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1. a prayer for intercession, also known as the Angelic Salutation
2. a desperate, last-ditch attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat
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She’s lying on her back on a cold floor, head turned towards the wall of what she’s going to guess is a warehouse of some kind. Behind her she can hear angry voices all yelling at once. It’s impossible to tell what they’re saying, although none of them seem to be directed at her.
The floor around her is painted with sigils in what she’s pretty sure is blood. She’s going to go ahead and assume that’s a bad sign.
Moving as slowly as possible, she turns her head and comes face-to-face with a corpse. It’s a guy in a suit with a silver spike sticking out of his chest. Mary breathes through her surprise, careful not to make a noise, and focuses on the room beyond. There’s a group of people in nice suits clustered around the far wall. At least one of them is kicking someone on the ground, but there’s too much of a commotion for her to be able to figure out who they are or what their beef is with the punching bag.
She sits up, keeping a wary eye on the Suits. The only obvious weapon nearby is the spike in the corpse’s chest, but silver stakes are too expensive and too hard to come by to waste on something that doesn’t absolutely require them. As much as she really wants to be armed right now, grabbing the stake might resurrect something she isn’t prepared to deal with.
“She has arisen!”
The Suits turn from the body on the ground and start towards her. The leader is smiling joyfully, but Mary scrambles to her feet and takes a few steps back. She has no idea what’s happening or who was responsible for bringing her here in her - God, in her nightie - but she’s damn well going to mistrust everyone until she figures it out.
The Suits stop. The leader holds out one hand.
“Please, do not be frightened -”
There’s a scream of rage from one of the Suits in the back and a blinding flash of light, and when Mary’s vision clears all the Suits are gone except for the dead one next to her on the ground.
The figure by the wall groans and rolls onto his back. Mary makes her way over, the floor cold and gritty under her bare feet, keeping her back to the wall and a wary eye on the room’s perimeter. That sure looked like a banishment, which means that the Suits were creatures of some kind. There’s no telling how far they were sent or if there are any more.
On her way she passes a second silver stake lying abandoned on the floor and picks it up. It’s actually more of a long dagger or short sword, bladed but without a cross-guard. It’s well-balanced and feels unsettlingly warm in her hand.
The person on the floor turns out to be a man, dark-haired and scruffy and pretty badly beaten. He blinks woozily up at Mary.
“Mary Winchester?” He sounds surprised. His voice is unexpectedly deep and gravelly - he probably got hit in the throat at some point. A hacking cough and another groan bears that theory out.
“You know my name?” Mary asks, halting just out of reach. She doesn’t think the guy’s in any shape to attack, but there’s no telling for sure.
The man doesn’t answer, rolling onto his side so he can look at the room. “We need to go,” he says. “I don’t know what banishing them does any more. I hope I didn’t kill anyone.” He tries to push himself upright and collapses.
“How do you know who I am?” Mary repeats.
The man rests his forehead on the ground, panting. “Dean.”
Mary edges closer. “Dean? My son, Dean?” Dean’s just a child. There’s no reason for this man to know him.
No. That isn’t right, is it? Dean’s an adult and so is Sam. She’s seen them all grown up, in Lawrence. Has she?
The man stirs sluggishly and mumbles something into the floor. “Hey,” Mary says. “Hey! How do you know Dean?”
There’s no answer. Mary crouches down and shakes him, but he doesn’t even groan.
She sits back on her heels. She remembers… being at home in Lawrence. She remembers walking into Sammy’s nursery and finding the demon standing over his crib. And then she’d… oh God, she’d died? But... not? She definitely remembers Dean and Sammy alive and well and looking out for each other as adults, but she’s not sure why and she’s not sure what happened in between.
She shakes herself free of her thoughts and stands. There will be time to figure out the details later. As Mom always said, survival comes first.
The warehouse doesn’t give her any clues - there’s no notebook or grimoire to give her any information about the markings on the floor, and it isn’t anything she’s ever seen before. The dead Suit doesn’t have anything in his pockets and his clothing’s generic enough to be useless.
Outside she finds a pickup truck and a battered sedan, both with Nebraska plates and the keys in the ignition. Other than that there’s nothing - no nearby buildings, no signs, only fields and a dirt road. She digs through the glove compartments of the vehicles and comes up with two owner’s manuals, a stack of paper napkins, a toy car and a few of those salt packets you can get from fast-food places. It’s something, at least.
Rip Van Winkle doesn’t react to the salt or to a cut from the silver spike. A quick examination shows no sign of fangs or spikes or claws hidden anywhere, although he’s got some pretty impressive bruising starting up. He’s also running a slight fever and his lungs sound congested. In Mary’s experience chest colds are a pretty human trait.
His pockets yield nothing but a few crumpled small bills and a neatly folded flyer for a homeless shelter in Kearney, which probably explains the too many layers of clothing and the unwashed smell. It doesn’t explain how he knows Dean. It also doesn’t explain the bloody sigil on the wall that he must have used to banish the Suits.
Well. Whoever he is and whatever his connection is to her son, he’s the only lead Mary’s got, and he’s right about one thing: they should get the hell out of here. Mary’s got no idea who the Suits were or what they were trying to accomplish, but she’s inclined to be very suspicious about it. Stealing one of their cars and getting the hell out of Dodge seems like a good idea.
Of the two of them it’s more important that she’s able to move fast, so she pulls off Rip Van Winkle’s boots and puts them on. They’re too big, but it’s better than nothing. She hauls him up into a fireman’s carry and lugs him out to the car. He’s thin for his height, but he’s still really damn heavy. He regains consciousness when she dumps him in the passenger seat of the truck a little harder than she would have liked. More or less, anyway - his eyes open, but he seems to have trouble focusing on Mary’s face.
“Hey!” Mary taps the man’s cheek. “Got a name?”
He mumbles something that sounds like ‘Castle’ and passes out again. Mary sighs and belts him in. She really doesn’t understand the weird names people give their kids sometimes.
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“Your friend is a real pain in the butt, Dean,” Mary says to the air. She gets into the passenger seat and then stares in perplexity at the space-age dashboard in front of her. The car hadn’t looked that fancy from the outside or she wouldn’t have chosen it.
Well. Nothing for it now. Every moment they spend in the parking lot brings them closer to getting busted, and lugging an unconscious man from one car to the other was already enough of a risk. She gets the car started and pulls out.
As soon as they’re out of town, she pulls over and opens the glove box. The owner’s manual is buried under a pile of electrical equipment and a box of condoms. It says ‘2011 Civic Sedan’ on the cover.
The world seems to swoop and distort around her.
“Castle. Castle.” She shakes him until he opens his eyes. “What’s the date?”
“I can’t tell time any more,” he says. He sounds surprised.
“How old is Dean?”
Castle frowns. “Time passes differently in Purgatory and Hell.”
Okay. Okay. Mary rests her forehead on the steering wheel and concentrates on breathing. hyperventilating isn’t going to help. Neither will crying.
“You’re upset,” Castle says cautiously.
“I really, really need you to tell me what year it is right now,” Mary says as steadily as possible.
“I think it should still be 2013,” Castle says.
Mary remains calm. The one rule her mother was always the most adamant about was that survival comes first and everything else can be pushed to second place. Jumping thirty years into the future can wait. Survival comes first.
God. God. Dean must be thirty-four now. Sammy’s got to be thirty. Her children are older than she is.
She very calmly gets out of the car, throws up, and gets back in again.
“I don’t know how to make you stop being upset,” Castle says worriedly.
“Did I die?” Mary asks thickly. “I remember dying. I died, didn’t I?”
“I wasn’t there,” Castle says in a hushed, frightened voice.
Stay calm. Survival first. Mary takes a deep breath. “Go back to sleep.” She needs information but mostly she needs to hold it together and she cannot, cannot hold it together if she has another shock. Driving is going to be hard enough already. She starts the car.
They need shelter and they need supplies, so they stop outside the next town big enough to have a pharmacy. Mary finds a grassed-over driveway in the farmland to the north and follows it to a half-burnt house with a pile of charred lumber where a barn might have been. The interior smells damp and smoky but it’s structurally sound, so she deposits Castle on the couch and does an inventory. Most of the stuff’s been left behind; either the owners of the house died in the fire or the insurance paid enough for them to restart from scratch. Mary’s betting on the first scenario.
There’s a little bit of canned food in the kitchen and there is one undamaged bedroom left with clothing in the closet. Mary changes into a loose flannel shirt and a pair of jeans she has to belt with twine. They’re musty but at least they’re better than a nightie. At least they have pockets.
She goes back to the couch and shakes Castle until he wakes up. “I’m going to get some supplies. Stay here until I get back. Do you understand me?”
Castle pulls himself upright, coughing and looking around blearily. One of his eyes has swelled shut - Mary adds ‘ice pack’ to her mental list of supplies. “I need a marker. Something permanent. Tattoo equipment would be ideal.”
Mary’s not sure if that’s more or less coherent than he was in the car, but it seems like a harmless enough request. “I’ll see if I can find something.” She eyes him - he’s flushed and unsteady and she’s not sure how much of a help he’ll be. She’s not sure how much of a help she’ll be if she has a nervous breakdown, but she can’t get the memory of Sammy in his crib with the demon standing over him out of her head.
No. Survival first. She can only fix what’s right in front of her and she won’t be able to help anyone if she doesn’t stay focused and do what she needs to do. She remembers seeing Sammy grown (does she?) so he’s fine. She must have interrupted the demon in time.
“Have you - have you met my other son, too?”
Castle nods and winces. “Sam. He’s grown out his hair.” He frowns in confusion at the room.
Mary swallows hard. “But he’s all right? They both are?”
That gets his attention. He zeroes in on her with slightly unnerving intensity. “They were well when I last saw them, Mary. Their home is protected. Do not fear.”
She breathes shakily, the strong urge to have hysterics receding a little. “Good. That’s good. Is John with them?”
Castle’s not listening any more, though. He’s staring fixedly at the ceiling now. Mary waves a hand in front of his face but he doesn’t even blink until she digs through the kitchen and finds a marker for him. “This okay?”
Castle refocuses. “Yes,” he says, and reaches for the hem of her shirt.
“Whoa! What are you doing?”
Castle frowns at her. “If I don’t ward you the angels will be able to find you.”
“The angels.” Mary repeats slowly. Some hunters do like to give creatures nicknames, but it seems obscene to name the things in the warehouse after something so pure.
Of course, it’s also possible that Castle’s on the streets because he’s crazy. He wouldn’t be the first hunter to jump off the sanity high-dive. “You mean the Suits?”
“Their apparel is not mandatory.”
Well. Castle might be crazy, but his banishing sigil had certainly worked, and it’s just marker. Mary can wash it off if she needs to. “You can put it on my arm.” She rolls up her sleeve.
Castle frowns but bends his attention to his task. Drawing the sigils seems to help him focus, although he has a tendency to mumble under his breath while he does it. Mary watches him until she’s sure he’s absorbed in his work, and then she says “Hey, Cas, when did you meet my boys?”
As she’d hoped, the nickname has an effect. Castle smiles a little, still intent on his task. “I gripped Dean tight and raised him from Perdition.” He pauses long enough to give Mary an earnest look. “Your son has an exceptional soul.”
“Uh, thanks,” Mary says. She has no idea what he means, but given how loopy he is it’s probably metaphorical somehow. Maybe he had to rescue Dean from something? Or set him free?
Castle coughs and turns back to his work. “I did not meet Sam until the raising of Samhain but he is exceptional as well. I apologize for the extent of the markings. A tattoo or a branding could accomplish the same protection with fewer symbols, but I have to compensate for the inherently transient nature of the marker.”
“That’s all right,” Mary says. The way he flips from crazy to competent and back again is a little dizzying. “Cas, what can you tell me about what happened in the warehouse?”
“I also need to concentrate,” Castle says pointedly.
“Right.” Mary shuts up. Hopefully Castle will be easier to question once his fever’s down.
Castle coughs more and gets steadily paler as he works, and by the time he announces he’s done he’s sweaty and shaking. He stares at his trembling hands with something like betrayal. “My body doesn’t do what I ask of it.”
“Most don’t,” Mary says, heroically not pointing out that for a grown man Castle sounds a lot like her chi- like a child when he complains about stuff like that. She checks him over to make sure none of the bruising on his torso is hiding an internal injury, but it looks like it’s just the fever spiking.
She’s not wild about leaving the guy here on his own, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a choice. She digs through his pockets until she’s sure she’s got all his money (who the hell decided to redesign the currency? It looks completely fake) and then she covers him with one of the blankets from the bedroom. He opens his eyes long enough to mumble something about bees and then settles down.
Mary does not think about tucking Dean in and she does not think about putting Sammy down in his crib. She does not think about bedtime stories or Sammy’s soft baby hair or singing ‘Hey Jude’. She does not think about who they might be now and what might have happened to them and how she wouldn’t even recognize them if she -
She doesn’t. She doesn’t think about it. As she leaves the house she takes a moment to close her eyes and breathe, and then she gets in the space-age car with the stupid Monopoly money and goes to find supplies.
Everything else later.