Mother, make me
Make me a big grey cloud
So I can rain on you things I can’t say out loud
Mother, make me
Make me a bird of prey
So I can rise above this, let if fall away
- Mother, Florence and the Machine
There were many things about her children that Mary still didn’t know, many that were kept from her or sugarcoated to the point of estrangement, and sometimes it made her angry, some other times it made her feel betrayed, mostly by all the time that separated them, occasionally by her husband, who had crafted an image of her that was nothing but an idealized picture of motherhood and femininity. None of them seemed to understand that Mary could stomach things that would bring them to their knees with a smile on her face. This, though. This, Mary didn’t know how to deal with.
Castiel had been dead for 24 hours and the reality of her second life had been completely subverted. She could see that from the way Sam was driving John’s car, Dean at his side, with his head against the window and his eyes distant and reddened. And then there was her, squeezed in a corner in the backseat, acting as if Lucifer’s son wasn’t sitting a few inches from her, with a pained look on his face that gave Dean a run for his money. They both seemed to feel Castiel’s absence with a burning intensity, so much that the air in the car was almost unbreathable. Mary couldn’t way to get out.
When they got back Mary knew she had to stay. She wanted nothing more than to hit the road, maybe kill a couple of monsters on the way, and then have a long bath, wash away all the hurt and regret of the last two days in the quiet comfort of her solitude. She wasn’t going to do that, though. There were promises she intended to keep, so she walked into her bedroom and left her bag there before she returned to the kitchen.
She came back to Sam, a book and a cup of coffee already prepared for him on the table, showing her a tired smile. “Where’s Dean? Did he already go to sleep?” she asked, witnessing Sam’s face darken slightly as he nodded.
“Is he going to be alright, after – after what happened?”
Dean hadn’t said a word since they had burned Castiel’s body.
“I don’t think so.” Sam replied, “I mean, eventually, sure. But not for a while.” He was quick to add, probably in response to Mary’s worried look.
“What can I do?”
Sam walked closer to Mary, placing a hand on her arm, squeezing lightly, as to reassure her. “Don’t worry about anything, Mom. I can take care of him and – Jack.”
“No, - Mary objected, - focus on Jack. I’ll look after Dean. I mean, I’ll be whatever he needs me to be.”
Sam opened his mouth, as to contradict her, but then closed it again and fell quiet for a while. “Alright, thanks. Just make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid, except for that, I’d say let him cope however he wants. He’ll start to talk again once he feels ready.”
Mary nodded, a new weight preying on her shoulders. “Goodnight, Sam.”
That night, Mary went to sleep dreading to be woken up by the sound of gunshots.
She entered the almost completely dark room and placed the plate that she was carrying on the nightstand as Dean kept on lying on the opposite side. She carefully sat on the edge of the bed, close enough to hear him breathing, but at a distance that allowed him to turn around without touching her.
“Honey, I brought you something to eat.”
She put a hand on Dean’s arm from over the covers and he nodded so slightly she almost thought she had imagined it.
She considered leaving, as she had been doing for the previous three days, but instead, decided to try a bit harder.
“We need to let some light in, I know you don’t really have windows, but let me at least turn on the lamp.”
“No, please…” Dean mumbled, his voice hoarse from the lack of use and all the crying.
Mary felt a lump in her throat big enough to choke her, a part of her wanted to leave Dean to his suffering and his darkness. She clearly couldn’t do anything to possibly make things better. But, instead, she persisted. He was her son, so she turned on the lamp.
She still couldn’t see more than his shoulders from where she was sitting, but she got the chance to have a look around Dean’s room, the half-finished bottles of liquor on the floor, the sleeping pills and the aspirins on the nightstand and the coat. The coat, almost translucent in the grief-soaked room, the big stain of blood on the back invisible from the way Dean had folded it and placed it on a chair.
“Honey, why don’t you try to sit up for a while and eat something? You might feel better.” Such a stupid thing to say, she thought reproachfully to herself. A sandwich wasn’t going to fix anything.
“How do you do it?” Dean asked after a long silence, slightly turning his head in Mary’s direction, his face flushed and still bruised.
“How do you keep living without him?”
The thought of John, or of John’s absence, didn’t sting as much as it should have. Mary wanted to tell Dean that it was different, that what he was experiencing was far more painful than losing the man who had fucked up her children’s life to the point that sometimes it was unbearable to even look at them. Or at least that it was painful in a purer, more totalizing way. But that wasn’t what Dean needed to hear.
“It will get easier every day, even if you can’t see it right now. You will experience joy again, just in different ways.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then we will love you all the same.”
Sometimes it was hard for Mary to voice her feelings, even the most tender ones, especially since she had come back, but it was a relief to see that she was still able to if she really wanted.
Dean lied on his back for a few minutes before he sat up, still avoiding meeting Mary’s gaze. She shifted on the bed so that she could sit beside him, shoulder to shoulder with their backs against the headboard.
“Maybe it could help you to open up. Talk about him, if you want.”
“I can’t - I - I can’t talk about him. I never could. I’m sorry.” Dean stuttered, so visibly drained by the act of speaking that Mary hated herself for even suggesting something like that.
“That’s okay.” she said, holding his hand firmly. He didn’t seem to mind being touched, he almost seemed to crave it, and it broke Mary’s heart, to think of all the times he must have been neglected even the simplest acts of affection. “You don’t need to apologize for anything. Not to me. Not ever.”
Mary had to fight the urge to apologize herself when she noticed Dean had started crying again, his head jerked in a way that conceived most of his face, and instead remain still, letting go of his hand so that he could grab a tissue from under his pillow.
“I don’t know if I can make it.” he confessed.
“Yes, - Mary placed a hand behind his back, drawing circles as rhythmically as she remembered her mother doing with her after her first heartbreak. – yes, of course you can.”
He bended over, hands covering his eyes, swollen and reddened by the tears, tears that kept on coming, like an endless spring of grief and despair, sobs shaking his shoulders. She wrapped an arm around him, as a silent invitation to lean on her. And so he did, suddenly looking as small as the four year old boy Mary used to know. He cried in her lap until he run himself out, as Mary gently stroked his hair, hoping to provide him the tiniest amount of comfort in a moment like that. “I know, love, I know.” she repeated, over and over, like a lullaby.
Despite Mary’s promise, the following days weren’t much easier. Dean wandered the hallways like a ghost, perhaps in an attempt to convince Mary that he was indeed fighting back just by getting out of his room and occasionally making himself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. They didn’t talk much either, they mostly sat in silence in front of the TV in Dean’s room and made little comments about the plot twists and cliffhangers of the show they were watching. And it wasn’t progress, Mary knew that, she saw the traces all over her son’s face and body, but she still took comfort in having him fall asleep with his head on her shoulder.
One day, one Mary would call a good day, all things considered, her and Dean were cleaning his room, a warm sense of familiarity hanging in the air as something inside Mary’s chest grew bigger, maybe affection for the son she was only starting to know or compassion for her past-self, who would have been so proud to see how patient she had become. She was sitting on Dean’s bed with a pile of clean clothes to fold, fresh out of the drier, while Dean was trying to store things back into the drawers they belonged to. Mary saw him freeze from the corner of her eyes, the sound of his deep breaths more and more audible.
“Everything’s alright?” she asked, turning around to see him place two shaking hands on a shoebox, which, a few moments later, she recognized to be the place where they had collected Castiel’s ashes.
She rushed to his side, remaining a few inches away. Dean didn’t take the box, he just touched it, closing his eyes for a second before he turned towards Mary.
“I almost forgot they were here. – he let out a small chuckle as he sat at the end of the bed, the box now on his lap – There’s… there’s this nice place a few miles from here where I’d like to take him. I just – haven’t had the guts to yet.” There was no sign of a smile on his face when he finished that sentence, his eyes fixed on the box and his arms wrapped around it.
“I really did love him, Mom.” Dean admitted, almost like a confession. But Mary didn’t remember much about her church days, or about how the priest would answer. So she just kissed Dean’s head, lingering on the act, hoping to convey the message that, for what was worth it at that point, he would never have to seek her approval or support, because he already had it, unconditional and unwavering.
“We could come with you.”
“What do you mean we?” Dean asked, looking up, confusion mixing up with grief in his face.
“Sam, Jack and I. I know that you feel like you have to do it alone, but that’s not true. A bit of support can’t hurt, that’s what families do. You taught me that, remember?”
Dean seemed to consider her offer for an eternity, so long that Mary eventually went back to what she was doing before.
Dean let out a final, shuddering breath, “alright”, he said getting up from the bed, the box carefully placed beneath the coat.
Dean took them to a beautiful blooming meadow, with a brook running through it and a mill surmounting the scene.
Sam, Jack and Mary stood a few feet away from where Dean was scattering Castiel’s ashes, his back slightly curved and his eyes fixed on the ground.
“Should we say a prayer to God?” Jack asked, almost in Sam’s ear. “There was a funeral in a TV show I was watching the other day and I saw people do that.”
“No, Jack. – Sam said with a smile that made Mary’s heart tight – I don’t think Cas would like it. You can pray to him, though, just in case you he could hear you.”
Jack seemed satisfied by the answer and walked away, close to the car.
When Dean had nothing but an empty box in his hands, he turned around, just for a brief moment, unconceivable tears sparkling against the morning sun.
Sam left Mary behind and went to touch his brother’s shoulder, lightly, as to warn him of his arrival, and Dean pulled him into a hug, tight and quick. Only in that moment, looking at Dean’s stoic expression as he reassured Sam that he was fine, that he was doing a little better, Mary understood that what they had shared in the past two weeks, the vulnerability that Dean had shown her, no matter how painful or uncomfortable, was a gift Mary had an obligation to treasure. And for once, she didn’t feel choked by her children’s love, just whole.