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In Mary’s defense, she does knock.

Since they got back to bunker a little after midnight and Dean was so tired he could barely park the Impala straight in its bay, they resolved themselves to beer, frozen pizza, and a couple hours of sleep before they resume the search for Sam. Mary had the beer and frozen pizza, at least; she’s too keyed-up to sleep, the bunker blinking and humming around her with technology and with the details of the last thirty-three years. It was overwhelming. She didn’t know where to start, so she started somewhere familiar – with Dallas.

The only problem is, she can’t figure out how to get from one episode to another, and the more frantically she taps at the little square which apparently substitutes for a mouse now, the further she ends up into weird flashing screens telling her that she’s won nine million dollars. So she goes to Dean. And she does knock.

From inside Dean’s bedroom, there is an answering grunt, a groggy yeah?

Mary opens the door, says, “Dean, I can’t get the computer to–” and then realises she is looking not at Dean, but at the angel, sleepily lifting himself from a tangle of sheets. Propping himself up on his elbows, chest bare, blinking at her. His hair is a mess, sticking up tufty. There are two dark, swollen marks on his collarbone.

“Mary,” he says, his voice low and rough. “I was just–”

Then Dean is there, suddenly, diving between them, and he snatches at the door, slams it closed. He stands with his back pressed to the door and he stares at her. “Mom,” he says. He is wearing a worn grey bathrobe and a mortified expression. Even in the dimly lit hallway, the colour chasing up from his jaw and throat is obvious. “You – I was – I was in the bathroom – what are you–”

She is still more or less frozen, her eyebrows raised. She says, “I won nine million dollars.”

Dean’s forehead scrunches in incredulity. “What?”

“The computer,” she clarifies, coming back to herself. “I was trying to watch Dallas.”

“Yeah.” Dean is still staring at her, still flushed a bright, guilty red. “Right – yeah, okay. Don’t click on it. It’s not – you haven’t won anything. It’s a scam.”

Mary is about to suggest that Dean comes to help her fix it, but he is pressed so tight to the door that it looks as though he is trying to melt into it. “You’re busy, so I’ll just… close the computer down. You can help me take a look at it tomorrow, maybe.”

“Tomorrow. Definitely.”

They are both rigid and uncomfortable. Dean won’t quite meet her eyes.

“Well.” She clears her throat. “Night, Dean.”

“Goodnight, mom.”

Mary hesitates. “Night, Castiel,” she calls.

There is a muffled call from inside Dean’s room. Dean shuts his eyes in agony, and Mary calls that her cue to leave. She returns to the war room, consigning herself to the fact that she is not going to watch any more Dallas tonight, and she sinks into her armchair with her head spinning. All in all, she thinks that she took it fairly well. It’s not every day that you find yourself rocketed thirty-three years into the future; the fact that she was thrown the curveball of her son being queer is surplus to what anyone should have to deal with, but she kept her cool. She deserves a medal.

Now, however, she replays every instant of the day through a new lens – the raw crack in Castiel’s voice when Dean first rounded the corner of the war room, the desperate relief with which he reeled Dean into his arms and held him close. The smiles over coffee, the bickering over the car radio, the easy and comfortable way they stood together, arms brushing from shoulder to elbow. All the things she hadn’t noticed the first time around – the way Castiel’s fingers had lingered over Dean’s when he passed him the car keys from the table-top. She hadn’t noticed. She hadn’t suspected.

Mary always thought you were supposed to be able to tell. That you could just look at someone and know they were – you know. One of that sort. It’s not supposed to happen to her son. She pulls at the sleeves of her shirt and tries to work out when this happened. Dean mentioned that John let him go hunting on his own when he was young; maybe it happened then. Maybe that’s when he got sick.

Earlier, when trying to trace Sam, Dean had opened a page called Google and explained that it had the answers to everything. Now, Mary types google and presses enter. She opens two folders by accident. She types google again, into something called Word Pad. The third time is the charm, the internet unfurling before her eyes – just under one billion results. She does some research.

Rock Hudson, Ryan White, Freddie Mercury, the founding of ACT-UP, the World Health Organisation retracting their statement on the ‘illness’; the red ribbon, the slow global spread of decriminalisation and anti-discriminatory laws, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; the Human Rights Campaign, the gradual repeal of sodomy laws, the banning of marriage and then the allowing of it. Flags upon flags upon flags. She has a Post-It note beside the laptop with a scrawled sub-heading of history of queers, and she finds herself on a screen framed in red that calls itself Youtube, where videos patiently line themselves up to be viewed – long, brightly coloured parades, men and women and people who seem to be somewhere in between all striding down long streets, shouting and smiling and waving banners. So many rainbows that it makes her eyes water.

Mary has never seen it like this – like it’s okay. Like it’s special and good. She finds herself on video after video of women in white dresses crying in their wives’ arms, and men clinging to each other in registry offices, and fat-limbed babies reaching for both their mommies. She watches the affectionate cheek-kisses and it doesn’t feel like something sick. She clicks and clicks and clicks, and she tries to figure it all out.

She is on a video entitled Fifteen Best Klaine Kisses when she hears the door click open.

“Mom?” Dean’s voice is rough.

She doesn’t pause the video. She doesn’t look up. “It wasn’t like this in ‘83.”

“Yeah.” Dean doesn’t come any closer. He feels awkward, she realises; she can hear him fidgeting. She remembers that about him – one thing that still rings true from the four-year-old to the tired man. “I figured.”

Mary doesn’t know what to say. What comes out is, “Some friend, huh.” It sounds more like an accusation that she means it to.

“Well, I mean… he is my friend,” Dean says hopelessly.

“And…”

“And–” Dean shifts his weight from one foot to other. “I don’t know what you want me to say. We – yeah.”

She turns in her chair to look at him. Her Dean – her first boy – is up of six feet tall and solidly built and he wields a pistol and knife like they’re a part of his own body, and here he stands, feet slightly turned inwards, embarrassed and uncomfortable in his threadbare socks. He looks like a kid. Like her kid. He rubs a hand over the back of his neck, avoiding her eyes.

“It’s not… bad,” Mary says, testing it out for herself.

“No.” Dean’s voice is hoarse. He looks like he wants to say more, but he won’t look at her. He doesn’t speak. Mary doesn’t know this man well enough to know him by his expressions or by his voice, but she can tell read unsteadiness in every inch of his body.

Mary hesitates. “Did your father know about–”

“No.” The answer is instant, so knee-jerk that Mary almost flinches at the vehemence of it. Dean says it again, gentler, as though catching himself. “No. He was, uh. He made his feelings on it pretty clear.”

Regret curls coldly in Mary’s chest. She can infer enough from that. “I’m sorry.”

Dean shrugs, loose and so exaggeratedly casual that it looks painful. He still won’t look at her. He says, “If it helps, I – I like women, too.”

Mary remembers seeing the word for that. “Bisexual,” she tries.

Dean’s eyes move to the laptop behind her, putting the pieces together. “Yeah. Wait – are you watching Glee?”

“I don’t know what I’m watching,” Mary confesses and she rolls her eyes, waving a dismissive hand at it. “It keeps just showing me more and more videos.”

For the first time since he came in, Dean’s face softens, and some of the tension bleeds from his broad shoulders. There is the flicker of a smile on his mouth. “Yeah. New feature – I don’t like it much either.”

Mary looks at that smile, a weak echo of the giddy smile that broke out across his face when he and Castiel swayed together in reunion, a splinter of the grin she saw in him when Castiel deadpanned some contemporary pop culture reference in the car. She says, “You care about him.”

Dean’s smile fades. “Uh.” His eyes track over her face, assessing. She isn’t sure what he sees there; she isn’t even sure she knows how she feels. She’s still struggling with finding her baby’s green eyes in the face of a man she barely knows. He says, “Yeah.”

“He seems like one of the good ones,” she ventures.

“He is.”

There isn’t much else that Mary knows how to say. She wants to set him at ease, but ten hours ago she wouldn’t have recognised Dean on the street if she walked right by him, and he isn’t saying anything to give her any indication of where to take this, so she decides the easiest thing is just to let Dean have space. “Get some sleep, Dean,” she says. “We have a long drive tomorrow.”

 

***

 

Four hours’ sleep is enough, and then they’re back on their feet getting ready to move out in search of Sam. Dean is storming around the bunker throwing weapons into a duffel bag; Castiel trudges into the kitchen looking about six espressos shy of being fully conscious, rumpled in his shirt-sleeves and nice slacks, but substantially more clothed than the last time Mary saw him.

“Good morning,” Mary says, perfectly normal. She rinses her cereal bowl out in the sink and sets it on the drainer. “Did you sleep well?”

Castiel says, “In case you were wondering, it’s no longer socially acceptable to use the termsqueers to refer to people who aren’t heterosexual.”

Mary lifts her eyes to stare at him. “I wasn’t wondering.”

“I saw your Post-It note by the laptop.” Castiel pours himself a coffee – black, two heaped sugars. Mary recalls now the title that she scrawled for herself and watches, feeling irritably chastised, as Castiel stirs his coffee. “I appreciate your efforts at self-education, but it’ll upset Dean.”

“Right.” Mary doesn’t dislike Castiel, but she finds it difficult to get a read on him – a creature who is simultaneously abrasive and gentle, who on one occasion swept bugs from the Impala windshield before they set off, who on another needed to be held back by Dean to keep him from shattering a man’s nose. If he’s offended, he doesn’t make it obvious, but his manners are a little short for someone trying to be genuinely helpful. “What do I call them?”

“Your son likes to be called Dean.”

Great. Now the angel thinks he’s a comedian. Mary raises her eyebrows.

“According to Sam, LGBT is inelegant and has its issues of exclusivity, but it works.”

So Sam knows, as well. It’s not some secret – everyone is in on it. Dean’s not… ashamed. “Alright.” She stands across from him, each of them leaning on opposite counters, and they don’t speak. She feels she ought to try to make conversation, engage with him the way one is supposed to engage with their children’s – alien partners? She’s still getting her head around it. She gets as far as, “You and Dean, then,” before Castiel looks at her and she runs out of things to say.

“Dean and I, yes.” When Castiel talks about it, he doesn’t sound closed-off and defensive like Dean does. He states it like it’s an inexorable fact of life – gravity, the blue sky, Dean and I.

“He’s human. You aren’t.”

“I can channel my Grace down through this vessel’s hands to obliterate the life force of most humans and monsters in an instant,” Castiel says, off-hand, and Mary can’t tell whether that’s a brag or a threat or something else besides. Castiel shrugs. “Not being human has its advantages.”

“How come Dean doesn’t hunt you?”

“That’s a long story.”

“The pop-quiz version, then.”

“He did, and then he didn’t, and then he did again, and now he doesn’t.”

“And now you sleep with him.”

“And now I sleep with him.” Castiel lowers his coffee. “I’m familiar enough with the rituals of being romantically entangled with a Winchester – if this is the part where you tell me that if I hurt him, you’ll kill me, then rest assured that your son’s happiness is of the utmost importance to me, and I intend to continue making it a priority for as long as he’ll have me.”

At five o’clock in the morning, this is more earnest a declaration than Mary is ready for; it catches her off-guard. She looks at Castiel, speechless, taking in his quietly sombre expression, and that’s when she realises. Oh, God. They’re not just screwing – they’re actually really in love with each other. In her head, she sees an instant replay of the videos she watched last night, with same-sex couples kissing and crying and lining up to be married in nice outfits, surrounded by people who loved them, and she thinks, oh, God. She supposes that deep down, she had assumed that someday Dean would go back to normal – whatever normal is. But he and this blunt, kooky monster in a human being’s skin, they’re in this for the long haul.

Mary admits, “You know him much better than I do.”

“I know him better than I know myself,” Castiel says simply. “I know that he was not planning to tell you about his involvement with me for fear of your reaction, and that the worry of your judgement is something that preys heavily on him. I know he has missed you desperately for thirty years, and he needs your acceptance on this, and that if this is something you can’t give him – if you hurt him, that is – then I won’t kill you, but I will be unable to work with you in any capacity.”

Mary’s eyebrows lift.

“Like I said,” Castiel says, tilting his head over. The movement exposes his throat, a bruise flirting at the edge of his shirt-collar which Mary avoids looking at. “His happiness is important to me.”

“I can see that.”

Before either of them can say any more, Dean comes barging in, a duffel bag slung over each shoulder, his hair damp and soft from the shower. He slaps a hand to Castiel’s shoulder. “Come on, sunshine, knock that back and get your ass in gear. We were supposed to be on the road ten minutes ago.”

Mary had thought, now that the cat is out of the bag, that the way they are around each other would change. She had envisioned them embracing, kissing, whispering to each other. She remembers bringing John home to her parents’ house, reeling him in for a smiling kiss when she knew that her father could see through the kitchen doorway, just to piss him off. She remembers sweeping John’s hair back from his brow and telling him how handsome he looked and tucking her fingers into the back pocket of his jeans when she came up behind him. Dean tells Castiel that he’s got toothpaste smudged on his face, and Castiel knuckles at the corner of his mouth, and then Dean asks Mary if she’s ready to go, and that’s it. They throw a tarp over the battered, defeated shape of the Impala, and get instead into a Ford Farlaine in ostentatious red – Mary in the back, Dean and the angel in the front – and they drive.

It’s not quite dawn yet, the horizon an uneven scratch of colour bleeding pinkly into a sky that is otherwise grey with cloud and heavy. Rain slants at the windows, Dean cranking the windshield wipers into a near-frenzy, and he turns up the heat to force out the early chill. They have six hours’ drive ahead of them, the unrolling asphalt shining in the rain.

As they roll past Glen Elder, population 450, Mary asks, “So how did you two meet, then?”

Castiel says, “I pulled his soul from the Pit,” at the exact same moment that Dean says, “I stabbed him in a barn.”

Mary looks between them. “It’s a good thing this wasn’t a test,” she says.

“I raised Dean from perdition, and then he stabbed me,” Castiel amends helpfully.

“Oh, yeah. You’re not the first Winchester to come back from the dead, mom,” Dean says, his voice light and close to laughter as he glances in the rear-view mirror at her. “You’re not even, like, the fifth.” The curve of his smile is gentle as he looks over at Castiel in the passenger seat. The look that Castiel returns is soft and knowing, and the way their shoulders tilt towards each other, they’re either holding hands or they want to really bad.

Mary turns away to look out of the window, something soft and painful thrumming beneath her ribs.

 

***

 

They stop for gas on their way out of Junction City, Castiel filling the tank while Dean goes in to pay and round up some breakfast. Dean is starting to flag a little, his face pale and drawn, the bags under his eyes gradually darker and puffier with every mile-marker. Surreally, he is older now than she is, and Mary watches him through the smeary glass of the gas station, following the stiff way he moves, the hand he distractedly presses into the small of his own back as he waits for the commercial coffee machine to squeeze out three cups. He carries his weight across his shoulders the same way John does – did – and he listens to Zeppelin and he worries about Sam. Sammy, even after thirty-three years. Sammy, still.

She opens the door and climbs out. Pins and needles are curling hotly in the base of her left ankle, so she shakes her foot out, leaning on the side of the car, and she looks across the car roof at Castiel where he fills up the gas. He stands idly, one hand in his pocket while the other holds the nozzle in place, the sleeves of his ugly brown coat rolled up a little past his wrists. As she leans her elbows on the roof, Castiel looks up to meet her eyes over the red metal.

“Been a while since I’ve been on a road-trip,” Mary says, and she stretches, rolling her shoulders. She’s used to hunter nomadism, but after Dean was born, the furthest she and John ever travelled was Topeka, to see old friends from high school who moved out that way after Lawrence got claustrophobic.

Castiel cants his head over. “The road can be unforgiving,” he says. “I keep trying to persuade Dean to invest in a neck-pillow.”

Mary laughs. “You know, when Dean was little, I used to tell him that angels were watching over him, but – you’re not exactly what I pictured.”

Castiel’s mouth tilts at the corner – not quite a smile, but close. In his hand, the gas nozzle gives a dull clunk, the car apparently satisfied. Mary watches him, and as he turns around and returns the nozzle to its hook, she spots the ring. A narrow, plain silver band on Castiel’s third finger, left hand, catching the thin grey light of the early morning when he lifts the nozzle back into its slot – perfectly ordinary, and yet so familiar that it jolts through Mary like a static shock.

Without thinking, the question bursts out of her: “He gave you that?”

Castiel lifts his head, a frown furrowing his brow. He drops his eyes, then, to follow her gaze, and finds the narrow silver band on his left hand glinting a little in the thin morning light. “Oh,” he says. “Yes. I forgot – it was yours.”

“Yeah.” John gave her that ring. He saved and saved for it, working three jobs and late hours and extra shifts until he could drop to one knee and ask the question they’d been dancing around for months – and now it is on the ring finger of a monster in a trench-coat that her son is sleeping with.

Castiel studies her. “I can give it back,” he says, sounding doubtful, and he spares it a glance which is decidedly reluctant. “If you want.”

Mary tries to decide if she wants that. Castiel is a creature who could crush her skull in one hand, and he’s in love with her aging, unknowable son, and he has an unhappy set to his mouth at the idea of giving the ring back. She is having trouble deciding either way, but she doesn’t get time to respond, as then Dean comes back over. He has a plastic bag of snacks hooked over one arm, three steaming Styrofoam cups pinned in a wobbly pyramid between his two hands, and he walks carefully.

“Hey, grumpy,” Dean says as he approaches, his eyes flickering up from his teetering pile of cups to Castiel’s face. “Got you your fix.”

Castiel steps across to him and takes the top-most cup. With his other hand, he touches the back of Dean’s wrist, steadying him. He says, thank you, and he smiles, small and private and soft, and Dean winks. Then Dean turns that look on her – that contented warmth, that endearing lopsided quirk of his grin – and it isn’t a moment upon which she’s intruding, nor is it something from which she’s awkwardly excluded. Dean holds out one of the other cups to her and proffers a slightly squashed croissant wrapped in a napkin that he pulls from his jacket pocket. Mary takes it.

Then, as Dean goes around the back to pop the trunk and toss in the plastic bag, Mary gets in the back seat. She slides in behind Castiel, and for a moment, it is just the two of them in the car, in the quiet. She doesn’t speak. It’s not clear whether Castiel is conscious of the silence; he’s shrewder than at first she gave him credit for, but currently he seems occupied popping a bubble in and out of the plastic lid.

Mary clears her throat and says, “You can keep it.”

Castiel looks back over his shoulder at her, squinty and dubious.

“I mean. It was always a little big for me,” Mary goes on, and she drops her gaze to pick at the lukewarm crust of her pastry. “So. You keep it.”

Castiel’s expression softens. “Thank you.”

Mary half-shrugs. “Suits you better.”

Castiel huffs his breath and turns back to the face the front, but Mary sees him visibly relax. The tension bleeds from his shoulders, and when Dean climbs into the front seat, there is an instant – so small and subtle that Mary might have missed had she not been paying attention – where Dean’s movements slow, his body tilting infinitesimally towards Castiel. They look towards each other. They touch. They say something without words.

 

***

In the dwindling miles to Aldrich, Dean is wearing thinner and thinner. He fidgets, his fingers an unwavering drumbeat on the steering wheel as they follow the interstate; the seat bounces irregularly as Dean jogs his knee in the front until Mary comments that Dean must be wearing out the suspension. He cranks the radio up, turns it back down. He clucks his tongue against his teeth. His cup of coffee has been empty for several hours, but he keeps reaching across to the cup-holder to jostle it with his fingertips as though to make sure.

Worrying about Sam seems to be an integral aspect of Dean’s life. Mary has only known him two days and this much is already apparent. She has also by now picked up on the fact that the angel – this trenchcoated weirdo who backchats radio hosts even though they can’t hear him, who comments offhand on the flight patterns of migratory birds overhead, who crushes a padlock in one hand – is what reminds him to breathe. Mary is slumped against the back window, head lolling against her balled-up jacket, eyes closed as she drifts somewhere between sleep and boredom, when they talk about it.

Castiel speaks first, after forty minutes or so of nothing but the rumbling engine. His voice is quieter than usual, pitched low for just Dean. He says, “Sam will be fine.”

Dean grunts.

In the back-seat, Mary stirs, dragging herself back towards consciousness to have some part in this conversation, but she is slow, groggy.

“He’s been through a lot,” Castiel adds. “What can some woman do to him that Lucifer hasn’t?”

That earns Castiel a huff of breath, not quite a laugh. “Yeah,” he says, after a beat. It takes him a long time to add, “Not just that.”

There is a creak of leather, and Mary, with her eyes still closed, can guess at Castiel turning to check the backseat. She becomes still, caught between the instinct for honesty and the sense that this may well be the only time she actually hears from Dean and Castiel in a way that is genuine. She hesitates.

Dean is slow to speak. “Just… takes some getting used to, I guess.”

Castiel hums in gentle agreement.

“And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now she’s back, I don’t want her to – I never – I want her to stay. Of course I want her to stay. But I just keep thinking, like–” Whatever it is that Dean keeps thinking, he doesn’t say it. The silence stretches long enough that Mary, growing closer to wakefulness, becomes conscious of the crick in her neck, the ache in her shoulder where she is curled awkwardly against the back door. There is the rumbling of the road, the ticking of Dean’s agitated fingers against the steering wheel. When he does, at last, speak, it is so quietly that Mary loses the words to the engine.

Castiel says, “She’s not disappointed.”

Dean doesn’t answer.

“She isn’t.” There is a pause, and then: “If your mother had died in 1634 before her contemporary resurrection, she might have tried to burn you at the stake.”

Dean snorts a humourless laugh. “Thanks, Cas. Shit, that’s real–”

“She’s a product of a different time. She needs to acclimatise, which won’t be immediate.”

“You say that like there’s no-one left on earth who has a problem with – you know.” Mary listens to Dean’s inability to say the words himself, and she hears herself last night testing out the words,it’s not bad, like thin ice. She watches again Dean’s agonised expression, his uncomfortable shuffling. She relives the knee-jerk burst of no when she asked about what John thought. It settles like a rock in her gut. “She could just never acclimatise,” Dean goes on. “She could – I don’t know. She could vote Trump.”

“I think your mother’s position on the electoral register would be a tenuous one,” Castiel says mildly.

“Right.”

Mary shouldn’t be listening to this. She knows that, and she wants to move, to disturb this moment so that she doesn’t eavesdrop on a conversation she has no part in.

“I don’t know your mother well, but I don’t believe her likely to disapprove in the ways you fear,” Castiel says. “But if she were to ask me–” and his voice is louder now, firm, “—I would tell her that you are a great deal more than who you love – that you have saved the world countless times, and that you are a hero to many, a good brother and a great man, and that you deserve nothing less than her admiration and respect.”

Mary’s heart hurts. She opens her eyes to find Castiel half-turned in his seat, facing Dean, but his eyes flick over to her, and she feels her face colour as she confirms what she had suspected: Castiel knew. His arm stretches over the back of the bench-seat, his knuckles a light, reassuring pressure between Dean’s shoulder-blades. For the first time in seventy miles, the tension is gone from Dean’s back.

Dean is quiet. “She’s still sleeping, right?”

“Yes.”

Shame seeps slowly beneath Mary’s skin, and she drops her eyes. Dean and Castiel fall into an easy hush, occasionally speaking about something they drive past, or about whatever is on the radio, and Mary makes a scene of waking, with a yawn and a stretch, as they roll through Osceola. Castiel asks her how she slept.

 

***

 

Sam is in a bad way when they find him. There’s no trace of the woman by that point, the place empty and echoing, and Castiel effortlessly tears apart the steel chain on the storm-shelter doors like pulling toffee to find Sam slumped on the floor at the foot of the stairs. He’s half-conscious at best, pale and shaking and delirious; he has a bandage wrapped around one foot which hides an ugly, deep wound, and a syringe mark in his neck. He vomits onto the concrete as they haul him out, his eyes rolling white and unseeing, and Mary keeps out of the way.

On the way to the hospital, she sits in the front, Castiel swapping to the backseat to hold Sam as he drifts in and out of consciousness. He lays his hideous brown coat over Sam’s broad shoulders, and Mary stays rigidly facing forwards for the whole ride to the hospital. She is terrified of Sam becoming lucid enough to realise that there is someone else in the car. She loves her son with everything in her body, but she has never met him. When she does meet Sam, she doesn’t want it to be like this.

Dean careers into the ambulance bay, disregarding all the signs telling patients to park elsewhere, and he twists in his seat to face Castiel.

“You get him in there,” Dean says. “You get him help.”

Castiel hauls him out of the car and goes, slinging one of Sam’s arms around his shoulders and heaving him upright as though he weighs nothing. Mary turns her head as Dean pushes the car back into gear, and she watches her youngest son’s dragging feet, his long legs buckling at the knee, his ragged hair swinging in front of his face. She looks back at Dean, the worry etched on every line of his face, his hand unmoving on the gear stick.

“Dean,” she says. “You go.”

He looks over, bewildered. “Mom, what are you–”

Mary reaches across, touches a hand, gentle, to the back of Dean’s wrist. “I can park. I mean, this car’s old enough – I know what I’m doing. But they need you in there.”

“You’re his mom,” Dean says.

“But I’m not his family. You and Castiel, though–”

Dean looks away from her. She watches his throat pull as he swallows.

“The two of you, you’re family,” she says. “For Sam.” Her fingertips on Dean’s skin press more keenly. “For each other.”

Dean’s arms are around her before she entirely understands what is happening. It’s far from perfect, as she twists awkwardly at the waist, confined by the seat and the dashboard and Dean pinned in by the steering wheel, and she’s at the wrong angle to get her arms around him properly, but he has his face pressed into her shoulder and he’s breathing unsteadily. When she first held him, in warm sunlight and in realisation – that she’s here, that this is her son – their arms were both made loose by uncertainty, Mary trying to reconcile this hard-edged man with her freckle-faced four-year-old goofball, Dean still in shock. Now, he clings, and Mary feels something sharp and sad rise in her throat.

“Go on,” she says softly, rubbing a slow circle over his back. “Get in there. I’ll take care of this thing – you come get me when you’re ready. When he’s ready.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, his voice a little thick, and he pulls back. “Okay. Sure.” He swipes roughly at his face with his sleeve, and then he pushes away out the door and into the rain without looking back.

Mary slides across the bench seat to take the wheel and she eases the car forwards.

 

***

 

When Mary steps into the hospital room, Sam stares at her, sceptical, until she says a gentle, awkward, Hi, Sammy, and then he starts to cry.

“You’re real,” he says, his voice wavering, eyes red. “You’re really, actually real.”

“Yes, sweetheart. Yes.”

He is all at once distant and desperate, his hands stretching out to touch, all the while avoiding her eyes as though he feels he can’t look at her too close or she’ll disappear. She cups his face in two hands, smoothing over the dark bruises under his eyes, to say, what the hell happened to you, you were the size of a bag of flour last time I saw you, I leave for two minutes and you’re some long-haired rock-star?

Dean stands at Sam’s other side, a hand on his shoulder like an anchor while Sam keeps chanting,you’re real? You’re really real? and there is Castiel, pushing through the door with coffees in his hands, as usual, watching over them.