Previously appeared in Blood Brothers 4 (2010), from Gold'n Lily Press (Blood Brothers 5 now available! Email TeaJunkie (at) comcast (dot) net for more info)
For Jeanne for her birthday
Martyr for the Cause
K Hanna Korossy
"They don't look like brothers."
"Shut up and listen, Chad."
He didn't think twice about it, having heard that refrain all his life from his pop. Chad shut up and listened.
There were two of them, tall and good-looking in a way that Chad had always wished he was, if nothing else so that Jenny Beth at the drugstore would smile at him. He didn't want to be in their shoes today, though, no sir.
The two—Winchesters, although he wasn't sure which was Sam and which was Dean—had slid into the booth right next to Chad's and Pop's and were arguing about something that maybe sounded like a hunt.
"I don't know, man, I think this one's a bust."
The other one, shorter and lighter, was busy studying the menu. "You just wanna get out of here, hit that voodoo priestess down south."
The taller one puckered his mouth. "Yeah, because getting you out of your deal isn't important at all." He looked away, like it hurt him to see his brother, and Chad wondered briefly what that was about. "Dean, there's nothing here. Those people died of stupidity, not foul play."
The one in the leather jacket—Dean, apparently—tipped his head in agreement. "Yeah, maybe. Bobby just said it was suspicious."
Bobby Singer? Chad turned to Pop, mouth opening to ask, and got a swift, hard kick in the shin before he could push a word out. He swallowed the yelp along with the question, but still. Bobby Singer wasn't a guy you messed around with, and if these Winchesters were friends of his, Chad was less and less sure this was a good idea.
A waitress had wandered over to take their order, and sure enough, she was soon drooling over the brothers, especially Dean. Sam didn't even seem to notice her, but maybe he wasn't feeling well, the way his lips were pinched and his eyes looked kinda tight. Dean gave him a glance, too, then seemingly decided to ignore him, instead ordering a ridiculous amount of food and making the girl blush.
Chad sighed. He was the one who blushed when Jenny Beth was around.
Pop shot him a look, and Chad shook himself. It was time. He left his coffee and slipped out of the booth, heading toward the bathroom.
It took a little coordination, but he and Pop had practiced it. Chad waited in the bathroom, peeking out through the cracked door until he saw the pretty waitress head toward the Winchesters' table with a pot of coffee. Then he strode out the door.
It was almost too easy; she was paying attention to the brothers, not him, and he slipped the vial of liquid into the half-empty pot without her even bumping into him. Then he stood back and let her deliver Pop's little gift.
She poured the coffee into the brothers' mugs, gave them a bright smile, and headed back to the kitchen. That was when Chad awkwardly sideswiped her, making her drop the coffeepot. It was metal, aluminum or something, so it didn't break, but the rest of the doped coffee splattered on the floor.
"'M sorry, ma'am, really. 'M sorry," he said sincerely, making like he was going to bend down and help her clean it up.
Like he expected, she just gave him an annoyed shove. "Don't, just… It's fine. I've got it." Her voice was clipped, the lightness with which she spoke to the Winchesters completely gone.
Chad sighed, eyes skating past the two brothers, who were obliquely watching and sipping their coffee. Then he dropped his head and shuffled back to Pop and the booth.
Pop cuffed his shoulder, a public scolding for being clumsy, but his eyes gleamed with satisfaction. The warmth of the unspoken praise cleared some of Chad's misgivings away. Part one was done.
Like most hunters, the Winchesters ate fast. Sam didn't seem too hungry, only cleaning up a couple of eggs and bacon and biscuits, but Dean demolished that much as well as pancakes and grits and a steak. Chad couldn't help looking longingly at the last; it'd been a while since Pop had sprung for any kind of meat that wasn't between two buns. But more importantly, Dean drank all his coffee, while it looked like Sam still had at least most of his. Chad glanced at his watch, hoping they'd gotten the timing right or Pop would be mad.
Dean did seem to wobble a little as he stood, but he shrugged it off just as fast, joking with Sam about something that Sam didn't seem to find as funny. They strode out of the diner like they owned the place, Dean leading the way, Sam a tall, silent shadow behind him. Pop waited until they cleared the door, then slid out of the booth after them, not even glancing back to make sure Chad followed.
The Winchesters were staying in a motel down the street; they hadn't driven to the diner. Which was probably a good thing. No reason to mess up their beaut of a car.
Dean stumbled again, this time Sam slowing down and peering worriedly at him.
Pop nodded at Chad. Chad nodded back and peeled off to get the van.
By the time he pulled up to the curb, the Winchesters were in trouble and they knew it. Dean was sitting on the sidewalk, blinking dazedly right and left, a gun in his unsteady hand. Sam was still on his feet, hovering over his downed brother, but one arm propped him against the wall as he shook his head, trying to clear it. Like fish in a barrel, Pop had said.
Pop relieved Dean of his gun without any trouble, Dean already slumping unconscious to the side. Sam was the surprise, growling at Chad as Chad tried to push him toward the van. Next thing he knew, an enormous hand was wrapped around his throat, pressing him very hard against the brick wall.
"Wha's…" Sam shook his head again, his eyes clearly unfocused but his face a frightening mask of anger. "What'd you…? Dean?"
Chad tried to wheeze out a reply, shove off those iron hands. The guy was supposed to be unconscious by now, for cripe's sake.
Pop suddenly appeared behind the furious giant, needle glinting as he jabbed it into Sam's neck. Sam started, tried to turn, but his eyes were already rolling up.
Chad and Pop had to tow him into the van together, dropping him beside his insensible brother. Dude was heavy.
Pop turned to him as they shut the door, and instead of approval, his face was full of disdain. Apparently Chad had screwed this one up, too, and he dropped his gaze, barely flinching at the harsh "idiot." Then Pop was getting into the front seat, and Chad scurried around to drive.
They had the Winchesters, and soon they'd have what Pop was looking for. Maybe then he'd finally stop thinking Chad was a screw-up. Maybe.
His head hurt. He knew that even before he was aware of anything else, which was not a good sign.
Dean groaned as he squinted his eyes open. The light was fluorescent bright, which meant not a motel, and the smell was musty and fetid, so not a hospital. Didn't leave some very good options there, and somehow it didn't surprise him when he tried to rub his face and found his arms were restrained.
"Son of a…" Dean groaned again as he pulled at the bindings, but they were tight around his wrists and connected to something above his head. His legs were similarly bound. About the only good news was that he was on a bed, if an uncomfortable one, which meant someone wasn't ready to kill him. Yet.
Dean swallowed, trying to work up some spit in his dry mouth—drugged, definitely drugged, and wasn't that just awesome?—and focus his blurry, light-flooded vision on his surroundings.
It was a stark room, white and small and empty except for another bed a few feet away. And on it, similarly trussed up—
His call, desperate and sharp, would've had his brother shooting awake under normal circumstances. These weren't exactly normal, however. Sam's face twitched and his head rolled toward Dean, but otherwise he remained out.
Dean growled, pulling again at the ropes, then trying to manipulate his hand to work on the knots. But it was no use; his hands had been tied palm-to-palm, no give in the ropes, no way he could reach them. His legs had even less mobility. The rope that stretched from his wrists to what he assumed was the bed frame—although no twisting allowed him quite the right angle to see—brushed past his fingertips, but without any kind of tool, there was no way he'd be cutting through them anytime soon. Considering the expertise of the knots, they'd probably taken all his weapons, anyway.
The door he'd noted before, just past their feet, swung open a moment later. That meant their captors had probably been watching them, and Dean's blood chilled a little more. Drugs probably in their coffee, Sam still out, competent knots: he had a really bad feeling about this.
The two men who walked into the room did nothing to assuage it.
The one in the lead was older and resembled the younger one enough that Dean thought maybe they were father and son. They both wore working clothes: faded denim and boots and shirts that spoke more of utility than style. The older man had hard eyes and a wiry build and a bearing of restrained violence. A hunter, Dean was guessing, unless he and Sam had totally missed the mark and their local dead-end of a job was really a serial killer. But no, they'd been targeted and taken down like their captors knew whom they were dealing with. And not a lot of people knew who or what they were.
The kid, on the other hand, radiated uncertainty and regret. He was familiar, and after a moment's thought, Dean placed him at the diner from before. Which confirmed the drugged-coffee hypothesis, but this kid didn't look dangerous like the other guy. He still moved with the grace of someone who had training, but his eyes were soft, almost sad, and they skipped away from Dean's hard stare. Maybe that was something he could use. Dean tucked the knowledge away and focused on the real threat, the older man.
Whose mouth curled into an unfriendly grin. "Hello, Winchester."
He was only talking to Dean, and Dean gave Sammy another once-over from the corner of his eyes. He was stirring a little, making soft sounds of discomfort, but he was mostly out of it, and Dean was more than a little worried about that one. He wouldn't give his captor the pleasure of knowing that, however, just smirked at him. "You wanted our attention, you could have just asked."
"Oh, I want more than just your attention." The man pulled up a chair and plunked it down next to Dean, dropping into it with sparse movements. He left the kid standing behind him. "My name's Flores. You could say we're in the same line of business. And you two have something I need."
Huh. Okay, not what he'd been expecting. This wasn't about revenge, then, or someone worried that Sam wasn't Sam. Dean could handle blackmail. "Yeah?" he said coolly. "What's that?"
Flores leaned back. Dean noticed he hadn't introduced the kid, nor did the kid look surprised by that. His attention was on Sam, in fact, a detail that would have amped up Dean's anxiety except that he could swear he saw sympathy in the kid's gaze. Which, come to think of it, wasn't all that reassuring, either. Why was Sam still out?
"No," Dean changed his mind, "screw that. Tell me what you did to Sam first or the conversation's over."
Flores shrugged. "Guess your brother doesn't like coffee as much as you do. He needed an extra dose to…settle down." As Dean's face darkened, the hunter lifted a palm casually. "Don't worry, he'll be fine. Provided you give me what I need."
"Yeah?" Dean said gruffly. "And what's that? Charm?"
The guy's smile was creeping him out. Flores leaned forward, clasping his hands loosely between his knees, deceptively casual. "I've been looking for something for, well, a very long time. And recently, I finally got a lead on it. Seems your father was the last person known to have it, and I hear the old hunter has quite a collection of curse boxes tucked away. Bring me the right box, and you're both free to go."
Dean blinked. "Seriously? That's it? A box."
Flores spread his hands. "That's it."
"What's in it?"
The hunter's eyes grew distant. "Something…very valuable. Sacred."
So not reassuring. "Oh, well then." Dean narrowed his eyes. "No."
The older man sighed. "You know, we're on the same side, Winchester. What's in that box could kill hundreds, even thousands of the things we fight. In righteous hands, it would be a powerful weapon for Good."
"Yeah, well, my Dad was the best hunter I know. If he locked this thing away, it was probably too dangerous." And considering John Winchester's sometimes ruthless pragmatism, that was saying something.
"Maybe your father didn't know how to handle it, boy," Flores suggested calmly.
"Right. And you do." Dean's lips twisted with scorn.
"I do," Flores said without a trace of cynicism. "God has willed it."
"Riiight." Dean glanced over at Sam, noting the new tension in his brother's body. Sam was still pale and breathing sluggishly and probably confused as anything, but he was awake and trying to listen in. More relieved than he'd admit, Dean's attention swung back to Flores, with a quick pass over his kid. The younger hunter was just listening, though, backing his dad's play. Dean could relate. "Look. We've dealt with mojo like this before, and believe me, dude, it never ends well. Power like that isn't something you can use—it uses you."
"I'll keep that in mind," Flores said dryly. "Do we have a deal?"
Dean snorted, then shrugged as much as he could, tied out and all. "Sure. Let us go and we'll get your box for you."
Flores' grin widened. "Somehow I have a little problem trusting you."
"You should see a shrink about that," Dean answered glibly.
"I have another idea. I'll let you go and you bring me the box. But we're keeping Sam here as collateral."
Dean body tightened like a bow. "No deal," he said flatly. "You want to see your precious box, it's both of us or nothing."
"Fine." Flores slapped his legs and stood. "I can wait. We can continue this conversation when you're both getting thirsty. See you in, oh, two days, maybe?" He started to turn away.
"Wait," Dean gritted out. Flores turned back.
"Dean," Sam said hoarsely from the other bed.
Dean ignored him. "Send Sam. I'll stay."
"That's not the deal," Flores said, shaking his head.
"What difference does—?"
Flores had started walking out again, giving the kid a shove toward the door.
Dean's mind raced. There was a chance they could get out of the ropes, or upend the beds and work together somehow, or even just wait Flores out; maybe the guy wasn't prepared to actually let them die. But it was all guesswork, and the alternative wasn't that bad. If Dean was free, he could get some help and come back for Sam, or maybe deliver a booby-trapped box to Flores. Sam would be okay here for a day or two. It would suck, being tied to a bed for that long, but it beat being starved and dehydrated.
Flores had reached the door and was on his way out.
"Stop," Dean snapped. He chewed his lip. "Okay. I'll do it."
"Dean!" Sam said urgently, now staring at him with bleary eyes.
"Shut up, Sam," Dean ground out, eyes on Flores. "You make sure he stays safe, and I'll get your box."
Sam made a frustrated, probably deeply annoyed sound next to him but stayed silent, presenting a united front.
Flores studied them both a moment, then nodded. "All right." He pulled a picture out of his pocket, and Dean glimpsed something vaguely box-shaped on it before the older man folded it and leaned down to tuck it into Dean's shirt pocket. "That's what you're looking for. And as for Sam being safe, that's up to you, Dean. You see, I want you to hurry back, not waste time trying to figure out a way around this or get help. So I picked up a little…insurance." He held out a hand and snapped his fingers, not even glancing back at the kid.
The kid—okay, so he was probably only a couple years younger than Sam, but still—swallowed, then picked up something from the floor that had been hidden by the end of Dean's bed and handed it to Flores.
The older hunter's smile sent a shiver up Dean's spine harder than the sight of the two lengths of some kind of metal chain in his hand. "Don't know if you've ever come across one of these before, but it's called a cilice. True believers sometimes wear them to prove their devotion to God. I thought it might be fitting for Sam while his brother's on this holy mission. Let me show you how it works."
Sam's sharp intake of breath told Dean he already knew how it worked, and it wasn't anything good. Dean grunted as he pulled on the ropes again, uselessly, and squirmed on the bed. "Flores—"
"Hush now. Chad?"
That seemed to be addressed to the kid, who moved forward with reluctant purpose, knife in hand.
Dean saw red.
No amount of cursing or thrashing stopped what came next, though.
The knife wasn't used on Sam. Not exactly, anyway. The kid—Chad—cut with expert strokes through Sam's flannel shirt, then up his jeans. Sam lay stiffly throughout, not struggling while there was a sharp blade sliding next to his skin, but his jaw was taut and his breaths panted sharply from him.
Dean swore and struggled enough for them both, anyway, wrists starting to shred and bleed from his frantic wrenching.
When Sam was down to his underclothes and Dean's heart was in his throat, Chad stepped back and his old man took his place. To Dean's confusion, however, he just wrapped the length of chain around Sam's forearms first, buckling them tightly into place, and then around his thighs, doing the same.
Dean didn't understand, until he saw the bright red well against the edge of the chain and drip onto the mattress above Sam's head and beneath his legs. The metal was barbed and snug against Sam's skin, the sharp little metal spurs digging painfully into flesh and muscle. It was like that albino dude in Da Vinci Code, only as an exercise in sadism instead of masochistic piety.
Sam's breathing was ragged, face already lined with discomfort, but as soon as Flores stepped back, Sam turned to Dean, eyes clamping on him. A paradox of help me and I'm okay mixed in the dark hazel of his too-mature little brother.
Dean gave him a long look. Then he turned back to Flores, feeling the hate flow bright through his face. "You let him go, you son of a bitch, or—"
"I plan to, Dean, I really do. But when is up to you. You have ten hours before I start tightening the cilices. I'll go up a notch every hour you're late. At first it'll just hurt, but wait too long and circulation's cut off and things take a turn for the worse. Just get back here before that happens and everything will be fine."
Dean's mouth went dry as he quickly did the math. Unless Flores and his son had moved them a couple of states over… "The box—it's in New York. I can't get up there and back in ten hours."
Flores gave him an almost kindly smile. "Well, then, I suggest you hurry. Chad?"
The kid stepped forward with his knife and sawed at the rope that held Dean's feet. A gun appeared in Flores' hand, held steadily…on Sam. Friggin' hunters knew his weakness, all right, and Dean could do nothing more than glare impotently.
And listen to Sam breathing roughly through the pain as his blood trickled out.
When Dean was free, he didn't pause to rub his aching wrists, barely even spared a glance for Flores. He got up, riding out a wave of dizziness before bending over Sam. Under their cruel captor's eye, he squeezed one straining shoulder. "I'm sorry, man. I'll be back fast as I can—hang in there, Sammy."
Sam dragged in a breath, eyes fluttering, and nodded. Trusting. Forgiving. Even, God help him, being strong for Dean.
Dean strode out of the room before he could be sick, already making plans.
Sam, for being the quiet one, was stronger than Chad had expected.
His dad had used one of his pet torture devices on him once, after Chad had missed a shot and let an azeman get away. It'd only been on one of his legs and just for a few hours, not even pulled that tight, and he'd still sobbed through the last bit.
Other than a few small gasps of pain that escaped from Sam Winchester, however, the guy suffered in silence.
Pop had told him to stay in the room and make sure their hostage didn't get into any trouble—which Chad knew meant just as much making sure he stayed alive as it did being sure he didn't escape—and Chad had done so willingly enough. It was kinda awful seeing the poor guy suffer, but woulda been even worse to leave him to do it alone. There wasn't much Chad could do for him, but at least he could keep him company.
"You want some water?" he finally asked when he saw Sam lick his lips for the third time.
Feverish eyes opened, raking him sharply. Then Sam nodded, the movement jerky.
Chad fetched one of the bottles of water he'd tucked under the bed and twisted the cap off. He ventured forward hesitantly, not because there was any chance of Sam attacking him, but because he wasn't sure how to approach someone in this situation. In the end, he made up his mind and cut through the rope holding Sam's arms above his head. Not like he could do much with that thing cinched around his arms, anyway. The guy held his breath while Chad lowered his bound arms to his stomach, his body rigid. Chad gave him a minute, then slid a hand under the sweat-soaked head and lifted it enough that Sam could take a few thirsty gulps. Water trickled out of the corner of his mouth when he was done, but Chad just watched it roll down to his throat.
Sam lay back, eyes ground tight together as probably even that movement hurt a lot. There was no fresh blood anymore, but the cilices were painted red and there were rusty puddles on the bedding. Sam breathed carefully, as any jarring would have pulled at the metal spikes embedded in his skin.
"Why?" he suddenly rasped, startling Chad just as he was about to sit down again.
He sank into his seat, frowning. "Why what?"
Sam's wet eyes opened. "Why're you…doing this?"
Chad shrugged uncomfortably. "It's not my idea—Pop—"
Sam's head rolled on the thin mattress. "Don' have t'…do what'e says."
Chad scoffed. "You don't know Pop."
Sam looked at him again, really looked at him, peering past his pain to see Chad in a way his pop rarely did. "Can make your own…choices. Y'r an adult. Know what's right. Can say no…I did when—" A muscle in his arm spasmed; Chad could see it, and Sam whined in the back of his throat. "I did, Chad. I did."
Chad looked away. "Yeah, well. I'm not you, okay?" He shook his head. "Look, I'm sorry about this, I really am. But Pop's not gonna kill you, I promise. He's not evil, he just… He thinks he's on a mission from God, you know? If Dean doesn't come back in a while—"
"He'll come back." Sam's head sagged back, eyes blinking rapidly at the ceiling. "Dean'll come back."
"Yeah?" Chad said skeptically. "He really didn't seem to wanna give up that box. And anyway, New York's, like, twelve hours from here."
It almost sounded like Sam laughed, breathy and weak. "Dean'll be back. He's…m'brother."
"No." Sam's voice got stronger, and he lifted his head enough to stare at Chad, even though it made the water pooling in his eyes roll down his face. Oddly, it only made him look fiercer. "He's my brother."
"Okay." Chad found himself nodding. "Okay."
Maybe family meant something different to Sam than it did to him.
He'd kinda been surprised when Flores had just let him walk out, not even making an attempt to hide where he'd been keeping them. But then, the guy did think he held all the cards.
Apparently, he'd never met a Winchester before.
Dean briefly debated going back for weapons and then just storming the place, or even collecting a few hunters he trusted first and then taking on Flores, but he gave up the idea just as fast. The guy wasn't stupid, and he had some weapons of his own trained on Sam. One wrong move, and Dean's kid brother would be more than just miserable. It wasn't worth the risk. Better to get this over with fast and have Sam back a little worse for wear than maybe not have him back at all.
Thankfully—and a little surprisingly—they were only a few blocks from the motel where Sam and he'd been staying. The level of planning that Flores had put into this was disturbing, but Dean shrugged it off. Just meant the dude would fall even harder. Once he got his bearings, Dean ran the whole way back, then spent the first hour in the car on the phone, driving like the hellhound was already on his tail.
Bobby was first. Dean barely gave him a chance to talk, rattling off a list of information and orders. Jeff came next, while Dean silently prayed the hunter was still in New York as when they'd last talked to him.
"No problem, kid, but I'm coming back with you. Sounds like you could use some backup."
Dean's mouth twisted: that was kinda the point. His back-up was two towns behind him, tied up in that bastard's idea of holy barb wire, getting farther away all the time. Dean was already going crazy at the thought, and he had over nine hours left to go. And not nearly enough time for what he had to do. "Call me when you hit New Jersey and we'll figure out where to meet," was all he said. He clicked off the phone before Jefferson could answer and dialed Bobby again.
"Don't give a fella a lot of time, Dean," Bobby groused by way of greeting.
"I don't have a lot of time," Dean shot back. "You figure out what it is?"
"Think so. Your Dad ever tell you about a hunt down in Ocala? Supposed Fountain of Youth that was killing people?"
Dean whipped around a slow-moving Beemer, frowning. "Yeah, maybe. Turned out to be some kind of-of amulet or something, didn't it?"
"Sort of. It was a chain, real old. Said to have belonged to Joseph of Arimathea."
"The guy who owned the tomb where Jesus was buried," Dean filled in impatiently. "So, what, this necklace is some kinda de-aging thing? Flores looking to pull a George Burns?"
"George Burns, 18 Again? Turns into Charlie—never mind."
"Boy, just shut up and listen. It's not that simple. The chain was supposed to be blessed, kind of a thank-you to Joseph. It's said to contain a piece of the Shakina—the Glory of God. That's some powerful stuff, Dean."
Dean blinked. "We talking Raiders of the Lost Ark here? That Glory of God?"
"Huh." He saw the cop hiding up ahead, and slowed down just enough to slip under the radar. "I'm guessing it would be bad news if someone like Flores got his hands on it then."
"I know there aren't a lot of people I'd trust with something like that, you?"
"Yeah, right," Dean sneered. "He's back there torturing Sam, but I'm sure the sadistic son of a bitch's got a good heart underneath."
Bobby's voice softened. "Sam's tough, Dean. He'll be all right."
"Yeah…" Dean mumbled. "So I can't fly back with the box then. I don't think the TSA's gonna go for 'Sorry, can't open the box and let the Glory of God out' for an excuse to get through security."
"You were gonna fly?" Bobby sounded surprised.
"Sam's got a little over nine hours left before Flores starts tightening the screws, and he was already in a lot of pain when I left, Bobby," Dean said flatly. He could still remember the hunt a year or two back where Sam had rolled into some barb wire and gotten tangled up. Dean had seen his brother's panic when he'd had to leave to get the bolt cutters from the car to free him, and knew Sam was as freaked out and hurting now, even if he'd gotten better at hiding it. There was no way Dean was taking a minute longer to get back than he had to, even if it meant getting on a tin box of death.
But that was off the table. So while the numbers didn't look good for doing this by car even with Jeff meeting him partway, Dean was out of other options.
As soon as he was past the cop, he floored it again.
"Yeah, okay. You have a plan yet?" Bobby was asking in his ear.
Dean glanced over at the empty seat next to him, jaw rhythmically bunching and releasing. "I'm working on it," he vowed.
Starting with getting Sam out in one piece, and ending with making Flores very, very sorry he'd messed with the Winchesters in the first place.
Chad tensed when the door opened, knowing it was coming but still dreading it.
"It's time," Pop said as he stepped inside, his gaze passing coldly over Sam on the bed, then resting on Chad. "You gonna stay and watch?"
He really, really didn't want to. He'd been talking to Sam on and off, more to distract both of them than anything, and was surprised to find himself liking the guy. Like Chad, Sam Winchester had grown up in a family business he hated, with a father who could see nothing else. But Sam had had the guts to do something about it, leaving his family to go to school and be with his girl. Chad admired that as much as he envied it, even if it'd ended badly. At least Sam had tried.
Chad never had. Under Pop's withering gaze now, he doubted he ever would, either. The man already looked at him most of the time like he was worthless. Even now, his dark eyes said he clearly expected Chad to wimp out on him, go wait outside until the dirty work was done.
He lifted his chin. "I'm staying."
Pop just snorted and turned back to the bed.
Sam lay on his back, ankles still tied to the end of the bed, his arms resting gingerly on his stomach. His face was drawn, and sweat clung his clothing to his large frame and glued his hair to his temples. But he stared up at Pop with a defiance that Chad couldn't fathom.
"I want you to know," Pop said almost apologetically, "I don't take any pleasure from doing this."
"Then don't," Sam grated out. His throat always sounded dry even though Chad kept giving him water.
"It's not up to me. This is your brother's fault. I told him what would happen if he took too long."
Sam shook his head, knowing when there was no point arguing, and turned his face away.
Pop almost got caught unprepared when the bound arms suddenly swung up at him, amazingly fast even though Sam was clumsy with pain. Pop stumbled back into Chad, almost upending them both, then ducked forward with a growl and slammed Sam's arms back over his head. Chad could see him ground his weight down on Sam's upper arms, straining his shoulders to their limits, then grasp the end of the chain wrapped around Sam's arms and roughly yank it tighter.
Chad flinched at the guttural sound that came out of Sam's throat, the way his body arched.
It didn't slow Pop down at all. He tied the trailing ropes back to the head of the bed, then moved down to repeat the tightening process to the cilice around Sam's legs, ignoring the sharp cry that wrenched from his prisoner. His face was expressionless as he looked up at Chad.
"You untie him again and you'll be joining him." Irritation deepened to scorn. "And wipe your eyes, you mama's boy."
Chad dragged his arm over his wet face as soon as the door shut and dropped back into his chair. "Sam? Hey, it'll get better in a minute, okay? Just…I don't know, keep breathing."
It took minutes, Sam shaking with agony, Chad kneading his own thighs, then his calves as he waited. It was bad, watching someone suffer like this. This couldn't be right, no matter what Pop said, but what was Chad supposed to do? Maybe he could loosen the cilices a little—would Pop be able to tell? Or…he had an hour, and a key to the door. Maybe…
It was so faint, he wasn't sure he'd heard it right. Chad rose and leaned over Sam, trying to see his face. "Sam?"
"Dean," Sam was whispering to the wall, his voice small.
Chad bit down on his lip, hard. Sam still expected his brother to come back any minute. Chad had his doubts—why would Dean come back to this?—but if that was what it took for Sam to hang on, he wouldn't take that from him.
This whole thing completely sucked.
"He's, uh… He's not here right now," Chad ventured. "Just hang in there, okay?"
Sam's eyes opened halfway. His whole body was clenched, his hands gripped into fists, rasping for breath, but his face was…calm. He believed in something, and it wasn't the twisted kind of faith Chad had known all his life. "Dean," Sam murmured again, and this time it was a declaration, not a plea. "'S coming back. 'S coming."
"Yeah, okay," Chad said, nodding. Easing back into his chair and ignoring the fresh blood that had started to soak Sam's the sheet above Sam's head and roll down his knees. "Dean's coming."
And damned if he didn't almost believe it.
A little over thirteen hours after he'd walked out those doors, Dean stormed back through them, box clutched in one hand and gun in the other. Jeff was a few paces behind him, but Dean didn't spare him any attention, focused solely on the goal ahead.
Flores was waiting at the door to the room like he'd known when Dean would come, arms casually crossed and a smile teasing his mouth.
Dean had rarely wanted to kill a person so badly.
"You got it?"
"Tell me why I shouldn't shoot you right where you stand," Dean countered.
Flores' shoulders rose a little, fell again. "You sure Sam's still in that room?" As Dean's eyes shifted to the door behind him, he added, "And even if he is, you sure my boy isn't standing over him with a knife, ready to kill him if you so much as bend a hair on my head?"
Dean glared at him a moment, then finally shoved the Colt into his pocket, grip first, quickly accessible if he needed it. "I brought it. Open the door."
Flores moved slowly, as if he had all the time in the world. Dean didn't doubt the man had been counting the hours, though, and had kept his promise to make Sam suffer for every minute Dean was late. But despite Jeff picking up the box and meeting him halfway, despite every shortcut Dean knew and speed limit he'd broken, it'd been too long. Sam had been in this monster's hands for more than thirteen hours, and Dean was keenly aware of each second of it.
The door swung open. When he saw what was inside, Dean just shoved the box into Flores's hands and rushed in.
The kid—Chad—was sitting on the edge of Sam's bed, just rising when Dean appeared. Dean didn't spare him a glance, shoving him aside. He sank down onto the edge of Sam's mattress and swallowed, taking his little brother in.
Sam was flushed and sweating, body wracked with tremors. His mouth was open as he breathed harshly, and when his eyelids fluttered open, the eyes beneath were glazed and uncomprehending. He pulled a little at his bonds sometimes, only to give an agonized groan when the unrelenting chains just tore at his flesh even more.
They were embedded in his skin, now, pulled tight enough that Sam's hands were dusky and distended from impaired circulation. There was a band of bruising spreading out from either side of the chain, and dried and fresh blood coated the links and left little trails down bare skin to soak into the bedding and the sleeves of Sam's shirt.
Guilt wormed its way through Dean. All the grief their life had brought Sam, and it wasn't enough: some junkless hunter had to add his own punishment. Dean should've found a way to end this sooner.
It wasn't going to go on for another second, though.
"Sam, can you hear me? It's me, I'm back," Dean said low, cupping a clammy cheek, reaching for the knife on his belt with the other. "I'm gonna get you out of these, okay?"
Sam didn't respond, twitching with pain.
Dean felt his face go hard. He reluctantly swung his gaze up to slice through the rope as smoothly as he could, then gingerly lowered Sam's shaking arms to his stomach. Sam's keen physically hurt. "Almost done, Sammy, hang in there," Dean said in a low voice, sliding back to sit hip-to-hip with Sam. Then he grasped the wicked…chili? cilia? chain and unhooked it, loosening it slowly.
Sam's back arched with a whimper, his heart pounding against Dean's palm as he laid a restraining hand against his chest.
"Easy, easy. Just let me get this crap off you and it'll feel a whole lot better in a minute."
"Dean." It was a sigh as Sam sagged back to the bed.
"He's been saying that for a while now."
Dean had almost forgotten about…Chad, standing a few feet away, watching them. Now he turned cold eyes on the kid even as his hands stayed gentle, peeling away the barbed chain. "What?"
Chad swallowed and slid back a step. "Sam. Uh… He kept saying your name. Said you'd come back."
Of course he came back. Like there'd been any question, except the kid seemed kinda surprised. At least Sam wasn't—it had taken some time, for both of them, but they were past that issue now. Just in time for Dean's imminent deal.
He made a bitter sound and tossed the chain away as he turned back to Sam. Dean patted the heaving ribs. "One more, bro. Then we're blowing this party."
He was more than a little astonished when Sam's hand, cold and swelled to about twice its size, crept up to bump his.
Dean looked up and grinned into exhausted, swimming but recognition-lit eyes. "Hey, 'bout time you showed up, dude. You ready to get out of here?"
Jefferson. Dean's head snapped around.
He hadn't forgotten Flores—exactly—but Jeff had his back and the unscrupulous hunter had gotten what he wanted. Dean figured he was neutralized for now.
What he hadn't counted on was Flores' ecstatic impatience. The hunter was fumbling with the lock on the curse box, trying to get it open.
Dean cursed. "Jeff, down," he barked, and lunged forward to cover Sam with his own body, his palm slapping over his brother's eyes.
"Chad!" Sam surprised him by gasping out. "Close your eyes." He managed to grab Dean's hand even with fingers that could barely bend.
There was a snap behind them, a satisfied exclamation.
Searing light suddenly filled the room, burning Dean's eyes even though he had them pressed tight into Sam's shirt. He could hear Flores gasp.
And then start to scream.
Someone moaned; Dean couldn't tell if it was Sam or the kid. Flores's voice rose higher, his shrieks growing louder, then weakening, becoming feeble. And then they cut off abruptly.
Something heavy clunked to the floor, and the light went out.
Dean raised his head, warily opening his eyes. When he found he wasn't blinded, he pulled his hand away from Sam's face. His brother, gray and gaunt, blinked back at him with baby-owl eyes. Dean gave the stiff fingers a squeeze and turned to look back behind him.
A skeleton lay on the floor where Flores had been standing, the bones pitted and worn as if they'd been there a thousand years. Even as Dean watched, it crumbled into dust, and then even that was gone.
"Huh," he mused. "So, Last Crusade, not Raiders."
The kid, who'd apparently listened to Sam and survived his dad's stupidity, sat on the floor, staring first at where his father had died, then at Dean, then back again. Jeff whistled low from where he stood by the door but said nothing else. And the curse box sat upright on the floor, closed and the picture of innocence.
Dean took it all in for a moment. Then he shrugged and turned back to Sam.
"Hang on, one more to go," he said quietly, as if they hadn't been interrupted.
Sam nodded, throat working, and locked his jaw. Dean took the chilled hand he still held and put it on his leg, where it grabbed hold. Then he moved down to the torture device wrapped around Sam's legs.
"On three. One, two—" He unlatched it with a snap.
Sam made a strangled sound, lurching up from the bed, his fingers digging into Dean's thigh.
Dean grabbed him before he fell back, pulling the sweaty head hard into his shoulder even while his other hand gently worked on separating metal from flesh. "Sorry, sorry. I've got you. I've got you," he promised. "Come on, Sammy, breathe through it. Jeff and the kid are watching."
He finally got the bloody chain free and threw it after the other one, then began kneading swollen limbs, trying to get the blood flowing. It was making the bleeding worse, too, but that would just have to wait a little. The punctures weren't bad enough that Sam would bleed out in a few minutes, but the release of pressure had to be a jolt to a system that was already in shock.
Sam breathed a moan into Dean's shirt.
"Sam?" That was Chad, sounding young and scared.
"Jeff, get the kid out of here," Dean ordered as he rubbed the back of Sam's head.
"What do you want me to do with him?"
Dean almost snapped that he didn't care…but Sam had. Even half out of it, he'd warned Chad about the box. Said you'd come back. Dean cleared his throat. "Let him go. Just make sure he clears out."
Sam was finally starting to relax, or maybe pass out. Another minute and Dean would see about bandaging his arms and legs; he'd brought some gauze with him in preparation. But Sam was still pressed into him and breathing funny and trembling, and it could wait another minute. Maybe Dean could use the time to figure out this screwed-up day in which they'd been hunted by a hunter, Sam had developed Stockholm Syndrome in just thirteen hours, and God Himself had dusted the bad guy, literally.
Sam breathed out the kind of almost-laugh you gave when you were trying not to cry. Dean shook his head and pulled the sasquatch closer.
Yeah, maybe not.
Chad sipped his beer and looked around the crowded bar, trying not to grimace after each taste. He wasn't sure what Pop had seen in the stuff, just knew he wanted to try everything his father hadn't let him before, including all kinds of alcohol. Aunt Marta didn't approve, so Chad slipped out discreetly late at night.
He hadn't even noticed someone had claimed the stool beside him until a familiar voice asked, "Y'all right?"
Chad glanced over, then did a double take, spine stiffening as he looked into hazel eyes he knew really well. Only, the last time he'd seen them, they'd been cloudy with pain. Now they were clear and soft and…not at all mad. He frowned. "Sam?"
Sam Winchester had a beer of his own, and he took a gulp. "Hey, Chad."
"H-hi." His mind raced. It'd been almost a week since, well, that day, and he'd thought about the Winchester brothers a lot since. Wondering if Dean was going to come after him, how Sam was doing, and just what Chad had seen in that room. And he didn't just mean what had happened to Pop. "Uh, what're you doing here?"
"Just checking up on you." Sam said it casually, not in a you're about to die kind of way.
Chad licked his lips. "I-I'm sorry about what Pop did. I didn't want—you know I didn't want to do that to you, right? I swear, I'm out of all that now. I'm staying with my aunt—she can tell you I—"
"Chad, man, hey, hey." Sam was actually tapping his arm. "It's okay. I'm not mad at you, all right?"
Chad stared at him.
"I mean, yeah, not exactly good memories, but…I know that was your dad. Dads can be hard to stand up to."
Chad looked down at the polished wood of the bar, blinking hard. Pop hadn't been easy, but he had been his dad and Chad still kinda missed the old man.
"I'm sorry," Sam said quietly.
Chad's head shot up again. "No, no, it's me, it was my fault. I coulda let you go, or-or said no, or—"
Sam looked him in the eye. "You loosened the chain. Right? I wasn't imagining that, was I?"
Chad shook his head, then nodded. "No, I…I did. I just wish I'd…" He glanced over at Sam's arms, covered in several layers. "Are you…okay?"
Sam's head tilted. "Mostly. I've got a good nurse." He smiled a little at the joke.
Chad almost did, too. "How is, uh, Dean?"
"Staring a hole in the back of your head, but he's good. Says hi."
Chad jerked around, to see Dean Winchester sprawled with apparent indifference in a booth on the other side of the room. His face was blank, and he flicked his bottle at Chad in a silent toast that didn't make Chad feel the least bit better. He nodded nervously back and turned away, sensing the weight of Dean's gaze on the nape of his neck now.
"Don't worry," Sam assured him, "if he wanted you dead, you wouldn't be here now."
That was encouraging. Chad picked at his bottle's label.
"So, you're staying with your aunt?" Sam continued, like they were old friends.
Chad nodded dumbly.
"That's good. Family's good, Chad. I hope you'll get the chance to see that."
"I—yeah," he mumbled. "I mean, you were really sure Dean would come back, and he did. I didn't—I mean, I never…"
Sam huffed what sounded like a laugh. "Dean's…well, Dean's one of a kind. But yeah, that's what family's supposed to be like: sometimes you feel like killing each other, but when it counts, you'd die for them. Even give your soul for them."
Chad looked up at him, thrown by the pained tone, and saw Sam duck away with a twisted smile. "Yeah?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. Your dad was seriously messed up, but that doesn't mean he was wrong—there're a lot of things out there worth having faith in." He held Chad's gaze a minute, then thumped his beer bottle twice against the bar and stood. "Take care of yourself, man. And do something good with your life, all right? It's up to you now, dude."
Chad ducked his head. "Yeah, okay. I'll try. And, uh, thanks. I mean, you know, for not killing me. Or letting Dean kill me."
"Just make sure you learned something from this," Sam said seriously. "Bobby Singer's gonna be keeping an eye on you," he added, grinning at Chad's wince. He nodded a goodbye and turned away.
Chad watched him go. There was still a little hitch to his step as he walked; his legs were probably still a little messed up. But Dean, who'd flowed to his feet the moment Sam was done, fell into step with him as effortlessly as when Chad had seen them at the diner the first time. They were already in the middle of some discussion as they reached the door, Dean heading off Sam's reach for the knob and opening the door for his brother himself. He just laughed when Sam made a face at him, and nudged him outside, following right behind him.
Family, huh? The Winchesters almost made him want that.
Chad turned back to the bar, staring at the beer for a moment before pushing it away and rising to leave.
Maybe he'd go see how Jenny Beth was doing.