Title: Meg and Benny's Excellent Adventure
Pairings/Warnings: Meg/Castiel, implied Meg/Jimmy Novak, mentions of Sam/Amelia, show-level violence
Summary: Meg and Benny go on a roadtrip. Pretexting, hunting, LARPing, and bickering over music in the car ensue.
Title: Empty Vessel
Summary: Claire Novak is still out there. This is her story.
AU after Swan Song Coda to KTAP’s Caged Heat.
All signs of the Apocalypse had ceased. The local preachers and fanatics who stood on street corners wearing sandwich boards calling people to repentance slowly faded into the woodwork. Claire had been hoarding salt, holy water, holy oil, and silver like no one’s business. Some of the other neighbors, who’d built what amounted to bomb shelters in their basements, relaxed their vigilance. No rapture. No bodies vanishing out of clothing. No crazy weather signs.
Everything was fine.
Claire didn’t think so. She was fifteen and in a new school, a new town, and nothing was safe. Not the nice old lady in the apartment downstairs who had half a dozen cats and was always plying Mom with gifts of brownies and cookies. Not the cute twenty-something guy who sold newspapers and magazines on the corner (Mom said she could see a demon beneath his skin, and then she said one day the demon was gone, and the guy looked sadder than Claire remembered).
So what if the weather was quiet? Claire wasn’t going to let up on collecting her protective supplies. In fact, she was going to come up with newer, better protective supplies. Starting with water pistols and some anti-supernatural liquids. The padre at the catholic church on the other corner thought she was a little strange, slipping in to filch holy water here and there. The Mormon missionaries who roamed the neighborhood, on the other hand, were always glad to part with a little plastic container of holy oil in exchange for Claire stopping and listening to their stories about Jesus.
Claire was pleased with the results of her labor, two water pistols, one filled with holy oil (that one was green) and holy water (that one was orange). She’d picked up a couple of condiment dispensers at a Salvation Army to use as speed reloaders, and both of those were fully stocked and under her bed within arm’s reach. She sat back and admired the pistols for a few moments, gleaming on her desk, and then sighed and scooped up her emergency kit, tucked them both into it, and shoved it back under the bed.
If she were smart, she’d scatter monster-hunting supplies all through the house, the way alcoholics did with their booze. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? Even if Mom liked to pretend the world was normal (save the random people she noticed who had demons inside of them), she needed protection, too. If push came to shove, she’d fight, right?
Right. Claire stood up, mentally scanning the house. Where were some good hiding spots that were concealed but easily accessible in case of emergency? Where could she hide weapons in plain sight?
Cleaning supplies. Laundry supplies. Chemicals and spray bottles. Perfect.
Claire started for the door, and then Castiel was standing in front of her.
“What does the Ark of the Covenant have to do with Raiders and Nazis?” he demanded.
Claire yelped and fell back a step. “What? Who – seriously?”
“I am completely serious,” Castiel said. “I need to know all instances of Holy Relics on the earth.”
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie,” Claire said. “A pretty old movie. It’s about a fictional archeologist named Indiana Jones who, during World War II, was trying to rescue special historical artifacts – including the Ark of the Covenant – from the Nazis, who thought they could use the Ark as some kind of mystical weapon.”
Castiel sighed and slumped against the doorframe. “Humans are so complicated. You spend entire lifetimes and entire cultures consumed with producing and then passing on inane fictions.”
“Did someone tell you they knew where the Ark of the Covenant was?” Claire asked.
“It was a ruse,” Castiel said, “which I would have known if I understood but a fraction of what you know without even trying.”
Claire stepped back, gestured for Castiel to enter her room. He sat down on the corner of the bed. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” She suspected most of Castiel’s pop culture knowledge came from Dean, and to a much lesser extent Sam, so she was probably too young to help.
“I know Sam and Dean have a particular method of choosing their aliases,” Castiel said. “They always seem to be able to respond to aliases made up on the spot. If Dean picks an alias while Sam is out of the room, when Sam enters and is introduced with a somehow matching alias, he responds smoothly. It’s some sort of code I don’t understand.”
“Oh. Well, I’m not sure how much help I’d be, but maybe a few hours in the music section of a Best Buy would be helpful,” Claire said.
“Music?” Castiel raised his eyebrows.
“Dean likes to pick aliases of popular musicians,” Claire said. “Tyler and Perry, like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. Geddy and Lee, as in Geddy Lee from Rush.” Thanks, Supernatural fan forums. “Sometimes Dean will pick names from buddy cop movies from the 80’s, too, but mostly musicians.”
“Ah. I see.” Castiel’s brow furrowed in thought. “Are there any other movies involving religious relics I should know about?”
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is about the Holy Grail. As is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Also The Da Vinci Code,” Claire said. She rifled through her mental movie collection. She didn’t get out to the cinemas often, but she had convinced Mom to splurge for some Netflix. “Maybe spend some time in the DVD section at Best Buy, too.”
Castiel sighed. “How do you do it all? How can you have so much knowledge crammed into such a finite mind?”
Claire blinked. Had he just called her stupid? She shook it off. He wasn’t often deliberately insulting that way. He probably meant it literally. Did that mean his mind had infinite capacity? Would that make her dad’s head explode? So far it hadn’t seemed to.
“Well,” Claire said, “you know much more than I do. You know all of history. Ever. Every single thing humans have ever done, right? And before that, when humans were, you know, fish.” She’d have to take that up with one of the local pastors and see what he or she said about evolution.
“But all of these stories,” Castiel said. “How do you keep track of them?”
“Some people are less good at it than others,” Claire said. “Dean’s probably good at it out of necessity. Look at his lifestyle – a lot of time on the road with nothing better to do than listen to classic rock stations, the same classic rock music his father listened to. Late nights in crappy motels with whatever B-grade movie reruns are available. Maybe occasionally sneaking into nicer cinemas to see newer movies. Reading a few books along the way. Outside of hunting, all he probably has time for is the music and movies and few books he knows. Unlike someone who isn’t always on the move, he hasn’t had time to develop any interests or hobbies that require either lots of space or lots of equipment or stability. Like learning an instrument, or painting.” Most of Claire’s habits were also portable – embroidery, making bracelets.
“Sam has many hobbies besides books, television, and music,” Castiel said, “and he lives the same lifestyle as Dean.”
“Well,” Claire said, “he did have three and a half years of college to stay put and pick up new hobbies. And he also likes different books, including books on culture and politics and history. Dean likes pop culture, so he’s good at it. Sam likes pop culture, if a different subset of it, so he’s good at that.”
Castiel buried his face in his hands. “It’s all so stressful.”
“Pop culture?” Claire asked.
“And...other things.” Castiel peered at her from between his fingers. “You’re very wise about pop culture.”
“I’m human, and I grew up with my culture, so it just is to me.” Claire shrugged. “Besides hanging around at a Best Buy and going through its entire media collection, I’m not sure I can help you much.”
Castiel actually smiled at her. “I appreciate your advice. I don’t think I have time to do all that, though.”
“Well, it has taken me, Sam, and Dean a lifetime to learn all we know about pop culture. I couldn’t really ask you to take time out of all you’re doing.” Claire resisted the urge to ask why Castiel was so awful at pop culture references while some angels were good at pop culture. Demons seemed to be great at pop culture. Maybe it was because demons were more invested in humans, in knowing their minds and nuances so as to tempt their souls away from them. Angels were, by comparison, light years distant from their human charges.
Castiel groaned and closed his eyes. He seemed...exhausted. That was one of the differences between him and Dad. Dad was cheerful, energetic. Castiel always seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“So...” Claire fumbled for something to say. And then she realized. “The Apocalypse is over, right? Sam and Dean stopped it?”
“Yes,” Castiel said. “They did.”
“So...can Dad come home now?”
Castiel’s hesitation told her all she needed to know.
“Let me guess. You still need him?” Claire was horrified at the way her voice came out choked.
“There is a civil war in heaven now that Michael is trapped with Lucifer in the cage,” Castiel said.
“And you need Dad’s vessel to keep on fighting?”
Castiel closed his eyes and sighed. “In the final battle, between Lucifer and Michael –”
“You mean Sam and Adam,” Claire said flatly.
“In the final battle,” Castiel said, “Lucifer killed me. Destroyed me. Pulled me apart at the subatomic level. No soul would have survived.”
“You mean...Dad’s soul was destroyed?” A sob hitched in Claire’s voice. She swallowed hard.
“No,” Castiel said quickly. “His soul is in Heaven. But I couldn’t have brought him back from that. A fatal wound, a gunshot, I could have healed him from those. But not...that. I didn’t bring myself back from that. And when I was brought back, Jimmy’s soul was gone. In Heaven. He was destined for Heaven as soon as he said yes to me.”
Claire couldn’t help it. She burst into tears.
Castiel said, “Oh, no, please don’t.”
Claire curled into a little ball, face buried in her hands, and sobbed hard. Dad was dead. He was gone forever. She’d never get to see him again. She’d hoped and dreamed that he would come back. As soon as Castiel’s job was done, she’d get her father back. For years, that was all that had kept her getting out of bed each morning.
But he was dead. Castiel had gotten him killed.
A hand came down on her shoulder.
Claire screamed and shoved him away. She scrambled back on her bed, curled up, and continued crying.
“Claire, I’m sorry, I didn’t – it was the Apocalypse. The entire world –”
“Shut up! Shut up and go away!”
“I don’t think I should,” Castiel said. “Are you going to harm yourself?”
It crossed her mind for half a second. She’d be dead. She could see Dad again. But if she committed suicide, would she get to see him in Heaven?
There was a rustle, and then Castiel said, quickly and quietly, “Sam, how do I comfort an upset teenage girl? No, I don’t think that’s appropriate. Also, because she’s a teenager, isn’t that illegal? I don’t think a mortal court would find that technical distinction persuasive. Not that a mortal court could hold me – put Dean on the phone, would you? Yes, I do want to speak to Dean instead. Because you have no soul and your empathy skills leave much to be desired.”
Claire tried to take deep breaths, but they came out stuttered and broken with sobs. Dad was dead. Dad was dead.
He was dead.
She started crying all over again.
Castiel had another frantic conversation, and then she heard his cell phone snap shut. The bed dipped beneath his weight as he settled a cautious distance away from her.
“Claire,” he said, “I can go get some chocolate ice cream, and I can fetch a film about baby farm hens.”
Claire lifted her head, scrubbed a hand over her face. “What?”
Castiel wore a tense, anxious expression. “Dean said – he said when teenage girls are upset, the best thing to do is ply them with chocolate ice cream and films about baby farm hens.”
“Films about baby farm hens?” Claire echoed slowly. “Were those his exact words?”
“Well, he said chick flicks, so he meant baby hens.”
Claire couldn’t help it. She laughed.
Castiel looked even more nervous.
“Chick flicks and chocolate ice cream? I didn’t break up with my boyfriend, idiot. You just told me my dad is dead, has been for a good long while.”
“Oh. Um...do you still want the chocolate ice cream?”
“No.” Claire shook her head and sat back, drained. Tears continued to leak out of the corners of her eyes. “What I want is to see my dad one last time, and say goodbye.”
“Oh,” Castiel said. “Well...I can do that, if you like.”
Claire blinked at him. “But he’s in Heaven.”
“I won’t be killing you, if that’s what you mean,” Castiel said. “Do you have an iPod?”
“I have a crystal radio,” Claire said.
“That should suffice.”
Claire swiped her hand over her face a couple more times, then wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans. She scooted across the bedspread to the nightstand and fished out her crystal radio.
“Paper, if you please,” Castiel said. He drew his angel blade.
Claire tore several sheets of lined paper out of one of her binders and arranged them in a circle around the radio.
“You remembered.” Castiel sounded faintly pleased.
Claire smiled at him, then scooted out of the way so he could draw using his blood.
His blood. Not Dad’s. Not anymore.
Her throat closed.
Castiel began to chant, and Claire felt it, the thrum of divine power. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Jimmy Novak said, “Hello? Who’s there?”
Claire opened her eyes. “Daddy, it’s me.”