wasn’t helping him feel any sense of calm. He turned his head to one side, his eyes narrowing somewhat critically, and gave Dean a serious look.

“I wasn’t in the right mindset when we did that,” he said, more secure in his assertion. “I was feeling unbalanced and absent. Like I wasn’t there. But I know what I’m doing and what I’m feeling now.” Kent rested his hands squarely on Dean’s shoulders and paused to sigh.

“I know I don’t feel… Chastely about you right now, but I don’t know why. I want to try to figure that out. Everything else can– that can all wait. This is important to me.” And Kent had been thinking the whole night about re-doing what had happened. The whole thing still felt too dreamlike for Kent’s comfort; the memory was fading more and more each second. His hands gripped Dean’s shoulders tight before he leaned in for an impromptu kiss.

Dean returned the kiss with a bit less enthusiasm. He was confused. He pulled away after only a second. “Not in the right mindset? Kent, what are you talking about? How is this going to explain the way you feel?” He squirmed uncomfortably, unsure of how to react.

“I know you’re a little messed up right now, but I’ve got feelings too. Right now, this doesn’t feel right. I thought you felt something, and now… Now I don’t know what to think! Do you care, or– or am I just some tool you can sort out your emotions with? I–” Dean let go of him. “I’m sorry. I thought things were more serious. I should have said something.”

Dean looked down at the pristine white pattern of the blanket under them. He almost smirked to think of the condition it would be in the next morning, if Kent got his way. “I’m sorry. I’m not quite in the mood yet.”

“What– That’s not what I meant,” Kent said, brow furrowing. For once his tone was assertive in a way that lacked anger. He was more confused than anything else. Had he said something that struck Dean the wrong way? He wasn’t using him for– no, not at all. To be quite frank, he wasn’t sure if he’d enjoyed their first time enough to even consider only using Dean for “those” kinds of things. Why was he continuing to speak around the subject, anyways? For whatever reason, that only made it more clear he wasn’t thinking just about the act itself.

“I don’t think you understand what I did for you yesterday,” he continued. “I submitted to you. Understand? I don’t– I’ve never done that for anyone like that. And I’m willing to do it again because I want to know how I feel about you, whether I think you’re worth that. If you don’t want to do it right now, fine, I’ll wait. But I want you to know it’s not just about– about getting something physical out of it.”

Kent stood abruptly, trying to ward off the anger he was beginning to feel. He decided he was in need of a smoke break and dug around in his suitcase for his cigarettes and lighter. Once he found them he had the courtesy to step outside before indulging in his bad habit.

Dean let out a huff of a breath as he watched him go. The fact that he was trying to determine his worth to him didn’t make things any better. He was treating him like a product, something he could assign value to. At least, that was the kind of language he used. Was he worth that? Dean almost chuckled, it was so absurd. But really, what was he saying? What had he meant when he used those words, as demeaning as he thought they were?

Dean sat on the edge of the bed to mull it over in his head. Kent was afraid– he always had been. It wasn’t so much a value he wanted to assign, but a level of trust. He’d been willing to trust him again, but Dean had brushed him off. He frowned, ran his hand over the comforter. Well, he could give it one more time. Dean shut the blinds, glancing warily for nosy neighbors, and slipped off his shirt. He sat sideways on the bed, twiddling his thumbs. It felt alien to him, acting like this, but he shrugged it off and waited.

Kent returned to the room after a respectable amount of time; not too long, not too short. It was enough time to calm himself down and reconsider his thoughts. Not everything was about him. (The implications of his words still went over his head; Kent still couldn’t see what he might have said that was wrong). He was willing to put off intimacy. Perhaps the better course of action was to talk things out. That had gone well before, hadn’t it?

Kent was bewildered to find the room dim and Dean sitting shirtless on his bed. Kent’s eyes widened for the umpteenth time that day, and he nearly dropped what had been left of his cigarette; in his frenzied state he’d neglected taking the ashtray out with him. “What the hell are you doing?” His tone was soft. Surprise, not anger, had brought about his reaction. What had happened in his absence to change Dean’s mind? The fact that his stance had shifted so quickly left Kent feeling unsettled.

Kent felt his stomach do a flip. So that’s what had caught him off-guard yesterday and left him feeling so… Odd. Not unwilling, but not fulfilled; the sense that Dean was changing to fill some void he perceived in Kent. Or, perhaps, the severity of Dean’s change. It was an accommodating attitude that Kent was unused to; no one had been so altruistic towards him because no one cared enough.

“You don’t have to do this. Not now,” he whispered.

Dean let out a long breath. “Oh, good. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling.” The more he had thought about it, the less appealing the idea had sounded. It was frustrating, trying to get in touch with both his emotions and Kent’s at the same time. He could feel his face lighting up red. Why was he so stupid? The whole idea was stupid. That, however, didn’t keep him from seeking contact of a different kind.

“You should probably throw that away.” Dean picked up his shirt and threw it over his head, and then retrieved his cigarette as he walked toward him. “I’m uh– Sorry.” Dean chuckled, the sound of his voice quiet in the dim space. “That was– That was dumb.” He took his hand and folded the cigarette butt in his fingers, if only as an excuse to hold his hand.

“I guess I’m still not sure how I feel about you either.” He finally let go and made his way back to the bed. He lied down, folding his hands behind his head so he could stare up at the ceiling. “I think we both need to figure this out before we do something like that again.”

“What do you mean, ‘this’?” Kent sat on the edge of the bed beside Dean, somehow still set completely apart from him. He was thinking; that secluded him well enough. His tone was even and, as one would expect, contemplative. Still, he didn’t make any attempt to have eye contact with Dean. Maybe by not looking at him he could think rationally about him. The beatnik’s deep, intelligent gaze tended to have Kent feeling… Odd.

“I know I was being hasty. We’re not ready to do something like… That any time soon. But I don’t think I understand what’s preventing us from doing so. Is it something I’ve done or said?” It was more in the area of something Kent hadn’t said. But because he was not at all aware of that, he wasn’t even sure what there was for him to admit to. He snuck in a quick glance at Dean before turning back to the motel’s nondescript carpet

“Or are you wanting to figure out exactly what… What we are? What you want us to be?” Kent suddenly felt very small and alone. The closed blinds and size of the room had something to do with it, but for the moment it felt as if the world had become only the two of them and the four walls keeping their new secret.

“You just said it. We’re not ready. Why we’re not ready–” Dean shrugged. He wasn’t sure himself. There was something that wasn’t right between them. Maybe it was that last shred of superiority Kent still held over him. The idea that he gave up something by being with Dean. The way he talked– “I submitted myself to you,” had an edge to it that turned him off in every way possible.

“I don’t know. What are we? What do you want us to be? What are you willing to give up to be with me? Because you act like you’re that much better than me. Like you’re doing me a favor sometimes.“ Dean’s tone was even, but it was clear he wasn’t happy. He didn’t mean to offend, but he didn’t know how else to put it.

“I care about you, but… The way you act, I don’t know if the feeling is returned.” Dean shrugged, as if it were a matter of fact. “I know what you wanted from me. You thought whatever sacrifice you made was worth it.”

“Wanted from you?” Kent was asking himself a question more than anything. He canted his head slightly to one side and hummed. Well, he supposed, I did propose the idea first. Didn’t I? He tilted his head to the opposite direction as he considered what else Dean had said

“I don’t think I’m better than you. Not anymore,” he added. It would be remiss of Kent to say that he hadn’t thought so at all. Even when he was sick (well, he still was) and dying, he had carried with him an air of superiority. Now he saw Dean as his equal. Kent perked up at that. At the very least, he saw Dean as his equal. That was something– that counted for something, for sure.

“I’m not trying to do you a favor. I’m just trying to… I don’t know. I’m trying to know you better. But I’m not sure how else to do that. And I don’t mean ‘know’ as in information. I mean…” Kent squinted. He wasn’t quite sure what he meant, even. Perhaps it was just unexplained; perhaps he just didn’t have the vocabulary.

“Well, uh, I’m not sure what I mean. It’s a gut feeling– a real instinctual thing. But… I thought you would have gathered that I do care about you already. I’m going back to Rockwell with you, for God’s sake. I have no other good reason to do that besides… You.”

“Me.” Dean repeated. “You said you didn’t want to stay with your brother. I thought I was just your only option.” He looked down at the carpet, twiddling his thumbs.

“Know me…” He said, thoughtful. “You mean in the Biblical sense?“ It was hard to imagine him meaning anything else. Any other way of getting to know him would be an exchange of information. And it didn’t bother him. Whatever Kent meant, it was sacred to him.

Dean’s fingers planted themselves against Kent’s chest. He leaned forward. “If… It’s okay with you, I think I’m okay with a do over now. Unless you want to keep talking.” He was tracing little circles on his chest. Suddenly, it felt right. In the private, quiet room, where it was only the two of them. It felt like they were the only two in existence for a few quiet moments. No one outside could disapprove.

Kent had to take a moment to bring himself back to the situation. Things were starting to feel surreal again. In a short span of time Kent had convinced himself he would have to wait nothing short of an eternity to for Dean to be ready for… That again. Not that it would have been a bad thing; for once, Kent was thinking beyond his own desires.

“You don’t sound like you want to keep talking,” he noted in an even tone. Kent glanced down at the hand Dean hand trailing across his chest, eyes trailing down slowly. He stopped him, taking the beatnik’s palm in his own. “If… If you do want to try again, I think we should go slow. Things felt so rushed last time. I’m not really sure what happened.”

“Okay. Yeah, you’re right. We should.” Dean took his hands off of him and set them on the bed, scrunching up the blanket beneath them. “Just tell me what you’re comfortable with. Even if we don’t get that far, it’s okay.”

Dean didn’t even remove his shirt. He only leaned forward slowly to kiss him. Hesitant hands lifted up to hug his shoulders and pull him closer, just shy of touching his chest with his own. It was all he could do to keep from melting into him entirely.

Restraint came naturally to Kent. He really did need for a more languid progression; it was just so unlike him to manage being patient. Still, he couldn’t refrain from touching Dean– his hands were placed tamely on his back, not too high, not too low. It was as chaste a caress as his kiss. It was entirely possible he was also trying to be gentle.

Kent had a look of uncertainty on his face when they (barely) parted. It was an expression that was more connotative of ‘what am I going to do next?’ rather than ‘did I enjoy that?’ His blue eyes, half-covered by his heavy eyelids, searched Dean’s expression for a similar message. There was no reason questioning whether he liked kissing Dean– he certainly did. Well , he thought, that’s one less thing I’m unsure about.

“How was that?” Kent murmured. “Do you want to… Uh…” A sudden realization of how incredibly alone they were– in a new sense, outside of causal closeness –descended upon Kent at once. He felt his face heat up. “…Keep going?”

“Yes.” The answer burst forth more quickly than Dean could think it. Now he was the eager one. “That was– not enough.” His heart was beginning to pound. Kent had flipped some switch in him that was driving him wild. He couldn’t even put his finger on what it was. Maybe it was the honesty. For the first time, they were on the same level. Neither of them was better than the other. They could be honest with each other.

And they were being as honest as they could get. Dean pulled even closer to Kent for a second kiss, not bothering to hold back this time. Hot breath flashed across Kent’s cheeks before he let his lips land clumsily on his. The beatnik’s hands pressed into his back desperately, but he did refrain from removing his clothing, or even lifting the edge of his shirt. He knew what kind of sickly flesh still lay beneath, and that was enough to deter him for a moment.

“Sorry,” he said, pulling back. “I should let you breathe once in awhile, shouldn’t I?”

Kent took a few moments to clear his mind, blinking rapidly in succession and breathing a bit heavier than usual. He noted, dully, that he’d been doing that quite often recently. Everything Dean did was almost overwhelming at times. But at the moment, it was overwhelming in a welcome way. Kent’s hands journeyed up Dean’s back as he further reorganized his thoughts.

“No, it’s fine,” he murmured, timidly letting his eyes meet Dean’s. A small smile graced his lips. “Have I told you you’re a good kisser? Because you are.” He laughed a little. Suddenly their earlier solemnity was ridiculous. What was there to be so serious about? Another once-over of Dean, however, revealed to Kent the extent of his desperation. The hands on his shoulder blades were suddenly palpable.

“You can go ahead and do that again,” he clarified quickly. “Just so you know.”

“You mean this?” Their lips met again, and slowly, Dean leaned down until Kent’s back was resting on the bed. He treated him like he was made of porcelain. As if sitting up too long would ruin his back. When he parted from him, he smiled. “I hope you like that just as much.”

Dean sat up and stared down at him, then ventured a kiss on Kent’s neck. Just a peck. Then sat up again, watching, gauging his reaction. Would he be alright with a repeat of the night before? Perhaps if he was slower this time, he could savour the salt of his skin.

“Do you– would you mind if I did this again? I want to improve on my work from last night.” He brushed hair back from Kent’s forehead.

Kent found himself gaping like a fish– lips parting, lips closing –for no real reason. His lips felt chap; ah, that was it. Wetting them to dissipate the feeling of dryness just felt too… Too… Kent’s expression was colored once again by a hue of red.

He’d save it for later, and hoped Dean hadn’t (and wouldn’t) take notice. The gentle hand on his head did a little to calm him somewhat. Despite having found the situation funny earlier, Kent still felt the tiniest bit nervous. Just a tiny bit, of course.

“Uh–” he cleared his throat “–no, I wouldn’t mind. Go ahead. Just try not to tickle me, I hate that.” Kent smiled apologetically and shifted his position on the bed. The last thing he wanted to do was come off as finicky.

Dean kissed his lips, wetting them again. “Just let me know if I bother you.” Very slowly, as if Kent were some kind of painting he had to carefully map out, he began to kiss down his neck and across his shoulders, stopping at any spot that got a particularly good reaction. He left marks below his collar and moved downward.

“God, Kent, how could you do this to yourself?” He kissed the pale skin over his liver and laid his head down to listen to his heart. “You’re getting better, at least. Just a few days ago I wasn’t sure–” he looked up at him. “Do you still think you need to see a doctor?” Dean wanted him to, just in case.

He continued back to his lips, delaying his answer. Dean was a little afraid to hear it. He knew Kent was still afraid. Even if Dean promised never to let them hurt him.

“Stop that.” Kent sat up suddenly, drawing his shirt closed with a tightly balled fist. He was trying to stare Dean with some sort of authority– as if he actually wanted to deny him –but his expression wavered and he was left trembling. His eyes were as intense as always, however, and were likely enough to make anyone fall silent.

“I don’t want to hear that– I don’t want you to judge me anymore,” he stammered. “Don’t you think I know damn well something’s wrong with me? I don’t need you to remind me all the goddamn time, and especially not right now.” Kent turned his gaze downward, as if his intent was to bore holes into the disheveled blankets of the twin bed.

“Let’s just not talk about it,” he finished in a trembling whisper.

“I’m sorry,” Dean replied. His hands caressed Kent’s cheeks as he moved closer again. “We won’t. Are we done here?” His thumb moved across his cheek, trying to calm him. He put a hand over Kent’s. “I won’t make you continue if you don’t want to.”

He took his hands away and scooted back. Kent needed some space, he thought. “You’ll be alright. I won’t let anything happen to you, whatever you choose.” His brows furrowed, eyes trained on the bed. He knew the implication of that. Kent would go to a hospital whether he wanted to or not if he got bad enough.

“Sorry, that came out wrong. I’ll do whatever I can to help. That’s what I’m trying to say. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“No– I don’t want to be done. I just don’t want you talking to me like that.” Kent’s lower lip trembled a bit; he kept his gaze lowered, as if he were afraid of looking up at Dean. His hand reached for the beatnik’s, however, and gave it a squeeze once it landed on top of it. “I know I’m sick. It’s nothing you’ll catch. If you don’t want to keep going because of that, though, I– I understand. But there’s no reason to chastise me like I don’t know any better.”

Kent sighed and finally raised his head, intense blue eyes training on Dean’s deep brown ones. “I let myself go. I knew what I was doing. But I’m trying to fix it now. I’m just scared that–” He paused for a moment. He had explained this already– he shouldn’t have to re-explain it. But he continued regardless.

“That they’ll think something’s still wrong with me up here.” Kent tapped two fingers to the side of his head. “I thought everything was over and acted like a child– I thought if I got into a dangerous place, I could make everyone feel guilty and get some kind of apology. But I’m the one who messed everything up.” His eyes widened, suddenly brightening.

“I– I-I’m at fault here.

“Ssh, shh,” Dean pulled him close so Kent could rest his head on his chest. “That’s over now. You’re going to get better, I know it.” Of course, Dean knew he was at fault, but there was no use in rubbing it in further.

“I want to keep going. I want you to know that I don’t care about that.” He returned Kent’s gaze and gave him a clumsy kiss on the lips. “And for what it’s worth, I am sorry. I’m sorry you had to do that, and I’m sorry that I– I treated you so badly.”

Dean enveloped him in a warm embrace for several seconds, then removed his shirt. He paused for several seconds to allow Kent to look at him before he moved to take off Kent’s.

“You scare me, you know. Knowing that I’ve just found you, and you might just leave one day. Maybe even without warning. Maybe in pain.”

“Stop talking,” Kent stammered. He kissed Dean back with a desperation that had been absent earlier. His thoughts were starting to get the better of him. He didn’t want to juggle them around any longer; he didn’t want to consider what he’d done wrong, or what he could do wrong, or what could potentially happen to him because of his poor health. All Kent wanted to think about was Dean. He wanted Dean, and how he felt, to be his only concern. His fingers curled around Dean’s shoulders to try and suppress his trembling.

“Just kiss me.” Kent let out a long sigh– a breath of air he hadn’t been aware of holding. “Or touch me. Just don’t talk about that anymore. We don’t need to talk about that anymore.” Dean had sufficiently rammed his point into Kent’s head and he was starting to get a headache.

Dean did just as he was told, fingers finding his ribs where they seemed to fit perfectly. He nearly knocked teeth with Kent in his excitement, turning his head, his tongue found its way inside of Kent’s mouth. Why had he wanted to talk when this felt so much better?

Dean’s hands pulled Kent’s hips flush with his as if gathering fabric about his waist. He pulled Kent down to the bed for the second time, pinning himself beneath him. His breath came in urgent gasps between kisses. “God, I love you…”

And then his face fell. No, he shouldn’t have said that. Too soon. It was way too soon. Poor Kent, he was moving way too fast.

“I’m sorry.” He kept Kent a safe distance away by holding his shoulders. “I shouldn’t have said that. I just got a little excited.”

Kent stared Dean down. He was… Processing his words. The first time he’d said anything like that– the beatnik hadn’t even been sure of it –Kent had been so overwhelmed with emotion that they only served as a tipping point into a plane of incomprehensibility. But things were different now; Kent was level headed, more so than he had been in a good long while.

“It’s… It’s alright,” Kent said quietly. He cast his gaze elsewhere and sighed. “I don’t know how I– if I feel as strongly, yet, but… It’s alright if you do.” Kent wasn’t certain if Dean really meant it, anyways. All of the tension that had between them days before– it had only been days, hadn’t it? a week perhaps? –couldn’t be erased so easily. Perhaps their intimacy was going to the beatnik’s head. Whatever. Kent could shrug off his words until he was certain he could say them back.

“You can keep going.” To his chagrin, his face started to turn pink.

“I– things are so intense, I forgot myself. Sorry,” he apologized again, in spite of himself. It took longer this time, but eventually Dean gained enough courage to kiss him again. His excitement only escalated from there.

Before Dean knew it, he was under the sheets catching his breath. He moved closer to Kent’s side and kissed his cheek. “I do care about you. Even if I don’t really love you.” He let one of his hands rest on Kent’s chest. “We never would have gotten this far if it wasn’t true.”

Dean hesitated. There was something he wanted to know, but it was so ridiculous he wasn’t sure if he should ask. He had to tell himself that it wouldn’t matter what the answer was before he even asked. “How do you feel about me? You said it wasn’t love, but what is it?”

Kent took a few moments to catch his breath before answering Dean. One of his hands fell on top of the beatnik’s, tracing his knuckles, as he thought up a coherent answer. His mind was still… Foggy. Foggy was the only apt term he could fall upon.

“I don’t know,” he sighed. That was a pathetic answer. Kent had an idea as to how he felt. Fondly. He felt fondly about Dean. Was it love? Did he have a sense of dedication to him– a sense of admiration that extended past anything that platonic feelings could engender? He let his gaze travel across the beatnik’s form. He couldn’t note anything. Not in the way Dean fawned over him in return.

“I know I want to keep doing this, if you want. And that I’m willing to stay with you,” he continued. Did he want to stay with Dean? That was a different question. “I’m not sure. I have to think about it more. But I don’t– hate you like I used to. I like you. You can at least know that for sure.”

“Well, I guess that’s comforting.” Dean rolled over and closed his eyes. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this again. It’s probably better for us both if we don’t.”

Dean wasn’t willing to be someone’s ‘friend with benefits’; in fact, he was already beginning to regret what they’d done. It was dangerous, for one. Getting caught was a price neither of them were willing to pay. And he didn’t want his feelings to be unreturned. It wasn’t worth it to give so much. Kent had taught him that.

Drifting off, Dean curled up on his side of the bed, making space between himself and the other man. He hadn’t meant what he said. It had only taken until now for him to decide.

Kent didn’t take the time to argue with Dean. If he didn’t want to do anything else with him, that was fine. Whatever stopped him from lamenting over how sick he was, the better. He bundled up part of the sheets and stuffed them under his chin, clutching against the cotton fabric with trembling hands.

Chapter Text

The next morning Kent woke late. He didn’t feel like rising– not that he didn’t have the energy. But lifting his head from the mushed blankets and pillow it was resting on seemed like too much effort. Briefly he wondered if Dean had woken up before him; his stomach rumbled. Evidently he was curious because he was hungry.

Even that did not give Kent the energy to sit up and look around. He huffed and blinked his eyes sluggishly. How long had they booked the room for, he wondered? It didn’t matter.

Dean set a plate of eggs and bacon on Kent’s lap. “We should head to the museum soon, I think. It might be better for you to get somewhere we can stay for awhile. It’ll be easier that way.” Of course, he was talking about Rockwell.

It was irritating, but for some reason Dean had lost his desire to go to the museum. All he really wanted was to go to say he’d done it, and leave for Rockwell.

“You know, about last night… I still think– I really want to get to know you. But maybe that was the wrong way to do it. If we’re going to live together, we need to be careful about that kind of thing, and I’m worried.” He sat down at the edge of the bed.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so mixed up about this. I really do care about you. Will you help me sort this out?”

“…I don’t know how else to go about that, Dean.” Kent slowly sat up and the bed squeaked with the shift in weight. He glanced at the beatnik quickly before turning his attention to his plate. Scrambled eggs and crispy bacon stared passively back at him; just as numbly as he was feeling. “You don’t seem to like talking to me. We’ve done nothing but fight this whole time– and now you’re saying you love me.”

Kent had to acknowledge how ridiculous he was acting too, however. Who in their right mind would sleep with the subject of their spite? Kent would. Granted, things had changed between them since they were intimate. But nothing significant enough to warrant the change in attitude– not to such a magnified degree! Right? Then again… Kent picked up one strip of bacon and examined it through narrowed eyes. Perhaps he was looking at everything all wrong.

“Do you really mean it when you say it? What is it that you even like about me?” Kent’s puzzled gaze fixed onto to Dean’s face. “If you can’t name a single detail about me that isn’t physical you that you like–” not that there was much, at present “–then you’re confused.”

“I– well, I’m not sure. Your passion, I think. You’re certainly” Dean snickered, “passionate. And you– well, it’s good to be wanted. To be needed. I can’t put my finger on it, the reason I like you. I won’t say love. I didn’t mean to say that. I was just excited.”

“It must have been the change between us. I just got excited. It’s been a rush. I’m sorry.” He looked down at his plate, brows furrowed. “We have something in common, you know. We’re both outcasts. We’re both alone. I guess there are things we share that… I don’t know, nobody else shares.”

Dean shook his head. He’d said too much. Kent wouldn’t understand. He didn’t want to. “I’m being annoying. Do you want to go out today or not? I think maybe we should stay here.”

“I think we should too,” Kent agreed. He started eating his breakfast instead of staring at it and pondering. His stomach had rumbled, reminding him to eat. That didn’t stop him from talking with his mouth full, however.

“We haven’t held one decent conversation,” he said. “It’d probably be good for both of us if we do.” At least, not one Kent could remember. Every moment with Dean felt like an eternity, pushing back the moments and memories of the past with current events and holding the future away at arm's length. Sometimes that was alright (Kent recalled the night previous with a shudder unrelated to the temperature), but at a time such as this it was excruciating.

Kent set aside his plate once it was empty. He hadn’t had the common sense to find any utensils to eat with, so his fingers were grubby. The bathroom wasn’t far; the door to it was in fact already open. But the fact remained that Kent was still as nude as the day he was born under the sheets, and suddenly the idea of walking around unclothed in front of Dean even for the slimmest of seconds was suddenly taboo. Kent’s face heated up a brilliant shade of red. “…Could you hand me a napkin or something?

“So you can cover up?” Dean smirked. He gave him a tissue from the bedside. “Maybe you should get a shower and we can talk after that. It’ll give you time to think of a topic. Any topic, just pick one.”

Dean picked up the plate and headed for the sink outside the bathroom door, set on doing dishes before bringing them back to the car. He set the plate on the sink’s edge before tossing Kent a towel. “What are you so shy about all the sudden? I don’t think there’s an inch of each other we haven’t seen. You weren’t this shy in the boys locker room as a kid, were you?”

Kent tied the towel around his waist before he got out of bed. His neutral expression had turned into a half-pout, half-scowl of indigence and ignominy. Slowly he shuffled over to the sink where Dean stood, unable (and unwilling) to look at him. Kent paid no mind for personal space, however, and nudged him out of the way to wash his hands.

“I was,” he mumbled. “I’m a very private person. I don’t like to share much– of myself or anything else. There’s a power to be held in keeping secrets, especially ones you don’t have to lie about.” Kent’s brow furrowed. Was the beatnik so daft as to not realize that? He hummed a bit as he wiped his hands dry against the towel front. Maybe he was daft for acting so ashamed in front of someone he’d slept with twice. He entered the bathroom to shower without another word, lost in his thoughts.

Dean took the time to scrub the dishes clean, the silence being a welcome reprieve, and left the room to put them back in the car. When he was done with that, he returned and sat on the bed to wait for Kent to finish with his shower.

Kent resumed the conversation after exiting the bathroom, slightly damp and still clad in only a towel. Dean’s presence on the bed didn’t surprise him any. “You don’t have very many, I’m assuming. Secrets, I mean.”

“Not really. Other than, you know, my favorite pornography or something, but that’s private in the first place. How often does that come up in conversation, you know?” Dean chuckled, somewhat nervously. He’d already told him about his father. There was little more he had any reason to keep from him.

“I guess I never had much that could give someone else power over me. I just don’t care what other people know. Not that anybody asks. I kind of scare people off, if you hadn’t noticed. Well, not scare, but you know what I mean.” He reclined sideways on the bed, propping up his head with one hand.

“Actually, other than what we… Did, I don’t think I have much at all that I’d be worried about other people knowing. Oh, there’s the Giant, yeah, but I live in Rockwell. Everybody there knows.”

“You really don’t have a lot of secrets,” Kent concluded. He crossed the room back to the bed and took a seat on its disheveled sheets. The short distance between him and Dean was hard to ignore. Kent’s fingers curled around the blankets restlessly.

“There’s really not much left between us, then. Secret wise.” Kent had to acknowledge, though, that there was still much left unsaid between them; things that weren’t secret per say, just never quite acknowledged. They didn’t know the simple things– what each other’s favorite colors were, their favorite foods, time of day, season… He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“Did you ever go to college?” he asked numbly. Kent was at a loss for what to say. He didn’t think Dean had, of course, but he figured it’d be polite to ask anyways. Better to suggest he thought Dean had the aptitude for it than to not.

“No. Didn’t have the money or, really, the ambition. I could make it in mechanics so I did. I’m assuming you went to college. Where?” Dean situated himself more comfortably on the bed.

Dean was happy to be having a civil conversation, no matter what it was about. Ever since he’d left the town in handcuffs, he’d never had the chance to talk to him about anything more personal than the weather. At least not on friendly terms. Kent had remained a mystery to him since he’d met him.

Secrets. Perhaps they didn’t have any, but that didn’t change how much they had known about each other. How little they had known.

“I went to a small private school. It’s not really worth mentioning the name.” Kent shrugged. “But I studied political science and mathematics. Double major.” He glanced around; suddenly he felt the need for a cigarette. College was not something he could think of and not need assistance with doing so. Kent continued speaking after taking a long drag.

“I had to put myself through school. Which wouldn’t have been bad if it weren’t during the goddamn Depression,” he gruffed. “It was hard to scrape up the cash I needed for everything. I got my first government job at that time. But I hated it. That was back when I was still in my prime, so I could handle working for the CCC– that’s Civilian Conservation Corps –but I still didn’t like all the digging, and dragging, and planting, and rearranging, and…” Kent huffed like a tired canine, smoke billowing out his nose, and slouched forwards. “It wasn’t supposed to be fun. But I expected it to be. Finally away from my skinflint parents and idiotic brothers.”

“Well, everybody’s got that time before they hit their stride,” Dean said. “The Depression was hell for everybody.” At least Kent had had a job.

“I was stuck in New York for the longest time. Now that place– that place is hell. Too much noise, too many people, too crowded. Too too too. I couldn’t get out fast enough.” He rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. “Of course, that was like twelve years after you. FDR was rolling in his grave by then.”

“I dunno, do you want to talk about something else? You sound like you’re getting a little worked up. You, know, with the coffin nail and all.” He turned his gaze toward Kent. “What’d you do after college? Was it straight to the Pentagon, or did you have done other things to do first?”

“After college?” Kent squinted. “It’s been so long, it’s hard to remember… Twenty something years is a long time, right?” He took a thoughtful drag from his cigarette and breathed out another long sigh.

“Well, I worked for the NYA for a while– in and out of college. But they boot you to another department when you turn twenty five. So at that point, I… I started working in Social Security, then. It was brand spanking new at that time, so I figured it’d be an interesting field. I didn’t really think about it beyond that.” Kent scratched his bare side with a slight scowl on his face.

“And after that, when I was, uh, thirty five– then I started working at the Subversive Activities Control Board. The best seven years of my career.”

“The best. And then it went downhill? How?” Dean pushed down the temptation to touch him again. To run his fingers through his hair. What was he so tempted about? Why was he suddenly daydreaming about this self absorbed jerk? Just because he was a little more humble now didn’t make him a better person.

“What was that SACB thing anyway? Am I subversive? One of those communists everybody’s so afraid of?” He nudged Kent lightly in the side. Any excuse to touch him again. He grabbed his own wrist as if to scold himself. No touching. No dreaming.

“Hey, did you end up questioning that Reagan guy? You know, the actor? Or was that another committee?” He rolled over onto his stomach and supported his chin with his hands.

“Sure, you’d be included. You’re very counter culture. We processed some of the paperwork for that whole actor debacle, but aside from that contributed nothing major to the hearings. That was all legislative business, and we were executive.” Kent waved around a lazy hand and sighed. “I don’t know who all was involved anymore. It was such a laborious process going through everything that I was happy to forget it when it all fell through. That was when, I think, we started losing our touch. Myself included.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned. “I don’t feel like reliving the day that sealed my fate. Long story made short– I got demoted. Booted to the B.U.P. Decades of work all gone. I was crushed. But as long as I had a job in government I was confident I could work up.” He shook his head slowly. “How wrong I turned out to be…”

Kent took another drag off of his cigarette to try and hold in his emotions. The feelings of embarrassment, failure, and desperation were all starting to creep back up and coil like asps in his chest. Threatening to make him say something venomous, leaping out to strike through his words.

Dean shied away from the serpent, feeling his readiness to strike. He could ask more about that later. But what would Kent like to talk about? What wouldn’t dig up unwanted emotions?

“Hey, what’s your favorite color? But not just a color, like a thing that is a color that you really like. A red leaf or a blue dress maybe. That sort of thing.” Dean smiled dreamily up at the ceiling. He was already painting a scene in his mind, starting with his favorite color and working out into a pond, then a fall day, then a night sky above endless trees. “Maybe make a scene with it, you know? Anything that makes you happy. What makes you happy, Kent?”

He crossed his legs on the bed and spread his arms, nearly touching Kent in the process, but avoiding him by inches. Anything to keep from provoking him. Now that would be terrible. His arms made an arm and moved up to support his head as he looked at his figurative sky. “C'mon, you can think of something.”

“Green is my favorite color,” Kent answered mechanically. He turned his head to stare down at Dean with blasé eyes. Dark circles rimmed his gaze; they were starting to fade, indicating that he had acquired them sometime before the beatnik had picked him up. That’s what brought attention back to them, their fading; but the exhaustion they suggested was still incredibly apparent. Kent didn’t look like he possessed the energy to elaborate as Dean had wanted. But he did anyway.

“Green eyes. I dated a lot of girls with green eyes. I just liked the color. Made me think of money. Success. Green eyes look real nice when they light up with excitement.” A faint smile tinged Kent’s expression; the dry wit with which he ended his sentence made it clear what sort of ‘excitement’ he was talking about. He took one last drag from his cigarette before grinding out the butt in the ashtray.

“But I also like the color black,” he added in a smoky sigh. “Like your hair, for one thing.” Kent moved to say something else, but decided against it, cutting off his own sentence with an awkward half-stutter of the beginning of a word.

“Yeah?” Dean’s gaze shifted to Kent, bright with interest. “And what’s so good about that? About my hair?” He sat up and hugged his knees. “I like yours. But I think I’ve said that before. It’s just pretty. Dark red. Wavy, like flames.” And Dean did like red. It was hard to decide what he liked best, blue or red. He was in love with autumn leaves and the sea and his hair and his eyes…

Dean shook his head to clear it of daydreams. Green. So Kent liked green eyes. Funny, how he associated his color with people. It had only occurred to Dean to think of places. Of course, Kent was also thinking of sex. Now that they’d had it, Kent seemed to be preoccupied with it. Why?

“What’s the big deal about me anyway? Physically. Because that seems to be what you’re interested in.”

“You asked for a thing that’s my favorite color. So I named one. That’s all.” Kent shrugged. He didn’t really see where Dean was going with a question like that, or he was purposely choosing to ignore his deeper meaning. Either was possible, especially given the sudden change of his attention; his eyes lifted up and away to stare at some opposite corner of the motel room.

“I like your hair, that’s all. Not many people I knew wore their hair so…” He pulled a face trying to find an appropriate descriptor. “…Loosely. Or they couldn’t wear it like that well, I suppose. I know I can’t.” Kent drummed his fingers against the bed with a thoughtful huff.

“Why do you talk about me like that? All poetic like. There’s no reason to, you know.

“I want to. It feels right. An artist can talk how he likes about whatever he likes.” Dean looked away from him towards the ground. “And uh, thanks. About my hair.”

“Are you feeling okay? Because I can leave you alone and let you rest if you want.” He inched closer to Kent. He’d really blown it, hadn’t he? Pushing him off like that, telling him that he didn’t want to get any closer. That’s what he’d done, he was sure of it.

Dean dared to kiss him on the cheek. “If you’re not sleepy, we could just talk for awhile. I could grab some snacks, maybe we could read one of your comics. I really didn’t get your Captain Marvel guy. You could explain him again.”

Kent drew back sharply with eyes as wide as saucers. The sudden show of affection had caught him off guard; it was quick, too quick for him to properly register. Dean had surprised him more with movement than intention. Kent cleared away his shock with a few rapid blinks.

“Uh– I’m alright with that,” he stammered. “If you are, anyways. I thought you really didn’t care about my… Hobbies.” Kent glanced around. Had he dragged his box of comics inside? Or were they stewing out in the car with the dog? Lucy; why, he’d almost forgotten about the mutt. He hoped Dean hadn’t.

“Of course I care. You’ve got your hobbies, I’ve got mine. There’s nothing wrong with that.” He put his hands in his lap where Kent could see them. He followed Kent’s gaze. “I’ll go get your box of comics in a minute. First I need to ask you something.” He took a deep breath, looked down at his clasped hands, then looked back up at Kent.

“I’m sorry I startled you. Did I bother you?” He tried to meet his eyes, but he couldn’t hold his gaze for long without glancing down in shame. “This is really strange for me. I don’t want to scare you or anything. Just tell me if I make you uncomfortable.”

With that, Dean stood and headed for the car. He pet the dog when he opened the door and took out the box.

Kent was going to tell Dean that no, he didn’t bother him, but the beatnik was out the door before he could speak. The quick flash of sunlight made him squint, and he suddenly realized that the blinds were still drawn against the windows. The room felt small again and Kent found himself wanting to be alone.

Alone and away from Dean? He winced. Why was that? Loneliness was something that terrified Kent, and to finally be free of it was a blessing in his eyes. Perhaps… Perhaps the effort of opening up was just something Kent didn’t feel like committing to anymore.

He didn’t feel like explaining that to Dean. So Kent just reclined, curled up on the bed, and tried to go to sleep.

It was a surprised to find Kent in bed, tucked into a fetal position. Dean approached him slowly. He smoothed Kent’s hair back from his face after seeing the box of comics next to him on the bed.

“Hey, you feeling okay?” He frowned. He was being overbearing, wasn’t he? Asking so many questions. Dean carefully picked one of the magazines from the box and set it against his chest. “I got your comics.”

Dean took a seat beside Kent, drawing his legs up and crossing his ankles. The fact that Kent was so tired after only talking served to remind him what a fragile state he was in. He rubbed his back, hoping it would soothe him somehow. “What’s that one about anyway? It was right on top, I didn’t move anything.” Dean spoke in a low voice, slow and as non-irritating as possible.

Kent felt his face heat up; he was feeling more than a little guilty and childish for trying to avoid Dean this way. There wasn’t anyway for him to catch onto his worries about his health concerning his method of foregoing conversation, but he still felt bad regardless. Kent made himself sit up as he shook his head.

“No, no, I’m alright, don’t worry.” He almost smiled to assuage Dean, but his heart just wasn’t in it. A hand awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. “I, uh, I’m just feeling a little tired. That’s all. But we can still talk, if you want. I don’t mind explaining all of these if you don’t.” He picked up the first comic and looked it over absently; it was a good enough excuse to not to look at Dean head on.

“If you’re tired we’ll wait.” Dean set the box on the ground next to the bed. He offered a hand to take the comic. “I didn’t realize how tired you must be. Or, if you really want to explain it, just tell me about that one, and then get some rest. Like a bedtime story. It’s late anyway.”

It wasn’t far past lunch, but Dean thought it close enough. He could assuage his fears by telling himself Kent had been up a long time. “Just do what you want. I can entertain myself. The dog needs a walk anyway. She’s been in the car since breakfast.” Again, Dean offered his hand to Kent.

“No, it’s fine, I can talk. I want to talk. I think it’s a– a shame we don’t know each other that well. We’ve gotten to this point and I don’t think we’ve had a normal, decent conversation yet. At least, I don’t feel like we have.” Kent’s brow furrowed. The issue was starting to gnaw at his conscious with its ugly maw. What did he care what was right? That didn’t matter; the fact was that he did now, and he would have to deal with the guilt that came with it.

“So this is a start. Or a start over. I don’t know. But I don’t want to go back to sleep and feel like I haven’t done anything worthwhile today.” Kent flipped to the first page, still ignoring Dean’s corporal presence. “This is the first issue, you know. I bet this thing’s a collectible at this point.”

“Oh. Is it old? I mean for a magazine, not a person.” Dean settled down next to him, perhaps a little closer than he should have. “So, you want to talk. Tell me about this guy. Billy Batson? How did he get those weird powers? Why does he become an adult instead of some super-powered kid?”

Dean lied back to enjoy Kent’s voice. No matter what he was droning on about, he liked the sound of it rumbling deep in his throat. He was overcome with the sudden urge to feel his chest, but he kept his hands still. “Uh huh, that’s really cool,” he allowed. “Hey, I need to walk the dog soon. Are you okay with going with me in a little while? Not right now, but soon.”

Kent stopped mid-sentence; he had been reading what he thought was an engaging paragraph of panel text. But, he supposed, the dog came first… He blinked his heavy eyelids. As much as Kent wanted to spend time with their mutt, it just wasn’t in him to muster up the energy to go on a walk. Now he really did need a nap. Kent slid the comic book back into its proper place in his cardboard box and reclined on the bed with a stretch.

“It’s fine,” he said in a yawn. A lazy hand rubbed his weighty eyes. “She needs to be walked. Fed, at least. And I don’t know if I can get up to do either of those things.” A weak little chuckle followed Kent’s words– for the first time he managed an earnest laugh in front of Dean. The occasion felt less than momentous.

“Go on and take care of her. I’ll be here– sleeping.”

“Uh huh,” Dean’s brow furrowed with concern. Was he really that exhausted? Hesitantly, he leaned down again to kiss his cheek before leaving to take care of the dog.

Chapter Text

With Lucy fed and walked (in that order), Dean headed back inside.

He was beginning to wonder if they’d ever make it to the museum. Since they’d gotten there, the farthest he’d seen Kent walk was from the car to the bed. Was he getting weaker? Dean stifled his concern and went to lie next to him, resting his head on his hands.

Eventually, Dean passed from consciousness, moving closer to Kent in his sleep.

It was then that Kent woke up. Resting at irregular hours had lead to waking at irregular hours. He turned his head a little to peek over his shoulder at Dean before eventually rolling over. For a while, all Kent did was register the slow in and out, and slight wheeze, of his breathing. Every time he exhaled a bit of dust around them would rise up, but Kent never found himself ready to cough. He scratched numbly at the exposed bedsheet and sighed.

The odd, out-of-time feeling the motel room had created still persisted. It was rather amazing what simple changes to an environment could create. Kent supposed he was feeling so sleepy because he felt so at peace. Everything was quiet, and gentle, and gray. It made him feel… Happy, in a way. Lighter than that, even.

Kent’s gaze remained trained absently on Dean. Sometimes he was watching him, sometimes he wasn’t. He thought the break was nice. No talking was required of him. No thinking, either– that was a plus. Kent sighed again. Whenever he did focus on the beatnik beside him, one of his few spare simple musings was I could watch him like this forever.

Kent didn’t get his wish. Dean woke from his nap several minutes later and gazed up at him. It took him a moment to register that Kent was awake, and watching him. Not with intense interest, but he was looking at him.

“You’re awake,” he rasped. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. Dean sat up. “Are you hungry? I think it’s about time for that.” He put a hand on Kent’s shoulder and patted it once before getting up to prepare a meal. He left the door open and was back in a few minutes with sandwiches. As usual, he took one from the top and left the rest for Kent to eat.

Dean didn’t try to start a conversation this time. He simply sat next to him and ate. Fretting over him had never helped, so why should be do it now? If Kent wanted to talk, he would.

Kent didn’t sit up to eat, feeling a bit too embarrassed to show Dean his now pink face. His own thoughts had him feeling rather out of sorts. He chalked them up to being tired. Perhaps he just needed a bit more sleep. It was ridiculous to feel so sentimental about the beatnik so soon. He chewed on his first sandwich slowly.

“You didn’t sleep long,” Kent noted. “You don’t run on very much rest, do you? I remember, it, uh, didn’t take you very long to drive all the way from Maine to Maryland. Did you do that all in one day, no breaks for a nap or something? I couldn’t to a trip like that– not all at once.”

“No, I think I stopped for food and coffee and that’s it. Remember the pancakes?” Dean took another bite of his sandwich and lied down next to him.

“You know, for some reason or another I think you’re wonderful.” He turned over so he could get a good look at him. “My question is, are you gonna be good enough to me to let me go to that museum. And will you be nice enough to come with me?”

A soft smile lit Dean’s features. “What do you think, Kent? Is it a date?” Perhaps he meant to say it that way, perhaps he didn’t, but the question was now on the table. Dean was wanting to get back to Rockwell as soon as they could for the sake of Kent’s health, but he was so sluggish now that Dean had to wonder if he would even make it back.

Kent turned hot pink. Well, actually, not even his face was capable of reaching a shade of that vibrance, but the color he did turn was the closest anyone would ever be to such a hue. He hid his face behind a pillow, as Kent found himself unable to even allow Dean a glimpse of his expression. For perhaps the first time, he was feeling exactly how childish he was acting. It was absolutely unbearable. All the man did was ask him on a– on a date.

Kent had never been asked on a date. How was he supposed to react? He supposed he could say yes. Sweat beaded up on his forehead. This was ridiculous; he was treating this too seriously. He could feel it. But at the same time…

The quiet enclosure the motel room had created for them was starting to feel suffocating. Kent kneaded his pillow nervously. He didn’t know what to say– so he said nothing. After a while he gained enough courage to lower the pillow to continue eating. How silly he was being; into his forties and acting like a preteen.

“Is that a yes?” Dean grinned at him. He was so flustered, so red, so– so cute, he couldn’t stand to keep a straight face. “Because we’re going to need to go before I run out of money and have to start bussing tables. I really want to see that museum. And after that I’ll buy you dinner, huh?”

Dean leaned closer to him on his forearms, eyelids lowering over soft brown eyes. There was a little smirk on his lips left over from his grin. He finished his sandwich and rolled back over with a sigh.

“You know, Kent, sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m gonna do with you.” He sat up just enough to get a good look out the window, propping himself up with a pillow. “I’m afraid of what might happen if I take you home. But I’m more afraid of what’ll happen if I leave you alone.”

Kent felt like he was going to faint with the way Dean looked at him. Those brown eyes of his held more power than Kent ever expected them too and more than Dean was likely aware of. They weren’t even his favorite color. But the beatnik’s gaze was just so soft and inviting, why… It made Kent’s head feel fuzzy when he looked at him like that .

“A date,” he mumbled again. They had plans to visit that museum anyways. Did that mean they already had a date? Kent shook his head a little and pressed the pillow against his face once again. “Oh, Dean, I don’t know about that. I do want to go to that museum but I don’t know if I want it to be a– a date. I’ve never done that with a fellow before.”

He almost looked up at Dean when he mentioned their return trip. Kent wasn’t sure what the hell he was going to do either. But he felt tempted to stay with Dean. For once since that fateful trip to Rockwell, Kent felt like he was thinking clearly– he felt like not everything was over. But at the same time… That meant going to Rockwell. That idea made Kent’s stomach feel tight. He decided to ignore the topic.

“What’s wrong with a date? We’ve had them before. Pretty much. We’ve eaten dinner together, kissed– and, well. We’ve done a lot of stuff. If you want, I’ll take you to a movie afterward.” Dean spoke softly and slowly, persuasive and earnest. “There’s really nothing to be afraid of.”

He leaned down and brushed Kent’s hair aside. The pillow he gently moved away from his face. “If you want this, you shouldn’t have to be embarrassed about it. No one is going to know but the two of us. I promise to keep my hands to myself. If you can do the same.” One side of his mouth pulled into a cheeky smirk.

“After all, we’re going back home together. We might as well get to know each other. Right?” A public place would allow them to keep from getting too… Distracted and Dean could watch for things that interested him.

“I– I suppose so.” Kent didn’t suppose anything. Dean was making perfect sense. Who would share their home with a complete stranger? They needed every opportunity to get to know one better. Dean did let him stay there before they set off for their trip, but that was when they outright hated one another. The kindness the beatnik possessed had Kent’s head feeling fuzzy again.

“Okay. Call it a date if you want. I want to spend time with you regardless.” Kent did appreciate Dean’s attempt at a romantic gesture. He appreciated it very much. He was a sucker for that sort of thing. It just felt so new– and because it was new it was frightening.

Kent sat up, still clutching the pillow in his arms. “Do you want to go do that now? We can go now. And a movie– uh, a movie sounds nice.” His face heated up again; memories of the things he tended to do in theaters came flooding back, and Kent felt tempted to ask if Dean was thinking along the same lines he was. But that just didn’t seem like him. Even after engaging in such– oh, he still couldn’t just outright say it – activities with him Dean just seemed so… Sterile.

“I didn’t know if there’s enough time for the museum today. We did just sleep for quite awhile. But we could do dinner and a movie, if that’s okay. If that’s what you meant.” Dean put his hand on the pillow as if in understanding.

“We could go to a burger place, then eat in the car and go to a drive-in. Those are always more private, you know?” Perhaps Dean knew exactly what Kent had in mind, or perhaps he was just being considerate of Kent’s newfound social anxiety. There was no way to tell by his face.

“Lemme just take Lucy for a walk, then we’ll decide on any of the finer points. Deal?” And then Dean walked out the door, calling enthusiastically to their dog.

“Uh– Okay,” Kent said quickly. But he was certain Dean didn’t hear him. Regardless, the beatnik had left him alone. The only company Kent had now was his thoughts; the color drained from his face. Typically being left alone with this thoughts lead to nondescript “bad things”.

This time, however, all he had to consider whether or not he wanted to go on a date with someone. Normally the answer was yes (doubly so if he planned on living with them ) but for some reason, some unknown reason, he felt conflicted. Kent shut his eyes and sighed. Figuring out why would be just dandy. He rubbed at his temples with a low, continuous groan.

There was nothing to lose from this, right? Getting to know each other better was something that definitely needed to happen (and outside of the bedroom). Maybe seeing a movie would be good. It would give them something to talk about. The more Kent considered it the more he felt comfortable with the idea. Still… Something was gnawing at him. Kent elected to ignore it and accept Dean’s invitation.

Dean came back inside smiling. “Ready to go?” He waited for him to get up and join him outside before heading to the car. Lucy was in the back, her tongue lolling out of her mouth and against the side of the car. “Dog’s been missing you. You haven’t been out of there in what? Two days?”

He sat behind the steering wheel. “I asked directions to the nearest drive-in. I think the guy said they were playing ‘The Blob’ or some other shitty horror film we can make fun of. What do you think?” Dean shifted the car into gear and headed off towards the edge of town.

“We can stop at a drive through on the way there and eat during the movie too, if you’re hungry.” He shot him a grin. “Of course, I can pay for everything, being a gentleman and all.”

Kent found his gaze deferring to his lap. “I very much appreciate that, Dean,” he said evenly. Quietly, too. His eyes were trapped under a squint– but everything just seemed so bright outside of that motel room. But eventually he adjusted and found the strength to lift his head and look back at his dog. Or was it their dog? It didn’t really matter; she was happy to see Kent and licked his cheek upon making eye contact.

“I, uh–” Kent had to pause to laugh and settle the mutt down. “Easy girl, easy. I think that sounds like a nice evening. And I am getting pretty hungry. I could go for something to eat pretty soon.” Kent wiped his face dry with the back of a hand and chuckled. “Did she get you like she got me? I’m sorry if she did if that’s the case! Good God…”

“Ah, no. I think she likes you better. I don’t really tolerate that kind of crap. Not much for drool. It’s why I like cats.” He stopped by a McDonald’s and waited behind the line of cars. “How many burgers do you want? I know you kind of like to eat. Kind of need to eat at this point, honestly, with how much you were eating before.” His fingers drummed on the wheel as they waited. “Should get a couple of cokes too, I guess.”

When they were out of there, Dean handed Kent his meal, retaining one of the sandwiches for himself, along with a few fries. He ate as he drove (and didn’t seem to suffer for it either). “Just a couple more minutes and we’re there. I’d ask if you want popcorn but we’re kinda eating already.”

“We have those fries, anyway,” Kent managed around a mouthful of beef patty. “We’re covered.” Lucy keep trying to snatch a bite of any of the food kept in the front seat, but she didn’t dare try to climb over the leather to nab any. She eventually resigned to her fate and warbled indistinctly. Kent didn’t give in to the mutt’s whining, however. Everything happened to be pretty good so he was intent on eating all of it.

“What did you say was showing again? I know you said it was a monster movie.” Kent frowned at the idea. Ever since that October in Rockwell they didn’t seem so funny anymore. 50 Foot Woman? More like 50 Foot Robot. Still, he figured he could grit his teeth and bare it for the sake of bonding.

“The Blob. Big ugly pink thing, eats people from what I’ve heard. Like an amoeba, but a hell of a lot bigger.” Dean paid their way in and picked a spot near the front. He opened his cola and leaned back to watch the commercials. Animated cups and hot dogs danced on-screen as Dean reached out the window for one of the speakers.

Dean snuck one of his fries to the dog, glancing at Kent for just a moment to be sure he wouldn’t stop him. It was his fry anyway. It shouldn’t make a difference to Kent. He stayed quiet and let Kent eat as the commercials continued to play.

“A giant amoeba, huh?” Kent’s nose scrunched up. “Sounds gross.” He could only hope that the practical effects weren’t very convincing. And that the lead actress was attractive; if she was, then his complaints would be rendered null at exponential speed. Even if Dean happened to be sitting right next to him. His eyes narrowed as he glanced at the beatnik through his peripheral vision. He didn’t look so attractive through a squint, but who did?

He kept silent as the movie started. The beginning had him feeling mildly uncomfortable (it was eerily similar to the current situation)– even more so as a glance out the window revealed that they were sitting among a sea of teenaged couples who all found a night out at the movies a great excuse to start necking. Kent sank into his seat, grabbed a handful of fries, and frowned.

Dean glanced over at Kent to see his reaction. He looked so uncomfortable. The beatnik scooted closer and finally did what must of the audience had likely already done: the yawning trick. He raised his hands over his head, let out a yawn, and lowered his arm down until it was over the other man’s shoulder. It was corny as all hell, and Dean was grinning like an idiot. Kent could go ahead and sulk and he’d turn it into a headlock. It was like being a teenager again.

Dean turned his head and gave Kent a sultry look, eyelids lowered and lips curled just so. He was only being half-sarcastic. “How much do you want to see this movie? Compared to the kids with the fogged up windows over there?”

Kent rose up in surprise and turned sharply to give Dean a look. It wasn’t judgmental– all that was on that mug of his was shock. He’d been so absorbed in his own thoughts that any interruption from them would have solicited the same reaction, let alone the old yawn-and-stretch. After his surprise faded, a hesitant smile crossed his lips.

“You think we could get away with it?” Kent took Dean’s words seriously. The move had been corny, he had to agree, so his suggestion was worth considering. “I know it is dark out here. And everyone seems pretty, uh, preoccupied. But I don’t know…”

“It’s dark and there are blankets. Nobody’s gonna see.” Dean pressed his lips to his cheek as gently as he could. “But if it really bothers you, we won’t.” He grabbed a blanket from the back anyway and wrapped it around their shoulders. Closing his eyes, he reveled in the closeness between them, relaxing against him.

Someone screamed on the silver screen, but Dean put his hand over the speaker, turning it away. “What do you think, Kent? Comfortable?” He gave him that seductive look again. They might as well have been standing in a field of corn, he looked so ridiculous.

“Well–” Kent sat up, and their height difference reappeared. He grinned. It was clear he was enjoying it a little too much. “I think this is better. Slouching like I was, it’s not good for the back.” He pulled the blanket around their shoulders closer, effectively lassoing them together. Now he was the one trying to make a move.

“If you’re really so sure no one’s going to see, then I don’t think there’d be any harm in a little fun.” He returned Dean’s earlier, feather light kiss right on his lips. The grin he’d been bearing earlier condensed into a pert smile to make it happen, but none of the delight it had carried was lost.

Kent hadn’t been so sure about their little date before, and now he was wondering what had even had him worried. There was another scream from the speaker and Kent didn’t hesitate to unplug it.

Dean lit up under Kent’s affectionate kiss, grinning from ear to ear. “I’m glad you think so.” He leaned forward to push him down against the seat and make their actions even more ambiguous. The car was beginning to steam up, especially when Dean reached over to roll up the window again.

The beatnik pressed his lips against Kent’s again, endeavoring to deepen the kiss. His hands pressed against the leather seat, holding him just above Kent. The blanket was draped over his back and flipped over his head as he moved to make himself comfortable. Finally, Dean tilted Kent’s chin up to get a better angle.

With one hand occupied, Dean had to drop down on top of Kent, pressing them close together like they had been only a few times before. His hand released Kent’s chin and reached up to grab hold of his hair, anchoring them together again.

Eventually Kent had to pull away; his breath had been stolen from him. Even under the blanket his eyes managed to appear bright and starry. For a long while he just stared up at Dean as he tried to stop his panting, the intimations of a smile flickering across his lips and then disappearing every now and then.

“You’re really good at that,” is was only thing Kent could think to say. And it was silly; if he didn’t think Dean was , why would he be so eager to kiss him? He’d done it before– he’d said that before. Laughter started bubbling up from him. For once it wasn’t because he was nervous. He just felt… Happy. Contented.

Dean smiled lovingly down at him. “You’re good at it too. Do you want to keep going?” He combed his fingers through Kent’s hair. “You know, your eyes sparkle like fireflies when you’re happy. Do you get to see them much, fireflies?”

He rolled onto his side so he wasn’t putting pressure on Kent and propped up his head with his hand. Dean was almost dizzy with happiness. Finally Kent was really happy. Not reluctant or somber or angry- happy.

He kissed his cheek and let his hand draw circles on Kent’s chest. “Is this movie good?”

“I don’t know,” Kent laughed. He swat at Dean’s hand playfully. “Come on, stop that. It tickles.” He couldn’t keep a straight face long enough to tell him off, though, and started chuckling again. The last thing that had his attention was the movie. It was dragging on, though, that much he knew. Or had the B feature (the B feature to a B-tier A feature had to be bad) started playing? Kent wasn’t sure and he didn’t care. All he cared about was whatever Dean was going to do next.

“Fireflies?” Kent just registered the comparison and accompanying question. “Sure. There’s a lot of them in D.C. You go to almost any pond and they’re there. What about up in Maine, do you have a lot there?” Kent leaned in close enough to press his forehead to Dean’s and half shut his eyes, indicating the question had been asked only to starve off silence. He offered up a silent answer to Dean’s first inquiry that way. Yes , his gentle breathing murmured.

“Yeah. We have a few. They’re beautiful when they come out in the summer.” Dean’s eyelids drifted shut as he kissed Kent on the lips. He took his hand and pulled it close, pulling Kent with it in turn. He started to undo the buttons on his collar.

“How’s this?” He finished unbuttoning Kent’s shirt and pulled off his own with a furtive glance over his shoulder. The car windows were steaming up, like so many already were. The rolled up windows were not helping in that regard.

Dean gave Kent another kiss, breathless when he pulled away again. He couldn’t help but give Kent a look of longing before he turned his head to give him yet another passionate kiss.

Kent, reluctantly, drifted away. His breathing had been thrown off, but it wasn’t the reason for his separation. He was starting to feel antsy. Exposed. The cover of fog on the windows revealed their true activities more than it did hide them. He curled the fingers of his free hand around the fabric of Dean’s shirt in an attempt to both steal his attention and bring himself back to reality.

“We should– continue this in private,” he suggested. “Someone’s going to put two and two together here. It’s not really– safe.” Kent took a few more moments to catch his breath, and after it had returned to normal spoke once again.

“I think the movie’s almost over anyways,” he noted. Kent rose up and plugged the speaker back into the dashboard. Nothing but dull credits music sounded back. He unplugged the speaker once again. “Hear that? Show’s over.”

“Good idea. It’s late anyway.” Dean opened the window to clear the fog and sat up. “No one was probably keeping track of who is in each car, but if we stay too late they might try to tell us to go. And then get a surprise.” He turned on the car and followed a few other vehicles out of the theater.

Chapter Text

Dean drove a little quickly through town, preoccupied with getting back to the motel. There, he helped Kent inside and slammed the door behind them. His mood immediately changed from concerned friend to excited lover as he turned around to lay Kent down on the bed.

There, Dean took his shirt off for the second time and crawled over Kent. He started to kiss his jaw and clutch at his hair, breath quickening once again. He leaned back abruptly. “I’m sorry, I’m a little too excited, aren’t I?”

“Uh, yeah, a little.” Kent stared back at Dean blankly. He was too busy trying to process exactly what had happened. He was happy that Dean was so eager to get him back in bed, but his enthusiasm had him reeling. Kent blinked once, twice, three times, and then felt his face heat up. Things really had moved along quickly, hadn’t they? The fingers Dean still had embedded in his hair, the absence of his shirt, and the pace of his breathing all confirmed for Kent that yes, indeed they had.

“Could we–” Kent’s subtle way of saying you “–slow things down? I don’t want to move this fast.” It just didn’t feel appropriate to him. They’d just gone on a date, and, honestly, hadn’t spent much of it talking. As much as Kent was convinced he would have been wholly satisfied with those turn of events they seemed rather… Concerning in hindsight. Perhaps if they weren’t in a hurry they could actually have the time to talk to one another. Kent framed Dean’s face in his hands and stared straight into his eyes.

“I’ve barely gotten a good look at you,” he murmured. He spotted the fading traces of the shiner he’d dealt the beatnik a while back. (Had it really been ‘a while’?) Guilt welled up in his throat but he suppressed it. Now was not the time.

“Okay.” Dean dropped his hands and looked straight back at Kent. He blinked and remembered that his eye was still a little swollen from before. It barely hurt anymore. A pang of resentment almost sent him back to the edge of the bed. He didn’t mean it. He told himself. He couldn’t have.

“Let’s uh– we should get to know each other. Maybe we should play a game. Like truth or dare?” The suggestion was stupid, but it wasn’t the worst thing he could have thought of. It was a good way to learn about each other. And maybe they could sate some of their desire between questions. Or Dean could. Guilt flushed his cheeks.

“I’ll put my clothes back on.” Dean stood, reluctant to remove himself from Kent’s hands, but did it and pulled the shirt back over his head. He sat sideways on the bed again and allowed Kent to take up most of its surface.

Kent almost told Dean that no, he really didn’t have to put his shirt back on, but stopped himself. That was defeating the purpose. Completely stopping hadn’t been what he’d envisioned but the more he considered that the more he realized how counterproductive it would have been. At least, when it came to the goal of socializing. And besides, Kent realized, he could just take his shirt off again…

He turned to give Dean another look, his posture hunched and his arms draped over his knees. “If we’re going to play truth or dare, one of us is going to have to go first, right?” Well duh . But Kent was trying to get Dean to let him do the honors. His head was still spinning a little and having to choose between the two options was the last thing he wanted to do at the moment.

“Yeah. Do you want to go?” Dean blinked rapidly, a little surprised that Kent was open to his suggestion. “I kinda want to start with truth, myself. That would just be more helpful with the goal of getting to know each other, you know?”

He was suddenly conscious of how he spoke, the casual and repetitive way he formed his sentences. God, he must have looked stupid in front of Kent. Not that Kent was smart, but the fact that he talked just like a beatnik probably wasn’t doing him any favors. “Uh, so you start. If you want.”

Luckily for Dean Kent hadn’t noticed. He was too busy feeling awkward himself. He was still reeling. Or maybe he was just tired. His eyes blinked slowly as he mulled it over. At this point he wasn’t really sure and figured that it didn’t really matter. Kent steepled his fingers as he considered what sort of question he wanted to ask Dean. Obviously he hadn’t planned that far ahead.

“Okay, truth…” he hummed. “Uh, let’s see… Have you ever… Erm…” Kent’s brow furrowed. Now he really didn’t know what to ask. This was harder than he’d anticipated. “You know what, you can go first. I can’t think of anything. Nothing at all.”

“Alright. I’ll guess you want truth, right? Let’s start slow. What did you think of me when we first met? Or now, if that’s easier to answer. I know it was a year ago and all.” Dean sat cross legged and serene, like a statue of Buddha (not that Kent would know). He looked like the question had been completely innocuous. Perhaps he had much more invasive questions in store for later. Perhaps he didn’t realize the weight of what he’d asked.

In Kent’s mental state, Dean was forced to wonder if it would have been a bad idea to give him a simple dare. Something that would calm him down, at least for a few moments. But nothing Dean knew calmed him down.

“I hated you.”

Kent stared  straight at Dean with a neutral expression. His eyes didn’t waver. He was telling the truth– bluntly, but the fact that he was being so starkly honest at all was a welcome surprise in its own right. A small sigh escaped him through his nose, his eyelashes fluttered as he blinked a few times to mentally loosen up, and he continued.

“Everything about you, I couldn’t stand. I hated the way you looked, I hated the way you carried yourself, I hated how you spoke, I hated what you said, I hated what you stood for and what you represented.” Kent’s words came out slowly. It was a sign that all of the malice he spoke of, all of the hate that had existed that previous year, had made an exodus some time ago. “I guess you haven’t changed much, though. I’m the one who’s changed.”

Kent paused to let his confession lose its shock before speaking again. “It’s my turn now, right? I guess I’ll ask you the same question. How did you feel about me, back then?”

“Well, it wasn’t good.” Dean said, chuckling. “You came out of that jeep all hellfire and brimstone. Your eyes were like ice. And not ice like a nice day of skating. Ice like hitting a patch at fifty miles an hour. But I wasn’t really angry with you. That thing– the Giant was terrifying. It was understandable. You were doing your job and I trusted that.”

He took a deep breath and hesitated. “But then I told you about Hogarth. You didn’t keep them from shooting. Later on, it didn’t add up. The missile, well, that was a panic. I didn’t blame you so much for that. But Hogarth …” He sighed, shook his head. “When I realized that, then I hated you. But I stopped, and here we are now.”

Dean almost wished for a cigarette as he leaned back on the bed. Now just seemed like the right time. “You got any more questions, Mr. Government Man?”

“Don’t call me that.” The usual venom that Kent’s rejections tended to carry was totally absent, and he ended up just sounding tired. The wounded expression on his face only deepened the effect of his words. “Do you know what I lost because of what happened? It wasn’t just my job. My whole life, Dean, everything went down the drain. I know it’s my fault, but– I still don’t–” His brow creased further and he stopped trying to find a proper way to end his sentence.

“It’s your turn by the way.” It was Kent’s question he’d answered; had Dean forgotten that? He still wasn’t in the position to be thinking of new ones anyway. Piggybacking off of whatever the beatnik asked him was what he planned on doing until something new came to mind.

“Yeah, I know. I just didn’t want to keep you in suspense. Truth, I’m guessing this time, right? I wanna know something that happened this past year. Could be anything. Nothing obvious, though. Like… We know what happened immediately after Rockwell.” He didn’t want to tell Kent that he deserved what he got. It was best not to mention it at all.

Dean stretched out on the bed, immediately regretting not asking for a dare. A little kiss would have been nice. Just a peck on the cheek. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to hurt. Just something that you remember. Something you cared about.” His eyes flicked over to watch Kent’s face, analyzing it.

“Something that happened?” Kent wasn’t sure if he should feel offended or not. Wasn’t it obvious what had happened? He’d been tried and effectively kicked out of Washington. Then he let his life hit the fan. That’s what had happened. Nothing good came of the situation. Except for, arguably, the past few weeks. But that was about it. “Nothing good, Dean. I wore myself out… Nothing worth re-living happened.” A shudder passed through him as he shoveled the foul memories back into the recesses of his mind.

“Anyway–” Kent turned back to Dean. “I’ll ask you the same thing. What happened with you?”

“No, no, you didn’t answer the question. What did you get into? Comic books? Pornography?” It was far from Dean to think of anything worse. “Here, I’ll answer your question, but you have to answer mine.”

“I got together with Annie, but I felt bad because I’m not Hogarth’s dad and I felt like I was taking his place, so we broke up. That, and I taught him a couple of swear words I shouldn’t have. Other than that, nothing I think you’d be interested in. Art, you know? But what did you do?”

He leaned forward as if he could extract the information just by looking. “Hey I won’t judge. If I haven’t already, there’s not much else you could do but maybe murder somebody.”

“Oh come on, Dean, like you don’t already know? I–” Kent cut off, turning red out of pure shame. “I started doing heroin , for God’s sake, don’t you remember? Alcohol wasn’t enough after awhile. There’s really only so many ways to say ‘my life went to shit’ before it all starts to sound the same.” He gave Dean a hard look; it was one of pure admonishment.

“Lucky you, though, huh. Got what I couldn’t. Fan-fucking-tastic.” Kent turned away from Dean completely, arms crossed in front of drawn up legs. He didn’t feel like saying much else at that point. It was understandable, too; he was feeling rather awful in a way he didn’t want to ponder for very long. His chest hurt. His head felt light. Hopefully Dean wouldn’t say anything else.

“It’s not a contest, Kent. It wouldn’t have worked out for either of us anyway.” Dean sighed and remained silent for a long time after that.

“I’m sorry. I…” It had been easier on him to forget, to not consider the full depth and pain of Kent’s addiction, but what kind of a thing was that to say when it so clearly pained him to retread the memory? “But there’s all the more reason to see a doctor now. Soon. We can do the museum tomorrow, and then we can go to Rockwell. We’ll see a doctor out of town if you want, do you won’t have to worry about the gossip that’s bound to spring up.”

And then their game was over. Or, that’s what Dean believed. He got off the bed and went to the bathroom to wash up before bed. He needed the time alone. It was hard to wrap his head around the fact that Kent had taken drugs. Especially that particular one.

Kent didn’t wait for Dean to leave the bathroom to get clean himself. He just went ahead and curled up on his bed and tried to go to sleep. His stomach hurt; he wasn’t sure if that was because his emotions were at a low or because his organs were threatening to fail again. He shut his eyes tight and tried to ignore it.

It was a task that proved impossible to overcome. Kent sat up with a noise of frustration and pressed his palms against his eyes. Couldn’t he had just refused to answer Dean’s question? It was likely he would have had to tell him one way or another regardless. The fact that he’d snapped at him hadn’t helped matters.

Dean came out of the bathroom rubbing his hair dry with a towel and sat down at Kent’s bedside. “I heard you groaning. Do you want me to go get those pills?”

Tentatively, he reached out to rub Kent’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t have asked about what happened. I’m sorry. You… Might have to tell a doctor when you get to it. So he’ll know what to do.” Dean wasn’t even sure if there was anything a doctor could do.

“You… Haven’t been shooting up lately, have you? Behind my back?” He hardly realized that he almost never left Kent alone.

“No. I’ve never– I didn’t do it like that. Needles bother me. But I haven’t touched so much as alcohol since you picked me up. You watch me like a hawk, there’s no way I can find the time to do anything else but sleep.” Kent’s tone was rather neutral; it wasn’t very clear that he appreciated Dean’s attentiveness, but the hand on his shoulder was a comfort. It occurred to him that it was very likely he could have been dead by then if Dean hadn’t been so on top of him.

On top of him . Kent had to laugh a little at his choice of wording, even if it was only on the inside.

“I’d appreciate it if you got those pills, though, thanks. I think– I think it’d be good to see a doctor soon. Not one in Rockwell. But…” Kent’s brow creased. “We’ve probably put it off for too long.”

Dean nodded in agreement. It was strange that Kent was laughing, but he chalked it up to a need for a break in his sour mood. “Tell me when. You have to make a plan or you’ll just keep putting it off. Tomorrow? Tonight? When we get closer to Rockwell?”

He stepped out of the room to find the pills and grabbed a bottle of water for him to take them with. “Here. Do you want me to step out so you can change into pajamas?” Dean sat down on his own bed to watch him from across the room.

“If you see a doctor close to Rockwell, you can see the same one again. But I think it would be best to see someone as soon as possible.”

Kent downed the pills as quickly as he could to try and spare himself the taste. He was only partially successful; a twinge of disgust tightened his expression for a few brief seconds. Why does all medication have to taste so chalky? Kent didn’t even feel too keen on finishing his water. The last thing he wanted was for the taste (or lack thereof) to spread to the rest of his tongue.

Past his dissatisfied lips smacking, Kent answered Dean’s other questions. “We can see a doctor as we get closer to Rockwell. I’d want to go back to that one. The less people in town know I’m ill, the better.” He didn’t want to gain sympathy or, God forbid, pity through illness. It was degrading. Dehumanizing, really.

“I can just change here,” he continued. “We’ve seen more than enough of each other. No point in being bashful now, huh?” A bit of a smile crossed Kent’s face– a wry one at that.

“I was just so… Excited earlier. I wasn’t sure you were comfortable with that. I don’t want to stare.” Dean moved to the other bed and lied down. He stared up at the ceiling rather than watch Kent very closely. He wasn’t comfortable with that level of voyeurism, on his part or Kent’s.

“We’ll go to the museum tomorrow then. Spend a couple of hours and get our asses back to Maine afterward. Shouldn’t take more than a few days. I’ll drive so you can rest, clearly you’re gonna need it. Do you need anything else before bed?” He sat up. “I’ve got snacks in the car, could make you a warm drink. Not coffee, that wouldn’t be very helpful. But you can wash that taste out of your mouth with it.”

“I’d like that.” Kent wondered what Dean could possibly have stored in the car he could make a quote ‘warm drink’ with. Did they have any milk? He would have settled on some. Anything was more welcome than the taste of cheap painkillers to Kent at that point. “I’d like that very much.”

As he waited for Dean to return with whatever it was he had in the car, Kent contemplated everything that had occurred up to that point. It felt like everything before their game gone awry had happened in a separate day. Funny how emotions could divide time in illogical ways. Kent rubbed one of his temples and sighed. How could things had gone if he hadn’t lost his temper, or said what he had said? There wasn’t any use dwelling on it.

Dean came back in with a steaming cup. “I brought a little cocoa mix. Figured it might be better for you than the caffeine. Not that it’s that much better anyway.” He shrugged and handed it over. “It should cancel out the taste anyway. Be careful, I heated it on the camp stove. It’s hot.”

He sat down again across from Kent, crossing his legs up on the bed. “You look intense. Anything you want to tell me about?“ Dean hesitated. “I guess I already made you tell me everything though.”

“I don’t know why I got so worked up about this. I don’t know how either of us forgot.” A sad smile broke out across Kent’s face. He held his mug close despite the heat and stared down into its contents. It wasn’t surprising that either of them had forgotten his teary confession days before; it was unpleasant (at least on Kent’s side) and he’d done a rather good job of blocking it out. Still… It made their recent friction all the more inane.

“I already told you. About what I’d been doing. It shouldn’t had been a surprise.” Kent sighed for the umpteenth time and let his smile die. “I’m sorry. I got worked up for no goddamn reason. I shouldn’t have gotten angry at you. I should have just played along, said something silly.”

“It’s fine. It’s over. Just rest now.” Dean rubbed the back of his neck, somewhat embarrassed about pressuring him so much. “I think… Maybe it would be a good idea to get some sleep. We can head to the museum in the morning. Then I can drive us towards Rockwell tomorrow night. That way I can save a little cash in case we have to stop again along the way. We’ll save time too.”

He got up and turned off the light. He left the lamp on so Kent could see to drink, then lied down. It didn’t last long, though. He got up and paced across the room a few times, then went out to the car. He came back with his guitar.

“Mind if I play? I’m a little nervous yet to go to bed. I need to calm down.”

“It’s fine.” Kent looked over at Dean with an even expression. He was feeling calmer himself already. He evidently underestimated what a good cup of hot chocolate could do. A little smile crept onto his lips at that thought; it was so silly he couldn’t not smile. “I honestly forgot you had that. I keep thinking you don’t play any instrument, to be honest with you.”

He was still sitting upright on the edge of his bed. Kent didn’t really feel like going to sleep yet. His hands held his attention for a silent moment; his eyes trained on them as he slid his palms past each other in time with his breath. “I’m not… Really in the right mindset to be sleeping right now. I’d like to listen to you play. Maybe it’ll make me feel well enough to do so, I don’t know.” He glanced up at Dean. “Do you sing?”

Dean made an affirmative noise. “Uhlittle.”

He started to hum a jazz tune as he strummed, switching between melodies as he tried to decide on a song they both might like. In the end, he picked a song that wasn’t exactly jazz, but it certainly suited him. “When this ol’ world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face…“

He hummed between the lines, occasionally mumbling the song’s title line. “On the roof it’s peaceful as can be, and the world below can’t bother me. Up on the roof.”

Dean stopped to laugh at himself, shaking his head. “I guess you’re probably tired of that by now, huh?”

Kent was staring bug-eyed at Dean. “You said you sang ‘a little’. That wasn’t a little. You’ve had to of had lessons, or something.” He turned pink. Paying Dean a compliment was just– foreign to him. Had he even done so before? Kent couldn’t remember.

“I don’t think I could ever be tired of that,” he finally said. “But for the sake of me getting any sleep maybe– maybe you should stop.” Kent was starting to understand why Dean was having dreams about everything that had happened thus far. It was hard to get certain things out of his head, even when he wasn’t conscious. Kent slipped off his Oxford shoes and finally reclined on the bed with the intent to sleep.

Dean set aside his guitar and lied down, head turned to look at Kent as he spoke. “Yeah, you’re right. You should sleep.” The beatnik opted to fill the last few moments of silence before they both fell asleep with conversation, or, at least some answers.

“No, I didn’t take any lessons. Where the hell would my dad have gotten the money? Nah, I just like to listen.”

In the long silence after that, all Dean did was listen as the sound of travel died down in the distance and Kent’s breath slowed to sleep.