Fandom/Genre: Supernatural, Gen, Futurefic, Character Study
Characters: Dean Winchester, others (5.22 spoilers) highlight: Lisa Braeden, Ben Braeden, mentions of Sam Winchester, Bobby Singer
Rating: R (to be on the safe side)
Word Count: 1,870
Warnings: angst and (spoilers) highlight: past canonical character death
Spoilers: Up through 5.22
Disclaimer: Written for fun, not profit; anything you recognize belongs to Kripke, Warner Bros., et al.
A/N 1: This is the first in a series of seven fics in a speculative post 5.22 ‘verse that’s my imagination’s version of what the future would hold if “Supernatural” had ended at five seasons (as with Kripke’s original plan). All seven stories stand alone, but can be read together. I will be posting one each day for the next seven days. Stories will be posted in the order written (not chronological order). After all the stories are up, I’ll post a master post on my LJ that will include the chronology as well. The series includes four character studies, an epistolary fic, and a couple of short stories. This is the story that started it all… it popped up as a tenacious plot bunny while I was stuck on a long flight and wouldn’t let go until I’d written it all down. The rest followed. These are equal measures angst and hope, so I hope you’ll give them a chance.
A/N 2: Many thanks to Carlos and calamitycrow for the beta!
Summary: Even with everything he knows about fate, life, and changing history, Dean Winchester still wonders if his life could have turned out differently if only he’d made a few different choices. Of course, that’s what he ponders when he’s not marveling over adjusting to his second (or is it third? tenth?) chance at life. Still haunted by his past, but actively forging a new future, Dean tries to sort out who he is and what it all means.
Also available on: AO3
If someone who knew Dean Winchester were to ask him, he’d admit he thinks a lot about inevitability. When it’s late at night and Lisa’s already fallen asleep, and he’s awake staring up at the ceiling, sometimes his mind waders—to other people, other places, other lives long gone. In the dark he can’t help himself from wondering about the ‘what ifs?’ Could he have done things differently? Would he still have arrived at the same place? Might they—he—have avoided that whole apocalypse mess, or was it all always inevitable? Too many strings to pull, too many forces working behind the scenes, to make a difference?
Of course, that’s what Dean Winchester would admit if someone who knew him asked. But there’s not really anyone who knows him anymore… Bobby’s out there somewhere, living his second chance at life, and then there’s Lisa, but they don’t really talk about that, about before. It only comes up when it has to. She knows, but only because he needs her to. Besides, it’s Dean Braeden now. He hasn’t been Winchester in a decade. As far as anyone in the hunting community knows—of those few who are left—Dean Winchester died in the apocalypse. The only hunter who knows differently is Bobby, and he’s not ever going to tell. Besides, it is the truth, from a certain point of view. Dean Winchester is dead and buried.
Sometimes at night, the same voice in his head that wonders about inevitability jokes he’s kind of like Obi Wan Kenobi, only he’s not a hermit, living in the desert, watching over a boy destined to be the last best hope (or second-to-last best hope) to save humanity. No, he’s lived that life already. He’s already played out the story with dead mothers and fathers with secrets, boys with superpowers, evil emperors, and long-lost siblings. He’s been down that road and seen the end of the line. He’s tipped over the edge of the earth and sailed into life beyond the horizon, only to be reborn… reborn once again into this.
He’s not that man any more. Ben is just an ordinary boy—and hey, it’s like the other half of the Kenobi joke!—and Dean is just a parent. But he’s still—isolated—from his past. His memories keep watch from afar, and no one knows his true name.
There are times when Dean feels like he’s been here before, done this… raising a child, seeing him grow from kid to teenager and then adult—moving out and going to college. It’s a little like Groundhog Day, a lot like déjà vu. He’s been there, lived that, and now he’s back here again. Only this time he’s not alone. This time, there’s Lisa by his side every step of the way. This time he doesn’t have to worry about demons looking over his shoulder trying to screw up his plans, put his family in danger.
Still, he knows all that can go wrong, he’s lived through it, watched the child he raised stumble and fall, betray the values Dean tried so hard to instill, only to go on to make him so proud he is still overwhelmed. Dean’s made promises he never intended to keep and kept promises he never wanted to make, all because he loved someone that much. And he’s lost and sacrificed and gone on when there was no more point, and now he’s doing it all over again because he promised… He promised and sometimes he hates it, but sometimes he thinks it’s the best gift, the most selfless act either of them ever made in their unnaturally long and complicated (unnaturally short and cursed) lives. And because of that, he decides he just has to grow up and deal, and that’s when he realizes this life, he wants more than anything else in heaven or hell or Earth, and Dean knows because Dean’s seen them all.
Chances are, Ben and Lisa and he have only got this one life left, and there’s no point worrying about a future he can’t see… After all, he doesn’t have a prophet in his pocket anymore. So, Dean’s just got to make the best of his second, third, tenth? thousandth? (he’s really not sure) chance. Turns out life isn’t so bad after all.
He’s both too old and too young to be here. Too old, because while Dean may only appear to be forty-one years old, that doesn’t count the forty years he spent in hell or the undefined stretc of time he spent in heaven, or the millennia of history and purpose and destiny burning through his veins.
But he’s way too young to have done this once before. To be here again—Ben’s gonna be twenty-one in a few months’ time, and sometimes Dean still feels like life is moving way too fast while other times…
He barely remembers being twenty-one himself. He didn’t know Sammy at twenty-one—he was off at Stanford trying to live a dream of a life that was never his to live, befriending demons in friends’ clothing and falling into star-crossed love. And Adam… Adam never saw twenty-one, not in his natural life. Thanks to Castiel, Dean can recall his parents at twenty-one (or close to it, anyway)… so young and full of hope, believing they could leave their pasts behind, trying to live, carve out a path for their future, no knowing the future was already written in their blood, and it didn’t care much about their dreams or hopes.
But Ben is going to be twenty-one and he doesn’t bear that burden. His life has never been scripted. There are no angels pulling the strings on his marionette, making him dance and act out their family feuds. And whenever Dean remembers that is when he feels far too young. Demons, angels, spirits, and apocalypses he can handle, but he’s only been reborn into this normal life thing for a decade. Hell, when you look at it that way, Ben’s more than twice as old as he is. Dean’s starting to figure it out though. He finds himself lost and overwhelmed a little less every year. Maybe by the time he’s eighty he’ll feel like he’s gotten the hang of this… Lisa tells him not to worry, everyone feels that way. And when he catches the glint of disbelief in her eye every now and then, he thinks maybe she’s telling the truth.
As much as Dean has days where he feels so acutely haunted by his first life that he wants oblivion so much he can taste it, he knows he has to go on—he’s living this life for Sam and Adam and Mom and Dad and everyone else who never got the chance, but mostly for Sam. And most days, that’s enough, because in the end, Sam was the best, most honorable, loyal, selfless person Dean could have imagined, and he owes it to Sam to live this life, the life neither of them got to have the first time around.
Over the years though, he starts to realize that even if he didn’t have to live this, he’d still want to… more than anything. Only, he never would have gotten this far, if not for Sam and that damn promise. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it is a salve, a balm for his soul.
Lying awake at night, sometimes he’s haunted. He can see his brothers’ faces the last time he ever saw them, through blood and tears and pain, eyes swollen and half-closed. Adam—not Adam—Michael in control and so angry… Dean hopes so hard he almost believes it that maybe Adam really wasn’t there. Maybe Michael let him go—or sent him back—to heaven. Once upon a time, it would have been wishful thinking, but now he’s really not so sure. Adam may be enjoying a relatively uneventful afterlife in heaven.
But Sam was there. There’s no denying it, only Sam was so… at Peace. For all Sam’s dreams of a normal life, for all his fears of being a monster, his regret over triggering the endgame of the apocalypse, Sam certainly found Peace at the end. Peace Dean doubted Sam would ever find.
Only it wasn’t the end. Dean knows, probably better than anyone else alive, just how horrible Hell can be… and his hell was nothing like the cage Sam was stuck in. Stuck in along with Michael and Lucifer. At least Dean knew heaven was nothing to write home about… it made the regret a little duller. Still, it didn’t mean there weren’t nights when every breath echoed with the sting of the lash, the tearing of the rack, the burning of hellfire, and the sound of his own wordless screams superimposed with memories of Sam’s life—there life.
Then Lisa rolls over and tells him it’s all right, her hands always finding his chest or arms or shoulder to give a reassuring squeeze that cuts through the rising terror and reminds him why he’s here. To keep his promise, make Sammy proud, live the life Sam never got to. Sometimes it’s still hard, living for two people, but then he looks at Lisa and he remembers he’s actually happy here—enjoying things like baseball games and barbeques and worrying about Ben fucking girls (and boys) in the back of the Impala. He has and does all the things he always dismissed as a foolish waste of time for those who didn’t save the world…
But he’s saved it. Derailed thousands of years of planning and scheming, and this is his reward, to live a normal, human life.
In the grand sweep of the Universe, where Death is more enduring than God, maybe that’s enough. It’s certainly more than he ever hoped for. And it’s those moments of clarity, when Dean realizes that he may never know the answer to whether he could have avoided the apocalypse if he’d never made that deal to bring Sam back, the first time. Maybe Sam wouldn’t be in hell (but maybe he would be), maybe Lucifer never would have gotten free (but maybe he would have). And maybe Jo and Ellen and so many others wouldn’t have died… but maybe they would have… Dean figures the angels and demons were pulling the strings for so long, if he hadn’t made that Deal, they would have just found some other way to bring Sam back and send Dean to hell. And Dean sure as Hell wasn’t ready to lose Sam back then… ready to let him go. Sam wasn’t at peace, either, and they never would have understood why Dean wouldn’t have had Ben or Lisa either.
So maybe it’s okay then. Maybe he can bear the burden of living—he’s got everything Sam dreamed of, and all Dean never dared to ask for. And his soul quiets, and he’s thankful, and he thinks, no believes, that somehow, somewhere, Sammy is okay. Every night when he finally drifts to sleep, Dean thinks maybe that’s enough. The apocalypse might have been inevitable, but he found his absolution in the end.