Sam had been here before, cuffed to the guard rail above the pit. The new hunters brought him here, twenty minutes after Dean was dragged off to God knew where, and Sam was too worried to offer any kind of attitude or resistance. All he wanted was to know Dean was okay; hadn’t been raped, crippled, or worse, but his questions, pleas and demands fell on deaf ears. His captors acted like he wasn’t there, unless he didn’t move quickly enough, then they communicated with their fists.
The logical part of Sam’s brain was telling him these newcomers wouldn’t have bothered studying the previous fight if they thought the upcoming bout would be a walkover, but that small oasis of sanity was addled by doubt. He could only imagine what might be happening to his brother while he was stuck up here, useless and trapped. It made him feel sick.
Sam yanked at the handcuffs in frustration, succeeding only in aggravating the bruises and cuts on his wrists. He scrutinised his surroundings, squinting under the dim sodium lights for anything that would serve as a lock pick and came up empty. Even if he’d spotted a loose nail in the decaying floorboards, he couldn’t bend low enough to prise it up.
In desperation, he resorted to the thing he swore he’d never do willingly. He’d managed telekinesis once before in circumstances not dissimilar to these; scared out of his wits after a vision of Dean’s imminent death. Now he was more than ready to try it again. Dean would be appalled if he knew, would never forgive Sam for attempting it but he didn’t care.
Sam noticed how his brother sometimes watched him with a mixture of suspicion and unease. Dean was terrified of his psychic abilities; saw them as unnatural, dangerous and beyond either of their control. Dean believed they were changing Sam into something he didn’t recognise and couldn’t help, that using them with intent was hastening the inevitable. Sam couldn’t find it in his heart to disagree but right now he didn’t have much choice in the matter.
After several minutes of straining with force enough to threaten a prolapse, he gave up on it. Telekinesis wasn’t happening and he wasn’t surprised. Things usually got weird when the Yellow Eyed Demon was involved and while there were certainly demons at work here, this time they’d come in human form.
He’d been waiting alone for ten minutes when the door of the pit clanked open. He peered into the gloom below, heart hammering, dreading what might be coming through it. When Dean was shoved inside Sam almost cried with relief. His brother wasn’t only standing; he was snarling abuse as the door slammed closed. He looked both mutinous and monumentally pissed off. The handcuffs were gone and other than blood and a new bruise on his face, Dean seemed in no worse shape than before. Sam called to him and his head whipped up.
“Sammy? You okay? Did those fuckers hurt you?”
Sam couldn’t help smiling. Some things never changed. “Quit worrying about me. Is that your blood?”
“Nah.” Dean scrubbed an arm across his face. “I busted Toby’s nose. Son of a bitch had it coming.”
He sounded brash and arrogant. It made Sam uneasy.
“What did they do to you?”
Dean shrugged. “Roughed me up a little; played some half-assed mind games and I told them to get fucked. I don’t scare that easy.”
He laughed; a hollow, unsettling sound. After four long weeks, Sam was beginning to recognise this behaviour.
“Was Tim there?”
Dean shook his head. “I told you he was a sackless piece of shit.”
Sam’s stomach twisted. It seemed that particular escape possibility had been closed to them permanently.
“Then we’ve got to find another way out.”
“You got a plan, Sammy, I’m all ears.” Dean gave it a couple of beats then cupped a hand to his ear. “It’s awful quiet up there.”
Sam was irritated. He needed Dean’s help and support but knew it was unlikely to be forthcoming. His brother had been hiding behind a chemical shield for too long and now the addiction was being manipulated; used against him. Whether he’d asked for it or not, Dean was hopped up. Again.
“How many did you take?”
Sam couldn’t keep the accusation from his voice and Dean’s eyes narrowed.
“Who the fuck’s counting?”
He turned his back and stalked to the other side of the pit. Sam noticed he was limping and his left arm was pressed against his ribs. The last fight had taken a heavy toll; the blood covering his shirt and jeans testament to how much he’d lost. That would compromise his stamina and strength; the concussion he’d been hiding would do the same for balance and speed. Then there was the pain to factor in… When weighed against the ordeal his brother was about to face, Sam couldn’t pretend the pills were anything but a blessing.
“I’m not judging you, dude.” His voice sounded contrite as it echoed through the cavernous space. “Tim mentioned some kind of handicap and… Is this what he meant?”
The casual but chilling threat had been on Sam’s mind ever since it was dropped in the cage. He knew it had freaked Dean out, felt guilty for bringing it up again but his brother seemed to accept the backdoor apology because he came back over, moving easier now.
“They gave me pills and booze, thought it’d make me sloppy. Their mistake.”
Sam hoped so, even if Suzie didn’t seem the type to make mistakes. They wouldn’t have been captured so easily if she were. Dean’s confidence was encouraging though and he attempted to bolster it.
“Don’t go in all guns blazing, okay? You’ll run out of juice quicker this time so hold back, let the others do the heavy lifting.”
“Sure thing, coach.” Dean grinned and it wasn’t pleasant. “I’ll tap out if it gets too hairy.”
“Screw you, Dean.” Sam could feel his temper rising and he turned his head away before he said something he’d regret. As he did so he heard a light creak on the stairs behind, like someone was trying to sneak up on him. He tensed, squinting in the dim light and couldn’t see a damned thing. He threw out a challenge instead.
“I hear you so you might as well show yourself.”
He was hoping it was Tim paying a surreptitious call. His heart sank when Kate stepped onto the platform and the disappointment must have been obvious.
“Expecting somebody else?”
Sam stared at her coldly. “What are you doing here? Come to gloat?”
“Why would you think that?” Kate came closer and looked down into the pit. Dean was pacing restlessly, eyes on the ground and oblivious to her presence. She watched him intently for long enough that Sam got twitchy. One Wandell bitch on heat was bad enough. Two of them…
“How’s he doing?”
The concern in her voice surprised him but Sam wasn’t buying it. “You asking me? You were there, weren’t you?”
“Actually, no. We needed supplies, Tim and I got the short straw.”
Sam snorted. “Who sells supplies at 2am?”
“Who said we were buying?”
An unpleasant suspicion bubbled into Sam’s brain. “What kind of supplies, Kate?”
She shrugged. “The type you get in a clinic.”
Sam’s stomach did a full-on mambo. “You stole drugs?”
“I don’t know. Tim went inside, I was on lookout.” Her tone started out defensive but drifted into something approaching apprehension. “I guess Suzie was testing us both.”
Sam glanced at her sharply. “You think she suspects Tim?”
“She doesn’t trust him but he won’t sell her out. He hasn’t got the balls.”
Sam was getting a distinct sense of déjà vu and the blood in his veins felt like sludge. There was darkness swimming behind his eyes which he didn’t have the strength to fight anymore.
“Then I get to watch my brother die.”
“Nobody’s dying, Sam. This has gone far enough. I’m calling the cops.”
The overpowering sense of relief lasted all of two seconds. In the same instant Sam realised they had an ally and might have a way out, the reality of the situation slammed home.
“You can’t do that.”
She stared incredulously. “Why not?”
“Dean’s wanted by the FBI. If you call the cops he’ll be arrested for murder, spend the rest of his life in supermax. I’m pretty sure he’d rather take his chances in the pit.”
Kate’s jaw dropped. “You’d better start talking, Sam. Who did he murder?”
“He didn’t murder anyone.” Sam was so damned tired of explaining that sorry scenario, though at least this time he might have an understanding ear.
“It was a shape shifter; your daddy would have run into a few of those, right? Dean got landed with the rap because you can’t admit something like that exists; not without buying a one way ticket to the nut house.”
Kate, to her credit, didn’t try and call him on it. “Then I guess that other guy…”
“His name’s Bobby Singer.”
Sam knew he sounded way too eager as he rattled off Bobby’s number and watched Kate punch it into her cell phone. She snapped the device shut and shoved it in her pocket.
“I’ll duck out while the fight’s on; make the call while everyone’s occupied.” Her expression turned wary. “I don’t think Suzie suspects me yet, but she won’t stay blind forever.”
Sam knew Suzie would cotton on sooner rather than later. “You should get out of here, Kate. Head for South Dakota. Bobby can protect you.”
She shook her head. “If I split, she’ll know I ratted her out. She’ll move this whole operation someplace else.”
Sam recognised the truth in that and nodded wearily.
“There’s something else you should know, Sam…”
Dean chose that moment to stop pacing and look up. He zeroed in on Kate and smirked.
“Looking for the hot seats?”
Kate shook her head. “I don’t want any more blood on my hands.”
“Come on darling, you don’t wanna miss the main feature.” Dean’s voice was playful but carried deadly menace. “I hear it’s a killer.”
Kate turned to Sam and spoke quietly. “What’s wrong with him?”
Sam lowered his own voice. “Your damned sister fed him more pills. He won’t say how many.”
“What is this, the whispering gallery?” Dean’s voice boomed round the pit, uncomfortably loud. “Somebody turn up the volume, will you?”
Kate darted a nervously glance towards the stairs and Sam shushed his brother impatiently.
“Keep it down, man. She’s trying to help.”
“Trying to help?” Dean scuffed at a patch of blood in the dirt. “It’s a little late for that.”
His voice was quieter now and Kate leaned over the rail.
“Listen up, Dean. I’ve got some intel.”
“More than just a pretty face, huh?”
She ignored the jibe. “This fight is fixed worse than you know. Those other bastards are packing blades; they’ll use them if you give them reason.”
“Son of a bitch…”
Dean’s face lost some of its colour, not that there was much there to begin with. He took a few steps backwards and slipped on a patch of loose gravel. As he struggled to keep his footing Sam heard his grunt of pain, watched his left arm clamp more firmly across his ribs. He glared at Kate accusingly.
“He wasn’t hurting like that when he left the cage. What the hell happened?”
Kate looked uncomfortable. “They took him to the ops room and there was a fight. Toby’s bragging how he busted a few of his ribs.”
“Jesus Christ.” Sam’s legs felt weak. Dean’s voice drew his attention back to the pit before he could dwell on either of the recent revelations. His brother’s game face was back on and fully functioning.
“Looks like a slasher flick tonight.” The enthusiasm in his voice hardly sounded forced at all. “My favourite type”
Kate wasn’t done with the data dump. “The knives are in their boots; think you can grab one?”
“Course I can, sweetheart. I’m the Wizard of freakin’ Oz.”
The ghost of a smile played at Dean’s lips but the lines of his face were hard and focussed. Sam knew he was thinking through some moves. He didn’t need to imagine the damage a blade could do in his brother’s hands, he’d seen it up close and personal enough times. Dean’s state of mind was all new though.
“Dean, promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”
“What?” Dean sounded confused and aggravated. “What the hell do you want from me, man? Do it, don’t do it… You’re worse than a friggin’ prom date.”
“Just shut up and listen.” Sam kept his voice level, trying not to agitate him further. “I’m not saying don’t try for a knife. Just use it… rationally. Don’t give them a reason to cut your throat.”
“Rationally?” Dean chewed on the word like it was a lemon. “This ain’t a checkers game I’m sitting down to.”
Sam didn’t rise to the challenge. This was one of Dean’s coping mechanisms; flippant and antagonistic in the face of extreme danger. It kept his mind focussed on the job and away from debilitating emotional investment. Unfortunately, Kate didn’t know Dean very well.
“Is he always such an ass?”
Sam hackles rose. “Only when his ass is on the line.”
Kate wasn’t going for it. The words she tossed into the pit were like grenades.
“You’re welcome, Dean. You can thank me later.”
She was angry but Sam also detected disappointment in her voice; like she’d expected Dean’s eternal gratitude for her services. Maybe there was something else there as well…
Dean, for his part, was still playing the ass to perfection. “Remind me why I’m thanking you again?” He furrowed his brow in mock confusion. “For having a little more cheese on your cracker than psycho sis?”
“Shut up, Dean.” Sam was getting pissed now. “She’s trying to help and Suzie will kill her if she finds out. Just quit talking and focus on the fight.”
Kate’s expression was stony as Dean turned his back and flipped the bird. Sam watched her anxiously; convinced his brother had just alienated their only ally.
“Try and see it from his side. In half an hour he might be dead. This is Dean trying to deal.”
Once again Kate’s eyes lingered too long in the pit and that was enough to clue Sam in to motives which weren’t entirely selfless. He coughed pointedly and she pulled her gaze away.
“I need to go before I’m missed. You boys hang in there; I’ll call Bobby as soon as it’s safe.”
She was halfway down the stairs when she stopped and turned.
“What’s he like when he’s, you know… clean?”
Sam was sure she didn’t want to hear how Dean could be just as offensive, obnoxious and downright infuriating on his best days, so he shot her an encouraging smile.
Five minutes after she’d left, Sam heard the rest of the gang tramping up the stairs. He called to Dean.
“Heads up, man. They’re coming.”
Dean spread his arms wide. “Bring it on.”
Sam knew that was mostly for his benefit but hoped Dean really did feel some of that assurance. Suzie and Kate were first onto the platform, flanked by Nathan and Toby. The first thing Sam noticed was how they weren’t carrying guns or cameras. The second thing he noticed was Toby’s face; swollen up like a carnival balloon. That was Dean’s handiwork and he smirked.
“Did you miss the sign for the freak show?”
Toby might have scowled; it was hard to tell. Nathan stomped over and cuffed Sam hard round the head.
“You Winchesters should learn to keep your traps shut.”
Sam snorted. “Or what? You’ll kill us?”
Suzie got between them and she seemed excited. “Feeling feisty, Sammy? Must be all that adrenalin. I bet you’re just itching for this fight to start?”
It was Sam’s turn to scowl. “Screw you, bitch.”
“Isn’t that Dean’s line? Speaking of which…” She sauntered across to the rail. “How you doing down there, slugger? Ready to rock and roll?”
Dean grinned. “I prefer sex and drugs, but didn’t we try that already?”
Suzie turned away quickly, biting her lip and Sam smiled. One-nil to the Winchesters.
Nathan was watching and didn’t share Sam’s amusement. He pulled his coat aside to reveal a pistol tucked into the waistband of his pants.
“Just give me a reason to use it, sonny.”
Sam caught the implication. He could provoke them all he liked but Dean would buy the bullet. He dropped his eyes and Nathan sniffed dismissively.
“That’s what I thought.”
Suzie walked round the platform and stopped above the pit door. “It’s show time, fellers. Open up, Tim.”
Like before, Dean’s opponents were a substantially heavier build. This pair were dressed light; wearing only tee shirts and pants. Dean might have ten or twelve years on them but they looked fit and muscular, like they worked out regularly. Dean despised gyms and the sneer on his face said it all.
“Look, Sammy; they sent rats.”
Sam would have laughed if Nathan’s warning wasn’t still ringing in his ears. He watched Dean sizing them up and tore his eyes away for long enough to keep tabs on the gang. Nathan, Toby and Suzie were leaning on the rail above the door; bunched together, talking softly and watching intently. They reminded him of vultures hovering over a kill site. Tim was coming up the stairs but he ducked his head when he saw Sam and vanished into the shadows on the far side of the platform. Kate was near the stairs, hanging back but close enough to feign interest in the fight. She caught his eye, gave an almost imperceptible nod and Sam turned back to the pit.
He sent up a silent prayer that she’d get to make the call; then offered a second plea that there’d actually be something left for Bobby to rescue.