Dean gritted his teeth and swallowed a scream. Pain raced up his side from Alistair's latest incision, the scent of fresh spilled blood coiling around him. He would not give the bastard the satisfaction. Not as long as he could hold out. And he would hold out. His daily growing anger and hate at the demon would see to it.
How long had he been in Hell? Two? Three years? Time had little meaning here and he heard it didn't run like elsewhere to boot. There was no telling how many hours he'd already spent strapped to the rack on his stomach, his tormentor deciding to spice things up by trying something different.
But he must endure. It was all he had left. And a burning need for vengeance. If he couldn't hold out against the agony, then he would do so against Alistair's daily temptation. Because the moment he gave in, he would be lost. And damn if he would go there, damn if he would ever willingly become one of the things that killed his mother, his father, even him. One of the things which might have also killed Sammy.
He closed his eyes and fought back the thought and tears, the despair nipping at his heels. Sam was alive, he had to be. No other answer was allowed. So what if his little brother had been left alone with Lilith, the nastiest demon around since YED? This was his brother he was talking about, the one he'd sacrificed his soul for, that he was suffering all this for. If there was a God out there somewhere, surely he wouldn't have let his brother die, not after everything they'd been through -- after all the things which had been sacrificed.
His best indication that Sammy was still breathing was that the demons hadn't paraded the fact of his death to his face. He was sure they would have gloated about it from the moment Dean got there if Sam had. They'd tell him how he'd sold his soul for nothing -- his brother brought back to life then dead again in a mere year and Dean's soul forfeit for eternity.
So Sam was out there fighting the good fight. He must be. Someone had to be out there messing up these sons of bitches' plans. And that thought alone gave him tons of comfort. Anything to ruin the bastards' day.
The hard slap caught him unawares. Sharp claws and scales scraped over his skin adding to the blow. He opened his eyes only to find the wide cavern spinning, he'd been hit so hard. His cheek throbbed in complaint, another ache to add to the day's tally.
"You need to pay attention, Dean." Alistair's fetid breath of rotted flesh and sulfur washed over his face making him gag. The voice sounded like rocks grinding against each other though the words were strung together with a sing-song cadence.
"It's not polite to daydream when someone's talking to you." A scaly hand patted at his scratched cheek sending fresh twinges of irritation down his nerve endings. "I'm trying to teach you something important here."
That it was true scared Dean almost as much as just being in Hell itself. This weird interest Alistair had regarding him, torturing him personally though he was some big important demon mucky-muck. But Alastair wasn't just torturing him, no, every move came with a lecture, with comparisons of methods, visual graphics, hands on teaching at its finest. But why? What the hell for?
Something was going on, something Dean didn't understand or was able to put his finger on. But it gave him that much more of a reason not to give in.
"One more millimeter in, just between these layers here, and the pain increases in an unbelievable sweet crescendo like so."
Agony rolled up Dean's nerves from his exposed backside, his brain catching on fire, all thought all everything blowing apart as if they'd never been. His body spasmed in reaction jerking him against the barbed restraints. He would have screamed this time, done anything for any kind of relief, for making it stop, but it was so intense even that was denied him.
Then just as abruptly it was gone. All of it. He suddenly felt free, grabbed and pulled as if launched from a sling, rising upwards towards the dark cavern's ceiling at tremendous, unbelievable speed, Alistair's shocked displeasure thundering behind him.
Dean mentally blinked and then wasn't where he'd been but was somewhere else. His vision went sideways, his stomach the opposite direction. His senses were drenched with the stench of whiskey, fear, blood, wild grass and weeds of all things. He half slumped forwards, totally disoriented, and caught himself on something wooden.
His mind felt like mush, his muscles not much better. He knew this feeling – had in fact experienced it many times before. There was alcohol running through his veins, a lot of it. But how?
A gentle breeze caressed his skin and he realized it was cool, not the humid penetrating heat with which he'd become so familiar. A heavier, more shocking thought came with that realization. Was this not Hell? Was he, somehow, free? His mind reeled – the concept almost alien.
"Welcome back to the world of the living…Dean Winchester." A light snort followed the words.
Dean didn't recognize the voice. He fought to rally himself, to find out what the heck was going on. His hands were holding onto something, so he kept his grip as he commanded his legs to stiffen, his knees to lock, then stood up straight. Hair fell into his eyes but he didn't trust himself enough at the moment to try to move it away. How had it gotten so long anyway? Yet hadn't he heard somewhere that hair and fingernails continued to grow even after you were dead?
But somehow he was alive, free! A shot of elation rang through him, but didn't last long.
He felt off. He felt wrong. And it wasn't just the alcohol. But he didn't have any time for that now. Someone was here with him. Someone who seemed to know who he was and maybe would be able to tell him what the hell had just happened. He tried to focus in on his surroundings.
The wood thing he was leaning on turned out to be a giant spindle. His hands were curled around the demon killing knife and it was embedded into the wood, right through some dilapidated, weekend bender yuppie's hand. But said yuppie was grinning at him with mad sadistic glee for some reason. It sent cold shivers down Dean's back. Whatever had just happened, he was suddenly dead sure he wasn't going to like it. Not one bit.
"Who are you?"
That was wrong. His voice was off. The pitch was too high. WTF?
They were outside. Looked like the middle of freakin' nowhere even. A boarded up old gas station was off to his front and right. It was night time, the stars and the moon shining in a surprisingly cloudless sky. More light came from a daisy looking streetlamp farther back at the edge of the lot. Aside from the two of them, the place looked to be deserted.
Dean felt his chest constrict, his mind balking at what he already knew. He was topside. He was out of Hell. Except…it shouldn't have been possible.
The cold shivers spread into his gut. He was growing more certain by the moment that he wasn't going to like this at all.
"Oh, I think if you put some thought into it, you can figure out who I am." The balding guy blinked and his brown eyes covered over with swirling red.
Dean felt his face and body go numb. Yeah, he knew who this bastard was alright. "You didn't do it. Tell me you didn't make a deal."
The gleeful eyes grew brighter. "Oh yes, I did indeed. He was quite desperate, your brother."
"No!" Dean leaned forward with his denial, his weight driving the knife deeper into the wood and scrunching the inside of the demon's hand.
Sammy had promised. He'd promised to break the chain.
The demon grimaced in pain for a moment but then smiled. It wasn't a kind smile, far from it. "Wait, it gets better."
Dean didn't want it to get better. "No, it doesn't. Break the deal. Put me back!" Fear and horror raked at him, the mere thought of Sam being down there, of being tied to the rack, of having the things done to him that Dean had been put through again and again plunging him into despair. He thought he might throw up.
All he'd ever wanted was to protect his brother. To give Sammy a chance at living, maybe by some miracle even being happy. But not this. Never this.
"I don't think so, Dean."
"You fucking son of bitch!" Dean shifted the knife toward him driving it further into the demon's pinned hand. "Don't argue, just do it!"
The demon's face contorted as golden sparks flew from his cut flesh into the air. Yet his gaze never left his, the eyes shining with righteous amusement.
"No." He leaned ever so slightly forward. "Don't you get it? It's so much better this way." He smiled again as if he could taste Dean's oozing and growing panic. "You've had a taste of what it's like to be down there, a good long taste. So I thought how utterly delicious would it be to bring you back like little Sammy wanted, knowing that you'd know exactly what your brother would then be going through instead of you. No doubts…only certainty. And there'd be not a damn thing you could do about it." The smile grew but it was as if a desiccated skull were grinning at him. "Either one of your righteous souls would work for what we have in mind. And Sam's already half broken. How long could he possibly last that way?"
Rage filled Dean. It swept through his insides like a prairie fire, burning away his fear, his terror, leaving nothing but a rising tide of hate. "If you won't undo this, then I guess I don't need you anymore, do I?"
Not waiting for an answer, he yanked the knife out of the wood and in the same movement jabbed it towards the demon's neck. His aim was slightly off, though it shouldn't have been, and instead of plunging deep into the demon's throat it took him at the jaw. Twisting the knife though got it to cut right through the jugular sending blood and golden sparks spraying everywhere.
Dean slammed his free hand on the guy's arm before he could fall or pull back and thrust at him again. This time his aim was true. Cold steel broke through flesh and bone and out the other side.
He yanked the knife back out and didn't even look as the demon fell twitching to the ground dead.
This was screwed. This was royally screwed! Why the hell had Sam done this? Was he freakin' mental? "You stupid fuck!"
He smacked the pummel of the knife against the wooden spindle the sound echoing into the night around him. He did it over and over and over again until his hand and arm grew numb. He tried hard to hold onto his anger, fearing to face the horror of what had been done. The chain was supposed to be broken, dammit! He wasn't worth this!
Dean turned away from the spindle, from the gas station, from the body, from all that was his first sight after being lifted from Hell. Not paying attention to what he was doing, he swiped the bloodied knife against his jeans and continued holding onto it in a white knuckled grip.
With the light of the moon and stars, he made out the crossroads before him and beyond it the Impala. But where was Sam's body? What had the demon done with it? No way was he going to leave it out here to be eaten by scavengers or worse. He had to find Sam!
Dean staggered toward the car sure he could find a flashlight or two in the trunk. His legs felt off. Everything about him felt gangly and uncoordinated. Yeah there was booze clogging his arteries to heck and back, but he knew what that felt like and this had nothing to do with it, or at least not entirely. There was some bad mojo going on. His body had been in bad shape when he left it, so sure there' be some problems, but what else had Sammy done?
"Hey, Baby. Long time no see." Dean ran a hand over the Impala's black hood in a gentle caress. "Did Sammy treat you okay?"
As he reached for the door handle he stared at his hand for a moment wondering if his fingers had always seemed so long before. He also noticed his ring was missing. Half frowning, he looked up and caught his reflection on the window, the moon looking down on him from behind.
Dean froze, his eyes widening as he stared. Cold shivers washed in waves down his whole body. He blinked several times to make sure what he was seeing was right. He knew that image, but…
That wasn't his face. Those weren't his clothes. This wasn't his body.
It was Sam's…
But that was impossible.
Dean staggered back away from the face staring back at him, one he knew so well but wasn't his. No. This was a mistake, a big freaking mistake! How the hell had it happened?
His muscles suddenly turned to rubber and he fell on his ass, no, on Sam's ass, on the pebble strewn road.
He knew his body had been torn a new one, but, but to find himself inside his brother's? Goosebumps covered him from head to toe the idea alien and beyond bizarre. This kind of stuff only happened in cheap sci-fi movies. This was Real Life! This type of thing wasn't supposed to happen here!
He touched his face, Sam's face, stared at his hands, Sam's hands, his arms, Sam's arms, his legs, Sam's legs, growing more nauseated by the moment as it was pounded into him over and over again that this body wasn't his.
This was insane. Maybe he was still in Hell. Maybe this was some kind of psychological rather than physical torture cooked up by Alistair. But what would be the point? Aside from the utter glee of watching his ass freak out that is? But it wasn't like the demon ever needed a reason.
The air was fresh and real though. That was the moon and a genuine night's sky up there. That had been a bona fide demon he killed but a minute before. And this really was his brother's body.
Sam had traded places with him in more ways than one. And Dean was sure, deep in his soul of souls that just like this crossroads demon, none would deal with him for yet another switch. Sammy was gone and there wasn't a damn thing Dean could do about it.
After all he'd done. After all he went through. He'd ended up putting his brother in the last place he ever wanted him to be – rotting and being tortured in Hell.