A/N: I'm sure this has been covered already, but here's a confession: I haven't read any SPN since August, and even if I had doing something that others have done better has never stopped me before. Hee hee.
Some Say There's Music
When she was four and a half, her grandmother passed away. Ellen had no solid memories of her mother's mother in life, fragmented images of white hair and pink dresses and sugar cookies eaten icy cold right out the freezer. She didn't recall much of her grandmother in death, either. She remembered music. She remembered crying and feeling sad only because everyone around her was crying and appeared sad. Except for instilling in her a firm idea that death meant Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art and countless other songs that sounded both impossibly sad and impossibly hopeful, she never considered the whole event to count for much. It hadn't prepared her for anything her future would bring.
"You know there's a big hitch in this plan," Ellen said to the Winchesters but looking only at Dean. She wasn't able to look at Sam without thinking about how this was not his fault but so much his fault just the same. "Jo's not … she can't…"
Neither of the boys said anything; she could see in Dean's face that he had figured it out already. The lines around his eyes seemed to intensify right before her. If she had an ounce left in her to spare for someone other than her daughter, Ellen was sure her heart would have gone out to him. Dean looked away from her. She was embarrassed by the heat of tears in her eyes, and followed his lead, looking at the dusty shelf behind his shoulder.
She felt a slight squeeze on her forearm, an offering of wordless comfort. She instinctively reached to cover it with one of her own, when she realized it wasn't Dean's hand. It was Sam's. She faltered for a moment.
The year she turned seventeen, Ellen experienced death again. Her father and brother went deer hunting one cold autumn weekend and they'd never returned. Her uncle Lanny had found their stand a shambles, blood everywhere. But state polices had never found their bodies, and the questions she had were never answered. It was eventually deemed an animal attack, but Ellen had never been able to figure out what kind of animal could have been capable of such carnage. Indiana wasn't a dangerous place. Her mother, never what Ellen would describe as strong, retreated into her own world, there but not there. She became vacant smiles and softly hummed tunes. To Ellen, it felt as if her mother had also been ripped into pieces too small to find. She was alone.
A week after her eighteenth birthday, she met Bill Harvelle. Two weeks after that, she was married to him.
"Sam," Ellen said, and she let her hand fall on his.
She tightened her grip so Sam would know she meant it. Now wasn't the time for cowardice. If Ellen was prepared to blow herself to kingdom come for her daughter, for these two men and for the world, the least she could do was look Sam Winchester in the eye one last time. She first looked down at the large hand beneath hers, strong and capable, and then up at Sam's face. She didn't see a bringer of death, or a host for Lucifer, or any of the horrible things she expected to see from him. All she saw was that same scared, lost boy she had met three years ago, buried in an exterior hardened out of grief and necessity. She just didn't know if that made her happy or heartbroken, knowing that at the core he was as good and sweet and sorrowful as he'd ever been. She'd missed seeing him, because she hadn't taken the time to look. He gave her a small smile before brushing by her to go to Jo.
Somehow or another, a six-year-old Jo had convinced her a hamster was an absolute must have in the Harvelle household. In all likelihood, it had been the pigtails and the pouty look. To her credit, little Joanna Beth took great care of Paco the hamster, spent hours giggling and playing with him. Until two months into blissful ownership, when Paco suddenly and shockingly went to the great wheel in the sky to keep it turning. The look on her daughter's face, utter betrayal, had broken Ellen's heart and when Jo asked her if there was a heaven for hamsters, she'd done the one thing she'd sworn she'd never do and told a great big whopper of a lie. There's music and dancing in heaven even for hamsters, she'd told Jo, don't you worry about Paco, sweetheart. And when Bill left the following week for another hunting trip, searching for something a lot like what had, as it turned out, killed her brother and father, Ellen had hoped her lie wouldn't ever come back to bite her in the ass. Because even at six, Jo only pretended to be comforted by thoughts of music and dancing in heaven, and Ellen sure as hell had figured out long ago that death was meaningless.
"I'm sorry, Ellen," Dean said when it was just him and her standing together. "I'm sorry about all of it."
"I know you are, boy," Ellen said, her throat tight. She fucking hated goodbyes. "But sorry ain't gonna kill the devil."
Dean blinked at her, resembling for a millisecond his father, cracked deep inside the soul but refusing to shatter. Under other circumstances, he'd have gotten more than a one-line pep talk. There wasn't time for second thoughts here, and she didn't have them anyway. The only person she had left in this world was dying, had been dying for hours, and Ellen wasn't leaving her. She glanced at her daughter, gray and still, with Sam crouching next to her, not saying a word but transmitting everything through a look. Of all the things Ellen could do now – cry, scream, moan, kill – none of them were as important as holding her daughter and making sure Jo was not alone.
In the months after Bill died, Ellen had wondered what it had been like for him. Had death come fast, had it been slow, did he know what was happening? Questions gnawed at the pit of her stomach. She tried to make sense of what she knew was senseless, for herself and for Jo, who never laughed anymore. In the years following Bill's death, she had harbored hatred for John Winchester for daring to be human enough to let her husband die, while her mind continued to concoct countless and increasingly horrible possible ways Bill had spent his final minutes. All those images stemmed from the hollow, dark look in Winchester's eyes when he'd delivered the news. The jukebox had been playing Owner of a Lonely Heart. She had always thought that song was stupid.
She stood back, numbly watched Dean kiss her daughter. Dean didn't love Jo the way Jo loved him, but it no longer mattered. Nothing mattered here, even the lives she was about to sacrifice. She knew it. Everyone knew it. Dean stood, and Ellen went to Jo. She muttered something to Dean about kicking it in the ass before the Winchesters shuffled toward the back of the store with the weight of the world resting on their shoulders. Ellen still wanted to think that her death would have meaning, but some greater purpose was irrelevant. She was already as dead as Jo had been the second the hellhounds tore into her, and the end of the world could still happen.
It hadn't seemed believable to her, her brain and body too stunned by what had happened and the sheer fluke that she escaped. The Roadhouse had gone from solid fixture to nothing but burning rubble, and Ellen Harvelle had stood in the middle of it unable to move or think. The scent of burned flesh would never truly leave her nose. Bob Sutliffe, Tommy Knox, Sadie Watkins … Ash. All had been fine when she'd left, and now they were nothing but husks. Through the roaring in her ears, she heard it. A tinny, unrecognizable tune that started and stopped over and over. A phone, someone expecting an answer from the dead.
"I will always love you, baby," Ellen said, unable to keep the tremor from her voice. Jo didn't answer her. Jo couldn't answer. Ellen's heart shattered into a million pieces. "Honey? Jo, sweetie, it's okay. That's my good girl."
The doors rattled and flew open, there were inhuman growls surrounding her. She stiffened, listening to the sounds drawing ever closer. She half expected a song. But in this, the moment of Ellen Harvelle's death, there wasn't music. There was only the huff of a hellhound's breath and the inexplicable memory of her daughter as a small child, laughing.