Frost-brittle leaves crunched dry underfoot as Benny moved through the woods. Kansas looked like Purgatory, the winter light scrubbed of all color at this ungodly hour. Made his skin crawl in that awful, familiar way. His breath didn't steam the air, and he only noticed the cold as a sensation, like pressure or the stirring of a breeze over his cheeks. Being dead had its charms.
The bunker door creaked open, splitting the quiet and echoing through the barren trees. Benny pressed to a broad trunk, the bark scraping at his palms. He dared a glance to be sure. Yep, Sam. Just as Dean'd promised. Lanky son of a bitch; probably had a helluva reach if it came to fisticuffs, which it wouldn't, if Benny had any say. He had no doubt he could best Sam in the long game, wear him down through sheer stamina alone, but it wouldn't be a stroll in the park. Only headless vampires underestimated hunters, and if Dean had taught Sam everything he knew … well, there was that, too.
Benny waited until he heard the telltale rumble of the Winchesters' car, big black beast of a machine, waited until that rumble faded off into the post-dawn stillness. He waited until the only sound he heard was birdsong. Benny was many things, but impatient wasn't one of them.
He pulled out his cellphone and punched a few buttons.
Where yat? he texted, not quite smiling.
The door creaked open again.
Dean met him at the entrance, swallowed up in a big gray robe, eyes bruised and puffy like sleep was just a rumor. He practically glowed, fish-belly white, but he squared his shoulders as Benny pressed past. "Thanks for coming."
"Hey, my pleasure." Dean had aged a year in the few weeks since they'd clawed their way back to the Here and Now. Wasn't it supposed to get better? Weren't they supposed to slide back into their old lives like they'd never left? "Damn, man, you look all kinds of miserable."
"What can I say; it's a gift." Dean caught him in a quick clutch, thumped his back twice. Dean was shaking. Benny felt the trembling, smelled the sick. Knew the feeling.
"How long your brother gonna be gone?"
"At least an hour. Being out in the middle of Bumfuck, Egypt isn't all bad."
Benny nodded, following Dean through the concrete halls of these strange new digs, down a mess of lefts and rights, blank doors and barely lit corners. Institutional-looking, not what he'd expected of Dean, who was curled in on himself and occasionally stumbling into edges that had Benny reaching out a hand to steady him. His hair stuck up in greasy tufts. He wasn't right.
"Aint' doing so good, are ya?"
Dean gave him a withering look, but there was no real meanness to it. Benny just didn't like the quiet; it forced him to hear how erratically Dean's heart was pumping and that worried him. Worried him lots.
"I've heard of the Men of Letters, yanno."
Dean grunted, cocked a bleary eye.
"One of the big universities in Athens had a guy, a professor. I was told to give him a very very wide berth when I was in the city. Said he could magic his way past traps and fill ya with dead man's blood quicker'n a watersnake in the moonlight."
"His name wasn't Henry Winchester, by any chance?" Dean asked dryly.
Benny chuckled. "Not that I'm aware. Glad to say I never met the man."
The convoluted corridors finally opened up into a wide catwalk that rimmed a man-made cavern, but there was nothing rustic about the room: marble floors; wrought iron railings; a dusty, bookish smell like the art museums Andrea used to drag him to, in some noble attempt to share her world.
Benny let out an involuntary whistle.
Dean waved a hand in vague acknowledgement of the absurdity of the place. Sweat was starting to crown his forehead and his pallor had gone from pale to gray, even in the warm light of the fancy wall sconces.
As much as Benny may have wanted the grand tour—to try to make sense of the tangle of passageways—he slipped out of his cap and peacoat, draping it on a chair, and sat on the edge of the enormous table that filled the center of the room, folding arms across his chest. The sturdy table barely creaked under his weight.
"Why'd you start drinkin' again, sport?"
"Oh, I don't know; why'd you?" Dean muttered, dropping into his own chair.
Benny clucked his tongue, pinching back a humorless smile. "The real world ain't as cute as I'd remembered it. But I have not killed a human, if that means anything. You, however—" Benny inhaled deeply "—seem to have killed at least one bottle of sour mash whisky and chased it with a beer or nine."
Dean saluted Benny's assessment of the situation and that was all the explanation forthcoming, apparently. He raked fingers through his hair, swallowing compulsively.
"When was the last time you ate?"
"Kids do that these days?"
"Rumor has it. Where's the kitchen in this place?"
Dean shifted and freed his other hand from the pocket of his sweat-stained robe, pointing like a palsied old man down one of the many hallways. By the time Benny had lifted his ass off the table, Dean was sliding out of his chair, boneless and eyes rolling back.
"Oh yes, here it comes," Benny murmured, leaping to catch Dean before his skull cracked on the floor. At least they were indoors this time. At least there weren't horrors of every stripe circling the downed man, snapping and slavering hot snarls at Benny's back. At least they were alone and dry and safe, and that'd be enough as long as the withdrawal didn't turn Dean inside out and break him first.
Benny hauled Dean up and half-dragged him in the direction of the kitchen and presumably, the private quarters. It wasn't that he couldn't carry him outright but if Dean's stomach up-ended, Benny didn't want to be wearing its recycled contents.
They'd almost made it to a bedroom—whose, Benny wasn't sure—when Dean started quaking. Might've been an honest-to-God seizure, Benny wasn't sure about that either. He backed into a wall and slid down, cradling Dean as he tremored so hard Benny could hear his teeth knocking.
Then the retching started, urgent contractions of Dean's belly that gave fair warning before erupting. Liquid slapped the floor, nothing much but bile and the bitter dregs of alcohol.
"I gotcha, brother, I gotcha," Benny said, more for his own benefit than Dean's. The stink was impressive, though, and Benny decided that the breathing required to indulge in banter wasn't worth it.
In the wide-open landscape of Purgatory, sounds dispersed and odors were carried off on the random winds. The symptoms might've been more severe this time around, or maybe it just seemed that way in the windowless confines of this fancified mole hole.
But we're safe, he reminded himself, even if it might've been a lie. The hunter and the monster, like the lion and the lamb, lying down together, again. Benny couldn't help but wonder which was which, though in this moment, it was a moot point.
They must've sat there on the cold floor for half an hour, as Dean went from airless gagging to just sporadic, empty twitches. When it seemed like he might actually be dozing, Benny scooped him up like a six-foot-tall sack of grain and finished the trip, gingerly avoiding slick spots.
It was a sparse bedroom, piled with books by a single bed, a lamp left on because there were no windows. The only décor was a map tacked to one wall and a plaid shirt draped on the bedpost. Benny pulled back the covers and rolled Dean onto the mattress. His waxy pallor made every bruise, every old scar, stand out as decorous as war medals.
Benny was removing Dean's slippers when he stirred again, moaning and suddenly restless. None too soon, Benny grabbed a small wastepaper basket and held it up as Dean choked, gasping, spitting nothing into the can. He tried to sit up, eyes barely opened and tearing, but Benny put a palm to his chest.
"Nuh-uh. You're not goin' anywhere."
"S-stupid, God-damn God-damned h-hell …"
"Aw, you say the sweetest things." Benny kept him pressed to the bed.
"… hound. Stupid, s-stupid Sam." Dean continued to wheeze something unintelligible and clawed at the sheets, fractious as ever, as always.
Benny was setting the trashcan aside, figuring it was just going to get worse from here on out and he'd need both his hands free, when red caught his eye.
Dean had coughed up blood in Purgatory the first time he had to go cold turkey and it nearly drove Benny mad with sick hunger, but this wasn't the same. There were soiled tissues in the trash, rusty with old blood. If not for the overwhelming smell of sweat and vomit, he might've noticed sooner.
"I was. I was s'pose to do the trials, Benny," Dean slurred.
Benny set the can aside and patted Dean's shoulder. "A wise man once said, 'You can't always get what you want, but sometimes, you get what you need.'"
"That was Mick Jagger, you dumb fuck." Sam's voice filled the room from the doorway, deep and quiet and, to Benny's sensibilities, dangerous.
Benny slowly lifted his hands, no doubt in his mind Sam was armed. "Well, now, Sam. If you'd been alive in the 1960's, you might have a different take on that song. I'm gonna turn around now; don't shoot."
The tip of a katana hovered mere inches from Benny's nose. Sam did have a considerable reach, as suspected.
"Whose idea was this, anyway? To send me on another wild goose chase?" Sam sounded a might bit less than amused.
"It was a group effort." Benny straightened and turned, keeping his movements careful. He'd only seen Sam up-close the one time, but even now, he could tell the guy wasn't up to snuff. His cheeks were hollow and he had an unwell, seasick look. He was wearing a shirt not unlike the plaid one hanging on the bedpost, so it wasn't a stretch to figure this was his room and his blood in the garbage. What was it with these Winchesters, that they couldn't take damned care of themselves?
"I could've handled this," Sam stated, backing off a few steps.
"He didn't want you to, said you had enough on your plate." Though from the looks of Sam, he could've used a helping or two more. He'd lost some of the bulk Benny had noticed when they'd first met, though none of the height, of course. He was still a sizable threat. "I'm not here to cause trouble, friend—"
"We don't know each other. No 'friend' about it. Now move away from him." He cleared his throat.
"If I'd wanted to get to Dean, we'd have been long gone by now. But I'm still here. In your home. He just wanted to—"
Sam coughed, though not in some cynical retort to Benny's explanation. He was coughing in earnest, clearly trying to smother it. Benny saw his opening and lunged.
He shot inside of Sam's reach and eliminated that benefit right from the get-go. Sam managed to clip Benny's cheek with just a knick of the blade and it stung, sent the particular odor of undead blood into the near air. Sam coughed again and Benny rocketed an elbow into his chin. Sam's head snapped around and the blade flew wide, skittering into the hallway.
And just like that, it was over. Too easy. Benny had Sam slammed to the floor, a knee planted firmly in his chest as Sam spasmed with wracking coughs. He caught Sam's wrists overhead before he got punched in the jewels, but stretching him out made the coughing worse. From this close range, Benny saw blood flecking Sam's mouth and chin—fresh bright red stuff.
Benny's fangs prickled at his gums. He swallowed back black hunger and pretended it was pity for Dean's brother.
"Alright, chief, I'm gonna let you up. And you're not gonna try to take off my head, deal?"
Sam's lips were nearly blue from the coughing, where they weren't red from the blood. But he jerked a nod, and Benny eased off. It was a good few seconds before Sam could gather himself enough to stand.
Dean was staring at them both, eyes slit, unfocussed and miserable.
"Awesome," he mumbled.
Benny chased the nugget of dough through the hot oil with a wooden spoon. He'd located the kitchen in the bunker—or 'The Batcave' as Dean insisted, which didn't come as any surprise since he'd taken to calling Purgatory 'Narnia' when the sphinxes were on the prowl. The sun had set; Benny could feel it in the way his senses came alive. He would have to leave soon, find something big and warm in the surrounding woods to liberate of a few pints.
Though he didn't have to eat anymore, he missed food mightily. He missed the comfort that cooking brought; God knew you didn't have to eat just because you were hungry. Truth be told, he'd enjoyed his job at Guidry's, until that couyon Martin made a mess of it all.
Dean was finally holding down water, and the shakes had dulled to the odd shiver. He'd managed a shower and smelled considerably less sour, though his eyes were a delightful shade of bloodshot. He was sitting with Sam at the big table in the main hall, tending a coffee, when Benny brought out the beignets. They both looked up when he arrived, staring with the same hunters' attentiveness.
Benny set the platter down and gestured magnanimously. The least they could do was let him watch them eat, creepy as that may have been. Sam was the first to pluck a beignet from the bunch, wincing and nearly dropping the thing because it was hot. Dean eyed the platter skeptically, probably unsure the food would stay put once eaten, but it didn't take much of watching Sam openly enjoying the dessert to change his mind.
The quiet stretched between them all, to the point Benny could tell the Winchesters were nearly sharing one heartbeat.
Sam dusted off his fingers onto his shirt, his brows canted at a peculiarly contrite angle. "Benny, I—"
"Nah, that's okay, man. I get it. You don't gotta say anything."
He nodded. "I know. But, um, I do. I was a dick."
"Yes, yes you were, sir."
"Okay, you don't have to agree with me."
Dean threw down a napkin. "All right, you two. If I wasn't gonna hurl before, I am now. The estrogen in here is so thick—"
"Suck it, Dean." Sam stood up with his empty coffee mug.
"I told you ya didn't have to say anything," Benny reminded him.
"You suck it too."
"I do, as often as I can, believe me."
Flipping them a one-fingered salute behind his back, Sam wandered off down the hall towards the kitchen.
Benny watched him leave then picked up his cap as Dean exhaled, dabbing at the powered sugar on the tabletop.
"Hey, man. Thank you," he said.
"Aw, don't you start."
"No, I mean it." Dean rose, extended a hand. "I owe you. Big time."
Benny took his hand, just smiled. Maybe Dean owed him and maybe he didn't. Maybe he'd take up with another band of vampires who didn't know Benny's past because their alpha was still maintaining his remote silence, like an absentee parent, and he'd be able to convince them not to kill. Maybe in a desperate moment, he'd lose his head and track down Dean for … dinner. And then maybe there'd be a hunter on his tail, last name Winchester. Or maybe it was better to have no expectations of the man who broke him out of monsters' hell because Dean had his family and a new war to fight.
Maybe the future was unknowable.
"Let's just call it even. Brother."