Genre: gen, angst, apocafic, AU from the end of 10x23
Characters: Sam (POV), Dean, Rowena, mentions of Castiel
Word Count: ~2900
Warnings: [Spoiler (click to open)]A wee bit of body horror, I suppose--witches being witches. Character death, implied eventual character death.
Notes: For the prompt, "Rowena with amnesia, on the road with Sam and Dean," from misplaced_ad in spn_summergen 2016! Originally posted here.
Summary: The Book of the Damned called for Rowena's heart, so she killed her Polish boy. But Rowena is a witch, not a lover--and she may have given more than she meant.
Now it's Sam's turn to give.
Pукописи не горят.
Somewhere in Montana, there's an angel on a butte. But they've switched service providers, and this current one has left the Big Sky State to its own devices.
"Decent analogy," Sam allows, when their summoning spell doesn't work, either. It's been quiet in Montana, full moon or not. They've made their jokes about wolf culls. They've sought shifters, frontier ghosts. There's nothing out there in the dark.
"Seriously?" Dean frowns distastefully. "Kill Death, and the universe goes T-Mobile on the supernatural? That makes sense to you?"
They haven't tried to hit town yet--they're not sure they want to know.
Sam lets the remnants of their spell--if it can be called that; if there can be spells where there is no magic--rip from stone in the wind. There's a storm in the distance.
"It would explain her, too," he whispers.
Her, Rowena--hair gone wild with weather. She's sitting at the edge of the butte, cloak in her lap like a familiar. She didn't know what year it was. 2011, she'd thought, the day she flung herself at their door, speaking in tongues about tsunamis. She hadn't recognized Sam.
Two days ago, it was 2001. Then 1989.
Rowena's years are coming undone.
She is, after all, a three hundred-year old witch. Without magic, perhaps she hasn't the right to them any more.
"What about you?" Sam asks. He eyes the crook of Dean's arm.
The Mark just killed Death; now it must digest him. Sleep him off.
Dean's familiar with the pattern.
Rowena is a ghost without her magic. Sam doesn't miss her--the carnivalesque of her, gaudily bloodthirsty but never quite in charge of herself. Still, this is hard to watch.
It's like a strip-search.
He wasn't sure if she'd be able to remember what was happening, memory leeching from her as it was, but now Sam thinks she might be smart enough to realize anyway. Surely it's obvious to her---if there's no magic left in the world then she'd feel it instantly. And when that memory leaves her, it can't help but be seamlessly replenished, until that one pales and husks out, too, over and over again--like so many birds from her hands.
Maybe it wasn't even the death of Death that they were living now. The Book of the Damned had called for Rowena's heart; perhaps, in the end, she'd given more than she meant.
(And even that hadn't cured Dean.)
"This is no wild place," she says, of the plains, and the lake at the seat of the butte. As though that were the reason there were no magic.
The lake is a reservoir, really. This is ranching land, so Rowena's at least right about that, if not the astral plane, or the third eye, or whatever magic is.
They can't see it from here--it's still and silent at this distance--but the water in the reservoir writhes beneath the pulse of rain, like a gray and snakelike death throe. Were they closer, they would see the monster in it, magic or no.
Sam glances at Dean.
"Do you think he'll have more time, or less?" Dean asks Sam, on top of another butte. They're no longer in view of the lake, but the storm creeps forward. "Castiel, I mean."
"I guess it's hard to say. Maybe God trumps Death."
"He doesn't," says Dean, and he sounds sure. "Maybe they're M.A.D. Kit and kaboodle. Like, kamikaze shit."
"So why are we still here? Eye of the storm?"
"Well, Cas did warn me."
One day soon, Dean will walk the earth alone. So spake Castiel. So spake Cain.
"I learned to dance," says Rowena, unprompted. The Soviet ballet. They were sending women and cichlids into space, and Rowena learned to dance.
"I bewitched Marya's shoes," Rowena smiles wistfully. "I danced principal that night. And the next morning I danced the encore number on her grave. Stupid, pretty Marya Morevna."
"So that was you," says Dean. "You're the one who made those goddamn shoes."
"Will you remember them for me?" she says.
"Hell no. We're not doing this Notebook shit."
"You won't be the first ones to lose a god, you know," says Rowena. "You don't have to get nasty about everything."
When she says it she comes back to herself, in fractions. There's an impetuosity dancing at her wrists, as though they remember her enchantments. "I spent the better half of the twentieth century purifying water for the natives of a small Pacific atoll."
"Right. Witches Without Borders," Sam deadpans.
Rowena tucks a strand of fire behind her ear. She looks up at the sky as though they'd once been more to each other. "They thought I was a god, and it was a welcome misapprehension as far as I'm concerned. After all, why court Hitler when you can exceed him?"
"Losing a god isn't the same thing as abandoning a false one," Sam argues. "Did they run you out with pitchforks later?"
"Faithless," Rowena scoffs. "I was the one who took my leave, thank you! Your President started bombing their ocean, irradiating their sea. So I left. Now your historians speak of me as though I'm purely myth."
And so she will be, when her centuries burn down.
"Why do you think we care?" Dean says.
"Memories are almost as powerful as souls," says Rowena. "You may be needing a few, when we're gone."
Somewhere in Montana, there's an angel on a butte. Sam envisions wings, eclipse-like, a span so large they spot it from the highway. Maybe there are no forms now but true ones.
Maybe Castiel will be the butte, or the butte his molar. Montana his mouth.
But then, the only reason Sam believes Castiel is here at all is because Dean said so; and he only believes this because Dean tried to kill Cas once, and that desire hasn't abated. It's like a homing beacon, and Dean will find him.
He'd hoped the Mark would go, that maybe after Rowena's spell it, too, would trickle away. But he can feel Dean stepping back instead. Dean talks the same and looks the same, but he's not the same.
Sam thinks about the power of memory. Wonders if they count if the fact of them remains, but not the substance. Maybe it's like magic is now--all theory, no praxis. He knows he's not what he should be to Dean; not anymore.
Maybe if Dean killed again, threw up another distraction, Sam would have his brother back again--if only for a glimmer. But after Death, there's not much left on the food chain.
So Sam wonders. If Dean kills him, would he die in Dean's arms? His Dean's? Or would the glimmer be so fast he'd live to see it come and go, and vanish first?
"I've met Mandelstam," says Rowena. "Bulgakov, too."
"Are we still talking about ballet?" Dean turns, and the wind smacks his collar flat against his neck, unfurled like a sail.
Sam imagines an atoll, and a woman with hair like lava, and skin like ash.
"What are we going to do when we find him?" Sam asks, as though there is a 'we,' as though they plan to have a plan, and as though they will ever find him. Part of Sam just wants to see the ripple of Dean's knuckles against air.
The Mark is taking his brother, and for some reason Sam needs himself dizzy with proof.
"I guess we'll ask him," says Dean. "Though by that point, maybe he'll just be a laser beam, or a cloud or something."
"Would that disappoint you?" asks Sam.
They drive west, sky striped and heavy like a core sample. Black mountains and black stormclouds break the pattern of the sunset, but there are no black wings.
When Dean answers only with silence, Rowena volunteers that she was in Manila Bay when the Spanish came, her hands in the belly of an old man as she stoked the cancer inside of him.
She kneaded her fingers straight into his flesh, like knives, and pretended to faith heal. She made rich men die and young heirs beholden to her.
"Lucky me, I'd already learnt Spanish the century before," says Rowena, which is something Sam absolutely can't believe.
"Why not? After all that Latin?" Rowena singsongs. "Time was, I could turn your brother into a bomb. But maybe I still can, Sam Winchester. I know many things. I am more than my magic."
Perhaps that's a reality she's come to, as time falls--being more than her magic. Or maybe it's one she'd long since left, by the time they'd met the first time (the real first time, that is).
Rowena lets the rain rake through her hair, pull her curls, lay her dress sheer against her skin. The storm comes at them stampede-like now; still monstrous, but more stallion than leviathan. It remembers the horses here, and the bison before them. Lightning severs the sky, jagged, and Rowena's fingers orchestrate at her sides.
Sam could almost believe she'd found some sway over it. More than or not, magic will never stop being her deepest, most passionate thing. She's in love with something that doesn't exist anymore. She's still in love.
"Don't do it," warns Dean.
"I'm not doing anything."
"I can see you peeking at those perky nipples out there."
"I'm definitely not."
"Sam, you're too old to be the Harold to her Maude. Don't do it."
"She's three hundred years old!"
She is more than her magic, Sam thinks, and he watches the tap of Dean's hands, drumming Metallica. He fits the tempo of the lightning, too.
Sam would take Dean's hand in his then, but he knows it's too late for that. He's lucky he's kept as much of Dean as he has.
Castiel isn't getting any more found, and now that the storm is on top of them the anticipation of even that is gone. They've lost that marker. But Dean's flirting with the eternal, and Sam needs all the markers he can get.
They're both waiting, he knows, to see what happens when Rowena runs out of tales to tell.
She never remembers what she's told them, or that she's told them anything at all. But speak she does--and it's always her impulse, to tell them. This never changes.
She dances, ballet-less, in the steppe grass. Her hair throwing water as she spins. It has the look of old, old witchcraft. The performance leads to nothing but Rowena unsteady on her feet, wending snakes through the fields, but that doesn't temper her trying. Maybe keeping the memory of the form is better than mourning the substance.
"You could dance," sam Says to Dean, "if you wanted to."
"Bad analogy," says Dean. But he gets out of the car, at least, and Sam follows suit.
Sam means, Keep fighting this. Even if we've already lost.
No cars have come down this highway.
"There's always magic in the highlands," says Rowena. "Truly, I've always been partial to the Andes. Those are my favorite mountains, but I suppose these ones will do."
"Aren't you Scottish?" Sam asks.
"Aye, and some were content to stay," she says, jumping accents, registers. "But the only thing sadder than a small king on a small island is a wee girl on that selfsame rock. And my pa always knew we were for better things."
"Don't tell me. You and Crowley are only the products of a long legacy of bad fucking parenting." Dean rolls his eyes. "Total innocents."
Rowena's thrown for a moment, the shamefaced flicker of someone made vulnerable. She doesn't know Crowley, but she knows that she should. That they know; that, and probably much else besides. She'll tell her stories and wax over her selfish, self-smitten victories, but in the end, she's scared. And she is dying.
"Darien, on the isthmus--Panama," she says. "Long after all the lot of them had left, or died. My pa and me, we stayed. For it's as he said; that's what we are made of. And by the time he died, I was a woman grown, and there was no Scotland to return to."
"I'm pretty sure Scotland's still around. Well, I mean--up until about a week ago, anyway," says Dean. (He and Sam have failed, this time irredeemably. This is how Dean cops to that.)
"Not as we'd known it, Scotland isn't. And wasn't," Rowena explains. "Not that it would have mattered much for a butcher's girl in the highlands, but my father always had his ambitions. He cared who ruled as king, and he would not have suffered any but a Scotsman."
"When were you last back?" Sam asks. Surely she must have been--for Crowley to have buried himself there. But perhaps Fergus McLeod, sold for three pigs, got packed aboard a Scottish merchant's ship alone.
"I suppose now I couldn't say," answers Rowena, finally. "But I can tell you this. I've seen empires suckle, wean, and fall. I'm rarely impressed."
The next morning, she finds gray in her hair.
It's quick, after that.
Rowena's thin wrists pucker, showing tendon--until the tendons wither, too.
"I can't raise them, " says Rowena. Her voice is steel but her eyes have magnified with tears. They're cataract-milky, like moonstones.
Dean can't keep his hands still. It's like she's chum in the water, though Dean manages to keep most of his frenzy under his skin.
"I suppose you're waiting for the blood. Sad, ravaged Rowena--it made her the way she is," she says.
"That's usually the way it goes," Dean agrees.
"Not for me."
Rowena twists as she shrinks, flesh compressing as though preparing her for shipment. Her teeth melt from her gums.
"I'm a born witch," she lisps. "I was powerful before I even knew that's what I wanted to be."
Her nails wander from their beds, plink onto the highway. Sam wishes the rain hadn't moved on--that it were there to drown out the sound.
"My power came before me and it will live long afterward."
"Nothing's living long afterward," Dean points out. "I think we've established that."
They've managed what no Apocalypse heretofore had even dreamed--they scraped the planet clean, with none to stop them. It's impossible to think about, so they don't.
You will live she mouths. You will live forever, and you'll have no choice but to remember me.
Maybe Dean's curse is plain, then; it doesn't take magic to see it, nor even Sam's eyes. Dean has the look of someone who will have no choice but to walk an empty earth.
Rowena turns to Sam, head drooping too far as he neck deteriorates, and the bones bend like blades of grass. Her jugular flattens. Because you won't let him forget.
She reaches for Sam, then, a familiar gesture she can't possibly know to make--not to Sam Winchester, whom now she's met for the first time seventeen separate times. The wind catches her and she's mostly gone before her fingers touch his shoulder, but he flinches from her ashes and one whole bone slashes bloody against his palm.
Stuff of ritual, where there world and time for such a thing.
Then they're alone.
Sam, last man standing, last bend in the mortal coil--Sam and a being that is still Sam's brother.
"Can you imagine Rowena riding a llama?" Dean asks.
Then he says, "Oh, holy crap, she's right. Goddamn it. Now we're gonna be stuck with a whole Jeopardy board of Rowena factoids."
Sam lets his hand drip dark onto the ashy pavement. Imagines angels on the heads of pins and in small drops of blood. Witches across centuries and kingdoms across oceans.
"Bodily Fluids for 500, Alex?" Dean tries again.
"She is right," Sam agrees eventually, without meeting Dean's eyes. He takes his sight to the horizon instead. "I'm not gonna let you forget, Dean. Any of it. Any of us."
They're in the middle of the plains, mountains lost to morning fog and sky shocked white with clouds. It's dead quiet, though Sam can almost hear the cars that once were, the big rigs; the jangle of cows being herded; veins being mined out. Timber cut and falling.
"I'm not gonna forget. The Mark wants me to miss you." Dean says, twisting his arm at his side. "I don't know if you've noticed, but it kinda gets off on the memory torture porn."
The Mark wants Dean to kill Sam. That, Sam can't change. But there have always been fates worse than death.
"Keep me, then," says Sam. "Don't miss me--keep me. Don't let it use me against you. You heard what Rowena said; memories are powerful, like souls. Maybe if you--"
Dean sinks back onto the hood of the Impala, Rowena gummy on his shoes. He's unconvinced by the distinction, or the possibility. "You know," says Dean. "Cas said something--about not wanting to watch. About being the only one who was gonna be alive to watch me turn."
Sam sits, too.
Dean's supposed to actually say something, but instead he mutters, "I guess he won't be."
For all Sam knows, they're parasites caught in the zippered plume of Castiel's wings.
For all Sam knows, Castiel is as gone as anything else.
"Let me tell you a story," says Sam.
My story will live long after me.
It cannot be killed.