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Lost In Paradise

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Most nights, working at the Black Cat is just boring. After growing up in the Roadhouse, where the patrons would roll in toting sawn-off shotguns and head wounds, just as likely to make a game of knife-throwing as of darts or pool, and her mom broke up fights at rifle-point about once a week ... Well, what passes for trouble here, a few drunken leers here or there and the occasional pathetic attempt at fisticuffs, barely even registers with Jo.

The Black Cat is just a bog-standard bar in Denver, a bit up-market for her tastes. She wouldn't even set foot in here, but she needs the money, and she needs a base of operations while she's hunting. Her mom's back in Omaha, managing some diner and keeping her ear close to the ground, but that's never been Jo's way. Ellen may be content to hear the stories, get wind of the rumours, pull it all together and pass the intel along, but Jo is Bill Harvelle's daughter. She can't just stand by, can't just gather the news clippings and hand them over, she needs to get her hands dirty.

And so, here she is, wiping tables and mixing drinks and making nice with drunk college boys. It's been a long day already – car broke down, row with her landlord over the salt on the floor in her flat – she's still got four hours left on her shift, it's a slow night, and she's about to die of boredom. Right now she'd love a pair of hunters swinging machetes at each other, liven the place right up.

She's leaning on the bar, zoning out and wishing for just a little excitement, when the girl appears.

No warning, no footsteps, no creak as the front door opens – suddenly she's just there, sliding into a barstool opposite Jo, who promptly has a heart attack.

The girl, smiling slightly, probably amused by Jo jumping a foot in the air, says, "I didn't mean to frighten you."

"Oh, I'm sorry – I didn't see you – can I get you a drink?" She says, inwardly cursing herself. No way should that girl have been able to sneak up on her like that. Alright, it's a quiet Thursday night, no hints of anything supernatural in the neighbourhood, she's got a hip flask of holy water and a silver-plated switchblade on her, but even so. She's still a hunter, and when you're hunting you live and die by how well you keep your guard up.

She can all but hear her mom's exasperated voice. Joanna Beth, you listen to me –

"A glass of red wine, please."

There's something in the way the girl is looking at her, pale eyes unblinking and intense, that makes Jo a bit uneasy as she turns away to fix the drink. It's a little like the stare of some drunk asshole who's about to hit on her far too determinedly, a little like the way a predator, be it hawk or demon or vampire, watches its prey.

But when she hands over the glass and the girl smiles and thanks her, handing over a crisp five dollar bill, all that creepy intensity vanishes. She's just a pretty girl, all red hair and delicate bones, with a shy smile that draws out Jo's in response.

Paranoid, you're just paranoid. Leaning on the bar, she asks, "So, do you live roundabouts, or just dropping by?"

"You might call it a flying visit." The girl chuckles quietly into her glass at some private joke, then sets it down, idly running a finger around the rim. She flicks a glance over her shoulder, as if to check she won't be overheard, and turns back to Jo. "I'm right in thinking you're Jo Harvelle?"

Jo pushes down the urge to bolt upright, grab this stranger by the throat and shake her. It's tempting, so tempting, but not exactly staying under the radar, which is what she's trying to accomplish with the whole damn boring day job. "Where did you hear that name?" Hopefully there's enough steel in that question to convey the message of don't fuck with me, I'll slice and dice you if you push me.

The girl takes a sip of her wine, unconcerned, and gives her another soft smile. "I'm Anna, don't be afraid, Jo –"

"Where did you hear that name?" Jo hisses. Her hand finds the flask of holy water, sets to work on the cap. As far as everyone in this town is concerned, she's Elizabeth Singer. Randomer shows up calling her Jo? Looks like she was damn right to be paranoid after all.

Anna's weird fixed gaze is back, but her voice is gentle, calm, as she says, "I'm a friend of the Winchester brothers."

That makes Jo pause, but only for a second. Knowing those boys, odds are she's talking to some monster that they pissed off by wasting one of its mates. Or, come to that, a hunter they pissed off by just being the Winchesters. "Oh yeah?"

"They, ah –" Anna ducks her head for a moment. When she looks up again, she's smiling ruefully. "They saved my life a little while back."

Well, at least that suggests Jo hasn't gotten caught up in some vendetta-type situation. "They're damn good hunters," she says, trying for something neutral. Doesn't really come easy when she's thinking of those boys – too many painful emotions all twisted up inside one another. She's still not sure if they're friends, or if the whole possessed-Sam fiasco cut them all too deep.

"I hear you're a good hunter too, Jo," Anna says.

All of a sudden the calm unwavering scrutiny of those sharp eyes is a little too much. Jo straightens up, feels herself blush. "I try." She knows what's what, she's decent with a gun and better with a knife, but she grew up around hunters, has seen too many of the real veterans at work to think she's really good. She's getting there, hell yeah, and she's no amateur, but a girl's gotta know her limits. And speaking of knowing what's what –

"Here." She holds out her flask of holy water toward Anna. "Wouldn't be a good hunter if I didn't ask."

"Holy water? Go ahead."

Jo pours it into Anna's wine, and it's her turn to watch, hawk-like, as the other girl drinks deep, lets out a tiny gasp of satisfaction, puts the glass down, and tilts her head in a challenge. "Satisfied?"

Well, not entirely, she's positive there's something – well, something going on here. Something not quite normal-everyday-human is going on under the surface of this conversation. She can't put her finger on what, exactly, but her gut's telling her Anna isn't dangerous, at least not to her, and Jo's learnt by now to run with what her gut tells her.

"Yeah, yeah, I guess," she says, and puts the hip flask away, settles back into leaning on the bar, if not at ease then at least relaxed. "So, er, what brings you out here, Anna?"

She's not a hundred percent sure what she's expecting, but she's relieved when Anna starts talking about the spate of disappearances in the area, which Jo's been keeping track of anyway, because this is about a job. Jo can handle a job. You know where you are with a job. Figure out what kind of monster's on the menu this time, find it, get any civilians out, kill it, get rid of the evidence, patch yourself up, easy peasy. Damn sight neater than – fuck knows, getting dragged into helping the Winchesters out of some scrape or other.

"I'm up to date on the missing kids," she tells Anna, casting a quick glance around to check they're still safe to be swapping notes on local crime sprees stroke monster activity. This is another downside of working in a normal bar – at the Roadhouse, no one batted an eyelid if you made a habit of obsessively following news of bizarre murders or loudly discussing demonic possession. "Can't work out what's behind it, though, it's like they all just vanished into thin air. Damn thing's covering its tracks like nobody's business – don't you hate it when things get clever?"

For a moment, Anna hesitates, then says slowly, "I wouldn't know. I'm not a hunter."

Jo blinks. "What? I thought –"

"It's a long story." Anna leans forwards, holding Jo's gaze, so intent Jo feels like she's trying to read her mind, to stare right through into her soul. Her voice is low, urgent. "But I can tell you what is taking the children – it's a demon, and it's planning to use them for a ritual, a sacrifice –"

"How do you know this?"

"-on the night of the new moon, in five days' time. I don't know where it's hiding, or where the children are, but I can give you its name. Marax. You need to kill it, or at least stop the sacrifice from going ahead." She stands up, touches Jo's hand briefly, and turns to walk out.

"Wait – Anna, wait!" Jo doesn't even pause to think, simply vaults over the bar, runs after Anna. She catches up with her just outside the bar, grabs her by the arm. "Hold on a minute, lady, you can't just walk in and throw something like that at me with no explanation –"

Anna tilts her head, and for some reason Jo can't fathom, all of a sudden she looks sad, disappointed. "Do you refuse? To stop the demon?"

"No, of course not, I just –" she breaks off, turns away, running her hands through her hair in frustration. "I didn't say that, of course I'm gonna – but you gotta tell me what's going on. You're not a hunter, but you know all this shit about this specific demon and this specific ritual, when I can't make head nor tail of it – I mean, what the hell? What is going on? If you know what demon it is, it makes way more sense for us to work together on this, right?"

"I can't stay." Anna takes hold of her shoulders, her cold hands gripping Jo with far more strength than she would have guessed the other girl could muster. Those deep hazel eyes are roving all over Jo's face now, restless, and her voice has gone from insistent but calm to almost pleading. "I have to go – don't ask me to explain, but I'm in danger and I have to go. There are five days before the new moon, Jo, you can find a way to stop it, you must do this, or the consequences –"

"I said I'm taking the damn job!" Hell, what does this girl think Jo's gonna do, just sit around twiddling her thumbs while she knows a demon's running around snatching kids for some kind of fucked-up evil ritual? "But just – how do you know this? Anna? Who even are you?"

Seems like that was the million dollar question. Anna looks away sharply, closes her eyes, sighs. And suddenly Jo can barely breathe for the tension coiling in her stomach because, oh God, here it comes. Whatever Anna says, she's pretty sure she's not gonna like it, when has anyone turning up out of the blue being all secretive about a hunt ever worked out well?

She's about to turn away and head back into the Black Cat, when Anna's voice cuts through the taut silence, quiet but clear as a ringing bell. "Jo. I know about this because angels told me."

Well, Jo sure as hell wasn't expecting that. For a moment she's actually speechless – angels? And here she was, thinking nothing could phase her – she grew up knowing it's holy water for demons and salt and iron for spirits, silver for shape-shifters, werewolves eat the heart, hex bags mean witches – but angels? Angels are just a myth – but there is ironclad conviction in Anna's steady eyes, in her voice, in the set of her mouth. Absolute belief. This girl is serious, which means she's either insane or a really, really good liar. Or else Jo's going to have to re-think her whole world-view.

"There's no such thing as angels," she says through numb lips.

Anna reaches out, cups Jo's face in her hands, fingers stroking her cheeks gently. She's staring again, unblinking, unflinching. Coupled with the touch, it's too much, too weird, too intimate, but like a deer caught in the headlights of the onrushing truck, she can't look away.

"Jo, please. You're going to have to trust me."

The soft hands fall away, and Anna is walking away into the dark night.

She's rounded the corner before Jo comes back to herself, swears, shakes her head, and runs after her. She turns the corner onto the main road, but Anna has vanished without a trace.


"So you're telling me angels are real? You believe this?"

"Look, I know it sounds crazy, but the things I've seen? Ain't no other explanation." Bobby's putting on a good show of being a crotchety and cynical seen-it-all-and-killed-it-all-too old man, but beneath the griping and the sarcasm, Jo can tell he's about as weirded out as she is about the whole angel business. Maybe a little less so, since he's had a bit longer to get used to it, but not by much.

When Bobby Singer is weirded out, you know you're really far down the rabbit hole.

Jo takes another big gulp of coffee. It's three thirty AM, she just finished her shift down at the Black Cat, but as gritty as her eyes are, as much as her feet are pounding, she can't even think of going to bed yet. Not when she's got abducted children to investigate, a seriously wily demon to track down, a hell of a deadline on it all, not to mention, oh yeah, adjusting her worldview to accommodate angels. Hell, wonder what it's like to have a quiet life.

She absently doodles a feather on the notepad in front of her, clears her throat. "Okay, so what can you tell me about angels, then?"

Bobby sucks in his breath through his teeth. "Well, I gotta be honest with you, kid, I don't know a lot. They're secretive bastards, seems like, but powerful. I mean really powerful. We're talking stronger than pretty much any demon I've ever known."

"Goddamn," Jo says, and whistles. Wait, isn't that probably some kind of blasphemy? Well, angels or no angels, she's not been struck down by lightning so far, so damned if she's gonna start tiptoeing round all pious now.

"Yeah, you're telling me," Bobby says, sounding as impressed by the supernatural as she's ever heard him. Maybe even more so than when he was telling her about that Hell's Gate opening up a year or so back.

Someday, when she's got less urgent things on her mind, and preferably when she can see his face, she's got to hear the story of how Bobby was introduced to angels. From the sounds of it, it was a kicker.

But right now she's got business to take care of. "So, this chick that showed up here talking about angels, name of Anna, said Sam and Dean helped her. Saved her life, actually. This ringing any bells?"

Short pause. Jo traces over where she's written Anna on the notepad. Then Bobby says, "Yeah, come to think of it, the boys did have some escapade with a girl named Anna Milton, not long ago. Poor thing could hear angels, got caught in the crossfire between them and the demons."

"So you think she's legit?"

"Now I ain't promising anything, but it does seem that way. And what're your instincts saying? You gotta trust your instincts in a job like this, Jo."

"I know." She sighs, looks at the notepad, the sketched feathers, the two names she wrote down as soon as she got home from the bar. Anna. Marax. "I think she's for real, Bobby," she says, then bites her lip. Hell, say what you really think. In for a penny, in for a pound. "Can't say why, but I trust her."

"Alrighty then. There anything else, or that all you woke me up for?"

Jo can practically see Bobby doing that attempt at a frown he does, when he's trying not to smile, not to let on how much of a soft touch he is under it all. Probably works better on folks who didn't grow up with him giving them lollipops and letting them play with his dogs when they visited with their dad. And yeah, he did also give Jo her first full-on machete, and he yells and snarks at her when she visits these days, but it'll take more than that to fool her. Specially since he always takes her calls, even when it's stupid o'clock in the morning.

"Well, I'm trying to hunt down a demon, been covering its tracks like a pro, but I've got a name – wondering if you've got any ideas, a ritual or such?"

"Right ..." On the other end, there's the unmistakeable sound of a beer being cracked open. Jo grins, and settles back in her chair. Good old Bobby, never failed her yet.

As he starts to run through her options, she traces over Anna's name.