Actions

Work Header

a lie the size of the sky

Work Text:

Sam rubs his hand along a fence, touches a lamp post as he passes it, lingers with his hand on the door to a bakery. Like a blind man counting.

Acuqileena, his daemon, hops off his shoulder down to the fence, picking her way delicately along it for a while before shaking out her wings and flying above, circling within a comfortable range for them both. She's glad of the chance to stretch her huge wings after six hours in the car—he feels her relief in the soft chatter in her mind. Eagles aren't meant to be cooped up, even in a car as spacious as the Impala.

He touches a telephone pole, a mail box, the orderly posts of another fence. Not intentional, nothing he even realizes he's doing until Dean starts raising his eyebrows and Sam has to cast around for the cause. And then he notices.

"I think we've been here before, Dean," he says as they pause outside Olsen's Hardware Store.

They're in Spring Grove, Minnesota, hunting the ghost of an old lead miner. It feels familiar, the soul of the town. Acuqileena agrees, pecking him on the ear as she lands back on his shoulder, claws sharp through his jacket. "It was a long time ago," she whispers, "before I flew often."

"Why do you say that?" he asks her.

She stops and thinks a moment, head cocked to one side. Then, "It feels more familiar at ground level, or on the fence, than it does from the air."

Dean looks around, makes a little grimace, and shakes his head.

"Nah, I don't think so."

Dean's daemon, Luned, looks up at him, puzzlement keen in her dark wolf eyes. "I don't remember this place, either," she says.

"No, I'm sure we have been here," and Sam doesn't know why Dean's and Luned's denial makes him that much more certain, but it does. He knows now. He points down the road to a bridge over a river. "There's a path up on the left, right after that bridge. Goes down by the side of the river. Couple of hundred yards down there's a gap in the fence—kinda small, but you can squeeze through onto a soccer field."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Sam senses Acuqileena's agreement, the build up of conviction growing stronger by the minute.

Dean's still not convinced. "Wanna bet?"

Sam shrugs. "Sure. I mean, I hate to take candy from children, but hey, if you wanna do all the laundry for the next month, who'm I to stop you?"

Dean looks at him with something akin to disappointment. "That is the lamest bet ever," he says sadly.

"Chickening out?"

"Hell, no. Just disappointed that my little bro can't come up with something better than that. You, bitch, are gonna be bleaching my boxers brilliant white."

Acuqileena and Luned race ahead, swooping and running back whenever they venture far enough to feel the distance. When Sam and Dean catch up, there's no hole in the fence, but there's a newer section of wire covering an area just big enough for a small boy to squeeze through, and there is, in fact, a soccer field on the other side.

"Bet you just saw a sign when we drove past earlier," Dean says. He's always a sore loser.

"There's no sign, Dean."

"Maybe they moved it."

"In the last two hours? Seriously?"

"Could've happened," Dean mumbles.

"Or we could have been here before. Occam's Razor, Dean."

"Whose razor?"

Sam shakes his head and gives up. He just wishes he could remember when they were here—he doesn't know why, but it feels important.

*

Sam goes for a run that evening. The ghost they're hunting never shows up before midnight, so he's got a few hours to kill. Acuqileena grumbles but once she's in flight she's happy enough.

He runs west, straight along Main Street. The town's still small enough to have some character, not overrun with generic names or big box stores. It's quiet now, the stores closed and just the restaurants still lit up, but everyone he passes smiles, friendly. It's the kind of place he'd like if he stopped to think about it.

He runs past a slight girl, maybe his age, talking excitedly to an older man, her hands windmilling in the air, in danger of hitting him as he runs by. He looks back at her over his shoulder, almost stumbling on a crack in the sidewalk, wondering if he went to school with her, shared a class, if he has some connection with her, some past. If they ever spoke or kissed or shared a look before.

Acuqileena's flying low over the sidewalk in front of him, her wingspan stretching the entire breadth of it. She swoops out over the road whenever anyone else approaches, soaring over parked cars. They cross side roads without needing to pause, traffic quiet at this time of the day.

They've just passed a chiropractic clinic when it happens.

Sam is squinting across the road, trying to read the opening hours on a Kinko's without actually crossing the road—they need new sets of I.D. again—when there's a shriek from Acuqileena. She's pulling herself up into the sky as fast as she can, a man singing drunkenly to a non-existent audience, his mouse daemon on his shoulder, swaying on the sidewalk below her.

"I didn't see him," she says, her voice shrill and horrified. "He just came out of the doorway—"

"He didn't—?" Sam starts, barely able to even form the words. The idea of anyone other than him touching Acuqileena—touching his daemon, his soul—it's abhorrent.

"No, not quite," she says, shakily. "But I could feel the air moving around him. Close. Far too close."

Sam turns around and glares in disgust at the man, but the guy's conducting an orchestra now, oblivious.

Sam keeps on running, no point in berating the drunk. West Main Street turns into Old Sauk Road and there's not much town left. He runs past Union Cemetery, past a sign pointing towards Brookwood Golf Course, but he stays on the road. It's too late in the evening for diversions.

The remaining houses are all well cared for, picture perfect lawns sloping down to the road. One, on the left, has steep white gables and a weathervane shaped like a rooster, and for a moment Sam sees two old women in the window, shrunken and wrinkled with no more than tufts of white hair left on their heads. They're watching him, intent. Sam blinks and they're just ordinary women, middle-aged, talking to each other behind frilly net curtains and a flowering plant.

He shakes his head. "Did you see that?" he asks Acuqileena.

"See what?" she asks, as she circles back to him.

"Nothing," he says, not even sure now if he saw anything.

He turns onto a path just beyond the house. The moon is exceptionally bright now that he's gone beyond the lights of the town and the way is clear, uphill, the slope enough to make him puff a little. Over the brow of the hill, and the path leads down into a forest. He doesn't even consider turning back, picks up his pace even, following the moonlight. He runs steadily, fast enough to make his heart race, but he can't stop.

He hears Acuqileena's distress above him, but it doesn't register. All he can do is keep running, keep following the light. He needs to know where it leads. He doesn't stumble, even when tree roots push up through the path—he jumps over each one without even needing to watch the ground.

The path curves and winds, past huge boulders and strange limestone formations. He sees a cave entrance between the trees but he doesn't pause to look. Just keeps running.

He can feel the sweat pouring down his face. His shirt is sopping and his breath is coming in painful gasps but still, he keeps running.

And then, ahead, he sees the path open out, and the moon reflected so it seems twice as bright. As he comes out into the open he doesn't think, just plunges straight into the lake that fills the clearing. The ripples make the moon's reflection blur and shake, and as Sam ducks under the water, eyes still open, he sees miniature moons in each bubble in the water. He can feel the magic. He can feel it inside him, sinking into him, and as he surfaces, he remembers.

Acuqileena screams.

*

He walks back, dripping wet. It's dark now, and when Sam pulls his flashlight out it's clearly suffered from its dip in the lake and is barely strong enough to see by. He brushes up against a tree in passing, slight stumble on the uneven path, and reaches out a hand to steady himself. Lets his hand linger on the rough bark, lets the feel of the tree sink in, memories pouring through him now, six years old and he'd wandered away from the house, tempted by the full moon shining so bright it had confused him.

Acuqileena was a polecat that day, running sleek and silent ahead of him. Sam was lost in the forest but not afraid. He was scared of the dark, of monsters under his bed, but it wasn't dark. It was almost daylight bright; white light which made everything strange and beautiful.

When he found the lake he felt incredibly thirsty, thirstier even than the time he and Dean lived on potato chips for days. He knelt down on the pebbled edge of the lake and scooped handfuls of water, drinking and drinking until he couldn't drink any more.

He felt strange, but didn't understand.

And then it had grown dark, and that's when he'd become scared. He started running, not even sure if he was on the right path, scared of every sound and every darker shadow in a world that was suddenly nothing but dark shadows. He ran blindly, trying to listen for the comforting presence of Acuqileena ahead of him. He stumbled several times, and then he fell, over a tree root or a giant snake or a monster's limb—he didn't know which. Lay, winded, while Acuqileena whimpered by his side. She'd curled into him, licking his face until he got up. Then she'd changed, become an owl, and flown up above the trees, as far distant as she could go, so high it hurt them both but just high enough to see the way back.

The strange feeling didn't stop, though Sam had tried to keep walking through it, tried to ignore it. But it got worse, a pain, so bad eventually that he'd fallen again, doubled up as his clothes tore and his body changed.

When he stood up, he had wings like an owl.

*

Sam leans against a tree, breathless with shock.

There's an itch between his shoulder blades; sense memory.

"It's happening again, isn't it?" Acuqileena asks.

As the itch becomes pain, Sam nods.

Sam pulls his shirts off. Bunches them into a pillow and lies down on them. There's nothing he can do right now but let this happen.

It doesn't take long—a few minutes maybe. It seemed longer when he was a boy, seemed like hours, but he's gotten used to pain over the years, gotten used to waiting it out.

The wings are small, barely two foot long when he stretches them out. Pressed up against his body, they're just small enough for him to fit his flannel shirt on top, though the buttons strain across his chest and it's uncomfortable. At least, this way, he'll be able to tell Dean what has happened before he sees it for himself. Anything's better than just showing up in their room with frigging wings.

*

Dean's response is predictable. Denial, suspicion, and then he blames Sam.

"Why the hell did you have to go wandering in the woods at night anyway? I mean, seriously, Sam. You're a hunter. You're not a little kid anymore."

"It was strange, man. It was like—like I couldn't help it. I just had to follow the light, and I couldn't think about anything else."

"So what, you see a pretty light and just trip along the path after it like some giant freaking Dorothy and that doesn't strike you as the slightest bit weird? Especially considering there's no moon tonight?" Dean does sarcasm like no one.

"No moon?" Sam says, lamely.

"No, Sam. There's no moon. So I don't know what you saw, but it sure as hell wasn't the moon."

Sam sits down on his bed and Dean throws himself down beside him. "Do you remember it happening before?" Sam asks.

"What, you're saying that not only have we been here before, you've sprouted wings before?"

"I guess that answers my question."

"Dude, I'd have remembered if you'd ever gone all angelic on us."

"They were more like owl wings, actually."

Dean raises his eyebrows. "Whatever, I woulda remembered. And there'd be something in Dad's journal. But there isn't, you know there isn't."

"I don't know why it's not in Dad's journal, but there's something about this place. My memories are still foggy—I can grasp bits of them, but not the whole thing—but I know we were here when we were children, and I know I grew wings before."

Dean doesn't look entirely convinced, but he stops arguing, for now at least. "You gonna show me them?" he mumbles eventually, not looking Sam in the eye as he asks.

"You got some sorta wing fetish I need to know about?" Sam asks, not expecting the flust that appears on Dean's face. It's tempting to laugh, but there's something under Dean's brief appearance of discomfort that makes Sam back off. Instead, he just unbuttons his shirt, shrugs it off and leans forward.

"Fucking hell," Dean says. "You really do have wings."

*

Dean wants to phone Bobby right then, regardless of the time. Sam wants to take out the ghost that's the reason they're here in the first place. Ten minutes of arguing, and Sam wins.

They've done all the research, so it's a simple salt and burn. And it actually turns out to be just that—simple. No interruptions while they're digging, and the ghost himself doesn't turn up until Sam's pouring gasoline over his bones. One feeble swipe at them is all he gets in before Dean strikes the match and the bones go up in flames.

Sam's shoulders are aching by the time he's finished, and Acuqileena spends most of her time resting on a nearby gravestone. When Sam asks, she insists she's fine, but Sam can tell she's feeling shaky. She sits on Sam's shoulder for the short walk back to the car, and when Sam looks in the rearview mirror, he sees her resting against Luned on the back seat, her brown feathers looking less dark than usual against Luned's gray fur. He hopes she's not sick—it wouldn't make sense if she were, because he's fine (apart from the wings) and she only gets sick when he's ill.

"You brooding?" Dean asks, nudging him with an elbow as they draw up in front of the small motel.

Sam shakes his head, hoping it's nothing.

*

In the morning, Sam manages to persuade Dean to hold off again on calling Bobby. "Let's at least do some research first, okay? We don't want to go running to him every time we have a little problem."

"You call this a little problem?"

Sam shrugs. "That's the thing—we don't know. It could be something simple we can fix easily, in which case Bobby's just going to call us morons again, and he's gonna be right."

Dean nods. "Okay then, geek boy, go do your research thing."

Sam looks at him, hard. "You're coming too."

"If the librarian is some crusty old spinster, I am not forgiving you."

The librarian at the reference reception desk isn't a crusty old spinster. She looks about twenty-five, with glossy dark hair, all the right curves that she's not trying to hide, and little glasses that Dean insists make her even sexier. "It's the fun of taking them off," he says, winks at Sam, and heads over towards her. Sam resists the temptation to glare at her, not even sure why he wants to, and resigns himself to doing all the work. He plows through the local history section, knowing the sort of books that are likely to be helpful and those that aren't. He soon has his arms full, but he manages to pull out a local map as well before sitting at an empty table in the corner.

It doesn't hit him at first. He wades through stories of the town founders, widowed sisters, wealthy enough to clear a large area of land and build the first houses. He reads about the lead rush in the 1820s when the original hamlet suddenly swelled in size to a town, discovers the origin of the local corn festival, and learns about the year fire swept across the state and barely missed Spring Grove. It's the sort of thing he's read a hundred times before, good times and tragedies and everything in between. Maybe less tragedies than most towns, but that's not a big deal. There's little recorded about the land before the town was founded, but that's not unusual. Just enough to tell him it was most likely forest, and not at all likely to have been sacred ground or anything else that might explain what's happened to him.

It's while he's poring over a couple of maps—one from the nineteenth century, one recent—that he notices.

"Dean," he stage whispers. Dean's been outside and come back in again, and is leaning against the librarian's desk, conversing in soft tones. He looks up at Sam, a don't interrupt me now expression on his face. Sam glares back. Dean rolls his eyes and puts his hand on the librarian's arm, clearly apologizing for his annoying brother. He heads over to Sam, twists a chair around, and sits down heavily, arms on the chair back.

"I was busy there, Sammy," he snaps.

"What? I didn't sabotage your dinner plans, did I?" Sam's pissed and doesn't bother to hide it.

"She was telling me about the witches, actually, Sam," Dean says pointedly.

Sam takes a deep breath. He smiles, the nearest he can come to an apology. "You gonna tell me about these witches?"

Dean flashes his little boy smile, the one that makes him look about ten years old and makes woman of all ages fall for him. It doesn't work on Sam. Not really.

"According to Serena," and Dean turns around and gives the librarian, presumably Serena, a wave, "the founding sisters were witches."

"You're telling me she believes in witches?" Sam finds this hard to believe.

"No, of course not. But I told her we were working on an article about the hidden stories behind small town America, and she said that was their local lore."

"Elsie Vanderplows and Margret Bloom."

"Yeah, those are the ones." Dean looks disappointed at Sam stealing some of his thunder. "What you got on them?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary—just that they were sisters, their husbands died and they came here to make a fresh start. Their history is a bit sketchy, especially in the later years—sounds like they became recluses—but that doesn't make them that much different from any other nineteenth century widows."

"So what were you calling me about?"

"The lake. The one I swam in last night, and that I drank from when I was a kid." Sam pauses for effect.

"Spit it out." Dean never does appreciate the finer points of storytelling.

"It's not on any map."

"That's not that strange, surely. I mean, was it really a lake? Or just a pond? 'Cause you're not going to find every little pond on a map."

"It was more than big enough to be on a map this size," Sam says, pointing to a large scale hikers' map. "See, here's the forest. But the path I followed isn't there, and there's no clearing or lake."

"So—" Dean waves his arms vaguely, dislodging a book from its precarious position at the top of a pile. He catches it before it falls and puts it back, familiar enough with Sam's organizational methods. "What's it mean?"

Sam sighs. "Beats me."

"Bobby?" Dean doesn't sound any more eager than Sam, but they're running out of options.

"Guess it's going to have to be."

"You got copies of everything you need, or you want me to go and see Serena about them?" Dean's up and heading towards her before he finishes asking.

"You go and swap digits or whatever, and I'll just go put all the books away," Sam says to Dean's retreating back. He sounds petulant, he knows, but he doesn't care. He shoves Dean's chair under the table as he leaves.

*

"So, you meeting up with the luscious librarian tonight?" Sam asks once they're back in the car.

"Nah."

"What, she turn you down? Losing your touch?" Sam asks gleefully.

Dean looks deeply offended. "I've got more important things to do, that's all," he says.

Sam's touched. He nods and changes the subject. "Damn, but I'll be glad to get back to our room." He fidgets in his seat trying to get comfortable.

"Wings hurting?"

"Not hurting, no. Just, they're not really very comfortable squashed under my clothes like this."

Dean nods. "We'll fix this," he says. "Dad must have fixed it before, so we'll figure it out." He suddenly sounds like he did when Sam was eight and wondering why Dad wasn't home for Christmas—even back then Sam could tell when Dean was sure and when he was just trying to make Sam feel better. He's trying to make Sam feel better now, but Sam can't bring himself to call Dean on it, so he just nods and looks back out the window, watches half-familiar streets pass by.

*

Dean refuses to put the phone on speaker when he's talking to Bobby. Sam grits his teeth and tries to work out what Bobby might be saying from Dean's response, but Dean's in monosyllabic mode and Sam can't make out a thing.

He hovers impatiently until Dean ends the call.

"What'd he say?"

"He doesn't know anything about the last time." Dean shrugs, clearly disappointed. "But then Dad didn't share everything with him, so that doesn't mean a thing. Well, obviously it does mean he can't tell us how Dad solved it last time." He flops down on the bed—he looks as tired as Sam feels.

"That's it?"

"Pretty much." Dean kicks his boots off and looks about to doze off, then sits up sharply. "Oh, yeah, he thinks he knows why you can remember and I can't."

"Yeah?"

"He thinks it might be something to do with your powers and stuff," Dean says awkwardly, clearly uncomfortable even mentioning them. Sam mentally adds and demon's blood but doesn't say it out loud. "If Dad performed a memory spell on us—which would make sense, because you didn't know anything about the supernatural when you were that little—it might have had less lasting effect on you than on me."

"Makes sense," Sam says and gets up for a drink. Stumbles, dizzy for a moment, and then Dean's hand is out; Dean's holding him up and pressing him back onto the bed.

"Sam? Sammy? What's up?"

Sam shakes his head. "Nothing, just got dizzy for a second." He looks up, sees the worry in Dean's eyes. "I'm fine. Though it wouldn't hurt you to go get me some food."

"Lazy bitch," Dean says, but he pulls his boots back on and heads out, Luned loping behind him.

Sam turns to Acuqileena. "You're not feeling well, are you?"

"It's nothing much," she says. "But since the lake I've just felt a bit weak. Like it drained me."

Sam holds out his arm and Acuqileena flies to him. He strokes her neck, finding the soft feathers under her beak that always soothe her, and they fall asleep like that.

*

He wakes up to the scent of spicy meatballs. They're close, and before he opens his eyes he realizes that's because he's leaning on Dean's shoulder.

"You gonna eat all those?" he asks blearily.

"If you hadn't woken, yeah. Go back to sleep."

"No." Sam steals two off Dean's plate, one for him and one for Acuqileena. She picks at it daintily, and Luned lifts her head off Dean's thigh and asks for her share.

"Buncha beggars, that's what you all are," Dean grumbles, but he doesn't move, just holds out a meatball for Luned and lets Sam take more, too.

Sam feels better by the time they've finished the food, and Acuqileena looks better too, the normal brightness back in her eyes. Maybe all he needed was an afternoon nap and a hot meal.

"Which are we going to look up first, the witches or the lake?"

"My vote's on the lake. Less bookish crap."

"Let's go see if I can find it in the daylight then."

*

There is a path of sorts, but not the wide easy path Sam ran along last night. Dean walks right past it, and Sam has to call him back.

"Weird, I didn't see that until you mentioned it," Dean says.

"Some sort of concealment spell, I'd guess."

A few yards in and they're both cursing about thorns sharp enough to catch them through their jeans, and Luned only just manages to nudge Dean out of the way of a patch of poison ivy in time. It seems like they walk forever, but eventually Acuqileena tells him there's a clearer area ahead.

The lake looks quiet and ordinary in the daylight. There's a brisk breeze, enough that Sam's glad he piled on the layers despite not wanting to wreck too many shirts, and the water reflects the clouds rushing overhead. Gray blue green, and it's impossible to tell how deep it might be.

Luned pads up to it curiously. Sam looks at Dean anxiously and Dean calls out to her. "Don't touch the water."

"I wouldn't, don't worry," she assures him. "I was just wondering if it smelled like ordinary water or not."

"Does it?" Dean asks.

"Yes," she says.

"It's so peaceful," Acuqileena says, circling above Sam.

"Huh," Sam says.

"That 'huh' have a meaning?" Dean asks.

"What Acuqileena said—it's so peaceful. Have you heard any bird or insect or animal sounds since we got here? Anything other than us?"

Dean pulls out his EMF meter. It crackles immediately, the dial flicking back and forth angrily. "Guess they don't like the area for a good reason."

"Well, at least we know the lake's at the center of things."

"You got any mojo tricks for cleansing a lake?"

Sam pulls his pockets inside out. "Not on me, no," he says flippantly. "Looks like we'll have to do more research after all."

"So what, we work on the theory that it was those witches that did something to the lake?"

"Seems as good a place to start as any. We check out anything to do with the lake or the widows or witches or whatever they were."

"But what's the point?" Dean punctuates his question with a stone, throwing it way out into the lake. The splash sounds loud in the quiet air. "Why the hell would anyone curse a lake to lure someone to it and make them grow wings?"

Sam doesn't have an answer.

*

Sam still doesn't have an answer. He sits up in bed for hours reading photocopies from the library, and his dad's journal, just in case they'd missed anything, but there's nothing there. When he finally tries to sleep he tosses and turns so much that Dean eventually shouts at him in frustration. "Quit it, Sam."

"Can't sleep," Sam says into his pillow.

"Neither can I with your noisy ass flopping around."

Sam genuinely tries to be quieter after that, but he still doesn't sleep. Acuqileena is upset too, and her mood ripples back into him. By the time it starts getting light, Sam is tense and exhausted. And not prepared for the discovery he makes when he gets up—the wings have grown overnight.

He nudges Dean and wakes him up. Offers him a coffee first, and waits for Dean to take a few sips—no point trying to talk to him before he's had some caffeine. Dean gulps it down, even though it must still be scalding hot. "What's the emergency?" he asks.

"My wings have grown. And hell, that's not a sentence I ever planned on saying."

"Turn around."

Sam turns.

"Can I—? Dean asks, motioning towards them.

"You don't have to ask permission, Dean."

"Yeah, well, but it's a bit, you know—" Dean trails off as Sam tilts his head and raises an eyebrow.

Sam lifts his wings, letting them out to their full stretch, and Dean measures them with his hands. "They've grown a good six inches, I'd say."

It's a strange sensation, Dean's hands on his wings. It's muted, clearly far less nerves there than in the rest of his body, but it feels—it feels amazing, and Sam shudders as he realizes that.

"I'm gonna have to strap them down to get into a shirt," he says. He hopes Dean will assume he's cold—after all, he has no reason to think otherwise. Certainly no reason to think that his brother might be reacting in places he shouldn't be just from the feel of Dean's hands on his wings.

And he'd thought things couldn't get worse.

*

Sam's fairly sure he dug up everything about Elsie and Margret the day before, but he goes back to the library just in case. Dean asks Serena about them, but all she knows was the rumor she already told him.

"You could try Churchill's Bookstore. It's got a large section on the history of the town—you might find something we don't have."

The bookstore is tiny, a backroom behind an antique store, with barely room to move between old wooden shelves crammed full of old and new books. "Bet this is your wet dream, hey, Sammy," Dean whispers, and Sam refrains from telling Dean that his new wet dream is Dean's hands on his wings.

Despite the jumbled look of the place, the books themselves are arranged orderly, and Sam has no trouble finding a selection of texts that might prove useful. The shop keeper, a plump little man with soft skin and a beatific smile, sits quietly in the corner, but although he's watching them over his half-moon glasses, Sam doesn't feel uncomfortable.

Acuqileena is anxious though, eager to be out of the store.

"What's the matter," he whispers to her.

"The cat," she says, and Sam follows the direction of her gaze to a gray cat sitting on top of one of the bookshelves, licking a hind leg. He can't see anything unusual about it, but Luned is watching the cat too, her hackles rising. He nudges Dean to leave, the wordless hint sufficient, and pays for the books quickly.

"A wise choice," the bookseller says in a cracked voice, stuffy and hoarse with cold, as he wraps them carefully in brown paper. "I hope you find what you're looking for."

"Thank you," Sam says, startled but trying not to show it. It's no more than a polite remark, no meaning behind it.

Acuqileena rustles her wings restlessly as they leave, flying off as soon as they're out the door. She's back in seconds though, landing on Sam's shoulder heavily.

"What about the cat?" he asks her.

"There was something wrong with it," she says, and Luned nods her head in agreement.

"He wasn't a cat," Luned says.

Dean kneels down to Luned's level. "What do you mean, he wasn't a cat? What was he?"

"I don't know," she says, and when Sam turns to Acuqileena, she too is puzzled.

*

Sam divvies the books between himself and Dean, to Dean's disgruntlement. But he pulls a couple of Coors Lights out of the mini-fridge, puts them on the table between them and settles down across the table from Sam.

"Found anything?" Sam asks after he's skimmed the first book and found nothing.

"Dunno if it's important or not, but our widows weren't actually widows. Turns out their husbands both left them for younger women."

"That must have been shocking back then."

"Yeah. Anyway, not long after their divorces, they inherited big time, which is how they had the money to come and set up this town."

"Does it say who they got the inheritance from?"

"Yeah, that all seems legit—it was from their parents. Though they did both die together in—" Dean fumbles through the book for the page he's after, "a freak storm."

"So you're thinking they brewed up the storm to kill their parents so they could cash in?"

"Just a thought. If they were really witches, it's possible."

"Witches with a vendetta against their ex-husbands."

"Who then curse a lake to make people grow wings. I think we're still missing a mighty big chunk of the jigsaw here." Dean finishes his beer and crumples the can absently.

Sam stretches his arms, only to realize that he's stretching his wings too. "My ass is getting numb," he complains. He doesn't mention that he's feeling dizzy again—he doesn't want to worry Dean unnecessarily.

"Chow time," Dean says, and grabs his wallet.

*

They find a mom and pop diner a block away. Luned finds it, in fact, sniffing at the air and insisting that Dean follow her. He trusts her instincts when it comes to food, and so does Sam, and she doesn't let them down.

The place is plain and simple but crowded, no empty tables, so they share. Two middle-aged women, and like so much else about the place, Sam finds them vaguely familiar, though Dean is the one who gets them talking. They seem charmed by him—women are predictable everywhere, no matter their age—but Sam senses they're more amused by him than anything, so he has to give them some credit.

The food is as simple as the décor but the plates are piled so high even Dean looks disconcerted, and it's the nearest to home-cooking they've had in ages.

They leave when they can't eat anymore, even though they both still have ham and grits on their plates, Sam rubbing his belly and feeling the press of his shirt buttons, Dean burping loudly.

It's only when they're out of the diner that Sam places the women—he saw them in the window of the house on the road leading towards the forest the night they arrived. He doesn't say anything, just makes a mental note—he doesn't believe in coincidences.

As they approach their room, Acuqileena starts chattering, nervous. Luned keeps so close to Dean she almost trips him up, something she hasn't done since she's been fixed in this form. "What's the matter?" Sam starts, and then he sees what they must have sensed.

The cat from the book store.

He's sitting outside the door to their room, a slim leather-bound notebook between his teeth, and he's looking straight at them. Waiting for them.

"What the fuck?" Dean says, and Sam mentally echoes it.

The cat patters towards them, but seems to sense their daemons' apprehension and stops still at a distance. He drops the book, nudges it towards them with his nose, then backs off a ways.

Sam and Dean look at each other, bemused. "Guess there's only one way to find out," Dean says, and walks over and picks up the book gingerly. He opens it. "It's a diary," he says, and hands it over to Sam. It's slightly damp on the outside—probably cat saliva—but Sam barely notices it.

Once inside, Sam skims through the diary. It's from 2003, though it looks shabby and smells vaguely musty. And like cat.

"Looks like it's been kept out of doors," Sam says, and points to a dried mud stain on the back, cat hairs embedded in it.

"Any clue why the cat brought it to us?"

"Gimme a minute, jeez. Unless you want to read it," and Sam turns it around and points out the pinched, messy writing.

"It's all yours, dude. I'm gonna take a piss."

At first it's boring. Mostly records of appointments, jotted down phone numbers, and names of towns. The writer—the name in the front is Arthur Seebury—seems to be a traveling salesman. Then Sam sees it, Spring Grove, this town. Mr. Seebury arrived on July 12th, and that date just has the usual names and phone numbers. The next day, though, is not a usual entry. There's just one word. Tail.

The next day, the writing gets even worse.

I think I'm going mad. I have grown a tail. I can see it clearly, I can feel it, but it's surely impossible.

The next day's entry is equally frantic.

Delilah is weak—she's curled on my lap and won't move. I ought to see a doctor or a shrink, but I don't want to be locked away.

Each day the handwriting gets progressively worse, and Arthur's transformation apparently gets more dramatic. He starts to grow fur and whiskers, and his daemon gets weaker daily. Sam's mouth gets drier and drier as he reads, and when he reaches the last entry, he gasps out loud.

Delilah faded today. One moment she was there, the next gone. I don't—

"Dean," Sam shouts.

Dean rushes out of the bathroom, wiping his hands on a towel. "What? Found something?"

"I think the cat wrote the diary," Sam says. "I think he was a man once, with a cat daemon, and something happened to him because he started turning into a cat and—and his daemon died." Sam's voice breaks in horror as he says the last words. Just the thought of being without his daemon, losing Acuqileena—he feels sick, but he has to get the words out. Has to tell Dean exactly what they're dealing with. Has to pull himself together long enough to spell everything out. "His daemon died, Dean, and he turned into a cat." He stops and takes a deep breath, starts again. "That's the purpose of the spell on the lake, to somehow separate a human from a daemon and harvest the energy. I don't know why the transformation happens, but that's what someone is doing, stealing bond energy."

Dean's pale. "It's not going to happen to you, Sam."

"It's happening already. That's why I'm growing wings like Acuqileena's—they're just the start. I'm turning into an eagle, I'm turning into a soulless creature and Acuqileena could die. She's getting weaker already, and she could die, Dean." He doesn't mean to freak out, but it all just rushes out, fear and horror and loathing.

Dean grabs Sam by the shoulders, roughly. "Listen to me. I am not going to let this happen to you. Got it? It's not going to happen."

*

The cat is outside the motel when Sam opens the door the next morning. This time there's just a ratty scrap of paper held between his teeth. He drops it on the ground as Sam approaches.

Sam feels uncomfortable. He can sense Acuqileena's discomfort too, being this close to a creature without a soul. But he steels himself, and hopes the cat can understand human language still.

"Are you Arthur Seebury?" he asks, and the cat nods, emphatically.

Sam gulps, and picks up the paper. There are two words printed on it, in huge clumsy capital letters, barely legible.

LAKE PROPHECY

"There's a prophecy about the lake?" Sam asks, and the cat—Arthur, Sam reminds himself—nods again.

"Can you show me where I can find the prophecy?" Sam asks, and the cat drops his head, shaking it sadly.

It slopes off, and Sam whispers a thank you after him.

*

Dean's still sleeping, Luned curled up on his feet, so Sam opens his laptop quietly and starts searching.

He tries every term he can think of, but while he finds countless prophecies, some involving actual lakes, some families called Lake, and a prediction for Lake Park High School's football team's season, he doesn't find anything that might possibly refer to their lake.

Acuqileena nestles against his side. "I'm tired," she says, and when he looks closely, he sees her feathers aren't as glossy as usual. Her eyes are dull too, but Sam can't bring himself to make a promise to her he can't keep.

"We're trying," is all he says, and she nods her understanding, then falls asleep.

He doesn't even notice when Dean wakes up, not until he feels a hand on his shoulder. "Got anything yet?" Dean asks. Luned's nuzzling up against Acuqileena sadly.

"The cat, Arthur, left this," Sam says, and hands over the scrap of paper. "But I can't find any prophecy, and there was nothing in any of the books."

"So we just need to look somewhere we haven't already looked," Dean says confidently. He has that fake smile on his face, the one that tells Sam he's scared to death and Sam had better not say anything or he'll kill him.

"I'll call Bobby. At least we've got something else to give him this time," Sam says.

Bobby's gruff. "What've you fool boys gone and done now?" he asks.

"Nothing," Sam replies instinctively. "Well, nothing more. But we found something out." He explains about Arthur, hears Bobby's muffled shock at the idea of his daemon fading, the thought of what Arthur is now, a creature without a daemon, no longer human, but not animal either. He can hear the equally shocked exclamation Tuula, Bobby's daemon, makes in the background. Sam can barely get the words out. He can feel it happening to him.

He'd rather die.

"Okay, listen up, Sam. I'll ask around, and if there really is a prophecy about that lake of yours, I'll find it. But you gotta stay put and rest up. Conserve your energy, you hear me?"

"Yeah, Bobby, I hear you." Sam hangs up.

"Bobby's gonna look into it," he tells Dean.

"Yeah, and what else did he say?"

"That was it."

Dean looks at him. It was a weak lie, and Dean'll just phone Bobby back if Sam doesn't tell him. "He told me to rest," he says.

"Good a plan for now as any," Dean says. "I'm gonna go get some supplies."

Sam listens to Dean drive off, and turns to Acuqileena. Her head is drooping, and much as Sam hates just doing nothing, he has to admit that Bobby's right. He lifts her up and puts her on the headboard, and lies down for a while.

He wakes up slowly to the feel of a rough tongue against his hand. He's warm, and as he senses that, he also realizes that he's been feeling gradually colder each day, even with the added warmth of the wings. He's warm now because there's a body pressed up against his, half on top of him, and with a gasp he opens his eyes. It's Luned, curled up over him, head resting on his hands. Touching him.

Dean's sitting on the other bed.

"Dean," Sam manages, and his voice is hoarse.

Dean doesn't look up. "It's okay, Sammy," he says, and then he does look up, just a moment, and there's a look in his eyes that cuts through Sam. "It's okay," he says, and Sam thinks he's reassuring himself as much as Sam.

Sam just nods, even though Dean has turned away. Acuqileena is still sleeping, so Sam closes his eyes and leans into Luned's touch. And sleeps.

*

It's dark when Sam wakes again. He's not sure what wakes him up this time until he feels the touch on his wings; Dean's stroking them, barely-there touch. He closes his eyes and keeps his breathing steady, and when he opens them again it's light, and Dean's lying on his own bed, snoring. Sam could almost believe he was dreaming before, but there are wolf hairs on his bed, and Luned lifts her head from Dean's feet and gazes at him unblinking.

He knows what it means, what Dean's acceptance of Luned's actions mean.

He knows what it means, and it scares him that he wants it so much.

*

His wings have grown yet again, and even with Dean helping him bind them as tightly as possible to his body, there's no way any amount of clothing can disguise them now. Even if he could get anything on top of them besides one old tee-shirt.

"You look like that frigging hunchback guy, the one that rang the bells."

"Sorry, Dean, can't hear you—" Sam says, but his literary one-up is wasted on Dean.

Besides, Dean's right—he looks ridiculous.

He struggles to untie the knots and can't help but spread his wings once they're free. They actually feel amazing, stronger and stronger each day, and he bets he could fly with them soon. If it weren't for Acuqileena's plight, and the horror of seeing Arthur Seebury, he'd be almost excited.

It's quite possible that too many years hunting have made him go crazy.

"I'm gonna hit the laptop, see if I can come up with any new ideas. You wanna go get us fuel?"

"So, what, you grow wings and suddenly I'm your personal slave?" Dean bitches.

"Too damn right." Sam gives his most annoying smile.

*

Sam begins to understand Acuqileena's dislike of being cooped up in the Impala for long hours. Even a motel room feels too small for him—he feels the urge to stretch his wings further, to test them out. Has to grit his teeth and resist.

It's different when Dean's around. A different urge, different need. He finds ways to brush up against Dean, force Dean to touch him. He'll reach out, and spread his wings as though he needs them to balance. Or he'll rustle them, not fully spread, just a shrug really, enough that they whisper against Dean's arm.

And Dean, sometimes he flinches, but Sam keeps catching that look in his eyes, the one he saw when Luned touched him. The look that tells Sam he shouldn't back down, not now.

*

Three days of only going outside at night, and Sam's going stir crazy. His wings reach up above his head now, even folded, and the tips brush against his ankles. The markings are getting more distinct too, not the soft mottled gray they were, young bird markings, but richer, darker brown.

"You gonna quit pacing?" Dean asks. "Bobby told you to rest."

"I can't sleep 24/7."

"Yeah, well, you could at least try. For Acuqileena's sake," Dean adds. Low blow, and he knows it. And knows Sam well enough to know it'll work.

She's resting on the end of the bed, head tucked under her wing. It's the most central point in the room, the closest she can keep to Sam without him actually holding her all the time, and she hasn't stirred from there in hours. He can hardly bear to look at her—as his wings grow, larger and darker and glossier, hers fade, her plumage looking almost dusty now. Sam has no idea how much longer they can last.

*

When Dean's phone rings, both Sam and Dean pounce on it. Sam gets his hand there first, and lifts it up triumphantly.

"Bobby," he says. "Got anything for us?"

"Your two witches were mighty powerful. They set up one hell of a spell on that lake, and they didn't make it easy to find out anything about it."

"But you did, right?"

"Hold your horses. Of course I did. Thing about messing with such powerful magic, you have to add a limit to it, or it'd likely kill the person casting the spell."

"So, what, there's a time limit?"

"No, nothing so easy as that. They wanted the energy—"

"The energy given off when a daemon dies," Sam interrupts. "Yeah, we worked that out."

"They wouldn't even need many people to fall under the spell. That much energy, just from one daemon's life, that'd keep them young for years."

"You mean they're still alive?"

"Must be, or stupid idjits like you wouldn't still be falling under the spell of the lake."

Sam doesn't have an answer to that. He waves off Dean, who's trying to grab the phone from him. "Hang on a sec, Bobby, just gonna put you on speakerphone."

"'Bout time," Dean grumbles.

"Anyway," Bobby continues, "they had to put some kinda limit on their spell, so they added a prophecy."

"The lake prophecy," Dean exclaims.

"Yeah. You boys gonna quit interrupting so I can tell you what it says?"

"Sure. Sorry, Bobby," Sam says, and makes a zip it sign at Dean.

Bobby starts to read.

If one strong man drinks from the lake,
Two shall gather, two shall take,
Two find youth when his soul dies.
Yet two will die if ere it dries.

Sam looks at Dean. Dean stares back and mouths you drank some?

A little, I guess, when I was underwater.

Idiot.

Sam ignores Dean and gets back to Bobby. "So, what, we gotta drain the lake? Because it's not some little pond," Sam says. "I don't know how deep it is, but—" He stops before he says the word impossible out loud.

"Sorry, boys, but that's it. That's the prophecy, and that's the only loophole I've been able to find."

"No, that's good, thanks, Bobby. You're a godsend." Sam hangs up.

"Wow," Dean says.

"It's impossible," Sam says. He can't help it; he can't fake hope, not right now.

"Nothing's impossible, Sammy," Dean says brightly. "Not for us." And ridiculously, Sam takes heart. He looks at Dean, and hell, Dean's never let him down before, didn't even let him stay dead. And Sam's saved Dean's ass too, from hell no less. He's not gonna give up now.

He nods. "Okay then, we just need to work out how to dry up a lake."

*

Seems there aren't any spells to transport that amount of water, or dry it up, or boil it, or any of the other options that come to their minds. None that work, anyway—Sam shatters six mugs of water trying different possibilities.

He's hyped up on Red Bull, and Dean's looking manic, and Sam's this close to saying it's impossible again, when Acuqileena lifts her head.

"Remember, when you were running, in the moonlight," she says, her voice hoarse like a whisper. "The caves."

"What about them?" Sam says, and then it hits him, her meaning. "Oh my God, yes. The caves. Acuqileena, you're a genius."

"Caves?" Dean asks, and then Sam sees the moment Dean realizes the significance. "How far back did they go?"

"Don't know, we just saw entrances. But there was more than one, might be a whole network."

"Which might go under the lake."

"So we could get down there—"

"And blow shit up," Dean says with glee.

Dean's grabbing his wallet off the table and pulling on his jacket before Sam can say anything more.

"Back in a few," he shouts as he heads out, Luned on his heel.

"I'll just see if I can find a map of the cave system," Sam says to empty air, and Acuqileena chuckles softly.

By the time Dean returns, Sam's had as little success finding any reference to the caves as he has to the lake itself. Which makes sense, given that there appears to be some sort of avoidance spell on the forest, or something that keeps the locals away and uninterested. The witches clearly didn't want locals disappearing, anyone whose disappearance would draw attention to the town.

"I think I know why the transformation happens," he says as Dean strides through the door.

"Yeah?"

"Think about it. Their priorities are getting the energy from the soul and not being caught." Dean's pulling out sticks of dynamite from a bag and laying them on the table as Sam speaks. "You listening?" Sam asks.

"Yeah, of course. They've got priorities, blah blah. See, listening."

Sam rolls his eyes but carries on. "So if they killed the person, there'd be the risk of the body being found. But if the person transforms, who's going to guess that the cat wandering around the town was once a traveling salesman? So that hugely minimizes the risk of being caught."

"But what went wrong when you were little? Or right, I guess, from our point of view?"

"Maybe it's because Acuqileena's form wasn't fixed, so the transformation couldn't work properly. Or maybe the energy from a child's soul wasn't right." Sam checks the scribbled note he took of the prophecy. He points to it. "See, it has to be a strong man. I'm still remembering stuff, bits and pieces from that time; it's like, if I see something I might remember it from back then, but details of what happened, that's all still hazy."

"So, whatever it was back then, it's probably not going to be any help to us now, even if you could remember it."

"Probably not." Sam wrinkles his nose. "Dean, how much dynamite did you get?"

Dean stands back and looks at the pile in front of him. "Be prepared," he says. "Always been my motto. And you can never have too many explosives."

"Actually, Dean, I think you can."

*

Sam finds himself thinking that again when they're unloading the car the next morning, just before first light. There's no way he can get a back pack over his shoulders—he's had to hack away at his jacket to get that on—so he's having to carry his share of the explosives in front of him, the bag swaying dangerously as he walks.

The route seems even longer today, and if it weren't for Luned they wouldn't have found the first cave entrance. She pushes in through undergrowth and calls them over. There's a tree growing right in front of it, scrawny trunk and straggly branches blocking their way. Sam hits out at the branches with the back of his arm, breaking a way through for him and Dean. He ducks in, Acuqileena resting on his shoulder again. It's damp and rank, and Sam has to step over the rotten carcass of a small mammal.

Their flashlights show a bend, the walls narrowing and already the roof of the cave is low enough that Sam's stooping to give Acuqileena space. Luned pushes on ahead beyond the far point of Dean's flashlight, silently padding through the dark.

Then she comes back into view, head hung low. "It's a dead end," she tells Dean.

"Okay," he says. "We're going to find some false leads, it's inevitable. Not to worry," he says, and Sam knows he's trying to convince himself as much as Sam. With all his apparent confidence in the plan, Sam can tell Dean's worried, that he's mentally running through all the things that could go wrong. They've had a lot of experience with things going wrong.

The next cave is a dead end too, the back visible from the entrance. They walk a ways before finding the next one, and then they nearly miss it. The entrance is so small it's barely visible, and both Dean and Luned walk past it. Sam sees a movement in the undergrowth though, and when he turns he thinks he sees a gray cat running away. He blinks and it's gone.

"Acuqileena," he whispers, "did you see that?"

"What?"

"A cat. It looked like Arthur, I think," although Sam's already beginning to doubt his eyes.

"No," she says, "but I'm finding it hard to concentrate."

Sam strokes her neck, the soft feathers underneath.

"Hey, Sammy, you found something?" Dean calls back.

"Yeah, another entrance. Don't think it's going to go anywhere, but we may as well try."

Dean stands and looks at it. "That's pretty small," he says. "You and your wings gonna fit in there?"

Sam has his own doubts about that, but he just nods, motions Dean to go through first, then sets Acuqileena on the ground.

It hurts. He tries going in sideways, but his wings jam instantly. So he pushes his shoulders in, ignoring the tearing sound as his jacket catches on a sharp edge of rock. He pushes harder—he can see that it opens up inside, and Dean's encouraging him through—pushes harder still until he's almost through and then he nearly bites through his tongue with the pain. He gets through, but he falls to his knees and tries to reach back to his left wing.

"Sammy, you okay?" Dean calls.

"Yeah, a scrape, that's all," Sam gets out, but he doesn't sound convincing even to himself.

"A scrape, my ass," Dean says. "Your wing's bleeding."

Sam tries to open it a little, gingerly, and it responds, though the action makes him wince. "There's nothing broken," he says, and gets up. "Just lost a few feathers. Hurt like hell when they tore out, but I'm good to go."

"Let me see," Dean insists. He runs his hands gently over the curve of bone, sweeping down feathers that Sam can tell have been displaced. It's soothing, and Sam feels the pain dissipating. "You'll live," Dean says gruffly, and moves away. Sam feels a sense of loss, disproportional to the absence of Dean's touch.

He picks up his bag, and lets Acuqileena climb back onto his shoulder again. "We need to head roughly west," he says.

"Looks like we've cut a break, then," Dean says, heading down the tunnel.

"Yeah," Sam says, but doesn't follow immediately.

"What's up now?" Dean looks back over his shoulder.

"My compass. It's going wild. I'm not sure what use it's going to be."

Dean looks down at Luned. "You can lead us, can't you? Tell us if we're heading in the right direction."

She nods gravely.

The floor of the tunnel is rough, heading steadily downhill, and the air is stale, but to Sam's relief it keeps getting wider and higher—no risk of getting stuck down here. He'd envisioned crawling through tight holes, and hadn't wanted to think about trying to hurry out through them on the way back, explosives set behind them. But it's nothing like that—it's clearly part of a huge system, worn clear and huge over millennia. There are minor tunnels branching off at times, but the way is always clear, level now.

As they keep walking, Luned in front, nose in the air as if she can smell the west, the roof and walls start to feel damp.

Dean starts whistling, slightly off key. Sam resists the urge to throw something at his head to stop him, but only because he hasn't got much he can throw besides explosives.

Eventually, the dampness becomes trickling water, and Luned stops.

"I can smell the lake," she says, and there's an echo in her voice.

"Just a little further," Sam says. He's not certain, but he thinks—

And he's right. They turn a corner and stop, awed. The tunnel opens out into a huge cave, a small lake filling most of it. Their flashlights can barely illuminate the far side.

Dean nods and sets down his backpack. "I'll drill holes, you pack 'em," he says.

The sound of the drill vibrates around the cave, Dean reaching as high up into the roof as he can. It doesn't take long, and Sam takes a look around, regretful.

"You're not mooning over destroying this, are you?" Dean asks.

"No, of course not," Sam replies, but he is. It's another casualty, and he takes a moment to remember it.

"I'm gonna set the timer for an hour," Dean says. "Give us plenty of time to get out."

Sam picks up the near empty bags and waits a few minutes. "You done yet?" he asks.

"You get going, I'll catch up," Dean says, and there's a catch in his voice that Sam picks up on.

"What's going on, Dean?"

"Nothing."

"Dean?"

"Actually, yeah, come and see if you can work out this switch."

Dean's voice still sounds wrong, and Sam approaches him slowly. As he gets inside Dean's space, Dean turns around and swings at him, hard enough to knock him out if Sam hadn't seen it coming, enough to duck and twist Dean around.

"Hell no, you can't pull that on me, Dean. You don't knock me out just to get your way, you talk to me, dammit." So angry he wants to punch Dean, wants to hold him there and make him feel his anger. Manages to keep his anger in his voice, not his fists, but it's close.

"For fuck's sake, Sam, just do what I ask for once, okay?"

"No, it isn't okay. Tell me what's going on."

"Sammy, please," Dean pleads, but Sam ignores it.

"Tell me," he demands, and he knows he's stolen this look from his father, times when he wouldn't take no for an answer. Sees the response to it in Dean's face, reluctant but conceding.

Even in the dim light Dean looks pale. "There's a—problem. I can't reset the timer. I figured an hour would be plenty of time to get out, but it's only gonna give us five minutes once I set it." He holds out his hand for silence when Sam tries to talk. "I need you to listen to me Sam. I want you to get out. I want you to walk out and not look back and I do not want you to argue about this."

"You have to be fucking kidding me, Dean."

"Either you walk out, or—or I don't fucking know what else, alright? There isn't an 'or'. You've gotta get out."

"We can just leave now, not set the timer, and come back with a new one later. A pain in the ass, but not a huge deal." Sam knows he's clutching at straws, that Dean wouldn't have overlooked the obvious. Says it anyway, as though saying the words might make them true.

Dean shakes his head. "It won't work that way. The timer's linked up, there's no changing it now. It's my fault, shoulda checked it, should have made sure." He pinches the bridge of his nose, head down a moment. When he looks up, his face is determined. "I don't just want you to leave, I need you to leave, Sammy. You have to do that for me."

Sam shoves at him, hard enough that Dean winces as he hits the rock behind him. Any other time Sam might feel bad about that, but not now. "You might have some fixation with trying to give up your life for mine, but it's getting old, Dean. I am fucking fed up with it, and this time I get a choice, and the answer is no. You don't get to pull another stupid heroic stunt just so I can live."

Dean opens his mouth and Sam's about to put his hand over it. He's gonna shut him up one way or the other—last minute he goes for 'other', puts his lips to Dean's and kisses him quiet.

It works.

He's pushing into Dean, trying to put everything he can't say or Dean won't listen to into this moment, because if it's the last chance he's got, he's going to make Dean know how much he means to Sam.

Dean's not fighting. He's not fighting it at all—he's kissing Sam back, and Sam didn't expect that, but he can roll with this, he can let Dean take charge and kiss him as hard and desperate as he needs.

Luned and Acuqileena are close. He can sense them both, not just Acuqileena, and he doesn't know what it says about their souls that he can feel Dean's as strong as his own, but he lets go of Dean for a second, one hand held out blindly, and Luned nuzzles it.

He pulls back eventually, and looks Dean in the eye, right in the eye, no flinching, no ducking. "I'm not leaving you, Dean," he says.

"And I'm not letting your daemon die."

Stalemate.

Sam rests his forehead against Dean's. A moment. Sometimes he's just tired of all the near misses, tired of knowing that one day it's going to be too close, and eventually whatever fate is chasing them won't miss.

Except.

He's an idiot.

He pulls back from Dean and falls to his knees. His backpack—he tugs at it and now he regrets not fixing the messy knot on the cord. He's too impatient to open it.

"Gimme a knife," he demands, and Dean doesn't question him, just pulls one out and hands it over. Sam opens the bag, and finds what he was hoping to see. "Set the timer now," he says.

"You sure? It's only gonna give us five minutes."

"Five minutes is plenty." Sam pulls out a long, paper-wrapped package. "I knew this was going to save us one day," he says, and unwraps it, gloating over the contents. A plain black candle, the wick charred from use, but still easily eight inches of candle left. More than enough.

"What the fuck? Some funky candle is going to save us?"

"It's a Babylon candle—I found it in Dad's lockup." Sam expects to see understanding on Dean's face, but he just looks freaked out now.

"Man, I do not want to know."

Sam raises his eyebrows as he searches his pockets for his lighter. "What're you so freaked about?"

"That—thing." Dean points towards it gingerly, as though he's likely to catch something from it. "I don't want to know if Dad was into kinky stuff."

Sam roars with laughter. "It's a magic candle, Dean, really strong magic. It's not a sex toy." He picks up Acuqileena. "Hold on tight," he tells her, and Dean mirrors his actions with Luned. Sam flicks his lighter open. "Think of home, concentrate hard," he says, moves into Dean's embrace, and lights the candle.

There's an explosion, and Sam doesn't know if it's the cave falling in or the candle working, the world loud and white and painful, and they might be dying, because it's cold and sharp and it hurts and he has no idea which way is up and which way down. He closes his eyes and holds on with all his strength.

When the world stops moving around him he opens his eyes. There's ground below them, solid ground, and the sky above. Beautiful gray cloudy sky. He's flat on his ass, and Dean's sprawled on top of him, and he's going to be black and blue tomorrow, but that doesn't matter.

They're at the side of a road, and when Sam lifts his head there's the familiar shiny black lines of the Impala. Sam smiles to himself—Dean's idea of home, of course.

"Holy shit, that was some candle," Dean says, impressed, getting up and holding a hand out for Sam. "Got any more of those?"

Sam shakes his head, and carefully puts the remaining stub of candle back in his pack. There's one more use in it he thinks—might save their life again some day. "The lake," he says, "do you think—?"

"It'll blow, Sammy, I'm sure of it."

"I think the explosives have already gone off," Luned says. "I can smell it in the air."

"I can fly up and see," Acuqileena offers, but Sam holds her tight.

"No, you're too weak still." He can feel it, and he can feel his wings still, knows Dean is trying to avoid mentioning them. He offers reassurance. "Give it time. The lake will take hours or even days to drain all the way. We don't know how deep it was."

"Do we have that long?" she whispers, tired, but Sam's sure now, this is going to work. He can't explain how but he knows the spell is broken. He's certain of it.

"We're going to be fine," he promises, and lets her rest against him. "Damned if I'd ever let any ancient witch tear you away from me."

Dean's standing nearby, and now that there's only waiting to be done, he's looking awkward. He hates waiting even more than Sam does; has never learned how to be patient. He raises a hand, then lets it drop back to his side as if he doesn't know what to do with it.

"How about a celebratory beer or three?" Sam suggests. "Make the waiting go faster."

"You're full of bright ideas today, Sam," Dean says approvingly.

*

A few beers in them and the tension's eased. Sam's shucked his jacket—it's only fit for the trash now—and he's far more comfortable. He shakes his wings out, can feel where they got torn in the caves, but it's no more than a mild ache now.

"So, maybe the wings will be permanent," Dean suggests, like it's just one of those things that happen to hunters, hazard of the job.

"Yeah, and you'd like that, wouldn't you." Sam looks pointedly at him, and Dean flushes. Doesn't deny it. "Kinky fucker," Sam says, and Dean grins.

He grins, and he leans over towards Sam, pushing him forward. Runs his fingers through the wings, smoothing out feathers that have gotten out of place. He licks his fingers and runs them down a patch of battered feathers, over and over until they're perfectly smooth. It's simultaneously the most soothing and the most tantalizing thing Sam's ever felt, and he can't help but groan.

"Who were you calling a kinky fucker?" Dean whispers in his ear.

"Don't stop," Sam says, pride forgotten in the sheer bliss of how good this feels.

"Wasn't gonna," Dean says, and kisses him.

*

Sam wakes up and he feels naked, and it's not the lack of clothes. It's the missing weight from between his shoulder blades, the lack of warmth against his back.

His wings are gone.

It's strange, he thinks, how quickly the abnormal became normal.

He looks for Acuqileena first—she's sitting on the back of a chair, calmly grooming her wings. He can tell she's fine; he can feel it within him and he can see the gloss back on her feathers. He still asks.

"Are you okay?"

She gives him a withering look, the one she saves for times when she thinks he's being particularly dumb. He takes that as a yes, and he grins at her.

"So, we gonna polish off those damn witches today?" Dean asks as he strolls out of the bathroom with Luned, toweling his hair off roughly. Seems he doesn't want to have the morning after talk—that's fine by Sam.

"If we have to," Sam says, pulling on a pair of shorts.

"What the hell, Sam. You can not be thinking of going soft on them. You saw what they did to the cat guy, you know what they nearly did to you."

"I'm just saying, we may not have to. Think about it, Dean. They're incredibly old, and they must have been tied in magically to the lake for it to have exerted that pull on me. Draining it, well, who knows what it did to them."

"Hope it fucking hurt," Dean says viciously.

Sam can't honestly disagree. If they're not dead, he's not sure that he'll be able to hold Dean back, or that he'll even want to. He tamps the hate down for now though. Gets down to practicalities. "I think I might know where they live," he says.

"You been holding out on me?"

"It's just a hunch. I think it might be those women we sat opposite at the diner yesterday."

"That'd be a bit of a coincidence, don't you think?"

"Maybe. Or maybe it was one of those things that was meant to happen."

"Don't start talking divine intervention, not after what's happened."

Sam doesn't push it. "Anyway, they seemed familiar when we were sitting with them, and afterwards I remembered. I think I might have seen them in the window of the house just before I got that urge to run into the woods."

Dean grabs his gun and is lacing his boots up before Sam's even finished the sentence.

"You coming?" Dean says.

"We don't even know how to kill them."

"I've got a good gun, and a knife, and if I have to cut them up into little pieces, I'll do it."

Sam thinks he probably ought to shiver at the tone in Dean's voice. Still feels too numb with what might have been. Pulls on a hoodie, grabs his own gun and follows Dean out to the car.

They don't stop when they reach the house. No need. Dean drives a slow pace past it and they watch two body bags being wheeled out to a waiting ambulance. They pull up around the corner, and walk slowly back to the house. The neighbors are standing around, little groups on the sidewalk, looking more shocked than upset.

Dean grabs Sam by the arm and points to one, a young woman with a baby on her hip and a little boy clinging to her leg, standing to one side. She's peering curiously at the ambulance and not making any attempt to hide her interest. There's a sparrow daemon circling her head, and it chirps as they approach.

They stand beside her. "Tragic, yeah," Dean says.

The woman shrugs. "I guess. Weird, that's for sure."

"What's weird about it?" Sam asks politely.

"The postman found them this morning. Rang the doorbell 'cos he had a parcel for them. Didn't get no answer, so he opened the door to leave it inside. It's safe enough to leave your door unlocked round here," she explains. "And then he saw one o' them on the floor." She pauses. "They're old."

"Yeah?"

"Like, real old. They look older'n my great-grandma, and she's ninety-one."

"So, they just died of old age?" Sam asks.

She shakes her head. "No, that's the thing. They weren't that old. Maybe forty-something, no more'n fifty for sure." She drops her voice to a stage whisper. "They just got real old overnight, and nobody's saying nothing 'bout how it mighta happened."

"That's the strangest thing I've ever heard," Dean says, and Sam has to repress a snort at the blatant lie. The woman nods her head though, clearly pleased with the reception of her story.

"What with that and the explosion, place don't feel so safe right now."

"Ah, yeah, we felt an explosion yesterday. What was that?" Sam asks.

She bends down to pick up the pacifier the baby's just thrown on the ground, wipes it on her sleeve, and pops it back in the baby's mouth. "Explosion up in the woods, west side of town. People are saying there was some sorta cave-in or something, underground gas build-up maybe. You'd better watch out, these things always come in threes my ma always said, and she weren't never wrong 'bout stuff like that."

They thank her for the warning and wander back to the car, easy pace now, job over.

*

Back on the road, everything's the same. Dean behind the wheel, humming along to Zeppelin; Sam's got his elbow on the window watching the world go by, checking the map whenever Dean asks him a question.

Except—

Luned is leaning her head against his knee, and Acuqileena's in the back, moving forward every now and then to brush her beak against the back of Dean's neck.

It should feel wrong. It doesn't.