A/N: This is companion piece to "Cloudbusting", but certainly can be read on its own. This story was fed by ee cummings and Shakespeare. Jo's point of view can be summed up by Annie Lennox's song "Primitive", and Dean's point of view by the Verve's "Lucky Man".
Her daddy left when she was 10, walked out the door and into the night and disappeared like smoke, and Betsy doesn't really blame him, with her being messed in the head and Momma shouting and screaming at him every weekend. But she remembers Daddy holding her, kissing a scraped knee, giving her a juice box when she was thirsty. So she misses him sometimes, when Momma's screaming and there are never juice boxes anymore and she doesn't remember the last time anyone kissed her.
Even Johnny never kissed her.
Johnny did other things though, things that made her feel good, and Betsy smiles widely with the thought of it. She's sitting in the rocker with the baby on her lap, watching the snow out the window, her mind so simple and distracted that she doesn't notice the baby not breathing.
The baby has a face off a magazine cover, all cornflower blue eyes and brown curls and a cupid's bow mouth, and Betsy sometimes looks at this thing that came from her body and wonders if it's real. She hasn't named it yet, it's just the baby, and it watches her with its blue eyes and never cries or makes a sound and Betsy loves it with every shred of her soul.
The baby moves on her lap, looks up at its mother and arches its back fretfully. Betsy stirs with the movement, her mind drifting from thoughts of Johnny to the thing in her lap. The baby's heart isn't beating, and its tiny body is cold, but Betsy doesn't notice, just smiles and coos and asks, "Wanna juice box, honey?" the way she remembers her father asking her.
The baby's perfect mouth twists silently, and Betsy sets it carefully in its little seat, pats its head, and walks toward the kitchen. She passes her mother's body, dead for three days, arranged on the couch with one arm dangling over the edge. Betsy doesn't notice it, doesn't notice the tiny bite marks on the woman's arm.
Betsy forgets why she's in the kitchen, and stands dumbly for a moment, her eyes dreamy and unfocused.
From her tiny little bedroom in the back of the house, there's movement, and a thud as something hits the floor. The not-living baby's head turns to the sound, its small bow mouth smiling sweetly.
Betsy hears it, too. "Oh, baby! Daddy's here!" Her face lights with an innocent joy as she hurries toward the bedroom. "Johnny? Johnny!"
There's a sound in response, and the baby gurgles with happiness as Betsy passes it. She pauses, and leans down to tousle the baby's silky brown curls. "Love you, baby," she says, and later, when she is screaming, the baby beats tiny fists on its chair and howls in delight.
She knew by the smell that she had found the right house.
Finding the house had been its own sort of hunting, pouring over twenty-year old titles and quit-claim deeds, with most of the clerks at the Recorder's Office doubting her intelligence. They patronized her, talked slowly with long explanations, and Jo had wished for Dean's confidence, his ability to talk and charm and wheedle until he got the information he needed. All Jo had was a blond ponytail and a knack for fluttering her lashes, which invariably landed her sitting at a desk with a clerk bent over her shoulder, trying for a glimpse down her shirt.
But as she stepped out of the car and into the biting prairie wind, she realized the long hours putting up with eyes down her cleavage had paid off. The smell, even dispersed as it was by the wind, was strong and unmistakable, and Jo looked across the roof of her Sebring at Betsy Jones's house.
It looked back at her, a typical split-level turned untypical with cracked windows and peeling shingles, abandoned for years and slowly decomposing into the rich earth beneath it. She wondered at the thing that had lived there for years, wondered if it was watching her now. Wondered how it planned to kill her.
Her hair was coming loose in the wind; calmly she reached up and tightened the elastic, flipping the end of her ponytail up and tugging it into a tight bun. She breathed deeply while doing so, thinking of Philadelphia and Dean's quiet presence behind her in the building walls. When her hair was neat she was ready, and she went to the Sebring's trunk to arm herself.
Jo entered the house with the shotgun held loosely in front of her, the Sig P220 full of silver bullets nestled intimately in the small of her back. Tucked under her bra strap over her right breast was a small notebook with a general banishing ritual painstakingly written down as Ellen dictated over the phone. It was the thought of her mother's words against her skin that calmed her, more so than the ritual, and she ignored the way the notebook's corner dug into the soft skin of her upper arm.
The house was littered with organic and manmade debris; last autumn's leaves mingled with beer cans and piss to create a strong aroma. She stepped quietly and cautiously through the house, careful of rotten floorboards, alert to any sounds from the back rooms. The front room held a sofa with rotten stuffing seeping through the cushions, a rocker angled to watch out the front window, and next to it a small baby carrier.
The wind moaned through decaying beams, sent leaves skittering over the worn carpet, and Jo thought she heard the squeak of hinges. She froze, the muzzle of her shotgun slowly rising.
The wind again, catching the air and blowing it over her face, fetid and garbage warm against her skin. The smell was worse than rotten leaves and beer, a mixture of blood, sex and carrion, and Jo gagged, bending slightly at the waist and breathing through the urge to vomit.
Somewhere in the back was the quick, decisive sound of a door closing.
Jo steeled herself, spit a couple of times to clear the taste in her mouth, and willed herself forward, toward the hall leading back into darkness. As the light from the front room disappeared behind her she worked the pump action on the shotgun, the sound loud in the empty house. An answering movement in the gloom ahead of her brought the muzzle of the shotgun up, and she pulled the trigger. She shot too early, the pellets thudding harmlessly into the door jamb as an indistinct form passed through it, disappearing into the room.
The moist air reverberated with the shotgun's blast, and Jo's ears rang as she stepped forward carefully, working the pump action quickly, the muzzle of her gun following the swing of her head as she searched for the form. "I know what you are," she said softly. "Motherfucker." Something moved in the murk, and she began to raise the shotgun –
Nearly a thousand miles away, Dean raised the Colt and pulled the trigger, sending the last bullet, fated, fateful, freeing –
Jo's shotgun bucked in her hands, her mouth open with a voiceless shout as the form movedfastquick towards her, cornflower blue eyes wide and guileless, mouth smeared with gore and blood –
The yellow-eyed demon's body bucked as the Colt's last bullet ended its life, eyes wide with surprise on Dean's grim face –
-- and something deep inside Jo's belly moved, sending a white hot lance of pain across her ribs and up into her chest. She doubled over with the suddenness of it, having the presence of mind to keep her grip on the shotgun, but she was nothing but pain, white and encompassing. The shotgun shook in her grip, and she thought only of hanging on, of fighting back. But there was something not right in her body, something broken. Her sight began to fade, and she felt rather than heard the shotgun go off again, the recoil tearing it out of her hands.
She didn't care anymore. Gratefully, she closed her eyes and sank into darkness.
The house, ceilings marked with devil's traps, bathtubs filled with holy water, disappeared quickly in the Impala's rear view mirror. Dean's sudden impulse to share, to talk about the deal with Sam was abruptly gone, leaving the silence between them tense and fraught. It was a relief when the phone rang, when Sam could look away from Dean's profile, carved from stone, and answer it.
"Sam? It's Ellen. Look, I need a hand here."
"Where are you?"
"I'm still at Bobby's, trying to figure out this mess the Roadhouse has become. But I don't need you here. It's Jo. I can't reach her."
Anger with Dean immediately melted into the familiar, unresolved guilt over Jo. Sam felt his hand tighten on the phone, turned his face away from Dean to watch the landscape blur by. Seeking forgiveness from Jo was something he had given up on, and now it was something that would sap time and strength needed for Dean. He almost didn't remember standing over her with a knife while the Doors played on the juke, but sometimes a phrase echoed in his head, like a remnant from a nightmare. My daddy shot your daddy in the head...
He did remember leaving her in Colorado, months before Meg hijacked his body, rain clouds threatening and ominous at the horizon, him terrified of the demon's reach, terrified of the ramifications of Jo's relationship with doomed Scott Carey. And Dean unnaturally silent, coming to life only when Jo smiled at him, when Jo's hand brushed his, while Sam stood by as tense as if he were watching a high wire act.
"Sam, you still there?"
"Yeah," he said, reluctant, the muscle in his jaw jumping. "How long has she been gone?"
"Got a postcard from North Dakota, and a message saying she was heading towards Montana. Ash – " there was a minute stumble over the name. "Ash mentioned emailing her some information about incubi and cambions couple of weeks ago."
"Incubi? That's big stuff." Sam's brow furrowed. He couldn't remember Dad ever having to deal with that kind of demon, and his own research had never taken him down those roads. His curiosity rose, the spark of needing to know, and he shifted the phone closer to his ear.
"Look, Sam, I know you're – I know you're fighting time, but Bobby said you were in those parts anyway. I hate to ask, but – " Ellen's voice faded at the end, her need to find her daughter battling her knowledge of what Sam was dealing with. Sam glanced over at Dean, his brother's face still closed and shuttered.
Ellen was family now, after standing beside them at the cemetery, looking Sam confidently in the eye, giving Dean another pillar to lean against. And maybe, it would be a way for Sam to atone for those words he did/didn't say that still rattled around in his head.
"All right, Ellen. We'll check it, see what we can find."
There was a silence, a moment when Sam could only hear Ellen breathing, and he envied her, wanted that moment when a burden thought too heavy suddenly became lighter. He ain't heavy, he thought, a bit hysterically,he ain't heavy...
"Thanks, Sam. I'll email you all in the information I have from the postcard. And if you find her – or anything – call me, okay?"
"Will do." His voice was a bit gruff, and he thumbed the phone off without further acknowledgment.
Sam studied the phone in his hand, turned it back to front, back to front, watching the light catch the silver from its accents. "How's Montana sound?"
Dean looked at him, measuring, and Sam knew he was wondering if this had something to do with the deal, if moving towards Montana would result in Sam dead next to him. His first instinct was to reassure Dean, let him know it was nothing to do with that, but so doing would tip his hand for the million other times that a simple request from Sam would have everything to do with that. He kept his face blank, his eyes on the phone, and finally Dean sighed. "I fucking LOVE Montana."
The Impala revved under Dean's lead foot, and Sam reached for the map in the glove box.
"Sorry, Jo Cat, but I gotta take it back." Scott was looking at her sorrowfully, his hazel eyes as usual shadowed by pain, but earnest and searching on her face.
She was sitting in a hard-backed chair in a blank room, the walls in darkness, yet Scott's face in front of her clear and distinct. Jo stirred uneasily, something off about the situation, but unable to pinpoint it. She shrugged away the feeling, concentrating on Scott in front of her, Scott the demon's child, who had died at the edge of Gordon's knife. "Scott," she breathed, feeling as if the wind were knocked out of her. "Scott?"
He smiled, his eyes shadowed, but the grin warm and inviting. "Yeah, babe, it's me."
She leaned forward and put her arms around him, happy with the feel of his form against her. The demon's child Gordon had sent her to hunt, but whom she had come to cherish instead. She was stirred by a sudden visceral reaction as she remembered his hands on her body, and she turned her head and pressed a kiss into the groove of his neck.
Wait. No. Betsy's house, remember?
She frowned, and Scott pulled back to look at her. "It's okay, Cat. I just gotta take it back."
She studied his face, puzzled. "What?"
"The rain animal. I gotta take it back."
The demon's child had twitched something awake in her belly, an animal called with a warm push through her body as she brought rain, the strong scent of musk and wet cement thick in her nose. She turned her head away, hands still clinging tightly to Scott's shirt. "Why did you give it to me?" She remembered Colorado, standing in the gravel at the side of the road, watching the Impala drive away without either occupant looking back. She had stared hard at the back of Dean's head, willing it to turn.
"Doesn't matter. Wasn't mine to give." Scott cupped her chin, turned her face to meet this gaze. "I have to take it back."
She nodded, and for some reason there were tears in her eyes, and a sudden flash of pain in her shoulder. She shuddered, but Scott smiled, kept his hand gentle on her chin. "I didn't want to hurt you, Jo."
Scott's hands on her body had always been careful, as if she would break under his touch. "You never hurt me, Scott." Jo lifted her hand and threaded her fingers through Scott's hair and he gave a sigh and leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers.
"Not yet, anyway." His voice still gentle, still warm, but Jo's fingers stilled.
She pulled back, searching for Scott's eyes, but when he raised his head all she found was cornflower blue. The perfect mouth twisted, Scott's face suddenly the cambion's. She felt her breath hitch, felt frozen, and the cambion moved quickly, brutally. The uncertain light around them faded as Jo screamed.
Jo came awake suddenly, cruelly, the scream from her dream echoing painfully in her head. Her eyes were leaking tears as she blinked them open, and her cheek ground painfully into grit on the floor. A dull, throbbing pain radiated out from a spot just below her navel, the weight of it heavy in her chest and arms, and she could feel warmth and the tackiness of dried blood on her upper and inner thighs.
She groaned, tried to sit up; the world tilted and spun, and sharp pain twanged in her right shoulder and side. Black spots danced in her vision, threatened to swallow her, and she fought for lucidity with deep, calming breaths. A long pause, and finally she was able to see again, take in the decaying house around her, the dead leaves and shattered beer bottles. Betsy Jones's house.
The cambion. Where was the cambion?
Sudden fear gave her strength and she forced herself up, the world going fuzzy around her, warmth dripping down her shoulder, something bursting in her belly and gushing similar warmth between her thighs. The end of the hall was just a foot behind her and she gritted her teeth and pushed herself toward it, ignoring pain and fading vision until the wall was at her back. She leaned back, found the corner where the walls of the hallway met, and slumped gratefully into it.
She guessed she blacked out for a while, because when she opened her eyes again the light had changed – not much, but the grey light of early morning had shifted to pale yellow. Sitting up had cleared her head slightly, and she was able to take stock of her situation.
Not that what she found made her feel better.
Her jeans were soaked through with blood, washed in blood, like she had sat in a kiddies' pool filled with it. A large puddle of it, tacky at the edges, marked where she had first fallen, and Jo was terrified at its sheer volume. She raised a trembling hand, touched her belly briefly, then her shoulder, turning her head gingerly to assess the damage there.
The soft skin over her shoulder and clavicle was torn raggedly, the small wound red and angry looking. She frowned, touched the raw edges of it carefully, the flesh looking – chewed. Panic then, and a core-deep revulsion, Jo remembering the retired coroner talking about the state of the bodies taken from Betsy Jones's house, the small bites along arms and legs.
"Oh God," she heard herself saying, "Oh God, oh God, oh God."
The wind picked up, hummed around the corners of the house, bringing with it the sound of steps on the beaten porch outside. The door creaked open, slowly.
Jo's head came up, anger making a clear space in her head, giving her strength to push away pain and fear. The stock of the shotgun was just visible inside the room to her right, within reach if she leaned forward and stretched. She could still feel the book tucked inside her shirt, and the Sig was digging into her back from her slumped position. Both weapons could be on the moon for all the good they did her; the hot rock of pain in her belly made it near impossible to breathe, forget about moving and stretching.
With nothing else to use, Jo brought the book out as the footsteps trod slowly across the living room to the mouth of the hallway. The cambion appeared before her, smile bright across its handsome face, blue eyes crinkled with humor. Jo snarled at it, holding the book, and as the cambion came toward her, began to recite the ritual Ellen had given her.
The cambion stopped, cocked an eyebrow in response. "That won't work." Its voice was whiskey rough, and it wiped at Jo's blood staining its chin.
"You said that before. Look what it got you." And it continued casually toward her, smiling.
Jo closed her eyes.
Jo's trail wasn't hard to find when Sam and Dean hit Broadview, Montana. Sam's idea of stopping first at the library and requesting the town's paper on microfilm for the last twenty years did not bring a blank look -- instead the librarian wondered aloud at the sudden popularity of Broadview's tiny weekly.
Dean, who had fallen into that unnatural stillness Sam remembered from their days hunting with Jo, took a step forward, face sharp. "Someone else ask for it lately?"
The librarian, a slight man with hunched shoulders, blinked at Dean's sudden closeness. "Yeah. Some student from the community college was looking for unsolved murders in this area. Seemed a bit gruesome to me."
Dean asked "What did she look like?" at the same time Sam asked, "And are there?"
Again the librarian blinked, and took a small step backwards. "Little slip of thing, with blond hair. And yeah, there are actually several."
It was that phrase that rang in Dean's head as they followed Jo's trail from the library to the county building, and Sam's subtle thrill over examining property deeds went unmocked. Little slip of a thing. Two months the three of them had spent together after Philadelphia, following up on old gigs and routine hauntings, letting Sam's arm heal. Two months and he could interpret a certain flicker of her eyes, the asking way she looked at him, and the feel of open doors in his head that sent him panicking.
Little slip of a thing. And she terrified him as much as any demon.
One of the clerks at the Recorder's Office smiled a bit too wide when asked if he had helped a blond co-ed lately, and Dean's answering grin was predatory. Sam's shoulder knocked his with Dean's sudden movement, body blocking the sight of Dean's clenched fists, and Dean gave control of the conversation over to his brother. That open feeling only Jo could evoke was back, leaving him short-tempered and scrambling for stability, and the clerk's leer would have been a great excuse to release some tension.
The house they needed was a good 45 minutes into farmland and prairie, and the only sound as they traveled was the Impala's rumble, the whine of wheels on poorly patched asphalt. Sam had the laptop open, using precious battery time, tabbing through possible research. He did not look up when he spoke. "You're suddenly quiet. You okay?"
The response was automatic. "I'm fine."
"Then what's going on?"
And maybe it was Sam not looking at him, or the fact that for once they weren't arguing about the stupid fucking deal, but Dean answered. "It's Jo."
"I know its Jo. That's why we're here."
Dean lifted his shoulders, once, in a weary shrug. "No, that's not -- Dude. It's always been Jo."
Sam didn't respond right away, his brow furrowed, staring into the middle distance. "I thought so." He frowned, looking down at the open laptop. "It's a cambion, Dean."
"What Jo found. The offspring of an incubus or succubus and a human. Stillbirths that somehow still live. They have no heartbeat, no warmth, and usually are fed the body of their human parent by their demon parent."
"How do we kill it?"
Sam shrugged. "Silver, consecrated iron, holy water, anything that will hurt a demon will kill a cambion. That's the theory anyway."
"Aw, crap, we going with theories again?"
"Its all we have."
Dean was silent, jaw tight, hands gripping the wheel. "Then we'll make it work."
They knew they had found the right house by the smell. That horrifyingly sweet smell of carrion, the musky scent of a teenage boy's shuttered room; Sam and Dean stared at the house decaying slowly into the prairie, and the house stared back.
Afternoon was just fading into evening, the autumn sun golden and warm and fast disappearing. Both brothers checked the sky automatically, and both brothers went to the Impala's trunk to arm themselves.
Sam had a shotgun full of consecrated iron, and both slipped flasks of holy water into their breast pockets. Dean checked the silver knife in the holster at his ankle, then picked up the Glock G20 and began changing out regular bullets for silver.
Sam paused, eyes on Dean, his face creased with worry, telegraphing the subject of his next conversation. "Dean."
"Sam." Dean did not look up from loading the Glock. He knew what Sam wanted to say, Sam wanting to protect him the only way he knew how – with the reminder that Jo could already be dead. While Dean didn't particularly like the vulnerable feeling of openness in his head, the thought of that door closing for good was paralyzing.
Sam didn't follow up on his threat of voicing the unspeakable, the brothers' names hanging in the air to fade away unacknowledged. His face took on a keen edge as he watched the house, prairie wind tousling his hair, the shotgun ready in his grip. "You ready?"
Dean nodded, clicked the Glock's safety off, and they stalked towards the house.
The room again, with shadowed walls and a light source that Jo couldn't place. Scott was standing before her, hands in his pockets and hip shot, his face turned away from her gaze. Jo's side ached, and she rubbed it absently, trying to place where she was, why Scott was here. She had an unnerving sensation of déjà vu, of stale arguments and talking in circles. "Scott?" she called his name hesitantly.
"Sorry." His voice was nothing more than a whisper.
"I said, SORRY!" He didn't move, but the force of his yell made her flinch, and she took a step back. The pain in her side deepened, blooming into something dangerous.
"What are you sorry for?" Her response was small, the half-lit room suddenly claustrophobic.
"For this." And he looked at her, hazel eyes gone cold and blue, his beautiful mouth thin with anger. The cambion moved toward her with bared teeth.
She had Scott's head in her hands, his sensual mouth at her neck, and the feel of his lips raised a flush of warmth down her body. She heard her name being called, recognized the voice, and recognition brought another rush of heat deep in her belly. Scott's nibbling became sharp, and she flinched slightly, but couldn't move away, the mingling of pain and pleasure smothering her reason.
Dean. Jo sobbed at the thought. Dean here to end this, tuck her away into safety and warmth like a child in a favorite blanket. She opened her eyes, saw the cambion next to her, its lips and teeth at her neck. She changed focus and looked over its shoulder, out into the shadows, the room changing, morphing into the long hallway of Betsy's house.
Sam was standing at the end of the hallway, raising his shotgun, and behind him was Dean.
As they moved into the hallway, the first thing Dean saw was Jo's limp hand on the floor. Small with slender fingers, the palm cupped, and the sight made him stumble, leaving him a step behind when Sam raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.
It was only then that Dean's vision widened, shifted focus from Jo's hand to the form bent over her, its head down and its mouth at Jo's neck. Jo had her head back, eyes closed and mouth open in passion or terror, Dean wasn't sure which, and suddenly the shotgun thundered right next to his ear. The cambion pitched forward, its sudden weight snapping Jo's head back into the wall, and then it was up and turning as if the shotgun hadn't touched it.
Dean rememberedstillbirth and no heartbeat and he yelled at Sam, "Silver!" as he raised the Glock, hoping the bullets would have more effect than the shotgun's iron rounds.
But he didn't have time to shoot, the cambion diving into the open doorway next to it, and Sam's shotgun deafening again, shot thudding harmlessly into the door jamb. Both of them sprinted forward, Dean's vision again narrowing down to that open hand on the floor, and he went to his knees next to Jo as Sam turned the corner into the room the cambion had entered.
It was backward for them, with Sam usually going for the victims and Dean chasing the evil, but it was Jo; and Dean remembered Sam holding a knife to her throat and the choking smell of sulphur. Behind him Dean heard the shotgun speak again, heard the crunch of glass under Sam's boots, heard Sam cursing.
Jo was taking shallow, quick breaths. Dean leaned over her, one hand going across her body to grip her shoulder, and he looked down to see a line of neat bites down the length of her neck to an open wound on her shoulder. The wound was torn and ragged. With a lurch Dean discerned teeth marks in the mangled flesh.
"Jo?" He kept his tone soothing as he checked her, and with another lurch he realized the black pants she was wearing weren't black at all, just made to look so by the amount of blood soaked into the denim. "Oh, God. Jo?"
"Dean!" Sam's yell was demanding, not yet desperate, yet Dean was on his feet instantly, the Glock in his hands. A brief pause, a brief glance down at Jo's ashen face, then he slipped quietly into the murky bedroom.
Sam was just inside the room, his back to the wall, the shotgun racked and ready. The cambion was not visible, a fact that made Dean uneasy given the room's small confines. He put his back to the wall perpendicular to Sam's, the Glock loose and sure in his grip. "Where'd it go?"
Sam shook his head. "Not sure. Thought it went out the window. Thing is crazy fast."
"Still in the room?"
Sam hesitated. "Can't be, but I dunno."
They were whispering, searching the room ceaselessly. Light did not reach far into the murk, small rays from the setting sun lying across the threshold, doing little to ease the darkness.
"Is it setting us up? Separating us?" Dean fumbled in his jacket pocket for a flashlight, switched it on to illuminate dark corners. "It can't be in here."
"One of us will have to check for a trail outside." Sam's jaw was tight.
"Both of us."
Dean's grip on the flash tightened. There was no way Jo could be left alone, vulnerable and unable to defend herself. But the cambion was big shit, needed two on its trail, one to track, one to watch out for it. Dean turned his head, reluctant, caught a glimpse of Jo in the hallway, her chest rising and falling too fast. And again, her hand, small against the grime of the hallway, open and waiting.
"Son of a bitch." His lips thinned in frustration, and he met Sam's gaze. "You're volunteering, I guess."
Sam nodded, the shadows in his eyes as impenetrable as the gloom around them. He swallowed, but didn't look away from Dean. "I can't be alone with her, right now. I just can't."
"I know." Dean made a tiny motion with the muzzle of the Glock. "Out the window. I'm guessing that's how the cambion left. Take Jo's shotgun."
Sam scooped up the shotgun, broke it open to check the shells.
"Are they silver?"
"You got holy water? Extra shells?"
"Dean." A corner of Sam's mouth was slightly curved.
And Sam was gone, surprisingly neat in his movements despite his lanky form, making no sound, leaving no trace. Dean was silent, hesitating, torn between following his brother and the fragility of Jo's open palm. He turned, went to his knees next to Jo's still body, and the open feeling in the back of his head seemed to engulf him.
She could feel herself coming back to reality, the floor under her body becoming hard and pressing against her, the smell of dead leaves and piss and blood infiltrating her consciousness. She didn't want to come back, terrified of seeing the cambion's face above her, still alone and trapped in Betsy Jones's house.
Oh, God, that voice. Her eyes pricked with the surge of emotion, anger and relief and something else she had never named, something always associated with Dean. Dean putting gas in the Impala, hip against the rear quarter, gaze faraway, Metallica under his breath. Dean smelling of leather and fire and sweat, dropping his jacket on the motel bed as he called for the shower. The back of Dean's head as the Impala's wheels spit gravel at her, abandoned in Otis, Colorado. It was an emotion she had to obey, and she opened her eyes.
Betsy Jones's house. The light fading, a glint of gold from the sunset, the house starting to creak as it settled with the oncoming chill of night. Dean next to her, his brows pulled together, the green eyes dark with relief as she met his gaze. "Hey, kiddo," he said, his voice rough.
"Hi," she said, and tried to move, her belly cramping with pain.
"Easy," he said, hands gentle on her shoulders as he settled her more comfortably against the wall.
"Where's the cambion?"
Dean's hands were still on her shoulders, and as he sat back he drew them down her arms, a comforting motion. "Out the window. Sam's after it."
"Scary thing." The thought of the perfect mouth and the blue eyes was petrifying.
"Sam can take care of it."
The hot ball pulsing in the center of her body was maddening, pushing white into the edges of her vision from her small movements. She could feel her grip slipping again, the world less tangible around her. "Dean." Her voice felt so small, and she was afraid she hadn't been heard, but Dean turned his head, was listening. He smiled in reassurance, and took her hand, warming her fingers with her breath.
"S'okay, kiddo. Take it easy. Soon as you're ready I'm taking you to the car."
Her consciousness was thinning into a long strand of silver, all which held her to this world, to the man bent over her, his hand engulfing hers. "I need to tell you -- " She had to pause, gulp for air, pain immobilizing her.
"Sam will be back soon. Jesus, Jo --" and his voice wavered. "What did that thing do to you?"
She didn't have the strength to tell him, and it really didn't matter. "No," she said, in her small, faraway voice and she wished for volume, for that surety that Dean carried in spades, that made his voice fill the air like fireworks. "I need to tell you I'm sorry."
It's what Scott had been trying to tell her. It was only now that she realized it hadn't been Scott at all, or even completely the cambion. The associated emotion muted her, and she could only look at Dean, at the lack of fear in his green eyes.
He looked back, must have found something there that spoke to him, and raised a hand to caress her cheek. "No need. Don't worry, kiddo. Don't worry."
She didn't. He had heard the voice of her eyes, had seen her sorrows, and that was all
she needed. She closed her eyes, the silver strand shining in the dark of her eyelids, and didn't look away as it broke with a sound like bells.
The sight of the brown eyes fluttering closed sent him into a near panic. He stilled himself, fixed his gaze on the hollow of her throat, and didn't move until he saw the faint beat of her pulse. A long, shaky exhale, Dean mumbling, "Fuck this shit," and scrubbing at his face in frustration. It had been nearly 15 minutes since Sam had gone out the window and Dean vacillated, debating whether to wait for Sam or to move to the car now.
The thin bars of gold across the threshold from the setting sun had been growing dimmer, and when they vanished altogether, Dean made up his mind. He checked the Glock, thumbed the safety off and set it next to Jo, then turned his attention to her, evaluating her condition. She was too pale, her chest rose and fell too quickly. He was glad she was out, saving herself from what he had to do.
He rocked back on his heels and gently pulled her up into his lap, ignoring the limp way her head fell back, the warm wash of blood over his jeans. Little slip of a thing. The thought was distracting and he pushed it away, grasping the Glock with one hand before rising to his feet. She settled against him with a breathless whine of pain, but Dean was standing, one arm around her shoulders, his hand against her ribs with the feel of her heart against his fingers. His other arm supported her under her knees with the Glock secure in his grasp.
An indistinct shout made him cock his head, straining to hear.
It came again. "Dean!" Louder this time, breathless, and the sudden start of fear sent his heart pounding.
He filled his lungs, and bellowed, "Sam!"
"Back to the house! S'coming back to the house!"
And he remembered Sam saying crazy fast and how the thing seemed to have melted into the darkness of the bedroom. He resettled Jo brutally, her head snapping against his chest, but the shift of weight improved his grip on the Glock and gave him more room to maneuver.
The screen door at the front of the house opened violently, slamming against the decayed siding, and the cambion was standing at the mouth of the hall. It was tall, built like Michelangelo's David, its clothes smeared with dirt and gore, the beautiful face unearthly in the ruins of Betsy Jones's house. It stared at them for a moment, and Dean's grip around Jo's body tightened.
It snarled soundlessly in response, took a step forward. "She's mine," it said, blue eyes cold.
"She's not," Dean answered, and as the thing stepped forward he squeezed the Glock's trigger twice.
The cambion staggered violently, its head back, grunting in surprise and starting to recover. The blue eyes blinked twice before resettling on Dean at the end of the hall, beautiful mouth starting to curve with humor.
Then Sam was at the door, pulling the trigger on the shotgun before the cambion could fully recover, the impact of silver shot pushing it forward. The thing fell face down, hitting the hallway floor with a wet sound, its chest mostly gone.
Dean took a step back, feeling Jo stir in his hold.
The cambion raised its head, blue gaze searching, and finding rest on Jo's face. She looked at it, mute, and it said, "Jo Cat," clearly, into the evening murk.
Something in its voice raised the hair on the back of Dean's neck. He could feel Jo's heart racing like a rabbit's, fine tremors moving through her body. The feel of the thing's regard was unbearable. Dean pulled the trigger again and again, the flash of gunpowder strobing over Jo's face, her eyes black and unreadable.
When the cambion ceased to twitch, Dean dropped the Glock, and gripped Jo carefully, bowing his shoulders around her. "I got you," he said, softly, and stepped over the cambion's body and out to the car.
Jo lost consciousness again as he moved her into the backseat of the Impala, gentle with his movements even though she was no longer awake. Sam came to the car once, to gather gasoline and more salt, but said nothing, his mouth white with strain. Dean found a blanket in the trunk, a blanket his father had used countless times on him and Sam, and the smell of grease and gun oil was like home as he laid it over her.
When he slipped into the front seat, an orange bloom of light had begun twinkling in the wreckage of Betsy Jones's house. The passenger door opened, wafting gasoline fumes through the car as Sam slid into the seat next him.
Dean rested his head against the cool glass of the Chevy's window. "Don't know. She's lost a lot of blood."
Sam was silent for a moment, the two brothers caught by the dance and glow of the flames in the house. "It had a nest, out in the prairie. Couple of bodies." Sam spoke casually, but Dean gave him a sharp glance.
"We'll have to come back, salt and burn 'em."
The Impala came to life as if Dean had willed it, the rumble of its engine safety and home and rest. They drove away with the shine of firelight in their eyes, light dancing across the Impala's black curves until Betsy Jones's house was lost in the vastness of the prairie.
The local county hospital was small and quiet. Jo's arrival brought a flurry of activity as if the staff had been waiting for her. Sam was carrying her, Dean parking the car, careful of hospitals and cameras and the arsenal in the trunk. They took her with barely a glance at Sam, and he followed them like a forgotten puppy, trying to discern her condition from the gathering cloud of medical jargon.
He never found Dean until later, when Jo was transported to surgery, and he spent the night hovering outside the ring of staff around her bed. She was conscious; at one point a doctor stepped back, giving Sam had a clear view of her face. She met his gaze firmly, despite her clouded eyes, despite a wobbly chin. Sam had to look away first, actually took a step back, and an intern rushed in with another bag of blood.
The night was aging, clicking minutes over into a new day when finally some sort of decision was made. Most of the nurses dissipated, Sam hearing one of them speaking of hysterectomies, and Jo was left in a small spot of peace. Sam wasn't sure what made him step forward, wasn't sure of the impulse behind taking her hand; only that she had looked for him and had been relieved to find his face among strangers.
She opened her eyes at his touch, smiled weakly at the sight of his face. "Hi, Sam," she said softly. The warm note in her voice weakened him, and he took the edge of her bed to sit. He still had hold of her hand, and ran his thumb over the chapped knuckles, ducking his chin away from her gaze.
He couldn't look at her to confess. "I'm sorry." There was an echo in his mind, a desire for blood, a hunger for it like a knife's edge. He fought it by leaning forward, holding his weight with one hand next to Jo's shoulder, touching his forehead lightly to hers.
He was sure she caught the end of that echoing lust, but she didn't flinch, simply closing her own eyes and taking a deep breath. The space they created was sacred, confessional quiet, and neither could break the silence. For a moment they breathed the same air, and Jo said, "It wasn't your fault."
Sam thought again of the cambion bent over her, its teeth at her neck, and how the sight of it amplified the Meg-echo, brought the non-memory of knives and desire and madness into the edges of Sam's consciousness. "It could have been," he whispered, the words barely more than puffs of air.
She opened her eyes, drove him away with her gaze, sharp despite the drugs numbing her body. "But it wasn't," she said, her voice clear, and like that Sam could no longer hear the opening chords of Crystal Ship, could no longer remember the cruelty and want.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to wait outside. We're taking her into surgery." Sam glanced blankly at the nurse suddenly at his elbow, and Jo's hand fell from his grip. He turned his head, was able to meet the warm gaze a last time, tears glimmering on the lashes, before the nurse turned him away.
He was escorted to the waiting room, the door swinging closed behind him. Dean was there, catching the door with one hand and grabbing Sam's shirt with the other. "What's going on? Is she okay?" He took a step past Sam, and the nurse with Sam blinked at Dean's intensity. "Jo? Jo?"
"Dude, it's okay, she's okay, they're taking her into surgery." Sam put a hand on his brother's shoulder and saw Dean's gaze sharpen, his body become still with waiting.
Sam turned his head, saw Jo at the end of the hallway, saw the light catch the curve of her cheek as she turned her head toward them. Sam saw it, saw Jo see Dean, watched as Dean reacted, was witness to what passed between them. Then she has beyond their sight, and under his hand he felt a small shudder move through Dean's shoulders.
"C'mon, man," he said softly. Without hesitation Dean turned, his face stone, and together they left the hospital, Sam's hand still on Dean's shoulder.
Dean went back the next night, despite Sam's overabundance of caution regarding exposure. Sam didn't put up much of a fight, a fact which Dean ignored, given the weight such a concession placed on the why of going. He went, taking precautions, sneaking in past midnight and charming the rookie intern, bypassing the nurse's station. It helped that Jo wasn't in ICU, something that Dean didn't think about much because the accompanying rush of emotion scared the piss out of him.
Her room was dark, lit only by a single fluorescent bar over her bed, and the red glow of the machinery keeping track of her every movement. Dean sunk into the chair next to her bed, his eyes on her face, on the sooty line of her lashes against the pale curve of her cheek. This was new territory for him, this alarming tenderness in his touch as he took her hand; but he took a deep breath and stepped into it gladly.
She stirred not long after he had taken her hand, gingerly turning to her side, her body curved towards him. She opened her eyes, checked the room peacefully, and met his gaze. "Hi."
"Hey, babe," he answered with a lightness he did not feel, but new territory commanded a certain watchfulness, and Dean took it slowly. "You're Betty Page, by the way."
She smiled, a slight curve of her lips. "I was wondering about that. But given who checked me in wasn't too surprised. I'm glad you didn't pick Angelina Jolie."
He smiled, rubbed his thumb over the palm of her hand, trying to forget the sight of it open and vulnerable in the blood clotted hallway. "Your mom will probably be here tomorrow."
She closed her eyes, and Dean pretended not to notice how she was fighting tears. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. I also have George Clooney coming. And, if you want, Matt Damon, that McDreamy guy, whoever else –"
"You left me in Otis." She was still turned towards him, but her gaze was distant, studying the thermostat over his shoulder.
Dean's thumb on her palm went still. "You ditched me at the Roadhouse."
They had reached an impasse, the only thing connecting them her hand in Dean's, his thumb in Jo's palm. Again Dean had that disconcerting feeling of stepping beyond in his head, of a door wide open and waiting. It was that which pushed, made him move forward. "It wasn't the right time, Jo. Sam was – " he cleared his throat, moved a bit in his chair. "Dealing with shit, and still is." And he remembered the crossroads demon, beautiful in black and red, her words more cutting than any weapon. "So am I. Still dealing."
"Dealing with demons?"
He looked at her, startled, gripped by an irrational fear that what he had done could be so easily discerned. There was nothing on her face, her brown eyes calm and slightly watchful. It came to him that Jo herself was walking carefully, unsure of her footing, and the thought gave him a small push of confidence. "Sometimes," he said, watching the shadows play across her face.
"I'm not. Whatever Scott gave me is gone." She raised her arm, tethered by IV tubes, and gave a forced grin. "Demon-free for about three days."
She had changed direction, pushing into territory well-traveled by Winchesters, and Dean did not want her on this path, a path walked only by him and Sam. He studied her hand, the white palm and ragged cuticles, bitten off nails. "What about the Roadhouse?"
She flushed slightly, moved slightly, gave a small grimace of pain, but her hand remained in Dean's. "I was stupid."
Dean's mouth twitched. "Ya think?"
"Which is why I hunted you down."
"Which may have been equally stupid."
He didn't answer for a moment, the rhythm lost as he bit his tongue on a quick answer. "I didn't leave you in Otis because of the demon, whatever rain thing the son of a bitch gave you. I left you because it was the wrong time, and I couldn't give you -- " His unfinished sentence hung in the air, Dean unsure how to finish it, the next step something he couldn't back away from.
"What about now?" Her voice was rough, and Dean looked away, down at her hand in his.
His soul was no longer his, bartered away for a year of too many cheeseburgers and too many twins, and the immeasurable feel of Sam breathing in the motel bed next to him at night. There was no more to give, there was only the year to endure, and it was an endurance he had to undertake alone. "I can't," he said, simply.
He made the mistake of looking at her, the too-bright shine of her eyes, and the messy tumble of blond hair. Little slip of a thing. It was a mistake that cost him dear, made him cross the gulf to her bed, surrender her hand for the feel of her body in his arms as he lifted her to gently kiss the line of her chin, the corner of her eye, the pout of her mouth.
He left her with unshed tears, the door swinging softly shut behind him. The open feeling in his head was gone, closing as simply and beautifully as fingers into a fist. The hall was deserted, the only sound the soft scuff of his boots as he walked away.
That night Jo had a dream of the Roadhouse. It was night, deep into summer, with fireflies competing with the neon in the Roadhouse's windows, and CCR was on the jukebox. She could hear Sam laughing, his soul in the sound of it, whole and happy and laying bare the good of his heart. She could see Dean grinning, leaning with one shoulder against a post, a long neck dangling easily from his fingers. His grin was penny bright and bone deep, his soul in the look of it, free and easy and waiting.
She woke up grinning in response.