|Farewell to Everest
Author: Aenisses Thai PM
Amelia Novak and Castiel grapple with the concept of atonement. Ch. 3. "What happened between us didn't feel like sin." "What did it feel like?" His eyes light up. "Redemption."Rated: Fiction M - English - Angst - Castiel & Amelia N. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 11,638 - Reviews: 35 - Favs: 46 - Follows: 11 - Updated: 10-26-09 - Published: 09-08-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5363369
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Spoiler warning: Spoilers for Season 5, Episode 1
Warnings: dark, adult themes; issues with consent; harsh language
Author note: I do not warn for character death in any of my stories, since I consider it a plot spoiler. If character death is an emotional trigger for you, I urge you to avoid my work. Thank you for understanding.
Disclaimer: All characters from Supernatural are the intellectual property of Eric Kripke, Warner Bros. Television, and Kripke Enterprises. I make no profit from this fanfiction.
Farewell to Everest
She catches the thin strip of navy silk in her fingers and, unthinking, deftly straightens the crooked knot. Suddenly she realizes what she's doing and yanks at the knot instead, the breath knifing from her lungs as she pulls the silk almost violently from around his neck. Long fingers lightly grip her wrists, steadying her.
She jerks her hands away, hissing as if burned. "Don't you touch me!" Rage curls incandescent across her tongue, through her lungs, her blood. His hands drop away, and she takes a deep breath, reaching for tenuous, trembling control. Right, then. She begins undoing the buttons on his white shirt, keeping her eyes fixed on her task, unwilling to lift her gaze and see—
Seventeen years earlier
Blue eyes sparking above the wind-flickered flame. "Light?"
Busted. She draws out the slightly crushed cigarette from its hiding place, suddenly noticing the singe mark on her skirt. "Shit!"
"Smoking and swearing on campus in your first month here. Impressive." There's no judgment in his light tenor, more like amusement, but she still bristles defensively.
"Are you going to report me?"
"Huh. I must be wearing my dick-face today." He flicks the lighter again. She hesitates, and he rolls his eyes. "That's a no, dummy. So do you want the light or not? I'm not made of propane, you know."
She leans in, holding her cigarette to the flame, appreciating the gentle touch of his fingers as he cups the lighter from the wind. A long drag, and she feels calmer already, exhaling the smoke politely away from him.
"So what's a nice Catholic girl doing in an Evangelical college like this?"
She grits her teeth. Here we go again. "Getting ready to sew a scarlet A on my sweater, apparently."
"Whoa, whoa!" He holds up his hands in surrender. "So I guess sucking at opening lines is a hanging offense. Can I throw myself on the mercy of the court, or do I choose my last meal now?"
She laughs in spite of herself, softened by the winsome plea in those amazingly clear eyes.
He grins. "I hope that means I've earned a do-over. My name is—"
"James Novak, sophomore. Student leader for the Theological Context discussion series." She nervously grinds out her cigarette beneath his shining gaze. "I've been here a month, like you said. Even idol-worshipping Catholics notice the holy hotshots on campus."
"Personal dig poorly concealed under the sheerest veneer of flattery. I like it." He tips his head to catch her gaze. "My friends call me Jimmy."
"Jimmy? Not," she lowers her voice to an exaggerated masculine drawl, "Jim or James or the ever romantic Jamie?"
"Just Jimmy." The wind ruffles his hair into dark, feathery tufts, transforming him from Bible geek to something almost otherworldly—
The white shirt falls across the jacket and trenchcoat in a crumpled heap on her bedroom floor. She feels a dull throb of satisfaction at seeing the deep creases in the pristine material, the ruin of the formerly smooth surface. She'd like to take a knife, an awl to every smooth surface she can see, slashing and digging until everything in the world matches the tattered, ruined scraps of her soul.
Her voice is a tattered ruin as well. "Take off—" she gestures at his shoes, "—and your belt." Some distant part of her marvels at this cold, venomous woman, this creature that didn't exist a bare hour ago. However, most parts of her don't give a good goddamn.
Forty-five minutes earlier
Footsteps echo across the bare floors: at least two people, moving past the stacked boxes in her foyer, her living room. Her heart jumps in her throat, accompanied by a brief flash of gratitude that Claire is at her mother's, but it doesn't stop the terror crawling across her skin. What idiocy made her think she'd be safe here just because it was midday?
She curses her stupidity and fumbles for the salt container, completing a wide circle around herself just as shadows lance through the sunlight on her dining room floor.
Relief is an intoxicating rush of air in her lungs. It's them—it's him. She rises slowly to her feet, staring at the familiar and unfamiliar merging, but…she can't sense the faint crackle of energy, that slight scent of ozone that had held her immobile when he'd walked out of the warehouse after staring blankly (coldly) at her and Claire. Right now, his expression is far from cold: it's vulnerable and a little lost, and oh so human…
"Jimmy!" Joy propels her forward over the salt line, her hands already reaching for him—
—but he flinches back.
"No." The warning is gentle, as gentle as the hand that grips her elbow. She stares, confused, into Dean Winchester's deceptively guileless face, reading something dark behind his eyes.
No, he said. No. Ironically, she turns for reassurance to the second man, the creature wearing her husband's face. "But Jimmy's still in there…somewhere…right?"
Blue eyes she knows better than her own grow dim with ancient sorrow. "I am sorry, Amelia," spoken in a low, raspy timbre.
A punch of shock drives the breath from her lungs, slicing the ground from beneath her feet, sending her tumbling, falling—
Seventeen years earlier
"Glad you could make it." He grabs the seat in front of her, waving an absent goodbye to the last stragglers from the study group as he straddles the chair, resting his chin on its back.
She pulls her purse onto her lap, trying to hide her self-consciousness under a cocky tone. "Just thought I'd see what all the fuss is about."
"And?" His gaze is so open, so puppylike in its hopeful expectation that it drags a smile from her reluctant lips.
"I thought we were supposed to be fishers of men, not fishers for compliments."
"Death, where is Thy sting?" One hand clutches dramatically at his chest, while the other draws her to her feet. "Come on, we can still grab a coffee at the Stupe if we hurry. Then you can start showering me with well-earned praise."
Is this his version of asking her for a date? She pulls back, hesitant. "Listen, I'm not looking for… I have plans for my life, and they don't include—" She stops, feeling stupid under his teasing squint.
"Been listening to rumors about us holy rollers, eh? Don't believe everything you hear. We don't all choose our life partners before asking them out on a first date. Besides, I have plans, too, and they don't include marriage by age twenty-one."
She follows him out into the starlit night, down paved paths towards the student union. "What plans?"
"Going to Mount Everest," he announces, and she envies his confidence.
"You're a world traveler?"
"Hardly. Only been to…" he counts off fingers, "ten states so far, and that includes a road trip to Florida. Never been out of the country, not even to Canada."
"But you're into mountain climbing." She glances skeptically at his weedy form.
"Hah! Yeah, growing up in Illinois really makes me an expert in scaling peaks. Air starts getting thin in the higher cornfields." He grins at her confusion. "Look, just because I'm not a crampons and oxygen tank type of guy doesn't mean I wouldn't love to hike through Nepal just to get a good look at her. A good, long look… Chomolungma." His voice trails off wistfully.
"Who?" She's beginning to feel as if she's caught in a conversation with a foreigner, cryptic broken English and all.
"Chomolungma. Mother Goddess of the Himalayas. Everest." He breathes the names with a reverence he should reserve for God, she thinks a little unkindly, and for some reason, she likes him better for it. He snaps his attention back to her. "So what about you? What really brings you here?" and she can't figure out if he means to indicate the campus, the world, or her entire existence.
She shrugs, unable to come up with a good answer for any of those choices. "I guess I'm looking for solid ground. My mom spent a year here when she was young, and she said…well, it seemed as good a place as any to start looking." She clamps her lips shut, trying not to think of how long it's been since she last felt secure in her place in this world. Maybe not since sixth grade, when she had suddenly become the only kid at St. John's with divorced parents, the subject of well-meaning but cloying pity from the nuns and lay teachers.
Jimmy catches her arm, turning her to face him. "So you decided to enroll at Wheaton, sign a code of conduct that you only half believe in, attend Bible study just because the student leader hustled you into it, and for what? Because you think solid ground is a degree you can earn?" The words would sting if not for the honest curiosity in his voice.
His honesty unlooses something similar in herself. "I came here because you all seem so sure, so damn certain of your faith! Where you're going, what your life means…none of you seems to ever—"
"Yeah." She wonders if she can get away with lighting a cigarette this close to the Stupe.
"Faith is easy." He plows on past her snort of disbelief. "You just let go and let yourself believe. Like trust falls in stupid management seminars; no thought needed at all. Doubt, on the other hand, takes intellect. Thinking about every possible outcome, taking into account science and logic and human nature, figuring out how and if it all fits together—hey, it's hard work. You shouldn't look down on yourself for being smart."
He grins, pulling open the door to shed a rectangle of yellow light on the path, accompanied by the warm fragrance of coffee and pastries. For the first time in a long time, she imagines she feels the planet firm beneath her feet.
It's Dean Winchester who catches her as her knees buckle, leads her to the couch with strong, capable hands, makes her sit. The sensation pressing down on her is shock, she knows, thick and unyielding, wrapping her in dense fog. Rationality is murky, distant, something she reaches for with random, half-formed questions.
"I don't understand." Her voice sounds far away even to herself. "I just saw you…him…it's only been what, two weeks?"
The creature accompanying Dean stands off to one side, shoulders hunched under her husband's coat, features drawn in grim lines as he stares at the floor.
He looks just like Jimmy.
He looks nothing like Jimmy.
She can't grasp what's going on.
It's not the subject matter. Once not so long ago, Dean's explanations would've sounded insane, but she knows better now. Oh yes, she knows infinitely better now.
Lucifer. The Apocalypse.
"So where is he? Jimmy…his soul." Dean falls silent, so she seeks out the other's gaze. "You said it before: fields of the Lord, right? Is that heaven—is he in heaven? Can you get him back?"
Those eyes finally lift to meet hers, and she shivers under the weight of that sorrowful gaze. "No. I don't know where his soul has gone."
"How can you not know? You're a—what you are!"
He swallows and looks down. "Heaven has cast me out. I'm no longer…I can't hear them."
And suddenly, it's all too much, too damn much, and rage boils up in her, dark, swift, and ugly like demon possession but not a foreign presence; this time it's her, all her.
She leaps off the couch, curling her fist and striking him in the face as hard as she can. He staggers back, a red mark appearing on his cheek, and she wants to smash it, smash him, smash that face that mocks her with her loss.
"Stop it!" Hands grab her from behind. "Stop it, Amelia, he's not to blame! If you want to blame anybody, blame me! I forced him into it, I pushed him—"
"No, Dean. The choice was mine. I stand by my decision."
Even through the swirling vortex of her rage, she can feel it: a tangible connection between the two men, more profound than friendship, deeper than simple trust. Something that hadn't existed the last time they'd interacted before her. She'd had that once; she'd had that with a man who no longer—
"What about Jimmy?" She jerks out of Dean Winchester's grasp. "What was his decision? What did he choose?"
Silence answers her question.
"You never even asked him, did you? You never gave him the chance. His life meant nothing to you!" She's shouting now, the rage too big, too fierce to be contained; she's screaming in the angel's stolen face, her hands fisted in his coat. "You can't begin to understand what he sacrificed, what he lost, what we all lost! You and your apocalypse—how can you pretend to care about humans when you didn't give a damn about the one man who— You used him and used him, and you never—once—understood!"
Just like that, her rage loses its heat, its explosive force. Just like that, staring into his sad, uncomprehending gaze, she feels ice crackle through her veins, creep across her heart, shore up her limbs with cold, brittle purpose.
He doesn't understand Jimmy's sacrifice.
She'll see to it.
Thirteen years earlier
She reads the print once, twice, and yet again, holding the paper with trembling fingers. Not that the doctor had been anything other than perfectly clear, but for some reason, the printed page holds more reality for her than any number of verbal assurances.
The flimsy apartment door slams open and shut. "Ames!" and she quickly shoves the report under her pillow, knowing he'll be at the bedroom door in a few quick strides. She's barely gotten to her feet when he seizes her and twirls her in a giddy circle. She laughs, breathless, shaken out of her stunned reflective state. Could he possibly know?
"Listen, listen, listen!" he sings as he clasps her close, practically dancing her through their tiny apartment. "I got a promotion today—after only six months, can you believe it? —but Mr. Francik thinks I could sell ice to Eskimos, or at least he said so, and now I'm on full commission and do you know what that means?" He sets her gently aside so he can fling his arms out. "Everest, here we come! I'm up for vacation in six months and Mr. Francik said if I needed to, I could take a couple extra weeks without pay, so all you have to do is to get the same time off and we're set!"
She catches her breath. He's beautiful. His hair is wavy and wind-tossed as if he had run all the way home from the bus stop, his cheeks flushed, his eyes a clear, radiant blue. Although she's been in love with him for a long time, she's never really seen him like this, not even on their wedding day.
He doesn't notice her stare, however, rushing back and forth through their small living space as he energetically counts off points on his fingers. "We'll have to look up plane fare to Nepal. We can use the money in our savings account—which means it'll take a while longer before we can afford a house, but this is worth it—and look into hiking gear. That's expensive, but maybe Steve has some he'll be willing to lend us. And we'll need shots; we have to get doctor's appointments and—"
Reality is a stinging slap in the face. "Jimmy," she chokes.
He's still too immersed in his plans to notice. "I wonder if there's a mission house in Nepal? We could bring supplies, maybe do a little good while we're on vacation. And we have to get into shape: build up our endurance, spend a few weekends hiking out at Starved Rock—"
He finally slows down enough to really see her. "Amelia? Is something wrong?"
There's a second or two of silence, a suspension of time in which he absorbs the implications. First, there's shock, but he's always been quick so he doesn't linger there, instead working through what this means to their lives, their plans—
Tears spring to her eyes, and she holds a hand up to her mouth.
"Oh, hey," he breathes, drawing her into his arms. "Don't cry, sweetheart. Everything's okay, right? The…the baby is all right, isn't it? And you?" He peers anxiously into her face.
"Yes," she says. "Everything's good. Dr. Weiss says it looks like a good start, perfectly normal, and he's given me about fifty vitamins, and—"
"Oh, God." Jimmy pulls her tight. "Thank you, Lord, thank you for your blessing, for this gift," and he sounds so sincere that the tension leaves her shoulders, and she melts into his embrace.
It isn't until later that night, as he sleeps beside her still protectively gripping her hand, that her tears begin again. Part of it is fear—what does she know at age twenty-two about being a mother?—part of it is hormones, probably—but most of it is the memory of his face, those first moments when, in his naked, stricken gaze, she watched his dream die.
She releases the angel's coat and turns to Dean Winchester. "Get out of my house."
He barely flickers an eyelid, but guilt seeps from his entire being, from the slight hunching of his leather-clad shoulders to the downward twist of his lips.
It means nothing to her.
"All right," he croaks, then tosses two dark blue booklets onto the coffee table. "Passports for you and Claire. Fake names. They'll help you hide, especially if you want to leave the country." He pulls another scrap of paper from his pocket and scribbles on it, "But if you ever need to reach us…"
She makes no move to accept it from his hands, so he sets it gently next to the passports. "Okay. We'd better go, Cas."
"No." She blocks the angel's path. "He stays."
For one brief second, all three of them freeze in a strange tableau, like a group of actors waiting for the director to yell, "Cut!"
The angel's eyes flash to hers, widening slightly before he veils them beneath his lids.
Dean takes a step toward her, hands spread wide in a conciliatory gesture. "Amelia, you can't keep him here. He's not Jimmy, you know."
"Oh, I know that." And maybe her tone is just that sharp with dark intent, because Dean's posture whipsaws from gentle to dangerous, the demon hunter coiled and ready beneath his boyish freckles.
All the same, he makes one last attempt at being reasonable, licking his lips as he searches for the right words. "Look, I know something about loss, and I know that you can get a little crazy at first. So I'm really, really sorry for you and Claire, but I think it's best if Cas and I leave now, before any of us does something we're gonna feel bad about later. Come on, Cas, let's get outta here."
The angel doesn't move, keeping his eyes fixed on the floor.
"Oh, don't you start. Don't you even—I told you it was a bad idea coming here, but no, you wouldn't listen to me. Damn it, this is not good at all! You're not staying here when you don't even know what she wants from you!"
Icy tendrils of bitterness curl around her heart. "He knows."
"Then I wish one of you would fill me in, 'cause from where I'm standing, this is one fucked-up, crazy-ass mess!"
"Tell him," she says to the angel, as cool as if issuing orders to a celestial being were part of her everyday routine.
"Penance," he intones in that low rasp, lifting his eyes at last to lock with hers. "Atonement."
She nods, a quick, jerky motion, biting her lip as satisfaction lodges in her throat like a sob.
"Fuck that! Fuck that noise! We're blowing this joint. Lady, I don't want to hurt you, but if you get in our way—"
She absently notes that she is now "lady" instead of "Amelia", and maybe in some previous existence that would have bothered her (the existence in which she wasn't a widow), but at this moment, she can't muster enough attention to care. She has bigger concerns.
"Dean." The angel moves past her, but she knows he's not running away, because he's as trapped in this twisted dance as she is. He murmurs low to his friend, and Dean slaps the wall in frustration and turns to storm out.
He stops just short of crossing the threshold, however, and looks back, tightly controlled fury vibrating through his form. "Lady, I don't know what your game is, but if you hurt him, I swear I'll—"
She should be frightened, but for some reason, she stares calmly back at him. What can he do to her? What can he do that the angel hasn't already done?
He must read this in her face, because he cuts off his threat and strides out, slamming the door behind him.
Now it's just her and the angel. He stands before her with eyes downcast and hands curled loosely at his sides, as if he's waiting for orders.
Well, then, she won't disappoint him.
To be continued