Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural.
Author's Note: This is for spn_littlebro's h/c bingo. The prompt is 'crucifixion'. Please read the warnings.
As always, many thanks to Cheryl for the help.
Warnings: Given the nature of the prompt, this story deals with sensitive and potentially disturbing themes. It's one of the darkest things I've ever written, and while it doesn't end unhappily, the focus is on the hurt and there is violence. (Though, since I'm considering a follow-up to this, the comfort may come later.) Please don't read it if the idea of crucifixion in a story upsets or offends you.
Summary: The boys split up and Sam gets in trouble. Set anytime after S5. Spoilers through to 5.22, Swan Song.
It turns out not all non-supernatural murderous lunatics are like the Benders. Some of them are old 'friends' from high school.
Sam doesn't know why this surprises him.
Josh Hart was an underfed, undersized teenager when Sam first met him. He's an underfed, undersized twentysomething now. The only difference is that now he has a tweed coat and an office with a door that locks, and people call him Professor Hart instead of That Weird History Geek Nobody Will Eat Lunch With.
This, from Sam's point of view, is not an improvement. If somebody had warned him that Professor Hart hadn't had a willing lunch companion since the day he finished his PhD as an overly precocious (but insufficiently sane; Sam cannot emphasize that fact enough) twenty-two-year-old, Sam might have thought twice before accepting his offer of a sandwich and a protein shake.
Sam's musing is interrupted by a stab of pain from his abdomen.
He groans, the sound muffled by the wad of cloth in his mouth.
"Be quiet," Josh – Sam refuses to think of him as Professor Hart, especially after this – says, not looking up from his book. "I'm trying to figure out how this works." He sounds completely normal, which just makes it worse. "Wikipedia isn't helpful. Idiots." He does look up then, favouring Sam with a broad, bright smile. "You should be happy, Sam. This is our salvation. This is the world's salvation. You should be proud."
Sam tugs futilely at the ropes holding his arms behind his back, wishing he hadn't talked Dean into splitting up. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Dean would pick up the books that Bobby's old friend Tom Harding had waiting for them, Sam would meet Joshua Hart, Professor of Archaeology, to discuss a couple of very interesting artefacts mentioned in his most recent paper, and they'd meet in four days in Utah where a case was waiting for them.
Now it's going to be three days before Dean even realizes he's missing.
Josh shuts his book. "To quote Archimedes, Eureka. Eureka, Sam. I have it." He gets to his feet. "This is going to be so perfect, Sam. And to think that neither of us had any idea, when we first met, that we'd be saving the world together. I'm honoured that I was chosen for this. Aren't you?" He comes to Sam and pats his cheek. "It's almost time. Is there anything you want? A final confession? I can get you a priest."
Sam rolls his eyes. A priest. He almost laughs.
"No? Are you sure? All right, then." He reaches behind Sam for a small bottle and a rag. "Chloroform is so old-fashioned. But appropriate, I think. I wouldn't have to do this if you would accept your part, you know. We all have a part to play. There's no point fighting it."
And that's when Sam realizes that it's real. It's happening. It's real and it's happening and Dean isn't going to kick down the door and shoot Josh Hart in the face.
Sam's going to die.
He knows Josh can read his expression when the professor laughs as he holds the chloroform-soaked rag to Sam's face.
And then there's darkness.
Sam wakes up slowly. He's lying down on something uneven and uncomfortable. His head feels heavy and his vision is blurred. He hears a voice, but it isn't Dean's.
That's odd. With how horrible he's feeling, he must be in hospital, and that means Dean must be right next to him.
Unless the doctors aren't letting Dean in. That's a possibility. He could be in ICU or –
Memory comes back and he groans. This time he hears himself, and he's surprised until he realizes that the thick fuzzy thing in his mouth is his tongue, not the wad of cloth. He isn't gagged anymore.
He opens his mouth to scream – maybe there's someone near enough to hear him – but a hand clamps down over it.
"You'll want to save your breath," a voice hisses in his ear. "You'll have enough to scream about soon enough." The hand moves down to his chest, and Sam shivers as it brushes his shirt. "Your God has forsaken you, Sam. The only way to earn forgiveness is to die to save the world."
Sam tries to squirm away from the touch, and that's when he realizes he's strapped down. His arms have been pulled out to either side of him, and they're tied at wrists and elbows.
Josh laughs. "You can't get away, Sam. Don't waste your energy trying." He pats Sam's chest. "I know what you're thinking. You did die to save the world." Sam turns to stare at him. The brown eyes that meet his are unbearably calm. "You're surprised I knew that? I've heard things, Sam. You think you and your brother are the first hunters to be interested in the artefacts I know about? I've heard all about how you are the Antichrist, the one who set Lucifer free. And I also heard how you jumped into Lucifer's Cage. That should earn your forgiveness, shouldn't it? But, you see, Sam, that doesn't count."
"What are you talking about?" Sam asks. His voice is hoarse. He barely recognizes it.
"You came back. You think a short period of suffering is enough to cleanse you of all you've done? You think you deserve to live? Oh, Sam." He straightens. "Don't worry. I'm going to help you. We're going to earn your forgiveness together."
"Nobody's sane, Sam." Josh strokes Sam's hair. Sam tosses his head. "The world will remember you, Sam. The world will remember us. And then…" Josh glances around, as though making sure they're alone, and lowers his voice. "I have to confess I have a selfish reason for doing this. I'm happy I was called on to play this role. It's good for my research."
"I'm writing a book about it. From an archaeological standpoint, you understand. And this gives me a whole new level of understanding. So few scholars are privileged to actually witness it."
Oh God. He's going to do it. He's going to –
Sam's going to –
Sam clenches his mouth shut. He isn't going to beg. He doesn't think that'll help in any case, and if he has nothing else left to him, he's at least going to die with his dignity intact.
Sam's going to die.
Dean's never going to get over it.
"Can I talk to my brother?"
"No. From what I've heard of him, he won't understand why this is necessary. We can't have him interrupting." Josh suddenly sounds very businesslike. "I've had to give some thought to how we're going to do this, Sam. I did want to use nails, but I'm not an expert on anatomy. Getting them between the radius and the ulna…"
His fingers touch the ropes on Sam's wrist, and for a moment Sam dares to hope that he'll untie the rope. If he does – if Sam gets even a hand free –
But then Josh shakes his head. "No. That would never work. And it'll be bad for my research, you understand, if you die of blood loss or an infection. I need to know if you'll asphyxiate if you're otherwise unhurt, or… Well, maybe it'll be dehydration that gets you first. We'll just have to see, won't we?" He steps back. "It's time. I hope you don't mind, I've arranged for us to have some… company. I wasn't sure I could manage you on my own."
Two figures step out of the shadows. Sam would start in surprise if his arms and legs weren't strapped down.
"Walt." His voice doesn't shake, not even a little. He's relieved. He couldn't have borne to show fear in front of them. "Roy."
"Sam Winchester." Walt sounds as delighted as a kid on Christmas morning. "I never thought we'd get another shot at this. Those damn angels were so eager to keep bringing you back… And then when we thought you'd gone for good…" He laughs. "But there won't be any mistakes this time, Sam, I promise you that. You're going to die, in just the way you deserve."
"Don't worry, Sam." Josh is smiling at him, the maniac. "This will earn your pardon. I know it."
Oh God. Sam's about to be murdered by a gang of lunatics.
Roy smirks at him, drawing his gun and training it on Sam. "Walt's going to untie your feet now. Any funny business and I'll put a bullet in your brain."
Sam's tempted to provoke him into it – a quick death has to be better than what they have planned for him – but he doesn't. Dean's still out there and Dean might find him. He just has to keep himself alive till then.
Sam holds himself still as his feet are untied, though the temptation to kick out at Walt is strong. It won't help.
Nothing will help.
Walt steps back, smirks, and says, "Get up."
"You going to untie my hands?"
"You're a big boy, Sam. Weaker men than you have carried bigger crossbeams than that. Get up." The gun's pointing straight between his eyes. "Go on. Stronger than the devil, aren't you? Get on your feet."
Sam tries to rise, and he manages to lift the crossbeam tied to his arms about an inch, but then he feels it wrench at his shoulders like it's trying to pull his arms out, and he collapses back down.
"On. Your. Feet."
Sam tries again, and this time he manages to heave himself and the crossbeam all the way up, and God, this hurts. It's not the worst pain he's ever felt, not by a long shot, but it's definitely the worst he's felt that didn't involve dying or being tortured by angels. The crossbeam is pressing him down – it has to be heavy; it has to take the strain of Sam's not-inconsiderable weight, after all – and he feels like every last one of his vertebrae is breaking under it.
"Walk," Josh growls, and there's the snap of a whip.
Sam staggers forward a few steps.
He can't do this. He can't die like this. Far better to just refuse to move and force them to shoot him.
But Dean. He has to give Dean time to find him.
The whip cracks again, and Sam forces himself to focus on the thought of his big brother. God may have abandoned him – it seems to Sam that God's abandoned everyone – but he's got Dean, and that means he's got hope.
Sam lets them herd him to the wall – just about ten feet, and he can't imagine how condemned criminals carried the things further than that; his knees are about ready to buckle.
Roy keeps the gun trained on him while Josh and Walt turn him around. Sam tries to use the weight of the crossbeam against them, but a moment after he's moved, he hears the retort of a gun and feels a line of fire in his left thigh.
Sam's knees do give, then, and Josh and Walt grab him to steady him.
"No funny business," Walt growls.
"You've ruined my experiment," Josh mutters accusingly. "Now you might die of blood loss. The results will be worthless if that happens." Then he brightens. "I suppose we can wrap your leg. Clean it and wrap it. Keep it from getting infected."
There's a low stool against the wall, and Josh and Walt urge him up onto it. Walt keeps him standing – Sam's legs aren't strong enough anymore, not with the crossbeam weighing more with each passing second and blood running in rivulets down his left leg, sticking his jeans to his skin. Josh, standing on a stepladder, pushes the crossbeam up and onto a bracket that was clearly hammered in just to hold it.
"Do you think it'll hold?" Josh asks, testing the bracket. "We don't have an upright."
"Only one way to find out. Undo his elbows."
The ropes around his elbows are cut, and more loops are added around his wrists. Sam knows what's coming, and he can't help squeezing his eyes shut.
"Ready?" Josh asks.
"Go for it."
The stool under his feet is pulled away, and Sam's weight shifts to his wrists. At first it's just a mild stretch, not too painful, but as the minutes tick by he feels the weight of his own body more and more.
"Should we try nailing his feet to the wall?" Roy asks. "Make it more authentic?"
"Did the book say anything about authenticity?"
"It just said we had to crucify evil."
"What?" Sam gasps. "What are you talking about?"
"You think it was an accident that old Harding got his hands on that full set of bestiaries a week ago? We arranged for it. We needed big brother out of the way."
"This is best for us all, Sam," Walt adds. "The only way to end the evil that began when Lucifer was released is to scourge it. We had to crucify evil. That was what the book said. That's what we're doing."
If Sam lives through this, he's going to find out which book that was and burn every extant copy.
"Don't you see?" Josh says, eyes shining. "You will be forgiven, Sam."
Sam lets his head droop and shuts his eyes, trying to breathe through the pain.
He jerks his head up and his eyes open when he feels cold steel on his abdomen. Josh is back on the stepladder, eyes shining with glee as he cuts through Sam's shirts.
"Roman criminals didn't get to keep their modesty," he says calmly, pulling the shredded garments off. "Humiliation is part of the punishment, Sam. Mortification of the flesh…" he caresses Sam's bound wrist, and Sam fights the urge to throw up. "… And mortification of the spirit." The knife moves to the waistband of Sam's jeans. Sam jerks his leg away, and Josh sighs. "I know it's difficult, but think of the good it will do your immortal soul, Sam."
Sam tries to kick at Josh. Josh sighs again, like Sam's a disobedient toddler, and presses down hard on the bullet wound in Sam's leg.
The sudden spike of agony bursting on his nerve endings makes him black out.
When Sam wakes up, his jeans are gone. He's down to his boxers and a bandage around his thigh. The cold air makes goosebumps rise on his skin.
He's starting to think it would have been a good idea to provoke Roy into killing him.
Walt, Roy and Josh are sitting around a small table. The two hunters are grinning at him, which is bad enough, but Josh, who's got a notebook and pencil in front of him, is studying him like he's a specimen under a microscope. Sam can't help squirming.
The tiny movement reminds him just how much pain he's in, and his humiliation is forgotten in the throbbing of his wrists and shoulders. They hurt.
They hurt, and his ribs hurt, and the bullet wound in his leg hurts. Except that hurt isn't the word for it. Hurt is what happens when an angry spirit throws you into a wall a few times and bruises your back and breaks your collarbone. This is worse. This is different. This is agony and terror and mortification rolled into one ball of something that tightens Sam's chest and sits hard and heavy in his gut –
Because Sam's scared. He's never been this scared before, not even when he jumped into Lucifer's Cage. He knew what he was doing and he knew it had to be done, and that gave him courage.
But this… Sam's going to die, and not in a good cause. He's going to die because Roy and Walt are depraved and Josh Hart is a lunatic. He's going to die, and Roy and Walt are going to watch and snicker at every whimper that escapes his lips, and Josh is going to sit there taking notes about how long it takes Sam to die from crucifixion and write a paper about whether it's asphyxiation or dehydration or pain that gets to him first.
Sam feels ill.
"What hurts more, Sam?" Josh asks, scribbling something down in his notebook. "Your shoulders or your wrists? And where would you rate each on a scale of one to ten?"
"One being stubbing your toe," Walt explains, "and ten being whatever the hell it was Lucifer did to you in the Pit."
Sam shifts, trying to pull himself up a little to relieve the pain in his arms, but he gives up when the effort just makes them hurt more.
"Do you think we should monitor his blood pressure?" Josh asks. "It might be useful information."
"Can't hurt," Roy grunts.
"If only we had an EEG machine. Or if we could run an MRI or a CAT scan on him," Josh muses, and the matter-of-fact tone is worse than all Roy's sneering. "I don't know if I can trust him to describe what he's feeling."
Sam lets his head fall forward, trying to ignore the blood pressure cuff Josh is now sliding around his bicep.
Maybe if he pretends it isn't happening, it'll all turn out to be a really horrible dream.
It's when Josh bites his lip thoughtfully and says, "Well, I suppose it isn't a valid experiment without a little scourging," that they bring out the whips.
They can't reach high enough to hit his chest, so his legs take the brunt of it. Sam bites his lip hard enough that he tastes blood, but he doesn't cry out. He won't give them that satisfaction. It's the only thing he has left, the last remaining shred of his dignity, and he's going to hold on to it if it kills him.
They finally stop when Josh remembers that he doesn't want Sam to bleed out or die of infection. They sluice him down with a bucket of water, and the pink-tinged liquid puddles on the whitewashed floor under him.
Then Josh gets on the stepladder again, lifts Sam's head with a hand under his chin, and says, "I need you to listen to me carefully and answer my questions, Sam. I want you to rate the pain in your wrists, your shoulders and your legs from lowest to highest. And you must be getting hungry and thirsty by now. Is that making you feel at all nauseous?"
Sam's defeated Lucifer, and now he's going to die at the hands of a crazy person. He would laugh at the irony if he had enough air in his lungs.
"Sam?" Josh says. "Do you understand me? Can you speak at all?"
Sam gathers enough energy to grunt, "Screw you."
Josh purses his lips, shaking his head as he climbs down. "Do you think the belligerence is normal, or is it a consequence of the pain?"
Roy laughs. "He's always been a pissy little bitch. Evil things usually are."
Sam's hungry now. And thirsty. And filthy.
And there are traitorous tears pooling in his eyes.
He doesn't even want Dean to find him anymore. He can't bear the idea of anyone, even Dean, seeing him like this. He just wants it to end.
He doesn't know how long it's been. He's stuck in Josh's godforsaken basement with no windows and the electric light pounding into his skull, giving him a headache on top of his nausea, and he's barely conscious of either because every fibre of his being is in agony.
He feels fingers on his bare chest, and he knows Josh is checking on his heartbeat. He'd pull away if he could, even though he knows it'll hurt to move, but it's all he can do to muster enough strength to glare in Josh's general direction.
Josh ignores the look, instead glancing over his shoulder to tell the two hunters, "Heartbeat's stronger than it should be. He's only human, he's not supposed to last this long." Then, after a pause, "We are sure he's human, right?"
"We could try an exorcism."
Sam hears footsteps, and feels the tip of a knife dig into his chest. It doesn't go deep, just breaking the skin.
There's an irritable exclamation from Walt. "Don't do that, idiot. There's no point carving the Devil's Trap into him. If he's possessed, it'll tether the demon to his body."
"Draw it around him, then?"
"Yeah." After a pause, "Use his blood. You've cut him anyway, might as well go with it."
Sam barely notices his own blood being used to draw a Devil's Trap on the wall around him and listens listlessly as Roy stumbles over the exorcism.
When it's over, Walt shrugs and says, "Human."
Josh makes a face. "Then why is he still so strong?"
"He's fading," Roy comments, fingers at the pulse in Sam's jaw.
"Not nearly fast enough."
"Maybe we should put some more holes in him," Walt suggests. "We can clean and bandage them, so there won't be blood loss and he won't get an infection, but the pain should make his body weaker. Ancient Roman criminals were probably half-starved to begin with. It'll even the odds."
"I suppose so. Keep it to the legs, though, and don't break the bone. I don't want him to go into traumatic shock."
Roy laughs. "Don't worry. We've got it covered."
Sam knows he's dying. The pain has faded to a muted buzz in the back of his head. He can't feel much of anything anymore. Every breath is an effort.
His hearing's still sharp, and Josh's laughter breaks over him.
"Perfect," the man's saying. "It won't be long now. It would be better if we had a doctor to call time of death, but… This will do."
There's a sudden bang. It pounds into his head like a red-hot spike. Sam flinches, and the movement wrenches his swollen shoulders.
A sob catches in his throat.
And that's when he realizes that Josh's hands aren't on him anymore. There are voices, loud and angry, speaking too fast for Sam to understand. But he recognizes the voices, Josh and Walt and Roy yelling, and he wouldn't put it past them to do it just to make him suffer a little more before the end –
But there's another voice, yelling louder than any of the others, and it can't be, it can't be, it has to be Sam's brain conjuring up a hallucination to comfort him through his final moments –
There are more bangs, more noise, and Sam can feel the reverberations through the wood behind him. He opens his eyes, but the room's a blur. He can feel the sting of tears.
He shuts his eyes to hold them back.
The noise comes to an abrupt stop.
There are hands on him, but they aren't cold and calculating and unpleasant. They're warm and gentle. One of them is on his jaw, feeling for his pulse, and the other is resting over his heart.
"I'll be right back, Sammy," Dean's voice says. "Going to get you down, just hold on a minute."
Sam decides that if this is a hallucination, he isn't going to fight it. At least he can die happy.
Something scrapes across the floor, and then he feels support under his feet. It takes a moment for him to remember the stool.
Dean – or hallucination-Dean-in-Sam's-head, Sam isn't sure yet – doesn't bother with Josh's stepladder. He gets up on the stool with Sam, and Sam wouldn't have thought it would hold both their weight but somehow it does.
Sam drops his head to Dean's shoulder.
"That's right," Dean says, encouraging. "You just let me take care of you."
The rope holding his right wrist suddenly gives way, and Sam collapses under his own weight. Dean catches him, holds him, murmurs to him for a moment before freeing Sam's other hand.
Sam has no idea how Dean keeps them from falling, supports Sam, and gets them both off the stool, but he does it.
Sam feels solid ground under his feet for the first time in – he doesn't even know how long – and that's when it strikes him. Dean's real. Dean's here.
Dean's real and Dean's here and Dean saw how Josh and Walt and Roy managed to break Sam and –
"Hey." Dean's voice is in his ear. "Hey, hey, calm down. It's OK. Calm down."
No. Dean doesn't understand. Dean doesn't understand and now he knows how weak Sam was, how scared he was when they had him, how they hurt him and took every last bit of his dignity and –
"Shhh." Dean raises his voice. "Hey! You want to give me one of those blankets?"
Oh God. Sam didn't realize there were other people seeing him like this.
There's movement, and Dean's shifting him around, and then he's wrapped in something coarse and scratchy and Dean's got one arm around him and is massaging his wrists with the other hand.
Sam hears another voice, a female voice. "They're dead."
Dean's response is a grim laugh. "They're lucky I killed them quickly. But if it makes you feel better, I'll claim I was defending myself and my brother. That's the truth, anyway." Dean shifts, settling Sam's head more comfortably on his shoulder. "The world's better without them."
"How's your brother?"
"Out of it. I don't think they gave him any food or water."
"He needs a hospital." Sam feels a hand on his forehead, and shies away from the touch that isn't Dean. "They can see if there's any damage to his muscles, and they'll probably want to put him on an IV overnight."
Sam shakes his head, trying to hide in Dean's arms. He doesn't want a hospital. They'll poke at him and ask questions he can't answer and offer him psychiatric evaluation and they'll take him away from Dean.
"Is there anywhere else we can go?" Dean asks, giving Sam a reassuring squeeze. "Maybe a discreet clinic that'll let me sit with him while they're working? They can put him on an IV and check him over. I'll take him to a hospital after that if they think he needs one. But if there's someone who might be able to help him…"
"I'll see what I can do."
Footsteps recede, and Sam lets himself sink into the comfort Dean's offering. For now, the warmth of his brother's arms is enough to make him forget. It isn't enough; he'll have to think about it at some point. He'll have to admit it, to himself and to Dean, and deal with it, but that can wait.
For now, Dean is safety and protection and the steady thudding heartbeat that's the first lullaby Sam remembers.
For now, Sam's alive.
Right. I can't entirely believe I actually wrote that. Poor Sam! I'm almost certain now I'll write a schmoopy follow-up to let Dean fuss over him.