Satisfied that Tom was settled and seemingly not in any danger, Bobby and Sam set out toward the forest under oppressively darkening skies. Picking their way clumsily through the underbrush, they gradually headed north as per the Drow's instructions.
They could feel the wind strengthening as they ventured deeper into the woods; "why is it always damn storms?" grumbled Sam, his voice disappearing into a particularly strong gust. "there was a storm when they took him, and now there's one when they're giving him back."
Bobby shrugged as he stepped over a fallen branch; "search me," he grunted; "they're elemental creatures, I suppose it makes sense that their actions can affect the elements."
"Nothing about these sonsofbitches makes sense," Sam replied sourly, pulling his collar up around his neck against the increasing chill, and glancing upwards uneasily as the trees around them groaned and thrashed in the gusting wind.
He paused, scowing as the rain started to fall.
They had been trudging through the pouring rain for about ten minutes when they found it; on the leaf-strewn floor of a small clearing in the forest. An almost perfect unbroken ring of toadstools.
"This is it;" Bobby's tired eyes lit up at the sight.
He could see the younger man was distracted; shuffling and fidgeting and staring blankly at the ring on the ground before them. Clasping a hand round Sam's arm, he stepped between him and the faerie ring attempting to yank him back into the here and now.
"Right boy, I know ya worried; we both are, but you gotta listen to me." He squinted through the squalling rain deep into Sam's distant eyes, unsure of whether he was making any inroads or not; "do not, under any circumstances, step into that thing; y'hear me?"
His soaked hair slicked to his scalp, Sam nodded absently, staring past Bobby's face into the circle; "Yeah, I hear you Bobby, I won't."
Bobby rolled his eyes; "don't step into it or touch the ground inside it in any way, 'cos if you do, you'll be taking Dean's place, understand?"
Exasperated and fearful by the lack of meaningful response, he shook Sam by the arm; "understand?" He snapped; "I ain't losin' you too, boy!"
Wiping rivulets of rainwater from his face, Sam turned to respond to Bobby, when suddenly both men lurched as a booming rumble of thunder rolled across the sky.
Bobby took a long deep breath as the rain intensified; "show time," he shouted over the howling gale, turning his face from the whipping rain.
Both men stared at the ground within the circle as it began to glow, faintly; gradually growing brighter and brighter until it was almost blinding.
They shielded their eyes from the intense glow as they saw a shape begin to form; at first, nothing more than a translucent ghost of an image, but gradually becoming stronger and more opaque, until a solid shape materialised in front of them.
They found themselves standing braced against the storm looking down at Dean, curled up on his side amongst the soaking leaf debris within the circle.
Letting out a gasp of delight, Sam dashed toward the unmoving figure, only to be yanked back by Bobby.
"What the hell did I just say, y'idjit?" he roared.
Sam Looked sheepishly at his feet, "sorry Bobby."
Shaking his head, Bobby swore under his breath as he gestured for Sam to kneel down on the edge of the circle.
Reaching into it, they were able to grasp Dean by the wrists and drag him out onto safe ground.
Sam knelt and frantically gathered Dean, already soaked by the downpour, up into his arms, a mantra of joy and reassurance tumbling out of his mouth like the rain tumbling out of the sky; "shhh, hey big brother; I've gotcha, thank God, you're safe, you're safe now … everything's gonna be fine ..."
Rocking back from his knees onto his butt, he completely disregarded the storm as he sat cross-legged on the soaking ground, cradling Dean's head into the crook of his neck, revelling in as much physical contact with his brother as he could manage. He frowned as he felt the fierce trembling that was racking Dean's body and pulled him in closer, trying to wrap his long arms around Dean's bare back like a comfort blanket.
He was intoxicated by the soft warmth of Dean's body, the scratch of his stubble, the faint odour of his sweat and his dirty hair, the moist heat of his harsh breaths huffing against Sam's collarbone; all the little things that proved this was the real Dean; a living, breathing, heart pumping, red blooded human; not a cold, lifeless changeling.
Without a doubt, this was Sam's brother.
Dazed and half blinded by the faerie's incandescent magic, Dean felt himself nestling; half sitting and half laying within a tangle of long limbs.
Water was pouring down on top of him, tormenting his desperate thirst, but more importantly a voice was talking to him. It seemed to be floating through the air, riding on the storm a long, long way away, saying things that sounded kind and nice. Surely it couldn't be her; she had sounded kind at first but she was dead, wasn't she? Dean had seen the bitch explode into green flame.
He bristled, feeling goosebumps skittering across his back which weren't just caused by the chilling rain; he trembled at the thought of her, until he felt the comforting arms tighten around him.
A hand worked it's way up his neck threading fingertips through his drenched hair, kneading his scalp.
There was the voice again; it seemed closer and clearer now. No it wasn't her, it couldn't be her; it was a man's voice, it was using his name.
It sounded so familiar and comforting.
Dean clutched at the first comforting thing he could feel, fisting his cold fingers around some soft material, twisting it tightly to maintain a firm grip.
He wasn't sure where he was, but he wanted to stay; he liked it here. These were kind hands, he knew these hands wouldn't hurt him.
He shivered again, this time from the cold rain pouring down his back, contrasted against the warmth of the wet body curled around him.
As Dean shivered slightly, Sam hushed him softly. Relishing the feel of Dean's hand clutching at his shirt he tightened his grip around his back, pulling him in even closer and looked up through the easing rain into a brightening sky; "thank you Lloth, bless you, thank you so much;" he muttered quietly in between soft reassuring whispers to Dean. Barely able to contain himself he felt hot tears mingling with the cold rain on his face, and he really didn't care.
Bobby, having briefly stepped away to give the brothers some privacy, knew he had to get things moving. Although the storm was abating as rapidly as it had begun, they were all still cold and dripping wet; plus they really needed to assess Dean's condition. Sure he was back, but they still had no idea what those faerie bastards had done to him; they didn't know how much of him was back. He knelt down beside the two and placed a hand flat across Dean's back, grimacing as he saw the deep gashes there, but consoled by the reassuring warmth of the skin beneath his calloused palm.
He unfolded a blanket he had brought along with them, spreading it over Dean's back and tucking it in tight around his sides. The blanket was already damp from the rain, but he guessed Sam's body heat would soon take care of that. Cracking the lid off a bottle of water, he lifted it toward Dean's face; "hey, wanna drink son? I'll bet ya real thirsty ain't you?" He frowned in dismay when Dean buried his face in Sam's chest, shaking his head.
"Hey son, c'mon, it's only me;" Bobby murmured softly, his flat palm softly kneading undamaged portions of Dean's back; "it's ya crazy ol' uncle Bobby, I ain't gonna hurt ya with crappy faerie water."
He looked up into Sam's concerned face as he tried once again to coax Dean to drink, growing more and more fearful as Dean recoiled from the bottle; "wha' the hell did they do to him?" he mouthed to the younger man.
Sam threaded his long fingers through Dean's soaked hair; "hey dude, it's me; it's your Sammy, you're safe now. He gently eased Dean's head back into his outstretched palm and saw that his eyes were tightly closed; "Hey bro' you gonna open those eyes and look at me?"
There was a barely perceptible shake of the head.
Dean's mind raced, his eyes hurt. Don't make me drink. Wanna go home, Sammy'll be worried sick. So thirsty, hurts all over; all be over soon ...
Dean tightened his grip on the material in his fist, shaking his head.
That voice again, closer now, right above his head. The voice belonged to the person who was holding him who was trying to force him to drink.
A rush of memories and realisations flooded over him.
He knew that voice, it was a good voice. It swept over him, warmer and more comforting than the blanket across his back.
He could smell the faint odour of the nervous damp body folded around him; a familiar and safe esscence that Dean knew only too well, a faint cocktail of soap and sweat, coffee and cheap detergent.
Finally, Dean's senses clicked into place. He knew who it was holding him.
And for the first time he felt safe.
Sam continued to stroke his brother's scalp, reassuring and calming. "C'mon Dean; have a drink just for me, please?"
It took an age, but eventually the eyes flickered open, focussing slowly on Sam's face.
"Yeah bro', it's me;" Sam couldn't hold back the tears and made no attempt to hide them; "hey Dean, you have no idea how glad I am to see you," his hand strayed from the back of Dean's head to the curve of his jaw, "Oh God;" he sobbed in joyful relief, clutching Dean's limp form hard to his chest again.
"Sam, Bobby ..." The voice was raw with lack of use and tortuous thirst.
Bobby prompted Sam with the water, "try him again, see if he'll take it from you."
Sam spoke softly; "You gonna try some water bro'?"
Dean's face tilted up to look blearily at Sam again and he gave an incoherent moan which was neither a positive or a negative.
"C'mon Dean, please don't make me take you to hospital."
He offered Dean the bottle again, pressing it gently to his lips.
After a brief hesitation, Dean's lips latched around the neck of the bottle and began to drink.
Sam and Bobby watched Dean's throat convulsing as the pure cool water went down; his eyes closed in a bliss that looked almost painful.
The desperate gasping gulps were like sweet music.
He drank, and drank, only stopping when Bobby carefully pried the bottle away from him.
"We can't let him drink it all at once, it'll only come straight back up again;" he explained quietly to Sam as Dean's frantic eyes searched for the bottle, "I'll give him a few more mouthfuls in a moment."
Eventually Bobby stood, groaning as his tired knees protested the damp and the movement.
"C'mon Sam," he smiled, patting the younger man's back; "we're all soaked an' freezin' - let's get him back home in the warm and dry so we can get a good look at him."