"Dean, stay in the car and protect your brother. If anything gets in, shoot it." John thrust the pistol into Dean's tiny hands, hands far too small for such an object. The door locks retracted and Dean was alone with Sammy, who was still napping contentedly with his head rolled sideways onto the rim of the car seat.
Dean pressed his nose against the cool glass of the back window and squinted through the downpour. Ten yards away he could just barely make out his father's hunched form and another man's. No, two men. One was gesticulating wildly at John, waving his arms all around. John remained still, in a stance Dean both knew and feared.
That was the stillness before the kill, when John was perfectly calm and relaxed, the way a viper is before it strikes. Dean imagined his Dad's slow, deep voice, quietly threatening. He saw the half-exasperated, half-amused look that twisted John's stubbly mouth. If these guys who'd stopped them were monsters, they were in for the surprise of their short lives.
It was over in the blink of an eye. One second, thee men were standing, and then next, two were. Dean stared. It wasn't possible. Where was Dad? Had they zapped him somewhere? Did he disappear? He hadn't heard a gun shot. Without thinking, Dean threw open the car door and sprinted out across the flooded, muddy road, gun clenched in his hand. The ground was more slippery than he'd anticipated and he overbalanced face first into the mud, sending a spray of dirt and gravel everywhere.
Two pairs of footsteps crunched nearer. Frantically, Dean rolled over onto his back and readjusted his grip on the pistol. It trembled in his hand, not least because it was heavy.
The two men stood over him, barely visible because of the rain now falling straight into Dean's eyes.
"Leave 'im," said a gruff voice from above. "He c'aint do nothin'."
"Boss said no witnesses," replied another voice, this one with a reedy, almost whiny quality.
"Yeah?" said the first voice. "Well, I ain't killin' kids. I ain't sunk that far just yet. Leave 'im." On those words, one set of footsteps retreated, but Dean could still see the outline of the second man looming above him.
"Well I ain't gonna git kilt on account a no damn preschooler." There was the unmistakable shing of a knife being drawn from a sheath.
Dean coiled his finger around the trigger. An unpleasant, rusty laugh scraped against his ears. "Ooh-wee, this un's a fightin' one. What were ya gonna do, boy? You gonna shoot me?"
"Leave 'im, Bill." The first man's voice was firm now, and edged with impatience.
The second man didn't move. "That's a nice piece, boy. Y'ever use it?"
Dean squeezed the trigger. His hand shot back into his face with the report as the night was split by a deafening BANG! The bulky shadow reeled backwards with a bellowed oath.
"Bill!" The first man was back. He stood beside Bill and leaned down to inspect his shoulder.
"Son of a bitch!" snarled Bill. "That's it, kid. Yer dead." He raised the knife above his head. The looming shadow grew and grew until it blacked out the sky, and with it came the stench of stale cigarettes and day-old hamburger meat. Dean held his breath and gripped the barrel of the smoking pistol.
He brought it up as hard as he could until it collided with a crack! against bone, giving him enough time to push the stunned and wounded man aside and scramble to his feet and back to the car, but-
"Oh, no ye don't." A thick, hairy arm circled around Dean's chest and lifted him into the air, kicking and flailing. "I was gonna let you live," snarled the voice in Dean's ear. "You bein' a harmless kid an' all. What are you? Four? Five?"
"Six and a half," Dean spat with all the dignity he could muster whilst his feet dangled helplessly above the ground.
"Right. But you ain't no harmless boy, are ye? You went at us with a gun, and who's to say you won't come after us again? This is insurance is all this is." He sounded as though he was speaking less to Dean, more trying to reassure himself. "I gotta kill ye now."
Bill was standing now, although a little unsteady on his feet. The rain cascaded off the smooth edge of the knife as he raised it to Dean's throat. Dean closed his eyes. I'm sorry Sammy.
"Aaaaah!" The arm restraining Dean retracted and he fell to the ground in a heap, eyes still squeezed shut, for a blinding white light had flared above him, so bright it stung through his eyelids.
Dean curled himself into a ball with his hands over his ears. Both his attackers were screaming at the tops of their lungs, and above that was a shrill, piercing whine like feedback from a microphone. It seemed to drill into Dean's head, and when he pulled his hands away from his ears, there was blood on them, which was immediately washed off by the rain.
And then the light and the whining were gone as quickly as they'd come. Tentatively, Dean opened one eye, and saw the man with the knife, Bill, lying face down a foot away. He rolled over and saw the other man. He was on his back, facing the drenching sky, and Dean could clearly see every detail of his face.
He cried out in alarm and scrambled backwards. Instead of eyes, the man had two smoking craters from which runnels of watery blood dripped down his face.
Dean clambered to his feet, eager to get as far away from the dead men as possible. But then he spotted a third shape on the ground, still several feet away. He ran to it as fast as he could and skidded to his knees in the mud beside it.
"Dad? Dad! Daddy!" Dean punched the soaked, leather-clad shoulder but there was no response. With a great effort, Dean heaved John over onto his back, revealing a slack, muddy face with wide eyes staring blankly into the downpour.
"DAD!" Dean screamed. It wasn't possible. This couldn't be real. He was Dad, the mighty John Winchester. He was everything right and strong in the world all rolled into one. He was home and Hercules and their savior. He couldn't just be gone.
As Dean's mind ground through the shock, it lit on panic. What were they going to do now? He and Sammy were stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to get help, no way to get out - Dean could barely touch the pedals of the Impala, never mind see over the dashboard. They were good and screwed.
"Dad," Dean moaned again, trying once more to stir John awake. He was wet and shivering and angry and scared. "Damn it, Dad, wake up!" He hit John hard on the chest. "What am I supposed to do now? What about Sammy? You can't just leave! Dad!"
Now the tears came, mixing with the rain already covering his face. Dean's tiny body shook with sobs as he bent over his father's inert form. "Dad."
The rain stopped. Or rather, it ceased directly where Dean was crouched in the mud, but continued to splash all around. He raised his head and saw above him a canopy of black feathers. That was one massive bird. Wait, not a bird. Dean's eyes followed the grain of the wings with his eyes and came upon the figure of a young man. His unruly black hair and tan trench coat were completely dry.
Well, Dean may have been young but he was no idiot. He knew what a man with wings was. Still, it didn't hurt to ask.
"Are you an angel?"
The angel nodded. "Come with me, Dean," he said in a voice like sandpaper on stone. He gathered Dean up in a warm, strong embrace, still using his wings to shield them from the rain.
Less than a second later, they stood beside the Impala, even though it had been well over thirty feet away. The angel pulled open the back door, which Dean specifically recalled being locked, and scooped a still sleeping Sam into his other arm. Everything went black.
The first thing Dean registered when he awoke was the sensation of something warm and scratchy against his cheek. He opened his eyes and saw the shabby maroon décor and mountains of papers and books of Bobby's living room. Dean rolled over and fell to the floor with a loud thump.
Steps creaked along the old wood floor and Bobby Singer himself appeared, looking exactly the same as ever with his scruffy beard and a tattered trucker hat.
"Hey, kiddo," he said upon seeing Dean lying awake on the floor. "How ya feelin'?"
"Where's my angel?" Dean asked as the memories of the previous night flooded back to him.
"I don't know what you're talkin' about. Here." Bobby hoisted Dean to his feet. He was still wearing his mud-caked jeans and t-shirt. "Come on, you want some breakfast?"
"There was an angel," Dean persisted. "An angel came and killed the men who killed Dad."
"There ain't no such thing as angels, boy," said Bobby through gritted teeth. "He was a kind man and nothin' more." He glared at Dean for a moment, then sighed apologetically and added in a gentler voice, "Look, I'm real sorry about your daddy, but you gotta put this nonsense outta yer head. There ain't no such thing as angels," he grumbled again as he turned to the stove.
Bobby's words did nothing to dismiss thoughts of the angel from Dean's mind. He didn't remember what had happened. There was just the man with knife, and then the light, and the angel. It was as though someone had reach in and scooped the memory of John's death right out of his brain. All that was left was his angel.
Dean shut up about the angel, but he didn't stop thinking about him. Sometimes he drew him on scraps of paper he kept locked away in a box beneath his bed. And every night he prayed that his angel would return. It wasn't that he believed in God, because he sure the hell didn't, but he believed in his angel, yes sir he did.
Twenty-three years later
Lightning flashed through the cracks in the ceiling of the ramshackle barn. The shingles clacked against each other as though caught in a demonic tornado. The lights exploded in showers of sparks, plunging them into darkness punctuated with the white streaks of lightning. The barn doors screeched and swung inwards with a rattling bang.
The silhouette of a man stood framed against the storm, and began walking slowly toward them. Dean and Bobby emptied shell after shell at him, silver, salt, iron, but he just kept coming until he stood directly before them. Lightning flashed again, and they got their first clear view of his face.
"You," Dean and Bobby said in shocked unison.
The angel inclined his head. "Hello again."