Just a few more minutes. That's all it would take. A few more minutes of the pain in her cramped legs, the ache in her back, the stench of death all around her and Jo would be able to move. She counted the seconds until dawn, eyes wide in the dark of the wardrobe. God, she hoped the myths surrounding this place were true or she was fucked.
There were footsteps downstairs. Jo stiffened as the soft tap grew louder and then, of course, a creak on the stairs. No one knew Jo had planned to come to this place, and ghosts didn't wear shoes.
The sun would be up in a minute and a half, more or less, and Jo would be safe but what would she find outside the heavy oak doors of the wardrobe instead of the crowd of ghosts? Her pulse was thick and fast in her ears and she could hardly breathe. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she moved her arm and it brushed against a thick fur coat, decades old and dusty. The movement made the wardrobe creak and groan and then: silence. The footsteps had stopped.
Another minute and Jo would be safe. Whatever it was moving about out there, Jo didn't want to meet it; the ghosts were strong and numerous and whatever could walk so freely through them had to be even fiercer.
This was rapidly turning into the worst night ever.
"Hello?" a voice called out from not too far away. It wasn't the voice of an evil hell beast but then, it was difficult to tell. The voice might sound quiet and unassuming but Jo could open the door and be stared down by jet black eyes. "Is anyone there?"
Dawn must have broken by now. The ghosts would have gone and every muscle in Jo's body felt cramped and screamed to move, but she didn't dare.
A few seconds later, the door was pulled open and a gun held an inch from her face. "Who are you?"
"Hey, wait, just... let me out," Jo said. Her throat was dry and her voice rasped but the eyes on the stranger weren't black. It didn't mean Jo was out of danger, but it was good enough right now.
The woman hesitated for a moment and Jo wondered, as she always wondered when staring down the barrel of a gun, whether this was it. Whether she would ever see her mom again, whether they'd find her body, whether they'd burn it. At this point the thought had become stale and Jo studied the backlit woman, with her long red hair and her softly angular face, and she waited with a calm born of exhaustion until the woman lowered the gun and took a slow step back.
Jo unfolded herself from the cramped space and her knees buckled beneath her. She would have hit the floor face first if a hand hadn't caught her halfway down, strong grip keeping her muscles from committing further mutiny.
"You've been in there a while, huh?" the woman asked and Jo wanted to punch her for the amusement lacing her tone. "What's your name?"
"Jo," she replied before she could stop herself. She was concentrating too hard on straightening up to think. "Who are you?"
"My name's Anna." There was a pause, and Jo realised the woman was looking at the discarded salt can on the floor, the half-finished sigils scrawled beside it. "You're a hunter."
"What else would I be doing in a goddamn house?" Jo snapped.
"You're Joanna Harvelle," Anna said. It wasn't even close to a question. At Jo's sharp look, Anna shrugged and glanced away. "I know Dean Winchester. He mentioned you."
Well now Jo knew this woman was lying, so she picked up the salt and the pen and put them in her bag, then made her slow and creaky escape. Footsteps followed a pace behind, and strong hands were there to catch her when she stumbled on the stairs.
Jo had no idea how Anna got to this remote house in the middle of the forest since the only car out the front was Jo's own. "What were you doing here?" Jo asked when Anna stayed at her side all the way to the car.
"Stopping the ghosts," Anna said. She wiped dust from her hands down her jeans and smiled faintly. "The same as you, although I had a little more success."
"No way." Jo stopped in her tracks and looked back at the rickety old house. Perhaps it was the ochre light of dawn, but the house seemed lighter, like a load had been pulled from its shoulders. It didn't seem so heavy and creepy. "You couldn't have done that alone. There were like twenty of them."
"Twenty-four," Anna said, "and yes, I did it alone."
"What was it, a mass grave or something?"
Anna shook her head and looked back at the house herself, frown in place. Before Jo could press her for an answer, Anna opened the door to the driver's seat of Jo's car.
"What the hell, you're not fucking taking my car." Jo dodged between Anna and the open door, arm at her belt where she'd slid her gun. Anna didn't flinch and didn't step back, either, but Jo wasn't about to be stranded here in the middle of nowhere without a fight. "Get away from me."
"I'm not taking your car," she said. "I'm driving you back to town. You haven't slept for over twenty-four hours."
"How do you know that?" Jo asked.
Anna shrugged. "You look like you're about to pass out."
Okay, so maybe Anna had a point. Jo's head was swimming in a thick fog, clouding up her thoughts and slowing down her reactions. She hadn't been able to sleep in the wardrobe, not with all the ghosts lurking on the other side, not when she knew what would be waiting for her if she knocked the door open. Even with her head thumping she hadn't closed her eyes for more than a second for the entire night, and it had taken most of the day to drive out there before that.
"I don't even know you," Jo said, because that was the important thing here. The thing she had to remember even when she felt like giving in and taking a nap in the backseat while Anna took charge. No way would a hunter be so dumb as to let a stranger stay in their presence while they slept.
Anna sighed sharply and looked up towards the sky. Jo wondered for a moment what she was seeing before fingertips touched light against her forehead and the world spun into black.
The sun was high in the sky when Jo opened her eyes and flinched at the bright light. Her mouth was dry and her stomach was cramped with hunger but she felt better for the rest. She could hear the rumble of cars but it felt too far away and as she began to focus, she realised she was in a motel room with walls as blue as the sky and beneath her, sheets as blue as the tropical sea. The floor was sand-coloured and there were starfish painted on the lampshades. Jo groaned and forced herself up to stand on her aching legs.
"You don't have to be afraid," Anna said from across the room.
Jo could have sworn she hadn't been there a second before. "That's usually a lie."
Anna smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Not this time," she said. "I brought you food."
Sure enough, Anna held a paper bag and the smell of warm croissants rose from it. Jo took the bag but though she looked inside, she didn't eat it right away.
The woman sensed her hesitation. "Don't worry. I'll take you back to your car in a little while."
"What?" Jo said blearily. As far as she was concerned, she might be weakened from a bad couple of days but she could sure as hell make it out to the parking lot. When Anna just smiled a little wider, Jo huffed irritably and headed for the door. "I don't know who you are but I am out of here."
"Your car isn't out there," Anna said. "Sorry, I couldn't carry you in past front desk unconscious."
"It's your fault I was unconscious in the first place."
Anna raised her eyebrows. "No, Jo. You passed out from exhaustion."
This whole situation was starting to mess with Jo's head. She pressed her palm to her forehead and clenched her eyes shut for a second, willing away the haze but when she looked up, nothing made any more sense than it had before. "Where's my car?"
"It's still at the house."
"That's impossible." Jo opened the door and froze. This wasn't a motel; at least, none that could have been anywhere near central Montana. The door opened into a hallway with plush pale yellow carpet and a window that took up most of the wall. The view was incredible: it was the most beautiful beach Jo had ever seen, curving miles into the distance with bright clean sand and clear blue waves. There were a few people walking along the shore but on the whole it was empty. It had to be an illusion so Jo pushed open a smaller window to her side, only to feel the cool sea breeze on her face, joined by the settled scent of salt water. She slammed the window shut to the sound of seagulls screeching.
"I'm sorry. I had to make sure you didn't run before I got the chance to talk to you. I'm not going to hurt you," Anna said, "and I know you don't believe that but it's true. I just need to talk to you."
Jo stepped back into the room where at least the sun wasn't burning through her skull. "Where are we?"
"The south of France," Anna said quietly. "Shut the door, please. I need your help."
Anna wouldn't say much. Jo would hardly have been able to hear it anyway with the raucous thump of her pulse. All Jo could gather that was Anna wasn't human but she wasn't a demon, either, and she needed Jo's help in lifting a spell.
"Someone cursed a part of me," she had said. "It's something that makes me what I am. I didn't have it for a while and now that I've got it back, it's cursed. If I don't fix it, it could die. I'd die with it."
Jo had been sceptical at first. "Then why don't you do it yourself?"
"I can't. My kind can't do magic," Anna had replied carefully. "Uriel must have had some human do it without realising what they were doing. I won't believe that anyone would poison someone's grace with full knowledge of what they were doing."
Anna must have been pretty naive to think that; Jo knew that people would do almost anything for a quick buck and whatever 'poisoning someone's grace' meant Jo would bet there'd be dozens out there willing to do it for the smallest reward.
Jo had agreed to help eventually, if only because her mom would be getting worried. There didn't seem to be another way out of this, especially since Jo didn't even have a passport.
So now she was sitting in the middle of the sandy carpet, silver candle in her hand. She stayed still with her eyes closed as promised as Anna kneeled over her, marking her with greasy silver oil. She'd shown Jo the symbols before she started and Jo had recognised a couple of them; they weren't anything particularly malicious and seemed to go with what Anna had said. Some of the others seemed older, more laced with meanings Jo couldn't touch, and those were the ones that worried her. One on Jo's forehead, two on each hand, one on the nape of her neck below her hair; each symbol meant something for this spell and each one felt cool and soft against her skin.
This was a trap. It had to be a trap but Jo had no choice. Ignoring the sharp urge to run, Jo took steadying breaths and waited.
Anna hadn't flinched at Christ's name and she hadn't reacted to the holy water in the coffee they'd shared so Jo didn't expect black eyes but whatever Anna was, Jo was apprehensive. She was already trusting Anna more than she would have expected but something about it felt right, like this was supposed to happen. Jo was calm in the face of the unknown for once in her life.
"I can be your voice," Anna said, though Jo was sure she hadn't seen her lips move. "Stay calm and this will work. It will forever bind my grace to my soul."
"I don't know what to do," Jo said desperately.
But Anna leaned forward and took her hands, holding tight with soft fingers. "Stay calm. No matter what happens, you won't get hurt. I won't let you get hurt."
The temperature in the room lifted from comfortable to hot in seconds and after a few long silent moments, Jo felt a line of sweat slide from her forehead. Still she didn't move. When Anna began to speak Jo watched her lips curve around sounds Jo had never heard before, forming a language so beyond the realm of human that Jo knew it should be shocking but instead, it felt familiar. It brushed up against Jo's soul and left her calmer than she had felt in her life.
In contrast to the heat of the room, the symbols drawn across Jo's body cooled, feeling crisp against her skin. Anna's hands on her own gripped more tightly and Jo gasped to feel the same coolness from Anna's skin, cold as ice for a long moment before both the symbols and the skin began to warm.
When Anna stopped talking, Jo could hardly breathe. Her head spun and distantly, she heard Anna asking if she was all right, but her own tongue wouldn't move in response. She slumped back and found Anna suddenly behind her, arms wrapped around Jo's waist.
"It can be overwhelming," Anna said against her ear. "You'll be okay in a moment."
When Jo came round the second time, she was on the bed once more, but this time she felt completely relaxed and utterly boneless, not an ounce of tension in her body. She felt warm and sluggish; lifting her hand to brush her sweat-limp hair from her face was a lot of effort. Something caught her hand and despite the fatigue, Jo snapped her wrist back quickly and sat up, already halfway off the bed before she realised it was just Anna.
Jo knew the translucent glow had to be coming through the netted window, but it almost looked as though it was emanating from Anna herself, effervescent sparks of pure light. Anna was smiling. "Calm down. It's done. I can take you back now."
"What are you?" Jo asked, but it was no longer accusatory. She wanted to know and she wanted to understand what creature could seem so strange and strong. Anna looked down. Jo didn't really expect an answer but the silence still settled uncomfortably within her and after a second, she tried another route. "Why me?"
Anna didn't look up. "I know who you are. Your name is Joanna Beth Harvelle and you're a hunter. I knew I could trust you because I could see your soul. I still can." Her bright eyes lifted and Jo felt a flicker of something strange deep inside her. When Anna's hand touched her own, it ignited. "The spell... it could never have been anyone but you. You're bound to me."
It should have made Jo angry to hear something so blatantly untrue and manipulative, but it didn't. It made that strange something inside her jump. "What do you mean?"
"Most of my kind needs a human to carry them on Earth," Anna said, "kind of like possession except we need permission. I have my own body – it's a long story – but if I didn't, it would be you. I've been looking for you to do this spell."
"Okay. That's really creepy," Jo said eventually. "You know that, right? I think you should take me back now."
"Don't you feel it?" Anna whispered. She leaned closer to where Jo was kneeling near the edge of the bed and Jo didn't stop her, not even when lips met her own and hands that were too strong for human bones pushed her carefully onto her back. Jo didn't stop her, not even when Anna peeled back her layers and left her a shivering, helpless mess on foreign sheets, under a foreign sky.
Jo closed her eyes and tipped back her head as Anna's clever mouth tore the second orgasm in fifteen minutes from deep inside her. Her jeans were tangled around her ankles and her skin shone with sweat and Jo had never felt so divine in her life. She twitched when Anna licked at her again and tried to push her away, the sensations only just this side of painful. "Stop. Anna, it's too much."
For a moment, it looked like Anna wouldn't. Her gaze was unfocused and her red hair fell against moon-pale skin; she was naked, all thin lines and angles, and Jo couldn't remember Anna undressing. After a moment, Anna pulled back with a distant sigh.
"It's my turn anyway," Anna said. Jo could tell this was a woman used to giving orders because those small words were full of power and certainty and sure enough, she crawled over Jo with knees straddling her hips, their hot skin slipping against each other. "Give me your hand."
Anna's fingers enclosed her wrist and guided her between them and Jo gasped as her fingers met wetness. "I've never-" she started.
"I know," Anna said. She directed Jo's hand in small movements and in no time at all, Anna was rocking her hips into the touch, mouth dropped open. Jo caught the tempting lips in a kiss and swallowed down the moans as Anna shuddered against her.
When she was done, Anna sat up and stretched her arms above her head. The light shone from her once more and Jo couldn't look away, couldn't even blink.
And even after Anna lay at her side, sated and smiling, Jo couldn't leave. When she tried, Anna caught her and pressed a hand against her chest until she lay flat once more. "That was only lesson one," Anna whispered in her ear.
Jo found she didn't mind staying here for a while longer.
It was hours before Anna returned Jo to the car in the cold woods with a kiss and not a word of explanation.
The second before Anna left, Jo could have sworn she had seen wings.