Out in the middle of nowhere
Nebraska

Michael McKellan, better known as Mike among his friends, wasn't too sure about this endeavor that Carl had started. To begin with it had sounded okay. After all, they were after the next budding Hitler. But now, after actually catching up to the kid and having spent some time with him, Mike was doubting the rightness of this whole sordid mess.

He glanced back at Carl, who stood leaning against a pillar holding up the roof a few feet behind him and cursed the fact that Carl was as fanatic as Gordon. He didn't really like either of them. Then he returned his attention to the kid. There was no doubt in his mind that they would have had a hell of a fight on their hands if the kid hadn't been so wasted already when they picked him up. This was, after all, John Winchester's son and that meant the kid knew how to fight back.

The kid's lids were drooping now and he had a hard time keeping his head up despite the obviously uncomfortable position he was in, and Mike wanted nothing more than to let him rest. Hell, he needed rest himself. But Carl was running on coffee and amphetamines, like always, and hardly needed any rest at all. Mike was beginning to suspect that the guy was turning into an addict and as such was suffering from paranoia and delusions of grandeur.

"Let's take a break from this, Carl," he suggested, fully aware of what the response would be.

"You go rest. I'll keep this punk company," Carl said, his gaze locked on the kid.

Mike sighed lightly, then rose from his chair and turned back to face Carl. "He's not going anywhere, Carl. And you're not going to get shit out of him if he dies from fatigue."

Carl smiled coldly. "He's young. He can stand it. Besides, for all we know, he's half demon. I think he's a little more resilient than you give him credit for," he said and sneered.

Another glance back at the kid made Mike feel very low. He could barely stay on his feet from fatigue and he'd been rested when they'd picked the kid up two days ago. If you added the beating he'd taken on top of that, Mike was actually surprised that he hadn't passed out yet. "Anyone ever tell you you're a psychotic freak?" he asked and returned his attention to Carl.

Carl blinked once, then focused on him. "Watch it, Mike. I'm beginning to get the feeling you're not a hundred percent into this anymore. And that could mean the kid's getting inside your head somehow."

Mike held Carl's unblinking gaze for a moment, then rolled his eyes, shook his head and headed toward the rear of the old warehouse, where the truck was parked. He needed to shut his eyes just for half an hour.

***

Carl watched Mike leave and sneered. That guy was going to be trouble. He would have to watch his back from now on. Slowly, he returned his attention to their suspended prey and narrowed his eyes a little.

"How about you and I have a little heart-to-heart, huh?" he asked, stepped up to the kid and slapped him hard across the face to wake him up. "No sleeping, kiddo. Not until you tell me what I want to know."

"And then what? You blow my brains out?" Sam asked, finally opening his mouth. "That's one hell of an incentive to tell you anything."

"Wise guy," Carl snarled and grabbed Sam's chin. "As you may have noticed by now, I don't care if I hurt you. But I'll make damned sure you stay alive long enough to tell me where the hell that little freak is. The sooner the better. And trust me when I tell you, kiddo, it'll only get worse for you the longer you draw this out."

Sam's only response was a glare.

Carl released his chin and stepped back. "I've heard a lot of things about your dad. I'm surprised he didn't throttle you in your crib," he added.

Sam's lips twitched, but he said nothing further. Carl was under the impression, though, that he desperately wanted to say something.

"It takes away from his reputation as a ruthless hunter that he's let you live, kid," Carl continued. "Makes me think he wasn't as tough as I've heard. Actually, it makes him seem kinda weak and feeble."

The anger in the kid was growing, no doubt about that, and Carl had dealt with enough bad guys to know that if you pushed them far enough, they let things slip.

"Where is he anyway? Or did he disown you? Is that why you're out there on your own?" Carl pushed on, then snapped his fingers in mock surprise. "Oh yeah, that's right. You're not alone. You've got your brother with you, don't you?" he asked. "Are you hoping he'll come running to save you?"

If attacking his father's integrity couldn't make the kid talk, then maybe an attack on the brother would be more successful.

"At least your dad doesn't hang around you anymore. Your brother is never far away from what I hear. It's a pity, really. His reputation is almost as powerful as your dad's, but that's gonna change in future. He can't be unaffected by your evil, after all. I think it might be wise to make sure none of your darkness has rubbed off on him. I'll have to instigate a hunt for him once I'm through here," he said and quickly subdued a smirk at the rising hatred in the kid's eyes.

"You stay the hell away from him," he snapped, his anger now uncontrolled. "Dean's got nothing to do with this."

"Is that a fact?" Carl asked and regarded his fingernails casually. "Well ... we'll just have to wait and see, won't we? If I've timed this right, he will come running to your rescue. And he'll bring the little freak with him. Three flies with one swat. Not a bad deal, this."

Sam fought the restraints angrily, but couldn't break their hold on him. "I'm gonna kill you," he hissed.

"Not as long as you're stuck to that wall you won't. You really think I'd take any chances with something as evil as you?" Carl countered and sighed. "I know you can't help it. It's not your fault that you were born evil. But you must understand that I can't allow you to develop your full potential. It would mean the end of mankind and that's just not gonna happen."

For a moment, Sam just stared at him, unadulterated hatred in his eyes, then he suddenly simmered down and relaxed against the wall again. "You're wrong about me," he said quietly.

Carl settled down on the chair Mike had abandoned. "I can't take that risk, kiddo," he said just as quietly.

***

North of Broken Bow
Nebraska

The dirt road would have been impassable if it had rained, but since the weather was dry, the Impala had no trouble maneuvering over the hard-packed soil.

Since Dean had woken up again and taken back the wheel, he had said nothing and Angelina had not made any attempt at conversation either. Sean was preoccupied by something in the back and silent as well.

All Dean could focus on was getting to where Sam's phone presently was, which was hopefully where Sam was too. And if he found out that those bastards had hurt his brother, there would be hell to pay. The closer he got to the coordinates Ash had given him, the tenser he grew.

Through the dense trees up ahead where the road turned sharply, Dean spotted something and stopped the car to squint through the thicket. What he saw looked like an old warehouse in a clearing out in the middle of the forest. He frowned lightly, then glanced over his shoulder back the way they'd come. It was not a good idea to park the Impala this close to the warehouse, which he assumed had to be the spot, so he backed her up until he hit the more traveled and therefore bigger dirt road that had led away from Gates Country Road.

Then he turned his attention to Angelina. "Okay, here's the deal," he said. "You two stay put. Don't leave the car. If anyone you don't know turns up, you have to be ready to shoot to kill. Because they will be."

Angelina nodded. She looked almost nauseous.

"With a little luck, this is where Sam is. I'm gonna go in to get him out. If I'm not back in an hour, you get the hell out of here. If Bobby doesn't turn up, go to his place in Fort Pierre in South Dakota. He can help you out."

"You're not going in there alone, are you?" Angelina countered and the look in her eyes was an equal mixture of concern and stunned surprise. "You should wait for ... this Bobby."

"Sam might be in trouble in there, Angie. There's no way I'm letting them hurt him if I can avoid it," Dean countered sternly.

To his immediate surprise, she grabbed his arm in a steely grip. "Don't be stupid, Dean. How are you going to help him if you walk into a trap?"

He blinked, glanced over at the dirt road, then back at Angelina. Oddly enough, it hadn't occurred to him that this could be a trap. Perhaps these hunters ... if they were hunters ... had grabbed Sam to get to Sean. The two they had taken care of at that cabin had been after Sean and had only by chance realized that Sam was there too. Since the first guy they had run into earlier at the motel in San Angelo had obviously called in assistance, it was a pretty safe bet that the second guy they had shot at the cabin hadn't been the only one to answer the call. It was just a question of how many the first guy had called in. If he had called any at all. Maybe this was something completely different?

Annoyed, he wiped a hand over his mouth, and glared out at the forest for a moment. The idea of walking straight into a trap B any trap B didn't sit well with him. But the fact that Sam had gone missing on the way to South Dakota spoke its own clear language. Even though ...

"Enough," he growled. Too much thinking took away from what he had to do. And he had to save his brother, come hell or high water.

Fortunately, the decision on whether he should go in now or wait for Bobby was taken out of his hands when Bobby's car pulled up behind them. Dean got out and turned to face the other car.

"So, for once in your life you've used the inside of your head and waited for backup, huh?" Bobby asked and eyed him critically. "You don't look so good," he added.

"Yeah, well, I'll feel a whole lot better when I know my little brother's still alive and in one piece," he countered and grimaced.

Bobby glanced at Angelina, who had just climbed out of the car as well. "I take it you're Angelina Banks?" he asked and she nodded. "Let's take care of the introductions when we've dealt with this. I suggest you and your son stay in the car. And keep a gun ready if you have one."

"I do," Angelina said and held up her gun to prove it.

Bobby nodded and looked back over at Dean. "You packing?"

Dean nodded once. "Let's go," he said.

They left the cars and Angelina and Sean behind and made their way through the undergrowth toward the clearing. Almost there, Bobby grabbed Dean's shoulder and pulled him to a stop. "First things first," he said. "Do you know they're in there?"

"No," Dean confessed.

"So you don't know how many they are? Or if they even have Sam?" Bobby asked on.

Dean made a face. "No," he said.

Bobby sighed. "Okay, let's take a look around and see what's what. If they're in there, we deal with the situation. But you do not shoot anybody until we know how many there are, do I make myself clear?"

"Yes," Dean muttered. There was that tone again. He just couldn't stop himself from responding to it like a soldier would to a command from a superior officer and it irked him on some level.

"Let's go," Bobby said and started forward again.

Dean watched him go for a second, then mentally shook himself and followed.

***

Inside the warehouse

Carl definitely had a nasty streak. Sam was fairly convinced that he was the type who would rub salt in an open wound if he thought it would get him what he wanted.

A few slaps he could handle, but the sucker punch in the guts had drained his already waning strength to a point where he was hanging by his wrists more than standing on his feet. Collapsing wasn't in the books, though. If he let himself go too much, he would most likely break both ankles and add to the misery he was already in.

Gasping for breath, he struggled to make his knees work so he could push himself up a little again. The edges of the riser clamps were already cutting painfully into his ankles and wrists.

"You could spare yourself a lot of agony if you would just talk to me, kiddo," Carl said. He sounded almost bored.

"Bite me," Sam pressed out and finally managed to push up a little to take the weight off his ankles.

"I'm getting tired of this game, kid," Carl countered, grabbed his chin and shoved his head into the wall behind him. "You know, I do think I can find that little freak on my own. It'll take me longer than if you just open your trap and tell me what I want to know, but if you don't want to play ball, I'll just have to dispose of you and find the boy on my own."

Sam refrained from responding to that and settled for a snort and an angry glare.

"No comment?" Carl asked and snorted himself. "Well, that's your prerogative, I guess. But do keep in mind that I am going to take out your brother as well. He's spent way too much time around you. And evil has a tendency to rub off on others. Just look at Hitler. He managed to convert a whole frigging country to his way of thinking."

It was interesting how any mention of Dean raised Sam's temperature considerably. The idea that this psycho would go after Dean made him see red, but no matter how he turned and twisted, he couldn't get out of his ties and he had no way of warning Dean of what was coming.

Carl sighed, released his chin and took a step backward. "Oh well. We've wasted enough time on you already," he said, pulled the gun from the holster he had under his left arm, flicked the safety off the automatic, took a step forward again and pressed the muzzle of the gun against the underside of Sam's chin, thereby once again pressing his head back against the metal wall. "Give my regards to Lucifer. Tell him he won't get this world any time soon," he said.

Despite the bad position he was in, Sam did see the movement behind Carl and he couldn't help a wry albeit nervous grin.

"What the hell are you grinning at, freak?" Carl demanded.

"Maybe he's grinning at the fact that I'm just about an inch away from blowing your brains out, bozo," Dean countered. He stood well out of range, but Sam knew Dean could hit a damned fly at this distance. Carl was as good as dead.

Unfortunately, Carl didn't rise to the bait. He didn't move, just stared at Sam without moving the gun or flinching. "Your little brother will be dead before that bullet hits me," he said quietly.

A flicker of doubt rippled through Dean's expression and Sam felt his grin falter. "Why don't you be a real man and turned around and face me, shit-for-brains?" Dean tried.

"Because that would leave me at a disadvantage, wouldn't it?" Carl countered. He looked far too calm for Sam's liking.

"Not as much as ..." Dean started, but then stopped.

Sam was in no position to warn him of anything and so hadn't been able to direct his attention to the fact that Mike had joined the game. The big guy jabbed Dean in the back with the muzzle of a high-powered rifle to announce his presence, then stepped back.

"Looks like you're outnumbered, Winchester," Carl said, a smirk on his lips.

"Drop the gun, son. I don't wanna shoot you if I can avoid it," Mike said.

"Not gonna happen," Dean countered. He didn't lose sight of his target either and kept his gaze locked on Carl. "If I drop my gun, your buddy kills my brother."

"Carl, stop being a prick," Mike suggested.

"Shut it, big guy. You're not in charge here," Carl countered sourly.

"Then who is?"

Sam glanced sideways and caught sight of Bobby. He wasn't entirely sure if he should be relieved or worried about that. Carl might not consider Bobby a threat.

Obviously the appearance of Bobby had an influence on Carl though. Sam saw the beads of perspiration break out on his forehead and he felt the gun shift a little against the underside of his chin.

Bobby focused on Mike, though. "What the hell are you doing here, Mike?" he asked.

"Doing a job, Bobby. That's all," Mike countered, but he sounded less than certain.

"Don't be an ass. This is John Winchester's kid. You really think he's evil?" Bobby asked.

"Don't listen to him, Mike. He doesn't know anything about this," Carl said, his tone tense.

"Why don't you just put a cork in it, Sallinger?" Bobby barked, causing an immediate response in Carl. The guy actually jerked and his gaze shifted to the side.

Mike was glancing from Bobby to Carl and back again, quite obviously teetering on the proverbial edge. "I ..."

"You just keep your damned rifle on that kid, Mike," Carl snapped.

"This is one hell of a Mexican standoff," Bobby growled, definitely annoyed.

Sam glanced in his direction and noticed that Bobby had moved a whole lot closer. Carl had his back to him and so didn't know how close the older hunter was. Whatever Bobby's plan was, Sam hoped he would do something about it soon.

"Look, Singer, this is none of your business, so why don't you just get the hell out before we have to blow you away too?" Carl asked and swallowed.

Bobby narrowed his eyes a little, then lowered his gun at the same time as Mike lowered his rifle. It was obvious by now that Mike wasn't going to interfere any more. And then Bobby lunged forward so suddenly, it stunned Sam.

Bobby grabbed Carl's wrist and ripped the gun away from Sam's chin. At the same time Dean fired on reflex because Carl fired his gun.

***

For the longest of moments, time stood still. The echo of the shots had long since faded into nothingness. Dean stared at Sam, not daring to blink. The wiry guy had hit the ground, half of his face gone, but that still didn't overrule the fact that he'd fired his gun before he'd gone down. And the blood on Sam's face made Dean very afraid.

Slowly, he finally lowered his gun, not daring to take his eyes of his brother for even a second. And then Sam finally moved. He blinked a little sluggishly, then let his head drop forward a little. "Ow," he rasped.

That little word and the twist of Sam's expression broke the spell. Dean dropped his gun and strode over to him. The one and only thing on his mind right now was to get Sam off that damned wall so he could assess the damage done. The bullet had graze Sam's brow, but nothing more.

It took a minute for him to realize this, but eventually he had to give up on removing the clamps on Sam's wrists by hand. "What the hell did they do? Bolt you to the wall?" he asked.

"Pretty much," Sam agreed, sounding as worn out as he looked. "Could you just get me off this damned wall? I'm not feeling so good."

"Don't blame you. You look like someone's punching bag," Dean countered, glossing over how he really felt with sarcasm and humor like always. He glanced around, looking for something he could use to break these clamps off the wall, but there was nothing sturdy enough around.

Bobby stepped closer and examined one of the clamps, then made a face. "We need a crowbar. Or a blow torch," he said, then eyed Sam closely. "I've got both in my car. I'll go get them," he added, then turned around to face Mike. "I suggest you get in that truck of yours and get the hell out of here before Dean decides to take a bite out of you," he said, his tone steely.

Fortunately, Mike didn't have to be told twice.

Dean glanced over his shoulder and followed Mike's retreat for a moment, then turned his attention to Bobby. "Go get those tools. The sooner we get him off this wall, the better," he said.

Bobby nodded and left while the big grey truck left the warehouse with squealing tires. Mike had obviously taken Bobby's warning to heart.

Dean scanned the immediate area again in search of something to expedite Sam's release, but again came up blank. "How the hell did these two morons get the drop on you?" he finally asked, returning his attention to his brother. In part he had to admit that he was a little disappointed by the fact that Sam hadn't been able to handle these two.

Sam sniffed and closed one eye when the blood from the gash on his forehead trickled into it. Dean pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and mopped the blood away. "I was tired," Sam finally confessed and hissed when Dean's ministrations got a little too close to the cut.

"Dude, you're going soft on me here," Dean said and eyed the chains cris-crossing over Sam's chest. He took a hold of one of them and yanked at it with no effect. "Can't you use your psychic powers to break free?" he asked.

Sam gave him a withering glare. "Do you think I would be stuck on this damned wall if I could?" he countered, his tone icy.

Dean made a face. "Guess not," he muttered, braced one foot against the wall, took a solid hold of one chain and put all his strength into breaking it free from the wall. "God dammit," he snapped when it didn't budge.

"Just leave it be. Bobby said he had the tools necessa..." Sam trailed off and glanced toward the direction where Bobby had left.

With a grimace, Dean had to acknowledge that Bobby had given Angelina permission to drive his car. The sound of the Impala's engine was unmistakable. He knew she could drive, which did make it a little easier to handle, but it still burned him.

"Who's ..." Sam trailed off. "You brought them here?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "What was I supposed to do? Ditch them?" he countered.

"What if there had been more than these two?" Sam demanded, obviously shaken by this realization.

Reminding himself that his brother had to be both wasted and in pain, Dean let that icy tone slide. "There weren't. So pipe down," he grumbled.

Car doors slammed and a moment later Bobby came in, followed by Angelina and Sean. Her eyes widened. "Oh my god," she muttered and clapped a hand over her mouth.

Bobby tried the crowbar first and found that it worked just fine. The wall wasn't that sturdy and the bolts gave up after he had pushed them enough. It took about fifteen minutes in all to break the clamps and remove the chains and Sam nearly collapsed when the support they had offered disappeared.

Dean caught him and together with Bobby hauled him over to the chair. "Hey, Angie. You think Sean can help out here?" he asked and glanced at her over one shoulder.

The way the kid clung to his mother more than answered that question, but Angelina still hunkered down and talked quietly to Sean for a moment. Then she focused on Dean, regret in her eyes.

"Never mind. It's not that bad," Sam said. He sounded faint.

"Let's get him in the car. We're going to my place. You guys need to rest," Bobby said and gave Angelina a critical glance. "All of you," he added.

"You think that Mike is gonna be a problem?" Dean asked.

"No, he's not the type. He's more a tag-along than an instigator. Now that Carl's out of the picture, I think Mike's heading home to Alabama," Bobby said. "Mrs. Banks, you and your son can take my car. Sam needs to lie down and Dean needs to sleep too."

Angelina nodded, that look of regret still in her eyes.

They got Sam out into the car and Dean went the extra mile and found a blanket in the trunk which he tugged around his brother. "You're gonna worry me to death some day, you know that?" he chided quietly.

Sam managed a vague smile before his lids slid shut.

Then Dean looked up at Bobby. "I can drive," he said and straightened his back painfully. Despite his words, he felt like crap.

"The hell you can. You look almost as bad as he does," Bobby countered with a nod towards Sam. "You're not driving for four hours and that's final," he added in a no-nonsense tone of voice. "Get in. We're burning daylight."

Dean made a face, sighed heavily to demonstrate his displeasure, then slid onto the passenger side seat and pulled the door shut behind him.

***