Title: (Nothing's Fair At) The End Of The World (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Remix)<
Summary: It's the end of the world as she knows it, and Ellen Harvelle doesn't feel fine.
Fandom: Supernatural (Ellen Harvelle, Jo Harvelle, Bobby Singer, Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, Bela Talbot) and Sandman (Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair and Delirium)
Spoilers and/or warnings: No spoilers for Supernatural. Potential spoilers for Sandman through to The Wake. Character death.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Nothing's Fair At The End Of The World by escritoireazul archived here.
It’s two in the morning, and Ellen Harvelle is alone, on foot, on the back roads of Nebraska. There’s a Colt Double Eagle tucked into the waistband of her jeans, its handle nestled tight to the small of her back. It’s clean, oiled and loaded; if she needed to she could use it to split the wind. But she hasn’t fired a killing shot in months. Just walked the old roads, dusty and chill in the night, waiting for a call that hasn’t come.
There was a plan, in the Roadhouse, steeped in the gallons of whiskey she’d served since Bill. A plan as bitter, smoky and strong as she was. The demons would rise from the pit; the end of the world. Anyone left would join in arms, and burn out before they faded away.
When the end of the world came, there were no demons. From where Ellen was standing, that was the first sign of the apocalypse.
The second sign was Death. Not illness or plague, famine or flood, nothing so dramatic. People just died, without warning. Coroners grew frightened of the phrase “natural causes”. Death opened her hands to the world, the same expression on her many faces; ‘I know it’s sudden, but it’s time to go.’
When Death reached the United States, she scattered Ellen, Bobby and the boys. Ellen’s eyes were glassy and fixed, and somewhere in her mind she was singing a skipping rhyme. Wire, briar, limber, lock, chanted Ellen’s five year old self, chewing absent-mindedly on the end of her plait, three geese in one flock. One flew east, Bobby, chasing the unexplained deaths of teenagers in Pennsylvania, one flew west, Sam and Dean, when it came to the wire they were always one, a trail of dust and the snarl of the Impala, following falling starlets to California, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Ellen smiled at the insinuation, as she circled around her empty nest. Nothing tied her to Nebraska, not even the embers of the Roadhouse, but if Jo were trying to find her this is where she would come. When Ellen catches her eyes in a blank black window, one looks a little blue, one a little green, and her hair flashes red in the flare of a passing headlight.
When Bobby calls, she’s on the border with Minnesota; always moving, she only relies on herself. Sometimes strangers see light in her passenger seat, glancing like tropical fish in turquoise and jade, or dancing around her like fireflies as she walks at night. She never looks up, just stares, hard eyed, at the road.
He wasn’t supposed to call, and the bright sound startles her after the silence she’s been living in. He’s stepped off the plan, and Jo hasn’t been in contact. In a world that’s dying, Ellen can’t miss what that means. But it’s still a shock to hear him call her baby a body.
Screw the plan, the plan can go to hell. Ellen takes off even as she hangs up the phone. Her jaw is locked up tight, while her lungs are screaming. The blood in her ears drowns out the noise of the engine. It’s soundless as space, and she’s weightless, but still she’s falling.
Jo was a hunter, and she died with her gun in her hand. Ellen cradles the SW1911; strips it, cleans it, reloads it, turns back to Jo. Her skull is implausibly tiny. Ellen takes a comb and brushes the hair from her face like she was six years old. Bobby builds the pyre, tall and strong, and Ellen sits in the dirt with Jo’s head on her lap, as if she were sleeping. They don’t speak. It’s fifteen yards at most, but she doesn’t stumble, doesn’t falter, although she’s carrying the weight of her world.
Demons or no demons, they scatter the body with salt. No monster will ever look at Ellen through her daughter’s eyes, or speak with her mouth. They have salt for tears, and gasoline for myrrh; she is a princess, she’s her mother’s only child. When her eyes are dry, Ellen strikes the match.
They stand in the dark as the sparks fly upwards, the grains of her daughter’s life light up the night. Above the fierce orange flames the sky looks black, empty and distant. They watch as the flames turn to embers, and over the hot red glow the sky is blue, clearer, colder, and nearer to where they stand. Neither of them moves; it’s almost a matter of honour. When the embers barely smoulder, and the sky sews itself, pink, to the horizon, Ellen turns.
A new day has come, and she is the last of her kin.
Ellen sleeps fitfully, lightly, in the cab of her truck. She dreams of a man with white hair, whose name might once have been Daniel. His eyes are sad, and she likes him, though she doesn’t know why.
Blinking, she drags back the blankets Bobby draped over her windscreen, and discovers it’s the middle of the morning, and the boys have arrived. They’re standing with Bobby, leaning against their car, talking in voices so low it’s just a susurrus of sound. She licks her lips, and they taste like ash, and salt.
“Ellen”, Sam, “I’m sorry.” She suppresses a shudder; it was only polite, and damned if John didn’t drag the boy up proper. Dean looks down at his feet, and Bobby pours coffee with his tired hands. She’s grateful, for the coffee, and the silence, though both are bitter and gritty.
“What do we know, boys?” Stick to business. One foot in front of the other. Follow the clichés until she can think again.
“Not much. It’s not demons; no demons left. Far as we can tell no one knows what’s causing the deaths. They all, just, die. Natural causes. It’s unnatural.” Sam takes over from his brother, a hand on his shoulder. Irrational hatred rises in Ellen’s throat. They have each other, they’re family. What right do they have? “Government’s not saying much, but they’re running scared. So many press releases saying not to panic, that they’re looking into the deaths, that they’re nothing to worry about. Word on the wire is they want to close the borders, though what good that would do is anyone’s guess.” Bobby tips the dregs of his cup on the dirt. “Seems to me the problem is that no one knows anything.” Ellen’s mind is back in the well worn grooves. “What about magic, spoken to any witches?” The boys look blank, and Bobby shakes his head. “It’s a place to start.” She pushes back to her truck, feeling the ache of age in her bones, in her blood.
Angie, a friend of Ellen’s since god knows when, is the most powerful witch in Kansas. She says it’s not witches. Without demons, no witch has this much power. There’s a sadness to her voice, a taint of regret, but she smothers it quickly and turns to her books. Sam likes her.
There’s something. It’s old, and it’s powerful, and nobody knows if it’s real, but it’s worth a try.
They’re looking for a crown of jade, and for Bela Talbot.
At Bela’s name, the room got very quiet. Desire had padded through it on sueded paws, blinking slowly, purposefully, with its yellow eyes. It curled around Dean, and Sam, their different reactions somehow the same. Even Bobby wasn’t immune; Ellen smiled. This Bela must really be something.
She’s pretty. Ellen grants her that when they meet her, in the one taken room in a discreet hotel. Nobody travels, not when they’re waiting for Death to take them one day, on the road, or in a bald motel room too far from home. Not when they’re waiting for her step in their hallway, her hand on the person they love, who they’ll hold like a charm. No one is leaving home, except those who don’t have one.
She isn’t scared. There’s a matt black G17 in easy reach on the glass topped table beside her. She folds her manicured hands on her neatly crossed knees. Ellen would be impressed, if she could summon the interest. All she can see is a shallow, manipulative traitor, who’s breathing the air that her daughter will never breathe. “The crown, Bela.”
“I had it.” A satisfied shrug, as if she couldn’t care. The impassivity is a little too forced, and Ellen catches the scent of her fear. She shakes her head when Sam looks hopeful. What use has she for hope? All she does is wait, Colt in hand.
“I sold it.” Dean clenches his fists, and his knuckles crack. It’s a menacing sound in the too quiet room. Ellen raises her eyebrow, raises her gun.
“It’s what I do.” It tastes like a thunderstorm; feels like a fight. Ellen gathers the pieces. The girl is good, but she’s not that good. “Where did you get it?” The feline presence has entered the room, with its yellow eyes that are nothing like Azazel’s. “Croatia, though the stones originally come from New Zealand. Jade in gold; part necklace, part collar, part crown. Takes a lot of blood to power it, or so I’ve heard.”
“Why are you telling me this?” A natural distrust radiates out of the travel worn skin of the hunters. They expected to find a tiger, and they’re facing a kitten.
“I’m outnumbered, and outgunned.” Her flippancy has lost its power; they’re not convinced. “I sell to collectors. People with money and taste, who will keep the things I procure for them in pride of place on a shelf. This guy, I underestimated. I’ve made my life quite comfortable. It would be a shame to lose it now.”
That’s the truth, and it shines through the mud of her lies like a pearl. “Your life is a painted shell, the cracked side turned to the wall. It’s pretty, and worthless, and we’ll save it if we can.” The tone cuts through the veneer of Bela like acid, and she flinches from the flat disgust in Ellen’s eyes. She writes the name and address on a piece of paper, hands it to Ellen, and turns on her heel to leave.
Ellen watches her sharp black heels cut the carpet until she turns the corner and is out of sight. It’s the end of the world, and this monstrous fake has survived, while her beautiful Jo is dust and ash in the air. She thinks of cockroaches, Death, and taxes. She folds the paper, hands it to Dean, he can drive. The trucks are a waste of gas, and with four in the car they need never stop for sleep again. Despair, in the smoke behind the mirrors, waits with her barbed hook, though this isn’t her time. Destiny turns a new page with his dust dry fingers, and the first line reads like the Impala’s throaty purr.