Jim's eighteen years old, with no hope and no prospects, with nothing ahead of him but bar brawls and one night stands and yelling matches with his stepfather. The only good thing he's got right here is his mother, and there's not a damn thing Winona Kirk can do.
Jim has to get the hell out of this town, or he'll be swallowed alive.
He packs a backpack and hitches a ride, and heads out to his Aunt Samantha's, because there's nowhere else to go.
Auntie Sam raises an eyebrow at the sight of her dishevelled nephew standing on her doorstep.
"You look like you've been doing it rough, boy," she drawls, green eyes glinting as she takes a good look at the shiner round Jim's left eye, and the cuts and bruising across the rest of him. "The hell happened to you?"
"Bar fight," Jim offers with a grin, to cover the nervousness. This is the only chance he's got to get out, and if she turns him away, that's it.
But Auntie Sam just considers him for a moment, before smirking.
"That's the Winchester blood in you kid," she says, and opens the door wide. "Get your ass in here and clean yourself up. I won't have any nephew of mine looking like a hobo."
Jim nearly faints in sheer relief.
Jim's grandmother was a Winchester, and it's something his family have always been proud of, apparently.
Samuel is a family name, Auntie Sam tells him, and her Dad had wanted to stick with tradition even when his first-born had been a girl. Winchester traditions are important.
"Your Mom's a nice girl and all, but she doesn't know shit about our family," Auntie Sam tells Jim, as she renews a line of salt beneath one of the big bay windows. Jim doesn't know what kind of crazy-ass tradition this is, but helps anyway, because Auntie Sam is the shit.
"It was your Dad who made sure your brother's middle name was Samuel, but he never told your Mom why."
"So what's the reason?" Jim asks.
Auntie Sam stops and looks at him for a moment.
"Our family's got a history, kid, and you've a right to know, so I'm gonna tell you. Come on."
She gets out a big old photo album, and stops a couple of pages in. The photos are faded badly, and really old, but Jim stares at the first guy Auntie Sam points out, because the eyes are like Auntie Sam's, but the roguish grin is all Jim's, as is the attitude in every line of the guy's body.
"Dean Winchester," Auntie Sam says. "Your who-knows-how-many-times great-grandfather. This is his brother, Sam Winchester."
Sam Winchester's like a foot taller than his brother, and he looks nothing like Jim's Sam, but the serious, faintly scowling look makes Jim think of him anyway.
Everyone always says that Jim looks just like his father, and it's weird to see that their expressions come from so far back down the genetic line.
Jim looks through the photographs – there's one of the two Winchesters as kids, and one of a man labelled 'John Winchester 1992', and a few of the brothers fooling around.
It makes Jim's heart ache, because he and Sam used to be like that, before Frank got really bad and Jim's attitude went up to eleven, and Sam scowled every time he saw either of them.
One of the photos shows both Winchesters each with an arm slung around the shoulders of a scruffy guy in a trench coat. He's giving the camera a blank, squinty-edged glare, like he doesn't approve of this at all, but it's his eyes that hold Jim's attention: they're impossibly blue, and filled with… Jim can't even find the words to describe it, but it's eerie.
'Dad and Uncle Sam and Uncle Cas,' someone has written next to it.
It's the only photo of the mysterious Cas in the entire album; Jim looks.
"Sam and Dean Winchester," Auntie Sam says after a while. "They're legends in some circles, but the important thing is, they stopped the world from ending."
She dumps a bunch of books in Jim's arms.
"Read these," she tells him. "The writing is kinda cringe-inducing, but every word of it's God's truth." She smirks at that, for some reason. "Come to me when you're finished."
Jim looks down at the book on the top of the pile.
The Winchester Gospels Volume One: Supernatural, it reads, as written by Chuck Shurley, Prophet of the Lord.
Jim finds his eyebrows are climbing.
Jim reads the first three books.
His conclusion: this shit is whacked.
He skips to the last book, starts to read it, goes back to the second-last instead, and keeps going back until he reads about how Castiel, Angel of the Lord, came into the guy's lives.
He finishes the last book, and just sits for awhile.
He goes downstairs to find half a lasagne waiting for him, and Auntie Sam packing rock salt into a shotgun.
"So," Auntie Sam says calmly, "you got any questions?"
"Not really," Jim says, eyeing his aunt.
"I'm going on a hunt," she says. "Looks like a haunting." She finishes with the rifle, and loads an old colt that shines with care. "You want in?"
And that's how Jim gets started in the hunting business.
Jim's twenty-two when he goes to visit his brother.
It's six o'clock in the evening and Jim pulls up to the curb in his old beat-up Impala – okay, call him a sap, but when he saw the thing for sale he couldn't resist, even if it was an antique piece of shit – and
strolls up to the front door in a pair of dark jeans and a Gray Knights tshirt under the leather jacket.
Jim likes his rock music.
Sam opens the door, and shock blanks his face as he takes in his little brother, clean shaven and healthy and grinning at him on the stoop.
"Jim?" he says, and there's unexpected joy and wonder in his voice. "Where the hell've you been?"
And Jim's engulfed in a fierce hug and ushered into the house.
"Hung with Auntie Sam for a while," he says, taking in his surroundings in appreciation. It's a nice house, big and tidy but homey, and Jim's glad to see his brother doing so well.
Sam deserves to be happy. He always got shoved to the side when they were kids, while Jim and Frank tore the house apart around him, Jim knows that now.
"I've been doing my own thing for a while now, sort of freelance – it's kinda like bounty-hunting, almost, but I get government payments for it."
Sam grins at him, bright-eyed and delighted.
"George? Who's this?" the woman in the kitchen asks.
Jim never went to their wedding. He kinda regrets that now, wondering how much that must have hurt Sam.
"Hey, Jim says, at his most charming, "I'm Jim."
Her expression changes to something hard to read for an instant, but then she smiles.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Jim," she says nicely, and she's as sincere as Auntie Sam cussing out a demon. Sam's got himself a keeper. "George's talked a lot about you."
Jim's own smile twists into something rueful.
"He has, huh?" He grins at Sam. "He tell you I used to be a little shit?"
"I'm sure it was in there somewhere, Sam says dryly, but with a smirk. "Jim, this is my wife, Aurelan."
"Yeah," Jim says.
There's a sudden high-pitched shriek, and Jim whirls, nerves alert, instantly a hunter, but a two-foot-tall squealing person barrels into the kitchen and collides with his legs.
"Huh?" Jim blinks, while a wide-eyed face with messy blonde curls stares up in wonder and recognition.
"Unca Jim! Unca Jim!" the little boy squeals in excitement, and tries to climb up Jim's pant leg.
Jim looks to his brother for help, to see Sam looking tolerant and Aurelan hiding a smirk.
Carefully, Jim lowers himself and detaches the kid.
"Hey there," he smiles. "You got a name?"
"Jimmy!" his nephew responds proudly. "Jimmy Forsythe Kirk!"
And he beams at Jim.
Jim carefully smiles back, covering his emotions.
"Well, it's good to finally meet you, Jimmy," he says.
He'd almost forgotten Sam had a kid. And he'd known they'd named the baby James, Auntie Sam had told him, but Jimmy… that was, well, sort of touching, or something.
He didn't expect to feel this way about the kid, either, all protective and stuff, but Jimmy looks too much like a miniature Sam.
He goes through his pocket, ignoring all the other stuff, and pulls out the sturdy dream catcher Honey made for his last time he stopped by, to help him with the nightmares.
The thread is blue, and there's tiny glittering charms woven into it.
"Hey buddy, see this?"
Jimmy nods, staring in fascination.
"This is a dream catcher, to keep bad dreams away. It's for you, okay? Do you want to show me where you sleep, so I can hang it up?"
Jimmy beams and leads Jim away by the pant leg, but Jim sees the way happiness fades from Sam's face, and Aurelan looks surprised.
When Jim comes back downstairs, he cocks an eyebrow at them.
"Guess you know what Auntie Sam does, huh?"
"My brother was a hunter," Aurelan says. No hesitation, just says it straight out. "He died when I was fifteen."
"I'm sorry," Jim says, and means it, but it's a familiar story.
"Are you happy?" Sam asks, and Jim's taken aback. "Last time I saw you…" he trails off.
Jim remembers what he was like, last time Sam saw him.
"It's me, you know?"
Sam gives him a searching look, but finally nods.
Jim stays a week, before heading back on the road, with news of some serious shit brewing. He leaves an adoring nephew and a worried brother behind him.
Aurelan just tells him to be safe, and use his instincts.
No one knows quite what's going on, but Jim knows it's not good.
He does what he often does, when he doesn't have a clue: goes for the Winchester Gospels.
He finds his answers there.
"Shit," he says, closing his eyes, before ringing Auntie Sam, telling her what's what and that he'll be there in two days.
Twenty-eight hours later he gets the call, telling him Auntie Sam's dead, torn apart by fricking hellhounds. Hellhounds.
"I'm sorry, son," Fred Briscoe says sadly, and Jim can hear his own grief echoed in the man's voice. Fred was the closest thing Auntie Sam ever had to a permanent partner, and if things had been different then maybe Jim would have had another uncle.
Jim has to pull over as his eyes blur.
He sits in his car at the side of the road, and cries for the woman who gave him something to do with his life.
He heads back to Iowa for the first time in four years – not home, it hasn't been home since he first walked through Auntie Sam's door – where the funeral's to be held.
Cruising down the main streets in the Impala, it all seems smaller and more faded than Jim remembers. He's outgrown this place, and while old, buried things stir, it no longer really has the power to touch him.
As Jim parks in the yard, the front door bangs open, and his mother stands out on the porch in the golden afternoon light.
Jim slams the car door behind him, and goes to give her a firm hug.
"Oh, Jim," she says. "I'm sorry. I know how close you were to her."
"Good to see you too, Mum. Sam here yet?"
She nods, and he follows her into the house.
There's instant screechings of "Unca Jim! Unca Jim!" and Jim sees Frank roll his eyes in mild annoyance, but keep his mouth shut.
Jim gives him a weary smile, and picks him up for a mock-wrestle that makes Jimmy giggle, before handing him off to Aurelan.
"Hi, Aurelan, Sam," he says, and turns to face Frank.
The sonovabitch looks older than Jim remembers.
There might have been fault on Jim's side, but the memories are strong and bitter, and that's no excuse anyway, because Frank was an adult.
"Frank," Jim nods coolly.
Frank looks surprised, fleetingly, by the civility, but Jim's grown up some, and besides, he's not going to brawl at Auntie Sam's funeral.
"Jim," the man returns, and out of the corner of his eyes Jim sees his Mom and Sam relax, and Aurelan smile faintly.
Most of the family is surprised when the local motels start to fill with out-of-town strangers, taciturn and hard, and all, apparently, good friends of Auntie Sam's.
Some of them drop by to express their condolences, and Jim meets them all, chatting about Auntie Sam and how something's building, and yeah, he'd see them at the funeral.
"Jim," his Mom asks, after the eighth one goes, "who are these people?"
"Friends of Auntie Sam's, Mom," Jim says, searching for and finding the good bottle of whiskey Frank's hidden behind the fridge. Hunters drink like fish when it's safe, and there's going to be a few showing up after the funeral, he knows that. Close associates, like Fred, and Charlie, and Ginger Davies.
There's still questions in Winona's face, though, so Jim adds,
"People she worked with, or who worked in the same business."
She nods, and the bell rings yet again, and Jim stashes the whiskey in the pantry among the tins of tuna – Frank hates fish – and goes to answer the door.
Somehow, it's Jim who delivers the eulogy, in front of family, and strangers, and familiar faces here to show their respect.
"Samantha Kirk," he begins, "was a Winchester, and proud of it."
The hunters nod in approval, easy to spot among the crowd confused by Jim's statement.
"Auntie Sam took me in when I was eighteen with nowhere to go, and showed me the family business. It was hard, dangerous work, but like she always said, it was a job someone had to do. She was dry and sarcastic, but she had the biggest heart of anyone I knew, and the world's a darker place without her in it."
Jim's not sure how everyone's going to take the next part, but fuck it.
"Everyone knows about her brother, my father George Kirk, who saved a lot of lives twenty-two years ago. No one knows how many lives Sam Kirk saved. She was as much a hero as he was, and I want you all to know that, when you leave here. Because she did it for people like you, so that you
could live your lives in safety and without fear. That was who she was, and it's what all of us who really knew her will remember."
And Jim finishes with the words he knows so well.
"Fuck destiny, and inevitability, and all that shit. Sam Kirk was a Winchester, and Winchesters never fucking give in!"
There are shocked and angry looks; but the hunters are all grinning, and Jim knows he's done right by his aunt.
Later he and a bunch of hunters sit down in the kitchen to drink Frank's whiskey, and the bottles of bourbon Ginger bought.
"Let's start with the good stuff," Jim declares, holding up the whiskey.
"Hell yeah," Ginger agrees. "That's why I like you, Jim, you know what to say to a girl to impress her."
Charlie snorts, while John grabs the whiskey and unscrews the cap, and tries to take a swig before Ginger grabs it from him.
"Glasses, you barbarian," she sniffs.
Fred doesn't say much. He looks like Jim feels beneath the brave face.
There's a clatter of feet on the stairs, and Sam walks into the kitchen, and
puts a bottle of single-malt on the table before settling into the chair
He surveys Ginger.
"I remember you. You were with Adam Davies, the summer I stayed with Auntie Sam."
Ginger blinks, and a look of astonishment spreads over her face.
"Fuck me, it's little Georgie!" she exclaims, with a big gap-toothed grin, while Sam groans.
"Man, I'd forgotten! You were pretty good with a shotgun, as I remember. What do you do with yourself these days?"
"He's a lawyer," Jim snickers.
"Shut up, Jim."
"Fuck this, gimme the booze," John orders, and they all go with that idea.
Jim wakes the next morning feeling like his brain is bleeding, and with someone sprawled around him in a ball.
Sam's half-naked, and someone's written 'FUCKING WINCHESTER' across his chest in permanent marker.
Jim grins despite the pain, as memory drifts back to him: Sam had got nicely drunk with the rest of them, and they'd all headed down to the nearest bar to play pool before some fool had started in on Jim, and Sam had broken a pool cue over his head, and the fight was on.
Town was full of hunters though, and bars are a hunter's natural habitat, so almost a dozen people had come to their defence (Ginger had already written on Sam's chest by then, so everyone knew it was a Winchester and one of Auntie Sam's relatives fighting here) before the lot of them were kicked out of the bar.
Same has the biggest black eye Jim's ever seen – dude who hit him must have had fists like baseballs – and Jim's own jaw is swollen.
He un-clings Sam, who mumbles, and he staggers to the bathroom, cleaning up a bit before going downstairs.
Aurelan doesn't say anything about Jim's condition; her brother was a hunter, so she probably gets it.
Winona purses her lips though, and Jim ignores her disapproval, politely greeting everyone.
Sam stumbles downstairs ten minutes later, bleary-eyed, and still labelled with permanent marker.
Jim distinctly sees Aurelan bite her lip.
"Morning, sweetie," she says calmly. "You boys have a fun night?"
Sam blinks blankly.
"Sam, did you look in a mirror this morning?" he grins.
Sam looks down, and his eyes bug out.
Jim guffaws at his normally straight-laced brother, and Sam tries to kick his ankle and gets Frank instead, who shoots them both a truly withering look.
"Sorry Frank, I was aiming for Jim," Sam says in embarrassment, while Jim almost cries, he's laughing so hard.
He's going to carry this memory away with him, because as long as he remembers this moment of family and camaraderie, things are going to be alright.
Jim turns around one day, and looks straight into blue eyes.
"Fuck!" he screams, leaping back and windmilling slightly, and staring, because damn if he doesn't recognise the guy, even if the face is entirely different.
It's the eyes. They're blue and serious and ageless, and Jim's seen them once before, years ago, in a family photo album.
"Holy shit." Jim waits for his heart to slow down a little. "You're Castiel, aren't you?"
The Angel of the Lord – fuck – nods. He's got messy black hair and a young, carefree face, which jars with the eyes.
"You have read the Winchester Gospels," he says.
"Yeah," Jim agrees, "kind of a thing. In our family. You know?"
Shit, what is he saying? The angel's going to think he's retarded, or something.
"I do not believe that you are mentally impaired," Castiel says. Oh yeah, telepathy. Great. "It is good that you know your family's history."
Jim thinks he sounds faintly wistful.
"Right." Jim stares at him. "Uh… so what's up?"
Castiel looks grave.
"Someone is interfering with time," he says. "Events aren't going as they should. This shouldn't be possible. The fabric of the universe is… stretching. Your own life has been altered because of this. We need to put you in the right place at the right time to correct it."
Jim doesn't think he's going to like what comes next.
Turns out he's right.