A/N: well, like they say, all things must come to an end. so, here is the end of Shadow Stalker. i want to again thank everyone for the great reviews. i am glad you liked reading this as much as i liked writing it. let me know if you want more stories, i have plenty of ideas. :)
D: still dont own them, but i do have the DVDs.
John's hazel eyes blinked open slowly, looking up into the clear blue sky, the warm sun beating down upon him, drying the damp grass, a light breeze blowing through the forest. His back ached and he could feel a lump growing on the back of his head, the force of the wind having pushed him down with surprising strength. He could hear the river running somewhere behind him, almost sensing the clear, cold water. They had done it, his boys had done it, they had killed the shadow.
"Sam? Dean?" John called out to his sons as he began to push himself off the warming ground, his head swimming as he started to rise. His sharp eyes searched the small clearing, taking in the scene, searching for his boys. He jumped quickly to his feet when he spotted them, laying next to each other about thirty feet away, both deathly still.
"Oh, please no." John knelt by his fallen sons, both boys pale and still, Sam's breathing shallow and forced, Dean still hidden beneath him. He took a long steadying breath before he moved to check them over, his mind racing, preparing for the worst, fearing he had destroyed his sons. Joshua's words reverberated through his mind. 'They are dead because of you, because of your arrogance.'
Had he really been the cause of so many deaths? Was his family in danger from those he called friends? Had he written his own boys' death sentences? All these questions flooded through John's mind as he looked down at his two broken boys, laying together in the forsaken wilderness. Was this the only life they could ever have?
John mentally shook himself as he leaned over, carefully pulling Sam's arms away from his brother as he rolled him off of Dean. His skin was cold to the touch, face pale and blue, his lanky body limp. He gently brushed back Sam's hair, feeling his weak pulse as he checked him over, thankful that he was still with him. He didn't know what he would do without them, what he would do if he destroyed them. At that moment all he could think of was Mary. How he had failed her, what he had done to her two precious boys.
John rubbing his hands briskly across his tired face, forcing his mind back to the task at hand. He had to be strong, had to be there for his children. He had been blessed with his boys, he told himself that everyday, and he would be damned if he was going to lose them now. He finished checking Sam, gently lowering him to the ground before he turned to Dean, his son's back to him, body still frighteningly still.
Dean was laying on his stomach, his face hidden by his arm, blood evident on the collar of his jacket. John gently rolled him over, taking care not to aggravate him many injuries. He pressed his shaking fingers to Dean's blood covered throat and leaned over him, listening closely for breathing. John smiled and let out a long, shaky breath as he rested his forehead on his son's chest. He was breathing, he was alive. "Thank god."
He quickly pulled off his outer shirt, wadding it up as he gently pressed it to Dean's throat, the blood soaking slowly through the material. The cut was deep, but the pressure John was applying was stopping the flow of blood. He could feel air escaping through his hands as he pressed down on his shirt, Dean's windpipe obviously damaged. But he was still alive, he was still fighting. From the looks of it the shadow had attacked just in time to save Dean's life.
John ran his trembling hand over his oldest son's forehead as he looked long and hard at the remains of his once trusted friend. Joshua was nothing but a bloody pile of skin and bones, what was left of his face frozen forever in his torment, in his punishment. John valued human life above all else, fought for it, offered to die for it. But in that one moment, in that instant of attack John looked into the terrified eyes of another human being and did nothing, watching him melt away at the hands of a demon. And it didn't faze him, didn't hurt him. Joshua had brought his boys into danger, sold them to keep himself safe, and as far as John was concerned that man was no longer human. He deserved to die.
As he continued to care for Dean, John heard Sam groan quietly beside him, his youngest son fighting his way back to consciousness. Sam coughed several times, rolling on his side as his tired eyes slowly opened, blinking in the brightness of the sun. He looked up to his father, the older man's back to him, Dean resting on the ground in front of him, pale, bloody and unmoving.
"Sammy." John began, still giving his full attention to Dean. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I think so, just sore."
"Good, I'm gonna need your help. We have to get your brother back to the cars, now!"
"How is he?" Sam asked, kneeling on Dean's other side, surveying his brother's damaged body. His skin was cold and frost bitten, almost as though he had been burned by the ice. His blood shone brightly against his too pale skin and his eyes looked sunken, his face stretched. But he was still breathing, he was still alive, and at the moment that was all Sam cared about.
"He's not good, his throat is damaged."
"Well, this is the first river we came to after losing the cars, they shouldn't be far."
"Lets just hope they are still there. We were only guessing that they never moved."
"Dad?" They both looked down at the sound, Dean's voice barely above a whisper, little more then a breeze passing through his parched lips.
"Hey, Dean." John leaned over, his forehead almost touching his son's. "Its ok, just relax, don't talk."
"Are we still here?" Dean breathed, his green eyes shining in the light.
"Yeah, but the shadow's gone. Good job, by the way."
Dean just smiled weakly before turning his attention to his brother, his eyes slowly slipping closed as he look up at Sam. "Still have the tape?" He asked quietly, Sam having to lean in close to hear his faint words.
"Yeah, I got it."
"Good, you gotta sing to it the whole time back."
"Punishment, for throwing it. Need to learn respect."
"Dean, that's stupid."
"Brought it on yourself, bitch."
"Can we continue this later, we need to get back up the mountain."
"Yes, Sir." Dean whispered, trying to pull himself up.
"Whoa, Dean. Hold on there, Sport. Your not walking anywhere."
"Your gonna leave me here?"
John almost broke down right then and there. He had never seen such pain, such fear in his son's eyes, never heard such defeat in his voice. He wrapped a strong arm around the young man's shoulders and pulled him up to his chest, his head resting on his shoulder. "No Dean, I won't leave you here. But you can't walk, I'm gonna carry you out."
"I'm not a little kid!"
"Well, your my kid."
"How are you gonna hike like that?"
"I'll manage. Sammy, can you help me get him up?"
"Yeah." Sam moved forward, taking some of his brother's weight in his arms, as his father placed his other arm under Dean's knees, pulling him closer to his chest. "Ready?"
"Yeah." John lifted Dean from the ground with surprising strength, his grip tightening as Sam let go, his balance never wavering. Sam quickly collected their weapons as his father moved in the direction of the cars, his pace not even slowed by the man in his arms. Sam was both terrified and amazed at the sight, at how young and vulnerable his big, strong older brother looked cradled in their father's arms.
As he moved to follow his family he caught sight of Joshua's remains, his skin and bones laying almost forgotten in the empty forest. He had known him, trusted him, been raised with him, and this was what he had become, where he would remain. Sam had remembered him, known him as a strong and proud hunter, as someone to look up to. The tattered remains, the broken bones, those were not the man he knew, not the person he had grown to trust. In that moment, Sam realized that they were truly on their own, that life wasn't as simple as right or wrong, good or evil. They weren't just fighting the supernatural anymore, now they were fighting each other, and Sam didn't know if he would be able to do it.
He tightened his grip on one of the shotguns before turning away from the old hunter's remains, an icy breeze catching him for the slightest moment as he looked back at his retreating father. For a split second he felt froze, hungry, hateful. But in the next moment it had passed, leaving nothing but the warm autumn day in its wake. Sam shook himself and walked quickly from the clearing, heading back up the mountain, hoping against everything that the cars would be there.
Two hours later Sam pulled himself up the last few meters of the escarpment, the edge of the road finally within sight. His father had decided to rest near the bottom of the mountain, sending Sam to scout the area. The hike back from the river had been hard on all of them. Sam could hear Dean's moans of protest as their father shifted him in his arms, even the slightest movements had sent pain careening through his injured body. He could also see the energy beginning to drain from his father, the older man refusing to let Sam carry his brother. He had taken on soul responsibility of Dean, holding his broken son tightly in his arms as he hiked through the dense forest, as though he was afraid that letting him go would mean losing him.
Sam threw the shotgun up above him, relieved at the sound of metal hitting asphalt. He climbed the last few feet to the road, letting out a long breath, a slight laughter in his voice. "Oh, thank god." He smiled in relief as he looked at the imposing black impala sitting in front of him, unharmed and waiting. 'Finally, something's going right.'
"Sammy, you up there yet?"
"Yeah, Dad. I see the impala, but your car isn't here."
"Damn it. Joshua must have tried to drive out with it."
"Well, hopefully we'll find it down the road." Sam yelled as he began to climb back down the hill, his father slowly making his way up it, Dean still in his arms. Between the two of them they managed to get Dean back up the mountain, the middle Winchester having lost consciousness shortly after Sam had trekked up the mountain. They gently laid him across the back seat of his beloved car, the interior still littered with coffee cups and M&M wrappers, the car oblivious to the torment its owners had been suffering. Sam pulled a quilt from the trunk and wrapped it tightly around his brother as he and his father tried to make Dean as comfortable as possible, both knowing it would be a long drive back.
The impala roared to life as the three Winchesters made their way back out of the haunted forest. Sam smiled as he pulled the tape out and popped it into the stereo, the music blaring through the interior as John drove on at lightning speed.
"Don't hear you singing."
"I know." Sam smiled as he turned to survey his brother, Dean's eyes open but unfocused. "And your not gonna."
"Maybe I'll just throw your laptop out the window."
"You do and your going out the window after it."
"I'd like to see you try." Dean was suddenly overtaken by a fierce coughing fit, his tired body doubling over, knees pulled to his chest as unwanted tears streamed down him reddening face. He could barely breath as the coughing continued and he felt the car skid to a stop, both his father and brother running to the back.
John pulled open the door by Dean's head and lifted his son up into his arms, rubbing his back as he continued to fight for breath. Slowly Dean's breathing evened out, his forehead shinning with sweat, eyes staring up at his father and brother. "I'm ok." He smiled weakly, his voice even quieter then before.
"You sure?" John asked, still rubbing his son's back.
"Yeah, just drive, please. I wanna get out of here."
"All right, son."
"You know," Sam began, climbing back into the passenger's seat. "That's not gonna stop me from throwing your ass out the window."
"Worth a try." Dean managed before he was once again consumed by unconsciousness.
They drove on for a few hours, both men continually glancing into the back, making sure Dean was still breathing, still with them. John was hoping that, once they got off Shadow Pine Highway, they would be able to meet up with one of the search parties the sheriff had been organizing the day he arrived. He knew they would be able to get Dean to a hospital much faster then he would, and at the moment that was the most important thing on his mind.
"Dad. Look, over in the trees." Sam pointed, and John's keen eyes immediately followed, fearing the shadow had not been destroyed. He smiled and let out a long breath when he saw what Sam had been pointing at. There in the trees a few hundred meters ahead of them was his truck. John pulled up to the shoulder of the road looking once more at the truck before turning his attention to Sam.
"Just follow me. The local sheriff was sending out search parties, I'm gonna try to meet up with one after we get off the highway." He then looked back at Dean. "Keep an eye on your brother."
"Yes, Sir." Sam answered, sliding into the driver's seat.
The two cars sped down the highway, both engines roaring through the silent forest. In reality the family had not been far from civilization, the shadow forest more illusions then reality. After about a mile they found the end of Shadow Pine Highway, all three glad to be leaving that god forsaken strip of pavement behind them forever. After returning to the main road it didn't take long for John to run across one of the search parties, the groups astonished by the sudden arrival of the family.
"I need sheriff Cadler." John yelled as he ran to the nearest volunteer, the young man still visibly stunned at the abrupt appearance of the man.
"Yes, sir. He's right over there." The man pointed to a make shift command center off to the side of the road. Sam had too gotten out of the car, but instead if addressing the bystanders he moved to the back to be with his brother.
"Dear, god. Mr. Miller. Where the hell have you been!" Sheriff Cadler commented as he made his way from the command truck, his eyes moving past John to the impala. "Did you find them?"
"Yes, my oldest needs a hospital, right away. He fell down the cliff, he's in pretty bad shape."
"Of course. Matthews, radio General, tell them we need a chopper here, ASAP." The sheriff called back to the base as he followed John over to the boys, pushing back the volunteers as he went. "We need space here people. Everyone meet back with their respective groups. Radio in anyone who is still searching."
The two men made their way to the back of the impala, John climbing in to check over Dean's injuries as the sheriff kneeled down next to Sam, his eyes falling on the younger boy.
"Yeah." Sam answered quietly, eyes never leaving Dean.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"We got lost. Dean got out to look around when he fell."
"What happened to his neck?"
"I don't know, we found him this way."
"Ok. Don't worry, we're gonna do everything we can for him. How are you?"
"Ok, I'm still gonna want to have you checked out when you get to the hospital."
"Can I ride with my brother?"
"I'm afraid not, we have a helicopter coming for him. You and your dad are going to have to meet us at the hospital."
"He's afraid to fly. He won't get in the chopper."
"He really doesn't have a choice." The sheriff smiled and looked up at the sound of the approaching helicopter. "I'll be right back." He gently squeezed Sam's shoulder and gave John a strong, grateful look before turning towards the landing chopper. He was relieved that the family had been found, and he was hopeful that they still had time to save Dean. Too many people had been lost to that forest, too many good souls had met their ends there. He was glad that this family had somehow managed to survive it.
Sam whispered a quiet thank you when Dean remained unconscious, not having to see the fear in his eyes when he was loaded onto the helicopter without them. The youngest Winchester climbed slowly behind the wheel of his brother's precious car, the stresses of the past few days finally catching up with him. He leaned his tired body forward, resting his forehead on the steering wheel, taking slow, deliberate breaths, refusing to let the tears fall. It was over, finally, he just hoped that Dean wouldn't be the ordeal's final casualty.
He arrived at the hospital shortly after his father, the drive having taken them well over two hours. He had been in constant contact with John, both cells coming back to life upon leaving the forest. Sam's mind was racing as he parked the car and made his way over to his father, the older man already walking to the emergency room doors. Dean had been in bad shape, both men knew that. For Sam this was all too familiar, all to real. He had been here before, watching his brother and father wheeled into the emergency room, not knowing if he would ever see them again. He took a steadying breath and followed his father through the doors, John purposefully walking straight to the front desk.
"I'm here for my son, he was brought in by helicopter about two hours ago."
"Yes. How is he?"
"I'm going to need you to fill out some paper work."
"No, I need to see him now."
"Please, sir." The middle aged nurse answered curtly, though Sam could tell she was still trying to be sincere. "I will check on him while you fill it out."
"Thank you." Sam chimed in before his father could answer.
As the two turned they saw Sheriff Cadler in the waiting room, the man making his way over to the Winchesters.
"Have you had any word on my son?"
"No, I'm sorry. The last I heard he was being taken into surgery, that was an hour and a half ago."
"No, thank you, Mr. Miller."
"You, your boys, you're the first people to make it back from that area. It kind of gives us all a little hope. My cousin, she went hiking up there with her family, never came back. We found her daughter, Krista, a few month later. Walked out of the forest, hair white as snow, never said another word. There were stories, legends, people started getting a real kick out of it. But they never lost anyone up there, they never knew how it felt. I'm just saying, it's a relief to see someone walk back out in one piece."
"Well, don't worry. I have a feeling there won't be too much trouble anymore."
"I hope not." The sheriff gave them a weak smile before turning to leave.
"Excuse me, Sheriff." Sam called to the retreating man. "What happened to Krista?"
"Died, a few years ago now. It was like her soul was gone or something, body just faded away. At least she's free now, with her family."
"Family of Dean Miller."
"I hope your boy's all right." The sheriff gave John a long look before turning, disappearing through the hospital doors.
"That's us." Sam answered, rising up to meet the doctor. "How is he?"
"He's going to be all right. He'll need extensive therapy for his knee, but his other injuries should heal on their own. You said he fell down the cliff?"
"Any idea what happened to his throat?"
"No, Sir. We found him like that."
"We already gave a statement to the police." John broke in, his voice on edge, eyes boring into the middle aged doctor. "Now I would like to see my son."
"Oh course, right this way."
The man nodded and left them outside the door of Dean's room, giving John one more disapproving look before continuing on with his day. John stared at the man as he left, feeling his anger boiling to the surface. How dare that pompous jerk think that he did this to his own child, to his own flesh and blood. If he weren't in a crowded hospital he would have given that man something to be afraid of. His mind was pulled back when he heard the door creaking open behind him, Sam quietly walking into his brother's room.
"Hey, Dean. You awake?"
"Yes. I woke up just in time to enjoy the helicopter ride from hell. I am never getting in one of those things again."
"Sorry about that."
"Your looking good there, Sport." John smiled as he walked over to Dean's bed, checking over his bandages. Yes he was in a hospital, but John still felt better taking care of his own children.
"As good as can be expected I guess." He answered quietly, his voice still barely more then a whisper, as he ran his hand over his frostbitten forehead.
"I thought you said women loved scars."
"Yeah, I guess."
"We killed it, Dean. Don't worry." John placed a reassuring hand on his son's shoulder.
"Yeah, just next time we get lured to an evil forest Sammy's gonna be the damsel in distress."
"All the more reason not to be lured to an evil forest."
"Dad, I'm sorry."
"This is my fault, I never should have taken the road. I should never have trusted Joshua."
"Hey, I trusted him, he led me there too, remember. Don't beat yourself up about this, Dean. You had no way of knowing what he was planning."
"But who can we trust?"
"Each other." John smiled as he squeezed Dean's shoulder, looking up at Sam, who was standing by the window. "I'm proud of you boys, I trust your instincts."
"How long are you staying?" Sam asked, turning back to the window, eyes staring at the darkening sky.
"I'll be around till Dean gets released, then I have to go. It's not safe for us all to be together for long. Now, I'm gonna see about getting some food and playing cards. Might as well enjoy ourselves while we can." John smiled to his boys who both smiled back, all three savoring the short time they would have together.
Dean rested his head back against the pillows as John left, cornering the first pretty nurse to ask directions. Sam smiled, as he looked at the two, his mind clouding slightly as he stared, a strange needfulness and hatred flashing through him for an instant.
"Sam, shut the window." Dean chided, his eyes closed. "That breeze is freezing."
Sam just smiled and turned back to the window, gray eyes staring at the slowly setting sun.
A/N2: to everyone who asked me not to kill Dean. dont worry. i love all three Winchesters too much to kill them off. :)