For Sam, it was as though time itself had stopped.
In the silent, dark pool, they sank ever deeper. Nixie's lips were warm and inviting, sealed to him even as the water rushed around them. A spark of panic lit in Sam when she pulled away. Her warmth was replaced by the icy chill of the water.
There wasn't even a chance of holding his breath.
Sam gave a gasp of desperation as his air ran out. A bubble of oxygen escaped his lungs, taunting him as it rose to the surface alone. A glimmer of blue light reflected off the rounded side as it vanished.
Even as the water filled Sam's lungs and drowned him, Nixie worked.
Millimeters away from Sam's panicked eyes, two blue orbs lit up the dark. An ancient light shone in them, tender as it watched the small human struggle fruitlessly for his life. The relentless tide of fate washed away all of his efforts, marking them as inconsequential and insignificant.
Here, surrounded by the fresh water as it burbled up from the ground, Nixie's power was absolute.
Like a fire sprite in a volcano or an earth sprite under the ground bathing in the tide of moving rock, Nixie harnessed the power of nature itself. Her chant rolled naturally off her tongue, surrounding Sam in the ethereal strains of music that was conceived of eons ago by the gods themselves.
The glow of her magic began to take over the darkness. A ripple of light surrounded her, giving her an angelic appearance as they floated together in the dark. Iridescent wings were folded motionless down her back, reflecting the sublime light.
An invisible current struck at Sam. His struggling arms and legs were contained, stilling his attempts to swim and sealing his limbs against his body. The current surrounded him on all sides, whipping his hair into a whirlpool even as the chant around him crescendoed. The sonorous voice speaking the words no longer belonged to Nixie but instead was the sound of the waters of the world given voice by her song.
A tingling sensation started at the base of his spine. It pushed its way up, slowly beginning to replace all of the pain, all of the strain of his muscles. It overwhelmed his body, removing any sense of feeling or touch with its numbing power. Nothing more than the pressure of the water could be felt all too soon.
And then a warmth began to build.
Even the sudden panic of collapsed lungs wasn't enough to tear Sam's thoughts from the change. His entire body burned within the light of her magic. It consumed not only him, but all the uncertainty, the pain, the...
Sam's world vanished in the burning light, guided by a voice older than the mountains themselves as it chanted.
Dean sat there, frozen in disbelief as his baby brother sank under the water's surface. His first instinct was to grab them both out, keep them from drowning, but he was held back by a familiar blue tone in his mind.
You must trust, Dean Winchester.
The ancient voice from earlier once more filled his head. This time, Dean knew it was Nixie, speaking to him even as she healed Sam, the pool of water glowing with her magic.
Sam cannot survive without the trust of his brother. You know this, yet you continue to hold back.
Gently, the presence once again pulled Dean into his memories, showing proof of Sam's trust. Everything he did around his big brother could be shown as a life or death situation, even something as simple as sitting on a shoulder.
Let him in, Dean.
Dean found himself standing behind Bobby in his memory of their research in the library. Sam was checking Nixie even as he told Dean his plan to take on Ilyana. What they had to do to stop her. Dean was forced to watch himself angrily slam a chair against the table, knocking Sam helplessly to the ground. An expression of fear flashed up towards the older brother.
Guilt welled up in Dean. He hadn't noticed. He'd knocked Sam to the ground and he hadn't noticed. He didn't deserve his brother's trust after a stupid-ass stunt like that, not by a long shot. Yet Sam had come back, stubbornly interrupting Dean's enforced 'alone time' only hours later to argue Dean into coming with them.
Sadness tinged Nixie's voice now.
You are the only one that can help him, Dean. His fate is twisted with your own. Neither of you can face it without the other.
Be there for him. All the way.
You already know he will be there for you.
I'm sorry, Sam... I didn't know...
With a triumphant splash, Nixie darted out of the water. Dean almost stumbled back as she she circled him, a limp form held in her arms. She carried Sam over to a patch of clovers not far from Dean's left boot, gently stretching the small hunter over the soft and welcoming ground. Folding Sam's hands over his chest, Nixie brushed his hair from his face before turning to Dean.
"It is done," she said simply, folding her wings at her back. They fluttered once to flick the rest of the water off.
Hesitant, Dean reached forward with a hand. Nixie didn't move as he gently laid a fingertip alongside Sam's face. His skin was clammy and cool to the touch. Dean felt a small jump of fear in him. "Is he --"
"He will be fine," Nixie stated, natural authority shining in her voice. It helped to push away Dean's doubts. "He must recover his strength, that is all."
Dean let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, rustling the clovers around them. "Thank god. Nixie..."
She interrupted him. "Dean, I can only touch his physical ills. Sam is scarred, mentally and spiritually. While his curse is beyond our touch, you can help him heal his mind." Her small blue eyes bored into him and she laid a hand atop the finger touching Sam. "You are the only one that can."
Sam started to come around as Dean stared back at Nixie, afraid again. "Nixie, I... I can't..." Dean’s voice was choked up, full of his own failures. In the background, Sam convulsed, his body rejecting the water that was used to heal him in a torrent.
She jumped into the air, hovering over Dean's shoulder. "Never say never," she said quietly into his ear, careful to not let Sam overhear.
Sam pushed himself up in the clovers with a hand on his head. He coughed a few more times, spitting the last of the water out of his mouth. "Dean...? Nixie?"
Nixie drifted down to him, landing lightly in the clover. "Sam," she said, gently smiling at him.
Dean slid a hand over to his brother, cupping his fingers around Sam's back to help prop him up. “Welcome back to the land of the living, sleeping beauty,” Dean lightly teased.
Instead of leaning against the hand, Sam used the fingers to pull himself to his feet. With a smirk, he rolled his eyes up at Dean. Then he stared at the way he was standing with no support. "Nixie! You did it!"
"Of course I --"
She was interrupted when Sam crashed into her in an exuberant hug, sweeping her off her feet into a twirl. "Nixie, thanks!" Sam buried his head into her shoulder, almost shaking in his excitement.
Dean blinked away tears, surprised at the emotion in his chest. Sam lowered Nixie down, dropping her into the clovers with him. They reached waist high on the two small people with Dean, the leaves brushing against their sides. Sam gave Dean a huge grin from where he was standing. Dean gave him a more hesitant one back, knowing he didn't deserve that from Sam.
Nixie put her hands on Sam's shoulders. "You are healed," she smiled. "Just as I promised. Stay safe." Her eyes trailed up to Dean's. "Both of you."
She jumped into the air, slowly spiraling away from the ground. "I must return and make peace with my sisters." Her fingers trailed over the petals of the vibrant orange flower in her hair. "And I must return Ilyana to her home. She was young, and misguided. I must see that this will not happen again in the future.”
The air began to ripple around her as she opened the portal to return to Aeternum. She smiled. “If you are ever in need of help, you know how to summon me. I… would not mind seeing you again. Either of you.”
She darted into the shimmering air, vanishing from sight. One last farewell drifted to them on the breeze as the portal began to fade. Once again, the foliage rippled with her passing. The clovers around Sam began to grow in size and vibrancy, stretching over his head. Dean scooped Sam up into a hand before he lost sight of his brother, taking an uncertain step back as he watched the formation of the fairy circle from the portal to Nixie’s realm.
This time, the circle was off center. Part of it stretched into the small pond, purifying the water. Anyone who drank from it in future years would speak of the sweetness of that pond, cleaner and fresher than anywhere else in the world. The plants grew taller there as well, even the grass. When someone came along and bought the abandoned house and started to fix it up, they always complained about that one place at the edge of their lawn where the grass was always long and thick, no matter how often they cut it. Eventually it was left to flourish on its own, growing into a small grove.
Nixie would be happy at that mark she left, if she ever had reason to return.
The two brothers stood there for a long time, staring into the empty space where the sprite had vanished. Eventually Dean turned and left, heading back to the car. Bobby was waiting.
The image of Ilyana taking on Sam Winchester in the scrying pool burst into flame as his silver knife pierced the small sprite's chest.
With a curse, the scryer waved a hand over the water, quenching the flame. The image of Ilyana and Sam vanished, leaving only her own reflection staring back out at her.
So. Even the sprites of Aeternum had lost to the Winchester boys. That silly little flit Ilyana had failed her.
Of course, she hadn't expected the interference from a water sprite. Without that assistance, her plan would have worked. Sam would be hers, Dean would be contained from meddling in her plans. How had the troublesome little sprite done it? They were supposed to be bound to not interfere with each other. Celeste had been there in ages past when the sprites had been summoned far more often.
All her work luring the sprites to her to set up her trap had failed. Convincing three different types of sprites to do her bidding had been more exhausting than she'd ever thought, especially the damned earth sprites with their solid integrity. She'd had to coerce them into her service. The water sprites had never even answered the summons, and the air sprites had grown bored far too fast. Ilyana was the only fire sprite that had been willing to make a pact, leaving her without another option to fall back on. Now, she was back at square one.
Without the boy.
Celeste's lips tightened. She needed that boy. He was slipping out of control with his brother. They needed to be separated, of that she was certain. Sam was growing to be more of a nuisance than she'd ever thought someone his size could be.
She tapped her lips, considering her options. Twice now she'd failed to have someone bring her Sam Winchester. Perhaps that wasn't the right way to go about this. Maybe she could lure him and Dean in. Set up a trap and claim her prize. Dean was too old for the spell to work on him, but there were always... options. Other spells that had been lost to the depredations of time that only she and a few others remembered.
She smiled. It was not a nice smile. Yes, that was what she'd do.
It wouldn't be long now.
Sam Winchester would be hers. He would fulfill his destiny.
Whether he wanted to or not.
Night fell over Aeternum.
In the deep forests, delicate flower petals folded closed to wait for the new day to be born. The waters of the deep pools grew still as the fish settled down in the rocks or within the leaves of the underwater plants.
Even the air sprites chose to settle down, sleeping to build energy for a new day of mischief. Cersei's feathery wings drew close to her body as she floated down to a rocky spire. From there she could keep an eye on the sky over her home. Her feathers ruffled one last time for warmth before closing her golden eyes.
Even the firelands, with the constant glow of magma lighting the world, settled in to rest. The fire-drakes curled up on their rocks, hiding their heads and necks under glistening red wings for the night. Normally one would find fire sprites curled up with their scaley brothers and sisters.
This was not a normal night by the volcano.
Noonia sat outside the entrance to the towering mountain. A sad croon filled the air of the tunnels. She poured her laments and her regret into her own song. She had let her best friend leave her, and because of it, Ilyana was no more.
Past the long, winding tunnels that made up the center of the fire sprites home, a steady chant could be heard drifting upwards. Inside the deepest cavern to be found without plunging into the magma itself, a somber gathering could be seen.
Fire sprites stood on every rocky outcrop and protuberance. The older sprites had their long, sinuous tails curled around thin spires for balance as they leaned forward to catch sight of the two sprites in the center of the cavern, standing on a rocky outcropping of their own. Such a sight had not been seen for a millenia. Directly behind the pair, the youngest of the fire sprites gathered, their soft young skin glowing in the light as they chanted a dirge to bind their magic to the volcano itself.
Nixie stood next to the matriarch of the fire sprites, wings rustling uneasily as she waited out the song. In her hands was cupped the flos vitae of Ilyana - her life-bloom, to put it in the terms of the humans. It held the essence of Ilyana's life, her triumphs, regrets, desires... her entire being, reduced to nothing more than the elegant petals of a flower.
As the chant began to shift away from the dirge and thread a tone of hope through the air, the matriarch turned to Nixie. "You have done us a great service, returning our sister to her home."
Nixie gave her a simple incline of her head in return. "It was the least I could do," she replied. In another life, before Sam and Dean, she may have returned Ilyana home, but she would never have remained for the rebirth ceremony, or likely been invited. They had changed the unchanging, a feat she would have believed impossible not so long ago.
She and the matriarch turned back to the pit of magma together. Nixie blinked. "What drew the youngest sprite to the human world?"
The matriarch scowled, the light of the flames deepening her wrinkles. "If she was to have succeeded, immortality was promised to her and all fire sprites."
"Immortality is not as perfect as it may sound, sister."
The matriarch, the younger of the two between them, sighed deeply. "She was young and misguided. Perhaps, in another life, these mistakes will be avoided."
Nixie dipped her head, returning her attention to the ceremony. "Yes."
As the chanting song reached a crescendo of power, Nixie stepped forth. A tear slipped forth from her eye as she remembered young Ilyana, born of Ilia before her just two years past. How had one so young fallen so far, so fast?
"In another life."
She did not ask her sister who had forged the pact with young Ilyana. Such an inquiry was forbidden to her by strictures passed down to her from the gods themselves. But she could wonder.
Gathering the tear on her cheek before it fell and was lost to the volcano, Nixie let it drop onto the petals of the life-bloom. A blue luminance tinted the edges of the orange flower as she allowed her power to imbue it, something never before shared by a water sprite.
As the ritual ended, Nixie tossed the flower into the volcano. It hit the magma with a hiss.
A spark of power burst forth as it was consumed in flame.
And she of fire will be born anew,
Twisting flames to herald her birth,
Times change and seasons end,
What was once old will be young again.