Wake up.

She did wake up at that command, but her eyes were already open and she found she couldn't move in the slightest--she couldn't even move her eyes to see if someone was in the room with her.

Sorry about that, the voice said. I'll give you a little control back.

She could move now, as much as she was able to move these days. Her eyes darted around the room as she slowly sat up and turned on the lamp. Everything looked the same. The room was as sterile and lonely as ever, the only sounds coming from the machines hooked up to her body. No one was there, not even the sadistic night nurse. And even though the dislike was mutual, she doubted the nurse would play such a trick on her.

Actually, I wouldn't put that past her. She really doesn't like you.

The voice was definitely coming from inside her. She couldn't even say it was a voice, really, or that she could hear it--it was more like her own internal monologue had somehow got away from her.

Don't worry, you're not crazy, the voice said. Although I guess the schizophrenic voices would probably reassure you of that, too, it added thoughtfully.

Oddly, she hadn't thought about going crazy. It was indisputable that the voice was inside her and she was pretty sure no one else would be able to hear it, but she wasn't crazy. This voice wasn't a part of her in any way. But she also knew she wouldn't be able to convince anyone else. She'd sound crazy.

That's a bonus. I didn't realize how reasonable you were.

She tried to reply, couldn't open her mouth. What the...?

Yeah, I can't risk you screaming right now. It actually sounded apologetic. But think it.

What's going on?

I'm a demon and I need a human host.

She had no response to that.

This is usually the part where people re-evaluate if they're crazy or not.

But I'm not crazy. I'm just having a bad reaction to the medication. Hallucinations aren't supposed to be a side effect. Dr. Wilson will--

Don't be so stupid, it interrupted her. Medication? That's the best you can do? I'm disappointed.

It makes more sense than a demon, she snapped.

Then I'll just prove it.

It wasn't an out-of-body experience, because she was still seeing through her own eyes. It wasn't a seizure or a spasm or any of the other simple involuntary muscle contractions she'd become so familiar with. Of its own volition, her body was moving. Her back straightened and her arms were stretching over her head. Her fingers then ran through her hair. She felt her mouth turn down in a frown and her head turned to examine the split ends.

You should use conditioner. Dying is no excuse for mistreating your hair.

Even in her mind, she wasn't able to form a coherent thought. This can't--you--how...

I'm just getting started.

Her hands moved from her hair to her face and removed the oxygen.

No! she screamed, but even as she protested, she realized she was able to take deeper breaths than she had in a long time.

Calm down. You'd think I was trying to kill you.

Her legs swung to the side of the bed.

No, I can't--I'll fall, I'm too weak...

She felt the short bark of a laugh, the quick exhalation of breath. "Weak" isn't going to be part of your vocabulary anymore, it said and stood.

She barely had time to adjust to the sensation of standing--really, truly standing, no one helping her--before her body started moving again, hands over her head again, flipping around...

A cartwheel. Even before she was sick, she hadn't done a cartwheel in years.

She felt moisture on her cheeks, and even though she knew was crying harder than she'd cried in a long time, aside from the tears, there was no sign on the outside. No sound escaped her and her face still wore a smirk.

Some medication, it commented as it walked over to the nightstand and pulled out a tissue.

What is going on?

It was that feeling you get when you've forgotten something, like the plot of a movie, really truly forgotten it, and then someone or something reminds you and the all knowledge you had floods back into your consciousness. Hell was real and it was full of demons and there had been some sort of master plan and Hell's Gate was open and Azazel was dead and Sam Winchester wanted to save his brother--

Ah, ah, ah,, the demon said, cutting her off. We don't know each other well enough for me to share all the details. Loose lips sink ships and all. Will you scream if I let you talk?


Whisper. The night nurse is busy, but let's not risk it. Ask anything. I'll be as honest as I can.

It was ridiculous to trust a demon of all things, but what choice did she have right now? "Why do you need me?" she asked.

I need a human host.

"I mean, why me specifically? Why does a demon care about me? I can't have done anything that terrible."

I don't care about you. You're useful to me. You're dying. In fact, I'd say you're mostly dead right now. Her eyes glanced to the left, but she didn't see anything there.

"Wouldn't a healthy person be better? Why do you want a mostly dead person?"

I don't need someone healthy. I'll keep you alive and healthy. I need someone weak, someone who won't fight me. Someone with nothing to lose. A friendless, familyless dying girl seems made to order, doesn't it?

"Well, if I have nothing to lose, why shouldn't I just tell you to screw yourself and let nature take its course?"

Her hands raised, almost in surrender. Temper, temper. All right. You think you're ready to die?

She didn't know what the demon did, but suddenly, she was living in a different world. It was still the hospital room, but it was the world as the demon experienced it, everything sharp and full of what should be pain, but oh, it felt good...

To the left. The demon's almost-whisper brought her back and she could hear the delighted malice in its voice.

She had a little control again, she was able to turn her own head and look to see what she couldn't see before.

It was Death.

She'd thought she'd accepted death, thought she was ready for it. But here it was, right in front of her, and as the demon, she could smell and feel what death truly was, and it was looking at her, reaching out its hand, and it would take her and it would be over...

She was sure a part of her would never stop screaming.

"Well, that was a pathetic display," the demon said. "And that was just a Reaper."

She had her regular vision back. And...she couldn't talk.

"No, and it's a good thing I took that back. Remember how we decided we didn't want the nurse coming in?" She stood up and moved across the room to her closet. "Do you have any clothes in here? Ah, here we are."

You'll keep me alive?

"As long as I'm in you, you can't die." She opened the bag and looked through it. "Well, aren't these...sweet."

I can't die?

"As long as I'm in you. You could be shot, drowned, have Leiomyosarcoma and you'll still be doing cartwheels." She considered it. "Well, actually, we don't really have time for cartwheels. Sorry."

She couldn't see it, but she knew Death was still sitting there, patiently waiting for her. And she had discovered that she very much wanted to live. But a deal with a devil... Tell me...tell me why I shouldn't let you do this.

"I think that's the first intelligent question you've asked. I'm a demon. And in case that's not clear, that means I'll be doing very nasty things to people and you'll probably think it's without provocation. It's all for the Greater Good, though, you can comfort yourself with that."

Demons believe in a Greater Good?

"In our own way. Also, when I say you can't die, I mean that. If you're sick of living like this after a week...that's too bad. I'm going to make this nice and formal, and you don't welch on a deal with a demon."

She didn't imagine you did.

"If I get exorcised, though, you'll drop dead, and you'll get to go on to your eternal reward."

To Heaven?

She paused while buttoning up the shirt. "I'm not the one in charge of that. But if you think you're going there, and you think Mommy and Daddy and anyone else are waiting for you there, well, they'll be waiting a while, now won't they?"

But if I make a deal with you...I'll go to Hell.

She shook her head. "That's not going to be our deal. You're not giving me your soul, you're giving me your body."

Why are you being so generous? This is all to my advantage.

"So suspicious," she chided. "What did I ever do to deserve that? I'll be dealing with someone, a kind, gentle soul. Someone who won't take too kindly to the whole demon part of me. If I have a willing host, there's a possibility it'll be easier for him to deal with."

If I don't say yes, you'll leave, and Death will take me wherever Death takes people and you'll find someone else.

"A succinct and coherent summary." She got up and walked over to the mirror. She was surprised to see that she was looking healthier. She'd lost her pallor and the circles under her eyes seemed to be fading. She smiled at her reflection. "Now. Do we have a deal?"

What happens if I try to get out of this?

The smile vanished. "I'll take you to Hell with me. And it's everything you've heard. Get out now, if you're having second thoughts."

She hesitated. What's your name?

Her eyes rolled. "We're not going to be friends."

But I still want to know.

"Fine. I'm Ruby. So what's it gonna be?"

I'll do it. She waited for some sort of change, some thunder or lightning, something.

"There won't be. The words were just a formality. I'm already in control," Ruby said. "Now, to celebrate our new...partnership, we're going to go shopping. And by 'we,' I mean me, because your taste in clothing is truly dismal."

All right, she said faintly. She felt herself being almost smothered by Ruby's presence, back to the very corners of her mind, almost as if she wasn't there at all.

Ruby seemed to sense that, too. "I guess I can throw you a bone. You haven't eaten real food for months. What's your favorite?"

French fries. With lots of ketchup.

"Then we'll stop by the food court, too." Ruby looked around the room. "Well, then. Let's be on our way."