Author's Note: This is a story about Sam and Narnia. I imagine that he would have been as big an Edmund fan as I am. So here's a story about how my favourite character loves my favourite quote over the years. It helps to have read 'The Horse and his Boy'.
Boy King Sam, the Just
"It is very true," said Edmund. "But even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did." And he looked very thoughtful. – The Horse and his Boy, Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
One of the books that burned in the fire was an old, dog-eared copy of the bundle of the Chronicles of Narnia. It was big and heavy and Dad had spent so much time groaning about the waste of space in Sam's duffle that he'd eventually thrown out other books to be able to fit it in.
Those books were a worthy sacrifice, though, for the Chronicles of Narnia. Sam believed in Aslan and magical worlds full of talking animals even before he believed in God or the monsters that lived in the shadows. He secretly dreamt of being in that world, of being a Pevensie, come to save Narnia. He saw Dean in every word that described Peter (High King, Magnificent) and himself in Edmund (traitor, redeemed and Just). He wondered what it would be like to have sisters with whom he could share his adventures.
Only later in life did he wonder if the books had been his favourite because they hit so close to home; absent parents, overprotective older brother, a life from which he'd like to escape. As he stole a look at his father's journal and came across a page on witches, Sam's first thought was that (HA!) he had known they were real.
After all the truths had been told, Sam could never quite shake the idea that maybe, if all those other tales were real, Narnia was real too. He would sneak looks into cupboards (Just checking if there isn't a bogeyman or something, Dean) and wait for magic to sweep him away beside railroad tracks. The belief faded of course, like it had with Susan, and the looks in cupboards became routine. The world he longed for was no longer one of adventure, but one of peace. Of college and learning. Of safety.
Susan suddenly seemed like a much more sympathetic character.
But (like with Susan) normal crashed and burned. Jessica erupted in flames over his head and his heart hurt more than anything he had ever imagined. The smoke seemed to hang around him for weeks, turning everything grey and tearing his lungs to shreds. Every thought of Jess made that smoke thicker, made the grey greyer, made his lungs convulse in sobs.
Slowly, though, the smoke disappeared behind the bright green of Dean's eyes and the search for a father he hoped to finally find. It was only weeks after the fire, when Sam's duffle began to refill itself with clothes and weapons, that he felt the absence of his favourite book. It no longer weighted the bottom of his duffle, but he couldn't bring himself to buy a new copy.
Sam thought, instead, of his favourite book of the Chronicles. Of the Horse and his Boy and how Edmund had refused to kill the foolish Rabadaash. Edmund had said "even a traitor may mend". And that was what Sam intended to do: mend. Amend for the death of Jessica, for all the ways he had betrayed her by being with her and lying about his past.
Dean was back. From hell. And somehow he felt guilty. Dean – who had sold his soul for his brother, who had lasted 30 years before he cracked under unimaginable torture, who was considered so good by heaven that angels had come to save him – was feeling guilty.
If Sam hadn't been so stricken by Dean's story and his ability to somehow perpetually take every piece of blame he could onto himself, he would have rolled his eyes at the irony. After all, it was Sam who had something to feel guilty about (what with the demon blood and the brother he hadn't been able to save).
Dean felt he was no better than a demon, a murderer. He felt like a traitor to the sacred trust and the hero-worship Sam granted him. Sam could see it in his brother's eyes. But, unlike his brother, he knew that trust and hero-worship could never disappear.
Sam envisioned the red line that ran under his favourite sentence in his favourite book. Even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did. It was on the tip of his tongue, ready to dispel the desperation in Dean's eyes. But Dean had never been one for useless quotes and platitudes. Words weren't something he gripped close and lost himself in. Not like Sam.
So Sam bought him pie and beer. He flicked food at his brother, lopped insults his way and made sure they brushed shoulders as they made their way to the car.
Judging from the way Dean smiled as he shoved the Impala into gear, he had gotten the memo. Dean was forgiven. Always forgiven.
The air pumped past Sam so fast that he wondered if it would tear off his skin. It didn't of course. Having an angel inside him did have some perks. Really, Sam didn't want to think about vivisection, the possibility of it actually happening was a little too real.
Dean's beaten and broken face kept flashing through his mind as Lucifer attempted to wrench back control over his body. Sam wasn't going to let that happen. Not now, not ever again. Because Sam had made many mistakes to get here, many wrong choices and half-assed decisions. But he had learned from them.
And now he would spend the rest of eternity paying for them.
After all, this had to be punishment enough, didn't it? Torture for all eternity, never another moment of peace. It seemed like the perfect penance for betraying his brother and his friends and his world.
"Let me out." Lucifer hissed in his mind, "You don't want to be stuck down there forever any more than I do."
Lucifer yanked at Sam's body, attempted to spread his wings and fly up and out of the ever closing hole above them. Sam felt his control slipping, felt a growing onslaught of guilt and pain. Bobby was dead. Cas was… non-existent. And Dean was alone. It wasn't something Sam had ever wanted for his brother.
"Why are you doing this, Sammy?" the devil continued, "This world you're saving, these people you're sparing, they don't care about you. All you are to them is a traitor to mankind. Why would you want to save them?"
The angel's voice was desperate, Michael was clenching his fists around Sam's arms with so much force that he was sure they were broken. Only one word registered.
Other words came to Sam, suddenly. What had Edmund the Just, traitor to his world and family said? Even a traitor may mend. Edmund had nearly died killing the Witch, had spent the rest of his life delivering justice because he wanted to be honest and fair. And he had been forgiven.
If Edmund could do that, then maybe – just maybe – Sam could, too. The hunter clenched his hold around Lucifer tighter. He could do this. He could rise above his treacherous acts. The punishment fit the crime, and Sam's had been a terrible crime.
The crash to the ground was jarring. Everything was enveloped in a bright, white light as Sam felt Lucifer rip out of him. The angel stood in his true form; large, beautiful and terrifying. His many faces were full of fury and vengeance.
Sam felt nothing but calm. He was a traitor. And all this pain and misery that awaited him?
That was Sam mending.
As Castiel sat opposite Sam, he hung his head, tired and forlorn. The youngest Winchester shot him a curious look over the edge of his laptop. The angel's brow was furrowed, his hands twisting uselessly in his trench-coat. Sam's lips almost twisted up in something between a smile and a grimace, but he bit his cheek before it happened.
"Cas," Sam said, as if there was someone else he could be talking to, "You okay?"
The angel looked up, still frowning. He didn't quite meet Sam's eyes.
"As you know, I went through quite some new experiences is my brief period of humanity. I have learned lessons about life, about the hope of humanity, about…" Castiel stopped in his tracks, as if he couldn't quite put into words what he had felt.
"PB&J?" Sam suggested. The half-smile that graced Castiel's lips was brittle.
"Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were certainly among the wonders of humanity, yes." Castiel murmured, "But I have also learned of penance."
"You're an angel, but you didn't know penance?" Sam asked with a raised brow, "That's a pretty big thing in the bible you know."
Castiel nodded solemnly. "I knew penance, of course. However, as an angel it is always far away. Abstract. You do what you do for the greater good of things. You acknowledge penance because it is the one mercy you can allow."
Sam frowned at that. Not all penance was a mercy.
"As a human…" Castiel continued, "As a human I came to understand the true meaning of it. The feeling of it. The sheer depth of guilt that only penance can alleviate."
This time Sam nodded in understanding. He knew the feeling, he knew the way betrayal and mistakes could lie on the heart. Forgiveness was the only cure, but the forgiveness of others was not enough. To truly remove the gruelling weight of guilt, you needed to forgive yourself. From personal experience, Sam knew that forgiveness only came through penance. He'd done his share, Sam thought sometimes. Wasn't millennia in the cage penance enough?
"With all that I have done, I have recently found myself wondering…. Is there enough penance in this world to redeem me?" Castiel whispered, shaking his head, "Everything I've done to this world. To Anna, to Dean… To you."
"To me?" Sam asked incredulously, "You've spent the past week healing me from the inside out. That's hardly something you need to be forgiven for."
"I have done other things, Sam." Castiel answered tiredly.
Yes. Castiel had. He had made many wrong choices and questionable decisions. He had a lot of blood on his hands. And Sam's loss of sanity. That was something Cas had been responsible for, too.
Sam's eyes narrowed, irrational anger and betrayal suddenly blooming in his chest, "Is that why you're here? Why you're doing this? Is healing me some sort of penance for breaking the wall in my mind?"
Shock radiated from Cas' very form. He sat up straighter, eyes wide, already bringing his hands up in a placating gesture.
"No, Sam. I assure you, I do this out of friendship. I care." Castiel said gravely, then continued with a smirk, "Besides, I would not consider what I do now to be penance. You are not too difficult to be around."
Blinking at the backhanded compliment, Sam let the tension slip from his body. He scolded himself for the lack of faith he had in his friend – because yes, Cas really was a friend – and smiled instead.
"I think you repented enough when you took my crazy, anyway." Sam amended.
"I have done other things. Unforgivable things." Castiel repeated morosely, "I am a traitor to my kind, to my duty, to my friends."
Sam studied Cas. He knew the guilt the angel felt, probably better than anyone else ever could. He, himself, had done those same things. He had betrayed his ideals, his hopes, his family, his world. In the long years of self-loathing and doubt that had followed his acts, he had learned that there was very little that was truly unforgivable. Not to those who mattered most, at least.
As an angel, Cas had lived for millennia, but he knew very little about life.
"Even a traitor may mend." Sam found himself saying, an echo of the fictional Just King he had always felt connected to. Then, with a sardonic smile and a wave to his chest he concluded, "I have known one that did."
The look in the angel's eyes was unreadable as he looked upon Sam. For a moment, the hunter wondered if he had spoken out of place. If, perhaps, Castiel did not believe that he had mended. Then the angel smiled softly.
"I believe I know that same one." The angel said, then he pondered, "Those are wise words."
"Yeah, I know. They're not mine." Sam chuckled. Castiel smiled.
The angel and the hunter sat in amiable silence for a while, Sam ticking away at his keyboard and Castiel sitting unmoving in that disconcerting way he tended to. When the evening rolled around, Sam cracked his back and stood up to make himself some dinner. The only sound was the crunch of salad and Sam felt the sudden need to say something. So, he asked Cas if he wanted a beer, and was surprised to hear the answer was yes.
Setting one beer in front of Castiel, and the other in front of himself, he was startled by the angels gritty voice.
"Thank you." Cas said.
Somehow, Sam didn't think he meant for the beer.
One of the books that burned in the fire was an old, dog-eared copy of the bundle of the Chronicles of Narnia. The pages had crumpled in the heat as the ink had run, dark, through the pages. But the book was not lost.
Though the pages that Sam had let his little hand run through were burnt. Though the great, golden lion in the front had gone up in the same flames it seemed to be made of, the words that had enchanted Sam's young mind were still alive. They were printed in every bookstore, stained into his very heart.
Even a traitor may mend, C. S. Lewis had written. Sam knew it was true.
After all, he had known one that did.
To all my co-Narnia nerds.