Title: Once Upon a Mattress
Beta: The awesome sandymg
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just having fun with 'em.
Takes place between "The Usual Suspects" and "Crossroads Blues"
October 2006, Season 2
Once Upon a Mattress
Diane, the lady cop, might have given them a break – technically they were innocent of the murders of Tony and Karen Giles - but proving it would certainly have brought a lot of other things they weren't exactly innocent of to light. This was why Dean wanted to put as much distance between them and Baltimore as he could right now. He headed out on I70 until he hit the middle of Ohio, then switched to the local roads.
"Just in case," Dean said when Sam grumbled about the crappy roads. "Ohio is a good state to get lost in, if you know what I mean."
"It's been over eight hours, Dean," Sam whined. "My butt is sore, I'm hungry, and I need to take a piss."
"How much money you got, Sam?"
Dean knew he was going to get 'why' before he got an amount, and sure enough, he did. His brother was so predictable.
"The cops nicked our wallets with our cards. So we're running on cash until we can get to the nearest drop box. Which is another ten hours away in Illinois."
Sam muttered an expletive, then said, "Fourteen dollars. And some change."
"I've got enough for a tank of gas in my duffle. You got enough for some food. Guess we're sleeping in the car tonight."
He was graced with an epic bitchface.
Burgers, fries, coffee, and pie ("Hey, if I might not get another meal for a day I want to make this one worthwhile") at Barbara's Kitchen, a couple Snickers, some Red Vines, and a fill-up later, and they were essentially broke.
Not the first time, not the last.
When Dean saw a little car-width turn-off breaking the wooded darkness, he pulled the Impala onto it and switched on his high-beams to be sure the packed-dirt path stayed drivable.
About four hundred yards in, the road just stopped in the middle of a clearing. "Huh. Weird."
The cessation of movement roused Sam from his semi-conscious state. Took him a minute to grasp the oddness of the surroundings and then naturally he objected.
"This is unnatural, Dean. Roads don't just stop for no reason."
Later, Dean would say he'd just used up the last of the adrenaline that had been fueling him for the last few days as an excuse. But at that moment he was just tired of Sam arguing over every decision. Deciding to stay by the Impala's steering wheel was his concession to caution.
"Hey, you don't like it, find your own place to sleep. I'm sackin' out here, in the front seat, Sasquatch. So move it." He shifted sideways and kicked Sam's thigh lightly. And ignored Sam's bad attitude as Sam moved to the back seat.
Dean'd slept in the car so many times his body automatically shifted into the most comfortable contortions and he was asleep in minutes.
He wanted to roll onto his side but a heavy band across his chest pinned him down. His left shoulder was weighted down as well. The weight was warm and slightly familiar. For a moment he relaxed his muscles and went with it.
Then wrongness registered. Dean slit his eyes against the bright daylight and peered down at the top of his brother's head. Sam's arm had Dean pinned in place.
"Hey, Sam, gerroffame!" Dean started to push Sam off, and then froze as his mind processed that they were in the open, surrounded by trees and scrub, and sleeping on a mattress?
Where the hell was the car?
They were so pretty.
And vulnerable, even in the metal beast.
She could protect them.
But the metal beast could not stay within.
She pondered the best thing to do. Hadnilga would not approve. Hadnilga would say to leave the strangers, and if The Hunt finds them, it is no loss to the kin.
Once they had been helpers, guardians.
Now they were apart. The only way to be safe, Hadnilga said.
Her steps were soundless in the carpet of fallen leaves as she circled closer to the cold machine. Their bodies were twisted inside. Even as she watched, the one in the front moved to roll on his side but his arm banged the large circle he was wedged behind and he grunted, squirmed, flailed for a moment, and then settled back, still looking uncomfortably cramped.
Standing near enough that she could reach out and touch the metal – but of course she would not – she simply drank in the angles and curves of their faces. The front one's lashes fluttered a butterfly's beat as his breathing continued smooth and steady. They shadowed his face and softened the defined planes. She followed the curve of his nose down to full, soft lips. Her eyes traveled to the other one, scrunched like a root with too little space to grow. Hair covered his face, falling like a waterfall above his closed eyes. Cheeks like the side of a mountain, jutting in sharp angles cut only by the soft swoop of his nose. So different, yet equally mesmerizing.
She wondered if she could still work a transformation. It had been a very long time since she had the occasion to do one. And on metal … though she thought there was just enough natural material to do it … There was much salt inside, that would help. But into what?
The man in the rear stirred, moved to straighten his bent legs, instead thudded his feet against the side.
"Dammit, Dean …" he muttered, half-sitting, then flopping over again.
She had gone immobile at his movement, and by the time he was still once more, she knew what she would do. A dim memory blended with a thought from one of the men
Three times she circled the metal cage, moving her dark arms in the summoning gestures. At the completion of the third loop she said a word. Green light filled the clearing, filtered through her and enveloped the thing that did not belong, and transformed it into something soft. It did look something like she remembered, and the two young men's bodies were now unbound and could relax to fill the surface.
As she waited for her strength to replenish, for there was still more to be done to ensure their safety, she watched as the longer one stretched and then rolled to bump against the other. Minutes later his arm secured the long-lashed one to him.
At the peacefulness that came over both sleeping faces, Pieryn knew she had done the right thing.
Especially when the unnatural wail cut through the quiet night.
Dean didn't often panic. But this was too bizarre to process. Had to be dreaming.
"D' … wha …"
Sam's bewilderment mirrored his own as Dean shoved his brother off him and sat up. Sam followed him upright.
"Dean, where's the car?"
"I don't know!"
"Where did this … mattress … come from?"
"Do I look like I freakin' know?"
Dean saw the exact moment Sam snapped to the present when his lips curled into his 'aggrieved little brother' look.
"I told you this was a bad place to stop."
"You were just bitchin' to be bitchy!" Dean directed a light smack to the back of his brother's head as Sam turned to look at their surroundings.
"So where's the car?" Like Sam would know.
"How the hell would I know, Dean? You're the one with the physic connection to it!"
They both stood, moved in opposite directions to the clearing's edge, and yelled at the same time as they each hit an invisible wall.
It didn't exactly hurt, was more like Dean had walked into a padded wall and gotten a prickle of an electric charge. But there was nothing there. He'd instinctively rebounded from it, so he slowly extended his hand to feel the soft inflexibility and sting against his palm.
"It's like a force field."
Without further discussion they both moved to the right, feeling along the impossibly concrete invisible barrier for any opening. Nothing. Except a lingering tingle in both hands from being dragged against something that couldn't be there. Only it was.
Wordlessly, Dean turned back to examine the mattress. Just an ordinary, cheap hotel-quality one. Sam joined him a minute later and they patted it down, then upended it to see if there were any clues on the underside or on the ground beneath it.
Nothing save the Impala's tire tracks leading in and stopping right under where the mattress had been laying.
"All the weapons are gone."
"Still have my boot knife." As he said it, Dean slid it out and stalked back to the boundary. "Let's see what … Ouch!"
Unlike the mild sting he'd gotten before, as soon as the knife blade connected with the invisible shield a white-hot sizzle shot up Dean's arm and he dropped the knife reflexively.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean rubbed his sleeve, then picked up the fallen blade.
"Mmmm, guess that wasn't a good idea," Sam smirked.
"Well, genius, let's see you try to get us out," Dean snarled.
"Okay, what's the last thing you remember?" Sam shook his bangs out of his eyes and sat back down on the mattress. For lack of anything better to do, Dean sat as well.
"Falling asleep in the front seat."
"Okay, before that. The road, was there anything odd about it? When did you see it?"
"Just looked like an unused turn-off. Figured I could follow it to a place I could pull over. Then it ended here."
"So we went to sleep in the car and woke up on a mattress and … nothing else?"
Dean just shook his head.
"Magic spell? You piss off any witches lately, Dean?"
"No!" Dammit, Sam was treating this like it was funny. Dean glared at him.
Sam seemed to get the message and started processing seriously. "Can't see how this would have anything to do with Baltimore, do you?"
Dean shook his head. "Nah, that ghost gave it up when the bad cop went down. And the other stuff was the cop to begin with."
"Okay, then, what supernatural crap is associated with forests … and circles?"
Dean stood and walked around their prison, kicking leaves aside with his boots and studying the ground.
"Don't see any mushrooms," he finally said. "So not a fairy circle."
Sam didn't respond, so Dean went back to the barricade and started to explore it more thoroughly. It extended as high as he could reach and was flush against the ground. When Sam noticed what Dean was doing, he came over to join the painstaking job of feeling for any break or seam.
They'd gone a third of the way around when Sam got Dean's attention.
Dean looked where Sam was pointing. "There. On that tree. Do you see it?"
After a minute of searching, Dean saw what had caught Sam's attention: about four feet outside the circle, scratched into the bark at waist level, was a symbol. A circle with a triangle overlapping it, and a 'V' above it. Without a word they each started scanning for more of the marks.
Their voices overlapped.
Turned out there were three trees with the design carved in the bark. The trees' position to the triangle of the symbol seemed pretty obvious. Both of them were silent, thinking. Suddenly Dean smacked his jacket and then reached for the inside pocket.
"I still have Dad's journal! Maybe he's got something on it."
Dean tumbled back onto the mattress and started flipping pages.
After a minute, Sam sat down as well.
"Dean?" Sam finally broke the silence.
"You don't happen to have a water bottle, or a candy bar, or a … cheeseburger stashed in your coat pocket, do you?"
Crap. "No. You?"
Stillness was her natural state, so Pieryn just watched as the men woke and reacted with puzzlement. Her sisters would be looking for her even though Pieryn had sent them the sense of her well-being so that they would not have feared for her during last night's Hunt.
Deep down she knew that she should have released them at sun-up, but it had been so long since she had seen the big people, she just wanted to enjoy them. They moved with such fluid grace. The names they called each other were odd, but as she watched the synchronicity of their movements, she perceived an underlying unity between them. As they felt along the schutzwand though, Pieryn began to realize she had made a mistake. She could not undo the ward without them seeing her. And they needed to be gone before nightfall.
The pretty one jumped up suddenly from sitting on the bed she had made them. She did not see what he had in his hand as he pushed against the wall but she felt a searing pain in her chest. He made a noise as well but she was reeling from the unexpected attack. She leaned into the tree bark and waited for the burning to subside.
The others will have felt her pain and they will come looking for her concerned. She would have to meet them first, before they found what she had done. With one more look Pieryn slipped away through the woods.
A complete search of his jacket pockets had yielded three lighters, two paperclips, his holy water flask, nail clippers, a dollar and eighty-seven cents in change, a ballpoint pen and a Sharpie, a nail, a fistful of store and gas station receipts, a stick of gum, and several empty gum wrappers.
Sam had a pocket flashlight, forty-two cents, three pens, a small notebook, four paperclips, two safety pins, a plastic spoon, another lighter, five napkins, and two packets of salt.
Dean looked at the random pile in the middle of the bed.
"Well, good thing you're not a demon, Sam. Have some holy water." He passed over the flask.
Sam gave him the 'you are the most annoying creature on the planet' look and said, "Only if you will, too."
"Okay, fine." Dean grabbed it back, put it to his lips, and faked-chugged a mouthful. "Your turn."
Still glaring, Sam took a small sip.
"We could make a fire. Maybe the force field would burn."
"That is a phenomenally bad idea, Dean. We could end up roasting ourselves if it acts like a furnace."
"Where's your sense of adventure, dude?"
"With the car."
Dean picked up the plastic spoon and studied it a moment. Ridiculous idea, but he had nothing better to do so he walked back to the boundary, expediently finding it by bouncing off it. He knelt next to the invisible prison wall and started digging … well, scraping at the dirt. Sam peered over Dean's shoulder.
On the fifth scoop the spoon snapped and Dean swore.
"Pretty sure they use metal spoons to tunnel out of prison in the movies, Dean."
Dean didn't bitchface. He death-glared.
"Okay, okay, just saying …" Sam actually took a step back. " 'S not a bad idea, actually. Maybe we can find some branches to dig with."
The only result of an hour of trying to dig under the shield with puny branches that kept breaking was that Dean was frustrated, thirsty, and really, really hungry. Also hot and sweaty.
"This isn't getting anywhere." He threw the freshly broken stick across the clearing. It bounced off the air and fell to the ground.
There hadn't been anything in Dad's journal resembling the symbol, or invisible walls. And none of the references to 'circles in woods' seemed pertinent.
He stomped back to the mattress where the piles from their jackets were still heaped. He scooped everything except the receipts and gum wrappers back in his pockets, pushed Sam's junk to the side and sprawled out, ignoring the black streaks his boots left on the white cotton. He took the tiniest sip from the flask, then thrust it at Sam.
He returned the flask to his pocket after Sam gave it back, then squirmed, trying to get comfortable.
Sam looked incredulous. "You're just going to lay there and take a nap?"
"You won't let me try to burn our way out. Digging didn't work. Figure whatever caged us is gonna come visiting, but I'd say it's a good bet not until dark. So I might as well sleep, since you're gonna stay all hyper and pissy anyway. Something shows up early, just wake me. Man, I wish I had a pillow though."
He'd give Sam a ten for that bitchface.
Through almost-closed eyes he watched Sam meticulously put his crap back in his pockets. There was no shade and Dean imagined the roasting sensation was about how a turkey felt being cooked. Minus being stuffed, fortunately. Dammed if he was going to take his coat off, though. Didn't want that up and vanishing, too. Or maybe morphing into a chicken suit or something. Dean relaxed, let his thoughts free-form.
"I figured out what it is, Sammy."
Clearly out of stubbornness, Sam was sitting stiffly on the opposite side of the mattress.
"It's gotta be aliens, man, the gray ones with the big bug eyes … they're coming tonight and gonna beam us up into their spaceship and do tests on us. With their probes and everything."
Dean saw the handful of leaves coming with just enough time to turn his face away.
She thought she managed to keep the clan from becoming suspicious by claiming that she'd stepped on a piece of discarded metal on the forest floor, although she had to agree to show Afreid where it was later so no one else would be hurt.
As she passed the blanket with the afternoon meal laid out, she realized with a wave of guilt that the big people had nothing to eat or drink inside the ward. That was unconscionable! Her intent had been to protect them, not cause them harm.
Pieryn tucked her loaf of bread into her apron pocket, filled a jug with water, and slipped away from the gathering.
She took a roundabout way back to the circle, not wanting any of her kin to follow. She knew now that her attempt at doing a good deed had been a poor decision. What she didn't know was how to undo the mistake without further compounding the damage. But she would start by making sure the men had sustenance.
She stayed behind the trees, assessing. Pretty one was sleeping on the bed she had made for them. Tall one was sitting opposite, hands clenched, staring into the woods. She threaded through the trees, around the wall until the sitting one's back was to her.
Now was the moment she risked discovery, as she stepped to the schutzwand and walked through it. Just two paces, enough so she could set the water jug and the bread down and then back out.
She had backed up one step when the sleeping one flung himself at her even as he yelled "Sam!" She scrambled and his hand hit the wall instead of seizing her, and she frantically darted to safety.
"Did you see it?"
Sam shook his head. "Just a glimpse. All I could tell you, it was brown and not very big."
"Looked like … like branches. That walked. With … eyes."
"Look." Sam pointed at a clay jug and a square, crusty lump. He picked up the loaf and turned it in his hands, brought it to his nose for a sniff, then broke a piece off. "This might be bread. Do you think it's feeding us?"
"So we're the newest exhibit in the zoo? Screw that!"
"If it is food, we might as well eat it." Sam started to put a piece in his mouth, but Dean snatched it from his fingers.
"Don't put that in your mouth! It might be poisoned!"
"If it wants us as an exhibit, it wouldn't make sense to give us poisoned food, Dean."
"But we don't know what it wants."
Sam bent over to pick up the jug and spilled a little of the contents out onto his hand.
"I'm pretty sure this is just water. And the little holy water left isn't going to be enough for both of us."
"Fine. I'll try it first."
Dean popped the chunk he had swiped from Sam into his mouth before Sam could react. Still chewing, he said, "I think it is bread. Almost tasty."
He swallowed. "So am I turning purple or sprouting feathers?"
"You're an idiot."
"Gimme the jug. Wash this down."
He wiped his hand on the back of his mouth. "How long d'ya think we need to wait?"
"I don't know!" Exasperation. "Five minutes."
Dean endured Sam's annoyed stare for a few minutes, then, "Hell, if nothing's happened by now, let's just eat."
He plopped back on the mattress and sliced the lump in half with his knife, then started taking bites out of his share.
Sam sat beside him and pulled off mouth-sized pieces, eating them one at a time.
Suddenly Dean grinned. "Hey, Sammy, we're having a picnic. All we're missing are the freakin' ants." Dean smirked waiting for Sam's expression.
Barely a four. Dean was losing his touch.
Pieryn stopped before she was halfway back to her sisters. She dared not tell any of them what she had done. She had to release the strangers before dark, but there was no way to do that without revealing herself to them. And they scared her.
She melted into the closest tree when she heard voices.
"… wrong. She stayed away all night when The Hunt was about. We need to find her."
Afreid was walking with Hadnilga in the direction of the schutzwand and Pieryn had no more time for making a clever plan. She wasn't sure what they would do if they found the big people, but Pieryn didn't think Hadnilga would be very concerned with the strangers' well-being.
And only Pieryn knew of the transformation of the metal beast. Which meant that only she could reverse it.
So stupid, she was, just because the pretty men caught her fancy, made her remember long ago when the clan wasn't always in hiding.
She had to correct her mistake before any more harm was done.
She hoped the strangers would give her time to do that.
They both decided to save some of the loaf for later, just in case, Dean said, "The zoo doesn't have a regular feeding schedule." Sam pulled out a couple of napkins to wrap the bread in, to be stashed in their pockets.
Again being cautious, they only drank a little of the water, once more perched on the only available surface, the mattress.
"Dean!" Sam hissed. "Look slowly."
A careful turn of his head and Dean saw it, too.
A four-foot tall bundle of branches – that was walking. On stick legs. Toward them.
"Seriously, what the hell?" Dean muttered. He started to move, but Sam put a hand on his shoulder to keep Dean down.
"Let's wait a minute, see what it does," Sam whispered. "I … I don't think … it might be harmless."
"Not if it put us in this cage and did something to my car!"
The creature stepped through the barrier without pausing, then stopped just inside and put its arms out in a wide gesture.
With a shock Dean suddenly saw the face of the thing, beady black eyes and a round mouth incongruously stuck on a face-sized piece of tree bark.
With a hand consisting of honest-to-god twigs, it touched its chest and clacked out "Parre-en."
Dean eased his hand into his left-hand pocket and curled his fingers around one of the lighters. Sticks would burn. But he didn't know if that would release the barrier, so he waited.
Another touch to its chest. "Parre-en f-frie-n-d-d."
"You gave us the water and the bread?" Sam said softly.
"Yes-s-s. No-o-o ha-rrm-m."
"Well, then, why'd you put us in a cage?" Dean cut in harshly.
"S-s-saf-f-e." It put out one of those creepy stick hands. "T-t-ou-c-h y-y-ou?
Both brothers looked suspicious.
Sam suddenly nodded. "I think I know what it might be, Dean. And it's okay, it's not dangerous."
"I think it's a wood-wife."
"A forest creature … similar to a dryad. Connected to trees. I think they're supposed to be harmless."
"I'm pretty sure … I'm gonna see what it wants." Sam took a step toward the creature, his hands out to the sides, palms up, doing his best not to loom over it.
"Look at it, Dean. It's not gonna hurt me."
Dean looked from his brother to the moving collection of sticks. It had a central trunk, maybe six inches diameter, with twigs jutting from it randomly. A brown cloth was tied around its middle. The tree-bark face was propped on top without so much as a neck.
The limbs resembled nothing so much as bundles of kindling he would have used to start a fire. Except the sticks bent awkwardly where elbows and knees would be, and the arms ended in incongruously graceful stick fingers. One of which was now reaching for Sammy's face as he knelt in the leaves in front of it.
"Sam!" Dean didn't like this at all, but of course Sam was gonna do what he wanted anyway. As one of the fingers touched Sam's forehead, Dean grasped Sam's shoulder.
There was a tiny flash of green light as the thing touched Sam, and Sam's face went from surprised to still until the creature's hand dropped.
Sam shook his head as if to clear it, blinking furiously.
Dean huffed a little noise of relief when Sam finally spoke.
"It's okay, Dean. Her name is Pieryn, and she is a wood-wife. She didn't mean to scare us. She found us sleeping in the car last night and put up a ward – a schutzwand, I think is the word she used – to protect us."
"So fine, why doesn't she take it down? And what did she do to the Impala?"
"It's complicated. When she touched me I got pictures in my head, images, not sentences. But she definitely doesn't mean us harm."
"And what about them?" he asked, as a swarm of the little stick people approached.
Pieryn turned to face the advancing pack and stepped back through the barrier.
There were certain tells that must be universal, because Dean knew from the sudden stiffness how does a piece of wood get stiffer? that their wood-wife was afraid of the others.
"What have you done?" Hadnilga shrieked. "You have betrayed us all!"
"No!" Pieryn tried to break through Hadnilga's rant but it was as useless as fighting the wind.
"I just protected them, as was once our duty to keep safe the poor wanderer! You must remember, Hadnilga!"
"Traitor! Sisters, seize her! And take down the schutzwand!"
Pieryn hoped that she really heard a few cries of dissension among her kin, but there were not enough who would stand against their mother for her, and she fell to the force of the mob as they struck her down and snapped her limbs. It was her own fault.
She felt the drain as her sisters obliterated the warding marks, saw the brief reflection of green on the others' faces as the shield collapsed. What would happen to the men? was her last thought as her eyes closed.
It happened fast. A rush of raspy voices and then Pieryn went down under an onslaught of the tree-creatures while more of the things scuttled to the three trees with the symbols, and then there was an incandescent flash of green light that made Dean squeeze his eyes closed for a minute.
Immediately upon taking his hand away from his face, Dean checked for Sam, who was, like Dean, protecting his eyes from the brilliant flare.
They stepped to where the force field had been, but there was no longer anything knitting the air into solidity. The forest was still, no sight of the tree-creatures.
With a soft gasp, Sam pointed at a disturbed collection of branches in front of them. A torn brown cloth was mixed with the pieces that had been Pieryn.
Both of them jumped at the wispy noise coming from the jumble, and they knelt simultaneously beside the little pile. Sam slid a hand under Pieryn's head while Dean unwillingly studied the broken limbs. The phrase 'greenstick fracture' suddenly had a new meaning as he looked at the wrongness of broken white ends protruding from the brown sticks that had been the wood-wife's legs.
Crazily enough, his first thought was to make splints for them.
"Sam," he started, and then saw that his brother was holding Pieryn's hand in place against his forehead, going for another Vulcan mind meld.
Screw it, Dean thought. Sam might be right that she hadn't meant to harm them, and anyway the other tree people had attacked her …
He got up and looked around for some branches that were straight enough to make good splints. You're putting wood braces on a wooden stick … thing … person, Winchester.
He shook his head and grabbed the water jug before he returned to Pieryn and Sam.
"Here," Dean handed the jug over as Sam gently put the wood-wife's hand back on her chest. "Do you think I should … splint these?" He motioned at the broken legs.
Sam touched his own fingers to the gnarly brown face and then nodded.
Dean figured he could use some of the creepers twining around the closest trees to secure the splints in place. He cut the vines to even lengths and began to push the broken pieces of the wood-wife's legs back into alignment.
"So, does she know where the Impala is?" Dean asked as he worked, wanting to distract himself from feeling like he was pushing actual bones together. He couldn't tell if he was hurting her.
And he wanted to stop wondering why he was helping a supernatural creature that had put him and Sam in a freakin' cage.
"Uh, yeah, actually." Sam was still doing the fingers-to-the-face thing with her.
"So? Where is it?"
"Well," a hesitation. "She turned the car into the mattress," Sam said in a rush, as if he said it
fast Dean wouldn't react.
"What?" Dean stopped in the middle of tying a knot and just looked at Sam, then stood and walked up to the bed and stared at it, then back at Sam.
"This," his voice came out slightly strangled, "This is the Impala?"
Dean stalked back to the wood-wife and glowered down at her.
"Tell her to turn it back!"
"She, um, can't. Yet!" Sam added hastily. "She's really sorry. She didn't mean for this to happen."
Dean continued to fiercely glare at the thing that had defiled his car.
"Maybe … you should talk to her?" Sam asked carefully. "Just let her touch …"
"No!" exploded out of Dean, and he turned away and stomped past the first line of trees. Sam could finish fixing the thing, and then Dean was going to send it up in flames.
She winced as the pretty one – Dean, brother to this Sam – stormed away. The Hunt hadn't come to this clearing last night, so if she had just left them alone, none of this would have happened.
But maybe The Hunt stayed away because the schutzwand was already up? She just didn't know.
Pieryn had been surprised at how much it hurt when Dean's green eyes turned hard and angry at her. More even than the stinging burn of her broken limbs. Sam had finished securing them with the braces after Dean walked away.
Sam's fingertips rested on her face again. "I'm sorry, Pieryn. But we need you to fix things back. Right away."
All so wrong. But yes, she did need to fix this soon. While she was still able.
She formed deliberate thoughts of what needed to be done, and when, and why.
Dean didn't respond, knowing Sam was going to come up to him anyway.
"Look, Pieryn's really sorry things went wrong. But she explained why she did it and she really was trying to protect us, Dean. There's stuff …"
"We don't need a goddamn piece of wood protecting us, Sam! We're hunters, what the hell does it think we need protecting from?"
"The Wild Hunt."
"European mythology. Same source as the wood-wives, actually … Spirits of the dead race through on their horses with their hounds, following the god of the hunt. It happens here every fall for three nights around the full moon. Last night was the second night. And anyone or anything that gets in their way is hunted down for sport. And killed.
"That doesn't explain what that creature did to the Impala. Or the force field."
"Well, yeah, it does. Pieryn says this clearing is one of the spots The Hunt passes through. When she saw us asleep in the car she figured we'd be toast if The Hunt came here last night, so she put up a ward, the force field, to protect us. That's what her people do for safety on the nights of The Hunt."
"So what happened to our car?"
"Well, the thing is, wood-wives and metal are incompatible. She couldn't put up the protection around it, so she … transformed it into something the barrier could contain. And, uh, she turned it into a bed because she … she wanted us to be comfortable."
"Butting in where she's not wanted. Might as well be a real wife. This is crap, Sam. Just …" Dean kicked the mattress hard enough to shift it a few inches. Then realized he had just kicked the Impala and wanted to take it back. Still wanted to punch something, though.
"It's okay, Pieryn is going to try and fix it."
"It better – now!"
"She explained to me that we need to wait until moonrise for her to have enough power. And it's going to be tricky because The Hunt starts up then. She thinks she can do it, though, if we help her."
"Well, mostly, it's that she has to walk around and with her legs broken … I said I could carry her, she said that should work."
Dean wiped his hand over his chin. This was so monumentally screwed up. But there was nothing to do but wait, then.
"She better be able to bring 'm car back," he muttered and stalked off to take his frustration out on some innocent foliage. If he was lucky, maybe he'd accidentally step on another damn wood fairy.
Dean was back at the clearing as dusk was closing in, frowning when he saw the bundle of sticks lying on the mattress, Sam sitting next to it. Dean walked up to them and stopped.
Sam picked up that Dean was not pleased to see the wood-wife there. He stood and spoke quietly.
"She's in pretty bad shape. There's a good chance that doing the spell reversal will kill her."
"Well, she better get the car back."
"Dean." There was reproach in Sam's voice.
"She made this mess, she undoes it."
"Pieryn was trying to help, Dean."
"Yeah, well, one, we didn't need her help and two, hasn't turned out very well now, has it? So let's get this divorce on the road."
A creaky warble from the bed interrupted them and Sam sat back down. Dean kicked futilely at the leaves. He hated being defenseless in the dark. Worst case scenario? Tree thing didn't bring the car back. That would leave them with his knife and a smidgeon of holy water against a horde of angry ghosts on horseback.
Not great odds.
He killed some time collecting larger branches and making a pile beside the mattress. Not that they would be much use, but Dean needed to have something he could swing in place of the iron and rock salt he'd normally have.
An undulating howl in the distance made the hair on the nape of his neck rise.
Sam was carefully lifting the wood-wife from the bed. "Pieryn's ready, Dean."
"So what do I do?"
Another wail, closer.
"Nothing. Pieryn has to do it."
"What if it doesn't work?"
"I don't know. I guess we're in trouble."
Crap. "Well, do it, then."
The illumination of the moon made the clearing starkly black shadows and brightly lit flashes of movement as Sam began circling the mattress. Dean could see the creature's arms, gesturing, bits of sticks poking out at wrong angles.
Sam completed the first lap.
A sudden burst of furious barking and the hoarse yelling of multiple voices made Dean whirl to face the trees. Too close.
He glanced back at Sam. Second round almost finished.
Dean pulled his knife and grabbed one of his branches in the other hand.
A scream that wasn't human but was still one of terror, and a chorus of feverish yammering. Dean tightened his grip on the branch.
Dean knew yelling 'hurry' wouldn't help, Sam could hear the threat as well as he did. He couldn't help but mutter 'move it' under his breath, though.
There was a flash of radiant green behind him. Dean turned even as Sam hollered his name. Discarding the branch, he leaped to thank god, Baby, I love you the car with the trunk key ready.
"Get in!" he yelled at Sam.
"Pieryn!" Sam yelled back.
Dean had two sawed-offs and rounds out in seconds and slammed the trunk shut.
Driver door open, yet Sam was still just standing with the thing in his arms.
The frenetic thunder of a lot of horses was too close.
"Get in the car!" Dean screamed.
"It's too much metal for Pieryn!"
He wanted to say just drop her, he really did …
He threw the shotguns in the front seat and pulled off his leather jacket.
"Wrap her in this and get in!"
In a fluid series of motions, Dean thrust the coat at Sam, grabbed one of the guns from the seat, opened the rear door for his brother and then turned to fire at the first of the huntsmen crashing into the clearing.
The rider exploded into mist but the thing that wasn't a horse kept coming and Dean flung himself into the car just as the horse thing landed on the Impala's roof and kept going.
And then the hunting pack filled the clearing, too many to count, man shapes with wrecked faces and streaming hair, brandishing long swords and axes and chains, riding monstrous animals with fangs and red eyes. The car was surrounded, weapons bashing the hood, hooves beating against the sides.
The window by Dean's head shattered and he jerked away from the shattering glass. A black arm reached in and Dean fired.
The arm was replaced by the slavering mouth of a hound, teeth reaching for Dean's arm. He fired again and it vanished.
One of the rear windows splintered under a blow that shook the whole vehicle.
Dean tossed the second shotgun into the back seat while firing at the ghost coming through the broken glass.
The swarming seemed to go on for hours but in reality probably only lasted minutes, and then the raucous hollering moved away and the riders passed into the other side of the trees.
Dean remained ready until the last of the noise vanished. Then he patted the dashboard and murmured, "You did good."
They both stayed awake till dawn. Then Dean stepped out to see the damage. He winced at the dents that pockmarked the car all over, then started to brush the broken glass out from the seats.
When he finished with the front, he opened the back door to see Sam still holding the wood-wife wrapped in Dean's jacket.
"How is …?"
Sam looked at Dean with a sober expression, then started to hand the bundle in his arms to Dean.
"Hold her while I get the glass off me."
Dean took the jacket gingerly. The wood-wife was unexpectedly light. And limp. No beady black eyes looked at him.
Out of the car, Sam placed his fingertips on the creature's face, then shook his head.
"I think she's gone."
Damn. "So what do we do with her?"
"I dunno, Dean. Maybe we should bury her by a tree?"
"I'll take her."
" 'S okay, I got her. Go pick a tree, I'll follow you. But grab shovels first."
Sam led a few hundred yards into the forest, then stopped by a grand old pine.
"How about here?"
"Okay." Dean laid his jacket on the dirt, unfolded it to see the flakes of bark that had fallen off the wood-wife stuck to the inside of the lining. The ends of the sticks that had been broken yesterday were caked with dried brown sap. Dean didn't know if there was a heartbeat to feel, but he laid his hand on her trunk anyway.
"Let's do this." He took the shovel Sam held out to him and started to dig.
Wouldn't need to be a big hole.
"Dean!" Sam hissed.
A half-dozen of the wood things were watching them.
"Rock salt?" he asked Sam softly.
"Wait, I don't think so … they don't seem like they're going to attack …"
One of the tree people pointed, took a hesitant step.
Sam backed away, pulling Dean with him. For each step they moved away, the creatures moved closer to the dead wood-wife, until they were kneeling around her in a circle.
They rasped at each other, then one pulled a jug from an apron pocket and began to pour its contents over the corpse.
"Hey! My jacket!" Dean yelped, but Sam shushed him and held him back.
The creatures touched hands and murmured in unison, a sound that evoked the feeling of the wind whispering through leaves.
Green-tinged light flared around them and suddenly Pieryn sat up. There was a gabble from the surrounding wood-wives, then they bent to remove the branches Dean had fastened as splints.
Finally, Pieryn stood up, and hugs were exchanged with her resurrectors.
"I need my coat back," Dean muttered and started to edge toward the assembly. At once the other wood-wives scuttled away behind the trees.
When Dean reached Pieryn, she held out her arm and he understood she wanted to 'talk' with him. He shook his head.
Sam immediately knelt before the wood-wife and let her graze his forehead with those unnatural fingers.
Sam put his hand on her head as well, then simultaneously they broke touch. Moments later Pieryn slid into the forest shadows.
Dean started to shake the crumbs of bark out of his coat.
"Wait, Dean, Pieryn wanted us to take those!"
Sam scrambled to collect the few shards that were left.
"What the hell for?"
"I'm not sure, just she said to …"
"And we always do what the monsters tell us to do? Let's go." Dean spun around and started back to the car.
It took a few minutes of maneuvering to get the Impala turned to be pointing out of the clearing, and Dean took the dirt road slowly.
"Those wood-wives who came for Pieryn, they're breaking away from their kin to start their own clan," Sam offered. "It used to be their job to help wanderers. That's what Pieryn was trying to do." He was playing with one of the bark pieces, flipping it through his fingers.
"Well, they can help somebody else next time. We don't need it."
The Impala reached the end of the tree-shrouded path, and Dean turned onto the two-lane highway. The wind was blowing in the broken windows and Dean was figuring where the nearest garage was to get new glass and the dents pounded out and how the hell they were going to pay for all this when Sam let out a startled yell.
Sam held out his palm, where the piece of bark was now a shiny gold coin.
"Well, I'll be a son of a …" Dean turned his head toward the dark woodland flanking the highway. "Alimony."
A/N: This story was written for the 2010 SPN Reverse Big Bang, where artists post and authors write a story based on the art. I was inspired by the picture done by alteredloc-the moment I saw it, I just knew that something had transformed the Impala. And then she created an image of Pieryn that was exactly as I had imagined her! It was great collaborating with her!
To see what she created, take a look here:
http colon /alteredloc dot livejournal dot com /19837 dot html