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Beer Run

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Dean is quiet in the driver’s seat of the Impala. He taps his fingers on the wheel to Hollywood Nights as it plays fuzzily through the radio, slightly off-beat, and mouths along absently. Mary suspects he doesn’t realise he’s doing it, and hides her smile as she looks out of her window. Between Jody’s house and the grocery store is a mix of suburbs and strip malls, and the yellow streetlights waver methodically through the passenger window as they drive. They even pass a motel, and her eyes reflexively catch on the sign to see how much a room would cost for the night. 

“I think we still have enough chips,” Dean says, making her look at him. 

“We can get some.”

He nods. They pull up short at a red light, and she waits for him to say something else. Bob Seger ends, replaced by the local radio host who informs them they’re listening to the top one hundred classic rock summer lineup.

“Sam likes those Bugle things. The little cornchip cones,” he explains, taking one hand off the wheel to wiggle his fingers. “You can put them on your fingers like party hats.”

She laughs, and he brightens instantly, smiling back at her like he’s won a prize. There’s lines around his eyes when he does it, but it’s a smile she remembers, something to connect the stranger beside her to the little boy that used to be her son.

“I think we need to raid the chip aisle, then,” Mary whispers conspiratorially, and Dean nods, pursing his lips, playing it cool so The Man doesn’t suspect what they’re up to. When Land of Confusion begins playing, Dean turns it up until the speakers crackle.

Hy-Vee isn’t all that busy this time of night. The parking lot is mostly empty, and the lone cashier manning the front of the store doesn’t look up from her phone when they wander in. 

Dean goes for the line of carts, and Mary raises a brow.

“Restocking the pantries?” she asks, watching him fish around for change in his pocket to unlock the buggy chain.

“No, but I don’t wanna carry one of those around.” He kicks a foot in the direction of the baskets, frowning at the coin slot beside the buggy handle as he inserts the quarter. “Shoulder’s still sore from that vamp nest we cleared last week.”

“I’m more than capable of carrying it for us,” she says in a hard tone, and he looks up suddenly, freezing, thumb on rim of the quarter he’d just inserted. 

“I mean,” he says uncertainly, eyes darting, “if you want—I wasn’t—”

Mary watches him stammer on with a slight smile, saying nothing, until he cuts himself off and looks away with a shake of his head.

“Yeah, okay,” he whispers with a sudden flush to his face, and yanks the buggy out of the line. “I see how it is.”

“It’s too easy,” she tells him, falling into step beside the cart. “Like fish in a barrel.”

Dean leads them down the canned goods aisle at a leisurely pace, and she’s grateful that he doesn’t beeline for the beer. They walk in easy silence as her eyes scan the endless rows of shelves. A lot of the labels look different now, but she recognises the brands for the most part, and it’s oddly grounding. Grocery stores are still grocery stores no matter what year it is.

“I don’t know if you remember,” she begins before she can stop herself, “but I lost you once in a Whole Foods. You must’ve been three, I think, or maybe just turned four.”

Dean frowns. He’s leaning his weight on his elbows, braced on the buggy handle, leading them past the walls of stewed tomatoes and pickle jars. “I don’t think so, no.”

“I don’t even like Whole Foods,” she tells him, and he laughs beside her. “I don’t know why we were shopping there, but we were. They had this big display near the front of the store for Easter. You wanted me to buy you this bunny-shaped chocolate figurine and I said no, and you didn’t like that answer.”

They turn the corner, and Dean leads them down the next aisle—pastas and rice and flour. 

“I remember I had this awful broken buggy. The front wheel was all messed up. God, it was jammed. I had to keep parking it and wandering down the aisles to grab what I needed, and I told you to stay with it and hang onto the side. All ten fingers—”

“—through the grates,” he finishes for her, smiling. One of his hands wanders absently to the metal basket at the front of the buggy, threading his fingers through the grey lattice. “Yeah, I remember that.”

“Anyway, you didn’t listen to me,” she says, making him laugh again. They pass a staff member unloading things onto the shelves, and he gives them only a cursory look of scorn for being in the store after eight on a Friday night before they pass him by. “I turned my back for a second—a second— and you were gone. This was Easter weekend, too, so it was packed inside that stupid store. And you were only about this big,” she taps the midpoint of her thigh, “so it was impossible to see you in the crowds.”

They wander down the next aisle. She wonders if Dean knows she’s stalling for time, or maybe he wants to stall, too. Maybe he doesn’t even realise it; he has a soft, faraway look on his face, listening intently as she continues, telling him how frantic she was, how she flagged down three separate workers to help her find him, how she was moments away from stabbing all the goddamn people in the store for being in her way.

“I would’ve been in the papers if I’d still been carrying at that point in my life,” she tells him, and he’s grinning beside her, wheeling the buggy up and down the aisles. “Most parents worry about some sex freak stealing their kid, but me? Immediately my mind goes to changelings, or vampires, or—” 

She cuts herself off as an old woman passes them, labouring to carry the case of tonic water weighing down her basket. Dean stops to inspect the laundry detergent they aren’t going to buy, and Mary waits until she’s out of earshot before continuing, “you were missing for twelve minutes, and Dean, I swear to God, I was about to have a meltdown. Then some clerk calls me to the front of the store over the loudspeaker, and I haul that horrible broken cart with like two hundred dollars worth of groceries over to the customer service desk, and there you are with that stupid chocolate bunny—”

They’re being loud enough that they draw the attention of the old woman, now at the other end of the aisle, and Mary shakes her head with a smile.

“I must have looked deranged. The moment I saw you I burst into tears.” They turn the corner again and bingo, they’re finally in the snack aisle. “It was awful!”

Dean pulls to a stop in front of the chips, eyes sweeping the shelves without really seeing anything. There’s a permanent smile on his face that at once makes him look younger and older than he should be, and his eyes are bright when they finally land on her.

“So?” he asks. “Did you buy me the bunny?”

“No!” she yells at him, and he throws his head back in a laugh.

They make off with four bags of chips and a case of Margiekugel's—cans, unfortunately, but they didn’t have a lot of options. Dean also sneaks a pack of Twizzlers into the cart when she isn’t looking, along with Sam’s Bugles. All of it gets loaded into the trunk, and they both sit in the Impala, keys slotted in the ignition but left unturned.

Dean stares out of the front windshield, eyes lingering on the Hy-Vee like he’d forgotten something inside, and Mary uses it as an excuse to really look at him. There’s a smudge of bruises framing his right cheekbone and sweeping up around his eye, mostly faded to green and yellow now. His knuckles are an angry pink, and still faintly shiny from the polysporin Jody forced him to slather on them under threat of death. It’s the middle of July, which means he’s only wearing a Henley, and the collar looks like it’s been irreparably stretched out by too many wash cycles. The expression on his face is hard to read, but strangely unguarded.

Mary wonders if she’s overstepped a boundary. They don’t talk a lot about Before. It’s never something they agreed to out loud, but there’d been an understanding between them that, until now, neither had broken. No use retreading over sacred ground.

“Dean.” She isn’t quite brave enough to touch his shoulder yet, but she places her hand between them, braced on the cool leather of the seat, and he breaks away from his thousand-yard stare to frown at the wheel.

“Oh. Sorry.” He keys the ignition, and the Impala rumbles to life under them.

“No, that isn’t—are you okay?”

“I’m great, why?”

She holds his gaze. It’s so hard to judge—maybe she’s being silly. Her mouth twists. “I don’t know,” she says finally, truthfully. “Do you like it? When I talk about… when you were a little boy?”

“Yeah,” he says, but it comes out quiet, circumspect. “I mean—Mom, if it helps you, y’know, to—to make this all feel more normal—”

“That’s not what I asked,” she interrupts, just as softly.

He looks back at the Hy-Vee, his jaw working. He and Sam usually shave like it’s a competitive sport, but there’s two days’ worth of stubble on his face. “I don’t remember a lot of it,” he tells her after a long moment, hands sitting uselessly in his lap. “I buried it, or I don’t know, it’s just blank. There’s bits and pieces of you, fragments, but… I don’t remember getting lost at the grocery store. It’s just weird, you know?” A small, tentative laugh escapes him, excess nervous energy that holds no humour.

“I do know, actually,” she replies, and he offers her a faint smile. “It’s all weird still. It’s why I wanted to come with you.”

He doesn’t look surprised. “Yeah, I figured it was something.”

There’s a startling amount of understanding in his eyes. It makes something deep beneath her ribs ache. Had he ever been made to feel like an outsider in a crowd full of other people’s friends before? Had he ever watched somebody else love the people he’s supposed to take care of, and do it better than he ever could? 

“I don’t hate Jody, or her girls,” she says, surprising herself. Dean watches her. “I just—I needed some air.”

“Hey, I don’t like crowds either,” he says easily, shifting the car out of park.

“I mean, maybe I just wanted to stupidvise your beer run,” she says, and he laughs again, more genuine now, relieved at the opportunity to take this conversation less seriously. 

“How’d I do?”

“Pretty solid,” she says with a smile, and it’s almost painful to see the earnest expression on his face, hope and uncertainty and apprehension and love all at once. 

She could snap it in two so easily. The knowledge sits low in her stomach, like a stone. The vanishingly small part of her that has accepted reality—that she really is this man’s mother—wants to yell at him, to tell him not to be so open, that he’s going to get himself hurt by thinking so highly of her. It would be easy to hate them for it, and she’s afraid she’ll end up feeling that way even with how hard she’s fighting it. Especially when he gives her this kind of look.

“We don’t have to go back to Jody’s right away,” he offers then, like a lifeline, and she’s selfish enough that she nods eagerly.

“You hungry? I could go for a burger.”

Dean picks a local diner with a sketchy bathroom, but the place is mostly empty and the food is relatively cheap. They spread themselves out in a booth tucked into the back corner, and Mary struggles to keep her burger in one piece.

“I don’t remember cheeseburgers being this greasy,” she comments, licking ketchup off her finger.

“They’re better this way,” Dean muffles. 

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she chides, but he’s caught on to her scheme by now, and only gives her an eye roll instead of the usual deer-in-the-headlights look he wears whenever she behaves even vaguely maternal in his direction. 

“More expensive, too,” she continues. “Everything is. Even beer.”

“Inflation, or whatever,” Dean says, gesturing around them, as if the diner itself is the culprit for weakening the strength of the American dollar.

They eat mostly in silence, and she’s grateful for how comfortable it is. Mary doesn’t tell him that he’s just like his father in this way; content with the quiet, especially on long drives. It’s surreal, how much of John she sees in him, even the parts she knows he’s hiding.

His phone buzzes on the table beside him, and he uses his pinky finger to tap the screen, frowning at it.

“What is it?”

“Sam.” He quickly wipes his mouth and hands on a wilted napkin and picks it up, pressing his phone to his ear. “Yeah.”

There’s a pause as he listens. Mary gives up trying to keep her pickles and tomato from sliding out from the bun and begins picking them off her plate.

“We’re getting food. I was hungry!” Dean pauses to slot a fry into his mouth. “Fuck off, we’ll be back in twenty. Yes, really! I got you Bugles. Yes. Yeah. Okay. Yeah, bye.”

She watches him, smiling, as he tosses his phone down onto the table. “Thanks for covering for me.”

“I was hungry,” he reasons, waving her off, and picks at his fries. “Sam’s just being a camp counsellor.” He looks up from his food when she doesn’t answer. “What?”

Realising she’s staring, she shrugs and smiles. “Nothing. It’s just… nice. You two seem close. Most people I know—knew—hated their siblings.”

He tilts his head, brows twitching. “Yeah,” he says with a huff. 

“What is it?”

“We’ve had our own shit to deal with,” he says vaguely, studying his fries. “A lot of it, in fact. I dunno. We’re good now, mostly.”

“I’m not surprised. Hunting’s hard on families.”

“Yeah, amen.” He raises his coke in a mock toast and takes a generous sip. “You should talk to him.”


“He keeps asking me about you.” The rest of the sentence hangs in the air, unsaid but clear. Dean still hasn’t looked up from his plate.

She nods, breathing out a sigh. “Probably looks like I’m playing favourites, huh?”

“Hey, I mean,” he laughs, picking up the little grease flakes on his plate and popping them into his mouth. “If I’m your favourite—”

“You’re not,” she says quickly, and then hurries to add, “I mean—you know what I mean. It’s just….”

She doesn’t finish her thought for a while. Dean leaves her be, polishing off his meal, and she slides her plate his way, offering him what’s left of her fries. He accepts with a wordless, grateful nod, and she draws lines in the condensation on her glass of coke. They snagged a window seat, but it’s too bright in the diner to see much of the outside, aside from the occasional headlights of a car wheeling past.

“I’m scared,” she says finally.

“Of Sammy?” Dean raises a brow. “That kid’s a puppy. You got nothing to worry about—”

“I don’t know anything about him,” she cuts him off, and he quickly grows silent. “Or you, really, but this is easier somehow. I don’t know. And I’m scared that—” She pauses, taking a drink of her coke as a way to buy herself some time. “I’m scared that,” she begins again when she sets her glass down, speaking slowly, “that we won’t have anything in common.”

It’s not quite the truth, but it’s close enough, and Dean’s brow knots—confident, easy, eager to allay her concerns. “What’re you talking about? We both have the same last name. That’s one thing in common right there.”

Mary laughs, touches her drink again. “Can’t argue with that.”

“And we both like burgers,” he continues, gesturing at the plates between them. “Sam’s kind of a picky eater, though, so—”

It’s a ridiculous sentiment, but somehow Dean makes it make sense. She smiles at him, and he’s grinning back at her, and for a moment everything feels normal until she ruins it by telling him, “you remind me so much of John.”

Dean drives the speed limit and takes the long way back to Jody’s. The radio quietly offers them Billy Joel. Mary’s stomach is in knots, and it’s only partially because of the sudden influx of greasy carbs. 

“Maybe we should get a motel,” she says, and her voice only barely betrays the tremble in it. “I mean—Jody’s got a big house, but where are the four of us going to sleep?”

“Three,” Dean corrects her. “Cas doesn’t sleep.”

“Oh. Right. Keep forgetting about the angel thing.”

Dean smiles but says nothing, and then they both continue to say nothing. It isn’t the easy silence from before; there’s a ghost wedged between them on the seat now, making the air thick and unpleasant. She figures it’ll take no more than ten minutes to get back to Jody’s. Probably not enough time to have a serious conversation with her son about… well, anything.

“Sam went to Stanford,” Dean says suddenly, and she looks up from her lap.

“Yeah, he told me.”

“Got a full ride for four years,” he continues. His fingers tap the wheel again, but not in sync to the music. “He was prepping for law school. Dude had straight A’s.”

She smiles. “I’d say I’m proud, but I don’t think I can take much credit for that.”

“You should be proud of him,” he says, sneaking a glance in her direction. He sounds like he’s trying very hard to keep a casual tone. “He’s got enough brains for the both of us. It’s why his head’s so big.”

She laughs. It’s easier to breathe when she does it, like her life in this moment actually makes any sort of sense.

“He goes for runs in the mornings,” Dean tells her, “wakes up at the hairy asscrack of dawn. He’s trying to be a vegetarian. I think this is like his fourth attempt. Never finishes his coffee—he leaves dregs in the bottom of the cup and it stains all the goddamn mugs. He broke his arm in fourth grade climbing a tree. He hates clowns, like a lot, which is only partially my fault, and he listens to Celine Dion in his room where he thinks I can’t hear it—”


They stop at another red light, robbing him of any excuse not to look at her. He keeps his eyes forward anyway. “You’re gonna love Sam,” he says quietly. His throat bobs as he swallows. “Mom, I promise. You know, it—” He breaks off with a bitter laugh. “Honestly, Sam’s easy. You should be way more worried about not liking me.”

Mary stares at him. His profile is razor sharp in the harsh glow of the traffic lights, carved from marble. It wasn’t an insult, what I said before, she wants to tell him. If she’s honest with herself, it’s not difficult to figure out what John had done to their children. He’d raised them to be hunters. There’s a lot of blanks, but they fill themselves in easily enough.

“I’m not worried about that at all, Dean,” she whispers instead. It’s all she can muster right now. 

He looks at her then, quickly, only for a second, like any longer would blind him. His eyes are bright with tears that he forces back down, and the twitch of his mouth is pained.

“Cool,” he whispers back, and the light turns green.

Dean reaches over the gate to unhook the latch, wandering into Jody’s backyard with an easy stride that says he’s been doing it for years. Sam makes a big deal of saying “Christ, finally,” and Dean throws his Bugles at him.

“You’re welcome,” he says to the peanut gallery, extracting his Twizzlers from the bag before depositing the rest of the snacks in between Claire and Alex, who immediately lunge for it. He says something soft to Jody that Mary doesn’t catch, and it makes Jody laugh, before he passes her by on his way to the cooler to restock it.

For her part, Mary tries not to look like a frightened prey animal as she sits back down in one of the many lawn chairs Jody had distributed around the yard, in between Sam and Castiel. It’s technically Dean’s chair, but she doesn’t think he’ll mind. Jody smiles at her from across the circle, and she forces herself to return it.

“Everything good?” Sam asks quietly beside her, leaning in a little.

She smiles at him. “Yeah. Can I try some of your Bugles?”

Jody’s backyard is pretty nice. It has a small firepit, which burns low enough that the flames don’t add to the already substantial heat of a July night. The grass is green and freshly cut, singing with crickets, and Mary only feels a little guilty that her lawn chair is digging tiny gouges into the grass. 

Beer makes conversation flow easily. People laugh a little too loudly, talking over each other often enough that it’s hard to make out what the topic is, but she doesn’t feel quite so overwhelmed now. Mary eats the handful of Bugles Sam had graciously given up to her, despite not being hungry at all, and sips at the still-warm can of beer passed her way. She half-listens to Dean and Sam and Jody talk about old cases they worked, and leans over to whisper to Cas next to her.

“Are they always like this?”

He seems surprised at the question, as if shaken away from other thoughts, but he offers her a slight smile. “Alcohol is usually the determining factor in how loud they are,” he answers quietly, “but yes.”

“You don’t want any?” She waggles her can at him.

“It doesn’t affect me.”

She takes a sip and eats another Bugle. “That sucks.”

He smiles, staring at the fire. “That’s a common sentiment.”

Dean mentions Castiel often, though he’s only told her a little bit about him. An angel who rebelled against Heaven in service to her two boys, now honour-bound to protect the Winchesters from harm. Listening to Dean and Sam squabble over the details of a harrowing fight with a rugaru with all the gravity of discussing a football game, she concludes he’s done a pretty bang-up job.


She shakes herself out of her thoughts. “Sorry. I promise I’m not staring.”

Cas tilts his head. “I don’t mind.” He pauses for a moment. “It must be… strange, all of this. Feeling like you aren’t a part of their conversations.”

I cannot have a mental breakdown in Jody’s backyard, she thinks, a lump quickly forming in her throat. Mary tries to wash it away with a swig of beer, and when that doesn’t work, she eats another one of Sam’s Bugles.

“Yeah,” she rasps, clearing her throat. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“It gets easier,” he tells her earnestly, and she can’t very well argue with an angel. “And if it’s worth anything, they’re both very happy to have you here.”

If she smiles she’ll start crying, so Mary nods instead. “I know that,” she whispers. “Thanks.”

He offers her another faint smile. “You’re welcome.”

Mary holds her hand out to him. “Do you want one of my Bugles?”

“You’re sure you’re okay with sleeping in the basement?” Sam asks her for the third time, fussing with the blanket spread across the old pull-out, like he’s going to be graded on how few wrinkles are in it.

“Plotting to take the coolest room in the house from me?” she asks back, and he looks up in surprise before a grin cracks across his face.

“You got me,” he replies, hands held up in the air in surrender. 

It’s well past midnight now. Dean is passed out on Jody’s living room couch upstairs, and everyone else has turned in—except for Sam, who seems to be looking for any excuse to stay up. He offered to help her make up the bed, and though she hadn’t needed it, she’s happy to let him feel useful.

Mary sits on the edge of the mattress, wincing at the squeak of springs, and pats the space beside her. Sam sits down heavily, making the bed sink, leaving a polite amount of distance between them. He hides a yawn behind his fist and rubs at his face. He caught some sun today; his nose and cheeks are bright pink. It makes her smile.

“This was fun,” Mary says.

Sam snorts. “You don’t have to say that. It’s okay.”

She opens her mouth to argue, and then closes it again. Instead she considers her next words. “Well, I mean, I didn’t have a bad time.”

Sam laughs quietly. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, staring down at his hands like he’s trying to figure out what to say. Mary fills the silence for him.

“You have good taste in snack food, by the way.”

He looks up at her, mouth twitching. “Thanks.”

“And I’m sure I’ll get used to your friends,” she continues, sobering. “It’ll just—take time.”

“They’re cool people,” Sam says. “Jody especially.”


Mary looks away, and she can feel his eyes on her. Jody’s basement is small, filled mostly with storage bins and other old mismatched furniture. The south wall is lined with shelves, broken up in the far corner to allow for a washing machine and dryer. The lights are controlled by a lone switch at the top of the stairs, and the bulbs emit an old and yellow glow. It smells faintly damp in the way all basements do, and it’s cool enough down here that she has to cross her arms to ward off a chill. She’s spent all day at this woman’s house, watching Jody mother the strange men who keep insisting on calling Mary their mom. Jealousy isn’t the right word for what she feels, but she doesn’t know what else to call it.

“I don’t know if—what, you’re feeling,” Sam says softly. “I can’t even begin to imagine. But we weren’t trying—we never tried to—to replace you, or anything, with, with—”

“I know that,” she assures him, forcing herself to meet his eyes again. “It’s okay, really.”

It isn’t, of course, but none of them can do anything about it. The glint in Sam’s eyes makes her think he knows that on some level. She needs to say more—she forces herself to say more.

“Sam, I can’t get mad at you or Dean for finding other people in your life to guide you. To parent you, even.” Something unpleasant presses up against her sternum—the selfish and ugly truth that she doesn’t know how to give voice to. “And Jody is… she seems like a good person.”

“She is,” Sam assures her. “And so are you.”

Mary takes another good look at him. He doesn’t shy away from meeting her eyes; there isn’t the same heaviness to his gaze that she finds with Dean. He looks timid, if anything. Friendly, but cautious in the way that strangers who are forced to talk to each other are.

“You sure about that?” she asks, keeping her tone light, because otherwise she’ll cry.

Sam smiles back. “I know you did what you thought was right at the time.” He has a hand on one of his knees, fingers clenched around the joint. “I know you didn’t really have a choice.”

Mary knows she’s supposed to hug him. Wrap her arms around him and tell him it’s okay, that she’s sorry, that he is good and there is nothing wrong with him. She knows she’s supposed to want to do those things without it feeling like an obligation. You’re supposed to be my baby still, she wants to scream at him. I need more time to explain myself to you.

She doesn’t hug him, or scream at him. She swallows that down, and smiles, and says, “I’m pretty rusty with mom talks. The ones I’m used to giving are about scraped knees and checking under the bed for monsters. I’m still trying to… to figure out how to say what I want to say to you, Sam.”

“It’s okay,” he says immediately, like a gentleman. He checks his watch as an excuse to glance away. “It’s—it’s late, anyway. I should let you sleep.”

“We can keep talking, if you want.” Truth be told, she’s exhausted, but Dean’s words won’t stop rattling around in her brain. He keeps asking me about you. “I don’t know how helpful I’ll be, but you seem like you have something on your mind.”

Sam huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, don’t we all these days.” He cracks his knuckles, one hand at a time, methodical. “I don’t know.”

He doesn’t say anything more. He’s so different from Dean; reaching out and touching his shoulder doesn’t feel like putting her hand to a live wire, and finally, she chances it. His shirt is warm from the heat, sticking slightly to his skin, and Sam doesn’t flinch when she rests her palm on his back.

“I like your hair,” she tells him tentatively, and immediately feels stupid for it, but Sam brightens at the compliment.


“I know Dean teases you about it, but it’s a good look for you.” Her mouth twitches. “Maybe we can braid each other’s hair tomorrow.”

Sam rolls his eyes. “You guys are assholes.”

“I’m being serious,” she says, but she’s laughing, and he laughs with her. For a moment, she feels the steel band around her ribs loosen again, like the weight of the world isn’t pressing down on top of her. It convinces her that maybe she can do this—be a mother to her boys, to these two grown men who are supposed to be her sons.

Sam’s smiling at her, shy and careful, a counterweight to Dean’s reckless vulnerability. She smiles back at him, and squeezes his shoulder. “You’re good, Sam,” she tells him, not even really sure what she means, just that she means it. “And we’ll—we’ll figure this out.”

“I know.” He pats the hand she still has on his shoulder, and she grabs his before he can pull away. It surprises him—it surprises her, too—but it feels natural, and she doesn’t want to let go of that.

“You’re so—big,” she whispers, studying their hands. “Both of you. There’s so much of you. I still have to learn it all.”

“You will,” he assures her, as if it’s the sort of thing he can promise.

“Yeah,” she whispers back, and squeezes his fingers. “You’re sure you don’t want to chat?”

He shrugs, eyes casting around the basement. “It’s late,” he says after a moment. “And it’s—it’s okay, really. I’m mostly just glad you’re back.”

“Mostly,” she repeats dryly, and he laughs.

“You wouldn’t be a Winchester if you didn’t have baggage,” he tells her, breaking her heart.

Mary smiles through it. “No, I guess I wouldn’t.”

Sam looks like he wants to hug her and can’t decide if that’s appropriate. She can’t decide that either, so she squeezes his fingers again instead, knowing it isn’t enough but hoping it will be anyway. 

“Goodnight, Sam,” she whispers, and he squeezes back before pulling away.

“Night, Mom.”

He clicks off the light for her as he heads upstairs, shutting the door softly behind him. She lays back against the lumpy mattress, staring up at the exposed boards in the ceiling, sapped of all colour by the lack of light in the room. She hadn’t had that much to drink, really, but the beer makes her head heavy and her limbs rubbery. The blanket is scratchy against her arms, but she pulls it up to her neck, curling on her side and gathering herself up in a loose ball.

It was a good day, she tries to convince herself. No arguments, no major fuck-ups. That’s a good thing.

Dean’s flinch in the diner lingers in her mind, though, unable to settle. Any mention of John is still shaky ground. She wants to ask why, and she doesn’t want to know the answer. The boys have already let a few things slip—the fact that Dean taught Sam how to drive, or the casual mention of a massive fight Sam got into with John when he left for school. They're things she’s going to have to reckon with if she wants to learn about her children. Years of history that will destroy all the ghosts in her head that she’s still clinging to and doesn’t want to let go of. Sam and Dean haven’t been little boys for a long time, and John was not a good father to them. She’s not ready to accept either of those things; she’s angry that she has to accept them. It’s her own fault, even if it was never her choice to begin with.

She rubs her cheek with the blanket, and it comes away wet with tears she hadn’t realised she shed. The fabric smells like it’s been in storage for a long time, dusty and old. An unfamiliar blanket in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar house, filled with unfamiliar people. She almost wants there to be a monster under the bed. At least then she wouldn’t be alone.

Mary tries to sleep. Tomorrow looms overhead, large as a behemoth. She’s going to wake up in the morning and have to do all of this again. Pretend that this is normal, that being called Mom by two people she doesn’t know and who are older than her makes sense. Dean wants to buy her a phone; Sam promised her that he would show her how to use his laptop computer. 

I know how to tie my shoes, she tells herself, and the laugh she swallows down tastes hysterical. I know how to brush my hair. I know how to drive. I know how to use a gun. I know my own name. 

She rolls over and listens to her own breath shake out of her. The house settles around her, creaking strangely. In the morning. Maybe she’ll be better in the morning.