Once Sam was certain Dean was fast asleep again, he turned back to Bowman. "So, what did you have in mind?" he asked as he walked up next to the sprite.
Bowman scratched his head, thinking about it. "Well, I'm pretty sure we have some fruit stored back in my house. I'll go get it, we live kinda high up and the stairs might take a while." Considering how much Sam had run around already that day, Bowman couldn't fathom going up a tall, winding flight of stairs. Even without a bad knee like Bowman had, he'd get tired.
He stepped back to give himself room and quickly darted into the air. He flew towards his own home tree, comforted by the sight of his house nestled on one of the branches. He landed softly on the small porch, folding his wings and tiptoeing up to the door. He opened it quietly, hoping he wouldn't wake his family. It was the same routine he did when coming back from sneaking out at night. At least this time he had the mother of all excuses: saving the entire village.
"Bowman, Spirit bless me, you're okay!" The hushed voice startled him. Before Bowman could flinch back, Candara was there, catching him in a tight hug. The soft glow of a lantern in the main room made Bowman realize that his aunt had waited up for him. He smiled faintly and hugged her back.
"I'm okay, aunt. Barely even bruised," he answered, embellishing his status just a little bit for her comfort.
She stood back and put her hands on his face, looking him over with bright green eyes that matched his own. Candara smiled proudly at her boy, the child of her sister that she'd promised to care for. "So, did you and the humans ... is the danger gone?"
Bowman grinned proudly and nodded. "C'mon, as if you had any doubt," he answered, and they both laughed quietly. Then, he added, "Dean was pretty exhausted after the fight, but I was going to get some fruit for Sam ..."
Candara nodded. "Wait here," she told him before turning and hurrying back into the house towards the storeroom. Eventually, she returned with two pastries, each big enough to almost cover Bowman's hand. They were simple round rolls made from acorn flour, and Bowman knew they were stuffed with sweet berries. What looked to be birch sap was drizzled over the outside of them, making their mint-leaf wraps stick. Bowman raised his eyebrows as Candara put them in his hands.
"Aunt, you made these today?" Bowman asked appreciatively; the mint leaves looked and smelled quite fresh, a cool scent gracing the air and undoubtedly lingering on his hands.
Candara chuckled. "I was planning to before you brought your human friends home. But I think Sam has earned it, since he brought my boy back safely. I suppose Dean can have some when he wakes, though I may need to make more ..." She trailed off, thinking about it, and Bowman could tell she was strongly considering exactly that. Then, she focused and started to push him back out the door. "Well, if your friend is waiting for food, be polite and take it to him, you featherhead!" she scolded with a smile.
"Alright, alright, I'm going!" Bowman groused, though he was also smiling. He didn't waste any more time before gliding back down to where Sam waited, grateful for the soft lantern light making sure he didn't just crash right into the human.
He held out one of the pastries. "Here. Uh. Hope you like it."
Sam accepted the pastry with an impressed look on his face. He'd never seen food so perfectly crafted for his - for their - size. It was the size of his hand, whereas most of the food Sam ever got to eat was either bigger than his head or bigger than his body. He could remember Dean teasing him for eating leaves the same size as him one time when he asked for a salad. Like he had a choice.
"Thanks! This... it looks amazing! " he complemented, wasting no time digging into the minty smelling bundle.
Words couldn't describe the taste. The sweet glaze on the outside combined with the fresh mint and delicious berries inside the flaky pastry to make a flavor he'd never had before, and doubted he would ever find again. "Mmm," he managed, finishing it off with little wasted motion. "I don't think I've ever had anything that tastes close to that. Thanks, man. Really." He ended up licking the sticky sap off his fingers, refusing to waste a drop of the incredible food.
"I've been meaning to ask," Sam said, leaning against Dean's hand and using it for a seat. "Your wings... are they okay after everything that happened? I saw that... the lich get a grip on them. They didn't get hurt, did they?"
Bowman ate his own food, appreciating the flavor but perhaps with less astonishment. He smirked faintly to himself at Sam's enthusiasm. He'd never met anyone that didn't like the food Candara prepared, but then again he'd never seen a human try it. If he were honest, he still liked these pastries better than the pizza, though that human food hadn't been terrible.
After finishing up, he glanced over his shoulder at the wing that had been caught. It was still sore, but he thought that a good night's sleep would do wonders on it. Failing all else, a lot of sunlight (and most likely a few Prayers at Rischa's insistence) would help a lot. At least, with the lich taken care of, he was well past the danger of someone grabbing him out of the air.
"They're okay," he admitted. "Kinda got a little twisted and pressed, but it didn't break anything, thank the Spirit." He wrapped the wing around in front of himself, peering at it once more. He'd gotten lucky, really. At least he could still move both wings enough to fly. When Jacob's friend had held him up by the sensitive limbs, Bowman had been left with almost immobile wings, painful to even twitch.
Sam squinted in the soft petal lantern light, looking the wing over with Bowman. He couldn't see anything wrong with it, but he had absolutely no experience with wings like that. Nixie's had been far different, with him and Dean barely able to splint it for her. Thankfully she'd been able to heal it herself in the end.
"Honestly I'm more worried about the fact that Dean could see them so easily earlier," Bowman admitted, glancing pensively at the sleeping hunter. "That's uh. Not good for my scouting skills." He chuckled sheepishly.
"Oh, that?" Sam gave Bowman a sheepish smile. "Dean's a good tracker, but he's not that good. I'm the one that spotted you in the trees both times while Dean did all the rest of the work. I'm much better at seeing details he misses, because of my size. So even though I'm really small when it comes to hunting, we have an unexpected edge when we work together. And that second time, you blended in perfectly. If it wasn't for the leaves shaking around you, I never would have spotted you either."
Sam couldn't hide a snicker, remembering Bowman's indignant flight and subsequent capture by Dean. It made Sam feel a little better, knowing it wasn't just him Dean could get the best of that way after all the times he'd been sandwiched between those huge hands. "I can't believe he flicked you off a branch! That's one thing I can say he's never done to me!"
Bowman's wings went slack behind him and he stared at Sam in disbelief. His face warmed a bit and he was glad the light was so dim. It made sense, though he was indignant to find out that Sam had helped Dean. Being smaller, he would look for entirely different signs to spot his 'prey,' and Bowman hadn't accounted for that at all.
Humans weren't supposed to have a small, sprite-sized helper to point everything out to them!
Bowman glared at Sam for laughing. Getting flicked off of a branch had been alarming, and though it sounded like a fun prank to play on someone else, Bowman was still a bit miffed that it happened to him. Right before getting caged in between Dean's hands so easily.
"Are you kidding me?! " he blurted. Dean twitched a little in his sleep with a mumble, shifting his head on his jacket. He didn't wake, but Bowman still lowered his voice and hissed, "You had me thinking I was withering or something!"
Despite his agitation, Bowman was also relieved. Since Dean had found him so easily a few times, he had really worried he was losing his touch or something was wrong with his wings' camouflage. For someone whose main advantage over all of his predators rested in his ability to hide from them, it was an unsettling thought. So he was glad that his downfall had been in not preparing for Sam's watchfulness.
Sam kept an eye on Dean, making sure the hunter wasn't going to move again and knock Sam off of his knuckle perch. The last thing he needed after everything he'd been through that day, including almost being stepped on by his brother, was eating a faceful of dirt because Dean did something as simple as twitching in his sleep.
Once he was sure Dean had settled down again, Sam turned back to Bowman. "You didn't expect me to help out my brother?" he asked, vaguely surprised. He understood why the sprite might be shocked at what Sam had done, but honestly, helping Dean out was second nature for him after all this time. And it had been fun, especially when Dean had offered Sam a 'high-five' in celebration. They didn't get many opportunities like that. "Careful underestimating your opponent next time. You never know what tricks they might have up their sleeve."
"So..." Sam couldn't hold in his curiosity anymore, "your wings... they're really leaves? They wither just like on trees? What do they feel like? Are they stronger than leaves? Aside from Cerul, I didn't see any other sprites with damage to their wings... can they rip the same as leaves can?"
Bowman raised his eyebrows and nearly leaned back from Sam's barrage of questions. He wasn't sure which order he should answer them in. He winced slightly at the thought of tearing a wing. It would be painful, probably one of the more painful injuries a sprite could experience. Not to mention the healing time (if the wound wasn't too severe to heal) was agonizingly long, and the poor sprite would be ground bound in the meantime. It was a nightmare. Bowman would go absolutely crazy waiting.
"Well, uh," he began, shifting a little closer to where Sam sat on Dean's hand. "They just feel like wings, I guess," he answered. He tentatively reached a wing around in front, spreading out the finger bones in it so Sam could see for himself. It was true they had a leaf-like quality and texture to them, though thankfully they were sturdier than simple leaves.
Sam leaned forward in place to match Bowman, reaching out a hand hesitantly. He brushed his fingers lightly against the membrane, amazed at the soft feel the wings had. It was very pliant, but he could tell there was hidden power in there, just waiting to rise to the surface. The texture vaguely reminded him of Dean's leather jacket, only far softer and more pliant. The wing shuddered faintly, pulsing with the blood coursing through it and the nerves sensitive to Sam’s touch.
"They're not really leaves," Bowman explained. "I can photosynthesize with them but I can't breathe with them like trees can. But ... they can wither if they're not taken care of right, or when they get too old." The oldest sprites, who now resided in the cottonwood tree, all had wings that had withered to almost black on their backs, and they covered them with shawls to keep the cold at bay.
"They can rip, but not quite as easily as leaves, I guess? It takes a long time for that to heal, though, and they don't, um, grow back. That's why Cerul's wing is missing. The last hunter that came here fired his gun at him and it was too damaged to recover." Bowman reached over the top of his wing to point at a part near the very middle of it to indicate where the bullet had shredded through Cerul's wing a little over a year ago, and it went without saying that it took a lot of his wing with it.
The closest Bowman had come to damaging a wing that badly, he still hadn't come near that level of pain. He still remembered when Rischa had come into his room a few nights after that whole terrifying fiasco. She was weepy and still reeling from the ordeal, and she told Bowman she couldn't get it out of her head: the immense pain Cerul had felt, how he had cried out until he had no voice and how he had fallen to the ground and huddled there, shaking from the pain.
In an effort to steer away from the rather uncomfortable subject of injured or lost wings, Bowman smirked and chuckled. "I won't underestimate you two again," he promised. "I'm glad it wasn't something wrong with these, because I couldn't even begin to know how to take better care of 'em than I already do."
Sam drew his hand back, quiet as he listened to Bowman talk. The ease of travel with wings... he couldn't push that from his mind. A tiny bit of jealousy worked its way through him at how much easier things would be.
But if anyone knew how futile a wish like that could be, it was Sam. Ever since being cursed he'd wanted a way to return to normal, to just go back to being human again. Wishes, naturally, don't come true, so here he was, using his own brother's hand as a seat, talking to a sprite that was almost the same size as him.
There was no desire in him these days to change that. The more time he spent with Dean the more he realized how little he'd fit in with the human world. Combine that with the thought of how Walt and the others would react to Sam if he was a human... and he was happy the way he was.
"That sounds awful," Sam said quietly, thinking of Cerul. Even facing down Dean, the older sprite hadn't flinched, something Sam was ashamed he still did on occasion with his brother. "But he was damn lucky to survive. If a shot like that hit me, there'd be nothing left."
Bowman couldn't help but agree with Sam. Cerul was astonishingly lucky. Bowman had seen what the fiery human weapons could do. They'd pointed out to him where the bullet that had passed through Cerul's wing had ended up. It had shredded through bark and splintered a small hole into the nearest tree.
So it was really no shock to him that the weapons were so effective against whatever they faced. Wolves, liches ... even other humans, as Jacob could attest to. Bowman had been astounded to see the state one hit from those terrifying weapons could put Jacob in. Jacob was no small guy, even among the humans. Bowman wasn't sure without a side-by-side comparison, but the teen might be bigger than Dean. Just one shot from a gun had knocked him to the ground and nearly killed him.
Sam leaned back, getting more comfortable on the hand. He crossed his legs under him as he considered the rest. "That's why I'm glad Dean's such a good shot," Sam admitted. "It's a lot less scary going on a hunt with him when I don't have to worry about him missing his shot."
Bowman raised an eyebrow and rolled his bright green eyes. "Oh, yeah, I'm very comforted, knowing that," he quipped. "Nice to know he wouldn't have missed if he decided to fire the thing when he had it aimed at me." His voice was a little indignant, but he was smirking faintly.
Of course, that had come closer than he cared to admit. Bowman may have played along with Dean's stalking game. Even avoided panicking when the human trapped him in his gigantic hands (no panic, perhaps, but he'd still fought, of course). But, when Dean had turned on him, leveling that huge weapon at him and glaring that hard glare, Bowman had gotten a small glimpse of what it would be like to be one of the hunter's real targets. And he was quite positive that he never wanted to be on that side of Dean's determination.
"Eh. At least he took care of the wolves, and he got me clear of one without hitting me too, which is pretty convenient for me," Bowman snickered.
Sam winced at that reminder, though he saw a smirk glimmering on Bowman's face. "If it makes you feel any better, you're not the only one he's pulled a gun on," Sam said. "Back, the first time we saw each other since I was cursed, I was trying to get food from the room Dean was staying in. When he came in, it caught me off guard, away from any escape routes out of the room."
Sam thought back to that time, remembering what it was like to actually be Dean's target. He trusted his brother now, but in that moment... "Dean had no idea who I was. How was he supposed to suspect his kid brother, who he'd thought dead for over thirteen years, would be hiding from him in his room? Just like I never expected my big brother to stay in the motel ever again. So when he heard me fall after I hurt my wrist climbing, he pulled a gun. Even worse, he grabbed me from behind a nightstand without ever seeing where I was, so I know exactly how it feels to be trapped by those hands, how it feels to be hunted by Dean. Helpless between fingers as big as I am. If I hadn't recognized the amulet he was wearing around his neck, the amulet I gave him before being cursed, we don't know what could have happened. He's a hunter, after all, and I could have been his target."
Sam sighed and leaned back on Dean's hand, staring up at the sky. "Now he treats people my size like what they are - people just like him - but before he found me he might have been willing to hunt them, especially since he had no idea what they were. Our dad pushed Dean hard and he wasn't always rational about anything supernatural, from what I've been able to gather from Dean and our friend Bobby. He tried teaching Dean 'shoot first, ask questions later,' and you can imagine how glad I am Dean didn't learn that lesson." Sam shook his head, remembering all the little bits he'd been able to gather of Dean growing up since Dean refused to talk about those days.
Bowman fell silent and listened respectfully for once. It was still strange for him sometimes, to think that Sam and Dean were actually brothers. He believed it, of course. But it was still odd, seeing Sam reclining on a hand larger than himself, and knowing that hand belonged to Sam's honest to Spirit brother.
It sounded like a very fortunate set of events that pushed the two back together. After a curse like that, there was no reason to think that Sam would be able to be with his family again. And yet, here he was, playing the role of hunter with Dean. And, by his skills in spotting Bowman earlier, living up to the job without any issue.
Bowman couldn't help but wonder if the brothers would still have ended up in his forest if Sam had never been cursed. They'd be out there hunting together like they did now, only Sam would be enormous just like Dean. The lich most likely would have tracked the sprites to the forest and killed humans all the same. It probably would have drawn the pair in like a beacon.
But what would have become of Bowman, if Sam hadn't been there to remind Dean not to crush him in his hand? He felt an echo of pain in his knee, as if the old injury was helpfully reminding him of what probably would have happened.
Sam smirked at the memory of Dean jolting in surprise at Bowman's clap, even though he'd been stuck protectively clasped in Dean's sweaty hand at the time. "Honestly, if you'd tried to startle Dean like that anytime he wasn't on a hunt, it would have worked perfectly. What ruined it was he was already jumpy and expecting to get attacked, hence the reaction. Normally he might have jumped, maybe make a grab at you for revenge, but with him in hunting mode, he went for the gun instead. And I could tell he felt awful for that. He hates pulling a gun on anyone who doesn't deserve it, especially anyone as vulnerable to it as you or me. He blames himself for overreacting, not you for making him."
Bowman shrugged. He had gotten a better look at Dean in full 'hunter mode' in the fight with the lich, before getting grabbed. He understood a little about why Dean had reacted in such a terrifying way. Didn't mean he would be able to laugh it off or anything, but he understood.
"I'm over it," Bowman admitted with a chuckle. "I was just trying to find a way to get back at him for flinging me off a branch. And I'm still gonna do that, somehow," he assured the human, quite confident in his claim. After all, Bowman was of the opinion that he had earned some kind of win over the large human. And he would secure it somehow. "Your brother is pretty quick for a human. But I'm pretty quick for a sprite. Haven't lost a race in years."
Sam chuckled along with the sprite. "Can't wait to see what you come up with," he said, already imagining what Bowman could have in mind. It was good to hear the sprite wasn't taking the scare to heart, but instead was taking it as a challenge.
Images of what Bowman might be planning to do to Dean were interrupted by a sudden yawn, catching Sam off guard. The night had fully settled in around them, leaving the glow of the moon above them combined with the glow of the petals their only light. It was gentle and calming, easier on the eyes than the incandescent lights that humans used.
Sam again found himself wishing they could stay and see more of the sprites' home. He understood why that wasn't possible, though. As good of a hunter as Dean could be, he wasn't able to pull the trigger on a deer, leaving him unable to fend for himself in the forest. Any food the sprites had wouldn't be enough, and Dean would never want to take all their food anyway. No matter how much Sam would want to stay and explore, he wouldn't want to separate from Dean. Not now, not ever.
Dean was his home, for better or worse.
Stretching out his legs, Sam hopped off Dean's hand. It was getting late and he was definitely feeling the strain from the earlier excitement. From almost being eaten by a wolf, to Dean thinking Sam was nothing more than a toy, or running across a giant battlefield, he'd had his own share of the excitement and he knew Bowman was probably feeling it just as much.
"We should probably head to bed and try and catch some zzz's," Sam said to the sprite as he stretched his sore muscles. "Follow Dean's example."
Bowman nodded. He stretched his wings straight out behind him, rolling his shoulders at the same time. With a final flutter, he drew the limbs back to himself. He remembered Sam mentioning that he'd have a place to sleep for the night. He was a little curious about where he'd go, and though he stepped back a little to prepare to fly on home, he hesitated.
"Yeah... 'zzzs,' " he agreed with a raised eyebrow. That was one of the weirder human phrases he'd heard. But then again, humans did have a lot of weird phrases. He chose not to pursue it.
"You guys can probably sleep for as long as you need. I can't guarantee that the nestlings won't bother you in the morning, though. Fair warning."
Sam smiled at the thought. "That's no problem. They were good kids, and Dean won't move in his sleep. He's had a lot of practice, even completely knocked out. As long as no one yells in his ears, of course. No one likes a jumpy giant in the morning."
Sam gave his arms one last stretch before gathering up his satchel again. "See you bright and early, or whenever you flop out of bed," he said before turning away.
Dean's body stretched overhead, even flat on his back, so Sam grabbed fistfulls of Dean's shirt, hauling himself up the hunter. The black flannel shirt Dean was still wearing had a comfortable pocket, the perfect size for Sam to use as a sleeping bag. He'd never tell Dean this, but he sometimes preferred sleeping in there. After a lifetime of being raised to fear humans and after being captured and almost sold off by humans not so ago, sleeping on Dean, Sam's only real source of safety in world, comforted him.
Nowhere else existed where Sam could guarantee his safety like that. Dean's rhythmic breathing and the gentle thudding of his heart underneath his body helped soothe him as well.
Once he'd climbed up, Sam walked briskly over, lifting up the pocket flap. Dean rumbled in his sleep as Sam slipped in, getting comfortable. The ground vibrated under him reassuringly.
Dean must have felt Sam climbing his side, because the hand Sam had been sitting on moments ago rose up, stretching protectively over the pocket and Sam. "G'night Sammy," Dean mumbled before he slipped into sleep again.
Sam smiled. " 'Night Dean," he called up as well, settling comfortably under the shadow of the huge hand. Dean's thumb rubbed gently up his side once before going slack.
Artwork by featherpantsd
At first, Bowman thought Sam was going to huddle near his brother for the night. Before he could turn to leave, however, he was drawn into eyeing the human as he simply climbed up Dean's side. The way he made it look so normal made Bowman think this was not the first time it had happened. Bowman tilted his head as Sam settled into Dean's pocket of all things. And then, just to complete the whole strange picture, Dean placed a hand over Sam carefully, keeping him warm. Keeping him safe.
With that final thought, Bowman turned and flitted into the air on silent wings. He returned home quickly, actually making it to his room without hindrance. His aunt must have gone to sleep shortly after sending him back with the food. He didn't mind that at all. Bowman was exhausted, and though he loved his aunt dearly he didn't much feel like giving anybody a full story just yet.
He stared at his bed, appreciating how it was unevenly shaped and curved, unlike the stiffly rectangular beds back in the human motel room. Bowman barely got his boots slipped off before he flopped over onto his bed, relishing the familiar feel of the cotton-stuffed mattress, and the familiar scent of the blanket. He was asleep in moments.
Well after the last lanterns softly winked out in the village, a quiet breeze wafted through. It carried with it the scent of wildflowers in their prime, of the pine trees all around, and of the clean air of the forest, unmarred by outside influence. It also carried the barest whisper, a hushed voice calling to three of the village's occupants.
I have a gift for you, it whispered, guiding the slumbering minds to a place where the gift could be received.
Bowman recognized the feeling. He had been contacted by a Spirit twice in his life. Both times, he'd felt like he was drifting in a comforting breeze or current. He opened his eyes and saw the familiar white void around him, the comforting emptiness through which a Spirit could make contact.
Bowman looked around, expecting to see the Earth Spirit somewhere nearby. She would have something to tell him about the trials he'd just been through. Perhaps the danger was not yet averted? The Spirit wouldn't contact someone like him with no purpose.
But Bowman soon found the purpose when his eyes settled on two figures that were with him in the dreamscape. Bowman's mouth fell open in unfiltered shock at the sight of them. Sam and Dean, two humans, were also being contacted by the Lady of Life.
And all three of them stood at the same scale.