Be forewarned: this fic has vague spoilers for all aired episodes, including 3.12 Jus In Bello. I mean, they're not horribly specific, but they're there.
Days Without Feathers
It's tragic, everyone says. A chance in a million—a shorted wire, an untended candle. When they get the news (one survivor, a young male), she puts a hand over her mouth and waits for the world to end.
(Clear as a photograph, the memory of that too-tall boy looking seriously into her husband's eyes, asking for a blessing. Got a ring all picked out, he said. Just gotta save up enough. Will you let me ask her?)
And she sobs, sobs all the way to Palo Alto, all the way to the smoldering apartment that she'd helped paint the summer before. Her husband stands on shaky feet as they stare into the charred waste of the bedroom, and by far the most horrifying thing is that it almost smells like something cooking.
And when she realizes what's missing, she goes and looks for the boy; she needs to hold him tight, because if anybody feels the way she feels, it's him. Nowhere to be found, the police say. Just took off with some guy in a big black car. Didn't even give a statement.
(Do you love her, son? And he smiled, but there was a note of true earnestness in his voice when he said I do, oh god I do.)
Her last happy moment was six hours before, but her last innocent moment ends just now.
It's just a tragedy until the coroner discovers an unexplained visceral wound.
"Like someone gutted her," a police officer says to her husband (bluntly, so bluntly like she's been struck), and she feels a disconnect from the world, because this can't possibly be real.
And they determine that the wound came first, then the fire, and they call foul play.
The boy is still missing, and suddenly it's become a horror.
They hold the funeral on a gorgeous sunlit November day. The casket is glossy and the headstone holds a tiny photograph from happier times. There are rows of white folding chairs set up on the green grass of the cemetery, and right next to the chair where she sits so silently is an empty one.
She doesn't know why she made them reserve it, even as friends from the university crowd around the casket, singing and crying and praying.
He's not going to show.
That doesn't stop her from wishing that he would, though. Because if, if he came back, then maybe it was an accident. Maybe they were all wrong. Maybe he can explain.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
It's a long time, a long time of wondering and waiting and grieving. She loses track of the days, even after life returns to some form of normal. Her girlfriends stop coming over after the new year breaks, and she's both grateful and sorely distressed.
She's made herself a cup of tea (steeped it too long and the tannin sours in her mouth) when she hears it. Early March, and the sun is hidden by clouds and the newscaster just said the name Winchester. The sketch they show on the screen is not the boy, and the place is distant Missouri, but her stomach drops out when they mention the victim's name: a college friend.
And she picks up the phone with trembling fingers and calls her husband at work, because she knows now for certain.
She spends the next two days glued to the screen, waiting for news. And when it's announced that the police have found the body of Dean Winchester she wants to scream but there's another one out there.
More time passes, and she starts to rebuild her life just a bit. She makes a plate of brownies for the church bake sale. She goes and sees a movie with friends. She buys a box of Christmas cards which she may or may not send. Baby steps, baby steps.
On the second day of November, she goes and sits on the grass next to that headstone, traces Beloved Daughter with her finger time and again, and she weeps.
In January, something happens. She flips on the television as she makes herself lunch and there he is. He looks different now—his hair's different, his frame's broader, he looks less kind—but it's him in the mugshot. He and his brother (alive, she panics, then what body did they find?) killed a police officer and escaped custody in Baltimore.
God knows where they are now. She finds it hard to breathe, because she loved him like a child not so long ago, and she can see his smile as she hands him the cranberry sauce when they had him over for Thanksgiving, and she can see his hand wrapped around her daughter's hip so sweetly, and she can hear him say "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am," and it all makes her wonder how he looked when he ripped her daughter open and burned her up. She feels her baby steps unravel like she pulled a loose thread.
And when she calls her husband this time, he comes home right away. They wait for more news, but none comes and none comes and none comes.
Three days later his brother appears on the FBI's most wanted list. Murder, identity theft, grave desecration.
That evening and every one that follows, she goes to the warm-colored headstone and fold her hands in her lap. Every single time, she expects to see the earth upturned and that glossy casket ripped open and she can't even bring herself to think past that. And every single time she feels frozen inside until she sees the untouched turf and the tiny photograph from happier times.
It's like a nightmare from which she cannot wake up. Everybody sees the heist in Milwaukee, and they recognize the name too. Her neighbor, the one who never could keep her mouth shut, leans over her mailbox the next afternoon and tuts about how he seemed like such a sweet boy when he offered to help with the groceries a few years back.
The crocuses are coming up, thick and purple like blood clots in the watery February light.
She doesn't respond, because she's thought this over every night for nearly seventeen months. If she'd known, if she'd seen—how many people would still be alive? Half a dozen at the fewest (she knows all of their names by heart), and god only knows how many more.
She tears up the crocuses that afternoon. She always did like daffodils better.
Her husband is actually the one who calls her that day in April, telling her to check her email. Sitting in her inbox is a link to an Associated Press article featuring the photos of two very familiar faces—now incarcerated in Arkansas.
She presses the heels of her hands into her eyes until she sees starbursts, and she sighs like some great weight has been taken off of her shoulders. It's a good feeling.
That night they go out for dinner. She has steak and one too many glasses of wine, and if she cries a little on the way home, her husband doesn't seem to mind.
She had been a noncommittal churchgoer at best, before November 2nd, 2005. She was more interested in the social aspect than the spirituality. But if someone had asked, she'd have said there was a God.
Now, as she rests her cheek against the bathtub, her legs folded around the toilet she has been heaving into for the past three hours, she knows for certain that there is no benevolent Father. Her daughter is dead and the sick man who murdered her child has escaped the police yet again. How could a just being allow such a thing? (And the worst part, she tells herself, is that there are no angels, but there are monsters roaming free.)
She twists her wedding ring on her finger and she has never felt so alone.
She's taken to watching the news all day, every day. Her husband tells her it's not healthy. She doesn't explain to him that this is all she has left, that everything else has been cut out and burned away, and the only thing that matters is waiting for an anchorman to say the name Winchester. Months pass, and there is no sign.
The first time they announce the explosion of a jail in Colorado, she takes little notice. It's another tragedy and she's become desensitized to that sort of thing. It happens a dozen times a day, and she's learned to separate the chaff from the wheat.
She's in the kitchen, washing a pot for tonight's stew when she hears the name. Her head snaps up and she stares at the tiny portable television sitting on the counter.
—the blast, thought to have been caused by a gas main leak, also killed two fugitives. Dean and Sam Winchester, brothers wanted by the FBI for multiple counts of murder and armed robbery, were being held for transfer to federal prison when the explosion occurred—
And they show mugshots, and it's him.
She's not sure how she ends up on the floor, her ears ringing and her head pressed against the cabinets, but she doesn't care. She can't even bring herself to call her husband, because she's hugging her knees, and her eyes are pressed shut, and that litany of praises she can hear in the background is coming from her mouth.
Oh thank you Jesus, thank you thank you sweet Lord thank you Jesus thank you, oh thankyouthankyouthankyou…
Because it's over and she couldn't forgive him but it's over and she's never been so grateful for anything in her entire life. She hopes it hurt like hell for him, that he suffered like she suffered, like her daughter suffered.
And she's crying again, and she tells herself it's for the very last time.