“You’re quiet tonight.”
Jim looks up from his book at the sound of Caleb’s voice, one slim finger automatically moving to mark his reading place. His eyes are tired, and there’s a little wrinkle in the middle of his forehead that’s been there for three days now. Caleb hates that wrinkle, hates that it means Jim is worrying too much, generally about things completely outside of his control. “I’m sorry, Cal, I know I’m not being good company—”
“I’m not worried about the quality of your company, you asshole, I’m worried about you,” Caleb gripes, rolling his eyes. He puts down the dish he’s been washing and wipes his hands off on his jeans, then circles around the kitchen island to the table and sits. Waits Jim out until Jim sighs and finally sets his book aside.
“I’m okay,” Jim tries, because he’s Jim, but Caleb’s got his number these days, can see the way his mouth tightens over the words, hears how the lie tries to stick in his throat.
“You’re not,” Caleb says. “And that’s okay, nobody’s okay all the time, right? Especially in our line of work.” Not so long ago, he might have second guessed himself before reaching to take Jim’s hand, but it’s getting easier now. Easier all the time when Jim never hesitates to clasp Caleb’s hand right back and gift him with that slow, uncomplicated smile. It’s a little smaller today, but still present, which is what matters. Caleb lets his thumb brush back and forth along Jim’s skin, hopes that the soft touch is somehow soothing. He’s still not used to using his hands for soft things, but he wants to be, someday. He clears his throat and adds, “I just, y’know. Want you to know I’m here, if talking might help.”
The smile falls away, but Jim doesn’t let go of Caleb’s hand, so that’s something. His eyes shutter, though, and he shakes his head. “Really, it’s nothing.”
Which of course means it’s absolutely something, in Jim Murphy speak. “It’s Cas,” Caleb says, which isn’t even a guess. Whatever has Jim so torn up, it’s so obviously about Castiel Winchester and whatever trouble he brought to Jim’s door a few days ago.
Jim, to his credit, doesn’t even try to deny it now, just sighs again and stares down at the table unseeingly. “He’s…it’s complicated, and not my secret to tell.”
“Not asking for secrets, Jim, yours or his,” Caleb promises. “I know how much you care about him and his brothers. I do too. But whatever that kid said to you has you in a bad way lately, and I want to help.” All Caleb ever wants to do is help, has found over the last couple years that he would give anything – everything – to make Jim happy. If he could spend the rest of his time on this earth being the source of Jim’s smile, his laughter, his joy…well, it would be a life well spent, in Caleb’s mind, even if he never hunted again. That’s what Jim does for him; when they’re together, the rest of the world goes away for Caleb. The darkness of both his past and and his present, the fear of the future, the monsters waiting around every goddamn corner…all of it. Jim makes the world feel sane again. Caleb wishes he could give even half of that back, and spends all the time they’re together trying like hell to do just that.
Jim hesitates. “Cal, you know I…I love you. And I appreciate that you want to be there for me, to listen to my problems. I do. More than I could ever possibly say. But this isn’t something I’m sure you can help with.”
It hurts, but it’s a familiar hurt, and tempered by those three words Caleb still hasn’t gotten used to hearing. Still, Caleb and Jim are from different worlds. Always have been, and they clash hard and bitter and fierce sometimes because of it. “Try me,” he says anyway.
Jim’s eyes search his for a long moment, and then he sighs again, bowing his head so that a few strands of graying hair fall across his eyes. “All right,” he finally says, but then remains silent for several long moments before hesitantly continuing. “It’s just…in all my time, I’ve never questioned my faith in God, not seriously.”
Caleb keeps his gaze steady, doesn’t flinch, but it’s hard. They don’t talk about faith, or God, or the church. Ever. So he doesn’t flinch, doesn’t give any indication that he’s at all affected by this new line of discussion. Doesn’t think of his father’s bellow, or the crack of a belt against his skin, doesn’t think of the myriad ways he was punished for forgetting a prayer, for not reciting a bible verse perfectly, for all the other things his father perceived as sin.
Jim can tell anyway. Jim can always tell. He pauses again, then says carefully, “If you don’t want to hear this, Cal, I promise I unders—”
“No,” Caleb says, too fast and too rough. He clears his throat and squeezes Jim’s hand in silent apology. “No,” he says again, gentler this time. “It’s okay. I want to hear it. Whatever you want to say. This is about you, Jim not me. I’ll tell you if it’s too much.”
There’s another long silence, Jim raising his eyes just for long enough to search Caleb’s gaze, and then he looks away again. Maybe it’s easier to say if he’s not looking directly at Caleb. Maybe he just knows it’s easier for Caleb to hear that way. “All right,” he says again, softly this time. Then, “I’ve relied on my faith for so long, and through so many things. And now…” He swallows hard, shakes his head, still doesn’t look at Caleb. “I’m shaken, Cal. I never expected…in all my time both as pastor and hunter, I’ve never found anything…” He makes a wordless sound of frustration when he can’t find the proper words, and Caleb squeezes his hand again, willing Jim to be patient with himself. “Somehow,” Jim finally continues, “being offered undeniable proof that God and His angels are real has left me questioning…everything. And I suppose I’m not handling it well.”
Caleb has no idea what Jim means by ‘undeniable proof’ and frankly doesn’t want to know. But he knows Jim, maybe better than anyone at this point, and nothing has the right to make Jim sound so lost. Not while Caleb is still breathing. “Jim…” he starts, but then doesn’t know how to continue. This isn’t his area of expertise. Give him something to shoot and he’s an ace, but words have never been his thing.
“If an angel chooses to fall from grace, there must be a reason, right?” Jim asks, sounding desperate now, the words loosened almost unwillingly from his lips. “What sort of place must Heaven be, to choose to run away from it?”
And, oh, one thing Caleb isn’t is a stupid man, would never last a night dealing weapons for a network of hunters if he was. He can put two and two together and get four every single time. Oh, hell, he thinks, and sees the moment Jim realizes he’s said too much.
“Please forget I said that,” Jim begs, eyes closed.
“Okay,” Caleb says, like it’s exactly that easy, and if nothing else, it at least makes Jim give a half-laugh that only sounds a little broken. He tries to find the right words, digging deep to be able to say what needs saying here. “Listen, Jim. You know I don’t have a lotta faith in…God, and Heaven, all that.” It may be the first time he’s said the word God since he was a teenager, and it’s strange that it doesn’t stick in his throat and burn there. “So maybe this won’t mean much. But I figure…” He pauses, not wanting to mess this up. “I figure angels are probably a lot like us. There are probably good ones, and bad ones. And maybe ones that are just a little more special than the rest, who see things differently. Ones who don’t choose the easy, familiar path, but the right path. Whatever that is. If an angel chose to…you know, fall…maybe that’s not a reflection of God or Heaven, but just a reflection of the angel’s circumstances.”
Jim’s eyes are wide and searching. “Cal…”
Caleb flushes. “Okay, I know that’s probably dumb as hell, but—”
“No.” Jim reaches to clasp Caleb’s free hand with his own, brings it up to press a kiss into his knuckles. “No, it’s not, not at all. I think maybe you could be right, actually. I hadn’t thought of it that way, in those terms, but… Caleb, thank you. I know you…I’m sure that wasn’t easy to say, but I think it’s exactly what I needed to hear.”
“Well. Good.” Caleb would rub the back of his neck if he had a hand to do so, but Jim is still holding tight to both, and his smile is back, his eyes lighter, that persistent wrinkle finally disappearing from his forehead. So it’s worth the trade-off. “Can we go to bed now, maybe?”
And now Jim laughs, full and bright, and drags Caleb closer so he can plant a kiss on his forehead, then his cheek, then his nose. “Yes, dear,” he says, too fond by half, leaving Caleb wondering (not for the first time, not nearly) how he got so lucky that Jim Murphy ever gave him the time of day.
They stand together, and Caleb feels such a rush of warmth when Jim leans into him that he has to pause and remember how to breathe right. “Hey,” he says, tugging Jim in for a real kiss, lingering over it until they’re both a little bit breathless. Both smiling when they part. Caleb reaches up to run a hand through Jim’s hair, then cups Jim’s face, tender in a way he so rarely allows himself to be. “Just so you know. I may not have a lot of faith in, you know, up there. But I have faith in you, Jim. That’s always been enough for me. Always will be."
“Oh, Caleb.” Jim kisses him again, a devastatingly soft thing that cracks Caleb right down his center. “I love you, too.”
Salvation is for sinners, Jim is fond of saying to his congregation, and maybe it’s true. Because Caleb is a sinner, sure as anything, but he’s found his salvation right here, in Jim Murphy’s house and in his arms and in his heart. And maybe…maybe…he can be a little bit like salvation for Jim, too.