A/N: My beta, Sarah_Ellie has pretty much saved my bacon with this fic, there is no way it would be what it is without her.

It shouldn't have surprised him, really. Sammy's always been different. Always been the "rare one."

He remembers the day Sam was born, remembers looking at him in his mother's arms at the hospital and being scared.

"Where's his dæmon?" he had asked, clutching Zorah tight to his chest. A little brown mouse that day, something quiet, as Vita had commanded when his father had hoisted him up into his arms and carried him through the maternity ward to see Mom and Sam.

"He doesn't have one yet, no one does when they're born" Mary had explained, hand comfortingly stroking Raleigh at her shoulder. Her barn owl dæmon's eyes were closed sleepily, Mary's exhaustion reflected in him.

"Why?"

His mother had smiled gently at his question, "His heart doesn't know how yet."

"When will he learn?" Dean had persisted, staring intently at Sam's tiny face as if he couldn't quite wrap his brain around his new, as-of-yet-dæmon-less brother, and Mary had laughed at his curiosity.

"Well," she said, "You know how people's dæmons settle at different times?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's the same for manifests. Some happen very young, and some happen a little later. But most people have their dæmon by the time they turn one."

"Did I?"

"Oh yes."

"Good," Dean had nodded, pulling Zorah a little tighter to his chest, not caring to think about the idea that there was a time when he didn't have her.

"Come on, Champ," John had said then, clapping a hand on Dean's shoulder, "Time to let Mom and Sammy sleep."

"Ok," he sighed, reaching up to give first Mom and kiss, then Sam, "Come home soon Mommy, ok?"

"Of course, love."

He remembered the day Sam's dæmon manifested just as vividly, and remembered being just as scared.

Sammy was eight months old. Dad hadn't started hunting yet, but he was close, getting as much information as he could, reading, always reading, as Vita's big, wolf paws clicked restlessly on the floor as she paced and paced and paced.

Dean would fall asleep to that sound, and the sound of Sam babbling to himself in his crib a few feet away in their temporary apartment. When he would wake up it was always quiet though, Dad gone for the day, gone to work and their neighbor Mrs. Flannery there to watch them. Sometimes he would hear her reading a book to Sam in the living room, or making them breakfast, or sometimes he wouldn't hear anything at all besides Sam's breathing, his baby brother still asleep in his crib, while Mrs. Flannery took advantage of the quiet to read or do the crossword puzzle in the paper.

But one day he woke up and he heard another sound besides Sam in the crib next to him, a tiny, peeping noise that made Dean leap out of bed with Zorah on his heels, shifting herself into a sparrow to land on the crib's railing to see. And there was Sam, still asleep, but with a tiny, bright blue jay on his chest, peeping sleepily at them as Sam clutched his dæmon tightly in his sleep.

"Like the birds we saw on TV," Zorah had whispered, absolutely enraptured by Sam's dæmon but not daring to go nearer, to touch like she wanted to.

Dean had thought his dad would be happy, even pleased that Sam's daemon had finally manifested. But when he came home and saw Sammy building his wooden blocks around a fluffy, twitchy squirrel daemon, John barely acknowledged it. He brushed off Mrs. Flannery's gentle congratulations, and instead turned to his room to shower and change. He acted as he always did, like it was any other day.

It wasn't until after dinner that John finally picked up his youngest son. He mumbled a quiet, "'Atta boy, Sammy," as Vita sniffed and nuzzled the now-kitten dæmon. Dean finally felt like everything was ok, that Sam was ok and it made him sigh with relief. He climbed onto his father's lap with Sam, pressed his face into his father's fresh shirt and pretend like everything was fine.

Then Vita whined, made an anxious sound that caused his heart to clench with fear and his father tensed, lifted Dean off his lap so he could lean down to speak quietly with his dæmon without Dean being able to hear.

"Wrong, wrong, something's wrong!" Zorah had panicked, sharp claws of her ferret form digging into his chest where he clasped her tightly against his rapidly-beating heart.

"Dad?" he ventured, daring to reach out and grip his father's shirtsleeve and tug on it anxiously, "Dad, what's wrong?"

"You're sure?" he heard John ask his dæmon, face lined with worry. This only made Dean more frightened, made him tug more urgently.

"Dean," John snapped, pulled his shirt out of Dean's fist with agitation until he saw his face, saw Dean trembling with fright and decided to scoop him up instead, hold both his sons against his chest tightly, "Everything's going to be ok, Dean," he assured him, "Everything's going to be fine."

They took Sam to a doctor, who confirmed what Vita had already knew. The doctor sent the Winchesters off with assurances; they're fine, Sam and his dæmon are both healthy, both bonded properly, he's just Different. There was a small amount of the population just like him, no problems at all, perfectly healthy people. It just happened sometimes, nothing to worry about. He's just special; bit more of a rare breed.

Your parent's dæmons name your dæmon; that was always how it's been and Sam was no exception, even with his difference.

Vita decided on Reagan.

They hit the road to start hunting the next day.

000

Sam didn't realize that he was different until he started school. Up until that point, the only dæmons that Sam really knew besides his own were Dean's and his father's. But by the time the last bell rang on Sam's first day at school, Dean knew they were going to have to talk.

"What's the matter, Sam?" Dean asked, looping an arm around his brother's shoulders as they began their walk home from the first of many schools that Sam Winchester would come to know.

Zorah and Reagan were walking a couple steps ahead of them, Zorah getting Reagan to mimic her the best he could, and teasing him playfully if he got a stripe wrong on the tabby cat she was trying to get him to become.

"A girl said I was weird," Sam admitted quietly, kicking at a loose stone on the sidewalk as he walked, diligently avoiding Dean's gaze.

"Why'd she say that?" Dean prompted. He squeezed the arm around Sam's shoulders a little tighter. [*]

"She said boys are supposed to have girl dæmons. Reagan's not a girl, so I can't be normal."

"Yeah, well, not everybody has to be normal, Sammy," Dean offered lamely, hating himself for feeling so completely out of his depth.

"You are," Sam sighed, "Dad is. You both have girl dæmons. Why don't I?"

Sam looked up at him hopefully, pleading with his little hazel eyes for Dean to have the answer, like he always did.

"You're just special, Sammy. You're special, and don't let any snotty girls tell you otherwise. You love Reagan, don't you?"

"Of course!" Sam answered immediately, clearly horrified at the very thought that he didn't love his dæmon.

"Then that's all that matters."

000

Dean was ten when Zorah settled. They didn't make a fuss about it, like most kids do, but inside he was proud. He hoped, secretly, that this would prove something to Dad. That he was more grown up, that he could take care of Sam better than before, that he could make it up to him now, for the times he messed up and put them in danger.

For the times he let Sam and Reagan down.

There was nothing special about that day, or even that town, but one morning he just woke up and he knew, just like she knew and he spent a good extra hour in bed then he probably should have just touching her, making sure he knew every detail of her because this is forever.

Sam's always been a bright kid, too bright for his own good, probably, so when Reagan jumped on Zorah playfully after breakfast with bobcat paws and instead of shifting to match, Zorah simply used her long wingspan to shake him off, take to the air and dive on him from above, Sam asked, "Zorah's settled, isn't she?"

"Yeah," was all Dean could answer; suddenly feeling self-conscious and Zorah shook Reagan off to fly to him, settle her huge weight on his shoulder and press her sharp-beaked face next to his.

Sam and Reagan looked at them both curiously, Sam slowly chewing on the last bite of cereal as he regarded his brother and his dæmon with intense scrutiny.

"What is she?" he finally settled on asking, and Dean looked at Zorah with renewed curiosity. He hadn't bothered to ask.

"An eagle," he finally answered, and Sam rolled his eyes with a huff.

"I know that," he said, pouting, "But what kind?"

"Tell you what," Dean said, holding his hand up to his shoulder to transfer her to the back of Sam's chair while he cleaned up their dishes, "Dry these when I hand them to you, and we can go to the library and look it up."

"Oo! Can I take Catwings out again, while we're there?" Sam asked, and Reagan shifted into a cat with wings immediately, flying an enthusiastic lap around the room before Zorah took off to grab him, both dæmons landing on the floor with a thud! as they wrestled good-naturedly.

"For the millionth time?" Dean scoffed, and Sam frowned.

"I can't help that it's my favorite," Sam countered.

"I thought Matilda was your favorite," Dean reminded him, and Sam's frown deepened.

"Ok… Catwings is my second favorite. After Matilda."

Dean just rolled his eyes, handing his brother a cereal bowl to dry.

"Whatever you want Sammy."

It took Sam less than fifteen minutes after finding a species guide in the library before he triumphantly crowed, "Ah-ha!" and pointed to a picture on the glossy pages.

"Aquila chrysaetos," Dean fumblingly read out loud, "The Golden Eagle."

"You chose good, Zorah," Reagan purred from his place on Sam's lap, still holding the cat-with-wings form, "Real good."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, looking up at them, "She's perfect."

He felt himself blush at the compliment, and Zorah ruffled herself demurely in equal embarrassment at the attention.

"Thanks Sam."

000

When Sam was twelve, he gave himself a nosebleed and risked much worse damage to himself all in one shot. Dean was fit to kill him.

Dean and Zorah weren't much into taking risks, as far as each other was concerned. Every kid pushes the boundaries of how far their dæmons can go, how long they can stand the discomfort and eventual pain of pulling away from each other. But Dean was never really into it, at least not from a "see what I can do!" standpoint. He and Zorah built up their tolerance for longer and longer distances over the years out of practicality, the need for her to be able to scout for him when they were hunting, or be able to attack an enemy. He had had the same lack of curiosity regarding the forms his dæmon could take, a disinterest that Zorah reflected, so she stuck to mostly to practical things, creatures that could perch on his shoulder or fit in his pocket or trot at his side until the day she settled.

Not Sammy and Reagan of course. No, the wonder duo that they were, they had to go messing around while Dean was under the hood of the Impala in some piss-poor motel in the middle of nowhere. If Zorah hadn't been perched on the hood of the car instead of under it with him, he may not have even known what Sam had done until it was too late.

"What the hell made you think this was a good idea?" Dean growled, holding a tissue up to his brother's nose firmly as he tried to stop the blood flow, "You could have hurt yourself, hurt Reagan."

"Was jus' an experiment," Sam mumbled thickly, and Reagan nodded his serpent head in agreement from where he was coiled loosely around Sam's neck, "Wanted to see what we could do."

"But an elephant, Sam?" Dean snapped, pulling out a couple extra tissues from the box on the nightstand and adding them to the clump under Sam's nose, "A goddamn elephant?"

Sam shrugged, looking away from his brother dejectedly, "I was reading about this tribe in Africa, some of their shamans-"

"Exactly, shamans that are not you and are probably on a whole different playing field where their dæmons are concerned-"

"Dean, you don't understand!" Sam cut in, yanking his head back and away from Dean with irritation, "They were incredible. Their dæmons were these huge, perfect elephants, with these naturally-occurring inscriptions on their skin that represent all kinds of natural phenomenon, I've never seen anything like it and we just had to try. We almost had it too, Reagan was so close-"

"And then you passed out and almost stopped breathing as blood came pouring out of your nose," Dean interrupted, "and you scared me half to death because Reagan just freaking vanished and I'm pretty sure my heart freaking stopped because I thought you were dead!" he barked, louder than he meant to and Zorah's claws dug into his shoulder tightly and she rubbed her head against his to calm him even as she glared daggers at Reagan.

"We were fine. I was fine," Reagan reassured them from his position around Sam's throat, "I just latched onto Sam when I felt it getting too big for us, concentrated on being something small again."

"We figured that out, thanks," Zorah hissed, still glaring, and Reagan had the good graces to at least look chastened, ducking his head under Sam's chin humbly.

"Don't do crap like that again, ok?" Dean sighed in frustration, refolding the tissues anxiously and moving slowly to put them under Sam's nose again, "Please?"

"We just want you to be safe," Zorah added quietly, and Reagan uncoiled far enough from Sam's neck to reach out to her shyly, a gesture that Zorah graciously accepted and returned.

"No more elephants," Sam agreed, putting his hand up to cover Dean's under his nose with a gentle squeeze, "Sorry, Dean."

There are days when Dean wants to kill his brother, and then there are days when the little brat makes Dean love him.

000

Sam's always been the rare one. The fact that his dæmon didn't settle until he was eighteen years old is just another bullet point on the laundry list of oddities.

He's always been too inquisitive, too restless, and Reagan reflected that, never feeling comfortable in any one form for too long, always feeling like there was more see, more to try.

Unlike Dean, who not only settled very early, but also had a somewhat uneventful settling, Sam can remember the exact day that Reagan finally felt like he found a form that fit.

It was the day of The Fight. Sam wanted to go to college, wanted more from his life than living motel to motel, shooting monsters in the face and digging up graves in the middle of the night. It shouldn't have surprised him, really, that his father would fight him on this, his father fought about everything.

"You're abandoning your family!" John shouted, Vita growling at his side as Reagan diligently ignored her in favor of helping Sam pack his bag, prehensile tail of his monkey form curling around a bottle of shampoo, "We stick together Sam, we are all each other's got and this is our job, this is what we do. You're just going to abandon all of that, abandon your whole life just because you want to act like you're some All-American boy?"

"No, Dad, this is your job, this is your life!" Sam snapped, shoving a hastily-folded t-shirt in his bag roughly. "And I'm sorry, but I want more from my life than this!" he gestured angrily at the room, at the guns still on the coffee table, the papers taped to the wall, laying out the mythology of their most recent hunt. "I want to have an actual job and live in one place for more than a couple months and have friends. Jesus, Dad, most parents are proud when their kid gets a full ride to a good school, they don't tell them they're a disappointment!" Sam shouted, determinedly pushing back the tears of hurt and frustration that threatened on the edge of his vision, staring hard at his father. John stood stubbornly between him and the door, whole body emanating anger so fiercely Sam was surprised Vita hadn't lunged for Reagan already.

"Why don't you just man up and admit the only reason you keep Dean and me around is because we're useful? Because it's certainly not love, Dad, love makes you want your family to be happy, makes you want to encourage them to strive for something better!" Sam couldn't stop himself from hurling angrily, and John finally snapped. The next thing he knew he was pinned to the wall, his father's large hands gripping his collar and holding him in place.

"Dad! Sam! That's enough!" Dean finally spoke up, moving from the bed he had been sitting on during the heated argument to intervene. Zorah's claws were clenching in his shoulder as she prepared to move, to put herself between their dæmons; Vita had Reagan pinned just as fiercely with her jaws as John had Sam with his hands.

Before Dean could act, Sam did. He managed to use the very combat skills his father had taught him to dislodge John at the same moment Reagan shifted, letting out a fierce scream. It was all over in a blink, their positions reversed; Sam pinning his father to the wall while Reagan used the superior weight of his puma form as well as his claws and teeth to pin Vita under him, emitting a loud, deep growl that seemed to vibrate into Dean's very bones.

"I'm. Leaving." Sam growled aggressively, inches away from his father's furious face and it was so satisfying, to be the one giving commands for once, "And you're not going to stop me."

Sam released him with a shove, glaring hard for a moment before turning his back to finish packing his things, Reagan leaning anxiously against his legs in his eagerness to leave.

Sam did his absolute best to avoid Dean's gaze, could practically feel the hurt and anger radiating from his brother, as if Zorah's irritated fluttering in his peripheral vision didn't give it away already. He was leaving. And that was that.

He made it all the way to the door before his father spoke up, still leaning against the wall where Sam had left him.

"You walk out that door, you don't bother coming back."

Sam paused; hand on the doorknob as he clenched his jaw.

"If that's how you want it, Dad," he risked a glance over his shoulder at Dean, who was standing immobile in the middle of the room, watching Sam with such desperation it made his heart hurt. [*]

Sam turned the doorknob anyway.

The slam of the door behind him wasn't nearly as satisfying as he'd hoped it would be, but he just shouldered his bag determinedly as he walked toward the bus station. He had it planned already, had his ticket in his pocket for the bus that would depart at nine the next morning, a one-way ticket to California, to a new life, to normal.

Reagan walked heavily by his side, large paws making almost no noise on the pavement and Sam reached his hand down to touch him, press his hand between his shoulder blades and grab a fist-full of fur, still swallowing hard against the maelstrom of emotions churning inside him.

"I think this is it," Reagan finally murmured, looking up at him steadily with light, feline eyes.

Sam paused, got on his knees in the middle of the sidewalk in the middle of the night, taking his dæmon's huge head between his hands, stroking the soft fur gently.

Reagan gave a quiet purr, butting his head against Sam's softly and Sam smiled, wrapped his arms around him tightly with a heavy sigh.

"Yes. Ok."

000

Dean didn't do intimacy. If there was one thing he knew about a hunter's life, it was that you didn't linger in one place for too long. You didn't have friends who weren't hunters, and you sure as hell didn't fall in love with a civilian if you wanted them to stay alive.

That didn't mean he couldn't have a little fun, of course.

It was probably a fair assessment to say that Dean loved girls. Since his first kiss with Rosie Abagnale in the back row of a movie theater when he was fourteen, he knew they were going to become his favorite pastime.

He kept it simple, made sure they knew he was only passing through, and the ones that were ok with that gave him everything he wanted, and the girls who weren't took a hike.

Then he met Cassie.

He still remembered that night perfectly, that dump of a college bar and how she looked, with a smile made of pure sin. With anyone else, he almost would have laughed at the Canada Goose dæmon at her side, but somehow Imari practically oozed cool so strong that Zorah whispered to him about three drinks into their flirting, "Don't fuck this up, Dean Winchester."

And he didn't, not at first, anyway, and it was a few of the best weeks of his life. She was whip-smart, she was strong and tough and absolutely everything he wanted.

Then, in one night of love-struck stupidity, it all went to shit.

It started out so well, too; they hit the bar, played some pool, hogged the record machine. The ended the night at her place, giving a cheeky wave to her housemates as they passed through the living room and booked it up the stairs, so eager to get their hands on each other the door was barely shut behind them before the clothes started flying.

He could probably blame it on the mix of the alcohol, post-orgasm endorphins, and maybe even the emotional drain of not having Sam around (though the last one he wouldn't vocalize even under torture) on the fact that they even suggested it, could even think that it was a good idea to let anyone get that close.

"I want you to touch me," Zorah said quietly, draped across Dean's back and watching them steadily, "We want you to touch me."

Cassie swallowed hard, tears threatening to spill because she knew what it meant that they were asking for this; knew why he was using this instead of the words he really meant and she reached a trembling hand out to Zorah slowly.

Dean held his breath as her skin finally came in contact with his dæmon, the almost-electric shock of it punching his breath out of him in a rush.

It felt... deep. Like she was reaching into his chest and touching his still-beating heart, caressing it with trembling fingertips and he understood why this was something you didn't do with just anyone; why voluntarily allowing someone to touch your dæmon was the ultimate act of trust, of love- an outward mark of devotion.

That's why he couldn't stop himself when she took his hand and placed it along Imari's back, stroking his fingers downward through the soft feathers and watching her tremble with it. Couldn't stop himself from telling her everything, telling her what they did, how they lived, what he still had to do.

And it broke his heart to see the disappointment in her eyes, the disbelief, the breakdown of trust and emotion they had just worked so hard to build and solidify.

There was a reason Dean didn't do intimacy. There were a host of reasons, actually, and falling in love with a civilian was probably the most important of one of all.

Because no matter how hard you work at it, the "truth is out there" speech would always be the deciding factor.

And heaven help you if they couldn't believe.

000

Special. That's what Dean always said. Sam was special.

He always thought it was Dean finding a sneakier way to call him a freak, because that's certainly what Sam had been calling himself for a long time. You hear something frequently enough, you start believing it.

But when the visions started, he knew special didn't even begin to cover it.

He wasn't sure, at first, why visions of Max Miller's family were so strong as to overwhelm him in the middle of the day. Still kicks himself that it didn't even occur to him to ask, or to encourage Reagan to be more adamant in persuading Max's little, timid dormouse dæmon from his pocket to talk, because if he had, they may have been able to stop everything so much sooner. Maybe even get Max the help he so desperately needed.

It wasn't until he was on his knees on the ground, his grasp on Dean's shirt and the scruff of Reagan's neck his only threadbare anchor to reality as a vision of Max and his stepmother overwhelmed him, that it all clicked into place.

"I don't know what you mean by that. You know I never did anything!" Mrs. Miller said defensively, sweeping the vegetables from the chopping board and into her cupped hand, her guinea pig dæmon twitching anxiously on the table beside her.

"That's right. You didn't do anything," Max accused, stepping further into the room threateningly, voice thick with emotion as the knife of the chopping board started to rattle by itself. Mrs. Miller looked at it incredulously, fear starting to blossom across her features, "You didn't stop them, not once."

She gasped as suddenly the knife flew into the air and stopped to hover in front of her face, metal glinting menacingly as she scooped up her dæmon, held him tight to her chest as she backed away slowly, eyes wide with fear.

"How did you…" she began, then squealed with terror as the knifepoint jerked toward her, backing her against the wall.

"Max! Please!" she begged, the knife drawing steadily closer, stopping a mere millimeter from her eye as a tear welled and rolled down her cheek.

"For every time you stood there and watched. Pretending it wasn't happening," he hissed, stepping steadily, slowly closer.

"What would we have done?!" her dæmon finally squeaked, "Belleek, we didn't know how bad it would be!"

"Graver was a scorpion!" Max's dæmon suddenly spoke up, his small, but undeniably male voice accused aggressively, "You knew exactly what you were getting into, exactly what his dæmon said about him!"

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Miller sobbed, and Max looked at her without compassion.

"No you're not," he answered softly, "You just don't want to die."

Sam gasped as the last visage of the knife piercing her skull faded from his vision, left him trembling and sick on the cold ground and Dean's voice finally cut through the haze.

"Sam! Sam!" his brother shook him lightly, "Dammit, Sam, answer me!"

"Max," he gasped, "It's Max."

"What?" Dean murmured, tightening his grip on Sam's arm.

"Hey, is he ok?" the man they had been talking to asked, pausing in his leaf-raking to step down toward them, his squirrel dæmon hedging toward Reagan carefully.

Zorah hissed at her, spreading her wings defensively over Reagan's vulnerable form and the squirrel dæmon squeaked, scampered up her human's leg anxiously.

"Migraines," Sam managed to lie, gritting the word through his teeth, "I get migraines, I'm fine."

"Yeah," Dean agreed, clenching his jaw with worry, "Yeah, just need to get him somewhere to lie down, he'll be fine."

Dean grimaced as he hooked his arm under Sam's and hauled him to his feet, ushering him through the open passenger side door of the Impala as Zorah did her best to support Reagan's larger form until Dean could open the backseat door for him.

Reagan managed to haul himself onto the leather seat heavily before Sam was reaching back for him, twisting in the seat to lay his face against the back of it and reach his arm across the distance that separated them, digging his fingers into his soft fur. Zorah settled on the seat by Reagan's head, pressing close to him and settling her head over his neck worriedly. He purred softly in appreciation, angling his head toward her carefully.

Sam winced at the sound of the driver's side door slamming shut and the sound of the engine roaring to life.

"Care to tell me what the hell just happened?" Dean said, putting the Impala into gear and turning her back toward Saginaw.

"Give me a minute," he murmured, taking a few deep breaths as the pain of the vision finally began to fade. Finally he sat up, turning around to face forward in the seat and letting go of Reagan's fur reluctantly. Having a big dæmon had its pitfalls. Not being able to share the front seat was one of them.

He relayed the vision he just had to his brother, Dean's face growing more and more disbelieving as he talked.

"Max is doing it. Everything I've been seeing," Sam finished, shaking his head sadly.

"You sure about this?" Dean asked, flicked his gaze from the road to look at his brother briefly.

"Yeah, I saw him," Sam nodded, reaching a hand up to press his fingers against his still-hurting head for a moment.

"How's he pulling it off?"

"I don't know, telekinesis?"

"What, so he's psychic, a spoon bender?" Dean asked incredulously, and Sam shrugged.

"I didn't even realize it but this whole time he was there. He was outside the garage when his Dad died, outside the apartment when his Uncle died. These visions, this whole time, I wasn't connecting to the Millers, I was connecting to Max," he marveled, glancing at Dean.

"Yeah, but why?" Dean asked, frowning, shifting his hands on the wheel, "Why him?"

"I guess because we're so alike?" Sam ventured quietly, and Dean's frown deepened.

"What are you talking about? The dude's nothing like you," Dean insisted.

"Well…" Sam sighed, looking out the window, "We both have psychic abilities, we both…"

"Both what, Sam?" Dean huffed.

"We both have male dæmons," Sam cut in, and Dean paused, looked at Sam seriously for several moments before his eyes shifted back to the road.

"How do you know that? You couldn't even get his dæmon to talk, you said."

"In the vision. He spoke to Mrs. Miller's dæmon, right before…" Sam trailed off, cleared his throat, "I'm absolutely positive about this Dean, he's definitely like me."

"He is not like you," Dean growled, "Max is a monster, he's already killed two people, now he's gunning for a third."

"Well, with what he went through, the beatings, to want revenge on those people? I'm sorry but it doesn't sound insane," Sam justified, and Dean huffed again.

"Yeah, but it doesn't justify murdering your entire family!"

"Dean…" Sam tried, but Dean pressed on, pressing on the brakes and shifting the car into park in front of the Miller's house, "He's no different from anything else we've hunted, all right? We gotta end him."

Sam looked at his brother, shocked.

"We're not going to kill Max."

"Then what? Hand him over to the cops and say, 'Lock him up, officer, he kills with the power of his mind!'"

"No way. Forget it," Sam insisted, and Dean huffed, killed the engine and sat back in his seat, looking determinately out of the window and away from Sam's face.

"Dean, he's a person. We can talk to him. Hey," Sam nudged, staring at his brother seriously, "Promise me you'll follow my lead on this one."

Dean turned back with a glare, clearly unhappy, but Sam knew he would acquiesce, at least for now.

"All right, fine. But I'm not letting him hurt anybody else," Dean begrudgingly agreed, reaching across Sam to open the glove compartment and pull out the Taurus pistol, checking the safety and ignoring Sam's stern look in favor of opening the door and climbing out, tucking the gun into the waistband at the small of his back as he went. Zorah fluttered up from the back seat, giving Sam a thoughtful look from the backrest before Dean called her sternly, holding the door open impatiently.

Sam and Reagan exchanged a look, and Sam prayed they'd all come out of this alive.

000

There were many mysteries when it came to their job, but probably the biggest one was the relationship between monsters and dæmons.

There was one thing that was always certain, and that was you would never see a ghost with a dæmon. Everyone's dæmon disappears when they die, no matter the situation of their death, and no matter if they move on or turn into a haunting.

When it came to the corporeal, however, things became much murkier.

The things that didn't have dæmons were frightening as hell, there was no denying that. Not only in the alienness of it, but the implications of what that meant. Sam couldn't wrap his brain around it, the idea that someone's humanity could be so stripped away, so corrupted, that their dæmon ceased to exist.

It made him wonder how someone like Neil, who- for all intents and purposes- was a decently clever human being, could even stand to look Angela Mason once he had pulled her from the grave, let alone have an ongoing relationship with her. The affection that dæmons shared was just as important as that of their human counterparts; he almost wished he had the guts to prompt Reagan into asking Neil's terrier dæmon what exactly she did, when Neil and Angela were together. Love knew no bounds, apparently.

Then there were the things that had never been human to begin with. Rakshasa, djinn, demigods... Things that either used some kind of glamor to project false dæmons or else used protective pods- common among people with insect or other delicate dæmons to prevent them from injury- to mask the fact that they didn't have one. It was amazing how easily the outline of a protective pod in someone's pocket gave most people the false sense of security they needed to ignore the inhuman.

In all honesty, however, monsters who retained their dæmons were Sam's least favorite thing to kill. It was almost painful, watching their dæmon erupt in a shower of gold light when they put a silver bullet, or a stake, or whatever the weapon of choice happened to be that day, into their chests.

It was even harder when the person was someone you had tried so hard to save.

They really thought it was over. The sun had risen, and Madison had remained unchanged. Break the bloodline, break the curse.

Then she turned. She turned and the girl he knew, the girl he had just spent an entire day in bed with, was gone, replaced by this... other. This creature. And even Ozias, her bobcat dæmon, was changed, shared the same, feral eyes and snapping teeth of his human and Reagan mewled mournfully at the sight, even as they leaped out of bed to chase her.

"Sam," Dean said gently, pulling Sam from his spiral of thoughts,"I'm sorry."

"No," Sam said, turning to face his brother in the small kitchen, "You're right. She's right."

"Sammy, I got this one. I'll do it," Dean offered.

"She asked me to," Sam couldn't help the way his voice broke on the last word, couldn't help reaching down to fist his fingers in Reagan's fur desperately, trying to keep it together even as the tears overwhelmed his vision.

"You don't have to."

"Yes I do," he sniffed, held out the hand that wasn't touching Reagan for the gun. His fingers were trembling, "Please."

Dean clenched his jaw, rubbed his thumb over the gun handle and wished with his entire heart and soul that he could spare Sam from this, could take every hardship his brother carried into himself but he couldn't; could only hand over the gun in silence and hope the brush of his fingertips against Sam's could convey even a fraction of the core-deep regret and grief in his heart.

"Just wait here," Sam said. He clenched the gun tight in his hand and braced himself, choked back tears that refused to stop as they stepped back into the living room. Out of the corner of his eye he could seen Dean and Zorah, still statue-still in the kitchen, watching him go.

Madison turned at his approach, wiping the tears from her cheeks even as her eyes flicked to the gun. It twisted Sam's guts to see relief flood her features as he held her death in his hand.

He stepped in close, cupping her face in his hand and swallowing hard against his grief as Reagan draped himself across Ozias's smaller form carefully, nuzzling him with gentle licks, giving as much comfort and affection he could in their last moments together.

"I'm sorry," he whispered in a quiet sob, forehead pressed against hers and she shushed him gently, leaned up on her toes to kiss him.

"I know," she whispered back tearfully, even as she reached down to guide the gun to her chest, the muzzle pressed flush against her breastbone, "I know."

Sam sobbed, gripped the gun in his trembling hand and looked into her eyes, then pulled the trigger.

000

Sam was dead.

His entire life, his entire purpose for existing, was dead.

It was wrong, all wrong, seeing him lying there on that ratty mattress and Reagan was gone, turned to dust and it was like sandpaper on his insides, soul rubbed raw with pain and grief that he would not be able to stand.

"We don't have a choice," he said softly, fingers buried tightly in the thick, heavy feathers along Zorah's back, her heavy weight leaning hard against his side in the front seat of the Impala. Rocks pinged against the undercarriage of the car as they peeled down the dirt road.

"I know," she murmured, her head on his thigh and her eyes downcast, "I know."

She was quiet for a few moments, the sound of the engine hard and loud in the still, country air.

"Seems like our whole life has been leading up to this, hasn't it?" she finally said, and he risked a look down at her, one of her brown eyes turned up to look at him dully, "We were always for Sammy and Reagan. There was no other way our life would end, but for them."

"Yeah," he agreed gruffly, turning his eyes back to the road, "Yeah."

They buried the spellbox at the crossroads, waited for the demon to turn up and seal the deal.

"I'll do it."

"You'll bring him back?" Dean pressed, eyes hard, and she nodded.

"I will. And because I'm such a saint, I'll give you one year. And one year only," she purred, then stepped in close, "But here's the thing. If you try and welch or weasel your way out, then the deal is off. Sam drops dead. He's back to rotten meat in no time. So... it's a better deal than your dad ever got. What do you say?"

Dean swallowed hard, then pulled her in for the kiss that would seal the bargain.

Zorah hissed suddenly, talons digging into his shoulder in pain and he jerked back, reaching a hand up to her immediately.

"Relax sugar," the demon purred, looking at Zorah with a smirk, "just some finalizing details."

Dean watched with disgust as a demonic symbol appeared like a brand on his dæmon, burning red on her chest for a few moments before fading away.

"There, not so bad, was it?" the crossroad demon's black cat dæmon purred, eyes glinting red in the dim light, "Every contract needs a signature, after all."

Even after he made the deal, when he saw Sam and Reagan standing at the foot of that miserable bed, the bloodstain from his wound still red and thick on the bare mattress, it took time for it to stop hurting. Like the relief, the joy of having Sam back again took time to seep into his consciousness.

"Sammy," he breathed, just taking a moment to drink in the sight of his brother, alive and whole, Reagan standing by his side and it was like the world was righted, tilted back on its proper axis again.

"Hey," Sam replied, and Dean crossed the room to him, pulling him into a tight hug as Zorah nearly knocked Reagan over with how fast she flew to him.

"Ow, Dean," Sam grunted, still in pain, and Dean forced himself away with effort.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, man," Dean apologized hastily, gripping his shoulders instead, "I'm just... I'm just happy to see you up and around, that's all. Come on, sit down."

He ushered Sam to sit on the edge of the bed gently, while taking the chair opposite him for himself.

"Zorah, we're fine," Reagan rumbled gently, rubbing his chin soothingly against Zorah's back where she was still pressed up close to him, "We're ok, I promise."

"I know, I know," she flustered, finally hopping back and ruffling herself demurely, "Just glad to see it, that's all."

Sam huffed a small laugh, watching the interaction, "Well, I guess that answers one question."

"What?"

"That whatever happened shook you up bad enough that Zorah's still showing it," Sam said bluntly, looking at Dean with those stupid, doleful eyes and Dean's heart clenched.

"What do you remember?" Dean asked, tampering down his nerves resolutely as he waited for Sam's answer.

"I-I saw you and Bobby, and... I felt this pain. This sharp pain, like... like, white-hot, you know, and then you started running at me, and... that's about it," Sam explained, frowning as he tried to recall the fuzzy memory.

Dean hated lying to Sam. Hated it, hated it, hated it with every last fiber of his being, but that's exactly what he did, what he had to do. What he had to continue to do, because he was not going to tell Sam what he had done, in order to save his life.

But the kid couldn't leave well enough alone, of course. No, he had to press, he had to know. Even after they killed that goddamn thing that had butchered mom and taken dad he couldn't leave it alone long enough for them to even celebrate.

"Did you sell your soul for me, like Dad did for you?" Sam insisted.

"Oh, come on! No!" Dean denied immediately, and Sam looked directly to Zorah, waited for the lie to show through her, the guilt to be written across her posture or her gestures to confirm what he already suspected from looking at Dean and he hated that; hated that they couldn't lie to Sam because the lie was written all over them.

"Zorah," Reagan rumbled when Zorah resolutely refused to look at them, and Sam stepped away from the car to face Dean more directly.

"Tell me the truth," Sam said quietly, and Dean could practically feel Sam's intense gaze burning a hole in the side of his face, and he tried to sniff disinterestedly, tried to put his game face back on, "Dean, tell me the truth."

"Sam..." he blew out on a breath, let it trail off to a bitter scoff because the game was up, Sam was too clever, and too good at reading him that he wondered how he ever thought he could get away with keeping it a secret in the first place.

"How long do you get?" Sam forced out in a tight voice. Dean swallowed hard, could only manage a glance at Sam's devastated face before his throat closed up with emotion.

"Dean, how long?" Sam asked again, more tearfully than before and still trying to catch Dean's gaze.

"One year," Zorah answered softly for him, Dean still struggling to get his emotions under control, "We have one year."

"You shouldn't have done that. How could you do that?"

"How could you let him?" Reagan cut in to growl at Zorah angrily, "You're his dæmon, you're supposed to protect each other."

"Don't get mad at me. Don't you do that," Dean found his voice to say, addressing Sam and Reagan equally as he turned to face them stubbornly, "I had to. I had to look out for you. That's my job."

"And what do you think my job is?" Sam answered incredulously, as if Dean was acting so stupidly he just couldn't wrap his brain around it. Dean balked at his tone and his question, looking hard at his brother.

"What?"

"You've saved my life over and over. I mean, you sacrifice everything for me. Don't you think I'd do the same for you? You're my big brother. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you," Sam professed solemnly, and Dean swallowed, more than a little floored at Sam's earnestness. Protecting Sam was his job. Hell, it was who he was, how he defined himself. Dean Winchester- Sam's big brother, sole protector, and partner in crime against the whole damn world and all the evil in it. He had always acknowledged that the level of devotion he had to Sam was most likely one-sided, it made sense for it to be; Dean's life had never literally been in Sam's hands the way Sam's had always been in Dean's. Sam hadn't had to make the same sacrifices, hadn't had the same struggle to hold the weight of responsibility that Dad had entrusted to him. Now, suddenly, he was seeing that devotion, that care -that he thought was exclusive to himself- now reflected in Sam, in every word his brother spoke.

"And I don't care what it takes, I'm gonna get you out of this," Sam added, earnestness morphing into stubborn resolution, "Guess I gotta save your ass for a change."

"Yeah," Dean acknowledged quietly, as the moment was broken by the approach of Ellen and Bobby.

"Well, the Yellow Eyed Demon might be dead, but a lot more got through that gate," Ellen reminded them, leaning against her mule dæmon, Calix, tiredly.

"How many, you think?" Dean asked, and Sam shrugged, mulling it over.

"A hundred. Maybe two hundred," he proposed, "It's an army. He's unleashed an army."

"Hope to hell you boys are ready," Bobby said, exchanging a look with Anouk, his badger dæmon sitting back on her haunches by his heels, "Cause the war has just begun."

"Well, then," Dean smirked, looked at Sam with pure mischief before sliding around him to open the trunk of the Impala. He pulled the Colt from his pocket, looking at it thoughtfully for a moment before tossing it among the other weapons casually, "We got work to do."