A/N: So this was spurred as a reaction from writing a couple truly terrible papers. Papers I felt so awful about, I had no desire to write anything but an apology email, though I couldn't word that right either. I can only blame myself and my procrastinating tendencies, but I didn't want to self-flagellate any more. I would much rather flagellate our boys.
I don't have any further plans for this story, so I marked it as complete. It's also rated T right now, though it has some rather graphic violence. If you think the rating should be upped, let me know and I shall endeavor to fix it and all your other problems in life and in love.
The comforting, cold press of concrete against his kneecaps numbed his shins. For a moment he thought to be grateful that he wasn't hanging from his wrists this time. It was a moment of recycled optimism where he thought of the advantages of having his hands free, of fighting back, of escaping.
But the thought flickered out like a wick's flame drowned in its own wax. He didn't even have the energy to slump to the side, to crumple against the cuts that had yet to clot, let alone raise his fists past his shoulders.
He thought about counting seconds to give him something to focus on, something else. Or maybe he could count his own uneven breaths. The number of rats that scurried past him in the darkness. He didn't.
It didn't matter.
They'd tell him when they came again. They will whip it into his skin and whisper it into his skull. They will remind him of his failure with laughter and knives, mocking his whimpers.
"Your brother hasn't cried out even once," they said last time as they removed an inches of skin from the arch of his foot. "And look at you. Just a few days with us and you haven't stopped screaming yet."
He breathed out against the memory, pushing it down. He focused on his knees, their simple demand that he shift his position allowing him to stifle thoughts of the past. Of what came next. He let the pains of his body flow together until every inch of him throbbed with the mesmerizing beat of his heart. Blissfully, he felt himself drift into near unconsciousness, the steady ache serving as a lullaby.
A hand caressed his hair.
He wrenched away violently, defying his earlier assumption that he couldn't move a muscle. His stiff legs protested, knotting up, and his skinless palms scrabbled on the smooth ground for a weapon he had never dropped, had never had in the first place. His eyes opened wider, as if that would allow him to see in the unrelenting dark of his cell.
He stilled, but heard nothing but the rasping of air escaping his lungs in short bursts. The longer he waited, the heavier the cloak of black felt. He imagined he could feel it press into his mouth, his nose, and his chest ached with lack of oxygen.
A minute passed, two, but rather than calming, his muscles pulled tighter. He drew his knees to his chest, blood tacking his skin, and he pressed his forehead against his aching knees. He closed his eyes and strained his ears, but he had never had a warning before. As the silence stretched, his attention was pulled back to the individual pains of his flesh.
The parts of his body lacking skin felt fiery, as if the air burned where it touched. The open wounds along his back and chest pulled with his every gasped breath, dripping warm blood down his chilled body. The shattered bones in his feet pulsed in an unholy rhythm as if the hammer was still pounding into them. He clenched tighter into his ball and fought to not give away the terror that battled with the pain.
A finger dragged down his spine, cold against his fevered flesh, and he couldn't stop the moan that escaped his lips. It was a small sound, barely above a whisper, but it was enough.
"Such pretty noises you make for me," a voice hissed in his ear and he flinched away, but there were more hands now. They grabbed his limbs and stretched him out against the floor, almost gentle if it weren't for the agonized protests of his injured body. Trapped on his back, blind, he wriggled in an effortless bid for freedom.
"No, no, no, can't have that," they giggled. "No more moving."
Simultaneously through both palms, something sharp pierced them, pinning his hands to the concrete. He howled, his throat almost too dry to voice his cry, but he stopped his struggles. Not out of obedience, but out of the instinctive hope that a lack of movement would cause less pain.
"Silly baby, crying so pretty." Hands smoothed over his face, into the cuts that laced his chest, prodding at the muscles underneath. "It's only been seventeen days, silly. Seventeen days since you failed, since you found yourself in our tender hands. Just think, your brother hasn't shed a single tear and here you are. And we are still at such a small number, too! We can only play with you seventeen different ways today. Can you imagine, what will be left of you in a month?"
Chittering laughter echoed around him, high-pitched, as if the rats in the walls had gathered to mock him as well. They twisted the objects—knives?—that pierced his hands and another sob-scream was dragged out of him.
The sound of metal dragging on rock made him open his eyes, though he didn't remember clenching them shut. He blinked at the sight, for he now had the use of his sight, and he whimpered. "No, please…"
"Begging already? Who do you think is going to listen to you? You're all alone, pretty baby. All but us." Their eyes, black as tar, stared into his. Their mouths stretched into wide smiles, teeth glowing orange in the light. "And now it's time for the fun part!"
They laughed, and showed off the various glowing objects they held with broad, theatric motions. One abruptly thrust closer to his face, a crow bar, glowing with a molten heat and singing his eyebrow even from inches away.
"Where should we start today, hmm? Any preferences? Let's start…" The voice trailed off and the objects moved closer. He tried to press deeper into the cold of the ground, but his weak and bleeding body could do nothing but shudder in fear and gasp in the suddenly overheated air.
Without warning, hot metal pressed into the flesh of his left wrist and the sour scent of burning flesh filled his nose. His back bowed and his hands wrenched at the spikes piercing them. His mouth was open, but no air and no sound escaped until the metal stopped touching his skin. Then he whimpered with every rapid exhale. "No, no, no," he panted uselessly.
"Yes, yes, good. Let's start at the top." The molten crow bar burned a swift line from his forearm to his elbow, tracing the veins, causing him to yell out once more. "And move our way down."
The glowing objects crept closer and his sweat mixed with the blood running in rivulets to stain the ground beneath him. They surged, their pitiless eyes reflecting the image of his broken, pleading body…
Dean poured himself another cup of coffee. It was cold now, and cheap because the machine and the grounds were provided with the room, but it was still caffeinated. Besides, a generous portion of Jack and you hardly tasted the original flavor.
He stared into the inky liquid, watching the lighter colored alcohol mix in until it was all the same shade. Realizing he was brooding—and no way was Dean stealing that job from his little brother, not when he could win awards at it—he quickly gulped the whiskey-coffee down. He winced at the taste that sat sourly on his tongue, but he relished the burn.
It was a rare night off when he would spend the night in the motel watching Sam snore, instead of following a pair of heels back to her place and showing her what she had been missing. But the flirting last night had felt hollow, as if his buxom distractions could see Hell looming in his eyes and pitied him his fear.
So he had slapped Sam on the back, cracked a joke about how open laptops at bars are just asking for beers to be spilled on them, and offered the keys to his sober, goody-two-shoes brother. He'd stolen the laptop once they got back to the room, shoving exhausted Sammy into his bed. He had put up a token resistance, but he was snoring before he could even kick his jeans off.
Dean had debated whether or not he should try for a few hours as well, but he had catnapped on the drive into town and was not quite at the point of dreamless oblivion. Which led him to his second pot of coffee as dawn was only just lifting her head on the horizon and a dozen open tabs on Sam's laptop detailing the gruesome deaths of suburban family outside of Cincinnati.
He opened the link for pictures that had leaked from the crime scene and he grimaced at the amount of blood on the walls, visible even in the grainy black and white photos. He zoomed in on what looked like a pattern in one of the blood splatters. A symbol maybe, something to show Sam to get his geek brain working on a different project than his one-track campaign to Save Dean From His Idiotic Deal—and speak of the devil…it lives!
Dean smirked as the mound of his brother started stirring from his beauty sleep and turned towards the coffee machine to brew a fresh pot. Sam wasn't too fond of his new habit of cutting coffee with Jack (or the other way around, depending on if he had any coffee left) and would doubtlessly bitch at him for being awake and not having caffeine at the ready.
A loud groan stopped Dean from proceeding into the kitchenette. The shouted, "No!" from Sam had Dean sprinting back into the bedroom.
"Sammy," he said. His brother only flailed some more, limbs caught up in the twisted sheets, and panted out another no.
Dean grabbed Sam's shoulder and shook. "Sammy," he demanded louder. "Wake up."
Sam moaned and stilled, but he remained locked in sleep. It had been months since Sam had been caught so deeply in a nightmare. Not since they weren't nightmares at all, Dean thought.
He looked at the nightstand at the glass of water Sam usually kept by him—empty—and then looked down at his mug of bitter flavored Jack and debated the pros and cons of splashing the brown substance at Sam to wake him up.
But then Sam screamed and that erased all thoughts from Dean's head about the mug he was holding. He let it crash to the ground, ignoring the splash of liquid staining the already badly colored carpeting, and used both hands to shake his brother. The scream wasn't loud, but Dean was not thankful for it. He would have gladly accepted angry neighbors thumping on the walls if he could stop Sam from ever making such a voiceless cry of agony ever again.
"Goddamnit, Sammy!" And finally Sam opened his eyes. Nearly weeping at the sight of the dazed hazel color, though he would never admit it, Dean rubbed at Sam's arms briskly as if the nightmare could have left him chilled. Dean certainly had goosebumps without even seeing whatever had caused that scream. He murmured soft reassurances to Sam and watched as awareness seeped more and more into his brother's eyes.
Sam groaned and brought both his hands up to rub at his temples. "Dean?" he asked, his voice rough with sleep and screaming, but it echoed with Dean's memories of his floppy-haired baby brother waking with the same question upon waking from nightmares.
"Sh, it's okay. I'm here. Aspirin?"
Sam nodded without moving his hands from his head so Dean swiftly stood and snagged the bottle of pills from the duffle by the door and the bottle of Jack for good measure. Without argument, Sam popped three of the pills that Dean pressed into his palm and followed it with a swig straight of out the bottle, barely even wincing at the flavor.
Dean sat back down on his brother's bed and gently replaced Sam's hands with his own, kneading at his brother's temples until the tight furrow between his brows had all but disappeared.
"Thanks," Sam whispered. His voice would have been a shock in the silence of the room had Dean not noticed how Sam was gearing up to speak. "I'm fine now, thanks," he repeated.
Not fully believing him but willing to give him some space, Dean let go and sat back on the bed. They sat quietly for a minute, Sam probably urging the aspirin to take effect faster and Dean watching his brother's every twitch.
"What was it?" he asked and cocked an eyebrow at Sam's startled expression. Sam couldn't have been surprised by the question, not with all the melodrama and head spinning of moments before.
Sam reopened his eyes now Dean was the surprised one. Through these past months—heck, years—of working diligently against the armies of Hell and her allies, of watching over Dean as he laid dying in two different hospitals on two separate occasions, Sam had never lost that stubborn spark in his eyes. The one that Dean took comfort in knowing that he brought it back to the world, stupid deal or no. The one that said Sam would walk straight into a grave himself before giving up.
But that spark was gone, eroded under the images of whatever he had dreamt. And in its place was a bleakness he had never seen in his little brother's eyes, even after years of hard living. A hopelessness that went deeper than just a nightmare.
"Nothing," Sam replied. "Just a bad dream. Jess again, I think. Don't worry about it."
Sam's eyes dropped the bedspread, his gaze pointed away and Dean felt guilty for the momentary flicker of relief to not have that despairing look pointed at him any longer.
"So it was nothing important? No…" Dean wiggled a finger at his own head to indicate dreams of the woo-woo variety.
"Of course not," Sam lied. "It was nothing. We should just forget about it."
Dean nodded and stood to put a fresh pot of coffee on. If his brother didn't want to cry on his shoulder, who was he to complain? he told himself. But the image of his brother's eyes lodged a rock in his gut that he knew no amount of alcohol could melt. Dean hoped, for both their sakes, that maybe this time it was just a dream. That it really was nothing important. And as he brought a cup of freshly brewed crappy motel coffee to his brother still lounging in bed, he had nearly convinced himself that was true.