Author's Note: I'm baaa-aack...
Author's Second Note: Some words are spelt funny. It's not because I don't know how to use spellcheck, it's because I'm Canadian.
Timeline: Halfway through the events of "Abandon All Hope"
Disclaimer: I've paraphrased a handful of lines from the episode in question. Anything recognizable belongs to Eric Kripke.
Pairings: very light Xander/Jo and Dean/Jo
Ellen pulled her belt as tight as she could and fought the urge to wince away when her ministrations made Jo blanch, turning her already pale skin to a sickly white. There was little doubt in her mind that what she was doing wasn’t absolutely necessary, but that didn’t mean that she had to like it. She hated to cause her daughter any more pain on top of what she was already enduring.
“Shh, shh, honey,” she whispered softly. As she spoke, she wrapped the end of the belt around Jo’s thigh and secured it by tucking the end through where the buckle sat against the outside of her leg. “I’ve got you, don’t you worry. Everything’s gunna be just fine once we get this bleeding stopped.”
Jo’s left leg was badly mangled. The hell hound’s claw had caught her in her lower abdomen and the four neat slices continued down her leg until about an inch above her knee. Before Xander’d gotten the bandages in place, she’d seen the slick white shine of bone peeking through the fleshiest part of Jo’s thigh. Despite how clean the cuts were, Ellen wasn’t sure if Jo’d ever walk right again. If she did, it would take a hell’f a lot of work. And that meant getting her out of this death trap of a town and to a hospital as soon as five minutes ago.
Jo’s head lolled again so that her chin touched her chest for a moment before she jerked upright abruptly; the blood loss was clearly affecting her ability to stay awake. Through half lidded eyes, she watched Ellen as she applied an additional layer of bandages over the ones already there. The first set of bandages was soaked through already and Ellen didn’t want to risk any more blood loss by removing them. As she worked, Ellen kept up an endless stream of nonsense words and reassurances.
With the fresh bandages in place, there wasn’t much else that Ellen could do for Jo besides hold her hand. For a solid minute she had absolutely no idea what she should do. She was torn between wanting to stay at her daughter’s side and the knowledge that her giving the boys a hand could mean all the difference in the coming fight. She knew what needed to be done and she knew that her help could be instrumental, but that meant leaving Jo to sit all by herself in a pool of her own blood.
“Mom…” Jo’s voice was soft, with a breathless quality that hinted at her being unable to take a complete lungful of air. Not only that, but her eyes and lips were pinched tight. Ellen imagined that she was in more pain than most people could bear let alone stay conscious through.
"Shhh, shhh," she repeated, not wanting Jo to exert herself any more than she already had. "Don't you talk now. Save your strength, baby."
Jo’s eyes rolled back in her head and her eyelids fluttered closed again. When she finally managed to pry her eyes open again, her gaze caught on something over Ellen's shoulder. Ellen glanced over to see Dean standing behind her with his pack slung over one shoulder. He gave Ellen an awkward smile that didn’t quite make to his eyes and cocked his head in Jo’s direction. The question there was clear, but she had no idea how to answer it. For all she knew, Jo could be dying and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Ellen swallowed hard against the knot that seemed to’ve taken up permanent residence in the back of her throat. Not wanting Jo to see her cry, she stepped back so that Dean could hunker down next to her daughter and distract her. The two of them didn't speak; Dean simply picked up Jo's closest hand and manipulated the limp fingers to wrap around the triggering device that the boys had cobbled together. The cord that connected it to the bomb brushed against her leg and Ellen looked down at the heavy gauge wire. When she looked up again, the tears that had spilled over onto her cheeks trailed down her face.
As she watched, Dean seemed to come to a decision and leaned in to press a hard kiss against Jo’s forehead. For a long time, it seemed, the two of them stayed frozen together like that before Dean finally pulled away. When he did, he made a sound in the back of his throat and touched his lips gently to Jo’s.
The hand on her shoulder made Ellen jump, but she didn't turn away from the intimate moment playing out in front of her until Dean finally broke the kiss. She looked up at Xander, but his face was obscured by the eye patch that he wore. Shifting so that Xander was holding most of her weight, she whispered, “I don’t think that I can do this without her.”
"I know," Xander said simply. His grip on her arm tightened almost imperceptibly before he drew her down into a crouching position. He wrapped his arms tightly around her shoulders while his eye stayed locked on the pair in front of them.
Sam came barrelling around the corner. He slid to a stop at his brother's side and gasped out, "They're inside."
"Press it!" Xander hissed. His whole body was tense but, then again, so was Ellen's and she hadn't been the one to set the charges.
Ellen watched transfixed as Jo and Dean's fingers moved to press down on the trigger together. Beside them, Sam braced himself against the side of the dumpster they were all squeezed behind. Only a heartbeat after the trigger was pressed, the bomb went off. The concussive force of the bomb threw the dumpster back as glass showered over them. It took them a few moments to recover; when they did, Sam pushed the dumpster out of the way and they all took in the sight of the hardware store engulfed in flame.
“It worked,” Sam breathed, his voice coloured with astonishment.
"Do you think any of the hounds survived?" Ellen couldn't help asking as Dean pulled her to her feet.
Beside her, Xander shifted to withdraw his axe and altered his stance for better balance. She'd never met a person quite so comfortable handling a bladed weapon before. Even the Winchesters seemed downright awkward in comparison with Xander. He took a step towards the blaze, his single eye sweeping the wreckage. After a moment, he froze in place and in a tight voice, he said, “Yes.”
Sam’s hands tightened into fists and his jaw flexed. “How do you know?” he demanded moments before the sound of a vicious snarl reached them.
Amazed that she could hear anything above the roar of the fire, Ellen backed up a few steps involuntarily. The bark of a second hound sent her heart racing and froze her in place.
“Whatever you do,” Xander said as he took a step towards the sound of the hounds, “don’t run.”
And then he was raising his axe with a yell. He threw himself into the air and seemed to fly for a moment. It took Ellen’s brain several moments to comprehend what she was seeing. Xander wasn’t flying in the strictest sense, he’d landed on the back of one of the hounds and, from the sounds it was making, it was clear that it wasn’t impressed. Snarls and yelps came from the beast Xander’d landed on as Sam was knocked to the ground by the other one.
“Sammy!” Dean yelled. He brought up the colt and fired until the gun ran dry. The sickly black ichor that was hell hound blood painted the street with each explosion of sound that issued from the weapon. Between each shot, Sam managed to get a little further away from the general direction that the beast was coming from.
From out of nowhere, it seemed, Xander appeared standing behind Sam. He brought his axe up over the younger Winchester and swung down hard. Ellen felt an involuntary scream tear itself from the very back of her throat as she watched the blade slice through the air. It imbedded itself in something that she couldn’t see about two feet above Sam’s head and hovered there for two full heartbeats before it abruptly dropped. Sam let out a startled woof of air; his whole body was seemingly plastered to the cement by an invisible force.
Xander tugged his axe free, then reached down to push the hound off of Sam. He offered a hand to help Sam up, but he ignored it as he got himself into a standing position. Sam didn’t even bother to thank Xander; he simply turned and retrieved his duffle from a few feet away.
Ellen turned away from the amazing sight to find Dean standing with Jo cradled in his arms. Her daughter was finally, blessedly, unconscious, but Ellen felt her heart nearly freeze. Dean's eyes were wide; the kind of wide that, for most people, meant they were about to fall apart. "Okay. Now that we've set the building on fire and told every demon for miles exactly where we are, can we please leave?"
A half hour later, they were all crowed around Ellen's pickup. Jo was laid out in the back seat, propped up against the door while Xander added yet more bandages to her wounds. It seemed as though his bag sported an endless supply. As he worked, Jo's eyes slowly opened again. He seemed to take this in stride and traded grins with Jo as he flippantly asked, "Just how in the heck are you awake? There are only a handful of people that I know that could manage consciousness with the amount of blood that you’ve lost. I know that I wouldn’t be able to keep my eye open."
Xander’s grin went a little silly on the edges as he fiddled with the edge of the gauze pad that he held. Right there was the boy Ellen had known nearly ten years ago. That self-deprecating humour and less than completely sure of himself attitude was exactly what she’d watched Jo fall in love with all those years ago. It’d helped that he’d kept his distance from her physically and only offered her friendship at first. He’d been one of the first guys who’d recognized Jo as a desirable woman but had treated her with respect and friendship rather than blatant lust. The blatant lust had come later, though not much later, and boy had it been reciprocated.
"Oh… you… know… me," Jo replied, her voice slightly breathless with pain and words slightly slurred. Regardless of Jo’s injuries, that old attraction was still there between them, just waiting to be reignited. And, unlike with Dean, Ellen knew that if they did end up together, it could be a wonderful thing. "I live… to… defy the… odds."
In the front seat, Dean was on the CB trying to raise Bobby. The old S.O.B. was supposed to've contacted them as soon as he got any kind of useful information, but the demon related blackout that'd turned their cell phones into nothing better than useless chunks of plastic had put a bit of a damper in that plan. All Ellen could think was that thank God Bobby was as paranoid as he was or the boys would be left on their own to wander the town without any idea of what to do next.
She tuned back in just in time to hear, "...everyone all right?"
Dean glanced at her. Ellen felt her heart leap into her throat at the glint of tears she saw shining in his eyes. Into the mic, Dean said, "Ah, no, Jo was hurt pretty bad..."
"Can you get her out?" Bobby asked.
Dean looked down and closed his eyes as he said, “Bobby, I don’t think that she’s…” The rest of his words were lost as he choked back a sob. He put a hand to his lips and looked up, ignoring Ellen when she touched his arm.
“I said can you get her out?”
"Right," Dean said. He took a deep breath and, finally, looked over at Jo. Something in the way that he looked at her had changed; their kiss had changed things. Ellen could tell that, for the first time Dean was seeing her as something other than just another conquest. And while Ellen was pretty sure that Jo would give her left leg for a real chance with Dean, she also knew that with Xander back in the picture he was up for some pretty hefty competition. If they all made it through the night alive.
“Okay, right.” He sat up a little and seemed to brace himself before giving Bobby the lowdown on everything that’d happened since they’d got into town. With as few words as were necessary, he summed up the day’s events before asking, “What can you tell us, Bobby?"
"Well, for one thing Carthage aint as all squeaky clean as it's been made out to be. A big battle went down there. A lotta people died... it was so bad that the soldiers stationed there called it the Battle of Hell Hole. Do you have any idea how many Reapers Cass saw?"
Ellen stepped closer. Dean held the mic in her direction and she said, "From the number of places that Castiel's eyes went, there had to be over a dozen Reapers. Maybe more."
"That sounds like Death," Bobby said cryptically.
Dean frowned and traded confused looks with his brother. Finally, he said, "Well, yeah...?"
" 'The' Death. You know, 'Angel of' rides a pale horse, that Death?" Bobby's voice was tight with repressed terror. The boys might not've recognized it, but she’d worked with him enough times to know when he was scared and he was beyond scared at this point. "From the sounds of it, Lucifer's set to raise him. He needs to be brought forth in a place of awful carnage and Carthage is that place. And, Dean, it goes down at midnight."
"Of course it does," Dean replied. His head fell back against the headrest and his eyes slowly closed as he just breathed for a minute. Finally, when the lines around his eyes had smoothed out slightly, he asked, "Where's it go down?"
"On the land of William Jasper's farm."
"Thanks, Bobby." Once Bobby had relayed the exact location of the farm, Dean was quick to get out of the truck. Once standing, Dean scooped Ellen up in hug that pulled her off her feet. She was so surprised by his actions that she didn't get a chance to return his affection before he let her go. He looked down at her, but the shadows masking his face made it impossible for her to make out what he might be thinking. "You get Jo to the hospital and you get her better, you hear me?" he demanded, his voice coming out in a gruff tone that hinted at tears.
She nodded quickly and reached up to wipe away her own tears. She wasn't stupid; she'd probably never see her boys again. And, by God, she couldn't help feeling like they were hers. She turned away from Dean only to be caught up in an equally as tight and quick hug from Sam. The younger of the Winchesters didn't say anything, though. He just squeezed her and then stomped off a few yards down the road.
Dean turned and ducked down to look in at Jo and Xander. With his back to her, Ellen couldn't see what passed between them, but she did see Jo's eyes soften as the shine of tears welled up. Jo weakly reached out and caught the closest of Dean's hands in one of hers for a moment before her strength seemed to fail her and she slumped back. Dean withdrew quickly after that and joined his brother. Xander wasn't long to follow; he reached out to touch Jo's cheek briefly, then stepped out.
“You and me, after I help with this whole devil thing, I think that we need to have a chat.” Xander’s face was utterly serious as he held Jo’s gaze. After a long moment, he glanced at Ellen briefly then said, “You shouldn’t have survived that attack, Jo. Any normal human would be dead by now with the kinds of wounds that you’ve suffered. Only a certain kind of woman could make it this far after a hit like this.”
“What… kind?” Jo whispered, her eyes already sinking closed. Ellen could tell that she was fighting with every fibre of her being to stay conscious.
Xander grinned. “The slaying kind.”
Author's PS: I've decided to post this chapter despite the fact that I'm still not 100% happy with it. Please be kind with your reviews (constructive or otherwise).