Sorry about the extra-long wait, you guys. I had to plot the whole fic in a lot more detail than usual because of the changes in canon characterization this season. Things will go much more smoothly now; I've got their character arcs set and ready to be written. This chapter is pretty heavy on characterization, but later chapters will be less so.

As always, I hope you enjoy.


Crowley studied the stitching at her throat, picking at it with the tip of his blade.

"Black silk, bathed in lamb's blood," he said, smirking as she twisted in her restraints. "Old school."

"Older than you can imagine, Honest John."

He sighed. "The good old days are gone though, aren't they?"

Abaddon spat out a mouthful of blood; the strap across her chin tightened as she struggled. "You can thank Sam and Dean Winchester when you see them again," she snapped, wresting some more.

He pulled at one of the threads, chuckling as she cried out in pain. "Hell of a trick, the silk. Powerful magic. Holds you together nice." he said, thinking. "Think Dean learned it in Purgatory?"

She growled and turned away from him, doing her best to yank her wrists to and fro. "It wasn't him. The silk was Rapunzel's idea."

He lifted and eyebrow. "You don't say?"

Abaddon didn't reply, choosing instead to focus on loosening her restraints. Crowley could feel her psychic energy fighting to free her, but she needn't have bothered.

He'd won the ancient iron devil's trap in a poker trade with a certain angel a few years back – apparently it had just been lying around heaven in a vault, unused. He had heard the poor fellow had been sacked over it, but Crowley'd been able to hide the thing in all the disarray after Raphael died, and eventually the angels had just buggered off looking for it. He'd read in a very interesting book that the demon Alistair had once been caught and tortured in it, and if it could hold that crafty fuck in place, it was certainly good enough for Abby the Red.

She hung from the five-pointed star like a boneless fish, most of her earlier vigor – and blood – drained from her. Crowley had been at her for days, cutting and peeling, but she hadn't budged an inch; she'd been tortured and created by Lucifer himself, and apparently this could significantly increase one's pain tolerance.

"Quit while you're ahead, Crowley," she said, an icy smile gracing her ashen lips. A few rivulets of blood ran from her scalp into her mouth and stained her smile red. "If you let me go now, I promise it'll be quick."

"So kind of you, Sir Knight, but I'm afraid not."

She roared and jerked her entire body at once, sending spots of blood flying Crowley's way. "You won't get away with this!" She took a deep and rattling breath, blood running from her mouth. "It's blasphemy!"

"It's old news, is what that is," he said. "God, you're out of the loop. Lucifer is locked in his cage, snug as a cock in a condom, along with that blowhard Michael. Did no one send you a telegram?"

She cocked her head at an unnatural angle and narrowed her gaze. "What?"

Finally, some fear out of you, he thought. Was starting to think I'd wasted my time.

"Didn't Bob and Knob tell you? Your dear father was upstairs for the grand finale a few years back, and those two drew the curtains on the whole operation last minute. It was the talk of the town."

"Impossible."

He rolled his eyes. You've got quite a bit to learn, love.

"Not that I was broken up over it. Sorry arse was after my hide as well. Not sorry to see him back in the brig. Helped, even."

The roar of her voice filled the small crypt, and Crowley put his hands over his ears in mock pain.

"Scream all you want, ducky," he said, "won't change a thing." He stepped toward her with an Archangel's blade, holding it before her heart. She immediately stopped writhing, her face a canvas of rage.

"Now," he said, drawing the blade back and forth across the bloody skin of her chest, "I know you're not accustomed to commoners mouthing off to their betters, but hear ye, my lady. I mean to stop the Brothers Dim from locking us underground for all eternity, no matter what it takes. I'd like to keep you around in some fashion or other, but you'll have to pay the piper."

She eyed the blade, silent.

"The last part of part of the ritual, Abby dear." He leaned in close, whispering in her ear. "I'm the king. How do knight one of my subjects?"


Dean followed closely behind Nikki's Kompressor, smiling at her when he caught her checking her rearview for him. She did it pretty often, and Dean was certain he would enjoy the evening ahead.

Can't remember the last time I got laid. Or even wanted to.

He stretched in his seat, enjoying the breeze coming in through the window, and looked over at Sam. His seat was fully reclined and his head lolled back and forth with the rhythm of the road; his face was pinched and drawn even as he slept, and Dean could tell he was both exhausted an in pain.

They still had no idea what the trials were actually doing to Sam's body, and Dean kept running into his old friends Jack and Shit as he searched for information. If that wasn't enough, there was precious little detail from any source on the subject of how to actually close the gates once the trials were completed, and the god stone hadn't mentioned shredding the body of the sap who ended up doing the trials.

If we ever end up writing a hunter manual, crap like that's going on the first page.

It was something he'd thought of doing from time to time – keeping a journal like their father had done. It would come in mighty handy to any hunter who came along after they finally cashed in their chocolate chips, and he liked the idea of leaving a legacy behind. Especially since he wasn't likely to end up with rugrats in this life.

Might make one tonight if I'm not careful.

He grinned some more, feeling hornier than he had since the Halloween Lisa had dressed up as a demon. There had been little horns and a red satin thing that Party City called a "dress," and Lisa had bent around like a contortionist that night – it had been like something out of Emily Rose. He'd felt more exhilarated than he had since…well, since his first kill, a vampire he'd tracked with his father.

The memory had floated into his mind unbidden on more than one occasion, and if he focused, he could still feel the blood flow over his hands as the monster's head tumbled to the ground. The world had seemed to move in slow motion even as his heart had trip-hammered in his chest, and the sense of hyper reality had stayed with him for days afterward.

He had lain next to Lisa when they were finished, fiddling with the plush horns and wishing he could go on a hunt.

Hate to hear what a therapist would make of that one.

Sam stirred, arching his back and repositioning himself in his seat, drawing Dean's attention. His pallor was awful, he had lost weight, and he looked like the before picture in one of those anti-aging commercials. And yet, Dean couldn't suss out why the trials should have such terrible effects. Pulling a slice-and-dice on a hellhound and taking a walking tour of the pit weren't exactly days at the beach, but they'd been through a lot worse and come through with less damage. So why was Sam practically on his deathbed? He wasn't the one who had done a twelve-month tour of twenty-four hour combat, was he?

And wasn't it just so perfect that once again, Sam was sick and needed caring for? Dean still couldn't get a nightmare-free night of sleep, but here he was, bringing soup and fluffing pillows and practically wiping the ass of a guy who had hidden in a vagina for a full year while Dean had damn near lost his mind in Purgatory.

Be surprised if he even mopped up after Dick exploded, he thought bitterly.

He knew he was being unfair – the guy had just come out of the nuthouse a few weeks before the showdown with Roman, and it wasn't a completely ridiculous notion that he might have needed a break. But somehow the reasons – excuses, really – for all the betrayals were wearing extremely thin. For the first time in his life, Dean found himself wondering if his love and trust and faith in Sam were good for him anymore. Once upon a time, they would have done – and had done – the impossible for one another. Hell, part of the reason Ruby got her claws in so deep was because Sam had been so desperate to save him. What happened to them – to Sam – between then and now? When had he stopped giving a fuck? How could-

Dean's ringtone shattered the silence, and he fumbled for it, the Impala slipping out of its lane as he dug into his pants pocket. Maybe Sam was right about that damn car speaker adapter thing, he thought as he accepted the call, tossing away the Bluetooth and holding the phone to his ear.

The number was unfamiliar. "Hello?"

"Hey, partner."

Benny.

Much of the day's tension left Dean's body. "Hey. Long time no ring."

"Been trying to keep my nose clean," he said, his southern drawl dragging the words out. Dean realized, with more than a little embarrassment, how much he'd missed the sound of Benny's voice the past few months. In Purgatory, that sound had always meant his back was covered and his load was shared. Nice to know loyalty still has meaning to someone, even a monster.

He cast a rather bitchy glance at Sam.

"Run out of tissue?" he said, speaking quietly. Despite Sam's belated and lukewarm acceptance of their friendship, he wouldn't be happy to know Dean was still having fireside chats with King Bill. Got a lot of nerve giving me shit over hitching wagons with a monster when he dropped me like a dirty snot rag the second he thought I wouldn't be back to chew him out for it.

"Something like that," Benny muttered with a sigh. "Got a pack on my tail."

"Vamps?"

"Among other things."

A worried frown crossed Dean's face. "Come again?"

"They got other creatures with 'em. Stuff I ain't never seen before."

"Got any details?"

"I wish I did," Benny said. Dean might have been mistaken, but his voice sounded strained. "All I got's a scent."

"You okay, Benny?"

There was a long pause.

"I know we said we'd split at the fork in the road, Dean," he said, "but I…I can't do this on my own. I need your help, man. I don't know what I'm dealing with here. I've seen the bodies this thing leaves behind, and-"

"Where are you?"

"Fayetteville."

"Arkansas?"

"Yeah."

Sam'll flip a bitch if he catches wind of this, he thought, wracking his brain for a solution. But he might be pooped enough to sleep through me slipping out. Gotta chance it.

"Can you get to the state line?"

"Which one?"

"Missouri."

"I think so. They'll be on my tail, but I can get ahead of 'em for a while if I stay away from the interstate. This pack don't like hiking too much. They'll be at least two hours behind if I cover my tracks."

"Good. There's a little cabin where we can touch base. I'll text you the co-ords."

"What time?"

He lowered his voice. "Dunno. Gotta make sure Sam's occupied before I can get on the road. It'll be tonight, though, for sure."

Benny sighed. "See you soon."

"Hey, it's gonna work out, all right? We'll take care of this. I got your back – you know that."

"Yeah," Benny said sadly, "I know."

There was a low-pitched tone as he hung up.

Fan-fuckin-tastic, he thought, slowing the car to a stop in front of a small brick house. Nikki's car was parked in the driveway and she and Derek were one their way inside. More roadblocks…

But he couldn't even complete the thought. He had no idea what he would tell Sam if he was still gone after sunrise, and the truth was, he didn't care. He wasn't sorry at all Benny had called. He was going on a hunt – a real, no frills monster hunt – and there would be no Sam or tablets or confusion or guilt or resentment. Even if it was just for a few hours, maybe a day, he wouldn't have to think about the bigger picture or sit around getting dickslapped by Sam's betrayal and selfishness. There would only be the hunt for whatever was hassling Benny.

Things would be clear.

Uncomplicated.

Pure.


The slam of Dean's door brought Sam out of his sleep.

He watched through blurred eyes as Dean walked around the front of the car and headed into the house without a backward glance.

Nice.

He sat there for a moment longer, gathering his strength.

It wasn't as though he was really surprised.

He'd known Dean would be pissed from the moment he'd set this whole thing in motion – how could he not be? He thought Sam had ditched him – for real this time – and left him to rot in a hell dimension. He and Amelia had agreed not to reveal any more than they had to; it was better to simply do what needed to be done and explain it all later when the fate of the universe wasn't hanging in the balance.

Resistant as he had been to lying to Dean yet again, Amelia had convinced him that the mission was important enough to deal with a little family bickering. He had tried to make the case that Dean would be an asset if he knew, but the truth was, he simply hadn't wanted Dean to distrust him again. Amelia had seen right through it, of course. She saw him more clearly than anyone he'd ever met, save Dean.

So Sam had rattled off some ridiculous story about taking the year off to hang out with a veterinarian, sure that Dean would never believe something so preposterous without recorded evidence. But Dean had bought it hook, line, and sinker. And Sam was glad he hadn't had to elaborate much on the story; while he could conceal the truth fairly well, he wasn't so great at telling big lies right to his brother's face.

He just wished it hadn't been such an easy sell.

At first, Sam was overcome with relief that Dean hadn't pried any further – there was almost nothing to back that story up. But after a few weeks had passed – with Dean shooting drive-by insults at him every chance he got – Dean's lack of curiosity began to piss him off. He hadn't so much as asked Sam what had happened to the Leviathans since he'd been back, and he blown Sam off whenever he'd brought up the subject of their time apart.

And then there was Benny.

Didn't see that one coming.

There hadn't been anything in the ritual about stowaways, and Dean certainly hadn't declared Benny upon arrival. Sam was certain he wouldn't have even known Benny existed if it hadn't been for a random series of events that had brought them all together. He'd been completely blindsided.

And Sam didn't like him.

It wasn't just that he was a vampire. They'd dealt with friendly vamps before. It was Dean's complete and unflinching trust in him that got Sam's goat. Dean only had that kind of trust for family – the kind who'd been through hell with him, not just blood – and Benny was not family. Not even close.

Dean had known Benny, what, nine months? So, they'd taken turns sleeping while they found their way to the portal. So the fuck what? How did that compare to everything they'd gone through over the years? How was a few months spent chopping heads in Purgatory comparable in any way to the things they'd done?

Sam would have continued stewing in the car for another hour if Derek hadn't come stomping out of the house, storming around the corner.

Better go see what that was about, he thought, his anger waning as the opened the car door. His body screamed in protest, but he kept moving, hoping the exhaustion wouldn't drop him before he made it into the house.


For someone so young, she sure had her shit together.

"Pretty decent stash," he said, scanning the books on the shelf. The house was pretty small – just two bedrooms and a bath – but the basement was jam packed with everything from gallon buckets of salt to shrapnel dipped in holy water. "Homeland Security been by yet?"

"You're funny. That sense of humor probably gets you laid on the regular."

She climbed a small stepladder to reach a shelf and tossed a Bible-sized book down onto the table. Dean watched her move as she dug around for something else, impressed by her grace; she was in control of every inch of her five-eight frame, and was remarkably aware for someone who'd only been hunting for a few years. He doubted much could sneak up on her.

"It helps," he said, leaning against the small wooden table in the middle of the room. A dim light bulb glowed in the ceiling, casting precious little light into the room. Shame, too. He'd love the chance to get such an unobstructed view of her ass. "But my eyes usually do the trick just fine on their own."

She shot a sly smile over her shoulder at him. "I believe it. That's all it would take for me."

He could hardly believe it, but he actually chuckled out loud; it had been so long that he'd actually forgotten what a laugh sounded like. Not much to smile about monster hell.

"You still with me?"

He blinked, surprised to see that she was off the ladder and standing in front of him.

"Yeah," he said, looking away quickly. "Just thinking."

"Well, save some brain power for this." She held the book from the table in her hand.

She handed it to him when he reached for it. It was incredibly old; the paper was practically falling apart and the binding had withered away to threads. He opened it, squinting in the dark.

"Is this…"

"A book of seals," she said. She was pretty satisfied with herself, and while Dean usually found smugness annoying, arrogance looked good on her. Like everything else she's ever worn.

"Where the hell did you get this?"

Her heels clicked on the concrete as she walked over to the stairs, beckoning him. "Friend of a friend of an enemy took it off a demon he trapped. Everything we need is in there. Just gotta eliminate all the ones they've already broken and the ones that are impossible, and try to narrow it down from there."

They stepped up into the back hallway and she leaned against the laundry room door, blocking his passage to the kitchen with a hand on his chest. He couldn't keep a dirty grin from slipping onto his face.

"Don't you think we should get at least a little work done first?"

But the look she gave him was serious.

"Why is the King of Hell putting all our lights out?"

"Our?"

"Me, Sarah, your old saves," she said, clearly not amused by his evasiveness. "You know who I'm talking about. And now with these seals? I thought this was over. What the hell's going on now?"

"What, did you guys form a fan club or something?"

"We're hunters. A lot of us, anyway. And hunters talk."

He shook his head. "One do-si-do with evil just wasn't enough for you, huh?"

"A flesh-eating clown broke into my house and tried to eat me," she said flatly. "No way I was ever gonna sleep again without some kind of protection. Now answer the question, goldilocks. The Once and Future King has my name on his execution list. Why?"

"Let's just say that Sam and me are going on offense for once," he said. "King Russell's not big on our battle plan."

She lifted an eyebrow. "Going through all this to stop you. Plan must be a good one."

"We do this right, we'll never have to do it again."

"Good." She crossed her arms over her chest and looked worried, staring down the hall toward Derek's room. "I want this over and done with."

Dean knew exactly how she felt. "Hey," he said, "He'll be alright. Crowley doesn't even know he exists."

"Only a matter of time," she said, turning and heading into the kitchen. She kept her back to him, pulling jars out of cabinets. "Can't go through it again."

Dean was confused at first, then remembered what Derek had told them. Been there, honey, he thought, walking up beside her and pulling some pasta out of a cabinet.

"What was his name?" he said quietly, running water into a pot.

"Mark," she said straightforwardly. "Vampires."

"Sorry."

"It's okay." He'd been expecting tears – or at least a break in her voice – but her voice was even and soft. "He's safe now," she said. "They had actually planned to turn him, but he died before they could."

"Mmm."

He watched her for signs of an impending breakdown, but none came, and she went about preparing the meal in relative silence. It was odd; he'd seen countless loved ones bite the dust, but he'd never been able to so much as think about them and feel as calm as she was now. His wounds stayed fresh and bloody no matter how much time passed. He had assumed that was just how things worked; you loved someone, you got your heart torn out when something ate them, and you shoved all their stuff in a box in a closet and avoided looking at it when you got dressed in the morning.

"Not too close to him, huh?"

The words came out sounding much less horrible in his head, and he immediately regretted them. She cut her eyes at him, kicking off her heels into a corner.

"We were, as a matter of fact," she said coldly. "What makes you think we weren't?"

He sighed and broke the spaghetti over the pot, wanting to kick himself. "I just meant…nothing, just forget I said anything. I'm an asshole. Huntin'll do that to you." He gave a shallow chuckle.

She stopped opening the can she was holding and touched his arm in the crook of his elbow. He tried to ignore her, breaking the pasta and clearing his throat, but she kept her hand there until he finally met her gaze.

Her eyes suddenly seemed much bigger than they had a moment before.

"What's your deal, Dean? I heard about some of the shit you two have been through. I know you've seen a lot of dark and ugly things. But you still got each other, alive and kicking. So why you so rough around the edges?"

"Hmm." He swallowed and took a few breaths, not wanting to lose it in front of her. "I just…I used to be able to just…I dunno, shake it off and carry on. Me and Sam…you can't even imagine the stuff we've seen. That we've done. But it was always okay before because we were in it together, you know?"

She nodded. "And now?"

He shook his head and looked back down at the pasta. "I dunno, ever since I got back from P…since me and Sam got back together, I just can't seem to get my head right. Can't fucking sleep at night, can't concentrate like I used to. And I have these daydreams…" He trailed off. "Shit's just finally catching up with me, I guess."

She moved closer to him, her side pressing against his. He had forgotten how nice it could be to simply be close to someone. Unconsciously, he slipped an arm around her.

"We all got to deal sometime," she said. "Guess your number's up."

"Yeah."

They stood there for a moment longer before she smiled up at him and picked up her can of tomato paste.

"We should eat," she said. "Gonna need our energy."

He smirked at that and she nudged him with her elbow. "Can't you keep your mind out of the gutter for one second? I meant the research."

"Sure."

She nudged him again, softer this time. "Go get your brother, Dean. He probably saw Derek go storming out of here when we sent him to his friend's house."

He shot her another sidelong glance as he strode off, headed toward the front room. He felt the beginnings of worry in the pit of his stomach – how long had Sam been waiting outside? – but then he caught sight of the living room sofa. Sam was laid out across it, his arm dragging the floor, and he snored lightly.

Poor son of a bitch, he thought, walking over to him.

He couldn't help but feel a bit guilty for his earlier thoughts about his brother, even though he was still angry about Sam's ridiculous sabbatical. It never ceased to amaze him how deeply Sam could make him feel, how he could love and loathe and want to protect and scream at the kid all at once.

He shook Sam's shoulder.

Sam jerked, raising his head and squinting through his hair. "Mmm-"

"Pipe down, kojack," Dean said. "Get your ass up and into bed. You need some sleep."

Sam sighed and rose very slowly. Dean could see how much pain he was in. It confused his emotions even further – how was it that Sam was perfectly willing to do this, but had given up the goat so quickly when Dean vanished?

He led a stumbling Sam down the hall to the guest bedroom and tossed him onto the bed, pulling off his shoes.

"There's spaghetti when you wake up," Dean said.

Sam didn't reply, having already fallen asleep again.

Good, Dean thought, almost closing the door. He needs some goddam rest.

And you won't have to worry about him stopping you tonight, a more cynical part of him thought.

He went back to the kitchen. The smell of the spaghetti was wafting down the hall, and he was starving.


Dean backed away from the table as slowly and quietly as he could, not wanting to wake Nikki.

She had fallen asleep in a pile of papers, the book of seals open in the middle of the table. They had made good progress; the number of seals was narrowed to the seven most likely, and tomorrow they would find some way to pinpoint the one Crowley would go for next.

But now, he had somewhere to be.

He slipped on his jacket despite the warm temperature. The cabin where he was meeting Benny was deep in the woods, and it could get pretty chilly at night under the canopy of the trees. He stepped into his boots and moved silently out the front door, settling into the Impala and closing the door as quietly as he could. Nikki and Sam were both dead to the world, and even if they heard a car start, they probably wouldn't come running out to investigate.

He was on the highway in five minutes, headed south. Google Maps gave him an ETA of eleven o'clock and a drive time of three and a half hours, but Dean could make the trip in two if he put the petal to the metal. He prayed there would be no highway patrol and gunned it.

Got everything we need, he thought, running over the inventory of items in the trunk. He brought every possible weapon with him, since Benny had no I.D. on the monster they were hunting with the pack of vampires. He was a little concerned that Benny couldn't get a read on what it was – the man had been in monster heaven for a good long time – but his anxiety didn't come anywhere close to his excitement at the chance to hunt with Benny again. Purgatory was the dark basement of a serial killer's worst nightmare, but a part of Dean had thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of knowing that whoever he stuck a blade into was an enemy. There had been no moral dilemmas, no second guessing, no conscience necessary. It was horrific, sure – he was lucky he could still walk and chew gum at the same time – but there was a kind of beauty in that horror, and he missed it with all his heart.

The hunting wasn't all fun and games, though, was it-

He shoved the voice down, determined not to relive anymore of…those memories. The monsters he killed were evil. He had done the right thing by each and every one of them. Each and every one.

Nightmares or no nightmares.

He gunned the gas harder, his speed creeping up to ninety.


Sam's phone vibrated against his thigh and he slowly rose up out of sleep, digging in his pocket for it.

"'Lo?"

"Where are you?" Amelia said.

He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen. "It's not midnight."

"Get outside. We need to talk."

She hung up before he could say anything else. He stretched, his muscles tense, but not so much as before he'd gone to sleep. He was on his feet in less than five minutes for once.

He crept past the couch, expecting to see Dean asleep there. He wasn't.

The other bedroom door was closed.

Sam shook his head and walked through the kitchen, creeping out the back door and onto the service porch, looking out. Nikki's had half an acre of lawn before the forest began, and Sam jogged across it, hoping there were no motion lights. He made it into the woods without fanfare, stepping through the underbrush until he came to a small clearing.

He and Amelia had often had to meet with only a general description of the rendezvous point; Dick's wannabe successors had continued his habit of high-tech surveillance, and Sam Winchester was at the top of their watch list. It had become a regular thing for them to meet in a clearing nearest the meeting place to reduce the chance of someone they couldn't trust discovering that they were meeting.

The moon shone bright in the sky, and lightning bugs twinkled around him. In another context, meeting a beautiful woman on a moonlit grass patch would have been downright romantic, but if the year he'd spent cleaning up Dick's mess had taught him anything, it was that any romance for him was officially dead and buried.

He was about to call her again when he caught sight of the black trail speeding across the sky.

Always gotta make a grand entrance, huh Mellie?

The black substance raced toward the ground, and Sam backed up to the tree line, rolling his eyes.

She crashed into the ground with a low-decibel thud, black ooze splashing onto the grass. The molten ink lurched toward him, growing and molding until Amelia stood before him, wearing a black tank, Daisy Dukes, and a smile. She stopped inches in front of him, brows raised.

"You look like shit," she said.

"Big talker." He pointed at her mouth. "Still got a little fur in your teeth, there."

She slid her tongue over her incisors, removing the debris. Sam made a face.

She shrugged. "Girl's gotta eat."

Sam leaned against a pine. "More dogs, I assume."

"Only the ugly ones," she said.

"Nice."

"There are alternatives."

Her hand snapped onto his shoulder with an iron grip, pinning him to the tree trunk.

He couldn't keep a smile off his face. "Your strength is not for hurting. Remember the posters?"

"You never seemed to mind."

"Yeah, well, take it easy now. I'm fragile."

"Not anymore."

She let go of him and pulled a small bottle out of her back pocket.

"What the hell is this?" he asked, taking it from her.

"Chicken soup for the soul," she said. "Finally found that Ecuadorian wolfsbane. Don and Maggie whipped it up for us."

"Does it really work?"

"Ought to put a little pep in your step."

He downed it, screwing up his face at the taste. "Temporarily, though, right?"

"They're powerful witches, Sam, but they've got nothing on Head Reaper. Opening that portal took real magic – old testament stuff. Be glad you have even this."

He nodded in concession of the point, still pursing his lips at the bitterness of the elixir. "So what was so pressing? Thought we agreed on midnight."

"We got problems," she said, shaking her head. "Even bigger ones. That portal was for one soul and one soul only. Dean brought two."

Sam shook his head. "Benny's a vamp, Mellie."

"Still has a soul."

"So what's the problem? I mean, nothing crazy happened, right?"

She shot him a cynical look.

"Oh, God. What?"

"It's speeding things up," she said. "We should have had at least a year until the Bleed. But Saint Dean had to go and break the rules, didn't he?"

Sam swore and kicked at the dirt, the pain in his body already dissipating. "How much time do we have?"

"Hard to say. Two weeks, probably. Six weeks at the outside."

"Okay. We should be able to swing that, right?"

"We'd better. If that portal opens any wider, our goose is cooked."


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