Sam hadn't been outside the house in two days. As he stepped out to the porch, the sun was just rising over the horizon making him squint, eyes watering in its soft, white light. Abby and Dean were already headed for the gate. Abby reached out and hooked a finger around one of Dean's. His brother didn't pull away. Unbelievable. Sam grinned.
It was hard to wrap his head around how the mounds of tangled, dry grass in Abby's front yard protected him, but he'd slept again last night, undisturbed by twisted dreams.
"You comin' ?" Dean called from the street.
“Yeah, yeah.” Sam trotted off the porch and down the walk. The screech of the Impala's doors ripped away the last of his Zen moment and set his mind on the path of the job they had to do.
He put his hand on the gate and stepped through.
Sam's breath huffed out hard and fast. His heart lurched to a gallop. A dark, smothering weight settled over him. Skin crawling, he forced shallow breaths in and out through clenched teeth. Instinct, like a panicked animal diving for the safety of its den, turned him around. Dean's voice stopped him.
"Sam? You forget something?"
Leaning heavily on the gate, eyes squeezed shut, Sam fought down panic. His stomach twisted. A wave of nausea threatened to empty his breakfast onto his boots. He gulped air as thick as pudding.
Yeah, he'd forgotten something. This is what he'd been living with all day, every day before they'd gotten to Abby's.
Damn, shake it off!
If he was going to stop the bastards doing this to him, he had to be out here in it. Dean and Abby couldn't know. He wasn't sure he'd have the strength to refuse their attempts to convince him to stay inside the gate, safe from this…son of a bitch!
"Sam? You okay?"
"I'm fine. Gate didn't latch." He forced himself around. "You two figure out which car we're takin'?"
"Hers. We've got stops to make and she knows her way around town."
"And he'd never let me drive the bat mobile." A wry smile softened the disdain in Abby's voice.
Sam shook his head partly at his brother and partly to shake off the fog that had drained the color from the morning. Hadn't it been bright and sunny just seconds ago? He walked to Abby’s Wrangler trying to hide his wobbly stride. He folded his long legs into the back seat as best he could. With his knees already half way to his chest, he barely resisted the urge to curl up into a ball and whimper. He looked around for some distraction.
On the seat beside him was the biggest tackle box he'd ever seen. "Abby, you do a lot of fishing?" he asked.
"Some. Why?" She glanced at him in the rear view mirror. "Oh. That's not fishing gear. It's my hunting stuff."
Sam caught Abby's eye in the rear view mirror. "May I?"
"Sure," she said. Then her voice grew an edge. "Just don't touch anything."
The box looked old; probably hand made. The wood was stained a deep green and sanded to silky smoothness that invited his touch along the lid.
Sam raised the lid.
Like Abby's garden, the box held labelled compartments. As they drove through a treeless spot on the road, the low-slanting sun sparked off crystals. Sam squinted at red, blue, deep green beauties. For all he knew there were thousands of dollars in precious gems here.
Little plastic packets of powders were labeled and sardined into alphabetical rows: catspaw root, lizard skin, ox bone, and cross road dirt. eyes widened as he read the labels for graveyard dirt, arsenic, and corpse ash. He pointed these out to Dean who watching between the two front seats. Dean gave a barely perceptible shrug and glanced sideways at Abby as she drove.
The large bottom compartment was the only one not as spiffy as a military barracks. It looked a lot like what they carried in their trunk, minus the guns... Wait.
"Abby?" Sam said.
"Why do you carry a squirt gun with your hunting gear?"
"Holy water. That little model has an accurate range of about ten feet."
"Hmmm." Dean reached for the florescent pink, plastic weapon.
"Ah-ah!" Abby said. "Don't touch."
Dean withdrew his hand with a speculative frown. Sam knew he'd file the holy-water-squirt gun trick away for later.
"This box looks old. Did it belong to your dad?” Sam asked.
"No." Abby said with a laugh. "Dad chose a different line of work. He was an art museum curator in Kansas City. Definitely not cut out for hunting."
"And your grandparents were okay with that?" Sam asked with his eyes on Dean.
"Sure. They wanted him to do what he loved. Hunting isn't something you can be forced into. If your heart's not in it, it'd get you killed."
Sam held Dean's hard gaze until his brother looked away. He closed and latched the hunting box thoughtfully. Dean'll never get it, he thought. They were good at their job; Dad had made sure of that, but Sam didn't believe they were fated to do it for the rest of their lives. He'd make his own choices, eventually go back to real life, figure out how to put the pieces together without Jess. Dean was going to have to let him.
Sam pressed a hand against his stomach as a wave of vertigo tumbled his insides. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the window.
"We're here," Abby said. They'd stopped in front of a brick building. "Waycott Place Lofts," the sign read.
"This is where my friend Liz and her husband live. Liz is the Picasso of pharmaceuticals," Abby got out of the car. "She knows more about herbs and potions than I ever will. It's her art form. Liz'll come up with some non-lethal weapons; something that'll neutralize the coven without permanent damage." She gave Dean a hard look.
He opened his hands at his sides. "What? Why are you looking at me?"
Abby just shook her head. "Come on, they live on the fourth floor."
Sam wondered if an apartment could have the same wards Abby's house did. The shrubs and flowers along this walk looked like typical urban landscaping to him, nothing obviously magical. "Abby, is your friend Wiccan too?”
"Yeah. She's a member of my coven."
"Whoa, hold up." Dean took Abby's elbow and stopped her just as they reached the door. "You're a member of a coven?"
"Dean Ku Klux Klan members and Methodists both call themselves Christians, but they're nothing alike." She at the doubt still on Dean's face. "Our coven gets together because we're on a similar spiritual path. We support each other, celebrate holidays, study together, that kind of thing."
"No human sacrifices?" Dean asked.
Abby didn’t deign to respond. She just looked at him levelly. Dean nodded his satisfaction.
Sam found himself fidgeting as they waited at the front door after Abby rang the bell. He surreptitiously rubbed at the ache that had started between his eyes and attempted to shake off the near desperate need to get inside that building. Her wards might not be strong enough to protect me. Hell, she might not even have any wards; this is just a condo. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders prepared to endure it if he had to.
"Come on up.” A tinny voice erupted from the speaker at a volume that set Sam's frayed nerves gangling.
Sam he stepped in following Abby and Dean. The entry hall was wide and bright. The original plank floors and old brick walls must have some mojo because the torment he was feeling sank to a tolerable level.
They stepped onto a double wide elevator that must have been used for freight back in the day. The bit of relief Sam felt had him hoping for more once inside Liz's apartment.
Dean glanced sideways at him and narrowed his eyes, "Hey, you getting claustrophobic? We'll be there in a sec."
Sam dropped his arms which he'd crossed tightly against his chest and forced himself to relax.
"You all right?" Dean asked. Abby glanced around too.
Sam muttered, "I'm fine." The doors slid open.
A jarringly purple door down the hall swung open before they could knock.
Pink tinted hair, bright blue eyes! Hot-pink lips split in a dazzling smile. “Abby!” Liz engulfed Abby in a hug. Her trim, muscular legs were clothed in robin's egg-blue pants, her feet shod in bright yellow flip-flops.
It wasn't until she'd pulled away from Abby that Sam noticed the volleyball under the blouse. Liz was pregnant and glowing with it. Everything about her was round and soft; even her voice came out with the soft rounded vowels of a Georgian accent.
Liz grabbed both boys' hands and pulled them across her threshold. Sam felt a wave of relief strong enough to leave him breathless. His burden melted away.
"Liz, these are John's sons, Dean and Sam Winchester." Abby made the introductions with a flourish.
"Oh, it's so great to finally meet you two. Abby's told me so much about you. Come on in, make yourselves at home."
Plants, potted and hanging, flowering and leafy, framed three huge arching windows dividing a long, exposed brick wall. Tiny seedlings in equally tiny pots filled ledges and corners. A terrarium, that's what it felt like. Sam turned his face toward the light and soaked up the good vibes like a balm. Their hostess took their jackets.
"Get comfy, boys." Liz gestured to the white leather couch that Abby had already plopped down on. "Can I get anybody anything? I've got every organic tea known to man or woman, sparklin' water, juice?"
"No thanks, Liz." Abby shifted on the couch a little uncomfortably. "I hate to say it, but we're kind of in a hurry today."
"What? You come in here with the infamous Winchester brothers and you tell me y'all are in a hurry?" She gazed intently at each of them, her expression growing stormy.
"Liz, I'm sorry! You know it's Halloween."
"Well, shoot." She pouted her peppermint pink lips. "We'll just have to save the long, slow gettin' to know each other for your next visit." She came around and sat next to Abby, her filmy maternity blouse settling around her like flower petals. "What's up? How can I help you?"
Abby took a deep breath. "We're going after the coven tonight."
Liz looked away. "I really wanted to be in on that one." Her hands rose to her mounded belly and her frown deepened. Liz sighed, gave her belly a reassuring pat. "But it's just not to be."
Abby looked relieved. "We need a powder or a potion; something that'll put the coven recruits down without hurting them."
Liz batted her eyes. "What's wrong with hurting them? At the best they're stupid for getting involved with a demon and at the worst they're up to their eyeballs in evil. They deserve whatever they get."
"Yes!" Dean said. "Thank you, Liz. Excellent point. Dad had the right idea the first time. Who needs a potion when you have a baseball bat?"
"I have to agree with Dean," Liz said primly.
"Liz!" Abby scolded.
"Dean, they're innocent human beings," Sam said.
Dean and Liz snorted in unison.
"We're not going in with bats!" Abby had her Ranger Graham voice on full force. "Can you come up with something less violent or not?"
"Fine, fine, of course I can put somethin' together." Liz's brows drew down. "Hmmmmm. Let's take this into the lab, shall we?" She hopped up off the couch with grace belying her condition and marched swiftly to a door in a glass block wall. She gestured impatiently. "Come on, y’all."
Sam looked around.
Dean sidled up to him. "Lab, huh?"
"Yeah, if you think Avon; not Frankenstein."
Where were the cob webs and dank dripping stone walls? Where was the hunch-backed assistant; the black cat? He could hardly believe that this sunny room was a witch's inner sanctum. Liz, one hand on her hip the other lightly pinching her chin, scanned narrow shelves filled with jars that lined three walls of the room from floor to ceiling. She muttered as she picked up one after the other, read the labels and either placed them carefully back on the shelf or passed them to Abby to be deposited on a large, white lab table. As she worked, Sam trailed along behind her checking out the supplies.
"You won't be able to force anything down their throats I don't suppose?" Liz asked.
Abby glared disdainfully at her.
"Well I was just askin! It's goin' to have to be somethin' they can breathe then. Somethin' fast and easy to carry." She stopped and pinched at her chin some more. Suddenly her eyes lit. "I'm a genius! I've got the perfect things. I knew I'd saved these for a reason."
She went up on tip-toes reaching for a box on one of the top shelves. Sam moved up beside her and easily handed the box down.
"Why thank you, Stretch. Just put that on the table with all the other stuff."
Sam looked into the small wooden box he carried. Several brightly colored bottles, sparkled in the light streaming in from the window. Dean came up beside him and picked up a slender one made of frosted-glass. He pulled off the elegant gold cap revealing a spray button, which he pushed. A fine mist of perfume puffed into his face.
"Dean put that down! Obviously, we're gonna have to mark the spray direction on those so ya'll won't be puttin' yourselves to sleep."
Sam smiled as Dean put the bottle back in the box like it might go off on its own.
Abby read the labels of the ingredients she'd collected on the table. "Sugar, rain water, soot, feathers…"
"And last but not least…" Liz plunked a big bottle of vodka down amongst the supplies. "That ought to be about enough." She brought a mortar and pestle out from a shelf under the table and handed it to Dean. "Dean, take a spoonful each of the sugar, soot and feathers and grind them up as fine as you can get them."
"Sure." Dean took the tools uncertainly, but started opening jars. "How's all this stuff supposed to knock somebody out?"
"You're making one of Harry's concoctions aren't you?" Abby had a wicked grin on her face. Liz answered with the same.
"Yeah. He showed me last year when Darryl, my husband," Liz added for Sam and Dean's benefit, "…and I went up to Chicago for that Star Wars convention."
"Harry who?" Sam asked. "And how can I help here?"
Abby who was lighting a Bunsen burner while Liz measured out other ingredients turned to him. "You can light four candles. Put them at the compass points marked in the circle on the floor there." She reached over to a shelf behind her and handed him candles and a book of matches. "Harry Dresden is a wizard friend of ours; very talented."
"Way out of our league." Liz added "But a really nice guy. You two should look him up if you're ever hunting in Chicago. He's in the yellow pages."
"Dresden, sure," Dean muttered. "You never know when you're gonna need a wizard."
Liz pulled out a small black cauldron and set it on a stand over the Bunsen burner. She poured in a generous splash of vodka. "You've pulverized that stuff about enough, Dean. Now put it all in the pot with the vodka. Come over here, Stretch, and I'll give you a potions lesson.”
Sam walked to the table and peered into the cauldron.
“Each ingredient stimulates one of the senses and aligns that sense to the purpose of the spell," Liz explained.
Dean's jaw went slack and all of the intelligence left his face. Liz harrumphed. "For instance, feathers stimulate the sense of touch and invoke the feel of feather pillows, good for sleeping on. Soot stimulates sight. It invokes the blackness of night; a very nice time toooooo…."
"Sleep,” Dean said. “I think I'm getting it. Sugar's gotta be for taste, so I'm guessing…sweet dreams?"
Liz beamed at him like he was her prize student. "Exactly!"
Sam stiffled a grin. "How are we going to add a sound to the mix?”
Liz turned a jar around to show them the label, "rain water". She drew a couple inches of rain into an extra-large eye dropper, then gave the bulb a gentle squeeze over the now bubbling cauldron. Rain drops plopped into the cocktail.
"Ahhh, there's nothin' I like better than to fall asleep to the sound of a rain storm," she said with her eyes closed. "And last but not least, you boys take a whiff of this." Dean and Sam both leaned into the gently steaming pot. "What do you smell?"
"Cheap vodka and wet chickens." Sam grimaced.
"A vodka nightcap to send the coven off to sleep," Abby said grinning. “You are brilliant, Liz.”
"I get the idea,” Sam said. “But you can't tell me this will actually put somebody to sleep. I mean we're standing here breathing it and we're not nodding off."
"You'll see. Abby, grab that little funnel and the coffee filters behind you. You boys dump the perfume in the sink over there and give the bottles a little rinse."
Everyone followed directions and soon the bottles were full and sitting in the center of the lab table.
Liz turned to Abby. "Are these guys up to helping with this spell?"
"Hey, I did fine last night. I'm stayin," Dean said, mildly indignant.
"Dean was pretty impressive last night," Abby said, giving Liz a coy look.
Liz's brows went up. "Well, well."
“We’re both staying,” Sam said.
"Gooood! This is gonna be fun,” Liz said. “Everybody grab a compass point on the circle. All right. Check us out Abby. See if we're harmonizin'."
"Wait, Abby, you're going to use your Sight?
"Yeah, to make sure there isn't a more powerful arrangement to start the spell."
Sam shifted a bit as Abby exhaled slowly, getting centered. He felt the effects of Liz's wards. But, he wondered if Abby would detect the off-note still in the background like a painful buzzing in his ears.
Abby’s gaze lingering on Dean and Liz only a moment. As she faced Sam, he had to force himself not to fidget. A small crease marred her forehead. She raised one eye brow in a silent question. Sam pretended not to understand. A quick glance at Dean told him that his brother was beginning to suspect something too. Crap.
Finally, Abby broke eye contact. "I'll cast a circle like last night," she said quietly.
"Abby, my wards are almost as strong as yours,” Liz protested. “I think we'll all be…"
Abby touched Liz on the shoulder, "It's just a precaution, a little extra zap that's all."
Liz looked from Abby's face to Sam's then back again. "Sure. Can't hurt."
Abby’s sympathetic smile was almost more than Sam's tattered pride could take. She passed behind him as she summoned the circle and ran her hand lightly across his tense shoulders.
The nagging buzz in his ears abruptly cut off. He nearly gasped. Silence. Peace. Abby had closed the circle. He looked up to meet her gaze, this time he acknowledged the question in her eyes with the barest nod.
“All right,” Dean said. “Let’s do this.”
“Focus on my words,” Liz said. “Focus on the potion, focus on our intent. Here we go." Liz began to speak in a lilting, musical voice.
"Eye lids grow heavy, vision
Ears fill with cotton, sweet silence purrs
Breath comes slow from way down deep
Breathe this potion, welcome sleep
Dream sweet dreams, safe from harm
Safe from demon's grasping arms."
The little pile of crystal bottles in the middle of the table... started to glow.