"- and what looks like a woman in white taking out hitchhikers and whatnot over in Kansas, if Santa Fe's too far for you."
Jo narrows her eyes at the dog-eared old road map of the States she has tacked up on her wall. Pins mark towns she's visited on hunts, and the home bases of Bobby, her mom, plus a couple other hunters she knows and trusts. "Santa Fe should be fine, I'll just have to blow off my job, come up with some excuse for disappearing on their asses for a week or so." Besides, a woman in white, seriously? After two years of demons galore, ghosts are boring as hell – pun intended. Santa Fe's not a great job, but it's better than that, at least.
"You don't sound that enthusiastic about it, hon."
"Yeah, well." Jo fiddles with the pin at Omaha, the pin representing her mom. "Sounds like pretty low-key stuff for demons, probably just witches with delusions of grandeur."
Ellen makes the same tutting noise she used to use when Jo had gotten another detention for fighting, or was getting underfoot at the Roadhouse. "Witches are a damn sight easier to handle than demons."
"Damn sight less important, too."
Almost as soon as she says it, Jo regrets it. Ellen's voice switches from mildly exasperated to the I'm gonna lay down the law and you're gonna listen or so help me God tone she used on police officers sniffing around the Roadhouse, particularly belligerent hunters, and her daughter. "Now you listen to me, Joanna Beth –"
"I know, I know, I'm just – mom, I know." Her mom's gearing up for the lecture about hunting being dangerous, and a serious job, and about protecting innocent people, and not some adrenaline-junkie jaunt, and how the do-'em-in-your-sleep jobs that are more likely to kill you via boredom than anything else are just as important, blah blah blah. Jo could probably recite the whole damn spiel off the top of her head. "I'm gonna take a couple days to sort stuff out with work, but I'll do the job, okay?"
"Okay, then." And maybe she was a bit too sharp on that retort, because Ellen hangs up on her then and there.
"Oh, for God's sake." Jo throws her phone onto her bed in frustration. She should probably call her mom back, apologise, grovel a little bit, but she just doesn't have the energy, not now. She's not up to humouring Ellen – they're too alike, both as stubborn as one another, it'll just degenerate into another fight. And she can't bring herself to explain – well.
For the life of her, Jo doesn't know how to explain the last few days to her mother. Ellen Harvelle is probably the most informed, best connected hunter in the country, with the possible exception of Bobby Singer. She's seen and heard all the crazy stuff that's been going down lately. She was saying they were looking at something on the scale of Armageddon when Jo thought that was all just superstition and old hunters getting melodramatic. And despite that knowledge, Ellen's just been carrying on as normal, scouring the news reports and passing on hints of ghosts and witches and monsters, like always. Like nothing's changed.
But now – now Jo knows, and it's a little like when she was a kid and really got her head around what her father did and how he died. Just like that made learning the times tables seem completely pointless, knowing that there are angels going to war in a desperate bid to stop Lilith and her minions from starting the Apocalypse – that makes little-league witches dipping their toes into some demonic grimoire feel like a complete waste of time. Yeah, they might be fucking over some of their neighbours, but there's a bigger picture here, and Jo is just aching to rejoin that fight.
She can't explain it to her mother. Can't see how she'd even begin. Ellen's always been a pragmatist, driven by practicality and common sense, and Jo loves her, loves her fiercely, right down to the marrow of her bones and the core of who she is, but they aren't close. Well, they're close in that Jo knows that when the chips are down and the shit hits the fan, Ellen will always have her back, would die for her, kill for her, if need be. Not in a way that gives her room to lay out her heart and tell her mom what this all means to her. Hunting, following her daddy's footsteps, being some kind of force for good in this damn world – and now all this latest stuff. Seals and angels and Lucifer for crying out loud, shaking up everything she thought she knew, and then there's Anna.
Hell, Jo can't even explain to herself what it is that has Anna haunting her thoughts, let alone trying to explain it to Ellen.
Not for the first time this past week, she murmurs, a not-quite-prayer, "Come on, Anna, where are you?"
No reply. Not that she was expecting one. It's been all quiet on the angelic front since that conversation in her bedroom – no more random appearances, not even in her dreams.
Course, Anna's probably busy, off fighting more demons with that incredible blade of hers, maybe side-by-side with another angel, like partners in some lethal dance (the way Anna could move, God, still gives Jo a thrill just thinking of it). Has to be pretty time-consuming, being a soldier in a war against the Queen of Hell.
Still, Jo would feel better if she just knew Anna was safe, at least ...
But no. This train of thought is going nowhere fast, just getting her more wound up about the whole situation, and she has to be down at the Black Cat soon. Those drinks aren't gonna mix themselves.
"Up and at 'em," she says, turning away from the map. A shift at the bar, then a trip to New Mexico to kick the asses of some idiot witches, just what the doctor ordered. It'll keep her mind right off the Apocalypse, not to mention angels with hair like fire.
By the time Jo finishes her shift, she's whistling. It's been a good night, busy enough to keep her on her toes and unable to brood over things, but not so busy she's run off her feet and ready to drop. And her two favourite co-workers were behind the bar with her – Steve with his wisecracks, a terrible pun round every corner, and Kath, pulling off pitch-perfect impressions of dickish customers, their snippy boss, and her idiotic boyfriend.
Much as she loves her job – her real job, not the one keeping her in food and rent – sometimes she needs to be able to shrug all that off. Forget about the blood and violence and fear, leave behind Jo Harvelle with her knife collection and the devils' trap drawn on the underside of her doormat, and just be Beth Singer for awhile. Working at a bar, joking about with friends, with no worries bigger than fighting with her mom, wrapped in a safety blanket of normality.
Just for a little while. Long enough to keep her sane, stop it all from crushing her under its weight, the way hunting will if you let it, but not so long she starts crawling up the walls. It's nice for a few hours, a day or two, playing at being normal, but it's still a relief to come home to salt lines and maps of omens. She'd tried it at school, but that's just not her.
Still, tonight's been a good night. Tomorrow she'll pack up her truck and head south, but for now a few scoops of Ben & Jerry's and a Simpsons re-run will round it off nicely.
She lets herself into her flat, checks the protections on automatic pilot as she hangs up her jacket, kicks the boots off her aching feet. All good. No beasties tonight. All the local beasties must have better sense than that.
She has her head in the freezer, trying to decide between Phish Food and Cookie Dough, when there's a sound from behind her. It's strange, half-familiar– like something ripping, ruffling, flapping – and she can't place it, but she tenses instantly, switching seamlessly into hunter-mode. Okay, something behind her, she's barefoot, her switch-blade's in her jacket pocket, the nearest gun at her bedside table, but she's got her flask of holy water, front door's to the left plus a couple windows if she needs a quick exit –
Letting the freezer door swing shut, Jo turns around slowly, left hand drifting down to loosen the screw-cap of her hip-flask, bending her knees, settling into a fight-ready stance. Her heart is hammering, adrenaline sweeping her thoughts away – there's something in her home, and she has to get it out –
"Joanna." Standing before her are a man and a woman, both clad in sober black suits, their faces blank and emotionless. It's the woman who says her name, extending a hand toward her, palm out, like she's some skittish wild animal they're trying to tame.
They don't look like monsters. Actually they look like a pair of hunters all dolled up to interrogate witnesses, but there's a whole goddamn laundry list of monsters that don't look like monsters, so that means nothing. The list of things she knows of that can just up and materialise in a flat ringed with salt and protected by a half dozen different wards, that's a lot smaller. Or rather, non-existent.
"What are you?" Her voice doesn't shake as she shifts to the left, trying to get between the two intruders and the door. Half an eye on where her jacket is hanging up. Ten to one, silver won't help her at all, but she'll feel a hell of a lot better with some kind of weapon at hand, not just a bit of holy water. "What do you want from me?"
The man says, "Where is Anna Milton?" His voice is weirdly flat, no inflection, and he's staring at her like she's – a kind of interesting specimen or something, not a person at all. It's unmistakably alien, other, the way the predatory stare of a vampire or the savage grin of a demon is other. Not-human.
She's never heard Anna's surname, didn't think that she would have one, but she is absolutely certain that's who they mean. No way is this a coincidence. And that means she is in way, way over her head.
"I don't know that name," she says, and thank God for the fact that hunting teaches you how to lie, smooth and barefaced and convincing. Nearly at her jacket now – anything that's looking for Anna is totally out of Jo's league and she's almost certain the knife will be useless, but, hell, a girl needs a comfort blanket at a time like this. "Who the fuck are you?"
It's the woman who answers. "We are Chamuel and Jeremiah, angels of the Lord." In spite of all her experience, all the shit she's watched go down with her poker face intact, Jo's mouth falls open before she can stop it. Angels? What? But she was so sure they were threatening, every instinct she has screaming at her to run, it doesn't make any sense.
Oblivious to Jo's confusion the woman – Chamuel – continues, not a flicker of expression on her face or in her voice, "And you will tell us where our sister is hiding, or we will destroy you."
Well, okay then. Still not a clue what's going on, but that was clear. Jo forces a smile, starts to tell them again she's never heard of Anna to distract them as she moves towards the door, but all of a sudden she's rooted to the spot. Can't move. It's as though the soles of her feet are simply welded to the floor, her muscles simply refusing to obey her. As a show of psychic strength it's far more subtle than Marax's invisible shackles, but all the more terrifying for it. "What – what are you –"
Jeremiah moves closer – he's baby-faced and wide-eyed, and it just looks wrong set against the creeping power rolling through his words. "Don't lie to us, Joanna. We know you've been working with Anna. If you tell us where she is, you will still be spared."
His voice is echoing through her, making her knees shake and her ears ring. Above her, the lights spit and flicker, sparks flying from every electrical sockets in the room, and, oh fuck, she's going to die. After everything, she's going to die at the hands of angels, and isn't that a turn up for the books?
Mouth dry, nails biting blood from her palms, she says, "I don't know."
If she did, would she tell them?
Anna had warned her – it's dangerous ... some of my brothers and sisters, even – and Jo knows fuck-all about angel politics or celestial family drama or whatever this is, but Anna helped her save those kids. Saved Jo. Something's not right here, but Anna said she's trying to stop Lilith, and maybe it's stupid, maybe it's irrational, but Jo caught a glimpse of her true self in that warehouse, in that tense bedroom-conversation (in her dream), and she believes Anna. Believes that, whatever's going on with the angels, Anna and Jo are on the same side.
Jo's never made a habit of betraying her friends, and she doesn't mean to start now.
Her chin comes up and she meets Jeremiah's gaze. He's probably packing enough power that he could snap his fingers and make her head explode, but right now? She doesn't give a flying fuck. Angel or no angel, all she's seeing is some supernatural bully who thinks he gets to push humans around because they're smaller and weaker than he is. Same old, same old.
The angels must be able to read something in her face, or maybe her aura or some shit like that, because Jeremiah's lips thin out and Chamuel's eyebrows lift. Tiny movements, but it's the first hints of emotion she's seen from them.
Then the ceiling light explodes, showering her in shards of broken glass. She jumps, would probably have gone three feet in the air if it weren't for the angels' power locking her in place – as it is, just throws her arms over her head and strains the muscles in her legs, nearly overbalancing. The light is followed by the television screen, the lamp on her desk, and then all the windows, shattering outwards in a wave of flying glass and a sudden rush of wind.
"This is your last chance," Jeremiah intones in a voice that has Jo pressing her hands to her ears, fuckfuckfuck too much make it stop. "Tell us where Anna Milton is hiding. Now."
She's huddled against the floor now, arms shielding her head against the rain of glass and the assault of that impossible voice. There's blood in her mouth (did she bite her lip? Her tongue?) and the taste of copper fear, and her heart is pounding a mile a minute, she's as afraid as she's ever been – but she lifts her head to face the two figures standing over her, cold and implacable. She thinks of the unflinching steel in her mother's spine after her father died and left her alone, after the Roadhouse burned and she risked her life shutting the Devil's Gate. Of Bobby Singer's sarcasm in the face of everything Hell spits out, of Dean Winchester's wild reckless grin, of Anna stroking her face and calling her brave – and she says, "Go to Hell."
Jeremiah's eyes flare, and he raises his hand, which is starting to glow impossibly bright at the edges, power spilling through the seams, the way Anna's did back in the warehouse. Oh, this is it, she's going to die, and she closes her eyes, thinking wildly, Mom, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
But there's no supernova of power rushing through her to break her atoms apart, only a small back-of-the-throat choking sound from above her. And the smell of rain, and a dream-familiar voice that says, "But I'm right here, brother."
Jo's eyes fly open. Jeremiah is still standing over her – or rather, being held up by a hand at his shoulder. His eyes are wide and sightlessly staring, and through his slack mouth there protrudes a long and lethal silver blade. A blade Jo knows will be void-cold to the touch.
Then the blade retracts, and the angel is falling to the floor of her apartment like so much dead meat, and in his place stands Anna. Anna, twirling her dagger like a cheerleader's baton and turning to face Chamuel.
There's a ringing in Jo's ears. A shell-shocked part of her mind keeps repeating, you're alive, you're alive, you're alive, another part singing for joy at the sight of that fine-boned pale face, while by far the largest part of her is looking at the matching dagger that Chamuel pulls out of thin air, and screaming the need to run for shelter. Two angels – honest-to-fucking-God angels – are about to throw down in her freaking flat, and she does not want to get caught in the crossfire of this particular family row if she can help it.
The power holding her in place is gone – dissolved when Anna stabbed Jeremiah – and she scoots backwards on her ass, as quick and quiet as she can manage. She's fully intending to lock herself in her bedroom, but then she catches sight of Anna's face, and it brings her up short.
Chamuel's crouching slightly, circling Anna, who simply pivots in place, keeping her eyes fixed on the other angel. Everything about her posture is battle-ready, coiled and taut, a panther ready to launch itself on its prey – but rather than being drawn tight with deadly focus, her face is impossibly sad.
"Stand down, my sister," Anna says, and oh, those words ache. And are those – is she crying?
That really is her sister there, Jo realises suddenly. Calling the other angels her siblings wasn't just Anna being metaphorical or poetic or something – it was the truth. The real, soul-deep truth. And now she's preparing to fight her sister in order to protect Jo.
I can't leave her. It's an absurd thought, because there's not a thing in the world Jo could do to help right now, but she knows she's going nowhere. Not while Anna's in this much pain. Not happening. She presses herself against the wall, and watches, heart in her mouth, and prays she won't get in the way.
"Stand down," Anna repeats, this time with force behind it, the order ringing out like the cry of an eagle, fierce and pure.
The air in the room seems to tighten, charged with Anna's presence. She doesn't look any different, no scorching light bleeding from her skin, but there is no mistaking her for human now. Jo's mind is scrabbling for adjectives and coming up short, but it's like her flat falls away, everything that's holding her in the here and now is gone. There's nothing but the two angels circling one another – and Jo is caught up with them, feels like she's held out of time and space, because what does time mean to creatures like this –
"Stand down, Chamuel," Anna says again, and her voice is echoing and layered with age, so old, and yet not at all. Her face is still soft with that deep sorrow, and it's in her words too, sadness running under the power.
Chamuel's eyes narrow, and she shifts her grip on her blade, snarling, "You don't command me now, traitor."
Before Jo can even begin to process that, Chamuel lunges for Anna. For a moment her heart stutters – but she's not afraid, not really, because although Chamuel is fast, far faster in her movements than any human could hope to match, she has barely a shade of the terrible beauty of Anna in battle. It's nothing Jo could explain, could put into words, but she knows when she sees that savage lunge, that Chamuel is an angel who has been taught to be a warrior. Anna is a warrior.
The clash is short – Jo can't follow the twist-parry-stab, the movements so fast her brain can't keep up. All she sees is a whirl of red hair and dark cloth and silver knives, and then Chamuel lets out a scream that hits Jo like a punch to the gut, bile rising in her throat, a swarm of insects crawling over her skin, cold sweat breaking out across her forehead and down her back.
The mind-rending shriek lasts (forever) only a few seconds, and then it trails away into blessed, beautiful silence, and a second body falls to lie at Anna's feet. And the feeling of being held out of the flow of time is gone, and there's just Jo, sitting on the floor of her apartment in Denver, breathing hard and fast, like a trapped animal, mind scrabbling to adjust. She knows where she is, and that was weird as fuck and she's trembling all over, but she knows where (when) she is.
Anna looks down at the corpse of her sister for a moment, then up to meet Jo's gaze. She is very, very pale, lips parted slightly, eyes wide and unreadable, the hand that holds her bloodstained knife hanging loose at her side. At once she looks young and transfixed with grief and pain, and ancient and remote, like one of those optical illusions where two pictures can be made out of the same shapes.
There is a long pause, silent except for the panicked punch of Jo's breathing. She's safe, she knows she's safe, it's just the message seems to be taking a while to get through to her body, still on high fight-or-flight alert. Eventually she gets it together enough to rasp out, "Anna, what the hell?"
As soon as the words leave her lips, it occurs to her that this might not be the most appropriate thing to say to an angel. She has to bite down against the hysterical laugh that threatens to bubble up at that thought.
For a moment, Anna's expression softens – the illusion of the ageless angel dissolving until all Jo can see is a frail redheaded girl with despair in her eyes. She opens her mouth to say something, and Jo's stomach clenches in anticipation – whatever she says is going to be painful, raw emotion, she can tell –
Then Anna closes her eyes, and when she opens them again it's like a shutter has been drawn down over her face. No emotion left at all, nothing but a blank mask, as though made of stone. She flicks her wrist, and the dagger she is holding vanishes into nothingness (and, damn, but that's creepy). Then she crouches, laying a hand on the two dead bodies before her, and says to Jo, without looking up, "I will take care of the bodies. You need to pack your things and go."
"Well, I wasn't planning on just hanging about," Jo says, not the best come-back in the world, but she's too shaken to care. This whole thing is just – beyond her pay grade, and how. "There's a job in Santa Fe," she adds, more an attempt to get back to vaguely normal territory than anything else. As long as she's got something mundane to focus on, she'll be fine. Mundane she can handle.
"Good. I will meet with you later." Anna still doesn't look up at her, the fall of auburn hair hiding her face. Jo is about to ask her what's going on, what the fuck just happened, and most importantly, are you okay – but there's that ripping, ruffling sound she heard before (beating wings) –
And then Anna's gone. The two dead angels, as well. Just gone. Into thin air.
Leaving Jo sitting alone on her kitchen floor, with nothing to show she didn't just imagine it all but the shards of shattered glass scattered all over the floor. Definitely above her pay grade. And the landlord is gonna have her ass for sure – just another reason to split a little earlier than planned.
"Fuck," she says aloud, and then, grimacing, gets to her feet, trying to avoid stepping on any broken glass.
Time to get this show on the road.