She’s fifteen years old and she sleeps with a knife under her bed. Mom doesn’t know and wouldn’t like it if she did, but she’d understand. Daddy would say she doesn’t need to, but he’s gone.
Claire doesn’t think the knife would actually do much, but she wants it there.
The thing is, she doesn’t remember much of what happened between when she said yes and when she fell to the floor.
She remembers feeling like a balloon someone’s blowing up much too far, stretched so thin she’s about to break from trying to hold light and heat and things like the hearts of stars that she doesn’t even have words for. She remembers that it felt like the drop ride at the carnival, freefall, but a hundred times more so.
She hasn’t had any nightmares since then—not the normal kind, anyway. She dreams about Mom’s eyes going black and cruel again, sometimes, or about her own body going supernova. She dreams that Daddy didn’t take Castiel back. But she hasn’t been scared of anything else. It’s like the fear all got burned out of her. She wants the knife because the demon who took Mom seemed scared of a knife, and even though it was probably some sort of magic one like Frodo’s sword in Lord of the Rings it makes her feel better.
She wonders if angels are scared of anything.
Whenever she goes to a new school she smiles and introduces herself as Claire Acker, Mom’s maiden name because they couldn’t figure out any other way to register her without maybe leaving a giant neon sign.
One of her guidance counselors tells Mom that Claire is very well-adjusted and it’s amazing that she isn’t at all afraid of being a new student. Mom laughs, but it sounds like she wants to cry, and when they get home she says, “Why aren’t you afraid?”
“Oh, God,” Mom says. She wouldn’t have, once, but since Daddy left for the second time she’s stopped caring. “Claire, baby, I know when you’re little it seems like nothing bad is ever going to happen, but you’re not any other teenager, don’t you understand? You should know better!”
“But it already did happen,” Claire points out. “It happened and we’re okay, and I don’t need to worry about kids at school.”
That night she has one of the bad dreams, where she’s seeing in five dimensions and her brain feels like it’s melting out of her skull because she can’t understand it. Everything’s colors she doesn’t have words for and she’s moving so fast through them that she starts bleeding light, burning up like a meteor. When she wakes up she can’t even scream, just lies there and shakes and shakes and shakes with her teeth rattling against each other.
She’s pretty sure she would have gone crazy if Castiel had stayed longer than a few days. Daddy didn’t, and she doesn’t know how he did it but she wishes more than anything that she could tell him how proud of him she is, and how grateful, and how much she misses him.
But Claire wishes that someone would tell her they were proud of her. Because the thing is, she saved everyone’s lives, and she was scared and in pain and she knew that Castiel was what had taken Daddy away and that Claire would have to go with her instead if she said yes. But Castiel sounded so desperate and said she could save them if Claire just let her in, that it was important, and Claire didn’t want anyone to die.
And it was what Daddy had done, after all, and now he was bleeding on the floor and someone had to help him, so Claire whispered, “Okay.”
You have to say the word, Castiel told her.
Claire thought about changing her mind, but there wasn’t time and there wasn’t any other way, so she said it.
Daddy would have told her she did a good job, she’s sure, but Daddy never got the chance, because he was trying to save her before he—because he was trying to save her. And Mom was too busy trying to protect her to realize that she’d done anything.
The other thing—the thing Claire never told anyone even though sometimes she wanted to—was that Castiel was hurt when she used Claire’s body.
Claire had thought about telling Mom but Mom didn’t understand that it wasn’t entirely Castiel’s fault, or God’s, that Daddy had said yes the first time, and then when he did it again it was because Claire had, and…well, Claire was pretty sure that Castiel hadn’t known any better, that angels didn’t have any idea of what it meant to a human family to see someone walk away. She wanted to hate Castiel sometimes, when she missed Daddy so much she’d start crying when she walked past a playground and saw other dads with their kids and had to pretend it was allergies, but then she remembered the colors that didn’t fit anywhere on the color wheel and the inside-of-a-star feeling and decided it wouldn’t do any good to hate her, because angels wouldn’t understand.
She’d thought about telling Castiel’s friend, the shorter one who’d been so glad to see Castiel when she took Daddy back, but Claire had no way of talking to him and even if she had Mom probably would have grounded her for the rest of her life and maybe locked her up in a closet. And it wasn’t like she could just call a stranger and tell him that an angel had been hurting the entire time she possessed her and had left…like…memories of burns or something all over her body. Claire wasn’t really sure what to call them. And by the time she’d finished trying to figure out what to do it was later enough that Castiel would probably have told them herself, anyway.
She ended up telling God, because someone had to get told, sneaking into a church on the way back from school a few months after and whispering the whole thing, even when she wanted to scream and yell about what had happened to her family and how unfair it all was, when they’d been good people and said grace before every meal and Claire prayed every night before bedtime, too, so it wasn’t like they were good but ignorant.
Claire still remembers that sometimes, when she gets sunburned or gets careless with the toaster and her skin tightens painfully, and she wonders if Castiel did whatever was so important to her, if they stopped the demons.
Sometimes there’s something—chocolate, or a really pretty sunset, or, once, the flute at a concert a guy Mom was dating took them to—that seems so strange to Claire that it just stops her, and she stands there like she’s trying to soak it up with her whole body. She doesn’t have any of Castiel’s memories and she’s grateful, but she thinks the disconnect is something left over from that, from when she didn’t really feel anything.
The thing is, sometimes she thinks that Castiel would tell her she’d done a good job, if she only had some way to talk to her and she could listen to Castiel use Daddy’s voice without crying. Because—because that’s one of the other things, like the not-burns, like the moving through the world like it didn’t have anything good in it, that she thinks about when she thinks of Castiel and the memory agrees to be something her brain can process. Claire’s pretty sure Castiel understood making horrible choices she didn’t want to make.