This is set before Enter, Sandman and Hunter, Hunted. You don't need to have read those to read this but I would love it if you did read them afterwards and let me know what you all think.

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He knows she's there before he sees her loom up beside the Impala, all lit up in the phosphorus flash of the match and wreathed by smoke, and for a split second it sends him back there. He's blinded by the brightness, deafened by the screams of the damned, nauseated by the smell, of burning flesh and hair and bones, the air slick and heavy with vaporized flesh and fat. Sometimes it had been his.

"Not sleeping, Dean." A statement rather than a question, followed by a pause as she inhales long and deep on the cigarette, eyeing him warily as he sits there, back resting against the door of the motel room, breath misting in the cool air, his new best friend Jack keeping him company.

"You smoke."

At that she smiles, a flash of white teeth in the darkness.

"ComaGirl smoked."

He considers that for a moment.

"I thought she wasn't there. Sam said her spirit was gone."

"The body needs it. It relaxes the body. You don't want me quitting, believe me."

A minute passes and she presses her luck by moving closer and sitting down. It feels… not quite companionable.

"The body still craves what it craved when the spirit was in there," she continues, almost carefully. "It still has physical needs."

He knows damn well what she's talking about, too much fuckin' information, Sam, and steers well clear of that mental image.

"Cas calls it his vessel," he says suddenly.

"Yeah, I bet he does," she smirks. "He can call it what he likes, it's still… what it is."

"Possession."

"At least ComaGirl was vacant. When they do it it's more like… foreclosure."

"Well, apparently the holy tax accountant prayed for it."

She raises an eyebrow at that one. For a second he wonders what happened to the blond, but only for a second because it brings back memories of New Harmony that he'd rather not dwell on.

"I bet the holy tax accountant has itches he'd still like to scratch," she muses, thoughtfully. "He could have a deep-seated need to do our taxes, for all we know. Clearly his BFF was a phys ed teacher before Uriel moved in."

He smiles in the dark, and for some totally inexplicable reason, he pushes the bottle of Jack towards her. And then does something just as stupid.

"Why are you like this?"

He knows she knows exactly what he means because the mouthful of Jack sprays out all over her jeans, but she plays the game for a minute.

"Like what?" she says, when she recovers.

He shrugs. "Good. I suppose."

He doesn't really expect her version of the beach and kittens, but he doesn't expect her to laugh either, and look at him as if he's even dumber than she thought before.

"I'm not 'good' Dean. I'm not in this to save mankind. And I know you know that, so don't play dumb with me."

She takes a long drag on her cigarette and gives him a sideways glance.

"Why do you want to know anyway? I'm helping you. Does it really matter why?"

He knows his voice is quiet and small. "It matters to me. I don't know what's going on, I don't know why I'm here. I don't know why they'd pull me out."

He looks right at her. "Why would they do that? They know what I did. You know what I did – you were down there for some of it. You saw me. You saw what I became."

"Everyone becomes that down there," she says, her tone even as she flicks the used and abused cigarette butt into the middle distance. She pulls out another, lights up, and he flinches again.

She looks at him, knowingly. "Does it make you think of home, Dean?" she says. "The smoke, the fumes? You know I wonder why I didn't think of doing this when I was DemonBuffy. Everyone needs those little reminders of where they came from."

She offers him the smoke. He caves, takes a drag, breathes in the ashes and blackness and searing heat of that place, almost greedily. They sit for a few minutes in silence passing the cigarette and the Jack back and forth.

"I'm not good, Dean," she says again, suddenly. "This is about saving my ass. About staying topside and smelling the roses instead of the roast. Hell's no fun for demons either. Why do you think we all want to come here? I'm in this because your brother is our best hope for a better Hell on earth than we'll ever get with Lilith."

His reply is considered, measured, speculative. Because he's speculating about it all the time. "You think he'll turn."

"I don't know," she says softly, honestly too, as far as he can tell, although somewhere inside the not-rightness of her still needles him. "It's what he's meant to do, meant to be. If it happens it's not – won't be – his fault. He won't be able to help himself."

He stands up abruptly, paces for a few seconds. He's bone-weary, his expression bleak, his voice almost a whisper.

"Do you think they brought me back to kill him?"

And she has thought that very thing, more than once.

"I think if they wanted to kill him they'd do it themselves, in a heartbeat. So maybe the fact they haven't means they want him alive."

He stares down at her. This body is taller but he's still way taller and she has to crane her neck to see his face, his eyes huge and his expression one big huh?

"Has that really not occurred to you, Dean? Are you really so naïve as to think they don't have an agenda, just like Lilith has hers and Azazel had his?"

She can see it slowly dawn on his face and in some ways it's comical.

She has to get the dig in. "Castiel may look pretty but underneath he's just one step away from… well, from what we are." And she notices his wince at her use of 'we'.

"Good and evil are two sides of the same coin, Dean. Just because his side preaches the word of the man upstairs doesn't mean they won't smite when they feel the need. You saw what they were prepared to do to Anna. Most religions have done their share of smiting in the name of whatever version of Him they follow – fuck, it's the reason I made my deal."

She sees the question in his eyes.

"I… she – the person I was – was a witch, Dean. Do you know what life was like for a witch in the sixteenth century? Because I'm here to tell you it wasn't like Stevie Nicks says it is. Ruby didn't ring like a bell through the night. She made a deal to avoid being burnt at the stake. In His name."

He paces some more, thinks about it, sits back down again heavily.

"Sam told me that Uriel said he'd turn him to dust the minute he stopped being useful," he says, the words slow and meaningful.

She exhales more smoke. "Yup, I can see Uriel doing that," she says, drily. "I get the impression he takes pleasure in his work."

"But why do they think he's useful… what does that mean? They said they don't want him exorcizing demons, so it's not that."

She can almost see him thinking, hear all two brain cells buzzing.

"They're here to protect the Seals," she offers.

"You think he's a Seal!?" he says, with a note of childlike shock that she finds… endearing.

She rubs her forehead, in a gesture that so reminds himself of him that it takes him aback for a second.

"No… Maybe… I don't know. I don't know," she says. "This is getting a tad profound for my pay grade. Why don't you call your friend, whatshisname… Bobby. There must be something in one of his books."

"He's on vacation." And it sounds so utterly ridiculous that it bubbles up out of him, insane chuckling, as he wonders if Bobby consciously saved up to go on vacation, to get a break from his day job. Did he actually sit down one day and work out where to go, source the cheapest flights, haggle over hotel prices? Was he even now lazing on the beach or touring the local sites, taking some time-out from the fucking Apocalypse to recharge his batteries? It was… surreal – and going off into that little fantasy of Bobby on the phone to his travel agent signals that he's well on the road to feeling no pain. There are only a couple of fingers of Jack left in the bottle.

Once he calms down, she says, "Maybe it really is as simple as them needing someone who will go all-out to stop it because of what he saw. And did."

"And what would 'going all-out' be, exactly?" And all at once the atmosphere is charged and dangerous.

"Well… assuming Sam isn't a Seal… stopping him. Doing what ever is necessary to stop him. And maybe killing him to do that," she says.

"Then they read me wrong. I went to Hell for him. I could never—"

"Don't kid a kidder, Dean," she cuts him off. "Maybe they chose you, among all those souls, precisely because you did go to Hell for him and they know that's why you will kill him if you have to."

"But that makes no sense!" he snaps. "I made the deal because I wanted – needed – him to live."

"It makes perfect sense, Dean… you're just not looking at it from the right angle. If they wanted you out of the Pit so bad, why did they wait forty years to do it? I'll tell you why. It was because they needed to leave you burning for long enough so you'd know in minute detail just why it all needs to be stopped. Maybe they think you can do it without it turning into a bloodbath because you're his brother, maybe they think he'll hold out for you because of that too – and fuck knows, he owes you for taking that fall for him. But the forty years is their insurance policy, Dean. It's their way of making damn sure you'll do the necessary, if it comes to that. They're in no doubt."

He shakes his head. "You're wrong, Ruby. I could no more end him than—"

She cuts him off again. "Don't forget, Dean, I was there when Anna relayed their little text message. I saw your face. You didn't hand her over to save your brother. You handed her over to save yourself. And if it comes down to you or him again, I think you'll serve his head up on a plate with fries and a soda so you don't have to go back."

He doesn't deny what she said.

For a long minute neither one of them speaks. Then she sighs.

"But like I said. If they wanted him dead they'd do it themselves."

The sun is coming up now and they both watch its red-gold glory for a minute.

It feels… companionable.

"What will you do at the end, Ruby?" he asks. "I'm just curious, since you're in it for yourself and all."

She knows he's sounding her out, wondering if she'll choose sides.

"I'll adapt," she says steadily, looking him right in the eyes. "I'm adaptable. I'll say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done to save whatever skin I'm in. Thieves like us, Dean, we're not like the angels. It's not black and white to us. We work with and for whatever shade of gray suits us best."

She fishes out her last cigarette, lights it.

He turns away stares once more at the sun.

"You really think I could do it," he says softly. A statement rather than a question.

And then right in his ear, so close he can feel her cold breath on his cheek, he hears her, loud and clear.

"I know you could do it," she says. "Because I know what you did. I saw you. I saw what you became."

When he turns back she's gone, the only evidence she was even there the lit cigarette on the ground. He bends, picks it up, takes a long, slow pull.

It tastes like home.

xxx

Thanks for reading...