When Jimmy sits bolt upright in bed, gasping as though he’s been running a marathon, Dean wakes up suddenly and completely. He pushes himself up, waiting to see which way Jimmy will go tonight.
They don’t really talk about Jimmy’s nightmares, and when he does have them, Jimmy will turn away, his back to Dean, his spine a tense, unhappy line. Or, Jimmy will turn towards Dean and begin to talk, the words coming slowly and hesitantly.
Tonight, though, Jimmy just sits there, chest still heaving, hands clutching the sheets that have twisted around his legs in the night.
Dean clears his throat. “Jimmy? You okay, man?”
“No. No, I don’t think I am.” Jimmy breathes deeply.
“Now you’re scaring me,” Dean replies, reaching out to clasp Jimmy’s shoulder. His t-shirt is warm and damp under Dean’s hand. “What’s going on?”
Jimmy doesn’t shrug off Dean’s touch, which is probably a good sign. Instead, he rests his forehead on his knees, pulling them tight to his chest. His words are muttered against flesh and fabric, and Dean can’t make them out.
“What’s that?” he asks, keeping his voice gentle. “I couldn’t understand you.”
“I need to see Claire. Do you think Amelia would let us take her camping or something?”
Dean frowns. “Sure, probably. Jimmy, what’s going on?”
“Castiel is coming back,” Jimmy says, his voice sounding hollow. “He wanted to give me some warning. He said he owes me that.” He laughs, but there’s no humor in the sound.
Dean swallows the curse that comes to his lips. “How long?”
“A few days, a week? Hell, it might be a month. Angels don’t have the same understanding of time that humans do. I just want to see Claire before—you know. Before.” Jimmy sounds so hopeless in that moment.
Dean feels a little guilty about how much he’s missed Cas, given that getting Cas back means that Jimmy gets screwed. “Can’t you tell him no?”
“He needs a vessel,” Jimmy says. “And he wants me. He says it’s me or Claire.”
“So, you can’t tell him no.”
“No, I can’t.” Jimmy turns to look at Dean, his face barely discernible in the dim light filtering through the closed vertical blinds. Dean can see the whites of Jimmy’s eyes and the flash of teeth, but little else.
Dean pulls Jimmy close, turning him so that Jimmy’s forehead rests against Dean’s collarbone. “We’ll call Amelia tomorrow and ask if we can take Claire camping. It’s summer, so she won’t have school.”
Although Dean hates camping, it’s the cheapest vacation they can swing last minute, and Dean knows that Jimmy and his family had camped a handful of times. Sometimes, if Jimmy’s drunk and a little melancholy, he’ll talk about those trips with nostalgic fondness.
And for Jimmy, Dean will camp out for a couple of days.
“Okay,” Jimmy breathes against Dean’s t-shirt.
“Hey, maybe Cas will vacate the premises and leave them in better shape than they were in. Maybe he’ll cure the stigmata.”
Jimmy stiffens in his arms.
“You don’t want him to cure you?” Dean asks, reading Jimmy’s silence.
“I don’t know,” Jimmy admits. “It would be nice, but what I can do—the way I can heal people—I don’t know if I want to give it up.”
“Fair enough,” Dean says, although he fears losing Jimmy to his gift someday. He worries that Jimmy will push himself too far, too fast, and will bleed out what’s left of his life to save someone else—maybe even to save Dean. Dean hadn’t really thought about the possibility that Cas might demand Jimmy give up his life once again in service to a god Jimmy no longer believes in. Dean had never wanted to be forced to trade Jimmy for Cas.
Dean doesn’t want to let Jimmy go, even if it means getting Cas back.
Jimmy holds onto Dean tightly. “I’m sorry, Dean.”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” Dean replies. “We’ll get this figured out.”
“I know you wanted your friend back,” Jimmy says, his words muffled.
Dean sighs. “Not if it means losing you. Trust me, Jimmy, I’m going to kick Cas’ ass. This isn’t fair.”
Jimmy doesn’t reply to that. He just keeps holding onto Dean, and Dean holds on right back.
Dean counts it as a bit of luck that they don’t have another case on the line. They’ve just wrapped up a basic haunting that took a lot of research but not a lot of physical effort, and Jimmy is in good shape because he hasn’t had to heal anybody in a couple of weeks. Dean had thought about visiting Claire anyway, so there’s nothing preventing them from heading out the next morning.
Jimmy has gotten pretty good at research over the last months, almost as good as Sam had been. He’s still not a great shot, but he keeps his head in an emergency, and he’s turning into a fair hunter. Besides, Dean likes Jimmy’s company, and he likes having Jimmy in his bed.
Plus, Dean kind of likes making the occasional pass through Pontiac and the time they spend with Amelia and Claire. Sometimes, they head up to Bobby’s before or after, and Dean figures he’s got more of a family now than he’s had in a long time.
Jimmy calls Amelia from the road, not even trying to keep the conversation private. “Amelia, I know this is short notice, but I was wondering if Dean and I could take Claire camping.”
Dean can’t hear Amelia’s reply, but Jimmy says, “I know, but it can’t wait. I wish it could.” There’s a pause, and then Jimmy says, “Castiel is coming for me.”
Whatever Amelia says to that causes Jimmy to wince. “I don’t know how much time I have, I just know it’s limited,” Jimmy replies, a note of frustration coming into his voice. “I don’t have a choice.”
Dean can’t blame Amelia for being a little put out. They often drop in last minute, but they’ve never asked to take Claire somewhere. Still, Amelia knows that Jimmy isn’t the sort of person to make a request like this lightly.
And yeah, Dean is a little biased in Jimmy’s favor, but he stands by his opinion.
“Please, Amelia,” Jimmy says, and Dean hates to hear him beg—at least under these circumstances. “This might be—this might be my last chance. Dean will be with us.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Dean can see the tension leave Jimmy as he slumps against the passenger door. “Okay. Okay. Thank you.”
“Everything okay?” Dean asks when Jimmy tucks the cell phone back in his pocket.
“She’s going to let us take Claire for a few days,” Jimmy says. “She’s not real happy with me, though.”
“Why? Because Cas is coming? You don’t have a choice. She’s got to know that.”
“Knowing and knowing are two different things,” Jimmy replies grimly. “She isn’t sure that we should tell Claire, but she’s leaving it up to me.”
Dean snorts. “Okay, I don’t know Claire all that well, but she’s going to be pissed as hell if you don’t give her a heads-up.”
“Which is why I want to spend some time with her before that happens.” Jimmy leans his forehead against the window and says, “Thanks for this. Thanks for everything.”
“Don’t you dare do that,” Dean orders. “Don’t you dare say goodbye. Cas left you before, and he’ll leave again.”
Jimmy shakes his head. “Maybe he won’t this time. He said—”
“I don’t give a flying fuck what Cas said,” Dean snarls. “I will find a way to banish him if he doesn’t leave voluntarily.”
A small, pleased smile crosses Jimmy’s face. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Dean says. “And if I say it, you know it’s true.”
Jimmy chuckles. “I know you think it’s true.”
“I’m not letting you go without a fight,” Dean says softly.
Jimmy swallows. “Dean—”
“I know you are.” Jimmy rubs his forehead. “Castiel will probably want to see you anyway.”
Dean shrugs. “So, he sees me, we have a chat, and I tell him to get lost and find a new vessel. Piece of cake.”
Jimmy glances at Dean and shrugs. “Good luck with that.”
“Thanks,” Dean says as though Jimmy had been sincere and not sarcastic. “There’s got to be another vessel out there. Maybe I can convince him to go look.”
Jimmy looks back out at the passing countryside. “I hope you can, Dean. I really hope you can.”
They had been in Nebraska when Jimmy had his nightmare, or visitation, or whatever, and it’s a long, silent trip, but they make it in less than ten hours, stopping overnight in the Pontiac Motor Lodge.
That night, Dean fucks Jimmy into the mattress, hearing Jimmy’s groans of pleasure as Dean hits the sweet spot and jacks Jimmy off with an easy rhythm born of practice. He can’t help but think that this might be the last time; they won’t have this chance with Claire in the next tent over, and once Cas takes over—
Once Cas takes over, Dean loses this.
Jimmy lays next to Dean in a post-coital haze, and Dean can’t stop touching him. He and Jimmy don’t go in for a lot of displays of affection outside the bedroom, but Jimmy’s one of those people who likes to cuddle after sex. Dean doesn’t mind indulging him, especially tonight.
“I know we haven’t talked about this,” Jimmy begins. “But—”
“We aren’t talking about it,” Dean insists.
Jimmy props himself up to frown at Dean. “You don’t even know what I’m going to say.”
“You’re acting like you’re not coming back. There are no last requests, there are no plans for me going on without you, and there are no last goodbyes.” Dean glares at Jimmy. “I’m serious.”
“I know you are. It’s just—” Jimmy takes a deep breath. “We haven’t really talked about this—about us.”
Dean shifts uncomfortably. “Jimmy…”
“The last time Castiel took me for a ride, I was gone for two years,” Jimmy says.
“You asking if I’ll wait for you?”
Dean tries to keep it light, to make a joke out of it, but Jimmy doesn’t crack a smile as he replies, “No, I’m saying you don’t have to.”
Jimmy looks so brave in that moment, so absolutely fearless, that Dean loves him just a little bit.
Okay, more than a little bit.
“And I’m saying that I’ll be here when you get back,” Dean insists.
Jimmy gives him a sweet, shy smile. “Okay then.”
“Okay.” Dean draws Jimmy into another kiss, and he tries not to think that this might be the last time.
Jimmy falls asleep soon thereafter, but Dean stays awake, just watching him, working every angle in his head, and coming up blank. He doesn’t want to lose Jimmy, but Dean can’t even try to talk Cas out of using Jimmy as his vessel until Cas is actually using Jimmy.
It’s a catch-22, and Dean sees no way out of it.
He catches a few hours of sleep, but he’s first awake just after dawn, and he showers and goes out for coffee and breakfast. By the time he gets back to the room, Jimmy is awake and has packed their things.
They eat in companionable silence, and Dean wants to make promises that he might not be able to keep. He wants to reassure Jimmy that he’ll be fine, but Dean keeps coming up empty.
After a quick stop by the local Wal-Mart for camping supplies, Dean pulls up in front of Amelia’s house. She intercepts them on the porch, anger evident in the set of her mouth and the way her arms are crossed tightly in front of her.
Dean has a sudden, wild impulse to step in front of Jimmy, to shield him from Amelia’s anger, but he resists. This is one battle that Dean can’t fight for him.
Amelia’s dark eyes appear even darker against her pale skin, and she asks, “How long this time, Jimmy?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy admits helplessly. “I don’t have a choice. I’m sorry.”
Amelia’s mouth twists. “But you did have a choice. You chose this, Jimmy, so don’t try to pretend otherwise.”
Dean suddenly understands the source of her anger. While Dean has only ever known Jimmy as the guy who’d chained himself to a comet, Jimmy had been a family man once, dedicated to his wife and daughter. But at some point, Jimmy had chosen a cause over his wife; he’d chosen Castiel over his family.
Amelia may have reached some sort of equilibrium in the last months, but this new development has her rehashing all her old anger. Since it’s stirring up some emotions for Dean, too, he can sympathize.
“Daddy.” Claire appears from behind Amelia, and the naked relief on her face suggests she knows about Castiel’s imminent arrival. Claire throws her arms around Jimmy and hangs on tightly.
Jimmy clutches Claire to him, and Amelia’s expression softens. Whatever she might feel towards Jimmy, Amelia won’t do anything to come between Claire and her father.
“You ready to go?” Jimmy asks.
Claire nods. “My stuff is inside.”
“Claire, you don’t have to go,” Amelia begins.
Claire stands up very straight. “Mom, I want to go. It’s okay.”
Amelia nods. “Okay. Go grab your things.” Once the door has closed behind Claire, Amelia says, “She was supposed to go to a slumber party, Jimmy. She has a chance at a normal life.”
Dean has no trouble interpreting the unhappy expression on Jimmy’s face. Right about now, Jimmy’s thinking that maybe Amelia and Claire will be better off without him, that they could get on with their lives if he’s out of the picture, that Castiel’s return is probably for the best.
“I know,” Jimmy says helplessly. “I just wanted to see her.”
Amelia nods. “I get it.”
Claire appears with a backpack, and she glances between her parents anxiously. The current tension is a far cry from where they were a few months ago, when Jimmy signed the divorce papers. Dean doesn’t know what’s changed since then—maybe it has to do with Amelia dating somebody, maybe she’s sensed the change in Dean’s relationship with Jimmy, or maybe it’s all the baggage.
It’s just a bad deal all the way around, but Dean has grown used to bad deals. Amelia apparently hasn’t.
Jimmy takes one long look at Amelia, and then grabs Claire’s backpack and heads to the car.
Dean hesitates, wanting to say something but unable to find the words.
“You’ll be with them?” Amelia asks.
Dean nods briefly. “I’ll bring Claire back safely.”
Amelia unbends enough to smile. “Take care of them, Dean.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll do my best.”
Starved Rock State Park is an easy drive from Pontiac, and Jimmy is clearly familiar with the place. They’d gotten lucky with the nearby campground; someone else had canceled, and they had secured a spot at the last minute.
At this time of year, there are families and tents everywhere, and he half-wonders what they’ll see when they look at him and Jimmy and Claire. Dean tells himself that it doesn’t matter any more than it matters what motel clerks think when he checks in with Jimmy, or when he checked in with Sam.
It’s different, though. It feels different.
They set up the two tents, each just big enough for two if the occupants don’t mind getting cozy. Dean takes care of one while Jimmy and Claire work on the other. He can hear them talking in low tones, and he knows they’re storing up every minute together.
Dean would do the same thing if he had another shot at time with his dad. He’s prepared to let Jimmy and Claire have all the time they wanted over the next few days.
Once they’ve pitched the tents, they head over to the park to view Lover’s Leap Overlook. The hike is scenic, and Dean lets Jimmy and Claire range ahead, content to watch Jimmy’s ass in his well-worn jeans.
Claire is still oddly unselfconscious with her dad. When the path allows for it, she tucks her arm through Jimmy’s, leaning close. Dean feels a sudden, sharp envy for their relationship, and the warmth between them.
He still loves his father; Dean reveres John Winchester in a lot of ways. But Dean never felt the freedom to do what Claire is doing now—grabbing Jimmy’s arm, leaning close, saying something that makes Jimmy laugh.
Dean wishes he could make Jimmy laugh like that, but Jimmy’s eyes are always shadowed when he’s with Dean.
Jimmy’s heart is still with his family; Dean thinks that’s probably what having a kid does, and he suspects he’d feel much the same way—not that he’ll ever get the chance to find out.
And then Claire glances over her shoulder. “Dean? Aren’t you coming?”
Dean feels envy give way to warmth. “Right behind you, kiddo,” he promises.
Dean builds a campfire that night, and they roast hot dogs, and then make s’mores, which Dean hasn’t done since he was a kid. Claire and Jimmy laugh over toasted marshmallows and slightly melted chocolate, and Dean watches them from across the fire.
Claire turns to Dean at some point, asking, “Aren’t you going to make one?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Dean replies, not wanting to let on to how he’s been watching them together, distracted from everything else, even food.
Dean rotates his marshmallow slowly, getting it perfectly brown and toasted. Sam had always preferred a scorched marshmallow, setting it on fire, blowing it out, and sandwiching it between chocolate and graham crackers.
He had forgotten how good the crisp graham crackers are in combination with the softened Hershey’s bar and gooey marshmallow. Dean licks his sticky fingers, catching crumbs and sugar. Dean is in mid-lick when he catches Jimmy’s heated gaze across the fire.
Dean grins and deliberately sucks his middle finger to get the last bit of stickiness off.
Jimmy shifts, surreptitiously trying to adjust himself without Claire noticing.
Even with that display, Dean doesn’t plan on getting lucky that night. He figures it’s a bit of flirting, something they don’t indulge in very often—or at all. So, Dean is surprised when Jimmy puts a hand over his mouth as soon as they crawl into their tent.
“You have to be quiet,” Jimmy whispers. “We can’t let Claire hear us.”
Dean nods, already hard; he’s not one for passing up a sexual encounter. In the dim light, Dean can see the flash of Jimmy’s teeth as he grins, and then he feels Jimmy’s hands undoing his belt, unbuttoning his jeans, yanking his pants and underwear down.
Dean feels Jimmy’s moist breath on his dick a moment before Jimmy takes Dean into his mouth. Dean bites his lip and the inside of his cheek, trying not to make a sound. He knows Jimmy will stop the moment he thinks Claire might hear, but that fact just turns Dean on even more. Jimmy’s mouth is hot and wet, and he’s gotten a lot better at this over the last few months they’ve been together.
Jimmy knows how to use his hand in concert with his mouth, sucking Dean off and playing with his balls at the same time.
Dean keeps his hips still, not wanting to fuck Jimmy’s mouth, and he stays quiet through a sheer act of will.
“Jimmy,” he whispers, wanting to warn Jimmy that he’s coming.
Jimmy just keeps on sucking Dean off, swallowing as best he can, wiping his mouth afterward with a Cheshire cat grin.
“Give me a second,” Dean mutters. “I’ll return the favor.”
Jimmy moves up, kissing him, letting Dean taste himself on Jimmy’s lips. “No need,” Jimmy murmurs in Dean’s ear as he settles into his own sleeping bag. “I’m good.”
“Let me do this,” Jimmy says quietly. “Let me do this for you.”
Dean can’t argue with that, and he’s tired anyway, so he doesn’t push. He figures he can return the favor the next morning, or another day, which is one of the nice things about fucking his partner. He forgets for a moment why they’re here, his worry about the future momentarily eclipsed by contentment with the present.
Dean wakes up when Jimmy crawls out of the tent the next morning, the thin, gray light of dawn filtering through the fabric. “Hey, you okay?” Dean asks.
“Bathroom,” Jimmy explains briefly. “I’ll be right back.”
Dean grunts and rolls over, immediately going back to sleep. When he wakes up again, Jimmy’s sleeping bag is vacant, and the sun is high in the sky judging by the quality of light coming through the tent. Dean can hear birdsong and voices from other campsites, and he feels a flash of panic when he realizes that he has no idea whether Jimmy ever returned.
He emerges from the tent to see Jimmy standing stiffly next to the remains of last night’s fire. Claire sits on the ground, her knees drawn to her chest, a tight, unhappy expression on her face.
And then Jimmy turns to face Dean—and it’s not Jimmy anymore. Jimmy’s face wears Castiel’s familiar remote expression, and his voice is deeper when he says, “Dean.”
“Cas,” Dean replies, feeling a surge of anger when recognition warms Cas’ eyes. “What are you doing back?”
Confusion clouds Cas’ face. “I thought you’d be happy to see me.”
“I am,” Dean shoots back, and he is, but he’s also pissed off. Cas had left him, had left Jimmy, and Dean misses Cas, but he doesn’t want to lose Jimmy. “But I’d be a hell of a lot happier to see you if you found a different vessel.”
“You and Jimmy are close,” Cas observes.
Dean glares at him. “Yeah, and I want him back.”
Claire glances up at that, and Dean can see the surprise and hope in her eyes.
“Jimmy Novak is my vessel,” Cas insists.
“So, find another one! Have you even looked?”
Cas shifts a bit, as uncomfortable as Dean has ever seen him. “There are others, but none so suitable as Jimmy.”
“I don’t give a fuck,” Dean says harshly. “Find someone else—and not Claire.”
Cas gives Dean a long look, and Dean aches to see Jimmy’s face with no sign of his friend. “I will see what I can do,” Cas promises, and adds, “I’ll be in touch. I may need your help.”
A moment later, there’s empty space where Cas had been and Dean curses, knowing he should probably watch his language around Claire, but needing to vent his feelings. He turns away, trying to get himself under control before he can make sure Claire’s okay.
Dean scrubs his hands over his face, feeling rough stubble, and then he turns to face Jimmy’s daughter.
Claire’s desolate expression breaks Dean’s heart all over again, and a fat tear rolls down her cheek. He takes a seat next to her, uncertain of how he should proceed.
“I hate him,” Claire says.
Dean maintains a neutral expression as he says, “You’re allowed.”
“Castiel told Dad that if Dad wouldn’t serve as a vessel, it would be me.” Claire sniffs, and Dean can see how hard she’s trying not to cry. “It’s not fair. It’s not.”
“No, it’s not,” Dean agrees.
Claire’s hands clench into fists, and she gets up. “I’m going for a walk,” she announces.
Dean wants to stop her, wants to tell her to be careful, but he holds his tongue. Dean knows what it is to need a little space, and he lets her go with a simple, “Don’t be gone too long.”
He gives some thought to packing up the campsite but ultimately decides to wait. Amelia isn’t expecting them back for another couple of days, and although Dean doesn’t think Claire will want to stay on without Jimmy, he doesn’t want to make any assumptions.
Besides, the drive back to Pontiac won’t take more than a couple of hours, and it’s still early. They’ve got time to decide.
Dean builds up the fire and makes coffee automatically. He keeps an eye on the campers around him, and an ear cocked for Claire. He’s worried about her and about Jimmy.
God, Dean misses Jimmy already. Isn’t that a kick in the teeth?
Dean has just started making pancakes on a griddle over the fire when Claire returns. Her face is blotchy and her eyes are red, but she seems to have herself under control.
“You okay?” Dean asks.
Claire shrugs. “I guess.”
“Pancakes in a minute.”
Dean hasn’t had the chance to get to know Claire very well over the last year of hunting with Jimmy. When they visit, Jimmy generally spends all of his time with Claire, while Dean either chats with Amelia or finds somewhere else to be. Dean can’t remember ever being alone with Claire for more than a minute or two.
He’s made pancakes before, but it takes Dean a couple of tries to get the timing right. The first two get flipped into the fire, but the rest are edible, and Claire eats with a single-minded focus.
“Do you want to head home today?” Dean asks.
Claire shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“Hey, we can do whatever makes you happy,” Dean assures her. “You want to stay for another day, we can. You want to go home, that’s what we’ll do.”
“I want my dad back,” Claire replies fiercely.
Dean hesitates to make a promise that he can’t keep. “I want him back, too,” Dean finally says as a compromise.
Claire gives Dean a challenging look. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know yet,” he admits. “I’ll do everything I can, though.”
The twist of Claire’s mouth suggests that’s cold comfort, but Dean has nothing else to offer. “Can we go back up to Lover’s Leap?” she asks, and Dean suspects that she wants to recapture a little of contentment they’d found the previous day.
“Yeah, sure,” Dean agrees.
They spend the day hiking, although they don’t talk much. When they stop for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they’d made that morning, they eat in silence, staring out over one of the local waterfalls. Dean can’t remember the name, but he’s not sure it matters.
“Are you in love with my dad?” Claire suddenly asks out of the blue.
Dean hesitates. He hasn’t said those words to Jimmy yet; it feels strange to be telling Jimmy’s kid. “Yeah,” he finally admits. “Your dad and me—we’re partners.”
Claire’s gaze is thoughtful, measuring, but she eventually nods and says, “Okay.”
After that, in silent accord, they head back to the campsite and pack up, and then Dean drives her back home.
Dean pulls into the driveway as the sun is setting, and it feels like a year since he was here last, instead of just a day. He glances through the windshield to see Amelia standing on the front step, and he can see the truth hit her as she spots Claire sitting in the passenger seat. Amelia wraps her arms around herself and takes a step towards them, and then she stops.
“You want me to talk to her?” Dean asks.
Claire shakes her head. “No, I’ll do it. She won’t understand.”
“It’s hard for her.”
Claire looks at him sideways. “You get it.”
“I’ve been dealing with angels and demons my whole life,” Dean replies. “I’m used to it.”
Claire’s mouth quirks up in what might have been a smile. “You get used to it?”
“In theory.” Her hand is on the door handle, and she’s getting ready to climb out when Dean says, “Hey. Call me if you need anything.”
“I will,” she promises, and then she’s gone.
Dean has no idea where he’s going; he just drives—out of Pontiac, out of Illinois, along highways that cut through farmland that’s bright green with new crops. The sky stretches out around and above him, cloudless and so blue it hurts his eyes and makes his heart ache.
Without even thinking about it, Dean finds himself on I-39, on a familiar route to Singer’s Salvage, and since Dean has no other destination in mind, he doesn’t question his instincts.
Dean pulls up to Bobby’s long after midnight, but he has no doubt of his welcome. Bobby’s something of a night owl, and Dean has a key he can use if necessary, but Bobby meets Dean at the door, glancing over Dean’s shoulder out of habit.
“What happened?” Bobby asks when he doesn’t spot Jimmy.
Dean shakes his head. “Cas,” is the only explanation he can manage.
Bobby sighs. “You’d better come in.”
He knows Dean well enough not to ask questions immediately. He pours Dean a generous shot of whiskey, instead, and then keeps it coming. Dean has no idea what time it is when Bobby helps him onto the couch, but Dean passes out immediately, too drunk to do anything but fall asleep.
When Dean wakes up the next morning, his head pounds in time to the beat of his heart, and the light filtering into the study is far too bright. Dean groans, wishing he hadn’t drunk quite so much the night before.
“Nice to see you join the land of the living,” Bobby calls from the kitchen. “I’m making breakfast.”
Dean’s stomach roils at the thought, but he knows better than to argue. “I’ll be right there.”
He sits up and rubs his eyes, and then he takes a deep breath, the reality of his situation hitting him anew. “Fuck,” Dean mutters.
Bobby has eggs and toast ready when Dean stumbles into the kitchen, as well as a glass of his own special hangover cure. Dean makes a face but doesn’t argue about drinking the noxious concoction, and he eats what Bobby puts in front of him.
“What are you gonna do, boy?” Bobby asks over coffee.
“I don’t know,” Dean admits. “You know of a way to exorcise an angel?”
“Haven’t looked,” Bobby says. “But I will. Is that really the route you want to go?”
Dean shakes his head. “I don’t know what I want to do.”
“Angels aren’t demons, son. As far as I know, there isn’t a way to get rid of one if they don’t want to leave.”
“I know it,” Dean replies, feeling tired and old and worn. “I just want him back.”
Bobby gave him a long, steady look that was reminiscent of Claire. “I’ll look into it, but I can’t make any promises.”
“Yeah.” Dean finishes his breakfast and gets up. “Think I’ll grab a shower, and then maybe I can find a hunt.”
Bobby shakes his head, his expression sympathetic. “I think I might have something for you.”
Dean leaves Bobby’s the next morning, the Impala pointed towards Oklahoma. There have been some odd disappearances, along with strange signs and omens, but by the time Dean arrives, the trail has gone cold.
The next hunt takes Dean to Oregon, where he spends a week trying to track down a wendigo. Dean tries not to think about how hard it is for him to sleep alone after months of having a warm body next to his. He catches himself turning to say something to Jimmy, only to remember that Jimmy isn’t there. Dean had done the same thing after Sam had died, and he knows that it’s going to take time to get used to the idea of Jimmy not being there.
And, in a way, that’s what makes this so difficult. Dean had eventually accepted that Sam wasn’t coming back, and that there was nothing he could do to get Sam out of the Cage. But Jimmy—
Dean feels like he’s just killing time, waiting for Cas to vacate the premises again, so Dean can get his partner back. Dean tries not to think about having to wait two years or more to get Jimmy back.
He tries calling for Cas a few times during the first two weeks, but there’s no answer. Cas doesn’t even show when the wendigo comes close to ripping Dean’s arm off, and Dean ends up with a dislocated shoulder and a few deep gashes on his side.
Even though Dean hates how healing drains Jimmy, and hates even more relying on Jimmy to heal him, he’s grown used to not having to stitch up his own wounds.
Midway through the third week, Dean still favors his right side, but he doesn’t hesitate to take on a difficult haunting in Pasadena. He’s also discovered that he doesn’t notice how empty the bed feels if he’s drunk.
He’s just poured a third shot of whiskey, having hit a dead end on the haunting, when his cell phone rings. Dean answers without bothering to check the name that comes up, although he recognizes Claire’s voice immediately when she says his name.
Dean’s a little surprised to hear from her, but he thinks he hides it well. “Claire. You okay?”
“I’m fine,” she replies a little impatiently. “Have you talked to Castiel? Or my dad?”
“No word from Cas,” Dean replies. “And I’ve tried calling him, but he won’t answer.”
“He won’t answer me either.” Claire sounds more than a little pissed off about that. “I still hate him.”
“You’re still allowed,” Dean says, a smile tilting his lips for the first time in two weeks. He likes Claire; she has spirit. She reminds him a bit of Jimmy. “How are you, kid?”
She sighs. “I miss Dad. He called almost every night.”
Jimmy had called his daughter nearly every night. Most of the time, their conversations only lasted for a minute or two, just long enough for Jimmy to tell her good night and that he loved her. Other nights, their conversations had gone on for hours, with Jimmy sitting out in the parking lot on the hood of the Impala, or inside the car if it was too cold.
Dean figures that the only other person with a Jimmy-shaped hole in her life is Claire; she’s the only one who might have some idea as to how much Dean misses Jimmy’s presence.
“Do you want me to call?” he offers, wondering what the heck they’ll talk about if she says yes.
There’s a pause, and then she asks, “I don’t know. Would it be weird?”
“I could text,” Dean offers, even though he hates texting. He’s never quite mastered the art, and the buttons are too small for his callused fingers.
“Okay,” Claire agrees instantly. “Mom won’t know that way.”
“Doesn’t she know you’re calling?” Dean asks.
“She’s out on a date.” Claire pauses. “With Brad.”
Judging from Claire’s tone, she doesn’t much like the new boyfriend. “Has she been dating for a while?”
“No, this is a new guy,” Claire says. “The other one was Mark. He wasn’t so bad.”
“What’s wrong with this one?” Dean asks, almost feeling as though he owes it to Jimmy to ask these questions.
He can almost hear Claire shrug. “He acts like he wants to replace my dad. I have a dad.”
“Yeah, you do,” Dean says and feels compelled to repeat his promise. “I’m going to get him back.”
“I know,” she replies, and there’s so much trust in those two words that it takes Dean’s breath away. “But you’ll text me?”
“I’ll text you, or call,” Dean says. “You have my word.” He hesitates, and then asks, “Are you alone?”
“It’s okay,” Claire assures him. “I’m almost fourteen, Dean.”
He huffs out what might almost be a laugh. “Yeah, okay, but you know how to ward off demons, right? You should keep a container of salt in your bedroom, just in case.”
“I know,” Claire replies. “I’ve got one. Dad made sure. I hide it from my mom.”
Dean smiles broadly. “Yeah, well, your dad’s a smart guy.”
“I miss him a lot.”
“So do I,” Dean admits, feeling the burden of missing Jimmy lift just a bit, even if that burden is only being shared by an almost-fourteen year old girl. “I miss him more every day.”
Dean wraps up the haunting in Pasadena, but he reinjures his shoulder in the process, and it’s bad enough that he heads back towards Bobby’s, where he knows he can heal up. He doesn’t forget to text Claire every night, right around the time he knows she usually goes to bed.
Usually, it’s short, like, “No word yet,” or “You okay?” or “Saw a great sunset.” Dean doesn’t mention hunting, or demons, or angels. Claire doesn’t either. Sometimes, she doesn’t respond at all, but there are days when she sends two or three texts in a row, using a text-speak that Dean can barely parse. He has no idea whether Jimmy would understand it, but he does his best.
Dean is grateful that Claire has this slice of normality—that she has school and friends and boys she likes, all of which he sometimes hears about in great detail. On a whim, Dean sends Claire his email address, and after that, he sporadically receives long messages about what she’s done that day, or a boy she likes, or the swim team intramurals.
For Dean, it’s a little like holding onto a piece of Jimmy; he imagines that Claire feels the same way about him.
He goes on a hunt with Bobby, because it’s a two-man job and neither of them have a partner. Dean has worked with Bobby enough that it’s a real pleasure being with him, and having Bobby around doesn’t bring up any bad memories.
It’s just Bobby, and if he notices Dean’s texts and emails to Claire, he doesn’t say anything, although he does ask Dean whether he’s tried calling for Castiel. “You could summon him,” Bobby suggests when they’ve wrapped up the hunt for the shtriga. “There’s that ritual.”
“I’m not sure I want to go there yet,” Dean admits. “You find out anything about exorcising an angel?”
Bobby shakes his head. “You can defile a vessel so that an angel won’t want it, but you don’t want to know how to do that.”
Dean agrees. He’s pretty sure that anything that would defile a vessel like that wouldn’t be something Jimmy would go along with anyway. “Maybe Cas will answer me one of these days.”
“You doing okay?” Bobby asks. “I know what it’s like to lose a partner.”
Bobby’s sympathetic gaze tells Dean that he probably does know. “Yeah, I’m dealing. Not much I can do about it, you know?”
That night, though, lying in Bobby’s spare room, Dean thinks that it might be easier to deal with Jimmy’s absence if he were dead. But there’s this hope—Dean still thinks that he might get Jimmy back, and Dean can’t grieve, can’t hope to move on or accept Jimmy’s absence until he knows one way or the other.
Dean heads out the next day, looking for the next hunt, trying to forget how much he misses Jimmy; it doesn’t work any better now than it did a month ago.
Another week goes by, and Dean feels as though he’s hanging on by his fingernails. He thinks that he might have sustained too many losses—his parents, Sam, Ellen and Jo—losses that have added up to a staggering burden. Losing Jimmy might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, except that Dean doesn’t know that he has lost Jimmy. He’s in limbo, and he hates every second of it.
Dean has knocked back his first drink of the evening when Claire calls, and that it’s a call and not a text or email has Dean’s hackles rising. He’s been out late hunting a werewolf even though it’s a day past the full moon. Monsters aren’t acting like they used to; the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore, and that has Dean worried. “What’s up?” he says immediately, knowing that it’s well past her bedtime.
“I had a dream,” Claire says immediately. “Castiel came, and he said he had a job for you.”
“Were you calling for him?” Dean asks.
He can almost hear Claire shrug. “I have to keep trying.”
“Me, too,” Dean admits. “Just be careful, okay? Your dad would kick my ass if something happened to you.”
“I’m careful,” Claire responds. “Besides, I think he needs you.”
“He told you this?”
“He’s been visiting me in my dreams,” she admits. “I didn’t want to say anything.”
Dean makes a face. “It’s creepy.”
“I know,” Claire replies impatiently. “But he’s my only connection to Dad. Will you help him?”
Dean considers the question. “Maybe. If he promises to give your dad back.”
“Well,” Claire says after a moment. “That’s okay then.”
Thanks to Claire’s warning, Dean isn’t surprised when he wakes up the next morning to find Castiel sitting on the rickety chair at the end of the bed. He’s still wearing the same worn pair of jeans and navy blue t-shirt that Jimmy had worn when he crawled out of their tent more than a month ago.
In fact, the only difference is that the ever-present gauze on his wrists is missing, with no sign of injury. Dean wonders what Jimmy will say when he finds out that Cas healed the stigmata, how he’ll deal with not being able to heal people.
On the other hand, maybe he’ll have better aim without his wrists being fucked up.
Castiel doesn’t greet Dean, as usual. He just stares until Dean says, “You didn’t answer me.”
“I didn’t think you wanted to see me,” Castiel responds, and there’s a note of hurt in his voice. Dean thinks that Cas probably has a good reason to feel that way, considering their last conversation.
Dean sighs. “Cas—you left. You left me, and you left Jimmy, and we had to cobble together some kind of life without you in it. And now you show up, and you take over my friend. How am I supposed to feel?”
Castiel frowns slightly, like he’s never looked at the situation from that point of view, and Dean knows he probably hasn’t. Castiel has always been single-minded in his purpose, unable to think about the collateral damage he might cause.
Dean should know; he’s caused his own kind of damage over the years, thinking only of family, only of Sam, so he can’t throw stones.
Glass houses, and all that.
“I need your help,” Castiel says. “Some of heaven’s weapons have been stolen. I know where one is, but the location has been warded against angels. I can’t get inside.”
Dean hesitates. He has no idea what Cas is asking him to do, why Cas would want these weapons, or who would ward the place. Dean decides that—at least right now—he doesn’t care. “I’ll do whatever you want, but you have to swear that you’ll let Jimmy go.”
Castiel’s face twists with regret, or maybe it’s fear, but Dean barrels ahead. “There has to be someone else! Someone who doesn’t have a family. Somebody no one will miss. Come on, Cas.”
“There is someone,” Castiel admits reluctantly, and Dean wonders why angels get attached to one particular vessel. Is it because of the bloodline, as Cas had insinuated in the past? Or is it merely comfort, like having a favorite pair of jeans that fit just right? “She is in a mental institution. She claims to hear angels talking.”
“Does she?” Dean asks.
“Great,” Dean says, well aware that he’s throwing a stranger under the bus. “Then there’s nothing to keep you from using her as a vessel.”
“She’s a distant cousin of Jimmy’s,” Castiel says, and though it confirms what Dean has suspected about an angel’s preference for a particular bloodline, it doesn’t change his mind.
Dean just nods and says, “If I do this for you, promise you’ll let Jimmy go.”
Castiel nods. “Of course. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” Dean asks automatically, uncertain as to why Cas might be apologizing now.
“I knew he was important to you,” Castiel replies. “I hadn’t realized how important.” He hands Dean a piece of paper. “This is the address. If you mar the wards, I’ll be able to enter.”
He was gone in the next moment, and Dean pours himself another drink as he looks at the address. “Las Vegas?” Dean mutters incredulously. He wants to get this taken care of now, but he knows he needs a decent night’s sleep if he’s not going to crash somewhere along the way.
If he gets up early the next morning, Dean thinks he can make the drive in a day if he pushes hard. Then he can sleep 8 hours and work on breaking the wards.
He wishes Jimmy were with him; Dean wishes Sam was backing him up. He thinks idly of calling Bobby, but he just has another drink and goes to bed.
The drive to Vegas takes almost a full day. Dean had been hoping to make it in less than 24 hours, but he’s tired enough around Beaver, Utah, that he has to pull over and sleep for a few hours.
It’s after midnight when he arrives in Vegas, and Dean bypasses the strip to head to the address Cas had given him, hoping to scope things out. The house is barely visible over the high stone walls that surround the property, and Dean knows that a place like this probably has more prosaic forms of security, too. He can’t immediately see the wards, so Dean circles the block and parks a quick walk away.
He’s learned to check for symbols visible only under a black light, and he has a small, portable one in the trunk. The walls surrounding the address are painted with wards that wouldn’t be visible in any other way. Dean prowls the perimeter, formulating a plan of attack. He knows that Cas doesn’t need much of an opening. Dean just has to get rid of enough of the symbols to let Cas inside, and the angel will do the rest.
Once Dean has the lay of the land, he can make a plan. And his plan is basically to disrupt every sigil he can find, by hook or by crook.
He has to wait for the next day to start, since he needs a few things. Dean finally settles for a can of spray paint of the same kind originally used to paint the wards, and a tub of bleach and a scrub brush. He sleeps the afternoon away, waiting for the cover of darkness.
By midnight, Dean has obscured or defaced most of the symbols that line the walls, and Castiel appears next to him. “Thank you, Dean. This will do.”
“Great,” Dean replies. “So, when are you—”
Then, Castiel is gone, and Dean can say nothing else.
Dean debates for a few minutes about entering the compound, but he finally decides that the risk isn’t worth it. Cas will ask Dean if he needs more help, so Dean finds a cheap motel, throws back a few drinks, and collapses face-first onto the lone bed.
When he falls asleep, Dean is somehow not surprised to see Castiel appear in his usual form—in Jimmy’s form.
“You promised you’d release him,” Dean says.
“And I will,” Castiel responds. “I just wanted you to know that my mission was a success. We have recovered the weapon.”
“What about the rest of them?” Dean asks, a little worried. “You said there were others stolen.”
Castiel smiles crookedly. “I’ll deal with it. And if I can’t, you’ll be the first to know.”
And then Dean wakes up, still slightly hung over, maybe still a little drunk, and Cas is nowhere to be seen. Jimmy isn’t there either, and Dean begins to wonder if he’s been an idiot, if he’s trusted the wrong person.
Cas has always been trustworthy in the past, though, and Dean wants to believe that Cas will keep his promise. He wants to believe that he’ll get Jimmy back.
Dean lays back and stares up at the ceiling, trying to will himself back to sleep.
Dean hears the buzzing of the phone and opens bleary eyes to see it moving across the nightstand as it vibrates. He stares at it for a moment before hitting the “talk” button, his heart in his throat. “Yeah?” he asks cautiously.
It’s not Castiel on the other end; it’s Jimmy. He knows that voice, that intonation. “Jimmy?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Where are you?” Dean demands, wiping the sleep out of his eyes and sitting up. “Are you okay?”
“I’m tired,” Jimmy replies. “But I’m not hurt.”
“Where are you?” Dean asks again. “Do you know?”
There’s a long pause. “I don’t—I think I’m in Las Vegas,” Jimmy replies slowly. “Just off the strip.”
“What’s the closest hotel?” Dean asks.
“The one with the needle, or whatever it is. Are you in Vegas?”
“Yeah, I am. It’s a long story. Look, let me put some clothes on. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes. Just sit tight.”
“Where else am I going to go?” Jimmy asks. “I’ll be here.”
Dean dresses in record time, grabs his keys and wallet, and makes sure the door locks behind him. He’s still a little buzzed from the alcohol, so he drives slowly and takes extra care. Jimmy will probably give him a hard time, but Dean doesn’t care. He’s just glad that Jimmy is going to be here to bitch at him for drinking too much.
He finds Jimmy without too much trouble; the Stratosphere is easily visible, and Dean heads that way. Jimmy has apparently parked himself out front, looking like any other guy in his jeans, t-shirt and scarred work boots. Jimmy’s climbing into the passenger seat as soon as Dean stops the car, and even though Dean just wants to sit and look his fill, he can’t. Someone behind him is honking, and Dean pulls away from the curb, gripping the steering wheel tightly to keep from hauling Jimmy over to him.
“I already called Claire,” Jimmy says, not looking at Dean. “I woke her up, but she didn’t seem to care.”
“I’m sure she didn’t.” Dean keeps glancing over at Jimmy, trying to read his expression, but Jimmy seems even more remote than Cas at the moment. “She was worried about you.”
“I don’t remember much,” Jimmy says. “Just bits and pieces, flashes, and then standing on the street.”
“That’s okay,” Dean assures him. “It’s cool.” He pulls up in front of the motel and gets out. Jimmy follows more slowly, moving stiffly, as though he’s not quite used to having his body back yet. “Jimmy—”
Jimmy won’t look at Dean. He keeps his eyes on something in the distance, and Dean can sense his indecision, and his fear. Dean has no idea what Jimmy is so afraid of, and he reaches out and grabs Jimmy’s right wrist, and runs his thumb over the smooth, unmarred skin.
“I don’t know how long this is going to last,” Jimmy says. “They might come back. I might not be able to heal anyone now, but I don’t know. I don’t—”
Dean shuts Jimmy up the best way he knows how, by putting his hands on either side of Jimmy’s face and kissing him. It’s like having a cool drink of water after a long, hot day, and Dean doesn’t care that they’re standing out in a motel parking lot; he doesn’t care that anyone might see them. He just kisses Jimmy, slow and deep and wet, and he holds on tight.
“Inside,” Jimmy murmurs against Dean’s mouth. “We should go inside.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean says, hard and aching. “I owe you one.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Jimmy says with real heat. “If anything, I owe you. Dean, you got me out.”
Dean fumbles the lock open with shaking hands, and they stumble into the room, still tangled up in each other. “I need to see you,” he says. “Please, Jimmy. I need to see you.”
Jimmy pulls his t-shirt up and over his head, and toes off his boots while Dean unbuttons Jimmy’s fly. And then Jimmy’s naked, and Dean runs his hands over Jimmy’s shoulders, down his arms, along his side where the bleeding wound had been. There’s no sign of the stigmata, no sign of any injury at all.
“I’m not going to be good for much,” Jimmy says apologetically, but Dean kisses him again, wild and a little desperate, because he doesn’t care if Jimmy can heal anybody, he just wants Jimmy.
“Your turn,” Jimmy finally says, pulling back. “Clothes.”
Dean strips off his clothes, and Jimmy sprawls back on the bed, already half-hard, his eyes hungry. “I want you to fuck me,” Dean says.
Jimmy’s eyes go wide. “You—”
“Fuck me,” Dean insists.
Jimmy is fully erect now, his pupils blown wide. “If you’re sure.”
“You’re sure.” A smile tilts Jimmy’s mouth for the first time since Dean got him back, and Dean finds a condom and the lube in his duffel bag.
They haven’t done this before. Jimmy has never asked, and Dean has never offered. Right now, though, Dean wants it. He wants to feel Jimmy inside him. He wants to cross this last hurdle.
Jimmy works Dean open slowly, carefully, his brow creased with concentration. It’s not entirely comfortable, but then Jimmy hits what has to be his prostate, and Dean feels a shock of pleasure.
“Oh,” he murmurs. “Jimmy.”
Jimmy grins at him. “I know. Good?”
Dean’s flagging erection comes back full force as Jimmy hits the sweet spot over and over again with his fingers. And then Jimmy begins to fuck him, his hips moving in a steady, sure rhythm. Jimmy’s hand works Dean’s cock at the same pace. Without the stigmata, Jimmy has no problem jacking Dean off. Dean comes first in messy spurts over Jimmy’s hand, and Jimmy loses the rhythm as he gets closer.
And then Jimmy lets out a low, almost anguished moan as his orgasm overtakes him, and he collapses on top of Dean.
Dean pulls Jimmy close, running a hand over his hair, rubbing the back of his neck. “You okay?” he asks.
Jimmy tucks his face into Dean’s shoulder. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“I missed you,” Dean says, grateful that he doesn’t have to look Jimmy in the face.
Jimmy tightens his grip. “I didn’t have a chance to miss you. I couldn’t—how much time passed?”
“Too long,” Dean replies, then adds, “Almost six weeks.”
“What did you have to promise Cas to get him to let me go?”
“I bartered my services,” Dean says lightly. “There were some weapons from heaven or something that Cas needed to get back. I told him I’d help if he found a new vessel.” Jimmy is silent, and Dean frowns. “You know something I don’t?”
Dean feels Jimmy shake his head. “No. I just—something is going on with Castiel. I couldn’t get much out of him.”
“Is that any different than the last time?” Dean asks.
Dean feels as though there’s something Jimmy isn’t telling him. “Jimmy? Is there something else?”
He hears Jimmy take a deep, audible breath. “I don’t know. I—there’s something, but—” Jimmy shakes his head. “It’s like it’s right there. I know there’s something I was supposed to remember, but I can’t.”
Dean rubs his back, trying to soothe him. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Maybe it’ll come back to you. Just go to sleep.”
“I should get cleaned up,” Jimmy protests, looking far too tense for a guy who just got lucky.
“I’ll take care of it,” Dean says, rolling out of bed.
It doesn’t take long, and they both dress in clean boxers and t-shirts. Jimmy tucks in close, slinging an arm over Dean, finally beginning to relax as exhaustion catches up to him.
Dean feels the last of his tension bleed away as he combs his fingers through Jimmy’s still-damp hair, and Jimmy hums a little, tightening his hold on Dean. “Thanks for being here when I got back,” Jimmy murmurs into Dean’s chest.
Dean smiles. “Any time.”