“I told you, Hannah. I can’t help with anything that is going on in Heaven. My Grace is gone, I’m not killing one of our brethren and then letting myself die from borrowed Grace again, and I have a human life that makes me perfectly content. I’m not sure why you even brought me up here,” Cas argues, stalking down the white hallways of personal heavens towards Room 42 and the portal back to the playground.
To be honest, Cas isn’t even sure how he managed to get here, seeing as he knows for a fact he is not dead. Then again, mortal humans walking around places like Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory is pretty par for the course when the Winchesters are involved. As this thought flicks through his mind, Cas smiles inwardly about counting himself as a Winchester officially. For Cas’ birthday three weeks ago on September 18 (after Claire's insistence on the matter), Dean and Claire—with Charlie’s help—had presented him with his new identity: Cas Winchester. Cas has never received a birthday present before, but he’s fairly certain he’ll never get a better one.
“I told you, Castiel,” Hannah sighs, and Cas finds it odd to hear his former full name…and finds it odd to find it odd; he did go by that name for millennia, after all. “You are our example.”
“Of what? How to destroy Heaven and the terrible consequences of falling?” The last part is sarcastic, but Cas wonders if Hannah picks up on the tone. In no way does Cas see his fall as punishment or a “terrible consequence,” but he has long known that he is—was—different from the rest of the Host. Others would certainly see becoming human as a fate worse than death.
“No, just the opposite. When we traveled together, I know I said the angels still on Earth had to return to Heaven where they belonged. I truly believed in that mission. But you, Castiel, you changed that.” Hannah has stopped walking, and it takes Cas a moment to realize his former companion is no longer right behind him. He turns and faces her—well, him; Hannah has taken a male vessel, one that was near death and whose soul the angel quickly released to Heaven; after Caroline, Hannah vowed never to possess a living human. He tries to read the dark features, and once again he is struck by how similar the expressions are to the ones Hannah made in Caroline. Apparently no matter the vessel, this is undeniably Hannah. The angel resumes, “Not everyone here sees or understands this, though. But you represent a new way, an example of how angels—fallen or not—can live peacefully on Earth without interference from the rest of the Host.”
Cas chuckles darkly. “Peacefully? You have met the Winchesters, have you not?”
Hannah blinks. “Of course I have.”
Cas sighs. If Dean were here he would laugh to see Cas exasperated with Hannah’s literalness. Suddenly, he wonders wryly how the brothers ever managed to put up with him for so many years.
“Yes, my mistake,” he replies, forcing his eyes not to roll. “I mean that I am hardly an example of what it looks like to live peacefully on Earth considering my own actions and my association with the Winchesters, who are not exactly peaceful themselves.”
“You are wrong, Castiel. You have done well for yourself on Earth, and the Winchesters have ultimately done much good.”
“Things really have changed around here,” Cas remarks, thinking back to when Hannah forced him to choose between an angelic army and Dean. In retrospect, no one should have been shocked by his choice: it would always be Dean. “Well, I’m here. You paraded me around. Now I’d like to go home.”
Home. Strange how just a few months had redefined a word he had known since the dawn of time.
Cas turns on his heels and is disquieted by the lack of squeak of the rubber soles of his boots on the floor. Of course there would be no such noise in Heaven. Heaven is perfect, which is what makes it so imperfect.
He smirks at that conclusion. It’s a very human thought to have.
The former angel stalks down the hallway and turns a corner, dimly aware that Hannah is not far behind. The doors stretch endlessly in the sterile whiteness of the hallway, and he looks up at one door to get his bearings. He freezes when he sees the plaque on the door:
He doesn’t know a Janice Novak, but it dawns on him that he must be close to Jimmy. For reasons he can’t quite explain, he feels the need to find Jimmy’s heaven right away. He jogs down the hallway, the names going backwards alphabetically until he reaches a stretch of doors bearing the name James Novak. His eyes flick back and forth, left to right, until he finds the right one.
“Castiel! No!” Hannah calls, but it is too late. Cas turns the handle of the door and steps through, slamming it shut behind him.
The park is crisp with Autumn wind, and Jimmy zips his jacket up to his throat. He doesn’t mind the chill; in fact, this is his favorite season. Sitting forward on the bench, he watches as his wife catches their young daughter from a slide. He can hear Claire’s squeals of happiness and is about to get up and join them when he sees the impossible walk towards him.
He sees himself.
But that can’t be right. He can’t be in two places at once, and seeing as he doesn’t have an identical twin, Jimmy is at a loss for any other explanation.
The park around him blurs, like a camera going out of focus, and suddenly Jimmy remembers and understands.
Castiel. That son of a bitch. I’m dead, this is Heaven, that Claire and Amelia aren’t real. The realization floods over him, and it’s not the first time, he now remembers. He wonders—also not for the first time—if this is a side effect of having once been an angel’s vessel: he can’t just ignorantly enjoy his Heaven in peace forever; eventually, he always remembers the truth.
Castiel pauses about ten feet away, his eyes wide. It’s strange to see his own body behave in a way that is so close, but at the same time so alien, to his own movements and posture. It’s also strange to see how this Castiel seems far more human than the uptight being Jimmy had been chained to. It’s subtle: the Castiel he knew was so rigid, so still. This Castiel moves minutely, and the emotions that flash across his face are so quick that they’re hard to decipher…except that Jimmy can still read them because he has made those same expressions himself. This is like looking into a fun-house mirror, but without the fun.
“Castiel?” Jimmy asks, and there is a definite tinge of bitterness and accusation in his voice. Whatever the angel wants, it can’t be good if he has come barging into Jimmy’s heaven for it.
“Jimmy,” Castiel begins in that odd low voice of his—so unlike Jimmy's own—but seems unable to say anymore. Jimmy has a suspicion that whatever the angel had planned to say has been forgotten in the shock of actually finding the man.
“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out there protecting Amelia and Claire?” Jimmy blurts out, the memories of the night he last saw his wife and daughter rising in his mind.
Castiel breaks eye contact (and Jimmy thinks it will never not be weird to look into his own eyes), and he looks down at the ground for a moment. “Claire is safe.”
Jimmy can’t help but spot the obvious omission. “And Amelia? If you let Amelia die, I swear to God, Castiel—”
The angel looks back at him, pain written across his—our?—face. “Amelia is alive, but we have not seen her in many years. Jimmy, we should talk.”
Jimmy holds out his arms, palms up. “Plenty of time and not much else to do. You better tell me what the hell you mean that Claire is safe but you haven’t seen Amelia in many years.” A thought occurs to him. “Castiel, how long have I been here? What year is it?”
“October 2015. You’ve been dead for five years.” Blunt, as always. At least that hasn’t changed, Jimmy thinks sarcastically.
“The cemetery. Michael and Lucifer. I remember,” Jimmy says, running a hand through his hair. He remembers the thrum of Castiel’s fear as Lucifer had turned to him after burning Michael with the holy oil. Luckily, since Castiel had been possessing his body, Jimmy hadn’t felt the actual pain of exploding into infinitesimal pieces, but he acutely remembers his soul being ripped out and arriving here. It’s not a memory he cherishes.
Castiel’s face blanches. “I had hoped you were not aware for that.”
Jimmy shakes his head. “I wasn’t for most of it, but there was so much at stake that day that keeping me blissfully unware kinda fell by the wayside. But you didn’t answer my question. I don’t want to relive that day. I want to know what the hell is going on with my family.”
Castiel rubs a hand over his face, and Jimmy realizes that he doesn’t want to have this conversation here, not with the memories of his family playing barely twenty feet away. He thinks hard for a moment, and then the scenery changes. Jimmy had never been much of a drinker, but there had been a restaurant and bar down the road from his office where he and some of his coworkers had gone on the occasional Friday night after work. He’s not sure if all the details are the same, but the place feels comforting and normal. He opts for a high top table, and Castiel joins opposite him. A beer appears sans waitress in front of him, as does one for Castiel. The angel seems mildly impressed.
“Your family is safe, but a lot has happened in five years, Jimmy, and it’s a long story. I am sorry, though, that I didn’t do more for your family. I’m trying to correct that now.”
“What do you mean, Castiel?” Jimmy asks, trying to keep the anger from rising in his voice.
Castiel smiles wanly. “It’s just Cas, now.” Jimmy’s brows knit together questioningly. “After Lucifer killed us, I came back as an angel in your likeness. Then this year, I fell. I’m human now, and so I go by my human nickname. Besides, I don’t think the '-iel'—'of God'—really fits me anymore. Of course, the Host still calls me Castiel; they wouldn’t understand.”
“You fell? Did God punish you for rebelling?” Jimmy sputters, barely hearing the part about the name change.
Cas laughs bitterly and Jimmy surmises there’s more to this story than he’ll learn today. “No. I chose to fall. I used my Grace to save someone.”
"Dean?” Jimmy asks without judgment. Cas’ eyebrows shoot up and a faint tinge of red flushes his cheeks. Jimmy laughs darkly. “Casti—Cas—I may not remember most of the time I was your vessel, but let me tell you: Dean, I remember. Know how I said that at the cemetery you were so focused on everything else that I got a sneak peek at the devil? Well, think of how focused you always were when Dean was around. Same deal.” He takes a sip of the lager. “Not to mention when I met him: he barely looked at me, like he couldn’t deal with the fact that I wasn’t you.”
A corner of Cas’ mouth twitches up, and he also takes a swig from his beer before speaking again. “Claire helped me save Dean.”
Jimmy puts down his beer and stares hard at the other man. “How? What the hell happened in these five years, Cas? You keep dodging my questions.”
Cas leans back in his chair as though he can distance himself from the story and his own part in it. “Amelia never quite recovered from being possessed by a demon. She…abandoned Claire. Last we heard she was traveling the world trying to ‘find herself’, as Claire described it.”
Jimmy’s stomach drops. Amelia? Abandoned Claire? Amelia, who had been so strong and so fiercely protective of their daughter when Jimmy had gone missing, and even when he had returned. Amelia, who had always been his rock, who had loved him even when she had thought he was going insane.
It’s like a betrayal, and his insides roil. How could she do that to our daughter? But as soon as the thought comes to Jimmy, shame washes over him and he hates himself for blaming Amelia. It was his fault, not hers. How can he accuse Amelia of abandoning Claire when he had done the same by saying yes to Castiel? He brought this onto his family. Tears well up in his eyes.
“…and Claire?” he chokes out.
Cas’ look of shame and guilt is only surpassed by Jimmy’s own. “Claire lived with her grandmother until she passed. When I tracked her down last year, she was living in a group home for troubled teens.”
“She was what?” In his mind’s eye, Jimmy pictures Claire as he last saw her: the bright and strong twelve-year old he had loved—loves—so much. A troubled teen? A group home? His heart aches.
“I got her out. There were some…issues…some terrible things that happened…but she is safe now, she’s happy.” Cas looks up and gives Jimmy a small smile. “She started college last month. She’s taking her General Education courses at the local community college while still living at home. She’s doing really well for her first semester.”
Jimmy can barely process all of this, but he studies the expression on Cas’ face. There’s a sense of pride and love in that smile, and he feels both reassured and somehow cheated. “College, huh? My girl’s in college,” he half smiles. “And she’s living with you?’”
“With me and Dean—and Sam, until recently,” Cas explains, although Jimmy had been pretty sure that would be the response. Jimmy stares into his beer sadly, thinking of all he has missed. “Jimmy, she hasn’t forgotten you. It took a long time for her to accept me as anything beyond an uneasy ally or a constant, painful reminder of what I took from her. But, I want you to know: she is loved.”
Jimmy breathes out raggedly. “It’s all my fault.” He still can’t picture his little girl as a young woman—not only that, but a young woman who has been abandoned by her family, and, if Cas and Dean have been involved, has probably seen things no human should. But college…and a home…maybe she is doing better than he had dared hope. Jimmy wipes a hand over his eyes and looks to the fallen angel; Cas reaches across the table and briefly grips his arm reassuringly.
"Jimmy, you are not to blame. If anything, it’s my fault. When I asked you to be my vessel, I didn’t truly understand what family meant, what it meant to be human. I had a mission, and my mission was to save the Righteous Man and protect him for the Apocalypse. I never considered what taking you would do to your family.”
“I still said yes,” Jimmy mumbles miserably.
“I manipulated you. I lied by omission. I told you what it would be like, but there was no way for you to ever understand what that really meant. I…did the same to Claire, if you recall. I asked a child when she was at her lowest to be my vessel; I used her love and fear for her parents to my advantage.”
“I hated you for that,” Jimmy confesses.
“I know. I hope you can forgive me. I think about it every day, and the guilt is even worse when I look at Dean and am secretly thankful Claire did say yes because it was the remnants of my Grace in her that eventually saved him. Your daughter is special. Despite all that she has gone through, all that we have collectively done to her, she still has such a capacity to love and forgive.” Cas’ eyes are wide but distant. Jimmy’s own are itchy and brimming. “Without Claire, I wouldn’t have my family, at least not the way I do now.”
“She did that?” For now, Jimmy is far more focused on his daughter than what his body (Cas' body, now, he supposes) is up to with the elder Winchester; funny how being hijacked by an angel before being blown to smithereens in the middle of the Apocalypse shifts a guy's priorities and concerns.
“Yes. Her sacrifice of my Grace—along with some well-chosen words—” Cas smiles and Jimmy returns it slowly, “—let me save Dean, which brought the two of us together. And having Claire live with us has given us a purpose outside of hunting and Heavenly battles: we now have her to protect and care for.”
Jimmy sits quietly for a moment, nursing his half-drunk beverage. Despite the pleasantly warm room, there are no beads of sweat on the glass and the beer is still cold. Heaven, he thinks bitterly. If he had known of Cas’ thoughts in the white hallway earlier, he might have laughed; perhaps there was a reason beyond bloodlines for why Jimmy and Cas had been a perfect angel-vessel pair.
“What’s she like, Cas?” he finally asks.
“Strong. Independent. Intelligent. Curious. Nurturing. Loving.” Cas stops, and Jimmy hopes Cas will tell him more than just a list of meaningless words. He wants to know the hows and whys, not the barest whats. Cas studies him, and almost as though he can read the other man’s mind, he says, “This isn’t terribly informative.”
“No, not really,” Jimmy admits.
Cas thinks for a minute, then begins again. “When Dean and Claire go grocery shopping, I have to remind them repeatedly—I even text them while they’re at the store—to buy fruits and vegetables and not just the ingredients for burgers and pizza. They have also both tried to convince me, at different times, that ketchup is indeed a vegetable.”
Jimmy grins, and he thinks of Claire drowning fries at McDonald’s as soon as she was old enough to open the sauce packets on her own.
“She likes to pretend that she’s ‘too cool’ for certain shows and books because they’re not what her friends watch, although her taste in music seems to be ‘mainstream.’ I think Sam likes having someone around who shares his music tastes; I’m generally indifferent and Dean only likes ‘classic rock.’” Cas considers again, drinking deeply from his glass. “She thinks that none of us know that she’s marathoned all of the new Doctor Who at least twice and has read Harry Potter several times. Her friends like these terrible sitcoms, so she watches them to fit in. Luckily, our friend Charlie has started to convince her that it’s ok to like ‘nerdy’ things; I think Charlie’s had the same conversation with Dean. I still don’t see why there’s such a distinction, but humans always complicate the strangest things.”
At this Jimmy actually laughs because in that moment, Cas had become Castiel again—although not quite the righteous, smiteful version. “You know, you’re human, too.”
Cas gives a thoughtful half-grin. “I know. But sometimes, being human is like learning a new language: the idioms will always confuse me.”
They fall silent for a moment, each drinking from his beer.
“Tell me more.”
“Claire doesn’t—to use an idiom I have picked up—‘take anyone’s crap.’ She’s one of the few people whose snark can rival Dean’s, and she was the one who finally made me admit out loud that I loved Dean—although I doubt it was really a secret to many at that point.”
Jimmy smirks in agreement.
“When she was kidnapped six months ago—” Jimmy sucks in his breath at that, but Cas’ calm reassures him; obviously everything ended up fine in the end. “—she was resourceful and strong and protected her friends. She’s a quick thinker: she had her friend copy an anti-possession sigil on her arm for protection, she kept her friend from ‘freaking out,’ and she wasn’t cowed by the witch or demons who had taken her. Quite honestly, she was calmer than Dean and I were during the whole situation.”
“She was so brave when she was twelve, too,” Jimmy whispers.
“She is special,” Cas repeats his earlier assessment in agreement with Jimmy. “When I was recovering from falling and losing my Grace, Claire took care of me after helping Sam convince Dean to go on a hunt and save people. She explained a lot of TV to me, and we both agreed that reality TV makes absolutely no sense but is strangely addicting. She says I’m not as much of a ‘doof’ as I was before, and she seems to have made it her personal mission to make me even less so.”
“Ha, sounds like something she would do.” Jimmy sits back in his chair and runs a hand through his hair. “How’s she doing in school?”
“She hates her mandatory math class, but likes her American Literature course. She’s considering taking an introductory course in social work in the spring. She’s very caring and I think she would be good at that kind of work…”
Jimmy can fill in what Cas has left unsaid: because she’s had experience in the system. Even so, the thought of his daughter doing something worthwhile, helping people with the non-supernatural monsters in life, makes his heart fill with warmth and pride. Jimmy has a feeling that he and Cas are wearing identical expressions.
There’s a question lingering in Jimmy’s mind, but he’s afraid to ask it, afraid of what it might mean, even though it’s somewhat selfish.
“Cas?” he finally ventures.
“You, uh…you said she’s loved. And I’m thankful she has that. But, what about her? Does she…” he can’t bring himself to finish the question, but Cas understands. The former angel sighs, clearly uncomfortable.
“She…calls us her dads,” Cas admits, and Jimmy grimaces. “Please, Jimmy. Do not think she loves you any less or that we want to—or could—replace you or Amelia.”
Jimmy buries his face in his hands. He can’t help it. He counts to ten, tries to steady his breathing, tries to tell himself that he should be glad that Claire has found family, even if he isn’t there. He can’t begrudge his daughter that.
“She has a blue tie tucked away in the top drawer of her bureau,” Cas says quietly. Jimmy looks up and meets his eyes’ mirror pair. “It’s not the same one you wore when you said yes to me, but...when I finally reunited with her and tried to get her out of the group-home—and I’m sorry I had to pose as you—the first thing she said I needed was a tie so I could look like a 'dad.' So I could look like you. She wanted you.”
“Claire and Amelia bought me a tie every year for Christmas, even though they knew it was cliché,” Jimmy says slowly, although his tone warms as the memories flood him. “It started when she was three. She was in a store with Amelia and she saw a magenta tie with silver stripes and said that it was a ‘Daddy tie’, even though I don’t remember ever wearing anything like that around her ever. But she had to get it for me. I wore that tie for years until it finally fell apart. Luckily, her taste got better as she got older, and that blue tie was the last tie they bought for me. But I loved that first one the best. I wonder if she even remembers it.”
“I’m sure she does,” the former angel says earnestly. Now it’s Cas’ turn to look mournful, and Jimmy understands. Cas and Dean might have Claire’s future, but Jimmy has her past. None of them will ever have all of her.
“I was so angry at you for so long,” Jimmy says after a moment. “But, I’m…I’m glad you have Claire and Claire has you.”
“Thank you, Jimmy. I’m trying to finally make good on the promise I made you.” Cas looks relieved at Jimmy’s approval.
“Can I ask you a favor?”
“Is it possible to bring something with you to Claire when you leave? Like a note?”
“Yes, I believe so. Do you…do you want a moment to write?”
Cas nods. Jimmy gets up from the table and walks out the door, the room seamlessly transitioning to the home office he and Amelia had shared in their house. Cas doesn’t follow, and Jimmy sinks into the desk chair, waiting for the familiar creak and being disappointed not to hear it. He digs out stationary and pen, and then tries to encapsulate a lifetime’s worth of fatherly advice and hopes and dreams and love into such a paltry medium as ink and paper. It’s all he has.
When Cas steps back out into the hallway, he is surprised to find Hannah waiting. Honestly, he had forgotten about his friend after it had become clear that no one was going to enter Jimmy’s heaven and drag him out.
“Are you ready to go back to Earth now?” Hannah asks.
“I thought you would be angry I disrupted someone’s heaven,” Cas admits.
“I was, until I saw whose door you entered. And…I trust you, Castiel. You do what you believe is right, and I respect that, even though I do not always agree with you.”
“Thank you,” Cas replies, taking the compliment seriously. He and Hannah have been through a great deal, and so he appreciates the sentiment even more.
Hannah looks down into Cas’ eyes thoughtfully. The new vessel is at least two or three inches taller than Cas and the man’s eyes are dark, almost black; the whites seem to glow in contrast. “Someday, I would like to speak with Caroline,” the angel adds simply.
“I hope you have such a chance,” Cas replies in earnest. “And to answer your first question, yes, I am ready to go home now.”
Hannah takes him back to the playground, where he is greeted by the sight of Dean, leaning against the Impala. When the hunter sees Cas, he pushes himself off of the car and smiles broadly. Cas walks quickly to Dean, trying not to run, and they embrace and kiss in greeting.
“Those dicks upstairs finish with you yet?” Dean growls in Hannah’s general direction.
“It’s ok, Dean,” Cas says, trying to calm his partner. “Hannah needed me. And, the trip ended up helping me, too.” Dean looks at him questioningly and disbelievingly; Dean’s reaction is not unwarranted: there have been few trips upstairs that have ended well for any of them. “I’ll explain on the way home,” Cas promises. “Really, everything’s fine.”
“Yeah, all right. Just glad you’re back.”
Hannah is still standing, observing, with a soft smile. “Take care of each other,” the angel says. “And thank you, Castiel.”
“We will, and you’re welcome,” Cas replies. He is about to get into the Impala when one of his increasingly human reactions takes over and he hugs Hannah. The angel seems unsure what to do at first, and Cas recalls something Sam once said to him. “Now’s the part where you hug back,” he instructs his friend. Awkwardly, Hannah complies, but the contact is still nice. Behind him, the Impala’s engine rumbles to life, and Cas slides into the passenger seat.
As they drive home, Cas’ fingers run over the folded paper in his pocket as he tells Dean about his talk with Jimmy. When he finishes, Dean is quiet for a moment.
“You gonna tell Claire you saw Jimmy?” he asks eventually.
“Of course.” Cas brings out the letter. “He asked me to give her this.”
“You read it?”
“No, I didn’t think it was my place,” Cas replies, carefully returning the paper to his pocket.
“Good,” Dean says with such firm finality that one would think Cas had tried to argue the point. They sit in silence for a awhile, and Cas can see that Dean is working himself up to a question. He waits patiently, knowing better than to press the matter. “Cas, was…was Jimmy ok with, you know…us? And Claire?”
“Yes, I think so. He just wants what any…good father would want: for his child to be safe and happy and loved.” Cas wonders if Dean will notice Cas’ slight hesitation before saying “good”; he isn’t sure that the statement would be true without the qualifier.
“Yeah…” Dean answers, resting his head in his left hand, the elbow on the window sill. “I wish…”
Cas looks up, but the hunter doesn’t finish the thought.
“What, Dean? It’s ok, it’s just me here.”
Dean sighs. “I wish Bobby were around, you know? I mean, I wish he could see that we’re finally all ok ‘cause when he died, everything was pretty fucked up. And I think he’d like Claire, although he’d probably call us all a bunch of idjits and make some crack about being tired of taking in strays.” Dean smiles softly at the thought. “All I can think sometimes is I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I dunno how Bobby did it with me ‘n Sam all the times Dad dropped us off as kids, and he never did wrong by us after Dad was gone either.” Dean pauses, considering his next words. “I’d…I’d like to ask him if I’m doing things right with Claire.”
Cas is surprised at the confession; it’s rare for Dean to be so honest and open about anything. “I think Bobby would be proud of you, Dean,” Cas says quietly, but firmly. “And he would tell you the same thing I do: you’re better at this than you think.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Dean counters. Cas looks up sharply, but is quickly relieved when he sees Dean’s eyes are crinkled in laughter. “He’d probably say something like ‘What do I look like, a soccer mom? Now get yer head outta yer ass and make sure that kid knows how to draw a damn Devil’s Trap before she goes to school.’”
Cas laughs because Dean’s right, and Cas can almost hear the older hunter's gruff voice as Dean speaks. But both of them know what Bobby would’ve really meant. “Well, maybe the next time I’m dragged up to Heaven, you can…what’s the phrase?…gate crash?...and go talk to Bobby yourself.”
“Sure Hannah would fucking love that,” Dean smirks, and Cas can tell the idea is quickly percolating in the hunter’s mind. “Rogue hunter who made an angel fall popping up in Heaven for a chat with another grumpy hunter.”
“Hannah will just have to ‘get over it,’” Cas replies. Dean chuckles, and reaches over to take Cas’ hand in his own.
“I’ve been a bad influence on you, Cas,” Dean grins.
“I don’t mind,” Cas smiles.
“Hey, kiddo, we’re home!” Dean’s voice echoes down the cement and tile hall of the bunker to the kitchen where Claire is staring unsatisfied into the almost empty fridge. She hopes that maybe Cas and Dean picked up something for dinner on the way back.
She makes her way towards the garage, and meets Cas and Dean halfway there. They look tired and rumpled from the trip—Cas more so than Dean—but that doesn’t stop Dean from giving her an obnoxiously crushing one-armed hug.
“Ugh, what the hell, Dean,” she says gruffly, but there’s no real bite in her tone. “You like being annoying, don’t you?”
“It does have its perks,” Dean nods, mock-solemnly. Claire notices that Cas seems unusually reserved and quiet, his eyes mournful.
“Uh, you ok, Cas?” she asks, looking at Dean for some indication of what’s going on.
Dean gives her a small reassuring smile, then turns to Cas and puts a hand on the former angel’s arm. “I’m going to scare up something for dinner, Cas. Let me know if you need anything.”
Cas nods. On Dean’s way by Claire, the hunter gives her shoulder a quick squeeze.
“Spill, Cas. Something’s up,” Claire says, her arms crossed.
“I think it’s best if we talk somewhere more comfortable. Perhaps your room,” Cas says finally.
“Uh…sure…” Claire says worriedly. Whatever’s going on is big, and that never means anything good in this family. They make their way to Claire’s bedroom, and she hastily clears a pile of clothes off of the chair for Cas to sit down. She tucks a leg under her on the bed.
Cas stares at a spot on the wall before turning to look at Claire. “I saw your father when I was in Heaven.”
Claire stares numbly. Of all the things Cas could have said after returning from a trip upstairs, this is possibly the only one she was not expecting. A new civil war in Heaven? Why not. The angels want Cas to do something that’s likely to hurt him or get him killed—or they’re pissed at him and want to kill him themselves? Just another Tuesday for the Winchesters. But…her father?
“Wha—wha—why? Is he ok? What did he say? What did you tell him?” Too many questions. Too much everything.
“He’s fine and is living peacefully in Heaven. He wanted to know how you are, that you’re safe. He misses you, and he loves you.” Cas reaches into his jacket, bringing out a carefully folded piece of paper, its edges slightly crinkled from the pocket. “He gave me this to give to you. I didn’t read it,” the former angel adds hastily as he holds out the letter.
Claire stares at it, unable to make her arms move for a moment. Finally, she sees her arm reach out and take the page, but it feels like she’s watching someone else do it, like her arm is not a part of her own body.
“I don’t understand,” she says, unable and unwilling to specify what it is she doesn’t understand. Just…all of it.
“I wanted to apologize to him, for all that I did to you and your family.” Cas looks down at the floor. “I should…I should let you read your letter. I’ll have Dean get you for dinner.”
Cas gets up and goes to the door as Claire rubs her thumb over the paper. Cas’ final statement sinks in. He thinks I won’t want to see him, so he’ll send Dean. Whenever the subject of Claire’s father comes up, Cas always retreats. Sometimes she’s grateful for it and needs the space. Right now, though, she isn’t quite ready for that. She gets up from the bed, still clutching the letter fiercely, and throws her arms around Cas’s middle, burying her face into his shirt. Her dad had always smelled like aftershave and clean laundry; human Cas smells earthier, like hard labor and cheap detergent and gunpowder, and Claire feels oddly comforted by the new scents. He pulls her in tight, then kisses the top of her head. They stay like that for a little while until Claire eventually pulls back.
“Thanks,” she whispers, her throat tight. Cas nods with a sad smile, then leaves, gently closing the door.
Claire settles back on to her bed, staring at the letter. Finally, she takes a deep breath and opens it.
I love you, sweetheart. I know that’s usually how people sign letters, but Cas tells me it’s been five years—seven since I left you and Mom—so I have to make up for lost time. I know this isn’t enough and can never be enough, and I’m sorry. I truly am. I hope you can forgive me for everything.
So where do I begin? I have so much to say to you, but I don’t know how.
Cas tells me you’re in college. I’m so proud of you, honey, and I hope you find your calling, whatever it is. I hope you find something you’re passionate about, something that makes you be the best person you can be—but that shouldn’t be too hard. You have always been the best of us: better than me, better than Mom. Don’t ever forget that.
I love you.
I don’t know the whole story, but I know your road has been hard. Probably still is hard. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you from that, that my choices left you in that position. I am so thankful that you have a family now, even if it terrifies me to think of you living with a hunter and a fallen angel. But maybe it’s better to live in the know than in ignorance. I just want you to stay safe. I haven’t prayed in a long time, but I pray you’ll be safe with Cas and Dean. I think you will. I hope you will.
I love you, Claire.
I have to keep saying it because this is my only chance.
My Heaven is with you and Mom. I think about you every day, especially on the days I remember that I’m in Heaven, not in a park watching you slide into Mom’s arms or watching you drip an ice cream cone down your arm—do you remember Kendall’s Creamery? How we used to go there in the summers? Especially the day after your first soccer game, when you scored your team’s only goal. You were so happy, even though your team lost. We had to celebrate with ice cream. It’s one of my favorite memories. I visit it a lot.
Take care of Cas, Claire. He tells me you said he’s less of a ‘doof’ now, and I have to agree, but he still needs help. I’ve spent many days hating him, but today I realized just how much he loves you and how much you mean to him. I’m proud of that, too. Thinking of your ability to forgive and care will help me find my center, my peace. You truly are amazing.
I love you, Claire.
I’m proud of you.
I miss you.
I hope you’ll forgive me.
By the time she gets to the end of the letter, she is openly sobbing. She reads it twice straight through, then starts on the third before she has to stop and fetch tissues. A few minutes later, there’s a soft knock on the door.
“Claire?” Dean asks through the door. “I know you’re probably not hungry, but there’s pasta in the kitchen if you want.”
“No thanks,” Claire manages. She can hear Dean scuff his boots on the floor.
“Ok…you, uh…you need anything, you let us know, all right?”
She isn’t sure how much longer she’s in her room before she ventures out into the bunker. She finds Cas and Dean in the TV room, comfortably watching old Star Trek reruns. When they see her, Cas sits up from leaning into Dean, who props an arm up along the top of the cushions, and Cas scoots to the other end of the couch. Claire curls up in between the two of them—curls up into herself, curls up into the cushions, curls up into her new family—without a word, and she’s relieved they don’t ask.
Dean looks down at Claire. Her head has inadvertently slumped onto his chest, her breath is steady as she sleeps, and Dean absently brushes her hair back from her face before pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. It surprises him how natural the act is; these small moments still often catch him off-guard, and they slowly (very slowly) chip away at his self-doubts about his ability to be a family man...a father figure. Even so, he nearly jerks away guiltily when Cas stirs on the other end of the couch, but he stops himself before he can wake the girl or earn a reproving glare from his partner.
Cas reaches for the remote and turns down the volume a little. The former angel settles back into the couch, and the two of them look at each other and smile over the sleeping figure. Dean lets his arm drape over Claire's shoulder, and Cas quietly reaches over and takes the hand in his own. They watch another episode, and Dean yawns as the credits roll.
“Should we wake her?” Cas asks softly.
“Nah, let her sleep for now; she had a rough day. I’m ok,” Dean answers, shifting slightly lower on the couch, careful not to jostle Claire; he lets his head fall back into the cushions and props his feet up on the coffee table. “Don’t stay up on my account, though.”
“Hrmph,” is Cas’ only reply. He gets up and leaves, and Dean fully expects that Cas has taken him up on the offer, but Cas quickly returns with the comforter from their bed. He drapes it over Dean and Claire, then retakes his position tucked in by the other armrest, pulling the comforter over himself as well. “There’s another episode on. Obviously the marathon isn’t over.”
It’s a feeble explanation, especially from Cas, but Dean doesn’t care. He’s pretty sure his eyes droop close before Kirk even has a chance to make out with some alien chick, but he’s also pretty sure that Cas doesn’t even make it to “Space, the final frontier.” Dean guesses his neck and back are going to crink and hurt like a bitch in the morning from sleeping sitting up, but damn if he’ll mess up this moment; the aches’ll be worth it.