After a long, soul-destroying day spent wandering the desolate expanses of the forest, both of the Winchesters were hungry, sweaty, dishevelled and grouchily harbouring a sense of totally wasted effort.
There had been no sign of the Leshy at all. The inconsiderate bastard hadn't been near or by all day; not even the merest hint of anything remotely Leshy-like. As if to compound their failure, they had seen barely any signs of life at all. In fact, the only living creature of any persuasion they had seen, aside from each other of course, had been a particularly disgruntled squirrel who had been unceremoniously disturbed from his busy foraging by the two heavy footed strangers. He'd unfortunately been left under no illusions as to exactly how heavy-footed they were after Dean had accidentally trodden on his tail.
By now, the day was gradually waning, melting into night, and the sunset's russet tendrils were beginning to creep over the horizon; filtering softly through the whispering boughs of the trees and bathing the Winchesters and the forest around them in a shifting kaleidoscope of red and gold.
"C'mon, dude," sighed Sam eventually; "I'm done, it's a bust."
Dean glanced across at Sam and huffed out a frustrated grunt in agreement.
"Maybe we need to look into this a bit more;" Sam mused absently; "I could have sworn I'd gathered all the facts we needed," he continued, seemingly taking the Leshy's no-show as a personal sleight; "I was sure the Leshy hunted by day - I mean people don't go into the forest at night, do they? Maybe I missed something."
Dean wearily clapped him on the shoulder; "nah, maybe it's just moved on," he replied; "or it doesn't hunt every day. This thing's so frickin' weird, who knows how it behaves or how its stupid mind works."
"We can try again tomorrow, just to be sure," he added; "maybe stay in the forest overnight so that we can explore more over the other side?"
Sam nodded in mute agreement.
"But right now, I just wanna get back to my baby, and go somewhere where I can get some decent chow and a beer," Dean grumbled; "man, I'm starving." As if to reinforce the fact, his neglected belly let out a loud gurgling rumble which echoed across the torpid evening silence and startled a grouse from its nest in the roots of a dying elm.
"Good idea, maybe she'll find some more embarrassing dirt to dish on you," Sam grinned, nudging Dean in the ribs.
"Oh no, it's your turn tonight princess," Dean snorted in response; "I'm gonna bribe her with a complete oil change and a full set of new tyres to relive some of your finest moments."
"You've seen them all" Sam replied with a shrug; "I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been out in the Impala without you."
"That time we sneaked out to the fair and you ate cotton candy 'til you puked; that was funny," Dean reflected, deliberately ignoring Sam's valid argument.
"I was six," Sam replied; "and you were the one that bought it all for me," he added; "you enabler!"
Dean sniggered, utterly remorseless; "only you could produce bright pink puke. It kinda suited you."
"Yeah, well, you were too young to drive, and we slipped away while Dad was out on a hunt so she never witnessed that one," Sam grinned; "thank God," he added.
"What about when you had your growth spurt," Dean continued, determined in his quest to humiliate his brother; "what were you, about fifteen? We couldn't afford to replace your jeans right away so you were walking around, all teenage angst, looking like your pants had fallen out with your feet." Dean was openly laughing now; "the Impala witnessed that little gem," he spluttered.
"Of course she did, I was like that for weeks before I got new pants," Sam scowled. "Anyway, you're only jealous because you didn't HAVE a growth spurt, short-stack," he added with the smuggest grin he could produce; "yours was more like a growth ooze."
He half laughed, half gasped as Dean punched him in the shoulder; "I'm not short, I'm normal," he added; "you're a freak."
Sam shook his head with a smile as the insult drifted harmlessly over him; "anyway, never mind being embarrassed about anything," he mutttered; "I'm still trying to process 'the car can talk'."
The brothers made a slow steady progress through the forest's darkening canopy toward the waiting Impala, and a companionable silence settled over them until they reached the forest's edge where Dean eventually spoke up.
"So, if we're giving up the hunt for tonight, does that mean I can put my clothes back on the right way?" He asked; "my feet are aching a freakin' treat and you don't even wanna know where these pants are chafing."
Sam rolled his eyes; "you're right Dean, I don't want to know."
Sam knew they were only a stonesthrow from where they had left the Impala; he was sure he could see the distant glint of her paintwork in the low evening sunlight. So, he guessed that it was probably right about time to rearrange themselves into some semblance of normality, especially if they were heading off to hit the nearest diner. As he looked around, he saw that Dean had already made the decision for both of them and was leaning back against the mossy, gnarled trunk of a nearby tree as he balanced on one leg, working the first of his boots off. He let out a deep sigh of relief as his abused foot emerged.
Dropping the offending boot on the ground, Dean lifted the other leg and began to pull his second boot off.
His sigh of relief at being rid of the second boot was abruptly drowned out by Sam's cry of shock as the tree suddenly twisted round and coiled a stringy, knotted bough around Dean's neck.