Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Note: I was actually despairing of this season until that last episode… Which explains the absence of episode tags. I don't know if I'm even going to try any for S11; certainly not enough to merit a series for them.
This story isn't a tag. It's a little exploration of how to turn a fairytale into a Supernatural story – and I promise it's not as bad as that makes it sound. I picked a Scottish folktale to play with. I'm not going to name it here, to avoid spoiling the story, but you might guess from the title and summary.
My thanks, as always, to Cheryl, who is by now used to all kinds of insanity in her inbox and doesn't balk even when said insanity takes up over nine thousand words.
Have fun, and happy Halloween!
Summary: Sam Winchester has been taken by the fairies and pressed into service in the elf guard. It's up to Dean to save him before something very bad happens. Vague spoilers to S5/S6 if you really squint.
The Teind on All Hallows' Eve
Sam ran the last few steps to the line of elven guardsmen. He was just in time. Barely had he taken his place in line than the horns sang to announce the entrance of the queen.
Along with the other guards, Sam dropped to one knee as Queen Mab passed. He was very near the throne, with only his friend Adair standing between him and the silver steps that led to it, so he saw the miniscule frown on Queen Mab's face as she took her seat. Black Annis, as always, stood behind the throne, her face shadowed by the hood of her cloak.
The queen's page stepped forward as the guards rose to their feet again. His purple eyes gleamed, gossamer wings fluttering to carry him a few feet into the air – but not above the throne, because nobody was permitted to stand higher than the queen.
"Mab, Queen of Fairies," announced the page.
The crowd responded by cheering. Sam hefted his lance, though he knew nobody would try to break through the line. He also knew that there was no real joy in the cheering. There was an edge of fear to it, as though everyone was desperate to prove their loyalty to the Unseelie court. It had been like this for days, although Sam had no idea why.
Queen Mab raised her sceptre for silence. It was immediate, and that, too, was laced with an undercurrent of fear.
"My subjects." Her voice was like a bell. "As you know, All Hallows' Eve approaches. This is the seventh year."
A shiver passed over the gathering. Sam wanted to ask Adair why – Adair had been a member of the Queen's Guard far longer than Sam had, and knew all kinds of things Sam didn't – but there would be trouble if he spoke to anyone while on duty, so he kept his hands on his lance and his eyes on the Queen.
She said nothing more about All Hallows' Eve. Instead, she nodded to the page, who gestured to somebody standing out of Sam's sight.
Two guardsmen walked up to the throne, dragging someone between them. Sam saw with horrified fascination that it was a human. There had been no human taken since Sam himself had been turned into one of the Unseelie, so he had never seen one before. Well… no, that wasn't strictly true. He must have seen humans when he had lived as one, but Sam couldn't remember his life before the Queen's guard.
That was part of the spell, and Sam understood that it was necessary, because otherwise all the Elves would be longing for the mortal lives they'd left behind. But sometimes he felt a pang, as though he'd lost something irreplaceable.
The human was a woman. She was practically fainting with fear. Sam almost felt sorry for her.
He bowed his head and gripped his lance.
"Please," the woman begged, as the guards threw her to the ground at the foot of the steps. "Please, please, let me go! Let me go. I won't tell anyone about you, I promise I won't."
"Of course you won't," agreed the Queen. "You will say nothing to anyone. You will have no opportunity."
"Please! Please, I have a child – a daughter. She needs me! You can't take me away from her! Please, whatever kidnapping cult you're running I'll keep your secrets –"
"Kidnapping cult?" demanded Queen Mab, getting to her feet. Her wings were flared out, black and silver in the moonlight. "Do I look like a mortal to you, girl?"
"Please," whimpered the woman.
"Answer me!" snapped Queen Mab. Her eyes glowed like coals. "Do I look like a mortal?"
"No, please, I don't know! I don't know!"
Queen Mab sat down again. "Take her away. Put her in a cell until I have time to deal with her."
The guards hauled the woman to her feet and dragged her out. Sam could hear her screaming as she was taken away.
"So where were you?" Adair asked, as they made their way back to their quarters. "That's the fourth time this week you've almost been late. You weren't watching that mortal again, were you?"
"I can't help it!" Sam said. "I didn't mean to go back, but he's…"
"He's what?" Adair opened his door, hauled Sam into his room, and shut the door firmly. "What is he, Sam? What is this mortal to you that you're willing to risk disobeying the Queen?"
Sam's wings fluttered with nervousness. "I haven't disobeyed the Queen."
"But you're thinking about it. We don't talk to mortals unless we're bringing them here to make them one of us. You know that. This isn't the time to be standing out, Sam."
"I can see that. I'm not stupid! I might not know exactly what's going on but I can see that everyone's afraid."
Adair sighed. "Sit down. There's… something I need to explain to you. You know All Hallows' Eve is coming."
"Yes. That's when humans can be turned into Elves." Just like Sam had been a year ago.
"That's when humans can be turned into Elves. But also… I don't know if you've realized it, Sam, but time is slower in the human world than it is for us. Seven times slower. Once every seven years for us, once a year for the humans, on All Hallows' Eve, the human and fairy worlds are together in time."
"So… that's a… good thing, I guess?"
"Yes and no. Every seventh All Hallows' Eve, our magic is particularly strong. You'll notice it yourself when the day comes. And every seventh All Hallows' Eve, we have to pay our teind to Hell."
"That's… like a tithe, right?"
"Yes, but we don't give them gold. They have no use for fairy gold in Hell anyway. Every seventh year we give them one fairy to drag down into damnation."
"It's not something anyone talks about, but… That's why everyone's trying to stay on Queen Mab's good side. She'll choose one fairy to give to Hell."
Even as he said the word, Sam had a flash of something – ice so cold it burned, so cold he longed for the excoriation of the fires he could see above him –
Sam shivered. It had felt like a memory, but it couldn't be. He had never been to Hell, never even been near it since he had been turned, and he didn't see how he could have known Hell in his mortal life.
"So you want to be careful," Adair went on, oblivious to Sam's distraction. "Be very careful, Sam. Don't do anything to attract attention. And if you have any sense, you'll stay away from mortals until after All Hallows' Eve."
Of course, despite Adair's warning, Sam found himself back in the wood. This particular section of forest held an odd affinity for him. It was where he'd been taken, and it was natural for him to be drawn to it. There was nothing wrong with that.
But there was something wrong with wanting to see the mortal.
Sam supposed the mortal had a name, but he didn't know it. Sam had seen him the first time he'd come to the wood, nearly a year after he'd been turned. He'd been wandering around as though looking for something. Sam should have been angry – he was one of the Unseelie and the wood was his. But he'd felt an odd affinity to the mortal, and had let him go unharmed.
Since then Sam had seen the mortal very nearly every day. He'd be lying if he said that hoping to see him, despite Adair's warning, wasn't part of what had brought him here.
The mortal couldn't see him, of course. That was one of the effects of time moving at different rates. Sam moved too fast for the mortal to catch more than a glimpse of movement, if that. The only way for the mortal to see him would be if Sam stepped into the human world completely, into mortal time. Many elves and fairies did it – that was how they spoke to mortals when they had to.
Or kidnapped them.
Sam watched from behind a tree as the mortal wandered around. His movements seemed slow, uncoordinated and clumsy. Sam found himself wondering if he would seem quicker in mortal time.
It couldn't hurt to find out, could it?
Feeling like he was embarking on some impossible quest, Sam stepped into mortal time. It was a weird feeling, like plunging himself in a freezing lake. Everything seemed slower. He couldn't move as fast as he wanted to.
The mortal's movements did seem quicker and more coordinated now, though of course he didn't have the agility of an elf. Sam stayed behind his tree, watching as the mortal searched for something.
Sam wondered what he could have lost. A ring, maybe? In all the stories told around fairy fires on full moon nights, humans needed lost trinkets, usually rings. Sam wasn't sure why but he had a feeling they were symbolic.
He was so lost in thought that he didn't notice the mortal turning. By the time he did, it was too late. He'd been spotted.
"No!" Sam gasped, scrambling back. This was bad, so bad. Adair had told him all about what happened to elves and fairies when they were spotted by humans. Rowan stakes and death, or chains and slavery. "No!"
"Sam?" said the human.
No. No no no. The mortal couldn't know his name. Mortals weren't supposed to know elves' names. Names were power.
"Stay away!" Sam said as the mortal came towards him.
The man stopped, looking hurt. Sam felt bad about it until he remembered that the man had probably been intending to kill Sam or enslave him.
"Hey, it's just me," said the man. "What's the matter? Do you know how worried I've been?"
Sam slipped back into fairy time and fled.
"You did what?" Adair demanded. "Have you lost your mind, Sam?"
"I know, I know I shouldn't have done it –"
"You think? This is exactly why I told you to stay away from him! Mortals are dangerous, Sam. Do you know what it's like to die pierced by rowan? I saw it happen once. It's agonizing and slow."
"I'm sorry," Sam said.
"What does he look like?" Adair asked abruptly. "This mortal who almost managed to kill you?"
"He didn't –" At Adair's expression, Sam sighed and said, "Tall, for a human. I don't know. He looked like a mortal. It's not like I've seen that many others to compare him with. Why does it matter?"
"It just does. I… The wood we took you from, it's a dangerous place. We've taken people from there before, so it tends to attract men who make it their business to hunt us. Nobody you see there is your friend, Sam. They'll kill you as soon as they look at you."
"You were part of the group that took me?" Sam hadn't known that, and it made him feel betrayed.
"Yes, I was. And aren't you happier now, Sam? You're one of the Unseelie. You have power no mortal ever could."
"I know, but…"
"I feel like I miss something," Sam confessed. "Something from before I was turned."
"That's your imagination. It's normal for newly-turned elves to wonder about the mortal life they left behind. That's why we erase their memories. Nothing good comes of dwelling on the past. Whatever was in your life before you were one of us is gone. You're a Queen's guard now, and a member of the Unseelie court. This is your future, Sam."
"Now come on," Adair said, getting to his feet. "There's going to be storytelling tonight. I heard some of the Corrigan will be there. You always like their stories. Come and enjoy yourself, drink some wine, and stay away from mortals."
Sam intended to heed Adair's warning. He really did. But something about the mortal drew him. He told himself he only wanted to find out how the man found out his name. That was the only reason he went back to the wood a few days later.
The mortal was there again. His searching was more frantic this time.
Sam didn't give himself time to think. He stepped into mortal time a few yards away from the man, ready to jump back at once if there was any sign of iron or rowan.
The man saw him at once.
"Sam." He paused, making an obvious effort to contain himself. "Can I come closer?"
The man looked at the rowan stake in his hand. "You want me to lose this? Fine." He dropped it. Then he pulled a large knife from his clothes and dropped that as well. "Now can I come closer?"
The man kept both his hands up, moving forward slowly like Sam was a skittish animal. When he was a few feet away, he stopped.
"Who are you?" Sam asked. "And how do you know my name?"
The man stared at him. "Don't you know me?"
"How would I? I've…" Sam paused. He'd been about to say he'd never seen the man before, but that would be a lie. He'd seen him several times. The man just didn't know it. "I've never spoken to you before."
"Oh. OK, then, introductions. I'm Dean Winchester." The mortal held out his hand. "And you are…?"
"Sam," said Sam. "I'm a member of the Queen's guard."
"Queen Mab. Our queen. The fairy queen."
"Oh." Dean glanced down at his outstretched hand. "You know, those of us who aren't members of the Queen's guard shake hands when we're introduced."
Sam hesitated. Physical contact with mortals was banned, unless you were planning on bringing them to the Unseelie court to be turned. But Dean was looking at him with such hope in his eyes that he couldn't resist taking the offered hand.
Pleasant warmth bled into Sam's cool skin.
"You're cold," Dean said in some surprise.
"No, you're hot. Mortals run hot."
"Mortals, huh? And what are you then?"
"I'm an elf," Sam said, wondering why Dean was asking when he'd obviously known the answer. Why else would he have been carrying a rowan wand in a fairy wood? "All the Queen's guard are elves."
"Really? Do you have pointy ears?"
Sam flushed. "That's not a nice question." And then he realized what he was doing, standing here, touching a mortal, breaking Queen Mab's law with just a month and a half to go before All Hallows' Eve. "I have to go."
"What? Wait, no, I'm sorry I asked about your ears. I didn't realize they were a sensitive subject."
"I have to go." Sam pulled his hand away. "You don't understand. Time works differently for us. I'll be late. I can't be late."
"Well, then, will you come back when you're free? I'll wait here."
"Yes," Sam found himself saying, despite all his intentions to the contrary.
And so the next day Sam came back to find that Dean had pitched himself a tent.
"I know you guys won't like it if I kill any of your animals," he said as soon as he saw Sam. "So I've got plenty of canned food."
Sam shrugged. "You shouldn't be in a fairy wood at all. It's dangerous."
"So far, you're the only fairy I've seen, and you don't seem too dangerous." Dean smiled. "I'm not here to hurt anyone, all right? I just want to find out more about you. Here, I've even brought you an offering." He held up a flask. "Fairies like milk, right? That's what all the lore said."
Sam took it, opened it, sniffed it, and sipped at it cautiously. When it tasted just like normal milk, he nodded. "Yes, we like milk."
"So have I earned some points with that? Maybe some answers?"
"I… yeah, sure, I guess so."
"Awesome. So how does it work? Were you born an elf?"
"Wow, you don't start small, do you?"
Dean shrugged. "I'm guessing I don't have very long before you have to go. I don't have time to start small."
"Oh… I suppose that's fair. No, I wasn't born an elf. I was a mortal, but I was taken and turned."
"So what about… before? When you were a mortal? You remember anything?"
"Black Annis wipes your memories. She's Queen Mab's… enforcer, I guess you could call her. She's the one who casts the final spell that turns people and… She… Well, she doesn't usually let anyone remember. She thinks it's a weakness."
"So you don't remember anything?"
Sam remembered his flash of cold and pain and shuddered, putting down the flask. "Why do you care?"
"If I tell you the truth, will you promise not to kill me?"
"I… I suppose so."
"I lost someone, all right? Someone very important to me. I want to know if there's any hope."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"So… is there any hope?"
"I've never heard of anyone being turned back into a mortal. Queen Mab…" Sam lowered his voice. "Queen Mab doesn't give up her servants easily."
"Do you think she'd be willing to bargain?"
"Don't try it. Don't bargain with the queen. She's clever. No mortal ever makes a bargain with the fairy queen without living to regret it."
Dean grunted. "That would be a first."
"I have to go." Sam had said too much. Far too much. If the queen ever heard…
"When will you be back?"
"I can't come back. I shouldn't be talking to you. I don't know why I did it at all." Sam thrust the half-empty flask at Dean. "Thank you for the milk."
"Wait." Dean caught at Sam's hand. "Please. I swear to you, I won't tell anyone and I will never try to hurt you. Just tell me when you can come back and stay for a while."
Sam bit his lip.
"Tonight," he said at last. "After guard duty and dinner. Nobody will notice if I slip out for a few hours."
"So in my time that's…"
Sam did some mental calculations. "One hour for you. I'll be back in an hour."
"And you can stay longer than ten minutes?"
"I can stay longer."
"You've been speaking to him again."
Adair's tone was accusing. Sam fought not to flinch, but his beating wings gave him away.
"I don't see why not," he said. "Dean's nice. There's no reason not to talk to him."
"Dean. So now you're on first name terms with a mortal. This is bad."
"Why is it bad? He's not tried to kill me. He's not tried to enslave me. He just wants to learn more about us."
"You're an idiot," Adair said brusquely. "Mortals never want to learn more about us, Sam. Especially not mortals like your Dean. You need to stay away from him." He leaned closer to Sam, lowering his voice, even though nobody would have heard him over the sound of the singing. "Don't go back and see him again. Swear to me, Sam."
"Because he's different. Maybe most mortals want to hurt most fairies but Dean doesn't want to hurt me. I know he doesn't."
Adair shook his head. "At least promise me you'll be careful."
"I'll be careful."
Careful included conjuring little rainbows and starbursts that made Dean laugh, right?
Sam had been there for the better part of half an hour, and Dean hadn't raised any difficult subjects. He seemed to be on a mission to make Sam trust him, because he'd had more milk waiting, along with shortbread and honeyed wine, and they'd spent the time lying flat on their backs next to Dean's tent while Sam pointed out as many constellations as they could see through the trees.
After Sam showed Dean a few of them, he dropped his arm and said, "Go ahead. I know you're dying to ask."
"I don't want you to run away."
"Is there any way to save someone the fairies have taken?"
"There are legends of times when it happened. Not often – maybe not more than four or five times in the entire history of dealings between mortals and the Unseelie. But it has happened."
"Can I do it?"
"That depends. Do you love the person you lost?"
"More than anything in the world."
Sam wondered what that must feel like, to love, to be loved, more than anything in the world. He couldn't remember if anyone had loved him as a mortal, but obviously nobody had loved him enough to try to save him.
"Sam?" Dean asked.
"If that's true, you have a chance."
Dean let out a long breath. "All right. What do I do?"
"I don't know the details. I'll have to ask someone."
"Will you get in trouble for that?"
Sam shrugged. "Not if I'm careful. I can ask Adair. He's my friend. He'll probably tell me off, but he won't give me away to Queen Mab or Black Annis."
"Adair's a good friend?"
"Adair's my only friend. I've not been an elf very long." Sam stared up at the sky. "Do you think my friends and family didn't like me? When I was a mortal, I mean?"
"Why would you say that?"
"Nobody ever came for me. After Black Annis wiped my memory, when she was… turning me, it was horrible. It's painful, and… I… I couldn't remember anymore, I couldn't remember if I even had a family or friends but I hoped someone would rescue me. Nobody did, though. Black Annis said nobody cared enough to try."
"You know Black Annis was lying to you, right? Messing with your mind?"
"But what if she was telling the truth?"
"Sam." Dean rolled onto his stomach to look Sam in the eye. "Listen to me. You have a family, OK? Trust me. You have a family. Wherever they are, they're worried sick about you, and all they want is to get you back."
"You can't know that."
"I do." Dean patted his shoulder, mortal warmth seeping into Sam's body. "You believe me?"
Amazingly, Sam did.
By the time Sam left, after promising Dean he'd return the next day – or around two hours later in mortal time – his mind was made up.
He knew who Dean had to be looking for. The mortal woman who'd been brought to the Unseelie court was the only mortal Sam had seen in months. Sam knew from experience that Queen Mab let mortals spend several days in a cell without food or water to make them desperate enough to eat the first piece of fairy bread they were given. If he was lucky, the woman was still in her cell.
If Queen Mab had fed her – or, worse, Black Annis had started her work – the woman's soul was more than half claimed already. But if she was still in her cell, still unfed, Sam could get her out.
He went through his duties that day in a daze, barely hearing anything that was said in court. Once or twice he caught Adair looking at him suspiciously, but his friend didn't say anything until they were filing out. Normally they'd be dismissed immediately after the queen left, but today the captain was telling them what they'd be doing on All Hallows' Eve. The Queen's guard always trooped at the slightest provocation, so it wasn't anything any of them hadn't heard a hundred times before.
When they were finally told they could go, Adair caught up to Sam before he could slip away.
"You have that look," he said, pulling Sam aside. "Like you're going to do something stupid."
"Maybe I am."
"Don't. Whatever that mortal told you, it isn't worth it."
"You didn't hear him! He sounded so sad – he really misses her. He must love her, or he wouldn't be risking his life in the fairy wood."
"What are you talking about?"
"The woman they brought in that day – the mortal. Dean's looking for someone he lost. What?" Sam said irritably when Adair looked at him like he was a particularly slow child. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You think Dean's looking for Linda?"
"You know her name?"
"I heard the prison guards talking," Adair said impatiently. "That's not the point. Look – you know that can't be true. They only brought Linda here a few days ago, and you've been seeing the mortal in the wood for months now."
"We don't know when they took her. Maybe they've been holding her somewhere else. It has to be Linda. Who else is there?"
"Sam, listen to me. Don't do this. It's not worth the risk."
"Yes, it is. Dean's a good man and he doesn't deserve to spend his life missing her. If I can save her for him, I'm going to do it."
Sam's blood was thundering in his ears.
It had taken longer than he'd expected to give Adair the slip. He was going to be late for Dean – but it would only be a few minutes in Dean's time, and he'd have Linda, so Dean couldn't be too angry with him.
The prison was in the lower levels of Queen Mab's palace. Mortals couldn't see it at all – it existed only in fairy time, raising its buttresses and turrets over what, in the human world, was a large abandoned field. The palace was guarded with countless spells to keep mortals out.
There were no wards against fairies. Queen Mab probably hadn't imagined she'd ever need them. Every fairy lived in fear of her sceptre. So did Sam, most of the time. He didn't know where he was finding the courage to do something that, if he was caught, would bring the wrath of the queen, and probably of Black Annis as well, down on him.
But he remembered Dean's sad eyes and gripped his lance tighter. He had to try.
Sam saw two guards standing in front of a door and knew that must be it.
He straightened, willing himself to look as though he knew what he was doing, as though he had a reason to be here.
He walked confidently down the passage. One of the guards stepped forward to stop him a few yards from the cell.
"What do you want?"
"Queen's orders. I'm here to take the prisoner to Black Annis." Sam held out the sheet of onionskin paper on which he'd forged Black Annis's signature. As he'd hoped, neither of the guards looked at it very closely. "Can she walk?"
"Oh, she'll walk." The guard looked Sam up and down. "She was feisty when they brought her in but she's learned to be quiet. I don't think you'll have any trouble."
He drew back the bolt and opened the cell door.
"Get up!" he snapped. "Your honeymoon's over."
Linda, if that was her name, looked weak. Her cheeks were hollow, her eyes sunken. She was clutching the wall for support.
Sam took hold of her arm.
"Come on," he said coldly. "We shouldn't keep Black Annis waiting."
"Please," Linda begged as he dragged her down the corridor. "Please, please, just let me go. I won't tell anyone, I won't – please! I have a daughter!"
"Be quiet." Sam glared at her. "You don't want Black Annis to hear you've been making noise, believe me."
The woman paled, but she went silent. Sam was sorry to scare her, but he couldn't give himself away before they were even outside the palace, and he couldn't risk her pleading drawing anybody's attention.
As soon as they exited the palace, Sam made straight for the stables. He'd left Belladonna, his powerful brown destrier, tied to the stable wall.
Linda paled when she saw the horse. Sam lifted her easily onto Belladonna's back and leapt on behind her. The horse was too well trained to make any noise. When Sam's heels touched her flanks lightly, she stepped over the cobblestones as softly as a whisper of wind, making her way to the arched gate.
"Sam," a familiar voice said before he reached the gate. "Don't do this."
Adair was standing in the shadows.
"I have to," Sam said. "I'm sorry."
"You don't have to do anything! You're one of us, now, Sam. You're an elf and a Queen's guard. Your duty is to Queen Mab and the Unseelie court."
"Please," begged the woman. "Please let me go."
Adair stepped right into Sam's path, his lance raised. Sam heard movement behind him. He turned Belladonna and saw several guards emerging from the shadows around the stables.
They'd been waiting.
It was a trap.
He spun to face Adair. "You betrayed me!"
"I didn't betray you, Sam. You betrayed us. You betrayed the queen and the Unseelie. Give her back, let us take her back to her cell, and we can forget this happened. Everyone makes mistakes."
Sam gauged the distance to the gate. He would never make it in time.
"Please," the woman whimpered.
Sam made up his mind. He leapt off Belladonna's back, dragging the woman down with him. The horse reared. Adair backed away, startled.
Sam ran for the gate. He pushed Linda through it, away from Queen Mab's palace, into mortal time, just as something caught him around the legs and made him fall.
The last he saw of Linda, she was running as fast as her human legs could take her.
"Poor Sam," crooned Black Annis. "Poor, poor Sam."
He didn't know how long he'd been in Black Annis's dungeon. It felt like weeks, but it was probably just a few days. He'd spent most of it suspended by his wrists from the ceiling, his toes just barely touching the floor. The manacles around his wrists were pure iron, burning his skin. But that was nothing compared to the pain of everything else.
"So what do you think, Sam? Have you learnt your lesson?"
When Sam didn't say anything, she tapped his chest with a finger. Lines of fire shot from her touch, through his bones. Sam would have screamed if he'd still had the strength.
"I asked you a question. Have you learnt your lesson?"
"Yes," Sam gasped. "Yes."
"Do you know what happens to elves who disobey the orders of Queen Mab?"
"Good. Then I have nothing more to say to you."
She snapped her fingers. The manacles loosened abruptly. Sam fell to his knees without the support.
"Whenever you feel like walking, you can go," said Black Annis. "And remember, Sam: if I ever see you in my dungeon again, I'm not going to be as nice."
She walked out of the room.
Sam managed to drag himself to the wall and collapsed against it.
There wasn't a mark on him, other than the bloody welts the manacles had left on his wrists. But his entire body hurt. He knew there was no way he could walk. He tried fluttering his wings, but he couldn't even move them, leave alone lift himself with them.
He had to go, though. He couldn't still be here when Black Annis came back.
Sam clutched at the rough stone wall, using it to haul himself to his feet. He had to go somewhere – but where? He didn't have the strength to get far. He didn't want to go back to his room, he didn't even want to think about seeing Adair –
Dean must have left, he realized with a pang. Linda must have found her way to him. They must be long gone.
But there was nowhere else for Sam to go, and he still liked the wood. And maybe there was a little part of him that hoped Dean was still there, that he hadn't simple forgotten about Sam and gone to be with Linda.
It took the last of Sam's energy to get to the wood and step into mortal time.
As soon as he did, someone was there, shouting at him.
"What the hell, Sam? Where have you been? You told me you'd be back in two hours – two hours! Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting for you?"
"Dean?" Sam mumbled.
"Do you have any idea how worried I've been?"
"I'm – hey, what's wrong?" Dean's hands were on him, as warm as ever. "Sam, what happened?"
"I – Black Annis. She –"
"Never mind. You can tell me about it later. Come on, come here. Sit down." Dean helped him walk the few paces to his tent and lowered him to the ground next to the ashes of his fire. "What do elves need when they're hurt? Does human medicine work?"
"No… just… just wait. It'll… go."
"All right." Dean dropped to the ground next to Sam, pulling Sam's head down onto his shoulder. Then he hissed. "Your wrists – what happened?"
Sam tried to hide his hands under his tunic, not wanting Dean to see, but Dean tutted at him and pulled his hands free.
"OK, let's just sit here until you feel a bit better." It took Dean a moment to figure out how to work around Sam's wings, but then he got one arm around Sam's waist and slid the other hand into his hair. "Oh, hey, look," he said, pushing Sam's hair back. "You do have pointy ears."
Sam smiled and shut his eyes.
He opened them again a few minutes later, when he felt the welts on his wrists healing and some of his strength coming back. He tried to flutter his wings, but apparently he didn't have that much strength back because all he managed was a pathetic little twitch.
"Take it easy," Dean admonished.
"I heal faster in mortal time. Because it's slower."
"Sure, but still. Take it easy."
"Did you find Linda?"
"I… I released her. That's why…" Sam shrugged.
"Wait, you mean Linda Hoffman? The woman who disappeared two days ago?"
"I… I suppose so. I thought… Wasn't she the one you wanted to free?"
"I'm happy she's free, sure, but she's not the one I'm here for, Sam. Is that why they did this to you? Because you set Linda free?" He didn't wait for Sam's nod before he said, "You poor kid. Linda made her way home all right. I didn't know that was you."
"Then…" Sam hesitated. He didn't know if he could do it again, risk freeing someone else, risk another week in Black Annis's dungeon, but… Dean looked so warm and gentle. Nobody had looked at him like that in all his life in the Unseelie court. He could do it for Dean. "Who is it?"
"You're thinking of doing it again, aren't you, and maybe getting yourself killed this time." Dean shook his head. "Idiot."
Sam flushed, pulling away. "I'm sorry. I suppose I should have asked you but I thought – and anyway, I'm glad Linda's free. She said she had a daughter. You're right, though. I'm stupid. I just –"
"Hey." Dean reached out and grabbed his shoulders. "Listen to me, Sam. That's not what I meant."
"You don't have to lie."
"Sam." Dean gave his shoulders a squeeze. "Listen to me. I'm here for you. You're my brother. OK? You're my little brother. You've been missing around two months in mortal time. I've been looking for you, I've found you and now I'm going to free you."
Sam felt joy bubbling up in him as soon as he had overcome his initial disbelief. Why would Dean lie about this? He had to be telling the truth. That meant Sam had someone – he had a brother – and his brother was Dean and Dean cared and Dean wanted him and Dean was here.
"Hey," Dean said, laughing. "I'm glad you're happy, but calm down."
Sam realized his wings were fluttering in his excitement, beating hard enough to lift him off the ground if Dean weren't anchoring him. He blushed.
"Don't be. I told you, I'm glad you're happy I'm your brother. So tell me, how do I get you out?"
Sam's spirits fell. "You can't. Queen Mab claimed my soul."
"Yeah, well, I claimed it first. You said it's been done before, right? You were going to ask your friend Adair." Something in Sam's expression must have given away his thoughts, because Dean said, "What? What happened?"
"Adair was the one who betrayed me to the guards when I freed Linda. I can't – he's not my friend. I only thought he was."
"Sam." Sam found himself being hugged. "It's going to be all right, I promise. I'm going to get you away from Queen Mab and Black Annis and Adair and all of them, OK? It's going to be you and me, just like it's always been. I promise."
The other guards were acting like there was nothing different. Adair was acting like it was a normal day, like he hadn't given Sam away, given him to Black Annis for helping Linda go free.
Sam didn't understand, and he honestly didn't care. He just wanted to get through the day and then go see Dean again. Dean had promised to be there.
He stood in his place in line, holding his lance lightly. There was total silence, not even a hobgoblin moving to make him wary. Everyone knew Linda had escaped the queen's power, and nobody wanted to be the one to anger her. Black Annis was standing behind the throne as always. More than once her dark eyes, sparkling with malice, caught Sam's.
When the queen finally got up to leave, Sam knelt with the others. He saw the swishing of her skirt as she came down the steps.
She stopped in front of him.
Sam looked up. Queen Mab was one of the most beautiful fairies who had ever lived. Compared to Black Annis, who was a step behind her, she looked like a vision of perfection. But her glittering eyes were hard, and her luscious red lips were tilted in a cruel smirk.
"I will see you in my private audience chamber in ten minutes."
Sam's blood ran cold.
He only waited long enough to take off his helm and armour and put away his lance before he ran to the queen's apartments. The guards who let him in were looking at him with open pity.
Sam turned away from the unwanted sympathy of their gazes and went to the small rug in front of the cold hearth to wait.
When he heard the queen's footsteps outside the door, he went down to one knee.
She came in, saying carelessly, "Rise."
Sam stood. Queen Mab had changed from the formal robes of court into a loose gauzy dress that made her look much more like a mortal depiction of a fairy. But in her hands she held her sceptre – the sceptre, and Sam shivered, though there was nothing more it could take from him.
"You remember this, Sam?"
Sam remembered. He remembered it touching him, remembered the white-hot pain in his chest as the bond was forged that would tie him to it, and therefore the fairy queen, for the entirety of his immortal life.
"You know your soul is mine, Sam, and yet you've been trying to give it to a mortal." She looked at him. "Well? Do you deny it?"
Sam pressed his lips together. Whatever she did to him, he wasn't going to deny Dean.
"Foolish Sam. It's not easy to a free a soul from my sceptre. You'd never have been able to do it even if you'd lived long enough. Sadly for you, you'll never have the chance to find out." She smiled. "I had a message from the King of Hell, Sam. He's asked for you as the teind this year. He asked for you by name. If you'd been a true and loyal knight I might have refused, but…" She laughed, silvery and terrible. "Enjoy your last weeks on earth Sam. On All Hallows' Eve I'll give your soul to the demon King of Hell."
"And she's going to do it!" Sam rested his forehead on Dean's knee, wishing he dared to meet his eyes. "She's going to give me to Hell for the teind."
Dean's fingers stroked through his hair, tracing up and down the tips of his pointed ears. Sam's wings were beating faster than a hummingbird's, but he couldn't stop them. Sam was clutching at Dean's shirt, the only thing keeping his body from lifting off the ground with the force of his wings.
Dean hadn't said a word since Sam had arrived. He'd let him talk, works tumbling one over the other. Now, finally, Sam had nothing more to say, nothing more to do except hope for a miracle.
"Don't worry," said Dean.
Sam looked up to demand how he was supposed to not worry when he was going to be given to the King of Hell as a toy, but Dean shook his head.
"Listen to me. I know about the current King of Hell and he is far, far from the worst there is down there. And I know that not even the worst he can do will be enough to break you." Dean bent, whispering his next words. "But it doesn't matter, because it's not going to come to that. I won't let anyone take you. You hear me? I will keep you safe."
Sam started at the sound of Adair's voice, wings going still. He turned to look at his former friend, very glad for the hand Dean kept on his shoulder.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to take you back, Sam. I'm sure you're angry with me, and I'm not surprised, though I don't think you would have done anything different in my place. We can't disobey Queen Mab, and you know that. She's expecting you back."
Sam shrugged. "Not like she can do anything worse to me now."
"Sam, you still have three weeks before All Hallows' Eve. She might change her mind. Even if she doesn't, your last three weeks can be pleasant – or she can give you to Black Annis. You might as well use the time you have."
"Wait," Dean said. "Three weeks? Hallowe'en is in three days."
Adair shrugged. "Mortal time is slower. Sam, are you coming?"
"No." Sam settled back against Dean's legs. Adair's coming had given him courage, in an odd way, as though it had reminded him of what was important. "No, I'm not. If I only have a little time left, I want to spend it with Dean."
"Sam." Adair looked frustrated. "Come on. Come with me. We can try to persuade the queen to forgive you."
"And then what?" Sam asked. "She's going to give someone to Hell every seven years. I'm not going to spend eternity in fear that next time it might be me!"
"Nobody's giving you to Hell," Dean said firmly.
Adair scowled. "The queen has a claim on his soul."
"So do I!"
"I know, but –"
"You know?" Sam demanded. "You – you knew Dean was my brother?" Adair's eyes widened, but he didn't deny it. "You knew. And you never told me."
"I was trying to help you, Sam. What good would it have done to get attached to Dean? What good has it done? All you've managed to do is damn your own soul because of him."
"Hey!" Dean yelled. "Nobody's getting Sam's soul! You – are you Adair?" He went on without waiting for a response. "Sam said you might know how to free a soul."
"I would never tell you that."
"Of course you will, because if you don't, if your queen actually manages to give my brother to the King of Hell, I will not rest until I've hunted down every last fairy in the world and killed them all. And I'll start with you."
Adair looked from Sam to Dean. "Do you really think you can save him? It's not easy."
"I know I can."
"And you want to give up what you have, Sam? There's plenty of time for Queen Mab to change her mind. If we can persuade her to be merciful, you'll be immortal, a member of the Queen's guard – you could rise high in the Unseelie court."
Sam felt Dean stiffen, but he already knew his answer.
"I don't want immortality," he said. "I want to be with my brother."
Adair sighed. "All right. I must be insane to do this, but… all right." He sat on a fallen log opposite Sam and Dean. "A long, long time ago, there was an elf called Tam Lin."
After Adair left, Dean sat rubbing Sam's head for several minutes before he said, "So… Scottish well water."
"Do you know where to get it?"
"Shouldn't be too hard. There's a pretty big Wiccan centre a couple of towns over. They have loads of crap like that. Hand-weaving a cloak for you… is probably going to be more complicated, but I'll find a way. I'm sure they have some handicrafts classes or… or something. I'll figure it out, Sam."
"But…" Dean's hand left his head. "You know this means I can't see you for a while, right? I need to get working on this stuff. It'll take me all the time between now and midnight on Hallowe'en to do it. That'll be a few weeks for you."
"Three weeks." Sam's throat felt dry. "Three weeks until All Hallows' Eve."
Dean tugged at Sam's arm. Sam shifted, getting up on his knees so he could look Dean in the eye.
"I'll be there," Dean said firmly. "Never doubt that. There's nothing, nothing, that's more important to me than you are. Whatever it takes, I'll be there with the well water and the cloak and everything else. Trust me."
Sam nodded. "I do."
"Now you need to go back and act like nothing's changed. Be careful around Black Annis, suck up to the queen, do what you have to do. I will come for you."
Despite himself, Sam was nervous as he worked his wings through the slits in his back plate and laced it to the cuirass. It had been almost three weeks since he'd said goodbye to Dean in the fairy wood. Three weeks of standing guard in court and sitting at feasts while people whispered around him and offered him commiseration he didn't want. Three weeks of hoping, desperately, that Dean would be there, and then feeling guilty for doubting him.
At Adair's insistence, he had gone to plead his case to Queen Mab, but she had only laughed and told him nobody could renege on a deal with the King of Hell, not even her.
After he had his gorget on, he took a large kerchief Dean had given him and knotted it loosely around his neck. It was unconventional for elf knights to wear a favour – Queen Mab certainly never gave out any – but there had to be some way for Dean to recognize him amidst the troop of helmeted elves.
He slipped on his gauntlets, picked up his helm, and went out to the courtyard.
Belladonna was saddled and ready. Whatever happened to him, she would be cared for. Queen Mab could be cruel to her subjects, but she was good to animals. That was something.
"Sam," Adair said softly, coming up next to him. "Good luck. I… I'm sure Dean will be there."
"And for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I don't expect you to forgive me, but… You've been my friend. No matter what happens today, I don't think we'll be seeing each other again. I'll miss you."
Sam nodded, throat too tight to speak.
Things moved quickly after that. They were mounted, they had their helms on, and then they were going out the great gate three by three, riding through the dusk. For this one hour in mortal time and fairy time together, the knights of the fairy queen trooped to their meeting with the servants of the King of Hell.
Sam's heart beat faster the closer they got until he was certain everyone could hear it. He kept his eyes straight ahead, not daring to look around and give Dean away.
And then, in the road ahead, he could see the great hole in the ground. Fire was licking through it. They would be there in minutes.
Sam forced himself not to clench his fist around the reins.
Something hit him hard enough to knock him off his horse. He was on the ground, still clutching his lance out of reflex, when he was pulled up and his helm tugged off. He had just a moment to meet Dean's eyes, and then his brother, one hand around Sam's upper arm, was turning to the very angry fairy queen.
"Queen Mab," Dean said clearly, "You cannot have Sam Winchester. He is my brother and I have a claim on his soul."
"Rash mortal!" said Queen Mab. "Do you come between the fairy queen and her chosen?"
"You will not have my brother," Dean said. "I have a claim on his soul." Dean paused, and then said for the third time, "I have a claim on his soul."
Queen Mab's eyes narrowed. "If it's his soul you want, then I'm sure you won't mind if I change his body."
Sam felt his skin rippling, his bones breaking, expanding, and reforming. His armour was flying off as the laces broke, followed by his tunic and his breeches and boots.
Sam screamed. Before he ran out of breath, his scream turned into a roar.
Sam didn't need a mirror to know he'd been turned into a bear. He roared again, out of his mind with pain and frustration, and then he remembered Dean. He couldn't feel Dean's hands anymore. Surely – surely – his brother hadn't been scared away.
But no; there he was when Sam turned his head, and he didn't look scared at all. His fingers were in Sam's thick fur, though Sam couldn't feel them.
"I've got you," Dean said, smiling at him.
Sam nosed at Dean's chest, the only way he could communicate.
Then Sam felt the fire in his bones again. He thrashed with the agony of it but Dean's grip never loosened, not even when Sam settled into the form of a great maned lion, roaring up at the first stars.
"I've got you," Dean whispered, his arms wrapped around Sam's neck.
Sam's body was shrinking, his voice as he roared dwindling into a low hiss. He writhed, feeling himself lash against Dean's grip.
Dean – Dean.
Dean only held Sam tighter as he turned into a snake. Sam wrapped his tail around Dean's wrist, hissing happily when Dean tickled him under his chin.
He was changing again. Sam could feel himself shrinking, his bones turning to metal. He was burning, and this had to be Hell because every part of him was wracked with pain –
There was a sharp snap, and water cascaded over him. It smelled terrible – it must be old. But that didn't matter because Sam could smell. His limbs were lengthening again, damp hair sticking to his forehead. He gasped and breathed in beautiful air. He could feel his heart pumping warm, human blood.
He gasped again when he realized his clothes had been torn off by his transformations, but already Dean was covering him with something made of rough spun material. It smelt like Dean – like home – and Sam gathered it close with trembling fingers. Just touching the cloak Dean had made for him made him remember everything he'd forgotten as an elf, remember weeks – years – of life with his brother.
"Sam?" Dean asked anxiously. "Sam, are you OK? You with me?"
Sam smiled at him. "Yeah."
"You think to take one of my knights from me?" shrieked Queen Mab. "Nobody takes my servants!"
Sam moved, scrambling for his dropped lance, at the same time Dean pushed himself in front of Sam. They were both too late; Mab's sceptre was already coming down –
And it was interrupted by another lance, which knocked it out of Mab's hands and sent it flying through the air. One of the flames licking out of the open path to hell caught it. It exploded in a supernova of white light.
Mab turned on Adair, who had removed his helm and was kneeling in front of her.
"What have you done?"
"What somebody should have had the courage to do a long time ago," Adair said. "You were a great queen, a beloved queen, until you turned to that sceptre of fear and Black Annis who gave it to you. If you truly want to rule by fear, I know she will make you another. But can you not remember the days when the elf knights came to serve in your guard because they loved you, and not because they feared your hag or the threat of the teind? I remember those days, my queen. They were glorious."
"Excuse me," said another voice. Sam, still clutching his cloak with both hands, saw two men make their way up the road. "This is very touching and all, but you can discuss fairy politics later. We're here to collect the king's due."
"The king's due?" Mab turned to face the approaching demons.
"He thought there might be problems. He wanted me to tell you that if he doesn't get his tithe, he's going to come for you and take your crown."
"Your upstart ruler thinks he can take my crown?" Mab's brows were drawing down. "The bargain I struck was with Lucifer. Does your king think I'm some unschooled conjuror he can threaten into submission? I am Mab, Queen of the Unseelie. I have power your king cannot imagine. If he wants my crown, let him come and take it."
Mab clapped her hands. The portal to Hell closed.
"If I see you again," she told the demons, "I will march on Hell with all my knights. Let your king beware of angering the fairy queen."
She turned to Dean.
"You took a fine knight from me."
"With all due respect," Dean said, squeezing Sam's shoulder, "he was my brother before he was your knight."
With a curt nod, Mab turned and rode away. Adair met Sam's eyes for a second before he followed.
Sam leaned heavily against Dean, wanting nothing more than to let his brother take him to a bar and get him drunk, but unable to tear his eyes from the sight of the elf guard riding past. Less than an hour ago he'd been one of them. It seemed impossible.
"I guess you're going to miss them," Dean said quietly.
Sam laughed. "Not even a little bit. Maybe it's fun for the ones who were born elves, or fairies or whatever, but… I always felt like something was missing, you know? Or someone."
"Shut up, Sam. Trust you to trick me into a chick-flick moment."
But Dean's arm stayed tight around Sam's shoulders until the last of the elves had vanished into the distance.
"So," Dean said, "I guess you want to get back to the motel and get some real clothes."
"I don't know. I kind of like the magic anti-fairy-spell cloak my big brother made me."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Sam." He paused. "Um… you're going to keep the cloak? Not… not get rid of it or anything?"
Sam smiled so hard his cheeks ached. "It's perfect, Dean. Of course I'm going to keep it."
For anyone who hasn't figured it out yet, the folktale in question is Janet and Tam Lin. I took some liberties, of course, adding Queen Mab and Black Annis to the story, but they seemed to fit, and who am I to argue with the fairy queen?
For why I gave the elves wings, I don't really have an explanation. I guess I just wanted them to match the fairies, and also I liked the idea of Sam's wings going double-time to show emotion.
In short: If we shadows have offended and all that. ;-)
What did you think? Good? Bad? Please review!