Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: Because Vicki said: "How come Sammy never turns into things, only Dean? Is it because Sam is such a stick-in-the-mud? Maybe you should write a story when Sam gets stuck in mud. And then turns into a talking stick." Only he doesn't talk...because that would be ridiculous.
Fairy tales were never his thing. No matter how many times he heard them…prince wakes the beautiful princess with a kiss, woman's tears restore sight to her love, wicked witch poisons an apple – well, okay, that one he'd buy. But the rest? Crap. Even after all he's seen, Sam Winchester has no problem at all declaring the Brothers Grimm and others like them, hacks.
Which is why he's all the more disgruntled to be trudging through the forest along a trail of breadcrumbs – actual breadcrumbs, mind you – in search of yet another pair of missing children.
"Damn," he hears Dean mutter through heavy breaths. He's a good ten feet ahead when he swivels around and declares, "Lost it."
"Lost what?" he asks, both confused and frustrated.
"The trail. Breadcrumbs are gone."
Sam slowly climbs his way further up the steep embankment, slipping in the mud as he goes. "That's what you get for leaving an edible trail in the middle of the woods," he complains.
"Dude, they're kids," he chides before continuing on in the direction he hopes they went.
Stupid kids, Sam thinks to himself. Just like the last ones. And he knows it's wrong, politically incorrect at the very least, to be name-calling when young lives are stake, but, come on. How many times are they gonna have to risk life and limb and…boots – because, seriously, this mud ain't never coming out – for a bunch of dumb asses who think it's a good idea to go investigate some legend involving a cannibal witch, or, you know, whatever?
"Sammy," Dean shouts from the top of the hill. He waves him up impatiently, turns back to look out beyond, peer through the trees and dropped leaves for any sign. Sam's almost to the top, steadily sliding on his giant feet, when his brother looks back at him, shoots him a knowing smirk. "How much'll you give me if I prove to you that wicked, kid-eating witches exist?" he asks, earning no more than a vicious eye-roll from Sam. "Aw, come on, Hansel."
He's panting pretty heavily, wet forest air leadening his lungs, when he answers, finally standing beside his brother. "I already know they exist, Dean. Remember the Shtriga?"
"Yeah, but this is different," he says still smiling, turning his foot and skimming his boot over the mud, readying himself to slide down the hill. "This is middle of the woods, lure kids out with gingerbread and shove 'em in an oven witch."
Sam doesn't move, makes himself look annoyed when in reality he's merely exhausted, as he says, voice rising the further Dean slips and slides away from him, "You realize that the Hansel and Gretel myth was created in response to the actual instances in times of famine, especially during the Middle Ages, when it wasn't uncommon for parents to abandon their kids in the woods so they wouldn't have to feed them. It's a cautionary tale about trusting strangers and family alike, because, in reality," he stops momentarily and curses to himself as his foot sinks deep into the mud on the side of the hill. "In reality," he tries again, pulling on his leg and working to free himself, "the witch was actually the children's mother."
Dean starts to climb back up to help his brother, brows knitting all the way. "You're saying that people used to drop their kids off in the middle of the woods, then turn into witches and cook them up and eat them?"
He snarls, leaning forward to argue and thusly jamming himself deeper in the mud, his leg slipping in up to mid calf, the other not following suit fast enough leaving him in a near split on the side of the hill. "It's a metaphor, Dean," he says, righting himself clumsily, teetering precariously. "It's a fairy tale."
He reaches out for Sam's leg, wraps his hands around it and tries to twist it loose. "And fairy tales are never true," he laughs sarcastically. "Dude, you're so literal."
"What?" he snipes, truly affronted. "I am not!"
"Uh, yeah, you are." He pulls and pries and quickly loses his balance himself, feet sliding out from under him sending him plopping to the mud. "Oh, man," he grouses, "these are my favorite jeans."
"If I were literal," Sam snarks, voice deep and annoyed, "I wouldn't be out here in the first place. I'd be somewhere warm and dry and away from you, because I'd know that there'd be no reason to be out here searching for a wicked witch in the first place."
Dean pulls himself back up, using Sam's leg to do so, which only sends it deeper into the mud, further from his body, making the younger Winchester topple over, other foot slip-sliding as his arms reel in huge pinwheels around his head.
Dean laughs. Sam glares. "Dude, seriously," he says through chuckles, "lighten up." He turns around, planting himself firmly against the ground so as to get better traction, and takes hold of Sam's leg once more. Readying himself to give one giant jiggle pull, he mumbles, almost to himself, "You are literally a stick-in-the-mud."
He half expects his brother's high-pitched know-it-all voice to shout in his ear, that doesn't even make sense. You don't even know what literally means! But everything goes eerily still and quiet. The leg he's gripping feels suddenly hard and stiff, no fleshy tone beneath, no muscles flexing. And it's not until he looks back, head cocked at an awkward angle, that he realizes what's happened. Sort of. Because, really, what the hell just happened?
Sam is…a stick in the mud…thick log of a leg, still covered in denim, poking out of the earth. But that's it. No other traces of Sam. And he couldn't have just disappeared. He couldn't have simply vanished. He couldn't have…oh shit.
"Oops," he mutters absently, torn between the overwhelming desire to laugh and the overwhelming desire to cry. Because his brother was gone. But he was also…shit. "Don't worry, Sammy," he says, hands mindlessly stroking the thick jean-clad stick. "I'll, uh…I'll do…something."
He closes his eyes, as though a small child preparing to make a wish, and says in a loud and level tone. "You are literally a human being."
He waits a moment before opening one eye, peering hesitantly to his side in search of Sam. But Sam remains nothing more than a stick. In the mud. "Damn," he mumbles to himself, defeated. So sure that was gonna work. What is he, a freakin' magician?
He sighs heavily. Think, think, think. His eyes fall shut again, blocking out all other distractions. Only there aren't any, he realizes after a moment. There's not a single sound, no animals sauntering by, no birds singing, no breeze rustling leaves. Nothing. Which is…weird. But not half as weird as what he sees when he opens his eyes, having no clue how he could have missed it before. A ways down the valley, sandwiched between the trees, partially hidden by the foliage that had yet to fall, there's a tiny log cabin built up on…stilts. At least he hopes they're stilts. Because from where he sits, they appear to be giant chicken legs.
"Son of a bitch," he says simply, shoving himself up off the ground. Without looking back he mutters a quick, "Wait here," to Sam, as he heads off towards the house.
It's not until he's there, standing beneath it, that he realizes just how small the structure is, no more than three feet across. It looks like a child's tree house, which, he thinks, is probably how the kids were enticed to enter.
And of course, Dean being Dean, he decides to find the way in himself, knocking aimlessly at the wood until he comes across a couple of planks in the middle that move. He pushes them up, takes a hold of the sides, and pulls himself up and in.
The house is barely tall enough for him to even sit upright, and it appears both plain and utterly empty. Until he turns around, cranes his neck painfully behind and startles so much so that he nearly falls out of the opening in the floor that his legs still dangle from.
There, in the back corner of the cabin, an old gray woman sits, limbs scrunched up beneath her, wicked and terrifying grin on her face. She says nothing, only looks at him deeply, eyes traveling the length of his torso, before a long, thick tongue slithers out to lick her lips.
He cringes and visibly shudders, recovering himself just enough to say, "Witch, I'm guessing?"
It takes her a minute to answer, which she does only with a nod, before saying, "Did you come here of your own free will, or were you sent?"
Dean's eyes twitch, once to the left, once to the right, as though he might find the correct answer if looks around hard enough. "Free will?" he answers slowly.
She nods again, holds his gaze stiffly. "You come to kill Baba Yaga?" she asks plainly.
And he's hit with some sort of deja vue, that name sounding so familiar. He doesn't respond to her inquiry, too busy trying to remember just what that means, what she is. It takes a while, but eventually Sam's voice filters into his brain, Baba Yaga, Slavic version of an old crone. Spirit of the forest. Without thinking, he asks, "Do you eat children?" mostly because he simply can't remember if Sam had mentioned that about her or not.
She smiles wide, wrinkled skin almost seeming to creek as she does so. "I help those who listen. Hurt those who don't."
"Did you turn my brother into a stick in the mud?"
She shakes her head. "You did."
Playing along, he asks, "How do I turn him back then?"
"Go away," she says simply, as though that would answer his fairly complex question.
He goes silent once more. Spirit of the forest, echoing in his head. "Go away?" he repeats, more for clarification than anything else. Then, "Lady, my brother's a freakin' log out there!" sounds in frustrated pithiness.
Again she nods. Again she says, "Go away."
"Look," he starts, Spirit of the Forest still bouncing around in his subconscious. But he stops short, eyes widening in a light bulb moment of clarity. "They want to develop this land," he says almost to himself.
And he remembers. The first two kids who disappeared were Stevensons, of Stevenson Development Group. They were the children of the guy who was planning to knock down every tree for about six miles and build a resort around the lake that lay buried in the midst of the forest. So, okay, that makes sense then. But still, "That's no excuse to eat some innocent kids."
"Innocent," she scoffs. "They were not pure of heart. They would have helped trample upon my lands."
"They were kids," he argues.
"They were not pure," she repeats, lunging forward, foul breath infiltrating his sinuses, making him gag and sputter. She leans back and laughs, a raspy cackling that just so fit her.
"You can't just lure kids out here and eat them," he says, nose still wrinkled in disgust. "Pure or no."
"I do not lure," she says, seeming affronted. " I ask, 'Did you come of your own free will, or were you sent?'"
"Okay," he mutters. "And if they were sent?"
"I know they lie. Only the impure lie. I devour impurity."
He unconsciously backs up a bit, "Right," dripping slowly from his lips. "So why do they come here then?"
She shrugs, thin, bony shoulders rising in points by her jaw. "They come, they go," she offers nonchalantly.
He almost laughs, so frustrated and simply tired of this old hag, that he can't help it. "Well, if some of them manage to go, then how come no one's ever gone back and mentioned you?"
Again she shrugs. "They forget things they see no point in remembering."
He's tempted to just ask her straight out, How do I kill you? Because he knows that's how this all going to end anyway, that's what he's going to have to do. But before he can, he kind of needs to know, "How do I get my brother back?"
"Back?" she asks, voice rising. "He's not gone."
"He's not gone?" he repeats incredulously. "He's a freakin' – "
"Stick in the mud," she finishes for him. "Just as you said."
"Lady, it's an expression. You know, total drag, wallflower, party pooper?"
"What is so wrong with a stick in the mud?" she asks. "Is that not beautiful? Is it not a miraculous part of nature, to be a piece of tree, grown from the earth, fallen and imbedded back into that from which it came?"
He stares at her wide-eyed. "Listen up, Hippie dippy freak," he starts, hatred in his voice, "I want my brother back. Back the way he was."
She sighs, long and soft, as though she were deflating. "Keep my forest true," she says finally. "And go. And forget."
He's about to ask just what in the hell that's supposed to mean, how in the hell is that gonna help him turn Sammy back. But before he gets the chance a terribly long and bony leg moves out from beneath her tattered skirt and flies at his chest, surprisingly strong foot connecting hard and throwing him off balance. And out the tiny hole in the floor.
He's got the wind knocked out of him and the whole world dances painfully in circles around his head. When he can focus once more, the tiny house is gone, only the tops of mostly barren trees looming over him.
And Sam yells.
"Dean! Dean," he's calling out from his spot on the side of the hill. Dean gets up and jogs his way over, slips and slides as he makes his way to him. He's still stuck in the mud, but he's no longer a stick, and that's enough of a relief to have him launch himself at his brother, knocking him off balance as he falls backwards, Dean collapsing on top of him. "Dude! Get off," he protests, giant hands shoving him back.
"Sorry," he says, face alight with joy. "Sorry," as he rolls away and digs at the mud around Sam's leg.
Once free, but for his boot which seems irrevocably lost, he shoots Dean a confused and questioning glare. "What are you so happy about?"
He glances at him quickly, just long enough to realize that Sam clearly doesn't remember, and says simply, "You're not a stick in the mud, Sammy."
"O-kay," he drawls out. Dean rises, heads back up the hill, back the way they came. "Where are you going?" he asks, even more perplexed than before.
"Gotta keep the forest true," he tosses over his shoulder, though he's not sure why.
He doesn't stop, doesn't even slow down to wait as his brother works to catch up with him. "I dunno," he says, still smiling, though he can't remember why.
"Dean," Sam says, finally catching up and swinging his brother around to face him. "We're on a case here, man. Remember? Missing children? Trail of breadcrumbs?"
He narrows his eyes at him for a moment, then laughs, large and shuddering guffaws. "That's a good one, Sammy. Breadcrumbs."
He hears his brother protest, "Dean," as he turns and carries on. But he doesn't even think to stop, knowing that there's something back in town he has to do. Something involving a call to Green Peace and setting fire to Stevenson Development Group's branch headquarters. It's just strange that he can't quite remember why.