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.