The first thing he became consciously aware of was how frigging cold it was. The second sensation that asserted itself was how much his head hurt. And little by little, step by step, the world came back into focus around him; at least what he could see of the world. Slowly, he raised his head and squinted at his surroundings. There was a little light coming from the right somewhere, so he turned his thudding head to look in that direction and came to a complete stop when he focused on the shape next to him.

Dean straightened up as much as his present position allowed for and realized with some measure of concern that his hands was shackled to the cold rocky wall above his head and that his feet were barely touching the ground. "Son of a bitch," he rasped and sent a quick look down himself, which stumped him yet again. Apart from his shorts he didn't have a thread on.

But his general state of undress took a backseat to the fact that his brother was in the same bad position and still out cold. Cursing under his breath at the coldness of the rock behind him and his aching head, he shifted sideways toward Sam as much as he could. The light from the right was enough to show him that Sam was breathing and that he had a rather severe-looking bruise on his left temple. "Sam," he rasped, cleared his throat and tried again. "Sam!"

With a groan, his brother slowly came around. He raised his head a little and flinched. "Ow," he groaned.

"Sammy, are you with me?" Dean pressed.

"Give me a sec," Sam muttered, then stopped moving for a moment. Slowly he raised his head all the way and squinted at his surroundings. "Where the hell are we?"

"In deep shit," Dean countered and yanked angrily at the shackles holding his hands. The chains rattled ominously. "In knee deep shit," he corrected himself.

Sam looked down himself, then glanced at Dean. "Why are we in our shorts?"

"You know, that's something I really don't want to know," Dean countered and shuddered. "I'm cold, my head hurts and these damned shackles are chafing my wrists like crazy. The last thing I want to do right now is have to reflect on why I'm almost naked too," he added and yanked at the chains holding the shackles yet again.

Sam tilted his head back and squinted upward. "Those are some serious shackles," he said. Due to his superior height, he had a little more leeway. He wrapped his hands around the chains and put his back into pulling at them, but they didn't give even a little. "This sucks," he added.

"Tell me about it," Dean agreed and shifted a little in an attempt to get more comfortable with no luck. He made a face, then glanced at Sam, who was still trying to dislodge the chains. "Guess you were right, huh?"

Sam glanced back at him, his expression unreadable in the semi-darkness. "Yeah, well, maybe next time you'll listen to me, huh?" he countered and sighed.

"Yeah, sure," Dean agreed. "Let's just get the hell out of here so there will be a next time."

The glance this earned him was of the withering kind. "Oh, yeah, good idea. So, how are you coming along with your shackles?" Sam asked, his tone dripping with sarcasm.

"Shut up," Dean countered and yanked at the chains again only to flinch when the edge of one shackle cut into his wrist and drew blood. "Shit," he hissed.

"Pulling at them like that isn't going to do you any good," Sam claimed.

"Ya think?" Dean snapped, aggravated. "Shut up for minute. I'm trying to think here."

Sam snorted and managed to turn himself around so he faced the rock and gasped when his chest came in contact with the cold rock. "Shit, that's cold," he puffed.

For a moment Dean just eyed him. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked.

Sam used the chains to haul himself upward a little, then braced his bare feet against the wall and put everything he had into breaking the chains free from their anchors up above.

Hopeful to the last, Dean watched him the whole time until Sam gave up, panting from the exertion.

"No go, huh?" Dean asked and glanced upward to note the fact that nothing had changed.

Sam put his feet back on the ground and briefly rested his brow against the cold stone, then shifted around again, untangling the chains to give himself a little more leeway again. "What does it look like?" he finally countered. "Dammit."

"Look, I'm sorry, okay? I didn't know this would happen. I ..." Dean tried, then stopped himself. "We'll just have to do what we can to ..." He sighed. "Can't you use that psychic stuff to get us out of here?"

Again Sam sent him a glance that made Frosty the Snowman seem like a warm, lovable guy. "I've already told you, Dean. I can't turn it on and off," he growled and yanked viciously at his chains. "Do you have any idea what we're up against here?"

"Some stupid cult," Dean countered. "They'll come back at some point and when they do, we'll make our move."

"These guys are not doing this for fun, Dean. They believe in this crap. And you know what? You were right. They're into sacrificing people big time if that bible of theirs is anything to go by. They'll spill blood to have a quiet day tomorrow." Sam was angry, but he was also nervous like hell. The slight quiver in his voice was more than proof of that.

"Okay, I get it," Dean grumbled. "Son of a bitch," he added heatedly. "I hate being cold, you know that? I hate freezing my ass off so some deranged morons can sacrifice me to their moronic god. This sucks!"

The way Sam looked at him made him a little self-conscious. "Are you done?" Sam asked after a moment.

"Yeah, I'm good," Dean growled and fell silent.

For a while they conserved their energy by not talking or moving, but Dean hated silence even more than he hated the cold.

"Sam?"

For a moment it seemed like Sam wasn't going to answer. Then he muttered something under his breath.

"I know this is my fault," Dean said. "I should have listened to you."

"Would you stop blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong in life?" Sam countered. "I wasn't sure, I just had a bad feeling. If it had been a premonition, I would have worked harder at convincing you."

Dean couldn't contain a smile. Leave it to Sam to smooth things over when Dean so obviously had made a mistake. He sighed. "Yeah, well," he muttered. "So, how do you wanna play this?"

"I don't know, Dean. We'll have to make a move against these guys when they come back. I do think we should try to talk to them first," Sam countered.

"No, no talking. If they release us, they asked for it," Dean said sternly. "We're not going to be able to talk our way out of this, Sam."

"They probably outnumber us ten to two, Dean. Our best bet is to reason with them," Sam shot back.

Dean gave him a glare for his trouble. "I said no, Sam. Religious fanatics are dangerous under the best of circumstances and you can't reason with people like that. We have no other choice. They attacked us first. We gotta bite back."

"And what if we don't get a chance to do that?" Sam snapped.

"Then talking to them won't do much good either, will it?" Frustrated, Dean yanked at the chains again. "Son of a bitch! I hate it when the bad guys get the drop on us."

Sam huffed, but refrained from answering that.

***

Although it was hard to tell how much time passed since neither of them had their watches and there was no daylight to go by, Sam had the distinct impression that they had spent at least a few hours in this undignified position. And, truth be told, he was nervous as all hell about the outcome of this. If any of what he had read in that 'bible' was even remotely true, they were in over their heads. And the fact alone that nobody knew where they were made it even worse.

At the same time he shifted back and forth between being furious with Dean for once again not listening to him and being scared of what would happen to both of them. In part he wished he could have some kind of vision of how much crap they were in, because that might trigger his latent telekinetic abilities and help them get out of this situation. But he couldn't work up enough fear to get to that point and for once in his life he cursed his need to see things from the positive side.

Dean kept yanking at his chains at regular intervals and even though the light wasn't good, Sam could still see the blood oozing from the deepening cuts on his brother's wrists. The main reason for that he didn't keep rubbing it in that Dean's reluctance to listen to him had gotten them into this situation in the first place, was the fact that his brother was beyond frustrated right now. He had studied Dean his entire life and he knew how Dean responded in any given situation. Right now, he was on the border of panic, which wasn't good under any circumstances. Dean had a tendency to lose all sense when he reached this point.

The cold of this cave was getting to him big time and the more time passed, the more he could only focus on how great a warm shower would feel. He opened his mouth to say something, anything at this point, but stopped short when he heard something from where the flickering light fell into this cave. "Dean?"

"What?" Dean cleared his throat when his voice came out a little raspy.

"Someone's coming," Sam said quietly.

Six men trooped into the cave moments later. At least Sam thought they were men. It was hard to tell, really. They wore black cloaks with the hoods pulled up and white masks covering their faces.

Sam glanced at Dean, who glanced back at him, his expression stuck somewhere between amused and concerned, but Sam could admit that he himself was leaning more toward concerned than anything else. And before either of them could open their mouths to comment on the weird getup of these guys, all six of them brought out baseball bats hidden under their cloaks.

The only thing that went through Sam's mind at that point was a very poignant 'uh-oh' before the six men split up into two groups and attacked without a word.

Both of them had been through their share of beatings in life and even though every damned blow hurt, Sam got the feeling that these guys were holding back. They didn't put their backs into it, weren't intent on destroying them. Dean fought back a few times, but these guys were obviously expecting it and avoided it easily, and punished his attempts by going harder on his legs.

Sam's plan to talk to these guys went down the drain almost at once, because every time he opened his mouth to say something, one of these masked idiots would ram a bat into his stomach, knocking the air out of him.

How long they continued their batting practice was hard to say and when they eventually laid off, Sam at least felt like he'd gone a few rounds with a block of cement. And the six guys didn't stick around either. They just trooped out of the cave again, leaving them behind.

Dean groaned and shifted a little. "What the hell?" he finally pressed out through clenched teeth, his tone tight.

Sam hauled air into his lungs and winced at the sting from bruised muscles. "Only one reason they would do this," he countered when he finally found his voice.

"Oh yeah?" Dean was angrier than hell right now. "Enlighten me, 'cause I sure as hell don't see a good reason for beating the crap out of us like that," he added. "FRIGGING COWARDS!" he yelled after the six guys, who were long gone at this point.

"It makes it harder for us to fight back," Sam said and shifted a little, flexing his right shoulder which had been pummeled more than the left.

"Really? I kinda got the feeling they were trying to kill us," Dean countered sarcastically. "Although they're not very good at it, are they?"

"They weren't trying to kill us, Dean. They were trying to hamper us," Sam said and shifted a little. "And, judging by the way I feel right now, they managed that."

"Hamper us?" Dean frowned. "Why? So they can cut our hearts out more easily?"

"Something like that," Sam agreed and made a face. "Damn, I'm sore," he added.

"Tell me about it," Dean agreed. "Dammit, this was not what I had in mind when I got up this morning," he added and yanked at the chains again only to groan when that put pressure on now sore muscles.

Sam refrained from answering that. Anything he could say would be redundant anyway. There would be plenty of time to rub Dean's nose in this if they got out of this one alive. And he planned to do just that if he got the chance. Dean never gave him a chance to come up for air when he had done something wrong either.

"So, what now?" Dean asked after a moment. "We just hang around and wait for them to come back?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Well, if you have a way to get out of these damned shackles, now would be a good time to let me in on it," he countered.

"Don't get snarky with me," Dean warned. "I'm not in the mood."

"You're not in the mood?" Sam snorted. "That's great. You're the one that won't listen to me. And how many times have I been wrong? Huh?"

"Shut up, Sam," Dean growled.

"Fine. Then figure this out on your own. I'll just wait around until they come back and carve our hearts out of our chests then," Sam snapped.

Dean's attitude right now was ticking him off big time. Actually, come to think of it, Dean's attitude ever since the case with the trickster had been ticking him off. He just couldn't really put a finger on why. Dean was just being Dean, like always.

It took Sam a moment to realize that Dean didn't have a snappy comeback to that one and he glanced over at his brother to find him staring angrily ahead of himself. If there was one thing Sam had never been able to stand from Dean, then it was the cold shoulder act. He knew that Dean mostly did it to get a rise out of him, but it usually took something that made him really angry or hurt him to start it off. And Dean didn't get hurt easily.

Sam shifted a little and hissed when he brought his right heel down on something sharp. Like always, Dean couldn't ignore him when something caused him pain. "What?" he asked.

Sam raised his right foot of the ground while warm blood oozed from the cut on his heel. "Nothing. I cut my foot," he countered, intentionally keeping his tone mellow.

Dean glanced down. "You're bleeding," he said after a second.

"Yeah, but it's not that bad," Sam countered, sighed and sent a brief glance toward the entrance to this cave. "What the hell are they waiting for?"

"That we freeze our butts off," Dean growled.

"Probably," Sam agreed and fell silent again. He didn't really know what else to say and knew that anything else might trigger another bout of disagreement between them, and truth be told, he was getting tired of the constant bickering.

***

Dean glanced at Sam for the umpteenth time, more than a little inclined to apologize for this obvious blunder again, and he promised himself – like so many times before – that he would make it up to Sam, that he would listen to him next time.

It took him a moment to gather himself enough to even consider opening his mouth, but when he finally got to that point, Sam suddenly glanced toward the entrance. "They're coming back," he said.

"Great," Dean growled. He was gearing up for a big fight, readying himself for the very second they released him.

The six guys in their cloaks and masks returned, but this time they weren't alone. A tall, spindly guy wearing an animal pelt and what looked like the crown of a buffalo's head with the horns and fur still attached followed behind them. The way this guy walked alone was enough to indicate that he thought the world of himself. His face was heavily painted in black and red patterns and he positioned himself behind the row of men, who were all holding a torch, which lit up the cave.

Dean had no interest in their surroundings. The only thing he had any interest in was kicking some serious ass for what they were being put through.

"What the hell is going on here?" Sam asked. "What do you guys think you're doing?"

Nobody paid any attention to him. The head honcho shifted his attention back and forth between Sam and Dean, almost inspecting them both as if he was looking for something specific.

"Hey, morons. My brother asked you a question," Dean snarled, making sure to lace his voice with enough venom to make an impression.

The problem was, though, that it didn't. Neither the six men nor the head honcho behind them seemed to even hear him.

"Am I talking to myself here?" Dean snapped. "Yo, painted dude! I'm talking to you!"

Still nothing. The man just stood there and shifted his gaze between them, then suddenly settled it on Sam. Without a word, he pointed at Sam, then turned around and left.

More than a little concerned at this point, Dean frowned. "What the hell was that all about?" he asked and glanced at Sam.

"I'm not sure," Sam countered, but he sounded worried.

The six men all converged on Sam at the same time. Four of them held him while the last two released his wrists from the shackles and no matter how much effort he put into fighting them, six against one were just too many.

Dean fought his own restraints with growing agitation, but even that was not enough to break him free. All he managed was to hurt himself even more while the six masked men carried his struggling brother out of the cave, leaving him behind with no explanation.

"SAM!" he yelled and only got a muffled reply back that didn't put his concerns to rest. "Son of a bitch," he snapped.

A moment later, two of the masked guys returned and Dean figured if looks could kill, they would both have burst into flames at this very moment.

"Where's my brother?" he snapped.

The two men approached him cautiously, obviously keeping in mind that his legs were still free, and one of them brought something out under his cloak that made Dean stop dead. The guy was holding a taser. Before Dean could come up with anything to say to that, the guy fired the taser and shocked Dean into oblivion.

***

Coming to after being frozen half to death, beaten into a pulp and tasered, Dean was in a less than forgiving mood. Every damned muscle in his body hurt. He felt like he had the worst case of the flu he'd ever experienced and he got the distinct feeling that he was heading in that direction anyway, that he would spend the next week being feverish and clogged up – if, of course, he somehow managed to get out of this predicament alive and in one piece.

To add insult to injury, he had been gagged and was still shackled to the wall, although something was off. He raised his head, wincing at the strain that put on his near-cramping neck muscles and sent a look around. He was no longer in the smaller cave. At this point in time, he was back in the big cavern with the altar, but this place had undergone a bit of a change. All along the walls torches were lit, the flickering flames lighting up the cavern in an orange-yellow glow, and in this light, it was even less inviting than in the semi-darkness.

A bonfire was burning in the middle of the cavern and the temperatures were more comfortable than before, but it didn't warm up the rock behind him, but his own comfort was not at the forefront of his mind. He inspected the cavern visually, but found no sign of Sam, which had his stomach in knots. Where the hell was his brother?

Some of the cloak-clad men were milling around, spreading out what looked like rugs on the floor next to and behind the bonfire while the head honcho from earlier was up at the altar, checking the shackles. Dean didn't have to be a genius to know that they were gearing up for another sacrifice and judging by the activity going on, there was going to be an audience.

The fact of all these preparations gave him the hope that Sam was still okay, although he couldn't for the life of him figure out why they had been separated in the first place. He watched the head honcho fiddling with the shackles for a moment. Then the man suddenly looked over at him. His eyes were dark and completely devoid of emotion, which in and of itself wasn't very reassuring. Dean had met a lot of crazy people in his life, a lot of fanatics, but most of them had felt something or other and all of them had shown it in their eyes. This guy showed nothing. He just stared at Dean for a moment, then turned and walked over to the rostrum to open his precious bible.

Dean yanked at the chains, hoping to somehow get the man's attention again, but that one look was all he was offered. He had the feeling that the first sacrifice would be him and he started thinking desperately about how he could get out of this one and rescue his brother at the same time.

More of the cloak-clad men entered the cavern and every one of them nodded toward the head honcho, who was probably their high priest or some such nonsense, before they headed past Dean and joined their brethren in the middle of the cavern. What kind of freaked Dean out a bit was the fact that none of them spoke. They nodded to each other, a few even shook hands, but not one of them said anything and that was a bit eerie in his book.

Slowly, the cavern filled with cloak-clad people, all silent, and Dean figured the silence was why he had been gagged. There was probably some sort of ritual involving silence here that they were preparing for.

The sound of more footsteps approaching from the entrance tunnel made him send a glance over there and he stopped short when two more of these cloak-clad guys stepped in with a girl between them. She wasn't that tall and looked fairly young. He guessed she was about sixteen, maybe. Her hair was put up and there were white flowers in it. She was wearing a long, white gown that was so flimsy he could almost see her body under it. She was smiling, her cheeks red, her hands clasped together in front of her, while the two men led her past Dean. But they didn't join the rest in the center of the cavern, but took the girl off into another tunnel to the left of him somewhere and Dean was beginning to suspect that there was a virgin sacrifice brewing and it rattled him. But, right now, there was nothing he could do to stop this and his main priority was Sam. Not that he could do much about that either.

Frustrated, he yanked at the chains again, not sure how the hell things had gone south this fast. They were, quite literally, up the creek without a paddle and if any of this was an indicator of things to come, there was a pretty big waterfall ahead; figuratively speaking.

***