Three weeks later
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.