A/N: It's LONG. I'm not overly sure how I feel about it, but I figured I'd post it up for you guys...if you're still out there!
CHAPTER TEN: OUR INFINITE STRUGGLE
Jack had had enough. He punched a fist into the reflective surface of the water. The image immediately melted into the water, leaving a transparent shimmer in its place. Candice flinched and brought her hands up. Ava yawned yet again. The elder red-head sighed as Jack marched up to the only window in the room. The middle-aged brunette half expected him to put his arm through it. But the younger blonde just stared silently out at the clouds. His lack of outburst shocked both women to the point they felt need to mention it.
"No fireworks?" Ava inquired.
"Yeah the punch is usually the opening act, not the headliner," Candice remarked.
Jack sighed, back facing them. "I'm just tired of watching her throw her life away."
"But she's there, trying to get help," Candice stated, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"She wouldn't need so much help if I'd been there for her in the first place," he whispered, shrugged her off.
Ava smiled. "Do you know why you're here Jack?"
He scoffed. "Because I'm a moron who doesn't recognize ambush from argument?"
"No not HERE. Here. As in, with Candice and I, in this room. Do you know why you get to watch over your loved ones while everyone else has to forget theirs?" she asked.
Jack shook his head. "No but I have a feeling you're about to enlighten me."
"Nobody likes a smartass," she scolded. "Jack, you're here because sometimes He makes a mistake and the wrong person dies. Obviously, He can't give you your life back, because it would cause quite the commotion down there. But he can let you go back and visit from time to time. A vacation if you will."
"Being an angel, you mean?" she nodded. "But we're not allowed to leave this place."
"Not until you can be trusted not to screw around. Jack, being a guardian angel is as close as you'll ever come to getting back to see your family. It's not just going to get handed out to everyone like Hallowe'en candy," Ava explained.
Jack frowned as the conversation caught up with him. "Are you saying that I wasn't supposed to die? I could have been with my wife and lived happily ever after?"
"Fireworks," Candice muttered.
Ava pinched the bridge of her nose. "Yes and no, Jack. You weren't supposed to die that day, that's true. But it doesn't mean you'd still be alive right now."
Combing his fingers through his hair, Jack began to pace. He blew out a long breath before speaking. "This is-this is a lot to process, actually."
Candice chuckled. "I guess that's why they don't tell you at orientation."
"Enough on your mind already," he agreed with a low chortle. "How did-well, what brought you two here?"
"Stabbed to death," Ava replied.
"What?" Jack bellowed, eyes wide in terror.
"Thomas and I were caught in some bad wind. Our car spun out of control, hit a tree and…a branch cam through the windshield and punctured my heart," she revealed.
"You were IMPALED?" he questioned, clearly awed by the story.
"Stabbed to death," Ava repeated.
"By a tree," he snickered.
Ava huffed. "You walked into an obvious trap."
That shut him up. "Candice? What happened to you?"
"Oh uh…well I was um…that is…" The answer seemed to elude vocalization.
"Spit it out!" Ava barked, startling the younger woman.
"Relax woman," Jack hissed, motioning towards the fidgeting angel.
Candice wrung her hands, avoiding Jack and Ava's gaze. "It's not a good story."
"Can't be worse than Ava's-or MINE," he added after catching Ava's glare.
"Not stupid bad. Tragic bad," she confessed.
"All death is tragic," Jack stated, earning a jab in the ribs from Ava. "Ow! Well it's true."
"You're right Jack. But some actually get classified that way," Candice snapped.
Jack's shoulders slumped in shame. "I'm sorry. I generalized."
"I was beaten by someone I trusted. And I tried so hard to make it stop. I'd never fought harder in my life. But he was bigger and stronger than me," she sighed, eyes unfocused and arms hugging her frame.
"Was it your husband?"
She shook her head. "No. My husband's brother."
"Well that's an awkward conversation to have at Christmas dinner," Ava stated. "Did your husband ever find out?"
"Oh I'd imagine so. Nothing really ever got by Lucas. He used to be really observant."
"Used to be?" Jack repeated.
"After I died, he started to block everything out. He became very angry. Probably why Jeremy wound up the way he did," Candice explained, rubbing her eyes. "If I'd been there for him…well."
Jack nodded absently, trying to piece stories and past information together. He and Candice had lost their chance to raise their children, because of a clerical error. Ava it seemed, had died from a natural disaster. Yet there she stood, chewing the corner of her lower lip, glancing in his direction every now and then. The way she bit her bottom lip reminded him of Lauren and before he could stop himself, he was smiling. It had always been something he loved and hated about his wife. In spite of himself, Jack walked up to Ava and placed the pad of his thumb on her lip. She looked up at him, confusion painting her eyes a haunting shade of green. Jack stumbled back as if she'd slapped him in the face. All of Ava's puzzle pieces had fallen into place with that gaze and he kicked himself for not catching it seventeen years ago.
"Holy shit," he breathed. "You're her mom."
Ava's brow furrowed as she frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"That's why you got so defensive when I said all those things about her. Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded.
"I have no clue who you're talking about Jack. You need to calm down," she urged, her discomfort filling the room.
Jack shook his head. "I'm not doing anything you say until you tell me the truth. I should have seen it on day one but I wasn't even paying attention."
"That's enough, Jack," Ava warned.
"Tell me!" he bellowed, grabbing her upper arms.
Candice rushed up to the pair, trying to pull Jack back. "Jack, what are-"
"Lauren is her daughter," Jack spat. "Isn't she?"
With more strength than Jack gave her credit for, Ava shoved him back. He flew across the room, his back hitting the wall. Out of breath, Jack crumpled into a heap on the smooth white floor. When he managed to open his eyes, a tear blurred Ava was standing over him. A familiar fury burned in her eyes. She reached down, grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt and hauled him up to eye level. There was no denying now that she was the mother his wife had longed to know.
"Don't you EVER put your hands on me like that again. Understand?" she snarled.
Jack nodded, finally catching his breath. "Why won't you just tell me she's yours? You have the same green eyes, the same mouth. Aren't you proud of her?"
She released his shirt, tears lining her eyes for the first time in the seventeen years he'd known her. Instead of heeding her warning in never touching her again, Jack wrapped his arms around the grieving mother. She fit into his embrace much like Lauren had, but Ava was shorter and rounder. Her tears soaked into his shirt and he winced at all the pain locked inside them. They stung his skin, causing his body to tense. Ava felt this and she pushed him back.
"I've always been proud of Lauren. My mother raised her well," she whispered.
"It's me you aren't fond of, isn't it? I was bad for her," Jack confessed.
"If Lauren thought that she wouldn't have married you. And no Jack. I don't hate how she ended up with you. Thomas and I knew from the moment we saw you that you were the one. The two of you were a perfect compliment to one another and then you made a beautiful daughter together," Ava stated.
"A daughter I never got to know." Were he in a cartoon, a light bulb would have flashed over his head. "And you never got to know Lauren, but I did. That's why you…because of everything she told me about her parents."
Ava nodded. "If someone Camryn had trusted with her most intimate, secret thoughts and feelings about you were suddenly here, would you greet them with open arms?"
"No, actually I wouldn't," he admitted. "Because they might not like me. I'd want them to have their own opinion of me, not hers."
"That's why Thomas and I kept it to ourselves."
"But I've seen old pictures of you, when I made Lauren that photo album. I should have recognized you instantly."
She smiled. "Well the beauty of accidental deaths is that you're too busy worrying about why you died when everything was going right for you. What were you thinking about when you got here?"
"Lauren and Camryn. They were the most important things in the world and I…" There was a wall of tears in the back of his throat, blocking his words. "I should have listened to her. That's why I'm dead."
"No one is more upset about your death than Him. It was a situation He had lost control of."
"What does that mean?"
"Lauren was supposed to be the one on the other side of that door, Jack. Not Victor's man."
"Well then…why wasn't she? What happened that made Him lose control?" Jack inquired.
"In case you haven't noticed, there are two opposing forces in the spiritual world. One is Good and one is Evil. They're always at war with one another. Good is always trying to maintain balance over the world, where as Evil just wants chaos and pain," she explained.
"So…Evil…sent Victor's men to my door instead of Lauren?"
She shook her head. "No no. Evil doesn't have that much sway over events. It can't directly create chaos by adding factors and pieces and things. Victor's men were already on their way to your house."
"Well then I'm confused. If they were coming anyway and would have arrived at the same time, how was Lauren supposed to be at the door?"
"This is where it gets tricky. And I can only say it once, so pay attention." He nodded his understanding. "To Him and Lucifer, we as humans are game pieces. Pawns if you will. We move freely through our lives until it's time for divine intervention."
"Like Dues Ex Machina kind of shit?"
"Kind of like that, yes. How do you know that term?" she asked.
"Lauren taught me," he replied. "Continue."
She smiled. "Good girl. Well anyway, we're on our own until He sees need to step in. When he caught wind of Victor's plans to ambush you and your brothers, He saw His need to intervene and remove you from the scene."
"When did He know about the attack?"
"The night the three of you set up your meeting with Jerry. That's when Victor ordered the hit on you and your brothers. Lauren being up when you got home wasn't coincidence. The plans the two of you made were His idea. He really didn't want you to be there."
"Well why me? Why not Bobby or Angel? Or even Jerry?" he questioned.
"Because He knew they could take care of themselves in that moment. And He knew what you would do if you opened the door. He was right, unfortunately," she answered.
Jack rolled his eyes. "So He wanted me out of the picture because He knows I'm an idiot."
"Not an idiot. Just…passionate," she smiled. "But Jerry was late that day, wasn't he?"
"Yeah he was. I never did find out why," Jack mused.
"Lucifer sent Fowler to his house to ask more questions about the deaths of the two who shot your mother."
"I thought he couldn't just step in like that."
"Well Victor's plans changed at the last minute, also result of Lucifer's intervention. So Victor had Fowler go to Jerry and delay him. No sense shooting the house up without all the targets."
Jack groaned. "This is so confusing to me. Where does Lauren come in?"
"She was at Jerry's to drop Cammy off with Camille. When she saw that Jerry was still there, she knew that your day was pushed back. So she waited there and gave the meeting the amount of time the two of you had discussed the night before," Ava finished. "By the time He realized what Lucifer had done, it was too late to fix it."
More pieces fell into place for Jack. After spending the last seventeen years beating himself up for walking into Victor's trap, he finally knew that it wasn't his fault. It also made him think that maybe everyone who'd been with him that day was beating themselves up over much of the same things. Jerry, for answering Fowler's questions. Bobby, for being too hot headed to notice his little brother's absence. Angel for being powerless to control Bobby's anger. Sofi for not calling 911 sooner. And Lauren for not going to the house when she was supposed to. All of them had something weighing on them for all those years and Jack was the only one who'd received his closure. The whole thing had truly been out of their hands. He blinked to control the rush of tears in his eyes but it was useless.
"They should know it wasn't their fault. All of them," he croaked.
A sad smile spread across Ava's face. "If you could hardly understand it, and you're actually here, how much of it do you think they'll get?"
"Well we should at least try! They shouldn't have this mountain of guilt on their shoulders anymore. Seventeen years is long enough," he protested.
"They won't understand Jack. I've tried," Candice whispered.
"Maybe your family didn't. But mine will. Especially Lauren. She's always believed in something greater than herself," he stated.
"Beliefs are only that. It's a completely different thing when something confirms them. You can't just appear after all this time and expect her to hold a normal conversation with you," Ava explained. "She won't believe it's a reality. It will be written off as a really strange dream."
"This is complete bullshit. You know that don't you?" he seethed. "I don't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks. I'm going down there to tell my wife that my death is not her fault."
"She's not your wife anymore Jack. She's Bobby's wife now. Let him take care of her."
"Fuck that and fuck you for saying it. I don't care if she's got a different ring on her finger. Lauren will always be MY wife!" he roared, storming from the room.
"Aren't you going to go after him?" Candice asked. "This is going to crush him."
"He needs to learn, just like we did," Ava replied.
"But it will break his heart when he sees Lauren in her new life, getting by without him. And it will kill him when she cowers in fear when he shows up," Candice argued.
"Then I guess it's a good thing he's already dead," Ava sighed, walking away.