A/N1: Inspired by the Livejournal spnquotefic community prompt: "Casey: Don't be hopeful, Dean. You're not delivered. It's only the wind." for Episode 3x04 Sin City
A/N2: Thanks to raloria, seramercury , and justine andrews (my little sis) for helping me hammer out the major flaws. You ladies rock!
A/N3: The title is taken from an old folk song called "Down in the Valley".
In autumn, in a tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it town in Western Kentucky, an alarming number of people started disappearing from public places. They would reappear in a different public area several days later, often looking like they'd been in a sandstorm with all their exposed skin covered in tiny abrasions. The few who'd been returned alive were severely dehydrated and malnourished, and none survived long enough to regain consciousness. All this happened without any of the witnesses actually seeing anything. Police suspected a serial killer. Sam and Dean knew better.
Research got them nowhere. None of their regular suspects fit the picture. There seemed to be no connection to the victims; they were all of different sexes, ages, weights, hair colors, occupations, hobbies, and anything else the brothers could think to check into. The locations also seemed to be totally random, ranging from stores, restaurants, and parking lots to schools, libraries, and parks. One woman was even taken while driving her three kids to school. Her vehicle coasted through a stop sign and into the side of a fully-loaded school bus. Fortunately, none of the children involved were injured. Unfortunately, none of the witnesses could provide any helpful information.
The latest vic had turned up the day before. A 17-year-old basketball player had been taken while showering in the locker room after the first game of the season, laughing with his teammates over their crushing victory. The boy had returned less than two days later, almost 24 hours earlier than most of the other victims. He had been barely alive when he appeared, naked and hypothermic in the middle of a group of pre-teens waiting in line to tour the town's scariest Halloween haunted house. He didn't even last long enough to survive the trip to the hospital.
Sam and Dean knew from the established pattern that another person would be taken at any time. The clock was ticking. They had to figure out what was taking the people in this small town and gank it... quickly. But no matter how much they stepped up their research, they couldn't find any clues. Even Bobby was at a loss.
Late one evening, after another frustrating day of interviews and dead ends, Sam and Dean stopped at the local diner for a bite. They were waiting to be seated, Sam still impeccably dressed in his suit and tie. Dean had already loosened his tie and slung his suit jacket over one shoulder. The brothers were arguing about their next step when the diner's door blew open, the brisk wind ruffling napkins and paper placemats as it rushed into the room. Sam breathed deeply, taking in the intoxicating scent of lilacs, and then... nothing. Several heartbeats later, he blinked in bemusement, feeling like he was waking from a trance. Dean was gone, his abandoned suit jacket the only proof that he'd even been there.
Dean's head pounded like he was coming down from a three day bender. Restricted to a fetal position by the limited space, he found himself crammed into a tiny hollowed area in the side of a rock wall. Barely large enough to contain him, "cave" was a generous description of the rocky indention he was stuffed into.
Dean moved to leave the small cavity, easing out and resting on his haunches while surveying his surroundings, when a strong wind whipped up, pelting him brutally with dirt, small rocks, and other debris. Startled, he scrambled back inside and the wind immediately died down.
"Huh." He glanced around the wooded area outside his tiny rock hole, his hunter's senses alert, before easing back out again. As soon as his head was exposed, the gust blasted into him, forcing him back into the hollow.
He reached up to wipe the grit from his face, his hand coming away smeared with blood from some of the deeper grazes. Struggling to maneuver in the confined space and scraping the skin of his hands and arms, Dean managed to pull his phone from his pants pocket. Staring at the "No Service" indicator for a moment, he then swept his eyes across the terrain outside his new prison. A breeze played among the brush and leaves of the forest floor.
How the hell was he supposed to fight wind? "Okay, this could be a problem."
The scent was a clue, the scent and the wind. After interviewing the witnesses again, Sam found that the wind and the scents were present at every abduction and release. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Sam hunted every website he could find and harassed every contact he knew. He had to find Dean soon. He knew his brother only had a few days, four at the most, before... Sam refused to think about that. He pushed all thoughts of failure from his mind and concentrated on finding Dean.
A rumble of thunder jolted Dean from a fitful sleep. He'd been trapped here almost two days. At first, the temperature had been comfortably warm, but it dropped notably with the setting sun. Now a second sunset and foreboding storm clouds threatened an even colder night. He shivered, his light clothing inadequate protection against the cool autumn weather.
Over the last two days, he'd tried several more attempts to escape his confinement, but each time the wind had forced him to cower back inside his prison. He was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and every inch of his exposed skin felt like it had been sandblasted off. Groaning, Dean tried to stretch out the aches and cramps taking over his body, but the limited space kept his limbs curled tightly.
The breeze was his constant companion. Never far away, it alternated between frolicking outside his prison and prodding at Dean, nudging him to respond. As the sky erupted with a cold rain, the wind raced out to dance in the drops and the golden leaves scattered across the ground. Dean's parched lips and throat longed for a taste of the water falling mere inches from his face, blocked by the rock wall above him.
He gently slid his face forward, hoping to catch enough of the precious liquid to ease his thirst. As he breached the edge, the wind picked up, hammering into him with severe force. The leaves that had been frolicking playfully were suddenly whisking across his face, further scraping his exposed flesh and drawing a pained cry from his lips. He quickly squeezed himself as far back against the rock wall as he could, and the tumult calmed around him.
"Come on!" He cried, his dry throat causing his voice to crack. "You can't keep me here forever, you son of a bitch!"
The wind played teasingly across his body before returning to dance in the rain and fallen leaves. Dean slammed the back of his head against the wall in frustration. His whispered, "I am so screwed," seemed to draw a tinkling laugh from the cavorting wind.
"What've you got, Bobby?" Sam held the phone to his ear and shot from the car in one fluid movement. His long strides ate up the pavement, bringing him quickly to the hotel room door.
"It took a lot of digging, but I figured it out. It's a Luftteufel ."
"A what?" Sam wrestled the piece of crap lock open, slamming the door firmly shut behind him.
"A Luftteufel. It's German. Directly translated, it means 'air devil'"
"Devil? Like, demon-devil?" Sam pulled out his laptop and booted it up.
"Not exactly. These suckers are rare, Sam. Really rare. They're an air spirit, an elemental of sorts. Most of 'em are just playful... blow your papers around, ruffle your clothes, that sort of thing. But sometimes you find one that gets a bit more... exuberant."
"Great. So how do we stop it?" As he listened to Bobby, Sam's eyes scanned the few items that came up in his search of the creature. Bobby was right; there really wasn't much information on this thing.
"Well, first you gotta find where it's keeping Dean. It usually lives near lilac trees, keeping them blooming off-season. It won't leave its lair while it's got a victim, preferring to keep an eye on its new playmate... at least until it gets bored and decides to dump him. But by then, it'll be too late."
"Yeah, I'm way ahead of you. There's a cluster of lilac trees somewhere in the woods just south of town."
"Sounds like a big search area, son. You sure you've got the right spot?"
"No, but I've got a hunch. When the Luftteufel first took Dean, there was this smell, like lilacs. A local horticulturist told me this is the oldest concentration of wild lilacs in the state, and that they usually bloom even in autumn."
"Good work, Sam."
"Okay, Bobby, now how do I kill it?"
The sun rose sluggishly, hidden by a thick layer of rolling gray clouds. A cold, wet fog drifted over the ground. And still the breeze played. It dashed and darted through the fog, creating intricate swirls and sweeps. It would occasionally blow back to Dean, urging him to watch and admire. Dean tried to respond, he really did. He knew from prior experience that old breezy could get pretty cranky when it thought it was being ignored. He was just so very, very tired.
Suddenly, the breeze seemed to freeze. It stopped its frolicking and just... froze.
Then Dean smelled it. Smoke. In fact, it was starting to get kind of thick, even in his tiny alcove. Coughing violently, Dean was only vaguely aware of being hauled out of his hole and pounded on the back.
"Dean! Dean! Come on, man, breathe. That's it, nice and slow. Deep breaths. "
The coughing slowly abated and Dean looked up into the face of his brother. "Sssm?" That croaked grunt hardly even counted as a word. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Sam?"
Sam smiled down at him. "Yeah, Dean. I gotcha. It's okay."
Dean frowned at him after realizing that he was lying with his head in Sam's lap. "Dude, are you cradling my head?"
"Uh, yeah. "
"Huh." He meant to protest, maybe even tease his brother a little, but the words never formed. Instead, he was assaulted by what felt like every muscle in his legs cramping simultaneously. Crying out, he tried to curl himself protectively around his abused muscles.
"Hey, hey, no Dean! We have to get out of here. Now." His brother barely seemed aware of his urging. Sam hefted Dean up, pulling one arm over his shoulder. Dean's cramping muscles provided very little assistance, Sam's tight grip the only thing keeping him upright as they began to slowly make their way out of the woods.
After dragging Dean back to the hotel room and into bed, Sam spent the next couple of days keeping vigil over his brother. After sleeping for 36 hours straight, interrupted by the occasional intense cramping of his leg muscles, Dean woke up long enough to drink some Gatorade and eat a few bites of chicken soup before collapsing back into bed for another 12 hours.
The next day he managed to sit up against his headboard and eat a bowl of some hearty local vegetable-meat soup called burgoo. He had to admit, it was pretty tasty. As he ate, his brother filled him in on his part in the hunt.
"So, you're saying this air spirit thing…" Dean interrupted.
"Whatever. This thing just wanted to be my buddy?"
"That is seriously messed up. So how'd you gank it? I mean, you can't stab air with a knife."
"I didn't exactly kill it, Dean."
"Then what exactly did you do, Sam? Do we need to go back and finish the job?"
"Dean, no. It's not like that. I kinda... trapped it. Bobby gave me a list of herbs and stuff and all I had to do was spread them in a ring around the thing's lair and light it on fire."
"Huh. Hey, how'd you get a fire going after that rainstorm?"
"Well, I used a mixture of diesel and gasoline as a firestarter, and I took some dry kindling with me just in case. The fire should've just burned long enough to trap the creature before it went out, but just in case, I put in an anonymous call to the fire department."
"Impressive." Shaking his head in amazement, Dean turned his attention back to his bowl of soup.
"I'll have two triple-decker cheeseburgers with onions, extra fries, and a bottle of Pabst. Oh, and a big bowl of that burgoo stuff." He flashed the waitress one of his winning smiles. The chafed skin of his face was mostly healed, and Dean felt almost back to his normal spirited self.
"Sure thing, hon." She beamed in response before turning to Sam. "And for you?"
"I'll just have a turkey on whole wheat, please." Sam managed to look both amused and slightly pissed.
"You got it. Be right out with your food."
Sam waited until the waitress left their table before turning his attention to his brother. "Dean, man, it's been almost a week."
"Yeah, and...?" His eyes drifted to the dessert case as he mumbled to himself, "I wonder if they have any pie."
"And... do you really need that much food?"
"I didn't eat or drink for two-and-a-half days, Sam. Two and a half! I've got a lot of catching up to do."
"So how long are you gonna milk this, huh Dean?"
Dean grinned as the waitress returned with a very large bowl of soup. "As long as I can, Sammy. As long as I can." Sam couldn't help but smile in return.