Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: Because I don't hate Jo. I just think she's young and confused and naive. And furthermore, I thought it might be interesting to explore why she is the way she is, and how she might be able to grow into something more.
"What do you say, Baby Girl?" he'd asked her once, when she was still so small he could easily tip and twirl her about, swing her far off the ground by her knobby little ankles. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
She'd gasped and giggled, moving through the air like a pendulum, long blond hair brushing its tips over the newly green grass. The world slipped and swayed this way and that, earth and sky switching places, edges blurring together as blood rushed to her head.
"A monkey!" she yelped, small and sturdy hands reaching up to her father's knee. Twisting, bending, arching, climbing his torso like a tree until, his fingers still laced around her ankles, she'd righted herself in his arms, looping her own around his neck, two matching mile-wide smiles gleaming back at one another.
"More like a circus performer," her mother chimed from behind, face lit with the joy that only came when he'd returned home, safe and sound, from one of his many hunts.
"Yeah, yeah," she screamed and laughed, letting go, falling back towards the barely thawed ground, head first, content in the knowledge that she could never be hurt when in her father's ever capable hands.
Years later, when she sat at home, head propped lazily on her fisted hand, looming over the blank papers spread across the kitchen table, her father asked her once more, "What do you want to be?"
It was a task assigned to her days before, write an essay telling the teacher what it is you want to be when you grow up. She didn't know and didn't really care, and didn't even begin to contemplate it until the last minute, the night before it was due. The night before her father was set to leave. Again.
"Jo-Jo," he said, in that 'straighten up and focus' way of his. And she did, dropping her elbow from the table, forcing her spine into alignment along the hard back of the chair.
"Why do you have to go?" she asked in a voice too whiny even for the second grader that she was. "Why are you always leaving?"
He dropped his eyes and ducked his head, shaking it, annoyed and saddened at the prospect of having this conversation yet again. "It's my job, Baby," he said, voice steady, words clear and concise, sharpened from years of practice.
She picked up her pencil, twirled it absently between her fingers, bouncing it from knuckle to knuckle as she'd seen her father do so many times before, with his favorite knife. When he was lost in thought, busy working. When he was practicing avoiding.
He grabbed the pencil mid-turn, stilling her hand with his own much larger one. "It's my job," he said again, slower, more pressing, eyes locking firmly onto hers.
"It's a stupid job," she hissed, leaning into him, a mixture of truth and pure insolence leadening her voice.
And how could he argue with that?
He slipped his hand from hers, letting the felled pencil rise once more between her newly lean fingers, resuming its bounding. "So my job sucks," he said with a sigh. Then, tapping one thick fingertip on the still blank paper in front of her, he said, "Pick one that doesn't."
"Fine," she snapped. "I wanna be a bartender like Mama. A business owner. Cause her job's not stupid like yours. She doesn't always leave. Like you." Anger and disdain dripped from her lips as she oozed a rare and fleeting hatred from every open pore. It was the kind of hatred that only rose up inside of her when he began to pack, prepared to leave. Again. It slid off of her like sweat, permeating the room, so thick in the air that he could almost taste it. Almost choke on it.
As usual though, he kept his voice steady, feelings under wraps. "I think your mom's great. I think if you wanted to be like her, that'd be great." The chair scraped harshly along the hardwood floor as he scooted out and stood. "But," he started, voice lighter and more sincere, "I think it'd be even better if you did something you wanted to do. Be yourself. Not her. Not me."
"I wouldn't want to be like you anyway," she yelled after him, his footsteps echoing through the hall.
She would never hear those footsteps again.
Ten years later, when she, for her mother's sake really, tried the whole 'college thing', packed up and shipped out for the instate university just hours away, Ellen beaming proudly in the rearview mirror, her father's final words to her flitted briefly through her subconscious.
But without him there to help, without his steady voice to guide her – Never talk to strangers, he'd said, especially any of these guys, arm sweeping over the busy Roadhouse. Always follow your instincts, go with your gut. Be careful climbing those trees, Jo-Jo, you're not really a monkey. Don't eat mud, it's hell to get out of your teeth. – or his strong hands to cling tightly to her, making silent assurances that she would not fall, he'd never let her fall, she simply didn't know how.
And slowly, over the initial months of dull coursework and inane peer interaction, his words began to fade. Just as the sound of his footsteps had done a decade before. And all that was left, on a steady stream of repeat, flowing endlessly through her mind in all their guilt-inducing clarity, were her own final words to him.
I wouldn't want to be like you anyway.
The truth and a lie all wrapped into one.
She returned home for Christmas that year, one long and tedious semester under her belt, and stood tall and firm in front of her mother as she said, "I'm not going back. I've decided. It just isn't for me." Though somewhere in the back of her head she was questioning that final statement even as it slipped from her lips.
Because how can you know what is or is not for you when you don't even have a clue who you are?
And Ellen let her stay, put her right to work, making no secret of just how angry and disappointed she was. Making every attempt to hide how gleeful, near giddy, she'd become when seeing her daughter's face every morning once again.
She worked among the hunters, the same ones that had surrounded her throughout most of her life, and newer, different faces, always coming and going, drifting in and out of her days.
She'd listen intently as they regaled her with stories. The knight in shining armor replaced by the truck driving, grungy hunter. The evil, fire-breathing dragon becoming something equally as mythical, unimaginable. But real. A poltergeist, a werewolf. A demon.
She would listen from afar, when edged out of their conversations, attempts at trumping battle bragging giving way to serious, life-depending shoptalk. She'd eavesdrop, a skill perfected years before when straining to hear the low rumbles from her parents' room, discussing the previous hunt. Planning for the next.
And she noticed, as the days turned into weeks, to months, to years, how many of the new faces that walked through their doors everyday were beginning to resemble her. In age. In upbringing, falling into some sort of absurd family business. In quandary, being lost in the world outside, among the 'normals'. Feeling only a bit less like a freak, and comfortingly so, when surrounded by fellow hunters. Men who knew how the unreal world worked. Men who'd save the day for those who had no idea, no ability, to save themselves. Men who held on tight, never letting go of what was important.
The more distant she grew from herself, the further away she fell from the possibility of ever knowing who she really was outside of Harvelle's girl, or who she was ever meant to be, the closer she dove into these men.
Eavesdropping while serving up shot after shot. Dutifully swooning, even in the asinine fashion they'd come to expect, over exaggerated war stories, all while handing out rounds of beer. Constantly brushing off the hands that offered up the wrong touch, the stiff and grimy feel of sex-deprived fingers snaking along her ass. And endlessly giving in to the right touch. The soft and safe and ever fleeting grasp of a man whom simply knew. Knew what it was like, not just to hunt. But to know.
The fear. The pain. The loss.
It only took one look for her to know that he was one of those men. One quick and surreptitious glance at his hands – strong and sturdy – for her to see. He was the kind of man who could hold on tight, never let her fall.
It wasn't until after her mother told her the truth about her father's death, that she realized the truth once and for all.
John Winchester was to blame. Not because he outright killed her dad, or was too terribly negligent with him. But because he simply failed to live up to the hype. Because he was not, according to her father and her mother, and every other man or woman who'd heard his name and spoken of him in her presence, one of the foolish adrenaline junkies who fancied themselves to be some sort of ghost buster. He was a true hunter, one who knew. About hard work and perseverance. About love and loss. About holding on tight, never letting someone slip between your fingers.
Only he did. He let her father fall. And in so doing, she was dropped as well.
She marched out of the Roadhouse, anger and unshed tears blurring her vision. Anger at John for not keeping her father safe. Anger at her dad for trusting this man whom let him down so harshly. Anger at herself for being just as blind and naïve as he had been, relying so heavily on someone else to show the way. And catch her should she fall.
And she saw Dean, heard him call her name, and felt that fury rise, burn a deep blush into her cheeks. Because he had seemed as good and right and real as his father. As strong and sturdy and trustworthy as her own. But he too had failed, losing his dad, letting go just as she had done all those years before. Just as John had done. And Will.
Dean couldn't keep her from falling any more than her father could. Dean couldn't save his own family any more than she could. Dean wasn't any more capable or strong or knowing than anyone else, herself included.
Because they were all just human. There was no such thing as a hero.
And she hated all the men who had ever entered her life, for making her believe there was. For making her spend all those years putting up a brave face, pretending she didn't really need one, all the while searching endlessly for those perfect hands to hold her.
She still doesn't know what her life will become, who she is or who she wants to be. But after sending off the Winchester brothers that day – in a manner she's repeatedly apologized for over the years – she did realize one very important thing.
She does not want to be her father. Or her mother. Or even the naïve and impetuous girl she used to be.
And knowing what you don't want out of life is half the battle, really. Half the battle of simply knowing anything at all.