A lot of my favorite things about Sam and Dean are medium-specific. There are little noises, moments, flickers that just MAKE them for me, that aren't often carried over into fic (mine or otherwise). It made me wonder whether those minute little live, bodily things could evince themselves in writing--like, can a collection of letters BE Dean, or BE Sam, the way that J2 can? So when my prompt called for brotherly interplay, my experiment proceed as follows:
Write an episode of SPN.
Which is not synonymous with writing case!fic; I wanted to see if I could emulate, to the nearest degree, the faculties film has at its disposal in writing. I'm pretty sure all the How to Write books in the world tell people DO NOT DO THIS, because a lot of writers this century are coming from a heavily visually-mediated world, and the point of writing is that it does not, in fact, play to the same generic qualities as television/film. But fuck that, I wanted to do my experiment!
KEY FEATURES OF AN EPISODE OF SPN, AS DISCERNED BY ME
* visually-mediated storytelling (e.g. focus on stage business, blocking, manhandling)
* extreme reliance on dialogue
* case/figuring out the rules of your monster
You may have noticed that I offered no explanation whatsoever as to how the Winchesters got from the end of 8x23 to their present state. I am unrepentant! I don't know, and I don't care. I do know what they were up to Parowan, though. Before this fic takes place, Sam and Dean are working a case with someone named Nikita Nekrasov, who turns out to be a flamboyantly gay witch. He and Dean chum it up, as Dean tends to do, but over the course of their case, things go downhill pretty quickly. Sam and Dean end up running around, trying to kill Nikita, during the course of which Nikita curses Dean. Then Sam kills Nikita, and leaves him in favor of doing whatever he can for Dean, because god knows what Nikita did to him.
As it turns out, either NIkita made some wildly astute observations of Dean and knew this curse would fuck with him, or he just wasn't a very good witch, because he curses Dean with, per the prompt, "the ability to hear everything said about him."
This situation blows up on them for two reasons. One, in Sam's haste to tend to Dean, the whole salt n' burn thing wasn't 100%, and they discover that ghost-witch!Nikita's still causing trouble with a vengeance. And two, with eight years of ridiculous bullshit under their belt, there's actually quite a few people talking about Dean.
Which, frankly, is more than enough impetus for a very Dean H/C-based fic. Because Dean spends a lot of time not thinking about all the things he's/they've done, and the rest of it justifying it away in occasionally asinine ways. As evinced in 7x04 "Defending Your Life," if these things are brought to the fore, things go downhill fast. But a very Dean H/C-based fic would have been directly at odds with the experiment I was pursuing here, so I gave the narration to Kat and Sam, and gave Dean's Dean-thoughts some privacy. I figured their effects on him, even if never explicitly treated in the narrative, would become evident soon enough.
* In Nikita's favor, though… In the finale 'battle,' Dean says something snide to Nikita's ghost. There's not a whole lot in the fic that ties back to his words, but they imply that they used Nikita to bring down all the ghosts, just like they used him when he was alive. They manipulated, used, and ultimately abandoned Nikita--so whatever he might have done to them, they screwed him first. Which I think is a reality of the Winchesters now that S8 puts into clear perspective. (Being ready to kill Linda Tran, definitely abusing Kevin's abilities, their utilitarian relationship with Castiel, Benny's sacrifice…) Whereas they put each other at risk to keep Kat and Gavin safe in 1x10.
I really, really wanted this fic to be about eight years spent hunting, but not about anything S8 actually did.
Actual S8 things that made it into this fic:
* Sarah Blake, in recognition of 8x22 :(((( and in anticipation of another S1 guest star's return
* Dean's "angel radio" reference, which hearkens back both to Castiel and Naomi, as well as Anna and Heaven, back in S4
* The exchange between Sam and Dean about hunting Wendigo; again a reference back to S1 with the intention of solidifying the S1 vs. S8 comparisons throughout the fic, but also in reference to Crowley's killing spree, and to Sam's line in S7(?), where he asks basically the same thing.
* Kat came to mind because several of the other prompts involved her, albeit not in these same circumstances. And she's perfect, really, because she's so much a part of a pivotal moment in S1--eight years ago. To see how she's grown up since, to see what's changed about the Winchesters in the same moment--that's what I wanted to explore. She also gets to reiterate Dean's line from the pilot, "Dude, I'm 26," for further S1 vs. S8 comparison. As a side note, I should mention that I don't fault Sam and Dean for not recognizing her! I looked up recent photographs of her actress for the purposes of this fic, and even having experienced "Asylum" much more recently than Sam and Dean, I wouldn't have known it was her.
* After recognizing Sam and Dean, and then looking them up on her smartphone and figuring out how much crazier the world just got, Kat takes them home with her. Why? Short answer, she's at an extremely delicate crossroads in her life, wrt Gavin, hunting, the works. She latches onto them because thus far, hunting has been an extremely isolating pursuit; however suspect they might be, there's a kinship there, and she desperately wants to share that with someone (particularly in Gavin's absence/reticence). Also, she's lonely.
* But I definitely didn't want to overstate that kinship. As Dean mentions somewhat satirically, most of their cases involve them teaming up with some fairly random person as though they were totally bffs. XD (Recall also that this definitely got them into trouble with Nikita.) And as Kat recalls, her perception of what happened in "Asylum" actually has very little to do with the Winchesters, and ultimately, they didn't have a whole lot to do with her that night, either. I wanted to recognize that even if we as fandom are best friends with all of these characters, the characters themselves don't know each other anywhere near as well as we know them!
*My favorite scene in the entire fic is her Skype call with Gavin at the beginning. I knew people would remember Kat if her name was Kat, but she initially introduced herself to Sam as Katherine; it made me wonder whether she'd ever gone by Katherine, or if she'd want to later in life. And I wanted her to be a real person, with habits and interests that don't all telescope into one singular vision of who she was. So she's a hunter who likes painting her toes; she Skypes; her boyfriend's on a Fulbright scholarship in Brazil. She's a hunter who entertains an actual, pay-the-bills career. And if you're gonna be hunter, working in journalism is probably an A+ strategic placement.
* Aside from the "write like TV" experiment, I think the unifying theme through this entire fic, for me, is communication breakdown. For Dean, there's too much communication, and he doesn't know what to do with it. Between him and Sam, there isn't nearly enough of it, because Dean won't say anything, and Sam can't/won't unlock him. The exchanges between Kat and Gavin are moderated by their being at different points in their life--Gavin wants to marry Kat, settle down, and have kids; Kat loves Gavin, but she's not sure if she's ready for that level of adulthood yet; not to mention, he's spent a year now in Brazil, and they been apart--as well as their medium, Skype/texting. THE EVILS OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY!!!!!
Technology features prominently here, from Kat's constant texting to her iPad to the electric honeypot they use to draw out Nikita and his various ghosts. Because, seriously now, between 2005 and 2013, tech's wrought huge changes in the way the world works, even in SPN. In S1 Sam and Dean were running around, following TEXTED, 8-bit coordinates, and by S8 they've got GPS and Google Search on their smartphones. In keeping with this disjuncture, I figured that the way they'd bring down these ghosts would be super tech-based.
In hacking, a honey pot is a computer system on the Internet that is expressly set up to attract and "trap" people who attempt to penetrate other people's computer systems; so Dean suggests they build one to trap a ghost. Of course, after I wondered why the Winchesters had never actually done something like that before, I answered my own question because EVERYTHING ENDED UP BLOWING UP IN SPECTACULAR FASHION. Which I didn't anticipate when Dean was first explaining this plan, but there you go.
* To be honest, Dean is awarded this honeypot insight because he doesn't really get to do anything else in this fic. But were I to spin this more professionally, I'd say that he's awarded this insight because 1) he spent a lot of time with Frank in S7, and 2) he did make that EMF meter out of a walkman, once upon a time.
* Sam and Kat readily agree that they won't be splitting up. This is in subconscious reference to 1x10 "Asylum," because splitting up then was an even worse idea than it usually is.
* When Sam mentions Pepper's ghost, I know it's really awkward phrasing. I actually meant "phantasmagoria" but I couldn't remember what it was called. /O\
* In one of several earlier incarnations of the plot of this fic, I entertained the idea that exorcising Nikita wouldn't free Dean of the curse, and he'd be stuck with it. There were versions of this where Sam knew about this, and one where Dean kept it to himself. But these became open endings that seemed like they might be counter to the prompt's specifications against unending angst and unsatisfying endings, so I dropped that idea. Also, it would've been too much Dean H/C (yes, that is a phrase I just uttered. I KNOW HOW UNCHARACTERISTIC THAT MUST SOUND).
As for Sam and Dean's relationship here… I don't think my Sam and Dean ever outright dislike each other, but I think their relationship, under my purview, tends to be a little icier than other readings might go for. So the worry that that might come across too negatively was ever at the back of my head as I was writing this--because I wanted it to be true to S8, too.
I wanted to get into really bodily descriptions, which is they they're basically toppling over one another in the fight scene with Nikita et al, or when they're walking back to the car, etc. My two favorite moments are both relatively insignificant, but I like
* the scene at the beginning, where Sam and Dean are leaving Big Greg's Gay Bar and regarding each other snappishly. During their argument, Sam slips off the curb slightly, and Dean grabs him back.
* the scene where Kat goes to answer a text from Gavin, and leaves Sam and Dean sitting next to each other in her living room. When she comes back, they're no longer sitting next to each other, and she asks them to get closer.
The first, because my favorite broments combine "fuck you" with unconscious care and affection, and the second, because something definitely transpired between them when Kat wasn't there to narrate, but the only evidence of that is where they've placed themselves in the room. XD
* Also, the PATOIS. Because this fic is much more dialogue-based than I tend to go for, there are entire scenes that are almost 100% dialogue--and if it's not verbal dialogue, is dialogue orchestrated through descriptions of moment. But I liked using Kat's perspective on Sam and Dean to recognize the particular vocabulary they entertain with one another (and no one else), not to mention what they deem normal and average topics of conversation.
I also liked using that to sort of distance them from Kat. They got on well, there's mutual respect between the three of them. But at the end of the day, Kat's got her own life to live, and it's not the Winchesters'. Of course…
* When Dean compliments Kat by saying "Tight ship, nice job" she thinks it's weird, because thank-yous and hunting don't really seem to go together in her mind; she assumes it's a Winchester vagary. But it's not; it's just as alien to the Winchesters, but it's extended as a courtesy to her, as a relative 'outsider.' That they're both wrong about each other might actually suggest they're more alike than they think.
* The other disjuncture occurs at Sam and Dean's mutual disbelief that Kat and Gavin could possibly be a thing. Rather than take Kat at her word that Gavin's in Brazil, both of them assume it's a front. They're unable to conceive of any relationship that's lasted so long, has hit the big time, is long-distance. Sam in particular recognizes his disability in that respect, because yeah, like he says, it's been a long year. He'd been long-term with Amelia a little over a year ago and he still can't wrap his head around Kat and Gavin.
* Sam measures "big time" with regard to the fact that Kat handled Auntie Jenn's funeral. To him, that means that Kat must mean a hell of a lot to Gavin's mother/Auntie Jenn's sister. He's stuck trying to think about who he'd let handle his sibling's funeral--that is, no one. Which also means that he's stuck on the idea of his sibling having a funeral (or dying). Because Gavin's not physically there with Kat, Sam's automatic assumption is that something happened to him. Between that assumption, and Sam's fixation on Auntie Jenn's funeral preparations, it's easy to imagine some of Sam's primary, if amorphous, concerns right now. (Particularly as he watches Nikita's curse unravel Dean--he might not be extremely worried about Nikita hurting Dean, but he's definitely worried about Dean.)
* I should note that as much as Sam can't conceive of Kat and Gavin being together that long, he doesn't seem to realize that he and Dean have been together for that long, too. Kat recognizes the various breaks/infidelities between Gavin and herself, which aside from attempted realism, is also meant to parallel Sam and Dean eight years together… with allowances for stretches spent in Hell, Purgatory, Richardson TX, Cicero, IA or otherwise split, a la soulless!Sam or early!S5.
* This ongoing preoccupation is again reflected when Kat tells Sam, "I don't think fine means--" and Sam snaps at her. He's well aware. (And of course, on the Kat/Gavin end of things, she's the one telling Gavin she's fine, even as she tells Sam that 'fine' is bullshit.)
* When Dean and Kat are alone, we get a little more of Dean's end of things. He imparts some advice to her--that growing up might not mean marriage, settling down, kids; it might mean leaving those things behind. Which is obviously colored by Dean's own experience with these things, and not really what Kat wants to hear. (This doesn't mean he's not right, though; that's between Kat and Gavin to figure out.) Whatever he doesn't know about Kat's relationship with Gavin, he knows that Kat's really struggling with it. And he tells her, "Don't break him."
Which says a lot more about Dean's fears and hang-ups with regard to Sam than it does about Dean's understanding of Kat and Gavin.
* The shouting match Dean instigates with Sam probably wouldn't have happened if Dean weren't tired, and mindfucked, and in pain. Which Sam recognizes, even if it still kind of pisses him off, and is wildly frustrating.
* But this entire fic, Dean's been barraged with this or that random piece of conversation about him, and often about Sam, too. That's a lot of guilt piled up--and as he says, he's not sure what he's supposed to do with all of these people, their loose ends, the rubble they've been leaving in their wake all this time. He doesn't know how to answer to that. And he doesn't know come clean, un-knot, with Sam, either. And Dean's really hung up on this inability to answer for all of these things (if previous years are anything to go by, he generally 'answers for' them by doing or saying things that are even worse).
* As far as this assertion of Sam's goes:
Some people get ripped to shreds. They bleed out. They burn from the core outward. They disappear, as though they never were. They disappear in increments, and those around them forget that there are pieces missing. They disappear, despite their best efforts, or none at all. Not everyone gets their sunset. But fuck sunsets anyway--even fewer are gonna get their sunrise the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next. It's the sunrise you want.
These are all descriptions of deaths Sam or Dean have experienced already. What Dean and Sam come to in the end is an acknowledgement that things do pile up, stresses build on one another, and that big twisted mess that is their lives can't just be flattened out, ignored, or falsely smoothed over. This is something they have to carry. But hopefully they can carry it someplace good. And that's what Kat's gonna try for, too.