The man holding the gun trained on Sam nodded to the man holding Dean's arms behind his back.
"I'm going to have him release you," he said to Dean. "And when I do, I'm going to trust that you're not going to make any sudden moves. The first move you make will put a bullet through your brother's head, do you understand me?"
Dean gritted his teeth. "Yeah, I hear you," he said. He looked anxiously at Sam, who was still seemed to be struggling to stay conscious after that last blow. Beneath the blood and the bruising, the left side of his face was starting to swell, and Dean worried about fractures. He worried about the angle of Sam's wrists in the cuffs holding him against the beam in the center of the room. He tried not to think about how much pain Sam was in, and what these bastards had done to him in the hours before they'd dragged Dean in with a gun pressed to his head shouting it's not in the fucking car.
They would worry about that later. They would fix everything later, after Dean beat and bloodied everyone else in this room.
"Okay. Let him go," said the man in charge, and Dean angrily yanked his arms away from the man behind him. When he heard the gun cock, his stomach twisted and he froze where he stood.
"I see you learn fast," the man said.
Dean's hands clenched into fists at his sides.
"I'm losing my patience. Obviously my attempts at persuasion aren't convincing your brother to give up the intel. So you're going to convince him."
Dean blinked at him. "What?"
"Doug," he said over Dean's shoulder to another man in the room. "Give him the thing."
Sam struggled to raise his head to find Dean across the room, to meet Dean's eyes. Dean tried to communicate everything he had with one look. I don't know, I don't know what they want. This is bad. We're most likely royally fucked, but don't sweat it I'll figure something out. Hang in there, man.
Sam got everything he needed the instant their eyes met. Dean. You're there.
The man by the name of Doug, tall and broad-shouldered, came and stood in front of Dean. He pressed a thick, leather whip into Dean's hand. Dean looked down at it, not comprehending. What the fuck…? Then he heard cloth tearing and looked up to see two other men ripping what was left of Sam's shirt from his arms and chest.
Dean started to feel sick. "No. Fuck, no!" He flung the whip down and away from himself and advanced on the gun-holding man. Doug caught him by the arm, and Dean got one solid punch in before the five men overpowered him, pinning his arms back and forcing him to his knees.
Dean was breathing hard, both from the struggle and from the panic rising in his chest. When he looked up again, the man in charge was standing directly in front of him. The man raised the gun and brought the handle of it down hard against Dean's temple. The room spun and pain lanced through his skull. He felt a warm trickle making its way down his cheek.
Dean did his best impression of a smile. "Ouch," he said sweetly.
"I'll explain this for you again, mate," he said. "Your brother knows where the product is. And you're going to make him tell me. You could try asking him nicely, but believe me, we've already tried that. So I'm going to have you beat it out of him."
He bent over the picked up the whip Dean had thrown aside, and presented back it to Dean, hilt end first.
"No!" Dean said. "There's no way. I'm not doing that." He looked at Sam. Sam's hands were clenching around the metal cuffs. Fuck no, Sam, I won't do that to you, it's not happening.
"Then you're no use to any of us. Which means I guess that 'Sam' here gets to watch while we use you as target practice."
Dean was actually taken aback. That was sudden. For some reason he thought he would have more time to bargain. Strategize. Outsmart or overpower someone. Not be backed into a corner and shot like an animal while his brother was tortured for information they didn't have.
"Dean, do it. Please. It's okay."
Sam's head rolled against his arm suspended above him, his eyes wide and pleading. Don't get killed, they said. Stay alive. We'll fix everything else later, like always.
Dean's heart was hammering in his chest. "He doesn't know, you asshole. Whatever it is you think he knows, he doesn't. You have the wrong guys. Fucking let him go."
Gunman smirked and offered Dean the whip. "Convince me."
On his knees, Dean weighed his options one last time. He came up empty. Stay alive, get through this, shove it down, fix it later. "Okay," he spat.
The men hauled him to his feet because his legs didn't want to work. He didn't want to reach for the ugly looking weapon, so they closed his hand around it, and they led him across the room to stand several feet behind Sam.
Sam shifted his feet bringing his knees in against the beam, his head down. He was bracing himself for the pain he knew was coming, and Dean closed his eyes, wishing he had let the men shoot him. He couldn't take it. He couldn't do this.
Behind him, the cold metal click of the gun reminded him that he had to. He'd promised. Stay alive.
"Fuck. I'm sorry, Sammy."
It's not Sam. Don't think of it as Sam. It's just a body. Just a back. Just a thing. Just an action. Don't think. Don't be here. Just stay alive.
He closed his eyes and flinched hard as his arm that felt like someone else's arm brought the thick leather strap down and made contact with his brother's bare skin. Part of him was glad Sam didn't make a sound, and part of him wanted Sam to yell out and curse at him for doing this, for not protecting him from all of this. He would have given anything to trade places with Sam. Anything.
It's not Sam. Don't think of it as Sam. Dean kept his eyes closed, but it didn't stop the agony he felt at the sound of leather striking flesh.
"Again," said the man with the gun. "Harder. Until I say stop."
Dean closed a tight fist around the rage building inside him, careful not to let it spill out into the strikes he was wielding. He had to be careful, so careful, to make the crack sound like it was hitting harder than it was, to sound like he was giving more pain while holding back as much as he could, and not give in to the tide of despair that was threatening to drown him. Don't think. Don't be here. Separate.
Again. Again. Sam lost his footing and yelped, sliding against the beam until he could brace himself again, and Dean saw that his cheeks were wet with the tears he'd been holding back and oh fuck. Fuck, Sam.
The man named Doug signaled with his phone to the man with the gun. "Not an Impala," he said.
"What are you talking about? He was sure it was an Impala."
Doug shrugged, "Found it in a Lincoln on the east side."
"I'll be damned."
Dean stood in the middle of the exchange, the weight of the whip heavy against in his sweat-slicked palm, and all the pieces suddenly fell into place. "You were looking for drugs," he growled. "You fucking lowlifes—"
"Yeah, sorry mate," the leader made a motion to his men that had them filing out the door. "Better days." He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handcuff key, which he tossed to Dean.
Dean caught it in midair, reeling from the sudden turn of events. Outside the building, he heard excited voices, car doors slamming and the squeal of tires on pavement.
Sam moaned, his eyes rolling back in his head, and Dean was immediately at his side. "Goddamn it, Sam." It was all he could say. All he trusted himself to say at the sight of Sam's injuries up close.
He brought the key up to the cuffs, and hesitated, not sure how he should do this. He wasn't sure if Sam would want him to catch him if he couldn't stand on his own. He doubted Sam would want Dean touching him after what he'd done to his own brother. Dean winced. He'd get it done quickly, get through it then fix it later. If Sam hated him that was understandable. Dean hated himself pretty thoroughly right now.
"Okay, Sam," he said, as gently as he could. "I'm going to undo these. You can lean against me or you can lean against the beam here, either way, okay? You with me? I'm not going anywhere."
Sam nodded, and as Dean opened the cuffs Sam's hands fell numbly to his sides. Sam leaned heavily against Dean, which caught Dean a bit off guard but he recovered quickly and gingerly lowered his little brother to the floor. "Let me look at your back, Sam," he said, flinching to himself because he had done this. No matter what else Sam had suffered, Dean had done this, each red, angry laceration, the swollen and torn skin, it was all his doing.
"Dean," Sam said weakly. "I don't—"
Dean drew his hands back quickly. "Right. Right, I get it. No, I won't… touch you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Sam."
Sam looked confused. "No, Dean. I meant… I was going to say I don't want you to beat yourself up. Because you will, I know you will. But there was no other way."
"Of course there was another way."
"No. There wasn't. You had to do to. I told you to."
"Yeah, and since when do I listen to you? I'm older." Satisfied that Sam wasn't in danger of bleeding out, he stood up and hoisted Sam up under his arms. "Think you can walk?"
Sam sank against him. "G'mme a minute."
Dean waited, holding all of Sam's weight until the dizziness, nausea, pain, emotion or whatever was passing over Sam had passed. "Okay," he breathed. "'m good."
"Good enough. Fixable. You?"
Sam squeezed Dean's arm and let himself be led out to the Impala.
Dean frowned. "They said east side, right?"
"Nothing. Just... talking to myself."
To be continued