The worst thing is that he doesn’t know if it’s because of him.
Jo had told him it was okay, had assured him Bill was fine with it, and she had never been the type of woman to lie about something like this. But she had never been the type to read between the lines either, so maybe, maybe it hadn’t been fine. Maybe he is the reason for the mess they are all in.
Bill is gone, has completely disappeared from their radar before he got the chance to say anything. And Jo, Jo is a live bomb that is threatening to blow up at the slightest touch, so he doesn’t dare. He buries himself in his maps like the coward he was and snaps at Alan to goddammit stop folding them, and he doesn’t say a single word to anyone.
There is no divorce, not yet, but there might as well have been. And without Bill as a supporting beam, the team is starting to crack at the seams. Jo is smart, and passionate about what they do - some would even call her obsessed - but she’s also volatile and prone to take high risks for little rewards. The team needs someone to balance her out, they need Bill to take the heat of her anger and to protect her from herself.
But Bill is gone.
It takes him a full month to gather his courage to give Bill a call in a bleak phone booth in front of a gas station in Wellington. Half of him hopes he won’t pick up, but he isn’t that lucky.
In the end, “I’m sorry if it was me” is everything he manages to get out.
“It wasn’t you.” Bill’s voice is so gentle it’s almost unbearable. “It was just…us.”
“We need you.” I need you, he wants to say. Please come back.
But Bill just says “I’m sorry.” The line is filled with static for a moment and then he adds: “I wouldn’t be mad if… you and her. I wouldn’t be mad at all.”
But Rabbit knows that without Bill and Jo, there is no him and her, either. It had always only been able to thrive in the shadow of their marriage. “No, I don’t think so.”
“I’m sorry”, Bill repeats.
Neither of them say anything else before they hang up.
This is what it must feel like to have your parents break up, he muses later as he checks his maps for rips in the cabin light of his pickup. You don’t want it to happen, but you’re powerless to do anything to stop it.
And the way things looked, there wouldn’t even be shared visitation rights.
So he does what any kid of divorcing parents has to do: He sucks it up. He still loves his job, he lives for it. He still believes in what they do.
But sometimes Jo is so close he can almost touch her if he’d just dare to reach out, and he yearns for the sound of Bill’s voice. Sometimes, if he doesn’t look up, just focuses really hard on the map on his knees he can almost imagine him sitting in the leading truck and hearing him argue with Jo over the radio. “At this pace we won’t be there til Sunday.” “Do you wanna drive?” “Oh, I’d love to!”
But there’s just static on the radio and the roar of the engine beneath his feet. Alan is quiet at the wheel after he’s been short with him one time too much. He leads them the best he can, but sometimes he misses a turn. One day Jo storms up to their truck with such an angry expression on her face that he fears for a moment she will try to haul him out of his seat. “Rabbit, what the hell was that?! We lost ten minutes there! We could have had it!”
He successfully fights his urge to hide behind his atlas. “I’m sorry. I fucked up. I’m sorry.”
He watches as her anger dissipates until it leaves nothing but exhaustion. Frankly, Jo looks like shit, with dark rings underneath her eyes and her blonde hair a mess, but he isn’t really in any position to judge, he hasn’t slept this badly since college, and this isn’t half as fun.
But they can’t give up now. There might not be a Bill and Jo, and there certainly isn’t a him and Jo anymore, but there’s still Dorothy. She can make all of this worth it, she can still fly.
And she does.
Of course, there is a party afterwards. After all, they just made a big scientific breakthrough, and they’re also all still very much alive. It mostly consists of beer bought of a gas station in a small town in the middle of nowhere and Dusty blasting ACDC’s “TNT” over the speakers of his bus at a noise level that it can probably be heard in the next county over, but then none of them have ever been fancy people. After this it’s probably time for them to drive home to get a long-needed shower, but for now they’re just mingling on the street lit by the headlights of their parked cars, talking about the events of the last two days, marveling at the fact that they might have lost four of their vehicles, but none of them got anything more than a few scratches. They’ve even managed to drag Haynes away from her laptop, although Beltzer had to basically force her to leave the data they’ve gathered from the F5 for another day. And Bill was right there with them through all of it, and it looks like he’s here to stay.
Rabbit has picked the step in the open backdoor of the bus as his seat and watches the rest of them with a bottle of beer in his hand. Sitting on the street might be cool when you’re twenty, but at his age his back won’t thank him. Though he has a feeling his eardrums won’t thank him for this spot either.
Thankfully there’s soon a very welcome moment of silence while Dusty digs through his collection of tapes for something even more ear-shattering. He’s just considered moving somewhere else (the camper on top of his pickup would have been a preferred choice, but considering that a tornado shoved Preacher’s car right into the side and it’s still standing in the half-destroyed workshop hall where they left it, that’s clearly not happening) when he’s interrupted.
“Hey.” When he looks up, Jo is standing in front of him, running one hand through her messy blonde hair that’s in desperate need of a wash. “You got space there for one more?”
“Sure.” He moves aside and she sits down next to him, so close that their legs are pressing together.
She gives him a sidelong glance. “So. You’ve been avoiding me.”
He takes another swig of his beer to buy himself time. “Contrarily to what people say about storm chasers, I’m not actually suicidal.”
She gives that a short laugh. “Yeah, alright.”
The silence that settles between them feels comfortable for the first time in months. Finally he asks: “So, divorce is off the table?”
“Well, the papers were in Bill’s truck, so…yeah. I think so.” They look over to the crowd, where Bill is just retelling their encounter with the F5 at the farmhouse with big gestures. She sighs loudly. “God, I love that idiot.”
They look at each other and then they both chuckle.
She takes another big swig of her beer and leans forward. “So, is there a girl you’ve been conveniently forgetting to tell us about?”
He shakes his head. “Nah. Nothing like that.”
Her expression softens a bit. “I’m sure there are plenty of women out there who’d want to marry you.”
His eyes widen at the suggestion. “Oh God, hopefully not. I don’t even want to live with anybody, never doing that again. I’m fine living alone. Just preferably a bit further away from my mother”, he adds as an afterthought. “Even if I’m barely there.”
“Well, now there could be money for a new camper soon.”
“Oh, don’t remind me. I loved that car! Maybe it’s still salvageable.”
“Maybe”, she says, but she looks doubtful.
In that moment the first chords of Led Zeppelins “Immigrant Song” make them jump. “Dusty!” they yell.
“It’s called a PARTY!” Dusty shouts back.
Without even a moment of thinking, Jo leans inside and yanks the aux chord from the stereo. At Dusty’s outraged face, she says firmly: “I need five minutes. Just five, where I can hear myself think. Here”, she hands him her wallet, “go buy some more beer.”
He takes the wallet and gives her a sloppy salute. “You got it, Boss.” She looks after him as he disappears in the direction of the gas station. Then she turns back towards him. “So I guess I have no right to ask this, but…”
He interrupts her. “It was fine, for me. I was never looking for more. I never wanted you two to break up.”
She smiles and shakes her head. “You know it wasn’t your fault, right.”
He pulls a face. “I know now.”
She sighs deeply. “Oh, we are a mess, aren’t we?”
“Good thing we don’t have to interact much with normal people”, he says with his eyes on Dusty, who can be seen through the lit window of the gas station as he’s gathering as much beer as he can carry.
“Oh yeah. - So”, she takes another sip of her beer, “you still wanna do this?”
He looks at her. “Yeah. Sure.”
She grins sharply. “Alright. But not now. Now…”
He follows her gaze to where Bill is meeting Dusty to help him some of the bottles. “Yeah, yeah, first things first. I’m a patient guy.”
“I know”, she says softly. Then she leans forward and presses a kiss to his cheek, just a quick peck, but with the promise of more. “I’m gonna go clean up a bit. I smell like I rolled in a ditch.”
He isn’t alone with his thoughts for long before Bill approaches him with two beers in his hands, one of them unopened. “You need another one?”
He takes a look at the bottle in his hand and is mildly surprised to find it empty. “Yeah.” He holds on to the new bottle while Bill opens it for him. He could just let it go, he knows, and it would probably be fine, but just for once he wants to be absolutely certain about where he stands. “Are we good?”
Bill takes a long look at him and then throws a glance into the direction Jo disappeared. “Yeah. We’re good.”
He nods slowly, then he clinks their bottles together. “It’s good to have you back.”
The smile on Bill’s face makes him look younger than he is. “It’s good to be back.”
Bill gives him a firm pat on the shoulder, lingering for a moment before he turns to intercept Jo, who’s stepping out of the gas station’s bathroom with a clean face and dripping wet hair. Rabbit watches as they meet, the way Bill takes her face into his hands and pulls her closer until their lips touch and how Jo melts into the kiss before shoving him off playfully.
Then he takes another sip of his beer, vowing to enjoy the moment until Dusty turns to the stereo again. The world has realigned itself, and it’s a beautiful night.