Authors : Silverspoon & WelshWitch1011
Fandom : Supernatural
Pairing : Dean Winchester/ Jo Harvelle
Rating : T
'And who do you think you are
Running 'round leaving scars
Collecting your jar of hearts
And tearing love apart
You're gonna catch a cold
From the ice inside your soul
So don't come back for me
Who do you think you are?'
Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri
Screaming was often a usual sound effect accompanying a hunt, but was seldom an indication that things were going well.
Hearing the fevered shrieking of an unseen woman, most clearly terrified and in some kind of jeopardy, Dean Winchester's heart rate picked up instinctually. Forest green orbs narrowed in concentration as his head whipped around and he attempted to pinpoint the exact direction from which the sound had emanated. The dense foliage and woodland surrounding the hunters did little to aid Dean in his task, and the oldest of the Winchester brothers barked a string of profanities as he took off in a random direction, simply hoping for the best.
His feet pounded against the broken twigs and leaves that littered the ground, scattering the debris into the paths of the two hunters who followed close behind.
A clearing lay only yards ahead and Dean turned as he heard his name being called, barely audible against the screams that dominated the forest's natural soundtrack.
A rifle was tossed his way, and he caught it with one hand before continuing on toward the source of the fray.
The unmistakable sound of a safety catch being released caught his attention, and he glanced to his side as his companions skidded to a halt there. Sam, carried on impossibly long legs, had drawn level with Dean with an ease he would have ordinarily found irritating. However, Jo hunched over just a little as she struggled to regulate her breathing from the extra exertion it had required to keep pace with the Winchesters.
"What the hell is that?" Dean demanded, squinting as he aimed his flashlight towards the snarling, feral features of the creature, which clasped a man in its talons as though he weighed no more than a ragdoll.
"Our wood nymph…" replied his brother Sam from his side, swallowing audibly as he too took in the crimson eyes set in the wide forehead that was creased in fury.
"That ain't no Tinkerbell," drawled Dean, momentarily taken aback as he watched the nymph proceed to swing her helpless captive into the trunk of the nearest tree. The man released a pained cry, which was all it took to spur the shocked hunters back into action. Sam raised his shotgun, his head cocked as he steadied his aim, whilst Dean withdrew the hunting knife he often tucked into the waistband of his jeans. The blade glinted in the moonlight that managed to permeate the thick tree branches, and a smile of heady anticipation coloured Dean's lips.
"When Disney get it wrong… they really get it wrong," Joanna Harvelle observed, her faint Southern drawl intensifying as she raised her voice above the clamour of the nymph's howling, and the still constant screams of the woman watching from her position on the ground.
"Then let's get this done before Bambi shows up to the party," quipped Dean, his eyes alight with the mere suggestion of the impending kill. The couple shared a fleeting look that succeeded in curling the corners of Jo's lips upwards into a smile, whilst simultaneously sending a jolt of familiar electricity ricocheting through Dean's body. The connection between them was almost a palpable entity and, watching from the side lines, Sam cleared his throat, drawing their focus back to the matter at hand.
"Got it," Jo said with a single bob of her head, taking aim and then firing off two shots in succession that hit the creature in the centre of its bulbous forehead.
The three hunters simultaneously frowned as the nymph roared, and a thin trickle of black liquid began to seep from the wounds, yet it refused to loosen its hold on its victim.
"Okay, so how do we kill this thing?" Dean yelled, hoping that at some point Sam's research would have yielded the answer. However, his brother merely shrugged, watching as another three rounds from Jo's shotgun struck the creature's shoulder.
"Guys?" Jo shouted, pausing in her assault in order to reload. It took the brothers only a moment to decide that the best tactical response they could hope for would involve charging the creature with brute force.
Exchanging a glance, and with a curt nod of approval from Dean, the Winchesters ran towards the nymph, shoulders dropped and jaws squared in determination. The creature seemed momentarily taken aback and, hissing at the hunters through jagged teeth, finally flung her captive aside in favour of meeting the men head on. With arms outstretched, the nymph lunged forwards, but failed to note the long and wicked looking blade that Dean had withdrawn until he was almost upon her. The tip of the hunting knife sliced through the nymph's gossamer, white robes, and pierced the rotting, mottled skin of her abdomen with a squelch. Jo curled her lip back in disgust but, satisfied that Dean and Sam were capable of dealing with the nymph's wrath, she slung the strap of her shotgun over her shoulder and hurried to the side of the nymph's discarded prey, who was holding his head in both hands as he balanced against the trunk of a tree. The shrieking of the woman accompanying him had long ago drawn to an end and, as Jo frantically searched the clearing, she realised that this was because she had wasted little time in beating a retreat once the nymph had become distracted.
Tossing back her head, tangled ebony locks wild, the nymph placed one palm in the centre of each of the hunters' chests, and tossed them backwards with ease. Both men landed hard on the ground several feet away, the air having been expelled from their lungs upon impact.
Ascertaining that the loudly cursing prey was alive and mostly unharmed, Jo's head whipped around, her concerns now piqued by the sight of the Winchesters lying spread-eagle on the ground.
"Dean!" she yelled, her heart almost pounding out a rhythm at the back of her throat, until a groan of annoyance spilled from her boyfriend's lips, and he and Sam both lifted their heads.
Now feeling the pain of the four bullet wounds that riddled her body, the nymph disappeared hurriedly into the night, leaving nothing but a disgruntled scream of anger echoing in her wake.
"Can you move?" croaked Dean, glancing sideways at Sam, who lay beside him in a similar state of pained paralysis.
"I think…" Sam choked out with a pained wince, coughing before slowly rising to a sitting position.
"I'll be right back!" Jo informed the panting victim before rushing to Dean's side, and helping him to clamber onto unsteady feet.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," he repeated, coughing as he tried to suck in a deep breath and the action jarred his aching ribs.
"Next time, we need a plan B," Sam stated, leaning over and gripping his knees as he attempted mostly in vein to suck in sweet mother oxygen.
"Next time we need a freakin' plan A," Dean countered, placing his hand over Jo's as she gripped his arm, concern etched across her features.
"How's our civilian?" Sam finally managed, skirting closer to his fellow hunters and directing a cursory glance at the man, who was now beginning to pick himself up with the disgruntled air of a tough guy that had just been handed the biggest ass-whooping of his life.
Sam could only hope that they would be able to keep explanations to a minimum, especially given the way his lungs ached and burned with every breath he drew. Having quickly realised that Dean would suggest a return to their motel in order to regroup, Sam had high hopes that a cold compress and a bucket of ice would be in his near future- mainly for the benefit of the wicked bruises he could feel blossoming on his torso.
"I'll be just… peachy… once my ass cheeks wake up…" the man declared in a tone that was somewhat coloured by embarrassment. Sam narrowed his eyes, shooting a look at Dean that clearly communicated that he would follow the older hunter's lead in regards to the story they chose to fill the victim's head with.
"Next time, buddy," Dean began, already having adopted his most authoritative stance and assuring smile, "you may want to think twice before you and the girlfriend take a midnight stroll through the woods when there's a six hundred pound grizzly on the lose."
"That wasn't no damned grizzly…" the man growled with surprising ferocity, dropping to his knees once more and appearing to forage through the leaves and bracken as though hunting for some misplaced article.
"No?" Dean queried, crossing his arms and cocking his head as he observed the stranger, attempting to gauge just how much of a threat to the investigation he may prove to be. Dean dearly hoped the guy was not a journalist, or some such other unsavoury parasite. They had encountered their fair share of trouble on what had promised to be straightforward hunts once a few amateur sleuths from the local rag had been added to the mix, and Dean wasn't certain that his current mood would dissuade him from putting the guy down there and then if he happened to produce a press ID.
"What do you think it was?" added Sam, adopting a similar stance to Dean, and striving to keep his tone even. The man finally straightened up with a quiet cry of triumph that apparently signified he had located his lost treasure. Sam frowned as he took a step towards a shaft of moonlight, and the object he gripped in his right hand was illuminated.
"Damned if I know," the man replied, finally grunting in acknowledgement as he slipped the knife he held into a sheath at his belt, "but it wasn't Yogi."
Jo had been too caught up assessing the extent of the dark bruising forming on Dean's cheekbone to take too much notice of the stranger, but her head turned slowly in his direction as he spoke.
The man stared at Jo in obvious shock, before his wide smile erupted, "Well, if it isn't Jo Harvelle. How's things, babydoll?"
Dean glanced curiously between the two, his curiosity prickled, and his proverbial hackles raised immediately.
"You two know each other?" Dean almost demanded, the arm he had loosely draped around Jo's waist now tightening considerably.
"Fine," Jo spat, a glimmer of unpleasant recognition present in her eyes. She regarded the man with undisguised derision, and demanded loudly, "How's the nose?!"
Appearing to deflect the question with little more than a shrug, the man straightened up to his full height and affixed the hunters with a toothy grin.
He stared contemplatively at the Winchesters, studying the subtle family resemblances, and rubbing the tip of his chin as he stated with a chuckle, "And I guess you must be the infamous Winchester brothers."
Forgoing all pleasantries, Dean cast a suspicious eye over the man, who had yet to introduce himself formally or otherwise. Noting how Jo's fingers seemed suddenly to almost grasp at the fabric of his t-shirt, Dean called out, "Who are you?"
"Of course… where the hell are my manners?" the man mused pleasantly enough, stepping forwards and extending his right hand to Sam, who both grasped and shook it on impulse. "Eric Nielson… fellow dedicated hunter."
Dean watched as his brother stepped back, and Eric approached with his hand offered. Ignoring the offending limb thrust at him, Dean drew Jo closer to his side, having interpreted the sour and mistrustful look upon her face quickly.
"Look, if you guys are hunting this thing too…" Eric began, un-affronted by Dean's hostility, "maybe we should team up… pool our resources so t-…"
Before the suggestion had fully left his lips, Jo shook her head, cutting in with a ring of finality to her voice, "We already are a team. We don't need anyone else."
"Aw, come on, don't be that way," Eric almost whined, his smile and bravado fading hand in hand. He glanced at each of the hunters in turn, his expression earnest as his gaze fell upon Jo, who shifted her weight from one foot to the other in apparent discomfort.
"So... you're knockin' boots with him now, huh?" Eric glanced between the couple, receiving a narrow eyed glare from both parties in response. "Always did have an eye for a hunter."
Jo sighed irritably, hauling her rifle further up onto her shoulder as she peered at Dean and Sam in turn. "We should get back to the motel and see if Bobby knows how to kill this thing before it kicks our asses again."
Dean nodded and Sam merely smiled politely at Eric as the small group began to head out of the clearing.
"Alright then," Eric held up his hands in defeat, wincing for effect as he glanced down at his bicep, where the creature had torn a gaping tear, "but could I trouble you for a couple of bandages? Maybe get this cleaned up a little?"
Jo appeared to mull over the request grudgingly, her jaw set as she stared at the injury and avoided catching Eric's gaze.
"Fine. Five minutes, we stitch you up and then you leave," she conceded, her resolve on the matter evident.
"Five minutes," Eric repeated, seeming somewhat more subdued than he had done upon making his introductions. "Then I'll be out of your hair for good."
With a sour smile, Jo tossed back, "I'm counting on it."
Dean watched as though he were in the midst of a stakeout as Jo doctored the deep gash that marred Eric's upper arm, her lips all the while set in a grim line of distaste. Whilst Dean maintained a respectable distance, knowing Jo would not appreciate him needlessly hovering, he could not bring himself to tear his gaze away. He trusted Jo implicitly, with everything from his life to his heart, but there was something about this hunter that set Dean's nerves on edge, and succeeded in sounding every internal alarm bell he possessed.
Jo worked in silence, but Dean could see Eric's lips moving at intervals, signifying that he at least was keen at striking up conversation. The way Jo moved was stilted and off, and even from his position across the motel room, Dean could see that the hand she was using to suture the wound was shaking.
"I'm going over there," Dean said quietly, moving to rise from his chair and letting out a growl as Sam forced him back against the cushions with one hand splayed square in the centre of his chest.
"The hell you are," argued Sam, shaking his head at Dean before returning to the open tome in his lap, "you think Jo would thank you for that? She can handle herself, and him."
"I don't like that guy, Sammy," Dean groused, rubbing the back of his neck as he glowered disdainfully in Eric's direction, "something about him just pisses me off."
Sam smirked and nodded in apparent agreement, "Yeah."
Inhaling quickly, Sam narrowed his eyes as if contemplating the situation.
"Or, you're jealous, because the guy dated Jo, back when you were too scared to do anything but stare at her ass and sing REO in the shower..."
"What?" Dean guffawed, shaking his head as Sam regarded him with obvious amusement, "Me? Jealous? Dude... seriously, I don't do the whole jealousy thing, okay? Jo and I, we're... we're just... and I know she... Shut up."
Holding up his hands, Sam chuckled. "Fine, forget I said anything."
Dean grumbled under his breath, watching Jo stiffen as Eric's hand landed on her wrist, and she swiped it away with an audible hiss of displeasure.
"He touches my girl and I'll break the guy's wrist."
Dean curled his upper lip in disgust and reached towards the copy of the TV guide that had been abandoned on the night stand. Rolling his eyes, Sam leant back in his seat and chuckled, wondering how long it would take for Dean to realise that the magazine he was attempting to distract himself with was in fact upside down.
Dean continued to watch in sullen silence as Jo finished up her neat row of stitches and began to tie off the thread.
"So, how long have you guys…" Eric began, a mildly suggestive smirk punctuating his query.
"None of your damned business," Jo snarled, not caring if she appeared openly hostile, or if Sam and Dean were able to detect as much in her reactions to Eric. His sudden, unexpected reappearance in her life had shaken Jo, stirring up a wealth of unpleasant memories and the emotions that went hand in hand.
"I was going to ask how long you've been huntin' together but…" Eric tailed off, both eyebrows raised as he withdrew his arm from Jo's lap and flexed his fingers experimentally. Quietly, he murmured, "Thanks."
"I'd like to say 'no problem' but we both know that would be a lie," Jo bit back, her hostility not dampened by Eric's gentle gratitude.
Eric sighed, appearing truly hurt by Jo's dismissive and cold demeanour. Almost in a whisper, he offered, "I miss you, Jo..."
Jo folded her arms across her chest, shaking her head as she observed Eric through narrowed eyes.
"Okay, so you're all patched up..." She gestured toward the door with a pointed nod.
"You know, I heard talk that the Winchesters were dragging some little girl around with 'em..." Eric watched Jo's face intently, almost daring her to rise to the bait.
"You done talking?" Jo's eyebrows rose impatiently, in a gesture so very similar to her mother that Eric almost shivered at the resemblance. Ellen Harvelle was not a woman he wished to encounter again in a hurry, especially given the nature of their last meeting, and the fact that he had been on the wrong end of the barrel of her shotgun.
"Fine," Eric stood, wincing as he raised his hands in a gesture of defeat, and the action tugged at the line of sutures, "just... just make sure he looks out for you, Joey."
"We look out for each other," Jo replied evenly, glancing across the room as Dean momentarily caught her gaze.
Eric shrugged on his jacket and laughed softly, "Yeah, well last I heard, your guy over there was losing it. You know what hunters are like, they talk... and the Winchesters are a pretty big topic of conversation."
He flashed Jo a mildly charming grin, holding her gaze with ill-concealed affection present in his blue eyes.
"I still think about it, y'know," he purred, extending one hand as though to caress the apple of her cheek with his fingers. He appeared to think better of the gesture at the last minute, dropping his hand to his side as though physically pained.
"You, me… the open road…"
Harvelle's Roadhouse, Nebraska
Furious with herself, and her own propensity for brooding on what could never be, Jo Harvelle swiped a rag across the counter of the bar and did her very best to disguise her mood from the roomful of customers. It had been three weeks since he had walked away from her. Well, technically, she had been the one walking away, stalking through the tall, dried grass as he gunned the engine of the Impala and sped off in the opposite direction in a cloud of dust that probably demonstrated his own frustration at how things had worked out. She had circled back around to the roadhouse once she was certain they had gone, retreating to her bedroom and the privacy of her angry tears. Three hours later, she had emerged, looked her mother in the eye, and then set about her next shift at the bar without a word. Ellen had not raised the Winchesters as a topic of conversation since, and Jo was at least mildly grateful for this. However, whether she chose to speak his name aloud, it was never far from the tip of her tongue, and Jo despised herself for such weakness.
Instead, she threw herself into cleaning the roadhouse until she had worked from top to bottom and back again. Ellen was fairly certain the place had never been more pristine, but she bit her tongue as she watched Jo wax the bar for the fourth day in a row. If her actions soothed her heartache just a little, then Ellen would not be the one to call Jo out on them.
Feeling the weight of a stranger's gaze upon her, Jo bristled as she stood up straight behind the bar, tossing the towel over her shoulder. A pair of crystalline blue eyes locked with hers, and she found herself suddenly rooted to the spot. The face of the handsome man seated in front of her creased into a smile, the likes of which instantly prompted an ache in her heart. Dismissing her maudlin thoughts, Jo managed a nod of acknowledgement at the unfamiliar patron.
"Well now, this is about the cleanest bar I think I've ever seen," he declared with a chuckle, watching as Jo's cheeks blushed dusky pink, and she threw the towel underneath a shelf, hiding the incriminating evidence.
Pausing to take a sip of his beer, the man sighed resolutely.
"He's an idiot."
Jo frowned, folding her arms across her chest in a defensive gesture as she replied a little too quickly, "Who's an idiot?"
Having been practically raised in a bar, Jo was certain she could gauge the direction the conversation was headed, but she was willing to play along for the time being at least.
"Maybe I'm overstepping the mark," the guy began, toying with the label on his bottle where it had started to peel at the corner. "You just got that look, is all."
"That look?" Jo repeated, bristling as she addressed the hunter, who she was now certain she had never laid eyes on before. Since she was a little girl, Jo had made a point of memorising the faces of every hunter that set foot through the door, knowing that her first encounter with them may well prove to be the last. It seemed wrong to her in some way that the faces of such quietly important men and women could be forgotten, even after they had made the ultimate sacrifice for the world.
"Y'know…" he drawled, pausing to gulp down the remnants of his beer and sighing as the cold nectar slipped easily down his throat, "like you just got the 'speech'."
He spoke the word with evident scorn, encompassing it in air quotes and then smiling awkwardly. At Jo's probing stare he added hastily, "It's not you, it's me… we're better off as friends… wrong place, wrong time."
Jo merely arched an eyebrow, busying herself with rearranging a line of clean shot glasses as she tried not to let his words rub salt into her still raw wound.
"But..." he continued on, "I got just the thing to cure that."
"Oh, you do, huh?" Jo asked, finding herself smiling despite herself at his confidence.
"Yep," he stated with a nod, reaching out and overturning two of the shot glasses before sliding them between he and Jo. "One drink..."
Jo laughed softly, reaching for a bottle of tequila as she held his gaze and filled both glasses.
"And then what?" she coaxed, lifting the glass from the counter, but pausing before it pressed against her lips.
"Then you tell me your name, I'll tell you mine, and we can work on how you can forget all about him. Beautiful face like yours... you need to be smiling, babydoll."
"Uh-huh," Jo rolled her eyes, sighing before she downed the shot and winced at the pleasant burn that trickled slowly into the pit of her stomach.
"Eric Nielson," he offered, extending his hand toward the blonde, who cautiously shook it.
"Jo Harvelle," she stated, still trying to determine if she liked the newcomer or not. There was something undeniably intriguing about him, and Jo could not help but find his easy arrogance amusing, and also a little appealing. She thought that perhaps he could push her buttons, just the same way a certain Winchester had managed, and so Jo lost herself in a line of shots that somehow occupied the hours until dawn.