The place looked just the same as when they'd left it, and he could almost hear the voices of Nick and Veronica echoing around the quiet rooms, giving the whole place an uncanny and spooky air.
Aside from a new bag or two in the corner, it had barely been disturbed. A new coat of dust seemed to have settled over everything, fighting with the dust that was already there. The same musky smell, the same drafty air. Same creaky floors.
Part of him still felt that he had no right to be here, but as far as they could tell there were no surviving Savrinn family members, and it wasn't like the place had been recorded anywhere to be willed to anyone else, and it still seemed secure enough, so for the moment, LJ felt fairly safe in assuming ownership of the remote cabin in the woods. Which he'd done when they'd given Michael the address two days ago.
It was as much of a home as anything he'd had recently, after all. Adrian's house was still tied up in legal proceedings, and even though LJ had a hunch the place very well might be his if he was calculating things right, he wasn't about to pop up to claim it at the moment.
"You okay?" Lincoln asked, studying his reaction.
"Yeah, I'm good," LJ said. He carefully set his duffel bag down on the floor. "Just…" He trailed off. The place still didn't feel safe. Maybe he wasn't ever going to get any safer than this.
"Michael!" Lincoln called out, making his way in, apparently oblivious to his son's hesitation. "They've got to be here by now," he mumbled as he moved towards the bedroom, then jumped backwards, startled. "Sorry-"
"No, I'm sorry." The red-haired woman raised her arms defensively as she entered the kitchen. "I wasn't-" She turned to the doorway and registered the presence of LJ. "Hello." The tone of her voice changed to one of curiosity, mixed with courtesy.
"Dr. Tancredi," Lincoln said, "this is my son."
Hi," LJ said, stretching his hand out as politely as he could. "LJ." She shook it. She had a firm, quick, chilly grasp. He pulled back as soon as she released him, and discretely slid his hand down his backside to warm it again.
"You can call me Sara," she said to him, and he wondered if that meant his father got to call her Sara or not. "It's good to have you here." He hooked his hand casually into his back pocket, trying to look as confident as he could, since he wasn't feeling it.
"Where's my brother?" Lincoln asked her.
"They're in the back," Sara said. "He'll be out in a second. I know he's anxious to see you. Both of you," she added quickly.
"They?" LJ asked. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and tucked both hands underneath his armpits, folding his arms.
She opened her mouth and then closed it, because Michael had appeared in the doorway, a relieved expression on his face. Lincoln moved forward to embrace him. LJ lingered back, feeling somewhat uncomfortable, until his father and uncle parted.
"LJ," Michael said.
"Hi," LJ said again. He didn't know what else to say. Michael looked as though he wanted to move forward for a hug, but LJ stayed put, and after a moment, so did his uncle.
"You're okay?" Michael asked with a look of intense concern.
"Yeah," LJ said. "I'm good?" Almost as though he wasn't sure himself. Maybe he wasn't.
"That's good," Michael said. LJ glanced down at his shoes. "We've got a lot of work to do," Michael said, addressing Lincoln again now. "So take it easy for a little bit, but let me know when you're ready to start on this."
"Right," Lincoln said, relieved, moving over to the kitchen to search for something to eat.
"What?" LJ asked. "What are you working on?"
Michael glanced down himself before addressing LJ directly. "Our next step is to take these guys down for good," he explained. "Though I want you to keep a safe distance."
"Are you crazy?" he demanded. "I know more than any of you. I want to help. They killed my mom. Are you fucking nuts?"
"LJ," Lincoln said, stopping in his tracks and turning around, and then all three of them – Michael, LJ and Lincoln, all joined in simultaneously. "Language," they said at once, LJ rolling his eyes as he did.
"Like anybody here really cares if I cuss?" LJ asked, throwing his arms up. "Is that what we're worrying about now? Don't cuss, LJ, and whatever you do, keep your nose out of our precious business?"
"Michael," Lincoln said softly.
Michael's face turned reluctant. "All right. You're in on the planning," he said firmly, "but I want you staying out of danger." Lincoln nodded slowly in agreement. "Listen, take a few minutes first. Kick back. We're all here. We're safe." He allowed the slight hint of a smile to cross his face and he turned to start digging through the cabinets. "Who's hungry?"
"I found some mac and cheese, if anybody wants," Sara said, joining him and opening the door to produce the box.
"You don't have to do the cooking, now," Michael countered, relaxing considerably. "We're progressive here, after all."
"Thanks, but after what you made last night, I'll pass," Sara said. "How about this - you make the trip to the well, and I'll handle the stove. Who wants mac and cheese?"
LJ was about to ask her which of the wells they were using, because that comment concerned him more than a little bit, when a voice came from the bedroom, a voice that turned his blood to ice water. "Oh, boy, that sounds great to me-"
He didn't hesitate. If the last three months had changed him in any one significant way, it was his reflexes, it was the state of constantly being on edge, and it only took him about two seconds to scramble for the gun cabinet, throw it open, and grab for the nearest revolver.