Alex could hear someone screaming. She assumed it was her. Every so often the screaming would stop and someone, a woman, would ask her a question she couldn't answer. Always about Crowley. Then a starburst of agony would explode somewhere on or in her body and the screaming would start again. She hadn't opened her eyes for a long time, hadn't wanted to see whether her body was the unrecognisable mess she assumed it would be. She could smell her own blood, parts of her own flesh burning. Still the questions came, but they were getting quieter, further away.
It reminded her of the time she had watched her mother speaking to one of the doctors outside her sister's room in the hospital. They had been standing too far away for her to make out the words, the conversation had been muffled:
Alex watched her mother's face crumple, and then shatter into a million pieces as the tears rolled down her face; unabated by the false hope that had kept them at bay for so long. The doctor shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other, uncertain what the correct reaction to such a display of emotion should be. Alex's fingernails dug crescent-moons into the Styrofoam cup of coffee she'd just got from the machine down the corridor, but there was no warmth beneath her fingers at all. She moved towards her mother as the doctor decided to leave, only to be shoved backwards roughly against the wall of the paediatric ward, which was painted with rainbows and flowers. Alex wrapped her arms around herself instead momentarily, and then moved towards the window set into the door of her sister's room.
The tiny little bundle huddled in the bed was her sister, Karen. Karen was 9. Karen had leukaemia. She desperately needed a bone marrow transplant from a member of her family and, from the look on the doctor's face a moment before, it seemed like she wasn't a match either. Mercifully she was sedated, because seeing the sheer terror in her eyes every moment that she was awake was more than Alex could handle. She needed to do something.
And she did; it's amazing what you can find on the internet when you look, even instructions for summoning a demon and selling your soul. Alex buried the box, the earth crumbling between her fingers, and then she waited pulling her coat around herself against the cool night air. And he arrived. She thrust the piece of paper she'd written her request on at him; refusing to speak for fear that she would begin to cry. She watched him read and when he'd finished he stared at her with such intensity that she bit her lip, drawing blood. He shook his head, sighed and under his breath muttered, "Bloody hell…"
He looked from the piece of paper to her and back again a few times before nodding, "If this is what you want, I can do this, but…" he moved besides her, pointing at her request, "we can make this a better deal."
Alex watched in astonishment as he pointed out certain phrases and words, "We need to make this much tighter. You need to specify exactly what you want. Like here," he pulled a pen from his top pocket and began to write over her words, "you need to say "full remission", "a long, healthy, happy life, blah, blah, blah". He made several changes and then handed her the sheet of paper. "What do you think?"
She read it again and nodded, once, "Yes, thank you, that's much better." She shuffled her feet, "What happens now?"
He shrugged, "Nothing special. Just a kiss, and then we're done." She nodded and he leaned down to take her face between his hands. He was right, it was nothing special; when he kissed her it was perfunctory, business like. He pulled away, smiled, and then he disappeared.
And the next day, Karen went into remission.
The smell of perfume weaving around her brought her back to the present and she groaned as she heard the familiar woman's voice close to her ear, "Alex, Alex, Alex, it really doesn't have to be like this. We know you had nothing to do with Crowley's plan to help those bastards kill Lucifer. You don't need to suffer for him. I have a proposition to put to you, but I'll let you rest first."
Alex sighed through her own broken teeth and bloody gums as she heard footsteps moving away from her; a door opening and then closing. She opened her eyes, but closed them almost instantaneously. There was nothing left of her, everything was red, red and wet.
Crowley watched Isabella as she padded around her bedroom naked and tried to pretend that what they'd just done hadn't left him feeling totally cold inside. She smiled at him and returned to the bed, leaning across him and stroking his chest, "So, now you're looking for another apprentice, there are some girls I know that would be ideal and I'm sure they'd kill for a chance to work with the King of the Crossroads."
He smiled, gritted his teeth and reached for the mandatory glass of some kind of spirit he kept next to him at all times.
Isabella narrowed her eyes. She knew when she'd been used, but she was smart and she could read Crowley like a book. She looked up at him through her eyelashes, "If it helps I could pretend to be her." When he looked up she'd changed, it was like having Alex sitting on the bed staring back at him. He reached up to touch her hair, and then thought better of it and took another sip of his drink.
Isabella dropped her mask and flounced around the room for a while, putting her clothes back on and rummaging around in her bag. She muttered something about not letting the door hit him in the ass on his way out and then left. He frowned, sipping his drink; since when did people think they could speak to him like that?
He closed his eyes and sighed. He had to do something.
Alex sipped at the drink the woman held to her mouth. It was cool, and it numbed her throat which was raw from screaming. The woman's name was Meg, and she was stroking Alex's hand comfortingly as she drank and, despite her best efforts, Alex was grateful. Meg bent to put her mouth against Alex's ear, "Work for us, Alex, and all of this can stop right now. Crowley left you to take the fall for a plan you had nothing to do with, but we know that now and we don't want to hurt you anymore. You don't need to be sorry, Crowley manipulated you. It's what he's good at."
Alex felt a tear roll down her cheek and felt surprised. She had thought she had no tears left in her.
Meg held the cup to Alex's lips again, "You don't have to stay here. In fact, we don't want you to. We'll let you go. All you need to do is find him, or let him find you. And then report back to us."
Alex coughed, choked on the liquid, "Like a spy?"
The demon screwed her face up a little as she considered, "Kind of. But, don't worry; I know you have …loyalties towards Crowley. Lord knows the little worm does have his charms. You don't actually need to do anything to him. Just find him and tell us where he is. We'll do the rest."
"And if I don't?"
Meg sniffed delicately, "Well in that case I guess I would have to leave you to play with Alistair and his toys for a bit longer."
Alex stared at her, "And if you let me go, I find him and then I just don't bother reporting back to you?"
The demon leaned over the table, "Don't even think about it. Do you seriously think we wouldn't be able to find you again? And when we got you back here, we'd make this trip seem like a luxury spa break."
Alex's nose was almost touching Meg's. She smiled, "Well, I guess I'd better do as you say, then."
"Good. I'm glad we have an understanding."
Crowley smiled at the Winchesters who looked, probably understandably, quite irritated with him. They were both pointing guns at him anyway. He held his hands up, "Look, boys, I honestly didn't know that the gun wouldn't kill him."
Dean snorted, "Yeah, right, like we're gonna believe that."
Crowley shook his head, "It's not like I had much chance to test it out before giving it to you, is it? Also, it may not have escaped your notice that his lot burnt by sodding house down. That probably suggests that they're not all that happy with me, doesn't it you morons?!"
Sam and Dean glanced at each other, stupidly. Both kept their guns trained on Crowley, "So, what are you doing here now?"
He placed his hands together and plastered his best Crossroads smile across his face, "Well, I thought we could come to some kind of mutually satisfying arrangement. Namely, I help you deal with this whole Horsemen issue and you help me get my apprentice back."
Dean lowered his gun, " I remember her. What was it you called her now…..oh yeah, "the little whore". Charming."
Crowley flinched slightly at the memory, "Yes, well, are you going to help or not?"
Sam followed suit and lowered his gun, "Just what exactly can you offer us that's going to help us deal with the Horsemen?"
Crowley rubbed his hands together and gestured at three rickety looking chairs in the middle of the room, ushering them to sit down, "Good. Let's talk business."