Jimmy is convinced that he’s going to die soon. And, worse, he’s convinced that it’ll be in some horribly embarrassing way. He won’t be going out fighting off a nest of vampires, or wrestling shirtless with a wendigo. He’s going to die because he still gets the order of the symbols that make a devil’s trap mixed up.
Because whenever one of the brother’s yells at him to duck, he always turns and asks “What?”.
Because the hip flask of holy water that Sam always fills up for him digs into his hip when he sits down, so after five minutes on the road he fishes it out of the pants that don’t fit right and drops it on the seat beside him, fully intending to grab it and shove it back into his pocket as soon as they stop somewhere, but never quite remembering.
Because, in all honesty, he throws like a girl.
“You know how to fight, right?” Dean had asked him once. No, no Jimmy didn’t. Jimmy had never been in a fight, not since elementary school when shoving someone for drawing in his workbook counted as a fight. “Come on, give me your best shot.”
And it had taken some goading from Dean, and some assurances from Sam, and it was never going to be a particularly hard punch. Which turned out to be a good thing, since Jimmy had tucked his thumb into his fist, and subsequently sprained it.
Sam and Dean have bodies covered with muscles and scars, and usually a few wounds still in the process of healing. Occasional limps from old injuries, clavicles that don’t sit straight due to breaks, stiff wrists sometimes from a lifetime of punching and hitting and clawing to stay alive. Heck, they’ve died. Multiple times.
And Jimmy Novak sprains his thumb while throwing the third punch in his entire life.
And worse than that, they pity him for it.
He puts them in a bind, Jimmy knows that. He slows them down on hunts, trips them up during travels, and he distracts Sam during research hours because he can’t help asking what seem like small, innocent, simple questions every now and then that take hours to answer. But they can’t leave him behind, because there are still plenty of things out there that would like to get their hands on a vessel, and while Jimmy’s skills with a table lamp have saved his life once before, all three of them know he was lucky.
It makes him laugh, sometimes, that messed up kind of luck.
He gets jumped in a bar. Whatever Dean may have to say about witches, Jimmy has never hated anything the way he hates demons. Jumped in the bathroom of a bar, when he’d been relishing the small moment alone. A mirror cracks as the back of his head is forced through it. His spine is bent back the wrong way over the sink, and Jimmy almost hopes that it just snaps, snaps in two and he can be done with this. His nose cracks, and he reels from the pain, the hot burn that numbs his brain, makes him dizzy. Black eyes leaning close and breath that smells like sulphur, and that grin, that same ugly smug stupid wide grin they all wore.
“I’ll tell your little wifey you said ‘hi’.”
And Jimmy tastes the first blood from his nose drip onto his lip as he shoves, as a noise that is choked and pathetic and so damn angry tears out of him even as the demon laughs. Even as it laughs and chokes, and Jimmy’s hands burn, and smoke pours out from behind that stupid mean smile.
Jimmy tastes blood in his mouth, and when he looks up the Winchesters are standing shoulder to shoulder, blocking the doorway, staring at the body at his feet.
“Good to see you finally memorized that exorcism,” Dean says, before crouching down. He’ll steal the wallet in the body’s pocket, and anything else of value. Times are hard, always,
Jimmy dabs at his nose with the back of his hand, looks at the blood and feels his body hurt and tingle with the instinctive relief that he’s not being torn into tiny pieces.
He didn’t say a word of Latin, but he keeps that to himself.
Jimmy had never been charming, not in the way Dean Winchester is, not with the easy trust that Sam radiates. Sometimes he thinks that’s why the people they meet turn to him. Jimmy is awkward and clumsy and he’s so normal, a bar by which to measure. Jimmy can nod and say, yes, this is for real. Yes, we can help. Sometimes he just stares, wanting things to be quick and easy and simple for once.
He never smiles though. He’s seen his smile now, reflected at him from cracked mirrors and broken glass. A sick, wide, jack-o-lantern stretch. That’s what he is. Cut open and cleaned out and carved up.
As much as he hates being a vessel, he somehow hates being left alone more.
Jimmy hates zombies. He used to hate things like traffic jams, and burning the roast, and coming to on the floor of his office with worried faces staring down at him and the echo of someone saying they’d called his wife.
Now he hates things like zombies, and demons, and getting stabbed.
(He misses the traffic jams.)
There’s a body on top of him, clawing at him while he’s trying to shove it off and it’s only by virtue of Jimmy having the longer arms that his lungs aren’t spread on the grass around them. He can’t look into its face. He can’t see that rotting skin and those dead eyes and that (familiar) bared-teeth grin.
It pulls back, then swipes at his side and fingers shouldn’t tear into his skin like that, but they do. And Jimmy howls, and gets a foot to its stomach and kicks as hard as he can, trying to throw it off but it still has a grip on his arm, and the two of them are rolling on the grass with Jimmy bleeding and it growling (and where the fuck are those blasted Winchesters?) and the two of them wearing perfectly identical snarls.
They tumble into the grave. Tumble in and Jimmy’s shoulders slam into wood and dirt and small stones. The air is knocked out of him. The zombie is on top of him. And Jimmy is going to die. He’s going to die with his intestines leaking out over someone else’s satin lining all because he couldn’t run fast enough. All because he is the worst bait in the history of the world.
Fingers are digging into his side, into his neck. Teeth too close to his face, to his eyes, and there’s blood in his mouth and all he can think is that at least the Winchester’s won’t have to worry about digging the hole for him. And that makes him so angry, angrier than he can understand or fathom or even contain. Because he should be at home. He should be living his life, and loving his family, and he’s never, ever going to give up on that. He gives up on holding the beast at bay and just starts pummelling at it, just letting some of the anger out even as it tears his skin and steals his breath. As his hands burn and its growls turn to cries and Jimmy grabs it tight, tighter than he thought he could, pressing a hand hard against its face, watching dead flesh sizzle and something within it ignite.
The brothers haul him out of the hole in the ground, which he’s grateful for because he figures that simultaneously being eaten by a zombie and being set on fire by it would be a pretty cruddy way to go. Dean holds him up with hands under his armpits while Sam checks him over, and Jimmy stares down at the mess of flame and flesh. He wonders if anyone could ever get used to seeing things like that.
Sam straightens up, staring at Dean with worried eyes. “There’s no burns,” he says. He grabs Jimmy’s hands, and the skin crackles as Sam’s cold fingers trace over his palm, over the muscle at the base of his thumb.
Dean slaps his hand down Jimmy’s side, groping at the torn skin, making Jimmy groan. They exchange a look over the top of Jimmy’s head as he slumps against Dean, sliding towards the ground.
The air smells like burnt roast, and it makes him gag.
(He almost-... No, he’ll never miss the seizures.)
They’re on the road for two hours before one of them asks, Dean yelling over his shoulder so the words will travel back to Jimmy, spread out on the backseat like a sulking teen.
“This a new thing or what?”
Jimmy is clutching at the back seat with both hands in a struggle to keep his balance, still wearing the same clothes from the night before, a little nauseas from the painkillers Sam had handed him. Covered in sweat and dirt and blood, clumsy stitches up one side. How had this become normal?
“As far as I know,” he calls back.
Not that he knows much at all. How many near-death situations had he been in before saying yes to a comforting voice called Castiel? Exactly none. Maybe this thing has always been inside him.
Maybe he’s a thing.
It’s a long drive to South Dakota, and it’s filled with the roar of the engine, the pulse of Dean’s music, and the suffocating silence of three people not knowing what the hell they’re dealing with. When Jimmy finally passes out, it’s a relief, and he prays that Castiel will come and snatch him back, so he won’t have to deal with it at all.
It takes Sam’s help to get Jimmy into clean clothes, stuffing him into a hooded jacket and zipping it up to his neck. Jimmy looks critically at his reflection in the dirty mirror of the shitty service station bathroom, and pulls the zipper halfway down his breast bone. They’ll have to get him a jacket without a hood, something more conservative. He wets his hands and combs his fingers through his hair, making his fringe sit in a close approximation to a normal, respectable haircut. He still feels giddy and sick from the painkillers (he’ll bet anything they’ve stuffed him full of horse tranquilisers or dog anxiolytics or something). He can’t feel anything between knees and his nipples, which he knows is kind of the point.
Sam pulls out a wallet and slips a twenty into it. There’s a fake driver’s licence with Jimmy’s face on it, and a million small details that the Winchesters hadn’t thought of. A gym membership card, a loyalty card for a generic coffee place, a photo of a little girl with blonde hair sitting on a swing. A collection of little lies that make him all the more trustworthy.
“How good are your fingers?” Sam asks.
Jimmy lifts his left hand and flexes the fingers, he holds it steady with some thought, and takes the wallet from Sam’s hand and though it slips a little in his fingers he tucks it into the pocket of his jacket without too much trouble.
“You sure you’re okay?” Sam asks, staring at Jimmy’s reflection in the mirror.
Jimmy twitches a corner of his mouth, the closest he can manage to a smile. “A man’s gotta eat,” he replies, Dean’s words sounding hollow and cynical on his tongue. He pushes past Sam, stumbling a little, and walks across the road to the supermarket.
It’s late and there are three people working checkout – one at the cigarette counter, one at a normal register, and one stocking the drinks fridge. There will be at least another two people stocking shelves, and probably one person slicing meat and handling the fresh seafood. Maybe another two out the back. Jimmy stands in front of the magazine rack, staring blankly at the titles until he sees Sam move to the fresh produce department with a backpack slung over one shoulder, and Dean head down the confectionary aisle. He takes a deep breath, and schools his face into a look of exhausted worry, one muscle at the time. Forehead, eyebrows, eyes, mouth.
“I’m sorry,” he says to the girl at the cigarette counter, “but could you help me?” He needs to get some magazines for his daughter, but he doesn’t know what she reads. “She’s in hospital,” he says, “and it’s driving her nuts.” He offers a small smile at the end of the sentence. A tired dad, worried about his little girl but hoping so hard.
“Okay,” the girl says. Her name badge says ‘Beatrice’, but she doesn’t look like one. “How old is she?”
And this is easy, almost. The daughter is twelve years old. She likes books, and High School Musical, and her Nintendo DS. Jimmy just knows that he’s not allowed to get her Cosmo. She leaves the cigarette counter and stands by the magazine rack with him, pointing out different women’s and girl’s magazines, giving him a basic run down of each one.
“Don’t get her any of these,” she says, gesturing to a long row of magazines with pouting female faces on the front cover. “These are meant to be for empowered women in their mid-twenties, but really they’re written for skanky teens.”
“Magazines are a lot more complicated than I thought,” Jimmy says. From the corner of his eye he can see Sam head out the door, waving to the girl on the remaining checkout. Looking like he has nothing at all to hide.
“Girls’ magazines suck,” Beatrice says, and with her standing beside him, Jimmy decides that she’s probably too old to be a girl, maybe twenty or so. Still young. “Hey, Col,” she calls out, and the guy filling drinks meanders over. “What magazines does your brother read?”
And Jimmy tries not to think about Claire as he’s handed movie magazines and game magazines, one Disney Girl magazine and a copy of a magazine dedicated entirely to TV shows.
“How long do you think that’ll last her?” Beatrice asks, as he flips through the glossy covers.
“Knowing her, maybe a day,” Jimmy replies, and the grin on his face is still tired and worried, but there’s some fatherly pride in there that makes his chest twist. The pain adds to the performance.
He really hates doing this.
At the counter there’s a delay. He’s lost his credit card, left at the hotel. “I’m driving back from a conference,” he explains, and lets the unsaid details write themselves into the story. He pulls the twenty out and there’s more discussion between Beatrice and Col about which magazines to cull from the list. The boy calls her ‘Kate’, and Jimmy feels an odd moment at pride for calling the bluff on her name badge. He sees Dean work his way through the other register, buying a few bulky things but Jimmy knows he’ll have a lot more stuffed under his jacket.
He makes sure that he thanks both of them profusely as he tucks the magazines under his arm. “You’ve been a real help,” he says. “Thank you so much.” And Beatrice smiles, and wishes him a safe trip, and tells him that she hopes his daughter feels better soon. Jimmy gives her a tight smile that must be a grimace, and hurries out of the store.
“You’re getting better at that each time,” Dean says when he slides into the back seat of the Impala. Jimmy is sweating, the painkillers wearing off. Sam hands him a bottle of water, and a prepacked sandwich, and Jimmy drops the three magazines he’d bought over into the front seat. His stomach hurts but he knows he shouldn’t eat, he won’t be able to keep anything down until the painkillers wear off. It takes a few tries for him to twist off the blue cap of the water bottle, and from the front seat he can hear Dean snort as he turns the key in the ignition.
“You couldn’t pick up some porn?”
Jimmy lets his head fall back, water travelling painfully down his throat. He hopes that he’ll fall right through sleep and into a coma. Darkness with no dreams.
When they’re introduced, Jimmy holds his hand out and says, “Pleased to meet you, Mister Singer.”
Bobby stares up at him with a perfectly unreadable expression, and even though the man is in a wheelchair Jimmy gets the distinct feeling of being looked down upon before Bobby grasps his hand in old, worn fingers.
“You are new,” Bobby says.
Jimmy bites down on his tongue, worried that the words, ‘I’m sorry, should I have spat on my hand first?’ would tumble out of his mouth. He thinks that Bobby probably hears the unspoken snipe anyway, judging by the way his eyes narrow and his mouth twitches at one corner.
Since Sam is busy bringing their bags in from the car, and Dean is busy filling Bobby in on the latest mystery of Jimmy Novak, Jimmy flops down on the couch off to one side in Bobby’s sitting room, making dust rise out of the cushions and hover in the air, little motes that catch the late afternoon sunlight. Jimmy lets his head loll to one side, watching the patterns made by particles falling and shifting in the breeze made by bodies moving about the stuffy room.
He watches those little points of light flit and fall, and feels something that isn’t exactly peace, but is fairly close.
“This kind of thing ever happen before?” Bobby asks. He sits a bottle of water on the table in front of Jimmy. “Drink.”
He’s smart enough to realise that it’s an instruction, not an invitation, so Jimmy drinks. “I don’t think so,” he replies. “I haven’t been in that many life or death situations.” Bobby takes his hand, and nicks a finger. “Ow.” Jimmy says, and he can see Dean roll his eyes from across the room.
“Got any family history of this kind of thing?” Bobby asks, tilting Jimmy’s head back and forth, peering into his eyes. “Any miraculous saves there?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy replies, and he can feel Bobby’s annoyance that he’s so little help, but it just makes him all the more exhausted. “I don’t even know what month it is, let alone who’s alive and who isn’t.”
Bobby stares at him for a moment, just Jimmy and nothing else. “March,” he says at last. “And let’s just run through what family you know.”
Jimmy nods, and because Bobby’s stare is getting to him his runs a hand through his hair and looks down. “There’s Amelia, my wife. And my daughter Claire. They’re... they’re out there. My dad died...” he has to pause for a moment, and work it out. “Huh, about seven years ago now. His partner, she lives in Montana.”
“Let’s just stick to the blood relations, for now.”
“Right. Of course.” Jimmy thinks, and then shakes his head. “My mom died when I was ten, and I never really knew her side. My dad was an only child, so no family there.”
“I had a baby sister.”
And Jimmy honestly feels nothing when he says that, it had all happened so long ago. It was like talking about his first car, or a concert. Something mostly forgotten. The thing that he hates most is the pain it brings about it others, the way the loss he can go months or years without thinking about brings to mind raw, personal losses in those around him. He sees Dean look down at his boots, and even Bobby turns his face away.
“Well,” he says, his voice rough and Jimmy can’t tell if that’s usual for the hunter or not. “I think we can rule out some kind of family line for the now.” He wheels back, and turns to face the brothers – Dean leaning against the far wall, and Sam hovering in the doorway out of Jimmy’s line of sight. “So what the heck have you idjits done to him?”
And then there’s a discussion about curses or hexes, about talismans or charms, anything that he could have picked up or walked through or spat on that may have made a difference. And there’s nothing. There’s not one single obvious thing that they can point to and say, “Yes, this is what fucked him up.” Jimmy stares down at his hands, and wishes he’d been able to keep the secret better.
“We’ve got to call Cas,” Sam says, though it sounds like his voice is coming from far away. “Jimmy’s his vessel, he’ll know what’s going on.”
How long has Jimmy been free of that pain and fire? Nearly a week. Nearly a week and he doesn’t want to give it up, not by a long shot. But he hears Dean’s mockery of a prayer, and he can feel it, even while the others are talking about whether Castiel will come at all Jimmy can feel his grace and presence slide around him, press down, a suffocation of sound that makes his body quake and ache, makes his hands shake as he stares at them and his world is filled with pain and fear and he is so goddamned small amongst it all that he opens up.
He says yes, and ceases to be.
When he comes back the sun is in the same position, his body is in the same position, only the people around me have moved. His brow furrows.
Sam swallows. “Jimmy,” he says, and there’s something not quite right with his voice. “We didn’t know.” It’s the voice that Sam uses when he’s apologising to people, pleading with them.
Jimmy pushes himself upright from where he has slumped against the couch. “How long was I out?” For some reason it’s far more disorienting than waking up with a year gone, on the wrong side of the country. One of life’s jokes.
“’Bout ten minutes,” Sam says after a long pause.
Jimmy feels fear strike through him. Was something wrong with Castiel? Was he unable to stay for some reason? Was the war... but then he notices the three of them staring at him, and he realises that no, the problem isn’t with Cas at all.
His voice sounds too loud in such a cramped room. “What did he say?”
It scares him so fucking much that it takes so long for any of them to speak. It doesn’t surprise him that Sam’s the one that breaks the silence. “It’s a vessel thing,” he says at last.
Jimmy frowns. “But why now? What’s... what’s changed?”
Bobby huffs a loud breath of air out through his nose. “According to your angel, it’s hard to kill off the last of a vessel bloodline. Heaven gives them a switch to flip so they don’t leave their angels stranded, whether Heaven likes the angel or not.”
It takes a long time for Jimmy to untangle the words. His brow furrows, and his mouth quirks into a bemused smile. “But I’m not the last of Castiel’s vessels.” Suddenly no one is looking at him, and his heart stops beating and his lungs won’t work. His voice is a sick croak. “I’m not...”
Sam ducks his head. “I’m sorry, Jimmy.”
And Jimmy can’t... he can’t even... He’d already lost everything. How could he possibly lose more? How could... Why Claire? Why his daughter? And.. His mind shuts down, goes to autopilot, because... because...
“How?” someone asks, and it takes Jimmy a second to realise that it was him.
“Car accident,” Dean tells him, looking down at an open book on Bobby’s desk. He looks up, catches Jimmy’s eye. “It was quick,” he says. “They didn’t... it was quick.”
Jimmy closes his eyes and sucks in a shuddering breath. It wasn’t a car accident, the darkness behind his eyes assures him. It wasn’t quick. He thinks back to when it first happened. The first time he should have died and he didn’t. A year, almost. Nearly a whole, fucking year and no one knew. He didn’t know.
He wonders if Castiel went to them. What happened to the bodies. He wonders what happened at all, though he’s more than aware that he doesn’t really want to know. Had he been there? Had Castiel been wearing his skin? Had his eyes seen their bodies, were the memories stored up in his head somewhere? He burries his hands in his hair, his elbows on his knees and his eyes squeezed shut, as if he can somehow force answers out of himself. As if there is anything of value left inside him.
A hand settles on his shoulder, hesitant and large, and he knows that it belongs to Sam. He unclenches his hands, his scalp burning from where he’s pulled hair loose. He keeps his eyes closed.
“Castiel,” he says, “we had a deal.”
Sam’s hand grips his shoulder reflexively, and Jimmy suddenly resents it, is revolted at the idea that everything can be fixed and wiped away with a pat on the shoulder like he’s a good doggie. He’s on his feet, yelling.
“You hear me, Cas? We had a fucking deal.”
He can’t stay in the house. It’s not big enough for him and his pain, and the angel he wants to tear apart with his own hands. He stalks to the door, wrenching it open and slamming it behind him, a dark and furious force. He hears it open behind him, footsteps thud onto the porch as his own feet thump onto the hard packed dirt of the salvage yard.
“Jimmy-” Sam starts, but Jimmy whirls around and cuts him off.
“No,” he says. “No. You can go and... you can all just go to hell.” And then he turns, and he runs. Feet thudding on the hard dirt and his body hurting and sick from the zombie and whatever the hell the brothers had forced down his throat, and behind him he can hear Dean’s voice from the porch, can imagine one brother tugging the other inside.
“Let him go,” Dean says. “He’ll come back.”
Jimmy runs out the open gate, and down the road, and he keeps running with uneven, jolting strides until the land around him changes. Brown becomes green, dead becomes lush, picket fences become trees and he’s inside a forest, his feet slipping on damp dead leaves, his nose sore from sucking in lungfuls of thick, heavy air. Air that smells like trees and birds and life and rot.
He can feel Castiel reaching out to him, tendrils of light and sound that trip him up, make him stumble until he is scrabbling on his hands and knees, the stitches in his side pulling, trying to get away. “No,” he says. “No!” And his body shakes and his hands won’t work, Castiel’s voice is ringing in his ears, making him blind and burned from the intensity and all Jimmy can think is, what’s a little more pain now? After everything else the angel has done, how can the blood from his ears and leaking out from under his fingernails possibly compare?
And then it stops. As if he has crossed a magic line, a barrier that keeps Castiel at bay. Jimmy flops down onto his stomach, and breathes. Breathes the smell of dirt and leaves and worms and termites and flowers and fruit and something else, something sweet and artificial. Breathes until he can open his eyes, can hear the stillness around him for what it is. When he can, he picks himself up, and walks further into the forest. Up a small incline, and when he reaches a cleared space near the top he stops, sits on the damp grass and looks back the way he came. His trail is swallowed up by the trees.
He is completely alone, and entirely incompetent. He could die, he knows, from a thousand perfectly innocent things. The idea doesn’t disturb him much. He’d prefer the peace of this live, damp place to the smothering embrace and searing grace of Castiel. He puts his elbows on his knees again, and burries his face in his arms, and he shakes. Tears won’t come, not yet, but he just can’t pretend to be in control anymore. Can’t care enough to make-believe.
Long moments pass, and Jimmy lifts his head up slowly, aware that he’s no longer alone.
There’s a man sitting beside him, and not a man at all. He’s wearing a green jacket, a ball cap, and jeans with one knee starting to fray and tear.
“You’re an angel,” Jimmy says dully.
“Yup,” the man replies, popping the ‘p’ at the end of the word. He looks at Jimmy, and curls his mouth into a teasing smile, “But I’ve been called a lot worse.”
Jimmy turns away, slouching forward again and resting his chin on his crossed arms. “What do you want?”
The angel leans back, stretching out and propping itself up on one elbow. “How about a harder question?” it asks. “What do you want?”
Jimmy stares out at the expanse of green before him, and swallows.
“Anything at all, just ask. Sick of your time here on Earth? I can deliver you to the pearly gates.” Jimmy turns to look at the angel, and gets a nonchalant shrug in response to his surprise. “You’ve died. A few times. You want Heaven, it’s waiting for you.”
Jimmy swallows, and turns back to the scenery spread before him. It’s... tempting. To be done with it all. No more days and nights trailing after the Winchesters, waiting for Castiel to turn out his lights.
“Maybe you’re not quite ready to step off the mortal coil, hmm?” the angel says. “Want to stop being a vessel? That’s not so hard. You can keep little Castiel out of your head on your own, and I could send him back upstairs.”
That idea has no appeal. Wandering around like a lost soul for the rest of his life? No, definitely not.
“Well then?” And its voice sounds so very human, impatient and bored but with a streak of honest curiosity through it. “What do you want?”
Jimmy licks his lips, tasting the damp air on them. “Can you give me answers?” he asks. “I want to know what’s going on.”
The angel snorts, and flops down onto its back, bringing its arms up and lacing its hands behind its head. Jimmy twists around to look at it, at the brown hair that curls out from under the hat, the lines of an unfamiliar nose. “You sure know how to ask the big ones,” it says. “Well? Where do you want to start?”
“Where’s Castiel? Why does he keep disappearing?”
The angel rolls its eyes. “He’s off recharging his batteries.” When Jimmy doesn’t look away, he hauls himself back into a sitting position, dusting off the sleeves of his jacket. “Angels aren’t really designed to be alone. We get our energy from heaven, from each other. He’s cut off from heaven proper, so he’s sneaking around, calling to what friends and brothers he has left.”
Jimmy turns this over in his mind, slotting it into place with half-heard conversations. “Is he falling?”
“Yup.” This time the ‘p’ doesn’t pop. “It’s slow, and the more energy he can mooch, well, the slower it’ll be. Sadly, that means the more time you’ll be in the driver’s seat.”
“How come?” The question surprises Jimmy, only because he hadn’t known that he’d cared.
The angel looks at him fondly. “Vessels are easy to find. Look at how easily I found you. When the heat’s on, little brother needs to stay away from his regular haunts until the boys upstairs get distracted. He’s gambling that without him in your skin, Heaven will see you as worthless.”
Jimmy can see the logic there. “Is that why you’re here? Sussing me out?”
The angel smirks, all warm brown eyes and smug lines. “I’m not here on Heaven’s payroll. But I’ve got my eye on you.”
Jimmy turns back to face the greenery in front of him, and scowls.
“Bitten off more than you can chew, haven’t you?” the angel says, its voice is teasing, goading, and it makes Jimmy prickle.
“Do you know what happened to my family?” Jimmy asks.
The angel follows Jimmy’s gaze, staring at the trees with their trunks covered in moss. “Yeah. You had one hell of a wife there. I mean, they had some help. Found some hunters. And when it all went to shit, well, she made some hard choices. Your daughter didn’t suffer.” The angel looks down at its vessels hands, flicking at the dirt packed under a fingernail. “They’re in the arms of the Lord now. Well, not his actual arms. But the one good thing about dying while fighting off the forces of evil is that it pretty much gives you a free pass through the pearly gates.”
“They’re in Heaven?”
“Yeah. They’ve got their own little slice of the afterlife. You’ll see them again, eventually.”
Jimmy doesn’t find any comfort in the words, which he feels a detached kind of regret about. There aren’t enough ways to say sorry in the world to atone for what he had brought upon them.
Very slowly, it starts to rain. A fine mist of droplets, drizzling and pushing damp grass into wetness. Jimmy ignores it, staring through the haze at the trees, staring past them to everything that was still waiting for him.
The angel shrugs off its jacket, and drapes it around Jimmy’s shoulders. There’s very little body heat stored in it, and Jimmy wonders if all angels are cool to touch. The angel reaches into one of the jacket pockets and pulls out a chocolate bar. He offers it to Jimmy, who shakes his head. The wrapper is torn open, and Jimmy is sitting on a hill, in the rain, with the zombie-inflicted hole in his side weeping gently, next to an angel devouring a Snickers bar.
It feels like one of his more normal days.
“My hands,” he says. “The heat. What else can they do?”
“They keep you safe,” is the reply. “And should you lose them, I guess you’ll have blessed feet.” The angel says the word as two syllables, bless-ed. Every now and then a word will break apart in its mouth, an odd accent that Jimmy can’t place because he knows in his heart that it is an old one.
“As for what else, I don’t know.” The angel smiles, but it’s not entirely nice. “I suspect you’ll end up with a few more tricks up your sleeves.”
“Do you think we’ll stop the apocalypse?” Jimmy asks.
The angel looks over at him, and after a pause speaks with his mouth still half full of chocolate and caramel and nougat. “I didn’t,” it says. “It’s the apocalypse; it doesn’t really have an off button. But...” He takes another bite, and chews it thoughtfully. “But if anyone can throw a spanner in the works, it’s those knuckleheads you’re driving around with. And,” it pauses again, and Jimmy can feel the angel’s stare on the side of his face. “Well,” it says, turning away. “Everyone has a backup plan.”
Jimmy finally gives in to the cold and the wet, and threads his arms through the sleeves of the angel’s jacket, tugging it tight around his chest. He thinks longingly of the stolen sandwiches in the back of the Impala, probably sitting in Bobby’s kitchen by now. The angel’s hand enters Jimmy’s line of vision, holding an apple, yellow in colour and lacking any shine. It would taste sweet, with a texture more soft than crisp. Jimmy takes it, and turns it over in his hands.
“I’m pretty sure I heard a story somewhere, cautioning against accepting apples from strangers in gardens.”
“Well, you won’t accept candy from a stranger, surely that’s being responsible enough?”
Jimmy rubs a thumb over the smooth, unblemished surface. He doesn’t distrust the angel, and in all honesty even the very worst that could happen won’t seem that bad in comparison to the week he’s had. He lifts the apple to his mouth, and pauses with his lips brushing the tight, bright skin.
“What am I agreeing to?”
The angel raises its eyebrows, and smirks at him, both surprised and not surprised at all. “You babysit the Winchesters.” And Jimmy is not surprised at all that everything comes back to those two. “They’ve got their paths to walk, and you’ll have yours. You can’t do it alone. Humans are a bit like angels, really. You’re not designed to be solitary animals.”
Jimmy looks over at the angel, sitting beside him in a green t-shirt layered over a gray long sleeved top. The material is wet at its shoulders, little drops of rain catching in brown hair as it curls up under the back of the ball cap. Warm eyes the colour of honey stare back at him, but Jimmy can see the angel underneath, can feel the parts of it that stretch beyond the vessel.
“You know those two need someone keeping an eye on them, keeping them together.”
“They won’t listen to me,” Jimmy says, because wrangling Winchesters is no easy task, and he feels that the angel has unrealistically high hopes for him.
“Dean won’t,” the angel agrees. There’s a firm streak of innuendo in that accompanies the comment, and Jimmy thinks of Sam, of his need to be nice and helpful, to atone for the past mistakes that Jimmy doesn’t know enough about and that Dean will never forget. He thinks of shared beds and shared clothes, and the way everyone in that car always needed so much and received so little.
“Is this going to end well?” Jimmy asks.
The angel laughs. “It’s the apocalypse,” he says. “But you’ll always have an angel watching over you.” Its easy grin turns sharp, and Jimmy is flooded with relief at the honesty there.
“Whether I like it or not,” he murmurs, and bites into the apple.
The walk back to Bobby’s seems to take less time than fleeing from it had. Jimmy meanders along the road, taking bites of the tart apple, licking juice away from his bottom lip. His left hand is in the pocket of the jacket, playing with three loops of metal that he’d found there. He knows the shape of a diamond, the fit of a band, knows it all perfectly. He doesn’t know whether to be grateful or not.
The dogs start up as Jimmy walks through the gate of the salvage yard, and Sam and Dean both step out onto the front porch. Dean scowls at him as he walks up the wide wooden steps, reaches out and flicks the collar of the jacket.
“What the hell is this?”
“I went foraging in a mall,” Jimmy replies.
Dean’s look is unimpressed. “For two days?”
Jimmy bites the last of the flesh away from the apple core, and turns it over slowly between his back teeth. “Huh,” he says at last, turning the throw the core out amongst the tangle of rusting cars. “Didn’t feel that long.”
He brushes past them and into the dark house, the smell of apples trailing after him.
“Are we moving on soon?” he calls over his shoulder. “We’ve got things to do.”
Three days later, three days of being on the road and no one talking, Dean’s mobile phone rings. It’s Bobby, and he would very much like to know of any of them know a damn thing about the tree that’s sprung up in the middle of his yard. Dean glances at Jimmy in the rear vision mirror, and Sam swivels in the passenger seat.
Jimmy just keeps staring out the window, his elbow carefully avoiding the green army man wedged into the arm rest, his chin cupped in his palm. The hole in his side is healed, and he hasn’t felt the sharp anger of hunger for days.
He stares out the window, and feels something almost like peace.