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Empathy for a Vessel

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It was cowardly, he knew, but was unable to keep away. Castiel stood by silently as he watched Jimmy Novak in his projected heaven. It was different from the last time; this time it looked like it was Christmas morning, Jimmy was sitting on a comfy looking gray sofa next to his wife Amelia while she filmed their daughter Clair opening her presents. It must be a good memory because Jimmy was smiling for once as he watched his little girl squeal with delight at each new present.

It had taken a long time to find Jimmy Novak's personal heaven. In the last few years he only had a handful of moments to be able to search but he had to do it; ever since he came back to a vacant vessel after Raphael had killed him, he knew he had to be sure his host was happy and comfortable. At first, it would have seemed that way. When Castiel had finally found the little portion of the heavily plain Jimmy was occupying, he landed in a park. It was a little place just outside Pontiac Illinois that Castiel recognized from Jimmy's residual memory, it was supposed to be a good place. It looked to be the middle of fall and Jimmy was young and holding hands with an equally young, pretty blond girl who Castiel could only guess was Amelia.

They were walking along a cobblestone path, talking quietly, and kicking loose leaves along the way. He followed them, staying invisible so as not to potentially upset the pleasant memory. Jimmy stopped when they reached the lake and turned to watch the memory of his wife smile at him expectantly. Normally in these projections, the soul acts out the memories just as they happened and the memory responds accordingly. But jimmy never spoke, he just stood there staring at the memory of his young wife as she reacted and continued on as if Jimmy had never stopped talking. Judging from the way she kept saying 'yes, yes!' with tears in her blue eyes, this must have been the moment Jimmy asked Amelia to marry him.

But Jimmy did not look happy like Castiel would expect him to. Instead, his former host looked pained and his eyes glistened with his own tears. When Amelia jumped up to hug him Jimmy fell to his knees, sobbing as his young wife-to-be hugged thin air and cried tears of happiness. Castiel rushed to Jimmy's side immediately, appearing behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. Jimmy jerked and looked up sharply, not even looking surprised to see an older reflection of himself looking down on him. He looked angry, eyes narrowed as he slapped Castiel's hand away.

“What are you doing here?” He hissed, getting up slowly while the memory of the park began to dissipate around them and Jimmy changed back to the age he was when he died, trench coat and all. Castiel said noting for a moment, just watching as his double sniffed and wiped his eyes which he found kind of strange. Jimmy had no actual body any more and it seemed like dealing with bodily functions like tears and snot should not be an issue. When the world around them settled again, they were back in the warehouse where Castiel had temporarily taken over Clair Novak.

“I came to check on you... when I returned after Raphael smote me, you were gone and I wanted to be sure you were comfortable... that you are happy.”

Jimmy gave a dry, chocked laugh. “You wanted to make sure I was happy?” He sneered. It was a strange expression to see since Castiel never made such expressions himself and he had long ago began to think of Jimmy's old body as his own. “You... you sonofabitch... how dare you come here and ask me that? After everything you did to me, to my family!” Jimmy shouted, his voice echoing against the wet pipes, making Castiel flinch.

“I'm sorry Jimmy, I did not mean for this to happen. You did not deserve to have gone out the way you did.”

“Damn right I didn’t! All my life I prayed, I devoted my self to God and you assholes. I gave you my body to drag all over and make sex eyes with an alcoholic, co-dependent jerk who hunts monsters for a living! And what did I get? A one way ticket to this place to relive the torturous memories of my short life again and again.” He hissed out, hands clenching at his sides like he wanted noting more then to slam his fist into the angel's face.

“Torture? This is heaven, Jimmy, it is a reward for your work and sacrifice.”

“Reward? Yes, because I love watching replays of my little girl who I will never see grow up; and of my wife? Who has to go on without me, raising our daughter alone, or better yet she forgets about me and remarries some other man who will get to raise my girl and watch her grow up. Great reward, Castiel, really great.” Jimmy began to gesture wildly, voice reaching a high pitch that made Castiel wince.

Castiel did not know what to say. Jimmy's anger was tangible in the space around them and frankly, Castiel was having a hard time trying to disagree. When the silence continued to stretch Jimmy threw his hands up and turned away. “Just get out of here, I don’t wanna see you wearing my face ever again. Just let me spend the rest of my sad little life loop alone.”

So he he left.

Since that first encounter, Castiel had swore to himself that he would leave the poor man alone. But five months later he found himself back in Jimmy Novak's heaven, sitting silent and invisible while he watched another memory play out. This time he was in a little apartment. It must have been after the proposal memory, Jimmy still looked like his younger self, standing in a corner of the room watching as Amelia went around, caring on a two person conversation by herself.

It was tempting to go to his former host, try to comfort him once again but he remembered the anger from last time and held back, keeping to Jimmy's wishes. When Amelia stopped talking and turned to the empty wall where Jimmy should be standing, she smiled shyly and tucked her soft blond locks.

'I wanted to wait until we were at my mothers next week, but I don’t think I can wait any longer. Jimmy... I’m pregnant.'

There was a long pause in which Castiel supposed Jimmy would have been reacting to the good news. Instead, Jimmy let out a quiet, shuddering sigh as he watched his wife jump around and squeal delightedly with no one. It was heat breaking to watch. Castiel had been learning to deal with his own new emotions at his own pace and certain things like sadness were still especially hard on him. He was about to leave when Jimmy finally moved.

“This is great baby, I cant believe it... go call your mom and tell her we are coming over tonight so you can tell her the good news.” Jimmy said quietly, moving to the place he was supposed to be. Amelia nodded and ran down the hall of their little apartment, most likely to call her mother, and Jimmy stayed in the living room, listening to his wife make the call to no one.

“I know you're here.” He said slowly, not moving from his spot. “I can feel you watching me...thought I told you to get lost.”

Castiel said noting but promptly left after that, once again swearing off from going there ever again. Then again, Castiel had already proven to himself and others that his will was not the strongest. That's how he found himself in the Novak's living room on Christmas morning, watching a little four year old Clair open her gifts. For once Jimmy was involving himself in the memory, curled up on the couch next to Amelia with a cup of coffee in his hands. He responded to all the questions his memory had and even seemed a little...happy this time.

Amelia flashed a couple of pictures before turning to Jimmy. 'So my parents are gonna be over at three to help with dinner, is your mom okay with onions in the stuffing?'. It was such a simple, mundane question about something so insignificant in the face of all that was going down on earth, that it made Castiel's grace twist up painfully with a strange new emotion inside his vessel.

Jimmy did not respond but Amelia went on as if he did.

“Your never gonna stop coming around are you?” He asked, looking over at the brightly lit tree. Castiel did not respond or appear before Jimmy, unwilling to show himself wearing the man's face and break this rather tenuous peace. Jimmy just snorted and sipped his coffee. “I suppose trying to get you to do anything is completely pointless. Think I would have learned by now.”

Amelia got up from the couch, still going on about dinner as she helped Clair gather up her new toys but Jimmy was not watching, he kept talking to Castiel. “I know this is all fake... spending all that time locked in my own head... I was not always asleep despite how hard you tried, I learned things and frankly, it has permanently disillusioned this place for me forever. So yea... thanks for that.” He said flatly. “But... I dunno, I guess this place is growing on me... not like I have a whole lotta' choice anyway.” He sighed and set the coffee on the table.

Jimmy rolled his eyes when Castiel said noting. “Look, if your gonna keep coming around at least have the decency to look me in the eye.” The world trembled around them and the house changed to what looked like a quaint little diner, but not like the ones Castiel had been to with Dean and Sam. This one was brightly light, with nice wooden tables and fine paintings on the walls. Jimmy had changed back into his suit jacket and trench coat, with two fresh cups of coffee, one obviously meant for Castiel.

It was tempting to sit across from him, to take up that cup of coffee and talk to his former host about all that has been going on in the world; to take a break and rest along side Jimmy. However, there were more pressing matters at hand, and the fate of the world never seemed to wait for anyone. Instead, Castiel left with a flutter of wings and his apologies which Jimmy brushed off and went back to his coffee.

Castiel did not go back after that last meeting, the Winchesters, the angels, and the world finally found its grip deep into Castiel and did not let him go. He thinks about it often though, wonders how Jimmy is doing in his heaven. Whether or not he was happy, even with knowing that everything he sees is his own minds projection. He hoped so. As he stared up at the sky he wondered about his old host when a little shove on his shoulder made him turn away from the sky. Dean was grinning, holding a beer out for Castiel while Sam was leaning against the Impala. Castiel took the beer but did not drink it. It must have been enough for Dean because he went to lean against the car along side his brother, sipping at the bottle casually.

“What were ya looking for Cas? Taking up bird watching or something?”

It was a joke. Castiel supposed he was supposed to laugh but he just looked up from his bottle and gave a half hearted shrug. “No. I was just thinking about Jimmy Novak.” That made both boys choke on their beers.

“Uh, Jimmy Novak... Your Vessel right?” Sam asked slowly. Castiel nodded, tilting his head to the side when the brothers exchanged guilty looks. “Yeah, um, what did happen to that guy?”

“He is in heaven. When I was brought back the first time he was sent to heaven. I have visited him a few times when I could.”

Dean took a long drag from his beer. “So... is he happy or something?” He asked, keeping his eyes on the label.

“I'm not sure. He was not happy with me when I visited the first time, but the last time he invited me to stay. I don’t know since then, I have been too busy down here.”

They nodded and shared another guilty look. “Well, this one's for him then.” Dean said, tilting his beer toward the sky. “Thanks man. Hope your living it up some kick ass heaven.” Sam nodded and tilted his own beer as well. Castiel smiled a little tipped his own beer, even if he knew Jimmy could not hear them or even have any notion that they were honoring him in anyway. Still, the gesture was nice as if Castiel ever had a chance to sneak back into heaven, he would find Jimmy and tell him about the Winchesters salute.

Castiel took a sip from his beer and looked to the sky once more.

“Yes, thank you Jimmy. I hope you found your peace.”