“It's a crow, that's all I'm saying.”
“It's not a crow, Allan, it's a raven.”
Jo, who was rubbing her temples, tried not to listen as Allan and Rabbit manufactured yet another thing to fight over. Almost instinctively, however, her gaze settled on the cornfield—and the scarecrow—where Allan and Rabbit were directing most of their attention.
The bird in question, at least to Jo's self-admitted limited knowledge, was obviously a crow.
“What, Allan, you some kind of bird expert now?”
“A bird expert's an ornithologist,” Haynes said from her perch on the side of their new, cherry-red pickup.
“Who's an ornithologist?” Bill asked idly as he rounded the bus, face buried in the latest fax from the NSSL.
“Allan,” Jo replied as she walked over to Bill to snatch the perforated copy paper from him; Bill was obviously expecting the move because before Jo could do anything more than reach an arm up, he held it up and just out of reach from her.
“I'm not,” Allan said, “I just know what a fuckin' crow looks like.”
“Will you two quit heckling each other?” Joey's question was purely rhetorical, and by his own long-suffering tone, he understood that quite well.
“Why?” Rabbit asked.
“I just figured we might want to check out the new satellite info I got, is all, but if everyone's too busy...” Joey trailed off then, shrugging a little as—almost as a unit—the group turned to look at him.
“Where?” Bill demanded, thumbing through the data he had been combing over.
“Adams—unincorporated township in Texas County.”
Jo snapped impatiently towards Rabbit, who hurried to oblige their sudden need to know where in Oklahoma Texas County actually was. That taken care of, she hit the horn on the truck before calling out, “Beltzer!” to the general area, knowing that he would wake up by either the honking or her shouting. He came out of the back of the RV, bleary and yawning a little as he rubbed at his eyes—Jo ignored his 'what's happening, what?' as she started the boot up to the personal computer welded into the van's interior.
“Call Helene,” Jo ordered him, “tell her to keep a lookout for any signs of activity in Adams.”
“Panhandle!” Rabbit called out from the open door of the car.
“That's, what, three hours away?”
Nodding in response to Bill's question, Jo started to pack away the small camp they had set up earlier that morning. Bill, who had finally found the page he was looking for in their reports, sucked in a breath through his teeth as he started to calculate their odds. It was factually unlikely that they would make it in time should the activity achieve fruition, but as Jo's wont was usually one of going for the goal regardless of how improbable, she wanted to try despite the odds.
Bill gave her a sidelong look before opening his mouth in order to, undoubtedly, say something pessimistic about their chances—Jo glared at him with enough flatness that he eventually shut his mouth without saying anything. A little thrill in winning this particular argument wended through her, but it only took a few seconds for the emotion twist itself into a combination of guilt and annoyance, both over the fact that in this go around between the two of them Bill had been considerably more acquiescent than he ever had been the first time they had tried for a functional relationship. He was swallowing things down—Jo was doing some of that, herself—and she knew that sooner or later it would all come out, messy and damaging and wholly inappropriate for whatever situation they might be in. But it would also be what the two of them had been lacking these last few months after sifting through their initial DOROTHY data.
It was, Jo supposed, six of one and a half dozen of the other—both shitty options, but the only options presented to her.
“Okay, let's get moving, people!” Bill shouted after one last moment of determining her conviction in going after the nascent twister. “We got ourselves a lovely lady to catch before she stands us up!”
The hustling that ensued after Bill's declaration was a tightly controlled thing—most of them had years of working with one another, living out of each others pockets until it was difficult to say who the metaphorical garments belonged to in the first place. It was comfortable, easy, and still a little strange after Jo had just gotten used to the absence of an integral part of their unit.
“Dusty!” Jo continued on with what was sure to be Bill's train of thought—Laurence had co-opted Bill's attention with his daily question for the man who Laurence had only spent a couple of fraught months with before Bill had left.
From somewhere within the RV, Dusty's 'Yeah, Jo?' was so muffled that it became practically unintelligible from underneath the rest of the clatter around the camp.
“You finished with those hardware updates?”
“Well,” Dusty began loudly as he popped his upper half out of one of the open windows, “we'll see when we get there, won't we?”
He grinned at Jo's deadpan stare toward him and continued with, “I did everything I could—if it doesn't work, it wasn't anything from our end, because we are copacetic.”
In lieu of a verbal reply, Jo gave Dusty a short nod before running through her mental checklist of what still needed to be put in place before they headed off. As she called out various orders to the rest of the team, Bill's demeanor twisted itself into a stilted, anxious set of shoulders and impatiently tapping foot; there was a significant part of Jo that wanted to ignore his sudden attitude change, but—and she could hear Aunt Meg's voice somewhere in that thought process—she was also aware that their relationship, tenuous as it still was, would better benefit from her asking Bill what was wrong.
“What's the matter?” she asked him as soon as she got close enough that it would be difficult for wandering ears to listen in on.
“Nothing,” he said, before looking at her and adding, “but I'm driving.”
“Okay,” Jo replied.
After a few moments of silence, however, and Bill still staring, she asked 'what's the matter?' once more.
“Uh-huh,” she agreed, only a little facetious, as she gave the camp one last look-over. Everything had seemed to be packed up, and all that was left were the people milling between the vehicles in the caravan, looking back and over at Bill and Jo every few seconds—they were waiting for the go-ahead, and with Bill unlikely to share with her what was the matter, Jo opened the truck door and blasted the horn three times.
The resulting echo of horns was familiar music to her ears, and she grinned broadly at Bill before jogging over to the passenger side of the truck. Despite his sudden circumspect attitude, he didn't hesitate in grinning back at her—the thrill of new tornado activity was, Jo supposed, too good a thing to hold any grudges over—after he, too, clambered into the truck.
“Ready to go?” he asked rhetorically, and gave a short beep of the horn before she could even reply with an affirmative.
“It's just that—” Bill stopped himself before he said anything of actual significance. They had been driving for just a little over an hour, and in that time it had been mostly the CB radio making any sort of noise apart from their shifting positions and the occasional 'nice landscape' at their passing of yet another field.
“'It's just that' what?” Jo asked, physically biting at her lip to keep from saying anything further—she had a bad habit of pouncing at signs of potential weakness and this was not the time for prodding Bill until a fight came out of him.
Thankfully her hard-won restraint paid off and Bill puffed out a heavy breath through his nose; his nostrils flared a little, and despite the seriousness of the matter, Jo couldn't help the little smile at the way his face looked when he was unreasonably annoyed.
“It's just—” He let out a frustrated noise. “It's really fucking dumb when I think about it, so I can't imagine how stupid it'll sound when I say it out loud.”
“Is this about me taking over at camp earlier?”
Bill didn't quite slam the brakes in surprise, but Jo felt as though it were a closer call than he would admit to.
“No!” he denied hotly.
“Okay, maybe,” he amended as Jo just stared at him in response.
“So you have a problem with me taking the lead on this?”
“I don't have a problem with you taking the lead, Jo—that's not what this is about.”
They were getting louder; Jo, taking a steadying breath before continuing—in what she considered to be a more reasonable tone—asked, “Then what's the problem, Bill?”
“You don't need me here.”
Jo blinked, admittedly a little stupidly, and opened her mouth to reply before thinking better of what she was going to say. After what seemed like long minutes, Bill glancing over at her every few seconds, she opened the passenger window to get some fresh air—the truck was beginning to become stifling in the afternoon heat and she could feel perspiration start to accumulate at the back of her neck. There were a lot of things she wanted to say to that, but most of them were untrue and she knew Bill would be able to suss it out easily.
“You're right,” was what she finally settled on, hastening to continue as his look of shock passed into something resembling blank. “But that's true for every one of us here. There's other people doing what we're doing now, younger people, and smarter to boot.
“What makes it different for us—what makes us different, is that we chose to be a team. We want to be a team. So it's not a matter of necessity, you know? It was workable, manageable, without you here, but it wasn't anywhere near the same.”
She paused. “It was easier to complain about you without you knowing, though. That's the one thing I'll miss.”
“Be serious, Jo.”
“I am,” Jo insisted, “cross my heart—they feel weird complaining about you now, knowing that you could be waiting just behind a car, hearing every word and ready to catch them at it.”
“About the other thing,” Bill replied unnecessarily; Jo knew that Bill knew very well that Jo knew exactly which part of her statement he was talking about.
“Well, I meant that too.”
“I don't mind you taking the lead more. In fact—” he paused to make a left at another deserted junction before grinning over at her, “I like it a bit.”
“Oh, you do, do you?” Jo asked rhetorically. “What if I wanted to take the lead and say that after this storm, we should head back to the lab for some R&R?”
“I'd agree completely.”
Jo was a little surprised, and it must have shown, because Bill explained, “Dusty's been twitchy—well, twitchier than usual. Beltzer's been complaining about not seeing Hannah for the last three months, and Lawrence was saying something about a convention he was itching to go to.
“Now, I don't know about the rest, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind scouring data for a couple of weeks.”
“I was thinking longer,” Jo said.
“Like how much longer?”
A pause. Jo pointedly did not look in Bill's direction.
“What does the rest of the team say?” Bill asked, and Jo was quick to note that he was trying very hard to make his voice sound like nothing at all.
“Some of them'll probably head off,” Jo conceded, “but I think most of them are happy to go along with the science rather than the storms.”
“So this is a last hurrah?”
Jo shrugged. “Except for when the itch comes.”
“Well, let's make it count, then,” Bill agreed, putting his foot on the gas pedal until it reached a comfortable 85 MPH.
His hand settled on the gearshift; Jo put her hand over his and laced their fingers together.
“Let's make it extreme,” Jo said.
“Jesus, Jo, are you kidding me?”
“The pun was intended,” she explained, shoulders shaking a little as she held back a laugh.
“Yeah, I got that, thanks.”
“Just thought you might want to know.”
And she lost her battle with laughter. It didn't take long for Bill to start laughing as well.