Mary noticed that every time she has mentioned John, neither of her sons said anything. She noticed that Dean looks away, that his eyes narrow and he is consciously making an effort to keep his mouth shut. She noticed Sam’s sad look. She noticed Castiel glance between her sons and his slight grimace.
Mary read through John’s journal, looking for any clues. She stared at the few pictures from before her death. She notices there are no pictures of her sons as children, as teenagers. Suddenly there are pictures of them as adults, with Bobby Singer, with Castiel, with a ginger woman named Charlie, with a strong looking woman named Ellen. They’re all hunters. Where are her son’s graduation pictures? Where are Sam’s first steps? Why are there no photographs telling the story of her son’s lives?
Mary resolved to ask Sam and Dean about it one night. She was tired of beating around the bush, tired of them walking on eggshells around her. There’s a huge gap in her understanding of her children, and she just wants to know why.
Mary knocked on Dean’s open door, and he waved her in as he finished up a call.
“Yeah, man, no problem. I can be there by tomorrow. Of course. It’s no trouble, Sonny, you know I will always come help out. No man, don’t worry about it. Bye.”
Mary looked at him, her questions on hold. “A hunt?”
Dean shrugged. “Not sure. Could be nothing, could be something. Me and Cas can go check it out.”
Mary noticed. He was trying to stay casual about it, and if she were anyone other than a seasoned hunter, he would have fooled her. She played along.
“Oh, ok. I could go with you. We seem to hunt well together. And your road snacks are much better than Sam’s.”
Dean smiled, grabbing a duffel from under his bed and packing some clothes and weapons into it. “No, it’s probably nothing. An old buddy of mine is just having some trouble, and I promised him I could come take a look, just make sure everything is fine.”
Mary watched him, wondering what she had to do to get her son to open up to her. “Old friend?”
“Yeah, Sonny. He got me out of a few tight spots, uh, a few years ago. He’s good people, he runs a house for kids who got no place to go. Straightens them out, stops them from throwing their lives away.” Dean kissed Mary gently the cheek. “I’ll let you know if we need backup, and it shouldn’t take more than a few days.” He grabbed the duffel and headed for the door. “Now if I could just find that damn husband of mine. CAS! We got a case!” he shouted down the hallway.
Cas appeared next to him a moment later. “Dean, you don’t have to shout.”
Dean smiled, kissing Cas briefly and then cocked his head towards the garage. “Road trip, sunshine?”
Mary asked Sam about Sonny. He gave some dodgy answers, while trying as Dean had, to play it cool. Mary decided it was time to get some goddam answers.
She followed Dean and Cas, keeping her distance, watching as they worked the case. The man who had called Dean -- Sonny -- lived on a ranch in the Catskills. The ranch was a home to about a dozen young men who were trying to stay out of trouble.
In the morning everyone headed for school and Mary snuck into the house, exploring the various rooms, searching for something … She didn’t even know what drew here until she found herself staring at a wall of trophies and there on the wall was a certificate:
DEAN WINCHESTER, WRESTLING CHAMPION
Mary stepped back in shock. She had known. She had known there was something more Dean was not telling her. He said he’d met Sonny a few years ago, it looked like he had known the man for about two decades.
She turned, tears in her eyes, and met Dean’s eyes. He and Cas were at the door, along with an older man (Sonny?), looking incredibly surprised to see her.
“Did you live here?” Mary whispered.
Dean looked at the ground, then at Cas and then at the older man. “Yeah, Mom, I did. I wasn’t the best kid and Sonny helped me get right.”
Castiel and Sonny looked at Dean, and Mary knew from their expressions that he was flat out lying.
“Your mom?” Sonny asked. “Oh god, your dad didn’t get resurrected too, did he?”
Dean looked like he had been hit by a truck. Castiel turned to Sonny and shook his head, answering the question. Sonny sighed in relief.
“Dean --” Mary started, but her voice caught. She had no idea how to talk to him, no idea how to reach … this stranger. She missed her son, her little boy, so full of laughter and smiles. She missed the hopes and dreams she had for children to be free of the hunting madness. And now she wondered just how much she didn’t know.
“Can we do this later? We still got a case to work,” Dean interrupted. His shoulders stiffened and his jaw was set. Mary was beginning to recognize this posture when he was shutting people out, and it hurt her to see him cope like this.
Dean turned to Sonny. “Where did Danny sleep?”
Sonny nodded into the next room, and Dean followed him. Castiel watched them for a moment and then finally turned to Mary.
“He hasn’t told you anything, has he?” Cas asked.
Mary shook her head. “I don’t even know them, Castiel. I don’t know how to help them.”
“Cas! Get in here,” Dean called. “We got something.”
Castiel looked helplessly at Mary and they both headed into the room.
“Here,” Dean said, showing Cas a beat up notebook. “Looks like Danny had a sister, she died a few years ago from cancer… Ok, and before that their mom died … and bingo … he does have a dad, at least according to this.”
“He told me both his parents were dead,” Sonny said.
Dean shrugged. “Well, based on these journal entries, the ol’ man is a piece of work. Looks like you were right, Cas, there’s nothing weird after all. I guess the kid just painted the sigils to throw everyone off. This kid is pretty angry Sonny, you sure he wouldn’t go back and try for revenge?”
Sonny sighed. “Oh god, I hope not. But based on the bruises he was sporting when he arrived, I wouldn’t exactly be surprised. But Danny is tiny, he doesn’t stand a chance. If he is going back to take on his ol’ man, he will more likely end up dead. Any way that you can track him?”
Dean turned to Cas. “That’s what I brought an angel for.”
Cas closed his eyes and a few seconds later said, “I know where he is. We should hurry.”
Dean finally looked at Mary. “You coming? Since you’re here, might as well have the backup.” He was trying to keep it all focused on the hunt, so Mary nodded, following them outside to the Impala and down the dirt road.
Danny’s house was a run down shack at best. Whoever lived there had left an entire store’s worth of beer bottles scattered around the yard and spilling out of the garbage can. There were overgrown bushes and uncut grass.
Dean, Mary and Cas approached the house quietly. Dean peaked in the window, and his breath caught. Mary looked through and was horrified: a small teenage boy, was teetering in the living room, a large man towering over him, slapping him hard across the face and knocking him to the ground.
“So you run away and then show up here, thinking you can just come back?” the man shouted. “You some tough guy now, you think you can just demand whatever the hell you want?” He kicked the boy in the stomach as he lay curled on the ground.
Dean jumped up, kicking the front door in. He tackled the man and body slammed him into the ground. Mary rushed forward, checking on the boy. Cas followed them in,crouching beside Mary and the boy. Mary tried to comfort the boy, checking for any serious immediate injuries, but her attention was drawn to Dean.
“You piece of shit,” Dean said, shoving the man into the nearest wall. “You beat on a child? He’s your son your worthless fucker. You’re supposed to protect him, take care of him, make sure he has food and clothes that don’t reek of your beer.” The man fought back, but Dean was (sober and) a much better fighter. “Who the fuck do you think you are? What the hell gives you a right to lay a goddam hand on a fucking kid! He’s your son you pathetic dick.”
Dean had him pinned to the ground, landing several more blows. Cas stepped forward, laying a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “Dean.”
Dean seemed to snap out of it. He looked up at Cas, then seemed to remember his mom and the boy were there. Cas offered him a hand and he stood up. But his eyes still raged.
“You beat a child. You starved him. You stopped him from seeing his friends. Maybe I’ll come visit you in jail, I’ll be happy to tell your cell mates all about how you treat kids. Your own fuckin kid --”
“Get him out of here,” Dean said, turning away.
Cas stepped forward, and using his mojo put Danny’s father to sleep. He looked sadly down at Danny. “If I heal him, there will be no evidence of this man’s crime. But I can take away the pain of his injuries.” He laid a hand gently on Danny’s forehead, and the boy slept as well. “I will call the police,” he offered, stepping into the next room.
Mary stood up, and she noticed that Dean was shaking. She stepped towards him, reaching out to touch him. He jumped away, still trembling.
“Dean, are you ok?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Dean bit out. “Why did you follow us?”
Mary sighed. There was nothing to say other than the truth. She was to tired of dancing around whatever had happened in her absence, and she was done.
“I wanted answers. I knew you were keeping things from me. And I’m sick of it. I’m not a child Dean, and I know that we don’t have anything close to a normal mother-son relationship, and I know that’s impossible, I get that. But you can at least respect me enough to tell the truth.”
Dean was still on edge and his voice shook as he said, “Sorry, it’s been hard trying to fit in 33 years of crap, and I didn’t want to dump every terrible thing that’s happened to us on you. Fine, you want answers, fine. Ask. What do you want to know?”
“You lied to me back at the house,” she said. “About staying at Sonny’s. Why were you there?”
Dean looked away, he looked defeated already.
Cas walked back in that moment, and taking in the scene before him, he moved to stand near Dean, offering quiet support with his presence.
“What aren’t you telling me about John?” Mary demanded. “He was my husband, your father, and every time I mention him you and Sam look like I slapped you. I’ve read his journal cover to cover, he writes about when you first learned to shoot a gun or when you ganked your first ghost, but there’s no pictures of you riding a bike, or Sam graduating high school, or your first prom or --” her voice was breaking and she was close to tears. “I just want to know what happened, I want to know how you grew up, I want to know who you are Dean. Please.”
Dean looked at her, helpless. “Mom, I’ve told you --.”
“Dean, please, stop lying to me. Please just tell me.”
“Look, Mom, you miss your husband. I get that, but the man that you knew, the man you married, that wasn’t the man who raised me and Sammy. I’m sorry, I’ve been trying to protect you from all that.”
“And what?” Dean asked. “I’m not gonna ruin your image of the man you loved. I’m not gonna --”
“Why did you live at Sonny’s?” Mary interrupted. “Just tell me Dean.”
Dean was silent, his lips pursed and his eyes hard. There was a long silence between them.
Cas sighed, rolling his eyes. He was done with this bullshit. “Dean was here because he was arrested for stealing bread and peanut butter from a grocery store. John left them in a motel without enough money to buy food to feed Sam. Sonny took him in, and he lived here for two months until John came to get him.”
“Cas, enough,” Dean said quietly.
Cas shook his head. “No. No, Dean. Enough. Why are you doing this? You insist on protecting everyone around you and you let yourself get caught in the crossfire each time. You let yourself get hurt, and I’m sick of it. I’ve been watching you for weeks, for weeks hiding the truth from your mother and I’ve seen the sickened look you get on your face when you think no one can see. I can see the physical pain it’s causing you to pretend that your childhood was anything other than a pile of crap.”
Mary stepped closer to them, her attention now on Cas. “Dean, is this true? Why did John leave you without enough food?” When neither of them speak she says, “Stop protecting me and tell me the goddamn truth.”
Dean glared at Cas and didn’t say anything.
Cas shook his head, angry. “Yes, Mary. It’s true. And it’s not the first time it happened. Nor the last. John abandoned your sons, he left Dean to raise himself and Sam. He blamed Dean every time something went wrong --” Cas glanced at Dean, but when he saw his husband had no intention of jumping in, he continued, “He raised them as warriors, he forced them to live on the road, moving from school to school. He drank himself senseless and when he got angry …”
“Cas, please stop,” Dean was begging him. His face was bright red and tears flowed down his cheeks. “Please, don’t do this to her.”
Mary thought about the fight with Danny’s father, about all the things Dean had shouted at the man, about the rage with which he had smashed his face with fists. She thought about the look Sonny had given him when he’d said he’d been a bad kid. She thought about the lack of pictures, and notes in the journal about Dean’s progress as a soldier.
“John hit you, didn’t he?” Mary asked quietly. Her world was crashing around her. Everything she knew about the man she loved was falling apart. “Dean, did he hit you?”
Dean looked at Cas, who was silent. “Well?” Dean demanded. “Go on, you told her everything else! Why don’t you tell her this part too? You should know better than anyone. You fucking pulled me out of hell and rebuilt me, couldn’t even bother to take away some of the worst memories of my life, you leave me all that shit and the stuff from hell crammed in my brain. So go on, Cas, you’re having fun taking us all down Memory Lane, just tell her the rest! Tell her that if John were here now I never would have married you, because I was so stuck in the shit he taught me about who I was supposed to be.”
Cas reached out to touch Dean’s shoulder, but he pulled away.
Dean turned to Mary. “He’s right, it’s all true. I raised Sam, I learned to cook because I thought that’s what you did. I learned to fight, I protected Sam all those years, and when he left for college, instead of being excited or celebrating, Dad stopped talking to Sam and he beat the shit out of me for letting him go.”
“Dean --” Mary tried, but her voice gave out. Tears streamed down her face, her heart was breaking -- for her son, for her husband, for all the pain she had been thrown into without warning.
Dean’s body was shaking, spasming with anger and sorrow. He was gasping for air, his lungs seemed to stop working and he couldn’t breathe. He fell to his knees, Cas immediately kneeling beside him.
“Breathe, Dean, breathe.” Cas wrapped an arm around his shoulder, and held on firmly when Dean tried to shake him off.
“Get off … me ...Cas,” he gasped.
Mary was frozen in place. She wanted to comfort her son, but she was still in shock from everything they had just told her. She watched in horror as Dean fell apart, and wondered how he had managed to live this long with all this weight on him.
Cas looked up at her. “John made your sons into warriors. Sam got out, he learned to live another way, and it has protected him all these years. Dean was never given that chance.The John Winchester you knew didn’t raise your sons. The man you are mourning, he died the same day you did.”
Mary nodded, finally understanding. Everything she had noticed in the past few weeks was suddenly making sense. Her heart ached that John, her sweet John, who loved his children and his wife, had done this to their son. She was angry, angry at the reality of the world around her, and how helpless she felt. She didn’t know how to be a mother to grown sons, especially ones who had so much trauma behind them.
The sound of sirens jerked everyone back to reality. Dean wiped his hands across his face, and stood up.
“Can you handle the cops?” he asked Cas, who nodded. Dean ducked into the back room.
Mary and Cas answered all the cops questions, or at least lied their way through the interview. They had just about finished when they both got the text.
DEAN: I need a break. I’ll be home in a few days. Don’t follow me please.
Mary and Cas exchanged a sad look.
“Mary, I am sorry, I should not have --”
“I’m glad you told me, Castiel,” she interrupted. “Will he come home?”
“He always has.”
It was almost four days before they saw Dean again. Sam, Mary and Cas were eating dinner together in the kitchen when they heard the bunker door open. Cas smiled slightly at the sound, and Sam watched the doorway expectantly. A few moments later Dean appeared, looking calm and collected.
“Hey, I’m back,” he greeted with a small smile.
“Dean,” Cas began, “I’m sorry --”
“Hey, Cas, just hold on, ok?” Dean turned to Mary.
“You’re … Sober,” Sam commented.
Dean shrugged. “Well yeah, did you think I’d spent the past four days in a bottle?” He was calm. Collected. Level headed. “Don’t answer that. Mom, I’m sorry we kept stuff from you, I was trying to protect you, and the good memories you have but I’m still sorry.”
Mary smiled gently. “I know, Dean. I get it. I’ve spent a few days talking with Sam, and I do understand. But no more lies.”
Dean nodded. He turned to Cas. “We are not ok, Cas. But we’ve been through worse and I really want to fix this with you, will you do that with me?”
There was a long silence. Finally Sam said what everyone was thinking.
“What the hell happened to you?”
Dean tossed him a brotherly annoyed face, and then turned back to Cas, holding out his hand. “Can we talk, Cas?”
Cas stood up, taking Dean’s hand. “I would like that, yes.”
Dean led him out of the kitchen and towards their bedroom. “Do you mind if we talk in here?” he asked.
Cas was getting a little freaked out. Level headed, calm and rational Dean was new to him. If he weren’t an angel with the power to determine these things with a look, he would wonder if Dean was in fact stoned. Instead he just nodded and followed his husband into their room, closing the door behind him. Dean pulled up a chair, taking a seat and motioning for Cas to sit on the edge of the bed.
“Cas, I have a lot of things to say, and I need to say them, I need to get them out. And I need you to listen, please. And then I’ll shut up and you can say whatever you want to. Is that ok?”
Cas was beginning to wonder if Dean had spent the past few days in at a Healthy Communication Retreat, if that were a thing. What had Dean been doing?
“Cas?” Dean reached out and took Cas’s hands in his.
“First, I’m sorry, Cas. I’m sorry, ok? I was so scared and angry and everything felt like it was crashing down on me, and I lost it with you. And I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that.” Dean took a breath and continued. “You know me, and you know how broken I --. I mean, how screwed up I get sometimes. But it doesn’t matter, because I was out of line. I’m sorry, Cas.”
Cas smiled up at him.
Dean smiled back, and continued, sounding more confident. “You know things about me, Cas, things that no one else does. And you know me better than maybe I even know myself. And I know you were only trying to help, that you genuinely care about me and that’s why you told my mom all that stuff. But, it really hurt when you did that. Because I should have been the one to tell her. And I couldn’t, because I couldn’t ruin this image she had in her mind. She’s having enough trouble adjusting, I didn’t want to lay all that on her.”
Cas opened his mouth, realized Dean wasn’t done, and waited quietly.
“It took me years to come to terms with what my dad did,” Dean said. “And some of it, well, you know this, you know I still haven’t dealt with it all. I know you want what’s best for me Cas, but I need the time to get there on my own.” Dean sat back, releasing Cas’s hands. “Ok, I’ve said my piece.”
Cas nodded, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. Finally he said, “I don’t know what’s happened to you in the past few days, Dean, but I appreciate you talking to me like this. I know this is difficult for you. I am sorry I hurt you by sharing those details with your mother.” Cas paused, he wasn’t sure he could say the next part; he wasn’t sure he should say it. He was afraid that if he said what he really thought, he risked losing Dean.
It’s ok, I trust you. I’m not going anywhere, no matter what you say. I love you, Cas. I’m staying right here. Please trust me, trust us.
Cas smiled, hearing Dean’s unspoken prayer and finding his courage.
“Dean, I’m not sorry that I told Mary those things. You should have told her, but I don’t think you could. I don’t think you ever would have told her, you were so set on protecting her. I am sorry my actions caused you pain, but I do not regret the words themselves. I … I’m scared telling you this. I don’t know how you’ll react --.” Cas looked like he thought Dean would interrupt him, but he didn’t. “Dean, you said you wanted us to fix this, and I want that too. I do. And I want you to make good choices for yourself. I need you to do that, to take care of yourself as well as others. And sometimes that means letting someone else do something you can’t.”
Dean nodded, listening.
Cas leaned forward, placing his hands on Dean’s knees. “How can we move forward together, Dean? If that’s what you want,” he added.
“Cas,” Dean laid his hands on the angel’s. “I do want that. And I know that you and I have fought … well, way too much and way too hard… but when we got married we agreed to work things out, no matter what. I’m not going anywhere, and I hope, you’re not going anywhere. I might not agree with your decision but it does mean that this thing that scared me so much is out in the open, and I don’t have to pretend anymore.”
Cas smiled at him, turning his hands over so their palms touched. Dean’s thumbs rubbed small gentle circles into Cas’s wrists, and they sat quietly together, enjoying the intimacy. After a few moments Dean leaned forward, his lips millimeters from Cas’s.
“Are we ok, angel?” Dean whispered.
“Yes,” Cas breathed, closing the space between them. He pulled Dean closer to him, deepening the kiss. Soon Dean had moved forward and gently pushed Cas down onto the bed, laying on top of him. Cas’s hands carded through Dean’s hair, and pulled him closer.
A few hours after Dean had returned, he found Mary sitting in the library, looking through some old Men of Letter’s books.
“Hey, Mom,” Dean greeted. He pulled up a chair next to Mary. “Find anything interesting?”
Mary pushed the book aside, looking up at her son. “Just skimming through, you never know what kind of random knowledge will save your life. Dean, I never … I’m sorry for pushing you, for forcing you to tell me things before you were ready.”
“You were just doing what moms do,” Dean said. “I think.”
Mary smiled. “I don’t really know. I never had friends with grown children who were the same age as them. Dean, I’m still your mom and I love you, and I want to protect you. And I realize that it’s not going to be a normal situation, but I do want to help you, maybe even give you advice or help every now and again. It kills me that the way you and Sam grew up, and I honestly am still trying to understand it because it seems so out of character with the John I knew. But I am here, ok? You don’t have to worry about protecting me.”
Dean nodded. “I know. So here’s the thing.”
He took a breath. It was time. It was probably past time. But it was definitely time.
“Mom, I have some stuff I need to tell you.”