This story is also available at this location on The Archive of Our Own, where all my current stories and comments can be found. I am no longer updating this site.

Claire has a particular dream every once in a while. She's sitting in a chair, near a bed. On the bed is a man, his face buried in the pillows. He's naked to the waist, a sheet pulled over his lower half. On his well-muscled back are two tattoos, one over each shoulderblade, inky black outlines of guns like his skin is some sort of survivalist coloring book.

His hair is close-cut, brown, and there's a raised red scar on his shoulder.

As she watches, the tattoos ripple and burst free of his skin, transforming as they go into wings, white feathers edged with charcoal black. They fill the room, obscuring her view of the man.

When she wakes, her mouth is dry and her hands shake.

Three years after the possession, she spends a few hours on Google and determines that the guns are Colt 1911s.

When she learns how to shoot, she picks a Smith & Wesson.

The dream never goes away for long. After an exorcism, it's a usual visitor. After she lets a demon-ridden person get away, it's a certainty.

****

Castiel left her with various legacies. Missing father, devastated mother, financial troubles profound enough to constitute their own form of purely human evil—all that, yes. And the ability to detect possession, some angelic sensibility left over like soap scum, coating her insides.

It took her three years to learn enough binding spells to perform a full exorcism. The binding spells were a necessary predicate. Teenage girls aren't exactly known for their ability to overpower other people in the ordinary course of things, much less demon-possessed, supernaturally strong other people.

She makes her way in the world mostly by telling fortunes and selling charms, giving people what they think they want. She specializes in possessions, intersecting with other hunters only occasionally.

She meets Ben Braeden when she's twenty-two, both of them chasing a particularly nasty demon who's taken out two other hunters already and an unknown but high number of civilians.

Seeing Ben reveals something new to her: she knows he's Dean Winchester's blood.

As it turns out, he's not so sure of that, at least not until she proves her bona fides by tracking the demon as it jumps from body to body in a crowded amusement park. They trap it in the Hall of Mirrors, using charms she's only had to invoke twice before, and exorcise it over the course of four grueling hours, by the end of which Ben is covered with blood and she's covered with vomit.

He takes her back to his hotel room to clean up and buys her dinner. She lets it happen because he's insistent and because, no matter how cold other people generally find her, vomit is still disgusting and she's still disgusted by it.

It's true, though, that there is a layer separating her from the rest of the world. She imagines that barrier as being white and soft as eiderdown, discarded when Castiel left her for her father like an empty nest.

Ben wants to stick together, claiming that he needs a partner, and she allows it. He is, in fact, a much better shot than she is, and he's much better at dealing with real people—which only goes to show how bad she is at it, because he's often terrible, misjudging his charm.

Six months into their joint travels, Claire nearly dies at the hands of a demon who claims to have plucked Castiel's eyes out of his sockets. Ben has a broken leg and a concussion, but he uses Claire's blood to draw the angelic symbols she taught him and the demon is thrown halfway across the continent.

When he recovers, they become lovers.

****

Ben is lying in bed, reading John Winchester's journal, which they've acquired by paying a price Claire doesn't like to think about. She is tracing lines on his back again.

"Why do you always do that?" Ben asks. He must very much want to know the answer; he's usually excellent at respecting her need to keep her own counsel.

"It's a tattoo I see in a dream," she tells him. She doesn't lie. Lying feels like she's cracking apart, useless and contaminated as a vessel, and even if she would refuse any second chance at such glory she can't help wanting to avoid the uncleanliness of deception.

She was a child when Castiel had her, pure of faith in the easy way of children. Sometimes she wonders whether, if Castiel hadn't taken her, she would have been able to maintain her father's convictions to adulthood. She thinks almost certainly not; her father was a rarity in the world, which was why he was chosen.

"Should I get it?" Ben asks after a long silence. He doesn't like Claire's powers, but he trusts them.

"It's not your tattoo," she tells him.

She refuses to love Ben because he is too much like his father and she refuses to feel anything Castiel might have felt. Ben largely accepts this, with occasional drunken binges. He's too tenderhearted for this business, really, treating every human death like a referendum on his worth, but it's not for her, of all people, to decide who's strong enough to hunt.

Ben thinks that he might find out what happened to Dean Winchester if he hunts for long enough. Claire thinks that this is likely to be true only in the most metaphoric sense, but again she's not going to judge.

Castiel didn't mean to make her what she is. He didn't think about it at all, too busy following orders and chasing the Winchesters around. Perhaps her desire to find him is as quixotic as Ben's personal quest. She doesn't rate her chances of success highly. She's not even sure what she'd say to him if she did find him, perhaps still inhabiting her father's unchanged form.

The new gospels say that the angel Castiel knew sympathy for humans, that this was what triggered his rebellion (poetic inversion of Lucifer's Fall). Mostly she wants to scream at him: why them and not me? Why did your conversion have to wait until you'd hollowed me out?

Claire knows there's no good answer to that question. But in the meantime there are many more demons than there are angels, and that ratio isn't likely to change.

Even an empty cup has its uses, after all.

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