AN: Tag to 12x2. Dean and Sam have reunited, but so much was happening, they didn't get a chance to talk. Just a little brotherly bonding from Dean's POV. Updated with a slight revision to tighten up the writing.
More Than a Memory
Dean tipped the beer bottle to his lips, letting the last of the brew fall into his mouth. He was aiming for a good buzz, but as a bone-weariness settled over him, he considered calling it a night instead. If only he could sleep.
He glanced at the picture again. The one with his mom, her arm wrapped around him smiling at the camera. It was his most cherished possession — even more so that Baby. And he loved that car.
With a sigh, he tilted his head back against the kitchen island. She was so much the same and yet so different. The person who once was the center of his world seemed like a stranger now. He didn't quite know how to bridge the divide between them.
It occurred to him that, like the photo, his image of her had been frozen in time. He remembered a doting mother whose sole purpose in life was to take care of him. And maybe Sammy. But him first — at least to his four-year-old mind. He scoffed at himself. Of course she was more than that — even back then.
He was a grown man now, who didn't need the crust cut off his sandwich or meatloaf that was homemade. Mary was barely 30 when she died and he was dangerously close to 40. How strange it felt to be older than his own mother. And stranger still that he was okay with that because it meant that she could be a part of his life again.
His thoughts were interrupted by a shuffling on the other side of the kitchen. He looked up waiting to see who would appear — his mom, Cas or ….
"Y'alright?" Dean hauled himself off the floor and gingerly placed his pictures on the counter before turning back to his brother. "I thought you would be out for the count — after the queen of torture had a go at you."
"Yeah." Sam shuddered at the mention of Toni Bevell. "I'm exhausted actually. I just can't sleep."
Dean's teasing tone turned serious. He didn't need to ask why a little shuteye was elusive. He moved toward the refrigerator, grabbing two more beers. "It's been a hell of a few days."
Sam leaned against the island, setting his gaze at nothing in particular on the other side of the room. "I suddenly have twice the family I had before. And just a few hours ago, I thought I was the only one left." He attempted a wry laugh, but Dean knew how tough it was to be the one left behind. He decided that the situation called for something stronger. Putting the beer back, he poured two whiskeys. He placed one on the kitchen table and nodded for Sam to sit while he took the spot across from him.
"Thanks," Sam muttered as he took a sip, wincing slightly at the burn. "So much was happening earlier, we never had a chance to talk. You never told me how you made it out alive. So Amara brought Mom back?"
"Yeah." Dean took his own sip and gave his brother an appraising look. He wondered whether Sam really wanted to hear the story or if he just didn't want to be alone. He planned to tell him the everything when they both were rested. Either way, they both needed a distraction.
"Uh … well, she knew I had a bomb, so the element of surprise was out. So I started talking. And I knew she didn't want Chuck to die."
"How did you know that? Was it that connection with her?"
Dean's mouth twitched, uncomfortable with the choice of words. Their 'connection' probably had something to do with it, but what he understood about Amara was more basic than that. "I know how it feels to have a broken relationship with a brother and to want nothing more than to fix it. We always worked it out."
Sam met his gaze and nodded.
Dean finished relaying details, ending with finding Mary wandering in the woods.
"So Mom was your reward?"
"More of a thank you," the older brother corrected, ignoring the sarcasm that suggested Sam thought Dean gave Amara too much credence. He forged ahead with the story deciding it would be blatantly cliche to say she was merely 'misunderstood.'
"Mom was standing there wearing the same white gown she wore that night she died. She didn't know where she was or who I was. She thought it was 1983."
"So you convinced her you were her long, lost son."
"I did. After she face planted me in the dirt."
Dean didn't expect the guffaw that burst from his brother's mouth. He couldn't help the smile that tugged at his own lips. Though it wasn't so amusing at the time, he appreciated the humor of it now. It was a telling moment about his mother.
"That's awesome," Sam said, sounding impressed by their warrior mom.
"She's the only person who can get away with that, so don't get any ideas," Dean quipped.
That comment brought more snickers from the younger brother. When Sam's laughter eased, the brothers were quiet for a moment. Dean filled the silence by pouring another shot of whiskey. He froze at Sam's sudden comment, the bottle tipped mid-air.
"I gave her Dad's journal."
Dean plunked the bottle on the table. "Dad wasn't the man she remembered."
"I don't think you do know. Or can know." Dean usually recalled the later years with his dad. The hunting. His unchallenged obedience to him. The day he realized his father was missing. And the day he died. But since Mary returned, he remembered more of the early days before John's life was consumed with finding the yellow-eyed demon.
He had been a fun, attentive father who always had time for a game of catch or a bedtime story. Sam never knew that man because he died the day their mother burned on the ceiling.
Sam bristled at the comment. "I know he changed after Mom died, because I changed after I lost Jess."
"Not as much as he did." Dean shot back. He could feel Sam's eyes on him as downed his latest shot in one gulp, suddenly wanting more than a light buzz.
"Listen. I don't want to argue," Dean cut him off. He was just too tired for that. And Sam had been through too much. "You were just physically tortured by some pompous, sadistic bitch. A blow torch, man. That's just …." He huffed and poured another whiskey. "I'm just glad Cas was around to fix it."
An uncomfortable shift from the other side of the table captured the elder brother's attention. "What else did she do to you?"
"It wasn't just physical," Sam admitted, his eyes cast down as if he decided to reveal some dark secret.
"What?" Dean's mind went to all the horrible things that might have happened to his brother in whatever form mental torture could entail. "The bitch," he snarled. "Is that why you can't sleep?"
"Not really. Lucifer did worse." Sam shrugged. "But I guess I needed to make sure your were really alive."
Dean's face fell. "She made you hallucinate."
A curt nod from Sam caused the elder Winchester to spew a string of curses. His irritation over the journal was gone, replaced with an anger that made him want to hunt down Toni Bevell and subject her to some of the torture he learned from hell.
"I didn't think I would make it out."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "You weren't going to give up?"
"I wasn't going to break," Sam retorted through a clenched jaw. "And she wasn't going to stop. So …."
"Well, you did make it." Dean spoke with a confidence that masked the true terror he felt at how close he came to losing his little brother.
"They know too much, you know? She mentioned Ruby. And Benny. And now they know Mom is alive."
That was something Dean was hoping to keep under wraps for awhile. He wanted her safe for as long as possible. "I wanted Mom to stay behind, but man, she's stubborn." He said that will equal parts pride and frustration.
"All this time, I thought you got it from Dad," Sam teased.
"Shut up." Dean feigned indignance, but his eyes brightened. He always believed he was more like his Dad. That he was a little bit like his mother gave him something to hold on to. Something to build on, aside from his memories of her just being his mom. For some reason, the song she used to sing to him came to mind. The words floated through his head.
Hey Jude, don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.
She said she had a dream about Dad — about the funny things he used to do. But if Dad was still here, she would see a man whose laughter was rare. He was cynical, gruff, and demanding. She would find the toll of years spent seeking revenge and hunting things etched into his face.
Dean unconsciously swiped a hand across his brow, wondering what Mary saw when she looked at him. She must have had hopes of who her oldest son would become. Did she compare him to the little boy who would comfort her when she and Dad had a fight. Or the boy who loved pie. Or the child who patiently waited for her to give him attention while she took care of Sammy. Because the wait was worth it.
Remember to let her into your heart. Then you can start to make it better.
Now, that space between them seemed too wide. He didn't know how to make that connection that Sammy seemed to make in just a few hours.
But Dean knew her first and Sam hadn't known her at all. For 33 years, Sam's memories of her were not his own. He garnered knowledge of her by Dad and Dean, mostly Dean. And her ghost who saved them once and a trip back into the past of a young Mary Winchester.
He shook off the ridiculous stab of jealously because Sam missed her, too. While he missed having a mother, Dean missed her. He was starting to realize that maybe what he missed was his perception of who she was. But Mary was more than the memories he had of her.
And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude refrain. Don't carry the world upon your shoulders.
Yet the world was on his shoulders. To take care of Sammy. To obey Dad. To keep his mother alive because Dad wasn't talking and Sammy couldn't remember. Whenever he did feel the pain, he would make a joke. Or just push it down. That's how he survived and that's how he could take care of his little brother.
For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool and makes the world a little colder.
She may have been different, but so was Dean. He was not the boy she left behind. He lived a life she didn't want for him — and he excelled at it. He was a hunter. A killer. He had been a demon and had touched a darkness from the Mark of Cain. Each passing year, he was becoming more and more like his father. More and more, he wasn't sure that was a good thing.
He worried that his mother was disappointed in who she saw. Perhaps realizing how the father had changed might help her understand the son.
Dean guessed that he zoned out because Sam was calling his name – a few times, apparently, before he answered. He snapped back to the present to see the tall figure move from the seat across from him to the one right next to him. That look of concern was plastered all over his brother's face.
"Where'd you go?" Sam asked, his brows drawn together.
Dean waggled his head, attempting to shake out the too many memories that invaded his mind. "You're right," he said, keeping his sights straight ahead instead of on his brother. "To give her Dad's journal. I mean, I thought I knew him, but I didn't really. He kept himself so closed off."
"You understood him more than I did," Sam said, twisting in his seat until he was leaning against the table, stretching his legs in front of him. "His journal gave me some insight about him. He was better man than I thought. Mom won't be able to get to know us unless she understands who Dad was and how he raised us."
Dean huffed out a breath. He always believed Dad to be a hero and Mom to be a saint. His life was based on those two truths. Except maybe that wasn't the complete truth. His mother was wonderful. Awesome, in fact. But that didn't mean she was perfect. It was the deal she made with the yellow-eyed demon that started all of this. Not that he was judging her for it. He watched it all go down when Cas dropped him in the middle of the 1970s.
He picked up his glass and swirled around the contents, considering whether to keep talking or keep drinking.
Dad would have chosen the drink. And Mom? He didn't know because their conversations had been only surface deep. But he knew what Sam would do. At that moment, it dawned on him why his brother sought him out instead of going to bed. He wanted to talk — maybe about Mary or maybe about nothing in particular.
He turned to face Sam, seeing the fatigue carved in his face. He was the only other person who could relate to the overwhelming impact of having their mother back.
Dean thought about what to say and how to say it, and came out with just one kernel of what he had been thinking since Mary came back. "I've thought about her everyday for the past 30 years. Every damned day," he said, and Sam listened. "But I remember her as the Mom who took care me. Now, it's — uh — it's been hard to connect."
"You were only four years old, Dean. Of course that's how you would remember her."
"Yeah, I guess. I just …," Dean stopped. He didn't know exactly what he was feeling. He cast a glance to Sam, hoping his intuitive little brother could just fill in the blanks for him. Instead, he found a patient, annoyingly empathetic face waiting for him to finish. But he had no words to express his thoughts.
Dean contemplated the bourbon again because talking wasn't working.
Sam's low voice broke the silence. "She loves you, you know."
Dean fingered the glass, shutting his eyes to the onslaught of emotions he felt from that one simple comment. "I know she does."
"It's awkward for me too. We have a lot to learn about each other," Sam said. "It's just going to take some time. I think we need to talk to her about our lives — the things we've been through."
"How can we tell her?" Dean challenged. "Some of the things we've done — that I've done. It would be overwhelming for her. We barely made it through some it."
"You're right." the younger brother conceded, his voice catching. He cleared his throat and tried again. "It's a lot. We've both made mistakes. But we got through it because we had each other. Now, Mom has both of us."
Dean twisted to face his brother, recalling a long list of misdeeds. It was hard to pinpoint the worst of them, but there was one in particular that nagged at him. He was sure that Mary would find difficult to get past it as well. "How do I tell her that I tried to kill you?"
"You tell her you were a demon at the time." Sam's response was even, as if it was normal thing to be a demon. And as if all of his actions were excusable because of it.
Dean's eyes flashed. "How about the second time — when I had the Mark. I was still human then."
Sam was unfazed. "Your heart wasn't in it that time."
"I …," Dean started. He clicked his tongue in frustration. No part of him wanted to kill Sammy, but still he stood over him with a scythe ready to do the job.
His pushy little brother wouldn't give up. He spun in his seat so that they were face to face. "You killed Death to save me. I think that speaks to how you really felt."
Dean opened his mouth to retort, but no words would come. They both would pay for that action long after they were dead. Billie the reaper would see to that. But he would do it again in a second. "Yeah," he mumbled, wondering why Sam's eyes crinkled into a smile.
Dean snorted, turning back toward the bourbon on the table, uncomfortable with the ease of his brother's forgiveness for his greatest betrayal.
"I've seen the worst in you," Sam said, deadpanned.
Another grunt escaped Dean's mouth.
"And you're going to hate me for saying this, but I still love you."
"Alright. Cut it out," Dean grumbled, thinking he should have opted for the whiskey instead of talking. "Don't get sappy," he chided, refusing to look at Sam. He did, however, catch the eye roll coming from his little brother as he turned in his seat again to lean against the table.
"Just so you know," Sam said.
"Yeah, well," Dean stammered, thinking seriously about guzzling the booze instead of letting his next words out. But the alcohol had loosened in tongue enough that they were said before he could stop them. "Um … me too."
Sam kept his gaze ahead and didn't acknowledge the remark, but Dean knew he heard it by the smug grin that spread across his face.
"And Dean," Sam added, switching to a more pensive expression. "She's still that Mom you knew back then. She's more than that, but that part of her is still there. The pie proved it."
"She brought that for you. She remembered that you liked it, and wanted to give that to you."
"It was just pie, dude," Dean said, biting back the smile that threatened to undermine his cool demeanor. "Hmmmm. It was good though."
Sam gave his head a shake, too tired to come back with a teasing retort. Dean pushed himself from the table, giving a quick pat to his brother's shoulder. "Come on. I need my beauty sleep."
"Yeah, you do," Sam cracked as he lumbered behind his brother to the sleeping quarters.
Dean stopped suddenly, turning on his heels, stepping back to the kitchen island where he left the photographs. He picked them up, looking again at the image of a young mother smiling at the camera. He just had to get to know to her.
A contented smile crossed his face. He could do that.
Yeah, he could do that.