They briefly appraised each other when they were back inside the hotel room. Dean had more blood on him than Sam. It had dried around his neck and the collar of his shirt. It was even in Dean's eye, Sam noticed, as he watched his brother try to blink it out of his lashes. He with the most muck got first shower. This was an arrangement they had stuck to since their first hunt with their father.
"You always have to shoot so close."
"Least it's not mine," Dean growled, bending to tug off his boots, leaving a trail of his socks and his shirts on the way to the tiny bathroom. Handgun, knives and loose salt rounds hit the floor with a dull thump behind him.
As soon as he had closed the door behind him, Sam yanked the plastic bag out of the kitchen trashcan and threw most of Dean's discarded clothes into it. At least their t-shirts were relatively unscathed. There was nothing like trying to wash bloody clothes at the laundromat and hoping no one noticed. It was cheaper to just buy armfuls of disposable shirts at a local Goodwill and hope they lasted for awhile. He filled the sink with hot water and scrubbed as much mud and blood off his boots and Dean's as he could, quick and dirty, just enough to stay under the radar.
When he turned, every square inch of his skin was immediately aware that he wasn't alone.
"Hello, Sam," she said softly. Sam's hand went to the gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Bela Talbot had her own, pointed back at him.
"When did you get back?" Sam asked, hand and voice steady.
"So casual, isn't it?" She laughed. "Like we simply come and go from Hell as we please."
Before she could react, he had lunged one step forward, dousing her from a squeeze bottle of holy water.
She stood, startled, but there was no smoke and no glossy black eyes. Annoyed, she shook the drops out of her hair. "Are you happy then?"
There was a void in the room now where the sounds of Dean showering had once been. Bela noticed it, too.
"You've got about two and a half minutes to tell me what you're doing here," Sam said. "After that, I'm going to have back-up and I can't promise he'll hear you out."
"You have something I need," she said simply. Putting the gun down, she sat again, dipping her hand into the glossy black handbag at her feet. She pulled out a brown envelope. When she looked up again, Sam had taken her gun from the table. "Is that necessary?"
"I'm not stupid, Bela, and I'm a lot better at listening when I'm not at gunpoint. You've got two minutes."
She sighed and handed him the envelope.
Keeping her eyes on his, she thumbed it open with one hand. There was a photograph inside. While the photo was obviously old and had gone sepia with age, its subject was clear.
"I don't have it," Sam said coldly. "Not anymore."
"You are lying." Her voice was as flat as his own. "For the sentimental value alone, you've kept it. If not here in this room, in a safe place. It's not in your regular room at Mr. Singer's —"
Sam stepped closer with the gun.
"Relax! He wasn't even there when I checked. It's not in any of your father's hideaways. It's not in that barge of a car." She took a cursory look around the room. "So where is it, Sam?"
"What do you want with it?"
"What do you care?"
Sam shrugged, frowning. "Sentimental value."
She grinned suddenly, her eyes glinting in the low light. "Dean doesn't know you kept it, does he? Do you think he'd want it back, if he knew? Or would he roll his eyes at you?"
Sam could tell that Dean was at the bathroom sink now, getting dressed.
"You're down to one minute, Bela."
Her grin faded. "Your friend Mr. Singer knew what it was for, and so do you."
"It's not for sale. 45 seconds."
"I would bring it back to you. You could say I'm… borrowing it. It's more important to me than to you," she insisted. Her voice had gone small and slightly choked.
"I sincerely doubt that. 30 seconds."
But the bathroom door had opened; She didn't even have that long.
Sam knew without looking that Dean had picked up on the tension in the room. He heard his brother kneel down quietly to get the gun.
He cursed to himself, wondering if Dean would've noticed her in the kitchen before he did, and how much he would hear about it later.
Dean had the gun trained on her as he sidled up next to Sam. "Well, look what the devil dragged up."
"Hello, Dean," she said evenly, as if scrutinizing his face for something specific. Her gaze passed over his chest and down to where his jeans — all he'd put on so far — sat low under his hipbones. "I wouldn't even know, looking at you, that you had done any time in the pit at all. Part of the angel makeover?"
"Demon?" Dean asked simply, eyes cold and hard on her face.
"Passed the holy water."
Dean's hand shot out, and from the blur of motion emerged Bela standing again, cursing and clasping at an X-shaped gash on her forearm. No sizzling, no lights, no hissing. Nothing but blood.
"Passed the silver and iron," Dean noted calmly, folding the double-sided blade back with a snap. "So talk, bitch."
"I only came here for a business transaction. I want the amulet you used to wear around your neck."
"Why?" Dean asked, eyes going wide. "It didn't even do what it said on the wrapper, lady. And we don't have it."
Bela's eyes flicked tellingly to Sam. Sam tilted his face away in response.
"We have it?" Dean turned away for a split second to look at his brother. "You kept it?"
Seizing her chance, Bela grabbed Dean's gun, knocking it away. Sam advanced on her with his own, but Bela wasn't simply a high-class thief anymore. Along the way, she'd learned how to hold her own, gun or no gun. She put his wrist into a hold and held it back, bending the bone. Dean's fist connected with the side of her skull, the sound of it enough to make Sam wince. In the seconds that she was stunned enough to loosen her grasp, Sam threw the gun to Dean and got behind Bela, pinning her arms.
Dean cocked the gun and trained it inches away from her face. "This is more my negotiation style."
She struggled against Sam's tight grip. "Oh, this is you negotiating, is it? You're in the mood now?"
"There's so many kinds of foreplay," Dean said with a wink. "Now talk."
Sam had increased the pressure on her arms. Her skin had gone bloodless around his fingertips.
"I can guarantee you'll get it back, if that's what you want. I'm trying to keep from making another deal here. I would hope the two of you would understand that."
"Another deal?" Dean rolled his eyes, but the gun didn't waver. "Are you shitting me? What, you homesick? Didn't get to hit all the hot spots your first time through?"
"Her name is Madeline… Maddie." Bela stared imploringly at Dean. "She's almost two years old. She's my daughter."
"You been out that long, huh?"
"I got a second chance! I tried to make a life for myself, a good one." Her voice and composure slipped on the word 'good' and she slumped forward a little in Sam's grasp. "I fought my way out." Her gaze passed significantly over Dean's shoulder. "Apparently not all of us rate a celestial rescue."
Dean froze as if she had touched him. "Am I supposed to feel bad for you or somethin'? 'Cause I don't."
Maybe Bela wouldn't have noticed, but Sam did: Dean overcontrolled his face when he was lying; the sharp set of his jawline gave him away. Finding out about Bela's deal, why she made it and how she had gone on to the same Hell had given Dean a posthumous soft spot for her. He hadn't said so, exactly, but Sam sensed it. And right now, what Sam really sensed was Bela's wiggling against him. He swallowed hard.
"I just need the necklace. The necklace that's sitting somewhere in this room, not being put to use. I can steal it back for you when I'm done. You know that I can." She tried to turn to look at Sam, too, but he held tight.
"What's wrong with her? That you're making a deal?"
"Are you listening?" Her mouth had gone tight and frustrated. "I'm doing everything I can to not make a deal. And if it's any of your business, she's sick. The doctors give her maybe six months. I've got six months."
"If you're not making a deal with demons, then what is the necklace going to do?"
"It's the payment, for an… alternate broker. Demons aren't the only powerful beings that can deal, Dean, they're just the easiest to get on the phone." She tried again to turn to Sam, who she felt would be more sympathetic, but he hadn't given her any slack to do so. "I'm going to use the necklace to contact them, and they've requested it in exchange. Which is a better price than my soul. I can't lose her, Dean. I can't. She's all I have now."
Dean's fingers had relaxed around the gun, just a little. "How do I know you're not playing us?"
"Look at my face," she insisted. "Let go of one of my hands and I'll get her pictures from my purse, if that would convince you. I'm not trying to manipulate you —"
"That'd be a first."
"— I'm trying to level with you!" A tear was starting to slip out of one eye and she didn't have a hand to brush it away. She blinked up at the kitchen ceiling. When she spoke again, her voice was thick. "I've been topside for more than two years, Dean, and you and Sam haven't heard a peep from me. There have been a dozen occasions where I could've made trouble for you, serious trouble, but I didn't do it. But do this, just this one thing. For her." The tears couldn't be held back anymore, and two had slipped down her face. "Call it professional courtesy, call it sympathy. Call it whatever you like."
The flood of sarcasm and insults that Dean had queued up were stuck in his throat.
He looked at Sam over her shoulder. "Do you have it? You have it here?"
Wordlessly, they agreed that he could let go of her, but Dean didn't lower the gun just yet. Bela winced and rubbed at her arms.
Sam dragged his laptop bag onto the other chair and unzipped one of the dozens of pockets. He brought out a square of cloth and opened it. Dean's necklace was inside.
"Why'd you keep it?"
"Because it's yours." Sam dropped it into his palm by the cord. "Just… just 'cause."
Dean ran his thumb over it and looked back up at Bela. "I'm not entirely sure why I'm trusting you on this."
"I can show you her pictures. I can take you to her hospital room. Is that what you'd like?"
He let the pendant hang from the cord, watching it sway. To Sam, it was just Dean's usual look of consideration. To Bela, it probably looked liked doubt, like her chance was about to be snatched away.
"I remember you down there." She said quietly. "I've seen flashes of you working the rack."
His fingers tightened around the cord and Dean asked softly, "Did I work you on the rack, Bela?"
"I don't know." She wiped at her eyes. Her hands were shaking. "Why would I want to remember that?"
His eyes had gone wide again, his bravado gone. Until now, he hadn't met anyone, except for Alastair, who knew him like that. "What else do you remember about me down there?"
"I remember you holding out a lot longer than I ever did. I remember being scared of your face. You had… you had gone dead. I'm so ashamed of what I did down there, of… of…" She looked at Sam. "I heard you went, too."
"Is there a newsletter?" Sam asked, annoyed.
"Sam didn't make a deal, Bela. It's not the same thing. It was… worse."
"But it's different, isn't it, once you're back?" She crossed her arms over her chest, looking from one of them to the other. "I wonder sometimes how much comes back. I mean, are we back all the way? Sometimes I think it's just another day down there, another part of the torture, and I'm going to wake up on the hooks like… like I was…" She shuddered. "It's not like you can talk about it to —"
Dean was looking at Sam in concern, as if he was going to see some sign that there was a crack in the wall. "Stop talking. Stop talking now or I will shoot you in the face."
"It's not like I've talked to anyone about it before today." Her eyes were tearing up again. She had been out of the life too long. Hell had broken something inside of her. "Are we back, Dean? Are we really back?"
Dean took one of her hands and uncurled her fingers, dropping the necklace into it. It felt like his throat was closing. She closed her fist around it. He half-expected for her to smile triumphantly and call him a sucker, but instead she leaned forward and kissed him on the corner of the mouth. She lingered there for a moment, and Dean found himself returning the kiss eagerly.
Talking about Hell made him feel vulnerable, like an open wound, like he had something to prove, something to bury as deeply as possible. Something about opening up made him want to take the moment and hide it — in food, in whiskey, in sex, in hunting, in fighting. All at once. He felt his breathing go heavy.
The whole room, everything, felt heavy. There was too much understanding in it.
"I'll bet you both think you can fuck hell away, don't you?" She smiled a little, teasing. "Are you happy to see me, Dean? Sam is."
Sam cleared his throat and looked down. "She was wiggling."
Dean leaned forward and kissed her again, harder this time. "What if I am, huh?" He tilted his head at Sam, nodding almost imperceptibly. Sam blushed and moved behind her, moving her hair away from her neck. Bela tensed and shuddered.
"Oh… oh, people do talk about you two, but I thought —"
Dean's voice was ragged now, "Shut it. Just —" He kissed her harder still, feeling her teeth behind her lips. Fuck, it had been a long time. Since Lisa… and that was so different. Fun in a way that normal people had fun. In the controlled way of making sure the other person is having fun and not in pain, fucking reassuringly, careful not to wake her son sleeping down the hall. Dean from before Hell would've enjoyed it plently. But after Hell, he found that he was different. What he wanted had changed. Knowing how much pain the human form could withstand, as if he knew the exact science of it, made him want to fuck harder. And more.
He broke away from the kiss and dropped his head to her collarbone, running the tip of his tongue lightly up to her earlobe. He whispered, "It's like you have to do something, anything, to feel alive. That's what it's like when you come back."
He met Sam's eyes behind her when she looked up at him, and said, "There. Now I've talked about it." Sam smiled and nipped at the back of her neck. Dean thought she might shudder apart.
He let her hook her fingers into his jeans and push them down over his hips, while Sam fumbled with the buttons of her shirt from behind. Dean tried to guide both to the bed before they got themselves too tangled up. But Sam had grabbed her by the arms again, almost as he had before. She moaned into Dean's mouth.
"Get your bra off or I'm going to cut it off," Dean rasped. He felt it fall away and hit him on the foot. He took the last step needed to get out of his jeans once and for all, kicking all of it off to the side. Sam almost pulled them all onto the kitchen table by grabbing too hard onto Bela, who had grabbed too hard onto Dean. "Come on. Bed. Before we get ourselves killed."
Bela crawled into the middle, and they each moved as they had stood, with Sam pressing himself into her back, and Dean facing her. And Dean could hear Sam bitching a little, from before, about "always being in the back", even when he preferred it.
Sam had positioned her right away. His erection had gotten to the pain point almost. Dean pressed his own into her stomach, a promise for what was next. She whimpered wordlessly into his mouth as Sam thrusted harder and harder into her, his hand in her hair, pulling her head back. Dean thought Sam might shake them both gigantically off the bed. Bela was biting Dean along the jawline, or maybe it was just a hungry gulping motion with her mouth, but she teased and bit harder and harder as he encouraged her.
As if the sound of the two of them had driven him to the edge, Sam cried out, burying his head against Bela's shoulder, sliding out, panting. Sam pulled Bela's forehead to his own, thinking of all those dreams about her that had plagued him for weeks, and how this was better.
Dean cupped her breasts, licking progressing to biting, harder and harder like her bites on his jaw, not taking his place inside of her until she begged. She was practically sobbing in Sam's ear when he slowly slid inside, keeping his rhythm slow. She tried to grab him by the hips to push herself up to him, but Sam grabbed her wrists, holding them hard, one leg thrown across her stomach so she couldn't move.
"Deaaan…" she moaned, a little cry that got louder and louder.
"What?" He leered. "What do you want, hmm? I believe I was promised angry sex. Can you hold out longer than me, or are you gonna beg?"
She smiled up at him, accepting the challenge. Sam was getting riled up again, sliding himself into the crack of her ass, enjoying the friction, sliding slickly against Dean, too, when the rhythm was right. "Fuck," Dean grunted through teeth that had been clenched for so long that his jaw hurt. Bela was holding her own in this. He grabbed handfuls of the sheets and willed himself to win. But all he could say between the slow thrusts was "fuck." Fuck, fuck, fuck. Goddamnit, Bela.
The sound of Sam about to erupt again was making it hard to concentrate, pun completely intended. Dean got new resolve, thinking about how smug she would be if he begged first. He chuckled, low in his throat. Looking her right in the eye, he slowed down even more.
"Please," she said, looking angry at herself, like the word came out of its own volition. "Please, please." Dean dug his fingers into his hips, pistoning hard and fast into she and Sam both, Sam even closer to erupting, both of their faces looking up at him, but Sam's mostly buried in Bela's hair. Sam's fingers were still wrapped tight around her wrists.
"Bela," Dean breathed. "Sammy…"
He tried to hold on, but he couldn't, not anymore. He came hard, feeling like he had stopped breathing for a full minute. His whole body had a 103 fever. All he could hear was the blood pumping in his own head. He slumped forward into them both, his body gone boneless with relief. Dean found himself drifing in and out of sleep, tangled up with them, hearing snippets of conversation, sometimes adding his own before blissing out again.
"This is better… and maybe weirder… than I've felt in a long time," Bela murmured.
"You know what I've figured out?" Dean moved the damp hair away from her face so he could see her eyes. "No amount of therapy in the world is gonna fix the shit we've been through. So you may as well do what you want to get yourself through the day. If it makes you happy for a few minutes and the other person doesn't mind too much —" His eyes met Sam's over the top of Bela's head, and Dean looked away self-consciously. "Then that's what you do."
The three of them had gone quiet and sad in the silence that followed.
Sam smirked, propping his head on one hand, "That's beautiful, Dean. I'm going to embroider that on a pillow."
"It would need to be a rather large pillow," Bela pointed out.
"I hate you both," Dean said sullenly.
Bela moved in to kiss him again, as if she wanted to taste the pout of his lips with her own. Dean pushed into her like it was a rescue, feeling the muscles in Sam's arms tighten against his own from the weird hammock they seemed to be holding her in. A hum seemed to rise up from all of them, their motions and parts indistinct, waves and vibrations, each body onto the other. Finally, too tired and out of breath to go on, Dean felt his brother fall asleep against Bela's back, and then Bela herself. When he listened to their breathing for a few minutes, monitoring for bad dreams, he let himself slip away as well.
That morning, Dean left the amulet where she'd be sure to find it. He thought about putting it around her neck, but he thought that might be strange… and poke-y. Instead he put it on the bedside table in front of the alarm clock. He left a note underneath telling her that he'd like to have it back, if it didn't put her in any danger to do it. And good luck, she'd need it. And maybe they might help, if she needed that, too.
He found that he didn't want her to be in danger. Not like that, not now.
He was still thinking about it when they walked out to the Impala, not bothering to wake her.
Sam looked at his brother over the top of the car, voice inquisitive, "It's been a long time since we've done that. When was it, it was like —"
"Shut up, Sam." Dean, usually physically incapable of blushing, flushed a bit around his neck at this. They hadn't discussed it after the previous times, and they sure as hell weren't going to discuss it now. Not yet. "Come on, let's go."
"You don't wanna take her out to breakfast?" Sam asked mockingly.
"She wants to find us again, she will," Dean said, forcing himself not to look back. "She's good at that."