Tangible Schizophrenia


The Density of Blood

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R. Violence.
Pairing: Implied John/Ellen, some slight Jo/Dean. Mostly Jo, Sam, and Dean gen.
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: These characters and this world are not my original creations.
Notes: References 2.02, 2.03 and 2.05 (written before 2.06), but otherwise an AU second season. Loose sequel to Bond Redemption.
Summary: The ways families cross.


Momma brought her up to point a shotgun first at anything she didn’t recognize, and ask questions afterward. Even if she already can smell ‘hunter’ from the big old-school car parked out front, and the way the two of them avoid the creaky planks as if they’d lived here all their lives. Gives her all the more reason to be wary; the hunters might be the business, but they’re also the patched-up holes in the walls and the chips on all the sinks and the one or two attempted sexual assault calls Jo and her mother have to make every year. Hunters bring as much trouble as they chase, and never stay long enough to make right—they just clean up.

They are cute. So are Black-Eyed Children, and Jo doesn’t especially like the way the blond one talks down to her about guns. Asshole. Just like all the others, as if anybody who stays in one place automatically doesn’t know a damn thing about defending themselves.

And then Momma comes in, and calls them John’s boys.

They don’t seem like Jo had expected—they aren’t so much like John, like the great hunters he’d made them out to be. He was always lecturing Jo, every chance he got, on what to do with this or that monster, and telling her this was what he taught his boys, so she’d figured they must have been carbon copies of him or something. Yeah, he complained about them, about Dean driving him nuts with picking up girls and Sammy always questioning him, but that hadn’t meant much to Jo. Practically every hunter she’d ever met had been into sex and thinking he knew best.

And being a loudmouth, but John hadn’t ever been like that, and she guesses that’s one thing that Sam and Dean might have got from him. Thing is, their dad never had to speak loud to push himself up against a roomful of boastful cocky men, and that’s different from the way Dean prefers to stare into his icepack and Sam twists his fingers in his lap.

John’s dead, their silence says to Momma’s question.

Jo can’t say she’s surprised. She’s known since she was ten not to ask what somebody’s name was till she’s seen them come back at least three times. The year the high school made her take stats, she got bored and figured out that eighty-three percent of hunters never came back the first time, and of that, they’d heard about sixty percent of them had died on a job. John got a lot of respect less for his methods, which were too methodical for a lot of the others, and more for the fact that they’d kept him alive so long. Long enough to see two sons grown up.

So it was about time, Jo thinks. She lets Mom deal with the rest of Sam and Dean’s questions, lets her hand the guys over to Ash and busies herself with the chores around the place. Scrubbing glasses, trying to get some polish on the beaten-up counter.

Anyway, they’d basically known. The last time John had been in, he’d given them a clue as to what his next job was going to be, and when he’d refused to answer Momma’s call, that had settled it. He’d always been a stubborn bastard and when he decided something, that was it.

His sons are still after that damn demon, taking on their daddy’s mission in life. Jo can hear them talking about it to Ash and she bites her tongue against quoting sources on the number of demons out there. It’s never about the monster and it’s always about something else, and numbers don’t really mean much to hunters aside from lousy ways to try and impress girls. Honestly, not much does mean anything to those kinds of people, and maybe Sam and Dean don’t have John’s solidity or gruffness—Jo would call Dean a smartass—but they aren’t that different from him, after all. They’re just like any other damn—

--not that they notice since they’re so busy pow-wowing with Ash, but she chips one glass and nearly knocks another one to the floor. She scoops it up and straightens to end up right in Momma’s face.

“Take out the trash, honey,” Momma says. Her face is all stiff and tight and her eyes make Jo’s stomach twist around her spin, which just makes Jo madder. But Momma gives her that look that says Jo isn’t too old for some old-fashioned discipline.

“Want to take turns?” Jo asks.

Momma’s hand twitches by her side, but she just turns around and restacks the glasses Jo had just put away, which tells Jo off strong enough. So she goes, steaming angry all the way because it’s not like she doesn’t know Momma and John had something up between them, that John got to Momma like nobody since Daddy and goddamn it, what made anybody think they had the right when they walked in to do that? What? Killing evil? If Jo had a better audience than the trash, she’d laugh her damn head off.

She gets halfway around the back before she has to put the trash-bag down. It’s so heavy from the empty bottles of last night, all those beers tossed back by dead men, that already her shoulders ache and her feet drag. And it feels as if some of that beer ended up in Jo’s stomach as well, what with the way it lurches and squeezes till she tastes something sour and gritty in the back of her throat. She presses her hands against her belly and sits down with her back against the wall, the siding scratching through her shirt, and her eyes start to burn.

They’re all bastards, she thinks as she grinds the heels of her hands into her eyes. They all stop coming back.

* * *

Momma’s quieter after Sam and Dean leave to do something about that psycho-clown case. Ash is an idiot and keeps asking Jo if it’s got something to do with that ‘woman-thing’ that happens around fifty or so, and the clientele are rowdier than ever because Mom wants to just ignore them instead of ripping strips off them with a couple sarcastic comments.

If someone asks, Jo or Mom will update on MIAs and KIAs, but otherwise, they keep that to themselves. Except somebody does ask, and then Momma disappears into the backroom for the whole time so Jo has to stand out there and grit her teeth while the hunters in the place that night lift a couple toasts to John. Their idea of giving him an honorable wake. It just makes her want to throw up again.

She punches out two of them later when they try to get fresh with her, and then swaps out her usual switchblade for her six-inch hunting blade strapped to the inside of her calf till she’s closing up for the night.

If they really respected John, they would’ve stayed the hell away from her. He respected Momma enough to not start shit in the roadhouse, but the way he had of sitting back and slitting his eyes at anyone approaching Jo in a way he thought was disrespectful usually cooled the randy dicks down. Not that he had the right to do that, but it was helpful.

“I just want the night off tomorrow,” Jo says to Momma as she’s throwing the front door’s deadbolts. “You left me hanging during the toasts, so I think it’s fair.”

Fair? Just who do you think you are, missie? My God, if your—” Momma shuts up there.

It’s not Jo having a night off, or Jo being too sassy, and Jo’s old enough to know this. Doesn’t mean her temper’s going to let it go. “Were you going to say Daddy, or John?”

Jo,” Momma breathes.

“It doesn’t fucking matter. Same damn man, practically.” Jo shoves the bolts back and yanks open the door before Momma can get over her shock. She’s out of there. She’s out of there with the goddamn salt line under the planking before every door, the smell of herbs mixed with alcohol, the list of names of the dead that’s the closest to a grave most get beneath the bar. She’s out of there and then some.

* * *

Jo fucks some dumbass jock from the local college. His hands are clumsy and all he does with them anyway is squeeze her breasts like he’s feeling melons for ripeness. His dick’s pretty big, but he bangs it into her like he’s nailing together a desk. She doesn’t get off, but she gets bored enough and frustrated enough with him to get some distance on everything else.

When she gets home, Momma yells so much that Ash snakes himself off the pool table and scrambles upstairs. And then Momma breaks down and lets Jo wrap her arms around her, sobbing about Sam and Dean, poor boys, and then something about John and different.

“No, he wasn’t,” Jo says. Her voice sounds steady. She’s calm now. “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay. We survived this before, and we’ll do it again.”

Later, Mom takes her aside and sits her down, hands like stones on Jo’s shoulders. “Listen, Jo. I know you’re angry, and I know you—”

Jo turns her head away and Momma shoves it back, then jams a fist under Jo’s chin to make her look up.

“John didn’t tell me much, but what he said was that it’s big. It was beyond him, though he never wanted to admit it. And his sons, they seem just like their daddy, so they’re going to act the same damn way about it.” Mom’s voice is shaking a little bit. Her fingers are working up a sweat against the underside of Jo’s chin, the flesh of her shoulder, and the same fever’s jittering in her eyes. In Momma’s eyes. “Look at me, honey. Look at me and tell me you’re with me on this, because I know how you feel. I brought you up; I know things about you that nobody else does and you can’t hide from me. You don’t need to hide with me.”

The blood doesn’t want to come up no matter how much Jo chews at her lip. She grabs at her elbow and pulls up it against her, feeling the joint start to ache under the pressure she’s putting on it.

“It gets so hard to watch them go out every night,” Mom says, closing her eyes. The pain of all the years wiping down the bar, closing up after the men, leaves deep grooves like clawmarks over her face.

“Yeah. Yeah, it does.” Jo swallows hard. She gives her elbow another twist, then jerks her hand away and pets her mother’s hair. It’s getting coarse with age, thicker and harsher. It used to be just as silky and pretty as Jo’s.

Momma squeezes her shoulder. “They’re John’s boys, honey. I’m never going to forgive myself for letting him go, and his kids, they never had a chance.”

“I know, Mom,” Jo whispers.

* * *

Jo makes small talk with Dean once he and Sam return from the clown-job, and the fact that she can smile at him and not feel the muscles in her face ache from forcing it proves that she’s right. He turns her down and she has to admit she’s more than a little relieved. She just has to know that she can do it; she doesn’t need to go any farther. She can feel Mom in the corner watching them, thinking about both sides of the fence.

Momma spends a while staring at the door after Dean and Sam have walked through it, her bottom lip caught in her teeth. “John didn’t tell them barely anything,” she finally says.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Over by the corner where Sam had hustled himself to, Jo spots a thin trail of fluffy brownish-looking dust, not like the usual gritty grey stuff that gets everywhere. She gets down on her knees and tracks it back to the hole in the wall where they stuff the herb bags. When she hooks the bag out, it spills a bunch of dry, odorless flakes into her hand: no good for blocking even a brownie now, so she’ll have to spend some time tying new ones later. Is it that time already?

“Jo, damn it, don’t act like that. I brought you up to know better.” The undertone of Momma’s voice is shaking, and not because she’s pissed off at Jo. “It’s okay to care about them, just as long as you remember who they are and what they do.”

The sharp edges of the herb remains prick at Jo’s palm when she crumples the bag in it. She grinds her teeth a little, the pressure on them releasing a little of the pressure around her chest and throat. “It’s because I know what they are that I’m angry. What good is it, anyway? You just know what’s going to happen to them already. You saw how they were—they’re already shutting down just like John did.”

Momma slaps the rag hard against the table, that shake in her voice turning hard and grating. “Don’t mouth back to me, Jo. I’m your mother and you don’t have to prove anything to me. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody, so stop acting like you don’t even care John’s dead.”

“Fine. Fine, I care. I care that he was stupid and got himself killed like Daddy, but hey, at least his kids grew up first. And they’re pretty nice, aren’t they, Momma? Nice and soon they’re going to be dead, too. Follow in John’s footsteps, just like I’m gonna end up in yours,” Jo snaps back.

She’s not a baby anymore, and she’s not going anywhere, either. She went and got her schooling, sat down with the high school counselor who looked at her grades and then longer at her disciplinary record, and listened to that stuck-up bitch talk about vocational schools. As far as that goes, she’s already got a trade and she’s good at it, even if it’s the kind of thing that makes her stare at the men lining up at the bar almost like she wishes there was some kind of charm or ritual she could do to keep them out, too.

Except when they don’t have a cock stuck in her, normal guys steer way clear. Something about her tells them they’ll get hurt if they get any closer, and like sensible people, they stay away from danger.

Jo decided a long time ago that she’s not going to rename the bar when her mother dies. She’s updating the jukebox, though. There’s more to life than old-school country and heavy metal.

* * *

Ash sets up that hacked-up computer of his in the back storage room where they keep the extra silverware and other supplies. He tells Jo a little about how it works when she drops off his lunch, and a little more when she swings by an hour later to see if he’s actually touched it.

It runs all the time, jacking up the electricity bill another couple of dollars a month. Whenever Jo needs to go into the main area after-hours, she can see her way around just by the low green glow of the screen. Sometimes she does just sit there and watch it for a little while, and she picks up enough that way to basically figure out what’s going on.

Mom makes the calls to Sam or Dean. They stop in every so often, and Jo talks to them but every time she sees them, they’re acting more and more like their dad. It makes Jo bite her tongue to keep from doing stupid things just out of frustration, just to get them not to look at her like she’s an obstacle, or like she’s a…a pretty contrast. She’s not anybody’s goddamn relief.

Maybe they’re coming round, Momma thinks. Sam doesn’t need much to start talking, but he still looks at Dean even when he’s saying things Dean obviously wants to stuff back into his mouth for him. And no matter how nice Dean is to Jo, it doesn’t get her any further in the door with him, and that’s what Jo tells her mother.

Otherwise things are starting to get back to normal; Momma stops moping and starts cutting all the inflated-ego idiots who walk through the door down to size. She even gets it together enough to help Jo tackle Ash for a trim, for God’s sake, even if there isn’t time to get rid of the goddamn mullet.

Jo goes around and refreshes all the wards and protective barriers, but the hunters have been hitting them hard for supplies and so she has to make an out-of-town buying trip. Momma prefers to mind the bar, not wanting to miss any of the news. Lately she and Ash have been having long, long conversations whenever Jo’s a little out of earshot, only even Mom can only send Jo with the garbage so many times a day.

By the time Jo gets back, it’s about an hour past closing and the windows are all dark. If it’d been a hard night, Momma tends to sack out right after she’s locked up, so that’s what Jo figures has happened.

She climbs the steps with her brown paper bag weighing down one arm, more willing to take the ache and strain than having her vision blocked off. When she tip-toes into the bar, her foot strays onto a creaky board and she hears Ash snuffle on the pool table. She freezes for a moment, bitching herself out for a childish slip-up like that, and then sets about putting things away. And she happens to pass the laptop while she’s doing that, and it happens to catch her eye, and then Jo whips around, diving for the shotgun with her mouth open and screaming, screaming, screaming.

* * *

It hadn’t been Ash on the pool table. And Momma most likely had died before she ever made it to the bed, but Jo doesn’t take comfort from that.

She drags herself out of the bar at sunrise, squinting at the golden light. The blood’s clotted on her arms and over her left eye so she can only see one half the world plus a crack, but that’s all ugly. Ugly with a streak of dust rising on the horizon, where the road first comes down, and at first Jo just wants to laugh. She does try, but she chokes instead and ends up falling to her knees.

If they say at least she’s still pretty, she’s going to kill them.

She must have gotten pretty low to the ground because it seems like they don’t see her till the last minute. The brakes screech and little rocks ping up into her face, the front bumper touches the top of her head as lightly as Momma’s kiss when she was younger, and then there’s the overlapping sounds of two doors slamming. Jo’s not stupid. She doesn’t jerk her head up to look right away.

“Oh, my God.”

“Jo? Jo? Are you—”

Dean gets within that magical thirty-inch range and Jo lunges up and clocks him so he falls back onto the hood of his car. Then she goes after him, so angry her eyes are slits and she sees the world in shadows, sees Dean with dark hair and dark stubble and doesn’t even notice Sam holding her back for God knows how long. When she does, she wrenches herself around and that just about uses up the last of her energy: her knees buckle, and she ends up hanging off Sam’s arm as she squeezes her tears into his sleeve.

“Shit.” He stays bent awkwardly over her, rubbing her back and saying stupid sorry things. Every so often, his body twists because he’s looking at Dean, but Dean doesn’t say anything. The morning light makes Dean all gold now, like some fucking knight come too damn late.

The car groans and creaks. Pebbles rattle over the ground, first in front of Jo and Sam and then moving back towards the roadhouse. The door-hinges don’t scream like they have been over the past few weeks, making Momma shout at Jo to oil the damn things. They don’t need to be oiled now, what with all the blood.

Dean comes back out a few minutes later, about when Jo’s sobbed herself dry again and is just sitting on Sam’s feet, scrubbing at her face while Sam gingerly holds her up by her shoulders. “It’s bad,” he says over Jo’s head. “We have to salt and burn the place.”

“Fuck you,” Jo mutters.

“That’s…way more salt than we have, Dean,” Sam says, sounding relieved to be talking about practical matters.

“Well, take a look at the grass, man. This whole place is unholy now.” The sweetgrass falls apart as Dean tries to grab a handful, sucked dry and brown.

Jo puts her hand down on the ground, a sharp rock stabbing into her palm. She pushes herself up onto her feet, sniffing back so hard she goddamn honks. That gets their attention. “I said, fuck you. You’re not burning Momma or Ash. I’m burying them.”

Sam and Dean look at each other, like a weird split of Jo’s memory. She’s only used to seeing that ‘well-this-needs-to-be-handled’ stare go one-way, because Momma always knew when and how to tell John to get his nose out of their business.

“Go ahead and burn the damn place, but I’m burying my mother. And don’t even—don’t even tell me about the restless dead and that it wouldn’t be her in that body anymore, because I know, okay?” Her voice is shaking, and Jo doesn’t know whether it’s with rage or something else, and she just doesn’t care. She gets all the way up and dusts off her hands, then starts towards the door. “I know what to do about that.”

* * *

Dean doesn’t like that Jo’s sitting on his precious car’s hood and swinging her legs as she watches the roadhouse be hollowed out by the fires, but where else is he expecting her to sit? Or does he think she should stand? She stood to hack out Momma’s grave, so she thinks she can damn well sit now.

After some whispered back-and-forth, Sam wanders over to Jo. “Hey…”

“Did she call you? Last night, with something big?” Jo asks. She digs her nails into the scabs on her arms. The nail of her middle finger catches something hard and long and thin in one of the cuts and she slides it further in, gritting her teeth against the burn. Then she forces the splinter up and out.

Sam hunches over and flicks looks at her. A couple yards beyond, Dean stops staring into the flames long enough to shoot him a warning look.

“Don’t you dare do that. You tell me why my mom’s dead. You tell me why I—why I don’t have a—a—”

They think she’s getting hysterical again, and that’s why she’s breaking off. She’s doing no such damn thing. She’s gone and cried herself out, cursed and yelled till her throat’s almost given way as well, and she’s got nothing left. No roadhouse, no Ash, no mother, no fucking daily grind and nightly reminders of how backwards and upside-down the world really is.

“How—how did you—not get caught in that?” Sam finally asks.

“I wasn’t here. I was out getting more…” Jo makes an incoherent gesture with her hands and gags on a laugh “…season house-cleaning. The protections were almost worn out.”

Sam does a lousy job of looking pained at the irony. “Oh.”

“You owe me,” Jo says under her breath. “You owe me an explanation.”

Dean rouses then, stepping back to look directly at her. “Jo, we’re sorry. But we didn’t do this on purpose—we didn’t even want your mom getting involved, remember? And anyway, what else could we tell you? We’ve been sharing everything we know with your mom.”

“No, it wasn’t you. It was your daddy.” Jo senses but just can’t care about how both of them jerk at that. She puts her arms on her knees and her fists to her mouth, and she bites hard. The pain in her fingers flashes red, then white across her eyes before fading to leave the blackened stumps of the roadhouse timbers in front of her. The fire’s dying down. “We were getting close, weren’t we? That’s why it came here.”

They’re looking at each other again, God damn them.

“Yeah. Your mom called, saying Ash had gotten a hit, like the demon was going to touch base somewhere,” Sam slowly says. “But she didn’t say anything else. She didn’t want to talk about it over the phone, didn’t think it was safe.”

“Fire’s going. Another couple of minutes, we can go over it with water and make sure it doesn’t spread. Jo, you got anyone who can take you in?” Dean adds. He pulls up an awkward half-smile whose charm is all awry. “Don’t think you’d want to stick around with us right now.”

After a moment, Jo slowly lifts her head and looks at him. Her rage and grief is thickening up so it can’t boil anymore, but it’s sticking hard to her insides. It’s not going anywhere soon. “No. That’s the one place on earth I had.”

“You don’t have a…some friends in town, or…” Sam uncomfortably scratches at the back of his head.

“I helped my mom run a bar for hunters. Everyone in town thinks I’m a violent bitch-freak. Ash was my only friend,” Jo says, cutting the words out of the air. “Besides, you’re not leaving me. I don’t give a damn if you don’t like it, but I’m in this now and you’re taking my help.”

They go off a couple dozen yards to argue. As soon as they’re out of eyesight range, Jo slips off the hood and flips it up to take out the spark-plug. She stuffs it in her jeans as she walks around the smoldering ruins to where the outside water pipe is.

Jo gives it back to Dean once she’s in the backseat. He’d been stonefaced all through Sam’s stuttering about taking Jo with her as long as they could afford to, but right at that moment, Dean gets a big old crack in him and flashes out some anger of his own. He takes the spark-plug with a sharp jerk of his wrist, then silently gets out of the car and pops the hood to put it back. Sam slouches down and sighs through the hand he has over his face, and Jo twists her arm through one of the seat-belts before she lies down to get some sleep.

* * *

“What did you mean about my dad?”

Jo keeps on chewing at her crappy chicken-fried steak. Honestly, if she weren’t so damn tired now that her head’s throbbing, she’d walk right on back to the kitchen to have a couple words with the cook. Momma’s—

Dean drums his fingers on the table, face tense with urgency and shoulders stiff with discomfort. Too bad for him that Sam takes as long in the bathroom as a girl, because Sam really would be better at this. “This isn’t just some kind of revenge-hunt, you know. You can’t go into it like that. You have to keep your head clear, or the demon will twist you right around and make you make mistakes that get people killed.”

“Even your lectures sound like him. He make you memorize them?” Jo snorts. Her throat still hurts, though she’s been pouring enough glasses of orange juice down it to make the waitress look funny at her.

He shifts. His fingers stop drumming. “Just how well did you know my dad?”

Jo stabs her tinfoil knife into the steak, then lets go. It sticks out at a twenty, thirty-degree angle from the meat. Dean’s watching it when she looks up at him. “He screwed my mom.”

His eyes snap up. The muscles around them and around his mouth twitch, and his gaze flicks between hot and cold, hot and cold.

“A lot,” Jo adds. She’s maybe thinking of explaining exactly how she means that when Sam finally comes back. So instead Jo asks Sam where they’re going, and Dean answers her in a tight, flat voice. It almost makes Jo feel sorry for him.

* * *

Sam found the remains of the laptop’s hard-drive and carried it out before they’d torched the roadhouse. He spends most of his nights wiring it to his own laptop and trying to get something, anything from it. He seems to do all right tucking himself into the work, but Dean goes around and around like a trapped wolf gnawing at itself the longer they stay indoors.

Word gets to them, via blue-rinsed, tobacco-voiced waitresses in all-night diners and men with ugly scars and cross tattoos at truck-stops, that hunters are stopping at where the roadhouse used to be and are taking away the wrong ideas. Then Jo runs into one she knows while making a food run with Dean, and the bastard actually yells at her for not staying put to let people know she’s okay.

Dean props the guy up against the side of the minimart while Jo hands him tissues for his bloody nose. “Sorry,” he mutters. “But…we just were worried about you, you know? We found your mama’s and Ash’s graves all right, but there wasn’t one for you and nobody knew what the hell had gotten you.”

“None of us knew if it was safe to stay around,” Dean says.

Jo frowns at him, but he just shrugs with one shoulder. He lets her in on things, not fighting her decision to stay now, but he doesn’t open up any more than that. Not that he’d opened up much before, and that had been when Jo had been working on being nice to him.

“Well, if it wasn’t, then it is now. Probably the safest place in the whole damn country…I reckon seven or eight of us have gone through and taken out anything even a little wrong for miles around,” the man snuffles. He honks as he sneezes out another blood clot, then grins gap-toothed up at Jo. “You need some hands for rebuilding, you’ve only gotta call.”

Dean shoots her a stiff, hard stare when she says no to that, and then explains further that she’s not putting up a new roadhouse. The hunter thinks she wants to avenge Momma and offers his services, saying she don’t need to worry about that dirty work, and she almost belts him again. He just barely saves himself by mentioning some murders just down the road that need looking into when Dean asks what he’s doing right now.

Once Dean and Jo are in the car again, he starts towards the hotel and she has to ask why. “Gotta get Sammy,” he says. “We’ve got a case.”

“Sam’s busy and if we interrupt him, he’d never get what he needs to do done. Anyway, it sounds like just one shape-shifter. Let’s just go.” Jo runs her hand up and down the side of the door, rage like an itch beneath her skin, making her want to just move hard and fast against anybody, anything.

The car keeps going towards the motel. “Uh, I don’t think so,” Dean half-laughs. “Jesus, what’s wrong with you? Did you hear that guy back there? Did you hear what he was saying? You can go back. We can take you back right after we kill this son of a bitch.”

“The only way you’re taking me back is if I’m dead. I don’t want to, Dean. I don’t—I never liked the roadhouse anyway. You think it’s fun, scrubbing floors all day just so hunters can drag their blood and mud and slime all over it at night? You think it’s fun watching you pretend you’re all big, strong, fearless men and you only kill things to save people?” Jo laughs herself. The sound stutters harshly in her front, breaking apart into glass-sharp fragments that slash up her voice. “You think you’re the only fucking person in the whole world who wants to just kill something right now?”

He’s silent. The car rolls on past the motel and further down the highway, the only other company on the road a couple of big, looming semis that plunge at random in and out of the dark.

“Do you know how to shoot, or just how to point guns at people?” Dean finally asks.

“Well, depends on how good you think your daddy was at teaching people to use rifles,” Jo snaps. She knows good and well how every mention of John gets to Dean, and she knows Mom’s just itching to smack her from the grave for doing this. But Mom’s dead, and so is John.

The high-beams of the next passing truck catch the flex of Dean’s jaw. He u-turns right after the semi passes, sending the car screaming onto two wheels for a couple of seconds so Jo gets jerked up out of her seat. She slams up her hand against the ceiling, that sick-wonderful sensation of weightlessness curling irritably in her gut, and lands hard with her mouth open. She’s breathing hard, staring out into the darkness beyond the circle of the headlights and seeing things.

Eventually she gets her breath under control. She looks at Dean, who’s looking at her, and they momentarily get it. They both turn forward at the same time, Dean leaning forward over the wheel like a hound straining at the leash. Jo can almost smell the blood.

* * *

North Carolina. Reports of a demonic figure turn out to be a mutant giant moth that can take basketball-sized chunks out of people. Dean gets himself knocked out against a tree, but Sam hangs onto the moth’s wing long enough for Jo to shoot it dead.

Minnesota. Sightings of lake monsters flood the papers, and they roll across another couple of hunters who miss Mom’s roadhouse. These ones are young enough to make a pass at Jo, thinking she needs ‘comforting,’ and Dean is a goddamn idiot who doesn’t let Jo deal with it so they’re nearly too late to catch the water serpent retreating to its daytime sleeping place. “You’re just as damn stupid as your father,” is Jo’s contribution to the all-around lack of thought, and Dean and Sam both jump on her.

“He came around a lot. Seemed like he tried to stop in either just after he’d left you or on the way back, from what he said to my mom, so he was always cranky. Always telling my mom what to do with me, too, like I was an extra kid of his,” is what finally shuts them up. Jo watches Sam and Dean share an exchange of looks that leaves both of them going off with ‘I-told-you-so’ airs, then takes an extra-long shower so the hot water’ll take care of the flush as well as the tear-tracks.

Oklahoma. Sam has visions of horrific deaths in Tulsa. Stopping them means meeting with a girl who can pass through walls. She also has a thing for so-called psychic surgery and almost gives Dean ruptured internal organs, and after a long rant at Dean that explains a lot about why John thought Sam was the trouble-making one, Sam locks himself away with Ash’s hard-drive.

“It was worse when he and Dad would go at it,” Dean mutters as he lies on the bed. His skin’s still getting its color back. He smiles weakly, bitterly at the ceiling. “You knew something wasn’t right when they did agree.”

“Always seemed like your dad did see Sam’s point of view. Just was that he didn’t think it was right for you, since he wanted you to be hunters.” Jo picks the blood out from beneath her nails. Her whole back aches, and her left shoulder’s started up again, still not quite right from when it got dislocated eight days ago.

Dean rolls over and stares at her for a second. “My dad and your mom really had a thing?”

Mom. For a second Jo had forgotten about her, and so all that rage comes back double-strength. It’s good she’s so tired and sore, or else she might hit Dean right now even though it didn’t start with him. “They—once. They only once. But my mom…” Jo feels the corners of her mouth painfully curling “…Mom wouldn’t have minded another time. All the hunters we got walking through the door, all of them with something broken in their head or somewhere, and she helps you two. Because you were his sons.”

“I’m sorry,” Dean says. “We didn’t know about you.”

“I sure as hell knew about you.” Jo gets off the bed and goes for a long, long walk. By now Dean knows better to talk to her either before or after about how dangerous that is.

* * *

The bathroom door opens a crack and a small blue box gets poked through it. “Closest we could get,” Sam says.

He’s holding the damn thing by the corners, like it’ll bite him. Jo takes the tampons and rips at the box, feeling bloated and tired and like a goddamn piece of bait. “Took you long enough.”

“Look, we went as fast as we could. Notice that we didn’t even wait to get it bagged.” Sam’s blush comes right through the door.

“Jesus, think she’d know when to stock up by herself,” comes Dean’s more muffled voice.

“Shut up. If you hadn’t been so macho and gone off by yourself against those zombies a couple days ago, I wouldn’t have had to use up all the cotton pads and then had to improvise with—”

Before Jo can finish, Dean’s banging his way out of the motel room, talking a little too loud and a little too revolted about how he did not need to know that, thanks. Never mind he could’ve bled to death back then, and when Jo and Sam had finished patching him up, the stack of blood-soaked cotton was so big it’d taken two trips to the garbage to get rid of it.

“Sorry about that,” Sam says after a moment. “Dean gets touchy about undead things.”

Jo suppresses a grunt as she sticks in the applicator. Her fingers are already sticky to the second knuckle and she just hates the whole goddamn mess. “How come?”

Sam tells her, halting and slow during the facts and a lot more wordy during his ideas about the why and the how and the Dean. It also tells her a good bit about why now that he’s gotten fragments of Ash’s program out of the hard-drive, he prefers working like the devil to piece them together to sleeping. And why Dean doesn’t call him on that so much as he’ll call Sam on just about anything else.

“We didn’t mean to get you or your mom involved. The whole reason we’re doing this is so nobody else loses their parents,” Sam ends up muttering.

The blood swirls off Jo’s fingers. Strings of it stick around the drain so she has to scrub to get it all washed away. “My mom knew what she was doing. She knew how it was with your dad, and with you.”

“Yeah.” The door creaks as Sam leans against it. “You don’t have to. You can leave, Jo. Start over. Live your own life, do what you want to.”

“Do you really believe that? With the way I was brought up and what’s happened to me?” Jo asks. “Mom used to say things find their own center…you know, people can’t help going back to what they really are, in the end. She was usually right.”

Sam doesn’t answer her.

* * *

Dean’s just taken over the chair by the door, his shotgun lying over his lap. Jo is getting settled besides a sleeping but restless Sam inside the protective ring, but it’s taking a while because Sam’s hard to fit around.

“I almost hope it comes—the demonling, or whatever the hell it is,” Dean mutters. He can’t keep his hands still and they move constantly over the shotgun. “Get this over with and get Sammy the hell out of here.”

“What I don’t get is why him all the time? I mean, supposedly we don’t know how many people there are like him, but seems like we run into plenty who don’t mind playing along. The demon’s taking a lot of trouble to keep going after Sam.” Who moans, squeezing his eyes and moving his hands towards his head. He quiets down a little when Jo rubs at his temples, but she can still see lines of pain in his face.

That blank, distant look comes down over Dean’s face again. “It’s a demon, Jo. They aren’t exactly the reasonable sort.”

“You bullshit just like your daddy,” Jo tells him.

Dean presses his lips together. He glances at Sam when Sam groans again, then irritably changes his position in the chair. “Why the hell do you always do that? Goddamn it, I know sorry doesn’t do enough, but does it really make you feel any better to hit me for losing my father? What the hell did he do to make you hate him so much, anyway?”

“I didn’t hate him,” Jo snaps. She kicks at the floor a couple times, temper getting only shorter when she sees how Dean leans forward, like she’d be dumb enough to scuff up the chalk lines. Her tongue catches on her teeth and she grimaces at the coppery trace in her mouth. “I…you know, I don’t even remember my father. I just remember a lot of hunters. And your dad. You know…you know, we knew something was up the last time he came in, but he just…we didn’t know anything.”

The side of Dean’s mouth twists up in grim knowledge. He looks down at the ground. “Yeah, he did that a lot. Well, what do you want? Us to apologize for him going and dying on you, too?”

Jo bites the side of her mouth against the sting of his words. She pulls her knees up to her chest, knowing she should get some sleep and knowing it isn’t going to come. “He used to talk about how he was teaching you two to look after each other, so if something happened to him, you’d have somebody left.”

Dean looks off to the side, not saying a word. He’s not going to offer; Sam would, but Dean’s a little more clear-headed that way.

* * *

Afterwards, when Jo’s at the wheel because Dean’s nursing a broken wrist and Sam’s trying to catch up on real sleep in the backseat, Dean turns to her. “Listen. If I—you and Sammy get along pretty well. Better than you and me, it seems. So if I—”

“What?” Jo turns down the radio. It’s going staticky anyway, her throbbing eighties fritzing into some slow, wailing country song.

Dean stops, shadows carving out holes in his face. His eyes are bright and feverish. “If I die,” he says in a rush, “If my dad ever did a damn thing that was good for you and your mom, if he ever made your mom a little bit happier, then take care of Sam. And—and you should know—”

He tells her.

“You’re a goddamn bastard,” Jo tells him.

“Like my dad?” There’s a terrified shake in Dean’s laugh. “I’m not even supposed to be alive. It should be him, you know. Him for me. Then everything would be—”

“And you’re goddamn stupid.” Jo squeezes her hands around the wheel, feeling her sweat seep into the leather. They’re only three hours from her mother’s grave, she suddenly realizes, and her chest aches. “If Sam doesn’t have to be damned if he doesn’t want to be, then neither do you. No, shut up—I had to listen to you all for years about how what you did changed things, and it’s not true. Monsters change things—without them people are just as pigheaded and nasty. People do stupid things and then you have to deal with it.”

Dean leaves her alone for about two miles. Then he reaches over and starts fiddling with the radio, trying to get a clear signal. “Is that what you’re doing here? Dealing with your mother’s stupid thing? Are you trying to fix us since she didn’t finish doing it? ‘cause let me tell you, Sam and I—”

“I’m trying to drive,” Jo snaps.

The radio settles on a blues station. In the back-seat, Sam sleeps like the dead, and in the front, Dean just glowers at the dash.

If they’d burned her mom, then no matter where Jo went, she might’ve ended up somewhere the ashes had landed. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Dean glances at her. “Just…Sam deserves to get out of this. You can’t argue with me about that, can you?”

Nothing Jo can say to that. She drives.

* * *

“I’ve got it,” Sam says while Dean’s outside packing the trunk. He rubs at his bloodshot eyes and clutches the laptop to himself like a shield. “I’ve got it all put back together, and I got some parts of the last report it was showing. The demon’s coming out again, ahead of schedule.”

He says it so tiredly that at first Jo doesn’t know what he means. Then she does, but it’s not like she can work up glee over something like that. It’s not something to be gleeful or happy about; maybe it’s something to be thankful about, but long after it’s all cut and dried and over, when they’ve buried all the dead.

“But it…it’s way spread out. It looks like it can be in so many places at once, and I don’t know—there’s no way we can take care of it all by ourselves.” Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. He closes his eyes, then opens them and looks at Jo. “No. There is one way. If we can give it a reason to be all in one place…”

“I don’t think Dean will go for that,” Jo dryly says. She already knows where his mind is going. She’s listened to enough arguments between him and Dean.

For that, she gets an eye-roll. Outside, Dean slams the trunk lid and inside, Sam jumps.

“Don’t tell him anything yet,” he hisses. “Look, if we can settle this…he just doesn’t get it. I mean, I’m glad he’s not excited about ditching me for the common good, but when it comes down to it…maybe that’s how it has to be in order to make things stop.”

“With you dead?” Jo had been thinking Sam was just wanting to risk his neck too much again, but if he’s going in expecting his neck to get chopped, then she’s damn well not going to sit by and watch. She did too much of that before; she can’t take it anymore.

Sam glances from her to the door to her. “Dean wants me to live, but do you really think he wants me alive because a demon’s possessing me? Because I’m a psycho? That’s not really living. I can’t—I won’t live like that. I--don’t tell him.”

Dean walks in then, and Jo keeps her mouth shut.

Jo has the second shift of driving today, and when she takes over, they’re going through a long stretch of desert. They’re going about seventy-five when she says, “Dean, Sam got Ash’s program working again, and he’s picked up the demon. He says it’s coming all over and he wants to lure it into coming to one place.”

The shocked, furious look Sam shoots her doesn’t have its burn dimmed any by being bounced off the rearview mirror. Like she cares if he’s mad at her.

Dean whips around, knowing exactly what Jo really is saying. “Goddamn it, Sam--”

“How do we know I’m safe from turning into something that’s got to be killed anyway? How do we know there’s any other way?” Sam starts.

“Maybe there isn’t, but there’s got to be a way to keep your ass alive! Don’t—don’t make me bury you, Sam. Don’t make me go through that. You’re the only one I have—”

“What if, all this time, I’m the one who should’ve died? What if I’ve been kept alive when I shouldn’t be, and people have died for it? What’s dead should stay dead, right? Dean? Dean?”

Jo watches the blood drain from her knuckles as her grip on the wheel tightens. Then she forces herself back in the seat and slams on the brakes, whiplashing the car to a stop. Dean and Sam curse and get knocked around, but Jo knows what she’s doing. And she also doesn’t give a damn about Dean’s love affair with the Impala.

“You…God, you’re all so selfish,” Jo says.

Dean’s opened his mouth to scream about his tires, but changes his mind. His tone’s barbed as a scorpion’s tail. “Oh, no, here we go again. The ‘hunters are bad’ talk. For God’s sake, then get a life! Away from us! Go—”

“Don’t you think I’ve tried? Don’t you—” She crushes down the scream rising in her throat and leans forward to press her forehead against her hands. Then she snarls and jerks herself together, since someone has to be. “Jesus, Dean. I tell myself that all the time, but it just doesn’t work. I just keep running into hunters, and there’s so…there’s a lot more than you think, and you all still end up thinking you’re on your own, you’re fighting your own little wars. You live in your damn bubbles and you never notice when you’re dragging them into other people. But you’re never, ever on your own. You’re always in somebody’s life.”

Jo runs out of breath just then and wheezes a long inhale. She holds it a moment to keep back the sob, then slowly breathes out. The car’s still settling from the wrenching-about it’s had, creaking and shifting its weight.

“You know a lot of hunters,” Sam finally says. “As in you have contact info?”

“Wait a minute, Sam—”

“We can’t deal with it on our own. We can’t, Dean. We try and we die.” Sam’s voice has gone stripped and stark, conveying barely more than the truth. He needs a couple long breathes before he goes on, talking in nearly a mutter. “I just—vampires. They’re stronger and faster but you remember how scared they all were of us? Because there’s more of us than them. I don’t see any other way.”

Dean doesn’t say anything, but it’s a listening silence.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, since we all do seem like we’re messed-up selfish bastards, but…if we can get others to cover all that ground, attack the demon at the same time, then it’ll be weaker at every spot. Stretched too thin,” Sam adds. “Everybody in it will have a better chance of living than if only we went up against it.”

Jo snorts. “It’s a goddamn hunt for a big damn monster. I don’t think it’ll be impossible to talk hunters into it.”

“No, it’s a war.” Dean sits back down and stares out the windshield, working his jaw. Then he glances at Jo, overlaying reluctance with sarcasm. “Your mom was usually right, wasn’t she?”

“Probably more often than your dad. Annoyed the hell out of him,” Jo says.

A short laugh startles out of Sam. “You really have to tell us what they were like sometime.”

“Later, man. We have one hell of a phone bill to run up,” Dean mutters, getting out his cell.

* * *

It isn’t easy. Hunters are go-it-alone for good reason, and getting them over it, even just for a short while, runs Jo’s patience ragged. And Sam and Dean don’t help a lot; they seesaw on sticking to the plan more than once as the complications seem too much in too little time and Jo just doesn’t have the extra time or energy to deal with that. She just…she just grits her teeth and chews her nails, hoping that they’ll fight it out between themselves the right way.

That honestly is the hardest thing she’s ever done.

And at the end, they are all together on it and they nearly break anyway. There’s so much blood and pain…and somehow, somehow at the end of it, Dean is on crutches and worrying over Sam in the hospital and Jo is slumped next to him with taped-up ribs, making calls.

She doesn’t get an answer from a good half of them, and when Dean asks her if she needs the doctor, Jo just presses her face against the wall and ignores him. He sits down next to her, and as far as she knows, he’s still watching over Sam when she finally dozes off.

She doesn’t tell anybody what the casualty list is this time. There’s no roadhouse now, and Jo isn’t her mother. Things aren’t the way they used to be; the dead are dead, and the living go on, whether they like it or not.

* * *

It’s a year later before they dare say that it really, absolutely is over. The demon, that is—there’s still plenty in the dark to justify people’s fears. But plenty is different from everywhere, and even Sam seems to get the difference.

“He’s going to try heading back to school,” Dean says. The coffee steams up a blurry wall between him and Jo. He cocks his head, not liking the situation, but he seems resigned enough. “I’m gonna make sure he’s on his feet, but…hell, I never was a stay-in-one-place kind of guy. You know where you’re going?”

“No.” Jo pokes the coffee out of the way, watching the lines of Dean’s face steady. “I have no idea.”

Dean awkwardly smiles. “Well, want a ride till you do? I know it’s kind of coming late, but…”

“I made sure Mom’s not going to come back and kill you,” Jo says, wrapping her hands around her cup. She lifts it and takes a sip as Dean pulls his cup towards him.

“Thanks. My dad’ll appreciate that,” Dean drawls.

Jo smiles at him, and it has nothing to do with either of their parents. It’s just…something she feels like doing, for the first time in her life. She doesn’t know why, but it’s not like that’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to her.