Disclaimer: I'm just playing in Kripke's sandbox.

Summary: There was a reason they got those tattoos.

A/N: This story is set in the early part of season three, sometime after Sin City.

----------------

Dead Man Walking

Chapter 1

Sam Winchester pulled against the coarse ropes that bound him, his eyes fastened on the gun leveled at his head. "Don't do this," he said desperately, struggling to keep his voice calm. "Don't do something you're going to regret."

"I'm not gonna regret this. I'm gonna enjoy it."

"You don't know what happened. I can explain everything, I swear."

The iron-cold click of the gun cocking was the only answer, and Sam renewed his efforts, his nostrils flaring as he fought to get free. "Just listen to me for a second. Please."

"I don't have to listen to you. I don't have to listen to anyone anymore."

"But-"

Sam choked as a hand slammed up against his throat, forcing him back against the narrow wooden beam to which he was tied, one of several that lined the stained walls of the rundown motel room. He could feel the timber splintering against his spine, the rough fibers catching in his clothes and hair and in the strong cords that bound him, and he pressed himself back further, searching desperately for some minor relief from the blunt pressure that was crushing his windpipe.

"How about you just shut your mouth?"

The words were growled, threatening retribution if not obeyed, and Sam silenced, waited until the hand against his throat had relented and he had managed to draw in a few painful breaths, before he tried again.

"It's me, I swear."

The fist to his gut expelled all the air inside him, and more besides. Sam barely heard the snarled "You're not him" as he retched miserably, trying to curl over his aching stomach but finding himself held firmly in place by the ropes around his legs, arms and torso. Forcing the pain down, fighting it back, he tried one more time, unwilling to let what he knew was coming actually happen, unable to even consider the consequences. "Dean, listen," he pleaded, "I swear, on everything, on Mom, on Dad, it's me. Sam."

But Dean shook his head. "You're not him," he repeated, his eyes cold. "My brother's dead."

"No, I'm not." Sam drew in the deepest breath he could manage against the tightly drawn ropes, and tried to make his voice calmer. "Listen to me, man, you just don't remember what happened. You've got amnesia or something, alright? But I'm telling the truth, I swear to God."

Dean's mouth curled in disgust and he brought the Colt up once more, steadying it with one hand bracing the other, just like their Dad had taught them. "You're a lying son of a bitch, that's what you are."

"No, Dean-"

A sharp backhand to the face halted his words and Sam slumped in his bonds, exhausted. Miserable and despairing, he let his aching head sink back against the wooden beam behind him, wincing slightly as the movement caused a trickle of blood to run into his left eye from the deep gash which sat just below his hairline. He closed his eyes and the blood slowly continued down his face and onto his neck, where it met the tacky rivulets of holy water that dampened the collar and seams of his button-down shirt, remnants of when Dean had doused him with almost half a flask of the blessed liquid. Sam's lack of reaction to the water, however, had done nothing to temper Dean's conviction that Sam wasn't who he claimed to be.

At the sound of movement from in front of him, Sam forced himself to open his eyes, hastily blinking back the blood that was starting to crust on his lashes, making them stick painfully together. Once his vision had cleared, he watched with a growing sense of unease as Dean shifted a couple of steps back until he was leaning against the top of the single table that adorned the room. The piece of furniture creaked uneasily under his weight, its pockmarked surface sagging.

Dean looked at him, his stance deceptively casual, his thumb playing deliberately over the weapon in his hand. "So what are you, anyway?" he said, his gaze never leaving Sam.

"What do you mean?" Sam asked warily, but Dean went on as though he hadn't spoken.

"I gotta tell you," he murmured, "I'm drawing a blank." He shrugged, and a grin lit his face that didn't reach his eyes. "I mean, you're not a shape-shifter, that's for sure. Or a revenant."

Sam shook his head, regretting it immediately as the movement made his aching head spin and caused more blood to trickle down his face. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Dean's voice was hard and matter-of-fact. "I want to know what the hell kind of monster you are so I know how to kill you."

"Dean-"

"Tell me!"

The shouted words rang loudly in the ensuing silence, broken only by Sam's hitched breathing and the almost silent stroke of Dean's thumb as it resumed its rhythm over the Colt.

"I'm not any of those things," Sam said desperately. "I'm not a monster. I'm your brother."

"Shut your mouth."

"I died, alright?" Sam said, forcing his words out quickly, hoping to get at least some of the story told before Dean stopped him with another fist to the gut. "You remember that and you're right. I died. But I came back, you brought me back."

"I said to shut the hell up, freak."

"You made a deal," Sam continued tightly, urgently, a muscle twitching in his cheek as the words spilled forth. "With a crossroads demon. It brought me back to life."

"Demons don't just go around resurrecting people," Dean interrupted, scorn lacing his voice. "It would have wanted something, something big."

"Your soul." Sam looked up, met his brother's hooded gaze. "You traded your soul for me."

The sound of Dean's fingers on the firearm stuttered to a halt. "I did what?"

Sam remained silent, watching his brother process this information, hoping that some of it would strike a misplaced chord in Dean's memory.

Instead, Dean stood up, faced him. "If I sold my soul to some demon, then how the hell am I still walking around up here, huh? Shouldn't I be down under by now?"

"She…the crossroads demon…she gave you one year before the deal came due. But I'm not gonna let that happen, alright? I promised. I'm gonna save you."

"But-" Dean shook his head, his shoulders tightening, rounding, as he turned away from Sam. "No, that's impossible."

"Why? Dad made a deal for you."

In a few short strides, Dean was at his throat, hands bunched in the collar of his shirt, shoving him violently against the beam at his back "How do you know about that?" he demanded.

Sam met the furious green gaze, the pounding in his head echoing in rhythm with his heartbeat. "I keep telling you, Dean, I'm your brother." He swallowed against the tightness in his throat. "I know everything about you."

Letting go, Dean spun away, covering the distance along the length of the motel room floor with a quick, angry gait. "No," he said, shaking his head. "No, I don't believe you."

"Why? We deal with the supernatural every day. How is this different?"

"Forget it. You're just trying to distract me, give you a chance to get free."

"I'm not, I swear. I'm telling the truth."

Silence reigned in the cabin for seconds that dragged like hours. Sam waited, knowing that he had probably just used up his last chance to convince his brother of his identity. Finally, Dean came to a halt and turned towards him.

"You know what?" he said. "I've had enough of this crap."

Sam jerked back in his bonds as Dean brought the Colt up and leveled it at his heart.

"Dean, wait!"

"Give me one good reason why I should."

Sam's mind blanked for a second before one name shot into his head. "Bobby!" he blurted out.

Dean paused. "What?"

Sam pressed forward feverishly, ignoring the sharp bite of the ropes against his skin, unable to believe he hadn't thought of the older hunter before, even through the heavy ache in his head. "Call Bobby," he repeated, ever mindful of Dean's finger trembling over the trigger guard of the Colt. "Bobby Singer. He knows what happened, he was there."

Dean stared at him, his face shuttered. "You expect me to believe that Bobby's gonna back up this bull you're trying to feed me?"

"Yeah. I do." Sam took a careful breath. "Call him. Please. For both our sakes."

Never taking his eyes off of Sam, Dean reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell. With the gun still aimed at Sam's heart, he pressed a couple of buttons and put the phone up to his ear one-handed. A second later, he snapped it shut. "No answer. Kinda convenient, don't you think?"

Sam was helpless against the desperate laugh that rose in his throat. "Convenient?" he repeated. "How? My own brother's threatening to kill me and we can't get in contact with the only person who knows what happened."

Dean just kept staring at him and Sam met his gaze, hoping against hope that his brother would recognise him. "Dean, please," he murmured softly. "Just trust me on this. You don't want to do this. You don't want to kill me. I'm your brother."

"Sam's dead."

"I'm not. Why won't you believe me?"

Dean just kept looking at him. Then, finally, he shrugged. "Screw it," he muttered, almost to himself. His face went blank. "I'm just gonna kill you now."

Sam slumped in his bonds, his brother's words, his death sentence, ringing in his ears. Beaten, he closed his eyes, unwilling to watch Dean fire the bullet that would end his life. Maybe, he thought vaguely, beneath the loud pounding in his head, Dean's deal would be revoked if Sam himself died before the year came due. That way, at least something good would come out of this whole screwed-up mess.

He waited, taking short, shallow breaths that seemed not to bring him any air. When his mind skipped towards thoughts of how long Dean would survive when he remembered what had happened and realised what he'd done, he wrenched it back hastily, unwilling to spend the last moments of his life thinking about what would likely be the last moments of his brother's. But as more and more seconds ticked by without the soft pressure of Dean's finger clamping down on the trigger, Sam steeled himself and cracked open an eye.

Dean was standing right in front of him, his face dead white. Both his hands were wrapped around the handle of the Colt, his fingers clenching it tightly, but the harsh grip was doing nothing to still its shaking.

Sam pried open his other eye. "Dean?" he ventured.

Dean swore suddenly, loudly. "Damn it!" he cursed violently. He was sweating, trembling, and the next thing Sam knew, there was a heavy thud and the gun was on the floor between them. "God damn it!"

"Dean-" Sam started, but cut off abruptly as Dean covered the couple of steps that separated them, pulling out his knife on the way.

Sam flinched as the blade flashed through the air. Seconds later he was on the ground, his knees having hit the worn carpet hard enough to bruise. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it and immediately regretting the motion as the world spun, he looked up.

Dean was standing over him, knife still in hand. Sam's eyes darted to where the gun lay on the floor, but Dean must have noticed which way his gaze was going for, with one swift kick, he sent the firearm skittering away to the other side of the room. Sam felt the irrational urge to ask his brother whether the safety was on.

"Get up," Dean ordered, his voice hard.

"Where are we going?"

"I said, get up!"

Iron fingers fastened around his bicep and Sam found was yanked to his feet. He wobbled, his legs numb from spending so long in the one position, but he forced himself to still quickly when the sharp edge of his brother's favorite hunting knife bit into his neck.

"If you try anything, anything at all, I will slit your throat so fast you won't know what happened." Dean shook him. "Understand? Even if it doesn't kill you, I'm willing to bet it'll still hurt like hell."

Sam grunted his acquiescence, not daring to nod with the blade pressing so close into his skin. His arms were pulled behind him and bound tightly with shards of the rope that had fastened him to the beam, a rough piece of cloth was wrapped around his eyes, and he was pushed and prodded across the breadth of the room, the knife remaining sharp at his neck. They made one brief stop, presumably for Dean to pick up the scattered Colt, before the creak of a door sounded and Sam found himself being shoved out of the room and into the cool night air.

A sharp wind stung his cheeks as he was maneuvered, tripping occasionally, across the motel parking lot, Dean's hand digging brutally into his arm. When he stumbled over a particularly uneven patch of ground, the knife bit for a split second into his throat, and he tensed, his breath catching. Fortunately, Dean's reflexes were as quick as they ever were, and he was jerked upright and pushed onwards before he had a chance to steady himself.

His mind whirling, Sam thought briefly about trying to break free, but rejected the idea just as quickly. Dean's knots were strong, they always had been. Sam knew that from years of being used as a guinea pig in their father's training sessions. And even if he did manage to escape, he reasoned, his heart sinking, he had no way of getting to any of his belongings and no way of reaching any who might be able to help him, Dean having raided his pockets for his cell phone, wallet and money clip hours ago.

Sam would have known the squeak of the Impala's doors anywhere, so he was not fully unprepared when a shove to his back propelled him forward and a rough hand pushed his head down, guiding him under the low top of the car and onto the long length of the back bench-seat, where he collapsed, breathing in the familiar smell of the dark leather. Seconds later, his legs had been bound together with more shards of rope and were shoved inside with the rest of him.

It took Sam longer to place the slow hiss of salt being poured out in a loose circle around him, covering the seat, floor and the backrest of the Impala in a thick layer of crystals. He was sure that the many grains that fell on him were not accidental, and he forced himself not to flinch as they ran inside his collar and down his back, not wanting to give his brother any other ammo to think he wasn't human. Finally, after one last tug at his wrists as Dean checked his bonds, the door slammed shut against his heels, sending a harsh jolt up his whole body.

Seconds later, Sam felt the car subside under a familiar weight as Dean sunk into the driver's seat. He heard his brother draw in one long, slow breath before the low grumble of the Impala's engine started up, drowning out all other noise.

Sam could not help but ask the question that was plaguing him, raising his voice slightly to carry above the growl of the engine. "Why didn't you kill me just now?"

There was no response at first. Then Sam heard the sound of Dean moving about. Without warning, he found his jaw seized in a rough grip and he was pulled towards the outer edge of the seat. The blindfold was wrenched off from around his head, taking a few bits of hair with it, and the strip of material was forced into his mouth and pulled tight, gagging him firmly. Strong fingers that trembled slightly before steadying fastened a swift knot with the ends of the material at the back of his head, sending more salt crystals scuttling for cover. Then, before Sam could catch more than a quick, shadowed glimpse of his brother's impassive face, he was abruptly released and pushed back into the seat once more.

Shifting about cautiously, Sam tested the strength of the ropes around his limbs. Finding little give, and certainly not enough to warrant an escape, he settled, feeling the strange sensation of salt grains running down his back, clinging to his still clammy clothes and to the sweat-dampened curls hidden underneath the collar of his shirt. Suddenly exhausted, he let his head fall back against the cool leather bench beneath him, and felt the pounding ache subside slightly. Staring at the dark seatback in front of him, he sought solace in the familiar rumble of the Impala as it pulled out of the parking lot and prayed that he would come out of the next day or so alive. For his sake and for Dean's.

TBC