Author's Notes: I will be extremely surprised if anyone reviews for this. It's just that I miss Ash and wanted to write about him, in a roundabout way. So there.

circles and squares

For this story

which has no point except

that I miss Ash.

The first rule of wiping down a table is always scrub in circles. Jo learned that young and never forgot it; bend your elbow and twist your wrist and even the hardiest of blood or puke stains will soak into the sponge.

She watches the waitress clean the table next to hers; the silly thing is wiping in square strokes, clearly frustrated at her inability to coax soda from the finished wood. Jo considers getting up, going over. Taking the rag and showing her how its done, not really out of sympathy but more or less just to feel the familiar cloth in her hands, the welcome rhythm of circular motion.

"Giving up so soon, sweetheart?"

She doesn't really care about What's-His-Name that sits across from her and she hates it when anybody but Ash or her mother calls her "sweetheart".

Still, Ash always said that there's no shame in beating a man at his own game. He told her this while teaching her poker and blackjack, training her to count cards and pull faces and suck every last hunter dry. So she grabs the bottle out of her date's hand and chokes down a few challenging swallows.

"Aw, honey, it takes more than a few rounds to take a Harvelle woman out," she says boredly, like the alcohol isn't sloshing inside her brain.

She can hear Ash in the words and something burns fiercely in her stomach at the thought. For a stupid drunk son-of-a-bitch, she sure as hell misses the lovable slacker genius.

What's-His-Name looks pleased, throws back another round. She matches him boredly, and again, and again, and one last time before she watches his tongue get tangled on the word "bathroom" and his eyes slam shut as he blacks out on the cool counter.

Ralph, the bartender, glances up, exasperated. He can be kind of a dick but he's got a mullet, so Jo likes him. "Aw, Jo. Not another one."

She merely smiles and shrugs. Mostly the staff at Jim's are used to her now, bringing in date after date and waiting to lose to one of them. But she doesn't and they end up out back waiting for a cab that no one's called.

Her roommate says she's too picky, but Jo knows what she is looking for and she won't lower her standards, not for anyone or anything. She lives by a bar that Ash set: won't have my girl with no lightweight bitch.

It was said drunkenly, but sincerely, the first time he'd ever really paid attention to her at all. When she was younger Ash mostly ignored her, treating her like furniture or an empty beer bottle: something to be used for convenience but seriously, who gets attached to something that can't even serve you alcohol?

Not until she was old enough for the hunters to notice her, old enough for side one of Zeppelin IV, old enough to be seduced and too young to know how to say no. The hunter was probably in his thirties and she was sixteen, and he was drunk and she didn't know which way was up, and he had her halfway out the back door when Ash stopped them, knocking the man's lights out with one punch and then clinging to her arm and shaking his head with a sigh. Won't have my girl with no lightweight bitch, he'd said, and what he'd meant was, I'll protect you until you can protect yourself.

And he did until she could.

Jo wishes fervently she could have returned the favor, could have protected him from the fire that turned Ash to soot.

She twists her cigarette in the tray, leaving a perfect little circle of dust. "I'll call a cab," she lies to Ralph like she always does, and he rolls his eyes like he always does, and she goes outside in the rain and stands silently, letting the cold air roll over her like it always does.

She's gotten used to this round-robin routine of simultaneous victory and defeat, of going somewhere that requires leaving someplace else.