“What the hell-?” Dean snapped, jumping up.
“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.