The Last Watch of Hero

Bela never saw Dean's announcement coming.

They'd been here before, of course. Many times, in fact, since that encounter over the rabbit's foot. Guns drawn, eyes blazing down the barrel, and two mouths set stubbornly. It was almost getting to be routine, this cat and mouse game of whose object is it anyway; Bela was beginning to think of each encounter rather like a play: Dean said his lines, she said hers, and the ending was almost always predictable. She knew perfectly well that she could give him whatever he wanted, and simply pick his pocket a day later. He was getting wise to her tricks—how could he not be; Dean Winchester was not slow—but he was still a fool for batting eyelashes and subtle—or not so subtle—flirting. And cleavage. Dean Winchester was the world's biggest fool for cleavage.

Adjusting her aim a little, Bela cast the object in question a cursory glance. It was laying harmlessly on her countertop, closer to her than to Dean, but she had a feeling he could reach it if he wanted to. Thought that maybe he was enjoying himself a little, using his big scary soldier voice and waving his gun all willy-nilly in her direction. This time it was a mirror, used innocently enough for love spells once upon a time before a man named Thomas Black had used it to trap his lovers' souls back in the seventeenth century. Soul suckers were always popular items on the market; Bela didn't care enough to ask Dean whose soul it had sucked this time.

"Did you ever think that perhaps it serves these people right?" Bela began, simply because it had been awhile since either of them had spoken and silent glaring was getting a tad boring, truth be told. "Who honestly casts love spells anyway? Have a little patience! And is a love spell really even all that different than the date rape drug? I ask you that, Dean. Coercion is coercion."

"Oh, taking the moral high road," scoffed Dean, enunciating moral high road with a slight bobbing of his weapon. "And you've never cast one? No lonely teenaged Bela sitting all alone in her bedroom mixing herbs and saying, 'Oh, why won't Johnny love me?' I bet you cried a little. You so did. Johnny lover."

"Oh please. I have never had any trouble at all getting someone to like me; you on the other hand… you seem to know what you're talking about. A little personal experience here, Dean? You can tell me." A pause. "And next time, could you just knock? Circumventing my security system got a little old a few months ago."

Dean shrugged. "You could always get a better one. Be a bit more of a challenge. You know, keep things exciting." He sniggered at her, down the barrel of his gun. "Unless you want me breaking in."

Bela rolled her eyes, and lowered her gun minutely. Dean noticed, he had to have, but then he was using his to enunciate points, so it was hardly like they were serious about killing each other, anyway. She watched him gaze surreptitiously around her flat; thought he might have been trying hard to feel comfortable in a place that wasn't some cheap motel that charged by the hour. It struck her as funny that he might be trying; then, they were sort of friends-disguised-as-enemies-disguised-as-friends, and they had come across each other enough in the past three months. She could own to a momentary relief that she'd done her dishes before he'd come barging in, guns drawn.

Either way. The set of his shoulders seemed unusually rigid and, now that she was really staring at him with something more than halfhearted murder on her mind, she saw that his eyes were lined with purple smudges, not to mention that he was sporting more of a five o'clock shadow than she had ever seen on him. In fact, now that she was looking past the gun and the jacket and the bravado, Dean really did look quite terrible.

"Have you not been sleeping?" she asked, pleased when her concern sounded superficial and petty. "If it's so important to you, I'll sell it to you for seventy five grand. How do you like that? Real steal of a deal. I could get double that elsewhere."

"Seventy five grand," he echoed dumbly, in that tone that people who weren't used to any money whatsoever often used. Like seventy five grand was inconceivable; like seventy five dollars was inconceivable. "Excuse me a minute. I forgot my friggin' briefcase full of money down in my car."

She was delighted when his eye twitched.

After a moment, she said, "It's not even a very nice mirror, is it?"

Dean sent it a speculative glance, down his nose. "Oh, I don't know… a little polish here, little shine there…" He seemed to catch himself and snapped his gaze back to her, eyes full of fire. "Just give me the damned mirror, Bela. I'm not going to ask you again."

"Oh, scary!" She pretended to shiver. "I'm quaking in my boots, Dean. Really, I am. Why do you even want it so bad?" Alright, she wanted to know, but it was only curiosity, not because she really cared. "What part is it that bothers you? The person's soul it sucked or the very principle of soul sucking? Hmm? Which one don't you want to dirty your hands with?"

Dean glowered at her; absolutely glared the fires of hell in her direction. If she was someone else, she might have taken a step back. As it was, she raised her gun again; his tone was flippant despite his expression when he answered.

"You get soul sucked and see how you like it," was what he said. And then, as an afterthought, "If you even have one."

Bela rolled her eyes and wished she wasn't holding her gun so that she could cross her arms. "I would never get my soul sucked or sold or anything of the matter, thanks ever so. I do have some intelligence. I mean, what kind of idiot even winds up in that situation? Who falls for the gaze-into-this-mirror-ooo trick? Even worse to summon up a demon. No tricking there. That's just plain stupidity!"

Something flickered across Dean's face, a minute not-quite expression gone so fast that she couldn't quite say what it had been; it caught her all the same. He was still glowering—seemed to be glowering even harder now—and she noticed his gun was right back up as well. His knuckles had whitened from the firmness of his grip and—

"Oh my God." She lowered her gun to the counter. Gaped at him. "Oh my God."

Dean glared at her. Snapped his head once hard to the side and lowered his own gun; looked like throttling her was more the way to go.

"God has very little to do with it, sweetheart," he informed her, a touch patronizingly. "Give me the mirror."

She'd put her gun down; picked up the mirror now and skirted backwards. Remembered just barely not to look into the shiny surface.

"You didn't say please." A pause. "Is this a ploy to get the mirror? Feel sorry for your damned self? Let it go for less? For free?" She grimaced at the thought, voice pitching.

"Nice to know that money means more to you than my eternal damnation," harrumphed Dean, whose posture clearly stated his urge to flee. The whiteness of his knuckles seemed to be spreading up his hand, and he looked more uncomfortable than she had ever seen him.

Bela, who had never been any good at processing big news just like that, managed, "How long do you have?"

A shrug, like they were talking about the possibility of rain. "Six months left, give or take a few days." Like he did not know the exact number of days.

"Oh." Oh. She gaped at him more, trying to wrap her mind around the fact that this vibrant pain in her ass was going to die—was going to Hell--and failed miserably. And she was Bela Talbot. She was a bitch, and a mercenary bitch at that; so she fell back on it. Leaned forward onto her elbows, the countertop cool through her blouse, and smiled impishly at him. "Does that add desperation to this bargain, Dean? Think I could jack the price?"

"Jack the…?"

"You have six months left, Dean. Let's hurry this along. I'll barter. What will you give me for the mirror?"

He seemed to relax a little; the Hell conversation had caught him off guard. This was the way he'd planned their little get together ending up—negotiating he could handle; the rest felt like verbal foreplay gone wrong. Dean smirked at her; even went so far as putting his gun away. Bela tightened her grip on the handle of the mirror when he meandered over, and she didn't trust the lazy glint in his eyes.

"Do you know what, Bela?" he asked, when he was close enough that he could lower his voice and speak softly. "I'll probably spend all eternity locked up in a room with some version of you. Because that would be Hell for me."

Bela looked down her nose at him. "I hope they make you listen to the Spice Girls on repeat."

Hell, she thought, and couldn't get past it.

It bothered Bela on more than one level, once Dean was gone and she could think without piercing green eyes and subtle mockery. It bothered her a lot more once she did some snooping around and realized why—Sam had died and Dean had sold his soul so that his brother could live. She couldn't necessarily understand why he had done it—Bela was not that close to anyone, and couldn't imagine a connection that would make her want to sacrifice herself for all eternity; she had trouble enough giving her acquaintances a break when it came to money, for God's sake—but she could recognize a heartbreaking poignancy to it all, except that poignancy didn't even begin to cover it. Bela was an only child, and couldn't really understand that either, but she tried, alone in her flat with her cat, to really imagine it.

"I can't live without you," she said to her cat, teacup warm between her palms. "I would rather an eternity of hellfire than one day without you."

It made her laugh uncomfortably.

It bothered her more that Dean was going to die. She did not know the brother Winchesters well—or at all really, past some accidental run-ins—but what she did know, she at the very least respected. She enjoyed flirting with Dean; liked passing the time with easy back and forths when she was with him. Everything she had ever heard about him bragged his ability as a hunter; she had no reason to doubt that he was not a good man.

All that aside, and he was a young man. He'd be dead before it was natural, taken at his physical prime. She thought of running into Sam without Dean, thought about the natural vibrancy he exuded, and had to swallow her tea hard to get it past the lump in her throat. Dead. So final. Such a waste.

"Dean Winchester is going to die soon," she informed her cat next, trying to keep her voice level. Bela thrived on repressed emotions; she was going to repress this too.

The Hell thing escaped her entirely. She believed in it, of course. Knew all about Dante's Inferno, and never-ending torture. She wanted to shoot Dean from time to time; the thought of him eternally plagued by pain was something else entirely. She couldn't do it. Couldn't process that one. The idea of it seemed abstract and fundamentally wrong. She could say it out loud and did—"Dean Winchester is going to Hell"—but it had no meaning to her. It fell under the category of things too big to go into; things better off ignored.

She wondered how Sam could stand being around him at all. Bela was sure she'd never be able to look at him again, now that she knew, without seeing Death hovering in his shadow. It gave everything Dean did an odd finality, an unnatural desperation, and she couldn't imagine having to witness it and pretend—

Bela did not know Dean Winchester well, but what she knew she liked, no matter how much he got on her nerves. It didn't seem fair. It wasn't the right order of things. He was supposed to go on being his charming self, not end up in Hell before his next birthday.

It was all too big, and because of that, it did not make her cry.

Later on, she consulted her board; figured it was the least she could do. She asked a variety of spirits for their help, for their advice. How could Dean break free? It was all she wanted to know. Deals were made to be broken—or was that rules? She wondered if she could communicate with Dean when he was in Hell. Keep him updated on the goings on topside. The idea made her giggle, high pitched and hysterical.

The spirits were no help. The message they sent was all the same--Dean for Sam, Sam for Dean. That was fucked up too, the choice between brothers, and Bela gave up after awhile, cranky and subdued.

Dean Winchester was going to die. Dean Winchester was going to Hell.

But that was not for months, and she resolved not to think about it until then. There were things that needed doing in her life—she had heard about an amulet holed up somewhere in Indiana under the protection of another notorious hunter, and she needed to put together a team to retrieve it for her. Had prospective buyers waiting on what she already had. There were appointments to arrange, pickups to organize, and sitting around moping about the death of someone she didn't even know—not really—seemed like a waste of time. Practicality helped with repression, and Bela was fans of both.

Dean Winchester was going to die, but Bela Talbot was very much alive, and there was, after all, money to be made; work to do.

Bela did not see either one of them again for over a month—under five months left; under five months and some random days, and then nothing. She had not planned on seeing them—never really planned on it—but the shrilling of her cell phone near her pillow woke her at 2:30 in the morning. The caller ID said Dean Winchester.

"What do you want?" she croaked by way of a greeting, groping for the lamp on her bedside table. The sudden light blinded her, and she fell back into her pillow, squinting and grumpy. On the end of her bed, the cat rose and walked in a circle three times, glaring at her disdainfully for the interruption.

There were some noises Bela couldn't identify on Dean's end of the call that sounded suspiciously like grunting, and then, "Buzz me in."

"What? Can't you just get around the system like you always do? I'm sleeping." She rubbed the heel of her hand hard into her eyes and grimaced. Had a sudden intelligent thought. "And anyway, don't come up at all. It's nearly three in the morning, Dean. Go away."

She hung up on him and chucked her phone for good measure. She ignored the first call back, and the second. The third was just plain aggravating. And why had she thrown it? Cursing herself and him, she heaved her upper half over the side of her bed and groped around her floor as far as she could reach. Gave up and got up, just as the phone began its fourth go around. Her flat was cold, her bed was not, and she was going to kill him for real this time. Under five months was rapidly becoming under five minutes and—oh Lord, what a horrible thought.

"What?" Bela growled, staggering into her slippers. Her robe was hanging in her closet; she jerked it on with angry motions over top of her pajamas. "I swear to God, this had better be good."

"Hello, you've reached Bela Talbot," Dean singsonged, voice high and grating over his attempt at an English accent. Then, tone changing, he added, "Don't hang up on me, you mannerless impolite…"

Someone else said something indecipherable in the background. Just when Bela was about to let him have it quite genuinely, he deigned to include, "Sam's been shot—"

"What else is new? Who had the honours this time?"

"—and you're closer than the motel. Let us in or I'm going to come up there and wring your neck. I don't have time to get around your damned security system."

Or the concentration, if the worry tainting each of Dean's words was any indication. He sounded damn near frantic, and it crossed Bela's mind a touch belatedly that Sam's injury might be serious. More of an actual shot; less of a graze.

Not that that would make her hurry.

"Bloody hell," she said, looking longingly at her bed one last time. "You owe me something for this, Dean. I'm not the bloody ER."

But she buzzed him in anyway, and hovered uselessly by her door until they came crashing through, Sam leaning heavily on Dean. Both of their jackets were stained with blood; Sam's face was pinched with pain, Dean's was pinched with something else.

"Buckshot," Dean told her when he elbowed his way by. And he called her impolite. "That fucking thing had a gun."

"With buckshot," echoed Bela, trying to skirt around flailing bloody limbs. She sent them both a supercilious look. "That's… well, almost like karma, wouldn't you say?"

Sam grimaced, and she thought that maybe he appreciated the irony somewhere past the pain. Dean, for his part, looked torn between glaring at her and hauling his brother out of her foyer to somewhere a tad more useful. He chose the latter, heaving a breath and dragging Sam a few steps. Sam grunted with the exertion, flushing before going unnaturally white. Sam must have been dizzy—Dean was overcompensating with each step—and Bela thought absentmindedly about blood loss.

"Spare bedroom is just down the hall." Thought absentmindedly about her pristine white carpet. "Do try not to bleed on the carpet!"

"Yeah," called Dean over his shoulder, "we'll try."

Bloody squatters. Frowning, Bela left them to it and wandered off to fetch herself a cup of coffee. She didn't want to stay up with them—certainly had no intention of helping--but she knew there was no way in hell that she was going to be able to sleep through the racket emitting from her spare bedroom. Furthermore, for all she knew, this supposed gunshot wound was only a ploy to get a look at her stash. She had just gotten that amulet and the brothers Winchester had another thing coming if they thought they were going to sneak it away from her and leave her flat alive. It was probably fake blood on their jackets; fake pain on Sam's face.

The door to the spare bedroom opened just as her coffee pot beeped; Dean stuck his head out and lobbed his keys at her head.

"Hey," she protested, just barely catching them.

"First aid kit is in my trunk. Gonna have to dig it out of his arm, damned buckshot." He smirked at her grimace, and sniffed at the air. "Coffee on? I'll take mine with three sugars. Sam's probably not up for it now, but I'll let you know if he changes his mind."

First aid kit? Coffee? Three sugars? Why, that bloody bossy arrogant sugar high ridden… coming into her house and—

The door opened again. "If you touch anything else in my trunk, Bela, I really will shoot you," he threatened. "I know exactly where everything is and I will check it before leaving."

"Fuck off, Dean," she said, not feeling terribly bright at this hour. She was going to key his car, was what she was going to do. The thought made her smile serenely because it was going to be good; Dean regarded her suspiciously before slamming the door on what sounded like, "Florence Nightingale will be just two seconds, Sammy."

Florence bleeding Nightingale.

Outside, Bela discovered that the trunk of the Impala was a genuine treasure trove. She squinted at its contents under the questionable lighting in her car park; checked to make sure Dean wasn't watching out the window and drug a fingernail down the barrel of a shotgun. Utterly useless to her that was, but the trunk was full of ritualistic items too. Bloody fools, living in cheap motels and squatting in abandoned houses. If she was to hazard a guess, she figured she could sell the contents of the Impala's truck for a couple hundred thousand—at least.

Her palms itched and her fingers twitched. She checked the window again; saw nothing but her curtains lit up from the backlighting of the spare bedroom. She could see shadows moving inside if she squinted, but they weren't watching her. Thieving instincts demanded a move—she did have her eye on a new car, one that was red perhaps—but then it was late and she was tired. Sighing, she groped around until she found the first aid kit, neatly stored against the curve of the wheel well. Too much bloody work sneaking things back inside anyway.

Once she was back inside herself and Dean had collected his kit with frosty gratitude, Bela went to work herself. She knew beyond a doubt that Dean would check her flat the moment he had a chance; bother was, she had a lot of things squirreled away in the safe in her office. Keeping one ear open for any signs that either brother might be exiting the bedroom, she snuck her things to the safe in her bedroom, one at a time. Poor sweet predictable Dean would never search there when she was at home.

She went back to bed herself half an hour later, trying to block out Sam's shout of, "Man, that fucking hurt!" followed by an indignant, "Dude, you're bleeding all over my jacket."

"Keep it off the carpet!" she howled, thumping face first into her pillow. This was what hospitals were for. This was what drop in clinics were for. This was not what she was for. Scowling, she tried to cover her ears with her blanket, but her efforts were aborted when her cat hopped up beside her and immediately began to attempt to worm his way under her blankets as well.

"They are very loud," she commiserated, reaching down to scratch her cat between the ears.

Sleep was a foolish idea.

It took Sam twelve minutes to shut up, and even then it was such a sudden silence that Bela had to wonder to herself in the darkness. Dean, utterly lacking consideration for her sleep deprived state, was not quiet leaving the bedroom. She listened to him stomp to the bathroom, where he proceeded to turn her water on full blast and swear to himself over something or another. She listened to him stomp to the living room, where he loudly bemoaned the lack of blankets and premade bed on the couch—like she was his mother, or something ridiculous. She listened to him exit her flat, door slamming, only to reenter seven minutes later when she was just about to find something resembling a doze. He granted her half an hour's reprieve then—Bela could sleep through the gentle static of the TV in her living room if she put her mind to blocking it out—but then he was up again, shuffling back and forth between the couch and the spare bedroom. Checking on Sam.

Bela gave Dean an hour to settle, the red flashing numbers on her alarm clock mocking her with each passing second, but settling did not seem to be on his mind. His footsteps beat a regular path to her spare bedroom, every fifteen minutes on the dot. Bother was the spare bedroom was in line with hers. Bother was Dean seemed so distracted.

At 5:04, Bela gave up her attempts and kicked off her covers once again. She found Dean seated on the middle cushion of her couch, legs angled far apart and posture slouched. He offered her a grimace of a smile when she entered the room, which she returned with a glare, and gestured to the loveseat. Like she needed his permission to sit. He was holding a half empty bottle of beer in one hand; the hand he gestured with clasped her remote.

"Nice jammies," he told her with a leer.

Made the mistake of glancing down. Her pajamas were nice, simply because everything Bela owned was nice. Silk, the best that money could buy. The robe she had thrown over them left a little to be desired but then it had been nice once too. A decade ago, perhaps. The sight of her bare toes seemed embarrassing to her somehow; she suppressed the childish urge to wiggle them.

"What happened to sleeping naked rolling in money?" Dean asked, when she didn't say anything. Dropped her remote in favour of rubbing a hand down his face. "Gotta say, I mighta preferred that."

"Make you randy, does it? Whatever fight I assume you were involved in? Playing doctor?" She sat down on the loveseat, exactly across from him, and arched an eyebrow.

He smirked at her. "I've got a few months left, baby. Everything makes me horny."

The reminder of his impending death threw her for a moment. Had to look away from the tired resignation—the dogged acceptance—in his eyes; cleared her throat hard.

"Yes, Dean, way to go out with a bang. Or, banging, if you will." She waited until he snickered, then leaned forward and said, "Well, pay up. You can't expect to come barging in here for free."

"Pay up? Are you out of your mind?" He pondered this, apparently decided she wasn't, and then reached down to retrieve something from the floor. Tossed her an unopened beer bottle. "That'll do?"

Hardly. "I suppose. This time." Bela hated opening bottles—disliked the scraping feeling on her palm—but she took it like a man and didn't wrap her robe around the cap. "Want to tell me why you avoided the hospital? Do you honestly not have insurance?"

"Oh, I have insurance." The leer was back. "Or at least Tim Benson does."

"Charming. I fail to see after all of this why I am the baddie here."

"Them's the breaks, sweetheart. Nobody likes a mercenary bitch."

He leaned back again, eyes closed and bottle precariously balanced in his loose grip. The beer was a little warm, but it felt good to swallow even if it did settle heavily in Bela's stomach. She leaned back too, tucking her bare feet underneath her coffee table, and regarded Dean.

Relaxation had eased him, somewhat. The set of his jaw was not as tense as it had been—not that she noticed such things—and, other than a subtle purpling of the skin near his left ear, he seemed to be fine, as far as she could tell. At his leisure even, like being able to tend to Sam without medical attention—like being so in charge of everything—had drained him momentarily of all worry. And God knew he had a lot to worry about.

Shaking her head, Bela asked, "Sam's alright then?"

Dean nodded; didn't open his eyes. "Yeah. Gonna have one hell of a headache in the morning though." He mimed a solid punch, and the fleeting smile that crossed his face said best tranquilizer ever. "I'm good at digging out buckshot. Done it before. Did it on Dad even, back when Sam was learning to shoot. Got the old man right in the ass. Shoulda heard him caterwauling."

She wondered who would dig out the buckshot when he was gone.

Feeling conversational, or perhaps lulled into complacency by the sleepy tenor of Dean's voice, Bela asked, "Which one?"

A shrug. "Dunno. Both." A smirk. "Me. Thought Dad was gonna kick Sam's ass into next week."

Bela thought of her own father and took an extra large swig of her beer. Pondered warning Dean to hold his tighter, lest it spill on her hardwood. See if she'd wipe up the sticky mess.

In the end, she decided to maintain the mood, keep Dean talking. She didn't know him at all, and—what was that saying? Know thy enemy. Enemy, if that was what Dean even was. If that was what you could be with such a looming expiry date—and expiry date, like Dean was milk about to sour.

"How old were you?"

He thought about it for a moment too long; Bela wondered if he'd drifted off. If he had, he roused himself to answer her question, shaking his head but not raising his eyelids. "Twelve." And then, "How did you find out about all this shit anyway? Monster almost get you? To think a hunter probably saved you. Ungrateful bitch." But there was a smile in his voice.

The urge to share back came rushing out of nowhere, and utterly surprised her. Bela Talbot was a private girl, always had been, always would be, and the rush of… friendship she felt towards Dean thoroughly soured the moment for her. She finished her beer in one large swallow, and pushed herself to her feet.

"You should check on him. It's been about seventeen minutes." And that was a bit cruel, perhaps. Her tone.

Dean blinked and sat up, nearly tipping over his beer just like she'd feared. The worry was back on his face, the tension, but she pretended not to see it.

"Right," he said. "Shit, I almost dozed."

"It is almost 5:30. Well past the time for all good little boys and girls to be in bed." You should sleep, she wanted to say.

"Oh, Bela," he chided, swatting at her when he walked by, "you know there's nothing good about me."

She watched him walk to the spare bedroom, strut languid and just plain tired. Hated herself a little when she turned towards her linen closet, down the hall by the bathroom. She fished out an extra blanket—actually had to take a pillow off her bed—and left them in a neat stack on the couch. The door to the spare bedroom was still closed when she hurried by it, cheeks aflame with shame and an odd embarrassment. Could hear Dean murmuring inside, absently and to himself. And he would talk to himself. She wasn't even surprised.

Her cat was waiting for her in her bedroom, curled up on the end of her bed. She lowered herself onto her mattress quietly so as not to disturb him, but did not fall asleep herself for a very long time.

The cell phone woke Bela again, sometime later. This time it was obviously not Dean Winchester on the caller ID, although she wouldn't have put it past him. It was the amulet's buyer, and she answered cognizant of the volume of her voice and the sounds of life coming from the outer reaches of her flat. It was odd to her, not being utterly alone minus the presence of her most beloved cat, and it threw her enough that she had to repeat a few of her questions. In the end, she arranged to meet him the following week in Seattle. There were tickets to book, things to set up, and she needed the brothers Winchester the hell out of her hair.

This time, she got dressed before leaving the confines of her bedroom. Selected a suit appropriate for business, lest they think she did nothing all day and decide to loiter around, and dabbed on the makeup she had on her dresser. Felt more presentable—more like herself—when she emerged.

Naturally, that lasted about as long as it took to make her way to the kitchen, where she found a blurry eyed Sam and a more alert Dean, mouths full and conversation somehow still flowing. It sounded like an argument of some sort; they both shut up when they spotted her.

How weird to see people in her flat; how weird to see them.

"Morning, Sleeping Beauty," greeted Dean, around a mouthful of—were those her eggs?

She cringed at his table manners and primly seated herself. They'd made a plate for her—she wondered if someone had really planned on waking her, or if her eggs would have cooled—and Sam shoved it down the table in her direction. He had the grace to swallow before addressing her.

"Consider it a thank you," he said.

"Thank you?" she echoed, poking at what turned out to be omelet experimentally with her fork. "For what? Stealing my food and cooking me breakfast?"

"You can eat it. I can cook." And Dean sounded affronted, even around the food he was chewing.

Bela heaved a sigh and took a bite. Chewed it thoroughly as she had been taught, and swallowed, thanks ever so. "You're welcome," she said, when she was finished. "I can be nice, you know."

Sam grunted around his mouthful and Dean saluted her with his glass of orange juice before they returned to wholeheartedly digging in.

Bela took their moment of… well, savagery, really, to take an assessing look at Sam. His colour was not good—he seemed unnaturally gray—and he was sporting a healthy lump where Dean had thumped him last night. He did not look at all well rested; his whole face seemed drawn. Lines framed his mouth and marred what should have been a youthful appearance. He looked tired in a way Dean did not. He looked old, absolutely world weary and every other synonym she could think up.

Bela realized with a start that the truth of the brothers' situation was written all over Sam's face. A secretive glance at Dean did not reveal any of the same expressions, but Sam himself was like a walking billboard, perhaps not of My Brother Is Going To Hell, but definitely of My Brother Is Going To Die. Like it was all Sam's burden, and not at all Dean's. She herself felt quite scientific about the whole thing, and she continued to regard Sam speculatively as she chewed.

"Sammy here is taking his wound like a man," Dean announced to no one in particular, patting his brother proudly on the back. Took care not to jar the wound hidden beneath the lump of bandages she could make out under his shirt.

"He has some practice. What a hero!" she said brightly, which made Dean beam and Sam grimace.

After breakfast, the brothers made no pretense of wanting to stick around, even though Bela doubted Sam was fit to travel. Dean made quick work of straightening up the spare room and refolding the blankets on the couch with military rigidity, while Sam did the dishes one handed. He ignored her request to at least wipe the counters; Dean told her to fuck right off yesterday already when she doggedly followed him into the spare bedroom. Bela contented herself by sitting at her counter, watching them work. Watching them work like some terribly organized cleaning team. Debated doing her nails.

An hour later, Sam cried bathroom when Dean announced their departure.

"Better go, Sammy. Not pulling over," Dean called to his brother's retreating back. His jacket was back on, first aid kit was in hand, and the keys to the Impala dangled from his fingers. "Be seeing you, Bela."

She shrugged, uncomfortable with an exit that was not of her own making. Rolled her eyes dramatically. "As much as I don't want to…"

"Oh, please. You know you want to see me all the time. Send the kid down, will you?" And, on a needlessly hasty exit of his own, "Thanks."

She watched him until he was down the hallway, and then closed the door. Sam was right behind her when she turned, and Bela knew she was this close to having a heart attack. Really.

"Lurk much, Sam?" she scoffed, taking a step back. He was lucky she wasn't armed.

"What? No." Something flashed in his eyes, and he hopped once, twice, three times from foot to foot. Cleared his throat. "You're in the business."

Bela nodded, a tad harshly.

"You know my brother's… situation." Sam's voice caught, but she pretended she hadn't heard it. His chin was set with determination.

She nodded again, quick and succinct out of respect for the magnitude of their problem. All professionalism.

"Do me a favour, will you?" Cajoling now, and she knew that this was how Sam dealt with old women. It was only because Bela had met him a time or two that she caught the desperation. "Keep your eyes open…?"

It hurt her to say it, surprisingly. Had to look down at her feet so that she wouldn't have to face the fire, the dreadful need, in his eyes. "There's nothing for it that I've ever seen," she murmured. "A deal is a deal."

He said, "I'll pay" like that was the problem.

It caught her anyway; almost made her laugh. "You'll pay? How?"

He glowered down at her, and it was awe-inspiring, given his size. "I'll find a way, Bela. I swear to you, find Dean a way out of his deal, and I'll find a way to pay." And he thought she was disgusting, she could hear it.

Well, business was business, and yet… She kept her tone soft and said again to his shoes, "I've never heard of anything, Sam. Not a thing. I'm sorry."

"Just… just let me know if that changes." Not begging, but the closest she could imagine a Winchester to it. He seemed resigned now too, but there was a stubbornness to him that she had never sensed in Dean. He touched her arm, and opened the door. "Thanks, Bela. Really."

"Not a problem."

She locked the door when he left.

Frowning to herself, she moved to the window that faced the car park. Watched Dean help his brother into the car; watched the Impala wind its way out of the lot until she couldn't see it anymore. She stood at her window for a long time, thinking. Wondering if she'd ever see him again, before…


"Under five months left," she whispered to herself. "Dean Winchester will be dead in under five months."