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The Debts You'll Never Pay

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She’s shivering, wrapped up in a thin blanket in the backseat of a strange car. The hard metal of the door handle digs into her shoulder where she leans against it. In the front seat her mother sits silently, hands tight on the steering wheel. Only it isn’t her mother -- it’s a thing with black eyes that looks at her with hate and the promise of violence.

At a warehouse the thing grabs her arm and pulls her out of the car. “Stop your sniveling, brat!” It sneers at her and pulls her. The tears blur her vision and she loses her footing, a hot pain shoots through her ankle. It yanks her up, stretching her arms, and drags her the rest of the way.

There are other things in the room. They help tie her to a chair. She makes the mistake of asking why they’re doing this to her and the mother-thing hits her. “I don’t have to explain myself to filth.”

She closes her eyes and pleads with god to help her.

“Claire.” She gasps out loud at the sound. One of the things looks over at her outburst, but loses interest. She tries to slow her breathing and concentrate.

“Claire,” the voice says again. “I can help you if you let me inside.”

Another monster, she wonders?

“No, Claire,” it says, “I’m an angel of the Lord.”

”You can hear me”, she thinks?

“Yes, Claire,” the angel says. “My name is Castiel. I’ll help if you agree to let me in.”

She watches the thing wearing her mother’s face as it paces in front of her and she tells the angel it can have whatever it wants as long as he saves them.

All at once she feels light pour into her. It’s the brightest thing she’s ever seen and it keeps going, getting brighter and hotter. She should burst into flames from the intensity, but she doesn’t. It is awesome and terrible. Waves of heat and cold wash over and through her. The angel fills her tiny body with such immense power she feels like an ant or one of those paramecium they talked about her science class at school. There’s no more room inside, but it keeps coming. Light, power, and ecstasy from touching something so close to God rises up and pulls her under.

The next thing she’s conscious of is standing over her father, who looks right through her.

***

She sits up, gasping for breath, heart pounding. She hates that dream. For a year after it happened, she woke up every night screaming from it. Her mother would try to calm her with fake smiles and hands twisted together because she thought it hid the shaking. She knew her mother thought she was part of the problem, she thought her face reminded Claire of the monster that had terrorized her, but that was never it, and Claire was too young to put words to anything she felt.

The screaming was never about her mother or the monsters. When she was awake, her memories of being an angelic vessel were dim. At times she’d have a faint memory of lots of heat or another presence, but it was always hard to focus on and impossible to hold on to. But when she dreamed, it was like reliving it -- all the tumult and confusion of feeling eternally old and yet so naive, the light that threatened to tear her atoms apart, yet kept her from disintegrating into nothing, and being this lowly, earthly creature and yet something divine and full of grace.

When she wakes from these dream memories the emptiness inside her is so vast it feels like her chest will cave in. She spends her days yearning to touch that presence again. Something inside her broke when the angel left. He didn’t slip out quietly. The tearing of his essence away from her was violent and messy. She doesn’t feel like she fits in her own skin quite right anymore. She’s like puppet with the strings cut.

Eventually her mother stops waking her from those dreams and then she begins disappearing for days at a time. After a few months it becomes obvious she’s never coming back. Claire assumes it’s her fault. Her mother could never look at her straight on anymore. Her gaze just sort of slid off her onto whatever was next to her or behind her. It doesn’t matter. With her mother gone there’s no one to nag her about all the time she spends sleeping, trying to dream.

Claire pulls the covers up to her chin and leans back against the headboard, eyes closed. She knows he is awake -- he’s always awake, and she doesn’t want to talk to him. He used to watch her the whole night while she slept until she yelled at him for it. It’s creepy. He finally agreed to lie down and close his eyes at night, although sometimes he slips out to call those friends of his.

Sometimes he leaves before she wakes and comes back with breakfast for her. Other times he just waits for her to wake up so they can go somewhere together. She tries to figure out what makes him decide between the two, but she can’t see any rhyme or reason to it and she doesn’t ask, not really having the energy or patience to have a long conversation with him.

Fifteen minutes crawl by and he still hasn’t moved, which means he’ll wait for her to be ready before they eat and move on. She rubs her chest, which still feels achy from the dream even though it isn’t a physical. She sighs and throws the covers off and stumbles out of bed towards the table where she threw her belongings the night before. In the bottom of her rucksack she finds a bottle of narcotics she bought off some drifter 3 stops ago. She expected him to put up a fight, but he’s not at full power anymore so when she tells him they’re for a condition she has, he takes her at her word. It’s kind of depressing.

She shakes two pills into her hand and swallows them with a big gulp of water and then climbs back in bed to wait for them to take effect. She switches the TV on and turns to a channel showing cartoons. He likes cartoons so even if he stops pretending to sleep, he’ll be more likely to just watch and leave her alone for awhile. It takes almost two episodes of Spongebob before she feels anything and then it’s just buzzing in her stomach and across her chest and down her arms -- a pitiful facsimile of the dream, but it’s all she has when she’s awake.

Finally she looks over at him. He’s sitting up, watching cartoons like she expected. He has a confused look on his face and she knows she’ll be answering questions at some point about what they’ve just watched. It’s hard to believe he’s the same being as that powerful angel. She frowns and shakes the thought off, unwilling to have it dampen the buzz she’s counting on lasting through breakfast until she can curl up in the backseat of his old beater and sleep until he decides to stop for lunch.

“Breakfast?” she says to him.

“If you’re ready?” he asks.

She nods and they pack up the few belongings they have and find a diner down the road to stop at.

Neither of them really says much while they eat. In the beginning, when she first started traveling with him, he would ask her questions or tell her stories, but she stopped responding and eventually he caught on that she’d rather eat in silence.

His phone rings as she picks at the last of her eggs. He checks the caller ID before answering, which is ridiculous because he only ever talks to two people. Even so, he smiles when he looks and says, “Hello, Dean.”

Dean fucking Winchester. All he has to do is snap his fingers and Castiel will drop whatever they’re doing to help him. She wonders if Dean really understands how much pull he has. She wonders if he appreciates Castiel. She kind of hates them both for it.

She uses the restroom and when she comes out he’s already paid the bill and is waiting for her by the door.

“We have to go back to Kansas,” he says.

“His majesty summoned you?” she says. She knows she’s being catty, but she doesn’t care.

He frowns at her. “He needs my help,” he says.

“Whatever,” she says. “How long til we get there?”

“Only a couple days.”

“Only,” she repeats, heavy on the sarcasm. He doesn’t react, so she sighs and says, “Fine, let’s go.”

She doesn’t wait for him, walking out the door and letting it shut behind her.

They drive in silence for a few hours. She leans her head against the warm glass of her window and lets her eyes unfocus. Her buzz is almost completely gone, but she tries to let herself feel floaty in hopes it will pull her back into the dream. It never works, but she feels like maybe one of these times she’ll get lucky.

In the next town they stop for gas and she wanders through the little shop looking for a snack or something to drink. In the corner there’s a box of cassette tapes for $2 a piece so she looks through them. There’s a tape of just whale sounds and she wonders if she can convince him this will be entertaining to listen to while driving. She looks out the window at him. Castiel, angel of the lord, pumping gas into a beat up, old car. A flash of anger burns in her chest and she grabs the tape, hoping he’ll tell her no so she has a reason to yell at him.

If he notices it in her pile of snacks he doesn’t mention it and she has to keep herself from tripping him on the way back to the car.

A few minutes on the road and she unwraps the cellophane from the tape and pops it in the player. It’s just what the cover says, nothing but soothing whale song. She takes another pill out of her bottle and swallows it down with some of her iced tea. Closing her eyes, she rests her head against her window again and let’s the whale song wash over her.

She’s almost asleep when there’s a click and she hears the tape pop out.

“Hey!” she says, sitting up and grabbing at the tape he’s now holding in his hand. “I was listening to that!”

“I don’t think you’re old enough to hear this kind of thing,” he says.

The comment is so out of left field she actually stares at him with her mouth open before she can even respond.

“What?” she says.

“That song,” he says, looking uncomfortable. “It’s very adult.”

It takes her another moment before she realizes he can understand the whales and it must be some kind of mating song. Even so, what is she, some kind of kid?

She shoves the tape back in the player and says, “First of all, I’m 18. Second, I’m not a virgin,” and she gives herself a pat on the back when he actually flinches. “And most most importantly, I don’t speak whale. This is just soothing sounds to me.”

“Still, I don’t think--” he starts.

“No,” she says. “You are NOT my father. You don’t get to decide what I listen to.” She glares at him, feeling the anger turn her face red.

He looks away and doesn’t challenge her. She tries to get comfortable again, but the rage burned through her buzz and the window glass feels irritating against her skin instead of soothing. Why does he always ruin everything?

She’s still angry when they stop for the night and purposefully runs into him on way out of the office when they pick up the keys to their room. He stumbles but doesn’t say anything. He never does. She wonders if he lets her do these things to him because he considers them part of the penance for ruining her life? Hey, it’s my fault you don’t have any parents so go ahead a trip me and step on my toes whenever you want. This unending patience he seems to have for her has become as big an irritant to her as all the rest of his weird mannerisms.

In the room, she channel hops and sees there’s a porn channel that’s almost watchable through the fuzz. She thinks about leaving it on to see if he’ll react. Maybe he’ll be properly angry and yell at her and she feels her stomach flutter at the thought. She imagines his eyes going cold and his face rigid and fierce, ready to call down all of god’s wrath on her.

He’s not paying attention, though, so she switches to some B movie on the science fiction channel.

She doesn’t think it’s because he has her father’s face. He’s been gone half her life and her mom took all his pictures down. When she looks at him she mostly sees Castiel, the reason she doesn’t have parents and the reason she felt heaven for a brief moment before it was ripped away. At least he feels guilty about her life being ruined, even if she doesn’t understand why she has to help him get over it.

The anger builds again and she turns the TV off and pulls the covers over her head, willing him not to try to speak with her again tonight. Tomorrow might be better. Easier.


The next day is almost a carbon copy of the day before, except towards evening Claire experiences what she can only deem a minor miracle. He agrees to leave her in a hotel by herself on the outskirts of town instead of being dragged into whatever trouble those twits have gotten themselves into this time. She doesn’t have to whine or yell or complain, he just thinks about it a moment and then nods. Later he leaves her in her own room with plenty of money for food and a stern admonition not to leave or get into trouble while he’s busy.

After he pulls away and she can’t see the lights on his car anymore, she takes off down the road to the strip mall she spotted earlier. She gives some bum a hefty tip for buying her a cheap bottle of bourbon. She stops by the pizza place on her way back to the room. She fully intends to get drunk, but knows doing it on an empty stomach is only inviting disaster.

She uses the bourbon to swallow another pill when she’s back in the room and she spends the rest of the night drinking, nibbling on her pizza, and flipping through the channels. Around midnight she finds a station showing Labyrinth, which she’s always liked, so she leaves it there and closes her eyes.

The power is too much. The light pours in and in and there’s no where else for it to go, but still it pours into her. She can see her very atoms stretching to contain so much energy and yet the energy binds her together, keeping her safe. Her nerve endings are alive and singing with all the power. Synapses are firing a thousand times a second only seconds don’t have any meaning. She is NOW. She is forever in this instant -- an eternally old being, lovingly created by her father, made to last until the end of time itself. Her sole purpose to love God and all his creation. She’s on fire with righteous purpose-

She wakes up, gasping for breath. One moment she feels like she’s full of immense power and light and in the next moment it’s gone and she can’t quite remember what it felt like. The horrible ache in her chest crashes in to fill the void. She’s still slightly tipsy and she laughs at her own thought -- a void filling a void.

On the TV, David Bowie is walking upside down on a staircase. She’s missed her favorite part, so she just turns it off. She immediately regrets it because the silence in the room is overwhelming. For as irritating as she finds his presence, at least the sound of Castiel’s breathing is something to focus on when she wakes from the dream. She tries never to think it too loudly for fear he might actually hear her. She doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of believing she might actually need him for something.

Just the thought that she might actually need him for something makes her want to shred that stupid trenchcoat. It’s been hours since she took the last pill and she should probably sleep, but she takes two more anyway, hoping there’s some kind of high. Her skin feels itchy and tight and she paces the room to let out some of the energy. It’s still too quiet for her. The silence is grating, so she puts the TV back on while she paces.

It helps being busy with something monotonous when she feels this keyed up. As she walks, she concentrates on putting her foot down heel first and walking in as straight a line as possible. Back and forth across the same squares on the carpet, her feet hitting the exact same spots and the voice of an infomercial announcer washing over her until the pills kick in and feels light-headed enough to sit and enjoy the feeling of her mind relaxing into it.

For the next few hours she lies crossways on the bed with her feet hanging off, watching overly excited people try to sell her grills and food dehydrators. She gets drawn into a commercial for a blender because the makers saw fit to give this commercial a plot. Her hands twist her hair into new braids while she watches. The people are so obviously fake, but for awhile she’s mesmerized by how bizarrely normal it is. She’ll never wake up to her mother fixing her breakfast or look forward to Sunday family dinners again. And these people on her TV have no idea what it’s like not to have anywhere or anyone to belong to.

Like a curse she’s going to have the rest of her life, his face comes to mind, but she doesn’t belong to him, either. Not really. She was right before, he stays with her, looks out for her, because he feels guilty for what he’s done to her life. She’s his penance. She stays with him because getting a job and money is hard without a high school diploma and she’s had one too many run-ins with people who wanted to hurt her. They’re like a twisted facsimile of the family she used to have. Sometimes she wonders if she finally loses it and punches him if they would both feel better.

She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knows she’s waking up and Castiel is there, shaking her shoulder. “Claire, we have to go.”

His face is a little too close to hers so for a minute she can’t focus, but then she sees he has cuts and bruises all over his face.

“What?” She asks.

“We’re leaving. You should pack.” He says. He looks over the room and frowns at the half empty bottle of bourbon, but he doesn’t comment on it.

“Fine,” she says and pushes him away from her so she can get up. There’s half a pizza left and napkins littered all over the table. Her clothes are spread out across both beds and she doesn’t feel like folding anything so they get thrown into her rucksack along with the bourbon. She figures he didn’t lecture about it and she paid good money for it so she’s taking it with them.

It doesn’t even occur to her to ask where they’re going in such a hurry. It’s always the same thing -- he’s heard some rumor about something that can help that psycho killer get his tattoo removed. It won’t pan out of course, but he refuses to admit defeat. She can’t understand why those guys have such a hard pull on him. What is it that binds him so tightly to them? Maybe he’s doing penance for them, too. Maybe that’s all an angelic being knows how to feel.

In the car he gives her a package which turns out to be a different whale song tape. “I bought this for you.”

He’s so sweet and apologetic about it. His pandering makes her skin crawl. His relentless forgiveness and patience make her feel sick. She wants to claw his eyes out for it and she feels guilty and angry with herself for even thinking it, which makes her even angrier at him. It would be so much easier if he was his old self. She could hate the old angel properly. Hating this doofy one makes her feel like she’s kicking a puppy.

“No more whale porno?” She says, immediately regretting it when he smiles.

“No, this is a whale calling out to family.” He says.

She shoves it in the tapedeck, hoping that will be the end of the conversation.

***

Things get better for a few weeks. He stops giving her such sad looks and she stops wanting to push him every time he walks in front of her. Somewhere in Idaho she convinces him to get some different clothes by pointing out he might attract attention if they stay in a town longer than a day. She doesn’t really care if anyone stares at him, she just hates the sight of the trenchcoat. It signifies the very moment her naive and peaceful childhood ended.

He tries to buy some plaid flannel nightmare from the goodwill, probably to emulate his two heroes, but she’s able to coax him into some t-shirts and jeans. By some stroke of luck she even finds him a beaten-up, black leather coat that he takes a liking to.

They stop and have dinner in a local cafe with an outside terrace. It overlooks a river and it’s peaceful watching the water go by. She actually smiles at something dumb he says instead of frowning. Without that coat he looks like a new person, safer.

Back in the hotel room later that night she goes to sleep without taking any pills.

Nothing happens at first when she agrees to let him in. She tests the ropes around her hands. They scratch and itch her skin. There’s an oil spot on the floor she keeps staring at and she wonders what’s taking so long. If he doesn’t hurry her parents will get hurt.

And then she feels the warmth seeping in, like standing close to a campfire. Then it’s coming from all over, like a glow surrounding her. It’s warm and bright and it’s coming faster and hotter. She breathes in and the light fills her chest and runs down her fingertips and her toes. It pours through her nose and mouth and still more warm, brilliant light fills her. Her whole body tingles with it. She feels so light she might float out of her chair. And the sound! She can hear the most beautiful singing. It’s joyful and full of love and she feels connected to every single voice. She’s always felt it and she’s been around for many millennia, a soldier with more power than any human could possibly understand. She has never felt more real, more present in the universe before this moment. She has truly awesome power and a terrible purpose that these demons cannot hope to escape. They will bow to her because they must; it is the will of her Father and she rejoices in it. Her whole body sings with the pleasure of fulfilling his command. She raises her head and twists her hands and the universe bends with them. She reaches inside the demons and twists their atoms right out of their hosts and sends them straight back to hell…

She wakes up gasping for breath, her hand clutching at her throat. The emptiness inside threatens to swallow her up. She tries clawing her way out of the darkness, but hands are holding her wrists.

“No!” she yells

“Claire!” It’s Castiel. His eyes are wide and he’s holding her down. “Be still or you’ll hurt yourself.”

“Get off me,” she says, twisting to try to break his hold. It is useless of course, but the thought of letting him hold her down send shivers of fear down her spine.

“Not until you calm down or you’ll end up hurting yourself.” he says.

“It’s kind of hard to calm down with you grabbing me,” she says, her voice raising.

He stares at her and she refuses to give him the satisfaction of meeting his gaze, but he still lets go of her.

She throws herself back towards the headboard and rubs her wrists while glaring at him. “What the fuck is your problem, anyway?”

He frowns, “I was trying to keep you safe. You were thrashing around, I thought you’d hurt yourself.” He gives her one of those pathetic half smiles meant to placate and the wave of anger that’s always hovering finally breaks. The stress of balancing between being near him, both too close and too far at the same time has taken its toll on her.

She hates him. She needs him. She wants to shake the life out of him and hold onto him for dear life. The enormity of everything she’s feeling threatens to pull her under and every day it gets a little worse.

“Yeah, well it didn’t help,” she yells, and throws the first thing she can find at him, which happens to be the TV remote. He doesn’t even try to protect himself.

“You know that won’t hurt me.” he says, all apologetic like that will make it all better.

It sends a wave of rage through her and she picks up the lamp and throws it at him which misses and falls to the floor. “I know it won’t hurt you,” she snaps at him, picking up the phone and throwing it at his head. “That’s the problem, Castiel, nothing hurts you! You don’t feel anything. You don’t care!”

“Claire,” he says. “you know I--”

There’s nothing left to throw except her fist, so she does. Punching him sends a sharp pain through her knuckles, so she slaps him instead. She digs at his skin with her nails, but Castiel’s skin is just as impervious as his heart and he still doesn’t stop her.

She twists her fingers in his shirt so tight her hands shake and turn white. She drags his face close to her, “You left me!” she cries.

His eyebrows draw together in confusion. “I am not your father,” he says.

She gives him a shove, but doesn’t let go, shaking him slightly in a pitiful facsimile of her fantasy. “I know you’re not my father. I mean you, Castiel.” Her tears blur her vision and her eyes sting.

“You left me,” she says. Her voice shakes and her breath hitches as she goes on. “I was just a little kid and you came inside and filled me up with power and light and I could hear and feel all the angels.” She shakes him again. The tears are coming harder, but she has to get this out. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt and then you just left me.” She can’t even look at him anymore. She doesn’t let go, but she bends down and rests her head against her fists and tries to get her breathing under control..

“I’ve spent every night of my life since then reliving that one blissful moment,” she says, voice muffled by her hands. Her throat is tight with pain and her chest feels heavy with a sadness she hardly even realized she was capable of. “And I’ve spent every minute of my waking life since then trying to fill or forget the gaping hole you left.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. She looks up and sees him frowning at her, still a little confused by what’s happening. It renews a surge of anger in her chest.

“You’re sorry,” she says and gives a humorless laugh. “You’re sorry you tore a hole in my soul and then I guess that wasn’t good enough for you because then you took away everything else that ever mattered to me!”

She slaps him again, but he still doesn’t react. “You know what they tell kids about taking ecstasy?” She asks him, not really expecting an answer. “They say it makes you feel amazing, but it also destroys the parts of your brain that let you feel that way. You’re like that to me, Castiel. One moment of pure bliss and then you took that away along with everything that ever made me happy.”

He destroyed her life like it didn’t matter and he’s just sitting there. Her father, who tried to come back to her; gone. Her mother, who went crazy from having to deal with his aftermath, she’s gone, too. Even Randy, who made her steal for him so she’d have a place in his family, gone. No one was left to hold her and tell her everything would be alright.

Castiel just lets her cry and slap and claw at him until she gets tired and finally releases him. She slides down to the floor and wraps her arms around her knees.

She feels numb, which is a welcome respite after the bouts of rage or overwhelming sadness that she’s been dealing with for years.

“Claire,” Castiel says, “If I could, I would do anything to help you.”

She looks up at him. He has his puppy dog eyes going and his hands are spread out, maybe in a gesture of friendship or surrender.

She wipes the tears off her cheek. “Can you love me?”

That actually makes him pull back and she’s kind of pleased she got any reaction out of him at all. He opens his mouth, but he obviously doesn’t know how to respond.

“Because you took away the only people who did,” she says. She lifts her eyes to his. “What I need, Castiel, is a family and to be loved. Can you do that for me?”

She knows full well he can’t, but as she’s waiting for an answer. she sees his eyes soften and her heart beats faster in spite of herself.

But in the next moment he looks away, evasively, “I care what happens to you, Claire.”

It hurts more than it should to hear him try to placate her. She’s angry at herself for the dropping her guard and the hope that sprang up, even for an instant.

“But you don’t love me,” she says. “You can’t. You don’t have it in you, do you?”

He still doesn’t answer. He looks lost trying to find the right words. She hates him and she hates herself for needing him.

“What good are you, then? You’re nothing but a cold robot.”

They sit there for awhile, her on the cold floor wiping away the tears that won’t stop and him sitting on her bed, looking lost. Eventually he gets up and returns with a box of tissues that he silently hands her. She feels stupidly grateful that he doesn’t bother smiling or trying to talk to her.

They don’t really speak to each other for days after her meltdown. She still has nightmares, but he never tries to wake her again. She thought it was odd the first day or two that he didn’t even tell her where they were going or when she had to be ready to leave, but apparently she’s been watching him long enough she’s just picked up on his habits and just knows when he’s getting them ready to move on.

It isn’t completely quiet, either. He still puts tapes in the cassette player and he doesn’t object if she turns the radio on. He still talks to those doofus friends of his on the phone, too, but his voice is much more subdued and he doesn’t try to make stupid puns as much as before.

She swallowed the last of her narcotics stash two states back. Needing a distraction from the mess of thoughts and feelings inside her head, she buys a sketch pad and some pencils. She works on pictures she might get as a tattoo once she has the money together. Sometimes she draws things she thinks about tattooing on him. She’s seen the one on his abdomen. She thinks about it sometimes and wonders why he’d need something like that. It certainly wasn’t her dad that got it done, he wasn’t the type to get a tattoo. She remembers that much about him.

The silence becomes more awkward as the days go by. She knows she didn’t hurt his feelings, but it feels almost impossible to say anything to him now without the weight of that whole scene hanging over them. And she does want to talk to him. There’s a feeling that’s been building inside her for awhile, but she doesn’t have the words to tell him about it.

She’s had enough when they’re in Montana driving west at the end of the day. The sunset is amazing. The clouds are in shapes she’s only seen in pictures and there’s deep reds, oranges, and purples painting the sky and it makes the whole ground practically glow. She laughs despite herself because this is amazing and she turns a huge smile to Castiel, but he’s not looking. He’s slumped in his seat, with the same half-frown he’s been wearing for weeks, concentrating on the road.

“Pull over,” she says. They both start at the sound of her voice and he finally looks at her. It’s the first time they’ve met each other’s gaze in weeks. “Please.”

He frowns, but he still slows the car and pulls onto the dirt near a field of gently swaying grass. Claire opens her door immediately and jumps out. She hears him open his door, too, but she doesn’t watch him. She’s mesmerized by the sunset and by how the clouds and the valley seem vibrantly alive. It feels electric, like something momentous is about to happen and the entire Earth is holding its breath in anticipation.

She turns to Castiel, smiling and wanting to share this amazing moment, but he’s just standing by the car, watching her with a curious expression on his face.

“Tell me you can feel how beautiful this is,” she says.

He looks away and shrugs. “I suppose it is pleasing to look at.”

Her face falls, the joy of the moment sucked out of her and she walks back to the car and leans back against it next to him.

“It hardly seems fair, you know?” She says. “God made angels into these amazing creatures that are capable of doing so many things and then he sent you to Earth, but he didn’t give you a way to enjoy it.”

They stand there silently for a moment and Castiel looks down at her, thoughtfully. He raises a hand and brushes hair away from her face. Where his fingers touch her face it feels like she ice water pouring into her and then ebbing away.

She shivers and blinks at him, “Whoa, what was that?”

Castiel shrugs and says, “Nothing.”

They watch the sunset silently for a few minutes and he says, “We’re more than just creatures, you know. We’re highly evolved celestial beings capable of great power and intelligence.”

Claire laughs, feeling relieved. Things have got to be alright if Castiel is going to take the time to nurse his pride. She nudges his shoulder with her own. “Come on, oh enlightened one, let’s get back on the road.”

A few miles down the way she realizes how hungry she is. “Hey, let’s get pizza for dinner.”

Castiel frowns, like she knew he would. “You need to eat more vegetables.”

“Tomato sauce is a vegetable,” she says, giving him a smile.

“I’m not sure that’s true,” he says, frowning at her.

She argues with him half-heartedly all the way into town. She knows he’ll let her get the pizza, but he’ll still call Dean when he thinks she can’t hear to ask him. She takes a moment to be thankful it’s not Sam that he ever calls for those questions and turns her mind towards topping selection.

Claire knows she was upset with him and they were fighting--her hand still hurts from the punch she threw at him--but the details are fuzzy and hard to hold on to. She shrugs it off, looking out the window for a place to stop. She feels more happy and content then she can remember being in a long time.

The next day while they’re watching cartoons she asks him about his tattoo.

“I was human for awhile and it hid me from the angels who were after me,” he says, frowning.

“So, do you think I need something like that?” She asks him. Angel vessels are attacked sometimes. She’s not sure how she knows that.

He gives her one of his thoughtful looks and say, “I can brand a ward into your ribs that would cloak you to any angels, including me. Is that what you’d like?”

She shivers at the thought of him never being able to find her. It would feel wrong on so many levels. “No,” she says. “I don’t want you to never be able to find me.”

“Good,” he smiles at her. “That would also not be my choice.”

It’s stupid the way her heart flutters whenever he says things like that. She knows he doesn’t mean it that way.

“However,” Castiel says. “You could get a tattoo that would ward off demon possession.”

Claire shivers again, but this time it feels like someone walked across her grave. Just the phrase ‘demon possession’ makes her feel deeply uneasy. She knows her mother was possessed that time Castiel helped them, but she can’t remember anything about it. She feels uneasy when she tries to think about it, the memories slip through her fingers when she tries to hold on to them. She once asked Castiel why it was so hard for her to remember certain things. He said it was from a few weeks before when a vampire they came across knocked her out. It must have hit her pretty hard because she doesn’t remember it at all.

“Would it look like yours?” she asks.

He takes her sketch pad off the desk and draws for a moment before handing it to her. “No, like this,” he says.

It looks like a circle of fire with a pentagram in the middle. At least people will think she’s just a punk or Wiccan instead of some religious nutjob. The irony isn’t lost on her.

Claire runs her hand over the drawing. She likes the thought of him putting a mark on her, although she’s not entirely sure why. Maybe because he’s all she has in this world and a tattoo is something permanent--proof that he won’t disappear without warning. Is it a sin to want to hold onto an angel so tightly?

“Are there any other tattoos I should get?”

He hesitates, but says, “If you would agree to it, there is a sigil that will allow me to always find you.”

She frowns. “I thought you said you could always find people who prayed to you?”

“I can find them if they are praying,” he says. “With this I’d be able to find you even if you’re not praying.”

“What about for you?” She asks. “I mean, is there something I can use to always find you?”

He thinks for a moment and nods. “I think the same one will work with a slight alteration. You’ll have to say an incantation over a map, but I believe it should work.”

She smiles. “Good, I’ll look up tattoo parlors. Might as well get it over with.”

***

Castiel writes out the binding in Enochian and they head down to the tattoo parlor that has the least scary reviews online. It’s not the first tattoo she’s ever gotten, but all the same she’s glad he’s there.

They decide to put the lines on her right shoulder blade with the pentagram under it. The tattoo artist has her lie down on the table without her shirt on. She feels weird being almost naked in front of Castiel, but he doesn’t seem to care about her state of undress, which makes sense. He’s been an angel for thousands of years, he’s probably seen billions of naked people. The thought doesn’t stop her heart from racing a little when he takes her hand.

“You can squeeze my hand as hard as you need to,” He says. “I remember how painful this process can be.”

She smiles at him. “Thanks,” and gives his hand a squeeze in acknowledgement.

The anticipation is the worst part. She jumps at every sound she hears until, Roger, the artist is standing right next to her and saying, “Ready? On three…”

It hurts a lot. She ends up squeezing Castiel’s hand while she looks him in the eye and concentrates on breathing slowly. She flinches a few times and he brings his other hand up and runs his fingertips down her arm to her hand. She’s not sure whether he means it to be comforting, but it gives her goosebumps and she swallows. He cocks his head at her and raises his hand to her shoulder again. This time he draws symbols on her skin and by the time he reaches her hand her eyes are heavy and she falls asleep to the drone of the tattoo needle and the feeling of her hand, safe and warm in his.

Sometime later Castiel nudges her awake. She stares up at him, bleary-eyed and confused. “What?” Then she looks around and realizes they’re still in the tattoo parlor. She sits up, belatedly realizing her shirt is still draped over the chair Castiel is sitting on. She reaches back and feels the edges of the plastic protecting her new tattoo. “Did I fall asleep?”

“You did for a short while,” He says. “It’s my turn, now.” He hands her the shirt from the chair and she slips it on and gets off the table so he can lay down.

She holds his hand, too, even though he doesn’t need it. He probably barely even feels it. He still holds her hand anyway and looks her in the eye. It gets a little uncomfortable being under such scrutiny. This is one of those angel quirks of his where he doesn’t really get that people don’t spend a lot of uninterrupted time staring into each other’s eyes. When it was her turn she could at least close her eyes or something. He’s just calmly staring at her and she feels rooted to the spot.

On a whim she does the same thing to him that he did to her. She lifts her other hand and gently draws her fingers down his arm. They both watch, fascinated, as goosebumps rise up. She didn’t even know he could be affected by something like that. Maybe he has to want something to affect him? But that would mean he wanted her do that. It’s all very confusing.

When his tattoo is done, they head back to their hotel room. She’s not quite sure what just happened between them, but Castiel being Castiel acts no different. He probably completely missed the whole charged atmosphere.

She’s reading the aftercare instructions when he comes up behind her and and lays a hand on both her new tattoos. “Here,” he says. Instantly, the pain she’s been trying to ignore, vanishes.

“What did you do?” She says, twisting around to try to see what he did.

“I healed your tattoos,” he says. “You won’t need to worry about the instructions they gave you.

“Thanks!” She says. “I knew I kept you around for some reason.”

“That and I make a pretty mean pb&j,” he says.

Claire bursts out laughing at the unexpected joke and gives him a brilliant smile.

***

A few days later Claire wakes up to see Castiel has his ‘serious’ face on. He’s sitting at the table staring at his phone and frowning.

“Hey, why the long face?” she asks.

He breaks his gaze away from the phone and cocks his head at her. “My face is the same length it always is.”

She rolls her eyes. “I mean, what’s got you so upset?”

“I think I may have to check this out,” he says, handing her the phone. He’s been reading the local online news bulletin and the top of page is full of stories about what they’re calling “ritual mutilation.”

“That’s grim, but why do you have to check it out?” she asks, handing it back to him.

“The markings on the bodies they found. It looks like ancient Sumerian.” He points to one of the pictures and she sees how some of the cuts do look like the were purposely formed. “It could mean a witch or something worse,” he says. “If I don’t go, more people could die.”

“Okay,” she shrugs. “So why are we still here? Let’s go.” She looks around the room and begins cataloging in her head how soon she can get them packed up and on the road.

“Claire,” he says, laying a hand on her arm.

She knows that look. He’s going to try to make her stay. She shakes her head.

“No way, Castiel,” she says. “This thing could be really dangerous. I’m not letting you out of my sight!” It’s stupid. A few weeks ago they were fighting, but she can’t even remember why anymore. She feels connected to him, aware of him no matter where he is. A part of her orients to him, like a compass needle.

“Claire.” He gives her a small smile. “I’m an angel. There are very few things on this Earth that could hurt me.”

She puts her own hand over his where it still rests on her arm. “Please let me come. You’re all I have left. I don’t want to stay here by myself not knowing what’s going on. That would be torture!”

He cocks his head, thinking, but doesn’t immediately reply and she knows she’s won. He usually gives in on things that are really important to her. It’s one of the reasons she’s grown to trust him so much. He respects her wishes and doesn’t treat her like an imbecile that can’t take care of herself.

She jumps up before he’s even said yes and says, “Great, I’ll start packing.”

The place they’re going is only 200 miles away, which for them might as well be a short Sunday drive. Castiel gives her a book on ancient texts and makes her look up markings from the crime photos and read them out to him. He corrects her pronunciation when she stumbles. A hundred miles in he doesn’t have to correct her anymore and she starts remembering some of the meanings. She smiles, with him around she could get a degree in Ancient Languages no problem.

College is something she thinks about sometimes -- being on campus with people her own age, maybe having a boyfriend. The thought leaves her feeling cold inside because she can’t see how that life would include Castiel and she can’t imagine life without him.

She looks over at him driving and he turns to smile at her. It’s weird knowing they’re driving towards so much blood and death while their mood is light and happy.

They check into a semi-decent hotel where they leave their things before they swing by the old abandoned warehouse where the bodies keep turning up. Castiel insists she stay in the car while he checks things out. She rolls her eyes, but she stays put, fiddling with the radio until he gets back, somehow looking more grim than he did before.
“That bad?” she asks.

“Worse,” he says. “I believe we’re dealing with witches. Whether they understand how much power they’re calling down remains to be seen.”

She frowns. “Which is better for us?”

“It could go either way,” he says. “We need to be very careful. We’ll have to search our room every time we return and probably the car.”

“What are we looking for?” She asks, suddenly unsure if they’re going to find the actual witches waiting for them.

“Hex bags,” he says.

“Oh.” She waits for further explanation, but he doesn’t offer any.

“We have research to do,” he says and starts the car.

***

They don’t find any hex bags in the room, so Castiel brings in the rest of their books and they spend the rest of the evening reading up on Sumerian deities. At the end of the night, and about 4 cups of coffee, they come to the conclusion the witches are trying to raise the goddess of the underworld.

Claire stretches her arms out and then rubs her hands over eyes. “Now what?” she asks, yawning.

“Now I try to find them,” he says.

“Can’t you just,” she asks as she twirls her finger, “I don’t know, use your angel mojo to track them?”

“No,” he says. “They appear to be warding for angels.”

“Bummer.”

He gets up and grabs his jacket. She’s never quite sure why he always wears it since cold doesn’t affect him, but she likes how it looks on him, so she never says anything about it. He goes through their bags pulling out herbs and brass containers, probably for some spell or incantation. He throws it all in a smaller bag which he hoists over his shoulder. He lays a hand on her shoulder and says, “You should get some rest.”

She frowns, but nods and says, “Be careful.”

He squeezes her shoulder and smiles. “Of course.”

***

It’s silly but she can’t sleep well when he’s gone like this. Logically she knows he’s an angel and has existed for thousands of years and has taken care of himself just fine up to this point, but she still only breathes easy when she hears the latch on the door around 3 a.m. She watches him take his jacket off and lay it across a chair before turning around to look at her.

He cocks his head. “You’re supposed to be asleep.”

She gives up on the pretense of sleeping and opens her eyes all the way.

“I can’t sleep when I know you’re out looking for dangerous things,” she says.

He tilts his head in confusion. “You know most things probably can’t hurt me?”

Claire turns her head and he comes and sits next to her on the bed. She lifts her hand closest to him and draws tiny circles on his sleeve with a finger, thinking absently how she’s always liked this shirt because it’s nice and soft to the touch.

“It’s the ‘probably’ part that worries me,” she says, watching goosebumps rise on his exposed flesh. She can’t bring herself to look him in the eye. “You’re all I have left,” she whispers, wondering why he’s letting her touch him like this.

They’re both silent. For awhile he just sits there and lets her play with his shirt. She runs her fingers under the sleeve, letting her knuckles brush against the hair on his arm. Feeling the weight of him sitting next to her and the heat of skin on her fingertips is reassuring. Maybe that’s why he lets her do this. It’s another one of those things she doesn’t think about too closely in fear that if she does he’ll find some reason to stop it.

Sure enough, the moment she thinks it he says, “You really should try to get some sleep.”

Claire runs her fingers down to his hand, threading her fingers together with his. Her hand feels so small inside his, but she likes it. It makes her feel safe. She waits for him to pull away, but he doesn’t, so, feeling bolder, she lifts her eyes to his.

“Sleep in this bed with me tonight?”

“I don’t understand,” he says, drawing his eyebrows together in confusion.

She shrugs. “I just don’t want to be alone,” she says. Even as she says it, her heart falls a little because she figures he’ll just point out he’ll still be in the same room and she’ll spend the rest of the night trying to sleep while feeling empty and weird.

He gets up and she turns over and shuts her eyes. The wave of sadness and loss at...something...hits her harder than she thought it would. She wills the lump in her throat to go down as she listens to him move about the room. When she feels the bed dip under his weight again she opens her eyes in shock and her stomach jumps.

He smiles awkwardly at her, sliding the rest of the way under the covers and lying on his back to stare at the ceiling. She blinks for a moment, trying to parse what she’s witnessing before her brain kicks back on. Figuring she might as well push her luck, she scooches over to him and lays her head on his chest.

She would have bet he wouldn’t react to that, but he doesn’t hesitate to pull her closer and wrap his arms around her. The slow beating of his heart is soothing. She’s never felt so safe and warm and...cared for...in her whole life and she falls asleep between one breath and the next.

***

The next evening, over many of Castiel’s protestations, she accompanies him to the old building where he thinks the witches are hiding out. From the outside it’s just a plain, rundown, gray building, but the inside is a dark maze of hallways and empty rooms with detritus from years of squatters. She keeps close behind him as they make their way deeper inside, not quite able to shake the feeling that something is waiting to jump out at them. Eventually he puts a hand up and she stops.

“What is it?” she says, looking around him at the room in front of them. There’s a large, wooden table in the center of the room draped in cloth with candles and bowls on top of it. The entire room is covered in writing she can’t read, but she’s pretty sure all of it is written in blood.

Castiel frowns, studying the writing. “It’s a trap, but it doesn’t appear to be meant for us.” He takes a tentative step inside and when nothing happens he moves towards the altar.

Claire follows him, but once both her feet are inside the room, pain shoots up her legs like she’s just been impaled on spikes and she screams.

“Claire!” Castiel calls out and grabs her arms to keep her from collapsing.

She clutches at his arms, “What’s happening?” The pain turns to burning and it’s climbing up both legs. The intensity of it brings tears to her eyes.

“It’s a virgin trap,” he says, staring at her in confusion.

“What?” she says, momentarily dumbfounded. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Castiel huffs, “You said you weren’t a virgin!”

“Yeah, well, I lied!” she yells, right before another wave of pain runs up her legs and threatens to overwhelm her. “What are we going to do?” she asks, hating how small and scared her voice sounds.

“There are only two ways out,” he says, looking at the altar. “Destroy their spellbook, or have intercourse.”

“So why aren’t you destroying their book?”

He gives her such a pitying look, she doesn’t need him to answer to know it’s hopeless.

“It isn’t here and we don’t have much time.” He says.

“What’s going to happen?” she asks. “Why do they need virgins anyway? Seems kinda creepy.”

Castiel frowns. “They drain the virgin’s life force out and use it in a spell.”

“Okay,” She can barely look him in the eye. “So, we have to have sex.”

He takes an involuntary step back when she says it and she feels a rush of shame on top of the panic.

His face is a study in conflict when he says, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Another wave of pain washes over her and she clutches her fists in his jacket harder to ride it out. She doesn’t even bother trying to hide her fear. She begs, “Please don’t let me die here, Castiel.”

He turns away from her, looking up at the ceiling, fits clenched. She follows his gaze, but doesn’t see whatever he does. It looks like he’s praying, only he looks angry. After a minute he turns back to her and kneels in front of her, gently grasping her shoulders and looking into her eyes. “I promise I will keep you safe and well.”

She nods, barely able to breathe.

“Here, lie down,” he says and helps her. He takes off his jacket and rolls it up to put under her head. He gets up again and she watches as he looks through the contents on the altar. She’s confused until he picks up a small vial of oily liquid, examines it for a moment, and then brings it back with him.

She feels numb there on the cold floor. Her hands are shaking so much she can’t work the button on her jeans and neither of them speak as he helps her trembling fingers work it through the hole. She’s able to unzip them herself and she pushes them down past her hips and waits, unable to make herself go any further.

He kneels down next to her and the movement makes her jump. Her heart is hammering in her chest, waiting. She hears the rustling of his own clothes and then he’s leaning over her and says, “I’m sorry this has to happen.”

She nods and shuts her eyes, even though she’s not sure whether that makes it better or worse. She jumps when she feels his fingers at the lace edge of her panties, and then a cold rush of air as he pulls them out of the way. She sucks in a breath, tensing. She hears him open the vial, and feels the tips of his now cold, wet fingertips at her entrance. He takes his hand away and then he’s pushing in. It doesn’t hurt like she was expecting, but it’s not good, either. It’s just odd. There’s a fullness inside and she can feel the heat of his skin against her stomach and thighs. A slight fizz of electricity washes over her and the pain that’s been moving in waves up her body is gone.

Just as quickly as it started Castiel pulls out. She pulls up her pants and keeps her eyes closed until she hears him zip up.

It takes her a minute before she can bring herself to look at him. It takes him a minute to return her gaze. He looks more tired and defeated than she thought an angel could.

“Now what?” She asks him. The abruptness of him ending the act shakes her, although she’s not sure why she expected him to continue after the initial penetration. There is no time to process what happened.

He looks up, “Now, we leave. We have to figure out how to break their wards before we return.”

***

The car ride back to the hotel is silent and awkward. Claire leans her head against the window and turns her head to hide the tears she can’t seem to stop. It’s a ridiculous notion anyway trying to hide it. She figures he knows she’s crying whether she wants him to or not, but he doesn’t comment on it or try to talk to her, and she’s grateful for it.

If the car ride was awkward, being in the hotel room is doubly so. Walking in the first thing she sees is the one unmade bed, proof that she had slept the night before wrapped up in his arms. It felt like something that happened in a dream a million years ago.

She shuts herself away in the bathroom and splashes cold water on her face. Eventually she looks up and studies herself in the mirror. She’s not sure what she was expecting to see, but she doesn’t look any different. Her insides are still a mess of conflicted feelings. She isn’t sure how to feel about Castiel, but she needs to be near him. Then she remembers how repulsed he was at the warehouse and she grabs the sink, willing herself not to start crying again.

Finally she decides to stop hiding and comes out of the bathroom. Castiel is sitting at the small table by the window looking at something on her laptop. He looks up when she enters the room and says, “You should rest, I can do this is the morning.”

She hesitates, not sure she should say what she’s aching to, but then decides to hell with it. “Will you sleep with me again tonight?”

He cocks his head and says, “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“I don’t want to be alone,” she says, nervously waiting for him to make a decision, unsure what she’ll do if he refuses.

He seems thoughtful instead of upset, which makes her feel a bit better. He shuts the laptop and says, “If that’s what you want.”

She’s relieved, but still nervous. It feels weird at first, when they both get into bed, but she moves over to him and they wrap themselves around each other like the previous night. He runs a hand down her back and the trembling she hadn’t even been aware of ceases.

“Thank you,” she says, and falls asleep.

***

She wakes in the morning feeling an ache in weird places like she ran a marathon. Then she remembers the warehouse and her heart beats a little faster at the thought.

Castiel still has his arms wrapped around her and her own arm is asleep where from being trapped between them. She stretches out of his embrace and raises her eyes to his. He’s watching her calmly.

“Good morning,” he says.

She smiles awkwardly at him and says, “good morning.”

After she takes a long, hot shower, they go to a diner down the street for breakfast. The waitress seats them by some windows where they can see out over the parking lot and the highway down the way.

“What can I get you to drink?” the waitress asks, smiling at Claire.

“Coffee, with cream and sugar,” she answers.

They give their orders for food, Castiel more for show, than anything else. Claire watches the waitress walk back to the kitchen, feeling on edge. She’s hyper-aware of Castiel sitting across from her and she feels like every person in the diner can tell they had sex the night before. Even as she thinks it, she tries to push the thought away. It’s not like it was real. Neither one of them… She shakes her head, trying not to focus on it, afraid Castiel can read her mind.

They spend a quiet day back in the hotel researching the warding on the altar. After the first couple hours Claire relaxes. She stops expecting Castiel to bring up the night before every time he opens his mouth. Even so, memories of the evening still intrude when her mind wanders as she’s reading. One moment she’ll be deep in a passage about Mesopotamian religious ceremonies and the next she’ll be remembering how hard and cold the floor was and how the zipper on his jacket hurt her head. Or she’ll be trying to translate some bit of text and then she’ll remember the brief feel of his hip bone against her or how soft his skin was.

They were able to determine the virgin trap wasn’t aimed at them, per se, but was worked into a larger enchantment just because virgin essence was useful for a number of spells so if you were were doing spellwork anyway, you might as well attach the trap in case you caught someone. When it got to be evening they had exhausted their own meager resources in trying to find a way to remove it and Castiel called the Winchesters, putting them on speaker so she could hear the conversation.

“And you’re sure it’s witches and not something else?” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Castiel says. “This enchantment is particular to one coven that’s existed for many centuries.”

“Witches, man, skeevy,” Dean says. “You didn’t get hit by anything did you?”

Claire has a brief moment of panic thinking Castiel will think nothing of telling them about the trap and how they had to have sex to get her out of it. He’s not always clear about human social customs, but he looks over at her briefly and simply says, “No, we didn’t get hit by anything.”

“Good,” Dean says, “I know it’s probably close to Miley’s bedtime over there, so we’ll get on this and let you know what we find.”

“Shut it, you ass,” Claire says. Man, she hates that guy.

“Touchy,” Dean says. “Cas, your daughter there is kinda mean.”

Castiel frowns, “She is not my daughter, Dean.”

“Yeah, I know. I just meant--”

“I know what you meant, Dean.” Castiel cuts him off. He seems just as irritated with him as she is.

“Guys,” Sam says. “I’ll look through what I can hear and call you in the morning, okay?”

“Yes,” Castiel says. “Thank you, Sam.”

Despite what Dean said, it’s still early, so they go to the diner down the street for some dinner. Castiel gives her his customary frown when she orders a burger and fries, but refrains from a lecture.

While they’re waiting for their food, she asks him, “Do you think they’ll find what we need?”

“Possibly,” Castiel says. “If the information is still around, there is a good chance it’s there.” Then he leans forward, hesitating, before saying, “I think you should wait for me at the hotel if I go back to the altar.”

She can’t help the stab of pain that brings up. She wants to be trusted, not seen as a liability. Not to mention it makes her feel like she’s being treated like a child. “Okay, but I don’t always want to be stuck waiting around for you to do everything. I’m not helpless.”

“I know that,” he says. “But until you get some training in recognizing dangers in these situations it’s safer if you stay back.”

Claire blinks. “Does that mean you’re going to train me?” She smiles, excited at the prospect.

“Yes,” he says. “I’ll find some texts for you to study on spellwork, enchantments, and supernatural beings.”

“Are you going to teach me how to use weapons, too?”

“Some. We’ll stop by Sam and Dean’s and I’ll ask them to show you how to use firearms.”

She must make a face at the names because he adds, “Dean really is a good person. You should give him a chance.”

“He’s an asshole,” she says.

“He can be abrasive,” Castiel says, reluctantly agreeing. “And he drinks to excess, and sometimes makes poor choices, and he can be insensitive.”

She can’t help it, his litany of faults strikes her funny and she bursts out laughing, which earns her a confused look. The waitress comes back with their food and says, “Glad to see you folks are enjoying yourselves,” as she puts down their plates.

They eat in silence for awhile, or rather she eats and he pushes around his food, when she asks, “How did you meet them?”

He looks up and says, “I was under orders from Heaven to raise Dean from perdition.”

“Perdition?” she says. The word is familiar, but she doesn’t quite know what he means.

“Hell,”

“Oh,” she says, raising her eyebrows. “Intense.”

“Very,” he says. “Many angels were lost in the siege to rescue him.”

“Why was he there in the first place?” She asks.

“He sold his soul to save his brother’s life.”

“So why did Heaven care?” she asks. Thinking that God would even notice Dean Winchester is weird enough, but that He’d send angels to die trying to rescue him is almost more than she can believe.

“He was fated to be the archangel Michael’s vessel and fight Lucifer during the Apocalypse,” he says.

“Apocalypse, huh?” she says, trying and failing to remember anything apocalyptic happening. “I think I missed that one.”

“Everyone did,” he says. “The Winchesters were able to cast Lucifer back to Hell before everything was destroyed.”

“Was that around the time you helped me and my mother?” she asks, frowning. Those memories are so murky and hard to hold onto.

“It was around then, yes,” he says, studying her. “Do you remember it?”

She thinks about it for a minute. “Sort of. I mean, I don’t remember much about the whole thing, but I remember you had to possess me to save my mom. And that’s when my dad died, but I don’t really remember him or what happened.” She smiles. “It was scary and I miss my dad, but I’m glad I got to meet you.”

“Yes, well...” he trails off, looking away from her. “If you’re finished, we should go.”

She nods, worrying that she overstepped her bounds by being a little too sappy while he flags down their waitress.

***

There isn’t really anything to do until they hear from Sam and Dean, so she lays down on one of the beds and flips through channels on the TV. Castiel always lets her choose what to watch because every TV show fascinates him. If she let him pick they’d end up watching Mexican soap operas and she’d be left trying to answer questions about the plot when she can’t even understand what anyone is saying. He never complains if she gets bored in the middle of a show and switches it to something else. Really, he’s the best TV viewing buddy she could have.

The Winchesters still haven’t called back by 11, so Claire turns the TV off and crawls into bed. She doesn’t ask, but Castiel climbs in next to her and she lays her head on his chest. She can’t fall asleep, though. She feels drawn to him, haunted by the memories of the warehouse. She is so confused over what’s happening between them. He holds her at night, but gives no indication of needing or wanting more. Is he waiting for her to make a move? Maybe it’s an angel thing.

He’s wearing her favorite shirt again, the soft one. She brings a hand up by where her head is resting and draws tiny circles on his chest. She looks up and sees that he is watching her. Their faces are so close, all she has to do is tilt her head a bit and shift slightly higher and she’d be able to kiss him. He isn’t moving or asking her what she is thinking. It’s like he is waiting for her to do something.

She doesn’t even think about it, she leans up and presses her lips to his. When she pulls back his eyebrows are drawn together.

“Why did you do that?” he asks.

Claire thinks about all the things she could say to that, but she decides on the truth and says, “Because I needed to. Was it okay?”

“Claire,” he says. “You’re very young--”

“Please, Castiel,” she says, willing him to look inside her and see inside her head. “I need you. I need this.” She wipes at her face, which is wet. Why is she crying?

Castiel reaches a hand up and touches her tears and then runs a finger down gently over her lips and she tastes the salt. “And this will help?”

She nods and he gently pulls her forward again and this time it’s so much better because he’s an active participant in the kiss. His lips are soft and he lets her part them to deepen the kiss. She leans back and pulls him with her until she’s lying on the bed flat with him on top. Her hands go up under his shirt and he lets her take it off of him before she pulls him back down into another kiss.

He feels both so familiar and so alien to her. At odd moments, times like this, she remembers he’s so much more than just an attractive stranger who took pity on her, whose path just happened to cross with hers. He’s also an immensely old and incredibly powerful being. Even so, this feels inevitable to her, like he belongs to her.

She’s unsure of what to do or where to put her hands, but he never seems to mind. He lets her take the lead. Every touch, every kiss, wiping away the memory of the awkwardness of their first time on a cold, dusty floor.

They work together to slip off the rest of their clothes and it’s so much better this time around. She wraps her arms and legs around him, clinging to him while rocks his hips. The pleasure is like light filling her up. It threatens to blow her apart, but it keeps coming and coming until she cries out. Castiel stills and leans his forehead against hers while she catches her breath.

He moves to his side of the bed and Claire rolls over to wrap herself around him in their normal sleeping position. He obliges her by wrapping his arms around her. Their skin is hot and sticky and it’s mildly uncomfortable, but she doesn’t move, choosing to be as close to him as possible. He reaches up and brushes hair out of her face and her eyes close at the soft touch.

***

The phone wakes her up the next morning. She groans and tries to bury her head under the covers, but Castiel is already moving to answer it. She rolls over to lay in the warm spot he leaves behind. It may be spring, but the mornings are still cold. She’s almost asleep again when he calls out to her and she rolls over to face him where’s he’s standing.

He’s standing over her, still completely naked, and she starts at it, before she remembers why he’d be walking around without any clothes.

“I have to go,” he says. “There are supplies I need to find and a spell that will need to be done before noon to be most effective.”

Claire sits up and pulls the covers up to her chin. “Is it dangerous?” she asks.

“Not any more so than normal,” he says, smiling at her reassuringly.

“You’re really not going to let me go?” she asks, hating the idea of him going back there alone.

“It would be better if you stayed here,” he says.

“Fine,” she sighs. “But be careful.”

“Of course,” he says.

***

Castiel leaves as soon as he’s dressed and Claire figures sleeping is shot for the day so she gets up to take a shower. Her legs and stomach feel sore and tight, so she makes the water as hot as she can stand in an attempt to soothe them. It helps a little, but she knows she’ll be feeling this way for a few days yet.

After her shower Claire starts packing their things, figuring there’s no reason for them to stay once the situation is taken care of. She wonders where they’ll end up. In the past, they’ve always been driving toward something--a problem or a mystery.

Castiel still isn’t back by the time she gets their things together, so she turns on the tv and channel hops until she hears the rumbling of the old car pull up outside the door. The tension she didn’t even realise she was feeling bleeds away when she sees he’s no worse for wear.

He comes in and removes his coat, throwing it over a chair, and she asks him if it’s done.

“Yes,” he says. “No more god-raising.” He looks around and when his eyes fall on their bags sitting by the door, he says, “You’ve packed?”

She nods, “I figured we wouldn’t have to stay here anymore. Any idea where we’re headed?”
He comes and sits on the bed next to her and says, “We should settle somewhere for awhile while you study, but it doesn’t matter where that is. You can decide.”

“Really?” She almost declines, but then she remembers a scene from a movie she saw when she was little of someone closing their eyes and pointing to a map to find a new place to live. She’s always wanted to try it.

She leans over and kisses him on the cheek, feeling oddly shy after last night, and says, “Thank you.” Then she hops off the bed and digs through their bags to find the laptop. They don’t have any paper maps, so Google will have to suffice. She pulls up a map of the US, closes her eyes and points. Her finger lands on Tennessee, so she brings up a state map and repeats closing her eyes and pointing. Her finger lands just outside Gatlinburg. The information she brings up on it after running a search says it’s your basic tourist trap, but it’s close to a National Park and it’s on Interstate 70, which makes it a straight shot to the Winchesters--something she’s sure Castiel will appreciate.

She turns the computer around so he can see the screen full of flashing advertisement for restaurants and attractions. “Well,” she says, “at least we won’t get bored.”

They decide to settle about 20 minutes outside of Gatlinburg. It keeps them away from the tourists, but it’s close enough that they can go into town when they need a distraction. She’s not sure how he finds it, but Castiel finds them a small cabin situated in a secluded spot that backs up to a small stream. It has one bedroom with a small kitchen and dining area and living room. There’s a covered, screened in porch that overlooks the stream in back, with a couple rocking chairs.

For the most part it’s beautiful and peaceful. In the mornings, Claire gets up and fixes herself some coffee and sits on the back porch, listening to the stream and watching for any wildlife. On the mornings Castiel joins her, they sit on the porch swing, her head on his shoulder. They do sometimes see animals. Besides the ubiquitous chipmunks and squirrels, if it’s early enough, they see deer and a one time there was a black bear.

Once they’re settled in, they buy some book shelves and set about filling them with all the texts Castiel thinks Claire will need to read through. It seems overwhelming to her, but he assures her she won’t have to memorize all of it--just be familiar enough with it that she’ll know where to look for specific information.

Castiel has never tried teaching anyone before, so her lessons become a learning process for both of them. He makes a list of all the things he wants her to memorize and all the things she just needs to be familiar with. The list seems haphazard to her, though, so she goes through it and organizes it based on type of spell and region and time of origin. She also divides it up so she’s memorizing symbols, seals, sigils, or anything picture related in the mornings and in the evening she reads, usually on the porch in one of the rocking chairs with her feet perched on the railing and a glass of iced tea by her hand.

As with most things, Castiel lets her take the lead in their sex life. He doesn’t initiate anything, but he never denies her. Claire figures it’s maybe because of her age and he doesn’t want to seem like he’s taking advantage of her. Sex with an angel is kind of amazing, too. His ability to “hear” her needs or prayers means the minute she even briefly thinks of something she wants him to do, he’s already doing it. It’s like having the world’s most responsive lover.

He takes her father’s name when they have to use a name for him because it makes their last names the same and it will seem like they’re married. She wonders about this logic for awhile after he tells her. Why not just take her last name, she wonders. Why her father’s first name, too? Eventually she stops worrying about it, chalking it up to one more of his quirks misunderstanding human behavior.

Life in their cabin is good. She can’t quite remember why, but she feels like this is the most peaceful her life has been in a long time. Castiel sometimes leaves for a day or two, to handle something Sam and Dean have asked him, but he always returns to her with a smile and sometimes new books for her studies. She never has to sleep alone if she doesn’t want and in the morning she wakes from pleasant dreams about heat and light.

On the weekends they go into town and eat at the kitschy local diner with a theme that’s a cross between hillbilly and black bears. Sometimes she packs them a lunch and they drive through Cades Cove until they find a nice turn off to sit and watch the stream while they eat and talk. They always take the mountain road as high as they can go. Castiel likes to look out over the valley below and she wonders if it reminds him of flying.

Winter shows up with a fury. They build a fire every night to keep the chill out of the cabin. The cold doesn’t bother Castiel, but Claire takes to wearing layers of clothing and thick, fluffy socks under her boots. Thankfully, they only have to deal with cold and not any snow. The roads are treacherous enough without adding loss of traction into the equation.

At night, while she curls up with a book by the fire and Castiel watches reruns on the TV, Claire thinks about Christmas. It’s been years since she’s done anything for the holiday. She can’t really remember any from her childhood and she only has a vague memory of her grandmother trying to cheer her up with presents the year her mom left, but that was it.

There’s a magazine at the supermarket check-out that with an inviting cover photo of Christmas cookies that catches her eye. She buys it without really thinking about it. Now that she’s home and thinking about, she wonders if she should talk to Castiel about doing something. She doesn’t even know if angels celebrate Christmas.

Once the thought is in her head it’s hard to ignore, so the next night while Castiel is watching his shows, she waits for a commercial and says, “Can I ask you something?”

He turns to her and says, “Of course.”

“This might be a weird question,” she says. “But do angels celebrate Christmas? I mean, if I wanted to do something, would it be okay?”

“Christmas is far more pagan than Christian,” he says, and she feels her heart fall, but then he adds, “whatever you want is fine.”

She takes the “whatever” part of his answer to heart. Castiel’s boat of a car comes in handy the next Saturday when she drags him to a Christmas tree farm an hour away. She goes around shaking the branches of all the trees until she finds the one with the least number of fallen needles. The winner ends up being a 6 foot douglas fir that they strap to the top of the car for the ride home. They don’t use the porch since it’s gotten cold, so they set the tree up in front of the sliding glass door.

The following day she insists they go to the Christmas store in Pigeon Forge to look for decorations and stockings to hang on the fireplace. The riot of lights and tinsel is almost overwhelming the moment they walk in. One of the rooms has every kind of Christmas light imaginable, from white to single color and everything in between. Castiel looks through them with her in interest, but doesn’t offer any suggestions as to what she should pick. In the end she goes with a classic multi-color strand that seems familiar to her.

If the lights were difficult to decide on, the ornaments are almost impossible. She almost buys all angels until she sees the face Castiel makes when he picks up an ornament that looks like a baby angel playing a harp.

“Angels look nothing like this,” he frowns.

She smiles at him, “You were never a baby angel?”

“No,” he says, still frowning. “Angels are waves of celestial intent when not in a vessel.” He’s still holding the ornament up and turning it to study from all angles.

“What if you took a baby as a vessel?” she says, half-teasing, half-curious.

He finally looks up at her, “Why would I do that?”

She laughs and grabs him by the arm to pull him down the next aisle. “Come on, let’s go look at stockings.”

They find long, knit stockings with jingle balls on the ends and boxes of multi-colored glass balls and tinsel to put on the tree. Claire avoids any further angel discussions by getting a star tree topper instead of an angel.

***

For the next few weeks, she spends her free time wondering about gifts. They’ve never really talked about it, but she wants to get him something. What do angels really need? In a moment of desperation she calls the Winchesters and Dean practically laughs her off the phone before Sam grabs it away from him. Neither are very forthcoming with ideas, but Sam tells her stories about Castiel and an idea forms in her mind. She remembers seeing an ad for a beekeeping starter kit in a magazine she read. It takes her a whole hour of searching through the recycling before she finds it again. It costs more than she should probably spend, but she wants to get him something he’ll truly appreciate, so she spends her last few dollars on it.

***

The day before Christmas Eve dawns colder and cloudy, but still no snow. Claire spends the day feeling restless and unhappy. It feels too dark to her, even with all the lights on. Castiel is gone most of the morning and afternoon, so to distract herself she tries reading and then watching TV.

When neither of those things works, she digs out the sketch pad she hasn’t touched in months. She pages through it, not really remembering drawing half the things in there. There’s a sketch of a motel they must have stayed at that she can’t remember and a view of a pool table in a bar along with a dozen more she can’t quite recall. She shoves the pad back in her bag, the urge to draw deserting her.

Castiel comes home an hour later and she runs to him and throws her arms around him. She presses her cheek against his shoulder and holds tightly to him, willing his presence to take away the uneasiness that’s gripped her..

“Claire?” he says. His arms come up and wrap around her. Even though it’s so cold outside, he’s still warm. She lays her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. She wills herself to be calm. Even though he’s solid in her arms, she feels like she’s already lost him.

He rests his chin on top of her head. It was something they saw on a TV show once and he asked her why someone would do it. Comfort, she had told him, and ever since he does it when he knows she’s upset. “Claire?” he says again.

She tries to answer him, but her throat closes around the words. The sadness and longing she’s been feeling all day overwhelms her. He doesn’t ask her to speak again, but moves them to the coach where they can sit until she’s ready to talk. She curls up against his side and she closes her eyes while one of his hands gently combs through her hair.

He seems to sense when she’s calmer, because he says, “Can you tell me now?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” she says. “It’s like having a really sad memory that I can’t hold onto enough to remember.”

“It’s possible something here is reminding you of a painful memory,” he says, hesitating. “I wasn’t going to say because I know how you feel about them, but Sam and Dean invited us for Christmas. We could be there by tomorrow morning if we left soon?”

He’s right, normally she would have turned her nose up at the offer, but looking around her, the cabin seems more ominous than cheery, so she says, “Okay. I’ll go pack some clothes if you put the presents in the car.”

A half hour later they’re ready to go and Claire stops in front of the tree before turning it off. She feels relieved to be going, but also a little sad they won’t get to enjoy their tree on Christmas. She wonders if the Winchesters have a tree and then snorts to herself. If they do it probably has beer can ornaments or something. She gives the cabin one last look and turns the lights off.

It’s a fifteen hour drive to Kansas from where they are, without counting breaks to stretch their legs or get something to eat. They talk about stopping and getting a hotel room on the way, but Claire is anxious to get the drive over with, so they drive straight through.

When they get to the bunker it’s 6 in the morning, but thankfully Sam is already awake and they catch him just before he goes for a run. He leads them down a hallway and shows them rooms they can crash in before he heads out.

Claire stares at both doors, frowning. It’s obvious Castiel hasn’t told them they’re together, but she’s too tired and achy from the long drive to get into it. She pulls Castiel after her into the first room and they curl up together on the bed.

It’s getting near noon when she wakes up. Castiel is already awake, of course, and she smiles up at him.

“Are you feeling better?” he asks, brushing hair out of her eyes.

“Yeah, thanks,” she says. “But where are the bathrooms? I could use a shower.”

He walks her down the hall to a large room. There’s rows of toilet stalls and in the back are a row of shower stalls, like you’d see in a dorm.

After her shower they walk down to the kitchen to find something for her to eat. A quickly moving blur of red attaches itself to Castiel and yells, “You’re here! I’m so happy to see you again. And hi, you must be Claire.” The blur ends up being a fast-talking, petite redhead named Charlie. She lets go of Castiel and hugs Claire in turn.

“This is so great that everyone’s here,” she says, releasing Claire and beaming at them. “This is going to be the best Christmas ever!”

“How ‘bout you let them breath for a minute,” Dean says, walking into the room. He’s clad in a t-shirt and jeans. He spares her a glance before settling his gaze on Castiel.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel says, with a soft smile.

“Hey, Cas,” he says, smiling, and then nods at her. “Claire.”

“Hi,” she says, looking from Dean to Cas and not really knowing what else to say. It feels like she just walked in on something, even though it was Dean who walked in on them.

“I’ll fix you guys some pancakes,” Dean says, ignoring her awkwardness and opening the cupboards to pull out flour and sugar. “I’m sure you must be hungry.”

“Thanks,” Claire says, and she pulls out one of the chairs at the table to sit down.

Castiel and Charlie sit next to her and for the next hour or so, in between eating pancakes, they all laugh together and tell stories. Claire relaxes by the end of their meal. Dean isn’t so bad, once he’s not murdering people, and Charlie is funny and exuberant.

They spend the day in the library, reading. The Winchesters are still looking for a cure for Dean and Castiel says it will be good practice for her translating skills, so he loads her up with some books and puts her to work. She doesn’t mind it, though. Going through the books and doing translations feels soothing to her.

They take a quick break for dinner before heading back to the library. Claire is the first one back. Dean and Charlie get into a suds fight while washing dishes and Castiel gets caught in the middle. He gives her a betrayed look when she slips out the door without helping him get away.

Sam is in the library, too, and it occurs to her they might have a text she’s been wanting to read.

“Hey, do you guys have Enochian translations?” She asks, leaning against the table he’s sitting at.

Sam looks up from the book he was reading, “Yeah, by the back wall. Did you come across something that will help?”

He looks so hopeful, leaning forward to hear her answer. She feels like she’s kicked a puppy when she answers, “No, I just thought I’d look up the direct translation of my tattoo.”

“Oh,” he says, face falling. “Take the large green one. It’s the more user-friendly.”

“Thanks,” she says, and picks through the shelf in the corner until she comes up with the right book.

She only gets to translate the phrase, “be thou” before the book is taken from her hands and Castiel is handing her another, saying, “That one won’t help. Look through this one.”

Claire makes a face at him, but takes the book he’s offering anyway, figuring she can come down later and look at the Enochian on her own time.

They only make it another hour of research before Dean claims it’s a holiday and they should act like it. No one really argues, so they end up down the hall in their TV room watching Christmas movies until two in the morning.

The next morning everyone sleeps in until late and then groggily makes their way into the kitchen. Dean is cooking again, this time french toast. Claire sits down next to Charlie, who barely looks conscious, and pours herself some coffee.

“Shouldn’t you have orange juice instead of coffee or something?” Dean says. “You know, growing girl and all.”

Claire gives him a dirty look and says, “I’m not a child.”

He shrugs and turns back to the stove to add more french toast to the pan.

Charlie stirs beside her, cracking an eye open as she drinks her own coffee. “Seriously, who decided mornings should be so early?”

“Probably, Satan,” Claire says as she stirs cream into her coffee.

“Lucifer had nothing to do with it, I assure you,” Castiel says. Everyone turns to stare at him and he says, “His name means ‘light’, but god created all the stars and planets.”

Dean turns around with a plate piled high and says, “Thanks for the history lesson, Cas. Have some french toast.”

***

After breakfast they congregate in the library around the tree. Claire hides a smirk when she sees it does in fact have lights in the shape of beer cans. Charlie makes a beeline for the presents and starts handing them out. Claire’s surprised when she gets handed 3 since she and Castiel agreed to only get each other one thing. She puts them aside to watch him open his gift from her.

It’s not the actual hive yet, just an envelope with the details of what the delivery will contain and when it will arrive along with instructions on how to call for the actual bees. He looks up at her and smiles. “Thank you, Claire. I’m sure I will enjoy them very much,” and she beams at him.

He nods to the package she’s holding, wrapped in plain brown paper, so she opens it. Inside is a rose leather journal embossed with a star. The inside is blank except for her name. It’s beautiful, but she’s unsure why he would choose something like it for her and she looks up to tell him it’s nice, anyway.

“Every hunter needs a journal to keep notes in,” he says. “I thought you could use one of your own and this one reminded me of you.”

“Thank you,” She says, and throws her arms around him. “It’s perfect.”

“Open mine next!” Charlie says. She shoves a sloppily wrapped present into Claire’s hands. “I didn’t know you were coming so I had to improvise. I hope you like it.”

Claire unwraps the package to find some candy cars and about twenty instant lotto tickets. “Yeah,” she says to Charlie, thinking at least they’ll be fun to scratch off. And you never know, she could win. “These are great, thanks.”

The last package is a long thin box with a tag that says it’s from Sam and Dean. Claire slides her fingers under the tape and peels the paper back to see a wooden box. She unlatches it and opens it to reveal a shiny knife with a leather hilt. She picks it up and turns it over, looking at it this way and that. “What’s this for?” She asks them.

“It can kill demons,” Sam says.

“Those are rare, so don’t lose it.” Dean says. “We picked this one up about a month ago when we killed some nasty thing in Omaha. Figured if you’re gonna be hunting you should have some weapons.”

“We’ll show you some moves, self defense, that kinda thing before you leave.” Sam says.

“Thanks,” Claire says. “I don’t know what to say.”

Claire feels conspicuous the rest of the time. They all gave her such nice gifts, but the ones the give each other seem simple, like things you’d find in a dollar store. Maybe that’s a Hunter mentality where the gifts you give that really matter can’t be bought, so the ones you do are jokes to make the other person smile.

They spend the rest of the day just relaxing, reading, and sometimes watching movies on TV. Claire makes time that night to visit the library and look through the book on Enochian again. She pages through until she finds the paper she stuffed inside with her notes written on it. Thankfully, she happens upon a page that mentions Enochian is read right to left. Still, it takes her the better part of an hour of search, before she finally comes away with what she thinks is an adequate translation: Invoke mine blood, be thou fastened to me. She stares at it for awhile trying to make sense of it. She even looks up a few words again to make sure there were no secondary meanings she’s missing, but she comes away empty. Putting it aside, she heads for her bedroom, thinking she’ll ask Sam about it tomorrow.

In her room, Claire changes into her pajamas and considers just going to bed, but she doesn’t want to sleep alone. His door is cracked open when she checks--probably because he could hear or sense her needing to be with him. She closes the door behind her and lets herself be wrapped up in his arms, simply enjoying the feeling of his chin resting on the top of her head and the rhythm of his breathing.

She pulls back slightly and she leans up to kiss him. He deepens the kiss the moment she thinks about it and they both make their way to the bed, removing clothes and stopping to kiss every few seconds. Claire crawls onto the bed first and lies down, pulling Castiel after her. Their arms go around each other he tips her head back to kiss beneath her ear. She turns her head slightly and he moves down, kissing the base of her neck.

She smiles. “Quit teasing.”

“You enjoy the teasing,” he says.

“Maybe a little,” she says.

He plants small little kisses from her neck down to her breast and captures the nipple in his mouth, giving it a slight tug like he knows she likes. She gasps and arches her back and just as he’s about to do it again, the door opens.

“Hey, Cas, did you--” Dean Winchester stops in the doorway, frozen.

“Haven’t you ever heard of knocking, you jerk?” Claire snaps, scrambling to pull the comforter up and over herself. The goodwill he engendered with her earlier is gone in a wash of anger and embarrassment.

Her movement snaps Dean out of the trance he was in and he stares at Castiel. “Cas, what the hell is this?”

“Dean,” Castiel starts, but he looks away, unable to finish.

The whole scene makes Claire angry. Why the hell does Dean Winchester get to decide who she sleeps with?

“What does it look like?” Claire says, glaring daggers at him.

Dean looks over at her with a weird expression. They stare at each other for a full minute until he finally looks back at Castiel, points at the hall and says, “Cas, now! And put some clothes on, man.”

Dean leaves without bothering to wait to see if Castiel will follow him.

Castiel turns to Claire and says, “I’ll be back soon, I promise.”

“Wait,” she says, grabbing him by the arm. “You don’t have to go out there just because he said so.”

He lays his hand over hers and gently lifts it from his arm, saying, “Yes, I do. It’s complicated.”

He picks his clothes up off the floor, putting them on as he goes. He turns around at the door. “I promise I’ll be back.”

She’s shaking from the adrenaline rush of Dean walking in on them, so she gets out of bed and puts her own clothes on. She paces and back and forth trying to figure out what Dean might be saying when she hears yelling. Apparently Dean doesn’t care too much if she knows what they’re talking about after all.

Claire stands at the door, deciding whether or not to go down there when she hears Dean yell, “You know how wrong this is!”

She feels her face go red from anger. What she and Castiel do in privacy is no concern of Dean’s! She’s tired of being treated like some sort of half-child by everyone. Making her stay in the room is ridiculous when this so obviously concerns her. Having made up her mind, she stalks down the hall towards all the yelling, but she loses her nerve the closer she gets.

They’re in the library, Dean and Castiel standing and facing each other and Sam and Charlie sitting together away from the fight, both look ready to pounce in case fists start flying and they have to break it up.

Claire stays hidden, not sure how any of them would react if they knew she was listening.

“How the hell did this happen, Cas?” Dean yells at him. He’s just as red in the face as Claire feels. His jaw muscles are flexing so hard she’s surprised his teeth don’t break.

“You didn’t see her, Dean.” Castiel says, and Claire feels a tingling at the base of her skull. “She was miserable. I gave her something that made her happy.”

“Happy?” Dean fake laughs at that and throws his hands up in the air. “How could any of this possibly be good?”

Sam clears his throat and they both turn to look at him. He speaks slowly and softly, probably afraid of getting in the middle of things. “Cas, I can kind of see why you would agree to this,” he says, rubbing his face with his hand. “But why would she?”

Dean points at Sam with a “See? Explain that!” expression on his face.

The tingling Claire feels in her head moves down her shoulders to her hands. She shouldn’t be listening to them talk about her. They shouldn’t be talking about her. She wills herself to go back to her room and wait for Castiel, but her feet are cemented to where she’s standing. She wants Castiel to tell them it’s because she loves him, but she already knows that’s not what he’ll say and a pit opens in her stomach.

“She doesn’t remember,” Castiel says, and her tingling breaks into a sweat. She’s shaking and there’s a roaring in her head. Her heart is beating so loud she can barely hear his words. “She was drinking to excess, doing drugs. I was afraid if I didn’t do something she was going to end up dead.”

For an instant, she can clearly remember a hotel room littered with food containers and half-empty bottles of alcohol.

“So, your solution was to make her forget her past so she starts sleeping with you?” Dean says. “Good thinking, Cas. Stellar logic.”

“It’s complicated,” Castiel says, his tone getting sharper as he loses patience. “She remembered being my vessel. It was tearing her apart.” He looks away, unable to look anyone in the eye. “Being a vessel as a child altered her. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Once I left her, it damaged her. It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before and it was beyond my ability to heal her. Our sexual relationship was the closest way her subconscious mind knew how to resolve what she was feeling.”

She can see it, now. The memories of light and heat and how she felt compelled to stay near him. How the thought of him leaving her made her feel more cold and alone than she’s ever felt in her life.

“Did you know this would happen?” Dean says, crossing his arms.

“No,” Castiel says.

“I still don’t get how you thought making her forget you’re wearing her dad’s meatsuit was supposed to make her feel better.” Dean says.

“Oh god,” Claire says. Her words are practically a whisper, but everyone turns towards her when she says it. She’s shaking so hard she grabs the door frame to keep from falling. This is ridiculous. Why can’t she stand? His words roll around in her head and she tries to rearrange them so they make more sense, but little things start falling into place and it causes an avalanche.

“Oh, my god,” she says again, covering her mouth with her hand. Bile rises in her throat and she has clamp her jaw shut to keep it down. She’s still grasping at trying to remember fully through the haze.

She looks up at Castiel standing there like he hasn’t betrayed her trust. Like he hasn’t taken her identity away from her.

She walks up to him, slowly, and says, “Give my memories back to me.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” he says. He looks sad and tired, like he’s had enough of this, too.

She slaps him across the face before she can even think about it and swallows past the hard lump of bitterness and betrayal that’s lodged in her throat. “They’re my memories and you had no right to take them. Give them back.”

“Claire,” Castiel says, the start of more excuses.

“Now,”

She stares at him, throwing every mean thing she can think at him and hopes he’s listening.

Castiel sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says, and reaches two fingers to her forehead.

It feels like standing under a great waterfall. The memories rush back and threaten to pull her under. They rush in and over and through her, filling all the gaps. She sits down, trying to remember how to breathe. Images slip through her grasp until she has an image of a sunset and she’s standing next to Castiel on a deserted road and he’s just touched her forehead with his fingers.

He was right, of course--she had no idea what she had asked for and now she’s shaking and crying. She keeps trying to stand, but her muscles won’t obey any of her commands. A great chasm opens up where there used to be the light and heat of the whole of creation. Now there’s just an emptiness and an echo of what was. An unendurable yearning for a thing she’ll never have.

She lays her head on the table and tries to center herself. Her gaze falls on the Christmas tree in the corner and suddenly she knows why being in the cabin had been so upsetting.

The last Christmas she ever spent with her parents was in a similar cabin. The memory feels so fresh, it’s like it just happened. Her mother is in the kitchen, baking cookies and Claire is hanging ornaments on the tree. The door opens and her father comes in, cheeks rosy from the cold and he gathers her up in a hug. Her father, who has the face of Castiel. Or is it the other way around? She’s confused and she sobs remembering her dad’s smile and his corny jokes and then she remembers she knows what he tastes like and what he feels like thrusting inside of her.

Claire pushes her way out of the chair and falls to the floor. She retches, unable to keep the bile down any longer. Once she thinks about sex with Castiel, the images refuse to stop. Her tears flow hot and steady, blurring her vision. She wipes at them and tries to breathe through the bouts of retching and her racking sobs. She feels vile. Shame washes over and through her. Her stomach ties itself knots trying to escape and still the humiliation burns through her. She’s going to die here if it doesn’t stop, but still the memories come. Image after image of his naked body, of how she kissed him, tasted the salt of his skin and the bitterness… Her eyes sting from the acid burning her throat and nose. She coughs, rubbing her arms in an unconscious effort to wipe it all away.

She lifts her head to Castiel and cries, “How could you? You knew! I didn’t remember, but you knew and you still let me...” She feels the bile crawl up her throat again. “Killing my father wasn’t enough? You had to sully every memory I had of him?”

It hits her, then, the translation of her tattoo that she found so confusing, “be mine blood.” He had told her, inked it forever right into her skin so she’ll never be free from it. “The tattoo,” she says. “It was right there in front of my eyes, but I couldn’t see it.” All the times she sat down to do translation work and he always found some reason for her not to look up Enochian.

Another realization hits her; angels can’t feel love, not the deep, passionate yearning that humans do. She shuts her eyes in a useless attempt to block the memory of all the times she kissed him and pulled him into bed with her. She had loved him and he had only been humoring her, going through the motions because she had asked him to. She takes a deep breath and looks at him.

She hates him standing there, arms open in supplication like he deserves any forgiveness. And she hates herself, too, because even as she wants to get as far away from him as possible, all the other memories are back, too. He was right before, her body is crying out for the angel again, and not just any angel. She needs him and his light. Her body recognizes him. She feels herself orientating to where he’s standing, as always, like he could just hop back inside and fill the hole that he tore out when he left.

Claire starts laughing, a little on the hysterical side. “I’m never going to be free of you, am I?”

Castiel doesn’t answer.

She pushes herself off the floor. She’s still shaky, but she can manage walking, so she just leaves them all standing there. She hears Castiel call out for her and Sam silence him, but she doesn’t turn around. Instead she heads for the shower and turns it on as hot as she can stand it. She doesn’t bother even getting undressed, just lets the water pour over her. She doesn’t think she’ll ever feel clean again.

She’s not sure how long she stands there, but eventually the water runs cold, so she turns it off and slides to floor, wrapping her arms around her knees. She sits, shivering, trying to concentrate on counting the tiles in the floor. If she doesn’t occupy her brain with something, the memories flood back in and sickness wells up in her throat.

Sometime later Charlie finds her and sits on the floor next to her. She doesn’t try to get Claire to talk to her, which Claire is grateful for. Now that her concentration is broken, though, she feels the ache from sitting so long on the floor and the walls seem like they’re closing in on her.

“I have to get out of here,” she says. She’s not even sure why she says it out loud. It’s probably pretty obvious to everyone in the bunker that she can’t stay here.

“Let me go with you, okay?” Charlie says. Claire just shrugs at her, no energy left to put up any kind of a fight.

***

They end up at some dive bar down the road. Charlie even agrees to buy her a shot of bourbon, which she downs immediately, savoring the burn. They order beer chasers and just sit in silence for awhile until Claire can’t take anymore. She drinks down the beer, orders another, and goes to find the pool table in back.

There’s some middle-aged woman who looks like she’s 2 nights into a lost weekend playing by herself, but she agrees to let Claire play without even putting any money down. Charlie moves to a closer table, but she just watches them without interfering.

Two games later, Claire is lining up a shot when she hears, “Seriously, Charlie? You’re taking her to a bar and letting her drink?”

Dean Winchester. Great.

“I think she’s earned it,” Charlie says. “She’s not going to be driving anywhere, so just chill out.”
Dean throws his hands up. “You know what? You’re right. I don’t care, next round’s on me,” he says, and he sits down with Charlie at her table.

Claire takes her shot and looks over at Dean. “So where’s Castiel and your brother?”

“Back at the bunker,” he says and rubs his neck. “Look, Claire, I don’t agree with what he did to you, but I think he might have gotten the idea from me.”

“What?” She stands up straight and turns around to face him. “What are you talking about?”

“I had this relationship go bad awhile back and the woman got really hurt, so I had Cas erase all her memories of me.” He shrugs. “You know, fresh start and all.”

Charlie wrinkles her nose at him. “That’s low, Dean.”

Claire just laughs at him. “This isn’t just some relationship that went bad. I was his vessel!”

“A vessel?” The woman they all forgot, who’s waiting for Claire to take her turn speaks up. They all turn towards her when she speaks. Her eyes go completely black and Claire steps back so fast she almost trips. The woman says, “good to know,” and black smoke pours out of her mouth.

“Dammit!” Dean says. He points at Charlie, then at Claire. “We have to get her back to the bunker. Now!”

“I don’t want to go back there,” Claire protests. She’s sick of people making decisions for her.

“You don’t understand what just happened.” Dean grabs her by the arm, pulling her towards the door. “You’re in danger and you need to get somewhere safe, pronto. I’ll explain on the way, but we gotta go, now.”

***

Claire is angry, but she’s also really tipsy, so she can’t even put up that much of a fight. They don’t even talk on the ride back. So much for explanations.

Castiel is still in the library with Sam when they come in and her heart lurches at the sight of him. He stands up, eyes wide, looking from one to the other and asks, “What happened?”

“Demon,” Dean says. He sighs, “Look Cas, I don’t know how it got past me, but it heard us talking about Claire being a vessel.”

Claire still isn’t sure what the big deal is because no one has bothered explaining yet, but both Castiel and Sam look upset and it’s enough to put a small twinge of fear in her stomach.

“What’s the big deal, so it knows I’m a vessel.” she says. They all look at each other instead of answering, which irritates her. “Seriously, why do you all look so spooked?”

Castiel starts toward her, but Sam grabs him and answers instead, “Claire, didn’t you ever wonder why your dad left again after he came back?”

“I just figured he wouldn’t let him come back,” she says, nodding at Castiel.

“No,” Sam says. “Demons are really interested in people who can be vessels for angels. They want to know what makes them tick, so when they find one, they pretty much dissect them.”

Her stomach turns at the thought of her father going through any of that.

“Your dad left because the demons kept going after you and your mom to get to him.” Sam says.

She knows it’s true. It explains why her mother was possessed and why they were practically kidnapped after seeing her dad and why he knew to come for them.

“So, how do we fight this?” she asks.

“We don’t,” Dean says. “We gotta hide you and hope they never find you. That demon got away, which means hundreds or thousands could already know about you.”

“I won’t let that happen!” Castiel says. He looks angry, but resolute.

“And how are you gonna stop it?” Dean asks him.

“I’ll save her the same way I saved Jimmy.” Castiel says, he lifts his chin in defiance.

It takes a second for his words to sink in, but then Dean says, “Are you outta your mind? I got news for you, Cas. She hates your guts, it ain’t like she’s dying to be your vessel again. And your solution is to just possess her so she has no memory of anything anymore? Didn’t you already try that?”

Claire feels her heart skip a beat. It’s true what Dean’s saying, she can’t stand to look at Castiel right now, but she also knows deep down the thought of being his vessel again makes her whole body tingle with anticipation. She’s disgusted with herself.

“It wouldn’t be like that,” Castiel says, looking from Dean to her. She doesn’t want to look at him, but she barely has control over herself since they started discussing this. They stare into each other’s eyes and she feels moments away from saying yes.

“What do you mean, Cas?” Sam says, breaking the spell.

“I could make it so she stays aware and in control most of the time,” he says. “And then when I need to protect her, I can take over.”

Dean looks gobsmacked. “Cas,” he says. “I know you feel responsible for her, but we need you, man. We can’t have you disappearing.”

Castiel’s face softens. He looks so sad staring at Dean, but he doesn’t try to justify his decision.

“Hey,” Claire says. They both turn to her. “I’m still a human being in case you both forgot. I actually have a say in what happens to me.”

“Claire,” Castiel says, but she cuts him off.

“No,” Claire says. “You know what? I’ve had it for tonight. I need you all to leave me the hell alone while I can think about things.” With that, she leaves them standing there and goes back to her room.

She doesn’t think about anything, though, because once she’s inside (door locked) she feels more tired than she can ever remember feeling before. She stops to take her shoes off and crawls into bed, falling asleep quickly.

***

Claire wakes to a fading dream (nightmare?) about being full of an angelic presence. She probably should have seen that coming. Rolling over she makes a grab for the clock on the table and sees it’s about 9 a.m. She stares at the ceiling for awhile and decides she can’t hide forever. She gets out of bed and heads to the kitchen for something to eat.

Thankfully, she doesn’t run into anyone. As much as she doesn’t want food, her stomach is growling. She grabs a bowl of cereal, figuring it’s the least offensive thing available. When she’s done she goes to the TV room and hooks up their game system. It’s something to do while she thinks. Charlie comes in after a while and picks up the second controller. They play in silence for awhile until Charlie absolutely crushes Claire and they wait for the game to reset.

“You know what’s really awful,” Claire says, out of nowhere.

Charlie stops fiddling with the controller and looks up.

“It’s that Castiel is right. I want to be his vessel. It kills me being so close to him and not be able to feel his, whatever you call it, angelic essence inside me anymore,” she says. “I really hate what he did to me, but I don’t think I can live without him.”

“That sounds pretty awful,” Charlie says.

“Yeah,” Claire says. “Just my luck.”

They sit in silence for a bit and then Charlie asks, “Do you think you’ll be able to forgive him?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s kinda hard to forget when he’s wearing my dad’s face.”

“True,” Charlie says. “But if you agreed to let him in, that wouldn’t really be a factor.”

“Maybe,” Claire says. She won’t have to look at him, anymore, but she’ll always remember.

“Why don’t I give you time to think,” Charlie says. She stands up and pats Claire on the shoulder before leaving her alone.

***

Claire doesn’t seek anyone else out all day, but by evening she figures she’s just hiding because the answer has been obvious since she was twelve years old. Having made the decision doesn’t make her feel better, though. She’s sick and confused, and more than anything, in pain. She hates needing him, but wishing the gaping hole inside of her away has never helped before and now she finally has the opportunity to fix it.

She finds Castiel with Dean in the library, neither look very happy. They both look up at her, waiting.

“I’ll do it,” she says.

Dean looks away, but Castiel’s shoulders relax.

“So, when are we gonna do this?” she asks.

“We could do it now,” Castiel says. Her heart kicks up its tempo. It’s finally going to happen again. This emptiness that’s plagued her for years will finally be gone. The excitement over that wars with the heaviness of her heart.

“Okay,” she says. There’s no reason to put it off. If it’s too hard, she can always hand over the reins to him and she can...what, exactly? Maybe he can create some fantasy world for her and she’ll never have to think about anything unpleasant again.

Dean gets out of his chair. “I can’t watch this.” he says. He and Castiel stare at one another, but Castiel doesn’t respond and Dean leaves the room.

She feels a little more nervous now that it’s just the two of them, but she stands still as he stands in front of her.

“What do I have to do?” she asks.

“Nothing,” Castiel answers. “Just stand there.”

He opens his mouth and tips his head back and the most beautiful light pours out of him and slides its way inside of her.

There’s so much light and it’s warm just like she remembers. It seeps into every part of her, all of her cells, her atoms, every bit of her is washed in it. With the light comes the power and she feels wings spread open in glory--only these wings are damaged and she feels a moment of sadness for their loss. The light and heat drown out all her other senses and the moment stretches out. Time ceases to hold much meaning. She has existed for a millennia and could exist for millennia more.

She has no idea how long she stands there marveling at how she feels. She’s complete again; the emptiness, filled.

Castiel? she thinks. Curious, she tries to picture him and, instead of her father, she pictures him in his angelic form, a wave of celestial energy.

I’m here, he answers from within her. I will always be here.

Satisfied, she searches the bunker for the Winchesters. She only ends up finding Sam. Dean is still hiding, too upset to talk to her. They will have to deal with that at some point, she thinks, and she can feel Castiel’s agreement. Claire tells Sam she’s leaving and assures him Castiel is within her. They just need some time to get used to each other in this arrangement. Sam wishes her well and as she’s just about to leave, she turns around. “His body is still in the library…” She doesn’t tell him she can’t bear to look at it again, but she doesn’t have to.
“Sure,” Sam says. “I’ll take care of it.”

One of the first things Claire does is trade Castiel’s car for something smaller and faster. She can feel his displeasure about it, but he doesn’t protest her decision. Laundry isn’t really an issue anymore, so she discards most of her clothes. She keeps her jeans and the black babydoll t-shirt with the angel wings printed on the back because it makes her smile.

She spends days just driving around. Everything looks different now, both more real and more transient than before. If she looks at things just the right way she can see their very molecules. Much of her time is spent looking at how all the things in creation interact on a quantum level. She’s fascinated watching a metal frame of a mirror rust, when she sees her reflection and notices her head is tipped to the side like Castiel used to do.

They theorize that her being able to control his powers is because she was a vessel as a child. The possession altered the neural pathways of her still developing brain. In a way, it made her the perfect vessel. She wonders if this has ever happened before and they both make a point to find out in the future.

Eventually, she makes her way back to their cabin. The Christmas tree is still standing, though it’s lost quite a few needles. The air is stale and the old place already feels abandoned, a relic from someone else’s memory. She spends a week there, boxing up all their possessions. Staying here isn’t an option anymore. There are too many ghosts.

When all the books and clothes are boxes and there’s nothing left to be done, she drives back to a small gravel road, with mountains reaching up to the sky. The sun is just setting and it’s turning the sky brilliant hues of red and orange.

Claire goes over all that’s happened, letting herself truly remember the relationship she shared with Castiel after he erased her memories. The thought she’s been avoiding, surfaces: doesn’t it mean she secretly lusted after her own father? She examines the thought from every angle and throws it away. The jolt of shame she’s expecting never happens. Being part angel now removes her from the immediacy of her human emotions. It cuts through all anxiety and fear so she can see the unvarnished truth about what happened. The relationship was not with her father at all, just someone who looked like him. Claire had needed Castiel and he done what he could for her. What was the use in being ashamed of solace? He might not truly understand love and passion, but he understands loyalty, penance, and even forgiveness. She finds she can’t fault him for that.

She watches the sunset and feels the warmth of the sun on her skin. Tell me you can see how beautiful this is, she thinks.

Yes, he says. He’s been quiet, letting her work out what she needs to, but she can feel his relief.I can see it because of you

The sun dips below the horizon and the first stars of the night appear. They’ll have to go back to the bunker soon. Dean still needs help with the mark. Castiel may have given her control, but she can feel his desire to help and she finds she can’t deny him that. It might be time to stop avoiding other things, as well, and find out what happened to her mother. She doesn’t fear any of it, though. There’s a neverending light radiating from within her.

Finally, he belongs to her and she belongs to him.

 

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