Six months after Jo opens the place, a demon shows up at her door. Jo isn’t unused to strangers, even strangers as travel- and grief-worn as this woman obviously is. But the woman doesn’t walk in. She stands scowling at the threshold, kicking at air and looking like she might cry, and then she turns and walks away.
“Wait.” Jo stops just short of the door, and when the woman turns, Jo says, “Christo.”
The woman’s eyes gleam black as beetles, and she crosses her arms and says, “So what, you got a super duper pistol you’re gonna shoot me with?”
“A knife, maybe, to stab me with? Because I’d damn certain like that back.”
“Uh, nothing like that.” Where had Jo heard before a demon-killing knife? Oh, right. Huh.
“Fine.” She begins to walk away.
Jo’s never been much for living safe. She says, “You want some coffee? Make it Irish if you like.”
She goes inside and draws a cup from the urn, gives it a shot of whiskey, and brings it out. The demon watches her closely as she passes through the doorframe – painted with salt water, coats and coats of it, then painted over again with real paint, to protect the salt. On the other side, Jo holds the mug out to the demon, whose eyes still shine black, and the demon takes it.
“I could kill you,” the demon says.
“Yeah,” Jo agrees. “But then you couldn’t get a refill.”
The demon laughs.
After Minneapolis, Jo drove west. Some of the power grids hadn’t fallen yet, and gas pumps still pumped gas. She crossed North Dakota in a long, timeless morning of green fields and stilled oil derricks. Montana’s tumble of brown hills fell away in the rear view mirror just as the Rockies began to loom ahead. She spent the night at their foot.
Go far enough west, you fall into the ocean. Jo drove right down to the wharf. The salt-wet scent of sea rose up to meet her. Across the Puget, the sun hung just above the horizon. Jo left her truck, crossed the street, and settled her elbows on the rail. She stared across the water for a long time, until the sun was half gone behind the opposite treelined shore.
Eventually she got tired of looking, so she got back in her truck and turned south. A couple of hours later, she found a djinni bartender willing to sell her whiskey. Three days after that, she’d rid the town of two poltergeists that its variegated population of vampires, skinwalkers, and assorted other monsters didn’t have the first idea how to deal with.
A girl had to make a living. A coffee shop stood empty; the local townscreatures, she learned, would not be opposed to an occasional cup of joe, would even help grease the wheels of supply to ensure she had beans. Would set her up with a generator, for the frequent power failure days. Her brief college coffee house stint would have to do the rest.
Jo renamed the place Harvelle’s, out of some perverse sense of legacy.
“How’d you find us?” Jo asks later. She’s got her ass planted on a curb, and call-me-Ruby is sitting on the next one over, a fresh-poured cup warming her hands.
Ruby’s eyes turned back hours ago, pupil and dark dark iris and white. Demon or not, they suit her better than the black. “Word gets around.”
It does. “Had a lot of creatures come through. Skinwalkers and ghouls and a rugaru.”
“Oh my,” Ruby supplies.
“Never had a demon, though.” At least, none that tried coming in the front door. The others hadn’t been long for this world before Jo sent them howling to the next; she don’t go looking these days, but she’s got no qualms about trouble that comes to her.
Their hosts were battered beyond repair, every one. Two were already dead, and Jo didn’t know that was even possible. Maybe it hadn’t been, before.
Ruby stares down into her mug. “Not many of us left these days.”
Jo hums in agreement. “You just passing through?”
“Dark soon,” Jo says. The sun’s half-out today, a rare October treat this side of the mountains, but it won’t be for long. Ruby eyes the sky and shrinks from it. Jo feels much the same – for different reasons, maybe. “You looking for a floor to bed down on?”
“Can’t get in the door, remember?”
“Not here,” Jo says. “Just let me close up.”
In a few minutes, Jo locks the door and leads Ruby back behind the shop and up the stairs to the apartment Jo’s taken for her own. Jo opens the door wide and steps aside, and Ruby nearly trips over her own feet, glued in place as they are. “Fuck,” she says, scowling down.
“Good to know that still works,” Jo says. She lifts up the welcome mat and scrapes part of the devil’s trap away with her thumbnail. Once Ruby’s inside, Jo grabs the nail polish sitting inside the door and paints over the scrape she made.
When she straightens up, Ruby’s eyebrows are high.
“For touch-up jobs,” Jo explains, returning the polish to the window sill. “You hungry? I got some rabbit someone bartered to me.”
“You always this accommodating to demons?” Ruby demands.
Jo considers her words, considers Ruby, arms crossed again, face dark with suspicion. Finally Jo says, “Just ones that’re friends to the Winchesters.”
Ruby’s eyes flash black. She lifts her hand like a vise to squeeze Jo’s neck in, then lurches to a stop when she realizes she’s gripping nothing but air.
“I got friends,” Jo says. “They did some work for me. Hard to get it up, ain’t it?” Ruby glowers. “Now, you want some rabbit or not?” She doesn’t get an answer, so she dishes up a plate for each of them – stew, of a kind. Jo never cooked much before, but necessity is a hell of a thing. She sets both plates on the table and sits down to eat, and eventually Ruby slides into the chair across from her and picks up her spoon.
Halfway through her plate, Ruby says, “I thought you were a hunter.”
“Was,” Jo agrees.
“What’re you doing serving caffeine and booze to monsters?”
“I’d serve it to regular people, but they’re a little hard to come by.” Not that she doesn’t have a few of those, too, now and again. People she knew before, by reputation if not by face.
“Mm.” Ruby hums through a mouthful of stew. It seems to be disappearing off her plate pretty fast. Jo doesn’t think demons used to eat, but necessity’s a strange and unruly creature these days, even for the demons. Or so Jo hears. Today’s evidence to the contrary, fraternizing with demons isn’t a habit of hers.
They finish up their meal in silence, and Jo’s thinking about the sleeping bag stashed in the coat closet when Ruby says, “I thought maybe you’d know where Sam was.”
Jo settles back in her chair and looks Ruby over. “That why you came?”
Ruby mouth twists. “I didn’t expect you to know him personally. Just. A joint like this, serving the monsters and the hunters? If anyone’d know where the Winchesters are...”
“I’d have thought the demons would know better than me.”
Ruby squints at Jo, suspicious, wondering how much Jo knows. Jo wonders how much there is to know. “The demons aren’t really talking to me,” Ruby says finally.
That confirms a few things, hearsay Jo didn’t trust before. “After all this time, pretty sure Sam’s not walking this earth anymore. I’d have heard.”
The next morning, Jo brings a latte out to Ruby, standing in the unseasonal sunshine. “Good luck,” Jo tells her.
A pack of werewolves roll into town two days later. Jo watches from her window: three women and two men tumbling out of a BMW that’s seen better days – the ones before they got ahold of it, probably. They can’t turn for another week, of course, but it doesn’t stop them from flashing their teeth at everyone they meet, theatrically sniffing the air.
Two of the women show up in shop the next morning, asking for meat pies. If Jo sells pastries, then where are their meat pies? Maybe she’d like to provide some meat of her own, to compensate. Jo brings her shotgun out from under the counter and explains about the silver rounds loaded it’s loaded with, and they scram, but she doesn’t let the shotgun out of her reach after that.
All in all, it’s a relief when Ruby comes knocking at the shop window.
Jo knows the minute she steps out that Ruby hasn’t found Sam. If anything, Ruby looks even more worn than she did three weeks ago. “I ain’t heard anything new,” Jo says.
“No, I know,” Ruby says, and stops.
“Don’t tell me you came back for the coffee.” Ruby shrugs, but Jo sees the dim beginnings of a smile. “Uh huh. Caramel latte, coming right up.”
When the coffee’s ready, Jo brings it out to Ruby and sits next to her on the curb. “So, no Sam?”
Ruby’s head hunches into her shoulders. “Followed a lead on some fuck calling himself the Boy King. It was some demon with a few card tricks.”
“Would you recognize him?” Jo asks curiously. “If Sam were a demon? Would you know it was him?”
Ruby’s quiet a while. “I don’t know.”
A slim, curly-headed woman nods to Jo on her way to the shop door. Jo doesn’t recognize her, which means it’s probably Donald. Harvelle’s doesn’t get a lot of shifters. “That’s my cue,” Jo says.
Jo gives Ruby a hard look. “You staying the night?” she asks finally.
“I didn’t come here to put you out,” Ruby says, as if demons hadn’t done far worse to Jo than take up space on her futon. As if Ruby hadn’t, to someone else if not to Jo.
“There’s room,” Jo insists, not letting herself think too hard.
At closing, Jo comes out to find Ruby sitting on the hood of her conspicuously yellow muscle car. “You expecting trouble?” Ruby asks, eyeing Jo’s shotgun.
“Might be.” She hasn’t seen anything of the werewolf pack in three days. They might’ve left town. “Found you, didn’t I?”
Ruby’s grimace is unamused. She follows Jo up the stairs anyway, and Jo smudges the devil’s trap before Ruby can get caught in it. Once Jo swings the door open, she gestures Ruby past. “I gotta touch this up and set the alarms.”
The alarms are new: runes written in silver-based paint on all her windows. Particularly responsive to werewolves. Jo speaks the necessary spells over them, and then she refreshes the salt lines, too.
Dinner sounds nice in theory, if uninspiring in practice, but it doesn’t matter, because Jo’s bedroom door is ajar. Jo finds Ruby on the double bed, her hands planted on each side of her. She pushes to her feet and stalks up to Jo. Resting her arms on Jo’s shoulders, she says, “So tell me if I’m reading this wrong.”
“Not wrong,” Jo says, leaning in.
Ruby kisses like she speaks: quick, ungentle. Jo doesn’t mind. It’s been months since Jo’s had this or anything like it, and she’s more eager than polite. Ruby’s hands work under her shirt, and Jo lets her lift it over her head. Nimble fingers unsnap Jo’s bra, and then Ruby’s tongue is on Jo’s nipple. Jo gasps.
“Mm?” Ruby says, managing to sound bother inquiring and smug.
Eventually they get to the bed, sufficiently unclothed that those nimble fingers can go to work on Jo’s clit while Ruby keeps on tonguing her nipples. After she’s brought Jo trembling and gasping to completion, Jo gets down between Ruby’s legs and licks her clean until she cries out.
Jo climbs up next to her afterwards, warm in something like an afterglow. She doesn’t try to cuddle Ruby – Ruby doesn’t seem the cuddling type, and if Jo was at one time, she sure isn’t now – but there’s something to be said for body heat. Not that she seems to be getting a lot of that from Ruby.
She finally grumbles something to this effect, and Ruby says, “Oh, the body’s dead.”
Jo tries to consider how she feels about this. She ought to care. “You killed her?”
Ruby grunts in disagreement. “DOA. I had the paperwork to prove it.”
Jo blinks into the darkness. “Paperwork.” She supposes she should be relieved.
After a pause so short Jo isn’t sure it happened, Ruby says, “Sam insisted.”
Ruby sits up and swings around to straddle Jo. Jo can just catch the glint of her eyes. “I’m not a nice demon, Jo. There are no nice demons.”
“I didn’t figure.”
“But what, you’ll fuck one? What does that make you?” She sounds more curious than anything.
“Horny.” Jo slides her hands up Ruby’s arms and tugs her down.
Sometime after midnight, Jo startles upright to an otherworldly keening. The alarms. She scrambles to her feet and grabs for her shotgun, dimly aware of Ruby following behind. She skids into the living room. Beneath the overhead light are five werewolves standing on a carpet of broken glass, fangs bared, clawed hands clutching knives that. “She’s the one,” one of the women slurs through her fangs. “The human.”
“That’s me,” Jo says, and fires a load of silver shot into the woman. She tumbles back, screaming. Two of the others rush Jo. She knocks one upside the chin with the barrel of her gun, but the other one slides in and slices a clean, stinging cut through Jo’s bicep.
Jo yells as much from anger as pain and thrusts the wolf away from the butt of her gun. Then she drops it and grabs for her silver knife. It flashes bright in the glare of the overhead lights. A werewolf charges, and she sidesteps and buries her blade in the shoulder a bare inch from the werewolf’s neck. He howls – a frenzied, maddened sound that sends chills down Jo’s spine. She pulls the blade free and strikes again, this time catching the throat. The howl bubbles to a moan, and the werewolf stumbles to the floor.
Another one is already there, her head twisted unnaturally on her neck. Ruby’s fighting off another with her bare hands, her lips her curled back into a snarl as feral as the wolf’s. She slams it against the wall and buries her fist in its chest.
There were five. Jo turns. Suddenly she crashes into her end table. A weight stands on her chest; a werewolf stares down its muzzle at her, its breath hot and meaty. Its jaws open wide. Jo scrabbles for her knife, long gone. She tries to push up on her feet, tries to knee the thing, thinks of Minneapolis and Ellen—
Suddenly the jaws and breath are gone. Another moment, she hears the unmistakable snap of a neck. Ruby appears in her vision, eyes unreadable.
“They all dead?” Jo mumbles.
“The buckshot one’s still moaning. I don’t think she’s getting up.”
Jo nods, but that makes her head ache. She must have hit it at some point. She pushes carefully to her feet, which also makes her head ache. “Ugh.”
Jo looks down. Crimson rivulets are running down her arm. “Yup.”
“Sit.” Ruby pushes her onto the couch. “Where do you keep bandages and crap?”
“Bedside table.” Jo definitely hit her head. On the end table, maybe. “Some aspirin, too, ‘kay?”
Ruby stomps back in a few moments later with the first-aid kit and settles next to Jo. She wipes Jo’s arm off with paper towels and scowls at the wound beneath. It stings as she cleans it with disinfectant and then she tapes the edges carefully shut and mummifies Jo’s entire upper arm in bandages and gauze.
“I think I’m going to sleep now,” Jo says.
“You probably have a concussion.” Ruby’s hand snakes around to the back of Jo’s head and presses.
It’s a tender spot. Jo yelps. After jerking away, she says, “So what, are you going to take me to the ER? No? Then let me sleep.”
Her eyes close at the very thought, but nonetheless she can feel Ruby’s scathing expression on her skin. Jo doesn’t know what Ruby’s so upset about; don’t demons like it when humans are in pain? But Jo doesn’t manage to voice that, and soon enough she finds herself being laid out on the sofa. A blanket is pulled over her. She sleeps.
Jo’s head definitely still hurts when she wakes up, but in a less dire kind of way than before. Her entire left arm aches, which is something she’s going to have to worry about later. Say, after she drinks this glass of water that’s been thrust in her face.
When the water’s half swallowed, she tells Ruby, “You’ve got some kind of bedside manner.”
“It’s not high on my self-improvement list.”
Last night’s events begin to come back to Jo. “You saved my life.” She glances around her living room. “And got rid of all the bodies.”
“I actually just dumped them out the window, seeing as I can’t get out your door.”
Jo stares at Ruby, but Ruby appears to be entirely serious. Finally, Jo begins to giggle. Then she laughs, which doesn’t help her headache, but whatever. Eventually Ruby joins her. They cackle like insane people for a good sixty seconds before Jo’s mirth begins to die down.
Into the following silence, Ruby says, “I was going to end the world.”
That sobers Jo up in a hurry. “What?”
“We were going to free Lucifer. Sam was going to be his vessel. Not that Sam knew that. Obviously.” She eyes Jo. Ruby expression is carefully blank. Jo just blinks at her. Ruby huffs at her and says, “We were going to ring in the apocalypse, okay? The great tribulation, the whole nine. Hell on earth.”
“What happened?” Jo asks, because it’s all she can think of.
Ruby’s mouth twists wryly, unhumored. “Got beaten to the punch.”
Jo mulls over all this for a while. “And now? What’re you going to do?”
“How the hell do I know?” Ruby pushes sharply to her feet, gathers up the blood-soaked paper towels, and stalks away with them.
When she comes back, Jo asks, “You want a coffee?”
Ruby stares at her. “Yeah,” she says finally. “Yeah, okay.”