Okay. So. I suppose it isn't much of a secret that In the Beginning kinda torqued me big time inthat it actually prompted me to use my "Seriously, man. COME ON!" Dean frustration icon on a "Dude! Where's my show bible?" everything-that-is-wrong-with-this-damn-e
So here I am, still grumping my ass off about canon follies a week later, when the ever enthusiastic alleysweeper offers me a respite from my grumpy-ass agitation in the form of an "everything I've loved so far about S4" list. And to my surprise, I actually agreed with almost everything she pointed out. I loved those things, too. So that put me to a thinky place (always dangerous) as to what it would actually take to, without changing a damn thing that aired, accept In the Beginning as canon rather than an ill-advised, you-sure-got-that-shit-wrong blasphemy of canon.
And this is what I came up with. Hope y'all like it.
Title: The Mark of Cain
Author: Dodger Winslow
Genre: Gen, Pre-series
Word Count: 3,260
Spoilers: In the Beginning
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, I'm just stalking them for a while ...
Summary: In the beginning, there was light and there was darkness, and it was good. And then everything changed.
The Mark of Cain
In the beginning,
there was light and there was darkness,
and it was good.
And then everything changed.
It was bitterness that drove me from heaven, a sense of betrayal that corrupted me to rebellion. While others roamed the mortal realm to which they’d fallen, laying waste to all they touched by defiling it in His sight, I felt no such rage toward my Father, felt no such urge to destroy the beloved who had usurped my place in His heart.
I felt only emptiness and pain, felt only the lack of that which had always defined me: my Father’s love. Simply that and nothing more.
Over the centuries, my wandering took me far from the others, took me so far from them that I no longer knew them as anything but those I had once followed, those I had once been of, if only in rebellion against my Father’s betrayal. But once the fall was taken, I was no longer of them, even as I was no longer of myself or anything I had once been.
I was truly alone in ways no soul could bear to be alone, and it scarred me in ways that would never heal. Marked me with the Mark of Cain. Damned me in the eyes of all who saw me.
In my pain and loneliness, I sought out the places of darkest death, the hells that exist in their mortal realm where other souls suffered as I had suffered, where other souls took on the Mark of Cain by consequence of their choices as I had taken it on as the consequences of my own. For millennia, I lived amongst the damned to be of them as they were of me: brothers to brothers, bonded only in the togetherness of our mutual suffering until their suffering eventually ended as mine never could, until their Father inevitably forgave them as my Father never would; and it made me cold, it made me dead, it made me nothing.
I was living amongst them in the guise of their own in one such hell when a child of light found me and became the only friend I’d ever had. The boy was fresh from the best the mortal world had to offer, full of love and life and hope for a future he fought to protect as his father had fought to protect it before him. His name was John, and he took to the fallen by instinct: sought to save those he saw suffering by grace of his own compassion and sought to redeem those he saw damned by sharing with them the grace of his unfathomable mercy.
It was the Mark of Cain that drew John to me, and the Mark of Cain that made us friends when no other but John would have me.
We fought side-by-side in the trenches of this living hell that he and I had both chosen for reasons as different as light and dark, and we became brothers at the soul in the tempering of a forge hot enough to boil away the common bond of simple blood. As his brother, he became to me as my son; and I, to him, as a father; the eternity of my endless torment an equal balance to the newness of his unquenchable thirst for life. I found a reason to exist again in protecting the precious light of this mortal child who would not be damned by the death around him, who would not be changed for the worst by the company he kept and the things he saw and the blasphemies he experienced. And in doing so, I became warm again. I became alive. I became something.
It was a bullet in the night that took John: a single shot fired from darkness, piercing his heart and extinguishing his light in an instant. One moment, we were speaking of the love that waited for him at home. Of his family. Of his Mary. Of all he had to live for. Of all he was willing to die for. And the next, he was gone. The bullet hit him; and his eyes went dark, his head dropped forward, and he was gone.
As the picture of his Mary fell from slack fingers to the mud beneath our feet, the bitter rage of a thousand millennia released itself from me like an apocalypse upon the mortal world to which I had banished myself at my own hand. My fury laid waste to all that surrounded me, bringing death to all who might have been the one to fire the bullet from darkness that ended everything I’d found in the hell of my own endless damnation.
In the still that followed, it was the destruction wrought upon them by the sound of my voice shrieking in betrayed rage that echoed through the nothingness to the dawning of a new day. As light broke over the horizon, I bent my head in surrender, begging for a mercy I no longer craved, praying for a grace I no longer believed in; not for myself, but for John.
"Save him, Father," I whispered, my divine voice stripped of pride and bitterness and rebellion. "Bring him back and take what Thou wilt from me instead."
The wind whispered across the razed land, speaking to me as I trembled amidst the ruin, bent over the body of the only mortal I had ever known, saying, "Save him yourself, My child," and I did.
In the millennia of my never-ending damnation, I’d possessed many mortals in the pursuit of some meaning to my isolation, in the seeking of some greater purpose to all that had been stripped from me by my Father in the dawning of the age of Man.
But possessing John was different.
I slipped into the darkness of nothing and found the echo of everything. I opened his eyes to the light of a new day; but it was not John who drew the first breath of life stolen after the last gasp of death, it was me. A thousand sensations overwhelmed me from every quarter of his new existence. The pulse of his heartbeat beating in his chest, his wrists, his temples, his groin. The cool of the rising mist condensing against his flesh and the heat of his blood trickling from a single hole that made itself whole even as I considered it.
In the eyes of the mortal world, it was John Winchester who walked alone out of the no man’s land of devastation wrongly tallied to a napalm bloom that never happened, who became a myth spoken of in whispers as the sole survivor of the unsurvivable and who returned to Lawrence, Kansas to the family and girlfriend he left behind to fight a war that marked him but never changed him.
But behind the eyes of John Winchester, it was me.
I played his part as best I could, called upon the echoes of him that lived in the flesh to become the man he would have been had I not failed him in the darkness with the resurrection of his soul I could not affect. And they accepted me in kind, welcomed me home with the outpouring of love that rightfully belong to him, returning me as a son to a father, as a man to a woman, as a soldier to the community for which he fought and died.
It was a blasphemy to his memory to accept this love in his stead, but I craved it too much to turn away, needed it too much to rebuff it, wanted it too much to punish them for a failure that was only mine. So I accepted it. And I returned it. And for a passing of months that lasted longer than the centuries of my own exile, I lived as John Winchester amongst the mortals who loved him, and I became him in my own mind until such time as my perdition was at an end, and I died at the same hand I followed in the falling, returned to my Father by the same corrupter who led me away so many millennia ago.
The grace of my Father’s mere presence was more than I remembered it to be, and it drove me to my knees in supplication, bowing my head before Him like a slave seeking audience with a king. He knelt at my side and extended His hand to lift me from my knees. He embraced me as the prodigal son, and I wept the tears of the forgiven even as I mourned that which I’d left behind in ways I’d never mourned my lost place in heaven at His side.
"It is his Mary who calls to you," my Father said. The smile on His face was knowing; the weight of the hand He put to my shoulder, a release of burdens too long carried.
"Yes," I answered, shamed to confess the sins of mortal flesh to the Father who’d damned us all for succumbing to the temptations of pleasures never intended to be our own. I bowed my head again, asking for that which I did not, in truth, want: "Forgive me, Father."
"There is nothing to forgive," He said. "A man to a woman is how I planned them. It is their gift that they should feel this love in the flesh as you feel it in the soul."
"She is John’s," I said.
"And are you not also John?" He asked.
He gave me silence to deny it, and I did not.
"Return to her," He commanded me. "Be as you wish to be, and come home again when it is your time to come home. The fatted lamb is always set to your place at My table, My child. You need never fear My love is mortal. Love is never mortal. It is eternal, as are you, as is John."
"I cannot," I said, rebelling against His word as I had once rebelled so long ago. The agony of it drove me back to my knees, bent me again to supplication, begging His forgiveness even as I defied Him a third time: "I cannot. Forgive me, Father; but she is John’s. Return him in my stead. Give him back that which he had, and I’ll ask You not for myself again."
"You bargain with Me, child?" He asked gently.
"I beg of you," I answered. "Please, Father. Return John to her, and let them have the life he should have had."
"As you wish," He agreed.
And inside me, I felt a change. I felt a difference. I felt forgiven.
"Rise," He commanded, and I did. I stood before Him, unashamed and unbowed. He placed His hand over my heart and said, "This that you feel inside you, My son? This is love. This is grace. This is that which you denied yourself when you turned from Me in anger. Do you remember it, child? Do remember the feel of it in your soul?"
"Yes," I whispered. And I did.
"And yet, this is not a love in your soul," He said. "It is a love in your flesh."
"No," I denied. But it was.
"A mortal love," He told me patiently. "A love for John."
"No," I denied again. But it was.
"A love so strong you would sacrifice yourself in his stead. A love for your brother; a love for your son."
"Please," I said.
"She is not John’s. She is yours. She has always been yours." He stepped forward and embraced me, whispered in my ear, "For I so loved you, child; that I sent my only begotten Son that He might save you, that He might hold your place in her heart until you returned to Me, that He might die to wash your sins clean so that you might return to her. His Mary is your Mary, child. A man to a woman is how I planned for you. It is My gift that you should feel this love in the flesh until you can feel it once again in the soul."
When He stepped back from me, His Son stood at His side. The light of Him shown with the best the mortal world had to offer, full of love and life and hope for a future He fought to protect as His Father had fought to protect it before Him. His name was John, and He took to the fallen by instinct: sought to save those He saw suffering by grace of His own compassion and sought to redeem those He saw damned by sharing with them the grace of His unfathomable mercy.
His Father’s mercy.
I recognized Him now as I had not recognized Him then. He smiled at me and said, "The love of a brother for a brother. The love of a father for a son. Azazel seeks to corrupt all We hold sacred, but He cannot. Not as long as this love lives in the flesh. Not as long as this love lives in the soul. Mary waits for you, My brother. Return to her and bring forth the son who will save Mankind with his love for his brother, with his love for his father. Only you can bequeath to him that which My Father bequeathed to Me."
"The Mark of Cain is upon me," I said, the love of John in my heart at war with the bitterness of my Father’s betrayal that still lingered in the darkest shadows of my soul. "The love I have to offer is tainted by the betrayal of my Father to Your favor."
"You slew Me once with the jawbone of an ass," John reminded him. "I forgave you then as I forgive you now."
I stepped away from Them, a familiar rage rising within me, a familiar jealousy burning my love for Him to ash with my hatred for how my Father loved Him. "Forgive me? You forgive me, Brother?" I turned to my Father, demanding of Him, "So this, too, is His place with You? That He forgives now, as You forgive?"
My defiance echoed through an eternity of time, opening again the rift between Us through which Azazel approached me to the corruption of the first fall. But as my Father had once turned away from this blasphemy of my rebellion; He now faced me to the confrontation of it.
"You are the holy spirit," He said. "He is the mortal flesh. There is no choosing between you. You are one soul; divided by your differences, united by your sameness; and I am your Father. I will not love you above your brother, as I will not love Him above you."
"You created Man in His image," I raged.
"And I created Heaven in Yours," He answered. I felt the cold of His wrath stirring; felt the embrace of the prodigal son turning to rejection. "Bend your will to Me, child. I am your Father, and I demand it."
"No," I said. "I will not."
"Stop," John whispered. "Please, Father. Stop." He turned to me, the agony of my hatred a dark reflection in the light of His eyes. "I found you, and I brought you home," He said.
"He sent you; and You lured me back," I retorted.
"I love you," John said.
"And He loves You," I returned.
"Go," my Father commanded. "You aren’t ready yet. Return to Me when You are."
"If I leave now, I don’t need to bother ever coming back," I snarled.
And with that, I was alive again, lying in her arms, looking up at her as she cried. "Mary?" I muttered, confused, disoriented, unsure where I was or how I’d gotten there.
"John," she returned.
And I was. John. No longer me, yet still me. Mortal flesh now rather than holy spirit. A man in ways I’d never been, even in the possessing of John’s body through the months of my effort to be him as he would have been had I not failed him. Panic twisted through me as I struggled upright, looked around and found the body of her father lying nearby. Samuel. I could see the mark of Azazel on his now-rotting flesh, smell the stench of Azazel in the cloying weight of the air that surrounded us.
The great corrupter.
"Mary?" I said again, suddenly afraid for her, suddenly terrified of everything I might have brought down upon her as the mortal for whom I’d fallen in the act of loving.
Her tears were acid on my skin as she turned to look at her father. The small sob of grief that caught in her throat was such an agony of love torn free of flesh that for a moment, it overwhelmed me beyond my capacity to endure it. I pulled her in, surrounded her with what mortal flesh I could offer as solace while she cried in broken silence, damned by a love for me that I would freely sacrifice if it would only free her from the mark of Azazel that stained her flesh now as surely as it stained her father’s.
But my sacrifice would not free her. Were I to turn from her now, my sacrifice would only make the price she’d already paid a sacrifice made in vain.
I closed my eyes, my spirit trapped within the flesh of this mortal body to which I’d been banished; and for a moment, I once again felt only emptiness and pain; once again, felt only the lack of that which had always defined me: my Father’s love. Simply that and nothing more.
But inside me, I had changed. I was different. I was alive.
Even as I considered them, the memories of a thousand millennia of loneliness and despair began to fade. Endless lifetimes lived amongst the damned to be of them as there were of me, to hide in the darkness of our mutual suffering until their suffering eventually ended as mine never could, until their Father inevitably forgave them as mine never would; erased themselves down to the span of only one lifetime, lived from birth to re-birth as a mortal man of flesh and blood and bone, surrounded by the love of family, of community, of the woman who clung to me now, crying into my shoulder as she gave to me the one thing that had always been denied me: my Father’s love in the flesh until I could once again feel it in my soul.
A light rose in my mind, and my Brother spoke to me in spirit. "Open your eyes," He whispered.
And I did.
Beyond the dark shadow of a 67 Chevy I bought on impulse at the urging of a stranger as familiar to me as my own soul, I saw myself step into the present from the future; saw myself rest a hand upon the shoulder of my son as we watched his mother take on the Mark of Azazel to erase the Mark of Cain from the mortal man I’d only now become.
"The love of a brother," John whispered inside of me. "The love of a father. It is your salvation, Castiel; as it is Mine."
And then we were gone, my soul in the meatsuit of a stranger holding the shoulder of my brother’s soul in the flesh of my son; and Mary and I were alone in our grief, only the love of the flesh between us to save the world from the future that was yet to come.