Title: Forgetting To Fall
Rating/Warning: Mature themes
Category: (Gen - preseries to pilot, wing!fic)
Dean is fourteen and Sammy ten when he hears his little brother crying in the bathroom.
Dean only hears it because he walks right past the closed door and that’s odd because Sammy is a howler. He lies down, drums his feet and goes to town when he cries but the way he sounds now, when Dean puts an ear up to the door, means that Sam is trying to be quiet. Like he’s pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes and holding his mouth and nose closed to try and choke off the sobs.
The very idea of that sends something cold curling in Dean’s belly, but he’s a big brother and there are rules.
“What are you cryin’ about you girl?” Dean calls, pounding a fist on the door.
“Go ‘way,” Sam snaps back, voice sounding watery.
Dean leans his forehead against the door and wonders if maybe Sammy’s gotten his first boner and how much he really doesn’t want to have to be the one to explain it, but their dad won’t be home for days and Dean is it.
“C’mon, open up,” Dean demands, knowing that the only way to get Sammy to do anything lately is to bully. He’s developed a stubborn streak a mile-wide.
The door cracks open an inch and the misery on Sammy’s face makes Dean’s torturous big brother impulses evaporate and shove the concern and protectiveness to the forefront. “Christ, what’s up with you?”
“There’s something…wrong,” Sam says, stepping back and away from the door so Dean can nudge it open. Dean notices spots of blood on the tiles and fights down the black panic threatening to overwhelm him.
“Are you hurt?” he demands and Sam half-shrugs. He turns slowly and Dean’s mouth drops open.
His shoulder-blades are red and raw-looking and there are tiny curved bones poking through with a fine skein of skin stretched over them. A few feathers, dotted with crimson but white underneath, are pushing their way out of the skin stretched over the bone.
“Fuck me,” Dean breathes.
Sam reaches sideways and picks up the hunting knife Dean hadn’t even noticed was sitting on the sink. He hands it to Dean and then braces his thin arms on the lip of the basin. “Can you? I can’t reach.”
“Can I what?” Dean asks, looking from the knife to his trembling brother.
“Dad can’t see this. Please Dean… please.”
All at once Dean knows what Sammy wants him to do and he wants to throw up. Instead he clutches the knife and steps forward.
“Okay, Sammy, okay.”
Afterwards, Dean lowers himself onto the edge of the ancient bathtub and pulls a towel-wrapped Sam onto his lap. He can’t say the words, “It’ll be okay,” even though he knows that’s what Sam wants to hear, because he doesn’t believe it.
The first time is awful but it gets better after that. Dean is a strong believer in the ability to get used to anything and they both start seeing it as something regular they have to deal with, like a haircut. Dean passes into fifteen much the same way as he did at fourteen and this is just one more thing he knows a boy shouldn’t have to do, much the same as dealing with werewolves, poltergeists or Tracy Ackerman behind the bleachers at school.
When he’s sixteen and Sam is twelve, he thinks maybe they should stop but Sam is adamant. They’ve started using a large, black-handled pair of dressmaker scissors because Dean now trims the bones as soon as they appear instead of having to saw through them when they’ve grown out further.
“It’ll stop,” Sam says. “It has to stop.”
Dean isn’t so sure.
Two weeks before Dean’s seventeenth, their father comes home two days early and finds his boys in the bathroom, both covered in feathers and blood. They’d been on the road non-stop for the three weeks before that and the growth as Dean thought of it, had gotten a little out of hand.
“What are you…?” their father begins to say but then hauls Dean out of the room by the collar of his shirt, leaving Sam to cower curled up against the shower wall. He tosses Dean unceremoniously into his bedroom and closes the door, yelling at Sam to stay the hell in the bathroom until he gets back.
Dean sits with his back against his single bed, eyes on his clock until the hour ticks over and then the second. Halfway through the third, he hears the front door open and click closed.
The bedroom door is pushed open as his dad walks passed with Sam in front of him, one large hand on the back of Sam’s neck, guiding him through the house. Dean follows them into the kitchen and watches his father pull out a chair and sit down and then wave Sam over. He turns Sam around and walks fingers over his son’s back, his expression blank.
Dean had already gotten through one budding wing when they’d been interrupted so his father pulls the second one out, touching the fine bones, the skin stretched taut and the feathers that were still sparse, but thicker than Dean had ever seen them.
“How long?” John asks and Dean watches Sam’s lips part, knowing he is going to try and lie and knowing that their father would only be more furious if he does.
“Started when he was ten, I think,” Dean answers honestly and John frowns.
“And you didn’t tell me why exactly?”
“He wanted to. I was scared,” Sam blurts, silent tears tracking down his cheeks. “I wanted to be normal,” he adds in a small voice.
“Well, you’re not,” John notes gruffly. He stands, ruffling a hand through Sam’s hair. “No more cutting them off, though. If this is the way you’re meant to be, then no use fighting it.” He looks at Dean for a beat, taking a long breath.
“Should I even him up?” Dean asks, looking at Sam with one fledgling wing.
“When I said no more I meant it. I’m sure they’ll even up when they grow out a little.” John moves over to the sideboard and pours himself a cup of coffee. “Now, no more keeping stuff from me, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” both boys answer in unison.
On Sam’s fourteenth birthday, after the usual books, weapons and clothes are unwrapped; Dean hands over one more, large package. Sam’s eyes go round as he accepts it, balancing on the edge of his chair. Dean teases him about perching sometimes, but really, Sam can no longer slouch down in chairs like he used to.
Sam pulls the mess of leather straps and buckles free from the wrapping paper and looks at Dean with one eyebrow raised. Dean flushes pink to his ears. “It’s so you can go back to school. I know home-schooling was driving you nuts.”
Sam unfolds the harness that at first glance looked like a horse bridle but now he sees what it is. He looks from it to Dean with shining eyes and Dean scuffs his feet and then escapes to his bedroom.
The next morning, Sam silently places the last piece of birthday cake in front of Dean because that’s how Winchesters say thankyou.
Georgia sees them packing up and moving out quickly because one of his teachers starts worrying about Sam and why he wears so many layers and refuses to take his shirts off in Gym class. That coupled with Sam’s unwillingness to be touched has the man drawing all the wrong conclusions.
They reach Jim Murphy’s family farm and when Sam has Dean help him remove the harness so he can stretch out, Jim makes a sign of the cross and John whaps him upside the head.
“What? The boy ain’t freaked out enough?” John complains, eyeing Jim who has the good grace to blush.
“Sorry, it’s just that… well, you could warn a guy you know? Especially a guy of the cloth.”
They both watch as Sam tears off towards the house, long legs pumping and wings streaming out behind him. John looks back at Dean who is unpacking the car and realises he’s been watching Dean more lately because he’s half-expecting his older son to sprout horns and a tail.
That’s the way of his life. Blessed on one hand and cursed on the other.
He hates himself for the moments of weakness when he almost feels glad that Mary’s gone and they had no other children. Jim breaks him out of his darker thoughts by clapping a hand on his shoulder.
“Help me put lunch on. I assume they eat like growing boys?”
“They eat like growing pigs,” John muses.
Dean has to make a new harness when Sam is fifteen because he seems to grow a foot overnight. When Sam straps it on and then puts on his clothes, Dean shakes his head with a sad look.
“Nobody’s going to buy it,” he sighs, knowing that sooner or later they weren’t going to be able to hide what Sam was well enough for him to still go on like he was normal.
“I just need a big coat,” Sam denies, looking at himself critically in the mirror.
“You need a big church-bell is what you need,” Dean argues and Sam scowls at him.
“Punch a few more holes in the straps and do it tighter then,” Sam says, unbuckling and shrugging out of the harness.
“It’ll hurt,” Dean says, shaking his head and dropping the harness on the floor. Sam scoops it up and shoves it back at Dean.
“Please, I don’t care,” he tries and Dean backs away.
“Then cut them off me,” Sam says, stalking towards the bed and pulling the knife from under Dean’s pillow.
“What are you, nuts? No way.”
“I’ll do it then,” Sam snaps, contorting at the waist and reaching over his shoulder. Dean is to him in a couple of strides, prying the knife out of his grip. Sam lets out a cry of frustration and barrels into Dean, knocking them both to the floor. They wrestle around until Dean manages to get a knee in the middle of Sam’s back and both hands around the base of his wings, yanking back viciously. Sam curses loudly until Dean releases him to roll away and curl in on himself.
“Of course it did, asshole!” Sam groans and Dean shrugs.
“Then how do you think it’s gonna feel cuttin’ them off, brainiac?”
“When did you start thinkin’ maybe he wasn’t yours?” Dean asks out of the blue and John nearly chokes on the swallow of beer he’s just taken.
He wants to be outraged, but in the dark reaches of night when he’s just staring up at the ceiling and seeing flames, the thought has occurred to him that maybe, just maybe…
“A little while,” John admits instead and watches everything in Dean slump, like he was hoping his dad would say something like, don’t be ridiculous.
There’s the sound of a door slamming and John and Dean both wince because they had thought Sam was still asleep.
“Go make sure he doesn’t do something foolish,” John says and Dean nods, setting down the gun he was cleaning.
Dean finds Sam at the paddock just on the edge of Jim’s property. The sole four-legged occupant of the farm, a small grey pony, is nudging Sam’s shoulder as he sits with his back up against the fence post. He has his wings curled up and over him so all Dean can see are sneakered feet poking out the bottom.
“You discussed this before?” Sam snarls but the sound is muffled because he’s still under his wings.
“First time,” Dean replies, sitting down opposite his brother and crossing his legs.
“So, what? You think I’m some kind of changeling or something?”
“Aw, Sammy, no. Dad’s always sayin’ you have mom’s eyes.”
“Oh, so I’m just a bastard then? Well, that’s so much better,” Sam snits and Dean rolls his eyes. He leans forward and plunges his hands into feathers until he finds Sam and then hauls backwards, Sam tumbling over with a squawk of protest and managing to catch Dean in the thigh with a bony knee. Dean holds on though, arms wrapped around Sam’s neck. Sam used to be so small that Dean would think that if he could bend right, he could wrap his arms around Sam twice over. Not anymore though.
Dean was expecting a struggle, but Sam just lays stiff, wings fanned out behind him. He’s dry-eyed and his mouth is a firm little line.
“You’re ours,” Dean says into the skin on his temple. “Nothing is going to change that.”
Sam doesn’t say anything, but his body relaxes and he lets himself be hugged for the first time in what feels like years.
“Either you take a run-up or I’m pitching you off a cliff,” Dean says, shoving Sam forward a little. “No way am I accepting those things are decorative.”
Their father has been on a week-long drunk. It happens, albeit rarely when there is a dry-spell in the hunting and he’s left with nothing but his thoughts. Dean tries to get them out of the house as much as possible as a consequence but considering Sam can’t exactly go into town and the drive-in is only safe when it’s dark, he’s trying this instead.
“You just want me to fall on my ass,” Sam grumbles.
“Want me to tie a string to your ankle and pull you along like a kite?” Dean offers with a wry grin and Sam’s eyes narrow.
“Fine, I’ll try the height thing,” Sam huffs and runs off. Dean belatedly realises Sam is heading for the dilapidated barn and tears after him but Sam has had a half a foot on him for six months and there is no way Dean is catching up when Sam really stretches his legs.
“Come back, I didn’t mean it!” Dean calls, starting to panic. When he reaches the barn, Sam is already edging his way out onto the sloped roof, putting a foot through a rotted section and pin-wheeling his arms crazily to keep his balance. “Get down before you break your damn-fool neck!” Dean yells up at him. He wants desperately to go up after Sam but doesn’t want to take his eyes off him for the time it will take to cross the barn floor and make his way up the ladder to the loft.
“This was your idea!” Sam calls back smartly and makes his way to the edge of the roof, toes hanging over. He spreads his wings and looks like some kind of weird gargoyle for a moment before he drops them back down to his side and sighs. “Alright, maybe this was a dumb-”
Sam never finishes his sentence because the roof under his feet gives way with a sick crack and he lands on his ass and then slides off. Dean lets out an abortive, “No!” just as Sam flexes his wings by instinct and manages to kick Dean in the chin as he angles back up towards the sky.
Sam lets out a whoop of pure joy as Dean jogs along under him, keeping in Sam’s shadow. “Get down here now!” Dean calls, because his heart is going a mile a minute and he’s still envisioning Sam with a cracked-open skull as he pitches into the ground, but it doesn’t happen. Sam beats his wings a couple of times and climbs higher. He wheels around and finally angles towards the ground, dropping too sharply and hitting with an undignified tumble into the dirt.
He’s laughing when Dean reaches him.
“You’re a jerk,” Dean huffs as he flops down next to Sam.
His father lets him go solo on a hunt and even gives over the keys to the Impala. Dean gets across the state line before he realises something is wrongwrongwrong and he turns the car around and heads back. He pulls up to the farmhouse to see Sam sitting on the porch steps.
A wingless Sam.
Sam stands and waves, grinning. “How’d it go?” he calls as Dean gets out of the car slowly and tries not to scream.
“Dean.” His father has come up from the fields and cocks his head towards the back paddock. “Come walk with me.”
Dean follows his father until they are out of earshot and sight of the house. When his father turns, Dean punches him. John looks startled for a moment, hand up to his jaw and just looks at Dean who is standing braced, hands in fists and breathe ragged.
“You only get one,” John says gravely.
“What happened?” Dean demands, feeling his anger slough away like dead skin, leaving raw despair beneath.
“He asked me to help him. I found someone who could. This is what he wanted, Dean.”
“What happened to being the way he was supposed to be, huh? You stopped us cutting them off him but you did this?”
“I don’t get why you’re so upset about this,” John says, frowning.
“Because now he’ll leave!” Dean yells, kicking dirt up with his feet.
“Dean-” John starts to say but Dean spins and runs towards the back paddock, feeling the hot sting of tears in his eyes and not wanting his father to see him cry.
Dean walks back into the farmhouse to see Sam watching T.V., sprawled on the couch with his legs over the back and his head upside down. He lets out a squawk of protest when Dean flicks him in the forehead on the way to the kitchen.
Dean stops in the doorway because there is a man he doesn’t know sitting across from his father at the table.
“Who’s this?” he asks, moving towards the fridge. He opens the door and leans in to snag a beer, uncapping it and taking a long swallow before he turns back around.
“This is Edgar Casen. He’s the one who helped Sam,” John says and Dean turns, eyes narrowed.
“What’s he still doing here then?” Dean demands, wanting nothing more than to launch himself across the room and throttle the life out of the man who is calmly eating toast and not looking at Dean at all.
“Sam doesn’t remember. He didn’t want to. You don’t have to either, son,” John says.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Edgar told us is would be easier, to hold the binding he put on Sam in place.”
“He doesn’t know? Is that why you sent me away? Was this really something he wanted or something you thought was best for him?” Dean asks, feeling the edge of white-hot rage.
John puts his hand down on the table and slides something across to Dean. It’s an envelope with his name on it. “Sammy wrote this before… he wrote it just in case he ever finds out again another way. He wanted to make sure he didn’t misunderstand, that he wasn’t angry at us and this was his decision.”
“He wrote me a fucking letter? How long have you two been planning this?”
“Not very long,” John says, looking from Dean to the letter and back again.
“If he ever finds out, it will break the binding,” Edgar says, finally lifting his gaze from the table. “If there is ever a need, it would be better for him to find out in his own words, yes?” Dean takes a small step backwards. Edgar’s eyes are violet and slitted like a cat’s.
“What’s to stop me giving this to him now?” Dean asks, picking the letter up and closing his fist so it accordions flat.
“Absolutely nothing, but he trusted you not to,” John says and Dean feels something shatter inside, because from now on he has a secret, something he has to hold away from Sam and it’ll change them, he knows it will.
“This isn’t fair,” Dean breathes and John smiles, sadness in his eyes, but it’s Edgar who says,
“Very little is.”
For the four years Sam is at Stanford, the letter travels with Dean everywhere he goes. He drives most of the way to Palo Alto more times that he can count with the express purpose of putting it in Sam’s hand.
When he drops Sam off after they unsuccessfully look for their father, Sam talking about interviews and school and his future on a plate, Dean slips it into his backpack.
He gets two blocks down before he turns the car around, knowing he’s going to get the letter back and destroy it, once and for all.
He’s finally accepted that Sam deserves to be free.
**Story continued in Learning To Fly**