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Just Your Average Road Trip

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They stop on the road whenever they can - babies are not great travellers, and everyone's happy enough for an excuse to get out of the van.

 

It's an old commercial passenger van they requisitioned through government auction; their one nod to the need to travel inconspicuously slightly undermined by the thing's massively hideous mustard-yellow paint job. Jensen's pretty convinced it was used to smuggle workers across the border, and kept going on about irony and poetic justice until Pooch put him in charge of the radio and Aisha glared at him. It's a fair toss-up which one actually shut him up.

 

The sun's unbelievably hot on the metal roof, and the molded plastic inside heats up fairly quick. They mostly keep the windows open, despite the dust, 'cause the air conditioning barely works. Pooch keeps making noise about souping it up, so when they finally pull over again at a rest stop, somewhere very far off the beaten track, he and Jensen pop the hood and start pulling things to pieces. Jolene goes straight for the bathrooms, and Aisha's close at her heels.

 

Clay heads inside the tiny store with a warning that the engine better still run when he gets back, and a promise to check for freezies. Jensen likes the purple ones best, which, Clay tells himself, is just one of those things you learn about a man, if you know him long enough.

 

The pickings are pretty slim inside, but Clay hits pay dirt in aisle three. He walks away with three jugs of water, 6 bags of jerky, some generic cookies, and the piece de resistance, two remaindered bags of diapers that look like they've been sitting in the same place since the mid '80s.

 

He stands in the middle of the aisle for a bit, wondering if diapers can expire, before he grabs them. It's a long trip on the back roads to New Hampshire, and in his considered experience, extras of anything are only ever a good thing (unless you're talking extra crazy spooks, who are generally only good for shooting in the face).

 

He also buys some popsicles, for the good of morale.

 

Jensen's still leaning over the hood when Clay finishes loading up the van, but Pooch's sitting unconcerned at one of the dilapidated picnic tables with his son in his lap, so Clay figures nothing's busted up too bad.

 

It's almost domestic, Pooch and his kid sitting in the closest thing to shade this place has to offer, Cougar with his hat tipped down over his face, lying bare-chested on top of the table, while Jolene stands a ways off with Aisha, talking for all the world like girlfriends.

 

Except Aisha's got a knife out, and stands like she's about to cut the world in two just for looking at her. Cougar sits up as Clay gets closer, shifts so he can settle in on the table beside him, heavy boots resting on the bench.

 

"What's this about?" says Clay, watching Aisha weave the knife through the air, Jolene shaking her head, arms crossed. He splits his pink popsicle, hands half off to Cougar, and sucks on his half thoughtfully. The cold feels great in his mouth, and he reconsiders his order to head back to the van right away. They can take a few minutes.

 

"Aisha decided my girl needs a little kick-ass training," says Pooch, jiggling the baby a little so he can unwrap his own popsicle one-handed. He's quiet, but they've all learned you can't get complacent with a newborn. "I think she's bored."

 

Clay snorts. "Like Jolene needs help kicking anyone's ass," he says.

 

"Hey, was anybody going to tell me about the popsicles?" calls Jensen, ambling over from the van, and nearly fumbles the one Pooch throws at his head. Special ops training, sure.

 

"Jesus Christ, that's hot," he says, staring at the two women, who've moved farther into the centre of what is ostensibly a patch of grass, defending against invisible attackers. The clerk inside's getting quite a show.

 

"That's my wife, J," says Pooch.

 

"Yeah, she is," Jensen says, and then licks a stripe along the length of his popsicle to the tip, wraps his lips around it and starts swallowing it down, waggling his eyebrows. It's pretty obscene. Cougar looks away from Aisha long enough to watch this, raise an eyebrown, and turn back to the girls.

 

Pooch has his hands full of baby and frozen ice, so Clay does the only decent thing and slaps Jensen in the back of the head. Jensen chokes a little on the popsicle, then shrugs and bites down.

 

"Thanks, man," says Pooch, but his eyes stay on Jolene. "She is pretty hot, though." They sit together quietly, watching Aisha move through a pattern that looks at once graceful and completely devastating, finishing their popsicles.

 

Jolene's keeping a safe distance. It's not that she doesn't trust Aisha to control her blade - the woman's definitely lethal, and she's not about to make a mistake in a slow training session. It's just she's not entirely certain Aisha wouldn't think it completely reasonable to nick her - just a little - as a teaching aid or something, and Jolene doesn't like to bleed as a rule.

 

It's not that she doesn't appreciate Aisha's desire to teach her; it's weirdly sweet, and she knows she could learn a lot from a woman who can apparently handle Frank Clay with barely any sweat. It's just that when Aisha starts talking about the best approach to slice an artery through an attacker's arm pit, Jolene starts getting queasy.

 

It's hot, and the boys have popsicles, so when Aisha pauses to make sure Jolene grasped her last movement, Jolene takes a deliberate step back and settles on the sun-burnt grass.

 

"Boo!" hollers Jensen from the picnic table, and Jolene shoots a casual gesture his direction. It's not a friendly gesture, and she can hear her husband laughing behind her. She's probably going to have to stop doing that when Julius gets older.

 

"Sit with me," she says, and Aisha hesitates, then folds herself down smooth and swift, cross-legged and straight-backed. Jolene's thrown her off balance, which, considering the woman's still holding a knife almost the length of her forearm, is not really what she going for. Jolene smiles like she used to for tense clients, and leans back onto the palms of her hands, trying to look open and unconcerned. The dry grass tickles.

 

"Okay, quit it with the body language. We're not dogs," says Aisha, but her shoulders are curving a little and the knife's disappeared to wherever she usually keeps it.

 

"Fine," Jolene grins for real, leans in. "I'm really happy that you're willing to teach me, so don't take this the wrong way. But I'm an army brat, Aisha, I know self-defense. That's good enough. I don't want to know how to slice all a man's major ligaments in 10 seconds or whatever. I can protect myself with the basics, and if the basics don't cut it, I'm probably dead anyway." Aisha shakes her head, serious.

 

"What's basic is a matter of perspective - these are the basics. And every woman should know them. You can always learn more to protect yourself, and that includes learning how to take the offensive."

 

Something of Jolene's reluctance must show on her face, because suddenly Aisha's intensity drops, and she's backing off a little. There are perks to travelling with someone this good at manipulating others; Aisha knows how to read a mood.

 

"You know what they say about the best defense..." Aisha says, smiling as if the two of them are in on the best joke, though not a particularly nice one.

 

Jolene shakes her head, but can't keep her own mouth from curving in response. Aisha really is damn good at manipulating her, and knowing it doesn't help.

 

"Always travel with your highly-armed husband and three equally scary honorary godfathers?" she suggests lightly.

 

"And if you get separated from them?" asks Aisha.

 

"Well, I'd still have you," says Jolene, and lets herself grin. Aisha rolls her eyes, pulls her up off the grass.

 

"This isn't over," she says as they walk back to the boys. Jolene figured, and honestly, she's glad of it. Still, there's popsicles to be had. The knives can wait.