By the time he had turned six, Dean had learned a few important life lessons.
The first was that adults couldn’t be trusted. The second was that he was a freak. And the third was that it was better for everyone if he pretended to be normal.
He stopped talking about his nightmares. They made him cry sometimes, but he made sure he stayed quiet so his parents wouldn’t hear him.
He stopped drawing monsters. When his teacher asked him to draw a picture, he stuck to the basics – family members, playgrounds, bikes and cars. Dad was especially pleased by his drawing of the Impala, so Dean decided to keep practicing until he could draw Daddy’s car perfectly. He liked it when his dad was proud of him.
He stopped praying to his angel, too. He wanted to think that Cas was listening, but no matter how many times Dean asked him to come and play with him at Kinder he never did. He was probably too busy to pay attention to a silly little kid like him.
The one thing Dean wouldn’t do was ‘play nicely’ with the three boys in his class who were always pushing him around and hissing nasty things in his ear when the teacher’s back was turned. He had learned that monsters could look like ordinary people, but if you looked closely the eyes gave it away. And he had seen their eyes. They were black.
He didn’t know what Jake, Andy and Dylan were, or what they had turned into, but he did know that they wanted to hurt him. He stayed away from them as much as possible.
Unfortunately, they were all invited to Kimberley Reed’s birthday party. By the time the other boys turned up Mom was long gone, so Dean just tried to pretend everything was okay and have fun with the rest of the kids. But in all the noise and chaos, Mrs Reed did not notice that four boys were missing from her table when she called everyone inside for lunch.
“Let go,” Dean insisted, struggling to escape the tight grip Jake had on his arm. “Leave me alone!”
Jake ignored him, waiting while the other two boys busted a hole in the back fence with their bare hands. They were stronger than any kids Dean had ever met. Stronger than adults, too. Jake glanced quickly back to the house, making sure no one was looking for them, before he dragged Dean through into the deserted alleyway. Without being told, Dylan took up a post by the fence while Andy ran down to the end of the alleyway to keep an eye out.
Jake grinned, eyes flashing black. “Alone at last.”
Dean spat at him and Jake threw him to the ground.
“I gotta tell ya, kid, you made this assignment a tricky one for us. When the boss told us there was a snot-nosed brat in Kansas who needed to die, we thought we would be in and out of here in a day. But we were under strict instructions to keep this kill under the radar – something about an ex-hunter with a vested interest – and you made it remarkably difficult to get you alone, out of eyeshot of meddlesome adults. Always hovering around your teacher or Mommy dearest. Smart move, but I guess today just ain’t your lucky day.”
Dean tried to scramble up and make a break for it, but Jake planted a foot firmly in his back. “A-ah, Deany. You’re not going anywhere.”
He tried to squirm free but the other boy was too heavy to budge. “Get off!”
“Nah, kid. Orders are orders. You’re gonna die here. Nice. And. Slow.”
Jake kicked him in the ribs, hard, and Dean skidded across the ground, slamming into the wall opposite.
“You gonna cry?” Jake taunted. “Baby gonna cry?”
Dean fought back the tears, climbing painfully to his feet and balling his hands into fists. “I’m not a baby!”
“Oh goodie, I love it when they fight back.” Jake beckoned. “Come on, kid. Show me what ya got.”
Dean ran forward and took a wild swing. Jake dodged it easily. He drove a fist into Dean’s gut and as he doubled over Jake punched him hard in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. His head slammed against the concrete and he saw stars.
Jake tutted. “Poor showing, kid. I expected more from you.”
Dean stood back up. He was breathing heavily and he felt like he was going to throw up, but he wasn’t going to give into this bully. Though his eyesight was blurry, he glared in Jake’s general direction. “You have to do – better – than that!”
“My pleasure.” Jake moved fast, getting in three swift blows before Dean could react. He reeled backwards, blood spurting from his nose. Jake came after him, grabbing his throat and pinning him against the wall. “This is fun. Aren’t you having fun, Deany?”
The grip around his throat tightened until Dean was struggling for air. He kicked and flailed, but Jake was unfazed.
“Cute, kid. Really. You really have no idea what you’re up against, do you?”
He let go and stood back, but Dean was still pinned against the wall, held tight by an invisible force that was horribly familiar.
“But – but you don’t have yellow eyes.”
Jake smirked. “Nah. Yellow-eyes is our boss. He sends his love, by the way. Well, no, more like he sends his sincerest wishes to see you die bloody.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a jagged knife; one that Dean recognised. Dean’s face blanched. “Ol’ Yellow-eyes says he gutted you pretty good with this. We don’t know how you survived the fire, but we’re gonna make sure we finish the job this time.”
Jake flicked the blade across Dean’s face and arms, criss-crossing cuts that burned and stung all over him. Dean quickly forgot his resolve not to cry, screaming and sobbing for his Mommy as his skin was slashed open and his blood spilled down his body. It felt like it went on forever.
“Aww, I’m afraid this show is gonna have to come to a close,” Jake said sadly, glancing at his Spiderman watch. “It’s been great, Deany, really. You have a delightful little scream – all pain and fear without enough volume to drown out all that fun being had at Kimmy’s party. I’m gonna miss watching you cry. But you know how it is, places to be, other people to kill.” Jake settled the tip of the blade over Dean’s belly button. “So long, kid.”
He was going to die.
Dean closed his eyes, bracing himself for the end – but then he remembered.
Dean grinned fiercely, staring directly into black eyes. “CAS.”
“What are you-?”
There was the sound of flapping wings, followed by cries of shock from Dylan and Andrew as a man wearing a trench coat appeared in the alleyway.
Jake turned slowly, fearfully. He didn’t look so big and strong now. “Who are you?”
“My name is Castiel. I have come for the boy.”
Jake spun back to Dean and made to plunge the knife deep into his belly – but Castiel caught his arm and brutally twisted. The blade clattered to the ground.
“You shall not harm Dean Winchester.”
“What are you?” Jake whimpered, trying in vain to break free from his grip.
“He’s my angel,” Dean said smugly. “And you guys are in big trouble.”
He was right. Dylan and Andrew tried to run but a sharp gesture from Cas froze them in place. He started chanting a weird language and they grunted, then screamed, then begged, and then black smoke exploded from their mouths and vanished into the ground. All three boys collapsed to the floor and didn’t move.
Released from the wall, Dean tottered unsteadily. “Are – are they dead?”
“The demons have been exorcised. The children they were inhabiting are unconscious but are otherwise unharmed.”
Dean frowned. “So… so it wasn’t really Jake?”
“No. He was possessed by a demon.”
The angel turned blurry and his words stopped making sense. Dean wanted to ask what was wrong with him. “Wh-whazza-hnn-”
The world turned topsy-turvy, Dean’s legs turned to jelly and the ground lurched up to meet him.
He didn’t hit the floor, though, because once again strong arms caught him.
The angel sighed. “Dean Winchester, you attract more trouble than any human I have ever known.”
Two fingers pressed against Dean’s forehead. Warmth spread through him, taking away the hurt. When Dean’s eyes fluttered open, he saw that his body was all fixed again.
Sighing with relief, Dean melted bonelessly into his angel’s arms. “Thanks, Cas.”
For a second, he could have sworn that the angel tightened his embrace, but then Cas set him back on his feet to look down at him sternly. “You could have been killed, Dean. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Dean pouted. “Not my fault the bad man sent the black smoke monsters after me. I didn’t even do anything.”
“It is not about what you have done, it is about what you will do.”
Instead of explaining, Cas changed the topic. “Why did you wait so long to call me, Dean? If I had not arrived when I did you would have perished.”
“I called you lots!” Dean protested. “Every day for days and days I called you and you never came.”
“I heard you,” Cas admitted. “But you are supposed to play with other children your age, not an angel. I had work to do.”
Dean’s bottom lip wobbled. “I thought you were my friend.”
“I’m a warrior of God.”
“So? Daddy had friends in the army. They come for drinks sometimes.”
“We are not supposed to get close to the humans in our charge.”
“That’s a stupid rule.”
“I do not expect you to understand. You are only a child.”
Dean folded his arms and glared up at the angel. “Don’t treat me like a dumb kid. I’m six, not a baby.”
“I was not questioning your intelligence, just your ability to comprehend matters beyond your scope of human experience.”
“Like monsters?” Dean challenged.
Cas tilted his head, regarding him thoughtfully. “It is true. I have seen adults who have difficulty accepting the existence of the supernatural, but you handle the truth remarkably well.”
“Better than Mom and Dad. They don’t believe me.”
“For many people it is easier to ignore reality than to live in fear of the dark.”
“The dark isn’t scary. It is the things hiding in it that are scary, like ghosts and Wendigos and demons.”
“A wise distinction.”
Dean noticed that the angel didn’t deny the existence of the creatures he had mentioned. “So… they’re real? All the monsters I see in my dreams?”
A part of Dean had hoped that all the adults were right and that the monsters were just from his imagination. Aside from demons, he had never seen the monsters of his nightmares with his own eyes, and it felt better to pretend they weren’t real. But an angel had just said they were, so they had to be. Suddenly, going to sleep became much scarier.
He tried to cling to the illusion. “But Mommy didn’t die and Daddy isn’t a hunter and we don’t live in motel rooms.”
Dean was more confused than ever. “So some stuff in my dreams is real and some isn’t? That’s weird.”
Cas sighed. “This is very difficult to explain to a child.”
“Stubbornness. Yet another irrepressible trait of Dean Winchester. Okay, Dean, let me ask you a question. If your mother had died in that fire, and years later you discovered a way to travel back in time, would you try to save her?”
“She’s my mommy,” Dean said. It was a stupid question.
Cas nodded. “Of course you would. And you did.”
“Everything you dream about happened, Dean. The yellow-eyed demon killed your mother and your father became a hunter. You grew up learning about monsters and weapons; the ‘family business’, as it were. When we met, I took you back in time to show you something, and you saw your chance to warn your mother about her fate. In doing so, you disrupted the natural timeline and created an alternate reality.”
Dean frowned, trying to understand all of the angel’s big words. “I grew big and went back in time and I saved Mommy?”
“That remains to be seen. There are consequences for your actions, Dean. As a hunter, your father killed many evil creatures and saved many lives. Now that he is living as a mechanic, all of those people are in danger.”
Dean thought about the people who got hurt in his nightmares and his eyes welled up with tears. “My fault?”
“I have been trying to save as many as possible. Your dreams have proven advantageous in that regard. They are an echo of the version of you from the original timeline, bleeding through the walls between the worlds because you were the source of the disruption. I have been gleaning as much information from your dreams as I can, and completing the hunts your father should have.”
Dean smiled tentatively. “You really are a superhero.”
“I’m an angel,” Cas corrected.
“So, everything is okay then? Mommy is alive and you can help all those other people?”
“Yes. But it is you I am worried about. When you went back in time to save your mother, you also told the Yellow-eyed demon that you would be the one to kill him in the future. That is why he is trying so hard to kill you first, and I am afraid he will succeed.”
“But you saved me.”
“I am not from this reality, Dean, nor am I from this time. I am cut off from my original universe, but I did attempt to return to the appropriate year so I would not damage the natural course of events any further. But I could not find you in the future, which leads me to believe that you do not make it that far.”
Dean swallowed. “I’m gonna die?”
“I will endeavour to prevent that outcome. Your destiny is far too important to permit an untimely demise. That is why I returned to save you in Sam’s nursery, and why I have been checking in on you regularly since. But you must promise to call me if you are in danger.”
Dean nodded frantically. “I will.”
“Good. I will return you to your home now. Stay safe, Dean Winchester.”
But Cas had already tapped two fingers against Dean’s forehead and in the blink of an eye he found himself standing in his driveway at home.
Dean made up a story about a friend’s mom driving him home to explain to his parents how he had made it back from the party without being picked up, and they accepted it without question.
He knew there was no point trying to tell the truth.