*Author's Note: This is an AU version of the end of Swan Song, meant to be darker, maudlin and generally angsty. I needed some catharsis after the plethora of very frustrating cliffhangers that Kripke foisted off on the fans. This wrote itself in about two hours, not including the inevitable editing and such. Enjoy the dwelling, revel in the mopiness and keep your fingers crossed for a happy sixth season premiere.
Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer for it.
Dean was lucky he didn't completely take out another car when his vision went. One minute he was driving down Interstate 80, wondering what kind of welcome would be in store for him when he reached Cicero and Lisa's place. The next minute his vision was a wash of white and he slammed his foot on the brake. The Impala skidded to the side of road, screeching along the concrete guardrail before colliding with an abutment and coming to a dead halt. He could hear the squeal of brakes and smell the bitter scent of rubber burning as cars spun all around him trying to avoid becoming part of the accident. At least one vehicle failed, clipping the end of the Impala and sending her spinning back into traffic. When she came to a stop, Dean was slumped over the steering wheel, head reeling, thoughts sinking into blackness.
He woke not to darkness but to that same blinding white light which had brought about the wreck on the interstate. The rough sheets and periodic beeps added up to one thing and one thing only: hospital. Soft, concerned voices told him that he was in Davenport, Iowa. A nurse named Eve told him, further, that he was in Genesis Medical Center following a vehicular accident on I-80. Dean laughed. He couldn't help himself. The Apocalypse might be over, but the biblical puns and symbolism looked set to stalk him for the rest of his life. Though he couldn't see her through the suffusion of white light, Dean could tell that Eve was upset by his chuckling, so he reined himself in and listened while she patiently explained that he'd been unconscious for four days. She checked his vitals, told him that a doctor would be by to see him shortly and asked if she could get him anything. Dean asked about his beloved Impala. When Eve said that she didn't know what had become of the car he'd been driving, he asked her to find out.
It would be two days before the news reached him that the Impala was totaled. By then, he had other things on his mind.
Gary, the doctor who came to see Dean a few hours later, was cut from a different mold than Eve. Rather than sounding sympathetic, he was bracing and matter-of-fact. That was okay with Dean, especially when it turned out that the guy had bad news. First, he questioned Dean about the state of his vision and then assured him that the blindness was no doubt the result of the concussion that he'd suffered during the accident. It was almost certainly temporary and would go away on its own. If it hadn't cleared up within a few days, they would do further testing. Dean didn't bother to tell him that the causality was the other way around, blindness and then accident. He thought he knew why his vision had so abruptly gone white, and there wasn't a damn thing that the doctor would be able to do about it anyway. So, what was the point in sharing? Once Gary had dismissed Dean's lack of vision as basically insignificant, the guy got down to the serious business of his visit. Routine medical exams following the accident had revealed a number of health concerns, none of which actually appeared to be related to the wreck.
Dean's heart was damaged, large portions of the muscle essentially dead. As if that wasn't bad enough, his blood work showed elevated something-or-other levels and low thingamabobs. It all sounded like, "blah, blah, blah," to Dean, but the upshot was that he had cancer. Not just cancer, mind you, but advanced stage IV stomach cancer. At the moment he was on a heavy dose of morphine, but the pain was eating up the drug to such an extent that Dean hadn't even noticed what should have been a high of monumental proportions. He certainly didn't feel incoherent or loopy, just strangely amused. He laughed. Then he guffawed, tears streaming from his blind eyes, arms clutching his aching stomach, breath going short as his heart raced along like a V-8 in his chest. He couldn't remember what happened next, but he suspected that Gary – freaked out by the hysterical laughter and worried about a potential heart attack – had him sedated.
Angels, it seemed, weren't just petty and vindictive, they were also creative. Someone upstairs had given Dean back the stomach cancer Zachariah had so briefly gifted him with. They'd restored his heart to its pre-faith healer state of electrical damage, and they'd burned the image of a dying angel forever into his retinas. That was what Dean had finally realized he was seeing, the literally blinding flash of Zachariah's grace as the ass-hat died with Dean's blade buried in his skull. Talk about eternal torment. Guh.
Gary talked treatments for the cancer, still ignoring the blindness, but Dean's options were limited. Because of the condition of his heart and the advanced stage of the disease, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and chemoperfusion were all right out, and the cancer killed any chance of a heart transplant. Gary reluctantly suggested possible homeopathic palliatives for both conditions. Dean declined. Gary discussed having Dean transported to a hospital closer to his loved ones. Dean declined. Gary offered to send for a priest. Dean declined. Gary went away. Eve came back, more sympathetic than ever, and Dean lay in the hospital bed and waited to die. From the way Gary had phrased things, he suspected it would only be a matter of weeks, maybe even days. It seemed that Dean wasn't going to outlive his brother by much, and the Winchester line was going to end in a crappy-ass hospital in the middle of the cornbelt – and he couldn't even spend his last few days watching America's Next Top Model or tooling around in the Impala. His poor baby. There'd be no resurrection for her this time.
He'd been in the hospital for thirteen days, and was still blind, when Chuck showed up. Dean had called no one. He had no intention of letting anyone know where he was or what was going on. Prophets and their visions were in a pain in the ass.
"Geesh," Chuck said, standing – from the sound of it – at the foot of Dean's bed. "Behold my servant, Job."
"I ain't Job, Chuck," Dean snapped, raising his head and glaring in the prophet's general direction.
"Could have fooled me," the prophet groused.
"Two big differences. One: it ain't God or the Devil who did this to me."
"What's the other one?"
"Job never lost faith. I, on the other hand, have none. If God was here now, I'd punch that son of a bitch right in the mouth." Chuck said nothing at first, merely shuffling his feet and clearing his throat awkwardly. Dean was pretty sure that he heard a gulp or two as the prophet fiddled nervously with the plastic trays on the bedside table.
Job. Talk about insulting. Job was an idjit as far as Dean was concerned. No matter how God dicked with him, the guy never lost faith in the Almighty. Now, Dean found himself wondering if the guy had actually lived, and, if he had, if he'd ever learned that all his suffering was the result of a bet. Typical Heavenly bullshit.
Finally, sounding like he wished a hole would open up and swallow him, Chuck said, "Maybe God had reasons for – "
"Save it. What do you want, Chuck?" Dean demanded, his irritation mounting as his most recent dose of pain meds faded into memory. His stomached ached and his heart hurt, and neither one was a metaphor.
"I wanted to see if there was anything I could do for you, anything at all, and I… I wanted to thank you for stopping the Apocalypse."
"You're welcome. Now go away."
"But is there anything I can do to help?"
"Burn all your books and never publish another word about me and Sam?" Dean suggested dryly.
"I, uh, I can't – "
"Yeah, okay." Dean heard loafers moving on linoleum, but before Chuck could make it out of the room, Dean was struck by an inspiration.
"Hey, Chuck, wait! Listen, there is one thing you can do for me," he called, half-sitting up in the hospital bed.
"Anything," Chuck said, sounding more than a shade dubious now that his rash promise was about to be called in.
"I want you to tell me where I'm going," Dean explained.
"When I die, am I headed back upstairs to Heaven's version of The Matrix, or am I on a one-way elevator ride back to the basement?"
Chuck was silent for several seconds, and Dean could feel the weight of the prophet's gaze like a physical force. At last, Chuck said, "Dean, Joshua told you that you were granted salvation. You fulfilled your crossroads deal. Why would you even think that you might – "
"Look at me, Chuck. Take a good, long look. Clearly, Heaven's not real happy with me at the moment. No guarantee they're going to let me through the gates, and if they do…I'm guessing that Zachariah wasn't the only petty angel up there. All the torture and twice the self-righteousness; that's Heaven. I just want to know which eternal torment I'm headed for."
"Sorry, Dean," Chuck said guiltily, "but I haven't seen anything about you going anywhere."
"Crap," Dean sighed, flopping back onto the bed, wishing that Eve would come back with his next round of morphine. "S'ok, Chuck. Forget it. It's not your problem."
"I…" There is an awkward silence. Then the prophet blurted, "What about Cas?"
Dean snorted. "What about him?"
"Couldn't he, ya know, help? I mean, he's real powerful again, right?"
"What? Dean, that's – "
"Crazy? How? Chuck, Cas and me, we were just, I dunno, co-workers I guess, and that's that."
There was another extended silence. Then, sounding desperately uncomfortable, Chuck said, "He's your friend, Dean. I mean, he blew up for you. Twice."
"He blew up trying to stop the Apocalypse… both times. Friendship had nothing to do with it. We played on the same team for a while, but Team Free Will broke up when Sammy died, and it ain't getting back together. Cas got promoted to The Big Show – he's God's bitch again – and me, well, I'm not even up to the minor leagues. End of story."
"He's got a lot of responsibilities, Dean, but I'm sure he – "
"Spare me, Chuck," Dean groaned. "I'm not angry. Hell, I'm not even surprised. It just is what it is. So relax. I don't need a pep talk, and I'm sure you've got things to do, train wrecks to write."
"Oh, uh, yeah. Sure, Dean. Can I do – "
The prophet mumbled a, "Bye, Dean," and was gone. Dean sighed and clenched his jaw against the pain that rolled through him like a semi-truck out of control. Damn stomach cancer. Damn rotten way to die.
The next day a priest appeared, pious and determined to be helpful. He offered to take Dean's confession. Dean briefly considered giving it to him, decided the man didn't actually deserve to have nightmares for the rest of his life, and sent the father packing. He wished he could talk to someone like Pastor Jim, but how did one find a holy man who was also a hunter? , maybe? Nah.
"Well, aren't you a sight?"
This time there was no warning. One moment Dean was alone with his pain and his blindness, and the next moment Crowley was speaking from the vicinity of his left shoulder.
"Fuck!" Dean exclaimed.
"No, thanks. I just ate lunch."
"Bite me, Crowley."
"You keep making that offer, Dean. If I didn't know better, I'd think you fancied me."
Dean growled low in his throat, but the effect was spoiled as a tide of rising bile made him cough. "You're not my type," he finally ground out. "Not enough boobs."
Crowley snorted. "So, this is how Heaven rewards the Righteous Man who stops the Apocalypse. 'By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.' Job 4:9. Frankly, I've seen better retirement packages in third-world armies, though, I suppose it is better than some of the golden handshakes that Wall Street is handing out these days."
"Quit trying to make me laugh, Crowley. It hurts too much."
"Terribly sorry, old chap. I would never want to hurt you."
Dean snorted this time. "One thing I've got to give you, Crowley, you do sarcasm well, even by demonic standards."
"Thanks. I try." Footsteps moved around the bed, and when next Crowley spoke, he was on Dean's right. Dean turned his head, blindly following the demon's progress. "So, how is it that you've managed to replace me as the most buggered son in all creation?"
"Just lucky I guess."
"With luck like yours, we might have a second Apocalypse."
"Don't even joke about that."
"No," Crowley agreed. "I suppose it really isn't funny."
"Why are you here, Crowley? I'm sure you weren't pining for my unrefined company." Then, as an afterthought, he added, "Find a new tailor yet?"
"No, I haven't, and I came to thank you."
"You kept up your end of the bargain, Dean. Against all odds, against my own expectations, you actually let your precious baby brother sacrifice himself to save the world. I'm impressed."
"I really couldn't care less what you are, Crowley, but if you want to thank me, then give Bobby back his damned soul!" Dean snarled, once more trying to sit up. This time he failed, the muscles of his abdomen flatly refusing to obey his commands in the face of overwhelming pain.
Crowley, unaffected, kept walking around the foot of the bed, going from side to side. What kind of demon paced, anyway? "It's already done, mate. He may not realize it, but Bobby's had his soul back for days, my word on it." Dean's eyes narrowed. "Your skepticism is insulting and ignorant, Dean. Crossroad demons always keep their word. It's not like I'm some feathered pansy talking out of both sides of my mouth at once."
Dean humphed. "Fair enough. So, you've thanked me. Now go away."
"Actually, I thought I'd express my gratitude in a slightly more tangible method." Dean felt a hand descend on his arm, and all of the pain suddenly drained away, leaving him shaken and gasping.
"Crap! Crap. How'd you do that?"
Crowley's hand was still on his arm, and Dean could feel the demon shrug. "I've gotten a bit of a promotion, more power, more autonomy. I'm still a crossroad demon, which is lucky for you, but I am now – barring Lilith – the most powerful crossroad demon who has ever walked this world."
"How's that possible? After helping us shove Lucifer back in his cat carrier, I would have figured you'd still be number one on the demon hit list."
"And well I might have been, but once our father was locked back up, a number of the demons who'd served him so faithfully suddenly awoke, as if from a trance. More than a few of them knew of the Devil's ultimate plans for our kind. They talked. Some willingly, some unwillingly, but they all talked and word spread. Right now, I am the hero of Apocalypse."
"Well look at your bad self. I guess you and Cas both got a promotion out of this."
"Hmm." Crowley removed his hand and resumed his pacing. "Speaking of Cas, where is our fine feathered friend?"
Dean shrugged. "Heaven, I suppose."
"Shouldn't he be here, holding your hand, soothing your troubled brow?"
"Oh, for God's sake!" Dean growled. "What is it with you and Chuck? Cas isn't my nursemaid! He doesn't owe me shit, and I certainly don't expect to see him again now that he doesn't need me anymore."
"Sounds like someone's feelings are twinging a bit."
"Kiss my ass, Crowley!"
"Later, darling. But doesn't that piss you off? Once again Dean Winchester is left holding the bag while everyone else takes off for greener pastures."
"Crowley, I appreciate you taking the pain away. As thank-yous go, that one is awesome, but could you get lost?"
Crowley tsk-ed. "The release from pain wasn't my thank you, Dean. That was just my way of making sure that you'll be coherent enough for proper negotiations."
"Negot—" Dean broke off abruptly. "Oh, fuck no. I am not selling you my soul. Forget it!"
"Don't be so melodramatic. I don't want your soul."
"Then what do you want?"
"I told you," the demon drawled. "I owe you a debt, and I want to pay it back. That's all."
"You're not going to fix me up?" Dean replied incredulously.
"No. We both know that's a dead end road. You'd have to sell me your soul for that one, and then Heaven would probably just turn right around and inflict you with AIDS, boils, acne and Ebola. Waste of bloody time."
"So what then?"
"I can end this for you."
"End it how? Because if you mean killing me, I'm really not that anxious to speed up my trip to torture land."
"Yes. As it happens, I overheard some of your conversation with the prophet. You really are the most – "
" – buggered son in all of creation. Yeah, yeah. I get it. So what can you do about it?"
"I told you," Crowley sighed. "I can give you the means to end this. No more life. No more afterlife. No more pain. A Crowley special, for a limited time only."
"You have the Colt," Dean said, realizing what all the demon's pussyfooting around had to mean. "Somehow, you got your hands on the Colt again."
"All right," Dean said, fighting to keep the eagerness out of his voice and knowing that he had to be utterly failing. "What's the deal?"
"I give you the Colt, and you use it to end your own miserable existence. No shooting me – blind or not, you might get in a lucky shot and I don't fancy being worm food – and no passing it on to another hunter. I'll collect it again after you're deceased."
"But why? Why would you do this? And don't give me that crap about gratitude."
"Fine. You caught me. I do have a rather selfish ulterior motive for helping you skip out on eternity."
"Shocking," Dean replied. "Spill it."
"Right now, I'm pretty much the big chief downstairs. Lilith, Lucifer, Alastair, Azazel – all the leaders are gone: killed or exiled by you and Gigantor. That left a pretty big power vacuum that I was happy to help fill. But if you show your pretty little face in the abyss, my status might just take a nosedive."
"I don't get you," Dean said, genuinely puzzled.
"You were Alastair's apprentice, Dean, the most promising student he ever had. Your first few years back in the pit might be unpleasant in the extreme, but once you re-acclimated and accepted your fate… well, I don't relish the idea of having you for a boss."
"You think I'll wind up in charge?"
"I guarantee it. There are already demons discussing it, wondering how long you should be tormented and how quickly they should hand over the reins once you embrace your power. You are the hot topic in the furnace. So, what do you say, Dean? Do you want to go out like a hunter, or do you want to become one of the things you hunt?"
Dean didn't hesitate. "I'll do it, the deal. I'm in."
Dean was only half-prepared when Crowley's lips closed over his own, but the demon wasn't apparently in the mood for his usual "let's torment the heterosexual male" games. The kiss was quick and dry and over practically before it had begun.
"Now," Crowley said, "let's get this show on the road. I have a bit of wheeling and dealing to do in D.C., and senators get very tetchy when you're late, even the damned ones."
Dean's sense of the hospital room went away, and when awareness returned, he found himself sitting in the one place he'd thought for certain that he'd never be again, the Impala. He was also wearing his own clothing, something he'd missed desperately in the last few days. Closing his eyes against a sudden onslaught of relieved tears, Dean reached out to touch the dashboard. He was sitting on the passenger side with Crowley behind the wheel.
"You ready?" the demon asked.
Dean nodded without speaking. Crowley took Dean's hand and wrapped his fingers firmly around the grip of the Colt. Dean recognized that gun as easily as he'd recognized the car, and he didn't need his sight to tell him that he was holding the genuine article. Then, giving Dean's shoulder a small pat, Crowley opened the driver's door and got out of the car. The door was already closing, the hinges squeaking, when Dean blurted, "Hey, Crowley, regardless of why you did this, thanks. I mean it."
"My pleasure. So long, Dean."
The door closed, and Crowley vanished. Dean couldn't see it, but he could feel the sudden emptiness of the car, that certain feeling of being alone. He slid over into the driver's seat and fumbled at the ignition. The keys were there, and to his surprise, his baby roared to life one final time. Apparently, Crowley had fixed the Impala as well as breaking Dean out of the hospital. Kindness from a demon. What was the world coming to? Dean turned on the tape deck. He might not be able to see, but he'd grown up in this car and could have found every knob, dial and button if he were deaf, dumb, blind, mute and spun in a circle. The stereo came to life playing Kansas, "Carry on Wayward Son." Great, a song about going on in the face of adversity, a song about Heaven's final reward for the faithful and fearless. Talk about singularly inappropriate. Dean pulled the tape out and popped another one in, grabbing the new tape at random. "Wherever I May Roam," by Metallica. Dean smiled and leaned back against the seat. "Carved upon my stone." Yeah, that fit. It was the perfect song for his big finish.
He tried not to think about Bobby, who would be pissed as Hell that Dean had taken his own life. Bobby had his legs back, his soul back, and his will to fight back. He'd be fine. He'd get over it, and there was no one else to care now that Sammy was… If only there was a way to save Sam, to pull him out of that bottomless hole and still leave Lucifer trapped. He'd save Adam too, if he could. But even if there was a way, even if Dean wasn't too blind and crippled to try, he'd promised that he would leave well enough alone, that he would leave Sam to his fate… that he would leave. He thought briefly about Sam and how angry this might make his brother, but surely Sam wouldn't expect Dean to go on living in constant and unendurable pain just so he could die in a few short months and then go someplace where he'd be in even more pain forever. Surely.
It might selfish, but Dean figured he was entitled to a little selfish here at the end of his life. He cranked the music up, not quite loud enough to cover the sound of a gunshot, but he didn't think there were people anywhere nearby anyway. Then, lifting the Colt out of his lap, he drew back the hammer, and placed the muzzle of the barrel squarely under his chin at just the right angle to take out his brain stem. He drew one last pain-free breath and tightened his finger on the trigger.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul
Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures
Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?
…And Maybe the Beginning
*Author's note: I do have ideas for more, but I also have a lot of other stories currently bubbling away on the stovetop, so this one may be on the back burner for a long time. Just fair warning. Please review and let me know what you think. Take care, dear readers, and remember, rubber side down when driving. ;-)