For notes and disclaimer see Part One
Sam felt small delicate hands touching his face. Caressing. Jess? He must have spoken the word, because he heard a small giggle. No, not Jess.
Opening his eyes, his breath caught in his throat. A beautiful and very petite creature was crouched in front of him. Definitely a creature, because she had wings and was nude.
Dreaming, I must be dreaming.
The long blond haired creature giggled again. Without her speaking he heard her in his head.
You're not dreaming Sam. I'm real. I've come to check on you. We want to teach your brother a lesson but we don't want you do die. I was placing a spell on you to keep the infection away. You'll be sore for awhile, and weak, but will survive.
Before Sam could speak or think the creature kissed him and he felt warm and peaceful all over.
You are powerful and kind. A good match, it will get you through the darkness. Take care Sam.
Sam could hear another giggle before he was taken away into the peaceful blackness.
Dean thought he heard a female giggle. He shook his head and chuckled. Sam's the one with the head injury, why am I hearing things?
Nature had called and Dean was returning to the campfire when he heard the giggle again. This time he raced back to his brother.
What he found left him speechless for a moment. A very small woman, nude with wings, was hunched over his brother.
Dean found his voice and growled out. "Get away from him, now."
The creature glared back and stood. "He will live. I was making sure of that."
"Huh, and why would I believe that? You're a faerie right? If I remember my lore right, you're tricksters."
The small thing giggled again. "We can be, if it suites us. Normally we keep to ourselves, but sometimes it is necessary to intervene and teach outsiders a lesson."
"A lesson, is that what you call leaving me and my injured brother lost in the woods, a lesson! Because all it's taught me is that you're tricksters and up to no good." Dean seethed out.
"You were blinded Dean. Blinded by your brother, and failed to see the consequences of your actions. Sam was right, all you had to do was cleanse the tree. But instead of heeding the words of wisdom, you acted out in anger. You let your anger override your reason. That was a mistake." The blond winged creature's tone became very angry.
"The fire took care of the tree. I was careful. You're the one not using reason, my brother could have bled to death tonight because of your actions." Dean moved a little closer, trying to remember all the lore on faeries but his memory was failing him.
The small creature actually huffed in reply. "Careful? I watched you. Your mind was not on the fire, it was on your brother. Beside the fact, the tree did not have to be sacrificed. That tree was part of my home and you destroyed it out of anger. You threatened my entire home with a reckless fire. You must learn to control your feelings when it comes to your brother. Keep your emotions in check or it will be your undoing."
Dean stepped closer, wishing that the creature would move away from his brother. "Tell you what, first thing in the morning, we'll leave and you won't have to worry about us anymore."
The faerie nodded. "Yes you will leave. Sam will live but you will learn to respect nature."
"Respect nature? What is that supposed to mean?" Dean didn't like the twinkle in the little winged thing's eyes.
"It means that after today's experience, you will know not to mess with Mother Nature, because if you do she will bite you in the ass." The faerie giggled and started flapping its wings and disappeared into the night.
"Great, either I'm seeing things or I've really been played by a hot faerie." Dean mumbled as he sat down to check on his injured sibling.
He gently shook Sam and watched as his little brother struggled to find his way to consciousness.
"Hmmm." Sam tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes and looked like a rumpled toddler.
"How you feeling Sammy?" Dean was still concerned that the petite creature had done something to his brother.
"I-I feel okay Dean. I had a weird dream though." Sam gave him a dopey smile.
"Not a bad one Sam?" Dean hoped that the faerie hadn't messed with Sam's head.
"Nope, it was nice. I dreamed about a faerie, weird huh?" Sam's silly smile widened. It reminded Dean of the times he had dealt with a drunk brother.
"Faerie huh? She didn't do anything to you did she?" Dean could hear the concern in his voice but his brother was oblivious.
"She kissed me, it was nice." Sam sighed and Dean's stomach clenched. The thought that the kiss was part of a spell scared the crap out of him.
"Huh, well Sam in lore when a faerie kisses you it's part of a spell. In your dream, did the faerie place a spell on you?" Dean held his breath waiting for an answer.
Sam scratched his head in confusion. "Oh yeah, she said she was placing a spell on me to keep the infection away. Do you think that was my minds way of coping with the injury?"
Dean could see his brother was finally more with it. His eyes were clearer and the last statement was pure geek boy.
A relieved sigh escaped Dean's lips. The spell hopefully was to help his brother. He could live with that.
"Maybe Sam, your freak brain is hard to figure out." Dean gave his brother a reassuring smile.
"Yeah, I did hit my head right? It hurts like I did, but everything is a bit fuzzy." Sam gave Dean a quizzical look.
Dean knew that in his brother's confused state he would be answering the same questions a number of times, but he was fine with that as long as Sam was okay.
"Your head is a bit fuzzy due to the fact you hit your head and are suffering from blood loss. Those two together are packing a bit of a punch."
"Huh, and how did I get injured?"
Dean sighed. "You tangoed with a tree and lost. You hit your head, ripped your side open a bit, and I burned the evil willow tree that was responsible. Then we walked in circles in the woods and decided to have a camp out. Remember any of that Sammy?" Dean watched as his brother processed the information he had given him.
"Yeah, okay but the tree wasn't evil."
Dean chuckled at his stubborn brother. "I think it was Sammy."
Sam rolled his eyes and then gazed into the fire. "I wonder why the faerie said she was teaching you a lesson? Do you know Dean?"
He could tell his little brother was becoming confused again, and not wanting to answer the faerie question, Dean changed the subject.
"Sammy, you need to rest so we can hike out of here tomorrow okay?" Dean patted his brother's shoulder and was happy to see his sibling follow instructions as he laid back down, closing his eyes.
Sam awoke to a fuzzy head and a sore side. The fire was still going and he was grateful that it was keeping the morning chill away.
He did feel guilty that Dean had stayed up all night tending to the fire. Looking around he spied his brother a foot away from him.
"Hey Sammy, how ya feeling?" Dean asked, shivering a bit.
Sam realized that his brother was only wearing a light t-shirt. Sam grabbed at his brother's flannel shirt trying to get it loose.
"Sam, stop. You'll need the shirt when we start hiking. Walking is going to pull at your stitches and the shirt will help keep pressure on you wound." Dean's voice was stern.
"You're freezing." Sam sighed, knowing his brother wasn't going to give in.
"You're wounded, so I think you need it more, and I'm the oldest so I'm always right." Dean smirked.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever, so should we head out?"
"Do you feel up to it?" Dean was studying Sam up and down.
"I'm sore Dean, but I feel stronger." Sam tried to give Dean a confident smile.
"Well, I guess we don't have much choice. Here." Dean tossed Sam a candy bar. "Breakfast of champions."
"Or Winchesters." Sam replied as he grasped the candy bar and worked to open it.
"Same difference." Dean replied.
"Yeah. Sam smiled and then his expression became thoughtful. "Dean, do you think we should try the path this time?" Sam's voice held a tremor of doubt.
"I think we'll be good this time. Sam, I have a confession. Do you remember your dream last night about the faerie? Dean looked away sheepishly.
"Uh, oh yeah, that was weird. I told you about it?" Sam couldn't understand why Dean was turning red, it was Sam's dream that was embarrassing. Faeries? Who dreamed about them?
"Not a dream Sammy, she confronted me too. I pissed her and her friends off with my fire. They liked your plan better. So, the whole getting lost was her way of venting some anger. I'm supposed to respect nature or something like that." Dean finally gave him some eye contact and Sam could see the guilt there.
Typical Dean, whenever I get hurt he assumes it's his fault.
Sam sighed. "The tree did hurt me, and you were protecting me. I get that. But I can see why it might scare the creatures that call this forest their home. So do you think we've paid our due, and now we can leave?"
"God I hope so!" Dean grumbled as he started to put the fire out.
"We need to make sure that we leave things exactly as they should be before we head out. It would suck to leave a candy wrapper and find ourselves stuck here for another night." Sam replied as he picked up a few items next to him.
"Yes it would, but you are going to sit still while I get our stuff together. I don't want you pulling your stitches before we even start hiking. If you see something that needs picking up, tell me and I'll get it."
Dean was in full blown protective big brother mode so Sam knew he needed to do as he was told.
"Damn, your bossy." Sam smirked as his brother glared back.
"Bitch." Dean muttered as he resumed picking up their stuff.
The first five minutes of the hike went well. Sam seemed to have recouped a lot of his lost energy from the day before, and Dean found himself relaxing a bit.
That was until he heard the rumble of thunder.
"Crap, is that what I think it is?" Dean mumbled as he led them up the path.
Sam sounded slightly breathless. "It wasn't your stomach was it? If not, it's thunder."
"Ha, Ha, you're so funny." Dean turned to get a good look at Sam. His brother was a bit pale and slightly winded, but seemed to be doing okay.
"Dean, let's keep moving, maybe we'll beat the storm."
Dean nodded. He just hoped their luck would hold up; so far this morning hadn't been too bad.
Hope was over rated in Dean's book. The rain was pouring down, and the wind had picked up.
Dean had goosebumps the size of dimes and it was hard to concentrate on the trail in front of them.
Then there was Sam, he was being a trooper. The wind was making it hard for Sam to keep his balance and Dean did his best to make himself into a wind break. The weather was definitely slowing their progress and made it pretty hard to tell if they were making any head way.
"D-Dean, could we stop for just a minute?" Sam's voice was shaky and it cause Dean to stop immediately to assess his brother.
Sam nodded to a few larger trees and the two of them found shelter from the down pour.
"Let me look at your wound?" Dean asked as he approached his brother.
Sam tried to shoo his brother off. "M' fine."
Dean just shook his head and carefully pulled up the layers of clothing that surrounded the wound. The stitches had definitely pulled and his brother was bleeding again. It wasn't heavy, but after the previous day's blood loss, it was worrisome.
"You're bleeding but not bad." Dean gave Sam a reassuring smile. "I'm thinking it wouldn't hurt to try and wait the rain out."
"Yeah, we could wait for a bit. Do you think the faerie has something to do with the weather?" Sam's voice was weak and shaky.
"I don't know Sammy. But hold on, I promise I'll get you out of here." Dean's mind was worried now. What if the faerie was still punishing him? Teaching him respect through fear. Well if that was the goal, it was working.
"Sammy, stay right here buddy, I'm going to scout out the area a bit, I won't go far." Sam nodded and leaned heavily against the tree.
Dean did a quick surveillance of the area, and found no faeries. The weather made it hard to assess how far they were from the park's parking area.
"D-Dean, I was thinking about faerie lore and uh, maybe if we left an offering it might please them? They like bread or trinkets. I could leave my watch. It's shiny and not a sentimental item. Do you have an offering?" Sam's voice continued to shake and Dean hoped it was due to the cold and not shock.
"Uh, as for food, I could leave what's left of my Peanut M&M stash. I could leave my watch too. Do you think that would be enough?" Dean voice shook; the cold was definitely taking its toll on the two of them.
"I-I uh well, maybe if you said something about not meaning to, you know, hurt the tree? That might help." Sam's voice was very quiet and he knew he needed to get the kid out of here soon.
"Yeah, okay, give me your watch and I'll leave it and my stuff over here under that big oak tree, and I'll say something."
Sam gave Dean an unsure look as he handed over his watch.
"Sam, I'll say something nice, I promise."
Dean walked over to the big oak and laid the items down in a clump together, not sure exactly what to say.
He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Uh, I'm not really good at this sort of thing but I did want to say if you're listening that, I'm sorry. I should have been more careful in dealing with the willow tree. Sam is the only family I have left and sometimes my protection of him is my down fall. I realize that, and I promise that the next time I'm in the great outdoors I'll be more aware. Okay? I hope we're good."
Dean slowly made his way back to Sam, feeling awkward and weird spouting apologies to an oak tree.
"So?" Sam asked the minute he approached.
"I did it, so I guess we wait and see what happens." Dean sighed.
"Yeah." Sam echoed his sigh. "We wait."
Dean could only hope that their offering had managed to appease the faeries, because as they huddled under the shelter of the trees they finished the last of their water and shared Dean's only remaining emergency candy bar. He hated being inactive; taking the 'wait and see' approach was never his thing, but it was his impulsive thinking that had got them into this mess in the first place – well, that, a killer tree, and some pesky morally outraged faerie folk.
It ate at him to know the little creature was going to get away with abusing them in this way, but pushing the matter would only make things worse and he couldn't count on Sam to back him up. Not only was he in no condition for a fight, but the tree loving freak probably agreed with them.
"Rain isn't stopping," Sam spoke up at last.
Dean cocked one eyebrow in Sam's direction and his brother shrugged. "Just making conversation," he said with a smile.
"I apologised alright, let it go."
He was exhausted and soaked to the skin. He hadn't been able to get warm all day and the sleepless night, miles of hiking and hours of worry were taking their toll. As much as the idea of sitting and resting was appealing – or maybe because of it – they had to brave the elements once more and get moving. Vengeful spirits and a whole host of other unsavouries didn't faze them, so they would not cower away from a bit of wind and rain.
"Come on, we should get moving," he nudged Sam's leg and scrambled to his feet, leaning over to grab Sam's elbow to help him haul himself upright. Sam swayed slightly at the initial change in altitude, his other hand grabbing tight at Dean's bicep in an effort to steady himself, but he covered it well, brushing Dean down and pushing him away once he had found his feet, the slightly guilty downturn of his mouth the only sign he had acknowledged his own unsteadiness.
Dean took the time while they were re-shouldering their gear to assess his brother. Sam was paler this morning without the flush of exertion, and he recalled again the faeries words about warding off the threat of infection. But his eyes were ringed with dark shadows and lined with pain, and the bruise on his forehead had blossomed a sickly purple.
"M' alright," Sam murmured, aware of the scrutiny, and Dean nodded tightly.
They'd lost the path again during the morning, before their attempt to make peace, blown off course by the wind. The ground was uneven and slippery, the driving rain turning the forest floor into thick mulch. They were both dragging their feet, weighed down by uncertainty and exhaustion, and scrambling over tree roots and up inclines was hard enough on Dean; he knew it would be doing nothing for Sam's balance or his already torn stitches.
It was an hour later, and Dean didn't think he was ever going to be warm or dry again, when their luck finally broke and they reached the road. One glorious strip of pavement, and Dean swore he was never leaving civilization again.
"No more tree spirits Sammy," he swore, taking his brother's arm and propelling him onwards up the road, not wanting Sam to take the solid ground beneath his feet as an excuse to flag. "No more wendigos or moth men, black dogs or forest dwellers of any kind." They were more exposed to the elements now they had left the cover of the trees, but Dean didn't care about that, because…
"Baby!" he cried exuberantly, making Sam flinch. "Man, are you a sight for sore eyes."
He left Sam staring after him with a slightly bemused expression on his face and jogged the final distance to his car. He'd been worried they were never going to make it back, or that the faeries had moved her or done something horrible to her to teach Dean a lesson, but she was in the same pristine, gleaming condition as when he'd left her, just a little wetter, a little more forlorn looking. Much like her owner.
The doors opened with a creaking whine and they both flopped down onto the front seat with a groan, eyes closed. Sam's momentum didn't even carry him all the way into the car; when Dean finally wrenched his eyes open to investigate the breeze it was to see Sam had stalled with his right leg still outside the car and the door wide open. When he grunted at Sam to get him to close it he received only a weary groan in reply.
Too tired to argue Dean let his mind wander, and it was only his elbow slipping from its prop against the side window some time later that stopped him from falling asleep.
He sat up with a curse, shaking his head to clear it. Sam was still conked out in the seat next to him, but he woke with a start when Dean reached over to drag his wayward leg into the car, almost jumping out of his skin when Dean slammed the door shut next to his ear.
"We're so lame," Dean grumbled, switching on the ignition and getting the heating running. He was still freezing, and the open door had allowed any residual heat the car might have contained to quickly escape. The door had shielded them from the worst of the rain but they were already so wet it was seeping into the upholstery from their hair and clothing.
Heating sorted he fumbled in the glove box for some pain killers, and the foot well for the bottle of water he knew was always lurking there, Sam watching him absently from his perch above as Dean did so. Dean took some pills first, and a long drink, before handing both bottles over to Sam. He was bone weary and so tired that his head was throbbing. He considered briefly going out to fetch some blankets from the trunk but quickly dismissed the idea – the back of the car was too far away and the weather still torrential. And he had a feeling their extra covers would be more useful dry back at the motel than getting wet and useless during the 20 minutes it would take to get there.
It was an effort to get moving. His goal for so long had been the car, and now he was here the fight was leaving him. But their retreat was only half done. They needed to get warm and dry before they crashed or they would both catch pneumonia – Dean knew from his heavy head and limbs that the coming cold was inevitable. And Sam's side still needed to be cleaned and re-stitched. The faeries might have been truthful when they said they'd given him something to ward off infection but that had been hours ago now, and they'd both been sliding in the mud since then.
And thinking of the tricky little forest dwellers got his blood rising enough to help him get moving. They'd been getting rid of the evil that had been encroaching on their forest, that had infected a tree close to their home, and yet the thanks they had got for their efforts had been mind games and threats.
"Sorry" Sam croaked, eyes focusing on Dean's white knuckled grip on the steering wheel.
"For what?" Sam hadn't burnt down a chunk of the forest, and while he hadn't been happy with Dean's course of action, he hadn't once held the consequences of it against him, even as his strength and life was flowing through his fingers. "Hey, I'd agreed to do things your way."
It hadn't exactly been his first choice, but Sam had convinced him to go with the softer approach, and Dean had been fully prepared to back him up on it. Dean had wanted to burn the malevolence right out of the tree, but he wasn't an idiot and he knew how dangerous starting a fire in the middle of a forest could be. If that was what they were going to do then they would have done it right and effort would have been made to contain the flames, clearing the surrounding area to make sure the blaze didn't spread. It wasn't that his actions had been more violent that had angered the faeries as much as his lack of preparation. But Sam had been threatened and he'd reacted on instinct; he hadn't even considered any other consequence outside of Sam being safe.
"Yeah, but I should have got out of the way quicker."
"It got you out of the way plenty quickly enough," Dean told him, and Sam just smiled grimly, the smile turning into a wince as he shifted slightly in his seat.
When Dean pulled away onto the road the air in the car was humid with their drying clothes, and the further away that forest clearing became the more Dean could feel his insides unclench. He didn't fully unwind until they'd reached the main road back into town.
Sam had given up attempting to stay awake and Dean smiled, gently shoving his brother sideways so he was leaning against the door and less likely to slide face first off the seat. It had been a long and trying few months, and he would take a moment of peace wherever he could find it. If Sam wasn't contracting demonic viruses he was almost getting blown up, and Dean couldn't handle his brother's fear over what their future might hold on top of his own. He didn't know how things would play out, but the one thing Dean was sure of was that he had meant every word he had said. If it was the last thing he did, he would save Sam. There was no alternative.
He thought back to what the faerie had told him - that his devotion would be his undoing - and how he'd tried to appease the tricksters by telling them he'd seen the error of his ways. It wasn't that he didn't mean his words, he was sorry; he had endangered their home, Sam, himself, and caused more destruction than he'd needed to. But he knew looking at Sam snoozing in the seat beside him that, faced with the same situation again, he would do exactly the same thing.
He'd prioritised, and he'd placed his brother's life above a tree, no matter how sacred, and above the land immediately surrounding it, even if it had been a part of the faerie's home. He would be more aware of his surroundings in future, have more respect for the power of nature and how his actions might affect others, but at the end of the day Sam was safe, the thing that had threatened him was dead, and he lived to fight another day.
Any other consequences paled in comparison. That was all he needed.