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30 September 2011 @ 09:48 pm
The way of the warrior Chp 9, (10/14), R, Sam & Dean Winchester.  
The way of the warrior, chapter 9.

“It’s time, Sam.” Amber’s words nearly drove him to his knees. No, not yet, it couldn’t be time. What he wouldn’t give for his ‘gift’ to be able to slow down time. Now he wanted nothing more than to run over and grab Dean. To run for the canyon’s mouth to save him from going through this. But he’d never do that, not after his brother had made his promise to Great Bear. Now all their fates rested on his shoulders, and he wouldn’t add to Dean’s burden by behaving like a spoiled frightened child.

As Dean and the warriors walked towards the centre of the canyon, he called over his shoulder, “Goddamn it, Sammy. What did I say to you about getting me up early? Crap, it’s the ass crack of dawn. And just what the hell is wrong with doing the Trial at a more reasonable hour? You know, around noon. And I ain’t even had my coffee yet. Really, is this any way to treat a warrior?” Dean grinned and winked at Sam, and turned back to face the gathered tribe. Sam could hear Dean’s words being translated around the canyon; there was laughter from some quarters and scowls from others.

Amber laughed softly at Dean’s words, “Does he always do this? You know the ‘I laugh in the face of danger’ crap? Only I don’t think he’s winning too many admirers at the minute.” Amber glanced around at the collected faces. She looked at Great Bear. A warrior stood beside him, translating Dean’s words and she caught a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. At least she knew Dean had one fan here; she felt Sam’s hand on her arm as he moved forward to be closer to his brother.

She went with him and was impressed by the way Sam totally ignored the armed warriors, raising their weapons as they moved. After a few nerve-wracking moments Sam came to a halt. He was level with Dean; now he stood still, waiting for the chief’s next move. Amber noticed that her friends had moved to catch up with them, and now they all stood close together.

For a moment there was silence then Great Bear began to speak in Cherokee. Dean glanced over to Amber for her to translate what the ghost was saying. As she was about to start talking, one of the warriors motioned her over to Dean. As she moved towards him, she felt her new shadow walk with her, “What the hell do you think you are doing, Sam?” She asked nervously.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything stupid. I just need to get close to Dean for a moment or two, ok?” He said without remorse.

Amber calmed and stood beside Dean, translating Great Bear’s speech; he spoke of the great transgression committed by one of the group here, and how there had to be payment for them being woken from their rest. That a warrior had stepped forward to undergo a Trial of courage and strength to pay for that crime. If the warrior succeeded then they were all free to leave this sacred place, but if he failed then they would all share his fate...death.

“Previously on the Winchester show...Dean agreed to get his ass kicked, because he had nothing better to do this Saturday. How you holding up, Sam?” Dean muttered out the corner of his mouth, and Amber faltered a moment before carrying on.

Sam shrugged slightly, “Oh, not too bad. I think I should complain to the management about the beds being lumpy, but apart from a numb ass I’m fine. Speaking of areas of the body being numb? Well, numbskull, any bright ideas about our situation and how to get us out of it?” Sam muttered back, and Amber spoke louder to cover the brother’s soft conversation.

Then Great Bear said something that made Amber stutter slightly, and Sam and Dean looked down at her, “Come again, I didn’t quite catch that?” Dean said, looking a little worriedly at Sam as the young shaman went bright red.

Sam shrugged again and shook his head, trying to recall the word that made Amber stutter. “What does U ye lv ha mean? And what’s it got to do with what’s going to happen?” Sam sounded puzzled and as he looked around, he noticed the expressions on various faces. Amber’s female friends were a mixture of embarrassed and interested, the men looked positively horrified and the ghosts were unconcerned by the news.

Dean looked around and he felt a thrill of anxiousness. He leant closer to Amber, “Why do I get the feeling I’m really not gonna like what you’re about to tell me? Well, what does it mean?” He sounded nervous.

Amber shuffled from foot to foot, taking a deep breath, “Err, it means naked, Dean. You will have to do the Trial naked.” If anything, she managed to blush an even deeper shade of red, when Dean’s eyes widened and for once he seemed to be at a loss for words.

He recovered and said, “Amber, when we talked about this last night, you never mentioned I’d be doing this with my ass and little Dean on display for everyone to see. It would’ve been nice to have been warned. I’d have worn my best boxers, for when I stripped off.” He sounded a little strained as he said that.

Amber looked up at Dean, “God, I’m sorry. Listen, I only know the form the Trial takes. None of us have ever seen it. I just thought you might end up in a breech clout.” Her voice was timid as she spoke.

Dean rolled his shoulders and smiled, “Actually the thought of doing this in a buckskin diaper suddenly makes the whole naked idea a little more appealing.” He looked over at Sam doing a goldfish impersonation and asked “You ok, little brother? Or are you going to get jealous of all the ladies getting an eyeful of my manly physique?” He smirked at Sam.

Sam’s jaw dropped, he hadn’t expected that. He looked over at Dean, and for once he too was at a loss for something to say. He pulled himself together and responded, “Great! Just what we need. Something else to swell your ego. Amber, he’s gonna be a nightmare. He’ll think all the ladies will want to massage his shoulders or trace his freckles with.....” Sam winced as he said that, knowing he’d just given Dean enough ammo for teasing for at least six months. Before Dean could take advantage of what was said, Sam noticed movement.

The warrior who’d spoken in English to them the night before stepped forward, sneering at him, “So the great warrior is too scared to do the test naked? If this scares you, then I think we will have our payment in blood sooner than we thought. See, my friends, I was right. They are not worthy of our protection.” The warrior turned to face the tribe, his words scornful and he folded his arms, smiling in triumph. His words were translated to the tribe and they murmured in agreement.

Dean shook himself and glared at Chuckles, as he rechristened the guy from last night. Ok, naked, no problem. But knowing what was to come, the ground was going to be hell on his feet. Ah well, time to get on with it. Dean let a cocky smirk slip onto his face, “Hey, it’s not a problem. The only thing is, has anyone here got any sun block? Being out here in the desert means sun, and I really hate the thought of getting freckles on my ass. Oh, and Sam, if I see you taking photos to show Bobby, I ain’t gonna be happy with you. I want you to look after my clothes. I don’t want any dirt in my boxers. You hear me, little brother?” He grinned at the assembled warriors and waited for Sam and Amber to come towards him.

As Sam stood next to his brother, Dean started to speak in his normal volume, “Now you gotta promise me not to go rooting through my pockets without permission, like you did in my bag last night. I hope you found everything you were looking for. You poked around in there long enough.” Dean started to shrug off his leather jacket.

Sam tilted his head to one side; he knew exactly what had been in the bag. When he’d gotten the M & Ms he’d spotted Dean’s other supplies, and without hesitation he’d carefully loosened the lid on one of the bottles, and tilted it to one side. “What do you expect? With all the crap you carry around, I was lucky to find that candy. No way was I letting that go to waste. God knows what else was in there. I was lucky not to lose a finger.” He watched as Dean’s face lit up. Good, he’d gotten the message loud and clear. But how that was going to help them he didn’t know.

By now Dean had taken off his jacket and handed it to Sam. He watched as his brother’s eyes widened when he took the jacket from him. Dean knew that Sam had felt the bulge in the pockets from the extra salt cartridges he was carrying. Then as Sam folded the jacket, his face changed again, as he felt the long cylindrical shape of the flare he’d tucked away in the extra-long inside pocket, in case of emergency. Sam nodded slightly at his brother; he knew what Dean was trying to tell him. It was their way out of the canyon if things went to hell.

Sam straightened up and looked at his brother with apprehension. He understood Dean’s intentions, and it scared him what his big brother was asking of him. But Dean was relying on him to protect the others, and he intended to do just that. Sam smiled at him, squared his shoulders and said. “What are you waiting for, bro? Or do you need me to break out the Tequila and the AC/DC so you can strip? I’d have thought you would’ve wanted to get this over with so we can get your coffee?” He hoped his voice sounded steadier than he felt

Dean returned the smile.”No, I get naked a lot quicker for a pretty girl, and you just ain’t my type, Sam.” As he said that, Dean started to take off his watch, handing it to Sam. It was quickly followed by his ring and bracelet; he paused for a moment before taking off his necklace. As he gave it to Sam he said, “I feel naked already, Sam. You take care of my stuff. You know how hot and bothered I get, if anything happens to it, right?” Dean started to unbutton his shirt; he stepped away from Sam and Amber as he did. The time for talking was done; he wasn’t going to put this off any longer.

Dean stripped off his overshirt; he threw it to Amber and winked at her when she caught it. Dean knelt down and unfastened his boots, pulled them off and then took off his socks, putting them inside. Dean stood up and undid his belt, pulling it free of his jeans. Dean paused again. Despite all his bravado, he loathed the idea of being naked in front of all these people; it made him vulnerable. Without his leather jacket and jewellery, he felt bare in more than just the physical sense. It felt as if part of him had been stripped away.

He took a deep breath and dismissed his emotions; he heard his Dad’s voice saying “It’s just another hunt, Dean. Now get on with it.” In a decisive move he grabbed the hem of his T-shirt and pulled it over his head. Again he tossed the clothing to Amber, and he noticed that the soft sounds of appreciation from the ladies in the group turned to gasps, when his bruised body was revealed.

As she caught the T-shirt, Amber looked at it and her mind drifted. She had been puzzled by the brothers’ conversation. She’d been expecting something a little more profound than a discussion about Dean’s bag and its contents, and how to get him to strip faster. She got the feeling a lot more was being said than she comprehended. She’d have to ask Sam what had been going on.

Now she studied the two men. Sam was stood, watching his brother, trying to appear relaxed to keep Dean at ease, and Dean was doing exactly the same. She saw the looks Dean threw his little brother - glances of reassurance and sly smirks, as he took off his clothing, making Sam grin and shake his head at his antics.

Once again he was playing the fool. Hell, Dean had even swivelled his hips when he took his belt off, and she was surprised he hadn’t thrown it to her friends. Instead he’d given it to her. As she’d collected the strip of leather, she’d glanced at the small pile of jewellery in Sam’s hand. He’d been looking at it, and then he’d put the jewellery in his pocket. She thought about the ‘naked’ comment, and she understood Dean felt his identity was being taken away from him with each piece of clothing he took off.

But he couldn’t be more wrong. What was being revealed wasn’t just skin, but his true nature. He was uncomfortable with what was happening - him being the centre of attention, despite his good looks and bluster. There was a shyness and vulnerability to Dean that she suspected very few people saw.

His clothes were his armour and now he was being forced to shed it. It made Dean feel helpless; stripped completely before everyone watching. Now they were seeing the man revealed, not the tough bad boy image he wanted everyone to see. What was left on display was the brave and selfless soul, ready to lay down his life for them.

Amber was startled from her thoughts by gasps. She focused on Dean once more and her own gasp escaped. When he’d said last night it was only a few bruises, the hunter had been seriously understating his injuries. His ribs were a patchwork of purples and black, and finally she saw the source of blood from yesterday. There was a piece of gauze taped over the left side of his ribs; Amber presumed it was a cut of some sort. Then she spotted the fresh bruise from the rifle butt he’d gotten in the ribs. She watched as Dean absently curled his arm across his stomach, again in a subconscious gesture of protection against watching eyes.

Amber could hear some of what her friends were saying, “Damn, that’s one hell of a body.” Sara said in an appreciative tone.

Then another voice, “Jesus, look at his ribs!”

Jim added in shock, “Holy crap, have you seen his back?”

Finally Daryl spoke in a shocked tone, “To hell with all that. Have you seen those scars?”

The last comment made her look closely at Dean. For the first time she saw the scars that adorned Dean’s back and chest. She glanced over to Sam; he didn’t seem too bothered by their reaction. It was as if he’d heard it all before.

Amber leant closer to Sam, “What the hell happened to him? When he said bruises, I didn’t think he meant someone had kicked the crap out of him.” She was waiting for Sam to answer her.

“Don’t worry, Amber. Just a little professional disagreement. Some guys didn’t like the way I played pool. Ladies, you may want to avert your eyes. I’ve got to take my jeans off and I’d hate for you to get over excited.” It was Dean who responded to her question, and then he undid his jeans and stepped out of them, along with his boxers. He picked the rest of his clothing up, and stood there, apparently unconcerned at his nakedness. The hunter then swaggered over. Once again he gave off the familiar air of confidence, offering a challenge to everyone in the canyon. He handed the rest of his clothes to Amber. He gave her a wink and a smile, as if handing all his clothes over and going off to be tortured was just a normal Saturday for him.

Dean turned away and walked towards Great Bear. He called out to Sam, “Now don’t forget, look after my stuff, bitch. I’ll be back later for it, and it had better all be there.” Dean straightened his back and steeled himself for what was to come.

Sam went to move forward then two warriors approached and stood in front of him, indicating that this was as far as they went. Sam glanced over to Amber. She was watching what was happening, and the warrior who had sneered at Dean was stood beside him, obviously ready to translate Great Bear’s words.

“Relax. We’ll be able to get closer in a minute, but these words are for the warrior undertaking the test. We just have to be patient, Sam. Ok?” Her words calmed the sudden agitation that gripped the young man.

As Sam watched Dean walking closer to the chief he was doing his best to remain calm. He hated being this far away from him at a time like this, but Amber had promised they would be moved closer. So for now he would have to wait.

Amber was watching the ghosts now. As Dean came to a halt in front of the War Chief and several of his council members, she saw the way they studied Dean. She knew they were taking in the bruises and the scars; that many of the men there would carry their own scars. Although she had the feeling that none of theirs would be the result of battling monsters. Well, not the kind of monsters Sam and Dean faced. Theirs had been the human kind. She glanced around the faces and saw a grudging respect growing in the eyes of those looking at Dean, acknowledging the battles he’d fought to gain those marks. Now when it mattered, he was quiet, the wisecracks had stopped. Dean was at peace with what he’d done, and he was ready for whatever was to come.

While she waited for them to be called forward she thought about the brothers and their interactions, and the close bond they shared. She looked up at Sam who seemed to be barely breathing, his eyes fixed on his brother. Amber spoke softly, “I think I finally understand your life. The hunts are dangerous and some of them leave reminders, don’t they? Every one of those scars Dean and no doubt, you, carry, remind you of a hunt survived and people saved. I bet you know every hunt those scars represent.” She glanced up at Sam.

Sam stopped staring at Dean and looked down at Amber’s upturned face. There was a look of sadness there, and he managed a smile, “No, not all of them, Amber. There are some I don’t know how he got, or who looked after him when he was hurt.”

There was such sadness in Sam’s voice as he spoke that Amber felt her own heart break a little, “How did that happen, Sam. I could never imagine you and Dean being apart.” She reached out and gently touched his arm to comfort him.

Sam shrugged, “What can I say? I decided I didn’t want to be a hunter when I grew up. So I went away to college for four years. Dean and I didn’t speak for a long time, and then I got pulled back into the life. I’ve only just come to realize it was hunting I wanted to leave behind, not Dean. Now when he gets hurt and I patch him up, I’m faced with those reminders of hunts where I should’ve been to watch his back. Never again, Amber. He might be a loud-mouthed, over-protective jerk at times.....” Sam’s voice faded as his eyes were drawn back to Dean, stood alone without him by his side.

Amber understood now, “Yes, but he’s your loud-mouthed over-protective jerk, right? And you’d die before you said that to him. Am I right?” She grinned at Sam, and suddenly a genuine smile lit up his face.

“Too damn right. All he’d say is ‘no chick flick moments, Sam’. Hey, Amber, what’s happening now?” Sam had noticed that whatever was happening between Dean and the chief was breaking up.

Amber turned and looked over. She could feel the anticipation in the air, the time for speaking was over. She felt Sam tense beside her, and she knew she wouldn’t have to explain this to him. Now they all watched as the warriors moved towards Dean. As one of them took hold of his wrists and pulled them in front of him, making him cross them so he could be tied. Amber thought about the brothers once more.

At first she thought their words to one another held no meaning, but in every piece of banter, every bitch or jerk it had been there, loud and clear. Love, affection, and even reassurance. They may not have been able to say those chick flick words out loud to one another, but everything they did for each other shouted them instead. Dean last words to his brother had been the unspoken promise to come back.

Now they all stood watching helplessly as Dean’s wrists were bound together with a piece of rope. The warrior doing it, tugged at the binding, nodded and stepped back, pleased with his work. Then Dean was taken by the arms and led towards the back of the canyon. The warriors stepped out of the way, and Sam, Amber, and the rest of them followed behind.

When Dean had stood in front of Great Bear, the chief had gone over the rules of the Trial. First and foremost had been simply to survive. Then the chief had added that the final decision over whether Dean had passed the Trial lay with him. That concerned Dean, but for now he’d concentrate on getting through this in one piece before worrying about what the chief meant. Then a warrior had come forward and begun to tie his wrists together. At first he’d tensed as other warriors approached him. His fight or flight instincts set firmly to fight then he willed himself to relax and let the ghosts do as they wanted.

Once he was tied, the ghostly warriors turned him around and began to lead him to the back of the canyon. Dean risked a quick look over at Sam as he was being led past. He could see the worry on his little brother’s face, making him seem much younger than he was. For a second he’d faltered seeing Sam looking so young and lost; he hated seeing that look in Sam’s eyes. It had been there when he’d lost Jess and then again when he’d lost Dad, but he was damned if Sam was going to lose him today. He’d beat this. He’d keep Sammy and the others safe. He made them a promise, and he always kept his promises.

Dean noticed that as they walked, most of the tribe moved with them and he knew that Sam wasn’t far behind him. Dean looked ahead to where he was being taken then he saw a tree. It must’ve been impressive once when it was alive, probably when Great Bear and his men had occupied the canyon. But now like the other occupants of the canyon it was long dead and skeletal. Then as they neared it he gasped softly. The tree seemed to be coming back to life; it was like watching one of Sammy’s nature documentaries with the time delayed filming. The trunk turned from a deathly gray, to a rich brown, and leaves unfurled on the branches.

He couldn’t help but be impressed by the amount of power it took to do that. For a split second he considered telling Sam to run, in the hope the ghosts themselves would be weakened. He knew they would be gunned down; this was just to show them just what the tribe was capable of in this sacred place.

Dean stood in front of the tree, and then he was spun round. He tried not to flinch when he saw the entire tribe gathered in front of him, along with his brother, Amber and her friends. He licked his lips nervously then he took a steadying breath. He saw one warrior swinging the end of the rope he was tied by, and then it was launched high above his head over a sturdy branch.

Dean took another deep breath and forced himself to relax. As the end of the rope hit the ground, a warrior picked it up. Then he and several other warriors took hold of it. They began to pull on the rope and Dean felt the rope go taut. Slowly his arms were raised by the rope being pulled over the branch.

Dean was slowly being hauled up off the ground, as his arms stretched up over his head. He felt the dull throb of his bruises beginning to wake up and become more insistent. Then he was pulled onto his toes as he desperately tried to keep his footing knowing what was coming. As his feet left the ground his full weight was taken by his wrists, arms and his shoulders. He gritted out softly, “Son of a bitch.” His shoulders burned with the strain, and where the pool cue had struck, felt as if it had caught fire, and it was shooting red-hot jolts down the length of his back. The hunter closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath. He jerked slightly as the rope was tied off and he was left swing gently back and forth.

Sam had followed his brother closely and he too had been stunned by the changing of the tree. Then all the wonder of that display was forgotten as he watched Dean being strung up by his wrists. He bit down on his lip when Dean’s feet left the floor. He knew how painful hanging from the wrists was, but add in the bruising along his shoulders and Dean must’ve been in agony. As Dean’s face contorted Sam felt the air rush out of his lungs. He was just going to ask Amber just what the hell this was supposed to test when a familiar voice stopped him.

“Hey guys, how long you gonna leave me hanging about for?” Dean’s voice was breathy and strained, again his words were translated. There was a mixture of laughter and angry mutterings once more.

Sam shook his head in exasperation; trust Dean to say something like that. He lifted his eyes, and they met his brother’s. They were filled with a mixture of pain and a defiant amusement then there was a flicker of something else. Sam noticed a group of women were moving towards the tree, walking with a sense of purpose. They all carried switches in their hands, made from thin branches of the same tree. Sam’s eyes grew wide as he realized what was about to happen.

Dean was hoping his little joke would try to stop Sam from looking as if his head was going to explode. If he was this bad now, he hated to imagine what he was going to be like later, and he needed him to be clear headed, just in case. Then Dean had seen the women approaching him. Amber had warned him what would happen; as they got nearer he considered his options. He could pull his knees up to his chest to protect little Dean and the boys, or he could just hang there. If he went through with his first plan, it would put even more strain on his bruised shoulders, and drain precious strength from his body. Making a silent apology to his family jewels Dean lowered his head, closed his eyes and waited.

The women surrounded Dean, and for a moment nothing happened. They stood still, waiting. Then as if they’d been given a signal they started to lash Dean with the switches they carried. Dean jerked and twisted under the assault, as the women beat him.

Sam felt sick. He wanted to look away from what was happening, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sight of his helpless brother being beaten by the angry spirits. He tried to find his voice. At first he failed and finally he managed to speak, “What the fuck is this supposed to test, Amber? How much pain he’s willing to take?” Sam’s voice shook with his own pain as he asked the question.

Amber was watching the grisly spectacle with a feeling of shame that her own people could do this kind of thing. She dashed away a tear that had started to spill down her face, “It’s a test of strength, Sam.” She flinched when a particularly hard strike to Dean’s back rocked him forward.

Sam looked around at the watching spectators; they were all excited by what they were seeing. He was sure that some of them were taking bets on whether Dean would survive this. He turned his face to Amber’s friends. The girls were crying softly and the men were trying to comfort them. Daryl stood alone with his injured arm, cradled against him. His face was haggard and he seemed to be suffering through this with his brother, each blow making him flinch.

“Please, Amber, you have to tell them to stop. God! This is horrible.” Sam recognized the voice. It was Sara, and she started to sob.

Finally Sam found Great Bear, standing a little way apart from his warriors. His back was straight and he, too, was watching Dean intently. It was as if he was checking Dean for any sign of weakness, and hoping that there was none. That his chosen champion would live up to his faith in him.

At last Sam turned his attention back to his brother. With every vicious blow that landed, with each twist and turn of that battered body, he felt Dean’s agony as acutely as if it was his own. The women continued to circle his brother, scourging as they went, “How long, Amber? How long will they keep this up?” There was desperation to his voice as he asked the question.

Amber turned to look at Sam, and the pain in his eyes nearly tore her apart. Dean was being beaten physically, but Sam’s heart was taking the same kind of beating. Last night when Dean had said he had the easy job today, she’d thought he’d been joking but now, watching Sam, she knew Dean had been right. She had to answer that pain-filled question, “Until they’re finished.”

At those words they heard Daryl groan, “It should’ve been me. Shit, they’re gonna kill him and I’m just standing here like the damn cowardly prick I am. To hell with it! I’m going to stop this!” Daryl made to move forward.

Sam never took his eyes off his brother and he spoke sharply, “No one is moving or doing anything stupid. He’ll get through this. Dean’s been through worse, believe me. Now if we want to help him, we have to keep our heads, so you’ll do as I tell you.” Sam’s voice was low and raw, filled with a quiet authority.

The group all looked at Amber, stunned at Sam’s words. She glanced at Sam and saw the resolve in his face, and knew what it had cost him to say those words. She returned the look and gave a slight nod, acknowledging Sam’s leadership. She watched her friend’s body language change from defeated, to readiness to do whatever Sam asked of them.

Dean felt as if his skin was being torn from his body. The constant rain of blows was making it almost impossible for him to catch his breath. His lungs felt as if they were on fire and his chest heaved as he desperately struggled to draw enough air into them. He could feel wetness on his ribs and he knew the gauze was gone and the bullet graze had been torn open again. He grunted as one of the switches hit his bruised tender kidneys. He panted through gritted teeth; he could do this. He’d been through worse; he just had to ride this out. He concentrated hard and controlled his breathing, slowing it down; he lifted his head and took a final look at Sammy. He drew strength from his little brother’s presence then he closed his eyes once more, letting his head fall forward. He let himself drift away, locking himself behind the walls he had in place for this kind of situation.

Amber was biting her nails, getting ready to go over to Great Bear, and beg them to stop, and to hell with the consequences. She turned to Sam to speak to him. She knew what he’d told them but she couldn’t bear the sight of this much longer. Her friends were the same. They too had dropped their eyes from the dangling figure that spun and jerked in a grotesque parody of a dance, as the women continued their appointed torture.

As she got ready to ask Sam if they should just try to run, he started to speak. She had to listen very hard to him as his words were so quiet. “There is something you should know about Dean and how he copes with pain. For instance, the bullet graze. When I treated it he bitched and whined, but that was fine. Minor injury, the louder he gets the more minor it is. That kind of pain, I can deal with easily. I know he’ll be fine.” Sam’s eyes never left Dean; it was as if he was waiting for something.

Amber looked around the canyon. The tribe was still watching, even some of the ghosts were looking away. Not Great Bear. He watched every strike, and she knew the chief was willing Dean to hold on. She pulled her attention back to Sam. “Ok, so fairly minor stuff he bitches and whines. What about the more serious stuff?” She bit her lip in worry, wondering what Sam was going to say.

“Well, if he’s really hurt, then he goes quiet. He locks the pain away inside. He keeps his ’game face’ on so he won’t scare Sammy. Amber, I watched as my dad and Pastor Jim held Dean down after a Werewolf nearly tore his guts out. As Bobby stitched them back inside, he barely made a sound. The only thing he kept doing was asking if I was alright.” Sam flinched back as the women seemed to redouble their efforts, and managed to hit Dean harder.

“Is that it? You think he’s badly hurt? Crap, Sam, they’ve only just got started. If there is a plan B you might want to start warming it up.” Amber tried to remain calm. Her friends couldn’t hear what was going on. If they did they would panic and try to run.

Finally Sam managed to tear his eyes away from his injured brother. He’d seen Dean look at him and then close his eyes and he knew what was happening. He looked down at Amber’s panic-stricken face, “But if he’s hurt on a hunt, and he has no option but to press on, then Dean shuts himself away, he hides from it. Dad always knew when it happened; he used to say Dean had left the building. He’s just done it again; trust me, he’ll make it now. They could beat him all day and they’d get no reaction. It’s us who need to keep it together now. Do you think you can do that for me? For Dean?” Sam gave her a gentle smile.

Amber nodded, vowing that whatever either of these extraordinary young men needed her to do then she would do it. She pulled herself together, and turned back to the older Winchester. If Sam could watch this then she could too. She managed not to flinch as the women continued, then one woman called out, and they finished with a flourish of blows.

It was like Sam said; it was as if Dean as nothing more than a piece of meat being tenderized. There was no reaction from him to the blows. Finally the women halted, turned away from him and stepped away. They huddled together, talking amongst themselves. As they did Amber forced herself to take in the damage they’d inflicted on Dean.

He hung there limply, his chest heaving as his body fought to draw enough air into stressed lungs; his hair was drenched with sweat and stuck to his head. His body was covered in welts, criss-crossing nearly every inch of his skin. Amber saw fine tremors wracking his body as the tortured muscles in his arms and shoulders shook with the strain of being tied like that. She noticed that some of the welts were deep enough to bleed, and the bruises that the hunter already carried had deepened in colour. The gauze that covered the graze was long gone and that too was bleeding. Dean’s eyes were closed, and he was still locked away wherever it was he hid away from the pain.

Dean was vaguely aware of what was going on around him, still drifting far away from the pain and abuse his body was suffering. He’d heard the shout and suddenly the blows had stopped. Now he was just hanging there, waiting for whatever happened next. Part of him wanted to remain where he was, safely locked away from the agony waiting for him. But the hunter knew he had to return. He had a hunt to finish, and people to protect. Slowly Dean began the journey back to the outside world.

The women still talked amongst themselves and Sam’s eyes darted around the canyon. There was an air of expectation, as if collective breaths were being held. Finally the woman, who had called a halt to the beating, looked over to Great Bear and nodded. As one the women let out a keening cry, they threw the switches on the ground, and walked back to the rest of the tribe.

Sam watched them go, “I take it that’s over, and Dean’s passed this test, right? Now what?” As he asked the questions, he glanced over to the chief. There seemed to be a look of relief on his face that Dean had made it through the test. The he returned his attention to Amber. She too was watching events with interest then she motioned with her head to where one of the warriors was approaching the rope that bound Dean in place.

In one swift motion the warrior slashed the rope with a knife and Dean crashed to the ground. He staggered a few steps to the side, but managed to keep his footing. He was hunched over, ghosts and the living all waiting with bated breath to see what happened next.

Dean’s journey back was nearly done when he felt himself he hit the ground - the shock of it jolted him back into his body. And damn, he really wished it hadn’t. His arms felt like lead and at the moment he couldn’t feel them. But he knew very soon he’d be wishing they were still numb. If he thought he’d been hurting earlier, this was a whole different ball game. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t throb or ache. His skin felt raw and stretched too tightly over strained muscles. His legs were shaky, and his head felt way too heavy for his neck to support.

Dean took a slow deep breath, “Suck it up, Winchester. You made it through the first part, now get your shit together.” The voice in his head sounded suspiciously like Dad, and an order. It was a combination he could never ignore. Slowly he straightened up, lifted his head and the first thing he looked for was Sam. Green eyes fixed onto a pair of slanted hazel ones, and Dean drew strength from those concerned eyes. There....was the reason he was doing this, along with Amber and her friends. He was going to make it through this.

Sam had felt his stomach lurch when Dean had hit the ground, and watched him stagger. The desperate effort it took for him to remain on his feet, made Sam’s hands itch. He wanted to go over to his brother and help him, just to get him steady on his feet. Then Dean had looked at him. His dazed and pained-filled eyes had met his, and suddenly the focus returned and he knew his brother was back with him.

Dean was taking shallow breaths, to try and ease the burning in his chest while he had the chance. He knew this was just a short respite, to let him catch his breath. Now the feeling was starting to come back in his shoulders and arms, and it made him feel sick. Wave after wave, of what felt like hot needles jabbing into the muscles, made him want to scream. Instead he concentrated on breathing through it. He managed to roll his neck from side to side, and he did the same with his shoulders, ignoring the howling protests his muscles gave.

Dean relaxed as best he could; he knew that soon the next test would begin. Looking over at his brother, he smirked and called out, “You know, for some strange reason, I’m starting to have a lot of sympathy for Piñatas, Sammy. By the way, ladies, I get that one of you liked my ass, but did you have to show your appreciation by continually hitting it?” Dean’s voice was hoarse, and he grinned over at the expressions of shock on Amber and her friends’ faces. Sam had just gone for Bitch Face No. 13, and he was waiting for the time-old response.

Sam folded his arms, rolled his eyes and huffed out, “That’s not funny, Dean.” Sam replied in his best prissy maiden aunt tone.

Dean smiled to himself. ‘That’s my boy’ he thought. He responded as usual, “Ahh, come on, it’s a little funny. Now if you’ll excuse me, it looks like it’s time for my morning run.” As he’d been speaking, Dean had seen Chuckles move forward and pick up the end of the rope. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a warrior approach the horses. He’d untied one, leapt on its back and was riding towards him. As the rider and horse wheeled past, Chuckles threw the end of the rope to him; it was caught with ease.

Dean braced himself as he watched the rope start to move. Before he was pulled off his feet, he started to run. The warrior was riding for the mouth of the canyon. As he jogged past he took a final look at his brother, managing to wink as he went by.

Sam watched in horror as his brother was pulled behind the rider. He grabbed Amber’s arm and hissed, “What the hell are they testing now?” Sam’s voice was ragged, as he tried to recover from seeing Dean being beaten without mercy.

Amber was also staring after the figure, running through the canyon. She answered the question. “This is the endurance test, Sam.”

Chapter 10.

Current Mood: nervousnervous