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Hell is a Place on Earth

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Mary liked being a Christian better when she didn’t have proof. It was easier to tell Dean, small and in her arms, that angels were watching over him when angels were just an idea she had faith in. When they were just regular people with wings and harps.

Castiel doesn’t have a harp. He’s very insistent on that fact.

“Are all angels as… stiff as Castiel is?” she asked Sam once while he surgically dissected the books in front of him. He looked up at her, laughing at a joke she didn’t get. She never gets the jokes around here.

“Well, kinda,” he said. “Comparatively? Cas is really mellow. Angels are all a little uptight.”

Unless the meaning of the word has changed drastically in the past 33 years, “mellow” is the last thing she would call Castiel. The angel walks the way her father had, with the weight of war pulling his shoulders upright. Sometimes when Castiel is in a bad mood, Dean unplugs the TVs and radios in the room so no one goes deaf. She swears she had woken up one time to a blinding light seeping under her door, and when she opened it she found Castiel panting in the hallway, his eyes radioactive in the darkness. But the boys don’t even keep angel blades on them in the bunker.

“He’s just Cas,” Dean had shrugged when she’d asked about his powers. “I mean, he’s got his grace back and all, but he’s not some kind of winged douchebag like the rest of them.”

“What makes him different? Why trust him?”

Something like confusion crosses Dean’s face, or maybe it’s hurt that she can’t blindly trust a man who means so much to him. She wishes she could read him the way a mother should be able to.

“He pulled me outta Hell. He left Heaven for us, Mom. He’s… he’s family.”

She doesn’t have time to process what Dean’s words mean because she’s too caught up on her son mentioning he was in Hell like it's nothing. He gives her vague answers when she interrogates him, and she met enough of John’s war buddies to know a 1000-yard stare when she sees one. She doesn’t press. She doesn’t know how to get her son to open up to her when she isn’t even sure she has a claim to motherhood.

Sam gives her John’s journal, and she breathes a sigh of relief. If she can’t see them through a mother’s eyes, then a father’s eyes would work just as well.

 


 

“Dean and Cas, huh?” Mary asks while she watches the angel and her son bicker over coffee. Sam glances up at her, and she may not have met God like her boys have, but she knows good-old-fashioned wrath when she sees it.

“Yeah,” Sam says. He crosses his arms, leaning away from her.

She doesn’t know how to take his response. If she’s noticed it in just a few days, there’s no doubt that Sam has, too.

“They’re real close,” she tries.

Computers are flat and sleek and pot is legal in some states and cars can be charged and she still has no idea how to ask if anything that really matters has changed. Mary’s been scared for her oldest son since she caught him playing house with the boy and the girl from down the street and Dean had introduced her to his “husband and daughter.” Or really, she’s been scared since the boy and girl told their parents about their playdate and neither of them were ever allowed into her house again.

“Listen, Mom.” Mary thinks that if someone showed her a picture of her face when she had walked in on Azazel above her baby, it would be similar to the way Sam is looking at her now. “I love you. Having you back has been incredible, and I know it’s been really hard adjusting. I wanna give you the time you need. But I won’t put up with this. Dean’s dealt with enough bullshit already, more than even I know about, and I won’t let him deal with it from you. You’re blood, but how you treat Dean decides whether or not you’re family.”

“Sam, I don’t care,” she rushes out, placing a hand on his shoulder. He leans in without thinking. She’s not sure he even notices his own reaction. “I wasn’t… you’re my boys. I love you both, and nothing could change that. I just… I just want you both happy. Castiel, does he make Dean happy?”

Dean swears suddenly, in a language unfamiliar to Mary. She and Sam look over to see Castiel laughing, his eyes glowing a little more than usual.

“Dean, that’s not even a word in Enochian.”

“Yeah, well. There was no direct translation for ‘motherfucker,’ so I made do.”

“You just said ‘your mother has sexual relations with my mother.’”

Dean laughs so hard he doubles over, clutching Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel smiles, and the air in the room shifts. There’s a creaking like old bones being stretched, and for a moment Mary swears she can see the shadows of broken wings behind the angel.

“Yeah,” Sam says without looking back at her. “Yeah, he makes him happy.”

 


 

Mary knows logically that demons and angels are the polar opposites of each other, but she still finds herself startled that lights don’t flicker every time Castiel enters a room. She looks up, her eyes blurry from straining to read her husband’s writing in the dim light of a lamp. The angel stands silently, tilting his head, and she feels guilty for telling Dean angels watched over him. The pressure of those eyes is not for a child to bear.

“Castiel,” she murmurs, trying to familiarize herself with the name. It tastes like an electric socket every time she says it, and she doesn’t understand how the boys became intimate enough with this celestial being to give him a nickname. “You’re up late.”

He shrugs, stepping forward. The light warps just right, and for a moment she glimpses the halo hanging above his head, splintered and dull.

“Angels do not need sleep.”

“Then why stay here at night? Aren’t there… angel things to get to?”

He laughs. “My Father is gone. My wings are ashes. My brothers and sisters disgrace me.” He gestures broadly, glancing around the room. “This is my home, so why wouldn’t I stay here?”

“Home.” She lets the word linger in the air. She wishes she could see it. “Do Sam and Dean think of this as home?”

Castiel nods seriously.

Looking back down, she changes topics. “I’m reading John’s journal.”

“It tells you a lot about their childhood. I find it very informative,” he says as he takes a seat across from her. To be equals with an angel. It brings up questions about whether he’s lowered himself or if he was just never as far out of reach as she imagined.

Yes, Christianity is surely better in theory.

“What are you talking about?” she demands like a soldier of Heaven owes her any answers. “It says nothing. John must have kept a separate journal, a personal one. He… he must have. There are no photos of Dean and Sam at school, no report cards, he doesn’t even mention Sam’s first word.”

Castiel’s hands spark while he traces the continents on the table. Mary realizes he probably watched them form. “Of course not. You would have to ask Dean about those things.”

She leans forward. “What do you mean?”

“When I say it tells you much about their childhood, I mean that John notes that August 12th, 1986 was the first time Dean properly made a salt round. And that Sam was nine when he could read Latin well enough to exorcize a demon. It tells you what John considered to be the priorities in their lives.”

She sucks in a harsh breath, knuckles white around the journal. He reaches his hand out and places it on hers.

“They were children,” she argues, unsure who she is trying to fight.

“I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know how long soldiers can be children.”

“They weren't soldiers. Dean was four when I died, and Sam couldn’t even hold his own head up. Don't call them soldiers.”

“Denying the hurt they were put through doesn’t undo it.”

“Hurt they were put through by John. By my John, who married me in Reno so we could get away quick, who was going to leave everything behind without knowing my past so we could be safe. My husband wouldn’t have done this.”

“That is why Dean wasn’t going to tell you,” the angel sighs, lifting his hands off hers. The lights flicker, but it’s quick enough that Mary tries to convince herself that her exhaustion is playing tricks on her. “He made Sam swear not to tell you about their childhood. Didn’t want to ruin your idea of John.”

Mary burned alive on a ceiling, but those words are the closest she will ever come to Hell.

“He told Sam to lie?”

Castiel sighs. He adjusts his shoulders like he's balancing the world, or maybe wings. “To be fair to Dean, I don’t know how much Sam would have to lie about. Dean took the brunt of their father’s… brutality when they were children and has since made it his righteous mission to keep Sam in the dark.”

Mary’s heart isn’t in her chest anymore. “What did John do to Dean?”

“That’s not for me to say.”

He stands abruptly, straightening his trench coat that she has yet to see him without, and shoves his hands into his pockets. It’s very human of him, she notes. She’s beginning to understand the way Sam speaks about him.

As he descends the steps, heading to the halls where the bedrooms are like he might check on her sons the way she used to, he stops. His voice rings in her ears like a radio on the wrong frequency as he says, “Sam’s first word… when you ask, Dean will tell you it was ‘dad.’ He’ll be lying. It was ‘Dean.’”