(aka NOVAKCEST PILOT FIC. FINALLY.)
Title: Unto Dust
Word Count: 7000
Rating: R for violence
Warnings: graphic violence, child death
Summary: In which the Red-Eyed Demon reminds Jimmy that you can't avoid your past forever, and Jacob finds that spending seven years as far from his brother as he can get is worth nothing when Jimmy shows up on his doorstep asking for help.
A graphic to entice you, also by me:
Also available on AO3. Graphic rebloggable on tumblr.
In his dream they are ten years old and still young enough that to speak of one is to speak of the other. Jimmy recognizes the leftmost twin as himself only by process of elimination; his mind would know Jacob in any form. In memory their backyard stretches endlessly outward, the dry grass an oversaturated gold, and the lone beech tree in the middle of the yard reaches up past the clouds.
Jacob puts his hand on the trunk and without transition is high in the branches above him. Jimmy can feel his own hands wrap around the lowest branch and pull, even as his adult mind watches from afar as the scrape-kneed wild-haired ten-year-old climbs laboriously after his brother.
Every day of those earlier summers seemed interchangeable with the rest, but Jimmy knows in the unquestioning way of dreams that this is the day he and Jacob finally began construction of their treehouse, whose weathered boards remain in this beech even now. As soon as he thinks this, he sees the hammer in Jacob’s hand, the nails in his own. He is supposed to be handing Jacob the boards, he remembers. He tries to give the nails to his brother but instead they drop to the grass below.
If we make it waterproof I bet we could live up here even, says Jacob, apparently unaware that Jimmy is failing to do his part, apparently unaware that the house he’s building them is still in scrap-lumber pieces on the ground. Unafraid, Jacob is climbing even higher. We’ll salt the doors so it’s safe. And no one’ll be allowed in except us.
Jimmy suddenly remembers what else happened this day, that the sun was setting and they had nearly been done with the platform when Jacob leaned back a little too far and slipped off his branch. Jimmy remembers seeing his brother drop past him and remembers the sick crunch of Jacob’s arm when he landed on it.
But when he looks down he sees the tree has grown taller without them noticing, so high that a fall from this height would surely be fatal. Fear drums in Jimmy’s ears, petrifying him. He can’t let Jacob fall this time. Jimmy clings to the trunk, as though his own tenacity will be enough to avert his brother’s fate, too scared to move. But it’s too late, Jacob is slipping, Jacob is falling, and Jimmy reaches out in a hopeless instinct that is more supplication to heaven than belief that he can stop this.
His upturned hands catch a nail.
Jacob is gone and Jimmy clutches the nail to his chest, sure that the nail is somehow Jacob, but when he opens his hand again to be sure, there’s nothing but a line of blood across his palm. More seeps out as he watches, though he can’t feel the pain of it, pooling in his hand and dripping onto the floor where the tree used to be.
He is no longer ten years old—
kneeling by the bloody puddle but where // the lights, what’s wrong with // something is laughing // where //
His house. Not the labyrinthine farmhouse he and Jacob grew up in, but the tiny split-level Jimmy and Amelia bought themselves in place of a honeymoon. Unlike the treehouse dream, everything here looks exactly as it does in reality, down to the advertisement for Tom’s Treecutting Services on the counter and the pile of Claire’s toys in the corner that both of them keep meaning to clean up. The clock’s numbers read 10:41. //
not his hands that are bleeding so // he can smell the // 10:41 // Amelia comes into the kitchen and // “sorry, sweetheart” // it’s not his // smells like //
Amelia lies on their kitchen floor, her blonde hair fanned out beneath her, and the blood is hers. The deep slice across her throat pulses out another rush of it, still hot. Her eyes stare glassily at nothing. Then her body goes up in flames. //
Jimmy wakes up.
“Daddy,” Claire says reproachfully, “you were yelling in your sleep again.”
Jimmy rolls over, groggy and disoriented, trying to slow his heartbeat. Amelia has burned in his dreams for the past two weeks straight, despite the sleeping pills Amelia insisted would help. He’s sure there’s some psychological explanation, some symbology behind his gruesome imaginings—after all, it’s almost the three-year anniversary of his mother’s last hunt, and the fire that took her life.
But hunting’s enough to leave horrors in anyone’s subconscious. Isn’t that why Jimmy put that life behind him, isn’t that what he’s protecting Claire and Amelia from? He should be glad that bad dreams and a handful of scars are the worst things that followed him out of his childhood.
Seeing that Jimmy is fully awake now, Claire knee-walks up the bed and plops down on Jimmy’s chest.
“Oof—hey, baby. Did I wake you up?” Jimmy squints at the alarm clock. "What time is it?" 10:41, his mind supplies, but no, it’s barely five past. Usually the details of his dreams fade within moments of waking, but this one lingers too clear in his mind.
“Not me,” says Claire, rolling her eyes with far too much exasperation for someone who is just barely four years old. “Mr. Lumps was napping.”
Jimmy huffs a laugh. Mr. Lumps is a stuffed animal of uncertain taxonomy that his mother gave Claire, some four-legged creature with large eyes, a dusty brown coat, and a white underbelly. Amelia thinks it might be a llama, Jimmy suspects it was meant to be a dog, and Claire, for her own mysterious reasons, insists he’s a deer. It’s much harder for Jimmy to let his paranoia trouble him when he has his daughter sitting on top of him talking about someone named Mr. Lumps.
Jimmy sits up slowly under Claire’s weight, tipping her backwards into his waiting hands, until he is fully upright with Claire giggling in his lap. His dreams don’t belong here. “Well, now that everyone’s awake,” Jimmy says, “how would you and Mr. Lumps like some pancakes?”
The kitchen is sunny, and warm for April, but empty. Jimmy takes the milk and eggs out of the fridge and pauses to peer into the dining room. “Claire, honey, where’s your mom?”
“She’s getting you a present,” Claire says, dragging her step-stool to the counter beside him.
“A present?” Jimmy tries to remember if there’s something significant about today’s date that he’s forgotten. Easter was last week, and Amelia already gave him his annual stash of creepy-eyed chocolate bunnies. He considers that yes, Amelia is the sort of person to get him a present for no reason at all, and marvels anew at whatever fluke of fate allowed her to love him back.
“I’m not s’posed to tell you cause it’s a secret, but secret secrets hurt someone so you just have to act really surprised when she gets back, okay?” Claire’s small face is very serious.
Secret secrets hurt someone—who taught her that, Jimmy wonders. It sounds like a nursery rhyme, recited with a sing-song lilt, but Jimmy’s mother taught him the exact opposite: never tell anyone what we do. Say whatever you have to, even if it means lying. Secrets keep people safe.
Of course he’s wanted to tell Amelia, he thinks, stirring the pancake batter viciously. They’re supposed to share everything, that’s what marriage means. But Jimmy can barely supply anecdotes of his childhood without having to wave away questions about what he and his brother were doing in a swamp outside St. Cloud in the first place. Amelia tells stories of learning how to skip rocks with her parents, not how to shoot different gauges of shotgun. Sometimes Jimmy wonders how she can understand him so well when she knows so little of his life.
But Amelia has a gift for bringing out the person he might have been, the parts of him that aren’t bloodstained and salt-gritty. If he tells her the truth, if she knows what he used to be, that person will cease to exist. He never wants to become something Amelia fears. She might leave. She might take Claire away from him and so he can’t tell her, he can’t risk it; even laying salt lines would raise too many questions about right minds and irrational behavior. And it’s been years since he last hunted, even longer since he failed to finish a job. What good would it do to tell her about the things that live in the dark when she might go her whole life without meeting them?
Lost in his thoughts and the steady sizzle of pancakes, Jimmy doesn’t hear the front door open. Claire jumps down from her stool. “Mommy!”
“Hey, baby.” Amelia walks into the kitchen and she’s fine, of course she’s fine, it’s only Jimmy’s paranoia that sweeps him with relief upon seeing her. He flips one pancake onto Claire’s plate and pours another, grinning like a fool. Above him a lightbulb burns out, and the rest flicker for a second.
“Did you get Daddy his present?” Claire asks in a loud whisper, tugging Amelia’s sleeve as Amelia kneels in front of her. Amelia’s hands are empty.
Amelia laughs, and something about the sound makes Jimmy uneasy. He sets down the spatula. What is wrong with the lights?
Amelia reaches out to take Claire’s face in her hands, brushing the wispy blonde hair out of Claire’s eyes. “I sure did. Wanna see?”
“Yes yes yes,” Claire chants, holding Amelia’s wrists. Amelia smiles at her, then at Jimmy.
Then her hands twist and with a loud crack she snaps Claire’s neck.
“No!” yells Jimmy, but it’s too late; the demon throws him back against the wall.
“I’m surprised at you, Jimmy,” the thing says, Amelia’s voice laid over with hellfire. “I took this gig expecting a challenge. A Key of Solomon, at least; something fun.” It grins, toothy and feral, and it’s so far from Amelia that Jimmy can’t believe he was deceived. “But here you are, making pancakes for a toddler, and not even salt lines on the doors.” It lowers its voice. “What would your mommy say?”
“Let her go,” Jimmy snarls, struggling against the invisible force pinning him to the wall. He can’t stop staring at Claire, crumpled up frail as a fledgling bird, her face pointed towards him at such an unnatural angle. He’s waiting for her to get up, praying, but Jimmy has seen too much death not to know it when it’s lying in front of him. He turns back to the thing inside Amelia, cheeks wet. “Let her go!”
The demon’s eyes flick—not black, but fiery red. “Make me.”
“Exorcizamus te,” Jimmy says, calling on a hundred memories of his mother drilling him in this, a thousand more practicing with Jacob. “Omnis immundis spiritus, omnis satanica potestas—”
Amelia’s head whips back and forth, too fast, but then the demon giggles, and with another twist of its fingers, Jimmy is choking.
“Maybe that stuff works in the minor leagues,” says the demon, “but you gotta try a lot harder with me.” Jimmy gasps in a breath before his throat closes off again. The demon saunters closer, eyes still burning red, and runs its fingers through Jimmy’s hair in a gross parody of Amelia’s affection. “But you don’t even know how, do you?” it says. “You have no idea what you’re capable of.”
Its control relaxes for a second as it broods over him, and Jimmy forces out, “omnis—incursio—”
The demon’s face turns ugly, and it slams his head back against the wall. The lights above him spark and gutter. “You’re supposed to be so special,” it hisses, fingers digging into Jimmy’s chest, “but look at you. You’re not even a real hunter anymore. You’re too scared of your past to defend your own family. You’re weak. You’re pathetic.” It shakes him again. “He deserves better.”
Jimmy isn’t thinking, can’t do anything but repeat the exorcism over and over in his head, but at that his concentration slips, he loses his place. His mother used to tell them their family was special, hunting evil when no one else could, but all Jimmy ever wanted was to be normal. Maybe he was always deluding himself, thinking that nothing would ever come for him, but God, can’t he ever stop? Is this all he gets, seven years with Amelia, barely four with Claire, before they tear it all down?
No. He won’t let them. Claire might be—Claire is—but even if it’s too late for his daughter, Jimmy can still save his wife. “Omnis incursio infernalis adversarii. Omnis legio, omnis—”
The demon laughs, and the harsh sound throws Jimmy right back into his nightmare. “Sorry, sweetheart,” it says. “I’m on a tight schedule. No time for a trip down under.” It turns and walks back to where Claire lies staring blankly at the ceiling.
The demon lifts its nose, and Jimmy smells it a second later. Smoke.
It’s the pancake burning, of all things, left on the stove this whole time for someone who will never get to eat it. The demon’s face lights with glee. “Ooh,” it says, “that’s a wonderful idea.”
Its hand makes a fist, and Claire’s limp body slides across the floor and knocks into the far wall. As Jimmy watches, the demon drags her all the way up and onto the ceiling. “Your mother always set such a good example for your family,” it croons. “Let’s see how little Claire likes it, hm?” Claire’s fingers dangle loose like spiderwebs but her blue eyes are still open. The lights flicker again, and the shadows almost make it look like her face is moving.
With a snap of the demon’s fingers, Claire bursts into flames.
“Claire!” Jimmy screams, so loud it can’t just be in his head. Fire races across the ceiling, already eating away at the floorboards of the rooms above, and Jimmy can’t even move to shield his face from the heat. Unconcerned, the demon walks to the counter and picks up a knife.
No, Jimmy thinks, no no no no no no—
“You don’t give Amelia enough credit, you know,” says the demon conversationally. “She didn’t believe in demons up til the minute I jumped her bones, but she’s already trying to fight me off. She even found out my name, if you can believe it.” It sighs. “That’s a shame. I liked her.”
“Don’t,” Jimmy says, exorcism forgotten. “Please.”
“Sorry. Can’t have her spoiling the surprise,” says the demon. “But you know, I think our Amelia would have made a pretty good hunter.” Its smile, this time, is painfully familiar. “You should have trusted her.” And carefully, slowly, the demon cuts Amelia’s throat.
Later Jimmy can’t remember how he tears himself away from the wall, blind with rage and fire, or why another shove from the demon’s powers doesn’t stop him in his tracks. What he remembers is the black smoke pouring out of Amelia’s mouth, and falling to his knees beside Amelia where her blood pools underneath her, too late to stop. The clock reads 10:41 and the blood on Jimmy’s hands is not his.
Fire ravages around him, its hungry roar filling his ears. Jimmy stares down at Amelia, at the blood still pulsing weakly from her neck. The inferno above him has completely obscured what’s left of Claire. Part of Jimmy wants to let the fire take him, just let it end now because he has nothing left, no one to live for. Part of him is still hoping he’ll wake up.
Then a flame leaps up in front of him, and with a speed that must be supernatural, Amelia too is consumed.
Jimmy shies away on instinct, crawling with no direction or purpose except to escape the redoubled heat, the shapes in the fire. Smoke worms its way into his lungs, not demonic this time but just as deadly. He can’t breathe. Tears splinter his vision but he can’t blame the fire for that. He smells burning meat.
He moves. His hands sweep across the wall he’s following, looking for an exit, meeting only more hot blank surfaces. It’s like drowning, this smoke, and Jimmy remembers the summer they hunted a kelpie in its own lake, the way all that dark water could make you forget which way was up and you never knew you were swimming the wrong direction until you ran into the muddy bottom. Something creaks above him, fire eating away at the supports, and Jimmy can’t find his way out.
Then his fingers catch, and there’s a knob—a door, the front door, he must have made his way into the hallway without realizing it. The metal of the doorknob is hot enough to hurt but Jimmy scrabbles at it anyway. It turns, and a billow of smoke follows him as he tumbles out onto the lawn, gasping for breath.
Behind him, an explosion rocks the house to its foundations.
“Amelia!” Jimmy yells, but the smoke has scraped his voice down to a raspy whisper, too weak to even be heard over the rush of the fire that now towers over the house. Heat drives him back, and back further, until Jimmy is on all fours on the sidewalk, shivering and sobbing and too weak to move.
By the time the fire department arrives, there aren’t bodies left to salvage.
Jimmy wakes up in the hospital. He stumbles his way through the police’s questioning, but when Sheriff Mills arrives she doesn’t ask him to tell it again, just leans over the bed and wraps her arms around him. After a minute Jimmy remembers how his arms work, and then he can’t stop clutching at her, chest heaving with half-silent sounds of pain. She shushes him and pats his back, his hair, soft and soothing. The knowledge that Jimmy’s mother is dead flares up as sharp as it was three years ago, and the old grief piled on the new feels like the fire crawled inside him to claw up his insides.
Roger shows up later, and brings Jimmy home with him. Kate offers him a pot roast and the smell of it makes Jimmy want to throw up. He chokes down a piece of cornbread, a few glasses of water, and then he drops into their guest bed to mercifully empty sleep.
He doesn’t salt the doors here, either. It’s a disservice to Roger and Kate, who took him in without question, who have always been here for him, but Jimmy imagines the demon rebuffed from this house when it entered his own so easily and he can’t do it.
He wishes the demon would come finish the job.
Amelia’s parents tell him they’ve already contacted the rest of her family, that the funeral can wait until Sunday because there is no body to show. Corinne Harrison is the most composed woman Jimmy has ever met, but when Jimmy nods at her helpless “Claire too?”, she sits down like a house of cards collapsing. Steve asks him to explain over and over, how the stove must have sparked a gas leak of some kind, how some paints are just more flammable than others. The way there was no warning, none at all.
He counts it a blessing that he sleeps without dreaming now: all the stories say God doesn’t take kindly to people who refuse to hear His message. Jimmy asks himself, then, what kind of God allows demons to possess innocent people without retribution. Whether he’s willing to believe in a God that watched Claire die, and did nothing.
Jimmy finds a tree and punches it until his knuckles bleed.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Roger says, and Jimmy just laughs, because everyone keeps telling him this and they have no idea.
“Can I tell you something?” he asks Roger, best man at his wedding, best friend for these last seven years, and like the solid, dependable friend that he is, Roger says, “Anything.”
Jimmy tells him—not everything. Never everything. But he tells him about the dream, about how he’d seen Amelia go up in flames night after night. Knowing Roger won’t believe him, knowing this is a world that doesn’t recognize the supernatural when it’s right in front of them, Jimmy tells him it wasn’t a normal dream, just to hear the truth out loud. He looks up and for a second he could swear Roger is smiling.
When Roger speaks, though, his face is nothing but sympathy. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up about it, Jim,” he says. “Some things just can’t be stopped.”
Exorcizamus te, omnis spiritus immundi, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica. Ergo, draco maledicte et omnis legio diabolica, adjuramus te: cessa decipere humanas creaturas, eisque æternæ perditionis nenenum propinare. Vade, Satana, inventor et magister omnis fallaciæ, hostis humanæ salutis. Humiliare sub potenti manu Dei; contremisce et effuge. Invocato a nobis sancto et terribli Nomine quem inferi tremunt. Ab insidiis diaboli, libera nos, Domine. Ut ecclesiam tuam secura tibi facias libertate servire, te rogamus, audi nos. Exorcizamus te.
It’s April. It rains.
Jimmy curls under his umbrella, looking into the muddy hole below his feet—six feet by four feet and six feet deep, pack those walls tight, boys, you don’t want them coming down on you—and his shoulders ache even knowing that this is one grave he won’t have to dig up again; the thick pine casket is empty. There is no coffin for Claire, just a tiny headstone beside Amelia’s, the kind that he used to trip over in the dark. The pastor delivers the eulogy and it’s just as well because Jimmy isn’t sure he can form words.
Is this it, then? His wife and his daughter stolen by evil incarnate, and Jimmy stands idly by as the idea of them is buried? How is he supposed to walk out of this graveyard knowing that every blond-haired child, every pair of blue eyes, every street in this little town will remind him of what he no longer has? He can’t. He can’t walk past their house one more time and see only ashes. He can’t pick up the pieces pretending this was all some tragic accident. He feels his breath coming faster and clenches his fists, willing himself not to fly apart.
No. He’s a hunter. He’ll find the red-eyed demon, track it to Hell and back if he has to, and then he’ll find some way to destroy it so utterly that even Hell couldn’t save it. He will find the demon, he has to, because at least then there will be justice—because if not vengeance than what, what does he have, what is he supposed to do?
“Hey,” Roger says at his side, “you okay?”
Jimmy breathes out, hard, and Roger winces. “You’re not,” he says, “course you’re not, hey. It’s gonna be okay, Jim.” He wraps his arm around Jimmy’s shoulders, protective and fraternal. “Let’s get you someplace a little quieter, right? You don’t want to be crowded by Amelia’s relatives. Hey, are any of your family here?”
Jimmy thinks, my family is dead.
Almost as if he heard him, Roger stops, and scans the crowd. “Where’s your brother?”
Jacob—is not here. Jacob has not even crossed Jimmy’s mind since the fire, a feat that seems impossible now he’s aware of it. But then, Jacob’s self-imposed exile has only been broken once, and that for their own mother’s funeral, where Jacob stayed just long enough to ruin Jimmy’s carefully-built calm before he disappeared again. Jacob hadn’t even come to Jimmy’s wedding; little surprise that Jimmy didn’t think of him at his marriage’s end.
“My brother,” he begins, then stops. Jacob is a hunter too, a better one than Jimmy after seven years more practice. Jimmy knows their mother went on hunts in Boston with Jacob, told him things that Jimmy didn’t want to know. Jacob might know what the demon was talking about. He’d have some idea of how to even begin hunting it. There’s also that small part of Jimmy that’s still ten years old and still wants his brother to be the brave one so he doesn’t have to.
Jacob would help Jimmy, wouldn’t he? After all this time, even after all that happened between them, wouldn’t Jacob be able to put that aside now, when Jimmy truly needs him?
He hates that he doesn’t know. He hates that Jacob is halfway across the country, wrapped up in his own petty problems and his own mysterious life with no idea what has just happened to Jimmy. Jacob should help Jimmy, whether he wants to or not; he owes Jimmy that much.
“Jimmy?” says Roger.
Jimmy blinks, and the graves are still there. “I gotta go,” he mumbles, taking a step back, then another. Roger says something else, reaching after him, but Jimmy has a path to follow now and he can’t let Roger talk him out of it. It’s possible he says this aloud, because Roger doesn’t try again. Instead he turns and intercepts the condolences of Amelia’s aunt, leaving Jimmy free to slip away unnoticed, back to the parking lot and his beat-up Honda with Claire’s carseat still buckled into the back.
He points himself toward Boston and drives.
Jacob’s had this same fucking headache since last Sunday. He tells Joseph he’s not going out after all, then lies and says maybe he’ll get some work done on his dissertation. Joseph and Kaycee give him the same dubious expression. Now that they’re dating they make the same faces sometimes, and it freaks Jacob out; how can they seem so similar when they don’t look anything alike? How can you fall in sync with someone? The same way you fall out of sync, probably.
The last thing he needs is to add more thoughts of Jimmy to this headache, so he leaves. Anyway he might work on his dissertation. Kaycee’s right that with his classes all finished there’s no excuse for him not to just get it done, get his PhD and finally start living in the real world, whatever that means. But Jacob’s been living in a world filled with ghosts and monsters since he was nine years old; maybe the real world won’t take him. The T is crowded this time of night but at least it’s not haunted anymore.
He sort of hopes Kurt isn’t in their apartment when he gets home, and that makes him feel like an asshole, but whatever, Kurt’s not the kind of guy to need Jacob around all the time. Right now Jacob just wants to pop some aspirin and go to sleep. He can’t find his key, and he turns the knob half-heartedly because he doesn’t want to go digging through his bag.
The door opens.
If Kurt were home, the lights would be on. Jacob’s senses snap to attention as he slowly pushes the door further. The hidden salt line’s not broken, but plenty of nasties can get past salt. Why did he leave his gun home today? Silver’s his next best bet; if he can sneak around whatever it is, get to his closet and grab the pistol… He creeps down the front hallway and peers into the kitchen: empty. He sidles into the living room.
Physics Macaw squawks at him and Jacob lets out a “fuck!” before he catches himself. He glares at the dim cage and the chirruping cockatoo inside, heart racing. One day he will kill that bird and stuff it, swear to God. He sees a figure come out of his bedroom, drawn by the noise, and Jacob tackles it before it can attack him.
“Ow,” it complains, but it knows how to fight—elbow to Jacob’s sternum, twist and a jab for the eyes which Jacob ducks to avoid. Their legs are too tangled to be of any use, but it keeps his opponent floored as Jacob dodges a punch, one, two, and he can feel the feint to the left before the other man even makes it. Jacob catches his arm and slams it to the ground. Gettin’ sloppy, Jimbo, he thinks—then he falters.
His opponent takes advantage of his slackened grip and flips them before Jacob can finish the thought. Just then a car drives down the street outside, headlights illuminating a sharp nose and disheveled black hair, and then Jacob is seventeen again, pinned and staring up at Jimmy with no idea what comes next.
“It’s me, you idiot,” Jimmy says, and he shoves Jacob harder against the floor before he stands up.
Jacob scrambles upright, afraid to look away in case this is some sort of migraine-induced hallucination. He fumbles for the lamp next to him and switches it on. Jimmy looks—
Terrible, actually. His eyes are bloodshot and he doesn’t appeared to have shaved for at least two days. His hair is messier than their scuffle alone would explain, and slightly greasy, when Jimmy’s the one who spent half their adolescence yelling at Jacob to use a comb, to shower before he left the house. More than that, Jimmy’s entire posture screams exhaustion, though he’s trying to hide it behind squared shoulders and a clenched jaw.
“What are you doing here?” Jacob asks finally. His first thought is that something’s happened to Mom except, of course, something already did happen to Mom, and Jacob had to be the one to tell Jimmy about that. Jimmy has his own life now, and Jacob made the unspoken promise to both of them that he’d stay out of it.
Jimmy’s mouth wavers. “I didn’t know if you—” Then he stops. He’s been looking around the apartment but now he looks at Jacob, that old familiar weighing of his brother, inevitably finding Jacob the lesser. The defective copy. This time Jimmy’s judgment isn’t followed by anger, though, or embarrassment, or even regret; what flashes across his face is very like despair.
“What?” Jacob asks, though the question’s as likely to scare Jimmy off as to get an answer. Jacob’s not good at not asking. “What happened?”
Wrong question, as always; Jimmy looks away and then he’s crying, choked little hitches of breath and tears that escape despite the fists clenched at his sides. Jimmy didn’t cry like this when they were kids—when he got hurt he’d let everyone know it, howling and screaming and coughing up snot, not concerned in the least with the way his face went splotchy-red. Now even these repressed cries are more than he allows, because as soon as Jacob moves closer, Jimmy grinds his palms against his eyes and tries to wipe it all away.
“What happened?” Jacob asks again, quieter.
Jimmy’s voice comes out remarkably level. “There was a demon,” he says, hands still pressed over his eyes. I will see no evil. “It got—Amelia.” A deep breath. “And Claire.”
Jacob has nothing remotely adequate to say to this. In his mind Amelia has remained the sixteen-year-old girl that made Jimmy ashamed of his family, but Jacob’s not an idiot, anyone could see how much Jimmy loved her. He knows what it’s like to lose the person you love most but he thought Jimmy would be spared that.
And Claire. It’s been three years since Jacob saw her at the funeral but he hasn’t forgotten. Only a year old, Claire wasn’t talking yet, but she’d squealed and giggled when she saw him, and when Amelia handed her over, Jacob's hands knew instinctively that they were holding something precious. Jimmy’s daughter—in a way, almost his own, their identical genes passed on into something Jacob wouldn’t ruin. Claire had burbled at him, cheerfully slapping Jacob’s face, and when Jacob looked up, Jimmy’s expression was softer than Jacob had ever seen it.
Jacob had held his niece for two, maybe three minutes. And now she’s gone.
I’m sorry, he thinks, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. Jacob was the one who left, he knows this, and maybe if he’d stayed he could have kept that awful look off Jimmy’s face. Jacob would have protected him—but didn’t Jimmy say he could look after himself, even with their mother dead?
“How’d it get in?” he asks, realizing only after he’s spoken that these should not have been the first words out of his mouth.
“Because I fucked up!” Jimmy yells. “Is that what you want to hear? I didn’t lay the salt lines, I didn’t paint devil’s traps all over my house, and it was my own stupid, stupid fault.” He’s shaking. He looks ready to throw another punch. This time, Jacob hugs him before either of them can back out.
They’d do this when they were little, if one of them got hurt. Touching each other like pain could be leached through physical contact. They’re supposed to get split everything right down the middle, that’s the rule, and Jacob will take his half so Jimmy doesn’t have to carry it anymore. Jimmy tucks his face into Jacob’s collarbone and Jacob just holds him, conjuring up and discarding sentences he could speak in their old twin-language: you’ll be okay and I’ll make it better and I’m here, I’m here. You’ve still got me.
Again, though, Jimmy doesn’t indulge his grief for long. Jacob lets go before Jimmy can push him away, and for a while they don’t speak, staring in opposite directions.
Not even salt lines? Mom had told him that Jimmy wasn’t hunting anymore, and of course Jacob remembers the screaming matches Jimmy’d started whenever Jacob let something slip in front of Amelia, but there’s leaving the life and there’s just plain recklessness. Jimmy could have found a way to ward himself without letting Amelia know. Kurt’s never even noticed the thin iron rods Jacob laid along each windowsill when he moved in, hollow tubes he’d filled with pure salt before welding them shut. Jacob hasn’t seen a demon since high school, relying on the salt alone to protect him here, but maybe a devil’s trap in blacklight paint or something, anything that couldn’t be seen to the naked eye—could paint the floor of a whole room if you wanted, like the panic room back home, though that would be a lot of leeway for the demon inside—
And he’s a terrible person, because his mind is whirring away on ways to prevent something that has already happened, and meanwhile Jimmy looks more and more like he regrets coming here. Jacob clears his throat.
“So what—what do you need?”
Jimmy’s surprised by the question, and that stings, that he didn’t think Jacob would be there for him. You haven’t been there for seven years, a treacherously honest part of him whispers, but he ignores that. At least it got Jimmy to look him in the eye.
“I want—” Jimmy pauses to scrub his face with his sleeve again. “You know more about this than I do,” he says finally. “I want to find the demon. I want to kill it.”
“You didn’t exorcise it either?” Jacob blurts, and immediately wants to punch himself.
Jimmy doesn’t break down again, though, just glares and says, “It wouldn’t let me. It wouldn’t let me say anything.” He rubs his throat. “And I’m not talking about sending it back to Hell. For all we know, they enjoy it down there. I want to kill it.”
“You can’t kill demons,” Jacob says automatically. The words trigger a hazy memory, some secret project Mom had mentioned just before she died, but he doesn’t try to remember it. He doesn’t like seeing Jimmy’s anger so close to the surface, like an oil slick just waiting for a spark to immolate him. “Anyway, aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself?” he says. “You’ve still got the, y’know, funerals and stuff to arrange.”
Jimmy gives him an incredulous look, and Jacob doesn’t understand why until Jimmy says, “They’ve already happened. The funerals. Ame—the demon came a week ago.”
Ah, yes, Jacob had forgotten the faint stabbing sensation of learning everything about Jimmy’s life after the fact. Matter of fact, this is the first information he hasn’t gotten secondhand since Jimmy’s wedding invitation—though aside from the familiar handwriting on the envelope, that might as well have been from someone else too. “You waited a week?”
“My house burned to the ground,” Jimmy says coldly. “My wife and child are dead. If I’d run off to Boston the next minute, how do you think that would look?”
“You could have called,” says Jacob. Then, because his voice sounds pathetic and small even to his own ears, he tacks on, “And MIT isn’t Boston, it’s Cambridge.”
Jimmy raises his eyebrows. Seeing through him as usual. “If I’d’ve called, would you have picked up?”
The of course sticks in Jacob’s throat, because he knows exactly which time Jimmy’s talking about, and he hadn’t. Before Jimmy was standing here, making every familiar thing in the apartment seem strange in comparison to the bone-deep familiarity he has with Jimmy—before Jacob had seen the weight of grief crushing his brother in front of his eyes—before this reminder of just how messed up Jimmy makes him, he’d been trying to live without Jimmy, and it had almost been working.
“Yeah,” says Jimmy to his silence. “That’s what I thought.”
Jacob takes a deep breath. “So, what?” he says. “You’re here because you want someone to hunt with?” And I’m your only choice, because Mom is dead and anyone else would tell you you brought this on yourself?
“Just until we find the demon,” Jimmy says. “I just—” His fists clench again. “I can’t just go back and act like—”
“Like none of this is real?”
It’s mean, petty the way he only ever gets around Jimmy, but goddammit, Jacob wants to hear Jimmy say that running away from everything their family is was a mistake. Instead he gets a wounded look that isn’t satisfying at all, and one quiet “Jacob.”
He has a life here. Kaycee’s birthday is next month and Jacob promised Joseph he would be the stripper in her cake. He and Kurt have finally settled into something where everyone’s needs are met and no one asks impossible things of him. He has books overdue at the library. He has a doctorate to earn, for god’s sake. “You don’t even know how long it’ll take,” he says. “Looking for one specific demon in Hell is like looking for one particular drop of water in Boston Harbor. Except in this analogy all the other drops of water also want to kill you. And you don’t even know if it’s in Hell.”
“It wasn’t like other demons,” Jimmy says hurriedly. “Its eyes were red, not black.”
Maybe a higher class of demon? That’ll narrow the field, at least. He’s pretty sure Rufus Turner has a book that says—wait. Wait. “And what happens when you still can’t find it? Are you just gonna keep chasing your tail in circles?” How long until you decide you want to be normal again?
“Then I’ll find other monsters.” Jimmy’s shoulders are high and tight around his neck. “Make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
“You want to hunt,” Jacob reiterates, feeling stupid, but the last time he remembers Jimmy enjoying a hunt was before they started high school. “You want to hunt with me.”
“I know you have things for you here,” Jimmy cuts in. “Friends, job, school, whoever you’re living with that likes v-necks so much. I mean, jeez, you have a pet bird.” Physics Macaw recognizes its cue, and lets out the laugh of the Wicked Witch of the West. Stuff it and mount it on the wall, Jacob is not even joking.
He also doesn’t know what to say next because yeah, he does have something here, a better life than he ever would have had in Pontiac. He’s not half of anything here. He doesn’t know what to do.
“So you don’t have to come,” Jimmy finishes. “I can do it by myself.”
But this isn’t about Jimmy wanting to hunt again. This is the same kamikaze impulse that Jacob remembers from the last summer before college, the anger channeled into a recklessness that led Jimmy, at seventeen, to chase down another, more ordinary demon with only an antipossession charm and a single bottle of holy water. That demon lured Jimmy deep into the woods beyond their house and sliced him up like so much raw meat and left him to die.
There had been times that summer when Jacob truly hated his brother, but he forgot it all the second he saw Jimmy bleeding out on the forest floor. Jimmy’s skin had gone an ugly white from blood loss but his eyes were still open, and he’d recognized Jacob. The only word he’d been able to say and it was Jacob’s name.
And still Jimmy didn’t salt his doors. And here Jimmy is, asking. So no, Jimmy can’t do it by himself, because Jacob isn’t going to let him. If he’s honest, he’s known this was how it would end from the moment he saw who he was fighting with.
“I’ll go pack,” Jacob says, and the raw gratitude on Jimmy’s face is worth everything.
(Also posted on Dreamwidth.)