John carefully extracted his arm from beneath the little girl's head and tucked the blanket around her shoulders. The front of his shirt was damp from Jo's tears. She missed her daddy. She was old enough to understand what death meant, but she didn't quite understand why Bill wasn't coming back. How could she? No one would ever tell her how Bill really died. They'd buried what was left of him that morning. John felt uneasy about that, and he wasn't the only one, but Ellen wouldn't permit anyone even to suggest salting and burning Bill's body. Ellen wasn't someone you wanted to cross if you could avoid it.
John turned on Jo's night-light. In the blue-green glow it cast, she looked peaceful, a few locks of her pale blonde hair streaked across her sleeping face. John couldn't help wondering what his life would have been like if he'd had daughters instead of sons. He wouldn't trade Dean and Sammy for anything, but it had been a long time since either of the boys would let him hold them the way he had Jo. Comforting the child helped him, too. He grieved for Bill in his own way.
He hesitated in the doorway, watching her a moment longer, then pulled the door closed. He left it a little ajar in case she woke up in the night, although he wasn't sure Ellen would be in any condition to respond if little Jo needed help.
Back in the saloon, John found Scott behind the bar in Ellen's place. John asked for a double bourbon, watched Scott add it to his tab and leaned back against the bar, looking for Ellen. She was at the pool table. John sipped his bourbon and watched Ellen lean over the table. Indigo denim hugged her ass tightly as she drew back her pool cue, shot and straightened up. She walked slowly around the table and John dragged his gaze up to her face. A frown of concentration creased Ellen's forehead as she studied the remaining balls. She said something to her opponent and bent over the table again, sinking the next ball smoothly.
You concentrated on the game, because it was a thing you could control. There was no pleasure in it, neither satisfaction in your skill nor triumph in clearing the table. There was no joy in winning the game or in hustling some sucker. Only this: what you could control, because it kept the chaos in your mind at bay. Only the familiar, simple action of the pool cue in your hand, keeping you from screaming the pain in your heart.
John understood what Ellen was doing; he'd been there himself when he lost Mary.
It was nearly midnight and the last of the hunters had left the Roadhouse, the last strains of the jukebox long faded away. There were only the three of them left: Scott, now at the pool table with Ellen, John, still sitting silently at the bar. John picked up his glass, the ice clinking, and nodded to Scott.
Scott handed the pool cue to John. "You'll take care of her?" he asked quietly.
John nodded. "I'll do my best." He followed Scott to the exit and bolted the saloon doors. He returned to the table and leaned back against a pillar, watching Ellen play with grim determination until she missed a shot.
She picked up her whiskey glass from the edge of the pool table, drained it, and glared at John. "What are you waiting for? Play!"
John moved up to the pool table with an inward shrug. He could play pool if that was what Ellen needed. As he bent over the table to take a shot, he saw Ellen head for the bar. She returned, not with a fresh glass of whiskey but with the bottle. Ellen had been drinking steadily all evening. John couldn't blame her for wanting the sweet numbness of alcohol. Ellen didn't appear drunk. She walked in a straight line, the oversized bottle held firmly in her hand. Hell, she'd been playing pool for hours, so her co-ordination was fine.
John missed the shot because he was watching Ellen instead of the table.
Ellen grinned and moved in to take her turn.
John deliberately blocked her way. "Ellen. It's enough."
She shoved him out of her way. "Why are you still here, Winchester?" she flared. She swigged a mouthful of whiskey from the bottle and tossed her long hair back.
He caught her wrists, preventing her from shoving him again. "I may be a heartless bastard, Ellen, but I'm not cold enough to leave you alone like this."
"Fuck you!" She pulled her wrists out of his hold.
John, less drunk and much stronger than she, could have held on easily but he let her go.
Ellen turned away. She still carried her pool cue in one hand, and the bottle in the other. For a moment John thought she would just go back to playing pool. But she stopped, her back to him, apparently looking down at the table. She threw her cue down viciously. It bounced on the wooden floor and fell again with a loud clatter. Before John could react to that Ellen whirled, raising the whiskey bottle. She threw it over John's head with a scream of frustration and anger.
John ducked automatically. He heard the bottle smash as it hit something behind him. He ignored it, moving toward Ellen. The stoic mask she'd been wearing all day was gone and he could see her shattering inside. John closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her, holding her together as best he could.
Ellen struggled, pushing weakly against his chest.
John said softly, "Sh, Ellen, it's okay. Just let it go."
Ellen cried out, the sound muffled against his shirt. John felt her shoulders shake and held her tight against him. Slowly she relaxed against his body. It took longer for the tears to come, but when they did she clung to him and John held her, stroking her back gently. He envied her this, a little, that she could allow herself this release.
Finally, Ellen began to draw back from him. John loosened his hold on her, but wouldn't let her pull away completely. He slid a hand under her chin, tilting her face upward so he could see her. "You okay?" he asked her.
Ellen didn't answer. In the dim lighting of the empty bar, John could see the tears still shining in her red-rimmed eyes.
"You okay?" he asked again.
"Fuck, no," she answered. That was Ellen: always truthful. Then, unexpectedly, she touched him. Her warm hand slid over his hip, just below his belt. Even through his jeans, her touch was warm. John caught his breath, not sure whether it was intentional. But then she moved closer to him, reaching up to kiss him.
John cupped Ellen's cheek in his hand and kissed her. The whiskey was strong on her breath but her kiss was sweet, her lips parting his eagerly. He ran his fingers through her hair and slid his hand down her spine, drawing her closer to him. Ellen moaned into the kiss and her hands moved to his belt.
John drew back gently. A kiss was one thing, but he couldn't take advantage of her this way. "Ellen, you don't want this."
She rubbed the front of his pants. "John, come on."
He pulled her hand away. "You're drunk, sweetheart. We do this, you'll hate me in the morning." He would like nothing more than to take Ellen to bed. He had been attracted to her for a long time. He'd never done anything about it because she was married. Married to Bill, who died because John screwed up badly. Maybe she would hate him in the morning no matter what he did. No. No, he was not this weak.
"Ellen," he tried gently, "I think you should go to bed."
"That's what I've been saying," she retorted.
Fine. Have it your way. John kept one arm around her waist and began to walk her toward the door, steering her around the broken glass. They passed Jo's room and John slowed enough to check on her. She was sleeping peacefully. Ellen leaned against him as the alcohol finally hit her. John half-carried her the rest of the way to her bedroom.
He laid Ellen down on the bed she'd shared with Bill. He unlaced her boots and pulled them off her feet. He didn't plan on undressing her any further than that, but as he leaned over her nightstand to turn off the light, Ellen grabbed his arm and tried to kiss him again.
"No, Ellen. Not like this."
"Don't go," she pleaded.
John debated with himself, but not for very long. He leaned over her and kissed her lightly. "Okay. I'll be right back." He headed into the bathroom and took longer than he needed to in there. On his way back to Ellen's room he grabbed a bottle of water from the bar and turned out the lights in there.
He stopped in the doorway, watching Ellen. It wasn't just an attraction. She was his friend, and John understood where she was right now. He knew what it was like to lose a spouse. When Mary passed, John had a terrified four-year-old and a little baby to keep him grounded. Even with the boys to care for, he'd lost it for a while. Ellen was entitled to a meltdown on the night after she buried her husband.
Ellen was trying to undress and getting tangled up in her jeans. John moved up behind her, gently sat her down and stripped off the jeans for her. She ruffled his hair as he bent over her and John froze.
God, if she weren't so drunk... Damn, he would have taken her up on that offer. John would never have screwed around on a friend - and that meant Ellen, as well as Bill - but he could see what she needed tonight. He could enjoy a night with her, as a friend.
He stood up, picked up the bottle of water and unscrewed the cap. He offered the bottle to Ellen. "Drink it all. It'll help with the hangover."
"I'm not hung over," she slurred, so it came out more like m'not n'ver. She fell backward onto the bed, spilling water on herself.
John caught the bottle and sat down on the bed, helping her to sit up again. "No, you're not hung over. You're blind drunk. Trust me and drink the water, okay? It'll take the edge off." Alcohol poisoning wasn't fun; she'd downed probably a whole bottle of whiskey. She would wake up to the mother of all hangovers.
Ellen obeyed his instruction, taking a long drink while she leaned against his shoulder. "John..." she mumbled, one hand snaking around his waist.
John moved her hand away from his body. "Ellen, you just need some rest." He pulled the comforter over her and climbed onto the bed beside her, lying on top of the comforter. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and she curled up against his side. Her body was warm even through the heavy fabric and he was tempted, so very tempted. He knew that if he turned to her, if he kissed her, she would respond to him. She would welcome him.
John held her, nothing more, until she fell asleep in his arms.
John woke abruptly when Ellen bolted from the bed. He shook the fog out of his brain and followed her quickly. He found her in the bathroom, bent over the toilet. She clung to the rim while she threw up. John moved closer and gently pulled her hair back, holding it out of the way. It was almost automatic: he'd done this so many times for Mary while she was pregnant.
Ellen sat on the linoleum, wiping her mouth. "Downside of running a saloon," she muttered.
John got down there with her. "The liquor never runs out," he agreed.
She looked up at him, frowning. "You stayed."
"Of course I stayed."
John shook his head. "You were wasted, Ellen. I put you to bed and you asked me to stay. So I stayed. Nothing happened."
She managed a smile. "That's good. I'd be pissed if I finally got you into my bed and I couldn't remember it."
"Not funny, Ellen."
"I guess not." She used the rim of the toilet to hoist herself up and clutched her head. "Oh, god, what else did I do last night?" She flushed the toilet and moved past John - very carefully - to the sink.
"You didn't embarrass yourself," John assured her. "Though everyone would have understood if you did. You might need to check your cash register, though. Scott Green was watching the bar while I put Jo to bed."
Ellen splashed water on her face and picked up her toothbrush. "Thanks for looking after Jo. I'm grateful. Now get the fuck out so I can wash."
He called Jim from the saloon to check on his boys and ended up talking to them both.
Sammy was complaining about all the training Dean was making him do and wanted to tell him all about a new book Jim loaned to him. John pointed out that Dean was following orders and Sammy could read all he liked...after training.
Dean assured John they were both training hard and Sammy was just complaining for the fun of it. They were both fine. It seemed like there was something else Dean wanted to say, but though John gave him the opportunity he didn't get to whatever it was. John figured it wasn't that important and let it go.
Ellen appeared just as John was finishing the call. She looked better. Her hair was still wet from the shower, but she was wearing clean clothing and carried a mug of coffee in one hand and a glass of Alka Selzer fizzing away in the other.
"You need to get back to your boys?" Ellen asked as John hung up the phone.
John shook his head. "The boys are with Jim until school starts up again. They're fine. Unless you want me gone." John had known Ellen long enough to believe she'd tell him if he wasn't welcome. She'd never been one to tiptoe around.
Ellen nodded. "No...I'm glad you stayed, John. But I've got a business to run here."
"I hadn't forgotten. What can I do?"
Ellen groaned. "Ugh, I can't even think right now. I've got to get Jo up and breakfast..." She ran her free hand through her hair, the movement drawing John's attention to the fact that she wore no bra beneath her shirt.
"Hey. Slow down." John took a step toward her. "How's the hangover?"
"It ain't my first, John. I'm fine."
John knew that meant she felt like crap, but he accepted it. "Okay. Well, in that case I'll bet you're really looking forward to cooking breakfast. Why don't you leave that to me?"
She looked at him like he'd grown an extra head. "You cook?"
John narrowed his eyes at her. "I have two kids."
Ellen simply waited.
John shrugged. "Alright, I burn water," he admitted irritably. "But toast is just burned bread and I can pour milk on cereal. Good enough?"
It earned him a smile. "Well," she admitted grudgingly, "I guess you can't screw that up too badly."
John stayed at the Roadhouse all day, helping out where he could. Like any business, there were plenty of little jobs that needed doing: minor repairs and chores that Bill would normally done when he wasn't hunting. When the saloon opened, John collected and cleaned glasses, carried bottles and did his best to stay out of Ellen's way while keeping an eye on her.
John set down the last tray of cleaned glasses. "There, all done." He looked around the empty bar, automatically checking the windows, the bolts on the door. Everything was secure.
Ellen was leaning on the bar, gazing out over the empty saloon. "Thanks," she said indifferently.
John moved up to her side and rubbed her back gently. "You just have to get through it one day at a time."
She made a disgusted sound. "The days I can handle."
It's the nights. It went unspoken, but John understood.
"I've gotten used to this place without Bill," Ellen said. She poured herself a whiskey.
It was the first drink she'd had tonight so John made no comment. He figured she was entitled to it.
"He was always off on some hunt. I'm used to it."
"But it's different now." John remembered that feeling. In a way, he thought he'd been lucky that they lost the house when Mary died. If he'd had to live there, after, to sleep alone in the bed they'd shared...no. He couldn't have done it. But Ellen had no choice. The Roadhouse wasn't just her home, it was her livelihood. She had to stay here, surrounded by reminders of Bill and the life that took him from her.
John stroked her back and she turned around, moving into his arms. It was unexpected, but John held her close, letting her relax against his body.
She drew back to look into his face. "John, I really need a friend tonight."
Uh-oh. "Why do I have a feeling you don't want to talk over milk and cookies."
"Maybe because we're not in high school?" Ellen suggested archly.
"Ellen..." He knew what she was asking, and it was as bad an idea now as it had been the night before.
"John Winchester, I am as sober as you are. And I'm telling you I want you. Stop acting like a virgin on prom night."
He laughed. "You had a prom?"
"Maybe," she answered, a little defensively. "Don't change the subject." She ran her hands up his back, deliberately tracing the curves of his muscles beneath his shirt, drawing their bodies closer together.
John cupped Ellen's cheek with one hand and his wedding ring caught the light. He had been about to kiss her; the glint of the ring on his finger stopped him, his lips a bare inch from hers. Mary, he thought, but the memory of his wife seemed to have little power this night. Not with Ellen's body warm in his arms. Not with her breasts pressing up against his chest and her lips so very close to his.
Ellen strained toward him, trying to kiss him. John held himself that inch away from her.
"John," Ellen said, her breath a warm ghost across his lips. "Be with me tonight."
It crashed down on him then, the reason for his resistance. He didn't refuse her the night before because she was drunk. He refused her because he wanted her so much.
Ellen was one of the strongest people he knew. That strength reminded him of Mary, though they were very different women. Ellen was a good friend, but more than that, she was someone he could fall in love with. She was everything he could want in a woman: smart and tough, compassionate and fiercely loyal. She knew what was out there in the dark and could handle herself as well as any hunter: she needed no one to protect her or save her. Had Ellen not been another man's wife when they met, John might have...
Ellen's eyes filled his vision, her pupils dilated with desire. Holding her, John let himself imagine it for a moment: the life they could build together, a home for his boys...
The pleasant fantasy stopped there, crashing into the hard, cold wall of reality. Ellen didn't want him that way. She wanted comfort, because her husband, the father of her daughter was dead. Even if it were possible, John wasn't free to build a life with anyone. His boys needed him and there were reasons, real reasons, not to settle in one place, or with any one person.
Ellen's fingers threaded through his tangled hair. "Be my friend tonight," she urged.
It was as close as Ellen would ever come to begging.
"A friend," he repeated.
"Would it be so wrong?"
John's will to resist crumbled. He closed the small distance between their mouths, parting his lips as he kissed her. Ellen's lips were soft. For a moment she held still as if he'd surprised her. Then she grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt, yanked him even closer to her and kissed him back hungrily. John's teeth clashed against hers but she wouldn't let him back off. She kissed him harder, her tongue twining with his. It was a long time before they broke apart.
Ellen gazed up at him, her cheeks flushed, her eyes bright. "Bedroom," she said decisively.
John couldn't think of a single reason good enough to say no.
Undressing in front of Ellen was awkward. John had forgotten he still bore the scars from his most recent hunt: the hunt that killed Ellen's husband. When he took his shirt off, Ellen ran her hand along the most prominent of his wounds, a long claw-mark that started just above John's right nipple and ended in the middle of his stomach. Her fingers traced the newly-healed gash as if she wasn't really seeing it on John's body. She was seeing Bill. Her touch sent small darts of pain along the still-raw skin but John didn't flinch away. He'd gotten off easy. Bill was so badly cut up there had been no chance he could survive the injuries.
Ellen leaned in and kissed the scar above his nipple, her tongue flicking across the skin. John caught his breath. She curled one arm around his back, steadying them both, and licked lower, slowly, along the new scar. Needing something to do with his hands, John unbuckled his belt and dropped his jeans and underpants while she sucked at his skin. The small pain was intoxicating. When Ellen reached the bottom of his ribs she straightened and moved back from him. She didn't say anything about the scars, but he felt her eyes take in every mark, from the superficial scratches on his arms, now barely visible, to the long cut down his chest.
John returned the favour, his eyes raking over her body from her smile, right down to her bare toes. Ellen stood at the foot of her bed in nothing but her underwear. She wasn't the type of woman to bother with lingerie: her panties were white cotton and almost masculine in style and her bra was similar, plain, white, a little frayed at the edges. She wore no makeup. She wasn't what most men would consider beautiful, but to John she was lovely. She didn't need silk or lace to make her sexy as hell, only her own inner strength and that smile, that smile which proclaimed more clearly than words that she wanted him tonight.
John stepped out of his jeans and moved toward her. He knelt on the ground in front of her and cupped her ass in his hands. He kissed her stomach just above her panties and felt her hand settle into his hair. He hooked his thumbs into the waistband of her panties and slowly drew them down. Kissing her stomach again, John could smell the musk of her arousal and he knew before he touched her that the panties would be damp. John kissed the dark mound of her pubic hair, once, twice, moving a little lower with each kiss until her hair tickled his nose. He felt her sway a little and steadied her with his hands on her hips. He ran his hands down the backs of her legs, from her buttocks, over her firm thighs to the backs of her knees. She shivered at his touch.
John looked up at her then, as a mischievous thought occurred to him.
Ellen was gazing down at him. She saw the smile on his face and her expression became wary. "John, don't - "
He grasped her calves and jerked her feet from under her. Ellen fell backward with a cry. She landed safely on the bed, of course, bouncing on the mattress, her legs flailing. John rose from the carpet grinning and came toward the bed. He was nude, his discarded clothing in a heap on the floor behind him. Ellen was dressed only in her bra.
She was laughing. It was so good to hear her laugh. John knelt on the bed between her legs. He looked down at her and leaned forward, placing his hands on either side of her body. He lowered himself onto her slowly. Ellen reached up, still laughing, to pull him into a kiss. John let her do it, his cock pressing into her thigh as their tongues met again. He rubbed himself against her, but didn't enter her yet. Ellen moved against him, parting her legs still further. John kissed her deeply, but he held back from what she so clearly wanted. He wasn't ready yet. By the time he broke the kiss Ellen was making little frustrated sounds, her body begging him to enter her.
She took a deep breath and found her voice. "Goddamn it, John, fuck me!"
He chuckled. "Sweet talk like that will work every time."
She slid her hand between her own legs and John grabbed her wrist, stopping her. "Patience, baby. I'll make it worth the wait."
John leaned down and spoke quietly with his lips right against her ear. "I'm going to fuck you, Ellen. I'll fuck you when I'm ready to fuck you. Baby, I'm going to make the most of this. I'm gonna make love to every inch of your body. I'm gonna kiss your neck, and your breasts, and your fingers, your arms..."
Ellen moaned, her hand relaxing in his grip. He released her hand, caressing his way up her inner arm to match the words he whispered into her ear. He tickled the inside of her elbow and went on naming body parts. By the time he reached her navel she was writhing beneath his touch.
John kissed a path down her body, every bit as slow and attentive as he'd promised. He wasn't used to taking things this slowly with a woman. But this was for her.
And, yeah, he felt like a shit for even thinking it, but he wanted to make it good because he wanted this to be their first time, not the last. He wanted to drive the thoughts of Bill from Ellen's mind...and that was what she wanted, too, if for different reasons.
Ellen rested her foot on his shoulder as he kissed the soft skin of her inner thigh. John ran a hand down her shin and kissed her ankle. He let his tongue linger there and slid his fingers inside her for the first time.
Ellen cried out at the penetration. "Oh, god, please, please, please, please..."
John thrust his fingers deep inside the heat of her and found her clit with his thumb. He rocked his hand inside her and felt her convulse. Ellen flung her arms outward, clutching the comforter in her fists. She bit her lip, muffling her cry of orgasm. John couldn't help wondering if she did that to keep from screaming the wrong name.
He crawled up the bed, then, kissing her stomach, her navel and the smooth valley between her breasts. He tried to kiss her lips, but Ellen turned her head away, still gasping for breath. John slid inside her at last and she was so ready for this, so wet, so hot inside.
"Ellen, oh, god..." he groaned as he pushed deeper and deeper into her body. He covered her neck and her cheek with kisses and she turned her head to give him her mouth.
John had held himself back for so long it took a moment to let go. He withdrew from her slowly as they kissed and thrust hard, giving in at last to his own need. He felt his orgasm build and fought to last long enough for Ellen to come one more time. He raised himself on his elbows, seeking the right angle inside her and knew he'd found it when he felt the sharp pain of her fingernails digging into his back. She climaxed, crying out wordlessly. John thrust hard, one more time, falling into orgasm like some bottomless pit of pleasure. His vision blacked out for a moment and he knew he cried something, some words, but he couldn't even hear his own voice.
After, she cuddled against his side. "Thank you," she whispered against his skin. "You have no idea how much I needed that."
"My pleasure," John answered, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
They fell asleep like that, holding each other.
It was still dark when John woke abruptly. Ellen was sound asleep, one of her arms flung across his body. John stared into the darkness wondering what woke him. Then he heard the phone ringing. Who the fuck called the Roadhouse at this hour?
John climbed out of the bed and felt around in the dark for his clothing. He found his jeans, pulled them on without underwear and hurried out to the bar. When he reached the phone it was still ringing. That wasn't really a surprise: anyone who called before dawn must be pretty serious about it.
John grabbed the phone. "Harvelle's."
"John, it's Jim."
John was no longer sleepy. "What's wrong?" he demanded, a hundred awful possibilities crowding into his head.
"Dean's sick. I don't want to panic you, but I'm taking him to the hospital."
"What? What's wrong?" Jim had said Dean was sick, not that he was hurt. Dean never got sick. Never. He'd been fine this morning.
"He's got a fever and he's in enough pain to admit to it. John, I don't believe it's serious, but I'm no doctor and it came on fast enough to worry me. I'm going to get him checked out."
John took a deep breath. "Alright. Give me the details. I'll be there as soon as I can." He started looking around for a pen.
Jim answered quickly, "John, there's no need - "
"Tell me," John insisted.
"Fine." Jim named a hospital and John scrawled on the nearest beer mat. "Okay. Tell Dean I'm on my way. Tell him that, understand me?"
"I will. He'll be okay, John."
"Is Sammy awake?"
"Did you think he'd sleep through this?"
"Put him on the phone."
John waited impatiently. He heard Sammy's voice, but not the words, followed by Jim. Then Sammy spoke into the phone. "Dad?"
"It's me, Sammy."
"Dad, Dean's really sick. I think..."
He spoke sharply, perhaps too sharply. "Sammy! Jim's told me about Dean. I'm going to get there as soon as I can. Now I need you to listen to me, okay? Are you listening?"
There was a silence. "Yes, sir."
"When you get to the hospital, the doctors are going to ask a lot of questions so they can figure out what's wrong with Dean. You need to try to remember everything you two have done for the past couple of days. Everything you've eaten. If Dean's hurt himself at all, even if it didn't seem bad. Can you do that?"
"Good. Good, Sammy. Dean's going to be okay, and I'll be there as soon as I can."
John hung up the phone.
Ellen never stirred as he dressed. He considered waking her but if he woke her to explain, and she went straight back to sleep, would she remember the conversation in the morning? John wasn't sure, and she was sleeping deeply enough that she hadn't even heard the phone.
He wrote a short message, leaving it on the pillow beside her. He had no time to leave anything but the bare facts. He kissed her forehead gently in farewell; Ellen stirred in her sleep, but didn't wake.
Ellen would be okay. She didn't need him. Most of the hunters who drank in the Roadhouse every night were her friends; Ellen didn't lack support.
His boys needed him.
The first light of dawn was creeping over the horizon as John closed the Roadhouse door quietly behind him. He tossed his things into the back of the Impala and started the engine.
John had no idea on that morning as he watched the Roadhouse shrink in his rearview mirror, that he would never return.