Rating: R (language, violence)
Length: under 30K total; this chapter, 990 words
Spoilers: through the end of Season Four
Summary: What if Sam and Dean knew one crucial piece of information about the future before Dean's deal came due? Would it have changed everything, or would the end result have been the same? AU version of Season Four, written for spn_30snapshots .
Master table is here. Prompt for this chapter: yesterday.
It was twelve hours after they'd walked away from the meatpacking plant. Twelve hours after Alastair left the building in a flash of dark smoke and Castiel left them to clean up the mess.
One day after the threat to Sam's life forced Dean to dredge up a part of himself that he would've rather cut out with one of those razor-sharp knives that had fit so easily in his hand.
Fortunately, a trucker passing by the tiny burg of Josslyn, Nebraska, had seen them trudging along and offered them a lift. Sam stayed silent throughout the ride, slumped against the door. His uneven breaths meant he was feigning sleep, but since there wasn't anything Dean could say to him anyway, he let it pass.
Instead, he listened to Bob the trucker telling him about all the best cathouses in the West. Dean didn't need the info, but it beat listening to the seething darkness in his head. So he nodded and made appropriate noises, and before he knew it, they were pulling up to the Cowboy Motel outside Cheyenne.
The dark gleam of the Impala, patiently waiting outside their room, almost made his heart lift.
"I'll pay for another night," he said. "You take the first shower."
"No, let me," Sam said. When Dean started to protest, Sam grabbed his wrist and held it up.
There were dark red stains around the edges of all of his fingernails.
Dean jerked his hand away. They'd found a rusty pump outside an old farmhouse and coaxed a trickle from it to get the worst of the blood off. Now, standing in the dusty parking lot, he could suddenly smell the bright coppery stench, and it turned his stomach. "Fine," he growled.
Inside, he turned the shower on hot and scrubbed off quickly. It was almost six, definitely time to find some entertainment for the evening. He needed something to distract him after—
Dean abruptly wrenched off the hot water faucet, willing the icy cold to shock him from his dark thoughts. Unsuccessful, he hastily toweled off before opening the bathroom door. "All yours," he muttered.
Sam was perched on the edge of his bed, fidgeting with the remote. He waited a moment and then asked hesitantly, "Hey, you okay?"
He stared hard at the floor. "No, but I'll be better once we stop talking about it."
"Look, I don't know what went on in there—"
"And you're not gonna," Dean warned.
"—and I don't need to," Sam finished with a pointed look. "But…Dean, you can't go back."
The words sent a shiver down his spine. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Sam made a helpless little gesture. "The headspace you were in all winter. You can't go back there. There's still seals to save, and now angels are dying, and I—I want to help you."
"Just make sure I get back in one piece from the bar tonight," Dean retorted.
"That won't help anything," Sam said warningly.
"Oh yeah? What do you know about it? What the fuck do you know about trying to forget being a torturer?" Dean crossed the room in two swift strides, looming over his seated brother. "It all came back to me like that, Sam." He snapped his fingers and met Sam's gaze head-on. The kid had to know what kind of monster he was dealing with. "It felt familiar," he went on in a low voice. "It felt comfortable. It felt good."
Sam stared back unflinchingly. "Because it was Alistair?" he asked, matching Dean's tone. "Or because you were in control?"
"Don't start that psychology bullshit with me," Dean growled.
"It's a common tactic used on POWs," Sam went on calmly. "Coercing them into torturing their comrades."
Dean snapped back, "It was my choice to do it. My decision to get off that rack and pick up the knife." God, how stupid was his brother if he couldn't get this?
"Did everyone get that choice?" Sam asked, eyes bright like he was on the scent of something.
"What? I don't…" Dean pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, briefly delving into the fetid pit of his memories. "No, I don't think so."
"Why do you think they framed it as a choice for you?" Sam was leaning forward now, looking at him so intently it felt like he was trying to beam thoughts right into Dean's head. "Why do you think you got that offer? Because having to make that choice and having made it were all part of the torture. And as long as you let it ride you like this, it's still going on."
Dean shook his head slowly, refusing to accept the out he was being given. "You can't understand, Sam. You just can't."
For answer, Sam held out his forearm, displaying the veins in his wrist. "There is demon blood in me, Dean," he said deliberately. "I can't change that. But I have a choice about what to do with it. You can't change what happened to you, either. But you can choose how to deal. Don't let it define you. Please." His voice broke a little on the last word, but his gaze held steady.
Before Dean could answer, there was a knock at the door. Grumbling, he tucked the towel tighter around his waist and snatched his Colt from the dresser, holding it behind his back as he opened the door.
When Dean saw the figure in the rumpled trenchcoat, he started to swing it shut again.
"Wait!" he heard, and an outflung arm kept the door open.
"Castiel, what the fuck do you want?" Dean asked tiredly.
"I'm not Castiel." The voice was much higher-pitched than usual, and Dean stared at him, fingers tightening around the gun. "My name is Jimmy," the man went on, his blue eyes shifting between Dean and Sam. "Castiel's gone. And we're all in big trouble."