A/N: Early posting of the conclusion is brought to you in part by my neighbor, who thought it a grand idea to start using a chainsaw before 9:00 AM on my day off, thereby waking me hours before I intended with its ruckus and the stench of gasoline wafting into my apartment. Urgh. But, hey, these were hours slotted for something other than fic posting, so it's a win for you all. Hehe.

Cold Was the Ground
Chapter Two

His cell was in his jacket. His jacket was probably in Benton's cabin. Benton's cabin was well on its way to becoming a smoldering pile of cinders.

Sam knew he was beyond capable of fighting his own fights, but childhood instinct was hard to deny. He wanted to call Dean and he wanted Dean to come rolling in to save the day. What he wanted wasn't important, it was never important these days or ever had been, and he could want until sunrise but Dean wasn't going to show in time.

Besides, Castiel had managed to get his jacket, probably felt naked without it, but his cell wasn't in any of the pockets. Chances were, Sam's pockets would have been empty too. As it was, he considered himself lucky to have his shoes. He still had no real idea where they were. The terrain was rough, the temperature cool and there were many, many trees. Could be Oregon, or California, or Minnesota or anywhere. He didn't know, and in all likelihood Dean didn't yet either. Unless it had been longer than Sam thought. Minutes might have been hours, hours might have been days. He was still unclear about recent events and timelines.

Sam shivered and hunkered down, stayed as quiet as possible. He didn't like that he and Castiel were hiding like frightened rabbits, but Benton was too close for them to move without drawing attention. They couldn't afford to make even the slightest of mistakes. Benton's lab here might be gone, that didn't mean his original lair in Erie wasn't a back-up plan. If he caught them again, he'd find a way and a place to dissect them slowly. Sam wondered how long it would be before Castiel was back to regular strength. He wasn't sure if Cas could transport him away at this point, but he could get the hell out himself. Find Dean, make sure he was okay.

He didn't really know Dean was all right. Benton mentioned that Dean would come for him. That didn't mean his brother hadn't been hurt or something. Sam frowned. He had a fleeting thought that maybe Dean wouldn't hurry to find him, knew it was stupid. It was just that lately, it didn't seem much like Dean cared enough to put a rush on a rescue. Sam didn't blame him for that. It was a fact of life, and he hated that sometimes he started doubting Dean the way he knew Dean doubted him.

"Jesus, Sam, really?" Dean snapped. He slammed the smudged journal onto the table. "Doc Benton. You let that bastard out of his hole? Like we don't have enough problems you ca… never mind. What were you thinking?"

Sam stared at his hands. The thumbnail on his right hand was jagged and torn from chewing on it, a habit he thought he'd kicked when he was twelve. The feelings rolling through him were jumbled so much he wasn't sure if he was more upset because Dean had to ask why he'd screwed up this particular thing, or because it was another notch on a list of transgressions too horrible they never directly spoke about them. Sam the screw-up, Sam the demon blood addict, Sam the vessel for Lucifer. That was what everything boiled down to.

"I didn't let him out, Dean," Sam said. "At least … I don't think I did."

"Oh, yeah? That's funny." Dean snorted. "Here's his book of secrets. Last I saw it, it was six feet under, with him. And now people are turnin' up with vital organs missing. It doesn't take a genius to do the math on this one."

"Could we maybe not focus on blame and concentrate on stopping him?" Sam stood up. "It's my fault, okay? I admit that. You were dead and I was beyond fucked up and I don't even remember much except for thinking maybe there was something in the book that could help me. I'm sorry. Just, let's fix this."

They had to fix it, all of it. The world depended on it. Only, the movie playing in an endless loop in Sam's head always ended ambiguously, the kind of ending that left people feeling vaguely sick and confused instead of content.

"Sam's right," Castiel said. As always, he sounded abrupt, frank. "What's in the past is done. It cannot be undone. I suggest we move forward."

The rustle of branches could have been the wind. Sam didn't bank on it. He regulated his breathing to as slow a rate as possible, as if Benton could hear him otherwise. He gave a sidelong glance at Castiel, who was slumped and seemed barely conscious. He had to admit he was getting worried at how slowly Cas was coming out of it. He hadn't had the chance to see what Benton had done to the guy, presumed it had been worse than bad.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Benton chanted. "You can't hide forever."

Benton was right about that. Playing rabbit was only going to work for a limited time. All Sam could do was hope that Benton would start walking away from them and keep going so they could move. He strained to discern which direction Benton's voice had come from. He was pretty decent at that under usual circumstances. Tonight, he had a case of blood-loss tinnitus and slight but constant disorientation. Huh, and he was worried about Castiel not recovering fast enough. Pot and kettle. They were both in sorry shape to be running from a madman who'd out thought them at every step when they weren't in crappy condition. To be fair, no one would anticipate being studied, stalked and snared by someone supposed to be far under ground.

"I'm going to need a new set of samples." Benton seemed further away. "If you come out on your own, I promise I'll make it so it won't hurt a bit."

Right. Psychopathic, organ-stealing, better-off-dead doctors always made good on their promises. Sam thought it odd that Benton was openly taunting them. History had proven the man was capable of great stealth, which led him to believe Benton had some reason to announce his whereabouts every few minutes. Like a trap. Sam looked over his shoulder, wary and as alert as he could be. Sticking to one spot and position for so long, the danger of lapsing into sleep rose every minute. He did not want to doze off and wake up strapped to another table.

Forget finding the nearest phone, which might be twenty or more miles away. Forget calling Dean. They only needed time for Castiel to heal. If they stayed in one spot, the healing would happen faster, but they ran the risk of Benton finding them. No, it was better to try to put some ground between them.

Without having any real way of telling time, Sam would have to use his gut to tell him when it was safe. He waited for Benton to talk again, waited for the sound of a twig snapping. When he had heard neither for what seemed like longer than it was, he decided it was time to go. Lethargy was setting in even faster despite the adrenaline coursing through his system. He was a little envious of Castiel's repose, though he knew of all their options sleeping was the worst one. He placed a hand on Castiel's shoulder, shook it.

"I think he's gone," Sam whispered. "We have got to go."

Castiel opened his eyes and didn't quite focus on Sam.

He never quite focused on Sam, though, so Sam wasn't sure how to read the fuzzy expression. A second passed, a slow blink, and there was clarity in Castiel's eyes again. Surprisingly, Sam swore he caught a glimpse of stark pain that seemed less to do with physical injury than something intangible, deeper. He didn't know what that meant, and before he could try to give a name to the look it was gone.

"You doin' any better, Cas?"

"I am getting there," Castiel said. "Are you fit for this, Sam?"

There was only one right answer to that question.

"Have to be," Sam said and gave a grin he hoped was convincing. The low blood pressure and ringing in his ears might make him off-kilter, but this was life and death. He'd be fine. He'd had worse.

"Yes, I suppose that's true."

The question was whether or not they could move quietly enough. Most of the reason they'd frozen on the spot was Sam's fear they'd only draw Benton to them by crashing through the underbrush. Since Sam had no real idea where Benton was at the moment, this could prove to be as much a mistake as staying put was. The situation wasn't good either way. He'd been thinking, though, that they couldn't bumble around without some sort of guidepost. Benton knew the territory. He and Castiel weren't equipped enough to be certain which way was up.

"Now that Benton's out here looking for us," Sam said, "I've been thinking we should head toward the cabin. His vehicle should be there and even if it isn't, the service road is the only guaranteed way out."

Because Sam didn't know how long it would be before Castiel could be of more practical use, he wanted Plan B to be close at hand. Stealing the vehicle would be the best case scenario, but at least following along the path would get them closer to civilization, a main road, anything.

Castiel nodded. "In our current states, that does seem to be the best option."

Without having to discuss it, Sam and Castiel moved at a fraction of the pace his instinct was telling him they needed. Slow and steady was better when a person was liable to fall ass over teakettle onto the cold ground at any given strong gust of wind. Sam was hyper-aware that Castiel was on his six so close they still shared a fair amount of body heat. Normally, he'd find the lack of personal boundaries disturbing. For some reason, he didn't tonight.

Sam knew they were drawing closer by the increasing smell of smoke and the haze of orange brightening their progress. It was a risk he should have realized before he was well into it. He frowned. Benton might expect him to do this. Apparently, the guy knew a lot about him and Dean and Castiel, and probably Bobby. He paused at the edge of the clearing, tried to execute a squat and ended up on his knees again. An old truck was parked crookedly, not quite in the turnaround where the cabin used to stand.

"I'll go check it out first," he said softly to Castiel. "You wait here."

"You believe it's a trap," Castiel said.

"It could be. Probably is. If it is, you have to promise you'll keep out of it. One of us has to get away, and you're the better candidate right now."

Castiel didn't nod. He pursed his lips and looked ill or maybe constipated, but he didn't nod.

"You expect me to leave you here if things do not go optimally."

"Yeah, I guess I do." Sam pretended not to see that Castiel was not pleased at the idea. He shook his head. "Look, it doesn't matter. Benton won't kill me fast. He already told us that. So if this goes south, you need to get Dean, get Bobby. Get a plan together. Then you can come back for me."

He didn't want to argue. He wasn't sacrificing himself, not really. And it might be a moot point anyway. Maybe for a change their luck would be good. He started moving, trusted Castiel would stay put. Instead of barging right out into the open, Sam left Castiel and skirted around the clearing. Benton might be watching, and he didn't want to give away Cas's location if he could help it.

By the time he'd crept to the opposite side of the clearing, Sam was sweating heavily and shivering harder than ever. He swiped at his brow with his left forearm, grimaced and looked down at his throbbing right arm. Somewhere along the way, the gigantic hole left by the gigantic needle had opened up and blood soaked fresh into the dirty bandage at the crook of his elbow. He wasn't going to think about what Benton would do to him, angered at losing his precious regenerating angel, if this was a trap. No sense mentioning that concern.

"Here goes nothing," he muttered.

Sam stepped out of the woods, toward the truck. He felt exposed, partially from the expectation of an ambush and partially from knowing Castiel was out there and staring at him. He made it to the driver's side door without incident, and felt a surge of hope. It was kind of dizzying, except, no, that was still the blood loss. He leaned on the truck to keep himself steady, studied the cab for any obvious signs of a trap. Not sure what he expected. There was no reason to think Benton would suddenly stop outplaying him at every possible turn.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He'd come this far. The only way to know for sure if he and Cas were on the fast track out of there was to open the door and see if he could hotwire this old truck. The second he lifted the handle and pulled, he knew he was in trouble. He heard a faint pfft, felt a sting in the back of his neck. All of two seconds later, warmth flooded his veins and the world did a full-blown, non blood-loss related loop. He heard the thud of his body hitting the ground, but he didn't feel a thing.


Something round and very hard pressed against his left shoulder blade. He didn't think it was a spring from a bad motel mattress. He figured they had chosen the squatting option instead this time. It seemed safer, more anonymous when Lucifer was after Sam and Michael was after Dean, to avoid their old conventional hunt practices. Seedy motel stays had become a luxury. He didn't remember crashing, so it was possible he'd lain on something. When Sam tried to roll off the offending object, he found he couldn't and that didn't seem to fit sleeping on a hard floor. Also, the sensation of being pinned in place gave him an alarming sense of déjà vu. Then his memory clicked, and he bit back a moan. He had to admit he was getting sick of waking up after a trauma had rendered him unconscious.

In a way, though, he was also relieved. Him strapped to another of Benton's tables meant Castiel had done the smart thing and gotten the hell out while the getting was good. Sam didn't love the after effects of whatever tranquilizing agent Benton had souped up and he sure hated the idea of what was to come, but the hangover and future torture was worth it if it meant the end of all this was only a matter of time. He just had to hang on, remind himself that nothing Benton could throw at him would be worse than anything he'd endured.

But he wished he could get that damned boulder-sized bump out from under him. Slicing and dicing under Benton's sloppy hand was going to suck enough without that added discomfort. It was insult to injury. Sam heard movement to his left and wrinkled his eyebrows. It sounded like footsteps on fallen leaves. Outside noises. Maybe he wasn't where he thought he was, and crap his head pounded. He peeled open his eyes and saw stars. At first that was what he saw, and then a face, up close and way too personal, obstructed his view of Ursa Major.

"I was becoming concerned at how long it was taking you to arouse again," Castiel said quietly, with a blink and a tilt of the head.

Oh, hell.

"You were supposed to leave," Sam croaked. "You promised."

"I didn't make such a promise." Castiel stayed about five inches above.

As near as he was, Castiel's eyes were intense and focused. It was the first time since they'd escaped that Cas looked remotely like himself. Well, except for the bloodstains and the outline of a faded bruise on his jaw. Sam wasn't happy that they were both still stuck in the woods, but that was something. And he remembered that, no, Castiel had conveniently not promised to leave.

"No, I guess you didn't. But you still should have gone for Dean when you had the chance. Why didn't you?"

"For one simple reason," Castiel said, finally pulled back. "Had I left you here and Benton had found you lying out in the open, neither Dean nor I would have any idea where to begin looking again."


Sam hadn't thought of that. It was true. Benton would have had a prolonged time with him, somewhere else. He wondered how many cabins Benton had rigged up. Hunters always had multiple locations at the ready, worst-case scenario contingencies. It stood to reason someone like Benton, motivated by revenge and everlasting life, might have a similar system. Wherever he would have ended up, Sam knew he could have taken the pain and medical procedures, but he shivered anyway.

"Also, it would seem my driving skills are somewhat lacking," Castiel said.

Sam snorted, in spite of himself.

"That … is not funny."

"Of course it isn't. If I better understood the mechanics of how to maneuver a vehicle, then we would not be here now."

Sam had a feeling the longer this conversation went on, the more confused he would become and only partly because of the drugs and blood loss. He tried again to move, succeeded in raising his left forearm and hand off the ground. It felt like it was weighted with wet sand, but it lifted. He'd take the victory where he could, considering they were still in the middle of nowhere with a mad scientist doctor after them and therefore still fucked. He put his palm toward Castiel, universal signal to stop. Then he raised his hand to the bridge of his nose and tried to pinch back the headache. It didn't work. What he wouldn't give for a handful of aspirin.

"Benton?" Sam said softly, and suddenly it seemed like his voice carried for miles.

"I haven't seen or heard him for some time," Castiel said.

Sam supposed he should be glad for that, but it made him more uneasy than anything. He didn't like it. No way would Benton sit on his hands when two of his prized possessions were in the vicinity. If anything, he would bet the doc had a whole bunch of traps laid out in the woods surrounding the cabin. Knowing who he was aiming to catch had to mean he planned for escape attempts and successes. Something clicked in his brain. Back in the basement. He closed his eyes and saw the ring of fire, how close Benton would have had to get to Castiel to do all those … things to him. Castiel could have pulled him over the flames, gotten him to put it out, gotten out of there before the first blade had sliced into skin.

He felt ill. Castiel could have saved himself and didn't. For him. More than once. This was all his fault, and he didn't deserve that kind of loyalty. But, no. Now was not the time to wallow in those thoughts, flog himself for his many past mistakes. Why was he always doing that? It wasn't productive. It was Castiel who had said before that they had to move forward. That meant figuring out what to do now that he and Castiel were still stuck hiding from good ol' Doc Benton.

"How long was I out?"

"Several hours."

Shit, that meant the sun had to be almost ready to rise. He squinted at Castiel, tried to determine if he could see more because it was lighter or because of the gradual decrease of drugs in his system. Lighter, definitely. Benton probably had been waiting. Hunting would be easier in the broad light of day. The only other possibility was one he didn't want to think about – Benton had gone to collect the third piece of his trophy. If Benton got Dean, he and Cas would give up. No question.

"It'll be light soon," was all he said.

Castiel nodded.

Sam noted Castiel was not sitting so much as he was on his side nudged real close, propped on one elbow. Awkward. If Dean saw them, he'd make some smartass remark.

Sam watched Dean pace a tight line at the foot of the beds. It was a cliché, but it really did seem like anger radiated off his brother. Every line of his face was deeper, every muscle tense as if he were ready to launch a full attack. For a second, Sam pitied the intended target and then realized it was him. He knew what a no-holds-barred punch to the face from Dean was like. He thought about prompting it, just to get it over with already. There was more to Dean's anger with him than this screw-up. In the list of things Sam had screwed-up, accidentally letting a monster like Benton out of his cage was inconsequential. He almost laughed. Letting a monster like Lucifer out of his cage topped it all. This was just a trial run for the main event.

He opened his mouth to say something. What, he wasn't sure. Dean didn't give him the chance. Sam sat mutely, with his mouth hanging open, while Dean snatched up his jacket and headed for the door.

"I'll be back," Dean said. "Try not to do anything stupid."

Then Dean was gone, leaving Sam to stare at Castiel and Castiel to look at him like he expected Sam to go chase after his brother. Chasing wouldn't work. Sam knew that. Better to let Dean get it out of his system a little bit and come back on his own time. He waved a hand at Castiel when he moved for the door himself.

"Let him go. He'll be back," Sam said, weary. "How long have we got you for?"

It was rare Castiel popped in to help them on an ordinary case. He didn't know if there was a deeper reason for Cas to show up. Maybe he'd made the Sam-let-out-a-monster connection also.

"As long as it takes," Castiel said, as if Sam's question was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard.

Castiel might have misinterpreted his question to be bigger than it really was. Sam couldn't tell, but that was no different than status quo with Castiel as far as he was concerned. All he really needed to know, he did: the guy had given up his whole existence to fight with Dean. Sam and Castiel might be worlds apart in most ways, but in that they were the same.

"I've got a couple spots to check out. I think Benton could be south of the city," Sam said with a nod. "Most of the victims live in those suburbs."

"Should we not wait for Dean?"

Yeah, they probably should. Sam's guilt was pushing him to move faster, get this done and behind him. He was running out of ideas on how to do that and wait for Dean at the same time.

"I don't know how long it's going to take him to cool off. For all we know, Benton's got someone right now, someone we could save," Sam said.

Castiel was Dean's sidekick, not Sam's. The guy looked like the last place on earth he wanted to be was stuck with the boy with demon blood. Sam didn't know if it was worth debating. He might be better off heading out on his own. He stood, too fast. He got a little dizzy. Castiel was by the door and Sam thought he looked confused. Maybe sick.

"Cas, you okay?" He made it to Castiel's side in two steps, took him by the shoulders.

"No," Castiel said. "I don't understand how this is poss…"

Castiel's eyes rolled up in his head, he went limp and Sam struggled to hold onto him. His attempts didn't last long. The dizziness was back. He smelled something strong, heard a faint hiss. Oh, shit. He tumbled to the floor, Castiel wrapped awkwardly in his arms. His last conscious thought was that if Dean were to walk in on them like this, he'd never let Sam live it down.

Sam shuffled away from Castiel an inch. Whatever used to be under his shoulder blade ended up in the middle of his back, pressed against his spine. He sat up, eyeing his surroundings. Castiel had found a small dip. They were tucked into it, covered by thick brush on every side. Great to hide in, wouldn't want to get stuck in a hole in the ground.

"How far are we from the truck?" Sam said.

"Far enough, but not too far."

"Okay, so we go back and hope he only had one trap set."

Since Castiel seemed reluctant to leave him, Sam was going to volunteer him to test that theory. It wasn't the world's greatest plan, but at this point even if they followed the service road they wouldn't get far before daybreak. Not that they couldn't take that route if they had to. He knew better than to pin all his hopes on the truck.

"Are you able to walk unassisted?"

Asked the man who had barely been able to do the same a few hours ago.

"Yeah," Sam whispered. "Sure."

He was, mostly. The dosage in the dart must have been smaller than the knockout gas Benton had used the first time. Once he was up, Sam started to feel better. Castiel took point, and they moved carefully but not as slowly as they would have in order to be noiseless. There wasn't time. Sam tripping occasionally would have killed the quiet, anyway. He'd feel bad about being a bumbling fool later. Benton's continued silence unnerved him. He expected to see that ugly, patchwork face any second. And he'd be holding that eyeball scoopy thing Sam had never quite gotten over.

Not only did Benton not appear, but when they got to the clearing, they found the truck gone.

"Shit," Sam said. There went that plan.

"You realize if Benton is still here somewhere, then we'll never make it on foot," Castiel said.

Sam did realize that.

"How much of your angel mojo did you burn dragging me to safety and how much have you got back?" Sam asked. "Because I think now's the time for you to fly."

"I am feeling much stronger," Castiel said, "but I'm not yet well enough to handle both of us. I would prefer not to leave you."

"Yeah, well, sometimes we all gotta do things that deep down we don't want to do." Sam smiled, grim. He felt woozy, adrenaline draining from him. He'd be damned if he was going to get Castiel caught again, and that would happen if the guy didn't take his angel fast track. "Go. Figure out where the hell we … I am. Get Dean. I'll be fine."

"You had better be."

With a gust of wind and a flutter that sounded like the beat of wings, Castiel was gone and Sam stood in the clearing, burned rubble behind him, alone.


Sam wasn't sure how long he'd been skulking through the woods, slowly but surely employing Plan B (run like hell) by himself. Given the choice between making a break for it or cowering in a corner and waiting for help to arrive, it was a no brainer. Sitting in one spot was more dangerous than staying on the move, alert. He was exhausted, though, and even with motivation it was hard to combat the need to rest. At least when Castiel had been around that meant he had someone to prod him along, someone else's well-being to focus on as well. Instead, he was alone to think about the heat coming off his arm and the sluggishness of his brain and the slight tenderness of his left hand.

He wasn't sure how long it had been. It couldn't have been more than half an hour since Cas had left. From what Sam could tell, Benton had found a place so remote it was hours from civilization by car. That left him pretty screwed trying to walk out on foot. He was getting nowhere fast. If Cas found Dean, there was no telling how long it would take them to get back here. Sam paused, rested against a tree for a moment. He wanted nothing more than to slide down, sit and nap. It was a mistake to even stop to regain his equilibrium, too tempting to stay there forever. And he had to keep moving.

Despite being cautious of every step, Sam's foot landed on a root or rock or whothehellcaredwhat. His ankle gave way, twisting just enough to make him sprawl. Sam landed on his infected arm, barely kept a scream down. He lay there a moment, breathed through the pain. He practically inhaled the dirt and grass and moss. The ground was cool on the surface, had to be colder a few feet down. He wondered if locking Benton under the cold earth had made the crazy man even crazier. Had to have. Sam rolled over, careful not to jostle his arm. The sky was lightening into pre-dawn blue, the stars fading.

And, lying there flat on his back, was when he felt it. Sam had been unsteady and worried about Benton's whereabouts for hours. Suddenly, he sensed the man was near. He didn't know why. There was no change in the air, the wildlife didn't go quiet. He sat, on alert, listened for tangible proof he had gone from imagining the enemy around every tree to being stalked like quarry again.

"That's bullshit," he whispered. "I won't be the goddamned prey."

Tangible proof might not exist at the moment, but he knew he was right. Benton was close. Sam was tired of running. He was tired of feeling like he was being hunted. His entire life consisted of that feeling. Maybe it was outside his scope to keep the threat of Lucifer at bay, out of his head, for now, but Benton was just a man. A sick, twisted, immortal man that Sam had to put back in the ground. He couldn't do that if he were running, on the defensive.

Sam was an excellent hunter himself, but he wasn't sure how to set up an offensive attack on an enemy that was, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Not when he felt like crap and had no tools at his disposal. But all of Benton's supplies and weapons were no more than piles of ash, too. The guy might have traps set all over the goddamn place, but Sam was closer to equal footing than he had been for days. He knew what and how and why and even enough about where. A little blood loss was not going to be his undoing. The way he figured it, he had nothing to lose by hunting Benton instead of letting Benton hunt him. Wander around trying to elude the guy, or wander around trying to find him. It was all the same. In reality, trying to find Benton was the more rational option.

Sam got to his feet slowly, held his arm close to his chest and peered into the woods behind him, all around him. He wasn't going to see anything and he knew it. Maybe in order to hunt Benton, he was going to have to let Benton hunt him and that … was not really any different than running away. Or he could stand around all night, waiting for the inevitable to happen. What an idiot. He supposed his brain wasn't firing on all cylinders.

Of course, rational did not actually equal realistic. Realistic was staying out of Benton's hands. The hair on the back of Sam's neck prickled, the sensation of being watched grew stronger. In his mind, he heard the doc breathing harsh rasps of sound in the quiet surrounding him and it came from every direction. He realized soon enough that the only harsh breathing he heard was his own. What little energy he could muster came from adrenaline, that old fight or flight he was still undecided on. It had him on edge, the rapid breathing, the cold sweat making his skin prickle. If he wasn't careful, he was going to fuck this up the same way he fucked everything up. He took a few steps. The service road had to lead somewhere. He'd follow it until he could get a line on precisely where Benton was, hunt the doc without him even knowing it.

What he needed was a weapon. Whether he was running or hunting, Sam needed something he could use against Benton. He'd prefer a gun, but a sturdy branch would have to do. It wasn't like he had a ton of choices. He wasn't up to MacGyvering anything, didn't have the strength or the time. It didn't take him long to find a suitable branch. As he leaned to pick it up, losing his balance only a little, Sam heard a twig snap.

"Peek-a-boo, I see you," Benton's voice called, ghost-like, through the trees.

Instinctively, Sam jerked to his feet, wavered there a moment until the gray starbursts cleared from his field of vision. Hours of silence and paranoia had made him jumpy as hell.

"Now that your angel friend is gone, you're starting to bore me, Winchester."

Sam's head spun as his heart pounded faster and faster. He heard a faint swish, close to his left ear, and then a tiny thwap. Oh, nono. He was not going to get drugged out, he would not wake up with one of his eyeballs missing. Flight won. He wasn't proud of it, once he realized his unsteady legs were doing a fair job of carrying him at a decent pace, but his body apparently wanted the hell out of this nightmare more than it wanted to fight.

"You can run, but where you gonna hide?"

For as unsettling as dead silence had been, Sam changed his tune. Ominous stillness was way better than the ridiculous mocking, the total certainty that someone was on his heels that came with it. If he could only pinpoint where it was coming from he would feel much better, but it was like Benton's voice had a life of its own, bounced around the trees so as to sound like it was right behind him and impossibly to the side and even in front as well. It made him dizzier, something else he didn't think should be possible. He ducked behind a tree, bent to rest his hands on his knees. At that action, a grim chuckle filled the air.

Angry, Sam straightened and stepped into the open. He gripped the branch tight in his left hand, ready to swing.

"Enough with the goddamn games, Benton," he shouted. "Stop hiding in the shadows."

"You think I'm a fool, boy?" Benton laughed again. "I'm almost three hundred years old, and even weakened you're still twice my size."

Good. Little did Benton seem to know that Sam didn't think he could put down a four-month-old kitten if he had to go one-on-one with one right now. Somewhere along the way, recently but he didn't know for sure when, his muscles had started to twitch, overexertion and dehydration taking their toll. Tiny electrical impulses hit each muscle, caused them to seize. It was uncomfortable as hell, and more importantly he knew it wouldn't take much to fell him in his condition. He was so fucking fucked, but he could not let Benton see that.

This time the dart came so close it skimmed his right bicep. That meant Benton was still far enough away for his aim to be off, but closer than he had been. And, shit, the site of the graze felt kind of numb. It hadn't entered his bloodstream. Didn't matter, he had to get going before the next one came at him and landed a more direct hit. Benton must have had a stash in the truck; he had to run out sometime. Sam just had to last that long. And now he knew Benton was directly behind him. The scratch started closer to the back of his arm, stopped at the curve where it lost contact.

Sam tried to stay under cover and make his path uneven as he got underway again. The first part of that plan was a challenge, the last part would have happened unintentionally anyway. What gnawed at the back of his mind was whether or not he believed he could keep this up until Benton ran out of magic tricks or Castiel or Dean showed. Any belief he'd be able to single-handedly put Benton back in the ground had been erased. Barring a miracle, it just wasn't going to happen. Not today, anyway. He knew that, and yet somewhere deep inside he was pulling for that miracle.

Somewhere deep inside, even knowing now what he did about God and angels and everything, Sam still always prayed for miracles.

And rarely got them.

One second Sam was being pursued by a threat and the next, Benton was there. He didn't have time to try to figure out how or why (and so much for Benton fearing his size). In his surprise he lost his footing, ended up sprawled on his back. Benton's low chuckle had him scrambling, adrenaline gave him a burst of strength. He got to his knees before Benton could get to him, still had the branch and he swung it. The arc was awkward in a left-handed hold, but it connected with a solid crack against Benton's right knee and sent the guy to the ground with an angry howl. He had to have busted something.

Sam knew it would take the doctor a few seconds to pull himself together. He stood, glanced at Benton and saw him fishing around with his hands. Looking for something. He rushed a few steps to Benton and stomped on his left hand just as it closed over a crude weapon. Dart gun? Whatever. Sam was having none of that. He needed to incapacitate the guy so he could lose him, venture off the path. He kicked Benton in the torso, jostled him an inch or two to the side. Then he aimed for the face, heard the snap of teeth clattering together, maybe the jawbone breaking. Benton's eyes rolled back.

As quickly as it had aided him, adrenaline abandoned Sam. He tripped a few steps and stood, gasping for breath, with every single muscle in his body enduring small convulsions. He needed rest and couldn't allow for it, he needed fuel and had none. Still clutching onto the branch, he staggered backward away from Benton's body. He had to go, but he didn't know where to go that would keep him from Benton but not make it impossible for Dean to find him.

He decided he could figure that out once he was out of Benton's sight. The doctor was already starting to stir. Sam heard the sounds of bones setting, joints popping. He spun on his heels and tried to jog. What he managed was anything but a jog, but it was forward movement and that was all he cared about. He didn't concern himself with stealth, only pace. That was all that mattered. He had maybe ten minutes, or he hoped anyway. He didn't think he'd damaged Benton more than ten minutes' worth.

If he hadn't been so intent on putting distance between him and Benton, he might have avoided it. If his vision hadn't tunneled, he would have seen it. If he hadn't lost a couple pints of blood and been pushed beyond his limits, he probably could have avoided the fall.

But all of those ifs were facts of life, and Sam had plummeted into a deep hole in the ground, hit the bottom and nearly swallowed a mouthful of loose dirt before he even knew that he'd sprung a rudimentary trap. He saw red sparks, visual manifestation of the pain shooting through his arm. For the first time since this whole thing started, Sam wanted to pass out and didn't. He groaned, and flipped onto his back. Squinting, he estimated he was at least eight feet down. More, maybe. He might have been impressed with the feat of digging a large hole this deep if he weren't stuck in it. He shivered. Benton was right. It was damned cold.

Above, songbirds warbled and chirped their welcome to the dawn, completely unaware how miserable and screwed (again) Sam Winchester was below the surface.


There was no way out. The walls of Sam's prison were too high for him to jump and reach the edge to pull himself free. Attempts at climbing only resulted in earth crumbling loosely, prevented any footholds. Maybe eventually he could come up with something. He didn't have eventually. He had minutes. He'd like to see how Benton planned to haul his ass out of there, but he had a strong feeling he would be unconscious. It looked like he was going to end up strapped to a table, anyway. He was not looking forward to another heavy dose of sedative, wondered if he could even survive one. It would probably leave him sick as a dog, which would be the least of his concerns, really.

Though Sam knew it was pointless, the idea of being drugged had him trying to scale the walls again. All he got for his trouble was a face full of dirt and tears in his eyes. He stilled when he heard approaching footsteps, took up a fight stance without thought. He figured out a second later how stupid that was, he wasn't going to be able to beat the shit out of Benton from down there, but didn't relax. He might have lost this battle. He didn't have to show it.

"My, my. Look what we have here."

The doctor's words were slurred slightly. From his awkward angle, Sam saw Benton's jaw was swollen and seemed off-kilter. He felt a flash of pride, and then a stab of dread. He clenched his own strong jaw, tried to picture it cobbled onto the ugly face peering down at him. Oh hell no.

"Someone wasn't paying attention to his surroundings," Benton continued with an approximation of a smile. "I half expected better from you."

Sam had a horrible suspicion Benton had planned all of this, driven him right for the hole. He felt like an idiot, but at the same time he hadn't had a better option. Sometimes no matter how hard a person ran, he was still going to get caught. In that way, Sam did believe in destiny. He didn't want to. He didn't want to dismiss everything Benton was going to do to him as irrelevant, didn't want to think that Benton could kill him before Dean and Cas found him and it wouldn't matter.

"Fuck you, Benton," Sam said, too exhausted to come up with anything wittier. "You got me, but you lost the big prize."

"I know, and that's a shame. For you." Benton cocked his head to the side. "I've had a change of heart, Winchester. Without your angel friend to sweeten the pot, I'd just as soon see you dead. First you, then your brother. Who knows, I might even manage to get my hands on the angel again."

Ah, shit. Buying time was not something he had ever been very good at. It was Dean's thing to bullshit, though even he might have a hard time talking himself out of this. Sam stared at Benton, had no other recourse. They both knew it.

"If you hadn't destroyed my … clinic and the last of the sedative just now, I might have taken pity. Put you out before. But now," Benton said with mock sadness, "now you get the full effect. Count yourself lucky the torment won't last."

Full effect? For a second, Sam wasn't sure what that meant. Then his brain kicked in. He was standing in a goddamn open grave. Involuntarily, Sam's breath rate increased. What he'd thought about being drugged again, he took back. He wanted to be out, way out, while he slowly asphyxiated.

"You going to stand there all morning," Sam said, throat dry as he challenged Benton the best he could, "or are you going to do it?"

"Oh, so brave." Benton gave a raspy laugh. "It'll take some time. None of my parts are young anymore, you know. But I know I, for one, am going to truly enjoy the backache."

Sam swallowed. There wasn't much he could say to that, to any of this. He didn't remember seeing a pile of displaced dirt anywhere, but then he didn't remember seeing the hole until he was in it. It was academic anyway. Mentally, he calculated how long it might take a 300-year-old man to fill a deep hole. It wasn't nearly as long as it would be to dig.

"I'll be right back," Benton said. "Don't go anywhere."

The moment he couldn't hear Benton's retreating footsteps anymore, Sam let the panic free. He knew in the back of his mind he was like a lab rat constantly going for the food and getting zapped as he clambered at the walls, jumped and ignored the pain in his arm, all for the tiniest possibility of freedom. He had to keep trying.

He was surprised as hell when one of his frantic leaps actually got him a tenuous hold on the lip of the hole. He concentrated his efforts on staying up, even as dirt disintegrated under his feet, the edge eroded into his face. At first it was hands only, then Sam managed to get one elbow on level ground. He was so close to being free he could taste it. He scrabbled his left hand out, searched for anything more stable than grass to clutch onto, all the while slipping backward.

He almost made it.

Out of nowhere, something crashed against his hand. Reflexively, Sam let go and a fraction of a second later was in a free fall to the bottom of his grave. His breath came out of him with a woof. He lay stunned, blinking away dirt and tears and trying to reclaim his ability to breathe, when Benton appeared above, a long-handled shovel in his hands.

"Anh-anh," Benton said. He sounded far away. "None of that."

The first scoop of dirt hit him full in the chest, then the second. Sam finally sucked in oxygen, coughed and choked as he rolled to the side. The dirt fell like rain. He got shakily to his hands and knees, let it pelt his back instead of his front. He stayed in that position until he was sure his legs would hold him. It didn't matter anymore. Standing, sitting or lying, he was going to be buried out here. At least standing would take longer, something Benton had preferred to avoid by knocking him out. Sam wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse to have this take longer.

"Benton," Sam said, and stopped. He wasn't going to beg. He wasn't going to explain to an evil man that by killing Sam he was probably gonna put an end to the entire human race.

The dirt was already up to his shins. He dug his feet out, paced the bottom of the grave as if that would prevent the dirt from piling up. It might, he thought. He might be able to pack it down, keep himself from being covered. Sam wagered he could stay on top of it faster than Benton could shovel it in. A glimmer of hope that he might survive this after all, or had a shot at it, began to form. He studied the ground.

His peripheral vision caught rapid movement to his left. Sam turned toward it, saw the blunt side of the shovel blade rapidly approaching his head and ducked. The blow didn't land full-on, but it clipped him to the point he lost his footing. He slumped, but didn't collapse flat, pressed against the dirt wall in an awkward slouch. He grunted, his vision grayed and he tried like hell to stay conscious. Warm blood trickled down his face. He shivered, heard Benton mutter something, didn't know or care what. Too busy trying to hold onto reality. His fingers clawed at the dirt. It was too much. He couldn't, had to. Did. Sam didn't go all the way out.

"I hope that knocked the thought right out of your head," Benton said.

It didn't, but Sam was powerless. He couldn't move. His limbs felt leaden. The dirt rose around him. He felt it, saw it, smelled it. But he was done. He was going to bite it, and it wasn't just his end that would come as a result. It was a stupid-ass way to go.

"It's cold down there, isn't it?" Benton called. "So co-"

Benton's voice cut off. Sam pulled himself out of the haze he'd lapsed into to see why. He couldn't actually see much of anything, though, his eyes too irritated and watery. His ears were in better shape, still ringing but he'd gotten kind of used to that. He heard scuffling and then a loud gun blast rocked the air, followed by a dull thud.

And a distant cry of "Sam?" from a voice he would recognize anywhere, anytime.

Sam smiled and passed out, but only for a second, more of a long blink. He lifted his head, thought better of it. Opened his eyes, thought better of it. His hands started moving on their own, pushed at the dirt encasing his legs and torso. He was uncoordinated and failing miserably at unburying himself. He heard another soft rustle and small thud, knew he wasn't alone in his grave anymore. He fumbled faster, some part of his brain thinking maybe it was Benton.

"Sam," a different voice said. Not Dean. Déjà vu.

"Cas?" Sam asked. He opened his eyes a crack, saw nothing but a blur of tan. Closed them again. "Hey, you came back."

"Of course I did." Even with tunnel-voice, Castiel sounded perplexed. "Did you believe I wouldn't?"

"No."Sam sighed. He'd really rather sleep now. "I mean, I…"

"I regret that I wasn't able to return in time to prevent further injury."

A cool hand on his forehead, a finger tilting his chin up. Sam didn't know what Castiel expected to see in the dark. He opened his eyes, a bit wider this time, realized it was pretty light out. And he could see better. He wasn't injured badly, not really, he was just so damned tired. He'd given up. Benton had chased the fight right out of him. He felt sick to his stomach at the thought that now Dean would know for sure Sam wasn't strong enough to defeat Lucifer.

"You said you would be fine," Castiel said, unhappy.

"I am. I'm fine, I'm okay. Or I will be." Sam wasn't entirely convinced of that himself, judging from how his voice sounded and the horrible thoughts spinning in his head. He was a pretender. "Why didn't you? Come back sooner, I mean?"

Castiel glanced away, narrowed his eyes in the closest estimate of frustration as Sam had ever seen from him.

"You passed out," Sam said, going with a gut feeling. It wouldn't be a stretch, considering the last time he'd seen Castiel the guy had looked about like he himself felt at the moment. Castiel looked much, much better. "After you flew off, it tapped you out. Didn't it?"

"I expended a great amount of energy," Castiel said, dropped the hands from Sam's face. "I was not well."

"'S'okay. Sometimes you can't help it. Hell, I've been passing out all night." Sam smiled, then frowned. "Is Benton dead? I heard Dean. Where is he?"

"Benton will be handled soon, and Dean will be here momentarily. The length of the story is too great to discuss right now."

"Okay. Sure."

Whatever that actually meant, Sam didn't have the energy to translate. Eventually he'd get more details, and this time he had an eventually to look forward to. He lifted his head and pulled his shoulders away from the wall. That was as far as he could get, the dirt suddenly heavy on his legs and belly. He waved his good arm at Castiel, who reached out and helped pull him free of the dirt and to his feet with steady strength. Sam, on the other hand, was anything but steady. He'd be embarrassed about it later, but for now he leaned on Castiel heavily.

"Thanks," he mumbled.

"You're my friend, Sam. I don't believe vocal acknowledgement of your appreciation is required under these circumstances."

But Castiel was Dean's friend. Sam didn't quite know how to respond to those strangely-articulated words. He coughed, looked aside. He was distracted and stunned at how much dirt was actually in the grave. He thought maybe he'd been in some kind of time warp or something, because he didn't think how near he'd come to being buried alive was possible.

"Jeez," he said. "You guys cut it close."

"There's gratitude for ya," Dean said, appearing above. Possibly he'd been standing there awhile. "Sam, you okay?"

A mix of emotions ran through Sam. Relief and confusion and that same sadness he could never shake completely when he was around Dean anymore. He wasn't sure he heard concern in Dean's voice. Actually, he did and always would, but it wasn't the same, wasn't there the way it always used to be. Shit, he wasn't in a good headspace for this stuff right now. He shoved those thoughts aside. That was a future and ongoing project, not for here. Here, he just wanted out of the damn hole and Benton in it with no chance of parole.

"I'm good."

"Okay, then maybe you two lovebirds can stop groping each down there so we can finish this once and for all."

If Sam had had any strength at all, he would have flicked Dean off. As it was, he clutched onto Castiel even tighter and enjoyed watching Dean roll his eyes at them. It was probably as close to an "I was worried about you/I know, and I'm really okay" conversation as they were going to get. And Sam was no longer one who could afford to cast aside small favors whenever and however he could get them.

"Humans are strange beings," Sam thought he heard Castiel mutter.

Sam laughed and reached for Dean's outstretched hand.