Title: With A Song and A Prayer
Characters/Pairings: Jimmy/Clairestiel, Dean, Risa
Summary: Jimmy chases down one ghost after another, searching for Claire, Castiel, or both. Eventually, he reaches the end of the world. 4.20/5.04 AU.
Word Count: 3,821
Total Word Count: 6,863
Warnings: Bad language, substance and alcohol abuse, semi-incest
Notes: After reading some frankly awesome stories about how Claire meets 2014!Castiel, this idea turned up like a bad penny and I just had to write it. Also, Novakangst. There isn't ever enough of it.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
may angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light
- 18th century children's prayer, variation
The weather-beaten sign next to the gate says Camp Chitaqua, but it might as well have said El Dorado or Atlantis for all the mythical status it'd been elevated to on the long journey here. It's not gold or ancient wisdom that Jimmy seeks here, though, and as he walks through the camp he feels a confused, tangled yearning, closing in a chokehold around his throat. Claire, he thinks, fervent as a prayer. He has to have faith, that he is right; that where Dean is Castiel-in-Claire is also—
"Hey, Dad," he hears, and the world stops.
He turns around and it is 2009 all over again, the crack in his life that had swallowed him whole and then spat him out and he has been stumbling ever since. Claire smiles—no, grins widely at him, one hand propped against her hip—the hand that had held his so tightly with its mute pleading message and then let go against its owner's will. His fingers curl with the phantom warmth, everlasting as a brand.
"Claire?" he breathes. It takes just two steps and she is in his arms, making a startled sound that comes out muffled against the fabric of his coat. Jimmy does not want to hear what she has to say. He does not want to look down at her face. He simply wants this moment, this Claire-shaped body snug against his and filling the absence left untended in his heart for too long.
Wetness glistens on the shine of Claire's golden head; belatedly Jimmy realized that he is crying. His grip slackens and the girl in his arms pulls away, tugging at the hem of her faded hoodie to straighten it out. Her smile has shut off like a switch, taking Claire with it and leaving the blank inscrutable expression of the angel.
"Jimmy. We need to talk," Castiel says.
Jimmy listens. Occasionally he asks questions. He does not shout, or cry, or strike Castiel, though he would have liked to indulge in all three. Though he knows now that Claire is dead her ghost moves in the quiet from gesture to gesture, muscle memory retaining and expressing the last of her lovely, girlish essence in the clasp of the hands or the twitch of a smile. Castiel's fire is a tiny little flicker behind Claire's blue eyes, humanity swallowing the angel like a cage; Jimmy should not be pretending but the part of himself that still hopelessly seeks keeps trying and trying, watching for and greedily devouring any bit of Claire that shines forth.
"Don't do that," Castiel says.
"What shouldn't I be doing?"
"I'm not your daughter," Castiel says bluntly. Her hair is too short and her face too thin, Claire through a smudged lens and it helps if Jimmy focuses on that instead. "And you are definitely not my Father."
"I know," Jimmy says, words the only weapons that he allows himself to use. "I actually give more than a couple of shits about Claire, don't I?"
Castiel glares, but without the electric charge of grace hanging over her like an approaching storm she is only a girl with a pinched angry face, thin shoulders slumping like a loosely-strung bow. Jimmy feels suddenly sorry, regret twisting his tongue into knots; he stands up and moves closer, only for Castiel to ward him off with an upraised hand.
"Don't touch me," she says through her teeth and goes away, leaving a trail of flattened grass in her wake. Jimmy lets her go. Claire is dead and Castiel only a shadow of her former self; he had come expecting to find one or the other only to find both as good as dead.
Amelia was right, after all. The wasted years, the taste of failure a rotted rancid thing in his mouth: it's just another note in the same old song.
Not long after, Jimmy meets Dean Winchester for the second time. The memory of the first meeting fills every pause with awkwardness, hollows out even the standard pleasantries. Dean seems smaller, diminished somehow without the looming form of his brother at his back; Jimmy does not want to imagine what he himself must appear to Dean.
"You've come a long way," Dean says, ostensibly meaning Davenport. "…I'm sorry it had to be for nothing."
Jimmy nods, not trusting himself to speak. He can't stomach apologies about what can't be changed but coming from Dean the sentiment does not ring as false. Strange, to feel a bond with Dean Winchester, of all people. To start so far apart only to end up in the same place. A shiver passes through Jimmy's body and it feels like a brush with the weighty hand of fate, all his choices meaningless and himself predestined from birth to have an angel crammed down his throat and destroy all semblance of normality in his life forever.
"Don't be too hard on Cass, okay?" Dean says, abruptly. There is absolutely no expression on his face; Jimmy wonders when it was that an angel started showing more emotion than a human. But there is concern enough in the words if not the tone: "It wasn't Cass who killed your daughter. The son-of-a-bitch who did it is long gone, and I won't have you beating on one of my men for no good reason."
"You can't ask that of me," Jimmy says.
Dean simply gives him a flat look. "No, I can't," he agrees. "But while you're standing inside the boundaries of my camp I can damn well order it of you. Got that?"
Jimmy shrugs, the brief flare of anger dying just seconds after the spark. What did it matter? "Yes, sir," he delivers the line like he's in the army, and is only mildly sarcastic when he says it.
Claire's hand clings tightly to his as though it will never let go. For an instant they are together and no misunderstanding, not even a bright and holy angel of the Lord, can come between them.
Don't ever leave me again.
A beat later, I'm sorry.
And then Claire's hand opens, drops his. Something unwanted, discarded like a shed skin. That's what he will always remember, that's what he will never forget.
His life is a fucking broken record.
There is the dream he remembers having, not long after Claire had gone for good. In the dream he is standing at the wayside and the dusty road stretches wide and empty in both directions for miles. It never rains although the thunder rolls backwards and forwards across the sky in a low, continuous growl, a prowling beast refusing to pounce. The earth is cracked and dry and the grass crackles like a gunshot whenever he shifts his feet.
There are footprints in the dust leading away; someone just passed by, someone who will pass by again. The silence falls like the dust but the prints will always remain fresh and the road will always remain empty.
And Jimmy will always keep waiting, because.
The road swallows single travelers. It's best not to travel alone.
"Word is that Cass is your long-lost kid."
Jimmy frowns as Risa perches on the edge of the table, peering at Jimmy like he's the intruder. He's impressed; it doesn't take more than five seconds before his skin starts crawling under her iron gaze.
"That wasn't just some friendly hug, Novak," she says, low and dangerous. "Either you're family or—something else. Care to provide an explanation?"
It takes a moment for understanding to sink in. Risa is protective. She's protective over an angel thousands of years old who has forgotten more battles than anyone here will ever fight, an angel who only happens to look like a little girl. Jimmy chokes down the hysterical laughter searing across his throat but Risa reads it in his expression anyway, and her face darkens.
"My daughter is dead," Jimmy says shortly. "It was just a case of mistaken identity, that's all."
Risa relaxes only marginally, doubt lingering in her eyes and in the bowed, considering line of her mouth. "I'm sorry. I thought…it's such a pity."
He shouldn't, but he asks anyway. "How so?"
"You've heard the stories about Cass," Risa says directly and without embarrassment. "It's none of my business what adults do, but Cass, she's still a kid. Only some seriously bad shit messes kids up like that."
You have no idea, Jimmy thinks darkly. Of course he has heard all about Cass, as much as he tries not to. It's not his business what she does with a vacated vessel, or so he tells himself. She smokes and drinks and hangs around with her gaggle of admirers and is an excellent shot when she isn't sleeping something off. Everyone pities her for the past they should have no right to speculate about.
They have no idea, none; no remedy or medicine or advice that can set Castiel right again, nothing that can give Castiel back what she had lost. And the worse thing is, Jimmy knows, at least a little of it. Five minutes are a long time to spend with an angel's soul wrapped around your own, and Jimmy had not been evicted without a few choice souvenirs. Even so it's impossible to describe without resorting to cliché, that convenient, handy trigger of emotion: Oh, Castiel, how the mighty have fallen.
It is all because of Claire, the shape that Castiel had chosen apparently at a whim. Jimmy wonders if people would be so forgiving or so persistent if Castiel had been dressed up in Jimmy's body instead. Somehow, he doubts it.
"I was hoping you would be a good influence." Risa sighs. "Dean doesn't control her like he should. Like her father should, if he was here."
Jimmy looks away, his lips clamped shut against the bitter, corrosive laughter eating away his insides.
"I wouldn't place too much trust in absent fathers."
"True." Risa's own gaze is distant, probing some private moment in time. "That's why we look out for each other here." She chuckles grimly, popping off the table to signify that she is done hounding Jimmy over poor fragile Cass. "It's not just blood that makes family, you know?"
Somehow, Jimmy and Castiel end up paired together on watch duty.
They stand guard outside the supermarket, guns at the ready while Brian raids the store and Yeager loads the loot into the truck. The silence is heavy, uncomfortable. Putting up with it is, however, a lot less daunting than the prospect of breaking it.
A small breeze dances across the parking lot, sending Castiel's cigarette smoke directly into Jimmy's face. "Watch it," he says automatically, leaning away.
"Or you could just park your ass somewhere else," Castiel suggests.
It is the first time they have talked to each other in weeks and already it's at a bad start. Jimmy can't help but feel relief that the first hurdle is over, however. He does not want Castiel's forgiveness but neither does he want her pain on his conscience. "Look, I'm sorry about what I said. I shouldn't have—"
"Forget it," Castiel says, quick and dismissive. Her shoulders hunch under her heavy coat. "It's nothing I haven't thought myself, to my everlasting regret."
Jimmy looks sidelong at Castiel. Suddenly, he finds himself incapable of anything but apologies. Castiel took Claire away from him without a flinch but now the pain of loss has gutted Castiel open like a fish and infected her with the wretched wants and miseries of humanity where there had been once nothing but iron certainty. Jimmy is sorry that Castiel has known nothing but the bad side of humanity. He's sorry that the world has ended and can't give Castiel what she needs.
He thinks that he can even forgive Castiel for the smoking and drinking and the fucking, if only she wasn't using Claire'sbody to do it.
"Stop looking at me like that," Castiel says in exasperation, spitting out the cigarette onto the tarmac. It glows for an instant before she grinds it out with the heel of her shoe. "Consider it payback for how I ran away with your daughter and got her killed, okay? There. We're even."
It hurts to hear about Claire spoken of so casually, and Jimmy can't control the anger that lashes out like a whip at the source of the pain. "Even? Don't make me laugh. If anything, you owe me, Castiel. You owe me all that you can give because you took everything that I ever had."
The words ring in the air between them, clear as a bell. Jimmy cringes, shocked at himself, the depth of an emotion he usually does his best not to acknowledge. Castiel regards him with narrowed blue eyes, her mouth flat and thin and he braces himself for the inevitable explosion.
"What is that you want from me?" she says instead, barely a whisper.
Jimmy stares at her, dry-mouthed. He starts to reply, he doesn't know what, but then Castiel spins around, bringing her rifle to bear. "Pay attention, Jimmy!" she shouts and fires across the parking lot at the fast food restaurant where the Crotes are swarming around the corner and coming right towards them, bent on their single-minded task of adding every last human on earth to their ranks.
Jimmy has killed far too many Crotes to count, but he can't ever set one on his sights without feeling a shiver that starts at his hands and ends up in his bones. They were human, and are still human-shaped, dressed in the ragged remains of suits and dresses and uniforms bearing silent testament to the lives they had once led. He used to say a prayer for every one he killed; now there is no one to listen he simply remembers that once they were human and just like him.
Castiel has no such reservations. As they cover Brian's and Yeager's retreat to the truck Jimmy catches a glimpse of her face, hard and bright as diamond and her lips curled in a wild, triumphant grin. "Take that, you sons of bitches!" she yells in between the cracks of gunfire and she is laughing. Jimmy has never heard her laugh before, not without the influence of some drug or other.
Then all of them are safely inside and the truck is speeding away. Castiel hangs out the back, blasting away the few Crotes that come too close. Her cheeks are still flushed and it strikes Jimmy how dead she looks in comparison the rest of the time, how dull and lifeless. The dissonance only deepens when she glances over and smiles at him like the earlier conversation never happened.
"You actually enjoy this?" Jimmy asks. He is not sure whether to be horrified or glad that Castiel is actually capable of happiness.
"Only second to sex," Castiel answers. Her eyes are fever-bright, and for a moment Jimmy sees her as she must have been, the warrior of God filling Claire to the seams with burning grace. She is beautiful and Jimmy remembers, the ebb and flow of that light branding the patterns of its movement under his skin, so cold that it had burned even into the weeks heart twists inside the cradle of his ribs in recognition, opening wide in instinctive, yearning welcome.
"You know, you're not such a bad guy after all, Jimbo," Castiel says idly. "We'll have to do this again sometime."
"In retrospect," Castiel muses, "you were probably the better choice."
They sit side by side on the step of Castiel's cabin, shoulders and thighs brushing. It has become something of a habit, to take some quiet moment and make it their own. The sun moves overhead and their combined shadow with it, pale and wavery in the weak light and then Castiel just comes out and says this, right out of the blue.
"How's that so?" Jimmy asks, a study in neutrality. Castiel's eyes are wide and hazed-over, her pupils large and dark and drugged out; there is little that comes out of her lips at the moment that he can actually trust as the truth.
"You don't treat me like a child," Castiel says, throwing one arm around his waist and squeezing. Her head falls against his shoulder and her breath wells hotly against his neck. Jimmy tenses only slightly at the closeness. They had, after all, shared a body once. There isn't that much further to go after that kind of intimacy.
"That's because you aren't one," Jimmy says. "You just look like one."
"If I had taken you," Castiel says dreamily, "I'd look like an adult right now. Then I wouldn't have this problem and I wouldn't feel like such a dirty old pervert when I sleep with those boys. They're the only ones who want to be with me," she confides in gloomy tones. "That, or sexual deviants, I suppose."
"Too much information, Castiel," Jimmy sighs. It's not that Castiel has stopped hurting him, just that he has grown a thicker skin out of sheer self-defense. In any case Castiel's warm weight on him feels good and he would like it if she stays there. "That's hardly a good reason for me to give you my body just so that you can have even more sex with it."
"Hah." Castiel snorts. She goes quiet, and Jimmy thinks that she has fallen asleep until she speaks again, small and muffled. "It won't work, anyway. I'm trapped inside this body." She sounds more awake now, swimming towards the surface in rough, angry strokes. Her hand closes over his wrist, like a cuff clicking shut. "We're all trapped where we are."
"Hey, Novak. Get your ass here."
Yeager waves him down, and it is obvious what the problem is straight away: Cass is passed out against him, head lolling like a doll's. Jimmy bites back a curse and accepts the drunken Castiel into his arms. "Shouldn't you be taking better care of her?" Yeager asks pointedly.
"Well...you know Cass." Jimmy hurries away with his burden before any more of Castiel's sins can be laid at his door. The abbreviation still feels strange on his tongue, mostly because it sounds like it could be short for something normal, human: Cassie, or Cassandra, perhaps. Not for the name of a being that's older than all of them combined, that once burned hot and cold as a star and breathed in the dust of the emerging universe. Just imagining the sights it must have seen both awes and disquiets him.
It occurs to him then as he looks down at the sleeping girl that as young as she looks this is Castiel in her last days; that no matter whether they win or lose here Castiel is still going to die, thousands of years of knowledge and memories going forever into the quiet night. An unutterable sorrow fills him, the same kind that is inspired by the senseless destruction of any sort of precious ancient art or history, another Great Library of Alexandria burning down before his very eyes and there is nothing he can do to stop it.
Castiel stirs as he sets her down gently on her bed. As he turns to go one hand shoots out and grabs him by the hand. Her eyes are open, clouded, and when he looks into them he sees no God or angels or even Claire but simply Cass and Cass alone.
"Don't go," she slurs, thick tongue tripping over the words. Her grip tightens. "Father, don't leave me...take me back..."
Jimmy could have broken the weak grasp easily and walked out, found someone else to take care of her. He could have left her alone so easily. Instead he sits down on the edge of the bed and lets her fingers curl against the inside of his wrist. The Fall had not simply stolen Castiel's grace; it had broken something in her as well, taken the steel from her spine and the song from her voice, and for the first time he looks at her and the sound of Cass does not ring too oddly in his thoughts.
"Cass?" he says quietly, bending over her. "Can you hear me?"
Her lips move, and Jimmy leans closer, obligingly. He is not prepared when Castiel fists her hands in the front of his shirt and drags him down with surprising strength. "You're too far away," she gasps. "I can't—I can't feel you."
"I'm right here, Castiel." Jimmy tries not to recoil at the reek of alcohol on her breath. If they got any closer they would be trading spit, and if it is not for Castiel's obvious need Jimmy would have hightailed it out of here long ago. "I'm never going to leave you."
Not like you left me. The words rise up as though from some primeval depth, halted on his lips at the last moment. They are their own people now. They are separate—
"I'm not Claire."
"You're not God."
Jimmy huffs out a dry laugh against Castiel's skin. "Believe me, I know."
"Today, my brothers and sisters left the earth," Castiel says, softly. Her nose bumps against his as she pulls, harder, nearly bending Jimmy double. "It's so quiet in here, and I can only feel myself. Claire is gone, I'm so sorry, Jimmy—"
"You told me before," Jimmy says. His spine is starting to creak in protest. "It's—well, it's not okay, but please, just do me a favour and don't talk about it."
"I'm alone," Castiel says, as though imparting some great, gospel truth. "I don't want to be alone anymore. Jimmy, please, say yes."
Castiel's eyes half-shut, exhausted after her outburst. "Please, say yes and let me in. I won't—I promise I won't ever leave you again." In a whisper, "I know how it feels now."
Jimmy hesitates, but Castiel is human now and her days of swapping vessels like suits in a wardrobe are over. Nothing will happen but that Castiel will receive some small measure of comfort. As though it's no big deal at all he opens his mouth and he says, "Yes."
Castiel kisses him.
It's chaste, as far as kisses go; just a touch of the lips and then Castiel falls back, her grip slackening and her eyes slide shut the rest of the way. Jimmy freezes, staring at her long after she has fallen asleep. His daughter—this is his daughter. He can't—
No, it's Castiel. Claire is dead.
Jimmy slides into bed next to Castiel and holds her against him, feeling the rise and fall of her chest in tandem with his. Together, like this, he feels he hasn't failed—that somehow without him looking the end of the journey has come right up to his feet, and he has come home.
Ending Notes: THIS TOOK FAR LONGER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD. You wouldn't believe the sheer number of excess words I trashed while writing this thing. As a result this story might have become a little…strained…near the end. Also it become kind of indulgent because this was supposed to be all sad and horrible but ended up…not being that much so. At long last it's done, though. *whew*