05.31 P.M. SEVEN MILE LODGE. TUSAYAN, ARIZONA.
"Do you think this is a good idea?"
Jael looks up from where she's fiddling with her Steadicam, frowning. "What do you mean?"
Dana swings her legs over the side of the motel bed. "Investigating this... this whole thing about disappearances in the Grand Canyon attributed to shadow people, or whatever. I know we've spent ages investigating creepy phenomena and everything, but something about this case just... creeps me out. It's so... I just get this feeling that something's going to happen to you. Or us."
There's a moment of silence hanging in the air before Jael sets the camera down and crosses the room to sit by Dana. "I thought you were the one who wanted to chase this lead."
"Yeah..." Dana bites her lip, worrying it between her teeth. "I guess I'm just having second thoughts."
"That's not like you," Jael teases lightly, then slides an arm around her shoulders. "Hey, we'll all watch out for each other, yeah? If anything happens, we'll stick together, keep each other safe. You don't need to be afraid."
Dana doesn't look reassured, but manages to shoot a watery smile at Jael. "All right."
They get back to their work in silence, but Jael glances over to Dana every now and then. She's the most badass one of the four of them - she and Devin and Jack have all had an epic case of the heebie-jeebies before, but never Dana. Her nerves have been on edge for weeks now. This is weird.
08.22 P.M. PLAZA BONITA. TUSAYAN, ARIZONA.
Later at dinner, though, Devin pulls Jael aside and squeezes into a little alcove by the soda fountain with a look of consternation on his face. "I'm worried about Dana."
Jael sighs in relief. "Oh, thank god, I thought I was the only one. I am, too. She's so jumpy lately. Ever since the Darkman encounter at Crowfeather Hill."
She expects Devin to agree, not to give her a sidelong glance, thoughtful and curious. "Uh-huh..." He answers warily, and Jael narrows her eyes at him. "You're not telling me something."
His glance darts furtively around, as if making sure that nobody is eavesdropping. "It's not just subdued nervousness, Jael," Devin says in hushed tones. "She gets angry a lot easier, haven't you noticed? I mean, I guess it's harder for you to observe because she never gets pissed at you. But the last couple of weeks? When somebody or something provokes her, she just gets this weird... darkness in her expression, I don't know how else to describe it. Like, she doesn't lash out and hurt anybody, or anything. But there's just something."
Jael listens intently, feeling discomfited. "Devin, what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that her weird behaviour coupled with the lack of Darkman sightings in recent weeks... Jael, I don't know how to say this, but I think Dana might be possessed."
"By the Darkman?"
"Shh, not so loud!" Devin hisses with an agonised look. "Yeah, that's what I think. And I think the Darkman is deliberately luring us into the Canyon for some reason or another, baiting us with the disappearances. Dana was the one who suggested we go after this lead, remember?"
"Yeah..." Jael responds, thinking back to the conversation she had earlier with Dana. "But she's been waffling lately, though."
Devin's eyes widen. "She has?" For a moment, he looks excited, even relieved. "That sounds like she might be fighting the possession. Or..." His expression falls again. "That could also be a bluff. I have no idea. The Darkman is shifty, Jael, you know that."
"Then what do you suggest we do?"
"I don't know," Devin sighs. "But we have to do something, Jael. Jack doesn't believe me, and he wants us to keep on with the investigation, even though I'm pretty sure we're walking into a trap." He shakes his head. "Tonight, when we go in there, we can't let Dana be on her own, all right? Promise me you'll keep an eye on her."
"Of course," Jael promises. That's a vow easy enough to keep.
10.12 P.M. GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA.
They finish setting up along a hiking trail long after the sun sets. It's winter, which means that the windchill doesn't lend itself to the prep. Jack and Devin make sure the FLIR's in working condition, Dana's preparing some cams with a purposeful hand, and Jael sticks close to her, watching her every move.
Jack outlines the plan for the last time when the wind picks up and they're camped inside their tent, shivering a little. "All right, so we know the attacks have been happening mostly between midnight and four in the morning, so we'll make our move then. We'll need someone to take on guard duty while the rest of us rest up before we act tonight."
"I'll do it," Devin volunteers with an easy smile, and Jack nods shortly. "Jael, Dana, get in your sleeping bags and rest up. We'll need all our energy for tonight."
This arrangement works fine with Jael. Devin gives her a meaningful look before slipping out of the tent to keep watch, and Jael knows what that means. She lays down beside Dana, whose breathing turns slow and measured almost immediately. She's sleeping - or at least she seems so. A wave of anxiety sweeps over Jael - if Devin's right, the Darkman could just be planning his next move, just biding his time, waiting.
She's tired, but concern for Dana, for all of them, means that she struggles to keep awake. She needs to watch over Dana, and watch for the Darkman.
04.00 A.M. GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA.
... only she ends up awakening to an empty tent. For one moment she's disoriented, head foggy, but when she looks at her watch and sees the digital type displaying 04:00, she startles awake at once.
Dana's gone. Jack's gone, too. There's no light from outside the tent, which means Devin isn't there. Panic floods her - she fell asleep, after swearing she wouldn't, and now - where are they? Where are her friends? What if the worst has already happened? Her head whirls at the thought of the Darkman overwhelming the trio, using Dana's body as a tool to send all of them plunging to their deaths... she breathes hard, trying not to hyperventilate. With an effort, she forces herself not to panic.
While she's in the tent, there's nothing she can do. She has to get out there and find them. Jael gropes for her flashlight, flicks it on and blinks as the light momentarily blinds her. She stumbles out of the canopy and onto the trail, studying the tracks. There are three distinct sets of prints, all headed downhill into the darkness.
"Fuck," Jael whispers, and follows suit. She shuffles down the trail for what seems like hours, the cold seeping straight into her bones and the wind pushing her back. Her flashlight barely illuminates a fraction of the vast blackness, and five minutes on, her heart stops when she sees Devin's familiar penknife lying forlornly on the path, amidst the footprints.
He was on watch duty, Jael remembers. While she and Jack were asleep... did the Darkman attack Devin? Force him down the hiking trail and push him over the -
A scream breaks the silence, and all thoughts leave Jael's head in favour of moving her feet at double-time down the cliffs. All the conjecture doesn't matter - she needs to get down there now. Jael estimates they're almost a mile away from their campsite when she finds her way into the clearing, and sees Devin pressed backfirst against a wall of rock, eyes wide as he stares at Jael, and Dana clinging onto the edge, dangling over. Jael can't even see to the bottom, but she knows, she just knows, if she doesn't pull her back in the next minute or so, she's going to fall, Darkman or no, and she'll die at the bottom of the Canyon.
"Jael!" Dana cries, her scream echoing against the walls of the Canyon, and Jael's blood turns to ice in her veins. "Jael, help me, please!"
She doesn't think twice, doesn't stop to process the situation at all. Jael's already heading towards the sheer edge when Devin darts forward and grabs her wrist. "Wait! Jael, that's not Dana. It's the Darkman. And if you try and save her, he's going to drag you into the Canyon too!"
Jael whips around to stare at him in disbelief, eyes flashing. "Then what? Are you suggesting we leave Dana there to die?"
Devin is silent. A cold wash of horror breaks over her as she realises what he means. "No! No, we can't, Devin. That's - that's tantamount to murder!"
His eyes flash. "So you'd rather get all of us killed than just sacrifice one person?"
"What?" She can't believe she's hearing this from Devin, who's a fierce believer in leave no man behind. "You know we can't do that! I'm not going to - This isn't like you. This isn't..." Jael trails off, the epiphany settling into her piercing, clear, ice-cold.
The Darkman must realise it's been found out, because a huge, manic smile appears on Devin's face. "So clever, aren't you?" Devin's mouth moves, but it's not his voice emanating out of his body - it grates, screeches, it hurts to hear. "But not clever enough for me. And now you'll join your girlfriend down there where you belong."
She's trapped, defenceless. From behind her Dana's cries are audible, and the Darkman advances upon her with a menacing stare, each step cold and calculated, pushing her towards the edge with no way to run.
Jael drops her flashlight, closes her eyes in anticipation, resignation.
There is a shot.
And then it's over.
Just not the way she would've thought.
When the shot goes off, there is a long, tortured howl that reverberates into the night, disappearing into the vastness of the Canyon. Jael's chest heaves as she opens her eyes to see Jack standing right in front of her, arm raised, gun cocked. Devin is lying facedown on the rock, a small puddle of blood pooling beneath his arm.
And she's alive.
"Quick, get Dana," Jack growls as he drops to his knees beside Devin, staunching the flow of blood. "I'll call for emergency services."
Jael's too stunned to say a word - she gets down on the ground, gropes for her fallen flashlight and shines it down so Dana is illuminated by the thin beam. She's clinging onto an overhang, one foot wedged into a gap in the rock. There's panic, exhaustion and hysteria written all over her countenance, and Jael knows that if Jack had acted just five seconds later, Dana might be dead.
"Grab my hand," Jael yells, reaching downward as far as she can manage without toppling over herself. She wraps her legs around the nearest solid rock, pulls on Dana's arm as hard as she can, and nearly collapses in relief when Jack comes over to help. Their combined effort manages to get Dana back up onto safe ground, and for a moment Jael can do nothing but hold her close and sob.
04.52 A.M. ST JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL & MEDICAL CENTRE. PHOENIX, ARIZONA.
When emergency services arrive, they're airlifted out to a hospital. Devin is rushed into the operating theatre for his arm, and Dana for a broken leg, dislocated shoulder and other minor wounds. Jael's injuries don't extend beyond some deep scratches on her arms and legs, so she sits on a gurney in the non-emergency sector while they bandage her up. Jack stays with her, looking tired beyond belief. The moment they're left alone while the nurse on duty deals with some paperwork, Jael turns to tug on Jack's sleeve. "Okay, you need to tell me how you managed to save all our asses. I thought you'd followed Dana and Devin down out of base camp and fallen over the cliff."
Jack sets his hands on his thighs, huffing. "Well. I knew this was going to happen. You know now that the Darkman was possessing Devin, not Dana, and he was twisting your perception of Dana's actions to get you where he wanted. I've been keeping in touch with Delyle and Virgil since we left North Dakota, and they've been doing some local research about the Darkman legend, where it originated, all that stuff. So I saw the warning flags that Devin was possessed before this, but I wasn't sure until we were at Plaza Bonita, I overheard your conversation, and I knew you were in danger. I contacted Delyle, asked if he knew anything, anything at all about how to stop the Darkman. And apparently he and Virgil discovered in some archives not too long back that you can banish the Darkman from a soul by shooting the right arm of the possessed person at the moment the Darkman is about to commit an act of murder. Apparently it's most effective if you use an arrow, but, well, we didn't have an arrow, so I got my best gun and prayed hard. I let Devin take the watch so as not to alert the Darkman about knowing Devin was possessed, and I watched Devin to see when the Darkman was going to make his move. He woke Dana up while you were asleep, told her to come with him and investigate something he'd seen. I followed after them, but the Darkman's good - I lost track of Devin just a couple feet down the hiking trail and by the time I realised where the hell the Darkman was going, Dana was already over the edge and you were... yep." He shakes his head. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, and that I pretty much left you and Dana as bait, but... you can't banish the Darkman if they're just residing in the person's soul, not using their host to commit acts of evil. I needed that bait. I'm sorry."
Jael exhales, then smiles and touches his arm lightly. "Thank you, Jack. You saved our lives. That makes up for everything, honestly." She sighs, thinking of Devin and the shot ringing out into the night. "Devin will be fine, though, yeah?"
"I'm sure he will," Jack answers, a brief smile passing over his face. "His arm might be a little messed for some time, and he might need physio, but I don't think it'll mean he can never use it ever again. It's definitely a better alternative than harbouring the Darkman inside him for the rest of his life. I can't even imagine what it was like, battling with that darkness invading him."
"So the Darkman never possessed Dana."
"Nope. As far as Delyle, Virgil and I could tell, he got Devin when we were in North Dakota and never left."
Jael chews thoughtfully on her lip, pondering Dana's strange behaviour in recent days. "Then why has Dana been acting so weird?"
Jack stares at her, then squints hard, then laughs so loud a nurse looks in, concerned. "Oh, Jael," he wheezes. "You really are oblivious, aren't you?"
Jael blinks. Jack laughs harder. "Jael, have you seriously not noticed how she's only jumpy and mopey around you? No wonder you didn't realise Devin was possessed." Jael's jaw stiffens, and Jack raises his hands. "Okay, sorry. That was a low blow. But honestly. She's been weird since you nearly died at Crowfeather Hill, when the Darkman attacked you, right?"
"Yeah, I thought she was..."
"Possessed? No, man. She's just worried, and protective. Dude," Jack says, leaning closer with a teasing glint in his eyes. "She's in love with you."
And suddenly the puzzle pieces fall into place, something settles inside her, and all she can do is sit dumbly with her mouth open. Jack watches her closely, waits for her reaction with a pleased smile.
"Oh," Jael manages, after a while, and this time Jack gets banished to the waiting area for his riotous laughter. Jael joins him after she's discharged from official care half an hour later, when the sun is beginning to rise. Devin is slated fit for visits, and looks sheepish when Jael and Jack sit by his bedside. "Look, can I just say, I'm really sorry I tried to kill you guys."
He passes it off lightly, but there's a hollow quality about his cheekbones and slumped shoulders that tell of the burden that was being consumed by the Darkman. Jael hugs him tight and tries not to think about those heart-stopping moments on the edge of the cliff, about Dana hanging by a thread.
"Is Dana okay?" Devin asks, breaking into her train of thought. He turns to glance at Jack. "Did Jael get a clue while I was battling the Darkman in my head?"
Jael narrows her eyes and punches him in his good arm. "Both of you are the worst."
But Dana is okay, still drugged out but alive - and that's all that really matters.
Jack stays with Devin, ostensibly to accompany him while they wait for his family to fly into Arizona, but both of them are giggling like schoolchildren when Jael excuses herself to visit Dana once the doctor gives her the green light. Something lights up in Dana's eyes when Jael pushes the door to her ward open, and it's like fireworks in Jael's chest.
She wonders how she never noticed this - not that she'll be telling the boys that anytime soon.
"Hi," Dana says quietly, the words barely a whisper, and Jael smiles, coming close and swiping her thumb over Dana's wrist. "Hey. You feeling OK?"
"Yeah, absolutely. Never better." She manages a soft, mischievous laugh. "Thank you for saving my life back there."
And, well, don't get her wrong, Jael totally wants to say that Jack saved both their lives. But Dana is looking at her like she hung the stars in the sky, which does wonders for her ego but isn't really doing much to quell her rapidly beating heart. She acts on instinct, then, leans in and kisses Dana, cupping her face gently and making sure she doesn't put undue pressure on her injuries. Jael exhales, and Dana moans into her mouth, reaching up to loop her arms around Jael's neck and pull her closer. For a good few minutes, the rest of the world fades into sepia and Jael loses herself in Dana's warmth, her scent, the taste of her lips.
Of all the cliches - Jael finally has to pull away because she's honest-to-god gasping for breath. Dana's flushed, eyes bright, framed by her pale face and the gauze taped beneath her ear. "You kissed me."
"Yeah," Jael answers, lost for words, and Dana is the one who has to slide one arm around her waist and rest her hand against her hip. "All right, be honest, who told you?"
"I did!" Jack crows as he wheels Devin into Dana's ward. Jael rolls her eyes at the boys' suggestive grins and whistling, and Dana groans along with her. "Shut up," she says, but she slips her fingers between Jael's anyway, and she couldn't look prouder.
"Guess we've gotta get used to being third wheels, huh?" Devin nudges Jack in the side, and Jael punches Devin again. But he's teasing, she knows, and as Dana pulls her into a kiss right in front of their boys, she knows that there's nowhere else in the world that she'd rather be.