1983 - Lawrence, Kansas
Sam Winchester has a guardian angel.
It's been with him since he was a baby, since the day blood dripped into his mouth, as his mother burned to death above his crib. Sam is too small to recognize the brush of its wings as they fold around him and keep him safe from the flames, doesn’t know that it’s the reason the fire that consumes his mother doesn’t touch him.
His father can’t see it when he runs into Sam's room and collapses to the floor in horror. Dean clutches his brother to his chest and rushes outside in sheer panic; he doesn't know about the angel either.
1988 - Colorado
It’s three days after Sam’s fifth birthday. He’s playing with the marbles Dean got for him, while Dean and Dad practice crossbows.
They’re in a forest—a national forest somewhere in Colorado—it's the middle of the week, so nobody’s there but them, and Sam’s by the small paved picnic area, where he can see Dean and Dad between the trees, just a few yards away. It’s quiet enough that Sam can hear the birds hopping in the underbrush next to him, the squirrels chittering on the branch above his head.
Sam’s engrossed in his marbles, trying to hit the smaller green one with his red shooter the way Dean showed him—he keeps missing it, but just by a little. It takes him a few minutes to notice that the animals have all gone still. Sam hears a twig snap and a different sort of rustling—heavier, slower steps than the lightly hopping birds from before. A fuzzy snout pokes out from between the shrubs, snuffling. It’s a bear cub. Sam drops the marble he’s holding and the cub’s ears twitch as it looks at him. He takes another hesitant step forward, moving closer to Sam, who wants nothing more than to run his fingers through its soft fur.
The cub pads closer, inches away from Sam now, and then there’s a roar and a much larger bear comes bounding out of the trees, crushing the underbrush beneath her paws. She’s running right for Sam—and as Sam scrambles away in fear he feels something shift and cramp in his back. “I’m sorry,” a voice whispers in his head, and ghostly hands press down near his shoulder-blades. “Don’t be scared.” His back lights up with pain—it feels like dozens of needles piercing through his skin from the inside out. Sam screams as wind and blinding light surround him. When he can see again, there's something translucent folding itself over him in a protective shell. He can see through it, like through a bedsheet, and when he shifts, it moves—they move— a pair of wings. They're attached to him, they lift and fall as he breathes, and when he reaches out a fingertip to press against the weird, skin-like barrier, it feels warm to the touch. The mother bear falls back onto her paws as her cub runs away, back into the trees.
“Sammy, get down,” his father bellows, and Sam turns to see him running towards him, with Dean trailing behind, both of them holding their bows.
“No!” Sam shouts, as they aim their bows at the bear and his wings unfurl with a buffet of wind, sending the bear stumbling back. It stumbles, scrambling against the earth until its back on its feet, and flees into the woods.
The wings fold in on themselves, prickling at Sam’s back again, bones popping as they retract and then Dean has his arms around him, asking, “Sammy, are you okay?” and he sounds even more shaken than Sam is. Sam wonders if Dean saw the wings, or if Dad did, but Dad’s still watching the trees with his bow at the ready.
“I’m fine,” Sam says, pulling back enough from Dean to look him in the eyes.
“What scared it off, Dad?” Dean asks, and that’s when Sam knows for sure. They didn’t see the wings. Sam starts picking up his marbles and there’s a glowing feather lying on the ground between them, but when Sam goes to pick it up, his fingers go right through it and the light dissipates, drifting away like smoke.
That night, back at the motel, when Sam’s safely in bed with his brother breathing evenly beside him, his shoulder blades itch and burn, badly enough that he wakes up. He tiptoes to the bathroom, careful not to wake Dad who's asleep on the couch, shuts the door and flips on the light. After stripping off his shirt, he turns around and cranes his neck to try to see what’s making his back itch so badly, but he doesn’t see much of anything, the skin’s a little red and puffy, like that time he fell in the poison ivy. He moves his shoulders up and down and looks for any trace of feathers, but there’s nothing.
So he cups cold water in his hands, lets it run down his back, dries off, and goes back to bed, slipping under his sheet silently. As soon as he closes his eyes, he feels feathers brushing lightly over his arm, hears the same voice from earlier singing softly to him, like a lullaby. Dean shifts in his sleep, turns to lay on his side, back facing Sam, and Sam wonders if Dean’s ever felt wings around him too, as the angel's song lulls him to sleep.
1989 - Fort Douglas, Wisconsin
Sam flips to the next page, and feels a pang of disappointment when he realizes it’s the last page of the book. He finishes the last few paragraphs and considers getting out of bed to grab one of the other books he’s already read, just to have something to do. He knows he should be sleeping, but he’s all alone in a strange motel and he’s too anxious to sleep.
9:40pm, the clock says. Dean will be back soon. He said he’d be back soon, and the arcade's not that far away. Dad won’t be back until morning, likely. He said he’d be back by morning.
But Sam can’t sleep, he just isn’t tired. So he hops off the bed, rummages around in his backpack until he finds ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,’ and crawls back onto the bed. Letting out a huff, he blows the loose strand of hair away from his face and settles back against the pillow.
Thirty pages in, there’s a loud snap from just outside the window. Sam whips his head to the left, staring through the gap in the ratty curtains. It’s quiet now except for the wind rustling through leaves and the creaking of branches. He glances through the sliver of open door out into the main room that holds the kitchen, living area and bathroom. This motel room is bigger than the others they’ve been too, meant for long-term stays, whatever that means. They’ve been here for four months, Sam knows, because he has a calendar he got at the last motel and he’s marked each day off with a little checkmark.
Sam goes back to reading and soon his eyes grow heavy and he drifts asleep. The wind wakes him, howling through the window that’s now wide open. Sam gulps in a breath of cold air just before a hand slams down over his mouth. There’s a man standing over his bed, and Sam can’t see more than a silhouette in the darkness. He tries to bite the hand covering his mouth, screams in fear, but the man’s other hand grabs him by the throat and squeezes.
The angel bursts into being in an audible rush of air and a flash of burning light. Sam's back arches and fills with pain as his wings shove their way out of him. The right one arcs around with force, slamming into the man, who lets go of Sam, stumbling back in surprise. But it's short-lived—mouth set in a grim line, he grabs for Sam again, but Sam sits up, just in time for his left wing to come up in a block. The wings look more solid now—The skin less transparent, the bones crisp-white against the dimness of the room. There's something sharp sliding out of the bowed bend of each wing—two long, thin, claw-shaped growths; Sam pushes himself to his knees, uses those claws to spear his assailant’s shoulders. The man struggles to get free as the wings themselves grow brighter. Sam can see glimpses of his attacker's face—distorted with pain, growing more gaunt by the moment, like the wings are sucking the life out of him.
“Sam?” his father shouts from the door. His heavy boots pound across the floor and suddenly he’s there, with a shotgun aimed at the attacker, who’s still pinned by Sam’s wings, gasping for air. The gun goes off and Sam falls back, slams his hands over his ears, clenches his eyes shut and doesn’t open them again until Dad has his arms around him, pulling him into a rib-crushing hug, saying, “It’s okay, you’re okay.”
Sam’s crying, though he tries not to, and he doesn’t know how long he’s there in Dad’s arms, but the front door creaks open and Dean calls out from the other room, voice high with fear, “Sammy?”
Dad gets up and Sam catches a glimpse of Dean who looks pale and frightened and asks, “Sammy, what happened?” just before Dad walks out the bedroom and slams the door shut behind them.
The tan carpet's streaked with blood, but the man—the one that tried to kill him, the one that Sam's wings did something to, the man Dad shot—is gone. Dad must have dragged him out before. Sam's eyes land on the door. His belly churns and aches as he listens to his father’s voice getting louder and Dean’s cries of “sorry!” There’s a loud smack and then silence. He hears Dean crying. And his father’s still yelling.
Sam knows he should stay in bed, but he can’t. Dean’s crying and he just can’t. So he goes to the door, opens it a crack and sees his father pull back his arm again, ready to hit Dean a second time. And Sam thinks, No. Those piercing ruptures tear across his back, same as before, with a burning pulse beneath his shoulder blades as the power breaks free. His wings beat forward, glowing with light—and discharge, throwing a stream of power out into the room.
Though he can’t see it, Sam can feel the force of it as it rushes forward, feels it grab hold of his father and yank him violently backwards, away from Dean. John crashes against the metal table, tripping over his legs, falling gracelessly on the floor. His rage turns to shock as his eyes land on Sam; he clambers to his feet and asks, “What the Hell was that?” He takes a step closer. “Sam, was that you?”
In a panic, Sam slams the door shut and hides under the bed. He tries not to focus on the pool of blood soaked into the carpet less than a foot away from him, or the way his wings feel like they're crumbling in on themselves, pieces breaking off as he makes himself smaller.
Outside he can hear Dean pleading with Dad. “I’m sorry,” he says again, loud enough for Sam to hear. "I won’t leave him alone again, ever! Dad—I'm sorry." He’s crying again, and then Dad’s crying too.
Sam brushes away his own tears and inches back, away from the blood, but his shirt snags on the underside of the mattress. No, not his shirt, Sam realizes as he reaches his hand back to pull it free. There's something sharp sticking out from his right shoulder blade—pointy and bone-like sticking through his shirt. He tugs at it, where the bone has pierced the mattress, pressing his body down as far as he can against the floor until his face is pressed against it, and the roughness chafes his cheek. The bone comes loose with a pop and the pain shoots down into him, through his muscles, burrowing into his skin and down into his ribs. He cries out in pain, and the angel, from right beside him, whispers, "Shhh..." and runs ghostly fingers over his back. Sam grabs for the pointy bone fragment again, but there's nothing there. His shirt is smooth, and so is the skin beneath.
The angel is still making soothing noises, its own unseen feathery wings fold around him, cooling him until his speeding pulse slows. The room itself feels cold now, ice-cold, and Sam thinks he should probably close the window. But before he can work up the nerve to get out from under his hiding spot, Dad comes back in, closes the window, and helps Sam out from under the bed. He tells him he can sleep on the couch with his brother. Sam nods, and practically runs out of the room. Dean's left cheek is bright pink, but Sam doesn't stare, he takes Dean's hand instead, and sidles up beside him, leaning gingerly against the back of the couch and only relaxing when there's no stab of pain, no resistance from any protrusion of bone. They sit side by side, quiet except for Sam sniffling away his runny nose. Dean brings the blanket up around the both of them, puts his arm around Sam's shoulders, and says, "Sorry, Sammy."
Sam nods, and squeezes Dean's hand more tightly. The angel's voice starts to sing to him, like it always does at night when he's alone, and Sam's just about to drift asleep when he hears Dean say, whisper-quiet, "Whatever you did, thank you." The angel stops singing for a heartbeat, and then starts again, a different melody this time, "Take a sad song and make it better..."
1989 - Blue Earth, Minnesota
Dad leaves Sam with Pastor Jim for a few days. Sam feels miserable at first because he misses Dean, worries about him, but Pastor Jim makes him the best dinner he's had in a long time—with fresh vegetables and bread from a bakery. He gets his own room with a bed that has soft clean sheets, a warm comforter, and pillows thick enough that his head sinks down into them. It’s only as he’s in bed, with his eyes closed, that he notices another absence. His angel isn’t just being quiet, it’s not there at all. Sam’s too tired to think about it for more than a few seconds before sleep pulls him under.
In the morning, Pastor Jim shows Sam the church's small library, which has some of the biggest books Sam has ever seen. One of them has lots of pictures, and Sam stops on a full page image of a powerful-looking angel holding a burning sword in the air. The caption reads, The archangel Michael, and Sam asks, "Why does he have a sword?"
"Angels are warriors of God," Pastor Jim says, "they carry out His word, but they also protect people. Keep them from harm."
"Then how come people get hurt?" Sam asks, thinking of Dean. "How come they die?" He thinks of Mom.
The pastor looks at him with a sad smile, considers, and says, "They cannot protect us from everything, but they protect us when they can."
"How many angels are there?"
"As many as there are stars in the sky." Pastor Jim turns the pages until he reaches an illustration of Heaven with angels filling up the whole page. There are scary ones with thousands of eyes and wings, ones made of rings of fire, and small ones that look like chubby babies.
Sam keeps turning the pages, studying the pictures and names of the angels, and there are so many—too many to memorize all their names. By the time he's reached the end of the book, he's sure that if he has one of his own, then everyone must have one. He thinks it’s a wonderful thing that everyone has one and hopes they protect them as well as his has protected him so far. And that they don't fail the way his mother's did.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees something move. The statue of an angel—Michael, again—Sam realizes when he sees the sword in his hand. As he studies it more closely, the statue turns its head until it’s looking right at Sam.
"Pastor!" Sam says, heart thudding in his chest.
"What's wrong?" Pastor Jim asks, getting up from his chair.
"The—the statue—" Sam says, but it's stopped moving, and he knows how grown-ups hate it when they think kids are making things up. So he swallows and asks, "That's Michael too, isn't it?"
"Yes. Our church's namesake. He's in nearly every room."
"Is he your guardian angel?"
The pastor chuckles. "Oh no. Archangels have far more important things to do than watch over the likes of me. But I do believe he protects this church."
From what? Sam wonders.
"Ready for lunch?" the pastor asks, and Sam nods, still looking at the statue nervously. There was something in that small, stone face that made him feel unwelcome, so he takes a wide turn around it as they leave the room. Sam wishes his angel was there, but it isn’t, so he imagines as hard as he can that he feels its feathers brushing against his hair, patting his shoulder in reassurance, until he feels safe again.
Sunday morning, Sam attends the service and watches Pastor Jim give his sermon. The sun shines in through the stained glass windows above him; there's three of them in shades of red and green and blue, with Michael in the center pane holding his fiery sword high above his head. Two other angels flank him on the left and right, one with a golden horn, the other holding a scroll. Sam watches them as he listens to the sermon, and they begin to move, ever so slightly: Michael shifting his grip on his sword, the others turning their heads away from Sam. But Sam doesn't say anything about it. He doesn't want to interrupt Pastor Jim, so he reaches out for his angel, but still finds nothing—no rustle of wings, no gleam of light half-seen out of the corner of his eye. He's alone.
Sam swallows back his fear, and decides to ignore the windows, focusing instead on the cross hanging from the ceiling. In the sunlight, the cross looks like it's gleaming, and Jesus doesn't move at all, no matter how long Sam stares at him. The church smells like old wood and safety, and Sam listens as Pastor Jim talks about the innocence of children and their inherent wisdom.
As the congregation files out, and Pastor Jim stands by the doors saying goodbye to them, Sam walks into the chancel, and peers up. He can't take his eyes off of the stained glass windows and the angels—the sun outside is brighter now and their colors are even more vibrant. They start to move again as he gets closer. Sam's toes bump against the altar and Michael raises his sword higher, his face contorting into an angry scowl.
"Sam?" Pastor Jim asks, putting his hand on Sam's shoulder.
Sam whips his head towards him and can tell by the stunned look on his face that he must have seen it too, the way the angels moved, getting ready to attack him.
"Why don’t they like me?" Sam asks.
Pastor Jim looks at him, speechless for a moment, but then swallows and says. "Angels love all of us, son. They love you too. Come on, let's go back to the rectory."
Later that night, just after dinner, Dad comes back with Dean. Sam throws his arms around his brother, and though he's glad to see him again, he wishes they could stay at the church with Pastor Jim instead. Dad still won't look him in the eyes.
Sam nearly asks the pastor if they could both stay with him instead of going with Dad, but then he thinks of the angels in the windows and knows he's not allowed to stay for long.
"Is there any food left?" Dean asks, glancing over at the table.
"Of course," Pastor Jim says. "Sam, show him to the kitchen would you? Help yourself, boys."
Sam shows Dean to the kitchen and Dean grabs himself a big plate of chicken and potatoes and string beans and starts eating on the way to the table. By the time they get there, Dad and Pastor Jim have moved to another room. Sam can hear them speaking in hushed tones and he swears he hears Pastor Jim say, "...can stay with me," and for a moment, Sam's heart swells with hope. The angels in the statues and windows might not want him there, but the pastor does, and that has to count for something. Maybe Dad can leave them both here, and Dean can get his own soft bed just like Sam’s.
But that's not what happens. They head back out together, and Sam slides into the back seat of the Impala, lays his head down on the familiar, ungiving leather and focuses inward, waiting for his angel to start singing. It doesn’t take long. Her voice is quiet, and when she sings, it sounds like an apology.
1991 - Broken Bow, Nebraska
Sam folds the newspaper closed, and seals it with piece of scotch tape.
"What's that?" Dean asks.
"Present for Dad."
"Where'd you get the money for it?"
"Uncle Bobby gave it to me." Sam's glad he did, too, because he didn't know what to get for Dad, didn't really feel like getting him anything, but knew he had to. Dean was easier, he always liked what Sam got him for Christmas, he even liked the picture Sam drew for him with crayons two years ago. He'd worked pretty hard on it. This year he’d secreted away two comics he knew Dean wanted, and wrapped them with a drawing of Dean wearing a cape.
"Dad's gonna be here, right?" Sam asks, wondering if this'll be the year where he doesn't make it back on Christmas Eve. He's been gone for days at a time this year, and it sucks for both of them. He can tell Dean hates being stuck as the baby-sitter, too. "It's Christmas."
"He knows, and he'll be here. Promise."
"Where is he, anyway?"
"What kind of work?"
"He finds stuff. You know that."
"What kind of stuff?"
"Sam!" Dean snaps.
"Nobody ever tells me anything."
"Then quit asking!" Dean grabs one of the hunting magazines from Dad's bed.
Sam rolls his eyes and goes back to looking through the small pile of comics he'd found in Dean's duffel. But he's read them all already. And he's still annoyed. "Why do we move around so much?"
"'Cause everywhere we go, they get sick of your face."
"I'm old enough now Dean, you can tell me the truth."
Dean glances at him over the edge of the magazine. "You don't wanna know the truth. Believe me."
"Is that why we never talk about Mom?" Sam asks.
"Shut up!" Dean shouts, tossing the magazine aside angrily. "Don't you ever talk about her!" He heads for the door.
"Wait! Where are you going?" Sam asks, panicked.
"Out!" Dean says, as he throws open the door, walks through and slams it shut behind him.
Sam stares at the door for another beat and then goes back to looking through the stack of comics. He picks an Uncanny X-Men and pointedly ignores the lump in his throat.
After reading through the comic, and spending more than a few minutes wondering if he's a mutant like Archangel or Jean Grey, Sam gets up looking for something else to do. With Dean gone it's even more boring, and he has no idea when he'll be back or if Dad will even be back before the morning. Dean might be sure, but Sam's learned not to take Dad at his word. Sam gets down on his hands and knees and pulls Dad's duffel bag out from under the bed. He knows it's off-limits, but he's already been through Dean's bag three times and there's nothing in there he's interested in—besides the family photo—the only photo he’s seen with all four of them: Dad, Dean and Mom holding Sam as a baby.
He pushes aside the clothing and zips open the large inner pocket of Dad’s bag. There are knives inside, four boxes of bullets, and a book. A journal, Sam realizes as he pulls it out. It's leather-bound and worn, and he recognizes it. He's seen Dad writing in it in the middle of the night—the last time was when he woke up from a nightmare of fire. He opens the book with trembling hands and starts reading. The angel tells him, “Don’t!” but it’s too late.
Dad's block writing is on every page, some of it slanted and hurried, some neat and easier to read; he's sketched things on some of the pages: ornate stars and symbols Sam's never seen before, a pen-drawn pair of eyes filled in with highlighter-yellow that stare back at Sam from the top of one page. Sam doesn't understand most of what he's reading. The book talks about demons and deals and werewolves and vampires. But Dad always rolled his eyes when Sam asked for a horror comic.
Sam turns the journal to the next page; his name is at the top, underlined, and what's written beneath gets his heart stuck in his throat. Sam reads it again because it can't have said what he thought it did. He must have misread it. He must have. A tear rolls down his cheek as he reads the page over and over again.
An hour later, Dean comes back with a bag of snacks.
Sam doesn't look up from the comic he's pretending to read. "Thought you went out."
"Yeah, to get us dinner." Dean tosses a bag of chips at Sam. "Don't forget your vegetables," he adds, throwing another bag—Funyuns. What a feast.
Dean shrugs off his jacket, sits on the other bed and opens a can of soda.
Sam waits for him to take a drink and says, "I know why you keep a gun under your pillow."
Dean checks under the pillow, looking panicked, but pulls his hand back when he finds the gun's still there. "No, you don't. Stay out of my stuff."
"And I know why we lay salt down everywhere we go."
"No, you don't. Shut up!" Dean says, getting angry.
Sam reaches under his pillow and pulls out the journal, then throws it at Dean.
"Where'd you get that?" Dean grabs the book and jumps off the bed. "This is Dad's! He's gonna kick your ass for reading it."
"Are monsters real?"
"What? Of course not."
"Am I a monster?"
"He thinks I am!" Sam yells, pointing at the book, getting angrier with himself because his hands won't stop shaking. "It says so, right there. Dad wrote it down: "Sam is demonic. Tainted.""
Dean swallows hard, sets the journal down on the bed. "It's not what you think."
"Then what is it?" Sam shouts.
Dean's mouth moves like he's going to say something and then he shakes his head sharply like he's clearing it. "How much of it did you read?"
"Enough," Sam says, and the fight drains out of him. He sinks to the floor, leans his head against the bed and pulls his knees in towards his chest. After a few moments, Dean sits down next to him. Sam won't look him in the eyes, he's too upset, and he's not going to cry in front of Dean, he's not.
"That book, it's just—it's Dad's way of dealing with stuff, okay? After Mom—" Dean cuts himself off and clears his throat. "Dad's trying his best, but he's—sometimes he goes a little crazy."
"What does Dad really do? Why does he leave us alone all the time?" Sam asks, and he can't keep the anger out of his voice when he adds, "Don't lie."
Dean looks at him for a beat, and says, "He finds people. Bad people. Some of them are trying to hurt us. He's got to do it to make sure we're safe."
Sam nods. "So...if monsters aren't real..." He rubs at his running nose. "Does that mean angels aren't either?"
"Angels?" Dean throws him a half-smile. "You spent too much time at Pastor Jim's. There’s no such thing."
"But I have one," Sam says quietly. "She talks to me."
"You—what do you mean?" Dean's gone pale, eyes wide and scared. "She talks to you?"
"Yeah, sometimes. And sometimes she sings."
"Like—in your head?"
Sam nods. "She watches out for me. You know, like a guardian angel."
Dean grabs Sam's knee . "Sammy, listen. Whatever you think you're hearing, it's not real. Just ignore it, and it'll go away, okay?" He sounds so scared, Sam can't even start to protest. "And whatever you do—don't tell Dad."
Eager to calm Dean down again, Sam nods. But after a few seconds, he has to ask, "Why not?"
"Trust me—he won't understand. He'll start writing in that damn book again." Dean shudders when he says it and looks up at the bed, at the journal, hanging off the edge. He pushes himself to his feet, snatches the book and walks over to where Dad's duffel bag is, stuffing the journal back into its pocket.
Sam can hear Dean muttering just under his breath, and though he strains to hear it he can't make out the words.
"I'm sorry," Sam says, when Dean sits back down on the bed.
"Don't—It's not your fault, okay? Just eat your dinner."
Sam climbs onto the bed and looks at the two bags of chips. He is hungry, but doesn't particularly want either. Too salty. He lays on his side instead, pretends to go asleep and eventually does.
A rustling sound wakes Sam from his sleep and he turns to see Dean futzing with a small plastic Christmas tree. He pretends to stay asleep, peering through half-closed eyes every few seconds to watch him. The clock says it’s 4:45 AM.
Dean goes to wake Sam a few minutes later. “Sam, look! Dad was here!” Dean says, pointing at the tree.
Sam smiles with what he hopes is a convincing amount of surprise and lets Dean pull him to the tree. There’s a gift box beneath it, and Dean says, “Open it.”
“How do you know it’s for me?” Sam asks.
“Dad told me.”
Sam tears at the wrapping paper. The box has fancy gold lettering on it. “Narcisse Noir?” he reads, as he opens the lid, brow furrowing in confusion and pulls out a small glass bottle with a golden stopper. “Perfume?”
“Maybe Dad thought you were an old lady.”
“Dad didn’t come back, did he?”
Dean lets out a huff. “He would’ve if he could’ve.”
“Where’d you get this?”
“One of the McMansions in the next town over. There were dozens of boxes. They’ll never miss it.” He plops down next to Sam on the couch. “Don’t worry. When Dad gets back, he’ll having something great for you, you’ll see.”
Sam nods, but he can’t keep a smile on his face this time, can’t pretend like he believes. Dean can keep defending Dad, but Sam’s got no reason to. Not anymore. So he makes a decision then, an easy one, walks back to his bed and reaches under his pillow, pulling out the other thing he'd secreted away there. "Here," he says, handing the newspaper-wrapped gift to Dean.
“That’s for Dad,” Dean says.
“He lied to me,” Sam says, “I want you to have it.”
Dean opens the newspaper and looks at the corded amulet.
“Thank you, Sam. I—I love it.” He slips the necklace over his head and gives Sam a hug.
The angel stirs near Sam, and unseen wings fold around the both of them.
We have each other, Sam thinks. And that’s all we need.
1998 - Fairfax, Indiana
Sam’s alone at the motel they’ve been staying at. He’s just about done with the last of his algebra homework. They've had to change school three times so far this academic year already, and it's only January. The record's four, and it seems guaranteed they're going to break that record this time around. He's only half-way through eighth grade, and has no delusions that they’ll still be here for ninth.
The door slams open and Dean walks in, followed by Dad. They're arguing. Dean's cheeks are flushed, and he throws his bag to the ground, rounding on Dad. "I told you I don't know."
"How can you not know?" Dad snaps back. "It's a simple question: Did they follow us, or not?"
"I didn't see anyone tailing us, you said you did. What else am I supposed to say?"
Dad sets down his bag, and goes to the window, shielding his eyes so he can see past the glare of the motel lights.
Sam closes his book and stands up. "Do we need to leave?"
Dean turns towards him. "Not yet, Sammy. Did you have dinner?"
Sam shakes his head. "Waiting for you."
"Give me a minute," Dean says apologetically.
"We don't have a minute," Dad snarls, stepping back from the window. He grabs a gun from his bag and throws Dean a nod.
“Down!” Dean shouts, grabbing Sam and dropping them both to the floor just as a shot rings out.
Sam’s frozen with terror, clutching at his brother’s shirt as he pulls them both under the bed, crawling with his elbows.
“Dad?” Dean calls out.
“Stay down, Dean!”
Sam forces his eyes open and watches from under the bed as his father’s boots get closer to the door.
“Winchester!” Somebody shouts from outside.
There’s the sound of Dad loading a clip into his gun and then his boots shift as he spins deftly on his heels and starts shooting through the window.
The people outside—however many there are—open fire and the sound is deafening. Glass breaks, the bullets tear through the cheap walls of the motel and whiz past the bed into the wall behind them. It’s loud and it’s not stopping and Sam is scared. The angel is there, feathers glimmering just out of sight, silent and steady, like it's waiting for something. Stop, stop it please, Sam thinks, pleading for the men outside to stop shooting, for his dad to stop shooting, for all of them to just— “Stop!” he yells. The angels wings close around him, holding him tight, holding him back, pushing down on his shoulders and holding them closed, but it's too late: the power builds inside of him, pulsing in his chest and his head, and it bursts out of Sam, out from under the bed, crashing through the door and into the cacophonous storm of bullets.
All at once, the noise stops.
It’s completely silent now. No gunfire, no shouting, just Dean breathing heavily against Sam’s ear. He lets go, tentatively at first, then extracts himself from Sam, though Sam pleads for him to stay. “I’ll be right back, Sammy, I promise,” Dean says.
Sam watches Dean’s boots as he walks to where Dad has fallen, slumped against the wall. For a moment, Sam wonders if Dad is dead, but then Dean mutters something under his breath and lets his head hang in relief. Dean goes to the door, and before Sam can even say, “Don’t—“ he’s opened it.
It's completely still outside, no gun-shots, no voices, nothing at all.
“Holy shit,” Dean says, voice quiet with shock, “Holy fucking shit.”
Sam strains to see but he can’t catch more than a glimpse between Dean’s legs—a sliver of parking lot and smoke. He wipes at his running nose and his finger comes away streaked with red.
Dean steps back into the motel room, the door swings shut, and then Dean’s pulling him out from under the bed.
“We have to go, Sammy,” Dean says, voice shaky. “Right now. Get your bag.”
Sam stares at him and wants to ask what happened, but the way Dean’s looking at him, he can’t find the words. So he does what Dean says and stays put while Dean drags Dad to the car, and Sam covers his eyes and lets Dean guide him out the door and across the parking lot. He coughs from the acrid air, but doesn’t look, he doesn’t open his eyes again until they’re out on the highway, away from the motel and the smell of burnt flesh and hair.
The angel doesn't come to comfort him. And the leather seats hurt when he leans against them, pushing against the knobbly, spindly growths sticking out of his back. He ignores it, sending up a silent prayer to God or any other angels that are listening that Dean and Dad won’t notice.
“He’s just a kid!” Dean shouts. They got Sam a separate room at this new motel so he could go right to sleep. But the walls are paper-thin, and sleep's impossible with them fighting as loudly as they are.
Sam knows they’re arguing about him, and part of him wants to go next door and tell them to stop—that whatever it is they’re fighting about he’s sorry. He didn’t mean to do it. What happened in Fairfax was like a reflex, he just wanted the noise to stop. He was scared and he just wanted it to stop. His angel told him not to, but he was too scared and the power just slipped out. That has to be what they’re upset about. His nose has stopped bleeding, but it feels stuffy, so he takes a tissue, blowing gently to get the last of the grossness out so he can breathe clearly again. His head still aches.
Dad and Dean are still arguing, more quietly now. Sam catches a few words here and there, straining to hear more, but too exhausted to get out of bed. He waits for the angel to come back, to wrap its wings around him and lull him to sleep, hopes to hear that gentle voice, but there's nothing, just Dad and Dean, still fighting. Sam concentrates, closing his eyes, remembers the feel of the feathers and how often the angel has been there right before that inexplicable force—that power inside of him, like what burst forth from him today. In response, like a muscle memory, the slits in his back open wider, muscles flexing independently beneath his skin. He sits up, and reaches for his back with his fingertips—there's something under there, bristles pushing against the underside of his scapulae. It itches, and pressure builds as they push their way through.
Soon something is wrapping around him—thin and spindly and real enough that he sees them and feels them as they brush against his skin. They're his wings, his feathers, and they're not made of fiery light like the angel's—they're real, and in the dim light of the room they look nearly black. Sam runs his fingers over the edges of the sparse feathers, and they come away slick with blood or something similar. The feathers feel more like skin than down. He should be frightened, but he's not. The wings make him feel safer, and he pulls them tighter around himself and can feel the cool air drying them until the feathers aren’t sticky anymore, they’re soft and clean, translucent smoky-grey like a storm-cloud. He wraps himself in them like a cocoon and lays carefully down on his side, blocking the voices from next door, blocking everything, and since the angel isn't there to sing to him, he hums to himself, quietly, until sleep pulls him under.
Early the next morning, Dean gets Sam out of bed and holds a finger to his lips, telling him to stay quiet. Dad’s asleep on the couch with an empty bottle of whiskey resting on his legs.
"Where are we going?" Sam whispers, as they head towards the car.
Dean opens the passenger side door, gesturing at the seat, much to Sam's surprise. He never gets to sit up front. His bag is on the back seat, which makes him feel even weirder.
"Breakfast," Dean says as he gets in the driver's seat. "You didn't have dinner, you get a really good breakfast."
"Pancakes?" Sam asks, stomach growling as it wakes up. He never gets to have pancakes.
"Totally. Sausage, bacon, eggs—whatever you want."
Sam can barely believe his luck. It's not until they're out on the highway that he remembers everything that happened last night. Everything he did. He sinks back into the seat, pushes back against the leather, pressing his shoulder-blades back experimentally, but there's no protrusions. His wings must've gone away overnight again. In the side mirror, he sees a red spot right by his hairline, and when he pushes against it, the skin feels puffy and hot. But when he flips down the blind and tries to get a closer look in that mirror, nothing’s there.
"Pancakes good, huh?" Dean asks, eyebrow cocked.
Sam's plate is nearly empty. He nods, smiling around the forkful in his mouth. But once he sets his fork down, he remembers what he's been wanting to tell Dean all morning. "I'm sorry," he says, forcing himself to look Dean in the eyes.
"For what?" Dean asks, chomping on his last piece of bacon.
"For last night—for what I did."
"What you did?" Dean sounds genuinely confused. "What are you talking about?" He lowers his voice. "Sammy, none of yesterday was your fault. Me and Dad—we were sloppy."
"No, I mean the—" Sam lowers his voice. "What happened to those people. I did that."
"What the Hell are you talking about?" Dean asks, voice low and tight. "Sam, you were under the bed while our room was getting shot to hell and that explosion went off. You didn't do anything."
"I did." Sam tries to keep his voice quiet, too. "I didn't mean to, but I just wanted it to stop. It was so loud, and I didn't want them to hurt us, so I made them stop."
"You boys need anything else?" The waitress asks, suddenly appearing beside them.
Dean says, "Just the check, darling," giving her a practiced grin. She scoffs and leaves.
"You made them stop?" Dean repeats, as his brow furrows. "Did your angel tell you that?"
"No, she—she didn't want me too. She was trying to stop me."
Dean swallows, face gone pale. "There's no such thing as angels. And none of what happened yesterday was your fault, you hear me?" His voice sounds shaky.
They both go quiet as the waitress drops off the check. "Thanks, boys."
"Thanks," Dean says, without sparing her a glance. He puts a twenty on the table and stands. "Come on, Sam."
Sam follows him out of the diner, wondering why Dean seems even angrier now.
"Where are we going?" Sam asks after five more minutes go by and he realizes they're not heading back the way they came.
"What about Dad?"
"Dad'll figure it out. Once he sleeps it off."
The pancakes sit like lead in Sam’s stomach. If Dean’s really going to bring him to Bobby’s, then he might not have another chance to finish the conversation. He takes a deep breath, blows it out slow through his mouth and says, “I’m sorry for being such a freak."
“Stop apologizing. It’s not your fault,” Dean says, voice flat.
That’s not what Sam was hoping to hear, but at least Dean doesn’t sound angry at him. "There’s no angels,“ Sam continues, trying to keep his voice steady. "And no monsters either right?"
“There’s plenty of monsters, Sammy, but they’re all human.” Dean’s still got his eyes on the road.
"If there's no monsters," Sam asks, blinking back angry tears, "...then what am I?"
Dean flicks a glance at him. “You’re my brother.” He looks back at the road, gripping the steering wheel tighter. "And you deserve better than this."
“There’s room for you both,” Bobby says, narrowing his eyes a little.
“Dad needs me,” Dean says simply. He gives Sam a hug, tousles his hair with a, “See you soon,” and leaves.
Sam swallows back the lump in his throat as Bobby plasters on a smile and says, “How about I make us some cocoa?”
Bobby’s a good teacher. Well, for some things. He gets Sam enrolled in yet another school, and tries to help Sam with the homework he’s stuck on. Chemistry's difficult for Sam to get a hang of, especially coming into it in the middle of the year. But Bobby's got a solid grasp of it and knows a great trick for memorizing the table of elements. He tries to help Sam with math, but half the time Sam ends up explaining it to Bobby instead. It helps though—takes his mind off worrying about Dean and Dad and gives them something to do during the day. The angel's there at night, when he misses Dean, but she's been quiet otherwise. And Sam hasn't had a single day where his wings have tried to come out.
“You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, son," Bobby tells him. "Should go to college.”
“Dean says college is for rich people.”
“State school then. Or heck, you could probably get a scholarship.”
Sam tries not to get his hopes up.
1998 (April)- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
It's unusually warm for April. At least that's what Bobby'd said earlier when Sam had come back from school.
Sam's stripped down to a t-shirt, studying for his chemistry test. He's got the periodic table memorized perfectly now, but goes over the mnemonic trick twice more just in case.
Rumsfeld, Bobby's dog, starts barking, as two—no three—jeeps pull into the salvage yard.
Bobby's already at the door, Colt in hand. He opens it, whistles for Rumsfeld as the jeeps come to a stop.
Sam closes his book and gets up on his tiptoes to look out the open kitchen window.
There’s four men outside, and Sam doesn’t recognize any of them, but he doesn’t have to. Two of them have guns pointed at Bobby.
“Give us the kid and nobody gets hurt,” the man to Bobby’s right says. He’s got a goatee and a big hunting knife strapped to his belt.
“I don’t have any kids, Carl,” Bobby says, “you know that.”
“Cut the crap, Singer. You’re hiding little Sammy Winchester in there. You’re gonna bring him out, or we’re gonna take him. Either way, we’re not leaving without him.”
“Still as stupid as you are ugly?” Bobby blusters.
Sam’s mouth has gone dry. They’re here for him. Maybe because of what he did at the motel— maybe they’re police or bounty hunters. Dean talked about them once, but made it sound like none of them knew what they were doing. Maybe Sam can get Bobby out of this one. He takes a hesitant step towards the door.
Carl fires off a shot at Bobby's leg and Bobby goes down, clutching at his calf. “Last chance, Singer,” Carl says, aiming the gun at Bobby's head.
“No!” Sam shouts, stepping out through the door. “I’m here, okay?”
“Sam!” Dad’s voice shouts from somewhere further back in the junkyard.
“Dad?” Sam asks, and his heart’s pounding even harder now.
Another of Carl’s men walks out from behind the rusted van, with a gun pointed at Dad’s head.
Carl laughs, cold and sharp. “Smart kid, John. You were right.”
Sam takes another step out into the yard and Bobby lets out a muttered curse. “I—what do you want from me?” Sam asks.
“Your daddy told us all about what you can do. Said that you’d help us out with a few things.”
“Like what?” Sam asks. He looks at Bobby, whose leg is dripping red onto the dusty ground. Bobby sees him looking and tries to give him an encouraging smile, even then. Sam's gut lurches. This is his fault. They came here, hurt Bobby, because of him. "What do you want me to do?"
“Don’t worry about it kid, we’ll tell you when you need to know.”
Sam looks at Dad, but Dad won’t meet his eyes, which makes the sinking feeling in Sam’s gut that much worse. Dad made a deal with them. And he wouldn’t, unless— “Where’s my brother?”
“I want to see him. Right now.”
“Sam, don’t—“ Dad starts, but the man guarding him knees him in the stomach, and Dad doubles over coughing.
“He’s not here,” Carl says, ignoring Dad.
Despite his thundering heart, Sam keeps his voice mostly steady. “I won’t help you unless Dean says it’s okay.”
Carl cocks an eyebrow, annoyed, and nods his chin at the man to his left, who heads for one of their jeeps. He ducks inside, and comes out a few minutes later with a bound and gagged Dean.
Sam wonders why Dean is gagged and Dad isn’t for just a moment before his thoughts melt into pure panic. “If I help you, will you let them both go?”
“Sure thing,” Carl says. “But first I’m gonna need some proof you can do what he says you can.”
“Whole thing seems pretty far-fetched if you ask me. And John, well—“ Carl spits in the direction of Dad’s shoes. “He’s not exactly playing with a full deck these days, you know?”
Dean struggles, drawing Sam’s attention for a moment. The man holding Dean gets thrown slightly off balance and stumbles, but catches himself, grabs Dean tighter and yanks on the bonds until Dean lets out a muffled growl through the gag. He slams his head back, there’s a loud cracking sound, and the guy holding Dean shouts a curse as blood pours from his nose.
“For fuck’s sake, Frank!” Carl says.
But Frank's already let go of Dean, who doesn’t waste a second. He kicks the side of Frank’s knee and Frank goes down, head slamming against the dirt with a fleshy thump. Two of Carl’s other men aim their guns at Dean, and John holds up his hands and shouts,“Wait! Stop!”
The angel’s got her hands on Sam’s shoulders, keeping him calm, or trying to. But Sam’s too full of terror to be calm. His heart’s pounding, fire's building in his chest, big as the sun, and he can’t take his eyes off of those guns pointed at Dean. He wants nothing more than for those men to drop them, he wants it so badly that his body and brain flood with heat, strong enough that his back starts to open, strong enough that the angel’s grip loosens.
His wings shove their way out, and a wave of energy rushes from him. It collides with a stack of old auto-carcasses and sets them rattling. The guns Carl's men are holding glow like red, heated ore. One man targeting Dean makes a pained stifled yelp and another drops his gun. The third pulls the trigger.
Time slows, and Sam sees the bullet fly towards Dean, straight for his head. “No!” He thinks desperately, and it veers off course, striking a car behind him. Another shot goes off and Dean jerks back, as blood wells up from his shoulder. The gag muffles his screams, but he’s in pain, he’s bleeding.
Sam watches the red soak into Dean’s shirt and dribble down his arm into the dusty ground, and that red spreads, snaking out like pulsing, living veins, threading into his vision until everything is stained with a blood-colored haze. He shoves the angel the rest of the way off of him as more pressure builds in his chest and then bursts outwards in a shockwave of force. The stacks of cars all around them shake violently, and some of the newer models’ fuel tanks burst into flame, including an old Honda truck right next to Dean’s shooter. The fire grows monstrous with the kerosene of Sam’s rage, and the Honda explodes, taking the shooter with it. Pieces of him fly across the yard, scattering grotesquely on the dusty ground.
Carl takes a few steps back, but the fire reaches for him, with long, thick tendrils and sets him aflame. Screaming, Carl tries to put out the flames, throwing himself on the ground and rolling, but it only grows stronger—his clothing burns away and his skin bubbles and blisters until he’s not screaming anymore. He stops struggling and falls still with his mouth open, teeth stark white against the smoke.
Dad takes advantage of the distraction, grabs one of the guns on the ground, climbs to his feet and shoots—one, two, three. The rest of Carl’s men go down, each with a neat hole between the eyes.
Only Sam, Dean, Dad and Bobby are left alive. And Dad's looking at Sam with wide eyes, but he doesn't look mad, not even a little. He looks awed. Impressed.
On the far side of the lot, the last pile of cars collapses, and the fire starts to die down, shrinking as Sam comes back to himself. He rushes to Dean's side, throws his arms around him, only afterwards remembering that he's bleeding.
"It’s okay, Sam," Dean says. "It's gonna be okay."
Dad drops to his knees besides the two of them. He tears a strip from his shirt, pushing it against Dean's wound. "Go check on Bobby, Sam," he says, but before Sam can get to his feet, he adds, "I'm proud of you, son."
Sam doesn't feel proud. He's too numb with shock to feel much of anything at all.
After Bobby and Dean are patched up, and Dad's finished “cleaning” the junkyard, they all find a place to lay down, close to collapsing. Dean crashes on the bed in Bobby’s upstairs guest bedroom. Sam should be exhausted too, but instead he’s full of restless energy; the adrenaline hasn’t faded, even a little. He keeps hearing Carl’s scream and his burned body.
His shirt snags when he pulls it up over his shoulders, but Sam yanks it off the rest of the way angrily, ignoring the pulling pain in his back. Clenching his eyes shut, he steels himself before he forces them open again and turns his back halfway to the mirror so he can see.
The bones are larger, stronger than last time. There’s nothing spindly about them anymore. The two curved claws at the crested bend of each wing are thicker, and needle sharp at their points. He concentrates and lifts the wings up, stretching them out gingerly, as wide as they’ll go in the tight confines of the little bathroom. They’re longer than his arms, and as he watches, feathers sprout from them, like time-lapse footage of a tree budding. The feathers shimmer oddly in the light and he can’t quite tell what color they are. So he reaches a hand back and yanks one out, wincing slightly at the prickle of pain. He holds the feather up, turns it slowly in front of the mirror, watching as it shifts from white to yellow to red to black and how its mirror image disappears from view at certain angles. He pinches it between his thumb and forefinger—it feels warm and pulses like a heartbeat, glistens like a carapace; He squints to examine it more closely: there are veins running through it and he can almost hear a sound trapped inside, like a distorted scream. It sounds like Carl.
There’s something sticking out from his hair too, and when he moves closer to the mirror and pushes his bangs out of the way he can see two sharp grey points sticking out of his skin, just by his hairline. Horns. He pushes his thumb against the right one, equally horrified and curious, and the horn pushes back, growing as he watches. “No,” he says. “Not this too.”
Voices from downstairs disrupt his thoughts and he turns to stare at the door. Dad’s shouting.
Desperate, Sam turns to the mirror and stares at his horns, at the wings sticking out of his back—nearly whole now, with only a few empty patches and glinting like daylight. Like fire. He has to open the door, but can’t, looking like this. That’ll just set off a whole different conversation he’s not ready to have. He closes his eyes, grinds his teeth, and with pure force of will, contracts the bones, folds them together, scaly feathers and all, shoves them back inside of him. He pushes his thumbs against the tips of the horns and forces those down too, ignoring the pain of them piercing his skin; he doesn’t care if they make him bleed as long as they go away. He’s not sure how he knows what to do, but when he opens his eyes again, the horns are gone, and his back is sealed shut, with little more than two long faint slits over his shoulder blades. His thumb-beds have two deep red marks in their center, but they fade as he watches.
He opens the door, careful not to makes a sound. Sam turns his head to the left and sees Dean’s foot dangling off the edge of the bed in the guest room. Good, he’s still upstairs, maybe even still asleep.
“—always put up with your crap, John,” Bobby’s saying, “— because of what you did for me, but I’m not gonna let you keep putting your boys in danger like this.”
Sam moves over the creaky floorboards as silently as he can, pausing at the top of the stairs.
“Putting them in—I’m protecting them!” Dad says, his voice climbing.
“Protecting them?” Bobby says, voice getting louder. “That’s what you call today?”
“No, today—today wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“It’s never supposed to happen, but it keeps happening, don’t it? How many times this year did you nearly get your sons killed?”
“Bobby—you saw what Sam did—what he can do—“ Dad doesn’t sound mad anymore, he sounds excited—happy. “It’s proof!”
“Proof? He’s not proof, he’s your son, damn it!” Bobby’s shouting too, now, and it sends Sam’s stomach into knots. He’s known Uncle Bobby his whole life, and he’s never heard him this mad.
“Bobby—he took them all out, and we’re fine.”
“I got shot! Dean got shot! Or do you not remember stitching us back together an hour ago?”
Dad’s voice has gone down, and Sam climbs a few steps lower so he can hear the rest.
“...all true. What happened today was a miracle.”
“Winchester, the only miracle that happened today is that I haven’t called the cops on you yet. And the day’s still young.” Bobby gets even quieter, adding. “Leave them here with me tonight or I swear you’ll lose them for good.”
Certain that he shouldn’t have overheard any of what was just said, Sam turns to head back up and nearly slams into Dean, who's standing at the top of the stairs, jaw agape. Sam takes the last few steps, and waits for Dean to move aside, which he does, turning to follow Sam back to the bedroom.
Sam can’t help but stare at the bandage on Dean’s shoulder. It doesn’t look too bad from the back, but when he lays back down on the bed, Sam can see its red-soaked center.
“Are you okay?” Sam asks, climbing in the other bed opposite him.
The door slams downstairs, and a few seconds late they hear the unmistakable sound of Dad’s car, leaving.
“I’m fine. Get some sleep, Sam,” Dean says, turning his back towards him. He doesn’t sound angry, just tired.
Sam turns off the light and climbs into bed. He keeps thinking of the fire, of that awful feeling after he let his power loose. The dread of what it would do was terrible, but the way it fed into itself and left him feeling afterwards is even worse. Because he should’ve been repulsed by what he did and he was, but he also stopped those men. They hurt Dean and Bobby and now they won’t hurt anyone ever again.
Sam’s frightened by the turmoil in his mind, too upset to think clearly, but when he reaches for the angel, there’s no answer. So instead he recites the periodic table of elements in his head until exhaustion pulls him under.
“Oh come on, not you too!” Dean shouts.
Sam wakes with a start. He’s alone in Uncle Bobby’s guest-room and the door’s open a crack. There’s voices downstairs—Dean, and Bobby. They’re quieter now, but only by a little. Dean still sounds upset.
Barefoot, Sam heads out of the bedroom and back to the top of the stairs.
“—and the gas line at the motel three months back,” Bobby’s saying. “I’m the last one to buy into your Dad’s crazy theories, but it’s more than just a coincidence, don’t you think?”
“What?” Dean snapped. “Us having shit luck and getting hunted by lunatics?”
“You know what I mean.” Bobby sighs, sounding exasperated. “Twice now you three have gotten out of a death trap. Twice now, everybody that attacked you died.”
“That’s what usually happens when people get shot in the head,” Dean says.
“I’m talking about the other ones. The way that fire burned. I mean come on, you know me—most of those tanks were bone dry. That much fire—it’s just not possible.”
“So since it’s not possible, you think it’s Sam?” Dean asks.
Sam’s mouth goes dry and when he swallows it feels tight.
“I don’t know what to think." Bobby sounds tired. "I’m just saying, maybe there really is something else going on here.”
“What’s going on is that crazy is contagious,” Dean’s voice is climbing again. “Trust me. Sam’s just a kid. A normal kid.”
“Would it matter if he wasn’t?” Bobby asks.
And Sam desperately needs to know the answer. He can’t help himself, runs down the stairs and stops on the last step, unable to cross the threshold, and repeats, "Would it matter?"
Dean and Bobby both turn to look at him.
Dean looks guilt-stricken and so tired. “You're my brother,” he says. Immediate relief floods Sam and he takes that last step down, heads towards Dean. “Not some kinda freak,” Dean adds.
Sam can feel his face start to crumple.
Regret fills Dean's face, and he opens his mouth, maybe to apologize.
“But I am a freak,” Sam says, head down.
“No, Sammy, you're not—“
“I am and I don't care! They shot Bobby and they shot you!” The last words come out as a sob and he hates himself for that. Hates crying and the way Dean always teases him when it happens. The tips of his ears flush with heat and he wants to disappear. He wants to sink down through the floorboards and hide in the basement and not come out ever again.
Dean steps closer, wraps his arms around Sam. “Everything’s gonna be okay. I swear.”
“No, it’s not,” Sam insists.
“Kid’s got that right,” Bobby says. He puts a hand on Sam’s shoulder and gives him a pitying smile. “It’s four thirty. Practically morning. How about some breakfast?”
“This is your life, Sam,” Bobby says gently. “You get a say in it, too.”
Sam stirs at the sugar-flavored milk left behind in his cereal bowl. Bobby’s explained the plan twice now, but Dean hasn’t said a word. Bobby wants them both to go stay with an old friend, who’ll watch them until Sam’s done school. She’s trustworthy and she can keep them safer than Bobby can. Or so he says.
“But you gotta know that you, both of you, have a real chance at a future—a good one. You don’t have to stay on the road with your old man forever.”
Sam looks to Dean, who’s got his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face. "I want to stay with Dean.”
Dean meets his eyes then. “Sammy, you gotta think about your own life, okay? Where do you want to go? What do you want to be?”
Sam swallows and admits. “I want to go to college. I like school.”
“Yeah, you do, you little weirdo,” Dean says, giving him a smile that turns to sorrow when it reaches his eyes.
“But, can I see Pastor Jim first?” Sam asks. “I really need to talk to him."
Dean looks to Bobby and they have a silent conversation. Bobby nods assuringly at Dean.
“Sure,” Dean says. “Let’s go see Jim. We can figure things out from there.”
But Sam can hear the unspoken words beneath that. Dean wants Sam to have a choice, but he’s going back to Dad either way. Sam knows it, with a certainty that weighs heavy in his chest, too heavy for him to call Dean out on it.
1998 - Blue Earth, Minnesota
Pastor Jim greets them with a smile that barely hides his concern. “You’re welcome to stay too, son,” he tells Dean, but Dean shakes his head. He takes a step in, makes an abortive move like he’s reaching for Sam but then changes his mind and holds his hand up in a forced casual wave instead. “Call me when you get there, okay?”
“Okay,” Sam says, and it’s all he can do to add, “bye, Dean,” while still keeping his voice steady.
“Let’s get you to your room,” Pastor Jim says.
“Actually, there’s something I need to do first,” Sam says, steeling himself. “Can we go to the church?”
“Of course,” Pastor Jim says. He takes the keys from the hook and Sam follows him out the door.
Sam avoids looking at the stained glass when he enters the church, doesn’t want to risk seeing the angels move and lose his nerve. He heads straight for the confessional, waits as Pastor Jim takes his seat in the section across from him and slides the window partition open.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been three years since my last confession.”
“What troubles you, my son?”
“There’s something wrong with me. I—I can do things—awful things, and yesterday there were these people—they hurt Dean and Bobby and Dad.” Sam cuts himself off, chewing on his lip. He knows he has to do this, but that doesn’t make it easier. What if Pastor Jim kicks him out? What if he turns him in to the police? What if he tells him he’s evil?
“Did you do something to these people?”
Sam nods. “I just wanted them to go away. I wanted them to stop following us, to stop hurting Dean.” As Sam says the words, and the memory of that moment bubbles up, he can feel the heat building in his chest. “I got angry,” Sam spits out, “really angry and it felt like there was this fire inside of me so I pushed it out—and then everything was burning, the cars, and—“ he hears Carl’s last scream again, hears the echo of the gunshots. “And now all of those people are dead. Because of me.”
Pastor Jim doesn’t answer. The moments drag on, and Sam starts to cry, resigns himself to his fate. Pastor Jim was one of the last people that believed in him, but how can he after this?
“You are forgiven,” Pastor Jim says, and then he opens the door to the confessional.
Sam freezes, taken aback. Pastor Jim was supposed to tell him how to atone first. But maybe he’s beyond redemption.
“Come on out, son.”
Swallowing back his fear, Sam exits the confessional, goes to stand in front of Pastor Jim and looks down at the floor, awaiting his fate.
Pastor Jim puts his hand on Sam’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault.”
Confused, Sam looks up at him.
The Pastor’s eyes are glassy and he sounds like he’s telling the truth. “Robert—your Uncle Bobby told me what really happened. Whatever your father might believe, whatever he’s convinced you of—it’s not true.”
Sam pulls out of his hold, shakes his head. “No it’s—Dad didn’t tell me what I did, I saw what I did—I made everything burn, and—“
“Sam,” the Pastor puts a firm hand on his shoulder. “That’s not possible.”
“Why don’t you believe me?” Sam asks. “That’s your job, isn’t it? To believe in miracles and—and in evil.”
“I have faith. In God. That’s not the same thing.”
“Then what is it?” He watches Pastor Jim’s Adam’s apple bob up and down. Adam’s apple; the Garden of Eden; the first sin committed by man, memorialized in anatomy. He wonders if they can ever learn to cough the sin back up. “What’s wrong?” Sam asks as it bobs again.
“Nothing, son.” Nothing you need to worry about, you have enough on your plate.”
“Please tell me,” Sam says. “It’s important, or you wouldn’t be trying to hide it so hard.”
Pastor Jim stutters out a surprised, nervous laugh. “You’re a very perceptive young man.”
“My mother died when I was a baby, people have been trying to kill me my whole life. My father thinks I’m a monster. There’s not a whole lot you can say that would upset me.”
This would, the pastor thinks.
Sam heard it, just like that. He focuses harder, pushing intentionally into his mind now, until his forehead aches, and the pastor notices, meets Sam’s gaze with another bobbing swallow. “Tell me,” Sam says again, no please this time. He pushes his wings out, unfurls them, waits for a reaction, but there isn’t one. The pastor doesn’t see them, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Sam lets them fill with light until it glints back at him from the pastor’s dilated pupils. Pastor Jim winces, and grits out, “Your father is delusional. There are no demons. The only evil in your life is the evil of men.”
"There's no demons?" Sam asks, and he can’t stop his voice from quavering. "Does that mean there's no angels? No God?"
Pastor Jim doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t have to—his eyes say it all: that rock-solid faith of his is nothing more than a paper-thin veneer and it flakes away as Sam watches, leaving him nothing more than a frightened and vulnerable, old human man. He isn’t holy after all. Nothing is. "I-I don't know," Jim says, voice cracking.
Sam crumples in on himself, a stab of pain shoots through his heart, spreading outwards into his wings until they start to crumble back into the nothingness from which they come. It’s not real, none of it is real, and if it isn’t real then—
Pastor Jim takes Sam's hands in his and looks him in the eyes. "Sam, you are special. You are unique. But you're not the Devil. You're not evil. Whatever is happening around you, it's not your fault, understand?" He pulls Sam carefully into a gentle hug, and his hands pause by his shoulder blades briefly. “Are you hurt?”
Sam pulls out of his hold, rolling his shoulders back. There’s a familiar tug on his shirt, a bone sticking out of his back. “I’m fine,” he says.
Pastor Jim squeezes the bridge of his nose, clenching his eyes shut, like he’s chasing away a headache.
Pushing down twin pulses of guilt and self-loathing at what he’s done to this man who’s shown him nothing but kindness, Sam is about to apologize, but there’s a knock at the door, and a man pokes his head inside. “Pastor?”
“Rufus,” Pastor Jim says, turning towards the door. “Thank you for coming. This is Sam. Sam, this is Rufus. He’s going to bring you to your new home.”
Rufus gives him a wave and a smile that makes his eyes crinkle. "Hey there, little man."
“Hi,” Sam says, and he doesn’t know whether to feel even more nervous or relieved.
“Take this,” Pastor Jim says, handing him the key to the church. “And know that you are always welcome here.”
Sam slips the cord over his head and the key hangs like a leaden weight from his neck. As he follows Rufus out the door, he pauses to look at the statue of Michael and the crack running down its chest.
It starts raining twenty minutes into their drive. Through the passenger side window, the lights from the highway refract in the raindrops and Sam lets his eyes unfocus until they look like stars. He holds his breath long enough to feel weightless and pretends he’s floating in space. He lets the breath out again, sinks back into the present and focuses on the metronome of the windshield wipers. He pointedly ignores looking at the side mirror, knows what he might see sticking out through his bangs. “You know my Dad, right?” Sam asks.
“Yup. Served with him, lifetimes ago.” Rufus shrugs his shoulder. “Well, not with him. Adjacent, you could say.” He glances over at Sam, looks back at the road. “He was a good man, your dad. Just got a little lost. More than a little.”
“Do you—“ Sam pauses, trying to phrase his question right. He’s been shot down too many times before. “Do you know what happened to my Mom?”
Rufus nods, mouth set in a grim, tight line.
“Will you tell me? Dean and Dad won’t tell me—Uncle Bobby won’t. All I know is that Dad thinks she died because of me—because I’m cursed.”
“Nah.” Rufus scoffs. “No such thing as curses.” He lets a breath out through his mouth. “You sure you want to know, kid?”
“Yes. I deserve to know.”
“Well, it’s not about what you deserve. Sometimes what really happened is way worse than the stories people make up.”
“Worse than me being cursed? Worse than me being the reason Mom died?” Sam nearly shouts. “Sorry.”
“Okay, you really want to know? Here’s what I know: your dad was a sharpshooter. Damn good one, too. After Vietnam, he left the service. Set himself up as a mechanic. Worked with Bobby for a bit, but it didn’t quite pay the bills, you know? So he starts getting other kinds of ‘job’ offers from guys that needed his other skills.”
“He was a hitman?”
“Something like that. He knows how to find people.”
“What does that have to do with Mom?”
“Not a damn thing. Your Mom died because some jackass decided to rob your place. Came in while everybody was sleeping. Except she woke up, went in to check on you, and the jackass panicked and shot her.”
“But there was a fire.”
“Yeah. Still not sure how that happened. The fire department found traces of turpentine in what was left of your nursery. They think John torched the place himself.”
“What? Why would he—“
“‘Cause he snapped. And he did snap. Whether or not he set the fire. Your house burns down and instead of trying to find a new home, he takes you two and goes off grid. Disappears completely. Two months later, the guy who shot your Mom turns up at the Lawrence police station with a bullet in his head and a confession in his hands.”
Sam’s jaw drops. He’s not sure whether to be upset or not. Dad killed somebody. Probably a lot of somebodies. But if he killed the guy that shot mom— the angel squeezes his shoulder and he feels a sobering wave of sorrow. “But then why did he think—“
“That you were cursed?” Rufus huffs. “That thief was part of this doomsday cult. Think preppers—you know those people that build bunkers ‘just in case,’ only fifty times as crazy. So they start coming after John, and after you kids.” Rufus growls out the last few words, anger threading through them. “And John—he was looking for explanations where there weren't any. A greater reason to explain the tragedy, I guess—something he was powerless against, and—I don’t know...maybe they were just the right kind of crazy, or maybe he was just that damaged from all the shit he’d been through, but he starts buying into their bull. Thinks the world really is gonna end. Gets it in his head that Mary dying, the fire, and you surviving—that all of it was a sign.”
“Hell if I know.” Rufus shakes his head. “I don’t want to know. What I do know is that he ain’t fit to raise kids.”
“Yeah. Can’t talk him out of it. We’ve tried.” Rufus cracks a wry smile. “Bobby’s been trying for years now. But Dean won’t budge.”
Sam swallows, thinks on everything he’s learned. It’s a lot to take in. “You’re not gonna tell Dad where you’re taking me?”
“What about Dean?”
“You want them to know, you tell them yourself. Bobby asked me to help get you out of a bad situation, so that’s what I’m doing.”
“Bad situation,” Sam repeats. It’s not untrue, but after what he did to the pastor, he wonders if the bad situation won’t just follow him around—wonders if these strangers that have decided to take him in will end up being in danger because of him. “You know the people you’re bringing me to?”
Rufus smiles. “The Harvelles? Yeah, Ellen’s good people. And her daughter Jo’s a little spitfire. You’re gonna love it there.” He tosses him a smile. “Nebraska’s nice this time of year.”
1998 - Harvelle's Roadhouse, Nebraska
Ellen is kind and Jo’s even kinder, and they both give Sam all the space he needs, which is a lot, most of the time. Though it’s getting to be less and less every day. Six months with the Harvelles has made Sam feel like a whole new person. He goes to school every day, helps make dinner most nights, and even helps out at the Roadhouse when it gets crowded or Ellen has to go run an errand. Jo helps too sometimes, though more often than not, she ends up spending most of the night playing the arcade hunting game in the corner. Nobody has ever beaten her high score.
Sam calls Dean once a week, and he always calls back. Sometimes it takes an hour or two, but he hasn’t let him down yet. Sam tells him about school, and Dean tells him stories about his day that—more often than not—are a complete lie. But they’re nice lies: about girls he took out on dates, or how he won the lottery and bought a houseboat. He gets Sam to crack a smile nearly every time.
For the most part, Sam keeps himself in check, wings hidden, no explosions, no fire, but also no sign of the angel. She’s been silent since he got here, even though he still feels like she’s there watching him. It’s a weird feeling, but the rest of his life is good enough now that he learns to ignore it.
There are a few bad nights though, with nightmares that have him waking slick with cold sweat, wings unfolding like a reflex. He’s loud enough one night to wake Jo up, but by the time she’s made it to his door, he’s got them tucked away again, and there’s no trace beyond the stray glowing feather on his shoulder. If she notices, she doesn’t say anything about it.
Sam makes it through the rest of the school year with solid grades. The next year’s better, and the one after that is his best yet. He goes into honor’s track in English, History and Math. And when they start filling out college applications, Ellen encourages him to apply for a scholarship.
“What major are you thinking of?” Jo asks, as she looks through the pile of Sam’s college applications.
“Not sure yet. I’m kind of thinking of pre-law.”
“Law school?” Jo’s nose wrinkles.
“Yeah. What’s wrong with law?”
“Nothing. If you want to be a lawyer.” She cracks a smile. “Actually, I think you’d be great at it. You’re a natural.”
“Why’d you say that?”
“You talked my mom into grinding her own coffee beans.”
“No, seriously,” she continues, “Better people than you have tried, and failed.”
“I mean, really it’s gonna be whatever school and whatever major gives the most financial aid. Don’t have much of a choice.”
“Well, I hope you get into pre-law.” Jo gets up with a yawn. “Now if you’ll excuse me, as exciting as this is, I need to get to bed.”
The Roadhouse doesn’t see a lot of business in the colder months. There’s regulars that come by nearly every night, regardless of what time of year it is, but the folks who stop in for a late lunch or an early dinner on their way up route 81 dwindle as the year drags on. School’s out for winter break, and Ellen’s been having Sam help out, getting the kitchen and the bar ready for the holidays.
He’s spent the whole morning scrubbing the grooves of the bar, trying to get it extra-clean, and he’s just poured himself a glass of water when the door opens and a woman comes in bringing a gust of cold air with her. She scans the rooms and when her eyes land on Sam, she smiles warmly. “You open for lunch?”
“Yeah,” Sam says, grabbing a menu and a napkin of silverware. He sets them on the table. “Get you something to drink?”
“How’s the coffee?”
“Strong.” Sam says, which is the only honest answer he can give. Ellen likes it brewed her way, but at least the beans are freshly ground now.
“Lots of cream then, and sugar.” She glances at the closed menu and back up at Sam. “And I’ll have the special.”
“Oh we don’t really—“
“I know you don't have a special, I’m just messing with you, Sam.” She winks at him, her kind smile dampening the unease Sam thinks he should be feeling.
"How'd you know my name?"
She holds her hand out to shake his. "Missouri Moseley, I'm a psychic."
"Then...why'd you come here?" Sam can't help but ask. "The food's..."
Missouri laughs. "The food's gonna be fine. I just want something warm. Got a long drive left to my sister's place."
"The chili's actually really good," Sam says.
"And you've got some cooking in the back."
"Wow you really are good!"
She scoffs. "I can smell it from here."
"I'll go get you some."
"Don't forget my coffee."
Sam ladles a bowl of chili and brews a fresh pot of coffee. He brings out the cream and sugar, runs back to the kitchen and grabs the mug of coffee, sliding the pot in to collect the rest.
After he sets the mug and the bowl of chili down, Missouri gestures to the chair across from her. "I came here for the conversation, not the food."
"With me?" Sam asks.
She nods. "Sam. I'm from Lawrence. You don’t remember me, of course, you were just a baby last time I saw you. But I know all about what happened to your Dad, and your Mom.” Missouri pauses for a second. “She loves you boys so much. Like a force of nature.”
Sam looks at his hands, not sure what to say to that.
“I was worried about you two boys."
"Dean's with Dad."
"Yeah. But you got away." She dips her spoon in the chili and blows over it to cool it down. "Don't you dare feel guilty about that, now."
"I can't help it." Sam shrugs. "I feel like it's all my fault."
"Of course you do." Missouri says. "Because you have a gift. A powerful one."
Sam raises an eyebrow. "How'd you know about that?"
"Psychic." She takes another bite of chili, watching him. "I sensed some of what you did, two years back. That kind of thing doesn't happen often." She cocks her head to the side.
Sam nods, but his chest clenches with shame. "I've done awful things."
"You defended yourself, and your family. You're a scared kid with a power you don't know how to control."
"Can you help me control it?" Sam asks, quickly growing excited as the idea takes hold.
"Well, of course not," she sits back with a sigh and takes her mug in her hands. "I wouldn't even know where to start."
Sam's hope shrivels just as quickly. "I haven't done anything in years—since I've been here."
"You haven't had a need to. But Sam, you need to understand something. People are afraid of what they don't understand. Sometimes irrationally so. And what you can do..." she frowns, shakes her head, like she's clearing it. "People are going to want to use it. They'll come after you."
Sam swallows. "Then I'll stay hidden."
"Can't hide forever," Missouri smiles at him, sadly. "Just—be careful, that's all. And remember, it's what you do with your gifts that matters." She finishes her coffee and sets down her empty mug. "Check please."
"You don't already know how much the check is going to be?"
"Don’t be a smartass. What I do know is that I already gave you an invaluable tip."
"You did," he says, chuckling despite himself as he stands and starts clearing the table. "Be right back." He stacks everything on a tray, carries it to the kitchen and goes to grab his receipt pad and pen. But by the time he gets back out, Missouri is gone. All that's left behind on the table is a twenty dollar bill and her business card. On the back is one handwritten word: "Congratulations!"
Sam tucks the card in his pocket, just as the door flies open and Jo comes in holding an envelope. “Mail came!” she says, handing Sam a big envelope with his name on it. The return address says Stanford University Admissions.
“A full ride? No kidding,” Dean says.
“Yeah isn’t it awesome?” Sam is excited. He’s been looking through the course catalog every afternoon, planning what classes he wants to take, and in what order.
“Yeah, awesome.” Dean clears his throat. “You’re gonna do great, Sammy.”
There’s a pause then, and Sam’s learned it can only mean one of two things, he’s pretty sure he knows which of the two it is this time. “You can tell Dad.”
“Yeah, okay.” Dean sniffs. “I’m proud of you. We’re proud of you.”
Sam swallows and smiles at the phone, then remembers Dean can’t see him. “Thanks, I—I miss you.”
“Miss you too.”
That night, Sam dreams of flying and his wings are solid and real, and there’s no fire inside of him, only light.
2001 - Interstate 29
Ellen gives Sam a car, with her blessings. It’s held together with duct tape and sheer force of will, but it’s the first car Sam’s ever owned, and it’ll get him to California. But he’s been on the road for twelve hours and can’t keep his eyes open any longer.
He pulls into the parking lot of the first motel he sees, gets a room—two beds, standard. He only needs one, and it strikes him in that moment that he’s alone again. It’s not a bad feeling, though he misses Dean terribly. It’s a quiet sort of freedom.
Sam drops his bags on the bed nearest the door, strips out of his pants and shirt, brushes his teeth and settles in on the bed. His phone buzzes. There's a voicemail from Dean.
"Hey, Sammy, listen uh—Dad and I —"static cuts off his words throughout, “— off grid for a few days, and I just wanted to tell you...how proud I am of you. I’ll call you as soon as I can—have to—you safe—We’ll be fine. So don’t—” Static cuts him short again and when it fades and the sound kicks back in, Dean's voice is drowned out by something loud and deep. A sound Sam can’t quite place, but he’s heard it before. He knows he has.
The call ends and Sam stares at the phone for a full minute afterwards, trying to quell his panic. He tells himself Dean’s okay. They probably just had a crappy signal. Dad and Dean have always made it through.
"They wouldn’t have every time—" the angel whispers in his ear. "Without you."
Sam swallows down the bile creeping up his throat, and pulls the bedsheet up as he settles back against the pillow. Heart still racing, he shuts his eyes. He doesn’t know where Dean is. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t help him. Off grid means no communications. Dean will be switching to another burner phone now. Sam’s got five of his numbers, but this one won’t work anymore after tonight.
That noise at the end of the call keeps bubbling up in Sam's mind—a long-drawn out horn, like a groan. It’s a foghorn, that much he’s certain of, that particular sound, though, isn’t a common one. But he’s sure he’s heard it before. He meditates on it, pulling it closer like he’s examining it from all angles, until he hears it on an endless loop.
Sleep grabs hold of him and yanks him under, closer to that sound. He’s standing on a cliff, looking out at water—at a lake. Lake Superior. And then it clicks: it’s not a boat horn on the voicemail, it’s the lighthouse. Split Rock—Sam remembers going there on a field trip ages ago.
He hears Dean shouting and whips around. Dean is behind him, real as life, Dad stands beside him, and both of them have their guns drawn. There’s an honest-to-god tank across from them with the muzzle of its gun lowered to the ground.
A man comes out of the tank, jumps down to the ground and walks towards the both of them with his hands lifted in a truce.
Sam wakes to fire—his angel has him by the shoulders. She’s made wholly of flame and shouts, ”Help them!” He can almost see her face, and is struck by the familiarity of it, but only for a moment, before she changes her grip on him and forces his shoulders open. His skin splits wide and she pulls his wings out by force. But even then, she doesn’t let go—she grabs the ridges, and fire pours out of her and into him.
The heat pulses into the wings and Sam bites back a scream as they expand and grow wider. His neck, back and shoulder muscles tear as they struggle to accommodate the new weight. Tears stream from his eyes and the world around him starts to tunnel. His angel is nothing more than a featureless, colorless grey. The room itself is lost to the dark and the bed crumbles away from beneath him and he falls.
Then there’s wind, all around, the smell of water and smoke. Dean shouts “Dad!” just before Sam slams into the ground, landing hard on his shoulder. The wings didn't cushion his fall at all, they've vanished again, back to whatever pocket dimension they come from. But his back still feels torn open, it hurts deep enough that he sees stars when he pushes himself to standing.
It takes a second for the world to come back into focus. He’s outside, on sloping rocky ground. He can smell the lake nearby. But he can’t see much of anything. A heavy fog covers the cliff, blanketing everything around in a grey haze too thick to see through.
But Dean and Dad are close. Sam staggers forward towards where Dean’s voice came from, until he starts to see shapes—yards away and cloaked in fog but definitely there. He needs to see more, understand where they are, where the threat is, so he focuses, doesn’t even try to reach for his wings, but instead for the core of his power, that spot where that terrible heat is building again. He pulls it up into his mind, keeps his eyes open and stares at the fog, willing the heat inside him to burn brightly enough to let him see. Until he can.
Dean’s running towards Dad but he skitters to a halt when he sees Sam, mouth dropping in shock. “Sammy?”
“What’s going on?”
Dean cards his fingers through his hair. Chews on his lip. “These a-holes want to kill you.”
“What?” Sam’s heart lurches in his chest. It’s terrible enough that Dean and Dad are even in this mess, but Sam being the cause is more than he can bear.
“They were coming for you, so we—“
“Sam?” Dad says, heading towards them. He looks stricken. “No—no you can’t be here.”
“Good thinking, Winchester,” the man next to the tank says. “Turn the abomination over to us. We’ll take care of him.”
Dad turns to face him. “You’re not gonna lay a finger on him, Gordon.”
“True,” Gordon says, grinning, showing teeth. “I got something better. He lifts his hand, and the tank raises its gun, aiming it at Sam.
“No!” Dean shouts, shoving Sam out of the way.
Sam stumbles, but catches himself. “It’s okay Dean.” He raises both of his hands and walks towards the tank, towards Gordon. “It’s me you want, right? Let them go, and you can have me.”
Gordon cocks his head. “Why would I believe a single word you say, Serpent?”
“Because you know what I can do,” Sam says. He’s stalling, hoping Dean and Dad come up with a way out of this. The core of fire inside of him is churning, building in size, but he leaves it be, clinging to the hope that they can avoid bloodshed. He was heading for law school after all, maybe he can talk them down. “You really think you can kill me?” he says, hoping he sounds convincingly unthreatened.
“Yes,” Gordon says. “I really do.”
“Sam! What the hell are you doing, man?” Dean hisses.
Sam ignores Dean, keeping his eyes on Gordon. “And then what?”
“Then we stop the Apocalypse,” Gordon says, with such conviction it sends a chill down Sam’s spine.
But Sam’s read the Bible through a few times. Maybe he just has to use their vocabulary. “No weapon used against me shall prosper.”
That gets Gordon’s attention. “That a challenge?”
Sam smiles, as he feels the core of fire in him push against his insides. He lets his wings push through, opens them wide and wills Gordon to see.
Gordon’s brow furrows for just a moment before his eyes glaze over. “There he is, in all his ugliness.”
”Hate to break it to you, Gordon,” Dean says, feigning a mocking tone. It would be more convincing if his voice wasn’t so quavering. “But you’re not any prettier.”
Sam glances over at Dean, pleads with him silently. Get out of here. Take Dad and go! But Dean doesn’t budge. And Sam realizes, with gut-wrenching certainty, the flaw in his plan.
“Tonight, we rid the world of evil. And if we die, so be it,” Gordon says, bringing his hands together in prayer. It’s a signal.
The tank cannon shifts, and Dad shouts a warning, throwing something—a grenade. Before Sam can fully process what’s happened, Dean is knocking him to the ground, rolling them both out of the way. The grenade goes off, and the tank shudders where it stands, but fires, the shot going wide.
“Stay down!” Dad shouts as he throws another. The tank rocks back, and its cannon is off center, aimed far to the right of them. Dad wasn’t planning on destroying it, just wanted to slow it down, long enough for them to get away.
Dean drags Sam up by the arm, and starts pulling them downhill, after Dad. Sam coughs into the smoke, forcing his tearing eyes open just in time to see another tank rolling up the hill towards them through the fog. It aims its cannon.
Sam’s moving before he has time to shout out a warning, but he's not fast enough. The shot goes off and strikes the rocky ground inches away from Dad’s feet. The force of the blast knocks Dad and Dean into the air, sailing in opposite directions. Sam grabs his brother in mid-air, forcing his wings down and around Dean. Another shot goes off and the shockwave sends them slamming down at the edge of the cliff.
There's a shout, and another much louder blast, then absolute silence.
Too full of adrenaline to lose consciousness, Sam pushes himself up to sitting, still holding Dean tight with his arms and scans their surroundings. But the sky has grown shrouded with mist again.
With effort, he concentrates, piercing the fog until he can see the extent of the damage. The first thing he sees on the grassy slope before him is a severed arm, fingers splayed and bloody. He recognizes the wristwatch. It's Dad’s arm—his shredded torso is a meter away, and his face is turned to Sam, eyes frozen open and empty.
“Oh, God, Dad,” Sam says, clutching at Dean— Dean. Sam looks down at his brother, releases his grip on him, rolls him gently onto the ground.
Sam’s heart sinks as he looks down at Dean, takes in the damage. He’d tried to shield him, but he wasn't fast enough—Dean got hit with shrapnel, there's bits of metal sticking out of his leg and the side of his body—his face is bruised and there's blood trickling from his mouth. "Dean!" Sam says in a panic, as he brings his hand down to his chest trying to find a heartbeat. But he’s trembling himself, and there’s too much blood, and—
“You shall know my wrath, for my wrath is the wrath of Heaven!” Gordon shouts from behind Sam, and he turns to see Gordon holding a rocket launcher, aimed right at his head.
That stifling fear fades from Sam, melts like a sugar cube in boiling water, burned off by pure incandescent rage.
The building pressure in his chest explodes outwards in a shockwave of force. It dissolves everything it touches, flaying Gordon of skin, muscle and fat; with nothing left to hold him together he falls apart, clattering into a haphazard pile of bone. The blast collides with the tanks and they shudder and heave as they lose cohesion, and fall apart in molten chunks.
There’s nothing left but Sam and Dean. The grass around them is scorched and all that’s left of their pursuers and their war-machines are smoldering puddles of metal, bone and oil.
In his arms, Dean takes in a gasping breath of air, and Sam’s mind stutters back into focus
“Dad?” Dean croaks, and his voice is in tatters.
“Dean?” Sam looks down at him, overwhelmed by relief that he’s alive. His breath is ragged and his heart is beating, but it's too damn slow.
Dean’s eyes focus on Sam for a beat and then flutter closed. Fresh blood dribbles out of his mouth and Sam’s heart starts to race once more.
Sam concentrates, trying to push his wings back into being, sending out a silent, desperate prayer to his angel to help him like she did before—to get them out of there and to a hospital.
But she's not here. And whatever power Sam might have had is gone. He's depleted—can't even get his wings to come out, not matter how hard he tries—and he tries until his back is nothing but a latticework of agony, until he nearly blacks out from the effort.
There's nobody to help them, and he's out of tricks. But far down, at the very bottom of the sloping hill, he can just make out the road, and three abandoned cars. As carefully as he can manage, he climbs to his feet, and carries Dean down.
Dean has never looked as small as he does in the hospital bed; the monitors, racks of fluids and tubes and the antiseptic room itself have diminutized him. There's a tube shoved down his throat, a stent in his hand, and Sam feels so goddamn powerless it's stifling.
A nurse raps her knuckles on the door behind him, pulling him out of his reverie. "Mr. Winchester, would you like to rest in the waiting area?"
Sam shakes his head.
"I'll bring you a chair," she says, with a gentle smile.
Sam sits vigil at Dean’s bedside for hours, watching the ventilator inflate and deflate. He tries in vain to call on his power, but comes up empty. Whether or not it would help Dean anyway is beyond him. He clasps his hands together and prays again and again, calling for his angel, for any angel, for God. But nobody answers. It feels like nobody is even listening.
It's only when he drifts asleep that he senses his angel nearby. She's barely there—a whisper and a trace of a touch so light it could've been the wind. But Sam latches onto it with quickly-rising fury, grabs her ephemeral form by the wrists and shouts. "He's dying! Help him!"
The angel dissipates in his grip and he's left clutching uselessly at the air.
A night-nurse pops her head in and scolds, "We're doing our best, sir. If you can't stay quiet, please go take a walk."
Sam brings his hands down, fists still clenched, and storms out. It's not her fault, it's not anyone's fault. They are trying their best. But it isn't enough, and it can't end like this. It just can't. He walks out of the hospital, heads for the "borrowed" car he brought Dean here in and drives.
2001 - Blue Earth, Minnesota
When Sam gets to the church, it's empty. He remembers that Pastor Jim sleeps lightly—he accidentally woke him trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night when he stayed here years ago. He doesn't lighten his footsteps when he walks by the rectory, moves with purpose towards the doors of the church. He’s kept the key all these years, figuring he might need it someday, and that day has finally come. He goes inside, turns on the lights and heads for the confessional, ignoring the angels in the windows and the way Michael’s statue raises his sword as Sam walks past.
He waits for less than five minutes before the door opens again. Pastor Jim shuffles across the floor and heads for the confessional himself. Sam waits for him to close the door and open the panel between them. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been three years since my last confession.”
There's a pause, and a slow, smiling exhale. “It’s good to hear your voice, my son.”
"What troubles you?" He says, then thinks, but doesn't ask aloud, Do you believe you hurt someone again?
"I tried to save someone.” Sam cracks his knuckles, listening to the soft popping of the joints. "Dad's dead—“ he pauses as the weight of those words hit home. “—but I got Dean out. Only he's hurt. I don't think he's gonna make it."
"I'm—I'm so sorry to hear that. Is he in the hospital?"
"Yes. They're keeping him alive. But he's not getting better. I need him to be better."
"Of course you do. We'll pray for his recovery."
"No—" Sam clenches his fists again. "That's not enough." He has to fight to push his anger down. He's sick of having miracles come when he doesn't want them and hide when they're desperately needed. If there is a God then he's petty and cruel and if he lets Dean die then he can go to Hell as far as Sam's concerned. Pressure builds along with the anger inside of him, that core of heat growing in his gut, energy gathering in his back until the skin starts to split open with an audible tear. He breathes in and out, flexing the bones and pushes his wings out as slowly as he can. They're cramped inside the little confessional box, and they're so much larger than the last time he sat in here. The tops of them brush against the ceiling, the curving claws scraping into the aging wood. The right wing nudges at the door, nearly opening it. The feathers are a muted grey, but yellow-orange light is bleeding into them, he can feel it starting to spill out of him, soaking them with light. His anger's still growing, like the wings have given him space to hold more of it. It’s a slow but steady-boiling rage that's building, and seeking a target.
Pastor Jim is staring at him, furrowed brow, eyes in a squint. "Are you all right, my son?"
"No. I'm not." Sam breathes in and out through his nose. "There's something inside of me that I don't understand and can barely control, and there's somebody that's been watching me my entire life—I used to think she was an angel. But she can't be. Not if she won't lift a finger to help Dean."
Sam nods. "Sometimes she helps me, sometimes she keeps me from using this—this power that I have. She's stopped me before. But I don’t think she can anymore." He rolls his shoulders, and his feathers fill with more light, the tips aflame. "I think...I think I'm stronger than she is now."
"No man is stronger than an angel," Pastor Jim says. There's a bead of sweat rolling down his brow. He wipes a hand across his lip.
The wings are glowing brighter and Sam can feel the heat inside of him grow to match, pushing against the inside of his eyes. "If I wanted to. If I really wanted to, I think I could be." The heat is unbearable now, pressure in need of release, and when he exhales, his breath comes out in plumes of smoke.
The pastor jerks away, and covers his cheek with his hand.
With a cold shock of guilt, Sam realizes what's happened and leaves the confessional in such a rush that he forgets to shove his wings back inside.
Pastor Jim stumbles out of the box after him and his cheek is blistered, sunburned in the crosshatched pattern of the confessional panel. He turns to look at Sam and freezes, eyes wide with shock. His legs give out and he collapses, falling to his knees. “Your—your wings. I don’t understand.”
“That makes two of us,” Sam says bitterly. He can feel the skin by his temples rupture as the horns begin to force their way out.
“Are you a messenger?” he asks.
“Of God? No.” Sam takes a step towards Jim and the statue of Michael by the door quivers and falls, shattering on the tiles, reduced to nothing more than chunks of plaster. Another step and the stained glass above the chancel breaks, raining down in glittering multi-colored shards. Sam looks at the damage, and then turns back to the pastor. “You’re not the one I’m angry with. None of this is your fault.”
Jim nods, with relief and more than a little gratitude, and keels over on his side, sound asleep.
But the church continues to shake. Sam feels the force of it—palpable in the air all around him. He waits for it to fell him, to take him on directly. But it doesn’t. It moves, circling from one side of the church to the next until he understands that it’s outside, and trying to get in. It settles in front again, and as he walks towards them, the doors to the church blow wide open. Sam’s angel is outside, glorious and blinding against the night behind her.
Sam watches her, waits for her to come inside. To punish him for what he’s done, to finish what the church itself started. But Dean is dying, and Sam will find a way to heal him—he doesn’t much care who or what grows to hate him in the process.
The angel stays where she is, watching him.
“You can’t come inside, can you?” Sam asks.
She doesn’t react, but her light ripples, the doorway itself ripples. And finally the gears in Sam’s head click into place. The angel was never with him in this church. Not once, in all his life, in all the times he’s been here. “What kind of an angel can’t set foot inside a church?” he wonders out loud.
But of course she doesn’t answer. Her expression is as flawless and empty as always. And that just makes Sam angrier.
“Tell me who you are!” he says, stalking towards her. He grabs hold of her translucent, shimmering forearms and yanks her towards him. She doesn’t pull away, but can’t cross the threshold—she’s stuck there, held back by an invisible barrier.
Spreading his wings, Sam lets the swelling force inside of him out all at once in a burst of force aimed at the barrier, never letting go of his “angel”—and drags her in. The forcefield bows and breaks with a snap, and the counterforce throws them both inside.
Sam slams, head first, against the floor, feels his horns strike the wood—they're larger now, curving backwards, he notes, as he brushes his hair back out of his face. He climbs to his feet, using his wings as leverage. They’re drained of light but still there, still tangible—more-so than they’ve ever been. The angel stands before him, but she’s changing, expanding in size, wings spreading out into a fiery, burning mass. Her hair lifts up, becomes one with the flame until her whole being is limned by fire.
“Who are you?” Sam asks, determined to finally get an answer. He doesn’t know what’s happening—if the presence of the church is making her burn or if she’s always been made of fire and just can’t hide in here, but either way he knows the answer is close.
The fire fades all at once, snuffed out like a candle, and a woman stands before him—one he’s only seen in photographs, one that’s achingly familiar.
“Mom?” Sam asks, chest clenching around his heart.
She smiles at him and reaches a hand out to cup his cheek. She doesn’t feel any more solid than she did before; her touch could just as easily be a gust of wind, but Sam leans into it regardless, longing for it to be real.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” Mom says.
There’s so much Sam wants to say—so much he wants to ask her, but they don’t have time for any of it. “Dean’s dying,” he says. “Please help me save him.”
She takes his hands, closes her eyes and the fire consumes her again—starting in her chest it bursts outwards and envelopes them both. She doesn’t attempt to mimic the form of an angel again, but she looks, Sam thinks, more divine than anything he’s seen and when she sends that fire streaming into him, he is not afraid.
Dean looks worse than he did when Sam left—so pale his skin is nearly translucent—and for a moment, Sam thinks he’s too late. That the ventilator still pumping in air is lying, keeping his corpse moving just enough to look alive. He freezes up, the idea of Dean being gone too much for him to handle after everything.
“Sam.” Mom’s got her hands on Dean, fingers stroking gently across his forehead, but her fingers sink through him. “I can’t do this by myself,” she says.
Legs shaking, Sam forces himself to Dean’s bedside. Mom reaches out a ghostly hand, and Sam takes it in his own, lets the energy course from him into her until he can feel the weight of her fingers.
She meets his eyes, with a sad smile. “We can do this together, but there’s a price.”
Sam nods. “Whatever it is, it’s worth it.”
Mom’s smile wavers, then widens as her eyes go glassy. “I’m so proud of both of you. And I love you so much.” She moves her free hand down to Dean’s chest and closes her eyes.
Sam mimics her movement, putting his hand above hers. He can feel Dean’s heartbeat through her hand—a weak fluttering pulse, and focuses on it, guided there by a certainty that’s not his own. Energy flows from him to Mom into Dean and the heart beat grows stronger—not by much, but enough that Sam focuses harder—pushing more power down into this brother until he feels drained, and then even more, but it’s still not enough. He can feel Dean’s heart stutter and slow again.
“No,” he thinks, panic building. But he feels a prickle of energy, just on the edge of his periphery. So, Sam fans his wings up and out, like solar sails—an incongruous image, but it works. He can feel the feathers soaking in energy from all around them, from the air, from the electricity in the hospital, and from outside, from the rising sun itself. From Mom and her endless sorrow and love.
The force gathering in his wings is made not of fire, but of life and light, and he pushes it down, imagining the torn flesh inside of Dean stitching itself back together.
One of the monitors begins to beep and Dean wakes with a gasp, choking on the tube in his throat. Sam helps him pull it out, and Dean stares up at him, dark bruises under his eyes and pale as anything, but alive. “Sam?” he asks.
“Yeah Dean, it’s me,” Sam says, grabbing his hand. A tear slips down his cheek.
“Mom?” Dean asks, turning towards her.
“Dean,” she says, her voice whisper-quiet. “I love you. Both of you. So much.” She lets out a gasp and staggers back. The mint-green hospital room wall behind her melts away, and behind her is sky blue, as bright as Heaven. She’s drawn backwards, even as she’s reaching for them, and the wall comes back into being as she fades away.
“Mom?” Dean asks again, straining to sit up.
“She’s gone,” Sam says, throat tight with pain. “She saved you.” He puts his hand on Dean’s shoulder until he turns to look at him again.
“Sammy,” Dean blinks up at him. “What happened? Did Dad—“
Sam shakes his head. “He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”
Dean nods, wipes a hand across his nose. “You gonna tell me what the hell those are?” Dean asks, pointing over Sam’s shoulder.
Sam cranes his neck just enough to see the long curving spikes jutting out of the crest, the iridescent feathers that shift from grey to gold.
A tray clatters to the floor outside and a nurse shouts. “Oh my god!” Sam turns in time to see another nurse run up beside her and cross herself.
“Sam?” Dean asks again.
Sam tries to contract the wings, to pull them back in, but though they fold down, they’ve got nowhere to go. They’ve grown too large and there’s nothing intangible about them anymore. So he throws his arms around Dean instead and says, “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Dean’s stiff at first, but relaxes into Sam’s hold. He pulls back after a few moments, and looks him in the eyes. “Don’t you need to get to your school?”
“Yeah.” The truth of it is much more complicated. How’s he going to explain his wings?
“Want some company?” Dean asks.
Sam cracks a surprised smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d love that.”
“Then help me find my pants, and let’s get out of here.”
Dean Winchester has a guardian. He’s not an angel, though he loves just as fiercely; he’s not a devil, though his rage burns just as strong. He’s no longer human, but he’ll always be Dean’s brother.