Genre: gen, 12x16 "Ladies Drink Free" tag
Characters: Claire Novak; peripheral Jody, Sam, Dean, Alex, Amelia Novak
Word Count: ~2600
Summary: You get good real quick or you get dead real quick, and Claire wants to get good. Claire after 12x16, college, and South Dakota's werewolf problem.
Claire blows through her first paycheck real fast, on a GPS and big tub of whey protein and a gym membership and gas to the Black Hills every. Goddamn. Sunrise. Before her afternoon shifts at Cabela's. She sleeps every other day, spends the other nights driving.
She sends Dean a very embarrassing text message about training regimens.
wtf is whey??? is all she gets back. She should have asked Sam.
Claire needs to get smart. College smart.
I'm thinking forestry, she says.
When Jody raises her eyebrows, Claire scoffs. Says, Hey! global warming kills.
But Claire's not kidding. You get good real quick or you get dead real quick, and Claire wants to get good.
She gets a part-time gig working inventory at the Cabela's in Mitchell and actually signs up for a library card. Dean gave her that lore book--and lore about angels, specifically, no less--but maybe he forgot. The last thing you learn about hunting is lore. And you're never supposed to learn about angels.
The library reminds her of the remedial English class she'd taken at the transitional school--that is, the high school for people who'd failed high school, or gotten pregnant, or kept forming gangs. She doesn't know why the district assumed that because she'd kicked a kid's ribs in, she'd never read a book. Have they seen what's in books?
But she reads about foliage. Part of her rages--I've killed a vampire! The rest of her scowls inward and learns about the damn leaves. She memorizes cover type and scans Google Earth for signs of a trail. Soon enough, she knows the Black Hills' topography like she knows her own knuckles.
She gets obsessive quick: Binders and binders, with the Black Hills gridded out. Here are the streams, here are the ridgelines. And this--this is a valley, and you know what the Bible says about those.
This is when the sun sets, when the shadows come.
These are all the things no lore could have ever said.
And here's what it does: There's a werewolf in the Black Hills. Three weeks ago, he got fired from the Cabela's (for human, drug-dealing reasons, not wolf reasons). It's been almost a month now, but he's still mad about it--vindictive even. Keyword? Almost.
Almost one month.
This time, Claire will be ready.
Do you even remember? she thinks, missing Dean and balancing the library's copy of Caddyshack atop what feels like the entire map library. She lugs it all to the bus stop, because her car's in for maintenance. (Don't go on a wolf hunt with a sometimes-transmission.)
Dean thinks he remembers what it was like to be sixteen, eighteen, twenty. He doesn't, though--not really.
Claire waits for the 58C bus, closes her eyes and enters the Black Hills.
This is the ground. It's spring--medium cover, enough to see the paths through the trees if you look hard enough. Don't ignore the deer. When a werewolf is hungry enough, it doesn't ignore them, either. And it's April--hunting season barely over. It's been a rough few months for werewolves, or at least the young ones. The ones who used to work at Cabela's. Lead can't kill a werewolf, but it's not like monsters can't feel pain.
This, Claire knows now.
Claire blows through her first paycheck real fast, on a GPS and a big tub of whey protein and a gym membership and gas to the Black Hills every. Goddamn. Sunrise. Before her afternoon shifts. She sleeps every other day, spends the other nights driving.
She sends Dean a very embarrassing text message about training regimens.
wtf is whey is all she gets back. She should have asked Sam--should have started with Sam--but that kind of mortification (the self-conscious, doesn't even matter, kind) can be hard to summit. And yeah, she's pretty sure they don't remember what it was like to be sixteen, eighteen, twenty. For every tiny little thing to be hard. To have to work for scraps, and nuance, and everything that Claire wishes--Claire assumed--would just come naturally.
She remembers being in remedial English class, paired with a boy who honestly couldn't read. Like, he'd never learned. She remembers being an asshole because it had felt better than feeling useless. How do you teach someone something that just is?
Claire wants to stand at the edge of a forest and read it like a McD's menu. But some things can't be taught--only learned.
So Claire works. She gets good slow.
asks Jody, and Claire says No--not to lie, not to lie anymore (and never again, to Jody) but to believe. Claire remembers belief, its power warm around her hand, in her seat near the radiator of their old church in Illinois, in 2010.
Nothing happened, says her mother. We are going to be okay.
(Their old church in Illinois used to be a Klan meeting place. Not anymore, though. And the new priest--he knew but never spoke to it. Not because he thought they would forget, but because he could not survive the memory. He had followed God many places--places far far far from his home burrough, his cosmopolitan city Catholics--but their church was the hardest.)
Nothing happened, says Claire, because she is alive, and she is human. She just needs to be ready. In three days, the moon will be full.
In three days, Claire loads into her car and kisses Jody goodbye and drives halfway out to the forest. Then she stops at a gas station, fills up, and hesitates over the ignition.
She's not ready.
She should go. Just do it. People's safety is depending on her. Just because she's scared, or isn't feeling like her Most Confident Self (a self invented by her junior college guidance counselor) doesn't mean she should shirk the job. Hunters aren't supposed to have that luxury. Not real ones.
But she's not ready, and she knows it. Her heart screams, Go! Go for it! You have to! You can but she's learned enough now to know what she doesn't know, doesn't have yet.
She cries in the driver's seat and nurses shit coffee in the gas station parking lot all night because she knows she can't go but she's afraid, deeply mortally afraid, that someone's gonna die tonight and she won't be there to stop it.
It's the worst night she's ever had in her entire life, and that's saying something. Remember? That one night, when her mother died in her arms.
But with her knees cuddled to her chest, tense against the rim of her steering wheel, she imagines what that night would have been if she hadn't gone--if she'd stayed behind like she was supposed to. If her mother had died and Claire had never had that chance to see her. To at least try to save her. It would have been so much worse. Unfathomably worse.
That's what she's doing right now. And she knows--she knows!--that it's the right thing to do.
It's just that the right thing feels like shit.
It can be hard to take risks, says her junior college guidance counselor. Her name is Shanice Johnston and Claire's pretty sure she's the only black woman in all of South Dakota, and she knows her stuff. But she doesn't know Claire.
Claire leaves no risk unmet, and that's the only reason she's gotten this far. Risk was her girl next door. People don't understand that when they tell her to stay safe. Or when they see risk as some kind of stranger to her (you know, stranger danger, all that).
It's hard not to take risks--all of them--when you want so badly for people to understand that. To really see that.
It's so hard.
But Claire bites her lip and she listens politely and she knew then, hours earlier, that she wasn't going to the Black Hills this month. She didn't need to drive all that way to that gas station; she already knew. But she just--
Nobody loses their heart. More miraculous, Claire survives, too. She'd thought the guilt would kill her. The anxiety. The guilt of doing the right goddamn thing.
You have thirty days, she tells herself. You know what you're working for.
She will never be as tall, nor as strong as Sam and Dean Winchester. She needs to accept that.
She's earned her edges, and she's a proud girl. She wants to show the world what the street is made of. What pure willpower and necessity can hone. She doesn't want to let people forget that, or never learn it. Fuck that.
But she swallows her pride, bows her head at the mouth of her new dojo.
She will unlearn bad habits. She will re-learn her elbows, and her feet. She will learn what 130 pounds and five-feet-five can really do--and perhaps most importantly, what it can't.
It's hard to be twenty and feel your possibilities shrink inward. The possibilities of your body, shrinking inward.
She starts following gymnastics obsessively, in part for the power (as the girls at the dojo say, "for the fitspo"), in part for the power to find her limits gracefully.
She'd ask Jody, Dean, Sam. But aging skeeves her out, and she can't stomach the thought of asking something like that. Of having to think too hard about that. Not about them. Not unless it's in the safety of a joke. And she's already sent one too many embarrassing texts.
She loads another several YouTube videos in the tabs.
This is something she needs to learn from tiny girls in sequins, who are eighteen and learning that impossible is far from nothing.
You could have lived like that, she tells herself, reflected in the rearview mirror of her car.
You've lived with yourself as so many things, she says. You could have lived with yourself as a wolf.
But it's not about that. She's not vain about her humanity; it's not like humanity's super great or anything. Or that there are even clear distinctions. Hell, look at Castiel. Or Alex. Alex is her sister, and if there's anything that's taught her, it's this: You can be all the human you like, but your humanity isn't--at all--what makes you feel more or less a monster.
gud luck on finals, she texts.
Jimmy Novak thought it was going to be all right when he gave himself to Castiel. He thought Claire was going to be all right.
Claire doesn't know anymore if the burn she feels when she thinks about what happened is rage, or fear, or grief, or honor. Maybe it's just Castiel's Grace inside her. But burn it does, and this, she does know. A few years ago, she'd have turned werewolf in a second. Bring it.
She's learned, however, that the head-on, fight song, full throttle approach isn't always the bravest one.
Claire turns in her FAFSA and shows up for Friday dinner a half-hour early without having to be reminded. She sets the table the way she remembers from Sundays in Illinois. She stops pretending she's forgotten, and lets her hands be guided by the warmth of her memories. (Memories that burn. Memories that hurt.) She lets them in.
Claire just passed on full moon freedom. Freedom that would have been fleeting, jagged, and short, sure. But for how much of her short, jagged life would that have really stopped her?
This is a sign of growth.
May I have some wine? she asks, sweetly.
Go wild, says Jody, who doesn't think twice. Then she thinks twice, and says, Hey now, wait a second.
She follows wolf boy on Instagram. He's friends with her co-workers, so they're sort of friends, or at least that's how it's supposed to be. He still comes around sometimes, peddling pot, but he's too hot for his supplier to trust him with any of the hard stuff, and she can tell his friends (her co-workers) are starting to lose interest in him now.
On Instagram, he poses with a gun.
Now, this is South Dakota, and guns aren't anything, really. Pose with a gun and a bear and then maybe that'll get people talking. But there's something different about this photo.
This is South Dakota, but Claire's cycled through enough schools from here to Illinois to know Columbine like she was there for it.
This isn't a werewolf problem. This is a person problem. This is a person problem, and a problem from Sheriff Mills. But if Claire tells Jody, and Jody investigates, and Jody and wolf boy go to trial, and wolf boy goes to jail, what happens when the full moon comes around? They say prison is no place for a bleeding heart, but "they" don't know about werewolves. If something happens, that's on Claire.
Wolf boy posts a photo of his Arby's meal, and for some reason that just gets her. It's so stupid. It's Arby's.
But she asks herself--seriously? You're gonna shoot someone who ate at the same Arby's as you?
Whose work shirt you inherited?
His birthday is May 15 and his ride-or-die is named skrillex1926. His first post on Instagram was a filtered shot of his new Nikes.
Are you really
gonna do this?
It's the right thing to do--if there were a right thing to do.
Claire has sixteen binders in the backseat of her car. She has a 9mm rifle registered in her name, and a .38 she wasn't supposed to take from Jody's lockbox (glove compartment, combination 02-13-10). She has silver bullets Sam wasn't supposed to let her have.
Or she did. She's not sure what the melting point of silver is--her research didn't get that far. She's not sure if all the flesh will burn away and she'll get the bullets back, or what.
Her hands are shaking, all she can think about is the gun residue on them, on her clothes. The gun. If the rangers find her, maybe they'll get her for hunting out of season, maybe murder. It's hard to know. What if they find her?
She watches wolf boy burn because she has to, and feels no triumph. This might be the worst feeling in the world. Worse than that parking lot. Worse than wolfing out.
Maybe Sam and Dean can't remember what it took to get here, but they do remember this. It's all they remember, maybe.
She'd felt great--thankful to be alive, adrenaline high, freaking victorious as hell. Riding the payoff of everything she's worked for. Elation, almost. Security, for sure--no one was getting their heart ripped out tonight. And then she'd felt like shit.
At work on Tuesday (waning gibbous), her manager, Kyle, holds the door for her. He holds the door because his heart is pumping, he has brain function, his muscles aren't slop and ribbons necrotizing in some Black Hills dumpster. He came back from his camping trip last weekend.
You're welcome, says Claire, as she steps through the door.
Kyle rolls his eyes (motor function, activation of the temporal lobe).
You should really get out to the backcountry one of these days, says Kyle. Splendor of the mountains and all that. It'll humble you out some. Especially now hunting season's over, and you don't gotta worry about some yahoo with a gun.
I'll have too much homework, Claire tells him. (And jujitsu class. And the library.)
Oh right, says Kyle. 'Cause you're going back to school.
Good for you, man, he says honestly.
Yeah, says Claire. Good for me. Out of her mouth, it sounds sarcastic, but she's being honest, too.
Text from Alex:
so mothers day was like two weeks ago, didn't know that was a thing. let's do something??? can u cook?
yes texts Claire.
In the basement of a church in Pontiac, Illinois, her mother taught her casserole. She'd just gotten a new job, to pay the bills that Jimmy left behind; she wouldn't be home much.
Claire, she'd said. Claire honey.
Baby girl, there's something you need to learn.