Disclaimer: Well, they aren't in my possession, so I guess they don't belong to me.
Beta'd: By Carocali. I have no idea how she fit me into her crazy schedule right now, but she did and I am grateful. Thanks, girl!
Special thanks to Phx without whose encouragement to post, this story would have languished in my folder of misfit fics.
Warning: This isn't the darkest fic I've ever read and certainly mild by comparison to some. However, it is definitely the darkest story I've ever written and may be unsuitable for some readers. One thing is always true, I never break the boys more than I can fix.
Nana, I'm so sorry. Chapter three of 'Lady of the Autumn Wood' is two-thirds finished, but this fic literally ate my brain on Sunday. I'm working on it now, though!
If it was cold, Sam didn't notice anymore. He'd lost track of the days or hours, he really didn't know which, during the long stretches of sensory deprivation. Not a single ray of light filled the stone cell, no sounds penetrated the block of solitude in which he found himself. The metal cuffs chaffed his wrists and ankles raw and he couldn't move without feeling some amount of pain. Not that his ribs weren't throbbing, or the welts on his back, but for some reason it was the shackles and their humiliating confinement that bothered him the most.
A bang in the dark caused him to startle, chains rattling before stilling once more. His breath stuttered in his chest. They were coming back.
"I don't care what Rufus thinks, Sam isn't dead and he didn't just decide to run away," Dean said. "I know my brother, Bobby, and he was his normal, broody self when he left here. He wasn't getting ready to take off. Besides he left his computer, no way Sam left that behind."
"Calm down, Dean. I was just passing along what Rufus said. The damn fool hasn't turned up anything, so he thinks Sam is underground. If that were the case, you'd have found him by now. Kid never could hide from you for long."
Dean stopped pacing the small motel room and scrubbed a hand down his face. The unshaven stubble had changed into a full out beard over the last ten days and Dean couldn't bring himself to care. "No, he can't and believe me, Bobby, I've looked." He strode to the window, lifting the curtain and willed his brother to walk across the parking lot for the hundredth time. He sighed as unrealistic hope fled, dropping the heavy drape back into place.
"Let's go over it again." Rustling papers came through the phone line, followed by the distinctive hiss of a beer being uncapped. "You guys weren't working on anything in particular?"
"No, we were stopped for the night on our way to you. You know this already, I don't see how this helps!" Dean's impotent frustration leaked through the airwaves to Bobby.
"Boy, I'm trying to help. We're running out of ideas and the only thing I got left is to start at the beginning."
"I know." Dean flopped onto the bed, letting his head fall nearly to his knees. "I just don't know what to do. I need to find Sam."
"We have to."
Clammy hands, smooth, unwanted icicle fingers traced the crisscrossing lines of welts on his bare back. Sam shivered, the shackles burning fresh against tender skin. He vowed he wouldn't talk to them anymore because they always found a way to twist his words and use it against him. He bit his lower lip to keep from protesting when one of the fingers slipped under his waistband following a puffy trail.
The touching stopped and a feathery light whisper, cool air on his neck and ear caused another shiver. "He's not coming for you."
Sam swallowed hard. He was afraid, deeply afraid they spoke the truth. Not that he believed Dean had stopped trying to find him, but that he couldn't. Even Dean wasn't a superhero, no matter what he'd believed when he was four.
A hand caressed his cheek almost lovingly, then moved to card through his already too long hair, pushing it behind his ear. The voice was back, playfully cutting into Sam's hope, what little of it there was left. "He's not even in town anymore. He's gone."
Sam searched the inky blackness hoping he could glimpse his tormentors, but like all the other times before, they were perfectly masked in darkness. He pulled his chest tighter to his knees, hoping to deny them access. Laughter came from all around him, two, maybe three voices. The scent of mold and his own stink filled his nostrils. He wanted out, now, and he lashed out with his fists and his feet, knowing that he'd never be able to hit anyone. He never could, the leash they kept him on was too short.
Small pants of exertion escaped as he fought the losing battle. He felt better when he tried to do something than he did the times he let them beat down his spirit like a disobedient puppy. Finally, spent, he collapsed in on himself, curling up into as small of a space as he could manage to squeeze his tall frame. The laughter stopped and someone softly petted the back of his head. "We were going to feed you, but maybe that's a bad idea."
Sam's traitorous stomach gurgled at the mention of food even as his throat constricted in rebellion as he gagged. There was something about not being able to see what you were eating or drinking that made even that simple act terrifying in its own way.
"Gertie, the boy needs to eat if you want to keep him around for awhile. He's not a toy, he's a pet."
Sam cringed at the label.
"You're right, dear, you always are."
A plate was thrust into his hand, a cup into the other. He drank greedily, saving half of the water by sheer willpower. Sam wasn't sure he was hungry, but he was incredibly thirsty. He fumbled blindly with the stone-cold food on the plate, hesitantly sniffing a piece of meat. It smelled bloody and fresh, and not at all like something he should put in his mouth, but he hadn't eaten in a long time and if an opportunity for escape presented itself, he had to be strong enough to take it.
The gelatinous blob of meat took awhile to chew and he wished desperately for another cup of water so he could wash it down with the remaining liquid and still have more for later. Dry swallowing the chunk of protein, Sam gasped, fighting the urge to vomit.
"Do you remember the little girl?"
Of course, he remembered. Sam had reassured the freckled girl in brown pigtails that he would find her cat. It had disappeared into a deserted, ramshackle house on his route to the library and he couldn't let the youngster go into somewhere so dangerous. There was any number of ways to get hurt in a building that was falling apart. He hadn't counted on the Schmidts.
"We found her cat."
Sam lost the battle.
"I think you should retrace Sam's steps that morning."
"I've already done that." Dean wanted to smash, break, and destroy something, anything.
"I know, but you did it looking for clues to what happened to your brother."
"As opposed to?"
"Looking at everything the way Sam would have."
Dean let out a long breath, trying to restore a semblance of calm. It didn't work. "I'll give it shot. At this point, I'm willing to try anything."
"I know you are, kid. Give me a call when you get back."
Dean snapped his phone closed, tucked his gun and the lock pick set into his coat out of sheer habit and headed out the door. The sun sparkled gaily in the warm, spring afternoon. In the distance, he heard children laughing as they played and all around him people went about their business. Dean hated the normal world for a split second and all the people in it who were oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark. There was something so wrong with their lives continuing on as if nothing was wrong when his was falling apart.
He turned left onto Euclid, heading for the library. The big dog on the corner came to meet him at the fence and he stopped to scratch it behind the ears. Sam couldn't resist dogs, he would have stopped, maybe looked around while he did it, enjoying the moment for what it was.
That's when Dean saw her, a small girl in braids preparing to sneak into the rundown house across the street. The search for his brother would have to wait. Dilapidated houses were no place for anyone, more or less a young child.
"Hey!" he shouted, waving a hand at her as he crossed the street.
She looked scared for a moment, obviously she knew she shouldn't be going in the house. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," she announced by way of greeting.
"I'll bet you're not supposed to go into that house either," he said, smiling a little when she dropped her gaze. "I'm right, aren't I?"
"Yes," she said, looking up at him, "but I saw Nibbles go into the house and I'm worried about her."
Dean's jaw clicked. He didn't want to spend time looking for this girl's cat, but he just couldn't let her go inside and somehow he knew she would the minute he was gone. "Tell you what, you wait out here and I'll go find her."
"That's what the other man said," the girl said. "He never found her and it's been days and days."
"What other man?" Dean asked, his tone more desperate than he would care to admit. He didn't want to scare the girl off.
"I dunno, the other one," she said, with a shoulder shrug.
"Look, Shelly, this is important." Dean crouched down to be eye level with the girl. "What did he look like?"
"Um, he was tall." Her eyes opened wide as she remembered. "Taller than even you!"
"What else?" Dean asked, being careful not to coach her responses. A delay in the truth would only send him on a wild goose chase.
"He had lots of hair and nice eyes." Shelly nodded. "Like yours."
"Nice, like green?"
"No, like he was nice," Shelly said, her tone indicating she thought Dean was an idiot for not realizing what she meant.
"Okay, Shelly, you listen to me very closely," Dean said. "You go home. I'll find your cat, but you aren't to go into this house. Ever."
"Why not?" she asked. Her brown eyes gazed at him suspiciously for the first time.
"Because it's dangerous. Your cat will come home eventually. If you get hurt in here, your parents won't be happy." Dean saw the girl's indecision. He hadn't wanted to do this, but he really needed into the house right now. "Besides, it's haunted."
"Ghosts?" she asked, eyes opening wide. "Spirits who need to see the light?"
Damn Jennifer Love Hewitt and her touchy-feely ghost show. "No, scarier, meaner ones. Now go!"
The little girl startled and ran off crying. Normally he'd feel like a heel for scaring a child, but today he had something more important to worry about. Like why Sam had walked into this house looking for Nibbles and never walked out. Taking a look around and seeing the coast was clear, Dean ducked into the house through the door that was hanging askew.
The belt that used to hold his pants up had long since been removed. It was back, folded in half and running in short paths down his chest. He'd been smacked with it a couple of times already for further soiling his prison with sick, but nothing much yet. He knew it was sure to come though, and his chest heaved with controlled fear. No way to know what would happen or from which direction when you couldn't see.
"We were wrong, Tim."
Oh God, Gertie was building up to a psychotic rant. He'd been here before. Sam shook, more from cold than fear. The temperature had plummeted as the Schmidts' anger grew. He didn't know what had set them off this time, but eventually they'd tell him. Last time she'd been convinced Sam had stolen one of her favorite tablecloths. It had cost him bruised ribs and the additional shackles around his ankles that time.
"It's okay, Gertie, he'll learn."
Sam pulled on the chains. As usual, they held fast. Please, Dean.
"No, I meant about his brother."
That got Sam's attention and his head shot up. "What about my brother?" he forced out through rusty vocal chords, forgetting all about his vow not to speak.
Hands were back, stroking his hair, a gentle kiss upon his cheek. "I'm so sorry."
Tears were instantly on his face, his emotions high and his coping skills worn thread-bare. "No."
"He tried to find you. He came into the house."
"We couldn't let him find you. You belong to us."
"He's a fighter, just like you."
"I'm sorry to say, it wasn't quick. He suffered quite a bit."
"It's okay. Shsh, it's okay."
A cold finger rested on his parched lips.
"If you're a good pet, we'll feed you him, instead of the cat next time."
In a blast of frigid air and the slamming of a door Sam was left alone with his despair.
AN: A couple weeks ago, Phx and I were discussing how unwanted, intimate touches were creepier (and still provided plenty of emotional angst) than a permanently character changing event. We didn't intend to write anything, it was simply a discussion. Of course, give two writers fodder like that and the muse is bound to bite. I don't know if her fic was jump-started by our discussion, but between that and sneak peeks at her fic, I sure was! That's how I ended up on the darkside.
/hides behind rock