I realize the number of stories has gotten a bit hard to navigate, so this weekend I'm going to try to set up a site index. I don't think LJ communities will allow a permanent sticky post like I have on the evilsammysgirl site, but I should be able to at least put a link on the sitebar directing to the index. Of course that means I better stop being a slacker and keep them updated.
I hope ;)
I should also try to remember to move over the SN mood theme I have for the other sites.
I just wanted to give ya'll the heads up in case you try to post something this weekend and come upon my construction dust!
Current Mood: busy
Current Music: "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" - David Bowie
They spent a solid hour following the fading tracks of the rescued victims and the police crews and crime scene techs. It was slow going. John and Ladona pooled their gifts and tracked more thoroughly than Alex ever could have on her own. Add Dean and Sam to the mix, with their excellent hunting skills, and Anna’s uncanny knack of finding the one thing they’d missed – a stray thread, a bit of energy, a depression in the soil – and Alex felt real honest hope for the first time in days.
Matthew had stayed behind at his car, a police radio on his hip near his gun, and his cell phone in hand. It was an absurd feeling of safety to have him on their side, Alex thought, pushing aside yet another bramble.
“I’m getting something,” Ladona called, and Alex hurried up near her, careful not to walk in front of her lest she step on some trail Ladona was following.
“What is it?” Sam asked, his gun already drawn.
“It’s not quite a glamour,” Ladona said slowly, her eyes searching the underbrush, and Anna nodded. John glanced at his wife oddly.
“Then what is it?” Dean asked impatiently. Alex shot him a look.
“It’s like a glamour,” Ladona said, feeling the energies. “But it doesn’t work like an ordinary glamour, like I would cast.”
“Can you get past it?” Alex asked.
“I can, but you’ve got to give me a minute,” Ladona spoke cautiously, as though waiting to be berated.
“You do what you need to do, doll,” Christian said, giving her shoulder a squeeze, and then shooting Dean his own look. Thus chastened, Dean stayed still.
Anna could feel Ladona extending her energies, searching – it was a faint prickle, as though someone had brushed her skin with a feather while she was looking away. She’d never been able to do that before. She stayed still, and let Ladona work.
Alex, nearby, couldn’t feel the energies as much as she noted that Ladona’s scent sharpened. She kept her hand on the barrel of the gun, now warmed to the touch. The first chance she got to shoot someone that had hurt Nick, she would. The anger had been sitting in her, she realized. It was a stage of grief – she was well aware of her grieving – but she’d skipped this step. Until now. Now, she was angry. Scared, but angry.
Sam, next to Alex, felt her tense. He wasn’t surprised at her reaction to this whole situation; lots of times hunters had been separated for periods of time, and hadn’t Dad and Anna been apart for a year, in horrible circumstances? Dad had tried to keep it together, but his worry and fear had been very real, even though he’d tried to keep it from his boys. But of course they’d known.
And here Sam had been thinking Alex had almost – wilted. At first. But now he saw that it wasn’t wilting, it was self-preservation and a way to keep the anger at bay. His psychic gifts had been quiet lately, but when she caught him looking at her and gave him a faint smile, he felt a prickle. When the chips were down, regardless of how she appeared to be handling this, she was going to get down to business. She just needed to go through the struggle first. She hadn’t been raised in this life, he had to remind himself. It wasn’t instinctual like it was for him, or Dean. Or by now, even John.
He looked around. They were in the wildest overgrown part of the park, where only dogs chasing stray tennis balls were likely to go. A raccoon had scampered up a tree at the sight of them, and tree frogs had silenced. The air smelled warm and green with growth. No wonder the police hadn’t found anything. They probably hadn’t come this far into the undergrowth. The signs of police presence had ended several yards back. It was only Ladona finding energies and Anna spotting a hidden tear of fabric that kept them moving in this direction, otherwise he would have assumed they were off the trail.
“Here,” Ladona said, gesturing to a patch of bramble and twigs, then hesitated. “Or am I just crazy?”
“I think we’re onto something,” John said, kneeling down, and then gestured to Sam and Dean to come help him. Alex, Anna, Ladona and Christian crowded around as John began to dig with both hands, Anna holding the flashlight so that he could see what he was doing.
He was just as surprised as everyone else when what looked like a mat of undergrowth came up in his hand like so much stage dressing.
“Well,” said Christian. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“You and me both,” John said, rolling it back to reveal a hatch beneath. They all stared at it for a moment.
Sam looked over at Alex. She was still tense, the kind of tense that said, ‘shoot first, ask questions later.’
“What are the odds,” he said in a low voice, so only she could hear, “that Desmond’s gonna come busting out of that thing yelling about pressing the button?”
Alex tried unsuccessfully not to laugh, which came out as a snort. She put her hand over her mouth and gave him a look.
“Is he wearing a shirt or not wearing a shirt?” she asked, very much like her playful old self.
“Ew, I don’t know!” Sam said. Alex held back another giggle.It had worked; she was relaxing a little bit.
“What are you two laughing about?” Dean asked. They shook their heads and tried to school their expressions, especially when John gave them a look over his shoulder. Both knew neither man would get the reference.
Now they tried to pry the hatch open; it was old but still quite solid – it had rusted to a smooth dark brown patina but when John found the handle and pulled it, the hatch opened quietly. Fresh oil.
Hot air rushed up at them when the lid rose, smelling of sulfur and old smoke.Anna recoiled, hearing her heart pounding in her chest and blood rushing past her ears. She took two steps back, then a third. For a minute her vision swam, and only Ladona’s hand on her arm kept her grounded.
“Hon, you okay?” John asked, trying not to sound alarmed. “Hon?”
“I’ll be fine in a minute,” Anna said. She swallowed, but the smell overwhelmed her. She put her hand over her face. “I can’t – I can’t go down there. I’m sorry, I can’t.”
Alex tilted her head quizzically – she didn’t know why Anna was recoiling – but maybe Anna was claustrophobic. That would certainly make sense, considering the hatch was narrow and who knew what was at the bottom of the ladder?
“I’m sorry,” Anna said to Alex. “I want to help – I can’t –“
“It’s okay,” Alex said at once. Anna seemed to be struggling with a great fear and trying not to show it, especially once John looked up at her. She gave Anna a look of concern, but quickly realized this was probably none of her business, so she stayed back and let John approach his wife.
“What’s the matter?” Ladona asked in a low voice, even as Dean and Sam began to lower themselves into the hole and John put his hands on Anna’s face and then her arms.
“Too much like – like – “Anna said, putting her hand over her nose and mouth to block the smell, even though to the others it had become faint.
“Okay,” Ladona said as John nodded. “Why don’t you go over there? We’ll need somebody to watch our backs and stay in touch with Matthew.”
“Hon, are you sure you’re okay?” John asked. She hated to do this; she didn’t want him to think she couldn’t handle herself, even though he’d seen time and time again that she could and he never questioned her abilities or her drive. But there was no way she could wade into that stench.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, over here,” Anna said, pulling her weapon and moving upwind. “I’ll settle over in that thicket and alert you if I hear or see anything.”
“Okay,” John said, clearly reluctant to leave her.
“I’ll be fine,” Anna said with a touch more impatience. “Go!” She shoved him toward the hatch.
He glanced over his shoulder at her worriedly, but by now Christian was lowering himself into the tunnel and Alex wasn’t far behind, and so he followed the last of them onto the ladder.
Alex navigated from the front seat of the Impala, her hands clenched on her gun like a lifeline, as though losing it meant losing herself. Dean looked over at her.
“You okay?” he asked gruffly.
“I will be,” she said, her voice tight and her lips pressed together. There was a pause, then she said,
“Thanks for doing this for me, you guys. I can’t – I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me.”
“We know,” Sam said from the back. She reached her hand back over her shoulder and he gave it a squeeze then released it. He didn’t tell her he could feel her trembling just a little, but he did share a glance with his brother in the car’s rearview mirror. She must have realized, though, because she took a deep breath and gave herself a little shake, as though to rid herself of nerves.
The park was empty by the time they arrived, except for one car – a dark gray slightly dented Ford Escape SUV. When they pulled up to park their vehicles, a man got out of the SUV. He was just under six feet tall, well-built, with a kind face, thick dark hair and long dark eyelashes over intelligent blue eyes. His hands were marked with small faint scars, and there was a similar scar through one eyebrow. He was wearing dark blue jeans, scuffed boots, a navy blue button down shirt with no tie, and a holster with gun. His badge was hooked to his belt next to his cell phone/walkie-talkie.
“Hey,” he said to Christian, looking over the crowd. “You brought the entire posse.”
“Do you think we’d do otherwise for Nick?” Christian said and introduced everyone to Detective Matthew Somerville. “We’ve been on the phone,” he told the group, “and he’s told me a few details he learned from one of the victims. Indicates Nick may still be down there.”
Alex felt the ground briefly slide away from beneath her feet and then return. It was all she could do not to topple over. Nick would kill her, she thought a little wildly, if he realized she’d locked her knees just to stay upright. He’d told her once that was a free ticket to pass-out land.
Matthew nodded at them all as they were introduced to him.
“I told the department I’d hang out on the scene for a while, now that the crime scene techs have left,” he said, leaning against the car nonchalantly, but there was a definite feeling of wariness around him, as though the relaxed posture was just deception. “I’m supposed to be watching for the return of the perp. So you don’t have to worry about the police for a couple of hours.”
“Thanks,” Christian said. “We’ve got some – alternative methods – of finding where those folks were held. If we find it, the credit’s all yours.”
“I’m not in it for the credit,” Matthew said. “I want to find out who kidnaps people – kids especially - and then leaves them so drugged they can hardly remember where they’ve been for the past two weeks. They just have a lot of vague images and recollections. But they seem to remember Nick as taking care of them, the kid in particular, so that’s something.”
“He’s always been good with kids,” Alex said with a faint smile. There was hope. She could cling to that.
“Keep me posted,” Matthew said. He began to look a shade uncomfortable, but he hid it well, plowing ahead with what was on his mind. “And look, I was talking with one of the victims, and she remembers some things I think she should talk to you folks about. I’d like to bring her by tomorrow, if that’s okay.”
“Yes, please,” Alex said eagerly. “Anything she can tell us would be great.”
“Okay,” Matthew said, looking a little relieved. “I know Nick would like to talk to her.” And he gave Alex an encouraging smile.
They got their gear together and then set out, first along the paved trails and then breaking off into ankle-high grass not yet heavy with dew. Ladona walked with John; he looked for the physical signs of passage by flashlight and skill, while she sought out traces of energy, magic, fading aura, anything unusual. She could find little bits here and there, things even John couldn’t see, and together they felt their way through thicker and thicker brush. Neither one could have done it alone.
(music – Going Under by Evanescence)
Behind them, Alex walked with her gun at the ready. Christian, on one side of her, had declined a gun, waving his hands and saying, “These babies are registered lethal weapons,” which in fact was true. But she wanted a gun. And she was going to have one. She would not be taken by surprise, not this time. She had failed him, and she would not do it again. This was her tenuous hold on whatever shred of poise remained.
She tried to find Nick’s scent but the scents had faded in the hours since the missing had been found. Every once in a while she caught a trace of something human and new, but it wasn’t enough to help with the tracking. No matter. She would find him.
She had been changing her clothes when it came to her – the pure absolute knowledge that she would survive, whatever happened to Nick. It was a horrible thought at first, that after a while she would find a way to get out of bed every morning, get dressed, eat something. That she would go on even if he wasn’t here. But how could she? How could she betray him like this, to even think it? She’d sat down hard on the floor, overwhelmed for a moment by this feeling.
But as she dragged herself to her feet again a few minutes later, it occurred to her that it was a measure of her strength, her independence. How much she’d grown in her time with him. She might feel like she couldn’t go on without him, like she was drowning in grief and sorrow and fear, but she knew that somewhere deep inside, she would go on. It wasn’t like the songs said – it wasn’t like they were two halves of the same whole. They were their own people, had their own wants and needs. She was often reminded of that whenever they fought, which was rarely.
Still, she wanted no one else, and she was well aware their connection was far outside the norm. In some ways it was almost frightening how they knew what the other was thinking, what the other one was going to say or do. They were deeply, irrevocably connected. But she was also an individual. In some absurd way she was proud of herself for becoming that woman she’d always wanted to be. Strong, powerful, independent. She stuffed away her guilt at feeling this way, even though she knew Nick would encourage it, would praise it. He’d taught her so much about survival. This, she was just now understanding, was part of that.
And now she was going to use everything she’d learned to find Nick. Every last bit of dedication, every bit of strength and energy she had left. Christian would have to drag her out of there unconscious if they found that bunker and didn’t find Nick in it. She would hunt as long as she had to. He was going to come home.
Detective Matthew Somerville ran his hands through his hair. All evening he’d been interviewing the rescued victims, listening to their bewilderment and confusion. They were all fine, if a little malnourished and dehydrated. And definitely lost. They didn’t quite know where they’d been. All they remembered were snippets, pieces of their time away. All had been snatched in the park at some point or another, but that was generally all they could tell him.
It sucked. It sucked so bad he considered, yet again, retiring to Bermuda. Somewhere with beach chairs and babes in bikinis and all the weird beers from other countries. And he would pretend there were no ghosts and spirits and demons, and murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers, pimps and hookers. He would just pretend he’d always lived on the beach in the sun.
“Last one on your list, Matty, then it’s your turn at the park,” Detective Benson said with a grin. “At least this one’s cute.”
“Thanks,” Matthew said dryly; Detective Benson’s wife kept trying to set him up with her friends, and he was really tired of those big-haired, well-lipsticked dental assistants. Nice gals, no question, but not quite earthy enough for him. “Send her in.”
He got up and went into the other room for a fresh cup of coffee and one for his next interview. Even the kid drank coffee, he thought. Wasn’t she too young for java? Guess not. She was the one who remembered Nick, but she didn’t know his name. Said he’d watched over her the whole time. She was half in love with him already. Well, better Nick than her going all Stockholm Syndrome on their captors.
Matthew knew Nick peripherally; they’d played pickup basketball together with Christian once or twice, talked shop another time or two, sometimes over beers. Matthew had never met Alex. But he had a pretty good idea of how torn up she must be. He’d met all the other families.
He went back into the interviewing room to meet his last interview of the day.
She was around his age, with sharp blue eyes and chic shoulder-length blonde hair, still damp. The local hospital had examined all of the victims, let them bathe, and given them scrubs while police processed their clothes. Yet even after all of that, she still looked composed.
She had a lean build, not very tall, but he could already see she was physically fit, even though she instinctively favored a knee – an old injury maybe? Her gaze followed him as he sat down in his chair.
“Hi,” he said to break the ice.
“Hi,” she said back.
He pulled out her file.
“Well, we’ll start with the easy stuff,” he said. “Your name is Sunshine Van Etten, correct?”
“Yes,” she said.
“How are you feeling, Ms. Van Etten?” he asked.
“Fine, thank you,” she said. “Please, call me Sunshine.”
“I’m Detective Somerville – I’m sure they told you you’d be talking to me - but you can call me Matthew,” he responded with a nod. She seemed so – together. Not like some of the other folks who had come through his office and Detective Benson’s. He understood their confusion and fear, of course, but it made them hard to interview. “So, Sunshine, what can you tell me about what happened to you?”
“From the beginning?” Sunshine said, and he nodded.“Well, I decided to go the park to practice my tae kwon do outdoors – I wanted some fresh air. I went out about an hour before the park closed at dusk, figured that would give me enough time to warm up, get in a few good kicks, cool down and come home. I was only out there maybe 15 minutes before everything gets hazy. I think that’s when they drugged me, because I woke up in a metal cell underground.”
Already her recollections were sharper than the others’. Matthew’s cop instincts looked her over and found nothing suspicious.
“Were you alone?” he asked. “In the cell?”
“No,” Sunshine said. “There were three other people with me. Two men and a woman. They were unconscious so I didn’t get their names. Over the course of the next week, there ended up being a dozen of us in two cells next to each other.”
“But you never got the others’ names?” Matthew said skeptically.
“It was difficult for us to talk to each other much,” Sunshine said. “They didn’t bring us food or water very often, and when we did, it must have been laced with a sedative because we slept a lot. Nobody ever bothered us, and we were too drugged to get upset or try to escape. All I wanted to do was lie around or sleep, so I stopped eating and drinking as much as the others, to try to stay lucid. We didn’t even have the energy to ask any questions, not until the one man came. He was bigger than most of the other men; I think they might have tagged him by accident. He gave them a lot of grief, fought them, and they had to sedate him by hand.”
“Who are ‘they’?” Matthew asked, taken in by her smooth even voice, her ability to stay calm. She wanted to help, that was obvious, but instead of messing it all up with her eagerness, as others did, she was methodical and precise. It wasn’t until she moved her hands that he realized they were shaking, she was just hiding it.
“I’m not sure, I’m sorry,” Sunshine explained. “There was one with a younger man’s voice, and he asked a lot of questions. There were two older men, one with a Welsh or Irish accent who answered those questions, and another man, a deep smooth voice, who only came by once in a while.” She shuddered without meaning to. “I didn’t like him at all. He seemed to be in charge, only nobody else seemed to realize it.”
Matthew gave her a perplexed expression, urging her to go on.
“The man with the accent talked like he was in charge, but I don’t think he was,” she said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything else about them, it’s just an impression. And I thought I once heard children, but I’m not sure.”
“Children?” Matthew said, now thoroughly perplexed.
“Again, I might have been mistaken,” Sunshine said, dropping her eyes. “As I lost weight and got dehydrated, it was harder to fight the sedative, and I may have been hallucinating.”
“But they didn’t hurt you?” Matthew asked.
“No,” Sunshine said. “Neglected us, mostly.”
She seemed to be considering him and he wondered if she was hiding anything.
“What did they want with you?” Matthew asked, almost forgetting to take notes.
“I don’t know,” Sunshine said. “I got the feeling they wanted seven men and seven women because they said they had to look for another female and then ‘things would be set’. Those were their words. But I never did learn what they wanted with us. They didn’t touch us, that was a blessing.”
“So tell me about the man, the one they got by accident,” Matthew said. “What did he look like?”
Sunshine described Nick to a ‘t.’ She hadn’t known his name either, but said,
“He was a big comfort to all of us, especially the girl. He kept an arm around her most of the time, she was so scared. Kept reassuring her. Very paternal or big brother; he was like that to me and the others as well. I think we all felt safer after he came. He seemed – more together, less scared. Almost like this kind of thing didn’t shock him.”
“So how did you manage to escape?” Matthew asked.
“He did it,” Sunshine said, as though this happened every day. “He stopped eating and drinking, and it didn’t take long before he was aware enough that when they brought us food and water one day, he charged the door and we got out. He beat the hell out of the guy who came with the food, knocked him out, I think. Then he opened the other cell – it was just a slide latch, not a lock – and helped us find a way out. He carried one of the women who couldn’t stand. Some of them had listened when he urged them to cut back on what they were eating and drinking, so we were able to break out.”
She paused and her voice changed. “I don’t know what happened to him. He was urging us all up the ladder to the hatch and then he was gone, and we just fled.” She dropped her head, ashamed. “He saved us, and we should have made sure he was okay, but – but we didn’t. We just ran.”
“How are you able to remember all of this?” Matthew asked, mystified. That sweet exterior held a steel core, that was for certain. And both his cop instincts and his hunter instincts told him she was on the level. She was fascinating; he’d never met anyone like her.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “The others would wake up sometimes and not remember where they were, and we’d have to calm them down again. We, meaning me and the man in my cell. The girl seemed to remember sometimes. He and I though seemed to be less affected than the others by the sedatives – we are both in pretty good physical shape and I have a high metabolism, so I may have processed it differently than the others. I think it was something like GHB or another date rape drug that they gave us. A blood test by now probably wouldn’t find it.”
“No, that’s true,” Matthew said. “But we’re hoping the blood tests tell us something, anything.”
She was still looking at him, studying him, and then she said,
“I do have some – odd - impressions from that time, if you’re interested in them.”
“Definitely,” Matthew said. Here was what she’d been withholding.
“You may think I’m crazy, but for some reason I think you’ll believe me,” she said. “You’ve seen things other people haven’t. I – I walked by your office on the way here, and I saw the pictures on your desk.”
“Oh yeah, some of my buddies thought it was funny to paste a bunch of X-Files stuff in my office,” Matthew said, flushing. “I – I, uh, told them I thought I saw a ghost. Big mistake.” That wasn’t even close to the whole truth, but it would do for now.
“But you did. See it, I mean,” Sunshine said with certainty. “I can see it on your face. That’s why I think you’ll understand and not label me crazy. I thought I saw something like that, and I don’t think I was dreaming. Something – otherworldly.”
She was dead serious, and she was extremely credible. What was her background? He checked her file. A lauded theology professor, new to the local college. No, this woman was not crazy.
Matthew held up a hand for her to stop. He got out a pen and paper, and wrote,
“Don’t say anything else about that now. This is being recorded. We’ll discuss it later.”
She read it and nodded. This break from protocol didn’t seem to bother her in the least.
“Can I – can I get in touch with you to ask more questions in the future?” Matthew went on.
“Of course,” Sunshine said.
“In the meantime, I’m sure your family is waiting for you,” he said, rising.
“Oh, I’ve just moved here,” she said. “To start school in the fall. I’m just going straight home, when they clear me. But I’m sure you have that in your notes.” She smiled, amused even, at him missing it.
“Sorry,” Matthew said. “Do you want an officer to go with you, if you’re alone?”
“No,” she said, but her smile was kind. “No, I’ll be okay.”
When she’d left, Matthew looked over his notes, racked his brain, and began to truly wonder about what had happened in the park and what she’d seen.
Alex was awake; she’d heard the phone ring and the chaos of voices. She was lying still in the dark, in the fetal position, her arms wrapped around her pillow, and she’d spent the last hour trying to come to terms with the fact that Nick might not come back. What would she do? Would she leave here? Would she go back to Michigan for a while? She didn’t want to think about it, but John’s words had struck home. What if there was no one to bring back? Her stomach felt as though there was a sick never-ending hole inside her, and she was grieving past the point of tears.
Ladona’s scent reached Alex before her footsteps. Summer. Ladona always reminded her of summer. But even though she knew Ladona was coming, Alex didn’t turn on the light. She wanted to stay cocooned in the dark for a little longer.
“Alex?” Ladona was tentative.
“Mm?” Alex said in response, feeling nauseous. Now Ladona was here to tell her what had gotten the others all excited. It might be good news. It might. But she didn’t quite believe it.
“Hon, we’ve got some information, I don’t know what it means, but it’s something,” Ladona said carefully. “They’ve found some of the missing people in the park. They’re okay, they’re alive and unharmed, but – but Nick’s not with them. He’s the only one still missing.”
Found? Alive? Unharmed? Alex sat up slowly. Something welled inside her. Anger.
“I’ll be downstairs in a minute,” Alex said. “Don’t go before then.”
Ladona slipped out of the room to where Christian was waiting, looking worried, and Sam behind him.
“How’d she take it?” Sam asked.
“Stoically,” Ladona said, perplexed. “I don’t know what she’s going to do but she told us not to leave yet.”
Seven minutes later, the bedroom door opened, and the woman who came out was not the woman who went in.
(music – Workin’ Them Angels by Rush)
Alex was dressed in dark jeans, black boots and a sleek black leather jacket over a fitted shirt. Her hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck, she was carrying a handgun, slamming in a fresh clip, and her knife was hooked at her belt. Her pale gray-blue eyes were steely and determined.
“Okay,” she said. “Now we can go.”
“What do you think-“ Christian interjected, just as John exploded, “No way, no how, missy. Get your ass back into bed. You still look like shit.”
Anna bit back a smile and shared a look with Ladona. Oh, that so wasn’t going to go over well. Obviously John had never had daughters.
“’Missy’ me again and I’ll shove the muzzle of this baby right up your ass,” Alex said without changing expression. “This is my show now, and I’m going. I’d like anybody here to try to stop me.”
“Did she just cuss at Dad?” Dean whispered to Sam in disbelief.
“Your show?” John sputtered, furious at her attitude. He hardly knew her, and here she was, threatening him? And now she wouldn’t even take direction? “You slept through the planning. What gives you the right to call the shots? You’ve been practically catatonic since I’ve been here. I’ll just end up dragging your ass out of there, wounded or worse.”
“My show,” Alex repeated. “Nick is missing. I’m sleeping with him. If you think anybody here has a better right to lead the charge to find him, I welcome your criteria.”
“Honey, I’ve been doing this a hell of a lot longer than you,” John said with a snort.
“I never said you hadn’t,” Alex said, her face still stony. “But I’m not only going but you’re going to take everything I say under serious consideration. We’re not putting him at any additional risk. The goal is to get him back alive.”
“I’m your goddamn tracker,” John roared. He knew what the goal was. “I’ve got years of experience, and without me, you’re not going to find him. So watch your mouth, young lady! You are NOT going to take over now, not after I’ve done the hard work.”
“Young lady?” Alex erupted. Where did he get off talking to her like a kid? Sure, he hadn’t seen her at her best, but she didn’t need him talking like she wasn’t capable.
Anna put two fingers in her mouth and blew a piercing whistle that stopped the entire room. Alex actually put a hand to her ear and winced. John glowered at her.
“Okay,” she said, stepping between them. “Put aside the testosterone, John, and the righteous indignation, Alex. We don’t have time for your personal issues – we have business to attend to.” She looked at them both, waiting for steam to pour from their nostrils. “Can we do that?”
“I get what you’re saying,” Sam said, trying to be soothing. “Dad, let her come, she can’t sit here and wait for news. You couldn’t do that if it were Anna, or me, or Dean. Alex, we’re going to find him, but Dad’s right – he did the planning, you’ve got to follow his lead. He really is the best person we have.”
Alex glared at him mulishly but didn’t speak. Well, hell, he was right. John considered speaking up, but Anna was watching him with one eyebrow raised.
“Aw, fuck it, I’M leading,” Dean said with a growl, and shoved them all out the front door.
That afternoon, the hunters checked their weapons and their vehicles, while Alex went upstairs to take a nap. Ladona didn’t need to do much for her spells, so she and Anna chatted for a while about their mutual friends, checked their email – Lizzie had sent some picspams of a favorite actor – and talked about the previous week.
“So what’s the deal with Dean giving you the evil eye?” Anna asked. “I know about the hookup, but that was, what, a couple months ago?”
“I know,” Ladona said. “Can you believe it? He keeps making comments about witches, half under his breath.”
“Well, then say something,” Anna said. “Don’t let him get away with it.”
“Oh trust me, if I didn’t think there were other battles to be fought now, I’d be ripping him a new one,” Ladona said. “I keep hoping he’ll get over it. I mean, really, holding it against me that I’m a witch?”
“I’m not so sure that’s all it is,” Anna said slowly. “If you ask me, it sounds like he’s more disappointed than upset. What’s his mindset on witches?”
“He’s had a few run-ins with black magic witches,” Ladona said with a sigh. “See, his thing is, there’s good. And there’s bad. And that’s all there is to it. Sometimes you can persuade him to see the gray version, but usually no, it’s black or it’s white. Drives Alex bonkers and now I know why.”
“She’s a scent sensitive, right?” Anna said. “And Nick’s a shaman. So why is he cool with them, and not with you?”
“My magic is stronger than theirs,” Ladona explained. “An active power. Alex’s is passive – she can’t do a lot with it – and Nick’s is minor. He’s mostly slightly sensitive to paranormal phenomena and his gift comes through potions and skills. But I do actual spells, and that freaks Dean out.”
“So when did he find out you were a witch?” Anna asked. “Before or after the bed-shattering sex?”
Ladona flushed without meaning to.
“After,” she said. “Silly me, I thought we were getting along great. And my god, does he know what he’s doing.”
“So your email said,” Anna gave a wicked grin. “I think it was along the lines of, ‘can’t type – blown all O-rings – must restock – *thunk*.’”
“Alex warned me what to expect,” Ladona said. “And she wasn’t lying.” She fanned herself. “You should hear her tell it sometime.”
“But they’re just friends now,” Anna said, clarifying.
“Oh yes,” Ladona said. “I think she and Dean would throttle each other, otherwise. She’s Nick’s 100 percent. No question.”
“I got that feeling,” Anna said and gestured around the room at all the pictures. Ladona nodded in agreement.
“In the meantime,” Anna said, “you might want to corner that stubborn Winchester and have a few words with him.”
“Oh, I’m planning to,” Ladona said ominously. “First chance I get.”
On the other side of the room, John downed bottled water – no beer before a hunt - and noticed his eldest was avoiding the curly-haired brunette. Heh. He’d been around enough to see that look before. He sidled up to Dean; Sam was flipping his phone closed from yet another call that had left him with a smile on his face. John was going to ask him later who he kept sneaking off to talk to.
“You two sure jumped to attention when this Alex gal called you,” John said with a wry smile. He’d needle his eldest a little and see what happened. “Rushed right over here from the last job. Left a huge cloud of dust on the road, I bet.”
“When she needed us, we came, no questions asked,” Dean said firmly, loading his gun with a new clip. He ignored his dad’s teasing tone. He wasn’t in the mood.
“Yeah, Dad, she’s an old friend,” Sam said, in a much more congenial tone. He could see where this was going.
“I just didn’t know there’d be so many of us,” Dean said. His eyes sidled around, settled on Ladona, averted quickly.
“So let me ask you this,” John continued, not hiding his amusement. “How many of these women have you slept with?”
Dean gave his father a sullen expression, and while Sam hid his own grin, Dean answered finally,
“Both.” And then, because his father was still waiting, he added, “Alex, a long time ago, and she’s in love with somebody else. And Ladona, and she thinks I’m a jerk.”
“I wonder why,” Sam said with a snort. “It’s because you’re behaving like a jerk.”
“Shut up, Sam,” Dean said, which was the only comeback he could think of.
“I thought you really liked her,” Sam said in a regretful tone. “Then you ran off like a little girl when you found out she was a witch.”
Dean gave him a baleful glare.
“Just because you met-“ he started, his face reddening, but John was too busy laughing.
“You kill me,” John said, slapping his son on the back. “I knew someday your tomcat ways would come back and bite you in the ass.” He grinned. Dean sulked. And Sam bonded with his father over Dean’s tribulations.
At dusk, as the group was getting ready to head out, Christian’s phone rang.
“Hey, Detective,” he said, which caught everyone’s attention. So did the fact that his face went quickly serious.
When he hung up the phone, he turned to the others, his face actually white.
“He says they just found 12 of the 13 missing people alive and unharmed in the park,” he said. “They aren’t sure where they are or where they’ve been. And Nick isn’t with them. He’s the only one still missing.”
“Then we can track where they came from,” John said, getting up and reaching for his coat.
“He’s going to call me when police clear the scene,” Christian said, holding up a hand. “We can’t go barging in when they’re there.”
“They’ll trample all over the place,” John said in frustration, even though he understood the logic. “Ruin the trail.”
“I can help you,” Ladona offered. “Help you track, I mean. Now that we have fresher energies and prints, and so many of them. Even having the cops around shouldn’t throw me off that much.”
“Done,” John said. (At least, Ladona thought, he didn’t care that she was a witch.) “Let’s hope the cops get out of there quick. Now I want to know where they were this whole time. That’s really pissing me off.”
“I’m going to go tell Alex,” Ladona said. “She needs to know.”
The group filled Alex in on what they knew, and she described what she had seen and heard when Nick disappeared. They had to agree, when it came to research and physical hunting so far, she and Ladona had done the heavy lifting and gotten nothing. Clearly, they weren’t making much progress.
“I really wish we had Lizzie and Bobby here,” John said at one point, getting up to pace the living room. “We could use even more hands. This makes no sense and we don’t have enough of those skills. More hunters and a psychic. That’s what we need.”
Dean, looking oddly pugnacious, said, “We can handle this.”
“I know Alex and I can certainly take care of ourselves and we’re probably the only unknowns,” Christian said.
John nodded, but his eyes drifted to Alex, who looked slight and small. Anna, who knew him so well, knew what he was thinking.
So did Dean.
“She’s tough enough, Dad,” he said, clenching his jaw.
Ladona sure didn’t know what had gotten into Dean, but something had. He was stubborn and sullen. And he was not only avoiding talking to her, he was avoiding looking at her if at all possible – or at least as far as she could tell. Sam had no such concerns; if anything, he was more talkative and chipper than usual, and Ladona was starting to suspect why. If she was right, it would partially explain Dean’s bad behavior…
But it made sense that John, not knowing Alex or having seen her in action, might question her ability. He was always practical, pragmatic. And he unflinchingly surveyed a situation, putting aside emotion to handle it with logic. Ladona understood that, and Sam and Dean should too. He wasn’t saying Alex was incapable, he just wasn’t sure. And being unsure could mean somebody got killed.
“I can take care of myself in the field, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Alex was saying, her voice still hoarse but her eyes flashing a little. That was a good sign, a sign of life, even if it was defensiveness.
“I sure hope so,” John said with a snort at her tone of voice.
“Dad, we vouch for her,” Sam said. “Me and Dean.” Dean nodded.
“Okay then,” John said, putting up his hands. “But I hope you’re right, especially if we encounter trouble. We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns, and one of them is whether or not your friend is even still alive.”
He didn’t mean to be harsh, but Alex’s eyes filled.
“Honey,” Anna said in the silence; she could see Alex coming up with a retort, and she knew it might only make things worse.
John sighed, realizing now what he’d said; he tended to be blunt but he was well aware now he was outnumbered when it came to being realistic versus optimistic. All those years without women around – he was still learning to watch his words.
“I’m sorry, that came out wrong,” he said to the blonde, who nodded, accepting his apology. “We will find him, don’t worry.” And he meant it.
“I know we will,” Alex said. “Look – I may not seem like I can handle much, but you have to understand how hard this has been. I -“ she stopped, trying to formulate what to say next.
“You might not believe this,” John said in a light tone, “but I do understand.” He shared a look with his wife.
“Thank you,” Alex said. Her reporter’s instinct wanted to ask what he’d been through, but she also understood it must be deeply personal, and did not ask. But she did believe him, without question.
“Guys, I might have something,” Sam said.
Anna had been half-watching him during this discussion, working his hacking magic on the computer. She’d suspected from talking to John that Sam might be able to slip past firewalls and other defenses as easily as a virus, but it had never been said outright. Now she could see his nimble fingers working as quickly as his mind. John had learned, over the last few years, to be proud of Sam’s skills, instead of trying to push him to be someone he wasn’t. It had taken him a while to appreciate what Sam brought to the table as a different type of hunter – still skilled with weapons, but also a cerebral advantage – but now he fully touted his youngest son’s skills, just as he touted Dean’s superior street smarts and tactical skills. She’d pushed him a little to see beyond the practicalities of surviving and to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Now that she was back, he seemed more inclined to do that.
“What did you find?” John asked, getting up to stand behind Sam’s chair, as the others clustered around. Alex pulled up a footstool next to the chair and leaned onto the arm of the chair so she could see, her eyes bright with hope, not tears.
“I did a little digging in some – uh – unauthorized locations,” Sam said, giving Alex a quick conspiratorial grin. “And I found some blueprints.”
“Of what?” Dean asked.
“Well, I’m not really sure,” Sam said. “It looks so far like it might be an old military installation.”
“In the park?” Alex said disbelievingly. “But it’s almost completely wild.”
“Oh, it would be 40 or 50 years ago, probably,” Sam said. “Maybe even WWII. If it’s as overgrown as you say, that takes time.”
“That’s assuming the ground was ever cleared completely when they were building,” Anna reminded him and Sam nodded. “They could have built something in a copse of trees and it could be hidden until you literally stumbled upon it.”
“So what are we looking at, exactly?” Ladona asked, making sure there was at least one person between her and Dean. No need for more snide comments under his breath.
“Well, it might be the floor plan for a building or a bunker,” Sam said. “Humor me, but I think this part over here looks like a maze. Doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Alex said, leaning in a little bit. She was a little awed and certainly mystified. What had Sam uncovered? And how did it fit in with all of the other details she’d dug up? She tried to sort them all in her mind, but she still felt a little groggy.
“There’s nothing still standing structurally on the site,” she said; she’d studied the map and seen the site so many times she could traverse it in her sleep. “Except a few small restrooms and the park office, which is the size of a New York City apartment. Not what we’re looking for.”
“True,” John said. “But if this is underground, that would mean something. See these stairs? They might not go up like I first assumed. They might actually go down.”
“Oh wow,” Ladona said.
“So any idea where this is located in the confines of the park?” Alex asked. “I mean, that park’s pretty big, and I can’t read blueprints enough to know how big this building would be.”
“If it’s underground, it could be huge,” Sam said, looking up at Dean, who nodded.
“Then let’s go look for it,” Alex suggested.
“We can’t go yet, and here’s why,” Dean said, speaking carefully when she looked about ready to interrupt. “It’s the middle of the day. The park is going to be full of people and probably police. Some of these disappearances have happened during the day when the park is actually open. So if the bunch of us goes in there snooping around we’re going to call a lot of attention to ourselves.”
“I agree,” John said. “Let’s go at dusk.”
“Fine,” Alex said. “I’ll dress warmly.”
“Not you,” Christian said, pointing a finger at Alex. “You’ve eaten next to nothing for a week and hardly had any sleep. You’re staying put. They can do recon without you.”
“Christian, dammit-“ she started to explode, but he made a syringe-pressing gesture at her, and glowering, she subsided. But no one who knew her thought the argument was over.
Anna couldn’t hide her interest in the case. John was a little overprotective of her these days, sometimes even afraid to let her out of his sight. She’d tried to tell him over and over again that she was fine and she knew what she was doing, and slowly she was able to show him she was right. It wasn’t that he didn’t think she could take care of herself – he knew that she could – but that he felt responsible for her safety. After all they’d been through, she understood his concerns.
She really did find a sort of thrill in exorcising a wailing ghost or banishing a poltergeist, staking a vampire or vanquishing a demon, but it had been so hard for him, in the first months, to let her find her place again. He’d tried to give her the least dangerous of all assignments; he kept her out of harm’s way, putting himself straight into the danger without a backup. They’d argued about that a couple of times. He was so pig-headed, she told him once, that she was always surprised not to find a curly tail sticking out of the back of his pants. He’d started to get mad and then burst out laughing.
But he was slowly coming to understand what this meant to her, slowly – oh so slowly – realizing that he had a full partner to share the dangers they faced in each case. Now that they were working together, she felt alive, intrigued, her mind working over the possibilities, the angles. She was thriving again after a year of just surviving; she was learning everything John could teach her, adding her own experiences, researching, studying, striving for the absolute best. Now she just had to get John used to it.
She didn’t know Alex or Nick personally, but she knew of them through Ladona. She knew Alex and Ladona had known each other since college – there were apparently drinking stories worth telling, though neither would divulge the details – and that Alex knew Ladona was a witch. She also was aware that Alex had thought Ladona just a practicing Wiccan until she herself learned about hunting. And then Ladona had told her she had actual powers. Alex’s response had been, “Huh. Really?” in surprise, and then accepted it – with a ton of questions, of course.
Dean, Sam and Ladona knew what had happened to her but Christian, Alex and Nick did not, and she was just as happy not bringing that into the conversation. Unconsciously she rubbed the mark on her back. Sometimes it would ache a little, like a fading burn, and sometimes it would itch. She took the latter as a sign of healing. But since she’d come back, she felt – different. More aware of the subtleties that passed most people by. It was like she could see everything so much more clearly, like all the grays had been burned into her perspective but in a way that made them easier to understand, not harder. She wanted to ask Lizzie what it all meant, but they were miles away from each other. Lizzie would understand, though. Lizzie would know what she was feeling.
But back to the task at hand. The men were going over the profiles of the abductees and finding no links. Ladona was trying to make heads or tails of Alex’s notes with her chicken-scratch handwriting. Dean was eyeing Ladona with a strange expression, as if he didn’t want to look at her, but couldn’t stop himself, and Sam occasionally seemed lost in thought, a slight smile on his face. There was a lot of undercurrent here, and you didn’t need Lizzie’s psychic abilities to feel it.
Now she needed to focus on the case and get her mind off of everything going on around her. An idea occurred to her, and so Anna said,
“Was the space always wild?”
“Hmmm, what was that?” John asked, tearing himself away from the laptop in a distracted voice, but then focusing on her. Say what you would about his overprotectiveness, but he always took her ideas into consideration.
“Was the space always wild?” Anna asked. “A lot of places take old industrial property or landfills and turn them into green space these days.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Sam said, his laptop out and open, as John concurred with a proud smile. “Let me see what I can dig up.”
That was the slow part, Anna thought, standing behind Sam’s chair to watch him at work. All of this research and digging in, and she wanted to move. Too much time confined and unable to stretch her legs, both literally and figuratively, had left her a little impatient, wanting action. She stifled a smile. Well, there was action, of course, like the kind she and John had been happy to engage in this morning in the shower, but she meant the other kind.
The voice sounded raspy and small, but they all looked up.
Alex had showered and was dressed in a clean pink warm-up suit that brought color to her cheeks and fair hair, which hung long, damp and wavy down her back, a barrette pulling strands away from her face. The black had faded under her eyes and she looked quite a lot better than she had the day before. She clearly wanted to cross her arms over her chest in a gesture of self-protection, but quelled it by tucking her hands in the back pockets of the pants, straightening her shoulders at the same time.
“Hey sweetie,” Ladona said, coming over to hug her. “How are you doing?”
“Better,” Alex confessed. “I needed to sleep.”
“The doctor is always right,” Christian boomed, putting her plate and glass in the dishwasher. She smiled at him, then looked back to the others, who were watching her tentatively.
“So,” she said. “You must be John.” He was the closest new person. She inhaled; the sharp, smoky, metallic smell of gunpowder – a rugged smell she liked, something like gasoline or a lit match. She held out her hand and he shook it.
“Wow, nice handshake,” he said appreciatively. She had long fingers and strong hands.
“Thanks,” Alex said, hugging Anna, who wanted to show the blonde her support in an even more tactile way.
“He always appreciates a good handshake on a woman,” Anna said.
“Are you saying he likes a gal with a good grip?” Ladona asked innocently in a voice only the women could hear.
Anna turned on her with her mouth falling open.
“You are a perv,” she said, and both Ladona and Alex giggled. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Yes, but that’s not what you said,” Ladona teased.
“Remind me to watch my step with this lot,” Anna said with a wry smile. Alex inhaled deeply. A sweet lavender scent with a touch of something tangy, like lemon. Somehow it fit with the gunpowder, a compliment. Between those and the scents she knew – Sam’s woodsy cedar, Dean’s spicy musk and Ladona’s sunny mango - the room felt homey and warm.
“Wait till she gets started,” Ladona told Anna, gesturing at Alex, who smiled with a twinkle in her eye.
“No internal sensor,” Alex said with a wry smile, and Anna smiled back. They were going to get along just fine.
Alex had awakened once in the early hours, figured out where she was, and drifted off again, even though Christian was snoring. She was awakened again later – alone - by people coming. Coming into her home. Her sanctuary. Her place of peace. With him.
I love the time and in between The calm inside me In the space where I can breathe I believe there is a Distance I have wandered To touch upon the years of Reaching out and reaching in Holding out holding in
Familiar voices. Oh yes, she remembered now, groggily, her mind slowly clearing. Sam and Dean had come. And Christian was there. And all of them were here to help. She had known they would come. Oh, between all of them, they could find Nick, couldn’t they?
I believe This is heaven to no one else but me And I’ll defend it as long as I can be Left here to linger in silence If I choose to Would you try to understand
She would do whatever it took to bring him home. She would call everyone she knew – over and over until they forbid it – anything to find him and bring him home. She would hunt that park every day looking for a sign, waiting for someone else to disappear, something to appear, yard by yard. Do anything, say anything, whatever she had to do.
I know this love is passing time Passing through like liquid I am drunk in my desire... But I love the way you smile at me I love the way your hands reach out and hold me near... I believe...
Unconsciously her hand strayed over to his side of the bed. Empty and cold. Tears welled in her eyes. This was why she hadn’t slept in this bed, she thought, pulling his pillow to her. He wasn’t in it. She could still smell him on the pillow, and she buried her face in it.
She wished she could just do something. Do something successful, find something that showed her she was close, and accomplish something, anything. She’d worn herself to a thread – doing as much research as she could, searching the site over and over, calling other hunters, calling her friends for help, thinking he’d be found soon. She’d found nothing. And still, he was missing. And she felt so very alone, even with a houseful of people. She felt lost, helpless, like she was letting him down, wherever he was. He was counting on her, and she was failing him.
She wiped her face, the sorrow retreating but never vanishing, the familiar need to take action beginning to well in her. If the group assembled downstairs couldn’t find Nick, he was beyond finding, and she once again wanted to dive into the hunt with their help. Her eyes felt swollen, and she felt grubby and a little hungry, although not nearly as exhausted as earlier. Of course, Christian had filled her full of sugar to keep her from passing out from hunger altogether. She should have known he would take action; she’d just felt so disconnected from lack of sleep, the burn off of adrenaline, the wearying fear. She’d gotten past the point of knowing what else to do, and that in itself was the most crippling feeling of all. And in that state, she’d neglected herself.
As if her thoughts had drawn him, Christian came knocking on the bedroom door; she knew his eucalyptus scent as he approached.
“Hey,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to her and using a tissue to wipe her teary face. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” she admitted, wanting to tell him he was a comfort but not sure how. And the rest of the group, here to help – what a blessing they were.
“Good,” Christian said. “I’m sorry I pulled that stunt on you but I was scared you would do some real damage to yourself.”
“Now, listen to me, honey, okay?” Christian said. “We’re going to find him, honest. Ladona’s got a whole team downstairs working hard, and they’d love to get some details from you. But first I want you to eat something. Will you do that?”
She knew he was talking to her in a voice reserved for a slightly stubborn child, but she nodded anyway.
“Toast?” she said, offering it up as a compromise. Who knew what he’d make her eat otherwise. She still remembered the wheat grass juice he’d made her drink once. Ugh. She’d felt like a grazing heifer.
“Toast with peanut butter,” he amended, knowing how much she loved peanut butter. “You need protein or a substitute. Toast alone won’t cut it.”
He brought her up some food and then when he’d made sure she’d eaten every bite, he told her to get her ass in the shower.
“You smell like death warmed over,” he said. “Go. If I hear you fall down I’ll send Ladona in after you.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” Alex said dryly, which meant she was feeling better.
John, hanging up the coats since Anna had insisted they not leave Christian’s house looking like two vagrants were crashing there, didn’t reply. He tugged off his boots and put them next to Anna’s. True, it was nice to have a house to themselves, but it did belong to somebody else, someone they knew. John had done his share of b&e when it was necessary, but, well, this was different. There were pictures of Christian with an attractive brunette, including a few they’d obviously taken themselves by holding a camera at arm’s length. John knew Anna was right about treating the place with care.
“Hey honey,” Anna called, since he hadn’t responded. “I’m thinking I should have married a doctor.”
That got the reaction she was aiming for.
“What?!?” John said, crossing the ranch-style brick home to find her standing in the master bathroom.
Anna smiled over at him mischievously as he walked in and gazed around. Although he’d seen a woman’s coat hanging in the hallway closet, John had an idea Christian’s girlfriend stopped here only rarely; this was definitely a bachelor pad – dishes on the counter, shoes left where they fell, few decorations on the walls, a little chaos here and there. Except in the bathroom.
Done in a non-metallic bronze tile and elegant silver fixtures, the nearly spotless bathroom featured the latest clear glass shower with multiple misting shower heads, and a whirlpool bathtub of creamy ivory. It was at this that Anna was staring.
“Wow,” John said. “You could fit three or four people in that thing.”
“I was thinking,” Anna said slyly, “that it’s just right for two.”
“I was thinkin’ the shower looked right for two,” John said hopefully.
“We can try that one tomorrow,” Anna said, reaching over to twist the taps. Hot water began to cascade into the tub, and she added honey almond bubble bath to the flow, so that soon clean white foam began to rise with the water.
“Promise?” John said, shifting from one foot to the other. He’d never had the luxury of a tub like this, just the too-tiny hotel tubs that weren’t really fit for one, much less two, and prohibitive of any – physical action.
“Promise,” Anna said, and began to pin up her hair in a loose twist that meant dark red strands brushed her shoulders and accented her face. John knew he was done for at that moment, especially when she began to undress right there in front of him, casually, as if he wasn’t there.
“You always know how to get me to do what you want,” John said with a happy sigh, and began to undress.
Sam hung up the phone. He knew he shouldn’t be smiling, not with everything else that was going on, but he couldn’t help himself. Gees, was he 14 all over again? What was wrong with him? He felt like an idiot.
But a happy idiot. At least for now. Once Dean found out, things were going to get a lot rougher between them. Their relationship had already hit a rough patch, and it wasn’t going to get better, not when Dean heard this.
Nope, cross that bridge when you come to it, he told himself. Trying to get his brother into a receptive state of mind wasn’t going to be easy. Dean’s comments at Ladona were not helping, and Sam was tired of trying to talk to Dean about it. He’d hoped Alex would talk some sense into his brother, but until Nick was located, Alex was not going to be in any shape to address this issue or any other.
But she would understand Sam’s predicament, he was sure of it. When the time was right, he would tell Dad and he would talk to Alex, and then Dean. And maybe, just maybe, things would be okay between them. But instead, he feared the worst.
The group started researching again early the next morning after a quick breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns and wheat toast. (“I only make one meal,” Christian confessed to Ladona when he insisted he contribute by doing the cooking. But it was indeed a worthwhile meal, she had to admit. John insisted on cleanup, which meant she could enjoy a cup of coffee.)Then Christian, who was on leave from the hospital because of his upcoming trip, took the blow dart to his friend in diagnostics for testing, and came back to check on his patient. The diagnostics test confirmed what he’d suspected regarding the dart – a fast-acting sedative
Author's Note: I'll keep posting in both places if you folks want me to; it's really no trouble. :-)
The front door opened a few minutes later, and Sam and Dean walked in. But they weren’t alone. They were accompanied by a tall broad-shouldered man with a salt-and-pepper beard in a long black coat, and a woman in black suede heeled boots over slim jeans, wearing a black suede jacket to match. Her dark red hair fell well down her back and her cat green eyes were thoughtful.
“Look who we found wandering around the park,” Sam said with a smile as Ladona and Christian looked up. “This is my dad John and his wife Anna.”
Ladona gave a happy shriek, barreled into the living room from the kitchen, and hugged Anna with enthusiasm, nearly knocking her over. Anna was also shrieking with joy.
“I take it they know each other,” Christian said, after being introduced to John. Dean was standing off to one side, looking vaguely disconcerted.
“Email pals,” John said. “There’s a couple of them, chat all the time when there’s a computer around. I think they spend more time telling dirty jokes than anything else.”
“I gave Dad the details on the way over here,” Sam said in explanation when the women had stopped talking a mile a minute at each other and had turned back to the rest of the group, but they had their arms linked together and they were grinning ear-to-ear. “He has a couple of ideas that I don’t know if Alex tried or not.”
“I can tell you what we’ve done and haven’t done,” Ladona said. “We’ve covered as many bases as we could but maybe we’ve missed something.”
“Let me throw in a little extra knowledge before Ladona’s recap,” Christian said. “We’ve got a blow dart Alex found at the scene. I’m going to have that tested but I already suspect a fast-acting sedative, like a wild animal tranquilizer. I’ve seen them before in nature preserves. And I’ve got a buddy in the police department, Detective Matthew Somerville. He tells me police think they’ve got either a serial kidnapper or some wild animal on site – probably not the latter, but the police have to keep their options open. He’s going to keep us apprised of any updates, but basically they know what we know.”
“Did the police find any darts when they checked the scene?” John asked.
“No,” Christian said. “I had to tell him about the one we found. Matthew’s really upset, one of the victims is a 15-year-old girl, and that just makes him sick and furious. Just so you know, he’s a great guy, he’s hunter-savvy, has seen his share of spooks. When I say trust him, I mean trust him like you would anybody else in this group. Anyway, he’s emailing me profiles on all the missing people, something Alex didn’t have access to. Maybe we can find something that links them all.”
They spent the evening going over Alex’s notes and research, Ladona’s information and the information from the police. Ladona and Sam cooked a simple dinner – Ladona realized having Sam in the kitchen made it that much more fun, as he was a novice cook but enjoyed it – and they fed the crew around Nick and Alex’s kitchen table. It struck Ladona as odd that they were eating here and yet neither of the owners was present.
“So where is this Alex?” John asked at one point, looking around at all the pictures.
“Upstairs,” Christian said. “She wasn’t sleeping well, so I sedated her.”
“Not sleeping well?” Anna said in concern.
“Nick’s been missing for days,” Ladona explained. “Those two are like this,” and she held up her hand with two fingers crossed over one another. “If one’s in danger, the other one won’t rest until they’re both safe.”
“So she’s got to be having a really hard time,” Anna said in sympathy. “I mean, not knowing where he is or what’s happened to him.” She’d felt such fear for John while she was trapped, and she knew he felt the same way. Sometimes she didn’t quite know how they’d gotten through it all.
“What kind of hunter is she?” John asked in disbelief. “If she falls apart at something like this?”
“You might too if the love of your life disappeared and you didn’t know what happened to them,” Sam said, his face tight. He’d just gotten back from taking a phone call that had apparently required privacy, but he’d heard enough to feel the need for a pointed remark.
John flushed, and he glanced at Anna. She wasn’t thrilled Sam had brought it up, but he had a point. She couldn’t stand the thought of being away from John again, and she suspected he felt the same way, reacting as he did whenever he couldn’t reach her, for whatever reason. Even a dead cell phone battery could upset him.
“Until you’ve met her, give her the benefit of the doubt,” Dean said. “She’s good at this. Not a lifer, but she gets by.”
“And Nick’s a pro,” Christian said. “He’s trained her well.”
John shrugged and nodded, acquiescing. He was clearly outnumbered. Anyway, there was business to attend to.
After dinner, and after Dean had been pressed into helping Anna and Christian clean up, Ladona and Christian settled the guests in Nick’s home, Ladona and Anna taking care of the things the men would never think of – fresh towels, enough shampoo and soap in the guest bathroom shower, that kind of thing. Sam took the bed in the basement bedroom and Dean said the couch was fine with him, as Ladona was sleeping in the guest room upstairs. Christian kept a small cot in the trunk of his car and said he was sleeping in the master bedroom near the patient to be sure everything went well with the sedative, but he gave Anna and John the keys to his house, down the street, and directed them to make themselves at home. From the sly grin Anna gave Ladona, it was pretty clear they were going to take him up on it.
Due to the popularity of this site and the prolific tendencies of our writers, this format has become somewhat unwieldly as a catch-all for all SnOb fanfic. While posters are welcome to continue to use this site and no content will be removed, please note that to make things a bit more managable, the following authors have moved:
Ladona tossed the wet clothes into the dryer and rubbed her eyes. What a mess.She’d done the best she could and she couldn’t get Alex to sleep or to eat; she’d tried to find Nick and her spells had been useless; and all she was doing was laundry and dishes. Nice. How helpful.
She knew Alex appreciated her company. But her inability to find Nick had made her angry. How could her spells fail her now? And how could Alex’s abilities let them down? Why were they so helpless??
She liked Nick; she’d met him twice, and liked his easy-going nature and his sense of humor – and the way her friend was just herself around him. So the fact that he was missing upset her.
Of course, that wasn’t the only subtext to deal with. Dean was still holding some sort of grudge for her being an actual witch. Having spells at her disposal, yet not being able to just fix things instantaneously. And until he’d learned that about her, things had gone so well. If Christian hadn’t spoken up just now, she was about to hand Dean his ass on a platter, as Alex would say, regardless of who was around to hear the dirty laundry aired.
Light footsteps told her Christian was coming back downstairs and in a moment he appeared in the kitchen. Without a word he got his cell phone out of his bag.
“Detective Somerville,” he said in a brisk official tone; Ladona imagined that was his doctor voice in the face of an unruly patient. She continued folding towels. At least it was something to do; she’d run out of other ideas already.
Detective Somerville must have answered, because Christian deepened his voice and said,
“This is Dr. Smith from CountyGeneral, and we’re calling to report that you do indeed have syphilis.”
There was a pause and then Christian broke into a loud laugh.
“How are ya?” he said in his normal voice. Another pause, a few ribbing comments, a few more ‘mm-hms’ and then he said, “So. What can you tell me about the vanishing tribe in DeerCreekPark?” He got a pen and a pad of paper out of a nearby drawer and began to take notes. Then he thanked his contact with the promise of free beer in the future. When he got off the phone, he said,
“I’ve got a few details from the police view, but nothing much,” he said. “I’ll save that report until the others get back. So, am I correct in noticing that you have previous knowledge of the Winchesters?”
Ladona sighed. She’d known this was coming.
“Yes,” she said. “I needed help with a banshee case a couple of months back, and Alex and Nick couldn’t get there, so they asked Sam and Dean to help me.”
“Mm-hm,” Christian said; that was definitely doctor-reading-chart voice. “And from the tension in the room, I’m going to guess you and Dean didn’t part on the best of terms.”
She’d been hoping it wasn’t that obvious, at least until Dean’s last remark.
“No, not really,” Ladona said. “Let’s just say he’s not excited by witches.”
“His loss,” Christian said. “I know all about his weird black-and-white view of the world, trust me. Alex has vented about it more than once.”
“He gets into this ‘magic is bad’ mindset and you can’t shake him out of it,” Ladona said, frustrated. “He was fine until he realized I was a witch – with actual powers, not just a practicing Wiccan - and then fled. Full-on, ‘don’t call me, I’ll call you’ fleeing. It was like I’d decided we should get married.”
“Maybe you gals should just stop sleeping with the guy,” Christian said slyly and Ladona was horrified to realize she was turning red.
“I’m sorry, I’m just harassing you,” Christian said gently, realizing he’d upset her. “I know about his history with Alex, and that supposedly he can be very charming.” He gave an amused eye roll to indicate Dean had been anything but charming since he’d met Christian. “Anyway, Alex knew he’d make a move on you and she also knew you’d keep him in his place.”
“Well, sure,” Ladona said. “I don’t appreciate lame pickup lines and ‘Dean the Conqueror’ behavior. But when he was just being himself, I really thought we were getting along great. We just talked about so much stuff, I figured he’d be okay with my magic. So I told him all about it. Then, wham, he throws it at me that he’s not cool with witches, that nothing good comes of what we do, and out the door he goes, dragging Sam behind him.”
“You and Sam are fine then?” Christian said.
“Oh sure, Sam’s fine with everybody, I think,” Ladona said. “It’s hard to dislike the guy, even though Dean gives him so much grief. But there’s something going on between them too-“ and she stopped. She hadn’t even meant to say anything, but Christian was just so easy to talk to.
“I caught that too, but I don’t know them well enough to follow the tension trail,” Christian said, using his fingers to wend along an invisible path.
“I don’t know what that’s about, either,” Ladona confessed. “I wish I did, but no. Anyway, I’m sorry if this whole thing feels as prickly to you as it does to me. It makes it hard to come into a situation like this with all these little whirlpools of trouble. You feel like you could fall into one at any time.”
“I can sure feel the tension in the air,” Christian agreed. “That said, I doubly appreciate you calling them when Alex needed you. I know she does too.”
“Is she going to be okay?” Ladona asked.
“She’ll be fine, especially when we find Nick,” Christian said. “You and I both know she’s stronger than she looks, she just – well, freaks out sometimes. When she feels helpless. She wants a plan of action, and if she doesn’t have one, she struggles until she can find one again.”
“You seem to know her pretty well,” Ladona said.
“I do like her a lot,” Christian said. “We get on each other’s last nerve sometimes, but she’s good for Nick and he’s finally happy, so that makes me happy.”
“Oho, you met the ex-wife then,” Ladona said with a sly smile.
“I hated that bitch,” Christian said. “Hated her princessy-wanna-be guts. Why he married her in the first place – anyway, to answer your original question, Alex and I do talk and we’ve reached that spot where we have a deep respect for the place the other holds in Nick’s life.” He sighed. “And contrary to what it looks like, I’m itching to get out there and find him. It irritates the sheer shit out of me he’s been missing for days and I just found out about it. I mean, I know he can take care of himself, and he’s going to be fine – he always is. But I still want to run out right now and start hunting, even though I know Alex has done a better job than I could ever do. But I have to do this with the entire list of symptoms in front of me, or I could misdiagnose, you know?”
Spoken like that, Ladona did understand, and she nodded.
Christian sat down at Alex’s computer (“to read the chart,” he said with a smile, continuing the metaphor) and began going through the files relating to Nick’s disappearance. He picked up all of the notes and maps and began organizing them. Ladona had long ago given up trying to make sense of Alex’s jottings – her handwriting was atrocious, for one.
Ladona, not sure what else to do, began opening the cupboards and fridge to figure out what to make for dinner, which would soothe her. Pasta, it would have to be, to feed this lot. At least Nick and Alex kept the fridge well-stocked. Maybe brown some chicken to go with it. Oh, some frozen veggies. That would work too. They’d have to live without dessert. It wouldn’t be fancy, but she didn’t have the energy for ‘fancy’ right now.
“Sedative,” the man explained, scooping her up. “Her next step without sleep is hallucinations. Then after that comes the ‘dead’ part. Relax, she’s going to be fine.” He stood up easily and carried her up the stairs.
“What the hell just happened?” Dean asked, staring at the other two, torn between outrage and confusion.
“I’m not really sure,” Sam said, perplexed but generally at ease. Dean gave him a pointed sour look, but Ladona wasn’t sure of the significance. Sam seemed resigned at his brother’s expression.
Dean started for the stairs, but Sam stopped him.
“She’s not in any danger, I don’t think,” he said.
“He’s safe,” Ladona agreed. “I get nothing but positive energies. That, and the smell of Band-aids.”
“Great, now you’re the scent expert,” Dean said sourly.
Ladona sighed again. Better to ignore him right now, or she’d seriously consider turning him into a toad. She’d have to deal with him later, but now didn’t seem like the right time to get into a shouting match. For lack of anything better to do, she began to scoop up the blankets and sheets from the couch. She couldn’t get Alex to sleep in the bed she shared with Nick and the couch needed to be refreshed. She got out a bottle of Febreeze and gave it to Dean, pointing at the cushions.
“What do I do with this?” Dean asked grouchily.
“Spray,” Ladona said as though speaking to an imbecile.
Sam came over to help with the sheets, and by the time the man returned, Ladona had started a load of laundry and Sam was folding the towels from the dryer. Dean, who had finished his quick task, was sitting on a stool looking mulish.
“Start talking or I start beating it out of you,” he snapped; the man was about his height and build, albeit with slightly broader shoulders.
The man grinned.
“Good luck with that,” he said genially, coming around the counter to pick up his medication and put it back in his bag.
“’Good luck with that’?” Dean snapped, standing up and glaring over the countertop at the man. “What – you walk in here and knock Alex out, and that’s supposed to be okay with me?”
“I’m trying to help her,” the man said, closing up his messenger bag. “Go check on her if you want. Then if you still think I’m here to hurt her, you can come downstairs and try and take me. It should be fun. I haven’t had a patient try to outdo me in years, I could use the practice.”
“If he’s who I think he is, he’s a fifth degree black belt,” Ladona said to Dean. “And a medic, obviously.”
“So who do you think I am?” the man asked Ladona, helping himself to beer in the fridge. He gave her an adorable grin. “Please please tell me ‘George Clooney’. I’d love you forever.”
Ladona smiled; she couldn’t help herself. The boyish enthusiasm was kind of infectious. That confirmed it.
“You must be Christian,” she said.
“At your service,” he said, bowing, then pulled himself up on the kitchen island to sit, his sneakered feet hanging in midair.
Sam and Dean looked a little lost.
“Nick’s best friend,” Ladona explained. “Alex said she’d called him but couldn’t reach him.”
“So for somebody labeled ‘the best friend’, you sure don’t seem too worried,” Dean said, still irritated by the guest. Then again, everything seemed to irritate him today. “You didn’t rush right over here to help, did ya?”
“I didn’t get the message until late last night,” Christian said, his voice calm. “I participate in a program called Doctors Without Borders, are you familiar with that?” Sam nodded. “I was at a retreat planning our next expedition, and I didn’t find out what had happened until last night. I came over as soon as I could.”
“And then you get all gropy on your best friend’s girl?” Dean was certainly feeling mulish, Ladona thought. More than usual. Why did she feel it might have a little something to do with Sam?
“Alex??” Christian said, drawing back. “Come on, she’s like my obnoxious kid sister. You’re talking incest. Besides, I have a girlfriend. And Nick would never forgive me if something happened to his girl.”
“So where is this ‘girlfriend’?” Dean said, clearly not believing she existed.
“She’s out hunting a nest of rogue vampires in Nevada with some friends,” Christian said. “This is what they do with their girls’ weekend.” And he shrugged.
“But you and Alex have those little pet names,” Dean said. “What is um-pennie or whatever it was?”
“Mpenzi,” Christian corrected. “It means ‘lamb’ in Swahili. It’s a term of affection. She calls me ‘kaka yangu’ which is ‘my brother.’ Sheesh. You are suspicious.”
“Cute, we’ve got a doctor who speaks Swahili, of all things,” Dean said, throwing his hands in the air. “Who is too busy with work to show up and help his so-called friends. Y’know, I think we’ll do fine without your ‘help’. So just take your little bag and go give vaccinations or whatever it is you’re going to do overseas.”
“I’m going to Zimbabwe to help victims of a massive flooding disaster,” Christian said in a deadly serious voice. Apparently, Ladona thought, Dean had gone a little too far, and he seemed to recognize it because he recoiled just a bit. “So you’ll have to forgive me for also being worried about those poor kids dying of malaria because of all the standing water. Or who lost their families to drowning.”Christian relaxed with an effort. “Nick knows the risks. Alex, too, as a matter of fact. Anyway, would you feel better if I ran around shrieking and wringing my hands?” He gave a girly imitation of the hand waving.
“No,” Dean said sullenly.
“Good, because then you’d have to check on Alex periodically for the next twelve hours, and I don’t know if you would know what to look for,” Christian said, sounding mostly amused, his flash of anger past. “Or how to put an IV in. Do you know how to put an IV in? No? Okay then.”
“Well, I’ll say it,” Ladona said, but lightly. “You really don’t seem that worried about Nick.”
“Hon, I do worry about him,” Christian said gently. “But I’ve known Nick since we took martial arts together as kids. If anybody’s gonna come through okay, it’s going to be him. Alex would never let anything bad happen to him, and look, she’s got some of the best hunters, not to mention a very cute witch, to help.” But his grin at Ladona was far from lecherous – flirtatious maybe, but friendly.
“I take it you know who we are, then,” Sam said, his tone cautious, gesturing at himself and his brother.
“I do,” Christian said genially. “Alex gives us updates on what you’re up to and I’ve followed your work. You guys have taken on some really risky ghoulies and come up the winners. The hellhound case really intrigued me - I’ve read the manual and everything. And Ms. Ladona, I know you because Alex said in her message that you were coming. It’s very nice to meet you.” He shook her hand then kissed the back of it.“Now, since Ms. Alex is currently deep in visions of sugarplums, why doesn’t somebody give me the summary? Alex was remarkably incoherent on the phone.”
“She’s gotten worse all week,” Ladona said. “Well, I can tell you what I know. Over the last two weeks, a dozen people have been reported missing in a park on the edge of town. One of those partially wild nature preserve-type places – hiking, biking, horseback riding, that kind of thing. Police have investigated, can’t figure anything out, no bodies, nothing. About a week ago, Nick and Alex got wind that there might be something supernatural involved. So they went out there to investigate. One minute Nick was there, the next he was gone. No noise, no evidence, no movement, no scents, just gone. Alex called and called for him and hunted till the sun came up. She spent the next two days and nights out there almost non-stop and couldn’t find him. That’s when she called me, starting to panic. And that’s when we started calling you guys for help.”
“Did she find anything while she was out there?” Sam asked. “Clues or anything?”
“Just this,” Ladona said, going over to a basket on a living room shelf. She pulled out a plastic bag containing a feathered dart. “She wanted you to have it analyzed,” she said, handing it to Christian, who studied it carefully.
“Can do,” he said. “I have a friend in the diagnostics lab,” he added in explanation.
“So have you been out to this park?” Sam asked Ladona, who nodded.
“We’ve been out twice together, and I’ve tried spells and locators, that kind of thing,” she said, tousling her brown curls in frustration. Dean averted his eyes and fidgeted in place. “No luck. I can’t seem to get anything to work. All the traces are too old.”
“Well, then, it’s a good thing we called Dad,” Dean said to Sam, who sighed. Dean looked at the others. “He’s got hella good tracking skillsIn the meantime, I think Sam and I should go check it out. Get the lay of the land, that kind of thing.”
“That’s assuming they’re still on that site,” Christian said.
“I thought of that,” Ladona said. “The police say they think they are; there have been no clues to indicate otherwise.”
“Of course, most of the cops don’t know what we know,” Christian said. “About what’s out there in the world, I mean.” He gave a resigned shrug.
“Are you-“ Sam started to say to Christian and then stopped.
“A hunter?” Christian said. “Not really. I can do it if I have to, but I’m mostly a healer. No special extrasensory skills or anything. But I am trained in combat and I support the community.”
“Oh,” Sam said. “Do you want to come with us?” He spoke to both Ladona and Christian. Dean looked irritated and muttered, “We don’t need a witch.”
Ladona opened her mouth to rip him a new one, but Christian jumped in. “No, you guys will know what to look for,” he said, but he did give Dean a sideways glance for his commentary.“I have Ms. Alex to attend to.”
Ladona wasn’t sure why he jumped in, but she could feel the steam coming out of her ears. She’d had nearly enough of Dean’s behavior, and the minute she could corner him, she was going to find out what his problem was.
In the meantime, Christian got down off the counter, went out to his car and returned with a collapsible IV pole and a full bag of sugar water. Ladona and Dean glared at each other, Sam clearly ready to play referee if necessary.
“She needs a little nutrition, she looks like she’s about to cave in on herself,” Christian explained as he carried it up the stairs to the master bedroom. While he was gone, Sam and Dean headed out to the park on their own.
Ladona opened the front door of the sandstone house on the quiet subdivision street.
“Hi guys,” she said, giving Sam a quick smile and Dean a cool gaze. The guys noticed at once that her eyes were tired and a muddy brown because of it. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”
“Of course,” Sam said, walking into the large foyer. He wrinkled his forehead in concern. “How is she?”
“Not great,” Ladona said with a sigh, folding her arms across her chest. She kept her voice low. “Sleeping on the couch – well, not really sleeping, mostly pacing, fidgeting, crying if she thinks I can’t see her – won’t eat, nothing. I’ve tried to help, but we need the whole cavalry. We’ve reached the limit of what we’re able to do, she and me. We’re at the end of our ropes.”
“What, you couldn’t just cast a spell, and - poof – fix it?” Dean said, waving his hands in the air.
Ladona’s expression mirrored that of a co-ed at the library being hit on with a lame line about Dostoevsky.
“No, Dean, I couldn’t just – poof – fix it,” she said, eyes narrowing in irritation. “I told you that’s not how it works.”
“Then what good is it?” Dean snorted, and walked into the living room. Sam gave Ladona an apologetic look, and they followed Dean.
Alex was sitting on the couch in a pair of cotton running pants and a matching hoodie, her hair mussed, her eyes swollen and red with black bags underneath, her face thin and pale. She had a cell phone, a landline phone, and a laptop on the coffee table, but she was just sitting, staring into space, her face still damp. At some point she’d taken copious notes on scraps of paper scattered across the coffee table. Weapons and fighting gear were strewn about the room – dirty boots, wet gloves, torn leaves and broken branches that had gotten caught in clothing.
“Hey,” Sam said, approaching her carefully. She looked up in surprise – she hadn’t heard them come in, she’d been so preoccupied - and began to focus on him as he sank down on the couch next to her, giving her a careful hug. He was afraid of breaking her but he knew she appreciated the contact; she held on to him for a moment.
“Gees, you look like hell,” Dean said from the end of the couch. Ladona sighed in exasperation.
“Hey guys,” Alex said, her voice raspy, self-consciously wiping a palm across her cheeks. She knew how she must look, how the house must look. “I’m sorry for the mess -“
The front door opened with a bang and closed in the same fashion, startling all four of them. A tall good-looking man wearing a messenger bag over his shoulder strode in, said, “Hi, hi, hi,” to each of them as though they were old friends, and then hollered, “ALEX!”
“Over here,” she said wearily, waving one hand.
The man walked around the stunned three, pulled off his messenger bag, and cleared off the coffee table in order to sit down, sweeping bits of paper everywhere but being much more careful with the laptop, which Sam instinctively retrieved.
The man was in his early 30s and had spiked brown hair with natural red highlights, hazel eyes and long surgeon’s fingers. He was wearing jeans, a dark brown sweater over a white t-shirt, and a black leather band around his neck with a small medallion hanging on it. It looked vaguely like a flower, but both Sam and Dean recognized it as an African good luck charm – a spider web known as the Ananse Ntontan, which stood for wisdom and creativity.
“My god, mpenzi, you do look like hell,” the man said, scrutinizing Alex. “When was the last time you slept? Really slept?”
“Um,” she thought about it. “Tuesday?” She knew what his reaction would be.
“Sheesh,” the man said under his breath, digging in his messenger bag. He pulled out a small light and shone it in Alex’s eyes. “And when was the last time you ate?”
“I don’t know,” Alex said sheepishly, staring at her hands. “I can’t eat, I get sick. I’m too upset.” Her body was rebelling now; she was too exhausted to sleep, too worried. She’d run out of options and, until now, had had no idea where to go next. But now…now there were reinforcements…
“Not eating? Oh, that’s so brilliant I don’t know where to start,” the man said sarcastically, checking her pulse.
“Now that you’re here, you can come with me,” she said, hopefully, but it burned fever-bright in her eyes. “Come to the park, look and see what we might have missed, me and Ladona. Sam and Dean are here, they can go with us.” She sat up. “We can look, see where he might have gone, we can-“
“Ho there, cowgirl,” the man said, halting her stream of words by squeezing one hand. “We’ll get to that. First you need food and rest. You should get a shower too, pet. You’re kind of, well, stinky.”
“I know, I know,” Alex said, ashamed of herself. “I just – I can’t focus, I can’t – I don’t know what else to do.” She knew she looked like she was falling apart. The question was, was she? She didn’t know anymore, she wasn’t able to focus because of her exhaustion, but she couldn’t sleep either.
“You have friends here now,” he said soothingly. “Come on, let us take care of you.”
She nodded, unconvinced. She should, but she was supposed to be able to take care of herself, not collapse into nothingness.
He got up, taking his messenger bag into the kitchen, and began to work on the counter out of her sight. She hardly paid attention; cutting off her flow of words seemed to have deflated her. “You should eat something. You are not helping if you can’t even stand up straight.”
“I can’t eat,” Alex said, her eyes unfocused. “I can’t, I’ve tried.”
“I did try to make her eat,” Ladona ventured.
“I know she’s as stubborn as a supermodel at a weight gain seminar,” the man said, pulling out a syringe and a glass bottle. “But thanks for trying, I do appreciate it. Alex, everything’s going to be fine, you know that, right?”
“No,” Alex said. “No, I don’t.”
“Well, I do,” the man said, filling the syringe, and coming around the counter. “He knows how to take care of himself, and you know that. He’s come out of stickier situations. Now, you at least need vitamins and glucose, or you’re going to stroke out on me. Give me your arm.”
Alex did so without hesitation. He gave her the injection.
“Still love me, kaka yangu?” she ventured, in a tone that said this exchange was a familiar ritual.
“Like a wart,” he said, and she smiled hesitantly. “There. Now you should feel better.”
Alex nodded distractedly, but then her shoulders dropped, and she focused in on him with a great effort, outrage in her eyes.
“You lied to me,” she said, her eyelids drooping. “You – son of a –“ and she fell over unconscious into his arms.
At on a Sunday night in the late spring, 37-year-old Becky Buchwald was heading home in her seven-year-old Honda Civic. Finally, she thought. First church, then a baby shower, then two hours arguing with her mother about when she was going to get married and have kids. She wanted to, but the men she dated – ugh. No procreation there. Now she had to go home, walk the dog, and make sure she had everything ready for work in the morning. She sighed. Really. What would it take to make the day a little more hectic?
At least the streets in the small town outside Ozone Park, New York were fairly quiet. Not a soul to be seen except for the occasional dog-walker. Before Becky, the street stretched well-lit and empty, the cars parked alongside the road dark and still. People flipped off porch lights as they settled in for bed, preparing for work the next day. They packed their briefcases and the kids’ lunches, watched some TV or read a book, then called it a night. Becky was looking forward to doing the same thing.
He appeared so suddenly in front of her she had no time to react. One minute the road was entirely empty – she would swear up and down forever that she was paying attention and the road was clear – and then there was a young man standing right in front of her.
Becky didn’t even have time to swerve before her front bumper caught him and flipped him up over her hood and windshield. She might have shrieked; she wasn’t sure. Instead, hands shaking and operating on autopilot, she slammed the car into park and jumped out. Oh god, what had happened? Did she kill him? How badly was he hurt?
The man she’d struck was lying in the road, eyes open, looking confused.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Becky said, running over to him. “Are you all right? Are you hurt? Where did you come from? Oh my god.” Panic flushed through her. He wasn’t bleeding externally, but that didn’t mean – oh dear God, what had she done?
The young man blinked at her a couple of times and then tried to sit up.
“No, no you shouldn’t move,” Becky babbled. “No, stay still, in case you’ve broken something. I didn’t even see you, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened, but you must have come from somewhere.” She pulled her cell out of her coat pocket, flipped it open and called 911, almost unable to dial the numbers on the phone, her hands were shaking so much.
The ambulance and the police were on the scene within minutes – after all, what else was there to do on a Sunday night in this quiet suburb?
The young man said nothing as Becky fussed over him, but he did sit up. He seemed unharmed, really, although it was hard to tell for sure, as he wouldn’t say anything, just stared at her uncomprehendingly. Same expression for the police and the paramedics – a vague curiosity, a little concern, but nothing more.
He was probably about 18 or 19, tall, thin, curly blond hair, a classically handsome face. He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt – no shoes or socks, no watch, no wallet. Nothing to indicate who he was, and he didn’t answer her when she asked, but he didn’t seem to mind when she fussed over him and then the paramedics checked for injury.
Paramedics rushed him to the nearest big hospital and Becky spent hours with the police in the waiting room – she had to know how he was doing – answering their questions, going over the accident, explaining over and over again that she was perfectly sober, that she was not speeding, texting, talking on her cell phone or even listening to the radio, that the road had been clear, that one minute he had not been there, the next he had. The police had at first been skeptical, but after a breathalyzer proved her sobriety and her story didn’t change, they began to soften.
After several hours, a good-looking doctor in his mid-30s came out to meet them. He introduced himself as Dr. Halstead.
“Well, I’ve seen some weird stuff in my day – pencils up the nose into the sinuses, fractures nobody notices for weeks – one guy got a nail gun to the you-know-whats and went on to father three more kids – but this one takes the cake,” he said. “He’s fine. Really. Not a scratch on him. Of course, he won’t tell you if he’s hurt, so I’m thinking some cognitive disability or impairment. Pre-existing, not the result of the accident. The guy just doesn’t talk. But the crash doesn’t seem to have fazed him at all.”
“He can’t talk or he won’t talk?” one of the officers asked to clarify.
“He won’t,” Dr. Halstead shrugged. “Vocal cords are fine. He makes noises, but he doesn’t talk. Hums to himself – I think it’s Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ - looks around a lot, seems a little confused, but otherwise he’s in perfect health. And I made extra sure there wasn’t a head injury. MRI, the whole shebang. He’s absolutely fine.”
Becky breathed a sigh of relief. She’d worry about the dents in her bumper and hood later. That was a small price to pay for the kid being okay.
“You think he may be handicapped?” the other officer said, and got shushed by his younger partner.
“Nobody says that anymore,” she corrected him. He shrugged and turned back to the doctor. “He’s not all there?” He said instead, as though this was a better alternative. The younger cop sighed.
Dr. Halstead’s mouth quirked as though he was trying not to smile.
“I’m not a mental health expert,” he said. “But he appears to be developmentally disabled in some way. I’m having him taken over to the psychiatric hospital for observation. In the meantime, you’ve got yourselves a John Doe – no name, no ID.”
“So in your medical opinion, doctor,” the older cop said, “This guy could have easily walked out in front of a car?”
“Oh sure,” Dr. Halstead said. “Or fell from MountOlympus, who knows. The kid looks like a Michelangelo painting. Half the nurses are cooing over him as I speak. I couldn’t even get in the room the last time I went in there, he’s got so many admirers.” He rolled his eyes and grinned amiably.
“We’ll talk to the psychiatric hospital then, once he’s admitted, and see if we can’t figure out who he is and where he came from,” the younger cop said to Dr. Halstead. “Thanks for your help.” She turned to Becky. “Ms. Buchwald, you may go, and we’ll be in touch.”
As it turned out, Becky was not charged for the accident. Police determined the unknown male had likely walked out in front of her from between cars and she had had no time to see him and react appropriately. Because he wasn’t hurt and no one seemed inclined to press charges, she was off the hook. But she always drove even more carefully after that.
Six months later, Becky met a construction engineer, fell madly in love, got married, and had twins.
Anna looks up at the soft knock to see a Winchester bearing flowers for the second time in one day. Only this one’s Dean and they’re daisies. “Can I come in?” he asks hesitantly.
She smiles and nods. She’s still thinking over her conversation with John and basking in the afterglow of their love making. It drained what little energy she had but it was well worth it. She wishes he could have lain with her afterward, maybe held her while she slept, but the small bed and the IVs made it impossible. So he went to get something to eat at her insistence, leaving her with the taste of him on her tongue and his words of love lingering in her ears.
Realizing Dean’s still standing awkwardly in the doorway she says mildly, “I won’t bite.”
He steps into the room and approaches the bed slowly. “You look better,” he finally says.
“Thanks.” But she can’t think of anything else to say. It saddens her that she could never make a connection with Dean. Especially since he’s so much like his father. And that’s probably why he’s here, she realizes. He’s looking for John. But he proves her wrong with his next words.
“I saw Dad downstairs. He said you’re doin’ lots better.”
She can’t help but wonder why he’s here if not to see John. He must’ve promised his dad he’d stop by, she thinks wryly. Duty call. “Yeah, I am. How’s Ladona? Her arm…?”
He waves his free hand. “Eh, she’s fine. They set it. It was a clean break. She lost a lot of blood too but…” He grins. “I think the two of you cleared out their blood bank.”
She can’t help but smile. He’s obviously trying to be friendly and she’s more than happy to play along. “That’s good. That she’s doing all right, I mean. I’m glad.” She searches desperately for something else to say, not wanting to waste this opportunity. Pointing to the flowers she says, “She’ll love those.”
He flushes slightly. “Uh, actually they’re for you,” he mumbles.
Trying to hide her surprise she says, “Oh. Well, thank you. I love them.” She looks around for something to put them in. “Maybe use the water pitcher?” she suggests.
He deposits them in the pitcher. Great, they look pathetic next to the roses, he thinks.
As if she can read his mind she says, “It’s good to have different kinds of flowers instead of just one. Reminds me of my garden back home.”
“Yeah, I remembered there were daisies. So I thought you might like some.”
She has to blink away tears. He remembers she has daisies planted? It’s probably just because he’s so observant but it still touches her deeply that he even went to the trouble of thinking about them, let alone buying them. “They’re beautiful,” she says softly. “I really mean that.”
He’s a little horrified to realize she’s on the verge of tears. Ladona didn’t say anything about the flowers making her cry! Did he give them to her wrong or something? Sheesh, he hates when women cry! Desperate to distract her he blurts, “Thank you for savin’ Ladona’s life.”
She looks startled. “I didn’t save her life,” she protests.
Now it’s Dean who looks startled. “She said you did. She said you offered yourself to the god in her place.”
Just like his father, she thinks, shaking her head. “I didn’t do anything special, Dean,” she says wearily. But she can’t bring herself to tell him how she fell apart in the darkness. She doesn’t need to give him any more reasons to dislike her.
He looks at her thoughtfully for a moment. Something’s not right. He puzzles over it as uncomfortable silence fills the room.
Anna looks down at her hands. She’s too tired to deal with Dean’s animosity right now. “I’d like to be alone,” she finally says softly.
“Um, okay. Well, I hope you feel better,” Dean responds feeling like there’s something more he should do or say but not knowing what. His brow furrows as he turns to go. Anna’s quiet voice stops him at the door.
“Can I ask you a question?”
He turns, not sure he could feel more uncomfortable than he already does. “Sure.”
Her green eyes search his. “Did I almost get everyone killed?”
He’s taken aback by the question. “Of course not. Why would you even think that?” he asks curiously, returning to stand by the bed.
Her first instinct is to think that, like John, he’s just trying to make her feel better. But she knows that’s not true. Dean’s the last person who’d coddle her. She hesitates before answering him but decides if nothing else there should at least be honesty between them. “Because I don’t belong here. I have no idea what I’m doing and nothing to offer. I’m just…a distraction.”
Her words sting him because they so closely mirror his own thoughts of a few days ago. He knows he should probably just say it’s not true but his instincts tell him that would be the wrong answer. A memory of himself saying something very similar to his dad after his first big hunt flashes through his mind. And ironically that makes everything click into place. He smiles.
“If you’d said that four days ago I would’ve agreed with you,” he responds. “And I’ve been pretty shitty to you from the moment we met so you know I have no reason to sugarcoat the truth.” He hesitates, searching for just the right words. “But after watchin’ you and Dad together and after what you did to save Ladona…it looks like we were both wrong.”
She just stares at him, speechless.
“I’ve been doin’ this so long it’s easy to forget I had to learn from experience too. And I still screw up. Everyone does.” He shakes his head. “I didn’t have trouble cuttin’ Ladona slack for bein’ inexperienced when we first partnered. And it doesn’t bother me when we run up against somethin’ new to her that she has trouble dealin’ with.” He grins sadly. “So it’s pretty hypocritical of me to think you should be able to do stuff as well as me or Dad or even Ladona.” He drops his eyes. “I really am sorry for bein’ such an ass, Anna. You did nothin’ to deserve it. I was just jealous…” His throat constricts with emotion and he can’t go on.
Anna doesn’t bother to wipe away the tears flowing down her face. “Thank you, Dean,” she whispers.
He nods. The silence between them this time is a comfortable one.
“Your dad wants me to keep hunting with him,” she adds after several minutes.
“You’re good at it,” he says softly. “And you’re good for him.” He surprises himself with that last but immediately knows it’s true. Then before he can think too much about it he adds quietly, “He told me about your deal with Nemesis. It kinda slipped out when we were arguin’. But…” He shrugs. “I think you made the right choice.”
She smiles through her tears, feeling like her heart might burst. John mentioned telling Dean just before he went downstairs and she was relieved to be able to confess to telling Ladona as well. They laughed about it, deciding it made no difference. But maybe it did, she thinks as she looks into Dean’s steady green eyes. “Thank you.” After a moment she adds, “Any hunting tips from an expert?”
He grins. “Keep the rock salt handy.”
Ladona’s smiling face flashes through his mind. “And don’t forget to have fun. There’s more to life than hunting.”
She nods and a comfortable silence descends on them once again, filled with a new understanding and appreciation and promise.
John turns and walks away from the door not wanting to get caught eavesdropping even if it was by mistake. He was about to enter when he heard Anna say he wanted her to keep hunting and was surprised into stillness by Dean’s response. His heart overflows with pride and love for his son as he strides up the hall and he thinks that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t such a terrible father after all.
Then there’s Ladona. He popped in to see her on his way up from the cafeteria. Before this week he hadn’t really considered how he felt about her other than to be happy for Dean. But then he realized he’s spent the last few days worrying about more than just his wife. Ladona’s really somethin’ else, he thinks, smiling. A perfect match for Dean. She confided how relieved she’d be to leave the hospital so she could spell her injuries away. Anna’s too.
He didn’t stay long because she was tired but he did make a point of telling her (if a bit awkwardly) that she means a lot to him and he’s happy to have her as part of the family. He thought about adding that she’s like a daughter to him but didn’t want to sound like he was pushing for her to marry Dean even though he’s sure it’ll happen. Eventually. He saw it in his son’s eyes and in hers too.
He looks up to see Sam and Skye standing by the nurses’ station holding hands. Smiling wider he goes to hug them both and share the good news of Anna’s and Ladona’s recoveries.
“Sorry we’re late,” Sam mumbles but John brushes it aside.
“You’re here now and that’s all that matters,” he answers. It saddens him a little that Sam looks so surprised at his words. Obviously he still has a lot of work to do with both his boys. But when has he ever backed away from a challenge?
They turn toward the hospital rooms but John pauses when he hears the song floating softly out of the radio at the nurses’ station. How appropriate, he thinks, his eyes gleaming. After a moment he follows Sam and Skye, not wanting to miss the joyous reunion of his family. But the words stay in his mind, a fitting tribute to the future.
That old black magic has me in its spell That old black magic that you weave so well. Those icy fingers up and down my spine That same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.
The same old tingle that I feel inside And then that elevator starts its ride And down and down I go, round and round I go Like a leaf that's caught in the tide.
I should stay away, but what can I do? I hear your name and I'm aflame Aflame with such a burning desire That only your kiss can put out the fire.
For you're the lover I have waited for The mate that fate had me created for. And every time your lips meet mine Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go In a spin, loving the spin I'm in Under that old black magic called love.
John pauses in the doorway. Anna looks so small and frail lying in the hospital bed with all those tubes in her arms. Her beautiful hair is limp and dirty and bandages swathe her right forearm and the right side of her neck. He feels a flash of anger again as he remembers coming into the chamber and finding that beast on top of her, his teeth buried in her precious throat. He’s actually shaking with fury at the memory and has to take deep breaths to calm himself. She doesn’t need to see him like this.
He moves quietly into the room and resumes his post in the chair by her bed. He’s barely slept over the past few days and then only in this very chair. The doctor finally threatened to sedate him if he didn’t at least go eat so Dean offered to sit with her while he was gone. The only time he’s left the hospital was that first morning when he and Dean went to destroy the bodies then returned to the motel briefly to change out of their bloody clothes and settle things with the manager. The destruction in Dean and Ladona’s room was impossible to hide, what with the missing window, but a little bribe money took care of the problem. He smiles humorlessly. That and the tale he spun of how the women were actually attacked in the room even though the police had been told it happened a mile down the road. To save the motel’s reputation and prevent panic, of course. The manager had been more than willing to accept the money and keep his mouth shut then.
He studies his wife. She’s still incredibly pale despite the pints of blood they’ve pumped into her. God, how could he have been stupid enough to put her in that kind of danger! It’s exactly the thing he feared most…that his enemies would strike at him through her. And this isn’t even the first time, is it, he asks himself bitterly. It already happened with the Yellow-Eyed Demon. This is exactly why he left her to begin with, to protect her. Bang up job there, Winchester, he thinks sourly.
He closes his eyes, reliving that horrific trip down the mountain. He couldn’t stop Anna’s bleeding but he couldn’t move too fast either for fear of losing his footing on the steep trail. It seemed to take forever and he feared every moment would be her last. He wondered over and over again how one person could lose that much blood and still survive. Dean struggled behind him with Ladona and he knew she was in bad shape too but they didn’t speak, each man enduring his own private Hell. Once they finally hit the parking lot Dean deposited Ladona in the front seat of the Impala, John slid into the back still cradling Anna, and they set a speed record getting to the hospital. Things happened quickly as doctors swarmed around the women then it was time to wait and see.
During his long vigil he wondered what would happen if Anna didn’t recover. Would he just drop dead like when he traded his soul for Dean’s life? Would COD be listed as a heart attack? He didn’t know and found he didn’t really care. Ironically, watching her fight for her (their) life erased all his doubts about Anna tying her life to his and insisting on hunting by his side. Whatever the outcome he’d rather die with her than live apart and it was as simple as that.
She woke a few hours ago for the first time since the attack. His relief at seeing her cat green eyes flutter open brought tears to his own eyes and he had to remind himself not to squeeze her hand too hard for fear of hurting her even more. She wasn’t lucid and he’s not even sure she knew he was there but the doctors said it was a good sign and told him to keep talking to her, that it was helping.
A soft sound at the door draws his attention. It’s the candy striper with the roses. Mindy, he reminds himself. Her name’s Mindy and she just turned 15. She told him that right before explaining she’d get in trouble for going down to the gift shop to buy flowers during her shift. He nodded tiredly and started to put the money back in his wallet but something in his sad face made her take the money with a whispered, “If you can wait another hour, I’ll be off. I can do it then, sir.” He smiled gratefully and said that would be fine.
A quick glance at the clock tells him it’s been less than an hour though. “You didn’t get in trouble, did you?” he asks softly as he accepts the flowers.
“No, sir,” she lies. She did kind of get in trouble but when she explained to her supervisor who she was doing it for the woman’s expression softened and she told her to go ahead. Everyone feels somehow responsible that these two visitors to their town got hurt and it was good to be able to help in even this small way.
John tries to wave away his change but Mindy looks affronted so he quickly pockets it with a quiet, “Thank you.” She flashes a bright smile, dips her head as if to say you’re welcome, then disappears in her noiseless shoes. John goes into the bathroom to add water to the almost empty vase. A dozen red roses are pretty heavy; if he’d realized that he wouldn’t have asked the girl to go. He just wanted some flowers for Anna when she wakes. To remind her of home and make her smile.
Anna watches him quietly. She’s been awake for almost 10 minutes. Her throat burns and her body aches all over but it’s the sadness in her heart that really hurts. Because she made a decision that night in their motel room when she finally realized he was serious about letting others die just to keep her safe. What happened after that only reinforced it. She’s actually been floating just under the surface of consciousness for the past day, not really wanting to wake up and face the harsh truth that she’s not the wife her husband needs her to be. And not wanting to risk losing him by admitting it.
She squeezes her eyes shut to keep the tears at bay. No crying, she orders herself. When she opens them again her breath catches in her throat. John’s standing over her holding the roses. She didn’t even hear him approach.
“Hi, beautiful,” he says softly, setting the vase on the bedside table but never taking his eyes off Anna.
That’s all it takes to shred her self control and the tears begin to flow. He quickly moves around to her left side so he can sit on the edge of the bed and gently draw her into his arms. It’s awkward with all the tubes and wires surrounding her and he has to hunch over uncomfortably to do it but none of that matters. She sobs into his shoulder and he rubs small circles on her back, whispering soothing words against her hair.
After a while she calms down and pulls away to look up at him. Tears shine on his cheeks and she wipes them away with her left hand. He catches her hand and presses his lips against it, his eyes never leaving her face. “I love you,” he murmurs.
“I love you too.” They drink each other in for a moment then she gasps, “Ladona? Dean?”
He smiles. “They’re in the next room. Sleeping. They’re gonna be fine.” He leans down to kiss her softly on the mouth. “And so are you, my love.”
Sadness fills her eyes and she gently pulls her hand away from him. “We need to talk,” she says.
His smile doesn’t falter but his heart sinks. He was hoping to put the blame and apologies off for a bit but she’s right. “I know. I’m so sorry I got you into this-”
“No, John, I meant I need to talk and you need to listen.” Her voice is strong and firm even as her heart breaks but she has to get this out before she loses her courage.
“All right,” he answers mildly but fear tightens his chest at the seriousness of her tone. Is she going to say she doesn’t want to be his wife anymore? He knew she’d be angry he endangered her yet again but he’s appalled to think he might actually lose her.
“I can’t do this anymore.” Anna forces the words out. Like lancing a boil, she tells herself. Quick and clean and then it’ll be over.
“Do what?” he asks cautiously. No matter what she says he knows he has to accept her decision. But he can’t keep his heart from pounding harder than it did coming down that mountain.
Anna closes her eyes briefly. “I can’t…I was wrong…” She takes a breath and coughs. “Could I have some water please?”
He quickly fills a glass from the pitcher sitting beside the forgotten roses and raises the bed a little so she can sip it. The liquid soothes her dry throat, making it easier to speak. She just wishes it could make the words easier to say.
“I love you, John, and I don’t regret a minute with you,” she begins, not allowing herself to look away from his serious face. “But it’s clear to me now that I was being stupid. You were right all along. I don’t belong here. I’m not a hunter. I almost...” She pauses as her throat constricts with emotion. “I almost got everyone killed and I am so sorry for that.” She’s crying now but keeps going. “I really wanted this to work but…” She finally drops her eyes. “I just want you to know that…I’ll always be there waiting when you get home…if you still want me.” Her voice is a whisper by the time she finishes and she closes her eyes, feeling completely miserable.
As she speaks the tension eases out of him and relief takes its place. This he understands. His mind flashes back to his first debrief with Dean. The kid was trying so hard to be brave and not cry but he was shaking like a leaf. And he kept apologizing for screwing up because things didn’t go as planned. Feeling like he’s back on solid ground John says softly, “Anna, please look at me.”
After a moment she does and he sees the same fear and guilt in her eyes that he saw in Dean’s decades ago. He cups her cheek in his palm. “Is that what you want? To be a…” He can’t help but grin. “Housewife?”
His eyes are so warm and understanding they make her cry harder. “It’s not about what I want,” she whispers. “It’s about what’s best for everyone.”
“Everyone, huh? Like Ladona?” He keeps his tone even and conversational. If she’s anywhere near as stubborn as Dean (and she is, he thinks wryly) this could take a while.
Anna closes her eyes. “Did she tell you what happened?” Her voice breaks as she thinks back to how Ladona soothed her when she was so frightened in the dark. But it should have been me taking care of her, she berates herself.
He hasn’t spoken to Ladona, wanting to give her and Dean time alone first, but he and Dean already discussed the most likely scenarios during the long hours of waiting so he’s pretty sure he knows what happened. Now he just has to make Anna see it. “You tell me,” he prompts his wife.
She watches him carefully. He knows, she thinks. Part of her is hurt that Ladona told him how she came unglued but she has to admit it’s for the best. Keeping her voice flat she finally says, “I freaked. I was worse than useless. Ladona wouldn’t even have been there if not for me.” She remembers the burning hatred in Celeste’s eyes and the realization that it was her they came for at the motel, not Ladona.
One thing at a time, John thinks. Let’s start at the beginning. He takes Anna’s left hand in both of his, rubbing his thumb over her wedding ring. “Neither of you would’ve been there if not for me,” he responds. “And we all know it. I should’ve known they’d set a trap for me after last time.”
“You couldn’t have known!” Anna protests. His skin is so warm against her cold hand it makes her want to cry again. “None of us knew we were dealing with magic until Ladona felt it at the diner!”
He keeps the smile off his face but not out of his voice. “So you admit either nobody’s at fault or we all are?”
She looks confused for a moment. “I…I guess.” Her brow furrows. “But I could have at least helped when they attacked! Did Ladona tell you how useless I was then?” she demands.
This is a trickier area because he and Dean could only guess at what happened. Watching Anna’s face he says shrewdly, “I was wonderin’ about that…”
He’s pleased to see the flash of anger in her eyes. “It’s not like I didn’t try!” she snaps, feeling the need to defend herself a little. “Everything happened so fast…” But Ladona fought them, she thinks miserably. So why didn’t I?
He wants to pull her into his arms again and make all this go away but that won’t help her in the long run. Instead he asks, “Were they usin’ magic?”
Her brow furrows again. “Yes,” she finally admits.
“How many of them were there?”
She thinks for a moment. “I saw two struggling with Ladona. And there was one behind me. She…” She looks away again. “She knocked me out without a fight.”
“So three at least,” he says blandly. “Three people usin’ magic so strong they overpowered Ladona.” He lets that sink in a moment before adding slyly, “I guess she should feel really bad then, lettin’ herself get taken by surprise like that. After all that magic she felt on the mountain she didn’t even put up a protective barrier or some kind of alarm?” He shakes his head at such incompetence.
This time the anger seeps into Anna’s voice as well as her eyes. “Hey, she did her best! She fought like a tiger! Maybe if I’d helped her instead of just standing there-” A sob interrupts her words.
“So why didn’t you?” he asks softly.
“I…I wanted to,” she whispers heartbrokenly. “I just…I hit the dresser and by the time I got up…it was over.”
He squeezes her hand. “Then you did your best under the circumstances, sweetie. Hey, they got the drop on me too the first time I was lured into the caves.” He grins ruefully. “And I was lured. If not for my extra knife I would’ve been feedin’ that thing myself 20 years ago.”
She shudders at the memory of the creature’s hot breath on her skin as he drained her life away. “It was horrible,” she whispers. “I felt…emptied.” That’s not an adequate description but there really aren’t words to describe the feeling of being sucked dry.
He holds her for a bit, stroking her hair, remembering how he promised to wash it for her. That seems like a lifetime ago but it was really just a couple of days. Some of the longest of his life though. He closes his eyes briefly then releases her to sit up. Twining his fingers through hers he continues, “All right, we all suck at not gettin’ caught. What then?”
She’s so tired. Why can’t he just accept her inadequacies? She knows what he’s doing, trying to make excuses for her, but she’s not going to let him. He has to understand why she deserves to be a “housewife.” Meeting his eyes defiantly she delivers the coup de grace. “Did Ladona tell you how terrified I was in the caves? How I was crying so hard I couldn’t even think straight?”
He studies her face. Part of him wants to believe she’s lying or exaggerating but he knows she’s not. He tries to picture what it must have been like for them. Dean described the small holding cell as completely bare with small lights ringing the perimeter…ah, now he understands. “It was pitch black, wasn’t it?” he asks gently.
She can’t even speak through her tears so nods instead.
He watches her for a minute. She’s been terrified of the dark since returning from Hell. He can still remember how loud she screamed when she woke up next to him that first night…she woke everyone in the house in fact, putting an entire building of hunters on high alert. That was a sight to see. He caresses her face. “I know that was scary,” he says softly. “Anyone woulda been scared wakin’ up like that.”
“I wasn’t just scared, John, I was petrified,” she moans. “Ladona was hurt and I wasn’t there for her.” She looks at him, pleading with her eyes for him to stop this.
But he only smiles. “I don’t think that’s true, love.”
She closes her eyes and shakes her head. He watches her struggle with herself before she finally blurts, “I thought I was back in Hell, okay? I wasn’t even connected to reality anymore! And when Ladona spoke to me I thought she was…”
God, it hurts to see her in pain like this. But it’ll be over soon, he tells himself. Just a little longer. When it looks like she’s not going to finish her sentence he says quietly, “The demon. You thought she was the demon.”
“Yeah.” She looks away but he cups her cheek and forces her to meet his eyes.
“Anna, that was a normal reaction. And you’re talkin’ to the one person who knows that for a fact. I had nightmares too for months. But I never had to wake up in a pitch black cave. Now tell me what happened after Ladona spoke to you.”
She closes her eyes but this time she allows herself to concentrate on that moment in the dark when Ladona pulled her back from the brink. Her voice is low as she speaks. “Ladona told me who I was and where we were. But I couldn’t do anything for her. I knew her arm was broken-”
“How could you know that?” he interrupts quickly.
She looks surprised at the question. “Because I checked her over.”
He nods solemnly. “This was while you were bein’ terrified and not thinkin’ straight, right?”
“Oh, stop!” she says disgustedly. “Don’t you think I know what you’re trying to do?”
“What am I tryin’ to do?”
“You’re making excuses for me! Be honest, John. If anyone else acted the way I did you’d…well, you certainly wouldn’t be looking for reasons to make them think they didn’t screw up!”
He smiles. “That’s not what I’m doin’, babe. Now tell me the rest.” When she continues to look mutinous he adds blandly, “You think I’m gonna sit here and listen to someone badmouth my wife without proof?”
She smiles for the first time since waking. “You’re crazy,” she whispers.
“You married me,” he whispers back, cocking an eyebrow.
She laughs in spite of herself. It’s a small sound and weak but it fills his heart with joy to hear it. He leans down to kiss her, brushing his lips across hers softly. She opens to him and their tongues caress ever so lightly. When he draws back her cheeks are flushed and he grins, his eyes twinkling.
“Now no more of that until I’ve heard it all, woman.”
Her own eyes are alight now but she answers, “It doesn’t matter, you know. My mind’s made up.”
He shrugs. “Then you have nothin’ to hide.”
She sighs heavily. “Fine. I checked Ladona. She said it was just a broken arm. I was fine.” She pauses then amends, “I was unhurt at least. But when she asked I said I had a slight concussion.”
His gaze sharpens. “Why?” he breathes.
She looks embarrassed. “I was thinking they might be listening. It was stupid I know since I was helpless against their magic anyway but…” She shrugs.
He’s proud of her for thinking to do that but all he says is, “Misinformation is always good.”
She sighs again. “Well, it’s not like it mattered anyway. After a bit the lights came on and two of them showed up. Celeste…the woman who led you to the caves originally…and that thing.” She shudders again. “She called him her god if you can believe that.”
“Actually he was a demigod.”
She looks at him in surprise. “He really was a god?”
“No, a demigod.”
“What’s the difference?”
He sees her curiosity is genuine and not an attempt to distract him so explains, “Accordin’ to lore a demigod is one who used to be an actual god but fell in love with a mortal and was…” He shrugs. “I guess demoted for bringin’ shame on the others.”
She looks thoughtful. “That’s why he could be killed.” Her eyes suddenly widen with alarm. “You did kill him, right?”
“Yes, babe, they’re all dead.”
The coldness in his voice and eyes makes her shiver. This is the part of him he tried so hard to hide when they first met but she caught glimpses of it and they scared the hell out of her at the time. After she entered his world she understood the reason for the ruthlessness and embraced it, even helping him accept that it was an asset rather than a character flaw. Some things just have to be destroyed and she’s grateful there are people like her husband who can do it without blinking an eye. People who serve justice, she thinks wryly, remembering Nemesis’ lecture.
John’s voice pulls her out of her thoughts. “Back to the narrative,” he prompts her and she smiles sourly.
“Yes, master.” She rolls her eyes as he laughs, the deep rumble of sound washing over her in a warm wave of love. She could spend the rest of her life just listening to that laugh. But back to the narrative as he calls it, she thinks dryly. All the humor disappears from her face. “He wanted to take Ladona first. He said something about having her join them. I think he meant the coven.”
John’s gut tightens. That’s something he and Dean hadn’t thought of.
Anna wets her lips, tasting John on them. It gives her strength. “We were both so helpless, pinned to the wall by their magic. Then the…” No, she can’t bring herself to refer to him as any kind of god. “The creature started running his finger through the blood on Ladona’s arm.” Her face twists into a look of disgust. “He was licking it clean. Then he…” She closes her eyes and shakes her head at the memory. “He opened the wound further to make it bleed more. And I couldn’t let him hurt her anymore. I know it was stupid and reckless but…” She looks at him pleadingly, willing him to understand. “When I realized he was going to drink her blood I just…I couldn’t let him. So I offered myself instead.”
He’s not surprised. “It’s okay, love. Don’t you see how brave that was?”
“It wasn’t brave. It was desperate,” she sobs. “I couldn’t see any other way to help her though.”
He caresses her cheek softly. “It was all you could do, sweetie. You don’t think I would’ve done the same? Or Dean? Would you judge us as harshly as you’re judgin’ yourself?”
She stops crying. She hadn’t really thought of it like that. “No,” she finally admits. “I’d think you were brave.”
He smiles. “See? It was a brave thing to do. Oh, honey, bravery isn’t the lack of fear. It’s bein’ scared outta your wits but doin’ it anyway. Bravery and love…they’re not so different.”
She thinks about it for a while but she’s still so confused. She was certain she’d finally figured everything out and now she feels totally adrift again…
“Hey.” He draws her attention back to him. “Finish tellin’ it. You’ll feel better. I promise.”
She takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Okay. I…he accepted my offer.” She looks disgusted again. “He seemed to think I was honoring him or something. Sick.” Suddenly she grins. “But that really pissed Celeste off so that was a bonus.”
He smiles faintly.
She sighs. “He was gonna do it right there…drink from me, I mean. But I asked for privacy so Ladona wouldn’t see.”
“And to give her a chance to act,” he adds softly.
She looks surprised. “How did you know?”
“Diversionary tactic, darlin’. It only works if it causes a diversion.” Another surge of pride fills him.
“I know. You taught me that.” She touches his face softly. “I thought about you a lot, you know. I knew you and Dean would come for us and we just had to hold on until you arrived.” She smiles sadly. “I really miscalculated though.”
“How so?” His eyes search her face.
“Well, never having been drained of blood before, I didn’t think I would weaken so quickly,” she answers dryly. With a sigh she adds, “And I made the mistake of pissing the guy off. That’s when he got really serious and went for my throat. I passed out almost immediately after that.”
“What did you do to piss him off?” John can’t keep the amusement out of his voice.
Anna grins. “I might have implied his ability to dish out pain was…inadequate.”
John throws his head back and laughs. Only Anna would say something like that! “You are somethin’ else, darlin’.”
She frowns. “I’m reckless and stupid. It was an unnecessary risk.” She shrugs. “I just let my temper get the better of me.”
He says with mock solemnity, “Yes, I have noticed a marked increase in the appearance of that redheaded temper of yours. Maybe you should go back to bein’ meek.”
She snorts in a most unladylike fashion. “I have never been meek!”
“You were once,” he croons and she shivers deliciously at the memory. Unable to resist he cradles her head with one large hand and kisses her, running the fingers of his other hand lightly down her cheek. He’s not gentle this time and she responds eagerly to his demanding exploration. They’re both gasping when they come up for air and she feels a little lightheaded.
“I thought there was a kiss embargo until you heard the entire sordid tale,” she finally manages.
“I’m sorry. Was there more?” His dark eyes caress her face, making her ache for him.
“Well, no. But I couldn’t resist teasing you.” She can’t help but smile. It’s good to feel mostly normal again.
He continues to caress her face, sending little electric shocks through her body. And he knows damn well what effect he’s having on me, she thinks. But she doesn’t want him to stop.
“So let’s recap, shall we?” He grins at the way she’s responding to his touch and vows then and there never to let anyone make him hesitant to touch his wife whenever and wherever he damn well pleases. And she’ll allow, he adds. “You claim you were useless and endangered us all. Your evidence consists of bein’ responsible for your own and Ladona’s kidnappings. Which we’ve established was not somethin’ you could have anticipated or prevented. You think you should have done more to fight off the kidnappers but acknowledge you were both outnumbered and outmagicked. Which is the same thing that happened to me 20 years ago.” He pauses and looks at the ceiling as if thinking but doesn’t stop caressing her cheek. “Okay, so you’ve failed to prove your case thus far. Failed miserably I might add.”
She doesn’t respond but that could have something to do with the fact that he’s started rubbing his thumb lightly over her lips. Everything in her body clenches and her breathing becomes ragged. If it weren’t for all the tubes and wires tying her to the bed… He smiles as if reading her thoughts. His jeans are becoming uncomfortably tight but he’s enjoying himself too much to stop.
“Hmmmmmm,” he continues, his voice only slightly betraying his own reaction. “After a brief but perfectly understandable moment of panic wakin’ up in the dark you pretty much took control of the situation and did everything you could to both protect an injured Ladona and delay the bad guys. Despite the fact that you and Ladona were completely helpless against their strong magic. And you were dealin’ with a demigod and a coven of ancient witches and wizards.”
He and Dean had pieced together the probable ages of the coven members because it was clear they couldn’t be as old as they looked. The witch John followed hadn’t aged in 20 years so it seemed reasonable to suspect the others hadn’t either. Their best guess on ages was that most if not all of them dated back to the group of odd settlers mentioned in the old accounts. They had no way of knowing how the coven accomplished such longevity but it didn’t really matter now that they were all dead.
“I didn’t take control of anything,” Anna protests despite the excessive distraction her husband’s touch is providing. She begins to contemplate how much it would actually hurt to just rip all the shit out of her arms. Probably much less than being burned alive from the inside out, she guesses. The only thing stopping her is knowing that disconnecting everything would bring the medical staff running. She groans in frustration.
John just smiles. “You did the best you could in a bad situation. And you didn’t fall apart. Your mind was clear enough to think of diversionary tactics and snappy comebacks. Come on,” he says softly. “You really think the rest of us could’ve done better?”
She takes his hand away from her mouth but doesn’t let go of it. “John…” She swallows hard. “This isn’t just about what happened in the caves. When we were hiking up the mountain earlier that day I realized I had nothing to offer the group. Ladona has magic and all three of you are experienced fighters. And what am I? Just a plain old woman who couldn’t hold her own in a serious fight.”
He squeezes her hand. “A) You’re not plain. B) You’re not old. C) Everyone has to start from scratch. Ladona wasn’t a hunter until after the war started. The only difference between you and her is time. She’s had more time to gain experience. Ask her yourself and I’ll bet she’ll tell you she was terrified and uncertain at first even with her magic.” He smiles. “And she had to learn to use her magic as well. She always had the raw talent but she worked with other witches to learn how to channel her power, how to use spells, things like that.” He leans forward so their faces are just inches apart. “The only way to be a hunter is to hunt. Trainin’ can only take you so far then you just have to do it.”
Pain fills her eyes. “I know you’re right,” she whispers. “And I was willing to try. I have been trying. But I can’t live with the fact that you were willing to let people die to keep me safe.” He draws back. “You know it’s true.”
He bows his head for a moment. When he raises his face to her she sees a matching pain in his eyes. “You’re right. I made a mistake the other night. A mistake I’ve been makin’ for months now. I didn’t…” He blows out his breath. “I didn’t have faith in you. I mean, I didn’t have faith that you wouldn’t get hurt.” He shakes his head. “And it was all for nothin’. You got hurt anyway. In fact, if I hadn’t been such an ass, you and Ladona wouldn’t have been sittin’ ducks in the first place. Every time I try to protect you it backfires,” he finishes sadly.
She cups his cheek in her palm. “I wish you could have faith in me. But until you do I won’t endanger anyone else. Even if that means becoming a housewife.” She smiles sadly. “My mind is made up.”
“I can’t be apart from you,” he whispers. “If you stay home I will too.”
Unspoken between them is the question of what would happen if he stopped hunting. That would violate the deal with Nemesis…and most likely reinstate Anna’s original life span of exactly eleven months and two days. Over half of which is gone already. She remembers thinking it was no real sacrifice to agree to Nemesis’ conditions even though the god warned them to consider unintended consequences. Now she understands what that means. She still doesn’t regret her decision though.
John’s always worried, given Nemesis’ fickle nature, that the deal was a trick to cheat Anna out of the few months she was guaranteed. The god obviously knew when John was supposed to die and it could very easily be within the next few months. But he realizes now that it doesn’t matter. They both made their decision that night on the hill and for the same selfish reason. Time to let go of the fear, John, he thinks.
He licks his lips. “I…there’s somethin’ I never told you.” He pauses to take a breath. “When Nemesis asked for my answer…” He closes his eyes. “The reason I agreed was so I would never lose you again. I…couldn’t bear even the thought of it. I’ve been sittin’ here watchin’ you…not knowin’ if you were gonna die…if we were gonna die.” He meets her eyes and tears spill down his face. “And I was…relieved…to know I wouldn’t have to keep goin’ if you died,” he whispers.
She wipes away his tears. “Don’t you think I know that?” He looks at her in surprise. “But it changes nothing, John. I’m going home and you’re going to keep hunting. Without me,” she finishes so softly he can barely hear her.
He smiles. “Oh, sweetie, it changes everything. You agreed to share my life, every minute of it. And this is my life.”
There’s a long silence between them. Finally he breaks it. “You leave me no choice then. I’ll kidnap you.” His eyes gleam. “Hold you hostage in motel rooms. Have my way with you.”
Her lips part slightly as his dark eyes caress her skin. “Would I have to be meek?”
He laughs, the rumble of sound filling the room. “God, I hope not,” he murmurs.
She licks her lips. “Are you saying you have faith in me, John?”
He nods slowly and deliberately, his eyes never leaving her face. “I have faith in you, Anna.”
She searches his eyes and sees nothing but certainty. “I’ll agree on one condition,” she whispers. He raises his eyebrows questioningly. “Make love to me right now before I explode.”
He laughs again. “You think it’s safe?” he teases.
“Only if you lock the door.”
They laugh together then he gets up to do just that. He closes the door and immediately mutters, “Crap.” When she asks what’s wrong he says, “It doesn’t lock.”
“Oh.” Disappointment fills her and she starts considering the pull everything out of her arms option again. After half the hospital descends to see why her heart has stopped beating maybe they can have some privacy…
She watches him study the door handle. It’s a thin vertical piece of metal that you pull down. After about a minute he takes something out of his pocket, does something she can’t see, then turns with a triumphant grin. He crosses to the bed, his smoldering gaze sparking her own passion.
“What did you do?” she gasps.
“Jammed a quarter under the bottom edge so it can’t be pushed down,” he whispers as he slowly unbuttons his shirt. “Hope I can get it back out later.”
She laughs. “Well, if you can’t, I’m sure we can keep ourselves amused.”
“Mmmmm hmmmmm.” His eyes move over the medical equipment, studying the setup and considering viable options. He lowers the bed so she’s lying flat but there are still IVs in both her arms. “Tricky,” he murmurs.
She bites her lip, letting him figure it out. She’s sure he will. Her husband is an amazingly resourceful man.
He slowly peels back the covers. She’s wearing one of those horrible hospital gowns. Grinning he runs his hands up her legs, pushing the hem of the gown up to reveal her body. She wiggles a little bit to help and they manage to get it all the way up past her breasts. She’s cold but he’ll soon warm her well enough.
He disappears into the bathroom and comes back with a washcloth. Tossing it to her he says, “Bite this, woman, instead of your damn arm.”
“You’re so bossy,” she retorts but can’t help laughing. “And overdressed.”
He quickly remedies the last problem then sits on the edge of the bed again. She runs her left hand over his chest, toying with the hair there. He begins touching with his hands what he’s already been caressing with his eyes and the passion between them roars to life. After a few minutes he settles himself between her legs, kissing and licking his way up her inner thighs. She shudders even before his tongue finds her. Soft moans and gasps fill the room as he slowly pushes her toward orgasm. She remembers to bite down on the washcloth as her body trembles with wave after wave of pure pleasure.
John chuckles as he moves up her body, stopping to tease and taste her as he goes. “What’s so funny?” she manages to gasp.
He finally reaches her face, holding himself off of her with his arms. She loves the way the muscles in his chest and arms bunch with the effort. “We took care of the screamin’ issue but your heart monitor’s goin’ a mile a minute.”
She laughs. “That is not my fault!” she protests.
“Guilty as charged,” he says wickedly then kisses her, slowly and deeply. “Don’t let me hurt you,” he whispers and she nods.
As he slides tenderly into her she murmurs in his ear, “Thank you for the roses.” Then she forgets how to talk for a while
Ladona's arm throbbed and burned as if a thousand red hot needles were being jabbed inside it. She took a deep breath and the movement caused the pain in her arm to flare bright as the sun. Her throat burned, too, from Celeste’s touch. She moaned softly and opened her eyes. She was alone, her eyes confirming what she'd already known. Ladona breathed a sigh of relief. One side of her body was swathed in bandages and she knew from the way she couldn't really open one eye fully, that she had one hell of a shiner.
Dean had kept up a steady stream of conversation while she'd been out and she'd heard every word. He'd reminded her of funny instances during some of their hunts, times when she'd kicked more ass than he had, some of the amazing places they'd seen, the love they'd made. Ladona had latched on to Dean's voice and let it lead her out of the fog and back to earth. It was too tempting to let the drugs keep flowing, to keep her mind from dealing with what had happened since they'd come to Georgia.
She was glad to be alone now, though. It gave her the time and space to remember what Anna had told her about the deal with Nemesis, to think about whether or not she loved Dean - or if he loved her - enough to make that kind of deal. She knew she loved Dean without question. She hadn't felt so loved and accepted since before she'd discovered her powers and was living a normal life with her dad and her brother. But would she die with him? Ladona brushed aside the obvious that hunting together made that more a probability than a possibility. That was different from knowingly linking your destiny to that of another.
Anna. Dear Goddess, please let her be alive. Let her and John be alive and together nearby, Ladona prayed. She tried to concentrate and focus on Anna's red hair, her green eyes, her bright smile, anything to try and feel whether or not Anna had made it out of the cave alive. Nothing. It must be the drugs, Ladona sighed to herself. She gave up for the moment.
Ladona frowned, the fiery nerves in her arm fading as her thoughts turned full force to Anna and John's deal. Was it truly different, though? She and Dean had been partners for months before their working relationship had turned to love. They'd watched each other's backs like partners do. Now that they were lovers, the connection was deeper and still they hunted together. Neither one knew when a job would go bad and one or the other would be hurt or even killed. She realized that they'd tied their fates together; albeit in a different way from John and Anna.
Turning onto her side to face the window, Ladona tried to imagine her life without Dean, both alone and with another partner. Could she have a full life without him? Maybe, but would she want to? Lots of people lost ones they loved and went on to shape a new life out of the old even if the future was tinged with a bit of sadness. She thought about Dean's smile and his laugh, about how he listened to her and trusted her instincts, about how his eyes darkened and smoldered when they made love. A tiny cry escaped her lips and she knew ...
Would Dean have a full life without her? That was where Ladona got stuck. Dean had never made secret how he lived his life before they'd fallen in love. She'd often wondered if, when they were first partnered, he'd had a one nighter here and there. He had been entitled, she knew, since there'd been no claim on him from her or anyone else. But what about now? He said he loved her. He had not left her side. But was that the definition of “forever” for him?
Ladona checked the clock. Just about noon, which meant Dean was down in the hospital cafeteria grabbing a bite to eat. His predictability made Ladona smile and ache for him ... She had to know where he stood on the subject of their future. She had to know if their love was as deep and durable as what she saw between John and Anna. Maybe it wasn't fair to compare the two relationships. John and Anna were older and had been through a hell of a lot more than she and Dean.
Still, having this time to think about her life, their life together, made Ladona realize that she loved Dean with her whole heart, her body and her soul. She knew she would kill for him or be killed if it meant saving him. She knew she would rather die with him than lose him. And now she needed to know if he felt the same because as much as it would kill her, if there was any hesitation on Dean's part, they were done being lovers, being partners, being anything.
The hair on the back of her neck tingled, telling her Dean had returned.
"Hey," he said softly, surprised to see her lying on her side with her back to the door of her room. "You're awake!" Dean rounded the bed and dragged a chair close, stroking her cheek.
Ladona met his eyes and was struck that his glimmered with tears. She reached out her left hand as best she could and touched the stubble that lined his cheek. "Why are you crying?" she asked in a hoarse whisper.
"I missed you." Dean leaned forward and pressed his lips to Ladona's forehead.
"How long have I been here?"
Dean sat back down and took her good hand in his. "A couple of days."
"How's Anna? Is she ... " the words caught in Ladona's throat. "Is John ..."
"No, she isn't ... they aren't ... Anna's next door. She lost a lot of blood, but she'll be okay." Dean swallowed hard. "You know about their deal?"
Ladona nodded. "Yes. She told me just before we were taken." Her gaze drifted out the window and tears leaked out of the corner of her eyes.
"What is it?" Worry and grief had etched into Dean's features, making him look older than his years. His eyes searched her face.
"Could you ... would we ... what if we were given the choice to make that deal?" Ladona took a deep, ragged breath. "When I was still under, I could hear you and it was your voice … I followed it out. It was the same thing in the cave. After I was left alone, I thought of you and called to you and I know that's how I had the strength to resist and fight back.” She paused before going on. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Life without you is just ... I couldn't bear it, Dean. I don't want to have to even try. Maybe that makes me weak, but I don't care. I can’t be without you. This crazy life we have ... I wouldn't trade it or change it, but I need to know." She met his eyes then. "Would you make that deal with me?"
It was a question Dean had asked himself over and over again while Ladona had been unconscious. She'd lost so much blood from the initial attack and again in the cave that the doctors had seriously questioned her ability to survive. He and John had sat in the hall together, their expressions slack with grief, as one man considered how much longer he would live and the other man wondered how he could live. When both women had started to show signs of recovery - Ladona had turned the corner early yesterday morning while Anna had only shown signs of improvement a couple of hours ago - their respective Winchesters breathed sighs of relief and met again in the hall to share their good news.
Dean knew that Ladona was really in no shape to discuss something this important, but he also knew that if he suggested they wait, she would see it as he didn't really love her and that was so far from the truth, he couldn't begin to explain. He held her gaze for a moment before answering.
"I can't say that I've never loved anyone like this, Ladona, because the truth is, I've never loved before. Period. I don't have any experience to draw on to help me. I lost my dad once. I nearly lost Sam. A couple times." Dean wiped his eyes and took a breath to steady himself before looking at Ladona again. "I never thought I could feel as lost as I did back then. That was nothing compared to how it felt to find you ... to have the doctors tell me you might not make it. I can't imagine life without you. I don't want to have to find out if I can go on without you. So yes, I would make that deal. Today, tomorrow. Next week. Next month. In 10 years." Dean shrugged. "I would make that deal."
They fell silent then and just looked at one another. Dean reached out and stroked a curl back from Ladona's forehead, careful to avoid the bruising and swelling around her eye.
Even as her heart filled, Ladona couldn’t shake the dread she’d carried once she realized witches and wizards were responsible for the deaths of so many over the years. Magical people. People like her.
“Hey …” Dean said gently. “Where’d you go? You look far away.”
“The people in the caves … are they …”
“They’re dead.” Dean’s tone was cold and final and Ladona felt an odd mix of relief and melancholy.
She nodded. “I figured.” You have to tell him, she told herself. Dean not sharing his thoughts and feelings had been a sticking point at the beginning of their relationship. And though Ladona realized he had to know what happened in the caves or it would eat away at her and maybe tear them apart, she still couldn’t tell him about her time in AlmostHell. Besides, she reasoned, the two situations were completely different.
“I need to tell you what happened after we were taken,” she finally said.
Dean searched her face, but she lifted her chin and he recognized her determination. “Okay, but only if you feel up to it.”
"They wanted me ... to give the god some of my power ... they wanted me to join them. The god, or whatever he was, tasted me … my blood … and said I was powerful and he wanted me to become part of their coven.” The words came in halting phrases as Ladona closed her eyes and saw the god standing before her, licking her blood from his finger. “They were going to … rape me,” Dean was thunderstruck and a fresh rage took hold of him, but he said nothing, waiting until Ladona finished getting it out. “A group of them came to the cave after Anna … and they were using a spell to make me … to make me want them, but I wouldn’t let them. I killed two of them and then Celeste … she broke my arm again and I think I passed out. The next thing I remember is being in a field and you were there, but then Celeste came back and that’s when I threw the rock.”
Seeing the expression on his face while she told him about her time in the mountain caves only confirmed that he was better off not knowing every detail of what she’d been through down below. She had no doubt that if it were possible, Dean would kill the coven twice for what they’d tried to do to her. And that would be nothing compared to what Dean would do to the demons responsible for her attack underground.
“You’re safe now. The coven is gone, salted and burned and they can’t get you or Anna or anyone else ever again,” Dean told her, pushing aside the horror he felt that Ladona had almost been … he couldn’t even bring himself to think the word, but the images flashing in his mind more than made up for it. Bile burned his throat and he forced himself to swallow it down.
Tears leaked from Ladona’s eyes and she swiped at them angrily with her good hand. “I’m glad they’re dead and I’m glad I helped kill them,” she said fiercely. Her voice turned raw. “But they were … they were witches and wizards … they were like me, Dean. They were magical like me.”
Now Dean understood. Ladona could handle the danger she’d faced as part of the hunt, but what tore her up inside was knowing witches and wizards were hunting humans and why they’d become so twisted. He grabbed her left hand hard and pinned her with his gaze. “You are nothing like them.” He spoke in a whisper but his tone was firm and didn’t invite argument. “They allowed themselves to be seduced by this god creature. You would never do that because if we strip away the magic, you’re still you. Hard-headed, stubborn, strong, smart, funny, beautiful and sexy as hell.” They both smiled. “You don’t have an evil bone in your body, Ladona, and you never will. Those freaks may have had magic, but that was all they had. They had nothing on you.”
She couldn’t believe she’d been so naïve. Ladona knew Dean wasn’t surprised by much, but the evil they encountered still had the ability at times to shock her. She knew several witches – most of them were paired with hunters and worked cases just like she did – but this was her first run-in with witches on the other side of the divide. Time would take care of it, she knew, just like she knew Dean would always be there to lead her back from whatever cliff she stood on the edge of.
Ladona changed the subject. "Have you been to see Anna?"
Dean sighed and looked down, picked at the blanket a bit. "I sat with her for a while, but she hasn't woken up yet."
"This was the second time she saved my life, you know."
"What do you mean?" Dean's voice was a rough whisper and he wondered if something had happened and he hadn't been told about it.
"She found me and led me to you in the first place. I was so lost back then, but she saved me, Dean. And then in the caves, she volunteered to feed the god first, to give me time to try and save us. Anna is a hero, just like John. You have to accept her as your dad's wife, the woman he loves. She loves your father like I love you so why can you accept my love for you, and you can accept Skye's love for Sam, but not Anna? She deserves better than that."
She's right, Dean knew. She'd been right all along and he hadn't seen it until John had let it slip about their deal with Nemesis. "I know," Dean admitted. "I don't know why I couldn't see, but when dad told me about the deal, it just ... hit me." He ran his hand over his face. "I owe her an apology and my thanks for saving you."
Ladona smiled at him and touched his cheek again. "Will you hold me?"
Dean looked at the various tubes that were connected to the IV and to the machines monitoring her condition. He popped the brakes on her bed and pulled it further into the room so he could move everything to the other side of the bed, then re-secured the bed. He helped her turn back onto her good side so he could lay behind her, spooning her, which was her favorite way for them to fall asleep.
"Should I grow my hair longer?" Ladona murmured. "Would you like it better like that?"
Dean paused, completely taken off guard by the question. "It's perfect now."
"What about dresses. Would you like it if I wore a dress now and then?" Ladona turned her head to look at Dean and smiled at the confusion on his face. She was getting tired again, but the vision from the cave had come unbidden to her mind and she felt an odd curiosity about how Dean would feel about long hair and dresses.
He tried to picture Ladona in a dress, but the only image that came to him was her in the blue dress she’d worn for John and Anna’s wedding that matched her eyes. And, he admitted to himself, it had been more fun taking it off her than looking at her wearing it. "You can wear whatever you want, babe. I'm not picky.”
"You might want to take flowers when you go see Anna," Ladona said in a sleepy voice.
"It's the universal symbol to a woman when a man knows he's been an idiot."
Dean chuckled and kissed Ladona's temple. "I'll do that."
The police chief looks down at his notebook for a moment before returning his gaze to the two men sitting across from him in the doctor’s lounge. They flatly refused to leave the hospital even though their wives are still unconscious. He could have pushed but the fact is they’re not suspected of any crimes. And it’s clear they’re both beside themselves with worry. So he bent the rules (one of the benefits of living in a small town), found a relatively quiet room, and had them give their statements separately. Not that it mattered, he thinks wryly. They said the same thing, practically word for word. If he had even the smallest bit of evidence to indicate they were more than just innocent tourists…
“So…your wives went for a walk and you stayed behind to watch the football game. When they didn’t come back you went looking for them and found them…” He pauses to check his notes again but not because he needs to refresh his memory. He’s found over the years that people tend to be uncomfortable with silences and often feel compelled to fill them, frequently revealing information they hadn’t meant to in the process. But no such luck with these two. He’s absolutely positive they’ve had experience speaking to the police before. And lying to them.
“You found them fighting off a wild animal. Mrs. Ford…” He looks at the older man. “Was on the ground unconscious and Mrs. Shepard…” His gaze moves to the younger man. “Was trying to protect her.” They look a lot alike despite the different last names, he notes absently, but that could just be because they’re wearing identical surgical scrub tops the nurses gave them to replace their blood soaked shirts.
“That’s right,” John responds, not bothering to hide the exhaustion in his voice. He’s tired of playing this cop’s games. All he wants is to get back to the caves, salt and burn the bodies, then return to Anna’s side.
The chief looks at him coolly. “Then the two of you were able to intervene. Unarmed. And drive the thing away. But you don’t know what kind of animal it was.” He manages to keep the disbelief out of his voice but just barely. Eight people mauled to death by this unknown animal, drained of blood entirely, and they expect him to believe they yelled “Boo!” and it ran for the hills? Leaving absolutely no trace behind?
Dean forces himself to remain relaxed. He knows what the cop’s trying to do and he can’t even blame him. He wishes they could tell the guy there won’t be any more missing people or dead bodies but there’s no way they can explain what’s been happening in his town. Not in a way that won’t earn them free trips to the loony bin anyway. Or the penitentiary, he adds, thinking of the mess still to clean up.
Enough, John thinks. There’s only one way they’re getting this guy off their scent…
“Look.” His voice seems loud in the stillness of the lounge. He rubs his hand over his face and sighs. Taking his cue from his dad Dean allows himself to slump against the back of the couch. “We…”
The chief’s senses go on high alert. Are they finally going to tell him the truth?
John sighs again and shakes his head. “I wasn’t sure about your local laws but…I did have a gun. I shot into the air and the thing ran off. Where we’re from it’s legal to carry a concealed weapon. I have a permit.” He looks embarrassed. “Frankly, I’m so used to havin’ the gun that I forgot to leave it behind when we came on vacation. My wife really got upset about that…” His voice trails off and he closes his eyes, not needing to fake the pain that wells in him as he thinks of Anna.
The chief studies their drawn faces, his police instincts telling him there’s still more to the story than they’re saying. But he also knows there’s no way he can force them to tell it. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway, he thinks grimly. Hell, he should thank them for at least confirming it is an animal that’s been killing tourists. He didn’t think it could be human but couldn’t rule out the possibility without proof.
Finally surrendering to the inevitable he hitches a smile onto his face and stands. The men rise with him. “Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Ford, Mr. Shepard. I will need you to sign your statements once they’re typed up but tomorrow’s soon enough for that.” His gaze pins John. “I’ll also need to see that weapon and the permit, Mr. Ford. Tomorrow.”
They nod but don’t say anything. His expression softens. He suddenly feels bad for treating them like suspects when they’re clearly the victims. It was just because they set off all his alarm bells. Getting paranoid in my old age, he thinks wryly. “When your wives recover enough to talk they can give their statements. The nurse will keep me updated. Until then my thoughts and prayers are with you all.”
They shake hands with the chief then watch him walk out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He doesn’t look back. John collapses onto the couch and blows out his breath. Dean stands rubbing his eyes. They’re a bit red from the tear gas and all he can think about now is Ladona. But the job’s not quite finished.
After a few minutes John speaks quietly. “Let’s check on the women then get our supplies.” He heaves himself to his feet and they leave the room together.
Ladona was sitting with her back to the stone wall once again. Her shirt was cold and sticky from her blood and she shivered from shock. Anna had not returned, but neither had Celeste and Ladona was glad for that at least. She didn’t know how much longer she could survive here or even how long she’d been there.
Dean … her mind called out to him again and behind her closed eyes she could hear him laugh. She could see him as she did when they were in the car and he reached his arm across the back of the seat to play with her hair. She felt his kiss and how warm his hands were on the bare skin of her back. Dean … I don’t want to leave you, but I don’t know if I can hold on much longer.
She stood in the middle of a large wheat field and it was warm with a large, bright sun overhead. A forbidding, dark forest stood to one side of the field and Ladona shivered just looking at it. The sun felt good on her shoulders and Ladona looked down to find herself wearing a dress and no shoes. Her hair fell down her back a bit and her arms, legs and hands were tan. Her grandmother’s ring – a large sapphire surrounded by diamonds on a wide, gold band - glinted on the middle finger of her left hand.
Ladona walked a few steps further into the field and away from the forest. “Dean,” she called out.
“I’m here,” he answered, his voice coming from behind her.
She turned around and saw him. He was wearing a loose white shirt and looked tan and relaxed, his green eyes twinkling in the sun, the half-smile she loved. Ladona grinned and walked toward him. “I knew you’d find me,” she told him.
“I’ll always find you,” Dean answered, reaching out to cup her cheek in his palm and rub his thumb across her bottom lip.
Celeste’s voice snapped across the cave pulling Ladona from her reverie. The younger witch groaned involuntarily. Ladona’s eyes popped open when she was lifted unceremoniously to her feet. The older witch looked tense and afraid and it set off alarm bells in Ladona’s mind.
“What do you want?” Ladona snapped back.
“My god has no need of you,” Celeste told her, looking back quickly over her shoulder. “He’s left you to me.”
“I don’t think so.” Ladona struggled to hold on to the warmth from the image of her and Dean in the field and that’s when she knew. Dean and John were here. Dean was close. She knew it and it gave her strength. “You look scared, Celeste.”
The woman snorted and raised her hand, but Ladona had what she needed. As soon as the spell was released, Ladona stuck out her good hand and caught the spell in her palm. The energy dissolved quickly, but it was enough to give Ladona the extra push she needed. She bent and picked up a jagged piece of shale from the floor and flung it across the room like a Frisbee with all her might.
The rock whistled through the air and sliced across Celeste’s throat, cutting her deeply and spraying her blood across the walls of the cave. The old witch sank to the floor, an expression of incredulity frozen on her beautiful, scarred face.
Ladona felt the magic that bound her lift with Celeste’s death, but she didn’t have the energy to use her power. Instead, she put her arm out to steady herself and tried to walk towards where she knew the opening to her cell was. Ladona hit the floor and lay on her side before she’d even taken a step, gulping air and trying to make the room stop spinning and the bright lights behind her lids stop twinkling.
She put her forehead against the cool stone of the floor and felt her arm begin throbbing, which meant she was bleeding again. “Dean,” she whispered.
“I’m here,” he said, cradling her head on his arm, his eyes searching her pale face. “I’m here, Ladona. Open your eyes.”
Oh, dear Goddess, he thought. How much blood had she lost? The light in the room was dim, but he could see the slick wetness – a lot of it - pooled a few feet away and her arm was bleeding profusely – and was that her bone? -it was worse than he thought he could stomach. Could he move her? He had to get her out of here, but how, without her losing more blood or injuring her further?
Ladona forced herself to open her eyes and blinked to clear her vision. She sobbed with relief when Dean’s face swam into focus. “I’m here, baby,” he soothed. “Sshhhh … I’m here.”
Dean lifted her in his arms, understanding that John had gone to take care of the god or whatever it was and that his father had lied to him deliberately. Dean didn’t care, though, since he would have done the same thing. Cautiously, Dean went back out into the hall, but it was silent and he was confident he and John had taken care of everyone who lived there. Well, except for the dead witch where they’d been holding Ladona, he corrected himself, proud that even weak and nearly unconscious, Ladona had been able to hold her own.
Anna. He hoped John was able to get to Anna in time. If Ladona had been in the one room, that meant Anna was with that thing and who knew how much blood it had taken from her. Dean firmly pushed aside what it could mean for his dad if Anna were to die and continued on his way out of the caves and into the coolness of the night. He’d cross that bridge when and if necessary. Right now, he only wanted to get Ladona to safety and then to a hospital. He moved quickly, trying to ignore the fact that his shirt was soaked and getting wetter by the second with Ladona’s blood.
John ignores the faint popping sound as he steps through the silencing spell which served the unintended purpose of keeping the demigod from knowing of the attack. But his mind isn’t working on any kind of rational level at the moment. All he sees is a naked man on top of his wife, his mouth fastened against her throat. Low animal growls and grunts fill the chamber.
John takes two large steps and hooks his boot into the creature’s ribs, dislodging him from Anna’s throat and sending him flying. He notes how still and pale she is before stepping over her to finish the job he started 20 years ago. Before the creature has time to do more than kneel and turn John has his machete drawn. He swings it in a smooth arc and watches with satisfaction as recognition dawns in the creature’s eyes mere seconds before its headless body slumps to the floor. The end, he thinks savagely.
But there’s no feeling of victory as he kneels beside Anna. Her skin is milky white, providing a stark contrast to the ragged red bites on her arm and neck. He quickly strips down to his t-shirt and uses his outer shirt to bandage the wound on her arm. But he has no way to stop the blood flowing from her throat. Terror grips him as he scoops her into his arms and staggers to his feet.
All he can think of is getting her to a hospital as he moves quickly through the caves and out into the night where Dean waits with an unconscious Ladona in his arms. Without a word they begin their descent. It’s a long way down the mountain and Anna’s warm blood is already soaking his t-shirt.
The inside of the cave was exactly like John had described: torches that seemed to extend directly from the stone walls, living chambers that looked straight out of the middle ages and odd carvings of offerings, sacrifices and rituals that were cut into the rock. John signaled to Dean to follow him and stay close. Father and son crept silently, eyes darting this way and that, waiting for their presence to be known.
They could hear coughing and wheezing from somewhere further along the hall and knew the tear gas diversion had worked. A woman stepped out into the hall from a chamber a few steps from the opening and stopped suddenly when she came face-to-face with Dean. He hesitated only a fraction of a second before pulling his machete from an inside jacket pocket and cutting her head off. She only had time to register shock at the Winchesters’ appearance before her body slumped to the ground. The men moved on.
John noted the grim determination on Dean’s face and felt a rip of guilt in his chest. The people he loved were suffering – again – because of him. Put it aside, he scolded himself. Guilt isn’t going to save Anna and Ladona and get them all the hell out of here in one piece. John quickly realized he had no idea where he was going. His memories from the last time he was here weren’t clear and there was no time to pull out his journal and check his notes.
Instead, John led Dean further into the mountain, following the sounds of people affected by the tear gas. They only encountered one other person and John was able to slit his throat after a brief exchange of blows while Dean held him.
Neither father nor son spared the man a second glance, but Dean was relieved to know that while these people might be witches and wizards, and had probably lived long past their expiration date, at least they could be killed like regular people. He refused to even contemplate how it would be easy for Ladona and Anna to die like regular people, knowing that to give in and let his mind wander like that would kill them all.
Brighter light told John and Dean they were just a few feet from the room. The hacking and crying were louder, too, so the men separated to opposite sides of the hall. Dean remained on the same side as the opening and at the count of three, John sprinted to the other side of the doorway. They cocked their guns and stole into what could only be described as a kind of family room.
The smoke from the tear gas had mostly dissipated though some fumes hung in the air, making Dean’s and John’s eyes water a bit. Still, they could see maybe five or six other people in the room, too, some of whom were on their hands and knees gulping air. A couple others curled up coughing and sputtering on pieces of furniture that looked like giant cushions. The floor of the room was covered in thick carpets and large furs and rich tapestries were hung on the walls. Light shone from the fire in the middle of the room and from dozens of small lights scattered about.
Dean stalked to the nearest person and grabbed what turned out to be a woman by the hair. He pulled her head back roughly and put his gun to her head. “Where are the women you kidnapped?” he growled. She shook her head violently from side-to-side, but Dean only yanked harder. “I’m not going to ask again.” When she only smiled at him, Dean pulled the trigger and let her lifeless body fall to the ground.
John had a tall wizard pinned to the wall with the barrel of his gun pressed between the man’s eyes and his hand around the younger-looking man’s throat. “You’re next if you don’t tell me where you took the woman with the red hair and the witch who was with her.”
The wizard smirked, but when he saw John’s finger curl around the trigger, his expression changed. “One is in the holding cell and one is with our god,” he blurted.
“Where?” John demanded. He refused to consider this new piece of information until he and Dean were finished.
“The holding cell is further down the passageway,” the wizard told John, his expression not quite so worried now that John seemed to relax a bit. “Our god is at the end of the forked hall to the right.”
John clapped him on the shoulder and then snapped his neck. John turned away from the dead wizard to help Dean dispatch the rest. It was fast, easy and ugly since the tear gas rendered the witches and wizards in the room nearly harmless, but neither Winchester was willing to leave anyone alive to cause further problems.
“Did you find out where they are?” Dean asked.
John looked dazed as he answered. “Yeah. The holding cell is further down this way. I don’t know who’s being held in there, but the other one is …” John took a breath. “The other is with the god.”
Dean was dumbstruck. “A god? What the hell?”
“It explains so much,” John was almost talking to himself. “The bloodless bodies, the intervals between the kidnappings and deaths. But maybe not a full god otherwise my attack wouldn’t have made a difference.” He looked at Dean. “Don’t you see? A demi-god that needs fresh, human blood to survive. All those people went missing because they were taken to feed the god. It must be awake now and needs to regain strength.”
Dean stepped quickly to the doorway to go back out to the passageway that would lead him further into the mountain. “Which way, Dad?”
John looked at Dean and made a split second decision to lie to his son. He knew Dean – and John did, too – assumed the god would have taken Ladona first to take advantage of her power in her blood. But he also knew this was his fight to finish no matter if it was Ladona or Anna with the god. He would kill the god once and for all and end this particular nightmare for everyone. “Keep going down this passageway. It’ll be before the fork in the hall.”
Ladona sat crossed legged with her back against the wall opposite from where she knew the opening to the chamber was even though it was pitch black once again. She cradled her arm against her stomach, wincing at the throbbing that got worse with every passing second. I finally stopped bleeding so that’s good, she thought, feeling the deep wound that ran from her right shoulder down to her elbow, which is where she guessed her arm was actually broken.
But Anna. What was happening to her? Ladona imagined torture like what Anna had endured in Hell and she shook with the force of her fear for the older woman. I’m going to kill that bitch, Ladona repeated grimly for the hundredth time, imagining her hands closing around the throat of the dark-haired witch who had led Anna from the cave.
Even though she knew it was futile, she closed her left hand and channeled energy to her palm then opened her fingers, but as she expected … nothing. No light. No zing. Nothing. Ladona hadn’t realized how much she had come to rely on her power and felt bereft without it, vulnerable.
And Dean. Where was he? She had no idea how much time had passed since she and Anna had been attacked and taken, but he and John had to have discovered the chaos of the hotel room by now. Her body ached from the fight, but her heart called to Dean and she willed him to hear her, to feel her even though she knew this underground – intermountain? – fortress probably had a protection around it to prevent any kind of psychic connection between its prisoners and the outside.
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and visualized standing at the foot of a long, curving staircase that ran alongside a peaceful creek that ran down and gurgled over a rocky streambed. She stood in a brilliantly lush forest with a bright sun overhead and --
“Am I interrupting?”
Ladona opened her eyes to find the witch – Celeste – standing at the opening with another woman Ladona presumed was a witch and two men who, despite her desperate situation, she had to admit were pretty damn handsome. Small, flickering lights danced along the floor, outlining the perimeter of the cave.
“What do you want?” Ladona intoned, trying to sound bored even though her heart had begun to beat faster.
“What an appropriate question,” one of the men said in a deep baritone. The timber of his voice sent shocks up Ladona’s spine and she was disgusted with herself for responding this way.
“Isn’t it though?” the other witch smiled and looked at Ladona through lowered lashes. Ladona felt her nipples harden and a fire start low in her belly. Her face flushed with shame and she began to shake, whether from fear or the beginnings of desire she couldn’t tell.
The man who first addressed her walked forward with an almost animal-like stealth. He wasn’t just handsome, Ladona realized. He was sexy, too, with broad shoulders, a tapered waist and long legs encased in a black shirt and black pants. His dark hair gleamed in the dim light and his dark eyes shone with desire. Something beyond her control made Ladona stand as he got closer, made her blood hum with the sexual energy he exuded.
The girl was suddenly on the side of her broken arm and the man stood in front of and just slightly to her other side. Ladona wondered how they’d gotten so close without her even being aware of it. The girl lifted one of Ladona’s thick curls and blew lightly on the side of her neck, causing Ladona to suck in her breath and the fire in her belly to ignite into full blown need.
“Easy,” Celeste warned in a teasing tone. “You want to make sure there’s plenty to go around now.”
Oh, shit, she thought, understanding in a flash what was happening. They’re going to rape me to soften me up for their god or whatever it is. A sudden image of what she’d endured in AlmostHell flashed through her mind and her throat went dry with terror. Ladona almost succumbed to her fear, but then she mentally kicked herself. Think, Ladona, think! You are not going to let this happen! They’re obviously using some type of spell or aura or something to make it consensual. This must be part of the ritual for joining the coven. Sex, blood offering, induction ceremony.
“As much as I appreciate your, um, offer, I’m going to have to pass,” Ladona said not a little sarcastically. “You’re just not my type. Any of you.” Dear Goddess, please help me. An image of Dean floated in her mind’s eye and she imagined his love wrapped around her like a blanket. A lump formed in her throat and threatened to overwhelm her, but Ladona swallowed hard and lifted her chin.
The man standing next to Celeste stared at Ladona as if she were a meal he couldn’t wait to taste. “Really?” he asked. “I thought we could be great friends.”
Damn, they’re good, she thought, understanding they’d had years and years of practice and wondering just how in the hell she was going to not only resist but get out of this. Wise up, Winters, another part of her brain railed. You’re a hunter, not just a witch, a trained fighter with hundreds of hunts under your belt. Be like Dean! Kick ass and take names later!
“Why do you resist when you so clearly want to give in?” Celeste asked, her voice a smoky tone that seemed to dance across Ladona’s skin.
Ladona leveled an evil gaze at Celeste, ignoring the two on either side of her. “Yeah, well, I’ve never been one to take the easy way and I don’t see any reason to start now.” Before anyone could react, Ladona curled her good hand into a claw and raked the girl across the throat. A split second later, she kicked out and caught the man high on his chest, kicking hard enough to hopefully stop his heart.
The witch Ladona had attacked sank to the floor, holding her hands to her throat in a futile attempt to staunch the blood. Ladona had aimed her blow just as Dean had taught her: right across the Adam’s apple for maximum damage with minimal effort. The man – wizard? – who had tried to seduce her had a shocked look on his face and put his hand over his heart before he, too, fell over. Ladona stood staring, shocked that it had worked. And Dean teases me for reading those obscure medical articles I sometimes find online, she thought smugly for a second before movement out of the corner of her eye made her spin and back up against the cool stone wall.
Celeste moved like the wind and was standing nearly nose-to-nose with Ladona. Any seductive vibes Celeste had been sending had been definitively replaced by a dark and deadly anger that seemed to rise up and out of the woman’s very soul to curl around Ladona’s ankles and wind its way up her legs. She was held in place more firmly than if steel bands had been used.
Celeste wrapped her hands around Ladona’s throat and Ladona tried not to wince from the way the witch’s touch burned, could even smell her flesh burning. The pain was intense, searing and sharp. Tears came to her eyes, but she refused to blink or give in. Celeste said nothing, just smiled gently and took one hand from Ladona’s throat and laid it on her broken arm.
Ladona’s scream rebounded off the walls of the cave and echoed out of the hidden opening and through the mountain hideaway. She felt the bones separate completely with a snap. One of them came through the skin. The gash on her arm started bleeding again and felt as if it, too, were on fire. Ladona dropped to her knees sobbing and watching her blood drip onto the hard floor and pool in front of her. She could barely breathe or see from the pain.
“This is nothing, my dear,” Celeste whispered in her ear. “I’ll be back to see to you, and then you will beg to join us.”
A scurry of movement that Ladona could barely register told her the bodies of the two she’d killed were being removed, but the sounds seemed to come from far away. There was nothing in Ladona’s mind but the pain in her arm and the burns around her throat. Dean, she cried silently, where are you? Please hurry.
Fire consumes Anna, seeming to burn her from within, but she grits her teeth against the screams that want to escape. She’ll not give this bastard the satisfaction. Besides, she endured far worse than this at the hands of the Yellow-Eyed Demon. It is a new and extremely unpleasant sensation though to feel the blood being drained from her body. She wonders vaguely if this is how it felt when the water faerie was sucking the life out of John.
Just thinking of her husband brings tears to her eyes. She knows he’ll come. The question is whether he’ll arrive in time. And what it will mean for him if he doesn’t.
She’s distracted from her thoughts as the creature once again slides his hand down her arm from its resting place on her left shoulder. She refuses to think of him as a god despite what these delusional freaks call him but he’s obviously not human either. She shoves his hand away and grits, “I told you to keep your fuckin’ hands off of me!” It scares her how much energy it takes just to say the words though. She’s weakening faster than she thought.
The creature is sitting on the edge of a fur covered bed not unlike the one that haunts her nightmares. She had to hide her horror when they brought her into the chamber and she first saw it but she soon had more immediate problems to deal with when the creature removed his robe to reveal his nude body beneath. He climbed onto the bed and held his hand up in invitation. When she didn’t respond the witch used her hold on Anna’s hair to propel her forward ‘til her legs touched the edge of the bed. She would no doubt have forced Anna down beside her “god” if Anna hadn’t snapped, “Is this your idea of privacy?” It was the only thing she could think of to say but as soon as the words were out she realized her odds of surviving were definitely better against one than against two.
The witch’s grip on her hair tightened painfully but the creature only chuckled. “Very well. Leave us, Celeste.” When the witch hesitated he growled, “Now! And see we are not disturbed!”
“Yes, my god,” Celeste murmured but Anna felt her hateful stare as she backed from the room. The sudden cessation of sound told her a silencing spell had been put in place.
The creature grasped her hand and tried to tug her down beside him but she moved out of reach. “I offered blood. Nothing more,” she said firmly, surprised to find her voice didn’t shake.
He studied her for several minutes and she felt his eyes crawling over her body like a physical touch. She kept her own gaze riveted to the wall above the bed even though it was decorated with the most gruesome scene imaginable. Rivers of blood flowed and she knew from the smell that it was real, an insane remnant of the creature’s previous victims. Would her blood soon be added to it?
With another chuckle the creature sat up and grasped her hand again. When she resisted his tug he said, “You must kneel before your god to offer sacrifice.”
Biting her tongue against a sharp retort she allowed him to pull her down to her knees. He tried to guide her between his legs but she managed to scoot off to the side instead with her right forearm resting across his bare thighs. She suspected he was strong enough to force her to comply but he only smiled as if to say he’d get his way eventually. And she was terrified he was right. He didn’t seem to be using any magic on her at the moment but that could change at any time and she had no defense against it. He gripped her left shoulder with his right hand to keep her from drawing away again and raised her bleeding forearm to his mouth. He stopped to look at her, slowly licking the bite mark clean. Knowing she was all out of delaying tactics she closed her eyes just as his teeth sank into her flesh. And the fire began.
He raises his face now and the sight of her blood streaked across his mouth and chin makes her nauseous but she doesn’t allow him to see. Nor does she look away from his burning eyes. It takes her a moment to realize he’s smiling through her blood and anger joins the nausea in her stomach.
“Why do you resist? You will be mine completely before this night is through anyway.” He tilts his head to study her and his voice drops to an intimate whisper that sends chills down her spine. “I will feast on more than your sweet blood.” His gaze moves down her body to linger on her breasts. “And you will beg for my touch as all others have before you.”
The anger gives her a boost of strength and she snaps, “Oh, go to Hell! I can show you the way if you’d like.”
His eyes return to her face and she sees surprise in them. Or maybe that’s just the blood loss talking. He continues to study her as if she’s a puzzle he can’t quite figure out. “You feel the pain, I know you do. Why not give in to it? I want to hear you scream. Scream for my mercy…” He caresses her cheek and she forces herself not to flinch away. “Beg and I will put out the fire that’s consuming you.” His hand moves around to grip the back of her neck. “I will quench you as only a god can.”
He starts to pull her in for a kiss but she rakes her nails down his face, cutting deep furrows. He slaps her then, a sharp backhand that would have sent her flying across the room if he weren’t still holding her right arm in an iron grip. She moans as she tastes blood.
Fury fills her. Meeting his eyes once again she spits, “You’re pathetic! You think this hurts? I’ve experienced more pain stubbing my toe!”
She knows immediately it was a huge mistake. He pushes her back on the stone floor with an animal growl and sits astride her as he buries his teeth in her throat. This time the pain is so intense she can’t hold back the screams and she realizes with dismay that the seduction is over and he intends to kill her now. She tries to push him away but her strength is completely gone. Black dots dance in her vision as he gulps her blood in earnest, his throat working steadily to drain her life away.
Her last thought before unconsciousness takes her is of John and how she failed him just as she feared.
"Dean," John's voice cut through the night. It was about an hour after they'd begun their climb up the mountain, both men so focused on getting to Anna and Ladona, they'd hadn't stopped to discuss a plan.
Dean turned and looked at his dad, his expression one of mingled grief and fury.
He raised his eyebrows in a silent question. "We should stop and talk a minute." Dean opened his mouth to protest, but realized John was right. They couldn't just go in, guns blazing. He nodded and moved to the side a bit to lean against a tree. To John's surprise, Dean muttered the words necessary for the silencing spell.
"I didn't know you were performing magic now," John noted.
"I'm not," Dean sighed. "Ladona taught me some basics, said our connection would be enough to make 'em work."
"We need a plan, son, you know that, but before we talk strategy, I want you to be prepared for what we might find, the kind of shape Ladona might be in when we get there."
Dean's head snapped up and his frown deepened. "I have a pretty good idea."
John sighed and shook his head. "No, you don't, Dean." He ran his hand through his hair. “She’s a witch and a damn powerful one at that. More powerful than I thought, to be honest.”
“They’re going to want her power.” It wasn’t a question.
Nodding and looking off into the darkness, John said, “Yeah. That’s what I think, too.”
Images of Ladona strapped to a table surrounded by faceless creatures sucking the blood from her body and eating her flesh while she screamed for him flashed through Dean’s mind. He shuddered visibly and got up to pace from one side of the trail to the other, thinking hard about how those in the caves had known to come for Ladona.
Yes, the magic trap in the woods and Ladona’s ability to fight it had certainly let them know a witch was in the area, but could they identify Ladona specifically, know where to find her? Dean knew that most of what he knew of magic came from Ladona, and he’d seen her perform more than one location spell, but they were always general, looking for trouble spots when a trail had grown cold. To find someone specific, a witch had to know exactly who she was looking for, a name, initials, blood, something. He came to a stop and looked hard at his father.
“But you’re the one they want revenge against,” Dean realized. “This wasn’t about Ladona at all. They know you’re here.”
John knew it was true and had tried to deny it, didn’t want to admit that Anna – and now Ladona – could die because of what he’d failed to do so many years before. “Yes,” he admitted in a strangled voice. After everything Anna had already been through with him – because of him – John couldn’t believe he’d been so careless. Surely the coven that lived in the caves had some type of spell cast over the area to let them know if he returned. Of course they would know to use his wife against him, to draw him in and make him pay.
Oh, Anna, he called to her in his mind, wishing their connection hadn’t been taken from them by Nemesis. I’m so sorry, love, he thought as he closed his eyes against visions of the abuse she was undoubtedly going through as he and Dean stood here.
“We can’t think about them now,” Dean finally said, straightening. John was startled to hear a bit of himself come out of his son’s mouth. “We need to use the incantation Ladona found to get in there. Undetected would be best, but I’m okay taking out as many as we can if necessary. We have to focus on the mission. I need you to think, Dad. There has to be something you haven’t told us about the last time you were here.”
A swell of pride for Dean puffed up John’s chest, but he pushed it down and traveled back in time through his memories until he could see himself standing in the brush, circling the opening of the mouth of a cave.
“I went into the dark of the cave and followed it,” his voice took on a faraway tone. “It seemed to go on forever before I came to the back of it. There was some writing high, up near the ceiling and curved, like an arch. I’d never seen the language before.”
John went on to detail how he went through an opening that appeared before him. He crouched down in a battle-ready stance and went into the passageway, which was lit by torches that seemed to be outgrowths of the rock and crept further into the mountain. He came to a room and went inside. There was a fire burning in the center of it, the smoke of which was drawn up and out through a hole in the ceiling. It had ornate tapestries hung on the walls and thick rugs of fur on the floor. Living quarters, obviously …
“Wait,” Dean interrupted. “Holes in the ceilings? Ventilation. So there’s another way into the caves.”
“Yes.” John frowned. “But they’re too small for us to get through. Anna might have …” John’s voice caught as he said his wife’s name.
Dean ignored his father’s emotion, concentrating instead on the job. “I wish we would have talked about this before we climbed all the way up here,” Dean noted. “I have some canisters of tear gas in the car.”
John rummaged around his bag and came up grinning. “I have two.”
John gave Dean the sheet on which Ladona had written the spell to reveal the cave opening and father and son set their plan. They would climb higher, pausing at the plateau where John’s memory told him the cave entrance was to read the incantation to open the cave. John figured another 20 or 30 feet up the mountain they’d find the ventilation chimneys. They would try and locate the largest one and toss down a canister of gas, then hustle back down and through the door, find Anna and Ladona and kill anyone who got in their way, making sure to ice every member of the coven, this time for good. The second can would be saved just in case.
Feeling lighter than when they’d begun, John and Dean set off again, a new determination making their steps fast and sure. Dean spared a fleeting glance for the twisted tree where Ladona had conquered the spell, feeling a lurch in his heart when he saw in his mind’s eye her hair turning white as she called on the power of the Goddess, could see her smiling face from the shower just that morning. She’s not dead, he knew. I’d feel it. The air would change, the moon would darken, something. My heart would know if she were gone. Dean smiled to himself at what Ladona might say about how he was thinking. He felt in his pocket for Ladona’s knife and rubbed his thumb along the indentations that were forged for her hand only.
John twisted his wedding ring around his finger as he followed Dean up the path. He remembered how it would burn while he and Anna were connected during her torture in Hell. John thought of Anna’s long, red hair and how it gleamed in the sun that had come through the same canopy of trees this afternoon that he and Dean now hurried under. Her green eyes had snapped with fire just a few hours ago and John’s breath caught in his throat at the thought of never seeing love reflected in her eyes again or never wrapping his hands in the luxurious softness of her hair. What if she blames me for this? he asked himself. How do I reassure her when it is my fault? How can she ever forgive me?
As they approached the flatter ground where they suspected the cave entrance was, both men slowed and crouched low, every nerve taut and ready for attack. Dean read from the paper softly and felt the air change around him, become heavier and more charged. He glanced quickly at John to see if he felt it, too, and felt a little more confident when he noticed his father’s raised eyebrows. The mouth of the cavern appeared in front of them, smaller and less obvious than either Winchester expected, but they stayed put, watching and listening.
Patiently, they waited a few minutes, separated to see if that would draw anyone out, and then joined forces again to continue their ascent. Twenty feet later, John and Dean walked ten feet apart through the dense forest, looking for evidence of a chimney hole. They found nothing and climbed higher.
Thirty feet up it was the same story and John began to doubt his memory. He paused and closed his eyes, willing his memory to prove what he’d told Dean as right. “Dad.”
Dean’s whisper carried through the silence and he pointed to a spot a few feet to his left. Faint whisps of smoke were coming from behind a large boulder set, obviously, to block casual hikers from seeing anything unusual. John nodded and made his way to his son.
Using hand signals learned a lifetime ago, father and son separated to search for other holes indicating humans lived somewhere below. Hidden by various outcroppings of rocks, John and Dean managed to locate a handful of ventilation chutes, but it was John who found the one they needed. He motioned Dean to start down the mountain, making sure that Dean was about halfway before he pulled the pin and dropped the gas down the hole.
John scrambled through the brush to catch up with Dean and then father and son ran full out into the newly revealed cavern. A few yards in, they came to a solid rock wall that seemed impenetrable.
“Dammit!” Dean cursed under his breath. John moved to one side of the cave and Dean went to the other, looking for something, anything that would grant them access. Both men ran their hands over the stone, pulling at loose pieces of shale and tree roots that had grown down from above. Dean turned to John. “How do we get in? There has to be a way in.” He kicked at the cave in frustration.
John stopped for a second and thought. A coven of witches … carvings and paintings of blood … bodies mauled and drained … The light bulb went on. “It needs blood,” John told Dean. “We need to offer blood.”
Dean pulled Ladona’s knife from his pocket, sliced his palm open first and then John’s and together, they rubbed their hands against the stone. Father and son both took an involuntary step back when the opening revealed a long hall lit with the flickering torches John had described. Together, the Winchesters pulled guns from their coats, put their flashlights away and entered the cave.
Anna wakes to darkness. Complete and utter darkness. She can’t even tell if her eyes are open or closed. She reaches frantically for John thinking he forgot to leave the light on but he’s not there. She’s not even in a bed, she realizes. It feels like stone beneath her and it’s cold. A small sob escapes her. This is only the second time she’s woken up in the dark since returning from Hell. John promised to always leave the light on for her. So why didn’t he?
She tries desperately to see in the blackness, something, anything. The gnawing fear that the rescue from Hell was all a dream takes hold and slowly overwhelms her. She starts to panic, knowing she shouldn’t let the demon see her reaction but unable to stop it. Sobbing and trembling she curls into a tight ball, trying to make the dream come back. Please, please, please, she begs.
A low moan nearby draws her attention. Before she can even begin to wonder what other poor soul is sharing her torment Ladona’s hushed voice fills the silence. “Anna?”
Ladona woke to the sound of quiet sobbing and it took her a moment to orient herself. A quick inventory told her she had a broken right arm, a throbbing headache, and assorted bumps and bruises.Her inability to see anything told her they were in the caves. No, she amended, we’re prisoners in the caves. But it was hard to concentrate with her arm aching like a sore tooth and Anna’s sobs filling her ears. She took a couple of breaths to center herself, noting how cold and dank the air smelled, then called to Anna.
“Ladona?” Anna whispers disbelievingly. Part of her knows it’s just a trick, another torture, but she can’t help herself.
The terror in Anna’s voice annoys Ladona. I know she’s still a novice hunter, she thinks, but does she have to fall completely apart? Maybe Dean was right about her. She pushes the annoyance aside with a small sigh and focuses on their situation. One of us has to, she thinks disgustedly. “Are you hurt?” she asks.
Anna doesn’t know what to say. Of course she’s hurt! When isn’t she? Her head aches, her back is bruised, her forearm is throbbing, she’s freezing. What kind of stupid trick is this anyway? As she puzzles over it Ladona’s voice comes again.
“Anna, are you hurt?” She’s able to keep the irritation out of her voice but just barely. If they’re going to get out of here alive she’s going to need some help and, unfortunately, Anna’s the only person around. The only person on my side anyway, she amends, although that may be more of a hindrance than a help if I can’t get her calmed down.
“You can’t trick me so don’t bother trying.”
Ladona’s surprised at the coldness in Anna’s voice. Confused, she asks, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Anna laughs, a short bark of sound that holds no amusement. “Hell. That’s funny. You should go into stand up. I didn’t think demons had a sense of humor.”
Understanding washes over Ladona. Dear Goddess, she thinks she’s back in Hell with the Yellow-Eyed Demon! No wonder she’s terrified! Feeling guilty and ashamed for judging Anna so harshly, Ladona casts around for some way of bringing her back to the present. Well, the truth’s a good place to start, she thinks.
Keeping her voice low and conversational she says, “You’re Anna Winchester, married to John Winchester. We’re in Smuggler’s Run, Georgia. We came here because eight people have been murdered. We were attacked in my motel room by…” She hesitates but there’s no denying the truth any longer. “By a witch and two wizards. They brought us to these caves.” She wonders if she should mention they were brought here as food but decides against it. The woman’s scared enough.
Sanity comes back to Anna in a rush of images. Fighting with John. Dean showing up. Going into the room with Ladona. Telling her about the deal with Nemesis. The window exploding. Hitting the dresser hard (which explains the soreness in her back). Then…the only other thing she remembers is seeing Ladona fighting with two figures. The rest is blank.
“Ladona, are you injured?” she whispers. She feels her way forward and finds Ladona lying just a few feet away. Her hands fly efficiently over the girl, pausing only briefly at her right arm. Ladona’s sharp intake of breath confirms it’s badly broken and Anna can feel the stickiness of drying blood through a cut in her shirt but there’s nothing she can do at the moment so she moves on. “Anything else?” she finally asks.
“Just the arm. You?” Ladona can’t describe the relief she feels to have Anna back. This in charge woman is the one she knows, not that pitiful terrorized thing she woke up to. Another pang of guilt strikes her for being so judgmental.
Not knowing who might be listening Anna answers, “Slight concussion. I can barely see straight.” She pauses then adds wryly, “Well, if I could see.” She knows very little about magic and has no idea if the coven is using any on them at the moment but figures it’s best to make them think she’s more hurt than she really is. She mentally reviews what Ladona said. Did she give anything away that they probably didn’t know already? Just my name and John’s, she decides, but I can’t imagine what difference that makes. John. She closes her eyes, thankful the last six months with him haven’t been a dream. Or at least not the kind you wake from. She knows he’ll come. Dean too. Now it’s her job to make sure she and Ladona are still alive when they arrive.
Ladona groans as she tries to sit up. Anna senses her movement and puts her hands against Ladona’s unseen shoulders to keep her lying flat. “Your arm is broken and you may have other injuries. Don’t move.” She pauses. “There’s nowhere to go anyway and nothing to see. Some tourist spot, huh?”
Ladona can’t help but giggle at that even though it hurts her head. Yes, Anna is definitely back. Reaching out with her good hand she grasps one of Anna’s. The touch makes her feel a thousand percent better.
Anna settles beside Ladona and takes a breath. She concentrates on the feel of Ladona’s hand in hers. It’s all right, she tells herself. It wasn’t a dream and the dark can’t hurt you. But the things in the dark can, a little voice insists on adding.
Ladona can feel Anna trembling. At least she thinks it’s Anna. She’s pretty damn scared herself though so maybe it’s her. It suddenly occurs to her that it was Anna who kept her going last time she felt this helpless. They were in a cave then too, albeit a better lit one.
As if on cue lights appear around the perimeter of the cave. Ladona just has time to note its circular shape before Anna scrambles to her feet, pulling Ladona unceremoniously with her. So much for don’t move, she thinks wryly, and opens her mouth to say something to that effect. She quickly shuts it though as Anna pulls her back against the wall, turning her so she sees the people standing in a doorway that appeared in the opposite wall.
There are two of them and Ladona recognizes the dark haired woman as the witch who attacked them. The other is a young man with sandy hair wearing a robe that conceals his body completely. A surge of anger rushes through Ladona and she starts to take a step toward the witch only to be held back by Anna’s firm hand. She starts to protest but Anna squeezes her wrist almost painfully. Only then does she see what has Anna transfixed.
The man is floating a good foot above the floor. The prisoners press themselves against the wall as he moves soundlessly toward them. His magic is like a wet blanket suffocating them until they’re both gasping for air. He hovers in front of them, studying them like insects.
Anna tries not to flinch when he reaches out to touch her hair. “My favorite,” he murmurs. His eyes travel appraisingly down her body, making her skin crawl. When he sees the bandage on her forearm visible through a tear in her sleeve he smiles. “It is a sign.”
Celeste stiffens. How could she have forgotten her god’s predilection for fiery hair? And the bandaged arm, just like the last sacrifice. She realizes she must act quickly to divert his attention to the witch or her chance to seek revenge will be lost. Pasting a cold smile on her face she moves up beside him. Indicating Ladona she says, “This is the witch I spoke of, my god.”
Before Ladona can act to protect herself Celeste reaches out and squeezes her upper arm hard, causing the long cut to start bleeding again. The man’s attention is immediately diverted and Celeste takes the opportunity to throw Anna halfway across the room with a lift of her chin. Ladona wants to move, wants to go to Anna, but she feels transfixed by the man’s eyes.
Anna sits up and shakes her head. She hit the wall pretty hard and the room’s dancing crazily in front of her. She doesn’t feel much pain where her hip and shoulder slammed into the wall but she suspects this is one of those times she was telling John about where she’s hurt much worse than she thinks. Nothing to be done about it now though so she uses the wall to climb unsteadily to her feet. But that’s as far as she gets before Celeste spears her with a hateful gaze that literally pins her to the wall.
Ladona can only watch helplessly as the man runs one finger through the blood on her arm then licks it slowly clean, his eyes burning into her. “Yes, very powerful.” He turns to Celeste. “She will join us. Prepare the ceremony.”
Celeste inclines her head. “Yes, my god.” This she expected. The witch is indeed powerful and it’s been more than a century since they’ve added any members to the coven. It is a disappointment though because it means her god will not choose her as his mate this time. That honor will be visited on this ungrateful wench. Her eyes return to the redhead. But at least that will give her free rein to savor her revenge.
Anna turns cold under Celeste’s gaze. There’s a fury there that seems directed at her particularly and it doesn’t take much to figure out why. The scar on her face identifies her as the dark haired woman John described…and it’s not difficult to imagine she knows the small diamond on Anna’s left hand identifies her as John’s wife. That’s why she came for me, Anna thinks. And Ladona just got in the way.
Her attention is drawn back to Ladona when she hears a cry of pain. The man has been running his finger through the blood on her arm and licking it clean but now he’s inserted it into the wound. Ladona’s teeth are gritted against the agony as he explores the cut, forcing it open so the blood flows more freely.
Anna suddenly understands. The bodies were all drained of blood completely. The bite marks were there just to cover that truth and make it look like a wild animal. Well, if it’s blood he wants, she thinks ferociously. She’s still unable to move away from the wall but she can raise her arm. Ripping the bandage off her forearm with her teeth she hesitates just a fraction of a second before placing her mouth over the mark and biting down hard enough to taste blood. “Try this,” she growls, waving her arm toward the man.
Ladona watches in shock as the man turns away from her and floats over to Anna. She can’t believe Anna did that. Released from his spell she slides down the wall, her legs unable to support her. “Anna,” she croaks but no one seems to hear her.
Celeste is livid as she watches her god lovingly cradle the redhead’s bleeding arm in his hands. There’s no way to distract him now! All she can hope is that he’ll leave enough alive for her to exact some small amount of revenge on. Well, she consoles herself, there’s always the man who scarred her. I’ll make sure to tell him exactly what my god did to his wife before I cut out his heart, she thinks savagely.
“You offer yourself to me?” the man asks in surprise. He hovers just a few inches from Anna and she can smell his breath against her cheek. It reeks of death.
She’s completely terrified but manages to find her voice. “Leave the girl be,” she whispers, “and I’ll let you drink from me. As much as you want. I won’t resist.”
“You offer yourself as food to a god,” he breathes, his eyes burning into her. “You understand it is an honor.”
She wants to tell him he’s crazy but decides it’s best to keep her mouth shut. Diversionary tactics only work if they cause a diversion, isn’t that what John told her? But she can’t think of her husband right now without crying so she resolutely pushes his face out of her mind.
The man seems to be waiting for a response from her so she nods. Apparently it was the right answer because a wide grin spreads over his face, making him seem like an excited boy opening his Christmas presents. Only I’m the present he’s about to open, she thinks sickly.
He rips her sleeve apart to the elbow and starts to raise her bleeding arm to his mouth. But, no, she can’t let this happen here. She needs to give Ladona room to act. “Please, not here. In private,” she whispers, not even bothering to keep the plea out of her voice. She suspects this creature, like the Yellow-Eyed Demon, feeds on his victims’ helplessness. And this is all about giving him what he wants, isn’t it?
“No!” Ladona cries as she finally finds her voice. Is Anna insane? Or suicidal?
“Silence!” Celeste snaps and Ladona feels the word like a physical slap.
“Let me speak to her,” Anna whispers to the man. “Please.” Gritting her teeth she lifts her free hand to caress his cheek. His skin is surprisingly warm. Thinking of Celeste’s words she adds, “A god can afford to be magnanimous.”
His grip on her arm tightens painfully for a moment then he moves aside with a slight bow. “Celeste!” he barks when the witch doesn’t immediately release the spell holding Anna to the wall.
“Apologies,” the witch murmurs as she withdraws the spell. But her hands ball into tight fists as she watches Anna limp across to Ladona and kneel painfully beside her.
“You can’t do this,” Ladona says softly. “He’ll kill you. You’ve seen the bodies.”
Anna pulls her into a hug and Ladona’s sure this time that both of them are trembling. “You have magic and training to fight them.” Anna’s voice is barely discernible and Ladona closes her eyes to focus on the words. “Keep your head and get out of here.”
Celeste’s hand buried in Anna’s long hair jerks the woman to her feet. “What secrets are you telling?” she hisses.
“I told her I love her like a sister. Something I wouldn’t expect the likes of you to ever understand,” Anna snaps.
Ladona keeps her lips clamped together. Much as she wants to she can’t argue with Anna’s logic and watches in silent dismay as Celeste follows the floating man out of the room, pulling Anna by the hair, not allowing her to look back even once. Goddess, please be with her, Ladona prays feverishly.
John looked at the closed door of Dean and Ladona’s room for a second before he turned and stalked back inside his own room and slammed the door. He pushed past Dean to lean on a small table against one wall. He really didn’t need this, he thought and suddenly wished for a day from years ago when Dean followed every order without question. Those days were long gone, John knew, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.
Finally, John turned to Dean and adopted the same stance: feet planted, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. “What seems to be the problem, son?”
“The plan. Your plan. It sucks.”
John raised his eyebrows not only at Dean’s words, but the low, angry tone. “Well, thanks for your opinion, Dean, but I wasn’t really lookin’ for your approval.”
Dean barked out a mirthless laugh. “My approval? That’s a good one when it’s obvious the only person whose opinion you seem to value lately is Anna’s, though it looks like your wife might not be too happy with you right now, either.” Dean’s tone was mocking, daring John to refute him.
It was all John could do not to rise to the bait. He closed his eyes and counted to five. “There are things you don’t understand.” It was a struggle to keep the tenor of his voice even when inside he was shaking with rage and fear and remorse for not finishing this job years ago.
“Really.” Dean said, the sarcasm nearly dripping off that one word. “How about you make me understand. Make me see why in the hell the mighty John Winchester has put together a plan so … amateur,” Dean practically spit each word out of his mouth as he leaned forward, his body taut with anger and the need to lash out. “This is something I would have expected when I was a kid, but since I’m obviously not a child any more, I’m guessing your caution has everything to do with Anna.”
John recoiled visibly at the venom with which Dean said Anna’s name, but still he said nothing.His pride, and the growing certainty that his caution is indeed about protecting Anna more than anything else, choked back any retort he might have made.
Dean was on a roll, but he never raised his voice. His tone was hard and tinged with a combination of disbelief and disgust. “You’ve been different ever since we got Anna away from that crazy son-of-a-bitch. Sticking around headquarters and sending other hunters – sending me and Sam – out to do jobs you should have been handling, using your poor wife’s experience as an excuse. That might have worked for the first couple months or so, but after that? Everyone was wondering of you’d lost your touch, if you were too afraid.” He paused and took a breath. “But I defended you, Dad. Told everyone you’d been to Hell and knew what it was like, offered to take them there myself if they had a problem with you. So you trained Anna and went back into the field. Great. Only I wonder how many cases you’ve actually solved if every plan you execute is as lame and weak as this one.”
Like he’d done in his own room, Dean paced back and forth. John watched him with his eyes and kept his teeth clamped firmly together even as an angry fire lit his eyes and his breathing became labored with the effort of not biting his tongue.
“You love Anna. I get it. I love Ladona. But my partner,” Dean sneered the word, “doesn’t hold me back. She’s along for each ride, taking the same risks and never asking me to be anything than what I am –“
Something snapped inside John then. He was across the room in two steps with his hand around Dean’s throat, pinning him to the wall, nose-to-nose. “You better be careful, boy, of what you say next about my wife.” The words came in a rush. John had no more control over what he said than he had to stop the sun from shining or snow from falling in the mountains. “You think you’re so smart now because you’re grown? You say you’re not a child anymore, but I don’t see you acting like it. No, Dean, I see you acting like a spoiled brat afraid his daddy’s new wife will take away his love for his sons or that it means I never loved your mother. It’s getting old. I loved Mary more than I’d ever loved anyone until you boys came along, but I’ve been alone for a long time and I deserve some happiness with the woman of my choice.”
Now it was John’s turn to be on a roll, the emotion of the case, of how Anna had taught him love again, of how their fates were entwined, all bubbling to the surface and needing an outlet. John was an honest enough man to admit that until Sam and Skye arrived, which could be days, the plan was overly cautious, but that only fueled his outburst more. Still, like Dean, he never raised his voice. The timbre and pitch letting the younger man know that John Winchester was still a dangerous man.
“And what do you know of Hell, Dean? You think Ladona’s trip below ground qualifies you as an expert? Not. Even. Close. You want to talk partners, let’s talk partners, son. You say you love Ladona, but do you really love her?” John curled his lip and narrowed his eyes. Dean was pinned in place not only by John’s hand at his throat, but also by the fire in his father’s eyes and the mocking tone he hadn’t heard since the YED had possessed John a lifetime ago. “Could you live if she died or would you just mourn for a while and then get back to your old ways when you were fancy free with a girl in every town? Would you go to the ends of the earth to save her or tie your life to hers so that when you die, she does as well?” John’s voice got hard again. “Would you make that deal, Dean, or are you all talk and hot air? Would Ladona even accept that deal? Are you that sure of her love for you?”
Dean’s eyes widened and John stepped back as if Dean had burned him. “What did you just say?” Dean finally managed, his voice cracking.
“Nothing. Forget it.” John went back to the table and leaned on it again, taking deep breaths to calm down. Nice one, Winchester, he berated himself. Exactly what you didn’t want either of the boys to know, you let slip. Great self control.
“I’m not going to forget it, Dad. What did you mean about tying your fate to Anna’s?”
John didn’t respond and he didn’t look at his son though he felt Dean’s eyes on him like hot, lead weights. After a few more moments of struggling with himself, he turned to face Dean squarely.
“That was the deal with Nemesis. She agreed to take care of certain aspects of the plan to rescue Anna from Hell and we had to agree to tie our lives to each other. Or, more specifically, Anna’s life is tied to mine. If I die, whenever that is, she dies as well.”
All the breath left Dean’s body in a whoosh and he leaned on the back of one of the chairs so he was no more than a foot from his father. “Why didn’t you ever tell us this? Does anyone else know?”
John nodded. “Alice knows. Missouri, too. I didn’t want … well, I didn’t want you boys to worry. You have your own lives with Ladona and Skye. I didn’t figure there was any reason for you to know.”
Dean nodded, trying to understand how John and Anna could have agreed to such a deal. A new respect for Anna took hold of Dean and he flushed with shame over how ridiculous he'd been behaving towards her and around her. Ladona had been right all along, he realized. Anna and John were forever, more so than anyone could have guessed.
His father's questions rang in Dean's ears. Could he live without Ladona? He didn't want to find out. He'd barely kept it together waiting to find her during Anna's rescue and since then, they'd not spent more than a handful of days and nights without the other. If she died while they were on a case, could he go on? He didn't know since he could honestly say he'd never loved a woman before. At nearly 30 years old, even he had to admit it was a little pathetic. Would he make the same deal his father had? More importantly, would Ladona?
Dean shook his head."I've really been an ass." Dean took a deep breath. "All this time I've been taking it out on her."
John looked up. "What do you mean?"
"It's hard to explain," Dean began, looking sheepish. "When I told you before the rescue that I didn't object to Anna it was mostly true. The year Anna was gone was one of the best years of my life." John raised his eyebrows and Dean rushed to get the words out. "Not because Anna was gone, but … we were … we were close. I just … I don't know … But then you got back from your honeymoon and things were different. It was like you didn't have time for anyone else but Anna and … well, it really pissed me off. I know I should have just talked to you." Dean looked down at the floor and sighed. He reached out and put his hand on John's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Dad. Really. If I'd known …"
John patted Dean's hand and they both stood. "Maybe I was a little preoccupied," John acknowledged. "And I should have told you." He smiled a little. "I guess we better go next door and work with Anna and Ladona on a new plan."
"If Anna's even speaking to you."
John’s laugh rumbled up from his chest. “Right. Thanks for reminding me.” He followed his son out the door and instantly came up short.
Dean was standing in the chill evening staring into the open door of his and Ladona’s room. John went to his side and gaped disbelieving at the wreckage inside. A window was shattered and the curtains lining it were blackened as if they’d been recently set on fire. Furniture was tumbled about or in pieces. Ladona’s books had been dumped on the floor and the table on which they’d been sitting was overturned. Her knife lay near the bed in a pool of blood.
Dean stepped into the room and bent to pick up the knife, wiping it clean on his sleeve. He pocketed Ladona’s weapon and stood before setting the table right so he could gather her books and put them back. Time seemed to stand still and if asked, he couldn’t say why it mattered that the books be picked up off the floor, but he knew Ladona respected her books and the power they contained. Dean couldn’t just leave them scattered.
After the books were put back in place, Dean became aware that John was in the room, too, scooping up papers filled with Ladona’s half-cursive, half-printed handwriting. John looked over the notes she’d made, holding the top sheet in one hand and flipping the other pages on top of the books.
“Looks like Ladona found a way in,” he told Dean. “We have to go.” He grabbed Dean’s arm and pulled him from the room, making sure to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign in place. Together they hurried to their respective vehicles, throwing weapons into bags and grabbing flashlights. John checked his jacket to make sure his journal was in the inside pocket and they moved off into the woods. They blended into the shadows effortlessly as they followed the trail up the mountain and towards the caves to destroy the coven once and for all.
It took all Dean’s willpower to walk next to Ladona at a normal pace the few steps back to their room. He kept his arms at his sides and held himself stiffly, nodding briefly when Ladona said she’d meet him inside after going to the car to get some books out of the trunk. Dean took the few minutes he had to himself and let his frustration out, punching the wall, taking care that it’s not the same wall that separates their room from his dad’s room. When that didn’t do anything to help, he paced like a caged animal, muttering and periodically looking heavenward.
Ladona returned with several large books cradled in her arms. Dean answered her knock by swinging the door open and stepping aside so she could enter. Ladona frowned when Dean didn’t offer to take any of the books from her, but didn’t comment and placed the heavy stack on the small table as he went back to pacing and sighing heavily. He’ll talk when he’s ready, she thought, and even though John's plan did seem ... passive, Ladona couldn't think about it. Her mind kept wandering back to what happened during their hike up to the caves.
Witches and wizards taking people to feed on? She wasn't so naive to think that there weren't those seduced by the power to be found in the darkness, but she still couldn't wrap her mind around the possibility. Normal humans without power going to the dark side? That she had no trouble believing. But to imagine a witch knowingly ... no. NO! It hit too close to home and she firmly pushed it away, not willing to give in to the admission just yet.
Ladona reached into her bag and withdrew a pad of paper and her favorite pen. It had been a silly gift from Anna, actually, with a barrel that lit up, sparkles floating inside it, and a tuft of fake feathers on top. The ink was purple and Ladona used it to take notes while she researched cases and spells.She twirled it between her fingers like a baton and watched Dean stand stiffly before she sighed and bent her head to her books.
Dean went to stand in front of the window that looked out back of the hotel. It was a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but he couldn’t see it. His thoughts were focused solely on the plan John had outlined earlier and how utterly ridiculous it was. Anna. Dean was glad Ladona couldn’t read his thoughts because he’d practically spat her name in his mind. That was the only reason John would devise such a cautious plan, but Anna knew what she was getting into when she married John. Anna had literally been to Hell and back and survived so she was not some fragile damsel in distress who needed to be coddled and that was exactly what this plan was.
“What was that?”
Dean turned to face Ladona who had some books open in front of her and what looked like several pages of notes already. “What was what?”
“You said something and I didn’t hear you,” Ladona prompted him.
Damn, he thought. “Did I?” Dean paused, not sure how to go on. Ladona waited him out, carefully arranging her features into a neutral mask and putting her pen down. The explosion was coming. She’d felt the tension curling off Dean like smoke and had noted his scraped knuckles when she’d come back to the room with her books. Ladona held his gaze until …
“Can you believe this plan?! It’s so damn safe it’s not even worth it! We’ll be lucky to even find these assholes much less rescue anyone who might still be alive up there. Did he not see the carvings on the walls of that cave? Did he not see those paintings and all the blood?” And on he went, stalking from one end of the small room to the other, smashing one fist into the palm of the other hand as he continued to point out the plan’s flaws until he turned to find Ladona standing right in front of him.
She put her hands on his chest and instantly he stilled even as he continued to breathe harder and his heart pounded with the effort of keeping himself somewhat under control. “Dean.” Ladona’s voice was low and insistent. “Go talk to your father. Pacing around here and yelling at me … it’s not resolving anything.”
Dean sucked in his breath and looked up at the ceiling. “You’re right.” Ladona nodded and went back to the table where she watched Dean pause for a moment before he let himself out, letting the door shut behind him. She got up to check that the door was unlocked, figuring that if John were next door, it wouldn’t be more than a couple minutes before Anna came over to give father and son the space they were going to need to settle this latest disagreement.
“You’re being ridiculous and you know it!” Anna hisses but John just stares stubbornly back at her.
He was going to tell her why it’s so important to wait for Skye but she never gave him a chance. As soon as he was off the phone with Sam she lit into him. Now he’s feeling defensive and irritated that she doesn’t trust his judgment and assumes this is all about her. He quashes the tiny voice in his mind that pipes up to ask if she might not be at least a little right about that. Of course he’s not letting emotion blind him to reality! He’s a professional, damn it!
When he doesn’t respond at all she only gets angrier. “Damn it, there are lives at stake! Innocent men and women will die-”
A sharp knock at the door cuts her off in midsentence. Neither of them makes a move to see who it is for several minutes then Anna throws up her hands and goes to open the door. John bites back the order to be cautious; she probably wouldn’t listen and it’s too late anyway.
“Yes?” Anna snaps when she sees Dean. He’s looking just as stubborn as his damn father and she’d love nothing more than to throttle the two of them. Damn Winchesters, she thinks, conveniently forgetting she’s one too.
“What do you need, son?” John fights to keep his voice neutral.
“We need to talk,” Dean says evenly. His eyes flick down to Anna dismissively then back over her head to John. “Privately.”
John’s brows draw together. That’s damn close to the line. Although he’s certainly proud of the man his son has become he’s not going to put up with him insulting his wife for a second. He’s also less than thrilled with this independent streak. There was a time when Dean wouldn’t have dared confront him over anything... He sighs inwardly. Those days are gone though and he’s taking it from all sides today.
He frowns. “It’ll have to wait,” he snaps. Until after my wife finishes rakin’ me over the coals, he adds dourly to himself.
“Ya know what? Never mind!” Anna shouts. “You two have fun!” She pushes Dean roughly aside and steps into the cold evening. She’s angry at the way Dean dismissed her like that but it might be a good thing if he can do what she was unable to and talk some sense into his dad. She’s been trying for nearly an hour and getting nowhere.
She takes less than two steps before John also pushes Dean aside to grab her arm. Dean stands looking at them both in astonishment. He’s never seen them act this way; he’s never seen his dad act this way. His brow furrows. Just another example of how Anna’s screwing up his dad’s life, he thinks darkly.
Anna tries to twist away. “Get your hands off of me!” she hisses but John grabs her other arm and gives her a little shake.
“I will,” he growls, “but listen. You can’t go off alone.” He jerks his head over his shoulder. “Go inside with Ladona. Please.”
Her first angry instinct is to refuse but the “please” reminds her that real danger lurks and it would be foolish to wander off on her own. So she takes a calming breath and says, “All right, I will. Now let go.”
He releases her immediately. She shoots furious looks at both Winchesters then turns toward the other motel room door with a flip of her long hair that catches John in the face. She knocks then enters at Ladona’s “Come in!” and slams the door hard behind her.
“Sorry,” she mumbles sheepishly as Ladona looks up from her work with raised eyebrows.
“Men,” Ladona shrugs and they both laugh softly.
“Worse…Winchesters,” Anna adds and they really crack up.
Anna sobers quickly though and stands leaning against the door looking down at her feet. This is all her fault and she doesn’t know how to fix it.
Ladona watches her quietly for a moment. She saw the wave of sadness wash over her friend’s face before she ducked her head. Pushing her own worries aside for the moment she rises and goes to Anna.
“Hey,” she says softly and is surprised to see that Anna’s crying. Without thinking about it she pulls the woman into her arms and feels her shaking with silent sobs. Anna hugs her back, her face buried against Ladona’s shoulder as her tears soak into the younger woman’s shirt. Ladona’s never seen Anna lose it like this and isn’t quite sure what to do so she just pats her on the back soothingly. After a minute she realizes there are words jumbled in with Anna’s sobs.
“I shouldn’t be here…John was right…I’m just a distraction…all I’m doing is holding him back and people are going to die because of my selfishness.”
“Oh, honey, you’re not a distraction,” Ladona murmurs but doesn’t know what else to say. John does seem pretty distracted but that doesn’t make it Anna’s fault. He’s a grownup and responsible for his own actions after all. But Anna’s speaking again so she turns her attention back to the mumbled words.
“It’s all my fault…he didn’t want me to make the deal…but I didn’t want to be alone…all I thought of was me…now everyone’s suffering.”
Ladona’s brows knit together. What the hell is Anna talking about now? “What deal?” she asks softly not really expecting an answer. She’s not even sure Anna can hear her through her sobs.
But Anna raises her head to look at Ladona. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that,” she whispers, her green eyes wide. “Never mind. Just…” She wipes her eyes and tries a watery smile. “I’m just hysterical. Babbling.”
“That’s not true,” Ladona says softly. She draws Anna over to sit on the edge of the bed. “Look at me. Please.”
After a moment Anna meets her eyes and Ladona’s surprised to see fear there. And something else. Shame maybe? She cups Anna’s cheek gently. “Look, I understand if you don’t want to tell me what you meant. But…” She shrugs. “If it’ll help by getting it off your chest, I’m here. I’m a good listener.”
Anna looks into Ladona’s earnest eyes. She knows she shouldn’t be dumping any of this on her but she just doesn’t know what to do. She looks down at her hands twisted together in her lap.
Just as Ladona’s certain Anna won’t confide in her the woman’s soft voice fills the room. “I…only a few people know about this because, well, it’s not something that should be advertised. And John didn’t want his boys to worry.” She looks up at the ceiling, blinking away her tears. “Nemesis came to visit John and me before the rescue. She told us I’d be able to live for the length of time I’d been in Hell as long as we killed…” She spits the next word. “Him.”
Ladona doesn’t have to ask who she means. She grabs Anna’s hand to offer comfort but her heart sinks as she realizes more than half of the 11 months have already passed. No wonder John hasn’t wanted to be apart from her; she only has a few months left to live! Tears spring to her own eyes. After all they went through, this is their reward, she thinks angrily.
Anna continues, “But she offered us a deal. If John kept hunting I could…” She bows her head. “I could live as long as he does. We’ll die at exactly the same time.” She raises her eyes to Ladona’s, a bitter smile twisting her lips. “Of course there’s a catch. We have no idea if we’ll live longer than the original 11 months or not. John worries we won’t but…what choice did I have?” Tears flow down her face but she doesn’t bother to wipe them away.
Ladona’s completely stunned. She can see why they’ve kept this quiet. It would be very bad for their enemies to know all they have to do is target Anna to kill John. And she has to admit that Dean would be pretty upset if he knew, considering the way he still feels about Anna. But the deeper implications are mind blowing. Goddess, she thinks. Would I be willing to tie my life to Dean’s or anyone else’s with no assurance of how long that would be? And then risk that shared life by continuing to hunt, continuing to put myself and my love in danger? It’s something I would have to think long and hard about, she admits, even if it were Dean. Yet Anna clearly had no trouble making the choice. The depth of love between her and John is simply staggering.
Before Ladona can formulate an answer to Anna’s question the window behind her explodes soundlessly in a ball of fire, sending the two of them sprawling in different directions. It takes her only a fraction of a second to recognize the same magic she felt on the mountain and she instinctively rolls aside as another silent ball of fire singes the carpet where she lay just seconds before. She’s on her feet in the blink of an eye, her knife in her right hand, her left hand cupped to call her magic. Problem is, it doesn’t seem to be there.
Anna lies face down on the carpet, too dazed to move. She hit the dresser hard enough to send it toppling onto its side and her crashing to the floor. John’s voice in her head keeps ordering her to get the hell up and she finally manages to stumble to her feet, the room spinning crazily around her. She sees Ladona grappling with two figures just a few feet away. One of them manages to grab Ladona’s arm and twist it to make her drop her knife. But before Anna can do anything to help a ball of heat slams into her back, sending her crashing to the floor in a boneless heap.
Ladona screams soundlessly at the pain in her arm but her instincts keep her moving. She grasps one of her attackers by the arm, turns, and manages a one handed shoulder throw that sends him crashing into the table covered in her books. It overturns, sending books and papers in all directions. The spell, she thinks, but there’s no time to worry about it now. She starts to turn toward the other man, the bastard who broke her right arm, and feels a burning pain as he uses her own damn knife to slice the same arm open from shoulder to elbow. Her sharp intake of breath is as soundless as everything else and she realizes belatedly they’ve put some kind of silencing charm on the room so John and Dean next door won’t hear anything. It must be suppressing her own magic as well. Good thing I have other skills, she thinks grimly. She knees the man in the groin, causing him to double up and drop the knife. But before she can retrieve it she sees a dark haired woman standing over Anna’s body, her hands outstretched toward Ladona.
Sudden understanding flows over Ladona. They’re not getting out of this and there’s no way to warn the men or tell them of the counterspell she found. Still, she’s not one to give up without a fight. She whirls and races the ball of fire across the room. She just has time to yank the door open before it engulfs her and she too collapses to the floor.
Celeste watches her companions climb slowly to their feet. My god should have left it to me, she thinks disdainfully. Those two idiots did absolutely nothing productive. Her eyes travel to the two unconscious women. The witch’s arm is bleeding profusely. She smiles. No doubt her god will want her first. The smile disappears as she glares down at the redhead. And that will work perfectly, she thinks. It will be a pleasure to exact her revenge against this wife of the man who scarred her. She tilts her head. Yes, a matching scar across that smooth skin will be the first order of business. She smiles again, dropping the temperature in the room 20 degrees. And then the real fun will begin.
John was in the lead, followed by Anna, then Ladona and Dean at the rear. They kept their eyes open and their mouths shut, listening for any sound that might alert them to danger. Anna held the wicked, curved blade of her silver knife against her forearm while the men carried guns and Ladona held her right hand loosely closed, channeling energy to her palm just in case.
Sometimes the younger woman wished she still needed to carry a gun like she used to when she and Dean first began hunting together, but her trip to rescue Anna had spurred her to embrace her power fully and take ownership of it. Rarely did she need a weapon other than magic, but she still strapped a knife of her own to the small of her back.
They were halfway up the mountain when they came to a plateau of sorts and John took a seat on a large rock. He looked meaningfully at Ladona, her cue to set a silencing spell that would allow them to speak freely, but would keep their voices within the circle they formed while still letting the sounds of the forest into them. Once the spell was complete, Ladona took a seat near Dean and accepted a bottle of water from the backpack he carried.
“You okay?” John asked Anna, concern clearly etched into his features as his eyes searched her face.
Anna nodded as she took a pull from her own water bottle, then smiled at her husband. “I’m fine. Really.” She reached out and took his hand, surprised to not feel the heat of Dean’s gaze at the contact.
John shifted his attention to Ladona. “What about you? Do you feel anything like what you did earlier?”
The young witch shook her head, her eyes continuing to scan the woods. “No. Yes. I don’t know. There’s magic here. It’s dark and old. I can feel it like a light sweater on my skin if that makes any sense. But no, it’s not any stronger. It’s just there. I’m sorry. That doesn’t help us.”
Dean reached out and squeezed her shoulder, rubbed the tight muscles at the base of Ladona’s neck. John watched the silent interaction with some bemusement. He’d always wanted his boys to find love, and he was happy for them. He just hadn’t expected them to find love where they had; Dean with a witch and Sam with a half-demon witch. John chuckled to himself and then answered Ladona.
“I didn’t really expect there to be anything. Just let me know if that changes.” John took his and Anna’s bottles into his backpack while Dean did the same with his and Ladona’s water. “Everyone ready to keep goin’?” Ladona whispered the words to break the spell and they continued following the trail further up the mountain.
An hour later, they were drenched with sweat and had taken off their jackets and sweatshirts. Even though it was just after lunch and they could see the sun bright overhead, it was like dusk under the canopy of trees and they would have felt cool if they weren’t exerting themselves. For the past few minutes, Ladona had felt the magic in the air changing. It was so subtle at first that she wasn’t confident of her perception but now her steps were heavier and the touch of the power weighed her down, made it difficult to breathe.
“John,” she gasped. Both Winchesters were at her side almost before she could blink, each taking an arm and leading her to rest on a fallen tree. Ladona leaned down and put her head between her knees, but that just made it worse. She stood suddenly and stumbled to a tree with a twisted trunk. Ladona stood before the tree, swaying as though she were drunk while Dean and John and Anna formed a protective triangle around her, turned so they could watch for any movement from the forest.
Her body felt as if it was on fire and Ladona broke out into a sodden sweat. The malevolence assailed her from all sides. She tore her jacket from around her waist and ripped her t-shirt over her head to stand in just her tank top and jeans, anything to cool her fevered skin. Dean turned to his father with a terrified, questioning look and it ripped John’s heart out to not have any idea how to help either his son or the woman Dean loved.
Ladona took a deep breath and dropped to the forest floor to sit cross legged before the tree. She closed her eyes, tilted her head back and lifted her hands to the sky, chanting words in a language Dean had never heard before. Ladona leaned forward and placed both hands on the tree, palms flat against the bark. She could hear the blood of the damned roaring through her veins. Her tone got more urgent, the words flowed faster and before the unbelieving eyes of the others, Ladona’s hair turned white, every strand glowing in the near dark while the colors of her Goddess tattoo at the base of her neck grew more vibrant to the cadence of her voice.
Finally, after what seemed an interminable amount of time, Ladona sat back. The words slowed and her voice dropped to a whisper, her hair changing back to its normal color with every syllable spoken until Ladona was silent. Her head was bent to her chest and her hands rested in her lap with her fingers laced together. No one moved until Ladona raised her head and stood up. Dean grabbed her shirt from where she’d flung it and tugged it over her head before wrapping her in his arms, trying to decide if she was trembling or if he was.
“Dean.” John’s voice was quiet but held the unmistakable note of authority. Dean reluctantly pulled away from Ladona, but didn’t let her go until he’d looked her over thoroughly to make sure she was alright. He had to admit she was pale and looked a little worse for wear but was otherwise unharmed.
She turned to John and held up a finger, telling everyone to hold on a moment while she performed the same silencing spell she’d used earlier. When she was done, Ladona returned to Dean’s side to try to explain what happened.
“It knows I’m a witch,” she began. “Just like I could feel the magic at the diner, whatever is out here can feel the same thing. It was supposed to be some kind of trap, I guess, to try and …” Ladona took a deep breath before continuing. “Anyway, this is ancient and ugly magic, that’s for sure. Strong, too. I didn’t think I’d be able to break through it, but the Goddess, well, she never lets me down.”
“Does this mean this thing – the creature that knows about you – is a witch, too?” Anna wanted to know.
The question shook Ladona to her core. She’d never considered it, had thought whatever lived up here was capable of casting a wide net. But a witch hunting humans? Drinking their blood? Ladona blinked several times as she tried to wrap her mind around … no. NO! It was too horrible for words. Before she could delve any further into the possibility, John told them it was time to go.
“We need to get to the caves and back into town before it gets dark,” he reminded them. “If I remember correctly, we need to veer off the trail here and go another 100 yards or so.”
Dean nudged Ladona and reminded her about the silencing spell. She gave a start and whispered the same words she’d used earlier, then took her place behind Anna as they picked their way through underbrush that snagged at their pants and branches that caught in the women’s hair. More than once Anna looked back at Ladona, sensing the turmoil in her silence. Anna even caught Dean’s eye once or twice, an understanding passing between them that all was not right.
Ladona can’t escape the feeling that they’re being watched but she shrugs it off. She’s already reported it to the others and they’re doing all they can to keep their eyes open. They won’t see it though, she knows, not unless it wants them to see it. Her mind still refuses to acknowledge that what they’re dealing with is a witch, one who’s practicing darker magic than she ever dreamed possible. She’s run up against black magic before but…
She bumps into Anna who’s stopped on the path before her. “Sorry,” she mumbles and shakes her head to clear it.
John turns and Dean steps up beside Ladona. They don’t crowd together though; in case of attack everyone needs to have room to fight. John’s voice is low and frustrated. “I can’t find it, damn it. I know it was right around here though.”
They’ve been scouring the same area for over half an hour but haven’t found a single hole, let alone a cave entrance. “It’s hidden,” Ladona says as realization hits. “A concealing spell.” She looks at the others and shrugs helplessly. “We’ll never find it.”
Dean and Anna exchange a look. Oddly, their mutual concern for Ladona seems to have wiped away the unease between them for the moment. Dean nods slightly as he understands Anna’s silent question. Putting a hand on Ladona’s arm he says conversationally, “Can you break through the spell like you did at the tree?”
Ladona shudders at the memory of the magic attack she survived less than an hour ago. She’s certain it was meant to kill her. Or any other witch who wandered too close. She shakes her head in answer to Dean’s question. “No, I…this magic is stronger than mine,” she confesses. Another realization strikes her. “It’s stronger because there’s more than one person involved. Shared magic,” she breathes. She lifts her eyes to the others. “A coven.”
Uneasy glances fly around the group. It was bad enough when they were facing one evil witch but now they’re facing a whole coven of them? Anna voices the question on all their minds. “How many are there in a coven?”
“There’s no set number. Twelve is often used but really the word simply refers to a group of witches. And wizards,” she adds as an afterthought. “No sexism in the magical world.”
They stand absorbing the information. Finally John asks, “You’re still able to perform magic though, right?”
Ladona nods. “Yeah, but except for the incident at the tree I can’t counteract one of their spells. And their spells are everywhere.” She shrugs. That explains the low level of magic she’s felt since they set foot on the mountain. Not one extremely powerful witch but several.
“They must’ve left some loophole,” Dean says disgustedly. He looks hopefully at Ladona. “Anything?”
She bites back the sharp remark she was about to make and instead closes her eyes. “Everyone, step back,” she murmurs as she turns in a slow circle.
They do, giving her room but staying close enough to keep from getting separated in case of attack. John and Dean scan the trees for the slightest movement while Anna strains to hear any suspicious sounds. Not that I’d know what a suspicious sound was, she thinks forlornly. The worry that she’ll be completely useless if they’re attacked has been gnawing at her since they started the hike. And now with a coven of evil witches and wizards in the picture it’s become a certainty.
Ladona stops and points. “There.” She opens her eyes and is depressed to see she’s pointing into an impassable thicket. Great, she thinks.
Dean tries to hide his disappointed expression. He knows magic isn’t a precise science but he’s come to rely on Ladona’s ability more than he thought. John on the other hand doesn’t seem dismayed in the least. He merely leans down, picks up a stick, and tosses it into the thicket. The stick passes through the tangled branches as if they aren’t there.
Grinning back at them he walks into the thicket himself…and disappears from sight. Anna, Dean, and Ladona exchange astonished looks then Anna scrambles after John and the others follow. They come out in a small clearing at the entrance to a cave. Their excitement is short lived however as a quick inspection shows no signs of activity in the area for quite some time.
Dean wonders if further spells might be masking tracks or something but Ladona shakes her head at his unasked question. Pointing toward a carving on the wall just inside the entrance she comments, “But someone was here once.”
“Yeah, someone who didn’t want people snoopin’ around judgin’ by the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign they left behind,” John answers as he studies the carving.
Anna beside him murmurs, “Death and blood.”
Ladona silently agrees that would be an appropriate caption to the carving. It’s rough but the image of a fanged beast standing astride a pile of torn bodies, blood dripping down its snout, is clear enough. Looking at it too long makes her mind hurt so she turns toward the interior of the cave. It only takes a few steps before she feels the overwhelming urge to flee. Terror seizes her and she turns to run, bumping into Dean hard enough to send both of them sprawling.
John and Anna hurry over to help them up. “Sorry,” Ladona mumbles for what seems the fiftieth time that day. “I just felt…” She groans. “Stupid!” she curses herself.
“What’s up?” Dean asks. He stands rubbing his elbow, having banged it pretty hard when they went down together.
“There are other spells still in place,” she explains ruefully. “I walked into one. It’s designed to give anyone venturing too far inside a sense of unease bordering on terror so they’ll leave.” She blows out her breath. “It works.”
John starts into the cave, stopping only to pull out a flashlight and hand one to Anna. Dean follows suit. With each step they all feel the dread building. Anna feels like her skin is going to crawl off her body.
“Keep going, it’s just a spell,” Ladona gasps but it’s taking all her willpower not to run again.
Suddenly they’re through it. John and Dean both shake themselves before continuing on. Ladona and Anna bring up the rear huddled together, lessons about leaving enough space between them to fight be damned.
The cave’s obviously been deserted for decades but whoever lived here left their artwork behind. The carving at the opening was just the beginning. The scenes get bloodier and more violent the further in they go. Some of the carvings are even painted in what Anna’s sure is actual blood.
The dark magic is like biting insects on Ladona’s skin and she’s not sure how much further she can go. What if they sense her intrusion and block the exit? Crap! She’s just about to voice this horrible thought when John and Dean come to a halt at a smooth blank wall.
“That’s it,” John announces, shining his beam over every inch of the wall. He turns back to the women. “They’re not here anymore. Let’s get down the mountain before dusk and regroup.”
Ladona and Anna both nod, extraordinarily relieved. Dean nods too and they follow John back out into the afternoon air. They’re a quiet group following the trails back down to the motel, each lost in their own thoughts.
John can’t get those pictures out of his head nor the guilt over knowing his mistake 20 years ago already cost eight more people their lives. These evil bastards have to be stopped, he thinks savagely…but mixed in with his determination is worry about Anna. How can he protect her from magic that even Ladona can’t fight? The truth is he can’t but he knows who can.
Ladona’s just trying to keep her equilibrium after the blow of learning her own kind is perpetrating these horrors. And those carvings show this is nothing new. An ancient cult, she thinks. An ancient cult of people like me. Just the idea hurts her soul.
Dean’s running through ideas of how they can stop this coven. There aren’t a lot of options he can see. It’s been three days since the last victim was taken so the next will probably disappear this evening or early tomorrow morning. It might be necessary to use one of themselves as bait…but he’ll wait to hear what Dad comes up with before suggesting such a desperate measure.
Anna’s just completely miserable. She knows now that she has nothing to offer the group. She doesn’t know magic, she has only rudimentary fighting skills… And the things she saw in those caves. She has no doubt they were representations of real events and they’re like nothing she’s ever experienced, not even in Hell. Her greatest fear is that she’ll let John down when he needs her most and she can see it happening so easily.
The sun is disappearing behind the mountain as they file into John and Anna’s room. Dean leans against the wall by the door while Anna and Ladona sink gratefully into the two chairs. John stands in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest. He knows his plan isn’t going to sit well but his mind is made up. It’s the smartest thing they can do at this point even though the others won’t understand why. And it’s not just about protecting Anna, he tells himself firmly.
“Here’s the plan,” he begins. “I’m gonna get Sam and Skye down here as quick as possible. We need reinforcements.” He was torn about explaining exactly why they need Skye but decided it wouldn’t be right to reveal her secret without her permission; he doesn’t even think Sam knows she’s immune to magic. Maybe after he talks with her he can fill the others in. “In the meantime,” he continues, “the next victim should be taken tonight or in the morning. It’s always lone hikers or joggers and I already scoped out the most popular routes.” He did that when he went to get breakfast this morning. “We’ll set up two surveillance teams, Dean and Ladona, me and Anna.” He walks over and spreads a map out on the table between the women, pointing to the designated locations. “If either team sees somethin’, they call the other and we pursue together. Otherwise we wait for help. That’s it.”
The silence that fills the room is deafening. Dean’s in complete shock. Surveillance and wait for backup? Is Dad serious? Last time he talked to Sam he was all the way up in Washington state! There’s no way in hell he can get here in time!
Ladona doesn’t quite know what to think. Sure it makes sense to involve another powerful witch but it seems they could do a lot more than sit and watch in the meantime. She could even set a few spells of her own…
Anna sits looking at John with no expression. She knows damn well what this is about and the fury is building inside her. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep it in until the others are out of the room.
“That’s it,” John repeats firmly, fully aware of the reactions he’s getting. “We need to grab dinner then get into position.”
Dean stares at him coldly for several minutes before turning and leaving the room with Ladona on his heels.
They wait ‘til the waitress walks away with their order before resuming conversation. John and Anna sit on one side of the booth facing Dean and Ladona. With both men being over six feet tall leg room is at a serious premium but the proximity also provides privacy. The diner is buzzing with people and the constant hum of noise covers their conversation.
Anna flips open a small notebook and runs her finger down a page. She’d just begun providing background information on the area before the waitress interrupted and now she’s having difficulty refocusing with John’s thigh pressed against hers. And is she sweating? Good Lord! She’s acting like a teenager with a hormone imbalance! She takes a quick sip of water to try to gather herself and almost chokes when John unconsciously mirrors her action.
John’s having his own troubles. Anna’s silky hair keeps brushing his bare forearm and it’s driving him crazy. He wants to kick himself for rolling up his sleeves but doesn’t want to show his reaction by pushing them back down either. Especially since the diner’s getting warmer by the minute. Under normal circumstances he’d just sweep her hair back over her shoulder and probably leave his arm there…but that’s a no-no with Dean sitting two feet away.
Ladona looks at Dean out of the corner of her eye. How can he not feel the love and lust emanating from these two people? Or does he just choose to ignore it? Well, at least he’s keeping his disapproval to himself for a change…
Dean is trying to ignore the electricity between Dad and Anna and he’s doing a pretty good job…but only because of the heat washing through him every time Ladona brushes against him. His mind keeps wandering back to their shared shower and he wants to pull her into his arms for a deep exploratory kiss. They’ve had so little down time and when they do it seems like Ladona always has plans to do something. Not that he doesn’t enjoy spending time with her having fun. He’d just like to spend a little more of that together time naked. Even so, he’s having more trouble than normal focusing on the job.
Suddenly the hairs on the back of Ladona’s neck stand at attention. She jerks and her hand hits her half empty water glass, sending it tumbling across the table straight into Anna’s lap.
Anna’s eyes widen as cold water drenches her jeans. “Christ!” she gasps and tries to stand but she’s trapped in the corner. She pushes against John and he hastily slides out of the booth then helps her out. The waitress comes hurrying over with a towel as Ladona offers her profuse apologies.
Waving them both away Anna says, “Oh, it’s just water. No real harm. I’ll be right back.” She shoves her notebook into John’s hands and heads for the ladies’ room.
Ladona pushes Dean out of the booth and practically onto the floor in her haste to follow Anna. She catches the bathroom door as it starts to swing shut. “I am so sorry-” she begins but Anna cuts her off.
“I’m fine, honey. It really is just water.” She rolls her eyes. “Unfortunately, very cold water.” At least it got my mind out of the gutter though, she thinks dryly.
The two women laugh together and Ladona lets the door close behind her, cutting off the sounds of the diner. Her eyes travel over the rows of sinks and paper towel dispensers. “And of course no dryer,” she says wryly.
Anna grabs a handful of paper towels and dabs uselessly at the wet stain on the front of her jeans. “Damn,” she mutters as she balls them up and tosses them into the trash. “Ah, well.” She shrugs and smiles at Ladona but the smile is quickly replaced with a look of concern. “Honey, why are you so pale?”
Ladona leans against the wall rubbing the back of her neck. “I’m…I’m not sure. I just felt…something weird. All the hairs on my neck stood up. That’s why I jerked and spilled the water. I really am sorry about that.”
“If you apologize one more time I’ll…tickle you until you pee.” Anna wiggles her fingers threateningly.
Ladona can’t help but laugh. “At least I’m in the right place for it.”
That makes Anna laugh too, but she quickly sobers. “Well, we better tell the guys what you felt. It could be important.”
They return to the table. John and Dean scoot over in unison to let them slide in and the similarity between father and son strikes Ladona once again. Anna retrieves her notebook and answers John’s questioning look with a wave of her hand. “Just water. So…where were we?”
“History of the area,” Ladona prompts. “But first…” She licks her lips. “I just felt something weird. I’m not sure how to describe it except it felt like…” She pauses again. “Like being watched maybe. All the hairs on my neck stood straight up.” She rubs her neck and shivers before Dean slides his arm across her shoulders and kisses her cheek.
It’s an automatic gesture but Anna’s surprised at the bitterness that washes through her. If John did that she knows Dean would probably get up and storm out. Oh, it doesn’t matter, she tells herself. It’s just a couple of days. Maybe it’ll do us good to stop acting like horny teenagers all the time. Maybe it’ll show John I really am useful for more than warming his bed, that I’m able to handle myself on a big hunt. She smiles faintly. She knows he thinks he’s been clever about keeping her sheltered but his actions have been as transparent as cellophane to pretty much everyone. With a small sigh she flips open her notebook again. It didn’t escape her attention that John moved over further than necessary so they’re no longer touching and she feels the empty space between them like an ache in her heart.
“A feeling of being watched?” Dean asks Ladona, the concern clear in his voice. She nods and he exchanges a glance with his dad. Something passes between the men, some understanding the women aren’t privy to, prompting Ladona and Anna to exchange their own look.
But all John says is, “Let us know if you feel it again.”
That seems to be Anna’s cue to continue so she picks up her narration. “The area has an odd history. In fact, it has practically no history. Our researchers were able to piece together a handful of accounts dating back to the first settlers in this region. They reported a small band of…well, odd seems the only word to describe them. A small band of people of European origin who kept almost strictly to themselves. No one quite knows where in Europe but probably Western Europe because there are reports of fair skin, red hair, that sort of thing. So the researchers’ best guess is Ireland or thereabouts. There are references to a prior Native American settlement on this land as well but whatever tribe lived here either disappeared from history or rejoined the main body of their tribe somewhere else.”
She pauses to scan the page and Ladona asks curiously, “What was so odd about this group?”
Anna smiles. “Well, if the reports are to be believed, the members of the group could become invisible at will. The few people allowed into their settlement came back with wild tales of orgies and pagan ceremonies. And…”
She pauses as their food arrives and they take time to eat. John and Ladona both notice that Anna only eats half of her tuna melt but refrain from commenting. Maybe she’s a light eater, Ladona thinks as she polishes off her own club with fries and a passable cole slaw along with the chocolate shake she just couldn’t resist. John, on the other hand, knows there’s something wrong but it’s not like he can do anything about it so he concentrates on his hamburger and fries. Oblivious to all this, Dean consumes more food than the rest of them put together: a tall stack of pancakes smothered in butter and syrup, four eggs, six strips of bacon, a tall glass of orange juice, and a coffee chaser. It still astonishes Ladona how much he can eat…but then we did work up monster appetites, she remembers wickedly.
Pushing her plate away before the others are finished Anna resumes, “There are two accounts in particular that provide most of the detail about this group and maybe they’ll help answer the odd question. They came from men who’d been attacked by some kind of wild animal…the journal entries are unclear what kind…” She smiles humorlessly. “The only thing they seem certain about is that they lost a great deal of blood and this group took them in briefly to recover. The attacks occurred exactly 60 years apart, almost to the day. I’ll get to the significance of that in a moment but back to their descriptions of what they saw.” She rechecks her notes quickly. “Both men reported being taken up the mountain to a cave after the attacks. It’s easy to dismiss what they saw as hallucinations because they’re so unreal. They reported a series of caves decorated like houses with rich carpets and fancy. But the most interesting things they reported were the paintings on the cave walls. Paintings of, and I quote, ‘death and blood.’ To put it mildy it scared the hell out of them and they, as both put it, escaped as soon as they had enough strength to do so.” She closes the notebook and looks up. “And that is literally all we have on the area. Nothing seems to have happened here. There were Civil War battles all through this part of the South…except here. The Great Depression decimated the country…except here.” She shrugs. “It’s like time stands still almost.”
Dean and Ladona exchange an uneasy glance.
“The only significant change came with the rise of tourism to the area,” Anna adds. She picks up one of John’s fries, dips it in ketchup, and pops it into her mouth. “The tourism business has done extremely well. Even when nearby towns experience dry spells, the tourists continue to flock to Smuggler’s Run.”
That reminds Dean of a question he had. “Where’d the name come from?”
Anna shrugs as she picks up another fry. “No clue. Even though bootlegging was popular at one time around here that era doesn’t coincide with the founding of the town.”
“Who founded the town? And when?” he asks. For the moment he’s forgotten his unease around Anna as he focuses on the specifics of the job.
“You’ll love this.” Anna grins. “Smuggler’s Run was founded nearly 250 years ago…by no one.”
“250 years?” Ladona gasps. “Is Georgia even that old?”
Anna finishes chewing another of John’s fries. “Yes, but barely. I looked it up. The original charter was granted in 1732 but it didn’t become an official colony until 1754. That’s just before Smuggler’s Run came into being.”
Dean’s brow furrows. He’s not really interested in the history lesson; that’s Sam’s thing. But... “How can nobody found a town? I mean, someone had to live in it, right?”
“I’m sure someone did,” Anna agrees seriously. “But there are no records whatsoever of who they were. No names, no birth records, no local cemeteries with tombstones dating back that far. No streets or buildings named after anyone other than the usual suspects…you know, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt. It’s like the town just appeared one day. Like magic,” she adds with a shrug.
At the word magic Ladona feels an alarm bell go off in her head. She concentrates for a few minutes but whatever it was is gone. It’ll come back, she reassures herself, and returns her attention to the conversation but she can’t dispel the feeling of unease.
“What about the 60 year time frame you mentioned?” she asks.
“Ah.” Anna pushes her plate further away and leans forward. The other three unconsciously follow her example. “Every 20 years exactly a series of disappearances and deaths occurs. Right now we stand at eight dead in the past two weeks. That seems to be an acceleration from the normal number of victims and we have a theory to explain it.” She jerks her head at her husband. “Actually he has a theory. But there is a distinct pattern every 20 years going back as far as the founding of the town. Further even if you consider the accounts of the two men who survived the animal attacks.”
“Are you sayin’ no one’s noticed disappearances and deaths occurrin’ every 20 years? That’s pretty farfetched,” Dean interjects doubtfully.
Before Anna can respond John says, “That’s where I come in.” He pauses for a moment then speaks, his voice careful and even. “I was here 20 years ago. I discovered what I believed to be a shape shifter causin’ the deaths and killed it.” He grins humorlessly. “Well, I thought I killed it. Obviously I was mistaken.”
Dean notes the tightness around his dad’s mouth and eyes and recognizes it immediately for what it is: guilt. He feels guilty for not finishing the job before, Dean realizes. He knows it’s a hazard all hunters face and there’s only one solution…finish what you started. And that’s what we’re here to do, he thinks grimly.
Ladona recognizes John’s look of guilt as well. “So what’s your theory about the acceleration in victims this time?”
Anna watches John gather his thoughts. The urge to touch him, to comfort him, is almost overwhelming. But there’s Dean watching them, ready to use any excuse to hold their marriage against his dad. A wave of bitterness washes over her again but she just clenches her fists in her lap and waits.
When John speaks his voice has a faraway quality as if he’s reliving the hunt 20 years earlier. He doesn’t seem to have heard Ladona’s question. “I was in the area and read newspaper accounts of an animal maulin’ tourists. I came to investigate. The bodies were in bad shape and they did look like somethin’ had chewed on ‘em pretty good…but they were also drained entirely of blood.” He shakes his head. “I never heard of an animal that drinks blood so I poked around. Fact is though I couldn’t find anything.” He shrugs. “Shortly after I arrived a hiker went missin’. I examined the area he was last seen in but…” He shrugs again. “I couldn’t find anything. A couple days later his body was found close to where he disappeared. I waited for the cops to clear out then looked around again. Still nothin’. I was gettin’ pretty frustrated.” He licks his lips and meets Dean’s and Ladona’s eyes. They’re both hanging on his every word. He can feel Anna beside him listening too even though she’s already heard the story. He feels something coming off of her in waves though, some emotion…sadness maybe? He sighs. Whatever it is it’ll have to keep.
“I decided to check out the area again around dusk,” he continues. “Most of the disappearances seemed to take place at dusk or dawn.” He pauses to look down at his hands. “I noticed a dark haired woman in the trees. She was wearin’ a long cloak. And I just…” He shakes his head. “I can’t explain why but I felt like followin’ her. She never acknowledged me even though I’m sure she heard me. I followed her up the mountain for what seemed like a long time. Then she just disappeared. After a couple minutes of lookin’ I found a cave entrance and went inside.” He pauses again and his brow furrows. “It’s kinda unclear after that. I remember seein’ the woman far ahead but I couldn’t seem to catch up. After a while she disappeared but I kept goin’. I finally came to an arch with writing above it in a language I’d never seen. There was light beyond. I…” He shakes his head. “I remember a room with rugs and a fire. Then everything went dark for a bit.” He smiles wryly. “I guess she got the jump on me. When I woke up a man was standin’ over me.”
“There was more than one?” Dean interrupts sharply.
John shakes his head. “No, I told you it was a shape shifter. She…it had taken my guns and knives but I always keep a knife strapped to my calf and it missed that one. When it leaned over to bite me I slashed it good across the chest. I jumped up and got in a few more good swings. Then suddenly it was the woman again. My knife came down across her face and she turned to ash. That’s it.”
“I didn’t know shape shifters turned to ash,” Ladona says after several minutes of meditative silence.
“They don’t,” John answers heavily. “But I didn’t know that at the time. The killings stopped. I hung around another week just to make sure.” He shakes his head. “At the time I thought I finished the thing. I had no clue about the 20 year cycle.” He nods to Anna. “We didn’t find out about that until this week. And we seem to be the only ones who’ve ever noticed it. The information’s there but no one’s connected the dots before. Not even people who’ve lived here their whole lives,” he finishes quietly.
“If not a shape shifter then what?” Dean muses.
“Good question. And we’re gonna find the answer this time,” John answers grimly.
“What about the increased number of victims this time?” Ladona asks. “You said you have a theory?”
John nods. “As far as the research shows, the usual killing cycle lasts about a month with victims taken every three days. So far this time there have been eight in fourteen days where there should only be five. I think I sent the creature to bed early 20 years ago and it woke up extra hungry.”
Anna shudders at the image of a creature with huge teeth waking up hungry. She’s seen the pictures of the victims and can’t imagine what horror they must have endured. All indications are that they were eaten alive.
“So what’s the plan?” Dean asks, all business.
“Simple. We hike up the mountain to the cave I found, try to find the creature, and take it out.”
Everyone nods agreement then John goes to pay the check. As they step out of the diner Ladona suddenly reels like someone hit her. Dean’s barely able to keep her from falling off the step. They move aside as a passing couple shoots them a suspicious glance and Ladona leans against the wall of the diner.
“What happened?” John barks, his eyes moving over everything but Ladona.
“I…I felt…” She forces herself to calm down. This is why I felt watched earlier, she thinks with dismay. “Magic,” she finally gasps and the others stiffen.
John and Dean both turn to survey the parking lot and nearby woods while Anna brushes Ladona’s hair back from her clammy forehead. “Hey, honey,” she says soothingly. “Tell me what kind of magic.”
Ladona smiles weakly. “Black magic,” she whispers. “I’ve never felt anything so malevolent.” She shudders violently.
“See anything?” John asks Dean quietly and Dean answers in the negative.
Ladona finally gathers herself and pushes away from the wall. “Whoever was here is gone,” she says, thankful her voice at least is steady. “It’s the one who was watching us earlier when the hairs on my neck stood up.”
“Let’s head back to the motel,” Anna murmurs as yet another passing couple shoots the group a suspicious glance. “We’re drawing attention.”
Dean slides his left arm around Ladona’s shoulders as they walk but Anna forces herself to focus on the case rather than the distance John keeps from her. Odd settlers, wild animals, bodies drained of blood, a mysteriously founded town, and now magic. That certainly explains a lot, she thinks. But it’s highly disturbing to know someone was watching them. Someone with magic.
Ladona insists she’s all right now so they agree to meet at the foot of the trail behind the motel in 15 minutes then return to their separate rooms for jackets and supplies. Ladona also pops into the office as she passes to snag a map of the hiking trails just in case.
Anna quickly changes into dry clothes. John watches her silently as he packs water bottles and weapons into a small backpack. He wants to ask what’s bothering her but figures he already knows. Dean. Having him around’s like wearing a straitjacket. John never realized how often he and Anna touched until today. Well, he’ll make it up to her tonight, he vows. Maybe even ask Ladona for one of those spot silencing spells.
Anna feels John’s eyes on her but doesn’t look at him. She knows she’s being ridiculous and the last thing she wants to do is turn him against his son. Time to act like a grownup, she thinks sadly, but she can’t ignore the way her skin aches for her husband’s touch.
As soon as their door closes behind them Dean pulls Ladona into his arms. His green eyes search her face as he asks, “Are you really all right?” She smiles and nods and he kisses her gently. They slip on jackets, gather their things, and head out to meet John and Anna.
Anna stands in the bathroom doorway slowly brushing out her long hair as she watches John get dressed. A small smile plays around her lips as he buttons his shirt then stands to tuck it into his jeans. His body may be out of her sight but it’s certainly not out of her mind. When he looks up to see her eyes on him he grins and crosses the room to take her in his arms.
“I’m trying to get ready,” she protests softly but slides her arms around his neck and lifts her face to him in invitation.
“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs, his eyes drinking her in. She looks essentially the same as when he met her more than six years ago despite the literal Hell she’s been through. There are a few more lines around her eyes and mouth and her body is firmer with muscle from long hours of training. But the only really significant difference is the 20 pound weight loss that took place while she was in a comatose state. He still thinks she’s too thin but he certainly can’t argue with the pleasing way she fills out her jeans. His grin widens.
She traces his lips with a fingertip. “You’re thinking naughty thoughts,” she murmurs, her eyes sparkling.
As if to confirm it he dips his head down and kisses her softly. Their tongues dance lightly together and she loves the way his beard and mustache tickle her skin. She tosses the brush heedlessly aside and runs her hands through his thick dark hair, pressing her body tightly against him. With a growl in the back of his throat he lifts her and carries her to the bed.
They lie together kissing hungrily, their bodies on fire with mutual need. His hands caress her through her clothes and she arches into him as his mouth moves down her throat. But when he starts to unbutton her blouse she grabs his hand to stop him.
“We…have to…meet…Dean and…Ladona,” she pants.
He drops his face onto her chest with a groan. His voice is muffled as he answers, “I know. Damn.”
She laughs and he raises his head to look into her face questioningly. She touches his cheek softly, her eyes dancing. “Aren’t you supposed to get tired of me now that we’re a boring old married couple?”
The dark desire in his eyes makes her shiver but he answers blandly, “Oh, I’m already tired of you. Just didn’t wanna hurt your feelings.”
They laugh together as she continues to stroke his bearded cheek. “Ah, I see. So the shower this morning was just…charity?”
He shrugs. “What can I say? It’s not in me to refuse a lady.”
She pulls him down into a thorough kiss. “Did I mention how absolutely mind blowing that was? I practically ate my own arm!”
She laughs but he doesn’t join her this time. His eyes fill with concern as he asks, “Are you really okay?”
“Yeah. I just…” She blows out her breath and shakes her head. “I just really got carried away I guess.” She looks away then forces her gaze back to John’s. She’s been wondering whether she should tell him and now seems like an opportune time. “I…this isn’t the first time I’ve hurt myself worse than I thought. This is the first time I didn’t feel anything at all but…” She smiles mischievously. “I attribute that to excessive distraction.”
He looks more upset than she expected. His mind races to all the times he injured her during training…is that what she’s talking about? “How often does this happen?” he asks sharply.
Oh, he’s definitely not taking this well. She shrugs and drops her eyes. “Only a few times,” she says evasively. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
He grasps her chin gently and forces her to meet his gaze. “How often, Anna?”
Tears shine in her eyes. “A lot,” she finally admits.
“How often when I hurt you in training and you said it wasn’t that bad were you lying?” he says furiously.
She gulps. She’s tempted to lie again but suspects it’ll be better if she just comes clean. “A…a lot.”
He looks both stunned and angry. Then an even more horrible thought occurs to him. “And what about in bed?” he whispers.
She smiles and touches his cheek. “Never in bed, darling.”
“Until today,” he snaps and rolls away from her.
She sits up and runs her fingers through her hair. He’s pacing angrily and she knows it’ll do no good to talk to him when he’s like this. She watches him, feeling utterly miserable and wishing to Heaven she’d just kept her mouth shut. Why exactly did she think telling him was a good idea?
He stops in front of her and yanks her roughly to her feet. But his hand caressing her face is feather soft. “I broke your cheek that day, didn’t I?” he asks.
The pain in his eyes and voice is too much and she turns away. It happened a few weeks into her combat training. They were practicing hand to hand fighting and she didn’t duck when she should have. John came at her with a slow roundhouse kick and she took the blow full in the face. Next thing she knew she was sprawled on the hard ground and it felt like the side of her head had exploded. John was at her side in an instant, apologizing and asking if she was all right. She checked for loose teeth and, finding none, nodded even though it made the world all swimmy to do so. Alice told her later she was lucky he wasn’t wearing shoes or he’d probably have cracked her skull.
“Yes,” she softly answers his question after several minutes. “I didn’t realize it for a couple of hours. The pain just wouldn’t go away and you were gone to town so I went to Alice and…she had a spell. She fixed it.”
Alice had learned some rudimentary magic out of necessity. The B&B had been closed to the public but still served as a headquarters of sorts for hunters. Not only was it a sanctuary but research was done there to help identify supernatural targets which were then assigned to hunters in the network. It made for a much more efficient operation, allowing hunters to do what they did best rather than spending large amounts of their time searching for the next hunt. Not all hunters involved in the demon war still participated but most did. The B&B also served as a training facility and, since most witches chose to continue working with the hunters they’d been assigned to during the war, it fell to Alice to become the resident healer.
John’s voice pulls Anna out of her reverie. “Why didn’t you tell me?” His anguish rips at her heart.
She turns to face him. “Because I knew you’d blame yourself,” she answers softly. “But it’s not about you. It’s just…” She sighs. “I talked to Alice about it and…she thinks it’s because I spent so much time in pain while I was in Hell. So I got used to things being that way. It became my new normal.” She smiles sadly and shrugs. Taking his face in her hands she whispers, “I also knew that you’d stop training me if you found out. And I couldn’t allow that, John. My place is here with you.”
But he’s backing away from her shaking his head. “No, I won’t allow you to be hurt anymore.”
Anger flashes through her like lightning and she advances on him, her green eyes ablaze. She keeps her voice low so as not to advertise their argument to Dean and Ladona next door but he feels the hot fury in it. “You don’t own me, John Winchester! You don’t tell me what to do and you sure as hell don’t ‘allow’ anything! If that’s the kind of wife you want then this marriage is over and you can go to-”
“Hell?” he interrupts softly, his own eyes flashing. “No thanks, babe, I’ve already been there,” he spits.
“Well, so have I!” She stands staring at him, her breath coming in sharp angry gasps. His words took the wind out of her sails though and she doesn’t know what else to say. What else is there anyway? Either he accepts her or not but she’s not going to be relegated to being “the little woman” who stays home to cook and clean while her husband risks his life. She smiles thinly. Actually, that reminds her that she does have something else to say. Poking him in the chest with one finger she hisses, “And in all your concern about protecting me have you forgotten it’s you who decides when we die? So who needs protecting now?”
She sees she hit her mark as his eyes widen in shock but whirls and stomps into the bathroom before he can respond, slamming the door behind her. She considers locking it but decides not to. John’s likely to break the damn thing down if she does. Stubborn bastard! She paces angrily in the small space, trying to get a handle on her temper. How dare he treat her like any of this is even her fault when he’s the reason she went to Hell in the first place!?!
John stands with his eyes closed and his fists clenched. Anna’s last words were like cold water thrown in his face. He knows she’s right, about that and about him refusing to train her if he’d realized her injuries were more serious than she let on. But he also knows it wasn’t his decision to make. She was coming into the field one way or another and the only safe thing to do was teach her how to hunt.
He smiles ruefully. God, she’s beautiful in her anger! Her fiery red hair, her snapping eyes, her slightly flushed cheeks. He has the sudden overwhelming urge to kick open the door between them and make love to her on the bathroom floor. He actually pictures doing just that for a moment before gathering himself and knocking gently instead.
Anna stands looking at the door indecisively. Should she open it? Is he really not angry or just…just what, she thinks disgustedly. Trying to draw me out? Trick me into revealing myself? She rolls her eyes at such paranoid thoughts, grasps the handle firmly, and pulls the door open.
“I’m sorry,” he says immediately, forcing his eyes to remain on her face even as he aches to touch her body.
She studies him for a moment with narrowed eyes. Is it just her imagination or…no, it’s definitely not her imagination. Her own body is responding to the dark desire in his eyes. They haven’t had many real fights so she’s not sure if it’s normal to go from fury to lust like this.
He sees the confusion in her eyes and stops trying to fight his desire. She doesn’t protest when he gently pulls her into his arms but places a hand against his chest when he tries to kiss her. “John.” Her voice is thick with need but there are things that must be said before they go any further. “I…I am sorry about not telling you the truth. I hated keeping that from you. But you need to know that I wasn’t trying to hurt you. And…after I understood the problem I started being much more careful, paying closer attention to any pain I felt. I can take a lot more than most and I just…have to be vigilant.” She shrugs. “Today was an anomaly. I got carried away.”
He caresses her cheek softly, the one he broke without even knowing. “I shouldn’t have overreacted like that. I wish you’d told me the truth but…you’re right. I wouldn’t have taken it any better then.” He smiles sadly. “I just don’t want you to be hurt anymore after all you’ve suffered. And to know I hurt you-”
She silences him with her fingers across his lips. “John, everyone gets injured during training.” She smiles ironically. “You can’t very well learn how to fight without taking a few punches and kicks. And I think I gave out a few good ones myself. There were days when you were the one sporting bruises if I remember correctly.”
He chuckles. “Yeah, you hit damn hard for such a small woman.”
She smacks him playfully on the chest. “At least I didn’t shoot you,” she replies archly. “And, believe me, there were days when I was sorely tempted.” She caresses his cheek. “How about we just not keep any more secrets from each other?” She immediately feels a twinge of guilt thinking of the confidence she and Skye agreed to keep for Ladona. But that’s not really what we’re talking about, she tells herself, so it doesn’t count.
He hesitates the merest fraction of a second before nodding agreement. “Deal.” There are a couple of secrets involving Skye he’s never shared with her or anyone else. He tells himself those are necessary to keep though. Revealing them would have nothing but negative consequences and cause their loved ones unneeded pain. Still, he feels guilty making a promise he can’t fully keep.
“You have to promise me one more thing,” she says and he can tell by her expression it’s something he won’t like but he just raises his eyebrows questioningly. “You can’t worry about me getting hurt.” He starts to protest but she silences him with her fingers again. “No, listen. If you get distracted thinking about my safety during a hunt you’ll get both of us killed.” She smiles and traces his lips with a fingertip. “And the absolute last thing I want is for you to be afraid to make love to me passionately. I promise not to lose control again and hurt myself. So…deal?”
He searches her face. This is not a promise he wants to make. How can he not worry? Yet he knows she’s right; he’s even considered what would happen if he got distracted worrying about her during a hunt. Which is one of the reasons he’s kept her mostly sheltered up ‘til now.
She can see how torn he is but refuses to drop her gaze. If he can’t at least promise to try then they have a problem that might well be insurmountable. Because she can’t endanger him but she also can’t be apart from him.
Finally he nods reluctantly. “I’ll try my best, love. That’s all I can promise.”
Relief washes over her. “Good enough.” Then she kisses him, pressing her body against him.
He buries his hands in her silky hair as their tongues dance together. His need for her is obvious but time’s up. They part reluctantly, both breathing hard.
“Damn kids,” she murmurs, only half kidding.
He grins. “Later.” She shivers at the promise in his voice and eyes but can only nod. He touches her hair softly. “You need to find your brush, sweetie. I messed up your hair.”
“It was well worth it.” She winks at him then goes in search of her brush.
He watches her, a heaviness settling around his heart. He’s even more afraid now than he was earlier. But he consoles himself with the fact that Dean and Ladona are both experienced hunters and they’re here to help now.
Celeste stands at the edge of the trees in the cold morning air watching. She’s good at that; she’s had centuries of practice although she looks no older than 35. Her forest green hooded cloak conceals all but her corpse white hands holding it closed. She blends perfectly into the trees but even without such concealment her glamour makes her invisible to anyone who cares to look. And those she watches most assuredly are not looking.
The two men and two women sitting comfortably in a booth in the warmth of the diner seem no different than any other tourists on the surface. But she sensed him the moment he entered town and had to come see with her own eyes, had to make sure. Her discreet inquiries told her he’s using a different name. She smiles coldly. Not that names matter. She knew the moment she set eyes on him that it was the same man. Twenty years older of course…but neither names nor the passage of time can mask an aura.
She looks hatefully at the bearded man. Because of him her god was driven into slumber weeks earlier than planned 20 years ago. Because of him her god awakened weak from lack of sustenance. Because of him her people have had to provide additional sacrifices this time…sacrifices that have not gone unnoticed.
Her mouth twists into a snarl. And because of him her beautiful face is marked forever. She was glad to take the blow intended to kill her god…but the scar along her cheek that magic can conceal but not erase has been a constant reminder of this man who, for the first time in her god’s long life, threatened his existence.
Now he will pay and in the most precious currency imaginable.
She whirls and disappears into the trees, leaving no trace whatsoever of her presence. Her journey to the cave is short, aided by her magic. She pulls off the cloak as she enters the chamber where her god resides. Sinking to one knee, she bows her head and waits for him to acknowledge her presence.
“Arise, my follower.” His voice is resonant yet soft, like an iron fist encased in a velvet glove. She shivers slightly at the image as she obeys his command.
His burning eyes search the darkness behind her. “Where is my sacrifice?” he demands.
Before the storm clouds gathered on his brow can be let loose she quickly explains, “He is back, my god. The man who…” Her voice trails off and her hand moves unconsciously to the ugly scar on her face.
The god’s eyes narrow. “Is he aware of my return?” For the first time it occurs to him that the taking of so many sacrifices in such a short time may have been unwise but he quickly dismisses the idea. Gods do not make mistakes.
“I believe so,” she says softly. “But I have excellent news.”
He tilts his head slightly to study her flushed face. She obviously hurried to bring him this news so it must be good indeed. With a wave of his hand he responds, “Proceed.”
She smiles. “He brings others this time. No doubt to assist him.”
The god’s eyebrows draw together. “This is excellent news?” His tone is low and threatening.
“No, my god. The good news is that two of them are women. One is a witch. And the other…” She pauses for effect then delivers the coup de grace. “The other is his wife.”
The god’s eyes widen then a slow smile spreads across his face. “This truly is excellent news, my beauty.” He turns and begins to pace. When he faces her again he is laughing. “You are indeed my most loyal follower. And you above all others will be rewarded for your service.”
Smiling, she bows her head deferentially. But her heart sings at her god’s praise. Perhaps this time…she scarcely allows herself to hope but…perhaps this time he will choose her as his mate.
John locks the door after Dean and Ladona leave then stands rubbing his forehead for a minute. He hates subjecting Anna to this but he needs Dean for the job. Part of him wants to strangle his son for being so hardheaded but another part has to admit he comes by it naturally. It’ll only be a few days though, he reassures himself. We’re grownups. We can manage.
He can still see the look on Dean’s face when he found them kissing that day. It was like someone gut punched him. John’s first reaction was to feel guilty but his second was to tell Dean to get over it. He would have followed him to do just that if Anna hadn’t stopped him. He shakes his head. She insisted he try to understand Dean’s feelings and not get angry but it’s been a battle. The only reason he’s put up with it this long is that Dean’s never said or done anything overt…and, he admits wryly, because Anna would unleash her wicked temper on him.
“Wash my back, sailor?”
He looks up from his musings and a slow smile spreads across his face. “Have I told you that’s my absolute favorite outfit?”
She laughs throatily. “You may have mentioned it a few thousand times.”
His eyes grow dark with desire as they drink in her naked body. He crosses the room slowly, removing clothing as he goes. When he reaches her all that’s left are his jeans.
He presses her against the door jamb, his mouth devouring hers as her small hands unzip his jeans and push them off his hips. Then it’s her turn to press him against the door jamb as she slowly slides down his body to her knees. She tugs the jeans down his legs and he kicks them aside then draws in a sharp breath as she strokes his hard length.
“My, you started without me,” she observes.
He grins down at her. “What do you expect when I walk in to find you in nothin’ but a sheet?” he growls. “Are you tryin’ to kill me, woman?”
She laughs, her hands continuing to stroke him. “Now where would be the fun in that?” she whispers before drawing him into her mouth.
He groans and buries his hands in her beautiful hair. For a while there is nothing but her tongue caressing him with feather light strokes then the orgasm crashes over him and he’s left sagging against the door jamb as she smiles up at him. “You are tryin’ to kill me,” he mumbles and she laughs delightedly.
She climbs up his body, pressing herself against him as she captures his mouth. “Time for that shower,” she murmurs, tracing his lips with a fingertip.
He growls deep in his throat then pushes her gently into the bathroom and closes the door to keep the steam in. And maybe some of the steam will even be from the hot water, he thinks lecherously. She leans over to turn on the water and adjust it to the right temperature and he can’t resist moving up behind her to caress her shapely rear.
“That tickles,” she protests softly but doesn’t move away as she straightens.
His hands slide up the curves of her hips and around to cup her breasts. He rolls the already taut nipples between his fingers and she drops her head back against his shoulder with a moan. Her own hands caress his thighs and butt as he nibbles her neck.
“The water will get cold,” she mumbles, barely able to breathe.
He laughs softly, a rumble of sound that begins deep in his chest and comes bubbling out of his throat. She absolutely loves that laugh and he knows exactly what it does to her. He laughs again as he supports her into the tub, stepping in behind her and tugging the shower curtain closed. He presses her against the wall, keeping her in place with one hand on her back as he leans down to turn the shower on.
She shivers at the feel of the cold tile against her skin then again when the hot water washes over her. She’s so close to the edge she thinks the slightest touch might send her over. “John,” she moans but all he does is laugh again.
Keeping her pressed to the tile he fits his body against hers and begins a slow exploration with his hands as his mouth moves down the side of her neck. She moans his name again and again but he refuses to finish her off just yet. He’s having entirely too much fun.
The only thing keeping her upright is his body pressing her against the wall. She feels like she’s on fire as his big hands touch her so very softly. When he leans down to whisper in her ear she shudders uncontrollably.
“Wanna try somethin’ new?”
She nods, not caring how he quenches her fire at this point but needing him to do it soon.
He draws her back slightly, supporting her weight with an arm around her waist as he gently pushes her upper body forward to rest against the wall. He widens his stance but still has to bend his knees a little since she’s eight inches shorter than him. Nudging her legs apart he lifts one thigh to gain access and suddenly thrusts all the way into her.
Her eyes fly open at the unexpected sensation. She’s only tried this position with two other men and neither experience was more than marginally enjoyable. It made her feel powerless and almost victimized. But then those men were quite different from her husband. All he wants is to give her pleasure and if she tells him to stop he will immediately. She realizes the difference is that she trusts John utterly and completely. She closes her eyes and forces herself to relax. Now that her initial shock has worn off she can’t deny how good he feels inside her like this.
He senses her hesitation and murmurs softly in her ear, “Is this all right, love?”
His deep voice makes her shiver and clench around him. Yes, this does indeed feel wonderful. Unable to speak she nods her assent and moans with pleasure as he begins moving in and out. Every nerve ending is on fire as she gives herself over to him. His free hand strokes her breasts lightly, sending even more fire racing through her body. Her breath comes in short gasps and it only takes a few smooth thrusts before she orgasms violently around him. She has just enough presence of mind to stifle her screams against her own forearm.
He makes a growling sound deep in his throat as her body spasms but continues pounding into her. He’s not even sure he could stop now and each thrust drives him deeper into her velvety heat. Her body shudders again and again ‘til it becomes one long orgasm. Finally he joins her, crushing her against the wall as he stiffens.
They stay that way for several minutes as they catch their breath, neither of them wanting to part. He’s still buried so deep inside her it’s almost painful and she suspects she’ll be very sore later but right now she doesn’t care. He loves the way she tightens around him as aftershocks rip through her body and wishes he could stay sheathed in her fire forever. But the water’s turning cold and so is breakfast. With a sigh he finally withdraws, making sure she’s able to stand on her own before leaning over to turn off the water.
Her body cries out at the emptiness he leaves behind and she blinks away tears. She wouldn’t want him to misunderstand and think he hurt her even though he did a little. But it was a good kind of hurt, the kind that reminds her she’s really alive and no longer subject to the demon’s brutal torture. As if there’s any other kind of torture, she thinks wryly. Pushing these thoughts aside she smiles and murmurs, “I never did get to wash my hair.”
He caresses her face, his dark eyes sparkling with love, causing her to shiver. “I’ll wash it for you later, love,” he says softly.
She pulls him into a gentle kiss. “Deal.”
He takes her hand to help her out of the tub. “Oh, my God!” he exclaims.
“What?” She looks down at her right forearm and sees a perfect set of her own teeth marks filling with blood. Her eyes widen. “I didn’t even feel that,” she breathes.
He draws her over to the sink and holds her arm under cold water so he can see how bad the bite is. She feels a little sick at its depth and at the faint taste of blood in her mouth. How could she hurt herself that badly and not even know? Sure, her capacity to withstand pain is extremely high after her stint in Hell but she should have at least felt it. She collapses onto the closed toilet, suddenly lightheaded.
John’s feeling a little sick himself as he goes into the bedroom to grab the first aid kit then returns to kneel beside her. He feels somehow responsible and the shocked look in Anna’s eyes worries him. Speaking in a low soothing voice he disinfects the bite then covers it expertly with a bandage. He cups her cheek in his warm palm and kisses her gently. “You’ll be fine now, sweetie.”
She manages a weak smile. She does feel a little better with the bite out of sight but now it’s starting to throb painfully. As if reading her mind John slips two aspirin into her hand and fetches a cup of water. She downs them gratefully.
They’re both still wet from the shower and she starts to shiver. He grabs a towel to dry her off, rubbing her skin vigorously to warm her. He kisses her lips again. “You’ll be okay, sweetie. Just a little shock.”
But she doesn’t stop shivering so he quickly dries himself then scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the bed. He pulls the blanket over them and holds her close as heat slowly returns to her body. After a bit, she drifts into sleep feeling safe and secure in his strong arms.
He kisses her hair and holds her tight as her breathing evens out but his thoughts are in turmoil. This isn’t her first hunt but it’s the first really big one she’s been involved with. He’s managed to farm out everything but the minor stuff to other hunters which is one of the reasons Dean and Ladona have been so busy. He closes his eyes. Anna’s done very well in her training and in the other hunts. She survived the Yellow-Eyed Demon and Hell. So why does he still think of her as fragile? Is it the nightmares? Or just his instinct to protect the woman he loves?
He inhales her lavender scent. He knows he can’t keep her sheltered forever, not with so few hunters to do the work. They need him in the field and not just for small jobs. And she refuses to stay at home and wait for him. He smiles ruefully. Boy, he got quite a dose of her redheaded temper when he made that suggestion! The only bright spot is that the truce with the demons is holding, largely due to Skye’s continued diplomatic efforts. No hunter has had to perform an exorcism since it began and the few rogues who’ve possessed unwilling humans in violation of the truce have been swiftly dealt with by their own kind. He doesn’t know the details but he suspects exorcism would be a kindness by comparison.
Turning his thoughts back to Anna he realizes with a sinking heart that he’s still having difficulty accepting her as part of the hunting world. He never wanted to drag her into this and part of him continues to rail against it. But the decision was taken out of his hands when the Yellow-Eyed Demon captured her soul and no amount of denial will change the reality.
He shakes his head. Much as he wants to believe otherwise Anna is now a hunter. And just as he did with first Dean and then Sam he has to stop babying her and have faith in the training he’s provided. He has to have faith in her. He blows out his breath and holds her tighter, burying his face in her still wet hair. He just wishes he weren’t so afraid.
I should stay away, but what can I do? I hear your name and I'm aflame Aflame with such a burning desire That only your kiss can put out the fire.
Dean woke to find himself alone in bed, but the sound of the shower running let him know where Ladona had gone. The sun slanting across the far wall told him it was midmorning and he wondered what time it was so they could meet John and Anna to talk about this latest case. Anna, Dean snorted, but then he remembered the conversation with Ladona before they’d fallen asleep. He repeated the woman's name again in his mind - this time without any hint of emotion. Anna. See? he told Ladona in his mind. I can do it.
Ladona ... she was singing in the shower now. Bon Jovi. Dean shut his eyes and shook his head. She loved Bon Jovi, had even dragged him to a concert a few weeks ago when the band was playing in a town where they'd had a case. That had almost been worse than facing a legion of demons, but he admitted, grudgingly, that it had been fun to watch her, infectious even. Ladona had sung every song at the top of her lungs and screamed like a banshee. Dean smiled, remembering how she'd been so hoarse the next day she could barely talk. He remembered the things he'd done to her and her nearly silent screams that had made a silencing spell in their hotel room unnecessary.
He sighed heavily and sat up a bit, trying to keep images of Ladona's wet and naked body out of his mind so he could ... ah, hell. It was no use trying to keep his mind off the woman in the shower when other parts of his body were so well tuned to her it was like having a beacon that never shut off. Dean pushed back the covers and padded into the bathroom where he could see through the shower curtain a cloudy image of her rinsing her hair, her back arched back so her breasts stood out high and proud. His groin tightened at just the blurry sight of her and he stepped more quickly to the tub.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked, peeking his head inside the curtain.
Ladona's head popped up and she smiled at him. "Not at all." She held out her hand and Dean took it before stepping into the spray.
He put his head under the water and then asked what song she'd been singing.
Ladona pressed herself against him, then put her lips to his chest and sucked on his skin for a second. "It was a new one. Something about making a memory."
"Making a memory?" Dean arched an eyebrow and spun Ladona around so her back was pressed against him, his hardness firmly encased in the valley between her butt cheeks. Ladona gasped when Dean started nibbling gently on her shoulders, his hands kneading her breasts while his hips played bump-and-grind with her rear. He trailed his lips and teeth down her spine as one of his hands slipped between her legs and his fingers slid inside her.
Ladona reached out to catch herself, using the tiled wall for support while Dean's fingers rubbed her inside and out. He knelt, pushed her to lean forward, and spread her legs wider, both hands now cupping her thighs. Dean's tongue found her and she quickly uttered the words for the silencing spell right before she called out as her orgasm crashed around her and her legs shook with the force of her pleasure.
Dean stood and turned her to face him once more. His tongue followed the water down the smooth skin of her chest to each nipple, which he rolled first between his fingers and then suckled hard with his mouth. He brought one of Ladona's legs up to hold and stepped between her legs to thrust quickly inside her. Dean put his other arm around Ladona's waist to help her balance and settled his mouth at the sensitive spot just under her ear.
"Is this memorable enough for you?" he whispered as he thrust harder with each stroke, knowing that he was rendering her incoherent with every movement. Dean pulled his head back just enough to see Ladona's eyes close. Her arms were already locked around Dean's shoulders, but she dug her nails into his skin as wave after wave pushed through her and she twisted her head back and forth with every contraction. Dean had trouble holding on, moving in and out of her, feeling her muscles tighten around him until finally he let himself go, coming in hot explosions and moving with decreasing speed until he came to a stop and they stood locked in place.
The water turned to ice and they jumped apart, moving to the far end of the tub to escape the frigid spray. Ladona turned to Dean and burst into laughter. "You're the one who's not clean," she said, pushing him into the cold.
"Not fair!" he shouted. But he lathered quickly and washed his hair, making room for Ladona to wash herself once more before they turned off the water and toweled off as fast as possible in order to warm up. She uttered the words to drop the spell while rubbing some of the water from her hair.
After they were dressed - Ladona in a pair of well fitted jeans that hugged her hips and rear and a tight, long-sleeved t-shirt over a tank top with the bra built-in and Dean in his customary jeans, boots and shirt-over-shirt - they looked through the stack of take-out menus on the nightstand next to the bed.
"I would kill for a kitchen," Ladona sighed. "Wouldn't real food taste good?"
Dean took a deep breath and looked wistful. "I'd love for you to be in a kitchen right now. Those brownies you make would be a great breakfast."
"Brownies? I'm talking about food, Dean," Ladona said with mock exasperation, throwing a menu at him. "You know. A real meal. Cooked by me. Eaten at a real table. Hell, I'd give anything to be back at the B&B right now and using that awesome kitchen Anna has there." She got a dreamy expression on her face, remembering long ago meals enjoyed with other hunters.
“Hey, I forgot to tell you,” Ladona said with a snap of her fingers. “I heard from Alex. Got an email the other day.”
“How is she?” Dean asked with concern.
“Better. She didn’t say where she was, of course. Just said to make sure I told everyone that she’s okay and she’ll meet up with us soon.” Neither Dean nor Ladona voiced the obvious: that Ladona could find Alex if she wanted to. Out of respect for her friend, Ladona refused to invade the other woman’s private pain. Ladona wished Alex would come home to what really amounted to her family, believing Alex would recover more quickly if she were surrounded by the support of other hunters.
Dean frowned. Alex was a good friend and he’d been worried about her ever since she took off after attacking Skye that night. “I wish she’d just come back. It’s not good for her to be on her own like this.” Shaking his head, Dean checked his watch and swung his feet to the floor. "We need to get to the diner to meet Dad and Anna."
Ladona watched him carefully as he said Anna's name and smiled at the lack of inflection in his voice. "Very good," she told him, swatting him on the ass as she walked by. "It's a nice start." She grabbed her jacket off the floor and flipped it over her shoulder.
"Hey!" Dean exclaimed, sounding offended. Ladona broke into gales of laughter as she sashayed out the door, the sound of her laughter carrying back to him as she made her way down the open walkway.
He shook his head to himself and followed her out, stopping briefly to set a small booby trap to alert them if anyone or anything tried to break into their room and locked the door. Ladona was a good 15 feet in front of him and he watched her backside sway invitingly in front of him. They'd been together solidly now for just over six months and it still felt new at the same time it felt as comfortable as ... well, as Dean imagined home would feel.
It hadn't started out that way, that's for sure. Well, the relationship part of their partnership hadn't been exactly smooth sailing at first, but then Ladona had risked her life to rescue Anna and Dean had almost gone out of his mind worrying. He'd told Ladona he loved her before the mission had gotten underway, but he hadn't truly known what it meant until she'd driven away in that old Volvo and he didn't know if he'd ever see her again. The mission - thank the Goddess - had been successful, albeit with some unfortunate casualties on the hunters' side and Ladona had come back whole and his again.
Since then, they'd been all over the country together, identifying demons that didn't adhere to the truce, banishing other beings to other dimensions and convincing the majority of the ghosts they encountered to turn towards the light, though Dean admitted it had taken a while for him to come round to that way of thinking. Ladona seemed to be able to almost commune with spirits now and Dean wondered if her power was that much stronger because of what she'd been through during Anna's rescue. It was Ladona who was able to make most spirits let go of their earthly life by showing them the beauty of the afterlife. Dean still retained his cynical view of the afterlife given his father's - and Anna's - all too recent experiences with Hell, but he'd seen plenty of faces lit with pure happiness and peace to be able to begin to admit maybe Hell wasn't all that awaited after death, that maybe there was an alternative.
But Ladona had changed, too, Dean knew. Before Anna's rescue, she'd been a thorough and competent hunter who used her magic only to further the case or get them out of a tough spot. Now that she had full control of her power, Dean thought Ladona felt a certain freedom in deciding how she would employ her magic. She was almost like several people rolled into one and Dean knew the combination of her different sides was part of what kept things between them so fresh. And she had a tattoo now that excited him for some reason he couldn’t name. It was the ancient symbol of the Goddess, located at the base of her neck. Dean never asked Ladona why she’d gotten it, figuring it had something to do with her magic that was beyond his comprehension.
When they were hunting, Ladona now was almost more focused than Dean had ever been and was able to dispatch any variety of nasty things with economy and without emotion. Once the job was over, the hunter in Ladona switched to "off" and a fun-loving, life-loving girl came out, making Dean laugh and do crazy things he'd never allowed himself to enjoy like visits to amusement parks, water rides and bike riding, whole days spent in bed and sightseeing wherever they happened to find themselves.
He'd even gone horseback riding and she had the digital photos to prove it; was even assembling a photo album and scrapbook of their adventures. When Dean had asked her why, Ladona had teased him that it was so they could use it to remind themselves of their wild youth when they were old and gray. She also wasn't averse to using her magic every so often to captivate him in bed and he wasn't complaining. Ladona Marie Winters was like no one he'd ever met and he was damn happy about that since he couldn't imagine ever feeling like this about anyone else.
Ladona could feel Dean's eyes on her, felt as though she could almost read his thoughts and a small lump rose up in her throat, brought tears to her eyes. She loved Dean Winchester more each day. Her trip into AlmostHell had made her determined to not let the job get the best of them. She knew as soon as Dean's arms had closed around her that night that she would never take life for granted again. She certainly wasn't going to pass up opportunities for fun and laughter or seeing the oddities found while they were out on the road. It had been a tough sell at first. Dean used the snark to make others think he was a jokester, but really took the job to heart and was deeply affected by the lives he saved and the creatures he killed or banished. Ladona had practically had to drag him kicking and screaming into a new way of looking at what they did and that while it may define a part of their lives, it didn't need to define every part.
Not that she didn't appreciate his gravity because she did. It helped ground her and kept her firmly rooted to the earth. She felt his love wrap around her and it made her feel invincible, like she could take on the world and win every time. He was honest to a fault (except on jobs where they had to lie, of course) and never took her for granted, though she knew he relied on her like she relied on him to always be there, to be the one fan cheering for each other when they felt far away from the others. Ladona envied his relationships with his dad and with his brother, not having had contact with her own family for years now and not even knowing - not wanting to know - if they were alive or dead.
Dean was sensitive, loving, funny and kind, especially to the children too often caught in the crossfire of the skirmishes they settled. He seemed to be able to relate to their terror and the upheaval in their lives. Ladona knew it was because of how he was raised, how he wasn't able to enjoy a real childhood full of careless laughter, joy rides and everything else that passed for a "normal" American youth. She turned then to wait for him, a big smile lighting her face, and watched Dean's answering grin.
"What are you smiling about?" he wanted to know.
"I love you," she answered simply. "Isn't that enough?"
For you're the lover I have waited for The mate that fate had me created for. And every time your lips meet mine Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go In a spin, loving the spin I'm in Under that old black magic called love.
Loud knocking jerks Anna awake. She sits up in bed, fully aware. She’s had months of practice doing this and, although it was difficult to unlearn a lifetime of waking slowly, it was also necessary for her new role as a hunter’s wife. She takes in the room and the bathroom beyond in one quick glance. John’s gone.
The knocking comes again. She slides quietly across the bed dragging the sheet with her while slipping her other hand under the pillow for her gun. She already knew how to shoot but John honed her skills with hours of practice, explaining a hunter needs more than just good aim to survive. And that’s what this all comes down to in the end: survival. Killing the monster before it kills you.
She uses her left hand to hold the sheet in front of her as best she can without tripping over it and crosses the room as quietly as possible. Her heart is pounding in her throat and she’s terrified. She wishes fervently that John were here…but he’s not so she’ll just have to manage on her own. It could just be the maid, she tells herself. But, aside from the fact that John specifically requested no maid service, don’t maids always announce themselves?
Shaking her head to clear it she approaches the door, staying to the right in case whoever it is decides to shoot through it. Part of her still can’t believe this woman creeping across a cheap motel room with a gun is the same Anna Bryant who grew up in a quiet Kansas town on the banks of the Missouri River. But she isn’t really the same woman, is she? Anna Bryant lived a solitary life running a bed and breakfast…until she traded her soul for John’s and was rewarded with nearly a year in Hell for her trouble. By the time John finally came for her Anna Bryant was no more; she died (literally) in that place of endless pain to be replaced by Anna Winchester. And it’s Anna Winchester who’s now leaning cautiously over to peer through the peephole.
She lets out the breath she didn’t even realize she was holding and lowers her gun. “Hold on!” she calls as she sets the gun on a nearby table and wraps the sheet securely around her toga fashion. A memory of once using a red checked picnic blanket for the same purpose flashes through her mind but she pushes it aside and opens the door.
Dean’s green eyes widen as he takes in her outfit, her bare shoulders, her sleep tousled hair. At least he hopes it’s sleep tousled. It’s been hard enough to accept her as Dad’s wife; he really doesn’t need to think about what they might be doing to cause mussed hair.
As if reading his thoughts she shakes her head. But all she says is, “You scared the hell outta me!”
“Uh, sorry. We just got in.”
Ladona suddenly pushes him aside and launches herself at Anna, almost knocking the woman off her feet. Dean turns away as the sheet threatens to fall but Anna does a quick save and even manages to give Ladona a one armed hug. Laughing, she says, “It’s good to see you too, honey. How’ve you been?”
Ladona tugs a still reluctant Dean into the room. “Close the door. Were you born in a barn? It’s freezing!” she admonishes him. Turning back to Anna she answers, “We’ve been really busy; you know how it goes. We had a little time off in New Orleans last week though.”
Anna has to bite her lip to keep from laughing as Dean promptly obeys Ladona’s order to shut the door. She really does have him domesticated, she thinks before turning her attention back to the girl. Ladona’s cheeks are a little red from the cold but her blue-gray eyes are warm and her smile is genuine. She and Anna formed a bond during the rescue from Hell and she thinks of Anna as the older sister she never had. Not to mention the fact that she wouldn’t even be hunting if not for Anna recruiting her in the first place. For her part Anna loves Ladona like a sister too and is very impressed with her influence on Dean. She strongly suspects it’s that influence which makes Dean, if not approve of, then at least tolerate her marriage to his dad.
They all look up as a key turns in the lock and John steps into the room, smiling. “Hey, you finally made it,” he greets Dean and Ladona. He allows himself only a brief look at his wife then turns away to set the coffee and breakfast he’s precariously balancing on the table next to her gun. It also gives him an opportunity to hide the naked desire that filled his face at seeing her wearing just the sheet. He wishes fleetingly that Dean and Ladona hadn’t shown up quite yet.
“Yeah, we drove half the night.” Ladona sounds a little annoyed and Anna bites her lip again to keep from smiling. Obviously she’s not the only woman who’s fallen prey to the Winchester charms and who likes to enjoy them at every opportunity.
Dean looks even more uncomfortable but doesn’t say anything. Bad enough he has to stand less than five feet from the bed his dad clearly had sex with Anna in but now Ladona’s poking at him for not wanting to spend all night making love to her. And it’s not that he didn’t want to; they were just really behind schedule.
John claps his son on the back. “Sounds like you need to get some rest then.” He holds up Anna’s gun but keeps his gaze and voice neutral. “Good work.”
She gives him a small equally neutral smile. There’s an unspoken agreement between them to keep all displays of affection to an absolute minimum around Dean. They both know how uneasy he is with their marriage and neither wants to contribute to the low level of tension that permeates the atmosphere whenever the three of them are together. It wasn’t so bad at first, Anna thinks sadly. Dean was John’s Best Man and at least seemed to be happy for them. But then…she sighs inwardly. Well, it was just a mistake, she tells herself. We should have been more discreet.
They’d just returned from their honeymoon. Everyone was still at the B&B taking a well deserved break after the battle that ended the Winchesters’ two decade plus quest to kill the demon that murdered Mary. The war was over, new love was in the air for Sam and Dean, and no one begrudged the family a little time off. It was nice to just be together.
John started training Anna immediately; Sam, Ladona, Skye, and even Dean pitched in to help. The long sweaty days usually ended in long sweaty nights between her and John, a reward for a job well done. But one afternoon it was just the two of them; they were practicing knife fighting, something she seemed to have a talent for, when John suddenly swept her feet out from under her. She landed on her butt hard and he pounced, pushing her flat on her back and covering her body with his own. She barely had time to note the gleam in his eyes before he was kissing her lips, her throat, her chest above the neckline of her shirt. Her body responded as always and she buried her hands in his hair to draw his mouth back up to hers, tasting the salt of her own skin on his tongue.
Suddenly he drew back and she noticed Dean standing in the entrance to the training area, a stricken look on his face. Before either of them had time to say anything Dean was gone. Really gone; within the hour he and Ladona were heading out on a hunt. The three of them haven’t been together much since that day but it’s been almost painful every time. So John and Anna do the best they can to defuse the tension by simply staying apart.
Pushing her troubled thoughts aside Anna answers John. “Thank you. I learned from the best. Now I think I will take a shower and get dressed.”
Ladona frowns slightly but doesn’t say anything. She’s a witch not a psychic but it doesn’t take any special ability to see the way Anna and John pull apart whenever Dean’s around. Dean seemed okay with the marriage at first then one afternoon he charged into their room, shook her rudely awake from a nap, and started throwing their clothes into two duffel bags. All he’d say was there was an emergency in California and they needed to get there fast. And there was a particularly nasty werewolf infestation. But something in his attitude toward John and Anna changed that day and it’s really starting to piss her off.
Dean grabs the lifeline his dad threw him like a drowning man. “Yeah, I’m really tired. We’re in the next room,” he adds unnecessarily since John made the reservations. “I’m gonna go get a couple hours of shut eye.”
“Me too,” Ladona says brightly. She’s not in the least bit tired and would love to catch up with Anna since they haven’t seen each other in months. E-mail’s good but no substitute for actually sitting and talking to someone, she thinks wryly. But there’ll be plenty of time for that later. Besides, she strongly suspects John and Anna would like to be alone right now. If Dean came in and found her wearing nothing but a sheet she’d sure want to be alone with him. Her eyes narrow. But she needs to have a good long talk with him first about his behavior toward his dad’s new wife…
“See you later then.” Anna smiles and disappears into the bathroom.
John checks his watch. “How about we meet in the diner at 10?”
“Sure.” Dean nods then he and Ladona disappear to their own room, taking the tension with them.
Ladona closed the door to John and Anna's room behind her and stood for a second in the cold morning as she watched Dean go to their room and put the key into the lock. He turned and looked at her.
She shook her head and frowned, lost in thought. How could he not feel that? she wondered. The lust and love between John and Anna was palpable; like silk moving softly across her skin. The love that wrapped around the older couple was almost a third party in their relationship and it reached out and touched Ladona so that her blood hummed with the lust she couldn't control for Dean and made her heart pound with love and wanting. Oh, she wanted him alright. In his haste to get to his father, they'd left the warmth of the bed at the motel in the middle of the night after a couple hours of rip-the-ceiling-off sex. Ladona smiled privately, admitting that what they'd done had not been making love and a heat spread out from low in her belly just remembering.
Dean held the door for her and as she passed, she ran her fingertips lightly across his lips. The change was instantaneous, Ladona knew, without even having to look at him. The sharp intake of breath, the way his love and want for her filled the room and made the air thick. She felt his eyes on her and she knew he would be behind her a hair's breadth of time after the door clicked shut and he shot home the lock. Ladona turned and put her hand out, stopping Dean before he could get to her.
"We need to talk," she said, her voice low and strung raspy with need.
Dean's eyebrows shot up and he raked her with his eyes, making note that her eyes were a deep, emerald green, knowing that talking wasn't what she had in mind when she looked and sounded like this. "Talk?" he whispered, the tremors in his voice matching the shivers he knew were making the muscles in her stomach quiver.
"It can wait." The words were barely out of her mouth and he was on her, one hand tangled in the thick curls at the base of her neck holding her captive, his mouth on hers, hot and demanding. His tongue invaded her mouth as his other arm locked around her like a vice, pulling her against the hot hardness in his jeans.
Ladona pushed the leather jacket from Dean's shoulders and pulled his t-shirt up, going straight for the button and zipper of his jeans as soon as he took the shirt from her hands and ripped it off his head. He pulled her jacket from her and ripped her shirt open to expose her breasts. Since they'd left in the middle of the night, she'd not bothered with a bra and she stood full and firm before him. They pushed their own pants off and kicked them to the side before coming together again.
Dean put his palms to Ladona's nipples and grazed them lightly, back and forth, and she took the solid length of him in her hands, rubbing him until it was almost painful for him to not be inside her. Taking one hand and slipping it between her legs, Dean was not surprised to find Ladona slick and ready. He took two steps and fell back on the bed, bringing her with him. Ladona didn't give him time to raise himself more fully onto the bed before she was astride him, taking Dean deep inside her with one masterful stroke. He gripped her hips hard, pulling Ladona down more tightly against him, as she moved sharply.
Dear Goddess, he thought. It's been over six months and still she does this to me every time. And not for the first time did Dean Winchester wonder how it was even possible. There was some magic involved, he knew, from the way she’d touched his lips on her way into their room. Whether or not she actually used her power, he never ceased to wonder at the spell he seemed to be under because of her.
Ladona closed her eyes and rocked to the rhythm of the convulsions happening deep inside her. She was coming over and over again, falling off a new cliff every time Dean arched into her, losing her breath and squeezing her eyes shut until she felt him push up with such strength, his fingers digging into her hips as he, too, fell over the edge. Ladona pitched forward until she was laying flat against Dean's chest, her mouth pressed against the damp salt of his neck.
Some of the fog began to clear from their minds as their breathing returned to normal. Ladona slid off Dean and curled into his side. He chuckled and she noted - again - how much his laugh sounded like John's.
"Why are you laughing?"
"You said you wanted to talk." The laugh got deeper.
Ladona raised herself up on her hands, pushing against Dean’s chest, and arched an eyebrow. "We are going to talk. But I need to get under this blanket first. Aren't you cold?"
They climbed under the covers, Dean reaching for Ladona once again. She put her hand out and sat up, the covers pooling in her lap. Dean ran his eyes over her appreciatively, enjoying the view. Ladona was fit with an hourglass shape, but she wasn't dainty or small. She was definitely solid with firm, full breasts, a narrow waist and flat stomach, hips that flared, a round bottom and strong legs. Smart and talented, too, though Dean didn't need to be reminded. "So ... what's on your mind?"
"You." Now Dean arched an eyebrow and twisted his mouth into a lecherous grin that disappeared when Ladona pursed her lips. "Nice try, but you might change your mind after you hear what I have to say."
Dean sighed and settled back, knowing better than to interrupt when she got this way. "I'm all ears."
"Your father and Anna are married, Dean, and that's not going to change anytime soon," Ladona said, her eyes changing to a deep blue-gray. "They love each other - deeply - and they deserve to be happy together for as long as that turns out to be. Before we rescued Anna you said you were going to try to accept her in John's life, but I have to tell you that you kind of suck at it."
"Wha --" Dean's expression turned petulant and it took a lot of self control for Ladona not to smack him.
"No. It's my turn." Ladona ran a hand impatiently through her hair. "They never touch each other and barely look at each other when you're in the room, Dean. Haven't you noticed?" She didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "They do it, I'm guessing, out of respect for you and your feelings, but that's not right." Ladona softened her tone and leaned forward to cup Dean's face in her hands. "John loves you and he doesn't want to upset … I don't know … the balance or something now that he has his boys and a love again. But you're not being fair, Dean. And you need to get over this -- hump -- and accept Anna as a permanent part of John's life."
Ladona held Dean's gaze until he gave in and looked down. She let him go and pulled back a bit, watching the emotions race across his handsome face and through his bottomless green eyes.
Dean knew Ladona was right, that he was acting like a big ass baby, but he couldn’t get the taste of disappointment out of his mouth. If he were really honest with himself, he’d admit that he was taking his annoyance with John out on Anna, who was a much easier target.
After that yellow-eyed rat bastard had been taken care of, John and Anna had gone on a honeymoon that Dean did not begrudge them. Those first couple weeks after the war were breezy and light. Dean and Ladona went for long walks through the forest. They made love against a tree and on the riverbank. They went into town for dinner and movies. They window shopped in the small downtown. Dean pretended not to notice that Ladona spent as much time in the sun as possible. He was sure it was because she spent enough time in AlmostHell to make her crave the outdoors.
For the first time in his life, Dean was unafraid to show his feelings. Ladona often reached for his hand or sat close to him so their thighs pressed together. He responded to her openness by reciprocating. He sometimes put his arm around her or rested his arm on the back of a chair just to feel her curly hair brush gently against his forearm. And there was something to be said for homecooked meals. She cooked amazing meals for them all, including dessert, and was slowly introducing him to the joys of cooking. A flash of heat moved through him remembering how he’d backed her into the butler’s pantry and took her hard and fast on the counter.
It wasn’t until John and Anna returned that Dean realized how little things had really changed. While Anna was in Hell, John relied on Dean, had taken the younger man into his confidence, really listened to him in a way Dean had always craved. Now that Anna was rescued and back home, John barely had time for his eldest son. He was unwilling to look over case files that needed handling or to discuss dismantling outposts now that the war was ended. Hell, John scarcely noticed when the boys or anyone else was around if Anna were within 25 feet. The only reason Dean agreed to help train her was to try and get more time with John.
The call about a pack of werewolves in California came in the day Dean saw John making out with Anna during what was supposed to be a training session. Dean needed to talk to his dad about a strategy and after Sam told him John and Anna were in the training ring, Dean went outside to find him. Well, he’d found him alright and that’s when Dean snapped. He and Ladona pulled out of the B & B in less than an hour and handled the case themselves.
Still, Dean knew he wasn’t really mad at or annoyed with Anna. It was just easier to direct all his pent-up anger and hurt at what, or who, had diverted John’s attention – again, in Dean’s mind – away from his family.
He sighed heavily and pulled Ladona against him. It was several moments before he spoke, his voice muffled as he pressed his mouth close to her head. "I know you're right, and I can't say that I'll be perfect right away, but I do promise to try more. Try harder. Deal?"
Dean pulled Ladona up so they were nose-to-nose. "Sometimes I still can't believe you're real, that you might have ..."
Ladona kissed the next thought away. "I'm not going anywhere. If that little trip to AlmostHell didn't prove it to you, I don't know what will."
They kissed tenderly then and settled down into the covers to get some of the sleep they missed last night.
“Now it’s time for you to leave,” he said. “If I see you around me again, I will file a personal protection order against you. Oh, and that means, you’ve got two weeks to get out of the house, because I’m moving back in when I return from this trip. There will be a security team on your – make that MY - doorstep when you get back. They know what’s yours and what’s mine. You are going to pack up your shit and your shit only and get the hell out of my house. Are we clear?”
“I can’t believe you’re going to do this,” Holly said. “You’re going to make me leave the house? But I love the house. You can move back in if you want to –“
“Oh for god’s sake, shut up,” Alex said, losing her self-control. “What part of ‘scram’ don’t you get?”
Holly rounded on her with a sudden hateful fury.
“I’m going to find a way to get you,” she snapped. “You ruined my marriage. I don’t know how you sleep at night.”
“I sleep pretty well, and not alone either,” Alex said with humor. “This marriage was shot long before I ever showed up. You know it, and I know it. Most importantly, the lawyers know it. I’m a non-factor.”
“No, this is your fault,” Holly said, getting in Alex’s face. “Everything was fine until you showed up.”
lex fixed her with piercing eyes.
“You mean he stayed at home by himself in front of the TV, while you rode your boss like a freakin’ pony?” Alex said. “Well, yeah, I had a hand in getting him to see what he’d gotten himself into. I’ll take credit for removing the rose-colored glasses.” She gave the redhead a saucy smirk. “And other things.” She was enjoying the gloating far too much.
“I’m going to ruin you and the stable you work for,” Holly snarled. “The whole thing is going down.”
“You mean, like you do?” Alex said, eyes glinting dangerously at the threat to the stable.
“Holly, I’m warning you, you don’t want to-“ Nick started and then sighed when Holly slapped Alex.
Alex’s reaction was pure reflex. She popped Holly right in the face.Holly dropped to the ground, blood pouring from her nose, all over her DKNY ensemble. She glared in shock at the other woman.
“We’re done,” Alex said coolly. “Get up and get out, and if you come near me again, I’ll hit you again. Only harder.”
Holly staggered to her feet, wiping blood off her face.
“I’ll file assault charges,” she said.
“And then you’ll see I have witnesses to testify you came after me first after stalking me and trying to kill me by running me off the road,” Alex said without missing a beat. “This could get messy, and you don’t have all of Nick’s money behind you anymore. Wanna risk it? I can work you through your dough in no time flat.”
Holly gave Alex a look that could kill, stood up with her hand over her nose and got back into her SUV, roaring off while pressing a tissue to her face. As she drove off, Sunny, Sam and Dean came outside. They were all grinning.
When Holly had gone, Alex clutched her fist in her other hand and sank to the ground, wincing in pain.
“Ow ow ow,” she said, nursing her hand. “God, it really does hurt to hit somebody.”
“I told you,” Nick said mildly. He knelt down to examine her hand, then gently kissed her knuckles. “That was pretty impressive, though. I wish I’d videotaped it. I would watch it over and over again.”
“She’s got a hard head,” Alex said, shaking her fingers. “And with my bad hand too. Oh, what was I thinking? I’ve never hit anybody before in my life.”
“You were thinking she deserved it,” Nick said. “Besides, you reacted to the threat. That’s what I taught you.”
“She’s not a demon - I didn’t have to punch her,” Alex said.
“I’m glad you did,” Nick said, and smiled at her. “A slap would have been fuel to her fire. This way you just shut her down. She’s afraid of you.”
“If she saw me now she wouldn’t be,” Alex said, wincing as Nick gently massaged her hand.
Dean made an icepack and gave it to Alex without saying a word, but when she looked up to thank him for it, he gave her a grin that said he approved.
When the ice had melted and Alex’s knuckles had returned to their normal shade, she and Nick said it was time for them to go. Doug had already been on Nick’s cell twice with questions, including “How many rooms should I get for the two of you?” When Nick said, “Just one,” Doug responded with a sigh and said, “It’s about fucking time.” And Alex had said, “We have a lot to discuss between here and Lexington, so we should get going,” and gave Nick a look that said he wasn’t escaping. He didn’t look the least bit upset by the idea.
“I know I say this every time, but you guys take care of yourselves,” Alex said, hugging both Sam and Dean tightly. “I will keep worrying about you regardless.”
“You take care of yourself, wild woman,” Dean retorted, snapping his finger against the brace. “You managed to get yourself into a lot of trouble in a very short time. I expect updates on the next demon you have to kiss.”
“You’re not even going to read the email!” Alex said in an exasperated tone.
“But Sammy will tell me all about it,” Dean said, slapping his brother on the arm. “And if you send pictures I’ll definitely look.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her and she laughed.
“I’ll make him read at least a few emails,” Sam promised Alex. “Even without pictures.”
“If I have any say, there will be no more demon-kissing,” Nick said but he grinned. His handshake to the brothers turned into the shake/half-hug/back slap men do while trying to show caring but still be manly.
“Come by and see us whenever you can,” Alex said. “You’re always welcome, you know that, right? Nick’s house is big enough for company.”
“We do,” Sam said, and they said their goodbyes to Sunny, thanking her for her hospitality.
“And you’re welcome back here anytime,” she said. “I’ll miss having a full house when you’re gone.”
Then Alex and Nick got into Nick’s truck and Alex waved until they were out of sight.
Sam closed the trunk and Dean picked up his jacket and put it on. He paused, and lifted the collar to his nose.
“What’s the matter?” Sam asked, perplexed by the look on his brother’s face.
“Nothing,” Dean said, and got into the car. He didn’t want to tell Sam that the coat smelled very faintly like apples.
Nick looked out the kitchen window. He could see them talking, could see Alex’s face.
“You have to trust her,” Sunny said, startling him; he hadn’t heard her approach.
“I do,” he said.
Sunny studied him and then said,
“She’ll always be fond of him, you know. Both of them. You’ll have to learn to live with that.”
“Because of them, her whole life changed,” Nick said, because he really did understand, even if he still couldn’t stop the twinge of jealousy, despite how much as it had faded. Time would help. “And if it wasn’t for that, I would have never met her.”
That’s very true,” Sunny said. “She’s lived with a lot to be close to you. I think you can return the favor.”
“I can,” Nick said. “I absolutely can.”
(music – Greed – Godsmack)
They were packing up the truck when the SUV pulled into the drive – with brand new tires - and the fiery redhead in the classy black suit leaped out clutching papers in one well-manicured fist.
“Are you fucking serious?” Holly shouted, advancing on Nick and Alex. She no longer looked attractive. She looked shrewish.“500 K? You want me to take 500 K?”
“It’s more than you deserve,” Nick said. Alex loved his take-charge tone and loved even more that he was now using it on Holly. “I knew you wouldn’t leave with nothing in hand.” He shrugged. “Take it or end up in court with me, where I guarantee you’ll be embarrassed. Pictures. Of you and the boss man. In flagrante delicto.”
“I don’t care if you’ve got pictures of me and Davis,” Holly snorted. “I’ve got pictures of you and the tart here.”
“Should I get a shirt embroidered with ‘tart’ on it, do you think?” Alex asked Nick.
“You can have pictures of me with farm animals, I don’t really care,” Nick said to Holly. Alex stifled a snort of laughter. “I’ve got the paperwork on that land sale to IFG Industries. Turns out, you used the Castellan name and the family money to make that deal go through, even though the deal’s signed in your maiden name. I suppose you think you’re covering your tracks?” He snorted. “I have to tell you, if the rest of the family finds out, you are in a world of hurt, even though the land was yours long before we met. Annalise works hard to protect the company, and so does my mother. They don’t want to know you’ve just helped another aerospace company find a place to expand. Nothing like helping the competition.”
Holly blanched, mostly at the mention of Nick’s mother.
“You don’t have anything,” she said, but didn’t sound sure.
“Do you want to take the risk that the rest of the Castellans will find out?” Nick asked mildly, tossing the last bag into the truck bed and snapping the cover closed. “But you take this settlement, and the proof disappears, and neither my mother nor Annalise ever finds out about it – well, at least not from me. And you don’t get sued. Or worse, blacklisted from all those parties and restaurants you like.”
“You’re really serious,” Holly said, looking completely flummoxed. “After everything we’ve experienced together? You’re going to just walk out now?”
“Let me spell it out for you, Holly,” Nick said. “No. Money. You are not getting a dime more than what I’ve offered. You have been leading me around like a puppy since day one, and I’m not doing it anymore.”
“But I love you,” she said. “How can you do this to me?”
“Loved. Past tense, if even that,” Nick said. “I’m not falling for that anymore. We should never have gotten married. I really think you liked me at first, and when you found out about the money and the family privilege, you liked that better, until you realized I didn’t live the lifestyle of a ‘rich guy’. I’m a horseman, Holly, and a hunter. That’s it. You hate those things. I don’t do the stuff you like – the country clubs, the golf, the parties, none of it, and I’m sick of being dragged through all of that. That just means, in the end, you and I are not compatible. I’m done trying. Done.”
“That’s not fair, Nick,” Holly said, trying her wheedling tone. She really did look fetchingly sad now, all porcelain skin, green eyes and red waves. “After everything we’ve been through together-“
“Been through what?” Nick asked, spreading his hands. “I’ve been through the goddamn wringer with you. I have worked my ass off to save this relationship, until finally I figured out there was no relationship. Just you using my loyalties against me. You knew I would work as hard as I could once I had committed to you, so you’ve strung me along, spending the money, using the name – yes, I got the call from the maitre’d at Tavern on the Green and you had better hope my mother never hears how you threw the name around there or she will come down here in a New York minute and eat you for breakfast.”
“By the way, I’ve cancelled all the credit cards and tabs, and your name is off the lists at the restaurants and clubs,” Nick said. “If you and Davis want to keep going there, you have to do it with another name than mine. In fact, as part of the settlement, you’ll return to your maiden name, or face that blacklisting I talked about.”
“Why the name?” Holly asked. “Why is that such a big deal to you?”
“It’s a big deal to my family,” Nick said. “A name is a name, sure, but you’re hooked on the privilege it represents. My family believes in its legacy and in it representing good positive things, not your greed and avarice. So now that you’ve misused it, you can give it back.”
“Can’t we just talk about this?” Holly said, dropping her voice and looking sad and lonely. “Please. Can’t we just take some time, and talk about this?”
“You tried to run two of my friends off the road,” Nick said in exasperation. “What more is there to talk about? You’re lucky nobody got hurt and we didn’t call the police. I have nothing else to say to you. You will hear from me through my lawyer and that’s it. So leave me alone. Leave us alone. If I see you around the barn or any of my friends, I will let Dean have at you with that shotgun, and believe me, he’s still pissed about you hitting his car and calling it junk.”
“What is the big deal about that damn car?” Holly asked, clearly not getting it.
“Oh come on, let me have at her,” Alex said, a slow malicious smile spreading across her face. “I promised her a tossing out on her hiney.”
Nick gave her a ‘not helping’ look, although Alex saw his mouth quirk as he fought a smile, then he turned back to Holly.
She rolls over in her sleep, moaning softly. “No,” she mumbles. “Please stop. Please.” She begins to whimper.
The sound wakes him as it has so many nights before. He rises on one elbow to look at her face. Her features are twisted in pain and her right hand is clenched so tightly the knuckles are white. It hurts him so much to see her suffer like this but Missouri and Alice both told him the only cure is time.
He reaches out to caress her face softly with the backs of his fingers. She’s so beautiful even in the harsh fluorescent light falling through the half open bathroom door. And that’s another change from before. She hates being without light even if it's just a sliver of artificial brightness. It took him a while to get used to sleeping with a light on but he never complained. Because he of all people understands.
In the dream she runs through endless tunnels trying to escape the black smoke. But she’s tiring and it’s getting closer. Suddenly angry she turns to face it. “Get away from me!” she growls and hits out at it.
Her hand connects with his cheek hard. He wasn’t expecting it and his eyes widen in surprise. She’s never done that before! But there’s no time to think about it because she’s twisting and writhing, trying to get away from him. Afraid she’ll fall out of bed or otherwise hurt herself he rolls on top of her, pinning her with his body as his hands grip her wrists. But that only makes her fight harder.
In the dream she struggles beneath the demon’s weight on a fur covered bed in a dark chamber. It’s finally happening, she thinks frantically, he’s raping me. And I can’t stop him. Tears flow down her face as she fights him.
“Anna!” he calls over and over. He’s afraid he’ll hurt her if she keeps struggling and he wants to pull her out of the nightmare anyway. “Anna, wake up!”
His deep raspy voice finally penetrates her terror and she follows it up out of the dream like a lifeline. “John!” she sobs.
He releases her wrists and rolls to the side, pulling her into his arms. She clings to him as she cries and he whispers soothing words against her hair, smoothing it back from her sweaty forehead. After a moment she lifts her face to his and he smiles gently.
“I’m here, sweetie. No demons.” He cups her cheek in his warm palm, feeling her begin to relax in his embrace.
“John,” she whispers. “I’m so sorry-”
“Shhhh.” He puts a finger against her lips. “I understand, baby. I had nightmares for a long time after I came back too. I’m just glad I can be here for you.”
She smiles weakly as he brushes away her tears. “I love you, John Winchester.”
“And I love you, Anna Winchester.”
She kisses him, softly at first. But as the ever present flame of desire between them flares to life the kiss becomes more passionate. And this is how the nightmares always end. At first he felt a little guilty, worried he was taking advantage of her need to forget. But then he broke down and confided his feelings to Alice and she explained with more than a little amusement that it was simply an affirmation of life for Anna so he should stop complaining and perform his husbandly duties. Then she laughed, unable to hold it in any longer, and he stomped out of the room. But he also stopped feeling guilty.
He buries his hands in his wife’s luxurious red hair as he explores her sweet mouth. Even after six months of marriage he craves her touch every single day. It was the same with Mary before she was so cruelly ripped away from him. At least that’s one thing I’ll never have to face with Anna again, he thinks. She already died once but now her life span is tied to his and they’re destined to die at exactly the same moment so neither will be left behind to grieve. He still worries she sold herself short but the deal is done.
Pushing all these thoughts aside he concentrates on making love to his wife. She rises to straddle him and his hands find her breasts, his thumbs rubbing lightly across the nipples. He watches her cat green eyes close with pleasure, her lips slightly parted, and grins at her reaction. Pulling her closer he takes first one nipple then the other in his mouth, teasing them with his tongue as she moans his name.
Shocks of electricity race through her body at the feel of his silken tongue, stoking the fire low in her belly ‘til it’s an inferno. She reaches between her legs to grasp him in her hand, smiling to find he’s already halfway there. He moans her name as she strokes him to full readiness then guides him into her.
“I love you,” he murmurs as her heat engulfs him.
She smiles and bites her lip as he arches into her. There’s no way on Earth she could love him more than she already does and tells him so. Their eyes meet and she quivers at the way his darken with desire. Desire for me and no one else, she thinks happily.
His hands continue to caress her breasts as she rocks her hips, setting a slow steady rhythm. He growls softly in the back of his throat and she shivers. Her hands find the dark mat of hair on his chest and she runs her fingers lightly through it, imagining it tickling her breasts. There was a time when both of them would have experienced her mental touch as a physical thing. That was the water faerie’s power though and Nemesis removed it after bringing her back to life. But she doesn’t want to think of that now so concentrates instead on how wonderful her husband feels inside her.
She throws her head back and he feels her hair lightly brush his thighs. It’s incredibly erotic and he’s glad she let it grow. Of course, that was partly to cover the mark left on her back by the Colt but he likes it long so doesn’t care why she did it. He grips her hips, urging her to move faster, and groans her name softly as she complies.
She leans forward as the pace quickens, her long hair falling in a curtain around them. Their eyes meet and he smiles to see how close to the edge she is. Her breathing shortens and suddenly the orgasm hits her. She cries out and tightens around him. He quickly pulls her down into a kiss to swallow her screams of pleasure then his own orgasm overtakes him, leaving him gasping against her neck.
She collapses on top of him, both of them trying to catch their breath. Suddenly she sits up and chuckles. His hands stroke her hips lightly as he asks, “What’s so funny, sweetie?”
His touch sends aftershocks shuddering through her body but she continues to laugh. “You used to say you loved to make me scream but you never do anymore.” She pretends to pout.
He knows she’s teasing from the sparkle in her eyes but forces his face into a serious expression as he responds, “That’s not true. I still make you scream. I just have to…keep it to myself. So you don’t scare the other motel guests.” He pulls her down into a kiss then murmurs against her mouth, “I don’t mind though. I’m too greedy to share you. Ever.”
“Me too,” she whispers before kissing him again. She snuggles against him and he pulls the blanket over them to keep her from getting cold. They fall asleep that way, both certain there will be no more bad dreams this night.
The same old tingle that I feel inside And then that elevator starts its ride And down and down I go, round and round I go Like a leaf that's caught in the tide.
Ladona gripped the spindles on the headboard and threw her head back. She used the strength of her arms and legs to match the hard rhythm of Dean’s hips behind her. The headboard beat against the wall of their motel room and their flesh slapped together. Dean’s hands were on her shoulders practically bending her backward in half. He drove into her with a frenzy that sent her over the edge time and again. Ladona called Dean’s name and tightened around him as her orgasm ripped through her. Dean followed a few seconds later, moving his hands to her hips and holding her fast against him. He called out while he pulsated and shook with the force of his own climax.
He collapsed on top of her, his head resting between her shoulder blades. They were still fused together, Ladona’s rear resting on Dean’s thighs. She let go of the headboard and rested her forehead on the mattress as the world slowly righted itself. Dean pulled away and rolled to the side, both of them groaning at the loss of contact.
“I hate that part,” Ladona whispered, pressing her body along the length of Dean’s. He pulled the blankets up to cover them both, the sweat on their skin cooling and making them both shiver. She nestled into the warmth of Dean’s skin and got quiet. Dean knew she was reliving this latest case.
Their lovemaking was always like this after a hunt, Dean thought, especially so after a hunt that didn’t go as planned. He sighed, thinking back over the night.
A nest of vampires had been using a mobile home park as a buffet. Dean and Ladona had tracked them through blood found at one of the murder scenes and had taken out several of them during the bright light of day when the vamps were sleeping. Earlier tonight, they’d cornered the last two in a trailer that had been home to a woman and her three kids. Dean and Ladona broke into the trailer too late to save the mother and one of the children. They both tried to find comfort that at least the kids would have each other.
Ladona knew she and Dean had done everything they could to save that family. It didn’t lessen the sadness she felt thinking about the children growing up without their mother, but the hunter in her recognized the futility of dwelling on it. “We’ll have to come back to Florida after this job,” she said sleepily. “I really want to go to DisneyWorld and swim in the ocean.”
Dean grinned into her hair and kissed the back of her head. “That sounds like a good plan. I’d rather stay down where it’s warm, anyway.” How many times as kids had he and Sam wished their father would take them? Ladona had been the same as a kid and during their long drives between cases, they’d often mentioned making a point of making that wish come true. Swimming in the warm waters of the Gulf sounded great, too. Dean had no problem imagining Ladona in a bikini, attracting the stares of other guys on the beach, as she laid in the surf soaking up the sun.
He and Ladona were in the panhandle of Florida, and judging by where John said Smuggler’s Run was located, it would take a good five hours to get there. Dean wanted to get to Smuggler’s Run sometime before noon so they would have plenty of time to talk about the case and get a plan together. He looked forward to seeing John, but wished Anna wasn’t also part of the package now. The usual unpleasantness took hold of him, but he pushed it down, knowing that if he didn’t, he’d never get to sleep.
A little more than two hours later, Dean loaded their bags into the trunk of the Impala and slid behind the wheel. A tired and grumpy Ladona was already slumped against the door with her arm curled underneath her head. “We can sleep when we get there,” Dean said. She turned and gave him an evil look before putting her head down again and closing her eyes. He sighed and looked heavenward before putting the car in gear and pulling away from the hotel.
A couple hundred miles later, Dean watched Ladona watch the miles roll by. She’d never fallen asleep and after a while, had scooted over and laid her head on his thigh, her legs curled up on the wide seat. A quick bathroom break at a gas station to refuel was the only stop they made and now that the sun was up, Dean knew Ladona was looking at the fall colors of the trees, most of which this far south had just started to turn.
I could watch her all day, he said to himself. “That Old Black Magic” played on the radio and Dean watched Ladona’s fingers tap out the guitar solo on her leg. He chuckled to himself as he listened to the words and the similarity wasn’t lost on him. Dean thought of how much he loved her and swore he could feel his heart swell at just the thought. She had a wide, warm smile and a way of putting others at ease. She laughed easily, but she also had a temper that was best left alone and could argue her point just as doggedly as Dean could argue his.
She’d been hurt, though, Dean knew. Ladona’s mother had died when she was barely a teenager and she hadn’t had contact with her father or her brother in years. She’d been on the run from her power when Anna found her and gave the young woman a card that led her to the B & B and the war. Then there was partnering with him, which Dean knew had been no picnic. He’d been hard on her and impatient, which he could now admit was because he’d wanted her even then and was doing everything in his power to keep their relationship strictly business. Then she made the first move, albeit for the wrong reason, and he never looked back, glad they were together now for all the right reasons.
“What are you thinking about?” Ladona asked, bringing Dean back to the present.
He lifted one shoulder. “A lot of things. Nothing. A lot of nothing.”
Ladona slid back over the seat to rest her head on his shoulder. “I was trying to remember if I set a silencing spell last night.” The spells they used most often now simply kept sound contained to within a space and didn’t block out all noise. That wouldn’t be prudent given the number of enemies they still had.
Dean laughed. “Maybe we should learn to be a little less … enthusiastic.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Ladona argued, running her tongue up the side of Dean’s neck to his earlobe, enjoying his shiver.
He pushed her playfully away. “Not while I’m driving,” he said sternly, shaking his finger at her.
Ladona lifted an eyebrow. “That’s not what you said on our way out of New Orleans.” She turned on the seat and started to unbutton her shirt.
“Don’t,” Dean warned her, putting his hand out to shield her from view. “We only have an hour or so to go.”
Pretending to pout, Ladona gave an exaggerated sigh and sniffed while she refastened the top buttons. “Fine. You’re a party pooper sometimes, you know that?”
“Riiiight,” Dean said, taking the exit for Smuggler’s Run and looking forward to getting Ladona naked again as soon as possible.
Good afternoon SnObs! Welcome to another story starring our fave boys and various other characters made up along the way.
This story takes place shortly after the end of "To Hell And Back," most recently completed by our very own Sukayro. This new story was co-authored by both Sukayro and HeyHeath ... hope you like it!
That Old Black Magic
That old black magic has me in its spell That old black magic that you weave so well. Those icy fingers up and down my spine That same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.
The same old tingle that I feel inside And then that elevator starts its ride And down and down I go, round and round I go Like a leaf that's caught in the tide.
I should stay away, but what can I do? I hear your name and I'm aflame Aflame with such a burning desire That only your kiss can put out the fire.
For you're the lover I have waited for The mate that fate had me created for. And every time your lips meet mine Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go In a spin, loving the spin I'm in Under that old black magic called love.
Lori and Jason walked hand-in-hand down the picturesque main street in Smuggler’s Run, Georgia. They were a little sweaty from just finishing a hike up the mountain and had a glow about them not unusual for newly engaged couples. It was a beautiful day and the sidewalks were crowded with other tourists taking in the local flavor.
The couple made their way to the pharmacy to get gauze pads, tape and some antibiotic cream for a large, ugly scrape on Lori’s forearm caused by a tree branch when she wasn’t careful and had stumbled on the trail. They got to the corner across from the drug store and waited with a small group for the light to change to cross the street. Traffic stopped and the crowd moved almost as one. Jason bumped into someone, causing them to drop their bag. He touched Lori’s arm so she would know to wait a moment and turned to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” he said, bending down to help a woman pick up her things.
“That’s alright,” the woman said. She and Jason gathered the various items that had fallen from her bag and then stood up.
Lori smiled at her and was struck by the woman’s black hair and flawless skin, but put her out of her mind as she and Jason continued across the street and into the store. Jason picked out antibiotic cream, hydrogen peroxide and some gauze and tape and they went back to their hotel room. He patched Lori up and teased her about her clumsiness. Lori teased him in return, leaving him trembling and gripping the edge of the vanity. They made love in the shower and then went out to enjoy a long, leisurely dinner.
The next morning, Lori reached out and shut off her alarm, cursing the early morning hour like she did every day before sliding out from under the covers and away from Jason’s warmth. They were on a long weekend get-away, nestled in the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lori never missed a morning run, having gotten into the habit years ago when she was a graduate student in Savannah. Her running clothes were in a convenient pile next to the bed and she scooped them up to go into the bathroom to change so she didn’t wake Jason.
While she was in the bathroom, she cleaned her wound and bandaged it again with the gauze they’d gotten at the pharmacy. Five minutes later, she tucked her room key into the small pocket sewn inside her pants and took off down the small town’s main street. This was their second time visiting, having fallen in love with the area during their first trip two years ago. Jason had proposed the night before last and Lori smiled as she looked down at the diamond winking in the glow of the streetlights.
She followed the now familiar route out of town and along a paved, winding path that circled the downtown and meandered through a couple of new subdivisions. Lori was just leaving one new neighborhood and turning to run past a section of the surrounding forest that separated the two groups of housing when she felt a small finger of fear worm its way up her spine. It was a cool morning – typical for this time of year – but the sudden drop in temperature set off alarm bells in her mind. Lori increased her speed to hurry out of the thick air when a woman appeared before her.
Lori stopped in her tracks, her heart hammering in her chest, her mouth suddenly dry. The woman looked vaguely familiar and wore a long, strange cloak fastened at her throat with a large, jeweled brooch that looked old and expensive. She raised her hand and Lori felt herself propelled forward until she stood inches from the woman. Lori closed her eyes against the darkness that reached out from the woman’s gaze to wrap itself around her heart.
When she opened her eyes, she was no longer on the paved path between subdivisions. Lori looked around wildly, trying to get her bearings. Her breath was short and shallow and her heart beat so hard she could hear nothing else. How did I get here? Where am I? She shook her head trying to remember what she’d done since … yesterday? Last night? This morning? By the light of a weak candle held in a stone sconce that flickered a few feet from her, Lori saw she was in a cave of some sort. It wasn’t large, but obviously was tall enough to enable her to stand. She picked up the candle and moved cautiously around the perimeter of the room, running one hand along the smooth surface of the cool stone.
This can’t be right, she thought as she made another tour of the cave and had her worst fear confirmed. No opening or door. Lori stifled a sob and forced herself to think. Think! There was a draft of air. Where was it coming from? Lori raised the candle all the way to the ceiling to find a rough opening not much bigger than her laundry chute at home. Reaching up as far as she could, Lori’s fingers barely scraped against the edge of the stone shaft and she sank to her knees, ignoring the chill that seeped through her pants.
I don’t even know what day it is or how long I’ve been wherever this is. Calm down. Go back over everything you remember, she told herself. Jason – a sob tore at her heart as she pictured him frantic and scared when she didn’t come back from her run – we went to bed and I got up to run. Lori closed her eyes and walked herself through her run down the main street of town, around the one subdivision and then … a woman! A woman in a cloak. Oh my God. Lori remembered the woman’s beauty and a darkness …
“Where are you?” Lori screamed, the sound of her voice reverberating off the surfaces of the cave. “You can’t just leave me here!”
Her screams were met with silence. Lori pushed her back against the cave and sat with her forehead on her knees. She didn’t know where she was and she didn’t know how she’d gotten there. After a while Lori drifted off into a half-sleep, her ears tuned to any sound other than her own breathing.
“Lori.” The soft voice breathed into her ear. Lori’s head popped up and she scrambled to her feet. The woman stood before her with her hand outstretched.
“Wh-wh-where am I? Who are you?” Lori stammered.
“I am Celeste and you are in the home of my god. He very much wants to meet you,” Celeste told her, reaching forward and putting her hand over Lori’s eyes.
When Celeste removed her hand, Lori could see they were in another dimly lit chamber. It took a moment for Lori to orient herself. She looked around with wide eyes and all hope of getting out and back to Jason was extinguished.
Carved into the walls of this cave were images of a large, god-like being standing over kneeling masses of people; tableaus of human sacrifice, the blood from which seemed to shine and drip down the walls; and symbols for which Lori couldn’t even begin to guess their meaning.
A young man, more handsome than any man Lori had ever seen, was sitting on a long, low bed laid thick with furs. She could see his sandy hair gleaming in the half-light, but could also see that his body was thin and wasted, as if he’d been sick. The man raised his head and looked Lori over as if she were a prize at a fair and smiled.
Celeste led Lori forward to stand next to the bed, the leg of her running pants grazing the man’s bare calf. Celeste bowed to the man on the bed. He put his hand on Celeste’s head, like a blessing, and then Celeste straightened and backed out of the room. Lori was frozen in place, her heart hammering in her chest and only able to take short, shallow breaths.
The man lifted her arm and ran his nose along the underside from her wrist to her elbow like he was smelling her. The sudden realization that she was going to die here ripped a sob from her throat. Smiling at her again, the man pulled her to sit beside him and pushed the sleeve of her jacket up to expose the gauze pad on her forearm. He ripped it off and Lori cried out in fear and pain, then put his lips to her wound, bit down and began to suck the blood from her veins. Lori wanted to scream, but when she opened her mouth, she only whimpered.
The pain was unlike anything Lori had ever endured and she fell back onto the fur. The man was on her, straddling her chest and lapping at her arm like a wild animal at a water hole. Sharp stabs of pain began at the site of her scrape and traveled up her arm, into her chest, down her other arm, across her back and down her legs. Tears ran freely down her cheeks and she sobbed silently, not understanding what was happening or why.
Lifting his head from her arm, the man smiled, twisted and red. “You’re feeding a god, my dear. It’s the greatest gift you can give.” He bent his head again, and Lori burned from the inside out as the man sucked the blood from her body.
That old black magic has me in its spell That old black magic that you weave so well. Those icy fingers up and down my spine That same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.
“This is the eighth body in two weeks,” the deputy pointed out to her chief.
“Yeah, I know,” he replied, sweeping the scene with his eyes. He’d come to Smuggler’s Run because it was a quiet town, perfect for living out the last couple years to retirement. But even when he’d been in Atlanta, he’d never seen anything like this before.
This latest body, like the others, wasn’t immediately recognizable as male or female, young or old. What was left had not only been mauled, but completely drained of blood and then dumped in the hole of what would be the foundation for a new home in one of the new subdivisions just outside town. The other bodies had been discovered in similar condition. One was behind the movie theater and another next to a large recycling dumpster. The others had been found in various places around the edges of town, with the commonality that all victims had been discarded near tracts of dense forest.
Conversations amongst the locals pegged these attacks as from some kind of wild animal and the chief wanted to believe that was right. A detail kept from the public was that not a single victim showed evidence of having been dragged through the woods. No dirt, rocks, leaves, brush or other forest debris had been found on any of the bodies. It was as if they’d been carried and deposited by … the chief didn’t know what since there were also no foot or paw prints, either.
Forensics would have to determine identity and cause of death, but the chief had a pretty good idea this latest casualty was the tourist reported missing two days ago. He checked his notebook. Lori Peters, age 27, here for a long weekend with her fiancée, associate professor at SavannahSchool of Art & Design, reported missing by said fiancée, Jason Burke, when she didn’t return from her morning run.
The chief shook his head and looked up into the mountains, wondering what kind of animal could cause this kind of damage. What kind of animal lived up there that suddenly had a taste – and voracious appetite - for human flesh?
A while later, Alex was alone in the kitchen, copying down a pesto pasta salad recipe for future reference, when she looked out the kitchen window and saw Dean leaning against the car, his back to the house. She slipped into her shoes, and went outside, tucking her arms against her body for warmth.
“Hey,” she said, approaching carefully. She knew better than to startle him.
“Hey,” he said, sounding a little surprised.
“Do you mind some company?” Alex asked.
“No problem,” he said. “Cold?”
“Yeah, I should have grabbed my coat first,” Alex said.
Dean lifted his coat off the trunk and handed it to her, and she thanked him and slipped into it.
“A little big,” he said, grinning and tugging it closed around her. The cuffs fell over her hands and he could only see the tips of her fingers.
“Look,” she said, not sure how to start, “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. I mean, that you were okay with – how things turned out.”
“With you and Nick?” he said. “Yeah, I’m okay with it. I’m gonna miss the fun, but I’m okay with it.”
Alex blushed without meaning to.
“I just – I didn’t want you to – “ she stopped, feeling shy, which she didn’t often feel anymore. “I felt like I just abandoned you –“
“You didn’t,” he said, watching the cool breeze wend through her hair. “I could see it coming.”
“Yeah, it’s not like it’s a big secret, I guess,” Alex said. “Everybody else seems to have figured it out long before we ever got things straight.”
“It was a little obvious after a while,” he conceded. “So. Does he count as your Prince Charming? That’s what you said you wanted, back in New York.”
“He’s my Prince Sometimes-Charming, I think,” Alex said with a smile. “Prince Occasionally-Asinine? To go with Princess of Drama?"
“I was gonna say the Queen of Trouble,” Dean snorted.
“Thanks,” Alex said dryly. “Anyway, trust me when I tell you this is the right thing. I just – know. I’m never sure about anything, but I just know this time.”
He nodded to show that he did trust her, and gave her an acquiescing smile.
But after a few moments, he said,
“Can I ask you something?” When she nodded, he went on. “When we went out to find you the night the hellhound attacked you, Nick said something about New York. About me sending you home on the plane, and how you didn’t want to go. Is – is that true?”
Alex looked at the ground with a sheepish smile, her cheeks turning pink.
“I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this out loud,” she said. “By the time I got on that plane I was pretty much half in love with you. Don’t freak - it was just that you represented my means of escape from all the problems I was dealing with. But yes, if you had asked me to go on the road with you and Sam, I would have gone. And after about a week we would have killed each other and I would have been a wedge between you and your brother. So it would have been a bad idea, and I knew that subconsciously. You and me – yeah, if anything’s a recipe for disaster, that’s it.” But her affectionate grin told him she meant it kindly, and he knew what she said was true. “Anyway, a couple of days later, I made some life-changing decisions. I knew then what a mistake it would have been to go with you, even if you had offered, which I knew you wouldn’t.”
He shook his head.
“I couldn’t ask,” he said. “I guess I kind of knew you wanted to go. But look how it all turned out. You really do look happy.”
She smiled up at him, grateful. He might have his moments, but he cared.
“I am,” she said. “I really am. Without what happened in New York I wouldn’t be here now and I will always be grateful for those experiences. You and Sam opened up a whole new world for me. And I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”
“You just did,” he said, giving her arm an affectionate squeeze, but she could see his mind was going elsewhere, as his face sobered and he dropped eye contact. “When we – after the hellhound attacked you, Sunny said – well, she said that you cared about me despite the things I’ve done wrong. Is that – is that true? Do you think I’m a good person?”
“Absolutely,” Alex said with no hesitation.
“But-but you don’t know all the things we’ve done,” he said. How could she have faith in him if she didn’t know? That was part of the reason he never wrote her emails. He wanted to tell her everything they’d seen and done – she would never accept anything less than complete honesty from him – and if he didn’t write he could avoid that temptation.
“But I know you,” she replied. “And I know what kind of person you are. You would do anything for the people you care about, especially Sam. You have a good heart and he’s lucky to have you.”
“Can you tell him that?” he joked.
“He already knows it,” Alex said, smiling fondly at him. “And thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I mean it.” She reached up to hug him.
He wasn’t expecting it, and he wasn’t expecting how he would feel when she did it. And so he held on to her a second longer than politeness dictated, and when she pulled back, she looked at him carefully.
“Promise me something, will you?” he said. “If he hurts you or leaves you, you call me, okay?”
“I will,” Alex said. She gave him an affectionate smile. “When you’re ready, you’ll meet an amazing woman. She will never leave you.”
“I’m not letting her drive the car,” he said, and Alex laughed.
When she awoke the next morning, it was to a strange feeling. She felt happier and more settled than she’d felt in a very long time. Not only did she feel like herself physically for the first time in several days, but she was next to a man she loved who loved her. When was the last time she could have said that?
She knew it like she had always known it. That somehow they connected in a way she didn’t connect with Dean or Sam or anyone else she knew. It was more than that, and she knew it wasn’t the delusion of someone love-struck into blindness. She saw things so much clearer now than she had when they had come, and she was well aware that everything had led them to this moment.
At some point Nick had rolled over onto his back, his body still close to hers. She knew it was a habit of someone used to sleeping alone – she was sleeping with her back to him for the same reason - so she rolled over onto her other side and slid an arm across his chest. He stirred a little and put his hand over hers before settling into sleep again.
Making love to him had been an entirely new experience. She’d been sleeping with Dean all week, sure, but when he kissed her it was always full of anger or heat, or both. When Nick kissed her, it could be anything - passionate or sweet or gentle. And with Nick she felt it all the way to her toes. With Dean – she grinned to herself – the feeling was focused in one very specific part of her body.
Oh, no question, she’d enjoyed what they’d done. She would remember for a long time, with great clarity, the feeling of his hands grasping her hips and his tongue on her throat while she buried one hand in his hair, and used the other to grip the edge of the kitchen counter. And the tangle in the back of the car-! She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been driven over the edge repeatedly like that. She blushed. And with such force. Good god.
But it was sex, and just sex. Last night, however, had been incredible in ways she hadn’t expected. There was a connection there she didn’t have with anybody else.
She dozed off snuggled next to Nick, and when he started to awaken, he slid an arm around her and pulled her close.
“This ranks up there with the strangest cases we’ve ever tackled,” Sam said, packing up his clothes.
“Yeah, you got that right,” Dean agreed, picking up his bag and walking out into the hallway. “On SO many levels.”
Sam chuckled. He’d be glad to get back on the road. This whole thing had been strange and a little unsettling, but at least it felt like it had reached the proper resolution.
In Alex’s room, she and Nick were sitting on her bed, which was made, playing what appeared to be Peanut with two decks of cards. Both were fully dressed and the door was wide open, and the two were laughing over how badly the game was going.
Alex looked up when she saw Dean out of the corner of her eye.
“Are you leaving?” she asked.
“And miss one of Sunny’s breakfasts?” Dean said. “Oh no. Not yet. You?”
“Later this morning,” Alex said, slapping Nick’s hand as he tried to hand her some cards she didn’t want. “Knock it off, you tool.” He laughed.
“Um, sorry about that,” Alex said to Dean, meaning the interruption. “A couple of Doug’s owners want his opinions on the horseflesh at the sale. So we’re going over later this morning to help.”
“He let us off work to help with this case,” Nick said, successfully adding some cards to Alex’s pile and earning her mock scowl for it.
“I wouldn’t say this was much of a vacation,” Alex amended wryly.
“So it’s back to horses after this, huh?” Sam asked, appearing in the doorway as well.
“Safer,” Nick said. “She keeps hitting me with that brace. It’s got a metal rod in it, did you know that? It leaves a bruise.”
“I didn’t hit you on purpose,” Alex protested. “He sneaks up on people, he shouldn’t complain about getting whacked. Anyway, it helped me with that nasty dog, so I’m not gonna complain. And neither should you.”
Nick put both hands up in surrender.
“Not complaining,” he said. “And I didn’t mean to sneak, I was aiming for a hug, not a black eye.” But he grinned at her and she patted his cheek in mock-pity.
“So how are you feeling this morning?” Sam asked Alex.
“Like myself again, 100 percent, finally,” Alex said.
“Crap, Sammy, move, she’s gonna eat us both alive,” Dean said, and bolted. Alex laughed as Sam followed, giving Alex a look as he departed that said, ‘he’s really not related to me.’
Nick looked warily over at Alex.
“You aren’t going to, are you?” he said, mostly kidding.
For his answer, Alex pounced, scattering cards everywhere.
Breakfast was a noisy affair, full of pancake flour and fresh blueberries from Sunny’s garden. Nick and Alex flicked flour at each other until Sunny intervened. Dean tried to toss blueberries in the air and catch them in his mouth, and was doing well until Sam started snatching them out of mid-air and eating them himself. Sam and Nick helped with the cooking, while Alex and Dean volunteered to help with cleanup, and Sunny seemed to enjoy the noise and chaos now that the problem had been resolved.
Once the meal was gone, they sat around the table and talked for a while about day-to-day things – recipes for good pasta, of which Sunny had a ton; why demons always showed up in slinky dresses, which no one could answer; and whether Sunny wanted help with cleanup, which she did. Nick offered his assistance with all the laundry they’d left, and Sam followed them upstairs to strip the beds and remake them, while Dean put away the extra food and Alex finished the dishes carefully, keeping her brace out of the water.
“Change your mind about this hunting thing?” he asked, trying to get a Gladware lid to fit on its base.
Alex leaned over and snapped it closed with her good hand.
“No,” she said. “You’d think so, but no. Anyway, it’s not like this is a full-time thing. We just help out when the situation arises.”
“You say that now, but you’ll have trouble letting it go after a while,” Dean said.
“That may be,” Alex acknowledged. “But for now, I’m going to keep riding and let the rest of it figure itself out. That seems to work for me.”
“As long as you don’t end up hellhound food, I guess I can handle it,” Dean said.
Alex flicked soapy water at him.
“Thanks for your permission, Uncle Dean,” she said, teasingly.
Nick came downstairs with a handful of sheets and towels and began to sort them in the laundry room. Alex dried off her hands and went over to help him sort, and in a few minutes they were busy talking horses like nothing unusual had ever happened.
Back at the house, Alex shed her smoky clothes and jumped into the shower. When she got out she applied Sunny’s salve to her scratches and cuts, then changed into yoga pants and a fitted gray t-shirt that said “I *heart* drummers”.
“You did a great job,” Sam said to Alex when she joined them in the living room where they sat drinking beer and talking about the past weeks’ events. “Did our chanting not work like it was supposed to?”
“It didn’t weaken it fast enough,” Alex said. “So I improvised, but it was close. He was stronger than I thought. And heavier.”
“Well, you scared the crap out of all of us,” Dean said. “We didn’t know if we should jump in or not. This one –“ he pointed at Nick “- was two steps from busting in to save the day.”
“And getting himself killed,” Alex said, fixing Nick with a ‘don’t pull that stunt again’ stare. He flushed but he kept eye contact with her. Oh, he’d do it again, she would bet on it.
“Where’d you learn that wrestling move?” Sam asked.
“It’s a move a woman can make if a man is sitting on her with the intent to harm her,” Alex said. “It’s all about changing the center of balance. I wasn’t sure it would work on the dog though, but I guess it was big enough that it did work. I was pretty much out of options by then anyway.”
“I’m thinking of printing you up a t-shirt,” Sunny said, stretching out in the recliner with a beer. “It’ll say, ‘I wrestled a hellhound and won.’ What do you think?”
Alex laughed and pulled a comb through her hair, filling the room with the smell of fresh apples.
“I think I’d wear it with pride,” she said.
“So you guys are heading out then, now that this is all over?” Sunny said. “I’m not saying I’m throwing you out, I’m just asking.”
“Doug’s coming down for the Keeneland sales in a couple of days,” Nick said. “We’ve got to meet up with him in Lexington.”
“What about you fellas?” Sunny looked at the brothers.
“Not sure,” Sam said, as he almost always did. “We’ll find something.”
They sat and talked for a while, comfortable again after a week of tension. But after another hour or so, Sunny looked sleepy and Alex said, yawning,
“Well, you all can chat, but I’m going up to bed. Maybe I won’t dream about hellhounds, but I’m not betting the farm on it.”
She went upstairs and into the room she’d been staying in. Sunny had kindly changed the sheets and the bed was crisp and cleanly made.
Alex sighed. She was tired and sore, and her brain still felt like somebody had been stomping on it. Not the kind of tired that meant a need for sleep, exactly – like she needed time to just ‘be.’
She’d get back to the riding and that would do it, she knew. Something about the smell of the hay, the earthy warm scent of the horses, the rich tang of the track in the morning fog – those things always centered her. She would smell the leather of the saddle, hear it creak as she settled in on Cherry Blossom or Bourbonette or Cat’s Paw, or that wild young colt Red Sunset, and she would tuck the reins between her fingers. The horse would exhale, snort, dance on his toes, and his velvet ears would twist back toward her, and she would talk to him and feel again the perfect union of horse and rider. Then she would feel like herself again.
She turned on the bedside lamp and turned off the overhead light; she would read and then go to bed. Try to calm her mind. Maybe that would help. At least brushing her teeth had gotten that smoky smell out of her mouth. Yuck.
There was a knock at the door, and she said,
“Come in,” almost without thinking.
Nick opened the door and put his head in.
“Am I welcome?” he said hesitantly.
“Sure,” Alex said with a smile, remembering the way he had kissed her before she went into the circle.
He came in and closed the door.
“How are you feeling really?” he asked, coming up to her and putting his hands on her arms.
“I’m really fine,” Alex said. “A few scratches here and there, but they’re already starting to heal. Sunny’s potions work great, and I don’t have to smell like a pharmacy.”
Nick smiled. “No,” he said, “you smell like an orchard, and I love it.”
Alex almost said, “That’s the popular opinion,” but decided that wouldn’t be wise.
“Well, I’m glad,” she said, smiling up at him.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her, gently, then pulled her to him, and she gratefully rested her head against his chest while he put his arms around her. He was so solid and warm and reassuring, she thought. He had hugged her but never really held her like this and she felt like they fit together, her head under his chin, the perfect height.
“I really am sorry,” he said. “I never thought about how you felt about everything. I never asked and you never said.” But he wasn’t blaming her.
“I should have said something,” Alex said. “I was suffering in noble martyred silence. Like an idiot.”
He let out a soft chuckle; she could hear it reverberate in his chest.
“But I knew,” he said after a moment. “I guess I pretended I didn’t, but I knew. Angel, I am so sorry.”
“I know,” she said.
A moment or two passed; Alex wanted to stay there as long as she could.
“So please tell me you won’t leave me,” he said.
“I won’t,” she said, then lifted her head to look up at him, giving him the same sly look from earlier. “Jettison the bitch and I’m there.”
“Consider her gone,” Nick said and kissed her.
(music – Colorful – The Verve Pipe)
She wasn’t going to ask him for anything. That had been the plan. But after a few minutes of kisses that started sweet and gentle (which she liked much more than she wanted to admit) it was clear this might go quite a bit further. So with great effort he pulled back.
“I think,” he said carefully and gently, “that if you’d prefer to, ah, sleep alone, now is the time for me to go back to my own room. I mean, I’d love to stay, but I think by now you knew that.”
“I knew that,” she said and kissed him so he knew which way her mind was made up.
He stayed. He told her to let him know if any of her injuries bothered her, and he undressed her carefully and slowly, kissing her and touching her gently. She felt his hands trembling. She was surprised she was shaking too.
They made love carefully and gently, taking their time. He made certain she had her pleasure before he took his, and then he laid his head down against her chest and wrapped his arms around her, and she didn’t want to let go. Afterward he spooned against her, and she lay awake for a very long time reveling in the feeling of his breath against her shoulder and his arm holding her tight.
“That was so entertaining, I should let them loose all the time.”
Alex levered herself off of the hound, which, chastened, rolled over and bared its throat. It understood it had been beaten by an alpha.
The demon was standing in the circle, her long black hair flowing over caramel shoulders and wearing a cleavage-baring black dress with a slit up to there. Black smoke curled up around her feet and dissipated.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Alex said dryly, wincing now from the cuts and scratches she’d sustained, but she was no longer bleeding. Her hands still felt inflamed from the dog’s skin, but even that was fading. And she was alive and unharmed. Her legs were shaking.
“Darling, you’re quite the wrestler,” the demon said, grinning at her with half-lidded eyes. “It would have been sexier had it not been a dog, but still.”
"It’s because of you he got loose,” Alex said. “Sorry I can’t jazz up the choice of partner.”
“I’ll live,” the demon said lazily, one hand raised and one on her hip like a diva on a red carpet. “So. You’ve caught him, and I plan to punish him. Do you want to watch?”
“No,” Alex said. What she wanted was to take a handful of Motrin and go to sleep. And not alone.
“Well then, what do you want?” the demon stepped close to Alex, admiring her frankly. “You know I’m excellent in bed. It’s one of my most treasured skills.”
“Not my type, but thanks,” Alex said. She did not like being this close to a demon, especially one looking at her lasciviously.
“No, you’ve got so many choices you don’t know what to do with yourself,” the demon said.She slid a finger along the tatters in Alex’s shirt. “Well, I did offer you a reward. What do you want? Want me to torture that saucy redhead? I’d love to give her a try.”
“I want you to clean this whole thing up,” Alex said.
“Clean it up?” The demon looked surprised. “I could heal you just like that, I could offer you money, power, any one of those handsome devils watching me with such horror.” She blew a kiss at the men.
“I’ll earn all of that myself, thanks,” Alex said, feeling like an after-school special from Hell. Later, she’d find this all very funny. “But you’ve got souls in all the wrong places and a hellhound focused on the wrong people, like Regina Clarke, who has repented, and me and my friends. Yeah, and that saucy redhead too. You can clean it up. Don’t tell me you can’t.”
“I can, but that’s a dangerous demand to make, love,” the demon said, running her finger along Alex’s jaw. “Do you want to play games with me?”
“No,” Alex said. “But the other option is those handsome devils vanquish you. They could do it. You are trapped, you know.”
“Yes,” the demon said sullenly, crossing her arms over her chest.“I know. You have no sense of fun, blondie.”
“I’ve had enough fun because of you,” Alex said mildly. “So can we wrap this up so I can go home? I want a beer.”
“You and me both,” said the demon with candor. “They don’t serve cold beer in hell. There’s beer, but it’s warm. Even I won’t drink that.”She sighed. “All right, dear, to seal the deal, do you know what you have to do?”
“Nope, I figure you’ll tell me,” Alex said more breezily than she felt.
“Pucker up, sweet pea,” the demon said and kissed her. And it wasn’t just a peck. Alex controlled her shudders by will alone, but she had to admit, the demon wasn’t half bad. But still, it was a demon.
Dean’s eyebrows went up.
“Is it wrong to think that’s kinda hot?” he said.
Just as Sam said, “Yes,” Nick said, “No,” sharing a ‘what can you do’ shrug with the other hunter. Sam rolled his eyes.
The demon released Alex and licked her lips.
“Mmm, apples,” she said. “Tasty.”
Dean gave a little shake and Nick rubbed one hand over his face.
The demon turned and looked at the cowering dog, which had not moved since she appeared.
“You are in for a world of hurt, puppy,” she purred. She snapped a leash onto the sparkling collar. Then the two became a pillar of smoke that tunneled into the ground and disappeared. Just like that, Alex was alone in the ring.
“She’s gone,” Nick said, even as Sam said a chant to be sure the area was clear before breaking the circle.
Alex picked up the knife and looked at her shirt.
“Guess I’m not wearing this again,” she said and stepped out of the circle.“Now, which one of you was supposed to tell me that she was gonna kiss me? Blacccchh! Anybody got a mint or something? It’s like French kissing a habitual cigar smoker. Disgusting.”
“We left that part out,” Dean said, looking both guilty and amused.
“Thanks,” Alex said sourly, accepting a handful of Tic-Tacs from Sunny, even as Nick tried to look at her wounds. “I’m okay, just scratches,” she said, but her voice softened. She took her coat back from him and slipped into it.
“Just checking,” Nick said, put an arm around her shoulders and kissed her forehead. “Come on, let’s go back and you can get cleaned up. You smell like you’ve been in a smoky bar all night. With a basketful of mints - and a jar of applesauce. I’m sorry, hon, but you reek.”
“It’s better than cat pee and vinegar,” Alex said, and Nick burst out laughing.