Summary: Anna Milton has always believed in fairy tales.
Spoilers and/or Warnings: SPN Season 4 (through 4.16)
Title, Author and URL of original story: Grace by nwhepcat
Once upon a time, a man and his wife longed fruitlessly for a child of their own. Endlessly, the woman hoped that God would fulfill her wish.
(Rapunzel, The Brothers Grimm)
Anna Milton has always believed in fairy tales. She just never thought she'd be living one.
The tree is magnificent.
The part of her that knows such things— the angel part that Pamela's questions brought to life— recognizes that as fitting. It's a suitable monument to her Father's gift of Grace. The human part of her wants to stretch out beneath the tree, to scrunch up her skirt between her knees and read a book. She wants to crush the sweet smelling grass beneath those silly, strappy sandals all the other girls liked to strut around in and her human father, Richard, never let her wear.
"It's beautiful," Dean says, and his voice is hushed behind her.
She wants to be Snow White, still and pale on a crystal bier awaiting her prince, so that she can blink up at him and focus on the sunlight streaming through the thick branches.
. . .for she was still as white as snow and as red as blood, and as black-haired as ebony wood. . .
Dean, Sam, and Ruby, whose presence causes Anna's angel instincts to shriek 'kill, kill, kill', are still talking quietly behind her.
She wants to have sex under this tree and pluck dead leaves from Dean's mussed hair while laughing at the way his face wrinkles as he smiles.
But as she walks closer Anna senses there's something missing. Slowly, she rests a hand on the rough bark half expecting something magical to happen— a sword from the hand of Nimue or a giant crack of thunder.
The angel in her scoffs at such a human fancy. There is no magic to be found here, in this tree, except the simple magic that humans dream up.
No destined sword.
Another has come and gone, taking the Grace she discarded, and with it, her one chance to seize her own destiny.
Anna has never been afraid to make her own choices, not even as an angel.
“It doesn’t matter," she says. "It’s not here. Not anymore. Someone took it.”
It's at that moment, with Uriel distracted, Castiel down, and Dean going up against Alastair to save him, that Anna realizes the truth. The angels are losing, and it's her only chance.
She's not Rapunzel, waiting in a tower. She's an unassuming mermaid. She's going to save the prince, not be the one saved.
Uriel never expects it of her, never thinks she would dare, as a weak and helpless human. He should know better. It is foolish of him, and Uriel is rarely a fool.
Anna smiles, a grim sort of smile as Uriel shouts and fumes. Seeing them like this— Castiel with his wide, innocent eyes and thousand yard stare; Uriel with his superior smirk— it makes her wonder. She sees the emotions on them, emotions she would never have thought possible for any angel to have. Has she inadvertently misled Dean by telling him that angels can't feel?
Perhaps it takes a human to recognize the truth.
Perhaps it was only her who could not feel.
Perhaps she merely needed the right impetus, and ripping out her Grace had been a fool's game.
Anna hopes she will find out.
The vial of her Grace is singing to her, 'soft, sweet, sweet' amid the shrieks of outrage roaring through the ether as the angels— all of the angels— turn their eyes to this moment.
It’s the enchanted spindle at the end of the longest set of stairs she's ever climbed in her life, the golden ball, the poisoned apple. It's the most beautiful thing she's ever seen.
"What are you doing, good old woman?" said the princess.
"I’m spinning, my pretty child."
"Ah, how charming! Let me try if I can spin also."
With one last glance at Dean, she smashes the vial, crying out as the blue-white light congregates around her mouth, filling her. She falls to the ground writhing in agony, screaming. This is not a butter knife; a kidney. This is. . . pain beyond pain. Pleasure beyond pleasure.
Anna struggles to her feet as her human flesh quails before the light that is shooting inside her, filling her with boundless, terrible, Grace.
"Shut your eyes!" she shouts. Sam obeys her instantly, as does Ruby. Anna suspects that particular demon should be watched carefully, but turns her gaze to Dean regardless.
Dean— Dean isn't closing his eyes.
The angels have come. The angels have come, they are here, and they are going to kill her. Anna weeps into her hands, wondering what she's done to deserve this.
She waits for Dean to save her. He can save her, right? Dean Winchester and his brother— it's practically all the angels are ever talking about, in her head.
Since the moment it all started.
Dean Winchester is Saved!
The prince always saves the princess. If she hadn't left the hospital herself, if she hadn't had to escape. . . she thinks Dean would have come for her anyway. Wouldn't he? Like the prince found Rapunzel, locked away and waiting in her tower.
He's the one who's supposed to stop the apocalypse, isn't he? He's a prince and she's going to be the princess. The prince always comes through in the end, no matter what.
Anna stares at her reflection in the grimy mirror, seeing messy red hair and red-rimmed, puffy eyes. She doesn't look at all like a princess.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
But— the angels have turned their faces away from Dean. How can he win against angels?
Through a rising sense of panic, Anna listens to the crashing sounds from beyond the door. They need to hide. Just the like dwarfs helped Snow White hide from the wicked Queen. The Hunter; he tricked the wicked Queen by giving her a doe's heart and claiming that the princess was dead.
How do you trick an angel? Anna wonders, despairing even as her hands are groping for something, anything, to protect herself.
And then she just knows. There's pain, yes, and blood, so thick and dark. But blood is magical. She hesitates for only a moment, and then her hand is moving swiftly against the mirror's surface.
Blood is powerful.
Then the angels are gone, and she's staring down at her blood-drenched hand when Dean shoulders his way through the door.
When she is two, maybe three years old— Anna doesn't remember it now, not really, except maybe she does, in the same way you think you remember a story your parents tell you over and over again— Anna is convinced her father isn't really her father. She cries when he comes near, and is inconsolable even by her mother's voice and touch.
Maybe it is the fairy tales her not-Father read to her, even as young as she was then, the fairy tales that thread throughout the rest of her life like familiar friends. Tales about princesses, and princes, and dragons. Tales of being rescued from wicked stepmothers and terrible ogres.
Tales of changelings left behind in a crib.
She believes in them for years and is half convinced that she was adopted as a baby, perhaps even in some exciting 'found on a doorstep' fashion that her parents refuse to speak of. But they are good people, she loves them, and over the course of years the notion fades as the foolishness of children often does.
Maybe she can't escape the image of Odette, trapped as a swan by the wicked magician Rothbart. She dreams of feathers brushing her skin.
She dreams of flying.
Sometimes, she dreams of falling and terrible pain. She thinks that Odette must have been shot with an arrow by the prince after all.
Anna is pretty sure that most princesses are still virgins by the time they meet their Prince Charming. She's not, but that's OK because Dean isn't exactly a prince either.
He's just human. So is she, even if it's her last hours as one. Even without her Grace, Anna can feel her humanity inexorably slipping away, inch by inch, as her angel memories re-assert themselves.
It's not the best sex of her life, but it's possibly the truest. Dean bangs his head on the window crank handle and manages to elbow her in the ribs while she knees him in the thigh. It's tight and hot and sticky, and it's perfect. Anna stifles the urge to giggle, her mind filling up with the phrase "With my body I thee worship . . ." as they give themselves over to passion.
Dean is by turns gentle and fierce, she hurts for him as he seizes up and stares at her in uncomprehending terror, lost in a memory. Hell has done this to Dean.
Heaven has done this to her.
She doesn't know exactly what he sees, but she knows enough from what the angels whisper to understand that he's broken and lost, same as her. She clutches him tighter, trying to keep him here with her, and talks to him until he's seeing her again and not whatever horror has him in its grip.
She senses something not quite human about Dean, a touch of grace, and Anna lets her hand wander to stretch over the hand print shaped scar marring Dean's shoulder. A shock of something rushes over her, and she shudders her way through a quiet, lingering orgasm.
Her angel senses are afire, and she recognizes the presence on Dean's flesh as Castiel's. If she had not fallen would she still have met Dean Winchester? Would hers be the mark on his body?
What would be different in a world where she, not Castiel, had raised Dean Winchester from the fires of Perdition and Alastair's tender mercies?
She wonders if the angels are watching; if they see two humans rutting in a black, metal carapace beneath her Father's sky.
She wraps herself around Dean, nibbling at his ear before whispering to him. She whispers about dreams, Grace, and the lengths to which an angel will go to obey orders.
Dean isn't closing his eyes— he's staring at her, like he doesn't intend to ever stop. She sees the temptation in him then, the desire to let it all burn away. Anna's not Rapunzel, and she won't let Dean be that blinded prince, wandering the wilderness.
"Shut your eyes!" she screams for the third time. Even in fairy tales, don't things always happen in threes?
God, Father, please let him shut his eyes!
He does. Anna would sag with relief, except her Grace is buoying her up. Alastair is reaching for her, his human shell twisting and melting before her unleashed Grace. She feels her own body dissolving, burning up around her in a glorious rebirth of heavenly fury.
Castiel and Uriel are still staring. She looks at Castiel and an understanding passes between them. Dean will be in good hands.
The little mermaid lifted her clear bright eyes toward God's sun, and for the first time her eyes were wet with tears.
Anna Milton always believed in fairy tales. But she was never meant to live one.
Their voices were sheer music, but so spirit-like that no human ear could detect the sound, just as no eye on earth could see their forms.
Watching Dean open up to his brother about his time in Hell is a moment of weakness she can no longer afford.
She is hunted.
But she watches anyway, exulting in the strength of purpose that emanates from him, even masked as it is by human doubts and weaknesses. He truly is a righteous man.
Being an angel is not how she remembers it. She feels— albeit differently than her human shell once had. It took ripping out her Grace, and reclaiming it, for her to recognize the truth of it.
"I wish," Dean tells Sam, "I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing."
Invisible, she listens to Dean's anguished wish and brushes his forehead with her lips though no tears can fall from an angel's grace-filled eyes.
She is powerful.
She is needed to fight against Lucifer's rise, for Dean's sake and the sake of the humans she has left behind. Alastair is out there still, and Lilith, and . . . she understands more, now that she has shed her human flesh. Something is amiss in the legions of her angel brethren. Something treacherous.
She is not a princess, and never was. She is a hunter. A guardian. A warrior.
She turns her face away and flies.
"Who are you, toward whom I rise?" she asked, and her voice sounded like those above her, so spiritual that no music on earth could match it.
(The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen)
Notes: Many thanks to bellajayd and bhsbaby for tireless hand holding, cheer leading, and fearless comma slaying.