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Supernatural Gen Fanworks Exchange
Summer 2017
Fic: Palindromes 
21st-Aug-2009 07:54 pm
Supernatural
Title: Palindromes
Author: charlie_d_blue
Recipient: latentfunction
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Cursing, character death
Author's Notes: Many thanks to fannishliss for the beta.
Summary: She became the shivering tremble of a whetting stone across the edge of a blade, the heavy scent of gun oil and long afternoons working on the once-hated Impala. AU. John dies on the ceiling, and Mary goes after the YED.



Dean is crying while Sam, quiet as the grave, is sleeping soundly in Mary’s arms, the Impala cool and bleeding out into the night against her back. John is burning.

She stares into the flames until her eyes hurt, until the skin around her eyes tightens with the crackling heat, smoke curling against her clothes in a crawling, seeping smell that will take days to fade.

She watches, cold and hard, determined to remember this, until the burning corpse of her home is etched into her mind, until the screams and stink of her husband dying are all she can remember, roaring through her chest, hollowing her out. She cannot move, thinks she might shatter from the force of hate that tides, inexorable and blind, through her body.

Demons lie. She knows this, knew this. Demons cheat. She made a deal with the self-same devil that had slaughtered everyone she ever loved, and now, now she is not surprised. Rather, she feels the cold tragedy of the inevitable swirling around her in the ashes and smoke. No, not surprised. But she is, oh god is she, furious.

A singed reek slaps against her nostrils as the wind blows the blackened ends of her hair across her vision, blurring the flames and fire-fighters who stare in disbelief at the house fire that burns hotter than any house fire ever could, and longer, the flames reaching up against the sky with violent efficiency.

John’s body, young, limp and broken like a ragdoll, flickers in her mind, his face curling and blackening in the fire like a melting photograph. The acrid stench of it twists through her brain, inescapable, harsh and undying. Once murdered, shame on her, twice murdered, and she was through with live and let fucking live.

It was him, the yellow-eyed bastard. Of that she has no doubt.

She is going to hunt it down. Sam whimpers in his sleep as her arm clenches against him and Dean, Dean is silent, his face wet and gleaming, a mirror on which the fire flickers, the wreck of their life burns.

There is nothing left of John to identify by dawn, so she slips away with her sons, the Impala growling beneath her, a growl that had never ceased to irritate, to make her skin crawl. Now she relaxes back into the leather, feels John’s arms curve about her in it, hears John’s voice rumble with the engine, and sees John’s face in the rear-view mirror.

Tears are still falling down Dean's cheeks, Sam is still asleep. Neither will last for long.

In her head, John is still burning.

-- --


"Whatever you wanna say, you can say it in front of her." Sam eyes Dean, and - still breathing hard from the fight - dares him to push the issue.

Dean shrugs in that nonchalant way of his that sets Sam’s teeth on edge, that same patronizing, arrogant attitude he used to get when they were kids and Sam tried to do something that Dean didn’t approve of.

"Okay...uh...Mom hasn't been home in a few days." Dean raises his eyebrows as if to say, what now, punk?

"So she's working the long-haul with Johnny Walker. She'll stumble back in sooner or later," Sam shoots back, and the minute the words were out of his mouth, Sam regrets them. He watches the shock play across Dean’s mouth at the unexpected vitriol, feels even Jess shift under his arm uncomfortably.

He hadn’t realized how much it still hurt.

Dean recovers quickly, somehow managing to roll his eyes with his entire body, and says, "Mom's on a hunting trip, and she hasn't been home in a few days."

Sam feels ice go down his spine, the safe, clean apartment walls flickering, and for a moment, the image from his nightmare flares up against his closed eyelids, flames, flame and blonde hair, seared and screaming and –

“Jess,” he hears himself say, “Excuse us. We need to go outside.”

-- --



“Winchesters, huh? Yeah, they were in town few years back, rented out the room for a coupla' weeks. I told ‘em they’d be better off renting the old house up on Waverly Drive, that place goes for the cheapest rate you’ll find in town; half the folk around here reckon the place is haunted. Buncha' silly gossip in my opinion, but– What? Oh, yeah, so like I was saying, she was an odd one. Beautiful. God, she was one of the most beautiful women I ever saw, I remember her face like it was yesterday, but there was something off about her, you know? Like… she was full of razor–blades. Hah, sounds pretty silly now, don’t it? Anyway, so these two boys, they can’t be more than ten or twelve, and I know better than any that boys will get into scrapes, but these kids, they were sportin' some of the most serious damage I've ever seen, even on a full grown man. Bruised all over, walking around like ever inch of them had been broken and battered, never more'n an inch apart, always lookin' over their shoulders. I called social services, but by the time they came knockin’ she’d hightailed it. I ain't surprised you fellas are looking for her. I reckon they was runnin' from something. Coulda been you, the law, that is, or it coulda been an angry ex-boyfriend, or god knows what. You can never tell these days.”


-- --


“When I told Mom I was scared of the thing in my closet, she gave me a .45 and told me to aim for the gut!” Sam twists his voice, trying to get it to punch through Dean’s thick, macho brain.

“Yeah, and?” No such luck.

“I was nine years old.

"Well, what was she supposed to do?"

“I don’t know, tell me a bedtime story, tuck me in? She was supposed to tell me not to be afraid of the dark!”

That gets to Dean; he pauses on his single-minded path out of the building, turns and looks Sam up and down incredulously. “Sam, you’ve met our mother, right?”

Sam’s not even frustrated anymore - he’s been thinking about this for the past three years, imagined, discarded, practiced on nights that couldn’t get to sleep, everything that he’d say to Dean, what he could possibly say to communicate to Dean just how fucked up their upbringing was.

“That’s my whole problem. The way we grew up after dad was killed, there was nothing motherly about it. Her obsession with hunting down the thing that did it, with teaching us nothing but the hunt. You really think dad would’ve wanted this for us? All the training, the whole sordid fucking family history, the weapons drills, Latin chants instead of times tables? Man, Dean, we were raised like warriors.

And he doesn't mention the one thing that underscores everything, that dark, haunting fact that had cut a line down their middle, slicing open the gut of their family, sending Sam into a tailspin that would end in ultimatums and Stanford. No, that's been closed by unspoken taboo for years, an edict of silence put in place by mom that neither of them had had the temerity or inclination to bend.

“Yeah, because mom wanted us to be able to protect ourselves,” Dean's talking, shoving at the old door violently, a nerve hit, “she did it to stop what happened to dad from happening to us,” He turned, the old streetlight sending streaks of dirty white light across his face, jaw set in lines that had always meant forthcoming bar brawls, broken bones, and early morning calls from the police station (‘Hello, Ms. Plant? Your son Robert gave us this number. We’ll need you to come in to pick him up.’).

“You can’t live some normal, apple-pie life, Sam. A white picket fence isn’t gonna change ... it won't keep out the demons.”

Sam feels everything Dean just left unsaid like a sucker-punch, feels himself dragged forward in Dean’s slipstream, something in his gut clenched by the force of nature that is Dean on a mission, and he fights back against that tooth and claw, not wanting to follow, not wanting to get pulled back into this. He wants to turn around, walk back up to his warm bed, curl up around Jess and never start telling her the truth.

“At least I won’t be seeking them out. I don’t care about normal, Dean, I just want to be safe.” Sam shrugs carelessly in the way that he knows Dean can't stand, watches with satisfaction as Dean’s jaw tightens.

“So that’s why you ran away.” Dean bites it out harshly, like he's been keeping it in for years.

Of course, they both know that's not really why Sam left, but neither of them are ready to start talking about it out loud.

-- --


Mary hadn’t counted on this; she had planned for contingencies and worst-case scenarios and long-term plans and any number of things. But this? She had known – intellectually - that children grow up, but had never really thought this law of nature would apply to her own.

Sam was slinging the duffel bag over his shoulder, breathing hard, eyes dark and vicious, and her throat was raw from yelling, the finger of whiskey curdling in her gut, and the crisp, beautifully rich paper of the acceptance letter folded gently on the table.

Sam was leaving. If Sam left, he would be out of her reach, beyond her protection, and she couldn’t, she couldn’t - oh god, the very thought sent painful spikes of adrenaline jolting down her spine, waves of panic bleeding out through her pores in cold sweat.

The world was rushing in, and the flames were licking at her brain, and the old smell of burnt flesh crept into her nostrils, and a knife was sliding in, yellow snake-eyes glistened viciously, broken ragdoll body, John screaming, fire burning, she couldn’t lose another one, she couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t –

But Sam was turning, walking, one step after another, his hand was on the doorknob, and Dean was leaning against the farthest corner of the room, arms folded in his leather jacket, still as a statue, face carved from stone while in his eyes, his heart was breaking.

“Sam,” she whispered, her throat closing, choking on smoke, fire flashing in her head.

He tilted his head, paused, but didn’t turn around, didn’t take his hand off the doorknob.

She had to make him stay.

“You walk out that door, you can’t ever come back.” She heard her voice, alien and harsh, heard the whoosh of Dean’s breath echo through the room, heard the click of the door closing behind her son with damning deliberation.

She heard the Impala pull out a little while later, and a little while after that, she heard it come back in, heard the front door crack open, close, and Dean’s footsteps on the stairs. Her door slipped open, light flooding across her face, but she kept her eyes closed, pretended to be asleep.

Dean breathed, the short, sharp breaths he would take when he was trying not to cry, and after a moment, the door closed again.

He didn’t speak to her for days.

-- --


Dean had only vague memories of his mother from before the fire; there were lazy mornings, curled up on a giant bed, rose-scented falls of golden curls, her low laugh when dad launched a tickle attack on the both of them, his voice a deep, incoherent rumble, the words of which were lost to memory.

Her hair had burnt in the fire, the ends caught alight, and she never regrew it, kept it short and brutal.

When she laughed, it was slow to come, soft and low-pitched, a reluctant draw from deep inside her belly. Usually it was Sam who made her laugh, and Dean was so relieved, because he didn’t know - couldn’t reconcile now with before - didn’t know how to behave around this horrifically sad, terrifyingly angry woman.

He was too young to realize that the anger he saw in her eyes was never directed at him.

He didn’t know how to make her laugh, how to bring back mom, full of golden morning light and curls, so he resolved to not hurt her more. To do everything he could to keep her happy. He would follow orders, even if it killed him.

She became the shivering tremble of a whetting stone across the edge of a blade, the heavy scent of gun oil and long afternoons working on the once-hated Impala, affection placed with a swift kiss, and sudden, random hugs, never when he needed them and always by surprise, painfully tight, never long, like she was afraid she would lose him if she let go, hurt him if she held on.

After Sam left, Dean couldn’t remember her laughing at all. Not real laughter. Oh, she had a flirtatious, thrilling trill down pat for the bars, could hustle a small town’s worth of men out of their monthly salary at pool, and leave them feeling smug and manly with their reams of numbers scrawled on palms that led nowhere but phone-sex companies and impotence-hotlines, a touch Aunt Ellen had taken great pleasure in passing on to mom.

But Dean couldn’t stand it, couldn’t take the growing harshness, and they ended up lashing out at each other more than they had since Sammy had been too young to intervene.

So he went to work the job in New Orleans, left a note, didn’t say where he was going, and forced himself to first listen to, and then delete, the phone messages she left ordering him to come back, that it wasn’t safe to work a job alone, that he wasn’t ready.

She’d always said hunting was in their blood, had trained them to within an inch of their lives, like she had been, and her father before her, and her grandmother before that. She’d just have to trust in that.

And then for three weeks, nothing. Then the voicemail laden with EMF, and then Stanford.

-- --


Sam looks at Dean out of the corner of his eye, watches the golden afternoon sun play across a tiny white scar just underneath his ear, a scar that hadn’t been there before, and wonders how he got it. He remembers a time when he wouldn’t have needed to ask, when every piece of them fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, a time when he hated and loved Dean equally, but that, at least, hadn’t changed.

The thing about unconditional love, Sam had decided, surrounded by Freud and Hume and all the deconstructions, classifications, bifurcations, iterations, semantics of the heady psychoanalysis of academia - or perhaps in spite of all those things - was that if he didn’t hate the person he loved, it probably wasn't unconditional love at all. Everyone despises something, some failure, some constriction, something human about those they love most.

It was easy to think in such abstractions, so far removed from the irresistible, overpowering combined gravity of mom and Dean. He realizes this now.

Sam shifts minutely against the leather, sees Dean start, and wonders vaguely if he would hate his father too, if he were still alive.

He looks at Dean, properly this time, full on, forcing his head to turn, and meets Dean’s eyes.

Dean doesn’t say anything, he just swallows, and nearly crashes into a passing Mack truck.

-- --


Dean gritted his teeth, and waited, feeling the tension seeping out into the air, red creeping in on his vision as he waited, waited, waited, and –

“That’s it.” He growled, and threw himself over the seat into the back where Sam was sitting with his stupid face with its stupid smirk and his stupid legs with their stupid kicking and –

“Mom! Mom! Dean’s hitting me! Mom! MOM!” Sam was scrabbling around, his stupid long hair flying everywhere, and suddenly the door clicked open and they were tumbling out, head over heels over heels over head, and Sam was sitting on top of him, blinking in shock, as if he couldn’t believe his luck.

It didn’t last long.

Dean threw his hips up, throwing Sam off him and grabbing him in a headlock.

“Not so funny now, is it Sammy? Huh?”

Sam’s feet scrabbled in the hot dust, and he jabbed an elbow into Dean’s stomach, twisting out of the headlock as Dean’s breath left his lungs in a whoosh and lashing out a foot to kick Dean in the weak spot behind his knee.

“You’re the one who gets to sit in the front all the time! You don’t get to complain!”

Dean swung around, flipping Sam off his feet and clambering on top of him, holding his arms down.

“You know what, Sammy? That’s because I’m older than you.” There, thought Dean happily, there was no come back to that irrefutable fact.

Sam bared his teeth and spat.

Gross!” Dean recoiled.

He was considering how to effectively but gently show Sam precisely what a horrifically bad idea that had been, and would be to do again in the future, when a sudden force grabbed a hold of his collar and yanked him through the air in a flying hook.

“Right,” said Mary, putting Dean down to go and check on Sammy. Dean fidgeted, but stayed where he was put. From where she was crouched gracefully, Mary looked from one to the other and raised an eyebrow.

“What’s going on here? Dean?”

Sam made eye contact with Dean over mom’s shoulder, his eyes huge and pleading. She’d already told him off countless times for kicking the seats.

Dean’s fists relaxed slowly, and he shrugged.

“Nothing, mom. It was my fault." He paused, gritted his teeth. "Sorry, Sam.”

Mary’s eyes narrowed and her eyes lifted skeptically, but she looked at Sam and he shrugged - in exactly the same manner as Dean - and brushed some dust off his shirt.

“No problem,” he said sullenly.

Later that afternoon, when Mary had gone back inside the building, back inside that strange, towering space, the purpose of which was unknown and unimportant to them, Sam and Dean were sitting on the hood of the Impala, licking popsicles.

Sam tilted his head back, enjoying the heavy waves of heat rising from the ground, mixing with the residual heat of the engine, flushing up against the hot light pounding down from the sun above, and the ice-cold counterpoint of the popsicle on his tongue.

Then Dean casually, monstrously, thwacked the bright purple stick out of Sam’s hand and into the dust.

Sam stared at it in shock, the poisonously bright purple melting into the red dust, creating alien craters and twirling rivulets, the popsicle utterly beyond redemption and his mind refusing to accept what had just happened.

“Don’t you ever spit at me again.” Dean said somewhere behind him, his voice floating through the cloud of hurt shock that had settled around Sam’s brain.

Sam bit his lip, fighting back furious, impotent tears. They never got treats. There was no way mom would buy him a new one.

He wouldn’t cry. Not over this, not over some stupid popsicle. Not in front of his big brother.

A moment later, a sticky hand grasped his own and pushed a bright red popsicle into it. Sam looked up in absolute confusion. Dean was looking the other way, kicking his legs and whistling idly. His hands were empty.

-- --


There were times when Sam wondered if he’d made a colossal mistake, leaving, coming to Stanford. Most of these happened at odd moments; in the middle of a lecture on hunter-gatherer societies, or realizing there was no toilet paper left on the roll, or waking up before the sun came up for no particular reason at all.

Ice would curl through his gut, he would forget to breath, and he would be sure, without a doubt, that they were dead, bleeding out, throats slit, stomachs torn, asphyxiated, wrapped up in chains or slaughtered somewhere in an old broken down shack or the middle of a forest where nobody would ever find them, and he would never, ever know for sure.

Sometimes when it happened he wouldn’t be able to move, would freeze, watching the laughing, chatting friends and students swirl around him, people who would never know about an entire world living just beneath their doormats, crawling through their sewage, lashing out in the dark. But more often adrenaline would pump into his veins, and he would be running before conscious thought occurred, careening through a hallway, slamming Dean’s number into the phone, and there was nothing that could stop him, nothing, nothing, nothing –

Nothing, that was, except pride.

Jess had witnessed some of these episodes. She had already taken several psychology classes towards her major, and she told him, brow creased finely, voice soft, that it sounded like post-traumatic stress disorder. He could see the wariness in her eyes - as if she was dealing with a wild animal - when she finally asked him to please talk to her, to tell him what it was that happened to him, why he never spoke about his family.

He couldn't answer her questions. Selfish, maybe, but if he told Jess, if he drew into reality as he saw it, she would never be the same, not to him, and he couldn't gather up the strength to take away the one thing that kept him feeling sane.

She never pushed the issue, never tried to go over his head, or get him to talk to the college counselors; instead she would stroke his cheek, something dark and understanding lurking in her eyes, and let him hold her. For that he was eternally grateful.

-- --


Mary sees red. It isn’t the red people say it is, not a thin blur of furious blood clogging up her rational function. No, Mary sees flames, sees burning flesh and smells the stink.

Her fist lashes out, and a starburst of pain explodes through the drunken stupor. She wonders, idly, if she would have such penchant for whiskey if John hadn’t liked it so much. Someone grabs her from behind and she flings her head back, reveling in the fact that her hair is no longer long enough to impede the motion.

From somewhere behind her comes a resounding crack and a particularly satisfying pained scream of “You bitch!”

Released, she spins on the balls of her booted feet, and kicks out, catching the man in the groin. She likes the weight of these new shoes, likes the throw and balance of them.

The first man is getting off the floor, but he’s a lumbering, muscled fellow, and she figures she has time for another drink. She turns to the bar, downs the shot, winks at the bartender, and turns just in time to hurl the shot glass at the man as he lunges at her. It hits him on the eye and he topples backward like a falling oak.

In one smooth motion, she spins back to the bartender and spreads her arms triumphantly, grinning hugely.

“I’m Batman!”

The rush doesn’t last long. It never does, and as she exits the bar, stumbling just slightly, she finds suddenly that she has to hold back tears.

She falls back against the wall and slides into a crouch, letting the cool air brush against her face as her chest tightens against the looming, horrifying abyss of loss that lurks under every word and thought.

Her brow creases and she digs her fingernails into her forehead, hard and harder, and she thinks her ribcage might just explode.

The car park is empty, moonlit and gravel-strewn, cold, dark and empty, and it’s as if she were the only person left on earth.

John,” she whispers, then louder, “John. John, John.” She’s rocking now, and she knows it won’t be long before she loses control, hate and despair lurching through her in equal measure.

She goes home, such as it is. Never a place anymore, always two small, breathing bodies, beautiful and precious and so fragile it made her ribcage ache.

-


Dean wakes up when she comes into the hotel room. The sheets are white and fluffy here, and Sam is only visible by the mop of dark hair that curls up above the duvet. It’s nicer than they’re used to, but mom tries to find a nice place for them to stay whenever she’s had a particularly good haul.

She doesn’t turn the light on, but in the light that streams in from the hallway, he can see the blood on her knuckles and the mascara on her cheekbones. He can smell the alcohol, too.

She crawls into bed after taking off her jacket and boots, and there is nothing Dean wants so much as to crawl in with her, like he used to, like he hasn’t since dad died. His mother should not be crying; this fact seems to screech within his head, like nails on a blackboard, sends a deep pit of hurt yawning through him.

He can hear her, hear small, whispered sobs, and every single one is like a rusty knife in his stomach.

Haltingly, scared and unsure, Dean creeps to her, and twists his hands nervously. She sees him, and without a moment’s hesitation, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, lifts up the duvet, she lets him in.

She falls asleep first. He knows this because she stops crying. When he goes to sleep, it is listening to her heart.

-


The next morning, light pours in through the window, and Mary is woken by Sam taking a running jump, yelling war cries, landing triumphantly on the end of her bed and promptly bouncing off again.

There’s a muffled “Ow!” from the vicinity of the floor, silence, and then Dean is laughing, and so is she.

Sam’s head pops up, ruffled and indignant as he squirms his way between them, and is asleep again within minutes, snuffling quietly.

Mary glances from him to Dean, and while Dean doesn’t smile at her, at least he doesn’t have that look on his face, the one that he’s worn more often than not since John died, the one that says he’s terrified of doing the wrong thing.

-- --


“You can pretend all you want, Sammy. But sooner or later you're gonna have to face up to who you really are.”

“And who's that?”

“One of us.”

Sam barked out a bitter, laugh, turning and turning on the wide concrete expanse of the bridge, watching Dean follow him, wary and elegant, moving just like their mother did when she was hunting.

“Look at you, Dean, you're a hunter. Look at me, you know, we both know I’m not like you.”

Dean was angry now, really angry, and it was all Sam could do to not say, thank god, finally.

“You know what Sam? That’s bullshit. Nobody cares about that but you, and you’re just using it as an excuse to hide behind. I mean, come on, college, cookie-cutter life, white picket fence? None of that’s going to change it.”

“Change what?” Sam pushed, come on, Dean, are you man enough to say it out loud?

Instead, Dean changed tacks, slick as ever, worming out of the word-traps Sam set with the ease of a lifetime of practice, coming down on a different angle, “You have a responsibility.”

“What? To mom? And her crusade?” Sam nearly laughed, “You know what I am, Dean. I’m what you should be hunting.”

Dean shoved Sam hard, catching him off-guard, and he tasted copper blood welling up in his mouth as his head hit the steel with a resounding clang, but Dean doesn’t stop, following him, pressing him roughly against the railing, his face cold with rage.

“Don’t you ever say that,” he snarled.

After a moment he let go, turning and walking back down the bridge toward the car.

Sam followed, lengthening his stride to keep up, despite everything, feeling a strange sense of peace settle over him.

“Anyway,” he says softly almost too softly to hear, but he knows Dean is listening from the way his shoulders tense and his head comes up a fraction of an inch, like a bloodhound on point. Sam continues after a moment, “If it weren't for pictures, I wouldn't even know what dad looks like. And what difference would it make? Even if we do find what killed him, Dad's gone. And he isn't coming back.”

Dean huffed softly, opening the Impala door and leaning across the roof, said, “Your point?”

“It’s nothing but revenge.”

“I never said it was anything else.“

Sam smiled, swift, sad, understanding, and got into the Impala.

-- --


“Most demons need to possess a human body to have any kind of real interaction with the physical,” Mary said matter-of-factly as she prowled around the devil’s trap, checking the runes and her sons, making sure they were paying attention.

It was rare, so rare, to hear of a demon walking the Earth these days, let alone be able to hunt one down. Ellen and Bill had said the last one they'd heard of had been when John was killed, and that was only because Mary had told them about it.

Catching this particular one had been a slap-dash mixture of sheer dumb luck, improvisation and fast thought. But she’d wanted to, had needed to show the boys exactly what it was they were hunting. Know your prey. The first rule of hunting, as taught to her through the dark and bloody fairy tales read to her by her mother before she was even old enough to read them for herself.

She circled around the back, and stood facing them from behind the demon’s back. It was tied securely to the chair, muttering and growling behind its gag, straining the tendons of its host so tight Mary was beginning to worry about collateral damage.

“Most?” That was Sam, sixteen and heartbreakingly keen, all tall, lean angles now, almost exactly the same height as his big brother, much to his delight and Dean’s chagrin.

Mary nodded briskly.

“The more powerful ones –“

“Like Yellow-Eyes,” Dean said, more of a statement than a question. They avoided his name by force of habit; until they found the Colt again, Mary wasn’t comfortable with the more ancient, biblical parallels between speaking a demon's name with the act of physically summoning that demon.

“Yes, like Yellow-Eyes,“ she said approvingly, bestowing a quick smile, and Dean beamed. She continued, “According to lore, they can shape a physical form, but you can almost always tell; it’s almost always shadows and tricks of the light.“

“Those ones can’t be hurt," Mary said, then added with a vicious kind of satisfaction, “the ones walking around in human bodies, however…”

She casually flicked a few drops of holy water across the trap, and steam sizzled up from the flesh where it hit. The demon screamed, wrenching its head so hard the gag started to tear.

Sam looked worried. “But the host, they can still feel the pain, right? I mean, it’s not doing any actual damage, but they can still feel it?”

“Yes. If they’re awake inside. Which is never a guarantee.”

“Oh, he’s awake alright, and a gibbering mess. Humans aren’t built for that kind of pain.” The man’s voice, sibilant and cruel, hissed through the room, the frayed gag falling to the floor.

Dean moved closer, toes not quite brushing the outer edge of the trap, eyes glittering with something approaching pure hatred. Mary was shocked by the familiarity of that expression; she saw it in the mirror every day.

“What are we going to do with it?” He asked, tilting his head to one side curiously, his eyes narrowing as the demon mimicked the movement.

“Exorcism,” Mary said, tracing the calligraphy of her father’s book where it lay open on the old warehouse bench, “send it back to hell.”

The demon clicked its tongue disapprovingly and cocked his head backwards to leer predatorily at Sam over Dean’s shoulder. Mary resisted the urge to dump the entire bucket of holy water over its head.

“Hey, Sammy, psst! You really gonna let them do that, huh? To your own blood?

Blood pounded sickeningly through Mary’s ears, and her mouth went dry. Her mind, moving quicksilver swift, no matter how much she tried to slow it down, say stop, I can't go there. Old words, old promises echoed through her head, implications and consequences revealing themselves in sickening new clarity. No. No, no, no, no, no.

Sam frowned in bemusement, and shook his head, asking, “What?”

“Don’t’cha know, Sam? Haven’t you felt it? Haven’t you wondered what ol’ Azazel was doing in your nursery the night he set your daddy on fire?”

Dean had turned a quarter-turn, balancing on the balls of his feet, looking from the demon to Sam to Mary, something horrific playing over his face.

Sam still wasn’t quite catching it. The demon saw, and curled forward in the chair, baring his teeth in a shining mockery of a friendly grin.

“Sammy, you’re part of the family, kid! Azazel’s blood runs in your veins. Can’t you feel it? You’re not human, not like these poor, pathetic humans,” it jerked its head around from Mary to Dean, “no, you're special, Sammy.”

Sam swallowed, panic flaring in his eyes and he backed away until he hit the wall, and horror was crashing like a tidal wave inside Mary’s skull, and flames were burning in front of her eyes, the stench of burning flesh and – John, oh god, you interrupted him. It was my deal, mine. It should have been me. Oh god, Sammy.

“No,” Sam whispered hoarsely, his voice breaking.

“Oh yes,” the demon hissed with gleeful finality, “you’re one of us, boy.”

And then Sam was gone, running, his footsteps resounding on the old warehouse floor, his shadow elongated in the storm-filtered twilight, disappearing out the door.

Dean followed instantly, natural as breathing.

The demon was laughing. “Mary, Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” It sang maliciously, and licked its lips.

Mary went ice-cold, and casually, deliberately poured the holy water in a single, sheeted cascade over the demon, watching it writhe and shriek. Then she picked up the book, and for the first time in her life, performed the Rituale Romanum, the power flooding through her, as if she’d done it a million times before, and thinking, for some reason, of her father singing her lullabies.

-


Dean chased after Sam, slipping through the waving grass, feeling the eddies of the hot, heavy wind catch at his clothing, the crack of ozone against his nostrils echoed in the faint sound of thunder.

He caught up to Sam when he finally stopped running in the middle of the empty field, a horrifically calm cast settling over his face.

Dean slowed down, walked closer cautiously, the glazed, sick look in Sam’s eyes making his skin crawl.

The demon's revelation, his mother's face, stark against his eyelids every time he blinked, it rushed through his head, overlaying everything with the sharp, ultra-heightened sense of reality that came in the middle of a hunt, and Sam was in the middle of it; he couldn't look at his younger brother without seeing the demon, spitting and laughing, 'You're one of us.'

It was like walking through a nightmare; the earth tilting beneath his feet, head dizzy, blood pounding because there was nothing he wanted to do so much as run and run, but whether as far away as possible or straight toward Sam he had no idea. The light was hazy and strange, and it was as if half of him had been ripped away in an instant, a strange creature, both his brother and somehow, illogically, irrationally not was standing in front of him having a mental breakdown, and he had no idea what to do.

“Sam?” He finally ventured at Sam’s slumped shoulders, not coming quite close enough to touch.

Sam didn’t move, staring at the horizon with eyes that were blank and raw, and betrayed. He was trembling, like if he moved he would shatter, burst from within, spattering the ground with the demon blood that ran in his veins. Finally he spoke, hoarse and hesitant, “I knew there was something. You know? There was always something wrong with me.”

This, Dean knew how to deal with, or at least thought he did, and so he took a chance and scoffed, cuffing Sam lightly over the head, trying to ignore the rush of adrenaline that came with it. “Don’t start with that teenage woe-is-me bullshit, everyone –“

All of a sudden everything changed, because Sam was moving, and his fists were curled in Dean’s shirt, and his face was screwed up, and he was whispering like he wanted to be yelling, “Don’t fucking patronize me, Dean.”

Dean gripped Sam’s wrists, staring him straight in the eyes, feeling Sam’s hands start to shake, and, Jesus Christ, he was so young, his eyes wide and lost and furious as he glared at Dean like he was the only person in the world.

“Sammy,” Dean said, low and soothing, because when Sam was like this he wouldn’t listen to anyone, everything was fight or flight.

Don’t. Don't you call me Sammy,” Sam’s eyes flashed, “Sammy’s a chubby two-year old who can’t do up his shoelaces. Sammy’s just a kid. Sammy’s human.”

And Sam was shoving him, pushing him, lashing out and there was a line of fire and the hot drip of blood down Dean’s cheek, and Dean was pushing back, wondering vaguely if it was tears or blood, but all he really cared about was Sam, Sam who had stumbled back to the ground, slamming his fists against it as if it had personally offended him, tearing his nails open, hard enough to break bones, and Dean realized with a shock that Sam wasn’t fighting him, he just wanted to hurt himself.

That one fact seemed to rise above everything else, and the jumbled mess of Dean’s mind cleared to one searing, singular point.

He threw himself forward, using his weight to pin down Sam’s body, hold down his bleeding hands, and Sam was still fighting, desperate, black dirt streaked across his face in jagged bolts, and Dean took a risk, lifted his hand, roughly pushed it against Sam’s forehead, slowly easing him down to the ground.

Sam went still, eyes wide and unblinking as he stared up at Dean through the tears and dirt, but he was still shaking, his entire body now, convulsing in tiny tremors. Dean slowly relaxed his hold, and Sam curled up on his side, crying. Not loudly, not even real crying at all, just tears, seeping slowly down into the dirt and grass.

Dean let himself fall heavily to the ground beside Sam, jaw aching harshly where one of Sam’s wild punches had caught it, and put his head in his hands.

-


Mary ran out into the open, the great empty field of grass rippling in the wind, thunder crackling through the air.

The sky was a pale, unearthly purple, clouds thick and bulbous, hanging so close to the ground she was sure she could have reached out and touched them.

The pre-storm caught her hair, she felt it ruffling, the spikes standing on end, goosebumps racing across her flesh, and she ran, hard and fast and wondering. Sam must have run forever, the distances deceiving in this field, further and further the closer she got to the crouched and fallen figures of her sons.

She reached Sam, placed a hand on his head, and said gently but firmly, “Enough of that, Sam. No more melodrama. There’s a man back there who needs stitching up, and you have the best hands for the job. Come on. Get up, Sam. Get up.”

And he did.

-- --


Dean pulls over, yanking the wheel hard, tires screeching, and Sam scrabbles for the door handle, gets it open just in time and falls out of the car, heaving and vomiting over the gravel.

Dean clambers over Sam's seat, gets out of the Impala, moves around Sam to a safe distance and leans back against the Impala to wait it out, staring up at the stars. The words 'Dude, gross,' lurk around his head, pressing insistently against his tongue, shaping on his lips in a horrible specter of normalcy. He shook his head roughly, feeling reason reassert itself. Somewhere, Jess's corpse was still cooling.

They both still smell of smoke and burning flesh, and Sam's eyes - when he finally finishes, wretched and dry-heaving, and Dean turns his head to look at him - have that look, like he is sixteen again and his mind is being ripped off its axis.

Sam scrubs at his mouth roughly, shoves himself away from the mess, closer to Dean but not too close. The Impala's radio is still playing, so soft neither of them had really registered it. The imperious chords build and fall, twanging in lazy, sure twists and the cool voice winds around them, '...and the wind screams Mary.' Dean twists his mouth when he finally picks up the melody, recognizes the song, and lets it play.

Time passes, Dean doesn't know how much, but the sky is slip-sliding from black to red, and everything on the ground is a blurred, colorless gray when Sam pushes himself up, and turns to look down at Dean, his face a mess of jumbled shapes and features half-drawn up from memory.

"Come on, then," he says in a tight voice, twisted 'round with the same old hate Dean knows so well, "we have work to do."

Dean doesn't move for a moment, just tilts his head back to regard Sam, and sees the old tear drip off the end of his ridiculous nose, the tight, controlled little movement of his head, sees a star burn and fall behind Sam's shoulder and resists the childish urge to make a wish, like this was something out of one of mom's fairy tales. Those never ended well. He just sits and watches all the little signs that say this isn't okay.

Finally, he nods, gets up, brushing Sam's shoulder with his own as he passes, and gets ready to keep moving.

There's nothing else he can do.

-- --


Mary smoothed the coverlet down, laid her father’s book on top, and watched the small indent form. The old picture she carried around with her glared with the reflection of sunlight, obscuring the faces.

She’d known it was a woman in white hours after arriving in town, it wasn’t that that had led her to compile folder after folder of information until it was piled in towering stacks all across the floor of the motel room, no, it was the patterns of activity she’d picked up on that had caught her attention, pulled her into a haze of research and a thundering rush of anticipation. She’d caught his trail, he’d resurfaced, and he wasn’t being all too subtle about it.

Dean would find the room, he always knew how to pick up the scent of family, was almost preternaturally gifted at hunting out the monsters, at picking up on obscure information and spitting it out in new formations of correlation and implication. If she’d let him, she had no doubt he’d have figured out the demon’s trail long before she ever could have.

The light shifted, clouds, no doubt, scudding across the sun, and the photograph was visible again, Sam grinning his pirate grin, front teeth missing, and she smiled softly, touched his face, traced over Dean’s.

“God. Sammy. I’m so sorry.”

She turned, walked to the door, and left to hunt the demon with yellow eyes.

Comments 
21st-Aug-2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, very nice. Women are at least as ruthless as men, particularly when something threatens their loved ones. This it the canon we know and love with awesomely subtle little changes that make it perfect. Enjoyed this very much.
7th-Sep-2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad the characterization of Mary worked for you. Thankyou.
21st-Aug-2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
OMG, dude! This is glorious! Well done!
7th-Sep-2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
Thankyou! :)
21st-Aug-2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
The way you wrote Mary after losing John was very interesting and the effect of her surviving on the life on the boys was perfectly done.
7th-Sep-2009 11:02 pm (UTC)
Wow, thankyou.
21st-Aug-2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Wow. This is incredibly powerful, and I love both the premise and your writing style. It's deceptively sparse, every detail, and only every necessary detail, there and sharp and packing a punch. The whole thing just blew me away, because it feels so possible, that this is how it would have been.

Brilliant stuff.
7th-Sep-2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
Thankyou so much! That you felt it was so possible means a lot to me. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
21st-Aug-2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
This is sharp and heartbreaking. I feel for all three of them here.
7th-Sep-2009 11:10 pm (UTC)
Thankyou so much. :)
21st-Aug-2009 11:48 pm (UTC)
That was fantastic. I almost wish Kripke had been brave enough to show us a woman that...different.

Wonderful job.
7th-Sep-2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
Thankyou! He kind of did, a little, during In the Beginning, but I'm so glad you enjoyed my interpretation of Mary.
22nd-Aug-2009 01:24 am (UTC)
This is amazing. Your Mary is kind of terrifying but also awesome.
7th-Sep-2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
Haha, thankyou!
22nd-Aug-2009 01:41 am (UTC)
I love your Mary. I love your changes to canon. This is a great AU. Awesome job.
7th-Sep-2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad it worked for you. :)
22nd-Aug-2009 03:24 am (UTC)
Oh, fantastic job. I love your descriptions, and how Dean reminds Sam of Mary all the time, just as Sam must remind Dean of John. Love the parallels you draw, the differences and the similarities. Yes, growing up knowing their heritage stretched back generations would make a difference for the boys, especially Dean, with his constant emphasis on family and duty and honor. And what a chilling twist, to have a demon tell Sam about what the YED did to him when he was so young. That scene was incredible, very wrenching.

And Mary drinking and loving the Impala because they remind her of John... ::tear:: She's so broken, poor lady, and of course she would be, just as John was broken by losing her.

Fantastic AU. I enjoyed it very much.
7th-Sep-2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you picked up on the parallels of Dean and Mary - there are so many in canon, and growing up with her, I really think Dean would have imprinted just as he did with John. The old sense of history to the hunting family is something that fascinates me, so I'm glad the hints of that came through for you.

The twist was kind of my epiphany, halfway through, and that scene was one of the hardest, and most painful to write, so your reaction meant a lot.

Thankyou for all the lovely comments!
22nd-Aug-2009 03:26 am (UTC)
Damn. Reminds me of Kipling's poem, "The Female of the Species"...more deadly than the male. I can see this happening if it had been John who died. Powerful story. Would like to see more of this AU. It hurts as much as the canon version.
7th-Sep-2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
Thankyou! I'm so glad Mary's characterization had that kind of resonance. :)
22nd-Aug-2009 04:23 am (UTC)
Oh, wow, I seriously don't know that I can thank you enough for this. This is everything I could have wanted from this prompt. Everyone's voices are spot on, and I love that you did a bit of everyone's POV. I love Mary's resolve, and the changes to the timeline seemed perfect -- like, of course Mary wouldn't have had to spend the time John did finding the truth, because she already knew what was going on. I love the similarities between Mary's actions and what we saw John do, and I love that you brought up how much deeper this would have gone for Mary than for John, because she already knew what she was dealing with, and because the YED went after her family before this, and afjasklfasf. And your Sam and Dean are perfect here, too. The popsicle scene was wonderful, and so was Dean going after Sam when he found out about the demon.

And on top of all that, it was beautifully written and well-structured, and completely absorbing. Thank you so much for writing for it for! I lucked out in getting you, mystery author. :)

Edited at 2009-08-22 04:24 am (UTC)
7th-Sep-2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you like it! I was worried it might have been a little too angsty for you. I really tried to balance on the POV to explore the ramifications of the AU on each of them, and I'm particularly glad you liked Mary's characterization, that the history and depth of her tragedy, and how that affected her actions with the boys came through for you.

I loved writing that popsicle scene. ;)

Thankyou for the lovely comment, and you are most welcome!
22nd-Aug-2009 05:49 am (UTC)
Aaaaabsolutely lovely. And loving. And painful. Not a spare word in the whole thing: clean, precise, like Mary on the whetstone. Great job.
7th-Sep-2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
Thankyou. What a lovely comment, too.
22nd-Aug-2009 06:05 am (UTC)
Fantastic! I agree with other the other comments - this was powerful. No wasted words and the descriptions are beautiful. The way you set up the AU in the first few paragraphs was perfect. I loved the back and forth between now and the past. Wonderful work!
7th-Sep-2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
22nd-Aug-2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
Very cool take on how things might have been. I've read a few Mary-lives AUs, but this is definitely at the top of the list. Awesome!
7th-Sep-2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
That's a good list to top, thankyou! ;)
22nd-Aug-2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
This is amazing. The subtle differences in this AU work so well -- not just plot differences but the little emotional shifts that might happen because Mary and John are not the same person, even if some patterns might stay the same. This made my heart ache for all three of them. Oh, *Winchesters*.
7th-Sep-2009 11:22 pm (UTC)
I really tried to explore the emotional ramifications, while keeping the same basic fabric of the tragedy that is the Winchester cycle. Oh, Winchesters, is pretty much my exact emotion too. Round and round they go. Thankyou! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

Edited at 2009-09-07 11:22 pm (UTC)
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