Each year I keep thinking the show will finally end and I can catch up on my ep fics and post when I feel like it instead of over hiatuses. And then it gets renewed again! So, once more unto the breach (literally), summer reading begins here with one fic/week on Sundays (usually) until S14 begins (Dean!). -KHK
All the Difference
K Hanna Korossy
"Pick a card, Dean Winchester." She fans out a half-dozen of them across the tiny table. "Any card."
He's trying not to be obvious about how utterly confused he is as he stares at her over his gun.
She raises an eyebrow at him, charcoal black against her paper skin.
His gun goes down an inch. "Why?"
"You have found me. Not many do. That serves you a card."
Found isn't quite the right word. He and Sam had split up in the woods because the Shunka Warakin only hunted at night, so daytime recon should've been safe. That was, before Dean came across the silken blue tent inexplicably sitting in the middle of the forest.
She gazes at him impassively, but he isn't even sure "she" is correct. He probably wouldn't have needed his years of hunting experience to feel her power, how unnatural she is despite the human—beautiful—features.
"Who are you?" he finally asks.
Her smile is like a shirt that didn't quite fit. "Someone who is offering you a choice."
"What kind of choice?" Despite himself, he steps closer, gun sinking. And sees that the cards are actually moving.
Not the cards themselves, exactly. The pictures on them.
But they're not animated royalty or black and red suits. Instead, Dean finds himself looking at…himself.
He's in a suit jacket and jeans on one, talking to people he doesn't recognize. Pointing to schematics that look like the guts of some sort of machine. Explaining something.
The Dean in another is all in blue, robin's egg shirt with a patch on it and navy pants. He's talking and joking with someone, a fire truck in the background. A gold ring glints on his left hand.
The third shows him in coveralls, just sliding under a red Honda.
The next sticks a lump in his throat, because the little blonde girl he's with looks just like him.
Race car driver. A model with—yeah, right—highlights in his hair and a shirt half unbuttoned. Dancing close with a willowy brunette. Sharing a beer with a laughing, polo-wearing, carefree Sam at a suburban barbeque.
There are more than six cards now, and every one of them shows a Dean without shadows in his eyes or bags under them or blood or pain or loss. Every one an offer of better.
He raises his gun again, face hardening. "What are you?"
"Someone who can give you a choice." Her dark eyes rest coolly on him.
"Right," he growls. "And then it all turns bad, or it's just a dream and, back in reality, you're drinking me dry."
The first flicker of emotion crosses her face, a narrowing of his eyes that zings an instinctive caution through his nerves. "I am not a cursed object nor djinn, Dean Winchester."
She knew exactly what he was talking about. And then there's the whole knowing-his-name thing.
"Or," he says carefully, "great, I'm a fireman, but everybody me and Sam saved over the years is dead."
"I do not change the past, only the present," she says implacably.
What is she then? Fae? Fate? Fury? He's pretty sure now a bullet wouldn't do anything to her, and he lowers his gun.
And looks at the cards again.
So many possibilities. And unlike the djinn, there doesn't seem to be any dark lining. He glimpses Bobby in one card, John in another. And always, contentment, laughter, satisfaction.
"Why?" he asks hoarsely.
She shrugs one shoulder, bones not moving quite right under her gossamer gown. "Not all temptations are bad, Dean Winchester."
And temptation is the right word because, God, this is everything he's dreamed about and more. A life, a normal life, with a job he likes, and his brother safe and happy and sane, and not being responsible for the fate of the world. Entranced, he still murmurs, "What about…?" They've been trying to figure out how to defeat the Leviathan, fix Sam's head.
"That would no longer be your concern."
It's not an answer; he knows it. Maybe other hunters would step up, but more likely humans would eventually go down with a whimper, sheep to slaughter.
But Dean is so freaking tired. And one choice would fix it. For however long they had, he could be happy. He and Sam.
"I can't." He says it without even realizing it at first, without choosing or understanding the words. "I can't."
Her eyes stay dark, opaque, but a fire burns in them. "You would turn me down?"
He swallows, whispers it this time. "I can't."
She starts humming.
No, the air does. There's a breeze picking up, inside the tent, and static charge crackles. She grows without standing, without even moving, her eyes hollow now, her midnight hair whipping around.
Dean shrinks back from the sheer force of her, not sure if he's gonna survive this, but sure now he made the right choice. Power like this doesn't come without cost, a high one.
The world is suddenly flashing around him. He's in the firehouse. A race car. His wife's embrace. Sam's audience. A classroom. A retirement party.
And then it all goes black.
He smells petrichor, one of Sam's spelling bee words. Tastes the loam in his mouth. Hears the call of a raven in the distance. Feels…Sam, sitting behind him, one long arm around his chest, the other wrapped around his forehead. Rocking him a little, murmuring low.
"I gotcha, man. You're okay. You're okay."
Disoriented, he opens his eyes.
They're in a small clearing. No blue tent. No ozone in the air. Nothing but him and Sam sprawled on the ground.
His hand flexes, wanting to do…something. Reassure Sam, get up, something.
"Dean?" Sam's voice gets louder, sharper.
"Yeah." His own voice sounds scraped raw. "'M here."
Sam makes no move to let him go. "Dude, what happened? I got here, and you were on the ground, shaking. Was it the—?"
"No. It was…I dunno. She. Uh, offered me choices. Cards."
Sam is still, trying to piece together what even Dean doesn't understand.
He closes his eyes and sees the cards again. Sam joking around with him at the barbeque. Graduating from college. Being Dean's best man, and Dean his.
And then they'd return to their separate lives, and fix cars, or design them, or race them, and worry about mortgages and teen drinking and termites. And never save another kid from a boogeyman or a virgin from a demigod, or know the world was safe again from dangers far greater than corrupt politicians and global warming, or just reach up and clutch Sam's wrist and know that he gets it.
Most folks live and die without moving anything more than the dirt it takes to bury them, Zachariah had said once. You get to change things.
"Hey," Sam says softly. His fingers are petting clumsily through Dean's hair now, comfort instead of worry.
"Jus'…gimme a minute."
"Sure, whatever you need."
Then they just sit there quietly in the damp leaf litter, a Shunka Warakin probably sleeping close by, the sounds of forest life around them, Sam absently patting his chest.
And Dean Winchester finds his peace after all.