Desiderium: an ardent desire or longing; especially : a feeling of loss or grief for something lost.
Perhaps there is a limit to the grieving that the human heart can do. As when one adds salt to a tumbler of water, there comes a point where simply no more will be absorbed.
By the time Mary closed the journal with trembling fingers, her tea had long since gone cold. She sniffed, wiping furiously at the tears in her eyes, and pushed the journal away from her in disgust. She glanced at the chipped cup in front of her, untouched.
Her body was stiff as she stood up from the desk. The painful ache behind her nipples reminded her that she needed to pump before she went to bed. It was strange, she thought, to produce milk for a baby who was now a grown man. Her body still thought it was 1983, despite all evidence to the contrary around her.
A sob worked its way up her throat, but Mary caught it before the sound could break the silence of the room.
She swallowed the pain like she always had, pushed the anger that had arisen in her as she read her husband’s journal down. She picked up the cup, careful not to spill its contents. She slipped on a pair of old loafers she’d found in the wardrobe of her new bedroom and made her way down the hall to the kitchen. Mary needed something stronger than tea.
The bunker was still much like a maze, but she remembered which room was Sam’s. Out of habit, she cracked the door, glancing in. The light was still on but the room was silent save for the deep breathing of her youngest child. Sam was lying diagonally across the mattress of his bed, his knees bent so that they didn’t slip off the edge. On hand was cradled in the other, his thumb pressed into a deep scar on his palm.
He looked so vulnerable in sleep, so utterly exhausted that another sob threatened to break the peace of his room. Mary reached over, flipping the old fashioned light switch off and plunging Sam into darkness. She closed the door and continued down the hall.
Dean’s room was empty. She frowned, glancing at the delicate watch Dean had given her, hidden in a box of her things he’d kept, including her old vinyl records. It was late enough that she thought Dean would have gone to sleep by now. Mary closed his bedroom door and continued on to the kitchen. Maybe he was going to the bathroom or something.
The bunker was always cold, and Mary wrapped her robe more tightly around herself. She got lost only once, making a right turn and ending up in the “dungeon” as Dean had called it when he gave her the grand tour. Eventually, she found the right hallway, but slowed her steps as she approached the kitchen. Light was pouring into the hallway from its open doorway, and she heard the muffled sound of voices coming from within.
“Dean, please just talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.” Mary stopped. She could hear the sound of beer bottles being thrown into the trashcan. A lot of beer bottles.
“Everything’s wrong, Cas.” Dean’s slurred voice echoed out into the hall. “She’s back. She’s alive and real and its like she was never even gone. Except she was gone, Cas. She was gone for so long, and I…” Dean trailed off.
Mary pressed her back against the wall. She should announce her presence, cough and enter. Apologize for the life her death caused. But she couldn’t move. Cas—she thought it was Cas anyway—sighed, and she listened to his footsteps as he crossed the kitchen, presumably to join her son.
“Dean—” Cas began, but before he could speak, Dean interrupted him.
“—Cas, she’s not my mom.”
“Of course she’s your mother.”
“No! I mean, fuck, I don’t know what I mean,” Dean let out a shuddering breath. “She’s different, Cas.”
“Dean, she’s just been dropped 33 years into the future. It’s going to take her some time to adjust to that.”
“No Cas. I mean she’s different from the mom I remember. All those memories I’ve clung to all these years… they weren’t real.”
“I don’t understand what you mean. She’s the same person, Dean.”
“No she isn't the same person. She is… Mary. Not Mom. Mary is the hunter, the fighter. Mary… doesn’t cook. I mean… even with that vet, when she told you to hurt him. That’s not the mother I remember. That’s not the mother who made me tomato rice soup when I got the chicken pox. That’s not the mom who used to sing me to sleep and tell me angels were watching over me Cas.”
“But it is.”
“No, that’s like saying the way Sam was at Stanford is the same Sam who’s sleeping down the hall.”
“It may be a… different side of her, but don’t you remember what it was like with Lisa and Ben?” Cas asked gently. Mary wondered who Lisa and Ben were. “Don’t you remember getting out of the hunting life?” Mary’s breath caught in her throat. Dean had gotten out of the life too? Why was he back? Why did her children ever come back to this life if they had a chance at happiness?
“Cas, I drank a fifth of whiskey every night just to stay functional with them.”
“I watched you with them,” Cas said, and it sounded like a confession. Dean didn’t respond. “You got out of the life. And you may not have been happy, but you were content, if not resigned to it. There was a day that I needed your help with Raphael. It was autumn. And you were raking leaves. And I watched you. You looked so… miserable. So lost. But then you went inside, and you forced yourself to smile. You helped Ben with his homework. Fractions. You made apple cobbler. You put on an act. And that night, you locked all the doors and windows, you checked the devils’ trap on the door. You drank four glasses of whiskey and out of habit, checked the obituaries for unexplained deaths. You never really got out.” Cas’ speech hung in the air for a moment. “But you weren't the same man with them either.”
“All the memories I have of her are false,” Dean finally said. “She got out of the life, Cas. And I remember her differently.”
“You have the idolized recollections of a child,” Castiel said. “It’s natural to feel confused when the memory you’ve clung to for so long turns out to be different in reality.”
Dean chuckled, low and deep. “Thanks Dr. Phil.”
“I am not a doctor, Dean.”
"You know, I’ve been trying to recreate her meatloaf recipe for years? Years Cas! And she fucking bought the goddamn thing at the Piggly Wiggly. It’s like everything I know about her is gonna turn out be a lie.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“But what if it is? Cuz man… having her back, getting to know her, it feels like I’ve lost her all over again. And it’s hard to let go of the memories because that was all I had for so long.” Dean started crying, and Mary felt something break loose deep within her chest. His raw grief pierced her like an ice pick to the belly, and she felt her own tears well up in her eyes. She wasn’t sure how long he cried, but eventually his sobs quieted. Mary was paralyzed on the ground in front of the kitchen. She should go to him. She should comfort him.
But Mary couldn’t move.
Dean’s voice cut through the sudden silence. “Yesterday morning, she said ‘he was a great father,’ with such… certainty man, and it…I resented it,” Dean trailed off. He coughed. “I resented her for the first time.”
Cas didn't speak, but Mary could imagine his inquisitive expression, even with having known him only a few short days.
“He wasn’t a great father. Hell he wasn’t even a good father after she died. She became his excuse for every shitty thing he ever did. We had to stay in crap motels because he was hunting the thing that killed mom. We were always on the move because he had a job to do. He let the job consume him. He drank so much because he was sad. And I think… I think deep down I always resented her for leaving us to deal with him.”
Mary’s eyes, already filled with tears, snapped shut, and she buried her head in her hands. The movement jostled the cup of tea resting on her lap. Cold liquid seeped into the fabric of her robe, staining the nightgown beneath. She gasped.
“And then I felt guilty,” Dean continued. “I felt so damn guilty, because it wasn’t her fault he was such a shit father. She doesn't deserve to be blamed for that.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Castiel agreed.
“But I’m afraid of bursting her bubble. I’m afraid of telling her all the things that happened because then both of us will feel this way.”
“Overwhelmed?” Cas clarified.
“Yeah,” Dean replied. “Because how can I ever get past the fact that the great father she was speaking about was the same one who was off on a bender the first time I got raped by some douchebag motel manager, because the room money went straight to his liver?” The confession came out in a rush, like he’d never said those words out loud before. He probably hadn’t. He paused before continuing. “That the guy she remembered was the same man who beat me bloody because Sammy ran away in Flagstaff and I couldn’t find him? The same man who told Sammy if he went to college to never come back? How do I break her heart like that? So I pretend everything’s okay. Just like I always do. I push the hurt down and pretend it’s all fine. I eat the pie because that’s what they expect. I make the jokes. I can be that for her, because I refuse to be the one that breaks her too.”
“You can’t keep this bottled up,” Castiel said. “But you don’t have to tell her.” Castiel hesitated before he continued. “You can tell me, Dean.”
There was a long, long pause. “I can’t put all this shit on you, man.” Dean’s voice was soft, quiet. He sounded half asleep.
“You can and you will, Dean. That’s what family is for.”
Mary felt her fists clench. Anger flared through her at her son’s words. How could she have been so stupid? It was so much worse than growing up as hunters. John raised them in the life, which was bad enough, but then to neglect them? To beat them? To put them in dangerous situations? This wasn’t the John she knew. But the John she knew was a mechanic. Not a hunter.
The John she knew was strong, stubborn, loving. He was the kind of father who doted on his children. Who made chili hot enough to clear your sinuses, and who burnt the cornbread every time.
Her John wasn’t a cold man so hell bent upon revenge that he forgot to live.
The men in the kitchen weren’t speaking anymore. She heard footsteps coming toward her. Before she could move out of the way, Castiel emerged, carrying the bulk of Dean’s weight on his shoulder as they walked towards Dean’s bedroom. Cas stopped abruptly, staring at her slumped against the wall, with tears streaming down her face.
Dean was too far gone to even notice her there, he leaned heavily against Cas’ side, his eyes half shut as Castiel led the way. Castiel didn't say anything to her.
He returned alone a few minutes later. Mary hadn’t moved.
Silently Castiel bent to pick up the overturned cup, and held out his hand. She took it and he helped her up. Mary winced. It had been too long since she pumped. The ache in her chest had flared to sharp stabbing needles.
She followed Castiel into the kitchen. She saw the waste bin and bit her lip. It was full of bottles. Strewn across the floor in between the island and the stove were dozens of pictures.
She knelt down and picked them up as Castiel put the cup in the sink. He grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels carefully hidden in one of the large ceramic crocks on the bottom shelf of the pantry and got two glasses. Mary moved over to the wooden table. She spread the pictures out in front of her. Several of them were familiar to her. But most of them were from after she died.
Castiel sat opposite her. He still hadn’t said a word and neither had she. She continued to pore over the pictures. One of Sam and Dean with an older man with a ginger beard and a trucker cap. One with a teenaged Sam awkwardly standing next to a girl with braces and brown hair. One with Dean, his hair long and greasy, leaning over the engine of the Impala, a plaid shirt tied carelessly around his waist as he worked.
Dean, gangly and tall, in the leather jacket she’d gotten John for Christmas last year—no, she reminded herself. The leather jacket she’d gotten John the Christmas before she died. Before she burned.
They were some of the missing pieces she’d been craving.
“I could take that away,” Castiel said, finally breaking the silence.
Mary gripped the pictures tighter to her, defensively. “Take what away?” she asked, rather more harshly than she intended.
“Your discomfort,” Cas said. “From lactating,” he clarified.
Mary crossed her arms over her chest. “How do you know about that?” she asked.
“I’m an angel.”
Mary almost laughed. Castiel was the furthest thing from what Mary considered angelic. “I’m fine,” she replied automatically. “My body just hasn’t caught up to 2016 yet.”
“I can help with that,” Castiel offered. “I could heal your pain.”
“What can you possibly know about my pain?”
“I know you heard what Dean said.” Castiel’s voice was even, calm, but with a hint of accusation beneath it. “He’d be mortified if he found out you heard him.”
“Is it true?” Mary asked, her voice was small and she couldn't meet Cas’ gaze. She stared at the wood tabletop’s uneven stain, picking with a fingernail at a scratch on the surface. “What he said about what happened to him?”
“Yes,” Cas replied. “But I’m almost certain he's never told anyone about it before. The only reason he told me, I suspect, is because he was very intoxicated. More than he’s been in a while.”
“Does he… drink often?”
Cas bit his lip. In a very human gesture, he ran a hand through his hair. “He drinks to forget, but I thought he was getting a little better. Tonight was a… step back.”
“What does he need to forget so badly that he drinks so much?” Mary asked. What had happened to her baby that was so bad that he hid behind a bottle? What else was her fault?
“His nightmares are from his time in hell, mostly. Sometimes he has nightmares about a man with rancid breath and crooked yellow teeth. I try to calm those as soon as I feel them coming on. But sometimes he dreams about his time with Lisa and Ben. Those are the good nights.”
“Ben? The vampire that bitch of letters was talking about?” Mary asked, latching onto the familiar name because she refused to think about her son in Hell. Refused to think about her son being raped.
“No,” Cas said. “Ben Braeden. His son.”
The bottom dropped out of Mary’s stomach. “I have a grandson?”
“Yes,” Cas said. “Dean was never one hundred percent positive, but he was Ben’s father. A few years back Dean made me wipe Ben's memories of him.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Lisa, Ben’s mother, took Dean in after… after Sam stopped the apocalypse. After Sam died, Dean got out of the hunting life. But the hunting life never… really left him. When he went back on the road, Lisa and Ben were kidnapped by some demons. Lisa almost died, and Ben had to do some things no child should ever have to do,” Cas recited the narrative like he was reading an owners manual. “Dean broke ties to protect them. To keep Ben out of the life he grew up in. And he hates himself for it.”
Fresh tears fell, covering the dried tear tracks from before.
“I should have protected them,” she finally said. “I should have warded the house. I should have been more vigilant. If I had, none of this would have happened.”
Castiel reached across the table, grasping Mary’s hand in his. “It would have happened anyway.”
“Then I should have told John before it did. I should have prepared him. Told him about the life so that he could have handled it better. I shouldn’t have hidden behind a facade of a normal life,” her voice raised. She was yelling now, so angry at her own cowardice. “I was such a fool, Castiel.”
“Your life has been predestined from the moment you were born,” Cas replied. “You and John… had to get together. You had to live your life away from hunting. It was destiny.”
Cas bit his lip. “So Sam and Dean could be born. So they could fulfill the prophecy of the apocalypse.”
Mary shook her head, snatching her hand back. It was too much to process. She reached over and took the bottle of whiskey from Cas’ grasp and poured a healthy portion for both of them. Mary downed hers in one swallow, slamming the glass onto the tabletop so hard she almost broke it.
“How do I do it Castiel? How do I connect with them again? Just... last week they were babies. And now… they’re older than I am.”
Castiel contemplated her question, sipping idly at the whiskey she’d poured him. “I think, with Sam it will be easier. He has no memories of you. No real ones anyway. It will be a clean slate. But Dean…” Castiel trailed off.
“He has this notion of who I am. Who I was. And I’m not measuring up.”
“How could you?” Castiel asked gently. “You… his memory of you… You were in many ways a saint to Dean. He isn’t a man of faith. But that doesn't mean he was a faithless man. Dean put his faith into family. Into your memory. Into honoring you, and being brave for you. Being strong because in many ways he had to fill your shoes after you died.” Mary roughly brushed more tears from her eyes. Castiel smiled sadly. “You don’t have to hide your tears from me Mary, I won’t judge you for them.”
Mary laughed. It was a broken, hollow laugh, but the weak smile she gave was almost genuine. “Thank you, Castiel. Thank you for watching over them.”
Cas smiled tightly. He stood up, and clapped a hand to her shoulder. “It’s all going to be okay, Mary.” Instantly, the pain behind her nipples subsided, the heavy feeling in her breasts gone. Cas healed her. Helped her body stop lactating for a baby who no longer needed the sustenance. She pressed a hand on top of his in gratitude.
He left then, his footsteps echoing down the hall. Mary stared at the bottle in front of her and poured another glass.
The sound of a cabinet door shutting snapped her out of a deep sleep. A blanket wrapped loosely around her shoulders fell to the ground as Mary sat up, groaning at the crick in her neck and the throbbing of her temples. The bottle of whiskey was half empty, and she felt every single drop as nausea rolled her stomach and spun the world.
“Oh god,” she groaned, pressing a trembling hand to her head. “Oh, mistakes were made last night.”
A laugh from the other side of the kitchen startled her. Dean stood at the stove, his back to her. He looked over his shoulder. “Have fun?” he asked, glancing pointedly at the bottle in front of her.
She studied him. He didn't even look hungover. “Did you?” she asked, raising her eyebrows at the beer bottles filling the trash can next to the door.
Dean shrugged. “Needed to let off some steam.”
“Me too,” Mary replied. She stood up and stretched. The familiar ache to pump was gone, and Mary found she missed the sensation. She missed the feeling of being needed.
She moved from the table to the kitchen island, taking a seat at the stool as she watched her son cook. Mary laughed and shook her head. Dean turned around, a piece of bacon still held in his tongs. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Mary said. Dean shrugged and turned back, pulling the bacon out of the pan and starting another batch. “Dean,” Mary began, and he faced her, expectant and looking a little annoyed. “I just wanted to say… I mean I just wanted to tell you…” She couldn’t find the right words. Finally she took a deep breath. “Sam gave me John’s journal,” she said. “I’m… so sorry.”
Dean put the tongs down. He walked around the island to where Mary was sitting. Gently, he pressed a hand to her cheek.
“You don’t have to be, Mom.” He pulled her into a hug. When he pulled back, tears were in his eyes, welling up like rain drops on a windshield. Mary reached out and wiped them away, just like she always did.
“Mom?” he began.
“Yes?” she replied, wiping away her own tears.
“How do you like your eggs?” he asked simply.
It was an olive branch. A chance for them to start over, to get to know one another without the expectations of who each of them remembered. And as much as Mary wanted to fall onto her knees and beg for forgiveness for leaving her son behind to clean up her mess, Mary took it.
Dean’s face lit up in the first genuine smile Mary had seen in days. “Me too.”