Title :: The Art of Living
Rating :: FR15
Fandom :: Supernatural and ‘The Return’
Disclaimer :: I do not own these characters and no profit is being made from the use of them.
Note/Spoilers :: This fic takes place a year after the movie and during the episodes, “All Hell Breaks Loose Parts I & II.” Dialogue taken from the episodes written by Sera Gamble, Eric Kripke and Michael T. Moore.
Synopsis :: Azazel discovers a child from the previous generation that survived the purging and pits her against the would-be soldiers of this generation.
With a deft flick of his wrists Sam shook out the blanket he’d found in the trunk along with the rusted blade that was currently tucked into the waist of his jeans. He shook the blanket a few more times before tucking it over his arm and heading back into the small home he and Jake had cleared and toward the back room. He found Jo still sitting motionless in the chair Jake had placed her in nearly half an hour before.
His lips thinned as he made his way forward and lifted the blanket up in the air before settling it over her shoulders. Her head rose, eyes slowly focusing on him as she straightened, her hands lifting to pull the wool blanket tighter. Sam squatted and ran his hands up and down her arms, trying to warm her as she continued to stare at him.
Her voice was soft when she finally broke the silence, “Where are the others?”
His head gaze lifted, caught hers as he continued to rub her arms. “Looking for iron, silver and salt.”
Her lips dipped in confusion. “Salt?”
He smiled as she echoed Jake’s disbelief and he gave her the same answer. “Brave new world.”
She nodded. “Guess so.”
“You gonna be okay?”
Jo’s brows rose and she straightened, rising from the chair as she tucked the blanket around herself. “I’m being useless.”
“No.” Sam’s hands rose to cup her shoulders but she resisted him when he pressed down, trying to guide her back into the chair. “Jo, you just went through a shock and—”
“And everyone else hasn’t?” She frowned. “Well maybe not you.”
His lips quirked. “I’m not like most people.”
“Who in this group is?” Jo visibly pulled herself up straighter and tilted her chin so that she could meet and keep Sam’s gaze. “Where do you want me to start looking first?”
His head inclined. “How’a’bout we look together.” Her brows rose and he raised his hands. “I’d rather we stay in groups or at least in the same buildings as one another.”
She frowned. “You were here the whole time?”
He nodded. “Ava and I searched here while you…”
Sam trailed off and Jo offered simply, “Broke down?”
“Rested,” was his quick correction.
Her lips quirked. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now let’s go find some weapons.”
They’d removed Lily’s body from the small goods shop and Jo tried her damnedest to ignore the blood stains darkening the wood in front of the back room. She turned her head, disregarded Sam’s concerned look and his vehement instance that they could skip this location in their thorough search of all the stores located in this section of the deserted town, apparently called Old Oak.
Andy had met up with them outside the barber shop where Jo had claimed a rusted folding razor that she’d slipped into her boot while Sam was talking with Andy. It wasn’t a weapon on Sam’s list, but it’s presence, along with her spring blade, made her feel a bit better about their hopeless situation. She shook her head, that wasn’t anyway to keep herself sane and focused.
Freeing a hand from beneath the blanket keeping the cold at bay she pushed her hair behind her ears and bent to study the few cans that were still left on the shelves in front of her. Her nose wrinkled as she noticed how bloated they were and quickly surmised the contents were well past their expiration dates. With a sigh she rose and made her way over to another set of shelves and repeated the process until Andy drew her attention with an excited shout.
“You guys! I found something!”
Her head lifted and Jo sighed since she couldn’t see past the highest shelf. Tightening her grip on the blanket and her sanity, she stepped away from racks and began to make her way towards the back of the store and Andy’s voice. Sam’s long stride beat hers and Jo couldn’t help but smile with the shorter man’s infectious laughter as he lifted two bags onto either of his shoulders and stated. “Salt!”
Sam’s voice took on a happier tone, obviously infected with Andy’s enthusiasm. “That’s great, Andy. Now we can all sleep easier.”
Jo’s brows rose towards her hairline. “We can?”
The taller man turned toward her. “Yeah, if we line the doors and windows with it.” His voice took on a lecturing tone as he added, “Demons can’t cross a line of salt.”
Her head inclined. “Alright.”
Sam’s brows rose as he questioned her easy acceptance, “Alright?”
She shrugged. “You’re the expert here.”
“Yeah.” He sighed, glanced at Andy as he came to stand beside him. “You know, I was just thinking how much help Dean would be right now.”
Sam turned back to Jo and answered, “My brother.”
“He knows about this stuff? Like you do?”
Sam nodded. “Oh yeah and right’a’bout now I’d give an arm for a working phone.”
“Maybe you don’t have to.” Andy’s smile widened.
The blanket had been folded, neat and even, and placed on the bench beneath the windows Ava had lined with salt earlier in the evening. Sam shifted, leaning back against one of those salt-lined windows and sighed as Jo took a seat beside him. The tension in his shoulders had tightened to just this side of painful after his ‘talk’ with Jake about not everyone here surviving. Unconsciously his focus turned to Jo as she leaned back, careful to avoid the salt line and turned her head so that their eyes met.
He’d managed to avoid asking anyone in their small group the ‘stupidest question of all time’ as Dean would put it, but at the moment he couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Are you alright?”
“About as alright as one can be I guess.” Her brows rose as she prompted, “and you?”
Her lips twisted into what Sam had decided was the closest Jo ever got to a real smile—at least in this place. “I can only imagine.” The humor left her features and she shook her head. “Scratch that. I don’t think I want to imagine worse things.”
He snorted. “Yeah, probably not a good idea.”
She shifted and reached up to unzip her jacket. The sound of the metal teeth releasing was unusually loud in the small room and Jo shrugged, letting the jacket gap open around her petite frame, revealing a ribbed tank beneath. Her hands pushed against the bench as she turned herself to face Sam fully and he frowned with the sudden and rather intense eye contact.
Her pale lips thinned before she asked, “Do we have a chance in hell at making it?”
Sam stiffened, body pulling up straight with her words and he glanced around the room, noting Andy and Ava conversing at the small table with Jake nearby them, standing guard at the only entrance to the room beside the windows. He turned back to Jo, prepared himself to placate her as best he could only to find her watching him, gaze intent and chin lifted in a slight show of defiance.
His head inclined. “The truth?”
The evenness to her tone and the steady directness of her gaze stopped Sam from giving her a bullshit response and instead he gave her the absolute truth as he knew it. “I don’t know.”
Her shoulders sagged a bit, but she nodded. “Fair enough.”
A silent moment descended over them and Sam scrambled to give them something else to focus on and he asked, rather lamely, “What do you do?”
Her head cocked and she smiled. “I’m a sales rep. for a trucking company.”
His brows rose. “You like to travel?”
She shrugged. “I tend to get restless if I stay too long in one place.”
“My brother’s the same way.”
Her chin tilted. “And you’re not?”
He shook his head. “I’d like to settle down one day,” he paused before adding, “eventually.”
“But now’s not the time?”
“No, not yet.”
She paused before shifting closer to him and Jo’s voice dipped in pitch as she asked, “Earlier today when you mentioned that we were all twenty-three…” she hesitated and Sam leaned in closer, face falling into neutral lines as he nodded, prompting her to continue. She stared at him a moment longer before asking, “Is the age significant?”
Sam paused, thinking a moment before answering. “I think so. I mean, everyone I’ve met with abilities has been twenty-three.”
Jo’s frown deepened as she offered softly, “I’m not. Twenty-three that is.”
His head cocked, brows rising. “Did you just turn twenty-four? I mean, you could be off by a few months or so—”
She interrupted him, voice urgent. “Sam, I’m twenty-six.” His eyes widened and she pushed forward before he could comment. “And I’ve been having visions since—”
“Ah-ah. I wouldn’t spill that secret just yet, sweet Annie.”
Jo’s eyes widened as Sam stiffened and suddenly pulled away from her to sag against the window behind him. His head lulled to the side, eyes falling closed and she turned her head, painfully slow, toward those sweetly drawled words. Her body went ridged with the sight of the man standing casually behind Jake and she resisted the urge to call out for the other strong-arm in their tiny group as she pushed herself to her feet and slipped a hand into the pocket of her jacket.
“That little trinket you’re reaching for won’t do much damaged but if it makes you feel better to hold it…” He trailed off and inclined his head.
She swallowed and dropped her hand, laid it weaponless and loose at her side as she glared at the creature that had shoved her life back into the nuthouse. “I’m hallucinating.”
“Or dreaming,” he smiled, “however you crazy kids describe it nowadays.”
“What do you want?”
Jo’s jaw tensed. “Go to hell.”
“Been there, done that. Not as much fun as one might think.” He motioned her with his hand, turning toward the entrance behind him. “Come on, let’s go outside. Don’t want to disturb the others do we?”
“I thought this was a dream.”
“Exactly my point.” Her brows dropped in confusion and he sighed, “Come now, sweet Annie. If I wanted you dead, you would be.”
Jo hesitated a moment, gave Sam once last glance before moving around the still conversing Ava and Andy and followed the thing from the room. Her shoulder brushed Jake’s arm and he didn’t move, didn’t react and the sides of her eyes tightened as she pushed back the tears of frustration threatening to fall and swallowed the lump, the whimper in the back of the throat. They made their way through the darkened home, over the line of salt at the front door and either they truly were in a dream or Sam had been very, very wrong about what could and could not repel a demon.
The outside was as cold as she remembered and she reached up, zipped her jacket closed and paused on the porch, waited for the demon to turn back to her before moving another inch. His hands slipped into the pockets of the jacket he wore and his head tilted back, that molted gaze directed at the starless sky above them as his breath misted on the air. He stilled, body sagging into the pose and Jo swallowed, crossing her arms around her body and resisted the urge to call out, to be the one to break the uneasy—for her—silence between them.
“Annie, come join me.”
Her nostrils flared, eyes narrowing further as she ground out. “Don’t call me that.”
His head fell forward and he turned that saffron colored gaze on her as he corrected. “But that’s who you are. You’re not Joanna Mills.” He tsk’ed her and shook his head. “You’re my Annie.”
“I’m not your anything.”
“Wrong.” He moved toward her and Jo took a step back, toward the salt-line that would do her no good and he smirked. “You’re my special one. The only one from the last generation that didn’t fizzle out.”
Her brows sloped down. “Generation,” then rose, “Sam and the others are—”
“This generation,” he interrupted and then continued, “You always were smart.”
“Why?” Her breath hitched on the question and it came out as a muffled whisper that turned his head.
“Why what, sweet Annie?”
“Why any of this?” Her voice rose, anger controlling her as she took a step forward and asked, “What could you hope to accomplish by trapping us here?”
“To figure out who’s the best and brightest.” His brows rose. “Come now, you’re telling me you hadn’t already figured that out?”
She shook her head. “What? We’re just supposed to kill each other off like some horrible real life enactment of Clue? How does that give you an army?”
“I don’t need an army.”
“They what are we?” Her brows rose. “Pawns?”
“Not you.” His head inclined and he took another step closer to the porch she stood on as he added, “And not Sam. Sammy’s my favorite, the one I’m rooting for, but the others…” he trailed off and smiled.
Green eyes widened, met molten yellow as the pieces of what Sam had said, implied fell into place with what this bastard had told her and she whispered, “Sam’s gonna be your general.”
“Give the lady a prize.”
“Then what do you need me for?”
“Once Sam accepts who and what he is, he’s gonna need someone smart, gifted to watch his back and I can’t think of anyone better, more suited for the job.” His boot slid onto the first step and he moved onto it while keeping her gaze as he finished. “Which means I need to hide you away for a little while, can’t have Jake killing you.”
Her eyes widened as she spat, “What?”
His head inclined as he corrected. “Or Ava. No need to worry about Andy though. He’s too sweet for this kinda life.” His chin dipped as he took the last to steps and added, “He’s not like us.”
“We are nothing alike.”
His eyes narrowed. “So you planned to tell Sam the whole truth just now? Every detail of who you are?”
Her gaze slid from his and past him, watched as the clouds thinned enough to bring forth the lightest shine to the wet ground as the freed moonlight caught the moisture there. She swallowed and glanced up, saw the stars begin to appear one at a time and ignored the tears that crept out of the corners of her eyes.
“My, sweet Annie.” He hushed her and lifted his hand, drew a thumb across her right cheek, smearing the wet trail. She jerked back from his touch and his hand shifted, sifting through her hair to grasp a handful at the base of her skull. Her eyes widened as he drew her closer and she reached for the spring blade.
Her eyes dried as she looked up, locked gazes with his and growled through clenched teeth. “Let go of me.”
Cold fingers wrapped around the honey horn handle and she sprang the blade before pulling it free of her pocket as his hand tightened and he jerked her head. She gritted her teeth against the slight pain and his face lowered, drawing closer as he held her immobile and stated softly and with great certainty, “Never, sunshine.”
Her stomach knotted as she plunged the thin blade into his chest, between the third and fourth rib to the left of his sternum. His molten eyes widened a moment, but then a flash of something close to pride entered that frightening gaze and Jo twisted the handle of her blade, drove it deeper. His free arm rose, knocking her arm aside and he spun them, using his grip on her hair to guide her into one of the many posts holding the porch’s roof aloft.
Her forehead stuck with a sickening crack that vibrated down into her jaw and black streamers slipped across her vision as her face fell numb. He pulled her back and she stumbled, legs useless, as he shoved her into the porch railing. She flipped over it, landing on her back in the thick mud and she blinked up at the moon as the demon made his way down the steps and towards her.
His body blocked the moonlight and Jo blinked, tried to focus through the dimming of her vision and her brows tugged together as she watched him pull her blade from his chest and drop it beside her. She attempted to shake her head to clear it and flinched at the wave of nausea that watered her mouth and she swallowed twice before managing to whisper one word, “Dreaming.”
The demon knelt, smiled down at her as he pushed at lock of hair caught in the gash he’d opened along her forehead. Her mouth tightened against the pain and his smile widened. “I did say you were dreaming and you are. I just neglected to mention the possible side effects such as cotton mouth, upset stomach and sleep walking.”
His hand twisted to draw soft knuckles across her cheek and down her jaw. It was too great an effort for her to turn her head away from his touch and her teeth clenched, her abdomen trembling as her breath shuddered out. He gripped her chin and held her still as he caught her gaze and the pinpoint that was his pupil widened, stretched and Jo felt a tug in the back of her head, along the edge of her mind and then nothing.
The sun slipped through the fractured glass of the window, spilling light across the worn blankets. It leached its way forward, up the cot and over Jo’s supine form. Crawling past her thighs and stomach to catch the metal zipper of her jacket and flash bits of light across her slack features as her chest expanded with each breath. Her brows pulled together and she turned her head and body, rolling onto her side and pushing her face into the too thin pillow.
Pain, sharp and instant speared through sleep muddled thoughts and she jerked awake, pushing herself up and onto her forearms. She blinked, vision focusing slowly as her hair spilled forward, past her shoulders to curtain her face as she stared down at the blood smeared on the pillow. Her eyes widened, breathe catching as her memories returned in a rush and she lifted a hand to probe gently at the right side of her forehead.
A hiss of pain escaped past clenched teeth as she fingered the edge of the two inch gash where her flesh had split on impact and the skin around it felt tight, swollen. She swallowed past a suddenly tight throat and carefully pulled her legs up and over the side of the bed. Her palm came to rest on the wall beside her and she used that stable support to help herself to stand. The room remained steady but the ache behind her eyes increased and she closed them, lashes pressed tight to her cheeks as she breathed past the pain and counted slowly to ten before opening them again.
The world seemed brighter, more intense and she ducked her chin, ignored the slight pain as her hair fell forward to block the sun and brushed against the wound on her forehead. She pushed off from the wall and stumbled past an upturned chair and toward the open door. Her hand caught the worn doorframe, gripped it as she tugged herself free of the room and into a narrow hall lined with framed photographs. The heavy scraping of her cowboy boots forced Jo to lift her feet, put more effort into her ability to walk, as she followed the hallway.
She ignored her nagging doubts, the silence that permeated her surroundings and the dread easing its way into her thoughts. The hand at her side clenched and she pushed herself forward, past the contents of a living room and toward the closed front door. Sunlight glinted through the windows beside it and she blinked past the sudden onslaught and hurried forward, grasping the brass knob and turned it. Spilling herself out into the open and Jo stumbled across the porch and onto the mud covered street.
Her heel dug into the malleable ground and she spun, lifting a hand to shield her eyes as she looked up and down the street for any sign of life, any sign of Sam, of Andy. Her stomach knotted as the silence remained her only companion and she broke, her voice cracking as she called out, “Sam!” She lurched forward, down the street and towards the shop the small group and holed themselves in the night before.
“Sam! Andy!” She coughed, her voice breaking as she pushed onward and shouted, “Hello? Anyone!”
Her shoulders sagged and she turned, taking several steps backwards as she called behind her, “Hello! Sam! Andy!”
The shout of her name had her spinning and her eyes widened as Sam came from one of the many shops lining the street. Her breath caught as he called her name again and hurried down the few steps that lead onto the street as another man filled the doorway he’d just vacated. A narrowed look was sent her way as Sam rushed forward and pulled her into his arms and she sagged against him, the stranger forgotten for the moment as her arms slipped around Sam’s waist and she welcomed the contact of another human being.
Sam’s arms tightened, following her example before he pulled back, held her at arms length and his intense blue-green gaze began an intent study of her. His mouth thinned as he took in the damage to her forehead and a hand rose from her arm to push at the hair blocking his view. She flinched and jerked back from the contact as his head inclined and he asked, “Did Ava do this?”
Her stomach knotted as she questioned, “Ava?” Her eyes widened, “He said she’d kill me. Or Jake.”
Sam’s head cocked. “Who said?”
“There was a man,” she shook her head and corrected, “not a man. He had yellow eyes and he felt…he felt wrong.”
Sam’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth, but another voice cut through their conversation, cut through the moment of understanding and had Sam pulling back from her completely.
“Sammy?” Her tall savior turned, stepped aside so that Jo could see the other man, see the tension in his stubble-covered jaw and the mistrust thinning his mouth. “Who’s your friend?”
“Dean,” Sam paused turned back to Jo and caught her arm, pulled her forward and closer to him in the same movement. “Dean, this Jo. She was brought here with the others.”
“Was she?” Hazel-flecked eyes narrowed further and Jo resisted the urge to take a step back or into Sam, instead her spine stiffened and she met his glare with one of her own. Dean’s head inclined and a smirk twisted his features as he strolled forward, closer to them. “I thought you said only one of you could win?”
Sam shrugged. “They left me for dead.”
“Right.” Dean turned his focus on Jo as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Is that what happened? They left you for dead.”
She shook her head and winced when her hair caught on the gash. With an annoyed push of her hand she tucked the loose strands behind her ears and lifted her chin. “No. The demon,” Jo glanced up at Sam to confirm the right title and he nodded, she continued, “the demon lured me outside. He attacked and the next thing I know I’m waking up and it’s dawn.”
“So what you’re sayin’ is that Yellow Eyes just whisked you away and kept you outta harms way.”
Her eyes narrowed at the disbelief lace through Dean’s words and she answered his unasked question with a simple, “Yes.”
Her jaw tensed, chin lifting as she looked up at Sam before answering his question with a lie. “I don’t know.”
She turned back to Dean. “Go to hell.”
A muscle in his jaw twitched with her order and he took a step forward and Sam moved to intercede. He caught his brother’s arm and they spun, moving several away feet as their voices dipped into harsh whispers and Jo ignored them, ignored her own shortcomings and her shoulders sagged as the weight of everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours came to settle there. Her brows sloped and she glanced around the area, gaze flitting across each building before her stomach knotted.
“Guys?” They ignored her and she sighed, stepping forward and trying again. “Guys! Hey!” They jerked apart and Jo’s gaze settled on Sam. “Where’s Andy?”
Her throat tightened with the pained look Sam was giving her and she took a step back, arms coming up to wrap tight around her waist as a whispered, “No,” escaped her.
“Jo.” Sam took a step forward, toward her and hesitated before stating. “Ava used the Acheri to kill him.”
Jo blinked, frowned. “The what?”
Sam’s head inclined before understanding dawned and he explained, “The demon that killed Lily. It was being controlled by Ava.”
“Ava could control demons?”
Dean arched a brow. “Yeah, you crazy kids have all sorts of powers.” His eyes narrowed, “What’s yours?”
He glanced at Sam, “What? I think I should know at least that much about her.”
“Give it a rest. I trust her, alright.”
“Like you trusted Ava?”
Sam’s jaw tensed and Jo’s eyes narrowed and she brought a hand up to her mouth, slipping her thumb and forefinger between her lips and flattened her tongue before giving a shrill whistle that broke the brothers apart. They spun, giving her their full attention and she shook her head. “Thank you, Sam and Dean, I get visions.”
Dean snorted, “Like Ava.”
Jo cut through Sam’s protest and stated, “Yes, like Ava. But unlike her I can’t control demons.”
His head cocked and Dean took a step forward, past Sam and within touching distance of the small brunette. “Ever tried?”
Her brows pulled together. “Excuse me?”
“How do you know if you haven’t tried?”
“Dean, shut up!”
Dean spun back to Sam, careful to avoid giving Jo his back as anger spilled into his voice. “No! Every time you trust one of these people they turn on you! They try’n kill you! How many times I gotta save your ass before you figure that out?”
Sam’s eyes narrowed as he retorted, “I’m one of these people, Dean. Whether you like it or not. I am one of them and if I’m not going dark side then maybe there’s a chance…”
He trailed off and Jo’s shoulders sagged, exhaustion slipping in to replace her fear and she turned, addressed Dean. “Are you going to kill me?”
Sam’s head jerked towards her. “No!”
Her gaze never left Dean as Jo lifted her brows. “I’m not asking you, Sam. I’m asking your brother.” Her head cocked. “Are you going to kill me or not?” She watched his jaw tense, but he remained silent and she sighed. “Okay, then. Can we please leave now?”