A/N: For the esteemed Tyranusfan, on the occasion of his Secret Santa request for SFTCOL(AR)S. His prompt was: "Sam & Sarah are trapped underground...as in buried alive...while Dean has to find and rescue them," which I veered from slightly. Okay, a tad more than slightly. Hopefully, he likes it anyway!
Thanks heaps to Faye and Kaly, whose insights are always invaluable. And girls, look! I actually posted something! Aren't you proud? And does this get me off the hook for . . . ever:) (Kidding . . .)
Title is from Sir Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd."
Spoilers: Provenance, but only by way of establishing Sarah's existence in SN-dom.
Disclaimer: I can't dance, don't ask me. Er . . . I mean, none of this is mine. Shoot.
Fancy's Spring But Sorrow's Fall
They were both researching when the knocking began, Dean lounging on the bed and Sam hunched over the computer.
"Dude, that's the pizza."
Sam didn't even glance up from the laptop. "Well, then go get it." He jotted down some notes from the page he was scanning, frowning a little with concentration.
"I'm reading. You get it."
"I'm reading, too."
The knocking sounded again, a little louder this time.
"Fine. You want to leave the poor guy hanging, that's fine with me."
Sam did look up this time, his frown now one of annoyance. "Dude, what's your problem?"
Dean didn't answer, just kept his eyes on his book.
Sighing, Sam stood, grabbing his wallet. "I swear, it's like living with a ten-year-old. Just for that, you're not getting any . . ."
His voice trailed off as he opened the door and saw a familiar face standing in front of him.
"Sarah!" He stumbled back a step, startled. "What are you doing here?"
"Dean told me you guys were here. He said you might be in the mood for some pizza." She smiled, wide and bright, as Dean shouldered past him and took the box she held.
"Sarah, you're an angel." Dean flashed a grin at both of them and then plopped the pizza box on the table and dug in.
Sam was still standing, one hand on the door, staring at Sarah almost as if she were a ghost.
"Aren't you going to ask a girl in?" Sarah shoved her hands in her pockets, looking a little uncertain.
"Uh, yeah. Sorry. I just – you surprised me." Sam backed up so she could enter the room.
"A good surprise or a bad surprise?"
Sam ignored the pointed looks Dean was giving him over Sarah's shoulder. He reached out, helped her take her coat off. "Good surprise. Definitely good."
"Good." Sarah's smile was back to full wattage again.
"Yeah, it's all good, isn't it?" Dean could barely get the words out through a mouthful of food.
Sam glared at him, then turned back to Sarah. "Here, sit down." He motioned toward a chair and took a spot at the end of the bed. "You want some pizza?"
He realized how ridiculous the question sounded after he'd said it and blushed a little, ran a hand over the back of his head.
"No, that's okay." She studied him for a moment, eyes crinkling. "It's good to see you, Sam."
Silence stretched between them, marred only by the sounds of Dean rather noisily chewing and swallowing. Sam was wracking his brain for something else to say when Sarah spoke again.
"Dean said you were working on another case?"
Sam glanced at him incredulously. You did? Dean just raised an eyebrow, managing to look nonchalant as he folded another piece of pizza and took a large bite.
"Uh . . . yeah. We're looking into a haunting at one of the iron mines. A couple of hikers died a month ago, same location as two years ago and a couple of years before that. We're thinking it's a malevolent spirit – ghost of one of the miners."
"So you're planning on digging up another grave?" She grinned a little – a far different reaction from the first time she'd realized that was part of their "work."
Sam gave a small, rather embarrassed grin back. "Well, if we can figure it out. There are some violent deaths on record from when the mines were operational. There are three mines within a mile of each other, so we need to narrow down which location is the hub of spirit activity. Once we've done that, we should be able to pinpoint who it is. Or was, I guess."
"That's where we could use you, Sarah." Dean had finally stopped eating long enough to speak, and Sam desperately wished he hadn't as he continued, "Sammy, here, needs some help sweeping the mines while I check out the cemetery."
"What are you – Dean, are you nuts?" Sam was barely aware he was standing, towering over his brother.
Dean ignored him. "The deaths are on a cycle – always two, always in two-year increments. So, the mines are spirit-safe for now, but he shouldn't be wandering around in 'em alone, and I've got graveyard duty."
With every word Dean spoke, Sam grew more incredulous – and more incensed. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" He tried to keep his voice light, but it was an effort with his teeth clenched so tightly.
Dean still had that damned look of nonchalance, and it was all Sam could do to not drag him from his chair and toss him against the wall. What the hell is he thinking?
"Sure, bro, no problem." Dean sauntered out the door and Sam smiled tightly at Sarah as he followed. She looked back with a stricken expression.
As soon as the door was closed, Sam whirled on Dean. "What are you playing at?"
"Dude, chill." Dean patted a hand against his chest and Sam batted it away, furious.
"You don't invite civilians to go on hunts with us. Are you crazy?"
"Civilians? Since when are we soldiers, Sammy?"
The question was too loaded and Sam didn't answer. That wasn't what this was about.
Dean's eyes glittered dangerously for a moment and then softened. "Look, she was in the neighborhood and she wanted to see you. I figured this would be a pretty harmless way for us to kill two birds with one stone."
"How did she even know we were in New York?"
"She emailed. Said she'd emailed you a few times but you hadn't answered, so she tried me instead."
Sam sighed. "Dean . . ."
"Hey, you're the one who keeps telling me I'm antisocial. She's a friend."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is?"
There were so many things he could have said, should have said, but the words wouldn't come. He couldn't meet Dean's eyes, just shook his head mutely.
"Look, I really don't like the idea of you in those mines alone."
"Then put off cemetery recon and come with me." Sam felt a bit like he was pleading with his brother. Maybe he was . . . he didn't care, as long as it worked. But Dean wasn't giving in.
"We'll get the job done faster if we split up. And it'll give you guys some quality time." Dean leered a little and Sam grimaced.
He didn't have any other argument, though, except that this felt wrong, wrong, wrong . . . but not in a psychic-vibe kind of way. Nothing he could give a solid reason for. It was just worry, plain and simple, and he knew that the only way out of this was to either make a big scene and hurt Sarah's feelings or give in and try to get it over with as quickly as possible.
"Come on, Sam. How can you beat it? A couple of hours with a pretty girl while I do the grunt work. You don't even have to get your hands dirty." Dean elbowed Sam, and Sam huffed, pulling away as they walked back inside.
"Everything okay?" Sarah had her coat on again and looked poised to leave.
Sam felt a twinge of guilt and settled a hand on her arm. "Everything's fine. It would be great if you could come with me."
"Are you sure?" Her eyes searched his, seeking reassurance.
He smiled, forcing a sincerity he didn't quite feel. "I'm sure."
They were on the road in no time, Dean heading in one direction in the Impala while Sarah drove the opposite way with Sam.
The ride was quiet, broken only by the muffled beat of music coming from her speakers. Sam didn't recognize the songs, and he felt a moment's disconcertedness as he realized he hadn't been in any car but Dean's in months. The cloth seats and almost noiseless interior, along with the lack of 30-year-old music blaring or the smell of something other than aged leather and stale food wrappers, was surreal and a little uncomfortable. He shifted, angling for better leg room.
"You can move that back if you want."
He reached down and pulled the lever on the bucket seat. It slid back smoothly, almost enough to let him stretch out. "Thanks."
He glanced at Sarah just as she looked at him, both of them looking away as quickly.
"I'm really sorry, Sam. I shouldn't have come. I just thought . . . Dean said you'd be here for a couple of days and I thought it would be nice to see you."
"It is Sarah, really. And you have nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one who's . . . I didn't mean to make you feel unwanted."
"But you wish I wasn't coming with you to do this."
He couldn't lie about it. "That's true."
He watched her nod, her expression unchanged. "You know, I thought I handled things pretty well last time." She gave him a half-smile, then turned back to the road.
Sam looked at his hands, held tightly in his lap. "Things are different now."
"In what way?"
There was honest curiosity in her voice and he took a deep breath, not knowing how to answer. The demon has plans for me. It almost killed Dean. Dad's dead. There's a storm coming, and we're in the middle of it. No one's safe.
"Dean said you lost your Dad." Sarah's voiced was hushed with sympathy and her hands were white-knuckled on the wheel. "I'm sorry."
Sam didn't know if the sudden lump in his throat came from just hearing those words again, the pain still so fresh, or from knowing Dean had been the one to tell her. Dean barely even spoke to Sam about John's death, let alone anyone else. That he had trusted Sarah enough to let her in that tiny amount spoke volumes. Sam just wasn't sure what it meant.
He felt a gentle pressure on his hands and realized he'd closed his eyes. Sarah's eyes were shining a bit, and he remembered suddenly that she had lost a parent, too. He whispered a quiet "thank you" and although the silence picked up where it had left off, it was a little easier this time.
They parked fairly close, the path to the mine a bit grown in but still worn enough to follow. He grabbed two Maglites, handed one to Sarah. She glanced quizzically at the shotgun he cradled as they started their trek.
"And the pistol?"
Her eyebrows raised a little and she tilted her head. Sam could feel a blush creeping over his cheeks again. "Not that there's anything to worry about. They're just, you know, in case."
"Okay." She was smiling at him now and his own dimples deepened in response as he tucked the pistol in his waistband. "Seems a little heartless, though, doesn't it?"
"Using iron rounds against the ghost of an iron ore miner."
"Huh. Hadn't really thought of that."
"See? Another reason why you needed me around."
She bumped a hip against his and Sam smiled a real smile, laughing a little. "I guess so."
Sam felt the tension in his neck relax a bit and let himself focus on maintaining an actual conversation. He asked Sarah how she'd been since he'd seen her last, if she was still working for her father, if there'd been any more acquisitions of haunted paintings. She answered with a steady stream of stories, anecdotes about customers and art collectors and a conference she'd been to in Boston. With a grace he truly appreciated, she steered clear of any questions about his last few months, seeming to know without asking that there weren't any safe topics.
He showed her how to work the EMF meter, let her start the sweep as he told her about the history of the mines and the deaths they'd been researching.
She fiddled with the dials a bit, watching the lights intently for changes. "You know, it's funny – this kind of looks like a Walkman."
Sam chuckled, remembered having the same reaction the first time he'd seen it. "It is. Dean made it."
"You're kidding!" Sarah sounded a little awed.
Sam couldn't blame her. He'd knocked the looks of it when Dean had first showed it to him – he couldn't let his brother have the upper hand, after all, since Dean would have never let him hear the end of it – but he had to admit, the design had been pretty ingenious. "He's a true renaissance man."
"Must run in the family."
Sarah gave him a wink but he shook his head. "No, not me. He's the inventor. I'm just the –" Trusty Sidekick Geekboy " – researcher."
"Sam, I don't think you're 'just' anything."
The seriousness of her tone was at the same time heartwarming and distressing. Once again at a loss for how to respond, he changed the subject. "We should probably check both tunnels. It's hard to say how far in we need to go to get a reading."
Thankfully, Sarah just agreed and turned with him. She walked a couple of steps ahead as they turned down the first tunnel, shifting left and right to scan both sides. The EMF stayed quiet, which made it even more of a shock when the ground suddenly shifted beneath their feet and the ceiling started to rain down over them. Sam shouted to Sarah, grabbed her arm as the rocks hit with punishing force. There was no time to run – nowhere to go – and he curled over her as close to the wall as he could get, hoping the worst was over.
Something struck hard against the back of his head. The darkness was sudden and complete.
"-am? Wake up. Please, Sam, you have to wake up."
His shoulder was on fire and it felt like his head had split in two. He took a breath to answer and started coughing, choking on dirt and dust.
"Sam? Oh, God. Hold on."
He was pulled upright and there something bright was shining on his face. He flinched away from it, eyes closed, gasping as a bolt of white-hot pain jolted over his shoulder.
"Sam? Are you okay? Oh, please, please . . ." The last words were just a whisper, almost a prayer. The light dropped away and Sam could feel a hand pressing against his head.
"Sarah . . ." It was still hard to breathe.
"Thank God you're awake. I thought – " Sarah's voice broke and she stopped, laying a palm against his cheek.
"Are you okay?" He still couldn't quite open his eyes, but he was afraid – so afraid that Sarah had been hurt, that he hadn't protected her.
"I'm fine. I'm fine. It's you who's . . . You hit your head. And the mine's caved in. We're trapped."
Sarah tried to say the words matter-of-factly, but there was a quiver in her voice she couldn't hide.
Sam finally forced his eyes open, grasped her wrist. "It's okay. I'm okay."
Sarah looked mostly fine as well, limned in the ghostly beams of the flashlights. There was dirt smeared across her face, in her hair, but no cuts. When she leaned back, though, there was blood on her hands.
"You're . . . you're bleeding."
She pried his fingers gently from her wrist and held them in hers. "No, that's you. Your head. I can't get it to stop."
"Where – "
"Here." She brought his hand up and pressed it over a piece of cloth she'd folded over the cut. Once he was maintaining pressure, she let him go and picked up one of the flashlights.
Sam blinked, trying to come up with a plan. "Did you try your phone?"
"There's no service."
He fumbled a bit in his pocket before fishing out his own. "Try mine."
She squinted at his screen for a moment, and he could tell from her expression she had no luck with this one, either.
"Okay." His hand was numb and his arm dangled uselessly at his side. He took a deep breath, trying not to groan as something shifted in his shoulder. It was dislocated for sure. The pain was worse than he would have expected – worse even than the pounding in his head. He tried to push the thought of both away.
"We'll have to dig. Dean'll come as soon as he's . . ." Sam didn't finish, though, realizing Dean had no reason to come – at least, not right away. He was at the cemetery, marking the locations of the three miners they suspected could be behind the haunting. And when he'd finished there, he'd go back to the motel. He wouldn't think anything of it if Sam and Sarah took more time than they'd planned; in fact, he'd probably be thrilled, thinking they'd extended their mine exploration into a real date. It could be hours – longer – before he figured out something was wrong.
"We'll have to dig." Sam didn't realize he was repeating himself until he saw Sarah frown.
"I don't think you're in any shape to be moving right now Sam. You were unconscious. And the bleeding – "
"Head wounds always . . . bleed a lot. I'm okay. Just help me – help me over there." He pushed himself up, closing his eyes when the dark tunnel walls started to dip and roll around him. Sarah was talking to him, but her voice faded until all he could hear was the rush of blood in his ears. His head was spinning and he couldn't find his balance. Something propped itself under his shoulder and he leaned more heavily than he'd intended.
"Sam, I really think you should sit down."
It was the panic in Sarah's voice that brought him back to reality. He squeezed the shoulder his arm was wrapped around and tried to project an attitude of confidence. "'S not that bad. It'll pass."
He inched them forward, toward where the ceiling had caved in. He stumbled over a rock and put a hand out to catch himself. The force of the impact on his shoulder was stunning. It was all he could do to breathe and keep himself from passing out.
Sarah's arms were around him again, lowering him the rest of the way to the ground. He let his head fall against the crook of her neck, tried to gather the strength to sit up.
"Ready to listen to reason?" She sounded so remarkably like Dean in that moment that Sam had to concentrate to remember Dean wasn't there.
"How about I just stay here a minute?"
Her arms tightened in a brief hug. "Right. You do that."
He panted, the dizziness strong once again. Saliva flooded his mouth and he swallowed repeatedly, trying to keep from being sick. "The shotgun? Did you see – "
"It's here." She propped him against a wall and set the gun beside him. He felt absurdly grateful, reached out to briefly touch the cold steel of the barrel. The gun was nothing special, but had been their father's before it was theirs. He didn't want to lose it.
A little waterfall of debris sprayed down to the floor, and he looked up to see Sarah clawing at the wall, scooping out small handfuls of dirt and rock.
"Try this." He handed up one of the Maglites and Sarah turned it backward, using the non-lit end to scrape and dig against the wall. Sam tried to do the same with the other light, but he couldn't seem to focus. Depth perception shot, he missed the wall entirely and nearly face-planted against it, dropping the flashlight as he fell.
"Dammit . . ." Slurring. Not good. The wound on his head throbbed and he reached back to scout carefully for more bleeding. The cut was tacky, tender enough that his questing touch was like the impact of a hammer, and felt warm beneath his fingers. It didn't seem to still be bleeding, but he couldn't be sure.
A wave of lethargy swept over him, and it was suddenly impossible to keep his eyes open.
"Sam, don't do this. Please wake up. Wake up! Sam!"
Sarah was crying. He didn't know why whe was there, how she was there, but he recognized her voice. And she was crying. Was it the painting? Had someone else died? We can help, Sarah. Just tell me what's wrong. Don't cry, don't cry . . .
"I'm not, I won't. Just – just open your eyes, Sam, okay? You have to stay awake."
"Sarah? What's . . ." His brain wasn't forming words too well. He couldn't think, it hurt to think, and the light was blinding him.
"Come on, Sam. Just talk to me, okay? Talk to me, and stay awake. I'm scared. I need you with me."
Fingers curled around his chin, lifted it up. The motion brought the acid-sting of bile racing up his esophagus. He reached out weakly with his good arm, his left still hanging useless. "Sarah . . ."
"Sam, listen." Her eyes were inches from his, shadowed in the dim light. Her image blurred and he blinked slowly. It helped a little, cleared his vision enough to see just one of her instead of two. "I need you to stay with me. Will you do that? Will you do that for me?"
"'M'here. Not leaving." He tried to sit up a little straighter, needing her to know. "Not leaving."
"Okay." She stood and bent over the top of his head. He hissed as her fingers brushed against something bruised, his head pounding in response.
"I'm sorry. I had to check to see if it was still bleeding."
Blood. Falling rocks. Pain. Trapped. "You still . . . digging?"
"I'm not getting very far."
"You can do it. Gonna be okay."
Her breath hitched and she brushed the bangs from his face. Then she moved away and he heard more scraping.
"You told me the first time we met you'd had a girlfriend." There was a pause. "Tell me about her. Tell me what she was like."
He swallowed, throat dry with sudden emotion. It had been so long since he'd talked about Jess in words more substantial than just her name. Not since the last time he'd seen Sarah – when Dean had tried, in his best big brother way, to tell him it was okay to start living again. He hadn't been ready, then, not really. Wasn't ready still. But he found himself talking about her anyway.
"She was tall. Blond hair. She smiled . . . all the time . . . Was smart, like you."
A chill raced up his spine, jarring his shoulder. He gasped and Sarah stopped moving. "Sam?" Worried.
"'S'okay. I'm okay." He dug his hand into his thigh, clutching as hard as he could to take his mind from the pain.
"She . . . she used to bake me chocolate chip cookies. She didn't . . . even like chocolate . . . but she made them anyway."
"Sounds like a sweet girl."
"Yeah. She was."
His teeth started to chatter, the cold pervasive and cloying. He ground them together to keep from shivering, but it wasn't very effective.
Sarah stopped moving again. "For what?"
"Put you . . . in danger . . . again."
"This wasn't your fault. There was no way you could have known this would happen."
He laughed once, short and bitter. No way I could have known. Not like I have premonitions, right? Not like I see when bad things happen to other people.
Sarah was leaning over him. He pulled back a little, not expecting to see her, not knowing how long she'd been there. She'd wrapped her coat over him and was pressing the back of her hand to his forehead. The flashlight shone on her face and he could just make out the sheen of tears.
"Sam . . ." The tears were in her voice as well, and her hand shook where it touched his skin.
"Hey." He forced a smile, wide and bright, and took her hand in his. "You're doing great. 'S gonna be okay."
She still looked scared, a flicker of hopelessness in her gaze that he wanted - needed - to dispel. He squeezed her hand once, pulled her closer. "Still think I'm a catch?"
She laughed then, too – honest, if congested – and squeezed back. "You have no idea."
Time got a little blurry after that. He was so cold the shivers were constant, but at least they kept him awake. He'd tried to make Sarah take her coat back, but she wouldn't do it, told him the digging kept her warm enough. He wasn't sure whether or not to believe her. Her efforts at the wall made a steady pattern of sounds – the scratch of the Maglite over rock, the patter of stones against the ground.
She asked him questions periodically and he tried to answer; knew he hadn't when she said his name more than once. He tried to move, to get up, hand scrabbling against the pile of fallen rock, but he couldn't get leverage. Everything was spinning, lopsided, and there were moments when he felt like he was falling, even though the ground lay firm beneath him.
The pain in his arm was the only other constant. He used it to ground himself, his mind wanting to wander, to give into the darkness. The Maglites were weak against the abyss of the tunnel, and a swirl of haze colored his vision every time he closed his eyes.
He'd started to drift again when he head Sarah shout. Jerking up – and instantly regretting it – he heard her say a name. Not his.
" – have to hurry. I think he's really hurt." Sarah's voice and then the muffle of something deeper, words he couldn't quite make out. The sound of metal hitting rock, more light, and then Sarah was in front of him again.
"Sam? You still with me?"
He nodded, tried to speak. "M'here." Barely a whisper, but she heard him.
"Dean is, too. We're getting out." She didn't smile, but touched his cheek, just a hint of pressure, light as a butterfly wing.
The digging sounds were louder now, and Sarah was talking to someone. Dean. She's talking to Dean.
And then Dean was there, in front of him.
"Hell of a mess you've gotten yourself into, little brother."
Sam tried to sit up but Dean pressed a hand against his chest, holding him in place. The touch was gentle but felt like a knife in his shoulder. He groaned, head falling to his chest as he leaned forward, trying to alleviate the pain.
"Whoa, Sammy. Take it easy." Dean's hand skated over his collarbone to the joint. "I've got to pop this in. Hang on."
Dean pushed him against the wall, holding firm as he eased Sam's arm back into its socket. The pain was excruciating.
"Gon' be sick . . ." And he was – wretched spasms that pulled against aching bone and muscle. Distantly, he felt Dean wrap an arm around him, keep him from falling the way he would have alone.
When it was over, he felt weightless, detached, not noticing that Dean had bound his arm to his chest and covered him with his own jacket until he felt a calloused hand under his chin, grip behind his ear, heard Dean pleading and swearing somewhere close to him.
"Damn it, Sam, open your eyes."
He drew a shaky breath, tried to smile. "You . . . holding . . . my hair back for me?"
Dean just sighed, long-suffering. "I swear, Sam, I can't leave you alone for five minutes."
Alone. Where is Sarah?
"Dean – Sarah. She's here, too. She's – I don't know if she's – " He couldn't get anymore words out, but Dean seemed to understand.
"She's fine. I sent her to get the car. You'd better be glad it's not muddy or there's no way in hell I'd get her up here."
Dean dragged him slowly upright as he talked, swinging Sam's right arm over his shoulder, wrapping his left firmly around Sam's back. He tugged Sam against his hip, taking Sam's weight when he swayed against him. He guided them slowly over the uneven ground, pausing every few steps so Sam could catch his breath.
Sam felt his head drooping lower, felt a weird hum in his limbs that made them feel like they weren't really attached. His head ached, a steady, fierce throb that spiked with each footfall.
His tongue felt thick in his mouth, dry and sticky, but he needed to ask. "Th'EMF . . ."
"There was no . . . didn't go off . . ."
"Yeah, about that . . ." Dean laughed, an embarrassed chuckle. "I burned all the bodies. Didn't want to take a chance on one of them coming after you guys."
There was more to the story, Sam was sure. More of Dean's encouragement or matchmaking or whatever he wanted to call it. It wouldn't work, couldn't, even if Sam wanted it to. "Not gonna marry her, Dean."
"Uh . . . okay. Didn't know you'd set a date."
Sam was beyond the reach of sarcasm, though. He just wanted Dean to understand. "Too dangerous. I can't . . . Nobody's safe."
There was no answer.
Footsteps running toward him and then Sarah was there, not touching, but walking next to him, flanked opposite Dean, ready if she was needed.
"How is he?" Quiet, almost whispered, like she was afraid noise would hurt him further. He felt her small hand graze his back, warm and solid.
He might have imagined it, but it felt like Dean pulled him closer – not away from Sarah but into himself.
Awareness shifted, fled. But Dean's repeated words branded themselves beneath his skin, a talisman, a touchstone against everything yet to come.