What Could Have Been
November 2, 1983
The night light in the nursery flickered.
The clock stopped.
With every occupant of the house asleep, all was still and silent. It was time.
A stranger with yellow eyes stepped out from the shadows and moved to stand over the crib. He looked down at the sleeping infant, contemplating the future this child could have, the great honour that awaited him should he be the one that was Chosen. The baby was so weak, so helplessly human, but he was here to change that.
"Wakey, wakey, Sam," he crooned.
Blinking bleary eyes open to see to an unfamiliar face looming over him in the darkness, little Sammy started to cry.
Across the hall in his parents' bedroom, his cries could be heard through the baby monitor. His mother woke easily, accustomed to having her rest disrupted, and had almost resigned herself to getting out of bed when she remembered what day it was.
November 2nd. She knew the date because Sammy was born on May 2nd and that meant he was six months old today. It was a milestone, and she couldn't believe her little boy was growing up so fast.
But it was November 2nd, 1983, and Mary had been marking that date in her calendar for 10 years.
Ever since a mysterious young hunter, who claimed his father was a psychic, had given her a warning. He told her, when this day came, not to get out of bed no matter what she might hear or see.
It was crazy to listen to the supposedly prophetic word of a man she didn't even know. He had turned up out of the blue and calamity had struck her family soon after. Her parents were murdered and she nearly lost John as well. The stranger had been there for the worst day of her life and then she never saw him again. But there was something about him, something strangely familiar like a half-remembered dream, something in his eyes that make her trust him inexplicably. He had given her the warning knowing it would sounds nuts, and she might have dismissed it if it had not been for the tears glistening in his eyes. He looked as though he genuinely cared about her and didn't want her to get hurt.
Even so, 10 years was a long time. She might have forgotten about the obscure warning from a stranger. But she could never forget that this year was the 10 year anniversary of the demon deal she had made to save John's life. Put two and two together and Mary had every reason to believe her life, her soul, was in danger.
She wished she could put protective salt lines along every door and window, but that would be welching out on the deal. If she didn't keep her end of the bargain, John would drop dead. She would rather die herself than lose him.
Mary just hoped that the demon had been telling the truth; that no one would get hurt as long as he was uninterrupted in whatever he was coming here to do.
She knew she couldn't trust a demon. But she had no other choice.
So she stayed in bed, and prayed that angels were watching over her family.
Sammy kept crying.
Normally, the baby's cries did not disturb his older brother. Four-year-old Dean had been distressed by them at first, but his mom had explained that little babies needed to eat more often than big kids did and crying during the night was just Sammy's way of saying he was hungry. She told Dean she would take care of it and he could just turn over and go back to sleep. He was used to it now; he would listen for the sound of a door opening and his mother's soft footsteps across the landing, and he would smile and drift off again because he knew Sammy was being looked after.
But this time he never heard his mom get up, and Sammy kept crying.
He tossed and turned restlessly, not quite conscious but unable to go back to sleep either. An odd twisty feeling in his tummy was telling him that something was wrong.
Eventually his big brother instincts won out over his sleepiness and Dean tumbled out of bed to go see what all the fuss was about.
Out in the hallway, Dean could hear noises coming from the TV downstairs and guessed that his parents were watching a not-for-kids movie together. Maybe that's why they couldn't hear Sammy. He thought about going to get them, but Mom said he was a good little helper and he wanted to prove her right. He could go in and sing 'Hey Jude' to Sammy until he stopped crying. Mom would be so proud of him.
He pushed open the door to the nursery and was startled to see that his Dad was already in there.
"Oops," Dean said. He knew he was about to get in trouble for being out of bed this late.
His Dad turned around to tell him to go back to his room-
-but it wasn't his Dad.
Dean stepped back in alarm. "Who are you?"
The man smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. "Howdy, Dean. Good to see you again."
"I don't know you."
"Oh, we go way back, you and I."
Dean didn't believe him, but sometimes Mommy said he didn't remember people because he was only little when he met them. "Why you in here?"
"Your mommy invited me."
Dean frowned. His mom never said anything about having a visitor over, and he didn't think she would let this man go into Sammy's nursery when he was sleeping. Besides, he didn't like the way the man was smiling at him. It was scary.
"I'm gonna get Daddy," Dean said, backing away with every intention of running downstairs. But then he glanced towards the crib and knew he couldn't leave Sammy alone with the scary man who – who had a knife glinting in his pocket.
Dean sucked in a deep lungful of air to scream-
-but all the breath was knocked out of him as an invisible force jerked him across the room and slammed him against the wall.
"Sorry, Dean, I'm afraid I can't let you do that."
Dean fought to get free but the invisible force was too strong, and he was sliding upwards, the floor getting further and further away. He didn't like heights. He tried to scream again, but no sound came out.
"Stay put, kid," the man said. "I'll deal with you once I'm done with little Sammy here."
Although Dean struggled frantically, there was nothing he could do as the man pulled out the knife. He knew he was supposed to be a big boy now but he couldn't help the frightened tears that welled up in his eyes. He didn't want Sammy to be hurt. Sammy was just a baby, he needed his big brother to protect him, but Dean couldn't. He wanted his Daddy to burst into the room and save the day, but Daddy wasn't coming because he didn't know there was a bad man here and Dean was still screaming as loud as he could but no one could hear him.
The man dragged the knife over his own arm, drawing blood. Dean didn't understand why the man would hurt himself like that, or why he was holding his arm out over the crib to let the blood drip into Sammy's mouth. He tried to tell Sammy not to drink it, but his words weren't working and the baby swallowed the red juice because he was only little and he didn't know better.
"There now. You grow up big and strong, Sammy Winchester. When you're ready, I'll be back to get you. Big plans for you, kiddo. Big plans."
Dean didn't know what the man meant but he didn't like it. He tried to scream at the bad man to leave his brother alone, but the bad man had magic powers that had stuck him to the wall and stolen his voice. He couldn't move, or speak, or do anything. He was trapped. Helpless.
The man turned to look at him. Dean was so high up the wall now that he could look directly into the bad man's eyes.
They were yellow.
"Now, what am I to do with you, Dean? I can't have you blabbing to mommy about what you've seen, and I can't let you grow up to be the one who kills me. Of course, you don't look like much of a threat now, but better safe than sorry." He walked closer, raising the knife. Dean tried to kick, wriggle, spit, anything, but his body wouldn't listen, and the man kept coming.
"Die slow, little one."
The knife ripped into Dean's stomach, and Dean's soul screamed.
He barely felt the sensation of being dragged further up the wall and onto the ceiling; all he knew was pain, excruciating, all-encompassing pain – and Sammy. Because Sammy was staring up at him, reaching tiny hands out to his brother like this was a game, and Dean's blood was going to drip down on him and Sammy was going to watch him die.
Help, Dean whimpered soundlessly.
"Goodbye, Dean," Yellow-eyes said.
He snapped his fingers and as he vanished the ceiling burst into flames.
In that instant, as the heat pressed in on him from all sides, Dean knew that his mom was wrong. There were no angels watching over him.
He closed his eyes and waited for the fire to swallow him.
But instead of feeling his body burn up like the turkey Mom had left in the oven too long last Thanksgiving, he felt the unmistakable and no less terrifying sensation of falling, like the ceiling had suddenly decided to let him go. He winced, bracing for the impact that would break him all to pieces.
Strong arms caught him.
"Daddy," Dean gasped, knowing that his hero had to be his Dad.
The terror of his ordeal combined with intense relief from his last-second rescue were suddenly too much for him to handle; Dean buried his face in his Dad's chest and burst into tears. "My tummy hurts, Daddy..."
"I am not your father," a low voice rumbled.
Dean froze, breath hitching in his throat. Had the yellow-eyed man come back? Was he going to die after all?
"Do not be afraid. You are safe now."
It didn't sound like the bad man. This voice was deeper, rougher, but it didn't make his skin crawl with hundreds of slimy ants like the bad man's had. It was almost… soothing.
"Who- who are you?" he stammered against the stranger's shirt, too scared to look at the man directly. He didn't want to see another monster.
"I'm an Angel of the Lord."
"A angel?" Dean yelped, not sure he could believe it. But he risked a glance up anyway.
Blue eyes stared back at him.
He knew that the polite response would be to say 'hello' back, but his curiosity got the better of him. Brow furrowed in confusion as he looked his saviour up and down, he asked, "If you're a angel, how come you don't got wings or a halo or a funny dress?" He knew what angels were supposed to look like – he had a statue of one in his room – and this man with messy brown hair, a backwards tie and a big coat did not look anything like an angel.
"Humans have many misperceptions about my kind," the man answered.
Dean blinked at him.
He sighed. "Of course. Dean Winchester does not believe in anything without proof. But if I were not who I claimed to be, I would not be able to hold the demon's inferno at bay."
Dean's gaze flicked up to the ceiling and he saw that the flames had stopped moving, like they had been frozen in place.
"Nor would I be able to heal you." The man placed a hand gently over Dean's stomach and with a bright flash of light the pain from his injury was gone.
Dean pulled up his t-shirt. The knife had ripped apart his tummy and spilt a lot of blood from inside, but there wasn't even a scar. He was all better.
Filled with awe, he looked back up at the angel who had fixed him without a Band-Aid. It was definitely an angel. Mommy was right after all. "Thanks Mr Angel."
For the first time, the angel's face softened into the faintest hint of a smile. "My name is Castiel."
"C-Ca-Casti – uh-" It was a tricky word and Dean couldn't quite get his tongue around it. "-Cas?"
"If you prefer."
Dean grinned and hugged his new friend, wrapping his little arms around as much of the angel as he could reach. "Thanks, Cas."
Cas didn't return the hug, but inclined his head solemnly. "You are welcome."
Movement overhead caught Dean's attention. A flame had twitched, like it was trying to wriggle free from the power keeping it trapped. "Uh, Cas…?"
The angel looked up. "I cannot maintain this bubble of suspended time much longer. We should not linger here."
"It's gonna splode?"
"An explosion is highly probable, yes. I will take you somewhere safe-"
"No, wait!" Dean squirmed to be put down. "Sammy!" He ran over to the crib, relieved to see that his little brother was okay. He was staring up at the slow-moving fire like it was a mobile for him to play with; he wasn't old enough yet to know that fire was dangerous. Dean leaned in and tried to pick Sammy up but he wasn't strong enough.
The angel's arms reached past him and scooped up the bundle of baby and blanket before setting Sam carefully in Dean's arms.
"You wanted to save your family," Cas said. "This is your chance. Once you leave the bubble you will not have long; you must make haste."
Dean nodded, cuddling his baby brother close.
"Your mother is in her room. Your father is downstairs. Go now, Dean."
Dean ran. Behind him the fire roared to life, engulfing the ceiling of Sammy's nursery. The angel vanished.
"Mommy!" Dean screamed, bursting into his parents' bedroom.
His mom sat up. "Dean, what-?"
"Fire!" The smoke alarm started blaring. "We gotta go!"
For a second his mom didn't move. "Dean, I can't-"
"It's gonna splode!" Dean yelled. "Hurry! I don't wanna burn up, Mommy, come on!"
"Okay, Dean. Okay."
Once he was sure she was following, Dean ran out into the hallway and down the stairs. Dad was half-way up them; he must have woken up when the alarm went off.
"What's going on? Mary?"
"Fire!" Dean yelled over his shoulder, rushing out the front door and onto the lawn. His parents ran out after him.
"Sam's nursery," Mom gasped, pointing up at the house.
Dean glanced back to the burning room, but Dad snagged Mom's arm to get her moving again and then scooped both of his sons into his arms. The Winchesters ran for their lives.
The house exploded.