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Some days are worse than others.

Most days, Jody gets by about as well as can be expected for a middle-aged woman with a kid and husband both dead by supernatural causes. She gets up, fixes breakfast for her two wayward foster daughters, goes to work. Maybe she hunts some literal monsters, maybe she hunts some human ones. Comes home, makes dinner, tries to wrangle both girls into watching some TV with her with varying degrees of success, goes to bed, says a prayer for those she’s lost. It’s never easy, being the one that got left behind, but most days she makes it through, can tough it out like nothing’s wrong. The girls help. They need her, and she loves them, and their lives go on, even with dark shadows looming behind them out of their pasts.

But some days–some days she wonders how she even manages to make it through the getting up part.

Today is one of those days; Alex and Claire are at each others’ throats again, Jody’s buried in a nightmare of paperwork at the station, and the tree in front of her house finally decided to give up the ghost and dropped its entire complement of leaves all over her damn front lawn. There’s also some strange, witchy-sounding shit happening the next town over, and today she woke up with a ragged, gaping hole in her chest where her husband and son should be.

So of course, today’s the day that the human equivalent of sunshine on speed decides to pick up the phone and give her a call.

“JODY-O!” Donna squawks brightly into the phone, and Jody winces, yanks the phone away from her ear. Over in the bullpen, Officer Marks’ eyebrows shoot up so far it looks like they’re going to climb right off his face.

“Donna,” Jody replies grimly. She waves a hand at Marks, who goes back to shuffling papers on his overflowing desk.

“What’s shakin’ in Sioux Falls? Those girls of yours keeping out of trouble?”

Jody manages a noncommittal grunt and not much else. It makes her feel even crappier, because she knows she owes Donna better than this, knows Donna would listen and probably know just what to say, but if she says it out loud she might fall apart and she just–she just can’t.

Thankfully, Donna doesn’t seem to mind and just plows on, chattering about how beautiful the leaves have been this year and how she’s so sad that a Minnesota winter is just around the corner. She asks about Jody’s work and the weather in South Dakota and whether Claire’s settling in okay and somehow Jody manages to make it through the conversation on wordless hums and snorts and answers involving less than five words apiece.

Until Donna brings up a hunt.

“So I hear you got a problem out your way! Sounds like our kinda thing, if you know what I mean.” Jody swears she can hear Donna’s waggling eyebrows, and if she was there she’d probably be nudging Jody none-too subtly with her elbow. It would make Jody smile, if it were any day but today.

“Just so happens I got this weekend off,” Donna continues brightly. “Thought I could head out there, lend you a bit of a hand with the case.” Her voice drops down to a conspicuous whisper, excited and conspiratorial: “I did some lookin’ on the internet. I think it might be witches. Whaddaya say?”

Normally Jody would be all for it. She misses Donna, misses her cheery, optimistic attitude and her sweet, dimpled smile, and the way they work like they grew up together in spite of how incredibly different they are. But today is not a good day, and she doesn’t know if she can pretend she’s okay enough for Donna or what Donna deserves.

“This weekend isn’t good,” Jody manages. It comes out quick and harsher than she intended. “We’re really bogged down at the station right now and I don’t think I can get away.”

Donna falls silent for what seems like the first time this phone call. It stretches so long, growing tight and tense between them, that Jody starts lining up more excuses, more lies to tell Donna that only make her feel more guilty as they file across her tongue.

She opens her mouth to spout off one of them but Donna beats her to it. “Okay Jodes,” she says, uncharacteristically subdued, and it pulls a spike of guilt through Jody’s chest. “I gotcha.”

“Sorry,” Jody manages to choke out.

She imagines that Donna makes a nonchalant shrug, bright brown eyes finding the floor. “It’s A-okay,” Donna says softly, and there’s a smile in her voice but Jody knew it wouldn’t be the same as it had been at the start of the call. She aches and she wants to fix it but she can’t, because if she starts to explain she’ll fall apart.

“Maybe next time,” Jody says.

“Seeya,” Donna replies, and then she’s gone, and Jody feels, if possible, even worse than before.

Saturday morning starts out much like Friday had. Jody drags herself out of bed to make breakfast, and finds Alex and Claire in the middle of a hissed fight that looks about half a minute away from turning into a brawl. When she breaks it up, Alex storms out of the house and Claire locks herself in her bedroom, and Jody nixes all the hopes she had that the girls might be able to help her get some of the raking and gardening done today. She thinks about spending the day feeling shitty on the couch, or going back to bed and sleeping until she feels like a functioning human again, since it looks like Saturday is going to be another total fucking write off.

She’s a couple hours into Option A, eating a bag of chips she dug out of the pantry because it was there and in contradiction to her total lack of appetite, when she hears a truck pull into the driveway.

Jody waits for the footsteps on the front step, for the rap of a fist on the window or the ring of her doorbell. When none of that comes, she drags herself from the couch and peers out the window, hand drifting into the front closet to rest on the barrel of the shotgun propped inside.

She doesn’t need it though, because the truck in her driveway is familiar, as is the blonde woman on her front lawn in jeans and a soft blue hoodie, steadily raking away at the pile of gold-brown leaves scattered across the dead grass.

The screen door creaks when Jody pushes it open, and she adds oil the hinges to the seemingly endless list of things she needs to get done. Donna looks up at the sound, pausing in her raking to smile her wide, toothy smile, dimples visible even from Jody’s place on the porch.

“Hiya, Jodes,” Donna chirps, reaching out with the rake again to drag a swathe of leaves into the pile at her feet. Her smile softens as she watches Jody make her way down the steps, and the rake moves rhythmically out and back through the grass, out and back. “Howya doin’?”

“Fine,” Jody replies warily. She rubs at her arms, bare beneath the sleeves of the t-shirt she slept in and chilled in the cool fall air. “What are you doing here?”

Donna’s quiet for a few moments, eyes falling to the motion of the rake. “Didn’t seem so good when we talked,” she says softly. “And i know you said it wasn’t a good time but I figured you were havin’ a rough go and could probably use a little bit of help.”

“I don’t–” Jody starts but Donna cuts her off with a shushing noise, followed by a bright grin.

“You’re pretty tough, Jody, anyone with any sense can see that. But you’ve been through straight up H-E-double hockey sticks, and it’s okay to accept a little bit of help, sometimes. Now, you just head back inside and take it easy and let someone do something for you for once, Mama Bear.“

She winks, nudges Jody with an elbow and Jody looks down at the place where they touched, surprised. She hadn’t realized she’d gotten so close. She watches as Donna resumes her raking, humming to herself under her breath as she works. Jody doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so she just stands there, staring, brittle, golden leaves clustered around her ankles as she watches.

When she leaves Donna’s side, it’s only to the shed around back, and she comes back with a rake of her own. Donna doesn’t say anything, just flashes her another brilliant smile, and this one pulls at something deep in Jody’s chest, and she even manages a smile of her own.

Donna talks through much of their work, chattering aimlessly about her work back home in Minnesota, the latest dumbass antics of her loser ex, how she’s been watching the news in both her area and Jody’s, looking for anything “unnatural”. Her chipper voice washes over Jody and sinks into her, filling up the empty aching spaces. She doesn’t have to respond, just listen and remember that she doesn’t have to be alone, not anymore. She likes having Donna here, working at her side like she belongs, like she fits.

Jody’s warm by the time the leaves are gathered into a pile in the middle of the yard, skin tingling with that odd juxtaposition of internal heat and the outer chill of the fall air. Donna leans on the handle of her rake, wiping the back of her hand across her flushed face, brushing back the curling, sweat-damp strands of hair at her hairline. She’s smiling, almost never stops smiling, and Jody thinks though she might have found it bit much when she first met Donna, maybe now she’s more than okay with it.

“So what next–bag it up?” Jody asks, raking a hand through the short strands of her own hair. “I think I have some garbage bags in the shed.”

“We could do that.” Donna tilts her head to look at her sidelong, the smile creeping wider and her eyes sparkling. “Or we could…”

She tosses her rake to the side and darts forward suddenly, letting out an undignified scream as she launches herself into the pile of leaves at their feet.

Jody’s so startled that she actually laughs, surprising herself with the sound as Donna rolls around like an excited puppy, messing up their neat little pile. She laughs until she can barely breathe, and then she laughs some more when Donna reaches out to drag Jody down with her.

The leaves crackle underneath her as she shifts turning to meet Donna’s eyes. Donna’s are warm and soft as she looks back at her, her cheeks flushed pink and creased by dimples that Jody thinks are too fucking cute for anyone’s good. Her hair’s a disaster and there’s a mess of golden yellow leaves caught up in the thick of her ponytail and Jody might not have asked for it but she’s so fucking glad Donna’s here.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m sorry I can’t–”

“Oh hush. You got nothing to be sorry for.” Donna winks and Jody huffs a laugh, feeling warm all through her chest and alive again.

She leans in before she can talk herself out of it, because she wants to, has wanted to, and Donna’s eyes go crossed for a moment before they close, that split second before their lips meet. It’s soft and sweet and warm, and it’s a thank you and a question and an answer all in one. Donna kisses back, as ever, smiling into the meet of their mouths, her hand finding Jody’s in the pile of leaves between them.

Jody squeezes that hand when their fingers lace together, comfortable and warm and right. Jody sighs and stares up at the sky, the autumn light filtering down through the bare branches of the tree overhead, feeling Donna warm and solid at her side. It’s still one of those days that’s worse than others, but Jody thinks having Donna, unasked for but welcome all the same, might just be making it a little bit better.