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The Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul

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Amara’s words rang in Dean’s head as he trounced through tall grass. What I want most is to find my way out of these woods and let my brother know I’m flippin’ alive, he groused internally. Where the hell was he? He certainly hoped it was still Earth and not some other dimension or planet. This was God, after all, meant he could be anywhere. He’d kept looking up at the sun, half expecting to see another one rise in the distance.

It was almost a relief to finally hear the soft human voice cry out for help. Odds seemed slim that aliens would speak English despite what the movies showed.

His intake of breath upon seeing the woman was instantaneous and impossible to stop. You really would think he’d be shock proof. The rational side of his brain was shouting to be heard. Oh, c’mon, it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Get a grip.

Still, with a croak barely loud enough to be heard over the rustling of leaves in the wind he uttered, “Mom?”

Mary started, gown fluttering like angel wings around her, eyes big and round and impossibly blue. Had Amara brought his angel mom back for a final visit?

“What … “ she said, voice hoarse as if from misuse. “I don’t—“ She looked down. “The fire … I was … “ Hair falling in waves, she swung her head, taking in her surroundings. “Where am I? How’d I get here?”

Dean took a shaky step closer, arms out placatingly in a universal gesture of calm. His heart raced so hard he was certain it should be making the ground tremble. This was … it couldn’t be. Amara’s words were on a loop, yet Dean still couldn’t let himself believe.

“Mm…Mary?” he questioned.

With narrowing eyes she took him in warily. Already her posture had shifted and although she was still barefoot and wearing only a shimmering white nightgown, her stance was solid, knees slightly bent, one foot before the other, arms tense at her side. “How do you know me?”

It’s not like Dean didn’t know her voice. There was the memory of it as she’d fixed him sandwiches and bandaged his scraped knees and told him the angels were looking over him. And there was the version he remembered from when the Djinn had captured him. Soft and puzzled and a little cloying. Dream Mom. He’d met her younger self as well. As much as someone who’d lost their mother at four could, Dean felt he knew his mother’s voice.

Only not this one.

This voice was pure suspicion and underlying danger.

“It’s okay,” he answered, even though he could only hope that was true.

Her head whipped around again. “Where is this place?” And then she peered at him, evaluating again. Clouds shifted and Dean squinted against the sudden moonlight penetrating the foliage. The muscles along her jaw line twitched and Dean felt a mirroring tremor in his own face.

“Is this heaven?” Tentative, although betraying no fear. Her spine was straight, shoulders back, legs still ready to defend … or attack. A jolt of pride spiked Dean’s gut. She was all hunter. With that thought came the realization that his father had never been like this, not really, not at his core.

No weapon, barely dressed, completely disoriented … and still this woman was a threat.

Dean’s face broke into a lopsided grin and he hoped with all his might that he spoke the truth. “I don’t think so.”

She spoke slowly, “So you’re not an angel?”

Now Dean practically snorted, “No, not one of those.”

In half a blink Mary bolted.

Son of a …

Dean gave chase.

The woods were dense and treacherous with vines and upraised roots trying to trip him as he dashed after the white shape running from him.

He tried calling out. “Mo—Mary … Mary, stop, please.”

His words were ignored as she kept going, feet flying over the branches and rocks and probably getting cut to pieces but she ran as if the devil himself was chasing her. That’s when Dean realized who she thought he was – Azazel, that yellow-eyed bastard.

“I’m not him. He’s dead. Yellow-eyes. I killed him!”

A branch blocked his vision and he knocked it away with his forearm. Rounding a bend he saw a jagged-edged piece of white on the ground. She’d torn the bottom of her gown, probably so she could run faster. Dammit.

“Mary … Mary … I’m a hunter. I can help.”

Thick bristles snagged at his jacket as he ran. Her bare skin must be getting sliced to ribbons. The bushes opened to a clearing and he spotted her again, still going, although slower. Her legs were smeared with red and her hair drifted behind her like a white flame.

With a final burst of speed he caught up – only to scramble to a desperate halt when the ground disappeared before them at the edge of a wide ravine. Frantically, he jumped to seize Mary’s arm just before she would have plunged down, pulling them both to the ground with a roll.

Gasping, he struggled upright. “You, okay?”

She crab walked backward, eyes huge as she took in the empty air beside her. “I … “ She looked down and ran a hand over her legs, wiping away dirt and blood. “Yes.” Her gaze returned to the cliff side. Dean barely heard her whisper. “Thank you.”

In lieu of an answer he simply nodded the gratitude away. Rising, he held his hand out to her but she didn’t take it, instead gracefully standing on her own and pulling the ties at the neck of her nightgown tight as far as they could go. The ripped gown now reached her knees. With a tight grip she crossed her arms around herself protectively. “You’re a hunter?” she repeated.

“Yes, m’am.”

“Go back to Mary,” she said, voice breathy from her recent run. “ ‘M not that much older than you.”

Dean swallowed. “No, you’re not.”

“You got a name?”

For a split second he thought of lying, but the name was out of his lips as if pulled from him by a higher power. “Dean.”

Whatever reaction she felt to that coincidence she hid behind a granite veneer. And perhaps it was that guarded gesture that made Dean believe this really was his mother. “Okay,” she said slowly. “If you can help me then I’d appreciate it. I have to get back to my husband and sons. They are in danger.”

With those words her eyes darkened and Dean thought her voice even hitched slightly on the word ‘sons.’ He didn’t know if his face was as impenetrable as hers. Truth is, he didn’t know what to do or say. He didn’t want her to run again. Pushing a hand through his hair he stilled his breathing and pulled his cell phone out again. No signal. Dammit, he needed Sam. The thought made his heart race again. Not only would Sam be getting Dean back, but … if this were real …

She looked at his phone. “A phone? I never saw one so small.”

His mother was nothing if not quick. “New model,” he replied. “We should start walking.”

Mary nodded. “Which way should we go?”

Dean picked a direction randomly and she didn’t question him. He was grateful for her compliance.

How was he supposed to explain it all to her?

They trekked silently, flanking the ravine and trying to avoid getting caught again in the thick mess of trees. Once he asked if she was cold and started removing his jacket, but she said ‘no’ definitively and he didn’t argue.

About an hour later Dean spotted houses in the distance. Time was up, he thought. Civilization would bring more questions. And it would make it easier for her to escape. He turned to her and watched her observe the road ahead. “Mary?”

“Did you save me?” she asked suddenly, blue eyes locked with his. The intensity shook him.

“No,” he answered honestly, the forever pain of that pulsing in his veins.

“Do you know what happened to me? To my family … are they—“

“They survived the fire.”

She released a very long held in breath. Without another word she started walking down the incline toward the road. It only took until the first car zoomed by that her eyes were widening and she looked at him warily again. He ignored the questions in her eyes, attempted to call Sam again.

Finally, it connected — but Sam didn’t answer. Dean hung up, knowing a voice mail from his dead brother wouldn’t be something Sam would necessarily believe. No, he had to get home, back to the bunker.

“Your phone … “ Mary began.

Dean interrupted. “Not now. We have to get a car. Got to get back.”

“Back?” she asked.

“To Kansas,” he answered, realizing it was cruel in the same breath as it was coming out, but there was no other way.

**

Before anyone could ask a question about Mary’s state, Dean found a quiet side street and hot-wired an older model car, opening the passenger door from the inside for his mom.

They drove in silence but Dean knew Mary was taking in the sights and he could feel the wheels turning in her head. After several miles she asked, “Are you taking me to John?”

“No,” he replied. “There’s somewhere we have to go first.”

“But my family—“

Dean steadied his voice. “Your boys are safe. Look, I know it’s confusing and I’m sorry. But I’ll explain it all when we get there.”

It was enough to stop the questions as Mary turned to the window and continued peering out. He figured she was processing. The hundreds of times that John had told Dean – usually when drunk – how much Dean reminded him of Mary were cycling through his mind. He hoped now it was true. Because even with all the lost time, Dean was stupidly happy Mary was here. He hoped in the end she’d feel the same.

**

“What is this place?” she asked as they descended the stairs.

“Home.”

“It looks like a bunker,” she uttered.

He could only grin at that. Resisting the urge to yell out his brother’s name, Dean’s eyes darted. He’d called a couple times from the car but still only got voice mail. He wondered if Sam had gone somewhere with the rest of Team Chuck.

Nonetheless, Dean needed his brother.

He took off toward the bedrooms, leaving Mary in the library. A quick check confirmed nobody was around and he headed back to where he’d left his mother, to find her kneeling on the floor reaching out carefully. She sensed his presence. “Dean … there’s blood. It’s fairly fresh.”

At her words, his eyes locked on Sam’s cell phone on the wide map table and his heart stuttered. No. This wasn’t possible. Fate couldn’t be that cruel.

He picked up Sam’s phone as if willing it to connect him to his brother.

“Dean?” Mary asked again and pointed to a bloody sigil on the library doorway.

Holding up a hand to silence her, Dean pulled out his phone and dialed a different number.

“Cas? Thank goodness. What’s going on? Where’s Sam?”

“Dean?! I don’t – How—“

“Amara saved Chuck and then they went off to sibling counseling together. Not sure when they’ll be back. He defused me and now I’m at the bunker. Nobody’s here and there’s blood on the floor.”

His back was to Mary and he couldn’t even imagine what she was making of any of that.

Cas spoke, “There was a woman. She broke into the bunker. Human, I think. She used the Enochian symbol to send me away. I’m making my way back now. Sam’s not there?”

Swiping the back of his head, Dean shook his head before answering. “No.” His eyes darted to the pool of blood. “Cas, come back, okay?” What was there to say, how to explain? “Just … I need you here.”

“I’ll be there.”

Replacing the phone in his pocket Dean turned to find Mary, now standing, leaning against the table, eyes haunted and hands slightly trembling. “Who are you? Where’s John? Where’s my husband?”

For the first time since her initial cry for help his mother showed vulnerability. “Maybe you should sit,” he started slowly. “Also, we should clean up those cuts.” He knew he was just avoiding but he also knew you don’t let wounds like that go untreated or they could get infected.

He disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a first aid kit. He started to kneel, but she yanked the box from him. “I got it,” she said, voice hardening again.

Working efficiently, she cleaned up the scrapes on her legs and arms and applied an antiseptic ointment. When done, she sat back and looked intensely in his eyes. “Alright. Now I want answers.”

Sucking in air he met her stare dead on. “My name is Dean Winchester. My brother’s name is Sam. Our dad … John … he died ten years ago. S-saving me.”

Despite the fact that she was sitting, Mary shook. Her hands rose to her face. “Ten years? But … “ Tears welled but she covered her eyes. A long moment later she removed her hands, swiping madly. “But you’re not … you’re older.”

“The fire was thirty-three years ago. I’m sorry … Dad and Sam and I … we did survive the fire. But you … you didn’t.”

This time she went rigid. It felt like a long time before she said. “I think I need a drink.”

**

It was odd being observed, but there was no other word for it. Again he was reminded of that strange dream world the Djinn sent him to so many years ago. Same year Dad had died. All Dean did in that world was stare at Mary. Now he was the one being stared at, and he understood … because it was all so impossible. Yet real.

Mary no longer wore the night gown. She’d accepted a pair of Dean’s jeans and rolled up the hem. They were big on her but she’d found a belt and made it work. He’d given her a tee-shirt that had shrunk. A classic Led Zeppelin in black with a white angel from a 1977 tour. She looked young and vibrant. On her own she’d found a plaid shirt which hung to her lower thighs. Her feet were still bare. They’d have to dig up some shoes for her. Even haphazardly dressed, every inch of her screamed ready, lethal.

Mary held her emotions in check but eventually uttered, “I missed so much.”

Dean nodded because it wasn’t worth saying it wasn’t her fault. “God brought me back?” They’d gone over that part more than once.

“Him or his sister.”

“You just saved the world,” she stated with a touch of incredulity.

Dean would have loved to feel good about that. But his focus had shifted back to the blood stain on the bunker floor. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Footsteps clattered down the stairs as a deep, familiar voice rang out. “Dean.”

“Cas.” Dean rapidly moved toward his friend.

Cas stopped short, eyes locked on the figure behind Dean.

“Dean … is that … ?”

“Yeah. Cas, this is my mother, Mary. Mary, this is Castiel.”

“How is this possible?” Cas asked in a solemn tone.

Dean shrugged. “Amara, before she left with Chuck, said she was going to give me … “ Dean hesitated. “Never mind. She brought her back.”

Cas looked slowly from Mary to Dean, head tilting in his considering way. When he spoke he addressed the space between them. “The Darkness gave you back your mother?” Cas’s tone was reverent and reminded Dean of the time he’d asked Dean if Dean didn’t believe he deserved to be saved. A blush crept up his face, despite himself.

“I guess, but there’s a bigger problem.” He pointed Cas to the blood because he needed to know if it was his brother’s – although who else’s could it be?

“Is it Sam’s?” Dean asked.

Cas nodded then added, “I’m sorry. I promised you I’d take care of him and … “

It took more effort than it should have. “Not your fault. It’s just that … Sam doesn’t know I’m okay. And I know how Sam gets … “ He had to swallow down the rising panic.

Just then Mary called out from the top of the steps, startling them both. He hadn’t even heard her move. She descended again quickly. “You said a woman broke in. But this lock’s not been touched. Who has access like that?”

Dean started to say that no one did who wasn’t a Men of Letters and they were all gone. Or so they thought. Pursing his lips, Dean looked at Mary’s keen gaze. And just like that the panic started to recede.

His mother neared and looked Castiel up and down. “So this is your angel?”

“He’s not my—“ Dean started to dispute but Mary smiled at him for the first time.

It took Cas’s warm hand on his arm again to anchor him. Dean was an adult who’d lived without his father for ten years and without his mother for over thirty. He blinked hard twice and felt his jaw tick much like his mother’s had in the woods. “About Sam … I have an idea,” he told her.

“Good,” she answered with a fierceness that belied her soft tone. “Because I intend to get my youngest son back.”

The hope grew like a seedling from the forest he had emerged from earlier, glowing like the sun he saved and rising from the depths of darkness herself. Surrounded by family, although not complete, Dean Winchester was on a mission. Again.

fin

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson