(music – Mohammed My Friend by Tori Amos)
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.