Authors' Note – This fic is a collab by WelshWitch1011 and Silverspoon, in response to a fic request by Rebecca. Thanks for such an awesome prompt! We hope you enjoy this.
Sadly, we own nothing *morose sighs all round*.
Reading Between the Lines
It had been two months, three weeks, five days, and thirteen hours exactly since the Winchester boys had last set foot inside Harvelle's Roadhouse. Sam Winchester knew this beyond all doubt, because on the silent car ride towards their destination, he had counted.
The very last time that Sam had laid eyes on Jo Harvelle, she had been tied to a post by his own hand, and sporting an impressive egg sized lump on her forehead that was a consequence of his having knocked her out cold on the counter of a bar.
The word still ricocheted throughout Sam's body, and succeeded in coiling every last nerve in tight. Although Sam had been possessed when he had partaken in the aforementioned activities, this did little to nothing to lesson the guilt he felt at ever having inflicted such pain on the young, somewhat naive, blonde hunter. Try as he may, Sam simply could not recall the rest of his encounter with Jo, and he wondered just how pleased she would be to see him again.
"Dean, I'm not so sure about this," Sam stated, glancing up nervously at the roadhouse as the Impala came to a stop in front of the bar. The neon sign flashed invitingly in the darkness.
"Look, Jo knows it wasn't really you," Dean offered, offering a brief, reassuring smile as he exited the car.
"I hope you're right, Dean," Sam groused, sporting a dubious expression. He trailed behind his sibling, who paused with his hand outstretched toward the door.
"Course I'm right," Dean replied with a shrug, as if defying Sam to argue with him, and he muttered quietly under his breath, "it's me she's gonna be pissed at."
"Why? What'd you do?" Sam queried, watching with interest as Dean winced.
"It's uh... it's more like what I didn't do," Dean admitted, a little unnerved by the slow coiling excitement in the pit of his stomach at the thought of finding Jo on the other side of the door.
He shot a glance at his watch, noting that it was a little after ten and therefore several hours before Ellen and Jo would begin kicking out the regulars for closing time. Dean hoped this would allow him enough time to smooth things over with Jo before he and Sam bunked down for the night; after all, he had no desire to be forced to sleep with one eye open.
"Ok, so," Sam began, his brow furrowing as he planted one hand in the centre of Dean's chest, preventing him from pushing aside the door of the bar, which they now stood directly in front of, "Jo's pissed at you... Jo's pissed at me... tell me again why this is a good idea?"
"Would you just relax Sammy?" Dean bit back, exasperated. Sam shook his head, removing his palm and stepping aside so as to allow Dean a clear path to the solid oak door. Appearing to suck in a deep and presumably steadying breath first, Dean shoved open the door with his shoulder and stepped into the roadhouse.
The first thing that Sam noticed was the smell; beer nuts, sweat and liquor, all combining in the air to form a deliciously familiar scent that belonged only to Harvelle's. He ducked inside the slightly low hanging doorframe, and immediately side-stepped the waitress that barrelled towards him with a tray of beers balanced on one hand.
Dean's eyes darted around the bar and a genuine smile twitched at his lips at the sight of her; blonde hair spilling down her back and lips pursed as she bustled across the floor with a towel slung over her shoulder.
"We get a couple of beers?" Dean grinned charmingly, hoping his approach would prove more fruitful than a sheepish greeting that would betray his guilt. The glare he received in response told him he had been irrevocably wrong.
"Dean," Jo's lips twisted into a frown as she regarded the hunter before her, and she tossed the towel onto the bar as she planted her hands on her hips, "what are you doing here?"
Dean shrugged, lowering himself onto a barstool beside her and trying to locate Sam through the mass of bodies milling around.
"Just on our way back from a hunt, I uh... I just wanted to drop by... say 'Hi'," he said truthfully, having felt inexplicably drawn to the roadhouse once he had learned from Bobby that Jo had returned home.
"Look, I'm kinda busy right now," she replied, having barely acknowledged his statement with a curt nod.
"Then I'll just wait right here," he said, catching the two beers she slid across the bar to him with a flourish and a well timed wink.
"Hey, Jo," Sam said nervously, jamming his hands in his pockets as Jo flinched at his sudden appearance- something that did not go unnoticed by the older Winchester.
Dean watched her carefully, surprised as an expression that vaguely resembled fear flashed across her features; Jo's spooked response to his brother unnerved Dean considerably, however Jo shook it off with a weak smile. Without a further word, she snatched up the towel and headed across to the other side of the bar where several rowdy patrons awaited their drinks.
"Dean, I really don't think..." Sam began, suddenly cut off by the loud, feminine voice that boomed into being at his side.
"Well, well, well, look what the Wendigo dragged in," Ellen Harvelle drawled, head cocked to one side and arms crossed in front of her ample chest as she scrutinised each Winchester brother in turn. After satisfying herself that both boys were in one, well-ordered piece, Ellen darted forward and wrapped them simultaneously into a warm hug. Dean returned the gesture easily, his arms encircling Ellen's waist whilst Sam simply allowed his to dangle at his sides, guilt preventing him from drawing too close to the woman.
Glancing over her head, he noted Jo leaning back against a post across the bar, watching the three through narrowed eyes. As soon as Sam's gaze fell upon her, Jo sprang into action, whirling around to begin cleaning an empty table and sending the bottles that had been resting atop it clattering across the floor.
"Watch it, honey!" Ellen called out, shooting a glance at Jo as she pulled away from Sam and Dean, the former of whom seemed relieved to have been released. Jo ignored her mother, bending over the table and scrubbing at the top frantically.
"You guys said 'hey' to Jo yet?" Ellen demanded, frowning as Jo's refusal to look across the room once again did not escape her notice. "Girl's had her head in the clouds ever since she got back here. Lemme call her over, she'll be real glad to see you."
"We uh... we already said 'hi'," Dean interjected quickly, narrowing his eyes as he caught the uncomfortable glance that Jo directed at his younger brother.
Ellen nodded, gathering up three bowls of beer nuts which she intended to deploy to various tables. "Alright then, you boys need a place to stay? Be real good to have you around for a few days."
"That'd be great, Ellen, thanks," Dean replied gratefully, his interest now piqued as to what exactly had transpired between Sam and Jo that night in Duluth. He watched as Ellen busied herself with chatting to her regular patrons, and then Dean cast Sam a tellingly nervous frown.
"Sammy, can I ask you something?" Dean began, folding his hands together and avoiding his brother's gaze. When Sam simply murmured in reply, Dean carried on with uncertainty, wondering exactly how he would feel about the answer to his now pressing question.
"Back in Duluth... did something happen between you and Jo? Something you uh... something you haven't told me about?" he asked, mentally chiding himself for the nerves he felt rise up from the pit of his stomach. Whilst he trusted his brother implicitly, and knew that under normal circumstances Sam would never contemplate hurting anyone, let alone Jo, he also knew that it had not been Sam in control of his body that night.
"Like what?" Sam shook his head, uncertain as to where Dean was headed with this line of questioning. Although not eager to admit as much, Sam also realised that even if he were so inclined he could not truthfully answer Dean's question when himself unsure of the answer.
"I don't know," said Dean with a shrug, clearing his throat as a few possibilities crossed his mind and he hurriedly tried to shake each one. "You didn't... it didn't... I mean, I got there before..."
He winced, hoping Sam would recognise his inferences before he was forced to voice his question aloud. "You didn't... hurt her, did you?"
Sam's mouth fell open and he regarded Dean with a mixture of fury, sorrow, and regret playing across his features. Dean gulped down a sip of his beer, stilling himself for the answer he half expected and yet also dreaded. Meg had been gunning to hurt him when she had taken possession of Sam, and therefore Dean felt somehow oddly responsible for the things the demon had done in the process. With that said, he was not quite sure how he would react to his brother should his worst fears prove to be true.
"No... I... just... no..." Sam stammered, a blush rising up rapidly from the nape of his neck to the hollows and then the apples of his cheeks. His head dropped forwards, and his bangs fell across his eyes, obscuring the full force of his emotions from Dean's view.
Dean blew out a breath, his eyes ticking back across the crowded barroom to Jo, who was wiping down the surface of the jukebox seemingly without purpose.
"I'm sorry, I just had to ask, you know?" Dean began, scraping his fingernails over the label on the bottle in his hand as he shook his head, "she just looks kind of spooked."
"Yeah," Sam agreed with a nod, the guilt he already felt now threatening to consume him. He hated lying to Dean more than anything, but he was reluctant to admit that he could barely recall what exactly had transpired that night in Duluth. He was left with nothing more than the hope that such a violation would not have escaped his memory.
"I'll be back," Dean released the bottle from his grip, standing and setting out towards Jo. He hoped to shed some light on her uncharacteristically skittish behaviour, which from Ellen's brief appraisal had been an almost permanent state since Jo had returned home.
Dean reached the centre of the floor when an unfamiliar pair of arms encircled his waist, and the stench of cheap perfume invaded his nostrils. A smiling brunette looked him up and down in a predatory manner, which did not go unnoticed by either Dean or Jo, who had now moved back against the wall to watch.
"Hi sugar, I'm Macy," she murmured, pouting dramatically as Dean unwound her arms from his body and gently but firmly pushed her away. She took a step closer, refusing to accept defeat, "What's your name, cowboy?"
"Look, you seem real nice," Dean began, affixing a patient yet weary smile upon his face before continuing, "but I..."
"Aw come on, honey," the woman drawled, stumbling a little as she draped one arm over Dean's shoulder and attempted to lead him towards the centre of the floor. "Let's dance."
"I'm not much of a dancer," Dean protested, unwinding himself from Macy's grip a second time and working to steer her back towards the table at his side. Her red painted lips twisted into a pout, and Macy folded her arms as she regarded Dean.
"Doesn't matter, we could just..." she began, evidently still hopeful.
"I said no," Dean barked in an abrasive and gruff tone as he shot the woman an irritated glance, which she met with a frown.
"Geez, whatever," she grumbled, turning on her heel and stalking away, apparently having set her sights upon a tall and muscular hunter shooting pool across the bar. Dean sighed, raking one hand through his hair and blowing out an unsteady breath. As he glanced up, his eyes locked with Jo's and it became apparent that she had been monitoring the unfolding scene with some interest. Rather than looking away when their gazes met as Dean had expected, Jo continued to stare, almost as though she had become paralysed by her own discomfort.
"Friend of yours?" Jo breathed as Dean reached her side. It was evident that she was struggling to maintain a nonchalant tone, but the slight tremor in her voice betrayed her.
Dean shrugged complacently and attempted to tug the dish towel from her hand, "Nope."
Jo arched an eyebrow, and the faintest hint of a smile ghosted across her features, "And you didn't want her to be?"
Dean decided to ignore her teasing and carried on undeterred.
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't call," he cleared his throat and peered down at the ground, staring at the discarded cigarette butts on the floor as a distraction.
Jo laughed softly, although there was no humour in her eyes as she pulled back the towel and began to industriously wipe down the vacant table beside them.
"Never thought you would."
Dean blanched at her reply and the certainty in her tone.
"Can we talk?" he asked, sitting down at the table and tugging on her arm in order to steer her into the chair beside him. Jo glared up at him in mild annoyance as Dean plucked the towel from her hand and tossed it haphazardly onto the neighbouring table. Receiving a host of expletives and muffled complaints from the patrons gathered around said table, Dean smiled by way of apology and then turned his gaze back to Jo.
"So, what're you really doing here?" she probed, realising that the Winchester brothers never stopped by without reason; generally a hunting, information gathering, averting the apocalypse related reason. Dean blinked in surprise, something in Jo's entire demeanour seeming so off and out of character. All the usual mirth and light was gone from her eyes, and it seemed the proverbial shutters had been drawn.
"Like I said before, we're on our way back from a hunt and..." Dean trailed off, releasing a hiss of breath as he added, "I really wanted to see you again."
Jo let out a snort and Dean affixed her with a surprised look, not at all accustomed to such cynicism from the usually pleasant and wise-cracking hunter.
"Look Jo, I know you're mad at me for not calling," Dean began, blanching as Jo let out a snarl.
"Everything's always gotta be about you, hasn't it Winchester?" she demanded, her bottom lip actually quivering as she glared at Dean, almost as though she may dissolve into tears at any moment. Dean's jaw slackened and his mouth tumbled open. After a moment of uncomfortable, heavy silence, Dean clambered to his feet and set his mouth into an incommunicable line.
"Ok, well, I guess I'll leave you be," he offered, rapping his knuckles once on the table before turning to make his way back across the room towards Sammy, who was playing solitaire at an otherwise deserted table.
"Dean, wait," Jo called out, halting his steps with nothing more than the two short words. Jo climbed to her feet and walked over toward him wearing a pensive expression, "I'm sorry, I just..."
Dean nodded, craning his neck to capture her gaze.
"I should have called," he repeated softly, watching in mild satisfaction as Jo smiled and appeared to accept his apology.
"I just... I don't want anything to happen to you," he confessed, shrugging as he felt the weight of the moment cause a blush to rise up from his neck. Dean's expression clouded over with concern as Jo paled at his words and she let out a wry chuckle that only piqued his curiosity further. He failed to catch the sentence muttered under her breath, but the words 'school girl' stood out above the rest.
Shaking off his confusion momentarily, Dean glanced over at the crowd of patrons currently slow dancing in the centre of the floor.
"You uh... you wanna dance?" he inquired, extending his hand and nervously grazing his fingertips down the edge of her hand.
Jo's breath caught in her throat as her skin tingled pleasantly beneath his touch, and she found her words drifting from her lips in a whisper.
"I thought you didn't dance?" she replied, shooting a pointed glance over toward the brunette, who had now moved on to easier prey. Macy was hanging off the arm of a more than willing hunter, who Jo recognised as being at least twenty years the woman's senior.
Dean shrugged and allowed a smile to grace his lips, pleased when Jo mirrored his gesture without a moment's hesitation.
"Not with just anyone," he answered, charming to the last. Jo giggled and accepted the proffered hand, allowing Dean to lead her towards the centre of the bar, and actually enjoying the poisonous glare that Macy shot at her; Jo had never been overly fond of the woman, who was also the daughter of a hunter- one far less experienced and far more workshy than Bill Harvelle had ever been. Jo and Macy's brushes extended back to childhood, and there had even been a couple of instances of Ellen being forced to pull Jo off the taller yet far less fearless girl, when her quick temper had gotten the better of her reason.
Settling into his arms, Jo allowed Dean to slide his hands onto the curve of her hips, and they began to move slowly yet capably to the music. Much to her chagrin, Jo had actually taken dancing lessons as a child; a fact she had long ago sworn her mother to secrecy over. However, Jo had actually found herself enjoying the pastime, and her lessons had only finished when at the age of thirteen, her desire to follow in her father's footsteps as a hunter had eclipsed everything else.
"So, are you staying for long?" Jo asked, her breath hitching a little in her chest for no apparent reason other than their proximity to each other.
"Hopefully a few days," Dean declared, twirling Jo and feeling a sense of triumph as she laughed again, delighted by his attention. "I guess I'll talk it over later with Sam."
There it was again; that small yet evident flinch at the mere mention of the younger Winchester's name. When Jo returned to Dean's arms from the second impromptu twirl, her body was far stiffer, each muscle taught as though she were waiting for an attack.
"Jo?" He caught her against his chest, steadying her as she appeared to stumble into him and he hesitantly allowed his arms to wrap around her waist to draw her closer.
Jo met his gaze and waited for the question she knew was imminent. Her arms tightened around his neck and she nibbled uncertainly on her bottom lip.
"Back in Duluth... you know that wasn't Sam, right? I mean, he'd never hurt you, you know that?" Dean checked, remaining slightly unconvinced as Jo bobbed her head in reply and murmured a quiet affirmation.
Dean cleared his throat and felt his grip inexplicably tighten on her hips.
"Before I got there, he uh... he didn't... do... anything, did he? I mean, he... he didn't... he didn't hurt you?" he stammered, frowning at his own ineloquence and the fear that tainted his tone.
Jo wore a suitably confused expression and then her eyes widened in sudden understanding.
"No, he... no," she said hurriedly, her voice cracking as she added, "you got there before..."
Finding herself unwilling to voice the end of her sentence, Jo looked away, and felt rather than saw Dean nod slowly. His hand landed softly on the back of her head, stroking her hair in a comforting gesture.
"Okay, good. I... good," he finished, blowing out the breath he had been holding as relief washed over him, "you wanna tell me what it said to you?"
Jo opened her mouth then closed it barely a second later. Instead of speaking, she shook her head, and Dean released a sigh.
However, before he could begin to coax the story out of Jo, the sound of Ellen Harvelle's raised voice and glasses smashing from across the bar drew their collective attentions. Jo's head whipped around as her mother let out an enraged roar, and she was just in time to see a young and unfamiliar man begin striking out against another with a pool cue. By now, the majority of hunters had dispersed from the roadhouse, returning to their families or varies motels, or simply hitting the road again after having stopped by for one of Ellen's infamous bar snacks. With this in mind, Jo stepped out of Dean's arms and tore across the room, her face alight with concern for her mother. Despite the fact that Ellen was more than capable of handling herself against most, Jo had always worried about her and especially her safety since she had become the sole patron of a bustling and often rowdy bar.
"Hey!" Jo yelled out, her features contorted into a snarl as she reached Ellen's side.
"You boys take this out back or I swear to Lucifer, I'll put you out back," Ellen sneered, her words carrying an impressive weight behind them as she advanced into the thick of the fray. However, it seemed that the two were hell bent on their quarrel, and the closest lashed out at Ellen with his elbow, catching her in the jaw and throwing her off balance. As she stumbled, her hand wavering at the sight of the blow, Jo's eyes narrowed and her features darkened.
Before the man had time to take a step further, Jo's fist landed in the centre of his face with a sickening crack of bone, and Dean arrived at her side just in time to see blood begin to pour down the guy's face.
"That's some right hook you've got there, Harvelle," Dean quipped with a wince, half in sympathy for the profusely bleeding man and half in admiration of Jo's skills.
Jo appeared not to hear him, and they each grabbed the man's arms under his shoulder blades and began to haul him toward the door, feet scraping against the floorboards as they dragged him across the bar.
Releasing a string of expletives in Jo's direction as the throbbing in his face began to subside, the patron found himself dumped unceremoniously outside in the dirt. He struggled to his feet, swaying just a little, and Jo had no issues in side-stepping the fist he aimed in her direction.
Releasing a groan of irritation, Dean shook his head before landing a punch square on the man's jaw, which left him flat on his back, squinting up in surprise at the night sky.
"Dude, you don't hit a girl!"
Hearing a gunshot suddenly ring out through the commotion inside the roadhouse, Dean and Jo sprinted back inside without even awarding the brawler a second glance. Ellen stood in the centre of the bar, shot gun sitting comfortably on her shoulder and an expression on her face that aptly displayed her displeasure.
"Get your sorry asses out of my bar!" Ellen yelled, the sound of the gun reloading suddenly sending the rest of patrons and also staff staggering out into the night, pushing Dean and Jo out of the way as they escaped the formidable wrath of Ellen Harvelle.
A smirk twitched at the corner of Dean's lips and, casting a sideways glance at Jo, he noted the glimmer of amusement present in her eyes also. He assumed that many a time throughout her youth Jo had been on the wrong side of Ellen's temper, and was evidently enjoying the show for once.
Sam had moved to stand behind them, unnoticed by either Jo or Dean, but a formidable presence to those beginning to exit the roadhouse. Whilst some filed out in an orderly fashion, grumbling at having their quiet evening interrupted by a group of college kids, those who had accompanied the brawlers seemed to be moving at a slightly more urgent pace. As one such boy elbowed his way to the door, he sent Jo tumbling backwards, and she found a pair of arms preventing an unceremonious descent to the ground.
Jo turned around, peering up into the large, brown eyes of Sam Winchester. His hands were on her, clutching at her waist and hip in an effort to hold her up, and Jo immediately felt her throat begin to constrict in fear. Her eyes widened, she released a startled gasp, and Sam realised too late that he had made an error in lunging forwards to catch the woman.
Jo's eyes were undeniably haunted, and a thousand images of a musty bar in Duluth assaulted her mind, along with a decidedly eerie sing-song voice, and the feel of rope cutting into her flesh.
"Get off of me!" Jo screamed, attempting to twist herself out of Sam's grip. However, acting on instinct in his shock, as he had done a hundred times before, Sam found his fingers closing tighter around Jo.
Ellen lowered her shot gun, eyes wide as she watched the unfolding scene in surprise. Evidently, Jo had made no mention of having ever encountered the Winchesters in Duluth, or indeed of what had come to pass between she, and Sam.
Jo struggled free, her breathing ragged and her eyes wide. She shoved past Dean who attempted to reach out and halt her progress. Batting his hand away from her, Jo merely stared at him for the briefest of moments, and Dean noted the pink blush creeping across her cheeks.
Sam glanced sheepishly at his brother and shook his head to indicate his inability to explain Jo's outburst, but the guilt etched on his features caused a lump to rise up in Dean's throat.
"Dean, I don't know..." he began, silenced as Dean shook his head and his eyes trailed Jo as she made a hasty exit out of the bar area and up the stairs. Seconds later the sound of a door slamming caused Sam to visibly start, and loud rock music could be heard blaring from the upper level.
"Somebody want to tell me what in the hell is going on here?" Ellen demanded, shotgun still clutched firmly in her hand as her eyes flitted expectantly between the brothers.
"Yeah, that's what I'd like to know too," Dean mumbled, directing his glare at his younger sibling.
"Well, one of the two of you better start talking," Ellen barked, eyes narrowed. She had rarely seen her daughter so irate in the company of someone whose eyes were not black or teeth decidedly pointy, and watching Jo react in such a way to the man she regarded as a friend was thoroughly disconcerting to Ellen.
When she was met with nothing but uncomfortable silence, Ellen nodded her head, and stepped towards the still unlocked door. It was with an air of apparent regret still clinging to her that Ellen pushed open the exit, and held it so, gesturing to the parking lot with a toss of her head.
"I think it's better if you boys stop by a motel tonight," she said quietly, eyes never once wavering distrustfully from Sam's face. The younger Winchester blanched, digging his own nails into his palm and nodding his head dumbly.
"Sure thing Ellen," Sam agreed, a little taken aback when Ellen's mouth tightened into a cool, hard line.
"I don't know what this is all about, but once I get to the bottom of it," Ellen began, the determined set of her jaw only serving to add to her foreboding demeanour, "if I find out either of you boys hurt my daughter, then so help me God..."
Dean swallowed hard, eyes trained upon Ellen's face, and the expression of resolve and fierce maternal love etched there.
"Ellen, we'd never hurt Jo," said Dean sadly, hoping more than anything that his words were not a direct lie in the case of his brother.
Ellen studied his expression closely, and noted the air of discomfort that settled on his features, yet she also saw another emotion behind his eyes; one that confirmed her thoughts and previous suspicions.
"I know," Ellen allowed, reaching out and patting his shoulder. Casting her gaze up toward Sam, she shook her head, at a loss for words, "But something did."
"We'll stop by tomorrow, if that's okay?" Dean asked, realising that the last time he had sought permission to see a girl, he had been thirteen years old and at the mercy of Jennifer Myer's overbearing mother.
Ellen nodded, reaching up to pull across the dead bolts located at the top of the door, as the two dejected hunters ambled out of the roadhouse.
Dean sighed as he heard the door being locked behind them, all hopes of a comfortable and familiar bed immediately vanishing. He jammed the keys irritably into the ignition before lowering himself into the driver's seat. Aware of the sour turn of Dean's mood, and feeling utterly responsible for it, Sam slipped wordlessly into the back seat. Spying his brother in the rear view mirror, Dean rolled his eyes and then as an afterthought, slammed both fists down on the wheel.
"God damn it..." Dean growled, dropping his head back against the seat and covering his face with both hands.
"Dean, I'm sorry..." Sam began, leaning forwards and resting his hand on the back of the head rest. He knew that Dean had been looking forward to returning to the roadhouse as soon as work had allowed, and that his brother had come to look upon the old, ramshackle place as much as a home as he did the Impala. Sam himself had to admit that it was refreshing every now and then to return to Harvelle's Roadhouse and allow themselves to be figuratively 'adopted' by Ellen and her nurturing ways. Some of the best times they could recall from the last several years had taken place at the roadhouse, either breaking bread with the Harvelles at their dinner table, or playing poker and listening to the jukebox until the dawn broke and they all spilled into their respective beds.
"Just... just don't Sammy, okay?" demanded Dean, dropping his hands into his lap and turning to glare at his brother.
"I- I don't know what to tell you," Sam murmured, sagging back against the seats and raking a hand through his hair.
"Let's start with what exactly happened in Duluth," Dean growled, affixing Sam with the full weight of his most deadly stare.
"I don't know," Sam retorted, his own patience beginning to wear thin.
"I'll ask you one more time Sammy," Dean said, his tone measured but dangerous, "did you... did that thing hurt her?"
"I don't know!" Sam roared, pounding a balled fist against the glass of the passenger side window. His eyes sparkled in the moonlight that filtered in through the glass, and Sam swallowed down the bile that rose in his throat as a consequence of his admission.
Dean ran his hand over his face, pushing aside the wave of nausea that rocked his body. Gripping the steering wheel in his hands, Dean glanced at his sibling in the rear view mirror and choked down the anger that he prayed was misplaced. The idea of his own brother hurting the woman he cared about was too much to dwell on, and the images the idea provoked were unimaginable.
Turning the key in the ignition, Dean swerved the Impala out of the lot behind the roadhouse and turned onto the dirt road, "Well, then you damn well find out."
Drumming his fingers against the table, Sam looked up from the depths of his coffee mug and peered around the diner. Aside from the waitress, an apparently disgruntled chef, and a couple of college kids, the place was empty and thankfully allowed for plenty of quiet contemplation just as Sam had intended.
Dean had remained at the motel, having chosen not to accompany Sam to the diner and, for perhaps only the second time in his life that he could recount, Dean had even claimed not to be hungry. Sam understood his anger, but he wondered how their relationship would survive if the events of that night were revealed to have taken a decidedly more sinister turn than they had believed. The Harvelles were valued friends of theirs both, and Sam knew that Dean had come to look upon Jo in a protective light, more than likely given the fact that he could see so much of himself in the young hunter.
Sam also contemplated how he would manage his own guilt, and the fears he knew Dean now harboured were very much his own. Whilst they spent their lives hunting creatures of the supernatural, it was now a decidedly more human crime they feared the most.
"Can I freshen that up for you, hon?"
Sam cleared his throat and peered up into the smiling face of the waitress, who stood poised above him, coffee pot in hand.
"Uhm, no. I'm good, thanks." He shook his head, returning her smile out of politeness as she simply nodded and turned to head over toward the only other inhabited table. A gentle thud caught his attention, and Sam craned his neck as he watched her scoop up a dime store romance novel from the floor and shove it hastily back into her apron pocket.
"Not exactly Shakespeare, I know, but... I love these things," she admonished with a guilty roll of her eyes, "gives me hope that my Prince Charming's out there someplace, you know? Guess I'm just waiting for my hero."
She laughed, sighing as she held up the coffee pot in a pointed gesture and headed over toward the other diners. Sam watched the waitress retreat to the kitchen, and the shred of an idea began to form within his mind. Sam grasped at it with both hands, clawing at the vein hope.
Standing from the table so suddenly that he sent his empty coffee cup clattering across the surface, Sam slapped down a ten dollar bill, and hurried out of the diner into the night.
Dean listened to the sound of the key sliding into the motel room lock with a heavy sense of dread. Since the very second that Sam had walked out the door, Dean had found himself most uncharacteristically fearing the moment he would set foot back in it. For the remainder of the evening, Dean had attempted to brush aside his feelings on recent events, struggling to convince himself that they had yet to discover the truth. However, try as he may to forget, Dean could not seem to prevent the image of Jo's reaction to Sam's touch back at the bar replaying over and over again in his mind's eye.
Sitting up a little straighter against the mound of pillows behind his back, Dean affixed his most impassive expression upon his face, and stared towards the door as it swung open. Sam stood upon the threshold, a brown paper bag clutched in his arms, and Dean merely watched in silence as his brother sauntered in. He kicked the door closed behind, not bothering to lock it, and moved over towards the table that stood in the centre of the bedroom.
Tipping the contents of the bag out onto the table, Sam spread out the small pile of paperback novels and appeared to search out one particular title. Dean sat up straight on the bed as Sam leafed through the book, the title only just discernable in the dimply lit room; 'Born Under a Bad Sign – A Supernatural novel, by Carver Edlund'.
"I couldn't think of any other way," Sam said quietly, holding out the book in offering to Dean and nodding down at the page he had come to rest on.
"Do I want to read this, Sammy?" Dean asked gravely, afraid of the truth he would find within the words printed on the page.
"I didn't... I mean..." he sighed, hardly comprehending that he could have carried out the attack as described in the book, especially to someone he considered as a family member. "I didn't do anything, Dean... but... she was afraid I would."
Dropping down heavily on the edge of the bed, Dean held the book in his lap, taking a deep breath before he finally lowered his eyes to the page, and began to read Chuck's terrifyingly in-depth narrative of events.
"Born Under a Bad Sign" By Carver Edlund, Page 127
"Maybe you should leave," Jo said, eyes trained on Sam's face. His cool smile was unnerving and Jo felt the faintest flutter of fear in her belly. There was that little voice again; the one that often arose at the back of her mind to yell at her when she should have realised sooner rather than later that something was not quite right; that voice sounded uncannily like her mom, and had many a time proven to be just as wise as Ellen Harvelle herself. Call it instinct or perhaps some bizarre telepathic link to the mother she had long ago left behind, Jo did not know; the one thing she did know however, was that the voice was now telling her to put as much distance between herself and Sam Winchester as possible, and she was more than eager to comply.
The silence hung heavy between them, and it took everything Jo had not to make a break for the door there and then. But the young, blonde hunter knew that it would never do to look so incompetent in the face of one of the greatest hunters known to their little community, and so she forced herself to stay.
Sam released her hand, the one he had trapped against the bar counter, flinging it away as though being shot down only minutes ago had truly mattered. Jo watched him for all the time it took for Sam to gather himself from the barstool, but the second his jacket was in his hand and he had begun to take his first few steps, Jo made the fatal mistake of turning her back. The relieved sigh passed her lips before it truly should have, and in the next moment Jo was being spun around to face the youngest Winchester brother, whose features were contorted into an expression as black as the night sky.
The small of Jo's back hit the edge of the bar, sending pain spiking through her body to join the fear that already pulsed through her veins.
"Sam, get off me," she demanded, struggling and flailing as Sam held her not without difficultly to her post. Seeing his chilling smile, she pleaded, "Sam... get off me... let go!"
Jo beat against his chest, trying desperately to free herself as Sam held her with almost superhuman strength. Her heart hammered in her ears, and her stomach lurched as Sam lowered his head to her neck. His breath was hot and urgent against her skin.
Jo's hand snaked out toward a beer bottle resting on a nearby table and she reached out to grab it moments before his hand curled around her arm.
"Jo, Jo, Jo," he growled, twisting her arm and smashing the bottle violently on the bar. With one fell swoop, he had destroyed both her makeshift weapon and her only chance of escape.
Panic flooded Jo, alerting every nerve ending in her body to the very real and palpable fear that has haunted women in such circumstances since the dawn of time. She gasped as Sam once again spun her around in his arms, forcing her body up against the bar as he held her hand down. His other hand gripped a fistful of her hair, which he used to yank her head back against his chest.
Sam's breathing was wild and ragged, and he grunted with the little exertion it took to overpower her. Jo's frightened screams seemed to have no effect and her pleas for him to stop fell on deaf ears.
"Sam, no. Please... please," Jo begged, tears stinging her eyes as he pressed up against her, and she finally accepted in that moment the sinister intent behind his actions. She had denied his advances, and now it seemed there would be no more pleasantries. Jo was powerless to defend herself from his deepest, darkest desires, and a sob escaped her lips.
Meg could smell the fear radiating from her victim and she forced the body she inhabited to grind against the blonde's back just that little bit harder, enjoying the tears that pooled in her eyes. At first, she had hoped that Sam's pretty mouth and wide, puppy dog eyes would be able to coax Jo into his bed; after all, what better way to divide the brothers than with the age old distraction of a woman? When it had become apparent that these tools would never work against the stubborn, love-struck hunter, Meg had set her sights on an altogether different approach. In retrospect, and with Jo's terrified cries reverberating in her ears, Meg wondered why the idea had not struck her sooner. She could hardly wait to see Dean's face when he eventually discovered Jo, and learned exactly what his brother was capable of. If emotionally destroying the woman he was secretly in love with was not enough to drive Dean to stopping Sammy permanently, then Meg was not sure what would.
Moments later, Jo's entire world faded to black when Sam sent her head crashing down against the bar, and he caught her limp, unconscious body in his waiting arms. Grinning, Sam placed the woman on the bar, and for a moment she looked so peaceful, it almost seemed that she was sleeping.
Leaning over Jo, his fingertips caressing her forehead, Sam surveyed her intently.
"It didn't have to be this way," he mused, stroking his hand over Jo's cheek and down her neck. The demon's thoughts suddenly turned to Dean, and Meg realised that Joanna Beth would never have accepted Sam's offer for their friendship to be more when her heart already belonged to Dean.
With a curl of his lip, he amended, "Maybe it did."
Hoisting Jo Harvelle's body up into his arms, Sam strolled to the door, the laughter of the demon drowning out the screams of the stricken man within.
Half an hour later, Dean laid the book down on the bed at his side, and puffed out a long, slow breath. His hands were visibly shaking, and reading Chuck's recount of Meg's attack on Jo had done nothing to quell the nausea that had plagued him for hours.
"Dean?" Sam murmured, leaning towards his brother, his features clouded with concern. Hesitantly, he pressed, "So, what do you think?"
Glancing at Sam, his lips twitching into an amused smile that did not seem entirely natural, Dean replied, "I think Chuck's a ham writer."
"Dean," Sam chided, his tone low and impatient. He had spent over an hour at the late night bookstore reading though Chuck's books, first starting with the account of Jo's attack in 'Born Under A Bad Sign' and then working backwards through every novel that featured even the briefest mention of the name Harvelle.
"Seriously Sammy, dude's not winning any Pulitzers," quipped Dean, uneasy smile still firmly in place as he regarded his brother, with little other choice left.
"Dean!" Sam implored, watching Dean's expression finally darken, and his facade of ill-conceived humour fell.
Dean's jaw set and he licked his lips as he deliberated over Sam's question and prepared an honest response, "I think I wanna kill that demonic bitch, Sammy. I want to make her evil, soulless ass suffer."
Sam sighed, nodding his head as he understood the nature of Dean's anger. Having read Chuck's narration of his brother's feelings and emotions, especially concerning Jo, Sam now knew why Meg had singled her out; why she had attempted to cause such unmentionable pain and suffering to Jo, and have Sam responsible. Hurting Jo in such a reprehensible way, with Sam as her attacker, would have finally driven an insurmountable wedge between the Winchesters.
"I know it wasn't you, Sam," Dean said hoarsely, striding toward his brother and enveloping him in a brief hug.
"At least now I know why Jo's afraid of me," Sam stated darkly, his tone tinged with sadness as he realised the friendship between them was now perhaps irreparably fractured.
"Yeah," Dean murmured, beginning to pace the motel room as he flicked through the pages and skimmed the book for one particular conversation. It took less than a minute to find what he was searching for, and Dean once again settled on the edge of the bed to begin reading.
Sam watched silently from the corner, having already read and then reread the exchange he knew Dean to be seeking. Try as he may, Sammy could not recall even one moment of having Jo bound to a post in Duluth, nor of pulling her own knife on her and stroking it so threateningly across every inch of her body as the demon apparently had. However, what stood out most to Sam's mind was the cruel and calculated words of the demon, that seemed to have been hell-bent on emotionally decimating the woman before Dean could reach her. Taunts of how her father's death had apparently transpired had passed his lips, but Jo had more sense than to accept those claims without question. The words that had hurt her worse than any blow Meg could have delivered were those concerning Dean Winchester, and his supposed perceptions of not just Jo as a hunter, but as a woman.
Dean finished reading and set the book down at his side, resisting the sudden urge to begin tearing pages out of it. He thought that later, he may have him a little trash can fire in the bathroom, in order to let out just a shred of the frustration that now riddled him.
The conversation that had occurred between he and Jo, right about the time she had been digging a bullet out of his bicep, suddenly made a kind of sickening sense to Dean.
"Do demons ever tell the truth?"
The query reverberated in his ears as though it had been uttered only yesterday as opposed to several months ago. His reply had been honest, and Dean realised had undoubtedly confirmed Jo's fears, and made everything that much worse.
Clearing his throat to gather his brother's attention, Sam flipped idly through another of the novels, deciding to voice the question that had been gnawing away at him as he had systematically read through each book that had featured any mention of the youngest Harvelle.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Sam demanded, shaking his head in exasperation as he reread a sentence from a random page that featured an intimate conversation between his brother and Jo.
"Tell you what?" Dean began, realising that denial would be futile given Sam's apparent evening of research, and irritating ability to speed read his way through an entire three series of books.
"More to the point, Dean, why haven't you ever told her?" Sam interjected, "you're both dancing around each other, avoiding talking about your feelings and the really sad part is that you both feel the same way. I mean, I figured you like her, but... I never knew you felt that way about her."
Whilst Sam had indeed noticed the lingering and altogether suggestive leers that Dean had often shot in Jo's direction, he had simply put that down to Jo's biological status as a female, and Dean's infamous appreciation of anything with two X chromosomes. To then find out through Chuck's novels that his brother was in love with Jo had come as something of a surprise, to say the least.
Dean appeared flustered as he tried to formulate a suitable excuse, and ran his hands hurriedly through his hair before he tossed the book he had been holding onto the table to join the others.
"How many of these damn things did you read?"
"Enough," Sam said snootily, "enough to know that you love her, and for some reason I don't fully understand right now... she loves you too."
He arched a dark eyebrow, momentarily wondering why any woman could find his stubborn, hot headed and often entirely infuriating brother even remotely worthy of such affections.
"Look, I think we've already pretty much established that bad things happen to Jo whenever I'm around..." Dean began, sitting down on the edge of the bed again with a strangely crestfallen expression on his face, "it's safer for her that she doesn't know, okay? I just... I don't want anything to happen to her, Sammy."
"How's that worked out so far?" Sam replied, the faintest trace of sarcasm evident in his tone that made Dean glance up at him sharply and curl his lip in annoyance.
"We're not having this conversation," Dean snapped, his expression conveying his determination on the subject, "mind your damn business."
Watching his brother begin to gather up the books and return them to the paper bag, Dean frowned as Sam merely ignored his rant, and strode toward the door, snatching up the keys to the Impala as he went.
"Okay, well, I'm going to try fix this," Sam said after a moment of pause, his eyes trained upon Dean. When his brother made no move, Sam let out a sigh, and added sadly, "You enjoy being bitter and alone, Dean."
With that, he slammed the door of the motel room closed, and prayed to God that Ellen would not be waiting with her shotgun when he arrived.
Sam hammered on the back door of Harvelle's Roadhouse, his jacket pulled tight around him more in an act of comfort than against any turn in the weather. He waited impatiently, and when nothing stirred from within after several seconds, he set about driving his fist against the wood once more.
Eventually, the sound of a lock sliding out of the mechanism caught his attention, and Sam eased up on the door, instead taking a cautious step back from the stoop. There was no peephole set in the frame, and so Sam knew that they would be forced to actually pull the door open to see who was making such a racket at three in the morning.
Finally, the heavy oak door swung open, revealing Jo upon the threshold wearing a thin cotton nightshirt, and a bleary eyed expression. Upon seeing Sam, panic evidently set in, and Jo moved to slam the door without waiting for an explanation. Sam dived forward and wedged one foot between the closing door and the jamb, preventing Jo from retreating and immediately hating himself for the terror-stricken expression that crossed her face.
"Jo, I'm sorry," Sam murmured in a rush, afraid that she may scream at any moment and alert Ellen to his presence. After the look the older woman had directed at him earlier, Sam was not entirely certain that if she showed up with a shotgun, she would be at all adverse to using it on him.
"I know it's really, really late," Sam continued in a rush, relieved as Jo suddenly eased up on the door and took a step backwards, arms hugging herself in a protective manner. "I just need to talk, five minutes is all I'm asking."
"No way," Jo bit back, anger dominating her eyes. "Go away Sam. I don't want to talk. Not now, not ever."
"Please, Jo," he said softly, wincing as he recalled Chuck's account of her own desperate pleas for mercy. He had no idea why he believed that she should show him the courtesy the demon had deprived her of.
However, Jo appeared to falter for a moment, indecision plain in her suddenly slackened stance. Years of recalled friendships, late night poker games, and pizza runs with Sam crashed through her mind, momentarily giving her pause to consider his request. Finally, after several seconds of silence, she reached back behind the door, and revealed a silver flask. She thrust it at Sam, entire arm shaking.
"Drink this," she commanded, and despite the anti-possession tattoo emblazoned upon his chest, Sam did as was requested without a word of argument. He downed the entire contents of the flask, and then upended it in front of Jo's carefully watchful eyes. Satisfied yet still guarded and hesitant, Jo opened the door a little wider and beckoned Sam into the hallway. She pressed herself against the wall as he passed by, seeming to hold her breath until his body had glided safely past her own. Sam moved at a snails pace, ensuring that not so much as a hair made any contact with Jo's body, and that both of his hands remained clutching the bag in her plain view.
"Jo, I'm so, so sorry for what happened, for what... for what I did to you," he said hoarsely, "you know I'd never... I just... I want you to know how sorry I am. And that I understand if we can't ever be friends again."
Jo nodded shakily, appearing to consider his apology.
"It wasn't you, Sam, I know that," she said hesitantly, "but, it had your face, you know? I guess I just need a little time."
Sam swallowed, accepting her words with a heavy heart, and he slowly hefted the paper bag toward her, not wanting to spook her with any sudden movements, "Will you do me a favour? Will you read these?"
"What are they?" Jo asked, taking the bag and peeking curiously at the stack of paperback books, "I'm not really a 'dime store romance' kind of girl, Sam."
She shook her head, about to pass the books back to him when he held out his hands to halt her.
"They're not romance novels, Jo, they're... well, they're kind of hard to explain," he winced, gesturing for her to remove one of the novels from the bag, which she did with obvious confusion.
"I'm gonna need you to take a leap of faith with me here, okay? But... these books, they're our life. Me and Dean, they're everything that's happened to us over the last three years."
Jo shot Sam a look that conveyed she assumed he had lost his mind, and she scanned the illustration on the front cover with an amused smile.
"No, really," Sam pressed, gently taking the book from her and beginning to leaf through the pages. He was glad when she did not flinch at his action, and instead seemed curious as to the content of the page he began searching for, "Here... read this."
Jo took the book dubiously. Sam watched her expression change to one of abject shock as she digested the lines before her, recalling the moment that Dean had told her about the very same hunt that was immortalised in the pages she held in her hands.
"But how... how can this... this," she glanced at the spine to retrieve the name of the author, "Carver Edlund guy know any of this?"
"Well, as unlikely as it sounds... he's a prophet," Sam explained, chuckling softly as Jo did not dispute his claim and instead seemed to accept it with little more than a frown and a thoughtful nod.
"Okay, so... why do you want me to read them?" she asked, dropping the book entitled 'Hell House' back into the bag and screwing the top of it closed in her fist.
Sam took a deep breath and caught her gaze, "Because you're in them."
"I'm in them? Okay..." she repeated, her lips pursed as she tried to decipher exactly how she ought to feel at this news.
"When I saw how you reacted to me and Dean showing up at the Roadhouse today..." Sam paused, bowing his head as he continued, "I had to know what exactly the demon did. So I read the book at the store and..."
He trailed off, shaking his head as he realised that no explanation he could possibly give would compare with the knowledge contained between the lines of the pages.
"Just, read them. Please?" he said, offering Jo a smile accompanied by a wide-eyed look. Jo actually giggled, and a spark of hope shot through Sam's body.
"Fine," she relented, glancing somewhat pointedly at the door, "I'll read them. Now, can I go back to bed?"
Within minutes, Sam had whispered a polite goodnight and then retreated into the rain storm that had struck up outside. Jo listened as the sound of the Impala's engine roaring to life broke through the downpour, and she slid the bolt in place across the door before slipping back to her room with the bag held against her chest.
With her curiosity peaked, and with the storm now raging outside, Jo turned on her bedside lamp and sat cross legged in the centre of her bed. The paper bag rested at her side, spilling novels onto the sheets, but in the dim light, Jo picked up the first of the books that Sam had left for her. The words 'Everybody Loves a Clown' prompted vague memories and, with a frown, Jo flipped past the legalities to the first page.
And so it was that long into the dawn, Joanna Harvelle devoured novel after novel, until several hours later she closed the final cover with wide eyed wonder.
Dean had barely slept all night. Sammy had returned a little over an hour after he had departed, settling himself into his bed without a word, and then seemingly succumbing easily to slumber. Dean had tossed and turned for hours, thoughts running rampant through his mind, alongside his fears that Jo would never again see the Winchesters in the same light.
A few times, Dean's eyelids had fluttered closed as a consequence of his exhaustion, and he had found himself transported back to a bar in Duluth only to bear witness again and again to the terrifying scene of his brother abusing Jo.
Finally giving up on the idea of sleep, Dean now sat up on his bed, a steaming mug of coffee in his hands, which he hoped would combat the series of all consuming yawns he was experiencing.
Rubbing wearily at his eyes, he cast a glance over toward Sam, who was in the throes of an obviously disturbed night's sleep as he kicked and murmured irritably at the covers.
Downing the last dregs of coffee from the bottom of the mug, Dean sighed and stifled another yawn before placing the mug down on the nightstand. With his hands free, Dean folded his arms across his chest and tried not to think about the smile of a certain blonde hunter. Yet the more he struggled to dismiss her from his thoughts, the more the memories of holding her in his arms the evening before plagued him, and Dean could not help but fixate upon the way she had fit so perfectly into his embrace. He could still smell the soft, vanilla scent of her perfume, and remember vividly how the curves of her body had all but melted against his own.
The red numbers on the clock beside him flickered in the early dawn's light, and Dean watched as several minutes passed by, beckoning forth the morning with a sense of dread he could not quite explain.
A sudden and insistent knocking on the door sent him ambling across the room, and he cast a sideways glance at Sam who merely burrowed further under the covers.
Squinting through the peep hole, Dean's breath caught in his chest, and he unlocked the door quickly and threw it open to reveal a thoroughly dishevelled Jo Harvelle standing before him.
He knew he should invite her in, or at least make some suitably smart mouthed comment as to the time, yet all Dean could do was stare at her; an affliction which she too appeared to be suffering. Jo peered up at him in silence, faltering as she attempted to speak, but was unable to find her voice.
After a few further moments of excruciating silence and, after having locked each other in an intense, deeply uncomfortable stare, Jo took a step forward and flung her arms around Dean's neck.
Dean blinked in surprise and stumbled backwards through the doorway, wrapping his arms around Jo's slim frame as he watched indecision flicker across her features.
Determined to end their exhausting charade once and for all, Dean bent his head and simultaneously pulled Jo closer against him, pressing his lips to hers before either could think themselves out of the embrace.
The kiss was like a fire that consumed them, setting every inch of their bodies alight, and driving them together with its heat. They broke apart feeling drained, as if each of them had invested so much in that one long-awaited gesture that it would take them days to recover. Panting, they regarded each other, and Dean's hand slid up the curve of Jo's neck and then tangled itself in the lengths of her tousled hair. He noticed that beneath the raincoat pulled tight around her, Jo seemed to be wearing a cotton nightshirt, and very little else.
"What... how did..." Dean began, unable to give voice to his current wonderings. Jo was before him, and it appeared that her feelings had not waned, despite the intentions of the demon, and his own inability to push aside his fears. Jo pressed one finger to his lips, silencing him, and slid her hand inside her jacket.
A few seconds later, she revealed a dog eared paperback novel, the title of which brought a wide smile to Dean's lips, and quickly reignited the dying embers of their first kiss into the flames of their second.
"Everybody Loves a Clown" By Carver Edlund, Page 25
Dean Winchester had never believed in love at first sight; but as the fist of a petite blonde -so beautiful to behold that Dean's breath caught in his throat in doing so- connected with his nose, something more than bone and cartilage snapped inside him.
Right there was the beginning of something amazing; something that Dean had always expected would sneak up on him when he least expected it.
From the second Joanna Beth Harvelle muttered her first husky 'hey' in greeting, she owned Dean's heart.
Yes indeed; right there, was just the beginning of something truly amazing.