Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost
Dean doesn’t notice anything is wrong.
At first, he’s so consumed with seeing his brother again - whole, alive, here - that he can’t focus on anything else but Sam’s face, Sam’s flannel beneath his fingers, Sam’s arms around his shoulders.
Then, he feels teeth at his ankle. He glares at Saskia, opening his mouth to tell her off, but the high-pitched whine from her throat is grief-filled and terrified, a sound no wolf should be capable of making.
She cowers behind his legs, and he crouches down beside her, running his hands through her fur.
“Dean,” she whispers, “he doesn’t have a daemon.”
Dean’s body freezes by inches, every muscle locking up until he can barely move. He forces his lungs to work and his head to turn, while Saskia yanks frantically on his pants legs, trying to pull his gaze away.
Sam is standing in the same position Dean left him - arms at his sides, an overly fond, almost fake expression in his eyes. Dean makes a show of glancing around, expecting Sam’s lynx daemon to jump out of the shadows and pounce on Saskia as if they were still children.
“Sammy...” Dean swallows against a throat gone dry. “Sam, where’s Astrid?”
Sam cocks his head to the side, the expression on his face sliding into slightly puzzled - unconcerned - and Dean’s heart pounds.
Sam shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says carelessly.
Dean can’t breathe.
It takes half an hour for Dean to coax Saskia back to the car. She shivers, whining softly at the back of her throat and hiding behind Dean, and he understands - Christ, does he understand - but he’s shocked and shaky, and not the smallest bit terrified.
“Saskia, come on,” he growls the third time she trips him up, trying to keep him from moving.
“Dean, he isn’t - she isn’t -”
“I know!” Dean slams his palm against the trunk of the car and swears as pain shoots down his arm. He shakes his hand out, then presses his phone into his fist, closing his eyes. He turns to where Sam is still standing, blinking slowly into the distance.
Dean doesn’t say a word - he walks towards the door, unsurprised when Sam follows. He half expects Astrid to peel out, her laughter enticing Saskia into a race, so when he reaches the Impala, he has to tread carefully or risk stepping on a tail.
Instead, when Dean reaches the door, there is only Sam with his blank face and empty eyes.
Dean shudders. “Get in,” he says gruffly and Sam does, folding his legs into the passenger seat. Saskia continues to whine, but she curls up under Dean’s knees with her face hidden and doesn’t move.
He peels out onto the road, pushing his baby as fast as she can go. He presses the phone to his ear, thankful for empty stretches of dirt on back roads where there are fewer people to witness his soulless brother than there would be on the highways.
Bobby doesn’t bother with niceties.
“Boy, you better have a mighty good reason for calling me after almost a year,” he says as soon as he picks up, voice barely more than a growl.
“Sam is alive.” No preamble, no sugarcoating - just the simple facts.
It’s enough to render Bobby speechless. “What...” He clears his throat. “Dean, tell me you didn’t -”
“I didn’t,” Dean answers swiftly, and Saskia nudges up his jeans to nose at his ankle, trembling. Every molecule in his body had screamed during every idle moment after Sam was gone, begging him to jump in the car and find a way to bring Sam back, but Saskia was always there, always a warm comfort, convincing him to stay with Lisa because it was what Sam wanted.
“I don’t know how he’s back, but he... Bobby, he...”
No amount of stalling will make the words any easier to say. They feel like broken glass tearing at his throat. “He doesn’t have a daemon.”
Bobby doesn’t even breathe for a moment; then he whispers over the line, probably saying something to Brynn. He exhales into the phone. “Get here. Soon as you can.” He hangs up without saying goodbye. Dean snaps the phone shut and presses his foot against the gas, willing the car to drive faster.
Sam sits quietly, staring out the windshield or at Dean, speaking only to ask their destination.
“Bobby’s,” Dean says shortly, hands clenching around the steering wheel. Sam nods, shifting his gaze to Saskia. Dean half expects Sam to reach out a hand to touch her, and the thought makes his stomach twist, bile rising in his throat. The sensation is unfamiliar and unpleasant and Saskia bares her teeth and growls.
Sam turns back to the window, hands never moving from his lap. Dean tries his best to breathe.
Bobby is waiting on the steps when they arrive. His hare daemon, Brynn, sits on the chair on the porch, ears flat against her back. All of her fur stands on end. Dean can’t remember ever seeing her so ruffled.
He understands the feeling.
“Stay here,” Dean tosses at Sam gruffly.
Sam continues to stare out the window. He nods, and a shiver works it’s way down his spine. Dean pauses, watching his back shake, but when Sam shows no other sign of movement, Dean opens the door. Saskia tumbles out after, ears pressed against her skull.
“Bobby,” Dean says, shocked when Bobby immediately pulls him in for a hug. He stiffens for a moment before exhaling, arms coming around the other man’s back. Saskia jumps gracefully onto the chair beside Brynn, who noses at her flank.
“You ever go more than a week without callin’ again and I’ll kick your ass from here to Kansas, you hear me?”
“Yes sir,” Dean grumbles.
Bobby makes a show of clearing his throat as he pulls back. He stares purposefully at the Impala. “He there?”
Dean rubs a hand over his face. “Define there.” Bobby arches an eyebrow, and Dean turns, calling for Sam, voice ragged.
Sam unfolds himself from the car and as he walks towards them, Bobby inhales sharply. Brynn hops down the porch to sit at Bobby’s feet, shaking against his ankle until he lifts her into his arms.
“Jesus,” Bobby hisses, and Sam stares, totally unaware of his disconcerting wrongness. He smiles, just this side of too wide.
Bobby shudders. “Good to see you, Sam,” he says roughly, voice so broken Dean is certain even Sam could tell he means the opposite.
Sam doesn’t reach for Bobby; he doesn’t say a word, and his smile slips into a frown. He stares down at Brynn trembling in Bobby’s arms, then shrugs, gazing at the house with a totally blank expression.
“Dean -” Bobby starts, stopping when Dean levels him with a look. Saskia sags against his calf, letting all of their exhaustion and desperation show in a way she rarely does, even with Bobby.
Bobby’s breath shudders out; he gestures towards the door. “Get some sleep. We’ll figure this out in the morning.”
Dean doesn’t miss the way Bobby’s fingers clutch tight in Brynn’s fur when Sam follows them both inside.
That night, Dean can’t sleep. Neither does Sam, and Dean wonders if he literally can’t, if not having Astrid with him could change him so thoroughly.
Dean shoves the question down and away even as he heaves, barely making it in to the bathroom before the six pack he downed as soon as he entered the house makes a reappearance.
He coughs, leaning his arms on the toilet seat. Saskia lies at his feet, fur dull at the edges. He lets his breathing return to some semblance of normal before shoving to his feet, shuffling down the stairs and into the living room where he collapses onto the couch.
Saskia paces the room as the full weight of the day hits him. He feels broken, hollowed out and worn down, like he’s lost something he can never get back again. Something that wasn’t even his to begin with.
Saskia runs to Dean then, leaps into his arms with a burst of energy he didn’t think she still possessed. She presses her forehead against his chest as she buries her face in his shirt.
“They were always ours,” she says roughly, and Dean threads his fingers through her fur, holding on.
“We’re going to fix this,” Dean says, clinging. “We’re going to fix this.”
Saskia doesn’t say anything; there’s nothing left to say.
The days following Sam’s reappearance are some of the longest and hardest of Dean’s life - which is saying a lot. Sam is a creature of instinct rather than emotion, operating without conscience or question. He makes a phenomenal hunter, but Dean has to coach him through even the simplest of social situations - polite conversations with strangers, the proper response to a grieving witness, and don’t stare at their daemons, Sam, for Christ’s sake.
Teaching this new Sam the ropes is almost the same as when they were younger. He remembers showing Sam the right way to hold a gun while Sam’s small hands shook infinitesimally. Still, he squared his shoulders, determined to make Dean proud. Sam followed his lead, walked in his footsteps, carbon copied his every move.
The difference now is Saskia and Astrid aren’t lying underfoot, side by side in the grass, watching attentively while the two of them work. Most of the time, Saskia curls into a ball wherever they are, head folded on her paws with her eyes squeezed shut.
Sam remains silent for the most part, staring blankly off into the middle distance, speaking only when spoken to in a soft, obedient tone. He shivers occasionally, even in the stifling summer heat, briefly closing his eyes. Dean would ask what was wrong if he thought he had a hope in the world of getting a straight answer. Without Astrid, Sam looks naked, wrong, like a vital piece of him is missing. Dean feels the bile rise in his throat, chest heaving every time he looks at him; he swallows it down.
He’s at his breaking point when Saskia calls for Castiel.
“You weren’t going to do it,” she says when Castiel appears in the middle of Bobby’s study, cocking his head to the side to stare. Bobby hisses at his appearance, shaking off the hot coffee that spills all over his hands. Brynn licks his fingers then turns to Castiel, chattering her teeth.
Dean’s eyes narrow, but Saskia arches her back, stretches, and ignores him. She paces a circle around Castiel’s legs, and Dean feels the electric pulse down his spine of too close, though she never actually touches him.
Angels don’t have souls. It’s why Lucifer rebelled, Castiel explained once, when Dean finally worked up the nerve to ask him about Jimmy’s daemon. Lucifer didn’t think humans deserved them, disloyal and imperfect as they were. It’s why angels have to ask permission, why the vessel rarely survives: their daemon passes on, pushed ahead to the afterlife as soon as the angel takes over.
Castiel never reaches out for Saskia, never once tries to touch, and Dean’s always been grateful for that. He doesn’t remember what it felt like when Castiel dragged them out of hell, doesn’t remember anything about that day - month, year, how long does it take to be raised from the dead? - beyond waking up topside, shaking and gasping, while Saskia tugged him out of his grave with her teeth.
“Sam,” Saskia calls softly, hopping onto the couch and pressing close to Dean as Sam walks into the room. Sam peers at Castiel, curious yet silent.
“He does not have a soul,” Castiel states immediately, turning towards Dean.
Dean rolls his eyes. “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“Saskia said you require my assistance.”
Saskia snorts, standing half in Dean’s lap. “Don’t be so polite, angel. I told you to get your ass over here and help us.” Her back straightens, and all sense of humor is lost. “Find her,” she says, not a question but an order.
Castiel honest-to-God flinches, eyes turning somber, and Dean’s heart beats faster. Saskia goes rigid at his side, breathing harsh and loud.
“You pulled him out,” Brynn says, quiet and shocked, and Bobby grips the edge of his chair, as if the thought never dared cross his mind.
Dean stares at Castiel, praying to a God he knows isn’t listening for a denial.
Instead, Castiel bows his head. “There was a complication,” he says quietly, and Dean wants to feel sorry for making an angel feel regret, but instead, he takes a leaf out of Sam’s book and stares blankly while Saskia practically vibrates beside him.
“Lucifer was holding on too tightly,” Castiel whispers, as if saying the devil’s name will make him appear when they all know it’s not nearly quite that simple. “He almost pulled me back down into the cage, and by the time I realized I had only Sam in my grasp...”
He meets Dean’s gaze, eyes flashing. “I did what I could.”
“I don’t care.” The harsh sound of Dean’s voice shocks even him. “You broke him, and you’ll damn well fix him.”
“I did not -”
“He doesn’t have a soul, Cas!” Dean shouts, cutting him off. “He’s a freakin’ robot!”
“Do you think I would have left him like this without searching for a way to bring her back?” Castiel snaps, stepping forward, eyes brimming with power that’s rarely so close to the surface. “If it was that simple, do you not believe I would have done so already?”
“I don’t care,” Dean says savagely, closing the distance between them. Saskia growls from down at his feet. “Find a way, Cas,” he pleads, and Castiel’s eyes narrow. He says nothing, only disappears with the faint sound of ruffling feathers.
“I think we need to work on your people skills,” Bobby says dryly, crossing his arms. Dean balls his hands into fists; Saskia butts her forehead against his knuckles.
Sam barely speaks a word after Castiel’s visit, choosing to stay hidden in the spare bedroom or outside amongst the broken-down cars when Dean isn’t asking him to do something.
“Keep an eye on your brother,” Bobby grunts, eying Sam out the window like he might a ticking time bomb. Dean snorts - like he’s been able to do anything else lately. He doesn’t know what to make of Sam any more than Bobby, but he feels the loss of Astrid like a phantom limb, heavy and aching, a hole in his heart.
Dean knows Bobby doesn’t mean it, probably doesn’t even realize the way he stares at Sam, fear stark and open in his eyes. Brynn is more skittish than he’s ever seen, her usually calm and unaffected demeanor abandoned in the face of something so horrible, not even she can make sense of it.
Dean can’t stand to see the expression on their faces any longer.
Bobby tries to keep them from leaving, of course, and offers them the spare bedroom for as long as they need. Dean knows the proposition is half-hearted at best, words said out of obligation rather than a true desire for them to stay.
Dean shakes his head and says, “Thanks anyway, but we should hit the road.” Bobby does a terrible job of covering up his relief.
Sam packs the bags in the car at Dean’s request. They leave at sunset - less of a chance of running into other people traveling in the dark. Dean turns the radio up too loud, leaves the windows open in air growing chilly with the coming Fall. Sam still stares out the window or at Saskia and says nothing.
In Wisconsin, Dean picks a ramshackle motel, run-down with half of the lights on the sign burned out. Sam may not need to sleep, but Dean doesn’t think he can drive another minute without running them off of the road. He pulls into the parking lot and tells Sam to stay in the car while he gets the room keys.
The desk clerk looks up as the door opens and closes the book at his elbow. He glances out the window and smirks. “King or two queens?” His raven daemon squawks a laugh from the back of his chair. Saskia snaps her teeth.
Dean would make a wise-ass comment if he had the energy, but he’s just so fucking tired. He holds up two fingers, dropping the first credit card he gets his fingers on to the counter.
The man frowns as he runs the card and slowly hands two keys to Dean. “Son, you all right?” he asks while Dean signs the receipt, and his daemon shifts her feet, flapping her wings.
Dean wants to laugh or snap I’m not your son in equal measure, but instead, he shakes his head, mumbles, “Thanks,” under his breath, and heads back out to the car with Saskia at his side.
Dean wakes in the middle of the night to an empty bed where his brother should be. The beer cooler sits open on the table, and the door is cracked open just enough to let in a chill.
He rubs his eyes, grumbling as he shoves his feet into his boots. Saskia rolls over, mumbling and opening bleary eyes as Dean opens the door the rest of the way to find Sam sitting on the bench just outside of the room with a beer bottle clutched in his fist.
He takes the opportunity to watch Sam unnoticed. His shoulders are tense, even as he lounges against the back of the bench seat. One leg shakes slowly, knee jumping up and down.
Dean sighs, shakes his head and turns back to the room.
“I’m not, you know.”
Sam’s voice makes him jump, and he almost trips over Saskia as she winds around his legs. He scowls down at her and says, “Not what?” dragging his eyes back to Sam.
Sam huffs a laugh of what should be amusement but comes out as a breath of air on the breeze. “A robot.” Sam’s leg stops shaking as he meets Dean’s eye, and Dean stares, riveted. “I can still feel some things.”
Dean stills while Saskia’s breath catches, but Sam doesn’t elaborate further. He drags the beer to his lips and takes another pull, silent as the night stretched between them.
The sun is starting its slow climb on the horizon when Sam finally crawls back into bed.
“Do you miss her?” Dean asks quietly; he isn’t sure he wants to know, but he can’t help himself.
Sam makes a sound at the back of his throat. He pulls the covers up to his shoulders as he turns on his side to face Dean. “I don’t remember,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut, and of course, the first real emotion Sam expresses in weeks would be regret.
Dean’s eyes snap open with a gasp as Saskia crawls into bed with Sam, curling close so Dean feels the electric warmth of too close not right, yet not close enough.
Instinctually, Sam cringes away, even as Saskia pushes herself closer, nosing along the outside of his thigh.
The first time Sam touched Saskia was the night after the fire, baby Sammy lying in the middle of a bed in one of Dad’s friend’s houses. He wouldn’t stop crying, little arms and legs flailing in uncoordinated movements. Dad stood downstairs, just outside of the window with his bobcat daemon, Delilah, silent and still at his side.
Dean could yell down to them, but he hadn’t said a word since that morning. He wasn’t sure he remembered how.
Saskia jumped onto the bed, shifting into a falcon mid-leap, almost the same size and color as their mother's daemon, Varro. Dean bit his lip, scrubbing at the tears in his eyes.
She curled around Sam, one wing draped protectively across his body. Dean wrapped his arms carefully around him on the opposite side, and Sam settled down slowly but surely with Astrid as a mouse tucked between the crook of his shoulder and Saskia’s wing.
Sam never reaches for Saskia now, never once tried to reach for Brynn, though the look in his eyes some days as he watched them appeared to be something like longing. It’s one of the things he hasn’t forgotten, not to touch someone else’s soul, an unspoken rule burned into his blood and bones since the day he was born. That rule never applied to each other, though; they grew up touching each other’s daemons as easily as their own.
“Stop,” Sam says roughly, and there’s fear in his eyes, and something else, too, something Dean is afraid to examine too closely.
Saskia pads across the short distance back to Dean, forlorn. She lays her head on his thigh and Dean clenches a hand in her fur. Sam curls up into a ball, eyes shut tight.
“I miss her too,” Dean says quietly. Saskia squeezes her eyes closed, burrowing her head into his leg.
Dean tosses and turns for another hour before finally giving up his attempt to fall back to sleep. Sam is already sitting in front of the computer, probably searching for a case, and Dean throws the blankets off of his legs with a sigh. Saskia rumbles her displeasure.
“Don’t give me any grief,” Dean mumbles, tugging on his boots. She burrows further into the covers in response.
Dean stands and turns towards Sam, wanting to say something about the night before. He wishes Sam would speak for him, force him to talk about his feelings and have one of those chick flicks moments he loves so much.
Sam types on, oblivious to Dean’s distress.
Saskia whines softly, jumping off of the bed to brush against his leg.
“Leave it,” she says, and Dean rubs a hand over his face. Sam doesn’t turn when he says he’s going out; he doesn’t acknowledge Dean at all.
Dean hits the diner down the road, a small mom-and-pop place that barely seats twenty people. It’s empty beyond a pair of truckers sitting silently at the counter and an old couple in one of the booths in the back, whispering to each other. Their daemons are laying together in a sunbeam on the edge of the table, a robin and a sparrow, and Dean would call them adorable, if he were the type of guy who found things adorable.
Which he isn’t. Of course he isn’t.
Saskia snorts, and Dean glares at her as he signals the waitress behind the counter, a pretty girl who can’t be older than sixteen. She pours him a cup of coffee while he gives her his order, letting his lips slide into a grin. Her mouse daemon hides behind her hair against her neck, and she ducks her head, blushing.
Dean sits quietly at the counter, slowly spinning the mug around in his hands. Saskia jumps onto the stool beside him and laps at the coffee that sloshes into the saucer. She lays her head in Dean’s lap, pressing her head into his hand and he scratches her behind the ears.
The girl returns with a white take-out bag and two Styrofoam cups of coffee. She places them on the counter, then pats the bag lightly as she rings him up.
“There’s an extra slice of pie. On the house,” she adds quietly before she hands him his change and spins on her heel, making a bee-line for the swinging doors that lead to the kitchen.
Dean chuckles and makes sure to leave her a good tip.
Sam is still staring intently at his computer when they return, typing away and completely oblivious, even when Dean slams the door. Sam only looks up when Dean throws the curtains closed. He tosses the bag of food to the table and falls into the chair across from his brother, rubbing a hand over his eyes, all thoughts of pie forgotten.
“Everything okay?” Sam asks. More than anything, Dean wishes he were asking because he truly wanted to know and not just out of some twisted sense of obligation.
Dean shakes his head and sighs. “Find anything?” he asks gruffly, instead of giving him an answer.
Sam shrugs. “Nothing local,” he mumbles and reaches for the bag of food.
Dean grunts, taking the take-out container Sam offers with a nod. They sit quietly, and the crunch of chewing is the only sound in the room. Sam's eyes pan around, finally landing on Saskia, and he stares and stares and stares until Dean can’t take it anymore.
He shoves his chair back and storms out of the room, leaving the door wide open in his haste to get away. He yanks his phone out of his pocket and dials on instinct.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” he tells Bobby, vulnerable and helpless and hating every damn second. “Tell me you have something.”
Bobby huffs over the line. “Keep your friggin’ panties on, princess,” he mutters, and Dean’s lips quirk against his wishes. He hears rustling paper, then nothing else until Bobby clears his throat. “Got a line on someone who might be able to help. Hunter named Lyra Belacqua.”
“Belacqua?” The name rings a bell in a vaguely familiar way, tripping a wire at the back of his mind. “‘Isn’t she the one who - ”
“Saw the other side and came back whole. Or somethin’ like. Hunter grapevine, you know how it works.”
Dean snorts, because of course he knows; passing information from one hunter to the next often resembled the most difficult game of telephone Dean ever played, worse than the time he told Laura Spellman she was lewd instead of cute.
“Never put much stock in the rumors, but hell, there was a time I didn’t believe in angels, either.”
Dean purses his lips, then looks at Sam standing in the doorway, watching him - his emotionless, too goddamn quiet Sam - and he sighs. “What the hell? Where can I find her?” After all, it’s not like things could get much worse.
He follows Bobby’s directions, back roads and alternate routes making the ride almost twice as long as it would have been had he been able to stick to the highways. After almost a day of non-stop driving, they arrive at a small cabin just outside of Saranac Lake.
Dean parks the car as close to the small path leading up to the house as possible, walking the rest of the way. Sam follows close at his heels, hands in his pockets as he peers around with mock-curiosity.
“Where are we going?” Sam asks loudly, and Dean trips over his own two feet while Saskia yelps at the sudden noise.
Sam blinks and frowns cautiously, as if he isn’t sure what to do with his expression or if he’s having the correct reaction.
Dean runs a hand through his hair, scratching between Saskia’s ears before straightening up. “We’re going to see someone who might be able to help find Astrid.”
“You think he can?”
Dean sighs, aggravated. “She. And honestly? Not really.”
Sam tilts his head to the side, examining Dean as he might something under a microscope. He shakes his head and continues walking, his expression unchanged.
The woman that walks out the door as they approach isn’t classically beautiful. Her curly, dark blonde hair falls to her waist. Her daemon is curled around her neck under the collar of her shirt, an animal Dean doesn’t recognize with reddish-brown fur shining in the sun. Her skirt falls to her ankles, bare feet peeking out the bottom making her look younger than she probably is, but her eyes are shuttered and dark. They say she has seen much and lived.
Lyra arches an eyebrow, arms folded across her chest to show off the double-barrel rifle held comfortably in her hands. “What do you want?”
Dean startles at her accent - British, not from around here at all. “Uh - I'm Dean and this is my brother, Sam. Bobby Singer sent us here. Said you might be able to help us.”
“Singer?” She doesn’t let her guard down until she spies Sam over his shoulder, and her eyes rise further to her hairline. Lyra doesn’t cringe away from Sam like everyone else; she isn’t afraid. In fact, she lowers the rifle, frowning, and asks, “Where’s your daemon?”
“That’s sort of what we’re here about,” Dean says, scratching idly at his arm.
Her eyes visibly soften, features smoothing out; her daemon lifts his head to whisper something in her ear and she nods, pushing the door open behind her back. “Come in.”
The house is surprisingly lavish and not what he would have expected looking in from the outside at all. A comfortable-looking arm chair sits in front of a large, unlit fireplace. Shelves and shelves of books line the walls; an odd instrument sits on an open book on the table at the center of the room, and it isn’t until Dean almost knocks over an oil lamp that he realizes the only source of light is the sun shining through the large, front windows.
Lyra’s daemon jumps from her shoulders onto the couch, coiling up on a pillow with his chin resting on one of the arms while she walks into the kitchen. Dean blinks at the distance between them, the lack of strain on either of their faces as Lyra bustles about in the other room.
“He’s a pine marten,” Lyra says from the doorway, making Dean jump. “His name is Pantalaimon. You can call him Pan.” Her eyes are fiercely narrowed in challenge, daring him to comment on the ease with which they’ve separated from each other.
Dean swallows back his questions - Bobby didn’t mention she was a witch, but she could be, and it isn’t any of his business anyway. Bobby wouldn’t have sent them here without warning if he suspected Lyra was more dangerous than any other garden variety hunter.
“Research?” Dean asks, gesturing to the table, and she huffs a laugh of relief as she exits the kitchen with a cup in either hand.
“Something like that.” She hands him a mug of what smells like tea with lemon and something vaguely spicy. She offers the other to Sam, much to Dean’s surprise.
“What?” she asks, blinking, as if this is an everyday occurrence and not something that should - and with good reason - terrify her.
Sam takes the mug with a muttered, “Thank you,” and returns to glancing around the room blankly, picking up books and objects at random before placing them back down.
“He doesn’t have a daemon,” she protests, “He ain’t dead.”
“You’ve seen this before,” Saskia states, and Dean feels her surprise mirroring his own.
Lyra bites her lip, sitting down beside Pan on the couch and running a hand through his fur. “Once. But this is different.”
“How do you know?”
Lyra picks the odd instrument off of the table, twisting it around idly between her palms. “She ain’t dead, is she? His daemon?”
She doesn’t answer the question. Dean doesn’t push. “No,” he says hoarsely, and he clears his throat, “Not exactly.”
Lyra purses her lips, staring at Pantalaimon while she fiddles with the instrument in her hands; it’s a funny-looking compass with various symbols painted along the edge, tiny pictures that seem random to Dean, but must make at least a vague sense to Lyra. She turns several of the knobs so the hands point to different symbols, concentrating so hard on her task that her eyes cross. She stares for a few moments, silent and practically vibrating with anticipation.
Eventually, she closes her eyes, folding the compass tightly in her fist.
“Pan,” she says quietly, a little forlorn, and he noses under her chin, closing his eyes.
When Castiel appears suddenly and without warning, Dean jumps out of his seat, hissing as hot tea spills down his front. He places the mug down slowly and with purposeful caution.
“You haven’t told them?” Pan asks, clearly annoyed, and Dean stares, startled - her daemon hasn’t said a word aloud since they arrived. Dean shifts his gaze back to Lyra, who looks for all the world like a petulant child. He half expects her to stamp her foot.
Dean blinks incredulously when Castiel’s expression shifts into something that looks a hell of a lot like shame.
“I did not think it wise.”
“Wait a second, wait,” Dean says, staring back and forth from Castiel to Lyra like the world’s most unexpectedly interesting tennis match, “You two know each other?”
“He assisted my father once.” The words are laden with secrets and regret, emotions barely contained. He knows that tone of voice - he hears it when he speaks of his own father.
“Tell them,” she says to Castiel, and the words sound shockingly like an order. “The worst that’ll happen is they say no.”
“They won’t say no,” Pan grumbles, and Lyra huffs, giving him a withering stare.
“Tell us what?” Dean asks, and when neither answers, he turns to Castiel. “Cas?”
“I have, as you asked, found a way,” Castiel says, but he’s shaking his head, and Dean's heart plummets down somewhere near the floor. “You are not going to like it.”
Dean plays off the suspicion growing hot and heavy in his stomach with an arched eyebrow. He crosses his arms.
“There is only one way, and Dean, what will be asked of you... I fear it may be too much.”
“Let him decide,” Lyra says firmly, then faces Dean. “You have to find Death.”
“He does not give his help freely,” Castiel argues, and Pan hisses quietly while Lyra crosses her arms over her chest.
“And who does? You want something, you gotta give something in return. Least that’s the way I know the world to be.”
“He can help?” Sam asks, and Lyra is the only one who doesn’t express surprise at hearing him speak.
She turns to where he’s leaning against one of the book cases with his mug cupped tightly between his palms. “In my experience, yes.”
Dean exchanges a glance with Saskia. He has given up much for his brother - his life, his soul. He died and went to hell for Sam. Nothing could be worse than that.
Saskia stands tall at his side and asks, “Where can we find him?”
Dean swallows hard as Castiel describes a surprisingly simple ritual to be performed at a crossroads under the new moon - which either conveniently or through the twisted machinations of fate would be occurring that night. Dean would have expected the steps to summon one of the four horsemen to be a little more complicated than your garden variety rite.
He nods, thanks Lyra for her help, and moves towards the door.
“Dean,” Lyra grasps his wrist, stopping him in his tracks. She waits until Sam and Castiel are out of earshot to say, “Whatever Death asks you to do... it ain’t as bad as it seems.”
“How would you know?” He’s feeling confrontational, wound up tight like a knotted rope twisting in on itself.
She doesn’t seem to notice, or at least she doesn’t call him on his attitude. She releases his arm and shrugs her shoulders. “Because I followed my own Death once, and I thought it would kill me. But it didn’t. I survived, and so will you.”
“You’re not gonna tell me to find another way? Forget all about this?”
To his surprise, Lyra laughs. “That would be awfully hypocritical of me. Anyway, would you listen if I did?”
“No.” Dean pushes aside his jacket to grab at the knife at his hip, a nervous, reassuring gesture.
Lyra stares at Dean strangely then, from the demon killing knife and back to his face again. Her expression shifts to something intense and searching, and Dean fights the urge to squirm.
Saskia paces at his side, discomfited. “What?” she asks.
Lyra shakes her head, and the tension dissipates easily, like it wasn’t there at all. “Nothing. Just... you remind me of someone. Someone I used to know.”
Pan nudges under her chin then jumps to the ground, rubbing noses with Saskia before settling at Lyra’s feet. “Good luck, Dean,” she says softly.
She watches them from the doorway, lifting Pan to once again wrap around her neck; Dean feels their gazes follow him through the dark.
The spell to summon Death involves nothing unusual - a bunch of smelly herbs and arcane symbols, which Dean sketches in exact shapes and formations as Castiel describes them. They’re operating solely under Castiel’s word that this will work, and Dean isn't quite sure how far he trusts Castiel's word at the moment. Regardless, they have a distinct lack of options at their disposal.
Dean purses his lips. “You’re sure this will work?”
“I am positive. As soon as you finish the incantation, Death should appear.”
“Wait, you’re not going to stick around?” Dean asks, still digging through the trunk for the box of their scant stock of herbs.
“No,” Castiel growls, vehemently enough that Dean pauses, lifting his head to raise his eyebrows. “Death is not fond of angels,” he says by way of explanation.
Dean barks a laugh. “He’s not overly fond of people, either.”
Castiel doesn’t respond, but Dean feels the intensity of his gaze at his back. He turns fully around and finds Castiel standing with his arms stiffly at his side, lips pulling into the beginnings of a frown. “I am sorry, Dean. Truly, I am.”
The betrayal is still too raw, too painful for Dean offer words of reassurance. Regardless of what Castiel did or did not mean to do, Astrid was still stuck in the cage and Sam was still without his soul.
Still, Dean doesn’t outright reject his apology, either. “I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” Dean says stiffly.
Castiel nods, looking like he wants to say something else, but he bows his head silently and disappears in the time it takes Dean to blink.
Dean shakes off the dull guilt with a sigh and shakes his head. He has bigger fish to fry at the moment.
“Make yourself useful,” he says to Sam, passing off a handful of candles. Sam takes them without comment, placing each one at a different corner of an invisible square and a single one in the center. He chalks out the symbols on the ground exactly as they appear on the sheet of paper, and Dean would smile if he knew whether this meticulous side of him was due to Sam being soulless or Sam being Sam.
Sam steps out of the circle of symbols and when he nods, Dean strikes a match, taking a breath. “Here we go,” he mutters, dropping the match to light the candle in the center. He stutters through the incantation, a jumbled mess of Latin and Enochian. The flames flare brightly, and Dean shields his eyes, turning away.
“Well, well, well - isn’t this a surprise?”
Dean jumps, spinning to face Death; the candles are burned out, half melted down so white wax spills into the chalky dirt.
Death leans on his cane, tapping his fingers. “You rang?” He asks with an almost bored expression.
Dean stutters out a shaky breath. “We need your help.”
Death rolls his eyes. “Of course you do. Why else would you have summoned me? What is it that you desire, Dean Winchester?”
“Peace on earth. A lifetime supply of skin mags.” Before the words leave his mouth, Dean recognizes the stupidity in his response - Death could easily kill them both with a snap of his fingers without thinking twice. Even Sam knows this, and he reaches out to punch his brother none too lightly in the shoulder.
Death’s eyes narrow and he takes a step forward, caught at the edge of the symbols drawn on the ground. “Do not toy with me, Dean. I do not have the patience, nor do I have the time.”
Dean shivers, and he feels Saskia shaking against his calf.
Sam, on the other hand, feels no fear, and his voice is loud, an order carried across the crossroads. “We want you to bring my daemon back from hell.”
Death bursts into laughter - full belly laughs, hard enough that he bends in half over his cane.
It isn’t the reaction Dean was expecting. “You think this is funny?”
“No, I find this situation anything but funny.” He clears his throat, eyes still shining with amusement. “I will help you - for a price.”
Dean holds out his hand, Death’s ring in the center of his open palm. Death shakes his head. “Not enough.”
“How is that not enough?” Dean snaps.
“Because as I recall, you were only borrowing it from me in the first place.” There’s no mirth in his eyes now, just an uneasy seriousness that coils around Dean’s throat, threatening to choke him. Saskia does choke, shuddering against his side, keeping as far out of Death’s line of sight as possible.
“What do you want?” Dean asks quietly, all of his earlier bravado gone up in smoke.
“I want you to learn that what is done cannot be undone.” Death taps his fingers impatiently on the top of his cane. “There are no exceptions to the rules of life and death, Dean Winchester, but you and your brother see it fit to elude me time and time again.”
Saskia tugs and pulls at Dean’s jeans, hard enough that Dean loses his balance and the ring falls from his hand. “Oh, Dean, don’t, we’ll find another way, please Dean-” she begs, but Dean shushes her.
“I want you to understand exactly what it is you are asking of me. For one entire day, you will become Death. Only then will I retrieve Sam’s soul from Lucifer’s cage. Those are my terms.” Death opens his hand, holding out the ring that Dean dropped. “If we have an agreement, the ring is yours for the next twenty-four hours.”
Dean purses his lips. When he steps forward with Saskia at his side, Death pulls back his hand.
“She cannot follow,” he says, eyes boring into Saskia, and she shudders and moves closer, as if she could merge with Dean if she presses in close enough.
Dean jolts backwards with a gasp. He’s always been willing to sacrifice his life to save his brother, but this, giving up Saskia, the other half of himself...
Castiel was right. Death is asking too much.
Then, Dean glances at Sam - quiet, changed Sam, forever alone with Astrid stuck in hell, and Dean can’t stand it.
He collapses to his knees, holding Saskia closer than he ever has before. “Just tell me not to do this,” he whispers hoarsely into the fur at her neck. “Tell me that, and I won’t.”
“I can’t. Dean don’t make me -” She throws back her head and howls, and the sound reverberates down to Dean’s bones. She presses her face into his chest, coaxing Dean’s arms further around her back. “Bring her back,” she whispers and licks his face. Then, she takes a step back.
Saskia trembles, unable to move while Dean stands, walks over to Sam and drops the keys to the Impala into his palm.
“Take care of her,” he says, and he isn’t just talking about the car.
Sam nods and says, “I know.” Of course he does - soul or no soul, he’s still his brother, still Sam. Dean wonders how he could have ever thought otherwise.
Saskia holds herself away from him with an effort he can feel, a phantom hand squeezing his heart, tighter and tighter the closer he walks towards Death. She moves to Sam’s side, weaves close then away, as if she isn’t sure whether or not she wants his attention.
Sam glances down at her, then at Dean, and as a shiver works it’s way down his spine, he nods. “Bring her back,” he says quietly, echoing Saskia.
Dean forces himself to watch them as he places the ring on his finger. Saskia cries out, a sound that seems to echo to the ends of the earth, and then she is gone.