Episode 12 – Part 3
'Hello Darkness, My Old Friend'
By the time the Impala had pulled back into the parking lot of the roadhouse, Jo was a perfectly poised and composed veritable hunting machine once again. On the car ride she had already copied every one of Emily's contacts into a notepad and systematically begun working her way down the list. She neglected James' number, and Emily's mother's number, both for obvious reasons, but she spoke to hairstylists, babysitters, accountants and colleagues alike in her quest to find her former friend. However, her relentless querying failed to turn up much of anything, aside from a string of women who appeared pissed that Emily had broken play dates, lunch dates, and the like over the last several days.
Jo had then slid the phone into her pocket, and sagged back against her seat, frowning as she mulled over the limited knowledge they had already acquired on the case.
"What are you thinking, Harvelle?" Dean pressed, his voice husky and gentle as he turned off the engine and a hush fell over the occupants of the vehicle. Jo hooked one thumbnail into her mouth and began to nibble on it nervously. It was an old habit that she had largely managed to break herself of during her teenage years, but which sometimes resurfaced in times of stress. Although it had been some years since Jo had last seen Emily in person, the woman had once been a great friend to her, reaching out to her, and helping her to navigate the minefield of college for the semester she had forced herself to stay. Emily had bailed her out of trouble more times than Jo could recollect, and never once judged her for the impressive knife collection stashed under her bed, only listened in awe as Jo regaled her with slightly abridged stories of Bill Harvelle's exploits. The day that Jo had finally worked up the nerve to bail on the college scene, it had been Emily that had worked with her to pack up her entire room and load it onto the back of a transit van. She had waved Jo off with a hearty embrace and tears in her eyes, only after extracting a solemn promise from the blonde that they would stay in touch as the years elapsed.
Feeling her chest grow tighter in a telling fashion, Jo only shrugged, afraid that if she should speak, her voice would break and give way to tears.
Finally, she managed to choke out in a semi-normal tone, "We have to find Em soon. We both know that the first 48 hours are crucial. There's a little girl in there who needs her Mom, and… I don't want to lose another friend, Dean."
Jo blinked back a tear, swatting at her cheek irritably, and she tried to ignore the further flood of emotions that washed over her as Dean reached for her hand and laced their fingers together.
"What do we do if… if she's already dead?" Jo asked, in little more than a whisper, "she has no family left, Dean. What happens to Sadie if…"
"We'll find her," Dean interrupted softly, lifting their joined hands and pressing his lips affectionately to the back of her hand, "and, whatever happens, we keep Sadie safe. Whatever it takes."
Jo nodded miserably, shuffling closer across the seats to hug him tightly. He wrapped an arm around her in response and gathered her closer, kissing the top of her head as he felt her tears fall against the skin of his neck.
"Let's go inside, huh?" his fingers swept through her hair, and she lifted her head and nodded in agreement.
Jo pulled down the visor and examined her cheeks for tear stains. Once she was satisfied her outburst had not left any tell-tale marks, she exited the car and waited for Dean to join her before they walked hand in hand into the roadhouse.
They found themselves instantly met by the sound of a baby crying, and before either had had a chance to so much as blink, Sam appeared before them, obviously flustered and his expression bordering on desperate.
"Thank God!" he began, hefting the screaming child into Dean's arms and looking for all the world as if he were about to lose his mind.
"We fed her, we changed her diaper… but all she does is… is that!" Sam pointed accusingly at the infant, who reeled back against Dean's chest with a hiccupped sob.
Dean rubbed her back and began to bounce her very gently in his arms, and almost at once the crying ceased and the baby stared up at him with a watery smile blossoming.
Jo frowned, reaching out to brush away the baby's tears with her thumb. Her soft, tufty hair was dishevelled, standing up in peaks where fat little fists had swatted at it. Jo smoothed Sadie's hair down, smiling at the softness of the wisps, and the generally fuzzy nature of the infant's head.
"All better now, huh?" Jo said softly, her eyes creasing into a smile the second Sadie reached for her hand and clamped Jo's finger in a tight grip.
Sam blew out a breath between his pursed lips and shook his head, muttering his displeasure.
"I bet she misses her Mommy," Sophia said, her tone uncharacteristically quiet as she appeared from the storeroom with a cloth slung over her shoulder. She began to squirt polish onto the surface of the bar, then set about wiping it away with the towel she clutched as though the weight of the world was upon her shoulders. She kept her head bent low, her posture and gaze both unreadable, and Jo frowned as she watched the usually chipper woman work.
"Sophia, are you…" Jo began, abruptly cutting off as her cell phone began to trill from her pocket. Jo retrieved the cell and stabbed at a button before raising it to her ear, having time to only draw a breath before a vaguely familiar voice greeted her.
"Hunter…" the deep voice crooned, the smile on the man's face reflected in his tone. "I'd like to say it's a pleasure, but I suspect we both know I'd be lying."
"Who is this?" Jo demanded, stepping several paces away from the others so that Sadie's cooing would not be audible to the man.
"Do you really have to ask?" the voice replied, teasing and mirthful.
"James? James Van Dolen?" Jo demanded, her jaw clenching and her head whipping around to stare meaningfully at Dean, who shifted Sadie in his arms before passing her across the bar to Sophia.
"Sophia, could you take Sadie into the kitchen, please?" Dean murmured, offering Sophia a small smile. She accepted the baby and drew her carefully into her chest, before disappearing into the back without a single question or even quirk of her brow, almost as though she sensed Dean's urgency from his simple request alone.
"What have you done with Emily?" Jo demanded, shifting the phone as Dean stood next to her and pressed his cheek to hers to hear the call.
The man laughed, "What have I done with her? I think maybe the question should be what am I going to do with her. Unless…"
Jo felt an ominous surge of nausea rise from the pit of her stomach.
"Unless, what?" she spat, almost too afraid to ask.
"Unless, you bring me the baby," he replied, his tone portraying an element of boredom that somehow made his demand seem even more sinister.
"What baby?" Jo asked, cringing as the demon laughed heartily, and she shot Dean a pointed stare.
"Ohhh, come on now, I think you can do better than that. Let's just cut to the chase here, shall we?! I want the kid, you've got her. So hand her over or…" he laughed, as if contemplating the next few words carefully, "or, I just come and get her myself. Hmmm, actually, maybe I'll just do that. Bag myself a few hunters in the process."
"What do you want with her?" pressed Jo, managing to keep her tone even and devoid of emotion as she spoke, although her hand shook uncontrollably.
"I'm her father," James answered, "she should be with me. And her mother… of course."
Jo shook her head, her eyes darting to Dean's concerned features as she responded, "No, that's not what this is about."
"You know nothing about me," said James, his patience evidently beginning to fray as his voice grew increasingly gruff, "don't presume to tell me what I want with my daughter. She's mine, and you'll give her to me or…"
As the line went silent, Jo's jaw set, and she drummed her fingernails on the side of her cell.
"Or what?" she repeated, challengingly.
"Test me and find out," James bit back, not missing a beat.
"What are you?" Jo snarled, her voice rising. Sam moved behind the bar and closed the door that connected the living area to the roadhouse to ensure that Sophia heard as little of the exchange as possible.
"You'll find out soon enough," the man warned, "I asked you nicely, now I'm taking my daughter back."
The line went dead and Jo and Dean exchanged similarly horrified expressions.
"Emily's dead," Jo stated, as if not even doubting the truth behind her words, "she's already dead, Dean."
He swallowed hard, this time not quite managing to counter her claims. The dismissive tone with which the demon had moved on from his initial bargain had been all too telling and, much like his girlfriend, Dean now suspected the worst.
"Sammy!" Dean bellowed, starting slightly as his brother appeared at his side within seconds, having been privy to Jo's conversation with James Van Dolen.
"Right here," Sam said gravely, already anticipating Dean's words, "I'll call Bobby."
Dean nodded, staring down thoughtfully at the ground before he announced, "Let's get the kid set up in the panic room. Where the hell is Cas?"
Jo shrugged off her jacket, storming over toward the bar door where she hurriedly closed and double bolted it, before heading over to all the windows and quickly pulling down the steel shutters fitted to each frame. The shutters were decorated with devils traps and spells to ward off all manner of supernatural beings, yet the hunters had happily not had reason to utilise these inbuilt defences previously.
Sophia appeared, the baby balanced on her hip, and she stared knowingly up at each of the hunters in turn, as her hand curled around the baby's leg and she hugged her closer.
"Sophia, if you want to take off, spend a couple of days at your sister's, or…" Dean began, finding himself instantly silenced as Sophia shook her head firmly.
"No, I'm staying. You guys need my help, and… I'm not letting anything happen to this little girl."
Dean simply nodded at the steely, determined expression in her eyes, and he took the child dutifully from her.
Something in Sophia's eyes caught him off guard, and there was a strange sense of knowing in her gaze that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Sophia…" he began, preparing to inform her of how dangerous circumstances could get, when she shook her head and arched a dark eyebrow in his direction.
"I know exactly what I'm getting myself into, Dean… I knew when I took this job," she said cryptically. The woman suddenly paused, stroking her hand down the back of the baby's head before she glanced up at the startled hunter and offered him a briefly warm smile, "You'll be a great dad one day."
Dean smiled almost sadly, and he shook his head as he stared down at the child in his arms, "I don't think…"
Sophia watched him intently, closing her eyes and opening them slowly as the image of the man before her shifted by a degree, and the blue eyed infant in his arms momentarily became a gurgling, brown eyed baby girl. Opening her eyes, the vision fading, the bar tender grinned emphatically.
"I know," Sophia insisted firmly, tossing the apron around her waist onto a nearby table as she turned on her heel to assist Jo. Throwing a teasing, yet kind-hearted smile over her shoulder, she added with a shrug, "She'll have her momma's eyes."
Dean shook his head, trying desperately to locate his senses, which had apparently taken a mini-vacation in light of their employee's bizarre behaviour.
Sophia ignored him, busily helping Jo close and secure the shutters, but she shot Dean a pointed smile that somewhat calmed the sense of unease that had begun to creep over him.
When the last shutter had been drawn, and Sam had bolted the back entrance into their living quarters and also pulled across the metal screen door, Sophia was ushered down to the basement where their homemade panic room was situated. In her arms she clutched Sadie who, oblivious to the drama and sense of mounting panic around her, had succumbed to sleep with one thumb hooked in the corner of her mouth. Before the waitress has disappeared with her charge, Jo had paused in front of the baby just long enough to press a gentle kiss against her soft forehead, and smooth one thumb across her hair.
"I'll take good care of her, Jo," promised Sophia, as she already descended the staircase that led to the basement. Nodding, despite the fact that nobody could see her, Jo pulled the heavy wooden door closed, and listened as the inner lock sealed itself. The door would open now only when Sophia produced the key from the other side.
Finally, Jo came to stand at Dean's side, having already removed the shotgun from behind the bar counter, where it often lay to guard against trouble. Dean was checking his own shotgun, ensuring that the shells were loaded correctly, and that the safety catch had been removed. He afforded Jo a brief glance, but the smile he offered her was forced and seemed all wrong.
"Dean… I…" she murmured, her gaze dipping down to the floor and her eyelids momentarily fluttering closed. Long, blonde lashes obscured her whiskey brown irises, and Jo swallowed so hard that the action became audible. Sam drew up at her side so that the hunters now formed an uneasy line in front of the bar, their weapons drawn, and their stances deadly.
"It'll be ok," Dean vowed, leaning forwards without a second thought and brushing his lips against Jo's cheek in a tender but insistent kiss. Sniffing, she nodded resolutely, recognising that it was neither the time nor the place to allow her emotions to overcome her.
"So now what? We just wait for this thing to show up?" Sam asked, holding the salt-shell loaded shotgun in his hands as he felt a rush of adrenalin surge through his body as it always did prior to a hunt. Although this time, Sam felt distinctly like they were the hunted, and being prey to a murderous and as of yet unknown creature was disconcerting to say the least.
Jo bobbed her head, "I guess so. Cas isn't answering, so it looks like we just gotta sit this out… wait for James, or whatever he is now, to show up."
Sam quieted for a moment, before he glanced up at the blonde with an uncertain expression playing across his features, "So, you met this guy before, right?"
Jo cocked her head, shrugging as she thought back on her one and only meeting with Emily's husband. They had barely exchanged two words, and once the wedding was over, infrequent calls and emails were her only lasting tie to Emily.
"For like, five minutes. Why?"
Dean narrowed his eyes, suddenly understanding his brother's train of thought, and the siblings looked at each other to confirm that they each held the same suspicion.
"And he seemed…?" Dean pressed, arching a brow at Jo.
She gnawed on her lip as she replied, "Normal, I guess. Polite, shy, a little quiet but…"
"Not like there was a latent monster personality lurking beneath the Mr. Right front?" Dean supplied, watching as Jo nodded in agreement, realisation rapidly dawning upon her features .
"No, he was just a regular guy," said Jo, glancing at both Dean and Sam.
"Sam, when did people start dying round this James guy?" Dean inquired, seating himself on the edge of a bar stool and propping his shotgun up between his knees.
"About three months ago," Sam answered after a pause, "vic. was just about to make senior partner at the same law firm."
"So, this is like the whole 'Omen' thing, right? Kid kills off anyone who can stop him getting all the money and power, except in this case, James Van Dolen is the demonic force behind it," Dean speculated.
Jo's eyes widened, as she finally realised the finer points behind the demon's plan, and how it related to the infant they were protecting.
"Emily's family were wealthy, her Dad was a partner in some big software company. With Emily's mom gone, and if…" Jo swallowed hard, unable to finish her sentence, "that just leaves Sadie. Then he gets everything."
"Not gonna happen," Dean said firmly, staring pensively around the room before he began to pace the floorboards.
"Cas? Castiel?" he bellowed, "you wanna get down here?"
When nothing happened, Dean stared up at the ceiling as if peering into the heavens, and his jaw set in anger at their friend's ill-timed absence.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered under his breath, about to yell one final time when a strange unearthly rumble suddenly shook the foundations of the bar.
Glasses flew from shelves, and the metal shutters on the window rattled and buckled as a howling wind engulfed the building.
"How the hell did he find us so quickly?" Sam shouted above the noise, as the ground beneath his feet began to shudder and vibrate.
"Guess he has a blood link to the kid," Dean suggested, suddenly freezing in position as the noise stopped, and the wind seemed to cease in an instant.
An unearthly silence fell upon the bar, and the hunters stood poised, their eyes darting to the door and windows as they awaited the dramatic appearance they felt sure was pending.
Seconds later, they were not disappointed, as the main entrance splintered from its hinges and flew inside the bar. The three hunters ducked out of the way of the heavy wood door as it came at them, revealing the figure of a tall, muscular blonde man on the threshold of the doorway. He was still wearing a smart, crisp navy blue suit, with a tie fastened snugly around his neck, although the smirk that manipulated his lips upwards did little to cultivate the image of the respectable businessman he was already attempting.
"Well, hello there," James crooned, moving a step towards the inside of the bar and frowning in evident disappointment as the devil's traps adorning the window shutters prevented him.
"Sorry, you're not welcome here," sneered Jo, cocking her shotgun and levelling it at the demon's chest. He let out a hearty laugh and shook his head, crossing his arms in front of his chest and glaring at the blonde with unmasked hostility.
"I'm here for my daughter," he stated, "hand her over, and I leave without hurting anybody."
"Go back to Hell, you black eyed bastard," Jo growled, her finger hesitating over the trigger of her shotgun. There were no obvious wounds on the body of James Van Dolen and, if they were able to exercise him, Jo knew that assuring his body's safety was paramount.
"Now, is that any way to speak to a friend?" he inquired as he regarded Jo with evident interest.
"You're not my friend," Jo responded quickly, "you've never been my friend."
"No, but Emily was," James countered, his eyes creasing as his smile only widened.
"Was?" Jo faltered, cursing herself the moment she let the demon see her vulnerability and obvious concern for her friend.
"Did I say 'was'?" he sniggered, "Oops. Well, that let the cat out of the bag, huh?! Yes. I have to confess, that my wife is now sadly my ex-wife. Broke this poor schmuck's heart when I snapped her neck with his own two hands…"
Tears streamed down Jo's face at the admission she had already anticipated, and she brushed the back of her hand across her skin to catch the moisture now flooding her cheeks.
"Awww, I'm sorry," the demon placed his hands over his heart and laughed, once again finding his path blocked by the devils traps adorning the walls. His laughter soon gave way to a snarl.
"Give me the child," he seethed, holding up his hand toward the hunters and squeezing his fingers together as if his grip were around Dean's throat. Nothing happened, and the demon began to grow increasingly angry. The floorboards shook once again, and the very foundations of the bar rumbled violently beneath their feet.
"That the best you got?" Dean demanded, shooting a glance at Sam, who appeared also to be at an impasse as to what they should do. There was no possible way they could exercise the demon from James' body with the devils traps separating them, and yet there was no safe way to go up against the demon from outside the building.
"Actually…" James stated, his ragged breathing suddenly calming as he turned his gaze over towards a table that nestled at that back of the bar in the far left hand corner. The table and its surrounding three chairs trembled momentarily before smoke began to rise in thick furls from the centre of the wood.
The hunters rushed towards the furniture in alarm as it erupted into flames, Sam carrying the fire extinguisher that had been poised behind the bar in case of such emergencies.
No sooner had he squirted a torrent of white foam at the flames and snuffed them out than had a table at the other end of the room suddenly combusted, the wood crackling loudly as it succumbed to the fire that engulfed it.
"I could do this all night," purred James, watching in amusement as Jo ran over to the blazing table and threw a fire blanket over it, which she stamped down with the heel of her boots.
"Give me the child, or I'll burn this place down," the demon warned, his eyes glazing over into pools of darkness as he stepped back onto the porch of the bar and raised both hands. On cue, two fires began raging in different corners of the bar and Sam and Dean rushed to extinguish them, as the demon looked on in delight.
"We gotta take this outside," Dean shouted, glancing up at the clock on the bar wall as he cast a pensive look out of the bar doors.
Firing two salt rounds at the demon's chest, the hunters watched as his body was flung from the porch and he landed in the dirt with a heavy thud. Carefully stepping over the salt lines and devils traps on the ground, the trio followed the demon outside, their guns aimed as Sam began to recite the exorcism ritual they all now had memorised.
However, James barely flinched, hauling himself off the ground and dusting down his expensive looking pants as he levelled a glare at the Winchesters.
"Now that…" he hissed, "was a mistake."
Dean's eyes widened as James held out his left arm then slowly pulled up the sleeve of his jacket to reveal the binding mark that was etched into his skin, angry and red.
"Oh fu…" Dean began, his curse cut short as James raised his same arm and waved it wide through the air. Dean felt himself being lifted off his feet and flung across the parking lot of the roadhouse before the cry of protest had even spilled from his lips. He hit the side of the Impala hard, and rolled to the ground, completely winded.
Sam fired another rock salt round at the demon, however, he held up his right palm and the shell froze in mid-air before it had even connected with his chest. Shaking his head in disapproval, James inclined his head at the shell and smiled as it suddenly combusted, dropping to the ground as a small pile of ash.
"I just don't know who to kill first," the demon mused, his fingers curling as he lifted Dean from his feet and the hunter gasped for air as his wind pipe was constricted by an invisible force.
"Leave him alone!" Jo yelled, firing another round at the demon, who appeared not the slightest bit effected by the shot.
Swiping his hand through the air, he swept Jo off her feet, and her body slammed against the ground.
Almost on cue, and as if in answer to the silent prayers Sam had been sending to the heavens, a dozen flashlight beams suddenly lit up the parking lot, and the demon spun around in surprise as the old hunters who had earlier arrived to bring gifts to Sadie, stood in a circle around the suited man.
Shotguns levelled at him, they all began to chant the exorcism ritual in unison, and after ascertaining that both his brother and Jo were uninjured, Sam too joined them in reciting the ancient Latin.
James flinched, his features twisting into first a pained snarl, before a mocking smile blossomed on his features.
"You can't get rid of me that easily," he tutted at them, "the child will be mine… if I have to kill you all to get to her."
"Offing regular Joes for the sake of money and power?" Bobby scoffed from his chair, his shotgun pointed at the demon's chest and his mouth forming a grimace, "what kind of piss poor excuse for a demon are ya, son?"
"I get it done, old man," James retorted, his hands curling into claws at his side as he glowered at the ring of hunters, who were already half way through the exorcism rites to apparently little effect.
"Not this time," Dean growled, spitting blood onto the concrete before he dragged himself to his feet and glared at James.
James let out a howl, his rage ignited, and he took several steps towards Dean with his hands outstretched in murderous intent. He had almost crossed the parking lot, his eyes still glowing like black embers in his skull, the words of Latin washing harmlessly over him, when Jo appeared behind him, the demon killing knife in her hand.
At the last second, before the blade slid into his flesh, the demon wheeled around to face the petite hunter.
"I will slit that brat's throat until she's as dead as her snivelling mother," he hissed, the tip of his nose almost pressed up against Jo's.
Coldly, she spat back, "Over my dead body."
The blade sliced into his chest with ease, and Jo retracted the knife and stumbled back, watching through rapidly tearing eyes as the man dropped to his knees.
He fell face first into the dirt, and Jo and Dean hurriedly turned him over onto his back. But his eyes slammed shut, and James Van Dolen breathed his last breath with his daughter's name on his lips, as his body was wracked by a vicious electric current.
A silence fell upon the assembled hunters, and Jo turned slowly to look at the roadhouse, her thoughts settling on the tiny orphaned child inside. She walked numbly into the bar, ignoring the platitudes and words of comfort that the hunters all offered. They had failed, and Sadie was now alone in the world.
The Winchester brothers watched her go, and Bobby nodded in understanding at Dean, "Go talk to her. We'll clean up."
Dean sighed, passing his gun to Sam, who placed his hand on his brother's shoulder by way of support.
"Thanks, man," he said quietly, turning on his heel, defeat weighing heavily on his heart.
Casting a final glance down at James Van Dolen's body, Dean sighed wearily, and set off in search of Jo, dreading the choices that were now theirs to make.
He searched every inch of the bar before finally climbing up the stairs toward their living accommodation. Dean pushed the door to their bedroom open, unsurprised to find Jo standing next to the window, a sleeping baby in her arms, blissfully unaware of the cruel blow fate had now dealt her.
Dean crossed the room, watching as she simply rocked the sleeping infant in her arms. The moonlight filtering in from the window illuminated the tears tripping Jo's cheeks, and when she eventually found her voice it was little more than a choked whisper.
"We let Emily down," Jo sobbed, resting her head miserably against his chest as Dean carefully wrapped an arm around his girlfriend, mindful of the baby snuggled safely against her.
"I know it feels that way, sweetheart, and I know it sucks," Dean stated, his voice shaking somewhat as he spoke, "but we can't save everyone."
"She didn't deserve this," Jo said, shaking her head and gulping as fresh tears descended her cheeks, "Sadie doesn't deserve this."
Dean nodded, his hand resting for just a moment on the crown of the baby's head. He smiled despite the situation as she shifted and stirred in her sleep, feeling the man's touch upon her in her slumber but not truly allowing it to disturb her.
"It's ok, it's ok," Dean soothed, entangling his fingers in the back of Jo's hair as she allowed her sorrow to momentarily claim her, her tears escaping on noisy breaths and hiccups.
"No it's not, it'll never be ok for her again, Dean," she stared down forlornly at the baby, "she has nobody."
Dean licked his lips, wondering if now would be the best time to broach the subject. He knew there probably would never be a right time, and so he continued on nervously.
"Jo, sweetheart," he began, stroking her hair and pushing an errant curl behind her ear, "we need to make a decision… about Sadie… about where she's gonna live now."
Jo appeared shocked by his words, but she nodded her head in agreement, a thousand thoughts, feelings, and fears all striking at her heart.
"I can't do that now, Dean," she looked up at him fearfully, and found herself almost immediately calmed by the kind, reassuring smile he offered her.
"I know," he soothed, caressing the side of her cheek with the back of his knuckles, "we can decide together or… or whatever you want to do, Jo, I'll stand by you… both of you."
Jo brushed her fingertip over the baby's chubby cheek, and tried not to think about the implications contained in his words. Her head and her heart were fighting to bring her to a conclusion, but she knew deep down there could only be one choice that was truly in Sadie's best interests.
"We can't keep her, Dean," she shook her head sadly, "our life… it's not safe for a child. We can't do that to her. She deserves better, she deserves normality. And you and I, we're not ready for this…"
Dean found himself at once unsurprised, and yet strangely disheartened by this, and as much as he knew arguing with Jo would most probably prove futile, he shook his head. Whilst he could agree with the first part of her statement, he refused to agree with her appraisal of their relationship.
"Other hunters do it, Jo, what about all the guys in here tonight? They all raised families and their kids grew up just fine. But I get it, okay? I do. Hunting, it's not always family friendly; I know it wasn't for our families. But you and me? That's bullshit, and you know it. I'm not going anywhere, this is it for me, Jo, you're all I want. So you take your time, you think about it, and I'll do whatever you want. But don't make me and you the excuse, sweetheart."
Jo remained quiet for a long time, her eyes on Sadie, who was stretching out in her sleep with a blissful half smile playing across her lips. She unconsciously cuddled the baby closer, worrying her bottom lip with her front teeth as had become another nervous habit of late.
"We should put her to bed," Jo finally replied, moving away from Dean's chest so as not to feel the sigh that reverberated from him, although she heard it well enough as she moved across the room and laid Sadie on their bed. She began undressing the still sleeping child, surprised to find that her own movements were apparently gentle enough to allow her to remain locked in a peaceful slumber. She changed the child's diaper and slid on a fresh onesie before laying her in the crib and settling the blankets around her.
Jo watched her for a few minutes, sighing at the slow rise and fall of the baby's chest, and the pacifier that bobbed in her lips as she emitted the softest of snores.
Feeling Dean brush past her on his way to the door, Jo quickly blocked his exit by drawing herself in front of him.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, reaching up and pressing her hand to his cheek, "you're a good man, Dean. I just… I just want to do what's best for her. What Emily would want. This isn't about you and me, it's about the life Emily wanted to give her."
Dean captured her hand and kissed her palm.
"No. I'm sorry. Whatever you want to do, I'm right here. We'll talk about it in the morning?" he suggested, his thumb sweeping across her cheekbone as he observed the dark circles now marring her skin.
Half an hour later and they lay side by side, Jo enveloped in Dean's embrace as they pondered the future of the little girl, and how they could make sure she had the life she truly deserved.
Slowly, Jo's hand reached out and caressed the bars of the crib that she had been hunkered down next to on the bedroom floor for the better part of the last day, ever since she and Dean had handed over Sadie to a couple who could provide for her the kind of life that they could not.
Sleep had evaded Jo the night that she had plunged Ruby's demon killing knife into James Van Dolen's chest and sealed his daughter's fate as an orphan. She had tossed and turned fitfully all night, her eyes never even once fluttering closed as she weighed up their ability to keep the child safe versus their ability to be the kind of parents she would deserve. Although her internal war had been waged long into the early hours of the morning, Jo's decision had in reality been made not long after James' body had grown cold. Jo knew that, despite her initial stumblings and obvious reservations, she had grown comfortable enough in her role as Sadie's temporary guardian to care for the child on a more long term basis. However, she could never guarantee the infant's safety from those things that go bump in the night, nor could she ensure that Sadie would lead the kind of childhood where scraping her knee at the park and learning to ride her bike without stabilisers would be among her greatest fears. The children of hunters were often wise beyond their years; robbed of the innocence of childhood long before their time, and faced with the concept of mortality when most were struggling with the concepts of algebra and peer pressure.
Jo had known beyond a shadow of a doubt that Emily would not have wanted that kind of life for the daughter she had sacrificed herself for and so, despite the cold hand of regret enclosing her heart, Jo had let her go, finally, for just a moment, understanding how her own mother had felt as she had bled out on the floor of a hardware store in Carthage.
Bowing her head, Jo reached inside the crib and lifted the single pink blanket to her nose, inhaling deeply the scent of baby shampoo and formula that still clung to it. Her stomach clenched oddly and before Jo had even begun to understand the feeling, she was crying quietly again.
"This is so stupid," she chastised herself for her tears, jumping visibly as Dean's voice interrupted her train of thought.
"No it isn't," he chided her, standing behind her and wrapping his arms snugly around her waist. Jo leant back against his chest, her hand sweeping up and down his arm as he held her close and he felt a heavy sigh leave her body.
"I know Bobby's friends will take good care of her," Jo whispered, allowing Dean a glimpse into her thoughts, "I just…"
She trailed off, unable to find adequate words to continue, and Dean merely nodded. He understood, or at least he thought he had come as close to understanding as was humanly possible. Not only was Jo lost in mourning for Emily, but also for the life she had been unable to promise for her child. Once Jo's decision had been made, Bobby had been instrumental in contacting a couple who had once moved in hunting circles but had retired years ago to begin a family that God had never intended to bless them with. Jo had talked with them on the phone at length, quizzing them about all manner of things from the layout of the panic room they kept to what they considered acceptable lullabies, since she had come to realise that Sadie favoured Zeppelin over her own preferred mullet rock. It had been decided that a clean break was safest, and that to cut all ties and associations with Sadie's previous life would give her the best chance at a newer, safer one. There was little evidence left to indicate whether the demon who had taken possession of James Van Dolen was working alone or as part of some bigger, power-hungry faction, but the Winchesters knew that it would be wiser to afford the child a new identity as a precaution, and that meant that when they chose to say goodbye to the baby, there would be no turning back. Although Jo had ended the conversation more than satisfied that the couple would accept the child as their own and idolise her accordingly, with the decision, it had felt like a tiny piece had been chipped away from Jo's heart.
A day later, they had retrieved Emily Van Dolen's body from an apartment building owned by her husband, and buried her secretly in the woods that surrounded the roadhouse. Bobby had had a pastor friend consecrate the small patch of earth first, but this had done little to console Jo against the fact that she was interring her old friend into an unmarked grave.
"I'm gonna take this thing back outside," Dean stated, brushing one hand along the wooden railing of the crib with an almost reverent touch. Though he had never known Bill Harvelle, it was not difficult to feel the love and obvious excitement with which the hunter had crafted the crib. Now, holding Bill's daughter in his arms, he felt a strange connection to the man.
"Yeah," Jo agreed, staring down at the intricate patterns carved into the wood, and trying desperately to imagine her father's hands at work on the cradle.
Dean squeezed Jo tightly and brushed his lips against her cheek before he moved her out of his arms and set to work covering the crib with plastic sheets. Jo watched him closely before dropping the blanket she held in her hands into a bag filled with the various items of clothing and bedding that Bobby's friends had brought them.
Lifting the crib up into his arms, Dean edged toward the door, and Jo darted ahead to open it to allow him through.
She placed her hand on his arm and halted his steps for only a moment, aware of how heavy the cradle must be, "Make sure it's covered up, it gets pretty dusty in there and…"
"I will," he promised, smiling to allay her concerns. He understood the crib was one last tangible link back to her father, and he would make sure it was carefully stored just as Ellen had.
Having been interrupted, Jo faltered for a second, but holding his gaze she added pointedly, "And… we may need it someday."
Dean's brow furrowed, and he examined her face closely as he tried to read her expression. But slowly, a smile appeared on his face which quickly blossomed into a grin.
"Maybe," she shrugged, mirroring his smile and standing on tip-toe to kiss him.
"I guess I wouldn't totally suck at the whole 'mom' thing, and…" she traced her fingertips across his jaw and gazed up at him with obvious adoration, "you'd be a really amazing dad. Besides, like you said, we'd have a pretty cute kid."
Dean nodded his agreement, pausing to plant a gentle kiss on Jo's lips, before he shifted the weight of the cradle in his arms to prevent from dropping it.
One last time, Jo reached out and ran the tip of her index finger across the sleek, smooth wood frame. Every last cut of Bill Harvelle's knife to the wood had been committed to her memory in the short time that the crib had been in use again at the roadhouse; but the one image that continued to stand out in Jo's mind was the round, smiling face of the child she could never hope to see again.
The End of Episode Twelve
(Next Episode – The Unsocial Network)