Everyone kept telling him that the funeral would be the hardest part; that the worst would be over once he had the peace of mind knowing that his father was buried in the ground next to his mother in the familial mausoleum. They were wrong. The hardest part was facing the reality that he was dead, that he was gone, that now it was just him and Sam left, and that now it was up to Dean Winchester, Crown Prince of Altria, to begin the task of picking up where his father had left off.
“The tailor needs you to come back to make sure your suit fits perfectly—can’t have uneven sleeves at your own coronation. Then Sarah would like your opinion on the color scheme for the after party, and I don’t think giving her a definite answer for your musical choice would be a bad idea, she has been asking for weeks now. After that we should probably make an appointment with the Prime Minister, I know you hate meeting with him, but you’re almost king and you need to learn how to work with people you have trouble getting along with.”
“I’ve been managing with you, haven’t I?”
“Hilarious, sire. Now when do you want to go meet with the tailor?”
Dean groaned as he plopped into the chair behind a desk that was covered with papers and more papers and even some folders. It was far too big for his liking, and the drawers were filled with even more papers and folders and documents and copies of treaties and laws and so many “important” things that Dean wished he didn’t have to care about. He swiveled around in his chair to face his personal assistant—she preferred the term to secretary, thought it made it sound like she was a prestigious whore or something, Dean forgot—Bela Talbot.
Imported from across the Panimon Ocean after John Winchester died, Bela Talbot worked tirelessly to get things done about the palace and to get on Dean’s nerves. Sam was wholly unsympathetic, claiming that Dean needed a “strong woman to help him get out of his funk.” Dean claimed that he needed another strong woman in his life like he needed a dead father. They didn’t speak for two days until Bela made them sign a goddamn treaty of all things, the snarky bitch.
He couldn’t deny her effectiveness though. She was probably one of the few people left who could scare Dean into doing things, which became a skill she wielded frequently as it became obvious that he was allergic to attending meetings on time or even at all. Whether she made him “get out of his funk” or not, Dean refused to say, and he would pointedly ignore Sam’s grin whenever Dean had to be pulled away from lunch early to attend an information briefing with one of the cabinet members. Bela didn’t make Dean happy; she just distracted him from remembering.
“Bela, the coronation isn’t for another two months! Why do I have to get my suit ready now? What if I gain twenty pounds in the next two months?”
Rolling her hazel eyes as she walked from the door to stand next to the desk, her infamous clipboard resting on her hips, Bela said, “If you gain twenty pounds in the next two months, I’ll resign.”
“Is that a promise?”
“I’ll tell him you’ll be by later tomorrow afternoon.”
Dean sighed because he hated this. He hated this stupid coronation party, he hated the coronation, and he hated the preparations most of all. It had been five months since the death of King John Winchester, and while most of the kingdom had managed to move on and put away their black ribbons of grieving, it was obvious to everyone who came in contact with him that the Crown Prince was most definitely not over it.
He made more of an effort when he knew the public could see him—smiling broadly, waving, winking even, but it never reached his eyes. One close look at his eyes and the image would be shattered, and it was visible how broken he was. Sam pushed him to get up and do things, but the most he ever accomplished was getting Dean to set up a daily work-out with his personal guard in order to release at least some of his emotions.
“Why can’t the bishop just give me the crown now, why do I have to wait for a long, boring, and completely unnecessary ceremony to be king? Everyone knows I’m going to be king, so really the whole thing seems redundant if you ask me.”
Barely paying attention to Dean’s whining, Bela scribbled away on her clipboard—probably making another damn schedule of doom—before answering him, “It’s all about tradition, your grace. The people are in need of a celebration; they need something to look forward to.”
Dean made to put his feet on the desk, but he stopped because for him this desk was still his father’s, still full of his father’s writings and dealings, and his father had never allowed feet on desks or tables. He settled for leaning back in the chair as far as he could without flipping over and glared at the ceiling. “How come they’re the ones who need cheering up? I’m the one who lost a father.”
“Dean.” Her voice was soft and gentle, and despite the instinct to meet the eyes he knew were focused on him, he continued his staring contest with the ceiling and tried to count how many squares were painted up there. “If anyone needs cheering up, it’s you, but you’re also the only one who is stubbornly refusing to move on like an indignant child. Your father is dead, God rest his soul, and you are soon to be king. Perhaps you should act like it.”
He met her eyes then.
“I think we’re done for the day, Ms. Talbot. I’ll let you know when I need your advice.”
For a moment it looked like she might object, but she closed her mouth and nodded curtly before turning on her heel and exiting the room. Dean was a little surprised she didn’t slam the door behind her, but then he supposed Bela was classier than that. She’d probably slip him laxatives in his coffee before an important meeting in a week or so when he’ll have forgotten about pissing her off.
His eyes drifted from the door to the fireplace directly across the room from him. It was unlit, being summer now and all, but the longer he watched it, the clearer he could see a time when it was.
John Winchester had never been the best father. Ruling a kingdom and still trying to keep up with your boys everyday wasn’t something he was really capable of, not after their mother died. She had always been the one better at multi-tasking all of this. She could sign treaties with one hand, and wipe tears away with the other. John missed her so much.
He spent most of his evenings in front of the fireplace in his office. It was the place he’d last been with Mary before she grew too sick to leave her bed. This fireplace was the last real memory he had of her before the disease took her slowly, day by day, organ by organ. That last day by the fireplace had been happy—good. She was smiling and feeling the smile—her eyes lighting up even without the help of the warm fire burning in the hearth.
“You’re really feeling better, Mary?” She’d been declining for weeks, with good and bad days, but this was probably the best day in a long time. It made John feel hopeful, something he’d almost given up on and soon would.
“John, that is the fifth time you’ve asked me that, yes I’m fine.” He laughed, and it surprised him when it was heartier than it had been in a while. Mary always had been able to bring him out of those damn funks of his.
His hand reached over and took hers in a gentle but firm grip, squeezing it once before whispering, “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you to keep me sane, Mary.”
She laughed, and for a second John thought he heard a touch of sorrow in it. However, her true amusement was too strong for him to tell properly. “I love you too, John.”
They sat there in silence, just absorbing the comfort they received from the other’s presence before noises came from just outside the door, and John shook his head and chuckled when he recognized the distinct sound of Dean and Sam wrestling over who got to knock on the door first.
“Get in here boys!”
Two heads peeked around the door once it was ajar, and John noticed how tall Sam was getting. He grinned at them, still not letting go of Mary’s hand, and gestured them over. They approached slowly. It hadn’t been often that they’d been allowed to see their mother, mostly afraid of how they would react to seeing her in such pain, but Mary was fine today, more than fine John hoped.
“Mom?” Sam was tearing up as he stood in front of his mom, and John saw Dean wiping away at his own eyes as he hung back just behind his little brother.
“Hello Sammy, hello Dean,” was all Mary needed to say before she had both her sons in her arms, hugging her like they would never let go. Looking down at where their hands were still joined, John could say he understood perfectly.
“Mom, Mom, guess what! I joined the baseball team at school, and Dad says if I practice really hard I could play for a professional team!” Dean had recently discovered sports, and at the age of ten, John didn’t see the harm in allowing him to dream a little.
“That’s wonderful! I hope I get to come to one of your games!”
“Yeah! The first one isn’t for a while, so you have plenty of time to get better!” Green eyes shining brightly with joy, hope, and relief, John felt on the verge of tears himself.
Sam, almost six, glanced at John, an astonishingly intense face as he took in his parents’ joined hands and his mother’s appearance. Latched onto her, he mumbled into her shoulder, “You’re going to get better, aren’t you Mommy?”
“Don’t be stupid, Sam, of course she is. She has the best doctors ever; Dad wouldn’t let her have anything less.”
“Dean, be nice to your brother.” Dean looked put out, but it was his mother so he nudged Sam with his arm and mumbled a quick apology. Mary smiled warmly at the scene before brushing aside a lock of Sam’s hair away from his face and kissing his forehead. “The doctors are doing everything they can, and they are indeed the best. I have faith they’ll find a cure.”
Watching her face for any sign of a lie or a trick, Sam then broke into a wide smile himself tears streaming from his eyes. He sniffed once, as if he was trying to hold it all back so Dean wouldn’t make fun of him, but as it turned out Dean was crying again too. Mary took both of her sons in her arms, letting go of John’s hand to do so. She petted their hair and said nothing, just held them because after hearing so many times variously vague confirmations that “she was getting better but today is a bad day” it actually felt like she was getting better, that things might actually be fine.
“I-I missed you, Mommy,” came Sam’s muffled voice, quickly followed by a similar declaration from Dean.
“Ssshhh loves, I’ll miss you too.”
She suddenly grabbed John’s hand, as if begging him not to correct her verb use, and he had to choke back a sob.
Mary Winchester, Queen of Altruia, died three days later.