It was just over an hour later when they came for him. Dean wasn’t ready, wasn’t mentally prepared, which was no doubt part of their strategy. Keeping him on edge and off balance was an effective way to play havoc with his focus and concentration; like the odds weren’t stacked against him already.
The story of what went down in Louisiana hadn’t taken long to impart; Sam got the abridged version now had an understanding, at least, of the depth of Tim Matthews’ debt. Whether Tim would have the guts to pay up was another matter and Dean’s brief conviction in the man had quickly evaporated. After all, he’d pretty much left Dean for dead in New Orleans, beaten to hell and surrounded by undead voodoo creatures. Even if Tim had made the call to Bobby immediately, and it was a big if, help wouldn’t arrive until after the next fight. Whichever way he looked at it, Dean was headed back into the pit and he estimated his chances as slim to none.
Sam helped by talking through some strategies, offering tips on how Dean could modify his fighting style to at least keep his opponents on their toes, and he was grateful to his brother for that. But now it looked like the fight had been brought forward and there might be reasons other than to keep them wrong-footed. Dean had tried not to think about the handicap Suzie had lined up but, as Nathan and Toby approached the cage, it was the only thing on his mind. His stomach felt hollow, sweat pricked at his brow so like he always did he kicked the feelings into a box and locked it tight. He met them at the door of the cage with an insolent smile.
“You assholes got an early death wish?”
Nathan was carrying his shotgun and he rammed the muzzle through the bars, catching Dean hard in the gut.
“Shut your mouth, smartass. Turn round and put your hands behind your back.”
Sam was beside him in a heartbeat. “How about you come in here and make him.”
The gun swung in Sam’s direction and Dean’s heart stuttered in his chest. “Back off, Sam. I don’t need a guard dog.”
“The hell you don’t.” Sam’s voice was full of menace but it wasn’t directed at Dean. He was staring at Nathan, a clear challenge on his face. “Put us both in the pit, then you’ll get the fight you want.”
Toby sniggered. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, son. Go sit on the bunk while we take care of your brother. Fuck us around and it’ll go worse for him.”
Sam didn’t budge and Dean sighed. “Do it, man. I’ll be okay.”
They both knew that wasn’t true and Sam stood there a few seconds longer, fists clenched and anger coming off him in waves. Eventually he stalked across the cage and sat down. If looks could kill Nathan and Toby wouldn’t just be six feet under, they’d be salted and burned for good measure.
Toby produced a set of handcuffs and made a swivelling motion with his forefinger. Dean sneered at him for long seconds before turning round slowly. He placed his hands behind his back after the third command and felt the cuffs snap onto his wrists. They were pulled uncomfortably tight; punishment for insolence, then the door to the cage was unlocked and he was dragged out. He shot a look at Sam, who looked mutinous.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Sammy. You hear me?”
Sam’s gaze swung over and there was fire in his eyes. “You make sure you kill those fuckers this time, Dean. You do it for me.”
“You got it, man.”
He said it with a conviction he didn’t feel. Sam probably didn’t mean it anyway; it was just the anger and fear talking. Not that it mattered since he had no intention of holding anything back in the pit. It’d be a hell of a lot easier to do what needed doing if he truly had the moral support of his brother though. No repercussions that way.
The moon was low in the sky as he was prodded across a wide section of waterlogged grass. It was the first time Dean had gotten a look at his surroundings, though Sam told him they were in some kind of derelict amusement park. He could see the outlines of broken down rides and booths in the dim light. He shivered; it was cold and he was wearing nothing but jeans and a ripped, blood-stained tee shirt. He felt light headed and spaced out, a combination of blood loss and drug withdrawal, and he tried not to trip as he slipped and stumbled through the mud.
They were headed towards a carousel and Dean didn’t know whether to be relieved or concerned they hadn’t gone straight to the pit. There were lights on inside the control building behind the ride and he knew from the faded paint and chipped plaster on the carnival horses that this place hadn’t been used in years. He was led round to the door and Nathan gave a cursory knock before throwing it open and pushing him inside. He was following so closely that when Dean pulled up in surprise, he barged into him with enough force to knock him to his knees. That earned him a hard cuff round the back of his head.
“Watch where you’re going, asshole.”
Dean barely felt it. He struggled to his feet, staring at Suzie Wandell while his stomach twisted up in knots. She was sprawled in a chair, feet up on a long wooden table, a bottle of whisky and two glasses in front of her. He glanced round the room, which seemed to be serving as the gang’s headquarters. There was a ratty couch along one wall with an AV rig and camcorder set up in front of it, chairs. Food cartons and beer crates were strewn about and a gas heater blew out fumes in the corner. In spite of the warmth, Dean shivered again. Suzie noticed his unease.
“Easy there, stud. You’re not here for sex, not this time. But don’t think you’re off the hook.”
If that was supposed to make Dean feel better, it wasn’t working. He stared at her apprehensively.
“This got something to do with…”
Dean caught himself just in time. He wasn’t supposed to know about the handicap, any of Suzie’s plans for that matter. He didn’t want to jeopardise the fragile alliance he might have forged with Tim by spilling his guts at the first opportunity and back-pedalled hastily.
“Where’s your sister? She bailed on you already?”
“She’ll be back for the main event.” Suzie nodded at Toby. “Give our boy a little freedom. We need to talk.”
Toby clumped into the room and slammed the door. He unlocked the cuff on Dean’s left wrist, pulled his arms roughly in front of him and re-attached it. It wasn’t much of an improvement, not while Nathan and his shotgun were sharing the same space, but it gave Dean something to work with. Toby pushed him into a seat opposite Suzie and grunted a command.
“Keep your hands on the table. Move and I’ll break your fingers.”
Dean obliged and watched suspiciously as Suzie filled the glasses with whisky. She pushed one towards him and he eyed it balefully.
“Last drink for the condemned?”
She smiled. “Don’t sell yourself short, honey.”
Dean raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “In case you’d forgotten, I’m down a couple pints of blood.”
Suzie drained her glass and poured a refill. “I need you focussed in that pit, Dean; on top of your game. For your brother’s sake you’re going to put on a good show.”
Dean reached for the glass, briefly wondered if alcohol was a good idea right now then figured what the hell. He tossed it back as he considered Suzie’s words.
“If I can’t?”
She leaned across the table and poured him another drink.
“You’re a fighter, Dean. You’ll get it up when it matters.”
Dean made short work of the second glass, feeling the burn of liquor in his throat and belly, embracing the first tendrils of inebriation. God knew he needed something to take the edge of his dread and foreboding.
“And if I won’t jump through hoops?”
Suzie filled him up again. “It’s not negotiable. We can do it nicely or we can play hardball.”
Dean felt Toby and Nathan close in behind him and he stiffened, every nerve in his body jangling. Was this it? Were they about to hobble him or something worse? Suzie saw his expression change and she frowned.
“Why so tense, Dean? I thought you’d appreciate this.”
She reached into her pocket and placed the bottle of painkillers on the table.
“I know you’re hurting, honey; I know you’re jonesing but this’ll make everything good. You take as many as you need.”
She slid the bottle across the table and Dean glowered. “Fuck you.”
But his heart was hammering and his hand had closed on the bottle, drawing it close before she changed her mind. Was this the handicap? Something as simple as jacking him up? She might be thinking it would slow him down, make him dopey like she’d witnessed in the cage and he suppressed a smile. She didn’t know he’d been using for weeks. Which meant she’d just fucked up big.
He was about to pop the cap when his rational mind woke up. Fighting on painkillers was risky; he wouldn’t know how bad he was getting hurt and they took out all vestiges of self-control. Neither bothered Dean much; in a kill or be killed situation there was only one way to go, regardless of what Sammy might prefer. Painkillers mixed with alcohol sharpened him up in all the right places and that’s what he needed right now. Consequences be damned.
He shook out two pills, shoved them into his mouth and chased them down with whisky.
“See, that wasn’t so hard.” Suzie reached across the table for the pills but Dean didn’t release them.
“How about I hold onto these? I’ll need them later.”
Nathan’s voice growled in his ear. “How about I bust your arm; you son of a bitch.”
In spite of his new found confidence, Dean’s stomach lurched and he turned in the chair to face his tormentor. “Is that the plan? Hobble me, throw me in the pit and film two assholes taking me apart”
Nathan stared blankly and Dean snorted. “Something to jerk off to at night, right?”
Nathan didn’t rise to the challenge. He clapped a heavy hand on Dean’s shoulder and pushed him forward in the chair.
“Eyes front, asshole.”
There was a smile pulling at Suzie’s lips. “Why Dean, what a nasty mind you have. As if we’d do something that low...”
But he’d seen the shadow of suspicion cross her face and cursed silently. Why couldn’t he have kept his mouth shut? Now she knew somebody had ratted and would be gunning for Tim. So much for a rescue mission...
Suzie snapped her fingers. “Give me the pills, Dean. Do well on the next challenge and you’ll get more.”
Dean leaned back in his seat. “How about you come take them? I could use a little one on one action.”
That was the pills talking, dropping verbal bombs like these were casual pick-up lines tossed over a bar. Like Dean wasn’t in one of the most dangerous situations of his life.
Suzie raised her eyes, nodded and something slammed into Dean’s back, right between his shoulders. He figured it was the butt of the shotgun because Nathan’s voice was growling again.
“This is me being nice, Winchester. Put the pills down or things’ll get messy.”
The threat barely registered, not with the booze and pills working their magic. They over-rode the bleak certainty and numbing inevitability of his plight and now Dean could see possibilities. If Nathan was using the shotgun as a battering ram, it meant the business end was turned the other way…
He might have miscalculated, but was willing to play the odds he’d been given. He grabbed the bottle of whisky, surged up from his chair, pivoted and smashed it into the side of Nathan’s head. The glass didn’t break but Nathan went down like a sack of shit, the gun skittering across the floor and fetching up against the wall. Dean made a dive for it, actually had his fingers on it when Toby’s bulk landed on top of him, crushing him against the grimy floorboards. The air was forced from his lungs and he struggled to draw breath while Toby’s fists pounded his ribs like jackhammers.
The weight pinning him to the floor shifted, he was rolled onto his back and then Toby was on him again. In spite of the flare of pain from his ribs, the shortness of breath, Dean was thinking strategically. As Toby raised his fist for another blow, Dean got the chain of the handcuffs round his neck. He pulled Toby down at the same moment he jack-knifed off the floor and head butted his opponent on the bridge of his nose. The spray of blood hit Dean full in the face as Toby jerked back, hands flying to his nose. Dean got his right knee up, rammed it into Toby’s side and in a move dredged up from his short-lived wrestling days, flipped them both deftly. He landed on top and began raining blows on any part of Toby he could get at, cursing steadily the whole time. This felt good. It felt right.
He stopped only when something hard jabbed into his temple and he heard the shotgun being cocked. Suzie’s voice was shaky but there was no mistaking the steel in her tone.
“Get off him, Dean, or so help me I’ll blow your brains out.”
Dean sat back and wiped his face, smearing blood across it. He looked her up and down appraisingly.
“How’d you like it up close and personal, sweetheart? Does it get your motor running?”
He turned his voice lewd, intent on unnerving her some more. “It sure gets mine running. How about you get down here and make yourself useful?”
Suzie didn’t respond, though she seemed repelled by his display. Her finger was on the trigger of the gun, rock steady and Dean waited for the shot; honestly didn’t care if it came or not anymore.
The stalemate lasted for long seconds, was broken by the sound of rapidly approaching feet. Suzie was pushed aside and then Nathan was looming over Dean, looking monumentally pissed. He tugged the gun from Suzie’s hands.
“Say hello to your old friend, Winchester.”
He was about to ram the weapon into Dean’s head when Suzie called out sharply.
“Don’t you do it, Nathan. I need him conscious.”
“He’s like a rabid dog.” Nathan’s voice was a low, disgusted snarl and he kicked Dean in the thigh. “Get off him asshole; do it slow.”
Dean was looking right down the muzzle of the gun. Suzie might see him as an essential piece of entertainment but Nathan clearly did not. Taking both barrels in the head didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore and he stood up slowly. Free of his weight, Toby groaned and cursed but didn’t get up. Part of Dean was proud about that and he smirked at Nathan.
“Where do you want me now? Back on the leash or rolling over for the bitch there?”
When Suzie slapped his face, Dean knew he’d gotten to her.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart? Things getting away from you?”
“You mind your tongue, you bastard.” Suzie’s voice was hard and flat. “This is what I get for being considerate?”
Dean snorted. “No lady, this is what you get for feeding me drugs and booze. Pretty, ain’t it?”
He took a step forward, trying to press his advantage but Suzie didn’t budge.
“I’m not scared of you, Dean.”
Dean smiled. “No? You should be.”
Then Nathan was between them. Dean got a hard, unexpected fist in the face and he staggered backwards, fetching up sprawled on the couch. Nathan stood menacingly over him.
“Quit yapping or I’ll muzzle you.”
He turned to Suzie. “Go fetch the others. This fight is happening now.”
Suzie glared. “You giving me orders, Nathan? You forgetting who’s running this show?”
Nathan shrugged. “You wanna be left alone with the psycho?”
Suzie’s eyes darted across to Toby, motionless on the floor, then back to Dean. He winked at her.
“’ll show you a good time while he’s gone. What do you say?”
Her expression turned icy but it didn’t reach her eyes. They were uncertain and wary. “You’ll regret this, Dean.”
Dean didn’t flinch. He had the measure of her now and he didn’t hide the contempt in his voice.