A/N -- What's interesting about Supernatural is the gaping absence of mothers in it, even if the lack of a mother and reasons why is what drives the Winchesters to the family business. Then Ellen came along, and I thought it would be interesting to explore the mother/daughter dynamic. Plus, circumvent the whole testosterone-y vibe of Supernatural with female symbology and power. Would love to hear what you think!
She's standing on the side of the road and the sky's going from indigo to black, car lights in the distance shining in her face and turning the tears on her eyelashes into diamonds. She holds her elbows, keeps her face blank, looking past the brothers and down the straight run of highway to where sky melts into mountains.
"Look, Jo," Sam says at last, his hands shoved deep into his hoodie's pockets, and Jo can't look at him in that hoodie, that hoodie that he had thrown across her one night when she was trying to sleep in the Impala. "It's not that we don't trust you --"
She makes a rude noise, runs her hands up and down her upper arms against the evening chill. She knows they had looked at her differently since they found out about Scott, so Sam's denial is transparent. Gravel under her feet crunch with her movement. Dean's sitting on the Impala's hood, and she hears the rustle of his hands when he rubs them together, the palms calloused and hard. She can't look at Dean at all, watching only his hands, the line of his shoulder against the darkening sky.
"Dammit, Jo," Dean says, but his voice trails off awkwardly. This was the worse type of chick flick moment, and Sam puts his back to her, watching a livestock trailer grind by, all noise and smell and the desperate sound of trapped animals.
"It is that you don't trust me," she says at last, and in response there's a sound of thunder coming over the mountains, and the tang of rain in the air. She takes a quick peek at Dean, sees his nostrils flare at the scent; his eyes harden as he looks over his shoulder at the unseen thunderheads building up.
"Quit it," Sam says, his voice rough with anger.
"I'm not doing it," she grits out, but feels something deep in her belly move, sending not unpleasant ripples across her belly. She thinks of Scott again, thrusting inside her, wonders again at what he had brought to life in her body. Its one thing she's certain about, that this rain animal had always been a part of her, and Scott had only flipped its on switch.
"What about Lincoln?" Sam's jaw is hard, but he's still not looking at her. "What about St. Joseph?"
She's still mad, but it's diluted and amorphous, not sure of its target. "I'm not doing it," she says again, but she wonders.
"Sam," Dean says, a note of entreaty in his voice, and she watches the two brothers glance at each other, communicating in a single look. She's not the only one keeping secrets, and the thought makes her angrier.
"Look," she says, dropping her arms and meeting their cool gazes steadily. "We keep hunting together, then we need to be honest with each other."
Dean snorts. "You show us yours, we'll show you ours? Is that how it works?"
Thunder again, closer, answering for her, a flash of lightning in the distance. A car passes by them, its back draft ruffling her hair. Sam watches it pass, his eyes full of red from the car's taillights, and his face is implacable.
Jo sighs, swipes her boot through the gravel angrily, not willing to look at them, grant them any sort of sympathy. "As far as Otis," she says, and the three of them pile into the Impala and roar down the highway, east and away from the thunderheads. They sit as far apart from each other as possible and remain in the same car.
In Otis, Jo's out before the car stops, and Dean immediately hits the gas again. She catches a glimpse of his face, raw and angry and hurt, and of Sam all she can see is his profile, made of stone. There's the fast sting of her own hurt, but she thinks of the good inherent in tearing band-aids off fast as the Impala's rumble fades.
She doesn't watch them leave, and spends the rest of the evening buying people gas and putting it on Dean Spencer's card, taking their green in return. It's nearly midnight when the Fast Pay at the Pump rejects her card, and she slumps down the street to a squalid motel. Rain catches her just as she enters the room, drops as fat and thick as butter, but she's not surprised.
Methodists in Merriman, Nebraska, land flat as an iron skillet in every direction, the grass sere and dry. The sky was a heartless blue, the sun feared and reviled and cursed. Jo remembered that spring, living in a cousin's house, in a dry town crowded with farmers and ranchers with their heads constantly tipped to the sky, the same prayer on their lips.
Dear God, dear God, please give us rain.
All Jo prayed for was her father back. All Jo cursed was the thing that had killed him. All Jo feared was for her mother.
Ellen did not pray at all, sleeping all day and drinking all night, her heart full William Harvelle's absence. In turns, she clung to Jo and pushed her away, unable to form a thought for any other thing as she grieved, and it was only Jo moving through the desiccated town, watching Methodists with their hearts full of rain, their eyes on the heavens.
She had been ten for a month when her daddy died, her birthday in the spring, his death near summer, and she spent the rest of that summer in Merriman, the atmosphere syrupy with want. In the mornings she would wake early, her father's name on her lips, and check on Ellen, empty and yet full of longing. Then breakfast, usually cereal, a glass of tepid orange juice, and the emptiness of the house would push her out into the dry heat.
One morning her stomach ached and cramped in unfamiliar waves, a low ball of heaviness deep in her body as she prowled listlessly through the town. She wanted an Icee, but the drug store wasn't open yet, and she leaned against the glass doors with her arms crossed over her tender abdomen.
Her body didn't feel right, a part of her trying to tear away, and she was horrified to find tears on her cheeks. Something hot and tight stabbed through her side, and she bent over in response. A drop of salt water from her face dropped down onto the warm concrete, a perfect circle of moisture that quickly began to evaporate.
In the distance, a low growl of warning rumbled across the cloudless sky.
Jo didn't hear it; bent over with breathless grunts of pain she wasn't aware of, her arms tight around her body. The stab of pain in her side had encompassed her whole body, making her knees weak and her mouth water with the threat of vomit.
Thunderheads built up out of nowhere, reaching for the sun still new in the sky, shading the unforgiving blue into grey. Another peal of thunder, louder and more present, and Jo glanced blankly around her, blinking, aware that she should be more aware of her surroundings. Something moved in her side, twanging against her ribs and across her belly, and she cried out with the pain.
The skies ripped open with a sound like Armageddon, and rain fell like cannonballs.
There was heat between her legs, stickiness on the insides of her thighs, and Jo slid down the glass doors until she was sitting. She bent forward hesitantly, one hand touching the crotch of her cut-offs. The denim was soaked, turned indigo with the richness of blood and life.
She stood slowly, leaving a smear of red on the concrete, favoring her side, and stepped into the downpour, wanting only her mother and home.
Methodists around her emptied into the flooding streets, ignoring the lash of wind-driven rain, raising their hands and worshipping.
In the morning she spends her last ten bucks on breakfast at the Blue Sky Diner, eats silver dollar pancakes that melt in her mouth. She's amazed at the goodness of them, and surprise makes her glance up at her waitress. "These are good," she says, chewing.
Tess is a petite, small woman, carrying her unborn baby heavily, standing on swollen ankles. She smiles back, tucking her order pad into a pocket, pushing back a strand of hair. "Paul's been making them for years. He has the touch." She smiles briefly, and leaves for other guests.
Jo decides she needs to think about Dean, to put him right in her own mind. But mostly it's because she's eating pancakes, and Dean was all over pancakes, the two of them making faces at each other and showing their chewed food to Sam. Dean's like something cut into her with a scalpel, soul deep and unhealed, his green eyes the sharp edge. First time she had seen him, she had felt hollow and echoing, searching for a place to land or for room to fly.
Yep, she definitely needs to think about Dean, but she flips open her phone, and sees that Ellen called four times last night. There was no message, and she closes the phone slowly, remembering the gravel under her feet on the side of the road 40 miles west of Otis, and how wind and rain and erosion had deposited it there over eons. Ellen, Jo thinks wryly, is playing the long con.
"More coffee, hon?"
She looks up to find Tess waiting with a pot of coffee, and again is struck by how huge the woman is, her belly stretched and heavy and unbalanced. Jo thinks maybe she has gotten a taste of pregnancy, your body doing things without much input from your brain, and she smiles sympathetically at the waitress. "Sure."
While Tess is pouring coffee Jo studies her for a moment, her head cocked, and Tess meets her gaze questioningly. "What?"
Jo makes the decision quickly, tired of chasing and being chased, and wants to stay in one place for a while. Leaving the Winchesters, stranding herself without money or car had forced her into it. "Um. Look, I need a job, and I'm thinking there may be an opening here? Soon?"
Tess looks at her, blinking, and her mouth opens and closes. Her lips firm, and she sits, slides in next to Jo. "Oh, honey," she says in relief, her gaze on the pass through behind the counter, where occasionally the cook is seen, "That would be great."
She spends the summer in Otis, and isn't sure what she learned there, only that Ellen had called her countless times, and it was on the day that she sees Tess' daughter for the first time that she answers. Tess is trying to breast feed, her brow creased with concentration, a matching expression on Lily's face; both of them honoring instinct yet frustrated with lack of knowledge. And it's that, mother and daughter matching stubborn, which makes Jo speak to her mother.
Peaches. Their scent wafted through the Roadhouse's open window, and tangled messily with the smell of beer and grease. Ellen had let a neighboring farmer set up shop in the Roadhouse's parking lot, boxes of peaches and plums and apricots a bright contrast to the dust and gravel. She had sent Jo over, to pick up some peaches, thinking to make cobbler for dessert.
It had been three summers since her father had died, since the tiny town in Nebraska, and Jo crossed her arms carefully over her tender breasts, watching the farmer pick peaches out of the crate for her. She fidgeted one foot in the gravel, raised it to scratch the back of her leg, and sighed loudly.
"Could do with some rain, don't you think?"
The voice was right next to her ear, low and rumbly, and something moved sleepily in the pit of her belly. She glanced over, startled, and met the solemn gaze of boy near her age, maybe a bit older, with a shock of blond hair and freckles. Whatever had been sleeping in her belly woke up some more, seemed to sit up and notice this boy, all long legs and deepening chest.
"Yeah," she squeaked out, and took the bag of peaches the farmer handed her. She gave the farmer a twenty, fought the need to cross her legs as he searched for change, fought the need to look over at the boy again.
"You live around here?" Again, that voice, right next to her ear, and the need to cross her legs was nearly unbearable.
She cleared her throat, watched the farmer lay green across her palm. "Yeah, over there."
In her peripheral vision she saw the boy glance at the bar. "The Roadhouse?"
The golden afternoon around them darkened a bit as grey clouds built up and floated across the face of the sun. Jo's fist tightened around the mess of ones the farmer had given her. "Yeah. My mom owns it."
She didn't know how to respond to that, and studied her shoes, flipping a piece of hair behind her ear.
"You have pretty hair," said the boy, and a light rain pattered the dust around them, releasing a sweet scent of damp and must. Jo nodded and squeezed her thighs together, closed her eyes, kept her face down and away from the boy.
"Robert? Robert, its time to go."
She looked up, met the boy's eyes fully. "I gotta go," he said, jerking his chin in the direction of the voice. Jo looked over and saw a woman standing next to an idling car, her hands on her hips.
"Okay." She still didn't know what to say, where to put her hands, the money slick with sweat in her grasp.
"Nice to meet you." His voice was awkward, rusty with sudden shyness.
"Yeah, nice." She cringed inwardly and ducked her head, listened to sound of his footsteps going away from her. The heat between her legs was so strong she wondered if she would melt, turn into a Jo puddle and expand with the rain. The drops that fell around her were big and ripe, like peaches.
She wakes up at the end of summer from a dream of Dean, Dean standing in the parking lot of the Roadhouse, his head tipped back and he's laughing. In one hand his strong fingers grasp a peach, and he tosses it lazily from hand to hand. Sam is watching him, laughing in the big, deep way of true enjoyment, and both brothers are framed by fireflies. Jo turns in her sleep, watching the peach go from Dean's hand to the other, his fingers sure yet gentle, and she nearly cries out when Dean lifts the peach and bites into the ripe flesh.
She sits up in bed panting, the air close and humid against her face, the sheet tangled around her legs. A splash of moonlight from the half-opened window lies across her bare legs, and a lazy August breeze cools the sweat between her breasts, across her brow. She swings out of bed and goes to the window, knowing she needs to think about Dean, to put it right somehow in her brain, and she knows the only way is to put Scott to rest.
She looks at the moon full and gravid in a cloudless sky, watches its subtle face, and says to it, clearly. "Rain."
The moon doesn't answer. Crickets buzz languorously.
She closes her eyes, pictures Scott above her, his eyes closed in earnest pleasure. There's an answering warmth rising in her belly. She tucks her chin briefly, focusing on that warmth, hidden and unseen, and says again, "Rain."
A dog barks. She has to put out a hand and steady herself against the window sash. Her knees are weak, her mouth waters with the promise of pleasure. She thinks of Dean, his teeth white in the darkness as he laughs, the peach on the edge of being bruised by his deft fingers. "Rain," she whispers, a word hidden and unseen.
The breeze picks up a little, carries a wet edge, and the crickets are silent. Far away, nearly inaudible, the air shivers with a promise of thunder. "No," she whispers, tears shimmering over her eyelashes. Thunder again, and the strip of moonlight lying across her bed glimmers briefly before disappearing, the moon lost behind the gathering clouds. Her knees give out and she sits, hard, on the edge of the bed, and the warmth is gone, the coiling pressure in her belly is gone.
Its early morning when Jo starts walking, and she's coming up on the Blue Sky Diner when she sees Tess holding the door open, and pale clouds of smoke are billowing out. Tess sees her, her gaze going to Jo's backpack, to the sneakers on her feet. The two women pause, standing nearly thirty feet away from each other, and Tess shouts, "You leaving?"
"Yeah. Time to go home. Everything okay?
"Just a grease fire."
Tess shakes her head, shrugs her shoulders. She glances inside, then back to Jo. "Be careful, okay?"
"I will. Thanks."
And she turns away, squares her shoulders, and heads for the interstate.
Her final ride, in that last push for home, is from a bus driver named Maria, and the bus is soothing and nostalgic, rocking gently in response to the rough road. Maria is a stout woman, with coarse grey hair and sharp eyes, and she asks the usual questions, about family and future and boyfriends, and Jo weaves and dodges, grinning falsely.
Near the end of the ride, Maria turns to Jo, catches her with the seriousness in her creased brown eyes. "I survived a tornado."
Jo raises an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
Maria glances at the road, back to Jo. "Took my man, though. Crushed him."
Jo looks away, out the window at the dry August trees. In her mind, she thinks clearly,Rain.
"But I survived."
Jo waits for her to go on, and looks over after a long minute of silent. "What's the point?" Her voice is dry and cool.
Maria shrugs. "Not really a point. Only that I survived. People survive." The bus is slowing, and Jo recognizes the final turn for the Roadhouse, a walk of about a mile.
Jo's blinking back tears now, her emotions shredded with home so close, with this woman talking about surviving and loss, and Maria takes pity on her, putting a warm palm on Jo's forearm. "It's okay, dear. Sometimes surviving, becoming stronger, is the whole point."
The door creaks open and Jo takes the steps numbly. "Thank you," she says automatically over her shoulder, and Maria closes the door, the bus rumbling off in a cloud of dust. Jo watches it for a moment, then turns away, squares her shoulders, and ends her journey.
She's walking on the side of road and the sky's going from indigo to black, neon from the beer signs in the Roadhouse's window shining in her face and turning the tears on her eyelashes into diamonds. There's a woman standing at the entrance with her hands pushed deep into the pockets of a hoodie, and Jo can't look at Ellen wearing that hoodie, that hoodie that had covered her countless times.
She stops a few paces away from her mother, swipes her boot through the gravel at her feet, and glances over at the boarded up fruit stand. A few fireflies gleam palely in the near dark, and from inside the bar is the sound of a man laughing.
There's a short pause, then Ellen opens her arms and Jo walks into them. It feels a bit like drowning, like standing in a downpour and breathing nothing but water, with her nose in her mother's neck and Ellen's arms death tight around her. She understands now how drowning is easy, after the fighting, like going to sleep. She closes her eyes, and something moves deep in her belly, a feeling like release, like a fist unclenching.
Rain sprinkles over them in benediction. Grey clouds swim hazily over the face of the moon.