Hell Before the Flames

A/N: Set during season three.

I'd like to dedicate this piece to KKBELVIS, simply because she is such a wonderful writer and friend. Thank you, Karen, for all your support and lovely messages. I hope you enjoy this little bit of hurt Sam. :)

XXX

There was water dripping somewhere nearby, slow and steady onto rock.

For the longest time the sound of it was everything. Sam couldn't remember when he first became aware of it or how long it took for him to recall that there was more to existence than the sound of dripping water, but gradually he came to realize that his face was pressed against dirt, gravel digging into his cheek. He could smell damp earth and a metallic tang that he couldn't place. Confusion had him forcing his eyes open to investigate.

The space around him swung lazily in a swirl of gray shadows, revealing nothing and inviting nausea to crawl up the back of his throat. Sam clamped his eyes shut, staying very still as if to lead by example.

Concussion, he thought vaguely, and his head thumped in agreement. He thought he remembered something about a Wendigo, hiking through trees while internally mourning the loss of internet capabilities, time that could be spent researching crossroad demons, and then the swift heart-thrust-into-throat rush of falling.

Forcing his eyes open again, Sam blinked upwards. Thirty or so feet above him he could see sky through a jagged hole of broken wooden beams and collapsed dirt. Mineshaft, the conclusion came. He'd fallen into one of the old mines that were scattered around the forest.

The sky was still light so he couldn't have been out for too long. Where was Dean? Had they somehow gotten separated, split up? Or maybe his brother was trying to find another opening to the mine. There was certainly no way of getting out the way he'd come in.

So, he had two choices; wait for Dean or find his own way out. His head felt slightly clearer now, his surroundings less watery, and he didn't fancy sticking around. It would be just his luck to have fallen into the exact mine the Wendigo had chosen as it's lair. Steeling himself against the nausea that was still hovering insistently, Sam got his hands under him and pushed himself up.

A scream wrenched itself from his lips, echoing off of the walls and bouncing back to crush into his skull. Sharp bolts of agony pulsed up his left leg, from his toes to his hip. Vomit bubbled up his throat in a swirl of acid and left him choking and retching even as he desperately tried to stay still in an effort to halt the pain.

It didn't stop. Now that it had made itself known, the agony was determined not to let go, burning and stabbing and digging it's claws in deeper with every passing second. It wrapped around his insides and made itself a strangling little nest, flew through his bloodstream and careened into nerve endings with reckless disregard.

Sam lay panting and moaning in the dirt, sweat and tears mingling on his face as he gritted his teeth against the involuntary sobs that were threatening to overtake him.

Breathe, he ordered himself sternly, sucking in a shuddering breath and clamping down on it, pushing it out slowly and drawing another before twisting painstakingly, inch by careful inch, to get a glimpse at his leg.

He almost retched again at the sight of it, bile burning the back of his throat. Through the mess of blood, torn jeans and shredded skin, the sharp white of bone stood a jagged sentry, mid-calf.

Sam let his head fall back against the dirt, pulling stale air through clenched teeth and trying to halt the gray that suddenly tainted the edges of his vision.

"Dean!" The call came automatically, even as logic insisted that it was useless. If Dean was within hearing distance, he would have responded to Sam's scream.

"Dean!" he choked out again anyway, as the gray spun into black and smothered him completely.

XXX

Dripping welcomed him to consciousness again, pain thumping heavily up the left side of his body in time with his heartbeat.

The mine was darker now and a glance up showed the meager patch of sky had grown to a deep blue. Soon the small cavern would be pitch black and the temperature was already dropping. Shivers sent small pulses of electric pain through his nerves and cold sweat clung to his back and forehead. Or maybe that was shock, he wasn't sure.

Tilting his head forward, Sam looked down at his ruined leg, somehow hoping to find that the image burned into his brain had been some kind of gruesome hallucination. No such luck. He sucked in a breath at the horror of it. It looked impossible, the angle grotesque, and the dirt beneath it was stained oily black.

Sam frowned, inching a hand out and touching the stain, bringing his wet fingers up in front of his face to inspect. Not black, red. Blood, he registered numbly, and a decent amount. If Dean didn't find him soon he was liable to bleed out on the ground, provided the Wendigo didn't stumble across him first.

He swept his gaze over the space around him, searching fruitlessly for something to staunch the bleeding, some sort of tourniquet, but all the fading light revealed was dirt and rocks and broken bits of wood.

His eyes moved lazily back to the shard of bone impaling his leg and the world flipped. He had a sudden disconcerting feeling of diconnect, a glimpse like he was looking down on himself from above – dirty and bloody, crumpled on the mine floor in the dark – before he squeezed his eyes shut and felt himself almost float back into place, shivering harder and breathing in harsh forced gasps.

Bad. This was bad. He couldn't just lie there and wait for Dean. His brother could be anywhere. It could be hours before he was found. Hell, for all he knew, days could have passed since he fell, and the Wendigo could have... Dean could be...

Sam felt sick, hot and cold flushing through him at random intervals. His ears were ringing and the light was fading fast. A wave of panic washed over him at the thought of being alone in the dark with a monster lurking close by, and then an even stronger wave crashed into him as it crossed his mind that maybe the fall had addled his brain more than he thought. Maybe Dean wasn't there because... maybe the year had run out. Maybe, instead of days passing it had been months since his last memory of the two of them together, and Dean wasn't coming for him because he was in...

Sam wanted to throw up again. He couldn't breathe properly and the walls seemed to inch closer. Shadows played tricks among the rocks and Sam had never felt so alone before, had never felt such a crushing sense of loss and fear and pain. He felt an almost overwhelming urge to simply close his eyes and let death take him.

'Stop being such a girl,' Dean's voice huffed in his ear.

Sam blinked, dazed. "Dean?" His eyes searched the darkness but found nothing new. Some of the panic had faded though. He forced himself to take control of his breathing, focusing on nothing else until his heart rate had slowed enough for him to concentrate. Winchesters didn't quit. He had no proof that Dean was gone. He had to believe that Dean was looking for him.

He lay still, breathing through the pain, and gradually as the panic switched off and his other senses switched on, he became aware of something pressing against his lower spine, the discomfort barely registering in the midst of his other aches and the fire in his leg but something clicked in his head. He reached slowly, arm twisting awkwardly in his unwillingness to risk shifting his leg, until his fingertips brushed over something smooth and hard.

Grasping it, Sam brought it round in front of his face. It took a long moment before his brain caught up with what he was seeing.

Flare gun. Two rounds. Of course, they wouldn't go Wendigo hunting without appropriate weapons on them. Hope flashed through him as his course of action became clear.

Sam painstakingly rolled onto his back, hissing when his leg protested the slight movement, and waited for the world around him to focus. He sent out a prayer to anyone that was listening, took aim at the one star he could see through the hole in the ceiling, and fired.

XXX

Time passed but Sam couldn't tell how much. The sky turned black and the lone star flickered in and out of clouds. He tried to focus on it, the one spot of light in his prison, but his eyes kept drifting and he couldn't concentrate. His teeth wouldn't stop chattering and he couldn't stop shaking and the words 'hypovolemic shock' kept drifting through his head with varying states of alarm. Sometimes he forgot to care, other times panic would send adreneline rushing through his veins to the point that he felt dizzy and the star would fracture into weird beams of light, but either way he couldn't move. He was so cold, even the pain in his leg was going numb, and he found himself humming Metallica without knowing when he'd started or understanding why he was doing it. That was Dean's thing.

Dean...

He had no way of knowing if his brother had seen the flare or not, or if it had attracted the attention of something far more sinister. No way of moving to help himself and no way of knowing which way to go even if he was mobile. The mine probably stretched for miles in all directions.

He lay there until his humming stuttered and he could tell he was in real trouble when he realized he couldn't remember the words to songs he'd heard over and over since childhood. The mine grew impossibly darker and he knew with a certainty he didn't understand that when he passed out this time he wouldn't be waking up again.

That was when he heard footsteps.

Sam held his breath, praying he wasn't so far gone that he was hearing things, praying that it was Dean and not the monster. What had they been hunting? He couldn't remember. He wrestled with the urge to call out. If it was the creature, it would be stupid to lead it to where he lay, helpless to fight off an attack.

On the other hand, if it was Dean and he stayed silent, his brother could take a wrong turn and never find him and that would be stupid too. His thoughts muddled up and he couldn't think what he was supposed to do, and then... a flicker of light. Monsters don't need torches, of that he was sure, and that was all he needed.

"Dean." His brother's name came out as more of a broken gasp but the footsteps paused anyway and then sped up, heading in his direction. Boots scuffed purposefully against rock and then he was flinching against the beam that shone in his face. A dark shape dropped down beside him.

"Sam," Dean said breathlessly, relief and concern mingling together as his free hand hovered above him.

"Dean," Sam said again, letting his eyes fall shut as his own relief made him lightheaded. "Think I fell..."

"Hey, stay awake."

Sam opened his eyes before Dean could shake him. He saw the torch beam point upwards and heard Dean swear.

"Where are you hurt? God, I can barely see a thing – we need better flashlights. Talk to me, Sammy. Stay awake."

The flashlight beam was splintering. "M'leg..." Sam mumbled.

Dean shifted and Sam heard his sharp intake of breath. There was a long moment of silence and then Dean was riffling round in – Sam squinted – his duffle bag.

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean's voice floated over him. "I'll get you fixed up in no time. It's not that bad."

"Liar," Sam sighed, but Dean's voice was lulling him into a soft sense of near oblivion and he couldn't bring himself to care.

Dean ignored him, and then something was being pressed against his lips. Water, lukewarm and amazing. He moaned in disapproval when Dean pulled the bottle away after only a few mouthfuls.

"Not too much. Don't want it coming back up. You can have more in a minute."

"Jerk," Sam muttered, even as a vague part of his brain reminded him that he'd already thrown up and it wasn't an experience he wanted to repeat.

He waited for the reflex answer of 'bitch' but it didn't come. Dean must be really worried... but he'd said it wasn't that bad. Oh, wait, 'cause he'd been lying. Sam knew he was lying because he'd seen the bone. The water in his empty stomach threatened revolt at the thought but then Dean's hand was on his forehead, somehow cold and warm and soothing all at once. When had he closed his eyes?

"When you're in Hell, no one will come for me."

The words seemed to echo off of the mine walls. Had he said that out loud? He felt like he was dreaming.

He heard Dean clear his throat uncomfortably. "You're in shock."

"'M cold."

He smelt leather as the warmth of Dean's jacket setlled over him.

"Just hang on, Sammy. I gotta get your leg stabilized, then I'll get you out of here."

Sam was barely aware of Dean's ministrations. He fought to stay awake, afraid that Dean would somehow vanish along with consciousness.

"Nice work with that flare, by the way," Dean continued. "Without it I'd still be stumbling round in the dark. Was good thinking."

"Everyone says... I'm the smart one," Sam said weakly.

Dean huffed a tight laugh, "Yeah, and I'm the one who's gonna save your smart arse. Ready? On three. One-"

The world splintered as Sam felt himself hefted over Dean's shoulder, pain so intense he could taste it blossomed in his leg and spread throughout his limbs until it reached his brain and in a flash of lightning agony everything went dark.

XXX

Consciousness came together piece by piece, starting with the smell of Dean's shampoo. The fragrance twisted around his senses and pulled him towards the surface. Gentle beeping and the soft hum of background noise greeted him, muted footsteps and muffled conversations that neither interested him or were interested in him. The only thing he wanted was Dean and it was so hard to find him through these syrupy layers of blank nothingness.

"Sammy?"

The voice came as though from underwater, unmistakable nonetheless.

"Dean?" he said, or tried to say. His mouth wasn't working right, his tongue refusing to co-operate. It sounded more like a moan.

"It's okay. Take your time. The anesthetics just wearing off."

"What...?" Anesthetic? Why?

More pieces fell into place. Being scared and alone, in the dark like he was now. Panic bubbled in his chest.

"Dean?"

A hand found his groping fingers and curled around them.

"It's okay, Sam. I'm here. Open your eyes."

After a brief wrestling match between thought and action, Sam managed to obey and found Dean's tired, worry-worn face looming beside him.

"Hey," Dean greeted with a half-smile. "That's better. You rememeber what happened?"

Sam blinked wearily, tried to think and could only remember the fear of being the last Winchester left. "Thought you were in Hell..."

Dean looked away for a moment. Sam saw him swallow.

"You fell down a mineshaft," Dean said, turning back, face purposefully blank. "Busted up your leg pretty good. It'll be setting off metal detectors from now on, but you're gonna be okay."

"M'leg...?" Sam looked down at the lump under the hospital-issue sheets in bewilderment. "Doesn't hurt..."

"Nah, not yet. You're too doped up."

"I am?" He couldn't connect his memories to his present, was having trouble separating Dean from fire, and a dark place where his brother wouldn't come for him was looming in his future.

Dean smiled indulgently, "Yes, Sam, you are. Enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe you should get some more sleep. Things will make more sense when you wake up."

Sam wanted things to make sense now, but he'd lost what tender control he'd had on his eyelids and they were already sliding shut at Dean's suggestion – traitors – drugged haze warming his limbs as awareness slipped away.

He felt Dean's hand card affectionately through his hair and heard his brother sigh.

"You know," Dean's voice said softly, barely more than a whisper, "When I was wandering in the dark looking for you, not knowing where you were or if you were okay... I thought I might be in Hell, too."

Sam melted under Dean's touch, his brother's palm warm against his own. Not yet, he thought desperately, not understanding whether he was praying or pleading or simply reassuring himself, but knowing that when he woke up, a world where Dean was dying would make no more sense to him than it did now.

End.

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