This was originally written a while ago and published in Rooftop Confessions 5. It may be considered AU by now. It's also my first attempt at using the new book cover feature—I hope you'll let me know what you think of the graphic I made for this. Special thanks to those who reviewed "Five Jobs Dean Winchester Never Had...But Kinda Did."
Through a Glass Darkly
Dean tries not to think of That Night, the night his life changed forever. Tries not to remember the smell of his mom's perfume or the warm glow in his chest when she'd hugged him tight. But when memories slip cat-quiet through the chinks in the barricades he's fostered, the armor he wears, it's to think of how he might've done things differently, if only he had known what that night would hold.
If only he had known it would be the last night he'd have with his mom, he'd have memorized the soft brush of loose curls against his face when she bent down to kiss him goodnight. Would have asked her to sing him to sleep, so he could hear the soft lullaby she always used to send him off into dreams, the notes wrapped around him like a hug. Would have imprinted the sound of her quiet "Night, love" on his brain more firmly, so he could better call it up years later, a warm blanket against sleeplessness and terrors that stalked in the night.
He'd have stayed up long past his bedtime, making her laugh with silly faces and funny jokes he'd learned at pre-school, letting her tickle him until his breath came short and fast. Maybe he'd have crawled into bed with her, slept pressed between her and his dad for one more night, like when he was scared of lightning, and felt her wrap one arm tight around him to keep him from falling. He would have lain awake, breathing in the scent of her—the lightly floral fragrance of her perfume, the homemade pie and baby powder scent underneath. He'd have held onto her so tight, so tight, that he'd have soaked her into his pores so that even now, so many years gone, he'd still be able to close his eyes and feel her. If it had been possible, he would've melted into her, the two of them together like when she'd carried him as a baby, so nothing would ever be able to separate them, not ever again.
He'd told her he loved her that night before bed—maybe the last time he'd said that to anyone, ever—and believed her when she'd said angels were watching over them. He'd believed her and let her turn out the light and fade away into the darkness, never to see or speak to or love him again.
If only he had known what was coming...maybe he could have saved her somehow. Warned her not to get up that night, not to go into the nursery, but to stay asleep, peaceful in dreams of the life she'd built. Safe. If Sammy had cried, he could've gone to soothe him, to make sure he was okay. Not her. Never her.
If only he had known what was coming, he'd have held his daddy closer, too, taking in the throaty rumble of his laugh, the big strong arms that cradled him close with easy affection, the wide smile unshadowed by pain. He'd have watched more intently how right his mom and dad were together—the soft smiles and gentle touches and teasing banter...the love that shone from them both and wrapped around him and Sammy, a safe, warm little cocoon. He'd have held tight to his daddy's neck and breathed in the scent of motor oil and aftershave; he'd have memorized the feeling of complete and absolute security and safety that he'd never know again after That Night. He'd have burned into his mind the sound of his daddy calling him "Buddy" and speaking with such love and affection and pride.
In so many ways, he'd lost both of his parents That Night. And though Dean didn't blame his daddy for dying, or a new dad for being born, he still mourned that lost daddy and wished he'd known to savor their last night as a family, their last night unmarked by fire and pain and shadows.
If only he had known...
Time does not heal all wounds, not for a Winchester, it merely dulls the edges so it kills you slower.
Mary had known. Of course she had known. You just don't forget something like that. She'd lain awake the night before, vigilant…waiting. Watching. He'd warned her, all those years before, that mysterious-yet-familiar stranger. He'd warned her not to get out of bed, and so she'd spent a sleepless night waiting for something to happen.
But nothing had.
It hadn't escaped her notice that her youngest child had been born 10 years—to the day—after she'd made that deal. It had been both the happiest and worst day of her life, the day Sammy was born. She'd been a nervous wreck all day, expecting some catastrophe to strike. When it hadn't, and all the day had produced had been a beautiful and perfect baby boy, she'd allowed herself to believe that it was all behind her, that the yellow-eyed demon had forgotten about her, that she was being given a second chance.
She'd begun to believe that she wouldn't have to pay for the unholy deal she'd made and wouldn't undo, even if given the choice—it had given her John back, had brought her the boys, the life she'd always dreamed of. Surely that was worth any price she'd have to pay.
Or so she'd told herself numerous times over the past 10 years.
And so, in the supernaturally-uneventful six months since Sammy's birth, she'd let down her guard and let herself believe in the life she'd created with John, with her boys. Let herself believe that it was the truth and that all those years before, hunting evil and living in fear, they were the fantasy. A fantasy she'd been only too happy to let slip away from her like the dregs of a nightmare upon waking to the sun shining on your face.
Until today. Remembering the promise she'd made to the mysterious young hunter all those years ago—his green eyes glimmering with tears and full of the weight of the world, so earnest and pleading on hers as he'd extracted it—she'd been vigilant when the date he'd specified had come. She owed him that. He was the one person who knew the terrible deal she'd made and he'd never called her on it, never berated her, never made her sin known to the world. She knew he knew what she had done—the horror and devastation in his eyes when he'd found her had been unmistakable and terrible to behold. She'd had to look away from those pained, knowing eyes that had looked at her like he'd just failed in his most important mission, like her fall was his fault, and when she'd finally looked back...he'd been gone. But the memory of him standing there, like some broken guardian angel, had never left her, not in all of the years since.
So she'd remembered her promise, knowing the debt she owed him. She'd been so careful all day—from midnight the night before, even—on guard against whatever might come. But nothing came. So by that night, she'd thought they were in the clear, had thought they were home free. And she'd breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they'd dodged the bullet somehow, that forewarned was forearmed and all of that jazz.
As evening had come and she'd put the boys to bed, she'd felt the last of the tension leave her. She'd kissed Sammy goodnight, making sure he was tucked into his crib, then gone into Dean's room to enjoy the sound of him giggling as John finished up the bedtime story he was telling. She'd waited, enjoying the sight of the two of them together, then had bent down and given Dean a goodnight kiss, reminding him that the angels were watching over him, so he wouldn't be scared of the dark. She had to believe that was true—that God would have mercy on her boys, despite what she had done. She prayed for that every night.
For one moment, she'd seen herself reflected in Dean's deep green eyes and she'd felt a prickle of something like déjà vu, felt on the verge of some important discovery, but his sleepy yawn and outstretched arms asking for another hug had chased the feeling away like mist in the sunlight.
After settling Dean in bed, she'd sat up reading for a while, deliberately staying up later than usual, just in case. But finally—it was so close to midnight and she was so tired from staying up the night before—she'd succumbed to her body's craving for sleep.
She'd woken to Sammy's cries.
A normal occurrence and she hadn't given it a second thought. Just gone to him, acting on pure instinct in her all-too-familiar sleep-deprived state. Sure, she'd been surprised to see John at the crib before her, but hadn't thought anything of it. He loved the boys and he was good about helping out with them whenever he was needed.
Even the flickering light in the hall—a clear sign, and why hadn't she seen it, why hadn't she known?—hadn't registered as a dark omen. She'd checked, of course she'd checked—she was retired from hunting, not stupid—but it had seemed to just be a normal short in the bulb, old wiring. It wasn't uncommon for a house like theirs.
No, it hadn't been until she'd wandered down the stairs and seen her husband in the armchair asleep that it had all come back to her for the first time since waking that night.
And she'd run like the wind because even now, remembering the promise she'd made, this was her baby, her Sammy, and he was so small and defenseless. She couldn't leave him to fend for himself, no matter the cost. And she'd suddenly realized that the deal she'd made wasn't worth any price—not if it was her sons who paid it.
And so she'd run as fast as she could will her legs to carry her, but in the end, she hadn't been able to stop what she'd set into motion all those long years ago. In the chaos and pain that followed, she breathed a desperate prayer for her children, her babies, to be saved.
If only she had known...
And as she looked down on Sammy's crib from her spot pinned to the ceiling, her last thought was, "What have I done?"
The pair of angels watched events below unfolding, eyes solemn as they kept their vigil. They observed as the young mother tucked her sons carefully into bed, nodded in approval as she reassured the oldest that they were watching over him. With bowed heads, they listened to her evening prayers for God to have mercy on her children. Finally she fell asleep, and both tensed, knowing what was about to occur.
They saw the Fallen One creep into the youngest child's room, stand over him as he lay in his crib. Both sets of watching eyes blazed with divine fury as they stared at the abomination below. Finally, one could wait no longer and turned to his companion. "Why does God allow this terrible thing? The child—he is innocent, without fault."
The second angel answered without taking his eyes from the scene below, ever vigilant. "It grieves God greatly that this has come to pass." He gestured with one strong arm to indicate all that was occurring in the house they stood guard over. "It is not what He would have chosen. But the sins of the father—or mother—are often visited upon their children," the other reminded. "She chose to deal with one of The Fallen. She did not call upon the Most High God for help in her time of need, but entered into an unholy alliance. It was her choice and we do not have the right to take it from her," he finished simply, but with regret.
"Free will," the first clarified.
"Free will," it was confirmed with a nod. "It is their blessing, but also their curse."
"But if He knows how they will misuse it—the bad decisions they will make—why does He allow it?" the first angel questioned.
The second considered for a moment before replying. "Because it is not love if you force someone to choose you. And that is what He wants most of all—their love. His love for them is so great that He has given all He has to ransom them. He only wants for them to love Him back."
"What she did, she did for love," the first angel pointed out. "Love for the man she would marry."
"The wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing," the second angel reminded gently.
"But…if only she had known what this night would hold, what she was agreeing to, surely she would have made a different choice," the first angel pressed.
"Perhaps," the other conceded, inclining his head. "It is not for us to know."
"So we do nothing?" the first angel questioned, clearly distressed at the thought. "Just allow the Fallen One to enter, to taint the innocent...to kill her?" His hand reached for the shining sword hanging from his belt, clearly itching to use it against the Adversary that stood in the child's nursery. "We have the power to stop this."
"The power, but not the right. Humans must be allowed their mistakes—it is how they learn about forgiveness, about God's grace. That there is always redemption, if they seek it. It is an important lesson. This must play out."
The first angel considered. "There is good in her—in all of them."
"Yes," the other agreed. "They are all created in Holy God's image, so they have the potential for great good. But her actions set this chain of events into motion. We must not interfere. Have faith, Brother. You know the Word: 'All things work together for good, for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.' "
"Even this?" the angel wondered. "She will die."
"Her death has the potential to bring forth much good—many lives could be saved. All depends on them." The second angel looked at the small family below, studying them as if trying to see what choice they would make. He did not know everything the future would hold—only what had been revealed to him for this most important mission.
"But this family—they will be lost," the first angel said mournfully.
"Not so, Brother. They will never be the same, it is true. But they must be allowed to make their own choices about how they will handle the events of this night. They can choose the path of bitterness, of revenge. Or they can choose the path of redemption, the path of faith. They can choose to protect others, in honor of her memory. To fight against evil, as we do." He gestured toward his own weaponry. "Only time will tell which path they take."
"But where is mercy in all of this?" the first angel questioned. "I cannot bear to watch this family destroyed."
"Where is mercy?" his brother replied, not unkindly. "It is in this: following our orders. Safeguarding where we can. Doing His will." He paused to regard the other angel seriously, then began instructing in a deep, powerful voice, like the commander he was. "We are sent to watch over the two young boys. When the baby is handed to his brother, you are to wrap your wings around them, protect them from the fire raging on all sides. Guide the oldest to the front door, amidst the smoke and darkness around him. Make his pathway sure, prevent his feet from falling. Help him to hold onto his precious burden. Strengthen him for the task."
He paused and the other angel nodded solemnly to show that he understood. He continued, "When they reach the front door, unlock it for them—the lock is too high for him to reach and they cannot wait for their father to lead them out, the smoke would overcome them first. The door is heavy and he is just a small child. You must help him to open it while you steady the baby. I will go to the father, remind him of his children, of their need for him. I will guide him out so he can get them safely away from the house before the explosion." The angel looked at his brother, his gaze impressing upon him the importance of the mission. "We must not fail. Your task is the most crucial: Lead them out of the flames, away from destruction. They can still be saved, and that is your mission—save them. This night will change them, it will shatter them, but they will not be utterly destroyed. What they create from the ashes will last, will matter. It is their choice, their destiny."
"It is a hard thing," the first angel said, voice low.
"Yes. It causes God much grief to know the suffering this family will endure. It was not His perfect plan for them. Yet...she chose, and He will not undo her choice. But remember—what others intend for evil, God can use for good," his companion assured.
"But how? How can good possibly come of this?" the first angel questioned, bewildered as to how it could all work out.
"With God, all things are possible," his brother quoted with conviction.
"God will still use them, after all of this...allow them to be part of His plan? Will bring good from their lives—redeem this terrible tragedy?" the angel asked, marveling at God's unfathomable grace.
"Indeed, only God can restore the years the locust has eaten. He makes all things new, in His time. It is only He who can bring beauty from ashes," the other angel intoned. He looked below, to where it was nearly time for them to fly into action, to protect and guide. He signaled his questioning brother to ready himself for the mission. Both faces showed a steely determination that reflected the mighty warriors they were. A battle would be waged here tonight, though not the one either longed to fight. For that, they would have to be patient.
As events below unfolded, the first angel prepared to go. He turned back for one final subdued comment before flying down to land quietly on the green lawn of a small suburban home. "They will surely think God is done with them after this, that He has abandoned them—no longer cares for them at all."
The other angel took flight, throwing himself into the urgency of the mission that had been ordained by God Himself. He shook his head sadly, sorrowful that the Lord's creation could misunderstand Him so completely, could miss the enormity of His love for them.
"If only they knew..."
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12