A/N - wooo the show is about to start! While I sit here waiting for Arrow to finish up and our heroes to launch into their new Wednesday time slot, I thought I'd post a chapter or two more of this fic to this site. (It has not yet gotten super explicit... I think that won't happen till about ch 6, so I can post 1-5 here.)

The taller man seemed to notice some change in his companion's posture, for he turned too. Turned, and froze, and stared.

Now both men were staring at Jimmy.

And at Claire.

They all stood there for a long, still moment, the two men by the black car looking at Jimmy and Claire, Jimmy and Claire looking back.

Both men seemed quite startled; the shorter man had gone a little pale, in fact.

As if there were something unusual about a perfectly ordinary father and daughter showing up in a perfectly ordinary park in Missoula.

Claire's arms tightened on Jimmy's arm. She whispered, "We should go."

Jimmy didn't hear what she had said. All he seemed able to do was look at the shorter man. Jimmy studied his face in fascination. Analyzing the handsome planes of his cheeks and brow, the shocked expression that had swept over his face; noting how one of his fists had clenched, how his breathing sped slightly; and how his gaze faltered and dropped to the ground.

Claire was saying something again, hissing in Jimmy's ear, but all Jimmy could think was:

The most important thing is to make sure he's okay.

Is he okay?

He doesn't look okay.

A wave of worry and concern flooded through him.

They'd all been ignoring the woman, the interviewee, who had been standing off to the side looking increasingly puzzled. She finally said, peering over at the shorter man, "Um, Agent Bailey, is there some problem? Do you know these people?"

Agent Bailey didn't even seem to hear her.

It was the tall man who spoke up. "No, no problem," he said, tearing his eyes away from Jimmy and Claire with an effort, and turning back to the woman. "Thanks for your time. I think we have all the information we need. And— if I were you I wouldn't stay in this park alone after dark. Till we figure out what happened here."

She nodded. The tall man gave her a business card and bid her goodbye, and she walked away, after giving them all one more curious glance.

Jimmy took a step closer. The shorter man— Agent Bailey, apparently— had been staring at the ground, but he looked up at Jimmy again as soon as Jimmy moved.

He doesn't look okay.

He looks sad.

"Are you all right?" Jimmy said, as he took another step toward Agent Bailey. And another. Claire's hands tightened on his sleeve, but Jimmy kept walking, tugging her along with him.

Claire suddenly darted in front, blocking Jimmy's path so effectively that he at last had to stop moving. "Hi I'm Claire," she announced rapidly to the two men. "And this is my dad. So, you guys federal agents, or what? And what's your names?" She looked at the shorter man. "Agent Bailey, was it?"

"Um," said the shorter man. He and the tall man exchanged an uncertain glance. "Uh. George..." said the shorter man. "...George Bailey. State Fish and, Fish and Wildlife." He fumbled an id out of his pocket, moving a little stiffly. "And, this is, uh, my brother... Harry."

"Give me a fucking break," said Claire, rolling her eyes. "George Bailey? And his brother Harry?"

"Claire!" said Jimmy, shocked out of his semi-trance by her rudeness. She twisted to look back at him and muttered under her breath, "Voice, Dad."

Jimmy frowned. The voice thing sometimes bothered Claire quite a lot, for some reason Jimmy hadn't been able to figure out. But given all that she had been through, Jimmy didn't really mind making an effort to change it.

Pitching his voice a little higher, he said to her, "Don't be rude. We just met these two gentlemen."

"I've seen these guys before," she said. "And they're not gentlemen." She spread her feet a little and folded her arms, now planted firmly in front of Jimmy like a barricade, and she announced, "Well, George Bailey. And Harry. My name's Claire. This is my dad. My dad and I live here. We moved here a few months ago. We're all settled in. I go to school here. He's got a couple jobs. We got a place and everything. Things are going great. So, you're just gonna check out the animal attacks or whatever's been going on and then you'll leave, right? There's not gonna be any trouble, right?"

"No trouble," said the tall one, "Harry," apparently. Harry had quite a gentle voice. "We'll take care of it, whatever it is."

"Wolf?" said Claire. "Coyote? Mountain lion?"

Agent George Bailey, and his tall brother Harry, glanced at each other.

"Something else," said Harry, in that same quiet voice. "But we'll take care of it. We're just going to clean it up and then we'll get out of town. Right... George?"

"Actually," said George, darting a quick, pained glance at Jimmy. "Could I ask you a few questions, Mr., um. Mr...?

"I'm—" Jimmy started to say, stepping around Claire with his hand out.

"NO you can't ask any questions!" burst in Claire, shoving her way in front of Jimmy again. She grabbed his extended hand and forced it down. "Because we gotta go. And you better—"

She didn't get a chance to finish her sentence. Someone—or something— was striding out of the trees off to Jimmy's left. It was the woman who'd left before. She was about thirty feet away, walking in a casual stroll toward the hood of the car; toward both men, and closer to the shorter one, Agent Bailey. Jimmy stared at her— but no, it wasn't her at all anymore. It was a creature that seemed to have her body, but there was only a hideous gaping maw where her face should have been.

Demon, he knew instinctively. Demon. It's a demon. Claire flinched beside him and said, "Her eyes— no—" She shrank back against Jimmy with a choked gasp. Jimmy grabbed her by both arms and shoved her around behind him. She cowered down as Jimmy glanced over at George and Harry. They'd shifted into action with professional smoothness, whisking weapons and tools out of various pockets and holsters. A silver flask, an ivory-handled gun, a jagged knife. But none of it looked like it would be much help.

The demon-thing looked over at Jimmy and laughed, saying, "Just checking on our investment! Held back for a bit just to see the tearful reunion. So touching. I was originally supposed to just check in and leave, you know, just to be sure you were really staying off the chessboard, but, well, when people come bumbling through the park all unattended like yesterday, the temptation's really pretty severe. And if I get a couple hunters bumbling around too, well, who's to know if a few extra hunters vanish too?"

He turned toward the two men. He began to lift one hand.

The most important thing is to keep him safe.

In one quick move Jimmy tore Claire free of him, shoved her down behind the corner of the car, and sprinted over to block the demon-thing's approach to Agent Bailey. Agent Bailey shouted, "No!" but the demon-thing hesitated. Jimmy found himself shaking his right arm and opening his hand, as if he'd been expecting some useful weapon to slide from his coat sleeve into his hand. Nothing happened, of course, for there was nothing at all in his coat sleeve, and his hand remained empty. In another absurdly misguided instinct, Jimmy put his hand up, palm outward toward the demon-thing, thinking somehow to hurl it back in the air with just a gesture of his hand. But again nothing happened.

What am I thinking? What am I doing? he thought, staring at his hand in total confusion.

It cost him precious seconds. When he looked up again the demon-thing was laughing merrily. Jimmy just had time to think, I can't help Agent Bailey— I can't help either of them— as the demon flicked a hand toward him. A powerful surge of burning air hit him, as hot as a blast from the gates of Hell itself, and it hurtled Jimmy through the air.

Gleaming ebony and chrome flew at him. There was a crash, and everything went dark.

Ebony and chrome. Blood and feathers.

The black car soared up into the sky...

A faint smile in the mirror, in the night.

The black wings spread.

Just as had happened in the morning, Jimmy couldn't seem to move, or think, or remember who he even was. He could feel icy-cold gravel against his cheek, but it seemed quite unimportant. There were sounds around him, too, but they were all uninteresting—just meaningless noises that flowed past him as he dozed. He heard the the howl of a vortex of wind rushing away; then the sobs of a terrified woman crying, "It was smoke, it was black smoke"; he heard a girl's voice, tense and anxious and shaky, yelling at somebody, "You see what you did?" There were sirens wailing in the distance now, too, getting closer.

None of it seemed real. All of it was distant and irrelevant. Just a play on a radio station, dimly heard through the static, as he rode along at night in the back seat of the black car.

The most important thing...

The thought stalled, and didn't finish.

The most important thing...

The most important thing...

It could not resolve; it did not complete. And Jimmy could not awaken.

There was a gentle touch of roughened hands on his face. It seemed unreal. The radio-play continued:

"You see what you did?" the girl's voice repeated, from very close by. "Get off him!" A short scuffling sound, and the roughened hands disappeared, replaced by a smaller, softer, more feminine hand that was nervously touching Jimmy's forehead. The girl's voice went on, "You set one fucking foot in this town, you're in town for five fucking minutes, and you see what you did to him? The second he sees you he nearly dies all over again? You get away from us."

"I didn't want him to get hurt," said a gruff voice that seemed faintly familiar. "He just ran in front— I couldn't move, the demon was—"

Another man's voice, further away near the sobbing woman, said, "It was the demon that did this, Claire. Not us. We got wind there might be a demon hanging out in Missoula and we just wanted to be sure you guys were okay."

"We were okay before you got here," said the girl.

"We just wanted to help—" The gruff voice.

"You're not helping," snapped the girl. "Does this look like helping? You're not helping. Get OFF him, I already called 911 anyway, and I would rather a real paramedic look at him. He's my dad now, he's my dad, and you just get the fuck away. "

The sirens were getting closer.

"Claire... are you..." The gruff voice again. "I gotta ask. Are you sure it's just your dad in there?"

"I'm sure."

"But the way he ran in front," said the gruff voice. A hint of hope: "The way he was acting... it just seemed like... " And now a hint of desperation: "Are you positive?"

"I AM ONE THOUSAND PERCENT POSITIVE," said the girl's voice. "Don't you think I'd fucking know? I knew both of them. I knew both of them. I was a fucking vessel, remember? And... didn't you hear his voice? And... he, he remembers when I was a little girl... last night he said he remembers making me pizza when I was seven. He made me pizza again ..."

The small hand tightened on his shoulder.

"You know what you did." The girl's voice lowered into a whisper. "The angel's dead. He died. And this is my dad. So you just get the hell away from us."

A long pause.

The gruff voice did not speak again.

The girl finally said, "I mean, thanks for saving that lady. Score one for the good side, I guess. But get the hell out of town and don't come back."

The sirens were getting much louder, and the other man said, "She's right. We should go."

"Daddy? This is Claire, can you hear me? Daddy?"

The most important thing is...


...is to make sure Claire is happy.

Jimmy blinked awake. There was an ambulance parked next to him, and a paramedic shining a light into his eyes, talking about taking him to a hospital. Another paramedic was crouching next to a very confused-looking woman nearby— the woman who had been interviewed earlier and then had come striding back with a hideous demon face. She looked like herself again, but she was weeping now, babbling incoherently about "it just took me over, it was this black smoke thing, it went right INTO me!"

"Daddy?" Claire said again. She was crouching at his side. She looked very nervous. "Daddy? Are you okay? Daddy, look at me, do you remember me? "

"Yes, yes, I'm fine, Claire," Jimmy said. The rush of relief that passed over her face was almost painful to see. He managed to sit up, waving the paramedic off, and he patted Claire's hand. "Just got stunned, I think. Claire, where are those men?" He tottered to his feet, ignoring the paramedic's protests. "Where are they? What were their names? George and Harry? I need to talk to them."

Claire said nothing; she just clung to his hand. Jimmy looked all around, but the black car, and the two men, were gone.

As Jimmy limped to his car, he realized he had quite a few nasty bruises from being thrown against the black car. Walking was more painful than he'd expected, and he had to stop and catch his breath. Claire was instantly at his side, saying something again about how he should go to the hospital, but Jimmy soon realized he had no major injuries. It was just bruises. Whatever had kept him unconscious for so long, it seemed to have resolved.

After a long argument with Claire, and the paramedics too, Jimmy managed to convince them all that he really didn't need to go to the hospital, and that the weeping woman was much higher priority. (The poor thing seemed to be near hysterics.) He couldn't afford a hospital visit anyway. But he did promise to Claire that he'd take the day off of work tomorrow to go to Missoula's little community clinic, for a checkup.

They left the paramedics dealing with the sobbing woman. Claire insisted that Jimmy let her drive— she had a learner's permit and was actually a pretty good driver— and Jimmy felt battered enough that he agreed. She fussed over him like a mother hen, making sure he was settled comfortably in the passenger seat.

They headed straight home. (The Redbox movie was long forgotten.)

The most important thing is to make sure Claire is happy, Jimmy thought. Now that he'd woken up, the mantra was clear in his mind again. And as much as he wanted to find George Bailey again, and talk to him, it was Claire, once more, who seemed to be dominating his thoughts.

Claire needed to be kept happy. That was what mattered.

Unfortunately Claire had just seen something very traumatizing: a demon. It had been an actual demon; Jimmy felt absolutely certain about that. Had Claire realized what it was? I'm going to have to break the news to her that demons are real, Jimmy realized. It'll be a shock. She'll require comforting.

For most of the drive Jimmy worried over how to broach this topic in the most comforting way.

There was no way around it. He was just going to have to tell her.

He waited till they were at a red light to say, "Claire... I'm afraid demons are real."

"Yup," said Claire. The light turned green; Claire accelerated smoothly, and then flipped on the turn signal to turn onto a side road.

"I'll get the cheese later," said Claire.

"Uh," said Jimmy. "Okay."

"Oh, any other news for me?"

"Um, no," said Jimmy. "That was it."

"Okay, Dad," she said, her eyes fixed on the road. "Got it."

"And you're... okay with that?" Jimmy asked. "Demons being real? You're... happy?"

"Not happy," said Claire, "But I'll survive." He heard her mutter under her breath, "Whether I want to or not."

Jimmy watched her for a moment as she drove.

"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you better, Claire—" he began.

"You fucking threw yourself in its path," snapped Claire, a thinly-buried anger abruptly bursting to the surface. "Just to try to protect those guys. Just for those guys!"

"I couldn't abandon them," protested Jimmy. "They were in danger."

"You don't even know them," said Claire. "You could've been killed!" Her voice wobbled as she said this, and she snapped her mouth shut, and swallowed, and let out a short little sigh.

I'm not going to be able to make her happy, Jimmy thought.

It was a horrible thought.

The car rolled on. She took the corner toward their street.

The men... were they okay? The thought surfaced slowly in his mind. Were they okay? Were both men okay? Was Agent Bailey okay? Somehow he'd briefly forgotten about this, but the second he remembered about them, it was clear that he should have been thinking about them all along. The most important thing...

It was no longer clear what the most important thing was. The sensation was extremely disquieting.

"Those two men—" Jimmy began.

"They left," Claire interrupted him.

"But they're okay?"

"I guess."

"Both of them?"

A shrug. "Guess so. Dunno."

"Where'd they go?"


"I think I need to talk to Agent Bai—"

"They left and they're gone and they're not coming back and they don't matter and you should forget about them."


"Why can't you just forget about them?" Claire burst out, her voice a little shaky now. "Please?"

Jimmy wanted to pursue the topic further, but that shaky "Please" made him hesitate. He decided to drop the topic for now, thinking, I'll look up their names later. Maybe I can find them on the internet. (Claire had taught him, last fall, how to use Google.)

"What happened to the demon?" Jimmy finally asked.

Claire shrugged. "The guys drove it away somehow. Some chant or something. Holy water. I dunno. It zoomed away."

"I hope that woman will be all right."

Claire said, quite casually, as she pulled up in front of their house, "Probably she'll end up going nuts and abandoning her kid and then dying. And the kid'll end up on the street alone and she'll pray for years to some useless angel who never answers, till she finally learns there really isn't a single fucking soul in the universe who gives a damn."

Jimmy felt deeply shocked. "Claire, that's... that's horrible."

Another shrug. "It happens." She didn't meet his eyes.

She's scared, Jimmy thought later, watching Claire bustle around him all that night. She must have gotten scared from seeing me unconscious.

First she'd actually steered him from the car to the house with a hand on his arm, holding his elbow all the way to the door. Then she'd walked him to the shower, and even brought him a stack of towels and his warmest set of flannel pajamas. Once he was out, she fussed over his scrapes and bruises, and quizzed him about how he was feeling. "I'm okay," he kept telling her, but she still looked worried.

At last she seemed able to believe she might be able to leave her father alone for ten minutes, just long enough for a quick dash to the store to get the cheese. Jimmy had a full ten minutes to himself; the silence seemed luxurious. But the second Claire got back with the cheese, she was hovering all over him again.

Their roles seemed to have flipped somehow; now Claire was acting as the parent. Her next plan turned out to be to get Jimmy settled and comfortable on the sofa, tucking a comforter around him, and even bringing him his favorite little pillow from his bedroom. It was a little hand-sewn pillow that had been a gift from Claire long ago, and Jimmy thought it was a nice gesture that she actually went and fetched it from his room for him now. Jimmy was quite fond of this little pillow; it had been nestled under his head back when he'd first woken up last year, at the clinic, back when he'd surfaced from those six years of blackness.

It was sweet to know that Claire had made it for him, back then, even before he'd awoken.

But watching her fuss with the pillow now, he thought again, She's scared. He studied her face: the worried lines on her brow, the tight mouth, the steely look in her eyes that turned almost watery whenever she thought he wasn't looking.

Jimmy knew that look. She's scared and worried and doesn't know what to do.

The little pillow, in particular, seemed to be causing her trouble: she fretted over the position, first placing it right under Jimmy's ear and then changing her mind and then taking it away entirely and putting it on the other side of the room— but then looking so undecided and dismayed about it that Jimmy finally asked her to bring it back.

This all must have reminded her of when I was in a coma, Jimmy thought.

After the accident.

Claire hovered close to him all night. She made him the baked-pasta dish for dinner (which was, indeed, delicious), and did all the laundry, and washed all the dishes, and did her homework. Once she'd meticulously finished all her chores, Jimmy suggested that they could watch a late-night tv show together. Claire nodded eagerly at the suggestion. Then she burst into tears the second she sat down on the sofa.

"Claire? What's wrong?" he said.

"You swear you're okay?" she said, snuffling.

"Claire, I'm fine, I promise. I just got knocked out for a moment. I'm fine."

"You wouldn't..." She managed to stem the sudden little tide of tears, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "You wouldn't leave me? Would you? You wouldn't leave me?"

"Oh, Claire-Bear—" Jimmy began. She was perched far on the opposite side of the couch, as far away from him as she could get.

"I like living here," she mumbled, wiping her nose again. "I like this house. I like this town. You like it too, don't you? Don't you? It's not... bad, is it? It's not bad living with me?" Her voice had faltered almost to a squeak.

Teenagers need affection, Jimmy remembered, even when they pretend they don't. So he shifted a little closer to her. But the little pillow was in the way, and he set it temporarily on the floor. Claire stiffened as he did this, and she turned to him with a woeful, desperate look.

"I love living here with you, and I'm not going to leave you," Jimmy said, putting an arm around her shoulders to give her a fatherly hug. "I promise." He was expecting the usual cringing-away, and was taken by surprise when she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, buried her face on his shoulder, and burst into tears again.

Claire at last settled down, and near midnight she finally went to bed.

Alone in his room, curled up in his bed, Jimmy finally had the chance to do something he'd been waiting for all night: Look up "Agent George Bailey", and his brother Harry.

It took a while. Jimmy hadn't been able to save up enough money to get any sort of computer for himself (all the money had gone toward Claire's phone, laptop and books). But he did have a smartphone— or rather, a "not-completely-dumb phone," according to Claire. It wasn't much, according to her, but he could do some slow, clumsy internet research with it, tapping out one letter at a time on the tiny screen. Navigating the internet at all still seemed a little unfamiliar (Jimmy chalked this up to the years he'd been in a coma) but Claire had showed him how to use Google and how to look things up.

He soon found the website of the Montana "Fish, Wildlife and Parks" department. Close enough to "Fish and Wildlife."

But there was no George Bailey listed in their website.

Puzzled, Jimmy finally thought of googling "Agent Bailey." There were no hits for any fish and wildlife agents. He tried "George Bailey." Again nothing for fish and wildlife agents, but now the hit at the top was some information about a movie called "It's a Wonderful Life."

It came back to him all at once. Jimmy had an oddly good memory for movies (he felt sometimes that he could almost remember details of movies he'd never even seen). Jimmy read the movie summary anyway, already knowing what he'd find: George Bailey was the lead character in It's a Wonderful Life.

George Bailey was the character who'd saved his brother Harry's life years ago, but, in his later years, had become convinced his life was worthless. He'd been close to suicide when he'd met an angel who had changed his mind. An angel who had convinced him that maybe it was a wonderful life after all.

Jimmy puzzled over the movie entry for a long time. Had Agent Bailey, and his brother, been using false names? It certainly seemed likely.

Yet somehow the movie's story seemed to fit.

Jimmy clicked the phone off and set it down in the dark room, still confused. He couldn't seem to concentrate, though; the bruises were hurting. And the bed sometimes seemed particularly cold and empty, on certain nights, and this was definitely one of those nights. He curled up in his blanket, wincing a little from the bruises. The comforter, and the little pillow too, were still out on the sofa, but he was too tired now to go fetch them, so he hunkered down under just the blanket, and tried to fall asleep.

But he couldn't. The "longing" was back.

The yearning sensation that he'd felt yesterday, the sensation of being called, began eating at him. It seemed much sharper than last night. It waxed and waned as the long night hours went by, but it never fully lifted. And all through the night, every time Jimmy closed his eyes, he saw the black car, and the two men. "Not-George" and "Not-Harry," as Jimmy was now thinking of them.

He kept remembering the look on the face of the shorter man (Not-George) as his eyes had met Jimmy's. How his gaze had dropped to the ground. How uncomfortable and sad he'd looked, as he'd stood there, his hands closing restlessly into fists, the shining black car behind him.

That was the car from my dreams, Jimmy knew. He wasn't sure how this was possible, or what it meant, but he knew it was true.

And those were the men from my dreams.

And Not-George is the one who smiles at me in the mirror.

I have to make sure he's okay.

It seemed like a very important thing.

A/N - ooo, what's going to happen tomorrow? Stay tuned! Or come on over to Archive Of Our Own (just google the name, then search for my username - NorthernSparrow - and look for this fic) - the next chapter's already posted there.

PS - Yes, that was a Stare of Inchoate Longing at the beginning (apologies to tikistitch). I love Stares of Inchoate Longing! I almost got an eyebrow-quirk in there too but couldn't quite manage it.