Jo paused as she got out of the rental car. Earth smelled weird, especially after a couple years in a place without pollution of any kind. That wasn't why she was pausing, though.
It was stupid, really. Jo reminded herself that she'd traveled to another galaxy, come face to face with a Wraith Queen and once been the object of Elizabeth Weir's wrath. Compared to these things, facing her Mom should be easy.
Then again, family stuff probably trumped mortal peril, especially when your family stuff often involved mortal peril.
She was back on Earth for what amounted to a TDA, even though she wasn't officially military. She sure as hell wasn't a scientist, and in Atlantis, you either palled around with the geeks or with the military, unless you were dating someone, or you were Colonel Sheppard. Jo had been around Marines almost non-stop for a long time. Though she wondered if she was thinking of this trip as temporary to comfort herself that she would indeed be going back, when this was all over.
If it ended. Without ending all existence. Colonel Carter hadn't thought that was likely, but then it wasn't every day they got a message from the SGC saying somebody other than SG-1 had started the apocalypse.
Jo had a feeling she knew who "somebody" was in this case, otherwise they wouldn't have sent her.
Whoever was inside the house had probably spotted her by now and was wondering why she was standing outside, so Jo swung her duffel bag out of the car and headed for the door, realizing she was probably in for at least water spots on her clothes. Hopefully neither her mom or Bobby would throw the holy water right on her face.
Nothing like being home again.
For a second, Dean wasn't even sure it was Jo. The face was the same, and she didn't look all that different, so he couldn't pin down why he felt jarred. She wasn't dressed the same way, for starters. Plain black t-shirt, loose black pants and sneakers, and her hair wasn't cut short, as he first thought, just pulled up at the back of her head. Definitely not the skin-tight jeans and sexy blonde hair he remembered about her.
That wasn't it either, though. Something about how she walked into the room, smiled politely at everyone, didn't avoid looking at him or really look at him much. Not to make it all about him, but she was different and it was bugging him.
He stopped short of suggesting something demonic was at work, though. Bobby would've checked.
Possibly he'd just gone around the fucking bend into total paranoia, what with hell and Lucifer and the apocalypse and all. Dean couldn't honestly take that off the menu.
Ellen hovered, as much as she ever did. Jo didn't miss the relieved look on her mother's face after seeing no visible signs of scarring anywhere. Jo had been essentially AWOL for about two years, with only sporadic email contact with home, and unable to tell Ellen anything about where she was or what she was doing, except that she'd stopped demon hunting. To the eyes of everyone here, that probably had just made her a quitter, even if her mother had been intent on Jo not following that path in the first place. Harvelles didn't just give up, even when they were wrong.
But Mom didn't ask. Bobby did. Well, more like demanded. Extensively.
Jo bit back the frustration. She'd grown up in the world of demon hunters, and she had known what it was like to have that awareness and not be understood by the rest of the world. But her family had been on the same side as her then. Now she had to lie, to keep what she knew from people she actually gave a damn about. And it sucked, even more than Laura had warned her about.
"Private security?" Bobby repeated again, his voice starting to lose the combative edge slightly in the face of her stonewalling.
Jo nodded. Saying anything else would just create a crack they would try to pry open.
Bobby looked her up and down. "Where were you, girl, fucking I-raq?" He turned his wheelchair sharply away, shaking his head.
Jo let out a breath slowly, only to realize Dean was still watching her.
Ellen broke the moment. "Well, come on. Dinner's in twenty minutes."
Jo hoisted her duffel. "I need a shower."
As expected, Dean's intent stare shifted to a lewd expression. Jo rolled her eyes, and when she was safely out of sight of them all, rolled her shoulders to let out some of the tension.
She listened through the meal, asking some questions, watching the familiar interplay between Sam and Dean. There was a thread of ugliness to it she didn't remember. Hell and addiction and being used by the demons they hated so much to start the end of the world clearly had not helped the antagonism in the Winchester clan.
Mom and Bobby were the same, except that Bobby was even sharper and more hostile than before, glumly bitching about his wheelchair, and Mom was weirdly polite.
The world had gotten seriously fucked up in the last two years. Guilt needled at her, but at the same time, what could she have done to stop this? She wasn't nearly as good a hunter as Dean and Sam and Bobby, never had been and she'd known it. That was why she'd signed up to ship off to another galaxy in the first place. Gave up on this world and found another where she could be useful.
She pushed the emotion away, asked about Lucifer and Michael. The more she heard, the more she wondered.
Ancients? Some sort of Ancient life forms, who'd bought into the god-roles they'd played for humans, maybe? To the point they were going to cause a lot of damage in carrying out the delusions they'd lived with for centuries. It would explain some of the powers the so-called angels had shown.
All of which meant this plan they had to find Lucifer and use a handgun on him wasn't going to accomplish jackshit. Even with Castiel the alleged angel along.
And she couldn't say a damn thing. And they wouldn't listen anyway. She was still Jo the baby, the wannabe hunter in their eyes. The way they spoke about what they were going to do, they weren't seeking her input or her approval. Dean and Bobby informed Jo of her role, in Bobby's case without even looking at her much. Dean looked, but he had this expression of a guy who'd just noticed his buddy's little sister had hit puberty.
Jo glanced over at Sam and not for the first time wondered how the hell he'd put up with years of being bossed around by these guys without snapping. Though, she considered, he kind of had. And really, she couldn't blame him.
She folded away her anger and concentrated on listening.
After dinner she slipped out back well away from the house and called the SGC. She repeated what she'd found out so far to Carter, who promised to get Dr. Jackson to look into the Ancient angle. The call ended with Carter repeating the order Jo had been given when she was recalled to Earth: "Gather intel and get back." Jo listened silently, nodding absently in agreement, and hung up.
"They keep you on a short leash, huh?" She jumped a little. Ellen had her hands buried in her coat pockets. "You shouldn't be this far from the house."
Jo shrugged, slipping the phone into her pocket. "I wanted to check in, see if I had any messages." She waited for another round of questions.
Instead, Mom shocked the hell out of her by reaching out and brushing a stray lock of hair from her face. She looked uncomfortable. Jo couldn't remember her mother ever looking this uncertain. "I'm not glad about the circumstances, but I am glad you're home, Jo."
Her eyes prickled. Jo thought of the light through the glass windows of the Gate room, the smell of an alien ocean and the warmth of her tiny bed, spooned up against Laura's back. Just three of the things she could never tell her mother about. She forced a smile. "Me too," she lied.
"You buy that private security b.s.?" Dean asked Bobby while the women were outside.
Bobby snorted. "What do you think. I'd sure as hell like to know where she's been, though."
Dean looked out the window, still unsettled. Something about the way Jo'd just sat and watched all through dinner nagged at him. "She's different."
Bobby leveled him with a glare. "I checked. She ain't possessed, or demonic, or undead."
Dean gave a hey-I-didn't-say-it shrug. "I just don't get it."
Sam huffed and Dean caught the end of the eye rolling. "What?" he snapped.
Sam shook his head at them both. "She was on her own for a long time." He stood up, folding away the book he was reading. "People grow up." He glanced pointedly at Dean and amended, "Some people."
Castiel was as off-putting as expected. Literal-minded and not getting a good 80% of what came out of Dean's mouth. Jo almost envied him.
Recon was done. The plan was settled. Sam and Dean were getting supplies, and food. Castiel was... somewhere. Bobby was sulking downstairs while Jo packed the duffel bags.
She sensed her mother standing the doorway watching for a few minutes in silence. Jo realized she used to be sloppy in her packing, even for a hunt, gathering things up and tossing them into the bag. Now she was folding and wrapping and tucking with precision. Just one more thing all those months at the SGC had drilled into her.
She cracked first, though she hated herself for it. Craned her neck over her shoulder and gave her mom a look, waiting for the questions to start again.
Ellen surprised her for a second time. "So, these people, this job." She leaned against the doorframe, hands in her pockets. "You like it there, then?"
Jo turned back to the bed. A soft smile crossed her face. "Yeah. It's good."
There was an edge in Mom's voice now. Jo's spine stiffened just a tiny bit.
"Not any more than hunting." It was a lot like hunting, actually, which was why she'd survived the SGC and was able to go to Atlantis. Otherwise, even an ATA gene as strong as hers could've been useful on Earth. "Sometimes less."
Ellen's posture said clearly she wasn't going to buy that. Jo wanted to give her something. She'd always sucked at lying outright to her mother but more than that she wanted to offer her some tiny bit of peace in all this madness.
She zipped up the bags and turned, putting her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. She searched for something safe to say. A thousand images of Laura flashed through her mind, from Jo's early training to her first gate missions from Earth to Laura introducing her around Atlantis. Sharing secrets and then sharing other things, none of which Jo would ever have told her mother about even if planetary security hadn't been hanging in the balance.
Finally she came up with, "I'm never out there alone."
Curiosity flashed in Ellen's eyes. Jo hoped she looked reassuring. The silence lingered and she resisted the temptation to talk, to say something else to break up the quiet.
Ellen nodded, once. "Well, I guess that's something," she said, and turned to leave. A stranger might have found that dismissive or cruel, but Jo laughed a little to herself. Coming from Mom, that was equivalent to a blessing.
When Dean finally made a move - clumsier than he used or be, or she used to imagine he would be - Jo considered it for half a moment. She'd never promised Laura any fidelity. Monogamy inspired by the lack of other options wasn't much of a commitment (and yes, line of rationalizing bullshit, but one neither she or Laura had been willing to let go of yet). And she couldn't deny she was curious. All those fantasies she'd had about him, part of her wanted to know if he could measure up to his boasting.
Three years ago she would've killed for the chance, so she thought about it, if only because her younger self would kick her ass for saying no.
But in the end, it was more fun to tease him, watch as his eyes started to light up with hope, and then drop him on his ass. Payback's a bitch, Dean.
He asked because he thought there was no tomorrow, and Jo was determined there would be one for her.
If the angels were Ancients, Jo had no idea what the hell hounds might be. She gave it a few moments of consideration before shuffling it off as above her pay grade.
Her lips twisted. That was one of Captain Stackhouse's favorite expressions.
Running through the empty town trying to avoid something feral and invisible reminded her of a mission a few months ago to a desert planet with straight-out-of-a-horror-movie alien worm creatures that had leapt up out of the sand without warning. Stackhouse's leg had gotten pretty torn up before they got back to the gate and got the hell out of there.
Now there was no Stargate to escape to and Castiel was proving about as useful as your average Ancient, according to what Jo had heard. Meaning, fucking not at all.
When the hell hounds caught Dean's scent and aimed for him, Jo reacted out of instinct, stopping, turning and firing at the danger to her team to cover their retreat. Something heavy and nasty-smelling slammed into her and pain blossomed across her belly before there were loud noises and she was lifted off the ground and moving.
Jo smelled her own blood but all she could think was that Laura was going to kick her ass for getting hurt.
During her five months at the SGC, before they let her go to Atlantis, Jo had gotten trained for various aspects of life on a gate team, including emergency medical procedures that supplemented what she already knew about first aid. So she knew without anyone having to tell her that her time was slipping away. Wounds to the abdomen weren't going to heal up on their own, and quite possibly couldn't be healed at all.
It was almost impossible to think through the pain. When she could finally think, getting them to listen to her, to little Jo Harvelle the failed hunter, took more time than she could really spare. She was cutting things much too close here.
She only told them part of her plan. Enough to get them to go. She had orders, and she intended to follow them.
Then Mom insisted on staying. Jo tried to convince her to go, knowing Dean and Sam would protect Ellen as much as possible, but then she reconsidered. One less civilian for Lucifer to use as collateral against the Winchesters, and if the plan worked, she'd be able to get her Mom to safety. Which was more than she could say for the so-called angels right now.
Dean kissed her goodbye. Jo felt her life slipping out of her hands, so she kissed him back, tasting tears. She was letting go of more than just him. She was leaving this life, her old life. One way or the other.
No, she was going home. Laura would help her, take care of her. Bring her Jell-O and pudding cups. Make her get her ass out of bed and start walking to get her strength back up. Make her laugh, which would make the scars hurt but it would be worth it.
Mom waited, the trigger in her hand. She never noticed the keychain Jo had in her own palm.
Timing the emergency beacon to the bomb just right was a bitch. The bright light might have been the explosion, or the Asgard transport beam. Jo passed out before she could be sure.