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Brave Carry On

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Joseph Eli Harvelle is born in the middle of Fucking Nowhere, Nebraska with nothing but a saloon to inherit, should he want it, and maybe a couple hundred bucks for a future college tuition that he'll end up using only a year's worth.

He's an eighties kid at heart and he gets shit for liking Duran Duran and Journey and REO Speedwagon and he's been caught once or twice head banging along to an' here I go again on my own, goin' down the only road I've ever known while wiping down tables a few minutes to closing, but at least he can back up his cred with knowing everything and anything Eric Clapton has ever been involved in, from the Yardbirds to Cream to Derek and the Dominos, and can list every single Led Zep track from Led Zeppelin to Coda in order; regulars can put up with his 80s power ballad moods, fuck you very much.

Billie, his mom, hunts the monsters that are supposed to be the imagination of scared kids afraid to look under the bed or check the closet, but Joe carries iron with him in his pocket and he learns how to defend himself by hunters in between Little League games, but at his dad's insistence. His dad, Elton, wants him to have as normal of a childhood as possible, but it's kind of hard when you know more than everyone else and have had more than one hunter dripping blood into the Roadhouse, needing a wound sewn because a hospital would be too suspicious.

Joe tolerates school to a certain point, finding molecules and algebra useless when he can tell in a second whether he's been cheated in a bill or tip and can remove a bullet and patch up a wound without leaving too ugly of a scar. Real life applicable things are far and few between and he figures he'll probably end up hunting sooner or later.

Sometimes patrons ask his dad why he doesn't hunt, does Billie have the balls in the marriage, and his dad says that he busted his knee in college so he makes it up by being an information hub. People seem to believe it, but Joe knows it's all bullshit.

He asks him about it when he's nine and his dad says, "I used to hunt with your mom a while ago, but it's not for me. I like running the Roadhouse and doing proper research. Hunting isn't the only option, Joseph." He calls him Joseph when he means something serious.

A year later his mom is killed during a hunt and at ten it's hard to hold back tears, but when (almost) every hunter he's ever known is standing in attendance with hard expressions, he bites the inside of his cheek until it bleeds to keep composure.

**

Joe quits baseball before junior high and he always thinks his dad is going to pick up where his mom left off, but he never does. Even cases an hour away, easy salt-and-burns, he gives to other hunters.

"I just thought maybe you could take them and I could help –" Joe says and his dad cracks a highball glass when he slams it down on the counter.

"There's no way in hell I'm letting you hunt," his dad growls.

"Okay, but what if when I turn thirteen –"

"Did you not hear me, boy? No."

Joe doesn't push it because he's eleven and the anniversary of his mom's death is coming up in a few weeks. Maybe if he gets better with a gun and quicker with his self-defense, he'll show his dad that he's ready to do what his mom did.

**

He asks again at thirteen, receiving the same answer, and then before he turns sixteen, to which his dad asks, "Why are you so willing to risk your life?" with a desperation that shuts him up.

**

Hunters tease him for his baby face, his fine blond hair and puppy-dog brown eyes, but girls start flirting at him when he's thirteen and it's worthy of respect to sneak a girl to the back of the bar and make out until you're caught by your dad who's finding a fresh bottle of Jack.

Joe likes making out with a pretty girl, but as he tells Deanna years later, it takes a lot more than sharing pizza and beer and her knowing side one of Zeppelin IV while batting her pretty eyes for it to be serious.

(Fuck Deanna Winchester for knowing every fucking Led Zep song and every damn riff and lick of "Over the Hills and Far Away" and the way her hips sway in her boot cut jeans and how her grin actually stops his heart sometimes like a lame kid with a crush.)

**

Joe is sixteen when Ash comes strolling in a threadbare plaid shirt and a long skirt that was probably around during Woodstock and Joe hasn't seen anyone north of Kentucky with a mullet, but here she is.

Ash orders cheap college beer, actually enjoys it, and tells him about dropping out of MIT ("Technically I was expelled for fighting, but I was about to quit anyway. So many rules to limit the best and the brightest – what are they afraid of?") and that she's "wicked" good with computers ("Sorry – a product of my time in Boston. Hopefully enough time with you red necks will get rid of it nice and quick," she says with a wink and orders another beer).

His dad's suspicious of Ash for the first few hours until she gets smashed and starts showing off hunting patterns and how supernatural cases link together, things she's figured out while leaving MIT through a series of Greyhound buses and staying in shitty motel rooms.

Ash should've left at closing time, but she just ends up sleeping on the pool table and Joe and his dad just shrug their shoulders, figuring it's just as well.

Who wouldn't want a genius on the everlasting job of hunting the monsters?

**

The University of Nebraska at Kearney is the easiest choice and it gets his dad to shut up about going to college, which isn't something Joe wants to do at all, but the huge smile on his dad's face when he gets the acceptance letter in the mail makes Joe go along with it.

At high school graduation when he throws his cap high in the air, he doesn't quite feel like smiling with the rest of his peers.

**

Joe doesn't talk about his year stint in college for one reason: he hated it beyond words.

(He hated that he ate more meals alone than not, he hated that his roommate was an asshole and thought his knife collection was freaky even though his dad apparently had a sick gun collection, he hated that all his classes had hundreds of kids in them, he hated that he felt like he was drowning, he hated it all.)

**

"College isn't for everyone," Ash sympathizes as she hands Joe a can of her beloved PBR and he takes it without complaint – he's drunk enough to not taste it.

"Yeah, wanna tell my daddy that his attempt at makin' me normal failed?" Joe retorts, not looking forward to tomorrow when he tells his dad that after finals he's not coming back.

**

(Elton takes it as well as expected.)

((Joe has to sleep in hunters' homes for almost two weeks until he's allowed to come back to the Roadhouse.))

**

The Winchester sisters barge in with big guns and tight jeans and military jackets and flowing hair that really isn't practical for the job, but at least Sam has pulled her hair back.

Joe doesn't know Deanna well at all, but he knows she's subdued from her usual demeanor (a mom's death can do that), but he sees a ghost of her smirk, a spark in her eye that would probably get his blood flowing (at least more so than she's already doing, which, oh man, danger, Will Robinson! as his mom used to joke).

Wrong place, wrong time
will be something that grows to bother him more and more the longer he knows her and she walks out of the Roadhouse without a second glance back and he should've fucking known better.

**

Deanna hums "Can't Fight This Feeling" under her breath and damn it, he fucking appreciates that, even though she should embrace her hidden love for the 80s – it would probably help alleviate some of the angst she carries in her heart.

**

Deanna would probably be so pissed if she were to ever know, but she reminds Joe of "Edge of Seventeen" – the distinctive, strong, simple guitar riff that's a backbone to the grief and roughness of Nicks' voice, but there's something undeniably feminine in the whoo, baby, whoo said whoo.

He knows she'd prefer to be synonymous with the likes of Zeppelin or Metallica, but.

(It doesn't help that a song that reminds Joe of Sam is "Dancing in the Dark" by Springsteen – upbeat seeming at first, but there's frustration and sadness when you take a closer look; Deanna would complain until the end of time.)

**

"I think someone's got a crush," Ash says with a knowing grin, opening the can of PBR Joe has just tossed to her.

Joe leans against the door frame of Ash's 'office,' trying appear cool even though he can feel the back of his neck turn red. "What are you talking about?"

Ash sighs dramatically, closing one of the six laptops scattered throughout the room. "A certain bombshell of a chick who can handle a gun whose name may sound like Weanna Dinchester."

He laughs and if he had a way of contacting Deanna, he would totally have that be her contact name.

Ash's eyes soften a little. "Treacherous waters you're treading, Joey," she tells him and she's the only person who can get away with calling him that.

"Yeah," he admits, swallowing as he looks down at the floor.

He hears her chug the beer and the crunch of the can signifying her finishing. "I could probably get into all the fun, psychological aspects of this, so textbook Freudian, but I'll spare you."

Joe supposes he should defend himself, that it's barely anything; he just maybe has dreams of the sexual variety and he can't listen to REO Speedwagon without thinking of her, needing to hide a smile whenever it comes up on the radio and he stops thinking because what's the point.

Ash gives him a sympathetic smile. "Want to help me with gathering info for this case?"

She doesn't need it, but he takes the offer anyway.

**

It's been a while since Joe asked, but after meeting the Winchesters, Joe figures that his dad would be more open to the idea of his hunting now. If Sam Winchester, who can't be that much older than him, can hunt, then why can't he?

Joe practices his pitch and does research, without Ash's help, and is confident that his dad will listen and send him off with his blessing.

(Wow, what a joke, he should've fucking known better.)

**

(But the thing is, Elton Harvelle should've fucking known better too – Joe is just like his mother, something that Joe carries with pride (so what if he's a momma's boy – Billie Harvelle was the best person in this messed up world), and Joe feels good about heading to Philadelphia, knowing he's doing the right thing.)

**

Maybe it's the fact that he's always looked kind of young for his age that's made him sensitive to people treating him like he's five years younger than he actually is, but he can't stand Deanna being a condescending dick, treating him like a misbehaving little cousin she got stuck babysitting.

And maybe snapping at her and not listening to Deanna, who does have more experience with hunting, shows his age and inexperience, but.

He just knows he can be good, be one of the best, if he's just given the chance.

**

Well, Joe manages to think to himself as he tries not to cry, hands shaking and his scalp on fire from having some hair ripped out, now I know why hunters have nightmares.

**

One would think that a huge turn off would be finding out that the girl you like had a mother who sacrificed your own mother in a hunt gone wrong – and it is, at least when he tells Deanna to fuck off.

But as he's traveling north, he realizes he's totally and utterly fucked, checking his phone at the end of the day, thinking that maybe she'll call or send a text about a hunt.

He should be pissed that she's pulling a disappearing act like her mother apparently did with his family, but instead he's just bitter that he can be thrown to the wayside like every other guy (and girl – he's pretty sure she swings both ways) she comes across.

(He should've fucking known better and isn't that just a wonderful realization to come by every time he deals with Deanna Winchester?)

**

From Sam coming in with her Amazon stature and giving him a concussion and saying awful things about his mom's final moments to his being compared to a school boy, to lugging Deanna back to the bar and playing doctor without any sort of gratitude ("You're like a butcher," Deanna grits as she downs more alcohol), Joe should be ready to kick Deanna's ass out the door, but instead offers to help instead, go after Sam.

At least when Deanna claims that she'll call him later, he knows better.

"No, you won't."

("Every Rose Has Its Thorn" plays on the jukebox as he disinfects his first aid tools and he laughs until tears roll down his face because of fucking course.)

**

Joe stays local, Dunith being home base for a few months, not traveling far from hunts and he has nightmares that he cycles through, although memories of his hunt with the Winchesters is the worst.

But a hunter never knows peace, not really, because his dad calls him, devastated, that the Roadhouse is destroyed, that Ash –

Joe doesn't really recall much after that phone call, but he somehow ends up in a shitty motel, crying himself to sleep like he's ten all over again.

**

Father and son, hunting together. Something Joe had always wanted growing up, but it tastes bitter in the back of his throat.

They travel like the Winchester sisters and Joe has five different identity cards and backgrounds to keep track of and he cuts his hair shorter, to give himself a few more years. (He's so sure Ash, wherever she may be, and he hopes beyond hope it's somewhere good, is laughing.)

**

(Joe sometimes thinks maybe they'll run into the Winchesters here, or maybe there, or maybe –)

**

Word gets around that Deanna sold her soul to a demon and his dad side-eyes him, as if he's going to break down or something ridiculous.

Joe sighs, twisting the cap off the whiskey he recently bought. "She did it for Sam, no doubt. I'm not surprised," he says before taking a swig straight from the bottle.

His dad sighs, shaking his head as he takes the bottle from him. "Fuckin' Winchesters."

**

Deanna dies sometime in the summer and the Harvelles drive to South Dakota because according to Joe's dad, "Bobbi's not gonna take it well."

Bobbi is a middle-aged woman with a dirty cap and worn clothes, as if she hasn't bothered buying anything new for the past decade or so, and drunk as can be.

"Rufina is better at dealing with Bobbi," his dad mutters under his breath as they move an unconscious Bobbi from her cluttered desk to the ratty couch.

Joe just finds one of the half empty bottles of alcohol strewn around and downs it.

**

They stay for a few days, even though they know Bobbi is going to go right back to drinking. Well, drinking more than she is for the time being.

"Y'look like Billie," Bobbi tells Joe after finishing a bottle of whiskey.

"I've heard that a lot," Joe says, handing over the bottle he was drinking out of.

She takes the bottle with a brief nod. "Good hunter. Nice person."

He gives her a shaky smile and holds his hand out for the bottle when she's done drinking from it.

"Deanna was too," he finds himself saying even though it's pretty much a lie because nice isn't quite the word to describe Deanna and she was better than good, but Bobbi gives a weak smile of her own.

**

It's almost a year later after they bump into Rufina on a case that they find out that Deanna Winchester pulled a Lazarus, thanks to angels and he swears the next time he sees Deanna, he may just shoot rocksalt in her face – she can take it and frankly she deserves it. Asshole.

**

"Hi, Joe."

"Hey."

WOW
, Joe can just about shoot himself in the face if it weren't for the fact that they're in the middle of War's sick game.

**

Castiel reminds him of "Where the Streets Have No Name," when he's blasting it – the wall of sound that is the guitars the synthesizer before Bono comes in before the two-minute mark. Even though she doesn't take up much space in Bobbi's house, he can somehow feel her vastness everywhere, making the hair stand up on the back of his neck.

Of course his dad immediately drags Castiel to Bobbi's kitchen to introduce him to the wonders of alcohol consumption and is only half-surprised that Castiel willingly follows him.

**

"Hey."

"Hey."

"So, dangerous mission tomorrow. Guess it's time to eat, drink, and…make merry."

Joe has to press his lips together to keep from laughing because he's way past tipsy at this point. "Are you giving me the 'Last Night on Earth' speech?"

"What?"

"What?" Joe mocks, unable to hide his smile.

Deanna laughs and she never was comfortable being called out on her bullshit. "No…if I was…would, uh…would that work?"

He imagines saying, Yes.

Joe can imagine it well enough – the two of them sneaking up the stairs and falling onto one of the old beds, trying to ignore the way the sheets and quilt smell and kissing each other, hot and wet and easy because that isn't the awkward part; it would probably get awkward while undressing each other, school boy, ringing in the back of his mind and getting self-conscious as a result because she no doubt goes for the big and strong type and he's pretty much the opposite (although he's proud of his six-pack, fuck you very much).

He knows what to do to make her writhe and cry out and her mouth is just as perfect as he imagined too many times and as for potentially-the-last-time-ever-having-sex-before-dying sex, it would be up there as one of the greatest.

But then what happens?

No post-sex cuddling, that's not her style, and she'll shoot him an easy smile even though it would rub against him awkwardly and she'd toss him his clothes while she puts hers on and she'll walk out, leaving him to join a few minutes later and then it would be it.

But what if they somehow manage to kill Lucifer, then what happens?

Would Deanna play it off like it never happened? Would he be able to swallow it like a big boy, or would he be one of those guys?

The sad thing, or maybe it's the human thing is, he's selfish and can't stand the idea of fucking her and being reduced to nothing more than a glorified one night stand.

So instead, he says, "You have more self-respect than that," with a joking lilt because he's not sure who does between the two of them; she has alarmingly low self-esteem and he's pathetic in his unwillingness to let go.

She stares at him intently for a few seconds before pursing her lips, green eyes narrowing. "You think it's slutty of me? Desperate?" she asks quietly (danger, danger).

"Of course not," he hisses back.

She closes her mouth and stares at him again and he flushes when he sees her understand (I'm the desperate one).

He leaves her in the kitchen and when Bobbi sets up the camera, he feels her arm around his waist tightening until their hips are pressing against each other.

**

Joe is cradling a beer in his hands, sitting on Bobbi's front porch and at least it's not a bad night – it's relatively warm, a cool breeze every now and then, and he can see the stars.

(It definitely doesn't feel as nice as Deanna or look as nice, at least in his imagination, but you get what you give – wait, that's a 90s song how blasphemous.)

The door opens behind him and he tenses, not willing to have a conversation with anyone right now (especially not Deanna or his dad, who would take one look at him and just know what a fool he is for falling a little bit for that kind of girl).

But when no noise follows after the door shuts, Joe figures it's Castiel since a year on earth apparently isn't enough to learn proper social cues, so he cranes his head back and says, "Hey."

Castiel nods in greeting, a gust of wind pushing her wild hair behind her shoulders. "Everyone is asleep," she says, her deep voice always throwing him off, but he thinks he's getting used to it, like he can't imagine Castiel speaking in any other way.

"Yeah," he responds, taking another drink, wincing at its warmth.

"I can assist you, if you'd like," she continues, taking a few steps towards him and holding her hand out with two fingers.

He leans back automatically. "It's okay, really. I just want to finish this beer then I'll hit the hay."

He brings the bottle back to his mouth and from the corner of his eye, he sees Castiel taking a seat next to him before reaching across the space between them to tap the bottle once. The next swallow is cold, cold beer.

He brings the bottle down with a grin. "Thanks." Pause. "That didn't…deplete your mojo or anything, right?"

"Hardly," Castiel answers sharply.

He brings up a surrendering hand, figuring that would be a sensitive topic.

(Although the clock is ticking and soon there will be nothing left, then what?)

They sit in silence for a few minutes until Joe says, "Nice night," because he can't stand to be in his own mind right now, even if he is kind of drunk.

"It is peaceful," she agrees, looking up at the sky, her eyes a shade of blue that's not of this world, that's for sure.

"This may be a stupid question, but, is Heaven actually up there? On the clouds or whatever." He moves his hand around and maybe he's drunker than he thought because he should be embarrassed by such a ridiculous question.

"Heaven is in a different dimension from this, it's not accurate to think of it as above Earth."
He nods. "So is it…existing all around us in a different dimension? Like…two pieces of paper on top of each other?"

Castiel furrows her brow in thought. "It's not quite right, but it's closer than the illogical human assumption of Heaven's location being…in the clouds."

Joe starts laughing, stupidly imagining Castiel hopping from cloud to cloud with fluffy white wings, a harp, and a halo, which reminds him –

"Do y'have a halo?" he slurs before giggling, taking another long drink.

"No."

"Dee told me she saw the shadows of your wings."

"They cannot be seen by humans otherwise."

"Unless – death. The marks on the floor."

Castiel nods.

Suddenly he feels sick, so he places the half empty bottle in between them and wills his stomach to stop churning. After a minute, Castiel takes the beer and finishes it off. He thinks about telling her that's in bad form, that he could be taking a break before finishing it, but it's just as well.

"Are there actually gates?" he asks quietly, closing his eyes, even though he has an awful feeling in his gut that he should keep them open for as long as possible.

"No."

"So you just…pop in there. When you're dead."

"Essentially, yes."

"Well, at least I won't be wondering whether or not I made the cut."

"You will go to Heaven," Castiel insists, eyes boring in his eyes with a horrible intensity that makes Joe admit everything sinful thing he's done just so she wouldn't have to scour his brain for it. "May it be tomorrow or decades from now."

He's weirdly touched by her assertion and he's about to say the same thing back (maybe not decades – do angels die naturally?), but stops himself short – do angels remain in Heaven when they're killed? Do they go to their own kind of Heaven? Do they cease to exist?

The last question makes him shudder.

"I hope it's worth it," Joe tells her, getting to his feet shakily and yes, he's definitely drunk.

Castiel places a hand on his shoulder to steady him. "Humanity is worth it," she tells him, looking directly at him.

He almost laughs, but he feels overwhelmed by the gravity of Castiel's choice. Deanna is a force to be reckoned with and she would somehow convince an Angel of the Lord to do what she wants, but to be one of the few faces of humanity Castiel identifies with is scary.

She leads him to the cot on the living room floor and she whispers, "Sleep well," before touching two fingers to his forehead before he can stop her.

**

"Thanks for last night," Joe mutters to Castiel as everyone loads the cars.

He probably wouldn't have said that if he weren't nervous for today, but thankfully Castiel is either naïve or is kind enough to not call him out on it and just nods, the corner of her mouth twitching.

**

The ride is stiflingly silent.

**

Getting ripped open by a Hellhound hurts like a motherfucker.

Just, for your information.

**

His vision is graying around the edges and he can't move his legs and it's not as scary as he'd imagined it would be but he still tries to keep the tremor out of voice when he asks can we please be realistic about this?

His dad is shamelessly crying and Joe wants to be a pillar of strength even though his guts are outside of his body and he's still being treated like a child against his wishes when Deanna presses her lips to his forehead.

But then she actually kisses him and he can still manage to feel a spark of pleasure amongst the fucking agony, so at least there's that.

**

Dying while sitting on your ass and crying with your dad holding you close is definitely not the blaze of glory death Joe had in mind, but hey, that's life (ha, ha, ha) for you.

**

This must be just like livin' in paradise, and I don't want to go home…

Joe blinks and he's sitting with his feet up at a table, a soda long gone warm in his hands with the broom propped up by his thigh.

"Lazin' about the job, JoJo?"

Joe grimaces. "Don't call me that."

His mother laughs, loud and bright because she's always loved to tease him since she thought for sure she was having a girl (she just felt it) until Joe popped out of her.

"Maybe I should make it official – change your name."

"Mom!" Joe whines, but he can't stop a smile, feeling a sense of déjà vu –

He brings a hand to his side and remembers.

Motherfucker.

(But it's better than perfect.)

**

Ash comes waltzing in from the goddamn storage closet with a triumphant grin on her face.

"Found ya!" She looks around. "Hey, this is my heaven too! You got PBR in the fridge? Where's Elton? Is your mom around? I wanna meet the woman who gave the other half of your DNA."

Joe grins and crouches down to grab a can. "Hey, you think you can fix the jukebox because it keeps playing songs that vaguely reference heaven and it's getting old."

"Not a problem."

**

At some point Joe is learning how to swing a bat, his dad's arms wrapping around him to show him the way his body is supposed to twist, when Castiel shows up, expressionless as usual but eyes alight.

"Hi, Castiel," Joe says, inexplicably leaving his father's hold and walking towards her.

"Joe," Castiel greets, the corner of her mouth twitching.

"I take it the apocalypse has been averted?"

"Yes."

"That's good – Ash thinks that Heaven wouldn't have been able to handle the sudden influx of the world's current population if Lucifer destroyed the world."

"It's best we didn't test that theory."

"Was that a joke?"

Castiel shrugs in a convincingly human way.

Joe grins and drapes an arm around her shoulders. "You have a minute? You can tell my dad and I all about what happened. You can meet my mom, too. She's been wanting to meet an angel."

"Well –"

"Come on, my dad and I gave ourselves up for the cause, we should hear about how it ended."

"Alright. Just for a bit."

Joe leads her through the marked door back inside the Roadhouse, finding his parents already sitting at a table in the middle of the room with Ash placing a few beers on the table.

Joe sits down between his parents and across from Castiel, taking a long drink from the bottle before saying, "Alright, let's hear it."