Sam opened his eyes for the third time that morning and smiled. No pounding heart. No sweating. No bruising pain.
So, just because he could, he closed his eyes again still smiling and drifted back into a pleasant doze.
The fourth time he opened his eyes; he saw that the rumpled bed next to him was empty. Dean was up. Neither his missing brother nor the sun streaming in through the gingham curtains could have coaxed him out from under the warm cocoon of blankets, but his nose finally got a vital message to his brain. Someone was frying bacon. And there was coffee. He stretched and yawned hugely then threw the covers back and swung his long legs over the side of the bed.
Oh yeah, sleep is a wonderful thing!
He found the bathroom supplied with everything he needed for a good hot shower and shave. Even his toothbrush sat in a pink porcelain cup on the sink. Dean must have gotten the bags from the Impala and brought them up. Sam hadn't heard a thing. Man, that's so great!
Sam hummed as he pulled jeans and a dark red, long sleeved T-shirt out of his duffel. He noticed, pleased with himself, that he'd folded his clothes neatly over the arm of the chair last night.
Sunliht streamed in the big multi-paned windows at the front of the house warming his left cheek as he walked downstairs in stocking feet. Last night the room had been all warm glow and flickering firelight. Today it dazzled. Stained-glass ornaments hung in every window bouncing sparks of colored light as if the room were full of Tinker Bells. And books; floor to ceiling shelves brimming with them ran the length of two walls opposite the fireplace.
He took a step toward the shelves wondering what Abby liked to read when his stomach growled. Bacon called. Sam looked in the kitchen's wide doorway and was surprised to see Dean, not Abby at the stove.
"You fried bacon?"
Dean turned quickly, "Hey, you're up!" Just a moment's study of Sam's face and he didn't need to ask how his brother had slept. Dean turned back to the skillet grinning. "Of course I fried bacon. I'm a man of many talents. You want a BLT?"
"BLT for breakfast?"
"This is lunch, bro; late lunch."
"What? What time is it?" Sam spotted a clock on the wall. "Three o'clock! In the afternoon?"
Dean made a face and waved the spatula toward the window. "That, little brother, is the sun.”
"Wow." Sam rubbed at the back of his neck sheepishly. "I guess I really needed sleep."
Sam ducked his head. "And I owe Abby a million bucks." Actually I owe Abby a lot more than that. "Where is she?"
"She turned into Ranger Graham and road her broom to work. You want a BLT or not?"
"Sure, yeah. Where's the coffee?"
"Right behind me. Hey, toast the bread and slice the tomatoes will ya. Everything's sitting on the counter there."
Sam looked at his brother through narrowed eyes as he slipped a couple pieces of bread into the toaster. Dean looked comfortable here in Abby's kitchen. Sam started to wonder just how well things had gone last night after he fell asleep.
"So, the circle casting and all that went okay?"
"Perfectly," Dean said. And perfection had just kept on coming this morning. Confusing, unwelcome, perfection. After waking up to the relief that Sam was still asleep and there'd been no choked off screams in the night, the smell of coffee drifting up the stairs had propelled him out of bed and into the bathroom for a quick wash. It wasn't till he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, toothbrush crammed in his cheek that he realized that Abby had brought their duffels in from the car.
First, she must move like a cat; Dean was a very light sleeper.
Second, she'd broken into his car! It'd been locked; he was sure of it. They carried too much potentially illegal not to mention lethal stuff not to be pathological about locking it up. Huh.
Dean had pulled on his jeans and a well worn blue T-shirt, slipped his necklace around his neck and walked barefoot downstairs.
Soft sounds of activity drew him into the kitchen. Abby'd morphed again. She moved busily around the room in her uniform and a Jackson Pollock-stained apron, her hair tamed in a neat braid.
As she turned around, Dean hit the off-switch and schooled his face and his feelings to friendly nonchalance. Their kiss last night was nothing more than an exhaustion-induced impulse. She promptly and completely blew his cool with a kiss that curled his toes and flipped the off-switch back on.
He stood stunned while she bustled around the kitchen explaining her philosophy about relationships. Life is too short, Abby had said, to waste time playing games. With a beginning as sweet and natural as last night, they were obliged to see where it would lead.
She was nuts. But damn, it did feel good.
To distract himself, Dean had tried to drum up a little annoyance and asked her about the bags and the car. She’d just smiled a heart-stopping, Cheshire cat smile and said, "I'm good with locks." She kissed him goodbye and went cheerily off to work.
Dean forced a frown down over the grin that tugged at his lips as he pulled the bacon off the stove.
The boys settled at the table and talked; just talked the way non-ghoul hunting people did.
"Ya know" Sam said. "I think this may be the longest conversation we've ever had that didn't involve something trying to kill us."
"Sad, but true. And we're gonna have to do a lot more of this, but right now duty calls." Dean gulped down the last of his can of Coke and stood with his dishes in hand. "Abby left us some homework. She wants you to draw the building in your dream."
"What a way to kill a Hallmark moment. Why?"
"She's been keeping tabs on the coven," Dean said. "They've reestablished their quota of members. They're, Angels of the Nine, again. The big show's gotta take place on contaminated holy ground. She's found three or four possible locations."
"The usual; mass murder, suicide, torture. Any chance the building in your dream is a church?"
"Maybe. She got pencil and paper?"
"Over on the desk in the living room. Go ahead, I'll clean up."
"What'd Abby say about the three priests?" Sam called from the other room.
"Not much. She was busy putting dinner together." He stuck his head out around the edge of the doorway. "Oh, and don't touch the slow cooker before six o’clock no matter what you smell. I think she put wards around it."
"She doesn't trust us?"
Sam chuckled. "Probably not." He found the pad and pencil and sat down on the couch to draw.
"Draw the area around the building too. Any landmarks that stand out."
“Right.” Sam roughed in the basic shapes. What emerged was a large stone building sunken in a hollow as if the weight of it had compressed the land. Neglected walls left curves where straight lines should have been. Apparently, Abby's voodoo last night had helped because the dream's sharp images didn't deal him the sucker punch they had before. No adrenalin rush; no sweaty palms. He tried for as much detail as he could.
The front entry way sat low like the head of a tortoise poking out of an ancient crumbling shell. A dark, jagged hole marred the roof where a steeple might once have stood. He smudged in black stains on the walls and pressed graphite into paper darkening high, narrow windows.
The last thing Sam added was the huge, gnarled tree that dominated his dream. He left out the hanging bodies. He didn't want to pass that on; didn't want his brother or Abby's minds polluted with those images. When he'd drawn everything else, he sat back.
Dean looked over Sam's shoulder. "It looks old. Part of the roof's caved in?"
"Yeah. If this was a church and if the cross on the steeple fell...Maybe it's been hanging inside, up-side-down for the last hundred years. Perfect stage for satanic ritual." Sam had a gleam in his eye. "I know this is all speculation but, Dean, this has got to be the place. We ought to be out there looking for it! Halloween's tomorrow."
This was what Dean had been waiting for. Abby'd warned him that Sam might not be safe outside her gate. "Just keep him here," she'd said. "You could both use the rest."
"Sam, once you show Abby this drawing, she'll nail the place. If it's up in the back country, we'd have no chance of finding it without her." He hurried on as Sam opened his mouth to argue. "She's been working this case for years. We'd just be going over ground she's already covered. In an hour, maybe less, she'll bring us up to speed and we'll plan our next move." He backhanded Sam's shoulder. "Come on, relax for five minutes."
Sam scowled. He grudgingly admitted that waiting for Abby made sense, but he didn't appreciate them treating him like he was twelve. He expected it from Dean. But what gave Abby the idea that he was so damned fragile?
When she came through the door an hour later, Abby's cheery smile and the kiss she planted on Dean's lips knocked the indignant speech Sam had prepared right out of his head.
"I'm gonna go change," Abby said after she'd released Dean. "Then let's eat. We've got a lot to go over tonight."
Sam stared at his brother, eyebrows arched.
One side of Dean's mouth quirked up. "You heard the woman. Let's eat."
Her knee buckled, snapping her back to consciousness like a shove into icy water. She let the chant howl with the shock of her return. Three of them stood shoulder to shoulder, heads bowed in a closed circle. Their voices blended and vibrated through their bodies; one body. The cold numbed her bare feet. She no longer felt the rough stone only the pressure of her mates at her sides. Their breath radiated heat into the tight circle. Sweat trickle down between her breasts and over the fine hairs on her belly. Frigid cold cramped her back.
There was a time when she'd believed no one would ever touch her again. Alone and invisible she'd struggled to make sense of the world. Her family had set her adrift. "Go out and make something of yourself," they said, as if she'd been nothing before. Less than nothing.
Then the Master found her.
She sent the thrill of the memory into the chant, up and over the exhaustion. She didn't understand the guttural, percussive sounds that lacerated her dry throat, but she knew it was her and her mates who lent the words power. Her mind plucked out the master’s name from among the sounds and she felt a surge of pleasure each time it passed her cracked and bleeding lips.
Little by little the master filled her; showed her that it wasn't she who was invisible but they who were blind. She learned to revel in her feminine form and to use it. The mindless drones on campus hadn't seen that coming. A laugh gurgled up through the chant. They'd been so easy to twist; so easy to ruin; so very weak before her power; their power, her coven mates, her new family.
They would not fail. They would give everything to the chant.
Then the master would come and fill them again.