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Returning Prodigals are Last Year's News

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Dean’s night was actually going okay until the thing showed up wearing Jo’s face.

He was standing there, third guy in line for a butterscotch milkshake and the best greasy-spoon waffle fries he’d had since. Well. It’d been a long time, anyway. He inhaled deep, the warm all-enveloping smell of grease so thick he could almost taste it.

Somewhere on the edge of thought burned the bright constant little flame of Sam, who was at that moment sprawled over practically every inch of a truly ass-ugly bedspread back at the motel. He was Sam again, finally, shaky but whole, and Dean was about to eat some truly fantastic fries, and for the next ten minutes, at least, he’d settled on the world being a pretty awesome place.

That was when he heard the voice behind him. “Dean.”

As he turned, before his brain caught up to who the voice sounded like, he thought how glad he was to hear it. Then he saw her, Jo, standing there as bright and perky as life. A sudden swell of grief, stale and murky like backed-up ditchwater, washed over him. He stared at her dumbly.

Her grin broadened. “Talk about coincidence,” she said. “I wasn’t even looking for you.” A pause; a lifted eyebrow. “Were you looking for me?”

“It’s not you,” he ground out. “You’re not Jo.” Because he was done with resurrectees with their shiny soulless smiles. He was done. If it was Jo, there’d be no second deal with Death, no saving her, and Dean couldn’t. Whatever it was, he just couldn’t.

The grin dropped off. “Right. I should have figured. You gonna spritz me right here, or can we take this outside?”

“Outside,” he said. He waited for her to turn and walk out of the diner, and he followed her, hands digging into his jacket pockets. That was where he kept his silver-bladed pocket knife.

“Give me your hand,” he said, and she held it out easily, unafraid. She didn’t wince when he gripped it hard enough to pinch, and and she didn’t make a sound when he sliced open the flesh of her forearm with his blade. Blood welled up, but it was the ordinary red kind. Nothing sizzled or burned.

“Holy water’s in the car,” he said.

“I could run,” she said, a hint of a smile sneaking back.

“Don’t,” he said. There was nothing pleading in the way he said the word. Not a thing. “Bullets might not do much good against you, but they’re not much fun either, am I right?” Not that he was carrying – he and Sam weren’t even hunting today, just eating some miles to a possible hunt in Wyoming. But whatever this was, if it was bothering to pretend at being Jo then it knew enough about Winchesters to expect the worst. He hoped.

“Lead the way,” she said. It said.

“How about ladies first,” he said. “End of the parking lot. You know what she looks like.” Or not, in which case this would end real fast.

She shrugged. Her unconcern was starting to get to him, make him want to hope. It made him that much angrier at this thing wearing Jo’s skin.

She walked straight to the Impala and grinned at it, too, running a hand over the finish. Then she turned the grin on him. “So, baptize me already. And hey, what about Sam?” In the pause while he decided whether to answer, he watched her confidence slip for the first time.

“He’s around,” Dean said. This evil Jo-clone was a hell of an actor, better than Sam had been three months ago, because Dean was almost sure he saw her shoulders loosening in relief. “Let’s get this over with,” he muttered.

She waited almost patiently while he sloshed holy water on her (result: wet), said Christo six or eight times (result: one ‘Amen!’ from random passerby), gave her a pinch of salt to swallow (result: a face that he’d have sworn only Jo herself could have made) and finally a full-on exorcism. After he half-yelled the last line of Latin right in her face, no foul black smoke resulting, he just stared at her.

She crossed her arms and smirked. “So maybe I’m me, huh?”

“You...” He swallowed and started again. “No offense, but you still feel, you know, guilty, right? Hurt? Lonely? Like, all those people that died when War hit town, you feel bad about them?”

“Ye-es,” she said, her expression suggesting she was starting to have doubts about him.

“God damn it,” he said.

He didn’t believe it yet. He was barely even willing to admit the possibility. But now, finally, he let himself catalog what he saw: clear eyes looking a little more worn at the edges than he remembered; one arm falling a little awkwardly, shoulder recently sore or possibly dislocated; hair... different. “You cut it,” he said. It barely fell to her shoulders now.

“A rawhead got its hands tangled in it,” she said. “So, chop chop. I mean, what kind of hunter wears girly hair like that anyway?”

“Only a girly hunter,” he said, and somewhere between saying it and seeing her start to grin, he realized he believed. “God damn it,” he said again. “Jo.”

“It’s what I’ve been telling you,” she said.

Too full of feeling to even identify all of it, he stepped forward and wrapped her up in the soppiest hug known to man.

“You were dead,” he said. “Was... when did you...?”

“Never died,” she said into his shoulder.

“Oh,” he said. There was going to be a hell of a lot of explanation about that, any minute now. About Ellen, too, and about whatever it was Jo’d been doing for the past two years.

Just, not quite yet. He breathed in the aroma of cheap shampoo and dust and Jo, which wasn’t a scent he’d even realized he knew.

He was right the first time. Today, the world was damn awesome.