NB: This story is the third part of my Tok'ra Apocalypse trilogy. Please read "Snakeheads" and "If Wishes Were Horsemen" before reading this one.
Warnings: This story is AU for both Supernatural and Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis. Spoilers for Supernatural "Swan Song" and all previous episodes of Season 5. Chapter 1 contains references to events of SG-1 "Jolinar's Memories/The Devil You Know" and "New Order" and SPN "All Hell Breaks Loose" and "No Rest for the Wicked" and to events that occurred between SPN Seasons 3 and 4; I've tried to be as non-graphic as possible.
Setting: May-November 2010—this 'verse's version of Supernatural "Swan Song" and events following; post-Stargate: Extinction and late Season 2-ish for Stargate Universe
General A/N: This AU runs so closely parallel to the events of "Swan Song" that I'll show only Homeworld Command's perspective for people who haven't seen the episode. There's a good bit that comes after that, though; some of it will run parallel to common threads I've seen in other 5.22 codas (because they're logical character-based conclusions), but other elements will necessarily be very different. I'm also ignoring the SPN Season 6 and SGU Season 2 spoilers that have been coming out this summer—to quote Ziva, "I like it my way better."
A/N to Chapter 1: This chapter has more than likely been influenced by some of the great meta I've read over the past few months. I know I had bistokids' essay on "What am I supposed to do?" running through the back of my mind (though I had to look it up again to attribute it!), and there were probably other essays from spn_heavymeta that worked their way in. So if you recognize a thought that's been floated in meta, consider it an unconscious hat tip. Also, I've been deliberately vague in some of my descriptions in this chapter—I am neither Dante nor Milton, and there are certain places my brain simply will not go. If you know the canon(s), you can fill in the blanks yourself; and if you don't... don't try too hard. As a further disclaimer, I'm not Catholic myself, but I find that this is one universe where the medieval Catholic understanding of life, the universe, and everything is useful from a storytelling perspective.
Previously, on Tok'ra Apocalypse:
Previously, on Tok'ra Apocalypse:
Dean shook his head. "Oh, no. No way. You can't do this, Sammy. Dishon?"
Dishon took over and grimaced. "This sounds like a... what is it called... a 'Hail Mary'?"
Sam snorted, and he and Gabriel smiled wryly at each other as he recited, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."
"Rather like the Dakara weapon, I think it should be our last option. It might work—hush, Dean—but it is an extremely long shot, and there may yet be another option that would work better and would not cost Sam his life should he succeed."
[. . .]
Sam fiddled with a bite of eggplant that was left on his plate. "I'm not gonna do it unless we all agree. But it... might not cost me my life."
Dean took back control. "Wait, I thought you said you were gonna jump in the hole."
"How is that not gonna cost you your life?"
Sam met his eyes then. "I've been talking it over with Salim. We've got a plan."
For Love Is Strong as Death
By San Antonio Rose
Jolinar's Memories Revisited
Sam Winchester sighed as Col. Samantha Carter took the Tok'ra memory recall devices from their case. "You sure you're okay with this?" he asked his brother, who was sitting on the cot in the VIP quarters they were using for this... exchange of information.
"Not really," was Dean's blunt reply. "But if this is what it takes to get you out of there in one piece..."
He trailed off, and Castiel, awkward as ever, floundered for a moment before giving Dean a comforting pat on the shoulder. The angel outlaw alone had any inkling of what Dean had been through.
"It's the least dangerous of our options, anyway," Sam shrugged.
"I'll go first," offered Carter. "I don't know how useful Jolinar's and my memories will be in this case, since demons probably don't have ring transporters, but it won't hurt for you to have something to compare to."
Sam nodded. "Yeah. Okay."
Carter attached a small disk to Sam's temple and another to her own. Then she used a sonic screwdriver-looking thingy to activate hers. "I'm putting this on a low setting so we won't experience the physical memories," she explained.
Dean winced. "You mean the pain."
"Yeah. When Martouf had me work through Jolinar's memories on our way to Ne'tu, he had it turned up too high. I'm... pretty sure I screamed."
Dean and Sam shared a grimace, and then Carter activated the disk on Sam's temple. Salim, his Tok'ra symbiote, had told him what to expect, but the mechanical connection between the two devices and thence between his mind and Carter's was still an odd sensation, not at all like the purely psychic connections he'd experienced in the past.
Are you well? Salim asked.
Sam had to stop himself from nodding. Yeah, I'm fine... just feels weird.
We'll take it slow, he heard Carter think. The recall isn't always easy to control.
Okay, he sent back. Thanks, Colonel.
Carter nodded once and took a deep breath, then closed her eyes and tried to focus as the device began calling up memories that Sam saw as clearly as if they were visions. Carter began with the moment in 1999 when the Tok'ra Martouf stepped through the Gate to tell her about her father's imprisonment on Ne'tu. She then recalled flashes of the briefing, then-Col. Jack O'Neill's flippancy about going to Hell, the trip through hyperspace during which she tried to reclaim Jolinar's memories with Martouf's coaching. Echoes of Jolinar's feelings for Martouf and his symbiote Lantash bled through the link as Carter transmitted what she could of her former symbiote's experiences, as did her own feelings for O'Neill as she remembered his arguing with Martouf on her behalf and her gratitude for Daniel Jackson's support as he talked with her about memories Jolinar had refused to share with Martouf. The concern on Teal'c's face that was Carter's last sight before the coffin-like descent pod closed around her. The revulsion over exactly what Jolinar had had to do to deceive Bynarr, warden of the prison planet. The screams, the smells, the darkness, the fires. The relief of finding her father mingled with fear for his life.
Soon it became difficult to distinguish Jolinar's memories from Carter's own, though the two versions of Bynarr were distinguishable by the visibly infected gash where Bynarr's left eye had been removed by the Goa'uld Sokar (who looked oddly like Voldemort, except for the nose) as punishment for allowing Jolinar's escape. Sam quickly became very grateful that the recall device was set low enough that he couldn't actually feel the torture Jolinar had undergone. The images were bad enough, even though he knew Ne'tu wasn't even close to what the real Hell was like. And SG-1's capture by their long-time nemesis, the Goa'uld Apophis, was an unpleasant twist as well.
Then they got to the part where Apophis, in a bid to gain valuable information to barter with Sokar for his freedom, forced Carter to drink a hallucinogen called the Blood of Sokar, and Sam couldn't help thinking, That's not what demon blood tastes like. And before he knew it, he was showing her a flashback of one of the worst points of his addiction, followed by a flash of the withdrawal in Bobby's panic room. Her shock jolted him back into her mind. Sorry, he sent with a mental grimace and felt her accept the apology.
But the next thing that surfaced in Carter's memory wasn't Ne'tu. Sam suddenly caught a sense memory of metal fingers pushing into Carter's forehead, flashes of intense mental torture, Carter pleading with a sullen-faced young man with a mop of curly brown hair... they will know nothing of cruelty, betrayal, revenge... you will be unhappy for a very long time...
Carter reached up with the activator thingy and severed the link, then closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Sam. That wasn't what I meant to show you."
Sam rubbed at his own forehead, the echoes of pain still lingering as Carter switched off his recall device. "Who was Fifth? What was that all about?"
"He was the fifth human-form Replicator to emerge in the Othalla Galaxy. He thought he was in love with me until I was forced to leave him behind, trapped in a time dilation field with the other Replicators. When they got loose and captured me... he didn't take it too well."
Stop rubbing your forehead, Salim groused. There is no injury.
Sam forced himself to put his hand in his jeans pocket. "I'm sorry if... my memories were what threw you."
She patted his arm with a tight smile. "I guess we all have dark corners like that in our minds."
Dean raised an eyebrow at that but said nothing.
"Maybe I should go next," Cas offered.
Carter drew a deep breath, nodded, and moved the disk from her temple to his.
"You sure you want to do this, Cas?" Sam asked. "I know it's asking a lot..."
Cas tilted his head with that slight puzzled frown that meant Humans are so strange. "You're my friend, Sam. My memories may aid your escape. Why would I not wish to help you?"
Even after all this time, Sam still felt embarrassed and unworthy whenever Cas actually admitted to considering him a friend. He knew it was true, had seen that friendship demonstrated time and again, but it still felt awkward to hear Cas say it.
"Aw, Sammy, you're so cute when you blush," Dean teased.
Sam felt his face flush even redder. "Shut up, jerk."
He was spared from hearing Dean's usual retort by Carter's activating the devices, which quickly pulled Sam into Cas' mind.
... Fascinating, was Cas' reaction to the link.
Sam snorted. Thank you, Mr. Spock.
Did we seriously never introduce you to Star Trek? An image of Spock with his eyebrow raised floated to the surface of Sam's mind.
Oh, him. My apologies. I fear my grasp on television references is still tenuous.
Sam smiled affectionately at that.
Now. You wish to see my memories of my mission to rescue Dean.
Cas concentrated, and Sam was given a brief glimpse of Heaven from an angel's point of view—not terribly interesting from a mortal perspective, but the light was bearable because he had Cas' eyes as a filter—before the seraph Zachariah, Dean's old nemesis and Cas' former superior, assembled the garrison and instructed them to find the Righteous Man in Hell and return him to life on Earth. Castiel had long known of the Winchesters' importance to the Eschaton, of course, and he had been assigned to watch and assist the family as unobtrusively as possible from the moment of Dean's birth, though it had pained him not to interfere in such matters as Mary's death. But he was slightly surprised to learn that Dean was the prophesied Righteous Man—his sins might be venial, but they were manifold, and Dean was thoroughly unrepentant about most of them. Still, Zachariah must have his reasons for giving such an order, so Castiel readied himself to descend with the rest of the garrison and lay siege to Hell.
"Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred," Sam muttered, and only when he heard Dean snort did he realize that he'd said it aloud.
Cas more or less fast-forwarded through his memories of the siege and tried to focus his attention on the scenery rather than the battles, but there were still quite a few moments that made Sam wince, and not just because of the perceived pain of the angels' injuries (the only fatalities were on Hell's side). He'd been right, though: Hell didn't look a bit like Ne'tu. It was far worse.
Somehow, seeing Dean's soul in this place, the notion of his being the Righteous Man didn't seem quite so ridiculous. Castiel grieved that they had not gotten to him in time to prevent him from breaking the first seal, but even now, broken and begrimed as Dean was, his light had not fully faltered and outshone all around him, and it appeared that Alastair was still choosing victims for Dean's knife that the man could readily hate—murderers, abusers of children, sexual predators, and the like.
He didn't belong here. Purgatory, perhaps, but not here.
Castiel wasn't sure if it was chance or an unspoken consensus among the garrison, but he was the first to reach Dean, who quailed before the onslaught of his light. Uriel had his hands full with Alastair, so Castiel took hold of Dean's arm, burned away his sins with a touch, and pulled him out.
Castiel noticed that Dean's soul was still deeply scarred as he gently fitted it back into the remade body, but he had neither the skill nor the time to make further repairs. They had work to do.
"Enough," Cas said with a sigh, and Carter switched off the devices.
Sam drew a deep breath. "That... that helps, Cas. Thanks."
Cas shook his head despondently. "If I had known then..."
"Cas. It's okay. You didn't know, and neither did I, and neither did Dean. We're gonna fix it now; that's all that matters."
Cas searched his face for a moment before nodding. "Yes. Thank you, Sam."
Carter moved the device from Cas' temple to Dean's, and Dean winced and cursed under his breath at the sharp stab of pain. Then she handed the activator thingy to Sam. "Salim can tell you how to use this," she said. "We'll wait outside, give you guys some privacy."
"Thanks, Colonel," the brothers chorused.
Cas smiled at both of them and followed Carter out of the room.
Sam sat down to Dean's right and sighed. "You ready?"
Dean closed his eyes with a sigh and nodded. Sam reached up with the activator thing and, with Salim's coaching, activated the devices.
Dean's eyes opened. That felt weird.
Sam snorted. Tell me about it.
And suddenly they were both remembering similar exchanges over the years—the astral projection jaunt, the dream root incident, the time they discovered that they could experience each other's version of heaven. That prompted a string of memories on Sam's end that he felt sure should have been in his hit parade had Zachariah not interfered, all of them featuring Dean. Dean responded with a string of his favorite memories of Sam, from the day Mary had announced her pregnancy to the day Sam took the risk of bringing Dean along to try to rescue their half-brother Adam from Zachariah's crazy plan to trap Dean into agreeing to be Michael's vessel. Sam showed Dean his life at Stanford. Dean showed Sam the wild things he'd done while they were apart.
They lost all track of time, sitting there side by side as they had done since they were tiny, viewing their lives through each other's eyes, learning things about themselves and about each other that they could never have expressed in words. Apologies that went unspoken were accepted and returned. Fears too deep to name were finally understood, and some were finally dismissed. Tears of joy and tears of sorrow fell equally unremarked. And the one thing their pride could hardly ever let them say echoed between them over and over again:
I love you so much. I'm so glad you're my brother.
Carter glanced at her watch and was startled to see that it was nearly noon; they'd started the session at 8. "They've been in there a long time," she said to Castiel. "Do you think we oughta..."
The angel shook his head. "No. I suspect they cannot say their farewells in any other way."
Carter inclined her head in understanding. "I guess I'll get some lunch, then."
Castiel nodded once. "I will stay here and keep watch."
Carter started to reply that they had Marines for that sort of thing, but then she remembered that Castiel was still the brothers' self-appointed guardian. "Uh, sure. I'll be back in about half an hour. Want me to bring you anything?"
"No, thank you, Sam. I will wait for the Winchesters."
"Right. Um, I'll... be back soon."
Carter smiled and walked away, wondering if she would ever not feel awkward around Castiel. The only other angel she knew was Gabriel, and he was... different.
It wasn't until they'd gone through Sam's memories of the Mystery Spot that Dean asked him to switch off the devices for a moment.
Sam did so. "You okay, Dean?"
"Peachy," Dean replied flatly as he got up to walk around the room and stretch his back.
"Dude, I'm fine. It's just..." He sighed. "This is the one part of my brain I never wanted to share with you. I just need a minute."
"We can take a break if you want."
"Gah!" cried Dean, though he wasn't looking at Sam. He wasn't even talking to Sam at the moment. "Quit reading his mind, would you? Bad enough you read mine; I'm the only one who's supposed to read Sam's!" A beat passed. "Yeah, okay, Salim, too, but it's the principle of the thing."
Salim started laughing, and Sam joined him.
"Bunch of comedians, all of you," Dean grumbled, which probably meant that Dishon was laughing at him, too.
"Seriously, though, Dean, we don't have to do this now."
"Yeah, we do. That was the whole point, right? Give you and Salim the memories you need to bust out of there. Let's... let's just get it over with."
Sam nodded. "We can stop any time. Just—tap out or something."
Dean took a deep breath and blew it out again. "Yeah. Okay." He walked around the room another time or two before sitting down beside Sam again. "Okay, I... think I know how I want to do this."
Dean nodded once, and Sam activated the devices again, making sure they were on the very lowest possible setting. And suddenly they were seeing Cold Oak through Dean's eyes. Dean was so relieved to see Sam again, and Sam—no, nonononoSAM!
Sam had barely felt the knife sever his spinal cord the first time around, and viewing the memory from Dean's angle wouldn't have carried the sense memory with it anyway, but Sam still flinched as he saw Jake Talley strike the fatal blow.
Dean didn't even remember the reassurances he babbled as he tried to stem the flow of blood from Sam's back, just that he was babbling and trying to keep himself and Sam calm long enough for Bobby to get to them, to get help... and then the light went out of Sam's eyes—and out of Dean's life.
He kept vigil over Sam's corpse for three days, growing more and more desperate for a way to cope with the grief. But he couldn't let go. Sam didn't deserve to die. And he'd failed at the one task he'd been trying to do for twenty-three-and-a-half years: save Sammy.
"What am I supposed to do?" he finally screamed in despair.
And then it hit him: two lives (that he knew of) had already been exchanged for his. Maybe it was time for him to exchange his life for Sam's. Shoot, Sam had gotten by without Dean for three whole years at Stanford. He'd know how to survive without Dean far better than Dean knew how to survive without Sam.
Sam snorted. How wrong they'd been.
"Something big is happening—end-of-the-world big," Bobby said.
"Then let it end!" Dean cried. And not many hours later he made the deal that would bring that wish perilously close to coming true.
Dean cleared his throat. "Um. Obviously, you know what happened after that."
"Yeah." And Sam called up the memory of Dean being attacked by the hellhounds.
Dean somehow managed to merge that memory with his own, because Sam was suddenly able to see the hounds advance, sense Dean's soul separating from his body as he died, and watch in horror as the hounds grabbed soul-Dean's arms and dragged him screaming into Hell.
Details, Sam, Salim reminded him. We need details.
You watch for details, Sam shot back, unable to focus on anything but his brother's suffering.
Dean tried to concentrate on the geography of Hell as he'd experienced it, but he wasn't able to avoid some flashes of his thirty years on the rack, Sam's name being the only coherent word that would cross his lips. He hadn't been moved much during that time—not until:
"It would be so simple, Dean," purred Alastair. "Just turn the knife on someone else, and the torture stops."
Thirty years he'd held out. Thirty years with no relief, no respite, no sign that Sam had found a way to get him out. He'd heard that every man has his breaking point, but Dean tried to convince himself that he wasn't really breaking. If he did what Alastair wanted now, maybe there'd be a chance to escape on his own sooner or later. And if he really was stuck there for eternity...
"Yes," Dean croaked. "Okay. I'll do it."
Alastair looked like the cat that ate the canary, but he honored his word. Dean suddenly found himself unbound and in one piece.
Then Alastair led Dean into another chamber with murmured instructions, and Dean froze as he caught sight of exactly who his first patient was to be: Mrs. Grosvenor, Sammy's second-grade teacher in Prattville, Alabama... the one who'd verbally abused Sammy incessantly during the two months they were there, to the point that Dean's genius little brother had very nearly given up on school altogether. She was one of the few people Dean had ever hoped was a monster so they'd have a reason to kill her.
She didn't look like the grey-haired, pinched-faced, acid-tongued teacher now; rather, she looked about 25, and Dean could grudgingly see what her husband had seen in her. But even after eighteen Earth years and thirty Hell years, he still hated her for what she'd done to Sam.
"Give me the knife," he said to Alastair—and suddenly Sam felt Dean grabbing at his hand.
Sam quickly shook his head once to make his eyes focus on the present and switched off the devices. Relieved, Dean sagged against his knees, which he'd drawn up to his chest at some point.
"God forgive me," Dean breathed, and Sam wondered if he'd misheard. "The things I did to her, Sammy..."
"You couldn't know," Sam replied quietly. "And since she was there, she probably deserved it, though... maybe she didn't deserve to be the first seal."
"That's not the worst part. You remember her granddaughter, the one we called 'the demon spawn'?"
Sam's gut clenched. "She was like Brady?"
"Yahtzee. First contact—Azazel hadn't figured you out yet. After that, his minions pretended to be your friends."
Sam was suddenly glad they hadn't eaten yet. But he had to lighten the mood somehow, so he cleared his throat and said, "Dude, did you just use the word 'minion' correctly in a sentence?"
"Shut up, Geek Boy," Dean growled with a grateful sparkle in his eyes.
"Was there anything else?"
Dean sighed. "I dunno if it'll help. But yeah, I can probably show you some of the places they took me after that. I think they were leading me deeper into the Pit, trying to keep me away from Cas."
Sam shrugged. "If the cage is in the middle of the Ninth Circle..."
"Dude, it's not like Dante. You saw that."
"So? I'm just saying, maybe your memories would be a better guide if we're trying not to get caught getting out. Cas kind of went for the direct line approach whenever he could."
Dean closed his eyes and swallowed hard a couple of times before opening them again. "Okay. Let's do it."
Sam activated Dean's device once more, but while he was activating his own, Dean walked over to the table and picked up a computer tablet that Carter had left. Sam could see the memories Dean was working from, but the low setting allowed Dean enough control that he could sketch a sort of map of the corridors as he went, not allowing himself to remember what had happened behind the various doors. But it wasn't very easy going; even though those last ten years had been short on physical agony, Alastair's mind-games were hard to shake off.
Slowly, but perhaps not as slowly as Sam had feared, Dean reached the memory of his last day in Hell—the sounds of battle coming from somewhere, and Alastair looked genuinely afraid for the first time in forty years; then suddenly, Dean was alone and surrounded by bright white light, pureholy-burningpurging-screamed-PULLED—
But rather than coming to in Dean's coffin, both brothers found themselves in Bobby's kitchen with both Tok'ra looking at them in concern. And Sam was incongruously surprised that, contrary to what he'd thought for the last month, Dishon didn't look at all like Gene Simmons or Alice Cooper, but rather more like Tyrone Power.
Dean drew a deep breath and cleared his throat. "Thanks."
"Are you well, Dean?" Dishon asked.
"No. I mean, I will be." Dean put the tablet, which looked like a legal pad in this space, down on the table. "Um. Here's the map."
Before Sam could even get a good look at it, Salim tore the paper from the pad, examined it, and tucked it inside his tunic. "I will keep this, Sam. You need not worry over it."
Sam nodded once... and then, on impulse, pulled Dean into a hug. And for once, Dean didn't try to resist.
"I don't think I ever said thank you," Sam said quietly.
"I mean, we know now what was really going on, but if you'd been right, if I had gone to Hell after Cold Oak..."
Sam held on a moment longer before backing away enough to look Dean in the eye. "You know I wish there was another way. Any other way."
Dean nodded. "I know, Sam. You just... make it quick."
Sam huffed a laugh. "Yeah. I'll try."
"And Salim?" Dean turned to the Tok'ra. "You take care of my brother."
"You have my word of honor, Dean Winchester," Salim replied solemnly.
"Dishon?" Sam said.
"I will look after your brother," Dishon nodded. "Do you look after mine."
Sam chuckled again. "Yeah. That's a promise."
Dean sniffled, swiping at his eyes, and cleared his throat and nudged Sam. "Hey, Sammy. Whaddaya say we get some lunch?"
"That's the best idea you've had all day, Dean," Sam laughed and severed the link.