A/N: Written as a response to a prompt for spn_summergen, previously posted on LJ and anonymously. I will post the other half tomorrow, or the day after depending on how RL goes. :)

Cold Was the Ground

The scent of death, old rot mixed with new, was what pulled Sam Winchester awake. Decomposing flesh, and lurking beneath that there was another smell as familiar. Antiseptic; something medicinal, but no, that wasn't quite right. It was like sterile plastic and vomit at the same time, sweet and sharp as … chloroform or formaldehyde. Against the stronger aroma of decaying flesh and dirt too, he noticed, it nauseated him. His head pounded, brain felt bruised and mouth dry as sand, the odd taste of burned motor oil on his tongue. These things were clear to him, but nothing important was. He didn't know how or why, when or where, but each of those things tickled at his confused brain like he should.

Wherever he was, he could tell it was dark. It was cold and wet. A cellar, maybe, or a cave. He opened his eyes and saw nothing, not at first. Several blinks passed before his eyes adjusted to see there was illumination coming from somewhere. He was able to make out indistinct shapes, nothing more than dark blurs in dim light and out of the corners of his eyes. He was flat on his back, on something unyielding. He prepared to sit, not sure if he was going to get his muscles to cooperate. He felt fatigued, as if he'd endured a rough bout of flu, or run a marathon. Or died and come back to life.

He tried, but he couldn't move his head, let alone his major muscle groups. He felt pressure on his forehead, across his chest, wrists and ankles. He was pinned in place. A panicky sensation rippled through him. He strained, pulled and twisted his bound limbs but the restraints held fast. If anything they tightened, as if whatever had hold of him was alive and was responding to his movements. That was stupid, he could tell they were leather, not some sentient being. He heard the leather creaking the way Dean's old jacket did, back when Dean used to wear it, and when their father had worn it before him. He'd outgrown the jacket before it ever had the chance to make it to him, not that it ever would have. He wasn't sure if it was the tightening or the memories of his family that made him panic more, but in any case his thrashing was short lived. His adrenalized energy waned and left him shaky and clammy. He had to know, somewhere deep in his fuzzy memories, how he had ended up that way, and he had to stop freaking out so he could just remember.

His frantic attempts to free himself elicited no response from whoever had him, none that he could discern anyway. His breathing was loud, ragged, and Sam could hear his blood rushing in his ears. Those were the only things he could hear, for a long minute. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this unnerved. Those days had passed, a couple years ago now. He wasn't that reluctant hunter, wet behind the ears because he didn't want to be there. He still didn't want to be there, not deep down, but he accepted who he was and what he had to do. Deep breaths, deep breaths. He was okay. He'd be fine.

Oh, shit, though.

"Dean?" he whispered.

Sam wasn't sure why he expected his brother to be there. Nine times out of ten lately, they walked different paths even on the same hunt. He didn't think he'd ever get his brother back, hadn't seen the Dean he knew for over a year. But then, he wasn't the Sam he used to be, either. The both of them were, but weren't at the same time, like Schrödinger's damned cat. But that didn't matter. Dean wasn't there, or if he was he was in worse shape than Sam was and couldn't answer. He didn't think that was the case, or maybe he just hoped.

He couldn't quite remember, it wasn't quite in his brain, what he'd been doing alone before he woke up strapped to a table. He had to remember the situation first before he could work on getting out of it. Sam closed his eyes tight and thought, tried to make his synapses fire the way he needed them to, bend them to his will. This was the principle he applied when he … the blood. He opened his eyes again, let out an uncomfortable moan. He didn't want to go there. This wasn't that, and no matter how much he wanted that he couldn't, he didn't. He wouldn't. Okay, okay. He had to breathe.

He didn't know why he was thinking about demon blood at the moment (except when didn't he?). He had more immediate concerns. Like Swiss-cheese for a brain and a sudden and painful need to piss. He didn't know where he was or why or who had him, but he was not going to give it the satisfaction of losing it right there. No, he was going to get out. Somehow. Jesus, his head had felt numb before but now it started to throb with the deep pain of hangover. Drugged. Being drugged meant he and Dean probably hadn't been hunting anything non-humanoid. He thought. Maybe. No guarantee, there.

A sound came from above, recognizable. A door slamming shut. Well, he wasn't in a cave. Footsteps came next, from directly above. Wood creaking, floorboards. A trickle of dust and dirt drifted onto his face, into his mouth and nose. Sam closed his eyes and tried to sneeze noiselessly, failed. The rustle of cloth, much, much closer than the other noises, startled him. Dean, Dean was down there with him. He didn't care about the how, when, why and where anymore, didn't know why he ever had. Wasn't as important as getting him and Dean the hell out.

"Hello," he said. "Dean, that you?"


Even half expecting the reply, he jerked at the quiet monotone. The restraints on his wrist and the one across his forehead dug into his cool skin, stinging. The voice didn't belong to Dean. Sam grew even more confused.



"What … where are we? Do you know what happened? Is Dean here?" He swallowed. He wished he knew why he was so uneasy. "I don't remember."

Whatever was still in his system was powerful enough he could hear a slight slur in his own words, his tongue as sluggish as his brain. Except, no, his brain was working fine, it was only his short term memory that was cloudy. It would clear up soon, but that could happen when he was away from here. Castiel would get him out. That must be why he was there all of a sudden, except he didn't know how Castiel would have known where he was if he didn't know himself.

"I'm not altogether certain of our current location," Castiel said, sounding puzzled himself. "The events of this evening are somewhat … unclear. Dean isn't here."

Sam didn't know what that was supposed to mean. Castiel was an angel; he always knew things. The big things, anyway. Since the downgrade, Castiel sometimes had unexpected inefficiencies. Something wasn't making sense about Castiel's explanation. It almost sounded like Castiel had been drugged too. As far as Sam knew, drugs didn't work on angels, not even ones that had been demoted.

"Dean's not here," Sam murmured. He was glad about that, but disappointed at the same time. "Why didn't you say something earlier? I thought I was …"

The sounds from above got louder, heavy footsteps and something else scraped across the entire length of the ceiling. Following that, the thump of the door again. Silence. Sam squinted against the dark, wished he could see more. He wasn't sure seeing would help him at all in his situation, but it would go a long way in making him feel better.

"So you don't know where we are either," Sam said.

"Not specifically," Castiel said and didn't elaborate.

All of a sudden, Sam felt awkward as well as confused and slightly panicked. It was like he'd been stuck in a room with someone else's non-talkative friend. He wasn't far off base. Castiel was Dean's friend, not Sam's. He was difficult to read, but Sam always got the sense Castiel tolerated him and nothing more. Sam was the tainted one, the one on the wrong side of the fight even if he didn't want to be.

"But you do remember what we were doing, right? I'm coming up blank and it's starting to freak me out."

Starting, right.

"I remember."

Again, no elaboration. Sam didn't bother pushing for more information. All that mattered was getting out. His brain could catch up later, and if it didn't, Dean would give him answers. At least Dean would give him that, though Sam didn't expect anything more. Not since … no, he couldn't let his mind wander to things not immediately relevant. Here and now he just needed to not be strapped to a table.

"Well, do your thing." Sam sounded angry. He kind of was. He couldn't figure out why Castiel didn't power them out first, and have unhelpful, vague conversation later. "Get us out of wherever we are."

"You're right." Castiel paused. "I should do that."

Sam heard the soft rustle of Castiel's trench, maybe a joint popping. Did an angel's knees crack? Jimmy's might.

"But I'm not sure that's going to be possible."

"Why not?"

Sam expected another cryptic reply. He didn't know if Castiel did that on purpose, if the guy truly just didn't understand half of what he and Dean were talking about and compensated by making sure they didn't understand him either. It seemed a human thing to do, a passive-aggressive human thing to do, which … wasn't like Castiel at all, really. Sam let out a huff of air that sounded loud in his quiet prison. He heard rustling cloth, a shuffle of footsteps, a different, strange sound he couldn't place, then liquid and whoosh.

The room was flooded with bright light and heat.

He gasped in a startled breath and tried to shy away, forgot he was immobilized. Blinking, eyes watering, Sam waited it out while his eyes adjusted. Even then, all he could see came from his peripheral vision, but he smelled smoke and oil. Oh. Oh, not good. Leather straps wouldn't hold Castiel, but burning holy oil would.

"Oh, shit," Sam said.

"I concur," Castiel said. "Wholeheartedly."

"What happened?" Sam thought he was going to ask that question forever. "You all right?"

"I'm fine, Sam." Through the crackle of what would be a perpetual fire, the sound of dull, shuffling footfalls. "It appears I'm a booby."

The urge to laugh nearly won out, only Sam's sheer inability to tip his head back was a reminder of how there was nothing about this that was funny.

"Trap," Sam said, his voice tight and slightly hoarse. "Someone or something set a booby trap."

"Isn't that what I said?"

"Close enough, I guess."

Sam wondered if Castiel would have been able to get away before the fire started. He also wondered if Castiel had known what was going to happen before he moved and tripped whatever had ignited a flame. The truth was, he wasn't sure if holy oil had to be burning for it to trap an angel, or if Castiel had been screwed even without the bonfire. Ultimately, he could file all those wonderings under: did not matter. He studied the rickety, dusty underside of floorboards above, noticed a few cobwebs floating and flickering in the firelight.

Now that Sam could see all the things he'd smelled, he remembered why they were there even if he couldn't say for sure where there was. It was all his fault. He shut his eyes tight.

He didn't know what day of the week it was. Sometimes, always, he wasn't sure which way was up and which way was down, except down was where he had to go. He did know that, so that meant down was … down. He'd tried so many things already and none of them had worked. In his booze-addled mind, he even knew this was the most futile of all, because Dean was already dead. What was down there wouldn't help someone who was already dead and buried, buried deep in blood, dead in a goddamned hole in the ground.

Sam stopped, leaned against the shovel handle and breathed through a nasty bout of nausea. Turned out Jack Daniels and overexertion didn't mix. He did what came naturally now – he lurched for the bottle, noted he'd lobbed a fair amount of dirt into it, shrugged and took a long swig. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of … not rum. Rum was on Wednesdays and Sundays, so today was probably Friday. Yep, Friday. Or Monday. He felt better having figured that out and what was a little more alcohol in his bloodstream, anyway? Every good alcoholic knew to feed the hangover away before it could start. Constant drunkenness was the only way to go when life was an unending nightmare.

"Oh, fuck," he said. "We're fucking fucked."

"You remember," Castiel said.


Only being able to hear what was happening was worse than it would have been if Sam could also see it. He knew what was going on. Every wet slice, every rip of flesh sounded like it was happening right next to him instead of across the room. It wasn't the acoustics of the cellar causing that effect. The sounds themselves weren't different from what he'd heard many times over in his life, but they were very different all the same. They were his fault, and he couldn't do a damned thing to stop them. It would almost be better if Castiel screamed, drowned out the noise of his insides being played with. He was sure angels felt pain, sure Castiel had to feel every single last cut into his skin.

"I've been keeping an eye on you." The clink of an implement hitting a tray. Something sodden, bloody, slapped down a moment later. A towel, a rag, a sliver of liver. "Ever since. Been waiting for just the right time, until finally it was. The stars aligned. And here you are."

The words were directed at Sam, while the actions were directed at Castiel. That was part of the game, and he knew it. He also knew he didn't need the recap, not anymore. He knew more than he wanted to. For the billionth time, he strained against the leather straps holding him in place, longed for the power of demon blood just, just, only so he could get away and get Castiel out. For the billionth time, leather bit into his ankles, chafed his wrists. He couldn't feel his fingers very well anymore, each time he struggled to free himself only tightened the restraints to the point blood flow was minimal. He knew he should stop trying before he inflicted irreparable harm, but this was all his fault. He wouldn't stop until it was no longer in his control.

"He's got nothing to do with any of that," Sam said.

"Oh, I know. Contrary to how it might seem, this isn't a revenge thing." A metallic scraping sound, a metal lid being tightened on a glass jar, maybe, filled the room. "It was when I first got out, but it's not anymore. Hasn't been since I tracked you down, saw what kind of newfound friend you had. Do you think I'm a fool? I couldn't resist taking advantage of the precious gifts laid at my doorstep."

Sam didn't reply. Talking wasn't going to make this all go away, or do anything besides make him angry. The casual conversation stopped, and so did the sounds of surgery. Other sounds too indistinguishable to label filled the space instead, layered under a soft plink-plink. Sam knew that last sound wasn't water. Blood. He was worried that when who or whatever had put Castiel back together again, important pieces had been missed. Castiel thought it had been God, and maybe he was right. What better way to make an angel side with humans – and Sam was sure they needed Cas – than to make him a tiny bit closer to humanity himself? Or it could have been some darker force, in a misguided attempt to make Castiel less valuable somehow, to Dean.

Whatever the cause, the sound of blood dripping wasn't something Sam had shied away from for a long, long time. He didn't ever remember relishing it, but it was part of his life as surely as monsters and death. Hell, though, now in some deep, dark, horrible recess of his mind he wondered if drinking angel blood would amp him up in any way similar to demon blood. Help get them out. The thought was automatic, revolting. His gut felt like it flipped, and flipped again like a fish on dry land, desperate to survive.

His tolerance for alcohol was higher than it used to be, which wasn't saying much – he used to have almost zero tolerance. By the last swigs of his second bottle these days, Sam usually had to start tamping down the need to hurl. With all the exertion of digging thrown into the mix tonight, trying to prevent a puke was an alcoholic delusion. He bent at the waist, heaved, gasped and choked until there was nothing left. He thought this had to work. It would be worth the pain and sweat and puddle of vomit at his feet. Nothing else had worked, but this would. He didn't know what else he would resort to if it didn't. Anything. Everything.

He slid down the five-foot wall of dirt, rested on his haunches. Dean would call him some derogatory name right about now if he were here to see the sorry state Sam was in. But Dean wasn't here and that was the whole point. Sam allowed his grief to surface, just for a minute. He thought he deserved a minute now and then to weep for his brother instead of rage against all injustices in his life.

Sam swiped his dirty, sweaty hand across his nose and stood. The world continued its drunken wobble, but he was almost there. He heard a slight rattle of thick chains, wasn't sure if the earth moving beneath his feet was strictly an illusion due to his inebriation. A few more shovels of dirt. He struck down with renewed energy, clearing dirt and bile until rusty white was revealed.

"Now there, that ought to do it. All we have to do is wait and see what kind of treasure I've really got here, but I think everyone here already knows."

Sam heard the squeak of an old faucet and a bare trickle of water. Footsteps approached. He stared at the ugly, scarred face that appeared above him. Unable to turn away no matter how much he wanted to, he longed for the ability to kill with his mind. He didn't even care if that would make him as evil as the piece of shit grinning down at him. He suspected evil was in his future no matter what he did, that it was his role in all this. But he didn't think it was Castiel's fate to endure torture because of Sam's past (or future) mistakes.

"Don't you worry, Winchester," the man said. "I told you I've been watching you. All of you. I had hoped to have three subjects, but if I had to only get two … well, I'm sure your brother will be here soon. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose and all that. In the meantime, I've got some interesting thoughts about what's running through your veins. Your angel friend isn't the only one who gets to have some fun. You're not going to be left out."

Well, Sam supposed he had some experience in bleeding out. This couldn't be any worse than ghouls chomping on his slit forearms. He was dealing with a trained professional here, not some sick fucking animal. He almost started laughing, because that wasn't exactly true. He wondered if the bloodletting had already begun. He felt lightheaded. It was probably the heavy smell of decomposition and chemicals.

"You'll be wasting your time with that," Sam said. "There's nothing in my blood but blood."

"Liar, liar," the man said, cheerful and raspy. He grinned at Sam, then ducked out of visual range. "I know what you are."

Sam thought he heard a faint moan, Castiel giving in to the misery of the last hour. Hours. Days. Time was irrelevant here. Stupidly, Sam tried to turn his head. A glimpse of his torture companion was all he needed, some kind of confirmation Castiel was still alive. Of course he was. An angel couldn't be killed by human tools. He shivered, though the heat from the holy oil fire had elevated the dank cellar's temperature, increased the humidity and the stink.

"I hope my blood kills you."

"It would be a shame if you're not an acceptable type." There was a soft creak as a cart was wheeled across the dirt floor. "Then your usefulness would be so much more limited. But you know it can't kill me, and you know I will make do with your other varied attributes."

Die now or die later. Those were his options. In some ways, Sam thought death might be a better choice in the long run. Then again, Lucifer would find him after death and bring him back. That had been promised, but probably not until after he spent some time in Hell, had been beaten down until he couldn't take any more. Dean had lasted thirty years. How long would Sam go before he said yes, even knowing what the consequences were? Dean had always been the strong one, the virtuous one. Sam wouldn't stand a chance, and that was the most terrifying thought that occupied his mind almost every second of every day. That he wasn't strong enough. He'd never been strong enough, under far less crucial circumstances than the apocalypse.

Cold hands wrapped something thin around his right bicep, pulled him back to the shitty mess of now. A second later the strap tightened uncomfortably. The man started humming, monotone and indecipherable. Still, the tune was morbid and absurd in this place of suffering and death.

"You're going to feel a little pinch now."

The warning wasn't because the guy cared. Sam was no stranger to sarcasm, and his instinct was proven correct when hot, searing pain lit into his right arm. It might as well have been a ghoul chewing its way to his vein. At the very least, the needle was the size of drinking straw. He bit back a groan, determined not to give his captor the satisfaction. If Castiel could take all he'd undergone without a sound, Sam could take a jab to the arm.

"Whoops, missed it," the man said. "Does that hurt?"

"Tickles," Sam said through clenched teeth. "Asshole."

A dry laugh, and the giant needle dug and pivoted. Sam swore he saw an arc of his own blood, a splash of red on the fringe of his vision. His imagination was in overdrive, hyped from having to listen to rough surgery being done on Castiel. He wanted to blame it on that, but he knew whom he was dealing with. He had no doubt the man took pleasure in causing pain. Ethical practices had been thrown out the window over a hundred years ago. And no matter what he claimed, Sam knew revenge was still an element to all of this. Collectively, the Winchester family had been a huge thorn in this guy's side.

"There we go."

Moist heat on Sam's arm, then up by his ear. God, even the guy's breath smelled like death. Again, reaction won out as Sam tried to turn his head.

"You have beautiful veins."

If that was supposed to make him say thanks, the evil doctor had another think coming. Sam growled deep in his throat, half out of pissed-off frustration and half as an outlet for the true lightheaded feeling he was starting to get. A normal person under normal circumstances using normal sized needles could pump out a pint of blood in ten or fifteen minutes. He was pretty sure he was setting a record no one ever wanted to set.

"Just a little more," the voice in his ear said, sounded, strangely, a million mile away. "Don't want to tap the well too quickly."

"I'm going to rip your throat out with my bare hands," Sam said, or tried to. He couldn't hear his own voice well either, heard instead the odd drone of a thousand bees. Funny, they were in his ears and somehow in his belly as well.

"That's okay, I can get another one."

"Bastard, I'll ki … I'll kill you."

"Anh-anh, haven't we been there before?" the doctor said. "History's on my side. It'll always be on my side; I've got more of it."

Only because Sam had screwed up. He remained glaringly aware of that, would never forget. The bees started attacking his eyes, swarming the edges of his vision in a dark gray, ever expanding blur. He couldn't pass out. Jesus, how much blood had he lost?

"The ground was so cold, Winchester. I ain't going back there. You'll go there before I will, I can promise you that, but it will not be soon and it will not be easy."

Sam didn't have the energy to give more threats he knew were futile. He barely had the energy to keep his eyes open, but he strained to. The pain of the needle being yanked out helped keep him right on the edge of consciousness, in a fog. He was with it enough to feel his arm being tended to haphazardly, enough to see shadows of movement. But it wasn't going to last. He couldn't get him and Castiel free if he fainted, but that didn't seem to matter. He closed his eyes, couldn't open them again and the sound of bees overtook him.


"It would be beneficial for you to awaken now."

Sam wanted to say no. He wanted to stay in twilight sleep. This time in rousing from unconsciousness, he knew where he was and what was happening. He simply didn't want to acknowledge it yet. His right arm felt like it was on fire. Probably infected already. He doubted this hole in the ground was up to hygienic code.

"Sam Winchester."

"Mmmph," he said.

"Benton has departed the building, so it would be good for you to open your eyes," Castiel said. Ordered. Sounded weak as a newborn puppy, but commanding all the same.


Sam slammed the journal shut, flipped it over and began at the beginning, the fourth time he had done so. He had read every scrawling page, every horrible detail, memorized bits of the text. The first time he didn't remember, but he'd woken up with his forehead stuck to the last page. Hell, he didn't remember getting from the gravesite to his craphole cabin in the woods either, didn't remember filling the grave. But he must have. That was the problem with relying on hard alcohol for daily sustenance, those pesky blackout periods. He snorted and reached for the bottle. He could build a new, less crapholey cabin out of old bottles. Dean would approve.

"Goddamnit," Sam said, for a second startled to hear his father's voice when he knew he was alone, always alone.

Benton's work wasn't going to help him and Sam already knew it. Dean was dead, buried like Benton and if Sam could ever get something to work he would be sure to go dig up his brother first. Because he had vague, dream-like memories of animalistic howling and hoarse screams of agony too awful to be imagined and Dean could not go through that. Dean wouldn't wake up underground. Sam took a drink and started rereading.

"He's gone?" Sam asked. He peeled his eyes open, squinted at rusty nails poking through the floorboards, out of ceiling beams. "How long?"

"I have been attempting to wake you for five minutes. Before that, I was indisposed myself so I can't say with certainty."

Sam winced. He could smell the tang of fresh blood in the rank air. Most of it had to be Castiel's.

"So he could be back any minute."

"It would seem time is of the essence."

Right. What Sam didn't know was what he was supposed to do now that he was awake, strapped to a filthy operating table. He tested the restraints on his wrists, surprised they were looser than they had been before he passed out; he supposed Benton had a vested interest in making sure his fingers didn't fall off useless and dead before his hands could be amputated and recycled. He relaxed his arms, fought to think around a raging headache.

After a minute or two of speculating, he came up with exactly zero ways out of this fix, barring Dean busting in and finding them. Considering they wouldn't have found Benton in the first place if there hadn't been a rash of mysterious injuries that looked an awful lot like 19th century surgery in Charlotte, North Carolina, that didn't seem likely. Thinking of it now, it was as obvious as a neon arrow. Benton had wanted them to find him, figure out he had gotten free. And since Castiel told Sam before his memories sorted themselves out on their own that he was inclined to believe Benton had brought them well away from the Charlotte area, Dean would have to do a lot of legwork. That would take more time than Sam wanted to think about, more time to listen to Benton play with his new rapidly healing, immortal plaything. Shit on toast.

"You got any ideas?" Sam asked. "I've got nothing."

Castiel didn't respond.

Great, Sam thought, back to the awkwardness of strangers stuck in a torture chamber together. He strained to hear, trying to determine if Castiel had passed out again. He knew it took a lot to knock the guy on his ass, wasn't sure if unsanitary surgery and a superhuman dose of tranquilizers qualified. It didn't seem like it should, but Benton apparently had over a year's worth of intel on them, and as fucked up as the doctor was, he was brilliant. And sickly motivated. He could know more about angel physiology than anyone ever would.

Sam was about to try to wake Castiel when he felt something against his left wrist. It was barely there, felt more like fuzzy air than anything. His heart started beating faster. Oh crap, was it a rat? Some other rodent come to chew on him? When the restraint on his left wrist slackened and he heard the metallic scrape of the buckle unfastening, his heart raced for a different reason. Sam was amazed and relieved Castiel was neither down for the count or being his usual strange self.

"Cas?" He whispered, as if speaking loudly would break the spell. "Almost there."

Before, however long ago it was, Castiel must have been too doped up to do anything or they'd have been free. And now it seemed he was too weak to finish unbuckling the restraint. Sam heard Castiel heave a shaky breath, and the movement around his own wrist ceased. He wasn't loose enough to get his hand free easily, but it was a start.

"'Sokay," he mumbled mostly to himself, and a little bit to Castiel. "Take it easy. It's okay."

The buckle was out of his reach, no matter how he tried to bend his wrist. His fingers weren't long enough, or maybe all the self-inflicted constriction had done some damage after all. Sam let his hand relax, willed his fingers to grow a millimeter and tried again. What he needed was for Castiel to finish unbuckling the strap. He didn't think it was going to happen and he didn't think about what he was about to do as an alternative. It was a last resort, but his hand was too wide to fit through the narrow opening. On the plus side, he'd dislocated his thumb before. On the minus side, undoing the rest of his restraints would be more difficult with a digit out of joint.

Sam twisted his hand, thumb down, and pressed as hard as he could against the tabletop. For a second, he didn't think he was going to have enough force and leverage until then a muffled, thudding pop and his hand was closer to the width it needed to be. He strangled the shout of pain in his throat as he slid free of the cuff, the newly injured thumb caught briefly on the leather.

"Nnghahh." He couldn't help releasing some of the pain in a strangled moan. It wasn't the worst pain Sam had ever experienced; didn't mean it felt great. "Shit."

He compartmentalized that pain as a temporary inconvenience, quickly used his free hand to shove at the band across his forehead. It was strapped too tightly. He fumbled for the release, but realized it wasn't going to happen. He gave up after a second to focus on his hands. He twisted his torso as far as he could, tried to give himself enough slack to align left hand with his right properly in order to reduce the dislocation on the first attempt. That didn't work either, but he didn't have the option to try anything else, and didn't want to. He had to get himself free.

It wasn't a simple task with sight. It wasn't always easy even when Dean helped. Sam shouldn't have been so optimistic, doing the reduction by touch and at an awkward angle. The whole case had been a giant clusterfuck, so expecting something to go smoothly was about as ridiculous a thing as Sam had ever expected. Actually, his whole life had turned into a mess of hopelessness. He wasn't convinced Dean thought they could beat the devil. He wasn't sure Castiel truly thought he was going to find God – every time he and Dean saw Cas, it seemed more of his certainty faded into the background. It fell to Sam. He could remain hopeful, maybe enough for all of them. Maybe long enough for him not to be alone in it. He didn't like the proverbial writing on the wall; he'd find a way to erase it.

Fueled by his thoughts, Sam took a deep breath, held it and re-attempted the reduction. With an uncomfortable thunk, his left hand regained its regular shape. Some numbness lingered, but he moved faster, unbuckling first his right hand, then his head. He forgot he was a couple pints of blood low, though, and when he sat abruptly up the world did a virtual loop and his vision phased for a moment or two. He took a deep breath, waited until he could see and continued to free himself.

Only when he was standing mostly upright on his own two bare feet did Sam take a closer look at his surroundings. The place was as he expected, cluttered and filthy. It looked a lot like Benton's old lab, but it wasn't the same place. If Sam knew anything, he knew that the guy was too smart to return to his original stomping grounds for this master plan of his. Still, Benton's decorating touches were the same, except he had slightly newer equipment. Must have found some antique house or museum to steal himself a whole new set of old stuff.

Jars of murky liquid lined a far wall. He doubted they contained homemade pickles and preserves, and he didn't want to waste the energy imagining what they held instead. He stopped the visual inventory altogether as soon as he caught sight of Castiel, lying curled on his side in the middle of a ring of fire. Not moving, eyes closed. Though he knew Castiel wasn't dead, he staggered away from the table in such a hurry he barely recovered from planting face first onto the stained floor.

"Castiel," Sam said, hoped for a reaction and didn't get one.

He grabbed a rust-colored towel off a medical tray. He didn't spare the elaborate set-up surrounding the angel trap more than a fleeting look, ignored that what he was using to beat down the flames was soaked in blood. Sam wanted to extinguish the whole circle, but he wasn't the pinnacle of health at the moment himself. All he needed was an inch. He kept at it until he had a space big enough for him to get through without burning his feet.

Sam intended to crouch, but lost his balance and ended upon his knee. He was beginning to think Benton had taken more than a couple pints. He shook his head, focused. A hand on Castiel's shoulder elicited a response, a slight opening of eyes.

"You awake now?" Sam whispered, like Benton was upstairs.

"I was not sleeping," Castiel said. "I was merely conserving my energy."

"You can walk, right?"

Castiel lifted his head, squinted toward the break in the fire, then looked up at Sam. He nodded and began to fish around on the floor.

Sam hauled himself upright, leaned to help Castiel the rest of the way up and had to breathe through another bout of vertigo. Both of them stood unsteadily in the middle of the fire for a moment, gathered themselves. They weren't out yet. He wanted out in the worst way. Not before he destroyed this monster's lab. He had an overwhelming urge to watch the place burn.

As soon as Castiel crossed the fire threshold, Sam searched for and tossed flammable-looking things onto the flames. The blaze sparked to life and began to grow outside the controlled circle. He knew it was stupid, because after they got done with him, Benton wasn't going to use this stuff to hurt anyone ever again. The higher the flames rose, the more he wanted to feed them, and the dizzier he became trying to burn it all.

"Sam, we should go," Castiel said, as he placed his hand on Sam's right arm. "Now."

Sam didn't know if it was the pity he saw in Castiel's weary eyes or the sharp spike of pain from his definitely infected arm that made him realize he'd been frenzied with irrational hate and need and hadn't been in full control. God, he was so fucked up. He knew it. Everyone knew it. Castiel standing there, somehow in his wrinkled trenchcoat again, tilted slightly to the side like he'd been partially deflated and holding a recognizable pair of shoes out, knowing what Sam was and ready to keep fighting with him anyway just about broke him.

Or it was the blood loss messing with his head.

He took the shoes and shoved his feet in them. Already the fire was eating its way over to the antique operating table he'd just vacated. Neither of them were ready to run, both of them knew readiness was unimportant. It was time to go, get away so they could recuperate and come back to stick Benton in the cold ground where he would stay forever. Unless maybe Cas could and would kill him permanently.

They relied on each other's support, Castiel leaning more heavily on Sam, as they stumbled for the rickety stair leading up to freedom. The fire, Sam thought too late, probably hadn't been a brilliant idea. He choked on smoke, his eyes watered. Flames licking at their boot heels did make for a great motivator. Though he felt awful and knew Castiel must feel even worse judging from the amount of blood covering him and the way he couldn't stand upright, they managed to bust open the basement door. Sam didn't take notice of the cabin itself, steered them to and out the door, down a few steps off a small porch.

One gulp of fresh night air was all Sam got before he realized two things: they were in the middle of very heavy woods, with a dirt path serving as the only easy route out; and in the not-too-distant distance he heard the rumble of a vehicle engine that was coming up the dirt path. For a fraction of a second, he had a wild hope it was Dean. But he'd recognize the Impala from miles away, and it wasn't her.

"Oh, fuck," he said, still somewhat breathless. "We're fucking fucked."