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To Family

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There is a house in Lawrence, Kansas that to most seems utterly unremarkable.

Nothing much ever seemed to happen there that was at all out of the ordinary. A young couple moved in when their first child was on the way, and John and Mary Winchester stayed on through the birth of their second son. They were happy. Sometimes money was short, but there was a loving warmth that seemed to surround them at all times.

Even one strange night when a flash in their younger son’s nursery had roused them from their sleep, it seemed they were blessed. Little Sam was perfectly fine, with older brother Dean already stationed at the end of his crib, just in case he needed to protect the little one.

A power surge, an electrician had said, shrugging and making it clear that he really didn’t know. They found no fault in the wiring, no broken bulbs, and nothing to suggest anything had happened at all, save Mary and Dean having seen the light and felt some strange power wash over them, and a peculiar scorch pattern burned into the walls.

They tried washing it away, and though it faded, the burn was never really gone. They tried painting, but though the scorch was covered, the strange pattern stayed, seemingly embedded in the very plaster of the wall. When Sam grew older and the crib gave way to a bed and toys to books and computers, he tacked up posters and covered most of the mess. When he had moved on to college and the room became storage and the posters came down, Dean – who had stayed close to home, living in Lawrence and taking classes at a local school – would find himself sent to carry this or that box into the room, and always paused and stared at the strange markings.

To Dean, they didn’t look like a random burn. To Dean, they looked like wings.

Once or twice he had reached up and touched them, feeling a strange bolt of power surging through him, filling his mind with images and feelings he never understood.

A gruff man in a dirty ball cap, a scowl on his face but pride in his eyes. Idjits.

A pale blonde regarding him sadly and shaking her head. You carry all kinds of crap you don't have to Dean.

A blue-eyed stranger in a trenchcoat. Always happy to bleed for the Winchesters.

Just as quickly as they surfaced, the thoughts would flit away, and Dean would shake his head and finish whatever he had been sent to do, closing the door behind him and forgetting what he had seen in his head.

When John was gone – young, too young to go, but a quiet and uneventful life had left him with an atrophied heart – and Mary felt hollow and lonely in the old house, and felt it was time to leave, it was Dean who posed the strongest objection. He helped at the yard sale, packed up her boxes alongside Sam, and even carried her furniture into the tiny new house she had chosen. When it came time to place the realtor’s sign on the front lawn, Dean had to stop.

He just couldn’t do it.

His girlfriend had been surprised at the move, but she had learned to expect such sudden changes from Dean. He rarely spoke on what he was feeling, but found ways to show it, like meeting a girl on a Spring Break road trip and convincing her to come home with him, all the way home to his tiny apartment in his hometown. And surprising her by buying her the house he grew up in instead of a ring, making it clear that she was in his life for good.

Time passed and one year at Christmas, their youngest, a wide-eye boy named Bobby, was upset that there was no angel on their tree. With his wife busy baking cookies with the girls and the day too late to venture out, Dean had sat at the coffee table with his son at his side and a few art supplies wrangled from around the house, and made the all-important angel for the tree.

White and black construction paper.

Scissors and glue.

A few broken crayons in brown, silver, and blue.

Dean presented his masterpiece to his son, who had laughed.
“Daddy, why is it a boy angel?”

“Why not?” Dean responded. “They have to have boy angels too. How d’ya think they get little angels?”

“Dean!” his wife had hissed, trying not to laugh as she hit him on the shoulder. She had just arrived from the kitchen with a plate of hot cookies and an open beer for her husband, to find him starting the birds and bees talk a little earlier than expected.

“What? Kid’s gonna find out eventually,” he replied, taking the beer and giving her an impish smile.

She shook her head and picked up the angel, shaking her head. “I get that it’s a boy. But the black wings, and the sword? And… is he wearing at tie?” She laughed.

“So I’m not an artist, okay?” Dean replied, still chuckling. His wife shook her head and placed the construction paper creation on the tree; it would go into the box of decorations at the end of the season, and reappear on the tree every year after.

The winter holidays would roll past them quickly, and when the spring came and Sam was back home – home for good, with Sarah on his arm and a job lined up at a local law firm – they celebrated his birthday at a restaurant the family frequented often when together, and Mary couldn’t hide her grin when both Sarah and Dean’s wife Andrea decline to take part in a celebratory toast, knowing immediately what it meant.

Sam had been embarrassed when his brother grinned and pounded him on the back, a few joking words on his lips that made Andrea gasp through a grin and try not to laugh as she reminded her husband that their children were at the table. Little Bobby had looked confused but the girls, Jo and Layla, rolled their eyes rather than appear that they didn’t understand.

Dean raised another toast, this time with water, “To family”, because that was what was most important. There was a near constant light in his eyes now, seeing them gathered at the table, wishing his father could see it. His kids had each other, but they would have their Uncle Sam and their new cousin – probably cousins, plural, in the long run – soon enough. The idea that no Winchester would ever be on their own bloomed a warmth in his chest that he didn’t understand, but loved all the same.

They laughed and talked about names – Sam and Sarah had been thinking Ellen for a girl, or John for a boy – and Mary subtly hinted that it would be nice if Sam and Sarah thought about getting married before the baby came. They exchanged a look at the table that made it clear the thought had already occurred to them, and it was only a week or two later that Dean got a midday phone call to meet his brother at the local courthouse. They celebrated back at the family home, Dean’s family home now, with homemade pie and ice cream.

That night, lounging in bed, Dean traced his fingers over Andrea’s slowly burgeoning belly, and they talked about the future and family, and whether this would really be the last one for them; Dean pointed out that, no matter the decision, they could at least keep practicing as much as possible, making his wife laugh and shove him away. And then he pulled her close again and they started talking about who would room with who and names for the new baby, and Andrea suggested ‘Lucas’ for a boy, and before he could stop the words from tumbling from his lips, Dean suggested ‘Castiel’.

Andrea had given him a strange look and laughed, asking where he had come up with something so strange, but Dean had just shrugged; the name had popped into his head at random and, unlike the others that had drifted off, had stuck. Andrea had agreed after some pestering, certain it would be a girl anyway, though they never found out; they had always liked to be surprised. The biggest surprise then came early on a Thursday morning, Castiel Winchester made his way into the world – though his father would only ever call him Cas. It was only days later when Sam’s son was born and Dean, still high on the rush of his own new child, couldn’t help but cry when his brother tucked a sweet-smelling bundle into his arms and announced that it was baby Dean.

Life was good. It was happy. It was damn near bliss. Sam moved up quickly in his law firm, and Dean, who had moved from working as a mechanic to practically running a car lot all on his own, could sell ice to an Eskimo – though he always seemed to find the right balance in it, matching the buyer to the perfect set of wheels and sending them happily on their way. They had their heartaches the same as anyone else, but in the long run, they were happy.

But sometimes, Dean felt strange, as though he were living a life off a script that had been written for someone else. Dreams came at night that frightened him, full of blood and the harsh biting scene of a fired shotgun. Sometimes, he saw Sam, lying dead on a motel bed, chest blown open. Sometimes, it was his mother, trapped in a cocoon of flame. Once, just once, it was Andrea, twisting and writhing as she drowned in a bathtub full of murky water.

On nights like these, he would wake drenched in sweat and slip out of bed, going to Sam’s old room, which had become the baby’s nursery. He’d check on Cas, and finding him asleep, Dean would turn to the walls, running his fingers over what he could only believe were the imprints of burnt and broken feathers. The sensation of loss, raw and aching and centered deep in his chest, would hit him so hard in these moments that he’d almost double over, and when he could catch his breath he’d go back to bed and pull Andrea close, clinging tightly to something he knew was never really meant for him. Sometimes he’d be shaking so hard that she’d wake and turn to him with concern in her eyes; Dean would offer a sheepish smile and explain it away as a bad dream, but still hold tight to her throughout the night, shivering as his mind played back thoughts and images that weren’t but still somehow were his own.

He’d fall back asleep with the image in his mind of that blue-eyed man in his rumpled trenchcoat, voice like clear cold water running over river rocks. I’m dying, he would say. Let me give you this gift, you and Sam. Let me give you the life you should have had.

Sometimes Andrea would find him weeping in his sleep, but she’d never tell him. Dreams were funny things, she reasoned; a man with as much heart as her husband simply had strong emotions running through his. She never knew the truth.

Because time can’t really be rewritten, only reformed and remolded into something new. What is and what was will always be there somewhere, if only locked in the minds of a few men who will never realize what they had gained – and what they had lost.

There is a house in Lawrence, Kansas that holds within itself the secret of a future that never was, and bears upon its walls the mark of an angel who gave all that he was to save those he should never have loved.