It took the next two days for Bobby to begin to worry seriously about Sam's state of mind. Dean seemed not to notice, although he put a lot of effort into motivating his brother, but Sam spent most of his time just sitting around and staring ahead of himself. He only participated in conversations if Dean dragged him into it and even then he only responded with single words.

Near the end of the second day, Bobby pulled Dean aside in the kitchen while Sam remained in the livingroom. "What's wrong with him?" he asked.

Dean gave him a look he had seen many times, the one that indicated that Dean had no living clue what he was talking about. "What do you mean?"

"Dean, give me a break. Don't tell me you haven't noticed Sam's state of mind," Bobby said, unable to keep the edge out of his voice. "He's damned near catatonic unless you motivate him."

"He's still a little rattled, Bobby. Just give him time," Dean countered and for all intents and purposes sounded like he didn't have a care in the world.

When he started to turn away, Bobby grabbed his arm, stopping him. "Dean, dammit," he pressed out. "What the hell is going on here? Who did this to him?"

Dean paused, not looking at Bobby, his gaze shifting all over the kitchen. "Nobody. Just give him time," he repeated and tried a halfhearted smile.

"Does he remember what happened to him?" Bobby pressed, not willing to let it go right now. He knew enough that he wouldn't pressure Dean about that second deal he'd made, but this was something different. "Is that what you made a deal for?"

"Bobby, I can't talk about it, okay? And as for Sam, he'll be fine. He just needs a little time to get over this," Dean countered, his tone taking on an edge of its own now. He sounded a bit desperate, a bit uncertain. A quick glance into the livingroom where Sam was sitting on the couch, doing nothing, made him flinch. "Listen, I've got some stuff to take care of and ... well, Sam isn't really up to this right now. Can I leave him here with you?"

Bobby narrowed his eyes, trying to see through the bullshit he knew Dean was feeding him, then sighed. "Yes, of course you can. Where are you off to?" he asked. "Or can't you talk about that either?"

Still Dean avoided looking him in the eye and Bobby had the greatest urge to shake him until he talked. Instead, though, he let go of Dean's arm.

"I have more or less watched you two grow up, Dean. I've known you both most of your lives. I know something is up, I know you made a bad deal. You have got to stop doing that, Dean. How many more times can you sell your soul?" Bobby asked quietly.

A little stunned, Dean finally met his gaze. "Uh ... I didn't sell my soul ... again," he countered just as quietly. "I already told you. I can't talk about it, Bobby. Okay? I just need to take care of this one thing without anyone asking me any questions about it. Sam won't, because he really isn't interested right now. So all I gotta do now is ask you not to ask me any questions about this, because I can't answer them."

"I get that," Bobby said. "What I don't get is what you're up to. What happened here while I was unconscious? And don't tell me you exorcized the demon yourself, because I don't believe you can. Azazel was too powerful for that."

Dean glanced in at Sam again, then swallowed and took a step back. "I can't tell you, Bobby," he said, turned and walked away.

Bobby watched him leave and felt weighed down to the ground. It seemed that whatever Dean did to make a change only worsened an already impossible situation. Time was running out for him and Bobby would give his own damned soul to stop this from happening if only he knew how.

Moments later Dean came back and walked straight in to talk to Sam. "Hey, Sammy. I gotta go take care of some stuff. I'll be back in a couple of days, okay?"

Sam glanced up at him. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"A couple of different places. You can always reach ..." Dean trailed off and made a face. "Damn, my phone's gone," he added and briefly glanced at his right hand as if it held a clue to where the phone might be. "Well, I'll pick up a new one and I'll give you a call with the new number. You can call me if you need to, then. Okay?"

From listening to them talking, Bobby got the impression that Dean was talking to a little kid rather than his four year younger brother and Sam was generally behaving like that little kid too. A very withdrawn, shy, little kid. Generally, it was like watching John walk out on his kids all over again. He leaned one shoulder against the doorframe and made no secret of listening in, but Dean didn't notice and Sam obviously didn't care.

"When will you be back?" Sam asked and Bobby could almost see the little kid he had been the first time he had met him. But Sam had been a different kid back then, much more alive and outgoing.

"As fast as I can. I promise," Dean countered. "You just ... take it easy and get back on your feet, okay?"

Sam nodded wordlessly and redirected his attention to the floor.

Dean lingered for a moment, then sighed, turned and left the livingroom. Bobby assumed he was going upstairs to pack and the scenario haunted him with its familiarity. How many times had John walked out on his boys, leaving them with him when they were in the area? He had lost count. John had always come back, but never at the promised time and never without being either injured or beaten to hell by whatever he had gone up against, either physically or mentally. The difference between John and Dean was that Dean didn't let it get to him. And he generally never left Sam behind. Whatever he felt he had to do, it was either so important that it couldn't wait until Sam got better or it was connected to this deal he had made, which would probably have prompted him to leave Sam behind no matter what state of mind the kid was in.

Bobby stepped out into the hallway to wait for Dean. There was no way he was going to let him go without a parting word or two. And he didn't have to wait long. Moments later, Dean came back down, his duffle in one hand. He stopped short when he saw Bobby, then made a face and dropped the duffle on the floor. "Are you gonna tell me not to go?" he asked.

"No, but I am gonna tell you what I told your father a million times over," Bobby countered. "Stay in touch with Sam. Call him as often as you can. And if you make him a promise about when you come back, keep that promise. I may be wrong here, but I get the feeling that Sam's in a pretty frail state of mind right now. And I'm no shrink. I can't help him if he falls apart. That's what he needs you for."

Dean sighed. "I'll only be gone two days, three tops. Hell, I may get back here sooner than that. I left some loose ends in Whitefish that I just want to make sure won't come back to bite me on the ass," he said and gave Bobby a half-smirk.

"Liar," Bobby countered. "You always were incredibly lousy at lying, Dean. But I won't push you on this one. I know you can't talk about it, whatever it is. Just make damned sure you don't do anything to worsen the situation." He couldn't help a snort. "As if that were even possible."

"Don't worry. With a bit of luck, it'll get better," Dean said, picked up the duffle again and took a step toward the door. "Just don't let him sit and stare at the wall for too long. I'm afraid he might lose touch with reality if he does."

"Just get out of here. I'll take care of Sam," Bobby said. "And if you're not back in three days, Dean, I'm coming to Whitefish to get you."

Dean smirked a little tamely. "Okay. Gotcha," he replied and left.

Bobby just stood there for a moment longer, then figured he might as well try and engage Sam in conversation. The best way to activate the kid would probably be through research and he had plenty of that.


The following evening
Whitefish, MT

The thought that he had just driven over fourteen hours to condemn another human being in his place wasn't exactly something that spurred him on. When he pulled the Impala to a stop outside of Lucy's place, he just remained seated for a moment and stared in at the house. He hadn't announced his arrival, but something told him that she was well aware of what he was up to. It was a creepy feeling, knowing that something like her kept an eye on him, but he figured he probably didn't do anything she hadn't seen a million times over in the past.

The reason for that he had more or less decided on accepting her offer – with a few explanations from her first – was solely based on that he didn't think Sam could handle the world on his own right now. And even though Dean hoped for the best where his brother was concerned, he still couldn't shake the feeling that this latest setback would take a long time for Sam to get over. So there was no way he could check out in six months time. And, when he was being truly honest with himself, he really didn't want to either.

"Get your act together, man," he muttered to himself, got out of the car and stepped through the low garden gate. A white picket fence surrounded the house and the red brick building looked as innocent as any damned house in any suburb he had ever come through. To think that nobody around here knew what kind of evil resided in their midst was a bit of a brain-twister. He shook his head lightly, then covered the distance to the front door and knocked.

The door opened moments later and there she was, looking just like he remembered her. His teacher. He barely prevented himself from running away as fast as he could. Knowing now what she was made a hell of a difference, but it was hard for him to consolidate the knowledge with the memory of the best damned teacher he'd ever had. "Something tells me you had this all planned from the get-go," he said.

She smiled lightly. "I never plan ahead, Dean. Things just tend to happen around me," she countered and stepped back. "Come on in."

He stepped through and felt a cold breeze wash over him. Whether it was his imagination or that she just wasn't trying so hard to seem human any more he didn't know and it really made no difference anyway.

He trailed into her livingroom and slowly walked the length of it and came to a stop at the windows facing the backyard. Everything looked so achingly normal, it nearly took his breath away. Then he turned back to face her for a second before he let his gaze skim over the room itself. "This place lacks something," he said. "It looks like a magazine cover."

"What do you think it lacks?" she asked, her tone slightly bemused.

"A human touch," he countered and couldn't help a wry smile from slipping over his lips.

"I severely doubt you just drove fifteen hours to criticize my decorating skills," she said. "Have you decided to take me up on my offer?"

"I want some answers first," he said and met her gaze dead on. There was nothing in her eyes that should have caused him any discomfort, but yet something did.

"Do you now?" she asked.

"Sam is pretty torn up about the whole thing. He remembers the possession," he said. "He says he remembers killing a woman."

"He probably does. That sounds like something Azazel would do to him," Lucy agreed.

Dean stared at her for a moment, not sure how far he could push this before she lost patience with him. "Could you have prevented that?"

"I spared his life," she countered.

"I know, but could you have prevented this whole thing? Could you have removed the essence from Sam before it took him over and nearly destroyed him?" Dean demanded. He couldn't stop his voice from taking on that edge and while he didn't want to die, he was pretty ticked off at her right now.

She eyed him. "I could have," she agreed.

"Then why didn't you? Is there something inbuilt in you that likes to watch others suffer?" he snapped, unable to keep a lid on his feelings right now.

To his immediate relief, she seemed to think he was being funny, because she smiled. "Big words," she said. "I didn't extract Azazel from Sam immediately because it would have demanded the use of a power flux that would have attracted every damned demon for miles around. As I may have mentioned before, I prefer to be left alone for now."

The thought of hundreds of demons bearing down on Bobby's house sent a shiver through Dean and he swallowed and averted his gaze for a moment. Then he looked up again to face her. "As long as Sam's gonna be okay, I won't breathe a word of this," he said. "But Sam's not okay. He's doing really lousy right now."

"And you want me to do what about that?" she asked, sounding just a little bit annoyed.

"I want your word that he'll be fine," Dean persisted.

Her eyes narrowed a little, but then she suddenly chuckled. "I admire bravery. Even when it comes in doses like this," she said. "You know what I am and still you face me without fear? That takes guts."

"No, that takes stupidity and I'm pretty high on that," Dean countered nonchalantly.

"You may be a lot of things, Dean, but stupid is not one of them. A little dense at times, yes, but I have the distinct impression that it's voluntary more than anything," she said. "You want others to believe that you're dumber than you are. Why is that? Is it a defense? A tactic? Or just the way you were raised?"

Her words indicated that she blamed dad for how he behaved and it raised his hackles more than anything could. "It's a defense," he growled. "Could you have healed Sam completely?" he asked.

"I could have. But again, it would have attracted the others and I really don't want them hanging around me right now," she said. "Are we done with the Q&A or do you need more questions answered?"

"Got a couple more," Dean said. "Why?"

She arched an eyebrow in reply. "Why what?" she asked.

"If you are who you claim to be, why this whole charade? I'm sure you could just ... wave your hand and make it all go away. Why bother with this ... game?" he asked.

Lucy regarded him solemnly for a moment. "Because I like games. I could probably do what you say, but where's the fun in that? If I were in your shoes right now, Dean, I would be grateful that I'm on your side."

"My side?" Dean huffed. "You're on nobody's side but your own, Lucy. Don't try to tell me anything different. So, why are you doing this? Why are you helping us? Why didn't you just ... eradicate me?"

"Rules will be rules," she said cryptically. "There are laws and even I have to abide by those. Otherwise where would we be? There would be complete chaos, demons running rampant in the world, humans running rampant in Hell. Chaos is not good for the soul."

"What?" Dean frowned. "What the hell does that mean?"

His confusion seemed to amuse her. "Don't worry about it, Dean. You came here to make the switch unless I'm completely mistaken," she said.

Her attitude didn't make it easier for him to make up his mind, but essentially he guessed that was the main reason for that he had come. Some part of him had managed to convince himself that he had taken this trip to get answers. But, in the end, he had come here to get out of the deal. "Sam won't be affected by this, right?"

"Not at all. Little Sammy is back to his good old neurotic self. That means he will have to heal for a while. Being taken over by something as powerful as Azazel is not something you get over in one night. It's a question of whether his psyche will survive this or not, although I think he has a fairly good chance of getting over this if he has his brother with him," Lucy countered.

"Okay. Fine. I'll make the switch. What do I need to do?" Dean countered.

"Bela has to come here. The switch is pretty straight forward. She has no say in the matter, of course, but isn't that always the case?" Lucy asked with a smirk.

"Okay, wait," Dean said, raising both hands. Unsure of what exactly he was getting himself into, he figured he needed a little more incentive. "Why would I hand her over to you? I mean, yeah, she shot Sam. Three times now. And I'm sure she'll come back for more. But why should I be the one who condemns her to Hell?"

Lucy's expression sent a shiver down his spine. She looked mostly like a feral cat ready to pounce on a defenseless little bird. "You do not get to condemn her, Dean. She's done that all on her own a while back."

"Through that deal she made," Dean said and Lucy nodded in agreement. "What was it again? She gave up her morality to get an edge?"

"Yes, she did. But making a deal like that, a deal that doesn't end your life in ten years ... it takes more than just ... a word and a promise," Lucy countered, trailed over to the couch and settled down on it.

"Like what?" Dean asked and remained where he was.

"It demands a blood sacrifice. And, boy, did she deliver," Lucy countered, a somewhat self-satisfied expression on her face.

It took a moment for Dean to really register what she had said, and even then he wasn't sure he understood it correctly. "Are you telling me that she ... sacrificed someone to get rid of her morality?" he asked.

"Bela has always been a smart girl, Dean. Pretty, too. But her brains is what has gotten her as far as she has gone in life. That and the fact that she couldn't care less for anyone around her. For her, there's only number one. And that's basically what her deal was about. She had second thoughts some of the time, was plagued by nightmares about some of the things she did, but it was only when the spirit of one of the people who died in the wake of her dealings started haunting her that she took the final step. In essence, she bargained away her humanity," Lucy said and regarded her fingernails almost thoughtfully. "She found the information she needed in one of the many books she had stolen and since sold in the name of making a big profit. And with her smarts, she figured out how to have her cake and eat it too."

Dean considered the information, wondered briefly if he could trust Lucy, then figured she had nothing to lose in telling him this. "So ... who did she sacrifice?"

Lucy looked up at him, the mental image of the contented cat striking him again. "Her baby sister," she countered. "Ten years old. Spoiled brat. Half-sister, as it were. Her father's daughter of his second marriage and a big thorn in Bela's side, from what I understand. But still ... just a child."

"Oh my god," Dean muttered while trying to accept what Lucy was telling him. Now that he thought about it, there was something in Bela's eyes that made him feel she had it in her to do something like that. "So ... she just handed her kid sister over to ... a demon?" he asked and focused on Lucy again. "Just to get lucky? To make money?"

"Handed over?" she countered. "No, not quite. A blood sacrifice is ancient and very messy. It demands the still beating heart of a close loved one. She carved the heart out of her sister's chest herself and handed it to the demon while it was still beating. The second the demon received the heart, all her ... regrets over doing what she had done were washed away. The big bargaining point that changed things in her favor ... was her wish for luck in all endeavors. The demon she dealt with did not see the double bottom in that one."

Dean wasn't entirely sure he should believe that tale, but he kept coming back to that one, essential question. Why would Lucy bother lying about it? Dean had no doubt that she could grab Bela any time she wanted and just end her ridiculously lucky existence. And the thought of the blood sacrifice made him feel physically ill and he swallowed hard against the bile rising in his throat. But there were still loose ends. "Well, she wasn't so lucky when she ran into us, was she? I mean ... she wanted the rabbit's foot, but we ended up destroying it."

"Having bad luck would have killed her almost instantly, Dean. The second she caught the rabbit's foot in her hand, she knew the outcome. She only agreed to let you destroy it because of the consequences it would have had for her. It would have been the culmination of her deal and it would have sent her straight to Hell. You don't go to heaven for killing your kid sister in cold blood and offering her heart to a demon," Lucy said.

Dean eyed her for a moment. "Did she make that deal with you?" he asked.

"No. Which is why the rules must be obeyed," she countered. "So, have you made up your mind? Or do you need ... further incentive?"

"There's more?" he asked, a little rattled. Granted, Bela had grated on his nerves from the very first second he had realized what a bitch she was, but she was still human.

"There's always more," she agreed. "But that's for another time."

Suddenly very tired, Dean settled down on the edge of a high-backed armchair sitting with its back to the window. "If I wanted to, could I just ... walk out the door and this would be forgotten?" he asked.

Lucy leaned back on her couch and draped one arm over the back, her fingernails digging into the upholstery. "Of course. If that is your wish. But then you go to Hell in six months."

"A life for a life, huh?" he muttered and sighed deeply. "So ... I bring her here and then what?" he asked. "I hope you don't expect me to cut out her heart or something."

Once more, Lucy seemed amused by his words. "Oh no, this is not a blood sacrifice. This is a transferal of the curse that weighs so heavily on you." She tilted her head to the right. "A curse you do not deserve. You deserve better than this, Dean. You always did."

He held her gaze for a moment, struggling with himself, but what it all boiled down to were two, in his opinion, very important issues. First and foremost, he wasn't keen on leaving Sam behind all alone. And secondly – and this was a fairly new development in his own way of thinking – he didn't want to die and he most certainly didn't want to go to Hell. And for all intents and purposes it sure sounded like Bela did deserve it. Which brought him back to why she was so eager to get a hold of that damned box.

"The box," he said and pulled it out of his jacket and set it down on his right knee. "What's in it? And don't tell me you don't know."

Lucy's gaze shifted to the box for a moment. "It's a box," she stated quietly. "It has no bearing on this deal."

"Oh, but it does," Dean disagreed. "This is why Bela shot Sam again. This is why she won't let up. A buyer has offered her an eight figured amount for it and, apparently this buyer isn't too happy that she doesn't have it. And since she hasn't yet been able to get it, I get the feeling that her luck's run out."

"Her luck has nothing to do with this box," Lucy said. "It's yours. And, as I told you before, the only way she can get it away from you is by killing you. Until then, she cannot remove it, won't be able to lay her hands on it."

"Why not?" Dean persisted. "What does it contain? What will happen if I open it?"

"Try," Lucy said and her eyes glittered for a moment.

He had the distinct impression that she was looking forward to the moment when he did open it, which was more than incentive enough not to. "What's in it?" he repeated.

"A few drops of dried blood, a little hair, a few fingernail clippings and a few words," she said and eyed him with nothing short of keen interest.

Dean swallowed. He was convinced that she was messing with him. "A few words? So it is a curse-box," he said, mostly to himself.

"Well, that depends on how you look at it," she said with a smirk, then rose. "I'm growing impatient, Dean. Are we going to make that deal or not?"

"I'd think you'd have all the time in the world, all things considered," he said while still eying the box. Then he tugged it back into the inside pocket of his jacket and looked up at her. "Okay, fine. Let's do this. I call Bela, she turns up here and then what?"

"I transfer the curse and you can go back to your brother with the knowledge that you won't abandon him to his fate in six months time," Lucy said.

Dean pulled his new cellphone out of his pocket and stopped short. He hadn't called Sam yet. Mostly because he wasn't too anxious on involving his little brother in this right now. But also because, in part, despite all, he was ashamed of what he was about to do. Having been able to salvage the simcard from the remains of his old phone, Sam didn't know that his old number was still working and he preferred it that way right now. He flipped the phone open and speed-dialed Bela's number.

It took a moment, but eventually she picked up.

"Before you get all pissy and hang up, Bela, just hear me out," he said. "I figure you're not through chasing after that damned curse-box and I won't risk you taking another stab at Sam. You damned near killed him. So, here's the deal. I'm in Whitefish. I'm gonna give you the address here. You come by and pick up the box and get the hell out of our lives. And if I ever see you again after that, I'm going to kill you. Deal?"

The line was silent for a moment. "Alright. Where in Whitefish are you?" she countered. She sounded incredibly relieved, which didn't make it easier for Dean to sell her down the river. But he did believe that she might kill Sam the next time and he just couldn't allow that to happen. He figured that the transferal of the curse meant her lucky streak would end. She wouldn't get the box, which probably would mean that the buyer would kill her. And that would send her to Hell right away, fulfilling the deal Dean had made for Sam's life those many months ago.

He gave her Lucy's address. "I'll be here for a few hours. If you don't turn up in three, I'm going to leave and the deal's off. And I still mean it that I'm going to kill you the next time I see you. It's up to you now," he said and hung up on her.

"Very smooth," Lucy said and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned a moment later with two bottles of beer and handed him one.

"This is surreal," he muttered, then popped the lid off the bottle and took a swig.

"What is?" Lucy asked and followed his example.

Dean couldn't help a tired grin. "I never in my life thought I'd be having a beer with the devil," he stated, saluted her with the bottle, then downed the rest.