Title: Basic Descent
Warnings: spoilers for “In the Beginning”; implied character death
Author's Notes: Title and references from the art of aerial silks. Thanks to janissa11 for beta help.
Summary: AU. Deanna Campbell survived the YED's attack.
Showmanship was always the name of the game. My mother was the one who taught me the term, taught me to recognize that there would be no feminine version of the word for us, that the real point was to win it from the lips of men startled into admiration, gazes lifted from our breasts to take in the long lines of the whole body. They couldn't discern the skill, but they could applaud - and pay for - its undoubted results.
But there were limits to how far outside their comfort zone those men would go. Already, being at the circus, clutching their ticket stubs in sweaty palms, salivating for the chance to watch some titillating freaks, was danger enough for most of them. They didn't like the thought of a small blonde girl hurling knives at the spectacularly muscled figure of her father, outlining his body as neatly as if I'd had a piece of sidewalk chalk in my hand. Maybe they didn't like the sight of a cherub armed to the teeth in the uncertain light of the big top tent, instead of playing hopscotch, curls bouncing gaily in the sunshine. Maybe I'd have gotten away with it if I'd pretended less confidence in my blades, my eyes, and my hands. It didn't matter how often I chanted showmanship under my breath. Within a week, I was the one against the corkboard, facing down the glint of knives in my father's hands.
The men always cheered when I stepped away from the board like the outline of blades was an open doorway. The coins they threw translated into the whiskey that slid down my father's throat. The time he spent at the bar translated into the freedom for me to learn a new act.
My mother smiled at me the first time I executed a basic climb without error or fear.
She hadn't accompanied me to Mr. Chandler's office when I went to petition for a new role, but she was the one who bought me my first silks.
Samuel said he liked the way my hand curled familiarly around the handle of a knife, of any knife he offered me when he came to watch me practice my old tricks. Samuel said to call him Sam.
Samuel had no idea what he was getting himself into. My mother and I shared a smile.
The silks whispered of home as I climbed, twirling around my ankle, shimmering against my spine. Through the bicycle climb I moved like a workman, like a craftsman, steady and certain. The long moments I allowed myself in the angel in the ropes hang were perfectly balanced, and I was weightless the way I'd once been, a small soft child in the cradle of my mother's arms. It was the Isabella drop that made me aware of my tingling skin, my screaming muscles, my freely flowing tears.
I dropped from the heights she'd shown me. Without her, there was just an ordinary world, where gravity was a fact of life instead of either a foe to outwit or an absent-minded ally to cajole. She was dead, and I didn't have a native habitat any longer, aside from my own skin.
It wasn't that my safety net was gone. It was that the silks felt like chains.
I called him Sam when I said yes. The question had never seemed worth answering before.
That word had a significance I'd never guessed. Suddenly I was part of a brotherhood again, a secret society of sorts, and Sam was the one initiating me. His blunt face lost its distrustful sheen when he laid old newspapers on our kitchen table, his thick, strong fingers tracing a route marked in blood from one column of smudged type to the next.
I learned to trace those paths myself, to discover them in newsprint, or, more often, in the curious pitch and timbre of the radio man's voice as he delivered the news while I chopped vegetables and roasted meat. When Sam came home from work, I could have a whole case file in my head, along with a plan for how he could elicit information from any witnesses, the local authorities, anybody.
It was more than a lot of women got, the chance to do more than prepare dinner and run a vacuum cleaner in meticulously straight lines. And it was good work, worth the doing. It just would have been nice if I could have done some of the hunting myself.
I was heavy with her, the daughter I was sure I carried, and so any thoughts of walking tall with a knife in my hand were rendered moot. My feet were sore and hot all the time, and my center of gravity had shifted dramatically.
The months I spent stumbling around, trying to adjust to my new body, were heavy with thoughts of how my mother must have mourned her lost silks when her body swelled with me. All of her work had been put aside because of me, and yet she had still passed on everything she knew without any sting of bitterness, without a breath of resentment. That in itself was a lesson worth learning.
Sam never said a word, but there was no reason he should have suspected a thing; my research was as thorough as ever, and my fingers never fumbled when I stitched him up. Blood was my birthright, after all.
Sam didn't make her a princess or a locked-up treasure. He treated her as an accomplice.
As soon as she was old enough to lisp endearingly and deflect gazes from the uncomfortable questions of the man to whose neck she clung, he used her as his skeleton key to scenes.
She liked the exhilaration of performance, just as I had, but it was easy to see that was never going to be enough for her. I made an accomplice of her myself, teaching her not just how to cook and clean and sew, but how to blend in, how to wear an outward smile that leaked not a hint of the brain's feverish work.
And she took to it like falling into a safety net. And Sam never knew.
I didn't need to hear her whispered confession to that young hunter that she wanted to leave the hunting world Sam assumed she'd been born into. Before I could clear a path for her, that demon did it, the yellow-eyed thing that wanted her so desperately.
It meant for its hands around my throat to be like iron, but I thought them into silks instead, long and strong and meant to be manipulated. I rolled my neck against them like the spotlight had never left me, and I breathed quietly long after the hands were gone.
Sam didn't know how to accommodate pressure like that. He was gone before I could save him, and then he went after Mary.
I had no way to follow him or that boy Dean, and I knew the sight of me would only make her stumble, doubt herself. She was strong, fiercely and rightly determined, and that yellow-eyed thing didn't stand a chance against her. All I could do was let her go, without even a length of silk to bind her to me, let her choose the battles she wanted to fight.
She was always my good girl. And I had work of my own.