Title: A Thin Red Line (A Benders Tag)
Mild language and gross-out factor, standard dis.
Author's Notes: Once again, thanks to Amy for her guidance and John for the inspiration.
Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are.
Dean swallowed a mouthful of saliva as a plate of hot pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage was set down before him. He smiled his thanks at the teenaged waiter before turning his attention back to his breakfast. His stomach rumbled and he picked up his fork, poised and ready.
Across from him, Sam was staring at his own plate. The Winchester brothers were sitting in a small booth in the corner of the Minnesota diner, Amelia's, where the crowd was just big enough that the brother's could remain anonymous. Hibbing, Minnesota was not a very big town and word had quickly spread of the Bender family arrest. It seemed to be the most exciting thing that had happened to the town in a very long time. Earlier, Dean had shaken his head at the gossip as it swirled around him. The townspeople seemed fascinated by the cannibalistic family; the Sam and Dean were repulsed and horrified. They had, after all, a first-hand account.
Yesterday, a mere 19 hours ago, Sam and Dean had escaped from that hell hole. The Benders were some sick puppies- kidnapping people only to turn them lose in the back forty and hunt them as if they were mindless woodland creatures. Dean had seen the Polaroid's of Jared, Lee, and Pa Bender posing with their kills- pride evident on their smiling faces as they displayed the dead human bodies. Those images burned had in his mind, warning him of Sam's fate should he fail in his rescue mission. He almost had too, if Sam hadn't been the fighter Dean trusted him to be.
Dean swallowed hard, remembering the pain of having to chose between the kind-hearted, female deputy Kathleen and his brother. Despite the red-hot brand in his face, Dean knew he made the correct choice. After all, he had helped train Sam for situations like this. Survival Skills 101 had been Dad's favorite lesson and it was something Sammy could participate in even when he was too young to hunt ghosts. Dean had faith that Sam could escape the very-human Bender family and return with help. Sam knew how to move without making a noise, knew how to cover his tracks and even make false trails. Failure had never crossed Dean's mind.
Except during last night's nightmare. He was saved from the horrible images of Sam's lifeless body by the distressed sounds of Sam's own nightmare, and Dean had found no sleep after that. Instead, he spent the early morning hours keeping watch by the motel's window, listening to Sam struggle with the nightmares of having spent the last two days inside an actual cage. When his little brother's movements became frantic, Dean decided it was time for them to move on. He woke Sam with a nudge and shortly after that they were on the road out of town.
Dean's rumbling stomach reminded him of why he was here in the first place. He blinked away the memories and inhaled deeply, savoring the sweet scent of syrup mixed with the salty scent of savory sausage. A big breakfast was a rarity for them; their money was most often used for ammunition, gasoline, or motels. But this morning had been different. Both brothers had very nearly lost their lives at a type of evil they were ill-prepared for: humans. The breakfast was comfort food- and a we-escaped-by-the-skin-of-our-teeth celebration meal.
"We did the right thing, right?"
Dean looked up from his pancakes, surprised by the sudden question. Sam was separating his eggs into two piles. "What?"
"Yesterday. We did the right thing, didn't we?
Dean recognized that look- the one that said Sam had been thinking too much. "You mean by putting those murdering cannibals behind bars? Yeah, Sam, I think we did the right thing."
Sam stabbed the mound of butter topping his pancakes and swirled it through the syrup. "It's just that when you think about it, they aren't so different from us."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "What?" He leaned forward in order to catch Sam's voice better. "Did you just say that we're like the Bender family?"
Sam shrugged, setting his fork down and settling his gaze on Dean. "They were hunters, Dean. The kind of hunters that can't talk about what it is they hunt. Like us."
"No Dean," Sam interrupted. "Hear me out on this. They were devoted to hunting. They stopped acknowledging their prey's intelligence, the ability to feel emotion. The Benders hunted like they couldn't control it- like it had taken over their lives. What if they had a reason for doing it? What if they were hunting out of some weird, messed up vengeance?" Sam paused, then, "What if in their eyes, they were only serving justice?"
"Like what, Sam?" Dean countered, shaking his head. "What could the entire human race possibly have done to deserve being held in cages, then hunted and killed like animals? You think someone killed their mother, is that it? You think someone pinned Mrs. Bender to the ceiling and set her on fire? You think the Benders couldn't help what they became?" Dean snorted, the words hurting himself as much as they must be hurting Sam. The fork rested in his right hand, forgotten. "I hate to break it to you Sammy, but nobody's innocent. Those people were messed up, ya hear? They were crazy. They are not like us. You don't see us going around and killing people, do you?" As if to prove his point, Dean stabbed at his ketchup-bathed eggs and took a bite.
Sam remained still, watching Dean with a charged silence. Dean could see the wheels turning in his brother's mind. "They were loyal, too, weren't they?" Sam asked quietly, staring straight at Dean with an unnerving look of innocence. He was like a damn dog with a bone sometimes. "Once they came into the barn and realized something had happened to Lee, his brother and father were pissed. And the look on Jared's face when he shot his father… I've seen that look before."
Sam stopped talking. The conversation was over as far as Dean was concerned, but he humored Sam anyway. "Yeah?" He shoved some syrup-saturated pancake in his mouth. "Where?"
Dean promptly swallowed and focused on Sam. "Excuse me?" He grabbed his glass of milk, his fingertips slicking with cold condensation. "Dad never hurt us."
Sam shook his head once, very slightly. "It's the look he got when he'd been thinking about Mom. The same look he had when we were little and he led us into battle." Sam's gaze dropped to the ketchup bottle. "That's what Jared looked like."
Sam looked at him expectantly and Dean hurried to swallow his milk. He dropped the glass down upon the red checkered tablecloth with enough force to draw their neighbor's attention. "Don't you dare compare Dad to those whack's," he growled lowly, pointing a rigid finger at Sam's chest. "What we do is different and you know it. We kill to keep people safe from the shit that lives in the shadows- things like the Benders. It's not just about Mom anymore, it's about getting rid of evil." Dean let his finger drop when he noticed the concerned looks from a white-haired lady behind Sam. He forced his voice lower and continued, "What we're doing keeps people alive. And we don't do it for sport, either. Every time we uncork a bottle of wholly water or open Dad's journal, we're putting our asses on the line. The Benders did that shit for fun. We do it because we have to."
A spark of denial flared within the depth of Sam's moss-colored eyes, but it was blinked away quickly. "What about the girl? She'll be sent to a foster home. It wasn't her fault her family was messed up. She didn't know any better."
"Missy? Dude, she's thirteen. When you were thirteen, you were ready to move out and live in old man Shoemaker's attic, remember?"
A flicker of smile twitched at the corner of Sam's mouth, and he picked up his fork once more. "What did you expect? We just came back from a four-day vampire hunt. I missed my first school dance."
Dean stuffed the last of his pancakes in his mouth and smirked. "Like you had a date, Geek Boy."
Sam ducked his head and feigned interest in his breakfast.
Dean swallowed and stared at him, taking note of the uncomfortable shift, the hunched shoulders… "What- you did? You're kidding me! Who would go to a dance with you?"
"A girl in my science class," Sam muttered, fidgeting the way he hadn't in a very long time. "Her name was Cynthia."
"Lemme guess. She had thick glasses and used pocket protectors?"
Sam huffed, no longer trying to hide his smile. "Shut up. At least none of my girlfriends were thrill-seeking rednecks."
Dean briefly laid a hand over his heart. "Sammy, you wound me. If Sally were here, she'd kick your ass." He pushed back from the table and his empty plate, pointing at Sam's half-full one. "Eat that- you're not taking a doggie bag in my car. I'm gonna take a piss."
Sam rolled his eyes and Dean added over his shoulder, "We're hittin' the road when I come back!"
Dean disappeared and Sam stared down at his plate, still a little uneasy about the past couple days. The waiter passed by and Sam asked for the check, then began picking at the greasy scrambled eggs once more. The similarities between the families were there- it was undeniable. He shouldn't have said anything to Dean. Dean's opinion was always biased, always slanted in favor of Dad. Harboring doubts about the Winchester family morality made Sam feel like he was completely alone; if he tried to talk to Dean- like he just had-, he'd feel as if he were betraying his brother and Dad for thinking such things. Sam sighed softly and let the sounds of the diner wash over him: plates clinking in the kitchen, coins jingling from the cash register, the steady hum of early morning chatter, and the occasional honk from the traffic on the highway outside all volleyed for his attention.
The elderly couple behind him mentioned the Bender family and Sam zeroed in on their conversation as he kept eating.
"…just horrible. How could something so hideous have been going on in our town? I moved here so the kids would have a safe place to grow up. I guess I was wrong."
"I heard that after they killed those people, they ate them."
"Richard! That's horrible! I'm trying to eat breakfast!"
"It's true," the teenaged waiter interrupted, absently placing the check next to Sam's elbow as he captured the couple's attention. "I heard they chopped up the people with a big cleaver and put them through a meat grinder to make sausage."
Sam stared at his plate, the rest of the conversation fading away behind the thunderous voices and flashing images in his head. He remembered coming-to slumped against the cold metal bars of a crude but sturdy cage, his head aching and knots in his neck and shoulders. Jenkins, the man they had been searching for, was in the cage next to him. They'd traded a few words before the Benders entered the barn and left a plate of food for Jenkins, then retreated just as wordlessly. Once Sam and Jenkins were alone again, Jenkins inhaled his food. He'd gotten there an whole day before Sam- the man had to be hungry.
The next day, after Jenkins had become the Bender's next trophy and Sam was alone in the dark and drafty barn, the cloaked figures had returned and left a plate in the corner of his cage. Sam had only eyed the food, his mind working too desperately on an escape plan to allow himself the luxury of hunger. After all- if was dead, he couldn't be hungry, could he?
Sam blinked, the after-image of that lone sausage on a pristine plate burning his mind's eye. Sausage. They had been feeding their captives- they had been feeding him- people-sausage. Human meat. Ground-up, freshly killed, once-was-a-human-being flesh, bone and blood. On a plate. While he sat in a cage like a helpless animal.
One more day and he probably would've eaten it, unknowingly...
Scrambled eggs and pancake lurched up his throat before he was completely out of his chair. He raced in the direction Dean had gone, colliding with a middle-aged waitress along the way. Glasses crashed in his wake but he kept going, shoving through the door to the men's restroom and causing someone on the other side to fall back into the wall. Sam hit his knees in front of the nearest toilet and proceeded to rid his stomach of its contents.
Sam thought he heard his name but the sound of his own choking and gagging was echoing too loudly in the narrow stall. Tears blurred his eyes and he didn't wipe them away, should he accidentally look into the toilet and see chunks of his breakfast swimming around the bowl, staring up at him. He really didn't need that visual.
"Hey, what's wrong with you? You sick?"
A hand fell upon his shoulder and Sam recognized Dean's voice. He shook his head, not trusting himself to answer, and focused on breathing through the dying dry heaves.
"You think you could stop now? You're kinda smellin' the place up."
Sam closed his mouth and breathed through his nose, ignoring the scent of vomit. Tremors shook his body despite his efforts to stop them. His hands were cold and numb and his knees hurt from the impact with the tile floor. His mouth filled with watery saliva and he spit into the bowl. The sound of the small plunk was magnified in the silence of the three-stall bathroom.
"Sammy? You okay?"
He nodded, confident at last that his stomach was empty. He leaned back, bumping into Dean. "I'm okay," he said. "I will be."
"I-" Sam stopped, feeling his stomach begin to creep up his esophagus once more. Suddenly he couldn't stand sitting on the floor and he pushed himself up. Once on his feet, he tilted and caught himself on the metal panel separating the toilets.
Dean's hands were on him. "Sam- easy. Talk to me."
"Yeah," he said, pushing off the wall and floating towards the sink. He turned on the faucet, ignoring his pale reflection in the mirror, then washed his hands and rinsed his mouth out.
"You wanna tell me what this little bout of bulimia was all about?"
Sam shut his eyes for a moment, gathering his strength. "I almost ate someone," he said, leaning over the running sink- just in case.
"Yesterday, in the cage. I almost ate Jenkins." Sam swallowed, his shoulders tense, and waited.
Dean shifted his weight. "I don't get it. I thought the Benders killed- Oh. Oh."
"Dude, that's gross."
Sam huffed. "No kidding."
"Ugh. Dude, that's really gross."
Sam raised his head and looked at Dean in the mirror. "Yeah, I know."
"You didn't… did you?"
Dean nodded his approval. "Good man." He clapped Sam on the shoulder. "Come on, let's get out of here. Let's find a gig on the coast this time, okay? Far away from one-horse towns and inbred hillbillies."
Sam agreed wholeheartedly, shaking the last of the images from his mind. "Yeah, good idea."
Dean held the door open for Sam. "Sam, when are you gonna learn- all my ideas are good ones."
"Yeah, right. What about the time you broke curfew and took Scary Stacey to the drive-in movies?"
"Quit callin' her that," Dean said as they returned to the table. "And had you been in that car, you would think that was a good idea."
Sam ignored the look of smug satisfaction as Dean pulled out his wallet and placed a bill on top of the check. He shook his head and smiled. "It didn't sound like such a good idea once you got home. Dad fried your ass."
"Yeah, but it was worth it."
Sam turned and led the way towards the door, glad to finally be putting this town behind them. He'd had enough of Minnesota to last him a very long time. Give him a wendigo or ghost truck any day and he wouldn't complain- but cannibalistic humans he didn't do. People were just plain crazy. He'd take his chances with the supernatural, thank you very much.
Behind him, Dean grabbed the last sausage link from his plate took a bite, winking charmingly at the waitress as he followed his little brother.