Morgan Briarwood (briarwood) wrote,
Morgan Briarwood
briarwood

Fic: When The World Is Burning - Commentary

When the World is Burning is the beginning of SPN Season 5, as I would have written it. It's not meant to be a 'fix-it' or superior to canon; it's just a different version of how the season could have kicked off.

I began writing this story right after the season four finale. I wasn't really happy with it (the fic, I mean, not the finale!), and the few friends who read it for me seemed to confirm that it wasn't all that worthy, so I dumped the fic in my WIP file and forgot about it. After Swan Song, I pulled it out again and decided it wasn't as bad as I originally thought, so I thought I'd see what I could make of it. The story has changed a lot since that early draft. The original was supposed to be wincest; it has become het, though hopefully with the subtle Sam/Dean UST we found in the early years' canon. The original wasn't this dark, either. Most significantly, the ending is completely different from the one I had planned and as a result I’m expecting this story to be the first of a trilogy. It can be read as a stand-alone, but there's enough left unresolved at the end to require a sequel.

So, let me take you back to where we stood as the end-credits rolled on Lucifer Rising.

Dean, although he had some – ahem – personality conflicts with the angels, believed for most of the season that they were all on the same side and wanted to prevent Lucifer rising. He believed they had some special purpose for him, even if he had some doubts about his own ability to do the job. In the finale, his faith in them is wrecked when he comes to understand they are working toward the apocalypse, not against it; that the battle they want to start will kill billions...and they don't care. But it wasn't just the angels in general who betrayed Dean.

Sam crossed a lot of lines to get to his goal of killing Lilith. He was deeply emotionally involved with Ruby. He came very close to killing Dean in that fight. He killed and drained a demon to get the power he needed. But not just a demon: Sam knew he was killing a human as well. This wasn't self-defence, as many of his earlier kills were. Nor was it collateral damage: the host unable to survive the death of the demon possessing it. Sam knew she would survive if he exorcised the demon, and he chose to commit murder. For a man who began his journey unwilling to kill even humans who were themselves killers, that's a huge deal. Then there was the demon blood thing. Whatever fudging canon later did, the position at Lucifer Rising was that Sam would be permanently changed by consuming that much demon blood. Castiel told Dean it would turn Sam into a monster. Sam expected it himself: he told Ruby he knew he didn't have a future past killing Lilith. So to me, at least, Sam's hesitation to leave as Lucifer's light fills the chapel made perfect sense: he went into that room fully expecting he'd never walk out again.

Bobby has crossed a line or two himself. He may have hated himself for suggesting using Sam as a weapon, but he did suggest it. And presented with the option, he let Sam go. Dean would have made a different choice, or at least, that's what he'd told Bobby. But Bobby saw more of the big picture than Dean. He may love Sam and Dean, but he recognised the stakes and was at least willing to consider sacrificing Sam to save the world.

Castiel's fate was unknown at the end of season four, as was Chuck's. We left Castiel at Chuck's side, about to confront the archangel. If they survived the battle, well, Castiel disobeyed his superiors, which we know from Anna is "murder one" to the angels. So his prospects looked dire either way. Still, by my lights, Castiel deserved it. He obviously knew what was really going on when he bullied Dean into swearing allegiance to the angels, but only at the very last minute did he switch sides. Yes, he tried to get Dean to Sam in time and yes, he went up against an archangel to do it, but he could have solved the problem with far less effort if he'd just told the truth even a few hours sooner. That betrayal, coming from someone Dean trusted, had to be devastating. The one thing I was certain of, in that time between seasons, was that Castiel’s effort in the finale hadn’t come close to repaying what he owed Dean.

My challenge, to myself, was to continue the story from that point.

The first half of my story deals with the aftermath of Lucifer Rising for Sam and Dean, and to a lesser extend, for Bobby. It's about Sam trying to break free of the demon blood and become human again, and about Dean finding a way to reconcile with Sam after his betrayal. Honestly, like a lot of fans, I wanted to see the brothers as brothers again, so that's how I wrote it. But it couldn't be easy. They'd been through too much for that.

As much as Dean must be angry with Sam and as difficult as it had to be for Dean to trust him again, at his core Dean still sees his job as "Watch out for Sammy". When Sam is fighting for his life, and looking like he might lose that fight, the anger and distrust are buried under Dean's primary mission. Two years before, Dean was willing to sell his soul for Sam. I suspect that, having experienced Hell, he'd be less willing to do that a second time, but when it comes right down to it, there's not much else Dean wouldn't do to keep Sam alive.

But this isn't just about keeping Sam alive. It's about keeping him human. That's not eexplicitly spelled out in my story, but it's the place canon left it at the end of season four: that Sam would be permanently changed by the demon blood. So Sam's determination to kick the habit comes from that place. There's also, I suppose, an element of self-punishment in it; Sam did, after all, mess up rather badly. But that part of the story is intentionally mostly in Dean's point of view, because it's really about him: how far he will go (again) to save Sam and what that means for their ability to reconcile after the rift of season four.

I think Sam's physical recovery does put the brothers relationship in a better place than in the canon version of season five. They are more sure of each other: Sam knows that what he's done is forgiven (though not forgotten), and Dean knows that Sam isn't going to run off with the next demon bitch who comes along. But in a way, that pushes the real problem between them even deeper. They never really get the chance to talk about what Sam did, or to fight about it. All that angst is pushed aside while Sam is dying, and when he's recovered it's too late to bring it up. So the rift between Dean and Sam remains there, healed a little, but ready to crack open again under pressure.

In writing the story, I've tried to be subtle about showing the distance between the brothers. For example, a big part of Sam's problem in season four came, not from Ruby or Lilith or the demon blood, but because he never really faced up to Dean's death. He spent the whole time Dean was in Hell trying to save him or plotting revenge. When did he take time to really mourn? When did he acknowledge his own guilt or really try to live without Dean? He didn't. And when Dean came back, all that kept festering under the surface. Sam said a couple of times in that season that Dean came back different, weaker, broken. I think he really believed that (and I think it was true, to an extent), but a part of it is Sam's inability to accept that Dean is really, truly back. If he accepted that, his quest for revenge would have a lot less meaning...but that's the only thing that kept him going. He can't give it up. So he has to believe Dean came back "less than". He never did get his brother back. So, for my story, it was important for Sam to go back to that place, emotionally. He had to face that loss of Dean - regardless of the fact that he's back - in order to begin to heal from it.

But it's just as significant that Sam's emotional breakthrough moments in the story never happen when he is with Dean. And Dean’s are not with Sam, but with Jo, because he sees her as having been through experiences similar to his. It doesn’t matter, really, whether or not he’s right: Dean’s empathy for Jo allows him to open up in a way he never could with Sam. Sam, in Dean’s mind, doesn’t know what Hell is. Believing that Jo does gives Dean a chance to begin to put Hell behind him.

Jo, like Dean, did things in her “Hell” that she can’t forgive herself for. And like Dean in season four, there is more to her story than at first appears. I hope that comes across. Jo has her own story arc here, too. Jo’s story is her recovery from her Hell and it intentionally parallel’s Dean’s journey in season four: she begins the story free, but broken and ends it as a hero, rushing to save the day...if a little late.

But there is more to Jo’s story. The clues are there. Certain things in the story that might seem like mistakes or inconsistencies are not. In my original plan, Jo’s big reveal would have been in the final chapter of this story. But when the ending changed, I decided to save that for the sequel.

Lenore’s story is probably the one that suffers most from my changed ending. In my original plan, the story would have ended with Sam going to her for a place to hide from Lucifer. I could have revised her part in the story, made her less prominent, but I decided not to. Though it feels like a plot thread left dangling, this is one I’ll be able to pick up in the sequel, albeit differently from my original plan.

Lenore is a practical woman. Fanon tends to portray her as a vampire with a conscience (and her brief appearance in season six was more consistent with fanon than canon), but her season two appearance told a very different story. She makes it very clear that her nest is living on animal blood instead of human in order to avoid the attention of hunters. Her capture and release of Sam is very calculated, and achieves the result she was after: he believes she’s not evil. But she didn’t really provide evidence of goodness...only of control.

The Sam of early season two fell for that, and Dean backed his play. The Sam of the time after Dean’s deal came due would not have been so naïve. In my story, Sam encountered Lenore again shortly after Dean’s death (before Ruby’s return). What happened between them isn’t important, but they didn’t part on good terms. Given Sam’s mental state after watching his brother die, that would be inevitable even if they were best friends. When Dean asks Lenore for help, Lenore’s response is practical, not altruistic. She wants a hunter to owe her a favour. When she understands what is wrong with Sam, she knows that helping him will forge a bond between them. She’s also very careful what she tells Sam about that bond: it’s the truth, but not the whole truth. It bites her in the ass in the end.

Castiel’s role was a real challenge for me. I really can’t stand him. When I began the story, I seriously considered killing both Castiel and Chuck, since their fates were so uncertain at the end of the season. It would certainly have made it more fun for me. Ultimately, though, I wanted to resolve what canon never really addressed: Castiel’s betrayal of Dean and Sam.

Castiel has never told Dean the truth about saving him from Hell. It cannot be true that they “laid seige to Hell” when they found out that Dean was going to break the seal. John was in Hell for a year under the exact same circumstances and no angel bothered to try to save him. No, it wasn’t until after the seal broke that the angels fished Dean out of the Pit. What about Dean’s little trip into the past? It couldn’t have been meant to uncover Azazel’s scheme: Castiel may have been ignorant at this point, but the angels pulling his strings certainly were not. It’s more likely it was meant to show Dean that destiny can’t be changed, to lay the groundwork for him to become Michael’s prom-dress.

In other words, Castiel lied to Dean, manipulated him and then at the end of the season pressured him into swearing a vow of obedience knowing (at that point) that Dean was agreeing to kill his brother. Then he let Sam out of the panic room to make sure everything would go down as planned. His eleventh-hour rescue – which conveniently failed to get Dean to Ilchester in time – doesn’t come close to making up for all that.

My Dean is not Castiel’s bitch. My Dean can see straight and stand up for himself, and it was important to me that he take back some of the power the angels took from him. That was my thinking behind the scenes between Dean and Castiel in Miami. But Dean doesn’t know what he’s doing when he asks for Castiel’s loyalty. To Dean, he’s just making a point. To Castiel, it’s the moment he falls.

Dean’s destined role in the Apocalypse is somewhat different in this story from the canon. I took the prophecy Castiel gave us in season four: the righteous man who begins it is the only one who can end it, and put that at the centre. That prophecy stands; but there are multiple interpretations. The angels believe Dean will end it by becoming Michael’s vessel. Bobby’s interpretation is that Dean is meant to end it without angelic assistance. Castiel believes, or chooses to believe, that it means Dean is capable of killing Lucifer, but he doesn’t know how. And Dean desperately wants to believe it means he can fix what he’s broken. The end of my story may hint at yet another interpretation.

Sam's role at the end of the story is consistent with the canon: he becomes Lucifer's vessel. The context, though, is very different. Let's face it, canon-Lucifer was an idiot. Any demon could have told him which of Sam's buttons he needed to push to get his big yes. It might have made for a short season, but I really don't like it when the big bad is a complete moron. My version of Lucifer isn't going to waste time pontificating about how unfair God is or other third-rate philosophy. He's an archangel. He's a hugely pissed off archangel. He's gonna go straight for the jugular. And Sam isn't equipped to fight that.

Lucifer goes for Sam's weakest point: his guilt over Dean's deal. Sam has no one left to blame for what Dean suffered in Hell: the crossroads demon is dead, Lilith is dead, Ruby is dead. Who remains? Sam. Sam, who is the reason Dean made that deal in the first place. Sam, who made a bad call in Cold Oak and got himself killed, which got Dean damned. When Lucifer threatens to drag Dean back to Hell...what can Sam possibly do but give him whatever he wants. From Sam's perspective, it's not a bad deal.

From Dean's perspective, that makes Sam's fate Dean's failure.

There are a lot of cameo appearances for minor characters, mostly in the introductions to each chapter. I wanted to show how the apocalypse is reaching everyone, to make it personal. It was important to me to bring Missouri into that, because she was there in the beginning of the story – she’s the one who told John about the supernatural after Mary died. She sent three letters...one to Dean which is revealed in the epilogue. Who got the other two?

Haley Collins and her brothers from Wendigo were another group I really wanted to bring in, and Kat from Asylum was another. Though I gave them each their own story, they come together at the end. In the sequel, we’ll see more of Kat and Haley in Lost Creek. There’s another cameo that’s really important, too: Anna makes an appearance, though I didn’t name her. If the reader is paying attention, her appearance gives a clue what she’s been doing while the seals were breaking. Anna, too, will appear in the sequel.

If all goes to plan, I’ll be writing two sequels with parallel, intersecting storylines: one will focus on Dean and his role in defeating Lucifer and will resolve Jo's storyline as part of it; the other will focus more on Castiel, Anna and some other minor canon characters and will pick up the Samhain thread of this story. I am not a fast writer and can't say when either of these will be done. But they will. I've made a good start on both already.


Crossposted from my Dreamwidth journal. If you can, please comment there. have commented.

Tags: fandom:supernatural, fic:bigbang, fic:musings
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