There was that little stab of jealousy again, but then he was laughing at the mention of the bathroom. "I don't like onions," he declared, sticking his tongue out in distaste. Something else it seemed that had somehow changed over the years. "Or carrots," he added. "But Ellen says they're good for me. My Dad lets me eat whatever I want. He says life is too short." He frowned a little at that, understanding what his father meant by that a little too well.
Jo laughed softly, gently sticking band-aids over his scrapes before rolling his jeans down once again, turning her attention to his hands. She didn't know all the ins and outs, but she understood why he would frown, gently stroking his cheek. "You know what? He's right. For most of us, life is too short. But for some of us, like Ellen and Bobby, it goes on and on, and we get a home and a family of our own, and we get to raise our kids and teach them normal. That's not so bad, is it?"
"No, I guess not. I mean, Dad says people like him do what they do so that other people can have normal lives and families and stuff, but ..." There was that frown again. At seven years old, he certainly didn't have it all figured out yet. "Why's it have to be us? Why not someone else? Why ... Why'd my Mom have to ..." He trailed off, his chin quivering. He'd promised his Dad he wouldn't talk about that. No one seemed to have an answer for that question.
Jo sighed softly, abandoning his hands to gently stroke his hair. "Some questions don't have an answer, sweetie," she told him softly. "It sucks, but we don't always find out why, or how. All we can do is the best we can. As long as we remember the people we lost, they're never really gone." She reached into her pocket, drawing the ever present iron knife from its sheath. There, on the blade, were the initials W.A.H., letters she now knew were more important to her than she could ever have realized. "See this? This was my dad's. He died when I was about your age, doing the best he could, protecting not just his family, but everyone's family." And then he had died again, saving her life when they didn't really know what they were to each other. "It's hard, and it hurts, but you still have family. You have your dad, and Sammy, and you have Bobby and Ellen, and we will get you back to them. I promise."
He didn't understand everything she was telling him. He didn't understand why they had to get him back to Bobby and Ellen when they were right here, but he got the feeling this Bobby and Ellen were somehow different from the ones who knew and loved him. They seemed older somehow, though he couldn't explain it and hadn't had enough time to think it through yet. By morning, he might have it figured out, but right now, he was just a little boy lost and too far from home. He found himself winding his arms around the pretty lady's neck, needing a little more than just words and hoping, even in his own fear and grief, that he could give her a little comfort. "I'm sorry about your father," he whispered, his voice on the verge of tears. He didn't want to cry. He knew big boys didn't cry, but sometimes he just couldn't help it.
"Oh, sweetie." Jo's heart almost broke as the little boy wrapped his arms about her neck, hooking him up from the counter and into her arms as she hugged him, moving to sit down so they could get comfortable. "I'm sorry about your mom," she whispered to him, stroking his hair as they got settled. "But you know what? It's okay to be sad, and it's okay to be afraid. Some things you can't put away; some things you have to feel. And it makes you stronger."
He didn't have to ask if her father was a hunter; he knew instinctively without asking that there was that common link between them, just as there was between his father and Bobby and Ellen and the Dean who had helped save his life. They all belonged to the same club, and they all probably wished they didn't. "Sometimes I just wish ..." he sniffled, precariously still on the verge of tears, afraid to say what was in his heart, knowing it would never come true.
She didn't need to know what he wished. They'd all wished it, at some point; that the one thing that had thrown them onto this path had never happened at all. For Dean, no matter how old, it was the death of his mother, and it always would be. "I know, baby," Jo assured him softly, kissing his hair. "I know."
Something broke inside him - a dam he had kept in place for too long, more for his father and brother's sake maybe than his own - and he was crying as he clung to the pretty lady's neck. He wasn't sure why, but though he hardly knew her, he trusted her. Maybe that was why - because he hardly knew her, because she wasn't expecting or demanding anything from him, other than what he was able to give. Or maybe it was just the simple fact that she was being so nice to him, so kind, and so caring - just like the mother he'd lost. She was even blond like her, and soft and pretty, but she wasn't his mother. No one could ever replace her in his heart, not even Ellen.
Jo held him for as long as he needed her to, murmuring soft soothing nonsense as she rocked the little boy back and forth. She might never tell her own Dean this, but this little boy was still inside him somewhere, still hurting, still reaching out for someone to tell him why and how and what to do. It was that little boy that kept him from turning into a bitter, angry man without a soul to turn to, and she hoped he would never lose that little boy in his heart.
The storm didn't last long, the clouds passing quickly, and the boy's tears subsiding. He sniffled and wiped a grimy hand across his face as he lifted his head from Jo's shoulder. "You won't tell Ellen or Bobby, will you?" he asked in a voice that was still edged with emotion. He hadn't just been crying for his mom, but for himself a little, too. Though he was trying to be brave, his little adventure today had scared the daylights out of him, and he was feeling a little lost and alone, so far from home.
"Cross my heart, I won't tell," she promised him solemnly, smiling at the sight of him wiping his eyes with a grimy hand. "Tell you what, you go and get yourself washed up, and I'll make that sandwich I've been promising you, okay? You know where the bathroom is."
The seven-year-old nodded his head, a faint smile on his face, pleased that the pretty lady would keep his secret from Ellen and Bobby. It wasn't that he was afraid they'd scold him, but that he just didn't want them to fuss over him too much. "And a glass of milk, too?" he asked hopefully. It would be even better if it was chocolate flavor.
Jo chuckled, ruffling his hair as she let him down off her lap. "I'll see what I can do," she promised him, wondering briefly if this was what being a mom was like. Well, she was going to find out in the not so distant future. "Scoot, wash up."
He rewarded her with a bright smile before hurrying off to the bathroom. The house hadn't changed so much in twenty years that he couldn't find that.
Jo couldn't help smiling after him, turning toward the fridge only to jump half out of her skin when she found Apollo standing in the way. "Seriously, could you maybe knock?" she asked, one hand on the rounded swell of her belly as the baby within woke up in reaction to her shock.
Apollo frowned at her thoughtfully. "You called for me," he pointed out.
Jo rolled her eyes. "Bobby called you," she countered. "And that little boy could do without people just popping out of the air right now."
"That little boy is Dean Winchester," Apollo informed her, not seeming to take offense at anything she said as he was hustled out of the way. "Artemis did not have much time - she had to create the portal from a fragment of Chronos' bone."
Jo paused, eying him thoughtfully. "So you can put this right? You can put him back where he belongs?"
Apollo nodded. "It will take a day or so to locate a true bone of Chronos," he told her. "I will inform your husband." And he was gone again.
Jo sighed, rolling her eyes. "Man, he was a lot easier to deal with when I thought he was just a musical drunk."