A/N - A little hiatus-fic for you all! This is a flipped version of one of my other fics. You'll see what I mean. FF readers: the fic will go explicit Destiel and will move to AO3 shortly (since the FF site doesn't allow explicit fics), but I'm posting the first chapter on FF in case you want to come check out the rest on AO3.

The most important thing was to make sure Claire was happy.

This was the guiding principle of Jimmy Novak's life, and it was never far from his thoughts. Even right now, exhausted at the end of his long work day, trudging through the parking lot of the supermarket while he tried to plan dinner, it was still the primary thought in his mind: Jimmy had to make sure that Claire was happy.

She'd had such a horrible time, the last six years. She'd always been such a good kid, such a sweet daughter... the light of his life. And then her world had been utterly destroyed.

When Jimmy had abandoned her.

Not intentionally, of course. It'd been the accident. Jimmy had ended up in a coma, and Claire's mother Amelia had died.

Or so Jimmy'd been told. He remembered nothing of Amelia's death, actually, and nothing of those six years in the coma. It all seemed just a stretch of quiet blackness in his mind, punctuated by vague memories of a few faint blurry dreams— dreams of wings and flying, usually. In fact, at first Jimmy had been convinced the accident must have involved flying somehow, so strong was his impression that he'd fallen in some way, fallen to earth, during those dark years. He'd even assumed at first that the accident must have been an airplane crash. But Claire had explained it had been a car crash.

Nonetheless, coma or not, he had abandoned Claire, was what it came down to. She'd been left on her own. Claire had had a horrific time afterwards— she'd stayed with her grandmother at first, but Gran had died, and after that Claire had bounced from group home to group home, and then, unthinkably, had apparently ended up on the street. His precious daughter, abandoned and lost and terrified and alone on the street— the thought of it still made his blood run cold. Claire would never talk about the details, and Jimmy knew that was a bad sign.

Jimmy felt nearly desperate to be a good father to her again. And being a good father meant making sure his daughter was happy.

Claire was still "troubled," as the school guidance counselor put it. "She needs stability," the counselor had said, "and she needs to know you won't leave her again." So Jimmy had tried his best to recreate some kind of a stable home life for Claire. He'd managed to find a little rental house here in Missoula that seemed to make her reasonably happy. He had several part-time jobs now, and had been able, so far, to pay the rent on the house, and even to buy some new furniture for her room. That seemed to make her happy too. (Money was tight, but he'd made it work. In his own room he just had a mattress on the floor, but Claire now had a full bedroom set.) She'd been the one who wanted to go back to high school; that had rather surprised him, but it seemed it would make her happy, so he'd arranged that too, and had somehow found the money for the textbooks and her little fold-up computer. The clothes she wore, the movie tickets he got for for her and her friends on weekends, the tv he'd bought for the little living room, the "father-daughter nights" they had together watching old tv shows, all of it, all, was aimed at making Claire happy.

It had been several months now, and things were actually going reasonably well.

Meaning, sometimes she seemed almost happy. For a moment or two. She'd fallen apart again at Christmas— something about the family memories and all the Christmas-angel decorations seemed to set her off— but now, in February, she'd somewhat settled down. But Jimmy was worried; she still seemed a little fragile. Unhappy, that is.

So dinner tonight should be something that would definitely make Claire happy.

But what kind of dinner should that be?

By now Jimmy had reached to the supermarket's sliding doors, and, as usual, he found himself at a loss the moment he got inside. He trailed to a halt in the vegetable section, looking around uncertainly. What kind of dinner would make Claire happy? There were all too many choices here; too many edible things and too many ways to prepare them.

A moment later Jimmy realized he was tilting his head as he looked around at everything. Tilting his head and frowning. It was a habit he had that Claire detested, and one he was trying to break.

He sighed, un-tilted his head (this felt awkward), and pulled a crumbled piece of paper out of his pocket. It was his shopping list, which he'd been pulling out of his pocket off and on all day, while working at the warehouse, trying to think of more things he could write on it. It still just had the same two things it had had this morning, which were:

Pizza? Chicken?

It wasn't much of a list, but he hadn't been able to think of anything else. Jimmy frowned down at it, his head unconsciously tilting a little again.

The dinners had become a pressing issue. Preparing a meal that would make Claire happy was turning out to be nowhere near as easy as Jimmy'd first assumed. Last fall, when she'd began her long-delayed senior year at the Missoula high school, Claire had actually done almost all of the cooking. This was partly because Jimmy turned out to be utterly useless in the kitchen— somehow, presumably because of the accident, he seemed to have completely forgotten how to cook— and partly because he'd also been scrambling for extra night shifts at his job, determined to earn enough money to try to buy the furniture, and clothes, and phone, and everything, for Claire.

So Claire had cooked for them both.

Oddly enough, it actually seemed to make her happy.

But slowly Jimmy had realized that it might Claire happier if she felt like she fit in more at school.

This was another thing she would never admit openly: despite her gruff-rebel act, she was desperate to fit in. Jimmy had first deduced this from the way Claire had become so clearly embarrassed about Jimmy himself, whenever he came to pick her up at school. It was around then that she'd pleaded he get a different car (she hated the old Continental, though Jimmy loved it). She'd introduced him to her friends only as "Jimmy", never as "my dad." She'd insisted he raise the pitch of his voice, and stop tilting his head "like a doof", and wear his tie straight, and "stop wearing that ridiculous coat."

After a few months of that she'd finally made him pick her up two blocks away from school. It had taken Jimmy a surprisingly long time to realize that this was so that her friends wouldn't see him.

It had also been surprising how much that had hurt.

But in a way it had been good, for it had been Jimmy's first clue about how badly she wanted to fit in. She wants a typical father, with a typical car, and a typical mother in a typical house, he'd realized. She wants a normal life.

Perhaps, he thought, if she does some normal things, some typical school activities, she'll be happy?

So he pushed her to try out for the high school's spring play, and try out for band, and join a sports team. She agreed only very grudgingly, insisting she "didn't care."

But she did.

Jimmy could tell.

It made her happy when she got into band, and it made her happy when she got onto the hockey team, and it made her incredibly happy when she got into the school play. It was the happiest he'd ever seen her, actually; she'd gotten the email with the news on her phone one night, on "dad night" when she was sitting on the sofa watching a tv show with Jimmy. She'd had been totally unable to hide her bright, huge smile.

Jimmy had felt his heart would burst, just to see her looking so happy again.

"Move it, bud!" snapped a loud voice behind him. Jimmy jumped and moved aside; he'd still been standing in the vegetable section, lost in thought.

He sighed, and checked the scrap of paper again. Pizza? Chicken?

What had happened was, now that Claire was doing the play, Jimmy had to cook dinner on play practice nights. This ought to have been easy, but the problem was that Jimmy simply couldn't remember how to make any of the meals that he vaguely recalled making in the past.

Before the accident, that is.

Amelia had done most of the cooking, before. But Jimmy was certain that he had cooked occasionally too, and he knew he had once been able to make a decent repertoire of things that Claire had liked to eat. For example, he was pretty sure he'd made home-made pizza with some regularity. He even had one clear memory (well, as clear as his memories ever got) of helping Claire choose her pizza toppings. Though the memory had that odd distant quality that most of his memories did: flat and two-dimensional, almost like a movie that someone had shown him once. But the image was pretty clear: Adorable little Claire, with her adorable little blonde braids, about seven years old, helping put the toppings on the pizza.

As he recalled, she'd liked pepperoni and those little sliced-up green peppers.

But try as he might, Jimmy couldn't seem to remember how he'd actually made the pizza— the dough, or the sauce, or how to cook it, or anything really. He just had that one vague, flickering memory of Claire putting the toppings on, like a scene on a stage; it seemed almost like something that had happened to someone else. He could recall no more details. Another consequence of his accident, he supposed.

For the first two weeks of the school play activities, Jimmy had relied on take-out meals - hamburgers from the local diner, mostly, and frozen burritos, the only two meals he had much confidence about. Claire had finally said, "Dad. Burgers and frozen burritos once in a while are fine. Burgers and frozen burritos every single night do not make me happy. Got it?"

He'd gotten it.

Jimmy spent a while now wandering through the supermarket aisles trying to remember how to make pizza. Weren't tomatoes required? Perhaps in some kind of paste form? Would ketchup do? Were mushrooms involved? Flour, maybe?

He found himself, at last, in the frozen-food aisle once more. No frozen burritos this time, but there were frozen pizzas, too! He glanced at the time on his phone and realized he was running out of time. It would have to be a frozen pizza. Maybe later Jimmy would remember, or could re-learn, how to make a pizza from scratch again.

After some more thought, Jimmy got some Cheerios for breakfast (Claire liked Cheerios), some more coffee (Claire liked coffee), and cream (Claire liked cream) and, finally, he picked out a large frozen pizza. He couldn't find one that had quite the right combination of pepperoni-and-green-pepper that he remembered, but he did finally find one that at least had the pepperoni and lots of other vegetables as well. Then he found a fresh green pepper in the vegetable section of the store. Perhaps I can cut it up and put it on the pizza myself, he thought, weighing the green pepper in his hand.

Maybe that will make her happy.

Claire texted Jimmy when rehearsal was almost over ("Hey dad, almost done"). Tonight she would be delivered home by a friend's mother, and Jimmy knew he had about twenty minutes' lead time. Just enough time for him to bake the pizza, and set the table.

He cut up the green pepper, arranged the slices on the pizza and followed the instructions on the box to preheat the oven, slide the pizza in and set the timer. Then he had nineteen more minutes to kill.

It didn't take long to set the table. It wasn't as nice a table setting as they would have had "before," of course. No more lovely hardwood furniture. No more nice table china, no more cloth napkins.

No more lovely big house in Pontiac, Illinois.

No more Amelia.

It was just two table settings now. Two mismatched plates that they'd picked out at the Salvation Army together, two mismatched glasses, and paper towels for napkins. And the table was a little rickety and scarred, from the Salvation Army's furniture warehouse. But at least it was plates, and glasses, and a table.

Then Jimmy wandered through the house straightening things up, making sure everything was ready for Claire. He made her bed, and put away a batch of clean laundry for her.

He went into his own room to tidy up too. He didn't have much in that room; just the little mattress on the floor, and the blankets and bedding. The mattress was already neatly made up. He put away his own laundry; and then, as always, as soon as he got into his closet he couldn't resist reaching out and touching the hanger at the back. The one with the dark suit and the tan-colored coat, all hanging together on the same hanger.

Claire hated those clothes, so Jimmy never wore them. But he still kept them, in the back of his closet. He couldn't even remember where they'd come from, or why he had them, but he kept them, and he looked at them now and then. As he did now, running his fingers over the lapels of the coat.

He had to make himself turn away and head back to the kitchen.

Claire came in just as he was cutting up the pizza with the only sharp knife he owned, a slightly-too-long silver knife that he couldn't quite recall the origin of, and that he kept in the lowest kitchen drawer. (For some reason Claire didn't like this knife, and she'd tried to get rid of it several times, but Jimmy had managed to rescue it each time. At last she'd given up.)

As always she burst into the house like a little tornado, flinging coat and mittens and hat and backpack everywhere, flopping instantly down on the couch with her nose in her little phone to keep texting some friends.

"Hi, Claire-Bear," Jimmy called, from the kitchen nook. He set the pizza and the too-long knife aside for a moment in order to walk over, lean over her on the couch and give her a kiss on the top of the head. She flinched; she always did, a slight cringing away. It always brought a memory to mind (again one of those oddly flat, two-dimensional memories) of how Claire used to come pelting to greet him at the door when she was very young. How he'd always said "Claire-Bear!" to her, and how she used to answer "Daddy!", dashing over to him as quick as she could, a bright beaming smile on her face.

Now she always flinched.

Jimmy had a parenting book called "Reaching Out To Your Teen" that he'd found at the Salvation Army. He'd bought it (to Claire's considerable scorn) and had hidden it away in his room, consulting it now and then. The book said that this cringing-away behavior was typical of teenagers, this sort of sullenness when greeted with affection, but that it was important to show them affection anyway. "Even when they act like they don't want your love, they really do," said the book. "Deep down, though they may not admit it, it makes them happy to know that you love them."

So he always kissed on her on the head when she came home. And she always cringed away.

And he always pretended it didn't hurt.

"I've got dinner ready," Jimmy asked, gesturing over to the table. "Would you like some?"

"Okay, cool," said Claire. She got up, barely looking up from her phone, headed to the table and sat down. Jimmy headed over to the kitchen counter to get the pizza.

Jimmy asked, "How was play practice?"

"It's called rehearsal," said Claire, rolling her eyes. She kept tapping away at her phone.

"Was it fun?"

"Sure. I guess." She kept tapping.

She had her I-don't-really-want-to-talk-to-you look. Jimmy knew that look pretty well by now.

"Did it make you happy?" Jimmy had to ask.

He knew as soon as the words left his mouth that it was a mistake. Claire hated that question. But he could never help asking.

Sure enough the wary look came over her face, as it always did whenever he asked this question. She clicked off her phone and put it down.

"What do you care," she said gruffly, fiddling with her hair now. She wasn't looking at him.

"I want you to be happy," Jimmy said. "I'm responsible for you. I'm your father and I want you to be happy, sweetie, is that so strange?"

Claire's hands stilled. She let go of her hair and put her hands down in her lap, staring down at her plate, very still. She sometimes got this way. Usually whenever Jimmy made the mistake of saying that he loved her, or of reminding her that he was her father.

"What's for dinner," she said, still staring at her plate.

Jimmy had finished cutting up the slices. He set the too-long knife down and tilted the cutting board a little bit toward her, showing her the pizza. "I remembered I used to make you pizza," he said. "Before."

She stared at the pizza for a moment, and then looked at him.

It was such a delicate dance, trying to assess whether to mention the past. Anything about "before." Before the accident. Before everything had fallen apart. Sometimes when he described something from "Before" to her, some long-ago memory, one of those strange flat gauzy memories that surfaced in his mind now and then, sometimes it seemed like a good thing; a soft, sweet smile would creep over her face and she would say "I remember that too," gazing off into space.

But other times she got so sad and quiet she would go to bed early.

Or she ended up staring up at Jimmy with a dark, thoughtful look in her eyes. As she was doing now.

"You remember that?" she said. "Making pizza?"

"We put on toppings together. Um... didn't we?" Jimmy felt unsure for a moment— had he remembered it wrong?— but Claire nodded, so Jimmy said, feeling a little more hopeful now, "I thought I'd try again."

He slid two slices onto her plate, and two onto his own. But when he looked back at her he knew immediately that something was wrong. Just from the way she was looking down at the plate, and the way her face had stiffened.

"Olives," Claire said. She didn't make a move to pick up the pizza. She just sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap now, sitting as primly as she used to do back when she was a little girl. Sit up straight, Claire, Jimmy remembered saying, sometime very long ago. Don't lean on your elbows. Don't eat with your hands, Claire. Wait till we say grace, Claire...

(They never said grace anymore. They'd never even discussed it.)

"There's olives," Claire said.


"The pizza has olives."

Jimmy looked at the pizza slices that he'd just put on his own plate. There were indeed olives. "Oh. I suppose it does. It was the only one that had both pepperoni and green pepper. I added extra green pepper— I thought you liked pepperoni and green pepper?"

"I do. But I hate olives."

"Oh, sweetie, I..." He hesitated, looking at her face. Dammit. She wasn't happy. This was bad. "I didn't remember that, Claire. I'm sorry."

"I've always hated olives," said Claire.

It was sort of coming back to him now. A muddy, uncertain memory, surfacing slowly: Claire and olives... something about Claire not liking olives, something about teasing her about how she'd grow out of that some day. "I was trying to get something you liked, and—"

"It's my number one most hated food," said Claire. "Even the smell makes me sick."

"I could pick them off—"

"You've known my entire life that I hate olives. We used to joke about it. You used to say, whenever there was something else I didn't like, you'd say, 'at least it's not as bad as olives, Claire.' We had a whole joke about the olive scale of badness. It was, like, this running joke we had. But you don't remember that. Do you."

Jimmy could hear the little kitchen clock ticking in the stillness.

"No," he said at last.

"Also you used to make the pizza from scratch. You made the crust and the sauce."

"I know. I couldn't remember how."

"You really suck as a father, you know that?" she said. Her voice was ice cold.

Teenagers often act disrespectful. It is important to remember that this a normal part of their development; they must develop an identity of their own, and to accomplish that they will challenge their parents now and then.

That's what the book said, anyway.

"I'm trying my best, Claire." It was awfully hard sometimes to keep his voice calm, when she got like this.

"I know," she said, her voice flat. "That's what makes it so damn pitiful. You're trying your best and you still suck. A fucking warehouse job? Frozen pizza for dinner? Plates from goddam Salvation Army? You were supposed to be, like, important or something. Special or something. I thought if I had you around you were going to take care of me."

You must not take it personally, the book had said.

"I am taking care of you, Claire, as best I can. I know it's been hard, with your mother gone—"

"Don't you fucking talk about my mother. You abandoned her."

"Claire, I was in a coma—"

"You don't even know what happened," Claire spat out. "You're just a, a, a, you're like a fucking puppet! This whole thing was such a fucking mistake. I miss my mom. And I miss my dad. My real dad." With that, she pushed her chair back from the table, stormed away into her room, and slammed the door.

She got like this sometimes. She had these little outbursts, of grief and rage, and several times she'd said that strange thing about Jimmy not being her "real" dad. The school counselor said she was trying to "work through the changes," trying to accept the fact that Jimmy had had a head injury, and was no longer the same as he'd been before the accident. Don't take it personally, the counselor had said. The counselor, and the book, both made it sound so easy.

The you're-not-my-father thing was nonsensical, of course. Jimmy remembered the day Claire had been born. He remembered holding her in his arms for the very first time. He remembered the overwhelming rush of love, and responsibility, and near-terror, that had overcome him at that moment. The knowledge, My life has changed forever. It's no longer about me. It's about her.

But even those memories, as sweet as they were, all had that flat distant feel to them.

Still, Jimmy knew one thing for sure: Regardless of whatever head injury he'd suffered, regardless of the problems he had, he did love Claire.

He did.

There were complications to it all, to be sure. But he did love her.

And he dearly wanted her to be happy.

The clock ticked its way through a long, slow minute.

Jimmy sat at the little table as the pizza cooled, looking down at the olives.

He started to pick the olives off of Claire's pizza slices.

He picked them all off. It took a while. He put them in a heap on his own plate and waited for Claire to come out of her room. But she didn't come out, and at last he pushed his own plate away and put his head in his hands.

Why were his memories all so fuzzy? Why couldn't he even make a pizza right? What was wrong? The doctor at the clinic said it was to be expected, with his sort of traumatic brain injury. The lost skills, the missing memories, the strange distant quality of the few memories he did retain. The oddest thing, though, was that most vivid memories that he had weren't even the memories from before the accident at all, but were, rather, the memories of the dreams he'd had during the coma, during that long empty six years. He only remembered the tiniest scraps, just an image or two really... But those were vivid. Those seemed real. But they were bizarre and confusing. Images of blood and thunder. Flames and fighting. Silver blades flashing... rings of fire... blazes of bright, bright light... a long journey through a trackless wilderness. A black car roaring in the night.

And dreams of wings. Dreams of flying. He still had those dreams now, actually.

Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. The pizza was totally cold now. Jimmy still sat there, head in his hands.

His shoulders were aching again. They got like this sometimes, sore and tender; especially whenever he'd been sad, whenever Claire was mad at him, whenever he'd been thinking about the flying dreams. The ache got terrible sometimes, a strange nauseating feeling that seemed to extend right across his back, right across both shoulder blades. Almost as if something had been ripped away. His heart, maybe... his soul... or something else.

A soft touch on his shoulder made him jump. Claire was standing beside him.

"Sorry," she whispered.

"Hey, Claire-Bear," he tried to say. His voice came out very hoarse, in that low gruff tone that she hated. He knew he should try to pitch it higher, and opened his mouth to try again, but all he seemed able to do was let out a long sigh. He glanced up at her.

Her eyes widened a little. She said, "Have you been— are you... crying?"

Jimmy blinked, surprised. He wiped his eyes and looked at his hand. It was wet, sure enough. How odd. He felt fairly sure that it was shameful to cry. It was probably something embarrassing. Something Claire wouldn't like, like the low voice and the head-tilting.

He wiped his hand on his paper-towel napkin, and risked another glance up at her. But she didn't look annoyed. She just looked sad.

Jimmy had to swallow, past a lump in his throat, before he could speak. "I wanted to make you pizza. It's the only thing I remember making for you."

She sank down on the chair next to his, her hands balled up in her lap. She seemed on the verge of tears.

"I'm sorry I didn't know about the olives, Claire."

"It's okay," she whispered.

"There's a lot of things I don't remember."

"I know," she whispered. She hunkered down a little further, arms wrapping around herself. "It's okay. I shouldn't expect you to. I just... sometimes I forget, you know? Sometimes I believe it... I forget and I believe it... and then when I remember..." She trailed off.

"Believe what?"

She gave a stiff little shrug. "Nothing."

Jimmy leaned closer and took her hand. "I want to be sure you know that I love you, Claire-Bear."

She was quiet for a moment.

"You don't," she said at last, in a very tiny voice, her head down. "You just think you do."

What could a father do when his daughter said that?

"But I picked all your olives off," Jimmy found himself saying. "Isn't that a sign of love?"

He'd been bewildered by why she'd seemed about to cry, and he was bewildered again now by why she started laughing. And how was it that laughter could sound so sad?

Claire did eat the pizza, at last— she even reheated it, and watched a tv show together with Jimmy. She barely cringed away at all when he gave her a goodnight kiss on the head, at bedtime. Peace seemed to have returned. Claire was relatively happy, and at last Jimmy felt he could go to bed.

But at night, as he lay curled up on his little mattress, under his Salvation Army comforter, the dreams returned.

He dreamed, once again, of the gleaming black car rushing through the night. The dream had no plot; nothing really happened. It was just the car roaring along down an endless road.

In the dream Jimmy was in the back seat. Two dimly seen figures in the front seat were his only companions. Jimmy felt a great sense of relief, joy even, to see them there: one a little taller, on the right, and a shorter one on the left. They said nothing, just two silhouettes in the dark, but Jimmy felt indescribably happy that they were there.

The one on the left, the shorter one, shifted gears and the car went smoothly airborne. It sailed up into the night sky, engine growling, till stars were all around. It seemed Jimmy could feel wings spread around him then. Great black wings, and thunder; the shining black car, growling; and the speed and the wind all around. It was exhilarating. As they soared up into the starry sky, the driver angled his head a little and Jimmy knew he was smiling at Jimmy in the mirror, and Jimmy thought, If I look in the mirror I'll be able to see his face again— If I look in the rearview mirror— please— if I could just see his eyes— if I could see his smile—

But when he looked in the mirror, he could see nothing but blackness.

He woke to feel the stabbing ache across in his shoulders again, and, as always, the miserable ache in his heart.

A/N - If you like this please let me know! I am so super-behind on my comment replies that I'm about to die of guilt, but please know I read and cherish every single one.

I will try to post the next chapter next Tuesday, but I'm flying that day so it's a bit dependent on airport wi-fi. Here's hoping. :)