[personal profile] xaara
I started writing a few days ago, and, well, this happened.

Title: The Word
Author: [livejournal.com profile] xaara
Rating: R (violence & language), gen
Timeline: sometime mid-season 3 through 4.18
Characters: Chuck, Sera, OCs
Summary: All he can do is write.
A/N: I think some explanation of characters is in order. First, although I don't remember hearing a name for her, that odd half-blonde woman introduced as Chuck's publisher at the beginning of 4.18 is called Sera over at IMDB. It made no sense that she would be a publisher (what, she's got a printing press out on the back porch or something?), so I ignored that and made her an editor. Maybe working for a publisher. Second, at one point in that episode, Chuck says something like, "Phil put you up to this?" and looks at the house next door. Hence: Phil. Finally, I realize that parts of this don't quite jive with parts of "The Real Ghostbusters," but I'm really trying to will that episode into nonexistence. All right. Enough yammering.


If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a good chance of being a prophet.
-Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Word

A writer, an editor, and a redhead walked into a bar. Some joke's gotta start like that, or maybe it's the punchline. Definitely punchline material. Punchline how two hours ago the publisher called to say they were taking a miss on the next installment. The series wrapped up well with Dean going to Hell, they said, and fans (they'd managed to say the word fans—plural—without snideness) were just going to have to make do with the fifty-nine books that came before that last effort. Tough competition, no market for anything but memoir and big names, turns out no matter what the New York Times says, people don't read. Thinking about declaring bankruptcy, when it comes right down to it.

He nodded and nodded and said, "I understand" at the right times. At the end, he assured them there were no hard feelings. Publishers worried about hard feelings, like writers could do anything but feel deeply sorry for themselves and pursue overdosed deaths. He hung up the phone, then called Sera. "They pulled the plug," he said.

"Those assholes," she said. "They don't know what they're missing."

"To be fair," he said, "the likelihood that anyone will notice is somewhere around zero."

She laughed, and he could almost see the way her hair flipped over her eyes when she shook her head. "Don't suppose you've got some other brilliant idea up your sleeve."

He thought of the stories he'd written for undergraduate workshops, pages of trite symbolism and double entendre. Adjectives and adverbs spilling over one another in the war against clean writing. And god, that phase with experimental formatting that had cost him three hundred dollars in color ink cartridges before he came to his senses.

"No," he said. "But Reggie's has live music tonight."

"Seven o'clock," said Sera. "Don't keep a girl waiting."

--

Sera was waiting, because she needed to be the first anywhere and he'd run twenty minutes late for his entire adult life. He'd spent months wondering why she showed up early for him. He wanted to blame a past trauma, a strict upbringing, a lifetime of working punchcard jobs. It had made him feel guilty at the beginning of their partnership, the awkward meetings across an office desk, then across a coffeeshop table. He'd given it up when they became friends.

"You really think readers are going to buy this whole, 'Guy loses his wife and goes nutso with kids in the backseat' premise?" she'd ask, her fingers wrapped around a small double soy sugar-free vanilla latte. (She was lactose intolerant, she'd said, and later, when that fell out of fashion, allergic to wheat gluten and refined sugars. He'd tried to remember everything before declaring it pointless, since she didn't seem to eat anything except popcorn and oranges anyway.)

"I call 'em like I see 'em," he'd say.

She'd nod and pull out the manuscripts, scrawled-over with sparkling pink ink, and they'd get to work. Sera might have been neurotic and irritating and more than a little flat-out crazy, but she knew her way around a story. And she never asked why he wrote what he wrote, or where the stories came from.

So she'd waited for him. He'd arrive having rolled out of bed and forgotten to change his underwear again. Most of the time she'd have an extra sandwich and a steaming cup of coffee, because she was freakin' awesome like that. She'd reach across the scuffed tabletop to discipline his hair. He'd try to convince her that it was possible to set something eight feet tall that could move a hundred miles an hour on fire with a flare gun. She'd look at him with one thin eyebrow arched and that goddamn pink pen twirling in her fingers and say, "Sweetie, just because you write best three sheets to the wind doesn't mean your readers aren't sober."

Now, she waited for him outside Reggie's as he palmed his hair and beard into something less neanderthal chic. Beside her stood Erin, the latest squeeze, a petite, generously curvaceous—no, he caught himself, she was pretty much just short and round—redhead with the freest smile he'd ever seen. She carried herself with a composure that wove magical calm in Sera's presence. He hoped this one might last long enough to reach girlfriend status, maybe longer. It seemed more likely she'd do like the last seven: come around for a while before realizing she was dating someone as stable as Jell-o and leave with or without screaming and breaking dishes.

"Oh, honey," said Sera. She flung herself at him, wrapping arms around his back while Erin schooled her face into tolerance. "We'll find another publisher," she said into his shirt. "We won't let those boys go without a fight."

He considered telling her, then, telling her that he wasn't sure he had anything but the books in him. Telling her that'd he'd been a shit writer before the dreams and only a mediocre one after. Hell, telling her about the dreams in the first place.

Instead, he and Sera and Erin spent the night weaving little tales like gossamer—or, he thought, as the walls started slipping sideways, I could tell it like it really is. Nothing gossamer. What the hell is gossamer, anyway? So they sat trading bar stories over rocks glasses smudged by generations of lipstick, tossing back pour after pour until he blinked and the world disappeared.

--

His own screams woke him, later.

No, he thought. No no no no no. Stop.

He'd decided not to write about it long ago. It was too dark, too sadistic even for him, and he'd left the scenes from his book. They were characters, sure, but even fictional people deserved better than year after year of torture, each day more perfect than the last. This latest turn sickened him, the way Alastair bent over his charge, the way Dean shuddered and screamed and when Alastair tired of that, the way Dean's mouth opened, desperate to draw breath down a throat he no longer possessed. Lately, he'd stopped writing altogether, because what, really, was the point?

There was something different this time, though, he thought, and trawled the fragments still imprinted on his subconscious. Something else. Someone else. Dean had called into the sweltering darkness, and there had been a response. Huh. Fuckin' plot thickens, he thought, throwing a halfhearted smile at the ceiling.

Sleep came again, dreamless.

--

"Anything good?" the girl asked, gesturing at the book he held open on the bar.

He shrugged and ignored her. One day, he thought, I will conduct a study as to why people always start bar conversations with the patrons who most clearly want to be left alone. She slid onto the stool beside him and smiled at Colin, who poured her another beer without charging for it.

"I'm Marilynne," she said as if he hadn't ignored her question. "Colin tells me you're a reclusive genius."

"I'm not," he started, before meeting the laughter in her eyes. She smelled like tea and cloves and stared at him until he had to look down. "I'm not a genius," he said at last. "Reclusive sounds about right."

"Anything I might have read?"

He almost told her—almost revealed his secret identity, he thought with a smirk—but instead, held out a hand. "Sorry for being a jerk. The name's Charles. Most people call me Chuck. And no, nothing you'd have read. Mostly a lot of crap that's gone off to the great shredder in the sky."

"That's cool, though," she said, accepting the truce. "I mean, that you're a real writer. Nobody's a real writer. People just teach, or they're freaking huge like James Patterson and have minions to write their Word."

"I dunno," he said, and downed another swallow of beer. "It's tough being God of Mystery. These days, a good honest minion is hard to come by. Bunch of entitled assholes."

She laughed, and told Colin to bring them a couple of shots of Tully, and when he asked about followup, said, "Really, dude, how long have you known me, have I ever chased liquor with anything but more liquor?"

--

She called him two days later, at six-thirty in the morning. He answered the phone out of reflex, because it startled him awake and he grabbed it to make it stop. "What?" he rasped, clogged morning breath catching his throat.

"Dude, Chuck. You have to see this sunrise. Get up."

"What?"

"The sunrise. When the sun gets up." He swung his legs out of bed and shuffled to the window, hip cramping at the sudden rise. From the smell, Phil was making his usual burnt toast and bacon for breakfast.

"I'm up," he gargled, then cleared his throat. "I'm up. What am I supposed to be looking at?"

"Look outside. It's beautiful, there's all this pink and it's a little foggy." Marilynne hesitated before asking, quickly, "And hey, now that I have you up, wanna grab coffee?"

He wanted to say: Listen, crazy broad I met at the bar who I don't actually remember giving my number to because you drank me under the table, I do not do breakfast dates.

Instead, his words sounded like, "You have a place in mind?"

She gave him directions to a cafe that sounded too goddamn cute for its own good, and was too goddamn cute when he pulled the motorcycle up outside. He thought about leaving. But she could sense his presence, or more likely was waiting for him at the front door, and dragged him in and pointed at each cupcake in turn, detailing why each one was her favorite. He tried to explain that they couldn't all be her favorite; the word favorite was reserved for the one thing you liked above all others. She grinned at him and said, "I like cupcakes over all other foods," like that made any sense, and pointed at the next one, dark chocolate with orange buttercream frosting that was "to die for, or fucking amazing, depending on the company you keep."

He ordered one before sitting to face her, trying to figure out how to eat a cupcake without getting frosting in undignified places. Marilynne started, ending up with a smear of peach buttercream on her nose that she removed daintily with a napkin. He figured her crazy would cover anything idiotic he did himself, so he took a bite.

"These are fucking amazing," he told her three cupcakes later, swimming in the sugar high.

"It's my gift," she said. A grin lit her face, and he smiled back, in love with the world at large. "I thought you might need some cheering, after, you know. After what happened."

He sobered. "What about what happened?"

"About the publishing house going bankrupt. Colin told me."

"Fuck Colin," he said.

She smiled. "Yeah, he can be a little bit of a nosy barkeep, but he's a good guy. He just said you'd been writing a series, and then they cut it off. He said it wasn't a giant thing or anything, but you know. It's sucks."

Before he realized his intentions, he stood, the napkin on his lap falling to the ground. "He had no right. Yeah, it sucks. It sucks monkey balls, you want the truth. But there's a reason I fly under the radar, and it's so I don't have to deal with shit like this from people who think they know what it's like."

The smile faded as she stared up at him. "I'm sorry," she said, sounding struck, and he felt like an ass for the second time.

Way to go, cool like ice with the ladies.

"I'm going to go," he said, closing his eyes when she flinched. "I'm sorry. I'm just—that story, those books. Yeah, worthless to most of the world. But they meant something to me, you know?"

Marilynne nodded without speaking. He walked to the bike and started her up, not looking back through the plate glass windows at the front of the cafe.

--

That night, he ordered pizza in, his usual. Nick dropped it off without his typical stoned chattiness. So he ate by himself, and when he was full he tried to balance on his unicycle. Up to fifteen seconds, now, better than when he got the thing but not to the point where he would try riding it in public. When the headache started, he drank, and when he finished the whiskey, he passed out on the sofa.

Dean screamed. He screamed SammySammySammy over and over and when he ran out of Sammy he screamed for his father and his mother and then anyone, anyone.

"So pretty that voice," purred Alastair, and he tore at Dean's mouth until the blood choked him and it stopped.

In the silence, something else, closer. Wait. Wait for me. I am walking with my feet and guided by my eyes, and it is too narrow here for the spread of wings. And I am coming. Spirit voice like whispers and waves and the hollow rush of wind.

He woke from the dream with peace wrapped like down around him.

--

For the second consecutive morning, the phone rang, well, in the morning.

This time, Sera's voice came through the other end. "You idiot," she said. "That's the first girl who could stand spending more than ten seconds around your socially stunted self in I don't even know how long, and you fuck it up."

"Murg," he said, with conviction. He'd known Sera long enough to understand his input was not required. He rolled onto his back, closed his eyes, and scratched his stomach, fighting the urge to pass out again.

"Through careful intervention on your behalf by your best fucking friends in the entire fucking world, you have been granted a second chance, provided you do not act like an immense tool."

"Mmm."

"You will be showered, cleanly dressed, and otherwise presentable by seven tonight, which is when Marilynne will be coming to pick you up, given the fact that you still ride that stupid two-wheeled deathmobile. You're welcome."

The line went dead. For ten minutes, he tried to sleep, rocking to one side, then to his back, then to his stomach. He wondered whether it was too early to pop over to Phil's for a beer and a go-round at knocking golf balls up a hill of green plastic and into a cup, their favorite shared pastime. Well, he thought, swiveling himself out of bed, one way to find out.

--

"So what you're saying," said Phil, missing his putt by three feet and draining the rest of his Schlitz, "is that you like this girl."

"What I'm saying," said Chuck, "is that my last date, by which I mean sit down and ask about family Christmas traditions while you try not to look like a fucking asshat eating your dinner, did not even occur in this millennium."

"So you're nervous."

"I am not nervous." He sank his putt to Phil's consternation, as this set them 8-0 in Chuck's favor. "I'm just, you know. Out of practice. I'm a writer. We're supposed to be surly alcoholics with no social lives."

"You're not Norman Mailer," said Phil. Sometimes he pulled this shit out of nowhere before Chuck remembered the reason he liked Phil was that Phil was an intermittent genius.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means—shit!"

"Exactly."

"No," said Phil, retrieving the golf ball from its leap into a long-suffering jade plant. "I mean, it means you're not old and wrinkled and mean. You didn't write several classics of American literature, and you're not dead."

"Great. I beat out the dead guy."

"Hey," said Phil, dodging as the golf ball ricocheted off the wall and went for his ankles, "it's something."

Chuck sighed, and slid his thumbnail under the tab to another beer.

--

Marilynne arrived in an orange Honda Accord hatchback covered in flame decals. A tiny Buddha sat cross-legged on the dashboard, and a pair of feathers bound by blue thread hung from the rearview. Chuck climbed in, uncomfortable in slacks and a collared shirt, the outfit selected by Sera when she'd stopped by an hour earlier. "Sorry about this," he muttered. "Sometimes Sera gets ideas."

To his relief, Marilynne laughed. She'd curled her hair and cowed it into a style he was sure had a name, showing off the curve of her neck above the low cut of her dress. "Don't worry, no one's holding a gun to my head."

Chuck had the urge to check the backseat, to be sure, and to stop staring at her. She caught the shift of his eyes, smiled again. "Really. No guns whatsoever involved. Maybe a little strategic twisting of knives, but that's all metaphor."

He smiled back, the expression awkward, almost unfamiliar. "Where are we going?"

"Oh," said Marilynne. "Oh, you'll see."

--

"I have never," he said afterwards, having survived, "seen anything that bad in my life."

The first three readers at open mic had been tolerable, but as the night progressed, he found himself unable to stop snickering. Marilynne helped by kicking the side of his foot under the table every time she heard an irredeemable line, which triggered a new burst of choked laughter. Their server's expression metamorphosed from annoyed to embarrassed to angry over the two hours they sat and ate. Chuck left fifteen dollars on top of the bill in apology.

They drove to Reggie's because Colin deserved to gloat. Over a plate of onion rings and their third beer, Marilynne said, "So it turns out you're not a jackass."

"I do a good impression."

She ducked her head, and if he hadn't thought her incapable of it, seemed to blush. "I'm.... Sorry. It's just, you know. It's just been a while."

Reaching past his beer, he touched her hand, wove their fingers together. She met his eyes, and stole the last onion ring without asking.

When he kissed her, an hour later, standing outside Reggie's, the headache brought him to his knees.

She followed him down, hands tight around his upper arms. Called his name, but her voice echoed in the canyon his mind had become, deep and rich with the scents of iron and ammonia. Alastair moved in the likeness of John Winchester now, his hands broad and blackened by years spent elbow-deep in engines and creatures that bled the colors of the night. His voice rumbled in Dean's ear, and Dean smiled and said, "You take that and shove it where the sun don't shine, you arrogant sonofabitch."

From the other presence, a smile. For the first time, Chuck tried to track the second person, a tertiary character, maybe, wandering the depths of Hell. But all he saw, arriving, was a form that moved wraithlike in the heat and a flash of blue, blue eyes.

Brown eyes, and his name, and the flash of ambulance lights.

--

"This is not what you think," Sera said when he woke up in bed with her. She had her arms wrapped around him and her legs twined with his, head tucked beneath his chin. Her heat radiated through whatever he wore, which he guessed meant he wasn't wearing his jacket.

"What," he managed.

She swung herself off the mattress—hospital, judging from the blue sheets and absent décor. Keeping a hand on his shoulder, she filled a glass with water and handed it to him. "I have to touch you," she said.

His throat hurt, so he didn't ask, just downed the water and felt it pool in his empty stomach. Sera would explain. That's what she did: explained the world, filtered it, made it make sense. Explaining why she had to keep touching him when all he wanted was to curl into a knot of exhaustion and go back to sleep would be a start.

To his everlasting shock, she climbed back into bed.

"Okay, Sera," he rasped. "Um. This is a little weird."

Heaving a sigh, she said, "Tell me about it. You remember what happened?"

He did, like slivers of an interrupted dream. Walking outside with Marilynne. Taking her hand. The buzz of a headache still an hour or two off warning him to go home. The kiss, and the pain like someone spearing his skull. Flickers after that, faces, lights.

"It was like.... It was her, somehow. She kept touching you, trying to make sure you were okay, and every time, you'd just scream, and Colin called the ambulance and then me. They brought you into the ER, and man, you sounded crazy, just screaming at the top of your lungs about your head and how you didn't want to go." Sera shivered and pulled him tighter. "But then I got there and when I took your hand, you just smiled and passed out."

"Shit," he said. "Marilynne, did she—"

Sera took a breath. She spoke cautiously at last, as if trying to make sense of her own words. "Yeah, that's the thing. After you'd been out for a while, she came in. And the minute she touched your hand—you couldn't have known it was her, you were definitely down for the count—you just started screaming again. She's, um. She's a little freaked out. I don't think she's coming back."

He stared at the ceiling. Someone had marked one corner with crayon, a waxy green scribble against the white. The TV hung from the ceiling, blank and unreflective. He cataloged the windows, the blinds, the texture of the walls. The way Sera's fingers tangled in the cloth at his side, the way she was shaking, just slightly, like she'd had too much coffee. "Don't ever do that again," she whispered. "You scared the shit out of me."

He nodded. "Marilynne's really not—"

Sera just pulled him closer still and murmured, "It'll be all right, honey, we'll figure something out, it'll be all right," over and over until he slept.

--

In his dream, Dean had stopped screaming. He looked for the cause and watched as this, his creation, peeled a fingernail from a sobbing woman. Alastair gloated from the corner, approving, lending suggestions.

He tried to find the other voice, the other presence, but all he heard was a sound like windchimes or broken glass.

--

Sera arrived on his doorstep with a bowl of oranges and a bottle of scotch. They sat together on the couch, watching Steve McQueen movies, and she told him how Erin had left. No yelling, this time. They just weren't meant for each other. She swallowed the words with her drink and peeled open an orange, dropping curved pieces of rind in his ashtray.

She finished the orange and curled into him, crying. He said, "Girls are idiots," without heat. When her hand met his, he jolted at the rising headache and pulled away. "Sorry," he said, and settled for a hand on her shoulder, a thumb moving in circles.

When she leaned her head against his neck, his whole body tensed with the pain, and he saw in her eyes for the first time a curl of betrayal.

He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth against the headache. After the door had closed behind her departure, he sank into a crouch and tasted bile.

--

He spent the winter writing. Constantly, pausing to refuel with pizza and whiskey, watching as Dean clawed his way out of his grave, as he walked into a barn coated with sigils and called for the creature that spoke to him.

Chuck woke with a name—Castiel—for the wraith who had walked Hell for Dean Winchester. He woke, and he wrote.

--

Eight hours after his characters rang his doorbell, he thought about killing himself. It would be easy, to slip out, drink a bottle of whiskey, slide the knife between the fragile bones at his wrist.

Zachariah smirked at him. "We'd just bring you back to life," he said.

Chuck's shoulders sank. "Yeah, this is one helluva life. Whole house to myself, liver that's always game for another round, and a résumé that says something like 'Prophet of the Lord, Earth, birth to present.'" He poured himself a glass of whiskey and toasted in Zachariah's direction before downing it in one swallow.

"You desire companionship?"

"You know," said Chuck, because he wanted to see whether he could piss off an angel, "I'd settle for getting laid once in a while."

"You understand, we can't allow emotional entanglements. The life of a prophet is singular and solitary."

The anger swelled then, like something living. "I didn't ask for this," he said, fists clenched. "I didn't want this."

He thought of Marilynne, the depth of her smile. Of Sera, whose calls he avoided now, of Phil, who he hadn't seen in two months. He thought of how his characters—those people—had suffered at his hand, or at a hand higher than his. He wanted desperately to take it back, to write a home for Dean and a normality for Sam, an end to the apocalypse, forgiveness.

"They're not yours, you know." Zachariah folded his hands at his waist and tilted his head. "You owe them nothing. They are strangers with familiar faces."

And Chuck remembered Dean, writhing in pain, and his brother, so desperate he would trade his own life, and thought, I know them better than you ever will. I know their secrets and their dreams. I know the things they will never tell each other, and I know their love.

The words that came out trembled under the weight of upholding prophecy. "What am I supposed to do?"

Zachariah smiled. "What you always do," he said. "Write."
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xaara

May 2010

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