Eventually, Claire can't stay with Jody Mills anymore. The road beckons, promising the opportunity to hunt across the nation. Her heart and mind are both set on this mission of hers. Ever since Castiel came into her life, this has been the only path she could take.
Claire takes the old car Jody generously bought her and leaves one night. She feels guilty as she goes, but her heart tells her this is what has to be done. Jody will understand. Jody will forgive her.
Her first hunt on the road is a nest of vampires in Minnesota. She thinks of Alex as she cuts off their heads, leaving behind a mess of bloody corpses. She burns their nest and moves on.
Claire becomes quite the accomplished hunter. She faces ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, and a number of obscure monsters. She's not Winchester-level talented yet, though. She isn't ready to deal with angels and demons, as much as she tries to convince herself that she is.
She finally finds the nerve to try and take down a demon when she gets to Baltimore. She's been hunting her way across the country on her own for over two years at that point.
Claire is cautious. She calls Sam Winchester and double-checks her notes on devil’s traps and other demon related information with him. He sounds delighted to hear from her. She requests that he not tell anyone that they spoke, and he agrees. It's never said aloud, but they both know she's avoiding Castiel.
Claire picks an abandoned cargo shed on the port of the Chesapeake. She wards it from floor to ceiling and draws a giant devil’s trap in the center of the shed. When she's positive that it's as secure as possible, she puts a plan in motion to lure the demon out there.
The plan fails. The demon knows her, somehow, and calls reinforcements. That's how she ends up in an alley, cornered by four demons.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immund-” she begins to chant, just like Sam told her to, but one of the demons swats at her head. She shoots at him, and he laughs, his eyes turning black in the dim, dirty glow of the alley.
She's got her pistol, rapidly moving it from demon to demon as they close in on her. She fires at them, but it does little. Claire has to force herself to keep from shaking.
She runs out of bullets. One of the demons grabs the gun, snatches it from her grasp, and throws it at a dumpster. The other three laugh evilly. They close in.
“There there, little hunter,” one of them sneers, “it'll all be over soon.”
Claire had taken self defense classes when she lived with Jody, but that wouldn't hold off four demons for very long. She grits her teeth. She'd have to go down swinging.
Claire swings a punch at the nearest demon, a redhead who's almost the same height as her. It cracks against her nose, and the demon growls as blood pours from her face.
The others dive for her. Claire sweeps the feet out from under the tall one. He falls flat on his stomach.
The third one grips her arm. She tries to elbow him, but he dodges it and twists her arm behind her back with inhuman strength. Claire screams as she hears the bones in her arm snap.
The last demon grabs onto her other side, and the two holding her pull her back against a wall. Tears burn in Claire’s eyes, but she refuses to let them fall. She wants to die with her dignity.
The redhead wipes the blood from her nose and snarls. She plants her foot in Claire’s gut with a well-aimed side kick. It knocks the breath out of Claire, and she thinks she might throw up.
One of them - Claire isn't sure which - shoves her onto the ground. Gravel scraps her, rips the skin from her cheek.
They start kicking her, four pairs of boots slamming into her all over her body. She hears a number of sickening cracks over the maniacal laughter of her attackers. She starts to cry, forgetting entirely her silent decision to die with dry eyes. She forgets everything but the pain.
Almost everything. She remembers the people she loves: her parents, hopefully she'll see them soon, and Jody and Alex, she's sorry to leave them, though it's been a few years since she's seen either of them. Jody was right. So was Dean Winchester. Claire always knew this was how she was going to die.
And then, it comes to her, and she actually laughs - well, tries to, it’s terribly painful and it comes out more like a cough.
“Castiel,” she croaks out. A boot kicks at her jaw, slams her mouth closed. Her teeth slice into her tongue, drawing another warm spurt of blood, but that doesn't stop her prayer.
Castiel. Please hear me. I need you.
Claire is barely conscious when the attack stops. Through half-lidded eyes, she sees Castiel smite one of the demons. The others are scrambling away from him, but these lackeys are no match for an angel. Castiel smites them all. Claire basks in their death glow - or she would, if she could do more than breathe deep and heavy breaths and bleed.
Then Castiel is beside her, and he's healing her with his angel magic or whatever. Claire groans as her bones knit back together and shift into shape.
“Please try to remain still, Claire,” Castiel says in that deep, serious tone that used to jar her from her fantasies of her father’s return. Jimmy Novak sounded nothing like Castiel.
After Claire heals, Castiel teleports her from the alley to her motel room across town. She's covered in grime and sweat and blood, her clothes are torn, and she's exhausted. But Castiel is standing awkwardly in her room, and she supposes she should talk to him. He did just save her life.
So, Claire collapses into the one little chair in the room, a thin little thing that shrieks under her weight. It'd probably break if Castiel sat on it. Claire gives a snort of amusement at that mental image.
“Thanks,” she says, and she means it. A part of her will always hate Castiel, she thinks, but it's too small to matter anymore.
“You are welcome,” Castiel says. “Erm, how have you been?”
“Before tonight? I was alright. Hunting things.”
“You've been watching me.” It isn't a question. Claire isn't even surprised. She just wonders why it took him so long to step in tonight if he was keeping an eye on her.
“I checked in occasionally,” Castiel admits. “I was trying to… give you space.”
“Thanks,” Claire says, a bit of a smile breaking out on her face despite herself.
“You really shouldn't hunt without backup,” Castiel tells her. Claire’s heard this line before, but she doesn't roll her eyes. She isn't a teenager anymore. She almost finds Castiel’s concern endearing at this point.
“I have you.”
“I may not always be around to aid you.”
Claire raises an eyebrow. “You're an angel.”
“Angels can die, Claire,” Castiel whispers. “In my experience, everything can die.”
The knowledge is both chilling and comforting. On one hand, that means that all monsters have a weakness. On the other, that means she could lose any ally she makes.
She could lose Castiel.
Claire hadn't seen Castiel in well over five years before tonight, and yet the thought of never seeing him again causes a wave of panic to wash over her.
“Don't die, Castiel,” Claire says softly.
“I will do my best not to,” vows Castiel. “And Claire?”
“Protect yourself. Find a partner. Call the Winchesters. Pray to me,” Castiel says, “please. I… care about you.”
Claire stands up. The chair gives another squeal of protest. She ignores it. She crosses the distanct to where Castiel is standing and wraps in a hug that he clearly wasn't expecting. He goes tense under her grip, then relaxes and returns the hug.
“I care about you, too, you silly angel.”