In NaNo news, I was being such a punk about this story over my Thanksgiving break, getting all whiny about how I didn't want to keep going with it since there were five other stories I kept having ideas for (Ben/Dean scenes eleven and twelve, the long childhood AU, the Taming of the Shrew/10 Things I Hate About You homage, and the apocasmut fic). But! You guys have been so generous with your comments and made the story sound so much smarter than it seemed when it was only in my head, and just now I looked at my outline and realized I only have six major points left to hit, so now finishing this rough draft seems much more plausible. Thank you so much for all of your encouragement!
There's no room behind the door Jo swings open, just two staircases, a spiral one that ascends to the second floor, and a wide, well-worn straight one that tracks a path to the basement storage. She hesitates for a moment, evidently choosing the direction in which to take him, and turns to look back at the bar; he wasn't expecting the move and ends up with her pretty much in his arms. What she smells like is roses, with some other fragrance that doesn't quite blend on top - something musky, smoky the way bars used to smell when he was growing up in them.
She chooses to lead him up. The apartment above the bar is airy and would be bright in the daytime, large windows taking up a good percentage of the wall space and sucking out nearly all of the heat in the place. It's a railroad-style place, the kind he remembers living in when they hit Iowa the year he turned eleven, one room leading into another in an unbroken chain. He tosses the towel onto the bathroom floor as they pass it and merely dumps his duffel bag when she points to a chair in what must pass for a living room; he can see a gleaming brass bed through the doorway, shielded by the half-closed door and with pillows and sheets and blankets heaped up in disorderly mounds.
The apartment itself smells like her perfume or lotion, that rose scent again, and this time when he looks around, he sees the knickknacks, the photographs that make this place her home. "Sit," she says, raising her eyebrows in challenge, and he meets her eyes deliberately, letting her know that he's figured out she isn't prompted by hospitality.
"Because there's a devil's trap painted underneath this fake Oriental rug and you want to make doubly sure?"
She smiles, revealing large and pointed teeth. "Do it."
He sits and makes a big production of squirming around on the couch to get comfortable; he drapes his arms across the back of the sofa and puts his feet up on the battered trunk that doubles as a coffee table. She waits, uncrossing her arms and keeping her hands in loose fists, ready to snatch up a weapon or two, watching him closely. When he fishes out the throw pillow that's bunched up uncomfortably against his spine and tosses it to the other end of the couch, he can see the devil's trap embroidered on one side of the pillow's cotton cover; he grins up at her but she doesn't relax. "Not a demon, check. There's a whole lot of other things you could be. What's my middle name?"
"Is that something you really think I would know?" he scoffs. "I didn't even know you'd gotten married. Where is he, anyway?"
"He's dead," Jo says, straight to the point. That at least hasn't changed, and that's the one thing that he'd always thought would pull Dean toward her. He doesn't hear pain in her voice, let alone the kind of can I actually get it together enough to breathe? agony he'd felt when he'd fought Dean's protective arms as he watched Jess go up in flames. Jo is just matter-of-fact, like being a widow is as easy as being a wife, and that rubs him the wrong way.
"So you're all alone, still on the lookout for hunts, and working in a bar. Wow. Time flies."
"Real nice. You must be Sam; no one else thinks it's cute to be such a bitch." She turns away, heading back to the kitchen to fish a bottle of Sprite out of the fridge. She pops the top off and her ring flashes. It's large, extending from knuckle to knuckle, but thin, filigree letting flesh peek through the silver. For however long she's been a widow, she's still wearing her husband's ring, and he feels like a shithead.
"I'm sorry," he says, meaning it. She nods, shrugs it off like it's no big deal, and he remembers that too, the way she'd pretend to dismiss what had hurt her, trying so hard to mimic a hunter's shell. "Can I?" he asks, pointing at her soda.
"Yeah." She waits for him to come back to the couch and finally sits down next to him. Her eyes are fixed on something behind him, and he swivels to find a wedding portrait, Jo in a pretty white dress, no frills or lace, smiling out at the camera like she'd never known heartache, and her husband - a broad-shouldered guy with short blond hair - smiling down at her. When he turns back, her eyes are on him. "That's Sean," she says quietly, rolling her bottle of soda between her palms, letting it click against her ring on each pass.
Her gaze drifts back up to the photograph. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He'd gone over to the bank to deposit the cash the bar had made that week and there was a robbery going on." She doesn't say a word about him dying a hero; from the way she's looking at his picture, it's clear she doesn't need to. "That's what happened. What happened to you?"
He fixes his eyes on the lipstick stain around the mouth of her bottle, keeping her hands - now more of a giveaway with her than her face - in his line of sight. If she really hasn't talked to Ellen since she ran off before they killed the Yellow-Eyed Demon, then she won't have heard about Dean's deal, the way he broke it and saved his big brother, or his persona non grata status within the splintered hunting community. The best thing to do is to make an appeal. "It's Dean. He disappeared hunting some weird fae, some kind of offshoot nobody has any solid information about."
Sure enough, one of her hands tightens around the bottle. The fingers of the other drum briefly against her knee. "Fae." Her voice has gone flat and untrusting again. "And you came to me."
"I got the name 'Joe Connor' mentioned as someone who knew about all kinds of supernatural things. I had no idea that was you, Jo. And I still have no clue why fae in particular are getting you upset."
She gets to her feet and sets down her bottle in one smooth movement. "It's not me you want to talk to, if you're dealing with fae. It's Rob." He twists to watch her make her way over to the front door; she throws it open and there's a guy standing right there, shamelessly eavesdropping. "Sam, this is Rob."