Ellen Harvelle had never been anybody's fool. She knew the cock-eyed plan to kill the devil with the gun Jo and the boys had been given, by a demon no less, had very little chance of success. But something had to be tried; the world was ending. People were dying in scores, and Lucifer was tearing apart the earth with earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods. She watched the newscasts of volcanoes pumping out the world's blood in arterial fiery sprays high into the sky and knew the apocalypse would destroy every living soul on the planet.
Dean, Sam and Jo were going to the front line to try to stop this utter destruction.
Her girl, the baby she and Bill had brought into the world, was going to take on the devil. Their beautiful child, the golden-haired cherub that she'd wanted to always keep safe.
She couldn't keep her safe. No woman's child was safe from what Lucifer planned to do.
She couldn't prevent Jo from fighting against this evil. And no matter her need to shelter her baby, Jo had made it abundantly clear that Ellen couldn't stop her from being the woman she'd chosen to be – a hunter.
It had been the hardest thing Ellen had ever had to do, to accept that Jo was following in her parent's footsteps. She and Jo had fought epic battles over Jo becoming a hunter, and her daughter had left home to make her point. She'd fought alongside of the Winchester boys, sons following their father's hunter legacy, even Sam, who'd turned his back on the way he was raised for a time to go to college. Sam Winchester, who'd been chosen to be Lucifer's vessel, had put aside his books and education to use salt and holy water and his gun to fight supernatural forces and creatures most people never credited as being real.
Jo had gone to college. She'd lasted the year Ellen had asked of her, honoring her father's wishes that his little girl try to stretch herself beyond the walls of the Roadhouse. He'd always hoped she'd find a good paying career, something that let her use her intelligence and would keep her out of danger. Marry someone who'd give her a better life than she'd have with the Hunters who crowded into the Roadhouse, guarded and edgy with the danger they'd faced. Some would end up drinking morosely, glaring away those who would intrude upon them and others downed drinks loudly, thankful to be alive, willing to throw money away on pool games or poker to forget for a while the things they'd seen and done.
The Roadhouse had been a hunter bar, but locals had patronized it, too. Men with rough hands who sweated for every dollar they earned, women who worked blue-collar jobs and took home too little to feed too many. Some came to forget, to use loud music, dancing, and alcohol to blur what they disliked about their lives. Hunters and locals came to connect with those like themselves, to find companionship and peace for a short time. Hunters slept in spare rooms and met up with comrades before leaving to risk their lives. Those who died fighting the supernatural often had left instructions that a memorial service of some sort be held at the Roadhouse, glasses raised and downed in their memory. And some folks had wandered in and found a home, like Ash.
She mourned for Ash, sweet red-necked genius and Jo's partner in mischief. Those two had squabbled sometimes like they were brother and sister, but the riff-raff at her establishment quickly learned that if they messed with one, the other would show up to kick the offender's ass. Literally, in Jo's case, and she fought dirty. Ash would use his hacking skills and the guy who'd crossed the line with Jo would find that his bank accounts had been frozen or his credit cards canceled.
Not that Ellen hadn't done her share of threatening the men who'd looked at her baby with hungry eyes. She'd pointed her shotgun at more than one asshole who'd assumed that a girl whose home was over a bar meant she was there for the taking. It hadn't taken Jo long to figure out how to deal with those types, to hustle them in pool games or cards, and she'd surprised more than one jerk when he'd found himself face down on a sticky table, arm twisted up behind him.
Joanna Beth Harvelle had come back from college and refused to return. It wasn't for her, she'd insisted, and she'd stuck to her guns, despite Ellen trying to talk her into going back. So Ellen had put her to work in the bar, hoping that her girl would get tired of being a barmaid and use her skills and brain to find another line of work.
She did. Hunting. And when she'd seen her daughter's stubborn stance mirror her own, and flashed on a memory of herself at age seventeen telling her mother she was marrying Bill Harvelle and nothing her mother could do or say could stop her, she accepted that this apple hadn't fallen far from the tree.
She'd learned to hunt from her husband, and she was good at it. She was calm in a crisis, and ruthless when it came to putting down some creature or ghost that had earned execution. Jo's education as a hunter had begun with listening in on the conversations held in the bar, and she'd cadged martial arts and weapons training from hunter friends, her “uncle” Caleb, and others, including that crazy fucker Gordon. When Jo had left to prove to herself and to her mother that she was a hunter, Ellen had worried for her, but Jo hadn't given up the life for her mother's sake.
Once the Roadhouse had been destroyed and Ellen had given her hunter daughter her blessing, Jo had tracked her down, and they'd become partners.
She thought Bill would have been proud of their daughter.
She and Jo had weathered such heartaches together. Losing Bill. Dean's death. The Roadhouse's destruction and Ash's demise. The apocalypse taking a deadly toll on their community of Hunters.
So while she wished with all her heart that her girl wasn't going with Dean and Sam and their fallen angel friend to end Lucifer, she wasn't going to let her daughter go without her.
They drove to Bobby Singer's house – together.
Ellen caught Bobby's eye to see if he'd just taken in the Dean and Jo show in his kitchen, and when he mouthed, “Idjits,” she snorted, and then rolled her eyes in solidarity.
Dean and Jo – the flirting and fighting between those two had been going on since Dean and Sam had walked into the Roadhouse years ago, responding to a message she'd left on John's cell.
Jo's crush on Dean had been kick started both because of his skill as a hunter and because Dean was one good-looking boy. Dean had flirted with Jo, but treated her more like a kissing cousin, acknowledging her attractiveness while still keeping her at arm's length. Dean was uncomfortable with hero-worship, in fact, the more Ellen had gotten to know him, finally accepting him as family, the more she saw that Dean didn't think very highly of himself at all. He was a good man, though, and Ellen loved him and Sam, seeing in them the sons she and Bill might have had, if life had been kinder. She bossed them around like they were her own, and something in the two of them responded to that, accepting it as much as they relied on Bobby Singer to act as a father to them.
Now that Jo had grown past her crush and wasn't chasing Dean, she'd caught his attention. In the kitchen, Dean had made an awkward pass that Jo had thoroughly trounced. Jo didn't do casual. Maybe watching all the one-night stand mating rituals at the Roadhouse and at all the other joints she'd bartended at had made her immune to the appeal. Then again, maybe Jo was just following in her mother's footsteps. Ellen Harvelle didn't do casual, either – although there had been the occasional exception for extenuating circumstances.
They were family, all of them, Dean and Sam, her and Jo, Castiel, and Bobby Singer. And tonight, they were pushing aside their fears at what tomorrow would bring when they hunted the devil. So they drank, they made play-insults, they played poker, and they helped a fallen angel learn human vices. Good times.
Jo returned to their table, beer in hand, and Ellen noticed Cas focusing on Dean, a look of troubled intentness on his face. Castiel stared at Dean a lot, she'd realized. And Dean would look back, his eyes locked on Castiel's, making bystanders feel like they were intruding on a private moment. There was a sense of intimacy between those two, but it seemed like neither of them realized that everybody else could see so clearly the bond they shared.
Those Winchester boys had grown up tough and on the run, John had seen to that. Sam, he'd taken the chance to fall in love, she knew, and he'd come back to hunting for the same reason so many hunters did – someone they loved had died because of some supernatural bastard. It was bitter-sweet to have had that time with the person you thought you'd grow old with, but lost; and yes, you took a risk by letting yourself love like that. She never regretted her time with Bill. He'd loved her for who she was, an independent, stubborn woman who never let anybody boss her around, and who wasn't afraid of a fight, and who would cut the heart out of anybody who tried to hurt her child.
She and Bill'd had Jo together, they'd loved, and fought and made up and when he'd come back from a hunt the sun seemed to shine brighter and all the laughter she'd hadn't realized she'd crammed down deep inside would burst free after he had heartily kissed her and slapped her on the ass.
Dean had never taken the chance on love that she, Sam, and Bobby had done. But she could tell that he craved it, and he kept himself from falling in love the way a reformed alcoholic eyed a drink, with longing and fear of the power it could have over him.
Dean and Jo – there was something there, but sex by itself wasn't what Jo wanted. Sex was easy for Dean to come by; she'd heard enough through the grapevine to know Dean was almost legendary when it came to casual sex.
The more she watched Dean and Cas together, the more she wondered if Dean was willing to bat for the other team. The eye-fucking alone between them at times was enough to steam up the windows. Cas had defied Heaven for Dean; he'd brought him out of Hell. Their connection, whatever it was going to end up, was intense.
She shrugged. She and Jo liked Cas, a contradiction wrapped up in a grubby trench coat. Power and innocence, lost faith and loyalty, endearing cluelessness and ancient knowledge and he was drawn to Dean Winchester like the moon was compelled to circle the earth.
Besides, Castiel was amazing at drinking games. It was like watching an Olympic athlete go for the gold.
Bobby hollered for all the usual suspects to gather for a picture and she downed a last shot glass of Bobby's cheap whiskey before taking her place in front of the camera, remembering that some cultures thought cameras stole a person's soul from them.
As Castiel bluntly said what all of them were thinking this night, and the picture flash brightened Bobby's sad sack of a living room, she wondered just what that soul-stealing picture would reveal if she looked at it.
The house was finally quiet, Bobby having ordered everyone who was, “Fixin' to kick Lucifer's ass tomorrow to get their own asses into a bed and get some shut-eye.”
Jo was upstairs and sound asleep the last time she'd looked in on her. Sam, Dean, and Cas were upstairs in other spare beds or in sleeping bags on the floor. Cas had never really gotten smashed, despite all the shots he'd guzzled. He had gotten sleepy, though. After his eyes kept closing, his head falling forward while he sat slumped at the table, Dean and Sam had pulled him up and dragged him upstairs to a bed. She overheard him rousing just enough to insist that angels didn't sleep, and Dean's exasperated reply that he should just lie down and rest his eyes.
She'd almost laughed at that, it was so similar to what she used to tell Jo when she was a cranky, tired child who was fighting bedtime.
Except Castiel becoming human wasn't funny. They were going to need every bit of angelic strength he possessed tomorrow. They couldn't afford for any more of his grace to seep away.
Restless, she wandered outside to the porch and looked out over Bobby's yard, stacked with derelict autos and tires and ramshackle outbuildings.
She'd known Bobby Singer since Jo was little, before Bill had been killed. Rufus had brought him into the Roadhouse and had vouched for him. She'd always liked Bobby, and admired how he handled himself. Bobby was smart, practical, and reliable. She used to hear other hunters talking about him and how he'd saved someone's bacon by passing along some obscure occult reference. The line of phones on his wall labeled FBI or CDC were a mute testimony of another form of backup.
She'd come here for refuge, after the Roadhouse had burned. Bobby hadn't been stupid. He'd made sure she wasn't possessed before lowering his guard. His rough comfort had helped to ease her way through that dark time.
Tonight, well, she wouldn't turn down any kindness Bobby Singer had to offer. She'd always found him attractive, but had never started anything with him; either she'd been grieving or he had been, and then for a while there'd been a rumor he'd involved himself with a woman professor, but she'd heard that had blown over. She knew the potential was there for them, though; after working at the Roadhouse for so many years, she knew when a man was interested in her.
She heard the bathroom door open quietly and the sound of a wheelchair rolling across the hardwood floor.
Maybe Cas was right and this would be their last night on earth.
“Want company?” Bobby was at the door, and there was no hint of pity in his voice. They were both country people, and blunt, and didn't suffer fools or foolishness gladly. Neither of them was much for beating about the bush, and she didn't have the time or inclination for a long drawn out flirtation.
Sometimes you laid your cards out on the table for the other player to see what you'd been keeping to yourself.
She turned around and saw he'd undressed while in the bathroom, and was wearing a tattered bathrobe over worn red flannel pants.
She nodded, in answer to his question, and he pushed the door open and rolled over to where she stood.
She held out her hand, and he took it, his callused fingers wrapping around hers; his hand felt firm and warm, and it had been too long since she'd had the comfort of a lover's arms around her.
She raised his hand to her lips, pressing kisses across his knuckles.
“It's the last night on Earth, Bobby -- and I can't sleep.”
Bobby cleared his throat. “Could be I might help you some with that, if you'd like.”
She bent down and kissed him, tasting mint and whiskey.
“I'll take that as a yes. But don't you go thinking this is some kind of pity fuck, because it ain't, Ellen Harvelle.”
She laughed then, low and throaty, and kissed him again.
“You either. I've thought about us starting something up for some time, but the time or place never seemed right. Tonight, it feels right.”
Bobby jerked his head towards the house. “Ain't got a door to shut, since I've been sleeping in the living room, but we'll try not to rouse the house.”
She opened the door to let him back inside and followed him into the living room. She slipped off her long-sleeved blouse, laying it across the back of the couch that doubled as his bed. “Bobby Singer, you need a real bed in here,” she grumbled.
He scratched his head. “You're right about that. I got some of those egg carton foam mattresses I brought home from the hospital in the closet, along with some blankets and sheets. Unless you're into wheelchair gymnastics tonight, we'd best move to the floor.”
In response, she came to his wheelchair, sat astride his lap, and kissed him passionately. “Floor's fine.”
He cleared his throat again. “You know, I haven't done this since I lost my legs. Might get a tad awkward at times.”
She said, dryly, “I'm sure we'll muddle through,” and let herself fade into a haze of lust.
After almost nine hours of hard driving they'd come to Carthage. Jo had steered Castiel into their vehicle for a good bit of the way, fascinated by his observations of humanity over the ages. She'd liked her history classes the most when she had stuck out that year of college, and Castiel's garrison had been stationed on Earth throughout all of recorded history.
For herself, she put away thoughts of the lovemaking from last night. She needed to focus on this hunt, not get distracted by what the future might hold for her and Bobby Singer.
Carthage seemed empty of people, but Cas still had the ability to see reapers – lots of reapers, and he left to investigate.
He hadn't returned before she and Jo needed to check in with Dean and Sam, but while he couldn't teleport for long distances anymore, he'd told them that he could find them anywhere in the town. Despite his being a fallen angel, he still had more power than the rest of them combined. They left him to find his own way back.
She wanted to scream, she wanted to rend those fucking hell-hound bitches apart with her bare hands when she saw Dean go down and Jo going to his aid, her daughter's shotgun forcing the invisible monster back from Dean.
Jo had saved Dean, but as Ellen watched in heart-stopping fear, one of the invisible hell-hounds evaded Jo's rain of bullets and attacked her daughter, forcing her to the ground and causing bright blood to soak her shirt.
Ellen laid down covering fire, protecting her girl, and Dean scooped Jo up and ran for the safety of the nearby buildings; Sam continued to shoot at the hell-hounds and the dark-haired demon woman, buying time so she could find them refuge.
Her heart was beating so loudly she could feel it resonate inside her chest. She forced open the nearest door and they took shelter inside a hardware store. Dean placed Jo against a counter, and he and Sam secured the doors and windows with salt. Jo moved her hand from her side and the release of pressure made a fount of blood spurt with every beat of Jo's heart, and in that horrifying quick glance at Jo's uncovered wound Ellen saw that it was a critical injury. Sam and Dean also recognized the seriousness of the trauma to Jo's body, wordlessly communicating with Ellen, eyes expressive.
Ellen quickly acted to bandage the wound, feeling like she was bleeding out along with Jo, who needed to be in an operating room, not sprawled out on a dirty floor.
She had to stay calm; Jo needed her mother to function, not fall apart.
“Breathe,” she told Jo and flashed back to the first time she'd ordered her daughter to do just that, after the baby had been laid on her belly, and with her heart in her throat she remembered the wild joy that had filled her when her newborn daughter's lungs had expanded, a soft cry escaping from her sweet baby lips.
They were trapped. She knew it, the boys knew it, but she'd hoped that Jo hadn't realized it. Her Jo, pale and in pain, and being so brave. She and the boys had been in contact with Bobby, (God, Bobby) and figured out Lucifer's deal. Death would be rising at midnight on the killing fields of the Civil War just outside town. They needed to get Jo to a hospital. She, Dean, and Sam were trying to come up with a plan but it was going to be a long shot to get past the demon and hell-hounds.
She'd hoped Castiel would show up, that maybe, maybe he could help Jo, do whatever healing his fading grace would allow. Take her out of here, away from the hell-bitches they could hear slavering past the salt protected doors and windows.
But Cas hadn't come, and by the looks on Dean's and Sam's faces, they had figured he'd been captured. Maybe he was already dead. He would have been in this store with them, if he could, and they'd have to come up with a plan that didn't rely on Cas pulling their nuts out of the fire.
But when Jo, her brave, brave girl, took charge of the situation and explained how they'd turn the tables on the vicious monsters who would track each of them till they could tear them apart, she felt the last tiny tendril of hope wither and die as stifled sobs were torn from her. Her baby. Her warrior-hunter daughter. She couldn't stand what she was hearing.
She tried to bluster Jo into stopping those courageous painful words, a last-ditch effort to deny reality, but Jo wasn't having any of that. She knew that her daughter wanted her to leave with Sam and Dean, leaving Jo alone, unable to move her legs and in pain, to detonate the homemade bombs that would destroy the hell-hounds.
It was a desperate plan, but a good one. However, Joanna Beth wouldn't get her way. Ellen had no intention of leaving her child to face death alone.
Sam had held Jo's hand for a short time to say goodbye, while she and Dean had completed making the best kill-a-fucking-hell-bitch bombs that they could out of the hardware stock, and placing the deadly buckets throughout the room, giving the switch to Jo to hold.
Then Dean had tenderly kissed her daughter, regret and love and sorrow communicated with the touch of his lips to hers.
And then Jo caught on that Ellen wasn't leaving. Tears rolled down her girl's face and Ellen smiled at her. Jo's plan was a good one, but as Ellen explained to her, Jo couldn't let the hell-hounds in when she could barely sit up.
“You've got me, Jo.” Her daughter always had, since the moment of that first breath. She wrapped an arm around her, and let her know that she understood, that what they were going to do was important.
She looked at the young men she'd grown to love, and seeing the unwillingness on their faces to leave them like this, ordered them to go. It was time to kill the devil. Make Jo's sacrifice count.
She had one last instruction for the older boy. “Kick it in the ass, Dean. Don't miss.”
John Winchester's boys climbed up the stairs, reluctance in every step and she silently sent them Hunter's Luck.
Jo sat slumped against her, and she held her tight while she completed the agreed upon countdown. She thought about the people she'd loved in her life. Bill, Jo, Ash, her parents, and friends like Caleb and Jim Murphy. John Winchester's boys. Bobby Singer.
She wasn't sure she really believed in Heaven, but she guessed she and Jo were about to find out.
Time up, she walked with deliberation to the door and scuffed out the salt lines, unchained the door.
Methodically, she opened up the propane tanks and let the room fill with gas.
Then she returned to Jo, and hugged her, and waited for evil to pad into the room.
“I will always love you, baby.” It had been the promise she'd made to her newborn child, cuddling her and kissing her soft baby forehead. She'd never broken it, not once, not even when she'd been her angriest with Jo.
She hugged her tight again. “Honey?”
Jo didn't move. Outside, Ellen heard the hell-hounds begin to bay, calling the pack, evidently figuring out that the way into the building wasn't blocked anymore.
A sob tore from her, and she felt drowned in overwhelming grief, but she was thankful that Jo wouldn't feel pain anymore or experience the explosion that would tear the life out of her own body.
“That's okay, that's okay.” She kissed the top of Jo's blond head, and it seemed to her that it had only been yesterday that she'd given Jo her first kiss like this. She could swear that she could smell the sweet scent of her infant body, hear the soft coos that had so delighted Bill.
“That's my good girl.”
She remembered saying that when Jo had suckled her, for making her macaroni pictures and picking her handfuls of colorful weeds, when a fever would break, when she'd gotten a good grade on a test. She'd sobbed it into Jo's hair when she'd had to tell her daughter that her father wouldn't be striding through the Roadhouse door anymore, his grin stretching from one ear to the other, shouting for his women to come and kiss him.
She shook her head. She had to keep it together, not lose herself into hallucinations and memories.
This wasn't done yet.
She held Jo's finger ready and waited, arm around her.
The door burst open and from the sounds they made two of the hell-beasts had entered.
She waited, steady, a hunter, and a mother, and by God she would blow these bitches back to Hell.
She heard more enter, and still they waited, her and Jo, fingers together on the trigger.
She smelled sulphur on the breath of the one who was standing in front of her, its breathing hard enough to stir her hair.
She grinned at it, wanting for Jo's sake to show some of that Harvelle attitude one last time.
“You can go straight back to Hell, you ugly bitch!”
And then she pressed their fingers against the trigger.
Ellen looked down at their bodies, noting that she'd kept an arm wrapped around her girl, the blinding light showcasing the shrapnel that was frozen in mid-air.
“Hello, Ellen.” She didn't recognize whoever was speaking.
“Mom?” She'd know that voice till the end of time.
She turned around and saw her Jo standing next to a short woman with dark hair.
She pulled Jo into her arms and rocked her back and forth.
“Mom, not a baby.”
“Joanna Beth Harvelle, you're wrong. Don't you know you'll always be my baby?”
Jo patted her on the back, but Ellen knew she was rolling her eyes. Twenty-four years was plenty of time for a mother to learn a daughter's sassy ways.
She stepped away from Jo and took a good look around the room. The hell-hounds were visible to her now, and calling them ugly bitches had been too kind. They weren't moving.
She looked at the dark-haired woman. She'd bet a bottle of whiskey that she was a reaper. Funny, the descriptions she'd heard said they usually looked like old men.
“You don't look much like a reaper.”
“No. I once took this form to help Dean Winchester decide to die. I thought it would help him to be more cooperative.”
Ellen's eyebrows rose. “How'd that go for you?”
“Not that well, actually. He's got a stubborn streak.” Jo snickered, and Ellen smiled. “Dean prayed to me as he left this building. Asked me to come for you both as a favor, and I seem to have gotten in the habit of doing them for him.”
The reaper sounded a bit puzzled at her own behavior, and Jo laughed outright.
“I'm Tessa. I'm here to take you to cross over. Usually it's one reaper per customer, but again Dean was insistent that you two not be separated.”
“What happens after we cross over?” Ellen asked.
Tessa shook her head. “I'm not given that knowledge. My role is to help the dead understand what has happened to them, to get them to cooperate and not stay on this plane to become an angry spirit.”
Ellen shrugged. “I know I'm dead. Jo?”
Jo shrugged as well, an exact carbon copy of Ellen's. “I've been dead a little longer than you, Mom. Tessa and I already had the chat. I'm cool.”
Ellen waved a hand at the room. “These bitches are going down, right? Because if not, we'll stay right here and finish the job.”
Tessa said, “What you're seeing is like a snapshot. The building is already destroyed and these Hounds of Hell are dead, their life-force recalled to Hades.”
She smiled gently at Ellen. “You can stand down now.”
Ellen nodded. Then she walked over to where her body and Jo's were huddled together, and picked up their shotguns. Well, an image of their shotguns would be more accurate, since the physical forms were still propped next to their bodies.
She tossed Jo's to her and held her own out, prepared in case of trouble.
“Ready to go, Joanna Beth?”
Jo grinned at her, shotgun in place, and stepped to the right of Tessa. Ellen moved to the left.
Ellen waved a hand towards the reaper, and Tessa took point leading them out of the building and towards a new future.
They didn't look back.