Joyce Bicklebee enjoys going in for the kill. A few carefully chosen words, a winning smile, and she could almost always get them to sign on the dotted line.
This refinance will help you build equity faster, lower your monthly payments, help you manage your credit debts. Help you keep the Corporate drones off your back, help you get your head above water again, you don’t want to spend the rest of your days in a foundry with a collar around your neck, right?
They bought it almost every single time, and then Joyce could sit back and wait for the hidden balloon payment to take effect, wait for the Corporate Containment vans to roar up and haul her clients off to the foundries or the lumber mills and she’d sit back and wait for her kickback check to clear.
Joyce Bicklebee had been a good realtor once, but she is even better at bankrupting the ignorant and padding the Corporate coffers with forced labor.
Joyce loves her job.
She’s less fond of the rookie agent she’s been stuck with for the past few months. George has been slow to adapt to the remuneration offered by Richard Roman Enterprises in return for the placement of healthy new corporate-owned charges.
If George doesn’t get with the program soon she’s going to have do a little digging into his own financial situation. She does not need another whistleblower scare; those are never good for business.
"So, Mr. Marshall, what do you think about the loan?" she asks as the man steps back into his office.
"Well, Ma'am, I've done a little checking up and it seems to me that lots of folks who do business with you end up losing their shirts. I'd kind of prefer to keep my money where it is if it's all the same to you." Marshall gives her a cold look that lets her know he’s seen through her scam.
Joyce sees red, sees her fat commission for acquiring another business for RRE disappear, but she smiles anyway as she shows Mr. Marshall to the door.
"Can't win 'em all," George says philosophically.
She’s dying to smack the smug smile off his face. "Shut up, George."
She refrains from firing him on the spot by the thinnest margin and orders him to go across town to get her a coffee. She's considering it his last chance, so when he calls her an hour later she's prepared to fire, kill, and roast him if she ever has to look at his face again.
“What’d you do this time, George? And where’s my darned coffee?”
“Never mind the coffee,” George says impatiently. "I’m staring right at Sam Winchester."
Across town, George watches as the overgrown outlaw slumps further in the passenger seat of an old pickup sipping an extra-large coffee with shaking hands. He looks wrung out and exhausted.
George rattles off the details, content to let Joyce once again take the credit for his work. Roman would pay them both handsomely for a chance to get his hands on the Winchesters, and George could take care of Joyce in his own good time. If there was one thing she'd taught him, it was how to ruin a person's credit score with one or two well-placed phone calls and the right amount of cash.
Sam is stuck waiting in the truck, trying not to attract too much attention, while Dean meets with Annie at a near-by coffee shop. Even with the wind blowing off of the lake the air is stifling, but Sam's not too keen on getting out, not even to stretch his legs. There aren't that many blue collars walking the streets of Evanston; most live where they work. He feels safer in the truck, even as he recognizes something in him that needs fixing, something that Lucifer broke.
Dean strolls back to the truck an hour later and leans up against it as though he's studying the water. Shards of light bounce off of the waves like glass, hurting Sam’s head.
He’s so damned tired these days.
"What'd Annie say," Sam asks, lighting up as Dean passes him a cup of coffee through the window.
Dean shakes his head. "I think we've been stood up."
"Yeah, let's hope that's all it is."
"I'm getting a bad feeling about this whole thing."
Sam's inclined to agree. “Think we should get going?”
“Yeah, I’m going to check the area one more time and then we’d better find a place to lay low," Dean says.
"Yeah, okay. Hey Dean?"
"Try not to get killed."
Dean smiles. "Yeah, yeah."
Sam leans back against the head rest and lets his eyes slip closed.
Ten minutes later the Officials roll up.
Charlie Bradbury's been on the run for half her life and this, getting involved in this particular brand of crazy, is not the kind of thing that has helped her evade capture by Corporate officials after her parents were killed.
Like a grieving 12-year-old was supposed to care that her parents' life insurance had lapsed?
So yeah, Charlie is way past second thoughts when it comes to helping Sam and Dean with their harebrained schemes to take down Dick Roman. She's probably up to her 22nd thought and counting.
What? She's spent years trying to fly below the Corporate radar. Except, well, for the part where she works for the Corporation.
And, yeah, maybe she's been a bit of an ostrich, but the things she's pulling from Frank Deveraux’s hard drive would have Roman strung up so fast—under the laws he lobbied for—
Charlie’s stomach feels leaden and heavy in a way that probably has nothing to do with the bagel she had for breakfast.
Gluten-free her ass.
She stands up and stretches, feeling bones in her back pop alarmingly. She's barely left her desk in days, and the office is starting to wake up around her again. Her cubicle farm is in a cell dead zone, no doubt on purpose, so it's not till she's heading to the café for a hot tea to sooth her stomach that she sees a missed call from Dean.
Dean doesn't exactly call to chat.
"CB, baby, you're my one free call," Charlie hears after she's thumbed in her pass code. "So look, babe, I'm not going to be able to meet you for dinner tonight, but I left something kinda important in the car, if you could collect it I'll owe you one."
Thankful that she grabbed all her stuff before she left for her 10 minute break—lessons learned from a life on the run—Charlie heads straight home to tune into the Corporate com link. She figured out how to hack into the secure channels when she was 14, and spent more than a year obsessively listening in to make sure nobody was looking very hard for her. The coded phone calls and messages were very hard to listen to, though, and she left it alone for many years, content to make a life for herself that would not end with a collar around her neck.
She keeps her head down and her code flawless, and she's the best at her job. By this point even if she were caught and charged with the financial debt her parents had left behind, she'd end up pretty much where she is now. She works with several white collars and even though they have to sleep in some kind of barracks in the basement of the RRE building, everyone knows it could be so much worse. Still, Charlie feels bad that some of her coworkers don't drink sticky foamy coffees from the stand in the cafeteria or nibble on muffins between meals. Even to drink the dreck from the coffee pots in the break room, the white collars have to use their tokens, and if they spend too many on coffee they can't afford actual food or toiletries. Charlie tries to smuggle in as many lattes as she can without calling attention to herself.
Everything was cruising along just fine until Richard Roman himself plucked her out of the IT crowd to give her a special assignment.
Just for Charlie.
"This belonged to one Frank Devereaux," Roman had told her. "Thought he could bring down the whole company. He was wrong. Let's keep him wrong. It's encrypted, or whatever you crazy kids say these days. Break it open and bring it to me.”
"Yeah, I'm on it. And – and thank you."
"You're welcome. You have three days or you're fired."
"Good talk," he said, and she was dismissed.
When she got home from work late that night she’d found Sam and Dean waiting for her with a counteroffer.
The news on the com is bad. Get-out-of-town-and-go-underground bad. Last night a two-bit realtor on Roman's payroll had spotted Sam Winchester sitting in a stolen Chevy pickup. The realtor had called it in, and an hour later Dean was arrested coming out of a cafe. Shortly after, Sam had been taken to the Corporate County building where he had been inventoried like any other piece of property.
That's where Charlie's trail ran cold. Nobody was saying where the brothers were, what kind of shape they were in, or anything else that would be remotely helpful.
She stands in the middle of her small apartment, chewing on her lip, wondering how she ever got herself into this mess. She's half considering cutting her losses and running. She can be a new person by morning. Maybe Beverly Niven. Or Wendy Clarke.
She's just started stuffing some essentials into her messenger bag when there's a rap at the door.
"Aww, frak." She squeezes her eyes shut in frustration.
The voice that rouses Dean from a dozy, uneasy sleep is steady and smooth. Amused, even. It speaks his name with equal stress on each syllable, drawn out for emphasis. Dean... Win... Chest... Er.
That’s never a good sign. Especially since Dean had been booked under an alias.
"I’m Edgar. It's time we talked."
Dean winces and pushes himself off of the cot. Guesses his fake papers hadn't passed muster, or more likely, they actually bothered to run his prints today, unlike the last few times he'd been arrested. This far into the belly of the beast, it makes sense. A lot of places these days, small-town cops are hesitant to put "normal" guys like him and Sam into a system that could end with them indentured for the rest of their lives.
It’s a different world, for sure, than the one John Winchester had brought his boys up in, if cops could be counted on for discretion and a hasty but safe escort out of town.
"Name's Jones," he tries anyway. It’s worth a shot.
The man on the other side of the bars, Edgar, isn’t police, doesn’t look to be anybody particularly Official; he’s dressed much like Dean, jeans and layers and a blue Carhartt jacket, though he looks sleeker and better fed than Dean has felt in a while.
"You’re not fooling anybody, Dean, not anymore,” Edgar said with a smirk. “You’re Dean Winchester, wanted since the age of 15 in connection with terrorist activities. Son of Mary Winchester, terrorist, deceased, son of John Winchester, terrorist, deceased, brother of Sam Winchester, terrorist, location unknown. And a giant pain in the ass of my employer."
“My parents were heroes, you Corporate fuck,” Dean growls. He looks at the man more closely and feels slick oily fear slither over his heart. It was Roman's man, the one they thought they'd killed back at the salvage yard, where Bobby’s house had been nothing but a smoking crater.
"You're looking healthy," Dean says, trying to keep his voice steady.
A smile tugs at the corner of the Edgar's mouth. "My boss provides excellent medical benefits."
“What am I being charged with, exactly?”
The man steps closer to the bars, a whisper away from touching.
“What aren’t you being charged with, Dean?” he asks. “Aggravated assault, impersonating police officers, impersonating federal agents, impersonating Corporate Compliance officers. Then of course there’s general acts of terrorism, aiding and abetting runaways, grand theft auto, robbery, aggravated assault, murder … enough felonies to see you tried and executed for treason 20 times over.”
Dean swallows his fear and hardens his stance, eyes burning with fury.
"You'll be hanging in a week, son," Edgar says. "If you're lucky."
He smiles again, teeth large and shark bright. “You might be interested to learn that your property has been impounded and will be auctioned off tomorrow.”
Dean snorts. His baby is safe in a storage shed in Missouri; all their weapons and ammo can be replaced.
But Roman's man keeps smiling at him, looking exceptionally pleased with himself.
“That was clever, trying to pass your brother off as a blue-collar,” Edgar says, and Dean’s body ices over in terror. “Big guy, strong. Would make an exceptional factory man or farm hand.” He leans in closer still, till Dean can smell the onions Edgar had eaten at lunch. “Still, I think he might fetch more money at the auction if we give him a purple collar, don’t you think?”
“My brother?” Dean tries for time, but it’s pointless and both men know it.
“You did an excellent job forging his papers to look like a slave, Dean," Edgar says. "And as of tomorrow evening, he will be.”
Edgar turns and walks back down the brightly lit hallway, whistling a jaunty tune that Dean can barely hear over the sudden jackhammer that is his heart.
Dean paces his cell. Four steps west, six steps south, four steps east, sidestep the toilet.
He's spent his fair share of time behind bars, of course he has. What kind of anti-Corporate rebel gets to be his age without doing some time?
But he's usually in a little more control of the situation than he is now, and he usually has his brother standing slightly just behind him, a comforting shadow that always has his back.
Now he's alone, deep in Corporate territory, and Sam has been impounded like a fucking piece of property.
Dean's cell is in the bowels of the Corporate-County building. No windows, and his belt, shoelaces, and anything he might use to pick a lock had been confiscated.
Sam's here somewhere, he knows it, but he doesn't have a clue how he's going to bust out of here, find Sam, break him free, and still try to stop Roman from rolling out his new plan.
Four steps west. Six steps south. Four steps east.
A door at the end of the hall opens with a heavy metallic clang and Dean backs away from the bars, tense and ready in case he's given any sort of opening.
"Dean, Dean, Dean."
He closes his eyes in annoyance.
"What do you want, Meg."
She's wearing a barely there skirt and a gold lamé tank top with a scandalously low v-neck, worlds removed from her usual smart black business suit.
"That's not a very warm welcome."
He folds his arms across his chest and glares at her.
She holds her hands up, a gesture that's meant to placate him, but her lips are twisted in her trademark smirk.
"Heard you got yourself pinched, Dean. Just thought you might need a little help."
"From you? No thanks."
"Your loss, Dean. I'm not the one behind bars." She flips her dark hair over one shoulder and turns to leave.
He lets her almost reach the exit before he calls out, "What's in it for you?"
She turns, appraises him with one arched brow. "Does it matter?”
He leans against the cinderblock wall, and folds his arms over his chest, waiting.
“Roman and Crowley? They both hate me almost as much as they hate you. Almost as much as they hate each other. I just figured it seems we could each use a friend," she says with an exaggerated shrug.
"I ain't your friend."
"That's where you're wrong, Dean. 'Cause I’m here to help you, and that makes us friends."
"Do you have an actual plan, Meg? Or do you just want to talk me to death before my trial even starts?"
She whistles and a second man steps out of the shadows. He’s about Dean’s height and build but he looks like the world has been even less kind to him than it has to the Winchesters.
Meg produces a key, though where she managed to hide it in that getup is a mystery to Dean.
"I always have a plan, baby."
"Where the hell did you get that key?" Dean asks, hopping on one foot as he tries to remove his socks and jeans at a go.
"Do you really want to know?"
He considers, then acknowledges that he probably does not.
"Where's your Angel buddy?" Meg asks. She's trying for casual, trying kinda hard.
"Why do you care?"
They're standing in a tiny bathroom, nose to nose, and he would truly love to spit in her face. Some combination of his own sense of preservation and the need to find (free) Sammy keeps him relatively civil.
“Who’s the guy pretending to be me?”
She considers before giving him a straight answer. Dean had been prepared to play the question game all day with her, she was every bit as stubborn as he was.
“Let’s just say he’s a supporter of your work,” Meg says.
“And what, he wants to hang in my place? Did you find him at the nut house?”
She doesn’t answer.
“For fuck’s sake, Meg.”
She shrugs. “He’s of mostly sound mind. But he’s had a stroke, and he can’t really work and he can’t really afford to get better.”
He’s silent for a minute thinking about that. It doesn’t feel right to leave him there. He’ll be hanged just for taking part in the escape.
“Really Dean, he’s okay with it.”
They're both half naked, changing clothes. Dean is shimmying into Meg's hooker outfit while she pulls on his worn jeans and rolls up the cuffs.
"Is Sam still here?" he asks, changing the subject. He doesn’t feel good about leaving some poor sap in his place, but his need to get to Sam is trumping everything else.
She shakes her head. "He was sent to impound and then to the DOCC.”
Dean grits his teeth. "I have to get him out of there."
She rolls her eyes. "I can only bust out one Winchester at a time."
He cracks the door to check the empty hallway and gestures her to follow.
They make their way up the emergency staircase without running into anybody.
"My legs look way better in this skirt than yours do, anyway," Dean says.
She glances down at his legs and snickers. "Keep dreaming, Hopalong."
They’re out of the staircase and halfway across the lobby of the Corporate-County building when a policeman steps up in front of them.
"Prostitution is a collarable offense, you know," the guard says, eyeing Dean's tiny skirt, hairy legs, and the smeary makeup Meg had hastily applied to his face.
Dean fingers his shiny gold top. "I'm not a hooker."
"He's my husband," Meg drawls, looking the cop up and down. "Just a little roleplaying that got out of hand."
The guard looks disgusted and studies them, probably to see if there's something he can bring them in for.
"Where's your rings?"
"We're very good at playing our parts," Dean says with a wink, shoving down his panic and playing it cool.
The guard looks like he wants to say something else when another cop calls out, "Hey Rod, we got a situation upstairs."
Officer Rod turns abruptly to go see about it, and Dean and Meg make for the doors casual as you please. They're two steps out the front door when the alarm begins screaming behind them.
Fucking Meg, he thinks as he kicks off the size 10 high heels she somehow managed to find for him so they can take off running.
Nobody would tell Sam what was happening or where they were taking him. One minute he’d been sitting in their “borrowed” truck, and the next minute the Corporate Police were swarming him. He was roughly pulled out of the passenger seat and shoved up against the door, hands cuffed behind him. Then he was led—literally, by his collar on a leash—to a squad car and shoved into the back seat, knocking his head on the roof in the process.
He was taken to the Corporate-County building downtown, where he expected to be processed and sent to a holding cell. Instead he ended up in a room filled floor to ceiling with metal shelves holding boxes and cartons and computers, all tagged and numbered.
When he sees their duffels carried in and sorted out on a table for processing, he realizes what he should have already known.
He's in Impound Processing.
He sucks in a deep breath, trying not to panic. Dean will find him before he’s auctioned off like a drug mule’s car.
He has to.
His leash is clipped to the wall just above his head and he's rudely pushed down to his knees. He's off balance but there's enough give, just, to stop him from choking.
And then he waits.
"What's going on?" Sam asks the first cop who comes near him.
His legs start tingling from the way he's sitting and he tries to maneuver them to get some feeling back without cutting off his air supply.
"Hey, I know my papers were all in order," Sam says to the second cop who comes within earshot.
All the detectives and cops and staff who wander in and out ignore his questions like he’s invisible. He’s heard this is sometimes the case in areas where the Corporate tenets are heavily entrenched, but it is still deeply unsettling. When they were kids Dean had sometimes pretended Sam didn’t exist, if Sam was being especially irritating, and it was the worst kind of punishment. He would follow Dean around begging to be noticed but Dean was really good at playing the Sam-Was-Never-Born game when he wanted to, and usually it only ended when John came home and told Dean to cut it out or when Sam broke down and started crying. Then Dean would look sheepish and apologize and give Sam a popsicle or make him hot chocolate, and everything would be all better.
Now, surrounded by officials who act like he’s no more human than a bloodied hunting knife or a bag of coke, he feels like that little kid again, wants to stamp his foot and scream until someone acknowledges him.
Wants Dean to come along and make it better.
They leave him alone with his thoughts for a long, long time. Too much time. His mind keeps returning to the 18 months he spent in the camp, 18 months that had felt more like a century.
"Sam Winchester. Nice to finally meet you." He flipped the hard wooden chair around and sat down, eyes boring into Sam's. "I’m your re-education specialist."
Sam studied the man who’d been assigned to torture him. He was tall, thin, in his 40s. He had straw blond hair and cruel blue eyes. He bore an uncanny resemblance to...
“Who are you?”
"You don’t know? I always heard what a smart boy you were." His lips twist in a smile so cold Sam feels the chill like ice water flooding his veins.
"Lucifer?" Sam asks, stunned.
"The very same."
"Shouldn’t you be off running the world? This seems a bit below your pay grade."
"Let’s just say I've taken a special interest in your rehabilitation, Sammy. We’re going to be spending a lot of …quality time together.”
"My brother’ll come for me."
"You won't believe that for long, Sam. Soon you’ll be lucky to remember your name."
Lucifer whistles as he sets about strapping Sam to the metal bed frame and starting up the control box.
Sam’s screams echo in his head long after the electrical current has stopped pulsing through his body.
After several hours, Sam has to piss and his legs are beginning to shake. When a bored voice calls out “Charge Number 4-5-4-8-9-3?” he barely notices.
Sam continues to stare at his knee before belatedly recognizing the number assigned to his forged slave papers. “Here!” he calls, trying to climb to his feet. His legs are numb and it's a graceless display before finally someone hauls him to his feet. His cramped muscles and stiff joints cry unhappily as he's pulled to standing, wrists still cuffed, neck still tethered to the rusty bolt drilled into the sickly green tile.
He’s unhooked from the wall and led down an elevator to the underground garage where a Corporate Collection van is waiting.
“Where are you taking me?” Sam asks.
“Auction house,” the officer says gruffly.
Sam feels a strange relief that someone's actually talking to him, until the words penetrate the fog that he's been wrapped in for the past couple of hours.
"Wait, auction? I already have a custodian."
Sam looks around wildly for any sort of chance to gain the upper hand, but his legs have been tightly shackled together with very little give, and his hands are cuffed behind his back again. Also, two goons approximately the size of cement mixers are holding his arms tightly as he shuffles towards the waiting van.
Obviously, the people transporting him are aware that he is not exactly the mild-mannered factory foreman that his papers say. They’re treating him like a terrorist, like the murderer Richard Roman declared him to be several months ago when he decided he’d put up with the Winchesters for long enough.
Sam feels his window of escape flutter out of reach, a careless butterfly.
The euphemistically named Corporate Collection House was an imposing hulk of brick that had once been a middle school. Though it had been abandoned and neglected for years before its overhaul as a slave auction house, somehow it still retained the scent of chalk, poster paint, and sweaty pre-teens.
Now, of course, many of the former classrooms had been transformed into holding pens and offices. The auditorium is relatively unchanged, though. Where once 7th graders warbled The Sound of Music or stumbled their way through performances of Our Town, men and women were now sold to business owners or individuals to work off their debts.
Not that the official Corporate channels used words like “sold” of course. Everything is about “keeping charges safe from themselves” and “helping charges to stand on their own again” and “fulfilling our custodial duties.”
Sam had actually been here once before, trying to help out a bartender named Meredith who was being railroaded by a collection agent that had his eye on her. It had turned out to be a trap for Sam’s dad set up by Meg, a Corporate spy with alliances that shifted with the tides. There actually had been a bartender, but by the time Sam and Dean arrived she was long gone.
He tries to remember what he learned from studying the building’s schematic all those years ago. He’s looked at a lot of other blueprints in the intervening years, but he’s pretty sure he knows where each of the exits used to be located.
Sam is taken to a small gymnasium with faded basketball lines and one sagging hoop. Nobody's played in here for a long time, by the looks of it.
There are a bunch of other blue collars sitting around on the old wooden bleachers (painted red for Devil Pride! ), awaiting their fates. About 30 or so men and women of various ages, all with the same lined faces and worn eyes.
Blue collar auctions aren't all that common—generally, a charge with technical skills or training will be shunted off to a factory or a farm and pretty much spend the rest of their sentence in the same location. Occasionally, however, a company might liquidate its slaveholdings for some quick cash. This turns out to be the case with the people Sam is sharing the gym with, who all seem to know one another.
Some of them know him too. A wiry man with a craggy face and thinning black hair wanders over to Sam’s corner and asks under his breath if Sam wasn’t one of the Winchester boys.
Sam nods, not seeing much point in lying.
“Don’t suppose this is some kind of prison break from the inside?”
“I really wish it was, man,” Sam says, gesturing with his shackled hands. “Guess my luck just ran out.”
The man shrugs. “Gotta stay here for my little girl anyway. They’ll just take her if I run. But it was always kinda nice to imagine that if she found herself underwater, you boys might be able to get her out of the country. I hope you get out of this.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Please, son, call me Lorne. We’re all slaves here anyway. Never gonna be a 'Sir' again.”
“Now, Lorne,” says a woman sitting nearby. “You know as well as I do that we are debtors and criminals. We don’t wanna get in trouble for using the s-word.”
“Ha!” Lorne scoffs. “Those Corporate dicks can take their s-word and shove it up their asses.”
There’s general agreement and some laughter here and there. Then the heavy metal doors to the gym open with a clang, and everyone quiets instantly, the whole room gone hushed and still.
Dick Roman walks onto the basketball court and smiles at them all fondly.
Well, this just went from bad to fucked, Sam thinks as he silently gets to his feet, waiting to see what Roman will do.
“Sam Winchester,” Roman says as he strolls over to the bleachers, with the same affable smile and dead eyes Sam has watched on countless interviews with the Corporate Networks. “Or should I call you 4-5-4-8-9-3?”
Sam says nothing as Roman moves easily around the other charges in the room, eyes never leaving him. The people closest to Sam melt away silently and cling to the shadows.
“You boys have been a thorn in my side for a long, long time, Mr. Winchester.” He pulls a purple collar out of his pocket.
“Today's the day I pull out that thorn.”
“What about the auction?” Sam asks.
Roman smiles. “It's already happened, Sam. You’re mine now.” He grabs Sam’s chin and tilts his head from side to side. “It’s a pity I don’t really like boys,” Roman says. “But I do love making an example.”
It’s a couple of hours after Roman’s visit before a guard is sent to collect Sam. Like he’s become contagious, none of the other charges waiting in the gymnasium come near Sam or even look at him after his blue collar had been snapped off and replaced with the purple personal collar. Though they’re made of the exact same polycarbonate resin, the purple collar feels heavier around Sam’s neck, feels dirtier.
It doesn’t even have to mean what they’re all thinking, what Sam’s thinking. Plenty of purple collars work as chauffeurs and cooks and housekeeping staff and assistants. Still, they’re generally chosen because they’re easy on the eyes, and nobody cares too much about their skills with a rake or a whisk.
Everybody with a purple collar, everybody who sees a purple collar, knows there’s at least some possibility that sexual favor might be in the job description.
Sam doesn’t blame them for staying away from him, but he also doesn’t like feeling diseased, dirty. He traces the scar on his palm, a trick Dean taught him whenever he started thinking about his time at the camps too much. It helped ground him, let him wait calmly for whatever came next, look for an opportunity to escape.
The guard steers him into the locker room, where a middle-aged woman with wispy blonde hair and watery blue eyes is waiting for him. She’s wearing a blue collar herself, and she tuts and grumbles as she prepares to clean him up.
“For heaven’s sake, Marty, you can’t expect me to shower him all cuffed up like this!” she exclaims, and the guard shrugs.
“Very strict orders, straight from Roman’s PA. This one’s supposed to be slippery as an eel. Chains stay.”
She looks Sam over, shaking her head, and then reaches for a long pair of scissors.
“Hey!” Sam says, trying to jump back.
She looks irritated. “I’ll not be punished because you’re feeling modest, boy. I’m to clean you up and ready you for transport, same as I do all the other purples pass through here.”
He feels a wave of panic so irrational that he tries to take off running, never mind the armed guard standing behind him, or the fact that his wrists are shackled to his ankles. The grubby tiles around him dissolve into one of the interrogation rooms at the camp, and the exasperated maternal slave grows taller and thinner until Lucifer himself is standing before him, holding a very sharp pair of scissors and explaining to Sam what life will be like if he decides Sam no longer needs eyelids.
You’re not here, I got out, Sam thinks as he gives a strangled yell and lurches for the door. His hobbled legs cause him to pitch over, slamming his shoulder on the bathroom floor. I got out!
The shouting can be heard from the gymnasium, and the former slave-workers of the Decatur Agro-Fuel factory awaiting purchase shift uneasily and clear their throats. Several of them touch the blue collars around their necks, all of them thankful for their status as indentured factory workers for the first time in many, many years.
It’s late evening when Sam is delivered to Roman’s condo, a penthouse on the Gold Coast with stunning views of the stormy lake and the city lights sparkling far below. Dick had ordered Sam’s clothes to be burned back at Corporate Collections and replaced with the standard slave uniform, but the mousy woman in charge of cleaning him up had given up finding anything that would fit and sent him back to Dick in his own clothes, freshly laundered.
His collar is bolted to a sturdy ring protruding from the polished oak floor with a short length of chain that forces Sam to kneel, hands behind his back, forehead on the floor.
"Sorry, Dude," says the delivery guy as he heads towards the door, and he sounds like he means it.
"Aww, what a nice man," Lucifer says, sitting down beside Sam and running his fingers through Sam's hair. "It's that simple common courtesy that's missing these days, don't you think Sammy?"
"You're not here," Sam says through gritted teeth but he's having a harder time remembering if that's true or not. He tries to scratch at his scarred palm but the cuffs don't have enough give.
Sam is starting to regret that he didn’t let Dean in on how bad his hallucinations were getting before they were picked up. The standard Winchester response of “I’m okay,” had seemed like a good idea at the time.
It's okay though. There's a plan. Dean just needs to follow the plan. As long as he managed to avoid the trap Corporate had set for them, the plan could still work.
"Oh, Sammy, silly boy, Dean’s not coming,” Lucifer says. “Nobody is. You're still with me at the Southwest Re-Ed facility." He begins to sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” over and over while he pets Sam’s hair, until it’s almost a mercy when Roman shows up.
“So what exactly was the plan, Sam?" Roman asks. He’s sitting on his white couch, sipping a glass of scotch. "You boys thought you'd, what, break up my Shareholder's Gala like two denim-wearing Robin Hoods? What did you really expect to gain?"
His voice is buttery smooth like it always is on talk shows and interviews.
Sam is still kneeling on the floor as he'd been secured after delivery. His back muscles have been spasming for the past hour. At least his hallucinations have mercifully stopped, for the moment. He knows where he is, knows who he is. Knows where Lucifer isn't.
Not that his current, non-hallucinatory predicament provides much comfort.
"I’ve always been curious why my dear friend Lucifer was so enchanted with you. Care to enlighten me?"
When Sam continues to stare at the dark line separating two boards in the hardwood floor, doing his level best to ignore Dick, Roman stands up and stalks over to him. One shove with his Italian leather loafer and Sam is on the floor, shoulders wrenched behind him, collar pulling uncomfortably at his throat.
Then Dick steps on the short chain connecting Sam's neck to the bolt in the floor, and Sam can't breathe at all.
"Don't get me wrong, I loved watching your fuck-buddy ruin himself over you. I just wish I knew why."
Sam struggles against the crushing band around his throat but his hands are useless, helpless wriggling things, snugged against his hips. Starburst fireworks shoot off behind his eyelids as he begins to lose consciousness.
"Aww, Sammy, aren't you going to stand up for me?" Lucifer asks. It's the last thing Sam hears before he passes out.
Dean braces himself against the sink in Charlie's apartment, trying to get a grip.
"Did you chuckleheads even have a plan?" Meg asks from her perch on Charlie's couch.
"Yes, we had a plan," Dean snaps. It might not have been the best plan, but the increasingly tightening net Roman had thrown around them was making it clear they needed to gamble. The plans Frank had uncovered were too awful to think about. They’d had to do something.
"So, what, you thought you'd stroll into his headquarters and ask him real sweet to overthrow the system he created?"
"Shut up, Meg."
The silence stretches out until Charlie asks, "Was that the plan?"
“If you hadn’t decided to help us?” Dean says. “Yeah, more or less. Except with less asking and more holding Dick at gunpoint.”
Charlie looks like she’s reconsidering her part in this, and Dean closes his eyes. "Please tell me you have alcohol."
"I have a year's supply of Ener-G Fizz," Charlie says, sounding apologetic.
Dean gags a little and she says, "What? I'm a coder. And a spaz. Alcohol and me? Don't really mix."
Dean starts looking through her cupboards anyway.
"Yahtzee!" he says a moment later, pulling out a full bottle of amoretto liqueur.
"Oh, right, I needed that for a recipe," Charlie says. When Dean raises an eyebrow she says "Yeah, baking and me also don't really mix. But there was this super cute brunette that just moved in down the hall and—"
"Save it," Dean says, although if he’s honest, if his brother weren’t missing, he'd love to hear more about Charlie’s adventures with her new neighbor.
He uncaps the bottle and takes a deep pull, makes a terrible face, and then goes back for more.
"Is that normal?" Charlie asks Meg.
"Beats me. We're not exactly friends." When Charlie gives her a puzzled look, Meg shrugs and says, "We just have a lot of common enemies."
Charlie puts her headphones back on and continues twiddling with the Corporate radio while Meg and Dean drink trade the bottle of sticky sweet liquor back and forth.
“Um, Dean,” Charlie says after a half hour has passed. She looks even paler than usual and Dean wonders what the fuck is next.
“The good news is I know where your brother is.”
The abandoned school they find on the south side is just close enough to a Corporate wireless channel that Charlie can still work most of her magic. The nonstop staccato tapping of her fingers on the keyboard reminds Dean of Sam, making him feel both irritated and strangely homesick.
He and Meg are sharing a bottle of Jack, but he still doesn’t let his guard down around her. He can only hang out with Meg for so long before he remembers how much damage she's caused him and his friends, how Lucifer was her number one loyalty and Lucifer fucking broke his brother... Even though Lucifer’s locked up in seclusion, even though Crowley’s now gunning for her, doesn’t mean he trusts her. But she does have her uses. The unfortunate truth is they need each other right now.
“Why are you really helping us?” Dean wonders aloud.
“Sure, give it a try.”
She sneers at him and swipes the bottle, leans her head back against the wall.
“I’m trying to convince your Angel buddy that I’m one of the good guys now. You know, so I can get in his pants.”
“Oh, fuck,” Dean coughs up a mouthful of whiskey like he hadn’t done since he was a teenager. “No more.”
“What, Dean, you don’t want to hear about all the fun we had when he was playing crazy?”
“No. Not even a little bit.”
“Looney bins have an excellent selection of toys, you know. If you’re creative.”
“Charlie!” Dean hollers. “How’s it going over there?”
Meg grins at him like she knows she’s won this round.
“I think I’ve almost set up the feed we need,” Charlie calls back. “We should have everything in place before the fundraiser.”
The typing stops and she wanders over to where they’re sitting on the grimy floor and drops down beside them. “Gimme,” she says, reaching for the whiskey.
“Um…” Dean says.
“Oh, c’mon, I’m a big girl,” she says, and he passes her the bottle regretfully. She takes a tiny sip and predictably has a coughing fit.
“You okay?” he asks. She grimaces but gives him a thumbs-up.
“Okay, Charlie’s got the software glitch covered, plus security clearance.” He looks at her. “You can do that, right?”
“As long as the protocol is—”
He raises a hand. “Good enough. Meg, you’re in charge of—” he breaks off to look at her and shrugs. “General sneakiness, I guess.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” she says with an eye-roll.
“We’ve got more reinforcements coming in to help with security and crowd control. I think if everyone remembers their jobs and the timing works out…maybe we have a chance.”
It was the most optimistic he could be, but it seemed to do the trick. Charlie gives him a wide smile and says, “Let’s overthrow the government, bitches.”
Part 3 Masterpost