"Shall we continue, Prime specimen? How fortunate for me that this hunter didn't destroy you as soon as he found you, like most of his ilk would have done."
Bowman cocked his head and scowled. He didn't want to think of other humans in the same line of work as Sam and Dean. "I'm just special, you know." His wings strained cautiously against his bonds, to no avail. Even when the man turned away, he'd been unable to budge from the table where he was pinned. On display for any human that might wander into the room.
"We'll see. Resuming data collection," the warlock said. Back to business. "I will begin by measuring the sprite's dimensions."
And he did just that, with a tool Bowman could hardly fathom. It looked like a vice, but the human merely adjusted it so the jaws matched whatever he was measuring. Bowman's arms and legs were measured, as well as his waist and each part of his wing. His twisting and writhing to escape didn't faze the human.
"Only four inches tall," the warlock noted, with the instrument measuring from the top of Bowman's head to the bottom of his boots. "Much taller than tiny little subject one, and yet still so miniscule."
"Careful, you might hurt my feelings," Bowman growled, trying to angle away from the measuring tool.
A sharp pain struck one of his wings. A harsh tap against a knuckle in one of the long, thin finger bones prompted the whole limb to twitch, curling at the bottom edges. Bowman grunted with the pain.
"Reflex responses are much more focused," the scientist noted, almost bored. "The wings are sensitive. Younger subjects may not have acclimated to the nerves in the wings yet, based on the involuntary spasms. Prior hypothesis of nerve damage in subject one will need to be re-explored."
Up in the cage crowded with young sprites, 'subject one' flinched, tears coming to his eyes. Vel clung tighter to Rischa and bit his bottom lip. He had been on that table more than any of the others, as the first victim. His wings didn't flutter as much as they should for his age, and they were a concerning dark green.
Rischa patted the young boy's head and tried to avoid looking at the workbench as the human pointedly tested more of Bowman's reflexes. He claimed it was in the name of his 'science,' but Rischa knew better.
The man was punishing Bowman. Trying to train him. Rischa could feel that sickly determination in waves all around her, mingling with the others' fears like blood in the water.
The torment continued for Bowman, who bit back as many noises of pain as he could. When it came time for the scientist to undo his magnet trap so he could test the limits of Bowman's wings, more yelps of pain escaped.
The scientist was right about one thing. A wood sprite's wings were some of the most sensitive limbs on the body. When he pinched every section of membrane and flicked every bone, Bowman squirmed in his grip and prayed for an opportunity to escape that never came.
The scientist only deemed the day over when he pushed Bowman's wings backwards, straining them to a terrible, unnatural angle, causing the sprite to scream in pain.
"In an effort to preserve the subject's health for later experiments, I'm considering this session over," he announced, smug. Bowman lay on his hand, wings splayed out and temporarily numb. The man didn't even have to close him in a fist when he carried him back to his cage and dumped him in.
No one said a word as the scientist locked up Bowman's cage with a resounding click! and twisted his fingers near Dean's cage to renew the shaking from side to side. The turbulent movement had not ceased the entire time he was examining Bowman, leaving Dean queasy and shaking in the center of the metal floor.
Once the thunderous footsteps died off in the distance, Dean's cage at last began to slow down in its movements, slowly coming to a stop. Only then was he able to pull himself to the edge of the cage, blinking harshly as he tried to banish the airsickness.
"Bowman!" he called out, his friend at the front of his mind even through the motion sickness and burning pain from his ribs. "Bowman, are you alright?" Dean grimaced, remembering that last scream. No, none of them were alright now. Not at all. "Or at least in one piece?"
Bowman panted and lay there for a second more before he finally pushed himself up. His wings dragged with him as he scooted to the wall of the cage to lean on it. The sharp pain in the middle of his back, right where his wings connected to it, had died down into a dull ache.
"I've had worse," he commented. There was a glimmer of his usual defiance in the words, but relief nearly eclipsed it. If his wings had been held that way for too long or tugged at the wrong angle ... it didn't bear thinking about it.
The nestlings all crowded near the closest wall of their own cage. They watched him with fear, some of them brushing tears away. Most of them had probably had their wings messed with the same way, except perhaps the shy little wraith sprite hiding behind the others. Bowman put on a grim smile for them all.
"The feeling's already coming back, see?" He shifted his wings, curling the fingers slowly before letting them fall slack again. He moved one onto his lap to massage the joints.
Dean sighed. "At least there's that," he muttered. It could be worse. From the screams he'd heard, if anything permanent happened to Bowman's wings, they'd hear it and keep hearing it. The large limbs- larger than Dean had ever thought possible while he was standing at his full size- were covered in nerves, one of the most sensitive parts of his body.
The room was almost mocking in its stillness as Dean glanced around. The window remained dark, pointing to it most likely being blocked off somehow. He doubted the man had left them to sleep for longer than a few hours.
A few thoughts occurred to Dean, and he glanced over at his empty food dishes. "Nothing to eat over here," he called out. "And any food I had is in my duffel… and probably just as huge, right about now."
For that, Vel had an answer. "He only feeds us in the mornin's," he explained. One little arm let go of his hug around the nestling nearest him to gesture to the dish in their own cage, just as empty save for a few crumbs. "It's different every day ... most of the time it's okay, except..."
"Sometimes he only puts meat in there," another kid explained, wrinkling his nose. "We never eat that."
Bowman frowned critically, but remembered the boxy dishes in his own prison. He crawled over to the water dish, reaching in to pull out the knife Dean had thrown to him. He'd need to make sure he kept it hidden until he had better chances to use it.
"Bowman, Dean," Rischa called, her voice steady but weary. "You need healing. It's gonna be a little hard since I can't actually touch you, but-"
"Don't use too much energy," Bowman cautioned her. He knew better than to insist against the healing entirely; she'd just do it anyway. "Dean got batted around more," he added, looking across to the human in question. "Anything broken?"
Dean hesitantly pushed down on his chest, testing out the pain in his ribs. It instantly flared up, sending a hot wave through his body, but it wasn't a sharp pain. Subdued, the way bruises felt. He shook his head. "Just bruises here, don't worry about me." He winced and leaned heavily against the bars to rest. "Hurts like a sonofabitch, but it had its uses."
There was a little more pep in him at his next words. "That man, scientist or warlock or he-witch, whatever he is, gave away more than I think he meant to. Now we know Jacob and Sam are out there, and if there's one thing I've learned about my baby brother is you can't underestimate him. He'll find a way to get to us."
Bowman moved over to the side of the cage closer and gripped the bars. He wanted so badly to get himself free, but at least knowing someone was out there looking for him helped. Jacob would never leave Bowman to rot in a cage.
While Rischa began her quiet Prayer and the first shy touch of healing magic found his wings, Bowman let himself grin. "He didn't think they're worth worrying about," he recalled.
A mistake on both counts. Bowman had seen the levels of determination that both Sam and Jacob were capable of. They were calm on the outside, but unflinchingly brave in the face of a threat. "Sam knows all your hunter stuff and Jacob'll follow his lead and help find us."
"I can always count on Sammy." Dean groaned slightly as he shifted to a more comfortable position, wishing he had either a pillow to rest his head on or the room wasn't so damn cold so he could take his jacket off and bunch it up under his head. "That kid's pulled me out of more holes than I can count since finding him."
Jacob was a harder subject for Dean to consider. The last time he'd seen the kid, he wasn't too happy with Jacob. With everything adding up, their dad's funeral, Jacob's annoyingly tall stature, startling Sam into hiding… Dean hadn't been the most understanding. And now, if the scientist hadn't touched Jacob's size, he was a fucking giant.
There was a reason Sam had ducked into Dean's pocket when they first met the kid, and it was hard to imagine what Jacob would look like now.
"Shit." Dean let his head drop into his hands.
Bowman, lacking Rischa's gift for keen empathy, couldn't read why Dean had slumped in the other cage. He frowned, but couldn't blame the guy. He wanted to curl up in a ball again and hide from the world. Now, he knew where Rischa was, at least, but the answer wasn't a comfort. He had never wanted to see other sprites trapped in cages, not after the first time. He hated it.
To avoid despair, he tried to focus on something optimistic instead. "That blasted human has surprised me a couple times," he mused, pulling himself to his feet so he could prowl around the edge of his prison.
"He fought his own friend. I might have lost my flight two years ago if he didn't. Then you and Sam wouldn't have gotten the good luck of finding me last year."
Dean managed a slight shrug without exacerbating his pain. "Sounds like a good kid," he forced out. "Even if this new guy looks like he wants to undo all that for us."
Guilt crept in on Dean. He couldn't stop thinking about the way he'd treated Jacob. Nothing was going right this week, and now he'd lashed out at someone who currently could pinch him between two fingers, just like the warlock-wannabe had done to Bowman. Helpless. Small.
With a shudder, Dean leaned his head against the bars and stared at the top of the cage over his head. "How do you guys do it?" he asked Bowman. "Deal with us. We're too big."
Bowman paused his restless investigation of his cage to look over at Dean again. He had never expected a question like that, especially not from Dean. For a moment, the only sound in the room was Rischa's quiet, earnest chanting and the metallic squeak of the chains holding all the cages up.
"I don't speak for everyone sprite-sized, but I guess it depends on the human," he finally answered. After all, despite having trust for Jacob and Dean, he wasn't about to flutter up to just any giant. "I bop you if I need to. Usually makes enough of a point."
He resumed his pacing, if only to take his mind off the fear that lingered under his skin like it was ready to ambush him. "It isn't being blasted giant that makes someone bad."
Dean let his eyes close, unable to let himself believe what Bowman was saying. All he could see was himself, standing eye level with the cages. He'd looked into the mirror enough to be able to imagine that; green eyes staring in, just like the scientist had done. A huge hand raising up, and no way to know if it would free him or turn him into a pet, a toy, or kill him off.
The last thing he ever wanted to do was make people nervous about his size, but he was beginning to see how impossible that would be in a world where humans were the giants.
I'll do better, he swore to himself. Once I get out of the damn cage and get back to Sam. The kid deserves a brother who understands, not one who's just gonna grab him whenever.
Dean sighed. "Maybe you have more faith in people than me after all," he said to Bowman.
Bowman tilted his head, but didn't deny it. Instead, he shrugged. "That doesn't mean I won't fly away from most giants I see," he quipped. He tried for a joking tone, but it just wouldn't come. Not while they were both trapped with no idea if Sam and Jacob knew where to look for them.
They didn't even know how far they'd gone.
"And I dunno if I'd call it faith in people or something else," he mused. Bowman couldn't help but dwell on the first human threat to Wellwood. "I guess I've just known good and bad at both sizes so I can't really say one's better or not. I ... a lot of people got hurt because a sprite betrayed some of us to a human while trying to save the rest of the village."
Rischa interrupted to keep Bowman from getting riled up too much about the terrible subject. "The humans we do trust near the village have proven that they earned it," she pointed out meekly. Then, changing the subject for Dean's benefit, too, she continued. "Dean ... are you feeling any better? I tried to soothe the bruises."
Dean blinked his eyes open in surprise, his arm half raising up into the air before he caught himself. While he was buried in guilt, the pain had leached out of his chest, leaving a slight ache. Lifting his shirt, he saw that there was barely any bruising, when a few minutes ago he was convinced he would spend a week black-and-blue.
Taking a moment to pat himself down, Dean found most, if not all, the pain gone. He took in a deep breath, relieved to feel no pain.
Pushing away those dark thoughts, Dean smiled at Rischa, doing his best to give her his full attention. "Thanks, kid. You keep coming through for me whenever I see you."
She smiled back, a tired expression far more world-weary than a ten-year-old ought to wear. She absently brushed a hand over the head of the nearest nestling in the cage with her. "I do my best," she replied. "You shouldn't have to keep hurting."
The statement ran deeper than a few bruises. Rischa still didn't know what had caused the pain wrapping itself like a noose around Dean's heart, but he didn't deserve that, either. No one deserved pain like that.
Bowman smiled too, but it was grim. Rischa was so calm, while the nestlings, all tired and scared, clung to her. It was easy to forget that she was a child, just like the rest of them.
She was forced by her gift to be older than she was. Sometimes, in the quiet, dark corners of his mind, Bowman resented that.
"Thank you, Birdie," he said. "You're doing good."
"How're we gonna get out?" the sprite boy next to Vel suddenly blurted. He was the second to be taken, and his wings did not fare much better than Vel's.
"Sam's gonna come," Vel answered matter-of-factly. " 'Member Sam? Sam an' Jacob, too."
"As soon as they can," Bowman affirmed with a nod. "For now, maybe Rischa and the rest of you should settle down and sleep, save your strength."
"Same goes for you, Bowman," Dean said sternly. "You need to keep your strength up, and you've had a hard night."
Dean knew that it wasn't likely that the man would give up on his so-called "Prime" specimen so easily. Bowman would likely have to face the same situation all over again once he'd recuperated, and there wasn't much Dean could do to stop it.
Not much he could do from this cage, but that didn't mean he'd stop running his mouth.
"Once you've rested, we'll try getting out again, okay?" Dean offered, suspecting Bowman's wings would need to recover after what they'd gone through.
Bowman huffed quietly, but Dean was right. The light from the hanging lightbulb could warm the sprite wings, but it was nothing compared to what the sun did for them. It wouldn't help them much, and Vel's wings were proof. Bowman didn't want to see his wings in the same state, but they would reach that point if they were trapped long enough.
He had to take care of himself, as much as he wanted to focus on the nestlings. The scientist thought he was the most adept at borrowing the Spirit's magic, and Bowman wanted to keep that impression. Better him than the others.
"Guess you're right," he admitted. The others were coming. He could do this. "I'm no good for carrying anyone like this."
Even so, Bowman stayed standing to watch the nestlings shuffle back to their scrap of cloth. Even the wraith sprite, standing out so starkly with his dull red-orange quills, was welcomed into the tight group of children snuggling close together for support and warmth. Rischa remained sitting up, another sprite's head resting on her lap.
Knowing Bowman would have something to say, she smiled softly and didn't even look up at the others. "I'll sing for a little while. It seems to help."
Dean tucked his arms tight around his chest. "So long as you sleep too," he informed her. "I'll keep watch for the wannabe he-witch."
Despite the exhaustion in his bones, Dean had no intention of dropping his guard with a giant possibly around, fully hostile to all of them and more than capable of harming any of the children. His gun might not have injured the guy now, but Dean planned on his next shot hitting him right in the eye.
See him recover from that.
Determined or not, when Rischa sang for the children, Dean felt himself as affected as the others, his eyelids growing heavy. Curled into a small ball against the sturdy bars and with one of the food cups alongside, he drifted into an uneasy slumber, plagued by familiar nightmares.
Bowman settled himself in the corner of the cage closest to the cage full of nestlings. He wished he could offer Rischa some comfort in return for what she did for the others, but he was too far away. Her gentle singing voice, a legacy of her Songbird lineage, lulled the other nestlings off quickly, and sleepiness tugged at Bowman, too.
He lay down with one wing covering himself like a blanket. His body was sore from the experimentation earlier, and he knew more was to come. Despite the exhaustion, he tried to stay awake as long as he could, waiting for Rischa's voice to die out and tell him she'd gone to sleep, too.
When he finally closed his eyes, the gridded image of the cage bars burned into his mind. Bowman dropped off into memories of cages, of feeling trapped.
The prisoners in the room fell quiet in uneasy sleep.
An uneasy night...
Cowritten by PL1, the creator of the Wellwood sprites and Jacob Andris!
Beta read by creatorofuniverses on tumblr.
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Next: August 12th, 2020 at 9pm