Ratings: All Audiences
Pairing: None Applicable
Warnings: Blatant Abuse of Mythology.
Summary: In the beginning, there was a shadow that fell...
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
Head of a Pin
Prologue for "Don't Pay the Ferryman".
The difference between those that dwell in darkness and those that dwell in light is no less than the head of the pin that angels dance on, and no more than a single drop of blood shed without regard. Light can be resolute and pure, but also uncompromising and unchangeable. There is no room for rationalization in those that walk purely in the light, you either do or you do not. Those that merely try, are as likely to fail as they are to succeed.
In the darkness, there is nothing but fractures. There are cracks and slipstreams, there are paths tread more heavily than others and there are roads that are indistinguishable from those traveled by the light save for intent.
The Darkness will always make a deal. The Light will never break one.
Those that move in the Light are unified and combined in their goals if not their methods. They rarely fight among themselves and there are no second chances.
Those that move in the less illuminated realms tend to fight and squabble among themselves. They have agendas they do not often share and goals they never lose sight of. They will make alliances and break them as the mood strikes.
And then there are those who are neither creatures of Darkness or Light, and those who are nearly a perfect blend of the two.
Humans are the latter.
The former have no name; they are but shadows, but they are immortal.
And when an immortal makes a mistake, it can take forever to correct it.
The problem with being mostly shadow is that it's easier to hide in darkness than in light. But when you hide in darkness, there's really not anyplace that the true creatures of Darkness can't see. If a shadow hides in light, it tends to disappear, and that can be rather awkward if you actually want to accomplish anything. So, the only alternative is to hide where Light and Darkness meet; maybe a little more toward the dark side just for ease of movement.
It was a more or less random choice, amid the millions of lives there were to choose from; skimming past those already likely to draw the darkness, veering away from those already too rigidly trying to march in step with the light -- too inflexible. Someone whose imminent death couldn't be felt, where a casual glance would reveal only one life like so many others, a precarious balance.
The choice seemed as perfect as it could be with the hunters close on the heels of a slippery shadow. A man who had been a warrior, who knew first hand the face of certain kinds of darkness. But he'd set it aside for mundane pursuits, for the elusive wonder humans called love and joy and contentment. And there he was, a strong man with a strong will but who was so pragmatic and unimaginative he was unlikely to even notice the presence of a shadow on his soul. And the shadow had no desire to make its presence known. It was hiding after all.
So, the shadow settled, in between a flash of anger at some trivial mechanical detail at the man's place of employment, and the rigid exercise of control over that same anger, a crack between the dark and the light was formed, just big enough for a shadow to be cast.
And the hunting hounds bounded by, having lost the scent entirely. But they circled and prowled and bayed and snarled and the shadow merely made itself indistinguishable from the other shadows in the world. It could wait. It was immortal.
The basic facts were of less interest to the shadow than a single blade of grass, but settled in, there was little else to do but observe, if not experience, the man's life, even if it was likely that in some sixty years, long after the shadow left its unknowing host behind, they would meet again.
His name was John Winchester. He was a decent mechanic, more stubborn at his chosen trade than a natural. His wife Mary veered a little more toward the light than John, but since he tended toward the darkness just a bit, it was a good match. They had a child, Dean, who already possessed his father's stubborness and pragmatism, but laughed like his mother, and tended to like everyone he met.
Dean was more curious and excited about the child already filling his mother's womb, showing little jealousy and every time his father pressed a hand to feel his unborn child kick, Dean wanted to feel too. John wanted a daughter who looked like his wife. Mary wanted a healthy baby with its father's eyes. Dean wanted it the way children want puppies and kittens, something small to play with but with no real sense of responsibility.
There had never been a more normal family.
The shadow never interfered or influenced, and only occasionally tested the surrounding ether for the presence of its pursuers then drew back.
But it was inevitable that what John felt it would feel, that the sheer humanity of the man would be the most interesting part of the shadow's self-imposed exile. And truly, not unlike the first taste of a hard candy, there was something to be said about how very little it took to make humans happy. Of course, it took equally as little to make them unhappy, fickle creatures that they were.
When Mary went into labor, the curiosity (or the sheer boredom) roused the shadow to a little more presence in its lack of presence, which caused problems it had neither anticipated nor intended, although perhaps it should have known that very much like itself, the soon to be born occupied the thin line between being and not being, between life and death. After all, there really was not much difference between immortality and death and if one angel could dance on the head of a pin, they all could.
The labor was long and painful and both mother and child were exhausted when Sam Winchester finally made his appearance in the world. By then the shadow had retreated to the furthest corner of John Winchester's soul so as not to bring attention to itself.
But held in his father's arms for the very first time, only minutes after his birth, Sam Winchester followed his father's voice and fixed blind, unseeing, newborn eyes on his father's face, and saw the shadow anyway.
Babies who wail at birth are considered very, very healthy.
The shadow knew it had made a mistake, compounding the mistake it had made which sent it running and hiding in the first place, and so, to quiet the child and hopefully silence the cry that would bring the darkness hunting again, the shadow whispered, merely a name, a word, and Sam fell silent, blinked at his father and yawned.
The shadow hid again and waited. It made no appearance when mother and son came home, it remained hidden when Dean met his brother for the first time and was both intrigued and enchanted by the infant's tiny features while stoutly refusing to believe that he had ever been that tiny or that smelly. Disappointed too, at first, because Sam obviously couldn't be played with even as Dean could play with the stuffed toys that dotted his bed along with his trucks and blocks and books.
But Sam had one gift for Dean that no one else had ever offered to him. Sam would listen to Dean talk for a long time, and never interrupt except with an inquisitive coo or hiccough. Dean could tell Sam anything, any secret. And Dean would make up secrets just for he and Sam to share. And the noises Sam made, Dean would try to imitate, like they had their own special language.
At six months old Sam Winchester was alert and bright and laughed more than he cried. Knew his family by the sound of their voices and nearly always, always responded verbally when they spoke to him, even if it was only with his own set of noises.
Until the afternoon he lay on his floor in the living room while John and Mary made plans for the thanksgiving trip they would make to visit family, and Dean lay beside Sam watching television and telling his brother a story from his favorite book. Sam lifted his head and looked at his brother and made a noise that Dean echoed back and the shadow heard the baying of the hounds.
By all that was holy or unholy it should have left then. Sam did not repeat the sound nor did Dean as the family readied itself for bed.
But the shadow hesitated, hoping the hunters would lose the scent again.
Were it of the light, it would have stood. Were it human, its compassion might have made a different choice. But it was neither, nor was it Darkness.
Self-sacrifice was not in its nature, but diversion was. It could lead the hunters away, and save itself, but such a thing required a sacrifice of sorts.
With the hunters closing, it made its choice and given Sam's precocious and troublesome mimicry, it had thought better the child be sacrificed than the man who had sheltered it for so many months.
It should have spent more time coming to understand humans.
That plan was simple: preserve what passed for its own soul in that of John Winchester's youngest son, and allow the hunters to follow what it kept for itself. Even if caught, what made it itself would be preserved, to continue as it had.
That Sam would pay the price was regrettable but necessary, for the souls of children and infants, are thin and delicate as tissue paper, and while they can also resilient and repair themselves easily if fractured or torn, they could not recover from the loss of so much of their already fragile existence.
Sam recognize it of course, not only because it wore the face and used the voice of his father, but because Sam could still see the shadow that had greeted him at his birth. It was familiar, and he gurgled and laughed and spit bubbles.
The shadow had never seen the like, and either from the fragmentary traces of John Winchester's soul clinging to its own, or for being recognized for what it was with no expectation or judgment, it almost changed course.
The hesitation cost Mary Winchester her life and set off yet another series of events the shadow would have to correct. Even as it eased part of Sam's tiny, fragile soul free and replaced it with its own, the hunters arrived.
In that fraction of a heartbeat Mary Winchester met the face of her fate, and traded her life for her son's without knowing fully what the consequences would be.
Mary screamed, only to be silenced. Sam stared up at the shadow and at his mother's stricken face and the shadow fled, showing itself boldly to the hunters to lure them away. The hunters followed.
And still the shadow held onto the part of Sam's soul it had stolen.
All hell broke loose.
It never wanted Mary's death. It had no debt worthy of giving the entire family to the darkness, but it had made a deal and fulfill it it would.
The fire burned and the shadow passed through a boy running with his brother and exchanged one fractured soul for another. All Dean did in reaction was clutch his baby brother more tightly. And with the fragment of Dean's soul, he returned to his host, who now had a gaping tear in his own where his wife had been ripped from him.
It was patchwork at best, and the repercussions would not be felt for years.
It was not, the shadow consoled itself as it fled with the hounds in pursuit, unusual for humans to surrender small parts of their souls and hearts to one another as tokens or gifts. Brother to brother, parent to child. The boys were young, they would heal and eventually the shadow would return to claim what it had left behind.
It entirely missed the hunter that paused and looked back and smiled.
Not until years later would the shadow realize that it had never really escaped at all.
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