Sam cowered in the corner of his room, eleven year old body jammed firmly up against the door to somehow, however he could, get away.
"Sam! I swear to god you'd better unlock this door and get away from it right this second, or I'll do something!" Sam pressed the heels of his palms against his ears, leaving him with nothing but blissful silence. At least until Dad started shouting again.
Where was Dean? Dean didn't yell at him if he had a nightmare, so where, the hell, was he?
"You know what? Fine!" Sam didn't know what hurt worse, hearing the finality in that voice, or hearing heavy footsteps walking away.
Sam began to cry; silent tears running in rivulets down his still baby-chubby cheeks. Pulling his knees to his chest, Sam buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking as he tried not to make a sound.
He thought, once, that he heard a sound near the window, but disregarded it, the tears flowing thick and fast now.
"Hey, Sam. Sammy? What's up buddy?" A hand on his shoulder. The comforting, well-known hand of his older brother. Sam had to refrain from catching Dean around the knees and crying. He felt Dean slide down the wall, followed by the comforting warmth emanating from his body as he sat next to him.
"Where…Where were you?" Dean was a little thick on the emotional scale, he knew, except for when it came to his little brother. Even if he hadn't picked it up from the fact Sam was sitting, with the lights off, in the corner of their shared room, crying, he would have known something was up with that small, tentative question.
"Out. But I'm here now. What happened?" Ever the protective brother, Dean slung an arm over Sam's small shoulders. Suddenly it struck him that they were broader than he remembered…older.
"I…had a…had a nightmare." Sam hiccuped. About to say something, Dean was silenced by Sam's continuation on this fact. "And I…I went to tell Dad…and he…he yelled at me…"
More tears. Dean pulled his little brother closer for a minute, before moving to stand. Sam looked up at him now, eyes wide with…fear? Worry? Whatever it was, Dean didn't like being the cause of it. Before he could reassure Sam that he was just going to talk to Dad, there were heavy footsteps stopping just outside the door.
"Dean Winchester! Get your ass out here now! And I know you're in there!"
"Yes sir." Dean mumbled, before turning back to Sam. "Don't worry about it tyke, he's just tired. I'll be back in a minute."
Sam knew, even as Dean's hand began to turn the doorknob, that Dean would be gone longer than any mans definition of a minute. As the door closed lightly behind him, Sam did the only thing that came to mind.
He stood, gazing around the room for a minute before moving over to the window. It wasn't hard to climb out; he and Dean had gone both ways through it all Summer, whenever it was more convenient than the front door. So climb out he did, his only thought being that he had to leave.
Dean, though usually one to be attentive and in favor of Dad's ideas, was not now happy with the man. He was, granted, marginally happier than he would have been if it was someone else who made Sam cry, but that wasn't saying much. Anyone else would be a very-close-to-dead man.
"Where exactly have you been until one in the morning young man?" Dean shrugged, pulling the Impala keys from his pocket and setting them on the coffee table. John snatched them up and put them in his own pocket.
"Well? Where. Have. You. Been?"
"Out, sir." Rigorous training kept him from saying Dad, although Dean sorely wanted to remind him that that's exactly what he was. John narrowed his eyes.
"What about curfew?" Dean actually had the balls to roll his eyes at this.
"I'm sixteen, not thirteen."
"Less of the lip young man." Dean, by now supremely pissed, voiced his disdain in a snort of laughter.
"You need to listen to yourself once in a while, Dad." He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so angry, hurt and/or vulnerable that he'd called John Dad out of spite.
"What is this all about?" John practically spat the words out. He was so used to Dean following his orders, doing exactly as he was told, when he was told.
"You don't know?" Dean had the look of crazed man, so fierce was his protectiveness over Sam. John looked into Dean's mossy green eyes, afraid and somehow awed by how much older those eyes were than sixteen.
"If this is about your brother…" They were edging closer towards one another.
"Damn right this is about Sam! The kid had a nightmare, and you yelled at him. You wonder why he never tells you anything. Can't you see how badly he wants to make you proud of him? How much it hurts him when you brush him off? One of these days you're going to completely cut him off!" By now the two were almost nose to nose, Dean looking level into his fathers eyes.
"Is that right?"
"Yeah, Yeah that's…" A noise from outside had Dean stopping mid-sentence. "What was that?" John, by now too far gone to see anything but his eldest son's face in front of him, disregarded it.
"Don't change the subject! What about all the times he's missed important hunts because he wants to play soccer? Or baseball? What about those times?" Dean couldn't quite wrap his head around why exactly Sam would rather do those things than hunt, but he knew enough.
"Sam just wants to have friends, be a kid. Don't you think you owe that to him? After we drag him everywhere, tell him not to say anything about what he sees, about our family, don't you think you, we, owe him the chance to be a kid for just a little while longer? Longer than I did?"
There was a hint of something John only ever heard when from Dean when he was talking about Sam; tenderness was the closest he could get to identifying it. And when he looked into those hauntingly familiar green eyes, John could have sworn he saw the sparkle of a tear, but Dean blinked too quickly for him to be certain.
But if he didn't put his foot down now, Dean might just start getting…ideas.
"You're grounded. And you're not coming with me this weekend to hunt this cult. You're going to stay here with Sammy." He detached himself from anything, the words cold and round in his mouth.
Dean raised an eyebrow, incredulous. At that moment, he didn't know that ten years later he'd be reminding Sam of the time he said exactly what Dean was going to say and berating him for it.
"…I hate you." Whisper quiet, the words still seemed to sit in between them like lead. It reminded Dean of the Striga. That was what it had been like.
"Fine. Go to bed." John couldn't be bothered anymore. In less than an hour and a half, he'd managed to get both his sons offside and, apparently, hating him.
He heard the bedroom door slam, and was about to trudge back to his room when Dean's panic stricken voice ringed through the corridor.
"Dad! Sam's gone!"
John sneaked a glance at his son from across the car. Dean was so pale you could make out the freckles peppering his nose.
"We'll find him." John said through gritted teeth. Truthfully he wasn't sure whether it was to reassure himself or Dean. Dean kept staring blankly ahead, never taking his eyes from the lines being eating up by the Impala. John cleared his throat, trying to keep his mind from the fact that his eleven year old son was out in the middle of the night when a bunch of dangerous cultists were around.
"Sorry. Me too." Dean still never moved his head, but John could see bee-stung pink lips move slowly, voice coming out like a whisper.
He didn't think it was possible, but he found himself reliving everything he ever could have done with the both of them as opposed to hunting. He could have taught Sam to play ball-something he'd been quite good at when he was younger-could've taught Dean to recognize various constellations for fun, rather than because they had to. They could have gone camping, done all the father son things they were supposed to do.
Dean was numb. There was no other word for it. He felt like what he imagined an amputee must feel like; like the ghost of a limb was missing. Survivable, but not voluntary. Sam and himself had always been with one another, for as long as he remembered. He was glad he didn't remember much from the night their mother had died. But he did remember little things. He remembered Dad asking whether Dean thought Sam was ready to toss around a football; 'No daddy' he'd said. And he remembered carrying Sam out, the smell of sulfur thick in his nose.
He hoped to god John didn't see, but for the first time Dean turned his head away, lifting his hand to fiercely scrub away tears that threatened to fall. Apart from being the first time Dean had completely overlooked a fight with dad, it was also the first time he admitted, to himself at least, that he was scared out of his wits.
Sam walked along the side of a highway, wishing he'd thought to grab some food before leaving. But he was here now, and the air felt nice on his face. He tossed overlong bangs from his eyes. It was the first time they'd been this long since Dean had put the nair stuff in his shampoo that made his hair fall out.
There was the roar of an engine from somewhere behind him, and Sam turned around. A Ute was approaching, slowing as it caught Sam in the full glare of its headlights. It finally slowed to a stop next to him, and the window slowly creaked down.
"What are you doin' out here kid?" Sam was wary, but the guy looked friendly enough.
"Where to?" Sam shrugged; he didn't, after all, know where he was going. Just away.
"You want a lift?" Sam considered this, figuring it couldn't hurt. The guy certainly didn't look like he was going to do anything shady.
"Sure. Thanks." As the guy got out of the car, He asked;
"What's your name?"
"Sam. What about you?" The man seemed amused at how old Sam sounded.
"Guy. There you go, climb in the back." Sam had to turn his back on Guy to get in. The last thing he remembered thinking was that the bench seats were old, before there was a blinding pain around the back of his head, and he blacked out.
John didn't like where this was headed at all. They were going along the road that all the cults victims had been abducted on. Not reassuring in the slightest. Dean, however, didn't know that. John wasn't planning on telling him. He couldn't help but feel his heart rise to his throat when Dean told him to pull over.
Dean was out of the car even before it had fully stopped, crouched at the side of the road and examining a pair of footprints.
"Sam's been here." More for his own peace of mind, John got out.
"How do you know?" Dean gave him a look, before replying.
"I just do. Look, you always say I should trust my gut; it's telling me Sam's been here." Dean followed the tracks a little further up, a frown creasing his brow. John stayed by the car, running a ragged hand through his short hair.
"They just stop here…that's weird; there's tire tracks here too." Now John was having a hard time keeping his breathing even. Usually so cool-headed, now he was 99 sure what was happening, and he was struggling not to let panic take over.
Dean looked up at him, frown deepening as he saw the look on his fathers face.
"Dad? You alright?" John tried to say yes, but he couldn't trust his voice, so he nodded. Unfortunately for him, Dean knew his father better than anyone, except maybe Sam. Dean stood, brushing dirt off his knees. He raised an eyebrow suspiciously.
"What? You know something, what is it?"
"This stretch of road…it's where all the victims disappeared." Dean felt any color that had returned to his face instantly leave it, cold realization setting in.
Sam blinked a few times to rid his vision of doubles until finally he could see clearly. Feeling something on his wrists, Sam tried to sit up to get a better view of his surroundings. But it was then he realized he was tied to something, capable of barely any movement. When he realized his shirt had been torn off, he panicked, tossing his head to get what he thought may have been a gag off, however it was tied too tight. When he opened his mouth he found out it was a gag after all.
"Kid, if you don't stop moving, it's not going to be pretty." That halfway familiar voice caused Sam to remember Guy, and called himself ten kinds of stupid. What had Dean said about getting in a car with strangers?
"Guy…what if people show up looking for him?" This voice was foreign to Sam, but it sent shivers down his spine all the same.
"He was walking along the side of the road in the middle of the friggin night, no one's going to show up. Hand me that knife." Sam was still trying to free himself, but the cold press of a knife tip on the skin on his side stilled him from fear alone. The next thing he saw was a pair of cold blue eyes, looking directly into his own.
"We've never had a kid before…Not like you anyway. This should be fun." The gentle press, just enough to dimple his skin, but not cut it, turned savage, and Sam let out a muffled cry of pain. He could practically feel the drag of the knife, even if it was just a shallow cut. He tried to curl away from the pain, only to be held down.
"You do that it'll be a hell of a lot worse. Slower. More Painful."
Dean was still in the front seat off the Impala, chewing his lip fiercely and clenching his hands until his knuckles were white, if only to stop himself thinking.
"I think I know where they've been taking the abducted victims…there's a ravine type thing just on the edge of town. Lots of caves and the like. It seems the most obvious place to hide people."
"Since when are these things obvious?" John shot a glance over at his son.
"It's the best we've got. Would you rather we sat down and did some more research?" No, Dean would certainly not rather they do that.
"You think I don't know what these people have been doing…" He started, stopping to clear his throat before continuing. "I read some of your research the other day, sir. They torture their victims first. Then it's a slow, ritual killing. Yes, all evidence points to the caves, but…it's Sam." His voice broke on his brothers name.
John pulled the car over, his alarm evident.
"You listen to me. Nothing is happening to your brother. Nothing. He'll be fine." Dean looked up at him, having sunk low in his seat. His eyes were wide, glassy in the light from the almost full moon.
"You don't know that." John saw this tear. He turned away, knowing that Dean was blaming him, or worse, himself. Probably the latter, given Dean's fierce protectiveness.
So he didn't deny it, simply pulled back on to the road and continued towards the caves a little faster, never uttering a word.
Tears were staining Sam's cheeks. There was a thin trickle of blood running down his cheek from where Guy and some of the others-the Dark Ones, they called themselves, as if that wasn't totally cliched-had sliced another shallow cut. He could hear the sickly sound of his own blood dripping onto the table he was tied to.
Sam was a pretty good judge of time, for an eleven year old (almost twelve). And so he figured he had to have been there about an hour.
Funny, the only thing he could think was; 'Where's Dean?'
Dean, after much protesting, had finally been permitted to join his father, successfully convincing him that a two pronged attack would be better than just him.
Now, knife tucked snugly in to his boot and colt revolver clutched in his hand, Dean peered through one of the window-like holes that peppered this side of the cave.
What he saw made his blood run cold.
Sam was stretched out on what appeared to be a ceremonial altar, tied down and gagged. His little brother was pale and shaking from blood loss, eyes half closed and head turned to his shoulder. Whether this was because he was exhausted or trying to save himself from seeing any more Dean wasn't sure, but if he had to hazard a guess he'd say a bit of both.
Seeing that Sam's arms and chest were covered in lacerations-some deep, some shallow, all bleeding-Dean winced. That red was a ghastly contrast to the almost white of Sam's blood deprived body. He'd be happy if he never saw it anywhere near his brother again.
Sam could barely hear through the sluggish beating of his heart, ringing in his ears as it was. From somewhere to his right he heard Guy and some of the other cult members mutter about noise near the mouth of the cave. Sam honestly couldn't bring himself to care, his body alternating between searing pain whenever a new cut was made and blissful numbness whenever there would be a lull in proceedings.
All out yelling made Sam try and turn his head, and left him sucking in breaths of air as best he could afterward as he fought to stay conscious.
"Sammy, you okay?" That familiar nickname in that familiar voice calmed him down some, only completely relaxing when his older brothers grinning, concerned face popped into his field of vision.
The sudden quiet in the echoing cave was disconcerting, just for the second it lasted completely. After that, the steady drip of rain water from a stalactite in the corner was established again, and the quiet whining of a wolfs cry to his pack continued.
Nimble, callused fingers made quick work of the gag preventing Sam from making any noise. Within two seconds after he was completely free, Sam was cradled against Dean's heaving chest.
"You ever, ever, pull some crazy stunt like that again, I'll be the one tying you down."
Now, as well as blood from the welts along one of his cheeks, Sam could feel the trickle of tears. He made no effort to stop them; too much energy, so instead he let his arm come around Dean's back and reassure himself.
"S…Sorry…" He gasped out, now becoming almost painfully aware of how scared he had been; still was.
"S'Okay. Come on, let's get you cleaned up and out of here." Hesitating a moment-he wasn't into chick flick stuff after all-Dean hugged Sam tighter for a fraction of a second. When it was returned, he allowed himself a small smile.
That hour or so of pure terror of the unknown was over, and Dean never wanted a repeat of it. Ever.