At first, it’s just a thing to do, a way to screw with the ‘screws.’ And, yeah, that makes Dean chuckle before he realizes nobody is there to appreciate it, so he swallows it back down and keeps his grim non-expression, although he’s completely alone.
He briefly messes with the idea of scratching obscene images or maybe swear words in the cement wall. But he settles on simple hatch marks. Classic prison-movie style. The first five are nothing. Hell, it’s a crazy sort of vacation. They don’t know him. Don’t know what he’s been through. Don’t have a clue about trying to break Dean Winchester.
He stares at the wall separating his cell from Sam’s.
And they sure as hell don’t know his brother.
One row of completed scratches in and the food gets dull. He shoves it around the tray and plays games where he imagines it’s a juicy burger instead. Tries to remember the best burger joints in all the states they’ve roamed over the years. Arizona’s Chuck Box and Idaho’s Hudson and Chicago’s Pup.
That works for another row of hatch marks and then it just leaves him angry and hungry and staring at the wall between cells thinking that if he finds the grub bad, then Sam must be on a hunger strike by now.
White Haired Dude only comes in one more time. Informs him that when Dean decides he wants to share with the class, he just has to let the guard know. Says he’s looking forward to having an interesting conversation a few months down the road. Nods at Dean’s hatch-marked wall and says nice start, the record is eleven hundred forty-two. Says he can tell Dean is the kind of guy who likes a challenge. Man was cool as ice. Dean wonders what it might have been like to have a dad like that. So dispassionate. He pictures John Winchester locked up in this cell and shudders. The old man would have found some way to overcome the White Haired Dude and bust his way out.
Dean thinks about that through another row (or two) of hatch marks. Decides it can’t work. There are too many guards. Even if he could overpower them and find the keys and let Sam out … they’d get caught. And maybe be put someplace else. He shudders as his mind unhelpfully supplies someplace worse. He stares at the small rectangular light on the wall that is never turned off. Impossible to tell day from night. He sleeps in weird snatches, wishes he could just sleep round the clock. But years of going on three or four hours of rest and his body doesn’t know how to sleep longer.
On day forty the idea first forms.
Biblical, Dean thinks, forty days and forty nights. He wants to point that out to Sam. But Sam can’t hear him. It’s been thirty-nine days with only the voice that yells out chow time that lets him know he’s not the last man in the universe. He’s caught a glimpse of thick fingers when the tray gets shoved in the slot. Usually they belong to a black man. Sometimes a white man.
If he’s very quick, he could likely break those fingers. But to what end?
There is only one way out of here. It picks at him. Like small bites, like scratches, or nettles under his skin.
The screw takes on new powers as he spins it over and over between his fingers. It would have to be just the right artery and he’d have to slash hard. But timed right and he’d be a puddle of blood when they next called chow time.
Except that leaves Sam in here. Leaves him behind. And that can’t happen on his watch.
So it has to be something else.
Hard to say if it’s a dream or if she really comes to him. One minute it’s scratch mark forty-five and the next it’s Billie Billie Billie.
Her eyes burn like lasers as she looks him up and down before saying, “You don’t look dead.” A sly smile. “Yet.”
No point in wasting time, despite the sheer abundance of it he has. “I want to make a deal.”
Lips pursing into an outright sneer, she slowly looks around the small space, stops when she sees the hatch marks on the wall. “Decorating, I see?”
“It’s a good one,” Dean says.
“I’ve seen better,” she replies, like she’s standing in front of a Picasso in an art museum.
That’s funny, he realizes with a start. Dean can’t remember the last time anything struck him as even remotely comical. He likes Billie. Can’t help himself. Always liked a girl with sass. Shaking his head, he returns to the business at hand. “Not the artwork. The deal.”
Now he has her attention. “Doesn’t look to me like you are in much of a position to be dealing.”
“You want to reap me,” he states, then goes silent, waiting for her to take the bait. When he doesn’t continue, she says, “Like I said, you aren’t dead.”
“Yet,” he mimics and it chills him how easy it is to say that. Should it be that easy? The answer is yes, because a quick death has to be better than this clawing sameness. They really couldn’t have devised a better torture chamber for him. It’s like they already looked inside his mind and knew that any one of his memories was worse than a thousand knife cuts.
And that he couldn’t -- wouldn’t -- escape by himself.
Once more, Billie looks around. “I don’t see anything here that would do the trick.” There’s an edge of disappointment to her tone.
“You could do it.”
She shakes her head. “I reap. I don’t kill.”
“What if it was temporary?”
Anger blazes, turning her brown eyes momentarily hot. “I told you, Dean Winchester. Next time you die, it’s for keeps.”
“You let me die and come back one more time and I’ll come with you. No arguments. No tricks.” He takes a deep breath. “But I have to get my brother out of here. Sam is in the next cell. Tell him the plan. We temporarily die so we can get out. He’ll know what to do with that chance.”
“And why, exactly, would I do all that for you?”
He meets her unflinching gaze. “Because you’ve wanted to reap me for a long time. This is like a gift.”
She paces the small space for several moments. “I’ll think about it.”
And she’s gone and he’s alone and the light in the rectangle keeps burning.
He lies on the cot and thinks about escape. Well, Sam can escape. And that’s the nicest thought he’s fallen asleep to in longer than he can remember.
Billie returns on day forty-seven. Dean doesn’t think there’s a biblical significance to that but it’s not like he attended Sunday school.
She gets straight to it. “You and Sam will die temporarily, come back and have until midnight. Then you die for real and I reap you. That’s the deal I tell Sam. If he agrees – blood oath from the both of you.“ The shrewd look she gives him feels like a rake over his skin. “Then, I’ll do it.”
Dean immediately sees the flaw. “Yeah, um, no. That’s not gonna work.”
Billie shoots him a glance that implies she’s sick of his shit. The woman throws a face like no other.
“You can’t tell Sam that. The ‘me dying for real’ part. Just tell him the part about temporarily dying.”
“Uh-uh. I am not lying for you, Dean Winchester. We do this straight up or not at all.”
Sam is not going to go for this. After the shit storm of this last year, they’re a team in a way they haven’t been for a long time. And while maybe once Dean would have put money on Sam letting him go, Dean doesn’t think that’s the case anymore. He has the chilling thought that he has no idea how his brother is doing. After Sam’s time in the Cage he’s never been the same and the similarities are obvious and Dean needs to get his brother out whether Sam likes the terms or not.
He sighs. Fine, Billie won’t lie to Sam. “OK. Tell him that the deal is one of us goes with you at midnight after we get out of here.”
“What if you don’t?”
“Get out of here?”
He licks his lips and replies, “Well, then they’ll shoot us dead and you still get what you want.” He’s getting impatient because all he wants to hear is that Sam says yes and that they can do this. “Look, it’s a win-win deal for you because you get a Winchester no matter what. And if it goes south, you get two.”
An eternity later she smiles at him, teeth gleaming. “Okay. If Sam agrees you have yourself a deal, Dean Winchester.”
Three blinks but she’s still there, hand on her hip, jutting out to the right. Her lips curve in a crooked grin, eyes alight and containing untold millennia of knowledge.
“B-Billie,” he stammers, voice rough. Speaking words feels weird. How long has it been? The agent stopped coming after day two. He doesn’t know any more. He forces his spine straight before standing, eyes automatically flying to the wall dividing him from Dean. There’s no way her being here isn’t connected to his brother somehow.
Her next words confirm his fear and the knot in his stomach pulls tight as a drum. “Dean sent me.”
Rubbing his eyes he questions again if she’s real. It’s so pat. He knows it would be related to Dean and that’s the first thing she says. Like she’s in his head. The trick is … is it mind reading or a hallucination? There have been a few folks that have visited. Usually … him. Red eyes glowing. He is Nick, always, in his head. Never Vince. Never Cas – thank goodness for that small mercy. And not the freakin’ President of the United States.
It’s so insane.
Not for the first time he wonders if any of it is real. If he’s not simply been in this room all his life. He hears Dean grousing that Sam should stop babbling and listen to Billie.
She is, in fact, speaking to him. “… midnight. Then one of you comes with me. Permanently. That’s the deal. You in?”
Out of all of that it’s the word ‘deal’ that rings in his head like a gong. His father is lying motionless on the ground. Dean is staring at him with eyes that would make a stone weep, saying he couldn’t let Sam go. It spins like he’s on a literal merry-go-round. Some sort of sound escapes his sandpaper throat and he’s back to sitting on the cot, clutching his head.
“Get out,” he tells her. He knows she ignores his command by the invisible pressure of her unbending stare. Fear makes his movements jerky, his neck feeling like it’s attached with bolts as he forces it upward to meet her hard eyes.
She looks at him with what might kindly be called pity but Sam knows it’s more like the way one might assess a rat nipping at their pantry food. “Now, Sam. Let’s not be too quick to decide. It’s getting awfully small in that cell for Dean.”
All he wants is to shout, ‘Are you real?’ But he couldn’t stand the look on her face no matter what the reply might be. Instead he asks, “Dean sent you?”
“It’s his idea. He thinks temporary death is your ticket out of this place.” She looks around distastefully. “Could work. I don’t know. No guarantees about that. But it’s a chance.” Her hand waves in a graceful arc. “Of course, perhaps you like the accommodations.” Her eyes narrow. “Especially given other places you’ve been.”
Swallowing is painful and he grimaces as his throat contracts. He knows she sees through him. Knows he’s terrified. Exposure is a rare feeling when all his life he’s been self-contained. It’s possible he has just enough faculties left to make a decision, if he concentrates, listens to her. Dean sent her.
“Explain it again,” he orders. At her eyebrow lift, he adds, “Please.” But before she can begin he interrupts. “Wait. First … you saw Dean. How is he?”
Without expression, she considers his question. “In a word, itchy. He really wants out of here. Wants both of you out of here.”
Cool relief floods his veins because that means Dean hasn’t checked out yet. Not like Sam has … Dean’s still feeling, thinking. That’s good. It has to be good. Sam is only breathing because his body does it automatically.
“Yeah. Out of here. What’s the plan?”
She speaks slowly and he thinks in any other circumstance he would be insulted but even with her deliberate pace she has to repeat herself several times.
“At midnight,” he recites after her. “Me … you’ll take me, right?”
“If that’s what you and Dean decide.”
He stands and the blood rush makes him heady. It hasn’t helped that he’s only been eating every other day or so. Who knows? What are days when all he sees is concrete and fire. And him. Maybe that was stupid. He made himself weak. Of course, Dean has some crazy plan. Underestimating Dean was Sam’s mistake in the past. And he swore he’d never do it again.
“Did Dean make the deal about himself?” he asks, bracing himself with one arm against the wall.
“Not exclusively,” she answers. “Like I said before, at midnight on the day you come back to life, I get a Winchester. I’m not picky. I’m generous that way. You two decide.”
“So it can be me?” He scrapes the wall with his finger, forcing feeling to penetrate. “I’ll make the deal if it’s me.”
Billie shifts a slow step sideways. “You want me to tell Dean you want the deal to be that I take you? Ain’t my job, Sam, to run back and forth between the two of you fighting over the terms. Two get out, I get one. I don’t care which of you and I’m not wasting my time on your negotiations. You two hash it out face-to-face when I come at midnight.”
He shakes his head to clear it and forces his eyes up off her softly shifting feet. He senses she’s getting impatient. This opportunity isn’t going to come twice. It’s either stay here in virtual hell or … he doesn’t know … what’s a void like? He hopes it’s like sleeping. Can’t be worse than this, right? But he doesn’t know. What he does know is that Dean will be out, will be free. And Dean will have Cas and their mom. It’s almost enough to jumpstart his heart, remind it to beat for a reason. Dean will be with Mom. She’ll come around, stop wandering or whatever. Dean is still her boy.
“One of us,” he repeats. “Just a Winchester? That’s what you want?”
It won’t be easy. Assuming they both don’t get killed during the escape, they still have to find help. Get to Cas, find their mom. Sam would like to see them both once more before …
That’s not the hard part, he knows that.
Billie can only reap a dead person. He has to find a way to keep Dean alive long enough to kill himself.
That’s assuming Dean doesn’t have anything else cooked up. If they can get out of here, they can talk about it. But if things are straightforward, if they are just as Billie explained it, then talking won’t help. Dean will think it has to be Dean. His brother always thinks that.
Sam will simply have to be faster and then hope that Cas will protect Dean from himself.
A void. It’s got to be cold, right? Can’t contain fire. Nothing can burn in a vacuum.
The detached part of himself thinks how impossible this all is … how Dean will never be okay with Sam dying in front of him again. And, of course, his brother is very resourceful. What if Dean succeeds in being first?
A hand rests gently against his breast bone. “Sam?”
He’s so tired. Even thinking hurts.
“You want a Winchester,” he tells her, asks her. It’s the same, isn’t it?
Billie nods. She’s so much closer now that he can sense her odd not-quite-breathing.
“But you’d take two, right?” It’s easy to simply fall into the depth of her eyes. “I mean, if you take one of us and the other … you’d take the other one, too?”
“You die. I’ll reap.”
And it really is that simple.
He wants to give Dean a chance. This is the way. Hopefully, their mom and Cas will help Dean take that chance. And if they can’t … well, maybe the void will be less lonely with two.
“How long have we been in here?” he asks.
She takes her hand off his chest and that’s when he realizes that it offered pressure but no warmth. “Forty-seven days.”
He nods. It’s time. “I agree. Tell Dean it’s on. Tomorrow. I’ll be ready.”
She hands him a screw and gestures at his palm. “Blood oath. Both of you.” A strip of blood bubbles on his palm. His eyes aren’t on Billie’s as he puts his hand against hers, he stares at the wall between the cells. They either get out of here together or die trying.
“Midnight,” Billie says right before disappearing.
The word spins like a destination sign. He lets himself look around and take in this cell cage as rationally as he has been able to in weeks. Even in here, he hasn’t been still. Perpetually chased by monsters that are burrowed so deep they are part of his soul.
A final run, in a life that’s felt like a nonstop race.