Sam is six years old when dad pulls up in front of the wooden shack of a building.
Giving it only a passing glance before focusing back on his book, that silly old bear and his honey, he doesn't even move to get out of the car until dad's big hands grab the front of his shirt to pull him out.
Inside it's dim, stray sunlight leaking through foggy windows, as the Winchesters stand side by side with little Sammy on the end staring at his shoes and ignoring the grown up talk. It's not bright enough to keep reading, and he tries to make himself a statue, until he hears a small giggle come from behind the bar.
Quickly glancing up at his brother, who is paying close attention to the adults, he takes a few cautious steps. When he isn't called back he darts around the bar to the source of the noise and comes face to face with a girl about his age. Her hair is tied into golden pigtails with a bright pink ribbon, and is holding on to a stuffed bear with a familiar red shirt. Sam immediately shows her his book, her eyes light up, and without even speaking she grabs his hand and pulls him swiftly out the back door.
Once outside Sam keeps looking behind them, expecting dad's booming voice to call after him for not staying put, but the girl only tugs harder at his hesitation, pulling him toward a tree at the end of a gravel lot.
When they reach it she immediately plops herself down on the ground and looks up at him expectedly with the bear held firmly against her chest.
"Read!" She shouts after a minute of him just standing there.
The smile on his face grows to match hers, as he sits down next to her and shares the story.
He's almost halfway through when the adults finally come calling, neither of them noticing until shadows cover the book.
"Jo honey," a smooth feminine voice falls over Sam's shoulder, "have you made a new friend?"
A warm feeling spreads through Sam's chest when the girl nods vigorously, but is confused when he leans closer asking if that is her name, and she shakes her head no. When he asks what is it then, she looks around quickly, for what he's not sure, but suddenly she points up into the tree.
Squinting against the sun, he tries to see what she may be pointing at, when he hears the chirp and sees a bird whose feathers match the sky.
Three days after climbing trees, catching tadpoles in the creek, and reading his book so many times because it never failed to make her smile, they're clinging to each other helplessly.
Dad's job is done and it's time to leave, but Sam refuses to let go. Jo seems just as determined not to let him, her little arms wrapped around him do not budge, while Bill and Ellen smile at their daughters determination not to let her new friend go.
Sam stands up for himself for the first time, telling Dad he wants to stay. It doesn't work that way, he's reminded by his brother, and he'll go because dad says so.
He still doesn't move, so dad grabs him from behind and hoists him into the Impala, as he kicks and screams trying to wriggle free. His eyes locked on Jo, who stands with arms folded, a mean pout etched on her face.
Sam is up against the window the second he hits the backseat.
Don't forget me bluebird!
Sam is eleven years old when the best summer of his life occurs because of two different misfortunes.
The first being that Bill doesn't come back from a job, dad unable to tell them exactly what happened (or refusing to), and Jo is so inconsolable she climbs up their tree and refuses to come down.
Sam climbs up after her, easily approaching the branch where she's perched, but doesn't try to talk her down despite making a promise to Ellen that he would, because he knows better than to try. Their bond still holding steady despite only getting to see each other a few times a year.
Despite Ellen's concern, and Dean's attempted bribes, they stay in the tree for nearly two days, Jo not willing to move and Sam not willing to leave her. They're brought food and drink, which Jo only lets happen because Sam asks her to, and he waits patiently as she stares off at nothing.
Only when she wants to, do they finally come down, Sam letting her go first to make sure she actually does.
The second misfortune is that when Sam starts to climb down, the branch gives way, taking him along for the ride.
His broken leg ends up being a blessing in disguise when Ellen doesn't let him leave, her reason of it never healing properly bouncing around in that car for hours on end. There's an odd moment between her and dad, standing on opposite sides of the bed he's laying on, a look exchanged that Sam has only seen before when people owe money. Dad's grunt of a reply must be a yes, because Jo squeals in excitement and jumps on the bed, throwing her arms around his neck until he can't breathe.
They're inseparable as they can be despite his limited mobility, adventures hobbled around on crutches, new secrets shared from the last span of time they've spent apart. They share a room despite Ellen's curious lift of her brow, Sam reading stories every night before they go to sleep, Jo always waking him up by jumping on his bed.
He can't remember ever being so happy.
The cast comes off two weeks before Jo has to start school, and while he's glad to finally have the freedom to run and play, there's still a sense of dread that it's all going to end soon because he's no longer hurt.
They spend hours in the woods, exploring, creating their own Terabithia where all monsters are vanquished. Bursting from the trees one day, screaming at the top of their lungs and laughing just as loudly, Jo stops dead in her tracks at the sight of the sun dipping just below the horizon.
Falling to sit in the dirt, she grabs his hand and pulls him down with her.
"You and me," she says, her voice going all quiet like she's sharing a secret, "it's you and me until the last sun ever sets."
He isn't completely sure what she means, but squeezes her hand anyway, knowing he feels the same.
Sam is sixteen years old when dad gives him a cell phone.
It's for emergencies, he says, but the first thing Sam does is dial the Roadhouse to give Jo the number and ends up with a bill so big dad nearly cancels it after a month. Any possible chance he gets, her number would be dialed, and any chance she had, his phone would ring.
Dean teases him endlessly about being best friends with a girl, but Sam never takes it to heart because he knows his brother doesn't get it. He can't even talk to one without imagining her naked. Dad hardly acknowledges the relationship, only when it becomes an annoyance does he actually say something, (mainly when Sam badgers him about going back to Nebraska every couple of weeks.)
They're somewhere in New Mexico, driving down a pitch black highway, but somehow he has a signal on his phone. He's staring up at the moon and about to call Jo to ask her to look out her window and see if it looks the same to her, when dad's eyes catch his through the rear view mirror.
A simple shake of the head and Sam puts the phone away, but keeps looking out the window.
Somehow it feels as if Jo is watching that same moon anyway.
He steals a car for the first time a day after Jo calls, asking him to go with her to some school dance.
"Mom is making me go," she says. "Something about being normal, or whatever, and I really don't want to end up with any of the jackasses I go to school with. So what say you Pooh Bear? You want to be my date?"
Red wire? Blue wire? It's not like he's been able to practice hotwiring on a regular basis, damn sure he's going to get caught, a second before the sparks snap and the engine roars alive. He's a day, maybe a day and a half, from Nebraska. Hitting the gas he hopes he can get there before the cops find him.
He ditches the car a full county over and takes a bus to get to the Roadhouse about an hour before the dance starts, Ellen knowing immediately that he didn't have dad's permission to be here, but a welcoming hug tells him she doesn't much care.
Now she's standing with a Cheshire grin watching him fidget in a borrowed suit waiting for Jo to come out.
Jo emerges from the back, in a shimmering blue dress that looks like something out of a magazine, and his feet are moving before he even realizes. Pressing his forehead against hers, he spins them around slowly, causing her to laugh with shimmering lips he tries not to take notice of.
Looking good, bluebird.
She laughs again.
"Not so bad yourself," she replies looking up at him, slowly realizing just how far she actually has to tilt her head to meet his eyes.
"Whoa, when did this happen?"
Sam is eighteen years old when he gets the Stanford letter in one of the PO boxes dad always lets him check.
Keeping it in a jacket pocket for three days before he actually opens it, fear and anticipation leaves the seal closed, when a call from Jo complaining about how, if she doesn't get out of the Roadhouse sometime soon, she might lose her mind.
The letter in his palm, the plan they've been talking about since they were eleven, running off together where their parents couldn't control every aspect of their lives and they could finally be left alone to their own devices, running through his mind.
Congratulations the first word he sees, and the disbelief that four years and sixteen schools have somehow gotten him into one of the most prestigious colleges in America hits him square in the chest. Unfortunately, he knows, Dad and Dean will never let him go.
Their blind mission of revenge always a catalyst in keeping the family unit together, Sam never really fit in with the life, and never wanted it in the first place. He has to get out, he has to discover the world on his own, the real one, where ghosts and monsters don't try to kill you every other day.
He shows dad the letter, steels himself against the expected refusal, and throws a verbal punch directly below the belt about how he never wanted a life seeking revenge for a mother he never knew.
The stone silence after the words leave his lips have him regretting them instantly, but it's too late to take them back, and dad keeps standing there as he packs up everything he owns into a single duffel bag.
"If you walk out that door," dad says voice thin and rough. "Don't come back."
While he expected something to that effect to come out of his mouth, tears still sting his eyes that the choice is so black and white.
Dean is outside, his face a blank mask though Sam knows he shares dad's opinion of abandonment, he's not judging. An open hand and a quick hug and Sam's off down the road headed for the nearest bus station.
He calls Jo from a payphone.
Pack a bag; I'll be there in two days.
It's dark when he runs up to the tree where their friendship first began. Jo is already waiting there for him with a bag slung over her shoulder, one that's immediately dropped when she catches sight of him and comes running.
Arms around each other swiftly; squeezing as hard as they can because nearly a year has passed since they last saw each other.
"Are we really gonna do this?" She asks against him.
He nods. They really are.
Ellen will never forgive him for stealing her daughter away in the middle of the night.
The only thing that keeps him from possible regret is that Jo never lets go of his hand the entire trip.
They get a one bedroom apartment close to campus, and the few friends they make don't fully understand how they can sleep in the same bedroom without being together, which confuses them in turn because together is all they've ever been.
She gets a job in a coffee shop, because it's the closest thing to bartending she can get without being twenty-one, and he concentrates on classes.
It's not strange at all, after so many years of time spent whenever the Winchesters just happened to be heading through Nebraska, or whenever Sam ran off there, that everyday coexistence happens so easily.
She's the last thing he sees before he goes to sleep and the first thing when he wakes up. The way she smiles every time this happens, reaching across the space of the beds to hold his hand, he knows she has no regrets about coming with him.
Sam is twenty-two years old when the dreams start.
Horrible, twisted images of blood spilt and bodies burning, people in pain and dying the screams so loud his ears nearly pop.
He wakes up gasping, heart beating double time, as Jo presses herself closer trying to comfort him, head against his chest listening to the thump-thump-thump. Fingers reaching up to his neck, feeling how the pulse jumps, she coos softly against his skin.
Sharing the same bed for the last three years, ever since a party Sam dragged her to, where another pretty blonde had taken a liking to him. How Jo stared in shock after witnessing a drunken kiss, Sam chasing her down when she took off, arms around her with forehead against hers, her declaration that she didn't care.
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's you, it's always been you.
She asks what happened this time, waits patiently as his breathing calms, and lets her head fall back against him.
He was coming back from some kind of trip, he tells her, not sure where he went but knows he walked back into the house from kitchen where he found a plate of fresh baked cookies on the counter and note. Going up the stairs he expected to find her asleep, but the bed was empty. Laying on his back with a few of the cookies, something wet hit his mouth, and he opened his eyes to find her pinned against the ceiling with a giant red gash across her stomach. He screamed only to watch as flames burst around her.
Looking down at her, knowing she's here and alive, he still can't shake how real it all felt. He could feel the heat from the flames, the stick wetness of her blood hitting his skin.
"It was just a dream," she assures.
He tries to nod.
"Know how I know?"
"When have I ever baked you anything?" She laughs against him. "Silly old bear."
More annoyed than fearful, waking up to a noise downstairs after he'd finally been able to fall asleep again.
Jo is out cold curled up against her pillow, so he sneaks out of the bed as quietly as he can, and heads for the stairs. Another noise when he hits the bottom, eyes darting left to right checking for all possible points of entry, when the son of a bitch walks into view all calm and casual like he owns the place.
Against a wall, dad's training still instinctual, waiting for a prime moment to strike. When he does a counter attack instantly hits him in the face. Frustration and anger throw the next couple of punches, a kick or two for good measure, and he knows the noise is going to have Jo up in seconds.
Bastard steps in close and flips him, back hitting the floor with enough force to drive the air from his lungs, before a familiar shit-eating grin dips below the shadows.
The light comes on and there's Jo standing in the doorway with the knife she keeps tucked under her pillow, primed and ready for the would-be burglar.
"What the hell is going on?" She asks.
Dean's smile only grows bigger at the sight of her.
"Good to see you Jo," he says, eyes darting down a second. "I love the smurfs."
As if she's just now realized she's only in her underwear, a blush creeps into her cheeks for a millisecond before the knife is waved pointedly at him.
"What are you doing here?"
Sam nods, about to ask the question himself.
"Looking for a beer," he replies, ignoring the true intention of the question, looking back and forth between them. "You know I always wondered how long it would take before you two hooked up. Guess I owe Pastor Jim ten bucks."
Dean comes out in unison, which makes him roll his eyes.
"Okay, okay, we need to talk," he says exasperated. "Dad hasn't been home for a few days."
Sam immediately thinks of the poltergeist and the devils gate, how Dad always goes missing but is always fine.
"Trust me," Dean goes on. "It's different this time and I need your help."
It's all Jo needs to hear.
"What do we need to do?" She asks.
He wants to object to her helping, Sam can tell, but one shared look and Dean knows it's pointless.
I go, she goes.
Dean sighs and looks between them.
"Like it's ever been any other way with you two?"