A/N: Hey-ohhhh! Long time no see, everybody! So... yeah, quarantine isn't as motivating as it sounds on paper. Two members of my family actually tested positive and I got sick myself, so that sweet, sweet motivation wasn't with me for a while. But here I am, back with a BIG ol' chapter - in length and content ;). I hope it's worth the wait!

Thanks so much for sticking with this, guys. You all rock!


What the hell were they gunna do?

There had to be something. There was always something. In a pinch, they would pull a solution right outta their asses and save the day. Sure, they'd come out with a fresh coat of bruises and blood stains on their jackets, but at least they got to walk away with their lives and most of their dignities intact. This time, though, it was beginning to weigh on him that they might not succeed.

Dean rummaged the shelves of the aisles, opening boxes of appliances and salvaging anything that could be used to make a stretcher. Frankie was a gimp now and was being circled by about six hellhounds. She wasn't walking away, which meant they had to somehow sneak her out of the junk store to the nearest working vehicle and out of town before the hellhounds caught them. A near impossible job, but they weren't coughing up a lot of ideas.

He rested a hand on one of the shelves and leaned against it. He tried to stay as focused on the mission as he possibly could, but the stress, leaking into his brain like a poisonous gas, wounded his defenses against fearful reality.

'What're you doing, man? This isn't gunna work, you know it won't. You know hellhounds. You know what they're capable of. They're probably one step ahead of you already.'

Dean tightened his jaw against the pessimistic – and understandably correct – voice in his head. Thoughts he wished would stay hidden circled his mind like scavenging buzzards. What if Frankie was lying about her leg? What if she really was bleeding out, or worse? What if she was already dead?

Even with all the pain it would bring him, he would much rather her pass out from blood loss than to be mauled by those damn savages.

Almost as if they were summoned by his thoughts, rancorous barking echoed from outside, making the trapped trio's heads swivel.

"Dean!" Sam called. His brother was by his side in an instant, both lifting the window's shutters at the front of the store and looking out to Frankie's hideout across the street. The glass doors shook under the blows of the invisible hellhounds. Their claws scratched at the doors until they cracked as the creatures snarled at the girl inside.

Dean turned from the window and reached for the phone lying on the counter beside the register. He snatched it and shoved it against his ear. "Frankie?! Frankie, where'd you go?!"

Soft coughs filtered through the handset. "Dean," she softly croaked. He nearly winced at the sound. The immense pain she was feeling was crystal clear in her voice.

"Frankie, what the hell's going on?!" He picked up the base of the phone and marched over to Sam and Ellen by the window. "We turn our backs for one second and the hellhounds start going postal on your door!"

"I know. That's where I want 'em."

Sam's head whipped down to glare at the phone with panic in his eyes. "What?! W-Why?! What's going on?"

"Like I said, I'm not leavin'. Y'all are. Those hellhounds'll chase you to all points unknown. They won't give up." Sam's throat bobbed as he swallowed. He lifted his eyes from the phone and met Dean's grim gaze. "Stands to reason we gotta get them off this planet. Only way to do that is up in flames."

Dean shut his eyes. He wasn't a praying man, but he was very close to praying for her to sit down and shut up.

He forced a steely edge to his voice to hide the worry that she was already in the process of doing something stupid. "Frankie, whatever you're doing, stand down now."

"Dean, you know there's no other way," she breathed out, her voice shivering. His chest tightened at the sound of it. She sounded scared. "If you have a plan, any other plan, I'll stop. Tell me you have a plan. And I'll stand down."

He had a plan. A half-assed one, but it was a plan! Get her on a stretcher and roll her the hell outta there. There had to be a back door. They could do it if they acted fast.

But even he knew it wouldn't work. The glass doors were crackling. They were a few good blows away from shattering. They needed a new plan, and they needed one now. He threw his eyes around the store, raking his brain for the most outside the box MacGyver plot that came to mind.

He couldn't think of a damn thing.

"No," he commanded. He stared through the window of the junk store, trying as hard as he could to catch a peek of her. Maybe if he met her eyes, he could talk some sense into her. "Frankie, no. We'll-we'll think of something, just sit down and don't do anything-"

"Stupid?"

He huffed and rolled his eyes. "Reckless," he countered, moving passed the fact that she had guessed right.

"That's where we differ, Dean," she sighed. The trio picked up the faint sound of metal clicking against something. "I don't see this as reckless. I see it as necessary. Y'all hafta get to Lucifer. You heard Bobby. If we let him free Death, we don't stand a chance." Sam and Ellen shared a weighted look. Dean kept trying to find his sister in the window. "But if I-…if I let 'em in here-"

"Frankie, no," Sam pleaded.

"I've got the place filled with gas. And I got two grenades."

Sam's jaw slacked. Ellen placed her hand on the window as she looked outside. "Oh my god," she whispered.

"They come marchin' in here, I set them off, they paint the walls and y'all're outta here."

Dean gripped the handset so tight that Sam thought he would snap it in half. He wasn't going to stand by and let her blow herself up. He almost lost her once. He wasn't going to lose her now.

"No way!" Dean snapped, slamming his fist onto the windowsill. He shook his head and snorted like an agitated horse. This damn kid. Always willingly jumping into the fire. She was way too much like himself. Dean closed his eyes against the hope fleeing from his body, leaving behind nothing but his own rising failure to squish his innards. "Dammit, Frankie, you said you wouldn't give up, you'd go down fighting!"

"Whaduya call this?"

'Stupid!' he wanted to say.

"Dean, I'm not blowing myself up 'cause I think it'll look cool. You said it yourself. You know where Lucifer is, you have the Colt, and you're running outta time. We only have 'til midnight, and these bastards aren't letting up. So, please. Tell me what other option we have."

Dean heatedly sighed, knowing he was losing the battle. He would sooner run right outside, demon-killing knife in hand, and slash those bastards one by one than let her kill herself like that. And come to think of it…

He lowered the handset and turned towards the front doors. Sam stood in his way. He gazed down at Dean with shiny eyes, his face sagging with sorrow. His head was tilted as if the weight of the circumstance was too much to bear.

"Dean," he whispered. He didn't need to say anything else. That was all it took for his brother to understand. Dean shook his head, looking Sam up and down. He knew they weren't as close as he was to Frankie, but letting her go through with killing herself?!

Dean tightened his jaw with a glare as he returned his eyes to Sam. His fists clenched by just looking at his surrendering gape. "You don't think I'm gunna sit here and let our sister blow herself to high hell, do you?" he growled, threateningly.

Sam softly sighed, his voice quiet and heavy. "You know she's right."

Dean stepped back, taking in a deep breath. He looked away, shaking his head. No, she wasn't right! There's always another option. Just because things look hopeless, that doesn't mean you can take the easy road! You fight! You never give up, because people depend on you!

Dean looked back at Sam, ready to shout those exact words at him, but Sam had stepped forward. The look on his face didn't change, but seeing him closer he could now detect the brokenness in his eyes. It was hurting Sam just as much as it was killing Dean to let her do this.

Sam softly shook his head. "If she's gunna go, I'd rather it be this way."

Well, that was Sam's opinion. Dean had a different idea of how he wanted her to kick the bucket. She would be that age when her toenails turn all yellow and hard, and her breath always smells like spaghetti sauce once it's been left out for a few days and starts growing fuzzy, white mold. She'll be laid up in bed with a million blankets on top of her, so many that you can't even lift them.

Around her bed is her family that she's made over her long ass life. Her husband – a complete nerd, to match her dorkiness, who watches way too much Jeopardy – will be there to hold her hand. Her kids – little brats just like her, now grown up to have her eyes and her stubbornness – will be holding back tears as they gaze at their mother for the last time. And on the other side of that bed will be her two brothers, a grouchy old drunk on a cane who's miraculously still alive, and an angel. Only then, surrounded by her family and warm in her bed, will she slip away. Not here. Not now.

Not like this.

Dean was out of options. He brought his free hand to his face and rubbed it, sniffing a sharp inhale as he realized he couldn't do anything to save her. He was going to let his only sister die because he couldn't protect her like he should have. It was his fault, and he had to live with that, knowing he should have done more.

"I know this isn't what you wanted for me, Dean," Frankie spoke through the handset. "But I think… I think it's better."

"Better?!" Dean grimly chuckled. This was better than her living a full life with her family? This was better than her not exploding into a million pieces?

"You remember when I went on my first case, we were rooming together, and I asked you about where my loyalties lie out in the field?"

Dean remembered that case. As difficult as Sam made it, seeing Frankie put her training to the test brought him a new kind of pride. He remembered how much he hated that stupid yellow tie she wore so proudly. He remembered how she figured out the monster and how impressed he was, and how glad he had been to have her on their team. She would have made a great hunter.

"You told me that we can't save everyone. No matter what case we work on, someone will get hurt. That to save everyone else, sacrifices hafta be made."

"Frankie…," he desolately muttered, knowing exactly where she was going with this.

"And if that sacrifice is us… then dammit, it'll be us." Dean held himself up against the windowsill, letting the sorrow in him wilt his body against her strained voice. "And hey," she added, her voice cracking, "there're worse ways to go. Least this one will look badass. It's not such a bad ending for me. To go out in a blaze of glory. That's the Winchester way."

There was a loud shattering noise through the handset. "Boys!" Ellen gasped. Sam and Dean snapped their gazes through the window to see that the doors had been smashed open. They watched helplessly as the hellhounds broke the doors piece by piece until they could squeeze themselves through.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be the sister y'all deserve," she quickly sputtered.

Dean snapped back to reality with a jolt. No, he wasn't going to watch this happen. "Dammit," he grunted, and pushed away from the door. He dropped the telephone onto the windowsill and rocketed towards the front doors.

"Dean!" Sam and Ellen called out as they reached to stop him.

"I wish there was more time to make things right between us."

Dean clutched the chains that were wrapped around the handles of the doors. He tugged on the ends, yanking hard when they tangled with each other.

"Dean, you can't go out there! You'll be killed!" Sam shouted, reaching his side. "Y-You'll get mauled by a hellhound o-or speared by shrapnel!"

"Better me than her!" Dean barked without moving his head away from the chains in his hands.

"And knowin' where I'm goin'… I hope I never see y'all again."

"Come on!" Dean yelled at the twisted chains. He finally loosened them enough to rip them off the handle. Sam stuttered out another protest, but his words went unheard by Dean as he launched out of the hardware store, kicking up grains from the salt line.

"Bye y'all."

Dean narrowed his eyes on the junk store, everything around it fading to black, and sprinted as fast as he could across the street.

"Frankie!" he screamed; his one last plea for her to stop.

The streets echoed with the deafening sound of a bursting building. Shattered glass and splintering wood cannoned from the growing fires, hewing a lethal rain of shrapnel. Red and orange clouds leaked out of every new opening, breathing its scorching, black clouds into his eyes.

"Dean!" Sam yelled from behind, and he was instantly tackled to the ground, barely missing shards of glass flying towards his forehead. They covered their heads as a mist of debris rained down on them, tucking into their hair and the creases of their jackets. Car alarms whined like a hundred frog songs through the whirring sound of flames that melted the building.

Dean lifted his head from the frigid pavement, gritting his teeth against the crumbs of asphalt imbedded in his skin. He groaned through his teeth as he lifted onto his forearms, hoisting Sam with him. Dean raised his head to look at the building as Sam shook his hair out of his eyes.

There was no more building. In its place was a three-story high wall of flames and smoke. Nothing could go in. And nothing came out. Not a hellhound, not…

Dean bared his teeth and clenched his fists. He shoved himself from the ground and stumbled to his feet. He trotted towards the flames until the heat was too much to bear and stood in front of the blaze. His eyes darted left and right, up and down, diagonal and corkscrew, all in vain.

The "OPEN" sign was melting on the ground next to his feet, the corners of the once rectangular sign completely liquid. A single charred building block was missing its brothers. There wasn't a sign of life.

His hands unclenched. His shoulders drooped. His knees were weak, wanting only to kneel on the street in defeat. His throat felt as if it was lined with ash. Each inhale tightened his windpipe as if the fire itself was strangling him. He couldn't swallow, and the smoke watered his eyes the longer he stared into the flames.

He could go in. It wasn't that hot. He'd faced the fires of Hell before, this was nothing. She could still be alive. She could be burning, and they were just standing there!

Dean took one step. Any more than that were stopped by Sam's hand grasping his shoulder. Dean turned his head away from the flames and met Sam's gaze. It looked like the smoke made Sam's eyes water, too. It even made a single tear fall down his cheek.

Sam's glistening eyes and sloped eyebrows ended any further attempt to run into the blaze. His mouth opened to let in a faintly shuddering breath. "We gotta go."

Dean gulped against his burning throat. Every neuron in his body screamed at him to look back into the fire, but if he did, he would never leave. Frankie was gone, and it was burning him from the inside out with the same intensity of the building before him, but they still had a mission. And because of her, they had a chance to finish it. Mourning would just have to wait.

Dean nodded his head once and turned away from the building, the tower of flames burning his back as he walked down the street. Sam followed closely behind, wiping his eyes with the cuff of his jacket.


He rounded her body in agonizingly slow strides, stroking his eyes over every inch of her surface. She could see the rapid lifting of her chest against her palpitating heart, yet her eyes pointed far ahead of her into the black forest. His every step was heavy, thudding against the tufts of grass below them. Her burning lungs cried for air, but she feared breathing in his presence.

"Frankie Pearce. The girl I've heard so much about."

Her swallow hurt as it traveled down her taut throat.

His feet stopped in front of her, his eyes dragging over her form from the highest fraying strands of hair to the tips of her shoes. "I pictured you taller." She stared into his green shirt, too full of fear to look any higher. He hummed and looked off to the side.

Frankie clenched her teeth. He was giving her a small window to make a move. She held her breath, more than she already had been, and reached a hand behind her to grab her machete.

She reached to the back of her jeans.

And she kept on reaching.

Her arm was searching for the handle, but she couldn't feel it back there. She couldn't even feel her back. She couldn't feel anything.

Her head finally tore away from its paralyzed state to look down at her hands.

Her throat hissed with a violent gasp that clawed down her gullet.

She gawked at her right arm, eyes burning into the red-coated bone that sparkled in the moonlight, jutting out of a mass of sagging flesh. Half of her forearm was left. She pointed her bulging eyes at the empty space above her arm, waiting for her delirious brain to catch up and stop imaging horrible things.

Her left arm was intact, but in no way in good condition. She had three and a half fingers. Her pinky and the tip of her ring finger had been blown to smithereens. Raised, cerise blotches swirled across her skin all the way to her shoulder.

Her breath appeared as short gasps as she stared at the trembling remains of her arms.

"You shouldn't detonate two grenades and expect to come out unscathed." She almost didn't hear him, too much in shock of her mutilated limbs. He picked up his previous motive of circling her. "For what it's worth, I did try to get you out before the blast did too much damage."

Frankie curled her four fingers. She lowered her arms and raised her head to look him in his eyes as he passed. "Why'd-" She paused to clear her throat of the quiver in her voice. "W-Why'd you save me?"

He glanced down at her, his lips curving into a smile. "I want to talk."

Frankie's eyes were wide with fear, but her brows dug into her face to form a menacing scowl. "I don't… wanna talk to you."

He stopped in front of her again, tilting his head and furrowing his brows, almost like the way Cas looked at her. Her chest burned at the thought of her missing friend. "I rescue you from certain death, block the pain from your wounds," Frankie wiggled her last few fingers, "and all I ask in return is to share a few words. You don't think I deserve that?"

"No," she snapped, forcing a stronger glower. "I know what you wanna talk about, and I am not letting you use me against them." Lucifer slowly blinked at the fuming girl. "You can just send me to Hell right now. 'Cause whatever you got planned for me won't work."

He straightened his head. He slowly turned his body to face her, any sign of the smile from before gone. His eyes, shrouded by his level brows, were as blank as the tone of his voice. "I think it will."

Frankie's heart skipped a beat. The fear clutching onto the back of her neck whispered in her ear that he may be right.

The soft smile resurfaced on his face, morphing the blotches on his cheek. She tried to avoid looking at the flaking skin. "You've got the wrong idea about me, Frankie. I'm not as bad as you think."

Frankie nearly snorted in his face. Instead, she looked off to the side, swallowing to mask the quiver in her voice. "Right. And I guess the Incredible Hulk is actually a really laidback and chill dude, too."

Lucifer chuckled.

Frankie flinched, unsure if she actually heard the off sound of a laugh from the Devil. She nervously shifted her eyes to see him lightly shaking his head before meeting her gaze.

"I don't want to send you to Hell."

She felt pinned. His eyes, though appearing as normal as her own, harbored a foreign danger within the baby blue circles. He looked at her like she was a turkey before Thanksgiving. Not yet smacking his lips, but eagerly awaiting that day.

"I think we can help each other."

She stood frozen in place, worried that the slightest movement would trigger him to attack. But despite the dread that he may mutilate her, she felt an overbearing foreboding that it was destined to happen. It was only a matter of when. Practically sweating fear, she figured the sooner the better.

She took in a breath through clenched teeth. "I'd rather go to Hell than help you."

He was unfazed by her provoking words. That same malicious glint in his eye was there, so clear that it might as well have been the color in his irises. She wanted to look away, tear her eyes from him and run into the black forest. She knew he'd catch her – hell, she probably wouldn't get five feet away – but she thought it better than drowning in the shudder-inducing gaze nailing her feet to the dirt.

Impossibly long seconds ticked by before there was a change in his face. He looked down to the grass between their feet. His lips pressed together, forming a line that almost appeared to droop.

A sigh whistled from his nose. "If that's what you really want." He took the first step towards her. Every nerve in her body hoisted red flags. She tightened her muscles and scrunched her face in premature pain, bracing herself against the agony to come.

Lucifer took a step, then another, and Frankie quickly found that the height difference made things a thousand times worse. He was no Sam Winchester, but he might as well have been at the distance between them. Frankie's elbows dug into her sides, causing her shoulders to shake. Lucifer loomed over her, his head nearly positioned directly above her like a Sim's plumbob. The stench of fresh soil and sweat radiating off his body polluted her nose. The tremble in her throat constricted her breathing.

"But that's not what you really want, is it?"

Frankie blinked. She slowly raised her head to the Devil, craning her neck to gaze above her. She was looking into completely different eyes. The hungry coat on them was gone, blown away by the crisp breeze. What remained were twinkling circles of blue plastered in a sympathetic glance that turned her knees to Jell-O.

"I know what you really want."

He spoke in a soft, calming voice, but she found no comfort in it. It only fueled a fire in her that she thought was snuffed out by Gabriel. She was tired of fearing him. She was tired of fearing everything. Why didn't this asshole just kill her!

She wanted this game to end. The sooner she faced the inevitable, the better. The sooner he tore her head from her shoulders, the sooner she'd be to the closest feeling of peace she would ever get.

"You know what I really want?" she growled. She straightened her back, pushing her head closer to his. Her lips stretched into a maddened snarl, spitting her venomous words into his face. "I want you to kiss my ass, snake boy."

His lips, inches from her own, stretched into a wide grin. His eyes crinkled with a laugh that made the girl beneath him flinch. Lucifer's head leaned back as a light chuckle rippled from his chest. Frankie watched in helpless confusion as he stepped away shaking his head.

He pointed a finger at her, small speckles of laughter popping in his words. "There's that fire I like." He lifted his head, his now bright eyes gazing at her with delight. "I like that kind of spunk. I do. I liked it the moment I first read it, but it's so much better in person." His finger swirled in a circle motion towards her baffled eyes. "That little twitch in your eye gets lost in translation."

"W-Wait." Frankie shook her head, trying to keep up. "What're you talkin' about?"

Lucifer's smirk softened, yet the glint in his eye took a more mischievous turn. "Here's something the scriptures leave out about me." He reached behind his back and revealed a book. "I am quite the bookworm." Frankie looked at the cover. She only needed a single moment for her eyes to widen and a gasp to get lost in her throat. It was Sympathy For the Devil, Chuck's latest book. He absentmindedly flicked through the pages as he spoke. "One of my personal favorites. I picked up every copy in the northern United States. I wasn't too fond of the ending, though." He slapped the book shut with an ominous thud, flicking his impish eyes to her. "So, I thought I might do my own take on it."

Her heart pumped in her chest like a samba number. She took a step back, finding her voice among the raving calculations in her mind. "That's how you knew where to find me. You knew how I was gunna… when I was gunna…"

Lucifer stepped up to her, his voice lowering to a calm tone. "I couldn't have you dead before we talked." Frankie cut her eyes to him, ready to flick him off with her voice. He put his hands up in defense before she could speak. "Just hear me out. I promise you won't be disappointed."

She hated this. She hated everything about this. She couldn't act out or else Lucifer would tear her a cosmos of a new one. And she didn't want to listen to whatever bullshit he would spout from his forked tongue. She knew what he wanted to say. He wanted her to try and convince Sam to be his vessel. Well, that was never going to happen, and he should know that since he read all her most intimate thoughts in Chuck's book. So, why prolong the inevitable refusal?

She wished she could just kill him then and there. She wished she could cleave his skull with her machete and taste the blood from his gushing brain. It would make her feel better even though she knew it wouldn't kill him. The only thing they knew could probably kill him was the…

The Colt. And Sam and Dean had the Colt. And they were on their way.

To kill Lucifer.

A breath of an idea blew into her mind. Maybe things weren't as inevitable as they seemed. Maybe… maybe she could walk away with her brothers. Maybe she would get to live another day. Another five years… but at least she'd be with them in a Lucifer-less world. That was more than enough time to finally make things right.

That little whispering demon on her neck was warning her that it would never work. She wouldn't make it to then. She was being delusional. Well, she'd show that little bitch. She would wait for Sam and Dean to show up, shoot the Devil, and save the world. She just had to wait.

She glanced back at Lucifer. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled at the hard stare pointed her way. He was waiting for her verdict.

If she was going to get out of there, she had to play along. Stall him until her brothers arrived. She would have to pick her words and movements carefully, cautious to not alert him to her plan.

She forced out a sigh, feigning compliance. "What do you want?"

A faint twinkle of approval glistened in his eyes. His unsettling smile grew as he crossed is arms. "I want to make a deal."

Frankie stiffened. Memories of that night flushed her cheeks. His ardent amber eyes, the coat of moonlight painting his hungry smirk, the softness of his lips…

"Deal?" she scoffed, looking off to the side. "Yeah, no thanks. The last time I made a deal I lost my soul."

"Would you like it back?"

Frankie's breath stilled. Her heartbeat tried very hard to make itself known in her chest. Her eyes aimlessly flicked across the grass as his words echoed in her mind.

"It pays to have powerful friends, Frankie. And I'd like us to be friends."

Her cheeks warmed, her eyebrows furrowing. Friends? He wanted them to be friends? That's what all this was about? Lucifer was toying with her, he had to be. Leading her on to make it seem like she was worth something. The manipulative dick!

"Why?" She turned her head to him, her lip quirked in an angered grimace. "What benefit do I have to you? My purpose?" She bitterly chuckled. "You must be the last horse to cross the finish line. I have no purpose. I'm useless. Did-did your little demon skank not mention that? If you planned to use me against Heaven, you're wasting your time."

Lucifer's brows narrowed. His head tilted as his face clouded over with confusion. His eyes traced her face, seemingly searching for an answer to his unspoken question. Frankie's shoulders scrunched under his scrutinizing gaze. His eyes squinted when his searching ceased.

"You don't know why you're needed."

Frankie's shoulders slowly lowered. Her head turned slightly to the side. He sounded so puzzled, so mystified at the very idea of her not knowing her purpose. She didn't understand. He read the book. Didn't he know that she didn't know?

But then again… that whole part of her story wasn't written. Chuck didn't even know about it. And according to Cas, only a few beings in creation knew. And one of those beings was standing right in front of her.

He knew about it, and he could tell her. She could finally know why her soul was branded. She could finally die in peace, without any secrets following her down.

But what would be the point?

It would only bring her an eternity of looking up towards Heaven, imagining what could have been. That was a different kind of Hell she didn't wish to experience.

"No," she sighed. "And it doesn't matter. They don't need me anyway."

Lucifer's expression was unchanged. He softly shook his head at the girl. "Incredible. Such a special child… and you don't even know your potential."

Frankie looked deep into Lucifer's eyes, trying to decipher just what the hell he meant by that. She didn't have any potential. At least according to his brother.

Then again… Gabriel did say he had been away from Heaven for a long time. How could he know how important she was to the angels now?

Holes in her guardian angel's tale began to appear. He claimed to know everything about her and her purpose, but if what he said was true, why did Lucifer seem to have a different story?

Gazing into the befuddled blue eyes of the Devil, Frankie was haunted by a disquieting thought. Did he know something Gabriel didn't?

She had lost her hostile wall against him. Cracks began to form, displaying the rampant fear flaring within her. She straightened her back and hardened her glower to recover.

"I-I know I have the potential to kick you in the nads."

Lucifer's unnerving smile reappeared. He realigned his head with a quiet chuckle. "That's why I want to be your friend." He motioned between the two of them. "You and I are a lot alike."

Frankie scoffed. Anger rose up her neck to redden her cheeks. "You're the father of all sin. You betrayed your family and were cast out because you couldn't handle it and threw a celestial tantrum." Her eyes darkened with a slight shake of her head. "We are nothing alike."

Lucifer stared blankly at the girl. His level expression remained once his eyes fell to the grass below. He turned away from Frankie, linking his hands behind his back, and took a few steps away from her. He was quiet, and Frankie began to wonder if she hit a sensitive spot.

That was a silly thought. It wasn't like the douche had feelings.

"Betrayed," he said, his voice blank and quiet. "Do you know why I rebelled?"

'Oh, dear Jesus. I really don't want a lecture.'

"I loved my family too much. I loved my father more than you humans. I refused to bow to you, and so He had Michael throw me out." His voice had changed. There was an emotion in it that Frankie didn't think he was capable of having. He was wounded, his voice lined with pain. "Fighting Michael will be the hardest thing I will ever have to do. Because I love him more than anything." He nodded to himself. "Anything."

Frankie's wary glance had transformed into a look of bewilderment. The Devil was hurting. He had genuine feelings for his family. Feelings so strong that they became his downfall. And that seemed to haunt him.

Frankie wanted to shun his story, call it bullshit. But there was a piece of her – a rather large piece – that wanted to believe it. Gabriel had said that he loved his brothers and that it pained him to see them fight each other. Maybe it was possible that Lucifer was the same.

'Oh, what am I thinking? This is Lucifer.'

She wanted to keep believing that he was a heartless, wrathful monster and nothing else. That was easier to deal with. But she couldn't deny the battling emotions sparring in her skull.

Lucifer looked back at her. She swallowed against the pain etched into his sloped brows. "Between you and me, one younger sibling to another, I don't want to fight him. I don't want to kill my brother." His brows narrowed at her. "You understand, don't you?"

Frankie flinched, caught off guard by the acknowledgment. She opened her mouth, but her words escaped her. Her lips twitched without sound.

The obvious answer was 'no,' she didn't want to kill either of her brothers. But she also didn't want to agree with him. What if all this was a trap? What if he was making this sob story up? She didn't want to fuel his manipulation.

"I dunno," she muttered. She went to cross her arms before realizing that she only had the one. "I'm not you."

Lucifer turned to face her, his voice growing more persistent. "If you were me and Michael was Dean – if you were forced to kill him – wouldn't you rather turn your back to destiny and stand together? Walk away from the fight and write your own destiny?" He slowly stepped towards her. The eyes she looked into now were… vulnerable. They seemed to plead to her to understand, to see things the way he did. She turned her head away from them.

"You may not like it, Frankie, but we are alike. We're tortured souls who love our brothers. We love them so much that all we want is to fight for a better life for them. And because we rebel – we disobey – they lock us up. They toss us in prisons and throw away the key. They keep us from doing the right thing, and all because they fear we'll destroy what they love in the process."

Frankie shook her head, holding back a sigh. "They don't think I'll destroy what they love."

"You did just try to kill yourself."

Frankie's throat tightened. She painfully swallowed, and she curled the remnants of her fingers. She saw in the corner of her eye that Lucifer tilted his head. He was reading her thoughts, and he didn't even need to peek into her mind. She pressed her lips together to hold back a frown.

She was blind to the angel's gentle eyes glued to her sulking form. "You don't think they love you?" Frankie clenched her teeth so hard that her head began to ache. Lucifer let out a quiet sigh, and Frankie flinched away from it. "I know how that feels. When your father anoints you as the epitome of evil, you start to believe there was a reason for Him to do it. You never really shake that kind of thing off."

Frankie spared a glance over to him. His eyes were unfocused as they pointed to the ground. His lips sagged into a fretted frown.

"I know what it's like to lose everyone you love. To know they're slowly forgetting what you used to be and… and seeing you only for what you've become."

'Because she is a time bomb! Dean, look. What I saw wasn't the Frankie we thought we knew. Something's not right about her. She's changed.'

"To watch yourself become something so dark and foul…"

'What did I do? Why would I… do that?'

"… that you don't even recognize yourself."

'What I did, that wasn't me. But it was me! I did what I feared I'd do since I started this whole mess. I screwed up. Big time. There's no getting around it. I was careless, reckless… crazy.'

Frankie's eyes sank to the ground along with her heart. A massive weight slugged over her shoulders, enveloping her in a shroud of misery.

"You start to think that the old you was a lie," she quietly added. "That you've always been this rotten."

Lucifer lifted his head to her. "Maybe we have. Still seems like an unfair punishment for such a trivial crime."

Frankie met Lucifer's gaze. When she looked at him now, she didn't see an evil monster. She didn't even see an archangel. She saw a brother, a son. A mistreated soul longing for reconciliation. A being yearning for someone to understand him.

Frankie bristled at her own thinking. 'Don't forget who you're talkin' to, you fuckin' blockhead.'

She averted her eyes and hardened her voice. "If you're so against fighting Michael, why are you trying so hard to get Sam to say 'yes'?"

Lucifer lightly nodded his head, backing out of his susceptible state with a toughened face of his own. "Michael won't see me until the time comes to battle. I can't say a word to him until I have a vessel. One that's in decent condition."

Frankie flicked her eyes over his body – or rather, the body of the poor soul he roped into becoming his meatsuit. "I'm guessing yours isn't?"

"My current vessel, Nick," Lucifer patted his hands over his chest, "he's thinning a bit. He can't contain me forever. He probably won't contain me for another month." Frankie dared a quick glance to the blotches on his face. "And, well, vessel hopping is, how do I say this…," he thoughtfully tapped a finger on his chin before pointing at her, "messy. It's a gamble with how strong one is, and you never know until their insides splatter all over the bedsheets." Frankie winced, feeling faintly nauseous at the image. "Which is why I need a vessel that can handle me. I need to see Michael. The only way I can do that is if I'm wearing a Winchester."

Frankie shook her head at Lucifer's explanation. It was the most ludicrous thing she had ever heard. He wasn't trying to destroy the world? In fact, he didn't want to battle Michael? Perhaps she really did get blown up and this was some sort of weird limbo realm where nothing made any goddamn sense.

"When you see Michael… you're gunna try to… stop the apocalypse?"

Lucifer looked around the clearing. His eyes traveled across the sapphire blades of grass in the field to the black leaves of the trees encircling them. "I don't want to destroy this planet. Why would I want to scorch something so breathtaking? This is the last perfect handiwork of my father. If Michael and I fight, this stunning thing will suffer."

Frankie raised her head to the sky. She gazed at the faint dots of light shadowed by navy blue clouds. One of her biggest dreads when she first heard about the apocalypse was that the planet would be burned up. It truly was a lovely thing. She always loved the skies. Midday pastels, orange sunsets, and, the most gorgeous of all, the lavender sunrises. Nowhere else but here could such a beautiful thing be found. It broke her heart to think of it no longer existing, but only now, talking to him, does she know the truth. The earth was never in any danger.

She returned her eyes to Lucifer. He loved the earth as much as she did. Even more than her, it seemed. The serene look in his eye told her that he would never see it destroyed. That it pained him to watch warfare and pollution reduce it to a state of decay. They were in that boat together. And if it took standing up to his brother and his father – if it took stopping the apocalypse – then that was what he'd do. In a way, she respected him for it.

'What the fuck! Snap outta it!'

Frankie flinched at the sudden realization that she was praising the Devil. Goddammit, she had to stop this!

She turned her entire body away from him. "I don't know why I'm talking to you," she growled. "You're Lucifer. You're the prince of lies. Y-You invented manipulation. I shouldn't listen to a word you say!"

He was quiet for a moment. Frankie held her firm stance as she listened to his feet thud towards her. "Or, did man invent lies and manipulation to deceive God and blame it on me?" Frankie didn't dare roll her eyes, but damn, she wanted to. "Much has been said about me. But there's one true thing I'm not. I'm not a liar. I would never lie to you, just as I would never lie to Sam."

"You sayin' that makes me believe it less."

"Oh, believe it. I'm an angel of my word." Frankie bit her tongue to hold back a scoff. "I'm surprised at you, Frankie. I would've thought you'd jump at the opportunity to help save the world."

She whipped her head over to the angel, a nasty glare in her eyes. "I'm all about saving the world. That's why my greatest wish is to see you dead."

Lucifer lifted his brows with a knowing glint in his eyes. "And you think that'll change anything?"

Frankie did scoff at him this time. Lucifer took another step towards her, now only a foot away. He crossed his arms over his chest as he looked down at her.

"With me dead, demons will still roam the planet. Heaven will shift into overdrive trying to find a way to put the apocalypse back on track. They want me and Michael to fight more than anything, because that's what God wants. And in the chance Michael defeats me and Heaven wins, life as you know it will be demolished. Why do you think the angels are cheering for a battle that will destroy all life in the blast zone to happen? Think about it. If I'm out of the picture, nothing will get better. It will only make things worse."

Frankie swallowed thickly. She softly shook her head to disguise the panicked look on her face. "I refuse to believe that."

Lucifer shrugged, shifting his serious attitiude to a nonchalant one. "Well, you're entitled to your own opinion, sure. But are you willing to take that chance when billions of lives are at stake?"

Frankie bit down so hard on her lip that she felt a light trickle on her chin. She licked her lip as she sighed heavily through her nostrils.

"What do you suggest then, Lucifer?" she callously asked. "What's the alternative?"

The knowing glint in his eye returned. Frankie hated it. "There's only one thing in existence that can get through to Michael. And it's not God. He's long gone. I can talk to him. Convince him to stand down and instead stand together to end something so destructive and meaningless." He pressed his lips together. His eyes flicked over her body. Frankie grimaced and averted her gaze. "But I can't do it looking like this."

"Then go find another vessel," Frankie snapped, growing tired of the angel and his plights.

She licked more blood from her lips and spat it onto the grass. Her tongue scooped up another gob of blood when she noticed that Lucifer had gone quiet.

She cut her eyes to him, impatiently awaiting his next disguised lie. He was staring down at her. His face was shadowed, and yet his eyes were as bright as the stars behind his head. They harbored a steely glow, a telling glow. A glow that told her more than enough.

'But I can't do it looking like this.'

He saved her from the explosion. He brought her to that field.

'I can't do it looking like this.'

He needed her alone to make a deal.

'Looking like this.'

Sam wasn't working out. So, he needed the next best thing.

Frankie recoiled and took a step back. Her eyes went wide and her jaw slacked. Her cheeks were red and hot, her throat painfully tight.

Lucifer's face softened. A small smile took the place of the urging frown. "You recall me mentioning a deal?"

"No," Frankie gasped, taking another step back.

Lucifer lifted his hands to calm her as he moved towards her. "Now, I need you to hear me out, Frankie."

"Fuck off! You're not using me as your vessel!"

Scratching at the walls… someone else's body… sinking into blackness…

Frankie squeezed her eyes shut, willing the horrid memory away. "Th-That would never work anyway! I'll explode!"

"You'd be surprised," Lucifer passively noted. Frankie scoffed at his casualness of the matter of her possession. "My patience is running thin with Sam. He's persistent. That's why I like him. But this dancing around saying 'yes' is getting old. I need to see Michael now." His lowered his head and quirked his brow. "So, I need someone who can hold me now."

Frankie's breath began to come out as light gasps. Her lungs felt like a furnace. "No. N-no, Sam's your vessel. I can't be-"

"Sam is my true vessel. Not my only vessel. You're a child of John Winchester, Dean's sibling… I will admit, it's not a perfect fit, but you'll be able to hold me."

"There is no way I'm letting that happen. You want me to just… give up? Let go of everything I've fought for, everything I tried to do, just so you don't burst outta your vessel like a xenomorph? You're talkin' to the wrong girl. If you know me so well, you should know I wouldn't betray my morals that easily."

Lucifer's eyes darkened, his shoulder's stiffening. "Interesting. I had thought deforming your mother's soul and sending her to Hell was out of character for you." Frankie's breath audibly hitched. "Perhaps I misinterpreted your 'morals.'" Her four fingers curled as a rush of sorrow flooded her. Lucifer, after lingering his cold stare, clicked his tongue and lowered his hands to rest on her shoulders. Frankie tried to yank them away from his grasp, but her anguish weakened her. "Oh, Frankie," Lucifer cooed, stroking his thumbs over her shoulders, "this isn't a one-sided agreement. It's a deal, and both sides should benefit. For starters, if you say 'yes,' I'll heal your injuries."

"I'd rather be maimed," she snapped.

Lucifer let out a sigh. "Very well. Material things are of little worth to you. Perhaps then, you'd prefer if I," he shrugged, "terminated your contract."

Frankie met his eyes with a start. Her breath caught in her throat.

No suffering. No hellfire. She could be free?

"You'd…," she let out a shaky breath as her head tilted to the side in disbelief, "my soul wouldn't belong to Hell?"

Lucifer grinned, giving her shoulders a squeeze. "I am Hell. If you help me and become my temporary vessel, eternal suffering will no longer be your fate. And if your body isn't irreversibly damaged, I will see to it that you get to live a full life."

Frankie searched his eyes to find the truth in his words. She couldn't trust him for a moment, but he claimed he would never lie to her.

Could she really get to live a full life? Longer than five? Longer than ten? Could she live with her brothers, get to know them and just be with them? Watch old movies on the weekends, eat homemade dinners, laugh… Could she get to have the life she always wanted? The family she always dreamed, and all in a world with no apocalypse?

"No disease, no demons, and, just because you've started growing on me, I'll even wipe your memory."

Frankie recoiled, her brows furrowed into a confused glare.

"I'll take away every memory you have of your brothers, the world they live in…"

No, no, that went against her dreams! She needed those memories with them!

"And the pain you've caused them."

Frankie looked blankly into Lucifer's eyes, her rising fury fading.

The pain. She had forgotten about the pain. She had forgotten about the lies she had told them, the promises she broke. Forgotten about the trouble she'd caused. She had forgotten about what a burden she had become. How every decision she made worsened their situations. She had forgotten that their life would be much better without her in it.

Lucifer lifted a hand to her cheek and brushed her bangs out of her damp eyes. He spoke soothingly, his low voice rumbling in her chest. "The last thing you'll remember is burying your mother and moving into a quiet, peaceful suburbia in Colorado. Doesn't that sound like a better deal than rotting away in Hell, sulking over how much you've screwed up the lives of the people you care about?"

It did. Dammit, it did. It sounded so good that it was pure agony knowing she'd never have it.

"I deserve to suffer," she exhaled through growing tears. "I shouldn't get off scot-free. I'm not that selfish." Her chest filled with hot air that billowed up to her cheeks. Each breath whispered a breeze of anger. She swallowed down the tears. "I'm not like you. You're the one who fell. Why should I?"

Lucifer's fingers froze over her cheek. The caring shine in his eyes blew away like the clouds above them, revealing the true emotion behind the mask. He stared down at her over his nose, his gaze nearly empty aside from the resting ire in them.

"I've been lenient with you, Frankie," he muttered in a low, level voice. "I advise you not to push your luck."

A shard of fear jabbed into her chest. That was a warning. She didn't want to be around to find out what happened when she didn't heed it. She swallowed through her constricted throat and stepped back, tugging herself out of his grasp. "I've been possessed before," she spoke carefully. "Once is enough. Find yourself another vessel."

"I've found my next vessel," he said, voice hardening along with his glare. "You're a smart girl, Frankie. It'd be wise to serve your best interests."

Frankie fruitlessly searched for bravery. She inhaled deeply through her nose, gathering all strength she could. "Good luck with your 'Death homecoming' ritual crap. And screw you very much." She turned her back on Lucifer and made a move for the forest.

His hand gripped her arm. She froze in place, eyes set forward into the dark trees. Tears knocked on the back of her eyes as she stared into freedom, unable to reach it.

"I have other methods of encouragement that don't include diplomacy. I want this to be as easy and fair as possible."

"Fair?" she croaked. "You're asking me to betray my family and become the face of Satan."

"Temporary. The temporary face of Satan," Lucifer irately corrected, squeezing her arm. She winced against the pressure. "What do your brothers matter to you anyway? They lied to you, emotionally scarred you, physically scarred you, denied you your rightful role in their cause, and locked you in a chamber to keep you from your destiny." Frankie's eyes flicked down to the grass. "If you continue on the path they choose for you, you'll lose a lot more than your hand. Try your sanity. You will wind up a drooling mess in a tiny white room reeking of antiseptic, blubbering about monsters and demons and angels, and do you think they'll visit?" His mouth suddenly appeared next to her ear, his hot breath whispering against her skin. "Why would they when they were the ones to throw you in there?" She heatedly yanked her arm from his grasp. "Don't you see? It's one locked room after another with the Winchesters. Is that the kind of life worth fighting for?"

She caught her lip with her teeth, stilling its incessant quiver.

He was twisting her thoughts. He was trying to manipulate her memories. Yes… yes, they did all those things, but they had good reason. She didn't make things easy for them. She didn't deserve the abuse, but she brought it on herself. And it wasn't like they'd do those things again.

But no matter how many times she replayed the thought, the certainty never appeared.

Lucifer let out a long sigh. His fingers slid over her shoulder before giving it a light squeeze. The remaining skin on her arms prickled at his touch. "My heart breaks for you, Frankie. You never got to have the family you wanted. Your father was a deadbeat, your mother was always gone, you had to suffer from a disease you didn't even contract yet, and then when things started looking up for you, you ended up in a hospital without a drop of hope left in your decaying body. And it was all downhill from there. You don't deserve to have to make this choice. Especially when there's no one in your corner to fight for you."

Her eyes blurred with tears, unable to blink them away.

His voice softened as his thumb stroked her shoulder. "I know they mean a lot to you, but the feeling isn't mutual. They'll be sad when you die, but give it a month or two. They'll just move on like they always do when someone they care for kicks the bucket. You matter to them now, but strip away the nostalgia, they're left with the memory of a stranger with an attitude and a machete. Trying to become a martyr for passing up this opportunity is foolish. Say 'yes,' Frankie. I can give you the life you deserve. The life you've always deserved."

She shut her eyes, tears trickling down her cheeks. She sniffed the slowly oozing snot from her flaring nostrils, subduing a sob. She took in a short breath, then a longer one, then an even longer one, calming herself. She blew out a light readying breath before clearing her throat.

"No."

Lucifer's thumb stilled.

Frankie turned around to meet his blank stare, releasing his hold on her.

"Maybe you're right. Maybe they won't care about me a month from now. But they care about me now. And I'm gunna make sure the last lingering memory they have of me is fighting to the very end." She leaned towards him, shoving her bared teeth and furrowed brows in his face. "So, suck my dick, Lucifer."

The crickets sensed the tension and ceased their cricketing.

Lucifer stared ahead of him, eyes glossed over with indifference. He sucked in a deep breath, lasting for quiet a few seconds. He exhaled twice as long.

"Typical Winchester," he sighed. He lifted a hand up next to his head, fingers posed to snap.

The woods echoed with the click of his fingers.

Her left tibia slipped against the point of its fracture, sending its spear-like tip tearing through skin. Frankie hoarsely shrieked from the bottom of her lungs as she collapsed to the ground.

"Always gotta do it the hard way."

She wheezed out gasping wails into the grass. Her arms all but sizzled like bacon with sweltering heat. Her hand quickly oozed blood, staining every inch of it with a shining crimson layer. It soon appeared as if she dipped her hand in red paint. The wind burned like acid against the exposed flesh on her right arm, the breeze chilling the bone. Blood waterfalled off the dangling meat of the wound and flooded the dirt beneath her.

Lucifer tucked his fingers into her hair and tightened them into a fist. He yanked her head up until her back arched, allowing him to look her in the face. Her left hand reached for her hair to lessen the sting, soaking her strands with blood.

Lucifer tilted his head, mocking a sympathetic pout. "I wanted to do this with a little decorum, but you're just too much like your brother," he grunted, rearing his leg back and kneeing her face.

Her nose crunched like a granola bar, crumbs substituted for nerve searing fire scorching behind her eyes. Her mouth gaped without a sound, her lungs going into overdrive to hold in any breath.

He pulled her head forward, lowering his own to level his eyes with hers. "I should've known that when you decided to blow yourself up instead of negotiating."

He reared his fist back. Frankie had barely enough time to flinch before his knuckles dug into her cheek. Not a second passed before his fist came again, striking her in her jaw. Her teeth scraped against each other, sending a violent chill up her spine. Another blow immediately followed, and at the same moment his hand met her brow, he released her hair. She crashed onto the grass, coughing out a raspy whimper.

"I'm a simple guy. I want very little." His foot stabbed her in the ribs. She heaved with guttural cries as it came again and again despite her shielding hand. He kicked against bruises that had yet to form. In one hard punt, the rubber tip of his shoe ripped open raw skin, inflicting a squeal like a wounded dog from the girl. The stars above her whirled and blurred under the encompassing agony pumping through her to the rapid beat of her heart.

The collar of her shirt tightened and pulled. Lucifer grasped her and tugged her from the ground. Blood dripped onto the grass as she was hoisted into the air to meet the Devil's gaze.

"You brought this on yourself," he whispered, his breath warming her throbbing lips. "I offered you more than you deserve. Yet this was the route you chose." His free hand wrapped around her ring finger with a squish, his fingers slipping against the coat of blood covering it. His nails scraped against the gashed flesh of her missing pinky. She gasped against the pinch. "I just need one little word. One little word and the pain is as good as gone."

Frankie's tears fell into streams of blood. His words were nearly too difficult to decipher through the rapid pulsing of pain injecting into her brain. Only a tiny, measly thought stood out among the crags of anguish weighing down her body.

Make it stop. God, make it stop.

It would only take a word.

She focused her eyes into his. There wasn't a hint of emotion in them. No anger, not even sadistic delight. He only waited for her answer.

"No?" he hummed, tilting his head. Frankie whined as he tutted with a shake of his head.

He flicked his wrist, snapping her finger like a number two pencil. Splintering shards poked against her skin without breaking it. She bellowed a wail to the sky, her voice wavering with a slight vibrato. The flesh around it immediately reddened and swelled like a bratwurst.

Lucifer twisted her shirt in his fist before he pushed against her, sending her body limply flying across the clearing.

It was a fleeting moment. She couldn't even see the stars, and yet the sky caught her blurry eye. The deep shade of blue – nearly black – gifted her an embrace of calm. She felt weightless. No pain. Almost numb. The wind no longer burned, but now kissed her wounds with sympathy.

She landed on her back, knocking what little air she mustered out of her lungs. The pain bitterly welcomed her back. It dizzied her, making the stars above her spin like a mobile over a crib. A visceral longing to fly through the sky again – up to the stars – rushed through every vein in her crooked body.

She sucked in a wheezy breath as her head lolled to the side. She cracked open her blurry eyes, looking for her assailant. Her eyes focused her double vision, but instead of the Devil, she saw small dunes of fresh dirt.

She shakily lifted her head to take in the sight of the large hole in the ground that she landed next to. It looked as if a meteor had punched a crater into the earth, but this hole was dug up. And inside the hole were piles upon piles of cadavers. Hundreds of women and elderly men, faces bloated and sliced beyond recognition, lying lifeless on top of pale faced children. The taste of bile in her throat made her grimace.

She lifted her eyes to the patch of field on the other side of the hole. Dozens of men of roughly young age stood motionless, almost as if in a trance. She whimpered as a premature call for help, but her throat was squeezed shut by foreign fingers.

Lucifer cupped her neck in his hand. She gagged for air with squeaking pants. The Devil lifted her into the air once again, lining up their faces. Frankie could only dangle limp in his grasp. Her cheeks felt fuzzy, like TV static. The pressure behind her eyes was so dense that she feared they would pop out of her skull. Her nose stuttered to inhale as his hand crushed her throat. She halfheartedly prayed that she'd run out of oxygen soon.

"Now," he sighed, a smile finally breeching his emotionless face, "anything you'd like to say?"

Looking into his eyes, his indifferent, infuriating, inhuman eyes, anger blazed underneath the pain. She glared daggers into his skull. Her throat rolled and squished under his palm as she gathered globs of saliva onto her tongue. She spat the clump of spit and blood onto his cheek with a lip quirked in a sneer.

Lucifer closed his eyes. He huffed out an irritated sigh and reached his free hand behind his back. Frankie followed his hand and watched as he pulled a long silver blade from behind him.

Her machete, miraculously not destroyed by the explosion.

Her anger burrowed back into its hiding place with its tail between its legs, leaving behind only the terror that rattled whatever bones were still intact.

Lucifer raised the machete next to his head and wiggled it childishly. "Very well."


They trudged through the thick forest, stomping over ferns and shoving low hanging leaves out of their way. The height of the moon concerned them. Midnight was too close. They meandered through the forest at a quick pace, yet the entire trip over they were silent.

Sam and Dean didn't share a word with each other. What the hell could they say? Jo and Frankie were dead.

Dean kept his eyes faced forward and his feet moving. Branches and bushes caressed him without gaining a single acknowledgement. His head never pivoted, and not once did he slow his rapid stride.

They were on his mind, and he wanted them gone. Anytime his brain flashed an image of Jo's golden hair flying behind her like a cape or sparked a vision of Frankie's honey eyes, he clenched his fists tighter, forcing the ghosts away. He swallowed hard and focused on the hefty patting of the colt swinging in his jacket pocket against his hip.

This was his fault. Jo, Frankie, it was all his fault. Because of him, Ellen had to be left behind to find what was left of her daughter. She insisted on being alone despite the risk. She wouldn't have either of their help. Only a second shotgun for added protection. They left without a single opposition, knowing all too well not to acknowledge the tears on her cheeks.

And it was all his fault. Dean was going to fucking enjoy blowing his brains out.

Sam didn't have to try hard to keep up with him, and he didn't mention anything about how tense he looked. He knew Dean was on a different mission than him. They were both going after Lucifer, but things just got a whole lot more personal for his brother.

Their mission had been harder on Sam from the start. After all, they were chasing the guy trying to make him Satan's meatsuit. Sam knew this would end with confronting Lucifer, and he had built up the courage to look him in the eye and tell him to screw off. Dean only had to sneak up and shoot the bastard. But now, with Jo and Frankie sacrificing themselves for that very moment, he knew there was no way in hell they could fail. Failure had always been a possibility, but now succeeding had to be the only outcome.

They had to make their deaths worth something.

A faint scream whistled in the wind. Dean's head finally moved and turned to the side to listen. He stopped his feet along with Sam as the scream came again. Their hunter instincts kicked in. It sounded like a banshee from some ancient lore, but their gut told them differently.

They looked at each other, thinking the same thought. Sam shrugged and made an unnerved face. "We're getting close." Dean's lip quirked in the same sour look.

They kept on their path, following the wails as they grew closer. It sounded like a young girl. Her voice was raw and raspy from constant screaming, and by the sound of it, she was being put through some unbearable torment. Every so often the howl would come out as a growl through clenched teeth or there would be a breathy whine. They knew they were getting closer.

A faint orange glow was up ahead, coming from some source of fire. As they marched closer to the site and the screams got louder, Dean couldn't shake an uneasy twinge in his stomach. For some reason, the screams rubbed him the wrong way. He wasn't sure why. He'd heard people put through torture before, but this girl scratched a restless spot in his brain. It made him want to open fire on whoever was doing the torture, though he had a pretty good clue as to who it was.

They crept the last few feet up to a tree with thickly bristled limbs to hide behind. The bonfire illuminated a corner of a large clearing. In the light, dozens of men stood as if in a trance, all looking towards a huge pit dug into the ground, a couple discarded shovels poking out of the fresh dirt.

"I guess we know what happened to some of the townspeople," Dean grunted.

A lengthy yell echoed across the clearing, coming from the other side of the pit. The light of the fire didn't reach that far, but one thing was for sure. Lucifer was the culprit behind the torture.

Dean pulled the Colt out of his pocket, his jaw clenching at the sight of the creature. Sam adjusted the grip on his shotgun as he swallowed down a cloud of anxiety from knowing that he was about to make himself known to the archangel who desperately sought him out.

"Okay," Sam sighed.

"Okay," Dean quickly echoed.

Sam shuffled his feet as he searched for that courage he was building up. "Last words?"

Dean turned his head over to his brother. There was no need to say anything. The look of hampered dread in his eyes spoke for him. "I think I'm good," he said, turning back to face the clearing.

Sam wanted to spare some last words, but the only problem was that there was nothing good enough to offer. There was no use claiming "For Jo and Frankie" if there was a chance at failure.

He somberly nodded. "Yeah. Me, too."

Dean gave the Colt a small shake in his hands, mustering the same courage Sam was fighting to hold onto. His eyes landed on Lucifer holding up the helpless girl by her throat. He swallowed at the sight of his other hand sliding in different angles across her stomach. How she was able to screech so loud with his hand around her neck was a mystery to him.

Lucifer pulled back his other hand and brought her closer to whisper something in her face. Dean's eyes landed on the tool he was using on her. His brows cinched together as he leaned forward, trying to get a better look.

His eyes went wild. His chest heated like a furnace that spread its fury to his cheeks. "Sam," he mutedly exclaimed. He reached his hand out and grasped Sam's arm without tearing his eyes away from the blood-soaked weapon. "Sam, look."

Sam glanced at Dean confusedly before pointed his eyes in the direction of Lucifer. He ran his eyes over the girl, then the blood dripping off her body, then to the Devil himself. Sam had no idea what he was going crazy over.

But then he looked at the blade in his hand.

"Is that…," Sam gasped. He flicked his head over to Dean. "Her machete?"

Dean gave no answer. He pointed his eyes to the girl he was working over. What gave him the right to use his sister's weapon on some random girl. He tightened his grip on the Colt.

Lucifer turned his body, turning the girl as well. He gestured wildly with the machete as he spoke unheard words to her. His back was turned to the pit, yet she faced Sam and Dean.

They got a better look at her. Swollen cheeks, missing a hand, eyes black even in the moonlight, her shirt soaked through with blood… had she have not been screaming they would have thought he was cutting up a corpse.

Dean's eyes lowered to her neck, just under Lucifer's hand. There was something around her neck. There was a chain bobbing against her wet shirt, and something hung on the end. He squinted his eyes, focusing on the slender white object.

A tooth. A long tooth on a chain.

His eyes widened, his back slowly straightening. "Oh my god…"

He froze, body going numb. His breathing picked up, yet he couldn't feel how fast his heart began pounding in his chest.

Sam looked over to him, brows furrowed at the off reaction of his brother. "What?"

Dean bore his eyes into her face, hoping that he was wrong. Hoping that he was so, so wrong. Hoping that he was just missing and mourning her and that this was some random chick he cared nothing about.

Then she screamed again, a drawn-out belt of a wail. He now knew why her scream bothered him so much.

He had heard it before. He heard it when the ghoul attacked her. He heard it when she was going postal on the tammatuyuq. Now, he was hearing it as Lucifer cut her up with her own machete.

"It's her, Sam," he said, his voice cracking under the pressure of his shock.

Sam blinked at Dean. He nearly shook his head in confusion, but the situation slowly dawned on him. His jaw gently slacked. He darted his eyes back to the girl, narrowing his sight on her puffy, red cheeks.

It was Frankie, alive. And for how long determined on what they did right at that second.

Dean's chest expanded with each hurried breath, fueling the fire in his gut. Red coated the edge of his vision, and he focused his sights on Lucifer. He gripped the Colt tight and launched towards him.

"Dean, wait!" Sam gasped, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back. Dean didn't look back, afraid of what would happen if he removed his eyes from her. "We-We gotta think this through."

"Sam, we gotta go get her!"

"I know. Dean," Sam turned his brother to face him and was met with a reluctant scowl, "I know. But you gotta understand what's going on."

"Frankie is being tortured by the freakin' Devil! Now I am going over there and sending a bullet through his fucking satanic head!" He turned to sprint over to Lucifer, but Sam caught him again.

"You can't!" Sam exclaimed. Dean recoiled, a nasty glower enunciating his manic frown. "Not yet. You can't just run over there and fire. He'll see you coming. A-And you could miss and shoot her."

Dean swallowed at Sam's point. It was a good one. But he couldn't just stand there and listen to her screams anymore. He gritted his teeth and tried to put all his focus on Sam's wide, distressed eyes to drown out the sound.

"Then what do we do?" he gruffly barked.

Sam's throat bobbed with a swallow. He shrugged and shook his head, his eyes shining with poorly restrained panic. "We stick to the plan."


Frankie's head lolled back. Overwhelming weakness washed over her. Her ears loudly throbbed, lulling her into a slow rest which she hoped to never wake up from.

"Ah, ah," Lucifer tutted as he violently shook her. Her head drooped forward, bringing her consciousness back to his torture. He tapped the wet tip of her machete against her lips as he shook his head. "Keep those eyes open. We're not done yet."

It hurt too much to furrow her brows at him. It was easier to stare emptily at the monster as he sliced off her skin.

He lifted the blade to her cheek and slowly caressed it down to her chin, painting a stripe of blood on her face. "I will say I'm impressed. I misjudged you, Frankie, I don't do that often." The blade's tip scraped against her jawline as he spoke. "I would've thought by now you'd be squealing 'yes' to the sky like it was a confession to my father. But you're holding out. That takes guts."

He tilted his head with a small smile. His eyes, so close to hers that they were all she could see, bore into her with sickening delight. He dragged the machete along the length of her neck, pausing the tip against an artery. The blade rapidly lifted and fell with the quick pulse it rested on. He dragged the blade down her chest and between her breasts. He pressed the blade harder, cutting into the buttons holding her shirt closed. One by one they popped off, leaving her thin camisole as the final barrier between the weapon and her skin. The blade slithered further down the center of her stomach until it stopped at her bellybutton.

"So, we get them out of the way, maybe we'll be getting somewhere."

Frankie's nose flared as she struggled to keep what little composure remained in her. She feared that he was right. Breaking her fingers and slicing off slabs of skin like they were salami were one thing, but yanking out her intestines like skee ball tickets might be what breaks her.

She was terrified. Terrified that she might be weak enough to give in. Terrified to know that she was.

Lucifer's meek smile curled into a twisted smirk. He pressed into her stomach, the blade poking through her camisole and biting her skin. Frankie's whimper of terror was muted by his choking hand.

"Hey!"

The machete stilled, the silver cold against her skin. Lucifer's devilish grin loosened, and the emptiness in his eyes filled with brightness. Wicked elation expanded his pupils.

Frankie barely heard the noise. Something sounded from over by the dazed townsmen. One probably woke up and realized his position in Lucifer's plan.

The Devil himself slowly turned his head over to where the sound had come from. Frankie, knowing well that her curiosity would only bring her more pain, sputtered suffocating breaths as she flicked her eyes towards the campfire and twisted her head as much as Lucifer's hand would allow.

With a pump of his shotgun, Sam marched passed the tranced men and stood before the large pit of the dead.

Frankie's eyes spilled silent tears. If she had any breath to spare, it would have left her at the sight of her brother. Her heart leaped, orchestrating her lips to quiver with joy that they were able to escape.

"Oh, Sam, you don't need that gun here," Lucifer said, pointing at him with the machete. "You know I'd never hurt you. Not really."

Sam sneered at the irony of his words. He pointed his shotgun at Lucifer, yet narrowed his eyes on the battered girl in his grasp.

Lucifer pretended to follow his eyes and turned his head to Frankie. "Oh, right…" He put on a mockingly embarrassed gape and pointed at Frankie with the blade. "Yeah, see, I know this probably looks bad, but, y'know, this is sort of a personal thing between us so…"

"If you touch her again," Sam snarled, fixing his animalistic eyes onto Lucifer, "I will blow your brains out!"

Lucifer blinked idly at Sam. He turned his head over to the squirming Frankie and gestured between her and her brother. "I really see the family resemblance."

"Let. Her. Go."

Lucifer sighed and lolled his head over to Sam. "See, we're not really done here…"

"Done with what?" Sam spat. "Cutting her to ribbons?!"

"Like I said, it's personal. A little hard to explain right now. Just some business between friends," Lucifer casually explained over his shoulder, forcing the machete back into Frankie's stomach. She hoarsely whined as the tip cut deeper into her skin, speckling her camisole with small, red blotches. Sam tightened his grip on his shotgun, his eyes gleaming with trepidation as they narrowed on her stomach. "But don't you go anywhere." He nodded to Sam with a smile on his flaking cheeks. "I'll be right with you."

Lucifer twisted the machete, cutting deeper into her flesh. Frankie's tears pooled over his hand around her throat.

"Stop!" Sam cried out, his voice losing its threatening edge. "Look," he tried again, forcing hostility back into his voice, "I'm here. I'm the one you want. This is between us. Just let her go."

Lucifer tilted his head and smiled. "C'mon, Sam, it's not that black and white. Not anymore. This has to do with all of us. You, me, Frankie, and, of course, Dean here." Lucifer lazily turned his head to look at something behind Frankie. "Glad you could make it."

She couldn't see, but she knew it had to be Dean. She hadn't heard him sneaking up behind her, but Lucifer certainly had. And judging by the defeated look in Sam's eyes, he wasn't supposed to.

"Put her down," Dean rumbled, clicking the hammer of, no doubt, the Colt. Frankie shivered at the sound of his voice. Knowing that he was there, looking at the mess she caused, watching her die by Lucifer's hands instead of in the explosion like she was supposed to heated her cheeks with shame. "Frankie, you okay?"

Lucifer's hand on her throat prevented her from shaking her head.

"You heard him!" Sam roared, pointing his shotgun back at Lucifer. "Put her down!"

The Devil turned back to Sam. His eyes softened, the sinister smile on his cheeks dimming. "Sure," he answered, his voice gentle. "Yeah, of course, Sam. Anything for you."

Lucifer lowered Frankie and set her feet on the grass. Her left leg squished as the broken bone bayonetted further through her skin. She gasped a raspy whine as her weight pressed down on the shattered leg. Her whimpers of pain battled with her sputtered coughing, finally able to breathe.

Sam's eyes flicked over her body, fully taking in how much blood coated her clothes. He gulped at the sight of her missing hand.

"Now let her go!" Dean ordered.

"Why should I?" Lucifer nonchalantly asked, blinking back over to the older Winchester.

"Because we said so," Dean growled, daring a step closer.

Lucifer gave Frankie's shivering form a once over. He pursed his lips and shook his head. "No, I don't think I will. Not yet."

"Frankie should've died in the explosion," Sam guardedly spat. "How'd she end up with you?" Lucifer lingered his smiling gape on Frankie as Sam stepped closer, shotgun raised. "You saved her, didn't you? Why?"

Lucifer slowly shifted his eyes to Sam. He merely cocked his head, an impish smirk stretching his whiskered cheeks.

Sam scoffed, nearly rolling his eyes. "Let me guess. It's personal?"

"Bingo," Lucifer answer with a wink.

"You seriously gunna stand there ogling her when you got you and your ponce brother's vessels right in front of you?" Dean bitterly snapped.

Frankie's breath hitched.

'No, Dean! What the hell are you doing?'

"He's the one you're after, right? Why waste your time with Frankie when Sam's right there?"

It was more than fact that they were more valuable than her. They were the two toughest archangels' vessels, for fuck's sake. And she just knew they were going to dangle that in front of Lucifer's face just so they could save her life.

That was not how this was going to end. They were not going to sacrifice everything for her. Lucifer would not use her to get what he wanted.

"I'm sure you got your reasons for thinking she's valuable, but you've been buried for a long damn time. Heaven cut her off like a diseased foot. They let her go. Whatever she was good for, she's not anymore. She's worth nothin' to you. Not like Sam."

"Dean," Frankie croaked, but Lucifer jabbed his thumb into her throat, silencing her words.

She needed to tell him that Lucifer didn't care about that. He needed to know that he was after something far worse than her soul.

"Are you suggesting a trade?" Lucifer lifted a brow. "Hm? Her freedom for…" He flicked his eyes to Sam. The younger man straightened his back and deepened his venomous scowl. "… someone else's?"

"No," Dean grunted. "I just think you're wasting your time."

He wasn't going to negotiate. Dean had to know that! He wasn't going to give up one of his vessels just because he was at gunpoint. Not when he had a human shield.

But…

But at just the right distance, the shield could fail. The bullet could shoot straight through her… and into Lucifer.

Images of her and her brothers living together faded like Marty McFly in his family photograph. A life with them was a stretch to begin with. But if she had a shot at giving them the world they deserved, then so fucking be it.

"Dean, shoot me," she rasped. Sam's head snapped to her. She didn't see it, but she could feel the horrified look on his face searing into her. "Just shoo-!"

Lucifer squeezed her throat. She gagged for air, tears sliding down her cheeks. He poked the machete into her stomach and whispered a low, "Shh."

"She goes free!"

Frankie's struggling breath caught in her throat. Her eyes snapped over to Sam. His shotgun was lowered, and his eyes burned into Lucifer's.

"Then we'll talk."

"Sam," Dean hissed in protest.

"No. Sam, no!" Frankie cried out, frantically trying to shake her head at her brother. He couldn't give in. Not for her!

Lucifer smirked at Sam. "I need a little more commitment than that. And, uh, you better speed things up," he said, glancing up to the moon high in the sky.

"The fact that I'll listen to anything you say is enough. Let her go."

Lucifer chuckled. He slowly shook his head at Sam. "I may have been in a cage for thousands of years, but I know better than to accept loose terms. Try again."

Sam couldn't agree to give consent. He couldn't. That was all Lucifer wanted, and he wouldn't give her up until Sam gave himself up. Lucifer was going to keep coaxing them with her life. As long as he had her in his grasp, gasping for air and bleeding out, Sam and Dean were going to do anything to save her life.

Anything.

Frankie darted her eyes in every direction, searching helplessly for a solution. Lucifer's sweaty throat, his green shirt, his blood speckled arm, the machete-

Blood coated the blade like a sheath. His hand clutched the handle tight, lightly forcing the tip deeper into the small gash to the left of her bellybutton.

Her gulp traveled agonizingly slow under his hand.

Dean had to shoot Lucifer. She was in his way. And there was no way Dean was going to shoot her, not even after all the crap she put him through. So… she had to get out of his way.

Maybe… maybe she could do the deed herself and get it over with. Lucifer couldn't use her if she was gone. But if he healed her… well, at least it would catch him off guard long enough for Dean to nail him.

This was the last chance she had to do the right thing. Sam and Dean had to go on and keep saving the world. She could give them that chance. Right then. Right there.

Just like Lucifer said, they'll be sad, but in time they'll forget her, and maybe then the pain will leave them just like her memory. What better gift could she offer them?

"What's it gunna take?" Sam warily barked, gathering her attention. "What's it gunna take for you to leave her alone?!"

Lucifer's smirk stretched, a brow lifting over his telling eyes. "We both know the answer to that. The answer is your answer."

"Sam," she gasped. "Don't."

Sam looked down to the grass, deep thought buzzing behind his apprehensive glower. A sigh raised and sagged his shoulders. His eyes lifted and met her own. They were drowning in turmoil, burdened by the choice he had to make. Watch her die, or say 'yes' to Lucifer.

His eyes gave away his answer. They said, "I'm sorry."

Tears barreling down her cheeks, her eyes said the same thing.

Her last remaining hand launched for Lucifer's wrist and yanked it forward.

The machete carved through skin and muscle with a squelch. She jerked it forward, skewering her stomach with two distinct pops, until the tip of the blade ripped through the back of her shirt.

Her belly warmed, shockwaves of intense heat pulsing around the silver blade. Her mouth was wide open, hoping for breath that would never come.

"No!" Dean quaveringly screamed from somewhere lost to her.

She stared forward, far away, adrift. Her heartbeat muffled her ears, drowning out the distant gasps around her.

A puff of air blew in her face. An amused snort from Lucifer.

Her eyes lazily lifted to his grinch-like smirk, watching blurrily as his whiskers morphed with his words.

"Take some time to think it over."

He yanked the blade from her stomach, spraying blood over his shirt. She winced at the squishing pressure, feeling somehow hollow.

Her feet were off the ground, and she found herself flying once more. She was numb, the wind kissing her wounds with sympathy.

The stars sparkled high above her, beckoning her to soar higher and catch them in her fingers.

The ground caught her shoulder, sending her rolling across the twigs and fallen leaves under the canopy of the trees. Her head lolled to the side, finally able to move on its own accord. The blurring tears drained from her eyes, sliding across her nose, clearing a view of Lucifer in front of the pit.

"You sonnuva bitch!" Dean roared, lifting the Colt to Lucifer's head.

He pulled the trigger. The woods echoed the crack of the gun as a bullet sank into the forehead of the Devil.

The world moving like molasses, Frankie watched as Lucifer's feet fell from under him, blood spurting from his head like a whale's blowhole. He slumped to the ground, sprawling out in front of her brothers. Lifeless.

Dead.

The corner of her mouth twitched upward, her cheeks warming with diluted delight.

They'd done it. They killed the Devil.

Mission accomplished.

A breathy whisper brushed passed her lips, hawking gobs of blood into her throat. She weakly coughed as she tugged her head to the sky. The stars peeked through black leaves. They were brighter now. Bigger. Closer. She sighed a long, gurgling breath, her lungs wheezing out the smallest chuckle.

They'd done it.


Dean stared down at the crooked form of Lucifer's vessel. His eyes burned into the cracked hole in his head, whirring relief heating his chest.

After all that time hunting him down, chasing a wrong to right it, they finally accomplished their mission. They had started the apocalypse, and now, right there in the middle of the field, minutes to midnight, they stopped it in its damn tracks. Now they could finally rest.

He raised his head and found Sam's frazzled gape. He looked at Dean with misty eyes and a clenched smile, relief like he'd never known overwhelming him.

They'd done it. They killed the Devil. It was over.

A violent, airy breath was snorted into the vessel's lungs. Sam and Dean's gazes shot down to the once lifeless body, disconcertedly gawking at it as he rolled over, gasping to the sky.

"Ow!" he wheezed in a wimpy breath.

That much welcomed relief plummeted down to the pit of their stomachs, jagged horror taking its place. They stood frozen, shaking in their shoes as they watched Lucifer come back to life.

He puffed out struggled breaths before slowly hoisting himself to his feet. He hissed raspy grunts while rubbing his temple as if he had the world's worst headache. His face twisted in a pained grimace, he turned to Dean.

"Where did you get that?" he grumbled, irately pointing at the Colt.

Dean paled. The fear he tried so hard to keep down sprawled over his face like a dog rolling in the grass.

Lucifer reared his arm back and backhanded Dean in the chest. The jarring force of the strike launched Dean into the air, ramming into a thick tree. The trunk clocked him in the stomach, wrapping his body around it before he collapsed to the ground, a new throb aching every limb.

"Now," Lucifer sighed to Sam. "Where were we?"

Dean lay on his side, clenching his teeth against the dull stings over his body. He felt like the Hulk had punched him in the stomach with brass knuckles. He wouldn't be surprised if a rib was cracked, or at least a bruise the size of a cantaloupe formed.

Mumbles came from somewhere close. Putting the slightest bit of focus in, he recognized it as Lucifer.

"Don't feel too bad, Sam. There's only five things in all of creation that that gun can't kill and… I just happen to be one of them. But if you gimme a minute, I'm almost done."

Dean quietly grunted as he experimentally moved his arms. Neither were broken. He propped his body up by his elbows. He stilled when he was met with a spinning wave of dizziness. He closed his eyes, bracing himself against the woozy ripple in his brain.

"Look," Lucifer sighed. "I want you to know that deal with Frankie back there, that was nothing personal." Dean's clenched his teeth so hard that a headache formed. A different kind of wave weakened him. "Between us, I mean. I don't want it to put a wedge in our relationship."

Dean lifted his head, remembering her. His heart throbbed noisily as his mind replayed the image of the machete poking through her back, blood soaking her shirt like spilled ink. His eyes frantically scurried across the forest floor, searching for where she landed.

"Y'know, I don't suppose you'd just say 'yes' right here and now," Lucifer jadedly sighed, leaning against a shovel. "End this whole tiresome discussion. That's crazy, right?"

"It's never gunna happen!" Sam roared.

And then Dean spotted her. Barely visible in the soft moonlight, she was lying on her back a good many feet away. Dean hurriedly huffed as he scampered to his feet, ignoring the sting in his stomach as he bent over.

The rest of Lucifer and Sam's conversation was a mere murmur to him as his sights narrowed in on his sister. His breath came out as short puffs when he noticed her not moving.

"Oh, god, no," he breathed as he slid on his knees to her body.

He couldn't even swallow at the sight. Her left leg was twisted in an unnatural angle. The lower leg of her pants was shaded nearly black by blood. Her light gray camisole was stained black as well, slowly soaking her sides as the oozing pool spilled to the ground. A light puddle flooded beneath her, mixing with the gritty dirt she lay on. Her arms were a horrible sight. Light red burns tarnished her once pale, freckled skin. Her right hand was completely gone. All that remained was an exposed bone, nearly invisible against its crimson coating.

The state of her face stung his eyes, misting them over. He wouldn't be able to recognize her without her necklace. Her cheeks were split and swollen, swelling one eye shut. Her nose was crooked and purple, even in the darkness, and colored her eyes black along with it. Her lips were twice the size they normally were and busted by multiple blows and cuts. Her cheek had a stripe of blood connected to a long slice along her jaw, drizzling small streams of red down her neck like melted crayons in some kid's art project.

And whatever breath she made was agonizingly slow.

"No, no, no, no. Oh, god…"

His hands hovered over her, not knowing where to begin to help. He was afraid to touch her, worried that the slightest tap would bring her unbearable pain. There wasn't a single spot that the bastard didn't carve, hit, or strangle.

"God, not again… not again," he rasped. He raked his fingers through his hair, panicked eyes flicking over her as he searched for something – anything – he could do.

Something tapped on his thigh. He dropped his head to his legs. Frankie's wet fingers – what were left of them – trembled against his pants. He lifted his frenzied gaze to her single open eye. It was void of the light it used to hold, now only possessing pain.

But even though her eye harbored a look of fear and hurting, the corner of her lips curved upwards. It curved upwards at the sight of him.

Dean swallowed passed an excruciating lump in his throat. He moved his hand to hers. He hesitated, his fingers twitching. He didn't want to hurt her more, but the small taps against his jeans told him she wanted his hand. Who was he to deny her that?

Letting out a stuttering breath, he gently cupped his hand in her own, his fingers sliding against the slickness of the blood still seeping from the gashes in her skin.

He shook his head as his lips stretched in a pained frown. "God, Frankie, what did you do?" She curled her fingers around him. His heart lurched as her hand severely shook.

He kept shaking his head as he looked over her broken body. He was a rational man when he had to be. She lost too much blood. And aside from that, the machete was a killing blow. There was nothing to be done. He couldn't save her. He was going to sit there and watch her die right there on the ground.

It was his job to keep her safe. Not just because she was his student, but because he was her big brother. He had to look after her, it was his job. Some would say he tried his best given her stubbornness, but he knew the truth. He didn't do nearly enough for her.

Now she paid the ultimate price, and there was nothing he could do for her.

She shook his hand, bringing his eyes back to her face. She shakily stretched the smile on her swollen cheeks. She looked over every inch of his face, almost like she was trying to etch it into her mind. Her eye misted over, and a tear fell down the side of her head.

She opened her mouth. Her chest lifted with a breath, but before she could try to speak, her throat gurgled as it filled up. Her whole body shook with a wet hack, trickles of blood oozing from the corners of her now frowning mouth. Her eye widened, the fear in it growing. More tears raced the blood to her hair. Her breath quickened to terrified gasps.

"Hey, hey," Dean tensely hushed. He clenched his jaw to keep his own tears locked behind his eyes. He brought his other hand to hers and pulled it closer to his chest. He swallowed thickly. "Okay. Hey, i-it's okay." He rubbed his thumbs over the back of her hand, smearing the blood off her skin. He forced a smile and nodded to her hazy, scared eyes. "I'm here. I'm right here, Franks."

Her twitching slowed and her eye stilled, focusing on the comforting green eyes above her. Her fingers tightened in his hand, as tight as they could.

"That's it. I'm right here. I'm not goin' anywhere. I'm gunna stay right here. With you." He tugged the corners of his mouth to smile, but he didn't have the strength to make it believable. He gave her hand a light shake and nodded once to her. "Right here, Franks."

His voice wavered as he tried to stay strong for her. "I don't blame you for coming here. Not one bit. Y-You knew this would happen, and you came here anyway. Pretty ballsy, if you ask me," he sorrowfully chuckled. He shook his head, mostly at himself. "You don't gotta do anything. You didn't have to prove anything to me. 'Cause I'm not mad at you, Franks, I'm not." His lip quivered and he tucked it in to still it. He huffed, forcing the overwhelming emotions away. "I'm not mad at you."

He swallowed hard, willing any stubborn tears back into their ducts. He blinked down to her. His thumbs stilled.

Her eyes were glossy, unmoving. Pointing to the sky behind his head. Her chest stopped its lifting.

His eyes widened, brows furrowing. "Frankie?" Dean croaked.

He followed the stream of blood flowing from her mouth, watching it drip onto the blades of grass her head rested on.

"No…," he breathed out. He shook her hand. "Franks."

Her fingers slackened in his hand, slowly slipping from his grasp. He tightened his hold on them, refusing to let them fall.

"Frankie!" he snapped, using the same tone he would use during their lessons. He would give anything for her to scowl at him right then and there.

He ducked his head, gathering all the strength he could to keep it all inside him. He wouldn't shed any tears for her. Not a single damn one.

"It's okay," he whispered. He raised his head, tightening his grip on her hand. "It's okay."

Lucifer's voice reached his ears. He began chanting some Enochian spell. He had to be starting the ritual. Tearing his eyes away from her body, Dean turned around, still hanging onto her hand, to see the Devil finishing the chant and turning to face the townsmen.

"Now repeat after me," he instructed the tranced people. "'We offer up our lives, blood, soul…'"

"We offer up our lives, blood, soul…," they echoed.

"'To complete this tribute.'"

"To complete this tribute."

One by one, the townsmen's heads sparked with light and they then collapsed to the ground, motionless. Whether they were dead or in some worse state, Dean didn't know. And frankly, at the moment he didn't care.

Lucifer turned to Sam, sneering at his shocked expression. "What?" he scorned. "They're just demons." He turned around to the pit and raised his arms, performing a silent step to the ritual.

Sam, having had far enough of Lucifer, turned around to catch Dean's eye. Dean swallowed, not knowing how to tell Sam that she was gone.

But he didn't have to. Sam rushed over to the pair to check on their status. Dean returned his gaze to her lifeless form. His jaw clenched. It ripped open an agonizing hole in his chest to look at her, but he forced his eyes to linger. It was punishment. Punishment for letting that happen to her.

Sam scurried to her side. The moment his eyes landed on her face, his whole body stilled. It didn't take him but a second to know he was too late.

"Frankie," he gasped. He brought a hand to her face, his fingers brushing the bangs out of her swollen eye. Dean pushed down the heat that rose in his chest when he touched her wound.

Sam's throat let out a trembling huff. His throat bobbed with a thick gulp. He looked up to Dean, throwing his damp, plagued eyes into Dean's misery coated ones. Dean shut his eyes, unable to have her in his peripheral vision.

Dean only opened his eyes again when Sam gave a noisy wet sniff. He had his hands on each side of her face, gently turning her hand towards him. He got a good look into her hazy eyes. One look was all it took for the dam to break, and tears bubbled from his eyes, barely missing her cheek.

Dean's eyes flicked over Sam's face, taking in the sorrow that sprouted from her death. He knew they weren't as close, but it brought Dean an even greater grief to know that Sam still cared for her as much as he did. And maybe even more by the very presence of tears on his brother's cheeks.

The ground began to rumble like an earthquake was approaching. Death was only seconds from rising, they could feel it. And there was nothing they could do to stop it.

The faint, recognizable noise of fluttering wings sounded close by. Sam and Dean looked up from Frankie to see Cas crouching next to them. He lifted a finger to his mouth, shushing any words from them.

Dean gulped, wondering how he was going to take the news that his friend was gone, but it seemed like he barely even knew she was hurt.

Cas reached out, touching all three of them, and with a rush of wind, they were no longer in the forest next to Lucifer.

Dean held on tight to Frankie's hand, making sure that wherever they were now she was there, too. He lifted his head and looked around the room.

They were in the middle of Bobby's study, safe from harm. The man himself limped into the room with a shocked gape. He looked them over in astonishment that they so suddenly appeared in his house.

But his eyes turned ice cold the moment they landed on Frankie, motionless and bleeding onto the carpet. Dean forced his eyes away from the older man, not wanting him to see the hints of vulnerability on his face. He looked for Cas.

Cas was on the floor, also motionless. A trickle of blood fell from his nose. "Cas," Dean grunted wearily. Teleporting three humans must've been too much for him. As worried as he was for his friend, he knew he would bounce back. He only worried that he passed out before knowing what happened to Frankie.

His eyes fell to her body. So broken, so bruised. In the light, he could see just how much that sonnuva bitch hurt her.

And it was all his fault.

His lip quivered. He clutched her hand tighter and pressed it against his mouth.

Sam, still holding her head in his hands, lowered his own to rest his forehead on hers, trying to keep the shake in his shoulders to a minimum.