What Could Have Been

Chapter 8

All Mary had ever wanted was to settle down, have a family and live a normal, safe life. She didn't think it was too much to ask – she had spent most of her childhood and adolescence fighting evil and helping people which, in a fair universe, would entitle her to a little peace and happiness. Instead, her parents had been murdered, her first home had been burned to the ground, a demon had done god-knows-what to her baby, and her eldest son was hurtling towards the very life she had tried to save him from.

Dean was turning into a hunter.

She didn't know how, she didn't know why, but she did know the signs. Every time she cleaned the house she found more of them.

When she was vacuuming under the rugs, she found salt circles around the beds in every bedroom and Devil’s Traps painted onto the floorboards. She found rosary beads under the bathroom sink, a Latin-English dictionary hidden among the children’s picture books, John’s silver-plated letter opener in Dean’s pencil case and the fireplace poker stashed under Dean’s mattress. She even found a sketchbook in his drawer that was filled with monsters. They weren’t just drawings anymore, either. Details were written in like stats on a video game, listing names, origins, habitats, killing patterns, strengths, weaknesses… and dates. She had to hope it was just a dream diary and not a hunter’s journal.

Dean was only nine years old. He shouldn’t know about monsters. He shouldn’t be the one protecting this family. He shouldn’t have weapons in his room and he should not be prepared to use them. He was a child.

But what could she do? Removing the defences Dean had set up would put their whole family in danger for no good reason. Confronting him about it would force her to tell the truth about her own upbringing or risk pushing him away even further.

Mary chose to ignore it. She vacuumed around the salt lines and left Dean’s supplies where he had hidden them. She made an emergency kit for herself and hid it at the top of the linen closet. She made sure they always had a large supply of road salt on hand, and added a few clips of silver and iron bullets to John’s weapon case. She checked on the safe house.

She made all of these preparations with the uneasy feeling that someday her world would come crashing down, but she kept up the pretence.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, they were a normal family. John was a mechanic, Mary was a housewife and their sons were two normal boys. She could almost believe it was true when they went for family road trips, or watched a movie together on the couch, or went out for ice-cream, or ate dinner around the dining table, or played board games, or lay on their backs in the garden making pictures out of clouds. She could almost forget that Dean’s innocence had been stolen when she watched him play on the under-11s baseball team, or when he came home from school beaming because he got a good grade for his homework, or when he helped her bake pies and ended up with flour on his nose, or when he fell asleep in the backseat of the Impala, or when he and his brother dressed up like superheroes and made-believe that they could fly.

But every so often the illusion would be shattered. She would go downstairs for a drink of water in the middle of the night and see Dean carefully laying down salt-lines under the doormat and along the window ledges. She would argue with John about agreeing to take Dean to the shooting range. She would take her sons to the library and come back to find Dean pouring through musty old books on ancient mythology and local legends instead of comics.

One night she walked past Sammy’s bedroom and overheard her sons talking about monsters. She froze outside the doorway, heart hammering.

“…it has big claws and big teeth and it hides under my bed waiting until I fall asleep so it can eat me all up!” Sam cried.

“Under your bed, huh? Lemme have a look,” Dean said.

“Dean don’t, it’ll get you!”

Mary waited with bated breath.

“There’s nothing there, Sammy. I even stuck my hand under there to be sure. I still have all my fingers, see? So we’re good.”

“Maybe it ran into the closet when you weren’t looking!”

The sound of feet padding across the floor and a door squeaking open. “Nothing here either, Sammy. You’re safe, I promise.”

“But-”

“I wouldn’t ever let anything get you, Sammy. I’m your big brother – I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry.”

“But don’t you get scared of monsters?”

“Nah. I’m big and tough – monsters are scared of me.”

Sammy giggled.

“Besides, there’s an angel watching over us. There’s no reason to be scared, Sammy. Trust me.”

“Okay, Dee.”

“Good. Now go to sleep.”

“Tuck me in?”

“’Course. Good night little brother.”

“Nigh-night Dean.”

Mary slipped away before Dean could find her eavesdropping, but the words of her eldest son continued to echo in her thoughts.

If Sammy had come to her crying about a monster under his bed she would have told him there was no such thing as monsters – and it would have been a lie, told to ‘protect’ and shelter him. Dean hadn’t lied. He didn’t deny that monsters were real, but Sammy was still going to sleep feeling safe and secure because Dean promised he would look after him.

Was it really so simple? The night of the fire, if she had just told Dean the truth but promised that as a hunter she could protect him, would he have been content? He would have lost some of his innocence, certainly, but at least he would never have had to bear the burden of defending this family. If he had been able to trust his mom to protect him from the big bad world, like any child should, he might have had the chance to just be a kid.

But Mary had been so determined to leave the hunting life behind that despite her best intentions she had inadvertently driven Dean towards it. Now she feared it was too late to reverse the damage she had done.

She didn’t know what to do. It felt like the only thing she could do was hope… and pray.

She knelt down beside her bed, glancing towards the door in the hope that the football game on TV would keep John occupied, and then closed her eyes.

“I… uh, don’t really know how this whole prayer thing works,” she confessed. “I don’t exactly come from a religious background. My Dad always told me God wasn’t real, but I hoped he was wrong. I wanted to quit hunting so badly, only – with so much evil out there, how could I? Unless there was a higher power, some sort of greater good that would keep the world in balance even if I stopped fighting. I wanted to trust that there was a God who would take care of things...pick up the slack, I guess. For 10 years I let myself have faith. And then a demon came to my home and destroyed it and… I didn’t know what to believe anymore.

“Are you real, God? Is there a Heaven? Are there really angels? My son seems to think an angel saved him and I don’t know if that is true… but I want it to be. I just want Dean to be safe. I don’t want to lose him. Please, God- Heaven- Dean’s guardian angel-whoever is listening, if anyone is listening… please. Please protect my son. I’m begging you.”

For Mary, the silence was deafening and she felt like an idiot.

But she didn’t go unheard.

Castiel was listening, as he had ever been.

In the original timeline, when Mary Winchester had prayed over the cribs of her children, the upper management of Heaven had ordered that her prayers go unanswered in the interest of preserving ‘the grand story’. Time and again Castiel was told that he was not allowed to intervene or change fate; that ‘what was meant to be’ had to be.

But Dean had changed his own fate.

This time around Castiel had every intention of protecting the young Winchester. Dragging him from Hell had not saved him, not really – it had been too little, too late. But maybe Castiel could stop things in this timeline from ever going that far.

Chances were that Heaven didn’t want Mary’s latest prayer answered any more than those she had sent up previously. But Castiel was no longer acting under Heaven’s orders and he made the promise gladly.

“I will watch over your son, Mary Winchester. You have my word.”

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