A/N: In the beginning (no, not the dawn of time, I mean much later, in 2007) I wrote "no halo an' one wing in the fire." Dean was taken as a child by a relative of the Benders, renamed Gabriel, and he lived as a Bender until John and Sam rescued him years later. In 2010 "no halo" begat "Good Country People" a twisted AU version of "no halo." In that fic Dean Winchester was possessed by the spirit of Gabriel Bender and went missing for four years before Sam and John finally found him at Sweetbriar Mental Hospital.
A/N #2: Fic title is taken from "Mysterious Ways" by U2. Chapter titles are either lyrics or song titles from the Supernatural soundtrack or other music appropriate to the series and the story. First up: "Fire of Unknown Origin" – Blue Oyster Cult.
Summary: This is the sequel to "Good Country People," the second arc of my Gabriel Bender 'verse. Months after Dean's return the Winchesters and Bobby Singer struggle with the lingering effects caused by Dean's possession and Sam's deal with the demon Lim. Sam made the deal in the mistaken belief that he was helping Dean.
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural. Bobby and the Winchesters should be very relieved about that. This is for entertainment only, and not for profit.
The last word about the characters in this fic: Lim's got many names. One of those names happens to be the Slender Man. I didn't create the Slender Man, I'm only borrowing him and have AU'd him for this fic. That said, bear in mind that this is an AU. Characters and objects from canon are here, but I've twisted most of them up as the story dictates.
Warnings: This fic does contain weird imagery, sexual situations (hetero, m/m, demon/human con dub non con) hurt!boys (in various stages of undress), extreme Winchester angst, descriptions of torture and violence aplenty.
Much thanks to SciFiNutTX. She knows why.
Oh, as I recall, there was someone who claimed I stole the name "Gabriel Bender" and the entire storyline from her. I always found this claim odd (and frankly, insanely stupid) since "no halo" was posted in 2007 and her fic didn't see the light of day until 2008. Where, oh where did I leave that Hot Tub Time Machine?
Much thanks to the folks who read, recc'd, fav'd and reviewed GCP. And that reminds me - welcome back, my loyal sockpuppets! Ye are most welcome here and will not be judged, certainly not by me. This fic is 90% complete. Same posting schedule as before: one chapter will be posted each week. In case my crappy internet service bails on me completely, rest assured I'll find other ways to post.
It's time to torment Dean, let's get this party started!
Chapter 1 – fire of unknown origin
Dean opened his eyes.
He stared into the dark, at the cracked, painted ceiling above his head. He felt a whisper of oiled leather straps against his wrists and ankles, heavy, restraining, and it froze him in place for a moment. Just a moment, that was all.
The voices and the touches echoed just underneath his skin.
That was him. Or Gabriel. Or John Doe 317. The voice sounded like him, stripped of all his defenses, young, lost, scared and confused, so he accepted it. Thinking about who really said what still made his head hurt after all this time.
Dean lay there quietly. He was still pretty good at hiding, after all, but he couldn't remember if he'd made a noise, or if he'd yelled the words out.
This'll make you feel better, John. Stop fighting, y'hear?
Dad and Sam were awake.
Dad always slept in the bed nearest the door now; Sam occupied the middle bed. Dean could see only their outlines in the darkness of the room, but they were awake now; he knew they were. He hadn't lost that instinct either, despite the Benders and the drugs at Sweetbriar. Dad breathed slow, relaxed and easy, as he feigned sleep; Sam was more obvious. The kid held his breath, waiting, watching.
They were watching him. That made Dean all the more determined to play this off.
Dad has enough to worry about. He doesn't need this. Not this. Not now.
Sam made that deal. Screwed himself up. Because of me.
Nathan Beck's voice singed the shell of Dean's right ear. You're not the one I want, Dean, but you're still my little bitch. I wanna hear you say it.
Dean breathed deeply, once, twice, to calm the hitching in his chest.
His nostrils flared at the sharp tang of rubbing alcohol, and the skin at the inside of his elbow prickled as he imagined a cotton pad being pressed there. The sharp prick of the needle as it invaded his skin nearly made him gasp.
His back arched slightly, but Dean snuffled instead, a snorty, sleep-muzzled noise. He kept his eyes closed, his movements and his breathing slow and clumsy as he turned lazily onto his side. The cool air in the room made his freckled skin raise up in goose bumps, despite the grey t shirt and black boxer briefs he wore. He lay twisted up in those godawful scratchy bed sheets, but for once but he didn't mind.
The fever didn't have him this time. He didn't have to get up, didn't have to work the punching bag. This was different, though. A change.
Nothing's wrong. I'm fine, Dean told himself, even as the scene shifted and he felt cold night air on his skin as he ran though the woods in his memory. The red headed bitch he was chasing was fast, but Dean was faster, whooping and hollering joyously underneath the bright killing moon.
The girl didn't put up much of a fight, not even when he caught her, knocked her down and sliced her clothes off with his knife. She whimpered a little as he pushed into her, fucked her mouth and her ass, took what he needed from her all rough and deep. He slit the bitch's throat when he came. He couldn't take his time. It was quick. Wham bam, thank ya, ma'm.
Missy got jealous sometimes.
Dean settled down on his right side with his head on his outstretched left arm, his right arm bent at the elbow. Once he put his back to Dad and Sam he opened his eyes and stared at the wall. Huh. They still hadn't moved. Hadn't said anything, so maybe he'd gotten away with it this time.
Or maybe he'd hear about it later on that morning.
The sights and sounds overflowed out of that space behind his eyes… canvas wound tightly around his body, cotton hobbles rough and scratchy around his ankles.
"Time for your meds, freak."
The pink triangles cramped his stomach up. The white and blue ones froze him in place, made him sit and stare at the walls for hours in a daze. It was the red ones he really wanted, red sunrise pills that made him feel so damn good…
Dean blinked. He was back in the shifting shadows, kneeling in the woods over the girl. The full moon overhead reflected in her blank, lifeless eyes. She still looked pretty damned fuckable, even with all the blood.
Abraham was there too. He spat on the ground next to the carcass as it bled out. "Thought I told you not to play with your food, little brother?" he grumbled. The corners of his mouth twitched upwards in a sly grin.
Dean's right hand curled up into a fist as he stared into the dark. Go away. Leave me the fuck alone…
The brown leather apron Abraham wore was blood splattered, as always, speckled with bone chips and brain matter. Dean breathed in that familiar memory of damp leather and coppery blood. His mouth watered at the thick, heavy taste of special stew, and he almost lost it then.
Dean breathed, long and slow.
'm all right, he told himself silently. 'm okay.
No sense in praying to God to stop this. The Dude Upstairs had never done his family any favors, anyway.
The freak show inside his head slowed down, little by little.
Missy's smile was all bloody white teeth and stained lips, her skin and hair streaked with blood from that night's hunt.
She smiled up at Dean and the image flickered out like a windblown candle flame.
Dean sighed to himself as he finally closed his eyes. He was alone inside his head now, finally, completely alone.
Nothing's wrong. I'm all right. 'm fine, Dean lied to himself, and then he slowly drifted away into the blessed dark.
Bobby Singer didn't think about Missy Bender much these days.
One flick of that ax in Sam Winchester's capable hands, and Missy quickly took her place in Bobby's Dead, Gone And Good Damn Riddance file, even before the blood stopped pumping in her veins and her severed head hit the cold, hard ground. Sure, sometimes Bobby hoped the crazy bitch was roasting in hell on a high flame, but if anyone asked him he would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that he never gave her much thought.
He tried not to, but his body remembered the kind attention Missy paid him, all right.
"Bet that hurt, huh, little piggy?"
That was six months ago, and sometimes the space on his right foot where his little toe used to be sang soprano at the sight of those orange metal bolt cutters in the shed. Bobby ignored that. No sense in getting dainty about what had happened. What was done was done. Anyway, wasn't like he used bolt cutters every day in his line of work, but some days were better than others.
So far today was a damn good day. He felt great. The light grey suit he wore made him look very official, especially with his hair combed back and that no-nonsense look in his eyes. Bobby strode through the lobby of Gatewood United States Penitentiary, towards the double glass doors, and he looked every bit the part of Special Agent John Willis, FBI.
He missed his trucker's cap, though.
Bobby stared at his reflection in the glass and somehow resisted the impulse to tug and pull at the red and black tie around his neck; stupid thing felt like a noose. He wore it only when he played dress up.
Visitor Parking was straight ahead. That large brown sedan of his with the fake government plates waited patiently, fifth car in line. Bobby pulled his car keys out of his pocket; his cell phone went off just as he reached the driver's side door.
Damn newfangled device. This one was even smaller than the one he had before. That was irritating enough; he was always losing the damn thing around the house. He often wondered why those phone companies couldn't leave well enough alone, make a phone that was a decent size and leave well enough alone.
Scowling, Bobby dug in his pocket, pulled the cell out, flipped it open and glared at the screen.
Who the hell…oh.
"Singer," John Winchester rumbled. "Get anything useful?"
"Give me a moment." There were people all around, visitors coming in and out of the main complex, guards walking the lot. Not the best place to have an open conversation while impersonating a federal agent. Bobby opened the car door and slid behind the wheel. The heat inside the sedan was already oppressively thick, heavy.
John grunted impatiently. "Should have come and seen her for myself."
Bobby waited until he closed the door before he answered.
"You're still a wanted man, you damn fool. You walk in here, it's a good bet you wouldn't have walked out." A quick glance all around assured him that everything was still good. He turned on the engine and switched on the A/C. The air that came out of the vents was lukewarm, but it was still cooler than the surrounding air. Good.
Bobby flipped the vents open all the way. He hooked a finger in the knot of his tie and loosened it. Even better. He could sit here for a while. Driving while on the phone was a distraction, and ending up in a ditch or wrapped around a telephone pole was one life experience Bobby could well do without.
"Hold on," John drawled. "I gotta move."
Bobby scowled at the rumble of engine noise at his ear. "John?"
"Okay. That's better. You dig up anything on your end?"
"What the hell are you up to?"
"Nothing." Bobby could almost see that casual shrug in the man's voice. "Checked out this abandoned factory out in the sticks. You?"
"Agent John Willis just interviewed Ellie Camden at the Separate Female Facility here." The A/C finally decided to blow out cold air instead. Damn, that felt good. Bobby loosened his tie even further and sat back against the bench seat. "Her lawyer claimed insanity. She claimed that she was possessed by the spirit of her long dead father for two years."
"Dean was possessed twice as long. How'd she look?"
"She's got all the signs. Flushed skin. Long scars on her arms. When I asked her about them she told me she tried to let the spirit out. Didn't work. Her eyes kept darting around. Got the feeling that she was carrying on a conversation with somebody inside her head."
"You hear back from Rufus?"
"Yep. He remembered. Says he and Kubrick burned her Dad's bones. They were too late to save her aunt and uncle. That made 23 dead all total."
A loud whump echoed through the phone lines. Bobby blinked as he sat up straighter. He'd heard that sound enough times before, the crumple of steel and the thunder of broken concrete slamming into the ground.
"Winchester, what the hell was that?"
"Building just pancaked," John said mildly.
"One less dumping ground that demon fucker can use. Salted and burned the human remains I found, too."
"Wait a minute. Where the hell are you again?"
"Marston, Illinois. Just over the state line. Got a tip that Lim was nosing around this place, so I came over to take a look. Found some sigils. Human bones. Nothing fresh."
"Sam and Dean with you?"
"Nope. Sent 'em to that deserted asylum over in Rockford. Told them to stay put, keep an eye out. We can cover more ground if we split up."
Bobby heard the irritated growl in his voice. Heard it and didn't care. "You damn fool. You sent Dean where?"
"Roosevelt Asylum. I told you Sam's with him. What's got your panties in a twist?"
"Uh, duh? Dean was at Sweetbriar Mental Hospital for six months, remember? As a patient, while Bender was riding him?"
John grunted. "Well, so?"
"Am I the only one here who thinks this is a really damn bad idea?"
"Yeah, you are," John drawled, almost lazily. That casual tone didn't fool Bobby. Never did. John was prickly about his boys, touchy about everything else. "Dean's fine with it."
"Yeah, he is."
"That boy would jump off a cliff if you asked him to, you damn fool."
"And that's how I know Dean's driving, not Gabriel."
Bobby sighed. "Talked to Missouri. Says she left you a message. You oughta check your voicemail more often."
"I'll call her back." John's tone was too casual. It was obvious he had no intention of calling Missouri Moseley back. Dean was okay. Dean was fine. That was John's story and he was sticking to it. The boy was back, and he looked fine, he acted like his old self.
That was the whole problem. Dean was good at hiding. Too damn good.
The urge to reach through the phone and somehow throttle or punch the hell out of the elder Winchester was overwhelming. Bobby shook it off. "Bender had Dean for four years. That's a lot of spirit residue to burn off, John. Dean might have to improvise, step up the pace. He's still working the punching bag? Every day?"
"Yeah. We spar every day. I check him for new scars too. He jokes about it. Says the last time I saw his bare ass this much was when he was in diapers."
"Does he still see the Benders?"
"Sometimes. So? When the burn-off happens they leave."
"And then they come back."
"So what's your damn point?" John snapped. Yep, there it was. Papa had finally reached the end of his patience.
Bobby took a deep breath. "There's a theory that the hallucinations are caused by the victim's subconscious. Caused by guilt and remorse."
John laughed, but it wasn't a happy sound. Bobby could imagine him baring his teeth at the cell phone. "So you're telling me this is all Dean's fault? Dean doesn't have a damn thing to feel guilty about."
"You can stop putting words in my damn mouth, you idjit. I didn't say that." Bobby grated out. "Dean lived with those bastards. He watched his body do the unthinkable, night after night, for four years. Everybody has their dark side. Everybody. Stands to reason that a part of Dean might have enjoyed living as a Bender."
"You sonofabitch," John rumbled.
Bobby shrugged, even though John couldn't see it. "Yeah, like I've never heard that before."
The silence that followed was awkward, but John was still on the line. Hadn't hung up yet, and that was a surprise. Well, he wasn't gonna tiptoe around this.
"How's Sam?" Bobby said quietly. He waited for the click that would come when John hung up on him.
John huffed instead. "Sam's good. Doesn't space out like he used to."
"So those pentagram tats Missouri suggested work?"
"Yeah. They work. I got better things to do than listen to you fuss. You done now, you old mother hen?"
"Maybe," Bobby sighed. "Where you headed after all this?"
"I'm on the highway now. Rockford first, and then the cabin."
"You mind if I drop by on my way back?"
"What, you miss us already? Help yourself." The connection was cut, just like that. Winchester was a rude sonofabitch, but hey, that came with the territory.
A small corkscrew of tension settled into the space between his eyes. Bobby rubbed at it gingerly. A headache was in his immediate future, a real head-buster, the kind he got only when dealing with John and his boys.
He'd hunted with them, bled for them. Lost a little bit of himself, pun intended, and if he had to do it all over again he'd do it the same way. Family didn't mean blood relation; Bobby knew that too well. He'd call in favors, do whatever he could for Sam and Dean, but there was a good chance that nothing else would pan out. Good news was mighty scarce these days. Sooner or later he'd have to say what was on his mind. How do you tell a man like John Winchester that his two sons were fucked up, and likely to stay that way for the rest of their lives?
That conversation was guaranteed to get pretty damn lively.
Wouldn't hurt to swing by, take a look at the boys himself. If he saw something was wrong with either Sam or Dean, Bobby was damn sure going to mention it. John could bitch at him, threaten to shoot him, if it came to that.
Wouldn't be the first time. Bobby was pretty sure it wouldn't be the last time, either.
Sam Winchester stared dully at the blood on his hands. There was a lot of it, dark maroon and oil slick. None of it was Dean's.
At least, Sam didn't think so.
He was on his knees now, and he couldn't remember how he got there, out in the parking lot.
This wasn't Kugel's Keg, was it? He wasn't sure.
The sunlight overhead made his eyes hurt. This wasn't right. The dark growled when it took Dean that time.
Sam watched as the lifelines in both palms bulged upwards, writhing like snakes. The claw marks over his left hipbone flared, red hot with pain. Sam hunched his shoulders up around his ears, bit into his lower lip to keep from groaning out loud.
Poor Sammy. Lim's whisper echoed in the back of Sam's mind. You did it again. Papa won't like this…
Sam stared down at the cracked concrete and the tall green weeds. He breathed in and out, hard and fast, but he couldn't will away how shaky he felt inside. He was crumbling apart, little by little. The dust dry corpse of Roosevelt Asylum loomed behind him.
They were supposed to stay together, keep each other human, and now Sam could feel that part of him slipping away. The slick feel of blood on his skin, the smell of it, copper and rank, was all the proof he needed.
This wasn't Dean's fault. Sam knew he owned this. At least, he thought he did. Just like before.
His hands shook as he pulled his smartphone out of his jacket and hit the first number on speed dial. That motion left a bloody smeared thumb print on slick, light grey plastic.
…please, help me…
"Dad," Sam whispered softly, "...it's…it's Dean. I lost him again…"
TBC next week.