Sam and Dean. PG. ~4500 words. Sorta sequel to A Nice Day to Start Again.
They get stuck in fucked up situations all the time.
It’s dim and murky beneath the trees. Mist collects on thick, heavy leaves, drips softly to the tightly-packed dirt. Dean scrubs a hand over his wet face and squints into the shadows, the filtered grey twilight stretching them long and crooked.
About twenty feet behind him, half-hidden by low hanging branches, Sam comes to a stop, head tilted questioningly.
Dean shrugs one shoulder and turns back to the excuse for a path. He gestures to the left, listening for the barely-there rustle of Sam moving to flank him.
Halfway through his first step, he hears a crash of underbrush and, “Holy sh-!”
“Jesus, Sammy!” Dean hisses, darting low through the trees in Sam’s general direction. “You better be in mortal danger or something, man, I- Sam?”
Dean drops into a crouch, goes quiet, listens. The rain patters on, broken by faraway chirps and a closer, throaty ribbit. He ignores the frog and hooks Sam’s fallen gun up with one finger. Last time he’d looked, it’d still been tucked in the back of Sam’s jeans.
“Peachy,” he mutters.
He spends a good ten minutes in the immediate area, circling slowly outwards, searching through every nook and cranny he can find. Every now and then, he calls Sam’s name again, swearing under his breath when all he hears is the happy noise of a frog in the rain.
He can barely even hear his own voice, knows Sam won’t be able to either and that he should shut up, but he can’t help it. He thinks it might actually be hardwired into his brain. Sort of like how a drowning man can’t help but gasp for breath.
He loops back onto the path and almost steps on the stupid frog, even though the thing is almost the size of his hand. It blinks up at him, giant buggy eyes darting to the left, the right, left again, and then another quick blink.
“I left you back there,” Dean says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder and doing his best not to think about the fact that he’s talking to a frog with distinct stalking tendencies.
The frog hops up close to his boot.
Dean squints. “You’re not possessed, are you? Demon-frog?”
The frog cocks its head.
Warily, Dean crouches down again, stopping himself just short of mirroring the frog’s head-tilt. It takes another short hop, plunking one webbed foot squarely on the toe of his boot. There’s a tiny white band around one of the frog’s toes, like a birthmark. Or a ring.
Dean stares at the frog.
The frog stares back.
“Aw, hell no.”
Dean slams the car door shut and glares at the frog in the passenger seat.
“I don’t know how you did it, I don’t care how you did it, because you just plain suck. And this is the worst–the worst–thing you could ever do to me.”
Maybe-Sam says, Ribbit, and hops towards the seat’s edge, heading for a nosedive into the footwell before Dean grabs him in a fumbling, two-handed grip.
“Really fuckin’ inconsiderate, that’s what it is. You’re an asshole.” Maybe-Sam makes this weird chirruping noise, pawing at Dean’s knuckles with wide-spread toes, which, all in all, seems to be about as close to Sam’s usual whining that a frog can get. Dean nods and sets him back on the seat. “S’right. Stay there.”
Maybe-Sam blinks and shuffles forward a step. He stops cold when Dean’s glare sharpens, looking bewildered and innocent and under that, possibly a little smarmy.
“I’ll be right back. Don’t do anything stupid.” Hand on the door, Dean pauses, amends, “More stupid, I mean,” before stomping into the run-down gas station for a six-pack.
Their motel room is better than the chill gloom of the forest, but not by much. Dean’s ninety-nine percent sure the decorator had one hellacious grudge against humanity, because he’s actually seen the inside of an abandoned insane asylum and he’d rather spend the night there all over again. The only thing the motel has going for it are running water and a lack of homicidal ghosts.
But in all honesty, Jesus. Nothing like a six-foot mural of a bug-eyed, buck-toothed crazy chick in a starched dress to make for a good night’s sleep.
Dean shuts the door, locks it, and peers down at Maybe-Sam tightly gripped in his left hand, not really sure what to do with him.
“Your bed?” he asks.
“Okay. But man, I gotta piss and you almost bashed your stupid frog brains out on the console back there, so.” Dean heads for the bathroom, whipping the shower curtain back and gently setting Sam in the tub. He watches for a few minutes to make sure there’s no daring great escape planned, then gets down to business.
The mirror turns out to be pretty handy for keeping a wary eye on Sam without seeming like he is. Sam might be a frog, and might currently have a memory about two steps above a goldfish’s, but minimising fodder for any future mocking is always a sound practice. He doesn’t want to hear about ‘that time you thought I was a suicidal frog and wouldn’t pee unless I was in the freakin’ bathroom with you’ any more than he absolutely has to.
He splashes some water on his face, brushes his teeth since his mouth still tastes like the bad coffee from the crappy diner down the road (which tastes like ass), and turns to find Sam squatting beneath the drippy tap.
“I guess that fruity moisturiser you’ve got hidden in the bottom of your pack isn’t gonna cut it, huh.”
Sam ribbits irritably, scrunching his froggy face up in a way that’d probably scare the pants off Dean if it were on an actual frog, and not his brother-in-a-frog’s-body.
“Right,” Dean says. He points a stern finger at Sam. “Stay there.”
The ice bucket is exactly where he left it beside his bed last night. He’d been planning on using it for his beer–fuck knows he needs a drink right now–but if Sam’s going to shrivel up to a dried raisin without it, well, all that means is that he’ll just have to drink his beer faster. Not a problem.
Back in the bathroom, he hesitates for a few seconds, trying to figure out if he should go cold, warm, or lukewarm. Sam isn’t much help. In the end, Dean goes with lukewarm and figures Sam can (and will) bitch at him later.
He sets the ice bucket on the desk bolted to the floor, the laptop front and centre, the six-pack right beside his chair. After one dramatic eyeroll at Sam’s screensaver (multicoloured SAM SAM SAM bouncing endlessly across the black) and a token complaint about having to save Sam’s giant clumsy ass all the damn time, he hits Wikipedia.
Sam wakes up with dirt in his mouth and spidery roots tickling his face. He snorts and coughs and flails at the darkness, bumping his elbow on a rock as he struggles to sit up. The wave of dizziness that hits him is made all the worse by absolute blackness. Gingerly, he touches the lump on the back of his head, fingers sticking to the tacky blood gumming up his hair.
“Great,” he mutters.
“Just great,” Dean says. “You’re a mutant toad.”
Clambering up the side of the ice bucket, Sam hooks his toes over the edge and dangles there, back legs pushing gently at the water to keep himself afloat. His throat works rapidly, ribbit-ribbit-ribbit, and it sounds a hell of a lot like No shit, Sherlock, to Dean’s ears.
“You want out of there before you prune?”
“Okay. You just… hang out here for a minute. I’ll be right back. Again.”
Dean jogs out to the Impala, opens the creaky passenger door and roots around under the seat. With a moment of silence for the blasphemy he’s about to commit, he dumps the tapes in a jumble on the seat and shakes random bits of paper and crumbs out onto the ground.
Finding a patch of dirt close to the motel that isn’t riddled with broken glass and cigarette butts turns out to be impossible. Dean risks the few extra moments of leaving Sam alone in the room to venture off the beaten path, filling the shoebox with a few handfuls of grey-brown dirt, a couple rocks and some twigs with leaves, a bit of moss for atmosphere. Since he’s already out here, he nabs a few bugs, mostly wiggly caterpillar-type things, for Sam’s lunch.
Sam’s right where he left him, paddling contentedly in the ice bucket. If only Sam were as easy to please when he wasn’t an amphibian.
“Home, sweet home, Sammy,” Dean says, plunking the makeshift terrarium on the bed. He adds the cut-off bottom of a Styrofoam cup, tucking dirt right up to the edges and filling it with water before scooping Sam out of the water. Sam’s slippery and wiggling, making that high-pitched chirping noise again, and doesn’t stop until Dean plunks him down in the middle of the shoebox. “Even got you lunch, quit complainin’.”
Sam shuffles around in a small circle, checking out Dean’s handiwork.
Sam turns back and hunkers down, ignoring the water and the caterpillar crawling right by him to glare up at Dean instead, wide mouth set in a thin, annoyed line.
“Shut up and eat your bugs, Sam.”
One hand pressed to the rock wall and the other groping through the darkness ahead for any stray stalactite set on braining him, Sam inches through the twisty tunnel. His steps echo weirdly, giving him the impression of a cavern ahead, but he’s never been all that good with the underground. Passable, but not good.
At first, he thinks the intermittent howling is the wind. Then he just hopes it is. By the time a mauled, transparently-glowing spirit pops up right in front of his face, he’s willing to admit that it probably isn’t.
“So, Bobby’s on it,” Dean says. He elbows the pillow he’s propped up on, ignoring Sam’s indignant croak when it rocks the bed. “And I think I’ve got those weird lights in the forest narrowed down to some kook in the fifties. Not much floating around about just what he was up to, but looks like it had something to do with fairies. Or gnomes, not sure. Not even sure he was sure.”
There’s a wet noise from the shoebox, followed by some slurping and crunching. Dean peers over the edge, his imagination overlaying one last horrified cartoon scream for the half of a caterpillar hanging out of the corner of Sam’s mouth. Another slurp and it’s gone.
“Man, that’s beyond gross. Never tell me I’m a messy eater again.”
Sam licks his eyeball.
“Yeah, boohoo. Funny.”
Dean tries to go back to reading. The book’s not all that interesting, or helpful, and Sam isn’t much use with all the shuffling and snorting and noise he’s making. Eventually, Dean just puts it down, pages spread and spine up.
“C’mon, it’s not that bad. So you’re a toad. Better than being stuck in a haunted wedding dress for a week, right? You can damn well take a leak whenever you want, easy as pie.”
Sam makes a huffing, croaking noise.
“Might’ve only been a couple of days, but it felt like a week,” Dean mutters. He tugs the shoebox closer and settles down, staring up at the ceiling. “And hey, at least you still got that damn ring you freaked out over. Dunno about demons, but it sure comes in handy fending off the real insistent ones, know what I mean?”
When Sam stays quiet, Dean adds, “Wonder what happened to your clothes? I don’t need an eyeful when I turn you back.” The silence stretches on too long. Dean peers over the shoebox’s edge, thinking Sam’s fallen asleep again, and is greeted by two great big unblinking eyes staring up at him. “What?”
Sam keeps staring.
“Man, forget it,” Dean huffs, slumping back down. “Just tryin’ to cheer you up.” The quiet goes on, and on, and Dean’s sure Sam isn’t sleeping this time, either. Grudgingly, he says, “It’s not like that’s the only thing that’s good about the ring. I mean, you were right, need all the protection we can get. Closest thing I’m ever going to get to a wedding anyway, so hey, check that off the to-do list.”
Now he’s rambling, like he’s compelled to fill the dead air left behind. It’s not like Sam’s incessantly chattering all the time, but he makes noise. Mutters to himself under his breath when he’s in research-mode, tosses out random comments on conversations or things that they’d seen days ago. It’s almost like Sam’s not here at all, except he is and he’s just not the same.
“Yeah, I hear ya,” Dean says. “Research ain’t so easy without my trusty sidekick geekboy, y’know.” He rolls off the bed, going to Sam’s pack to dig through the newest books they’ve picked up, little sticky notes already jammed between the pages of the one’s Sam’s reading. “Bobby’s got us covered, though, don’t worry. If I don’t find it, he will.”
Dean settles back down, legs crossed at the ankle. He reads about half a page before stopping, holding his place with one finger in the book, and reaches for Sam. Sam barely makes a noise this time, probably more than happy to get out of that shoebox for awhile, and tucks his legs in comfortably when Dean sets him on his leg in front of the book. He’s not even sure if Sam can still read, but if he knows Sam as well as he likes to think he does, even with half a brain, Sam’ll plough through the words just fine.
For the first time, the worry nibbling away at Dean’s gut eases. They get stuck in fucked up situations all the time. Sammy got him out of that dress, he’ll get him out of the toad-suit.
A small pool of warmth forms on his thigh where Sam’s squatting. It takes him a minute to realise what the hell it is, then he’s tossing the book aside and scrambling to nab Sam, holding him up at arm’s length. The wet spot on his jeans spreads and cools slowly.
“Man, you are such a bitch.”
The tiny slivers of sunlight eking their way into the cavern will royally fuck up Sam’s night vision, but he’s so happy to see them he almost doesn’t care. They’re enough for him to make out the strange patterns in the rock he’d encountered on his trek here as crude carvings. None of them seem to be ancient, only rough, like the guy creating them had zero talent of his own and even copying from a picture was beyond him.
Sam guesses it’s a guy because the spirit that’s been trying to scare the shit out of him for the last half hour or so is big, bulky, and has that swaggering self-confidence that reminds Sam way too much of Dean. Luckily for him, the spirit doesn’t seem capable of speech and is actually fairly poor at manifestation, too.
Sam’s starting to feel a decent amount of confidence in his own ability to finish this job solo with what he has on hand. The bones and dirty rags at the mouth of the cavern, next to a shoddy altar, are most likely the ghost’s. A little salt, a little fire, no problem. The only thing worrying him is finding a way out of the caves before sundown. He knows Dean’s up there searching for him and won’t give up, but neither one of them will have much to go by once it gets dark.
At least, that’s all he’s worried about until the rocks start flying at his head.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Dean says. “Seriously?”
“‘Fraid so,” Bobby says, voice tinny and distant on a pre-paid cell. “If you boys are in upstate Oregon, that’s your best bet. What the hell were you doin’ trompin’ through those woods, anyway?”
“Freakin’ fairy lights,” Dean grumbles. “Sam heard some grannies talking about it and wanted to check it out, see if it had anything to do with the infant mortality rate around here.”
“Could be,” Bobby says. “My guess is Sam stepped right in the middle of a ring. Had to be an old one, too. Pissed somebody off.”
Dean glances down at Sam’s brown, green and warty self. “You think the tribute will do it?”
“As long as you’re not a smartass about it.”
“This don’t change him back, I’m giving him to you for Christmas.”
Bobby hangs up with a sharp, disbelieving bark of laughter.
“What’re you lookin’ at?” Dean scowls at Sam where he’s perched on the bedside table. “Get back in your damn box so we can get outta here.”
Sam disdainfully says, Ribbit, and launches himself onto Dean’s bed, instantly burrowing under the messy heap of covers.
The next four minutes of Dean’s life are spent in a frantically careful search for Sam amongst the bedding, afraid he’s going to put his knee somewhere he shouldn’t and all he’ll find is a squished, twitching toad carcass instead of his brother.
Once he’s got ahold of Sam again, he doesn’t let go until he’s jabbed a few holes in the shoebox’s cover and stuffed Sam in it, lid held down tight.
“You do that again,” Dean says, “and I swear, I’ll drive straight to Bobby’s and let Rumsfeld use you as a chew toy.”
Sam lets out a plaintive almost-ribbit and falls silent. When Dean turns the key in the ignition, he starts up with the peeping and shuffling again, and won’t quit it until Dean takes the top off the box.
“You going to piss on the leather?”
Sam ambles up to the box’s side and puts one foot up on the edge, then the other, easing himself up until he can peer over it. Dean sighs, tosses the cover into the back and puts the car into gear.
Sam tucks and rolls behind the altar, narrowly dodging a hurtling rock about half the size of his head. It crashes into the wall behind him, taking out another chunk of the slapdash mural. Sam figures that if nothing else good comes of this, at least no one will have to look at that hideous thing in its entirely ever again.
He dropped his tiny canister of salt a few rocks back, but not before managing to spill some onto the pile of bones that lay about ten feet away. He doesn’t have any accelerant so he’s hoping what’s left of this guy’s clothes will do the trick. He supposes he could douse it with some lighter fluid from the lighter clutched tight in his fist, but doesn’t really want to count on the ghost giving him enough time to reassemble it and strike a spark.
That’ll be Plan B.
Shoebox tucked securely under one arm, pack full of supplies on his shoulder, Dean winds his way back through the trees. The sun is low at his back, barely piercing the gloom. Dean’s clothes already feel heavy with moisture. Sam’s ribbiting his head off like it’s the happiest he’s been all day.
“You’re not gonna be so damn chipper if you come out on the other side of this bare ass naked,” Dean says.
Finding the fairy ring is easy. It’s about seven feet across, the mushrooms spread out just enough that Dean might’ve missed it if he hadn’t been looking. He kneels at the edge, sets Sam warily inside it, and starts digging through his pack for the sweets and tequila he picked up on the way over.
Yelping as a rock clips his shin, Sam stumbles and nearly goes down. At the last second, he lurches ungracefully to the side, twisting his ankle hard on a jagged tear in the cavern floor. Pain rockets up into his knee, his hip. Ignoring everything he’s got to say about the issue, his leg gives out.
After his third heartfelt plea, Sam’s still a frog and Dean’s out of patience.”C’mon, it’s not like it’s cheap booze! It’s even imported!”
Sam shuffles dejectedly about his box, prodding sadly at the tiny bit of water left in his Stryofoam cup. Aside from the pitter-patter of mist gathering and falling from the trees, the forest is silent.
“C’mon,” Dean says. “Take the damn tribute and gimme my brother back.”
“I’m not playing games with you,” Dean tries.
Puffing out a heavy sigh, Dean scoops up Sam. Sam wiggles unhappily, back legs flailing uselessly until Dean cups his other hand around them, tucking Sam up into a cosy little ball. The soft peeping noise Sam’s been making all day drags out into a low, continuous whine.
“I know, man,” Dean says. “Why’s it always gotta come to this?”
Acrid smoke chases Sam back down the tunnel. He stumbles along blindly, struggling to clear his lungs and keep one hand on the wall so he doesn’t lose his way. He’d searched the main cavern from top to bottom while the bones burned, using the light to help him find his way. As far as he could tell, the only way out was the way he’d come in.
He’d just missed it the first time he’d searched, that’s all. And if it is the only way, that’s where Dean’ll be.
Dean will be there.
“You slip me tongue this time and I’ll never forgive you,” Dean says. “Gettin’ married was a special occasion. No tongue,” he repeats.
Sam looks mournful, but that’s just because he’s stuck in a toad’s body and had freakin’ caterpillars for lunch. It’s not like Dean wouldn’t understand, if he were in Sam’s place. He can’t say he’d be really happy about it, either.
“Don’t give me none of that ‘has to be a real kiss’ crap, either. The story doesn’t say one thing about the frog slipping her tongue.”
Sam wriggles about and chirrups worriedly. Dean screws his eyes shut and counts to ten. Then twenty. He really shouldn’t have thought about Sam’s lunch.
“Okay, buddy,” he says, opening his eyes and sorta wishing he hadn’t. “Here we go. Okay?” He lifts Sam close and closes his eyes again, bending down just a little.
Dean blinks, his throat closing over so tightly he can barely squeeze out, “Sam?”
Dean, get me outta here!
“Jesus, Sam, I’m tryin’!”
Curiously, Dean looks at Sam. Sam blinks back and wiggles harder. Dean’s not too well-versed on disembodied voices, but he’s pretty sure it should be coming from the toad or echoing in his head or something like that. What it shouldn’t sound like is that it’s coming from about three feet to the left and down.
Dean says, “Sam, you okay?” and when Sam doesn’t answer, shouts, “Sammy!”
The trapdoor, Dean… c’mon!
Dean stuffs Maybe-NOT-Sam into the shoebox and plunks the lid on, grateful he’d brought it along. He puts his gun on top to keep it down in case the toad tries to make a break for it, or in case the fairies are fucking with him again. Nasty little shits.
Bracing himself for the possibility of flies for dinner every day, he steps into the ring. When nothing happens, he drops back to his knees and starts digging at the ground, inching his way along in search of a trigger.
He finds a rusty handle off to the right of the circle, mostly hidden by a tangle of dull green moss. “Found it, Sammy, stand back!”
The centre of the fairy ring drops out, ragged bits of plant roots dangling over the uneven edges as dirt rains down.
“I’m comin’!” Dean shouts back, yanking the flashlight out of his pocket and dropping to his belly near the hole.
The beam hits Sam square in the face. He throws up an arm to protect himself, blinking wildly. His hair’s a riot of sweat-damp spikes and whorls, dirt and ash blacking his arms and face. His clothes look like they’ve been through a paper shredder. Through the tears, Dean can see tiny, raw scrapes, a bit of blood smeared here and there.
Before he can stop himself, Dean barks, “What the fuck happened to you?”
Irritably, Sam jams his hand up through the opening. “Sprained my ankle, gimme a hand.”
Dean gets back up on his knees, bracing one hand on the side of the trapdoor and gripping Sam’s tightly with the other. Sam grunts in pain as he scrambles up and out, collapsing onto the springy ground, sucking down air like it’s going out of style.
Fishing some water out of his pack, Dean eyeballs the box before cracking open the bottle and handing it over. Between gulps, Sam fills him in on the cavern and the altar, the ghost and its crappy carvings. Dean just listens, glad Sam’s okay and the job’s over, but mostly wondering what the hell he’s going to do with Not-Sam-After-All now.
Sam stares doubtfully down at the toad. The toad stares doubtfully right back.
“You really thought that was me?” Sam asks.
Dean shrugs the shoulder that Sam isn’t leaning on, emptied shoebox tucked back under his arm. “It got pissy at me often enough.”
Crouching down, one hand on Dean’s thigh for balance, Sam gives it a closer look. It’s pretty amazing how it blends with the green-brown of the forest floor. He’s not really sure how Dean managed to find it so easily.
In the privacy of his own head he’ll happily admit that Dean’s right about the tiny ring around its left middle toe being a little creepy. “I dunno,” he says. “Looks more like you. Especially with that big mouth.”
“Y’know, he didn’t talk back. He could still ride shotgun.”
“Except it pissed on you.”
Dean scowls, slugging Sam in the shoulder. Sam just laughs and hauls himself up with a hand in Dean’s belt, tucking himself securely against Dean’s side for the slow trek back.
Five minutes of quiet shuffle-walking later, Sam says, “I’d never piss on you.”
“That’s it,” Dean says, “I’m going back for the toad,” and he whips around, letting Unfortunately-Sam struggle on one foot for balance and snatching a nice, big leaf off a tree for Not-Sam on the way.