Joanna. The name does not seem to really fit the girl, this little blonde who’s been knocking back shots like they’re water from the moment she walked into the bar. She came with Sam and Dean, introduced as a friend from “back in the day.” I assume that means they know her from the almost never talked about time from before Dean took custody of his little brother and settled the pair of them into a tiny little rental house here in Lawrence. She’s apparently in town for college, a couple years behind Sam and starting at KU in a week. Dean watches her with that same big brother attitude he does Sam, and I know he’s tracking her drinks, ready to cut her off when he deems her too far gone. The thing I’m worried about is that I can’t figure out how in the world he’s going to even know, since she’s already put away more liquor than anyone her size should be able to. I lean in to ask him, and he wraps a big arm around my shoulders.
“She can hold her own, Charlie,” he tells me. “Trust me on that one.” I nod, knowing from long experience that Dean has a mother hen streak a mile wide.
“Hey Dean, I wanna dance,” Joanna says, turning from the bar and grabbing his hand as she heads toward the stairs leading to the upper floor and dance floor up there.
“Hell no,” Dean grumbles. “I don’t dance and you know it.”
“Come on! It won’t kill you,” she argues.
He shoots me a look and I reach out and remove her hand from his. “It really might,” I tell her. “Actually, it might kill the rest of us.”
She shrugs and goes with me, putting up absolutely no resistance when I lead her into the middle of the dance floor. The music is loud enough to make my entire body vibrate, and she’s a damn good dancer. We wander on and off the dance floor the rest of the night, and I’m completely in awe of the amount of liquor she puts away. When last call comes, I watch her down a couple more shots before we follow Dean and Sam out of the club. At some point while we were dancing, Jessica and Cas showed up, so now we’re all paired off. I’m hoping my gaydar is fully functional and that she’s not just overly friendly when drunk because Jo, as she’s informed me she prefers to be called, is practically wrapped around me. By the time we get to Sam’s car, she’s starting to stumble a little bit, almost as though those last few shots have finally managed to tip her over the edge.
I climb into the backseat and pull her in beside me, Jess following. Jo’s fingers aren’t quite coordinated enough to work the seatbelt, so I end up reaching around her to do it instead. She drops her head onto my shoulder once I’ve got it hooked, and I wrap an arm around her. “You alright?” I ask her, starting to get a little concerned. The change from happy, buzzed, dancing Jo to clearly drunk, clearly needy Jo came in a hell of a hurry.
“Not really,” she answers.
“I’ve got you,” I tell her, pulling her closer to me and wrapping my other arm around her as well. “Hey Dean? Drop us off at my place, would you? Jo’s had enough for the night, I think.”
“Got it,” he replies, the car grumbling to life. By the time we get to my apartment, Jo’s barely awake. When I realize that as tiny as she is, I can’t actually carry her, Dean ends up carrying her in for me. He deposits her on the sofa before telling me to call him if I need anything. I remind him that I’ve babysat plenty of drunks in my time and that we’ll be just fine. Once he leaves, I go grab water and some motrin from the kitchen. She takes both and dry swallows the pills before chugging the contents of the glass.
“Thanks,” she tells me. For someone so drunk she can’t stand on her own power, she’s somehow not slurring even a tiny bit. “That’s gonna hurt in the morning.”
“No shit,” I reply. “So, what do I need to do for you?”
“If it helps any, I’m not a puking drunk. Hangovers, well, that’s kind of another story so I totally understand if you need Dean to come back for me. I’m good on my own though, if you’ll just point me to the bathroom. You won’t have to hold my hair or anything like that. Should probably warn you that I’ll most likely pass out soon, but like I said, I’ll be fine on my own. Thanks for the offer to babysit me, but it’s not necessary.”
“What if I don’t want to leave you on your own?” I have no idea where that sentence came from, but it’s out before I can manage to bite my tongue.
“Your funeral,” she replies, and I reach down to help her back to her feet.
“Come on then. Spare toothbrush in the bathroom. Let’s get you set for bed and go from there,” I tell her when she leans into me. Despite her insistence that she can handle herself, the way she melts into my side is screaming a different story altogether. She leans on me until I get her into the bathroom, where she braces herself against the sink while she washes her face and scrubs her mouth out. I get her into the bedroom, bringing the bathroom trash can along with us, just in case her insistence that she’s not a puking drunk turns out to be off the mark. She’s meek as a kitten as I pull her clothes off her, the tightly fitted tank top exchanged for a giant KU t-shirt and the nearly painted on jeans removed in favor of some flannel shorts. I pull down the covers and she crawls beneath them, curling up in a ball before closing her eyes. She looks almost fragile.
By the time I return from getting myself ready for sleep, she’s out cold. I crawl onto the other side of the bed and turn out the lights, hoping she manages to get a decent amount of rest and that she’ll remember where she is come morning. Waking up to a frantic girl in my bed is not my idea of a fun morning.
As it turns out, she is true to her word. I wake in the morning to her hand on my shoulder.
“Charlie? Where’s your bathroom?”
I’m awake and on my feet in seconds, leading her to the tiny room and tossing a towel on the floor to give her some cushioning as she kneels in front of the toilet. “Fucking hate this part,” she murmurs.
I know she said she didn’t need babysitting, but she looks absolutely pitiful, fingers curled around the rim of the toilet as she rests her forehead on one arm and takes tiny little breaths. I dig a washcloth out of the stack under the sink and soak it in cool water, reaching over and draping it over the back of her neck before sitting down beside her and beginning to rub her back.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, “I know it sucks. Just relax, alright? Let it happen and we’ll get you back to bed so you can sleep this off, alright?”
She nods, the slightest of tremors running through her shoulders. I can feel the muscles tightening up under my hands as she takes in a single deep breath and begins to retch. I keep rubbing her shoulders in small circles, one hand reaching up to hold her hair out of her face. When she’s done, she shifts sideways until she’s leaning against me with her head on my shoulder.
“Thanks,” she whispers. “You don’t have to stay with me, though. Really.”
“I think we established last night that I don’t intend to let you suffer on your own,” I tell her, reaching forward to flush the toilet and wrapping a hair elastic around the messy ponytail I manage to pull her hair into in this awkward position.
“Thank you,” she repeats, eyes closing as she breathes very, very slowly. He face is ashen, her skin clammy. It’s obvious she’s far from finished being sick. After a few minutes, she curls up over the toilet again, dry heaving several times before finally bringing up a tiny bit of liquid. I stand up and fill a paper cup with water to hand to her. Her hand shakes as she brings it to her lips, but she drinks it down, clearly not needing any explanation. She lays against me a while longer before she ends up over the toilet again, this time at least not fighting an emptied stomach.
When she sits back up this time, she curls up on the floor with her head in my lap, her entire body shaking. I take one of her hands in mine, and she holds on tightly enough that I half fear I’m going to have bruises. “Think you’re done for now?” I ask her when she’s been lying there a solid half hour.
She nods, struggling to sit back up. I end up dragging her to her feet and mostly carrying her back into my room. I go back to the bathroom to rinse out the washcloth, bringing it back and wiping down her face and neck as she lays on a pillow. Then I bring her more water, coaxing her to drink a few sips before deciding that the puppy dog eyes on this girl are going to be the death of me. I climb back into the bed and she all but crawls on top of me, head on my shoulder and one leg thrown across mine.
“Clingy little thing, aren’t you?” I tease her.
“Sorry,” she says, immediately pulling away. I reach out and tug her towards me again.
“Hey, I was only teasing. It’s alright. I’ve got you,” I tell her, settling her back against me and holding her close.
She doesn’t say anything, just closes her eyes and she’s asleep again in moments. Once she’s out completely, I grab my phone from the nightstand, checking the texts from Dean and sending him back a quick reply that Jo’s fine, just hungover and tired. I eventually slip out of the bed to go make some coffee, leaving the door open so I’ll hear her if she wakes. It’s well past noon before she calls out for me, her voice uncertain again.
“Hey there,” I tell her, coming back in to find her sitting up and looking around, her eyes much more clear and her skin a relatively normal color. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah. I’m so fucking embarrassed here. I’m officially the worst possible person to bring home from a club.”
“Nope. I’ve had worse. You did not puke on me. At no point did you attempt fumbly, drunk sex. And you were astonishingly free of nervous breakdowns despite waking up feeling like utter hell. I’ve had much, much worse.”
She shakes her head and smiles at me, and I thank anything listening that she’s not one of those whiny self-pity chicks. “Please tell me you have coffee,” she says by way of reply, climbing off the bed and wrapping her arms around me. I hug her back, kissing her cheek and leading her into the kitchen for a mug of coffee and a handful of painkillers.
She manages to choke down a piece of toast, but turns a little green when I suggest anything further to eat. I take her by the hand and haul her into the front room, flipping on the TV and loading Battlestar Gallactica on Netflix. She stretches out with her head in my lap and we spend most of the afternoon like that, with her dozing against me. Dean calls her around four, and once she’s convinced him that she’s fine, or at least mostly fine, he asks her to pass him to me. Mother hen doesn’t even begin to describe the boy, and he offers to come get her if I need to be doing anything. I end up assuring him that I’m perfectly capable of taking care of her and that she’s really doing fine, that it’s just a hangover, not the fucking plague.
“Thanks,” she tells me when I finally get him off the phone. “He thinks I’m still 14 sometimes.”
“Hadn’t noticed,” I reply, “How old are you, anyway?”
“Eighteen. Birthday last month. Dean keeps teasing me that he doesn’t get to scare people off telling them I’m jailbait anymore.”
“Thank fuck for that,” I tell her, and she stares back.
“Please, please tell me I didn’t do anything truly stupid last night?”
“Nah. Passed out on my shoulder in the car, gave me a remarkably coherent picture of what to expect from you this morning, and promptly went to sleep in my bed. You’re a very well behaved drunk.”
“Good. I’d rather actually remember what I’m doing, should I manage to convince you that I’m good for anything beyond being way too fucking needy,” she tells me. The tone of her voice doesn’t quite back up the bravado, though. She’s curled up at the other end of the couch, knees drawn up to her chest like a little kid. She reminds me a lot of Dean, with that tough kid exterior and the obvious need for someone to just fucking take care of her.
“Hey,” I tell her, reaching out to take one of her hands in mine. “You’re not too needy. You feel like deep fried hell and you deserve to have someone take care of you. I volunteered, if you recall, and I’m not complaining.”
She doesn’t say anything for a long while, though her breathing goes very slow and a little bit shaky. I hold onto her hand, waiting until she’s calmed herself back down before tugging her towards me again. I wrap my arms around her and hold on tight, whispering reassurances that everything is alright. She doesn’t speak, just curls up in my lap like an oversized cat.
“You want to try getting some more sleep?” I ask her when she’s been quiet and still in my arms for a while.
“Can I just stay here?” she asks, her voice barely more than a whisper.
“Anything you want,” I tell her, shifting so that I can settle back against the arm of the couch and keep her supported without my arms going numb. She’s built like a dancer, really, the solid musculature of her body subtle but definitely there. She’s much, much heavier than she looks, a fact I realized last night when I tried and failed to carry her.
“M’sorry,” she mumbles, clearly only about half awake.
“Shhh, no apologies. Just sleep. I’ve got you,” I tell her, reaching to brush a hand through her hair until she dozes off completely.
Thin fingers clutch the fabric of my shirt as she sleeps, clinging tightly as though she’s afraid I’m going to disappear if she lets go for even a second. I drag the throw blanket from the back of the couch to cover us and manage to stretch enough to get the television remote of the side table, settling myself in for a long time on the couch. She ends up sleeping through four episodes of Battlestar Gallactica on Netflix, never once letting go of her grip on my shirt. When she wakes, she doesn’t sit up, just tilts her head up until she can look up at me.
“Hey there,” I tell her, kissing her lips softly without thinking about it. “How’re you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a bus,” she admits. “Head hurts. Stomach’s not so great, either.”
“I’m gonna sit up a bit more, okay? See if you can handle being upright,” I warn her before slowly edging us into a different position. She whimpers a little, eyes squeezing shut and her throat working as she swallows convulsively. “Deep breaths,” I coach her softly. “You’re alright. Breathe through it.”
After a few minutes she shakes her head, lips moving in the tiniest of whispers, “M’gonna be sick.”
I reach out for the trash can that I thankfully had the good sense to bring out of the bedroom earlier. She hangs her head over it, dry heaving a few times before her stomach finally gives up trying to eject contents that don’t exist. She stays there for a long while, head down and breathing shallow before handing me the can and laying her head on the back of the couch.
“I’m going to go get you some water and some painkillers,” I tell her.
“Thanks,” she whispers back. When I return she hasn’t moved an inch. I sit beside her and coax her back into my lap, putting the pills in her mouth one at a time and telling her to chew them up, to give her the best chance at them doing some good even if they don’t stay down. She grunts her acknowledgment of the orders, gagging a little at the bitter tablets but managing to get them down with a few sips of water. She clutches at me and I rub her back, telling her it will be okay, that it will pass. I’m half cursing myself for not getting more water into her during the day. This isn’t a hangover anymore, not really. It’s probably not much short of a migraine, courtesy of a fair bit of dehydration.
It takes a solid hour before the worst of the headache passes, and longer than that before she manages to drink more than a few sips of water without needing me to grab the trash can for her just in case. Once she’s reasonably comfortable, we stumble into the bedroom, with her leaning heavily against me. I climb into the bed beside her, holding her as she drifts back to sleep. I watch her sleep, trying to decide if I’m entirely sane at the moment, because I’m pretty sure that I’m falling for the female version of Dean and if the many years I’ve known the boy are any indication, that’s evidence enough that absolutely nothing good will come of this.