A surge of magic like a spring breeze strong enough to tug a kite into the air, flowed into the middle of the table lifting the bottles and making them dance. Minuscule comets drifted and faded like errant sparks from a campfire. The impromptu coven stared open-mouthed. A chorused "Ooooooh" escaped them as the excited potion slowly lowered the bottles to the table. There was a moment of breathless silence. Then an explosion of giddy laughter.
"That was incredible!" Abby beamed.
"That was better than fourth of July in Robert E. Lee Park back home!" Liz agreed.
"THAT…that was better than sex!" Dean gasped.
Liz’s face took on a dreamy expression. "Mm-hmmm,” she drawled. "But it's not better than magic and sex all tangled together."
The confused, then stunned looks on Sam and Dean's faces had the girls shrieking with laughter.
Saying goodbye to Liz took a good ten minutes with many hugs, last minute instructions and promises to come back and visit longer. She also let them know that she and her husband had registered at Babies-R-US.
The three hunters, buoyed by the spell's after-glow chattered as they took the stairs unable to tolerate a two minute wait for the elevator. They burst out the front door at a fast walk.
Sam dropped to his knees.
Dean, already half-way down the sidewalk, turned at the sound of a groan and saw his brother vomit into the grass. Two giant steps brought him to Sam's side, Abby right behind him.
"Sam! What the hell's wrong?"
"Damn it," Sam gasped weakly.
"Tell me what's going on." Dean could feel his own stomach clench. The helpless frustration of having no solid enemy to pound left him trembling.
"It's getting stronger."
"What's getting stronger, Sam?" Abby asked gently. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped the film of sweat from Sam's pale face.
"The daymare." Sam rubbed the back of his neck where a piercing ache pulsed up the side of his head. "It's passing in and out of warded buildings that gets me." He looked up to see if they understood. Ah, damn. Seeing that he was spreading this wretchedness around made it that much worse. And now, he was going to have to deal with Dean. He gulped and fell against the building trying to keep his stomach from crawling back up his throat again.
"The feeling lifts, sometimes completely; like at your place, Abby,” Sam tried to explain. “Then when we leave it hits me like a freight train. Before we got to Colorado Springs it'd been coming on so slowly that I didn't realize what was happening. I just put it down to sleep deprivation. It wasn't till I walked out your gate this morning that I..." A cruel stab of pain forced him to clench his teeth together or let out a moan.
"Damn it, Sam." Dean squeezed his shoulder hard, waited till he'd started breathing again.
Sam struggle to stand. His knees felt like water. "I can handle it, Dean. If I just stay out of warded places, I get used to it, more or less."
"More or less! You can barely stand up!" Dean rose at Sam's side inch by inch. "We're heading back…"
"Stop it, both of you! We're not having this argument again." Abby glared levelly at each of them then she laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder. "I'm going to check you out; See if I can tell what's going on." She waited for his nodded permission then closed her eyes and felt for that nexus of power in the middle of her forehead. She opened her Sight.
Abby's eyes went wide. Her lips parted in a silent "oh". Sam felt her fingers dig into taut muscles at the back of his neck.
"Abby?" Dean asked, nearly shouting at her.
"I've got to get something from my box!" Abby turned and sprinted back to the car.
Dean checked Sam out from head to toe. His brother was pale; hands crammed into the pockets of his jeans, hunched against the building, still breathing too fast, a film of sweat glistening on his face. He looked…dimmed even with the sun shining down on them. Dean crammed his own trembling hands into his pockets and leaned against the building beside his brother. "Sam, tell me all of it."
Sam swallowed and looked past his brother. He huffed out a chuckle with no humor in it. "It's taking every ounce of will power I have right now to keep from flinging that door open and sprinting back up to Liz's warded apartment." He closed his eyes. His mouth was dry and tasted foul. He licked his lips. "I can feel their rancid touch on my skin. It's obscene…I want to fight. I want to stop it…There's nothing to fight." He gritted his teeth, shook his head. "Maybe they're softening me up for the ritual." Sam lifted his shoulders trying to loosen the steel band around them then sighed. "I'm scared, Dean."
Dean leaned his shoulder against Sam’s. "Me too." God, me too, he thought. "But bein' scared's never stopped us before, right?"
Sam looked up. No, it had never stopped them. And they'd felt every kind of scared there was since the day their mother died. They dealt with it together, always had. He'd been stupid to try to go it alone. He turned a wince into a smile.
Abby hurried down the sidewalk toward them clutching something in her fist. She stopped and opened her hand. The sun glinted off a sparkling object dangling on a thin, black leather sting.
Dean reached for it and stopped it swinging. Two crystal pendants lay in his palm. The larger of was a smoky-gray quartz about two inches long, grown into a hexagon with a point at the end. The second was smaller, clear as glass, deep-red.
"Crystals, like in the ranger station?" Dean's question came out with a harsh edge.
"Not exactly like those. These are more deeply focused. They've been worn by humans for decades. The ones in the shop were newbies, uninitialized; kind of like a blank CD."
"What do they do?" Dean asked.
"The smoky quartz is a dark energy sponge. It'll absorb some of what's already tainting Sam. This red one is garnet. It's a shield crystal. It'll bolster Sam's ability to repel what's coming at him." She looked from one to the other; saw Dean struggling with his doubts, and Sam…Sam just struggling, to stay upright, to keep from vomiting again, keep from weeping.
"Dean, take this side of the string. We're gonna put it around his neck together. Focus again, just like last night. Give the crystals a boost."
Sam leaned forward. Abby was afraid that he'd keep right on going till she saw Dean's other hand brace his shoulder. Sam leaned his forehead onto the side of her neck. She pressed her cheek against his ear and felt his whole body trembling. When her fingers met Dean's and she gathered the string, Abby breathed, "Mother shield him." She heard Dean whisper his own incantation, "Keep the filthy bastards off him!" She knotted the string then stepped back and watched Sam's face.
Sam had closed his eyes as Dean and Abby's hands went behind him. He fought the urge to clutch them both and burrow into the shelter of their arms. The pendants felt cool and heavy as they dropped against his chest. He heard the murmured words coming from either side of him; the power of anger in Dean's, the power of faith in Abby's. Sam took them in and felt his heartbeat slow. He leaned his head back against the rough brick wall, felt the sun, clean and warm on his face.
The miserable knot in his chest loosened. He took a deep, shaky breath then focused inward to take stock.
It wasn't gone. He could still sense the panicky, caged animal in his gut only now it was a mouse nibbling at his nerves and not a rat gnawing to get out. The fluttery weakness in his knees was fading too. It felt as if the crystal, the smoky quartz, was siphoning off poison, like the suction cup in a snake bite kit. With every noxious bit it removed he felt a little stronger. The garnet must be slowing the incoming crap down to a trickle too. He took another deep breath, opened his eyes and pushed himself off the wall.
"Well? How do you feel?" Dean said, hovering at his side.
"Manageable?" Dean frowned.
"Hey, it's a lot better. I'm okay." Sam gently, but firmly removed Dean's hand from his elbow and turned to Abby. "Thanks again, Abby."
She gave him a small, relieved smile. "No problem. But promise us something."
"Tell us right away if they get to you again; if the feeling gets worse or starts to overwhelm you. Even if you just start having weird thoughts, anything…"
"Okay, okay. I get the idea. I promise." He looked at Dean's narrowed eyes. "I promise!"
By silent but mutual agreement, the subject was closed. They all started up the sidewalk, slowly this time, giving Sam a chance to get his legs under him again. Sam tucked the crystals inside his shirt grateful and more than a little mystified at the power they must have.
"Where to next?" Dean made sure he stayed within reach of Sam as they walked toward the car. The color was back in his brother's cheeks. He didn't have the grayed-out look he had when he first collapsed.
"The library," Abby answered. "We need intel on Sam's drawing, find out what turned a holy place dark enough for a demon's purposes."
"You mean the building in my dream?” Sam asked as he folded himself into the back seat of the Wrangler again.
"I mean the mountains. The Rockies have powerful earth mojo. Most people attribute the awe they feel when they see them to the gorgeous scenery, but their beauty is definitely more than skin deep." Abby started the car and pulled away from the curb. "Force of nature with a capital 'F'. Humans harbor demons, not nature. So for this coven to operate in one of the most remote areas in the park…" She shook her head. "Dr. Q will know."
"Dr. Q? Your friend in the know? I mean your other friend in the know." Dean couldn't keep a tiny scowl off his face.
Abby glanced over at him. "Another ally.” She frowned and made a left turn onto a busy four-lane lined with ski rental places and art shops. "Unfortunately, we probably won't have time to stop by Michael's."
"Dare I ask what kind of ally Michael is?" Dean asked.
"Michael is my…defense against the dark arts expert." Abby smiled pleased with her reference, but then glanced at the boys, "I can't believe neither of you has read Harry Potter." She sighed. "Michael is a non-magical weapons master. He's the one who came up with my holy-water squirt guns."
"Now that sounds like a guy I'd like to talk to. But why non-magical?" Dean asked.
Abby stopped at a light. She turned to Dean. "Our kind of magic, doesn't lend itself well to weaponry or violence. And second, Michael is…magically challenged. He couldn't cast a spell to save his life. Remember last night when I said that magic is everywhere, all around us?" She got a nod. "Well, Michael is like a magical black hole. It may be in there somewhere, but it ain't comin' out! I've never met anyone like him…”
The rest of the conversation became a comforting background melody to Sam as the car sped up again. Abby's soft, lilting chatter punctuated by occasional deep responses from Dean wove in and out of Sam's focus. He closed his eyes and sun light flashed across his lids as it strobed through the trees along the road. He clutched the pendants in his fists and turned his face to the window. He had no idea whether or not an act of will could boost the pendants' shield power, but he was going to try. He slowed his breathing and concentrated on the protection he so desperately needed.
In his mind's eye, the crystals glowed. The light spread slowly over his body till he tingled with it. An answering core of energy inside him, just below his heart radiate along with the pendants. The angry buzzing in his head faded. The trapped animal panicking in his gut quieted. Sam opened his eyes. The day was bright again; the dingy fog lifted. Was this magic or will power? He kept his focus on his breath. Maybe he wasn't completely helpless after all.
Sweat drenched the robes pooled around her body on the stone. She relished the sting of it in her eyes and the constant gnawing pain of hunger in her belly. They'd found the lure and the master had returned her to her torment.
She felt the innate evil of the chant; knew it was right that her lips should form the oily words, her breath give them life. She imbued each syllable with the blackness that already polluted her soul and knew she could go on forever.
When she faltered, she thought of Brian. She brought back his smile, his teasing wit, his love of growing things. She sought out the most riveting memories, their wedding day, the day she'd announced their pregnancy and the common everyday things; the smell of him after a shower, the way he always entered a room talking, and always touched when he talked. Sweet moments that had given her life.
Until she'd destroyed it all.
The master had revealed the truth of what she really was and what she deserved.
The truth fueled the chant. Blinding, retched, loss fueled the chant! She'd killed him; murdered him and their child. The master had shown her the one true path left to her; explained the uselessness of taking false solace from words like accident. Asleep at the wheel wasn't an excuse that erased her guilt. Nothing could do that. Not even this endless punishment.
She didn't hope for redemption, only emptiness. She spewed her wretchedness out with the chant. She could feel the immense power of it. It clutched relentlessly at the lure and twisted him to the master's will. They would trap the vessel soon. She poured every vile particle of herself out to do it.
Her one small hope was that when it was done; when the master had wrung out all that he needed, she would be empty. She would be nothing; nothing at all.