A little green army man stuck in an ashtray catches her eye and she tries to imagine what it was like.
Thinking of Sam spending most of his childhood cooped up in this backseat, that unruly mop of his pressed against the window, daydreaming of being somewhere else as the miles rolled underneath. The sight of mountains falling to plains, climbing back up to mountains before dropping off into the ocean, all passing his eyes in and endless loop. Never having a solid place to stand, or lay his head, as the Impala crisscrossed the country, the only constant in his life the rumble of an engine and black leather against his back.
They both had a bizarre hunter upbringing, but the polar opposite experience, her stable home to his nomadic traveling. She smiles, remembering whenever the Winchester's visited the Roadhouse, he never wanted to leave. Wanting to be with her as much as wanting what she had.
Looking at him now, sitting in the front seat, she leans forward to run her hand through the hair that has hardly changed.
He turns to smile at her, which she mirrors, before pushing an extra inch to kiss him on the cheek.
Dean makes a show of coughing into his hand and rolling his eyes when she looks his way.
"Nothing," he replies, pressing the pedal down further, the engine roaring loudly as they fly down the highway.
They stop for gas a short time after the sun comes up, Dean wandering inside the station while Sam gets out to pump, and she follows to stretch her legs. It's been a quiet couple of hours, for all the time they've spent apart, Sam and Dean's reunion is a little awkward. She's known Dean practically her whole life, knows how important family is to him and that Sam leaving cut him deeper than he'll ever admit.
Just like she knows Sam's silence is the guilt he feels, even if he'll never regret it, for going.
Stepping forward and pressing her head against his chest, his arms wrap around her easily, head tilting down to rest atop hers.
You're glad to see him.
But it's weird.
Nods again, not bothering comment how she can read him like a book.
Dean coughs theatrically into his hand as he approaches, his not so subtle way of ending the moment, boots crunching against the gravel as he tosses a couple packs of pop tarts at them, one of which hits the back of Jo's shoulders.
"You want breakfast?"
"No thanks," Sam replies, pulling himself away.
Jo leans down to pick the pastries from the ground, ripping a package open and nibbling on one.
Sam's on the phone with the local hospital and morgue, checking if anyone matches John's description, but no one does. He isn't dead or dying, and Jo figures that's a step in the right direction.
They come up to a bridge cut off by a couple of squad cars parked with lights flashing, as officer's mill around trying to look busy. Dean pulls over, killing the engine as he reaches into the glove compartment and pulling out a box full of ID's.
He picks one out, grinning like a kid about to play cowboys and Indians, before reaching for the door.
"Let's go," he says, not even bothering to let them in on his plan.
Jo reaches into her bag, quickly pulling out two badges to match what she saw Dean grab, handing one to Sam as they get out of the car to follow.
Dean waltzes straight into the crime scene and their conversation like he belongs there, asking the deputies about another victim they'd had the previous month. When the guy who looks like he's in charge asks who they are, Jo steps right up and flashes her badge, saying federal marshals with an authority hardly anyone would question.
"A little young for marshals, aren't you?" the deputy asks, to which she offers a flirty smile.
That's awfully kind of you.
She walks over to the car, arching a questioning brow and repeating Dean's question.
"Yeah, that's right" the deputy goes on, still eyeing them suspiciously, "About a mile up the road. There've been others before that."
"So, this victim," Sam chimes in. "You knew him?"
The deputy nods. Town like this, everybody knows everybody. Jo grins, figuring that out by the welcome sign alone.
There doesn't appear to be a connection between the victims, other than the fact that they're all men, and no one is surprised that the local law is stumped when it comes to this kind of mysterious disappearance.
"Well that's exactly the kind of crack police work I'd expect out of you guys." Dean tosses out.
Jo wants to smack him right there for the comment, little nuances like that can easily blow a cover, and she tries her best not laugh when Sam stomps on Dean's foot.
"Thank you for your time," Sam says as he walks away, she and Dean quickly follow.
Dean smacks the back of Sam's head, and Jo quickly shoots an elbow into his ribs in retaliation.
"Ow!" They cry in near unison.
"Why'd you step on my foot?" Dean asks before whirling on Jo. "And who asked you to take lead?"
She sighs taking a look back the deputies still watching them, knowing this little tirade isn't helping their credibility.
Of course they don't know what's going on Dean, but tell me, how is throwing that in their faces going to help us?
Dean's face scrunches up for a second, like she just read his mind, before an easy grin stretches across his lips. He's a little impressed and opens his mouth to say so when Sam grabs both their arms and pushes them forward, careful to avoid the Sheriff and couple suits approaching.
It kills Jo to see the girl, Amy, putting up missing posters.
In all honesty, she hates this part. Pretending to be someone close to the victim, having to question those that can never know the truth about how their loved ones died, and letting them believe they just disappeared.
Sitting in a diner, placating Amy and her friend while slowly needling information from them, Jo sips absently at a cup of coffee and lets the boys take this one. Sam makes some anecdote about how Amy's pentagram protects from evil rather than invokes it, and the way she and her friend laugh and look appreciatively at him, has Jo her wrapping her arm possessively around his. Something Dean takes notice of and chuckles softly to himself. She just glares at him, thinking this whole thing is going to be bust before the girls mention the legend.
Dean leads the charge, though she and Sam both know research isn't his strong suit, looking for information with vague search terms until Sam nudges him out of the way. Jo laughs when they start to scuffle like a couple of five year olds, fighting over the chair, smacking each other back and forth.
"You are such a control freak," Dean mutters, but Sam ignores him already typing.
When he finds a good lead she cringes. Suicide always produces the worst vengeful spirits, and with dead children involved she can only imagine what kind of hell they're going to be in for.
Yeah, the bridge does look familiar, and with hunting there's no such thing as coincidence.
It's definitely different walking along the bridge, where Constance Welch apparently flung herself from, at night. You can practically feel it in the air, moonlight shining down, causing the hair on her neck to stand.
"So you think Dad would have been here?" Sam wonders aloud.
Dean seems to think so, following the lead means they're following him, and he's going to stick with it no matter how long it takes. Normally she and Sam would have no problem with that, but Dean showing up unannounced left them no time to come up an excuse for an extended leave of absence.
Of course Dean doesn't know this, but when Sam reminds him they have to be back by Monday, he gets a little self righteous anyway. All the repressed anger he's held tumbling outward by taking shots at Sam for leaving, for wanting a different life. The way he talks, he probably just assumed Sam stopped hunting the second he left. It never even crosses his mind that his little brother is planning on having it both ways.
When Sam fights back it's like she's not even there, his own issues bubbling up and lashing out.
Only when Dean starts spouting off about knowing what's out there, having responsibilities, does she chime in.
What makes you think he quit?
Both of them freeze, turning to look at her, Sam with a grateful grin.
"What makes you think she'd let me?" he says, still holding her gaze.
Dean doesn't know how to react to that, and before anyone can say anything else, Constance decides to crash the party. It's eerie they way she catches each of their eyes, only a second, before leaping over the edge.
Nothing there when they all run to the railing for a look, of course, and when the engine of the Impala roars to live they're all caught off guard.
"Who's driving your car?" Sam asks.
Dean pulls the keys from his pocket, jingling his answer. Next thing she knows Sam is pulling on her hand, yelling for them to run, as the car speeds up on its own. It goes after them first, Dean sprinting to the other side of the bridge, and she can practically feel the headlights burning into her back, the threat of steel and chrome wanting to crush them to death.
"You trust me?" Sam yells over the engine.
Like he even has to ask? She'd roll her eyes if she wasn't so busy running for her life.
Sam leaps over the railing, never letting go of her hand, as the headlights fly past them.
Whoa is right, Jo thinks, nodding her agreement. Looking around John's room, walls littered with maps, pictures, clippings and notes. He may have not solved the case, but it sure looked like he had a damn good idea on how to.
A nasty half-eaten burger left out tells them he hasn't been back in this room for at least a couple of days, and Jo can't help but wonder what kept him from tossing it the two feet into the garbage can in the corner.
All the victim's pictures are pasted to the wall, the three looking them over, wondering what the connection could be. It's Sam who notices the note about a woman in white, and just like that the connection is found.
"You sly dogs," Dean says.
They rattle off scenarios about what John may or may not have done, Jo not offering an opinion because out of all the Winchester's, he's the one she knows least. Once all possibilities are exhausted Dean, still caked in dirt from his swan dive, says he's going to clean up.
Sam calls him back, attempting an apology for the things he said earlier, but Dean is having none of it. Jerk and bitch are exchanged in that old teasing way Jo remembers from when they were kids, and she knows all is forgiven.
She and Sam are curled up against each other leaning on the headboard of the bed when Dean comes out of the bathroom twenty minutes later. Catching sight of them, their closeness, he coughs into his hand yet again.
Are you gonna do that every time? Didn't think cockblocking was your style.
Sam snorts, shoulders shaking with the laughter he holds in, and presses a kiss against her temple.
"Ha, ha," Dean deadpans. "Maybe you two shouldn't be so open with the PDA."
"You wish. Hey I'm starving; I'm gonna grab a little something to eat in that diner down the street. You want anything?"
Sam says no, but she's hungry too, and hops off the bed to follow. Dean waits halfway out the door, eyeing her warily as she grins before spinning on her heel back to Sam, grabbing his collar and pulling him up for a kiss she hopes will make Dean choke on his fist.
Was a bacon burger too much to ask for?
She and Dean get pinched by the Sheriff they passed on the bridge, two seconds out the door. God, she knows the bickering match between the three of them had to be the catalyst for this whole situation.
Things always seem to run differently in small towns, she and Dean not being split up for interrogation is something that strikes her a little odd, never the way it's done on TV. Small town or not, cops are still cops, and the Sheriff is laying in to she and Dean pretty thick.
I'm not sure you realize just how much trouble you're in here.
You are officially suspects.
All highlights of classically clichéd badge speak.
Dean keeps his mouth shut about the important things, cracks wise about everything else, deflection coming as easily to him as breathing. The Sheriff isn't impressed by any of it, seen one criminal you've seen them all kind of mentality, mentioning Sam, and John hanging around town before of them got here, assuming them partners in the disappearances.
The one thing he can't figure on is her involvement.
At first he accuses she and Dean of having some sicko lover's murder game. Something she can't help but laugh at so much that the Sheriff actually slams his fist on the table to get her to stop.
Only when the Sheriff drops Dean's real name do things appear serious, flashing John's journal for them to see.
She notices how Dean fights so hard not to react to seeing his name scribbled in John's handwriting with those coordinates next to it. He's fighting not to look at her too, the Sheriff easily capable of reading any kind of body language between them, but she knows what he's thinking.
They have to get the hell out of here, and that book has to come with them.
They find a payphone a safe distance away from the station, John's journal held protectively in Dean's hand, and she's smiles into the receiver because she knows the call that bought them time to escape was all Sam's doing.
Fake 911 call? Pretty slick pooh bear.
"You're welcome," Sam replies.
"Let me talk to him," Dean says moving toward the phone, but she throws a hand up.
"So the husband was unfaithful," Sam continues. "We are dealing with a woman in white, and she's buried behind her old house, so that should have been Dad's next stop. I just can't figure out why he hasn't destroyed the corpse yet."
Dean's growing impatience has him snatching the payphone right out of her hand.
"Sam? Listen, he's gone. Dad left Jericho."
Jo crosses her arms and scowls at him, but doesn't fight to get the phone back, just stands there and lets Dean say his piece.
"I've got his journal," Dean says. "Yeah, well he did this time. Ah, the same old ex-Marine crap when he wants us to know where he's going. I'm not sure yet."
She looks up and down the street checking for any police cruisers, wishing she could hear what Sam is saying, annoyed at having to listen to one side of the conversation. Dean isn't going to give the phone back until he's finished, that much is obvious, but she starts to grab for it anyway when his eyes go wide and he starts shouting Sam's name.
What? What's happening?
"I don't know. I heard the brakes screech and the line when dead."
He's going to the house.
She knows it, all the way down in her bones, she knows where Sam is.
They take off running, looking for any old piece of crap parked on the side of the road that can be hotwired in a matter of seconds, and luckily find one a few blocks away taking off in a squeal of burning rubber.
Dean looks over at her, sees the worry growing on her face.
"Sam's a smart kid," he says. "He'll be fine."
She nods like it's something she doesn't know, wanting to tell Dean just how smart and how good he is at what they do. That they've survived much worse than this.
"Didn't think you still called him that," he says suddenly.
She stares at him blankly for a second, before realizing he means the nickname.
The Impala is parked right out front when they pull up, and she's out of the car before Dean even stops completely, slipping in the dirt. Getting to her feet quickly, she pulls one of the guns they found in the glove box, hearing Sam's screams as her eyes focus in on the visage of Constance Welch on top of him.
Get your fucking hands off him, you bitch!
Firing a shot right into Constance's chest, the image flickers but doesn't fade, her face melting into a grim skull. Sam is still screaming, so she shoots again, matched by Dean behind her and finally the woman disappears.
Sam pops up and immediately starts the car, revving the engine and throwing it into gear. She and Dean run after him, cringing as he busts through the fence and into the house. Dean beats her to the door but they both grab onto Sam and help pull him from the car.
Constance isn't through yet, using her mojo to slam a bureau toward them and pinning all three against the Impala. Struggling is useless, the woman still so angry at the world for what was done to her and what she had done.
Lights flicker behind her, and Jo feels the fear crawl into her heart because in all the time she and Sam have been hunting, all the angry spirits they faced, never once has she seen one get scared. The shadows of two children appear at the top of the stairs, creepily little voices carrying on the air like those twins in the Shining, but worse.
She almost can't believe her eyes at the sight of Constance recoiling from them, one blink and the children are right next to her, welcoming her home. The scream emitted rattles Jo's nerves as she clenches her teeth against the sound, and in one brilliant flash of light it's all over.
She's got Sam wrapped in her arms the second they push the bureau away, squeezing tight despite him being sore from crashing the car into the house. He holds her back, pressing his forehead softly against hers and whispering.
"It's okay, bluebird. I'm okay."
Nodding against him, she doesn't let go, needing just a few minutes more to assure herself it's true.
Dean stands awkwardly behind them and coughs quietly into his fist.
The coordinates lead to some town in Colorado called Blackwater Ridge.
Dean is gung ho to drive straight there, but Sam hesitantly reminds him that he and Jo have to be back in Palo Alto in like, ten hours. It's easy to see Dean's disappointment, and she does feel a little sorry for him, but they have a life their own and one reunited hunt isn't going to change that.
"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, whatever. I'll take you home."
Dean doesn't get out of the car to say goodbye, not that she expected him to, and Sam lingers on the door not ready to see him leave just yet.
"We can meet up with you later," he offers.
Dean nods, but Jo can see he doesn't really believe it.
"Yeah, all right."
Sam looks back at Jo, who nods her agreement. All they'd need is a day to get the interview out of the way, come up with some ready made excuses, and could easily be back on the road looking for their dad.
"I mean it," Sam says.
Dean, realizing he's actually serious, sits up a little straighter.
"I'll call you?"
Jo smiles at the exchange, expecting to hear jerk or bitch any second now, but Dean surprises her by getting a little sentimental. Well, as sentimental as he gets, anyway.
"You know, we made a hell of a team back there," he offers, sure to catch both their eyes.
She and Sam smile.
Jo waves when Dean pulls away from the curb, before entwining her fingers with Sam's and pulling him toward home.
Something is wrong.
They can feel it the second they step inside. A small breeze flows into the kitchen from a broken window, and the air feels charged somehow, all the hairs on her arms immediately standing on end. Sam grabs a knife from the counter, while she pulls one from her bag, and they both share a look before proceeding to check the house.
First floor is empty, nothing disturbed or taken, but approaching the stairs they notice a smell. Something burnt and sour, twisting their stomachs and causing them to cover their mouths.
Sam nods to the top, and she agrees, taking each step slowly, keeping their eyes peeled for anything.
Something moves behind their half-open bedroom door, and she can feel Sam tense at the sight. They approach with caution, knives at the ready of outstretch arms, before pushing ahead to confront the burglar.
All they see is the shadow of a man, standing with his hands behind his back, as if he were patiently waiting for them to come in.
"What do you want?" Sam demands, but the man doesn't answer.
He merely turns his head toward Jo and raises a hand, flashing a pair of eerie yellow eyes.