Relationships: Sam Winchester & Magda Peterson
Characters: Sam Winchester, Magda Peterson, Dean Winchester
Tags: Transphobia, Misgendering, Transmisogyny, Child Abuse, Canon-Typical Violence, Episode: s12e04 American Nightmare, Trans Female Sam Winchester, POV Sam Winchester, Experimental Style, Angst and Tragedy
Summary: A retelling of 12.04 American Nightmare: Sam, Magda, and the things left unsaid.
Originally posted on the Archive of Our Own on June 15th, 2021. Complete.
What happens first is this: You and Dean dress up as priests. When you were younger, you had a phase where you wanted to be a nun. Protected, living out your days in a place of study and worship and modest sisterhood. Dad knocked that idea out of your head pretty quick.
Their oldest—Magnus, the social worker is saying. You snap back into yourself. A few years ago, he got pneumonia, and the family wouldn’t let a doctor treat him. They said whatever happened was God’s will.
What happened, Dean asks.
You and Dean let out twin exhales. It’s what you expected, but it’s never nice to hear, nonetheless. Alright, you say into the phone, thank you. You hang up.
Mrs. Peterson offers you a drink, and leaves you in the living room to go to the kitchen and fix you something. You glance around at the photographs. Magnus features in nearly all of them: smiling close-lipped smiles for the camera; arm around his brother in one, holding his mother’s hand as a toddler in another. Cute kid.
Mrs. Peterson tells you about a car accident, about kids with behavioral problems and a vision from God. You wince. Your experience with visions, godly or otherwise, has never been all that it’s cracked up to be. But the woman has faith, and you wouldn’t stoop so low as to try and take that from her. You nod along.
And then you tell her about the delivery boy’s death and there’s no sadness there; her eyes go distant and she says, serenely, God has a plan for us all. And that’s too much for you, the anger swells up and what patience you had for this mother evaporates.
So what happened to your son, you say, was that God’s plan? You swallow hard. Your throat keeps catching.
Yes, Mrs. Peterson says after a moment.
He didn’t have to die. He was sick. If you had taken him to a doctor—
Magnus was sick in more ways than one, Mrs. Peterson says. Her lip curls. He had—perverted urges, he had things twisted, he wasn’t right in the head. He got very sick, his lungs were going; that was God’s work, to redeem him through suffering. Who are we to refuse such a kindness?
You swallow your disgust. You think this was God? you spit out. God doesn’t care what kind of person Magnus was, trust me. And God didn’t kill your child. You did.
Her face doesn’t change, and you stare at each other for a moment.
Then: movement in the corner of your vision—Dean and Abraham and the other Peterson boy have come in, and the kid’s gaping at you, wide-eyed.
Think you boys should go, Abraham says, a warning.
You give him a single nod. Grab your case files, and follow Dean out the door.
Dean’s got some crazy ideas about the case worker, Beth, being the culprit, and you don’t fight him on it. He heads off to track her down, and you wait until sunset to head back to the farm to look for Magnus’s ghost. You’re searching the horse stables, EMF meter in hand, when you hear a noise. You duck into an empty stall, try to steady your breathing. Footsteps sound on the wooden floor.
Elijah? What’s wrong? It’s Abraham, voice low.
Mom’s with Magnus, the boy, Elijah, says. He sounds strained.
There’s a pause, the silence pressing. Your mother’s doing God’s work, Abraham tells him, calmly.
She’s hurting him.
A heavy sigh from Abraham, then a thunking noise. Son, the Devil’s a deceiver. Don’t let him sow doubt in you.
A horse whinnies nearby. Can horses smell humans? Can they smell fear?
If anyone found out about Magnus, they’d come for him, Abraham is saying. More footsteps, and a scraping noise. Shoveling hay?
Then, in a moment that lasts all of three terrifyingly long seconds, you sense something near you. You don’t move, couldn’t even if you wanted too. But without turning your head you know Abraham is setting something in the stall next to you. You hold your breath, sending up a silent plea not to be discovered. You don’t pray anymore, haven’t in a long time, but these are extenuating circumstances. You’ll take all the help you can get.
Abraham’s still speaking, walking away from you now, and you allow yourself the smallest of exhales. And if that happened, he’s saying, I love your brother… but you know what he can do. Magnus…
...Magnus is our cross to bear.
You wait for ten minutes after the last footsteps to ensure that Abraham and Elijah are gone. Then you slip out of the barn, looking for a shed or hidden room you missed before where Magnus could be.
But you don’t find it—instead, you round a corner and nearly slam into Elijah, a tool bag slung over his shoulder and looking just as terrified as you are.
You stare at each other, frozen in anticipation. But he drops the bag to the ground and holds up his hands.
I’m not going to hurt you, he says. I… I know you heard what we said.
You nod. Elijah’s jaw works as he searches for words.
Magda, he says finally, voice nearly inaudible. He used to say his name was Magda, not Magnus.
Oh, you say, unsure, thank you. I—thanks.
Elijah blinks, and nods, and grabs his pack and turns away from you; vanishes around the corner. You stand in place for a moment longer, wondering what he could have meant.
But there’s no time to waste. You move on.
The farm is dead quiet. Abraham, presumably, has gone back to bed; Elijah’s disappeared into the dark. With no leads to go off of, you start by creeping around the perimeter of the house, peering through the windows into the darkened rooms. It’s near the back, by the Petersons’ garden, that you hear voices.
You crouch down, near the ground where the sound is coming from, and realize there’s a dingy basement window hidden under an overhang that you missed on your initial sweep. You press your face close to the glass and see candles flickering, two figures in the small underground room.
The child—Magda—is crumpled on the floor, blood seeping out of open wounds. Gail, the mother, is pacing around the room, the curls that frame her face glowing in the dim candlelight. Her voice is muffled, but you can hear her chanting from a book, a continuation of the Aramaic verses you heard in the church. Magda is weeping, whip in hand, crying out in pain. You can’t look away.
And, shit, shit, your phone’s ringing, Dean wouldn’t know timing if it slapped him on the ass. You stumble away from the window, grappling with your phone and pressing it up to your ear. Beth isn’t a witch, Dean drawls, and you cut him off; hiss into the phone, the kid’s alive.
You barely get the words out before you hear a telltale click: there’s a gun trained on you. Abraham didn’t go back to bed after all. Go ahead, son, he says softly, and you think he’s talking to you for a second, until you see his eyes are focused a few feet behind you, and you turn and see Elijah wielding a two-by-four. I’m sorry, he mouths, and there’s a very bright light, and then everything turns to blackness.
You wake up to the faint sound of singing.
Magnus, you say, and then you remember what Elijah told you. Magda. Magda Peterson?
The child flinches, and your heart aches. That’s not my name. I’m not—that’s not my name. I’m the Devil.
No, you say, No, you’re not. You’re really not.
The child turns, chains clanking. He’s inside me. I can hear him whispering. He lets me hear what people are thinking. He perverts me. He lets me do things.
What kind of things, you ask, voice hoarse.
Magda swallows, doesn’t answer; bony and gaunt and drowning in the sackcloth garment.
Magda, I’m here… I’m here to help you. Show me. Please.
Eyes widening. Then Magda turns again, away from you, looking up at the altar, and focuses on the wire cross hanging on the wall. As you both watch, it dislodges itself from its stand and rises up, quivering, hovering a foot in the air.
You’re overwhelmed by an ache, deep within. You can’t speak for a moment, let alone breathe.
And when you say—the Devil perverts you, you croak, already knowing what comes next. Do you mean…
I wanted to be a girl, Magda says, desperate, voice impossibly quiet, confirming, and a little sound escapes from your throat.
You buried this down long ago. You made peace with it. You were granted the serenity to accept the things you could not change, courage to change the things you could, and the wisdom to know the difference, and of course you could not change any of this. That’s just the way things were, and are, and always will be.
I know, you want to say, I know, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph I know, but you don’t. Of course you don’t.
You haven’t had words for this for thirty-four years.
Magda, you say. You’re not the Devil. You’re just psychic. There are others out there like you, like—like me. I have powers too. I’d get these visions sometimes and—and I could move things with my mind.
You can do that? she asks you.
Well, no, not anymore, I don’t think. But that didn’t make me the Devil, it—it—it just made me who I am.
If you’re the same as me, she says, then you’re evil, too.
Evil people don’t spend all this time thinking about how evil they are, you say, and you desperately hope it’s true. Being able to move things with your mind isn’t evil, and—and wanting to be a girl isn’t a bad—a bad thing.
She looks up at you, something great and terrible in her eyes, and she shakes her head. Mother says I’m evil, ‘cause I hurt people.
Who did you hurt? you say.
I didn’t mean it, Magda says hurriedly, voice cracking. She was pretty, and she always smiled. And I thought that maybe she could help me. I couldn’t talk to her, but I could hear her thoughts. And I thought maybe I could make her hear mine. So I prayed. And I reached out to her… but she never came. And I did it again with the delivery boy. Mother says I killed them.
She looks at you, pleading with her eyes. Your heart breaks, over and over again.
Magda, that wasn’t your fault. You’re not the Devil, you’re not evil, I promise you. Take it from someone who’s been there. You hesitate, then continue. And it’s scary. I—I know it’s scary. But you can learn how to control it. You don’t ever have to hurt anyone ever again.
Magda’s lip quivers; she’s about to start crying, and from the looks of it, so are you. You come a little closer to her, knees aching on the cement floor.
Hey, you murmur, c’mere, and she crumbles into you, and the dread overwhelms you in a wave as her tiny body clutches on to yours. You can tell her she’ll be okay, you can try to believe it, but things don’t end well for psychics. You’ve met plenty over the years; the only ones you can think of who were last alive when you met them were Missouri Moseley and Fred Jones—the latter’s probably long dead, he must have been in his eighties when you met him. Psychics and tragedy are partners, soulmates; this is a truth that stretches back generations.
And then, the more terrible thought, one that you feel guilty just for admitting to yourself as you cradle this girl in your arms, rock her back and forth: You are the same. Girls like you—there is no happy ending here for either of you.
The door opens and Elijah and Abraham come down the stairs. Elijah holds the lamp out. It’s time for supper, he says.
You and Magda blink into the light, eyes unadjusted, and you have the time to exchange a single glance before Elijah grabs you roughly by the arm. There’s terror in Magda’s eyes, and you can’t do anything about it. You’re tugged up the stairs, into the house, into the dining room, and the ropes around your wrists are re-tied so you’re now bound to the kitchen chair. Magda has no such bonds; you realize, as your heart sinks even further, that it’s because her parents know she won’t run.
Mrs. Peterson wordlessly passes out dinner plates, and you speak before any of the family can. Your child needs help, you say. Magda’s not looking at you.
Abraham shakes his head. What do you think we’ve been doing all these years. The powers, the terrible things he’s said to us… this is a kindness.
Mrs. Peterson glares at you. We’ve been wrestling with him, with this, for years. You have no idea what it’s like to be a parent, Mr. Morrison, she bites out. Do you have any idea what Magnus has done?
Magnus caused my car accident, she says. The beatings protect him, she says. Pain purges sin, she says.
No, it doesn’t. You’re wrong.
At your words, Abraham looks up at you, eyes terribly sad, and you cry out to him desperately, pleading, Abraham!, hoping it will be enough to make him see sense in this madness, to do something to save Magda.
Abraham’s wife may be the most terrible sinner here, but you will never forget that cowardice is a sin as well. Abraham averts his eyes.
Mrs. Peterson kills her husband, stabs her son while trying to stab the daughter she will never truly know. You are tied to the chair, are powerless to stop any of it from happening. But when Magda turns the knife on her mother, you cry to her, you plead, you beg.
You are not the devil. You can control this.
The knife falls to the floor, and the pent-up pressure in your brain releases.
I thought you said you couldn’t do it anymore, Magda whispers.
You thought so too.
You’re in the car, on the way home, curled up in your seat with your forehead pressed against the cool glass of the window. Dean’s driving, humming under his breath along with the music. It’s Johnny Cash, or someone, you don’t really know and can’t find the energy to care.
So, Dean’s saying, with a glance over at you. The kid. Magnus. He’ll be okay, right? He—
She, you correct numbly.
What? Dean asks.
Her name was Magda, not Magnus, and she was a “she”, you say. She was, y’know… you trail off, lacking the words, again, for how to describe someone like Magda, someone like you, to someone like Dean.
He’s frowning at you. Born in the wrong body? Had a girl’s brain but a boy’s… everything else?
Sure, you say, exhausted already.
Oh, Dean says quietly, thoughtfully. Huh. Is that why his—her parents…
That was part of it, you say. The, the psychic powers too, and—
It comes to you again, all at once, the exhaustion overtaking you like a flash flood. You can’t speak, you can only watch yourself as shudders wrack your body and your shoulders shake. Maybe you’re making noises, maybe you’re sobbing, maybe you’re screaming, maybe it’s all in your head.
Hey, Dean says, alarmed, hey, hey, Sam, talk to me. There’s a screech of tires on pavement and you’re vaguely aware that he’s pulled the car over to the shoulder.
I’m sorry, you say, because it’s the only thing you can remember how to pronounce. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
This is unfamiliar territory for him, you know, and knowing it only makes you feel worse. Sammy, what happened? Dean asks, a hand on your shoulder, pulling you close.
Fuck, you shudder out, I—I, I can’t, she just—she’s so young, Dean—
It’s quiet, save for your sobs, as Dean holds you. I know, he murmurs, I know. He doesn’t know, and he never will, but you can at least appreciate the sentiment for what it is.
Magda is going to live with an aunt who has a very low bar to clear in terms of good guardianship, off in California. You were from California once. This is good. You never got a girlhood, and it’s too late now for you, but she’ll get a second chance at one. This, you remind yourself of.
Gradually, your breathing slows, becomes less ragged and painful. You pull away from him, sitting up, swiping the back of your hand across your face and taking a deep breath in, out. That was a slip in composure you’d do better not to repeat. You’re trying to collect yourself, to pretend that everything’s better now, and you think you’ve almost got Dean convinced when you catch his eye and your gaze lingers for a moment too long.
Oh fuck, you think, just as Dean says, choosing his words carefully, Sam… is there something else you wanna to tell me?
It’s nothing, you say, and you dredge up a smile. I think I’m just overtired. Need a good night’s sleep.
It’s gonna be fine.