Title: The Hard Price of Motherly Concern
Summary: Jo has returned home. While Ellen is pleased to see her, she's worried by Jo's behavior.
Rating: K+
Disclaimer: 'Supernatural' was created by Eric Kripke. No offense is meant by this work of fan fiction.

Something was wrong with Jo. Ellen Harvelle could see it like a shadow on her daughter's face. It was in her eyes, her voice when she spoke, her manner, and the very way she carried herself. The Jo who came home to Ellen after long months on her own wasn't the same Joanna Beth Harvelle who'd left. She'd been changed and Ellen didn't like the change she saw. In fact, she hated it. She hated that her little girl was different than she'd been.

Jo refused to talk about those months and the hunting jobs she'd taken. She wouldn't talk about whatever had happened to change her, fueling Ellen's imagination. Ellen had a well-developed imagination after years of listening to the stories hunters told, something that didn't bring her much comfort. She'd heard a lot, knew a lot. There were hundreds of things that could have happened to Jo.

Her daughter didn't apologize for her part in the fight that had precipitated her flight, nor did Ellen expect her to. It was enough to have Jo back safe. Ellen hadn't worried too hard until the postcards stopped coming. The last one had been from Duluth. Ellen had flown out there, tried to unearth Jo's whereabouts to no success. Jo had been long gone from Duluth. After that, worry kicked in full force. In the darkest hours, after finally finding her bed for rest, Ellen had imagined Jo dying alone out there in the world trying to live a hunter's life. She'd imagined Jo already dead after having sent out that final postcard. Many times she'd woken and just sat by the phone, hoping, no praying that her daughter would finally call, while knowing all the while that her stubborn daughter wouldn't. Those postcards had been Jo's choice of communication. Postcards only allowed a few quick lines and no way for Ellen to comment on her choices.

A mother's life.

She'd worried and fretted and worried some more. She'd tried to drown her worry by planning details of the new bar and overseeing construction.

And failed.

The relief she'd felt to find Jo on her doorstep had outweighed her anger and frustration at the lack of communication. Jo had let herself be hugged, fed -- despite saying she felt sick to her stomach --, tucked into bed…and there she'd stayed for two full days, sleeping as though she hadn't slept at all in weeks. When she woke, she had questions regarding her father's death, questions Ellen couldn't answer because Ellen hadn't been present. In a voice that was carefully neutral, Jo told her a slightly different version of the events that had led to Bill Harvelle's death than the one Ellen knew. Where had it come from?

"Jo, who had told you all this?"

Jo shivered, rubbing her hands along her jeans clad thighs, "I met a guy who said that's what happened."

"Did he see it" Ellen pressed. "Was he there?"

Her shoulders lifted in a shrug. "He never said he was there."

"Then how would he know what happened?" The conversation had floundered then, Jo dropping the topic as abruptly as she'd introduced it.

She slept better with Jo home, but only when the sound of Jo's tears had subsided through the thin wall between their rooms. The sobs were so piteous that Ellen's heart gave a hard wrench every time. And then there were the nightmares. Through that thin wall, Ellen heard all manner of pleas to some nameless individual to 'please don't hurt me' and 'please don't do this, no please stop'. Her imagination worked overtime trying to construct what those nightmares meant for Jo. Was she reliving a memory or were they just dreams? For Jo's sake, she hoped they were only dreams.

Ellen longed to hug Jo to her and tell her that lie all parents told their children: 'It's going to be okay, baby. I promise.'. But her baby was an adult now and Ellen had to let her live her life as one despite her instinct to protect Jo at all cost. She had to remember that Jo didn't want her to hover. What she wanted was a place to stay for awhile with only the occasional profession of motherly concern.

Occasional. Ellen snorted as she finished dishing up dinner and set the plates on the table. As if a mom could turn that concern on and off at will. She'd never been able and hadn't ever known one mom who could. She was very concerned right now. Her gaze found Jo across the table as they sat. Someone or some thing had hurt her Jo. Ellen felt helpless to do anything about it. It was a terrible, maddening feeling that wrenched her gut like a fist squeezing there inside her body.

Jo had taken to wearing shapeless shirts over her jeans and spent a lot of time staring into space, yet insisted she was fine, that nothing was wrong and all she needed was rest. Each attempt to gain information was met with a sad gaze and fresh denials of trouble. Of course, trouble came in several varieties and not all of them hunt related. Some were male related and intensely personal. Looking at Jo, Ellen wondered if the trouble was of the personal variety. Shapeless shirts, crying, that mention of feeling sick when she'd arrived, and those long hours of sleeping…. Uh-oh. The seed of speculation grew into a full blown theory in seconds, one that Ellen tamped down quickly.

If there were men involved, she knew of two that could cause all sorts of varieties of trouble all on their own.

Ellen was determined to discover the truth -- whatever that was. She wanted to know exactly what incident had handed out the sort of painful lesson that had changed Jo. A stern tone didn't work anymore, so Ellen tried to soften her words a bit. "Talk to me, Jo. Tell me what's wrong."

Jo pushed the food around her plate. "I'm fine, mom. Really. There's nothing to tell." There were purplish shadows beneath her eyes and in Ellen's opinion, Jo looked thinner, the bones of her wrists almost fragile, standing out under her skin.

Although Ellen tried to choose her words carefully, what blurted out instead was the suspicion that lay heavy on her mind. "Does this have anything to do with those Winchester boys?"

She wasn't blind. She'd seen how both Dean and Sam had admired Jo and why wouldn't they? Jo was beautiful and they were both hot-blooded young men. She'd seen Jo's infatuation with Dean and swallowed her own fears for her daughter. Ellen had seen before how men like Dean Winchester could thoughtlessly chew up pretty young things like Jo and spit them out less than whole. Of course, it wasn't just Dean. Sam was a type too, the type that girls want to snuggle and fuss over. Sam's smile could be as lethal as Dean's and between the two, they could pretty much attract any woman they wanted.

Not that Ellen didn't like them. She liked both Dean and Sam a lot, just not for her daughter. No offense to them, but Jo deserved better than a hunter. She deserved a man who'd come home to her every night, not one who might never come home at all, and Ellen had a feeling that one or both of those boys might not come back some day.

She'd seen just how fast Jo had run after them….

Jo's lips parted, a flash of alarm in her eyes that indicated Ellen had made a direct hit.

Ellen hurried on before another obviously untrue 'I'm fine, mom, stop asking' could leave Jo's lips, followed by an equally untrue denial of the Winchester's involvement. "Are you pregnant? Is that it? Which one of them was it, Sam or Dean?" She braced herself for the possible answer.

She shook her head, licked her lips, fingers toying with the fork and knife she held. "Mom, I'm not pregnant."

"You're sure then? Condoms do break, you know, and those generic pills they hand out at the free clinics don't always work as well as the name brands."

Jo dropped the silverware, crossed her arms and looked away. "Mom! I tell you I'm not pregnant and you still assume I was having sex with one of them?"

Pushing her plate away, Ellen swallowed her discomfort for where this conversation was going and plowed on ahead. "I saw how you and Dean looked at each other and how Sam looked at you when you and Dean weren't paying attention. I'm not too old that I don't remember giving and getting those sort of looks myself. What was I supposed to think? For all I knew you'd been getting it on with both of them -- God forbid that any daughter of mine would act like that -- and as for my assuming you're pregnant," she paused for a breath, "you've been sleeping more hours than not, wearing loose shirts, complaining of nausea. I'm pretty sure I heard you actually puking a few times, too. Hell Jo, I know you're not angel, much as I hate to admit it, and I'm also aware that Sam and Dean aren't exactly as pure as fresh snow. Those two are a menace to any even remotely virtuous girl anywhere. It's not the outside the realm of possibility that --"

"Well, I wasn't and I'm not, okay? There's never going to be anything more between me and Dean or me and…Sam. Ever."

Was that a quiver to her voice when she said Sam's name? And a pause just before it? "But something did happen with you and them?"

Jo leaned her head back, took a deep breath. That sad expression returned as she took up the silverware and began cutting her chicken into smaller bites. "Nothing important," she said, grimacing and stabbing at her chicken breast with the fork.

Ellen snorted. "You can't even say that with a straight face and you expect me to believe it?"

"Mom, don't."

"Don't what?" She could sense herself losing control of the conversation, a thing that seemed to happen anymore with Jo. It scared her to keep losing the control of their interactions. Ellen despised being at a loss with Jo, yet couldn't help but pick at this.

"Do, this." Jo sounded tired. "I didn't come here to be interrogated."

"Why did you come home, Jo? I'd really like to know."

Jo put her silverware down, pushed her plate to one side, abandoning the meal. "I don't know anymore. I thought maybe I could think through a few things, but I can't think here because you just don't stop. There was an incident, yeah. It was awhile back and I'm fine now --"

"You're not fine, Jo! Don't you get that I can see it? You're not okay. Whatever happened is--"

"I won't tell you what happened because you don't need to know. It's over. It's been over and done with a long time now. Sam and Dean Winchester….they've never called me back, okay? You can relax about them, mom. I've accepted that I'm not what I wanted to be to…." She scooted her chair back. "Never mind. I'm not your baby anymore. I'm grown up. Can you please accept that?"

While it was encouraging that Jo wasn't screaming the words at her, her tone had a finality to it that put a large lump in Ellen's throat. "Joanna Beth Harvelle, you may be grown up, but you'll always be my baby. I can't help but worry about you."

"You can't protect me. No one can."

It was coming again, wasn't it? Jo was going to leave and this time, Ellen knew it'd be for good if she didn't handle this right; if she didn't bend and acknowledge that Jo was grown. She had to swallow her concern and let Jo go. It was harder than anything she'd ever done, because if she let her go, there was still that chance that Jo would never come back again. "You're right," she conceded. "I can't protect you."

Jo stood. "I can't stay. I can't take back these months. I don't want to." She placed her hands on her hips. "Mom, I have to be out there. I'm a hunter now and while I may not be as prolific as Sam and Dean, I'm doing some good. This world needs all of that it can get."

There was a pain in Ellen's heart and she gave a stiff nod. "I don't like it."

"It's not your choice, is it?"

The determined gleam in Jo's eyes was the same one her father had had. Lord, she looked so much like Bill! "You know it's not what I've ever wanted for you."

"But it's what I want for myself. Like it or not, mom, it's where I belong." Jo turned and left the kitchen.

Ellen tried to eat that meal she'd cooked and was unable to force down more than a couple bites. She heard Jo moving around and when Jo appeared in the doorway, her bag hoisted onto her shoulder, Ellen remained seated. This time, she stayed silent. This time, she didn't say any of the words she'd said to Jo last time and this time, Jo wasn't crying tears of anger.

"I'm gonna go now."

"Drive safe."

"You know I will."

"Call me, Jo."

Jo looked down at the floor, then turned, glancing back over her shoulder. "Yeah, I'll call."

She listened to Jo leave the tiny house. "Never thought I'd raise a liar." Jo wasn't going to call. She was going to send postcards for awhile, then get caught up in the life, and forget about that promise. The weeks would turn into months and Ellen would return to the waiting and praying game. It wasn't until the sound of Jo's vehicle had faded that Ellen stood and began to clear the table. When the dishes were washed and put away, Ellen said a prayer for Jo's welfare. For a moment, she nearly gave in to tears, but then she took a deep breath, forced them away, and decided to head over to the bar a little early.

Hopefully, it'd be a busy night. She could use a busy night. It wouldn't take away the pain of Jo leaving again, but maybe, just maybe, she could forget for a few hours that her little girl was gone.