Mark gasped sharply when Dean ripped the wire from its connection. For a moment he was stunned, half-convinced he was dead. But with the wire gone, he found breathing came a little easier, reminding him his life was ahead of him now. He was halfway out of the dark.
"Is… is that it?" he murmured, fingers absently fiddling the rest of the wires binding the device to him. Its hold on him was considerably looser, and Mark's heart began to lift at the prospect of true freedom. "Is it safe now?"
Dean pushed at the wires around Mark's chest. "That's it," he confirmed, tugging the device away from Mark's back. "That one wire connected the power supply, and once disarmed, it can't shock you."
Once the tracker was loose, Dean ripped out the two other wires, glowering at the thought that if he'd pulled either of them first, the nefarious device would have shocked and killed Mark and Dean together. With those wires gone, Dean could remove it fully. He scowled, tossing it carelessly to the ground. It reminded him of a shock collar, controlling Mark like he was nothing more than an animal instead of a person with his own thoughts and feelings. A sister to watch out for.
Time slowed down for Mark as the last wires broke off and the feeling sank in, when the constant pressure against his back and around his ribs disappeared completely. He froze, overcome with emotion. His arms wrapped around his ribs almost in disbelief, reminding himself that they were gone.
Mark's breaths stuttered with bottled-up sobs, feeling lighter than he had in years. After so long, he was finally free of everything Euan had done to him, made him do, turned him into. His head spun with shock, relief, ecstasy, and the ability to take in more air than he had in years.
After a moment, Mark felt a light nudge against his shoulder that brought him back to reality. He bit back a cringe when he looked over to see one of the human's fingers retreating as quickly as it had come to prod him, his bright green eyes jumping up to meet John's. The warm concern in that face was a stark contrast to the blind rage Mark had found him in earlier in the night.
"How long was that thing on you?" the human asked softly.
Mark blinked, swallowing past his trepidation to answer, "S-six years. It got removed every now and then, but mostly it…stayed on."
John barely suppressed a wince at the memory of how tight those wires were bound around him. "Look, um. I'm a doctor, and I can't help but worry about this kind of stuff. Mind if we take a look at your chest, make sure there's no permanent damage?"
Again with the blunt phrasing, but John was much too tired and far too concerned for tact.
Mark's brow shot up. "Uh, I-I guess," he stammered out, uncurling his body and lifting his shirt until his ribs were exposed. There were clear lines where the wires used to be, subtle indentations in the man's dark skin. Aside from mottled bruising around those lines, there didn't seem to be any major injury to Mark's delicate bones.
John slowly lifted his hand to eye level to better examine Mark's ribs, reminded of the first time he met Sam and Dean. Looking after the younger Winchester's bruised chest. So much had changed since that day. "Is it sore?" he inquired.
"Not so much anymore," answered Mark, surprising himself with the ease at which the response came. The human simply had a calming manner about him, the antithesis of the soul-piercing stare the professor used to give off. "I think it's just gonna take me a while to get used to breathing properly, eh?"
"I can't imagine," John replied, lowering Mark and Dean back to chest level. "I'll get you a cold pack before you settle in, just in case."
Dean nodded to himself as he watched John check Mark over, mostly distracted by thoughts of what they were going to do with the kid. There was no way Dean would keep him from his sister, not after everything they’d gone through to free everyone, but he wasn’t overly keen on having Mark too close to Sam.
At least he knew John would be out here, watching. “You can stay at our place with Anita while you get better,” Dean offered. “Just don’t bother Sam. He’s gonna need all the rest he can get after today.” The memory of how Sam had slumped while Dean supported his weight came back. Sam was the most independent person Dean knew, and now he couldn’t walk or even stand on his own.
Offering a hand, Dean gave Mark a smile. “Name’s Dean Winchester, and the doc here is John Watson.”
Mark stared at Dean's hand for a second. He hadn't expected such a friendly gesture so soon after that intense chase throughout the flat. The excitement that filled his heart upon hearing that Dean was letting him stay threatened to overwhelm him, and he had to remind himself to nod in agreement to Dean's condition.
"Absolutely! I-I can't thank you enough, mate!" With only a slight residual hesitation, he took Dean's hand. "Mark Bend. Good to finally meet you properly, Dean."
Mark glanced up at the human, managing a grateful, if twitchy, smile before skimming the rest of the room, his eyes freezing on the bookshelf that hid Sam and Dean's home. Though everything in him wanted to be there as soon as possible, he didn't want to seem overeager. As generous as Dean was being, Mark had a feeling he was still wary of bringing him into his house. Understandably so, after everything Mark had done to his brother.
Mark wasn’t the only one who wanted to get back into the walls. “I don’t know about you, but I think it’s long past time to get some shut eye,” Dean said, glancing between the other two, and avoiding looking at Mark’s former harness. The guy had been forced to wear that torture device for so long. Taking it apart had felt good.
Dean waved at the kitchen. “You can get Mark all the ice he needs, but I gotta get back to Sam to check on him. I’ve been gone for too long now with everything that happened today.”
Meeting Mycroft and Stan, checking out the deaths in Wembley and coming back to a confrontation with Mark. All that time since he’d seen the others in his home, and long since he was able to check on Sam. He could barely contain the nervous energy that had build up in him at their long separation.
Mark looked to John again and, for the first time in six years, asked something of a human. The last time, he'd begged Euan not to hurt Anita, and that plea had ultimately not been heeded.
"I'd actually rather go with Dean," he said tentatively, doing his best to fight a flinch as John's brow lifted. He clasped his hands to keep them from shaking as he continued. "I can survive the night, I think. Maybe in the morning we can do the ice?"
Mark practically held his breath as he watched John consider his request, letting it out with relief when the larger man nodded. "As long as you're not injured, I don't see why not. Just take it easy, and see me sometime tomorrow if it's still tender," John conceded.
"Yes, sir," Mark beamed. He braced himself as John shifted, catching himself staring at Dean. All he could think of was how lucky he was to have found a couple of human beings who seemed to really care about Dean and his brother. And apparently, that extended to anyone their size.
John reached down to detach Dean's hook from the chair and pass it back to its owner. While Dean coiled the line and stowed it away, the doctor stood and walked smoothly to the bookshelf, letting the borrowers hop off on the edge. "I'll be right here all night," he reminded them as he crouched to be at eye level with them. "Anything you need, give a shout."
Dean nodded in reply. “Trust me, we will,” he said. With all the people in his care, taking Mark in was a calculated risk, but Dean wouldn’t be the one to keep the man separated from his sister any longer. It wouldn’t take long to know if he was telling the truth, based on Anita’s reaction when they got in, and if something went wrong, Dean would truss the man up himself (there was no room for Mark to jump away while in the small home), or call out for John if they needed assistance like before.
Turning his back on John, Dean gestured at the entrance. “Try not to wake anyone else up,” he warned Mark, knowing by now it was unlikely anyone was awake. They were all strung out and stressed, coming off the experience of being captives and offered freedom at last. Based on his own experience with captivity, anyone that fell asleep was likely to stay asleep well into the next day.
Dean lead the way past the books, darkness falling over both of the smaller men as they vanished from John’s sight. It was comforting to Dean after an entire day out in the open, though he’d never admit it out loud. Something in him screamed against wide, open spaces, knowing how hard it was to defend himself from all angles, especially without Sam watching his back. That kid’s knack was invaluable.
“They’re right back here,” Dean whispered, keeping his voice down to avoid waking anyone. He stood back to let Mark go ahead of him, preferring the other man in sight. No sounds made it through the door to them, no voices hushing at their movement.
Mark swallowed thickly before stepping into the home. The last time he set foot there, he was little more than a tool, his human's plaything, with barely a will of his own. Now, his footsteps felt lighter than they had in years. Euan wasn't waiting for him anymore. No one was going to get hurt.
Mark was free. Anita was free, and he was mere inches away from her.
He peered around the darkened room as his eyes adjusted. After a few blinks, he could make out the shapes of people asleep on the floor, resting on piles of fabric. He started to tense up again while he carefully tiptoed around them, worried they might be more people he'd helped capture, but as he looked at each of them closely in search of his sister, he found that he didn't recognize anybody. A sigh of relief that he might not meet any more hostility during his stay had just left him when his bright green eyes fell on Anita's sleeping form.
Mark's breath caught, feet shuffling numbly forward. A part of him didn't want to wake her at all, the sight of his sister so relaxed and at peace after so many years of seeing her in pain if he saw her at all. He had been the taller twin since they were sixteen, but now she just looked tiny, obviously malnourished from her time in captivity.
However, he couldn't stop hopeful tears from pricking at his eyes as he saw her hair. Formerly much too long, matted and tangled from lack of care, now it lay in a short halo around her face. Just the way she always liked it.
Mark slowly knelt down next to his sister, cupping her face in one trembling hand. The warmth of her skin was almost too much to bear after so long without contact with Anita, and yet it wasn't enough. He leaned in close to gently kiss her forehead.
Anita began to stir, his touch dragging her from the depths of sleep. "Wha's happ'nin?" she mumbled, blinking blearily.
"You cut your hair," Mark whispered.
Anita drew in a sharp breath and sat up quickly, eyes round as she stared at Mark's shape in the darkness. "M… Mark…" she breathed in disbelief.
Mark beamed, eyes welling up with tears in time with his sister's matching bright greens. "Annie…"
She reached a hand up to touch his face, but her fingers hesitated before they could. "Are you… Is this real?"
Instead of answering, Mark simply took her hovering hand in his, her lithe one nearly disappearing from sight. Anita let out a quiet sob and, overcome with emotion, she wrapped her arms tightly around her brother at last.
Mark bit back a wince under Anita's powerful embrace, the pain dulled by the joy filling him from head to toe. He hugged his sister back, tears flowing freely down his cheeks as Anita sobbed into his chest. Mark gently shushed her and rubbed her back reassuringly, not wanting to wake everyone else from their well-needed sleep. She nodded and caught herself, quieting down to sniffles, just happy to have her brother back.
"I've got you," she murmured, both a reassurance for Mark and herself. She finally had him back, and she wasn't going to let him go anytime soon.
Dean watched the twins reunite, feeling as though he was intruding on an intimate moment. Anita’s reaction to Mark helped lessen his fears about letting the man who’d helped kidnap Sam into their home. The methods used by Euan and those other humans were more damaging to their captives than first met the eye; it made people wary of Mark when he was really just a victim like the others.
Deciding to leave them be, Dean picked his way through the others, checking them one last time to be sure they were okay. Gone were any thoughts of returning to the kitchen to grab food. He could do it in the morning. There was no way he had the energy needed to scale the cupboards or carry out enough food for the others.
Bree was curled up not far from Anita, fast asleep. Moira was between her and Kara, her eyes quickly flicking from side to side in her sleep and moving restlessly. Dean shifted the makeshift pillow she was using so it was under her head again, and her breathing calmed. Christian and Mikael both remained protectively close to Kara, and slept as peacefully as could be hoped.
Assured that everyone was okay, Dean quietly moved to the bedroom he shared with Sam. His little brother was stretched out on his back, his face slightly scrunched up in pain in his sleep. There was no good way for him to sleep, with his leg needing to remain stretched out and his back paining him from the burn, not to mention all the other bruises that covered his body.
Dean found himself clenching his fist at the memory of everything that Sam had gone through without them. If only he had been there, they could have kept Sam--
But no. It was over and done with, and he had to focus on what was important. Helping Sam get better.
With that thought in mind, Dean tossed himself onto his own nest, curling all the fabric around him into a ball until he vanished in the folds. It was only seconds before his eyes fluttered shut and his breathing evened.
John let out a long breath and pushed himself to his feet, left alone with the borrowers all in the walls. Though he was tempted to throw himself into his chair in exhaustion, he knew it was out of the question with people recovering so nearby.
Instead, John let his gaze sweep across the empty room. After witnessing and participating in a chase with such small people running around, it seemed much more spacious than it did before. In his own humble flat, John somehow felt small and far too big at the same time.
A tiny reflection in the corner of his eye, the smallest difference in the room John knew by heart, tugged his attention away from that feeling. With a frown, John approached the tiny device he'd left behind on the floor after Dean threw it aside. The device that had been attached to Mark, constantly threatening his life.
The machine looked so miniscule as John loomed over it. Yet it had been a significant part of someone's misery for years, and it went much further than Mark, or Anita or Sam. Countless people had been affected, stolen from their homes and lives and put into captivity, all because someone, on a whim, attached that device to a person who would do anything to protect his family.
John's foot came down on the awful thing, and he wished it was Euan's face his foot was grinding down on. Even so, it gave him a certain satisfaction to crush the plastic and metal into the carpet, despite the fact that it was as dead as its creator.
His shoulders slumped as he let out a deep sigh, feeling the weight of the day's events slip away as he slunk to the kitchen to find a dust pan, intent in disposing of the last trace of evil in the flat. Then he'd return to his chair and go back to sleep, watching over the shelf.
Tomorrow was a new day.
Blue eyes stare back at her, and a chilling laugh rends the air. There is no floor, no walls. She is suspended helplessly, a unrelenting grip around her waist. Struggling does nothing, screams fall on uncaring ears.
“And this sweet child will be especially useful when the time comes.”
The voice falls like the pounding of stakes on her ears, and she tries her best to block it out. She will never help, never give in, never--
Moira awoke with a gasp. An older woman with cropped brown hair was leaning over her. Moira stared up at the stranger, her dark brown eyes locking gaze with eyes just as dark. No one else in the room seemed to realize she was there. Bree briefly turned over in sleep, smiling in Moira’s direction.
“Yes,” the woman said, a smile gracing her lips as she drank in Moira’s form. “You’ll do nicely.”
With a flash, the moment ended and the woman evaporated into thin air. The nightmare was dispelled in the silent night air as Moira’s chest heaved in deep breaths, trying to remember what it was that had torn her from sleep, trying to reconcile that with what she’d seen after.
But all she could remember from her dream was a flash of blue, and even the memory of the woman began to fade like a shade of another life.
Eventually, her pulse began to calm, and she lay on her back, shaking in place. She curled the grey fabric of John’s torn shirt around herself, trying to hide from the nightmares that grew more vivid each and every night. This was the first time they’d leaked over into the waking world.
It was a long time before she found sleep again.
Chapter artwork by QuackGhost!