Disclaimer: I don't own or make a profit from Supernatural
A/N: Many thanks to Starliteyes for her elite beta skills!
By Who's Grace?
The woman knelt on the muddy banks of the river under the full moon. Scattered all around her were soft, white feathers, dead and curling at the edges. They were spattered with blood and dirt, soiling their purity with the obscene. From the curve of her back where her shoulder blades began to hollow, bloody stumps protruded grotesquely. White bone glistened beneath a smattering of small round feathers that still clung to life like frail dead leaves on a dying tree. Slowly, painfully, the ripped bone and flesh melted away leaving only smooth, unmarred skin.
Her silver hair, hanging in sheets to the ground shimmered in the moonlight before rippling and darkening to the color of summer wheat. Her crystalline eyes dimmed until they no longer shone with the brightness of a star, instead becoming the deep blue of the sea.
The perfection of her naked body rounded with maturity, softened with humanity. Tendrils of river mist curled around her, fitting against her skin and flowing down into a simple white skirt. Dressed in the damp, muddy clothes of a human, she struggled to her feet, learning to walk for the first time.
"Hell no, Sammy."
"Didn't you get the memo on how bad it is to pick up hitchhikers? Didn't you see the movie? Better yet, didn't you learn your lesson last year?"
"Dude, it's the middle of nowhere, and she wasn't hitching."
"Exactly. She's standing at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Chances are she isn't playing with a full deck."
"Jesus, Dean. Since when are you afraid of little old ladies?"
"She wasn't that old."
"I said no. We aren't going back."
"We need the karma points."
"Oh, for fucksakes."
"Don't say that." The female glanced around nervously, knowing that it was useless. Father was all-knowing, all-hearing.
"But he is right. Why should we serve these mortals when we could rule over them?" The male demanded, full of youthful arrogance.
"We don't serve them, Brother. We guide them, help them. They need us to care for and protect them," pleaded the female, her hand on the male's arm, her silk feathers brushing his.
"It's not fair that Father loves them best. We were first, yet he gives them free will! What do we get in return? A life of servitude that we didn't even get to choose."
"Brother, please," the female begged, but the male was already turning from her, pulling away.
"Thank you so much for the ride. It was getting quite chilly out there." The woman smiled at the two young men from the backseat of the Impala. Her round face was framed by short curls that were more gray than blond. She was short and a little plump, but the lines around her eyes and mouth were creased with light and laughter.
"No problem, Ma'am." The youngest one smiled at her sheepishly, and the older boy behind the wheel snorted softly.
"Ma'am. Oh, no. Name's Marianne, but most folk call me Anne."
"Nice to meet you Anne. I'm Sam, and this is my brother Dean."
"Well now. Sam and Dean, aren't you a couple of angels in disguise?" The woman's blue eyes beamed warmth from her soft face.
The older boy snorted again, and Sam's smile grew even more sheepish. Anne's smile crept up a little more on the side. She sat in the center of the back seat so she could see them both, her view of the road between them clear. She clutched her large black purse in her lap, and crossed her ankles as she mused over the boy's reaction to her words.
"Don't believe in angels, huh?"
Sam sighed gustily, and Anne would have sworn that if eye rolls made a sound she would have heard Dean's rattle all the way into the back of his head.
"We've never seen one." The way Sam bit out the words, his eyes cutting towards his brother, told her that this was a long standing argument between them.
"How do you know?" she asked curiously.
"It would be hard to miss all that glaring white light and choir music," Dean snarked, his eyes firmly on the road ahead of him.
Anne chortled in the back seat, and Dean glanced in his rearview so he could see her.
"Angels, I would imagine are without ego or pride."
"What does that mean?" Now that he was looking at her through the mirror, she could see the beauty that was purely his own, hidden beneath scarred shields so old that they must have been constructed in childhood.
"Well. If I was going around doing God's work, I certainly wouldn't be announcing it, now would I? I think angels probably look like you or me. People just doing nice things for other people."
Anne could see her argument was unconvincing to Dean, but Sam sat quietly, absorbing her words. Small lines creased his brow, and she could practically see the thoughts coursing through his brain. Dean, apparently, could see them as well, even when he wasn't looking.
"Don't overwork the hamster, Sammy. We might need him later."
"Dude. Shut up."
Dean glanced over at Sam, full of laughter. They shared a moment that a stranger, someone who wasn't family, could never be a part of.
Anne extended an arm over the seat, pointing ahead of them.
"Look out. Watch for the dog," she mentioned casually.
Sam's head whipped forward and the last thing he saw was a brown blur on the road, and the intricate details of the bark of a large oak tree.
"You can't just banish him." Tears flowed from the female's eyes and somewhere babies wept.
"It is the Word of our Father," Michael condemned.
"But there will be no redemption for him in the pit." The female reached for the male, but he shook her off. She looked up at him, crystalline eyes widening. The male's once starlit eyes had darkened to a disturbing golden yellow that shriveled up something precious inside of her.
"Do no plead for me, Sister. I would rather burn free than live enslaved."
The male twisted away from her and before she could protest he was taken. Her hands fell uselessly to her sides, and her tears would not stop.
"But you aren't free," she whispered, but only He heard her.
"So you would only believe in angels if they came to you in a haze of glowing light?" Anne questioned Dean as he drove. Sam shot him a piercing look, gauging his brother's response, not from words, but from facial expressions.
Dean's face was poker cool, and only Sam would notice the minute tightening of his lips.
"Don't forget the singing choir. That would really cinch it for me."
Ann laughed from the backseat, and the sound was infectious. Sam chuckled along with her, and even Dean cracked an amused grin.
"So what if the angel showed up with only wings and a harp? You wouldn't believe then?"
Dean shrugged, taking his eyes off the road so he could glance back at Anne in the backseat.
"Dunno. Is she hot?" He leered, his firm lips curling up in the corners in a way that made most women squirm.
She leaned forward, pointing to the road in front of them.
"Watch out. Dog."
The last thing that Sam heard was the sickening squeal of the Impala's tires and the shattering of glass.
"You have done nothing wrong. You can stay." Michael proclaimed.
"I cannot stay," the female whispered softly, her silver wings dropping with incurable sadness.
"You would follow him then?" Michael frowned and she felt a shiver work its way through her form. This was the face of wrath that the mortals feared.
"No. Hell is no place for me, but humans have free will." It was a statement that sounded like a question so Michael nodded in assent.
"That free will allows them the capacity to sacrifice, right? To give themselves for the sake of another?"
"Yes." Michael watched her carefully, his expansive eyes expressionless.
The female nodded, and knelt before the Archangel.
"Then, if you please, I wish to fall."
Michael stared at her gravely, motionless for eternity before finally withdrawing his blazing sword. In one smooth stroke he sliced her wings from her back and the female fell for another round of eternity.
"So do you really think that angels are going around disguised as normal everyday people?" Sam looked at her with large puppy dog eyes and she could imagine him getting a monk with a twenty year vow of silence to start gabbing.
"Why not? Hasn't anyone ever done something kind for you? Given you shelter? Respite? A second chance?"
Dean was glaring hard at her reflection in the rearview mirror. A small crease formed over his nose, and she could tell he was mentally cataloging every person he had met and the small kindnesses they had bestowed onto him.
"Those were just people," Dean bit out, and Anne smiled serenely.
Dean titled his chin to the side and shot his brother a look that clearly said, told ya she was a nutjob.
Sam huffed, and Anne had to stifle a laugh.
"I thought angels were fierce and vigilant?" Sam pointed out, obviously playing devil's advocate for the sake of his brother. Dean caught on quick and chimed in.
"Yah, like Michael."
Anne grimaced, but it was quickly hidden.
"Warriors are always needed. Those who fight on the side of good, protecting the innocent."
Sam and Dean exchanged an unreadable look and Anne continued.
"Besides who can pass up the coolness points you get from wielding a flaming sword."
Sam choked at her words, and Dean snorted, but that didn't stop the small grin that quirked up on his lips.
Ann leaned forward and extended her arm over the seat to point.
Sam felt the sickening lurch of the car as it swerved off the road. He felt the glass from the windshield splinter against his face. The last thing he felt was something hot pierce his chest.
Michael turned to see the female slumped on the floor where he had last left her, dressed in a gown of white, wearing a human skin.
"Back so soon?"
"I died," she muttered to the floor.
"That's what humans do." She didn't reply and Michael's cold gaze hardened. "Did you redeem your brother?"
"No. He murdered me instead," she whispered brokenly.
"But you made a sacrifice." It wasn't a question. Michael was nearly as all-knowing as Father.
"Then you may have your wings back." Michael stepped forward, but the woman scrambled away, her human eyes impossibly huge as she looked up at him. He paused, several feet away, his head cocked in question.
She gathered herself, kneeling at his feet, her hands folded in pleading.
"I wish to go back."
Michael was very rarely moved, but the ability to feel love was not beneath him. This female loved, and the grace of it shone through her even in her human form.
"As a human who remembers nothing or an angel who can do nothing?"
The female dropped her eyes to the ground, weighing her options. When she finally looked back up at him, there was a glint in her eyes that made Michael sigh in defeat. Love was a great and terrible thing and this female would destroy herself because of it.
"You mustn't interfere in the affairs of humans." Michael glared down at her, wrathful and vigilant. She looked up at him and should have been terrified, but all he saw was resignation and deceit.
"Sammy, no. God, no Sam."
Dean was kneeling in the mud beside the wreck that used to be his Impala, his baby brother in his arms. He had pulled a thick spear of a branch from Sam's chest, leaving a gaping hole that couldn't be filled.
Sam's beautiful blue-green eyes were wide open, staring sightlessly up into the gray sky above their heads. Dean clutched his little brother closer, rocking him like he did when Sam was a baby. Cold rain drizzled down onto him remorselessly, but he couldn't feel it. All he could feel was the hot swath of tears that dripped down his cheeks.
Distantly he heard the creak of the Impala's door being opened, and suddenly a strange warmth like nothing he'd ever known before surrounded him.
A woman's arms embraced him from behind, and he could feel the full press of her front against his back, as she laid her hands over his heart. At the edges of his vision he could see silver wings curl themselves around them, sheltering them from the world. He ignored the impossibility of it, only seeing the lifeless face of his brother.
"Shush, it's okay, baby. I'll make everything okay," the female whispered into his ear.
The woman stumbled out of the woods as the black night gave way to gray before the orange of dawn. The hem of her white dress was ragged and muddy, her blonde hair falling in a wavy mess down her shoulders. John Winchester thought for just a moment that he was dead and he was staring into the face of an angel.
He was behind his garage that butted up against the small copse of trees, cleaning the grease from his hands when she appeared in the clearing. She looked lost and afraid, and he knew right then that he would be perfectly happy the rest of his life making sure she never looked like that again.
"Miss, do you need help?"
She weaved her way towards him, the fear melting from her face, making John feel like he had finally done something right in his life.
"I've lost someone, I think."
John frowned down at her and stuffed the rag he had been using into his back pocket, conscious that his hands were still stained with grease in a way that would take a lot more than lava soap to wash off.
"Well, I'm sure that we can find them."
"No. He's gone. He won't be back for me." A small frown creased her pixie face, almost if she couldn't remember who 'he' was.
John frowned, and he wondered how much jail time he would do for kicking the ass of whoever 'he' was from here to Timbuktu.
"He just left you? Where? On the side of the road?"
"It's okay. I have no other place to be."
"Home is where you make it. Wouldn't you agree?" She peaked up at him from under long lashes, and John felt something hot and fierce clench in his chest.
"My name is John." He thrust his hand out, grimacing when he realized how dirty it was. He tried to withdrawal it, but she fitted both her small hands into his large one, wrapping her slender fingers around his wrist.
"My name is Marianne, but most everyone calls me Mary."
"It's a pleasure, Mary." And it was---the greatest pleasure that John had ever had in his life. He led her into his garage, pausing when she did at the door. She was staring hard at the saddest brown mutt that he had ever seen. It had shown up a few days prior and had yet to leave. Before he could apologize for its pure ugliness, she chimed in.
"Isn't it ironic that dog spelled backwards is God?"
John stared down at her in askance, but she just smiled serenely up at him. He led her inside, and never once did she look back.
Sam and Dean woke with a start in the front seat of the pristine Impala. Sam was clutching his chest, and Dean was clutching him. They shot apart, breathing heavily, Dean's hands wrapping themselves tightly around the steering wheel while Sam braced himself against the passenger door.
The brothers stared out the windows into the gray drizzle. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but green fields and endless sky.
They were parked on the side of the road, under a tall thin pole that claimed that this was Bus Stop 19.
On the dashboard was a single curving feather. It trembled until it gained their full and complete attention. Dean glared at it, like it was a snake ready to bite, while Sam exhaled in awe. When it was certain that they had taken in the awesome miracle of its existence, it disintegrated into a shower of sliver sparks. Both boys could have sworn that they heard Anne's soft laughter echo around them.
Sam and Dean continued to stare at the dashboard in amazement. No trace of the feather remained, not even a smattering of dust.
"Dean," Sam whispered.
Dean cleared his throat, but didn't say a word as he carefully pulled the Impala back onto the road. They drove in silence, neither of them needing to speak. Dean knew that Sam would once again resume praying daily, something that had stopped since Father Gregory turned out to be a fake. Sam knew that Dean would reorganize his mental lists, moving angels off the bull crap one permanently.
As they drove, both were careful to keep a keen eye out for dogs, since they never knew when one might want to dart out in front of them and force them to swerve from their path.
Two figures stood over the marble marker. Both were human in appearance, but where one glowed with grace the other leaked shadows from beneath its feet.
"Thank you for the tombstone, Brother. It's beautiful."
The male shrugged, his mouth pulled tight, his yellow eyes narrowed. "It seemed the most appropriate way to mark the end of your humanity."
"My humanity is as strong as it ever was," the female chided, brushing her round shoulder against his stronger one with sibling familiarity.
He sighed gustily, cutting her a look that someone who wasn't family wouldn't be able to recognize.
"If you come with me then you would have the freedom to do as you liked. Think of it, Sister; no rules, no restrictions. Just free will."
The female ran a delicate finger along the top of the cool marble, her face drawn in sadness.
"I have freedom now," her words were soft, full of blatant rebellion and without a trace of regret.
The male stared at her hard, as if he could piece together the workings of her mind by the power of his glare alone.
"Then you will be joining me as soon as Michael catches up to you."
The female stepped back to stand next to her brother. Her small hand found its way into his bigger one.
"Perhaps. He doesn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to find me."
"He doesn't tolerate renegades," he said in a tone that sounded like a vow.
"He will wait until I see you dead and my family safe," she replied in a tone just as full of promise as his.
In the distance thunder cracked and the sky darkened. They stood together, side by side, even as the rain began to fall and the sounds of war clamored around them.