Rating: R (language, violence)
Warnings (highlight): character death plus happy ending
Length: 1,363 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. The whole story is available as a PDF file here.
I started writing this at the start of season five, when lots of fans, including myself, were frustrated with how Sam and Dean had been so distant from each other during the previous season, and how if they'd just talked to one another, none of this would have happened. Of course, by the time "Lucifer Rising" came around, it was pretty obvious that they were being manipulated heavily by both sides, but I still wondered, would there have been a happier ending if they had stayed united through S4?
The starting point had to be Ruby. If Sam had never listened to her, he wouldn't have had to hide from Dean. So what would give Sam the strength to reject what Ruby was offering? Knowing that Dean was going to be pulled out of Hell. How did he know that? When I started writing, I didn't know, but that's the awesome thing about writing fic for a show that relies so heavily on deus ex machinae: something will come along to make it work out.
So Dean goes to Hell knowing that he's getting out; but of course, he doesn't know that time moves differently in Hell. So when the hope Dean's been holding on to finally shatters, he breaks faster. Which means the Witnesses rise faster, etc., etc. It was right about here that I figured out how they knew Dean was getting out of Hell: the coin. Of course, the coin being what it is, it twists the wishes around, and so Dean didn't know about the difference in time, and Sam's happily oblivious until Dean points it out.
Then things get darker. Because Ruby's not around, she can't help them save Anna, and so Dean's downward spiral gets even worse. Sam starts trying to develop his powers, this time with Dean's blessing, but that only makes Dean feel more worthless. It comes to a head with the siren, who this time goes after Sam first (mostly 'cause I wanted to have Sam use his powers on Dean). But instead of it tearing them apart, it brings them back together.
Then the angels come in, being total dicks, and Sam exorcises Alastair but doesn't kill him (sadly, I never got to use this later on). Then they have to save Castiel, who then decides that the Winchesters are more worthy allies than his brothers. He gets exploded for his troubles, but he doesn't get put back together. The boys press on, together but alone, figuring out the final seal and, like all good tragic heroes, doing what they think is the right thing but accidentally ending the world. And then, without the need to overcome the mistakes they've made separately, thus standing strong against the angels like they did through all of S5, they separately give in.
So if there's a point to this rewrite (and this way-the-hell-too-long note), it's that hanging together could have been much worse than hanging separately. I didn't like how they were distant and mistrustful in S4, but I think it was the need to overcome that distance and make up for their mistakes that helped them keep each other human in S5 and save the world. And so I guess this offers me hope for S6 as well.
Thanks for reading: here's the epilogue.
A Land Where We'll Never Grow Old
There's a railroad trestle curving through a field of waving golden grasses, a rutted gravel track running alongside. There's a black classic car resting at a wide spot in the track, gleaming dark metal in the warmth of the midday sun. There's a tall figure leaning against the hood, legs crossed at the ankles. He's wearing ragged blue jeans and well-worn boots, plus two flannel shirts buttoned over a grey t-shirt, and he's sweating a little in the sun's warmth. He's looking out into the distance like he's waiting for someone.
There's the faint crunch of gravel, like a vehicle coming down the road, but it's coming from behind him. He turns in surprise to see a man in equally-battered jeans and a cracked, well-worn leather jacket climbing out of the driver's seat of what looks like the same car he's been leaning against, a smile on his face to rival the sun overhead.
"Dean," Sam says, standing up and striding towards his brother, his feet kicking up puffs of dust, a wide grin stretching his cheeks.
"Heya, Sammy," comes the warm reply, and then they're embracing, arms tight around each other, holding each other like it's been decades since they were last together.
Maybe it has been.
"Been waiting long?" Dean asks in Sam's ear, fisting his hands in the back of his shirt like he already knows the answer and doesn't want to hear it.
"You tell me," Sam says, closing his eyes and letting the sense of rightness that he's been waiting for all this time soak its way into his bones with the warmth of Dean's presence. There's sudden, fierce joy welling up inside of him, along with the peace of a promise coming true. Not that he didn't believe it would happen someday, given who'd been making the promise, but it's so damn good to be here like this, he can't even believe it.
Dean pats his back before releasing him, but he barely takes a step back. "What happened, Sam?" he asks, his voice raspy. "Why did you—" He makes an open gesture that's somehow supposed to convey the entirety of what Sam did.
Sam drops his head, remembering fire and death and horror and the way the coppery tang of blood was always in his mouth every time Lucifer allowed him to surface and see what he'd become. He hasn't thought about it for a while, but he knew that when Dean finally arrived, he'd have to at least briefly dredge up the memories. "He had the Croatoan virus," he explains. "He had a damn stockpile of it, and he was going to have his demons release it in one city every day, all around the world, until I said yes." He lifts his head, and the memory is enough to make his gaze bleak and sorrowful, even here in this peaceful place. "He said I could watch people tear apart their friends and their families, one by one, or I could let him in and be done with it. He said he'd be merciful in comparison."
"Aw, Sam." Dean's eyes hold too much pain, considering where they are. "If the damn angels hadn't yanked me away like that…"
"It doesn't matter," Sam says with a sad smile. He's had plenty of time to think, to consider the might-have-beens and the what-ifs, and he doesn't see how it could have gone any differently. Not with the hosts of Heaven and Hell arrayed against them, not with their destinies apparently written before they were born. So many possible branching points, and yet it's hard to see how they wouldn't have ended up in Detroit no matter what. "It's over, right? It's all over?"
Dean runs a hand over his jaw. "Yeah, it is. I mean, North America's pretty much a crater, but you knew that, right?"
Sam nods. He'd only caught pieces of the final battle, but after Michael had struck the fatal blow, there'd been a moment of lucidity for both of them, when Dean was freed to mourn his dying brother and Sam slipped Lucifer's tether long enough to take in the shattered world around him and give Dean a look of farewell. "I've kinda been keeping track. You know."
Dean looks around. "Don't see any clouds to peer down from." He reaches up and ruffles Sam's hair. "And dude, where's your halo? I can see why they wouldn't want to give you a harp, but what about the halo and the wings?"
Sam rolls his eyes, the reaction so familiar that his heart sings and he can't hold back a grin. "It's not like that, Dean."
Dean cocks his head to the side. "Then what's it like?" he asks, and there's a note of wariness underneath the brotherly teasing that warns Sam that there's the possibility that things up here might take a bit of getting used to.
"It's home," Sam shrugs. He reaches out and puts one hand on the Impala, who's been here with him the whole time, even if she's also how Dean arrived a moment ago. "It's—I can't explain it other than that. It's like being home." He looks at Dean, reconsidering. "Or I guess now it's like being home."
"Oh my God, you are such a sap," Dean says, but the corners of his mouth are turning up. Then he freezes. "Can I say stuff like that here?"
Sam barks out a laugh. "Say whatever you want, man."
Dean does, letting out a string of profanity and blasphemy that makes Sam's eyebrows go up. He's never heard some of those expressions, and this is the last place he would ever expect to have his vocabulary expanded like this. After a few more choice phrases, Dean finishes and looks around like he's waiting for lightning to come arcing down out of the clear blue sky. When nothing happens, he beams at Sam. "Awesome."
Sam laughs out loud, throwing his head back, and he honestly can't remember the last time he's laughed so freely and joyfully. When he looks back at Dean, the corners of his brother's eyes are crinkled with his smile, and Sam blurts out, "I'm so glad you're here, Dean." Then he ducks his head and adds, "I'm so glad I'm here." It had taken a long time to get used to the idea that he was at all worthy of it, and only a personal visit from the ultimate Judge had convinced him that he was in the right place.
"Turns out demons aren't the only ones you can make a deal with," Dean says dryly. When Sam lifts an eyebrow, he goes on, "I told Michael this was where you and I were ending up, or I was going to make so much goddamn racket in this head that he wouldn't be able to hear himself think, much less wield a sword."
Sam blinks at him. "You said that?" Who is he kidding? Of course Dean talked smack to an archangel to keep his little brother safe.
Dean shrugs one shoulder. "He said it was already foreordained, so it wasn't that big a deal."
"Huh." Sam files that one away to think about later. There are so many more important things to do now that Dean is here, so many people and places to see. And all of it comes without the responsibility and the guilt and the fear that hung over them for all of their lives and maybe even into their deaths, at least for a little while. Now, there's a whole world for them to explore.
He holds out the keys. "You want to drive?"
"You have to ask?" Dean retorts, snatching the keys from his hand. "I hope you didn't mess with my baby's radio again, or I'm gonna kick your ass."
Sam grins and pulls open the passenger side door, the familiar creak striking a comforting chord deep within him. Dean's sideways smirk across the roof of the Impala settles over him like the most comfortable clothing he's ever worn, and there's nothing in Sam's heart but peace and joy.
Yeah, this is definitely like being home.