SYNOPSIS: Dean regains consciousness to find himself locked up in a basement cell with Sam, and neither brother has any idea how they got there – or why.
SPOILERS: Set in Season 5. Contains references to events in episodes up to, and including, 5.10.
RATED: T for some language. It's mostly mild but, when Dean gets ticked, his words get a little more, um, colorful.
A/N: The plot bunny for this story has been grazing in my backyard since Season 3 but, when I finally decided to corral it, it turned into a Season 5 story. Sometimes your muse can throw you a curveball – mine seems to excel at them. Well, that and ignoring me for great lengths of time. *g* A great big thank you to Harrigan for an awesome beta, as always. I kept tweaking post-beta so any remaining goofs are mine alone. Hope you enjoy.
"Son of a bitch." Dean lifted his head with a groan. "What the hell did I have to drink?"
"Wish we could blame booze for this." Sam sounded worried. "That'd be an easy fix."
Dean forced open his eyes, blinking hard to bring his vision into focus. He sat slumped against a wall in the mostly dark room. Tilting his head, he could just make out a naked bulb in the ceiling that illuminated little more than a small patch of the cement floor beyond his bare feet. His stomach lurched as he turned toward Sam's voice. "Oh, god…I'm gonna puke."
"It's the drugs they gave you."
"What?" Dean spat out the bile burning his throat, grimacing at the woolly feel of his tongue and the sickly sweetness that coated his mouth. "Drugs?"
"You got jumped, man."
"By what?" Dean's vision blurred again and he closed his eyes, fighting to recall what the hell had happened. "And why?"
Sam exhaled audibly. "Not sure–to either question."
Dean dropped his chin to his chest with another groan, his head pounding at a decibel level Lars Ulrich would be hard-pressed to match, his chest tight as his breathing sped up. He had a brief recollection of walking toward the Impala and feeling a sharp sting in his neck. He'd slapped at it, freezing when he found a small tranquilizer dart buried in his skin. Yanking out the dart and spinning around, he got a glimpse of two men approaching him just before his world tilted, he slammed into the side of his car, and it was lights out. There was nothing more until coming to a few seconds earlier. Dean dragged his head up, peeling open his eyes. "Where the hell are we?"
"Not a clue. I'm in the dark as much as you." Sam's voice softened. "Hey, you're starting to hyperventilate. You need to calm down while we figure things out. Come on–take a deep breath."
"I'm serious, Dean. You need to calm down."
The last time Sam had told him to calm down they were on a possessed plane. Dean had chewed him out, told him to stop treating him like he was frigging four, but it had worked–got him to focus, keep it together.
Annoyingly, it worked now, too. "Must be the drugs," Dean muttered, then concentrated on his breathing until his respiration slowed. He dropped his head back, grunting as it collided with rough brick. Reaching up to rub the welt, he scowled at the clink of metal that stopped his hand reaching his head. "What the–"
"Yeah, um…looks like you drew the short straw."
"Short..." Dean stared in horrified surprise at the metal shackle that encircled his wrist. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he glanced around him. He sat in a corner, each arm pinned to the wall by a short length of chain attached to the wrist restraints. The walls were brick, the floor concrete and the ceiling unfinished, industrial vents and wires visible between the heavy beams. His eyes widened further at the wall of iron bars that ran floor-to-ceiling in front of him, linking the two brick walls diagonally to form a triangular cell–a cell both brothers were imprisoned inside.
His head snapped to the right. Like Dean, Sam sat on the floor, his back against the wall. His jacket and button-up shirt were gone, leaving him in his T-shirt and jeans. His feet were bare, his knees drawn up, his clasped hands resting on bent legs. But, unlike Dean, his wrists were free of shackles. "How come you're not trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey?"
Sam's jaw set as his gaze slid to Dean's restraints. "Only one set of shackles. Guess they didn't expect two of us."
"We could've shared." Dean's crack earned a glare from his brother, Sam failing to find any humor in their latest…situation. But, otherwise, Sam seemed OK, his face free of any cuts, bruises or other obvious signs of a fight. "You hurt?"
Sam shook his head.
Dean frowned. "They drug you?"
Sam didn't answer, he just dropped his head to stare down at his hands.
"Sam?" Dean's tone was sharp with worry, demanding an answer.
Sam closed his eyes, shaking his head slowly. "Don't think so."
Dean's breathing sped up again. "You don't know?"
"I don't remember, OK?" Sam's eyes snapped open as he turned back to Dean. "My head's clear, I don't feel sick but…I don't how I got here…I don't know who the hell nabbed us." He exhaled slowly. "Last thing I remember is you heading toward the car and two guys coming at you from behind." He swallowed, guilt clear in his voice. "I should've stopped them."
"No." Dean yanked on his restraints in frustration. "You should've got the hell outta Dodge while you had the chance."
"Right." Sam snorted. "You get attacked and I'm just gonna take off? Not gonna happen."
"Yeah, so now we're both stuck," Dean muttered, giving the chains another pull. "And that's just...awesome."
"We'll figure this out, together." Sam turned to stare at the cell bars. "Going separate ways before didn't work out so well for either of us, did it?"
Dean's stomach lurched at Sam's words. He stared at his brother, at the broad shoulders that seemed permanently slumped these days, weighed down by guilt, by fear that Lucifer's threats would come true. Splitting up had been Sam's idea, but he hadn't fought it. And he'd shut Sam down when he'd wanted back in, told him they were better off apart. Believed it, too–at least until Zach had zapped him back to the future and he'd seen where that decision led.
Dean swallowed, eyes sliding closed as his future self's words echoed through his head.
"Sam didn't make it."
His blood had run cold. "What? You weren't there?"
"No. Me and Sam, we hadn't talked in, hell, five years."
"You never tried to find him?"
Future Dean was brutally matter-of-fact. "We had other people to worry about."
That had been the moment, as much as seeing Lucifer wearing Sam's face, that he'd known they couldn't 'pick a hemisphere,' that he needed to be with Sam, fighting with him, not against him, to make sure that Zachariah's version of the future never saw the light of day. He knew they were each other's biggest weakness, that both sides wouldn't hesitate to use one against the other, but if they failed to stop the apocalypse, if the world was ending, no way was he going out not knowing where Sam was or what happened to him–or if he could have stopped it.
Dean opened his eyes to find Sam staring worriedly at him.
"What is it?"
"Nothing." Dean cleared his throat, grimacing as his stomach again threatened rebellion. "So who do you think checked us into the Hanoi Hilton–angels or demons?"
Sam shook his head. "Drugs, shackles, basement cell–seems a little low-tech for either of them, don't you think?"
Dean shrugged. "Guess so. Unless–" His stomach heaved suddenly, but this time the drugs weren't behind the wave of nausea that washed over him. "Is Lucifer doing this? Using me to make you say yes?"
Sam's eyes widened. "What?"
"Look at you." Dean yanked at the chains that pinned him to the wall. "No drugs, no chains. If it's 'hands-off, Sammy,' that tells me Lucy's behind this."
"No." Shock gave way to fear over the potential for truth in Dean's words, but that fear faded quickly behind Sam's building anger. "No. This isn't–"
"Promise me you won't let him in." Dean's voice was a low growl.
"Never." Sam's jaw set defiantly. "I'm done being used."
"Sam." Dean's voice shook, a clear image of a white-suited Lucifer wearing Sam's face filling his mind's eye. "Whatever he says…whatever he does to me, you tell him to stick it, you hear me?"
Sam looked like he was going to be sick. "I won't let him hurt you."
Dean shook his head. "Whatever he does."
"Damn it, Sam. This is bigger than the two of us and you know it. Promise me."
Sam held Dean's gaze for a long moment, then nodded tersely."
Sam swallowed, his voice quiet. "I…promise."
Dean's eyes slid closed. I promise. They were just words, but he needed to hear them, needed to know that the two of them were on the same page like they had been most of their lives–at least until Cold Oak, and Hell, and Ruby and…. He shuddered, nausea again churning in his gut.
"Dean?" Sam pushed himself closer to his brother.
"It's OK." Dean clenched his fists to stop his hands from shaking, offered a weak nod at Sam, then gave the chains another yank. "Look, um, see if you can get me out of these things, huh? My arms are numb."
Sam exhaled audibly. "If I could, you'd already be out. They took our shoes, coats…emptied our pockets–took everything we might use." He gestured to the ceiling. "Best thing I've come up with so far is yanking loose one of those wires. If it doesn't fry me, I could strip it down, use one of the smaller wires inside as a lock pick."
Dean followed Sam's gaze, staring at the thick wires that ran between the joists. "Go for it."
"I can't reach the damn things." Sam's frustration was clear. "The ceilings in here must be ten feet high."
Dean jerked a hand toward the cell door, grimacing at the pins and needles that raced from his fingers to his shoulder. "So, climb the bars."
"Gee, why didn't I think of that?" Sam pointed up at the ceiling. "I shinnied up the door but the wires don't run close enough. Like I said, I can't reach."
Dean coughed. "Come on. You've got the wingspan of a fucking albatross. You can reach."
"No. I can't." Sam raked his fingers through his hair. "I've also tried pulling the hinge pins out of the door, pulling the shackle brackets out of the wall, popping the shackles themselves…. Hell, I even tried shouting for Cas."
"But the sigils on our ribs are blocking your call." Dean shivered; the more his head cleared, the more he realized how cold he was, the damp in the concrete leaching up through his jeans, his bare feet and fingers icy. "Damn it. There's gotta be something we can MacGyver."
Sam nodded. "I know. I've just gotta–"
The sound of a deadbolt opening somewhere above them cut him off. A rectangle of light appeared near the ceiling on the far side of the bars as a door opened, the light illuminating a set of open wooden steps that led down into their basement prison. The silhouetted figure of a heavyset man appeared in the light, then moved quickly down the stairs, each step creaking and groaning under his weight. As he neared the cell door and the pool of light from the overhead bulb, he shone a light into the cell, right at Dean's face.
"Son of a bitch." Dean screwed his eyes shut against the brilliant light.
Sam pushed himself to his feet, holding his hand in front of his eyes, as he moved toward the bars. "You're a brave man, hiding behind a flashlight. Who the hell are you? What d'you want?"
The only response was a deep, throaty chuckle, but the light moved slightly to the side. Squinting, Dean could now see his captor but, again, only in silhouette. His eyes widened when he saw the outline of a gun as the man stuck it through the bars, pointed directly at him.
Sam had seen it, too, and lunged for the weapon. "No!"
He wasn't quick enough.
There was a muffled pop, right before Dean felt something slam into his chest. He grunted in pain but it wasn't the searing burn of a bullet tearing through flesh and muscle; it was more like a punch. He glanced down and frowned; the feathered end of a tranquilizer dart protruded from his chest, just above his heart.
Whatever was in it worked fast. The lights developed halos around them and the bars of their cell bent and warped like something in one of those weird-ass Dali paintings Sam had been fascinated by the last time they worked a museum case.
Sam's face was suddenly right in front of his. Make that two Sams, worried voices echoing around him. "You hang on, you hear me? Dean?"
Dean tried to answer, he really did, but before he could form one word, the two Sams slid back into one and everything went black.
Dean awoke with a gasp and then frowned. "Sleigh bells."
Dean coughed. "I hear sleigh bells."
"Dean, come on. Wake up." Sam was in full-on worry-mode. "I need you to open your eyes–now."
Dean groaned as he pulled his chin off his chest, his head feeling like it weighed ten times more than it should. "Seriously, Sammy, I hear sleigh bells." He forced open his eyes. "I think we were kidnapped by Santa."
Sam's voice softened. "It's not sleigh bells. You're cold, you're shaking and the chains on your wrists are rattling. That's what you're hearing."
"Oh." Dean cleared his throat. "Too bad. We've got leverage with Santa; he owes us big time for all those sucky Christmases." He turned to his right to find Sam sitting at his side, pressed up against him. "Dude, personal space."
Sam shook his head. "Sorry, not moving. You need to get warm and, since you can't move around, we have to share body heat."
Dean shivered. "Well, it's not working. I'm fu-fucking freezing." He gagged as his stomach lurched. "And if I puke on you, remember, this wasn't my idea."
Sam allowed himself a small smile. "Between being sick as a kid and my first benders, I've puked on you more times than I care to admit. Pretty sure that earns you a freebie."
Dean snorted, then winced at pain that ripped through his chest. "Damn it. That son of a bitch shot me."
Sam's smile faded. "Yeah, with a tranquilizer dart. I tried to stop him, but–"
"He shoot you, too?"
Sam shook his head.
Dean's voice was tight. "He say anything? Ask you anything?"
Again, Sam shook his head. "Nothing. Not a word."
"Then what the hell, Sam?" Dean looked up at his brother. "None of this makes any sense. Why would they, whoever they are, grab us, stash us down here, and then not ask us anything–not want anything?"
Sam stared out through the cell bars, toward the stairs again hidden in shadows. "And why are they putting you through the wringer–and not touching me?"
"Yeah, that too. Although you getting drugged is not gonna make me feel any better." Dean bit back a groan as his vision wavered, the walls of the cell tilting in toward him.
"What is it?"
"What isn't it?" Dean shuddered as he glanced around the cell. "This place feels smaller than the last time I woke up, like the walls are closing in on me." He frowned at the bare bulb in the ceiling on the far side of the cell door. "Wasn't that light inside the cell the last time I woke up?"
"Dean, focus." Sam leaned in to draw his brother's attention. "Don't let all this screw with your head. If we're gonna figure a way out, you've gotta keep it together."
Dean swallowed. He knew Sam was right, that chaining him up and drugging him was all designed to weaken him, keep him off balance so he posed no threat. He offered a faint smile. "They're scared of me, Sammy."
Sam returned the smile. "And they should be. Now, physically, how're you doing?"
Dean closed his eyes. Staring at the light had ramped up his headache and that, in turn, had fueled another wave of nausea. "I'm freezing my ass off, both arms are numb, and I don't think whatever they shot me full of agrees with me." He turned sluggishly toward Sam. "Seriously, you need to back away–now."
"I don't care if–"
Dean threw up, hot vomit spilling down his shirt and onto his jeans. "Told you." He spat to clear his mouth then scowled at his stained clothes. "Oh, gross."
"OK, that's it." Sam pushed himself to his feet, grabbed the bars of their cell and shook them. "Hey," he shouted, his deep voice echoing through their prison. "Get down here. My brother needs help." He rattled the bars again. "I know you can hear me, you son of a bitch. Get your ass down here, NOW!"
When there was no answer, Sam slammed the heel of his hand into the bars, eyes flashing with fury.
Dean smiled as his eyes slid closed. He'd never admit it to his brother but Sam in full-on protective mode was a thing of beauty. When he was hunched over a computer or slumped in the front seat of the Impala, Dean tended to forget how big his little brother really was, how threatening he could appear to those who didn't know the gentle nature that ran beneath the hunter's veneer.
Dean's smile faded. He didn't see much of that gentle nature these days. That vulnerability had been preyed on and manipulated by Ruby as she twisted and distorted Sam's need to wrest back the control life had stolen from him; as she stoked the anger always simmering just below the surface to fuel his need for revenge–all in the guise of doing something good.
He hated Ruby, as much now as when he'd plunged the knife into her; for using Sam, for breaking something inside him Dean wasn't sure could be fixed, for eroding the trust between them, forever changing their relationship.
He'd always love Sam; nothing could change that, but part of him longed for the days when he could fix things–the days of skinned knees and boogeyman nightmares, of teen angst and heartbreak and fights with dad. Since Hell, since Ruby, everything was just so fucking out of control.
The sound of deadbolts being drawn back and the squeal of old hinges pulled Dean from his reverie. He glanced up at Sam, then toward the top of the stairs where, like before, a rectangle of light appeared as the door opened. A silhouette filled the doorway then moved easily down the stairs.
This man was shorter and thinner than the last one. Like his predecessor, he shone a light into the cell, effectively hiding his face from his prisoners.
Sam placed himself between Dean and the unseen stranger. "Look–my brother's sick. He needs out of here." He curled his fingers around the bars. "You've got me–let him go."
Dean coughed. "Sam, no–"
When there was no reaction from their captor, Sam tried again. "Look, at the very least, he needs water and blankets."
The man ignored the request, ignored Sam.
"Listen, you son of a bitch..." Sam's jaw clenched as he fought hard to rein in his temper. "You obviously need us for something or there'd be no point in keeping us alive. Water and blankets, that's all I'm asking for–to make sure my brother is still breathing when whoever the hell you're waiting for gets here. That's what this is all about, right?"
Still the man said nothing, but the flashlight bobbed as he took a step closer to the bars. Without warning, Sam lunged for him, jabbing a long arm through the bars and reaching for his throat.
But as he did, the man stepped to the right leaving Sam grasping nothing but air. Sam pushed himself back, then moved to keep himself between their captor and Dean, just as the tranquilizer gun popped. For a moment, Dean thought Sam had been hit, his brother's hands jumping to his chest telling him Sam thought the same thing. But it was Dean who flinched as a dart buried itself in his shoulder.
Sam spun around, his expression murderous as he caught sight of the telltale red tag just below Dean's collarbone. "You bastard," he spat back at their captor, before quickly crossing the cell to crouch at Dean's side.
For Dean, the walls had begun tilting inward the moment the drug was released into his bloodstream. Sam was talking to him but his words were garbled. Dean's gaze slid to his captor, just as the man stepped through the dull light from the bare bulb. For a brief moment the object he held was clearly visible: it was a video camera. The light he'd shone at the brothers was mounted atop the camera, one he'd used to record them in the cell and this latest attack.
Dean managed only a brief puzzled frown before his head lolled forward, chin slamming into his chest, as the drugs once again pulled consciousness from him.
Dean wrinkled his nose at the stench of vomit, jerking up his head in an instinctive attempt to get away from the smell.
"Hey." Sam's voice was calm. "I'm right here. You're gonna be OK. We're gonna get through this."
Dean shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs but regretting it the second he did. His head was pounding, his stomach churning as he sorted through hazy images to remember where he was. His freshest memory was of being shot. He grimaced at the sour taste in his mouth, then turned watering eyes toward his brother. "I'm gonna kill that guy with the tranq gun."
"Not if I get him first." Sam sat at Dean's side, long legs bent, arms wrapped loosely around his knees as he stared out through the cell bars. "I promise you they'll get what's coming to them–if it's the last thing I do." He turned toward his brother, long hair falling over his eyes. "But, right now, we need to focus on you. You look like crap."
Dean snorted. "Nice, Sammy. Kick a guy while he's down." He shifted uncomfortably, tugging at his shackles in annoyance. "Do me a favor? Scratch my nose."
"As a heart attack."
"Not funny." Sam reached over and scratched just below the bridge of Dean's nose. "Better?"
"No." Dean dropped his head, rubbed his nose against his shoulder and then turned back to Sam, studying his brother as closely as his hazy vision allowed. "It's Round Three, right? I'm losing track."
"Relax, Sammy. I'm hanging in there." He squinted across at his brother. "What about you? You OK?"
"No, I'm not. I want answers." Sam's voice was tight. "Like what they're pumping into you, what it's doing…who the hell is doing this, why we're here..."
"All good questions," Dean cleared his throat, "but I just meant, did he tranq you?"
Sam shifted uncomfortably, but slowly shook his head.
Dean nodded, dropping his head back against the wall. "That's gotta mean Lucy's the master of this chessboard."
Now Sam looked like he was going to be sick. "We don't–"
"Come on." Dean screwed his eyes closed to stop the room from tilting and twisting around him. "The little anti-Christ's mom told us there was a hands-off-Sammy directive, right before batting me around like a ping pong ball. If Zach was running this freak show, he'd be ripping your lungs out again and making me watch."
"I know." Sam seemed to deflate a little. "You're right…it's just–this doesn't seem like Lucifer's M.O." He turned back to Dean. "Why the hell would Lucifer need to make a video of us?"
Dean's eyes narrowed at the memory of their captor moving through the light, briefly illuminating the camera in his hand. "You saw that, too?"
Sam nodded. "Lucifer can pop in here at will. What does he need a DVD for?"
"He's the prince of darkness. Who knows how he gets his kicks." Dean's weak smirk faded with the look Sam gave him. "Dude, I got no clue. Add it to the list of things that make no damn sense." Dean scowled as he glanced down at his chest. "Where's the dart?"
"The dart they shot me with."
Dean's scowl deepened. "You didn't pull it out?"
Sam shook his head.
Dean scanned the floor on either side of him, fighting to keep his vision in focus, but there was no sign of it. "Then one of those sons of bitches came in here and pulled it out." He turned to Sam. "Who were they? They say anything?"
Again, Sam shook his head.
Dean's eyes widened. "How could you not see them?"
"I don't know." Sam pressed the heel of his hand into his forehead, as if he had a headache. "Someone had to have pulled that dart out but…." He turned to Dean, eyes widening in alarm. "I don't remember, Dean. I've got nothing since that guy shot you."
Now Dean was worried. "You're having blackouts?"
"No…I mean…." Sam screwed his eyes closed. "I told you, I don't remember how we got here, I don't remember being dumped in here–and if they came into this cell…." He shook his head. "I've got nothing."
Dean's heart rate jumped. "Maybe they're drugging you with something different, something that screwing with your memory."
"Why? What the hell's their end game?"
"Dunno." Dean glared in the direction of the basement door. "But I don't wanna play anymore." He grimaced as his chest tightened, his breathing shuddering on the exhale.
Sam pushed himself closer, worry painted clearly across his face. "What is it?"
"Nothing getting out of here won't fix." Dean caught the stubborn set of Sam's jaw, the expectant raise of an eyebrow. "Oh, man. You are such a grandma." His eyes slid closed. "Fine. My head's pounding, I'm about two seconds from losing my lunch–again." He swallowed, then scowled at the stale taste in his mouth. "And I seriously need to brush my teeth."
Dean offered a weak shrug. "Comes and goes."
Dean glanced sluggishly around the cell. "I wish this whole damn thing was a hallucination…just some drug-induced nightmare." He turned back to Sam. "Punch me. Maybe I am dreaming."
Sam jaw clenched. "The saying is 'pinch me'–and I'm not gonna punch you. You're a train wreck already."
"Bitch." Dean grimaced as his heart hammered painfully against his chest. His gaze traveled along the brick wall to his left, over the bars and then back along the brick wall to his right. The bricks seemed to ripple under his stare, while the bars slid slowly toward him. His breathing sped up as he yanked on the chains that pinned his arms. "Damn it."
"What is it?"
"The walls are closing in on me again."
"So that's a yes to hallucinations." Sam pushed himself closer to Dean, his voice low and reassuring. "You need to focus. The answers are here–to what's going on, to getting the hell out. We just have to figure them out. Now take a deep breath and–" The sound of the basement door opening cut him off. "Son of a bitch."
The now familiar light at the top of the stairs revealed the silhouette of the heavyset man as he clumped his way into the basement. Sam was on his feet and in front of the bars before he was half-way down the stairs. Gripping the cell bars, his knuckles whitened as he caught sight of the tranquilizer gun in the man's hand. "Enough, already. What the hell do you want?"
Their captor stayed mostly hidden in the shadows, just his jeans and work boots and the bottom of his plaid shirt and down-filled vest visible in the light.
Sam kept himself between Dean and the gun. His voice was low and deadly. "What. The Hell. Do you want?"
The stranger chuckled softly as he raised the gun and pulled the trigger, all in one smooth move. The dart missed Sam, slamming into Dean's chest, just below his sternum.
"Fuck!" Dean shot a venomous stare at his captor as the now familiar dizziness washed over him, the cell bars tilting and twisting as they tipped toward him. The walls on either side of him seemed to undulate, the bricks sliding forward, one by one, poking him in the back, in the head, in the shoulder.
Dean swore he was moving, sliding forward on his ass as the walls pushed him toward the cell door. He dug his bare heels into the floor, scraping skin against concrete as he tried to save himself from being crushed.
Sam's livid shouts disappeared behind Dean's rapid, harsh breathing but the stranger's first words came through loud and clear just before darkness washed over him.
"Blame your brother for this, Dean. None of it would be necessary if he'd just do what we ask."
The chattering of his teeth woke Dean, his breath hitching as he shivered violently. "Sam?" His voice was a weak croak.
When there was no answer, he forced open bleary eyes. Fresh vomit stained the front of his shirt, his jeans and the floor beside him, the foul smell turning his already churning stomach.
It took conscious effort to lift his head. He was slumped in the corner, hanging from his shackled wrists. He blinked hard, fighting to find focus, and pushed himself up. He hissed at the sharp pain when his bare foot hit something hard; it took a moment to register that that something was the cell door.
He stared at the steel bars; he was still chained to the wall in the corner of the basement, but the cell door was now pressing against his feet, not even giving him room enough to straighten his legs. "What the…" His chest tightened painfully, his breathing escalating rapidly. He had a fuzzy recollection of the drugs screwing with his head, making it seem like the bricks were shoving him forward, but that was just a drug-induced hallucination, right? It couldn't really happen.
"Sam?" There was no answer. He glanced around; there was no sign of his brother. Nor was there any room for Sam; the cell was now barely big enough to hold Dean, pinning him in the corner even if he wasn't shackled in place. "Son of bitch...I really am losing it."
Dean's heart rate ratcheted up further as his captor's words trickled back into his consciousness: "Blame your brother for this, Dean. None of it would be necessary if he'd just do what we ask."
They'd taken him.
Dean was shouting now. "Sam!" He yanked on the chains with a ferocity that belied his weakened state and kicked repeatedly at the cell door, heedless of the damage he was inflicting on his bare feet. He wished for one brief moment of superhuman strength that would allow him to rip the chains from the walls, crash through the steel bars and charge upstairs. "Don't you do it!" he yelled toward the basement door. "Don't you dare say yes to save my sorry ass."
He struggled until his strength was gone, then fell back against the wall, breathing heavily. His heart was racing, his feet blood-stained, his head on the verge of exploding. He gagged, vomit burning his throat, and screwed shut watering eyes.
"…if he'd just do what we ask."
Dean's heart raced even faster as another thought struck him: Had their captors been screwing with Sam each time Dean was out cold? Threatening to hurt one, the other, or both, until Sam said yes?
His eyes darted to the stairs, hidden in shadow, that led to the door. Maybe he'd come to faster this time, before they had a chance to bring Sam back. His stomach churned at another thought: maybe Sam was lying to him–maybe he remembered exactly what happened each time Dean was unconscious but, for some reason, had kept it from him.
"No…no." Dean shook his head.
"I don't remember, Dean. I've got nothing since that guy shot you."
Bleary vision or not, Dean could read Sam like a book. The whole time Sam was taking off to be with Ruby, he'd known something was up even if he didn't know what. But, this time, there were no lies. He'd seen only fear and confusion when Sam had said he didn't remember. His brother truly had no idea what was happening to him.
And that led right back to drugs. Dean's stomach lurched again. What the hell were they doing to his brother. "Sam!"
A crash from upstairs grabbed his attention. His eyes darted upwards at a second crash, followed by a heavy thud. Dust rained down through the narrow gaps in the wooden floorboards above the ceiling joists. There was a shout and more crashes and thuds–the sounds of a fight in full swing–and then nothing.
The only sound then was Dean's rapid, shallow breathing. His fingers curled into fists reflexively as he waited for the next sound–anything that would tell him what the hell was going on.
He heard muffled voices, heavy footsteps, a door slamming, and then more quiet. He shifted uncomfortably, wincing as the metal shackles bit into his wrists, then stilled at the familiar thunk of the deadbolt being drawn and the squeal of old hinges as the basement door was opened. He blinked at the light spilling down from upstairs, trying to bring the silhouette that now filled the open doorway into focus. The man moved down the stairs toward him, far more tentatively than either of the captors who'd descended previously.
Dean glowered at the approaching man. "You pull that gun again, you son of a bitch, and, before I'm done here, I will grab it from you and shove it somewhere that has never seen the light of day. I promise you."
Dean startled at the familiar voice. "Sammy?"
"Oh, God." Sam ran down the rest of the stairs and stepped into view on the far side of the cell door, eyes wide with horror as he stared down at Dean.
"You got away."
"What?" Sam shoved his gun in his waistband and began fumbling with a set of keys, trying first one and then the other in the cell door lock. "Just…hang in there, OK?"
Dean snorted, rattling his restraints. "Not goin' anywhere." He coughed, then peered suspiciously through the bars at his brother. "That just you in there?"
Sam froze. "What?"
"No, of course not." Sam turned back to the lock, trying another key. "Almost there."
The third key Sam tried worked. He pulled open the door and stepped inside, crouching at Dean's side. His reassuring smile didn't hide the worry in his eyes as he pressed his fingers against his brother's neck to check his pulse, then gently lifted his head to examine his pupils.
Dean scowled. Sam had the beginnings of a black eye, the bruising extending up his temple and across the bridge of his nose. His lower lip was swollen, blood staining his chin where he'd obviously dragged the back of his hand across his face. "Who did that?
Dean's eyebrow peaked. "For a guy with an Ivy League education, your vocabulary sucks. Who beat the crap out of you?"
Sam's gaze now jumped between the lock on the shackles and the keys he held, trying to match one with the other. He glanced up, offering Dean a tight smile. "M'okay–and you should see the other guy."
Dean smiled. "That's my boy." He watched as Sam tried the first key. "Those bastards still upstairs?"
"No. They're gone. But who knows if they'll be back so, um, let's just get outta here, OK? We can catch up once we're clear."
Dean stared at his brother as he worked on the lock. "Christo."
Sam froze, his eyes widening but staying the familiar hazel.
"Just checking." Dean's tired grin faded. "But Lucy's an angel. Does Christo even work on him?"
"OK, now you're really starting to worry me." Sam was trying a second key when Cas appeared suddenly at his side, causing both brothers to jump.
"Damn it, Cas." Sam moved on to the third key.
Dean blinked in confusion. "When'd you get here?"
"I came with Sam." The angel's face, as usual, was inscrutable as he watched Sam work. "One of the men had a phone. He made a call before I…" his gaze shifted to Dean, "took him out."
Dean snorted. "Go, Cas."
Cas turned back to Sam. "I believe reinforcements are coming. We need to leave."
"Working on it," Sam muttered, then cursed as the third key failed to turn the lock.
Cas stepped around Sam, crouched down and placed a hand on each brother's shoulder. "This is faster."
All three men vanished. The empty shackles dropped suddenly, bouncing of the brick walls, swinging wildly then slowly stilling.
Dean was aware of Sam's voice before he opened his eyes. His brother was talking softly, long pauses punctuating his conversation.
"Any time now. There's just so much crap in his system, they can't be more specific…. No, thank God. No permanent damage but they'll have a better idea what he's looking at, recovery-wise, once he wakes up…. Yeah, so far, our cover's holding. Thanks for the back-up, by the way. I'd really rather not deal with cops right now…. Dunno. No sign of any of them. But Cas is on guard duty, watching the room till we're ready to spring Dean. Nobody's gonna get to him here…. Will do. Thanks, Bobby."
Dean opened his eyes, squinting against the bright light, but in time to see Sam click off his phone and stash it in his pocket. Dean stretched, letting out a low groan as his headache spiked and muscles stiff with disuse protested the movement.
The sound caught Sam's attention and he quickly moved to his brother's bedside. "Dean?"
Dean screwed his eyes shut. "Bright light, bright light."
"You're quoting Gremlins?" Dean heard Sam cross the room and the rustle of blinds being closed. "This is worse than I thought."
Sam's voice softened. "There, that should be better."
Dean tentatively opened one eye. With the blinds blocking the brilliant sun streaming in through the room's two windows, his headache dipped to a more tolerable level, allowing him to process the room's contents for the first time.
It was a hospital room, and he was the only occupant. There was an IV taped to the back of his left hand, bandages on both wrists and wires draped across his right shoulder, disappearing into the V-neck of his white hospital T-shirt. The soft beeping of a heart monitor came from the bank of equipment to his left and the tickle of air under his nose told him he was fitted with a nasal canula.
Dean's memories since his rescue were spotty at best. He remembered Cas and Sam dragging him into the ER, then a crowd of strange faces around him as he was undressed and examined. He had vague memories of throwing up on a beefy orderly's shoes, then being given a much-needed sponge bath by a pretty nurse. At least he hoped that's the way it happened; he sure as hell didn't want it to be the other way around.
He sniffed tentatively; he smelled of soap, not vomit. He was warm and, if he kept movement to a minimum, comfortable. On the down side, he barely had the energy to lift his head off the pillow and the empty feeling in his gut told him it had been way too long since he'd eaten.
Dean clumsily pulled the tubing from his face as he glanced up at Sam. His brother's black eye had darkened and his lip was still swollen, but his face was free of the blood that stained it when Sam rescued him from the cell. Apparently some time had passed since then. Dean cleared his throat, his voice scratchy. "411, dude."
Sam shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. "You've been here since yesterday. Your name's Dean Wedloe and you're an officer with the U.S. customs service."
Dean's eyebrows peaked. "That's a new one."
"Yeah, well your blood's a toxic soup–sedatives, psychotropics, you name it. At the warehouse you were being held in, we found a bunch of different drugs, including an empty bottle of a ketamine. It's used primarily as a veterinary drug, so I told the docs you were attacked by exotic animal smugglers when you were on the verge of breaking up a major ring. Bobby backed us up which is keeping the local cops off our asses."
Dean scowled. "Why the hell would they use a veterinary drug on me?"
Sam shrugged. "It screws with your senses, your memory–keeps you docile."
Dean glanced up at Sam. "I'm not gonna start mooing or anything, am I?"
"It's no joke, Dean. You're a mess. You're damn lucky you're not…" Sam looked worried and exhausted. "Docs have got you under observation until they can flush all that crap from your system. The good news–looks like no permanent damage. With time, you'll be OK."
Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "What about you?"
"Me? I'm fine." Sam gingerly touched the bruised skin around his black eye. "Told the docs I got this rescuing you which, for once, is the truth."
Dean rolled his head across the pillow. "But how'd you get away from Lucifer's goons?"
Sam paled. "Lucifer?"
Dean cleared his throat. "He orchestrated this whole thing, right? It was all a big game to make you say yes?"
Sam slowly shook his head. "Hunters did this, Dean."
"Hunters?" The beeping of Dean's heart monitor sped up slightly. "Why the hell would–"
"To get to me." Sam shifted uncomfortably. "You remember the hunters I ran into in Garber when we split up; the ones who…"
"Attacked you, tried to force-feed you demon blood." Dean's monitor beeped even faster.
Sam nodded. "Looks like they've been talking–these guys wanted the same thing. Only, this time, they grabbed you as…incentive."
His captor's lone words echoed through Dean's head. "Blame your brother for this, Dean. None of it would be necessary if he'd just do what we ask."
"Son of a…" Dean's knuckles whitened as he twisted the blankets. "So they grabbed us, beat the crap out of me and made you watch until you agreed to what? Hulk out and become their Terminator on demand?"
Sam looked up, puzzled. "They never grabbed me."
"Sure they did–when they grabbed me. Attacked us in the parking lot of that drug store."
Sam frowned. "You went on that supply run alone, Dean. I was back at the motel."
"Then how'd you end up in that cell with me?"
Sam shook his head. "I didn't–other than when we pulled you out."
Dean snorted. "I know you've been having memory issues, Sammy, but, trust me, you were there."
"No, I wasn't." Sam pulled a hand from his pocket and tapped his fist on the safety rails of Dean's bed. "When you didn't come back from the drug store or answer your phone, I went looking for you. I retraced your steps, found the Impala in the parking lot…." He swallowed. "And a note on the front seat saying you'd been taken and the kidnappers would be in touch. I had no idea where you were until yesterday."
Dean stared at Sam in shock. "They never had you?"
Dean struggled to push himself up. "How long?"
Sam placed a hand on Dean's chest to keep him lying down. "How long were you their prisoner?"
Sam pressed the button to raise the head of the bed. "Almost four days."
Dean shuddered, scattered images from the cell flashing through his head, things that had felt off suddenly making sense: Sam pressing up against him to share body heat but feeling no warmth or comforting contact; Sam scratching his nose but the itch persisting; the dart from the tranquilizer gun seemingly passing straight through his brother before burying itself in him. "It was all a hallucination…."
"The docs said hallucinations were likely one of the side-effects from the drug cocktail you were given." Sam pulled a chair to the side of the bed and sat down. "You really thought I was with you?"
"Would have sworn on a stack of Playboys. You were your tried and true, pain-in-the-ass self. But, um, you kept me focused when I thought I was going nuts." Dean cleared his throat self-consciously. "Tell me what happened–after they grabbed me."
Sam leaned forward in the chair, elbows on his knees. "Like I said, I got the note. It said they had you and that they'd be in touch. I started digging around, calling everyone we know in the area but there was nothing until the next day, when I got a call telling me to pick up a package." He shifted uncomfortably in the chair. "It was demon blood...and instructions on which demons they wanted taken out."
Dean's jaw clenched. "The blood…you didn't–"
"No." Hurt flashed briefly in Sam's eyes. "No. Cas helped. We took out the demons–made it look like I was using, but–"
"The hunters didn't buy it?"
"Oh, they bought it." Sam was biting back anger now. "But they got greedy. Said, since that job went down so well…since I started the damn apocalypse, I owed them–and there were a few more black-eyed-SOBs they wanted taken care of before they gave you back." The all-to-familiar guilt washed over Sam's face.
"You didn't fall for that bull, did you?"
"No." Sam's knees bounced with nervous tension. "But they had no idea how much demon blood it takes to…you know. I told'em I needed more, and that I wanted proof you were OK." His eyes slid closed and the color leached from his face. "This time when I picked up the package, it held the blood–and a DVD. It showed you chained up in that cell…showed them shooting you."
Dean had a hazy recollection of a camera being pointed at him. "So it was that video that gave you some clue where to find me?"
"No. They covered their tracks pretty well." Sam straightened up. "But we figured they'd have someone watching when I picked up the blood. Cas zapped himself over there, followed them back to the warehouse and then came to get me. We did a little recon then, once we knew what we were dealing with, we went in."
Dean's jaw clenched. "Cas said you took them out."
"They're not dead." Sam's voice was quiet. "They kinda lost the urge to fight when Cas told'em God had pulled us from Lucifer's grasp for a reason, and he might be a little, um, ticked if they screwed with his plans."
Dean's eyes widened. "We don't know if it was God who booked us on Soul Plane."
Sam shrugged. "They don't know it wasn't. Anyway, whether they believed it or not, they decided they'd rather live to fight another day." His voice softened. "How you feeling, huh? You, um-"
"I'm good, Sammy." Dean grimaced as he rubbed his chest subconsciously. "Being used for target practice sucks but get me a burger, a hot shower and a good night's sleep–I'll be good as new."
Sam nodded tightly, staring down at Dean's bandaged wrists. "When I saw that footage of you chained up in that cell…when they shot you…."
"Hey." Dean waited until Sam looked up. "This is on them, not you. You got me out–that's what counts. You got it?"
Again, Sam nodded, but hardly seemed convinced.
"It's good to see you awake, Dean."
Both brothers turned to the doorway where Cas stood wearing a customs officer's uniform.
Dean flashed a tired smile. "Celebrating Halloween early, Cas?"
Cas turned to Sam. "Your brother is still hallucinating? He knows angels don't mark pagan rituals."
Sam sat back, clearing his throat. "He's just yanking your chain about the uniform."
"I don't have a ch-…oh." Cas turned to Dean, running his fingers down his tie. "Sam said this would be a good idea. Lend credibility to our…cover."
Dean allowed his head to sink back into the pillow. "Makes a nice change from the Colombo get-up." He glanced from Sam to Cas. "Thanks, by the way, for hauling my ass out of there…. Those drugs were doing a real number on my head." He scrubbed a hand over his eyes. "The bricks moving in and out, pushing me toward the cell doors, seemed as real as Sam sitting beside me. God knows what I would have seen if they shot me up again."
"The walls were closing in on you, Dean." Cas stepped toward the bed. "That much you weren't hallucinating."
Sam and Dean offered matching looks of surprise. Dean spoke first. "How the hell did they rig that?"
Cas tilted his head. "Well, the walls themselves didn't move–but the cell doors did. When I returned to the warehouse to see if your kidnappers had…cleared out, I found a set of cell doors stacked against the wall in that basement."
The angel tucked his uniform cap under his arm. "It appears your captors have studied Viking history. The Vikings kept their prisoners in triangular cells. Every cell had a series of doors, each one smaller than the next.
"The largest would be locked in place as the third wall to the cell when the prisoner was first placed inside. Then, when he was sleeping or unconscious, the panel would be removed and replaced with a smaller one."
Sam leaned forward. "Making the cell smaller and making the prisoner feel like the walls were closing in on him."
Cas nodded. "Ultimately, when the smallest panel was in place, the prisoner would be pinned in the corner unable to move. When combined with starvation, sleep deprivation and torture, it proved a most effective means of driving their prisoners mad."
Dean's eyes widened. "And you know this how?"
Cas's poker-face remained in place. "I spent some time with the Vikings. They were…an interesting people."
Dean snorted. "Interesting?"
Cas nodded. "Great explorers, fierce warriors, but their methods were often…harsh."
Sam's eyebrows peaked. "Wait. You were part of the Christianization of the Vikings?"
Cas turned to Sam. "I had a small role. Demons were fascinated by the Viking warriors' penchant for brutality. Many had infiltrated their ranks, feeding that trait. My task was to seek them out, make sure they didn't corrupt our efforts."
Sam shook his head. "Wow. So what did you …"
Dean allowed his eyes to close, a soft smile spreading across his face as he listened to Sam get his geek on with Cas. This was the pain-in-the-ass little brother he knew and loved; scary smart, insatiably curious–the strange mix of scholar and soldier he'd raised.
It was also the little brother his drug-addled subconscious had conjured up to keep him company in that cell, to keep him grounded so he didn't lose it under the effects of chemicals and his captors' psychological machinations.
Between Ruby and Lilith and demon blood, much of that Sam had slipped away from him in the past year. There were too many secrets, too many lies eroding a trust he once thought indestructible. He knew he was far from guiltless in the whole mess; maybe if he'd admitted what he'd done in Hell just a little sooner, Sam would have told him what was going on with Ruby before she'd sunk her claws so deeply into him he couldn't see straight…before he killed Lilith.
For both of them, there was too much, and it was too big, to move on like nothing had happened.
Dean peeled open his eyes and stared at Sam, eyes bright, nodding at something Cas had said. Worry creased Sam's brow as he caught his brother watching him but as Dean offered a smile, he matched it with one that was warm, genuine and, yeah, slightly goofy. Yeah, this was the little brother he missed.
"Nothing." Dean's eyes slid shut. For the first time in a long time, he believed they could get back what they once had, build on the love that had never been in question until they had a new kind of trust between them.
Sam tapped Dean's arm. "Seriously, you okay?OK?"
"Yeah, Sammy," Dean mumbled as he drifted off to sleep. "I am."
A/N: The triangular cells with the series of iron bar panels, decreasing in size, to make the cells smaller and smaller, were, in fact, used by the Vikings as a form of psychological torture. An example of these can still be seen today in the dungeons of Kronborg Castle in Helsingor – that's Elsinore, yes Hamlet's hometown – Denmark.
I'm firmly amongst those who believe the brothers will get back the kind of trust they shared in the early seasons of SN. Everything they've been through has changed their relationship but the love at the heart of it has never wavered, IMHO. If I've infused this story with a sense of hope, that's definitely wish fulfilment on my part. Hope you enjoyed and I'd love to hear what you think. Until next time, cheers!