Jo blows back a strand of hair just as something -- either sweat or blood -- trickles down the side of her head. She's willing to be it's blood; the black-eyed son of a bitch she's got trapped in front of her really had her there, for a moment. The cut by her temple's going to need some ice, but regardless of all that, a low-set smirk has taken root on her lips, because in the end, she's alive and the demon's powerless inside a fucking circle.
Her smile grows just a bit taut and her eyebrows shoot up for a moment as she locks eyes with the glowering demon, riding the body of some postman with a receding hairline. One that, hopefully, would go back to his route the next morning thinking the last few days have just been a really bad trip. There's nothing like this moment, the moment of pride that overtakes her upon seeing one of those evil hell-spawns helpless.
(Jo knows she's got this thing against demons, this really big thing against demons, she knows it and knows she should do something about it some day, but she honestly can't bring herself to think about the pros and cons of doing so.)
Licking the sweat off her upper lip, she says, "Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus," and she watches as the demon begins to thrash and groan. No one around for miles, not in near this abandoned shack, so the gesture's pointless. No one will come for it.
The demon's coughing out things now. Things that she's heard before, little crusader, it says, fighting the good fight, it says. I'll just come back, it says, there'll be more of me. Hunt down you hunters and all you stand for, you'll see.
"Ergo draco maledicte et omnis legio diabolica adjuramus te," she continues, for exorcism rituals were one of the first things she pounded into her head when she packed up and left home. She recited them until her lips cracked and until her throat burned, she recited them until she woke up mumbling Latin.
Thought you'd learned by now, it says. Heard about you, it says. Go around looking for any demon you can, got something to prove? It sneers through the pain, and Jo just speaks louder, just keeps on, "Vade, Satana, inventor et magister omnis fallaciae, hostis humanae salutis," because demons lie, but they also tell the truth, if they know it'll get under your skin.
They do anything if they know it'll get under your skin.
It's when she's on to Ut Ecclesiam that it shouts over her and, with chattering teeth, spits out, "You won't win! None of you'll ever win, if you keep throwing yourselves at us and making deals, like those fucking Winchesters!"
Te rogamus and she stops. It's to catch her breath. It's to wet her lips again, after so much nonstop chanting. It's to let her brain catch up with her ears, because there's no way she heard that right.
Whatever it's for, the demon takes that opportunity to prattle on, its nails digging into the wooden floor. "You've heard of him, right? Dean Winchester. Seems like every hunter has. Big shot who killed our boss. Well, joke's on all you, he'll be going down with the rest of us." The postman's body bites out a laugh as splinters dig in under his nails. "Fire and blood and bone, all for a little kiss with a crossroads--"
"--tuam secura tibi facias libertate servire te rogamus, audi nos!" Jo almost yells them this time, to speak over the demon, she's sure. "Ut inimicos sanctae--"
And by the time she's done and the smoke's ripped from the thankfully still-breathing vessel, by the time she's starting to clean this place up, by the time she's pulling away with an anonymous tip called in about a guy unconscious in the middle of the woods, Jo's starting to think calling Bobby might not be a bad idea.
When Dean opens the motel door, he doesn't quite know what to expect after catching a familiar dash of blond hair and brown eyes through the peep hole. Jo Harvelle hasn't changed that much in almost a year, it seems.
Especially not her right hook when it's colliding with his face.
Just as he's yelling out in reply ("Jesus Christ, Jo!") she's cursing him out, even louder. "You goddamn son of a-- what the hell were you even thinking?!"
As lights blink in front of Dean's eyes -- yep, that punch definitely hasn't changed one bit -- and Jo shoulders her way into the room, positively seething, he can hear Ruby's low appraising whistle as she not-whispers to Sam, "Damn, whatever he did to this one, I like her. Can we keep her around?"
If he wasn't concentrating on making sure his nose isn't broken (it's not), he'd tell Ruby to fuck off. Something stumbles out of his mouth either way, something that should've sounded a lot more manly that it does, but he just got assaulted, so it's excusable, he'll say later.
"Hey, Jo," Sam says with all the composure of a rat in a cage. He's remembering Duluth? That's the only thing that'd explain the little hitch in his voice when he says her name. He's probably looking at the ground now, like a scolded puppy.
Dean finds his voice and wrinkles his nose, removing his hand from it (and spying blood, lovely) and saying, "Punch to the face, is that just what you do now?" He sniffs sharply and gropes for a dirty shirt to put to his face. It's already got blood on it anyway. "Look, if this is for the-- sorry I didn't call you after--"
Jo cuts him off with a bitter laugh, and now that he can finally look at her he sees that she's standing right in the middle of the room, arms crossed and mouth thin, hair crumpled a bit and-- she looks tired. There's something darker in her eyes; it was there before, in Duluth, but he hadn't had time to really take it in. It's hunting. It's hunting, setting into her blood and bones and skin, taking her over (though it's been there all along). "This isn't about that." Her voice doesn't shake, not too much. "This is about how you're apparently on Hell's waiting list."
Sam almost knocks a book off the nightstand. It's the kind of thing only Dean would notice, because he's subtle about it, but fuck, it's Sammy, he notices. And though there's a woman with a special kind of fire in her eyes staring him down and his nose is still bleeding, Dean's not going to be scared by Jo Harvelle.
"That's got nothing to do with you," he mutters, applying a bit more pressure. He's not going to be scared, but he's not going to meet her eyes either.
Not until she throws a hand out and cries, "The hell it doesn't!"
Dean almost flings the quickly staining shirt to the ground as he crosses the room and says, "I had my reasons and I don't have to explain them to--"
"I had to find out from a demon!" Jo's voice has again raised above his, and this time it stops him in more ways than one. It freezes him. "Were you even gonna tell me?! What, were you waiting until you could hear the hounds or somethin'? I know you didn't tell Mom, 'cause that's not the kinda thing she'd leave out." She shakes her head and her hair bounces around her eyes, and it's now that Dean's close enough -- really close enough -- to see she does look tired, but she looks tired in the way that she hasn't slept, in the way that she's been driving all night.
She drove all night to get there.
"D'you even stop to think that we'd-- that other people care enough to find out what happens to you?!"
This isn't like their arguments before. This is heated in a way that doesn't make him want to push all her buttons and make her fists clench and her mouth twitch, and that fire and spark light her up into a dance she eagerly returns. This is heated in a way that fills him up and hollows him out in an instant. Her words echo through his mind, through the room, bouncing off furniture and curling back into him, yet it's like a wall in his brain keeps him from comprehending them. They collect at a knot in his throat that he desperately tries to swallow down with everything else that keeps beating against him these days.
Dean wets his lips.
"Maybe we should let you two talk." Good old Sammy. His voice breaks through the echoes, like it always does. "Ruby--"
Sam doesn't even have to say anything more, because Ruby's dragging him out of the room -- her fingers wrapped into the cuffs of his plaid, it looks like -- rolling her eyes and calling, "Yeah, we'll be doing shots down the street or something. Don't kill him, I promised his brother."
Yeah. Promised him something you can't deliver. But Dean can't even seem to feel animosity towards Ruby right now. He's almost starting to understand her, he thinks. It makes his skin crawl, so he focuses instead on the other blonde, the one in front of him with the tight jaw and heavy breathing.
Jo lets out a long breath and Dean realizes it's been nearly a year since he's seen her. She's waiting for him to say something, he understands. Well, shit, what can he say? Doesn't she know the lump's still there? That look she's giving him isn't exactly inspiring anything.
"...Did you really find out from a demon?" He settles on eventually, quieter than he'd thought, but hey, maybe he's tired too.
Her shoulders -- square and stiff, to match her jaw -- pull closer in before they loosen as if all the tension pours out of them like a deflating balloon. (Except it's still there, it's always there.) "Yeah. Didn't just take it on faith, though. Demons lie, you know. I called Bobby."
For the first time, long overdue, he wonders, What did the demon lie to her about? Back then, in that bar. His head's been so full the last year, but that's kind of what happens when you're on the fast track to damnation. "He tell you everything?"
She cocks her head to the side and raises her eyebrows. "It'll come better from you, he said. Told me it was Sam, though." Almost spontaneously, she sits on one of the beds -- Sam's, it's the one made up. "'Course it's Sam. Had to be."
It's like she smiles, but not really, it's not the bright smile he's used to, just one subdued and wrong. But it's like she's saying she understands, or so he'll choose to believe. It's comforting, and it reminds him he said he'd call and never did, never did except...
Just as quick, he pulls up a chair from the desk. He can't seem to decide whether to lean forward or lean back, so he rests one shoulder against the frame, the other tilted just off it. They're seated face to face. "Yeah, happened just before the-- uh. Right before--"
"Before that big fight y'all left me outta?" Jo asks with fake cheer. Her brows sit low and she hums bitterly. "Yeah. Mom told me 'bout that." Except her eyes drift down and to the right. The Roadhouse. Her eyes snap back up to his. "You forget to call me before something like that again, I really will break your nose." She nods at his face, reminding him that it's still bleeding.
Dean returns her dry laugh. "I'd like to see you try." A drop of blood hits his jeans. "...Aw, hell. Please don't?"
Jo actually throws her head back and laughs, running a hand over her forehead, through her hair and picking up the discarded shirt on the ground. "Keep putting pressure on it, jeez." She leans forward and presses it to his face. This isn't the first time she's patched him up, though last time it wasn't because of an injury she'd caused.
"I got it, thanks," he says, just a bit sour, given the circumstances. When he takes the shirt-turned-tourniquet from her, the tips of his fingers slide over hers. A callus has taken root somewhere down near her knuckle, and for a moment he wonders how many others are there. He wonders if he can find all of them.
You're going to Hell, you sick fuck. Yeah, that stops that thought real fast.
The room's small and cold, sorta, and nothing exists in it except for the two of them. The whole fucking world's closed in. "How long did they give you?" Now Jo sounds just as tired as he feels and her voice slips out in wisps.
"A year." Dead man walking. "By now that's. Huh. Not long at all. Few more months." Against his better judgment, he watches her, carefully. Her eyes widen and then swiftly narrow. She wets her lips as she swallows something down, probably a knot like the ones that frequently nest in his own throat. With one hand she covers her face, thumb and index fingers rested against her temples as her teeth go to work on her lower lip.
Her words are punctuated with a sharp sigh muffled by her hand. "You really are a self-loathing ass."
Of all the reactions, Dean didn't expect that one. It stuns him silent, like a punch in the gut. Or to the face. All he can choke out is a confused, "Jo, what d'you--?"
Jo drops her hand and fixes him with a look, her eyes still narrow but not in a glare. They're just...pointed. Fixated. "You don't think there aren't dozens of people who'd wanna help you? Mom's got connections, even in these times. Hell, I've run into some people myself. Or all the others who probably don't even have an idea that you're going to Hell?"
There it is. There's the word, there's the sentence. You're going to Hell, Dean. You're going to Hell and there's nothing anyone can do about it. You're going to Hell and there's a very pissed off girl sitting right in front of you.
"How the fuck do you think we'll all feel, not even looking for a way to help you out?" From the way she's sitting, kind of hunched in front of him, the low motel light sinks into all the curves on her face and hangs there, illuminating the shadows, the light giving way to the dark and highlighting the bags under her eyes and the clouds in them. "Stop living in your own little world and start thinking about yourself for once."
A stray strand of hair escapes her ear and she sweeps it back with one hand, wiping away with it the nuances and tricks of the light. Only fire remains.
"Or at least just think about the rest of us. Please."
Half of Dean wants to argue, but the other half's given up and already walking to Hell. (So he thinks.) "Yeah, okay," he just says.
Their eyes meet again and he can swear there's more he wants to say, more she wants to say, except words won't form in his brain, because how do you apologize for something you don't feel sorry for? How do you explain something unspoken? How do you really say sorry for cutting you -- everyone, he thinks -- out for the past year and really mean it?
Anything from you, Dean Winchester, will be a straight-faced lie, even if it's not. You don't know how to be any kind of sincere that normal people accept. Jo's not quite normal either, though, is she? If she told him now that she's a little twisted, he'd believe it a lot more readily, what with that thing lurking just in the whites of her eyes. That thing that he was so ready to dismiss before, that thing that he told himself didn't exist.
(Can't be any more like him, see.)
That understanding. That hunter's intuition. That...emptiness.
In that moment, he thinks he's never seen her more full.
"Well, good." Jo laughs again, just for show. "Aw, look, you're starting to swell." What? Jesus-- Her hand pulls the shirt away and she wrinkles her nose at it. "Mmm, it's got character now. You've got two like this, don't you?" Oh. His nose.
A little wince shamefully slips out as he touches it. "You killed my chances of getting laid for a week, you know that."
With a little nod and a fake smile, she assures him, "Aw, just tell 'em you got into a fight with a big bad gang. Some girls have a thing for rugged guys. Can't wait to just fix 'em up."
Had they fallen just a little further into old habits, he'd have followed up on it, because he's got a few months to live, because she's still pissed at him, because their knees are almost touching, because she's frank and blunt.
Except he's got a few months to live. And that's just the facts of it. (Not if she's got anything to say about it, really, but he really screwed the pooch this time, with all this secrecy.)
For the record, Jo doesn't wait for what'll never come. Wrong place, wrong time, all that. The same old line that's more painfully true than any line she's ever heard. She stands up, she stretches, close enough that he could--
He slides the chair back. She shoots him a look a few lifetimes and a few miles away. (They both know it.)
"I'm beat," she declares. "Going to get a room. Some jerk got me driving all night for some reason or other."
"Scumbag." His smile doesn't meet his eyes, but neither does hers. At least they're on the same page, they'll both reflect.
"Yeah, but what can I say, something about him." Maybe hers meets her eyes a bit.
Before she leaves, she tells him very sternly. "You leave before saying goodbye, and it'll be a finger too, got it?"
"Yes ma'am," he replies, and for once he actually plans on following up.
She'll spend the next several months going through all the connections she has and hunting even more demons than usual.
When she leaves the next morning, it'll be the last time before the hell hounds come a calling.