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Justine Delarge ([personal profile] justinedelarge) wrote2016-10-25 10:36 am
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Sure Got a Dirty Mouth Chapter 108 (Part 1): Gimme Shelter

Title: Sure Got a Dirty Mouth Chapter 108: Gimme Shelter
Author: justinedelarge
Fandom: Supernatural
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Rating: R
Word Count: 5,345 for part 1 (12,125 for the entire chapter)
Warnings: References to rape; rape aftermath
Summary: So many things happen. This is a LONG chapter. Very long.
Disclaimer: I don't own what I don't own. But I do own what I do own, such as my original characters and my plot.

Marcus slept like the dead.

He slept through the afternoon, unmoving, the blankets pulled all the way up to his chin. Reggie dragged the armchair from the living room to the side of the bed and sat with him, loathe to wake him, wanting to crawl into bed and hold him close, but he didn't know if Marcus was ready for that, if he would wake in a panic at the presence of another person in the bed with him.

He slept through the evening.

Reggie sat and watched him sleep, getting up only to tend to the needs of his bladder, and quickly fix himself something to eat, returning with his plate to the bedroom to sit with Marcus, hoping the scent of microwaved lasagna would rouse him.

Marcus slept.

Reggie washed his plate and returned to the bedroom, pulled off his boots and settled into the armchair with a tumbler of bourbon on the rocks, and his copy of All the Pretty Horses. As Marcus slept, Reggie watched over him, reading in the soft light of the lamp on the end table, no sounds other than the softly abrasive scratch and flap of the turning of each page, and ice clinking against the side of the glass. Marcus, unlike Bobby, did not snore. Finally, at around 1 am, Reggie nodded off, the book falling out of his hand to the floor.

He woke up, bleary and stiff, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He checked his watch. It was 9 am.

Marcus was still asleep.

Reggie rose to his feet, scanning Marcus with great care. He did not look drugged or feverish. Just lost in a deep slumber, his face so smooth and peaceful that Reggie got a flash of what Marcus had looked like as a small boy. He swiped the back of his hand over his eyes. "Dusty in here," he said quietly to no one at all.

Still fully dressed except for his boots, Reggie soundlessly slipped out of the apartment to check with Juliane that Marcus's sleeping was normal. She assured him it was, that the body and mind sometimes needed a tremendous amount of sleep to heal, and that it was probably the best thing for him. She suggested he just let Marcus sleep as long as he wanted. When he was ready, she said, they were all here for him in whatever capacity he needed, and offered up the hot tub as therapy, whenever they wanted.

Despite her reassurances, Reggie fretted. Marcus may have needed the sleep, but Reggie needed Marcus awake. Needed to hear his voice. Needed to know that if he wasn't ok yet, that he was on the road to being ok. Needed him to wake up so Reggie could start making it right.

Reggie returned to the apartment and put on a pot of coffee, hoping that the familiar, bracing scent would wake Marcus naturally. He ran cold water from the kitchen faucet over his wrists and hands, and splashed his face, drying himself off on a hand towel that smelled faintly of bacon. The coffee maker burbled and dripped, releasing a thin stream of inky dark coffee into the glass carafe.

"Is that ready yet?" A voice sounded from the bedroom. Marcus stood in the doorway, clad in his boxers and white undershirt, rubbing one bare foot against his calf.

"You're up." Reggie's expression softened, relief flooding him.

"Barely." Marcus leaned against the door jamb. Reggie was at his side in a heartbeat.

"How are you feeling?"

Marcus paused, an uncharactistic hesitation before speaking, like his customary honesty was coming more slowly this time. "I hurt. A lot."

Reggie winced.

"All over." Marcus tried to soften his words into a broader sense of physical pain than the most intimate one they both knew Marcus was also referring to. "Like I was in a car crash."

"There's a Jacuzzi here. We can grab a soak later, if you want."

"That sounds amazing." Marcus walked forward in a sleepy shuffle into Reggie's arms. Reggie held onto him, exhaling the tension he hadn't realized he'd been carrying so stiffly.

"Why didn't you come to bed?" Marcus murmured into Reggie's neck.

"I… uh…"

Marcus understood without Reggie having to spell it out. "It's ok. That's not going to trigger anything."

Reggie tightened his arms around Marcus, and didn't say anything for a long moment. "I want to do this right. But I don't know how. What you need from me."

"Right now, I need coffee from you." Marcus kissed Reggie on the neck, quickly but without discomfort. "And I don't want you sleeping in the chair or on the couch, ok?"

"Are you sure?" Reggie detached himself from Marcus to pour them both a cup of coffee.


Reggie brought out the milk and sugar for Marcus, and took a sip of his coffee without any adulterants. Marcus added milk and sugar to his coffee.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Reggie asked.

Marcus blinked quickly. "I'm not hungry."

"You sure? You must be starving by now."

"Not really." Marcus sipped his coffee.

Reggie eyed him curiously. "You should eat something. Toast."

"I said I'm not hungry," Marcus said with a smile, but with grit in his voice.

"Fair enough." Reggie let it go, but he did the calculations in his head. Marcus probably hadn't eaten since the breakfast they had together before Reggie left to accompany Bobby to meet Katherine, which was right before the white-haired demon had forced his way into Marcus's apartment. Right after Reggie kissed him goodbye. The thought made Reggie wince.

With what had happened after that, the time it took for Reggie to rush to his side and then drive them both back to Amarillo, and how long Marcus had slept, Marcus hadn't eaten in two days.

Gus paced back and forth in the hospital garden, consisting of a few wooden benches dusted with snow, and skeletal trees bare of leaves. Rosier was enduring another painful hydrotherapy debridement session, and Gus couldn't bear to even be inside the hospital when that was happening, despite the cold of the Amarillo winter. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat, and paced faster, trying not to think about the agony Rosier was suffering. Anesthetics often cause dangerous complications for burn survivors, the doctor had explained to them both, and pain meds can slow down healing, which is why for some patients, debridement often had to be done with minimal pain relief. This sounded to Gus like something a demon would say as a bullshit cover story for inflicting tremendous pain. But the doctor was fully human. Gus wanted to make the doctor sedate Rosier regardless, but Rosier told him no with a mere shake of the head. So Rosier suffered, and Gus paced, trying not to think about it.

But it was no use. He could feel the pain Rosier felt. He could smell it, sharp and hungry, and utterly merciless. Gus tipped his head back, letting the snowflakes drop down onto his upturned face, clinging to his eyelashes, melting on his lips. He may have been topside, but he was still in Hell.

Shaking his head, he tried to settle himself. Think of something else.

Sam. Maybe Sam's people had made some progress on the language in the notebook Nathaniel had made of Azazel's plans, in which it was believed he had written how he had locked Rosier into his vessel. One half of the secret to how Sam and Dean had been able to restore him to humanity. To free him.

Gus wiped his face and moved to a sheltered area where the snow would not fall directly on him and distract him. He quieted himself, and sent out a quiet, mouse-like scratch on the door to Sam's consciousness. Sam Winchester?

Back in the Sanctuary, Sam sat up straight, holding one palm up to silently ask the others for quiet. Dean raised an eyebrow.

"Gus," Sam whispered.

"Great. He's got a call." Dean rolled his eyes. He still couldn't bring himself to fully trust Gus like Sam did. Because even though Gus didn't want to be a demon, and was trying hard to walk the human path, a demon is what he was. And there were a few things Dean knew for sure: Sam was his North, his South, his East and West; there was no way to cook okra that made it edible; and demons were not to be trusted.

Gus whispered, Am I too loud?

Sam smiled. No. This is good.

Dean scrutinized his face, ready to pounce on any sign of discomfort, remembering how much it had hurt Sam the first time Gus had tried out the whole telepathic communication trick.

The notebook. Is there any progress? Beneath Gus's question, Sam could feel his desperation, prickling like Pop Rocks on the tongue.

Things got…complicated here. I haven't been able to check in about that. Not much time had passed since Bobby and Reggie had left to meet Katherine and try to decipher the strange language in the notebook, and once Reggie had shown up unexpectedly carrying the demon-brutalized Marcus, no one in the Sanctuary had given any thought to the goal of finding a cure for Gus and however many demons remained topside. I'm sorry. I'll find out for you.

Sam was new to the whole telepathic conversation thing, and he did not even think to try to strip his thought stream down to just the words he was thinking. Instead, he sent everything his consciousness was experiencing in that moment: images and feelings of Reggie carrying Marcus into the Sanctuary, Sam going into Marcus's mind and seeing what had happened, seeing that it had been the white-haired demon doing to Marcus what he had done to Gus (you love it you little whore this is all you're good for taking my dick) after everything Azazel had done to him. He inadvertently sent that all over the telepathic phone line straight into Gus.

In the snow-dusted garden, Gus gasped.

Sam felt the spasm of pain it caused the shred of Gus's humanity that still somehow survived Hell, a glitch in the demon programming, to know that the white-haired demon had sought revenge against the Hunters for destroying Azazel in the only way he could, by violating and hurting someone one of the Hunters loved. Felt Gus's leaping response of allegiance to them, to Sam, and he knew beyond any doubt that Gus was his soldier and ally, now and forever, come what may.

Sam also felt the shame that flooded Gus at the transferred memories. Gus already knew that Sam had seen what Azazel had done to him. He learned that in the hospital when Juliane had explained what happened to Sam when he went into Nathaniel's memories of being possessed by Azazel. But this was different. Knowing was one thing. Seeing it was entirely different. This was Gus experiencing Azazel's memory of what he had done, and what he had witnessed the white-haired demon doing to him as well. Azazel's experience, lived in real time by Nathaniel, relived by Sam, and fed back into Gus's mind, so that for a brief, but all too long moment, he was simultaneously the torturer and the tortured. The feedback loop was wrenching.

Sorry. I didn't mean to show you that.

In the Sanctuary, Dean gripped Sam's wrists, not liking the expression of distress on Sam's face.

Sam felt Gus steeling himself, like he had done back in the hospital, when he told them all that it didn't matter if he had been hurt and degraded, because he was a demon, and he deserved it.

Sam cut him off before he could think any words. You didn't deserve it. Sam felt the human soul still there inside the demon. And he had to help.

I did deserve it.

No. Sam tried again.

Don't make me show you the things I've done. Gus only sent the words, but Sam sensed so much more, gleaming under the surface like lava about to break through the black crust where the air had cooled and solidified it.

Sam backed off, not wanting to know. I'll find out there's been any progress on the notebook.

Thank you. Two simple words on the surface, an ocean of fear and pain and hurry please hurry beneath.

Gus's consciousness started to retract, then came back again. Softly. Maybe I can help. Maybe I can track him down for your friend. Would you like me to try?

Sam made a short, guttural laugh. Would Reggie want to get his hands—his knife— on the demon that did those things to Marcus?

The real question was, would Sam help Reggie take revenge on a demon, even though maybe soon, Sam and Dean would find a way to cure them?

Sam answered Gus's question. Let me think about it.

Sam rolled his head forward, stretching his neck, and kissed Dean on the cheek with a whispered, "I'm fine." He told Danny, Juliane and Dean simply that Gus was checking in on the progress with deciphering the unknown language in Nathaniel's notebook. Then Sam used the phone in the Sanctuary to call Bobby. Dean wouldn't leave his side, hovering.

Juliana had been hovering around Sam too, but Bobby's linguistic progress was not what was on her mind. She'd been waiting for the right time to talk to Sam and Dean about going with them back to South Dakota with Bobby, about her idea of building another Sanctuary, and another, even bigger offer she had in mind. But the right time hadn't come. So she waited.

Sam twirled his finger in the long spiral cord connecting the receiver to the phone."Hey, Bobby."

"Hey, kid. How's it going? How's Marcus?"

"Sleeping a lot, I guess. He and Reggie are holed up in the apartment.."

"Don't blame 'em. But Marcus is…"

"He's going to be ok." Both of them heard the unspoken word, "eventually."

"So… tell me you have some good news with the notebook." Sam continued.

Bobby didn't answer at first. Sam's heart sank.

"I wish I had something to tell you."

Everyone searched Sam's face for clues. He shook his head no, conveying that the news was not, in fact, good.

"Katherine came up with nothing?"

"That's exactly what she came up with. Nothing. There's some stuff she was able to translate, and it does look like Nathaniel might have actually transcribed this incantation or whatever that Azazel did to lock a demon in his vessel, but then it goes into that whole weird, new thing. It's an entirely new language. Well, an old one no human has ever seen before, as far as we can tell."

Sam's heart sank even lower. "So where does that leave us?"

Bobby was silent for a painfully long time. "Nowhere, for the time being."

"What do you mean, nowhere?"

"This might take years, Sam. Maybe a lifetime. If it can be done at all. I mean, we're talking the discovery of an entirely unknown language."

Sam sank down in his chair, the loss of purpose, of hope, too much to bear.

"But with Azazel gone, and the demons gone to ground, we've got some time."

"Gus doesn't have time." Sam replied quietly, the memory of Gus's anguish sharp and fresh within him, demon blood flowing through his veins, desperate to be made clean. Sam's heart sank clear to the floor at the thought of having to tell Gus.

"Now, I ain't saying we give up. I'm just saying we're in the dark here. She's going to take a copy of the notebook back home with her, and start going through her library. Reaching out to a scholar she's worked with in Syria. And don't forget the good guys have a hell of a weapon now, with what you two can do with those knives of yours. I know you want to save them, Sam. But at least you boys can kill them."

Sam filled them in on what Bobby said. "Well, crap." Danny got up with a wince, and went to refill his coffee.

"We knew this wasn't gonna be a quick thing." Dean couldn't bear to see Sam so disheartened.

"Yeah, but…" Sam couldn't finish his sentence.

Juliane turned her chair to face Sam. "You just want to make everything better. Everyone." She unconsciously stroked her thumb over a scar on her left wrist. "Like you made me better."

Sam shrugged, happy but uncomfortable with the praise.

"And I want to help you." She glanced at Dean. "Both of you. Now may not be the right time but…" She paused.

Danny put his hand on her back and rubbed gently. "Go ahead."

"I know you're going to leave."

Sam's mouth opened to explain. "Actually, we wanted to—" but she rushed on.

"And of course you want to leave. This isn't your home. It's a glorified, fortified motel. But I… we… we've become friends—"

"Family." Dean interrupted. "Remember?"

Juliane's bottom lip trembled. "Family," she repeated, like it was still hard for her to accept that Sam and Dean really meant that.

"You don't want us to go?" Sam asked.

"Actually, we want to come with you."

Sam and Dean leaned back from the table in unison, clearly not expecting that.

"I've been thinking about how I should open a new Sanctuary for a long time. But before you got here, I couldn't even go outside." Juliane looked small and fragile in her oversize sweater, until she met Sam's gaze and straightened up. "But I'm not trapped here anymore. Because of you."

Sam's eyes gleamed with pride in her; Dean's eyes with pride in Sam.

"So we could come with you, and build a new one. And what I offered you before if you wanted to stay here—all your expenses, private tutors, the best scholars— I still want to do that for you. Even if you don't want us to come with you. It's not a conditional offer."

She shifted focus to Dean. "And I'm not leaving you out. Whatever you want to do, I want to support you and help you. Reggie and Bobby too. All your expenses. Whatever you need. I plan to cover it."

Dean's mouth fell open.

"Food. Shelter. Medical and dental. Gas. Travel expenses. School. Clothes. Ammo. All of it."

"What?" Sam couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Look, most Hunters live hand to mouth, driving around in beat-up cars, staying in crappy motels, treating their own wounds, using expired medication, and doing credit card scams and pool sharking to get a few dollars to pay for the next tank of gas. That's the path you were on before you met me. That's what waiting. I don't want that life for you. I can give you something better."

Danny spoke up. "Hunters should be subsidized by the damn government, but they can't find out about all this, because then it goes full military and the CIA jams its fingers in the pie. That kicks off global involvement, and all the projections show World War III and planetary destruction within a decade."

Juliane's face lit up as Danny offered his sociopolitical analysis. "Since the government can't do anything, Hunters need patrons. Like me. But more than just me. Because I can pay your way, and frankly, I can afford to cover a lot of other people, but other people need to contribute to the cause too."

Dean ran his hand through his hair and pressed his hand against the back of his neck, a subtle form of grounding himself he was not aware he did.

Juliane stood up and paced nervously as she expounded upon her idea. "See, Hunters keep everyone else safe, but no one really knows about it, because if people knew about Hunters and the things they hunt, like Danny said, society would be totally destabilized. So it's got to stay secret, for the most part, but the people with money and power—the elite—they're all benefiting from you risking your lives to keep everyone safe, and you're eating greasy burgers from a diner while they have lobster and Champagne in their mansions."

"I like greasy burgers," Dean protested.

"Yeah, but you also like that nice Champagne she gave us." Sam countered.

Dean pursed his lips and cocked his head, conceding the point.

Juliane tried to continue."So more than just opening a new Sanctuary wherever it is you call home—"

"Sioux Falls," Dean interrupted.

"South Dakota?" Danny asked.

Dean nodded.

"Ah, ok. We didn't actually know."

"You were just going to move to wherever we were from?"

"Why not?"

Juliane waved her hands to get their attention back.

"Sorry," Danny said. He knew how hard this was for her, and how she'd been rehearsing this speech.

"Besides opening a new Sanctuary, I want to set up a foundation to help Hunters, without the public finding out about us. Get the people with power and influence who can be trusted to be discreet to start paying for the services Hunters have been giving away for free."

"A secret society. Of rich people. Patrons for Hunters." Dean exhaled audibly. "That would sure change things up."

Juliana grinned, perfect white teeth gleaming. "I'm pretty good at a few things, but the one area where I'm exceptional is persuading wealthy people to give up their money." She smoothed a stray lock of hair out of her face, her delicate fingers drawing the eye to her elegant bone structure, looking every inch the socialite she had been raised to be.

"So… you pay for us." Sam toyed with the silver ring on his right hand. Dean reflexively touched his own identical ring.

"And Reggie and Bobby," Danny interjected.

"And then you go around raising money in secret to set up a Hunter fund?"

"Yes, but not to give them a monthly allowance. Ultimately, we want to establish a Hunter infrastructure across the whole country."

"Sanctuaries in every state." Danny took a sip of coffee, which had gone cold. "And supply depots."

Dean's eyes grew huge at this idea.

"With weapons and ammo, gear, fueling stations, even groceries," Danny continued.

"Restaurants that serve civilians, like the Sanctuary is also a regular motel as a cover, but Hunters eat free, and have safe places to network, more than just the handful of bars and houses that exist now informally," Juliane added.

"That's ambitious." Sam pondered the vast scope of the concept.

"Yes, it is." Juliane nodded. "And it's going to take a while to get it going."

Danny spoke up."Well, the new construction on the supply depots and Sanctuaries will take a while, but we can take over existing gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants and just slip our own people in to run things. Hunters' family members. People who don't want to hunt, but still want to help."

"That is fucking brilliant." Dean stared at Danny with newfound respect, on top of what he already felt for Danny's strategic mind.

"Anyway, that's the whole crazy idea," Juliane blurted. "I know it's a lot to take in. Think over and let us know."

Sam and Dean looked at each other, communicating without words. Sam smiled."We don't have to think it over."

"We're on board," Dean added. "With all of it."

Juliane leaned against the kitchen counter, and put her face in her hands for a moment. She straightened up and composed herself. "I'm really happy to hear that."

Before she realized what hit her, she was enveloped in a hug. Sam held her tight and she held him right back.

Dean watched Sam being held by a kind woman who promised to take care of him so he would never want for anything, and who loved him. He didn't try to hide the tears in his eyes that sprung up because Sam hadn't had that since he was six months old.

"So how does this all work? What's the plan?"

"Well, we're going to need to get our friends to take over here, and start making some arrangements, but it mostly depends on you and when you're ready to go back. You might need to head up first, and we'd come a little later. In the meantime, I can get started on covering your expenses." Juliane retrieved a wallet from her coat and pulled something out. She slid it across the table to Sam. It was a black American Express card.

"Is this a Black card?" Sam ran his fingers over the raised numbers. "Huh. It's not plastic."

"It's a Centurion card. And it's made from titanium."

"The Black card is real? I thought it was just a myth." Dean plucked the card from the table and held it in front of his face like he was examining a rare specimen. Which he was.

"It's real. And I'm going to get one for you. I figure you only need one card between the two of you, right?"

Dean nodded. They were a package deal, now and forever.

"I'll get a regular Amex Platinum for Reggie and Bobbie, without all the bells and whistles. But I want you two to have this one."

Sam took the card from Dean and stared at it, shaking his head. "This is a no-limit credit card." He gazed up at Juliane with a stupefied expression

"That's right. So don't go buying a Lamborghini. Although you actually do get a good discount on renting Lambos with this."

Dean gulped.

"It's not just a no-limit card. The Black card one has a lot of perks. Special services, for special people. And you two just saved the world. If anyone earned special treatment, it's you."

Sam kept staring at the card. "I don't know. That's… what you're offering. That's a lot."

Juliane put her hand on Sam's forearm. "It isn't a lot to me. Sam. It's obscene, how much I inherited. I didn't earn it. I was just born into it. Let me help you with it."

Sam shook his head. "I don't know. I mean…" He looked over at Dean. "Isn't that part of being a Hunter?"

"Being broke? Makeshift, make do, get 'er done? Why does that have to be part of it?" Danny spoke up. "Hunters don't have anything, historically, because they spend their lives working for nothing. You can't hold down a job when you're saving a town from a Rugaru. That's not right, that it's been that way. But that can change. That ought to change. She's not saying she wants to make Hunters soft and pampered."

"Not at all. Just cover their basic needs. Nothing fancy."

"Well, except for you. She's got a soft spot for you two," Danny teased.

Juliane blushed, but she pressed the issue. "You gave me my life back. Let me make yours easier."

Sam breathed in deep and exhaled, evaluating, thinking. He looked at Dean. Dean's expression was easy to read, even without their newfound ability to share thoughts and feelings without speaking. Yeah, he wanted the money, wanted to not have to struggle to meet their basic needs, wanted a little taste of the good life, even, but he understood where Sam was coming from completely, and he would back whatever Sam decided he was comfortable with.

Sam remembered everything Dean had done for him. Dean going hungry so Sam would not. Dean, letting men do things to him so Sam would have food.


"Ok." Sam accepted the offer, eyes never leaving Dean's face. He deserves everything. He deserves it all.

Dean grinned, the smile going all the way up to his eyes, making them crinkle in the corners. He snatched the card back from Sam. "Sam. Don't let the money change you."

"Speak for yourself, Dean," Sam shot back.

"Oh, I'm gonna stay working-class blue collar until the day I die."

"You sure? Lobster and Lambos, dude." Sam eyed the card and raised an eyebrow.

Dean shrugged. "Give me all the fine restaurants and fancy sheets you want. I'm not gonna lose who I am. All I need to be happy is you, a set of tools and a classic American muscle car, some good tunes and a six-pack. Or a salt-round shotgun and to know one thing: where they are." Dean mimed shooting a gun at a monster.

It was not lost one anyone in the room, Sam least of all, that the first thing in Dean's short list of things he needed to be happy was Sam.

After a cup of coffee and a trip to the bathroom to urinate and brush his teeth, all Marcus wanted to do was go back to bed. Reggie didn't protest, and settled Marcus back into the soft sheets and thick blankets.

He sat back in the chair, trying unsuccessfully to get back into his book. But he couldn't concentrate. Marcus not eating, saying he wasn't hungry, struck a sour note in him. It wasn't right. And he knew it. He just couldn't figure out why.

A path to understanding presented itself to him, but he squirmed away from it.

The path circled around and presented itself again.

"Crap." Reggie shut the book and sucked air through his teeth, steeling himself from what he knew he had to do.

He closed his eyes and conjured up the memory of his own assault, which he had worked so fiercely to repress. He dug it out of the iron coffin bound with heavy chains buried in a thick ice sheet in the Antarctic, a mental construct he had created to lock that memory out of his conscious mind.

The memory came flooding back with surprising ease.

The two good ol' boys, enraged with repressed longing, taking their perfectly natural urges out on him in the form of a hypermasculine punishment of "that little queer." It's not gay if it's hatefucking, right?

Reggie shoved past that part blindly. It wasn't important. It wasn't why he was revisiting this memory he had buried almost completely for decades. What was important was the aftermath. He made himself open that particular door and let what hid inside come spilling out, for Marcus's sake. If he could remember what he had needed to heal and recover, he could help Marcus, who was not able to articulate it himself.

He remembered how he bled afterward. Hiding his ruined jeans and underwear at the bottom of the trash can. Taking care of himself, cleaning himself up, telling no one, not a soul. How he laid rags over the bed so he didn't get blood on the sheets. Curling up in bed on his side, repeating over and over, "Nothing happened. Nothing happened. Nothing happened," as he constructed his mental vault to lock the memory away, and imagined a totally different outcome of that evening, where he had turned left instead of right and never walked past the two older boys lounging on their front porch, drunk on corn liquor and brimming with repressed desires. Remembered trying to act normal, picking at the meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes and peas his mother had made them for family dinner, not showing the pain he felt at having to sit in a chair. The sense memory of that meal, the way the peas stuck to the mashed potatoes, the slightly charred smear of ketchup on the top crust of the meatloaf, triggered a hyper-vivid flashback. Something he had completely forgotten.

He remembered the shocking, excruciating pain when that meal had worked its way through his system and needed to be expelled from his body. The fear that lit him up, hot and cold at the same time, trapped in the terrible moment of knowing he couldn't stop it, but he also couldn't endure it. Blinding, frightening pain so intense he lost consciousness, and came to sprawled on the floor face down, a giant goose egg on his temple from hitting the hard tile.

His eyes flew open, and he placed his hand gently on Marcus's leg, face lined with understanding and sorrow.

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