Dean has four photographs of his mother.

Two of them are older than he is: old Polaroids of Mary Winchester before she was even Mary Winchester, the colors starting to fade and shift into a trendy photo filter, turquoises and magentas and yellows disproportionate, and they make Dean swallow because there are people who intentionally make their memories look like this, when this is all he has. The acetate is brittle and the pencil label is no more than a gray smudge against the tattering white.

There is another worn, pockmarked photo, his mother holding a little blond boy. The boy looks like her, has her cheekbones and her jawline and her bright sunny locks and her smile. Well, Dean still has the cheekbones and the jawline, but he’d lost the blond shortly after he’d lost the mother. He hasn’t lost the smile, not completely, but he’s sure his mother never felt the bitter metal tinge to every smile like he does.

The last is a family photo, the gilt from the Olsen Mills logo in the corner rubbed away, the edges velvet with handling, the pebbled finish gone smooth in places from rubbing against the plastic of too many wallets to count. His father looks happy, his mother serene. Sam isn’t much more than an oversized, fleshy potato wrapped in a blanket. And Dean hardly recognizes himself. Hardly recognizes anyone.

His memory of his mother, even with these photographs, is more a vague blonde woman shape, moving almost silently through his memories like a warm ghost. He rejects the images he’s seen, in Heaven and from shapeshifters, the young and feisty Mary Campbell he’d met and protected in his jaunt through a timestream that he couldn’t convince himself was his. Those weren’t his mother. Those weren’t Mom.

Mom is a concept, a construct, a scaffolding upon which he hangs memories too vague to summon without a long afternoon of sitting quietly, “Hey Jude” on repeat in his headphones, shaking loose the motes of memory lodged so far back in his mind that they almost belonged to someone else.

And, try as he might, the colors are fading.

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