That feeling like something bad was going to happen had been haunting Jo ever since they’d all gotten out of their cars to look for Cas; or rather, had gotten oh so much worse since then. The feeling had been there, nagging at her ever since they’d gotten into town. It was a feeling she’d gotten mighty familiar with over the past few years, though it was nothing she’d ever felt worth telling anyone about. Just a kind of pressure headache that set up shop behind her left eye whenever that bad guy got close and only released once whatever creature-of-the-week was either permanently dead or out of range.
When the group of them reached the intersection and turned the corner, that feeling rocketed up a dozen or so notches into full on alarm status. It was because of this that she wasn’t surprised by the voice from behind them. In fact, she’d been expecting something else to pile on top of their already craptastic demon hunt. Though, she hadn’t quite expected to find what she did when she spun on her heel to face the female voice that had taunted them.
At first, her brain couldn’t make heads or tails out of what her eyes were showing her. Very briefly, she took in the skanky, trailer-trash brunette that stood center stage before her eyes returned – almost of their own volition – to the street behind her. As one tiny part of her brain screamed at her muscles to just run already, another part demanded to know why Dean was verbally sparring with the demon instead of running away like any normal person would be. A quick, glance at first Sam and then Dean told her, though. Both of them were focused solely on the woman that was doing all the talking.
The only thing that Jo knew for a fact scared Dean was hellhounds. In fact, most hunters were terrified of the things. You weren’t supposed to be able to see them unless they were sent to collect on a contract that you’d entered into willingly. All the lore supported the belief. Until this moment, Jo’d been more than ready to say that she’d bet her life she’d never see one. Thanks to the story that she’d dragged out of an incredibly drunk Sam late one night -- or early one morning depending on how a person looked at it -- she’d avoided any hunt that even smelt like it involved dogs of any kind. She’d been that scared of ever coming against one.
And yet she could see them; at least a dozen, though she couldn’t know for sure cause she was having a hard time looking past the big one right in front. The hound right at the demon skank’s side stood nearly as tall as the woman’s shoulder. Its head was almost entirely made up of teeth and what wasn’t teeth was blood red, glowing eyes. The thing’s body was all thick and meaty muscle, liberally marked with scars. Though some of those scars were relics from blade or bullet wounds, most seemed to be from teeth and claw.
Clearly the hound fought with its own pack members more often than it did anything else. As she watched, another slightly bigger -- though leaner -- hound came up on its right flank. The thing turned its head and silently snapped its teeth at the hound, sending it scampering back into place among the rest of the pack. All this was done while the big bitch kept its eyes on Jo. It was almost as if the thing knew that Jo could see it and that made it all the more inclined to want her blood spilled.
While Dean continued to trade words with the demon, Jo managed to pull her eyes away from the awful sight before her only through sheer force of will. Without meaning to, she focused on Xander. He was standing tensed, his single eye closest to her and moving from spot to spot down the street. It only took her a breath to realize that he was tracking each of the hellhounds. In a pause between all the banter, he whispered, “Thirteen.”
“Dean-o, you didn’t think that I came here alone, did you?” the demon asked. And, as if that had been some sort of cue, all the hounds started growling. If Jo hadn’t thought the hounds were all teeth before, the display before her would’ve convinced her. Though the drool was starting to get her attention too. The hound at Meg’s side, shifted restlessly forward as its lips curled even further away from its massive teeth. The movement put the hound’s forepaw into a puddle formed during the earlier rainfall, splashing the water.
Dean’s voice was tight with hidden terror, but Jo was sure that she wasn’t the only one who knew that it was there. His fear only kicked her own into overdrive. She shifted the grip she had on her shotgun; having to consciously make sure that she wasn’t clenching the weapon too tightly. A quick check told her that her mom and Sam were both doing the same. A little in front of her, Xander had shifted his hold on the battle-axe that he was carrying so that he held it using just his right hand. His left hand was oh so slowly creeping up and over his shoulder, reaching for something under the collar of his jacket that Jo couldn’t see. One of the hounds spotted the motion and growled in Xander’s direction. Xander froze and slowly lowered his hand.
Just as she returned her attention to the threat in front of her, the glowing red eyes of the hellhound at the head of the pack shifted to look at Dean. As much as the thing had been focused on her a moment before, now its entire focus was on the man at the head of their group. The sound of her own heart pounding in her ears drowned out whatever was being said. Whatever was happening, Jo couldn’t help but think that that hound wanted her dead and was willing to go through Dean to get to her. And then Dean was yelling for them to run and her mom’s urgent tugging on her arm threw her into action.
She fired off a single shot then turned and ran. Her eyes found the sign for a hardware store so she altered her course and pushed her mom ahead of her. As her mom stopped to pull the door to the store open, Jo glanced over her shoulder. Dean was down on the ground with the head hound attached to the heel of his left boot. Without pausing to think, or consider the fact that Xander was supposed to be watching Dean’s back, she brought up her gun.
Her shot took the hound right between the eyes. She took a step toward Dean and the wounded hound as she cocked the barrel of the shotgun and shot the thing for a second time. The second shot freed Dean and he yelled in her direction, but the roaring in her ears made it impossible for her to hear whatever he was saying. She cocked the gun again, but before she could get a third shot off, another hound tackled her to the ground.
She scrambled back using the palms of her hands and her heels. She managed to get a good two feet away from the thing as Xander came up with his axe. He brought the shining blade down on the back of the hound’s skull, but not before the thing lurched forward and dug its claws deep into her flesh. For half a heartbeat, she couldn’t react. Then a loud wailing reached her ears. It was only when she ran out of breath and the sound stopped that she realized that she’d been the one screaming.
Frantically, she tried to push the hound’s corpse off of her, but all of her strength seemed to’ve drained out of her. When Dean came up behind her and started to drag her backwards, she could see why. She was bleeding, bleeding way too much for it to be just a flesh wound. The pain of Dean forcing her to move was unlike anything she’d ever experienced in the past. Her stomach turned with the pain of it and when she couldn’t take it any more, she gave in and retched over Dean’s arm.
He was too busy firing over his shoulder and screaming at her to keep moving to notice the mess she’d made it the street. She couldn’t help looking back when she heard the sounds of flesh tearing, almost expecting to find Xander lying in the street torn to tiny pieces. Instead, Xander was about a foot behind them, his axe covered in the ichor that acted as hellhound blood. The body of yet another hound lay in the street, its lower jaw missing.
“Jesus, Jo, oh god.” The sound of her mom’s voice in the sudden silence was the only indication Jo had that she’d passed out. She could hear someone in the background laying down salt, but her field of vision was dominated by Ellen’s face. “Don’t you shut your eyes, young lady. You stay with me, you hear?”
“Not gunna go far,” she muttered, her head lolling to rest back against something that really wasn’t all that comfortable. And then she yelled when pressure was put on her wound. The pain brought her back to full consciousness long enough for her to see that it was actually Xander that was working on her wound, not her mom. Blood was everywhere. All over Ellen’s face and hands and there was a single speck of it high on Xander’s left cheek. He was gunna look silly if he didn’t wipe if off pretty quick. Oh, and that was probably a little bit of shock setting in. She’d seen it enough times in the field to recognize it in her own thoughts.
“You’re doing pretty good there, Jo. Not too long before you’ll be up and about,” Xander was saying as he held thick, stark white gauze pads over her wound. She wondered where he’d gotten it from before she remembered the backpack that he’d insisted on bringing with him wherever he went. He was so different from the teenager who’d worked for her mom the summer she’d turned sixteen. She realized right then that she hated how much he’d changed; he just wasn’t the same boy that she’d known then.
She felt floaty. Almost like she had after the doctor’d given her a shot of morphine the time she’d broken her leg when she’d been eight. Curiously, she asked, “I ever tell you that you were my first?”
His eyes flicked up to hers, then nervously to her mom before he went back to work. “That’s the shock that’s talking. A few more minutes from now you’ll be sorry you said anything.”
Ellen t’sked in the back of her throat, then said, “It doesn’t matter, now. You just keep your eyes open, you hear me Joanna Beth Harvelle? Those aren’t nothing but a scratch.”
She nodded and grimaced as Xander tied off her bandage. For a brief moment, her nausea returned and she battled against the urge to gag. When it finally passed, she sighed and sagged against the counter that she was leaning against. It was only then that she became aware that both Sam and Dean were watching her while fighting off incredulous expressions. Weakly, she demanded, “What?”
Sam looked away, but Dean glanced as Xander significantly for a moment before meeting her eyes again. “Really?” he asked.
“Whatever,” she muttered.
“We need a plan,” Xander said into the awkward silence that followed. “We can’t just sit here waiting for the devil to do the dirty – whatever that might be.”
“And just what do you expect us to do?” Sam snapped at him. Clearly the eight hours Xander had spent with them during the ride into town had done nothing to improve Sam’s opinion of the older man. “It’s not like he’s rolled out the red carpet for us. There’s gotta be at least a eight hellhounds waiting for us on the other side of that salt line.”
“Nine,” Xander replied, his tone thoughtful more than anything else.
“Stop you guys.” Jo tried to pull herself up a little straighter and failed. The pain that the movement caused made the room spin in lazy circles for a minute. Finally, she just gave up and sagged back down again before saying, “Right now, that doesn’t matter. What does mater is that we’ve got propane, wiring, rock salt, and iron nails. Everything we need.”
“Everything we need for what?” Sam replied, his eyes going soft when he looked at her.
“To build a bomb,” Jo replied with a dark grin.