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11 November 2011 @ 07:25 am
[fanfic] Somebody Somewhere Must Be Tolling a Bell (gen, Dean/Cas if you squint, PG-13)  
Title: Somebody Somewhere Must Be Tolling a Bell
Author: tiptoe39
Rating: PG-13 for violence and death
Pairing: None
Movie: It's a Wonderful Life
Summary: Dean is in hell, and an angel without wings has come to raise him... but Dean doesn't want to be raised.
Warnings: Implied character death, canon and non-canon; gore; references to torture.
Author’s notes: For spn_cinema. Thank you to stellamaris99 for the beta! Though this is based on It’s a Wonderful Life, DO NOT expect a heart-warming love story....



Somebody Somewhere Must Be Tolling a Bell

There's a light brushing against his forehead.

Dean's lost track of days and nights. He's been doing this for ten years now, or at least it feels that way, though he's long since stopped counting the days or the souls or the screams. At the beginning he counted them all, obsessively; trying to tally up the count of the black marks he was casting over his own soul. But what did it matter? He was here forever. There was no fear of damnation any longer -- he was already condemned. His sin did not make Hell any more hellish, and the crying out within him had stopped a long time ago. This was him forever, here at the rack, and he had no reason to go on, nothing to hope for that would make it any better. This was always. Nothing changed.

And now there is a light. And Dean knows it's different, and the rhythm of his eternity is jolted out of sync, his body - or the manifestation of it - jarred as surely as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to his brain.

It's unpleasant. He tries to brush it off. It remains.

He returns to the rack, picks up his implements of torture, pries his own forehead apart. The light slides down over his upper arm instead, and he can feel it burning there, as sure as a handprint, as blood pours down over his face and his skin sews itself up, smarting, ready for more mutilation.

That's how things should be. Pain and healing and then more pain. Light doesn't have a place. Dean wants it gone. It's different, and he doesn't need anything different. He's already settled well into eternity.

Finally he can no longer ignore it, can no longer tune out what sounds like a chorus singing just behind his eyebrows, a soft treble whispering.

He stops, turns, shouts "Who's there?" to an empty forever space. Spiderweb strands vibrate as they hold his body upright over the abyss. There is no answer.

"Leave me alone!" he cries. The presence does not fade.

He struggles in his chains. They will never let go of him, even now that he is among the beasts that torture instead of those that are tortured -- he is just as much a prisoner here as he ever was, only now he is a prisoner of his own deeds as much as Hell's wrangling and bargaining. He might not have deserved to be here going in, but he sure as Hell deserves it now.

The light grows brighter.

Dean tries to shake it off, tries to outrun it, sink lower into the darkness, but nowhere and at no depth is he safe. He hides his face in his hands, but his fingertips are touched by light. He buries himself in hiding beneath a pile of broken souls, and the light pierces through their mottled skin and touches his eyes. He can't escape it, and he's petrified.

"Please," he says. "Please, just let me see you. Tell me what you are. Come on. I'm desperate here."

The light grows so bright he thinks his eyes will be burned out.

And then, abruptly, there is a man, or the figure of one, at least, standing before him. Dark hair, gentle expression, and his whole form glows, as though there is a candle burning just behind him. "I apologize," he says, and his voice is guttural and deep, the sort of voice Dean would think was manly, if he were still free, still in that dream world of the living he could hardly remember. "We had to lay siege to hell and surround you. It can't have been pleasant. For that, we apologize."

"What are you?" Dean asks, but he has a suspicion he knows. He has heard whispers, rumors. A rattling and agitation from somewhere far below. His heart thuds, jumps over a single beat. "What are you?" he asks again.

"I'm here to save you," the man says, and Dean figures that's as good an explanation as he's going to get.

"Sorry, pal," he says, turning to his rack full of implements of pain. "I don't need saving. Already damned, in case you didn't notice."

"So you believe it's too late for you?" the man asks. Dean can't look at the pity in his eyes. He turns away and sharpens a knife on a wooden block.

"Sort of in hell, dude," he says. "I think that's the definition of too late."

The man takes in a breath. "You are so, so wrong," he says, and reaches out to touch Dean.

Dean swerves away at the last minute. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I want to show you your life," the man says. "Do you remember it? Do you remember your brother?"

Dean's "Yeah" is automatic. There are certain things he can never, will never forget, even if the details are fuzzy. His love for his brother is one. It's an overwhelming weight tied around the center of his heart, dragging him down again whenever he begins to fly with fancy that someday there will be a relief from this. He reminds himself that Sam is somewhere, alive, happy, and that knowledge helps him pick up the scalpel again, make another cut, accept his damnation.

It took Dean dying to make Sam happy. To set Sam free. That much he knows.

"Course I remember," he mutters, annoyed. "Doesn't change a thing."

"Doesn't it?" There's something about this man's eyes that makes Dean uncomfortable. And not the usual torment, the pain that has faded into just dull consciousness after all these years. Its discomfort that grazes along the edges, offers him the scantest glimpse of hope, or a future. Without one, Dean can take any kind of pain. But this creature looks at him as though there's honestly something else waiting for Dean on the other side of forever, and Dean can’t have that if he isn't certain. He has to shut it out.

"What could it change?" he says. "If I weren't dead, Sammy would be. I'd rather be here and have him safe. Hell, he'd be safer if I were never born."

The man's stare drops at the corners of his eyes, determination fading to despair. If Dean could still feel, that look would break his heart. "Do you truly feel that way?" he asks. "Do you think the world would be better if you were never born?"

This is a new kind of torture that Alastair's dreamed up for him. Dean's ticked. He scowls. "That's what I said."

"Would you bet your soul on it?"

"What kind of stupid-ass game is this?" Dean is this close to just grabbing one of his razors off the rack and letting this jerkwad have it. "What the hell kind of demon are you, anyway?"

A pause. "I am a demon only to demons themselves."

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"

"It doesn't matter. Would you bet your soul on the idea that you never should have been born, Dean?"

"My soul's already lost, smartass."

"What if it isn't?"

Dean's bones-deep exhaustion won't brook any more of this. He's long since proved he breaks under pressure; there's nothing left to do but bend. "I don't know," he says. "You tell me."

The man's lips quirk. "You called it a game, a moment ago," he says. "We can make a wager, if you like. I will give your soul back if you can convince me you never should have been born. But if I can convince you otherwise, your soul is mine to do with as I please."

Dean laughs. A deep, bitter laugh, the kind he wasn't capable of a decade ago, or perhaps it was a century, or yesterday. "You think you can take my soul from the demon who's got it? Take me to a different part of hell, maybe? Put me to work on a different rack? Is this some sort of corporate espionage, hell-style?"

"Perhaps." Wide eyes regard him. "Would you accept that bet?"

"Why not?" Dean throws up his hands. "Suppose there's gotta be something worse than this."

"Then I will bet your soul," the man says. "And our future."

He reaches out and touches two pink fingers to Dean's forehead. The fires of Hell wink out in an instant.





Damp grass is matted against his cheek. Dean picks himself up from where he lies, prone, and squints in the dim light. The smell of fire, of broken and charred human flesh is gone. He can smell rain, a thousand souls' misplaced sorrow.... scents he thought he'd never experience again, that he'd very nearly forgotten.

Blackness threatens to swallow him as he scrambles to his feet, and he holds onto his balance through the rush of blood. Is he free? Topside? He can't figure it out. Did that thing, that man, that light, spring him? Or is this some sort of hallucination? His head's light enough without trying to figure too much out at once. He won't get any answers by standing here. He stumbles forward into the darkness -- it's raining, foggy, obscuring the whole world in a gray rush. Somewhere in the distance there are dim reddish lights diffused by the rain into pink globes of luminescence. Beyond that, Dean doesn't know where he is at all.

He makes it only a few paces before his foot hits solid stone. He recoils in pain. Whatever it is, it's not a wall or door - Dean can still reach out in front of him and meet no resistance. He steps backward and wipes the errant drops of rain from his eyes as he kneels to see what he's hit.

MARY WINCHESTER
1954-1983
MOTHER AND WIFE

"Mom's grave," he murmurs. He runs his hand over the cold slab of stone, feeling the raised letters beneath his fingertips. So he's in the graveyard where Mom is buried. That puts him topside, or at least in a hallucination that makes him believe he's topside. Good. That's one question answered. The veil of rain lifts as though prompted by his realization, and he can see now the litter of headstones surrounding this one, the damp green carpet of grass stretching out to the stone walls and the distant road. The scene is exactly as he remembers it, and the memories he'd suppressed in the pit now come back to life in full color, flaring in his mind.

No. This isn't exactly as he remembered it. There's one difference. Another headstone, lying small and pert next to his mother's. He leans to the side.

SAM WINCHESTER
1983-1983
BELOVED SON

Dean's hand flies to his mouth. He stumbles back, his crouched legs give out and he falls backward onto his ass, a thud of hard dirt that jolts his spine from tailbone to neck. His jaw rattles.

"What the hell," he says. "What the hell."

Lightning illuminates the curtain of raindrops. They break against the shoulders of a man, standing over the headstones, there where he wasn't a moment ago. "You," Dean says.

Blue eyes glimmer even without light. "Hello, Dean."

"Who the hell are you? What's going on here?"

"Just as you asked," the man says. "You were never born."

Dean can't fit his head around it. "That's not what I'm asking. Why the hell is there a grave here for Sam?"

"Because you weren't there to save him." The man's gaze doesn't falter even for a moment. It's even more oppressive than the downpour, and Dean struggles under its gravity as he gets to his feet. "You saved Sam's life when he was six months old, remember? But you were never born, so you didn't."

Dean runs a hand over his forehead, back through his hair. Water gushes off him in sheets. "Who are you?" he asks again.

This time, he waits for the answer. It doesn't come immediately. First, the man looks up at the sky, and as though in response, the rain slows to a dull drizzle and dries up. The fog lifts, and Dean has the clearest picture yet of the man. He's solid in a way he wasn't down in hell, corporeal. His frame is skinny, very nearly gangly, and his face is sharp-edged, as defined and deliberate as calligraphy. Dean finds himself holding onto his breath waiting for an answer.

A blink of black eyelashes, and it comes. "I'm an angel of the Lord."

"Right." Dean half-smiles, half-chuckles, but the corners of his mouth can't sustain the lift. "An angel. Show me your wings."

"I can't. I don't have them yet."

"Hell of an angel."

"I know." He looks almost rueful. "I am not here just for you, Dean. I will only earn my wings if I can pull your soul from the pit."

Dean turns in a slow circle. "Looks like you just did."

"That's not true. Remember, in this world, you were never born."

"You keep saying that." Dean squints. "Then how come I'm here? Is this some sort of hallucination? Am I strung up in Hell still?"

"No." The angel shakes his head. "This is real. I have been given a brief leave to change reality. Just long enough to show you what the world would be like without you."

"And then what? I scream Merry Christmas to Bedford Falls, a bell rings and an angel gets his wings?" Dean's mouth is flat, and his eyes flash with bitter mirth. "Nice try, your Holiness, but I ain't Jimmy Stewart and it is most definitely not a wonderful life."

As if to prove his point, a gunshot rings out in the distance. It's followed by the rat-tat of a semi-automatic. Dean jumps, turns and stops in his tracks.

Where the fog had obscured the road before, there's now a clear view, and the view is of a battleground. Corpses litter the landscape, some half-rotten, some still whole and glassy eyed, bodies that but for their slit throats or opened chests could be alive and staring Dean in the face. Gravestones are knocked over, trees are felled, and against the stone fence surrounding the graveyard are propped up abandoned firearms and makeshift shields - garbage cans painted with arcane symbols, blocks of wood, bags of salt, rifles. More than one body is huddled against the crumbling stones as though cowering from an assault.

"Holy crap," is all Dean can whisper. His stomach lurches, and his legs move without him, powering him forward through the carnage.

He reaches the edge of the cemetery, and his palms scrape against the stone, skin breaking with the weight of him as he crumples forward. Here, between the corpses, he can see past this one battlefield, can track the assault backward through time. They'd retreated through the streets, abandoning their town house by house, coming here for a final fight. But against what? What kind of creatures could lay siege to an entire population like this?

He knows the answer. He's seen streets like this once before. In a town where the signpost was etched with the word Croatoan.

Dean groans as he lifts his body up over the stone wall, slides down again onto the sidewalk. The street is built on an incline, a hill rising up to his left and the houses sitting jaunty and crooked on the slope like pictures Dean's seen of San Francisco. But they're crooked, misaligned, like they've been through a hurricane. Shingles broken, shutters hanging from one rusty hinge.

He shouts a loud "Hello?" up the length of the street, but his voice echoes back at him in the empty, after-rain stillness of the night. He trudges down off the curb into the road and pauses on the double yellow line to turn around, look for signs of life. The only eyes he meets are those of raccoons, black and beady beneath their masks. They stare at him and then return, undeterred, to eating scraps from the overturned garbage cans that bloom putrid odors into Dean's nose from all around. The last time a living human set foot in this town must have been weeks ago.

"What happened here?" he shouts. "Hey. Angel. What the hell happened to this place?" His voice echoes again. His companion is nowhere to be seen.

He keeps walking up the street, moving away from the graveyard and its mess of bodies. As he staggers up the hill, shambling like a zombie as he fights the buckling resistance of his legs, he spies faded paint on the tar and concrete. Not just graffiti, he realizes. Devil's traps. Religious symbols of every type. Sigils he doesn't recognize. Bags of salt, half-open, pour white lines into the street, but they trail off into nothing, broken circles everywhere.

It has to be demons, he realizes, and there have to have been hundreds of them, enough to massacre a town that was armed and waiting for them. Dean's memory flares, and he remembers the carnage at that police station. Remembers the eyes of that poor frightened secretary, the one he'd promised to get out alive.

Who was he kidding when he'd said that? It was a broken promise before he made it. Everyone in that station -- and everyone who had ended up black-eyed, surrounding it -- had been dead the minute he rolled into town. If this angel was trying to convince him that his existence would have prevented a massacre, he was too damn late.

Dean kicks a garbage can hard and watches it roll down the hill, relishing the clanks and groans of the metal as it shatters the silence. "This is bull," he says. "This is your nightmare scenario? What happens when I'm not alive? This happens anyway. I've seen it happen. I couldn't stop this."

"But someone tried." The angel's voice is clear and sudden in his ear, and Dean jumps. He steps back a few paces to find the angel looking at him through those astonishing blue eyes, and it's like being lanced through. The gaze catches on his insides and hurts. "These were ordinary people once. Yet they learned to fight demons." Brushing past Dean, the angel approaches one of the symbols painted on the asphalt. Dean grabs his side where the angel made contact as he moved, and it's hot, like he's been lying in the sun too long.

God, the sun. he hasn't even thought about it in years. Does it even still exist?

"Yeah, well, if there are demon attacks going on, I figure there are hunters out trying to save people." His mind flickers here and there, memories rising of people he hasn't thought of in ages. Ellen and Jo. Tamara. That old hunter Rufus. Bobby. Surely they'd be out in force trying to save as many people as possible. Why couldn't one of them show this town how to fight?

Hell, maybe without him there to doom them, maybe Ash is still alive. Tamara's husband, too. Maybe...

His heart beats a battle cry against his ribs. Dean catches up with the angel, grabs his coat and forces him around. "Wait a sec," he says. "Wait a sec. If I was never born, that means Dad never sold his soul. He never gave up his life for mine. " Emotion breaks his voice. "Dad's still alive."

"Yes." The angel's eyes never waver. "Yes. He is."

"Then where is he?"

The semiautomatic's rattling voice breaks the quiet again. The angel tilts his head toward the source of the sound, and Dean has his answer.

He's breathing sharp, cold concrete air, and his jaw chatters painfully in his skull as he runs up the incline. At the top of the hill he rounds a corner, and the sight that greets him would melt his heart and stop his advance any other day of his life. Black, sleek, her headlights gazing implacably in his direction. His baby's a beautiful thing, but right now he can't be bothered to stop and greet her.

The man standing behind her has all his attention now.

The word "Dad" is about to burst from his lips when the angel reappears, grabs him sharply by the elbow and tugs him to stillness.

"You were never born," he warns. "He doesn't know you."

"Shut up, that's my dad." Dean shakes loose and keeps running.

John Winchester is as he always is, a warrior. He's behind seven rings of salt, a litter of devil's traps, and a row of shotguns is lined up against the Impala's trunk just behind him. He doesn't see Dean's approach, doesn't see the skinny man come to a confused halt and gape at the sight of him and what he's facing. He just keeps on shooting, iron and silver and salt exploding into the thick of the black mess of smoke, keeping the curtain of demonic night from enveloping him.

As Dean watches, frozen, the swarm of black smoke breaks through one of the salt barriers. John spits a "Damn it!" into the air and grabs up a fire extinguisher resting on the car's trunk. A wild spray of salt very nearly blinds Dean; he cries out and ducks as John turns in a quick circle, drawing a ring around himself inside the innermost circle. He shakes the barrel after he's done, grumbles, and exchanges it for the shotgun.

For a moment Dean thinks maybe he's incorporeal, maybe John didn't even see him standing in the path of the salt ring. But then, between sprays of bullets, John shouts, "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Let me help," Dean says. He leaps over the salt rings, jumping up onto the car's trunk and sliding along the side to keep his feet from disrupting the circles of protection.

"Get the hell out of here, kid. Run," John barks, and Dean feels the old familiar tug of obedience, the instinct to obey whenever that voice orders him.

But he's not John Winchester's kid right now. Dad isn't his dad, and he has no sway over him.

He goes for the shotguns. John starts to say "Don't touch--" but breaks off when Dean grabs one up like a pro and fires off a good half-dozen shots, bracing expertly for the recoil and forcing the plumes of black smoke back with each blast. In the ensuing silence, John takes a good look at him. "You a hunter?"

"Learned from the best," Dean says and grins, dumping the shells to the ground and grabbing another round from the lineup of ammo on the fender.

"Still," John says. "You shouldn't be here. This isn't your fight."

"Demons, right?" Dean readies the gun. "With demons, it's everyone's fight."

John takes a breath to respond, but by then Dean's firing again, and John joins him, the crackle of the semiautomatic deafening against the night's silence. Glee floods Dean. He's fighting by his dad's side again. It's something he thought he'd never get to do in his lifetime.

"Where'd they come from?" he shouts when he gets a break. "This have to do with the Devil's Gate?"

John looks at him like he's got five heads. "Where have you been for the past year?" he says. "Devil's Gate is old news."

Dean opens his mouth, either to speak or to gape in surprise, but he doesn't get to make up his mind because another salt line goes. The demons push forward, and John goes for the extinguisher again, but it's anemic, sputtering and blowing air before the arc is complete. "Hold them off," John says, goes for the trunk, jamming the keys into the back to open it up. Dean grabs up the semi and starts firing, arching his back to thrust the gun forward and shouting like he's Rambo on a rampage.

He peers between the flying shells and swarming smoke as he goes. Here and there a column of smoke is trapped in a pentagram, battering furiously against the invisible walls. Dean knows demons in this form, he knows they can't escape, but their cohorts can break the lines if they make an effort. And sure enough, as he watches, a battery of smoke swirls wear down the lines of paint and another demon-cloud goes free. At this rate, they'll never get rid of enough of them to make a dent.

A spray of salt around his feet and he and John are back to back. "You gotta exorcise these guys," Dean says.

"No time. Too busy reloading."

"Yeah, well, now you've got another person."

John glances over his shoulder. Dean hands him the gun, cups his hands to his face, and shouts. "Exorcizamus te..."

It makes a difference. Even as the demons rip trees to shreds and blow like hurricane winds against the sides of old houses, the burn and shriek of the trapped demons as they vanish brings air to the swarm. Now they ripple back, form lines, regroup before they ooze forward again, and John has a chance to spray a wider circle, give them more room to move.

"So Devil's Gate is old news?" Dean's trying to put the pieces together in his mind, but something's missing. "So who's leading this charge? Lilith?"

John frowns at him. "You must have been living under a rock. Lilith's dead."

"Dead?" Dean's heart wants to leap with hope, but what hope is there in the middle of a demon swarm that's taken out a whole town? "Then who the hell..."

"Her boss."

"Her--" Dean's jaw won't fit around the next word.

John fixes him with a sardonic grin. "Welcome to the Apocalypse, son."

Dean stumbles. The demons swarm forward again. There isn't time to talk, then, only time for them to fight and shout exorcisms and spray salt, and even if he could talk he wouldn't know what to say, couldn't ask the right question. He's still stuck on John calling him "son." His eyes sting with tears. It's something he never thought he'd hear again.

The demons are thinning out now, either exhausted or regrouping in some larger strategy Dean can't see. He has a chance to catch his breath now, and John doubles over next to him, his chest rising and falling in gulps and shaking sighs out. Dean watches him, afraid, but a moment later John straightens up, his jaw sets, and fixes his gaze on the horizon.

"You OK, sir?" Dean asks.

John nods. "You're a good hunter. Thanks for the help."

"Wow." Dean breaks into a short laugh. "Never thought I'd hear you say that."

"Hm?" John's eyes narrow. "Have we met before?"

"Nah. In another lifetime, maybe. But I happen to know you're one of the best."

"I wish I wasn't."

An odd silence follows. Dean fights to find the words to answer him. "Come on, don't say that."

John's eyes silence him in a moment. They don't flash with anger the way Dean remembers they used to, just sorrow. "You wouldn't understand," John says.

Dean's going to ask, going to demand John make him understand, but the old hunter's eyes have turned back to watch the demons, and his jaw has dropped open.

Dean follows his gaze. "Holy mother of God."

The smoke's no longer a mess of individual, snakelike trails. It's melded into one flesh, smoothed out and rolled itself into a single, jet-black tunnel, like a bolt of cloth wrapping up the night. Neither houses nor trees nor sky can be seen beyond the cone of absolute darkness -- nothing's revealed but a dim strip of pavement trailing toward the horizon. And at its end, a human figure stands, the being at the center of the vortex.

"The devil walks the earth," John says in a low voice.

Dean shivers toes to crown, like he's been doused with icy water.

The devil walks forward. His features, obscured by distance, grow clearer. A tangle of chestnut hair catches the night wind.

"That's--" Dean can't tame his clattering jaw. "But it can't-- he's--"

His mind races backward in time. When the rain had been pounding down, it had broken and dripped down in irregular patterns, water slowing and pooling in the crevices and mossy surfaces of his mother's grave. But Sam's grave had been smooth all over, pristine. Brand-new.

"Damn it," he mutters. "I should have figured it out. Yellow Eyes wouldn't let one of his special kids die." But John would have declared him dead once all hope of recovering him was lost.

John just gazes calmly into the vortex. His fingers clench and release, and the movement draws Dean's eye. Hidden from view, just a brief glimmer of black metal tucked into the back of John's belt below his jacket, but Dean sees it, and he recognizes it immediately.

The Colt.

Horror fills him. "Are you crazy? That's your son."

John turns on him, eyes flashing. "You listen to me," he says. "I don't know how you know all of this, but that thing is not my son. That thing is wearing my son."

But Dean's stepping forward. "Sam! Sammy!" He waves his arms. "It's me. It's Dean!"

Now Sam's in plain sight, standing at the outermost of the salt lines. He steps over it without so much as a flinch, his eyes fixed on John. "Dear old Dad," he says, and it doesn't sound like him; the crooked smile doesn't look like him, either. "We have so much catching up to do."

John's fingers tighten, but he holds them steady, doesn't reach for the gun. His eyes are locked on Sam's.

But Sam -- or whatever's in Sam -- has tilted his head to the side and is eyeing Dean like he's an alien fallen from space. "You're different," he says. "What are you, exactly?"

Dean's jaw sets. "Tell me who you are first."

"Who, me?" Sam shrugs briefly. "I would have thought the old man would have filled you in, if you're fighting with him. But then again, he is having trouble accepting the situation, so it's not so surprising he's kept you in the dark." He leans forward conspiratorially and stage-whispers. "He's in denial about his role in the play."

"Da--" Dean cuts himself off. "John. What's he talking about?"

"I told you." John says. "This is the end of days, kid."

"Not yet," Sam corrects. "It could be the end. You could stop it all right now, just with one word."

"I'm not saying yes to that son of a bitch," John says.

"So you say. But what's your alternative, really? I mean--" and Sam cocks his head, and it doesn't look at all like him, Dean thinks, that is the face of a heartless psychopath and that's not, never has been Sammy-- "Basically, we go on killing, maybe take out a few more of your friends, and the body count keeps rising--" he's stepping toward John, and John's backing up, stepping over his own salt lines, no longer cognizant of where he is-- "and at some point you'll decide it's finally enough, and you'll break down."

"I'd rather put you down myself," John says.

"Oh, Johnny. Good luck with that." Sam lifts his foot to take a step forward.

He can't. Sam looks down, curses, and his face contorts. For an instant Dean can see the creature inside him, and his heart goes cold with dread.

"Seven rings of salt to bind a devil," John says.

He lifts the Colt from his belt and takes aim.

Dean screams.

"Angel!"

He closes his eyes, covers his ears, but he still hears the blam of the gun firing, still feels the bullet whizz by his head. He's moving, and he's crying out, "Enough, uncle, I give up, stop it, just stop..."

The wind stills. He staggers forward into a firm pair of hands.

He blinks. The angel is there, holding him steady. He turns to see John frozen in place, the bullet a half-inch from Sam's forehead, just about to rip through the skin. Sam's mouth is open and his eyes unblinking, a word on the tip of his unmoving tongue. Dean turns in a slow circle, sees the windless trees, the static, dull glare of frozen light. The world is halted.

"This can't happen," he says. "Dad would never. He could never do that."

"He told you, once, you might have to kill Sam," the angel says. "He had years to come to terms with that reality. You had only months, and even you considered it. Do you really think your father would have hesitated?"

Dean shakes his head. "I don't get it. What were they talking about, saying yes? Was that... was that really the devil? I mean, not just a demon, but the devil?" He turns to glance at Sam, but the sight-- the bullet just shy of its target, Sam a breath away from the grave-- takes hold of his heart and squeezes. Dean can't stand it. He averts his eyes.

"Those are all questions you will someday learn the answer to," the angel says.

"Oh, that's not fair. You can't show me this and then just say nothing." Dean grabs the angel by the arms, shakes him. "Give me some answers." The angel's eyes are deep, clear blue, illuminated. In his pupils, Dean sees a reflection of the scene behind him, John and Sam and frozen time, and his own horror-stricken face. "Please. I can't stand this."

"You don't have to. It never happened."

The angel closes his eyes and the whole world blinks with him. Dean stumbles, looks down and struggles to find his footing again; when he looks up, he's back in the pit, in the endless nothing of fire. No bullet, no Colt, no family killing each other before his eyes. Just hell, again. And him. And an angel.

He sinks to his knees. "I can't--" he whispers. "Not like that. Sam..."

His forehead slams down onto his fists; the sound of it echoes like a bell in his head. He hasn't cried in years, hasn't felt strongly enough to cry. Now, he sobs, broken, all of reality and life and love restored only to be twisted into a dark knot that is strangling his heart.

"Dean." The angel stands above him, that light on his forehead again. "It never happened."

Dean shakes his head violently. Even if he knows, he still saw it, and the vision is painted over his eyes. The knowledge that his existence is the membrane that prevents the world from going dark. The uncertainty of what might be happening above in his absence. It's too much. "Is that what happens to Sam now?" he asks, wiping his eyes, trying to find his game face again.

"You can stop it," the angel says.

"No. No, I can't. It's too late for me to save anyone."

"Maybe not right now. Maybe you need someone to save you, first."

The angel's hand connects with Dean's shoulder. Light and heat pour into Dean's skin. He hisses, tries to hold back a cry of pain.

"Let me save you," the angel says.

Dean forces a grin. "Thought that was the bet," he says. "I agree the world was better with me than without me, you get to toss my soul wherever. Or do you not have the juice after all? Was this all another piece of demonic bull?"

"That's not it at all." The angel's touch is still searing. "I just need you to say yes."

It's not just heat, Dean realizes. It's something brighter, deeper than temperature that's being injected into him. Like a rising sun. It's breaking down his walls, reminding him of a tomorrow that he'd forgotten still existed.

The world above still has a future. Dean can't have a say in how it goes from down here. And as long as Sam's there, Dean cares how it goes.

"Yes," he says.

The rising sun being branded into his arm brightens into full midday brilliance. The gravity and pain of Hell falls away. His soul is being ripped from the construct of physicality that it allowed him to maintain, and now he can't move or see or speak. He simply is, existence falling upward toward a different place.

"I must thank you," the angel says. "I'll surely earn my wings now."

"Cool." Though Dean has no mouth to speak, he knows the words are heard. And though he has no lips to smile, he's sure the angel can perceive the warmth of the emotion. "Show me sometime, huh?"

"I will." The angel's voice is gentle, brushing against his soul like the touch of satin. Dean's sad all of a sudden.

"Tell me your name."

"I will. When we meet."

The sadness grows. Again, right? When we meet again."

The angel is silent.

"No, come on. You can't show me -- you can't do all that and then erase it. That's not fair."

"Dean. Do you really want to live knowing what could have happened if you weren't there? Do you want to live with that burden?"

Dean panics. "Then erase hell, too. I don't want to remember all that. What I did."

"I can't."

"How can I face Sam? Come on!"

"I can't. I can only touch the parts of your memory I'm responsible for." There's great sadness in his voice, and Dean feels the lurch of inevitability approaching. He wants to reach out, grab the angel, force him to stop the process, but he has no arms. He can't.

"Angel, no." he mutters. "Don't. Damn it--"

But he's changing, he's fading away. The light is now a sedative, lulling him to sleep. It's not enough to dull the sharp sting of pain as he's brought back into a body that's torn to shreds, as mind connects with nerves and blood starts to flow again. His new, old eyes widen briefly as he feels the muscles and organs start to reconnect, his skin melding where it was broken and becoming whole. He feels the touch of the angel somewhere deep inside him. And then he can no longer stay awake.




Dean awakens in a coffin under dirt that's loosely enough packed for him to punch through and reach for the air. He remembers nothing of how he got there, only that he was in hell, and a light settled against his forehead, then moved down to grip his arm.

His arm burns when he remembers it, tingling all the way down the road to an abandoned filling station, where he rolls up his sleeve in front of a mirror and finds a handprint.

Several nights later, he meets an angel who gives his name as Castiel and shows Dean his wings. The angel looks at him as though he knows him, and Dean feels an unsettling sort of sadness whenever he meets those plaintive, wide eyes.

He wants to ask, so many times. Why Castiel seems to care so much. Why, when Dean saw the shadow of wide wings against a barn door, he heard bells ring in his head.

But there's no time. Seals are breaking. Sam's keeping secrets. And Dean has work to do.

The world needs him.

The End
 
 
 
Akadougal: Casakadougal on November 11th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.

This is. Just. This. Gut wrenching in a good way. I love the sight of John versus Sam. Quite a brutal plausible way to go. Oh poor Dean.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:27 am (UTC)
Thank you, love <3
Tori Sakanaepicycles on November 11th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
Oooooh this is so cool! A wonderful twist on the It's A Wonderful Life story. And that alternate future, OW. Fantastic job bb!
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
Thanks!
Miss Chocolat: S&D Winchesterfarfadine on November 11th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
That was really great. I love how Dean call Cas Angel even if it's just because he don't know his name, and your idea of what would have happen if Dean wasn't born is brilliant.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:30 am (UTC)
I know, it's sort of like "ASTRONAUT!" but a little more serious ;D Thanks!
Jena Bartley: spn - castiel wingsjenab on November 12th, 2011 01:51 am (UTC)
I love this journey Castiel took Dean on.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:30 am (UTC)
Thanks hon! I'm glad it rang true to you.
(Deleted comment)
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
Thank you so much. High praise.

OT, but your icon is just mesmerizing. So beautiful.
greeneyes_fangreeneyes_fan on November 12th, 2011 03:18 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. This was, yeah, Jimmy Stewart meets the Apocalypse. Absolutely brutal.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
It was tough to write, I'll tell you that much. <3 Thanks, doll!
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on November 12th, 2011 04:05 am (UTC)
Interesting alternative future and use of Cas to create it.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!
Nicole Sillnicole_sill on November 12th, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, that was fun! Great take on the challenge. I live messing with timelines and accidental but you don't remember them first meetings. This was tasty, thanks!
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
Yeah, I love alt timelines too. :) Glad you enjoyed!
Catscatsintheattic on November 12th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
Somebody Somewhere Must Be Tolling a Bell
Wow. That was awesome! I really like this fic.

It's a great twist on It's a Wonderful World and it fits into Show's story line like a missing scene.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on November 13th, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)
Re: Somebody Somewhere Must Be Tolling a Bell
Thanks so much. That was the intent, so I'm very glad it came through. <3
seraph_lostseraph_lost on January 2nd, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
Oh wow. I can see why this one means a lot to you. I love all your writing, but the imagery in this one is truly stunning. It's a masterpiece darlin'.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on January 2nd, 2012 01:11 am (UTC)
Thank you. That means tons to me. <3