this is how you set a table for tea
: unperfectwolf
Rated: pg13
Fandom, Pairing: Supernatural, Gen: Victor Hendrickson, Jo Harvelle
Summary: this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea. - Jo meets Agent Hendrickson. Bonus points if together, they fight crime.
Disclaimer: not mine, never was mine, never will be mine.
Notes: 3,218 words. for the spnroadhouse fic-a-thon. Quotes from Supernatural and "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, and it you haven't read that story you need to NOW. Really, it's a short story and is really that good. Spoilers for Nightshifter, vague mentions of Born Under a Bad Sign. Hendrickson is spelled as such because there are eighty-million different ways and they kindly forgot to add his name to IMDB. Yeah, I know. For you, eurydice13. Do I get bonus point cookies now? Originally published 3/2/07.

this is how you set a table for tea

"It's become my job to know about you, Dean. I've been looking for you for weeks now." – Supernatural, Episode 2x12 "Nightshifter"

"this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea." – Jamaica Kincaid, "Girl"

He's only a week behind them when she finds him in yet another Midwest town, one with no name that will ever mean anything, no one really coming or going. It's a stagnant town, content to take care of its own and let everyone else do the same.

Except four months ago a long stream of child-murders started and 8 days ago they stopped for good. Or, that's all the towns people will tell him. He knows he screams suit, screams government, screams stay the fuck away and keep your mouth shut. He knows these boys he's following, that they made a deal with these people, whether they knew it or not.

He also knows the murder's couldn't, for once, have been Dean Winchester's doing, since he's been following him for six and a half months, gaining or loosing a day or so here or there, staying a pretty consistent 10 days behind the two boys. So, yeah, he knows that Dean Winchester didn't do these murders, though if the way the waitress looks at the picture he holds up to her is anything to go by, he might have ended them.

And that? That just doesn't fit with what he knows, except it does, maybe, because it seems like every one across America looks at Dean Winchester like he just stopped someone from killing their puppy.

She's young, blonde, and exactly what he can imagine Dean Winchester going for. She slides in across from him at the diner, nodding to the waitress who smiles at her and brings her coffee with out having to be asked.

She drinks it black.

Years of training and life experience have taught him how to suss up a situation in a few seconds flat, how to make instant and rarely wrong judgments. Everything about this girl screams dangerous, and he doesn't like to not trust his instincts. He thinks he saw the flash of a gun when she sat down, and knows that if he did, it was intentional. The girl might be young – as young, if not younger, than Sam Winchester – but she's not dumb and she's got a look about her that puts his nerves on edge like the Winchester boys do.

She doesn't say anything, so he finishes his food, watching her carefully while he does it. After a while, she rolls her eyes, leaning back and draining the last half of her cup. She waves the waitress off when she comes towards them with the pot. "I ain't gonna hurt you," she tells him, but there's steel in her voice and her eyes are cold all the same. She would, if she needed to.

"Yeah?" he asks, completely noncommittal.

"Yeah," she tells him, spinning the empty cup in her hands. "I just need to show you a couple of things. It'll only take one night."

He sits back, pushing his near empty plate away. He'd forgotten how being on the road made you hungry, a deep hungry that wasn't just for food. He crosses his arms and looks her over for a good, solid minute before he raises an eyebrow. "What do you need to show me?"

She grins then, and the only way he can think to describe it is feral. "What killed all those children."

By the time she's led him out back behind Old Ms Carnation's barn, he's figured out that she's been in town awhile. He can see she's not too happy with staying still like this, but the townspeople make her as comfortable as she'll let them and don't seem to want any payment from her whenever she tries.

Ms Carnation, an 82 year old spinster who probably shouldn't be living on her own, greets her like she's a long lost great-granddaughter when she asks if they can go out back of the barn again. The old woman eyes him, and he can almost see her waving a wooden spoon at him, threatening him for daring to be near the blonde haired girl. They don't stick around the house long enough for it to become reality, thankfully, though he's nearly sure it would have.

There's a patch of fresh turned dirt behind the barn, under a large oak tree. She points to it, nods to a shovel leaning against the barn.

"If you wanna see what killed the kids, you're gonna have to dig. They've been salted and burned, but you'll still get the general idea, I think."

He stares at her for a long moment. He knows about all these desecrations that the Winchester boys do, salting and burning random bodies – bones – but it's something he doesn't really understand. He doesn't know why they do it, and it's never occurred to him that sometimes they might have done it where there wasn't a gravestone.

"There's a body there?"

She nods, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights one. "Hung back in 1892 for raping and killing a little girl. The Carnations took care of it, since he was their family. What was there of the town was satisfied, and it didn't ever come up again. No one spoke of it."

He stares at her, not really placing any of this information. He knows that she's making a connection to the girls who were killed in the past few months, but for the life of him he can't find it. This guy had been dead over 100 years, had obviously not been around to do these murders. A copycat then?

"Angie, the lady up at the house, she's the last of the Carnations. Never married, brothers all died in various wars and accidents. She's sold the land off, and will be moving come fall. Wanted one last summer here, where she grew up."

She's quite for a minute, as she finishes the marb. She drops it to the ground, stubbing out the burning ember with one of her steel-toed boots. "Hugh Carnation wasn't happy about it, you see. Means he's getting uprooted and his place is gonna become houses or some shit."

"Hugh? I thought Angie was the last." Damn, but this girl doesn't make sense. Except she does, and he thinks he knows where this is going, but he doesn't really want to believe what it is she's implying.

"She is. Hugh was the guy hung in 1892."

Damnit, but he was hoping she wasn't going to say that. "You're crazy, you know that? Crazier than either of those two boys."

She shrugs. It's obvious she's heard the words he was saying before, that he's not the first one to tell her that. "If you say so."

They're halfway back to town when he speaks up again. "All of those graves they've messed with, that's what they're doing?"

She nods, like it's an everyday thing. And maybe it is, with them. "Sends the spirit on. Once you find out who the ghost is, it's pretty straight forward, usually. Still gotta find out who it is, though."

He doesn't want to believe it – he doesn't believe it – but it made their actions a little clearer. What they were doing, why they were doing it. The way that people seemed really, truly grateful to the two boys. Who wouldn't want to be told that you weren't crazy, that there really was something you couldn't explain happening? If, he told himself, any of this was true. A mighty big if, if you asked him.

"Is that all they do?"

She lets out a bark of stale laughter. "Oh God no. The Winchesters? They're the last of a dying kind. They take on anything and everything with equal enthusiasm, more if they ain't ever heard of it."

He nods, because this makes sense. The two boys he's tailing, they're not like the people he usually tracks down. There's no method to their madness – or there wasn't one he could see, not until now, not until this pretty little thing showed him a thing or two.

"You do…. Uh, that, too?" he asks, unsure what they call it. What they are.

She nods absentmindedly, pulling up in front of the motel just down the street from the diner. He'd walked to dinner, earlier. The fact that she knew where he was staying scared him a bit, but didn't surprise him. "Yeah, I hunt. My mom didn't want me to, but it's in my blood, just like those two. My dad was a hunter, same as theirs."

Hunters. They called themselves hunters. They hunted what walked in the dark, what everyone else blew off as ghost stories. They did good, they saved people. They had friends.

These weren't the two boys in his files.

"You know them well?" he asks, still sitting shotgun in her little Honda Civic.

Jo shrugs. "As well as the next."

He thinks maybe she knows them better than him, but he knows more of what they're up to. That she could explain what they do, but he could give the examples.

After a few moments of silence, she turns, raising a brow. He gets the idea, opens the door, gets out. He watches as she drives away and wonders if he'll see her again.

Next town down the line, he's eight days behind the boys. She didn't have anything to do with him loosing a day, it was just part of how this all went down. Six months in and he's still rattling behind them. He doesn't know if it's luck or if they do it on purpose. Better to have him just a little bit behind, where they can keep tabs on him, then to let him surprise them sometime down the line.

He's been going back over their files, looking up information on the areas they'd been in around the times they'd been there. Weird things had shown up in the papers. A weird death, a weird fire, something. And generally, if you went back far enough, there was a pattern.

Witness statements, given grudgingly and generally as non-incriminating as a person could make either of the Winchester's actions, start to make sense. The loyalty they'd gathered, it was starting to mean something.

Three towns later and he's having an actual conversation with a waitress about Dean and Sam. When he realizes it, he doesn't stop, doesn't falter, just keeps on going, but he knows now.

Two nights later, she slides into the seat across from him at the diner. "It makin' anymore sense yet?"

He pauses for a moment before he responds. "It fit the minute you told me. Still doesn't make sense though."

She cracks a true grin then, though it's fleeting. "Welcome to the world of the hunter."

He doesn't say anything to that, just watches her as she takes the cup of coffee that the waitress offers. This time he doesn't seem to scream suit so much, and something about the way he sits with her must assure the townspeople he's not really hunting the boys anymore. He might be following them, trying to catch them, but he's not hunting them. So the waitress looks at the girl, pauses, then speaks real soft. "The boys, they're okay, right?"

She looks up at the waitress for a long moment, the nods. "They're good. Dean needed a few stitches, but Sam's good with a needle – better than me, at least. Sam's gonna have a sore face for a few days, but they're good."

The waitress sighs softly, but some of the tension bleeds out of her.

Something about these boys and waitress. He wonders if it has anything to do with the fact that these little diners are one of the few consistencies that they've had their whole life.

She looks at him over the rim of her cup. "It was a werewolf this time."

She doesn't say anything else the whole time they're at the diner, letting him mull over this information. He's slowly come to accept ghosts, but werewolves? That was a different story. He wonders what else he'd always written off as legends and stories and fantasy was real, was something that these boys, this girl, and all the others like them fight.

When they walk out of the diner into the cool night, he looks over at her. "Tell me about them?"

She eyes him sideways for a moment before pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. "What'd you wanna know?"

He shrugs. She sighs. "The last hunt went down bad, though it wasn't a bad hunt. I got here after it had happened, brought Sam some painkillers since they always seem to be running out of them. They probably wouldn't bother to get more. I don't understand why, since they use them if they have them," she rolls her eyes, just like any sister he's ever come across and he wonders about their relationship.

He doesn't even know who she is.

"They're good, you know?" she tells him more than asks. "They do what they're doing 'cause they don't know how to do anything else. Not since their mom, not since Jess, not since ever. Sam, he tried, but even when he was out there playing normal…" she shrugs. "I don't think he and Dean will ever leave each other again, not after-" she stops, doesn't say anything, just turns and stares at him.

He doesn't have a clue what she's looking for.

After a few long seconds, she nods. "Just, they're the Winchester boys. Brothers, hunters. What else do ya need to know?" she asks, and he doesn't have an answer.

He follows Jo onto the next town, even though it's not the one he was going to go to. He figures right away that the Winchester's have never been there, or if they have, it was a long time ago.

They get rooms near each other and meet up at the diner two streets over a little later. Jo doesn't say anything when he slides in across from her, and he ends up paying for her meal. Let the Bureau pay for it. They'll never know the difference.

Jo doesn't tell him what's happening, but she lets him tag along. He waits by her car as she talks to people, he reads the articles she prints off and the pages in books she puts together. Finally after five days, she hands him a sheet of paper with a copied page from a journal, the words 'woman in white' scrawled across the top.

"Sam emailed it to me – it's from their dad's journal. This is what we're dealing with."

He's not dumb, and it hadn't taken much for him to figure out that she was working her own case. That she's telling him much of anything sort of surprises him, but he figures maybe this will help him get closer to the Winchesters.

He pushes the thought of how this might make him want to leave them be more than he already does from his mind.

He follows Jo to the woman's grave and watches her salt and burn the bones that are bleached white with time. She leads him to the apartment where the woman – the ghost – had killed her children forty-five years before, pulls out some sort of meter and walks slowly around. It goes off in the bathroom.

She yells at him to duck a few seconds later and instinct makes him follow her directions. She aims the shot gun she's been carrying directly over him and shoots. It's rock salt, and it makes whatever form was above him dissipate.

She sends him out and comes out twenty minutes later sweaty and with a bloody lip. Later, back in her hotel room, she lets him dap the wound with disinfectant and doesn't flinch even though he knows from experience it hurts like a bitch.

Two towns and three dead-end hunts later he gets a call. They need him to catch the trail of someone else – just for a little bit, but this guy is really bad too, and the Winchester's have been somewhat quiet lately, just grave disturbances and maybe some animal mutilations. This guy's been raping women and killing men for the last month. He says yes, and doesn't fight it when Jo follows him.

A week later and the two of them have guns trained on the perp. She's got a fake badge that looks as real as his and when they had the guy in at the closest station, no one says anything about the hard eyed blonde who follows him in and he never says a word. They hand him another case, and he takes it after she nods.

Seventeen months later he and Jo walk into a diner and slide into a booth. The woman there brings them coffee, takes their orders. She doesn't know him or Jo, but they must look the part of something, both of them in dusty boots and dirty jeans. Jo has a blood stain on her the side of her teeshirt under jacket and he might have some of it on his. It's neither of their blood, though.

They've caught twenty perps for the FBI and taken out ghosts and a werewolf and once, three vampires, even though Jo says she never usually goes after them. Says she always hands that off to the Winchesters, and before she knew them, she'd have called a man named Gordon.

They're nearly done with the first meal besides cold poptarts and coke that they've had in 48 hours when the door opens and two guys tromp in. The waitress seems to know them, and when Jo looks up to suss them out since she's the one facing the door, she freezes.

He knows who they are before he turns around, knows because Jo has her eyes trained on him and her hand on her gun, even though they've been partners for almost a year and half. If he didn't know before, he'd have known now just how deep people's loyalty to the Winchester's went, since she hasn't seen them and only talked to them once since they started working together.

"Jo," Dean says, his eyes never leaving him, "Hendrickson."

He nods back. "Dean, Sam."

Sam is tense and he knows that behind Dean, where he can't see, Sam has a gun out. The waitress is peeking around a corner and the cook looks like he might have a shotgun out just below where they can see.

After a long moment the four of them start to relax. Jo stands, shifts her stuff to his side of the table, and the two boys sit down across from them cautiously. "So, you guys did that gig up in Cour de'Alene?" Dean asks finally, his voice sliding through the tension surrounding them that can nearly be seen.

Jo nods, and they all start to relax a bit more. And he knows then that he's not turning these boys in. The FBI hasn't asked about Jo, has turned a blind eye to the fact they don't know who his partner is, where she came from, what she does. They've stopped asking him about the Winchesters and just keep him running with other perps to catch.

And he thinks he's okay with that, and maybe that he has been since the second time he saw Jo.