A/N: This has the potential to be a lot longer, more detailed, and action-packed, but I realized as I was trying to write it that all I really wanted to get to was this scene. So… here's the scene, sans the rest of the story. I think it's more fun that way anyway.
For information about a few references skip to the bottom first (I hate bulky author's notes in the beginning, especially for such a short story). Or just wait until the end to find out. I can't decide if they're necessary or not.
It took Dean a moment to realize he had burst through the tree line. He was so focused on running and so high on adrenaline that he only noticed at all because he wasn't tripping over roots anymore, the air felt more open and he could see the moon, and most of all… well, all of the sudden he felt as if he weren't being chased anymore. He collapsed to his knees right in the middle of the dark country road that would lead him back to town—he could even see the lights up ahead.
Then he realized he was alone. He stood up again, even though his leg muscles were screaming from all the running he'd done in the past few hours. He was bleeding from many cuts and scrapes all over his body, quite badly from some. But he didn't mind either at the moment. He frantically scanned the gloom amidst the trees, hoping to see movement, to see something…
"Come on," he muttered. "Come on."
And there he was, stumbling through the trees, pale face gleaming in the moonlight beneath dark hair. Dean rushed over to him.
"Are you hurt?" he asked. He gripped the boy by the arm, pulling him back to his feet.
"No," said Ben Braden, through gritted teeth. Then, unable to help himself, he complained, "Ow!" and clutched his side.
Dean chuckled as if he wasn't worried, "Yeah, that's what I thought. That thing knocked you pretty good." He tried to position himself so he could continue to support the boy, but he shrugged out of the way, standing on his own, albeit unstably.
"Yeah," admitted Ben, "the… what is it… shit, fuck, I was just looking at this on Wikipedia last night."
"Dude, Wikipedia?" Dean asked with raised eyebrows.
"Surprisingly accurate," replied Ben, nodding. "Oh, curupira!"
Dean looked warily back through the trees. He could see nothing, hear nothing. And the feeling was gone, that overwhelming feeling of being hunted, but most importantly the one that had been ringing through his entire body for hours. Like someone had put a bell in his chest, and every time it was struck a resounding 'GET OUT OF MY FOREST' vibrated through his bones. "I thought it might be," he sighed. "Damn, don't those live in like Brazil? What the hell is one doing in Ohio?"
Ben shrugged, then winced when the motion hurt his ribs. Dean wondered if one or two might be broken, and then there was the large cut over the boy's right eye, which was bleeding too much. He would probably need stitches. Then Dean realized he had gotten distracted and Ben was explaining something. "…when all those people started to go missing I figured there had to be something here. Then I noticed that almost all of them were hunters. You know, like deer hunters. The one guy who wasn't was a contractor who wanted to demolish some of the forest and put up condos."
Dean nodded, impressed. He had come to investigate the missing people as well, but hadn't made the connection yet that everyone who had disappeared had meant harm to the forest in some way. "Smart, kid. How do we kill it?"
Ben looked somewhat embarrassed. "Um… well, we don't, actually. As far as I can tell. I think the best you can do is appease it. Or destroy the forest."
"Woah, are you serious?" Dean asked, obviously annoyed at the prospect of something he couldn't kill. "It's killing people, we can't just leave it here, or appease it, or whatever."
"Well, we can't really destroy the whole forest either…" Ben pointed out. "If we, say, started a fire, the curupira would probably just put it out. And then kill us."
Dean tried to come up with a solution for a moment, but every bit of him was hurting and thinking too much made him feel lightheaded. He groaned, "Aaah, fuck it. I'll figure something out. For now, you're going home."
Ben took a few steps back, which unsteadied him a bit, but not so much that he couldn't glare and announce, "Fuck no!"
"What do you mean, fuck no?" Dean demanded. "What are you even doing here, Ben?"
"Saving your ass, if you didn't notice," the boy replied.
Dean rolled his eyes, ignoring the truth of the statement. "Like I need a kid to save me. I was doing fine on my own."
"Where's your partner, anyway?" Ben wondered. For a moment his eyes trailed back to the trees as he thought that perhaps the other man had been lost before he'd found Dean. "Sam, right?"
"He's not my partner," Dean snapped, "He's my brother. And he's, uh, well he's off on his own now."
"Oh," Ben snorted, "Couldn't put up with you, huh?"
"Well, sort of," Dean replied, chuckling. He paused as if wondering how best to explain the situation, and finally continued with, "We've kind of got this thing going where… well, whenever we see each other we sort of want to kill each other."
Ben did seem surprised. "Damn," he said, eyes wide. "You guys have a fight?"
"Yeah," said Dean casually, the same amused smirk in place, "Yeah, we did. If by fight you mean eternal conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil."
Now the conversation had gotten beyond Ben. "What?" he asked, bewildered.
"Never mind, it's complicated," Dean sighed. "He still calls sometimes though, I'll tell him you said hi." With that he turned and started walking down the road, back toward the town. He kept his pace slow, nonchalant, knowing that the kid would catch up but wanting to make it look like he didn't care one way or the other.
Sure enough Ben called, "Wait!" He sounded flustered.
Dean turned around and acted like he was surprised Ben had spoken again. "What?"
"Are you just going to leave again?" Ben demanded. He ran to catch up with Dean, and obviously the motion pained him. "After what we just did?"
Dean kept walking, but made sure his strides were small enough that Ben could keep pace without hurting himself too badly. Any normal person would have called an ambulance for him, for the both of them maybe. But Dean wasn't normal, and, as he was disappointed to learn over the past few hours, Ben wasn't exactly normal either. "Hey, kid, you really saved my skin back there," he said, as they walked, "And I appreciate it. But you… you don't really want to do this, do you? Hunting. It's not cool, and it's not fun. Okay, well, it is pretty cool, and it's kind of fun, sometimes, but for the most part it just sucks and makes you miserable."
Ben thought this over for a few seconds before pointing out, "You're not miserable."
"Are you kidding me?" Dean asked, "I'm the most miserable bastard I know! I just hide it beneath a sarcastic exterior because it's the only way I know how to deal."
Ben raised his eyebrows, then winced when the action irritated his cut. "That's kind of hard to believe when you say it so sarcastically."
"Case in point!" Dean said as if he'd just won the argument. "Look. People get into hunting because… because they're meant to be hunters. Because they got a reason. I'm a hunter because my dad made me into one, and now I can't be anything else, you know? I'm stuck. But you, you could be anything. You should go to college, get some fancy degrees, be a doctor or a banker or something."
"That shit's lame, Dean."
"Well of course it's lame!" Dean acknowledged. "But it's safe. And you'll have a chance at being normal. Happy. Having a family."
They walked in silence for a minute or two. In truth their pace was painfully slow. If he weren't so tired himself, Dean would have considered picking Ben up and carrying him back to town. He'd be nineteen or twenty by now, he knew, but he looked a little young for his age. About Dean's own height, with muscle, but still wirey in build. He wouldn't be that heavy.
Of course, there was no way Ben would suffer something like that. He would probably literally fight Dean over it. Dean knew he would, because he would do the same himself. It was the same reason he was neglecting to point out Ben's injuries after initially making sure the kid could stand. And he wondered if that was why Ben wasn't saying anything about his either.
"I do have a reason, you know," Ben said finally.
"What's that?" Dean asked. By then he'd already forgotten what they were talking about, but was reminded and given a huge sense of dread with it at Ben's reply.
"God, please don't tell me that," Dean groaned. "You think that's supposed to be a good thing? It's like I…" he searched for the words to explain his feelings. "I… infected you, or something. I infected you with hunting, and now you're life is going to be screwed. My fault."
Ben didn't reply to that, probably ignoring the comments because he didn't agree with them, which only made Dean angrier. Instead he said, "It's hard to remember all the details sometimes, of what happened that night. It was so long ago. But I remember you, and Sam. You kicked so much ass. And you weren't afraid, and you saved me."
"Oh, I was plenty afraid," Dean said seriously. "I don't want you to think that all hunters are so tough that we don't get scared. Anyone who tells you that, it's bullshit, okay? Because hunters are just people. Obsessive, weird-ass people, but we're just people, we're not superhuman." He thought for a moment before conceding, "…Well, most of us aren't."
"What were you so afraid of?" Ben pressed, "That night you saved me?"
Dean shrugged. God, he hated serious, heart-felt conversations. That was the one good thing about not having Sam around. It was a lot easier to go along without analyzing all of his feelings. "I don't know," he said, "I was afraid… I was afraid you were going to get hurt." For him it was all too easy to remember the details of that night, especially in regards to Ben. The kid had shown real bravery, and an ability to keep his cool in a crisis. A crisis involving monsters. When he was eight. That was something you didn't see every day.
And he remembered being scared out of his mind that he would find him too late, or that something would happen to him. It was nuts, becoming involved with the people you tried to save. He'd saved a lot of people, but there had also been a lot that he couldn't. And it sucked, and he regretted it, but there was nothing personal about the regret. Sometimes it even seemed more a matter of regretting letting the evil bastards win, even a little bit. And then sometimes it was different. With Ben it had been different.
Ben stopped walking so promptly that Dean felt compelled to stop himself, to face him. "Why did you care?" Ben demanded. "You knew I wasn't your son."
The statement hung there for a moment. Of course they hadn't had much time for idle chitchat when they were being chased by an angry forest spirit, but it was the first time that night the subject had been brought up. That Dean thought Ben might have been his. And that Ben knew it, apparently.
"I don't know, I don't know, Ben," Dean finally replied, frustrated. "You were a good kid. You are a good kid. And you deserve better than this."
"I don't want to deserve better than this. I want to save people. Like you."
Dean wanted to argue, he needed to argue. Irrationally he remembered the words his own mother had said to him, without knowing who he was. She'd said the worst thing she could think of was her children becoming hunters. It was irrational because Ben wasn't his son. He hadn't even seen the kid for eleven years. He didn't have a leg to stand on in having a say in the boy's future.
But most of all, at the moment he was hurt and exhausted. They would continue the argument, he decided, but not now. Not before sleep, a shower, and booze, and those things not necessarily in that order.
"Look, good job back there," Dean admitted. Ben was still glaring, his body tensed up. He looked so determined, so certain. It was freaky how much the kid reminded Dean of himself when there was no relation. Perhaps just because Ben did look somewhat dangerous at the moment, Dean offered, "How about I take you out for ice cream, huh?" He started walking again, and after a moment Ben followed.
"Ice cream?" he snorted. "I'm not eight years old anymore, you know. Let's go drink."
Dean laughed appreciatively. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Nineteen," Ben replied matter-of-factly.
"Well," Dean said, still amused, "Last I checked, you're not old enough to get served at a bar, kiddo."
Ben felt around in his jacket pocket for a moment before pulling out a stack of plastic cards. He fanned them out and selected one before holding it out to Dean. "Last I checked," he said, smirking, "Benjamin Winchester turned 21 four months ago."
Dean snatched the I.D. and squinted at it. It was dark, but from what he could see it was a good I.D. Would have fooled even him, probably, if he didn't know better. "Well I'll be damned," he said, "You named your first fake I.D. after me? I'm touched, seriously."
"This is my fifth fake I.D. actually," Ben admitted, taking the card back and returning it and the others to his pocket. "It turns out you have to pull a lot of shit to be a hunter."
Dean laughed again and clapped him on the back, causing Ben to stumble and swear. Dean ignored this. "You don't even know, kid," he agreed happily. "Well then, Ben Winchester, let's go get drunk!"
Post A/N: 1)For the purposes of this story I decided that Sam and Dean are unable to be in each other's company because they're on opposing sides of an epic battle between good and evil, having been manipulated into being enemies by their otherworldly superiors... Don't get excited, I made this up. I just think it would be cool. I mean, the boys are probably being set up to oppose each other, but to what extent, we'll just have to find out!
2)The Wikipedia entry on curupira isn't actually very detailed. I found it on some occult website and embellished it a little because I needed a monster… Probably one wouldn't be in Ohio because they live in/protect South American rainforests. A cool thing that I didn't get around to mentioning is that the curupira have backwards feet! Their tracks confuse people because it looks like they were walking in the opposite way they actually were!
You know, according to the lore…