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Harvester of Sorrows

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Harvester of Sorrow
By JJJunky

 

As they searched the forest for a place a wendigo would call home, Dean Winchester kept Sam within sight - and - the protection of his flare gun. Looking after his little brother was something he had done since the day Sam was born. But now that he had sold his soul for Sam’s life, Dean wanted to ensure that life would be a long one. At least as much as he was able.

They weren’t one-hundred percent certain the creature they were seeking was a wendigo, but the evidence pointed in that direction. Four campsites had been ravaged by something with long, sharp claws. In addition, there had been no bodies. The occupants had vanished.

A thorough perusal of every newspaper article and ranger report had led the brothers to one possible conclusion: a wendigo was in residence in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota.

Remembering the creature’s night prowess, Dean nervously eyed the pink glow of the setting sun. “It’s time to head back, Sam.”

“Just a minute.”

Sam was rounding a protruding rock with an eagerness that made Dean believe he had found something.

“I think I found something,” Sam said, unknowingly voicing his brother’s thought.

His eyes constantly searching the growing darkness, Dean crossed to his brother’s side. “What?”

“Looks like an old mine.”

“Oh, man.” Dean wiped his face with his hand, clearly showing his discomfort at the discovery. “I hate mines.”

Sam shrugged. “They aren’t so bad.”

“You weren’t hung up like a slab of meat in one, wondering when that freaky bastard was going to want his next Happy Meal,” said Dean, referring to their previous encounter with a wendigo in Black Ridge, Colorado.

“At least you were the hero and got kissed by a pretty girl.”

A grin curved Dean’s lips. “I was totally awesome that day.”

“Glad it didn’t go to your head,” said a smiling Sam. “You want to see if you can bat two for two?”

Dean stood in the entrance of the abandoned mine and shivered. The reaction was partially due to what could be hiding in the darkness within, partially due to the cool breeze blowing across his shoulders.

“You know,” Sam quietly observed, “these hills are full of old gold mines. Odds are this isn’t the one the wendigo’s using to store its food supply.”

Turning a frown on his brother, Dean grumbled, “When have the odds ever been in our favor?”

“Every time we’re alive at the end of a hunt,” said Sam.

It was impossible for Dean to respond as the memory of holding his dead brother’s cooling body in his arms filled his throat with bile. They hadn’t walked away from every hunt unscathed, either physically or mentally. Swallowing hard to keep from spewing the contents of his stomach, Dean took a flashlight from his pocket. “Let’s check it out.”

As the narrow walls of the tunnel closed in around him, Dean didn’t need to look to know his brother was covering his back. It was something he took for granted. It was as natural as salting the doors and windows of their hotel rooms. There was no other person he trusted more.

A rocky protrusion scraped lightly across his skull. Dean ducked his head in deference to the low ceiling. Whoever had dug this old shaft hadn’t been very tall. Already knowing what he would see, he glanced back. Sam was hunched so low his wrists were almost knocking against his knees. Not even trying to keep the laughter from his voice, Dean asked, “Feeling a little like Magilla Gorilla there, Sammy?”

“Ha, ha,” growled Sam.

The tunnel sloped gently downward. The lower they went, the colder it became. Though it was difficult with the flashlight in one hand and the flare gun in the other, Dean managed to zip up his jacket. It was heavy enough for a cool spring day, perfect for the hike up the hill, but barely adequate in the temperatures they were presently encountering.

A rumbling sound reached Dean’s ears at about the same time the ground beneath his feet began to shake. He immediately realized the mine was caving in, but he didn’t have time to shout a warning before a falling beam slammed against his back, knocking him to the floor.

Feeling the warmth of blood trickle down the side of his face, Dean ignored the irritation, choosing instead to look for Sam.

As he rolled over, Dean saw his brother lying on the ground, his arms curled around his head, protecting it. He started to crawl to Sam’s aid when something struck his left leg. The intense pain ripped a cry of agony from his throat. Blinded by tears, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to slip away into a black abyss , where he felt nothing.

 

Sam could still hear a ragged cry, though it had long since ceased to echo around him. The ground beneath him eventually stilled, dust and dirt settling over him like a thin blanket. When he tried to brush it away, a throbbing he was all too familiar with shot up his right arm. Without even inspecting it, he knew his wrist was broken – again. Why was it always his right? Was the limb cursed? Did someone with an obsession with that appendage have a voodoo doll they kept sticking pins into?

He mentally shook himself, knowing to do so physically would be a big mistake considering how his head already felt. Pain pulling at the right side of his chest, Sam slowly sat up. The cry he had heard had come from a few feet in front of him, which meant it had been issued by Dean. Gritting his teeth against the pain he knew would follow his action, Sam held his arm close to his body and shifted until he saw a stream of light. He followed the beam to its brightest end, locating his flashlight.

Glad to find it undamaged, aside from a dent near the base, he picked it up. The light flashed across a large rock and what remained of his crushed flare gun. Sam realized he was lucky after all. He had been holding the weapon in his right hand.

Shuddering at what could have been, he swept his flashlight through the darkness until he found his brother. “Dean!”

As quickly as he could, Sam crawled through the debris to his brother’s side. Some of his fear subsided when Dean opened his eyes, squinting against the light.

“Dude, shift the spotlight,” grumbled Dean, one hand shielding his eyes.

Relief swept through Sam until the new angle of the flashlight showed a heavy beam lying across his brother’s left leg. “Dean - -“

“Think you can get this thing off me?” interrupted Dean, pushing ineffectually against the wooden support.

“I can try.” Sam handed his flashlight to his brother. “If I lift it do you think you can pull yourself out?”

“We’ll find out.”

Preparing himself, Sam wrapped his left arm around the end of the beam and took several deep breaths to fill his lungs. This was going to hurt both of them.

“You might want to use both hands there, Sammy,” suggested Dean. “You’re not Mr. Universe.”

“Can’t,” grunted Sam.

“Don’t tell me.”

“Yeah, it’s broken,” Sam confirmed. “Are you ready?”

“Maybe - -“

This time it was Sam who interrupted. “On three. One. Two. Three.”

The strain on his arm, shoulder, and back were almost more than he could bear, but that didn’t stop Sam from giving it everything he had. Pain screamed from his ribcage as sweat rolled down his temples and coated his upper lip. By the time Dean kicked free, he was close to passing out.

“Clear,” shouted Dean.

The heavy beam crashed to the ground, stirring up more dust, causing both brothers to cough in an effort to clear their throats. “Sorry,” Sam choked out.

Dean waved off the apology. “Maid’s day off.”

The hacking reverberated down Sam’s broken arm and bruised chest, making him feel dizzy. Hoping his discomfort wasn’t visible, he settled near his brother. Once he felt he had his breathing under control, he said, “Give me the flashlight. I want to look at your leg.”

“It hurts. I don’t think first aid is going to stop that.”

Accustomed to his brother’s evasive tactics, Sam grabbed the flashlight and put it against his right side, holding it in place with his upper arm. Wishing he was ambidextrous, he ran his hand down Dean’s injured leg. While he found a gash running from Dean’s ankle to a few inches below his knee, that seemed to be the only damage. “I can’t be sure but it doesn’t feel like anything’s broken.”

“Maybe not to you,” said Dean, wincing as he moved his leg from beneath Sam’s hand.

“There’s a deep cut and there’ll probably be a hellluva a bruise,” Sam conceded. “It’ll make it hard for you to walk.”

“Thank you, Mr. Obvious.”

Hearing the pain in his brother’s voice, Sam ordered, “Give me your t-shirt.”

“Why?”

“So I can bandage this cut.”

“Why don’t you use your own shirt?”

Sam nodded at his injured arm. “I can’t get it off.”

Without further protest, Dean removed his coat and outer shirt. Taking off his t-shirt, he tore it into strips without Sam asking.

While he waited for his brother to finish, Sam swung the light around, trying to get his bearings. The beam showed debris filling the tunnel they had just traversed. It was impossible to tell how far back it was blocked but it didn’t matter. Neither brother was in any condition to dig their way out.

His heart in his throat, Sam twisted until the trail ahead was illuminated. It was clear, at least for the next ten feet.

One concern alleviated, Sam narrowed his search to look for the other flashlight and flare gun. The first thing he found was the flashlight. The bulb was broken but the body, while dented, appeared to be intact. Picking it up, he handed it to Dean, taking the torn shirt in exchange. “See if you can get the batteries out. We might need them.”

“Yes, sir.” Dean mockingly saluted.

Knowing if he smiled it would only encourage his brother Sam bent his head and attempted to bandage Dean’s leg. It was difficult one-handed in semi-darkness, but when he was done, he didn’t feel any blood leaking through the fabric. He made a mental note to periodically check to make sure that continued. One last look showed his inspection hadn’t been pain-free for Dean, sweat coated his pale forehead and upper lip. Even in the dim light, his freckles seemed to stand out.

When he was finished, Sam turned and saw the flashlight beam illuminating a familiar object. He reached over and picked up Dean’s flare gun. The handle had a crack in it, but the barrel appeared to be functional. He handed it to his brother. “I think you better hang on to this. I don’t have enough working arms.”

“Besides, I’m the better shot,” smirked Dean.

Sam didn’t argue. While they were fairly well-matched when it came to pistols and rifles, Dean had proven to have the better aim with a flare gun, judging by their last encounter with a wendigo. “It looks clear ahead. I think we should get going.”

“Not so fast,” protested Dean. “Come over here where I can reach you.”

Puzzled, Sam scooted next to his brother.

Shrugging out of his coat again, Dean tore a sleeve off his over-shirt. “My turn to play Florence Nightingale.”

Sam wanted to protest, but he knew it would be in vain. His arm needed to be immobilized just as badly as the cut on Dean’s leg had needed to be bandaged. Reluctantly shifting closer to his brother, Sam looked away as Dean pulled down the zipper on Sam’s jacket. He avoided Dean’s eyes not because he was ashamed to show his pain, but because he knew how guilty it would make Dean feel.

By the time his arm was in the makeshift sling with the added support from his zipped up jacket, Sam felt sweat beading his own brow while nausea twisted his stomach. Several deep breaths helped to keep the remnants of his lunch where they belonged.

“Unless we want to spend the night in here,” said Dean, “we’d better get going.”

Even though he still felt queasy, Sam knew his brother was right. He also knew Dean was giving him something else to focus on besides his pain.

Trying to conceal the trembling in his left hand, Sam rose and leaned down to help Dean to his feet. Neither brother did a good job of hiding his pain and neither commented on it.

Dean shoved the flare gun into the left pocket of his jacket where he could easily reach it. As Sam wrapped his good arm around Dean’s waist, Dean shifted the flashlight to his left hand and put his right across Sam’s back.

“Ready to go?” asked Sam.

Dean nodded. “Is the Jolly Green Giant green?”

 

 

Darkness and the constant necessity to fight the pain blurring his vision made it difficult for Dean to judge how far they had walked. Under normal conditions, he could run a mile in just over five minutes. Now, he was lucky to make ten steps in that span of time. He was quickly reaching his threshold of endurance. Warmth on his leg told him the cut had started to bleed again. It wasn’t a heavy flow, but Dean knew any blood loss would slow him down.

Despite the cool air, his clothes were soaked with sweat and his head throbbed to a beat Ringo Starr couldn’t match. But he would swallow his tongue before he revealed the agony he was suffering from Sam’s tight grip across his back and around his waist. Sam’s arm rested directly over the spot where the beam had struck Dean’s back, judging by the pain.

Right now, Dean would trade the Colt for a couple of Percocets.

“Sammy,” Dean panted through clutched teeth. “Time for a break.”

Shaking his head, Sam tightened his grip around his brother’s waist. “If we stop we may not get going again.”

Dean bit his lip and closed the muscles in his throat to suppress a scream of pain. When he felt it was finally safe to speak, he said, “I’ll take my chances.”

“Dean - -“

“I’m not asking.” Dean’s voice cracked. “I’m begging.”

Sam stopped instantly. Shifting his hand to Dean’s upper arm, he eased his brother down to the ground.

Dean saw a wince twist Sam’s features, while it made him cringe inside he didn’t comment. They were already doing as much for each other as they could – almost. There was one more thing Dean could do to save his brother.

Resting his head against a sharp outcropping didn’t help Dean’s headache, but it did clarify what he had to do. Pulling the flare gun from his pocket, he tossed it onto Sam’s lap.

The hand that Sam had been using to prop up his head flopped down to pick up the weapon. Despite his pain and exhaustion, he was instantly in defensive mode. “Did you hear something?”

“No.” Dean rolled the flashlight across the bumpy ground. The beam flashed wildly before the instrument came to rest against Sam’s knee. “Sammy, I want you to take the gun and the flashlight and go for help.”

“What? No!” Sam grabbed both implements in one massive paw and put them in his brother’s lap.

“You can go faster without me,” argued Dean. “And I’m not letting you go unarmed.”

“But you expect me to leave you here with no way to defend yourself?”

Dean heard the anger in Sam’s voice, but he didn’t back down. He knew he couldn’t if he wanted his brother to stay alive. “I’ll be all right.”

“Because you’re wearing Superman’s costume under your clothes?” snorted Sam.

“Because we’re going to draw Anasazi symbols to protect me, college boy.”

“One thing my education taught me was you can’t draw on rock with a stick.”

Dean allowed his bravado to slip. “At the rate we’re going, I’m gonna get you killed, Sam.”

“With our injuries we’re each only half a person. We’re a liability to each other. I’ll only make it, we’ll only make it, if we stay together.”

The pain searing along his injuries making it hard to think, Dean shook his head. “You have to make it, Sammy. I don’t want to go to Hell for nothing.”

“You aren’t going to Hell, period.” Sam groaned as he struggled to his feet. “We need to keep going.”

The hand on Dean’s arm gently tugged. He wanted to bat it away, use actions rather than words to force his brother to leave him behind. The self-preservation that had kept him alive since he was four wouldn’t let him give up. Even if he only had eleven months to live, he wanted those months – unless it meant sacrificing Sam. He hadn’t let Sam die in Cold Oak; nothing had changed in the last month.

Vowing never to step foot in a mine again, Dean rose and endured Sam’s tight grip on his waist without complaint. Cool air flowed across the sweat coating, his face and soaking his clothes. A part of him felt like he was in the desert; another in Alaska. Dean knew there had been times, particularly in the last two years, when he had felt more miserable. But at the moment nothing came to mind.

Somehow, the argument for staying behind had gone so much better in his head than it had in practice. Dean had never felt like such a liability before. His failure to convince Sam that he should leave his brother behind could lead to Sam’s death. And Dean had nothing left to bargain with to bring Sam back.

“Do you hear that?” asked Dean.

Sam stopped in mid-stride. All he could hear was the throbbing of his pulse. He buried his pain as much as he was able and listened. A low moan was barely audible. Grateful for his brother’s exceptional hearing, Sam whispered, “Do you think it’s one of the campers?”

“Could be.” Dean frowned. “Could be the wendigo luring us to it, wanting us to believe somebody’s alive.”

With a twist of his neck and a tilt of his head, Sam indicated the tunnel behind them. “Even if it is, there’s nowhere else for us to go.”

Sam moved them forward. He could tell by the look on Dean’s face that his brother had another idea. Since Sam was still seething from the last one, he hoped his action would put a stumbling block to this new plan. He should’ve known better.

“Why don’t –’’

“If you’re going to suggest that I stay behind or anything else that will separate us,” snapped Sam, “save it.”

“But –“

“Don’t press your luck.” The hand gripping Dean’s waist balled into a fist. “I still have that rain check, remember?”

Before Dean could find the words to voice his objection, Sam started moving again. He wasn’t surprised when Dean shifted away from his supporting arm and took the flare gun from his pocket. If the wendigo thought to throw them off by imitating a suffering human, he had done just the opposite.

The tunnel widened. A hollow had been dug on the left side. A smaller tunnel, barely big enough for a grown man, went out horizontally near the middle. The cries they heard echoed down the confined space. Sam kneeled to see where it led, but only saw darkness. Rising back to his full height, he let his eyes rest on his brother’s face. It was enough to tell him what Dean was thinking without words being spoken.

“Stay here,” said Dean, kneeling near the entrance and flashing the light down it.

“Dean—“

“What if what we’re hearing is coming from the hikers? We can’t just leave them.” Looking up at his brother, Dean asked, “Do you have a better idea?”

Surprised by the question, Sam unhappily shook his head. “No.”

“You keep this.” Dean handed Sam the flare gun. “No sense having all our eggs in one basket.”

Sam didn’t bother to point out that for all intents and purposes, he would be blind without the flashlight unable to see his target to offer much resistance. However, if the wendigo was on the other side of that tunnel, a prostrate Dean wouldn’t be in position to offer an adequate defense either.

As soon as Dean disappeared into the hole, Sam knelt by the opening. The moaning was louder here. He tried to discount the sound so he could hear if something was coming at him out of the darkness.

“Sammy, go into the light,” called Dean.

Even knowing the wendigo was a perfect mimic, Sam felt certain he wasn’t playing into the creature’s hands as he carefully settled on his left side and started to crawl. While Dean’s voice might be easy to imitate, his biting wit could not be duplicated.

The tunnel was surprisingly long, making Sam wonder if he would find himself in another tunnel parallel to the one he had just left. It wasn’t unheard of for one miner to try to steal from another if his own mine was tapped out. There seemed to be no other logical reason for this tunnel’s existence.

The wall pressed against Sam’s broken arm, making him feel queasy. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he dug the fingers of his left hand into the dirt and slowly pulled himself along. When the light grew brighter, he paused. Filling his lungs with air, he allowed the throbbing in his sore limb to diminish and took the flare gun from his pocket. As ready as he could be, he dug his elbow into the ground and pulled. Pain flared anew, making him bite his lip to keep from screaming.

Despite the discomfort, he didn’t put his only weapon away. He might not be in shape to put up much of a fight, but he would fight.

Only when he saw Dean’s booted feet ahead did he permit himself to relax - slightly. Dean wouldn’t calmly stand by if there was danger.

Light flashed down the passage, momentarily blinding Sam. “Dude!” he growled, rapidly blinking his tearing eyes.

“Sorry.”

There wasn’t even a suggestion of repentance in the apology. Sam didn’t expect there to be. Even in the direst circumstances they were still brothers – and Dean was undoubtedly still pissed that Sam wouldn’t leave him behind. Retribution was bound to occur in one form or another. Sam knew he would be lucky if Dean’s reprisals went no further than the near blinding.

Crawling the remainder of the distance, Sam didn’t resist when Dean took the flare gun the minute he emerged through the opening. It only made sense for the person with two working arms – and the ability to see – should handle their only weapon.

Finally able to focus, Sam stood up as far as he could and looked around. They were in a hollowed out cavity barely big enough for the two of them. Rotted cotton that looked like it might have been a sack lay on the floor in one corner. If he had to guess, Sam would say the chamber had been used as a way station between the two tunnels. The thieving miner would take his bounty, leave it here and go back for more. Then, at his leisure he’d drag the bags the remainder of the distance into his own tunnel and claim the gold came from his own mine.

“Do you know where it leads?” asked Sam, sighing at the thought of crawling through another confined space. It was hard to forget there was the weight of a mountain on top of them.

Dean shook his head. “No clue.”

“I guess we’re about to find out,” said Sam knowing what his brother would never admit out loud. Dean hadn’t investigated further because he had been unwilling to put more distance between them. Sam would have felt the same way.

Lying in front of the hole, flashlight in one hand, flare gun in the other, Dean used his elbows to drag himself forward. “Don’t see we have a choice.”

Careful to keep his weight on his left side, though it didn’t seem to help much, Sam mimicked his brother’s position. As much as he tried to protect his broken right arm, he jarred it several times, hard enough to bring tears to his eyes. Unfortunately, this tunnel was longer and narrower than the last. Sam had to go slow or chance pulling out the supports with his broad shoulders. Age had worn the lumber, making it flimsy enough. He didn’t want to be the one to cause it to collapse. Especially while they were in it.

A moan echoed back to him. Sam wasn’t sure if it had come from his brother’s mouth or the same throat that was luring them on.

The chamber they emerged into this time wasn’t empty. Three people hung from ropes tied to a beam spanning the ceiling, one woman and two men. It wasn’t clear if they were alive or dead. Sam took the flashlight Dean handed him. Holding it as steady as he could, he watched his brother limp across to the woman’s side. A dirty hand reached out, fingers searching under a bent head for the carotid artery.

“She’s alive.” Dean reached into his boot and retrieved his knife. Pocketing the flare gun, he used both hands to cut the unconscious woman down.

Laying her gently on the ground, he moved on to the other two. Sam smiled when the same verdict was pronounced for both of the men. This was one time they hadn’t been too late at least for these three. As Dean grunted under the weight of first one man and then the other, Sam felt guilty. But he knew he could offer little help. It was better if he simply stayed out of the way and held the light.

Once all three were stretched out on the dirt floor, Sam scanned the area to make sure nothing would jump out of the dark at them before slithering closer to the woman. From the reports they had read, he knew she was Cathy Donovan. Putting the flashlight under his right armpit, he awkwardly untied the rope from around her wrists, speaking softly to her the entire time. “Cathy, it’s all right. You can wake up now.”

Either the voice or the circulation returning to her numb extremities got through to the young woman. With a low cry of fear, she tried to scoot away from Sam.

Sam didn’t try to stop her. He knew it would only frighten her more. Besides, there was nowhere for her to go except into the wall. When she found her way blocked, she stopped, staring at Sam and Dean in disbelief.

“Are you real?” asked Cathy.

“I am,” Dean assured her. “I can’t speak for my brother.”

Frowning at Dean, Sam was surprised when the young woman started laughing.

“Yeah, you’re brothers,” she said.

Worried she was teetering on the edge of hysteria, Sam quietly introduced himself, “My name is Sam. That’s Dean. Are you hurt?”

“A few bruises and a sore ankle. Nothing serious.” Cathy turned her attention to her fellow captives. “What about Scott and Randy?”

“They’re okay,” said Dean.

The others identified as Scott Mooren and Randy Baines. Sam looked around for any of the others who had recently disappeared, including Colin Wainwright, the man hiking with Randy when they had vanished. Sam kept one eye on Cathy and the other on Dean as his brother loosened the ropes on the two men’s wrists before gently slapping them on the face. Both men’s returned to consciousness was less dramatic than Cathy’s had been. Partially, Sam decided, because they were still tied even if they weren’t hanging from the beam.

“Scott, Randy, you’re all right.” Cathy shifted closer. “We’ve been rescued.”

His initial fear hissing through his teeth in a deep sigh, Scott mumbled, “Did they bring water?”

Sam handed his bottle to Cathy as Scott gratefully accepted Dean’s. Randy slipped his hands clear of the rope before taking the plastic bottle from Scott and emptying it. There hadn’t been enough left for any of them to quench their thirst, merely to wet their mouths and stave off dehydration.

“Do you think you can walk?” asked Sam. “We should get out of here before the wendigo gets hungry.”

“Even if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl,” said Scott.

“Wendigo?” Randy spoke for the first time. “Is that what you call that two-headed bastard?”

“What!” Sam heard Dean echo his shock but ignored it as he continued, “Did you say two heads?”

Cathy nodded. “Two heads, four eyes, two noses and two mouths. But what’s really strange –“

“That isn’t strange enough?” demanded Dean.

“It only has two ears, one on each head.” Cathy held her arms out as if she was showing the size of a fish she had caught. “And they’re really big.”

“Big?” Dean repeated, staring at Cathy. “Like Dumbo big?”

“Yeah.”

“Two Faces,” whispered Sam.

Dean shot a look at Sam. “Obviously, dude.”

“Two Faces isn’t a description,” Sam clarified. “It’s a name. Two Faces is a monster that stalked the Sioux especially around their hunting grounds.”

“Does it say anywhere in that encyclopedic brain of yours how to kill this Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde?” demanded Dean.

“Technically it would be Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde since Dr. Jekell was considered normal.”

“Dude!”

Careful to keep his satisfaction hidden, Sam said, “It can be burned.”

“Well, at least we have the right weapon for once.” Dean took the flare gun out of his pocket. “Let’s get going.”

Randy put a hand on Dean’s arm, holding him back. “What about Colin?”

“He’s already –“ Sam hesitated.

“He’s gone,” finished Dean.

“No.” Randy shook his head. “That thing just wrapped him up in one of its ears. We need to go rescue him.”

Sam gently pried Randy’s hand from Dean’s arm. “There’s nothing we can do for him.”

His gaze shifting between the brothers, Randy demanded, “How do you know?”

“Because my brother said so,” growled Dean. “Now let’s go.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“Then stay here and ask Mr. Hyde when he returns.”

He had hoped to keep things vague, however Sam knew he had to diffuse the mounting hostility between the two men. “It’s too late, Randy. Colin has already been transformed.”

“Transformed?” Randy turned puzzled eyes on Sam. “Into what?”

“Into a smaller version of Two Faces.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Smaller?” Dean eyed his brother. “How big is this sucker?”

Cathy held her hand above her head. “He had to be at least twelve feet tall.”

“Son of a bitch!” His tone less challenging, Dean turned to Randy. “Are you willing to risk all our lives to prove my brother wrong?”

A deep sigh whistled past Randy’s lips. “No.”

“Sam,” said Dean, “take point with the flashlight.”

Sam nodded, moving aside so Scott could take Cathy’s arm, providing her injured ankle with some support. Leading the way out of the chamber and into the tunnel, Sam flashed the light both ways. “Do you know which way the entrance is?”

“We were unconscious when he brought us here,” said Cathy, nodding at Scott.

Randy added, “I was, too.”

Glad whoever had dug this tunnel had been taller, allowing him to stand upright, Sam turned to his right. While it wasn’t strong, he thought he felt a slight breeze from that direction. He just hoped it wasn’t his imagination.

Though he could feel how anxious the three victims were, Sam kept his pace slow in deference to his brother’s and Cathy’s injured limbs. Besides, Dean had their only weapon. It would be foolhardy to distance themselves from its protection. That’s what Sam’s head told him. His heart didn’t need to find excuses.

 

This tunnel was wider, allowing Scott to easily help a limping Cathy. Instead of reassuring Dean, it made him more nervous. The monster that was stalking them wouldn’t have fit in the previous tunnel. For that reason, Dean had been tempted to return to it. However, there was no guarantee it had an outlet. While they had a chance of encountering Two Faces, at least the probability of escape from the tunnels was higher.

Dean knew he should’ve taken the lead since he had their only weapon, but he also knew his leg and back injuries made him a bigger liability by slowing them down. Sam would be smart enough to hit the deck if Two Faces appeared. Dean could only hope the others would be equally intelligent and do as they were told.

When the glow of the flashlight disappeared, Dean realized he had fallen too far behind. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he forced himself to put more weight on his bruised leg and increased his speed. Muscles pulled in his side and back, bringing tears to his eyes.

By the time he caught up to Randy, Dean’s vision was blurred and sweat had beaded on his brow and upper lip, bringing him perilously close to passing out.

“Dean!”

The familiar voice, filled with recognizable concern, grounded Dean. He gave Sam a small wave to indicate everything was all right – even though it wasn’t. There was nothing Sam or anyone else could do for him. Sam had a broken arm and bruised ribs, while Cathy had an injured leg and was nearly half-starved and dehydrated. Scott and Randy were in only slightly better condition than Cathy. They would all have to find their own strength if they wanted to get out of this alive. Dean had no doubts concerning Sam. He also knew his brother. Sam wouldn’t be able to leave anyone behind. And Dean wouldn’t leave Sam – which meant they would all die if any of them gave up.

“Dean, I smell fresh air.”

Sam’s announcement made Dean grip the flare gun tighter. “Hold up,” he called.

Knowing there was a chance Two Faces was outside the entrance, Dean limped to the front and took the flashlight from his brother. “Sam, stay here.”

“Dean, no.”

His gaze taking in the pain Sam could no longer hide, Dean said, “You need to be ready to run.”

“To where?” Sam waved his good hand, indicating the narrow tunnel.

“Back to the chamber where we found the others –“

“That’ll do a lot of good.”

Ignoring Sam’s sarcastic reply, Dean continued, “Go back through to the tunnel where we were trapped.”

“And that makes sense how?”

“It’s narrower than this one,” growled Dean, becoming annoyed with his brother’s disapproval. “That big ole’ monster won’t fit. There’s still a chance you can find another way out.”

Dirt flew from his hair as Sam shook his head. “We’ve been through this before, Dean. I’m not leaving you.”

“Before, you were only risking your own life; now you’d be risking the others as well. Are you willing to do that?”

Dean knew it was an unfair question. One he already knew the answer to or he wouldn’t have asked it. The thing John Winchester had drummed into both his sons was the importance of protecting the innocents. Sam could no more leave the three hikers in jeopardy than he could kick a puppy.

Anger and fear fighting for prominence on his expressive face, Sam reluctantly shook his head.

Reassured by the gesture, Dean took a deep breath and quickly glanced outside, before resolutely stepping out of the tunnel entrance. It was almost anti-climatic when nothing happened. He swept the flashlight in a quick arc, finding nothing but trees and rocks. The frantic beating of his heart slowing, he did a deliberate sweep of the area before he called to his brother, “It’s clear, come on out.”

The others stumbled out.

“I suggest we put a little distance between us and this tunnel,” said Sam.

“Which way?”

Scott pointed to their left. “That will lead us to the road running through Spearfish Canyon.”

“That way it is,” Dean agreed. He figured Scott would know where they were, better than Sam or himself, since neither of them had been here before.

The single flashlight hardly penetrated the almost complete darkness of the moonless night. The hikers walked close to Dean’s heels, invading his space more than he would normally tolerate. But he couldn’t blame them. Dean had the only light and the only weapon. He just hoped Sam was keeping equally as close.

Walking in the open was easier mentally. At least Dean didn’t have to worry about the roof caving in on them again. But in other ways it was more nerve racking, wondering which side the monster would attack.

“This is far enough,” Sam said.

Puzzled, Dean stopped in his tracks. Randy wasn’t able to stop in time and bumped into him, causing Dean to put more weight on his abused leg. Hissing through the pain, he asked, “Far enough for what?”

“To make camp.”

“Are you crazy?” demanded Randy.

While Dean wondered the same thing, he didn’t appreciate a complete stranger calling his brother crazy.

“We can’t escape Two Faces,” explained Sam. “It’s an amazing hunter even at night. Our best chance is to make camp in the middle of this clearing. The fire will give us another weapon and distance from the trees will allow us to see Two Faces before it’s on us.”

“Won’t a fire tell him where we are?” Randy protested.

“A hunter of its caliber could find us without a fire.” Sam winced as he shrugged his shoulders. “We might as well be comfortable.”

The plan made sense. Besides, Dean was too tired and sore to argue. “Everyone start gathering wood. We’ll need enough to get us through to morning.”

Randy grumbled under his breath, but joined the others in their designated task. They stayed close together, picking up whatever was in their path.

Dean gave the flashlight to Sam as a way to keep him from trying to help. Though it was years ago, Dean had once had a broken arm, so he knew how much Sam had to be suffering even if he didn’t say a word. Bending would only aggravate an already painful injury. Plus, it would be difficult to carry very much with only one arm.

The weapon steady in his right hand, Dean gathered branches with his left. His back protested, but he ignored it. Now that the sun had gone down, it was cooler out here than it had been inside the mine. The warmth of a fire would be more than welcome. The pretense of safety it would offer would also be appreciated. Even at one hundred percent, Dean didn’t relish fighting something that was twice his height. In the condition he was in right now, he wouldn’t bet money on the outcome. Suddenly, the few months he had left had become precious and he didn’t want to lose them. It seemed Sam had finally gotten through his thick skull. Dean wasn’t so sure he was glad.

Sam avoided looking directly into the campfire, knowing it would momentarily blind him. He sat on one side of the blaze, Dean on the other. The three hikers were between them on either side of the fire. From the soft snores he heard, Sam could tell they were asleep. Despite the danger they were in, he wasn’t surprised. All three were exhausted, suffering from malnutrition and dehydration. They were doing well considering what they had been through – even Randy. Though he wished the other man would stop questioning everything, Sam was willing to give him a little slack; after all, he had lost his friend. Since Dean hadn’t made any sarcastic remarks, Sam decided his brother was on the same wavelength.

“Sam.”

His name, spoken in a familiar low voice, alerted Sam. Shifting to his right to put the burning flames in his peripheral vision, he grabbed one of the sticks they had prepared and stuck the end into the fire. The piece of cotton t-shirt immediately ignited. Sam was glad Scott smoked. The butane from his lighter made a good accelerant. He just wished there had been more of it.

Turning, Sam saw Dean was on his feet, his gaze fixed on the darkness before him the flare gun in his hand. Sam couldn’t see anything, but there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that if Dean thought there was something out there, then there was something out there.

A growl confirmed Dean’s instincts had not let them down. Sam shifted his torch, trying to throw more light into the inky darkness. Dean couldn’t shoot what he couldn’t see. The first shot had to count. There wouldn’t be time to reload.

Another growl, louder and closer, brought the hikers to their feet. “Get on the other side of the fire,” Sam ordered.

Scott and Cathy quickly complied, joining Randy and putting the wall of flames between them and the thing advancing on the camp.

The next growl made Sam take a step closer to his brother. A deep breath helped to calm his nerves. He knew from past experience that most of his apprehension was due to the pain of his injuries. One weakness, be it physical or mental, seemed to have a cascading effect on his whole body and mind.

“Sam!”

A shove almost sent Sam stumbling into the crackling flames. The flare whooshed past him so close he could feel the heat on his chest.

The projectile found its target. Two Faces screamed as the fire that had started in his torso spread, quickly consuming the creature.

His good arm raised to shield his eyes from the bright light, Sam stayed alert, knowing it would take Dean precious seconds to reload. But as the flames ate the huge body, Sam realized a second shot wouldn’t be necessary. He allowed himself a sigh of relief, but stayed vigilant. So he was ready with his makeshift weapon when a scream filled the night air. It had come from Dean’s left. Moving to intercept, Sam wasn’t prepared when Randy grabbed his bad arm. His own scream echoed the one they had just heard. Despite his agony, training and a strong instinct to protect his brother and himself had him raising the torch.

“Stop! Don’t hurt him!” Randy hung onto Sam’s arm. “I think it’s Colin.”

Panting through his pain, Sam tried to shrug off the restraining hand. “What if it’s not?”

A human shape appeared at the edge of the light. The pain throbbing through his arm made Sam dizzy and sick to his stomach, blurring his vision.

The creature rushed Dean with a horrible cry.

Dean had managed to insert a fresh shell and snap the flare gun closed. The click was echoing as the monster attacked. Swatting the weapon from Dean’s hand, it wrapped its huge claws over Dean’s shoulder, picked him up, and threw him into the darkness.

Sam recognized human features on the deformed face as Colin Wainwright. However, there wasn’t enough left to call this thing human any more.

“Colin?’ Randy’s voice cracked as he called his friend’s name.

Shifting slightly, Sam put as much strength as he could into jamming his left elbow into Randy’s midsection. The grip on Sam’s arm immediately dropped away as Randy doubled over with an agonized gasp. Burying his concern for Dean, Sam faced Colin. The torch in his hand had burned down so the flames were licking at his fingers but there wasn’t time to grab another.

With a roar, Colin rushed Sam.

Sam felt the sharp claws scrape across his uninjured wrist as he dodged to his right. Stumbling, Colin tried to reverse his momentum. But before he could recover, Sam thrust the torch at him. The tattered jacket clinging to the creature smoldered before bursting into flame.

His burned fingers, slick with blood from his torn wrist, made it difficult for Sam to feel the wood in his hand. He threw the burning stick at Colin’s head, hoping it would have enough momentum to reach its target. It struck Colin around the shoulders causing what was left of his long, blond hair to burst into flames, haloing the misshapen head.

Its screams were horrible, making Sam wish he could cover his ears. Choking down the bile rising in his throat, he pulled the flashlight from his pocket. Switching it on, he stumbled in the direction where Dean had disappeared.

When he found his brother, he discovered Dean was unconscious. Knowing he wouldn’t feel a pulse with his singed fingers, Sam put his hand on Dean’s chest. When he felt it rise and fall with a steady rhythm, he closed his eyes and whispered a quick prayer. Checking for broken bones, he ignored the bloody handprint he left on his brother’s jacket.

“Is he all right?” Scott softly asked, appearing at Sam’s side.

“He will be,” Sam said, refusing to believe otherwise. “Help me get him back to the fire. There might be more of those things out here.”

Without another word, Scott put his hands under Dean’s shoulders while Sam wrapped his good arm around Dean’s legs. He didn’t want to ask Randy for help, he was sure he would choke on the words.

Though it wasn’t far to their destination, both men were gasping by the time they arrived, proof of the ordeal they had both endured. Cathy helped them lower Dean close to the warming flames. His legs shaking beneath him, Sam dropped to his brother’s side. The smell of burning flesh filled his nostrils, forcing him to breathe through his mouth.

“You killed Colin,” cried Randy. “You murdered him.”

Sam wearily replied, “That wasn’t Colin.”

“If we had gotten him to a hospital –“

“They couldn’t have done anything for him.”

“You don’t know that.”

Knowing everything he said would be dismissed outright, Sam didn’t bother arguing further. It was clear he couldn’t get through to Randy. The man had almost gotten them killed, but Sam couldn’t fault him. If it had been Dean Two Faces had transformed, Sam would’ve felt the same. He was grateful but kept quiet when Scott and Cathy hotly defended his actions. It left him free to concentrate on his brother.

There was a lump on Dean’s forehead, which explained why he was unconscious. The claw marks on Dean’s shoulder and neck were bleeding sluggishly, easing one of Sam’s fears. Only one looked deep enough to require stitches. At least Dean wasn’t in danger of bleeding to death.

Sam started to fumble with his jacket’s zipper. A small hand wrapped around his own, stopping him. He winced when the burns on his fingers flared to life.

“It’s all right,” said Cathy. “I’ve got it.”

Puzzled, Sam watched as she slipped away from the fire. He was about to call her back when she returned, buttoning her over-shirt, her t-shirt in her other hand. Without being asked, Scott took it from her and started tearing it into strips.

The pain of his injuries making him feel weak and helpless, Sam could only watch, grateful they were all alive.

The foul odor permeating the air making it difficult to breathe, Sam watched Scott and Cathy bandage Dean’s wounds. They were surprisingly efficient. It was obvious they had taken a first-aid course.

“I think he’ll be all right,” reassured Cathy, taking Sam’s arm and wrapping the remaining strips of dirty t-shirt around his bleeding hand.

Sam nodded his gratitude, too sore and too tired to offer anything more.

“In the morning,” Scott offered, “Randy and I’ll go for help. This clearing is large enough for a helicopter to land.”

Again, Sam made a physical acknowledgement of the plan. He knew he shouldn’t let the two men go off alone. There was no guarantee Two Faces hadn’t transformed the other missing hikers rather than making them dinner. But he could see no alternative. Tuning out Randy’s protests, Sam lightly placed his hand on Dean’s chest, almost covering the bloody print staining the jacket. The relief he felt from the slow movement eased his pain, giving him confidence they would be rescued.

The chemical odor filling his nostrils wasn’t pleasant, but it was far better than what he remembered inhaling before he lost consciousness. He knew the smell and knew he was in a hospital. Reassured, Dean breathed deeply, filling his lungs. He quickly stopped when pain stabbed his chest. He knew what it felt like to be burned by a red-hot poker. He just wasn’t sure how one had gotten under his ribs.

“Dean?”

The worried note in his little brother’s voice made Dean start breathing again, though with shallower breaths. He shifted toward the voice. This time, he couldn’t suppress a moan when the slight movement ignited the pain in his back.

“Easy, Dean,” Sam soothed. “I don’t think you should move.”

“Now you tell me,” croaked Dean, carefully opening his eyes, afraid he would regret even this small shift.

“If you woke up like a normal person, I would’ve had time to warn you.”

Though there was a half-smile on Sam’s lips, Dean could hear the concern in the soft tones. “There’s nothing wrong with the way I wake up.”

“I think you just disproved that theory.”

Frowning, his brain having to work overtime to make sense of the simplest words, Dean growled, “Bite me.”

“Are you in pain?” Sam partially rose from his chair. “Do you need a doctor?”

“I’m fine as long as I don’t move.” When Sam guiltily looked down at his hands, Dean knew he should have thought before he spoke.

“Dean, why didn’t you tell me you’d hurt your back?”

Fearful the injury was worse than he had thought, Dean demanded, “How bad is it?”

“It’s only bruised,” mollified Sam. “It’s going to hurt for a while but there’s no permanent damage.”

A relieved sigh hissed through Dean’s lips as he pressed, “How about your arm?”

“It’s broken.” Sam unhappily held up his plaster-encased wrist.

“I can see that.” Dean cautiously pointed to the bandages on Sam’s left hand that ran from his fingertips to his elbow. “I meant your other one.”

“It’s a little singed. I let the torch burn down a bit too far.”

“What did you do, fry the hair off your arm?”

“No.” Sam gently fingered the white bandage. “Colin got in a lucky swipe.”

Wishing his headache would go away and let him concentrate, Dean asked, “Who’s Colin, and why did he hit you?”

“Colin was Randy’s friend. Instead of making a meal out of him, Two Faces changed him.”

Dean grimaced. “Into a mini-me?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“I take it you torched the sucker?”

The fingers of his right hand playing with the edge of his cast, Sam nodded. “It attacked you. I knew it would kill the others if it got through me.”

The averted gaze and the mindless activity guided Dean’s aching head to a conclusion he didn’t need to have confirmed. Barely controlling his anger, he said, “You’re letting Randy blame you for Colin’s death.”

“He needs someone to blame.”

“Why you? Damn it, Sam. You saved his life.” Dean suppressed a moan when his outburst made him forget and he moved his hips. He didn’t need to add to Sam’s guilt. “In my book that warrants a thank you, not condemnation.”

Sam snorted. “His thank you was to try to get me arrested for murder.”

“What!” This time, Dean wasn’t able to contain his pain. A loud groan echoed around the room. He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing the action would dampen the fire igniting the nerve endings in his body.

“Dean,” Sam’s brow puckered with concern, “it’s all right. Scott and Cathy stood up for me. Once they check Colin’s DNA with the remains they’ll have physical proof.”

“They’re also going to be surprised,” smiled Dean. “Now they know monsters, or at least Two Faces, really exist.”

“As far as the public’s concerned, the hikers were attacked by a bear.”

“OK, that explains the deaths, what about the ones who were rescued? Why were they gone for so long?”

“They got lost.”

Dean carefully shook his head. “Nice and neat and pretty.”

“Like they say, you can’t fight city hall.”

“I can live with that as long as city hall doesn’t pound on us.” Dean slowly threw off his blanket. “But I don’t think we better wait around for them to discover we’re wanted by the law.”

Rising, Sam gently replaced the blanket. “Dean, your body is one big bruise, you have a concussion, two cracked ribs, and fifteen stitches holding your shoulder together. We aren’t going anywhere for a while.”

“Sam,” Dean protested, “even if they don’t find a wanted poster, you know how expensive hospitals are. It won’t be long before our card’s maxed out.”

“Let me worry about that.”

“Why waste –“

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.” Sam angrily looked away, before moving to tower over his brother. “I was right about us sticking together in that tunnel. And I’ll find a way to save you from the Crossroads demon’s deal.”

Though he was scared Sam would keep his promise at the cost of his own life, Dean didn’t fight back. He saw his own dread reflected in Sam’s eyes. The memory of how he’d felt holding his brother’s body in his arms was still too real. For each of them their greatest fear was losing the other. Dean already knew the feeling, knew how much it hurt. In eleven months, it would be Sam’s turn to find out. Dean didn’t envy him. Because of this, he decided to humor Sam and stay where he was. It had nothing to do with the fact that the slightest movement brought tears to his eyes.

“While you were sleeping –“

“Does this even remotely resemble a Sandra Bullock movie!” growled Dean.

Ignoring the interruption, Sam continued, “I talked with one of the paramedics who rescued us on the mountain. He’s Lakota and knew the lore concerning Two Faces.”

“Was his name Sam, too?”

“He said Two Faces isn’t dead –“

“Looked dead to me.”

“That he can’t be killed.”

“I’ve never seen a crispy critter come back to life.”

Hiding his exasperation, Sam looked at his hands. “He says legend has it that Two Faces will come after his killer.”

“Well,” Dean snorted, “then he’ll have to come to hell to get me. It might be nice to have a little company.”

“Dean!”

Carefully settling against his pillows, Dean closed his eyes. “What do you want me to do, Sam? All that bastard can do is destroy my body. I’ve got bigger things to worry about right now.”

“Yeah,” whispered Sam. “Why don’t you get some sleep?”

Dean wished he didn’t feel like obeying Sam’s suggestion. Sleep seemed an awful waste of what little time he had left. But his aching body appeared to agree with his brother. He tried to tell himself rest would help the healing process. The sooner he got better, the sooner they could leave. His compliance had nothing to do with the pain coursing along every muscle and nerve – not one thing. And if Two Faces wanted him, it would have to go through Sam. Closing his eyes, Dean knew he had nothing to worry about.