It's almost surprising how quickly they find a place.
Two days off the bus, one answered ad the newspaper, and they're dropping duffels bags simultaneously on the floor of their vacant new living room. The landlord, a leftover from the glory days of San Francisco hippies named Mimi, practically gave them the apartment sight unseen. Only asking where they were from, (Jo said Nebraska Sam said nothing), she said it was theirs if they wanted it.
Apparently her favorite kind of tenant is a mid-western kid coming out to California because they were far more polite, and less likely to cause trouble, than the locals.
Sam is glad that's all it took; not wanting to start what he is considering his real life, with a lie.
It's only a one-bedroom, which Sam attributes to the (natural) assumption on Mimi's part, that he and Jo are a couple. He didn't want to rock the boat by asking to see another unit, not when she was so willing to just give them this one.
Part of him can't believe it's actually happening. That he's really here, that she's with him. So many years of staring out the window on those long car rides, wishing she was next to him, and all he has to do now is reach over and she's there.
Standing in the bedroom now, each of them mapping out corresponding space in their heads, he wonders aloud if sharing is going to be an issue, to which she just elbows him playfully and gives a mischievous smile.
"Not like we haven't shared before," she says.
He wants to reply that they were eleven the last time that happened, but he's too damn happy to argue, and the point is moot anyway.
He signs up for too many classes.
Partially out of the habit of trying to cram as much knowledge into his head as he could in a short amount of time, because growing up as he did school would last a few months at the most, and partially because he's a little eager to get the whole college experience started.
Normal life the mantra, though the few people he's become acquainted with assure him that the amount of studying he does, even at a place as prestigious as Stanford, is a far cry from normal.
Jo gets a job in a coffee bar, too young by California standards to work in her practiced environment. It's the kind of place where the owner was a corporate pencil pusher until the mid-life crisis, choosing to burn his tie and run screaming to the coast rather than the more common sports car and adulterous affair.
Sam becomes a fixture in the corner table, books and papers piled as high as his head, drinking cup after cup of free coffee.
Everyone they meet think he's her boyfriend. Something he and Jo hardly bother to correct because, while it isn't really the case, it's a whole lot easier than trying to explain what exactly they are to other people.
Possibly even to themselves.
"Think I found a job," she says one day, tossing a newspaper in front of him.
They're in the coffee bar, so the statement confuses him a little, looking up at her wanting to state that she already has a job, when he sees the determined look on her face.
He wants to say no, that the part of his life where he runs head first into danger, the pitch black of night, is over. This is his chance, his escape. She knows exactly what he's thinking, and all it takes for him to understand her position in this, is a slight narrowing of her eyes.
All Jo ever wanted to be is a hunter, leaving Nebraska meant she had the freedom to do so, and no way is she going to let him deny that for her too. She didn't come with him to escape the life. She came because he asked her to.
Picking up the paper and reading a few lines, he looks up at her again.
"Two confirmed deaths," she says lowering her voice. "And another gone missing."
"It's just across the bridge."
He sighs dramatically, and they both know she has him.
A day and a half later, when they're bruised and bloody, clinging to each other and gasping for breath Sam wants to ask if this is what she had in mind.
It could have gone better, is being kind. Unmitigated disaster is being accurate.
The research came easy to both of them, the question and answer part well enough, but the execution in the disposal of the spirit of a vengeful eight-year old, left much to be desired.
There's no triumph in Jo's eyes, no pride for getting the job the done. The haunting sight of such little bones going up in flames still reflected in her eyes. He takes her hand as they make the slow walk back to the car, wanting to say this is what the job is, always ugly, always lingering.
He gets the feeling she knows what's going on in his mind anyway, squeezing his hand.
They're still alive.
That's something at least.
He aces all his finals, ending his first year a 3.98 GPA. It feels so good he actually accepts Marcus' invite to some end of the year blowout one of the fraternities is throwing. Jo takes some convincing to go, not wanting to be surrounded by the meatheads or worse, all his brainy friends.
Practically dragging her by the wrist, despite the promise of free beer, she goes but makes a fuss about it. Two hours later, with a red plastic cup practically glued to her hand, she admits to having a good time.
Watching all the beer bongs, the chorus of woos from scantly clad sorority girls, Jo points and laughs glad she chose to forgo college. Marcus pops up and begs Jo to dance with him, looking to Sam first, something she notices and punches his arm for.
"He's not my keeper," she all but slurs, looking back at Sam who mimics hurt at the statement.
He looks on as they get lost in the crowd of gyrating bodies, an odd twinge at the sight of her walking away. Staring down into his empty cup and deciding a refill is in order, he makes is way over to the beer and waits patiently for the guy to finish his keg stand.
Someone taps him on the shoulder, and he turns expecting it to be Jo, eyes focused downward to match her height. Clearly not Jo, staring directly into a girl's chest, he flushes immediately offering an apology. The girl simply laughs, eyes slightly glazed, and Sam chuckles softly as well.
"Weren't you in my sociology class?" She asks.
She does look somewhat familiar, too tall to go unnoticed, pretty enough not to ignore.
"Thought so," she replies off his acknowledgement.
The way she's looking at him, as if he's the only thing she sees, causes his feet to shift nervously.
"I'm Jessica," she says offering a hand.
He's not sure how long they talk, but the easy way the conversation just seems to flow, it seems like no time has passed at all. Turns out they were in a lot of the same classes together and yes, she did notice him before tonight but was too shy to actually go up and say hello.
She almost blushes when he asks why tonight is any different.
"It's a party isn't it?" She asks just before leaning in to kiss him.
Her mouth soft against his, some kind of strawberry lip gloss masking the taste of beer, the lone thought in his mind that she's only doing this because she's drunk. He's a little drunk too, it's why he doesn't pull away, but when he does the first thing he sees is Jo standing behind them. Eyes wide with shock, the red plastic cup still in her hand, she takes off as soon as he says her name.
Mumbling a quick apology to Jessica, he darts off after her.
Wait! Bluebird, wait!
He has a hard time catching up despite the fact that her legs are shorter than his, but when he does, she just shrugs the hand off her shoulder when he tries to spin her around.
"I don't care," she says turning to face him. "If that's what you want. I'm not-I mean we're not…"
Cutting her off by cupping her cheeks in his hands, leaning forward and pressing his forehead against hers, he feels her relax against him.
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's you, It's always been you.
Lips against hers tentatively, no way to express years of friendship and the unwavering bond between them, in a single kiss. When she pulls away he's sorry for it, fearful that he's read this whole situation, read her, wrong.
He's about to apologize when she smiles up at him.
"If you think I'm going to let declare your undying love for me two minutes after making out with frat party Barbie you're crazy."
He laughs, the relief so instant, wrapping his arms around her and wondering what happens next.
The transition is remarkably seamless.
How they don't really change, always holding hands and spending practically every waking moment together before, there's just more to it now. Kissing for one, it's like they hardly ever stop the first month or so. Kiss hello, kiss good-bye, kiss just because.
A single bed in their shared room, after two days of pushing their twins together, chuckling that the act was too fifties sitcom. Sam loves waking up, feeling her right next to him instead of having to reach across the short space, and when Jo opens her eyes and looks up at him, he knows she feels the same.
No, nothing really changes.
Only now, when people assume they're together, neither one feels the inclination to correct them.
He takes Intro to Criminal Justice just to fill out his schedule, and it turns out to be his favorite class the entire semester. Something his faculty advisor is a little too pleased about, after an entire freshman year of trying to steer a rudderless but brilliant kid (his words not Sam's), a direction to point him in seemed almost too good to be true.
Checking out old dusty law books as big as encyclopedia's from the library, pouring over them at his usual perch in Jo's shop, he finds something about the law interesting. Like, he can still find a way to help people without bullets or salt involved.
Jo thinks it's funny, him considering going pre-law, after all the law breaking he did as a kid and the occasional felonies they commit during jobs. His defense is that he could probably get them off should they ever get caught, and she just kisses the top of his head.
"We don't get caught," she says before going back behind the counter.
Switching over to a book of California statutes and misdemeanors, just in case, he reads a couple of chapters and tries to imagine himself in a suit.
Driving down the highway in Jo's old truck, trying his best to ignore her REO Speedwagon greatest hits album blaring out of the stereo, heading toward Monterey and the three bodies that have washed up on shore the last few days. Sam sticks his hand out the window letting the ocean breeze flow through his fingers.
The authorities all say shark attack, but the bite marks left on the remaining flesh are too small and the teeth that made them are much too dull. Jo got the heads up from some hunter grapevine he didn't know about, (she swears she told him but he wasn't paying attention,) the extra bit of info leading to this weekend trip.
More confident working alone with a couple of successful hunts under their belt, Sam thumbs through an anthology of demonic creatures trying to place what could be responsible for all the carnage.
Glancing over at Jo, who has her determined look on, chewing the inside of her cheek and preparing for the trouble that lies ahead.
No matter what it turns out to be, he has no doubt they'll come out on top.
The blood running into his eye makes him glad he doesn't have a pistol, the cold steel in his hands; standing face to face with a couple of ghouls who think it's funny to say they both smell like chicken, he doesn't know why they're hesitating.
The way they talk about their misdeeds like a couple of comic book villains, laying out every grisly detail as if it actually matters, leaving the bodies in the ocean, trying to send the townspeople into a panic because somehow it makes the flesh taste better, or whatever.
Sam and Jo lift their shotguns in tandem, the assumption that the only way to deal with flesh eaters is the same, you blow their goddamn heads off.
One quick look at Jo, who nods without taking her eyes off them, and bang!
Problem solved in a flurry of buckshot.
Ellen comes to visit in the spring.
Sam oddly, is the nervous one, having not talked to her since he essentially stole her daughter away. Barely even eating for the few days since Jo told him she was coming. Honestly it's a surprise, because the few phone conversations he happened to overhear usually resulted in yelling or crying. Something must have been mended, because Ellen never came out this way before, not even to drag Jo back. (A fear always resting in the back of Sam's mind.)
Must be in the genes, Sam thinks, when Ellen pulls up in front of the building in an old pick up. Jo stands next to him in the middle of the walkway, laughing softly to herself at the way he fidgets in anticipation.
He can't help but smile with the first thing Ellen does is pull her daughter into a hug, one that lasts nearly a full minute.
"It's good to see you baby girl," she says into the top of Jo's hair.
Sam doesn't have to see her face to know Jo is smiling against her mother's shoulder. When they break apart his heart nearly skips a beat, Ellen's eyes finding his, toes curling as she moves forward.
The slap isn't completely unexpected, but still shocking when his head snaps sideways, the sting spreading across his cheek.
"Mom!" Jo exclaims from behind.
"You had that coming," Ellen says, pulling him into a hug. "I know she was yours since the day you met," comes out lower. "But that don't mean I appreciate what you did and how you did it."
He nods against her.
"That said, it's good to see you too."
When they pull away Jo is quick to Sam's side, fingertips caressing his cheek, before standing on her toes to kiss the reddening skin.
Sam's eyes meet Ellen's again, gauging her reaction, but she only smiles knowingly.
"About damn time," she says softly.
They're in San Francisco walking around North Beach enjoying the rarest of occurrences, the two of them with the same day off. Unsure how exactly the ended up in this part of the city, riding a few trains and trolleys, holding hands as they make way along bustling sidewalks with easy smiles on their faces.
Stopping in City Lights so Sam can indulge his inner bookworm, Jo waits patiently while he thumbs through several volumes and rattles off on how profound each author was trying to be.
"You're such a geek," she laughs, rolling her eyes.
He throws an arm around her.
Yeah, but you love that about me.
He thinks she's joking when she stops in front of the tattoo shop. Yeah right falling from his lips with such disbelief, he assumes she only walks in the place just to spite him. He bites, following her in, brow lifting upward at the sight of her chatting with the guy behind the counter.
They're talking about placement and price, and Sam suddenly realizes it's not coincidence they ended up here. That a girl who will take half an hour trying to decide which knife to take on a hunt, wouldn't make a decision like this on a whim. Turning back to him a second, a delighted gleam in her eye, she only smirks when he asks what she's doing.
Fifty-five minutes later there's a bear in a red shirt permanently etched into the skin just above her hip, and without thinking he's talking to the guy about getting something too. Another hour passes, and Sam has a bird with wings that match the sky on his arm.
Walking out into the city night hand in hand, it almost feels like I do.
Sam makes the dean's list for the third year in a row, and is the one of the esteemed guests for some intellectual soiree held by the president of the university. He even has to sit at the head table perched up on a stage with his fellow brainiacs for all to see.
The hunter instincts kick into overdrive, a natural aversion to the spotlight when you spend so much of your time in the shadows, he doesn't want to go and Jo is completely unsympathetic.
"If you don't want to get noticed, maybe you shouldn't be so smart," she teases.
When he informs her that her presence is a must she doesn't bat an eye. Only when he says that formal wear is required does she balk.
"I don't do formal," she insists, and he just laughs.
I've seen you in a dress before.
She stares at him a second before it dawns on her. "That dance? Oh god why did I ever let mom talk me into that?"
He steps closer and kisses her forehead.
You were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
She tries to fight the smile coming and fails, rolling her eyes and softly punching his arm.
He thinks Dad mentioned vampires once.
Something about how they were nearly extinct, maybe, he can't remember. You'd think if that were the case they'd be more careful about leaving bodies around, six in the last month, completely drained of blood. The local cops are calling them vampire killings, and Sam thinks it hilarious they'll never understand the irony.
Jo's a little too jazzed up for this job, leading him to fear that she's going to dive into this head first without checking if there's any water in the pool.
"Vampires," she says, her foot pushing the pedal to the floor nearly the whole drive to Ukiah. "I mean, who'd have thought they actually exist?"
These stories usually start with fact he wants to say, but somewhere over time the details slowly trickle away.
Well this is…
Annoying to say the least.
All the research, the canvassing of the local population and law enforcement, to finally track down the house where the nest could be, and when they get there with blades gleaming in the moonlight, it's not the fight they were geared up for.
They find four beheaded bodies lying in a vast pool of blood.
"What the hell?" Jo wonders aloud.
Someone beat us to it.
She nods in agreement. Someone swift by the look of it, barely any evidence of a struggle, all the kills quick and clean. Someone who knew exactly what they were doing.
"Shit," Jo mutters, accidentally stepping in the puddle. "I think now would be a good time to go."
He couldn't agree more.
Before he realizes it, another birthday comes to pass, and the only thing he can think of is that he hasn't seen Dad or Dean for nearly three years.
When they were kids Dad always made a point of making their birthdays a big deal, going out of his way to keep some kind of normalcy in the life he pushed on them. Of course he stopped making an effort as they got older, before downright stopping when they hit their teens.
Even though they'd both been driving since they could reach the pedals, Dean made damn sure he had a good time on his sixteenth, it being a milestone and all his big brother had them acting accordingly.
He's twenty-one years old today.
He wonders if they still remember.
When he gets home Jo and Marcus shout surprise! While the rest of their friends echo in chorus. Balloons are everywhere, the walls covered in happy birthday signs, and more booze on the counter than he's ever seen outside of a bar.
Jo wraps her arms around him, a quick kiss, before dragging him amongst the well wishers.
I hate you for this.
She just smiles back at him, the mischievous gleam in her eye, "you love me for this."
Hours later when everyone is gone, and Jo is passed out and pressed against his side, he's still up sipping from a bottle of whiskey someone left a little red bow on. He thinks of Dean and Dad again, out there somewhere, the rumble of an engine and classic rock instead of conversation.
Lifting the bottle in salute, to Sammy on his twenty-first, he falls asleep with the sensation of the open road beneath him.
He was supposed to buy pants.
That's the only reason he came to the mall in the first place. But walking through the oddly large crowd, dodging people left and right, he ends up in a jewelry store just to escape the madness for a minute.
The salesman pounces in an instant and Sam smiles politely, playing along for now not wanting to be thrust amongst the horde just yet. He nods a lot, pretending to be interested, (people say he and Jo are practically married already, so what about a glittery rock on her finger is going to say any different?) answering non-invasive questions as to whether he has a specials someone, and if he had something in mind for them.
Jo isn't really a jewelry girl. It's strictly plain silver rings if anything, but looking at all the settings and sizes, he almost considers the thought.
Toward the end of the display cases, he spots a simple silver ring, oddly shaped but carefully etched, upon closer inspection he almost can't believe what it's made to look like.
He buys it without another thought and exits the mall forgoing his purpose in coming. The box feels like a live grenade in his pocket, exciting and dangerous all at once.
Since he was six years old there hasn't been a doubt in his mind that he and Jo are forever.
Even still, he's always been careful, the ring just in case.
Jo talks him into participating in the whole graduation ceremony because he mentioned once, once, that he kind of regretted missing out on the high school experience. Standing there in the robe and ridiculous hat, while she and Ellen take a million photos, a forced smile graces his lips because this is the last thing he wanted.
Yellow stole around his shoulders for graduating magna cum laude, Jo playfully ties it into a big bow and makes her mother take another picture before he has to go sit with the other geniuses.
He's glad Ellen came, she and Jo the only family he has now, someone to be proud of him on an occasion that actually calls for it. When they call his name he can see them standing up and yelling at the top of their lungs, Ellen going so far as to do that whistle trick with her fingers.
A part of him still feels the need to look out over the crowd, hoping to see a flash of familiar faces. He's not surprised when they don't appear, only that the sting of their absence still feels fresh.
In Pismo Beach, as a sort of post-grad vacation investigative inquiry combination trip. There has been a fairly odd crime wave spreading throughout the beachside community, not so much for the crimes themselves, but for the people perpetrating them.
A fireman randomly holds up a bank. A third grade teacher pours lighter fluid all over her desk and sets it on fire in the middle of class. A cop beats a middle aged accountant in the middle of the street for jaywalking. And the real topper, a sixty-six year old grandmother of seven, pulls a shotgun on all the kids who dared walk on her lawn and actually pulls the trigger.
No one has any explanation for the strange behavior other than some sort of mass hysteria. It's the kind of thing any good hunter would want to take a look at.
Three days and not much happens. No crime stranger than any other. Only when they're about to think of leaving does something go down. Sam is in a mini-mart buying some orange juice while Jo walks along the candy aisle, when a priest walks inside with a gun.
Sam yells for Jo to get down, but the man doesn't even notice them, heading straight for the counter and yelling to empty the register. Jo slides along the linoleum until she gets closer.
"This the kind of thing we're looking for?"
They follow him all the way back to a ramshackle house in the hills they're both sure isn't his. The priest doesn't seem to notice the world around him, nonreactive to any outside stimuli, or their presence.
Knives and guns at the ready once they get to the porch, Sam peeks his head in through the screen before silently slipping in. Jo is close behind, covering his back; they make way through the house.
Without warning the two of them are tossed apart by an unseen force, pinned up against walls on opposite ends of the room. The priest walks in then, arms raised at each of them, a bizarre smile twisted on his face.
"Looks like I got me some trespassers," he says. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that's against the law?"
"Last I checked so was robbery," Jo gets out through clenched teeth.
The priest's hand twists in a way that makes her cry out, and Sam shakes violently against his bonds, tossing out every threat he can think of. It only gets the man's attention, turning to Sam, the smile still there. It's then that Sam sees his eyes, how there's no color, not even white. Cold black orbs staring into his soul, a sharp sting of fear shooting straight into his stomach, but he lifts his head defiantly.
The priest squeezes his fist, and the fear inside turns to pain, so much that he's sputtering air instead of breathing, the warm slick feel of blood spilling from his lips.
"Sam!" Jo shouts. "Don't you touch him!"
The pain is gone as suddenly as it appeared, relief so instant for a moment all he sees is white. When his eyes finally refocus the priest is still standing there, head tilted and regarding him quizzically.
"Sam?" He asks. "Sam… Winchester?"
The question of how this guy knows his name is obvious, but he's so surprised it doesn't let itself loose from his tongue.
"My apologies," the priest says. "I didn't realize."
"You hear that pooh bear?" Jo tosses out. "You're famous."
The man looks back to her, that cruel smile somehow becoming more twisted.
"Oh my dear," he says looking back to Sam again. "You have no idea."
"You going to tell us what the hell you mean?"
The priest doesn't look back to her.
"It's not my story to tell," he goes on. "My father would tan my hide if I spilled the beans."
Staring straight at Sam.
He's gone in the blink of an eye, and the power holding them goes with him. They scramble across the floor, clinging wildly to each other, Jo murmuring against his neck that nothing bad is allowed to happen to him, ever.
Sam can only stare at the spot on the wall he was pinned to, scared to death at what this all means.
It's okay, bluebird. I'm okay.
There's an odd sense of accomplishment, walking in the door, shouting to see if anyone is home. He doesn't know why but it feels as if he's just taken on the world and, despite the stiffness in his muscles, won.
The house is oddly quiet, no one answering his call. Wandering into the next room, he sees a plate of cookies sitting on a table and a note he can't seem to read. He doesn't actually taste them but somehow knows they're delicious.
Making his way up the stairs, nibbling on a few more, he walks into the bedroom expecting to find her but the bed is empty. Even with the absence he knows it's good to be home, relaxing and falling back amongst the sheets, a slow tired sigh escaping.
Something on his forehead, sticky and wet, opening his eyes to see her pale form against the ceiling.
Flames burst from behind her, the heat blistering on his face, helpless to do anything but watch everything around him burn.
Eyes snapping open, heart beating double time in his ears, the residual fear still causing his breath to shake, he looks down quickly to see Jo's slumbering form still curled up and facing his direction.
She's here, she's alive.
It feels like he has to remind himself of this, just to be safe, to be sure. Lifting a hand to brush stray hairs from her forehead, not able to shake what happened, what that thing, that demon said, he tries to push the thoughts of Pismo away.
It was only a dream, he tells himself, moving to kiss her sleeping lips.
Only a dream.