She finds them in Tulsa, sleek black car in the parking lot, knocks on their door and hears Dean say, pizza's here, and the look on his face when he opens the door is gorgeous and priceless and strange, like surprise and annoyance and fear, like maybe he thinks she brought her mom, too.
What is it, Sam says. Jo, Dean says, and he steps back to let her in.
Does your mom know you're here, he asks, and she thinks she might laugh, but she only shakes her head.
No, she says. She doesn't, and it's a lie, and they all know it.
Why, Sam says.
Wanted to see the country, she says, and there's a new, hard edge in her voice, sounds like fuck you and please at the same time.
Dean smirks. This is a really bad way to do that, he says. But.
She stays the night. Sleeps, pretends to sleep, on the couch and hears them talking outside by the window. Loud over the air-conditioner whir. Send her back, let her stay, knock her out and tie her up and take her home, and they're both arguing the same side, and she doesn't know why they can't see that.
They don't say anything about it, later. They don't tell her to leave, which she thinks is probably permission to stay.
She doesn't ask. She's never liked to ask, for anything.
Two weeks later, she reads about it in the paper. The roadhouse burns down and there's two bodies in the ruins. Arson or gas leak. There's going to be an investigation. She doesn't cry. She's had enough of that. She thinks. Until it's night and Sam and Dean are watching television and she's in the shower with the water turned up hot as she can stand.
They treat her carefully after that, like she's going to break, and it pisses her off. She's not -- she's more than that.
If there's a fight, she's gonna be in it.
She relearns everything, wildness and guns and holy water. She sits in the backseat, puts her feet up between them and watches towns go by out the window. Sam and Dean talk, argue about music and childhood and everything, and she listens, sometimes, and other times she doesn't. She wears jeans and black t-shirts and she looks like them.
Blood under her nails and sometimes she can't remember a time when this wasn't her life, when this wasn't everything.
One grey motel room after another.
She and Sam buy battered second-hand novels and trade off, writing notes to each other in the margins. Dean makes fun of both of them and reads the newspaper and looks at her over the local section. Sections. All of them, across the country.
They play poker and she wins. You cheated, Dean says. So did you, she says, and Sam grins at both of them, and she punches Dean in the face. His blood on her hand, but he wins, this time. Stands over her. Play to your strengths, he says, and then he offers her a hand up.
She kicks him, but he's expecting that, and Sam tells them to declare a truce before somebody gets killed. By which he means her, but he's too much a gentleman to say it.
Their dad got her dad killed. They're beyond that, now. Don't talk about it, ever. But she thinks maybe that's why they let her stay.
There are radio towers at night, big red lights miles away. She feels watched. They pull off the road, too far from anywhere, and they sleep in the backseat, close for warmth, Dean's jacket around her shoulders. Wakes in the pale hours of morning with Dean's head on her shoulder and Sam's hand over hers, and she stays awake for hours, thinking about inevitability.
College, Psych 101 and classes and boyfriends, is distant, impossible. She doesn't think about it much. A freak with a knife collection.
Sam and Dean drink whiskey together in bars and she watches them and wants what they have. Somebody else. Closer than skin, burned into blood. All three of them drink beer together in bad motel rooms and they make fun of bad tv shows. They get drunk and fall laughing into bed, mess of hands and mouths and bodies. Wake up and don't talk about it. There are always boundaries. Always rules.
There are months and miles, and there is fire. They are held together with needle and thread, stitch each other up and pray, let this be, let us be.
Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't. Hands tight on his chest like it'll keep the blood in, keep him alive.
There are long nights in hospital halls, and they say each other's names, look at her with something like resentment, and she turns away. The way they look for each other upon waking. She walks up and down empty halls, boots ringing across the tile, thinking about nothing at all.
It is her birthday in May. She doesn't say anything. They drink coffee together and it rains, water onto dust. Dean gives her a knife, you call that a collection? he says, and Sam gives her a book with somebody else's name in it and it would work if your name were Mindy, he says. Looks at her solemnly until she laughs.
It sounds like heartbreak.
They're dirty, road-torn and exhausted. Dean kisses her gently and Sam kisses her hard and she's dizzy, can't breathe. And then there is no more gentleness, there's only skin, flesh and blood and she doesn't cry. Doesn't cry out. Lets big hands part her thighs as her fingers catch on zippers, and later she thinks that they're all the same, now.
Teeth against bone. Dean inside her. There are bruises like the aurora over Sam's heart.
Presses her fingers to the scars across Dean's stomach, the long silver line the length of Sam's back. Hard. Mouth on the side of her neck, Sam's, and the color of Dean's eyes makes her want to die. Green like spring and never-will-be.
She grabs a t-shirt from the floor on her way to the shower. The hem brushes her thighs, it's one of theirs. She doesn't know whose.
Jo, Sam says, and she looks at him over her shoulder.
Don't say you're sorry, she says. Best thing that ever happened to me.
Dean laughs, but it's bitter and weary. She bites her lip, bites back a laugh or tears or whatever the hell this is. Closes the door behind her. Cool wood against her back. Rush of heat in her throat.
She feels ancient and knows it's a lie. None of them are going to grow old. She can feel it in her bones.
There are stories on her body, happiness and dreams and all that could, all that should. They love her and she loves them, she knows that now, this shaking thing under her skin, and she knows that love is everything, and is overrated.
Sam is still Dean's first priority, and vice versa, but she thinks that maybe she belongs. Here.
She misses her mother. An ache in her chest, flares bright and vivid and true. Misses Ash and circuitry and he was going to teach her to run through firewalls, teach her to read the sky.
The sun is rising, when she goes back to them, Dean and Sam. The horizon is turning purple, like the end of the world. When she closes her eyes, she feels like she's already dead, and it tastes like sorrow, and it tastes like them, and she wants to go home.