He was too keyed up to sleep, so he decided to check out Marion’s shop, as she was unlikely to be there this early.
“Marion’s Treasures and Trinkets,” read the sign over the storefront, but Sam barely took time to glance into the front windows at the display cases full of yard gnomes, porcelain dolls, china and other antiques. It was everything he’d already seen in her trailer seven years ago, only more of it. Slipping around to a side door in the alley beside the building, Sam easily picked the lock and let himself into the back of the store. He briefly considered that Marion might have an alarm, but there was no sign of a keypad near the door, no telltale beeping. Most likely, Marion figured she didn’t have anything anyone would want to steal.
Sam had to agree with her there. The store was crammed full of the same kind of bric-o-brac that had adorned her trailer, each with a little hand-written price tag attached. The storeroom contained box after box of the same items, some with shipping labels. Marion appeared to be doing a brisk mail order business in addition to collecting more of the little statues from all over the country. Her work table was covered with cleaning and paint supplies, and Sam could imagine Marion spending hours touching up the little figurines before putting them out for sale.
There was no sign of the spell book, although Sam found a safe tucked into a corner of the back room. It looked familiar, and Sam was betting it was the one from Brennan’s watch store. However, when he managed to crack it, all it contained was extra cash and a few pieces of antique jewelry that might actually have value.
There were no saucers of cream on the floor, but Sam supposed Marion really didn’t need any little helpers for this kind of business. The miracle was that she made enough money to stay open at all. That, in itself, could be evidence of black magic at work, he decided.
He would need to search Marion’s house, which he should wait to do after she wasn’t there, later in the day. He could talk to her, but if she was the one who had summoned the faeries, he didn’t want her to know he was onto her yet. For the time being, all Sam could do was wait.
The sky was lightening as Sam let himself out the back door of the shop into the alley. The thought of going back to the motel to catch a few hours sleep was unbearable without Dean, although he knew it was what Dean would want him to do. Dean would want him to sleep, then eat. Keep his strength up and his mind sharp.
But if Sam went back to the motel right now he knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He would lie in the dark, suffering. And right now, every minute counted. Time moved differently in Faerie, and the longer Dean was there, the harder it would be to get him home again.
He drove out to the faerie circle for another thorough search, this time in daylight. The morning light left strange shadows in the grove, not the warm, welcoming glow of the previous afternoon. Sam shivered as he paced the ground, looking for signs of Dean’s disappearance. A damp breeze touched the back of his neck and it almost felt like someone’s breath.
He felt watched, mocked.
Shut up. The voice in his head was sharp. </i>You’re gonna make yourself crazy. Stick to the job.</i>
By the time he got back to town, it was still too early for Marion’s shop to open. Sam figured his next move was to search her house for the faerie spell book, preferably without her in it, so he still had a couple of hours to kill.
The diner was open for breakfast, so Sam made himself eat. He read up on instances of people returning from Faerie as he ignored the waitress’s obvious interest in him. The outlook was not good. All of Sam’s sources said the same thing: the longer a person spent in Faerie, the harder it was to leave. And even if the person returned to the real world, they usually spent the rest of their lives pining for Faerie, often not eating or sleeping, until they literally wasted away, often to death.
Sam’s anxiety level was rising with each minute that ticked by, but he forced himself to return to the motel, where he showered and changed clothes, then lay down on the bed for a brief nap.
He had barely closed his eyes when his sleep-deprived brain plunged him into a deep, restless sleep. In a dream-like state his skin tingled, making his dick twitch, and he was aware of a sense of profound loss and longing. Images of Dean running down the slope toward the faerie circle flashed in front of his closed eyes. He saw Dean disappear into the dark trees, saw the light growing brighter until Sam was blinded.
He put his arm up to shield his eyes, as he had before, only this time when he lowered his arm, Dean was there. Except everything was different. Dean was clad in leather breeches and boots and a loose, white tunic that was open at the neck and bound at the waist by a black leather belt. He looked like a character from one of Charlie’s live-action role-playing games, only hotter.
They were standing in the clearing in the tree grove by Walnut Creek, but it was different. There was a brightness about the colors, as if they were standing in a photograph that had been touched-up. The grass and trees were unnaturally green, the sky a strangely deep blue, like looking up at the sun from underwater. Even Dean seemed brighter, sharper, more beautiful.
Dean stared at him as if he were seeing a ghost, wide, green eyes shining with emotion, expressive features displaying a look of shocked surprise.
“Oh my God, Sammy! What are you doing here, man?”
In that way of dreams, one moment suddenly became the next, and Sam found himself in Dean’s arms, holding his brother close and tight, bodies pressed together in that desperate way that they only did before or after a long separation.
It felt like months since they had been together. Years.
“Yeah, yeah, Dean. Yeah. I’m trying to find you, man. Trying to get you back.”
Dean pulled back, still holding onto Sam’s biceps, and stared, frowning with confusion.
“You’re not really here, are you? This isn’t real.”
“No,” Sam admitted, sadness overwhelming him for a moment, making tears fill his eyes, choking his voice. “No. What happened to you? Where are you?”
Dean pulled back, stepping out of Sam’s reach. He blushed and looked away, shuffling his feet uncomfortably, and Sam tried not to think about how adorable he was, how like a little boy who’d been caught doing something naughty he looked.
“When I saw that red-cap dick, I went crazy, man. I was sure I could catch him. He was mocking me! I swear to God, Sammy, that dude needed me to teach him a lesson, and I couldn’t stop myself. I almost caught him, but then the light...And then I was here.” Dean waved his arm around. “In Magic Kingdom Land, where everything is just a little too shiny to be real, you know?”
Sam nodded, swallowing hard. “So what’s with the Robin Hood costume?”
Dean blushed harder. “They’ve got me in some kind of warrior training program. I’m supposed to become one of the king’s guards. When they saw what I can do, they assigned me to the top ranks. In a couple more years, I’ll be top dog around here. At least, that’s their plan.”
Something was deeply wrong about that, and Sam focused hard through the fog in his dreaming brain to grab onto it. “Dean, this is important. Have you eaten anything since you arrived in Faerie?”
Dean shrugged. “I don’t think I could’ve survived all these years if I hadn’t,” he said. “Why?”
“Years?” Sam’s veins flooded with ice-water. “How long have you been here?”
Dean’s frowned deepened, and Sam caught a brief look of confusion cross his face before he answered. “At least ten years, Sam. Damn it!” He lifted his eyes again, and the expression there was one of pure panic. “Hey, you have to get me out of here, man. I’m not even sure what’s real anymore. Sometimes I think I remember things we used to do, hunts we were on, but then I realize it’s something I did here last year with Oberon’s minions...I don’t even know anymore, man. You gotta get me out of here!”
“Yeah, okay, calm down.” Sam put his hands out, placating. The dream was starting to fade. “Okay, listen. I need you to stay with me, Dean. I need you to remember who you are, okay? I’ll be there as soon as I can...”
“Hurry, Sam,” Dean said, but his voice was fading. The sky was growing dark, as if the sun was setting. “Please! You gotta hurry!”
Sam woke with a start. Sun was shining directly into the room, on the bed where Dean slept two nights ago.
“Son of a bitch,” Sam breathed. He shook his head to clear it, running his hands through his hair and scratching his scalp to scrub away the fog in his brain. Fragments of the dream lingered in his mind like so many shards of broken glass, making his head throb and the backs of his eyes ache. It felt for all the world like the remnants of one of his visions.
He didn’t dare dismiss the dream; it had been too real, too true. He wondered vaguely if his soul bond with Dean was strong enough to pierce the veil between this world and Faerie, at least on a psychic level. It had never worked that way before, when Dean had disappeared into Purgatory and Sam had been desperate to find him. But maybe the veil between the worlds was so thin here in Elmwood that it was easier to break through. And although Sam didn’t like to think about it too deeply, his psychic ability might have something to do with it, giving the connection just enough extra power for Sam and Dean to communicate, at least on an unconscious level.
Whatever the reason, Sam was certain that he had just had a real conversation with his missing brother, and the news was not good.
Later, Sam would think back and realize that he’d been in no condition to make rational decisions that morning. He should’ve followed his original plan to search Marion’s house, ignoring the impulse to confront her right then and there.
But Sam wasn’t exactly feeling rational. The idea that Dean had already spent over ten years in Faerie, had already eaten the food there, had already started to forget his real life, terrified Sam.
It was just after 10:00 a.m. when he burst into Marion’s shop.
“Where’s my brother?”
To her credit, the plump, diminutive woman behind the counter barely batted an eye at the six-and-a-half-foot hunter who bore down on her, huffing like an angry bull.
“Why hello, Sam,” she smiled delightedly. “I’ve been wondering when you would stop by.”
“You made a deal, didn’t you?” Sam glowered at her, clenching his fists. He couldn’t remember feeling so angry, although he was sure there’d been other times. “You found Brennan’s book and you summoned the faeries. You made a deal!”
“The faeries were very grateful.” Marion nodded, still smiling. “And they have been most generous in return.”
“They took my brother!” Sam bellowed. “Again!”
“Oh Sam, I’m so sorry,” Marion crooned, sounding sincerely concerned. “You should never have come back here. Dean was marked.”
“No shit! Now give him back!”
“Oh dear, I wish I could.” Marion shook her head sadly. “I really do. But Oberon chose him. Your brother is a talented warrior. He’s part of the King’s Guard now. It’s a very special position. Dean’s very lucky.”
Sam had definitely never been angrier in his entire life, and that was saying something. His rage rolled over him in waves, making it hard to see clearly through the red clouds over his vision.
“You either make them give him back, or I will personally break every little piece of Hummel wanna-be crap in this shop.” Sam’s voice was low and steady. He wanted to make sure Marion could have no doubts about his threat.
It worked. Marion’s eyes grew round with distress. “Oh dear, I can’t let you do that,” she said. She flicked her wrist, her bracelets making a sound like tiny bells tinkling, and Sam had just enough time to realize he was blacking out.
Then everything went dark.
When he came to, Sam was lying on a dusty cement floor, his arms and ankles securely bound with rope, a gag in his mouth. The room was dimly lit by daylight from two very small windows, both barred. Paintings in ancient frames hung on the walls, and a dusty table and some shelves covered with pieces of broken pottery were the only furnishings. A staircase led up into darkness.
“You should’ve stayed away.” Marion’s voice was behind him, and Sam had to twist his neck to look up at her, which made his bindings tighten almost painfully. “Oberon claimed Dean as his own. Now you will join him. Oberon will be very pleased to have another well-trained warrior in his ranks.”
Sam struggled again, crying out against the gag when the ropes bit painfully into his wrists and ankles.
“I’m sorry for the ropes, Sam, but I know how resourceful you are, and I can’t take a chance that you might escape. My boys will be here just before sunset to load you into your car and drive you out to the Circle. By the time you get to Faerie, Dean won’t even remember your name. He’ll be fully transformed, one of Oberon’s closest companions.”
She paced into Sam’s line of sight, gazing down at him almost pityingly. “Your brother will kill you before he’ll let you harm his king. His lover. Oh yes, Sam. You’ll be far too late.”
Marion shook her head. “You underestimated me last time, Sam. Badly. I’m really very clever, you see. When I opened the door to Faerie again, I was richly rewarded. Now I have long life, riches, and deep magic at my beck and call. I’m a powerful sorceress now.”
Marion turned toward the stairs, put her hand on the railing, and Sam panicked. He struggled wildly against his bindings, yelled into the gag until Marion turned back, tilting her head quizzically at him.
“Don’t hurt yourself trying to break free, Sam,” she advised. “This room is carefully be-spelled to keep you in, so even if you do manage to untie yourself, the room won’t let you leave. But just in case, I left some food and water on the table and a bucket in the corner if you need to relieve yourself.”
Sam glared at her, and Marion chuckled fondly. “I’m not an evil witch, Sam. I’m one of the good ones, really. You’d have seen that if you hadn’t threatened to destroy my shop. Now try to relax and enjoy your day off. You’ll see your brother soon.”
Sam yelled and fought to free himself as Marion climbed the stairs. As soon as the heavy door at the top had clanged shut, locks sliding into place from the other side, Sam began struggling in earnest. He could feel his knife still tucked into his right boot, the comforting metal pressed hard against his ankle. The fact that Marion hadn’t removed all his weapons gave Sam hope.
It took Sam only a few minutes to contort himself enough to reach his knife, then cut himself free. The room was another matter. The bars on the windows were solid iron, embedded deeply in concrete and unshakeable, not to mention the small size of the windows probably wouldn’t have accommodated his large frame. Similarly the door at the top of the stairs was made of solid iron and locked from the outside. There was no getting out that way.
As Sam turned away in defeat, he discovered a light switch on the wall. Flipping it on flooded the basement room with light, illuminating the paintings on the walls. A movement caught his eye, and Sam jumped, startled to discover that the paintings themselves appeared to be moving inside their frames. Sam crept cautiously down the stairs, peering at the strange paintings, all of which appeared to be scenes from Faerie, complete with abnormally brightly-colored landscapes like the one in Sam’s dream.
At the bottom of the stairs he stopped in shock, rooted to the spot by the painting on the wall at the edge of the stairs. A rider on a black horse rode directly toward the viewer, sporting the leather breeches and boots that Dean had worn in Sam’s dream, but also a fine red velvet robe and a crown on his tawny head.
Sam gasped as the rider drew close enough to see gossamer wings sprouting prominently from the rider’s back. Emerald green eyes shone too brightly from a face at once familiar and excessively beautiful, as if the rider’s natural good looks had been artificially exaggerated. The rider in the painting had been enhanced, just like the landscape.
It was Dean, but it wasn’t Dean.
“Dean.” Sam stopped himself from touching the painting itself out of a superstitious fear that this was all that was left of Dean in the real world, that touching it might make it disappear just as its subject had.
The rider’s abnormally bright green eyes gazed straight at him, almost as if he could see through the fourth wall of the painting and into Sam’s soul.
A shiver ran up Sam’s spine. He reluctantly dragged his gaze away from the painting so that he could take a look at the other paintings. Each contained a figure, and as Sam looked carefully from one to the next, he began to develop a theory. Some of the paintings depicted a rider on a horse with faerie wings, but none were as gloriously bright and enhanced as the Dean-figure. It occurred to Sam that if he were to compare the pictures of missing persons over the years here in Elmwood, he would find a painting that matched each missing person.
“But what the hell does it mean?”
As soon as the words slipped in a whisper from his lips, Sam knew. Somehow the paintings themselves contained the magic that held their subjects captive. If Sam could figure out a way to release the figures from their paintings...
It’s a Harry Potter moment, Sam. Totally your thing.
If Dean had been in the room, the words could not have been clearer or sounded more like him.
As if on cue, Sam’s phone vibrated.
Without stopping to consider how fortunate it was that Marion had managed to (mostly) disarm him but had not bothered to take his phone, Sam fumbled in his jeans pocket, pulled out the little device and checked the screen.
“A little mouse told me you might need my help, Samuel,” she cooed when Sam opened the connection. “You seem to be surrounded by magic.”
Sam tamped down his initial instinct to brush her off, clenching his teeth as he stared at the portrait of Dean. “I’m not even going to ask how you know that,” he said. “Or why you’ve been checking on my whereabouts.”
“Let’s just say, I feel the need to keep an eye on the man who’ll be the death of me, one day,” Rowena said, flirtatious as always. “Besides. This level of magic is a mite unusual. It’s as if you’re on the edge of another world. You’re not in outer space, are you, Samuel? Or at the White House, perhaps?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m in Elmwood, Indiana. Trapped in a basement. Do you know anything about faerie binding spells?”
“Faeries, is it?” Rowena sounded delighted. “Why didn’t you say so? I’ll be there directly.”
“No — you don’t have to come, just give me the spell – “ But of course it was too late. Rowena had ended the call.
Sam had barely finished circling the room, gazing into each portrait in turn before returning to the one containing his brother, before he heard the bolt sliding back on the room’s only door. Rowena wore a red velvet dress and heels, of course, but she seemed to glide down the dingy basement steps, comical in her dainty disdain for the room’s dust and decor.
“Well, I’ll admit this wasn’t quite what I was expecting,” she announced as she dusted her hands off delicately. “The magic emanating from this room makes it seem like a veritable hotbed of ancient spell work. I was expecting a castle, or a medieval fortress. Not this dingy cellar.”
Sam ignored her. “They’ve got Dean.” He gestured at the painting, and Rowena turned to follow his gaze. The green-eyed rider stared out at Rowena, fierce and defiant, as if he was daring her to be helpful, against all her natural inclinations.
“Well now, isn’t this a pretty predicament,” Rowena enthused, reaching out to run her fingers along the edge of the painting before Sam could stop her.
“Don’t – “ He stepped forward to grab her arm on instinct, but drew back when nothing happened. She let her fingers linger over the surface of the painting before turning back to Sam.
“Well, there’s no getting him out of there, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she said.
“There has to be a way,” Sam protested. “I dreamed about him last night, trapped in there. I have to get him out!”
Rowena screwed up her forehead, thoughtful. “You sure you don’t want to join him in there? They like to collect strong young men such as yourself. To serve Oberon and whatnot. I’m sure you’d be a fine addition to his entourage. You and your brother both.”
Sam shot her a look that Dean knew well, and Rowena rolled her eyes. “Oh, very well,” she huffed. “I do know a spell. It only lasts for an hour, mind you, and I’ll need a piece of your soul to power it. But it’ll keep the door open between this world and Faerie so you can get out again, as long as you go out where you went in.”
“And I can bring Dean out with me,” Sam clarified.
“Oh, you can bring anyone you like,” Rowena shrugged. “If you can get them to leave.”
“What are you talking about? Why wouldn’t he want to leave?” Sam knew. He just had a perverse need to hear her confirm it.
“You really don’t know how it works, do you, Samuel?” Rowena shook her head. “Faerie is a powerful place. It starts working on your senses as soon as you arrive, breaking down your memories of your old life and filling your mind with sights, smells, tastes that will be more intense than anything you’ve ever known in this world. Pretty soon, you won’t remember your old life at all, and you certainly won’t want to go back.”
“But the effects can be reversed, right?” Sam asked.
“You’ve heard about that part, have you?” Rowena’s smile was grim. “Those who return from Faerie usually waste away, pining to go back. That’s the story, anyway. If you succeed in bringing your brother back, you may not like what happens next.”
“We’ll deal with it.” Sam gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. “Now just get me in there.”
“Oh you poor boy, don’t you know there’s only one way in?” When Sam looked blank, Rowena rolled her eyes. “The faerie circle, Samuel. That’s the door in. You’ll have to wait till sunset, then it’ll open for you. By the looks of things, I’d say they’re expecting you.”
“So I have to walk right into their trap.”
“I suppose you could say that,” Rowena agreed. “Only, you’ll be ready, won’t you? You’ll be armed, and you’ll be protected from memory loss by my wee potion. Once you’re in, you’ll have an hour to rescue your brother and get out before the spell fades, trapping you both in Faerie forever.”
Sam raised his eyebrows. “And why would you want to prevent that outcome?” He asked. “Why help me? If I’m stuck in there, doesn’t that make it impossible for me to be the instrument of your death?”
Rowena sighed dramatically. “Oh Samuel, you really don’t understand these things, do you?” she asked. “My death is already fated. Nothing can change that. If you’re stuck in Faerie, it’ll be that much harder for me to keep an eye on you. And once you forget who I am, I lose any influence I might have had over you. It’s much easier to kill a stranger than a kindred spirit, isn’t it?”
Sam thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “Fair enough. Let’s do this.”
Sam couldn’t bear to leave the painting, so they brought it with them, out of the dingy basement under Marion’s shop. No one stopped them, although two of Marion’s human henchmen lay sleeping peacefully a couple of feet from the basement door.
“So much for loyal guard duty,” Rowena remarked as she stepped over one of the bodies. “Don’t worry; they’re just sleeping. Nobody died. See? I’m learning.”
The shop itself was deserted, but Sam barely spared a thought for Marion or her minions. Getting Dean out of Faerie was the goal, and nothing else mattered for now. He found his gun lying in plain sight on a table near the door, but he didn’t stop to think about how convenient that was, either.
They picked up the ingredients for the spell at a local pharmacy, then drove to the motel. Sam pulled an iron stake and a small bag of salt out of the trunk of the Impala before following Rowena into the room.
“This will just hurt a bit,” Rowena promised as she laid her hand on his chest.
The pain was excruciating. Sam barely had time to consider that he was about to pass out before it was over, leaving behind a dull ache in his chest.
“Just a wee bit of Sam-soul,” Rowena said as she dropped something small and glowing into the spell bowl. “This is to guarantee your safe return, as long as you’re back at the faerie circle within the hour. And this,” Rowena pulled out a vial of something green and viscous, “is to prevent memory loss.”
Sam took the glass vial and held it up to the light, curling his lip in disgust. “What is it?”
“Better not to know,” Rowena acknowledged briskly. “Just hold your nose and suck it down, lickety-split, just before you walk into the faerie circle. Should last the hour.”
“Aren’t you coming with me?”
“Oh my no, Samuel,” Rowena shook her head. “There’s a sorceress in town who’s been causing a wee bit of trouble, don’t you know. Seems to me she needs a reminder about how real witches operate without calling quite so much attention to themselves.”
Sam experienced a moment of trepidation as he considered that Marion was unlikely to survive her confab with Rowena. Then he thought about what she had done to Dean and the others and he realized he was fine with it. Let Rowena strip Marion of her powers, or even her life, if she wanted. All that mattered now was getting Dean back.
The spell itself took only a few moments to take effect; Sam could feel a tiny tugging sensation in his chest which grew stronger when he started to leave the room.
“You should eat something,” Rowena told him as they left the motel.
Sam frowned. “But I’m not hungry,” he said.
“You will be,” Rowena assured him. “And if you eat or drink while you’re in Faerie, all bets are off. Better to go in on a full stomach.”
Sam nodded, already feeling hunger pangs that had nothing to do with the need for food.
“You’ll be needing this as well,” Rowena said in farewell. She handed Sam an old-fashioned pocket watch on a gold chain. When Sam released the latch, the cover popped open to reveal a stop-watch. “Start the clock just before you step into the circle,” the witch instructed. “Time moves differently in Faerie, but this watch will keep track of the spell time you have left. Just be sure you check it regularly. Time doesn’t just move faster or slower in Faerie. It moves differently altogether.”
Sam nodded, closing the watch and slipping it into his jeans pocket.
“Thank you,” he said, almost without thinking about who it was he was thanking.
“Oh, don’t thank me till you’re back safe and sound,” Rowena admonished. “It’s bad luck.”
Sam nodded again. He knew a thing or two about bad luck, after all.
It was nearly sunset by the time Sam pulled over and parked the car at the appointed spot overlooking Walnut Creek. He tucked his gun, loaded with witch-killing bullets, into the back of his waistband as a precaution. He expected Rowena had already dealt with Marion, but just in case. He checked that the little vial of green goo was in his shirt pocket, the bag of salt in his jacket pocket, and the watch still secure deep in the front pocket of his jeans. Then he pulled out the iron stake and slid it up inside the arm of his jacket, ready to use in a flash if necessary, and made his way down the bank toward the little copse of trees.
The sunset was particularly lovely, sending slivers of gold and red across the clearing, making the water dance with light. Sam stopped just outside the faerie circle and pulled out the vial and stopwatch, awkwardly uncorking the little bottle with his thumb. He threw back his head and sucked down the vile liquid in a single movement, willing himself not to gag at the feel of it sliding wetly down his throat. Too late, he wished he had brought something to wash it down with; it felt stuck in his throat, sliding too slowly down his esophagus. He cleared his throat several times, swallowing his own saliva in an attempt to wash away the rancid aftertaste.
A flash of light caught his attention, and Sam looked up, thinking it was a trick of the sun as it sank below the horizon. A figure stood on the other side of the clearing, tall and muscled, with long flowing hair and something on his back that looked like a quiver of arrows.
“Dean?” He’d know those bowed legs anywhere, even clad in leather breeches and knee-high leather boots. The man’s chest was bare, arms wound with leather cuffs at the wrists and biceps, and in one hand he held a long, deadly-looking blade.
At the broken sound of Dean’s voice, Sam almost forgot the stopwatch. Maybe this would be easier than he’d thought. Dean was alone, there was no sign of anyone else. Maybe he and Dean could just leave.
Sam took a step forward before it hit him.
Dean was bait. Dean was here to lure Sam into Faerie.
Staying where he was, rooted to a spot just outside the circle, Sam fixed Dean with his most pleading expression, willing him to listen.
“Hey buddy,” he coaxed. “Yeah, it’s me. The car’s parked just up the hill. Let’s get out of here, okay?”
Dean cocked his head. “Do I know you?”
Sam’s heart sank, but he swallowed hard and soldiered on.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Yeah, you do. You just said my name, remember? It’s me. It’s Sam.”
“Sam?” Dean took several steps forward, his expression at once hopeful and confused. “Is it really you? But you’re not real. You’re somebody I made up. I dreamed about you. How can you be real?”
Sam reached into his pocket, grasped the stopwatch, and pushed the button. Then he stepped into the faerie circle.
“I’m real, Dean,” he said softly. “I’m really here. I’ve come to rescue you.”
“Rescue me?” Dean blinked. “From what?”
Sam took another step, keeping his eyes locked with Dean’s. Closer now, he could see that Dean’s eyes were unusually bright, his skin glittering faintly. He was so beautiful it was hard to look at him.
“This place, it isn’t real,” Sam said. “You don’t belong here.”
“That so?” Dean frowned, puffing out his chest and striking a defensive pose that Sam recognized. “Where do I belong, then?”
“Out there,” Sam gestured toward the car. “In the real world. With me.”
“That so?” Dean repeated with a snort. “You know, I’d go just about anywhere with you, big guy. But first, I’m going to need you to come with me.”
And just like that, Sam felt himself move forward, compelled to obey. His muscles moved of their own accord until he stood toe-to-toe with Dean, who sheathed his sword with a slight smile and nodded.
“That’s it,” he said. “Don’t look so freaked out. It’s just magic. It’s not like I can read your mind or anything. Now come on. Follow me.”
Dean turned and led the way out of the faerie circle, Sam following helplessly behind. Sam couldn’t keep his eyes off the wings that appeared randomly on Dean’s back, then disappeared again, fading against his glittering skin like a shadow. He felt tired and energized at the same time, mesmerized by Dean’s beauty. His glamour, Sam’s mind provided helpfully. Dean had glamoured him, and now Sam was under his spell. The thought was making Sam’s blood throb in his veins, making his dick swell.
“Where are we going?” It was an effort to speak, and when Dean glanced over his shoulder, he seemed impressed that Sam had any will of his own left at all.
Which made Sam angry. He’d been under others’ control too often in the past for this to seem like anything but another violation, despite how good it felt.
“We’re almost there,” Dean assured him, and the next moment something glowed ahead of them, through the trees. Several small creatures came running toward them, surrounding Sam and gazing up at him with shining eyes. They were naked except for binding cloth over their private parts, and their wings appeared and disappeared on their brown skin, catching the light from whatever glowed through the trees. A couple of them looked familiar, and one of them looked decidedly like Kevin Tran. They flitted around Sam like butterflies, barely seeming to touch the ground, brushing him lightly as they crowded in, then back out again.
Sam shook his head to clear it. His senses were doing strange things, showing him things that weren’t there a moment later, making him think hours had passed when he was sure it’d only been minutes.
He pulled the stopwatch out of his pocket and glanced at the time, relieved that only a few minutes had passed on the clock. He was losing track of time the further into Faerie he traveled, and he was sure he would have lost some memory by now if it hadn’t been for Rowena’s potion. He could still taste it in the back of his throat, and he swallowed gratefully.
Holding onto reality wasn’t going to be easy, but Sam was determined.
“Here we are,” Dean announced as they stepped into a clearing. It was almost identical to the faerie circle they’d just left, and Sam experienced a moment of disorientation as he stared around, trying to get his bearings. A tent stood in the center of the clearing, lit from within, and as Dean strode confidently towards it, the flittering faeries surrounding them fluttered away.
“It’s just us, Sam,” Dean said as he held the tent flap open with one muscled arm, gesturing to the lighted interior with the other. “I want to get to know our new guest before we start the long trek back to Avalon.”
Inside, the tent was spacious, in that way that only magical spaces can be bigger on the inside than they appear from the outside. Plush couches, soft rugs and pillows covered the floor, with low tables placed conveniently among them. Bowls of fruit and softly-glowing lights covered the tables. The walls were decorated with elaborate tapestries displaying scenes similar to the ones Sam had seen in the paintings in Marion’s basement. Nymphs and satyrs cavorted with centaurs and griffins in woodland settings and across rich, fertile fields, and when Sam looked closely, he recognized a familiar horse-like creature.
“Is that a unicorn?” he asked before he could help himself.
Dean smiled indulgently. “Right you are, Sammy boy. They’re rare, even here, but they exist.”
Dean reached for a pitcher that appeared to be made of gold, gesturing expansively. “Home sweet home,” he said as he picked up a goblet, poured dark red liquid into it. “On the road, anyway.”
“Not bad,” Sam nodded. He shook his head when Dean offered him the goblet, and Dean frowned a little, but didn’t force it.
“As Captain of the King’s Guard, they give me the best tent,” he said. “But it’s still a tent.”
“You have a home, out there,” Sam said. “It’s a bunker, built to hold magical artifacts, so the living quarters are a little sparse, but it’s ours. It’s home.”
Dean took a sip of his wine, peered at Sam over the edge of the goblet.
“You must be tired after your travels,” he said. He gestured toward a sheer curtain, and Sam could see a bed behind it, comfortable and inviting. “You should rest.”
Sam was suddenly exhausted. It hit him that he’d slept only a couple of hours over the past forty-eight or so, and he was probably running on fumes. A nap sounded incredibly good right now, and the bed looked more inviting than it should.
Sam shook his head to clear it. “I don’t have time,” he said. “We need to get back to the faerie circle and get out of here, Dean. If you were yourself, you’d understand. You were kidnapped, man. You’ve been in here since last night, which is however long in Faerie I don’t even know...”
“I’ve been here as long as I can remember,” Dean said. “At least the last sixty years, I’d say.”
“Sixty years?” Sam was stunned. “How can it be that long? You’re not even forty!”
Dean’s forehead creased in a frown. He seemed confused for a moment, staring up into Sam’s face. Then he shook his head as if to clear it.
“Let’s eat something,” he suggested, gesturing toward the low tables.
As if he’d been waiting for the command, one of the little brown faeries flitted in, carrying a tray of fragrant meats, cheeses, vegetables and bread. It was the Kevin look-alike, Sam noted, frowning as he wondered why.
“Do I know you?” Sam asked, and the Kevin-fairy smiled enigmatically.
“I look familiar, don’t I?” he said, and Sam nodded. “Everyone here looks like somebody you knew out in the real world. It’s part of the glamour. It makes it easier for you to stay.”
Sam felt a shiver run up his spine as he glanced at Dean. “But he –– “
“No, Dean’s really Dean,” Kevin-fairy assured him. “Oberon sent him to collect you because he wants you both. He knew you’d come, but he figures you’d stay easier if Dean collected you. Dean wasn’t easy to collect, as you probably know.”
“My dream,” Sam said, and Kevin nodded.
“He’s had them, too.” Kevin glanced at Dean, who was still staring at Sam with a confused frown, watching the exchange but obviously not really listening. “You should kiss him.”
“What?” Sam’s eyes widened in shock.
Kevin shrugged. “It breaks the spell, at least a little,” he said. “So he’ll remember you better. Then you might be able to convince him to leave.”
“But you just said –– wait, are you helping me?”
Kevin shrugged again. “It’s my job. I’m his servant. I anticipate his needs and do my best to provide them. And right now, I can see that what he needs is you.”
“But Oberon –– “
“...will be here soon,” Kevin finished. “So you’d better hurry.”
Apparently, Dean didn’t need a moment to adjust to the idea. Sam had barely recovered from his surprise when Dean was in his personal space, crowding in with an intent that Sam understood just a moment too late. Muscled arms wrapped around his shoulders, strong fingers slipped into his hair, pulling his head down as Dean rose up on tiptoe, pressing their lips together.
The kiss was fleeting, mostly chaste, although Sam’s mouth was open and a stab of lust sliced down through his chest and belly to his dick, making his legs tremble. When Dean pulled away it was both too soon and not soon enough. Sam lifted his fingers to his tingling lips, staring at Dean in shock.
Dean blinked and shook his head, as if he were waking up from a dream. He glanced around the room, confusion furrowing his brow, as if everything was suddenly unfamiliar and strange.
Then he looked up at Sam and his face cleared, relief replacing his former confusion.
“Yeah, Dean. It’s me.”
“How are you here? Did they – did they get you, too?”
“I came to rescue you,” Sam said, frowning. “Don’t you remember? I came to take you home.” It felt strange to repeat himself, but Dean behaved like he was a new man, as if the last few minutes hadn’t happened, as if he hadn’t just been trying to seduce Sam into staying here with him.
Sam experienced a moment of doubt, for the first time wondering if he was doing the right thing, taking Dean away from this place. Maybe he’d be happier here. Maybe he was happier here, and Sam’s rescue wasn’t really a rescue after all. Maybe it was more of a kidnapping.
“So what are we waiting for? Let’s ditch this popsicle stand!” Dean sounded like himself all right, but he still seemed confused. He still glittered. He still had wings, for God’s sake.
He still wanted to touch Sam, couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off him, and something about that didn’t sit right with Sam. It felt too much like a spell, like Dean was on something or under the influence of something.
Sam, of all people, knew how it felt to be made to do something against his will. He didn’t want that for Dean. He couldn’t.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked Kevin. “Why’s he suddenly being so agreeable? A minute ago, he was trying to get me to eat something and stay here with him.”
Kevin shrugged. “Does it matter?” He asked. “He kissed you, now he’ll do anything you ask. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Sam flinched. “Not exactly.”
“Better make up your mind,” Kevin said. “Your time’s running out.”
Sam drew the stopwatch out of his pocket and confirmed that Kevin was right. They had fifteen minutes to get the hell out of Faerie or be trapped here forever. Sam knew he shouldn’t be looking a gift-horse in the mouth here; if Dean suddenly wanted to leave with him, he should be grateful. He should be getting them gone five minutes ago.
“So what’s the plan, Sam?” Dean asked. “Are we getting out?”
“Yeah,” Sam nodded. “But I need to know that’s really what you want.”
“What? Of course it is! How could you even ask that?” Even Dean’s gruff tone was off, as if he was reacting out of some deep instinct, some insensate muscle memory, rather than using his brain.
“It’s just, you seem so happy here,” Sam said. “You’re Captain of the Guard, you’re the big man on campus. The king trusts you. You get to boss people around. You lead an army, man, and you fight battles and win. You’re a winner here. A top dog. A hero.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Dean shook his head. “None of it. It’s not what I want. You know that.”
“They drugged me to make me forget you, man,” Dean said fiercely. “All these years, I could feel something missing, a constant ache in my gut, but I didn’t know what it was. Then when I saw you tonight, I knew. I remembered. I felt whole again. With you, I’m who I’m supposed to be.”
Sam ignored the little voice in his head that warned him that his Dean would never be so forthcoming about something so intimate. Something was really wrong.
“And you remember what our life is like, out there in the real world?”
Dean frowned thoughtfully for a moment, then shook his head. “Not all of it. Not much, actually. But I remember you. You’re my life. Whatever we do out there, whatever our life is like, it’s where I’m supposed to be because you’re there.”
“Our lives are kind of shitty,” Sam warned. “We’re not heroes. Most people don’t know who we are. We throw ourselves in front of danger all the time without pay. We live hand-to-mouth, day-by-day, stealing credit cards and hustling pool like petty criminals. We’re basically outlaws. There’s no glory in it. When we manage to save a few lives, most of the time nobody even says thank you.”
“We fight side-by-side,” Dean said confidently. “You and me. We’re warriors.”
“Something like that,” Sam agreed. “We hunt evil and put it down.”
“We’re the good guys.”
“We try to be.” Sam nodded. “Things don’t always work out that way, but for the most part, we do the best we can to make the world a better place.”
“Sounds good,” Dean said. “Sounds right. Can I kiss you again?”
Dean leaned forward, his luminous green eyes fixed on Sam’s for a long moment before they dropped to his mouth. Sam was mesmerized again. His lips parted of their own free will and a shiver of lust and longing shot down his spine. Dean’s hands were warm and soft against his heated skin. Dean curled his fingers into Sam’s hair, coaxing him to lean down so Dean could reach his mouth, the other hand pressed against his chest, over his heart.
At the last possible moment, Sam stepped back, taking Dean’s hand in his to pull it off his chest. Sam heard a soft moan of disappointment and realized it was his.
“We don’t – we don’t do this, in our world,” he said, breathless, chest heaving. He cleared his throat. “We’re – we’re brothers.”
“So?” Dean seemed completely unsurprised, which reminded Sam more than anything that had happened so far that Dean still wasn’t himself. “Their majesties surround themselves with siblings all the time. It’s normal here. They know they can count on their loyalty because of their kinship, not just because they’re lovers.”
Sam had known this, but it still shocked him more than he wanted to admit. “Yeah, well, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. We’re brothers in our world. Just brothers.”
Dean’s lips curled up in a smirk. “Oh, I doubt that, Sam. I may not have all my memories from that world, but I know how I feel. And I definitely feel like we were more than just brothers.”
Sam blushed, lowered his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah, we were. Just – not that.” How could he explain a lifetime of shared experience and trauma? How could mere words ever make up for all those lost memories? “Let’s just get you home, okay? Then we’ll - we’ll figure it out.”
In hindsight, Sam realized he should have worried more about Dean’s apparent docility. Ever since they met in the clearing, Dean had seemed mesmerized. After the kiss he seemed drugged. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Sam, and he was far too willing to agree to everything Sam suggested. Given the fact that he had zero memories of their life together outside Faerie, Dean seemed entirely too ready to leave everything he knew behind to follow Sam into a strange new land.
But at the time, Sam trusted Dean’s instincts, just as he always had. If Dean was ready to drop everything, to give up the only life he could remember ever having, then Sam was grateful, even if it did make him uneasy. He wasn’t at all sure he would have been so ready to go with Dean if Dean had come to rescue him in the Cage. Sam would’ve been convinced that Dean was a figment of his imagination, another of Lucifer’s endless tortures, designed specifically for Sam.
But Sam wasn’t thinking about that now.
“Lead us back to the faerie circle,” Sam said to Kevin as Dean slid his hand up Sam’s chest again, tucked himself under Sam’s arm as if he belonged there. He felt warm and solid, filling in the space beside Sam like an extra limb that Sam hadn’t even realized he was missing.
As Kevin led the way, Sam kept his arm around Dean, kept him upright as he stumbled. Dean seemed more disoriented outside the tent, staring around with wild eyes as if the landscape was new and terrifying again, as it must have felt when he first arrived. As they hurried through the trees, Dean became more agitated and disoriented. He clung to Sam, moving with him in sync, face pressed into Sam’s shoulder. He curled his body into Sam’s side as if he was an extension of Sam’s body, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“It’s okay,” Sam muttered, reassuring his brother without even thinking about it. “We’re gonna get you out of here. It’s okay, I got you.”
Other times when Sam had failed at this kept bubbling forth in his mind, forcing him on. Sam’s failure to rescue Dean from Hell, and later from Purgatory, still weighed on him, fueling his determination to get it right this time.
Rescuing someone’s body is the easy part, the little voice in his head kept reminding him. If Dean leaves his mind or soul behind, vital pieces of himself, what are you going to do about that, Sam? Huh?
Not thinking about that right now, the other voice in his head, the one that sounded like Dean, insisted. We’ll deal with it later.
The trees parted and a moonlit clearing appeared.
“We’re here,” Kevin said needlessly.
Dean sagged in Sam’s arms, his head lolling back against Sam’s shoulder. His eyes were closed and he seemed almost passed out.
“What’s wrong with him?” Sam asked.
“It’s the effects of the kiss,” Kevin said. “Sometimes, magic kisses wake you up, sometimes they put you to sleep. You want to take him out of here, you may have to carry him.”
Sam frowned in irritation as he let Dean’s body slide onto the ground, turning his attention to the faerie circle. He thought he could barely make out the glowing edge of the entrance on the other side of the clearing, the way he’d come into Faerie. Focusing all his psychic energy on that point, Sam spoke the command that Rowena had taught him:
Instantly, the glowing light intensified, and this time Sam could make out the shape of a door, forced open by the magic that was part of everything in this world.
“Okay, Dean, let’s go.”
Sam gathered his brother in a fireman’s carry over his shoulder, relieved that at least Dean wasn’t awake enough to protest. Nevertheless, Dean’s dead weight caused Sam to stumble more than once as he made his way toward the door, muttering a steady stream of encouragement and curses to keep his strength up. They’d almost made it and Sam was just beginning to allow himself to breathe a sigh of relief when Kevin gave a cry of alarm.
“Sam! Look out!”
“Stop!” A deep voice boomed across the clearing, unnaturally loud, accompanied by a crash of thunder in the cloudless sky. Sam stumbled as a sudden powerful wind rose around him, buffeting against his back and blowing his hair into his face. He took another step forward, but now his legs felt like they were sinking in quicksand, his movements hindered by an invisible force that pushed back against him.
Kevin’s panicked cry made Sam turn on instinct. He’d let Kevin down too many times in the past to ignore him now, even if this faerie-version of Kevin wasn’t the real thing. With Dean over his shoulder, Sam had minimal agility, yet he hadn’t expected Oberon to be so close. In the roaring wind Sam hadn’t heard the fae king drawing near on some magical power that probably involved wings, so that he seemed to swoop down out of the sky from above. Sam flung his arm up in a defensive gesture without even realizing he’d let the iron stake slide into hand from his jacket sleeve, probably when he first heard Oberon’s voice.
Sam would always believe that some kind of upside-down dumb luck was operating the day he stumbled into Faerie to save his brother. There wasn’t any other explanation for how easily the rescue went down. From the kiss that bespelled Dean into complying with Sam’s wishes, to the presence of the little faerie who suggested it, to this moment in the faerie circle, when Oberon literally threw himself on Sam’s weapon, thus freeing all the people who had been abducted into Faerie over the past seven years, Sam had never known a mission to go so well.
Of course, there had to be a hitch, and Sam knew full well that getting Dean safely out of Faerie didn’t mean the job was done. But at the moment that his iron stake buried itself deep in Oberon’s chest, Sam could feel only profound surprise, along with a healthy dose of horror when he looked into the Fae King’s wide hazel eyes.
Oberon was the spitting image of John Winchester.
The King’s mouth opened in an expression of shock; he looked down at the fountain of blood bubbling up around the wound in his chest, suspended for another moment in mid-air, before his eyes dimmed and his body went slack in death.
Sam staggered back, letting go of the stake, and he would have fallen if the ground hadn’t tilted upward at an angle, shaking under his feet. Lightning flashed, and the wind seemed to be dying down, but Sam didn’t wait to see if the storm was over along with Oberon’s life. He turned to find the door still glowing, almost directly behind him. In the moment before he stepped through, Sam caught a glimpse of fae-Kevin, darting between the trees on the other side of the circle, and felt such intense relief it made him gasp.
At least this version of Kevin had managed to survive.
As soon as they were through the door, Sam let Dean’s body slide off his shoulders into the soft grass of the embankment, then collapsed on the ground next to him. The night was exceptionally cool, but still. A car passed by on the road above them, the only immediate indication that they were truly back in the real world. Sam pulled the stopwatch from his pocket, noting that it had stopped; the hour was up.
Sam rolled over to get a good look at Dean. His brother was naked from the waist up, but otherwise looked no different than he had the previous night, when he’d walked into the faerie circle in the first place. Dean’s long hair was short again, his skin covered in its normal dusting of freckles, minus the glitter. As Sam checked Dean’s pulse, he couldn’t resist rolling him onto his side so he could get a good look at his bare back.
“Okay, let’s get you up to the car,” Sam muttered. Dean was fine, he told himself. He’s just sleeping off the effects of whatever happened in there. That’s all this is.
He didn’t like to leave Dean for even a moment, so he carried him up the bank to the car, propped him against it while he opened the passenger door, and shoved Dean into the seat, grabbing a blanket from the back seat to wrap around him. It was awkward; Sam accidentally let Dean’s head hit the metal frame of the door and went into a paroxysm of muttered apologies and gentle touches to make sure he hadn’t drawn blood.
He hadn’t. Dean was fine. Dean just needed to sleep. He’d wake up from this and be himself again in no time.
As Sam slipped behind the wheel of the Impala, he took a deep breath. The sun was already rising. Time had moved differently inside Faerie, just as Rowena had promised. Just as Sam had already known it would from their last experience. It wasn’t just an hour later; all night had passed while Sam had been inside Faerie.
As he started the car, he considered the fact that he hadn’t slept in almost three days, Earth-time. Then he glanced at Dean, huddled against the door of the Impala with the blanket wrapped around him, dead to the world, and all Sam could think about was getting home, putting as much distance between themselves and this place as possible. Now that Dean was here, he just wanted to leave.
Sam wanted to leave this place and never, ever come back.
They’d been driving west for almost three hours and Dean was still asleep when Sam’s phone rang.
“They’re all back,” Sheriff Scott said bluntly when Sam opened the line. “Every single one. Even the ones from seven years ago. I don’t know what you did, Agent Richards, but you’ve got some pretty happy loved ones lining up to thank you down here.”
Sam glanced over at his sleeping brother and rubbed his eyes.
“That’s good,” he said. “Real good. Thanks for letting me know. We’ll be in touch.”
And just like that, it was over.