Hey all! I know it's been forever since I updated this fic, but I'm afraid work and a Masters degree got in the way of my writing schedule. But, school is now done with, and I've finally got some free time again, so hopefully I'll manage regular updates.
I hope you guys enjoy this chapter, and what I have coming up for you next!
With thanks as always to Silverspoon, for her magical beta powers.
Thunder rolled forth from the heavens, and lightning lit up the night sky, illuminating a torrent of glistening rain drops to the naked eye.
Ellen Harvelle glanced up at the ceiling as the rain continued to thud against the metal sheeting. She drummed the playing cards she held in her hand against the table top and rolled her eyes at the sight of the figure standing beside the window.
Releasing an exasperated sigh, Ellen directed her gaze back toward the game of solitaire she had laid out before her.
"Joanna Beth, will you sit your ass down? All that pacing you're doing is gonna give me a God-damn ulcer!"
Jo folded her arms across her chest, shifting her weight between her feet as she peered out at the darkness. Her demeanour was almost nervous.
"They should have been back a couple of hours ago," she stated, her tone clearly betraying her deep concern. "Dean said it was just a salt and burn, right?"
Ellen continued on with her game, shaking her head with a wry smile tugging at her lips.
"When is anything really that simple, sweetie?" she pointed out, glancing up as her comment received a huff of disapproval.
"Yeah, exactly my point, Mom," Jo agreed, her eyes widening to convey her point.
Jo groaned wearily as a coughing fit suddenly shook her body, and her eyes watered as she raised her hand to her mouth, unable to quell the irritating tickle in the back of her throat.
"Jo, sit down," Ellen soothed, nodding as Jo grudgingly gave up on her vigil and settled herself in the chair opposite her mother.
"You really think they're okay?" Jo worried her bottom lip with her teeth, as she twisted the cap off of a bottle of soda, and drank down two heavy gulps of the unpleasantly warm liquid.
"I think they're old enough and ugly enough to take care of themselves," Ellen replied, narrowing her eyes as she contemplated the card in her hand and placed it down onto the top of the discarded pile.
Jo failed to reply, her fingers picking at the label on the bottle as she tried to distract herself with reading over the list of ingredients.
"I should be out there with them," she groused, even as a second series of coughs assailed her.
Ellen shook her head and bit back a smile, wondering if her own defiant streak had been as exasperating to her own mother. Because as annoying as her argumentative nature could be, there was no denying that Jo was far too much like Ellen for her own good.
"You really think you're in any fit state to be out there hunting?" Ellen countered, hoping Jo would finally let the subject rest. After she had come down with the flu that had put Dean out of action for the past week, it had been decided that Jo would remain in the motel with Ellen, much to Jo's indignance.
Dean had tried to assure her that it would be a temporary measure, but the residual cough Jo was still fighting off was hardly conducive to hunting, where the element of surprise, and being in peak physical condition was something of a necessity. So Bobby and Dean had gone out in search of the restless spirit, leaving the Harvelle women to wait out the storm in their motel room.
"You really think Dean's mind would be on the job if he was out there worrying about you?" Ellen pointed out, satisfied when she received a sullen shrug and a whispered 'I guess not' from her petulant offspring.
"Okay. So quit your whining and take your medicine," Ellen directed, pushing a small glass bottle of cough syrup across the table.
Waiting until Jo was busily eyeing the lines on the small plastic measuring cup, Ellen snatched up the deck of cards from the table and began to shuffle them vigorously. "You figured out what you want to do for your birthday?"
Jo grimaced and closed her eyes against the decidedly vile taste of the medicine and shook her head.
Swallowing repeatedly until the viscous liquid had finally slipped down her throat, she screwed the cap back onto the bottle and glared at it accusingly. Maybe Dean had had a point when he had staged a protest every time she forced him to drink the revolting concoction.
"Nothing," Jo finally answered, arching a dark blonde eyebrow as she glanced up at Ellen with apparent surprise. Given the events of the past few months, and Dean's understandably melancholy attitude to holidays and birthdays, she figured this year they'd skip any further celebrations.
"It's been 6 months sweetie," Ellen sighed sadly, "Sam..." she paused as the name appeared to catch in her throat, and her eyes betrayed the sting of her words.
Smiling weakly, she continued on, "He wouldn't want Dean to live like this. He wanted him to have a life... a good one. So it's high time things started changing around here."
Jo frowned, confused by Ellen's sudden interest in family events. Though they marked each other's birthdays every year, exchanging a card and gift was as celebratory as it ever got with the Harvelle's.
"We don't usually..." Jo began, her eyes widening as Ellen interrupted her.
"Well, I figure it's time we start!" Ellen stated, leaving apparently little room for further argument.
Jo rolled her eyes, an action Ellen pointedly ignored, as she began to deal another row of cards out before her.
Running her hands through to the ends of her hair, Jo stared over at the window, watching the raindrops splash against it in a watery haze.
She stood from the chair and sauntered nonchalantly over to the window, pressing her palm to the glass as she peered outside.
The cell phone in her pocket had been silent for past couple of hours, and with each passing second her trepidation grew. Curling her fingers around the small device, she retrieved it from her pocket and flipped it open, hoping she had missed the discrete alert of a text or perhaps call. But the screen remained impassively still. No messages, no calls.
Her thumb hovered momentarily over the 'contacts' button, and she briefly warred with continuing on in her vigil, or simply giving in and calling. She closed the flip-screen hesitantly, and grasped the phone in her hand as she returned her gaze to the darkness outside. Dean would only tease her for her fussing, and she wondered when she'd apparently become that kind of girl. Hysteria and paranoia weren't usually her thing.
A blinking light suddenly caught her attention, and Jo frowned as she stared across the deserted parking lot to the orange glow of a street light.
The lamp flickered, but Jo's attention became fixed upon the looming figure that was now illuminated beneath the beam. She pressed her nose to the window to try and get a better view of the stranger, but the street light winked one final time, before that corner of the parking lot was plunged into darkness.
Watching her daughter from across the room -standing on tip-toe, hand and face pressed desperately against the window pane - Ellen shook her head.
"Jo, don't make me hog tie you to this chair," Ellen warned, now devoid of any patience, "make yourself useful and put on a fresh pot of coffee."
Jo ignored her mother's protests, and simply folded her arms across her chest in mild annoyance. Ellen's own concern was better concealed than her daughter's, but that didn't mean Jo hadn't picked up on it. And if Ellen was worried, that gave Jo more than cause for concern.
Shuffling the cards haphazardly in her hands, Ellen stared down at the worn gold band on her finger with the usual sadness.
She had spent many years in Jo's position; standing by a window, waiting for the glow of car headlights, or the sound of a key turning in the lock. She'd paced he floor until the dawn broke the sky, or exhaustion had forced her to sleep in an armchair. Years went by, and she kept her lonely watch with a baby in her arms, adding a prayer to the mumbled pleas she directed at the heavens, that her child would grow to know her father.
Jo had been only four years old when God had stopped answering her prayers.
Though Ellen loved the Winchester boys dearly, and admittedly saw a good match for her daughter in Dean, she had wanted more for Jo than to follow in her own footsteps. Because loving a hunter always held you on the precipice of heartbreak, and one day he might not come home.
Even though she and Bobby had begun tentative steps toward something that resembled a romantic relationship, there was a place in her heart that existed solely for her long dead husband.
Jo watched her mother apparently lost in thought, and she leant back against the window and hugged her arms tightly around her body.
Her tone was hesitant when she finally broke the silence. "Does it ever get any easier?"
Ellen's head snapped up, and she blinked back the tears she was determined would remain unshed.
"The waiting..." Jo continued, answering Ellen's questioning expression, "does it ever get any easier?"
Ellen shook her head, her lips set into a tight smile as she brushed a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand and swallowed down the familiar burn in the back of her throat.
"No," she said softly, directing her gaze to the table top as she thought back over the few years she had been granted with Bill. "But then the second your Daddy came walking through that door, none of it mattered."
Jo had only vague memories of her father. He remained now only in the scent of leather and gunpowder, and the lyrics of a rock song that had become her lullaby. She remembered his smile, and the feel of his arms enclosing her to his chest, she knew his eyes from the photograph she kept in her wallet. But Jo had grown up a stranger to her father's memory, and the years that passed since his death took him that little bit further away from her.
"I wish I remembered him better," Jo admitted, crossing the room and sliding her arms around her mother's neck in a gesture of comfort.
"Me too, sweetie," Ellen nodded, patting her daughter's arm as she pressed a kiss to her hand and rubbed her arm affectionately.
Jo hugged her tightly, closing her eyes as she found the same strength and security in her mother's presence as she had as a child. For as much as they argued and bickered, the mother-daughter bond that the pair shared had been forged out of the very deepest love and devotion.
"Dean's a good kid, Jo, he is. But, this life..." Ellen began softly, her tone tinged with regret and sadness.
Jo enclosed her mother's hand in her own and smiled resolutely. "It's who I am, Mom. It's who we all are."
Ellen remained silent for a moment, before she bobbed her head slowly, realising Jo had long ago resigned herself to this existence.
"I guess it is," Ellen agreed, craning her neck to glance up at Jo as she patted her hand with renewed reassurance. "They'll be back real soon."
The door to the motel room was suddenly thrown open, and Ellen brushed away any final traces of tears as she climbed to her feet. "Well, speak of the devil..."
"Dean?" Jo surveyed the figure of the bedraggled hunter with a curious combination of sympathy and amusement. Planting her hands on her hips, her eyes skimmed her soaking, muddied boyfriend, and she raised a hand to her mouth to cover a discrete chuckle.
"What in the world happened to you two?" Ellen asked, her similarly widened eyes sweeping the two hunched over hunters as they dripped mud and dirty rain water all over the already stained motel carpet.
"Don't ask!" Dean groused, swiping a muddy hand over his face, as light brown sludge oozed down his forehead across his eyes.
Bobby muttered under his breath, taking off one boot holding his arm outside the doorway as he tipped it upside down and a torrent of water poured out onto the ground.
"That must've been one pretty pissed off ghost," Jo stated, handing Dean a towel as Ellen did likewise for Bobby and helped him in throwing both mud laden boots outside the door.
"It's a freakin' monsoon outside!" Dean grimaced as the door slammed shut and he wiped his face on the towel, leaving a smear of dried mud.
"Whole damn cemetery was like a giant mud slide," Bobby chipped in, shooting his hunting partner a sympathetic nod.
Ellen grinned as Bobby removed his cap, and a patch of clean, white skin was revealed where it had been sitting on his head. Snickering into the collar of her shirt, she hustled the older hunter toward the door.
"I think you're long overdue a shower!" she directed, flapping her hands in Bobby's direction as she ushered him out toward the room they shared, "and quit dripping on the carpet!"
Dean watched them leave as he continued to rub pointlessly at the back of his neck, and Jo helped him shrug out of his water heavy jacket only to reveal a panel of dried mud stuck to his shirt and undershirt.
She grimaced as she rested the leather jacket over the back of the chair, and then removed the towel from his hand.
Dean watched her closely, the smart ass quips he had all lined up suddenly dying on his lips as he watched her obviously troubled expression.
"Bet you're glad you sat this one out, huh sweetheart?" he asked, arching an eyebrow, as a thought suddenly struck him and he snickered at the images his mind conjured, "although, I've gotta say, would've been a hell of a lot more fun sliding around in the mud with you, instead of a crotchety, old guy."
Jo laughed and wiped a smudge of dirt from his jaw before she leant up and pressed a kiss against his cheek. "I'm just glad you're back in one piece."
"Nothing we couldn't handle," Dean stated flippantly, suddenly smiling at his own dishevelled state.
"Oh, I can see that," Jo remarked sarcastically, not resisting as his arms slipped around her waist and he drew her closer.
"Hey, you okay?" Dean checked, stilling her hand with the towel and casting it down onto the table beside them. His hand fluttered to her cheek and she pressed closer into his touch.
"Yeah, I... I just... " she stammered, feeling a blush rise up her cheeks as she pointedly avoided his eyes.
"You just?" he prompted, tilting her chin up so she had to meet his gaze. His green eyes widened as he continued to brush his thumb gently up and down her cheek.
"I was worried about you, that's all," she admitted sheepishly, noting the strangely pleased expression that settled on Dean's face at her admission. He shook it off hurriedly, replacing it with a patented cocksure smile.
"Me? I'm like a bad penny, darlin', I always show up," he assured her with a confident grin.
Jo simply rolled her eyes and ignored his feigned display of self-assurance.
After Missouri, it had been a long time before Dean had 'loosened the reigns', so to speak, where Jo was concerned. Though she appreciated his heavy handed concern, his smothering behaviour had almost driven her crazy. But images of Carthage continually plagued him, and Jo's brush with death had been a stark reminder to them all that hunting was a dangerous occupation. Then of course, they'd lost Sam, and the fear each of them tried to supress became that little bit more insistent.
Dean brushed a kiss against Jo's forehead, repeating the gesture on her cheeks, before finally claiming her lips with his own and crushing her against his chest.
Her arms settled around his neck as she leant further into his body, and she shivered as his mouth ghosted across the shell of her ear in a soft whisper.
"I'll always come back to you, Jo," Dean vowed, his hands mapping out the curve of her waist and hips as she nuzzled a kiss against his neck.
"Promise?" the soft, pleading tone of her voice encouraging him to hold her that little bit tighter.
"I promise," he replied stoically, certain that he'd move heaven and earth to keep his word – perhaps even literally, should circumstances dictate.
Dean felt her smile against his skin, and a slow, drawn out sigh left her body as she finally drew back from his embrace.
"You better go take a shower, I'll find us a take-out menu?" she suggested, her eyes now bright and vivacious once again as she stared up at him.
She paused as a coughing fit caught her off-guard, and she pouted miserably at the nagging ache in her ribs. Dean's hand rubbed her back, and he decided to forgo his teasing enquiry as to whether she'd taken her medicine.
"Sounds good," Dean nodded, bestowing a final kiss against her lips before he released her and strolled over toward the bathroom, "hey, see if that place that does those giant chili dogs delivers!"
He paused in the doorway and swept his gaze slowly up and down her body with a wolfish smile. "You wanna join me?" he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Jo snorted with laughter and shook her head definitely, imagining the muddy residue that would soon be covering the bathtub. There was nothing about showering in graveyard dirt that sounded even remotely appealing, even with a naked and willing Dean Winchester.
"No," the word was expelled on a guffaw, and she cocked her head, shooting him a withering expression that instantly silenced his libido; at least temporarily.
"Hey, women pay a fortune for those mud bath things, it's good for your skin," Dean quipped, ducking as the towel came hurtling in his direction.
Jo smiled as she heard the water running, and Dean's disgruntled mutterings drifted through the steam as he shed each impossibly filthy item of clothing.
Though the idea of a steamy, muddy encounter had not been to Jo's taste, the crisp, uncharacteristically clean bed sheets were infinitely more appealing. She crossed the room and hurriedly closed the curtains, only casting a fleeting glance at the vacant parking lot in the process. The light in the distant corner of the lot was once again flickering, but it was the blob of congealed, crispy mud, matted in the ends of her hair that stole her attention.
Groaning aloud, Jo turned the lock on the motel room door, before starting toward the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothing behind her.
The shower curtain was yanked back decisively, before she stepped into the cramped cubicle, earning a surprised grin from her boyfriend.
"Changed your mind, huh?"
Jo cast him a snooty glare, and threw her blonde curls over her shoulder in mock indignation. She let the water run through the ends of her long hair, grinning to herself as she closed her eyes and awaited his move.
Glancing at the loufa in his hand, Dean's eyes hungrily scoured Jo body and he contemplated his options for barely a moment.
The loufa hit the bathroom floor only seconds before he pulled Jo into his arms, and a little while later, a cloud of steam wafted steadily out of the door, carrying with it soft moans and whispered affirmations.
Outside, the rain continued to fall, and the first unearthly howls of wind were soon joined by a fresh chorus of lightning and rolling thunder.
Across the parking lot, the street lamp flickered into life once more.
He stepped out of the shadows, illuminated by the eerie orange glow, and peered up at the darkened window, watching and waiting.
He remained there in silence, until the last raindrops fell, and the sun rose high on the beam of a newborn rainbow.