maychorian: (Detective Cas)
[personal profile] maychorian
Fandom: Supernatural
Title: Third Interlude: You Lift Me Up (Coming Down on a Sunny Day)
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Winchester Ensemble
Category: Gen, AU, Family
Rating: T/PG13
Warning: (skip) Language. Allusions to child abuse
Spoilers: S4, previous stories in 'verse.
Summary: John Winchester has four sons, but to an outside observer, he appears to have only three. Their mission is to stop the Apocalypse before it starts.
Word Count: ~7300 (this part)
 Author’s Note: Coming Down on a Sunny Day master list, and YouTube Playlist, from whence came the titles.

Coming Down on a Sunny Day



Coming Down on a Sunny Day
Third Interlude: You Lift Me Up


Northwest Ohio
June 22, 1996

Drip...drip...drip...

Jimmy's eyelids twitched, still closed. A dull awareness of pain was spreading through his consciousness. He hurt. His right side, especially, ached with a deep, abiding pain. As he woke further, other sore spots began to compete for attention—his legs, his cheek, his right upper arm. Indeed, his entire body wasn't faring well.

And that...that constant, annoying...drip. A drop of water fell in the middle of Jimmy's forehead, and he wrinkled his face, trying to ignore it, trying fade back down into unconsciousness. It came again, cold and wet, spreading across his skin in a thin puddle. Another drip, icy cold piercing through to his brain, and Jimmy gasped, eyes flying wide. He was awake.

He was awake. Jimmy tried to turn his head to see where he was and almost screamed when pain erupted in his neck. Oh, God have mercy, he hurt. He hurt. What had happened? What was this weight in his abdomen, hot and heavy, holding him down? In the chill of his surroundings, the deep aching frigidness that seeped into his bones, Jimmy began to shiver. That hurt, too.

His teeth chattered, and Jimmy blinked, realizing that his eyes had started to slip shut again. He had almost fallen back into unconsciousness, even as he fought to stay awake now, knowing that he must, because...because...

Because he was dead if he didn't.

Jimmy lifted his head despite the shriek of pain from his neck and forced his eyes to focus. Green, brown, splintered white. Gray sky above. Water dripping in a miserable leak, down from something higher above, landing on his head. Jimmy gasped, trembling in every limb with cold and shock.

Shock. He was going into shock. He had to keep conscious, he had to get to safety, or he wasn't going to make it.

His eyes focused on an object several yards away, and Jimmy could have cried. It was his car, his beloved little Ford Tempo, a mangled wreck of red-painted metal and shattered glass all but wrapped around several small trees. The windshield was punched through by a split tree trunk. Somehow, miraculously, Jimmy had been thrown free. How? Looking at that wreck, even from this distance and with his mind sluggish and unfocused, he knew he should be dead.

Jimmy lay in a rough cradle of broken branches and hardy bushes, pine needles and splintered wood scratching at every inch of exposed skin. He hurt all over, and he could feel blood oozing from several bad scrapes and cuts. Sharpest, though, was the pain in the ribs on his right side. He'd probably broken a few, definitely bruised almost his entire chest. Breathing took great effort, and it would have been worse if he weren't so cold, so numb.

Castiel. Castiel must have saved him. Jimmy let his head fall back again, blinking up at the sky, at the steady drip of water falling into his face from a bundle of branches above him. Castiel must have thrown them out of the car just before it hit that copse of trees, or they would both be dead.

But where was he? It was unheard of for Castiel not to take over in crisis situations like this.

But not now. Castiel was silent in his head, and the realization frightened Jimmy more than any other part of this terrifying waking already had. He'd spent more of his life with Castiel than without him, sharing every moment, every plan, every thought, and he felt roaringly empty without the angel there lighting up his brain.

Castiel? Where are you? Jimmy closed his eyes again for a moment, not to flee consciousness, but to search inward. He pushed his awareness back into his own mind, looking for the burning ball of liquid fire that was his angel, his savior, his friend and brother and comrade in arms.

Castiel? Jimmy pushed onward. He was not used to this, to searching inside his mind. Much more often, he wanted space from the angel and was glad for any sense of separation between them. Not this time. The longer it took, the more panicked and desperate he felt.

Finally, he found it, a spark of piercing fire hidden in the back of his soul. Castiel had never seemed so small, so indistinct. Jimmy felt no personality there, just a hint of light that he knew could be, should be bright enough to burn. He approached with great caution. In his distant, physical body, his heart was in his throat, a tight, hard ball of fear and questions.

Castiel? Are you okay?

The spark was... Jimmy didn't understand. He might have described it as buzzing or vibrating. That was the only sort of word that made sense, though there was no physical movement in this place. Or maybe...fuzzing. It was fuzzing in and out, as if Jimmy perceived it through a camera lens unable to focus on it.

Another bolt of shock tore through Jimmy, and his physical body choked on air. Castiel was dying. His spark was ready to vanish at any moment.

No, no, no. He couldn't. He couldn't go. They still had far too much to do.

Castiel! Fully panicked now, Jimmy lunged forward and wrapped his spirit around that tiny spark, holding it safe from the darkness outside. It hurt. Even dying, that spark was bright and powerful. It was like trying to hold a match as it burned down to the fingers. It was like trying to cradle a drop of molten glass.

Jimmy pressed forward, inward, unmindful of the pain. He had to get in there. He had to touch Castiel, communicate with him, hold on to him. He had to figure out what was going on and how to stop it.

Castiel, Castiel. Please talk to me. What happened?

By wrapping himself tightly around the angelic spark, forcing their spirits to touch once again, Jimmy finally was able to get a sense of Castiel. He felt the undefinable thing that was Castiel and no one else, a touch that Jimmy knew as well as he knew the curious tilt of Sammy's head when he read something interesting, or Dean's cocky grin when he met a pretty girl. It was truly Castiel, and a flood of relief washed through Jimmy at the knowledge. His brother wasn't gone. Not yet.

But still no words, no communication. All that Jimmy could sense from Castiel was an immense and discordant rush of suffering and trauma. Good Lord, poor Castiel had been hurt yet again, and why, why did this keep happening? Anger poured over Jimmy's spirit, a helpless and impotent rage that shook the inward space like an earthquake of red and orange. It was strong enough to permeate to the heart of Jimmy, still wrapped tightly around the spark of Castiel.

Castiel abruptly stopped shivering, just for a second, as awareness filtered in to him that Jimmy was there, holding him, trying to talk to him. Had he been in a physical body, he would have been gasping, fluttering his eyes, trying to look up. Jimmy felt the attempted motion and froze himself where he was, the sunburst of anger gone as quickly it had come, replaced with the icy blue of anxiety and concern.

Castiel? Can you hear me?

...yes...


Even on the mental and spiritual level, the response was barely perceptible. Jimmy didn't know whether to be less worried or more.

You're hurt. Again.

...yes...

What did you do?


If Castiel had expended his power for some stupid reason, Jimmy swore to God, he would... He would do something. He really would.

...not...me...

Then what was it? What happened? Please, dude, I know you're out of it, but I have to figure out what's going on. What can I do? Talk to me.


Silence. The roaring rush of suffering was back, overwhelming Castiel's ability to speak. Jimmy pulled himself in even tighter, trying to take some of the pain into himself. Castiel had shielded him hundreds, maybe thousands of times. It would only be fair if Jimmy could do it just once.

It didn't seem to help. Or at least, Jimmy couldn't take on the pain. But Castiel's spark brightened, as if strengthened by the contact, as if just the knowledge of Jimmy's nearness and concern was helping him to bear up under the strain.

...hard to talk...

Show me then. The last thing I knew, I agreed to let you drive for awhile because we were on a straight road with no turn-offs and it seemed safe enough. It obviously wasn't. What happened? Did somebody run into us?


A moment of silence. This time, though, Jimmy could feel that Castiel was still active. He was trying to gather up the correct memory so he could share it with Jimmy, pushing it across the now very thin barrier between them. But just as Jimmy's shock-numbed physical limbs were sluggish and slow, Castiel's traumatized grace was fumbling, struggling to complete a task that should have taken no more than a split-second of thought.

Finally, Castiel managed to shove over a bundle of memory. It wasn't isolated to just the crash, though. Jimmy received a variety of scattered images and impressions that he already had from his own perspective.

They had traveled to Ohio to visit the home of Anna Milton, one of Castiel's angel sisters who had chosen to fall. She was only a little younger than Sammy, an eleven-year-old girl with red hair and shining eyes. Jimmy and Castiel had watched her from a distance. They had no business involving her in the Apocalypse, not now, not ever. But when the Winchesters moved to Pennsylvania a few months ago, Castiel hadn't been able to stop thinking about her.

Jimmy had put up with his silent yearning and stoic homesickness for as long as he could stand it, then finally said at supper one night, "Hey, Dad, me and Castiel are gonna take a weekend trip to Ohio. That okay?"

John Winchester had been surprised, but agreed readily. None of the Winchesters even asked what the trip was about. Castiel had never wanted to take off on his own before, but they all knew that there was plenty about the future that he hadn't bothered to tell anyone, and they weren't shocked to learn that he had loose ends to tie up somewhere. So Jimmy had packed a day bag, checked the Tempo's fluids, and taken off.

They had watched Anna going on an outing with her parents to the local zoo, always careful to keep a distance and avoid being noticed. Jimmy had enjoyed the day and thought that it would be nice to take Sammy to this zoo if they were ever in the area. He'd let Castiel stay in charge most of the time, but they hadn't communicated much, and Castiel had kept his emotions separate.

Now, in the memories, Jimmy witnessed exactly what the day had meant to Castiel. He and Anna had been friends when she was an angel, or as close as angels got to having friends. They had been in the same garrison. They had fought side by side. When she had been appointed to command the garrison, Castiel had been proud, in the distant, almost impersonal way that angels could be proud. He had been shocked and horrified and grief-stricken when she removed her grace and chose to fall.

Now, seeing her again, his emotions had been much more complex. Castiel had fallen himself, in a way, and he had a much better understanding of what her motives might have been. He missed her. He wanted to see her again. And he feared what might happen to her—what would happen to her—if they did not succeed in averting the end of the world. Even now, a decade before Azazel would set his plan in motion, she could be made a pawn if demons ever realized her significance.

They would have to keep their distance, never give any enemies a reason to think she was important. It would have been smarter not to have come today, though they'd taken every precaution to avoid being spied on by both demons and humans. Castiel still felt guilty being here. He didn't dare even to try to ward her house, for that could draw attention in itself.

Now, seeing all this, Jimmy heaved an inward sigh. It drove him nuts when Castiel felt guilty for things he couldn't control, but he hadn't had much success yet in talking him out of it. It was just part of Castiel's personality, apparently. An annoying part.

Once he had finished sifting through those images and impressions and emotions, Jimmy finally found the more relevant and pressing memories—the road. Jimmy had fallen into a light doze soon after Castiel took the wheel, hypnotized by the monotonous gray asphalt of the two-lane highway leading back to Pennsylvania, the regular, rhythmic hum of the tires passing over the man-made cracks the Ohio highway department put in their roads.

Castiel's attention had not wavered from the road for second, though, concentrating fiercely on the task he had set himself. He was determined to become a good driver, no matter how long it took, no matter how uncomfortable and out of his element he felt when dealing with human machinery. They were taking a different route away from Anna's house than they had taken to get there, the better to avoid any attention, and he needed to take every care to make sure they did not stray.

A flash of red spray paint on the road ahead drew Castiel's attention, and his forehead wrinkled as he squinted at it, trying to make it out before they drove over it. It looked odd, not like a tagger's symbol or the highway department's utilitarian markings. He was tempted to use a touch of grace to strengthen his human perception, but he knew Jimmy would scold him for giving them a nosebleed for frivolous reasons, so he refrained.

Then, too quickly, they were upon it, and Castiel recognized what it was too late to do anything about it. No time to brake, to swerve around it, and Castiel's heart screamed in sudden dread. It was a demonic trap, and he could not avoid it.

The car ran over the spray paint, and Castiel's grace went haywire. It was like a human being hit by a taser, jolting every nerve, agonizing every pain receptor. No, worse—it was like being hit by a lightning bolt, one that nearly tore Castiel limb from limb. With every iota of strength within him, he fought to hold onto his awareness. He had to do something, he had to save them, he had to save Jimmy...

Castiel forced his eyes open in time to see the dense copse of trees and bushes rushing toward them. They were going to hit it at highway speeds. It was going to kill them both. Castiel held his breath, closed his eyes, and leaped...

The demonic trap had not succeeded in tearing Castiel apart, as much as it had tried to. But using his grace so soon afterward almost did. Castiel could feel himself breaking at the seams. He pulled himself close and small and tight, tight, tight, burying himself as deep and as hard into Jimmy's psyche as he could do it. Then the agony washed over him, and he could deny it no longer.

The pain in the memory was so intense that Jimmy reeled back from it as from a violent physical push. It almost succeeded in thrusting him out of the mental space and back into the waking world, but he tightened his grip on Castiel with grim tenacity and refused to be expelled. He had a much better idea now of what had happened, but still no certainty of what he was supposed to do about it.

Castiel? Can you still hear me?

…yes…

I understand what caused the accident. It was a trap. Someone set it for us. For you.

…the…demon…

Yeah, I think that’s what happened. That creep really has it in for us.

…Anna…

Don’t worry about her, man. If the demon had wanted to do something to her, he would have. But all he did was use her location to set up some traps on the roads around the area, hoping you would blunder into them. And we did.

…sorry…


Jimmy ached. That unnecessary, self-destroying guilt. Now wasn’t the time, but he was going to have to talk to Castiel about this later. Again.

They had much more urgent matters to attend at the moment. The spark of Castiel blurred again, losing focus, seeming even smaller, dimmer. Terror jolted through Jimmy, and he wrapped himself tight around his angel-brother once again. Castiel wasn’t suffering just because he’d been hurt and injured. The trap hadn’t been a one-time hit. This was ongoing.

It was still killing him.

Castiel!

…here…

Castiel, hold on. That thing on the road, it’s latched onto you, isn’t it? It’s draining your strength.

…yes…

It’s killing you. Oh, Castiel, I can feel it killing you. What can I do? There has to be something I can do.

…don’t know…

Don’t say that. I know you’re hurting, you’re having trouble concentrating, but you gotta think. Come on, man, tell me what to do.

…can’t…

You can! I know you can!

...hurts...

Please, Cas!


The nickname, the reminder of Dean and Sammy and Dad, finally had an effect. The spark of Castiel flared, a pulse of awareness and power. Castiel would do anything to keep that family, their family, safe. Including whatever it took to save himself.

...disable...

It was the first note of hopefulness Jimmy had heard from Castiel. He yearned toward it, his entire being given over to listening, to trying to understand.

I need to...to disable the trap?

...yes...

Tell me how, Castiel. Just tell me how, or show me, or whatever you need to do to make it clear for me, and I'll take care of the rest. One last push, and then you can rest, I promise.

...I trust you.


The last sentiment wasn't words so much as it was an outpouring of Castiel's spirit, his faith and admiration and love for Jimmy, his immediate willingness to place his life in Jimmy's hands, his certainty that Jimmy would do everything he could to save him, and if he couldn't do it, it simply couldn't be done. Jimmy did his best to embrace Castiel in his own affection and loyalty and appreciation for all the angel did, all he was, silently vowing to be worthy of that trust.

One last push of images. The first was the representation of the demonic spell in the road, the evil sigils and runes that had trapped Castiel's grace, bound him to the destructive force, and were currently tearing him apart. In Castiel's perception, it glowed dark red and sickly white with power, like the fires of hell. Then an image of the knife in Jimmy's boot, the one Castiel placed there every morning. The knife that had killed Mr. Baker five years ago. Then the image of the trap again, now with several lines carefully and cleanly scratched away by the knife. The aura of power was gone with those cut lines, and the trap was useless.

All Jimmy had to do was scratch through a few lines of paint. He could do that. He could definitely do that.

Thanks, brother. Don't worry. I'll take care of it.

I know.


With the last of his strength, Castiel gave Jimmy a mental push, thrusting him out of the inward, spiritual space of their shared mind and back into the physical world. Only when he surfaced, gasping, did Jimmy realized that the push had been entirely necessary. He had never delved so deep before into the realm of the incorporeal. He might not have been able to get out on his own, or if he had, it would have taken far too long.

Castiel was dying. They had no time to spare.

Jimmy forced his eyes open just as another drop of freezing water fell into his face. He drew a shuddering breath, trembling in every limb. He was even colder and more numb than on his previous waking, but at least the pain had subsided to a dull roar. The shock was deadening his feeling, leaving him aware only of his cold, his weariness, his desperate desire to close his eyes and fade out again.

But he couldn't. He had to move. He had to save Castiel. Jimmy groaned and pushed his arms down at his sides, trying to lever himself up into a sitting position. He couldn't do it. He couldn't raise himself even an inch. His arms gave out before he'd made any progress at all.

Jimmy sucked in a sobbing breath. Even that pathetic effort had roused the soreness of his arms and hands again, making him aware of every scrape and bruise, every bone and tissue that had been rattled by his impact with this rough bed of broken trees and scattered vegetation. His eyes lost focus for a second, and he raised his right hand in front of his face, forcing himself to look at it. His arm and his hand shook uncontrollably.

His skin was deathly white, running with the icy rain that persisted in leaking from the sky, slow and steady as a dirge. A scrape on the inside of his wrist stood out shockingly red against the paleness, oozing a thin line of blood that trailed down his forearm in a sickening curl. It made him want to throw up.

Jimmy's strength gave out once again and his arm fell to his side. His hand scrabbled in the leaves and bracken and pine needles, searching for something to hold onto. He hurt, he hurt so badly. He would have thought those months in the house of Mr. Baker should have taught him to tolerate pain, but of course the mind did not work like that. The mind forgot how bad pain was, hiding the truth of it from the body. Memories could not convey the full feeling, otherwise they would paralyze the body anew. And Castiel's persistence in shielding him had given him no chance to build up tolerance in his present body.

It didn't matter. He had to move. He had to get to the road.

Jimmy's right hand found something to grab, a slender trunk or branch that didn't shift when he pulled on it. He wrapped his hand around this lifeline as tightly as he could, then gave everything he had in one desperate flex of his arm, his chest, his body. His ribs lit up in agony and a scream tore from his throat, echoing to the gray clouds above, but he did it. He managed to roll up on his right side, and now he could blink, squinting through the drizzle, until his eyes finally focused on the road.

He could see the obscene splash of red that was the demonic trap. It seemed very far away, though Jimmy knew distantly, with a logic that he could not quite believe, that it couldn't truly be more than fifty feet or so. The road was deserted, no motorists or dwellings nearby that he could call on for help, even if he'd had the strength to raise himself up to wave or yell. He was alone.

Jimmy rested for a moment, panting out his pain into the wet bracken under his cheek. Then he slung his left hand over to join his right, clamped onto that blessed, solid piece of wood. And he pulled again, succeeding in dropping his body the rest of the way onto his stomach.

His entire chest exploded in pain, a starburst of orange and yellow behind his eyes, stealing his vision and his breath. This time, he didn't scream. He had no energy for it. After a moment, Jimmy raised his head again, blinking, choking for air. He could see his arms ahead of him, his hands still gripping the branch with white knuckles. Beyond it, the green grass of the verge beside the road, the ditch now flowing with gray-brown runoff from the endless rain, and the road itself with that evil red paint.

He unpeeled the fingers of one hand from the branch and pushed that hand forward, over the edge of the pile of vegetation that had broken his fall. He found another grip, and he pulled, dragging the rest of him a few inches away from the depression where he'd landed. Then the other hand, letting go one finger at a time, his knuckles creaking with the cold and strain, and Jimmy forced that hand forward too, a little farther than the first one. He found a grip. He pulled his body forward.

And again. And again. Inch by inch, one hand at a time, Jimmy dragged himself out of the copse. Eventually his sore legs and knees woke up a little, and he dug those beneath himself, too, pushing with them as his hands pulled, making just that little more progress toward the road. He got out of the brush, into the grass.

The going here was easier because he did not have to drag himself over so many obstacles, but harder because there weren't as many objects to grip with his hands. Jimmy wrapped his fingers around clumps of wet grass, rough and sliding against his palms, and dug his nails into soggy clay and dirt. The mud caked his elbows and clung to his chin, dragging over the ground. He didn't care. He was almost in a delirium by now, focused only on that splash of red, blinding through the rain.

Jimmy had no idea how he got through the ditch. Later, he couldn't remember doing it. Jimmy was inclined to believe it a miracle, because there was no way he could have done that on his own.

But at last, he reached the road. Jimmy found himself lying on the narrow shoulder, gasping like a beached whale. He was soaked head to foot with dirty water, his feet still trailing into the ditch, barely above the filthy stream of runoff. Before him, taking up the entirety of his vision, was the red blot spread across the road like malignant tumor.

It wasn’t as large as he’d expected. In Castiel’s memory, and in his own imagination, the demonic snare was enormous, stretching across both lanes of the country highway. In reality, it was no more than three feet across, though in Jimmy’s current condition even that size was unbearably huge. In his mind flashed the image of the lines he would have to cut, and he saw that he would have to drag himself even further to complete his mission. His arms trembled at the thought.

First, though, he had to retrieve the boot knife, and even that was easier said than done. Jimmy’s leg had lost all ability to move on its own, and he had to bend himself double on his side and grab his jeans with his icy hands. He pulled his knee up to his chest, then stretched along the length of his shin and found the handle of the knife with fingers that did not quite want to grip it. It was like trying to string a bead while wearing winter gloves, his hands were so numb and heavy. At last he succeeded, though, and he dragged the knife along the asphalt up to the level of his face.

He had to rest for a moment then, staring at the knife in front of him, the cold, pale knot of his fingers wrapped around the handle. It was a graceful little tool, slender and plain and ordinary, as humble and unpretentious as everything else about Castiel. Jimmy almost never handled it, letting Castiel deal with this part of their life. His fingers knew how to hold it, though, even in their weak, benumbed state, and the thing felt natural in his hand.

Jimmy wondered what it might be like if he did handle the weapons. If he learned to use this knife in defense of his brothers and the world. Would he be good at throwing it? Better with close-quarters combat? It had never been something he cared to explore, and his family had not asked that of him, respecting his more gentle and pacifistic nature. They had always thought that Castiel would be able to do the fighting for him.

But the events of today threw that into question. What if Castiel was incapacitated again, and Jimmy was forced to stand alone against some terrible adversary? What if it fell to him to save the life of Dean or Sammy, or even Dad? Jimmy wouldn’t be able to live with himself if his inability, his unwillingness to learn how to fight caused harm to fall on any of his family.

This was a question for another day. Jimmy raised his eyes from the knife, forcing them to focus on the red runes, the first line he had to break. Right now, he had a task. He didn’t need to use this knife to fight or kill. All he had to do was scrape away some paint.

Even that was almost beyond him. Jimmy’s mind focused down to a single point, narrowing in time to each small step of the task he had to complete. He did not allow himself to think about the enormity of what lay ahead, the need to drag himself to another part of the trap, and another, and another, before he was done. First this. First this movement, then that.

Jimmy moved his hand to the line he must cut, the metallic ring of the blade against the asphalt cutting through the endless patter of the rain. He did not try to raise the knife above the road far enough to avoid making that awful scraping, dragging noise—he could not afford the energy. In small, economical movements, he forced the knife to reach the spot it must go, and then he began to scratch at the paint.

It took longer than it should have, but at last, the line broke. There was an almost audible snap, echoing in Jimmy’s ears, though he knew that the sound was probably not physical, that it was probably his imagination filling in the gaps, giving him the sense of accomplishment he so desperately needed in order to keep going. Still, he gasped at the sound, blinking in the rain. He’d done it. The first step was finished.

Now the next. Jimmy reached his free hand along the ground, dug his fingers into the asphalt, and pulled. His fingers began to bleed. He kept going. The next line. The knife scratched back and forth, over and over. Jimmy's blood smeared the road next to the red paint and began to dissipate as rain drops fell into it, one by one. Another snap, another gasp.

He could feel Castiel's spark in the back of his mind, still fading. Every time a line broke, the spark brightened for an instant, then subsided again to a dim point. Jimmy knew he had to hurry, but it was working. It had to.

Drag. Scrape. Snap.

Again.

The fifth and final line. Jimmy's vision had narrowed down as if he were looking through a long, thin tunnel, his peripheral vision grayed out and blacking at the edges. He was almost unaware of his body, only the fire in his ribs keeping him tethered to physical sensation. His scraped and bleeding fingers no longer hurt. His broken thumbnail did not register. He wasn't shivering anymore.

His movements were so slow and sluggish that they barely seemed to be happening at all. But still the knife scraped, the sound vibrating through the asphalt, reaching Jimmy's ear. His head rested on the ground, too heavy to move again. This was the final task. After this, he was done.

Finally, the knife bit down through the paint to gray asphalt, and it was finished. Snap. Castiel flared, the chains finally broken, but he was almost mortally weakened by the long drain on his grace. Still, Jimmy heard a whispered communication passing through the space that separated them, simultaneously infinite and non-existent.

Thank you.

Jimmy's fingers unknotted from the knife, letting it fall to the road with a gentle, almost inaudible clink. Specks of red paint clung to the blade, not entirely unlike drops of blood from an enemy. Jimmy stared at it, and he knew that if he had to fight, he could. This was the first time, but no doubt it wouldn't be the last.

As his eyes slipped shut, at last succumbing to the gray and black that pressed in on all sides, he heard the long blast of a horn. It was harsh and frantic and rapidly nearing where he lay in the road, spent and done. Then consciousness fled, and he knew no more.

X~*~X

"Jimmy. Jimmy. Wake up, would ya? Huh? Cas? You in there?"

The first thing Jimmy noticed was the smell. It was antiseptic and chilly linoleum and bland food and crisp linens bleached until their cleanliness resembled a human's perception of godliness. He was still thankfully numb, the pain of his injuries hidden away, but it was a warm numbness, now, his body comfortable and at rest, no longer laid out on rough asphalt. It was so lovely that all he wanted to do was sink back into slumber and enjoy it a little while longer.

"Jimmy, please?" A hand wrapped around his wrist and gave it a gentle shake, achingly tentative, immediately stopping as if for fear that Jimmy's hand would fall right off with the movement. The young voice was a plea.

Sammy. Jimmy forced his eyelids open, tolerating the gunk that clung to his lashes, surmounting the immense effort the movement required. Sammy's drawn face leaned over his, eyes wide and innocent. The instant Jimmy saw him, Sammy's face cracked into a broad grin. The poor kid had only been thirteen for a month, and Jimmy felt bad for making him worry.

"Jimmy!" Sammy squeezed his wrist, still almost comically careful. A rush of footsteps sounded outside the door. "Oh, God, I'm so glad to see your eyes again."

"Hi, Sammy," Jimmy whispered. His throat felt like it had been scraped with gravel.

He'd been screaming, he remembered. He couldn't recall why. The memory seemed unbearably distant, long ago and far away.

Dean and Dad appeared at Sammy’s side, peering down at Jimmy with relief and worry. In an instant they were both touching him, too, Dean's hand on his arm above Sammy's, Dad’s palm cupping around Jimmy's head, his temple, then coming to rest wrapped around his cheek.

"You had us worried, son," Dad said, and Jimmy's eyes watered. He didn't know why.

"Hey," Dean said, eyes flying wide with alarm. "Hey, don't cry."

Dean hated it when they cried, when anybody cried. Jimmy sniffed, but he couldn't hold it back.

He was just so glad to see them.

Dad's thumb moved under Jimmy's eye, brushing the tears away before they hit the scrape on his cheek. "You were in a car accident. Do you remember?"

Jimmy rocked his head from side to side, a bare shiver of movement, then stilled. His breath stuck in his throat. Now he remembered. He remembered all of it.

"Hey," Dean said. He squeezed Jimmy's arm. "Don't freak out. It's okay."

Dad nodded. "It's okay now. You were thrown free. I'm guessing...I'm guessing our heavenly friend had something to do with that. You managed to drag yourself back to the road, and a truck driver found you and radioed for help."

"You've been out for three days," Sammy said, his voice hushed with awe at this astonishing figure.

Jimmy's eyes flicked to Dad for confirmation, and Dad nodded. "Yeah. They had you in a medical coma for a while. When they brought you in, you were bleeding internally. Weird to say, but it might have been the hypothermia that saved you. It slowed down your functions enough that the doctors had time to bring you back."

Dean glanced around, as if checking for anyone spying on them, then leaned closer to Jimmy. “Is Cas okay?”

Of course they had known that it was Jimmy in charge the instant he opened his eyes, and they were concerned by Castiel’s (highly unusual) absence.. Jimmy sighed and closed his eyes, casting back in his mind again.

Now that he’d done it once in extreme circumstances, it was much easier to find Castiel again. The angel was a banked ember in his mind, glowing low and warm instead of bright and hot. At Jimmy’s approach, he tried to rouse himself. But he couldn’t manage it, instead falling back into his somnolent state with the equivalent of a groan, pained and weary.

Jimmy opened his eyes and met Dean’s worried gaze. “No, not really. He’s hurt bad. He’s alive, though.”

Dean’s breath stopped for a moment, his eyes wide and terrified. It hadn’t occurred to him that that could be a question. Sammy’s mouth hung open, and even Dad looked distressed and disconcerted.

Jimmy’s eyes welled up again. Seeing his brothers and dad asking themselves the same questions he had… The sight returned him to that moment when he held Castiel’s life in his numb and shaking hands. It was possible for an angel to die? What would they do without him? How would they ever get over such an overwhelming loss? The agonized desperation of that time, as he felt Castiel fading inside him, poured over Jimmy as fresh and awful as when it was new.

“Hey,” Dad said, low and soothing and tender, and all Jimmy could do was turn his face into his father’s hand and cry. It was choked and soft and weary, and it tore at his throat and clogged his nose and blurred his eyes and hurt his head, and he couldn’t have stopped it to save his life.

It went on for a long time. At first Dad and Dean said things designed to make it stop, though Sammy just held his wrist in a solid, comforting grip. Once it became clear that the crying wasn’t going to end anytime soon, though, “It’s okay” and “You’ll be all right” and “You’re safe now“ and similar phrases stopped coming. More footsteps around the bed, and a stranger, a nurse, did medical things and hooked up an oxygen cannula, while Dad just kept holding his face, while Sammy rubbed his arm and Dean paced beside the bed, helpless and suffering.

When the nurse left, Dad cursed under his breath and let go of Jimmy’s cheek, just for a moment. The bed shook as he lowered the siderail. Then Dad bent down to Jimmy’s level, gathering his head and upper body into his arm, cradling Jimmy’s hot temple and burning forehead against his shoulder. Jimmy turned his face into the cool leather of his jacket and felt his father’s fingers combing through his hair.

There was no room in him for embarrassment, for shame at his weakness. He only knew that he was tired, he hurt, and he had been through a horrible experience. In the moment, when Castiel was depending on him, he could not allow himself to feel the terror and grief and anguish. So he felt it all now when he was safe, surrounded by his family in a clean, warm hospital room.

That demon. The demon who had traveled back from the future riding Castiel, shredding his grace, breaking his wings. The demon who had killed Jimmy’s parents in smoke and flame, orphaning him, condemning him to the broken system that did not see and stop his abuse. The demon, the thing that had possessed Mr. Baker in an attempt to get at them five years ago, thwarted by Dean and Sammy’s resourcefulness, by Castiel’s courage, by John Winchester’s instincts and protectiveness. The demon who still held part of Castiel’s grace, permanently crippling him.

It had tried to kill them again. It had targeted Castiel for death. It had almost succeeded.

And it was still out there.

We can’t tell them. Castiel’s sense was barely there. He had pulled himself out of his stupor in response to Jimmy’s emotions, though he wasn’t going to be able to keep consciousness for very long. He was determined to discuss this while he had a chance. It would only worry them.

Jimmy sniffled against his father’s shoulder, closed eyelids fluttering as he focused within. We have to keep an eye out for the demon. They should know what’s going on.

There’s nothing they can do. We don’t even know its name.

There has to be something…

It’s not important. All of our interactions with it have been focused on me. It wishes to destroy me, and me alone, not the Winchester family as a whole. It doesn’t even seem to care about the coming Apocalypse. It’s a distraction, one we cannot afford.

It’s trying to kill you, Castiel. That matters. You’re important.

No. I am only one mutilated angel. I’ve done what I can to change the future, but that’s all.

You’re important to us.


A pause. But it did not deter Castiel. Don’t say anything. I don’t want to worry them with this. Please.

Jimmy frowned. Castiel didn’t ask for much, so when he did make a request, it was difficult to refuse him. Okay, fine. I won’t say anything for now. But you ought to tell them yourself.

They’re worried enough. Go on, reassure them that all is well, or will be well soon.


Again, Castiel pushed Jimmy back into consciousness, though this time the motion was much more controlled. Jimmy opened his eyes with a sigh, falling limp. The flesh around his eyes was puffy from weeping, his cheeks stiff with dried tears. Dad still held him close, stroking his hair with his free hand, his stubbly chin pressed to Jimmy’s forehead. Dean stared at him from the foot of the bed, uncomfortable but unwilling to leave, and Sammy’s hand rested on his arm, small and soft and warm.

Jimmy couldn’t imagine a more comfortable position, truly.

“Okay?” Dad murmured, a bass rumble vibrating Jimmy’s head where it rested against his neck.

“Did you talk to Cas?” Dean asked.

“Mmm.” Jimmy shifted his head in the approximation of a nod. “He’s…he’s in bad shape. But he’ll be okay. Just needs to rest.”

“Like you,” Dad said with a note of amusement.

“Yeah.”

“All right.” Dad held him even closer, solid and reassuring and safe, part manly sideways hug, part unapologetic fatherly comfort. “You do that. We’ll be here when you wake up.”

Jimmy believed him. Sammy pressed his arm, Dean nodded, and his entire family was with him. Jimmy nestled into it and let himself fade out once again. He would have time enough to worry about the rest later.

End of Third Interlude
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